"Dad, I'm sorry—"
"So I get this call and this woman I've never met is heavily implying that I'm an unfit father because obviously I didn't bother to listen to my messages—"
"—or at least got my secretary to listen to them for me like most of the other father's at that school—"
"Dad, just listen—"
"—but I never got any message like that, so here I am yelling at some low-rung administrator for not sending me a call and searching through the traces of deleted files when low and behold I find a message—"
"—making me the bad guy here with a delinquent son, which, really, is the last thing I would have ever expected from you, Peter—not doing homework? Sure, it happens, but why would you skip your detention? But that's not even what makes me mad, what makes me mad is that you deliberately hid it from me. You've never lied to me. You know you don't need to lie to me. You know I don't lie to you, so why did you do it?"
Peter looked at his shoes, unable to meet his dad's gaze, unwilling to see the hurt there. He didn't speak for a long moment, though he could still feel his dad's stare.
"I…I panicked," Peter said. "I didn't mean to miss detention, and I didn't know what to do when I got home, and there was this message, and I just wanted it to go away so I told JARVIS to get rid of it." Peter finally met his father's eyes, but then he wished that he hadn't, because then he felt like he couldn't look away.
"What do you mean you didn't mean to miss detention?" dad asked. Peter swallowed.
"I—you know, you weren't talking to me, and Pops wasn't either. Neither of you were around, and I was at a new school, and everything was weird, but I finally had friends, Dad, and I got invited to a party on Friday and I couldn't just say no, I had friends, Dad. Friends. For once in my life. So I went to the party. And I got drunk. And when I woke up the next morning, detention was already over, and when I got home you weren't here but that message was and I just…I just panicked, Dad. I didn't want to tell you what happened, because I knew you'd yell, and I knew you'd be disappointed in me and I just couldn't handle it," Peter said, and by the end he was shouting, too. "I mean I was kidnapped last Sunday for God's sake can you cut me a break for once in my life? My parents are separating, some crazy green villain is after me, I had to switch schools, leave my home, and I've done most of it with a smile so I'm sorry if I had one outburst of not doing my homework, if I hid the truth, if I went out and was a fucking teenager for once, I'm sorry, okay?" By this point, though Peter hadn't really noticed, there were tears on his cheeks, and his Dad slowly came towards him and wrapped him in a hug that Peter fiercely returned. "I'm sorry, Dad, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Peter repeated over and over again.
"Shh, Peter," his dad said soothingly, one hand running gently through his wild brown hair, pressing Peter gently into his shoulder as he cried. "God, Pete, don't ever, ever let me get that far away from you again, ok? Just, smack me if I'm getting too self-absorbed." Peter let out a watery chuckle at that.
They stood there like that for a minute, both reveling in the contact they hadn't had for what felt like weeks, until dad finally ruffled Peter's hair and let him go, courteously turning so that Peter could discreetly wipe the tears from his cheeks.
"We'll just let this go then, yeah? Ms. Manson says you already know your detention has been reassigned for this Saturday," Dad said.
"Yeah," Peter replied. "I'll be there, I promise. And I won't get detention again."
"Please don't," Dad said. He turned back to look at Peter very seriously. "And—Peter I know it's hard to say no to friends, and you know what? I'm not going to tell you to say no. I think you deserve to have a good time every now and then. Just…be careful. Be smart about it, like I know you can be. And don't ever drink alone."
"Ok, Dad," Peter agreed. Dad nodded once, and that was that. Dad ordered Indian food, and they caught up. Well, they mostly caught up. Peter, despite their little heart to heart, wasn't exactly about to bring up the arachnid conversation. But, Peter thought, maybe one day soon he would.
Tuesday brought an ordinary day of school, and another outing with the Avengers, only this time, they were there to help him as he tried, yet again, to take down the Vulture. They didn't end up getting him until Wednesday evening, after which point Peter was covered in little bruises and utterly exhausted, but, after a quick shower, he headed out to have dinner with Bruce, who had invited him the day before.
He wandered into the apartment, dragging his feet. Bruce, who hadn't been called in for the mission, was perfectly cheerful and totally fine. Peter was grateful when he turned on Doctor Who and stopped chatting because, at this point, Peter couldn't keep up with the conversation. He nearly fell asleep on Bruce's couch.
"Peter? Pete?" Bruce asked after Peter had his eyes closed for a prolonged period of time. Peter jolted awake, his foot hitting the coffee table and sending all the Chinese food cartons flying. Instinctively, Peter jumped up to catch them. Which he did—he caught all six of them in his arms. And then he realized Uncle Bruce was staring at him. Peter stared back.
What do I do? What do I do? Instincts, Peter, what's your instinct?
Peter let go and dropped all of the Chinese food he'd saved onto the floor.
Bruce stared. Peter stared back, wide-eyed. Bruce cleared his throat.
"I'll get the mop," he said, rising from his spot on the couch.
"Uncle Bruce, I'm so sorry—" Peter started, but Bruce just held his hand up.
"Peter, it's fine, it was an accident," he said calmly. He brought out a mop and Peter helped him pick up the remains of their dinner. By the time they were done, all Peter wanted to do was sink back onto that couch and go to sleep. Bruce sat down and Peter sat beside him. They just let Doctor Who play for a minute, but after a while Bruce looked at Peter, and he muted the television.
"All right Peter, do you want to tell me why the clumsiest kid I know is suddenly able to catch a bunch of flying Chinese food cartons like a juggler on steroids?" Bruce asked. Peter sank into the couch. He just shrugged. Bruce sighed. "Come on, Peter, we both know that isn't normal. I'm worried about you, what's going on?" Peter shrugged again. "Is it steroids?" Peter shook his head. "Do you have the X gene?" Peter shook his head again. Uncle Bruce looked puzzled for a moment, and then it was like a realization had dawned on him. Peter felt a pit in his stomach. "Peter, take off your jacket." Peter shook his head. "Peter." Reluctantly, and slowly, ever so slowly, Peter removed his heavy jacket. He was only wearing a t-shirt underneath yet again, and so the bruises he'd incurred over the past three days of fighting with the Avengers were obvious.
Uncle Bruce was quiet for a moment, pensive. He got up and returned with ice packs, which he handed to Peter before sitting back down.
"When did it happen?" he asked.
"Just a couple weeks ago. Still getting used to it," Peter murmured. Then he looked up at Bruce, eyes wide with fear. "Please, Uncle Bruce, please don't tell my dads—"
"I won't say anything, Peter, but I really think you should," Bruce said. "How did it happen?"
"I'm not really sure," Peter admitted. "A radioactive spider bit me, I think, and then I got sick and then—well, then this."
"The allergic reaction," Bruce muttered, mostly to himself, Peter suspected. Bruce took in a deep breath, then let it go. "Don't make me keep this secret forever, Peter."
"I won't," Peter mumbled. "I just…there hasn't been a right time with…with Dad and Pops…" Bruce put a hand on Peter's shoulder.
"I understand, Peter. And if you ever need someone to talk to, ever, you know you can count on me, right?" Bruce asked. Peter nodded, and Bruce let go. "Good." He turned Doctor Who back on. Peter smiled. He knew there was a reason Uncle Bruce was his favorite. He settled back in and he and Uncle Bruce finished the episode in contented silence.
On Thursday, nothing earth shattering happened and Peter decided to take a break from patrol to study and to have an actual conversation with Gwen over the phone. Pops invited him over to stay for the weekend. Peter felt a small twinge of dread, but he sucked it up and sent back a quick text to let him know he'd be there.
On Friday, Harry tried to get him to go clubbing that night, but Peter turned him down, insisting that he had family things to attend to. Harry didn't seem to understand. Peter felt true pity for his friend.
After going on patrol for a bit, Peter headed to his Pop's apartment. Like Pops, the building was old—it had probably been new in his era. It was also, predictably, in Brooklyn. Peter wondered if it was even possible to prize Pops from the area. Peter headed up to the fourth floor until he reached the right door. He took a deep breath, and then he knocked. The door practically flew open, and for a moment Peter was afraid his Pops was going to tear it right off its hinges.
"Peter!" Pops said as he opened the door. The look of pure, unadulterated joy on his face made Peter smile.
"Hey Pops. Uh, long time, no see?" he said. Pops just grabbed him in an enormous hug and didn't let go. It was a little painful, what with Peter's constant injuries, but Peter didn't mind, not really.
"How on earth did I deal with sending you to Boy Scout camp? I can't handle being without you for two weeks," Pops said, finally letting go. Peter came in through the door, shutting it behind him, and set his stuff down. As he remembered it, Pops didn't deal with sending him to Boy Scout camp—Dad had told him he'd pouted and moped around the house the whole time and couldn't be cheered up even when Dad had offered to watch 40s musicals with him.
"College might be an issue, then," Peter said with a small grin.
"Oh, don't mention that right now, I can't handle it," Pops said. "How have you been? How's your new school? Have you made any new friends? Of course you have, who are they? What are they like? Are your teachers ok? Did you join any clubs? Have you started your college applications yet? Because—"
"POPS, ok, wow, slow down," Peter said, laughing. He'd thought, in that brief week without any contact, that maybe Pops just didn't care. Now he realized he had been ridiculous. "And uh, fine, fine, yes, Harry, mainly but some of the other kids are cool too, and Harry's nice, uh teacher's are fine I guess, no I didn't join any clubs—I'm not actually sure Hawthorne has clubs… And uh, no not yet but I'm getting to it. Also, I'm starving, is there anything to eat?"
"Yes, there's plenty to eat—let me guess, you've been living off of pizza and pudding cups?" Pops asked.
"Chinese and Shwarma, too," Peter added cheerfully. Pops rolled his eyes.
"Well I made chicken parmesan—"
"Yes!" Ah, Peter thought, real food.
"—so why don't we just sit down to an early dinner?"
Peter was amenable to that, and Pops seemed quite content. Peter caught him up with his time at school, and told him all about his new friends (although he left out the very short-lived drinking phase, the fact that 'Harry' was 'Harry Osborn', and that most of them had substance abuse problems in one form or another already, but hey, it was the thought that counted). All in all, it was the type of dinner Peter had been waiting for since Pops had left. But…Peter couldn't stop the niggling feeling of how wrong this all was. They might have been in Brooklyn, but they weren't home, and more importantly, they weren't all together. Peter didn't even realize he was staring at his food until Pops spoke up.
