Something that has never changed since Peter became Spider-Man, was the feeling that sat at the base of his neck.
There was always a faint rumble, a shiver almost that settled itself right behind his neck. It was his sixth sense, that feeling. It would prickle when something was wrong. It didn’t matter what was wrong though. If there was some form of danger, a sharp pinch at the base of his neck would alert Peter.
It was a constant, a reassurance. It was something Peter could trust.
So the moment it spiked moments after watching Thanos move through a portal, Peter had no doubt something was happening.
Something was very, very wrong.
Still, he moved over to help Tony up, checking the wound in his side. Thankfully the sealant seemed to be working. “You okay?” he muttered.
“Fine, kid. You?” Tony gruffed out.
Peter nodded, turning to the others. Dr. Strange sat down, face weary and aged. What was the plan now?
The air shifted before anyone could say anything. It was a forceful shift, crawling under Peter’s skin. His neck ached.
“Something is wrong,” the bug lady said, black eyes wide and emotive. It was seconds later that her body began to crack, flake, and then turn to ash.
Peter stared, terror and confusion coursing through his body. What was happening?
“Quill?” the gray man gasped before turning to ash as well.
Peter grip tightened on Tony’s arm.
“Steady, Quill,” Tony said. Peter’s eyes snapped from the gray man’s ashes to the other Peter.
The man looked as panicked as Peter felt. He sighed, appearing utterly defeated and only managed to mutter a, “Aw, man,” before disappearing.
Peter’s eyes darted to Dr. Strange. The prick at his neck hadn’t gone yet; it wasn’t over.
He seemed calm. Did he know this would happen? Had he seen this already? “Tony,” he said patiently, “there was no other way.”
He turned to ash no sooner than the words left his mouth.
Peter stood there, shaking. The prickling wasn’t gone. It wasn’t over. Peter felt like he was going to throw up.
“Hey, kid, look at me real quick.”
No no please no.
Peter looked anyway.
Tony was smiling.
Peter was going to be sick.
“Peter, it’s okay.”
Tony’s legs gave out. Or rather, they disappeared. Peter caught him, lowered him to the ground.
“No, no, no, please, Mr. Stark.”
“It’s okay, Peter. It’s okay. You’re okay.” Tony was so calm and he was the one dying.
Meanwhile, Peter was falling apart at the seams.
“Please, Tony, I-I can’t--I don’t know, I’m sorry --”
Tony’s hand moved to his chest. He grabbed Peter’s hand and pressed something into it.
“You’re gonna be okay, Peter. You’re gonna be okay.”
Peter’s hand suddenly was holding ash.
Tony was gone.
Peter’s hands shook.
In his right hand, the one Tony had grabbed, was Tony’s retractable arc reactor.
“He did it.”
Peter barely had it in him to look up.
The blue lady was still there. She hadn’t disappeared.
Her black eyes were glassy.
“He did it,” she repeated.
The prickling at his neck was gone.
It was over.
Peter scrambled over to the side and threw up.
Peter didn’t move from his crouched position.
His fingers twitched, tightening on the arc reactor.
It should’ve been me.
“We have to leave. Titan’s environment is uninhabitable at night.”
Peter’s vision came back into focus.
“We need to gather materials for our journey.”
It should’ve been me.
Peter’s eyes flickered up but never really left the pile of ash before him.
It should’ve been--
“ Boy. ”
Peter flinched and turned when a hand came in contact with his shoulder.
The blue lady was standing there. Her face was tough, hardened like stone. “We have to leave,” she repeated firmly, hand leaving his shoulder.
“But…” he started but stopped. But what? What was there to continue?
There was nothing. No mission, no foe to take down, no prickle at the base of his neck. The blue lady said they couldn’t stay there. They had to leave.
If Peter was looking for a mission, a next step, then getting up and gathering supplies would be it.
Peter gripped the arc reactor.
Peter stumbled to his feet. He stood there, staring at the ground, at the ashes. He had to move. They couldn’t stay there.
“Who was he to you?”
Peter forgot the lady was there. He looked away from the ashes and up at her. It was a good question. Who was Tony to him?
“He was…” he paused when his voice came out raspy. “He was a lot of things. My mentor, mostly.”
“He trained you?” the lady asked. It lacked a genuine tone, but Peter didn’t mind. The questions, the talking, it would keep him distracted.
“In a sense, yeah,” he replied. His feet moved beneath him, moving him away from the ashes. He held the arc reactor close to his chest, cradling it like something sacred. “He helped me with pretty much everything.”
“Like what?” They moved farther away, farther towards the battlegrounds to collect supplies.
Peter thought about lab days and mission training. About lazy days at the Compound, watching Star Wars a million times over. About making homemade ice cream, about singing ABBA and AC/DC in the middle of the kitchen. About homework and equations, puns about both. About the teasing and the laughing, the almost hugs and hands on shoulders.
“Work, training. Fun stuff too. We did a lot.”
They were picking up scrap metals now.
“Was he good?”
Peter looked up from the ground to the lady and then to the orange world around them.
“Any of it.”
Peter rubbed his thumb over the surface of the arc reactor.
They boarded the ship with their supplies. Peter webbed it all up to create makeshift bags.
They work to repair it best they can. Peter does his best, remembering what he can from lessons with Tony.
They manage to get it up in the air but they’re both acutely aware that it won’t be enough. Neither of them saying anything, a mutual silence in the face of the inevitable.
“I’m sorry,” Peter said during the initial repairs, “but I don’t know your name.”
