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“Peter?”

Peter blinks up toward the ceiling at the call of his name.

He isn’t getting a very good sleep tonight, honestly. On any normal night, it would probably be because of nightmares or maybe insomnia, a lucky dip from the myriad of issues that plague him.

But it’s not that.

Instead, on this particular Saturday night, Peter can’t sleep because Pepper and Tony are out of town and Morgan is shifting about on the pull-out mattress from under Peter’s bed. The nylon of the sleeping bag she’s nestled under rustles with her every move.

As long as Peter’s known her, she’s always been unfathomably restless and tonight is no exception. She must get it from her dad.

“Peterrr? Are you awake?”

If he wasn’t before, then he definitely is now.

He rolls over in bed and peers over the edge of his own mattress to look down at her. In the dim light creeping in through his haphazardly drawn curtains, he can make out her tiny form buried under the sleeping bag, messy hair, eyes wide and awake as she looks up at him.

“What’s up, bug?” Peter replies in a hushed tone, all too aware that May and Happy are asleep only a few rooms over.

“I wanna ask you something,” Morgan says in a botched attempt at a whisper. Peter figures it’s useless trying to get her to quiet down. Even if she wakes up May and Happy they probably deserve it for the number of times that Happy’s snoring has woken him up.

“You can ask me anything, you know that.”

“D’you think Spider-Man would come to my birthday?”

This is probably one of the reasons Morgan is so restless tonight - excitement.

She’s turning six in exactly a week and Tony’s agreed to hire out Morgan’s favourite petting farm at Queens Zoo for the day, the one that Happy and Peter always take her to when she stays the weekend.

Peter’s just trying not to think about it. She was only four when he first met her.

He’s not sure he likes how fast she’s growing up.

Peter furrows his brow a little at the question and curls his duvet tighter around himself.

“I’ll probably leave the suit at home, but I’ll still be there,” he answers diplomatically. He knows Tony’s already stressing out about security; he has been ever since he realised that Morgan wouldn’t settle for a birthday party in the safe confines of the lake house like she has done every other year. Peter’s not sure that him swinging by in the mildly-obnoxiously red suit would exactly ease his mind. “And so will Aunt May and Uncle Happy, and all your friends-”

“I know you’ll be there. Peter’s my favourite,” Morgan emphasises. Peter grins to himself into the darkness. “But Spider-Man never gets to come and do any of the fun stuff with us. Doesn’t he feel left out?”

“I dunno whether it's a-”

Pleeease, Peter?”

And that’s it - the exact moment Peter gives in, his expression softening.

Who is he to deny Morgan everything she wants on her birthday?

“Well... I suppose Spider-Man would like to see all the animals,” Peter relents. There’s no going back now, especially not as Morgan beams gleefully up at him.

“This is the best birthday present, ever!” she declares.

“The best ever? Wow.”

Morgan thinks about this very seriously for a second. She twists in her sleeping bag, clutching her plush bear closer to her chest before she speaks again.

“Maybe the second-best if Daddy will let us get a goat.” Peter stifles a laugh. “I really want a pet. Mommy said no, but I think Daddy might if I ask super-duper nicely.”

“I’m not sure about how poor old Gerald would feel about having to share his pen.”

“Sharing is caring.”

 


 

Exactly a week later, on the day of Morgan’s sixth birthday, Peter decides that he’s never experienced so much foul-smelling, ear-splitting, adorable chaos in one place before now.

The smell of animal manure permeates everywhere. Children are screaming, high-pitched with happiness as they dart all around him, paper bags of animal feed clutched in their hands.

Peter’s standing in-between Happy and May, sipping at a can of lemonade that’s gone slightly warm from sitting out in the afternoon sun. He’s spent the past hour grazing at sausage rolls and M&M’s from the snack table he helped Tony set up earlier, taking countless photos of Morgan holding a white bunny rabbit and trying to help Pepper wrangle a stray five-year-old boy away from the fence of the tortoise enclosure that he was so determinedly trying to climb over.

Now, he’s content to just observe and wait for the right moment to slip away, the Spider-Man suit only a few feet behind him in his backpack.

Conveniently, the right moment comes only a few minutes later when Morgan bounds over to them. There’s hay caught in her sunhat and a splotch of something that Peter really hopes is mud smeared on the front of her t-shirt.

“Uncle Happy! Come see this sheep! It’s cute and funny and it has fluffy hair just like you.”

Happy gives her a perplexed smile. He looks like he doesn’t quite know whether he should be amused or offended as Morgan grabs his hand, attempting to tug him away.

Happy turns towards May. “I didn’t think it…” Happy pauses. He runs a hand through the greying strands of his hair in a clear attempt to smooth it down. “Does it actually look that fluffy?

Peter bites back a laugh by taking another large gulp of lemonade.

“I love your hair,” May replies smoothly. Happy doesn’t even have a chance to reply before he’s being dragged away by Morgan.

