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why can't the past just die

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“This is your second sandwich today, Parker,” Mr. Delmar says. 

Peter swallows the last bites of his turkey club sandwich. He showed up to work with a grumbling stomach and insatiable appetite. Delmar usually lets him make a couple sandwiches without charge, saying that he is a “growing chico.”  Peter knows it probably has to do with the bags under his eyes and his whipcord-thin frame.  

Peter’s face reddens. “Sorry, sir,” he says. “I-I overslept this morning and didn’t really have time to eat.” The lie rolls off his tongue easily. Too easily. 

Delmar reaches to the counter and hands him another turkey club. “Don’t apologize, Parker. I want you to eat a third one. You’re too skinny.” 

“I’m not skinny,” Peter argues, even as he takes the third sandwich.  

“You’re emaciated,” Beto, Delmar’s son, corrects. “Ain’t healthy, ese.”  

I’m growing too fast. My body can’t keep up,” Peter says. He looks at Mr. Delmar. “Thanks, señor.”  

Eat it later, you lazy bum. You’ve got work to do.” Delmar points to the sink full of dirty dishes. Peter rolls up his sleeves and attacks the mountain of dishes with vigor. He sneaks bites of his sandwich when Delmar isn’t looking.  

“This is what happens when I’m off for a day,” he mutters, loud enough for Delmar and his son to hear. 

“Why do the dishes when we have you around?” Beto said airily. He is wiping down the counter. 

They fall into a comfortable silence after that. It is around two o’ clock in the afternoon. The lunch rush just ended, and they can breathe for a few hours until the dinner rush. Even so, the sandwich shop still has a trickle of customers come in between the busy times. And there are always dishes to wash, counters to scrub, and floors to sweep. Delmar likes to say that the floor is clean enough to eat off.  

Peter is finishing the last of the dishes when he hears the door open. With his back to the register, he doesn’t take any note of the customer. Until that customer says, “One Reuben with extra sauerkraut, please. Toast the bread a little extra, too.” 

Peter would recognize that voice anywhere. He’s heard it on the news, in person once before. He whips around, eyes wide as saucers. 

Tony Stark stands at the counter of a dingy sandwich shop in the bad part of Queens, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Even with red-tinged sunglasses on, Peter would recognize the iconic facial hair anywhere. He seems amused by Beto’s dazed reaction. The poor kid can hardly the numbers into the register. 

Delmar whacks his dazed son lightly on the shoulder. “Muévanse, mijo ,” he snaps before going to make Stark’s order. 

Peter just stares as Tony Stark pays for his meal. He uses a debit card, one of those nice metal ones that rich people always carry. Stark moves over to the pick-up counter, shifting side to side. Peter stares some more. He really should stop, it’s getting creepy. 

“You want an autograph, kid?” Stark says.  

Peter thinks Stark is talking to Beto at first, until he realizes that Iron Man is staring at him.  

“No sir,” Peter says, growing as red as a beet. He turns back to his dirty dishes, feeling mortified. God, that was probably so rude. He’s about to apologize to Iron Man, but Delmar speaks first. 

“The kid’s a big fan of yours. Bit of a science whiz himself.” Delmar turns to Peter. “How long was that report of yours on the arc reactor? Thirty pages?” 

“Thirty-five, señor,” Peter says, turning to face his boss and his idol. His face is redder than the surface of Mars now. 

Stark looks slightly interested. Maybe. Peter isn’t good at reading people. “What was it on?” 

“My AP Chem teacher wanted us to find theoretical applications for technology that already existed. I argued that smaller versions of the arc reactor could be used to power a variety of household items, which would help us become less dependent on fossil fuels. It took a lot of explaining, so that’s why the report was so long,” Peter says in a rush. 

“You’re interested in clean energy?” Stark says. 

Peter shrugs. “I’m just interested in science,” he says. He doesn’t want to admit that he chose the arc reactor because he has a slight obsession with Tony Stark. 

“More like obsessed. Every shirt the little nerd owns has a science pun on it,” Beto scoffs.  

“You must be very proud of your son,” Stark says to Delmar. 

“He’s not my son. Just works for me.” Delmar ruffles Peter’s hair, and he tries not to flinch away from the touch. “We are fond of the little chico, though.” 

“You called me a lazy bum twenty minutes ago,” Peter mutters. 

“Because you are. Get back to work.” Delmar cuffs Peter on the ear playfully and hands Stark the finished sandwich. “Here you are, Señor   Stark.”  

“Thank you.” Instead of leaving, Stark goes to sit at one of the tables in the corner. He pulls out a StarkPad and begins to write on it with a stylus. Peter watches out of the corner of his eye, absolutely enchanted. Stark seems to be sketching some sort of design. Maybe a modification for the Iron Man suit?  

Delmar catches him staring and orders his young employee to peel potatoes in the back. “Quit making a fool of yourself, Parker,” he tells him in Spanish. Peter can here the affection in his voice, though.  

Stark stays until five. Peter gets off work at five. Stark leaves at the same time Peter is heading for the door. The billionaire even holds the door for Peter.  

“Thanks,” Peter says. Before the billionaire melts away into the streets of New York City, he blurts, “Did you ever know a Mary Fitzpatrick?” 

“No,” Stark says, confused. He waits for Peter to explain. 

“My mom was a SHIELD agent,” Peter finally says. “Said she saw you when she was stationed on the Helecarrier. I was just wondering.” 

“She still with SHIELD?” 

“No. She died in 2009.” 

“Was she killed when Loki escaped?” Stark’s voice is soft. Almost gentle. 

“Few months after. Car crash.” Peter’s voice doesn’t waver. He’s practiced. For the first few years, he couldn’t even mention his mom without crying. 

“I’m sorry to hear that, and I’m sorry I don’t remember her. Take care of yourself, kid,” Stark says. 

“You too, Mr. Stark.” With that, Peter turns away from his idol and heads home. 


 

When Peter opens the front door, he hears yelling. He wants to leave, but he forces himself to go to the kitchen and see what the yelling is about. 

“Do you think I really want to go to your fucking school to meet with your English teacher? Get your grades up! I work fifty hours a week, I don’t have time to just piss away like you do--” 

He finds his foster father, Quentin, screaming at Will. Peter’s twin is hunched in a chair at the kitchen table while Quentin looms over him. His blue eyes lock with Peter’s hazel ones. Even though they look similar, they are fraternal twins. All Peter can see is his mother staring back at him for a moment.   

Quentin looks to see what Will is staring at. “You got off work, Peter?” 

“Yeah. My shift ended at five today,” Peter says. 

Quentin turns to Will. “Why can’t you be more like your brother? Perfect grades at a STEM school, holds down a job. You can barely make it in a shitty New York public school,” he says scathingly. “You don’t even try.” 

“Lay off him,” Peter growls, taking a step towards Quentin. 

“You stay out of this, Peter. He needs someone to get on him. He’s been coddled his entire life--” 

“I hardly call being orphaned at age eight coddling,” Peter spits. 

“I won’t tiptoe around it. You two need to stop playing the victim and get your shit together,” Quentin says. 

Will lurches to his feet, reaching for his cane that is propped against the wall. “I’m going to study for math,” he says. 

“Did I say this conversation was over?” Quentin says. 

Any fire in Will’s eyes disappears. “No sir.”  

“No media or socializing with friends until you have at least B’s in all your classes. Your brothers are smart, there’s no reason you can’t get good grades too,” Quentin says.  

Will nods. He just takes it.  

“I’m doing this because I know you can do better, Will. Not because I hate you. Remember that, okay?” 

“Okay.” Will doesn’t even look at Quentin as he moves past him. He goes up the stairs and Peter hears a door slam shut. He hears Will let out a harsh sob and a shuddering breath. Good God. He wants to run upstairs and hug his brother, but Peter knows it will only upset his twin more.

Quentin turns to Peter. “I’m the parent here, Peter, not you. I know you had to fend for yourselves, but now there’s an adult in the equation. Stay out of it.” 

“You were screaming at him,” Peter says. 

“Nothing else that I’ve done has gotten through to him. He was asking for it.” 

You’re the one who asked for it, Pete. Peter shivers at the memory. “He was failing all his classes at the beginning of freshman year. He’s doing a lot better now.” 

“Peter, he’s got D’s in two of his classes. That’s unacceptable. He’s a bright kid.” 

“Will doesn’t react well to pressure--” 

“Just because your previous guardians allowed you to do whatever the hell you wanted before doesn’t mean you can just do that now. You need boundaries, structure, discipline. That’s why the state placed you three in my care.” 

“I wasn’t allowed to do whatever the hell I wanted,” Peter says. “Jesus God, Quentin, you know that.” 

“No sleepover at Ned’s this weekend. You are only allowed to have your phone when you leave the house for the next week,” Quentin says with a sudden viciousness that makes Peter flinch.  

“What?” Peter sputters, outraged. Normally he wouldn’t dare kick up such a fuss, but he’s exhausted from work and pissed at Quentin for being such a dick to Will. 

“Do you want it to be two weeks?”  

Peter digs his phone out of his pocket and sets it on the table.  

“That’s much better.” 

Condescending ass, Peter thinks. He brushes past Quentin and goes upstairs. 

“Start dinner at six,” Quentin calls after him. 

Peter doesn’t bother replying. 


 “What a dick!” Peter says as soon as he walks into the room he shares with Will. His twin is sitting on the bottom bunk, reading Eragon for the billionth time. His cane is in the corner of the small bedroom, shoved out of his sightline. Peter ignores his brother's reddened eyes.

“I am a dumbass,” Will says. 

“No, you’re not,” Peter says. “Jesus, Will, why even say that?” 

Will glares at him. “I remember Dad screaming at me for bad grades in kindergarten. I’ve always been kind of stupid.” 

“Grades don’t really mean anything, anyway.” 

Peter's words sooth his twin. Will's shoulders relax a bit, and some of the bitterness leaves his eyes. “I’m going to trade school or community college. I don’t need a 4.0. My grades have improved a lot, you know. I have two A’s, two B’s, and two D’s. And they’re getting better,” Will says. “I’m trying, Pete, I really am.” 

“I know you are,” Peter assures his brother. 

“How was work?” As usual, Will’s favorite thing is to change the subject. 

Peter’s earlier excitement returns. “You’ll never guess who I saw at work.” 

“Peter, there’s a bunch of famous people that live in New York,” Will whines. 

“The most famous of them all.” 

Will narrows his eyes. “Are you joshing me?” 

Peter waggles his eyebrows. 

“You didn’t see Tony Stark! You didn’t!” 

With a triumphant grin, Peter bobs his head. 

“Tell me everything.” 

Peter tells Will every excruciating detail. Will makes him repeat it, and then repeat it again. 

“But he didn’t remember Mom?” Will’s smile falters at that detail. 

“She was a data analyst, Will. She probably never worked with any of the Avengers directly, even when she was on the Helecarrier.” 

“You think she would’ve said something to him. About, well, you know.” 

“Granddad would’ve killed her.”  

“This isn’t just about Granddad anymore.” 

“What’s the point? Mom’s dead, Granddad’s dead. He won’t care about us. If he wasn’t famous, I wouldn’t care that much about him either.” 

“Jesus, Peter, I know you don’t mean that.” Will’s right, but Peter won’t give him the satisfaction of admitting it. Still, his twin persists. “He looks like Mom.” 

“So?” 

“Doesn’t that mean something to you? Dad always said that family is the most important thing.” 

