01. SOMEONE OUT THERE
“I want you to know that someone out there cares.”
It was supposed to be an easy patrol. Well, not easy, exactly, because being Spider-Man carries far too much weight and responsibility to be easy, but tonight was supposed to be uneventful, at least. Light.
Two cats stuck in trees, a carjacking, a mugging.
Unfortunately, like most things in Peter’s life, it doesn’t stay that way.
“Peter,” KAREN’s voice hums in his ear, her familiar soothing croon instantly making him smile out of pure reflex. “I’m catching some nearby police chatter. First responders are reporting a Code 10-33.”
Peter tilts his head. Code 10-33. He’s not as caught up on all of the police codes as he should be, he knows. Luckily for him, he has an AI to step up where he falls short. “10-33?” he asks aloud, the rest of the question unspoken.
KAREN understands. She always does. “A bomb threat,” she supplies.
Peter freezes, the blood running cold in his veins. Bomb. Bomb bomb bomb. The memory of Adrian Toomes, flying away in a promise of pain and darkness, flashes across his mind. The concrete pinning his legs to the floor, the sound of his screams echoing in the warehouse, the taste of dust and rubble on his tongue. Tears in his eyes, an immovable ache in his bones, the thought of death rattling in his skull.
“Okay. Okay okay okay.” He snaps his eyes shut and tries to breathe. There is no cosmic weight on his chest anymore, he tells himself, nothing to squeeze the air out of his lungs. “Karen,” he forces himself to think through the haze of shock and terror, “where – where did you say the threat was again?” He pretends he doesn’t hear his own voice trembling with fear.
“I didn’t,” KAREN replies pleasantly, and her calm voice is one that Peter clings on to.
“Right.” Peter twitches, lets KAREN’s unshakable demeanor soothe him. “Uh, show me where to go, please.”
“Yes, Peter,” she agrees. A map immediately pops up in Peter’s interface, one section highlighted in red. “Programming quickest route now...”
As if on cue, a blue line zigzags through the mapped streets, leading to a building sandwiched between a local high school and a postal service. Peter zeroes in on the location.
Capital One Bank.
Of course it’s a bank, he thinks, already halfway to hysterical. It’s always a goddamn bank.
“Alright,” he sighs, shaking off the uncertainty. He has a job to do, and there are people who are counting on him—whether they know it or not. “There’s no rest for the wicked, right? Which means there’s no rest for me.”
KAREN hums. “Peter,” she says, soft and gentle, “your heartbeat is elevated. Perhaps you should—”
“I’m fine,” he says quickly, cutting her off before she can finish her sentence. He already knows what she was going to suggest—call Mr. Stark. Which, well, is something that’s not going to happen. Mr. Stark will think he’s in over his head if he comes to him with this.
And Peter really, really doesn’t want to lose his suit again.
“I’m fine, Kare,” he repeats. “I’ve got this.”
You’ve got this, Spider-Man, he tells himself firmly. People are counting on you. He takes in a few deep breaths – in and out, in, out, in, out – and refocuses on the map. Shoots out a web. Starts swinging.
You’ve got this.
As it turns out, Peter has not got this.
“Spider-Man!” one of the police officers on duty calls out to him as he swings into sight. There is a noticeable note of relief in his voice. He hurriedly waves Peter over to where he and his partner are standing by their police car.
Peter lands on crouched legs beside the officer and shoots him a shaky grin, even though he knows that, logically, the officer can’t see it. “Sorry I’m late,” he greets, forcing as much of his usual cheer into his voice as he can. “I heard something about a bomb?”
The officer who beckoned him over nods hastily. Peter recognizes him from some of his previous patrol nights—an Officer Joseph Rodriguez, he recalls. He’s one of the nicer ones; he tends to let Peter do his thing instead of try to arrest him for vigilantism. Once, he even offered Peter a donut. (Peter was forced to decline, of course, because Mr. Stark might literally bury him in paperwork and meaningless errands if he got powdered sugar all over his multimillion dollar suit, but it had still been nice to be asked.)
“Yeah. It’s in the underground vault,” Officer Rodriguez explains, and Peter can’t help the recoil that shudders through him.
Toomes. The world erupting in a burst of concrete and support beams. Debris burying him alive—
“—pider-Man? Are you listening?” Rodriguez takes a step towards him, crowding him in against the police car. “Is everything okay?”
Peter chokes back an instinctive get away from me. He nods minutely, unable to bring himself to speak. For the first time while wearing the mask, his voice fails him.
When Rodriguez continues to eye him in confusion, Peter shakes his head and makes a wordless gesture that he hopes conveys go on. Rodriguez seems to get it, because he carries on with his explanation: “Uh, our guys inside managed to disable the first bomb, but the perp had a backup plan—a vest—”
Of course he has a backup plan. Peter curses inwardly.
“—and he’s holding our guys—and a few civilians—hostage. Three bank tellers, some businessman, and a family.” Fitzpatrick pauses. “Two of our own.”
Peter swallows. Hostages. That’s never a good thing. “Alright,” he grits his teeth. “Thanks for filling me in, Officer Rodriguez. I’ll get them out.”
Rodriguez looks briefly surprised to be recognized. After a second, his face flattens into a halfhearted scowl. “You don’t know what you’re walking into,” he cautions. “One wrong move, and you could make things worse. A lot worse.”
Peter hesitates. Rodriguez is right. Peter isn’t a trained officer—he isn’t even a trained vigilante. He’s just a kid with powers and the will to do something good with his life. But what if that isn’t enough? What if he goes in there and he has no idea what he’s doing?
What if he screws up?
(“What if someone had died tonight? Different story, right? ‘Cause that’s on you.”)
Peter inhales. Exhales. He won’t screw up. He can’t—not when there are lives at stake. Not when there are hostages depending on him. “Don’t worry,” he tells the officer, even as he himself worries.
Rodriguez narrows his eyes shrewdly, and Peter looks away as if Rodriguez can see right through his mask.
“I’ll be careful,” he promises, nodding jerkily, and doesn’t wait to hear Rodriguez’s answer before he flips away, heading towards the bank.
There’s a bomb lying underneath that bank, a group of hostages, and a madman pulling the strings.
There’s no time to waste.
(He can deal with his own demons later. Toomes will have to wait.)
In the end, Rodriguez had a point. Peter has no idea what he’s walking into. Luckily for him, that’s one thing that can be fixed. He doesn’t even have to prompt KAREN before she intuitively switches to infrared vision.
“Thanks, Kare,” he whispers, scanning the bank. There’s a cluster of heat signatures in one of the backrooms, sectioned off from the main open floor area of the bank. Peter counts eight signatures. They all seem to be staying still, and Peter can’t discern any weapons amongst the group, so he attributes those signatures to the hostages.
He frowns, worries instantly spiking. Something’s wrong. Where’s the perp?
He shakes it off a second later. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have time to figure that out.
They’re counting on you, Parker, he reminds himself, and forces his body to movemovemove.
In the end, it takes him no time at all to reach the hostages. The majority of the bank consists of one room filled with a line of booths, which Peter crosses in bounds and leaps. He takes a sharp turn and ducks into a narrow hallway at the other end of the room, following the infrared map as accurately as he can.
Mere seconds later, he’s bursting into one of the backrooms, the locked door giving way easily under his enhanced strength. His eyes adjust to the dim light, taking in the sight: six civilians and two uniformed officers, just as Rodriguez warned him.
Peter’s eyes sweep over them. They’re all bound together by a thick coil of rope, arms behind their backs as they sit in a rough circle, facing outwards. At the same time, they all turn their attention to him.
“Spider-Man!” one of the hostages, a young woman, exclaims in abject relief. “You – you came for us.”
Peter’s stomach clenches. She looks so scared. “Of course,” he replies through gritted teeth, forcefully shoving the thought of Toomes away. This matters more. It has to. Privately, he wonders if it’s possible to give the people a way to contact Spider-Man for emergencies. A Bat-signal of his own, maybe. The woman trembles minutely, a sob catching in her throat, and he’s quick to reassure, “I’m here, ma’am. Everything’s gonna be fine.”
He doesn’t waste any more time before striding forward and beginning to undo their restraints with relative ease. The knot is nowhere near tight enough to withhold his super strength. “Where is the criminal?” he asks urgently, resisting the urge to say bad guy. Mr. Stark keeps telling him that that makes him sound even younger than he already appears to be.
“He was asking about the underground vault,” one of the bank tellers informs him shakily, confirming Rodriguez’s intel. “He headed that way earlier. I think he... he has a bomb.”
Peter knows there is a bomb. “It’ll be okay,” he says unconvincingly, his efforts to untie them all redoubling. “I’ll stop him. Why did he...”—leave you all here unguarded?
The knot finally gives way. The only female hostage leaps to her feet, turning to Peter and grasping his suited hands tightly in her own. “Spider-Man,” she chokes out, and there’s something raw and desperate in her voice. “My son. He took – he took my son.”
Peter stills. He remembers, with sudden vivid clarity, Rodriguez claiming that there’s a family inside. Not a couple, but a family.
His blood runs cold as he comes to a horrifying realization, answering his unasked question for himself: the criminal wouldn’t need to keep watch over the rest of the group if he already has one hostage with him—insurance. A child. There’s – there’s a child involved in all this.
“Ma’am,” he starts, determinedly, “I’ll get your son out of there. I will. But you – you have to leave, now.”
She twitches violently. “I can’t leave him,” she declines frantically, shaking her head. “He’s my baby. Please. I’m not leaving him behind.”
She reminds him so much of his Aunt May, desperate to keep him safe. His heart aches for her. “You have to get to safety,” he insists, “or I won’t be able to focus on saving your son. Please, ma’am.”
“Eleanor,” one of the other hostages, presumably her partner, murmurs, rising to his feet and tugging her into an embrace. She falls into his arms, shaking. “Come on, El. Let him do his job.”
Peter swallows, shaken by the gravity of it. “Y-Yeah,” he stammers. “I need to – I’m going after him now. I’ll get your son back, ma’am, sir. Could you... could you make sure everyone gets out safely? The eight of you are the only hostages on this floor.”
The man nods his assent, unsteady but firm. “You can count on me, Spider-Man,” he agrees.
Peter knows they can’t see it, but he smiles anyway—more confidently than he feels.