May disappears a moment later, following the two of them towards the sheep paddock after Peter declined to join her. There’s too much of an opportunity here for him to tag along.

Sure enough, with May gone, and Pepper and Tony far too distracted by trying to create some semblance of order around the kids gathering to feed the llamas, Peter can snatch his backpack up off the ground and sling it over his shoulder.

He slips out without being noticed with ease and winds his way through the shady paths of the zoo. He knows them almost like the back of his hand after all the weekend afternoons spent here with May and Ben when there was enough spare cash to go around to pay all their admission fees.

He passes the group of tourists posing in front of the lynx enclosure and the little kids marvelling at the sea lions and averts his eyes towards his sneakers as he walks by the couple making out in the shadowy corner by the owl aviary, on a quest to make it to the entrance.

 


 

It takes Peter barely any time at all to make it to the ramshackle public toilets near the main gates. He shimmies out of his jeans and t-shirt in favour of the Spider-Man suit and shoves the rest of his clothes into his backpack.

He hauls himself out of the small window at the top of the stall and up onto the shingled roof of the bathroom once he’s finished. He’s managed to pull off his half-time costume change without a hitch.

The only problem is that Peter doesn’t think there’s ever been a time in his life when he’s put on the Spider-Man suit and didn’t end up embroiled in some sort of trouble or commotion.

He really should have known that today would be no different.

 


 

Street-vendors are a common sight on the streets of New York City and Peter’s so used to it that he barely spares them a glance, no matter how tacky the merchandise is or how many flashing signs they’ve got precariously rigged up to try and attract the attention of tourists.

But as Peter perches on the roof, there’s something happening on the sidewalk that draws his attention to one street cart in particular; one that’s packed to the brim with stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes. He’s obviously conveniently set up to solve the problems of parents who definitely do not want to pay twenty dollars for a stuffed monkey in the gift shop, but would also really, really like their kids to stop begging them for said stuffed monkey.

Today, however, it seems like this particular street vendor is getting into more problems than he's solving.

He’s involved in an altercation with another man. A significantly taller and burlier man at that - the two of them clearly having an argument.

Peter swings himself down to perch on top of the stone wall at the entrance to the zoo, watching closely for a second. He dares to hope that miracle might play out and these two might resolve whatever their disagreement is without resorting to violence.

But of course, Peter rarely ever gets what he wants.

Citizens making their way past on the sidewalk skirt around nervously, suddenly giving the two a wide berth. A few mothers wrap their arms around their children and haul them away as quickly as they can. A group of teenagers duck into a nearby alleyway.

Peter scans the scene as quickly as he can to try and figure out what’s causing the apparent worry. New Yorker’s aren’t fazed by arguments and the occasional brawl in the middle of the sidewalks, so what’s-

A glint of metal in the sunlight.

Oh.

Someone has a gun.

The man getting all up in the vendor’s face has clearly pulled it from his jeans somewhere and Peter doesn’t even think for a second about whether or not it’s a good idea to throw himself into the middle of this, he just does.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Peter calls, swinging down off the edge of the wall to land firmly on the pavement. Both the shopkeeper and the burlier man brandishing the gun whip around towards him.

It only takes a split second for Peter to examine the gunman’s face - flushed red and pupils blown wide - and figure out that he’s almost definitely on drugs. Especially as Peter takes a proper look around to piece together exactly what’s going on and remembers that the guy is trying to hold up a stuffed animal cart for God’s sake.

Waving one hand desperately behind his back towards where the shopkeeper is standing, Peter tries to alert him to get the hell out of the vicinity. The man scurries off and watches from a few feet away, clearly not willing to leave behind what is quite possibly his entire livelihood.

Peter turns back to the gunman.

“Haven’t you ever heard of Toys R’ Us or something? That would probably be an easier alternative to fix the lack of cuddles in your life than taking an entire street-cart hostage.”

The man glares. He’s clearly not at all willing to engage with Peter - but to be fair, not many criminals do find his constant chatter endearing. The man’s waving his gun around aimlessly now, and Peter forces himself to stay as cool and calm as possible.

“I’m not a seven-year-old girl. I don’t want any fuckin’ fluffy animals. I want the register.”

Peter rolls his eyes behind the mask. He wishes people would give him something a little more original. Keep him on his toes a little.

“I won’t call the cops if you step back and get out of here.”

The man still doesn’t listen. Instead, he continues to swing the gun around and, as it passes Peter, for a split second, the barrel stares him right in the face. His heart speeds up, thumping uncomfortably against his ribcage.

He literally can’t die right now. It’s Morgan’s sixth birthday. That is so not an option.

“This isn’t worth it, man. There’s probably, what, like two hundred dollars in there, at the most?”

“Let me take what I want or I’ll put a bullet through you,” the man threatens, sneer crossing his face. Peter takes a single step closer.

“Seriously, I’m telling you, jail is nasty. You don’t want to do-”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Spidey.”

