The compound is nearly empty of employees and public tours by the time the clock hits eleven at night, and since Pepper is out of town and Peter is staying over for the weekend, he and Tony spent longer in the workshop than is usually deemed good for their health. But they ate pizza and took breaks from their projects, so Peter figures they wouldn’t get in too much trouble, if May and Pepper were to ask. Maybe they would have preferred salad, to the pizza. Or tuna sandwiches.
Oh well. What’s done is done.
Peter likes the compound when it’s like this. When it’s not teaming with people who don’t know who he is, when it’s quiet and feels more like the home he’s come to know it as. Tony still has walls up, with just about everyone he interacts with, and as the sun falls lower in the sky, the walls start to come down, too. Peter will see it briefly, in the middle of the day, like a window opening to let in a breeze—a look he recognizes, a wink, a phrase—but no one really sees Tony save for a few select people. And Peter still can’t believe he’s counted among them. It feels like a dream, still, something he’ll come blinking out of one morning before school. But it’s not—he pinches himself and it’s not—and when the compound settles into darkened hallways and lively living quarters, Peter remembers that he knows the real Tony Stark. He knows because Tony wants him to. Tony trusts him.
They bump shoulders as they move out into the hallway, and Peter punches in the four digit code to lock the workshop. The windows go dark with Friday’s new updates, so no one can see the remains of what they were working on.
“I mean, you’re sort of gonna look like an alien in that thing,” Tony says, as they start down the hallway. “That’s a given whenever you’ve got green involved. And it’s like...neon green, which was your choice—”
Peter snorts. “I mean, I don’t have anything with green in it so far,” he says, tapping his hand on the railing as they keep on towards the elevators. “There was this blogger, she was saying how I should change the costume up a little bit from time to time—”
“Are you looking to get on fashion lists?” Tony asks, laughing at him.
“No,” Peter asserts. “No, but—”
“That’s fine, let’s make you a gold one,” Tony says. “That’ll really get on the bloggers’ tails, they’ll have people trying to swing alongside you so they can get pictures.”
They bypass the balcony and the lights on the ceiling come to life with every step. Tony likes to stay up late, whether he needs sleep or not, and they’re halfway through their horror movie marathon, which makes getting sleep afterwards even more difficult. But Peter is looking forward to The Exorcist tonight, and Poltergeist tomorrow. Two of Tony’s favorites.
Peter is about to say something stupid when he feels a sinking feeling in his gut. The kind of thing that grips him when there’s danger, and he turns around quick, grabbing onto Tony’s arm in something protective and reactionary. But he’s still Peter Parker right now, still hiding behind his own name and face, and the two men in masks rush at them before he can even think about doing anything. He does, briefly, when he hears Tony curse, but they’ve got hand guns, and there’s one on Tony, one on Peter.
The one on Tony is pointing at his heart, and Peter lets out a shuddering breath.
“This is the intern?” one masked guy asks the other.
“Yeah, that’s him, but Stark loves this one, so we’re in good company,” the other masked man says.
“Jesus Christ. Stuart?” Tony asks. “Stuart from fucking accounting? Coming in here with a goddamn mask on?”
“Shit,” Stuart says. His gun wavers and he looks at his friend, and it seems like he briefly considers taking his mask off before deciding against it. “Alright, whatever, yeah, it’s me.”
“And is this your buddy you talk so much about? What’s it, uh—Albert—Alec?”
“Jesus Christ, Stu,” Alec says, and he steps closer to Peter, his gun right up in his face.
“Alright, guys, just—let my intern go, I already tortured him well into the night with projects he was very uninterested in, spreadsheets, uh, Excel—Excel documents—”
“No,” Alec says, and he grabs Peter this time, by the shoulder, pressing the gun into his back. “He’s the damn plan.”
Peter’s been in this situation like, way too many times for how old he is, and it doesn’t really faze him anymore. But it’s the gun the Stu guy is holding on Tony, as he roughly turns him around—that’s what’s making Peter nervous. Tony doesn’t have a suit right now, he’s not anywhere near a suit. He’s in danger.
He looks determined to get Peter out of this. “He’s the—listen, Stu, I’ll give you whatever you want, but you just need me, not him.”
