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Let's Whump the Spider-Kid and Friends!

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“I knew both Jack and Rose could have fit on that door.”

“We all know that, kid.”

“Rose was a door-hog.”

“I’m surprised you’ve even seen Titanic. Also if you call that one a really old movie I’m going to have an existential crisis.”

“What, the idea of baking to death surrounded by freezing water isn’t doing that already?”

“No one’s getting baked. No fried spiders allowed on my ship.”

“I think your ship needs an upgrade, Mr. Stark.” Peter rolls over to give his back a break from the blistering sun, facing straight upwards instead. He closes his eyes against the sunlight, pulling at his soaked t-shirt that's currently wrapped turban-style around his head.

They haven’t been here that long, it can’t have even been more than a day, but it’s already one day too many. They get an inch of space between them on the floating piece of plane wreckage, with not a speck of land in sight.

Peter still doesn’t know who attacked them, and Tony doesn’t know either or isn’t spilling. As time wears on, Peter begins to suspect the former, and then decides he doesn’t care. It’s the same outcome either way. They’re drifting in the open sea, both of their suits long since sunk to the bottom of the waves, with no hope of rescue. They’ve salvaged what they can from the crash, bits and pieces still bobbing on the waves. Tony’s still insisting he can fix a broken and very waterlogged radio, but he’s lying for Peter’s sake, and they both know it.

“Someone will know we went down,” Tony keeps saying. “They’ll come. They’re taking their sweet time about it, but they’ll come.”

Tony’s back at the radio, tongue poking into the side of his cheek like he always does when he’s concentrating, so Peter at least knows he’s trying for real now. “I wouldn’t mind an iceberg,” Peter decides. “Big block of ice. Sounds delicious.”

“Uh-huh. Ice. Cold. I’m sure that would be—ow!” A spark flies out of the radio. Tony glares at it, popping his scorched finger in his mouth. “Betrayal!”

“It’s okay,” Peter says quietly. “If you can’t. You know. Fix it.”

“It’s not okay. It’s very much not okay. I’m meant to be keeping you safe, kid, as difficult a job as you make that.”

“Yeah,” Peter says quietly. “Yeah, I know.”

Tony pauses in his work. “Hey, what’s that face for? I was joking. Kind of. In that you do throw yourself into danger at the worst possible times, which is terrible for my heart on multiple levels. But this one isn’t on you. Pretty sure it’s on me.”

Peter rolls over so he’s fully facing his mentor. “You attacked your own plane? Baller.”

Tony snorts. “You’re meant to be in school,” he gripes. “And then I insist on pulling you out to take you to some conference in Japan, which wasn’t even going to be interesting—”

Peter straightens up. “You promised me it was going to be fun!”

“Yeah, for me. If you came along to relieve some of the boredom.”

Peter settles back down on the plane wreckage, mollified. “Really? Me being there would make it fun for you?”

“Of course it would. And fat lot of good it did you.” Tony gestures around them. “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink, and all that.”

“Actually, it’s Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

“Alright, showoff.”

“It’s one of MJ’s favorite poems.” Peter swallows, putting his head back in his arms, completing his 360 degree turn. It feels pointless regardless—there’s no comfortable way to lie, no escape from the heat.

“Hey.” Tony squeezes Peter’s shoulder, his fingers uncomfortably hot. “Don’t get all mopey on me. You’ll see your scary girlfriend again. This isn’t over yet. Look.” He indicates the sky. “Sun’s getting real low.”

“I’m not the Hulk.”

“Good, because out of all the teammates to be stranded on a tiny piece of metal in the middle of the ocean with, he’d be last on my list.” Tony seems to consider it. “Unless he could power swim us to shore or something. Point is—it’s going to cool off soon.”

It’s not much of a comfort, except that maybe they’ll die of hypothermia before they die of thirst. Peter doubts it though. He feels like a desert’s been growing in his throat.

“Mr. Stark,” Peter says quietly. “Can I ask you something? Kind of…a weird favor?”

“Not sure I’m in much of a condition to grant any favors right now, but I’ll do my best. What do you need, kid?”

Peter swallows, trying not to think about how much it hurts. “I just…if this is it—”

“It’s not.”

“—then I don’t want to spend our last hours pretending that everything’s going to be fine.”

Tony swivels his head around to look at him. “You want to spend the next few hours…what, talking about us dying? That’s morbid.”

“Not really.” Peter goes to shrug, then realizes his burnt shoulders hurt far too much. “Maybe more…I don’t know. I want to talk about something that matters.”