“I’ll be right behind you,” he promises, and darts away.
One of the first things Mr. Stark ever taught him was to never make promises to civilians as Spider-Man.
It’s this memory—just don’t do it, Pete, because sometimes these things are simply out of our control—that sticks with him now, as he stares at the sight in front of him in despair: a little boy (he can’t be older than 10, Peter thinks with more than a little horror) seized in the unrelenting grip of a built man in a ski mask.
“Ski masks are so overrated,” Peter says aloud, trying desperately to regain his footing, but even he can tell that his voice lacks the typical jibing wit Spider-Man is infamous for.
“You’re too late, you know,” the perpetrator, aptly nicknamed Ski Mask Guy in Peter’s head, tells him. “The timer’s already counting down. I reckon you have one, maybe two minutes before everything goes kaboom. And before you say ‘you won’t get away with this’ like everyone does, I’ll remind you that little Aaron over here needs your help.”
Peter’s eyes follow Ski Mask Guy’s waving gun to the boy—Aaron—who has an explosives-lined vest forcefully wrapped around his tiny body. True to Ski Mask Guy’s words, the explosives have all been armed.
“So,” Ski Mask Guy smirks gleefully, “what will it be?”
Peter glares at him wordlessly and promptly renames him Ski Mask Asshole in his mind.
“Yeah, I think we both know the answer to that,” Ski Mask Asshole laughs, shoving Aaron towards Peter. “See you never, Spider-Man.”
Peter says nothing, refusing to give the man the satisfaction of a response as he flees with two large duffel bags full of cash. Without hesitation, he leaps into action and rushes to Aaron, immediately falling to his knees in front of him.
“Hey, Aaron—can I call you Aaron?” Peter asks, putting on a brave face. When Aaron nods with a terrified whimper, he buries his own fear deep inside him, thinks sorry, Mr. Stark, it looks like I’m going to have to make one more promise, and soothes, “Everything’s gonna be fine, buddy. I promise.”
As soon as Aaron nods a second time, Peter gets to work. “Kare,” he murmurs frantically, trying to keep his voice quiet to refrain from making Aaron even more panicked than he already is, “you gotta help me out here.”
“Of course, Peter,” KAREN hums, already beginning to pull up a bomb-defusing manual on the interface.
Unfortunately, before Peter can do anything with the manual, a rapid beeping sound fills the basement.
Peter and Aaron both freeze.
This can’t be happening, Peter thinks desperately, and hears the phantom sound of metal wings slicing through the air with a sharp whistle. Toomes’ boisterous laughter wells up in the recesses of Peter’s mind.
“I’m sorry, Peter.”
“What are you talking about? That thing hasn’t even touched me yet!”
“True. But then again… it wasn’t really trying to.”
He remembers the sharp realization that flooded him, the horror that sang in his bones as he made sense of Toomes’ words, the fear that burned bright inside him as the Vultures’ automated wingsuit continued slicing through the pillars with brutal ease.
He remembers, vividly, what it felt like to stare up and watch the sky collapse, broken rubble hurtling towards him.
He remembers the panic, the pain, the pleas that bubbled up inside him and spilled out of his mouth in a desperate attempt to call for help—
No! Nonono. Not now. Please no. I can’t—
“M-Mr. Spider-Man?” Aaron squeaks. “Am I going to die?”
Peter inhales sharply as reality sinks back in. “No,” he says forcefully, and Toomes’ image fades away, inch by inch. “I promised, remember? I'm going to get us out of here, bud.”
Change of plans, he thinks, and KAREN knowingly discards the manual. Without wasting anymore time, Peter forgoes disarming the bomb and instead skips directly to getting the vest off Aaron.
Thank god for all those lab sessions with Mr. Stark, he thinks, and for every time Aunt May made me help her with her makeup. He’s convinced they’re the only reasons why his hands barely shake as he carefully unhooks and removes the vest.
Just as the beeping starts to quicken its pace, Peter gently sets down the vest, scoops Aaron into his arms, and swings away.
A deafening explosion erupts behind them, the basement ceiling caving in mere split-seconds after their escape.
Aaron runs into his parents’ open arms, and as the family of three dissolves into relieved tears, Peter spirals into an endless loop of what-ifs.
Aaron’s safe—everyone’s safe—but… what if?
Peter numbly shakes Aaron’s father’s hand, lets Aaron and his mother both hug him tight enough to break bones, and swings away.
It isn’t until he's made his way to a rooftop a few blocks over that he lets go, breaking his short fall with a somersault. He glances back at the bank, transfixed by the pile of rubble it's been reduced to, and tries to calm his racing heart.
You’re fine, he tells himself. You got out of there. Everyone’s safe.
You didn’t get trapped inside. You’re free.
He closes his eyes and exhales.
After a second, he sits up, struck by a thought. “Karen?” he calls out. A questioning hm? fills the mask, and Peter smiles. “That guy who held up the bank…”
“I’ve been following his escape through traffic cameras,” KAREN reports promptly. “He hasn’t gotten far. I’ll pull up his current location now.”
Peter breaks out into a smirk. “Atta girl,” he praises. “I knew I could count on you.”
Seven minutes later, Peter returns to the scene of the crime, spots Officer Rodriguez still faithfully waiting outside the bank, and drops Ski Mask Asshole off with a loud whoop! and a bright gotta jet, Officer—no need to thank me!
After a quick check-in with KAREN—everything seems quiet, Peter; police radios aren’t reporting anything else alarming—Peter decides to cut his patrol short and head back home.
As soon as he arrives, letting himself in through his bedroom window and pulling off his mask, Spider-Man’s confidence drains out of him and he lets himself fall into his aunt’s arms. May doesn’t ask any questions, simply hugging him close and dropping a kiss onto the crown of his head.
Her hugs have always made him feel better, ever since the day two nameless policemen came knocking on their door to tell them that Peter’s parents wouldn’t be coming home.
(Still, all the while, Peter wonders, what if?)
02. THE GREATEST GIFT
“One of the greatest gifts a person can give another, is support.”
“...not again,” Ned huffs, dropping his head into his hands with an exhausted groan. When he receives no response, he peeks up curiously and abruptly frowns. “Peter? Peter!”
Peter snaps to attention. “Huh?” he utters dumbly, wide eyes blinking rapidly as he redirects his focus to his best friend. “Sorry, Ned. What were you saying?”
Ned arches an eyebrow. “I said, I can’t believe Ms. Warren’s already assigning us another lab,” he repeats, his lunch all but forgotten in favor of his complaints. Truthfully, Ned has nothing to worry about—he may not be as well-versed in physics as Peter, but he’s no slouch either. He and Peter have never met a physics assignment they haven’t been able to conquer with relative ease. But still, easy or not, it’s the principle of the matter. “We just finished our writeups for her latest lab earlier this week.”
Peter hums and nods absentmindedly. “Oh, right.”
Ned furrows his brows worriedly. Usually, Peter is an eager participant in their lunchtime discussions—even if he usually spends the entire time gushing over his lab sessions with his genius mentor. Ned doesn’t mind; he loves hearing all about The Tony Stark (and, admittedly, living vicariously through his best friend).
“Is something wrong? You’ve been out of it the entire day,” Ned fusses, unhesitatingly shoving the rest of his (mostly untouched) lunch in Peter’s direction. He’ll never admit it to Peter—he’s in no mood to listen to Peter calling himself a burden yet again—but his mother packs him two lunches everyday anyway; one for him, and one for Peter “honorary Leeds” Parker. (Bless her for always thinking of Peter; Mrs. Leeds adores Ned’s best friend as if he’s another one of her kids.)
Peter rolls his eyes. “Nothing’s wrong,” he denies, immediately pushing Ned’s lunchbox back towards him. “And I have not been out of it!”
Ned raises an eyebrow. He’s never known Peter to deny free food; even when Peter feels needlessly guilty for “imposing” on Ned, Peter’s metabolism forces him to accept any food Ned sends his way.
“Uh, yeah, you have,” Ned says, the duh going unspoken. “You didn’t raise your hand once in Ms. Warren’s class—even though I know you already covered our current topic ages ago with Mr. Stark. And you barely even reacted when Flash made fun of you in the lunchline earlier—even Flash looked a little concerned at your unresponsiveness, and that’s saying something. Plus, you just refused my lunch! You love my mom’s sinigang.”
Peter blinks, eyes immediately drawn to Ned’s forgotten lunch as if only now realizing its contents. A flash of longing crosses his face.
“See!” Ned points out triumphantly. “You’re acting weird today, and you know it.”
Peter opens his mouth, tries to formulate a believable answer, and reluctantly snaps his mouth shut in defeat. Sometimes, he’s convinced Ned knows him better than even he knows himself.
“Are you sick?” Ned presses on accusingly. “Wait, can you even get sick? Because of, y’know,”—he lowers his voice—“the other guy.”
At that, Peter finally manages to muster a smile—albeit a weak one. “I’m fine, Ned,” he reiterates in an attempt to reassure Ned. As if to prove his point, he promptly shovels the rest of his cafeteria-bought sandwich into his mouth. “Just a little tired. I didn’t get much sleep yesterday night.”
“Oh!” Ned’s eyes widen in delight, worries forgotten for the moment. Leaning forward eagerly, he practically bounces in his seat as he fixes Peter with an ear-to-ear grin. “Is it because you were on the web until late last night? I saw the news—you were awesome at the bank!”
Peter’s lips press into a thin line. He resists the urge to snap out a defensive I don’t want to talk about that. Ned, of all people, doesn’t deserve to face an irritated Peter Parker.
So instead, he swallows the flare of guilt and distractedly murmurs, “Thanks, Ned.”
Peter’s mind reflexively flashes back to his subway ride to Midtown that morning, snippets of conversation drifting into his ears. He remembers the journalists sitting in the back corner of the carriage, exchanging hushed whispers about the previous night’s “close-call”.
He remembers browsing all of his news apps and stumbling across an article that lambasted Spider-Man as a menace to society. Spearheaded by J. Jonah Jameson, a long-time critic of Peter’s alter-ego from the Daily Bugle, the article brutally tore Spider-Man apart for “failing” the people of Queens at every stage. Jameson went as far as to suggest that Spider-Man knowingly exacerbated the delicate situation at Capital One Bank yesterday and provoked the bomber into triggering the explosion that nearly put a little kid in the hospital.
