Chapter 1: The Little Things
why am i writing this? because i like to suffer and so do you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Peter Parker has learned, if nothing else in the last year, how to survive alone.
Prior to a long string of unfortunate events, Peter had never had to be truly alone. The first hard skill he had learned in life wasn’t to be alone, it was how to lose people–being a hero seems to mean that everyone you like is going to die and not when you want them to. Peter has the most firsthand experience with that out of anyone he knows.
Or used to know, at least.
Peter tries not to think about that too much.
Anyway, surviving alone was a new skill Peter had acquired. Lately, surviving means finding one shred of happiness, and that’s walking past the coffee shop where MJ works while she’s home for the holidays. Sometimes Ned is sitting in the shop, too, and Peter looks through the window forlornly. He can’t stand there for too long or someone will get suspicious, so he’s learned that 15 seconds is the perfect amount of time to look like he’s simply any other New Yorker considering whether he’ll go inside and order a coffee or if he can do without. He always does without, but not by his own choice.
He has no reason to go past Tatum’s apartment complex because it was wildly out of his way, but he does it frequently when he’s out on patrol as Spiderman anyways. He sits on the roof across from her home, thinking about the number of times he climbed the questionable spouting to get inside of her fourth-story window.
He avoids Stark Tower like the plague.
The coffee shop is on Peter’s walk to work. He had picked his job with proximity to his home in mind, but he also factored in the ability to haunt the windows of the store for fifteen seconds, twice a day. Sometimes, Peter is almost glad that nobody knows who he is, or else they would think he was a creepy stalker. Peter rationalized his weird obsession with the coffee shop window based on Stark’s saying of “science isn’t creepy”, and psychology was a science, so Peter walking past the dying business was really just research into a hypothesis that Peter hadn’t come up with yet. It can’t be healthy, he’s well aware of this, but he’s still alive, so he’ll consider that a victory. In any case, Peter’s walk to work is always either brightened or dampened depending on who is manning the counter, and today, it’s dampened. Nobody familiar works the register, or pours the coffee, or restocks the napkins. There is no Ned Leeds sitting at the chipping countertops to talk to MJ about whatever they talk about now, and that can only mean that the two of them have returned to MIT for fall semester and won’t return until it starts to snow. Peter wonders what their memories are like now that he’s been removed from their lives. If they have a different memory of meeting, or if their lens of their friendship is blurry, or if they simply don’t mention it. Peter’s interest is cut short when he realizes he needs to move from the window and his fifteen seconds are up. There is nothing to see today.
The sidewalks are wet with leftover rainwater, and the smell of damp concrete fills Peter’s nose. It’s one of his favorite smells, that after-rain scent that permeates the air every time it drizzles. The warm and cold breezes mix together, humid and dry, and Peter is enjoying the feeling of the cold air on his face in the warm summer sun when his shoe picks up the largest clump of gum Peter’s ever seen in his life. He wrinkles his nose down at the bright pink wad that is caked into the waffle print of his Vans and scrapes the bottom of his shoe over the pavement a few times with no luck–the wet sidewalk is useless on the gum wad and it looks like he’s just going to have to suck it up so he can get to work.
“Give me a break,” Peter huffs over the sound of him dragging his left foot with each step.
Unfortunately, it seems like Peter will never catch a break. At least, that’s the conclusion he comes to when he’s handed his fourth and final write-up for being late to his shift at his second job stocking shelves at Delmar’s. Mr. Delmar didn’t remember him, either, but his son had taken over the daily to-dos, and was a much bigger jerk than Peter remembers Mr. Delmar being. The worst thing Delmar did was bother Peter about his aunt, and Peter could deal with that. Delmar’s son, Miguel, was the kind of asshole with a God-complex that made Peter grit his teeth until his jaw hurt. Peter has sworn that the guy has been looking for a reason to get Peter cut since Peter was written up for being a minute and thirty eight seconds late for a shift, and it’s not like Peter can even go complain to Mr. Delmar, because Mr. Delmar has forgotten him as a regular and Peter has no standing here anymore.
“Sorry, kid, rules are rules. What kind of example would I be setting if I let you come in late?” Miguel says with a sneer that Peter can catch even without looking at him. There’s a certain snarkiness to his face, his voice, that makes Peter just want to punch Miguel square in the nose. He wants to yell at him about how this is Peter’s rent money, this is a solid meal a day for Peter, this is a way that he can make sure he has a roof to go home to instead of sleeping in his car again.
Instead of doing any of that, Peter gives him a tight-lipped smile. “Well,” Peter breathes, looking down at the highlighter-yellow notice of termination. “Let me get a number five with extra pickles, grilled and smushed down real flat.”
It was the first sandwich Peter had to pay for in quite a while. He sits on the concrete window ledge outside of the deli with a sandwich half-eaten in one hand and the classifieds in the other. Scanning the columns is producing very little luck, which he thinks he should be used to by now, but there isn’t much to see here. School was starting up again next week and a three week lapse in paychecks was going to seriously put a strain on Peter’s minimal savings. He had been squirreling the loose change and extra dollar bills away for textbook rentals, but it’s starting to look like he’s going to be borrowing his books from the library and trying to avoid racking up late fees unless he can pin down another job by Monday morning, which seemed unlikely.
His thoughtful chewing is interrupted by Miguel’s incessant nagging voice from the door. Peter totally missed the jingle as a warning that someone was coming, and Miguel catches him off guard, which makes Peter’s nimble fingers fumble and his sandwich meets the concrete with a thud.
“You can’t sit on my sidewalk, Parker,” Miguel’s gruff voice orders from the deli door. “Beat it.”
“Man,” Peter murmurs in disappointment at the lost sandwich. He stares down at it forlornly in the setting sun, a symbol of generally shitty Parker luck. Being so tight on money, Peter’s learned to think in dollars and cents. At least $2.35 was sitting on the ground, and Peter only budgets himself five dollars a day, so he’s only got a dollar left for the rest of the night and he didn’t even get his full five bucks worth.
Peter takes the stolen newspaper with him–he had gotten it out of the stack inside, anyway, and he figures that makes up for some of the money he left laying on the sidewalk outside of the deli. He’s very aware of the four quarters burning a hole in his pocket, jingling as he walks in the warm summer air. The streets are alive with the season in New York, and Peter tries to focus on the little things as he walks. The distance between his apartment and the deli wasn’t very far, so Peter’s not too tempted to spend his four quarters, but he does stop and give two of them to the guy that sits outside of the check cashing place a block down from home. The guy doesn’t look really stoked to get two measly quarters dropped into the cup–probably hoping for a little more, at least a paper bill–but Peter just gives him a tight smile and keeps walking. He can’t just not give someone worse off than him the money, even though he wants to hold onto it, so in Peter’s mind, half for him and half for the homeless guy was fair.
Peter lets himself into his apartment and drops the keys onto the kitchen counter. When he first moved in, he tried to make himself feel a little better by thinking about how awesome and freeing it would be to have his own place. He could walk around in his underwear and nobody bothered him about leaving dishes in the sink. It took about three days to become painfully aware of nobody greeting him when he came home. Nobody tossing dryer sheets in with his basketball uniform. Nobody asking if he wanted to get Thai for dinner and rent a Redbox movie. After this long, he’s gotten somewhat used to it, but the whole place just feels like a casket more than a home.
The walls are completely bare, not that he owns anything to pin up. He had scrounged some furniture from the Goodwill, but only what he could fit inside of his car. The car had been the one true blessing in all of this–he still has Stark’s Audi, the one they had worked on together so long ago. Karen was built into it and it ran on an arc reactor. Peter had helped Stark painstakingly install the reactor, taken it for its first drive, helped him build the computer that resided under the hood with Karen’s software installed. It wasn’t meant to house Karen–Peter had to figure that out on his own after losing Stark–but he had realized very quickly that the wizard’s magic could work on Karen, too. She had triggered the security alarm when Peter first tried to get in and he found himself outside of Happy’s condo, desperately trying to convince artificial intelligence that he was the owner of this car. That was not a possibility he had considered when he reprogrammed Karen’s new safety features after inheriting the Audi from a (perhaps overly worrisome) Pepper Potts.
Peter’s fridge isn’t much more furnished than the rest of his apartment. Buying groceries is something Peter hasn’t mastered yet, so he only buys what he has coupons for and hopes for the best. He figured out it was cheaper to buy boxed mac-n-cheese and make it with butter and water only instead of milk, because the milk was pricey and would go bad otherwise. He could reuse Ziploc freezer bags over and over again if he rinsed them out and left them on the faucet head to dry. He had to stop using Stark’s Amex card for the groceries he was getting at MIT. Peter wonders if Stark ever figured out why he was paying for an apartment in Cambridge after Strange’s spell was cast, or if he’s still paying for it because he has so much money that he doesn’t notice when the $950 is withdrawn from his account each month. Whoever does Tony Stark’s accounting is probably too afraid of him to ask questions, anyhow, so that last option is a very possible and likely theory.
Peter doesn’t take anything except for the Brita pitcher out of the fridge to pour himself a glass of water. The ice dispenser in his fridge didn’t really work, and he had picked up a broken Brita from the attic sale at a local church for fifty cents, which worked well enough if he only filled it up halfway to avoid the crack in the back.
It was safe to say Peter had learned to appreciate the little things.
“These little things are going to be the death of me,” Harley mutters under his breath, tweezers in his hand as he replaces the screen on his phone.
“I told you to stop being so rough on your belongings,” Tony calls from the kitchen. There’s a long line of profanity that follows his yell, which makes a smirk twitch on the corners of Harley’s lips. Serves the old man right.
A tirade of seven-year-old footsteps storms past the mahogany table, making the floor rumble, and the screw that had just been fit into the threading rolls away from Harley. He squints, his eyebrows knitting together in frustration, but if he acts out on it, that tiny screw is really going to be gone for good.
“Morg, could you chill for like, four seconds?” Harley asks, trying to keep his tone even as he turns his gaze to the carbon copy of Tony Stark perched at the table next to him. Morgan’s big, brown eyes peer over the back of the chair with her gang of accomplices behind her.