Personally, Peter thought that his family has let him down more than anyone else ever has. He remembers years of angry hands, sharp words, and broken promises. 

Full of anger and bitterness, Peter spits out, “No, Will, it doesn’t mean shit to me.”  

Chapter Text

Harley wakes up, all twisted up in his sweat-soaked bedsheets. They have a ridiculously high thread count, and he’s almost positive they are made of silk. Even after four years, it still surprises him to wake up his luxurious bed. He still expects to wake up next to his mom and Celine every morning. They only were ever able to afford a single bed. Harley never minded, though. He liked knowing that his family was nearby, that little Celine was nestled between him and his mom. He figured that between the two of them, they would be able to keep her safe. 

Harley cuts off that train of thought. He has other important things to focus on, after all. This includes coffee and breakfast and Sunday morning puzzles with Morgan. The faint smell of pancakes and bacon wafts in through Harley’s slightly adjacent door. He inhales heavily, tasting the air like a dog. He wiggles out from under the covers, hating how clammy and moist they feel. 

Harley pulls sweatpants over his boxers, running his fingers against the worn fabric of his Iron Man tee. Tony gave it to him for his twelfth birthday. He shuffles into the hall, following the breakfast smells to the kitchen.  

Pepper is keeping an eye on the bacon and pancakes while Morgan colors in a Disney coloring book at the kitchen table. His guardian and his adoptive sister both turn to look at him. Morgan slides off the chair and runs to Harley, her coloring book clutched in her chubby fists. 

“Harley!” she yells. “I made alien Cinderella.” 

Harley cranes his neck down to see an illustration of Cinderella and the mice marred by random green scribbles. “Woah. I’m pretty scared right now, Mor.” 

“She’s a nice alien, like Thor,” Morgan insists. 

“Thor can be scary if he wants to,” Harley says wryly, thinking of the time the Asgardian accidentally shattered their coffee table during a rock-paper-scissors match with Steve Rogers. Harley hid in his room for two hours after that incident. To be fair, he was eleven at the time. 

“Like when Clint hid his favorite dagger?” 

“Yeah, kid.” Harley grabs her hand. “Let’s see if your mom needs help with breakfast, yeah?” 

“Mommy says I’ll burn myself,” Morgan tells him. 

“I’ve been making scrambled eggs since I was six, Mor, and I’ve never burned myself.” 

“Never?” Morgan says in awe. 

“Never.” Harley catches Pepper’s eye and sees the worry there. “But you gotta wait until you’re six. By then you’re a whole lot older.” 

“When I’m fifteen, I’m gonna be really old!” Morgan turns to Pepper. “Mommy, can I make cookies when I’m fifteen? Harley makes cookies and he’s fifteen.” 

“Of course, darling.” Pepper exchanges an amused glance with Harley. 

“I’ll start the scrambled eggs, Pepper,” Harley says. Morgan trots after him like an excited puppy. She helps Harley crack the eggs and whisk the yokes. Harley explains the process to her step-by-step, throwing in random tidbits of information about the cooking process.  

“I wanna make eggs,” Morgan whines as Harley plates the finished product onto four plates. Pepper adds the pancakes and bacon. “I wanna help with breakfast.” 

“You have a much more important job,” Harley said. “You have to go get your dad from his workshop.” 

Morgan’s grin widens. “I’m the Daddy-getter!” she yells, sprinting down the hall that leads to Tony’s personal workshop. “DADDY!” Harley hears her scream, pounding on the door of the workshop. 

Pepper and Harley carry the plates to the table. Harley hides his grin when he sees Morgan tugging his other guardian by the arm. Tony Stark, Iron Man and billionaire genius, wears clothes that are stained with motor oil and ratty with years of wear. Even rich people enjoy old comfy clothes, Tony told Harley once. 

“Harley,” Tony says in a low tone.  

Harley tries not to freeze up. He knows he shouldn’t, knows that his guardian’s tone shouldn’t make him this nervous. “Yeah?” he says with forced casualness. 

“Were you the one who unleashed this vicious gremlin on me?” Tony scoops Morgan up and flips her upside down. Her little bare feet kick in the air as she squeals in excitement.  

“Yeah, she’s some little urchin I found on the side of the road,” Harley says. “I thought you might find some use for her, so I sent her your way.” 

“I’m not an urkin!” Morgan says. “I’m a Morgan, your daughter.” 

Tony flips her right side up, slowly so as not to make her dizzy. He peers at her, squeezing her baby cheeks and poking her ticklish spots. “What planet do you think this ‘Morgan’ species of alien is from, Harley?” 

“We’ll have to ask Thor. He knows a lot about aliens,” Pepper says. 

“I’m a human. I’m Morgan!” Morgan shrieks with laughter. 

“Hmmm,” Tony says. “Wait, Pep, did we have a daughter, say, about four years ago? I might be remembering it wrong.” 

“I think we did. Was her name... Mona? Maguna?” 

“Morgan!” Morgan says. 

“This little gremlin must be our daughter. She’s pretty cute, I have to say. We did a good job.” Tony plants a kiss on Morgan’s brown curls and sets her down. “Go sit down next to Harley, my little alien. Your eggs are getting cold.” 

“Okay, Daddy,” the little girl chirps.  

Harley lets himself fall into the comfortable and familiar rhythm of Sunday breakfast. Tony asks him about his upcoming tests, Pepper reminds him to do his laundry before he gets slammed with homework this week. Morgan tells Harley that learning the alphabet is a lot harder than “chem-iz-ree.” When Harley agrees with her, Tony chokes on his orange juice.  

Harley loves the stability of it all, these simple moments of peace that feel as natural as breathing. He loves his routines. 

Harley loves routine so much that he can immediately anything out of the ordinary. He has an uncanny sixth sense for it. That makes it easy for him to notice the nervous glances Pepper and Tony keep shooting each other, the way Tony pushes around the last bites of egg around on his plate like a little kid. Pepper’s thigh bounces up and down. 

His guardians are not fidgety people. Nothing fazes Pepper, not even a room full of angry board members or a crowd of screaming paparazzi. Tony was trained from birth to project a calm and collected exterior that is bolstered by the confidence his wealth and supreme intellect gives him. This is not normal. Something is wrong. 

Something is very wrong. 

Harley knows he was right when Tony clears his throat and looks at both Morgan and Harley with a serious expression on his face.  

“Guys, I have a very important question to ask you,” he states. 

Harley tenses. Morgan chews her pancakes thoughtfully 

“What would you think about adding another member to our family?” 

Harley’s fork clatters against his plate at the same time Morgan exclaims, “I would LOVE a puppy, Daddy!” 

Shooting Harley a concerned look, Tony says, “I mean adopting another sister or brother, Morgan.” 

“I want a brother, Daddy! Can we go to the store and buy him?”  

Pepper clears her throat. “You don’t get brothers from the store--”   

Morgan frowns. “So we didn’t buy Harley from the store? Was he from the side of the road?” 

Harley freezes. Before he knows it, he’s up and heading towards his room. He hears his guardians call his name, hears Morgan yelling after him.  

He wedges himself between his ridiculously luxurious four-poster bed and the wall, desperately trying to slow his labored breathing. He loved small spaces when he was little, places he thought no one could ever reach him.  

They always did though, no matter where he hid. 

Someone knocks on his door.  

“Harley? Can I come in?” Tony’s voice is muffled, distant. 

“Yeah,” Harley says. 

Tony walks in, his footsteps muffled by the thick carpeting. Harley doesn’t unwedge himself. Doesn’t want to. 

Tony sits on the bed. “Think you can come out, bud? It’s okay if you don’t want to.” 

“I’m not a baby,” Harley snaps, his tone sharper than he means it to be.   

“You know, bud, after the Battle of New York, I hated the dark so much that I slept with a lamp on for two years.” 

Harley pops his head up at this. “You’re just saying that,” he accuses.  

“Am not.” Tony smiles. It’s a tired smile, but still genuine. 

Harley sinks back into his safe little canyon between the wall and the bed. “So you and Pepper want another kid?” 

“Only if you’re comfortable with it.” 

“No one said that to me before I met you guys, did you know that?” 

“I figured, bud.” Tony’s silent for a while. “We want to give you the control you never really got to have. This is your decision, and we are okay with whatever you decide.” 

“I don’t care about that. I think it would be fun to have another sibling.” Harley thinks of a little girl with black curls who loved ponies and mermaids and singing silly songs, and shoves that memory back into the box it belongs in.  

“Harley, you’re allowed to say you don’t want to do something.” 

Harley hauls himself out from the canyon. He sits on the bed next to Tony and looks him right in the eye. It took him years to be able to do that. 

“I think it would be fun if you adopted another kid,” he says. 

“I believe you,” Tony says. Harley grins at the joy in his guardian’s eyes. “But, bud, what upset you?” 

“It was nothing.” 

“Harley, don’t shut me out.” 

They have a long staring contest. Finally, Harley admits, “Morgan thinks you got me from a store, like a pet or something. She thinks I’m a fun puppy, Tony.” His cheeks when he says it out loud. God, Tony probably thinks he sounds like a massive whiny baby, like a pussy who can’t suck it up-- 

“I think that more has to do with the fact that she’s four and doesn’t know what sex is.” 

That thought never even occurred to Harley. “What?” 

“She told me that her friend Aditi’s mommy told Aditi they got her little sister from the store.” Tony imitates Morgan perfectly. 

“Jesus Christ,” Harley says. 

He and Tony burst out laughing. 


 Peter stares at his food and tries not to burst into tears. He’s always been weak and stupid, prone to cry on the drop of a hat. 

It’s been a couple days since Quentin grounded him and Will on Friday. Denied phone privileges, Peter was grateful that he was scheduled to work an eight hour shift on Saturday. Unfortunately, he was off on Sunday. He cannot wait for school tomorrow.  At home, Peter distracts himself with AP Calc BC homework and solitaire and Quentin’s endless lists of chores. At two a.m. last night, he heard some woman getting mugged at gunpoint three blocks over. He slipped on his mask and leaped out the window. Will didn’t even stir. The hug and look of absolute relief he received made a rare sense of pride loom in his chest. 

Peter tries to recall that feeling desperately. He fails. 

Quentin stabs a strip of roasted zucchini with his fork. “You burnt it, Peter, really? I’m pretty sure a six-year-old could make this.” 

“Sorry,” Peter mutters. 

“The chicken’s bland and the rice is overdone.” Quentin sighs loudly. “I worked a twelve-hour shift today. The least you could do was at least try to make Sunday dinner nice.” 

Peter exchanges a glance with Will across the table. Their foster dad tries to pretend they’re some sort of family by forcing them to have a nice dinner every Sunday. He says routine encourages delinquents to learn what a real family feels like. 

Peter’s had a real family before, and he knows this isn’t one. 

Leo, Peter’s older brother by two years, says lightly, “We’re Scottish and Irish. We don’t know how to season our food.” Sitting to the left of Peter, he pats his brother on the knee under the table. 

“Clearly,” Quentin says. He moves onto more important topics, grilling the three brothers on upcoming tests and quizzes. Between his foster’s dad nagging and the construction work half a mile down the street, Peter has a migraine by the time they are done eating. 

As usual, Quentin goes out to the dive bar down the street with his work friends after dinner. Leo and Will do the dishes while Peter wipes down the kitchen table. There’s an awkward silence between them. The older boys were always the quiet ones in the family.  