Peter knows that isn’t true, knows Ski Mask Asshole didn’t need any provoking, but…
One wrong move, and you could make things worse, Officer Rodriguez warned him last night.
Jameson’s right about one thing, Peter thinks—this is on him.
(And if things had gone worse last night, if Aaron had gotten hurt, that would have been on him, too.)
Peter sighs in defeat. Ned always thinks so highly of Peter Parker and Spider-Man both, but… yesterday was far from awesome.
Later that day, when the bell rings and school lets out for the weekend, Peter finds himself mechanically climbing aboard Happy’s car.
“Hey, Hap,” he greets, disquieted.
Happy immediately narrows his eyes. “Hey, Peter,” he grunts back, more than a little wary.
He realizes he’s right to be wary when Peter stays quiet, barely releasing so much as a peep during the entire car ride to Stark Tower.
As much as Happy claims to hate his rambling, he can’t help but think that anything is better than this suffocating silence—a silence that tells him something is very, very wrong.
As soon as they pull into the garage beneath Stark Tower, Happy shoos Peter away with a quick the Bossman’s waiting for you in his lab before grabbing his phone.
Something’s up with the Spider-Kid, boss, he texts.
And then—Got it. Thanks for the heads-up, Hapster. Don’t worry, I’ll wrangle it out of him.
Happy scowls. I’m not worried, he messages back defensively.
Sure you aren’t.
Happy’s glower darkens. “Damn it,” he curses under his breath, “that kid is making me soft.”
Tony frowns as he watches Peter traipse into his lab. Happy was right. Something’s off—even if Happy hadn’t warned him in advance, Tony has no doubt he would have noticed it the second Peter arrived. There’s no bounce to Peter’s step, no excited twinkle in his eye, no jerky movements indicative of his eagerness to learn. There’s only a lethargic stiffness that seems to color Peter grey and lifeless.
Christ, Tony thinks, catching Peter’s eye across the lab. What the hell happened?
Peter waves, injecting a modicum of cheer into his motions as he does so. Even then, his gesture is missing the telltale spring that just screams 'Peter Parker'. “Hey Mr. Stark,” the kid greets, but there’s no chirp in his voice.
Tony swallows. It should alarm him that he’s so in tune with Peter that he can simply tell when the kid—his kid—isn’t feeling like himself. Instead, it just fills him with inexplicable warmth.
Or rather, it would fill him with warmth, on any other day. Today, though… Today, he’s far too concerned about Peter’s uncharacteristic behavior to let himself bask in the realization.
Tony plasters an enthusiastic grin on his face and beckons Peter over. He knows Peter well enough to know that Peter won’t tell him what’s wrong until he decides he’s ready to. Prying won’t help—it’ll only drive Peter away, and that’s the last thing Tony ever wants to do.
And, well, until Peter wants to talk, at least one of them has to feign excitement, and Tony knows that isn’t going to be Peter. Not today.
“Pete!” he beams, and is rewarded by the slightest uplifting of Peter’s lips. He hides a smug smirk—he knows exactly how giddy nicknames make Peter, especially nicknames from The Tony Stark. (Except for that one ‘Underoos’ nickname, but whatever. Tony isn’t going to give up.) “Guess what we’re working on today?”
Peter furrows his brows. “Well,” he starts hesitantly, dropping his backpack on the ground with a harsh thud, “last week you said you wanted to go over the web formula again…?”
Tony’s eyes fill with veiled concern as they track Peter’s bag. Something is definitely wrong, he reaffirms to himself; on any normal day, Peter Parker would never even dream of depositing his backpack like a sack of potatoes on “the Holy Land A.K.A. Mr. Stark’s precious lab.” (And yes, those were Peter’s words, not his.)
No matter how often Tony tried to coax Peter to treat the lab as a second home, the reverent gleam that overtook Peter’s eyes the first time he set foot in the lab has never quite disappeared.
Sure, Peter gladly and constantly treats Tony’s penthouse as if it might as well be a frat house—dumping his bags wherever he pleases, kicking his feet up on the couch, unashamedly pilfering cereal and other goods from the kitchen—but the lab is, according to Peter himself, off-limits.
Tony eventually came to accept it, fondly rolling his eyes whenever Peter rants and raves about Tony’s mistreatment of Stella.
(Because yep, the Spider-Kid named his lab—ostensibly for science-related reasons, but Tony knows his choice of "Stella" has less to do with actual celestial bodies of gas and more to do with Star Wars.
And nope, Tony didn’t bother even trying to reject the ridiculous name. There’s just no saying no to those eyes, okay?)
All of which is why Peter’s backpack, slumped carelessly on his lab’s flawless gleaming floor, feels like a betrayal. Tony glares at the offending item, and he swears it glares back at him.
A clearing throat draws Tony back to the present. “Mr. Stark…?”
Tony blinks. “Oh, right. Web formula. Right. Well, actually, no. I found something better for us to do.”
Peter hums questioningly.
Tony grins, pushing the backpack and all its implications to the back of his mind. It’s time for him to enact Operation: Cheer Up the Underoos.
See, some kids watch cheesy rom-coms and devour ice cream to heal their woes. But Peter? The remedy to Peter’s sorrows is a good few hours of tinkering around with the Iron Man suit—three hours minimum, Tony has it down to a science.
Peter’s eyes widen. A tentative grin slithers onto his lips.
Tony presses his lips together to keep himself from smirking triumphantly.
Operation: Cheer Up the Underoos is a go.
Operation: Cheer Up the Underoos is not a go, Tony thinks miserably, resisting the urge to slump down in his chair and groan out loud.
Despite Peter’s initial excitement, the kid ultimately proved impervious to the healing qualities of being given free rein to mess around with the Iron Man suit.
Peter’s barely even smiled since he arrived. In fact, his signature beaming grin—his real smile, not the feeble one he’s trying to pass off as a ‘happy’ expression now—has emerged only two times in as many hours—once, when Tony accidentally spilled his burning coffee all over himself and released a string of expletives that would have prompted May to forbid him from ever seeing Peter again if she’d heard him; and a second time, when Tony faux-reluctantly allowed him to take the suit flying (though only very, very briefly).
Usually, Tony would be grateful for the reprieve from a giddy Peter Parker, because that’s usually accompanied by endless cheery chatter and relentless pleas for a Star Wars marathon.
But right now, Tony would do just about anything to see that smile again.
“Okay,” Tony says decisively, feigning a yawn as he stretches like a languid cat. “I’m kind of beat. I had a tight schedule today—and I didn’t even get to drink my coffee.” He scowls at Peter when the kid has the nerve to snicker, eyeing the brown splotch on his sweatshirt with visible glee. He clears his throat pointedly and continues, “What d’you say we call it a day, huh?” He forces another exaggerated yawn, well aware that Peter will never agree to his suggestion unless he thinks Tony’s the one who needs it.
Peter furrows his brows. “Oh,” he mutters, and Tony blinks at the reluctance in his voice, “okay, sure. Are we still on for Monday?”
Their next lab session is scheduled for Monday, Tony knows this like the back of his hand.
Oh, Tony thinks, realizing all of a sudden why Peter sounds so disappointed. Peter clearly thinks he’s sending him home. Well, that’s obviously not going to happen. Not until I fix this. “Well, duh, I’d never cancel on my favorite brat,” he starts teasingly, and is rewarded by the ghost of a smile—only an inch away from a true Peter Parker Grin™. Score. “But we’re not quite done yet.”
“...Huh?” Peter’s nose scrunches up in confusion.
Tony smiles winningly. “Well, May isn’t expecting you back home until late,” he reasons. “FRIDAY will likely report me to the lovely Ms. Potts if I stay in the lab for any longer, but that doesn’t mean the day has to be over.”
Peter smiles back, small but pleased. Tony will never admit how pleased he himself is that Peter doesn’t want to leave yet, despite his obviously upset mood. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking along the lines of a good old movie night,” Tony suggests. He knows that will pique Peter’s interest—Movie Night typically isn’t until their fortnightly sleepovers, and their last one was just last week.
Peter considers it. His mind screams at him to say yes, more than eager to sit and laze around and do nothing but watch movies, but… “This had better not be a ploy to get me to watch your old movies.”
Tony resists the urge to stick his tongue out at Peter. He’s the adult here, after all. (In his mind, though, he’s absolutely sticking his tongue out and giving Peter the stink-eye.) “They’re not old,” he begins defensively, but quickly relents, “but no. I’m feeling generous tonight. Disney?”
Peter, who’d been about to scoff at Tony’s claim that he’s generous, immediately straightens in interest. “Really?”
The last time they’d watched a Disney movie together—it was, unsurprisingly, Bambi—Tony spent the entire time either picking apart the plot or teasing Peter for bawling his eyes out.
“Really,” Tony confirms. “And I won’t even make fun of you this time.”
Peter nods seriously. “Well, when you put it that way,”—he smirks, hiding his abject relief at the realization that he no longer has to pretend to be in the mood to do anything even remotely productive—“how can I possibly say no?”
“Perfect!” Tony claps his hands excitedly, as if he’s the kid and not Peter. “Why don’t you go ahead and pick out the first movie? I’ll get us some snacks.”
Peter’s eyes narrow suddenly.
Tony holds his breath. Did Peter figure him out?
One, two, three seconds pass before Peter finally gives a firm nod. “But no complaining when it turns out to be too sappy for your tastes.”
“...you’re gonna make me sit through Onward again, aren’t you?”
“You know me so well,” Peter teases.
Tony hides a smile. Yeah, he does.
“Unfortunately,” he says instead and fakes a groan, but at the sight of Peter’s laughing eyes, he can’t help but think, worth it.
It’s around an hour into Onward, and Ian and Barley have just come face-to-face with the bottomless pit, when Peter shifts minutely in his seat and turns to face Tony. Setting the big bowl of popcorn aside for a moment, Peter clears his throat, instantly misses the taste and crunch of popcorn in his mouth, and fixes Tony with a stern look (or, well, as stern a look as Peter Parker could come up with, at least).
(Which is not, in fact, stern at all, especially considering Peter’s already cried a grand total of three times so far and his face is visibly tracked by tears.)