Morgan Stark was recently getting insistent on having sleepovers just about every weekend. Sometimes they took place at the house, sometimes at the Tower, it depended on which promises Morgan made to her friends about the activities that would ensue. Usually, Harley made it a point to be absent from these events–his idea of Friday night fun wasn’t typically inclusive of entertaining Morgan’s screeching friends. This time was different only because Morgan swore to the other kids that her big brother would be there, and he was going to take them jet skiing on the lake at the end of the property. She was so excited about it when she came home from school on Thursday that Harley couldn’t say no.
Harley plucks the screw from the divet in the table with his magnetic screwdriver. Morgan frowns at him.
“We want to play hide and seek,” Morgan’s little voice demands from behind the chair, and Harley’s expression is nothing less than amused by the little tyrant that runs the Stark household. It was definitely clear to him within a month of staying here that Morgan was the tiny person behind the household decisions, not Tony or Pepper.
“Well, Miss Stark, you are going to have to give me a little bit while I replace this screen. Can’t have a phone with no screen, Morg,” Harley murmurs. His voice tapers off as his concentration grows on his task at hand, placing the tiny screw back into the threading with one of Stark’s precision screwdrivers.
Harley had arrived in the Stark household about three months ago, at the beginning of the summer, after he was accepted into NYU. He didn’t need to move north until August, if he was being fair, but there wasn’t much for him in Tennessee anymore, and Tony had offered a place to stay, so Tony and Pepper drove the thirteen hours to pick him and his belongings up. There was more to the story, but Harley tries not to think about that too much.
When Tony had reached back out to Harley, it had been a long time since Harley had last talked to the engineer. They kept in touch sporadically through the past few years, but there was a noticeable lack of responses in the year before the Blip had taken place. In fairness of the situation, Tony had tried to contact Harley a few times during the past few years with no luck. Not that Harley Keener would know–he had been Blipped, too, zapped out of existence. It wasn’t until he woke up in his bed one morning with a fuzzy memory of turning into dust that he knew anything about what was happening in New York. When his phone finally turned back on, there were quite a few missed texts and calls from the inventor.
Most of the exchanges between Harley and Tony were transactional. Tony would make sure the kid was still alive and then wire him money for bills so he and his mom and sister had a warm place to stay with running water. Harley wasn’t a dumb kid–he knew they needed that money, and he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Some people, he learned, would be too self-righteous to accept that kind of cash, but Harley wasn’t those people. He was okay with taking money if he needed it. It’s not like Tony Stark didn’t have more than he knew what to do with, and Harley knew that the second the man crash-landed in his backyard. He grew up watching Iron Man on TV and looking at Avengers toys in stores, and even at ten years old, Harley was aware of the cash flow that comes with being America’s strongest superhero.
So Harley took the money. Sue him.
It worked out in both their favors, anyways. For some reason, a year ago, the inventor had taken more of an interest in Harley and what he was doing. Harley reasoned it was because he had returned from the presumed dead and was getting ready for college at NYU. Tony seemed interested in seeing the boy through the rest of his schooling–even offering to pay for some of it, which Harley also wasn’t going to decline–and was especially delighted when Harley said he was double-majoring in computer engineering and chemistry. Harley occasionally wonders if the sudden interest in his life was a way to resolve some kind of guilt. Even at ten, Harley could tell that Tony Stark harbored a lot of resentment for himself, and with that train of thought, it wouldn’t be outlandish to assume the old man felt bad that Harley had been removed from Earth with Thanos’s snap and assumed some kind of personal responsibility for the whole ordeal.
With perfect timing, the inventor was entering the dining room that Harley was using as his workspace with a tray of chicken nuggets, french fries, and juice boxes. Morgan’s attention is immediately stolen from Harley, and Tony gives him a quick wink that says “you’re welcome”.
“No time for hide and seek yet, kids,” Tony announces as he sets the warm tray down on the center of the table. “Dinner time. Come get a plate and then take it to the living room to eat while you watch a movie.”
Like they’d been drilled on this before, the kids bring their plates to Tony, who serves their dinner to avoid any tiny burned fingers. Each child snatches a juice box of choice before darting off to the living room and taking their place around the coffee table while Pepper sets up a Disney movie for the girls. When all of the kids are taken care of, Harley pops a chicken nugget in his mouth and chews thoughtfully.
“Tastes better when Pepper does it,” he remarks, followed by a “hey!” when Tony swats him with an oven mitt.
“I can’t wait until you have to cook for yourself at NYU,” Tony snarks as he tosses the mitts onto the table. Harley zones back in on his screen, finally securing the last pesky screw.
“Can’t be worse than you,” Harley responds flatly, and he doesn’t have to look to know that a smile is twitching on Tony’s lips. Tony can pretend all he wants to, but Harley knows that he amuses the engineer.
“When you come crying to me about failing organic chemistry, I’m going to remember this moment.” Tony pulls out a chair next to Harley, leaning over to inspect his work on the phone. “Look at that. You’re turning into a little me.”
Harley makes a face at Tony, rolling his eyes immediately after. “Thanks, Tony, you really know how to boost my self esteem,” Harley says sarcastically. He rolls the tiny screwdriver back towards the old man, sitting back in his chair.
“In all seriousness,” the man says as he clasps his hands on the table. “How’re you feeling? Ready for school Tuesday?”
Harley shrugs noncommittally, fiddling with his hoodie strings and tugging on them until his hood tightens as far as it’ll go to pick at the plastic nubs on the ends. Tony stares at him.
“That’s it? Shrugging?” He raises an eyebrow at the teenager sitting at the head of the table. “Nothing else?”
Harley shrugs again just to irritate Tony. It works, because in his peripheral, Harley can see Tony’s jaw tense, and it makes Harley’s face twist into a smirk. “I mean, I’m excited, I guess. Just nervous. I’ve never been outside of Tennessee except for this summer and…I don’t know. I’m worried about fitting in, I guess. I have to live with someone I don’t know on campus and adjust to a…a huge city. You saw where I grew up, this place is huge and it makes me nervous.”
The old man’s face softens just a little. When Harley met Tony, he was unfortunately very awake instead of being unconscious from his landing in Harley’s yard, and also an asshole. He had a smart mouth and a serious anxiety issue, and Harley had a potato gun. Unfortunately for him, Iron Man wasn’t intimidated by a ten year old armed with what was essentially a nerf gun, or Harley would’ve come out of the whole interaction with less verbal scars. Aside from that, when Harley came to stay with Tony, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He remembered the brutally honest, gruff hero that had invaded his shed. He wasn’t what Harley thought he’d be. Kid-Harley thought of Iron Man as a stoic, strong, hard willed man that always did the right thing. What Harley actually got was a jerk with a mouth. This time around, Tony is softer. Kinder. There’s something about fatherhood that has turned Tony from a billionaire playboy into the average man. Something else changed—Harley can’t put his finger on why—but Tony’s attitude towards life had altered from playing the cards he was dealt to winning the game.
It was, frankly, bizarre.
“Well.” Tony stands, clapping his hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll make friends, kid, you’re hard not to like. Maybe there’ll be another genius teenage boy with a smart mouth and a southern accent to keep up with you in one of your classes.”
“Fat chance,” Harley huffs, and when the girls start to shriek his name, he goes to where he’s called. After only a few short months, Harley will never tire of hearing this family say his name like he was one of them.
Ned Leeds sits on his bed amongst a citadel of half-packed boxes taking over his bedroom. He’s not even close to ready to leave tomorrow, but his mother has insisted that he deep-clean the bedroom before he goes again, since last time he left it a mess.
There isn’t much cleaning happening. Ned is busy looking at a picture, dust bunnies clinging to the edges from its time under his bed, searching his memories for any clue as to who this boy in the photograph could be.
He’s in Ned’s living room on Christmas.
How could Ned not remember that?
welcome back!!! usually i try to bang these out really fast, but I'm trying to take my time with this one to improve my writing and do this story justice. thank you for reading!
Chapter 2: Keeping the Bills Low
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tony Stark is no stranger to being unable to remember last night.
Since becoming a fifteen-year-old freshman at MIT, he had been a drinker. It was something people associated with his personality, a key factor to who he was as a person that had become so ingrained, it became a talking point when discussing his character. It was a fair assessment–two thirds of his life had been spent in the bottle. Kicking the habit felt like he was removing a part of himself, cutting out the fun pieces, but he realized early on that it meant remembering a lot more about his life. Perhaps that was the point of the drinking in the first place.
In any case, Tony had many nights that he had drank too much and couldn’t remember the events leading up to waking up handcuffed to the bed. He had once heard that Motley Crue used to wake up the same way, so he’s pretty sure that’s where Happy picked up the trick from to ensure that Tony couldn’t get back up and wander the hotel or house. Happy Hogan was a man who took his job seriously, and he certainly wasn’t about to have Iron Man break his neck on the stairs or cause serious structural damage to the building under his supervision.
That was what it felt like waking up after the sky turned purple for the second time in a year and some change. It was weird that it happened once, but Tony could forgive that. Weirder things had happened. Twice was more than a coincidence. Twice was more like a pattern.
He didn’t quite remember going to bed, or tucking Morgan in, or how he spent his evening. When he woke up to a normal blue sky, he was almost concerned that he had relapsed and drank the night away following a panic attack or a flashback. It wouldn’t be the first time–following the events of the invasion of New York, his drinking got worse. And worse. And worse. The aftershocks of panic attacks always brought the itch under his skin to do something . Drink, party, gamble, fuck, forget his name. This time, maybe he slipped. He gave in. He was so certain of it that he even planned his apology to Pepper if she was still living in the house, and he rehearsed it in the mirror before he left his bedroom. He came to terms with the possibility that she would want to take Morgan and move away, get as far away as possible, because she can’t do it again. She can’t deal with this and go through this and hope he doesn’t die from this again. Tony Stark took a shower, got his shit together, and went to pour his heart out.
Pepper had no idea what he was talking about. Tony felt silly.
Everything else for the day felt so typical that it was almost disconcerting. He kept getting the feeling he was supposed to be doing something but he couldn’t quite place a finger on it. Tony was sure that he had no arrangements for the day when he checked with JARVIS and Pepper, yet the nagging continued in his mind. There was something he needed to do. Something he was supposed to do.