“Can we call Peni?” Peter blurts. 

“I’ll get my phone,” Leo says. He disappears upstairs and returns with his cracked Android that belonged to Uncle Ben.  

Leo dials the number from memory and puts it on speaker. Someone picks up on the second ring. 

Leo ?” a girl’s voice says. 

“Hey, Peni,” Leo says. “How is everything?” 

We just talked this morning. Not much has changed ,” Pen i says in an amused voice. “ Are Peter and Will there ?” 

“Hey, Peni,” the twins say.  

Leo told me this morning you two got grounded. What was it for this time, breathing or being in his general vicinity?” 

“He got on me about my grades. Peter defended me,” Will says. 

“You’re getting there, Will. Just give it some time,” Peni promises. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it ?” 

“No.” 

We know you’re working hard, even if Quentin doesn’t notice. Besides, you’ve got more street smarts than the rest of us combined .” 

“Where are Reese and Deke?” Peter asks, because he needs to know. 

Reese has her nose buried in a book and Deke is building some computer in the basement. What else would they be doing ?” 

Shut up, Peni !” Reese yells in the background. 

“I see Reese is as pleasant as ever,” Will says. “What book are you reading, Reese?” 

I’m rereading Eragon ,” their little sister says.  

“I’m rereading that right now!” Will exclaims. Seeing the tension on his twin’s face replaced with excitement makes Peter grin. 

I’m at the part where Eragon’s uncle is trying to sell the egg to the traders.”  

Where I’m at, Eragon and Murtaugh just found the Varden’s secret mountain fort thing.” 

“Quit being nerds,” Leo says. “Not all of us read the same book series over and over again.” 

“You just checked out seven physics books from the library,” Will shoots back. 

God, Leo, you’re such a weirdo,” Reese says in the scathing tone that only preteen girls can summon. “And you say Will and I are nerds.”  

“We’re a pretty nerdy family,” Peni points out. “All you and Will do is read books, Peter’s obsessed with Star Wars and chemistry, Leo salivates over physics, Deke does math worksheets for fun, and I’m teaching myself a fourth coding language.”  

You were just bragging there, you narcissist,” Peter says. 

Guilty.” Peni snickers. “I just can’t get over how brilliant I am.”  

“I have the most insufferable twin in the world,” Leo groans. 

“Have you met Peter?” Will dodges his twin’s half-hearted cuff. 

My teacher said that Mom had a one in three thousand chance of having a second set of fraternal twins,” Reese says randomly.  

“We just defy the odds,” Peter says. “Since we’re so cool and everything.” 

The coolest,” Peni agrees.  

Leo’s about to say something, but through the phone, the three brothers hear someone yell, Aspen, Teresa, get the FUCK over here!”  

Shit, we gotta go,” Peni says into the phone. “Love you guys.”  

“Peni, is everything okay?” Leo growls. 

The line clicks dead. Leo’s scowl deepens. 

“Fuck this shit,” he snarls. “Fuck CPS, fuck Peni and Reese and Deke’s fucking shitty excuses for foster parents. Fuck my ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE.” Leo runs his hands through his sandy brown hair, still spitting curses. 

“Leo, Peni said as soon as he lands a hand on one of them, they’re out of there,” Peter says. 

Leo whirls to face his brother. “They’re still getting verbally abused, emotionally abused! Deke is thirteen, Reese is ten fucking years old. And as much as Peni likes pretending she’s invincible, she’s still sensitive. The state won’t do shit. You know they won’t.” 

“You think I don’t know that? Of course I know,” Peter yells back.  

“Calm down,” Will says. “Calm the fuck down, both of you.” 

Peter sees how his twin is clutching his cane with a white-knuckled grip and freezes. 

You were screaming at him, Peter told Quentin yesterday. Will hates yelling. When they were younger, Will would goad their uncle into hitting him, just to get him to stop his drunken ranting and raving. He preferred getting backhanded across the face to the words that cut like razors and festered in his heart for years. 

“Something’s gotta change,” Peter says. “Something’s gotta give. Life can’t always be this shitty. It can’t.” 

Leo looks at him with sad eyes and Will just clings to his cane like a lifeline. They look like soldiers that have been fighting in the same war for years, exhausted and longing to go home.  

No, Peter realizes. They look like soldiers who know there will be no home to go back to after the war is over. His eyes blur with tears, and he turns away from his brothers.  

He’s always been a kvetching crybaby. Never learned to just suck it up.  

Chapter Text

“Jesus, Peter, that’s your third package of Pop Tarts this morning,” Quentin says as he pours a cup of coffee. 

Peter puts down the Pop Tarts and his coffee mug that says The only elements I need are cobalt, fluorine, and iron. “Sorry, I was just hungry this morning.” 

“There’s a difference between being hungry and binge eating, Peter. Do you want to look like Ned?” 

Peter should shut his mouth, but he sees red. “You don’t have to be a dick all the time, Quentin. It’s not that hard.” 

He’s not surprised when Quentin seizes him by the wrist and snarls, “What did you just say?” 

Peter keeps quiet. Jesus, why is he so stupid?  

Quentin drops Peter’s wrist and smacks him across the mouth. It’s nothing, it barely hurts, he’s used to it, but Peter still feels the familiar sting of betrayal as he jerks away from Quentin. He knows he should not have cussed his foster dad out, but he also knows that Quentin was being a dick. 

He is always  a dick, a little voice in the back of Peter’s head whispers. 

“Don’t ever speak like that to me again. I’m the one person keeping your sorry ass from a group home or juvie. That clear to you?” Quentin leans in close enough for Peter to smell his coffee breath. 

“Yes sir.” It’s the safe thing to say, what he should have said in the first place. “I’m sorry, Quentin,” he adds. 

Peter’s stomach turns when Quentin ruffles his hair lightly. “There you go, that’s what I like to see. I just want to help you, Will, and Leo. When you aren’t difficult, we get along, don’t we, Peter?” 

Peter nods. 

“Now go get Leo, you guys are going to miss your train if he doesn’t get down here soon.” 

Peter dips his head and heads up the creaky stairs. This narrow little house in a shitty part of Queens is probably the best place he has lived in since his parents died, but he still hates it. Hates the green carpeting on the stairs and the ugly linoleum flooring. He hates the small bedroom he shares with Will, and Leo’s even tinier one. He’s almost positive that Leo’s room used to be a storage room, it only has a small window and no closet. Leo keeps his clothes in a plastic tub under the bed. It’s not like he has that many clothes to begin with, anyway. 

“Leo?” he says. “Time to leave for school.” 

His brother is poring over a collection of Richard Feynman’s lectures on physics. On the nights he can’t sleep, Leo wakes up at four and reads science books until he leaves for school. Peter stares at the framed photo of their mom on the milk crate Leo uses as his nightstand, at her dark blue eyes and sandy hair. “Leo,” he says. “Time to go.” 

Leo sets the book down and snags his bookbag off the ground. “Okay. Did Will leave yet?” 

“Twenty minutes ago. Didn’t you hear?” 

“No, I was too focused. Feynman’s brilliant, I wish I could ask him--” 

“You can nerd out later, Leo,” Peter laughs. “We need to get going before we’re late.” 

“Fine, you nag,” Leo says. 

The two brothers thunder down the stairs, mutter a quick goodbye to Quentin, and scurry out the door. Once they are safely settled on the subway and headed towards Midtown Tech, the STEM school they both attend, Peter faithfully listens to Leo prattling on about Feynman and all the great work he did to improve the study of physics. He sees the other New Yorkers on the subway rolling their eyes, but Leo’s too impassioned to notice. Peter gives the most obnoxious onlookers a death glare and they avoid his gaze for the rest of the ride. 

Once off the subway, they shove their way through the thick crowds of New Yorkers heading to school or work. Peter puts his earbuds in and plays some indie rock to help drown out the noise. He feels a lot better when they reach the school grounds. As they cross the small parking lot reserved for the faculty and students who are rich enough to afford a car in the city, Peter feels the skin on the back of his neck crawl. He grabs Leo and jerks him back without warning. Seconds later, a car takes a recklessly fast turn into the parking lot. 

“Watch out, Penis Parker!” the kid driving the Audi convertible hoots. 

“Flash is such a fucking tool,” Leo mutters. 

Peter just shrugs. The brothers walk into school together, dodging the crowds of students heading to class and digging books out of their lockers. After a quick goodbye, Leo heads to the senior hall while Peter heads to the hallway the sophomore lockers are in.  

While he’s shoveling books out of his locker, he feels a prickle of warmth on the back of his neck. “Join me, and together we’ll build the LEGO Death Star,” someone breathes in his ear. 

Peter whips around to stare at his best friend, Ned Leeds. “Wait, really? That’s so cool!” 

“What a loser,” he hears a cheerleader mutter to her other friend. Peter’s cheeks redden. 

He fights back his shame and grins when Ned tells him the number of pieces the set contains. That grin disappears when his friend asks him to come over and build it. 

“Sorry, I’m grounded,” Peter says. 

“Still? Your foster dad didn’t even let you come to the sleepover we planned for Saturday,” Ned says. 

“I know, I-I had a fight with my brother, and Quentin was really mad about it.” Peter feels bad for lying, but it’s better than the truth. “It-it was my fault, I’m sorry.” 

“Don’t worry, man, Ellie and I fight all the time. She took my Switch without asking last night and we didn’t talk during dinner,” Ned says. “Which brother?” 

“Will,” Peter says. 

“I figured Deke. Leo said he is ‘a frightening wee walloper,’ whatever that means.” 

“It’s Scottish for idiot,” Peter explains.  

“Your brother has the coolest accent. I wish I was from Scotland.” 

“Hey, I’m from Scotland, too, kind of,” Peter says. “Leo and Peni still have the accent because we moved back to the US when they were eight, and they’d spend the summers with their dad until our mom and their stepmom had a pretty bad fight.” 

Leo and Peni’s dad is a Scotsman named Alastair. The twins are the result of a drunken hookup their mother Mary had with a recently divorced Alastair when SHIELD stationed her in Edinburgh. When the twins were one, she married an American pilot named Richard Parker, the father of Peter, Will, Deke, and Reese. Alastair tried to remain present in Peni and Leo’s lives, but he was verbally abusive and his ex-wife insisted he cut them off when they got back together again. Peni and Leo were shunned from the family and not allowed to talk to their paternal half-siblings. Richard Parker became their father in all but name. 

Peter feels guilty telling Ned about it. Even mentioning his half-siblings' dad in front of Peni makes her cry, while Leo simply changes the subject or insists he doesn’t give a shit about the man. 

“Damn, that sucks.” Ned pauses. “And you have EU citizenship because your grandpa was from Ireland and you were born in Scotland, right?” 

Peter nods. He hopes to go to college in Scotland or Ireland, since tuition is a lot cheaper in Europe and he is technically a citizen of both the EU and UK  shoutout to Brexit . “Yeah, not that it really helps me a lot,” he jokes. “I’m still stuck in the US until I turn eighteen and age out of foster care.” 

Ned keeps his tone purposefully light, which makes Peter’s heart swell. “Well, you have three years left in this country and then you can hightail it to the land of free healthcare and affordable higher education.” 

Peter barks out a laugh. “Can’t wait.” 

“You have to let me visit you all the time.” 

“Of course, buddy. We can go on a super cool trip around Europe. You would love Dublin and Edinburgh. London’s pretty cool, I guess, but Edinburgh’s my favorite city after New York.” 