The lady looked up from her work. Peter saw a flicker of surprise cross her face before it disappeared. “Nebula,” she told him.
He nodded, repeating, “Nebula. Cool name. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Peter.”
She nodded back and they went back to work.
Nebula helped patch up his wounds. There weren’t many major ones, thankfully. None of them were fatal. They still needed to be cleansed and wrapped up. Peter had taken to wearing just the nano suit over his regular clothes. It made it easier to get to wounds than going through the nanotech, the old suit, plus his clothing.
“You are very small,” she told him while sewing up a gash on his shoulder.
He snorted. “Thanks,” he said sarcastically.
“How old are you?”
Peter felt her pause.
“Did you choose this path?”
Peter’s eyebrows raised in surprise. It was a heavy question.
“Yes,” he told her honestly. “I had the power to help people and so I did. I don’t regret it.”
Nebula took a second longer before continuing her work.
“Then you are better than most, Peter.”
Peter used to sing his enhanced metabolism’s praise but now? Now he saw it as more of a curse.
His wounds were healing over but slowly. Very slowly. His metabolism was eating away at him. He needed to eat much more than they could afford to spare.
“What are you?” Nebula asked when she noticed his weakened state and the reason why. It wasn’t rude or harsh, but a genuine question.
“Uh,” he began awkwardly. Explaining how he got his powers was always a little weird. “I was bitten by a radioactive spider. It, uh, transferred the radioactivity to me and… ta-da.”
“Interesting,” Nebula noted. She seemed to mean it.
“That’s one word for it,” Peter said, chuckling dryly.
It was day eleven when Peter activated the arc reactor.
He had been using the repairs and works to distract himself. He couldn’t focus on the grief, on the nightmares (when on the off chance he did sleep), the hunger, the anger. He couldn’t waste his energy on it. He needed to work and get them home and then go from there.
But he’d woken up one night. Sweating, panting, crying, shaking. Nebula was asleep too.
He sat up, grabbed the reactor, stood, steadied himself and then walked over to the windows.
He’d always loved space. Being a Star Wars lover made sure of that. But then he would go out on the fire escape and stare up at the sky in the dead of night. Ben would buy him books upon books on space and the stars and planets. Tony, when things were still tentative between them, took him out to the middle of nowhere, where there was no light pollution and showed him the stars. The deep purples and bright pinks and blues of the world around them. He’d never forget it.
But looking at the stars now, Peter knew he’d never be able to stomach a sight like this again.
So he soaked it up now. He took in the stars, the midnight blues, the tinges of green, the soft purples. He studied the view before him and tried not to cry.
He tore his gaze away from the sky and to the reactor.
It should’ve been me.
He knew that he should’ve used it before. The nanotech might’ve been damaged but it would help them make repairs. It could potentially help power the engines if Peter put some thought into it.
Peter was too scared to activate it. It would reopen the wound. Not that it had healed over, not by any means, but it would deepen it. It would be bigger and it would hurt and impossible to ignore.
But supplies were running low and the repairs weren’t made to last them long. So Peter stood up and placed the arc reactor onto his chest. A lump began to form in his throat.
His hand hovered over it. He didn’t feel worthy, wearing the reactor. This wasn’t his power to use. Tony may have given it to him but he couldn’t even bear to say Tony’s name aloud. Was he worthy of this? Was this for him to use?
It should’ve been me.
Peter bit his lip. It didn’t matter if he was worthy or not. He had a mission to complete, a next step to get to. If this helped them get to it quicker, then so be it.
Peter tapped the reactor twice and watched, felt, as the nanotech spread over his body. It mixed with his own suit, using it to fill out some of the broken pieces and missing tech.
The faceplate formed and glowed, brightening to life. Blue tones filled Peter’s vision. Information appeared on the screen, vitals, and recommendations for new plans.
Peter breathed in and choked back a sob. He couldn’t afford to let his emotions take hold. Hell, he couldn’t even afford to cry. They didn’t exactly have an endless supply of water.
He breathed out, in, out, in, out.
Tony had given him his arc reactor. He had given him this to use, to help himself and whoever ended still there. Peter had to do this.
He had work to do.
With the help of the suit, the repairs lasted longer. They had more fuel to use.
It didn’t fix their food or water problem.
There was still a mutual silence between them. In fact, instead of talking about the inevitable, they spent their spare time playing paper football.
Peter took off the helmet of the suit.
He had been working to try and find a connection. Anything, anywhere, just somewhere he could broadcast a message to someone who could help. But at this point, he just wanted to make sure there was something for people to find. If anyone found them, that is.
He placed the helmet on the ground before sitting before it.
He fiddled with the tech until a blue beam appeared. It scanned over his body, copying his frame and expressions as a recording.
“Hope this is working,” he said dully. He knew it was, he just didn’t know how to start. “Well, if it is, hey. It’s day… Twenty-one--No! Twenty-two. Somewhere in the twenties. The repairs are holding strong, thanks to this--” He raised the reactor in the air, “--but… the repairs are fine but food and water, it’s running low. So is oxygen. Y’know, it was bound to happen. Nebs and I knew it.” He gave a humorless chuckle. “Tony wasn’t kidding when he said this was a way one trip. I just… I don’t know, I hoped that we would make it. At least long enough to go home. Just to see who’s left. To get whatever message Tony left for Pepper to her. I haven’t looked to see if he left a message, I know he has. He was always thinking about the next step, the next mission. Of course, he’d leave a message, just in case. I guess that’s what I’m doing even though there isn’t really a next step, a next mission.
