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you held your pride like you should have held me

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“What’s our game plan for tonight?”

“Our what?”

“Our game plan.”

“Kid, I don’t think I’ve ever had a game plan in my life,” Tony says as he tips blueberries into the blender. “I kind of just… do.”

He looks up towards where Peter is perched on the benchtop, letting himself be distracted for a moment. Almost the entire punnet of blueberries ends up in the blender and he curses, reaching in to scoop a handful back out.

“I was talking to FRIDAY earlier-”

“Oh, were you now?”

Peter nods his head, completely ignoring Tony’s snark. He’s learned to let it all roll off his back by now. “Yeah, she was telling me all about the guys we’re going after and well, I was thinking that since I’ve seen Chitauri tech up close and all - not that you haven’t, with the whole New York thing-” Peter cuts his ramblings off, stopping short when he realises that was probably the wrong thing to bring up. Tony’s leaning up against the bench, watching him carefully. His face remains carefully schooled, but Peter’s quick enough to catch the slight wince that flashes across his face for a second. The two of them don’t really talk about New York. That day was distressing enough for Peter, being separated from May and Ben in the midst of the panic, let alone for Tony who flew a literal nuke through a hole in space. “I, uh, anyway,” Peter resumes awkwardly, “what I mean is since I’ve seen what they do with the weapons, surely that means I should go in first and scope out the-”

Tony turns around. “No.”

Before Peter can open his mouth to speak again, Tony switches the blender on, the room filling with noise.

Okay. Rude.

“What do you mean, no?” Peter asks as soon as Tony turns the blender off again. Tony turns to him, a tired expression settled into the lines on his face like he’s been expecting this argument.

“When I said you could come along, I meant to get a feel for what’s going on. Get a little bit of field experience under your belt. But from a distance. I don’t want you in the middle of anything.”

Peter tries to school his features into a neutral expression and not let them fall into the petulant frown he can feel coming on. “How is it field experience if I’m stuck outside the whole time?”

Tony’s been hesitant about letting Peter come along on these types of things, so when he finally agreed to let Peter tag along with him and Rhodey to bust an illegal Chitauri weapons ring, this wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. He can be useful, he knows he can - especially since he’s seen these weapons up close, he knows what they can do.

“You gotta learn teamwork, kid. We always need someone out there watching our six.”

Tony turns to get a couple of glasses out of the cabinet above him. Peter slips off the counter and steps closer to him. “But I can do more than that! I'm practically an Avenger!”

“An honorary one at most, maybe. More like the team mascot.”

Peter frowns. “You did offer me a place on the team, you know, just in case you forgot.”

Tony tenses almost imperceptibly. “Yes, we are forgetting. That was irresponsible of me and I’ve since retracted said offer. My terms are that once you finish high school, then we’ll talk Avengers. You know this, Pete.”

Peter sighs. He knows that Tony worries. The older man is still meticulous about making sure he picks up Peter’s every phone call and insisting that he pops into the tower to check-in after each patrol (okay, maybe that one only came about after Peter tried to hide a broken arm for a couple of days but he really did have it all handled), even though it’s almost been a year since Toomes.

They’re closer now. Peter always thought the closer they got the more trust Tony would have in him.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m not qualified to save the world until high school has provided me with the necessary skills, like reciting the entirety of Shakespeare’s discography and knowing how to list everything in my backpack in Spanish, got it,” Peter grumbles.

“Did you just refer to Shakespeare’s plays as his discography?” Tony looks incredulous, his eyes widening almost comically, but Peter just groans again, tipping his head back in frustration.

“Of course that’s all you got from that. I was trying to show you that high school is pointless in the grand scheme of things, Mister Stark. I could be useful! You know I could.”

“It’s the principle of the thing, Pete. You finish school, get the piece of paper and let me take at least a dozen photos of you wearing one of those stupid-looking graduation caps. That’s my price for putting in a good word for you with the Avengers.”

“You basically are the Avengers.”

“I’m sure the others would be very offended to hear you say that.”

Peter shrugs, unbothered. Tony takes a moment to turn around and divide the smoothie up between the two glasses before speaking again. “Look, I’m going to be totally honest with you right now, okay Pete? This is something that Rhodey and I are doing for SHIELD, and-”

“You can’t not let me come,” Peter interjects. It’s taken him months of wheedling to convince Tony that he’s finally ready for the big stuff. Peter twists a few fingers into the fabric of his hoodie, suddenly nervous that Tony might change his mind completely.

Tony sighs. “I’m not going back on my word. I just don’t want you involved with SHIELD before you have to be. Which means for a little while, you’ve just gotta lay low and watch and learn. I need you to trust me on this one.”

Peter knows that it’s time to drop it as soon as he sees the pleading look on Tony’s face - pleading with Peter to just listen to him. He gives Tony a small smile. Tonight, he’ll just have to try and show Tony that he can be useful. That he can listen to directions. That he’s worth keeping around.

“Plus, if I let you get hurt May will probably kick my ass all the way from, where is she with her college buddies this weekend? Ohio?”

“Oregon, Mister Stark,” Peter corrects.

“Exactly. That’s what I meant. Now drink up,” Tony says, pressing a smoothie into Peter’s hands. All the purple from the blueberries has been lost in amongst the green from the spinach and kale that Tony undoubtedly shoved in there when Peter wasn’t looking. It’s disappointingly healthy-looking. “Oh, don’t look at it like that,” Tony chastises good-naturedly. “You need your energy for tonight.”

“I’m not even doing anything but sitting there.”

“You’re gonna keep an eye out. That’s an important job, kiddo. Real high stakes.”

“Oh, sure.”

“Just count your blessings it’s not a school night, otherwise your ass would be doing nothing apart from sitting at home.”

“Have I ever told you that you’re the lamest person on the planet?”

 


 

“And you’re both totally sure you don’t want me to come in with you?”

Tony shoots Peter a sharp glance. Peter thinks he hears Rhodey stifling a laugh.

“We’re sure,” Tony says firmly.

Night has fallen to give them a cover of darkness as they stand in front of the warehouse. In Peter’s opinion, he’s not sure it looks particularly like a dangerous criminal hideout. This whole place looks like nothing more than a regular old warehouse district, the type that you would never look twice at when driving by on the highway.

“We shouldn’t be any longer than half an hour, kid,” Tony promises. He eyes the run-down looking side door they’re standing in front of. “All we have to do is get the weapons out of here, and I don’t think we have a whole lot of security to contend with.”

As if proving his point, he takes aim at the rusty lock and chain over the door and blasts it with his repulsor. The whole thing unravels and falls to the ground with a dull clunk.

“I was right. As usual.”

Rhodey rolls his eyes, but his military instincts keep his eyes trained firmly on the door, watching in case something - or rather, someone - that they’re not expecting comes to greet them. Tony, on the other hand, is much more relaxed.

He turns to face Peter, “You know what to do?” he asks.

“Yep. Watch the perimeter. Tell you straight away if I see anything sketchy,” Peter answers, repeating what Tony drilled into him on the way here.

“And?” Tony prompts. Peter groans.

“Stay out of trouble.”

“That’s right,” Tony nods, satisfied. “We’ll see you soon.”

“Be careful,” Peter says after them, “and good luck!”

Tony shoots him a cocky grin. “Always, kid. And keep your luck, I don’t need it. Never have. I’m Tony St-”

“Get your ass in here, Tony,” Rhodey calls over his shoulder, voice echoing from where he’s already disappeared into the warehouse. Tony’s smile widens and he turns away from Peter, ducking through the doorway.

Peter watches them as they disappear into the darkness of the building. The door creaks shut slowly behind them, and for a split second, he considers following after them. They won’t notice, especially if he’s as quiet as possible. Plus, if he manages to take down a few of the arms dealers then Tony could never be mad at him for not listening. It would be awesome.