“Do you think they’ll think my accent is cool?” 

“So cool,” Peter promises. He looks at his watch at the five-minute warning bell rings. “Shoot, we better get to AP US before Mr. Duncan marks us absent.” 

Ned spends most of the day chattering about various European cities he wants to visit. During lunch, they sit at their usual table in the corner, where they try to avoid Flash Thompson and google cheap VRBOs in Italy. Ned has decided that he will meet his future wife there and that her name will be Giuliana. Peter goes to throw the remains of his free lunch—perks of being a foster kid, he supposes—out in the trash can. His neck tingles. He turns around and sees Flash lurking behind him. Peter moves past him, too tired and stressed to deal with his bully. 

“Didn’t you wear that shirt last week, Penis?” Flash says. “You might need to take another trip to Goodwill soon.” 

Peter stiffens, suddenly self-conscious of his red T-shirt that says I Made a Chemistry Joke...There Was No Reaction. Peni gave it to him on his fifteenth birthday. Peter wears it on days that are worse than usual, such as Monday mornings when Quentin hits him. Last week was his parents’ anniversary, so he wore the shirt to make him feel a bit better. Peter wore a blue flannel over it today to make it looks a little different.  

Peter is also aware of the fact that he does not have that many clothes. His science pun T -shirts and flannels are either carefully saved for and then bought at sale price or purchased at Goodwill. There are a few rare gifts, such as the T-shirt from Peni. His siblings are the only ones who bother to buy him gifts besides Ned. While Peter does not wear rags to school every day, he does not have a walk-in closet full of clothes either. His whole wardrobe fits in the top two drawers of the hideously orange dresser Quentin bought at a yard sale when he and his brothers were placed in his home. 

Peter cried when he saw that dresser his very first night there. He thought it was a bad omen. He hates the color orange. 

Peter’s pretty sure his instincts were correct. 

“Thrifting is pretty trendy these days, Eugene. And here I thought you were the coolest guy in this whole school,” Peter says. 

Flash’s expression darkens when Peter uses his real name. “Don’t call me that, you shrimpy loser.” 

“You’re the one who calls me Penis like some stereotypical bully in a low-budget film, Eu-gene.” Peter makes sure to enunciate the name.  

“You’re asking to get pounded, Parker,” Flash says. 

“Go ahead, do it. You’ll get an in-school suspension at best if you pick a fight in the middle of the lunchroom.” Peter brushes past Flash. He knows he’s going to regret this later, but right now he doesn’t care. 

No one insults a gift that one of his siblings gave him. No one


 Since Ned is not in his AP Literature class, Peter does not have anyone to talk to after lunch is over. He is shocked when Michelle Jones, the loner on his Academic Decathalon team, sits down next to him. Her brown eyes are curious, her expression carefully guarded.  

“I heard Flash Thompson say he’s going to jump you after Academic Decathalon practice,” Michelle says. Some people call her MJ, Peter remembers. He wonders which one she prefers. 

Peter takes this news with the resigned attitude he’s carried around with him since age eight. It used to disturb his aunt to no end. “I figured,” he says. 

“Hit him back. I know you have biceps, even though you’re skinnier than a stray dog.” 

“I’m growing,” Peter says vehemently, only focusing on the latter part of MJ’s statement. “I’m not anorexic.” 

MJ says, “I never said that. A serious mental illness should not be used as a casual adjective.” 

“I agree,” Peter says quietly. He remembers the first part of MJ’s earlier statement. “And I don’t have biceps. Trust me.” 

MJ shrugs. “I just think you shouldn’t let a tool like Flash push you around.” 

“You make it seem like I want him to pick on me.” Peter flushes. Who is this girl, to comment on a situation she knows nothing about? 

“I just think you need to decide to stop being a victim.” With that, MJ stands up and goes back to her usual corner in the back of the classroom. 

Peter sits in his desk, rooted in shock.  

His whole life, things have happened to him without having much say in it. His parents decided to have a large family, constantly leaving them short on money and time to devote to their brood. After the car crash, Peter and his siblings found themselves without parents and in the care of an aunt and uncle who loved them in a flawed sort of way on the best days and resented them on the worst. In foster care, Peter was placed in the care of people he never met and later separated from his siblings.  

It’s bad luck, he always tells his siblings. Our family just has bad luck.   

When Flash decided to make Peter his special victim to torment, Peter chalked it up to bad luck. The Parker luck. The story of his life. 

But then he got bit by the spider on the field trip to Oscorp, just over six months ago. Sometimes Peter roams the streets in a red hoodie and blue pajamas he stole from Quentin. He stops muggings, helps drunk girls find their way home, fights off gangbangers with guns. Good, honest work. He’s helping people, he knows he is. 

He gave the brave version of him, the good person who helps people instead of screwing everything up, a name. 

Spider-Man. After the creature that gave him a gift. At least, he thinks it is a gift. 

Getting bit by the spider wasn’t bad luck, was it?  

Will cried when he found out what happened to Peter. Peter figured that his twin finding out would be inevitable; they share a room, after all. Will says he knows what happens to mutants, to people with special powers. Evil people want to dissect them or weaponize them. The government wants them to be registered at best. Even agencies like SHIELD want to use mutants to further their interests. Peter knows Will thinks what happened to Peter is bad luck. He knows his other siblings would think the same; that’s why he hasn’t told them. 

While his brother may think his powers are a curse, Peter sees them as a blessing. He uses them to help people. 

Yet why hasn’t he used them to help himself


 “Penis,” Flash calls after Academic Decathalon.  

Leo, Peter, and Ned are heading down the hall to part their separate ways. Leo stocks shelves at a grocery store a few nights a week, while Peter needs to hurry to go to his shift at Mr. Delmar’s from four to nine. Ned doesn’t work, but his extremely Catholic mother makes him volunteer at the food pantry with her every Monday. 

“Just ignore him,” Ned mutters, even as Leo whirls around. 

“The fuck do you want, you bloody wanker?” Leo asks. Peter thinks his older brother thickens his accent on purpose. 

“Do you need your big brother to fight your battles, Parker?” Flash says. Flash glances at Leo. “Excuse me, he’s your half-brother, right? Word on the street is your mom was a bit of a slut, Fitzpatrick.” 

Leo’s surname is Fitzpatrick, which was their mom’s maiden name. “Word on the street is that your mom’s uglier than the hoores you fuck in Central Park.” 

“You’re dead, Fitzpatrick,” Flash warns. 

Leo looks at Peter and Ned. “Weird. The bloke’s mom told me the same thing last night when I rejected her. That’s why I know how fucking ugly she really is.” 

“You wanna go for it, huh?” Flash’s eyes are dark and dangerous. 

Leo’s about to snap back when Quentin’s words from earlier sneak into Peter’s thoughts like an unwanted parasite.  I ’m the one person keeping your sorry ass from a group home or juvie.  

Peter and his brother are on thin ice with Midtown already. A fight on school grounds would probably result in expulsion. Peter grabs Leo’s shoulder, shakes his head. 

“Not worth it, Leo,” he whispers. “Just leave it.” 

“You’ll let the bloody bastart--” 

“Yes, I will. Be the better man.” Peter pictures a man with dark hair and hazel eyes telling him this when he hit Will for stealing his cookies when they were five.  

The words visibly affect Leo. “God, you sound just like him,” he mutters. Turning to Flash, he adds, “You’re not worth it, Eugene. Picking out that massive stick up your ass might be a better use of your time than picking fights.” 

Peter, Ned, and Leo walk away with Flash shooting jeers after them. Peter ignores them. He has an important phone call to make. 


 Before he clocks into work, he dials a number he has memorized. The line rings and rings, but eventually, an exhausted-sounding woman picks up.  

“Deidre Lahey speaking. CPS.” 

“Hey, Mrs. Lahey. It’s Peter Parker,” Peter says into the phone. 

“What. Do. You. Want.” 

“I was just wondering, have you found a home that can take in six kids?” 

Mrs. Lahey sighs heavily into the phone. “Peter, I have told you a million times, there is no home that can take in six kids. You guys blew your chance. You’re lucky that the six of you are split up between two homes as it is. Do you know how hard it was to place three teenage boys together? Do you?” 

“Can we at least get more visitation? I only get to see my sisters and Deke every other Thursday--” 

“Their foster parents have busy work schedules. You know that.” 

“They’re my siblings. Please.  

“Do I need to call your foster father? I’m sick of you calling every week and whining. Every Monday, like clockwork. It's pathetic. You’re fifteen, Peter. Life isn’t fair. You need to grow up, some kids have it way worse than you do.” 

“I know,” Peter says. “I-I’m sorry.” 

“I have more urgent cases to get to. Goodbye, Peter.” 

“Goodbye,” Peter whispers into the phone. 


 

Harley hates Eugene “Flash” Thompson with a burning passion. 

The kid is the son of a SI board member who often frequents the dinner parties Pepper throws at the penthouse in Avengers Tower. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson usually drag Flash along with them. Harley suspects that the couple want their son to become friends with him for future business connections. Networking can start sophomore year of high school, apparently.  

While they both have a love for science and the Avengers, that is where their similarities end. Flash can pick from three different luxury cars to drive to school. He constantly flaunts his wealth and talks about the expensive private school he attends. Harley grew up eating fried eggs and white rice for dinner every night, and he refuses Tony and Pepper if they try to buy him designer brand clothes. He prefers a good homecooked meal over food from the fanciest restaurant in the New York. Harley may walk among the rich now, but he’s never felt he belongs.  

Harley wants to claw his eyes out when he sits next to Flash at the dinner table. He would prefer sitting with Morgan and the six-year-old twins of another board member at the kiddie table.  

“You see any of the Avengers lately?” Flash asks. 

“No,” Harley says, even though Clint and Natasha taught him to shoot pool for three hours on Sunday. “They mostly stay in the upstate facility.” 

“I’m just saying, you could totally give my number to Black Widow--” 

“Not happening,” Harley says, grinning just a little bit. “She’d kill me.” 

“What about Scarlet Witch--?” 

“Wanda’s in Edinburgh right now,” Harley says. “With her boyfriend.” 

“Who’s Scarlet Witch’s boyfriend?” Flash, ever the gossip, wants to know. 

“Classified,” Tony yells down the dinner table. 

“Understood, Mr. Stark,” Flash says dutifully, ever the suck-up to Iron Man. He turns back to Harley. “Whoever he is, I’m guessing the Secret Scottish Boyfriend is probably really territorial. There’s this Scottish kid that goes to my school, and he’s got some serious anger issues.” 

“Is he a foreign exchange student?” 

Flash shakes his head. “No, I think he immigrated to the US. He has a younger American half-brother who’s our age, so I don’t really get it.”  

“Oh, that is weird.” Harley tries not to sound disinterested. 

“They’re both such freaks. I think they’re scholarship kids. It figures,” Flash scoffs. 

“There’s probably no father figure, given the mother has children with multiple men,” Mrs. Thompson chimes in. “Really messes the kids up when there’s no man in the house, it always does.” 

Harley remembers a man that drank and threw things and a mother covered in bruises. He remembers things being a lot better when the man was gone.  

He wants to say something, wants to defend this random Scottish kid and his American brother, whoever they are, but Flash continues running his mouth. “And I think they’re foster kids, so they’re probably super messed up from that. Any foster kid is. Remember that one foster kid who shot their foster dad, a few years back--” 

Morgan pipes up from the kiddie table, “Mommy, is the foster kid you and Daddy want to ‘dopt gonna shoot Daddy?” 


