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Birches Bending Down

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“Mr. Stark?” he said gently, wanting his mentor to know he was coming over. “Are you okay?”

Tony jerked up at that, turning his chair to look at Peter. “I’m okay,” he said, but there was a dull flat look in his eyes that said he wasn’t okay. “What are you doing here, Pete?”

Peter took several more steps closer to his mentor and leaned against one of the lab surfaces. “I haven’t heard from you in a couple of days. I wanted to come check on you. After- after what happened,” he said lamely.

Tony twitched a smile in his direction. “I appreciate the concern, Petey, but I’m okay. Just caught up in… a lot of work.” He gestured vaguely.

“I ran into some of the others when I landed on the common floor,” Peter said tentatively. “They said you’ve been down here for the past couple of days. Working on something?”

The older man’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah. Yeah, I-” He shook his head, seeming to come up with nothing to say. That wasn’t a good sign. Usually, Tony would protest more. Complain about the others telling tales on him. Be snarky.

Peter dropped down to the floor again. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked carefully.

Mr. Stark shook his head. “Nah. Just something I have to work through on my own. It’s not really something that can be fixed.”

Peter hated that. He knew no matter what happened or what he did, he could always talk about it. With both May and Mr. Stark. Between the two of them he’d found enough unconditional love and affection for a lifetime. But Mr. Stark hadn’t grown up the way he had. Even now, after all they’d been through, he still tried to conceal when things were wrong.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

Mr. Stark looked up at that. “Of course I do, Petey.”

Peter loved when Mr. Stark called him that. It made him feel loved. Maybe he could give some of that feeling back to the man. “Willing to let me try something then?”

Gesturing grandly with his hands, Mr. Stark seemed to indicate it was alright. That was all the green light Peter needed. Getting into Tony’s personal space, he wrapped his arms around his mentor’s shoulders, pulling him into the tightest hug he dared give.

Tony, for his part, froze upon the initial contact but then melted into the hug. “This is nice,” he said shakily into Peter’s shoulder and Peter huffed a laugh.

“I really love you, Tony,” he said into the shell of Mr. Stark’s ear. Pulling back just slightly, he pressed his lips to the other man’s forehead before he could feel self-conscious about it. He tried to convey all the love he felt for the superhero in his kiss; he heard Tony sigh and he tried to pull back, afraid he’d crossed a line with him at last.

Instead, Tony stood up, tugging him closer. “Don’t let go yet,” Tony whispered and he nodded, resting his forehead against the soft fabric of Mr. Stark’s Black Sabbath t-shirt. He could feel Tony’s fingers brushing through his hair and trailing across his back; Tony squeezed him in the hug, pecking him on the neck.

He thought maybe they were getting through to him at last, showing him he could love and be loved.

Tony surprised him by talking about it. “I had this dream a couple of days ago. It seemed so real, Petey. I saw it happening to you again…”

“That wasn’t real. I’m right here. I’ll come find you anytime you need me,” he promised.

“Shouldn’t be this way. I’m the adult.”

“Love is a two way street, Tony. Wouldn’t be fair if you did all the listening, all the time. Anyways,” he cleared his throat, “you know I really like hugs. This is beneficial for both of us.”

“I love you too, Pete. Thanks for coming to check on me, kid.”

Tony was pulling away from him and Peter let him, knowing it helped the other superhero feel more in control of the situation. Tony’s eyes looked a little clearer this time. “When was the last time you ate?” he asked.

Mr. Stark winced. “Yesterday… I think? Here’s one of those things you shouldn’t follow my lead on, kid.”

“I thought that might be the case. Happy’s waiting for us downstairs. You’re coming back to Queens with me.” He hoped his voice sounded more authoritative than it usually did. “May wants you to come over and you know you can’t say no to her. She made lasagna.”

Tony rubbed at his face. “I look real rough, kid.”

“I came home one time smelling like garbage. She won’t mind that you haven’t shaved.” He took Mr. Stark’s hand. “Come on. We can’t keep her waiting.”