“Say this does get back to Earth. Say this gets to the Avengers or whoever. Know this: Tony fought. He did everything he could. He gave us the best chance we had. If there is a next step, if there is something we can do to change this… don’t let him down.
“If… May, if you’re still there, know that… God, I can’t even say that I’m okay.” He gestured vaguely to himself, to his thin body and gaunt face. “I’m pretty sure anyone can tell that I’m not. But how about this? May, I love you. Thank you for taking me in. You didn’t have to do. I was Ben’s nephew, not yours, not by blood. But you took me in and you raised me and I will forever be grateful to you. I love you so much. I’ll be okay.”
Peter sighed, leaning back against the cold machinery. “There’s not much else to say,” he continued. “If we can pull off one more stunt, then we’ll see you, whoever this gets to, on the other side. We’ll see what that ‘other side’ is. If we can’t pull something off… then we’ll go out with a bang. Let’s go.”
Peter tapped the helmet. The blue scan dissolved away. The video log appeared underneath Tony’s message for Pepper. Peter hadn’t touched it; it wasn’t his to watch or listen to.
Peter looked to his left when he heard footsteps. Nebula came into view, quiet. All it took was a look between the two for Peter to understand.
“Looks like we’re going out with a bang,” he mused, staring at the ground. “Or at least a whisper.”
Nebula came to sit beside him. Touch was still something Nebula avoided but Peter made sure she knew it was okay to reach out. Even in small ways like this. And he didn’t blame her for reaching out now. He would’ve come to her too.
They were going to die. Huh. It was a confusing thing to come to terms with. Peter didn’t want to die. He really didn’t. But this wasn’t a situation he could fight. He didn’t have a say in it. That almost made it easier. To put his fate into the universe’s hands. If he was to die, at least he would go in his sleep.
“It’s been an honor working with you, Nebula,” he told her. He meant it.
“As has been working with you, Peter,” she said then stood up. “Sleep for now. I’ll wake you in an hour.”
Will you? Peter thought but said nothing. He just closed his eyes, listening until the world fell away.
Later, although he wouldn’t remember it, a bright light would fill the ship. It would beam through from the outside. A woman would appear in the light and she would take them home. The light would be warm and it would brush Peter’s cheek and he would feel like he was floating.
Later, although he wouldn’t remember it, he would wonder if that was what dying was like.
Peter woke up to white walls.
Four white walls and white covers and a white pillow and a white ceiling.
Is this heaven? He thought blearily, looking around the room.
It was just white on white on white on--
There was orange.
Or rather, it was a strawberry blonde more than anything. His eyes had been sensitive to certain colors since the spider bite.
The strawberry blonde was hair, Peter realized as he came to his senses. There was a woman sitting in the chair, filling out some papers. Peter couldn’t see her very well but she looked tired.
The feeling was mutual.
But Peter knew who she was. They weren’t as close as he and Tony but Peter respected her just as much as he did May. Peter opened his mouth and managed to croak out, “Ms. Potts?” before he began coughing.
Pepper looked up from her papers, startled. “Peter?” she said, putting the paper aside. She stood up. “You’re awake, thank God. I’ll go grab the doctor.” She began to move away.
“W-Wait!” he called, struggling as he sat up. His body was achy from injuries and malnourishment.
Pepper stopped, looking back. There was a certain frantic air about her. He didn’t blame her. His mind was reeling as well, catching up to the last month.
Peter blinked, realized that Pepper was waiting for him to say something. What was there to say? The world, the universe was shattered. Tony was gone. There was no next step.
“Wh-who's left?” he asked. He could go from there.
Pepper paused. She looked at him, eyes trailing over his face. “The Avengers, Rhodey, Happy, Rocket,” she listed off. “We’re still getting information on who’s… gone around the world.”
“Is Nebula okay?” he asked. If he kept going, maybe he could avoid the emotions following him, threatening to swallow him whole. If he kept focused, maybe he could go on.
“Yes, she’s with Rocket,” Pepper answered.
“A member of Nebula’s team. Or her sister’s team.”
Nebula hadn’t opened up much during their time together but it was unavoidable, talking about Gamora. Peter knew she missed her sister desperately.
(“If there is no way to reverse this,” she said during a repair, “if there is no redemption, no fix, then, at the very least, I hope I get the chance to cut my… that bastard’s head off.”
“Make for nice decoration,” he said sardonically.)
Peter nodded. The next question burned his tongue as he spoke.
“What about May?”
Pepper didn’t respond immediately. That was all Peter needed.
He closed his eyes but did not cry. Maybe there was just too much grief in his body, too much to process, too much to let out. It’d soak into his bones, into his blood and veins. Who knows what would happen to it? But it surely wasn’t leaving through his eyes.
She was gone. May was gone. He had no one left. No mother or father, no Ben, no Tony, and now, no May.
He was alone.
It should’ve been me.
He opened his eyes and looked at Pepper. She looked so strong but Peter could see all the underlying weight, all the grief and sorrow, the pain and distress.
He opened his mouth and said the only thing he thought would bring her comfort.
“Did you watch his message?”
She jolted, as though startled by his words. “What message?” she asked, voice faint and distant like she was unaware she was speaking.
“He left a message for you, in his suit,” he explained. “Get the arc reactor. It’s there.”
Pepper didn’t move. And then, very slowly, she began to cry.