 The next morning, The Daily Bugle releases the following article: 

 

STARKS LOOKING TO EXPAND THEIR FAMILY THROUGH FOSTER CARE  

 

Everyone has a favorite power couple—Barack and Michelle, Kanye and Kim, William and Kate. Everyone’s favorite superpower couple is Tony and Pepper Stark. This couple shocked the world when they announced they were expecting a child in early 2012. Not satisfied, the couple decided to expand their family by adopting eleven-year-old Harley while Pepper was still pregnant. When Morgan Stark was born, everyone thought the Stark family was complete.  

According to an inside source, the Starks have recently revealed to close family friends that they are hoping to have a third child. However, they have decided to go the adoption route. They hope to adopt domestically. According to a report released by CPS in 2015, there are almost 450,000 kids in foster care in the United States alone...  

Chapter Text

Peter sees the article on Twitter before he leaves for school. Quentin gave him his phone back last night. Peter received the best grade in the class on his AP Calc BC exam, so Quentin decided to cut his punishment short. However, Will received another poor grade on an English assignment. Leo almost had to step between Will and Quentin last night. Peter has no doubt his twin was going to club Quentin with his cane right before Leo interfered.  

“You lousy crip , you can’t even write a fucking English paper,” Quentin had sneered.  

“What did you just call me?” Will’s breathing became heavily labored. Peter saw the inciting resentment flare in his twin’s eyes, that same determination that goaded Uncle Ben to beat Will bloody countless times. The Parker temper, their mother used to call it.  

There was some ancient hunger that Will possessed, an anger that could only be released through the exchange of blows and pain. Peter feared that it would one day kill his twin.  

In short, last night was not good. 

As he reads the article title, Peter remembers his Granddad Fitzpatrick’s constant obsession with Tony Stark. As a little kid, Peter chalked it up to an ex-SHIELD agent’s interest in a heroic figure, one who swore to protect the world. However, he soon realized the much more personal connection. He saw it in the arch of an eyebrow, dark hazel eyes, that mischievous grin Granddad would sometime flash at Peter at Sunday dinner. When he finally plucked the courage to ask Granddad to confirm his suspicions at age eleven, the old Irish bastard grabbed his shoe and whacked Peter with it. 

The second time he asked a few months later, Peter stayed well out of the old man’s way. Finally, Peter’s endless pleas convinced Granddad to confess to a drunken hookup with another SHIELD agent that resulted in a baby. That baby was adopted by one of the founders of the agency, and Bill Fitzpatrick never saw his child again. 

Grandad swore Peter to secrecy. Peter only ever told Will, Peni, and Leo. They rarely talked about it, except when Will would call Peter out for his unhealthy obsession with Iron Man. They had bigger problems than their grandpa’s secret love child, especially once they entered foster care. 

Peter almost drops his phone when he reads the actual content of the article. They hope to adopt domestically. Domestically means that the Starks will probably go through foster care, the same way they adopted Harley Keener-Stark when he was eleven.  

Peter knows six foster kids who need a new home. His feels his hopes rise just the tiniest bit, until he remembers his social worker’s scathing voice reminding him to be satisfied with his current placement. She basically told him to shut his mouth and suck it up. 

Peter takes his hope and locks it up in the box it belongs in. Some other kid deserves to be adopted by the Starks, someone with actual problems. He clicks off Twitter and goes upstairs to remind Leo that it is time to leave for school. 


 

School passes as usual, with Peter only talking to Ned in class and occasionally waving to Leo in the hallway. Flash shoves Peter into a locker twice and makes at least three jokes at his expense in AP Chem. Peter wants to pummel the bully until he is nothing more than a quivering mess of narcissistic prick on the floor, but he restrains himself.  

In AP Literature, right after lunch, Peter almost keels over in surprise when Michelle Jones sits next to him again. Peter is scanning through Twitter and Instagram, where all the Iron Man fan accounts are spouting outlandish theories about the impending Stark adoption. Many suspect that the couple will adopt a toddler or a younger kid, most likely a boy.  

“What’s up, loser?” MJ glances at Peter’s phone. “That’s totally a publicity stunt, you know. I guarantee that Stark Industries' PR department leaked the information themselves.” 

Peter looks at her, surprised. “You think so?” 

“Despite all his accomplishments as Iron Man, Tony Stark was still a weapons developer whose inventions have killed thousands, especially in the Middle East. And I’m pretty sure their stock portfolio is sketchy--” 

Peter listens to her rant for a minute straight. It’s the longest he’s ever heard her speak. “I think it’s great,” he says quietly. 

MJ studies him. “Why do you say that?” 

“When a high-profile couple such as the Starks pursue adoption, it prompts ordinary people to at least look into it. When they adopted Harley, the domestic adoption rate in the US that year went up nearly fifteen percent, with more than half those kids being over the age of seven and adopted directly from foster care.” 

“The whole point of foster care is reunification with families, though.” 

“Trust me, I know,” Peter says. When MJ quirks an eyebrow, he mutters, “I’ve been in the system. I have a foster dad and everything.” 

MJ looks taken aback. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.” 

Peter shrugs. “It’s not exactly something I tell a lot of people. And it’s not as bad as they make it seem in the media, especially when you have siblings with you.”  

“You have a brother, right? He always waits for you to come out of Academic Decathalon practice.” 

MJ is very observant, so Peter is not surprised she knows who Leo is. “His name’s Leo, but I also have two other brothers and two sisters.” 

“Woah, that’s a big family.” MJ pauses. “Are they all younger? Is that why they aren’t at Midtown?” 

“No, four of us are in high school right now. My twin brother goes to a public school in Queens, while my older sister does dual enrollment at a community college in the Bronx. The younger two are only in eighth and fifth grade. They go to a public school in the Bronx.” 

“You guys are all over the place. Your poor foster dad.” 

Peter just shrugs, not bothering to correct her. He likes the idea of MJ thinking he gets to live with all five of his siblings. “With four of us in high school, we can get to school by ourselves.” He smiles a bit at the thought of dodging his sisters and Deke in the morning as they scramble to get ready for school. He used to make Reese’s lunch for her every morning. He always left her a cute little note, at least until she demanded he stop when she turned eight. 

If he could, he would still leave little notes in her lunch, no matter how much she complained. 

“My mom can barely handle one kid without getting ulcers,” MJ deadpans. 

Peter blinks. “You give your mom ulcers?” 

MJ shoots him a withering look. “Have you ever heard of sarcasm?” 

“I have, but you seem like the type of person who would give someone ulcers.” Peter clutches his stomach. “I think I feel one coming on.” 

MJ punches him in the arm.  

Peter grins just the tiniest bit. He might have just made his second friend in high school. 


 

That night at “family” dinner, exhausted from a long day of work and school and studying, Peter just wants to sleep. Quentin is a particularly good mood after Will brings back an English assignment he did well on. Peter knows for a fact that Will spent an hour and a half FaceTiming Peni last night, and that she did most of the work. For being such a bookworm, Will really does suck at English.  

Halfway through Quentin going on a tangent about Will needing to keep up the good work in school, Peter tunes out. He nearly falls out of his chair when Quentin says, “Peter, don’t think I don’t notice you daydreaming.” 

“Sorry, sir,” Peter mutters. “I’m a bit tired. Work was crazy today.” 

“It was only a four-hour shift. Surely you don’t find that exhausting?” Quentin laughs. “Just wait until you start a real job, Pete.” 

The nickname makes Peter’s skin crawl. That’s a good boy, Pete, just like that. “ Yeah, I’ll be working crazy hours when I’m a chemist,” Peter agrees. 

“Well, you’ll never be able to pay for college if you’re too lazy to put in the effort it takes,” Quentin points out. He looks at both Leo and Will. “That goes for you two as well.” 

“SHIELD will pay for my schooling if I get accepted into SHIELD Tech,” Leo says. His dream is to work for SHIELD as an engineer. He’s been working on his application since freshman year of high school. 

“Just because your mom and grandpa supposedly worked there doesn’t mean you’ll get in.” 

“He’s smart enough to get in on his own merit,” Will says loyally. “And of course our mom and granddad worked there. The Fitzpatrick name is famous at SHIELD. Our mom worked with the freaking  Avengers at one point, and our granddad was one of Peggy Carter’s right-hand men.” 

“And I suppose your dad drank beers with Captain America and the Hulk?” Quentin snorts. “C’mon guys, if that all were true, don’t you think SHIELD would have kept you guys from ending up in a foster home?” 

None of the boys have anything to say to that.  

Quentin stands up. “I’m meeting my buddies at the bar, the game’s on tonight. I want this kitchen clean when I come home and a few loads of laundry done.” His tone leaves no room for argument, even though the bastard knows his foster sons are exhausted from work and school. 

After he leaves, Will bursts out, “He’s so fucking condescending all the time. What does he know about Mom and Granddad?” 

“Jack shit, that’s what he knows.” With a sigh, Leo stands up. “I’ll do the dishes. Peter, you wipe down the counters and sweep the floor. Will, you able to do the laundry? I know your back was bothering you earlier.” 

“I have a limp , I’m not paralyzed,” Will snaps. 

“I know,” Leo assures him. “Just want to make sure you aren’t straining yourself.” 

“I’m not a bloody baby.” Will stomps upstairs to empty the laundry baskets. 

Leo and Peter look at each other.  

“He’s still upset about Quentin’s comment yesterday,” Peter says. “Don’t take it personally.” 

“I know. Will only lashes out when he’s hurting.” Leo sighs. “I wish I could just make it all go away for him, you know?” 

Peter nods, his heart heavy. “Trust me, I know.”  


 At eleven, Quentin still isn’t back from the bar. Peter waits for Will to fall asleep before he dons the Spider-Man uniform.  

He stops two muggings, beats up a man who was following a woman, and helps a drunk man get back to his apartment. Peter stays out until three, much later than he should. In his defense, one of the muggers grazes him with a knife and he needs to stay out until it heals fully. He does not want to freak Will out when he comes out. His poor brother worries enough about him.  

Over a block away, Peter hears yelling coming from inside the house. Shit. 

He sprints up the fire escape, scaling it in a matter of seconds. He yanks his bedroom window open, paling at the conversation he hears from downstairs. Peter rips off the Spider-Man suit and throws on a pair of shorts and a random T-shirt of Will’s.  

“Where the fuck is your brother?” Quentin snarls. Peter pales. 

“I’ve told you a billion times! I don’t know.” That’s Will. 

“Don’t get smart with me, you little shit.” Peter hears an audible thwack when his foster dad backhands Will across the face.  

Peter tears down the stairs. “Leave him the fuck alone!” 

Quentin whirls around, his eyes gleaming with fury. He has Will cornered in the kitchen. His twin brother quivers in terror, clutching his cane like a lifeline. Leo’s hunched over the kitchen table, his eye blackened and the side of his mouth bleeding. His eyes are swollen and red from crying. 

Peter is going to kill Quentin. 

“Where the fuck were you?” Quentin stalks towards the stairs and reaches to grab Peter. Peter darts past him, which only pisses him off even more. 

“Out.” 

Quentin lunges towards Peter again, this time grabbing him. The kitchen is really small and there’s only so much room for Peter to run. He shakes Peter and cuffs him over the side of the head. “Give me a straight answer, Peter, I swear to God.” 