Tony goes back to staring at the bright sky, a range of emotions crossing his face as he works through that. “Sure,” he says finally. “So tell me, Peter Parker. What matters?”

“I don’t know. How did you meet Pepper?”

Tony lets out a surprised laugh. “Really? That’s your definition of a deathbed discussion, meet-cute stories?”

“I don’t know!” Peter repeats. “You asked me what matters and my mind went to, you know. People. Our people. You know?”

“Not a bad place to end up.” Tony considers for a moment. “She pepper-sprayed me. In the face.”

Peter blinks, sitting up a little. “How have I not heard this story?”

A smile plays on the corners of Tony’s lips. “My personal assistant was a tough job to hold back in the day.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

“Hey. But accurate.”

“So she applied to be your assistant and got it? And then…pepper-sprayed you?”

“Don’t try to guess, because you’re not going to get it. Yes, applications for that position were open. Again. I went through assistants pretty fast back then. But that’s not the job she showed up to interview for. I don’t actually know what job she was there for. I probably should know that. Anyway.” Tony grimaces as he remembers. “Oh, yeah. That’s why you don’t know this story.”

“You can’t stop now! We’re going to die anyway, what does it matter?”

“We’re not dying, which is why this story comes with a hefty warning that I was a very different person with different habits before Afghanistan. Alright?”

“I know.”

“You say that, but…” Tony breaks off with a sigh. “Okay, so I’m meant to be interviewing new PAs, but instead I, um…got blind drunk is probably the most accurate term for it. Used to do that a lot back then. Somehow I ended up out the back of the building, in the parking lot. I can’t confirm this but I’m pretty sure I was there to…” He hesitates, then presses one nostril down, miming snorting. “Which you don’t get to do ever, understand me? You can barely handle coffee.”

“I can so!”

“Really? Well then, when we get back let’s feed you an espresso and get it on camera.” He catches Peter’s look. “Right, right, not talking about getting back right now. Anyway. Story. Don’t ask me why I was in the parking lot, everyone knew I was doing that stuff, it wasn’t exactly a secret. But the point is—okay, before I tell this part, I was drunk and high. Do not forget that.”

“What did you do?”

“I tripped.”

“Is that it?”

“Right into a certain strawberry blonde stepping out of her car, carrying a freshly made Starbucks and wearing a brand new, white Chanel dress.”

“Oh. Oh.”

“For the record, there was zero ill intent. But all Pepper sees is some guy clearly off his rocker lunge for her in the shadows of a parking lot. Next thing I know I’m in a staff bathroom with Obie yelling at me as he runs water over my face.” Tony screws up his face at the mention of his previous business partner.

“So what did Pepper do?”

“She sued me.”

“She did not.”

“She did. We managed to explain that I wasn’t trying to, um…you know. But that white dress? $5000. Which was barely anything to me, but to Pepper at that time was everything.”

“Did she win?”

A fond look crosses Tony’s face. “Unfortunately, Obadiah squashed the case. Didn’t want anyone else to get ideas. But not before the lawsuit Pepper had written up ended up on my desk. I hired her the next day.”

“You hired the woman who pepper-sprayed you and then tried to sue you?”

“I sure did,” Tony says happily. “Best decision I’ve ever made.” He glances over at Peter. “One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Called her Pepper after that, and it stuck. I mean, her last name is Potts, it was right there.”

“Hm. Wait. Wait. Pepper’s name isn’t Pepper?”

“No, it’s Virginia.”

“Oh. That’s…my mind just got blown.”

“You’re welcome.” Tony dips his hand into the ocean, sighing at the cool feel of the water. “Alright. Your turn.”

“My turn for what?”

“Your girl. Your MJ. How’d you meet?”

“We go to the same school? Not exactly as exciting as your story.” Peter shifts on the plane wreckage. “When did you know you were in love with Pepper?”

“Back to me already?” Tony considers. “I think since that first day. A part of me always knew. But I also wasn’t great at, you know, people back then. I guess I knew that if I went for that, tried to have more, it would ruin what we did have and I didn’t want to lose her. At least if I kept dolling out her paychecks I knew she’d stick around.” Tony blinks, coming back to himself. “That’s enough about my love life. Let’s talk about you. You and MJ good?”

Peter nods. “Yeah. Except for, you know…”

“Okay, how about we make a compromise on this how ‘talking about dying’ thing? I won’t act like everything’s going to be fine, even though it is, and you don’t get to talk like we’re definitely going to become permanent lifebuoys out here. Deal?”