"What?" Pops asked. "What's wrong? Is it burnt?"
"No, Pops, it's—it's great, really just—" Peter took a deep breath. "This is your apartment." Pops put down his utensils, ran a hand through his hair and took a breath of his own.
"Yeah I was wondering when this conversation would happen. I guess now is as good a time as any," Pops said reluctantly.
"This is an apartment," Peter said again.
"I know that," Pops said.
"Yes." Peter paused for a moment.
"You're not wearing your ring, either."
"No, I'm not."
"Has the paperwork been served?"
"But you think it will be."
Peter nodded, then sat in silence, trying to process this new information. He could feel Pops' eyes on him, but he knew he wouldn't press him if he didn't want to be pressed.
"Thanks for being honest with me," Peter said finally.
"I'll never lie to you if I can help it, Peter," Pops said firmly.
"You lie to me all the time," Peter said with a laugh. "You lie more than Dad."
"What?" Pops asked, and Peter was only more amused by how affronted he sounded. "No I don't!"
"Oh, sure. 'Hey Pops, I love this, do you like this t-shirt?' 'It's…great, Peter.' Bull, it said 'Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll' on the front, that's like, everything you stand against," Peter said, still laughing.
"I—I have nothing against Rock and Roll. Or sex. Or prescription drugs."
"Kind of missing the point, Pops," Peter said, an amused grin on his face.
"Oh, like you're one to talk 'Yeah, Dad, these eggs are delicious', you little liar. No one could call Tony's eggs delicious. No one. Dogs leave them on the floor," Pops said.
"Oh, come on—" Peter said, and their bantering continued for a good part of an hour, passing from 'lying' to making fun of one another's fashion choices, to making fun of their music, to their choice of television shows, until finally they settled on a specific channel on TV, long after dinner was finished, and watched a movie. They fell asleep on the couch to the songs of The Wizard of Oz.
In the morning, Peter served his detention with Ms. Manson breathing down his neck. He told Pops he'd gone to work on a science project—it was good to know that excuse still worked.
Peter stayed for the weekend, and eventually they developed a routine. Peter would come over on Friday, stay until Monday morning, and then go back to Stark Tower after school. Of course, Peter wasn't always around much on the weekend—sometimes he had a date night with Gwen, sometimes he was hanging out with Harry, but they got enough time together to keep them both from going crazy.
As Spider-Man, he'd picked up a new routine as well, helping the Avengers on a regular basis. He'd managed to tap into their comm. systems, so they had his signal and could buzz him when he was needed. But he wouldn't take off his mask, no matter how many times Fury or even Pops asked. He wasn't ready for that yet. And while the Avengers had certainly noticed how the Hulk had taken on a certain affection for the young arachnid, no one commented on it beyond a few jokes.
"What's your secret, Spider-Man?" Pops—the Captain—asked him with a laugh one day. "I think Thor could use it."
They'd also noticed that Spider-Man was a kid, through various means. One, Peter suspected, was his conspicuous lack of availability during school hours, but Peter figured that was unavoidable. Again, beyond a few jokes, no one seemed to look into it any further, although he knew Fury must be keeping tabs on him, and he did his best to avoid said tabs.
What with school, time with Gwen, time with his new friends (especially Harry), and time doing duty as Spider-Man, Peter couldn't believe how quickly the time flew. October became November. November became December. He spent Christmas Eve with Pops, and Christmas Day with Dad. He tried not to be sad that he couldn't have both days with them, tried not to be sad that they weren't all baking Christmas cookies in the kitchen with Dad trying to eat all the dough, that they didn't build a gingerbread house with Pops making one all traditional and Dad making one entirely out of tech which Pops would scold him for because it was inedible and obviously he'd missed the whole point… He tried to pretend that it was Christmas as usual, but all of them knew that it wasn't.
January became February, February became March, March became April and Peter got his official acceptance into Empire State University—on full scholarship. Gwen got in on the same terms, and Peter was thrilled that they would be going to the same school. So was Gwen. April turned into May, and Thor and Jane welcomed a baby girl into the world, and then May became early June. It had been eight months since Dad and Pops separated. They hadn't been seen together in all that time, and Peter didn't think that they had communicated at all. It showed, Peter knew, when graduation day came.
Everyone showed up. All the Avengers were there, and even Gwen had decided to come out—her own graduation was a week away. Dad sat next to Bruce, and all the way on the other end, Pops sat between Natasha and Gwen. Gwen, of course, knew who he was to Peter, but they hadn't ever properly met. Peter was happy to see that they looked to be in a pleasant conversation, at least until the ceremony started and the whole audience grew quiet. Despite having only been at the school a year, Peter was Valedictorian, and as such, found himself giving a cheesy, generic speech about growing up and moving on that he really didn't want to give, but at the end of it, all his (twenty-five) classmates cheered. Of course, the Avengers cheered the loudest.
After the ceremony was over, Peter made a beeline to his family, and every last one of them enveloped him in a hug, one by one offering congratulations.
"Picture time!" Jane declared at one point, and they all gathered in for a photo, with another parent taking it. After that, Jane demanded pictures of Peter with all of them individually. It wasn't until she'd gotten around to taking one with him and Pops and then one with him and Dad that Peter realized she'd done it so they'd avoid a family photo as it should have been, with Dad and Pops and Peter and that no one would comment on it as being odd, as being out of place.
And suddenly Peter wanted to scream with frustration. He wanted to push the two of them together until they kissed and made up. He wanted to lock them in a room and tell them not to come out until things were fixed. He wanted to throw himself on the floor and kick and punch and scream and cry and throw a good old two-year-old temper tantrum. But he couldn't. So he smiled through the rest of the pictures and pretended not to notice that Pops and Dad addressed one another as "Mr. Stark" and "Captain Rogers" when the situation required that they address one another at all. Eight months was all it had been, but eight months had turned his parents into strangers.
They had all gone out to a celebratory dinner afterwards, Tony Stark style, with themed balloons, and a cake more suited to a wedding, and a whole restaurant bought out in Peter's name. It made Peter a bit uncomfortable. Pops had rarely let Dad make such grandiose gestures, but Peter grinned and bore it, even if all he really wanted was a quiet dinner at home with both his parents and Gwen and Uncle Bruce, with a homemade cake with lumpy frosting and a cheap wax CONGRATS candle melting on the top.
Peter went to bed exhausted, emotionally drained from the strain of dancing between his estranged parents. Dad went to bed hammered. Peter pretended not to notice.
The day after that was unremarkable, and Peter began to think that this was how his life was going to go for the rest of forever. Peter despaired at the thought. Of course, if Peter had thought much about it, he would have realized that nothing stays the same forever. If he had thought much about it, he would have realized that the ticking time bomb that was his family still had yet to go off. If he had thought much about it, Peter would have realized that there were cards yet to be played. But Peter didn't think much about it, didn't want to think much about it. So he didn't realize that the dam was about to break.
It was the morning two days after his graduation that Peter woke to his comm. going off.
"—lizard people all over the city—"
"—Pym's got anti-serum, deliver it to the top of—"
"—Oscorp, for certain—"
Peter fumbled for the device as he got out of bed and turned it on.
"Spider-Man is online—what's the situation?"
"Spider-Man, we need you now," the Captain said. "Get to 24th and Broadway, I'll be waiting—I need you to give me a lift to the top of Oscorp—it's been spewing some weird mist all morning. Pym got a sample, he's made an anti-serum, but people are already turning into lizards—"
"Sorry, what?" Peter asked, utterly bewildered. He was almost fully changed into his Spider-Man costume. He tugged his mask on over his face just as the Captain said,
"Just get here."
Peter obeyed the command, jumping out a back window of Stark Tower and swinging his way over to 24th and Broadway. Pops was easy to spot, dressed all in red and blue, and Peter had no trouble swooping down and grabbing him right out of a battle with a giant lizard.
"What the hell are those things?" Peter asked, horrified.
"People!" Cap shouted back. "Top of Oscorp, stat!" Peter swung as quickly as he could, although it was always more difficult with another person.
"If they're lizards, why aren't we lizards?" Peter shouted as they soared.
"My genetic structure is too altered, probably yours is too, but we've already got one afflicted teammate, and it's only going to get worse," Cap answered. They tumbled onto the top of Oscorp, and Cap shoved a blue vial at him and pointed up a rickety metal structure. "You're the spider—I need you to climb up to the top and replace a green vial with this blue one. I'll cover you." Peter nodded and grabbed the vial, heading up to the very tip-top of the tower. It might have been an easy task for someone with sticky hands and feet, but it was no less terrifying. The structure creaked and swayed with every gentle breeze, and for all Peter was used to heights at this point, it was still unnerving.
When he was halfway up, he heard shouting from below. He looked down, and a bullet glanced off the metal beside him. Below, Cap fought off a lizard with—
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Peter muttered—the lizard had a gun which, of course, wouldn't do much to Cap with his shield, but Peter would be a fairly easy target.
"CLIMB!" Cap shouted, and Peter hopped to it double time, his Spidey-Sense kicking in always just in time for him to narrowly avoid a bullet.
"How does it even use a gun with claws?" Peter wondered aloud as he made it to the top. There was some bizarre device emitting a greenish gas that Peter really didn't like the look of. Thanking his altered genetics, Peter removed the green vial and swapped it for the blue. The gas slowly began to change color, but there was still shouting from below, and Peter could see why—another lizard-man had joined the first, and Cap was having a hard time keep up.
Peter swung down from the top of the structure to the roof, delivering a powerful kick to lizard number two as he did so. The lizard roared in rage.
"Why isn't the blue stuff working?" Peter asked.
"Takes time I guess!" Cap shouted back. They fought back to back for a while, Peter mostly evading blows while Cap took them on his shield. Peter delivered a blow to the second lizard that had him sprawled out on the other side of the roof. For half a second, Peter watched the Captain fight—his Pops was truly talented, and Peter knew it wasn't entirely due to his muscles. That was, until his Spidey-sense went off. Peter turned, only to get smacked in the face with a lizard claw. Peter skidded over the side of the building and just managed to shoot off web to save himself. He swung back up on the roof in time to see the second lizard approaching Cap from behind while the first lizard attacked him from the front. The second lizard lifted its sharp, deadly tail for a blow, and Peter didn't even stop to think.