The feeling continued through the next week until Tony happened to take notice of the date. September 12th is Harley Keener’s birthday. Certainly that was the problem–he hadn’t arranged to send Harley a gift. He had JARVIS take care of sending the boy a new Starkbook with any available retail upgrades, sure that the kid was going to need a laptop for college, and sent the kid a happy birthday text.
It turned out that sending Harley that text was going to change Tony’s life.
There was an undeniable need to be the father to this teenager. Tony couldn’t quite put a finger on why, but maybe he felt guilty that the boy had been erased from existence and kept out of the loop. Maybe he felt guilty that the kid was trapped in Tennessee when Tony knew he wanted to leave. Maybe he felt guilty that he hadn’t been more of a father figure in Harley’s life after that fateful meeting at ten years old. Whatever the case, for some reason, Tony had a weird amount of free time after the sky turned purple, so he devoted that time to catching up with the kid. He aided Harley in making sure that his college application was spotless, that he had a dorm lined up, that his meal plan was the best that money could buy. He even tried to use some of his sway to get Harley a single dorm, but there was no luck in that avenue, so he scrapped that and instead made sure to buy Harley the best things for his dorm. The kid never said no to his money, unlike…
Somebody. Tony tries to remember–there was someone who always said no to his money, but now he can’t remember who it was. There are a million unanswered questions that Tony Stark has discovered in the past year. The more he tries to remember, the more he seems to forget, the more he becomes concerned that he’s actually going crazy this time.
There are a million blurry memories of somebody with him that feel make-believe and he can’t help but wonder if they’re from the other dimension he lived in for six months. He can remember throwing a graduation party, but with no idea who it was for. He remembers a going away party, too, and there’s no face to associate with the setting. He remembers spending time with someone in the lab–he’s pretty sure there was another person there, he swears there had to be, because he knows he didn’t make up this many conversations. The only explanation he has is memories coming to him from the other life, not completely preserved after being brought back. It was the only reasonable conclusion.
Even still, Stark isn’t sure about this picture, this photo he keeps in his workshop to avoid prying eyes. Every night when the kids go to sleep, and Pepper sits down to read, Tony goes to the garage to tinker like he does best. And every night, he looks at this photograph that is certainly from this dimension. The ache in Tony’s heart tells him that this was a proud moment in Tony’s life–standing with his arm around this baseball player’s dirty shoulders, holding a trophy.
The brown eyes. The brown hair. The same grin on his face as Tony’s.
There isn’t a doubt in Tony Stark’s mind that this boy is his son.
So why can’t Tony remember him?
The worst part about job hunting after you’ve been erased from existence is that you have no usable references.
This was something Peter learned pretty early on. He was living in the Audi with a trash bag of clothing, a blanket, his Iron Spider suit, and a box of sentimental belongings that he managed to salvage. He was hungry all the time, and his enhanced metabolism made sure he suffered for not being able to afford enough food or have anywhere to cook it. Peter got a quick job at a fast-food chain just to eat, but got let go when he was caught stealing chicken sandwiches that hadn’t sold at the end of the night before they got sent to the trash. Jerks. The manager had acted so snarky that Peter had been caught, but Peter wasn’t trying to hide it. He was a hungry kid. He tried to explain his situation and was met with no sympathy, and that made Peter feel a little better about purposely dropping pennies and nickels outside of the drive-thru window to collect when his shift was over.
He applied for a better job, something that would pay more than minimum wage, but he never even got a call back. That happened six more times before someone finally emailed to ask if he could send them a list of his references. Peter had none because nobody knew who he was.
Applications went out, calls didn’t come in. There was no choice but to bounce from odd job to odd job until he had scraped up enough money to get a place of his own. It was in a terrible neighborhood, and he had to fix the door before he could even move in, which left him another night out in the car, but by that point the kid had been so desperate that he didn’t care. Peter was collecting change from underneath vending machines in parking decks, from the Coinstar machines inside of grocery stores, from the dirty concrete underneath drive-thru windows. He finally landed a job at that same grocery store, but it didn’t pay the bills. It didn’t take long for Peter to figure out that he had a ton of free time with no social life to speak of, so second jobs were what secured him financially. That meant his time as Spiderman was pushed into the late evenings, meaning less time for sleeping, but Peter didn’t mind staying awake. Being awake meant he was outrunning the building that threatened to crush him in his sleep.
He thought he’d escaped those flashbacks on the battlefield with Thanos. Clearing the rubble off of himself, saving Tony Stark by taking the gauntlet and shoving his hand inside to end the war, he thought that was his freeing moment. He fixed the universe he had somehow accidentally destroyed. The days of guilt and resentment and grief were behind him, his mentor had returned, his life was peaceful.
And then his identity was revealed to the world and he screwed everything up again. The only way to fix it was to be erased. And he was okay with that, really, it meant less people would pay for his mistakes, his friends were going back to MIT, he would save innocent lives.
But saving the world didn’t bring May back. That was the first thing he discovered. It didn’t matter if nobody knew who he was and the universe or timeline or whatever had been stitched back together again. May Parker was still gone, and Peter was still alone, and the nightmares of May bleeding from the mouth would never go away.
He had no time to grieve, and Peter knows that made it even harder. He had to rush to get his belongings and find a place to stash his car. The only spot he could think of was the abandoned lot of warehouses and mills near the Hudson, the spot he used to go with Tatum when they were in high school. It wasn’t particularly scenic, but it was deserted and Peter could get some sleep inside his heated suit.
It had taken a few more days before Peter was hit with the crushing realization that watching Stark die with the infinity stones on his wrist wasn’t the last time he’d lose his father.
Nothing could hold a candle to losing Aunt May, but that one came pretty damn close.
Peter works to survive, but he works hard to ensure he doesn’t have the time to think about Tony Stark.
Clicking through job ads on Indeed is getting Peter nowhere. He can’t find a single thing he actually qualifies for that would work with his school schedule next week, and there are going to be some days where Peter has some really weird availability, but going part-time wasn’t an option unless he wanted to lose a portion of his Pell Grant and be ineligible for scholarships. His laptop was another gift from Stark that he’d tried his best to keep pristine, lest he had to try and repair one of the most complex pieces of technology he owned, save for his Spiderman nanotech suit. It also had Karen programmed into it, which made job hunting both easier and much more frustrating at the same time.
“Peter, you are becoming frustrated. Perhaps you should take a break,” Karen recommends, and Peter drags his hands down his face with a defeated sigh. When the robot lady can tell you’re getting irritated, that means it’s etched right into the lines of your face.
“No time for a break, Karen,” Peter murmurs, sitting up a little straighter in his bed. “I need a job by Monday morning or we’re going to be eating saltine crackers and food bank jelly for the next three months.”
“I do not eat, Peter,” the AI responds, and Peter has to stifle his laughter. She isn’t meant to be funny, but sometimes she’s amusing nonetheless. Since she’s his only companion, he’ll take what conversation he can get.
“Yes, Karen, thank you for doing your part in keeping the bills low.” Peter sets the laptop down off to the side to refill his water glass. The more water he drinks, and the colder it is, the less hungry he feels in the middle of the night. The whining of a police car whizzes past his window, and Peter hangs his head as he stands in the light of the refrigerator. He knows he should put on the suit, go out on a patrol, but Spiderman doesn’t pay the bills. Maybe he should have taken that brand deal when it was offered to him, but they’d need a billing name and address, and Peter isn’t stupid. Anybody with a lick of common sense would sell Peter out in a heartbeat once they found out he was Spiderman, and that was what got him into this whole mess in the first place.
“New posting alert,” Karen chimes unhelpfully from the couch. Peter is sure it’s another daytime cleaning job, or a bank teller position, or a daycare assistant. Jobs that Peter can’t do because he’s just trying to finish school.
He’s debated on dropping out more than once now. Originally, he planned on going to college so he could work for Tony at SI, but that wasn’t an option anymore. There were other big tech companies that Peter could join, of course, but they all felt dirty. He has so much knowledge and so many secrets about how Stark’s technology works that it feels like a huge NDA violation to go work for someone else, even if he never actually signed one. He didn’t have to because Stark trusted him.
He does, however, have a file folder full of NDAs signed by each and every Avenger to protect his own identity, because he didn’t trust them.
Not like that mattered, since half were dead and the ones that weren’t forgot about him. Aside from that, Peter isn’t sure what his future holds at this point. It feels silly to make any permanent plans for his life when fucked up shit keeps happening every time he tries to do anything to better it.
And yeah, more money would be nice. Peter’s not ready to work odd jobs and minimum wage gigs for the rest of his life. He can’t imagine being forty and eating boxed mac-n-cheese with no milk added because the milk is too expensive, so he doesn’t have a choice, but it all feels pretty pointless when he keeps getting shipped off to other dimensions or put in life-threatening, world-ending situations.
And lastly, he’s just tired of losing people.
Peter sits back down on the couch instead of putting on the suit. There is no neighborhood Spiderman tonight because there can never be a Spiderman again if he starves to death from being jobless.
“Read it to me?” Peter asks Karen, taking a sip of his water. He uses the light from his laptop to find the coaster on the wood table he dug out of the trash and hauled upstairs last month. It’s Saturday, and Peter has to pay for electricity at this apartment, so he has a pretty strict no-electric rule on the weekends to keep the bill low. When stuff dies, it dies until he takes it somewhere to charge. He used to get away with charging things at work at Delmar’s, but with school starting Tuesday, he can charge just about everything he needs to on campus.
“Job listing: Tutor needed in the NYU chemistry department. 15 dollars per hour, flexible schedule. Experience preferred. Send resume to…”
Peter just about can’t believe his luck. The lights might not be on today, but maybe things were looking a little brighter.
Tatum Walker sits in her therapist’s office, twisting her rings.
The therapy hasn’t been working. It hasn’t worked at all in the past six months that she’s been seeing somebody for her memory loss. Even the EMDR wasn’t working, and they’d been at it for two months.
In all fairness, the counseling team had said that it might not work for a long period of time. It was something that didn’t guarantee results, but when the results did come, they were powerful. After trying months of cognitive behavioral therapy, visiting her trauma counselor every Monday like clockwork, they had determined that EMDR might be useful in her case.
