[SCENE OPENS. A YOUNG MAN APPEARS MID-FRAME]
“Hi! I’m Peter and welcome back to Pete’s Eats, where you – ah shit, the lens isn’t focused.”
[CAMERA FOCUSES. YOUNG MAN RUSHES BACK INTO SHOT]
“Hi! I’m Peter, and you’re watching Pete’s Eats, the channel where you cheap for eat – oops, I mean – fuck.”
“Welcome back, everyone! I’m Peter, if you haven’t been here before this is the channel where I teach you how to eat for cheap with what you got - and I get drunk doing it!”
On the screen Peter shifts, gesturing to the cookware and ingredients splayed on his kitchen bench, clapping his hands together.
“We’re going to be having a lot of fun today because I am going to be teaching you how to make a weeks worth of meals for twenty bucks.”
Peter grips the bottle of white wine near his elbow and pours a serving into a glass.
“Look guys,” he said, gesturing to the glass, “I even got a real wine glass for this shit. Look at that production budget. Comment below if you miss the Iron Man mug. RIP.”
A scene cuts in, black and white footage of a ceramic mug falling to the floor in slow motion. It splinters across the floor as violins play over the scene, Peter’s horrified face coming into view moments later.
Presently, Peter takes a big gulp from his new wine glass, throat bobbing as he swallows.
“Mmm, tastes grown-up. Alright, let’s get started.”
Peter takes another gulp of wine as he clacks a pair of tongs at the camera. Shifting a few feet to the tiny stove, Peter retrieves the boiled chicken breast from the small pot, setting it onto a bright green cutting board.
“So at this point you’re gonna wanna grab a couple of forks to get ready to shred the chicken,” Peter says, swiping two forks off the bench and drumming them against the cutting board with a clang. He plies the meat open with the utensils, the camera switching to an overhead shot, showing white fibrous meat.
“First you want to make sure it’s not still undercooked. No pink chicken please. Remember, guys; we’re cheap, not stupid.”
The camera pans back out, a slightly inebriated Peter misses his wine glass as he tries to refill it, spilling liquid over the kitchen bench.
Peter looks up at the camera, lips pursed.
“Anyway,” Peter says, tilting his head side-to-side, shimmying his hips to absolutely no music as he shreds the boiled chicken into smaller pieces, depositing them with a small splash into the pot behind him.
“So once you’ve shredded your chicken you’re going to place it back into the stock and add in your canned creamed corn.” Peter holds up two cans to the camera, tapping them together with a clang.
Peter drops one, narrowly missing his wine glass.
“Sixty cents a pop on sale, guys,” he picks it up again and beams at the camera, not skipping a beat.
“How many glasses have you had, Pete?” A voice asks off-camera.
Peter dumps the cans to grip the neck of the wine bottle, speaking into it as if it were a microphone. He winks at the camera, cheeks flushed and eyes unfocused. “A lot, Ned. It’s fine. I can take a lot.”
“You’re a lightweight, dude.”
“I can take a lot,” Peter repeats, tipping his throat back and sculling half the bottle.
“Alright, mix these bad boys into your stock, give it a twirl and let it simmer.”
The camera focuses on a steaming soup before panning back out to a serious looking Peter who is balancing a small, steaming scoop of soup on his wooden spoon, blowing on it precariously as it nears his mouth.
“Mmm,” Peter hums, eyes closing as he tastes it. “Add a pinch of salt and pepper and you have tasty chicken, sweet-corn soup.”
“What does it taste like?” Asks the off-camera voice.
Peter grins at someone off camera, eyes glossy. “Hot and robust. Sweet and salty. Exactly how I imagine Tony Stark’s ass would taste.”
“Oh boy,” says the disembodied voice.
Peter slumps over the kitchen bench, elbows propped up on the fornica as he cradles another glass of wine. Cheeks flushed with intoxication, the young man stares out into the distance, a pensive expression adorning his face.
“What are you thinking about, Pete?”
“The tweet Tony Stark sent this morning.”
“Uh-huh. What did it say?”
“It said: can’t tell if this grey in my beard is trouble for me, or trouble for the rest of you.”
The man off-screen snorts, zooming in on Peter’s disgruntled face. “And how do you feel about that?”
Peter hum pensively and sips his drink. “I feel like I’m in trouble.”
The camera focuses in behind Peter who is idly stirring the soup with one hand and scrolling through his phone with the other. The camera zooms in to the phones screen. Beyond Peter’s flicking thumb is what appears to be a tumblr dedicated to Tony Stark and his alter ego, Iron Man.
There is a candid shot of said man, bent over on the sidewalk to pick something up from the ground, the lens focusing on the mans impressively broad derriere stretching the fabric of his business pants.
Peter’s thumb stills, pausing to stare at the picture. The soup goes unstirred.
“Whatcha’ looking at there, Pete?”
Startled, Peter pockets his phone and sends the camera an affronted look.
The shot moves to Peter scooping from the pot with a ladle and transferring seven servings of soup into plastic containers. Visibly delighted at his own efforts, Peter claps his hands together and smiles proudly at the camera, swaying slightly on screen.
“There you have it, seven meals for only eight dollars. If you have any extra veggies, feel free to add those too and voila. Fridge it for a few days, freeze it and you will have these ready to go.”
On screen the young male rubs his stomach, looking a little disgruntled until he burps quietly. An empty wine bottle sits by his hip.
“As always, please like, comment and subscribe. Let me know what meal you’d like my cheap ass to make - and once again, shoutout to our Patreons and Tony Starks’ legal team for not suing my ass to date, please keep it that way. I’ll see you all on the next video, bye!”
Writing appears at the bottom of the screen:
*i’d like to personally apologize, once again, for the thirst portrayed in this video. plz don’t demonetize me lolll*
[SCREEN FADES TO OUTRO]
“Yikes,” Peter says after the edits are finished.
He uploads it anyway.
It had never been in Peter’s life plan to become an online sensation.
Growing up, the titles of YouTuber and Influencer weren’t exactly in his vernacular when asked by eager adults what he wanted to be when he was one of them.