The back of Peter’s neck is set alight with a sharp panic and he knows what’s going to happen a split second before it does. The man’s grip tightens on the gun and he stops waving it around threateningly, thrusting it towards Peter.

He sucks in a sharp breath and twists to the side. For the briefest of moments, it occurs to him that he doesn’t even know if the gun is loaded, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to get out of range of anything that could potentially come out of the barrel of that gun.

He half manages it, but the only shelter he’s got is an assortment of stuffed animals and honestly, he’s not sure that’s any better than being out in the open.

It’s not, he quickly finds out, as the man’s finger inches closer to the trigger, finger flexing threateningly before he pulls. A resounding bang echoes around the street.

For a split-second, time freezes.

A bullet explodes through a stuffed elephant.

Fluff flies everywhere before it grazes past Peter’s side, the bullet tearing at the material of the suit and sending sudden shocks of burning hot pain through him.

Peter staggers back with the force, an agonising pain radiating from above his hip bone through every nerve in his body. When he opens his eyes again, the gunman looks stunned as well, as if this isn’t what he intended at all.

Like he can’t believe he actually shot Spider-Man.

As his instincts finally kick back in, pushing past the pain, Peter fires out webbing in quick succession, webbing both of the guys’ arms and his gun to the side of the cart.

His breaths come in quick, sharp pants and he takes the chance to glance down at his side. The sight of his own red, tender skin where the suit is torn makes his stomach turn. The bullet has cut into his side.

He’s been shot. Well at least shot at.

Stopping an armed robbery doesn’t feel anywhere near as satisfying as it usually would when all Peter can think about is getting back to Morgan.

Peter feels like he’s moving on autopilot as he regains some of his steadiness on his feet and limps over to where the shopkeeper is still standing, his face drained of colour. His eyes are locked on the man webbed to the side of his cart.

“The police will be here soon,” Peter promises. “I’m, uh, sorry about all this,” he adds, motioning to the carnage of stuffing and a few wilting plush jungle animals littered across the sidewalk.

“I don’t mind,” the man tells him, shaking his head profusely. His words are stammered with shock. “I, uh, thank you for stopping him.”

“Just doing my job,” Peter says, “but if you don’t mind, I do have somewhere to be.”

Bleeding or not, Peter has a bunch of excitable kindergarteners to entertain.

 


 

Peter’s first task is hauling himself back up onto the roof of the restrooms to web up the tear in his suit. It might not be the most medically sound option, but it works to make most of the damage minimally noticeable and keep the bleeding mostly contained.

His second task is swinging back across the zoo, which is definitely not a painless exercise in any sense, he finds. Each movement feels like agony, but he does manage to sneak back into the petting zoo without causing too much more fanfare.

Everyone is still crowded in one corner, the llamas continuing to be showered with attention - bar Morgan, of course. She’s seemingly gotten bored and moved on to the goats. She’s petting one through the wire of the fence while she babbles about something to Tony and May.

Peter stands there uselessly for a second, suddenly all too aware again of the incessant throbbing in his side. It hurts but it’s not exactly like he can deal with it right now.

Hey Tony? May? Yeah, I know I disappeared for a little while but funny story, I’ve actually come back with a bullet wound in my stomach? Do you think you could put aside the flock of kids you’re meant to be supervising and scar them for life by trying to patch me up? Thanks.

Yeah, no. That’s not exactly going to fly.

“It’s Spider-Man!”

Peter glances up, eyes widening. That’s him.

He’s Spider-Man.

Come to think of it, he’s kind of glad someone’s finally noticed him. It was getting kind of awkward just standing here.

“Spider-Man!”

Whoa!”

“You actually came!” That’s Morgan’s pleased cheer, ringing loud and clear over the top of all the other voices. Peter’s not sure whether it’s because she’s genuinely louder than other kids by nature, or just that over time he’s become attuned to listen out for her voice first - picking her up from school, walking her to the park, listening out for her as she splashes in the shallows of the lake while he works on the dock.

Morgan’s voice will always be heard first.

She’s abandoned the goats and left May and Tony in the dust in favour of barrelling over towards Peter. She has to fight her way past five other little kids to grab at Peter’s hand, wrapping two of her smaller ones around his. “You’re here! You’re here!”

“You know Spider-Man?” one of Morgan’s friends - a little boy with dark hair and a gaudy party hat askew on his head - says, eyes comically wide

Morgan nods proudly, hands clasping Peter’s even tighter.

“Uh-huh! He’s my best friend! He used to work with Daddy but now Daddy’s old, so he can’t do cool stuff like Spider-Man.”

“Betrayed by my own daughter,” a voice says and Peter spins around to find Tony suddenly right behind them. “Fancy seeing you here, by the way, Spider-Man. I didn’t know you were planning on swinging by,” Tony adds nonchalantly.

Peter looks at him carefully. Tony's face seems settled somewhere in-between amused and exasperated. He doesn't look mad that he’s shown up at Spider-Man. Peter calms a bit - at least until Tony claps Peter on the shoulder and Peter has to consciously try and stop himself from doubling over in pain.

