Tony’s life is written across his skin.
Scars marking all of the worst experiences of his life.
White marking up his elbows and knees from all the trips and falls. Snaking out across his chest from where the arc reactor used to be. The perfect circle on his upper arm from his dad’s cigarette, the echoes dotting his shoulders and collarbones. The little purple ones over his stomach and thighs from the nights gone wrong back in his party days. Jagged red mark in his side from a botched rescue mission. Tiny ones over his hands.
His life’s map is sketched across the planes of his skin, painting his body in his stories.
Peter can’t help but ask when he discovers the new ones. A tale behind every scar. There are a few Tony can’t remember how he got them. A bicycling incident or maybe in the lab. He couldn’t be sure. But sometimes he’ll find one and wish he didn’t.
The truths are always told. Out in the open between them. Tony doesn’t hold any of the stories back even when the hurt shines in his eyes and he rubs the scar like he wishes his skin would swallow it. The stories are told every time.
It’s like building the jigsaw of Tony’s history. Every scar is another piece of the puzzle.
Peter’s healing took care of every scar he had from childhood. Nowadays, his wounds are healed within a day and the scars are gone by the end of the week.
He doesn’t have the same kind of visible history that Tony does. But his slumped shoulders and downcast eyes are enough to understand the weight of the world resting on his shoulders, the invisible scars that cut deep below the skin’s surface. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that bullshit nobody really believes.
The bad things happened, and Peter doesn’t have the proof to show. No scratchy scars over his knuckles from how many times he’s split the skin before letting it heal. He should have hundreds of the jagged marks from bullet wounds or stabs or whatever else has happened on patrol.
There’s no scar on his hip from when he was nine. The one he used to scratch at over and over again, wishing the reminder of what happened wasn’t staring back at him.
No vines of white scars over his joints from learning how to ride a bike or, in his case, learning how to use his spider powers. No pink marks on his palms from all the pinching and scratching when trying to keep himself calm. No acne scarring like he had before.
To Peter, there’s no proof to the pain. There’s no validation to his claims.
It’s like he’s begging on his knees for someone to understand, to believe, the pain he’s been through. But there’s no evidence left behind. There’s nothing to back him up. He’s asking people to take his word for it.
And there’s simply been too many people who can’t believe him, so now, he buries those feelings as deep as he can. Piles the hurt in boxes and locks them tight so they never see the light of day.
Who can remember pain once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.
Peter’s hands are soft where Tony’s are rough and calloused.
Tony could never achieve the softness he desired, a gentle touch.
Peter could never achieve the calloused proof he desired, a worker.
Sometimes, jealousy is found is strange places, but it burns just as much.
Tony hates the scars that stare back at him, a reminder of past pain, experiences he’d prefer to leave behind him.
The scars left by his father, the ones from his kidnapping, the ones when he failed to keep others safe. There are good ones, he supposes, not good, but in comparison. The one he got when he got on his finger when he was trying to make Peter soup. He supposes he can find good in a few of his collection.
He can sometimes see the beauty in the scars that trace out over his chest. He can understand the ‘tiger stripes’ analogy Peter told him. He can understand the uniqueness behind it.
But he sees his chest and all he can think is stain. Blemish. Damaged. And it’s all wrong. He wishes he had the simple beauty of emptiness. Of an unmarked map.
Every scar is tied to a memory he’d rather not remember. Of a shitty childhood followed by a shitty adulthood until he appreciated Pepper and met Peter.
He wishes he could be a blank canvas.
Peter hates the emptiness of his body. No stories to tell, no history.
He hates the unmarked smoothness of his chest. He hates that there’s no scar on his collarbone from when he broke it for the first time. None on his ribs from the numerous times he’s been stabbed in the chest. He’s even missing the one that’s meant to be on his sternum from when he was eight and Ben took him fishing.
He’s supposed to represent who he is, but there’s nothing to show for it. He can’t tell stories about his first attempt at riding a bike. Nobody will ever ask him where he got that scar.
Nobody believes him when he asks for help. There’s no proof. No solid proof that he’s hurting. Everything is below the surface, past memories lingering like ghosts over his shoulder.
There’s not even proof of Skip’s existence, nothing left behind.
His parent’s death didn’t leave a scar. Not a physical one.
Ben… There’s no scar. There’s no jagged, red stain on his skin he can show someone to prove his pain.
He wishes the weight of the world on his shoulders was written out on his skin.
It’s after they’ve returned from a kidnapping that their jealousy of one another is discovered.
Tony’s tracing the wounds on his arm from the few cuts he sustained there. There are a few more wounds under his shirt, but they’re still bandaged to protect them from infection.
“These are never going to go away,” Tony mumbles, glaring at the scabs. “Another half a dozen scars to add to my collection.”
“At least people will believe you,” Peter replies. His body’s already healed but his brain feels like it’s been torn to pieces. Everything aches, his ribs are far from healed internally, but he has nothing no proof for the pain he feels.