As a child Peter had stuck to the generic ones like, astronaut, doctor and inventor, archaeologist, all to the delight of his caretakers. Over his years of schooling he’d latched onto fields of engineering and chemistry as being his career pathway, safe in the knowledge that his skill set would endear him to a more scientific, academic livelihood. His aunt and uncle had certainly thought so, calling a young Peter their little scientist, encouraging him in his pursuits of scholastic excellence. There was a steady path, a trajectory that Peter had never even considered wavering from.
Even after that whole incident at Oscorp and the ensuing body changes that came with it.
And pursue he did. With his eyes on the prize, Peter had graduated high school as valedictorian with a full scholarship to MIT. May had been overjoyed. Peter had been - well, kind of tired, at that point, but overall, like, proud as well. Surely college couldn’t have been as hard as high school, he’d assumed.
It was. It really, really was.
Anyway, in acceptance of his scholarship he’d said goodbye to May and to the Queens apartment he’d grown up in. In return he’d said hello to Massachusetts.
Matter of fact, Peter said hello and goodbye to a lot of things in his time at MIT.
Like finding his new favourite cafe - or new friends and the short-lived excitement of living independently for the first time ever. Or like the wonders of casual sex and losing his virginity - and affirming his bisexuality through said casual sex. Or not being the smartest person in the room, for once, coupled with the death of his already limited social life via rain of coursework.
The latter he wasn’t so torn up about, if he was honest. During his high school years his devotion to his studies and his nightly recreational activities as a wandering crimefighter didn’t exactly lend itself a lot of time for things outside of his family and limited scope of friends.
During his freshman year Peter was roomed with a guy called Ned.
Their first day they had taken one look at the others Star Wars paraphernalia, pointed at each other and were instant best friends. It was like meeting the brother he’d never had.
They stuck together over Peters’ time at college, thick as thieves, even decided to rent an off campus apartment together in their third year. It was a little rough at first, waters bumpy as they scrounged the savings they each had from their part time jobs to cover the rent and bills and basics and - well, not much else.
“We gotta be frugal as fuck,” Ned had said, looking over their budget sheets.
“Yeah,” Peter had said.
Well, Peter had not grown up particularly wealthy. Even before the death of Uncle Ben, Peter was adroit in the art of budgeting and thrifting.
But life as a student, hundreds of miles of way from the only family he has, that was a different game entirely. Those leagues weren’t even on the same realm. As an off campus student, scraping the bottom of the barrel was a laughable expression. There was no barrel. They were just scratching away at the dirt, hoping to find a glint of gold.
The YouTube channel was Neds’ brainchild.
Scholarships only covered so much. Living off campus was like a gaping bullet hole in both of their bank accounts. No matter how much they tried to stem the outgoing flow, trying to cover all their costs was like trying to catch a tidal wave with a thimble. Even with all of their combined expertise of living below the poverty line, it was hard.
But Ned took stock of Peter’s unusual talent of creating culinary delights with pocket change and thrift store kitchenware. It was a pot of gold, Ned told a then dubious Peter.
“You’re a goldmine. We gotta capitalise you, buddy,” Ned had said.
“I dunno, dude,” Peter had responded, mouth full of stale corn chips to stave off the hunger.
“You have a gift,” his friend implored. “You could help people.”
Peter, as in, Peter Benjamin Parker, notoriously camera shy and soft spoken. That Peter.
Their first videos were filmed with their phones.
It was a disaster.
Peter was still embarrassed and self-conscious, so he was only filmed chest down. The audio was shitty, near inaudible at times, the camerawork was shaky and shoddy as all hell, and the editing was indubitably atrocious. It was like some kind of nineties-era found-footage garbage.
But they were quick learners if nothing else - and slowly, over time, their little channel gained traction and grew.
They celebrated their first one thousand subscribers with Peter’s face reveal.
Ten thousand subscribers was commemorated wine. Lots and lots of wine.
And that particular video kind of started everything, really.
The focus of the video was primarily supposed to be on Peter’s four-dollar, four-serving spaghetti recipe, however what truly captured the short-lived attention of the internet was Peter’s commentary after a few drinks. Specifically, his commentary regarding Tony Stark and his fine, quote, bodacious body and banging booty, end quote.
Peter was a chatty, horny drunk. It wasn’t his fault. Drinking cheap chardonnay straight from the bottle as part of the celebratory festivities, his mouth just ran.
He’s so hot and so smart, Peter had mourned, sucking noodles into his mouth, getting sauce all over his lips. And I’m a dumbass who doesn’t own any napkins. Ned, pass me some toilet paper.
The ten-thousand subscriber celebration video went viral very quickly. Before Peter could even begin to regret it.
Not only had Peter become a meme in a matter of hours, but he swiftly attracted a subset of people who, one, appreciated his sense of humour, and two, found his advice actually useful.
And then there was the third category: the very vocal, very appreciative Tony Stark stans.
Peter became blearily aware of his overnight fame when his high school girlfriend, Gwen, sent him a Tumblr gifset along with a series of laughing emojis. The set was of him, flushed pink with intoxication, waxing poetic about Tony Stark’s beauty whilst cradling an empty bottle of wine.
The post had only been up for an hour and had garnered sixteen-thousand notes. Scrolling the commentary, most of it was same, and MOOD, so despite the initial embarrassment Peter felt like he was probably in good company.
The tumblr, twitter and instagram accounts that followed were Peters’ brainchild.
Riding off the fluttering coattails of their success, they implemented the same format for their channel moving forward. Peter would drink as he cooked - and sometimes he would gaze into the distance and go on an alcohol-induced soliloquy about Tony Stark.
It wasn’t even Peter’s fault. Sometimes he would be minding his own business, seasoning some spinach when Ned, off camera, would bring the billionaire up. What’s an intoxicated, helpless bisexual to do?
Anyway, the rest was history.
They steadily gained more viewers, comments came flooding in and so did the sponsorships. With their first cheque - a whole fifty dollars - Peter bought them take out and a months Netflix subscription.
Now, one year later, they stood at just over nine-hundred thousand subscribers. Which, granted, wasn’t a massive following by today’s standards, but it was a lot for two guys trying to finish their grad year.
