Peter runs along the wall, the bullets ricocheting, hitting all around him. He flips down, lands behind the line of gunmen, and knocks two of their heads together.
It’s a pretty standard night, for Spider-Man. Maybe a few more gunshots than usual. But just a few.
“Listen, you’re not gonna get the higher ground here,” Peter says, and he swipes the third man’s legs out from under him. “You’re mobster drug dealers, and I can literally get higher with the, you know, webs. And the flipping, and the acrobatics, you guys—you don’t look too limber, there.” And with that, he webs all three of them to the ground. The main door slams open, and a whole new slew of goons floods in.
Peter feels his tiredness in his bones, but he takes the six newcomers down in a solid minute and a half. He’s been making Karen fix a timer on the heads up display, ever since he started sniffing out a slowdown. He’s gotta stay on his game.
He webs them all up, ends the fight, and once the dust settles, he makes his anonymous call. He waits in the window until he hears the sirens, listening to muffled curses from the webbed up mobsters, all of them rustling around angrily.
“What, you don’t like that?” Peter asks, tilting his head at the one closest to him. “I always thought the webs looked really snuggly! Aren’t you cozy?”
The man moves a little faster, but Peter still can’t hear exactly what he’s saying.
“Sorry, dude,” Peter says, as the sirens start to wail in the distance. “Maybe you’d be better off if you got a real job, like, a bank teller or something. Or like, a taco truck owner. Not a kidnapping mafia drug dealer with a bad bowl cut.” He hums to himself as the man continues to struggle. “Or is any bowl cut a good bowl cut? That’s the question.” He sighs as the sirens get closer, and flings himself out the window.
It’s always really hard to yawn inside the mask.
“Peter,” Karen says. “You’re twenty blocks from home.”
“Totally cool,” Peter says, swinging across the road, narrowly avoiding a moving truck.
“It’s 4:58 in the morning,” Karen says. “Your morning alarm is set to ring at seven. By the time you make it home, you will not have much time to sleep. Less than an hour, and that’s only if you fall asleep immediately.”
Peter hums to himself, blinking blearily. “I’ll go to sleep, it’s fine.”
“And you have the Macbeth report due tomorrow,” Karen says. “Two thousand words, of which you have written...six.”
“Oh shit,” Peter gasps, his heart jumping in his chest. “Okay, I’m not gonna sleep.”
“This is the type of event that Mr. Stark has told me to inform him about,” Karen says. “Because he is aware you wouldn’t share this type of thing with him on your own.”
“Do not do that,” Peter says, shooting another web and cascading through an alleyway. “For real. For real for real. It’s fine, I got it, he doesn’t need to know, okay? He’s busy, this is—Spidey business, I got this, I’ll tell him when it’s all over. All the details. Cross my heart.”
Peter almost thinks he hears Karen sigh. “Okay, Peter,” she says.
“Hey!” Ned’s voice says, and Peter startles awake. He braces his elbow on the lunch table, wiping at his face. Everything is blurry and his eyes hurt, but he quickly manages a smile for Ned. The dream he was having dissolves so fast that he can’t latch onto it, but he thinks he remembers being punched.
“Yes?” Peter asks, blinking at him. “You rang?”
“You were sleeping on Mexican pizza day,” Ned says, looking at him in disgust. “You got one, it’s sitting right there, waiting on you to consume it, and yet—”
Peter looks down at his tray, picks up the pizza with two hands, and takes a big bite with as many theatrics as he can manage. It’s a little cold, but still the best day of the week, as far as school lunches go. He puts it back down, raising his eyebrows at Ned.
“You let it get cold,” Ned says, unimpressed. He stirs his cup of peas with his fork. “God, Peter.”
“Well, why didn’t you wake me up earlier?” Peter asks.
“Okay, I didn’t realize I was on the job right now, SM.”
Peter widens his eyes at him, and Ned laughs.
“Friend job,” Peter says. “You’re on the friend job, Ned.”
“For real,” Ned says, spearing four peas. “What’s going on? Why are you so dead today?”