Tony’s eyebrows furrow a little bit, turning his full attention on Peter who sits on the edge of the hospital bed. Tony’s sitting on the couch, leaving a good six feet between them. After what they’ve been through, Tony desperately wants to close the distance just so he’ll feel a little bit more in control, but he doesn’t want to scare Peter.
“I just-” Peter shrugs, looking down at his hands. They look like baby hands, soft and smooth and gentle. Like he hasn’t clawed his way through hell and back. He pulls his sleeves down over his palms. “I sometimes wish I had proof, you know. Evidence that I’m hurting too.”
Tony’s face falls, hurt shining in his eyes. “You don’t need proof, Peter. I know what you went through in there and I know you’re hurting, okay? Don’t ever think you’re not allowed to be hurting just because you heal fast.”
Running a hand through his hair, Peter shrugs noncommittedly. “You know because you were there. What if you weren’t there? What if no one was there?”
“Nobody was there for Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean people don’t believe me.”
Peter sighs loudly, a little too aggravated for his own good. It brings back the aching in his lungs.
“You have proof. All of it is written on your body like a storybook. Everything that happens to me is washed away like it never meant anything. I’ve been through so much shit, but how can I complain if I don’t even have a scratch to show?”
Tony stands. The space between them stretching out like a fun house hall of mirrors. Like he’d have to cross a desert just to sit next to the boy. Peter’s put up his armor, a protective bubble like he’s scared of getting hurt, but Tony will do anything to break them all down no matter how many times he’ll have to do it again.
“I wish I didn’t have them,” Tony says. A compromise. A show that insecurities can go in both directions. “The scars, I mean. I still haven’t grown to love the ones after my arc reactor was removed… I hate it. I hate the reminders everywhere I go. I wish I could just magically heal them all away.”
Peter shrugs again. The same pretense of nonchalance and carelessness, despite the hurt shining in his downcast eyes.
They’re on different pages of the same book.
Tony worries he’ll never be able to understand why Peter would want to be marred with scars.
Peter worries he’ll never understand why Tony wants to rid himself of the things that make him who he is.
They both worry about the blockage between understanding, uncertain ground beneath their feet, caution where there never needed to be before.
Peter’s side is bare where he got shot last week when they were kidnapped for a little under forty-eight hours.
A pale expanse of empty skin. Nothing to see. Pain hidden beneath the surface.
Tony’s arms are marred in new scars, new white lines that won’t ever go away from the kidnappers.
A reminder of the pain once experienced, a story he’d rather forget.
“I suppose I got what I wanted, huh?” Peter says. His voice is quiet but it echoes in the dingy cell. Turns out, the last kidnappers weren’t finished with them.
It’s been too long since the kid’s eaten and he hasn’t stopped shaking for hours. He’s so weak, his healing has slowed to humanly levels. His wounds aren’t scars yet, still scabbing from how recent they all are, but Tony still understands what he means.
“You say that like I’m not busy planning out escape,” Tony says. He squeezes Peter a little tighter to his side, hoping he can transfer a little bit of his body heat to the kid.
“For the record, I think your scars show just how strong you are to have overcome the things you did and still come out smiling,” Peter says. His voice is slurring, and Tony worries they won’t be saved in time. “I think it’s cool.”
Tony rolls his eyes. Of course they’re having this conversation now.
“Listen closely, kid. You don’t need physical proof to show people you’re hurting. You don’t need to validate your pain. You don’t need to do any of that. Cap has the same sort of healing as you do, but he finds himself torn between the past and the present. He doesn’t need physical scars from the ice to prove that he went through something painful. And neither do you.”
Peter tucks himself closer against Tony’s chest, shaking fingers curling clutching onto Tony’s shirt. “I just wish, sometimes, I could map it all.”
“And I wish I was a blank canvas, kid,” Tony says, pressing a quick kiss to Peter’s forehead. “But it’s okay because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is you and me, okay? I’ve got you and you’ve got me, right?”
“Course, Mister Stark. Always.”
“I love you, kid,” Tony says, voice thick with emotion. “Even if you’re a blank canvas.”
“I love you too. Even if you’re scarred.”
Lying in side by side hospital beds for the second time that month, their thoughts are in the open but it doesn’t stop the insecurity from flaring inside both of them.
Tony has stitches on his stomach, a new scar to add to his collection. Another kidnapping, another reminder of a time where he couldn’t protect his kid, another reminder to wake him up in the dead of night.
Peter’s wounds have healed now that he’s regained his strength. Nothing remained other than the freckles dancing up his arms. Nothing to indicate the pain that tears him out of his sleep every night or that reduces him to tears and breathlessness in a second.
One, a mapped-out expanse of scars, wishing he were a blank canvas. And one, a blank canvas, wishing he were a map of scars.
One day, they’ll learn to love themselves as they are. For now, they’ll love each other to make up for it.