Stu grabs Tony’s hands and quickly zip-ties them together, which makes Tony roll his eyes. Alec presses Peter forward until he stumbles, and they walk until they reach the elevator.
“You’re always hanging out with this one, he knows all the damn codes, and I don’t trust your ass,” Stu says. He punches the down button on the elevator, and the doors open. “Trust Iron Man in one of his own storage rooms? Shit, you’ll blow us up and everything else.”
Peter sighs, and keeps quiet, and he knows Tony doesn’t want him to try anything. He wants to, so bad, but the gun—Stu is pressing it into Tony’s side now, as they load into the elevator, and it makes Peter see stars. Alec presses 3B, which is weapons storage.
“We’ll have him do it, and you watch,” Stu says, to Tony. “And we’ll get what we need and leave.”
“Fri—” Tony starts.
“Don’t talk to your damn AI right now,” Stu says. “I know better than that. Bullets are gonna start flying.”
Peter tries to keep his breathing level.
“Stu, I’ve never heard you talk like this,” Tony says, eyes briefly cutting over to Peter. “Is our health care package not up to snuff? Hours? C’mon, we can work this out.”
“It was always gonna end this way,” Stu says. “You really took that fake background on me all the way. Kinda sad.”
“Thank you for alerting me to this security concern,” Tony says. He sighs, shifts from foot to foot. “Listen, I promise. I’ll be good. Let me go get you what you want, just let the kid go and we’ll be golden. You two can waltz right out of here, no questions asked.”
“Sorry,” Stu says, and he sounds anxious. “You’re way too obvious with who you trust, who you hang out with. Wouldn’t be surprised if this one wasn’t your actual child from some one night stand, and you interned him in when you found out.”
“Jesus, kid, he knows,” Tony says.
Peter manages a half-hearted laugh. He can feel the anxiety melting off both guys, and the gun in his back shakes. He doesn’t think they’ll shoot him, after all, he is just a kid to all parties concerned, despite the fact that Tony knows he’s got super powers. But Stu definitely seems more sure than Alec does, and he’s the one on Tony. He feels like the mastermind here. More willing to do what he thinks he has to do. He’s the kinda guy that can fly off the handle.
“Hey, it wasn’t a one night stand,” Peter says, softly. “He and my mom dated for an...entire week.”
Tony snorts, grinning over at him as the elevator dings, and he’s definitely not taking this seriously.
“Wow,” Alec asks, leaning close to Peter’s ear. “Really? That true?”
“Alright, alright,” Stu says, anger in his voice. “Stop with the fucking Tony Stark snark.” He pushes Tony out into the hall and Alec quickly follows with Peter. Peter tries to determine if he could take them both out without any guns being fired, but then they’d know that he’s definitely not some normal kid. They’d go to jail, spread it around, and boom. That’s the end of him.
They take them down three doors and stop in front of the fourth one. Peter knows for a fact that some of the alien weaponry from the battle of New York is stored in there. The same shit that Toomes was after. He really doesn’t wanna go through this again. He wonders if they know him, know what happened between him and Spider-Man.
“Little intern, it’s your time to shine,” Stu says. “Alec is gonna take you in there while I stay out with your boss, he’s gonna show you what we want, you’re gonna box it up for us, and then we’re gonna tie you up too while we get the hell outta here. This is my notice, Stark, by the way.”
“Yeah, figured,” Tony says. He glances at Peter again, and then looks back at Stu with a little more anger simmering in his eyes. “Listen, he’s not doing this. You’re not ordering him around. I’ll do it, but not him.”
“Tony, it’s fine,” Peter says. “I’ll do it, it’s fine.”
Tony leans in closer to him, and gives him a look he’s seen a few times before. “I’m not letting him take you in there, alone with a gun.”
Peter knows he could disarm the Alec guy if he was alone with him. But he knows that Stu would immediately take action as soon as he sees that, whether he was shocked by it or not. He’d hurt Tony.
Stu sighs heavily, and he walks around, standing in front of Tony. “You do it, kid, or I shoot Stark.”
Peter’s mouth goes dry.
“Uh, Stu?” Alec asks, moving away from Peter a bit.