Peter bites his lip. It’s not exactly what he wants, but clearly Tony doesn’t want to dwell on the fact that they probably won’t last through the next few hours, and he wants to keep them talking while they still can. “Deal.”

“So. MJ. Do you love her?”

“Mr. Stark!”

“We’re floating on a piece of plane debris in the middle of the ocean. If now is not time for you to start calling me Tony, I don’t know what is. And don’t dodge the question.”

“I…don’t know. I mean, yes, of course I do, but…Yes, I do. I do love her.”

“You say that like it’s a problem.”

Peter hesitates.

“Come on, kid, we’re doing the whole deep and meaningful thing here, spit it out.”

“Only if you don’t think I’m awful.”

Tony swivels around. “It would literally be impossible for me to ever think that.”

Peter flushes. “Oh. Okay. Um, so I really like MJ. And I don’t want us to break up, or anything, but sometimes I also catch myself thinking, like…is this it?”

“Is this it, like is this what a relationship is? It’s not what you expected?”

“Not really. More like, is this my person? And if it is, that’s amazing, I’d be so lucky, but…but also, if I’ve found my person now…” Peter bites his lip. “It’s not like I want to date anyone else. But also, I don’t like the idea of not dating anyone else? There was Liz, kind of, and now MJ, and sometimes I wonder…is that all I get? Which is awful,” he hurries on. “Because MJ is so amazing, and I don’t want it to end, but…”

“But you’re seventeen and you don’t want your dating life to end before it’s even really begun.”

“Maybe. Yes.”

“Pete, that’s not awful. In fact, I think that sounds very healthy.”

“Really?”

“It’s good that you’re not focusing all in on this one person. I’ve done that before, with Pepper. Made pretty much my whole life about not losing her, and then Killian exploited that, and I ended up losing her anyway. And you’re young, kid, even though you insist you’re not. You’re going to change so much in the next few years. Neither you nor MJ are going to be the same person you are right now that you will be when you’re twenty-five. Maybe those new people you’re going to turn into are going to be compatible, maybe they won’t be. But worrying about it now won’t change anything.”

Peter takes that in. “So…we just stay together? Even though it might not last?”

“Is it good right now?” Tony presses.

“Yeah. Really good.”

“Is she pushing you to be someone better? Do you feel supported by her? Do you feel secure with her?”

“Yes,” Peter breathes. “Yes, all of the above.”

“Then it’s good right now. And maybe something will change that one day—a career opportunity that can’t work for both of you, or you just grow apart. But a relationship doesn’t have to be forever for it to be worthwhile. Not if you make each other’s lives better for being in them.”

“Wow. That’s…wow.”

“Me and Pepper have done a lot of couple’s counseling. Some of it stuck. Besides,” Tony adds. “Your generation being all modern or whatever, there’s plenty of other options down the line. Polyamory, open relationships. Maybe you can both take a break at some point, see what else is out there. You might try that and find that all you want is each other.”

That makes Peter smile. “I like that last one.”

“That’s what me and Pepper did. Of course, the ‘all you want is each other’ bit came with a lot of work, mostly from my end. But we got there.” Tony dips his hand in the ocean again, and Peter fights back the desire to know what it would feel like to have it run over his cracked lips. “Who’s turn is it?”

“To ask a question? Me, I think.” Peter chews on what to ask. “What do you regret?”

“Oh, god. We won’t get through even a quarter of that before we—” Tony breaks off, not wanting to finish the thought.

“One thing then. One regret.”

Tony is quiet for a long moment. “Siberia,” he says finally. “I’d undo Siberia. Not just because of what happened there, but after.”

“Do you mean...you know. Thanos? The Avengers ending up separated?”

Tony considers, then shakes his head. “I’ve long since learned that you can only dwell on the battles you’ve lost for so long before it becomes detrimental. Maybe we would have beat Thanos the first time around if we’d all been together. Maybe it would have been worse. I more mean…after. During the Blip. Steve and I were okay, we kind of had to be with the world being the mess that it was, but once we’d done what we could, I just kind of…vanished. Took Pepper to the lake house to raise Morgan and left the others to it.”

“And you regret that?”