“Well, when a little birdie told me that Morgan was turning six, I couldn’t exactly not stop by,” Peter says, trying his best to keep his tone even through gritted teeth. There’s a tug on his other hand then, the one that Morgan isn’t hanging on to. He averts his gaze away from Tony, who’s watching Peter and Morgan with a parental sort of softness in his eyes, to glance down at the small girl on his other side.

Peter vaguely recognises her. He thinks he’s picked her up alongside Morgan from school a few times. She freezes when Peter looks at her and it’s not until Morgan reaches out to nudge her that she seems to find the courage to speak.

“Can I, um - can I have a photo with you, Mr Spider-Man?”

“Of course you can,” Peter says, grateful for his mask as he feels his face twists into a wince as he crouches down towards the ground to be at her height. He suppresses a sharp gasp of pain.

The little girl grins at him afterwards and Peter wonders whether, in a perfect world in which New York’s crime rates dropped drastically, he could ever have a job as a kids party entertainer.

He doubts that showing up bleeding consistently would earn him many good Yelp reviews.

He’d probably have to try and stop getting injured.

Tony would be overjoyed.

 


 

The burning rays of summer sun beat down onto Peter’s back as he continues to entertain.

He shows the kids how he shoots his webs. He takes a few photos with the petting zoo employees and they invite him to the opening of their new arachnid exhibit next month. He even answers the questions of one particularly curious child, who tells him he has a pet tarantula at home, about what spiders favourite foods are. He says that personally, he loves cockroaches and Morgan giggles as if he’s just said the funniest thing in the world. She’ll probably try and dare him to eat the next cockroach she finds lurking in her tent.

This has always been one of the best parts of being Spider-Man - watching the disbelief, awe and excitement on kid’s faces when they see him. But even still, as much as he loves it, as it begins to verge on half an hour, Peter’s getting more and more lightheaded.

He’s not entirely sure how much longer he’ll be able to keep himself upright honestly. There’s one thing that he is sure of, though, and that’s that his stomach hurts like a bitch.

(That backflip off the picnic table probably wasn't a good idea at all, in hindsight, and sure, maybe he nearly passed out when he landed back on his feet but he couldn’t have this group of five-year-olds thinking Spider-Man couldn’t do a backflip. How embarrassing would that be?)

Peter’s not sure whether it’s some cosmic fluke, someone somewhere looking out for him, or just damn good timing, but right at that moment, one of the workers leads three tiny horses out of the stables in the distance. They’re so little.

He squints against the sun to try and figure out if he’s seeing things right.

Some ridiculously named villain, the Gadgeteer, was wreaking havoc in the city with a shrinking ray a few weeks ago. It was a bit temperamental honestly, and he didn’t manage much apart from reducing the height of a random Downtown apartment complex by a few metres.

Peter wonders whether the horses got hit as well. How has no one noticed that their horses are so little now? He should tell someone so they can fix it. Maybe Tony will want to know.

“Who feels like giving Spider-Man a little bit of a break and coming to line up for pony rides?”

A voice calls - Pepper’s, Peter recognises - and the kids take off running in the other direction without any hesitation. It’s typical, Peter thinks. He got shot to show up here but the second some tiny horses (they’re not even normal-sized horses) arrive onto the scene, he gets dropped like last seasons’ toys. Even Morgan drops his hand without any hesitation and shoots after everyone else.

Peter knows that he really should follow. The horses are tiny. Someone needs to know they’ve been shrunk. But the horse pen looks so far away and his legs are getting shaky beneath him. He feels kind of dizzy.

He knows the symptoms of blood loss. He’s been doing this long enough by now to know what’s happening. He should probably sit down. Yeah. Somewhere shady would be nice. The sun is a bit too hot.

With one last glance towards the kids now clamouring around the entrance to the horse pen, Pepper and May trying to shepherd them into some semblance of an organised line, Peter turns his attention to the little barn he can see to his right.

He makes a few steps towards it, trying his best not to stumble. There’s a gate made up of old wood and chicken-wire at the entrance, and Peter wraps his hand around it, pushing it open.

It’s cool and shady inside and it smells like hay, even more so than outside. Peter can’t quite bring himself to care about that right now. Not when he feels so weak and sick.

He makes a beeline for the corner, and it only takes him a few clumsy steps before he can slump back against the wall. He lets himself sink down towards the musty, hay covered ground.

Distantly, he wonders why they’ve even got an empty barn this small. You wouldn’t get many horses in here. Maybe this is where they’re keeping them while they’re shrunken.

He’s glad they’re not big. He wouldn’t want to be hiding out here while they’re big - what if he got stepped on by one? But then again, he wouldn't really want to be stepped on while they’re shrunken either, come to think of it.

He’s in enough pain as it is.

Ow.