EMDR therapy, as it was explained to Tatum, was a psychotherapy that involves moving her eyes in a specific way while processing traumatic memories. The problem was that she has no traumatic memories to process.
The photograph she found under her bed three months after the sky turned purple was a shock to her. It was a printed photo, and she couldn’t find more. She searched her phone, her socials, her Snapchat memories. There was no other trace of this boy. But that was very clearly her, and there was very clearly a boy next to her that she couldn’t recognize. He was cute–definitely Tatum’s type, with short, curly brown hair and beautiful brown eyes. His short-sleeved regional basketball T-shirt showed clear-cut muscles and defined veins in his forearms, and they were obviously at a party. She recognized the venue as a graduation party, that’s for certain, and she was sitting in this mystery boy’s lap, pressing a kiss to his cheek in front of a cake that said, “Congratulations!”
When she showed her parents the photo, they had no idea who he was.
“Another boyfriend you forgot to tell us about?” her mom had suggested, albeit a little snarkily, but Tatum had insisted no, she didn’t know this boy, either.
It really just made everyone else as confused as she was.
The terrifying thought flashed in her mind that something serious must have happened. For even her parents to not know this kid that she was obviously fawning over meant that there was a real issue presenting itself, a boy she must have hid, but she’s pretty sure she’d remember someone like this. Someone she very clearly dated and loved.
Tatum was afraid this beautiful boy had traumatized her so horribly that she forced herself to forget, and now the repressed memories were lost somewhere, deep inside of her psyche. Trying to find them left her feeling like she was living in a house that the termites had eaten down until the paint was the only thing holding it up. There was nothing to find, no bones left, just sawdust and fuzzy memories.
So she went to therapy. They tried to uncover the truth with no luck. Tatum couldn’t remember anything about this picture, this person in her life. She can recall vague memories of being in love and nothing else. It wasn’t much to go off of.
“Have you asked any friends if they know this boy?” her therapist asks gently, sitting across from Tatum with her legs crossed at the knees. She always had her nails done in the most pristine red polish Tatum had ever seen. Every time she’s here, she means to ask who the nail tech is, but she forgets once they’ve gone through another grueling hour of therapy.
Tatum shakes her head. “No, I…well, you know I asked my parents, but I’m afraid to ask anyone else. We’ve talked about it before.”
Her therapist nods. “We have. I know you’re scared to find the truth, Tatum, but I truly recommend asking a couple of friends you went to school with about this photograph. If we have a name to go off of, it may be useful for your treatment. Names are very powerful things, you know.”
Tatum nods miserably. She twists the ring on her right hand. Can’t remember where she got that from, either.
thank you to everyone who has already read the first chapter and left kudos and subscribed and everything else that makes me happy :)
Chapter 3: Organic Chemistry
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter nails the interview.
He’s so giddy when he leaves campus on Monday that he almost can’t wait for school to start. The interviewer was a kind, older man who probably held more degrees than Peter can count on one hand. There was an air about him that said he was highly intelligent without actually having to vocalize it. Peter thinks about Bruce Banner.
As a school position, Peter would be in control of his schedule. If he has a three hour gap between classes, he can tutor for those three hours. If he only has an hour a week, he can tutor an hour a week. There’s no time that’s off limits as long as there are sign-ups, the department head tells him, and based on Peter’s course load, there will definitely be sign-ups.
Peter does the math as he’s sitting in the interview. He has morning classes, meaning his grocery job has to move to the weekend, and he has twenty-eight free hours a week between and after classes if he waits to patrol until eight PM and skips breakfast. His tutoring gig would cover his rent and electricity for the month, and his grocery job should cover his food, WiFi, and phone if he keeps stealing ramen packets, canned chicken and Rice A Roni from the damaged bin in the back of the store. The best part about inheriting and keeping Stark’s Audi was that the arc reactor eliminated the need to buy gas or take the subway, and even though driving took longer than public transport, it was free and made him feel less guilty about hopping the turnstiles.
Every time Peter broke the law, he felt bad about it. He was Spiderman, he was supposed to enforce the law, but what was the difference between him stealing from his job and some guy trying to break into an old lady’s car? How does he know that the dude trying to bust open the front of an ATM wasn’t hungry, too?
In high school, Peter had quit being Spiderman. He finally revived his alter ego after Stark had verbally smacked some sense into him. At MIT, when he was trying to save Stark from the past, he wondered if it was for the better that Spiderman went missing the year before. It didn’t do anyone any good. Now, at NYU, Peter had the same recurring fear–Spiderman had been the reason May died, the reason he couldn’t contact Stark anymore, the reason he lost his relationship with his sister, his girlfriend, his closest friends.
Spiderman’s nano housing unit stares at Peter from his book bag as he fixes himself lunch. Peter makes it a point not to look back. If he looks back, he’s going to start believing those things that he tells himself, and he can’t afford that happening when Spiderman is the only thing tethering him to his old life.
For a while, Peter’s coping mechanism had been to try and poison himself against his past. Stark wasn’t that important anyway, he told himself, he was fine when Stark was gone and Peter had to navigate on his own, and Morgan is smart enough to make it in this world without a big brother, plus Peter never liked kids. May never would have gotten involved in all of this if she had just knocked on his door instead of walking in on him in the suit. Ned and MJ were fine with leaving him in high school when he transferred to Stuy, so why bother worrying about them now?
He gave up thinking that way after a month when it just made Peter want to bury himself under the building that crushes himself in his dreams. There was nothing any of those people could do to make Peter mourn them any less.
“And you have your laptop set up?”
“And you remembered to grab your–”
“My dining pass, yes, Tony.”
“I have everything, I promise,” Harley says with a laugh, sweeping his dark hair out of his eyes. The two boys are sitting on the hood of Tony’s car outside of the place Harley is supposed to call home for the next nine months.
“And you’re going to visit on the weekends.”
“Oh my god, yes. That’s the third time you’ve asked.”
“Hey, I’ve never had a kid go off to college before,” Tony replies defensively, but there’s no heat behind it. Harley knows he’s just worried. Harley’s worried, too, hiding it by picking at the plastic tips of his hoodie strings. He had always imagined going off to college and finally being his own man–coming and going whenever he wants, nobody to take care of, nobody to answer to. Now that the opportunity is actually here, he’s not so sure he can do this.
“Which is shocking, considering how old you are,” Harley responds innocently, pretending not to catch Tony’s side eye out of his peripheral vision. He can’t help but let his lips twitch with a smile when Tony bumps his shoulder into Harley’s, threatening to push him off of the hood.
“Now if only I had a super cool Audi R8 Spyder with an arc reactor built into it,” Harley sighs dramatically, looking up at Tony through his eyelashes.
“It’s faster to take the subway, first of all, and second of all, my super cool Audi R8 Spyder was destroyed in the battle with Thanos, so unless you’re going to retroactively save my car collection from certain doom via time travel, you’re out of luck, kid.”
Harley scowls and stands to his feet. “Well, you didn’t have to say it like that. How do you know I don’t have time-travel powers?”
“Are you a wizard?”
“Then there’s your answer.” Tony stands up, looking over this wing of the campus. He would have preferred Harley go to MIT–there’s an apartment in Cambridge that Tony’s been paying for that he must have reserved for Harley forever ago and forgot about–but NYU was close to Tony, so he couldn’t complain too much. It’s not like MIT was a school that one could just stroll into, but using Tony Stark as a reference on your application is a sure way to at least grab an interview spot. Unfortunately, Harley went to a small-town school. MIT looks for AP and IB classes, of which Harley could not take any, and extracurriculars that uphold the school’s values. Harley had sports and a near-perfect SAT under his belt, but not much else, even if he was wickedly smart.
Dropping the kid off at college felt…nostalgic. That was the only way Tony could put it, sitting there on the hood of his car after showing Harley around campus. He’d given enough lectures and keynote speeches here to have the place memorized by now. When Tony went off to MIT, there wasn’t much of a sending-off to speak of, more of a threat to do well or be shunned. Maybe he had concocted some dream of what it would have been like to have an emotionally present father see him off on his first day in the dorms, and now he was playing that fantasy out with Harley, just with the roles reversed.
“I should probably get going so you can enjoy your first night at college,” Tony says, breaking the silence between the two. The campus itself certainly wasn’t silent. There was the general hum of people going to and fro with boxes and bags and mattress toppers, hiking up the cursed stairs to the sixth floor to meet their roommate for the next nine months that they will inevitably hate and request to get away from forever. That was a curse Tony didn’t have to bear at MIT, and he hopes Harley comes out with a roommate that he can count on for life, too.
Harley shrugs. “If you’re not ready to go yet, you can stay, you know,” the teenager offers with a shocking amount of empathy for, well, a teenager. Tony makes a mental note to always remember that Harley is too good for this world.
“Oh, c’mon,” Tony says with a laugh, clapping his kid on the back. “I don’t want to be the dad that hovers all day when you’re trying to live your first twelve hours as a grown up. I’ll see you this weekend, anyhow, right?”
Harley beams at his adoptive father from under his mop of hair, and Tony can’t help but feel that he’s lived this before. He’s had a lot of those moments since returning from that other space, being swapped back into proper existence.
Harley holds his welcome papers in hand as he waves Tony off, pretending he doesn’t see Tony fighting back tears. He turns towards the looming buildings, gazing up at their grandeur, and holds the packet tightly.
God, don’t make this suck, he prays silently as he marches the stairs to see if his roommate has arrived.
Happy Hogan doesn’t dare open the door to that room.
He knows the traces of life inside don’t belong to him or May Parker.
All he knows is that, at one point or another, Spiderman entered in this condo, and Happy can’t figure out for the life of him why.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
The question catches Peter off-guard.
Nobody ever talks to one another in an eight AM lecture. At least not in Peter’s experience. The room is more like a funeral than a classroom, full of zombies shuffling into their seats after a long night out of drinking and celebration of being back to college. For a lot of people, this day signifies the first day of freedom after a long summer home with their parents. The first day of drinking underage, staying up all night in frat houses, going to sporting events and parties. For others, like Peter, today is the first day of the financial crisis.