It was silent. She barely made a sound. She pressed her lips together, face screwing up with pain.
Peter looked down, trying to present a form of privacy that didn’t exist.
It should’ve been me.
Pepper let out a sound that wasn’t a sob and wasn’t a laugh. A choke more than anything. “Of course he did,” she muttered, voice breaking.
“I didn’t watch it,” he said because he needed her to know it, that he hadn’t crossed that line. He didn’t know why it was so important to him.
Pepper took in a deep breath and said, “Thank you.”
Peter doesn’t know what she was thanking him for. Probably for not watching the message. Whatever the thank you was for, Peter felt wholly unworthy of it.
There was silence between them. Peter did not look up. “Now what?” he whispered.
Pepper breathed in.
“I don’t know.”
Peter went to live with Pepper after he was healed. They were packaging everything up from the apartment to move out.
(Pepper was the one to take down all the photos and everything from May’s room.)
“You don’t have to do this,” he said, even though protesting made no sense, even though he knew that he couldn’t live on his own, even though he didn’t want to be alone. “I-I mean, I appreciate it! I really do! But I don’t want to burden you with anything.”
“Peter,” Pepper said patiently, “I don’t mind watching after you. I have custody of you until… well, we can talk about that later. Besides, I… I think it will be good for us both--to have some company.”
“Are we going to the Compound?” he asked because that was easier than continuing that conversation.
Pepper went with it. “No,” she replied before pausing. She sighed and said, “Tony and I had our eyes on a cabin. We’ll stay there until schools begin running again. And then…”
Pepper trailed off, frozen as she held a set of books in her hands.
It should’ve been me.
Pitying himself though, wouldn’t get them anywhere. So instead, Peter shifted and continued packaging.
“And then we’ll go from there,” Peter finished. Pepper looked up. “One step at a time. I don’t think we can do anything else.”
Pepper watched him, eyes flitting across his face. Finally, though, she nodded.
“One step at a time.”
Two months. Two months had gone by since everything changed.
Nightmares were regular. Training was constant. Eating was sporadic.
Peter didn’t know where he was going. Talking with Nebula helped, even when she was off-planet. Rhodey and Happy were awkward but well-meaning. But it was mostly Pepper and training that kept him floating. Pepper kept his mind busy, while training kept his body busy.
(No matter how much he trained, he couldn’t bring himself to even look at his suit. No matter how much Pepper told it was okay, he couldn’t bring himself to go into Tony’s labs.)
Pepper was working her ass off. The world was still in shambles. People needed someone to look to. The Avengers, those who were left, largely became that beacon of knowledge. Pepper worked in the background.
Peter worked around the house. Anything he could do to relieve her of some stress, he’d do it. He owed her that much and more.
Two months. Two months had gone by and something changed again.
Peter was awoken by the sound of Pepper rushing down the hall.
He sat up quickly, senses ringing. There was a prick at the base of his neck.
He moved out of his bed and room, rushing into the hall, web-shooters on. He never took them off now. “Pepper?” he called. “What’s wrong?”
He followed the sound of Pepper’s heartbeat to the bathroom. She was hunched over the toilet. “Shit,” he muttered before crouching next to her. “Do need anything?”
Pepper coughed, gripping the rim of the seat tightly. “Jus-Just stay here,” she managed to croak out.
Peter blinked and then nodded. He placed a gentle, light hand on her shoulder. When Pepper’s nausea seemed to pass, he tapped her shoulder twice and said quietly, “Think you can handle some water?”
“Probably,” she groaned.
“Then I’ll be right back.”
Peter stood and walked to the kitchen. He returned shortly after with a glass of water. He handed it to Pepper, who was leaning against the wall now. She took a small sip before placing it on the ground.
“Are you sick?” he asked. “Just nauseous?”
“I--” Pepper stopped herself, pressing a hand to her mouth. Tears rapidly began to gather in her eyes.
“Pepper, what’s wrong?” Peter didn’t know what was happening. Desperation, panic, it lived in his veins, flaring when he got no response.
Pepper’s whole body moved with her sobs. Peter crouched down, placing his hand on her knee. “Just breathe, okay? Just focus on that,” he instructed. Panic attacks, anxiety attacks, general crying sessions, they had both gotten used to them all. They knew how to help each other. The cues, the triggers, the calming, the aftermath. It was still a work in progress but it worked for now.
(He would never forget the first panic attack she helped him with. He would never forget how after he came back to himself, she held his face in her hands, looked him dead in the eyes, and said, “None of this is your fault, Peter Parker. If you want to blame someone, blame the fucker that killed my husband and half of everyone else.”)
They sat there until Pepper could breathe properly. Peter had come to sit beside her, hand still on her knee.
“Thank you,” she murmured, voice small and tired.
“No problem,” he said and meant it. “You wanna talk about it?”
Maybe it had been a nightmare. Lord knows it wouldn’t have been the first time either of them had awoken from one, panicked and nauseous.
Pepper took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I…” she stopped, pondered, then reached out and grabbed his hand. She squeezed it tight and Peter briefly wondered if she was the one with super strength. “Peter.”
Her tone was serious, firm. It was the voice she used during meetings, when she needed people to shut up and listen and take in every word she said. She didn’t use it often with him. Peter straightened and tapped her hand with his index finger, signaling to her to continue.
“Peter. I think I’m pregnant.”
Peter stopped breathing. The air froze. Time stopped. The world stilled.
Very, very slowly, Peter turned to look at Pepper. Stared at her. His body felt like static.