"CAP!" he yelled out, and he jumped between them.
The pain was sharp and immediate, but Peter had no choice to ignore the cut that the lizard's tail had slashed through his abdomen. He used his web to bind the lizard as best he could, though he knew he'd break free of it soon enough, cutting through with that sharp tail of his. Cap knocked lizard number one to the other side of the roof and briefly turned to Spider-Man.
"Oh, God, kid," he said, looking at him.
" 'm fine," Peter said, putting a hand to his stomach. "Can't worry right now—" But when Peter looked up, the lizards looked almost like they were…melting. No, not melting, just transforming, Peter realized. They were transforming back into people. The anti-serum was working. Peter sighed in relief. He felt a strong hand grab around his bicep.
"Come on, kid, we've got to get you to medical," Pops insisted.
"I'm fine, really," Peter said, but in truth he felt a bit dizzy. Suddenly he felt himself being lifted off the ground. He was three again in his mind, and Pops was carrying him from the couch, where he'd fallen asleep watching Wall-E for the thousandth time, back up to his room to tuck him into bed. "I'm—"
"Yes, fine, I get it, that's why you're bleeding buckets," Cap said a bit scornfully. He started speaking into his comm.. "This is the Captain, I need a medical evac on the roof of Oscorp, stat. Spider-Man's been hit. Otherwise the serum seems to be working, the situation is under control."
"Roger that." Peter heard the answer through his own comm..
"Make sure you keep pressure on that, kid," Cap said. "Help should be here any minute now."
"It's cool, it's good, just a scratch is all," Peter said. Cap just grunted, but he didn't say anything else. A helicopter arrived moments later. Conveniently, Oscorp's roof had a helipad just as Stark Tower did. They were able to land and take Peter on board. Cap insisted on coming as well.
A slight design flaw in Peter's suit meant that he had to remove his entire costume for the medical team to get access to his injury, but when they mad a move to take off his mask, he grabbed it and pulled down.
"No," he said. "This stays." An exasperated nurse just sighed and busied herself with something else. Peter tried not to think about his injury as they patched him up. Cap sat and watched. He didn't say anything as they stitched Peter up and rolled white bandages around his abdomen. He didn't speak until Peter had put his Spider-Man costume back on in full. He frowned at the bloody hole in the center. He wasn't sure how he was going to fix that, just as he wasn't sure how the lizard's tail had managed to pierce the armor in the first place. He sat down and waited for the helicopter to land at the Triskelion. He knew he'd have to hoof it back to Stark Tower—there was no way he could swing with this injury. He was grateful Stark Tower was close, though he wasn't looking forward to having to scale the entire building to get back into his room.
"I'll be out of commission with this injury for a while," Peter told the Captain. Pops just looked at him, a very serious expression on his face. It was one Peter knew well, and hated. It was the same face he got whenever a mission had failed. It was the same face he got when someone died. It was the same face he'd had when he'd told Peter that he and Dad were probably getting divorced.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"I'm legal," Peter said.
"But barely." Peter didn't answered. The Captain sighed, and closed his eyes for a moment, ran a hand through his hair. "Do your parents know?" Silence from Peter. "That's a no, then. I should've asked when you first started helping us, but I guess I didn't want to know. We had a hole in the team, you provided a convenient…not replacement, but…Anyway I should've asked, but I didn't. Didn't want to know if you were underage, didn't want to know if you had parents worried about where you were, didn't want to know whose door I'd be knocking on if you'd gotten yourself killed out on the field. You know we don't talk about it in the official statements, but I've got a kid about your age. I shouldn't let you fight. I think of my own kid, think what if it was Peter, and I can't stand the thought of him out here, so why should I let someone else's kid do it?
"Fact is, you're valuable. You're a good fighter, you've got a unique skill set, and if you are 'legal' then there are plenty of kids your age enlisting, anyway. But…I guess what I'm trying to say is, I have to let you fight. I've got no good reason to stop you and a heap of reasons why I shouldn't. But I want you to be careful. You took a blow meant for me today, and that's not something I want you doing, ok? You don't take the risky move, you play it safe, all right?"
"He could have severed your spinal cord!" Peter protested.
"And he could have disemboweled you," the Captain replied. "Nearly did. Kid, you've got every quality in a superhero we could hope for. You're even one to make the sacrifice play, to risk your life for someone else's. It's admirable. It's a good quality, one you can utilize when you're older, but right now, I want you to leave those plays to full members of the Avengers, do you understand?"
"Listen to me as your Captain, Spider-Man. I do not want you making any risky moves, all right?" Cap sighed heavily. "And if that's not enough, do it as a favor to me. Because I'd rather not knock on your parents' door and tell them to start making funeral preparations, all right?" Peter nodded, a bit grudgingly, but he nodded. Cap patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks. And you know, I'm not going to run off and tell your parents what you're doing if you take off that mask." Peter almost laughed.
"That's good…really…but uh, I think I'll leave it on, thanks," Peter said.
"All right, kid, it's your call," Cap said with a shrug.
The helicopter landed at the Triskelion, and weird as it was, Peter just left through the front door. He walked, still in his Spider-Man costume, all the way to the back of Stark Tower, taking as many back routes and alleyways as he possibly could. He scaled up the side of the building and picked a window at random before sneaking up to his room, still in costume.
He looked at the clock and groaned. It was already four o'clock, and he'd promised Gwen he'd be at her house for dinner at six. It was the big moment, the big, dreaded, 'meet-the-father' moment that Gwen had been building up in all the time they dated. There was no way he could be late. He stripped off the Spider-Man costume and showered as fast as he could, wincing whenever he made a sharp movement that tugged at his new stitches. He put on his best suit (a ridiculously expensive Armani label thing that he'd only worn once before, and that had been to graduation), tried to say goodbye to his Dad only to find him mysteriously gone, and headed out the door.
Happy drove him to Gwen's building, but even with the private ride and the lovely suit, the doorman looked at him like he was a vagrant. In all his eight months of dating Gwen, her doorman never warmed to him.
"Name," said the doorman.
"You know me," Peter said, exasperated.
"Name," he said, more forcefully.
"Peter Parker. Or Stark. Either one—I'm here to see Gwen, we've got dinner plans—" The doorman sighed heavily.
"You're down as Stark. Go on up," he said. Peter let out a sigh of relief. That doorman could really make his life difficult when he felt like it. He took the elevator up to the Stacy's apartment and knocked on their door. He felt highly uncomfortable in this fancy suit, especially given that even tiny movements in the wrong direction pulled at his stitches. The door swung open wide, suddenly, revealing police captain Stacy. Gwen practically sprinted into view behind him, and she shot Peter an apologetic glace over her father's shoulder.
"You must be Peter," Captain Stacy said.
"Yes sir," Peter said respectfully. "You must be Captain Stacy. Gwen's told me a lot about you, sir."
"Likewise, Mr. Parker," Captain Stacy said. He held out his hand and Peter shook it. "Come in, come in." Peter was ushered inside, following behind Captain Stacy and beside Gwen.
"Parker?" Peter mouthed to Gwen.
"Sorry," Gwen mouthed back, wincing. They were led into the kitchen, where Mrs. Stacy and Gwen's younger brother were cooking dinner. Mrs. Stacy smiled when she saw Peter, for they had met several times. Mrs. Stacy was always quite sweet to him.
"Oh, Peter, hello. We're so glad you could make it for dinner tonight," she said warmly. "Dinner's not ready just yet though, you're just a tad early—I'm sure you and Gwen have some catching up to do, why don't you two run along and we'll call you when dinner's ready?"
"Sounds good, thanks Mom!" Gwen interjected quickly, pulling Peter out of the kitchen and dashing them down the hall to her room before her father could object. She quickly and quietly closed the door behind them and then sighed in relief. Peter raised an eyebrow.
"Parker?" he asked again. "Not that I mind, just…" Gwen groaned.
"I'm sorry, Peter, when we were going to go on our first date you were still Peter Parker to me, and I told my parents who I was going out with and after that it just seemed weird to suddenly change your name and besides that—well, my Dad's not your Dad's biggest fan and I want him to like you, Peter," she said, all in one breath. Peter almost couldn't keep up.
"Oh, well, that's, that's sweet, Gwen, but I don't want to, you know, start off on the wrong foot with your Dad," Peter said, a bit concerned. "It's not exactly lying, being Peter Parker, it's just…"
"I know, I know, I just…" Gwen sighed and took his hands in hers. "You're important to me, Peter, and my dad is important to me too, and if two of the most important people in my life become archenemies—" Peter laughed.
"Woah, woah, Gwen, arch enemies? That escalated quickly," he said. Gwen just looked at him with worry. Peter raised an eyebrow. "Unless there's something you're not telling me?" Gwen took a deep breath, obviously psyching herself up for something, and Peter got a bit nervous. But before Gwen could say anything, her little brother, Simon, burst into the room.
"Dinner's ready in two minutes, Mom overestimated how much more time she'd need," he said. He glanced at their entwined hands and made a face. "Were you two gonna kiss?"
"Simon just get out," Gwen said. Simon rolled his eyes but shut the door and left, making gagging noises as he went. Gwen sighed. Peter sat down on the bed, wincing as he did so. Gwen eyed him suspiciously. "What was that?"
"What was what?" Peter asked innocently.
"That face you just made—did you hurt yourself?"
"Well, to be more accurate, a giant human lizard on top of Oscorp hurt me," Peter said with a grin.
"Peter!" Gwen said, sitting next to him "Where? What happened? Let me see it."
"It's all bandaged up, Gwen, I'm fine. S.H.I.E.L.D. took care of it," Peter said. "It's not a big deal."
"It is a big deal," Gwen insisted. She lifted up his dress shirt, revealing the stark white bandages across his abdomen. Peter heard her intake of breath. "Oh, Peter, it must—it must be huge."
"No biggie, Gwen, I'm fine, see?" Peter said, with a smile, gently prying her hands away from his shirt.