He lets himself revel in the glory of his daydream for a moment longer before he shakes himself out of it. He’s being stupid. He knows what his mission is. It’s to keep watch - nothing else.

He shoots a web up towards the roof of the building before he can change his mind and swings himself up.

 


 

Peter tries his hardest to patrol diligently for the first thirty minutes.

He paces the roof back and forth, watching out for any suspicious activity, but the warehouse district remains empty. The most exciting thing he sees is a racoon walking along the fence line. He jumps to alert at one point as a metallic sound catches in the wind and echoes through the night, but it just turns out to be a stray soda can being blown across the concrete.

A small part of him almost hopes that a nefarious looking figure slinks out of the shadows and tries to take their raid down just so that he can do something. How is he ever going to impress Tony if all he can say he’s done is hang out on a rooftop and watch cars go past on the Long Island Expressway?

 


 

After forty-five minutes, it all starts to get a bit dull. He’s not sure what’s taking Tony and Rhodey so long.

He tried to count the cars whizzing by on the expressway briefly, but all the bright lights gave him a headache after a while. He practised a few of the new web-shooter combinations that he and Tony dreamt up last week, and then once there’s webbing sprayed across a section of the roof he spends a good ten minutes with solvent trying to dissolve it all just to give him something else to do. 

Now, he’s resorted to having Karen help him practice for his Spanish quiz on Friday just to pass the time.

“How would you describe your family, Peter?” Karen asks him. Peter kicks at a bit of gravel mindlessly as he walks along the roofline, thinking.

“Uh,” Peter pauses, “Mi familia es pequeña. Mi tia se llama May. Mi tía es muy… amable? La quiero mucho.”

“That’s right, Peter,” Karen praises, but he’s startled out of his practice by his comms crackling to life in his ear for the first time tonight.

“Peter?” It’s not just Tony checking in like Peter guessed it might be, but Rhodey instead. His voice is tense and Peter’s on alert immediately. “Come in, Peter. Are you still outside? We-”

“Of course I’m still here, ” Peter rushes out, almost offended that they thought he might ditch. “I’m on the roof. What’s happening?”

“We need you to get down here.”

Peter pauses. Is this a trick? Some kind of test? They told him to stay out here, to keep watch. But Tony wouldn’t do this to him, surely?

“But, Mister Stark said-”

“Tony is not in a position to be calling the shots right now,” Rhodey says firmly.

“Is he-”

Peter. Please,” Rhodey says, more steel in his voice than Peter has ever heard from the man. “Just get in here.”

Okay. No more questions.

He can do that.

“Got it.”

Peter vaults off the roof, jogging around to where he vaguely remembers the entrance being. Anxiety buzzes through him. Tony is not in a position to be calling the shots right now. What does that even mean? Peter’s brain runs away from him before he can help it. What if Tony’s been hurt? Images of him lying on the ground, bleeding and broken, flash through his mind but he tries to shove them down as he heads inside.

The warehouse is just a series of vast empty rooms, high ceiling and rickety walls which don’t look very structurally sound. Peter makes his way through a few of them, each one just as deserted as the last. He can hear hushed voices though, Tony and Rhodey, so he follows the sound.

They’re arguing, Peter realises when he steps into the room. They’re backed into a corner, neither of them looking in his direction. Rhodey’s back is turned and Peter can only just catch a glimpse of Tony from over his shoulder. He looks like he’s standing upright, which instantly lays some of Peter’s anxieties to rest.

“I’ll burn you if I repulsor it off,” Rhodey hisses. “Just wait for Peter to get here.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on that. Peter shouldn’t even be here in the first place, you know he’s safer outside where-”

“He was on the roof, Tony. He would have been just as screwed as you and me.”

“Uh, hey, guys?” Peter says cautiously. As he makes his presence known, he sees Tony’s eyes whip up towards him, face paling significantly at the sight of him. “What’s going on?”

Peter isn’t exactly sure what he was expecting to find when he was called in - but as Rhodey sidesteps slightly, finally giving Peter a proper view of Tony, he realises it definitely wasn’t the Iron Man suit in a heap of metal on the floor, and Tony handcuffed to a drainpipe.

What the fuck?

He hurries over to their sides, trying not to feel sick at the sight of the thick metal clamped around Tony’s left wrist. He can’t stop staring at it though. For someone who apparently never needs a game plan, Peter’s pretty sure this wasn’t how Tony intended the night to go.

“How did this happen?” Peter blurts out before he can stop himself.

“That’s not important right now. You can’t be here.” Tony turns to Rhodey. “I told you, he can’t be here. I need you out of here, Peter, please.” The panic in Tony’s voice sends an uncomfortable shiver down Peter’s spine, despite how dramatic it feels. He’s not that incapable - he’ll be fine.

“Is anyone still here? Do you need me to go after anyone? Who chained you up? How did they even do that to the suit? What-”

Peter,” Tony cuts him off sharply.

“You can't just expect me to walk in here and be totally cool with the fact that the suit is smashed up and you're chained to a wall,” Peter stresses, voice pitching slightly higher with confusion and maybe just a little bit of hysteria.

Tony huffs out a frustrated sigh. “Look, there a few of the guys running this place were still hanging around when we got in here. I split off from Rhodey and they caught up with me before I could even get a goddamn look at what sort of operation they’ve got going on. They told me to get out of the suit-”

“And you did?” Peter interrupts Tony incredulously, looking towards Tony. He never parts with his suits on missions like these, never.

“They had weapons - all their Chitauri shit would have fried the suit in a second - in fact it did,” Tony snaps, gesturing with his single unchained hand to the pile of charred metal. “It’s not exactly like I had a choice. And then they chained me up here while they made a getaway with all the illegal weapons we were supposed to be getting out of their hands.” Tony’s face crumples into one of defeat. “There you go. You’ve had your story. It's time for you to run along and put yourself to bed. Rhodey and I have got this handled, trust me.”

“Yeah, except you left out the part about the present our charming friends left us,” Rhodey deadpans. “We’re wasting time here, Tony. We just need Peter to give it a crack and then we’re out of here.”

God, there are so many things for Peter to unpack right there in that sentence. He focuses on the first thing that caught his attention, that makes foreboding simmer in his gut. “A present?”

Peter follows Rhodey’s eyes towards the centre of the room, noticing something that he hadn’t seen when he first walked in. It looks like a hunk of metal at first glance, a mess of wires snaking across the surface. It’s emitting an uneasy blue glow with Peter instantly recognises as Chitauri, the timer strapped to it flashing in the same hue.

It’s a bomb.

Tony’s earlier panic suddenly seems a lot less like dramatics and more so grounded in a situation that, in Peter’s mind, has grown very serious very quickly. He watches the numbers tick down.

3:03… 3:02… 3:01

Three minutes.

“Can’t we just... move it?” Peter asks. The suggestion sounds sort of stupid even to him because surely that would have been the first thing they thought of - but three minutes is more than enough time to get it far away enough that when it detonates, none of them will be in the hot zone.

Rhodey shakes his head grimly. “There’s no way to tell whether it’s rigged to blow if it’s moved. It’s not worth the risk.”

“What do you need me to do then?” Peter asks, suddenly hyper-aware that their time is dwindling with every second that ticks by.

“He doesn’t need to do anything,” Tony growls. “I told you, just repulsor them.”

“I’ll burn your damn hand off, Tony. I’m not doing that.” Rhodey turns to address Peter. “We just need you to try and pull the cuffs off. I couldn’t get it, but with your strength, if you can get them off then we’ll all be home free.”

No pressure then.

“I do not need Peter’s help, I need him to get the hell out of here,” Tony repeats. He sounds more frantic now but Peter just ignores him. Tony’s insane if he thinks he’s going to leave him here, cuffed in a room with an active bomb.