The tough part about this tutoring gig is that he isn’t getting paid until someone signs up, so he has to rely on this professor to go hard with notes on the first day. He’s able to tutor for any class on his roster, but two days a week he’s supposed to have organic chemistry tutoring lessons, and until he gets paid for those days, he doesn't have a textbook to speak of. This class’s book was ridiculously priced in the bookstore at any level of purchase–new, used, rented new, rented used, nearly destroyed and hanging on for dear life, loose leaf. Naturally, as any self-absorbed brainiac teaching a college class will do, the book assigned for the course was the one written by the professor and only sold in said college bookstore. Until Peter scrapes together the seventy dollars to rent it, he’s out of luck.
On the bright side, he’s already taken this class at MIT and practiced it with Stark years ago. O-chem wasn’t his favorite subject by any means–it made him want to rip his eyeballs out of their sockets and light them on fire–but he’s familiar enough that he hopes a week or two with no book won’t be enough to wreck his grade right away.
So Peter went to class, bookless, and sat down at the first empty row of seats he could find in hopes that the class wouldn’t fill up the massive lecture hall due to the early time. His hopes were destroyed when half the university came pouring through the doors at 7:56 AM and somebody chose to sit directly next to him as the seats filled up.
Peter looks at the boy that chose the seat next to Peter. He’s got the same mop of curls on his head that Peter does, but his are looser and longer. Peter has been cutting his hair much shorter than he used to since his senior year, or he and this boy would look like they were supposed to be brothers, sharing the same brown eyes and hardened expression. The boy raises his eyebrows at Peter.
“Hello?” he asks, and Peter snaps to attention. Usually, when someone asks if they know him, it’s cause for concern. He has to run through a mental roster of everyone he knew at Stuy, Midtown, and MIT. This time, though, Peter is certain he doesn’t know this kid.
“Sorry,” Peter breathes, clearing his throat. He shakes his head, drumming his fingers against the edge of his laptop. “Um, no. I don’t think you do.”
The other boy scrutinizes every centimeter of Peter’s face, which makes Peter recoil in the tiniest bit. He hates when people do that, when they try to read him.
“God, you look super familiar,” the other boy finally says, sitting back. Peter shrugs.
“Are you from Queens?”
“Then we don’t know each other.” Peter says this statement with the intention of it being the final thing he says to the other boy. He’s not interested in making friends in college, especially here. He had no choice but to go to NYU after everything happened, but he knows a lot of people on this campus. There were several of his friends from Stuy and Midtown that went on to study here, including Tatum, and he wasn’t interested in jeopardizing them with his existence again. Peter was destined to be alone, he guesses, forever, or however long the world needs Spiderman for.
The boy seems to wince at the interaction. Peter will admit, though, the kid is nothing if not persistent, because he holds his hand out to Peter anyways.
“I’m Harley Keener,” the boy says, giving Peter a sheepish grin that makes the guy look a lot younger than he is. He looks more like a teenager pretending to go to college. “Nice to meet you.”
Peter glances down at the kid’s hand before bringing his stony gaze back up to the kid’s face. “Peter. Nice to meet you,” Peter responds flatly. His aunt would have cursed him out for being so rude to somebody that was just trying to be nice, but he’s sure she’ll understand.
Peter’s flat tone does nothing to deter the golden retriever next to him.
“It’s my first day ever on a campus,” Harley yammers, sitting back in his chair and looking around. “I’ve never seen a classroom this big, have you?”
Peter doesn’t answer. Harley fills in the silence.
“This campus is huge, I know I’m going to get lost,” he says with a laugh, opening his laptop. He looks over to Peter’s, jaw dropping when he sees they have the same model. “Dude, cool! We have the same computer. I just got mine last October and I love it, it’s super cool. It’s got all kinds of cool upgrades like facial recognition, the chargeless arc reactor upgrade, the microtech storage cards so there’s like fifteen terabytes of space… It’s awesome. My dad gave it to me for my birthday last year. Is yours new?”
Peter shakes his head. He doesn’t want to talk to this kid, much less about the very sentimental gift Stark gave him…jeez, years ago. Seven, if you count the years Peter had been blipped.
“You must take really good care of it because it looks brand new,” Harley gushes. Peter tips his head back, hoping that the fluorescent light above him malfunctions and falls right into Peter’s skull. The professor announces that they will start in five minutes to give everyone time to find the class and settle in. Peter wishes the man would just start already, but he’s not sure even that would stop the motor mouth next to him.
“New York is really different from my hometown,” the boy drones on. Peter refuses to admit to himself that he’s listening. It’s been a long time since someone talked to him with this much enthusiasm. “I grew up in, like, a really small town, so I wanted to come to the city, you know? Well, you probably don’t because you said you grew up in Queens, right? What was that like? It must be cool to always have something to do because it’s New York. There was nothing to do in Rose Hill except for work in the mines and get drunk in cornfields, but my roommate told me the night life here is insane and we’re supposed to go out this Thursday before I go back to my dad’s. You should totally come!” Harley exclaims, brown eyes going wide at the idea of making another new friend to show him around the city.
Peter shakes his head very quickly at that proposition. “No thanks.”
“Aw, c’mon, my roommate is really cool. His name is Ryan, and he's, like, huge.” Harley expands his hands to emphasize his point. “He told me he knows all the good spots.”
“Going out isn’t my thing.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Harley repeats with a laugh. “You seem cool, I bet you would really get along with Ryan.”
Peter pointedly doesn’t respond again so the kid knows his persistence isn’t going to work. Harley seems to deflate a little, and Peter feels bad. He remembers wanting to be liked.
In high school, Peter transferred to Stuy for a fresh start. Midtown wasn’t working out and he just needed a change, so he went to public school. His superpowers gave him an incredible edge in sports to the point where people wondered if he was juicing, and he got live TV coverage on some of his better games, including a backboard-shattering dunk that won the Stuy v. Midtown game with a tiebreaker. Peter’s popularity there soared, but there were regrets. He lost Ned and MJ for a long time. He made a lot of mistakes. He stopped being Spiderman. Wasn’t sure who he was.
That was how Tony Stark found him, and that was the only good part of the whole ordeal.
Peter essentially ruined his life in a quest to be popular, and so he remembers what it was like to want to be liked by everyone around him. He didn’t have to talk to strangers, really, they came and found him, but it was still awkward and nerve wracking at first. He almost feels a little bad for Harley, almost says he’ll go out with him–it’s been a long time since he’s been out with anybody, but the five dollars he has until Friday won’t cover even the cheapest beer at the places NYU kids like to drink at, and he’s not going to be embarrassingly broke in front of new friends.
Not to mention, he’s not supposed to be making new friends. There was a reason nobody knew Peter Parker.
Luckily, he doesn’t have to justify himself to Harley. The class starts and Peter is able to focus on what he knows. His notes are flawless, and this is all stuff he remembers from his stint at MIT. Organic chemistry still makes him want to die, but it’s more manageable the second time around now that NYU wouldn’t accept half of his transfer credits.
The moment the lecture ends, Harley opens his mouth, but when he turns to face Peter, the older boy is gone. Peter’s already hiking the lecture hall stairs two at a time, and Harley is left standing in the dust, frowning.
oof @ peter and harley. thank you for reading and leaving kudos and subscribing and everything else y'all do :)
Chapter 4: Showing Off
Happy can’t take it anymore, so he tells Tony everything.
There isn’t much to tell, so “everything” might be an overstatement, but Tony listens like he’s learning the answers to the Millenium Prize problems. It’s almost unnerving, the way that Tony focuses on Happy’s explanation of the events.
May died, and Happy mourned. He didn’t go home for two days and instead planned the service from Stark Tower where he could be surrounded by people that loved him. That, and so the condominium’s management could arrange to have his window fixed after the purple sky mishap. When he returned, he went into his office, and there was someone else’s belongings there. Not much–it wasn’t as if someone was living there, or at least, Happy didn’t think so. There were only three items in a virtually destroyed room that weren’t Happy’s, but he knew they weren’t May’s, either, and the idea of a stranger being in his house disturbed him down to the bones.
“And those items were…?” Stark trails off, motioning with his hands for Happy to continue. He was perched backwards on a rolling office chair in his lab–his actual lab, the one at Stark Tower. Happy was fairly certain Tony was on a kick of refusing to sleep or eat again, based on the way JARVIS kept nagging over the hidden speakers and the dark rings under Tony’s eyes. He wonders what’s been bothering the inventor so much that he’s not home with Morgan and Pepper.
Happy sucks in a deep breath, setting a grocery bag down onto one of the stainless steel tables. “A clump of synthetic web, super sticky,” Happy says, rustling through the baggie. He produces a clear sandwich bag full of white webbing and drops it onto the table. “This broken web shooter.” Another item dropped with a clang this time. The shooter is so mangled that if not for the masking tape that clearly said “broken web shooter” in neat capital letters, one would not be able to identify it as such. “And this.”
The last item is the largest and most interesting. Happy gently lays it on the table, and even though Tony is hard to get a read on, Happy can see it piques his interest.
“You found that? In the condo?” Tony asks. His voice edges on that of disbelief as his fingers reach out to unfurl the suit. It’s essentially a onesie. The suit is stiff with dried blood, a vicious and honestly concerning amount of rips and gashes across it, jagged edges in what was definitely handsewn. Whoever wore this certainly didn’t survive whatever befell them.
“Stuffed into a broken light fixture, all of it,” Happy breathes, looking down at the Spiderman suit. “I never would have found it if the ceiling hadn’t broken during the fighting in New York. That guy was in my house and I somehow don’t remember it, but I just can’t shake the feeling that I know him. I mean, whoever wore this couldn’t have survived, right? Tony?”
The inventor is clutching the suit with his brow furrowed. Happy analyzes the man sitting before him, unable to ignore how white-knuckled his boss has become while holding this destroyed, mangled fabric that was once a teenager’s pajamas. Resting in the middle is a broken pair of glasses. The bridge is snapped in half, but they were very clearly smart glasses. The fine, nearly invisible wiring is etched in the lenses, and hair-thin fibers are poking out from the snapped pieces.
There is no denying what Tony is seeing before him.
He made this. This is EDITH.
“Who the fuck stole my tech?” Tony murmurs into the shredded mask.
It doesn’t answer.
