Peter feels... hollow. Empty.
Carved out, like a pumpkin scraped clean of all its insides before Halloween. Someone's taken a blunt spoon to his organs and has dragged them all out and now he's nothing more than a bunch of hollow skin and bones with nothing inside them except empty space.
He's not crying, even though maybe he should be. Not even tears feel real, and the yawning, drowning pit of grief in his chest wouldn't be solved by tears anyway, so what's the point? They wouldn't fix anything. Tears are just a whole lot of mess and discomfort and he would still feel just as shit – just as hollow and adrift – after a crying session as he feels now. So he doesn't cry. He just stands and exists and tries not to feel anything.
The wreath is floating out on the water, and Peter can't take his eyes off it. He knows it's illogical, but he feels like... he feels like so long as he keeps his eyes on it, so long as he doesn't let it vanish without him seeing where it goes, then none of it is actually real. That Mr Stark – Tony – isn't really gone.
(He is gone, though, and Peter knows it, but can't face it.)
May's inside. Mostly everyone is – there's food and drink inside, and after the wreath was set adrift, Pepper had stood and watched it for a while before pulling a wobbly smile up over her face and telling everyone that there were refreshments inside, if they would like to follow her? Peter knows it's protocol – knows that it’s just how funerals go, that you have the funeral and then you have a wake afterwards where everyone eats and drinks and cries and laughs and celebrates the life of the person they're saying farewell to.
But Peter isn't up for that. Doesn't know how anyone possibly could be, to be honest – there's nothing in the world he wants less right now than food or company.
Which is why he's still out here while almost everyone else is inside.
Peter's pretty sure he knows the name of the kid who's sitting next to him, even though they haven't actually traded any words yet. Shaggy-haired, blond, and lanky, the teenager had come up and joined Peter on the end of the little jetty after everyone else had gone inside, sitting down next to him without a word, his shoulder brushing against Peter’s and his eyes on the wreath as though he too can't bear to lose sight of it.
It shouldn't be companionable, sitting in silence next to some kid he doesn't even officially know, but it... is. The other kid doesn't speak – just watches the wreath float further and further away with a slump to his shoulders – and Peter doesn't have anything to say either; wouldn't be able to say anything anyway, probably, even if he wanted to. The lump in his throat that makes it hard to breathe would make speaking pretty damn difficult, even if he were feeling chatty.
Inside, the hubbub of noise continues as everyone in there celebrates Tony's life and commiserates the loss of it. Outside, there’s no sound but that of distant birds and the slight rustle of wind through the reeds.
The wreath starts to ride lower in the water, slowly sinking in time with the setting sun, and it's maybe only a minute later that the wreath sinks completely, gently vanishing from sight beneath the surface of the water without a sound.
Peter bites his lip when it finally disappears; bows his head and tries desperately not to feel anything. The kid next to him says nothing either, but out the corner of his eye, Peter can see the other boy's hand clenching and unclenching against the fabric of his suit leg, and Peter figures that he's probably not the only one wrestling with emotions.
The sinking sun follows the wreath a few minutes later, dropping out of sight behind the horizon and plunging the world into dusky orange twilight, and it's only once the sun has vanished entirely behind the distant hills that the kid next to Peter clears his throat.
"You must be Spiderman, then," the kid says, and his voice is brittle under a layer of falsely casual confidence, like he's trying to sound unaffected but like he's one wrong word from losing his composure entirely, and Peter doesn't even have the energy to panic about the kid's casual – and correct – assumption.
"What makes you think that?" he asks dully, instead of outright denying it, keeping his eyes on the lake. His voice is hoarse, and speaking past the lump in his throat hurts, and he probably shouldn't be so cavalier – should have reacted to the other kid's guess with fake-bafflement or surprise or derision or something, but he just... doesn't have it in him, right now.