“I,” she continued, “I didn’t think much of the nausea. With… everything that’s been going on, I just assumed it was from being overwhelmed. And then I gained a little weight and I still didn’t think much of it. I--my cycle was off and I still didn’t think! I was--I don’t know, I just. It’d make sense.”
Peter found his voice. “Ha-Have you taken a test?” he asked because, logically, that was the first step.
Pepper shook her head. “Too scared to, I guess,” she confessed. “But I should. Take one, I mean. Just to check all our surfaces. It could be something else, who knows? I--”
Pepper continued to ramble. Peter blinked and realized that a test wasn’t necessary.
Peter focused on Pepper’s heartbeat. And then went further. Checking, searching, hoping (for what, he didn’t know), just making sure--
There it was.
A soft pitter-patter of a heartbeat. Young and slow, it was weaker than Pepper’s. Or perhaps just quieter.
“You are,” he blurted out.
Pepper turned to look at him. Their eyes met. “You are,” he repeated, squeezing her knee. “I can hear its heartbeat.”
Pepper stared at him. Somehow her grip on his hand tightened. “Oh God,” she whispered.
Next step, Peter thought, what is it? Where do we go from this?
“Let’s set up a doctor’s appointment,” he said, “just… just to see, to make sure. We can go from there.”
Pepper didn’t respond, just closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall. Peter didn’t offer any words of comfort. He was just about as lost as she was.
“He had a dream about this.”
Peter looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t have to ask who “he” was.
“We were out for a run,” she continued softly, eyes still closed. “When we stopped, he told me that he had a dream. That we had a kid named Morgan, after my uncle. ‘It was so real,’ he said.” Pepper’s voice cracked. “He wanted it. To have a kid, I mean. He was so excited about it; he said please. ” She gave a breathless chuckle. “He wanted to have a kid and I… I couldn’t. I didn’t know if I wanted kids but… with the life he led, the problems he had… I don’t think either of us was truly ready. I know I wasn’t. Not yet.”
Pepper opened her eyes and looked down, head lowering. She placed her free hand on her stomach. “But now,” she whispered. “If this had happened when he was still here--” her breath hitched, “--I would be ready. If we did it together, I’d be ready. No matter what we faced, we could do it together. I don’t know now. I don’t know.”
Peter didn’t know either.
Instead of offering her a maybe or a perhaps or anything that couldn’t stand on its own, he said, “Tomorrow, we’ll go to the doctor. We’ll figure out the medical stuff there, and then we’ll go from there.”
Pepper chuckled humorlessly. “You’re so calm,” she told him, “I’m jealous.”
“I just want to help,” he explained, “I won’t be any help to anyone if I’m panicking.”
“True,” she admitted. She looked around the bathroom, eyes flitting about. “I should probably schedule the appointment. And I’ll have to cancel that meeting with Okoye. Also the ones with everyone at SI. And--”
“I can do it,” Peter interrupted. “Anything you need to do, I got it.”
Pepper blanched, watching him with her head tilted ever so slightly. “Peter,” she started, “I can’t ask you to do that--”
“You’re not asking me, I’m offering,” he insisted. “Tell me what to do; teach me. I’m a quick learner.”
“Peter, you don’t need to do this; you’re a kid!” Pepper said firmly.
“And you’re pregnant!” he countered. “I have nothing better to do. I’ll be fine. I can handle talking to some people.”
“It isn’t just some people, Peter,” she sighed, “these are officials, members of high class. There’s a certain pressure that is applied to you that you shouldn’t have to struggle under.”
“Then I’ll learn to carry it.” Peter had to help. He didn’t know how to do anything else. “Pepper, please. You need to rest. Regardless of where we go from here, you’ve been working your ass off--”
“Still. You’ve been going, going, going since all of this. You’re more than capable but you deserve to rest, regardless of what happens next.”
Pepper stayed silent. Peter waited.
“Today,” she started slowly, “I will call the doctors. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the doctors. And while we wait for the doctor… you can read some of the books I did when I was studying for business.”
Peter deflated, relief running through his body. He could help take care of Pepper and what she needed to get done.
“Tomorrow,” he agreed.
The doctor’s confirmed it. Pepper was pregnant.
When they got back to the cabin, they both cried and pretended they weren’t.
“I want to keep it,” Pepper whispered into the room. “I want to.”
“Okay,” Peter said because he wasn’t about to tell her anything about what to do with her body. “I’m here, for everything.”
Peter meant it. She needed someone and if he could be that someone, he'd be it fully. And maybe he needed someone too.
She reached over from her position on the couch and gripped his hand. “Thank you.”
Within the next month, Peter was standing in front of a board of officials, Natasha Romanoff, Okoye of the Dora Milaje, and Carol Danvers, heart buzzing. It was odd, being in charge and leading meetings at sixteen. But Peter took to it easily. It was a distraction. He was learning and helping.
This was the next step. He could work with that.
Peter’s birthday rolled around. He didn’t want to celebrate it. Why should he rejoice for his life when the people who mattered most aren’t there to celebrate it with him?
“They wouldn’t want you to stop living, Peter,” Pepper told him from outside his door. Peter leaned back against it, sliding down it. “They would want you to go on. They’d want you to celebrate and be happy and live, Peter. Are you going to sit there and wait until the day is done? Or are you going to do what they would want you to do?”
Peter stared at the ground. Pepper waited.
Peter closed his eyes and sighed. He felt heavy, like there was weight in his chest that did nothing but pull and pull and pull him into the ground.
