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The whole five years thing is...hard to swallow.

When Strange explains it back on Titan with wide eyes and the same electrifying spirit that Peter recognizes as something a little young, like him, he doesn’t mull it over. It’s all go, go, go! as they jump through portals to get back to earth and fight, fight, fight! as they battle aliens over the remnants of the Avengers compound. Peter can function in the urgency. He can function in the immediacy that the world needs Spider-Man. At that point, five years is just a footnote.

But when he catches up with Tony, there’s something different in his eyes. Peter, for a brief moment, sees a little bit of those five years in his watery smile, and feels it in his bones when they’re wrapped up tight in an ill-timed, but very nice hug.

In retrospect, Peter wishes he’d never let go.

He stumbles up to him only moments after Rhodey and... God. He’s seen Tony, seen Iron Man wrecked after a battle before. On TV after the battle of New York, in newspapers after the whole Mandarin situation with the president at the oil rig. Hell, for Peter it feels like it’s just been five minutes since he last saw him when he was crumbling on an alien planet and gripping Tony for all he’s worth. The whole incident on Titan still feels dream-like, because who dies and comes back, feeling like nothing happened? But he still remembers the look in Tony’s eyes, the blood and grime on his face, the terrible wound in his chest.

This is worse.

He tries to make it better, he really really tries. Tony did the same thing when he caught him and lowered him to the ground. You’re alright, hey, you’re alright he told him and Peter didn’t believe it for a second, but just him talking, knowing he was trying, made things a little better.

Peter tries and fails to hold back the anguished look and fat baby tears as he crouches in front of Tony, trying to find something other than pain and vacancy in his eyes. God he’s….his eyes. It’s a far cry from the wonder and sort of shocked joy he saw when they hugged just...just minutes ago. It was minutes ago, they were hugging minutes ago and everything was fine.

He tells him he did it, that they’ve won, and please, c’mon Mister Stark , I’m right here. I’m right here. Look we’ve won! I’m sorry, please, don’t go Tony…

Pepper wishes him a peaceful sleep and the light on the arc reactor goes out.

With it, something in Peter’s heart goes out as well.

Tony lived without Peter for five years. And now Peter has to live the rest of his life without Tony.

It’s hard to swallow.

and by god, It's hard to breathe.

 


 

 

Tony’s cabin in the woods is nice.

It’s a far cry from his upscale mansions and fancy compounds. Everything feels more Peter’s speed with IKEA grade plates on exposed shelves and quilted looking dish rags hanging on the drawer next to the sink. There isn’t even a dishwasher; just the same looking dish rack that Peter and May have at their place.

There is still pieces of Tony’s brain in plain sight. The coffee table that’s not really a coffee table that pulls up high tech virtual images, even with the crayons that are strewn on top of it. A few tablets, watches, and multi-purpose tools that he must have made in the years that Peter’s lost. Even Iron Man tech, pieces that he must fiddled with before…

Well, before.

Peter finds himself wandering around his house in silence, ignoring the hushed voices of everyone else around him that carry from room to room due to his hearing. He eventually gravitates to the kitchen, helping himself to the pile of dirty dishes. There’s plates, glasses, a dozen coffee mugs that need to be washed out by hand, so he focuses on that, all while trying not to lose his entire shit, when the five years he’s lost tugs gently on the leg of his pant.

Morgan Stark.

She looks just like Tony: dark eyes, dark hair, and an intelligent sparkle in her eye that never seems to leave no matter the mood. Morgan is easily the most composed person at the house, despite having lost the most.

It takes Peter...a moment. All his senses sort of swarm, buzzing and bouncing around in ways his brain can’t quite make sense of. The dishrag feels incredibly rough in one hand, the mug in the other, slick. Everyone’s talking at once and he can hear the birds outside, even a frog, and the dim evening light of the cabin makes all the golden hues in the room just a little more golden. It’s a lot to take in, to dial back and categorize like he’s learned to do, because Morgan Stark is proof that he wasn’t dust for just a few hours, but that he’s been gone for years. Tony became a dad, he has a daughter and she’s right here, and she’s so….she’s so him - and that makes everything so -

Peter takes in a shaky, gasp of a breath, and lets his senses run wild, for just a moment longer before he grounds himself.

“I can help. I’m good at drying.” She lifts her arms a little, and at Peter’s lost look, she nods to the counter. “I always sit right there.”

Peter presses his lips together hard enough to make it hurt before he gives a curt nod and sets the mug and towel aside. He grabs her underneath her arms and picks her up so she can sit on the edge of the counter and watches as she picks up the mug, dries it with the rag. She’s a little clumsy in her actions, and Peter’s afraid she might drop it, but she doesn’t. She sets it in the rack and waits for the next one, kicking her feet idly.

They fall into a routine. He washes and passes it over, she dries and he waits for her to drop it, but then it ends up safe in the dish rack every time. They make it through all the coffee mugs and stray plates before Morgan turns around and stands on the counter, arms reaching for the cabinets.