"Cause he told me all about Spiderman – you know, before – but today, when every single superhero who knew him has shown up, even the ones he didn't like, there's no Spiderman anywhere to be seen," the lanky kid says, a slight country drawl to his words, and his eyes stay locked on the place where the wreath disappeared. "Which means either he's here as a civilian, or he's blowing off the most important funeral in the world. And I can't see Spidey skipping, not with how Ton— not with how he talked about him, not when it was obvious how close the two of them were. And you're the only civilian here who's both got the right body type for Spidey, and who I don't recognize. Ain't too hard to connect the dots."
There's a gentle breeze running across the surface of the lake, and it makes the ends of Peter's hair sway slightly.
"I almost did skip it," he confesses, and even saying the words feels like a betrayal. He doesn't even care about the fact that, by saying that, he's practically confirming his identity.
The kid peers knowingly at him through the slowly dimming light.
"Didn't think you could do it?" he asks, and he sounds... understanding. Not judgmental, but also not pitying. Just... like he gets it.
"It's stupid," Peter says, because it is. What right does he have to feel like this, when he's not even the one who lost the most? Pepper and Morgan (and fuck - Morgan. The kid Tony had that Peter hasn't even met yet; Tony's child, his little girl, who's gonna grow up without a dad) were able to show up today, greet everyone and see the whole day through. If they can do it, what right does Peter have to feel like he can't?
"I mean,” he goes on, trying to find the words to convey what he’s feeling without outright saying it. “He wasn't, y'know... It's not like he was..."
"It's not like he was your dad, right?" the blond kid says, rueful, and Peter glances at him in surprise, looking him full in the face for the first time, because yeah, that's exactly what he'd been trying not to say. Morgan's lost a dad, but Peter hasn't. Peter doesn't even know what it is that he's lost. A boss? A mentor? Whatever Tony was to him, he was more to Morgan, and Peter doesn't deserve to feel the way he does when Morgan's the one who lost a parent.
The blond kid's face looks drawn and strained as Peter looks at him, his skin pale in the dim light, and his lips may be twisted in a bitter parody of a smile, but his eyes look the same way Peter feels.
"Yeah," the kid continues, scoffing to himself. "It's not like he was my dad either. So why do I feel worse now, at this stupid fucking funeral, than I did when my actual dad fucked off in the middle of the night never to be seen again?"
Peter swallows, harsh, and looks back out over the lake.
"My parents died when I was a kid," he says, and the lump in his throat is back with a vengeance, voice subdued and croaky as it forces its way past the obstruction. "This... this feels the same as that did."
The other kid nods, that understanding look on his face, and there's silence between them again for a long moment.
"I just... I hate this," the other teen says after a while, a muted snarl in his voice. "It's bullshit."
Peter nods, because it is. It is bullshit. It's bullshit that Tony's the one who's dea-- who's gone. The one who didn't get to come home. The one who gave everything - for people who didn't even like him half the time – but he's the one who gets buried. He's the one who never gets to see his wife and kid again. It's bullshit. It's bullshit.
"Yeah," Peter says hollowly, and pretends not to notice as the other kid swipes a vicious sleeve across his face.
There's a burst of muffled laughter from somewhere in the house, and Peter doesn't know how anyone could be laughing at a time like this. He hates it. He doesn't want everyone in there to be, like, moping around or whatever – he gets that a wake is supposed to be a celebration of a life well lived, and everything – but it feels... disrespectful. To be laughing as uproariously as whoever is making that racket right now.
"He talked about you too," Peter offers, partly to drown out the sound of laughter and partly cause the other kid should know, and the blond teen looks over at Peter in surprise.
"You're Harley, right?" Peter continues. "Tennessee kid. He told me about you."
"Tennessee kid," Harley echoes with a wet huff of amusement. "Yeah, that's me. What did he tell you? Did he tell you how I saved his life like a total badass?"
A ghost of a smile teases at the edge of Peter's lips.
"He told me that you're a little shit," he says, and Harley barks out a wet-sounding laugh.
"Yeah, that sounds likely," he says, and then sobers.