“I just went for a walk,” Peter says. He struggles a little bit, but he’s afraid to pull away from Quentin and reveal his true strength. 

Quentin hits him again, this time with more force behind it. “Probably on drugs, just like your uncle--” 

“He wasn’t on drugs,” Peter gasps out, only to receive another slap. 

Quentin shoves him away. “Stay here,” he hisses. Peter stays rooted in the spot as his foster father stalks into his bedroom. He hears Quentin rustling through his wardrobe. When Quentin reemerges with a belt, Peter scrambles backwards. Will lunges up the stairs as fast as he can. The ugly green carpet muffles the thumping of his cane. 

Peter can’t blame him. 

“Don’t touch him,” Leo warns. “I swear I’ll call the cops.” 

“Go ahead, pussy. I’ll tell your bitch of a social worker that Peter and you attacked me, so I beat your asses in self-defense. Then the three of you are off to a halfway house or juvie for assault. You two already have a record. There’s no second chances, not for punks like you.” 

Peter can’t breathe. He remembers Uncle Ben coming home from the police station all riled up and ready to fight. He’d pummel them just for breathing, some days. The worse days were when he unbuckled his heavy belt and folded it in half. Aunt May would cry and scream, but nothing made him stop. Nothing. 

No second chances.  

Peter doesn’t want to go to juvie. He’d rather die. 

“Just get it over with,” he hears himself saying.  

When Quentin stalks across the room, snapping the belt in the air, Peter screws his eyes shut. 


 With red welts peppering his body from his shoulders to his thighs—even parts of his chest—, Peter sits down on the bed heavily. He lets himself to cry for a few minutes, his thin body shaking with the force of his sobs. He buries himself into Leo’s chest, letting himself say over and over, “I want Mom, I want Dad, I want Aunt May.” Will shoves a chair under the doorknob in case Quentin tries to come into their room.  

Finally, Peter leaves the comfort of Leo’s warm embrace and pulls out his phone. He shows his brothers the Twitter article and says, “We’re getting out of here. I’m going to write a really long email to Mr. Stark.” 

“You what?” Will says incredulously. 

“I’m going to email Tony Stark.” 

“What if he doesn’t respond?” Leo looks at his little brother as if he sprouted another head. 

His eyes still leaking tears of shame and agony, Peter grins wolfishly and says, “Then I’ll send another. And if he doesn’t respond, I’ll send another one after that. I’ll just keep sending them until we get a reply.” 

Chapter Text

Harley knows that Pepper is as no-nonsense as they come. His guardian can single-handedly render every member of the Avengers—besides Natasha, of course—speechless with a few words and a disappointed look. She handles Tony’s strange sleeping schedule, Harley’s obsession with routine, and Morgan’s refusal to eat nothing but Juice Pops with skill. Nothing can halt Virginia Pepper Potts Stark in her tracks.  

Nothing.  

When someone at the dinner party leaks her family’s plan to adopt another child, Pepper is furious and shocked. These are the people who are the lifeblood of SI, the people who help her manage billions of dollars in assets and stocks.   

“Who the hell talked?” she shrieks into her phone when the news leaks.  

Tony does his best to sooth her, but nothing can calm the lioness once she is unleashed. Pepper summons each board member who was present and grills them. Finally, she determines that Flash Thompson leaked the news.   

Needless to say, Harley is not surprised. Flash is to be shipped off to do charity work all next summer, and Mr. Thompson promises to inflict a “draconian” set of rules and ground him for a month.   

Paparazzi and reporters hound Pepper and Tony wherever they go. Harley, who does online school, remains largely unaffected. Natasha and Clint personally oversee Morgan’s security detail at her very expensive preschool. Everyone wants to know about the expected new member of the Stark family.  

The rumors swirl, as they always do. Many suspect Pepper suffers from secondary infertility. Others argue that this is just a publicity stunt. A few—Harley's favorite group—wholeheartedly believe that Pepper and Tony just want to make the world a better place by adopting an unwanted child.  

Of course, the reporters also drudge up Harley’s adoption story. Harley starts off avoiding those articles. Eventually, he caves in and reads them. He then spends hours sobbing and wishing that he hadn’t. Even after four years, Harley cannot face the past.  

Sometimes, Harley wishes his body was buried in that tiny graveyard in Woodpine , Tennesse.   

Morgan finds him wedged between the bed and the wall. She brings him Juice Pops, and he tries not to accidentally call her Celine.


  At 2:08 A.M. on a Wednesday, the following letter is sent to the Stark Industries email account:  

Dear Mr. Stark,  

In the history books, the founding members of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division can be traced back to legends Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. However, countless agents who go unnamed built the agency from the ground up. Agent Carter and the elder Mr. Stark could not have done it alone.  

In the early seventies, Agent Carter saw an Irish teenager hold himself against four grown men in a barfight. He was from a Catholic working-class neighborhood in Belfast, the son of a factory worker who had strong ties to the IRA. Agent Carter offered William Fitzpatrick a chance to escape the conflict that had wrecked his city and would soon claim him. William Fitzpatrick exchanged the Irish tricolour and his Armalite for a SHIELD badge and a pistol. (He remained a strong advocate for a united Ireland for the rest of his days, though.) 

As a SHIELD operative, Fitzpatrick quickly rose through the ranks as he proved himself again and again during missions. He soon became a trusted advisor of both Agent Carter and the elder Mr. Stark. They sent Fitzpatrick on the missions that no one else would be able to complete.  

Amanda Armstrong was an undercover agent who was captured by Soviet operatives in Ukraine. Fitzpatrick was sent to rescue her. After they returned safely to the United States, Fitzpatrick and Armstrong kept in touch. They pursued a brief relationship that ended with them parting as friends.  

A few months later, Armstrong contacted Fitzpatrick and revealed that she was pregnant. At the time, they were not in the position to raise a child. Peggy Carter and Howard Stark caught wind of the situation. Howard Stark and his wife had been having issues conceiving a child, so they offered to adopt Fitzpatrick and Armstrong’s child.  

 They both agreed. When their son was born, Amanda named the little boy Anthony after her father. The next day, the adoption papers were signed. Anthony Fitzpatrick became Anthony Edward Stark.  

Mr. Stark, I never met Amanda Armstrong. I do not know if she still lives. However, my granddad Bill Fitzpatrick helped raise me and I knew him very well. If you wish to know more about him, feel free to contact me at lapwdtfitzparker@gmail.com . He was a good man and he adored his daughter and grandchildren. I know for a fact that he loved his son with all his heart.  

There is no easy way to say this, so I will say it outright. My granddad died two years ago. His daughter Mary and son-in-law Richard passed away in 2009. She left behind six children: Leopold, Aspen, Wilder, Peter (yours truly), Deacon, and Teresa. After the deaths of our paternal aunt and uncle, we have found ourselves without guardians and in foster care. While I do not know if you wish to care for all six of your six half-nieces and –nephews, I beg you to at least consider adopting the youngest two, Deacon and Teresa.   

Sincerely,  

Peter Parker, the son of your half-sister Mary Parker and the grandson of William Fitzpatrick  


 

Harley hears glass shattering.  

He lurches out of bed and skids into the kitchen. He finds Tony and Pepper standing in the kitchen, staring at each other in shock. Tony clutches a sheath of papers. Harley sees tears glistening in his guardian’s eyes.  

“Did someone die?” Harley asks.  

Tony’s eyes are hollow. “No. Go back to bed, Harley.”  

“Something happened, though. Something bad.” Harley feels a wave of anxiety. “What’s wrong? Tell me.”  

“We’ll discuss it in the morning.” Tony is short and dismissive.  

“But--”  

“God dammit Harley, just do as you’re told!” Tony snaps.  

Harley flinches back, and any anger in Tony’s eyes melts away. “Oh God, kid, I’m so sorry,” his guardian says. “I’m sorry.”  

Pepper looks at her husband. “Tell him, or I will.”  

Tony’s grip on the papers crinkles them. “You have cousins, Harley. Six of ‘em.”  

“What? My mom didn’t have any siblings, and my dad’s family wants nothing to do with me--”  

“Sorry, I meant adoptive.” Tony winces.  

“You and Pepper don’t have siblings...?”  

“I’m adopted, kid, just like you. Appar ently my half-sister decided to have a whole litter of kids. Who the hell has six children?”  

“You’re adopted?” Harley repeats stupidly.  

“Yep. And to put the icing on the cake, my birth father and half-sister are both dead. Now my newfound nephew wants me to adopt him and his five freaking siblings. He asked me over email, Harley, email !”  

“Did a DNA test confirm it?”  

“I haven’t gotten a sample from one of my nieces and nephews, but FRIDAY just ran a DNA test that confirmed I am not the biological child of Howard and Maria Stark.”  

“Jesus Christ,” Harley says. That’s all he can manage to say. In a situation like this, mere words seem inadequate.  


 

Two days later, Peter and Leo walk in the door and find Tony Stark chatting with Quentin in the kitchen.  

Stark looks up and smiles. “Hello, boys. I thought a long-awaited family reunion was in order.”  

Chapter Text

Peter’s first reaction is to look at Quentin. His foster dad’s gaze is carefully blank. His smile is fake. Fuck, Peter never realized that Tony Stark might show up at their freaking house -- 

Leo just stares. “Mr. Stark,” he finally says, “you’re the bloody spitting image of our mum, except for the fact that you’ve got Granddad’s eyes.” 

Something very raw and very real flashes in Stark’s eyes momentarily. From the way his eyebrows furrow, Peter can tell that his uncle is studying Leo just as intensely. There is a feral need to understand, to figure out where he came from.  

“Leopold,” Stark says, “where did you get that black eye?” 

Leo answers smoothly, “A fight at school. Some asshole jumped me in the hallway.” His gaze slides over to Quentin, his lips twitching into the barest hint of a smile. 

“Did he get in trouble for it?” 

“I’m not a snitch, even though he probably would deserve any punishment he got.”  

“Kid’s too stubborn for his own good,” Quentin says fondly. His words make Peter want to throw up. “I had my own share of fights in high school, so I can’t be mad at him.”  

“Didn’t we all.” Stark turns to Quentin. “You mind if I borrow the boys for a minute? Just want to ask them a few questions.” 

After Quentin nods his assent, Peter and Leo lead Stark up the stairs. They go into Peter and Will’s bedroom, since it is slightly bigger. There is an awkward silence between them. Finally, Tony says, “Your foster dad tells me that you guys needed to go through your social worker to request a change in guardianship. The state thought you had no living relatives left, after your aunt and uncle died.” 

“We... Granddad swore us to secrecy about the whole adoption thing, and at that time, we thought foster care might have been a better option,” Peter says. “There was a foster home that had six beds open, and we wanted to stay together.” 

“Your file said that you two were separated from the rest of your siblings to keep them safe. Wilder refused to leave you, so they let him come with you.” Tony takes a crumpled sheet of paper from his coat pocket. “Let’s see here... Peter Benjamin Parker, age fifteen. Convicted for physically assaulting your foster brother and resisting arrest. You purportedly threatened to stab your first foster father.” 

Stark turns to Leopold. “Leopold Alastair Fitzpatrick, age seventeen. Convicted on two counts of physical assault—your foster brother and your foster father--, running away twice, and five counts of petty theft between ages eleven and fifteen.” 