Peter’s heart is hammering against his chest. All he wants to do is take them out, but he’s getting worse and worse readings off Stu. His plan is falling apart, and he doesn’t like it. There’s something unhinged, in his eyes. Peter is freaking out.
“We know who you both are,” Tony says. “You’re using fake names, I bet, sure, but I can figure it out from here. You’re going down for this no matter what. Just play this part by my rules, okay? Let the kid go. You deal with me.”
“Final warning,” Stu says, like he didn’t even hear him. “Little intern, you go in with Alec in the next five seconds, or I’m shooting Stark.”
“Tony, I’m going,” Peter says, eager to end this.
“No,” Tony starts. “I need to keep you—”
“Alright,” Stu says, and the gun goes off.
Peter sees Tony stumble back, clutching at his middle with his bound hands, and the blood starts to bloom almost immediately on his soft blue shirt. Peter hears a high pitched ringing in his ears, signifying his own horror, and he knows Alec is saying something to Stu, he hears it but he doesn’t hear it at all. He grabs onto Tony’s shoulders and slowly lowers him to the ground, and he quickly starts applying pressure to the wound.
He’s sucked back into the past by all of it. The gunshot, the spot where Tony was hit, the way they both sank down—it’s Ben. It’s Ben all over again. Ben on that sidewalk with a broken bag of Lay’s, daffodils and a shattered jar of salsa from the bodega lying beside him. His groans of pain, the gathering crowd, the buzzing street light above them, glowing orange because it was going out, unlike the rest shining bright and yellow.
Blood. Deep red.
This is that. This is that, and Peter is frozen, everything locking up inside of him. He breaks out into a sweat and he’s breathing hard through his mouth, wheezing, hands pressing down on the wound.
It was a bad place to be hit. He didn’t have much time. They couldn’t get to him.
“Have you lost your goddamn mind? What the fuck? That wasn’t part of the plan!”
“Tony,” Peter mutters. “Tony.”
“Alright,” Tony says, wincing. “That was—that was unexpected. Goddamn Stu eats—fucking kale for lunch, I didn’t think he’d—”
“You’re bleeding out,” Peter stammers, tears clouding his vision. “Tony.”
“Let’s go, kid, or I’ll shoot him again,” Stu says. “You can get this done fast, and maybe if you’re fast enough, you can save him. I know you’ve got doctors here 24/7.”
Peter is shaking. He can’t breathe.
“I’m sorry, Pete,” Tony whispers. “Hey, hey.” He reaches up, touches Peter’s cheek in an effort to get him to focus, in an attempt at comfort. He brushes his thumb over the hinge of Peter’s jaw. “I’m sorry. This—me, being stubborn. You’re okay.”
“You’re not,” Peter breathes. He tunes back in, looks over his shoulder and sees Alec. “Hands on—stifle the wound. I’m going in with him.”
“With one hand,” Stu says. “Other on your gun.”
“No, kid,” Tony says, groaning. “Pete, please.”
Peter gets up, almost on autopilot, and watches to make sure Alec is applying pressure. Then he quickly puts in the code, and moves inside with Stu.
He could take him out. He could, and Alec would probably be a creampuff. But there could be more. Alec could shoot Tony again. And Peter’s off his game, shock making him shake as he gets what Stu wants, his hearing too loud and blaring all the different mechanical noises running the compound. He can hear Alec’s gun trembling against Tony’s side. He can hear Tony’s labored breathing. His own heart faltering.
Ben, stay with me. Stay with me, please. They’re on their way. They’re coming.
Peter puts everything in a big box. He wants—he wants to fight. He wants to beat Stu’s head in until he can taste his own regret. But he can’t bring himself to do it, can’t find it in him, can’t work past the fear and the horror and the very real memories making him half of who he needs to be.
He’s failing. He’s failing.
Next thing he knows, the two assholes are running down the hallway, and Peter’s hands are zip tied together, pressing down onto Tony’s abdomen.
“I pressed—I pressed the panic button,” Peter says, tearing up. “He didn’t see. Helen—Helen should get it. She’s still here.”
“She is,” Tony says, getting paler and paler.
“Stay with me, please,” Peter pleads, pressing harder, the blood running through every line in his hands. “Tony. Tony, look—I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“No apologies—from you, bud,” Tony says, and he blinks slowly at him. “You did—great. So good. Proud of you.”
