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blood of the covenant

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When Peter wakes up, his shoes are off and there’s a Spiderman blanket draped over him.

 

Across the room, Harley has a War Machine one, and Peter didn’t even know they’d started making War Machine merchandise.

 

(That said, he thinks. If anyone was gonna have War Machine merch in their house, of course it would be the Starks.)

 

The morning spent in the Starks’ country home the day after Tony’s funeral is… awkward.

 

Harley wakes around the same time as Peter and they head out towards the kitchen together, following the sound of quietly clinking coffee cups. Once the boys emerge from their room, May and Pepper both ask Peter and Harley how they slept, and May mentions that neither of them had even stirred last night when she’d snuck in and draped blankets over them both, so that answers the question of who had snuck into the room without setting Peter’s spidey-sense off.

 

But everyone who stayed – Morgan and Pepper, obviously, and the boys, but also Colonel Rhodes, Aunt May, and Happy – are all subdued and a little bit unsure around each other, and conversations are fleeting and kinda stilted, as they try to edge around how each other is feeling without outright asking or stepping on any emotional toes.

 

It’s terrible and uncomfortable and Peter doesn’t like it at all.

 

Morgan is quiet too, but she keeps gravitating to both Harley and Peter, which is something that Peter very much does not understand but also doesn’t want to question, because he doesn’t want to upset her. He doesn’t get it, though. Shouldn’t she be gravitating to her mom at a time like this? Peter doesn’t understand why the kid is sticking like glue to the sides of two teenagers that she doesn’t even know.

 

Because she is. Sticking like glue, that is.

 

When Pepper sets about making pancakes for the assembled guests and Harley offers to help, Morgan sits on the stool at the counter next to Peter, her chair as close to his as possible, and when they all make their way to the dining table to eat, she directs Peter and Harley into specific chairs and then sits between them, and even through the grief and awkwardness Peter’s still feeling, he can’t help the distant flicker of amusement at the fact that Morgan is clearly as no-nonsense as her mother when it comes to getting what she wants.

 

Harley’s good with her – knows how to interact with her in a way that Peter just doesn’t, so Peter lets Harley take the lead with her whenever he can.

 

Even with Harley’s superior child-interaction techniques, breakfast is a quiet, slightly strained affair, as no one knows quite what to say.

 

It appears that the adults spent all of their fake cheer yesterday at the funeral, and today, the masks are off. There’s less of a crowd, now, Peter supposes. They don’t have to keep up the act of being all put together and ok, not like they did yesterday.

 

They’re a family – Pepper and Morgan and Rhodey and Happy – and Harley and May and Peter are here too, sure, but they’re kind of nobodies. They’re not the Secretary of State, or Captain America, or anyone that someone would need to fake being ok in front of.

 

So the raw grief they’re feeling is right there on their faces, and Peter – Peter doesn’t know how to look at it. He can hardly cope with his own feelings right now; he doesn’t know how to deal with theirs too. So they eat their breakfast in relative quiet, and the pancakes stick in Peter’s throat on every swallow even though they’re liberally doused in syrup, and at one stage Happy asks for the sugar and Rhodey passes it to him, and it’s all very horrible and Peter doesn’t enjoy any of it.

 

And then they’re done eating, and Peter has a second to panic quietly about what the protocol is here (do they just say “thanks for breakfast” and leave? Or is there, like, a designated period of time that you have to stay after someone’s made you breakfast the day after their husband’s funeral?) before Pepper pipes up.

 

“If you think you’re up for it,” she starts, directing her words at Peter and Harley, which doesn’t bode well. Nothing that begins with the phrase if you think you’re up for it has ever turned out to be something pleasant.

 

“Tony – ” Pepper continues, and she stalls on his name. Coughs. Tries again, and her voice is a little more watery this time. “He left a message for each of you, and some bequests. I’d like to give them to you before you go today.”

 

…What?