Peter successfully avoids Harley Keener at Thursday’s lecture. He arrives two minutes late, which gets him a glare from the professor, but with 150 other students in the lecture hall, Peter’s sure the guy will forget his face eventually.
There are no seats left, so Peter is stuck sitting on the floor. Usually, classes will start to get smaller as the semester goes by because people drop the class, and this is a hard course, so he can probably get to class right in the nick of time every day and still get a seat by next Thursday. Today, he’s just trying to avoid the world’s most talkative teenager.
It works, for the most part, until Peter arrives at the study lounge for the first time in the library. The lady who runs the study tables is super nice and gives him a few details to help him out. Peter’s weekly hours will need to be submitted one week in advance, so plan accordingly, and each day he arrives for tutoring, he just needs to check the schedule and see who has signed up to study with him for that block of time. She’s delighted to inform him that he already has an appointment.
“It looks like your student will be here any minute, so why don’t you grab a study room and I’ll point them in the right direction when they arrive?” Dr. Barnhouse suggests kindly. It makes Peter’s chest warm every time someone is nice to him, so he gives his best flash of white teeth and hurriedly makes his way into the private room.
The library at NYU was nice. There were a couple of silent floors, which Peter would absolutely take advantage of when he could. He took some of his best naps in the silent lounges at MIT. There was a huge collection of research journals, academic databases, microfilms, and even newspapers from around the country that Peter would like to check out, and there were these secluded study rooms just about everywhere. The ones on the fourth floor were reserved for study tables and tutors, but the other floors seemed to have no sign-up or special requirements.
Peter pulls back the chair that sits against the wall when he enters the booth. There’s something about people coming up from behind him that gives him itchy skin, so he just avoids it when he can. He’s sure it has something to do with the spiderbite.
Peter slides his sleek Starkbook out from his book bag and plugs it in to charge. He does the same with his phone and with the extra battery unit that he got at a garage sale in the beginning of the summer, which really helps with the no-electricity weekends that he’s been trying out. The electric bill was thirty percent lower this month, though, so something must be going right.
The Starkbook in question had been a gift from Stark himself, and there were a bunch of cool features that helped Peter out at MIT. The most notable, and desirable, was the holographic capabilities that the laptop had, and the runner-up to that was Karen. Combine the two tools and Peter could do virtually anything on the laptop that he could have done in Stark Tower, and there was even a feature that would send blueprints and schematics to the fabricators there, but Peter had to disable that function before he accidentally started printing something he didn’t want to print at the Tower and scared the shit out of Iron Man, or worse, Happy Hogan.
Peter is in the middle of transferring some of his drawn models into holographic, manipulative figures when there’s a knock on the sterile white door. It creaks open carefully–if a door could be shy, that’s how Peter would describe it.
“Okay, thanks,” he hears through the sliver, and Peter uses three figures to swipe away the hologram as his student comes into the study room.
Harley Keener closes the door behind him, and Peter does his hardest to hide his impolite displeasure from the guy, but he’s really not delighted to see him.
“Hey, it’s you again!” Harley exclaims. There is no way, Peter thinks, that this kid is this happy and laidback all the time. “Dude, I missed you in class today. I looked for you but I couldn’t find you.”
Peter raises an unamused eyebrow. “I came late.”
Harley whistles as he takes a seat, dropping his book bag onto the table a little rougher than intended. He gives Peter the same sheepish grin that he had shown off on Tuesday. “Sorry,” he apologizes, hurrying to take a seat before he can embarrass himself any more. “My dad always tells me I’m rough on my things. I guess I can see where he’s coming from.”
Yeah, no shit, you almost broke what I assume was a three thousand dollar laptop , Peter says in his head, but he gives Harley a tight smile. There is no way this kid isn’t some kind of nepotism baby, despite whatever small-town bullshit he was giving Peter the other day. The kid doesn’t give him a second to respond, though, because his mouth keeps moving as he’s pulling out his own laptop and notes.
“Anyways, late on the second day, that’s rough. I probably walked my class schedule like a million times though. You don’t seem like you’re as nervous about your first year of college as I am.”
“It’s not my first year,” Peter catches himself saying, and then mentally kicks himself for saying that in the first place. Harley looks surprised, peering at Peter from over his laptop.
“Are you a sophomore? I’m pretty sure most of the people in O-chem are sophomores, I just got lucky and tested out of a couple classes and my advisor said I was able to take this one early.”
“Sure.” Peter doesn’t really know if he counts as a sophomore or a junior at this point with half his credits being blacklisted, so it’s not a lie. It’s definitely not the enthusiastic answer Harley was looking for, though, because he frowns at Peter from across the table.
“Dude, are you always this zoned out?” Harley asks. One of his eyebrows cocks at Peter like he’s getting tired of the short answers. “You like, never take the bait and say anything about yourself. I’m getting tired of hearing myself talk, ya know?” The kid laughs after he says it, but Peter just leans back in his chair.
“Look, kid,” Peter states, holding his arms out, “I’m getting paid to sit here with you. Do you want help with organic chemistry or not?”
Harley blinks at Peter’s bluntness. Peter isn’t sure what Harley’s expecting him to say when Peter has given no indication of wanting to be friends, but he must bounce back quickly, because Harley shrugs and opens his notebook.
“Dig out your textbook too. We’ll need it,” Peter remarks, loading up his O-chem notes that he transferred into the holographic program. Peter leans his screen all the way back so it’s fully flattened and uses three fingers to bring up a hologram of the figures from today’s slideshow, turning the Starkbook into a mini Holotable.
Harley gapes at Peter’s computer, his jaw dropping in stunned silence. The boy’s eyes widen, and Peter raises an eyebrow at him like the unamused jock he pretends to be.
“What? Never seen a hologram before?” Peter asks, his voice bordering on snarky as he takes in Harley’s reaction. Okay, maybe Peter was showing off on purpose. The kid obviously had money of some kind, he spent Tuesday bragging about his brand new laptop and how it had all kinds of upgrades to a stranger and then almost broke the damn thing in front of said stranger by being “rough on his belongings”. Peter has no doubt that this boy is here with daddy’s money, and even if the money doesn’t negate the need for loans, he doubts this guy is working through college.
Harley sputters a little, his eyes examining the hologram that has appeared in front of his face. He reaches out gingerly with three fingers to touch it, swirling the model of a five-carbon chain to prove that it’s really 3D, and it is. He can hardly believe it. The only other person he’s seen use this level of technology is Tony.
“Dude,” Harley exhales, “how did you get this?”
Peter shrugs nonchalantly. He leans back away from the laptop, crossing his arms over his chest and looking at Harley through the blue tinge of the hologram in front of their faces.
“I made some upgrades,” Peter states, and Harley gapes at him.
“Oh no,” Harley says with a laugh, “you are being way too casual about this. I-I’ve only ever even seen this kind of technology once in my life, and it definitely wasn’t on a retailed Starkbook. Even the brand new model doesn’t have that kind of technology built into it.” Harley examines the laptop without touching–it looks just like any other computer, but obviously is extremely advanced, even by Stark Tech standards. Who was this guy that had these kinds of brains and wasn’t working at Stark Industries? What was a crazy inventor like this doing at NYU of all places?
Peter ignores Harley’s compliments and instead slides Harley’s book to himself with his fingertips, flipping it to the right page. “Alright, let’s see…okay. Karen, can you pull up my O-chem notes from this morning?”
“Yes, Peter,” Karen responds coolly, and Harley grips the table so hard that his knuckles go white.
“Dude!” he hisses, nearly vibrating in excitement. Peter lets his lips twitch into a smile. He had almost forgotten what it was like to be cool.
Harley is getting pretty tired of this weird kid in organic chemistry not wanting to talk to him.
Harley knows he’s seen Peter somewhere before, but he just can’t put his finger on it. He’s going to figure it out, though, whether Peter wants to be friends with him or not. The guy is obviously wicked smart–he has the same air about him as Tony does, the same confidence in what he’s doing without needing to say it. Maybe that’s why he seems so familiar.
In any case, Harley is determined. Peter last-name will be his friend by the end of this semester, he’s sure of it.
Clint Barton has been looking for Spiderman for quite a few months.
It’s starting to feel like every time he might have a lead, the lead goes dead, and then he sees a headline of Spiderman stopping a car robbery or vandalism or helping an old lady across the street. He’ll finally return home after a week of searching, turn on the television, and there the kid is, right in front of the camera.
He knows this hero has to be some kind of kid. He’s not very big, he’s not very strong, but he’s definitely a mutant, and Clint knows how dangerous being young and highly powered can be. There are a number of dangerous criminal organizations that would love to get Spiderman in their grasp, trap him in their slimy, corrupt fingers and pump him full of chemicals or brainwashing tactics or waterboard him until he agrees to do whatever they want. It’s a lot less difficult to break somebody than one might think. The hard part is that you have to have the stomach for it.
Clint sits on the sidewalk outside of the check cashing place in his disguise. The whole searching-from-the-rooftops shtick hadn’t been working out very well for him, and he wasn’t getting anywhere. He looked for predictable patterns, a route that the boy might take or times that he might be out on patrol. He couldn’t find any no matter how closely he looked. Clint tried to take a step back, thinking the closer he looked, the less he would see. Nothing. He examined the information he had from every possible lens and angle with no fruitful results except for one singular sighting three months ago–a flash of red and blue zipping across the sky and disappearing almost as fast as he had shown up. Clint had gone after the hero with no results. It was like he vanished into thin air, leaving behind nothing but paper trash skittering across the pavement.
He decided to try a new approach. Spiderman was out to help the little guy. Clint could defend himself in case there was a real situation that Spiderman didn’t show up for, but if he sits here long enough, maybe he’d spot the hero, or he’d come by to help him. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts of Spiderman stopping for the needy and homeless, helping them find food and shelter for the night or escorting them somewhere safe in the dark.
Clint pulls his beanie down over his ears, sitting on the ratty blanket that he had pulled out of a dumpster somewhere. It smells like wet dog, but Clint wonders if that was a good thing. His pants are stained and dirty, and he had taken a knife to some of the stitches to make them artificially frayed. The t-shirt, flannel, and jacket he wore had gotten the same routine, and he had hidden much of his face behind a ski mask, leaving only his eyes visible.