Ben, wake up. Wake up.
He hears footsteps. People running. He glances over his shoulder and sees Helen and three of the male nurses, and he didn’t count, he didn’t count, he should have been counting since the moment Tony hit the floor, it’s his fault, he should have been counting, he should have fought, he should have destroyed those two assholes—
“Let’s go, Peter,” Helen says, as they hoist the gurney Tony’s on into the air.
It’s horrifying. It’s blood and loud beeping and yelling and then surgery, too much silence, until he calls Pepper and wails into the phone like a five year old. He could have ended this, a hundred times since it started, because he’s fucking Spider-Man, but his fear—it crept up, it held him in place, it dictated his every move.
He’d had someone he loved die in this exact same way. And that memory laid over Tony like a shroud, like his own death foreshadowed, tainted by knowing Peter Parker in any way more than an acquaintance.
It’s his fault. It’s his fault. It was with Ben and it is now, with Tony, too.
He goes in and out of time like he did back then, when he was waiting in the emergency room. When they were transferring the body. When they were talking to May about arrangements. His vision goes dark and his brain shuts down.
He doesn’t know when she gets here. He doesn’t know when she drags him into the bathroom. She’s standing behind him, washing off his hands and talking nonsense into his ear, and he glances up. Sees the swipe of blood on his cheek where Tony touched him.
“May,” Peter says, shaking.
“Honey, I’ve got you,” she whispers.
“It’s my fault,” he says, his voice full of tremors.
“It is,” he says, leaning back against her. “I could have done something and I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t. I should have gotten them. I should have, I had so any fucking opportunities and I didn’t—I didn’t, and he—and he—”
“Shh, baby,” May whispers, and she turns the water off before he crumples. She crumples right along with him, curling around him and holding him close.
It was like this then, too.
Tony is lucky. Tony is almost always lucky, despite the fact that he’s crushed into situations that he has to be lucky enough to survive. Helen says the specifics to the newly arrived Pepper, and Peter’s in the corner of the room, not listening. That tone has been going off in his ears since it all happened and he can’t get it to stop. Everything is too loud. Too bright.
Peter skips school. Doesn’t talk to Ned, or MJ, and barely eats, only when May forces him. He lives in the Now and in the Then. His inability. But Now he’s got powers. Now, he should have been able to do something. Shut the situation down. His fear overruled all that.
He has to wait nearly two days to be able to talk to him.
“He’s been asking for you,” Pepper says, leading him to the med bay room Tony’s in. “Stop hiding out, huh? You know he wants to see you.”
“It’s my fault he’s in here at all,” Peter says, defeated.
“Stop,” Pepper says. “We all watched the footage. If you would have made a move, they could have shot either one of you. Powers or not, you’re not bulletproof. And Tony doesn’t want you using your powers unless you’re suited up, no matter what’s going on. For your safety.”
Peter doesn’t say anything else.
Tony almost looks normal, when Pepper leaves Peter in there with him. He’s still pale, but he’s sitting up, and he smiles when he sees Peter.
“Jesus, there he is,” Tony says. “Took you long enough. Gotta get shot in the head next time, maybe you’ll be there when I wake up.”
That sends shivers down Peter’s arms, and he doesn’t say anything for fear of his voice breaking. He takes a seat beside the bed and immediately leans down, pressing his forehead into the mattress.
Tony rubs the back of Peter’s neck, ruffling his hair. “That was my fault,” he says. “The whole fucking thing. For hiring that asshole, one. Two, letting him work late to begin with—moron, I’m a moron.”
Peter shakes his head.
“I just—the idea of them, one, finding out you have powers, I mean, kid, I know you wanted to take them down. I know you did, I could see it in your eyes, but then they would have known and I know they seemed like idiots but even idiots can put it together when they really think about it. So there was that—and two, I didn’t want them even thinking about shooting you. Okay? I just—I didn’t want them alone with you and—I didn’t wanna give them that chance, if I could help it. I wasn’t—thinking straight.”
“They shot you,” Peter says, muffled into the bed. “They shot you, I let them, I gave them what they wanted while you were bleeding out on the ground.”