"He thought the world of you, you know?" he says, and Peter blinks and looks at him. Harley doesn't look back at him – keeps his gaze on the plank of wood he's picking at with a blunt nail. "Told me all about you. You-you and Spiderman-you, even though he made out like you were two different people. Kept telling me I'd get along great with his intern, and told me I wasn't allowed to go patrolling with Spiderman no matter how much I might want to. He was talking about flying me up to New York for the summer – you know. Before."
"He told me we were never allowed to meet," Peter says. "Told me you'd be a terrible influence on me."
He's gratified to see a shadow of a smile cross Harley's face at that, and the blond looks up at Peter, a hint of light in his eyes for the first time since he sat down.
"Oh yeah, he told me that too. Outright told me he was gonna keep you distracted with coffee runs while I was here, so I wouldn't have a chance to corrupt you."
Peter huffs a laugh that sounds a little bit too raw to be pure amusement, and he looks down to blink his suddenly-too-hot eyes.
"I really hate that we had to do our own introductions," he says. "I really, really hate this."
"Yeah," Harley says, hoarse, and they lapse into silence again.
"At least you were with him when it happened, though," Harley says a minute or so later, and when Peter looks up he sees a bitter twist to the other boy's lips. "I woke up in my kitchen to a mom with a whole lot more wrinkles than I remember, and a sister who's suddenly the same age as me, and before I even worked out what had happened, he was – well. Yeah. I hadn't even got my head around the whole five years thing before everything here was all finished. It was hours before I even knew. You'd think I would have known, somehow, but I just. Didn't. Didn't have a fucking clue until it came on the news. I found out through the news. Haven't seen him in months and then I find out through the news that he's—."
"Being with him when it happened wasn't that great," Peter says, voice hollow, filing in the silence when Harley's angry words trip to a halt. "I couldn't do anything. I wasn't – I wasn’t fast enough and I couldn't – I didn't... If I'd been faster, if I'd– "
"Pretty sure he'd squirt you in the face with a water gun if he knew you were blaming yourself," Harley interrupts, wry, and he's probably right, but that doesn't change the fact that if Peter had been faster, then maybe they wouldn't be in this situation. Maybe Tony wouldn't be... yeah.
“Yeah, well,” Peter says, scratching with a nail at a piece of wood below his thigh. “Doesn’t stop me from feeling like I didn’t do enough.”
Harley sighs, heavy.
“Yeah,” he says. “I get it. I kinda feel the same. I wasn’t even in the same state, but I’m pissed at myself that I wasn’t able to do anything. It’s stupid – like, logically, I know there’s literally nothing I could have done that would have made a difference, but… I’m still mad at myself anyway that I didn’t do enough. And no amount of yelling logic at myself is gonna change that.”
Peter’s about to reply, when his senses ping that someone is approaching, and he twists around to get a look at whoever is
Morgan Stark is wearing a black dress, and she’s young – fuck, she’s so young; she’s barely older than Peter was when he lost his parents – and she‘s making her way down the jetty towards them looking sad and lonely and nervous and determined all at once.
Harley turns around to see what Peter’s looking at, and he sucks in a pained breath when he spots Morgan, who keeps walking until she’s right behind them.
“You’re Peter,” she says, without preamble, pointing at Peter.
It’s not a question, but Peter blinks and says, “Uh. Yeah. I am,” anyway.
“And you’re Harley,” she goes on, pointing at Harley now, and Harley nods.
“And you’re Morgan,” he tells her, and she nods sharply and then moves forwards, pushing between the two boys until she can turn around and sit down, half on Peter’s lap and half on Harley’s, her little face looking out over the lake.
“Uh,” says Peter, who has never been around children younger than himself and doesn’t know what to do with a kid suddenly deciding to use him as a chair.
“Does your mom know you’re out here?” Harley asks, and – ah, yeah, doesn’t he have a little sister? Or. He did. Now he’s got a sort of… pseudo twin, Peter guesses. What’s the official scientific term for a sibling who aged up to the same age as yourself while you were busy being dustmotes on the wind? Peter doesn’t know.