But there was the next step. If he could hold onto it tight enough, he could fight the weight.
The next step was to stand up and open the door, to go with Pepper and celebrate his life even if he didn’t want to, to breathe.
Peter stood up and opened the door. Pepper straightened.
Peter breathed in and out, in and out before looking up at Pepper. “Now what?” he asked.
“Now,” Pepper said calmly, placing her hands on his shoulders, “we go and celebrate. You deserve to celebrate.”
Peter met her eyes. In all the time that Peter had known Pepper, she hadn’t offered him anything she didn’t believe in. She didn’t bullshit him or offer sugar-coated words in an attempt to comfort him. In turn, he had done the same. They both knew it was unnecessary, a precaution that would do no good. And so Peter didn’t doubt her words. He just doubted himself.
Still, he nodded and they walked to the kitchen for breakfast.
They ate and then began making a cake. If Peter closed his eyes, listened to the quiet music coming from the speaker on the counter, breathed in the scent of flour and sugar, felt the wooden spoon in his hand, he could almost imagine he was home with May, baking something that would turn out horrible but they would eat it anyway.
But Peter didn’t close his eyes because he loved May, loved her so much it hurt, but he loved Pepper too. And they weren’t the same, they would never be the same, but they didn’t have to be. He could be grateful for both, he could love both.
On the night of his birthday, Rhodey, Happy, Nebula and Pepper all sat with him in the living room.
It was quiet and somewhat somber but there was something else in there too. Something lighter. Peter dared to call it hope.
They got him gifts, something he didn’t quite feel worthy of but said nothing other than thank you. Pepper told him that she’d give him her gift later after they ate. Rhodey gave him a bunch of books, the same ones he had been given by a friend for his college years. “It’s a tradition to pass ‘em down,” he explained with an easy grin. “I thought it was appropriate, seeing as you’ll be headed to college sooner than later.”
Peter had smiled, genuinely touched.
Happy gave him a “Driving for Dummies” book. He looked extremely pleased with himself.
Nebula gave him a set of daggers. He had managed to cover his surprise and slight discomfort at the sight of them. They had black handles, both sides decorated with beautiful carvings that shined in the light. The blade themselves looked marbled and were iridescent but darkened immensely in the shadows. Peter let her talk for as long as she did about the daggers. She seemed almost excited to give them to him, to talk about them. He wasn’t about to stop that.
(Later, next week, he would ask Nebula to show him how to use them. The corner of her lips would upturn for a second before falling back into her neutral expression. She would agree to train him and she would be so hesitant. She would tell him quietly while they both sat on the red mats of the Compound gym, that Thanos trained her to fight for her life, to sacrifice anything and everything to get out a battle on top. She would tell him that if she didn’t, if she failed, he would carve out a piece of her. She would tell him that the daggers had been given to her as a testament to her strength. She would tell him that she gave them to him because it was a testament to his strength. She would tell him that she would train him, show him how to fight, as a spit to Thanos’ face.
Peter would look to her and smile and tell her that she was amazing. He would stand up and offer her a hand. She would stare it before accepting it and then they would train.
Peter would make a mental reminder to himself to figure out when her birthday was and what to get her. He would decide that even if he couldn’t figure out when her birthday was, he’d pick a day with her to celebrate her because maybe Pepper was right, maybe they did deserve to celebrate their lives.)
They ate and then brought out the cake. Peter blew out his candles and wished for May and Tony and Ned and MJ and only smiled when Pepper squeezed his shoulder.
They ate the cake and talked and laughed and told stories and breathed.
Peter looked around at the people at the table. It hurt to imagine who else should’ve been there. But that thing he dared to call hope was still there and so Peter breathed. That was the next step.
It was nearly midnight when Pepper gave Peter his gift.
In the living room, Peter was beginning one of the books Rhodey gave him when Pepper came up next to the couch, putting her coat on.
“Peter,” she said to gain his attention.
He looked up in response. “Let’s go for a little drive, yeah?” she asked him.
Peter didn’t have to think about before bookmarking his place and moving off the couch.
They walked outside and get in the car. Peter pulled out of the driveway and asked where Pepper wanted to go.
“Go to the Compound.”
Peter paused, blinked, then began the drive to the Compound.
When they arrived, Pepper told him, “Go in, I’ll be right behind you.”
Five minutes later, they stood outside of Tony’s lab. Peter’s hand shook.
“I know,” Pepper began softly, grasping his hand, “you’ve avoided this. I don’t blame you. I did too. But… there’s something you need to see, Peter.”
Peter didn’t know what to do. Pepper wouldn’t have brought him here if she hadn’t thought it was important. She wouldn’t have brought him here if she hadn’t thought the pain would be worth it.
Peter took in a deep breath, clenching his fist when it shook and pushed open the door to the labs.
The lights came on automatically. It looked exactly the same as he had last seen it. Not a thing had been moved or touch.
Peter’s chest ached.
To his left were DUM-E and U. Both were just sitting there, deactivated and still.
Peter walked over to them, placing a hand on each to wake them up.
(“God, what kind of power am I giving you?” Tony grumbled. “This isn’t going to end well, is it?”
“It was your idea to do this!” Peter reminded him gleefully, watching as Tony uploads the code to DUM-E and U.
The second the code was set, Peter rushed over to DUM-E and U, slowing before them. He gently placed a hand on DUM-E first. The bot chirped and woke up. Peter couldn’t suppress his smile.