"What happened? I've never seen you get hit that badly," Gwen said. Peter shrugged.
"I got hit. Left Pop's back unprotected, and when I saw that thing going for him I just didn't think. I jumped in front of it. But it could have been worse," Peter said. Gwen just sighed and shook her head.
"I don't think your pops would want you risking your life for his," she said finally.
"Yeah, Cap told Spider-Man as much," Peter agreed. Gwen looked at him, shocked.
"Then why do you do it?" she asked.
"What do you mean why do I do it? He's my Pops—if I see him in danger, I'm not just going to stand by and watch something terrible happen," Peter said, frowning a little.
"He's your father, he should be protecting you—it sounds like he's trying to!" Gwen said. "Peter, I know what it's like to be left behind. I know what it feels like to wait at home, but that doesn't mean I'm going to take to the streets with a loaded gun in my hand and follow behind my dad's police car."
"It's not the same thing and you know it," Peter said flatly.
"Is it not?" Gwen asked. "How much training do you have Peter."
"How often do you practice with the Avengers? Spar? Attend meetings?"
"You might be super-powered, Peter, but in a fight against other super-powered beings how does that make you any different from me with a gun in my hand against other people with guns in their hands?" Gwen asked.
"It's—it just is," Peter said, and even he knew that was a lame answer. "I mean, I've been doing this for eight months now. I kind of have the hang of it."
"But then you go and get hurt like today and I just…" Gwen brushed back a lock of hair on Peter's forehead. "I worry. I worry about you, Peter, because I l—"
"Dinner's ready, kids," Mrs. Stacy said cheerfully, popping the door open. She smiled at them both. "I hope you like branzino."
"Who doesn't?" Peter asked breezily.
Peter. Peter didn't. Peter hated branzino. He'd had it once, when Pops had been MIA for six months when Peter was nine. Dad had hired a chef to take care of Peter's nutritional needs, but the chef seemed a little fuzzy on what those were, considering he was used to working in five-star restaurants and not feeding kids. Peter had eaten more fancy food in that period of his life than any other, and he'd never taken Pops' cooking—or even takeout—for granted ever again. But of course, Peter didn't say any of this, and he was just glad he had some vague notion of how to eat branzino as they sat down to dinner.
"So, Peter, Gwen tells us you're also going to Empire State University next year?" Captain Stacy said. Peter nodded.
"Yeah, I am. For physics. Or chemistry. Or electronic engineering—or maybe a couple or all three I really haven't decided yet," Peter said. Captain Stacy chuckled.
"All three? Funny, Parker, really," he said. Peter just blinked. He hadn't been kidding. "But you're a science man, then."
"Yeah I—yeah," Peter said lamely.
"Peter won every science fair at Midtown. Well, except this past year, obviously, since he transferred schools," Gwen interjected, throwing him a smile.
"Yes, why did you transfer in your senior year, Peter? Gwen was pretty…vague about that," Captain Stacy said. Peter shot her a nervous glance.
"Well uh, it was my parents' decision, really," Peter said, stepping carefully. "We uh, we moved."
"I see," Captain Stacy said. There was a short lull in the conversation.
**"George, why don't you tell us about your day?" Mrs. Stacy asked. Peter was relieved to have the conversation diverted—but only just briefly.
"Oh yeah, dad. Did you work out that problem with the Spider-Man with S.H.I.E.L.D. yet?" Howard, Gwen's other younger brother, asked. Peter's stomach did a flip.
"No, no, not yet. He's an amateur, assaulting civilians in the dead of night, he's clumsy, he leaves clues, but still dangerous," Captain Stacy said. "But S.H.I.E.L.D.'s blocking us at every turn whenever we try to bring him to justice."
"He's…assaulting people? I'm not sure. I mean, I saw that video, of him and the car thief, and I think most people would say that he was providing a public service. Like the Avengers," Peter said carefully. Gwen's eyes were as wide as saucers. Peter could tell she was holding her breath.
"Most people would be wrong," Captain Stacy replied coolly. "If I wanted a car thief off the street, he'd already be off the street."
"So…why wasn't he?" Peter asked.
"Let me illuminate you," Captain Stacy explained, "You see, the car thief was leading us to the people who run the entire operation. It's been a six month long sting, it's called strategy. I'm sure you're aware of the term, strategy? You've probably heard about that in school?"
"Yeah," Peter said. The awkwardness in the room was tangible.
"Good," Captain Stacy said with a nod.
"Well, obviously, he didn't know you had a plan," Peter said, unable to stop himself. Gwen had no reaction, but Peter could practically hear her groan in his head.
"You seem to know an awful lot about this case. You know something that we don't know? I mean, whose side are you on here?" Captain Stacy asked.
"Well, I'm not on anyone's side. I saw a video on the internet…"
"Oh! You saw the video on the internet. Well, then, the case is closed."
"Well, no. I'm just saying, if you watch the video, maybe if I send you a link? It looks like…it looks like he's really trying to help. I mean, he has joined up with the Avengers on some missions…" Peter trailed off. Captain Stacy scoffed.
"Yeah, sure, on the internet he's been made out to look like some kind of masked hero or something. And it's that helping with the Avengers that ties up police business. Spider-Man is a vigilante interfering with police work, not just an Avenger, taking care of the supernatural cases. And if S.H.I.E.L.D. knows who this guy is, they're not giving him up. I swear their staff are cyborgs, sometimes. Wouldn't put it past Stark, anyway to build a whole army of them."***
"Iron Man isn't a cyborg," Peter said. "It's a—"
"Suit. A highly weaponized suit. For a guy claiming to be out of the weapons business, Stark sure is fond of violence," Captain Stacy said sardonically.
"Violence for the greater good, not unlike military or police violence," Peter retorted.
"Oh, I'm not saying Stark hasn't done a whole heap of good with that suit," Captain Stacy said, "I just find it ironic. And no one's seen him in the skies in eight months—you'd think if he'd decided to take some time off, he'd at least be courteous enough to lend out one of his suits, or finally hand it over to the military so good could be done with it, but no, he's just holed up in that tower of his, isn't he? Probably drinking himself into a stupor—and S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't doing a damned thing, about that, or about this whole Spider-Man business—" and that was when Peter just snapped. He couldn't take it anymore.
"Ok, sir, I know Gwen hasn't told you much about me beyond the superficial," Peter said frankly, "and a lot of that is because she can't, because it's sensitive information. But, see, Tony Stark is my dad, and I can't just sit here and listen to you insult him when you have no idea what's going on. Maybe I'm wrong about Spider-Man. Maybe he is messing up police business. But my dad is a hero. My family's been through a hard eight months, not that the public knows that, or would care if they did. My parents are separating, my dad's—obviously—left the Avengers for personal reasons, and there's a homicidal maniac who's got it in for him who's gone after me before, which is actually why I transferred schools, and really we're just waiting for him to rear his ugly head again. And my dad has given S.H.I.E.L.D. one of his suits, as his replacement—they just haven't used it yet." Peter stood up. "I'm sorry if I've caused offense. That certainly wasn't my intention in coming here tonight. And Mrs. Stacy, the branzino was lovely—but I think I'd better go." Mrs. Stacy gave him a warm, if sad, smile, as Peter walked out. He didn't even look at Captain Stacy—he didn't want to know what the Captain thought of him now. Gwen followed him to the door.
"Peter, wait," Gwen said. Peter stopped when he got to the front door.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Peter asked, a little hurt. "Why didn't you just ask your dad to change the subject, or back me up?"
"Peter, you didn't give me a chance," Gwen said. "And sometimes Dad just gets like that—"
"So you'd just let him rag on my dad like that? No big deal? Let's just make wild assumptions and accusations about people?" Peter asked. He shook his head. "Look, Gwen, I should just go. You should get back to dinner."
"Night, Gwen," Peter said, and he left. He was just angry. He needed time to cool off, time far away from Captain Stacy.
It was the same stuff he'd heard his whole life. Since no one ever knew Peter Parker was actually Tony Stark's son, no one ever had a problem bashing the billionaire superhero in front of him. His name was dragged through the mud because of his former alcoholism and behavior. It was speculated as to what awful things he must get up to now, outside the eye of the press. People whispered and gossiped and usually Peter just sat there. But when it was his girlfriend's dad, and his girlfriend just sat there… Peter couldn't handle it. So Peter decided it was probably just best to go home.
He called Happy, who, of course, collected him from the lobby of the apartment building quickly, and took him back to Stark Tower. Peter took the elevator up and loosened his tie, sighing. He was just going to fall into bed. Maybe he'd make a hot chocolate or something—wait, no, Gwen's favorite. He didn't want to have cocoa if she wasn't snuggled up on the couch beside him. Tea, maybe. Or soup. Something hot and comforting, and then he'd slip between the sheets and pass out early. The elevator doors opened. Peter was more than surprised to see his Dad waiting for him, his arms crossed and a murderous expression on his face.
"Uh, hi?" Peter said. "I told you I was going out—or, well, I tried, you weren't around, I told JARVIS to—"
"You. Installed. Override codes," Dad said. The bottom of Peter's stomach dropped out.
"Oh," Peter said. "Right."
"You installed override codes on JARVIS. On my AI. On JARVIS!" Dad said, snarling at the end.
"I, yeah, I did," Peter said tiredly. There was no point in denying it.
"I don't know what all you've been hiding from me Peter James Stark, but believe me I will find out," Dad said, his tone threatening.
"I don't want to do this tonight—" Peter started. I had a fight with my girlfriend. Her father hates me. I had to defend you. I've got a hole in my gut and it hurts.
"Well too fucking bad," Dad shouted. "I thought we weren't going to do this again, the lying, the covering shit up, but obviously I was a fucking moron to think that my teenage son would be honest with me—"
"Dad, come on, I didn't do anything not really—"
"Oh, you didn't do anything? That's why you felt compelled to install override codes on my AI? Do you know how dangerous something like that could be, if they got in the wrong hands?"
"I'm the only one who knows them, no one could hack it, not even you knew about it—"
"JARVIS knows it!" Dad yelled. "JARVIS knew it well enough to give it to your Pops!"