Peter’s heart catches in his throat and he presses himself against the counter, making a barrier in case she were to fall and he can catch her. “Morgan, you shouldn’t -”

She pushes aside a framed picture and a few drinking glasses before she manages to pull out a hidden frame in the back and hands it to him. “You’re Peter.”

Peter remembers this picture. For him, it was about….oh, maybe six months ago. It was Tony’s idea to make the Stark Industries internship ‘real’ so to speak, in part to get some of his classmates to shut up, but mostly so the school could substitute it for an elective and Tony could pull Peter out of school for internship related business when they’d really just work on Spider-Man stuff. It felt so silly, faking an internship when everything about them was so much more, which is why the certificate ended all upside down and they had rabbit ears behind each of their heads - it was the first picture and they didn’t even bother to try for another.

It’s still in its original frame; Peter has the same one back at home, on his desk, and he’s familiar with the feel of it beneath his fingers. He picks it up a lot to look at it, because over the years he’s learned the importance of photographs. All that Peter has left of Ben and his parents are in photos, and there never seem to be enough.

He grips the photo, tight tight tight, and tries not to think about how this is how he’ll see Tony for the rest of his life: happy, bright, silly - but still and frozen out of time.

When he realizes Morgan is staring he takes another shaky breath and sets the photo back on the counter, some place in plain sight. “Yeah,” he finally confirms. “I’m Peter.”

“Daddy said you were part of the family.”

Peter’s heart flutters.

“He...he said that?” Peter whispers.

“Yup,” she nods enthusiastically before she settles herself back to sit on the counter once more. “He said you had to leave, but that he loved you and he missed you very, very much.” She holds her arms out wide. “Like, this much.”

Peter feels a tear roll down his cheek and he’s quick to swipe it away. “That’s, uh,” he hiccups a little. “That’s a lot.”

“Mmmhm,” she agrees. “He also said - ooh, a spider!”

He blinks and his heart flutters again, but differently. She knows he’s Spider-Man? “What?”

But Morgan isn’t talking about his alter ego. She’s on her knees atop the counter, leaning over the sink towards the windowsill where there is, in fact, an actual teeny tiny spider.

“Oh,” Peter breathes, reaching for the dish towel so he can smack it away. “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” and he winds up to hit it.

Morgan looks mortified. “What? No!” she exclaims, holding out her hand against Peter’s chest. “You can’t kill a spider.”

Peter frowns, brow furrowed. He’s not spent a lot of time around kids, ever, but he’s never met one that actually likes spiders. Hell, he hasn’t met anyone who likes spiders. Peter himself doesn’t even like spiders, and a spider is the one that gave him a six pack. “Huh?”

“You don’t know?”

He shakes his head.

Her face lights up, excited to teach him. It’s the same look Tony had when he taught Peter something new. “Oh! Well, see, Daddy said that spiders are really important and killing them is bad luck and just….you can’t , it’s not right, So,” she pauses and stands back up, grabbing a clean glass and carefully guiding the spider into it with her hand. “You put it in a glass or a plate and then you take it outside back where it lives, and then you get good luck for saving its life!”

“Really?”

Morgan’s eyes go a little wide. “I promise. It works every time. Every time you save a spider something good happens. One time, I got two cookies for dessert.” she leans and whispers, “I usually only get one.”

“That’s…” Peter doesn’t really know what to say to that. Tony always had quirky ways to say I love you, and this one is no different. It’s something small, to teach his daughter to bring house spiders outside instead of killing them, because it’s not like it matters, it’s not like Peter is a real spider but…

Five years. He died in Tony’s arms five years ago. It couldn’t have been easy to talk about, to live and move forward with that lurking in the back of his mind. So he did this. Found a way to piece the painful past into the future. This is how he told Morgan that he loved Peter. He just knows it.

And God, he thinks this is such a good good way to say I love you.

“C’mon, I’ll show you.” She hops off the counter, the glass with the spider in one hand, and grabs Peter’s with the other. They bypass all the other funeral attendees and make their way out the back porch and around the side of the house, where there’s a small fort and a tiny, Morgan sized chair outside it.

Morgan gestures for him to use the chair and he does, while she settles into the ground crisscross applesauce among the browning leaves. Peter watches as she stares at the spider in the glass, eyes squinted in thought. “I named the last one Shooting Star, so he needs a T name.” She peeks at him over the glass. “What do you think?”

Tony’s name flashes in his mind, as it has been constantly since his death, and he has to restrain himself from blurting it out. “Um,” he smooths his palms down his slacks. “...Taco.”

She giggles. “Taco,” she affirms, and then sets the glass upside down, waiting for the spider to crawl off the glass and onto a leaf. “Bye, Taco!” she finally says when the spider crawls off and she lifts the glass. She actually waves to it. “Good luck!”

Peter’s lip quivers. “Bye, Taco,” he whispers, fingers limp in his own attempted wave. They sit there in the slightly chilly air before Peter says, “Hey, Morgan?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for saving the spider.”