Peter rests his forehead on his folded arms, eager to fall back into unconsciousness. “Big job last night, and it’s not even done yet.”
“That Deja crew?” Ned whispers. “The mobsters?”
Peter nods. “They’ve still got like three more bases around the borough. I’m trying to get rid of the ones closest to home first, but the last one I’m gonna hit is in Harlem and I know it’s gonna take a bit to fit in. I hope they don’t move shop before I get over there.”
“What a schedule,” Ned says. “No cops?”
“They need all kinds of paperwork before they can even breathe in this direction,” Peter says. “It’s just...easier if I just…”
“Break the law?”
Peter blows out a breath. “Take care of it. The...SM way.”
Ned laughs. “You get Tony involved?”
“Mr. Stark is busy,” Peter says. “And anyway, I’m having dinner with him tonight so I’ll probably mention it but not all the details.” He doesn’t plan on that at all, but says it for Ned’s benefit. He closes his eyes, hoping more sleep might nurse away the headache that’s forming at the base of his skull.
“Alright,” Ned says, patting his shoulder. “We’ve got twenty more minutes of lunch, that’s all I can give you. But I’m eating your pizza.”
“Fine,” Peter mutters, trying to block out all the light. “You deserve it.”
Peter doesn’t understand why these teachers give them so much homework. He doesn’t know why they think it’s possible to get all of it done—read fifty pages in one night? It’s impossible. Especially for something he genuinely doesn’t wanna do. But all the kids in his school aren’t Spider-Man, and aren’t, currently, trying to take down a drug ring full of murdering mobsters. He feels like his brain is in a blender. There’s just too much going on.
“What are you reading?” Happy asks, looking at him in the rear view mirror.
“Uh, Benjamin Franklin biography,” Peter says, rustling his thumb over the edges of the pages. “I’ve got twenty more pages to read before tomorrow.”
Happy clicks his tongue. “I thought the deal May and Tony made was no Spider-Man business until homework was done.”
Peter narrows his eyes, looking up into the rearview again. “Is dinner with Tony Spider-Man business?” Peter asks. “I mean, I thought I was more than that. That’s what Tony said, you’ve said it before too, and after the whole thing with Toomes—”
“Alright, already, geez,” Happy says. “You just seem like you’ve been a little—frenzied, lately, maybe? Overwhelmed, work and life balance?”
Peter sighs, closing the book. He doesn’t know what to say, and he jumps back and forth in his head between the truth and a lie. “No,” he says. He shakes his head, smiling a little bit. “No, no, I’m totally cool, just fine. They just—they’ve been giving us a lot more work lately, that’s all. But everything is totally cool.”
“Totally cool,” Happy repeats.
“Yup,” Peter says, his stomach growling.
Peter still isn’t used to this. This—sitting across the table from Tony, talking to him like he knows him. It feels like some kind of simulation, something he’d make up in his head, trying to be cool. But he doesn’t have to make it up anymore, because Tony’s right here—and Tony made steak.
He nudges the sauce towards Peter, and clears his throat.
“If Mexican pizza day is the best day, what’s the worst day? When May sends you a bag lunch?”
Peter snorts, grinning. “Uh—my worst day is Jamaican beef patty, because they just make them really dry and nasty and it’s sad, because I know they can be good. Ned’s worst day is chicken nugget day because he refuses to eat them.”
“Why’s that? Chicken nuggets are mainstream, there’s not much you can do to mess up chicken nuggets.”
“He found a hair in one of them one time and it traumatized him for life.”
Tony makes a face, his brows furrowing. “I think I should do something about the lunches at your school,” he says. “That...doesn’t sit right with me. Especially that you’d still prefer the hairy chicken nuggets to the Jamaican beef patty.”
Peter grins. “I mean, I never found a hair.”
Tony shakes his head at him. “May said you’ve had a lot of work lately. Happy also mentioned you were trying to get some reading done in the car.”