"But, JARVIS would never put you or me or anyone in danger—"
"JARVIS IS A COMPUTER, PETER!" Dad roared. "Do you not understand what that MEANS? He's an AI, artificial intelligence. He's safe, but he's not impervious, not perfect, do you have any idea what kind of damage you could have caused? What damage that, for all I know, has already been done? And not to mention that, when the hell did you think it was a good idea to touch my stuff?"
Peter flinched at that last one. Dad always considered all of his tech theirs, but there were certain lines Peter couldn't cross. Peter knew that. Override codes, taking control of his dad's tech, well, that was definitely over the line.
And that was to say nothing of the footage his dad would inevitably find that Peter had covered up. And at that thought, Peter couldn't take it anymore, just like he couldn't take it at the Stacy's. He just walked away. He walked back to his room, Dad shouting after him. He'd never really had dad properly yelling at him. Pops never really approved of such 'methods' of parenting, so Dad had never gone there, even when he was really angry. But, Peter guessed Pop's opinion didn't matter much to Dad anymore. He shut and locked the door behind him (Tony threatening to make JARVIS open the door), filled a bag with his overnight stuff and his costume, and threw it over his shoulder. He walked out.
"What do you think you're doing?" Dad asked dangerously.
"I'm going out," Peter said calmly.
"No, you aren't," Dad said.
"Yes, I am," Peter said. "Stop the elevator, I'll take the stairs. Lock the doors—well I figured out how to install override codes once, I'm pretty sure I can figure it out again." Peter wasn't sure he'd ever seen his dad's face turn that particular shade of purple before. Peter opened the elevator door and walked inside.
He couldn't ask Happy to take him anywhere; inevitably, Happy would get a call from Dad and drive his butt back home. With his injury, he couldn't really swing anywhere either, so Peter took the subway out to Brooklyn and made his way up to Pops' flat. Perhaps one silver lining about his fighting with Dad was that he could take refuge with Pops instead of get chewed out by two parents. Peter put his key in the lock and went into the apartment. He could hear the shower going, so he didn't bother to announce his presence—Pops wouldn't hear him, anyway. Peter sat down on the couch with a groan and dumped his stuff on the ground. He thought about going straight to bed, but he wanted to make sure Pops knew he was around first. Peter picked the remote up off the coffee table, intending to turn on the television, when he noticed a manila folder sitting out with Stark-Rogers as the label on the side. Curious, Peter picked it up. No one ever referred to his dads as the 'Stark-Rogers', not even people who knew that they were married. Peter flipped the file open and then wished he hadn't. Stark-Rogers wasn't referring to a name. It was referring to the people in a divorce case.
Peter flipped the file shut and put it back on the table exactly where he'd found it. He knew that this day was coming. It had been obvious ever since their separation that Dad and Pops were going to get a divorce. But seeing it so obviously on the table still made Peter feel a little ill.
There was a squeak as the shower shut off. Peter didn't want to talk about this, didn't want to think about anything—and furthermore (Peter realized, belatedly, how stupid he was) if Pops saw his injury, saw his bandages, the jig was up. And he really didn't want to deal with that, not now. So quickly, silently, Peter grabbed his stuff and left the apartment.
For a minute, he just sat in the lobby, exhausted, emotionally drained, and frankly ready to burst into tears. It was too much. Too much. And what was he going to do when his parents found out—probably very shortly, considering that Dad was likely combing through all of JARVIS' files—that he was Spider-Man? Peter had no illusions about what would happen. They'd be disappointed in him. They'd hate him for lying, hate him for sneaking around, and there wouldn't be anywhere he could go to get away from it—after all, if he stayed with Bruce, they'd find him there. He couldn't stay with Gwen, her parents hated him, and if he stayed with Harry his parents would inevitably find out just who Harry was and hate him even more.
They hated each other, and now they were going to hate him, too.
Peter pulled out his phone and toyed with it, debating. Where could he go? Who could he call, who could he talk to? He skimmed through the names almost with disinterest, knowing it was a futile search, when he came upon a name and stopped.
Rebecca Masters (518) 296-6579
He'd been very rude to his birth mother. He'd stood her up and then not even had the courage to call her back and explain what happened. She probably hated him too, if the whole dropping him with his Dad and never contacting him until he became an adult was any indication. But then, maybe that wasn't fair. She had contacted him, after all. And maybe she could forgive him if he explained. She was his mother, after all. Before he could lose his nerve, he hit dial, not even knowing what he'd say.
The phone rang. And rang. And rang. Finally it went to message.
"You've reached Rebecca Masters. Leave your name and number after the beep and I'll get back to you!" The machine beeped, but Peter couldn't find his voice. After a pause, Peter finally managed to get his throat working again.
"Uh, hi," he said. "This—uh, this is Peter. You—you know the one. Um I just…I wanted to apologize. About not meeting you. I—well, it was an accident, I kind of overslept and then—I guess, I was scared? Nervous to meet you and nervous to say I'm sorry and I just thought it would be easier if we both forgot about it. And—well, I don't really know why I'm calling. But I'd—I'd love to meet you if, you know, you wanted. I'll be at George's Café tomorrow, at eleven. It's uh, it's in Brooklyn. You could, you know, show up if you wanted. I'll—uh, I'll wait. So—yeah. I uh, I don't really know what else to say so, I guess I'll just hang up n—" The machine made a clicking noise.
"I'll be there," answered a voice, his mother's voice.
"Oh, uh, I—ok," Peter said.
"I'll see you then, Peter," she said, and then hung up the phone. Peter set his phone on his knee, his heart racing a little with nerves. Well, that was one wrong righted. At least he could do something right. But it didn't help his current situation much. If everyone else was out, that left him with two options for the night: Bruce, or Harry.
Bruce would want to talk. Bruce would ask about his injury, make sure he was ok. Bruce would be well intentioned, but Peter just wanted to forget everything. Peter's phone buzzed. He looked down.
1 New Message
Hey Pete, party at my house! You're missing out
Alcohol would probably be ill advised right now, Peter thought, but it sounded exactly like what he needed. Peter hailed a taxi and headed over to Harry's apartment.
As ever, the apartment was crowded with bodies. Many of them were people Peter had become well acquainted with over the past eight months, but many more of them were complete and utter strangers. Harry beamed when he saw Peter.
"Peeeeete!" he said, slinging an arm around him. "Hey buddy, what's up?"
"Hey, Harry," Peter said with a small smile, but something felt off. He'd seen Harry buzzed, seen Harry completely drunk, completely out of control, but this was something new. He was completely and utterly shit-faced in a whole new way. "You okay?"
"Fan-fucking-tastic, Petey!" Harry said cheerfully. "Hey, grab a beer or—or somethin'." Harry reached around and snagged an entire bottle of marshmallow-flavored vodka and trust it at him "Here ya go."
"You want me to drink straight vodka from the bottle? Really Harry? I'm not sure I've reached that level of depravity yet," Peter said with a raised eyebrow and a laugh. Harry slapped Peter on the back.
"Leave the big words for school, drink!" Harry said. Peter rolled his eyes and took a tiny sip to get Harry off his back. It burned the whole way down. Even though Peter had come intending to get drunk, now he was sure it was a bad idea. Something was wrong.
"You sure everything's fine, Harry?" Peter asked. He would have asked it quietly, intimately, but the music above blared and sweaty bodies danced all around them like it was a club. Peter wondered vaguely how many civil disturbance warnings the Osborns incurred per month.
"God, Peter, don't be such a girl—I think that Gwen's rubbing off on you," Harry said. It was probably meant to be teasing, but Harry said it with such vitriol that Peter was taken aback for a second.
"Fine, be that way," Peter spat back. He thrust the vodka on someone else and started to head out. Bruce's place it is, he thought with annoyance, but a hand curled around his arm.
"No, Pete don't—I didn't mean—look, I'm sorry," Harry apologized, which surprised Peter more than his outburst. Harry wasn't one to apologize.
"Harry, I know something's up," Peter said, genuinely concerned. "And I don't think you're just drunk, either."
Harry just tugged on his arm, slowly leading him towards his bedroom. It was difficult to talk, after all, when there was music blasting so loud it would probably cause permanent hearing loss. When Harry opened the door to his bedroom, there were two people making out on the bed.
"Out," Peter said, shouting over the noise of the party. The pair reluctantly got up and left, and Peter shut the door behind them. They could still hear the music, could still hear the squeals and laughs and shouts, but it was bearable. Harry had gravitated towards the window. His room overlooked much of New York, just as Peter's did. It was just one large glass panel from the floor to the ceiling, with a curtain that Harry could draw or open with the push of a button. Harry stared out over the skyline.
"You ever dream of flying?" Harry asked.
"Hasn't everyone?" Peter asked.
"Not me," Harry replied. "I'm always falling, falling through the sky and I know that if I just try I could stop it, but I don't know how, and then I wake up just before I hit the ground." Harry seemed more sober now, so much so that Peter wondered how much of it had been an act—how much of it was ever an act. Peter walked over and stood beside him, looking out at their glorious city.
"They're just dreams, Harry. They don't mean anything," Peter said. Harry shrugged in response.
"Maybe, maybe not," he said. They stood in silence for a minute. "Did you see the news today?"
"No, why?" Peter asked.
"There were like, giant-lizard people roaming around this morning—did you not notice? Were you asleep all day?"
"Oh, no, I heard about that. But I haven't seen the news," Peter clarified. Harry shook his head.
"They were on top of Oscorp, I guess. Using one of our machines to disperse a gaseous formula into the atmosphere. And the Avengers took care of it, predictably, but now Oscorp's been implicated. Dad was on the phone all morning until he finally left once the office was cleared for use. And we don't know who did this or why or even how and…He said to me this morning, he said 'I just know this is going to be one big mess he'll be cleaning up after for weeks. Just like you're one big mess I've been cleaning up after for years'," Harry said. Peter didn't even know what to say to that. Harry gestured vaguely towards the party outside the door. "So you know, I figured, why not."
Peter was at a loss. He had no words with which to comfort his friend. He had nothing to say that would make it better, nothing even to lighten the mood.