Damn. He was doing a really good job of not thinking about it for a while there. Now he’s thought about it and the pain is back. Gritting his teeth, he brings his knees up to his chest to try and staunch the bleeding with his own body as best as he can. He can feel the tell-tale warm liquid starting to seep past his make-shift webbing gauze.

He doesn’t really want to get the suit dirty if he can help it. May and Happy have never particularly been a fan of blood-soaked garments in their washing machine.

 

There’s a couple of minutes of stillness inside the barn as Peter stays sitting in this same position. It’s nice.

His head is still spinning, but he’s feeling better now that he’s sat down. He’s fine, he’s sure of it - he probably just overexerted himself trying to show off to Morgan’s army of five-year-old buddies. It’s only a graze. That’s better than a bullet lodged inside of him. The wound probably isn’t even that bad. If he thought it was, he would have told Tony by now

(Okay… so maybe he would have told Tony by now).

He just really doesn’t want to ruin Morgan’s birthday. Not when she’s having so much fun. That would be-

There’s a nudge against Peter’s leg.

Peter pulls his leg closer to his body instinctively, but his mind is moving a little slower than his reflexes. He hopes he isn’t starting to imagine things.

He’s sure he felt something.

And then it’s back again. A tiny nudge right up against his ankle.

Peter cracks one eye open, lifting his heavy head up from where he’s got it resting against the wooden wall behind him. He’s not imagining things, as it turns out.

There really is a tiny ball of fur sitting at his feet.

Peter’s entire body jerks back a little. It’s way too little to be a horse, no matter how shrunken. The Gadgeteers shrink ray wasn’t that good. No way.

He opens both his eyes to get a better look, blinking away the blurriness at the edge of his vision.

It’s a tiny scraggly looking thing, all scruffy ginger fur and tiny beady eyes peering at Peter’s feet cautiously. It’s a guinea pig, he recognises. Suddenly, he looks around to see at least ten of them surrounding him.

All the others are munching on hay in the corner, sniffing around the gate. Two are grooming each other in another corner. The one in front of Peter doesn’t seem to be interested in anything else apart from inspecting his feet.

“You wanna be my friend, tiny dude?” Peter mumbles. “That’d be cool.”

The guinea pig doesn’t answer, because obviously, but nor does it seem scared off by the sound of Peter’s voice

It’s less timid than Peter expected. Maybe that's only because he remembers visiting one of May’s friends in Wisconsin once and her daughter had a guinea pig, but much to Peter’s dismay, it was so timid that it refused to come out of its hidey-hole house in the hutch. He hasn’t had a single interaction with a guinea pig since.

He’s not even sure he’s thought about guinea pigs since then.

But here he is, with one sitting at his feet.

He’s not sure quite what to do. He extends a hand out towards it slowly and the guinea pig shuffles forward a little more and sniffs at his proffered hand. He lifts his hand slowly, half-expecting it to recoil away with every movement but it doesn’t. Instead, for the next few minutes, it allows Peter to stroke it’s back gently until finally Peter just can’t stand the cuteness being that far away from him any longer, and he scoops it up into his lap.

“Yeah. We’re friends now,” Peter decides.

Again, no reply. Not even a squeak.

The guinea pig does relax into his lap though, settling itself down. It looks like it might be about to take a nap. Honestly, Peter could really do with a nap right about now. It would be rude not to take a nap if the guinea pig in his lap is having one, right?

He’s just so tired.

Peter closes his eyes.

Just for a second.

He’ll open them again soon.

He just needs to-

 


 

Peter’s pulled out of his daze slowly.

The first thing he registers is the steady, throbbing pain.

The second thing he registers is a voice.

“You’re really keeping all of us guessing with your disappearing acts today, huh Spider-Man?”

Tony.

Peter blinks one eye open blearily to find the man standing behind the rickety-looking gate. He eyes the guinea pigs scurrying around the hay-covered floor slightly wary before pushing it open and stepping inside.

“Oh, hey, Tony,” Peter says, speaking slowly to try and stop his words from slurring together. He musters up as much strength as he can to push himself more upright. A jolt of pain tears through his body. “‘s everyone finished with the tiny horses?”

Tony stares at him for a second without saying anything, and then a laugh escapes him. “You mean the Shetland ponies?”

“Mmm,” Peter hums in a half-hearted response. He grew up in the middle of New York City, he knows exactly nothing about horses. He’ll take Tony’s word for it.

“Not quite, but there’s only so many times as a parent you can watch your kid ride round in circles. It was making me dizzy. May took over videoing duties, so I thought I’d come find you.”

Peter doesn’t reply for a minute. “I think someone shrunk ‘em,” he says eventually.

“Shrunk what?”

“The horses. The tiny horses.”

There’s a beat of silence. Tony steps closer.

“Shetland ponies are usually that small, kid.” Peter can feel his scrutinizing gaze on him. “Have you got heatstroke?”

Peter furrows his brow. “Have I got wha’?”