Peter feels the air physically leave his lungs. He sees suspicion in Stark’s gaze, not an instant connection or the fatherly affection he prayed to see. Stark looks at him the same way Quentin looks at him, the same way the principal at Midtown did when he warned Peter that if he stepped one foot out of line, he would be expelled-- 

He feels tears of shame pool in his eyes and threaten to spill over. 

“I--” he starts to say, but Tony holds up a finger. 

“I have a four-year-old and a teenage son who has been through hell. With you boys, I worry--” 

Peter feels the tears spill over and stream down his face. 

Leo, his fierce and sweet brother, says, “Not everything is as it seems, Mr. Stark.You want to know why we ended up in foster care?” 

“Leopold--” 

“Our uncle broke Peter’s fucking arm. He was thirteen. Our baby sister Reese was eight at the time. Peter got between them, before the fucking bastard could do anything to the wee lass.” Leo grabs Peter’s spindly arm, revealing a long scar that runs from his little brother's wrist to elbow. “Snapped it like a twig. Bastard didn’t even blink. He hit us plenty, but he’d never broken a bone before. Peter needed two surgeries to fix the break. 

“Aunt May had stage four cancer, but she still drove Pete to the hospital when Ben refused to. The doctors reported the injury and we were removed from the home. May died two weeks later. The chemo destroyed her body, and with her kids taken away, she had nothing left to fight for. 

“Uncle Ben was released on bail. He got absolutely blitzed at one of his favorite bars and stepped in front of a semi. Never had a chance. You may think less of me for it, but I was happy when that old wanker died.” 

“Jesus Christ--” Stark starts to say. 

“Do not pretend you know anything about us or what we’ve been through. You simply have words on a paper. You do not know us. Peter and I would do anything for our siblings, anything . You think a kid who defended his sister from a drunk six-foot cop would hurt a preschooler?” 

Stark clears his throat. “I was going to say that on paper, I seem like a pretty bad guy. I have a rap sheet twice as long as you two’s combined, and more DUI’s than I care to admit. So if I got a second chance, I think you two deserve it, too.” 

Peter’s jaw drops.  

“My legal team has already begun the paperwork to have Aspen, Wilder, Deacon, and Teresa transferred into my care. I wanted to meet you two before I became your legal guardian. I’ll text my wife and tell her to put in a request with my lawyers now. They’re the best money can buy, so my driver should be picking you three up in the next few days.”  

Stark sends the text and lets the boys read it as proof. Peter feels lighter than he has in years. 

Stark looks at them seriously. “I did not have a family from ages twenty-one to forty. I would not deny my own nephews a chance to have a family again, especially since I know what it feels like.” 

“Thank you,” Peter chokes out. This time, his tears are ones of relief. “Oh my god, Mr. Stark, thank you.” 

“You don’t have to thank me, Peter. Isn't that what family's for?” Stark says in that glib way of his. He leans forward, his gaze serious again. “Now, there are two conditions before you two are officially my responsibility.” 

“We’ll do anything,” Peter says immediately. Leo nods. 

“One, never call me Mr. Stark. Tony, Uncle Tony, call me whatever the hell you want. Secondly, I need you to tell me about my dad and my sister.” 

Peter looks to Leo. His brother was ten when their parents died, while Peter was barely eight. Leo and Peni remember them the best.  

Leo stands up. “I’ll be right back.” 

A minute later, he returns with a small photo album Peter has not seen in years. He has to look away for a moment. 

Leo turns to a well-worn page coated in pictures of a smiling woman with dark brown hair and blue eyes. “My mum’s name was Mary, and she was the kindest person I have ever known,” he begins.   

Chapter Text

Just as all good things in Peter’s life do, Tony Stark’s time at the house in the bad part of Queens must come to an end. Peter awkwardly shakes his uncle’s hand, trying not to shiver in Quentin’s presence. All his senses are dialed to eleven; the prickle in the bad of his neck suggests danger. Peter wants to beg Stark not to go, but he keeps his mouth shut. He cannot screw this up.  

“I’ll call you tomorrow, Mr. Beck, to discuss transport of the boys’ things to my house,” Stark says to Quentin.  

Quentin is all wide smiles and slick words. “Of course, Mr. Stark. Feel free to call me Quentin. I’m so happy the boys have reconnected with you.”  

Stark looks at Leo and Peter, his expression inscrutable. “It’s certainly the beginning of a new era for us all,” he agrees. He looks at Quentin seriously. “I just wanted to let you know, you don’t have to be cut off from the boys permanently. You can visit them whenever you want.”  

Quentin puts a hand on Peter’s shoulders. He tries not to cringe away. “It’s good to know that. I’ve gotten attached to them over the past year.”  

Attached? Sure, Peter could tell how attached Quentin was when his foster father beat him with a belt and gave Leo a black eye.  

“Who wouldn’t? They’re great kids.” Tony smiles at Leo and Peter. It’s tentative, but it’s real. It’s the most affectionate gesture Peter has received from a parental figure since Aunt May died. He tries not to cry right then and there. “See you soon,” Mr. Stark adds.  

“See you soon, Tony,” they say.   

“Don’t go,” is what Peter really wants to say.  

Sure enough, Quentin grabs the front of Peter’s shirt collar as soon as Tony’s car pulls out of the driveway. “What the fuck did you tell him, you little punk?” he hisses. 

Peter tries to pull away. “Nothing, I swear!” When Quentin raises his hand to strike him, his voice rises. “Sir, I swear! I’m not an idiot.”  

“You tell him anything, I’ll tell your social worker about your little night activities,” Quentin says.   

Peter’s breath hitches in his throat. Quentin sneers. “What, that got you scared?”  

“I don’t do anything at night,” Peter mumbles.  

This time, Quentin does hit him. “You think I don’t see how you’re losing weight, or that you put on a bunch of muscle? Wearing baggy clothes won’t hide that. Hell, Pete, even your girly voice deepened. You’re on some sort of drug, not sure if it’s some amphetamine or a steroid, but you’re definitely on something.”  

Leo’s voice shakes, but he says, “Leave him alone, Quentin. You think Tony Stark isn’t gonna notice if we show up with a bunch of bruises?”  

“I’m trying to keep you three from turning into good-for-nothings like your uncle. Jesus, Leo, can’t you tell I’m the only one who gives a shit about the three of you?”  

“Our parents gave a shit,” Peter says. “Our aunt gave a shit. Our grandpa gave a shit.  

Didn’t your grandpa beat the crap out of you with a shoe if you misbehaved, until he finally croaked when you were in eighth grade? Didn’t your aunt never divorce your uncle because she was too scared and too poor to raise her six nieces and nephews by herself? When Quentin see how Peter recoils at his words, he sneers and keeps going. “ You really think your parents gave a shit, Peter, when your dad drank just as much as your uncle did? Besides, who the hell has six kids in seven years? Wasn’t your mom pregnant when she died--”  

In that instant, Peter sees red. His mind goes to a graveyard in Queens, to a plot with three graves. Richard Laurence Parker, Mary Teresa Fitzpatrick Parker, Phillipa Columbine Parker. Phillipa Columbine, after his mom’s beloved SHIELD mentor Phil Coulson. When the car crash happened, Mary Parker was eight months pregnant. Aunt May insisted that Uncle Ben pay for the extra gravestone, as they already knew the gender and the name Mary and Richard had picked out for their unborn child.   

“Fuck you, Quentin,” he snarls. He shoves his foster dad away, giving him a taste of his full strength. Peter’s eyes swim with tears. “If you lay another hand on me, Will, or Leo, I’m calling CPS and reporting you for child abuse. I never took drugs, and you’re just as much as a bastard as my uncle was.”  

“You already cried wolf once, Peter. You think they’ll listen to you again?” Quentin advances forward. Peter stumbles back a step, his hands trembling. What was he thinking when he shoved Quentin? Good God...   

-- Peter remembers strong hands holding him down, a mocking voice purring in his ear, that same voice telling him that no one would believe him--  

Leo steps between Quentin and Peter. “We’ll stay out of your way, alright? You won’t ever see us after we leave, and we’ll be out of your hair.”  

Quentin looks from Peter to Leo. Finally, he holds his hands up. “I’m done with you three. I’ll be glad to have your ungrateful asses out of my house.”  

The two of them flee up the stairs and wait for Will to come home.  


Peter stares at his siblings’ happy faces through the phone screen and tries not to cry tears of happiness for what feels like the millionth time. Deke is jumping up and down. Reese rolls her eyes at Deke’s excitement, but Peter can see the corners of her sullen mouth twitching into a smile. Peni looks so relieved. He wants to reach through the screen and give them the biggest hugs. In a few days, he will be able to.  

However, his younger siblings ask some difficult questions.   

How come you never told us that freaking Tony Stark is our uncle ?” Deke’s tone isn’t accusatory, but Peter can hear the confusion in his little brother’s voice.  

“Granddad told us older kids to keep it a secret. You know how the old geezer was,” Leo says with a laugh. It’s a textbook Leo deflection, and Reese catches on.  

We had a right to know, Leopold ,” Reese says. If it was another ten-year-old speaking, Peter would think she was being sarcastic, but he knows that she is deadly serious. No one messes with Teresa Parker.  

“It never seemed like a good time, Reese. With Aunt May’s cancer, Uncle Ben’s death, all the foster care BS--”  

Leo, as someone whose parents died when she was three years old, I think I can confidently say we have never had a good time in our lives. What were you waiting for ?” Reese’s voice rises.  

Chill out, Reesey , do you want the Bronners on our asses ?” Deke hisses.  

Don’t swear in front of Reese, Deke, Peni chides.  

You l i terally just dropped the F-bomb yesterday, do not be a hypocrite .”  

“Why are we fighting? This is the best thing to happen to us in years, and y’all are being petty as hell,” Will says.  

“Not sure why I missed you guys,” Peter jokes.  

We’re irreplaceable, Petey,” Deke says in a sickly-sweet voice.  

“Doubtful,” Leo says loudly, just so Deke can hear it.  

I’m going to pack my shit, I can’t handle you guys anymore,” Reese says.  

“Really need to get a handle on her swearing, Peni . You’re doing a bad job minding them ,” Leo tells his twin.  

I got stuck with the worse two,” Peni complains. Peter can see Reese scowling on the phone screen. “ Reesey is worth at least three Wills .”  

“There can never be three of me!” Will exclaims. “I am one of a kind, Aspen.”  

You’re literally a fricking twin, you twerp .”  

“Fraternal twin, you ignorant fool!”  

Peter feels all his uncertainty and doubt melt away. Nothing can be worse than their last foster home or Uncle Ben’s. As long as he has all his siblings with him, he will be fine. As long as he never has to call his social worker a nd ask, “ Did you find a foster home that is willing to take in six kids?”, he will be the happiest person in the world.  

Peni , Leo, Will, Deke, and Reese are the air in his lungs, the reason his heart keeps beating. As long as he has them, everything will be okay. As long as he has them, he is home.   

So Peter relaxes for the first time in years and listen to his siblings’ pointless squabbling.  


Three days later, a  man who introduces himself as Happy Hogan picks the three boys up. He says that Tony and Pepper are arranging the final details at the penthouse, so they sent him to pick Leo, Will, and Peter up. For a man named Happy, he seems a little annoyed with Peter’s endless questions and Leo’s gawking stares. Will woke up with an ache in his leg that his painkillers did nothing to ease, so just sits quietly in the back.   

“So do they really live in Avengers Tower?” Peter asks.  