 

“…What?” Harley asks, sounding baffled and a bit stunned, mirroring Peter’s thoughts and feelings exactly.

 

“He wasn’t sure he’d actually manage to get you back, of course,” Pepper says. “He hoped it would work, obviously, and hoped you wouldn’t ever need to see the messages and that he could just see you face to face instead – ” she cuts herself off and looks sharply to the side, swallowing visibly in an attempt to get her emotions back under control. Rhodey reaches over and puts a hand on her shoulder, and she sends him a wobbly smile.

 

Morgan inches her chair closer to Peter’s, and tugs Harley’s sleeve to make him scoot over closer too. She can see her mother’s distress, and she’s getting upset in turn. And Peter still doesn’t understand why she’s looking to him and Harley for comfort, but he’s hardly going to turn her away.

 

Remembering how she reacted to the hug on the pier yesterday, he places a very tentative arm over her shoulder. She burrows closer into his side in response, her little hands tightening on his shirt (the same one he was wearing at the funeral yesterday, because he didn’t exactly pack for an overnight stay), but she keeps her eyes locked on her mother. So. Shoulder hug was the right move, then. Good to know.

 

“But obviously that didn’t quite… go to plan,” Pepper finishes after a long moment, turning back to face them and smiling a horribly brittle smile that looks like it might be the only thing standing between her and a complete breakdown.

 

Peter knows how she feels. He remembers telling everyone he was fine after Ben died, because if he’d let that go – if he’d dropped the pretence that he was totally ok, acknowledged that he was anything but fine – then he would have started crying and not stopped for days. Sometimes it’s… easier, Peter thinks. To pull up a fake mask and pretend – even to yourself – that you’re handling everything.

 

“So if you think you’re up for it, I’d. I’d like for you to see them,” she says, and Peter and Harley trade a glance over Morgan’s head.

 

Honestly… Peter doesn’t think he’s up for it. He really doesn’t. How’s he supposed to hear Mr Stark’s voice and not just… shatter completely? Cause that’s what he thinks he might do. He’s barely holding his shit together right now. He really thinks he might lose his tenuous composure entirely if he hears Mr Stark’s voice in any capacity, much less in a message specifically recorded for him.

 

But also…

 

These are the last words Mr Stark is ever going to direct Peter’s way. They’re words he specifically chose to leave behind in case the worst happened. How can Peter leave here without listening to them?

 

But he just… doesn’t know if he can listen to them without falling apart.

 

Judging by Harley’s wide-eyed look of indecision, he feels the same way.

 

“I can stay with you, if you want,” Morgan offers, and both boys look down at her.

 

“Morgan, honey – that’s very sweet of you,” Pepper starts. “But Daddy’s message for you was just for you, and the ones he did for the boys are just for them – ”

 

“It’s fine, Pepper,” Harley interrupts, sending her a smile that’s less an actual smile and more a reassuring quirk of his lips, and then he turns back to Morgan. “I think that would help. If you watched it with me. If it won’t be too hard for you?”

 

Morgan shakes her head, stout.

 

“Mommy held my hand when I watched mine, and it helped, so I can hold your hand when you watch yours.”

 

Harley sends her a smile that only wobbles at the edges a little bit, and reaches out to brush a strand of hair off her face and tuck it behind her ear.

 

“That would help a lot. Thanks Morgan,” he says, and then looks up at Peter.

 

“You don’t have to,” Harley says, because he gets it. He knows exactly how Peter’s feeling right now.

 

“No, I… will,” Peter says, which surprises him. “If you – I mean. If we – ”

 

“How about me and Morgan stay for yours and you both stay for mine?” Harley offers, and Peter nods.

 

“Yeah, that would… yeah.”

 

He looks up at the rest of the table, and Pepper’s smiling at them wetly again, Happy’s looking away in an attempt to pretend he’s not crying, and Rhodey and May both look soft.