Anyway. Harley is used to little kids. More used to them than Peter is, at any rate.
“No, but she’s talking to Uncle Thor, and Happy’s getting cheeseburgers,” Morgan replies, and leans sideways into Peter, who doesn’t know what to do with this development.
“Do you want cheeseburgers?” the little girl asks, not noticing Peter’s discomfort. “I can get FRIDAY to call him and ask him to get more.”
“Nah, I’m good,” Harley says, and musters up a smile that looks thin on his face, like a gentle breeze could blow it away. “Don’t feel much like eating, to be honest.”
“Me neither,” Morgan replies quietly. “But Happy wanted to do something to help so I pretended I wanted some. So he’d have something to do.”
“That’s… that’s super nice of you, Morgan,” Peter says, because it is. Manufacturing a task for someone so they can feel like they’re helping – it’s… kind.
It’s also surprisingly mature of her. But if anyone knows anything about how much you mature when you lose a parent, it’s Peter, so maybe Morgan’s maturity in this moment isn’t that surprising after all.
“Are you cold?” Harley asks, and starts shrugging off his suit jacket without waiting for an answer, and actually yeah, it’s getting pretty chilly out here now that the sun’s gone down, and Morgan’s dress doesn’t even have sleeves.
“It’s warmer inside – maybe we should go in?” Peter suggests, even though that’s the last thing he wants to do. He’ll go in and face the crowd, though, if it means protecting Tony’s daughter from the cold.
But Morgan’s shaking her head even as Harley wraps his jacket around her tiny shoulders.
“I don’t wanna be inside,” she says. “They’re all trying really hard to be happy, and I don’t feel like being happy right now.”
Harley and Peter look at each other over Morgan’s head, and the grief and understanding in their faces match.
“Yeah,” Harley says, and pulls the jacket tighter around her shoulders, drawing it together at the front so she’s completely wrapped up in it. “Yeah, we don’t really feel like being happy right now either.”
“We can stay out here,” Peter adds, and Morgan sighs gratefully and leans sideways into Peter, who sends Harley a what do I do? face.
Harley jerks his chin in Morgan’s direction and mouths hug her, with a pointed expression, so Peter awkwardly raises his arms and wraps them around the small body leaning against him, half-convinced that she’s going to try to squirm free the second she realises what’s going on. He’s a stranger to her, after all. He knows that if some random had tried to hug him at his parents’ funeral, that he wouldn’t have wanted a bar of it. May and Uncle Ben could barely get him to stand still for long enough to endure a hug from them, and he’d known them since birth.
Morgan doesn’t squirm free, though – in fact, she relaxes into the embrace and burrows a little bit closer to him, her eyes still watching the ripples on the water. Over her head, Harley sends Peter an approving look, and the three of them sit in the gathering dark and watch the ripples move over the lake, quiet and companionable.
Morgan’s the one who ends up breaking the silence, a few moments later.
“I miss Daddy,” she says, just like that, and Peter’s breath catches in his chest and he looks at Harley, stricken, and Harley looks just as suckerpunched as Peter feels.
“…Me too, kid,” Harley says after a moment, hoarse, and he reaches out to brush the hair gently out of Morgan’s eyes while Peter tightens his arms around her reflexively. “Me too.”
“He missed you, when you were gone,” she says. “He told me stories about you. He told me all about Spiderm– ”
She cuts herself off suddenly and twists in Peter’s arms to look at him, her eyes wide.
“Does Harley know about Spiderman?” she whispers loudly, and Peter cracks a laugh and sees over her shoulder the way that Harley’s face creases in amusement at her total lack of subtlety.
“Yeah, he knows,” Peter confirms, because, well, he does. Apparently the signs were all there, and the dude put the puzzle pieces together and made an educated guess. He wasn’t wrong, and Peter didn’t deny it, which is basically the same as admitting it. That plus Morgan’s unsubtle moment just now, and the cat is well and truly out of the bag.