Peter hums a little bit, taking the steak sauce and dumping way too much of it next to his French fries. “Uh, it’s—it’s not, uh—it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“Knowing that you’re notorious for not reading in the car makes me wonder what would drive you to do it,” Tony says, and he pushes the bowl of corn closer to Peter, too. Peter already ate all of his, and he quickly shovels more onto his plate. He feels like he hasn’t eaten in a long time.
“It’s definitely a lot,” Peter says, trying to chill out. “But like...I’m not special! Everybody’s got the same amount of work so I can’t—I mean, I can’t complain.”
Tony narrows his eyes at him. “I mean—putting aside the fact that you are special, Pete, I don’t want any self-depreciation around here unless it’s me—you’re also Spider-Man.” Peter must make a face, because Tony laughs, grinning. “Don’t worry. Nobody’s listening.”
Peter smiles back. “It’s totally cool,” he says. “I can do it! I got an A on my last trig quiz—”
“Yeah, May and I talked about that yesterday, I’m really proud of you, kid.”
That phrase always knocks the air out of Peter whenever he hears it, and more so when it comes from Tony. He and May have been having these little chats more and more lately, which...makes Peter feel strangely secure, more than it makes him nervous. He doesn’t know why. He doesn’t get it. Maybe they feel like two walls, on either side of him. He can still fall, there’s still—a lot of open air. But they’d be there to grab him, if things got too out of hand. They’d be right there.
Peter nods, his face going a little hot. “Thanks,” he says. “But...yeah, that’s...yeah, I’m doing good. I’ve totally got this.”
“What if you didn’t?” Tony asks, taking a sip of his water and looking at Peter intently.
Peter blinks at him, trying to maintain his composure. It’s all on the tip of his tongue. It’s too much. I need help. I really need help. But he needs Tony to keep being proud of him. He can’t disappoint him. “What if I…” Peter says, trailing off.
“Would you tell me?” Tony asks. “If you didn’t have it?”
Part of him is screaming.
“Yeah,” Peter says. “Yeah...yeah, of course.”
He shoves three spoonfuls of corn into his mouth so he doesn’t say anything else.
The next three days are a blur of bad decisions.
Peter gets three hours of sleep total, maybe, if he counts the brief nap in Trig as something. Ned actually suggests putting makeup on his face to hide the dark circles under his eyes, and after May questions how much he’s sleeping, he finally relents and lets Ned try and hide the physical evidence of how hard he’s working himself. He goes out each night—stops a carjacking, helps out with a high speed chase, halts two purse snatchers, and nearly gets hit by the train trying to break up a fight at the 42nd street stop.
On top of all that, he takes out two more Deja bases, just barely escaping before the cops arrive both times. He nearly falls asleep mid-swing on the way home from the second one, and Karen has taken to buzzing the whole mask in attempts to wake him up. He finishes his essay on Renaissance Humanism in 15th Century France in the hallway two minutes before class starts, and gets docked fifteen points for not typing up the last three paragraphs. He completely fails the quiz on Books 9-12 of the Odyssey because he never got through all of it, and he’s close to tears when he realizes he’s gotta ace the next three quizzes or he’s gonna fail the class.
Peter is the walking dead. And much like a zombie, he runs directly into the wall on his way out of English. There are stars in his eyes like he’s an idiot cartoon.
“Whoa, Parker,” Flash says, laughing at him. “Long night, huh?”
“Just leave me alone,” Peter says, wiping at his eyes and looking around for Ned. He should be getting out of Chem right about now, even though Mr. Crystal usually keeps them late.
“Wow, someone’s in a bad mood,” Flash says, and nudges him hard with his shoulder as he passes by.
Peter nearly collapses entirely, and he’s close to lashing out against him, against himself, against every damn body, and the last week has felt like an entire, messed up, completely fucked up year.
He’s just gotta get rid of these damn mob guys. Then he can recalibrate. Then he can step back and figure things out and maybe take a break. Maybe.
His phone buzzes in his pocket and he sighs, leaning against the wall and pulling it out to look. Even just leaning here makes him tired, and he slides a little bit, blinking languidly.
TONY STARK OMG: How are we doing today?
TONY STARK OMG: How’d the quiz go? Good ole Odysseus. Guy’s been through a lot.