 

“Alright then,” Pepper says, and gets up to lead the way.

 

………………………………………..

 

Watching the message is… hard.

 

Yeah. Let’s go with that word. Peter doesn’t think there’s a word that exists in the English language that properly conveys what watching the messages was like, so ‘hard’ will have to do.

 

But Harley and Morgan stay while Peter watches his –

 

(and it’s almost impossible, watching a hologram of Mr Stark sitting there as though he’s still here, as though he’s still alive, and the hologram says things like “I’m proud of you” and “I’m sorry” and “you know the rules – don’t do anything I wouldn’t do but don’t do anything I would do, either” and “Not to get all sentimental, but you’re pretty amazing, kid” and “You should find Harley – take over the world with him or something,” and it’s so hard, but Morgan’s tiny hand is warm in his and Harley has his shoulder pressed firmly against Peter’s, and he makes it through the recording, somehow)

 

– and Peter and Morgan stay while Harley watches his –

 

(and Harley’s shoulder shakes against Peter’s while Mr Stark says things like “For a country bumpkin, you’re not bad, kid” and “don’t you dare go and become a regular old mechanic; if you don’t come work for SI once you graduate then I will haunt you” and “I know I told you that you were never allowed to meet Peter, but you really should,” and “You’re a good kid, and you’re gonna be a great man,” and “I probably have no right to be proud of you, but whatever, I am,” and when the recording ends, Harley bows his head for a few moments and just breathes raggedly)

 

– and once both the recordings are done, Peter leans his shoulder into Harley’s and Morgan cuddles into both of them, and they’re a tangled mess of limbs on the couch but it’s both comfortable and comforting and the three of them stay put for a little while and just… breathe.

 

Pepper checks on them after a while, poking her head into the room unobstructively to see if they’re finished watching the messages and if they’re up for some company. Her face goes soft at seeing the three of them in a pile on the couch, and she comes the rest of the way into the room, and she’s got some things in her hands – a tablet, and a small polished wooden case.

 

May comes in behind her, giving Peter a sympathetic look, and he knows by her expression that if he weren’t in a tangled pile with Harley and Morgan right now, that she’d be giving him one of the patented May Parker Hugs – the kind that envelops you entirely and squeezes so tight that you can only just breathe, but it’s good, because it distracts you from whatever it is that’s upset you and you can just forget about everything for a few moments and just relish in the feeling of being totally wrapped up and secure in the arms of someone you know loves you.  

 

“Are you ok?” Pepper asks them, and Harley lets out a single huff of laughter.

 

“No,” he answers, honestly. “But, you know. Who is right now?”

 

Pepper’s lips curl in a bittersweet smile.

 

“True,” she says, and then gestures. “Can we join you?”

 

Peter shrug-nods, Harley gives a similar non-verbal permission, and Morgan says “Of course, Mommy.” 

 

Pepper moves forward and perches on the edge of the coffee table, and May comes and squeezes in next to Peter on the couch, takes his free hand in hers and sends him a comforting expression.

 

“So, Tony had some things he wanted to give you both,” Pepper starts, and Peter blinks in surprise. She’d mentioned that there was a message and some bequests, he recalls, but he’d clean forgotten about the ‘and some bequests’ part of it all – the hologram message had kind of pushed everything else out of his mind.

 

“Harley – this one is for you,” Pepper says, and holds out the tablet she’d come in with.

 

Harley detangles his arm from where it’s lying across Morgan’s shoulders, and reaches out to take it. Peter’s close enough to see easily, and Morgan is too, but she leans closer in to Harley anyway to get an even better vantage point. Peter wonders for a moment if he should maybe leave, let Harley have some privacy while he receives whatever Tony has gifted him, but then he thinks about the way that Harley leant into Peter’s shoulder while Tony’s message to him was playing, and thinks about the way Harley let Morgan curl into him after it was done, and about the fact that one of Harley’s legs is hooked over one of Peter’s and that the two of them and Morgan are all a tangle of limbs that Harley’s not pulling away from, and Peter thinks that Harley’s probably ok with having company in this moment.