“The penthouse,” Happy says with great pain.  

“How many bedrooms does it have? Like four?”  

“Who the hell would have four bedrooms and six kids? I think eight or nine,” Happy says.  

Peter grew up in a two-bedroom apartment. He shared a room with all his brothers while his sisters slept on a sleeper sofa in the living room. He keeps his opinions to himself. “Dang, that’s pretty big,” he says.  

“I think your sisters each get their own room, your little brother gets his own, Leo gets his own, and then you twins have to share,” Happy says. “Dear God, why do I know that?” he adds mournfully, half to himself.  

“Then do our... cousins have their own rooms, too?” Peter hesitates to use the word to refer to Harley and Morgan. The term still feels foreign to him.  

“Morgan has a bedroom and her own personal playroom, kid. These are the Starks, after all,” Happy tells him.  

“A playroom?” This is the first time Will’s spoken. “Like a whole room just to... play in?”  

“She really likes puzzles, horses, and Disney princesses, so that’s the current theme, ” Happy says. “God, why do I know that, too?”    

“A whole room for just toys?” Will presses.  

“Yeah, little kids tend to have a lot of toys, don’t they?”  

Uncle Ben broke their toys if they left them out, and most of the time they barely had money for food, utilities, and rent. Aunt May used to make the girls homemade dolls to play with, and she bought what toys she could find at Goodwill. Reese’s baby blanket had been an old T-shirt of Peter’s.  

“Yeah, our place was always trashed growing up, since there were so many of us kids,” Peter says.  

Leo side-eyes Peter. Uncle Ben would freak out if the apartment wasn’t spotless. Aunt May said it was a holdover from his time in the military. Personally, Peter thought it was a holdover from his uncle being a  major asshole.  

“You guys are messy?” Somehow, Happy sounds even more annoyed.  

“Not anymore. Our foster dad was pretty strict about keeping things clean,” Leo says. He kicks Peter. “Peter here can make his bed military-style, with the tight corners and everything . Right, Petey?”  

“Yep, I’m a certified neat freak,” Peter says through gritted teeth. He could kill his brother right now.  

Hopefully they make a better impression on Pepper and their cousins than they did Happy.  

Chapter Text

The boys arrive first.  

Harley sits on the couch, fiddling with the buttons on his flannel. Morgan zooms around the living room, shrieking like a banshee. “My brothers are coming, my brothers are coming!” she singsongs. “We’re gonna eat JuicePops and do puzzles and sing songs ALL day long!”  

Morgan has decided that their six mysterious new cousins are in fact her new siblings. Nothing that  Pepper tell s Morgan can dissuade her from this decision. Since they now have “a ginormous, humongous, really big family,” Morgan thinks they need to get their own TV show, like the Duggars. She knows who the Duggars are because Happy is obsessed with them and watches their show when he babysits.  

“Mommy, when are my brothers coming?” Morgan asks Pepper, who putters around in the kitchen nervously. For some reason, Harley’s guardian always makes omelets when she is stressed.   

“Any minute, darling,” Pepper is telling her when the elevator door dings open. Three boys spill out of the elevator at once.  

A boy with rumpled sandy curls leads the way. He holds a garbage bag under his arm. His blue eyes are wide and appraising, taking everything in. He’s shorter in stature, wiry and thin like Tony. Harley sees somewhat of a resemblance to Tony in the angle of his jawline and the determined way he strides. Who knew that Tony’s cocksure attitude was genetic  

Two boys trail behind him. The twins, then. One walks with a cane. His left foot appears to turn outward, and that leg bows slightly outward. The boy seems to catch Harley staring. Furious blue eyes—a brilliant shade much darker than his brother’s--meet Harley’s gaze head-on. Harley tries to pass it off by smiling awkwardly and giving his cousin an awkward wave. The other boy’s expression does not change as he lifts a hand in greeting. Harley is blown away by his resemblance to Tony. If Harley did not know better, he would think this boy is Tony’s son.  

The other twin seems more cheerful than his sullen brother., sporting a small smile that reveals a couple dimples. While he resembles his twin, they are not identical. This twin’s hair is a darker shade of brown, and Harley thinks he might have Tony’s eyes. He carries a backpack and a plastic grocery bag stuffed full of clothes.  

“Hi, boys,” Pepper calls nervously, heading to greet them from the kitchen. In that same moment, Morgan darts across the living room, shrieking like a banshee.  

“Hi, new brothers!” she shrills.  

Harley almost falls back on the sofa when she launches herself at the sandy-haired boy, in the same way she does with Happy and Tony. To his surprise, the sandy-haired boy catches her easily. He drops the garbage bag he carries on the ground.  

“Hello there, little lass. I take it you’re my cousin Morgan?” he says with a Scottish accent, propping Morgan on his hip expertly. Are my cousins from Scotland? Harley wonders.  

“I am.” Morgan pauses, staring at her new cousin. “You talk funny! Are you Leo, Peter, or Willie?”  

“I’m Leo. Unfortunately, my brothers do not share this splendid accent,” Leo says.   

“We’re the boring Americans,” the happier twin says with a wry smile. He turns to Pepper and Harley. “I’m Peter.”  

Morgan peers at the other twin. “Are you Willie, then?”  

Indeed I am,” Will says, looking slightly rattled by Morgan’s overenthusiasm.  

“Well, here, let’s make you comfortable,” Pepper says, taking over as usual. “You poor boys, we’re crowding you here in the doorway. C’mon, let’s move into the living room. There’s a bit of an emergency downstairs in R&D right now, or else Tony would be here.”  

Pepper leads four teenage boys (and one preschooler being carried) into the spacious living room. The three Parkers plop down on the couch, Morgan still refusing to leave Leo’s arms. To his credit, Leo takes it in stride. Pepper and Harley move to the overstuffed armchairs that once belonged to Howard Stark’s grandfather.  

“Thank you for--” Peter starts to say.  

At the same time, Pepper begins, “I’m not really sure--”  

They both break off, staring at each other.  

“Sorry--” Peter mutters.  

“You’re good, dear, don’t worry--”  

They break off again.  

“This is awkward,” Morgan announces.  

“Morgan!” Pepper hisses.  

“It’s true, Mommy,” Morgan says, crossing her arms.  

Leo attempts to salvage the situation. “Um, should we go over names again, since there’s a lot of us?” He fixes his gaze on Harley. “ So you’re Harley, then there’s Aunt Pepper, and then wee Morgan here. I’m Leo, like I said, then those are the wonder twins, Peter and Wilder.”  

“Will,” Will says. “I prefer Will, Leopold .”  

Morgan giggles. “Your name is Leopold?”  

Leo says good-naturedly, “Yeah, it’s a bit of a funny name.”   

“My mother named me Virginia while we were living in the state of Virginia,” Pepper says. “I win the funny name category.”  

“Where’s ‘Pepper’ come from, if you don’t mind me asking?” Peter says, looking uncertain.  

Pepper gestures to her face. “I’m freckly, and I hate my real name,” she says.   

“Me too, Aunt Pepper, me too,” Will says. Harley tries not to grin. His cousin seems to have a bit of a snarky personality. Between Tony and Morgan, Will is in good company.  

“I was named Harley Allen after the country singer, because that was the song playing on the radio during the drive to the hospital,” Harley says. “I have the most redneck name.”  

“Mommy and Daddy named me after Mommy’s weird uncle that smells like old socks,” Morgan says.  

“How can someone smell like old socks?” Will mumbles.  

“Daddy says it’s Uncle Morgan’s cologne, I-Never-Bathe,” Morgan says with an exaggerated French accent.  

“Wow, Miss Morgan, you are really just saying whatever pops into your head today,” Pepper says, fixing her daughter a stern look.  

Leo elbows Peter. “Petey here, when he was six, told his teacher that--”  

“We have been in here for three minutes, Leo, you do not need to start on the embarrassing baby stories!” Peter squawks.  

“Hey, remember when Leo called his second-grade teacher ‘Mommy’--”  

“Will!” Leo and Peter shush the third Parker brother at the same time.  

Harley suddenly feels a flare of jealousy. How can he expect to fit in with this group of bantering siblings, raised together their whole lives and clearly close-knit? Morgan might fit in seamlessly, considering she is so extroverted. Harley feels suddenly alone. Besides, he’s an outsider, the only kid not genetically linked to the others. He lurches to his feet, ready to flee.  

When the brothers shoot him questioning looks, Harley tries to save face and blurts, “We should take them on a house tour, Pepper. Show ‘em their rooms and stuff.”  

“Oh, yes, of course!” Pepper says. “If you want to grab your things...”  

Leo still has Morgan, so Will gathers up the discarded garbage bag while Peter hefts the backpack and grocery bag. Harley sees how Pepper’s face falls at the sight. She wore the same expression when Harley arrived at the penthouse with five tees, a too-small coat, and a holey pair of jeans. Even after years of living with Tony and Pepper, Harley still struggles to remember that poverty is not the norm for some people.  

Harley leads the group down the hallway with all the bedrooms. Morgan finally consents to being set down. In the room to the right of his is Leo’s. It contains a queen-sized bed and en-suite bathroom. He sees the boy’s eyes widen at the room’s large size. He runs a hand over the soft duvet, clearly intrigued. For some reason, he seems to sag with relief. After a long moment, Leo turns to Pepper and says, “Thank you, Aunt Pepper. Thank you .”  

“You are more than welcome,” Pepper says. She glances around. “I intend to bring an interior designer in, to let you decorate. We wanted to let you guys choose paint colors and decorations, so we kept it pretty bare bones.”  

“You don’t have to--” Peter says quickly.  

“I insist.” Pepper gives Peter the no-nonsense smile usually reserved for stubborn diplomats or cajoling board members.  

“Then I want a blue room, Peter,” Will says. He glances at Pepper. “That Happy guy said Pete and I are sharing. Is that right?”  

“Yes,” Pepper says. “I’m sorry you can’t have your own room--”  

Will looks panicked. “Oh no, Aunt Pepper, I-I-I want to share with Peter. I didn’t mean to sound entitled, sorry--”  

“Will, don’t worry, I know what you mean.” Pepper reaches to pat his shoulder. Will flinches back.   

“Okay,” he mutters. “I really am grateful, you have no idea--”  

“Will, you’re family,” is all Pepper says. “Got that?”  

He nods, still jittery.  

“Now, let’s take you and Peter to your room. Then I’m going to call Tony and ask him where the heck he is.”  


Morgan is forcing Peter, his brothers, and Harley to see her do a show-and-tell of all her toy dinosaurs when Peter hears a voice boom, “Why are there a bunch of burning omelets on the cooktop?”  

“SHIT!” Pepper yelps, practically tearing out of Morgan’s playroom.  

“Daddy says that’s a word Mommy came up with, so only she can use it,” Morgan tells Peter as they follow Pepper to the kitchen at a much slower rate.  

Tony is trying to fan away smoke when they reach the kitchen. He blinks in surprise when he sees the horde of four teenage boys and one preschooler. “God, that’s a lot of kids. A nd there’s three more coming! I guess I’m gonna have to get used to it, eh?”  

Peter recoils at the words, until he sees the humor in Tony’s eyes.   

“Welcome, boys,” their uncle says warmly, striding over to meet them. “Sorry about not being here, one of the robots in R&D went all Ultron on us--”  

At that same moment, the elevator opens with a ding, signaling the arrival of   Peter’s three other siblings.