Peter almost tears up again because he forgot he’d even mentioned the quiz to Tony, and the big fat blank spot in his head reminds him that a blaring red F is imminent. He can’t tell Tony that. He can’t tell Tony or May that. That’s awful. A clear indication that he’s not on the up and up.
“Hey, hey, sorry,” Ned says, coming up behind him. “Crystal is like, on a whole other level today, he was wearing the orange shirt so we all knew—”
“Orange shirt, huh?” Peter asks, his voice breaking stupidly as he continues to stare at his phone.
“Hey, you alright?” Ned asks, hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong? Who died?”
“My grade in English died, that’s what,” Peter says, blowing out a breath. “I totally blew that quiz because I never finished what we had to read of the Odyssey and now Mr. Stark is asking me how it went.”
“Lie to him!”
Peter glares over his shoulder. “Yeah, we sorta had a talk about that after all the Vulture stuff, and I’m not supposed to do it, and I feel really weird doing it even though I keep doing it.”
“So what’s one more on top of all the rest?” Ned asks.
“One more on top of all the rest,” Peter says, closing his eyes. They burn with lack of sleep and latent tears, and he quickly opens them again and starts a reply.
PETER: don’t think I did the best I could have :( :(
“That’s good too,” Ned says, leaning heavily on Peter’s shoulder as the last bell rings. “Not exactly a lie. I mean. You didn’t fail yet.”
“I totally failed,” Peter says, a heavy sadness growing in his chest. He turns to look at Ned. “Listen, uh, I can’t do anything tonight because I’ve gotta get rid of this last base in Harlem before they move. I’ve gotta do it tonight, I’ve got a bad feeling because I already busted the other two and I’ve just—I’ve just gotta get it done.”
“Okay,” Ned says, nodding. “You need my help with anything?”
Peter needs plenty of help. With everything. But there’s a wall up in his head now—he started this alone, it’s his project, he’s gotta finish it on his own. He can see the moment he tells Tony—when they’re sitting together watching the news and Peter can say that this was his work—he did this, completely, Spider-Man took down the Deja mob family. Spider-Man got designer drugs off the street. Spider-Man made New York just a little bit safer.
And Spider-Man has a portfolio on Ernest Hemingway due on Tuesday.
“Nope,” Peter croaks. “No, I’m good. I’ll text you though, okay?”
“Okay,” Ned says, eyeing him suspiciously.
Peter claps him on the shoulder and gives him the world’s most awkward smile, and then he turns back, heading towards the front exit.
His phone buzzes in his hand and he looks down, his heart burning a little when he sees it’s another message from Tony.
TONY STARK OMG: Aww, hey, kid, I bet you did better than you think you did. You’re smart as hell, you soak up information like a sponge. Remember the shit with the sheep? Never forget the shit with the sheep. I know that was on there.
Peter blows out a breath again, and he knows he’s got the word DISAPPOINTMENT stamped on his forehead in big red letters.
Peter works on the Hemingway portfolio until May goes to bed, and she stands in his doorway looking him over for what feels like forever before she relents, showering him with about twenty kisses and a hug he doesn’t wanna leave behind.
“You sure you’re good, baby?” she asks, planting two more kisses on his cheek.
“Yes,” Peter says, laughing, holding onto her arms. “Yes, yes.”
“Sure sure,” Peter says.
She lets go of him, brushing his hair back and patting him on the shoulders. “Alright,” she says, heading to the door. “Maybe set your alarm a half hour later. Get some extra sleep.”
“Will do,” he says, watching her. “Love you.”
“Love you more,” she says, blowing a kiss his way.
Then she’s gone again and the hallway lights are out, and Peter has an emptiness in his chest that’s been there for a week now, as well as a new pit in his stomach that accompanies it. He barely touched his dinner, and he wishes they had a dog he could feed under the table when he’s too nervous to eat meatloaf. He wishes they had a dog, period. A dog would solve a lot of problems.
His phone buzzes when he’s suiting up, and he sees it flashing on his heads up display once he puts his mask on. A message from MJ.