 

It’s a custom SI tablet that that Pepper’s handed over, Peter notes immediately – one of the ones that’s leagues ahead of the standard SI tablets available to not only the public, but Stark Industries staff, too; one of the kinds that Peter’s only ever seen in the hands of either Tony or Pepper – and when Harley activates it, the screen lights up. There’s a pause for a moment as a pale green light scans Harley’s face, and then there’s a gentle ping and the words “CLEARANCE: KEENER, HARLEY” come up on screen for a moment before the device goes automatically to the home page.

 

The tablet’s background is a close-up shot of the Iron Man chest piece with the arc reactor lit up, and there’s only one folder on the screen.

 

“Legacy?” Harley asks, reading the folder title aloud before looking up at Pepper, a question in his eyes.  

 

“It’s the specs for all the Iron Man armours to date,” FRIDAY announces from the tablet, making Harley and Peter startle. “Plus a few he was still in the development phase of.”

 

Harley blinks, shocked. 

 

“It’s – wait. What? Why?”

 

“Even if he’d made it through, he wasn’t going to be able to be Iron Man forever,” Pepper explains, her voice warm and gentle even through the ever-present grief. “He would have had to retire one day. He’d been planning to hand the title over to you since before the Snap. I think he was going to wait until you were in college, but, well. Things didn’t quite go to plan. And he told me to give it to you early if – well.”

 

“I – ” Harley says, apparently at a loss for words. “I don’t – Pepper, I – ”

 

“You don’t have to take up the mantle immediately,” Pepper says, correctly interpreting Harley’s unspoken panic. “Or at all, if you don’t want to. It’s totally up to you. It’s just that… if anyone was going to be Iron Man after him, he… he wanted it to be you.”

 

“I – ” Harley says, wide-eyed and speechless, and Peter hasn’t known him for long but he knows that ‘speechless’ isn’t something that Harley is very often.

 

“You don’t have to decide anything right now,” Pepper says, soothing and warm. “They’re yours – the title and the specs – whatever you decide with them. There’s a copy of all of them on that tablet, and FRIDAY has backup copies, of course.”

 

She smiles warmly at him, and then turns her attention to Peter, who gulps, strangely nervous.

 

“And this one is for you, Peter,” she says without preamble, and holds the small wooden case out.

 

Peter detangles his hand from May’s and reaches out to take it, hesitant. Harley and Morgan crowd in close to see what it is, and Peter flips open the lid to reveal a pair of glasses.

 

They’re the glasses Tony’s been wearing for years, Peter realises in an instant – the ones he’s worn the whole time Peter’s known him personally, and that Peter knows he didn’t need for any sight-corrective reasons, but that he always wore anyway, and that Peter always assumed was some kind of fashion statement – and his breath catches in his throat a little.

 

“Put them on,” Pepper urges gently, when Peter spends a second too long just looking at them.

 

He blinks up at her, startled out of his own thoughts, and swallows roughly.

 

She probably wants to see what he looks like in the glasses, he thinks, as he reaches to take them out of their case. They’ve been a staple aspect of Tony’s public persona for… years, now. He started wearing them some time during the Accords fiasco, but usually only in public. Every interview, every press conference, every official function, he wore these glasses. They became as much a part of his overall appearance as his infamous goatee.

 

Peter’s not sure he’ll be able to carry them with quite the same easy confidence that Tony did, but if Pepper wants to see what her husband’s glasses look like on the scrawny teenager that Tony took under his wing, Peter will oblige.

 

He slides the glasses on, the weight of them across the bridge of his nose a familiar one. It’s been a while since he’s worn a pair – he hasn’t needed to, not since the whole Spiderman thing – but they slot comfortably into place, and he looks up at Pepper through the lenses.