“We should have grieved together,” Tony says quietly. “I see that now. All of us. And we didn’t, because of a dust-up over…well not over nothing, of course it wasn’t, but still. It didn’t need to happen. Bucky and I are friends now, for god’s sake.” Tony blinks, seeming to come back to himself. “Okay. That’s enough of that. We’re all one big superfamily now, so at least we got there in the end. Lesson learned. What about you, young buck? Are you even old enough to have regrets yet?”

Peter stares up at the sky. The heat is beginning to cool at last, the sun fading. Considering he’s not going to see daylight again, that’s not as comforting as he wants it to be. “I regret not saving Ben.”

Tony freezes, then rolls over to push himself on his elbows with energy he really should be saving. “Peter, no—”

“I could have done more,” Peter whispers. “I could have gotten to a phone. Or gotten help. Or acted faster. I could have—”

“Done absolutely nothing else.”

“That’s not true. It’s not,” Peter insists when he sees Tony about to argue. “There were so many ways I could have acted differently. If I had, maybe he’d still be here.”

“Hey. Look at me. Look at me right now.”

Reluctantly, Peter turns his head away from the daylight that’s slipping all too quickly away.

“Remember what I said about dwelling for too long on those things getting detrimental?” A new thought seems to occur to him. “How long have you been blaming yourself for this?”

“I don’t know. Since it happened? I’m sorry,” he adds, seeing Tony’s look of horror. “I didn’t mean to—”

“Have you talked to anyone about this?”

“I mean, no? May would just get upset and I don’t want to, you know, burden anyone else with that.”

“Kid, take it from someone who has learned this the slow and painful way. Those are definitely the kind of burdens you share, or they eat you alive from the inside.” He flops back, energy to sit up evaporating. “Look, I know I wasn’t there. But I do know that there is nothing a ten-year-old—nothing a full-grown adult could have done differently. Or, okay, maybe they could have, but different doesn’t mean better.”

“I just…didn’t want to leave him. But maybe if I had—”

“Nothing would have changed and he would have died alone.”

Peter absorbs that. “I haven’t thought of it that way before.” He scans the ocean, seeing the odd bit of debris amongst the darkening waters. He thinks of the remains of the plane, lying right beneath them, lost and empty, probably forever. The image spooks him, and he shudders. “Do you believe in fate?”

“No,” Tony says immediately. “I think everything we screw up is on us and thinking anything else is dangerous.”

Peter hums. He’s trying to rid himself of that image of the abandoned plane on the ocean floor. His brain is making the aircraft bigger than it should be, filling it with shadows and monsters to hide in them. “It’s just. Funny.”

“You found a joke in all this? Then please share with the class.”

“Not ha-ha funny. The other kind. That my parents died in a plane crash. And now. Me. Funny.”

“Hey, hey, none of that.”

“You said we could talk about things that matter.”

“We can. But you don’t really have the water to spare there, bud.”

Peter blinks, feeling salt that isn’t seawater sting his eyes. He hadn’t even noticed. “I was meant to go with them,” Peter goes on. “On the plane trip. But I got chickenpox. They wouldn’t let me travel. So May and Ben looked after me while they went. I was meant to be on that plane. And now. Fate. It caught up to me.” He shivers again.

“Or,” Tony presses. “The fate was that you got sick and couldn’t go. Fate had you survive. Because the universe knew it needed Peter Parker to stick around a lot longer. Not that fate is real anyway. Come here.” Tony scoots across their makeshift raft, closing the distance between them and putting his arms around Peter, pulling him close. The sun has sunk now, and the body heat is welcome despite being scorched all day. “Okay. My turn to ask a question. Tell me a happy memory. The first one you think of.”

Peter manages a smile.

“Ah, so you did think of one. Tell me then.”

“It’s just…it’s not like a big thing.”

“The best memories often aren’t. Come on, spill.”

“Do you remember the night you and Pepper took me and MJ to see that play? The one with the two guys that just talked the whole time? For someone to come for them?”

“Waiting for Godot?” Tony frowns. “That’s your happy memory? I thought Beckett wasn’t your cup of tea.”

“MJ loved it. And she got to meet you and Pepper. But that’s not what I thought of. I thought of…after."

Tony still looks confused. “I can’t remember doing anything afterward. I thought we all just went back to the lake house and went to bed.”

“We did. But before then, when we rolled up to the house. Rhodey had been babysitting Morgan, and she’d refused to go to bed.”

“Of course she did. Little madam, that one.”