“Heatstroke,” Tony repeats patiently. “Y’know, like when you stay out in the sun for too long. I hate to break it to you, buddy, but you’re acting kinda strange.”

Peter’s pretty sure he’s always strange. How much stranger do you get than a seventeen-year-old with mutated spider DNA?

“Stranger than usual?”

“Yeah, Pete. Stranger than usual,” Tony says, humouring him. “I know you were just being a good brother but the suit probably wasn’t a good idea when it’s this hot out.”

Peter kinda wants to tell Tony the only thing that wasn’t a good idea was trying to stop a bullet by hiding behind a cart of stuffed animals, but that just seems like it would cause far too much unnecessary drama. He’ll tell Tony later, no big deal. Preferably when blood isn’t oozing out of his side.

“Finding some shade was a good move, but you need some water. Think you’ll be okay if I go grab-”

Peter shakes his head quickly. He’s in pain. He doesn’t want Tony to go anywhere.

“Stay. Just for… just for a minute?”

There’s a pause. Peter presumes that maybe Tony’s weighing everything up. He can’t be sure because he’s screwed his eyes shut again. The dizziness was getting too much.

“Who’s your friend?” Tony asks. His voice is moving closer. Peter opens his eyes again.

“Friend?”

“Yeah. The little dude hanging out in your lap.”

“Oh.” Peter tightens his arms a little around the guinea pig when he notices Tony staring. He doesn’t want Tony to take it away from him. He loves it. It’s so tiny and little and it doesn’t have any friends. He needs to protect it.

“This is my guinea pig,” Peter announces as confidently as he can muster, trying his best to make sure his muddled mind sorts the words into the right order. “You can’t take him away from me. I love him.”

Tony scoffs, but it’s a soft sound, riddled with clear amusement.

“I think you’ll find he needs to stay here with all his friends, Pete. I’m sure he’s enjoying his cuddle though.”

“He doesn’t have any friends. We have to keep him,” Peter says forlornly. He pauses for a second, sorting through his cluttered thoughts. “Morgan wanted a goat for her birthday, anyway.”

Tony looks at him incredulously, like he’s trying to work out something coherent from Peter’s words. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed Peter, but the guinea pig you’re holding is very much not a goat.”

Peter makes an unbothered noise.

“Still a pet. Mo wanted one of those.”

Tony tips his head a little in concession. “Yeah, and I said no because I know I’ll be the one that looks after it. Just like Gerald.”

“Mo and I clean him sometimes.”

“Yeah, only because you offer to do it. She’d never do it if she didn’t like to mimic your every move. The second she tries climbing out the window wearing some ridiculous spandex suit I’m disowning you, by the way.”

Peter grins lopsidedly. A soft warmth spreads through his chest, so unlike the hot pain he’s becoming accustomed to. He feels sort of proud that Morgan likes to follow his lead.

“C’mon. We have to keep it. Morgan would love you forever.”

“See, I was kinda hoping that would just be a given.”

“What about me? I’d love you forever.”

Tony gives him a look.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I already do love you forever but I’d love you like… even more?”

Tony rolls his eyes at Peter’s unabashed display of affection in order to try and get what he wants. He opens his mouth, likely to tell Peter no again, but he doesn't get the chance because the gate across the barn screeches open for the second time.

It’s Morgan.

She gives both of them an odd look for a second like she’s trying to figure out what they’re doing holing away in the corner of the guinea pig enclosure before she must decide that actually, she doesn’t care all that much. 

“Aunt May said I had to come get you guys! It’s present time!”

Tony glances hesitantly over at Peter. Peter knows he’s probably wondering whether he’s capable of getting up, and honestly, Peter is kind of wondering the same thing. But he has to. He has to give Morgan her present.

Maybe it would be easier if he just gave it to her here.

“I’ve got a present for you,” Peter announces. He scoops the guinea pig up out of his lap and into his grip as carefully as he can. “I gotta give it to you now though. Because it’s… it’s so special.”

Tony groans under his breath like he knows it’s far too late to stop wherever this is going. “Way to go, Pete. Now you’re gonna make all these poor kids look like jerks. How are they going to be able to top a guinea pig?”

But then, as Peter holds the guinea pig out towards Morgan, it’s hard for him to miss the deep red patch of fur where the little critter has clearly been pressed up against his wound, even though his vision has grown blurrier.

Is that blood? His blood?

Oh, he’s really gone and screwed up now, hasn’t he? There’s no way the guinea pig will want to be friends with him anymore if he’s bled all over it.

As Peter processes this, Morgan extends her arms out towards the guinea pig and Tony, who’s clearly realised that something isn’t quite right with both Peter and the guinea pig, shoots his arms out before Morgan can touch it.

“No, no no,” Tony blurts, his voice quickly growing less amused and significantly more panicked. “The little guy needs someone to give him, uh, a good clean before you have a cuddle with him, Morgan,” Tony says, scooping the guinea pig to his chest. He’s wearing one of the nice linen button-ups that Pepper bought him for Christmas. Peter knows Tony likes this one. He hopes the blood will come out of it.