 

They’re tinted a slight blue-grey colour, but not enough that it impedes vision. Pepper smiles at him, and then – bafflingly – says, “Say Edith.”

 

Peter’s eyebrows twitch briefly into a confused frown, but he shrugs mentally and says, with an air of puzzlement, “Edith.”

 

And then he gasps as the screen lights up with a rolling flash of electric blue.

 

“Verification required,” someone says, directly into Peter’s ear, and he startles. “Please state your name.”

 

“U-uh,” Peter says, caught thoroughly off guard. “Peter. Peter Parker.”

 

“Running vocal recognition and retinal scan,” the voice – a woman’s, gently accented – says, as a scan of Peter’s eyes appear on the inside of the lens, followed by the photo that’s on his SI employee badge. “Verification complete. Identity confirmed. Welcome, Peter Parker. Access level: Alpha.”

 

With that, the lenses – the screens – come alive with information. Peter’s still got the glasses pointed at Pepper, so her full name and staff ID number pop up in one corner. Her date of birth is listed below that, and then “ALLERGIES: STRAWBERRIES” written in bold capitals, and a stream of other information that Peter can’t take in at a glance.

 

 “Who – what,” Peter starts, blinking at Pepper, who smiles at him.

 

“I am EDITH,” the woman – the glasses – say, in response to his half-formed question. “I am a portable AI, and my name stands for: Even Dead, I’m The Hero.”

 

Peter barks out a startled laugh that’s at least sixty percent a sob.

 

“Of course,” he says, gasping in a mixture of amusement and grief. “Of course it does.”

 

“Tony’s used these for years,” Pepper says, drawing his attention back to her. “They’ll give you access to all the information you could need on a person, or a piece of technology – background checks, material compositions, you name it. They’re coded to you only, and they’re one of a kind. He wanted you to have them.”

 

“I… don’t – I can’t – ” Peter says , struggling to verbalise what he’s feeling. He can’t be given these. It’s too much. Tony’s already given him a suit – two suits – and that’s already a lot. These glasses – EDITH – they were Tony’s, personally, and if there’s only one of them, then surely they should go to Pepper, or to Colonel Rhodes, or to Morgan when she’s older. “Shouldn’t you have them? They – you said they’re one of a kind, I – you should have them, Pepper.”

 

Pepper shakes her head, her expression warm and rueful.

 

“I can’t use them,” she says. “Too much information, all at once. I never understood how he did it; how he was able to see all of that and process it and never give any sign of it. And besides. I have FRIDAY. I know you’ve got Karen in your suit, but these will be there for you out of the suit, too. They’re made of independently coded nanites, too, so you can activate the Iron Spider suit while you’re wearing them and they’ll be absorbed into it, and then reform afterwards when you send the suit’s nanites back into hibernation. He designed them that way, so he could transition straight from one to the other without pause. I have no need of that kind of thing. But you do.”

 

Peter protests again, but she won’t hear a word of taking them back, and Peter eventually stops trying to convince her, recognising a lost battle when he sees one.

 

Once he yields to Pepper’s gentle but unyielding insistence that the glasses should be his, Morgan asks to see them, and Peter hands the glasses over to her without hesitation. They look comically huge on her face, and she talks cheerfully to EDITH for a few moments, laughing at something she says.

 

From the outside, it looks and sounds like a one-sided conversation. Even with his enhanced hearing, Peter can’t hear anything EDITH is saying. Tony must have worked out a way to direct the soundwaves straight from the temple pieces through to the ear canal without any external sound. Peter’ll have to see if he can work out how it does that.

 

Morgan holds the glasses out to Harley once she’s done chatting to EDITH, and Harley sends a questioning look over her head at Peter, and only takes the glasses once Pete nods a go ahead at him.