“But it’s still a secret, so we can’t be telling anyone else, ok?” Harley says, which Peter appreciates.
“Your mom knows,” Peter adds, because he should maybe clear up who knows and doesn’t, both for Morgan’s sake and Harley’s. “And Happy. And my aunt May. And now you two. But no one else.” Well, there’s Ned too, and the Vulture, but adding them to the list right now would probably just confuse things.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Morgan promises, serious, and then she goes on. “Daddy told me lots of stories. About how you helped him save all his stuff and how you helped him against the fire people.”
The last part is directed at Harley, who blinks.
“Wait – what?” he asks, surprised. “He told you about me too?”
“Yeah,” Morgan says lightly, playing with the sleeve of Harley’s jacket. “How you saved him.”
Harley does a double take. “He – what? He – said that?”
“Mmhm,” Morgan nods. “The bad lady nearly had him, but you threw a snowball at her. Will you teach me how to make snowballs? Daddy tried, but he was better at snow angels than snow balls. He never squashed them enough, so they were always too soft and fluffy. He said I should get you to teach me, ‘cause you make them good.”
Peter can see the way Harley swallows hard, a muscle in his jaw clenching on and off as he blinks rapidly.
“Yeah,” he manages, and his voice cracks in the middle. Peter leans sideways so his shoulder is pressed against Harley’s, and Harley clears his throat and musters a smile for Morgan that wobbles at the edges. “Yeah, kiddo. I’ll teach you.”
She twists in Peter’s arms to look up at him.
“And can you teach me how to swing in the air? I asked Daddy to teach me but he said I wasn’t old enough, but I’m older now.”
Peter can’t think of anything more terrifying than letting Tony Stark’s only child swing through the air on a line of webbing.
“I think he meant that you need to be even older,” Peter sidesteps, and Morgan’s face immediately falls with disappointment. “I was fifteen before I even started,” he adds, hoping to soften the blow.
“Fifteen?” Morgan echoes in dismay. “But I’m five.”
“I can lend you my web shooters and we can practice firing web balls at trees?” Peter offers, because no matter how woeful she looks, Peter’s not gonna let her go swinging from tall buildings any time soon. Pepper would kill him. But he kind of desperately wants to do something to alleviate the dismayed expression on her face. “It’s kind of like throwing snowballs, only with no snow.”
“Oh, I want in on this game,” Harley says, grinning, and Peter shoots him a smile.
Morgan peers at Peter with pursed lips for a long moment.
“And you’ll teach me to swing in the air once I’m fifteen?” she asks, and ha, Peter’s not falling into that trap. If he says an outright yes, he knows she’ll remember it and hold him to it.
“Only if your mom says it’s ok,” he says, because he knows that Pepper’s response will be Absolutely not.
Morgan thinks about that for half a second, and then seems to decide that she has faith in her own ability to convince her mother to let her hurtle through the air with only a manufactured spider’s web and no safety net, because she nods happily.
“Ok,” she says, and looks first at Peter and then at Harley. “You can teach me how to throw web balls, and then when it’s winter, you can teach me how to make snow balls. But we won’t make snow angels. Snow angels were Daddy’s.”
That last part makes the lump in Peter’s throat come back with a vengeance, and a glance at Harley tells him that Harley feels the same.
“No snow angels,” Harley echoes, and his voice is scratchy. “You got it, kid.”
They lapse into silence again after that, and it’s peaceful and companionable, but Peter can’t help but wish it were happening under different circumstances. That he’d met these two – Harley, who Tony obviously thought highly of, and Morgan, Tony’s child – under different, better circumstances.
Pepper comes out when dark truly starts to fall in earnest, looking for Morgan. Apparently Happy’s arrived back with the cheeseburgers, and FRIDAY told her where to find her daughter.