“Tony, you’re literally chained to a drainpipe. I don’t think we have any other options,” Rhodey says, before addressing Pete

“So I’m just your last resort? Jeez, thanks for the confidence boost guys, means a lot,” Peter mutters, joke falling flat as he takes a few steps closer to Tony, Rhodey moving out of the way to let him. Up close, Tony doesn’t look too banged up, or like he even put up a fight at all. The only sign of struggle at all is a pale bruise, just beginning to bloom underneath his right eye.

Two minutes.

Peter wraps one hand around Tony’s wrist - stomach twisting at the sight of blood from how furiously he’s been trying to get himself free - and the other around the chain of the cuffs. Tony eyes him warily. The only thing Peter can hear from this close up is Tony’s unsteady heartbeat and erratic breathing.

He yanks at the chain not yet quite daring to use his full strength out of fear of hurting Tony. It’s not enough. The cuffs don’t budge.

Peter tightens his grip on the metal. He pulls again, harder this time.

Still nothing.

“Tell me if I hurt you, okay?” Peter instructs Tony.

“You hurting me is the least of my worries right now,” Tony forces out.

Gritting his teeth, Peter channels as much of his strength into his arms as he can and he pulls and pulls and pulls.

Nothing. The chains don't budge or give even just a little. Peter’s not strong enough.

The realisation hits him like a freight train. He can’t do it.

“Vibranium,” Tony mutters darkly, “of fucking course.” The only metal Peter wouldn't be able to pull apart with his bare hands. Tony yanks at the cuffs as Peter steps back, guilty, embarrassed. The chain rattles against the metal of the pipe, echoing around the room.

There’s silence for a moment.

The resolve on Tony’s face breaks. He looks defeated, shaking his head to himself. He knows what’s coming for him. “I need you two to go. Now. Please. I’ll be fine, I promise.”

“We’re not leaving you.”

“Rhodey. James,” Tony’s voice is desperate now, pleading. “I need you to take Peter and go.”

The timer ticks over again.

One minute.

Peter makes a decision. The only one there is left to make.

Even in the suit, he knows that Rhodey can’t move as quickly as him, and Tony, well, he can’t move anywhere at the moment. It has to be him.

As Tony continues to plead with Rhodey, Peter makes a few tentative steps towards the device, holding his breath - Rhodey’s words echoing in his head. There’s no way to tell whether it’s rigged to blow if it’s moved.

Two more steps closer. The timer continues, numbers flashing threateningly up at Peter. Fifty-one seconds. Fifty-one seconds left of all the rest of their lives if he doesn’t act now.

Peter’s hands are shaking as painstakingly slowly, he leans down to place a hand on the outside of the device. It’s hot to the touch, but the timer just continues counting down. Nothing happens. Tentatively still, he scoops the device up towards his chest. It doesn’t explode. 

He’s got a bomb in his arms. His heart thunders against his ribcage.

“Just shoot the cuffs with it, you complete-”

“Uh, I think I’ve got a better idea,” Peter offers, “turns out it doesn’t explode if you move it.” Both Tony and Rhodey’s eyes widen, turning towards him. “I’ll see you guys in a minute.”

“Peter Benjamin Parker,” Tony gasps. “Don’t you dare. Put that down. Right now.” His voice shakes with pure fear in a way that cuts right to Peter’s core. He yanks against the cuffs again, this time in Peter’s direction.

The metal of the bomb is growing hotter in Peter’s arms. He shakes his head.

“Peter,” Tony grits out, "no, no, no." He’s shaking uncontrollably now - whether from fear or anger, Peter’s not sure - as he turns to Rhodey. “What the fuck are you doing, just standing there? Get that thing off him.”

Forty seconds.

Peter’s eyes widen. Without a second more hesitation, he turns on his heel.

There’s an anguished yell from behind him, the distinct rattling of metal Peter’s gotten so used to over the past few minutes. He wants so desperately to turn around and tell Tony that it’s okay, that he knows what he’s doing, that he’s just trying to protect him.

But he doesn't have time.

He sprints.

Peter was always the slowest kid in class at elementary school. His asthma never helped - all the times that he was doubled up after running a couple of laps of the track didn’t exactly earn him many status points.

Since the bite, that’s never been a problem. Now Peter has to play down his abilities in gym class. He doesn’t play them down right now though. He can’t afford to. His legs move rapidly beneath him as he weaves through the rooms he distantly remembers coming through on his way in here, feet pounding against the concrete.

He’s outside now. Night air fills his lungs as he gasps for air, desperate for enough oxygen to sustain him at this pace.

He needs to keep going.

Warehouses, ones that he distantly hopes are unused, blur past him. He’s not far away enough yet. He knows what damage these weapons can do, he’s seen them with his own eyes. Tony isn’t in the suit. He doesn’t want him to be hurt.

He’s got to do this.

He doesn’t know how much damage this thing will do when it goes off. He needs to keep running. Peter pushes harder, further.

Twelve seconds.

He slams to a halt in the middle of what looks like an empty parking lot. Maybe companies used to keep trucks here. If they still do, they won’t for much longer anyway. Not as Peter lowers the bomb down onto the ground just as carefully as he picked it up. Six seconds flashes up at him.

He turns and runs.

Five.

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

The countdown in Peter’s head finishes. He’s early. For a split second, there’s silence. Blissful silence.

Then, it's shattered by the inevitable arriving with a sharp bang from behind him, piercing through the night air. It’s a horrifying, deafening sound, one that’s punctuated with the sound of splintering metal shooting outwards through the air. The heat from the vivid orange flames that dart up into the sky engulfs him.

The force hits him not even a split-second later. It knocks all the air out of his lungs, throwing him through the air.

The warehouse he can see in the distance, hazy through all the smoke and debris, is still intact.

If Mister Stark is okay then all of this is worth it - he’d do it a million times over.

He’s unconscious before he can even hit the ground.

 


 

“-Peter? Kid? You have to hang on, buddy. You think you can do that for me?”

A voice. It floats vaguely around Peter’s periphery but his ears are ringing and he can’t work out what they’re saying. He thinks maybe he recognises the voice. He tries to turn himself towards it but his whole body screams in protest at the movement.

It hurts. Everywhere hurts.

“God. No, no, no, don’t do this to me. Peter. Peter. I need you to stay with me, please.”

The voice sounds upset. There’s a hand holding his. He thinks he can feel it but he can’t squeeze back. He doesn’t have control of his body.

He’s in pain.

Everything is on fire.

He doesn’t want to stay. Not here. He slips back into the darkness.

There’s no agony in the darkness.

 


 

Peter’s head is throbbing when he wakes again, every muscle in his body aching. He cracks his eyes open to try and figure out where he is, what’s happening, but the bright light that slips through his eyelids feels like it’s burning straight into his skull. He whines, burrowing into the pillows behind him as though that will allow him to escape it.

His head is pounding. Why is it pounding?

He lets his eyes slip shut again to alleviate some of the relentless pain and tries to sort through his muddled thoughts. He casts his mind back as far as he can.

The illegal weapons ring. The warehouse.

The drain pipe. The vibranium cuffs.

The decimated Iron Man suit.

The bomb.

Mister Stark.

Mister Stark.

Peter shoves himself upright suddenly, his ribs protesting and sending a sharp jolt of pain through his chest. Instinctively, he sucks in a gasp of air, but all that does is exacerbate the pain more. He’s hardly concentrating on that, though.

He’s in the MedBay, he realises. He recognises the white-washed rooms and sterile scent like the back of his hand by now.

Tony. He needs to find Tony.

His eyes dart around until they land on a blurry figure propped in a chair at his bedside. He blinks a few more times, his eyes finally adjusting to the light.

Relief. Some of Peter's panic eases. It’s Tony.

It’s not an uncommon sight, Tony at his bedside. It’s almost concerning, maybe, the fact that Peter wakes up in these situations so often that he’s no longer fazed by it. What is unusual is the fact that Tony isn’t looking at Peter. His eyes are glazed over slightly, focused down on where he’s picking at the corner of a stark white bandage on his wrist - his left wrist, the one that had been cuffed, Peter realises in his hazy mind. The image of Tony chained to that drain pipe, skin bloodied from the way he’d been yanking at those cuffs, works its way to the front of his mind and burns itself there.