JONESING: what the hell scene are we gonna do for drama, why haven’t we discussed this. I’m not being Juliet. If we do romeo and juliet you’re gonna be juliet.
Peter snorts, a brief lightness in all his panic.
“I think she may like you, Peter,” Karen says. “You know. Like you, like you.”
“Oh my God, Karen,” Peter says, feeling his face go red hot. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t even think about that right now, I’m way too busy.”
“How should I reply?” Karen asks.
“Uh—just do this word for word—why are you messaging me about this at ten at night, Jones? Either way no Shakespeare, I wanna do something more modern and funny and we’ll talk about it tomorrow goodnight.”
“Perfect,” Karen says.
Peter shakes his head. And with that motion he sways a little bit, feeling the effects of all the not sleeping and not eating. He had two bites of meatloaf, half a mozzarella stick at lunch today and that’s...it.
He sighs, hoping he can end this tonight. He opens the window, climbs over his desk, and jumps out into the night.
Peter is sure, for one bright and shining moment, that this will go well. The base is still intact, and all seems quiet. But instead of starting to web them up all stealthy like he usually does, Peter’s state of mind and state of body betray him, and he grabs somebody standing about four feet away from three other guys. They see him immediately.
Moron, Parker. Moron!
Then the mobsters scatter like ants, and on top of his massive blunder, they’ve got rocket launchers. The warehouse is exploding and debris is going everywhere and it’s like something out of a warzone, definitely something that’s gonna alert the cops before Peter wants to, sending them into the line of fire. Peter webs a couple guys to the walls, flips out of the way when they launch another damn rocket at him, and a set of bookcases explodes, wood flying everywhere.
“Why are you guys destroying your own place?” Peter yells, grabbing one by the ankle and tossing him up towards the ceiling, sticking him there. “Don’t you need any of this stuff? Why do you even have it?”
He’s really dizzy but he’s trying to ignore it, and he knocks a gun out of a thug’s hand, punching him unconscious. He sees a group of three rappelling up to the opening in the ceiling and they’re each holding a box, something they clearly don’t want him or the police to find.
“Hey!” he yells. “Where are you guys going? The show’s not over yet!”
He swings his way up to the roof, and starts running after them.
It’s dark over here, a broken down block in Harlem with as many abandoned buildings as Peter has problems, and on any normal day, he’d be able to take these guys out without any issue. But everything seems to be catching up to him right when he doesn’t want it to, the sleepless nights—the constant running, chasing, saving, stopping—that he’s been doing instead. The lack of food, the panic, the steadfast stubborn need to stay on this destructive path despite book reports and essays and quizzes and everything a normal teenager has too without Spider-Man plopped on top of it like an oversized Christmas tree star.
All of it locks around Peter like a vice, slows him down, trips him up, but he doesn’t stop chasing them into the night, rooftop to rooftop, no, he can’t do that. He just ignores his spidey sense, doesn’t look where he’s fucking going, and falls right through a moldering patch in the roof of the next building, one that all three mobsters avoided.
He doesn’t even realize he’s falling for a second, the air pillowing around him like a brief reprieve, and when the shock hits him the web he sends up to latch onto the rooftop holds on, but then that patch of roof collapses too, and Peter doesn’t have time to shoot another one up before he’s landing.
He can feel the outrageous pain immediately, in the tangled mess of glass and wood he landed in. He sucks in a breath that isn’t enough, every movement agony, his eyes widening and straining with the sheer shock of what the hell is happening right now.
“Karen,” Peter gasps, afraid to move more than he already is. “Karen.”
“Peter,” Karen says. “It seems you have a compound fibula fracture.”
“Oh no,” Peter mutters. “Oh no, oh no.” He breathes in short bursts through his mouth, pushes himself up slightly to look at his leg and—
“Yeah, that’s a bone,” he mutters to himself, tears springing up in his eyes. It’s sticking out of his suit, out of his leg. “Yeah, that’s—oh my God. Oh God.” He shifts and the rubble underneath him shifts too, and he sucks in a breath, careful not to move his broken leg.