“We’ll find ‘em,” Tony says. “For sure.”
“I—I should have—” He looks up, and even his own voice is too loud. His eyes are straining with how much he’s been crying lately. “I should have done something. I should have. I’m Spider-Man, I’ve dealt with more complicated situations, but I just—I completely froze up. Completely.”
“It’s okay,” Tony says, shaking his head. He looks at him intently. “Your senses going wonky right now? You’ve got that look.”
Peter covers his face with his hands. He feels like he’s gonna shatter.
“It reminded me of...of Ben. When—when Ben—you know.” His throat is tight and he shakes his head. “And I couldn’t—do anything. At all. And I—and then it just became—the nightmare. My nightmare.” He lets his hands slide away and Tony immediately grabs one of them.
“I’m so sorry, Pete,” Tony says, softly. “Okay? But I’m okay. I’m alright. It was—a bullshit situation, but I’m fine, okay? Stu, real name Leonard, was a shit shot. Missed all the vital organs. Who the fuck does that, at point blank range?”
Peter squeezes Tony’s hand without thinking about it. “Did you find them yet?” he asks.
“Not yet,” Tony says, watching him with a degree of nervousness.
Peter makes it his goal to find them first.
It takes a week, and when he finds them things are a lot more...complicated than he was expecting. They have more weapons, stolen from other corporations, and there are more than Stu/Leonard and Alec present. About ten or twenty well armored guys, more.
Peter is fueled by anger, which is rare for him, a need for revenge, which is also rare. The angel on his shoulder tells him he’s doing this for the wrong reasons, that he’s being wild and reckless, but he keeps on anyway—the opposite of when he and Tony were ambushed. He won’t let them get the upper hand this time. He can’t stop himself.
No matter how much he gets hurt.
He’s almost broken in half by the end of it all, and he webs them up in big clumps and calls the cops, staying to make sure they know who the leaders of the organization are.
Peter only becomes aware of his injuries when he’s on his way to the compound and Karen starts listing them off for him. He doesn’t think he should be moving, let alone swinging, but he continues on his way anyway, gritting his teeth through the pain.
He arrives and unceremoniously collapses in Tony’s room.
“What in the blue fuck?” Tony says, hobbling over from his spot at his desk. He still isn’t really supposed to be on his feet yet, but he definitely gets his time in when Pepper, Happy and Rhodey aren’t watching him like hawks. He moves over to where Peter is trying to push himself back up. “Peter. What the fuck?”
“I did it,” Peter says, breathing hard, ripping his mask off. He spits something out of his mouth and blood goes flying with it. “I did it. I got ‘em. Arrested. In jail. The whole outfit.”
“Did you just spit out a tooth?” Tony asks, hovering over him.
“Don’t kneel next to me, your stomach, your stomach,” Peter says. He braces his hand on the bed and Tony grabs his arm, pulling him up. Peter leaves a bloody handprint on the sheet and he winces, looking at Tony. “Shit.”
“What the fuck did you do?” Tony says, eyes wide, urging him down onto the bed.
“No, I’m fine,” Peter slurs, sitting, the world rocking around him.
“No, you’re not goddamn fine, you look like you just went six rounds with Mayweather. You’ve got two black eyes—Friday, call Helen in here.”
Tony sits next to him, takes Peter’s chin and makes Peter look at him. “You got those guys?” he asks.
Peter nods, the mere motion making him wanna puke.
“And they did this to you?” Tony asks, stern.
“They had a bunch of weapons, all kinds of shit, and more dudes, and it was hard, but I did it, I fixed it, they’re not gonna ever fucking get to look at you again.”
Tony clicks his tongue, letting go of him.
“Miss Cho is on dinner break off campus, but she’s on her way back. Would you like a nurse to come in?”
“No!” Peter yells. “I’m fine.”
“Kid, when the hell are you gonna get it?” Tony asks. “Look at yourself. When the hell are you gonna understand?”
“What?” Peter asks. His wrist cracks and he winces, holding it against his chest. “What, what? Why are you mad? I did it. They’re off the streets. I did everything right, they probably won’t even need to go to the hospital wing at the jail. I was—I was measured, I was careful.”