“M’ster Stark?” Peter struggles to raise his voice to anything above a rasp. At the sound, Tony looks up, snapping out of whatever daze he was in. His expression is impassive, but there’s something brewing behind it that Peter can’t quite work out.

“You’re awake,” he says simply. There’s no fussing. No rearranging of the pillows, or gentle one-armed hugs or are you okay?’s

He just reaches for the call button on the bedside table instead.

Peter’s still struggling to connect himself with reality, but the feeling that something isn’t right floods through him. He’s slightly less blinded by the sharp ache of pain now, so when he Peter looks at Tony, he sees things he didn’t notice before. He sees how tightly hunched his shoulders are, the deep lines in his face - only exacerbated by the harsh overhead lighting, eyebrows furrowed, drawn into a scowl.

But he’s okay. He’s breathing.

He’s alive.

Peter opens his mouth to say something - what exactly, he’s not sure - but he’s cut off by a voice that disappointingly, isn’t Tony’s.

Peter and Tony glance up at the same time to see Bruce passing through the doorway and crossing the room to Peter’s bedside. “Good to see you awake, Peter.” Bruce places a gentle hand on Peter’s shoulder, and Peter realises that he’s still hovering at the same awkward angle he had been when he shot up to look for Tony. He lets Bruce push him back towards the pillows behind him. A tiny breath of relief puffs past his lips when the pressure is taken off his aching chest. “You gave all of us a pretty nasty scare.”

All of us. That must include Tony as well, who has returned to resolutely not looking at Peter.

“I, uh, I didn’t mean to,” Peter croaks out. His throat is horribly dry, but Bruce seems to be prepared because he pushes a glass of water into his hands. Peter grips it carefully, trying his best not to let his hands shake - with what he’s not sure. Anxiety? Pain? Leftover adrenaline? He tucks the straw in-between his lips and takes a sip just to try and alleviate some of the awkwardness he feels, not saying a word and pretending not to see the probing looks Bruce is sending Tony’s way.

“It’s okay. I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected when it comes to you, Peter,” Bruce tells him. Peter watches warily at the way Bruce’s eyes flit between him and Tony. He feels like there’s something unspoken going on that he hasn’t been let in on.

“How long have I been out for?” Peter asks, suddenly noticing the light filtering in through the darkened windows.

“About fourteen hours,” Bruce tells him. “It gave your healing a chance to give everything a good crack. It’s three-thirty on Saturday afternoon.”

Peter swallows. The last he remembers clearly is the panic etched so deeply onto Tony’s face as he sprinted from that warehouse, bomb cradled in his arms. Everything after that is a bit of a blur, a haze of freezing night air and the darkened sky above him and then fire, the reverberation of the bang, being tosses backwards like he weighed nothing - like he was nothing. That’s what people are to those kinds of weapons. Destructible. Nothing.

Peter couldn’t have let it go off anywhere near Tony. That was never even an option.

“Mister Stark, I really wasn’t trying to-”

Tony shakes his head, the movement sharp and jerky. “Just let Bruce do his job, Peter.” Peter barely recognises the tone. It’s not warm, or smooth and reassuring, the one that he’s gradually taken on as he spends more and more time at Peter’s side. This is cold and impersonal, the type of tone that makes a shiver run down Peter’s spine involuntarily. He hates it immediately.

Bruce shoots Tony a confused look, “It’s okay, I can focus just fine with you jabbering on. I’m used to dealing with the two of you.”

Tony doesn’t budge, just giving another shake of his head. “We’ll talk afterwards,” Tony says, letting himself sink back into the chair again instead of sitting ramrod straight. The movement is less relieved and more defeated. Exhausted. Worn down.

Bruce looks taken aback for a second before he regains his composure and focuses his attention back on Peter. “Are you in any pain?” he asks, feeling around Peter’s ribs. He’s gentle, but Peter flinches back anyway as he brushes over a particularly tender spot.

Out of the corner of his eye, Peter sees Tony’s eyes dart up to fix on him at the movement. Concern flashes across his face but it’s gone as quickly as it came. By the time Peter can turn his head to catch Tony’s eye properly, the man is staring out the window, stony expression set back in place.

The knot of discomfort in Peter’s stomach grows.

“I see your healing hasn’t quite gotten the whole way there yet,” Bruce hums. “You broke five of your ribs,” he explains when he sees Peter’s thinly-veiled quizzical look. “A few second-degree burns on your arms. You’ve got a pretty nasty head wound as well, but with a few stitches, it will be as good as new in no time. You’re lucky that’s all it is. It looks like you took a pretty big hit when you landed.”

Peter winces, noticing for the first time the thick white bandages covering his upper arms. He’s used to this, listening to Bruce reel off a laundry list of injuries that he’s had to tend to for him. But this seems bad - even for him. He reaches up for the back of his head, feeling around. His fingertips brush over the stitches and he hisses before Bruce can wrap a hand around his wrist gently to tug him away.

“Is it bad?” he mumbles.

Tony scoffs almost inaudibly at the question. Bruce just gives him a softened smile. “Nothing a few days in bed won’t let your healing take care of.”

“A few days? But I feel-”

“Don’t argue with him,” Tony mutters, speaking up again.

That’s more than enough to shut Peter up. He bites down on his bottom lip, chewing on it anxiously as Bruce bustles around Peter for a few more minutes. He gives Peter another dose of pain meds when even shifting against the pillows makes the angry aching in his ribs flare-up, makes sure that he’s got enough liquids to keep him hydrated and checks all of his vitals once more.

“Are you going to be okay if I leave you to it?” Bruce asks once he’s finished. He’s looking directly at Peter but before Peter can even open his mouth to answer, Tony nods stiffly.

“We’re fine.”

Bruce glances back at Peter, conflicted, but Peter keeps his mouth shut. He needs to grow a pair and just explain himself to Tony.

As Bruce closes the door behind him, Peter realises all of a sudden that he actually would have quite liked Bruce to stay. Especially as Tony turns to him properly for the first time since Peter’s woken up. His face is still set firmly, emotionless, but there’s a new fury that’s been let loose, burning behind his eyes.

Peter can only hold eye-contact for a few moments before he ducks his eyes away. Neither of them speaks for a minute.

“Care to tell me what the hell you were thinking?” Tony asks lowly.

Peter looks up again cautiously. “The bomb... I, I had to get it out of there.”

“And you had to do that by running out of there with it like a football?”

“I didn’t mean to get hurt, or get in the way, I promise,” Peter rushes out quickly, trying to make Tony understand. “But you were stuck and that thing was going to go off and I know I’m faster than Rhodey in the suit, it had to be me, it had to.” Peter watches as Tony sucks in a sharp breath at his words. “I was just trying to be helpful.”

Trying to be helpful?” Tony repeats incredulously. “Is it lost on you how completely reckless you were? I don’t give a damn about what you were trying to do, not when your own actions end with you in a hospital bed,” Tony growls. “Do you know that Rhodey had to be the one to come out and find you splayed out on the concrete like a fucking ragdoll after the bomb you were carrying imploded in your arms? Or that I had to sit there, holding your hand wondering if you were about to die on me in the back of a medevac, of all places? Does any of that even matter to you?” Tony stops and sighs, burying his head in his hands for the briefest of moments. Peter wonders what he’s trying to conceal. “God, Peter. I just wish you’d put the tiniest bit of value on your own fucking life for once.”

“Of course it matters. I care about my own life” - just maybe not more than yours. Maybe I’d rather die protecting you than live with the guilt of not being able to save you - “and I was careful, I promise.”

“I don’t care how careful you were, Peter. My problem is with the fact that you picked up the damn thing in the first place. It’s the first rule of bomb safety. You don’t touch it. Ever.”