"And hey, why aren't we out there?" Harry asked, his grin every bit as false as his image. And Peter wondered for a minute, as he followed Harry back out into the party, if this is what it had felt like to be Steve Rogers. Not his Pops, not the person Peter knew, but Steve Rogers, following around after a broken friend and not knowing how best to pick up the pieces. Because it was awful.
Peter watched Harry drink more, but he only had a beer, himself, and then only at Harry's unwavering insistence. He danced and pretended to enjoy himself, but really he was just keeping an eye out for Harry. If he'd had his way, he would've passed out hours ago. Now his abdomen hurt from the dancing, his head was pounding from the music and the alcohol. It wasn't until Peter saw Harry stumbling while he danced, tripping over his own two feet that Peter finally put an end to it.
"Ok, I think that's enough, Harry," Peter said tiredly. He draped one of Harry's arms over his shoulder, taking some of his weight.
"No, s'not," Harry said. "Doooooon't…" But Peter was already guiding him away from the party, back to his room. Peter dumped him on his bed. "Spoilsport. Petey the Party Pooper."
"Oh, God, I hope you don't remember that one tomorrow," Peter said, rolling his eyes. "Now go to sleep, Harry. Hope you don't care that I'm staying over."
"Aw, nah, you can…always…I like you…here…" Harry said.
"Good," Peter said, flopping onto the other half of the bed. He closed his eyes, ecstatic to finally be going to sleep, but suddenly there was a weight on top of him and a soft pressure on his lips. Peter's eyes flew open, and no, he wasn't dreaming—Harry had just climbed on top of him and started making out with him. For a second, Peter was too shocked to do anything. About a thousand thoughts ran through his head in half a second—Harry's gay? Or bi? Or something? Harry likes me like that? How did I not see this? How did I not see any of this? I should push him off—will that hurt his feelings? Will he remember this tomorrow? God, even I don't want to remember this tomorrow—oh shit he's still on me—does this count as cheating? But he was promptly brought back to earth when he felt a hand roaming between his thighs. Peter yelped, and the noise was swallowed by Harry's mouth. He jumped a bit, scrambling into a sitting position and pushing Harry off as gently as he could.
"Harry, what the hell?" Peter asked, unable to formulate any other response.
"Like you," was all Harry said, with a drunken smile, before he came at Peter's mouth again. Peter held him off.
"Yeah, got that," Peter said. "I—Harry, I'm pretty sure I'm not gay or bi or anything. You're an awesome friend—but even if I was bi, I've got a girlfriend, Harry, and I love her." It was something he'd not even told Gwen, but there it was, a fact, plain as day. And Peter realized that no matter how upset with her he'd gotten, that fact wasn't going to change. Peter extracted himself from beneath Harry, trying not to see the hurt on his best friend's face. "You—you should get some sleep, Harry. You're not yourself right now." Peter made his way to the door.
"You don't have t'go," Harry mumbled.
"Yeah, I do, Harry," Peter said. "I'll—look, text me in the morning, ok? Let me know you're ok when you're sober." Peter, feeling like the shittiest friend in the world, left, feeling miserable. He grabbed his stuff and for the second time that night—or was it morning, now?—took a cab to somewhere else, somewhere he felt compelled to be, somewhere he needed to be.
He couldn't just walk in the front door—not now, maybe not ever again, who knew—but Peter knew where he needed to be. So when the taxi let him out, Peter went around to the back of the building and scaled the wall. He dropped onto the fire escape when he reached the window to Gwen's room. He knocked.
It took a minute, but eventually a light came on, and a startled Gwen dressed in pajamas came and opened up the window.
"I'm sorry," Peter said. "I shouldn't have been mad at you. I shouldn't make you choose between your Dad and me. I probably shouldn't have started a fight. I ruined the whole evening and I suck."
"Peter, it's four in the morning," Gwen said, baffled.
"I know, and I'm sorry for that too. But I realized something today—I realized that I love you, and you shouldn't ever go to bed angry at the people you love, and you shouldn't let them go to bed angry at you, either," Peter said.
"I love you too," Gwen said, but she still just looked confused. "I told you it's 4 AM, right?"
"I know, I know, and I'm sorry, I should just go—"
"No, Peter, I'm just—what are you doing up? Why are you…you know, wandering the city in a suit at 4 AM?" Gwen asked.
"Oh—I—well, I went home but Dad was mad at me so I went to my pops' apartment, but then I found divorce papers on the coffee table and I didn't really want to stay there either so I went to Harry's, and there was a party, and Harry got really drunk when it was time to sleep and—uh, well, he tried to make-out with me, which was really awkward, and then I didn't think it was a good idea to sleep there so—anyway I guess I'm headed to my Uncle Bruce's apartment now so I can sleep, but I just—I just wanted to tell you I love you first," Peter said.
"Peter, get inside," Gwen said, rolling her eyes.
"It's cold outside, you've been running around all day, I'm not going to let you run off to some other part of the city—get inside," she said, and when he didn't move, she grabbed the front of his shirt and tugged. Peter half-followed, half-stumbled inside. Gwen shut the window. She just shook her head. "You're an idiot. Sometimes I don't know why I put up with you, Peter." And then she kissed him. It was a soft, gentle, reassuring kiss.
And for the first time all day, Peter relaxed. He relaxed into the kiss and just let Gwen lead him to her bed. And she erased it all. Not like alcohol, where everything was forgotten, suppressed, only to be brought back up like the vomit that would inevitably follow as well. Not like sleep, where everything waited for him the moment he awoke, and maybe even in dreams and nightmares. She erased it all and replaced it with Gwen. Everything was Gwen, and there was nothing else. Nothing but love, and Gwen.
Morning came too soon for Peter. He wanted nothing but to lie in bed with Gwen all day, but two urgent matters came to their attention—one: that her parents would, if she stayed abed too long, eventually come into her room to make sure she was alive, and two: that Peter did have to meet his mother.
"Can't you wall-crawl down?" Gwen asked in a hushed whisper. Peter shook his head.
"Not in these clothes," he replied, equally quiet. He straightened his tie and smoothed some rumples in his jacket. "But I can't show up to meet my mother as Spider-Man." And they were pressed for time. Peter couldn't sling his way across the city, after all.
"But you've got it on underneath," Gwen pointed out.
"It's Saturday. Saturdays are cursed. I haven't had a Spider-Man free Saturday yet. Still can't show up in it."
***"Hey Gwen, do you want some chocolate chip pancakes?" Peter and Gwen both froze at the sound of the Captain's voice. Peter ducked under the bed and Gwen went to the door. She opened it up and yelled back,
"No, Dad, I do not want chocolate chip pancakes! Honestly, I'm eighteen years old!"
"Okay, I just thought I remembered somebody saying last week that her fantasy was to live in a chocolate house," Captain Stacy replied. Peter could practically hear his raised eyebrows.
"Well that's impractical!" Gwen said indignantly, and shut the door. Then she thought better of it and opened the door again. "And fattening!" She slammed the door. And let out a sigh. When she caught Peter's eye, he mouthed,
"Chocolate house?" Gwen rolled her eyes, then turned back around and opened the door a crack again.
"Sorry, dad," Gwen said, calmer now.
"It's good," Captain Stacy said, sounding perplexed.
"I just, I can't um…have any chocolate right now, because I'm working…I'm doing this…I have to…I have cramps," Gwen finished.
"I feel kind of pukey and just sort of, I don't know, emotional," Gwen hurried to add.
"Okay. Good. Good," Captain Stacy said. Peter could feel the awkward and winced.
"Like, I keep crying. It's brutal. You don't wanna know, trust me. It's like, bad!"
"I got it," Captain Stacy replied, sounding mortified.
"Thanks, daddy," Gwen said.
"All right," Captain Stacy said, and Gwen shut the door for good.***
"How did he fall for that?" Peter asked, still whispering.
"Bring up woman stuff and every guy goes running," Gwen replied. "Don't tell me you weren't cringing under there, Peter Stark."
"Only a little," Peter said defensively, but he grinned. "Ok, so the real question is, how do I get out of here?"
The answer to that was, of course, very quietly. Peter snuck out while Gwen caused a distraction, which was, as far as Peter could tell as he left, involved walking into the kitchen and declaring that she no longer wanted to go to ESU, which would probably occupy the full attention of her entire family, possibly for the entire rest of the day. Oh, Gwen. She wasn't exactly…subtle. But then, neither was Peter. As he left the apartment in his slightly rumpled suit, he could feel the glare of the doorman on his back. He'd have to warn Gwen about him. They might have to play keep-Captain-Stacy-away-from-the-doorman for a while.
Peter got on the subway and headed out to Brooklyn, trying to smooth out his suit as he went. George's Café was a small little place not far from Pops' apartment. Pops had taken him there before for hot chocolate (as he didn't exactly approve of Peter's copious use of coffee) on several occasions. Peter figured he liked the place because it a) wasn't a chain and b) always played really old music and was decorated almost entirely with original WWII propaganda posters and other paraphernalia—there was even a Cap poster in the corner. Pops had mentioned something about knowing George, but when Peter had asked the staff they'd said George was long, long dead. Peter figured George must have been from before, which Pops never talked about, so he dropped the subject.
Peter had grown to really like the cozy little place, and he'd done his homework there a few times. He liked the staff. He felt safe there, so he figured it was as good a place as any to meet his mother for the first time. He approached the street, peering at the café from a distance. It was a Saturday, so the café wasn't as busy as usual, but there were a few patrons inside, and three at the little tables outside. A man with red hair and hipster glasses, a young blonde woman Peter had seen there before, and a slightly older woman with dark, curly hair who sat at a table for two with a cup of coffee and a half-eaten muffin on a plate.
Maybe, Peter thought, maybe he was early enough that she wasn't there yet. But he didn't think so. He had a good feeling that, for the first time, he was looking at his mother. She was beautiful, but Peter hadn't really expected any less. He guess that she was around Pops' age, maybe a tad bit younger. He'd never given any thought to her age before, but now he found it striking. She had been, undoubtedly, in her early or mid twenties when she'd had Peter. She'd been young—not teen mom young, but still, not much older than Peter himself was at the moment. She looked worried. Nervous. That relieved Peter a little, at least. He wouldn't be the only one. He took a deep breath and approached the café. He went right up to the woman's table.
"Um, Rebecca Masters?" Peter asked. The woman looked up.