Tony scowls defensively and immediately demands, “Why are you looking at me the way I look at DUM-E whenever he tries to foist his oil smoothies on me?” When Peter doesn’t even bother to crack a smile at that, Tony knows something’s up. “All right, what is it? It must be serious, if you’re willingly missing one of your favorite scenes.”
As if on cue, Barley’s encouraging hey! you can do this blares from the speakers, quickly followed by the boys’ exhilarated, triumphant laughter.
Peter doesn’t even seem to notice.
“I know you know something’s up,” Peter says instead, half-accusatory and half-pleading. “You normally never let me choose what we’re watching unless you absolutely have to—the last time I tried to pick out a movie twice in a row, you said something about how I’d make us watch Star Wars 24/7 if it was up to me.”
Tony sighs and knows he’s caught. It’s the curse (read: perk) of knowing someone so well, he supposes. There’s no hiding from Peter (and vice versa).
Relenting, Tony runs an exhausted hand over his face and says, “Yeah, you’re right, I know something’s up. I’m just worried about you, Pete. You know you can tell me anything.”
“Who told on me?” Peter asks with a weak, wilting laugh. “Was it Ned? Damn it, I told him I’m fine—”
“No, you’re not,” Tony interrupts gently. “And Ned didn’t tell me anything.”
“Then who was it?” he presses, pointedly ignoring the first part of Tony’s statement. He narrows his eyes and guesses, “Aunt May?”
“Why do you think someone had to have told me? Can’t I just be a caring, observant mentor?” Tony deflects.
Peter just shoots him a wordless, unimpressed look. “The first one, sure.”
“Fine,” Tony gives in, all too quickly. “It was Happy. But I would’ve noticed anyway.”
The sarcasm fades from Peter’s face. “Yeah, I know,” he agrees and thinks, you always notice.
“I mean, firstly, you’ve barely touched your hot chocolate the entire time we’ve been watching. Normally, by the time we’re halfway into our first movie, you’ll have finished your first mug and stolen mine,” Tony points out without a trace of annoyance; there’s only fondness in his voice—so much of it that Peter’s heart stutters in his chest. “Secondly, of all the blankets in this penthouse, you chose to take the only Iron Man-themed one. You and I both know what that means.”
Without his permission, Peter’s grip on the Iron Man blanket (a gag gift from Rhodey) tightens.
Tony’s knowing gaze sharpens, and Peter curses himself silently.
“And don’t even get me started on the popcorn,” Tony continues, graciously deciding not to remark on Peter’s subconscious reaction. “You only make caramel-flavored popcorn when you’re feeling down, like that one time MJ had to work on a project with Brad and you worried he’d sweep her off her feet—”
“—Okay, okay, we get it,” Peter interrupts hastily, face burning scarlet with embarrassment. Beneath the utter mortification, though, his eyes are wide with dazed wonder.
Ned’s confident you love my mom’s sinigang stampedes across his mind again, and Peter has to wonder how Mr. Stark and Ned both seem to be so in tune with his every little tendency.
Awe runs through him as he thinks privately, I didn’t even realize I do all of that.
“Look, all I’m saying is that I know you, Pete, and I know something’s wrong,” Tony concludes softly, his voice a reassuring whisper in the darkness of the living room. “And when you’re ready, I’m here.” I’ll always be here.
Peter blinks back tears. “Okay,” he whispers, but what he really means is I know and thank you.
Tony flashes him a relieved, satisfied smile.
Tentatively, Peter smiles back.
In wordless agreement, they settle back in to continue watching the movie—though they both know that neither of them are going to be fully focused on Ian and Barley’s journey after that.
It isn’t until 40 minutes later—as Ian comes to the realization that he already has someone to share his life with—that Peter stiffens, once more drawn out of the film and into reality—into the way he can feel Mr. Stark’s tangible warmth beside him, the way Mr. Stark ruffles his hair whenever a particularly touching scene comes on, the way Mr. Stark chuckles and groans and smiles along at all the appropriate moments despite initially scoffing at Peter’s choice of movie.
(“I’m a grown man,” Tony grouses. “I should not have to sit through a two-hour animated movie about elves and quests and magical adventures.”
“Oh, please,” Peter dismisses his mentor’s grumbling without batting an eye, “who do you think you’re fooling? We both know you love animated movies, Mr. Stark. There’s a reason Uncle Rhodey calls you a man-child, after all.”
“...I think I liked you better when you were still intimidated by me,” Tony declares.
“Too late,” Peter snickers. “You’re stuck with me now.”
“Oh, woe is me,” Tony says mournfully, his tone somehow deadpan yet dramatic all at once.)
Tony subconsciously and immediately reacts to Peter’s return to reality; he’s all too aware of his kid’s every move, and there’s no use pretending he isn’t.
himself Peter the kindness of pretending not to notice the way Peter’s eyes dart to him every so often, though. There are too many parallels between Peter and Ian to count, and they both know it. It’s impossible not to see a little bit of Peter in Ian—in Ian’s childlike innocence and cheer, in Ian’s determination and stubbornness, in Ian’s strength of will, in Ian’s clumsiness and tendency to ramble awkwardly.
Tony wonders, for a fraction of a second, when he started seeing Peter everywhere—in movie characters with too-bright smiles, in merry children running around with their families at the park, and even in himself.
The truth is, he knows the answer.
It started after the first time he let Peter into the lab and Peter spent the entire time endearingly stammering out all the right answers. Since then, Peter has been steadily sneaking his way into Tony’s life, making himself at home in a private nook in Tony’s heart. By now, he’s become irreplaceable, and Tony wouldn’t have it any other way.
He loves this goddamn kid as if Peter were his own child, and there’s no denying it. Everyone from Pepper to Aunt May to FRIDAY can see it.)
On the screen, Ian stares down at his checklist, wide-eyed and stunned as memories of himself and Barley flash through his mind, but Tony isn’t watching him anymore. Instead, he watches out of the corner of his eye as Peter pulls the Iron Man-patterned blanket tighter around himself and sniffles audibly.
I know you’re stronger than that, Barley’s voice rings bright and cheery with veiled laughter.
Inexplicably, Tony feels his own eyes start to tear up. As much as he loves to make fun of Peter for getting emotional every time they watch Onward together (Pete, buddy, this is your seventh time watching this damn movie. You’ve practically memorized all of the lines word for word, so I know you know exactly what’s coming. Why are you still crying?), he can’t deny that it’s heartbreaking.
(Can’t deny that it hits a little too close to home.)
He swallows, throws an arm around Peter’s shoulders, and pulls him in close.
Peter goes easily, tucking himself into his mentor’s side with an effortlessness that does not pass by Tony unnoticed. Ian makes his way down his checklist, scrawling out confident red check marks beside each item, and Peter closes his eyes in contentment.
This is nice.
Peter manages to hold out for the rest of the movie, but as soon as the screen fades out on a picture of the elven brothers, he breaks. In fact, he barely even makes it four seconds into the end credits before his resolve snaps.
He can’t fool himself into believing he’s okay anymore—not when Mr. Stark’s arm is warm and heavy around him, not when Brandi Carlile’s emotional voice is crooning the loaded line you’re the soul who understands the scars that made me who I am, and not when he saw the way Mr. Stark hid a tearful, trembling smile behind the rim of his mug.
Sometimes, when he thinks of just how well Mr. Stark knows him—of how well Mr. Stark understands the scars that make him who he is, in a way no one else can—he finds himself breathless. In the end, it’s this—the realization that Mr. Stark notices, that Mr. Stark cares, that Mr. Stark will always be there for him—that makes him crumble.
“Mr. Stark?” Peter whispers.
Tony jerks up in surprise, his head whipping around to face Peter as if yanked by a leash. “Huh?” he blurts out dumbly, eyes blinking rapidly. After all, the last time they watched Onward and Tony tried to initiate a conversation while the end credits rolled, Peter practically blew up at him.
(“What’s the big deal?” Tony huffs defensively. “The movie’s already over!”
“But the song isn’t!” Peter argues.
Tony snorts. His Spider-Kid is always getting riled up about the most ridiculous things. Tony both hates and loves that about him.
“Come on, Mr. Stark, everyone knows ‘Carried Me With You’ is one of the best things about this entire movie,” Peter insists. “It completes the experience!”
“...you’ve gotta be kidding me,” he deadpans. “You’re unbelievable.”
“What’s unbelievable is that you think it’s even remotely acceptable to miss this masterpiece of a song.”
“Christ,”—Tony shakes his head in disbelief—“you’re lucky you’re adorable, or I would’ve kicked you out a long time ago.”
Peter just laughs brightly, entirely unfazed by Tony’s playful threat.)
Peter, completely blind to the incredulous look on Tony’s face, bites his lip nervously. All at once, he whispers, the words leaving him like a confession, “There was a boy. He was just a child, and...”
Now that he’s taken the first step, the rest of the story tumbles out of his mouth in a rush: “He was at the bank with his parents yesterday.”
Tony’s blood runs cold. At the bank. He knows what bank Peter must be talking about—there’s only one bank he could possibly be referring to, today of all days. After all, Capital One Bank has been all over the news since early this morning, with headlines such as Last-Minute Save at Queens’ Bank by Spider-Man and Spider-Man Rescues Hostages Amidst Explosions at Capital One Bank running nationwide.
“Capital One Bank, right?” Tony asks for confirmation. Peter nods, and Tony hums contemplatively. “I read that you got all the hostages out. You did good, Pete. I’m proud of you.”
(Compliments used to fall so rarely from Tony’s mouth. Or rather, he used to have no idea what it even meant to be proud of someone else.
These days, though, he never goes a day without reminding Peter of just how proud he is of him.)
Peter flinches as if physically struck. He doesn’t deserve Tony’s praise, no matter what Tony thinks.
“Yeah, well, did you also read about how I was almost too late to save that boy?” Peter retorts bitterly. “I got to everyone else on time, but he was in the basement with the perpetrator, and… I wasn’t fast enough, Mr. Stark. And because of me, he nearly got hurt. He could have died.”
Tony swallows in realization. Oh. Oh. That’s why he… Still, undeterred, he murmurs steadfastly, “Because of you, he survived.”