“I was never taught bomb safety,” Peter mutters, for no real reason apart from the small spark of satisfaction of talking back. He can feel his hackles rising a little as he’s dismissed so carelessly. He was just trying to help. That thing would have blown Tony to pieces.

“You shouldn’t need a fucking SHIELD standard bomb safety course to know not to pick up an active bomb and run with it. What if the bomb had gone off when you picked it up, huh? How did you know that wasn’t going to happen? Then all of us would have been done for. Even if we’d somehow survived the blast, the building would have collapsed on us. Did you think of any of this?” Tony accuses as if he thinks that in that moment, Peter had room for any other thoughts in his mind apart from the constant chant of, keep Mister Stark safe, keep Mister Stark safe, keep Mister Stark safe.

“I had to take that risk!” Peter snaps, voice raised as he loses his cool slightly. “I saved your life.”

Tony’s stare hardens. “Yeah, and nearly ended your goddamn own. This isn’t a trade-off. It wasn’t your call to make.”

“You would have done the same thing to protect me,” Peter points out. Tony just seethes at the statement, shoving his chair out backwards to stand, suddenly towering taller over Peter.

“I don’t give a flying fuck about what you think I would have done. You are not me.” Tony paces, back and forth at the foot of Peter’s bed, releasing some sort of frustrated tension that’s emanating off of him. “I let you come along because I thought I could trust you to listen to me, Peter.”

I thought I could trust you.

The words hit Peter harder than anything else. Tony can trust him. He wasn’t purposefully trying to go against orders. He was trying to save his life.

“You would have died,” Peter says, the words soft as he struggles to force them out. All his anger has disappeared now, replaced with the memory of fear pulsing through him as he remembers what went down in the warehouse. Tony would without a doubt been blown apart if someone hadn’t gotten that bomb out of there. He really, really doesn’t want to think about that. “I don’t know what I would have done if you-”

Tony shakes his head, dismissing Peter’s weak attempt at building bridges between them before he could really even say what he needs to. The movement is sharp enough that Peter’s mouth snaps shut, words dying on his tongue.

“You’re a kid, Peter," Tony thunders, the word kid flying out of his mouth with more vitriol than Peter has ever heard it from him. He’s used to the word escaping Tony’s lips when they’re pulled in a warm smile, reserved just for him. It’s not like that today. It’s the furthest away it could possibly get. “I don’t need your help. I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself. I thought you’d be able to work that out for yourself but apparently I have to spell a few things out for you. You’re not an Avenger. I just want you to survive goddamn high school - and it seems like even that’s too much to ask of you.”

Peter can feel tears burning in his eyes but he blinks them away desperately, willing himself to not let them spill down his cheeks. He’s already being spoken to like a child, he doesn’t need to give Tony any more reason to believe that he’s nothing more than that.

“I think you’re being a bit harsh, Tony,” a new voice says firmly.

Tony, clearly having been so engrossed in his tirade, jerks around to face the door. Rhodey is standing in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. Tony’s scowl just deepens.

“Shut it, Rhodes,” Tony snaps. “If he can handle a live bomb then I think he can handle hearing the truth.”

“You’re not going to do this. Not right now. Peter’s hurt.”

A ghost of something unreadable crosses Tony’s face. A tiny bit of the fight eeks out of his posture and his shoulders slump. His voice still has the same hard edge to it though, as he says, “I’m very aware of that, funnily enough.”

Rhodey steps forward and wraps a firm hand around Tony’s elbow, despite the protests, and all but hauls him from the room. He halts in the doorway and turns around for a second. Peter eyes him hesitantly. “It’s good to see you awake, Peter,” he says. It’s solemn but genuine.

Peter nods. He doesn’t know what to say. He’s run out of words. The two of them disappear out the door, leaving Peter alone.

Peter thinks he’d rather have just stayed asleep. At least this way the ache of his bones wouldn’t be competing with the void of regret growing inside of him.

He was just trying to protect Tony - but now all Tony sees him as is an incapable kid, and worse than that, someone that he can’t even trust.

 


 

The room stays empty all afternoon.

Maybe a little naively, Peter keeps waiting for Tony to reappear.

He doesn’t.

The closest he gets to any affection is from Bruce, who gives him a comforting squeeze on the shoulder as he ups his dose of painkillers before he goes to sleep.

Tony doesn’t come in to say goodnight either. FRIDAY tells him that Tony is still awake. She asks Peter if he’d like her to tell Tony that he’s asking for him.

Peter shakes his head, curling up under the blankets. “I, uh, no, no thank you, FRIDAY. I’m okay. Totally fine.”

He goes to sleep trying to believe his own words.

 


 

By the next morning, Peter’s head has stopped giving him grief completely, and according to Bruce, the stitches have dissolved. The burns are on their way to healing as well. The pain in his ribs is the only thing he’s really still contending with but he’s still not allowed to leave the MedBay.

Bruce hangs around for a while, listening to Peter’s weak arguments about how he feels great and how he’s sure that he’ll be totally fine if Bruce would just discharge him to go home. Tony must have told Bruce that May is away for the weekend because that particular request gets shot down extremely quickly.

After all, Peter knows Bruce doesn’t believe a single word that he’s saying, and isn't even considering his arguments for a second - but he’s indulging him anyway. It’s his way of keeping him company, at least for a little while, without making Peter feel pitied. It’s nice.

Especially since it’s the only human contact he gets for the morning - if you don’t count FRIDAY. He spends the rest of the morning scrolling aimlessly through his phone, chatting to her. Peter thinks maybe he can count her as human contact. She’s always felt real enough to him anyway, such a source of comfort in times like these that it almost feels like an insult to think of her as any less.

By the time the afternoon rolls around, Peter tells himself that he hasn’t just spent the entire morning tentatively hoping for a visit from Tony.

He was stupid to even think about it. Of course, he was never going to show. Peter learnt that yesterday.

 


 

A few hours later, as Peter’s making his way down his Instagram feed for what feels like the hundredth time today to try and keep his mind off everything, there’s a voice in the doorway.

“Hey, kid.”

Peter’s head shoots up at the familiar words, hope blooming in his chest for a moment before his eyes meet the person’s in the doorway. Rhodey. The hope withers and dies.

He forces his lips into what feels like the barest shadow of a smile. He doesn’t know why he thought it might be Tony. Of course it isn’t him.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Unlike yesterday, where he appeared briefly to all but haul Tony out of the room, Rhodey appears to be intent on staying this time. He crosses from the doorway to Peter’s bedside and sinks into the chair that Tony had been occupying yesterday.

“How’re you doing?” he asks once he’s settled, watching Peter carefully like he’s trying to pick up on any tells. Peter attempts a smile again. If this was Tony he might be worried about his poor acting skills giving him away, but it’s not. As much as he likes Rhodey, he doesn’t know him like Tony.

(Not many people know him like Tony.)

Peter shrugs. His ribs have been aching all morning and he’s got a splitting headache that just won’t leave. It’s probably too much phone time. Tony would tell him to put it away and let his eyes rest if he was here.

“M’fine.”

“Did you sleep okay?”

As Peter shrugs again in answer, Rhodey seems to cotton on to the fact that Peter doesn’t feel much like talking about his ailments, so he changes his tack. Peter’s grateful - it means he doesn’t have to think too much about his own issues. He’s sick of feeling sorry for himself.

So they talk about nothing for a little while. Rhodey’s last deployment that Peter hasn’t caught up on. How Peter’s doing at school. What he’s been working on in the lab.

But eventually, Peter just can’t help himself. He chews on his lip for a second, before he bites the bullet and just hopes the answer isn’t something that he doesn’t want to hear. “I, uh, do you think Mister Stark might come down today? I get he’s probably super busy and, y’know, mad at me, but I just thought… maybe...”