Clint wiggles one of his toes in the hole-riddled shoes he wears as another person dinks a quarter into his cup. One thing he hadn’t considered in this operation was that people sometimes give the homeless money, and he was going to end up with cash that could have gone to someone who was genuinely in need, so to soothe his guilty conscience, Clint used the money to buy a couple hot sandwiches from the McDonalds down the street and pass them out.
The kid that religiously gave Clint money hadn’t been around in a few days. Clint wondered what he was up to. Usually, the kid dropped some change in the cup on his way to and from the deli he worked at after stopping to stare into a coffee shop window like a little freak. It was only a quarter or two at a time–never a paper bill, which bummed Clint out, because he was genuinely starting to enjoy buying some meals for his newfound friends behind the McDonalds–but the kid gave Clint such a genuine smile that he could only hope the boy was doing okay.
Clint looked up and down the street, not seeing much going on. Drawing this guy out of hiding was proving harder than Clint thought. He’s feeling like he’s lost his touch since Nat’s death. It was a hard two years. They lost Nat, and Cap, and Tony all at once, and then Tony came back, somehow, and that made Clint angry that Nat hadn’t come back, too. He was so angry that he spent months away from home, slaughtering enemies and trying to find an answer in the violence.
He couldn’t quite remember what had happened that brought Tony back. He was there, in Stark Tower, checking the infinity stones with Banner, and someone else was there, too, he was sure. It couldn’t have been anyone important if he doesn’t remember. But the day after the sky turned purple, he suddenly couldn’t remember who that person was. He was thinking about it because he was supposed to have lunch with Bruce, and he hadn’t seen Bruce since that whole ordeal with Stark and the broken timeline, but there was just something about the memory that he couldn’t put his finger on.
Clint wouldn’t have thought much about losing his memories, really, except that he can’t figure out where this Stuyvesant High School graduation ceremony ticket came from, or why he keeps it in his memento box with the rest of his prized possessions.
Chapter 5: Panic Attacks
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Morgan Stark sits on the stairs where she can see Dad and he can’t see her. She has been watching for almost an hour now as Dad scours the internet looking for Spiderman.
She hopes he can find Spiderman. She wants to ask him why he came to her window the night after the sky turned purple.
Ned Leeds and Michelle Jones sit together in MJ’s dorm room. Her roommate was out for the night.
MJ’s roommate was nice enough compared to the girl she had her first year. Everyone says that you hate your first roommate, but lord, MJ couldn’t seem to escape what she’s sure was the devil herself. She often ran off to Ned’s dorm, or she went off-campus to study. She vaguely remembers going to an apartment a few times, but now she can’t remember whose it was. Maybe someone else they went to Midtown with that she agreed to visit out of pure politeness. It doesn’t matter, she supposes.
Her roommate’s name was Lily, and Lily was nice enough, but she wasn’t somebody MJ had a lot in common with. She had offered for MJ to come with her for the party, but MJ had declined as nicely as she could. She didn’t want to be rude, to which Ned snorted when she told him, but Lily’s group of friends wasn’t really her scene. It reminded her of…
Someone. There was someone who had a group of friends that MJ wasn’t a fan of, but now she can’t place who it was. She has a feeling it was Flash Thompson, considering Flash tried his hardest to make their lives miserable in high school, and his friends were notoriously the worst.
“Um, why is Tatum calling me?” MJ murmurs. Ned glances over and there’s concern written into his face.
“What other Tatum do we know?” MJ huffs, and Ned shrugs as she hits accept and pinches the phone between her ear and shoulder so she can keep typing her response to Kafka’s Metamorphosis . “Hello?”
“Is that not what my contact name says?”
“Hardy har har.” Tatum doesn’t sound particularly amused. Actually, she sounds congested, like she’s starting to come down with a cold. MJ is very used to Tatum being picture perfect on the occasions that she sees her. Her nails are always done, her teeth are perfectly white, her hair never frizzes. MJ can’t even recall ever seeing Tatum sick. She didn’t assume Tatum could get sick.
“Okay, okay,” MJ relents, shifting on her stiff mattress. Even the four inch mattress topper she had bought wasn’t much help with the cardboard that she’s sure she’s been sleeping on. “What’s up?”
“Hey, um, I have this… I’m sorry. I don’t know where to start.” MJ’s brow wrinkles in confusion at Tatum’s voice. She wasn’t congested. She was waterlogged. Was Tatum crying? “I’m sorry, I just… I’m going to send you a picture, okay? I need you to tell me if you know this kid.”
MJ lowers the phone and puts the call on speaker to switch over to her messages. Three blue dots pop up to signal Tatum is typing. At this point, Ned is peering over from the other side of the bed, and he mouths, is she okay? MJ shrugs at him and waits for the photo to come through.
It’s a photo of a photo–Tatum has taken a picture with her phone of a paper photograph. The picture is Tatum with some kid, a good-looking guy, in front of a cake that says, “Congratulations!”
MJ squints at the picture, studying his face. She tries to place him and can’t, but he looks familiar.
“He looks familiar, but I don’t know him. Did he go to Midtown?” she asks. She taps on the photo and zooms in on the boy’s face. There’s something she can’t place about him, somewhere she’s sure she’s seen him.
“I don’t know,” Tatum breathes, shaking her head. “I thought he went to Stuy because of the shirt, but I can’t remember his name or where we met or…anything about him, but Midtown plays in the same basketball conference as Stuy, so I thought maybe I knew him through you two. And I haven’t talked to people I went to Stuy with in so long that I just…wanted to start with you guys, you know?”
“Hold on, I have Ned with me, I’ll show him,” MJ says, and with a quick shuffle around, she has her phone in Ned’s face.
MJ swears she watches Ned’s face droop, but he recovers almost instantly, making it look like a simple twitch instead of something crushing.
“Well?” Tatum breaks the silence. MJ raises her eyebrows expectantly, glancing towards the phone as a suggestion that he speak and stop being weird.
“I know him,” Ned finally admits.
“What is his name?” Tatum asks. She sounds desperate. Like she’s been trying to find this boy for weeks and can’t seem to get one foot in front of the other, she sounds like this boy holds the key to her future or life or death.
Ned shakes his head. His eyes meet MJ’s.
“I have no idea, either.”
Tony Stark does not appreciate being outsmarted.
The genius inventor is slumped over in his garage, flopped on a stainless steel workbench littered with screens, photos, and notes. JARVIS is in the background nagging about “need sleep” and “supposed to eat” and “recommend a glass of water”, like any of that is going to help Tony find Spiderman.
Peter Parker can not figure out for the life of him why he’s in Harley Keener’s dorm room.
How he ended up in this situation, he isn’t sure. The kid showed up for Friday tutoring with Xs on his hands, which Peter was irritated by, but he claimed he just couldn’t figure out this one concept and please, Peter, pleaaaaase help before there’s a big fat F on his first quiz next week because he really wants to show his rich dad an A.
But Harley had forgotten his chemistry textbook, and Peter really didn’t feel like explaining why he didn’t have one, and Harley said he just needed to run back to his dorm, and now here Peter is, because the faster they got to the dorm, the faster he got rid of this kid, and it was easier to just drive to the dorms than to walk entirely across campus.
So here Peter is.
He stands with his hands in his pockets. He’s never actually been inside of the dorms at NYU because he was able to live off-campus, but they’re a little bigger than he expected. He wonders if Harley had to pull strings to get a room that had its own bathroom. At MIT, Ned and MJ both had whole-floor bathrooms, and they had been horrible. Ned regularly opted to shower whenever he came to Peter’s just to avoid impetigo or some other horrible foot fungus from the shared bathroom floors. Peter had met some of the guys that lived on Ned’s floor, and honestly, he didn’t blame Ned at all, so he always made sure he had fresh towels if his friends were going to come over.
Peter examines Harley’s room. His roommate wasn’t around, but there was a Stuyvesant varsity jacket draped over the chair to the roommate’s desk. That gets Peter’s interest. He wants to roll over the jacket to see if it’s someone he knew from the three different sports he played there, but he doesn’t want to go snooping through Harley’s roommate’s belongings right in front of Harley. That would be rude. Instead, Peter focuses back on Harley’s side of the room.
It is very clear that Harley is not a neat freak like Peter has become. The summer between junior and senior year, Peter’s depression had gotten so bad that his floor turned into a sea of dirty clothes, gross dishes, and garbage lining the edges of the room. He couldn’t take a step without tripping on something, and he was running out of space to keep any drinks on a flat surface, including his floor. When he woke up and decided to do something different, to go to a new school and try again if it killed him, the first thing he did was completely restore his room. It was cleaner than it had been even before the three months of depression. After that, Peter became kind of a neat freak. Any sign of mess reminds him of that summer spent in bed, and it gives Peter a bad taste in his mouth, making him feel like he needs a shower. His apartment is spotless. Granted, it’s easy to keep the place clean when he barely owns anything, but even deep-cleaning projects bring Peter a sense of satisfaction. He likes to polish the sink, wipe down the baseboards, scrub down the bathtub.
Harley is, safe to say, the complete opposite.
The trash bin is overflowing somehow even though school just started. Peter is pretty sure there’s not even a bag in the can. He has several pairs of shoes scattered across his floor, not even near each other, like they’ve been kicked and tripped on over and over. His desk is full of McDonalds bags, Cosmic brownie wrappers, and Red Bull cans, and his bed is a nest of blankets and pillows that makes Peter question how the kid even sleeps in it. Currently, Harley is digging through his second backpack, looking for the book.
“I have a Monday-Wednesday-Friday bag and a Tuesday-Thursday bag,” Harley had explained on the drive over after he was done melting down over how cool Peter’s car was.
Peter made it a point not to access Karen in the car, or mention the fact that it was gasless. Nobody would know if he didn’t tell them, anyways, but Harley was fascinated by the fact that Peter owned an Audi, period.
“Inheritance,” was all Peter offered in explanation.
Harley stands up, scratching his head in confusion when he can’t find the book. Jesus, Peter just wants to scrub the entire room down, and they’ve only been here for five minutes.
“I don’t know where I put it,” Harley says, looking back at Peter apologetically. “Sorry. Um, you can sit at the desk if you want while you wait, I don’t want you to have to stand for forever.”