One of whom also had a night job as a web-slinging community watchman.
Not that Peter would trade any of it.
Although the channel started as a means to help pay the rent, the heart of it was in trying to help people. He cherished all of the messages and comments, the adulation and praise that made his heart well up, like, you helped me get through this week, you seriously taught me how to budget thank you.
Even though he’d been branded a shameless thot by both critics and fans alike, it was all worth it. Besides, it was kind of like an in-joke between him and the internet. He was small fries.
It’s not like Aunt May didn’t know about his iron crush or like Tony Stark would ever see his videos either.
It was fine.
“Tony, come here, you gotta see this.”
Halting mid-footstep, Tony peers curiously at the ladies in the living room.
Huddled close together on the sofa are Pepper and Natasha, beers in hand, hunched over a StarkPad perched between their laps. Something on screen has them devolving into actual snickers as they beckon him over.
Tony eyes them warily, suspicion crawling down his spine.
“What are you two knuckle-heads laughing about, hmm? What have I said about laughter before noon in this house?”
“Shh, come see,” Natasha says, wiping a finger under her eyes. “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Curiosity and eagerness to get some coffee have him divided, but Tony goes with the former, sitting in between the both of them and accepting the StarkPad that is passed over. Out of the corner of his eye he spots Natasha biting her lip in an attempt to smother her smile as Tony looks at the screen.
It’s paused on an eight-minute YouTube video titled: Five Ingredient Pasta Bake - and really? This is what has a foreign spy and a CEO in stitches?
“A cooking show,” Tony blinks, frowning at the thumbnail. “What, is this a jab at my domestic pride? Some kind of colour commentary on my culinary prowess? We established in 2010 that cooking wasn’t my forte, get some new material.”
“Shut up and watch,” Natasha leans over Tony to play it from the beginning. “This is modern art, you gotta watch it the whole way through.”
A young adult male appears on the screen, dressed casually and placed what looks like a tiny, cluttered kitchen. The guy looks young, no older than twenty-five and has an air of ease.
“Hey guys,” the guy greets, voice soft but exuberant. “Welcome back to Petes’ Eats! I’m Peter, if you don’t already know or are new here. Let’s get right into it - today we’ve got a quick and easy one for you to –”
“Is that your porn star name?” Asks somebody off camera, interrupting the young male, Peter. “Quick ‘N’ Easy?”
The camera pans in to a close-up of Peter’s face, mouth gaping open in suspended vexation.
It cuts back to a wide shot.
“Anyway,” Peter says, lightly patting the ingredients on the bench, pasta packet crinkling under his touch. “Today we’re showing you a five-ingredient, pasta bake dish that should last you throughout the week, all for ten dollars or less. Let’s get started.”
Boring, Tony groans internally.
His attention span doesn’t usually last beyond twelve seconds, maybe thirty if the topic is only remotely interesting. No offence to this guy, no matter how cute he is, cooking is just tedious.
Tony is about to disassociate and feign interest when his interested is quickly hooked when, instead of panning over to a pot of boiling water, the next shot is a close up of the man pouring himself a glass of wine in a mason jar.
A mason jar.
“What the fresh fuck,” Tony whispers to himself.
“What is that - it’s like a bougie-hipster fusion kinda thing,” the guy off camera says to Peter. “I hate it.”
Peter sips the wine from a ridiculous metallic straw. “I know, right. My parents would be so proud.”
There’s an underlying joke in there that Tony doesn’t get but the scene quickly slides into meal prep, alternating between overhead and wide shots. With humour, Peter explains in layman’s terms the dummies guide to cooking pasta bake in a way even Tony might be able to replicate, and as the minutes pass it becomes clear what the appeal is.
The longer Peter cooks and addresses the audience, the more he drinks. The scenes are edited and shot to highlight Peter’s increasing intoxication.
“So, like, if you’re too poor for a wooden spoon or a ladle, or maybe you haven’t washed it from last week, it’s fine,” Peter slurs, slumping against the benchtop. “Same. None of that fancy shit here, just use your fork to stir it around. It’s fine.”
Tony winces when the mic picks up the sound of metal scraping on metal.
There are several shots of the ingredients being mixed together - cooked pasta being drained, frozen vegetables and pasta sauce combining to create an appealing dish before being topped with breadcrumbs and placed in a tiny oven.
It’s six minutes in and Tony is still waiting for the punchline, assuming the entire joke isn’t his teammates having him watch a cooking show and a drunk college guy. Like, it’s entertaining, but like funny haha only.
While the pasta is in the oven Peter continues to drink out of the mason jar, lips pursing around the straw as he looks off camera, a pensive expression on his handsome face.
Audibly gulping, the man switches his attention back to the audience.
“You’re know the thing about pasta bake?” Peter sighs, tapping his nails against the jar.
“What’s the thing about pasta bake?” The camera-man asks. “Dazzle us.”
“A good pasta bake just exudes competence. Like, it looks complicated, but it’s easy as fuck. And it’s delicious and it’s romantic.”
“Yeah,” Peter sighs, a dopey smile transforming his face. “It’s cheesy and it’s good with wine, keeps you full. It’s the kind of meal if you’d make if you had a date with someone special like, I don’t know, Tony Stark.”
Tony snorts, lips curving upwards at the look of adoration on the guys face. Amused and flattered, he assumes that’s the punchline.
That thinking is quickly proven erroneous.
“Dude,” Peter says to the guy off camera, leaning on the bench and resting his chin on his palm. “I would wine and dine the crap out of Tony Stark. Like, cheap wine and cheap dine but, like… yeah. Y’know? I would.”
“You’re a mess, Pete.”
“Did you see what he wore to the Met Gala last week?” Peter ignores him, eyes unfocused and full of mirth as he uses the straw to blow bubbles in his wine. “Two words: That. Ass. Would. Eat - wait that’s four.”
“Good lord,” Tony mutters as the two on either side of him are set off into simultaneous guffaws. “Jesus christ.”
The scene cuts to Peter taking the dish out of the oven with a visibly thin towel.