She finds Morgan asleep in Peter’s arms, wrapped in Harley’s jacket, and Pepper’s smile is soft and warm and a little bit damp.
“I wish he could have seen you three like this,” she says, voice quiet so as not to wake Morgan, and Peter swallows hard against the pain in his throat.
Pepper somehow manages to extract Morgan from Peter’s hold and gets Harley’s jacket off the small child without waking her, and then tells both of them that she has beds made up for them both.
“Oh, no, Ms Potts – Mrs… Stark? May and I will go home, it’s fine, we don’t want to impose – ” Peter tries to say, and the CEO of Stark Industries levels a stern look at him.
“First of all, it’s Pepper,” she says in a no-nonsense tone that Peter thinks probably sees a lot of use with her board of directors. “Secondly, it’s a four hour drive back to the city, and it’s already dark. It’s far too late to set out on such a long trip. I’ve already cleared it with May. You’re staying. You too, Harley. If I won’t let Peter and May drive back to New York tonight then I hope you know I won’t be letting you drive back to Tennessee.”
“I was kinda hoping to be able to crash somewhere tonight,” Harley says. “So, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Pepper tells him, and then turns her expectant gaze on Peter. “And how about you, Mr Parker?”
Peter doesn’t want to stay. He doesn’t want to see this house that Tony lived in for five years; that his family lived in, happily. He doesn’t want to see the ghost of Tony in the Iron Man coffee mugs in the kitchen and in the photos on the walls and in the lab he knows has to be here somewhere. Doesn’t want to see DUM-E and U and have to face them knowing that their creator – their dad – isn’t around anymore, all because Peter wasn’t fast enough; didn’t fight hard enough.
He wants to go back to his and May’s apartment in New York – empty, still, if dusty, because New York City might be a desirable place to live, but with half the universe dusted, even with all the folks who moved to the city after the Snap, there still weren’t enough people to fill the apartments all the way out to Queens when there were vacant ones closer to the city than theirs.
He wants to go back to his and May’s dusty, stale-smelling apartment that hasn’t had anyone sleep in it for five years, and he wants to forget that today ever happened. He wants to forget that this week ever happened (well. A week for him, at least).
He wants to lie facedown on his bed and pretend that his school excursion that day went as normally as a Midtown High excursion can go – with Flash being a jerk and MJ sketching everyone and Ned geeking out over some cool fact and Mr Harris panicking about some thing or another but trying his best not to show it. Peter wants to pretend, just for one night, that no flying doughnut ever appeared in the sky above New York City, and that everything that came after – everything that led to Tony sacrificing his life to save everyone on earth – never happened.
“Morgan will be really upset if she wakes up and you’ve gone,” Pepper says, and Peter looks at her with surprise. “She’s wanted to meet you both for so long; if she wakes up and one of you left while she was sleeping, there will be tears.”
The words are said wryly but with an undercurrent of seriousness that tells Peter that she’s not joking; Morgan really will be upset enough to cry if he’s gone when she wakes up, apparently.
Peter doesn’t want to be the reason that Tony Stark’s daughter cries.
“Ok,” he concedes, shoulders sagging a little, and she nods at him.
“Good,” she says. “Now, if you’re hungry, there’s lots of left overs, or the cheeseburgers Happy got. He got extras, so there’s plenty. I’m going to go and put this one to bed. Don’t stay out here too late, alright? It’s cold.”
“Yes ma’am,” Harley says from beside Peter, and Pepper nods at them both and heads back up the jetty to take Morgan inside.
“Force to be reckoned with, that one,” Harley says, once Pepper’s out of earshot. “Reckon anyone ever bothers trying to say no to her, or do they just concede defeat from the outset?”
“Concede defeat from the outset,” Peter says, because it’s pretty much what he just did, and honestly, he can’t see anyone bothering to try to out-argue Pepper. Spend ten seconds with her, and you know you’re gonna lose any debate she has with you.