“But what if – what if he didn’t?” Peter whispers, voice thick with terror. Jameson’s words rattle in his brain, cruel and taunting: If you’re listening, Spider-Man—Queens was better off without you. “What if I’d failed, and he’d…”
He can’t bring himself to say it.
“Don’t think about that, Pete,” Tony scolds gently. “What-ifs never do us any good. I know you, and I know you did everything you could. I know you did your best.”
My best is never enough, Peter thinks despairingly, and in a flash, he sees it: all of his greatest failures.
Uncle Ben dies in front of him all over again, his kind hazelnut eyes as warm as the blood leaching out of his body and onto Peter’s hands. The sidewalk is rough and scratchy beneath his knees, and the stench of his own bile fills his nose.
Gravelly asphalt morphs into the stainless steel of an elevator that haunts his nightmares to this day. His friends’ familiar screams ring in his ears, and the unadulterated fear in Liz’s eyes drill into him as the elevator’s steel wire ropes snap and the floor falls away from beneath their feet.
In his distorted memories, Liz slips out of his grasp like sand, and her terror-struck face is replaced by her father’s vicious smile. Toomes’ laugh crawls up his spine as concrete and rebar come crashing down onto him, burying him whole, smothering his screams of HELP! and COME ON, SPIDER-MAN—
His best is never enough.
“—and whatever that little voice in your head is telling you, Peter, it’s wrong,” Tony is saying. “If you’ll listen to anything at all, listen to this: you saved them, Pete. No matter what else happened in that bank, don’t forget that you succeeded. Those hostages are alive because you were there last night. Like I said, I’m proud of you.”
Peter’s eyes prick with tears. “You didn’t see him,” he breathes. “He looked—”
—(“Am I going to die?”)—
—Terrified, like all of the monsters under his bed had come alive.
“I don’t need to have seen him,” Tony counters. “He’d have died without you, alone in that basement.”
“Maybe Jameson’s right,” Peter mutters to himself, too lost in his own demeaning thoughts to hear his mentor’s vehement reassurances. “What good is Spider-Man, if he can’t even pull off a hostage rescue correctly? I’m a menace.”
Tony’s eyes narrow. Jameson? he mouths to himself. Who the hell is that? And more importantly—why the fuck is he telling my kid he’s a menace?
Note to self: remember to have FRI hunt him down as soon as Peter leaves. No way in hell am I letting him run free disparaging Pete like that. Nobody gets to make Peter feel worthless.
“Peter Benjamin Parker, don’t you ever call yourself a ‘menace’ again,” Tony snaps, and despite his outward facade of pure indignation, there’s something else in his voice. Something loud and roaring and fiercely defensive, Peter realizes. “No one gets away with insulting my kid—not even when he’s being a dumbass—not even you yourself.”
Peter blinks dazedly.
Without warning, Aunt May’s doting smile weaves its way into the forefront of his mind, familiar and comforting. He feels the imprint of her arms around him, warm and snug and safe.
Oh, he thinks, finally understanding what it is he heard in Tony’s voice. Protective anger, worry, and underneath it all, a well of love.
Peter sucks in a sharp breath. “I’m being a dumbass, huh?” he wonders lightly, because he can’t bring himself to comment on the other thing Mr. Stark revealed. Because if he lets himself dwell on the way my kid rolled off Mr. Stark’s tongue—as if it belonged there, as if Mr. Stark was born to say it—he knows he’ll break down in tears.
Tony nods seriously. “Yep,” he agrees, and the slightest hint of a smirk slithers onto his lips.
Tony’s gaze gentles immeasurably. “You’re a hero, kiddo,” he murmurs, any trace of amusement or biting sarcasm gone. “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”
It feels unbelievable, sometimes, how much Mr. Stark believes in him. (Because for some unfathomable reason, Mr. Stark believes in him more than Peter himself ever has.)
I don't deserve it, Peter thinks to himself, Aaron’s petrified gaze burned in his memory. Beyond that, he doesn’t know how to live up to all of Mr. Stark’s expectations, how to be good enough as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
“Hey,”—Tony nudges him—“I mean it. And you should really listen to me, because I know what I’m talking about. I’m Tony Stark, after all.”
“Right. You’re Tony Stark,” Peter echoes, exasperated despite the uncertainty that lingers in his bones. Mr. Stark always knows exactly how to lift his spirits.
And from the speakers, Carlile’s soothing voice warbles, And when my head was in the clouds, you found a way to pull me out.
As if hearing his thoughts, Tony smirks. “Exactly. And Tony Stark says you’re a better hero than he’ll ever be.”
You picked my heart up off the ground, Carlile sings, strong and sure, and it showed me love was all around.
But no matter how loud FRIDAY’s speakers are, all Peter can hear is—
"You’re a better hero."
All Peter can think of is—
"...I just wanted to be like you."
"And I wanted you to be better."
Peter flinches violently. Without warning, he bursts into tears, his previously improved mood fleeing immediately.
“Don’t,” Peter chokes. “Don’t say that. You wouldn’t be thinking that if you knew all the things I’ve done, all the ways I’ve failed.”
“You’re wrong. Let me prove you wrong,” Tony urges. “Tell me.”
Peter shakes his head frantically. “No,” he says desperately, “I can’t. You… you said you were proud of me, Mr. Stark, and I…”
“Nothing you could possibly say could make me any less proud,” Tony promises. “You’re my kid, Pete, you know that. I’ll always be proud, no matter what.”
In that moment, Tony’s encouraging smile reminds him of the sheer relief on Aaron’s father’s face last night.
“I lied,” he admits in a rush. His voice cracks in half. “I wasn’t too late. I got there just in time. And when I did, the robber – he, uh, he told me I had a minute or two before the bomb would go off. I had time.”
“What happened?” Tony asks, not unkindly. In all of his interviews and press conferences, Peter has never heard him sound like this before—indulgent and endlessly patient.
“The robber ran away,” Peter recounts. “I let him. I… I went to Aaron. And I was so close to getting the bomb vest off when—”
When I remembered Toomes.
Peter swallows thickly. “I know it was probably just my head playing tricks on me, but it sounded so loud,” he says instead. “And the beeping was so fast, I – I panicked.”
Tony rests a hand on Peter’s knee, squeezing reassuringly.
Peter looks up and meets Tony’s gaze reluctantly, his eyelashes damp with tears. “I froze, Mr. Stark.” His voice is hushed, thick with self-recrimination. “I froze, and it almost got Aaron killed.”
“Oh, Pete,” Tony sighs sympathetically. “You can’t blame yourself for that. It was a stressful situation. I get it. Anyone would’ve been scared.”
“But you don’t get it,” Peter insists. “It is my fault, because I thought – I thought I was okay. I thought he couldn’t get to me anymore, but he can. I was stupid, and it put someone else in danger. A little boy.”
“I don’t follow,” Tony interrupts. “What are you talking about? Who's he? What don’t I get, Peter?”
Peter ducks his head and stares long and hard at his hands, as if he can see the blood he knows they are soaked in. Usually, he looks down at his hands and all he can see is Uncle Ben’s blood.
This time, he lets himself imagine Aaron’s.
At the thought of that image, nausea surges through him.
“Nothing,” he says quickly, tucking his hands beneath his knees. “I – never mind. You’re right, I was just… I was just scared. That’s all it was.”
Tony frowns. “Peter—”
“I shouldn’t have gotten scared, though,” he forges on. “I’m supposed to be a superhero. Everyone was looking to me to save them, and I screwed up. I – I made a mistake, and now Aaron will be stuck with that memory forever.”
“That’s not your fault—"
“He looked so small in that vest,” Peter whispers. “So fragile. Physically, he’s unhurt, but… he had a bomb strapped to his chest. He thought he was going to die, Mr. Stark. He’ll never get over that.”
This much, Peter knows with every fiber of his being. He knows it because he never got over his first near-death experience, because he still can’t get the memory of Toomes walking away and leaving him to his death out of his mind.
Sometimes, when he closes his eyes, it’s all he can see. Sometimes, when it’s too quiet in the dead of night and even his enhanced hearing can’t pick up anything beyond the four walls of his room, all he can hear is his own heavy breathing and muffled sobs and desperate screams for help. And sometimes, when he awakes from a nightmare entangled in his blanket, he feels like he’s back in that warehouse, dust and debris suffocating him.
Peter gasps for breath. “I’m – I’m okay,” he manages to say. “I was just… lost in thought.”
“Well, like I was saying, you can’t punish yourself for getting scared,” Tony says. “Trust me, fear is natural. Hell, I would’ve been terrified out of my mind if I’d found myself in an underground vault with an armed bomb.”
“Right.” Peter nods. “I guess that’s true. Yeah, I just – I was just scared of getting trapped under a building again.”
Tony doesn’t realize it now, but later, he’ll look back at this moment and pinpoint it as the beginning of his unraveling. As of now, though, he doesn’t yet understand the implications of Peter’s words—doesn’t understand the weight and gravity they carry.
“‘Again’?” he asks sharply. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”
Peter stills. Shit, he thinks bleakly, cursing himself for recklessly running his mouth. Damn it, Parker, this is why teachers always tell you to think before you speak. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He never wanted Mr. Stark to know about that day from Hell—he never wanted Mr. Stark to realize just how close he came to death, and just how often he still thought of Toomes and what he did to him.
“Huh?” Peter feigns ignorance. “Did I say ‘again’? Sorry, I – I must have meant ‘at all’—as in, I was scared of getting trapped under a building at all. Why would I say ‘again’? That’s ridiculous.”
Tony narrows his eyes. “Peter,” he enunciates slowly, trepidation pooling in the pit of his stomach. “What the hell did you mean by ‘again’?”
Tony locks gazes with Peter, intent and searching.
Peter has always been a terrible liar.
“…Homecoming,” Peter whispers, and as hesitant as he is to finally spill his secret, it feels like a weight off his chest. He sags into the soft cushioning of the sofa and closes his eyes, unable to face Mr. Stark as he continues, “You found Toomes and I on Coney Island, but our fight began in an abandoned warehouse. After a while, he, uh – he knocked out the support columns. The entire building collapsed, and… and I was still inside.”
If only Peter were to open his eyes, he’d find his mentor staring at him in abject horror.
(Peter claims the building collapsed with him in it. Tony lets the words wash over him and feels like his entire world is collapsing.)