“I was personally attacked by Stark in that Tom Ford suit,” Peter continues, propping the dish on a wooden board. “It’s by far the worst thing that man has ever done, and by that I mean the best. I’d like to thank God, and also Jesus for that holy image, can you even believe.”
“I can’t believe,” the camera-man deadpans.
“Well, I can’t believe you’re straight,” Peter sniffs, rubbing his stomach. “You’re missing out.”
The scene shifts to display a steaming, glistening slice of pasta bake on a pristine white plate. The camera pans back out. Peter is shoving a forkful of pasta into his mouth, groaning as it hits his taste buds.
“Add fresh herbs or whatever if you have them,” Peter swallows. “Can’t relate to having fresh basil but have at it if you can.”
“You okay, bro?”
“No. I should have eaten before I drank,” he says mournfully, mouth full of half-chewed food. He gestures to his culinary creation with a half-hearted flourish of his hands. “Anyway, pasta bake. I need to go lie down. Subscribe!”
The video ends with thanks to the viewers and a plea for Stark Industries to continue turning the other cheek.
The women on either side of him laugh at the message while Tony stares at the screen, mind blank.
“Well,” Tony shifts on the couch. “Good to know I’m still a hit with the college demographic.”
“There’s more,” Pepper pats his thigh, voice strangled and high with laughter. “Almost every video. It’s like, his brand. So adorable, right?”
“Very adorable,” Tony blinks, honing in on the guys face in the thumbnail. The words would eat resonate around in his head like an echo off the mountains. “FRIDAY, do me a solid. Send this young man a set of fancy new cookware. Make it commercial grade. It’s the least I can do.”
“Your wish is my command, boss,” FRIDAY answers.
“You’re good to me, baby girl.”
“I know that face,” Pepper says, bumping his shoulder. “That’s your intrigued face.”
Tony scoffs. “Nonsense. I don’t have an intrigued face.”
“It’s definitely your intrigued face,” Natasha confirms, reaching over to the coffee table to fist a handful of pretzels. “It’s as bad as all your other faces. Your eyes do this far away thing and your mouth kinda goes all,” she drops her jaw slightly.
“You look like you’ve had a stroke,” Tony tells her, closing her jaw with a finger. “You’re both delusional. The only thing I’m intrigued about is the state of this guys liver. How often does he post?”
“Twice a week.”
“Fuck me,” Tony whistles.
“Want to watch another?”
So he’s a little intrigued, sue him.
What? It’s not like it’s every day that some cute little piece straight outta Tony’s wet dreams openly thirsts for him and makes a living out of it.
Sure, it’s primarily a ‘cooking channel’, whatever, but as far as Tony is concerned, just about every video is an ode to him, albeit a tipsy one. And Tony would know. He’s watched all of them.
Some of the twice.
And sure, most of that can be attributed to his persistent, unfailing narcissism. Because, yeah, he kinda does like listening to the unfiltered admiration from a guy who thinks Tony isn’t listening and doesn’t want anything from him. He had FRIDAY cross-check both his own and this guys social media - and whilst Peter does follow his Instagram and Twitter, he’s never done anything more than like the odd photo or tweet here or there.
And having his looks validated is one thing, but Tony’s used to that. See; narcissism.
Although it’s a rarer occasion that Tony is actually praised for his intellect, to have it singled out. Y’know, instead of having it as an adjunct to his father’s work. But in one episode Peter spends thirteen minutes alone talking about the genesis and evolution of arc technology and actually understood it enough to speak ad nauseam.
His name is Peter Parker.
Further investigation of the guys background informs Tony that he’s in his grad year at MIT and is an avid Star Wars fan, if his Facebook was accurate.
Okay, okay, so maybe Tony dug a little deeper than Facebook, maybe dug into some government databases and the MIT mainframe, so? Tony’s practically government himself, isn’t he? Anyway, marginally illegal hacking aside, the guy has absolutely no criminal record, regularly donated his additional income to charity, was a certified genius and has one single living relative.
It’s got nothing to do with the big doe eyes or the generous crop of curls adorning his crown, or sometimes how a wayward lock would sometimes fall gently across his forehead as he passionately spoke.
There’s just something about him that Tony can’t put his finger on. Something… familiar.
It bothers him. It downright gets under Tony’s skin that he’s unable to place exactly just what it is that is making that quiet ticking noise in his own mind. He’s had something on the tip of his tongue since he watched the first video, flanked by two clowns, and it’s annoying.
So Tony keeps watching. Thinks about sending out a tweet or something, dropping a comment from his Instagram. He doesn’t though, because that would be weird, right? Like, hey kid, I appreciate your review of my ass, thanks for the ego boost xo
FRIDAY uncovers hundreds of mentions from fans asking both Peter and Tony to collaborate on a video. None of which Tony has ever noticed, of course. He’s a busy man, alright? It’s hard work being an Avenger and an innovator and a billionaire, blah blah blah. He doesn’t have time to sort through the thousands of mentions he gets over all social media platforms every day. There is a team he pays to do that for him.
A whole week since he had his AI send over the new kitchenware there is a new video is posted on Pete’s Eats.
It’s titled: “Five-minute omelette and a SURPRISE GIVEAWAY!”
Tony clicks on it, instantly gripped by the thumbnail, which is simply a picture of Peter, grinning a mile wide.
The thrall, of course, immediately fades when the video begins.
The giveaway items that Peter presents to the audience are the very items Tony gifted him a week earlier.
Glistening in the studio lights, the chrome of the stainless steel and cast iron stare back at Tony from the other side of the camera. His jaw drops, glee robbed from chest in a choked exhale.
Peter continues speaking on screen. “Thank you so much to whoever sent this to us, seriously.” He pauses as he delicatley frames his next words. “I really appreciate it. But on this channel we teach others to make do with what they have and most of us don’t have…this.”
“It’s fucking dope, though,” the guy off-camera says.
“So dope,” Peter agrees. “That’s why we want one of you special viewers out there to have them, so here’s what you have to do…”
Oh no, Tony thinks. This will not do.
“…so thank you again to our mysterious benefactor, we will announce the winner next week…”
Tony tunes the rest out and stares at the screen long after the video has finished.