 

“Oh, woah,” Harley says once he gets them on, blinking rapidly in surprise, eyes darting in miniscule movements as he takes whatever’s on the glasses. “Um – Harley Keener,” he says after a moment, presumably in response to EDITH’s verification request, and then after a moment he takes them off and hands them over Morgan’s head to Peter.

 

“Access denied,” he says, an amused quirk to his lips. “I don’t have authorisation.” 

 

Peter doesn’t even need to think about it.

 

“EDITH,” he says, putting the glasses back on. The lenses spring to life again, and he’s looking at Harley this time, so his full name and date of birth and town of residence pop up in the bottom corner, along with ‘Parent/Guardian: Mandy Keener. Siblings: Sophie Keener,’ and a stream of other information that Peter doesn’t bother to read.

 

“Grant access to Harley Jonathan Keener – Beta level,” he instructs the glasses.

 

EDITH immediately changes the border around Harley to a pleasant green colour, and says, “Access granted: Harley J Keener, Beta Level.”

 

“Peter – you don’t have t– ” Harley starts, looking startled, and Peter cuts him off with a wave of his hand.

 

“It’s fine, Harley,” he says. “You should get to use them too, if you need them.”

 

Harley looks surprised and also touched, and then his face firms up with resolve and he reaches for his tablet.

 

“FRIDAY, grant access to Peter Parker, Beta Level,” he says.

 

“You don’t have to – ” Peter starts, at the same time that FRIDAY pipes up from the tablet and says “Access granted.”

 

“Parker, if I get to share yours, you get to share mine,” Harley says, stern and belligerent.

 

And that’s… fair, Peter figures. It’s not why he did it, of course. It just seemed…. selfish, is all, to have EDITH all to himself when Harley is just as deserving of tech like that as Peter is. And Peter has no use for Iron Man specs outside of idle curiosity about how it all works, so it’s not like he’s going to be elbowing Harley out of the way to get at the tablet, but he appreciates Harley’s gesture anyway.

 

“Fair enough,” he says to Harley, lip quirked in a slight smile, and Harley softens out of his belligerent stance and shoots a quick grin at Peter.

 

“Sharing is very good,” Morgan says from between them, and both of them look down to find her beaming happily up at them.

 

(Morgan Stark, the glasses read, and they list her date of birth as well as the fact that she’s allergic to strawberries. Just like her mom, Peter thinks.)

 

“Daddy said it was very important that I to learn to share, because I’m an only child and only children are notor’sly bad sharers, but that was good,” Morgan continues, directing her smile from Harley to Peter and back again. “You two are good at sharing, so you can teach me, too.”

 

“It’s notoriously, sweetheart,” Pepper says, smiling in warm amusement at her daughter, and Morgan sends her a baffled expression.

 

“That’s what I said,” she responds, and Peter chuckles.

 

“Well you gave me and Peter some of the apple from your pancakes this morning,” Harley tells the little girl, and gives her a friendly nudge. “I reckon you’re doing pretty alright at this whole sharing thing even without our help.”

 

Morgan pulls a face that takes Peter a second to place as guilt, and she tugs Harley down so she can whisper in his ear.

 

“I don’t think it counts as sharing if you hate what you’re giving out,” she confides, and she’s so bad at whispering that Peter wouldn’t even need enhanced hearing to be able to hear her clearly. “And I hate apple,” she finishes, and Harley snorts a laugh.

 

“Ok, fine, we’ll work on the sharing thing,” he says with a grin, and Morgan beams back at him.

 

“There’s a couple more things he wanted to give you both,” Pepper says, drawing the kids’ attention back to her. She’s looking at the three of them with an expression of warm affection, but even that is underpinned with muted grief – like she’s trying to keep the grief down and soldier on, but it keeps peeking through the surface of her emotions.

 

(Peter knows how she feels.)

 

Pepper continues, her voice businesslike and straight-forward even as it’s tinged at the edges by both grief and warmth. 