"Peter," she said. "Oh, God, Peter, I'd hoped you wouldn't come. Go, just go, Peter, get out of here—"
Peter, for an instant, was unbelievably crushed. He hadn't expected a loving welcome, hadn't expected hugs and kisses and 'I love you's, but he certainly hadn't expected this. But that was before she finished.
"—It's a set-up, Peter, I'm so sorry, you have to get out of here, the Goblin—"
There was a cackle, a horrible cackle, and suddenly an explosion—Peter grabbed his mother and put his body over hers as glass shattered and flew everywhere.
"Go, Peter, run!" his mother shouted, pushing him off her as the glass settled. Peter got up, and he could see the Goblin a few feet away.
"Oh, isn't this a touching scene?" the Goblin asked in his gravelly voice. "Mother and son reunited at last. I'm sorry it's going to be a very short reunion, Rebecca my dear."
"Leave her out of this!" Peter said. He ran, putting distance between them. "It's me you want, right? Well you're gonna have to catch me first!" Peter darted off, and he could hear the tell tale whirl of the glider behind him. He was lucky, really, that his spider-powers gave him super-human capabilities similar to Pops' serum, otherwise the glider would have caught him in two seconds flat. As it was he had the chance to dart in and out of the narrow streets and allies he knew the glider would have difficulty navigating. After a minute he looked behind him—no glider in sight. He ducked behind a dumpster, knowing he had only seconds. He stripped off his nice suit, revealing an entirely different kind of suit underneath. He pulled on his mask and then scaled the wall of the nearest building, getting up on the roof. His abdomen ached. Peter could tell this wasn't going to be fun. He shouted to the air,
"Hey Goblin, why don't you come pick on someone your own size?"
Then, he turned on his comm.
"Green Meanie in Brooklyn," Peter said, breathless. "I'm still recovering from an injury I could use some help, I think three or four civilians are already down—" Peter threw himself on the ground as a ninja star flew over inches from where his head had just been. It wasn't the first time that Peter thanked his lucky stars for his Spidey-sense. "I'm a block away from George's Café—" Peter rolled to the side and off the building as the Green Goblin dove at him on his glider, blades out. Peter threw out a web, catching on the building and halting his fall. Peter moaned aloud as he felt his stitches pull. The Goblin came at him again and Peter had no choice but to swing around to another building.
"Does anybody copy?" Peter asked desperately, leading the Goblin on a chase through the sky as civilians below gawked and screamed and ran away.
"Captain America online—Avengers, assemble—Spider-Man just hang in there as long as you can, keep him away from civilians, I'll be there in one minute," the Captain said.
"I think hanging in here is kind of my only option right now," Peter replied in a strained voice as he swung up onto another roof. He hid behind a water tower for a moment, catching his breath. He wasn't close to healed from the day before, he hadn't had enough sleep, and he certainly wasn't mentally prepared to be attacked this morning.
"Oh Spider-Man, come out and play, little Spider—or I'll go play with your mother," the Goblin threatened. For a second, Peter was surprised that the Goblin knew, but Peter swallowed his surprise and came out running. He used some web to propel him and with both feet he kicked the Goblin full in the chest, momentarily knocking him off his glider.
But of course, it was too early to be celebrating a victory. Like Pops' shield, the Goblin's glider always managed to come back to him, and within seconds he was back on it, zooming towards Peter with the blades out again. Peter had to twist away to dodge, and this time he cried out in pain—he was pretty sure those stitches were useless now. Distracted for a moment, Peter didn't have time to get out of the way as the Goblin came at him again. He managed to move out of the way of the blades, but the Goblin's body hit him full on, knocking him out of the sky. Peter threw out a web, but without any aim, it was useless. He landed on his back on top of a car, and his vision whited out with pain as the car alarm went off.
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. For a moment, he panicked—was he dead? Was he about to die? It took a few seconds, but eventually Peter was able to drag in a shallow, ragged breath. But he knew he couldn't stay here, the Goblin would know he wasn't dead and would kill him. But he couldn't move. Panic flooded Peter's brain—there was a psychopath after him and he wasn't going to be able to do anything but lie there.
"Why don't you bring the party to me, Goblin?" through the pain, Peter heard his Pops. He could have cried with relief. He heard a thwack, and in the sky overhead, he saw the Captain's shield hit the Goblin in the head before returning to the Captain.
Slowly, painfully, Peter moved. He might not heal with super speed, but his super abilities did grant him a less fragility than normal humans. Anyone else, Peter knew, would have been dead from that fall. It was all he could do to get up.
He watched Cap and the Goblin fight for a minute, when he realized that it was a bit of a one-sided fight. The Goblin was still just trying to come after Peter. Cap was only a hindrance to that goal. Cap realized it too.
"Spider-Man, go, just get out of here!" the Captain ordered through the comm.
"Can't," Peter said in barely more than a whisper. "My mother—he knows—who I am—he'll kill her—have to stop him—" Peter slowly approached a wall and climbed up. As the Captain and the Goblin fought, Peter reached out an arm, spraying the Goblin in the face with web. The Goblin just ripped it off, not even missing a beat, and made a beeline for Peter. Peter just waited, and waited, and waited until he was almost on him, and then he just dropped to the ground and the Goblin smashed into the wall above him like something out of a cartoon.
A black van pulled up and out came Hawkeye and Black Widow. Lightning flashed from above and Thor appeared just as the Goblin extracted himself from the wall and lunged at the grounded Peter. Thor knocked him off his glider with his hammer and sent him flying back several hundred feet, but even with that blow the glider still caught him.
"What took you all so long?" the Captain joked.
"We don't all live in Brooklyn," Widow replied. "What's the Goblin's game?"
"He's after Spider-Man—and apparently he knows more than S.H.I.E.L.D. because he knows the kid's identity—and that of his mother," Captain replied as the Goblin came back around, dueling it out with Thor. Peter just sunk to the sidewalk, sitting down. He was dizzy. His head was pounding and every muscle and bone in his body cried out in pain.
"We have to catch him," Peter said into his comm. "He'll kill her—it'll be my fault—I can't—"
"We'll get him, Spider-Man," the Captain assured him. "Widow, Hawkeye, get up high, this guy's not one for the ground. Hawkeye, try to take out that glider with one of your special arrows. I'll stay on the ground and look out for the kid."
No, Peter wanted to say. No, that won't work. Peter knew it wouldn't work. Because the Goblin wasn't stupid. All the other Avengers had shown up. He'd tried to take a single Spider-Man out, but if Peter had the protection of the other Avengers, the Goblin would know he'd never take Spider-Man. And he'd just run away, disappear, and maybe kill Rebecca Masters in his rage. Peter forced himself to his feet and shot off web to the nearest building, pulling himself back into the air.
"Spider-Man! Where do you think you're going?" the Captain demanded.
"I'm going to end this," Peter replied. He didn't listen to the Captain's protests, to his orders to 'get back down here right now' that sounded so fatherly Peter thought for half a second he was going to use his full name. Peter flew through the air towards Thor and the Goblin, and, once he was close enough, swung in a circle around them.
"Hey Goblin! It's me you want right? I'll give you a fair chance, just you and me, come on!" Peter said, before swinging away, flying as far and fast away from the Avengers as he could. Of course, Thor could follow with relative ease, but the baffled Asgardian appeared to be waiting for orders.
The Goblin was fast, and Peter simply couldn't out-swing him. A ninja star clipped his arm, the metal somehow cutting through his suit. Peter hissed in pain. His whole body was screaming. He couldn't keep this up for long. He landed on a roof and spun out web as fast as he could, enveloping the Goblin. The Goblin fell off his glider and onto the roof. To Peter's surprise, the glider flew away. The Goblin tore out of the web, breaking free with relative ease to Peter's annoyance.
"Just you and me, huh kid?" the Goblin asked. He pressed a button on his suit and a high-pitched tone played. Peter froze, physically incapable of moving. The Goblin approached and put his hand around Peter's throat. "This is an old Stark Industries design. Temporary paralysis—so useful. I'll give your Daddy's company that much, they have always made brilliant weapons. How fitting that I'm going to kill you with it now, that, in the end, it's really your own father that causes your death."
Peter couldn't breathe, couldn't move.
"Iron Man?" Peter heard out over the comm. "What are you doing—"
"PETER!" Iron Man shouted through the comm. system. "IT'S PETER, SPIDER-MAN IS PETER!"
The comm. was so loud that even the Goblin could hear it. He loosened his grip on Peter's neck for a second, so that Peter gasped in a breath, preventing him from passing out. He could feel the paralysis was slowly starting to wear off, but he still couldn't move.
"They're too late," the Goblin said quietly to Peter. "Go ahead and breathe. You're already dead. It rushes up behind you on silent wings."
Peter didn't understand what the Goblin meant, until he heard the not so silent glider coming up from behind him, and Peter made the awful connection. He'd sent the glider away on purpose—and now it was coming back, blades extended, and Peter couldn't even move an inch. But then there was the sound of a loud thud and suddenly, he was being pushed aside. There was a terrible slicing noise. Peter could only see in front of him—he was baffled about what had happened, until Cap picked him up, and Iron Man landed in his field of vision. Slowly regaining his mobility, Peter managed to turn his head—the Goblin was impaled on his own glider. Iron Man walked over and ripped off the Goblin's mask.
To no one's surprise except Peter's, underneath the mask was Norman Osborn.
"Don't," he said, pitifully. "Don't tell…"
"I think your identity's pretty well and told, Osborn," Iron Man said.
"Don't tell Harry," Osborn whispered, and his eyes weren't on Iron Man. "Peter, don't tell Harry…" Peter was pretty sure that Iron Man was going to blast the Goblin off the roof just for addressing his son, but then the Goblin exhaled and didn't inhale again.
Don't tell Harry.
The Captain removed his own mask, revealing a horrified looking Pops underneath, clear blue eyes filled with nothing but terror. Iron Man lifted his own faceplate, and beneath the hero Peter's Dad looked at Spider-Man with the same fear. And slowly, gently, Pops peeled the mask off of Peter's face. Peter heard his sharp intake of breath.
"My God," Pops said, but Peter wasn't even sure he was aware he'd said it.