Bewilderment creates an echo chamber out of his brain, all he can hear is the dull thunk a gigantic question mark bouncing around it like those old Windows screensavers.
No one has ever regifted something Tony has given them. Even Pepper lovingly accepted his indulgent, outlandish presents or, at worst, flat out ignored them. She never took one look and said nah, and gave it to someone else.
“FRI, baby girl,” Tony asks, still staring dazedly at the screen. “Did you sign off the gift to Mr. Parker from myself?”
“I was not given the directive to do so, boss.”
“No message left with the gift?”
“I assumed the gift was innocuous and anonymous, per all private donation protocol.”
So, the kid didn’t know it was from Tony.
Well. That knowledge, kind of made him feel better. It wasn’t a total blow off of Tony as a person, per se, just some nebulous donor with a hefty wallet.
“Babydoll,” Tony shifts, scratching his beard, “what’s all the rage with young cooks these days? Y’know. The must haves.”
“Shall I create a list for you, boss?”
“Why not,” he says, standing up and stretching.
FRIDAY’s list composes of a lot of things that Tony would have zero idea how use and probably shouldn’t go anywhere near. An induction cooktop, an infrared thermometer, a set of Japanese-steel kitchen knives, an air fryer, whatever the hell that was, and, as a cute little topper, an iron man apron and oven-mitt set.
“Shall I sign it off with your name this time?”
“Yes,” Tony nods. “Use my official letterhead. Send him something short but you know, heartfelt. Like, love the show, keep up the good work. That’s professional, right?”
“Indeed, sir,” FRIDAY affirms. “Consider it done.”
It’s definitely the anticipation of good karma that has butterflies in Tony’s stomach.
Of course Pepper and Natasha are there when Peter uploads the next video. Tony, who is already subscribed, gets a notification on his phone for the latest upload and sits impatiently through the latest Avengers team briefing, jiggling his leg as Steve drones on about the last mission report.
“ — was contained. The Croatian government were very - “
“Can we skip the boring bits,” Tony cuts in, already directing FRIDAY on his phone to have the new video loaded on the screen in the living room. “Everyone made it out alive. Bad guys caught. Is that about the short and long of it, Stevel Knievel?”
Steve frowns. “You could say it’s the short of it, but –”
“Great,” Tony says, already standing. “Send me a diagram of the long of it. I’m more of a visual learner, you know? Thanks for the nap, Cap”
Waving goodbye to the other unimpressed occupants of the room Tony departs, a skip in his step as he heads towards the living room.
What he doesn’t count on is Natasha and Pepper already sitting there, waiting for him already, a glass of wine each in their hand. And - seriously? Do they ever leave the living room?
“Did you seriously wait here to ambush me?” Tony queries, settling for an unimpressed frown as he settles on the couch.
“Did you seriously leave a briefing to watch a YouTube video?”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” Tony sniffs.
On Tony’s request, FRIDAY starts the video, Peters face swimming into view.
Worryingly, it’s titled: Q&A - and ANOTHER *giveaway????
With his heart falling to his stomach, Tony watches as Peter props up all of his gifts on his tiny, crowded kitchen table and declares he is going to be giving it all away to charity.
“Thank you,” Peter says, pressing his hand to his heart. “To the person pretending to be Tony Stark, I don’t know who you are, but thank you for all of these amazing gifts. From the bottom of my heart. All of these amazing items are going to the No Kids Hungry charity and every thumbs up that this video receives will be matched thumbs up for dollar by our sponsor…”
Great, now Tony feels like an asshole.
He’s giving away Tony’s gift. To charity. He still doesn’t think it’s from Tony, and that might be the worst part of it all. He’s not even allowed to feel bad about it because apparently Peter is a genuinely nice guy and not selfish.
Tony reaches out to grip Peppers perspiring glass of wine while she’s distracted.
“Do you mind if I have a taste of this?” Tony asks, not waiting for Pepper’s approval. He tips his neck back and swallows it all in one go and hands Pepper the empty glass. “Thanks.”
“You didn’t,” Pepper says, accepting the glass, brow furrowing. “Tony, tell me you didn’t send this guy more gifts. I know what this is.”
“What?” Tony says defensively. “This isn’t anything. I bought him some nice kitchenware, he’s a good kid, so what?”
“FRIDAY,” Pepper directs, “how much was the latest purchase for Mr. Peter?”
“Fourteen thousand, six hundred and twenty seven dollars Miss Potts,” FRIDAY confirms.
“Traitor,” Tony mutters, eyes rolling skyward. “Round it up to twenty, why don’t you - it’s pocket change, who cares. You know what, FRI, match up that number and donate it to whatever charity thing he’s promoting.”
“Will I sign it off from you, boss?”
“Yeah, why not. Not that he’ll notice.”
“Oh my god,” Natasha says.
“Oh my god,” Pepper repeats, pouring herself another glass of wine.
“Okay, let’s not summon Bloody Mary here,” Tony frowns, “continue the video.”
Peter rubs the back of his neck, smiling sheepishly at the camera as he answers personal questions from his viewers. It makes the sleeve of his shirt ride up to his rather firm, sloping biceps.
“…anyway, it can’t be as embarrassing as the time I was in high school and had a hole ripped in my pants at the butt all day and no one told me. So, next question.”
A text insert appears on the screen and the man off-camera reads it out. “If you met Tony Stark in real life, what would be the first thing you say to him?”
Tony leans in closer, as if the extra inch nearer to the TV might make the surround sound louder. This should be good, he thinks, his chest doing a weird thing.
Peter laughs and cards his fingers through his hair. “I’d say, Mr. Stark I am terribly sorry for every time I have publicly objectified you, I love your work, and you’re not as tall as I thought you’d be.”
The women on either side of him snort.
Not as tall as he thought Tony would be?
Hang on, wait.
“You been knew, Tiny Stank,” Natasha says, rubbing his back in soothing circles. “He still likes you, so I guess size doesn’t matter.”