“I am pushing a call through from Tony Stark.”
“Peter, what happened?” Tony’s voice asks. “I saw your vitals spike, yes I was watching, and now I’m getting all kinds of readings—did you break your leg? Is your leg broken?”
Peter covers his face with his hand, and he feels like the mask is stifling him. He’s about three seconds from a whole breakdown and a pathetic-sounding sob escapes him before he can stop it.
“Okay, I’m coming,” Tony says. “I’m flying over in my suit and I’m getting Happy to drive over—he’s closer, so we’ll probably get there at about the same time. Then we’ll load you up and take you back to the tower. It’ll take forever but he’s good at high speeds. I don’t wanna fly with you if your leg is broken.”
Peter sobs again, shaking his head. It feels like his world is crumbling, everything he’s been trying so hard to balance. It’s all scattered now. “I really messed up,” he gasps. “I really messed up, Mr. Stark.”
“Kid, don’t—you’re safe, right? No one’s trying to get at you, right? Did someone do this to you or did you fall?”
“I fell,” Peter says, like an idiot. “Chasing—some of the Deja mob.”
“Are they still coming for you?” Tony asks, stern.
Peter listens out, tries to hear over his own heavy breathing. He doesn’t hear anyone coming. “No, I don’t think—I don’t think they’re coming for me.” He’s trying so hard not to cry but he feels like such an idiot, such a disappointment, and everything hurts so bad.
“Okay, I’m coming,” Tony says. “Flying to you now.”
“Don’t hang up,” Peter says, desperately. He hates how he sounds right now but he’s in too much pain, stuck in too much darkness. He feels six instead of sixteen.
“Absolutely not, nope, I’m right here,” Tony says, and Peter thinks he hears the suit, somehow.
“I feel like I’m gonna pass out,” Peter says, trying to blink through the blackness eating away at his vision.
“Nope, talk to me,” Tony says. “What were you doing? Deja mob?”
“Uh—the Harlem base, the last one,” Peter slurs, blinking. He looks at his left arm and doesn’t see any cuts but the right one has a few rips in the suit, some dripping blood. God, he messed up. “I was—I was trying so hard to do all this, Mr. Stark, so I could show you how—” He moves the wrong way and shocks of lightning pain shoot through his leg and he cries out horribly, twisting his neck back.
“Peter, Peter, don’t move, bud, okay? You can’t move.”
“Didn’t mean to,” Peter breathes, squeezing his eyes shut tight. He’s gonna puke inside the mask. This is like the worst he’s ever messed himself up. “Mr. Stark…”
“I’m coming, kid—Friday, let’s speed it up, huh?—I’m almost there, Pete, hang on. Hang on, okay? Keep talking to me.”
“Gonna pass out,” Peter says. He knows unconsciousness isn’t really the same thing as a good night’s sleep, but closing his eyes and peacing out of this situation feels like the best possible thing to do right now.
“Don’t, kid. Talk to me. Tell me more about that Rick and Morty sauce or whatever. I get the names right?”
“Stood in line at McDonald’s for three hours,” Peter mutters, closing his eyes.
“Peter,” Tony says, as Peter falls into another great, dark abyss. “Peter, keep talking to me, kid. Kid. Peter!”
Peter doesn’t answer, because the pain is washing over him, giving way to exhaustion, giving way to numbness, giving way to nothing at all.
“Go faster, Hap, I don’t give a shit what cop stops you.”
“I am literally going lightspeed, Tony.”
“Lightspeed,” Peter whispers, floating just under the water. He leans his head back on somebody’s shoulder. “Beam me up, Mr. Chewbacca.”
“Oh Jesus, he’s getting his fandom’s mixed up,” Happy’s voice says. “Bad sign.”
“Just drive,” Tony says, and he sounds closer. “Kid, you with me? You awake? C’mon, stay awake, I know a break like this is really shitty but—”
“Oh no,” Peter says, sinking deeper under the water. He feels Tony’s hand on his chest. “Oh no, I actually...did all that stuff…” He remembers the fall, the break, the stupid mobsters, and he screws up his face. “Am I sinking right now? Am I—water?” He feels like he’s drunk.