Peter knows what the answer is going to be as soon as Rhodey’s facial expression folds into one of distinct regret. “Tony’s a little busy today, Pete,” he says, before pausing. Peter can tell he’s thinking on his feet, trying to cover for his friend. Peter curls further into the blankets he’s lying under. “He had a few meetings come up. You know how it is.”

That’s exactly the problem. Peter does know how it is - and it’s not like this, whatever this is. Tony will drop anything business-related in a second to take care of the people he loves. That’s who he is, Peter’s discovered, after months of texts and dropping by and late nights in the lab, chipping away at his walls.

Peter doesn’t know which is worse. Tony telling Rhodey to lie to him about where he is, or Tony actually deciding that meetings are higher on his priority list than Peter as he lies alone in the MedBay.

He hates me. He hates me. He hates me.

Rhodey obviously sees the look on his face that Peter’s trying so hard to hide because he sighs. “I’m sorry, I’m sure he’d be down here as soon as possible if he could.”

Liar. He wouldn’t. He doesn’t want to be anywhere near me.

“He hates me now, doesn’t he?” Peter asks, voice small and resigned. He doesn’t want to hear the answer, not really. Not when he’s pretty much already accepted that he knows what it will be. 

Rhodey’s eyes widen. He flounders for a second, looking lost. Peter’s once again reminded that he’s not Tony. Kid doesn’t sound the same when he says it. He doesn’t know how to settle Peter when anxiety wraps itself around his chest, all-consuming. He doesn’t know that a hand run through Peter’s hair will make him go soft and that if you scratch right behind his ear he’ll lean into the touch automatically. 

Tony knows all these things.

“Absolutely not, he doesn’t hate you,” Rhodey says, finding his voice. “He’s just busy, I-”

“I know you’re bullshitting,” Peter mumbles. He knows it’s rude. He knows he shouldn’t talk like that to Rhodey - Rhodey’s just trying to help, he’s here, which is more than anyone else. But he’s tired and sore and frustrated and god, he just wants someone here to love him. “He hates me. He does. Otherwise he'd be here."

“Tony could never hate you, Peter,” Rhodey says. “I’ll talk to him, okay? He’s just having a tough time.”

"All I was trying to do was help. He didn’t have the suit. Otherwise, he was going to… he could have…” Peter trails off, the words lodging themselves in his throat.

Rhodey doesn't seem to have an answer for this. He knows as well as Peter does what would have happened if Peter hadn't gotten that bomb out of there. The two of them fall into quiet.

Even still, Rhodey doesn’t budge from his bedside for an hour or so after that. It’s company, it’s something, but it’s not the same.

Peter will take what he can get.

 


 

May phones that night when he’s alone, again. The room is swathed in darkness, lit only by the glow of the TV. There’s an old rerun of Jeopardy! playing that he isn’t watching.

Peter shifts in bed, trying to make himself more comfortable as he answers her call. His chest aches as he props himself further up the pillows. Bruce has told him it’s totally normal to expect some discomfort as they heal but it’s been getting steadily worse all throughout the afternoon - maybe speaking to Rhodey took it out of him more than he thought. In the back of his mind, he reminds himself to call Bruce down for another dose of painkillers before he goes to sleep tonight.

He has FRIDAY put May on speakerphone. This way, her voice echoes around the room, filling the empty space that’s been threatening to suffocate him all evening.

He tries to ask her how her trip is going, but apparently, she’s not so interested in pleasantries tonight.

“You want to tell me why I had to wait for a call from Colonel Rhodes to let me know that my nephew is in hospital?”

Peter swallows. “Technically it’s just the MedBay,” he offers weakly.

May makes a slightly unimpressed sound at his answer. “Peter,” she says, “I’m serious. You can’t just, not tell me these things.”

“I dunno,” Peter says, shrugging even though she can’t see him. “I was going to eventually, I promise.”

(He does know why he didn’t tell her. She’s having a nice getaway with her friends. She doesn’t get many of those, not with Peter around. He doesn’t want to get in anyone else's way this weekend.)

“Is Tony okay? I was so worried about you I didn’t even think to ask, which I feel terrible about but-”

“He’s fine,” Peter interjects. “Totally fine. It was, uh, mainly just me.”

“Is he with you? Can I speak to him?”

Peter casts an eye around the room, almost like he’s looking for the man that he knows isn’t here - it just feels like he should be. Peter lying in the MedBay alone feels wrong. “He’s not, actually. Not right now.”

“He has been though, right?” May asks, though there’s no worry in her tone. She says it like a given. Like there’s nowhere else Tony would be rather than at Peter’s side, especially when she can’t be there herself. She trusts Tony to look after him.

He wonders whether she would understand that Tony can’t stand to be around him if he told her what happened.

“Yeah, he has been…” he says, hoping the uncertainty in his voice doesn’t give him away.

“Good. I'm looking forward to seeing both of you. I’ve booked the first flight home, I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon.”

Peter shoots upright, ribs twinging. “No, no,” he rushes out, suddenly feeling extremely guilty. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Oh hush,” May tuts, “I want to, don’t be silly.”

Peter opens his mouth to refute her again but he finds that he can’t. He wants her here. Now more than ever.

May keeps talking and Peter lies back and closes his eyes. If he tries hard enough, he can almost pretend that he’s lying sprawled out on the couch back in their apartment and May’s just in the kitchen, somewhere nearby where she could step over and give him a hug as soon as he broke and admitted that, god, he really needs one right now.

Only almost, though. Because the room still smells sterile rather than of May’s favourite cedarwood reed diffuser and the sheets underneath him are soft, too soft, so unlike the worn, slightly scratchy fabric of their own couch.

He lets himself drift off pretending anyway, clinging to the daydream of comfort.

 


 

By the time Peter’s let May’s voice lull him into a deep sleep, he’s completely forgotten that he didn’t call Bruce in for any more painkillers.

 


 

It’s dark when Peter wakes next, and he can barely breathe.

He has no idea what the time is. He can barely remember where he is.

All he knows is pain.

It burns from deep inside his chest, emanating everywhere, cutting right down to his bones. His breathing is coming in heavy, painful pants and every gulp of air he sucks in sends a jolt of pain through his ribs. He doesn’t know what’s going on - he’s still stuck in a half-asleep daze but he feels like he’s dying.

It hurts. It hurts. Everything hurts.

He screws his eyes shut. It wasn’t like he was seeing much anyway, his vision blurred with tears and the room spinning dangerously around him.

Someone whimpers. It’s whiny sounding, like a wounded animal. Peter hates it. He tucks his knees to his chest - more pain - and buries his head in his knees to try and block out the sound. It doesn’t work.

A few minutes later, still curled up in the same cramped position, still lost inside his world of pain, Peter’s hazy mind comes to the conclusion that it’s him whimpering.

Pathetic. Pathetic.

He needs his pain meds. He needs something to numb this, to numb everything. In the back of his mind, he distantly remembers that he needed to ask Bruce for more. He doesn’t think he did. Or at least, he doesn’t remember the man ever coming to administer them.

It’s your own fault, Peter.

Something else to add to the list.

He twists in agony as another strike of pain hits, his ribs flaring up again. He could ask FRIDAY to get Bruce for him. He knows that she’d wake him up. But he doesn’t want to disturb him. If he needed his meds he should have remembered to ask at a reasonable hour.

You’re already in everyone’s way. Mister Stark hates you. Bruce has been having to deal with you all the time.

Stop being a baby.

Mister Stark doesn’t want a kid on the team.

Prove it to them. Show them that you can be strong.

He tucks his limbs closer to his chest, curling up tighter. Everything hurts, and he can feel tears starting to burn in his eyes. He feels a few hot tears drip down his cheeks before he can contain them and he shifts a hand up to wipe them away.

“F-FRIDAY?” Peter starts, quietly. He stumbles over the word, voice hitching.

“Yes, Peter?” FRIDAY replies. Her voice is soothing, and Peter wants to lean into its familiarity.

"I..." Peter falls silent. He doesn’t know what he’s asking. He just wants.