“Wanna sneak in the back way and find the beds she’s made up for us so we don’t have to interact with fake-happy adults?” Harley pitches, and honestly? The sun has barely gone down, and it’s weirdly early to be going to sleep, but frankly, he’s absolutely exhausted, and smushing his face into a pillow and passing out sounds fantastic right now. If he can’t spend several hours unconscious in his own bed, he’s willing to do it in a borrowed one.
“Sounds good,” Peter says, getting to his feet. Harley follows suit, and they make their way inside – through the back door, instead of through the front one that would take them past the room where all the adults are murmuring and chatting and laughing in a manner that sounds too loud and too bright to be fully genuine.
Yeah, neither of the boys want to be anywhere near that. Back-door entry it is.
Peter feels intrusive, roaming around someone else’s house searching for the spare bedroom, but Harley apparently feels no such compunction, and he leads the way through the house, opening door after door until they find one that has two beds in it, both of them made up with navy-blue bedding.
“Shotgun left,” Harley says immediately, and bee-lines to the bed on the left side of the room, leaving Peter with the one under the window on the right.
It doesn’t bother Peter. He likes sleeping under the window, actually. Likes staring out at the glow of the streetlights whenever he’s awake and can’t sleep. Not that there’s any street lights here. He’d probably actually be able to see stars out there if he looked, how weird. It’s not likely to be an issue tonight, anyway. He’s so tired right now that he’d probably be able to fall asleep even if May was playing one of her awful 70s records at top volume.
“Hey Pete?” Harley says, after Peter’s made his way over to his bed and has flopped bonelessly down onto it, face smooshed firmly into the pillow. He hasn’t bothered to get under the covers – hasn’t even bothered to take his shoes off – and he doesn’t think he’s even gonna try. He’s too tired. Funerals are exhausting. Peter hates them more than anything else in the world.
“Mm?” Peter says, rolling his head sideways to look at Harley. The other teen is lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, and he hasn’t bothered to get under the covers either. Maybe Pete isn’t the only one too tired to bother with that sort of thing.
“I hate that we met under such shit circumstances,” Harley says, determinately not looking at Peter. “But I’m glad we met. You… get it. And that… helps.”
He doesn’t even need to specify what it is that Peter “gets.” They’re in the same boat, Harley and Peter, and they’re the only two in it.
Pepper’s lost a husband, and it’s a definable, quantifiable loss. Morgan’s lost her father, and that’s definable too. Colonel Rhodes and Happy have lost a friend. The world has lost a hero. All of that is definable. It’s got a clear label. The feelings and emotions that go with the various labels are textbook and understandable. No one’s going to give Pepper an odd look for being devastated by her loss, because everyone who loses their partner all feel the same feelings. Pepper’s emotions are predictable and definable and understandable. Same with those who lose a father, those who lose a friend. The feelings are universal to all those who’ve experienced the same thing.
But Harley and Peter – what is it that they’ve lost, exactly? A mentor? No. He was more than that. A friend? The term doesn’t fit. A father figure? He wasn’t that either. Not really. Except that he kind of was. Could have been? Almost was?
Peter doesn’t know. He knows that Morgan actually lost her father, and that Peter felt this same way when he lost his. He doesn’t know if he has the right to feel that way though. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t. And he knows Harley feels the same – both about the lost-an-almost-father-figure thing and the I-don’t-have-the-right-to-feel-this-way thing. And it’s not nice that Harley the same way, because Peter feels like shit and he wouldn’t wish this feeling upon anyone. But the fact that Harley feels the same is… helpful. Peter feels less alone than he otherwise would. He’s in a boat, floating on a sea of confusion and grief, but at least he’s not in the boat alone.
“Yeah,” he says to Harley, and his voice is a little bit hoarse. “Yeah.”
Future installments will include: the reading of wills; Ned being great; May being great; lots of sibling moments.
Hello, my loves! Here, have some more emotions and budding-sibling-goodness.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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?” 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.
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.)
Next up: back to school, and more than one reunion.