“Jesus, Pete,” Tony says. “Are you water? No, you’re not water. You’re in the backseat of Happy’s truck, with me—”
The pain is. Out of this fucking world.
“Hey, hey—” Tony starts.
But Peter can’t hold on. He dissolves again, into a pile of sand. He sinks and sinks and sinks.
Tony’s fleet of doctors concocted something to knock Peter out a few months ago when he broke his arm, and Peter briefly wakes up again when they’re giving it to him. He sees Tony’s face, pure panic, and then Peter is down for the count. No waking up, no imaginary oceans or deserts or Millennium Falcons. Just pure, blissful darkness.
Then he wakes up again a hundred years later. The room he’s in is quiet, and he glances down at the massive cast on his leg. He’s sure, with his healing, that he won’t be wearing it for long, but it still makes his heart constrict a little, to see it.
He looks to his left and notices May, curled up and sleeping on a couch. Peter winces, looking at her, and he can already imagine everything she’s gonna have to say about this.
“So,” Tony’s voice says, beside him, and Peter jumps. “Let’s discuss. Let’s...let’s have a conversation.”
Peter sinks deeper into his pillows and squeezes his eyes shut tight. He opens them again and really looks at him, on the opposite side of the bed from May, closer. He doesn’t look pissed, like Peter expected. His expression is open, his eyes intent. Peter sighs. “I just—I’ve maybe been a little...overwhelmed, with, uh, my Spider-Man responsibilities and my school and...life responsibilities and I...I let it get too big and let it get to me and I neglected myself because I...I was so focused on taking down those stupid assholes.” Tears spring to his eyes again, sheer embarrassment, and he scrubs them away.
“Why was it such a big deal?” Tony asks, leaning forward. “To take them down completely? You’ve nearly decimated them so far, Peter. More than half of them are in jail and awaiting trial.”
Peter stares at him. “How do you know?”
Tony scoffs at him. “You really think I don’t keep an eye on this shit? Especially when it involves you and your Spider-Man antics? Come on, Pete.”
Peter covers his face with his hand, shaking his head. “I just wanted to do this one thing—just me, completely, on my own, to show you that I can...well, that I’m...capable, I guess.”
Tony laughs. “Peter. Peter Parker. You think I don’t know that? Me? Me? Kid, aside from your exhausted aunt over there, I’m your biggest cheerleader. I know you can do anything, and I’m so proud of you. Especially after all that shit with Toomes, I just—you really proved yourself. I’m not exaggerating, I didn’t invite you to the Avengers for nothing. You’re the best of us. You don’t have to prove anything.”
Peter keeps staring, eyes filling with tears. He knows he was knocked out for however long, but he’s still so damn tired. “I just...I didn’t want to be...a disappointment.”
Tony shakes his head. “Impossible,” he says. “Kid, you’re...you’re important to me, you know that.” He looks away when he says it, clearing his throat. “You can’t disappoint me, I’m always gonna be proud of you, but I want you to be safe. You’re the priority, not these dumbass mobsters. They’ll come and go, but your health—that’s what’s important. You’re not eating, you’re not sleeping—shit, kid, you burned yourself out. And I hate that half of that is because of me. You don’t need to impress me. You’ve already impressed me. You’re in, okay? Get that through your head. I care about you. You could decide tomorrow that you don’t wanna be Spider-Man anymore and I’d still care about you and want you in my life.”
“Why?” Peter asks, before he can stop himself.
Tony looks at him like he’s insane. “I literally rebought the tower so I could have a base closer to you, Pete. C’mon. Don’t make me get all lovey dovey on you here. I know this is a bedside chat but you’re not dying, that leg is gonna be all healed by the day after tomorrow if my guys did their job right, and I know for a fact that they did, or they wouldn’t be my guys. I care about you, that’s it, case closed, you don’t have to overwork and bust your ass to get that because you’ve already got it. And Spider-Man is New York’s favorite, they’ve done actual polls on it, so you don’t have to worry about that either. Everyone loves the webhead.”