"Peter, I know what he used, don't struggle, just breathe as best you can, it'll wear off in a minute," Dad said.
"We need—S.H.I.E.L.D. I need a med evac three minutes ago, Spider-Man, Peter, has been grievously injured—"
"We're already on it, Captain," Peter heard through his own comm. He was safe. The Goblin was dead. No one was in any danger anymore. Peter breathed a sigh of relief, and then succumbed to his body's urges and promptly passed into unconsciousness.
Peter groaned. He was, for a moment, grateful that he wasn't dead, but at that same time he was very annoyed that he wasn't peacefully asleep, because everything hurt.
"Peter?" two voices asked at once. Peter's eyes fluttered open. He wasn't sure where he was—medical at the Triskelion? A normal hospital?—but he knew that he was in a bed, and his parents sat in chairs beside him. Pops was holding his hand.
"Avenger-ing is hard," Peter mumbled. His fathers breathed sighs of relief.
"You really scared us there, Peter," Pops said. "When you passed out, I thought—" Pops stopped, unable to continue and shook his head. "We're glad you're awake."
"I'm not, everything hurts," Peter complained hoarsely. Pops wordlessly held out a glass of water with a straw, and Peter took a few grateful sips.
"You're on some pain medication, but the doctors can up the dosage if you need it. Do you want us to call in a nurse?" Pops asked. Peter shook his head, but winced at the small action. Pops rolled his eyes. "Tony—"
"Already called them," Dad replied. A nurse came in a moment later, did something to his IV, and then left. Relief wasn't instant, but it was gradual, and he sat in silence with his dads until the pain became more bearable.
"I guess we—have to talk," Peter said reluctantly. Pops just rubbed his thumb in soothing circles over the back of Peter's hand.
"We don't need to now if you don't want to, Peter," he said kindly. "You need your rest."
"No I—I'd rather get it over with," Peter said. "I'm sorry. I know I should have told you, when it happened—"
"Why don't we just start there, Peter," Dad said softly. "How did this happen, and when?"
So Peter started from the beginning. He told them how he'd won Oscorp's Young Scientist award entirely unintentionally, how he'd gone to the facility to tell Norman Osborn that he couldn't accept, knowing how Dad would react if he found out. He told them how a spider got caught in a radioactive ray, how it fell and bit him on the hand, how that was the 'allergic reaction' he'd had all those months ago. He told them how he'd wanted to say something, but they were fighting, and it was just never a good time. He told them how he'd mostly joined the Avengers by accident, hearing their waves over his comm. He told them how, after a while, he was afraid to tell them the truth for having lied to them in the first place. And he watched them as he told this story, watched their faces grow grimmer and grimmer, until Peter was finally done, finishing with how he'd gone to meet Rebecca, and it had turned out to be a trap.
There was silence for a minute. Peter would have fidgeted, but it was too painful to move. Then, Pops leaned over and kissed his forehead.
"You're really not the one who should be apologizing, Peter," he said. "Get some sleep, you incredible kid."
"Not incredible," Dad disagreed, ruffling Peter's hair. "Amazing. We—Peter your Pops and I—God we're so sorry you felt this way, felt like you couldn't tell us about this. And we'll…we can do better."
"We haven't been much of a family these past nine months," Pops agreed. "But I think—I think we've all learned our lesson. We'll do better for you, Peter. We promise."
It wasn't their promises that moved Peter most. Their family would always have its struggles and its hardships, after all. There was nothing that could prevent that, and Peter felt as much at fault as his dads. But it was their words that choked him up—because they were saying we. And even if things still didn't work out with them, Peter knew that in some way or another, in some bizarre shape or form, they would be a family again. And Peter, despite the pain in his ribs, could breathe easy again.
Peter made his dads promise not to make the Green Goblin's identity into public knowledge. His dads agreed, but only because Peter begged, and only because Norman Osborn's judgment had obviously been impaired by the botched super soldier serum his company had created. All the same, Peter demanded to be at the press conference, just to ensure that they didn't say anything. Dad rolled his eyes but agreed, and mere hours later Coulson wheeled Peter into the conference room.
As they always did for press conferences, the Avengers wore their best. Pops, as ever, wore his old military uniform, and he stood at the podium, ready to give the statement written out on note cards. Pops cleared his throat and the room quieted.
"We are here today to inform the public that the disturbance this morning in Brooklyn was caused by the Green Goblin, who's threat has been hanging over this city for the past nine months. Today, he was finally apprehended. It was discovered that he was a rogue experiment of Oscorp, the result of a super soldier serum gone horribly wrong.
"The Green Goblin was killed in the fighting, and the public may rest easy in the knowledge that he will never again fly through our skies. But our hearts go out to the victims of the attack, four civilians who are injured but are, we are assured, recovering well in the hospital.
"As for the Avengers in general news, we welcome back Mr. Tony Stark into our ranks, and would like to officially announce that the vigilante Spider-Man is being absorbed into our team as well, though doubtless many of you have already seen him on our team these past few months." The Captain abruptly stopped. He looked up from his notes, out into the sea of reporters, who waited, expectantly.
"We…uh, we don't have much else to report, to be honest with you. But I do, if we are being honest. You know this is, this is more Tony's thing, getting up in front of the press and talking, frankly, I avoid it when I can. And this, throwing away the notes, that uh, that's definitely more Tony's thing."
Agent Coulson leaned down to Peter's ear and whispered,
"What is he doing?"
"I have no idea," Peter whispered back. Peter had never seen Pops go off the notes before, and to be sure, more cameras were flashing, and the press looked like they'd woken up some. Pops took a deep breath.
"Of course, none of you would know that, because, you know plenty about Captain America—and he does stand up and make speeches all the time—but you don't know much about Steve Rogers and, frankly, that's always suited me just fine. I like my privacy. But uh, I guess there's a big difference between privacy and honesty, between being close-lipped and hiding something.
"I've always done what I thought was best for the team, for this nation, for the world. And for a long time that's meant hiding a big part of myself because I wasn't sure the world was ready to know, if America could handle it. But I've realized over the past few months and especially through the events of today that America will just…just have to be because I won't let my fear tear my family apart. And yes, I did say family."
Cameras were going crazy, and Peter looked to his Dad, who looked utterly stunned. Obviously, he hadn't been told of Pops' plan ahead of time, either. Coulson also looked surprised—well, as surprised as Coulson ever looked—but he also didn't look like he was about to stop Pops, either. Pops turned just ever so slightly, taking Dad's hand in his and bringing him a little more forward.
"Truth of it is, folks, Tony Stark and I have been together for twenty years, and married for fifteen. We've got a wonderful son, Peter—he's not feeling too well today, but he's here, Pete why don't you wave and say hi?" Peter felt a little put on the spot but he managed a small smile and held his hand up in a tiny wave. A barrage of cameras turned in his direction, and for a second he thought he'd gone blind, there were so many flashes.
"I love my family, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way of that. Not even the whole of America. Not even the whole of the world. And uh, that, well, that really is all we have for you today." The instant Pops finished the press were all screaming over one another, clamoring for questions. Pops didn't answer them. Dad smiled at Pops. Pops smiled back. They kissed each other, a chaste, quick kiss that for sure would end up on youtube in two minutes flat and grace the headlines tonight, before they walked off stage, hand in hand, and came for Peter. Pops took his wheelchair. Coulson looked at Pops. Pops just shrugged and smiled, and wheeled Peter down the hall, back towards his room, and as soon as they were away from the press, Dad burst out.
"Gelato!" he said. "No, better, ice cream cake. Who wants ice cream cake, I'm craving ice cream cake—"
"Tony, I don't think Peter's even had a proper meal today—"
"Ok, fine, I'll special order some crickets—"
"—and then ice cream cake."
"Make it hamburgers," Pops said, rolling his eyes.
"Burger King!" Peter added.
"Oh, and the ice cream cake from Friendly's," Pops finished.
"What?" Pops asked. "Coldstone? Coldstone? Friendly's is an American classic. It's as old as me. I went to Friendly's as a kid!"
"Older does not mean better."
"How are you my son? First no coca cola, then no Friendly's?"
"I don't know what you two are arguing about, we're getting Ben and Jerry's," Dad said.
Pops and Peter groaned, and the whole little family continued to argue about ice cream cake the whole way back to Peter's room.
Peter reveled in the feeling of air rushing past as he dove around buildings and startled passerby. New York City in the middle of the night was his favorite place to fly. The air was muggy and still smelt of hot dogs and cigarette smoke from the formerly bright summer day.
"Oi, stop being an acrobat, we've got somewhere to be, Peter," Dad said into the comm. system.
"Sure thing, Dad," Peter said. He swooped around and attached a web to the torso of the Iron Man suit, hitching a ride.
He was flying. Really, and truly flying, really and truly part of a team. He looked up at Iron Man, and Captain America who was also hitching a ride. He looked up at his dads, looked up at his family, and finally, finally Peter knew who he was.
He was Peter Stark Rogers. He was the amazing Spider-Man. He was a superhero.
A/N: I'm putting this here so you don't miss it: there are two Easter egg scenes that, if you search around on my blog, .com you will find. These are the two 'after the credits' scenes that Marvel traditionally has (well, I guess it's usually one, but it was two in Avengers). The first can be found when last I asked my followers a question.
It's done! It's done! I can't believe it's done! You, brave soul, have finally reached the end of A Lesson in Domesticity. If you're also reading What Peter Doesn't Know (Can Hurt Him), there will be one final chapter left of that, but of course, the plot has been given away! If you've stuck through this, you've just read a 154 page word document or around 68,000 words—more, if you're reading the companion story. This is an utter monstrosity, but it's been a joy to write and, I hope for you all, a joy to read as well.
I wouldn't have gotten through this without everyone on Tumblr, so I'd like to thank all my lovely followers here, and I'd really like to thank anyone who has ever sent me an ask with a lovely little note or review! You guys kept me going! And any reviews or notes on this story as a whole would, of course, at this point be doubly appreciated!
Also thanks to everybody on fanfiction . net and archiveofourown who have read and reviewed this story—you guys rock!
I hope you've all enjoyed A Lesson in Domesticity. Now, I advise that you go find those Easter eggs!