Morgan looks disappointed. Peter feels a bit bad. He doesn’t want both the guinea pig and Morgan to not want to be friends with him.

Tony turns towards Peter. He gestures down towards his shirt, where blood is indeed seeping off the guinea pigs fur and into the fabric. “Care to tell me where all this blood is coming from, Pete?” he asks, concerned.

Peter nods slowly. He doesn’t like it when Tony sounds so worried. Though, he guesses he’d be worried too if he thought a poor guinea pig was bleeding. He should probably try to reassure Tony.

“It’s from me, don’t worry. Not the guinea pig.”

If possible, Tony’s voice grows even more panicked. “You’re bleeding?”

“Mmm, think so. Got shot.”

Tony makes a spluttery, choked kind of sound. Peter watches as his eyes grow round and incredulous.

“You were shot? At the zoo?”

“Outside. Man trying to steal some stuffed toys.”

“Jesus Christ. I hate New York,” Tony mutters, voice riddled with underlying panic. “And you didn’t tell anyone, why exactly?”

“I was going to at some point,” Peter defends weakly. “And… and, the bullet didn’t like actually go inside me."

“Okay, okay.” There’s a deep inhale as he tries to calm himself. “Even if it only grazed you, we have to get you looked at, Pete,” Tony says, voice tightly wound in a way that exudes stress and worry, despite his forced put-together exterior for Morgan.

Morgan.

Peter feels bad for bleeding all over the poor guinea pig. That’s Morgan’s birthday present now. He gave it to her and he bled all over it!

He needs to pull himself together. It’s only a graze wound, he’s had worse. He needs to see the present opening. He helped Tony pick out one of those awesome 3D puzzles for her, a Saturn themed one after she learned about the solar system at school. He wants to see the look on her face when she opens it.

Peter tries to shove himself up off the ground determinedly. The stinging pain flares up again, digging its claws into his side but he pushes past it.

Tony has his arms full with a blood-covered guinea pig anyway, it’s not like he can help him.

Maybe Peter’s lost more blood than he thought. Even the mere movement of standing up is too much for him. His head spins and his legs buckle dangerously underneath him.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Peter processes Tony’s garbled-sounding worried protests. There’s a high-pitched urgency to them that he recognises, but he must lose consciousness because, after that, he hears nothing at all.

 


 

“He needs at least one more.”

“Three is fine, Tony. Stop hovering.”

“Being on the safe-side never hurts. Do another one.”

A frustrated sigh.

“Pepper, can you tell your husband to behave?”

A new voice joins the mix. “Tony, darling, please leave Happy to it.”

“He was shot, Pepper. He needs one more.”

The voices are too loud. There’s pain somewhere but Peter can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from. It hurts. He groans.

The voices go silent.

He’s lying on something soft. It’s nice, really nice - until suddenly there’s a quick tug somewhere near his stomach and all he can focus on is the dull pain emanating from the area. He flinches back a little, trying to sit up and figure out what’s happening, but there’s a light pressure on his shoulder, pressing him back into the fabric.

“He’s awake, Hap, give him a break.”

“I need to finish this first.”

As Peter blinks his eyes open, he realises that he’s stretched out across the couch in the living room of May and Happy’s apartment. The first thing he sees is Happy himself, sat right in front of him, face set heavily with concentration.

Tony’s there too, hovering somewhere over his shoulder and Peter can’t quite get a read of the mixed emotions on his face.

Pepper is across the room in an armchair, Morgan sitting at her feet.

In amongst all of this, Peter’s not quite sure where May is. He’d quite like to see her. He’s about to open his mouth and ask, see if someone can get her for him, because he could really use her comfort right about now, when, almost as if she can sense his anxiety, a hand pushes through his curls, nails scratching gently at his scalp.

It’s May, sitting on the couch behind him, right by his head.

He should have known. She never likes straying too far when he’s injured like this.

Peter tries twisting his body to see behind him - though it only earns him another gentle scolding from Happy. May understands what he needs though, and leans forward so Peter can see her face, lined with worry.

“Hey, baby. You doing okay down there?”

“Mhmm” he groans in lieu of a proper response, eyes fluttering shut. May and Tony are both here and he instantly feels more at ease. That is, until there’s another tug at his torso.

“What’re you doin’ t’me?” Peter slurs, words sitting heavy on his tongue.

“I need to tie off the sutures, stay still a minute, kid.”

“Like st’tches?” Peter mumbles out blearily. “Why’re you givin’ me stitches?”

There’s a small intake of breath next to him. May’s hand stills in his hair.

"Do you remember what happened, Pete?”

It’s Tony’s voice now, growing slightly louder as he shifts around Happy to position himself next to May at Peter’s head, apparently deciding he’s needed more here than he is intensely watching Happy’s every move.