 


 

Peter's not sure how much time has passed when he hears footfall outside his door. He thinks maybe he’s imagining it. The pain is ebbing now, rising and falling like the tide, returning every so often just to crash over him and drown him in it.

The door creaks open, a sliver of light falling across the room. Peter’s breath chokes in his throat

I’m fine. I’m fine, I’m fine.

Don’t make a sound. Don’t be a bother.

Don’t get in the way.

“Peter?”

That’s his name, spoken in such an unsure way and shielded behind a cold demeanour. Peter immediately knows exactly who it is. His breathing ratchets up because oh god, it’s Tony and he sounds exactly the same way as he did last time they spoke. Peter’s meant to be showing that he’s strong, that he’s capable. And yet here he is hyperventilating and trembling in pain under the covers. He stays as still as he can, eyes screwed shut. Maybe if he lies here for long enough, Tony might leave.

He doesn’t want Tony to leave - not really. But there must be some mistake. Tony can’t mean to be here. If he meant to be here, surely he would have been a whole lot earlier.

“Do you need something? FRIDAY said you were in pain.”

Oh. He doesn’t even mean to be here. FRIDAY called him down. Peter doesn’t remember asking FRIDAY to fetch him.

“Peter?” Tony questions when he doesn’t reply, voice now less hostile and laced with confusion.

Peter doesn't know what he needs. But he knows he wants someone to stay. 

“H’rts,” Peter mumbles before he can stop himself. “Please make it stop.”

And then before he can stop himself, he’s crying, embarrassing loud, ugly sobs because he’s so sore and so lonely and Tony is just there, only a few feet away and yet he feels so impossibly far away. He wants someone to hold his hand and push the strands of sweat-soaked hair off his forehead. He wants someone to tell him he’s going to be okay because right now all he knows is pain, burning through his veins, and he can’t see the way out.

He wants May. He wants Tony.

He wants someone to hold him.

Quiet footsteps tread towards his bedside. Peter doesn’t dare open his eyes.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Tony soothes, and the way he speaks so gently only makes Peter sob harder. It’s hard to breathe with the lump in his throat and crushing ache of his ribs. He gasps out without realising it, and then tries to quieten himself. Tony’s still there though. He hasn't left. Peter feels him lower a warm hand down onto his back, rubbing in circles gently.

“Shh. Breathe, Pete, you just gotta breathe. Do you think you could do that for me?”

Why is he being so nice? Suddenly, Peter wonders if he deserves it. He can’t even remember if he apologised to Tony.

“‘m sorry, I tried not to get in the way but it hurts,” Peter whines. He sounds pathetic but he can’t help it. “I can’t breathe. M’ster Stark, make it stop, make it stop, please.”

“You need to talk to me, buddy. What hurts?” Tony asks. His voice is quiet and reassuring. Peter likes this Tony better than angry Tony. He lets his eyes slip closed. “No, no, I need you to look at me. Just for a second, okay?”

Look at him? At Tony? Peter can do that, he thinks. He blinks his eyes open, eyelids heavy. He wants to close them again so badly, but Tony’s got this concerned look drawn all over his face while he’s looking at him, which Peter’s so confused about. The last time he saw Tony, the man had looked like he thought Peter was the worst person on the planet. Like he hated him.

Tony grabs the medicine chart off the clipboard above Peters’ bed and Peter watches through tear-blurred vision as he scans his eyes over it. “That'll do it. Your ribs are probably throwing a fit since you haven’t had any meds since midday, Pete, that was well over twelve hours ago” - Peter tries to do the math to figure out what time it is, what ungodly hour he’s dragged Tony out of bed to run around after his sorry ass, but his brain is too addled to figure it out - “didn’t Bruce dose you up before bed?” Tony asks. He knows the answer. He has the chart in front of him. Bruce is meticulous, he never forgets to tick these things off.

Peter gives a pitiful shake of his head, a barely noticeable movement. “M’fault. Didn’t ask.”

Tony sighs, biting down on his lip like he wants to get into it but he knows he can’t. Peter’s glad. He doesn’t have the energy for any of this. He feels like his brain is still trying to play catch up. Every time he blinks, Tony is still there when he opens his eyes, standing in front of him, concern pulling his face down in a frown.

“Well, I’m gonna dose you up now.”

“The good stuff?” Peter mumbles, turning his face into the pillow to try and hide a wince as another wave of pain arrives, lapping at his toes before surging forward to wash over him. Tony doesn’t miss it, and his movements grow hurried as he fumbles to pull out a dose of Peter’s pain meds.

His fingers are gentle as he takes Peter’s arm in his grip to keep it steady. Peter didn’t realise how badly he was still trembling - from the panic or pain he’s not sure. Tony slips the syringe into the IV catheter and plunges down slowly. Peter watches him lazily, eyes cracked open. He’s seen Tony do this so many times, hell, he’s even seen the man do it to himself. He trusts him.

“Yeah, bud, the real good stuff.”

The familiar sensation wraps Peter in its hold not long after. He lets his eyes flutter closed, but tries to blink them open again when he hears a voice above him. “Yeah, there we go… no, shhh, close your eyes.”

Peter does as he’s told because the voice is gentle and he trusts it. He doesn’t think it would lead him astray.

“There we go. Nice work, kiddo.”

The room floats away, but there’s a pressure against his scalp, a hand running through his hair, grounding him to reality. It’s nice. A much nicer reality than the one he was trapped before. That seems like such a long time ago. Maybe Peter dreamt it?

“‘m sorry I didn’t listen,” Peter mumbles out. He turns, pressing his face into the palm of Tony’s hand like a starved animal seeking out the barest scraps of physical attention. Tony curls his fingers gently, blunt nails scratching against the tufts of hair around Peter’s ear.

“You’re okay, bud, you’re okay. We can talk later when you’re not so loopy. Just try and get some sleep.”

Talk… later? What if Tony leaves again? What if there is no later? Peter wants to talk now. Ben always used to tell him that you should never go to bed angry and he and Tony have broken that rule the last two nights now - he doesn’t want to do it again. But whenever he tries to open his mouth, his tongue feels too heavy to force out any of the right words.

“Sleep?” Peter slurs out quietly.

Tony nods. “Yeah, all you need right now is a good night’s sleep. I’ll be right here in the morning,” he says, words soft and genuine. Peter believes them - but he makes sure anyway.

“Right h’re?”

Tony nods again, settling further into the chair he’s sitting in as if to physically demonstrate to Peter exactly what he’s saying. “I promise.”

That’s good enough for Peter. Sleep does sound pretty good, on second thought. There’s a floaty feeling flowing through Peter now, dissipating the pain. He’s comfy, and the weight of Tony’s hand against his cheek where he’s still scratching at his hair feels so nice. He rolls over, trapping Tony’s hand there between the pillow and his cheek. He can’t leave now, even if he wants to.

 


 

Hours later, Peter only remembers a few things from the night before when he surfaces from his sleep, memories blurring together in the back of his mind.

Burning pain and then nothing. Someone by his bedside maybe? A hand in his hair. A quiet voice.

Close your eyes, you’re okay.

Peter knows that voice. It sounds so achingly familiar, even as it echoes through his thoughts.

You’re okay, buddy. You’re okay.

Peter rolls over onto his side at the sound of an exhale from beside him, the smallest of yawns like someone trying their best to be quiet. It’s Tony, he realises, the comforting words whispering through his mind suddenly making much more sense. He clearly managed to get his hand free from underneath Peter’s cheek last night but he’s still here anyway, in the chair by his bedside, the one that’s remained largely unoccupied over the last couple of days. He’s dressed in an old t-shirt and faded jeans - Peter dreads to think what important lab work he pulled the man away from last night.

“Hey, bud” Tony mumbles. His voice is rough with sleep and he stretches his arms out above his head, poorly hiding a wince as he does.