“So she ran out to greet us because she was so excited to see everyone. But she ran to me first.” A lump forms in Peter’s aching throat, but it’s for a very different reason now. “That’s it. That’s the memory. And it wasn’t as though I didn’t feel like a part of the family before, but it just…felt right. In that moment, everything felt right. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah,” Tony agrees quietly. “It makes sense. Sometimes it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Peter clears his throat. “Your turn. What’s the first happy memory you think of?”

Tony considers for a second before a little surprised “Oh” leaves him.

“What did you think of?”

“It doesn’t…hold on, I’ll think of another one.”

“The question was the first one you thought of. What was it?”

“It’s just…I feel like I should say something that you were there for.”

Peter shakes his head. “I remember those moments already. Tell one I don’t know about.”

“Okay.” Then, seeming to brace himself, “Okay. It’s kind of like your thing. Something small. But also something huge.”

Peter waits, patient, until Tony’s ready to tell him.

“Okay,” Tony says, yet again. “This happened when I was pretty young. Maybe seven, eight-ish. My dad was never…well, you know. The whole world knows. I don’t even remember the specifics of what happened. I’d let him down somehow, like I was always doing. Some project gone awry or a media thing bungled, whatever. And if I got upset he just got angrier so I’d always hide. You know. Until I wasn’t upset anymore. But this time someone found me.”

Another long pause, Peter not interrupting.

“Have I told you about Edwin Jarvis?” Tony says eventually.

“A bit. He’s the one JARVIS was named for.”

“Yeah. Family friend. My godfather, actually. Good man. Went long before his time.” Tony clears his throat. “So I’m upset, over whatever, and Jarvis finds me. And I expect him to say…actually, I can’t remember. But I knew what I wanted to hear. That I’d done a good job. That I hadn’t actually made a mistake. That he was proud of me. Which, I didn’t actually want to hear from Jarvis, but, you know. Take what you can get.”

“Is that what he said?”

Tony shakes his head. “No. He just…held me. And told me I was okay. Not doing okay, not that it was going to be okay. You’re okay.” Tony blinks rapidly. “God, I haven’t thought about this in years. I think I might have buried it, actually. Because if I kept it around, then that would mean dealing with the idea that I didn’t need approval or praise. That what I actually needed was to feel okay. Safe. Secure. Held.”

The sun’s gone. Peter buries his head in Tony’s chest, already beginning to shiver, body heat dropping far too fast. “Tony?”

“Yeah, kid.”

“I just…I really need you to know. I know there was a bit of a rocky start there, with the ferry and the suit and stuff, but ever since then. I’ve always felt safe with you.”

Tony goes very still.

“I know you think you’re like your dad. I know a lot of people say you are. But if that’s how he made you feel, then it isn’t true. Because you make me feel okay. You make me feel secure, like I can depend on you for anything; like you’ll always be there. You make me feel held.” A full-body shiver runs through him, the ocean turning black. “Thank you. For being my Jarvis.”

The silence that stretches on after that goes on for so long that Peter starts to think that Tony might already be gone. He’s not that far behind when he hears Tony’s voice, quiet and thick, “Thank you, Peter. Thank you for…thank you.”

“Tony?”

“Hm?”

“You said you started calling Pepper that because she pepper-sprayed you?”

“That’s the one.”

“But also because her last name was Potts. Pepper Potts.”

“Catchy, I know.”

“So…Pepper’s name is a pun.”

Tony might answer. He might not. Peter’s not listening anymore, distracted instead by faint flecks of gold cutting through the silver moonlight.

Peter sits up, shaking Tony’s shoulder, trying to rouse him. “Tony. Tony.”

The sparks intensify, forming a golden circle, warm light spilling from it as a very annoyed-looking Stephen Strange glares down at them. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to search the surface of an ocean?”

“The wizard’s here?” Tony manages to get upright, although he needs to lean heavily on Peter to do so.

“The doctor’s here,” Stephen corrects him. “And by the looks of it, you two need one. Unless you want to stay there.”

“Definitely not.” Tony gets an arm around Peter’s torso, helping him up through the portal, before Peter turns around to help his mentor in turn. Tony flops to the ground of the Sanctum with a groan, before looking up at Stephen. “Damnit. Now I owe you or something, don’t I?”

“This one’s free,” Stephen assures him. “Can’t guarantee the next one will be.”

“Fair enough. Maybe you’ll finally let me do something for those hands.”

“Hm. Might be time.” Stephen’s already checking Peter over. “Right, time to get some fluids in you. Then rest. A lot of rest—no arguments.”

“No arguments,” Peter agrees, finally letting himself give up, knowing that the people around him will keep him safe.