“I’m not as tall as he thought I would be,” Tony mutters down to his hands. The words repeat in his head, oscillating in tone like a metronome, getting stuck on a loop as his mind whirs, clacking and revving as the familiarity rears up, persistent and pervasive. “Where have I…?”
You’re not as tall as I thought you’d be…
You’re not as tall as I thought you’d be…
Four years earlier. A red and blue suit, webs as quick as the quips coming from the swinging, masked superhero that was already on the scene.
“You alright?” Tony had asked after the fight was over.
“Yeah, thanks for the assist - wow, holy shit you’re Stark. I mean, Mr. Iron Man - I mean. Tony Stark. Wow, you’re not as tall as I thought you’d be.”
“Holy shit,” Tony jackknifes forward, pointing at the screen. “That’s –”
“Spider-Man,” Peter growls. “My name is Spider-Man.”
Clearing his throat, he tries again, deepening his voice and placing his hands on his hips. “I’m Spider-Man. And you are finished.”
Behind the mask, Peter sighs into the fabric. It’s no use.
All of his attempts to appear even remotely threatening are laughable at best. Tugging the mask off his face, Peter flings it at his bedroom mirror, frowning at the wild hair and his flushed reflection that frowns right back at him.
He looks more like a disgruntled pomeranian than a menacing vigilante.
It’s true. Just last night some guy outright laughed at Peter as he was actively mugging a woman.
“Stop right there,” Peter had said, hands on his hips, adopting what he thought was a wide, authoritative stance.
The guy had snickered and said, “Sure thing, Charlotte. I’ll get right on that.”
Peter had promptly webbed the guy up tight but the laughter still echoed in his ears.
That’s not even the worst of it.
There’s a PornHub channel solely dedicated to up-close shots of his spandex derrière. It’s called Spider-Twink (wat dat ass do).
On top of that, two weeks ago Peter had pulled up the mask above his mouth so he could eat a burrito (because he has been patrolling for six hours and was utterly famished) and Jameson wrote a scathing two-page article in the Bugle, accompanied six photos of his mouth wide open, labelling him various monikers like human vacuum and Spider-Pig.
The last one had caught Tumblrs interest. There had been a lot of very uncomfortable pig-spider hybrid fan art after that.
And, like, it was really funny from an outsider’s perspective, but personally it kinda sucked. Everyone who knew of his dual identity had linked him the PornHub channel, which was frankly more than he wanted to know of their recreational activities.
He’d received so much success and praise over his Youtube career, but fought tooth and nail to be respected as Spider-Man.
It was jarring.
So he’s not as handsome as Tony Stark or as tall and broad as Steve Rogers. The hate and emasculation was a tad uncalled for, right?
Shaking his head, Peter tells himself it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. He doesn’t do either of those things for the accolades. He wouldn’t be a masked fighter if it was about the fame and acclaim, even if he the suit didn’t filter his senses.
Ned knows. May knows. Hell, Peters convinced half the people who knew him from high school must know. Spider-Man suddenly up and moves from Queens to Boston around the same time that Peter left for MIT?
What a coincidence.
The thought makes him scratch at the skin underneath web shooters on his wrists.
He repeats this affirmation as he scrolls through social media and snorts at Spider-Butt memes and Pete’s Eats memes, answering some of the comments on his social media and ignoring some of the unfriendly ones.
It’s fine, Peter reminds himself, switching tack and working on his thesis until the clock ticks over to the next day, peering mournfully at his calendar and praying that the days find a way to multiply themselves.
It’s really, super duper fine, Peter whispers to himself, writing out the next months recipes for his twice-a-week videos at three in the morning, silently thinking fuck the algorithm, fuck the algorithm.
It was fine being Peter Parker and Spider-Man and grad student and Youtuber.
It wasn’t all that hard, really, for however much he liked to complain when the pressure encroached on him. He had a manager that handled all the nitty gritty and he had Ned as his creative partner. The knowledge that each facet or identity he donned was born out of an effective desire to help others was a big plus.
But the ache wasn’t from the strain of the responsibilities he had, it was from the yawning void of having no one to share it with.
Ned was at Betty’s for the weekend which left Peter alone in their apartment, staring blankly at the toaster as he waited for the kettle to reach boil. It was a shitty old toaster, they should probably replace it for safety even if the old thing didn’t burn things in weird patches.
But how would it look Peter had said. Our demographic is poor college students, how are they going to relate to having fancy four-slot chrome toasters?
Ned said they could just pick up a regular two slot at goodwill for five dollars and call it good. There was a furious rebuttal from Peter, if he was spending on a new appliance it was going to be the toaster of his metabolisms dreams - four slices of toast at once. Crazy.
That set the tone for the rest of the day. He skyped May and ate charcoaled-toast over the sink. He worked on his thesis and ate a sandwich over a mostly clean napkin.
See, eating alone was just designed to be a sad affair. Almost everything Peter did alone was a sad affair, really. From food to superheroing. It was fine, though.
It was fine, Peter thought to himself as the doorbell rings the following afternoon. He has to drag himself out of bed and wipe the crumbs off his shirt.
Should he bother popping on pants over his hello kitty boxers?
Nah. It’s probably just Ned having forgot something.
Scurrying across tiles in nothing but a dirty white shirt and boxers that have seen better days, Peter opens the door mid-yawn, mouth gaping open inelegantly.
His jaw snaps shut with an audible, painful clack.
Tony Stark is standing in his hall.
“Uh,” Peter says. “What.”
Dressed in a three-piece suit like he’d just stepped off of a fucking runway, the billionaire smiles crookedly, rose-tinted sunglasses sliding down his nose to get a better look at Peter.
“Hey there. Peter, right? Tony Stark, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Nice boxers, by the way.”
The billionaire smiles, extending out a hand which Peter only has the wherewithal to stare at unblinkingly.
“Not a handshake guy?” Tony asks, withdrawing his hand back to his pocket. “Cool. I can respect that.”
It snaps Peter out of his reverie. Shaking his head, Peter stutters incoherently, panic rising in his chest at what can only be all of his bad karma come at once.
“N-no, I am. Sorry, I just — oh my god,” he clears his throat and holds his hands out in contriteness, feeling his gut drop down to his feet where it splats messily all over the floorboards. “Please don’t sue me.”