 

“He told FRIDAY that, if the worst should happen, you two were to be given unfettered access to his personal labs – the ones at SI, the Avengers Facility, here, and in our city place,” she says, and Peter feels his jaw drop. “The ones here and in the city are much smaller, of course, than the ones at SI or the Facility, but they’re yours, all of them. There’s no code to get in – it’s facial and vocal recognition, same as the tablet and the glasses.”

 

Peter’s staring at her, eyes wide and jaw slack, and he’s peripherally aware of Harley doing the same.

 

“Wait,” Harley says, the first to find his words after a long moment of stunned silence. “He’s – he gave us his – he’s giving us his labs?

 

Pepper smiles, amused.

 

“Well you’re going to need somewhere to build suits, if you decide to take up the mantle, aren’t you? And Pete, you’re going to need to be able to do repairs on yours or make new ones if you need to. Not to mention that the second you’re both done with school and college, I want to hire you both for SI’s RnD Department, and you’ll need decent labs if you’re going to create the next generation of Stark Tech.”

 

Peter and Harley exchange a wide-eyed glance.

 

“Pepper – I… ” Peter starts, and he’s not even sure what he’s going to say.

 

“And there’s the stocks, of course,” Pepper interrupts, not letting Peter continue. “His share of SI has been divided evenly between you two and Morgan, and FRIDAY has set up accounts for dividends. Most of the funds will go into a Trust that you’ll each be able to access once you turn 18, but a small amount will go into a standard use account that you can spend as you please between now and then. You’ll have a proxy of your choice on the Board of Directors until you turn 18, and then after that you can either continue using a proxy or you can take up the seat yourself.”

 

Harley and Peter aren’t the only ones staring in astonishment at Pepper, anymore. May, Peter notices out the corner of his eye, has an expression of slack-jawed shock too.

 

“…What?” Harley asks, the first one of them to find his voice.

 

Pepper smiles, warm.

 

“He trusts you,” she says, and then there’s a brief flare of pain across her expression. “Trusted,” she corrects. “He couldn’t think of anyone better to leave his portion of the company to, and frankly, neither can I.”

 

“Pepper – ” Peter starts, fumbling for words. He can’t accept this. He couldn’t even accept the glasses, he’s not… he doesn’t deserve a third of Tony’s company. That should go to Pepper – or to Morgan, or to Rhodey or Happy. Peter doesn’t even know what to do with shares, and he has no idea how to run a company.

 

“Pepper, you can’t be ok with this,” Harley says, finding the words while Peter’s still struggling. “I mean – I don’t even know how shares work, and you’re gonna give me a bunch for your company? This is – SI is Tony’s legacy, you should have the shares, or they should all go to Morgan – ”

 

“It’s not actually as much as you might be thinking,” Pepper interrupts again. “Tony owned about 40 percent of SI’s shares, and I own another 40. Only fifteen percent of them are owned by the other board members, and the last five are public. So with Tony’s share divided between the three of you, it’s around 13% each. More than the individual Board members, but less than the rest of the Board combined, so while you don’t have the final say, you do have a significant say. And as I said – if a seat on the Board is not something you’d like to have an active part in, going forward, then you can appoint a proxy to make decisions for you. It can be myself, or a relative, or you can hire someone to speak for you.”

 

“Pepper, no – ” Peter starts, and he’s going to decline it all – the whole lot. He’s going to pass his share over to Morgan right then and there, but Pepper – who’s clairvoyant, apparently – interrupts before he can even voice the concept.

 

“And don’t even think about giving them to me or Morgan,” she cuts in, and the look on her face tells Peter that she knows exactly what he was about to try and say. “Because we won’t accept. This is what Tony wanted to give you, and I’m not about to dishonour his last wishes by letting either of you pass any of this back to us. I’ve got no use for EDITH or for the Iron Man specs, the labs will be of far more use to you two than to me, and I certainly don’t need another 26% in stocks. I have quite enough of those to keep me happy. And Morgan is barely five; she doesn’t need more than her 13% yet either. She’ll get more, down the track when I’m ready to hand them over to her and when she’s ready for the responsibility, but for now, she’s hardly destitute. So they’re yours, and I will not hear any argument against it, is that clear?”