“Your safety is the point,” Tony says, leaning closer. “That’s it. That’s what I care about. I don’t care who does what, I don’t give a shit, I will always choose the ending where you’re safe and unhurt. I would have let those morons shoot me ten more times if it meant you would never be in their line of fire.”
Peter scoffs at him, his own anger rising, along with his dizziness. “Well, I can’t watch someone I love die again. I can’t. I had to watch Ben bleed out on the side of the road and then I had to watch this with you and those guys were clearly unhinged and willing to do whatever and I couldn’t, I could not let them try and come back and get at you again. I couldn’t. I can’t. I love you too much to let that happen.”
He sucks in a breath because he realizes what he just said. He blinks stupidly, and everything hurts more than it did. His wrist is broken. Maybe an ankle too. Definite concussion. He did spit out a tooth before. He’s got a split lip. Two black eyes. He can’t hear out of one ear. There are about ten cuts in his suit. He’s missing a finger nail. He just told Tony he loves him.
It’s true, they just don’t say it. Or they haven’t before. Maybe saying it brings more danger into the world. That phrase in the air, for others to hear. It brings all their actions into stark relief. These are two people who love each other, and that can be taken advantage of. Another father figure. Someone else he loves. Someone else he has to worry about. Someone else who could die.
But people know anyway. This just makes it concrete.
Peter closes his eyes tight, swaying.
Tony wraps an arm around him, uncaring of the blood and grime. “I love you too, Pete,” he says. “Too damn much. And I’m older than you so what I say goes.”
“Nope,” Peter says, shaking his head. “No. Old people don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“I said older not old. And I was working on it. The gang. I was working on it. I didn’t want you to go in guns blazing and come out with—a fucking concussion, among other things. You’re running on emotion, I know, I’ve seen it up close in the damn mirror and that never bodes well. I’m fine. I’m here. I promise.”
“But you could have not been,” Peter says. “You were dying. Right in front of me.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Tony says. “Bad shot, remember?” He squeezes Peter’s shoulder, tugs him closer. “I know you’re mad at yourself because you didn’t respond how you wanted to when they had us. I’ve had that shit happen. But you didn’t need to go full throttle to redeem yourself in your own eyes. You didn’t need redeeming with me. I want you safe. That’s it. I know you’re the great flying arachnid and you’re ten times stronger than Captain America but you’re still—my kid, and if I can see you in one piece at the end of it, that’s my route, no questions asked. Not a fan of you collapsing bloody on the floor if I can avoid it, no matter what the hell’s been done to me.”
Peter sighs, opening his eyes again and looking at him. “I’m still glad I got them.”
“Stubborn as hell.”
“Just like you,” Peter says.
“Next time, let me send in a fleet of armor to tackle the problem instead of you getting sliced and diced and shot at,” Tony says. “Okay?”
“Maybe,” Peter says, narrowing his eyes. “We’ll see.”
Tony’s brows furrow.
The world twists and turns and turns again, and Peter clutches at his chest. “Now I gotta—I gotta go puke.”
Tony slips his arm down and supports Peter’s waist instead, and when he hauls him up they both groan. “We’re a disgusting PSA for bad decision making,” he says, as they hobble for the bathroom.
“This was a good—”
“Jesus, Pete,” Tony says, cutting him off.
Peter throws up about three times once they make it in there, and Tony hovers over him, hands down a wet washcloth.
“You smell like yesterday’s hummus,” Tony says, pulling him back to his feet when he’s done.
Peter snorts, which hurts, and he leans over in the sink, turning on the water. He closes his eyes, feels Tony rubbing his back. “Thanks for not making fun of me when I said I love you,” he mutters.
“Why would I make fun of that when there’s so many other, more ridiculous things?” Tony says.
Peter shakes his head.
“Like I said, I love you too,” Tony says. “So much so, that I’m gonna have Helen give you the little pink pig Band-Aids she keeps on hand. Because you deserve it.”
Peter smiles to himself. “You’re the worst,” he says, meaning something entirely else. You’re the best. The coolest.
“You too,” Tony says, with so much fondness that it brings tears to Peter’s eyes.
They’re okay. They’re okay. A concussion, a gunshot wound, a few broken bones and a missing tooth. But they’re okay.