Peter’s face crumples a little bit, and he looks away, nodding to himself. Tony reaches out and pats him on the cheek, then squeezes his shoulder.
“Fred, uh—Ned, I talked to him, he told me about the quiz. And all the rest.”
“Great,” Peter says, rolling his eyes.
“So you know what me and you are gonna do once the sun comes up and we’ve got a big tray of bagels in front of us?” Tony asks, rocking him back and forth a little bit to get his attention.
Peter looks at him. “What?”
“We’re gonna read the parts of the Iliad you have to do next for class,” Tony says, grinning. “Now you can never doubt my devotion, I’m helping you with homework. That’s...that’s something, Pete, ask Pepper.”
“Thank you,” Peter says, with too much emotion coating his voice. “Really.”
“You’re very welcome,” Tony says, smiling at him and letting go of his shoulder. “At about six I’m gonna call your school, give ‘em a real scare and tell them you’re gonna be absent tomorrow and Monday. Then we’ll get into...all this. But when you’re back on your feet and going after the Deja crew again, you’re gonna have Iron Man with you, got that?”
Peter feels his whole face light up. “Really?”
“Yes,” Tony says, sitting back in his chair. “I didn’t have backup when I first started all this shit, but now you’ve got me and I’ve got you, capiche? You don’t have to do anything alone.”
Peter’s heart swells and he nods, smiling. This is definitely the reset he needed, the reassurances he had to hear to get back on track. He just wishes he didn’t have to break his leg doing it.
“Got it,” Peter says. “Thank you, Mr. Stark, honestly, and I’m so sorry—”
“No apologies,” Tony says, shaking his head. “We’ve all done dumb shit, and you still managed to web up half of the remaining mobsters whilst in the middle of your dumb shit, so. Points there.”
Peter grins to himself. He shifts a little bit, wincing when he tries to drag the cast up with him. Tony stands up and helps him adjust the pillows behind him, briefly ruffling his hair when he sits back down.
“Yeah, you really messed yourself up,” Tony says. “Thank God for your enhanced healing, Spidey, or you’d be looking at three to six months in this bad boy.”
Peter runs his hand over it, and sees a note is already there, in Tony’s handwriting. There’s a small drawing of a spider, and then the following message.
If lost, please return to Happy Hogan, 647-218-9067
Peter laughs, and glances up, sees Tony smiling at him. “Uh, Mr. Stark—”
“Yes, Mr. Parker?”
“I’m—I also might need help with my...Ernest Hemingway portfolio,” Peter says, gritting his teeth. He feels stupid, asking for help. But he’s proud of himself for being able to actually ask.
“Don’t worry,” Tony says, fast. He reaches down, and pulls Peter’s half-done portfolio out of a backpack by his feet. “May brought it with her. We’re all gonna work on it together. Happy’s gonna bring your pals over a little later, hopefully your girl knows about your alter ego or you’re gonna have to think of a real good lie.”
Peter makes a face, and Tony laughs out loud at him. Also your girl makes him blush straight down his neck.
“I think she might know,” Peter says. “Maybe.”
“I’ll just tell her you fell off the roof during an intern training exercise,” Tony says. “Perfectly normal. I’m known for doing weird shit, so.” He pats Peter on the arm. “Beam me up, Mr. Chewbacca.”
Peter stares at him, and Tony grins. It feels like a really murky memory.
“Yep, you said that,” Tony says, getting up and walking around the bed. “That is absolutely something you said, and I’m never gonna let you forget it.”
“That’s fair,” Peter says, nodding. He can vaguely remember. His brain was absolute mush.
He closes his eyes, waiting for Tony to wake May up. He’s gotta remember what he said to him, when he’s back on his feet. He cares about him, no matter what. Somehow, he found his way into Tony Stark’s good graces. Almost close to his inner circle. And if he needs help, he’s got Iron Man as backup. He wishes he could tell his ten year old self that fun fact. But, for now, he just relishes it.