He copied his actions with U. The bot reacted similarly, beeping before straightening.
Peter giggled, utterly delighted. He turned to Tony and laughed harder at the pained expression on the man’s face.
“You three are going to ruin my life, aren’t you?” he groaned. Peter continued to laugh. “Look, children, heads up. This code is just so that you--” he pointed at Peter, “can use them--” he pointed at DUM-E and U, “without having to come whining to me. They are not playthings, so no mischief or pranks or shenanigans.”
“Shenanigans?” Peter repeated, smirking.
“Yes, Parker. No goofs o-or gafs, no devilments or waggish natures or--Stop laughing!”)
DUM-E chirped to life. U woke up a second later. “Hey guys,” he murmured, voice raspy and quiet. “Been alright here? Pretty dark, cold too. Hope you guys were alright.”
Peter tossed a glance over his shoulder, back towards Pepper. “We should bring them back,” he said, “so they aren’t alone. O-Or we’ll just have to visit more. I don’t want them to be alone.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Pepper said, nodding. “Come here.”
Peter walked back over to her, bots following closely behind. They sat down at the table, hands in their laps, too afraid to touch anything and disturb the preserved environment.
“I told you that I’d give you my gift after we ate,” Pepper began. “I was trying to figure out how best to approach this.”
She reached into her coat pocket and took out a glasses case. Peter’s eyebrows furrowed together in confusion. She held out the case to him. He took it gently, looking up at her before opening it. Inside was a pair of familiar yet new glasses.
They looked like the kind Tony would’ve worn.
Peter gulped and traced the frame of the glasses with his fingertip. “He was always three steps ahead,” Pepper whispered. “I don’t think he knew what would happen when he left. But I think he was going over every option, every risk he could think of. And, just in case, he made these. They’re for you.”
Peter looked up sharply. Why did this surprise him? He knew Tony well. Tony was always thinking about the what-ifs. He prepared for some of them, the ones he thought could really happen. It shouldn’t surprise him that Tony left things behind for those that were still there.
And yet it did. Maybe Peter thought he wouldn’t be there either. Maybe Peter thought he wasn’t that important. Maybe it was both.
Peter took the glasses out of the case. He unfolded the arms and only hesitated for a second before putting them on.
Immediately screens bloomed to life. Tinged blue, the system within the glasses began to start up. Peter tried his best not to think about the screen within the suit, the ones he saw when he was repairing the ship or recording that message. But then the screen changed, fading from blue to gray. Suddenly, photos began to appear, one at a time, before being replaced with another.
Tears gathered in his eyes. All of the pictures were of him and Tony, and of May and Ned and MJ and Pepper and the bots. Peter’s eyes flickered to the right of the screen and suddenly he was torn between sobs and laughter. The file was called “the Brady Bunch.”
“There’s a message on there,” Pepper told him quietly, unable to see the pictures, glasses obscuring his eyes and tears. She smiled sadly. “I can leave if you want to listen to it.”
Peter couldn’t breathe. Grief strangled him. He didn’t respond, just clamped a hand over his mouth as he began to cry.
He hadn’t allowed himself to do it before. There was a next step he had to get to. There was a meeting he had to attend, training to complete, housework to finish, Pepper to help. There was always something else to distract him, to keep him busy. But now…
Now it was right in front of him. All that he had lost. All that he had loved and cherished. All that was gone. And he couldn’t do anything about it. He had lost everything.
But when he pitched forward, the force of his sudden sobs throwing him off balance, he was intimately aware that while that was true, he had lost so much, he had gained something too.
Pepper’s hands steadied him. Strong and warm, her hands splayed over his shoulders. She gently led him off the chair and onto the ground. She took the glasses off his face, placing them on the table above. And then, there, she just held him.
She rubbed his back as he sobbed and held him. “It’s okay, Peter,” she whispered. “It’s okay. Grieve, hun. You’re allowed to grieve.”
Maybe that was what he had needed: permission. For someone to force him to take a step back and see what he had lost and tell him that it was okay to let go. Because once Pepper was done speaking, he reached up and gripped her coat and sobbed into her shoulder.
He felt like he was falling. His family was gone. He was the only one left. He had no ground to stand on. No May to cup his face and kiss his forehead. No Tony to offer encouragement and reassurances and snark and warm arms around his shoulders. No Ned to chatter with or play with LEGOs. No MJ to draw with or tease and banter and snicker with during class.
But he had Pepper. Pepper was there. She was holding him. She was rubbing his back and humming softly and she was warm.
He might’ve been falling but Pepper caught him and it wasn’t the same as May or even Tony and it didn’t feel better than either of them but it felt just as right.
Peter gripped her coat, sobbed, let go and finally, finally, grieved.
Peter didn’t watch the message. He would later though when he was ready.
For now, he had to focus on the people in his life, the ones who were still there. He could remember and reminisce until he was ready to face the message.
Pepper was around four months along when Natasha Romanoff came to him.
“Aren’t you a little young to be doing all of this?” she asked after a meeting. She was joining him for the walk back to the car.
“Probably,” he admitted. He felt a little nervous talking to the Black Widow herself but he had gotten used to appearing composed and cool under scrutiny. Leading those meetings did wonders for learning how to control your expressions and reactions. “But I haven’t been called out yet, so I’m assuming my work is adequate.”
“You’re smart, I’ll give you that,” she said. “I’m just wondering what else you are.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Peter tilted his head, meeting Natasha’s eyes.