“Sue you - do I look like a lawyer?” Tony blinks, sliding off his sunglasses and pocketing them in his blazer pocket. “So, can I come in? Yes or no?”
“Great,” Tony says, squeezing into space between Peter and the front door. Humming low, the man observes Peters abode and Peter watches as the man’s eyes fall to the full laundry baskets littering their dining table. “Nice place.”
Mortified, Peter wants to sink into the ground and melt into the building floor.
Tony Stark is in Peters living room. Tony Stark knows who Peter is. Peter is his Hello Kitty boxers meeting the man of his dreams.
Bad karma, bad karma, repeats on loop in his brain.
Embarrassment burns every single cell in his body. “Sorry. I uh, wasn’t expecting you, like ever, so… I should really get dressed. I’m sorry, I didn’t think you would be… you.”
Tony waves him off. “It’s fine, you’re fine. Homey. Quaint even. Reminds me of my college days.”
“Right,” Peter says. “I’m Peter – wait, you knew that. Sorry. Can I ask why are you here? Not that you’re not welcome, I mean you’re Tony Stark, of course you’re welcome, so welcome. I just don’t get why you’re here. Like, here in my apartment. And you somehow know my name – wait, are you here for Ned?”
“He lives here.”
“Huh,” Tony blinks. “Yeah, no.”
Tony helps himself to wandering their tiny apartment, inspecting the books on the shelves.
“Advanced astrophysics,” Tony whistles, grabbing the textbook he’s referencing and flicking through the pages. “Wow. That’s heavy duty stuff.”
Peter follows the hurricane into the living room, uncertain that he isn’t still asleep. “You’re here for advanced astrophysics?”
Tony looks up from the pages to send a bewildered look. “No? I’m here for you. Specifically to talk to you about your YouTube channel. Riveting content.”
Bile rises in his throat as his stomach turns, blood rushing from his face.
Peter wants to die.
No scratch that, he has died. He is already dead and has been sent to some repugnant, cringey afterlife where all his mistakes echo in a perverse rendition of his dreams.
This is the ninth circle of hell. This is where they send people like Judas and Jezebel and Hitler. He died last night and this is his new, humiliating reality. This is his comeuppance for Ben and probably for that one time he kicked Flash in the balls. This is the bad place.
“Oh my god,” Peter whispers, helpless as Tony wanders around, picking up odd ornaments, admiring his YouTube plaques, Streamy awards and the speckled character figurines along their shelves.
Ninth circle of hell.
“I’m flattered of course, it’s not every day a handsome young man like yourself delivers public drunken sermons in revere of my ass on the regular,” Tony continues, oblivious to Peters internal suffering, “not that I can blame you, it’s a great ass —“
Peter sits down on the nearby sofa, placing his hands into his face and dissociating. “No, no, no… this isn’t happening.”
“ – and while I'm kind of offended you pawned off all of my gifts – “
“They were from you,” Peter realizes, hands sliding down to grip at his mouth. “I thought it was a joke. Oh my god, oh my god.”
“ – I lied, what I’m really here to talk to you about is your night career as Spider-Man,” Tony finishes, perching upon the edge of the coffee table, weaving his fingers together and facing Peter.
Peter flinches, startled by the one-eighty.
“What, Spider-Man?” Peter rushes, “What are you talking about, Tony Stark, I’m not Spider-Man.”
“You’re definitely Spider-Man.”
“Pshh, no. Come on now, that’s crazy talk.” Flourishing this statement with a too-loud laugh, Peter shifts on the sofa, biting his nails nervously. “I mean, why would you think that?”
“I can see your suit on your bedroom floor,” Tony says, pointing to his open doorway, where indeed a heap of red and blue lay upon the carpet.
“What suit?” Peter asks, lounging back against the cushions, aiming for casually confused. “There’s no suit.”
“The onesie,” Tony clarifies. “It’s right there.”
“Oh that suit. Yeah, I cosplay,” Peter rebuts, nodding to himself. “He’s a cool guy. Very handsome.”
“My AI matched your voice to all traceable Spider-Man footage,” Tony shifts, his gaze piercing. Knowing. “You don’t think that’s weird?”
Peter shrugs, clearing his throat. “It’s imperfect technology. Sorry you came out all this way, maybe you should recalibrate your AI.”
“Maybe. Although, Spider-Man moved to Cambridge at the same time you did.”
“Your web-shooters are still around your wrists.”
“Fakes,” Peter proclaims, faking pressure on the trigger, arms outstretched and making exaggerated thwip thwip noises. “For the cosplay.”
“You were filmed changing into the suit in an alley on Fourth behind a Chinese restaurant.”
“Doctored,” Peter says. “Everyone has photoshop these days.”
“What’s worse?” Tony asks. “Pretending you’re not Spider-Man or me knowing about your little videos?”
“I don’t know,” Peter admits, tipping his head back on the sofa cushion and staring up at the browning ceiling as the hysteria escapes his throat in helpless gusts of air. “Both? I’m sorry for talking about you like you’re a piece of meat.”
“Nope,” Tony shakes his head, patting Peter firmly on the knee. “No apologies will be accepted. Feel free to refer to my meat anytime, publicly or privately. Blanket permission.”
“I’ll take that in writing. But for the other thing, I’m not signing the Accords.”
“I’m not asking you to sign the Accords, Mr. Parker.”
“You’re not?” Peter asks warily, tilting his head to peer at the older man.
“No,” Tony says, inching closer until their knees touch. “I’d like to offer you protection. A cloak. From the government, the public. This weird multi-life of yours isn’t cutting it. I had to pay off four news organisations on the way here, darling.”
“Protection,” Peter repeats, leaning in closer, studying Tony for the first time, star-struckness rapidly dissipating. Everything about his scent and posture seems sincere, but still. “What do you want in return? What do you get out of it?”
“Nothing,” Tony clicks his fingers, slouching back a little, grinning easily at Peter.
The crows feet at the corner of his eyes deepen with the motion and Peter’s chest does something funny.
“Really,” Peter says, dubious. “You want nothing?”