A rush of shame floods Peter almost immediately. He can’t believe that Tony had to spend the night down here last night just because he kicked up a fuss about a little bit of pain.

He stares stupidly for a moment, willing the words to work their way out of his exhausted brain but he doesn’t know what to say. Tony shouldn’t be here. He probably doesn’t want to be here.

“You can go,” is the first thing that works its way free from Peter’s mouth. Tony raises his eyebrows.

“Good morning to you too,” Tony says, looking equal parts bemused and a little taken aback by Peter’s greeting. “Am I allowed to at least ask you how you’re feeling before you kick me out?

“I’m not kicking you out,” Peter mutters, the slightest bit defensive. He doesn’t know why Tony would think that he’s the one that wants him gone. He’d love Tony to stay - he’d have loved Tony to stay the second he woke up in the MedBay and they had their blowout. But it’s not about him. He doesn’t want Tony to stay if he doesn’t want to. He’s just making it easier for him - he’s made it abundantly clear that spending time with Peter isn’t exactly at the top of his priorities list, after all. “I, just, uh, I’m sorry you had to come down here. I don’t really remember much from last night.”

“That doesn’t exactly surprise me, you were pretty out of it,” Tony says easily. He shifts in his seat, but he seems to be making himself more comfortable than preparing to get up out of it and walk out the door again. The longer he sticks around the more it’s going to hurt when he leaves.

“I know you're mad at me and I know you don’t really want to be here. You can go, I won’t mind or be offended or anything, I promise,” Peter says, words catching as he says them because of their mistruth. He does mind. He does want Tony here.

But not if he doesn’t want to be.

“I think this means we need to talk about the other day, huh?” Tony says simply. Peter’s brows furrow together in confusion. He wonders if Tony is expecting an apology. He didn’t exactly give him one the other day - didn’t think that saving someone’s life warranted an apology. But obviously he went wrong somewhere along the way because if he hadn’t, maybe Tony might have stuck around.

“I’m sorry, Mister Stark,” he starts, a little nervous. He doesn’t know what he’s expected to say. What do you say to make someone want to stay? “I promise I wasn’t trying to not listen, or put any of us in a dangerous situation, or-”

“You don’t need to do the apologies, kid,” Tony says with a wave of his hand and a strained expression on his face as he listens to Peter’s words. Peter snaps his mouth shut.

“But I really am sorry,” Peter tries again after a beat of silence that Tony doesn’t fill. “I was just trying to protect you, that’s all. You were trapped and the whole place was going to blow and I couldn’t let anything happen to you… I couldn’t.” Peter watches Tony’s face carefully - he’s struggling to read his mix of emotions. “I’m only apologising for not thinking it through. I’m not apologising for trying to protect you,” Peter finishes determinedly. He won’t say he’s sorry for trying to save Tony’s life. Never. He’d do it over and over again in a heartbeat.

“That there, Pete, that’s the problem,” Tony says. He scrubs a hand down the side of his face roughly. “I can’t handle the idea of you protecting me, it’s-”

Peter frowns, a tiny stab of betrayal shooting through his chest. Despite the last few days, somewhere deep down still, he really thought that Tony still believed in him, at least a little bit. Maybe that was stupid of him.

“You let me come to Germany and let me loose against Captain America and the Winter Solider and now suddenly you don’t even trust me to protect you against a few guys with guns and explosives? I handled it, Mister Stark, and I know you think what I did was stupid and reckless, but I handled it.”

Tony shakes his head. “You’ve got a couple of things a little twisted, not that I can exactly blame you, I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly the other day,” - he huffs humourlessly. Peter thinks there might be regret in his eyes. “I know what you can do - I’ve known that since before I even really knew you. You’re capable of dealing with what you did the other day, you showed us that.”

“So what’s changed?” Peter asks. He knows he should keep the edge of frustration out of his voice but he can’t. If Tony really trusts him as much as he claims to then why won’t he just accept that Peter is capable of so much more? “Why did you freak out the other day?”

“What’s changed is that now I do really know you.”

Peter’s confused. This whole conversation feels like a roller-coaster of emotions that he’s a little too tired and dozy from the residual drugs pumping through his system to process. “I… what?”

“Now I know you,” Tony repeats. “When I took you to Germany, I didn’t know any more than Spider-Man, really. But you’re still a kid behind the mask, buddy-” Peter scowls weakly, “-and I know you’re gonna tell me that you’re not a kid and all that, but you are and I know you’d guard my life with your own if you’re given the chance and I trust you but that right there? That’s the damn problem.”

“The problem?” Peter repeats incredulously. He’s grown up watching movies and reading comic books under the bed covers with a torch after his bedtime, enamoured with the idea of the action hero choosing to do the right thing - even at the expense of themselves. He’s always thought that laying your life on the line for someone is the most selfless thing you can do for someone and that’s what Tony’s upset about?

“It’s… oh, I don’t know,” Tony mutters. He pauses, thinking for a second. “I was the one who screwed that mission up in the first place. I let my guard down and those idiots got a hold of me. My bad-”

“That wasn’t on you,” Peter says firmly. At this point, it’s becoming unclear who’s trying to comfort who.

“Uh, uh, I’m not done,” Tony chastises. “I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you. And not just because your Aunt would skin me alive. I’ve, uh, I’ve grown kind of fond of you, kid, I don’t know if you can tell. And the idea of anything happening to you - anything at all, let alone something happening because of me doesn’t sit particularly well.”

Oh.

Oh.

That makes more sense than Peter was expecting. He suddenly feels bad about even rising to the challenge of Tony’s argument in the first place. He knows that Tony tries to cover up the way he feels with a mask of sarcasm and sharp words - Peter just never thought that he’d be on the receiving end.

“I didn’t know I scared you,” Peter says softly. “I’m sorry.”

“I wasn’t scared,” Tony admonishes with a half-hearted scoff. “I don’t think I’d go that far.”

“Sure,” Peter says conspiratorially. He shifts closer to the edge of the bed, closer to Tony. Tony brings an arm up to rest on top of the bed, brushing against Peter’s leg under the covers. It’s nice - the sort of grounding they both need right now. The sort of contact they’ve both been sorely missing.

“Okay, so maybe I was a little worried,” Tony concedes. “I’ve never really been one for kids, never thought I would be. But with you, I just, I don’t want you to grow up too soon. And if I know you half as well as I think I do, then I know that you won’t be hanging up that suit for a long time. Just do both of us a favour and stick to giving old ladies directions for a while, maybe? You’ve got all the time in the world for all the traumatising, hardcore stuff, I promise you.”

“So… you're saying I should skip the traumatising stuff and just stick to traumatising you instead?”

“You’re already doing a pretty damn good job of that, kid.”

 


 

“May’s on her way from the airport,” Peter says distractedly, later that day as he types out a reply to her text.

Tony is still by Peter’s bedside, his legs kicked up on the bed as he scrolls through his StarkPad. Peter looks up when Tony doesn’t reply. “Hey, Mister Stark?”

“Huh?”

“May’s on her way. Happy just picked her up.”

“Okay, good.”

“What’re you working on?” Peter asks, abandoning his phone as he wonders what’s got Tony so distracted.

“Just going through Rhodey’s report on the other day. Adding in the details, trying to make myself sound cooler, all that good stuff.”

Peter laughs. “Can I help?”

“Pete-”

“You said you trust me!

“Well, this is paperwork, it’s boring-”

“I want to learn! I could help!”

Tony lets out a long-winded sigh. “You really like to make me suffer, don’t you?” He turns fully towards Peter and raises his eyebrows expectantly. “So, hit me then. What’s your take on how the other day went down?”

Peter looks up towards Tony, the beginnings of a grin tugging at his lips.

“Well, I saved the day for starters, it’s really important that you put that in there.”

Tony’s face twists in conflict for a second before it smooths out again. He gives Peter a smile, tired and a little worn but genuine all the same - “yeah, yeah. Sure, kid. We’ll work it in.”