“Who is Pepper to you?” she asked instead of answering.
“A friend,” he replied immediately. That was true, just not the whole of it.
Natasha could sense that. She quirked an eyebrow. Peter gave her nothing else. She smirked.
After a moment more of silent walking, they reached the car. They stopped a few feet away when Natasha turned to him. “I like you,” she told him plainly. “Swing by the Compound sometime if you want a training partner.”
Peter didn’t have to wonder if the word choice was intentional. He didn’t know Natasha well, but she rarely did anything without a purpose.
“I might take you up on that,” he said pleasantly. “I’ll see you next time, ma’am.”
“Keep me updated on Pepper.”
They went their separate ways, Natasha walking back into the Compound and Peter driving away.
It would be a week later before Peter took up Natasha’s offer. Well, kinda.
Peter entered the Compound and walked to the common room. Natasha wasn’t in there. However, her things were.
Peter, expression screwed up in confusion, ventured farther into the Compound. It was only when he heard distant classical music coming from one of the rooms did he stop.
He walked to the source of music and paused outside the windows looking into the room. He blinked.
Natasha was dancing. Beautifully, at that. It looked like ballet. She was graceful and skilled, fast and smooth, strong and controlled. She was more than talented.
But Peter could sense something private about it too. So he stepped back and away, heading back to the common rooms. There, he busied himself with a book from the shelves.
It was maybe twenty minutes before Natasha came down the hall. Peter heard her pause halfway down it before hearing the familiar sound of a gun being pulled out.
“It’s just me!” he called, not looking up from the book.
He heard the gun’s safety being flicked on then being put back. He looked up in time to see Natasha round the corner. She was still in her pointe shoes.
“Kid, what are you doing here?” she asked, kindly ignoring the way he flinched at the word “kid.”
“Thought I would take you up on that training,” he said, “but I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“Oh,” she mumbled before moving over to the fridge. She grabbed a cold water bottle from it, leaning against it once it was shut. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” A pause, then, “I didn’t know you danced.”
“I don’t. Not often.”
“You’re really good. Your fouettés are amazing.”
“Thank you. What do you know about ballet?”
Peter’s expression formed into one of surprise. Interesting question. “Not a whole lot. I used to dance but I stopped when I was around thirteen.”
“How much do you remember?”
“Most of it.”
“Then get in here. This will be your training.”
Peter hadn’t forgotten how distinctly private Natasha’s dancing had felt. She was opening up the door to her own world. It was a one time offer, take it or leave it, Peter knew.
So instead of questioning it, he just nodded and got up, following her to the little room.
It became a regular thing for the two of them. Actual training did happen but mostly... mostly they just danced.
Peter did not celebrate Christmas the way he used to.
Instead, he invited Pepper and only Pepper to come and watch him dance. They went out for coffee and sweets afterward.
They fell asleep in front of the fireplace that night, miniature Christmas tree Rhodey had gotten them illuminating the rest of the room.
It was not a kind Christmas or even a happy one. But it was warm. And that was a start.
The February day Morgan Antonia Potts was born, Peter was there every step of the way.
He was the one who drove Pepper to the hospital. He was the one to hold Pepper’s hand as she delivered Morgan. He was the one to wipe the sweat off her forehead. He was the one to sit by her side, slightly perched on the corner of the bed, muttering teasingly, “Not bad, Pep,” as Morgan was taken away to be cleaned.
Pepper laughed through her tears. “Hi, Morgan,” she said adoringly when the bundle was placed in her arms. Morgan’s little face, all scrunched up and red, peaked through the purple fabric. “Hi, sweetheart.”
Peter leaned over a little from his seat. Morgan was the most darling thing he had ever seen. He had never felt this kind of love before, something so protective and visceral and strong. He would die for Morgan, he knew it at that moment. He would lay down in his life if it meant she was happy and okay.
Pepper leaned back, exhausted but awake. She shifted closer to Peter, looking over at him. “Do you want to hold her?” she asked.
Peter blanched, brightened and nodded. Pepper smiled and handed Morgan off gently, slowly, instructing Peter on how to hold her properly. Peter felt like he was holding the most precious thing to ever exist. He smiled, smiled so wide it hurt and didn’t care when tears began to roll down his cheeks. “Hi, Morgan,” he said in awe, voice light and breathless.
Pepper shifted so that she was leaning against Peter’s side. Peter lowered the baby in his arms so that Pepper wouldn’t have to strain to see her. “Morgan,” Pepper said, somehow sounding both delicate, light and strong, steady. “This is Peter.” Pepper traced her finger over Morgan’s face with reverence. “He’s your big brother.”
Peter’s head snapped up, shock zipping up his spine. He stared at Pepper who just gazed back at him with something kind in her eyes. “He’ll protect you and love you, Morgan,” she continued, not looking away from Peter. “I think he already does.”
The shock was sinking down Peter’s legs. What’s the next step? a part of him asked on instinct.
He looked away from Pepper and back to Morgan. Her little face was still all scrunched up but her face was less red. She was precious. And she was his responsibility now. He had lost much within the year but had gained so much. Tony, May, Ned, and MJ would always be a part of his family but they weren’t there now. It hurt, it would always hurt, but he had to focus on what he had, on Pepper and Rhodey and Happy and Nebula and the bots and Natasha. And now Morgan. What he had was absolutely precious and he was going to do anything to protect it.
“Yeah,” he spoke, “I do.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead, eyes closed.
This, he told himself, is the next step. This will always be my next step.