“Why do you sound so suss? I thought you liked me.”
“I do like you,” Peter confirms, all his previous shame gone. “That’s why I’m suss.”
“Fair,” Tony locks his fingers together. “I thought we could go on a date.”
“A date,” Peter repeats, his world inverting and going upside-down, stomach turning sickeningly again.
“Yes, a date. That’s what I said.”
“With me,” Peter clarifies. “A date. You want a date.”
“Yes, a date. Are you hard of hearing?”
“No, I’m hard of understanding.”
“What’s hard to understand?” Tony queries, brow wrinkling.
Peter blinks in disbelief. “Your end of the deal?”
“Wanting a date? Please don’t make me say date again.”
“What’s there to be confused about?” Tony perks up an eyebrow, shifting again, their knees rubbing together.
Peter’s knobbly knees are bare, the hair on his legs catching with the silky smooth fabric of Tony’s pants, so finely made they’re probably as expensive as a years worth of rent alone. The sensation feels intimate, like hand holding or spooning for the first time. The tingles have him zoning out for just a moment before his faculties come back online.
“ – I mean, you’re single; I’m single. You’re hot and we’ve both established that I, too, am very hot. We’re both superheroes and men of science –”
“You think I’m hot?” Peter interrupts, disbelieving.
“– I read your paper on the morphology of titania nanotube arrays in water, which was genius by the way. You’re smart and sassy. I like that. You clearly like me, so, why not ask for a date?”
“You really think I’m hot?” Peter repeats, ignoring the rest.
“Are you sure you’re not hard of hearing? I mean, I haven’t got eighty-four videos declaring my attraction to your everything but if you need that arranged I’m sure we can make it happen. But first, I don’t turn you into the Department of Homeland Security and we go on a date. Sound good?”
“Sounds fake. Am I on some kind of prank show?”
“Prank show?” Tony rolls his eyes heavenwards. “Jesus, you have some terrible self-esteem, kid. No, it’s not fake, it’s not a prank. I’m going to take you on a date and I’m going to keep taking you on dates until you either take out a restraining order on me or realise I’m hot for you.”
“I’d do something lewd, like, grab my crotch to prove my interest, but that seems more like a third date kind of thing. So, we good?”
“Okay,” Peter says, dazed but smiling. “We’re good.”
One year later
[SCENE OPENS, A YOUNG MAN COMES INTO FOCUS]
The man waves at the camera. “Hi everyone, I’m Peter and this is Pete’s Eats, welcome back to our channel. Today we have a very special guest to assist in the kitchen who be introduced later. I’m sure you’ll be very excited.”
“I wonder who it could be?” The camera man gasps off-screen.
“First,” Peter says, face turning serious. “I want to discuss some of the rumours that have been going around. A lot of you have sent me messages asking me what’s going on - and I wanted to clear things up. Some of you will have seen a photo circulated by TMZ that appears to be me and Tony Stark in an intimate position.”
[A grainy photo appears on screen of Peter leaning on the railing of a hotel balcony wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. A dark-haired male embraces him from behind, kissing his neck.]
“I know what you’re thinking,” Peter addresses the camera. “Is that really you? Is that really Tony Stark? Is he a look-alike? Have you gone off the deep end all the way into stalkerville crazy town? The answer is —”
“The answer is yes, all of the above,” a different voice off-screen interrupts.
Tony Stark walks into frame, draping an arm over Peters shoulders, fingers squeezing the younger mans bicep. He squints at the screen. “Jesus christ, how do you even see with all of this lighting? It’s like I’m looking directly into the sun here.”
“Our special guest everyone!” Peter announces, gesturing in a ta-dah motion. “Give a warm welcome to the one and only Tony Stark. He’ll be my sous chef today and we thought we would use this opportunity to address the rumours –”
“We’re having sex,” Tony cuts in. “We’re in a relationship. Next.”
Peter turns to Tony, frowning. “Whose show is this?”
Tony’s arm slips from Peter’s shoulder to his waist, fingers curling around his hip. “Yours, baby,” he leans in to kiss the high crest of Peters cheek. “I’m sorry, I’ll let you talk.”
“Thank you,” Peter says, appeased, turning back to the camera.
“Even though I’m a co-host…” Tony mutters.
The camera zooms in on Peter’s unimpressed face.
“We’re dating!” Peter announces, pressing their sides close together, looking away and sharing a soft smile with Tony. “Uh yeah, we tried to keep it under wraps for a while, keep it to ourselves until we couldn’t.”
“Litigation is pending,” Tony says. “Fuck you, Harvey.”
“Uh, yeah. Anyway, that’s the scoop. Here we are!”
“Here we are,” Tony repeats, unable to stop himself leaning in to place a quick kiss on Peters lips.
Peter visibly flushes.
“I knew about them first,” the camera man whispers, sounding proud of himself and zooming in on their lovestruck faces. “Damn. Look at those heart eyes.”
“No heart eyes,” Peter says, gaze still locked with Tony’s. “Just a routine macular check. Tony’s getting old, ya know?”
“Oh it’s on you little shit,” Tony grins, turning to the camera.
The video goes viral.
After, Tony posts a photo of a sleeping Peter to Instagram. In the shot, Peter is sleeping in bed, mouth wide open, drool visibly collected in dewy drops at the corner of his lips.
Tony captions it: Found some weird guy sleeping in my bed. I think he’s homeless
Peter retaliates, posting a candid picture to his own Instagram of Tony and Ned sitting next to each other on the sofa, mid-conversation, a book on quantum engineering between them.
Beneath it he writes: In this picture is my hero, my partner in life and crime. The other guy is Tony Stark.
Their fans go wild.
Four days after their first, but not last, social media sparring, Ned posts a short vlog on their side channel.
The video is fifteen seconds long and focuses on the couple slow dancing in the kitchen, eyes locked on another as they sway, pressed close together and laughing as they step on each others feet. Too wrapped up in the other, the couple bump into benches and chase the others laughter with fervent kisses, looking every bit in love, failing to notice they’re being filmed.
Ned titles it, heart eyes, motherfuckers.