 

Peter’s reminded about last night, and the moment that he wondered whether people ever bother trying to fight Pepper when she’s set on something, or if they just yield from the outset.

 

Harley lets out a defeated breath of air as he appears to realise the same thing as Peter – that Pepper’s set on this, and there’s no use arguing with her on it.

 

“Clear,” Harley says on an exhale, and Peter nods in agreement, still a bit too stunned by all these developments to do anything more than that.

 

“Good,” Pepper says, brisk and cheerful. “Now – all these emotional topics so early in the morning; I think it’s about time for a hot chocolate. What do you all say?”

 

“Yay!” Morgan cheers, and starts extracting herself from the couch, already yammering excitedly about marshmallows as she twists free of the pile of limbs (Harley winces as he cops an accidental elbow to the stomach, and Peter strives to keep his face blank of the sudden pain that flares as she digs a pointy little knee into his thigh) and clambers to the floor. She doesn’t pause for an instant – reaching out to grasp her mother’s hand and starting to pull her impatiently to the kitchen.

 

Pepper laughs and lets herself be pulled, gently reminding Morgan about the two-marshmallow rule.

 

“But there’s guests,” Morgan protests, aghast at the injustice of a marshmallow limit, even in the face of guests, and Pepper laughs.

 

“Guests aren’t exempt from the two-marshmallow rule,” she says, and then they’re out of the room and Harley, Peter and May can hear Morgan start an impassioned argument in favour of stretching the limit to four.  

 

“You boys ok?” May asks, into the room that’s suddenly so much quieter now that Morgan and Pepper’s room-filling personalities aren’t in it.

 

“Uh,” Harley says, and scratches at the back of his head. The tablet is still in his free hand, and Peter’s still wearing Tony’s glasses, and apparently, they now own nearly a quarter of Stark Industries between the two of them.

 

“Shocked?” Harley concludes after a moment. “I think I’m shocked. Yeah.”

 

“That… about sums it up, yeah,” Peter agrees, and May smiles gently at them.

 

“I think it’s wonderful,” she says. “He obviously thought extremely highly of both of you, and this is his way of showing it.”

 

Peter glances down, swallowing hard against the sudden knot in his throat.

 

“Yeah,” Harley says, and his voice sounds as hoarse as Peter feels. “I just hope we can prove we’re, you know. Worth it.”

 

Which mirrors Peter’s sentiments exactly. He doesn’t think he is worth all this. He doesn’t deserve all this. He doesn’t deserve any of this.

 

But it’s been given to him anyway, and Pepper’s made it clear that he can’t give any of it back, so all he can do is try and live up to it.

 

May reaches out and places a gentle hand over Harley’s, and places her other hand on Peter’s shoulder.

 

“I’m sure you will,” she says warmly. “In fact, I have absolutely zero doubts that you will.”

 

Peter glances up at Harley, and finds the other boy looking right back at him.

 

“Well,” Peter says, and swallows hard, hearing Morgan calling for them both to come and choose which colour marshmallows they want. “We can try.”

 

……………………………………………………….

 

(When they make it to the kitchen, it’s to find that Pepper and Morgan have compromised, and decided that – on occasions when there are guests, and only then – there can be three marshmallows a-piece.

 

Morgan picks a yellow and two pink, Harley chooses one of both and a white, and Peter chooses all pink, and he lets himself be absorbed into a friendly debate about which flavour is the best, and it hurts, sitting in Tony’s kitchen with his kid and his wife and his other protégé, but without him…. But it’s a hurt that Peter has to endure.

 

He thinks, as Morgan shrieks with outrage as Harley steals her half-eaten marshmallow, that he might be able to.)