“I-I had no idea. Why didn’t you call me?” Tony chokes out, the words tasting sour on his tongue. His stomach churns with guilt. How could this have happened? How could he have let this happen?
How had he failed Peter in such a monumental, unforgivable way?
“I couldn’t,” Peter says, and it feels like betrayal.
It feels like a self-inflicted punch in the gut, like electricity coursing up his arm, like free-falling to certain death. Tony would gladly face Loki a dozen more times if it would erase this irredeemable sin, because—
“You didn’t have your suit,” Tony says, thick with realization. “I took your suit.”
Peter just nods, unable to bring himself to say it.
He doesn’t have to. Tony knows enough. He knows he let Peter down, knows he could have saved Peter from being trapped underneath an entire goddamn building, knows nothing will ever make up for it.
Oh, god, he thinks helplessly, what have I done?
“I screamed for help,” Peter explains, ”but no one came. I don’t know how long I just lay there, listening to my own ribcage bend and break inside my body, before I realized I was the only one who could save myself now.”
(If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.)
“How did you…?”
“Turns out that spider bite has more perks than I realized,” Peter offers.
Tony hears what Peter doesn’t say. “You lifted the building off of yourself, didn’t you?”
It isn’t a question.
Peter nods reluctantly.
A breath leaves Tony, too heavily to be just an expulsion of air. The thought of Peter having to save himself from a man with a grudge against Tony, because Tony had stolen his form of protection and his means of asking for help…
(I screamed for help, but no one came, Peter said, and it sounded like: I needed your help, but you didn’t come.
Tony closes his eyes in defeat. It’s only his years’ worth of experience in drowning himself in alcohol that keeps him from doubling over and retching right then and there.)
He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t even know what to think.
How could he have been so stupid, to have honestly believed that Peter would have simply stopped going out as Spider-Man just because he no longer had a Stark-suit? He’d been trying to forcibly ground Peter and protect him, but instead he put him in even more danger. Instead, he left Peter to fend for himself.
Some mentor I am, he thinks bitterly. How could Peter have ever trusted him again, after all that? How could Peter have forgiven him?
“You could’ve died,” Tony breathes. He squeezes his eyes shut and shudders. “Toomes nearly killed you, and I wasn’t there.”
...Where had he been?
At some stupid gala, probably, mingling with dozens of stuck-up sycophants, completely unaware that halfway across the city, Peter Parker was suffering. (Because of him.)
“How did I not know this?” he finally dares to ask, and a part of him is terrified of the answer. But the other part of him needs to know. “Toomes has been in jail for months. Why didn’t you ever tell me?” His voice is pleading.
(Tony has never had to beg anyone for anything in his entire life—the perks of being not only impossibly rich but also impossibly influential, impossibly powerful, as both Tony Effing Stark and Iron Man—but right now, he begs.
He begs for absolution. He hopes the answer is that Peter saw no need to tell him because he’s healed. He prays for salvation.
Deep down, he knows his hopes are in vain.
He thought he was going to die, Mr. Stark, Peter bewailed mere moments ago, eyes far away as if he was entrapped by a memory. He’ll never get over that.
At the time, Tony thought he was simply remembering Aaron. Now, he thinks of the raw fear in Peter’s voice and wonders if he was talking about himself.)
Peter doesn’t have an answer to his mentor’s imploring questions—not one Mr. Stark wants to hear, anyway.
Maybe: I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want you to think I couldn’t handle this—being Spider-Man.
Or: You finally gave me my suit back. I couldn’t lose it again.
Or: I was scared.
He doesn’t say any of those. Instead, all he says is, “I didn’t want you to think I was weak.”
Tony rears back as if Peter had attacked him. The realization that he’s failed Peter in even more ways than he first believed—that he’s failed to make Peter feel safe with him, to trust him with his vulnerabilities—threatens to drown him whole. “Pete, kid, no— I wouldn’t have—”
“I know,” Peter interrupts. This is yet another reason why he never intended to let Tony know, he thinks: because superheroes and self-blame go hand-in-hand, and he never wanted Tony to feel responsible for Peter's mistakes. “I just didn’t want to let you down.”
Not again, he thinks privately. He’ll never forget the way Mr. Stark looked at him that day after the Staten Island Ferry nearly fell apart—with sheer disappointment.
“I wish you felt comfortable enough to tell me earlier,” Tony murmurs, and can’t help but think of himself in his youth, so estranged from his father. As a child, he never felt like he could come to Howard with his fears, his doubts, his nightmares—real or imaginary. The thought that Peter might feel that way about him makes him feel sick to his stomach. “I wish I could've been there for you. I’m the one who let you down, not the other way around.”
“No,” Peter says firmly, and Tony’s eyes snap up to meet his. There’s no recrimination in Peter’s gaze. No blame, no loathing, no righteous anger. “No. That was not your fault. You couldn’t have possibly known.”
“You told me what happened last night wasn’t my fault,” Peter reminds him. “That I’m not guilty of what did happen and of what could have happened to Aaron.”
“Of course not,” Tony scoffs, “if yesterday was anyone’s fault, it’s the robber’s.”
“Exactly,” Peter huffs. “If you won’t let me blame myself for Aaron, then there’s no way in hell I’m going to let you hate yourself for something that happened months ago—something that was completely out of your control.”
“But whether or not you had your suit was in my control,” Tony argues. “If I’d just listened to you, I could have saved you from that night.” But I didn’t listen. I didn’t save you, not like you saved Aaron.
“You did the right thing,” Peter tells him, and the conviction in Peter’s voice stuns Tony speechless. He and Peter have long come to the silent agreement to avoid the topic of the Staten Island Disaster (yes, Disaster-with-a-capital-D, because Tony’s Spider-Kid is full of dramatic teen angst and don’t let him tell you otherwise); these days, anything even remotely related to their Argument (also with a capital A) from that day has become taboo. In any case, Peter has certainly never admitted to agreeing that Tony was in the right—not like he’s doing now. “I was reckless and foolish and completely unaware of the potential dangers of my powers. You were just trying to keep me out of danger.”
Well, I failed miserably at that, Tony thinks, eyes haunted as they dart to Peter’s chest where it rises and falls. Peter’s breath comes steadily now, but—
What if things had gone worse with Toomes? What if he never escaped that collapsed building?
“Mr. Stark, I’m okay. Really, I am! You can even ask FRIDAY for confirmation—she’ll tell you all of my vitals and stuff are stable. I’m fine,” Peter reassures. He knows that expression all too well. “Besides, ‘what-ifs never do us any good,’ remember?”
Tony blinks. “Peter Parker, did you just use my own words against me?”
Peter just shrugs. “Whatever works.”
Tony can’t resist the urge to roll his eyes. “You’re impossible,” he sighs, and is rewarded with a bright smile. He hides an affectionate smile of his own. God, this kid. It’s hopeless to try to stay in a bad mood when Peter’s giving him that broad, shit-eating grin of his—anyone who’s ever met Peter Parker will attest to that.
“So… did it work?” Peter, like the annoyingly persistent kid that he is, teases.
Tony hums and takes a long sip of his hot (well, lukewarm now) chocolate to stall for time. “Fine,” he relents at last.
And then, because the thought of Peter begging for help beneath tons of concrete, voice hoarse with desperation, still makes his heart squeeze, he adds: “But Pete, next time you’re in trouble—whether it’s because of a difficult patrol or a jerk at school—please call me. Please. You never have to worry about appearing ‘weak’ to me or anything like that—or if you are, give Rhodey a call and I’m sure he’ll be more than thrilled to fill you in on all of my weakest moments. The time I nearly died tripping down the stairs at college comes to mind. Anyway, my point is: I’m never going to judge you, Peter. I just want to help you in any way I can.”
Peter’s peppy grin softens at the edges, morphing into a smile that is less animated and more appreciative, more sincere and grateful. “I know,” he says, and realizes as the words leave him that they’re the truth. He does know. As terrified and self-conscious as he is, he knows his worries are unfounded; he knows they stem from his own insecurities, his own unwillingness to seem incapable in front of his mentor, and not Mr. Stark’s perspective.
Mr. Stark has never given him reason to believe that he wouldn’t support him, no matter what—from helping him on science fair projects to cheering him on at Decathlon competitions, Mr. Stark always shows up.
If there’s one thing Peter can count on, it’s that.
“I promise I’ll ask for help if I ever need it,” he adds. “Besides, even if I don’t, I’m sure you’ve programmed KAREN to contact you herself in the case of an emergency.”
“I might have,” Tony agrees shamelessly.
Peter just laughs. “I knew it! And you called me impossible.”
Tony smirks at him, completely remorseless, and Peter knows they’re okay. He’s okay.
Watching Tony tear himself down out of a misplaced sense of guilt drilled into him the realization that he can’t blame himself for Ski Mask Asshole’s actions.
He has no doubt that there will be moments where he forgets, moment where he loses the fight against the belittling voice in his head, and moments where he gets swept up in another wave of contrition and self-flagellation, but he also has no doubt that when those moments do come, Mr. Stark will be there.
We’ll be okay, Peter thinks and believes. The corners of his lips turn upwards to form a tender smile. Yeah. We really will.
“So,” he cuts cheerily into the silence after a few beats, somber mood all but forgotten as he finally reaches for the popcorn bowl again and tosses a few kernels into his mouth, “what are we watching next? I vote for Tangled.”
Tony emits an exaggerated groan. “You just want to watch it for the songs,” he accuses.
“Guilty as charged,” Peter says unapologetically.
Tony shoots Peter a warning glare. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop. It’s not going to happen.”
Peter pouts. The one and only time they watched Tangled together for Movie Night, Peter fell asleep halfway through and awoke to Tony carding his hand through his hair and softly humming along to I’ve Got a Dream.
Peter has never let him live it down. (He makes FRIDAY blare the tune of I’ve Got a Dream at least once a week when he’s over. Whenever Tony accuses him of trying to trip him up, Peter always claims it’s a coincidence, but they both know the truth: he’s just waiting and hoping to catch Tony off-guard again.)