She smiles. “Of course.” She pauses, looking him up and down. “I can’t believe you didn’t know they’re special. But I guess that’s okay, because you’ve been gone for a long time.”

“I...yeah,” Peter sighs. Five years is hard to swallow. “I guess I was.”

“Daddy said I’d never get to meet you. But you’re here.”

He nods. “I’m here.”

“Do you have to leave again?”

Peter lets out a deep breath, all shaky and unsteady. He doesn’t remember breathing being this hard, five years ago. “I don’t have to leave. Not….not like before. You’ll see me again, if you want.”

He hopes she wants him back. He’s known her for a day and he already wants to see her every day for the rest of his life.

Morgan nods. “Yes! Daddy said you’re really nice. I bet he loved you 3000.”

“3000?”

“That’s like,” she holds her arms out wide again. “This much. But bigger. 3000 is way bigger than me, you know?”

He does. The tears spill over again and this time he uses his sleeve to wipe his eyes, giving him a few moments to wallow in his grief. He senses buzz again and he focuses on the feel of the forest air, of the sticky scent off the lake, and the sound of the leaves crunching in the breeze. His hands flex, fingers dancing before he feels Morgan’s fingers tracing over his.

“You know?” she repeats.

“I know,” Peter nods, smile watery. He feels like he’s about to lose it. “I know very much.”

“Good,” Morgan says softly. “Peter?”

“Yeah?”

“I miss Daddy.”

He bursts into tears, he can’t help it. Hunched over in the little chair, he presses the heels of his hands into his eyes as hard as he can and cries. Cries as hard as he did the moment Tony died, maybe harder. Which is okay; crying helps with the pain, he’s learned that with his mom, his dad, Ben and now this. Peter just wishes that he could have kept it together, for Morgan’s sake.

But then he feels tiny hands on his shoulders, holding him strangely. It takes him a moment before he realizes she’s trying to hug him and he opens his arms, pulling her close, giving her the biggest hug he’s ever given to someone he’s barely known.

Five years is hard to swallow. Five years is a long time not to know about Morgan; it’s her whole life so far, and he’s missed it. But even so, she’s not someone he barely knows. Not really. She’s Tony’s kid. In a way, he’s already known who she is before he even laid eyes on her.

Eventually he feels Morgan pull away, little fingers trying to wipe away the tears that rolled down his cheeks. He looks her over and see’s she been crying too, and does the same.

“I miss your dad, too,” Peter whispers, and this time his smile doesn’t hurt so much. He brushes a tear off her nose. “I really loved him. Like….” he opens his arms wide. “This much. 3000 and more.”

And as Morgan looks at him, eyes wet but smile soft, Peter’s mind spins with the 3000 and more ways he loved Tony, and perhaps the biggest reason was his heart itself. Peter remembers being a kid, reading about the arc reactor, about how it kept his heart working with enough power to theoretically keep an unimaginable number of hearts beating, for lifetimes over. He couldn’t fathom that kind of strength. But it’s what made him Iron Man, and in the end it’s what brought them together, where he learned just how incredible Tony Stark was.

And now it’s not theoretical. The reactor did keep an unimaginable number of hearts beating over and over again. It kept the universe in tact.

Only someone with a big heart, with lots of love, over 3000 love, could pull that off.

The porch door swing open and Peter and Morgan look over to see Happy, jacket still on tie loosened around his neck. “Hey, kiddos,” he greets. “Ready for some cheeseburgers?”

Morgan whips her head back to Peter. “I love cheeseburgers.”

Peter manages a wet laugh as Morgan scurries to her feet, tugging him with her, back to the house. “After dinner, do you want to play in the fort?” she asks. “ I know it’s small, but the swing isn’t ready yet.”

Peter looks over his shoulder and spots the trees where the swing is marked to go up. He sees the seat buried in the leaves, but no chains or rope. But he thinks he can find a substitute - he still has his web shooters. He can make an ordinary swing seem lame. He’ll have her thinking she can touch the tops of trees in no time.

“We can do both,” Peter promises her. “I can build the swing for you.” when he smiles again, and he’s finding it easier to breathe. Five years is hard to swallow, but it’s not impossible. He’ll keep going. He has too.

Tony’s heart gave him a second chance. He’s not about to let it go to waste.

“Really?” Morgan asks, excited.

“Mhmm.”

“You’ll stay and play?”

“Yeah,” he feels so incredibly light. “I’ll stay.”

Something in Peter’s heart soars.

Morgan squeals, skipping all the way up the back porch steps. She starts chatting about how to make the perfect cheeseburger, specifying that it’s absolutely crucial that it have ketchup, mayo, onions, and pickles. Especially pickles. Like, a lot of pickles. Peter can relate.

He’s holding open the screen porch door, making sure she gets inside when she gives him a dazzling grin. “Cheeseburgers and a swing? That spider was really lucky.”

“Yeah, Morgan. Sounds like he really was.”