Peter thinks about the question. Does he remember what happened? He thinks he does. There was a birthday party and tiny horses. He remembers being in a barn. Tony was there. So was Morgan, for a little bit. And the guinea pig!

“Met a guinea pig.”

“You sure did,” Tony confirms, “right after you got shot and neglected to tell any of us.”

Peter goes silent. Oh yeah. That happened too. That probably explains the pain in his stomach.

“S’bad?”

From next to him, May’s nails resume their gentle scratching of Peter’s scalp. “We don’t think it will be fatal, sweetheart,” she says teasingly.

“Unfortunately,” Tony gripes.

Peter hums out a quiet reply, too lazy to verbalise his retort to Tony’s quip, but it’s drowned out by Happy’s surprised yelp. Peter sees the flash of white and ginger disappear past Happy’s legs and under the couch.

“Please make sure you keep an eye on him, Morgan,” Pepper warns tiredly. Peter looks up towards Tony in question.

“‘s that…?”

“The guinea pig you so lovingly bled all over and then tried to hand to your little sister? It is indeed. The one and only.” Tony pauses and gives Peter a chance to process his words. Peter’s transfixed watching Morgan crawl around on her hands and knees, trying to locate the guinea pig under the couch. “You’re lucky the ASPCA was trying to find homes for them, Pete, or you would have had a very disappointed little girl on your hands.”

Peter buries his head into the fabric of one of the cushions. He probably should have thought that through a little bit more.

“M’sorry. I was kinda out of it.”

Tony huffs out an amused laugh. “You don’t need to tell me, bud. I could work that out by myself, funnily enough.”

 

“Morgan, would you mind keeping it out from under the couch?” Happy asks a few minutes later, as the guinea pig darts back under the furniture. He sounds tired. Peter imagines that they might’ve had this particular argument a few times while he was out cold.

“His name isn’t it. His name is Stitch,” she corrects Happy sternly.

Peter is mildly surprised at the name, honestly. Morgan’s Lilo and Stitch phase was five months ago. He's almost certain that right now she’s in the midst of a Trolls phase - but then again he hasn’t watched cartoons with her for a couple of weeks so he can’t be entirely sure.

“We should get him a friend and call it Lilo,” Peter suggests tiredly. Tony is quick to shoot him a warning glare as if to say, one is enough.

Morgan shakes her head at Peter. “Not because of Lilo and Stitch! Because you have lots of stitches! We can match. You have four stitches and I have one Stitch!”

May snorts and Peter looks up again just in time to see Tony’s face crumple into one of complete resignation.

Peter almost feels bad for causing all of this.

Only almost, though. Because really, it’s also just way too funny.

And also, he was shot.

He figures he deserves this guinea pig. And if he wants to give it to Morgan to really make her birthday the best ever, then what can he say?

He’s just a really good brother.

 


 

Pepper piles everyone into the car for a trip to Petco first thing the next morning.

Tony grumbles about it the entire way there.

“Gerald is enough work, will someone tell me why we need a rodent as well?”

“Hey, just by the way, who’s really going to be looking after the thing? Oh yeah. Me.”

“Pete, are you sure you don’t feel like being kept awake all night by a guinea pig in your room? He’s welcome to stay with you, you know. I really mean that.”

And yet, despite all of Tony’s half-hearted complaints, it comes as absolutely no surprise to any of them that as soon as they set foot in the pet shop, Tony is the one insisting that Stitch needs everything.

Once they get to the checkout, Pepper’s basket is full of practical things like pellets, hutch cleaner and a hay-rack.

Tony’s contains a bright purple fleece pet bed, a carrot-shaped chew toy, a log hideaway tunnel, and at least four different varieties of treats and mineral chews. Peter even thinks he spots a guinea-pig sized harness somewhere in the mix.

Tony simply waves it off when any of them ask and declares, “if Stitch is going to be a Stark then he’s got to do it in style.”

 


 

By the time the Starks’ are ready to embark on their trip back to the cabin, the back of the car is full of birthday presents and Petco bags. There’s a wooden hutch in there as well, ready to be assembled. Tony has already informed Peter that when he’s up next weekend, they’re dedicating the entire Saturday to building a guinea pig hutch that will blow the basic Petco one out of the water.

Peter steps out into the parking garage not long before they’re due to depart, carrying Morgan’s backpack out to the car when he spots Tony standing by the backseat. Getting a little closer, he can see that Tony’s unzipped the pet carrier and he’s peering into it, stroking Stitch gently.

“I knew it would only take you like a day to fall in love with him,” Peter says, teasing lightly as he makes his presence known.

Tony startles slightly, withdrawing his hand.

“I’m just getting acquainted. God knows I’m going to have to spend a lot of time with this rodent.”

“You love him.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far.”

Peter grins and drops Morgan’s bag into the open trunk, electing to stop winding Tony up.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t catch the way that before Tony zips up the carry cage, he leans in again to give Stitch one last stroke on his tiny furry head.