“Oh, come on,” Peter pleads, “you know you want to.” Without prompting, he lifts his glass of hot chocolate to his lips and pretends it’s a microphone, exaggeratedly and theatrically carolling his favorite lines of the upbeat song, “‘Cause way down deep inside… we’ve got a dream…”
Tony immediately bursts out laughing. “Oh, god, make it stop,” he gasps through a fit of chortles. His protests only make Peter grin wider and sing louder. “Stopppp,” he gripes, but the cackle behind his voice betrays his amusement, “you're killing me here. Jesus, I regret everything.”
“Your dream is to sing that song, by the way,” Peter adds unhelpfully, “if that wasn’t clear—”
“Oh, no, it was very clear,” Tony interrupts, donning an unimpressed facade. He forcibly silences his chuckles under Peter’s knowing gaze. “Still not happening.”
Peter squints disbelievingly at him. “Oh, it’s happening. You won’t be able to help yourself. The song will come on and you’ll just break out singing like every single character in all those musicals you love—”
“FRIDAY, you better cue up Tangled before I’m forced to make an Iron Man sentry toss Peter off the balcony,” Tony cuts him off.
“FRIDAY, you traitor. How dare you both conspire against me like this, you—”
“My apologies, Mini Boss—”
“Wha—? No, stop that! Don’t apologize, FRIDAY—I’m the boss, remember?”
“You’re just mad your own AI likes me better—”
“...Shhh, kid, it’s starting—”
“This is the story of how I died, ” Flynn Rider begins to narrate, and Peter and Tony both immediately fall silent. “ Don’t worry—this is actually a very fun story! And the truth is, it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel… ”
Two movies later—Coco came after Tangled, mostly because not even Iron Man can do anything against the power of Peter Parker’s puppy dog eyes—Peter and Tony seamlessly launch into their post-Movie Night ritual: Tony starts to shut down the TV and clean up the living room, while Peter grabs their dirty bowls and glasses and backflips off the sofa and into the kitchen. Washing the dishes with a practiced ease that comes from years of dish-washing with his aunt, Peter quickly deposits the newly-cleaned tableware in the FRIDAY-operated electric drying rack and returns to the living room.
“How am I always faster than you?” Peter teases as soon as he enters and spots Tony standing idly in front of a mess of blankets. “All you have to do is put the blankets away and get FRIDAY to turn off the TV.”
“Well, I would be faster, if it weren’t for the fact that you always bring an inordinate number of blankets—even though you only ever use just one!” Tony points out, nodding his head at the pile of blankets Peter dropped onto the ottoman at the beginning of their mini movie marathon. Peter splutters in protest (I’m being prepared! Who knows how cold I’ll get over the course of a few movies? ), but Tony ignores him and carries on, “Besides, you have an unfair advantage. You have your super spider-speed and all that.”
“...‘Super spider-speed’?” Peter echoes skeptically, scrunching up his nose. “That’s not a thing.”
“Yeah, well, I say it’s a thing, and in this house, what I say goes,” Tony counters without missing a beat. “Now go put your super spider-strength to good use and put away your hoard of blankets.”
“You’re just blaming the spider to distract from your bad back,” Peter pokes fun, “old man.”
Tony gives an exaggerated gasp, dramatically clutching at his heart with one hand. “Wow, kiddo, that’s harsh,” he remarks, gawking woundedly.
Peter snorts and sticks his tongue out at his mentor, even as he dutifully bends down and effortlessly picks up the entire pile of blankets to Tony’s whoop of delight.
Later, after everything has been returned to its rightful place, Peter slings his backpack over his shoulder and makes his way towards the elevator. “Bye, Mr. Stark! I’ll see you, Stella and FRI on Monday!” he hollers over his shoulder.
“I think FRIDAY’s going to be offended that you thought of my lab—as in, you know, an inanimate object—before her, Pete,” Tony remarks, amused.
“Sorry, FRI, you know I love you,” Peter laughs and waves sheepishly at a security camera mounted on the ceiling, despite knowing that FRIDAY runs throughout the entire building and isn’t restricted to any single receiver.
As if in response, the elevator bay lights up as one of the lifts arrives on the penthouse floor with a ding.
Peter arches a brow. Neither he nor Mr. Stark had called for the elevator yet. “Does that mean I’m forgiven?” he jokes. “Or is she banishing me from the tower?”
Tony chuckles. “I wouldn’t worry about it, kid. FRI adores you too much.”
As Peter hums in smug satisfaction and passes by, Tony yanks him into a secure hug and whispers a firm you did good, Pete into his curls.
Peter blinks back tears and briefly tucks his head under Mr. Stark’s chin. His mentor always gives phenomenal hugs, especially for someone who claims to recoil at the thought of emotional vulnerability.
“Thanks, Mr. Stark,” he whispers.
Tony smiles and gives Peter’s shoulders one last squeeze before letting him go. “Just remember I’m proud of you—of Spider-Man and Peter Parker both,” he calls out. After all, it may have taken Spider-Man’s enhanced strength to save those hostages, but it was Peter Parker’s compassion and selflessness and bravery that allowed him to be at that bank when they needed him.
Peter ducks into the elevator and smiles to himself, warmed.
(It turns out Operation: Cheer Up the Underoos is a success after all. Never let it be said that Tony doesn’t know exactly how to raise his Spider-Kid’s spirits.)
(The elevator doors slide shut, and Peter fails to hear what else Mr. Stark has to say:
“FRI, darling? Draft a message to Ned Leeds, would you? Ask him who this ‘Jameson’ asshole is. Oh, wait, you probably shouldn’t include the word ‘asshole’ in the text—impressionable minds and all that…”)
03. WHEREVER YOU GO
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, I’ll always be there supporting you.”
The next morning, Peter wakes up to the insistent buzz...buzz...buzz… of his phone. He groans, flinging his arm out and blindly searching for the vibrating device on his bedside table. When he finds it, fingers wrapping clumsily around the phone, he lifts it to his face—only to find that his phone is blowing up with texts from Ned.
Peter blinks dumbly, eyes roaming blankly over Ned’s frantic texts, running into an assembly of capital letters and exclamation marks.
Confused, he types out a quick message and presses send.
web-slinger: what’s going on?
Almost immediately, Ned resurfaces, abruptly restarting his rapid-fire spam.
guy in the chair: PETER
guy in the chair: YOU’RE ALIVEEE
guy in the chair: PETE PETE PETE
guy in the chair: IT’S HAPPENING
guy in the chair: THE DAY HAS FINALLY COME!!!
Peter’s nose scrunches up in confusion. “...Huh?”
It’s too early for this, he thinks miserably to himself, too exhausted to try to figure out what’s happening on his phone’s too-bright screen.
Luckily, it seems Ned knows him too well, because not even a second later, his phone rings with an incoming call from Caller ID: Guy in the Chair.
Peter muffles a yawn and clicks accept. “Mornin’, Ned,” he groans, gratefully putting the phone on speaker and setting it down on the table now that he no longer has to stare into its glaring screen. He flops back down onto his bed and yanks his blanket up until they cover even his face. “Notice I didn’t say ‘good morning,’” he adds snarkily.
Ned chortles with amusement, easily understanding his best friend's voice despite it being muffled by the duvet. “Right, of course, who could forget how irritable you get at this time of day?” he shoots back, completely unfazed after all of their sleepovers and overnight calls. Anyone who knows Peter at all knows that he isn’t a morning person. “But I need you to forget your fervent hatred for early mornings for just a minute.”
Peter squeezes his eyes shut for a total of two seconds. Eventually, he throws the blanket off him and snatches his phone back up, squinting at Ned’s contact photo with annoyance.
...His annoyance doesn’t last long. He can never stay mad while staring at a picture of his best friend pulling a goofy face for the cameras.
But he’s not about to let Ned realize the power his silly faces have over Peter. So instead of giving in and laughing, he announces gravely, “I hate you.”
“I know,” Ned says, entirely too smug. He knows exactly what kind of power he holds. They’ve been best friends for too long, Peter thinks. “Are you sitting down?”
“Lying down, thank you very much,” Peter corrects. “Why on earth would I be sitting right now?”
“Never mind,” Ned chuckles. “Just wanted to make sure you’re not in danger of toppling over at the slightest breeze.”
“You do remember I’m Spider-Man, right?”
“Of course I do,” Ned says. “Actually, that’s kind of what I’m calling about.”
“...To remind yourself that I’m Spider-Man?” Peter asks in confusion.
“What? No! Look, just – just check your phone, okay? Twitter, Instagram, every social media platform you have.”
Reluctantly, Peter does—because if there’s one thing he’s learned after over a decade of being friends with Ned Leeds, it’s that Ned becomes a force of nature when he has his mind set on something. It’s better (read: easier) to just go along with his whims.
(He can practically hear Ned vibrating with excitement as the other boy waits for him to check his social media accounts.)
Almost as soon as he opens up his Twitter app, Peter splutters in shock—because after the initial lag passes, his feed welcomes onslaught after onslaught of Tweets. And in every single one of them, he spots a common thread—a common name.
(Well, Spider-Man’s name. He and Ned would no doubt be having a very different conversation right now if it were Peter Parker’s name.)
“What – what is this?” Peter’s voice trembles.
“YOU’RE TRENDING!” Ned immediately crows in his ear, no longer able to hold himself back. His boundless enthusiasm rears its neon-colored head, evident in every lilt of his voice—high-pitched and tinny over the phone’s loudspeaker. “SPIDER-MAN IS TRENDING, PETER!”
Peter stares dumbly down at his phone, because—for once—his Guy in the Chair isn’t exaggerating.
Right there, on his phone screen, is the evidence of it: hundreds—no, thousands—of Tweets made in support of Spider-Man, waxing lyrical about his heart of gold and his good deeds and his heroics. Thousands.
Peter sniffles. He thinks back to the previous evening, to the comfortable quiet in the lab and Mr. Stark’s arm wrapped around his shoulders. He thinks of the look in Mr. Stark’s eyes when he murmured, “You’re a hero, kiddo. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”
He thought that had been the end of it. Now, he knows better. Because now, staring down as thousands upon thousands of people step forward in support of Spider-Man, he knows—he categorically knows—that this is Mr. Stark’s doing.
It has to be.
“...I’m going to have to call you back,” he says out loud, his voice strangled.
There’s a long pause, as if Ned is wondering how to proceed, before he ultimately concedes, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be waiting. Don’t freak out too much. Or, you know, if you do feel like freaking out—you know where to find me.”
Peter laughs weakly. Too late, Ned, he thinks, but is inwardly grateful for Ned’s unspoken support. He knows Ned will always have his back. He has no doubt that if he were to show up at Ned’s house on a Saturday morning with no notice and no warning, Ned would welcome him in with only a grin and an easy come on, we have snacks inside.
“Thanks, Ned,” he says, and it feels meaningless. There are no words that could possibly encompass his limitless gratitude for everything Ned has ever done for him.
But, he supposes, a thank-you is a start.
“No need for any thanks,” Ned waves it off. “I’m your guy in the chair, after all.”
Peter blinks back tears, abruptly struck by the memory of Ned hacking into his Spider-Man suit and bravely risking the wrath of Tony Effing Stark at his request, of Ned showing up with french fries and a tub of rocky road ice cream after Mr. Stark took his suit back, of Ned willingly landing himself in trouble with a terrible lie (I’m watching porn) to cover for Peter. His life is littered with a million different times Ned has had his back.
This is no different.
“Yeah, you are,” Peter murmurs, and thinks of Aunt May staying up late to make sure he gets home safely on patrol nights, of her warm hugs and comforting forehead kisses. He thinks of Mr. Stark’s kind eyes and unwavering I’m proud of you. He thinks of Happy and his silent support, of how he instantly realized something was wrong and asked Mr. Stark to check in on him.
He has no idea how he ever got so lucky, to have all these people who’d go to Hell and back for him.
Ned laughs again, bright and giddy, blissfully ignorant of just how much his unquestioning loyalty means to Peter, and ends the call.
Peter heaves a sigh, returning his attention to his Twitter feed and the slew of support for Spider-Man. It takes over half an hour (thank god for lazy weekends in) of scrolling, clicking through threads and downright investigative work, but Peter eventually manages to trace the catalyst back to one specific Tweet:
It’s an official Tweet from Tony Stark’s verified account, slamming the Daily Bugle for criticizing Spider-Man.
Tony Stark @i-am-ironman ✓
(1/?) I recently read an article by J. Jonah Jameson that accused Spider-Man of doing anything less than his absolute best to try to save the hostages during Thursday night’s Capital One Bank incident. Jameson could not be more wrong.
> Tony Stark @i-am-ironman ✓
(2/?) The truth is, Spider-Man happened upon the scene of an ongoing bomb threat, and instead of running, he didn’t hesitate to leap into the crossfire. He willingly endangered himself for the sake of others. This is what Spider-Man does, every damn day, and it’s what makes him my hero.
>> Tony Stark @i-am-ironman ✓
(3/?) It’s also why Spider-Man inspires me to be better—a better hero and a better man. In both my personal and my professional opinion, we should all strive to be more like him. So I better not hear anymore of this bullshit about Spider-Man being anything other than the BEST hero we have ever known.
>>> Tony Stark @i-am-ironman ✓
(4/?) I’ve been certain of this since the very first time I met him, when he told me that he does what he does simply because he has the power to, and thus he has the responsibility to. It was in that moment that I thought, ‘Wow, this world is a better place because he’s in it.’
>>>> Tony Stark @i-am-ironman ✓
(5/5) I stand by that opinion today. The world truly is better off with him in it. There’s simply no one I’d trust more to keep the city safe than Spider-Man #ThankYouSpider-Man #OurHero #SupportSpidey
Peter stares in shock. He suspected Mr. Stark had a hand in this, but to actually see the evidence of it—to see Mr. Stark speak up in his defense and practically proclaim Spider-Man to be his favorite hero (for all the world to see, no less)…
Peter can hardly believe his eyes.
Resisting the urge to immediately call Mr. Stark and weep into the phone, he reluctantly clicks out of the thread (though not before taking a dozen different screenshots—just to be safe—and inwardly squealing to himself in excited glee) and resumes his browsing.
After Mr. Stark’s initial Tweet, the ensuing wave of support was overwhelming—there are long anecdotes detailing Spider-Man’s good deeds, video messages from people crying and thanking him for saving them, pictures of families (safe and whole families) beaming up at him and thanking Spider-Man, a little girl holding up a drawing of Spider-Man saving her brother, a classroom of kindergarteners all enthusiastically reciting thank you Mr. Spider-Man, and so much more.
Every single Tweet is tagged #ThankYouSpider-Man, #OurHero and #SupportSpidey in accordance with Mr. Stark’s.
But best of all: there’s a post from Aaron’s family, accompanied by a heartfelt message of thanks.
In it, Aaron is beaming brightly at the camera as he clutches a large card that exclaims, Thank you for saving me, Spider-Man! You’re my hero!
My son would be dead if you hadn’t been there last night, Spider-Man, the caption reads. Thanks to you, he’s safe and sound. We owe you one.
Peter’s eyes abruptly pool with tears, and he finally gives in to the urge to text Tony.
underoos: you really didn’t have to do that, Mr. Stark!!!
underoos: ...thank you
When he’s finally composed himself enough to stumble out of his room, he finds Aunt May grinning knowingly at him and his red-rimmed eyes. Her own eyes are twinkling with mischief, but she tellingly stays silent as she hands over a bowl of cereal.
Peter thinks of last night, of Tony’s tangible concern and his pride, of the phone in his pocket that’s still on Tony’s last text to him (anything for my Spider-Kid), and smiles back at his aunt.
He’s just trying his best. And for once, he believes it’s enough.
It’s more than enough.
(And if ever he doubts that, he knows he’ll always have his family to lift him back up. Not just his aunt, but also his friends, his mentor, and all the people he’s saved.
He will always have their support.)
The following Monday, Ned slips him a tiny wrapped box.
Peter arches an eyebrow, to which Ned only grins and whispers, open it.
He does, and—
It’s a pin emblazoned with the words #SupportSpidey.
“Happy dropped them off at my house this morning,” Ned reveals. Now that it’s no longer a secret from Peter, he promptly pulls out an identical pin from inside his pocket and hooks it to the front of his sweatshirt. “Apparently Mr. Stark custom-ordered the pins himself. Honestly, Happy looked a little like he couldn’t believe that Mr. Stark even knew how to shop online without Ms. Potts’ or FRIDAY’s help.”
Peter can’t help himself: he throws his head back and laughs (and cries happy tears inside).
(He swears he sees Aunt May, MJ, and Mr. Stark all wearing the pin that day. Mr. Stark has even managed to convince Happy to boast one on the left lapel of his suit jacket.)
(Somehow, some way, Flash gets his hands on his own #SupportSpidey pin.
Peter catches him slipping a few bucks into MJ’s locker later that day and wisely decides not to question it.)
The next time he goes on patrol, he spots Officer Rodriguez with a familiar grin and an equally-familiar box of donuts.
This time, Peter laughs and gladly accepts a donut when it’s offered to him in return for his hard work.
(When Mr. Stark finds him with a splotch of powdered sugar on his suit, all he does is shake his head with a smile, exasperated and immeasurably fond.)
A few weeks after the bomb threat—now referred to only as The Incident by Peter and Ned and (begrudgingly) Mr. Stark—Tony interrupts one of their lab sessions with an offhanded hey Pete, I had FRIDAY look Aaron and his family up, and she tracked down an address for you. They live in Brooklyn—
Peter’s crossed the room and is standing right in front of Tony before he can even finish his sentence. “Mr. Stark, that’s kinda creepy,” he remarks, and then hesitates for a moment. Eventually, he asks tentatively, “Is he—?”
“He’s okay,” Tony confirms. “So… do you want that address or are you afraid of looking like a stalker?”
The next day, Peter swings by an ice cream parlor on his way to Brooklyn. It takes longer than he expected (he didn’t realize the folly of walking in with his Spider-Man suit on until the owner rushed out from the backroom and begged for a picture together, abruptly prompting everyone else in the shop to follow suit), but he eventually escapes unscathed.
He’s two minutes away from his intended destination when he hesitates and makes a last-minute stop at a nearby coffee shop to pick up a few cups of hot chocolate.
Finally, a couple pints of Stark Raving Hazelnut ice cream tucked under one arm and a tray of hot chocolate carried carefully in the other, he walks up the driveway of a suburban home and knocks on the door.
The door swings open, and Peter comes face-to-face with familiar brown eyes.
“S-Spider-Man?” Aaron’s father stammers.
“Hi,” Peter greets awkwardly. “Uh, you’re Aaron’s father, right? I met you at the bank.”
“That’s me,” the man answers politely. “I’m David. I have to say, it’s nice to properly meet the man who saved my life.”
Unable to offer to shake David’s hand with both his hands occupied, Peter simply nods and replies, hoping that David can hear the smile in his voice, “It’s nice to meet you, too.”
With a knowing smile, David pops his head back into the house and hollers, “Aaron! It’s for you!”
Seconds later, Aaron comes barrelling out the door. “Mr. Spider-Man!” he exclaims. “Dad, look, it’s Mr. Spider-Man!”
David smiles in fond amusement. “I can see that,” he replies.
Peter can’t help but laugh. “Sorry for barging in,” he interjects. “I swear I’m not a stalker. I, uh, I bought offerings? Consider it a sort of get-well-soon gift.”
“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” David says in surprise. “This really isn’t necessary. I mean, it’s thanks to you that we don’t actually need to ‘get well soon’. You saved us all.”
“I wanted to,” Peter assures and lifts the tray of drinks towards them. “Hot chocolate?”
“Cool!” Aaron blurts out, rushing forward and eagerly accepting one of the paper cups. “This is so awesome! My friends will be so jealous!”
“He’s always been a huge fan of you, you know—even before what happened at the bank,” David divulges with a wink, giving in quickly at the sight of his son’s joy. He pauses and adds, as if as an afterthought, “And he’s a big fan of chocolate, too. He has a massive sweet tooth, so he loves pretty much anything that’s chocolate-flavored.”
Peter smiles lightly to himself. “Yeah,” he nods, thinking of hot chocolate and Iron Man blankets and Brandi Carlile’s singing, “me, too.”
(You saved them, Pete, Mr. Stark consoled last night, without so much as a shadow of doubt in his voice, and looking at them now—at Aaron’s effervescent beam and David’s quietly inextinguishable contentment—Peter believes him.)
(I’m proud of you.
He believes that, too.)