Anybody with eyes could see that Harley is embarrassed by his lack of preparedness, so Peter keeps a smart remark to himself and instead simply sits down on the wooden chair to make Harley happy. He turns his focus to the items on Harley’s desk.
There’s a picture of Harley with a younger girl and an older woman, presumably his sister and mother. They’re at a pumpkin patch. Peter has never been, but it looks nice. Next to the photo is a charging dock for a Nintendo Switch, with no Nintendo to be seen. Peter wonders if Harley even knows where it is. There are a couple books on the upper shelf, a dinosaur night light, and a plant that Peter’s pretty sure is fake. He jumps when he touches it and Harley speaks.
“Oh, yeah. My mom got me that. She said it was good for my space to have some green in it. She’s real into gardening and all that. I would just kill a real plant, though, so that one is fake,” he explains with a laugh. He was always laughing, Peter thinks to himself.
Peter’s eyes fall on the last item of his desk. There is another picture in a wooden frame that looks handmade. It has a richness to it that fake wood frames made of particle board don’t have. It’s thick and well-crafted. Peter’s gaze trails up from the bottom of the photo. Harley is standing next to an older man, wearing an orange swimsuit and a black Spiderman T-shirt. Funny. They’re on a dock, standing in front of a lake, and Harley’s hair is wet and frizzing in the summer sun. His cheeks are tinged pink from the sun. He’s holding a little girl–a different girl than the other picture–wearing a pink swimsuit and her hair is definitely dripping all over Harley, but he couldn’t look happier. The man next to him is dry as a bone. He’s only as tall as Harley, as tall as Peter. He has the same look on his face, genuinely happy, and his face is obscured by a pair of dark sunglasses, but Peter would know that grin anywhere, in any life.
In the back of his mind, Peter can hear a heartbeat.
Peter stands sharply, so quick that he knocks over the chair and surprises Harley. Harley drops the chemistry book he must have finally dug out from under a pile of laundry in shock, looking at Peter with wide eyes.
“Peter? Is everything okay?” Harley rushes to ask. His brow furrows the same way his dad’s does.
Harley tracks Peter’s gaze to the picture, raising his eyebrows. “Oh. Sorry. I should have put that away,” Harley says sheepishly, rushing forward to lay the picture down on its face. “I, um, I don’t usually tell people right away, it’s…yeah. He’s like, my dad ran out on me when I was a kid, and Tony kind of took care of my family when I was a kid, so I moved north to stay with him and he kind of became like my dad, like I call him Tony but refer to him as my dad if that makes sense. Sorry if that, like, makes things awkward.” He turns his gaze to Peter, who is very clearly hyperventilating, and frowns. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
He steps forward towards Peter, but Peter takes a step backwards, nearly tripping on the chair to get away from Tony Stark’s eyes.
Peter can’t breathe. It’s been a while since he’s had a panic attack but he’s definitely having one now. His chest seizes and refuses to work, and so does his mouth, but he’s definitely going to throw up pretty soon. He barely even hears Harley’s concerned questions.
It’s like watching his own life as a movie in his head. He can see himself hunched over Stark, sobbing into his chest as he stops breathing. He can see himself being smacked across the ruins of the Compound, blood staining his teeth and dribbling across his face as he snaps his fingers. He can see himself shoving the bloody rags that used to be his Spiderman suit into the ceiling in Happy’s condo, leaving Stark in 1970, screaming in Stark’s face after letting the building crush him nearly to death.
“Peter, you’re having a panic attack,” Harley says gently, but it sounds like they’re underwater and if Peter takes a breath, he’s going to drown.
Peter shakes his head, fighting it the best he can. “M’fine,” he manages out. “I have to go.”
“I don’t know that you should–”
“Sorry,” Peter gasps, and the boy is out the door, yet again leaving Harley Keener standing in the dust.
poor peter can't seem to catch a break. if only the writer would let him
Chapter 6: The Boy in the Spiderman Suit
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“I’m leaving campus now.”
Harley Keener pinches his phone between his ear and his shoulder to talk as he zips his duffel bag. Tony had sent a car for him that was undoubtedly driven by Happy and waiting for him outside of his dorm. If there was one thing that Happy hated, it was waiting on teenagers.
“Great! Hey, we can’t wait to hear about your first week at school,” Tony tells him over the phone. He sounded like he was outside, and there was the faint trace of Morgan screeching in joy in the background of the call. “Morgan is excited too,” he adds with a laugh.
“I’m excited to see her too,” Harley tries, but it falls flat. His tone doesn’t sell it and Tony picks that up from miles away, even over the phone.
“Hey, is everything okay?” his father asks over the phone. Harley can hear Tony shuffle around to keep Morgan’s prying ears away from the phone. Harley shrugs out of habit as he shoulders his duffel bag, sitting on his freshly made bed to talk.
“Yeah, I just… I don’t know. Something weird happened today.”
And so Harley spends the extra time making Happy wait to tell his father about this weird antisocial kid that tutors him for organic chemistry even though he’s on his way there soon. The kid is jacked, he’s crazy smart, he seems really cool. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be friends. Harley tells Tony, it’s that he looked at Harley and Tony’s picture like he was going to throw up.
“Well, kid, some people are going to freak out when they find out you’re my kid, you know. Your pseudo-dad is rich, powerful, intelligent, extremely good looking–”
“Shut up, gross. He’s also super weird. Still, I mean, I expect shock or whatever, but he was having a panic attack. Straight up hyperventilating and ran out of the room.”
“Are you sure it was a panic attack?” Tony asks thoughtfully. Harley’s pretty sure he’s chewing. He wonders if he can get Happy to stop at McDonalds.
“I’ve seen you have enough of ‘em, I know what they look like,” Harley responds, pauses, grins when he can practically feel Tony pursing his lips over the phone.
It was hard, losing his parents so young. He can hardly even remember much of them, which bothered him as he grew older, because anyone who spoke of the Parkers only spoke of Peter. He had no way of collecting memories, and anything that he owned prior to his sixth birthday was long lost, leaving Peter only with new items that smelled like the store instead of his home. If he thinks long and hard enough, the only identifiable reminder Peter has is the smell of smoke. Not exactly the way you want to remember your parents after they’ve died in a house fire.
After his parents, it was May and Ben. Ben went first. That one hurt. Peter thought he’d never recover. He doesn’t even ever dare to tiptoe into that part of his memories. He had done a lot of work to bury them deep and dark, and they were going to stay there.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have that luxury with Stark and May. He supposes you can only repress one horribly traumatic experience in your life, and he’d wasted his ticket early on with Uncle Ben. Peter relived Tony Stark’s death over and over. Charred skin, heartbeats slower and slower, nothing. Zero. Zip and zilch. Stark was lost forever.
Except he wasn’t. Peter proved that when he went to the other timeline, dove into the war for a second round against Thanos and took the gauntlet for himself. Peter’s snap and a well-worded wish had brought his mentor back to life and given Peter another year of memories with the man he had wished and hoped and prayed to see again. He’d been given another year with his little sister, with Morgan, who reminded him so much of Tony Stark with her eyes, wit, and stubbornness that before Stark returned, Peter would cry after visiting. Another year with Pepper, who could never replace May, but taught him all kinds of easy ways to cook for himself, how to sew by hand, how to get the blood stains out of his laundry to save his white T-shirts.
And then that was gone, too. And so was May. And everyone Peter knew.
So, yeah, Peter had a strong reaction to seeing his mentor with another child, even if it wasn’t fair of him to do so. This was the way things need to be, Peter thinks as he sobs in the corner of his dim apartment. The sunset was strong, filtering yellow light in between the slats of his window shades and pinstriping the room in liquid gold. Over time, it has moved from one end of the small room to the other, and now Peter is striped in the sun’s beauty, but he feels anything other than beautiful. Ugly sobs rack Peter’s body, shaking his shoulders as he presses his face into his knees. Tears and snot soak the knees of his jeans into dark patches that remind him of all the times his clothes have been wet with blood for Anthony Stark.
This was the way it had to be, he reminds himself again, trying to convince himself of the truth. Repeating it over and over might brainwash him into believing it. This was the way it had to be. Three times, Peter has helped save the world. Three times, he has had to come to terms with destroying his own, and when the fourth comes, he might very well just lie down and let it take him. If the end of the world came for the nth time tomorrow, he would simply sit here as he does today and hope that maybe this time it kills him.
Except it’s not that easy and he knows it. It will never be quite that easy, will it? There is a curse in him, running in his blood and in his bones, that forces Peter to stand up to every danger that enters the atmosphere. Some kind of awful desire in him to be a good person that does the right thing. If he had learned to leave things alone, he wouldn’t have had to make these sacrifices or ask others to sacrifice themselves for him.
Maybe it wasn’t fair, but Peter hated Harley. He hated him with every fiber of his being. Stark had never mentioned a son, biological or adopted. He had never heard Harley Keener’s name before Tuesday morning, but it seems that Stark knew it well enough to call the boy his son. Peter can’t help but wonder if he was supposed to be Harley’s replacement. If the time that Peter spent with Stark was really just Stark trying to fill a void where Harley had once lived. Peter often saw parts of Ben in Tony Stark and wondered who Tony Stark was seeing in him, and Peter thinks he may have found his answer.
Peter hates Harley for the vomit-inducing memories that he has of Tony Stark. The visions that visit him at night torment him with the scenes of Stark’s death and being trapped under the building and the screaming and the pain. The bloodshed. Peter hates Harley Keener. He hates Harley Keener for the way blood-smell makes Peter’s mouth water. He wonders if Harley has the stomach to sit with the man as he dies and listen to his heartbeat stop. He wonders if that kid could ever flex the infinity stones on his fingers like diamond rings and spit out his broken teeth in the same breath. If he could ever let blood run out from between his lips, feel it pour down his face and stain his chest and still have the guts to snap his fingers. If he could greet the Grim Reaper with enough raw determination leftover to make a wish that saves the world. Peter wonders if Harley could ever understand how much Peter had to lose so that Harley could thrive.
Peter wonders if Harley has had to sacrifice as Peter has sacrificed. If Harley had to watch his aunt, the woman who raised him, die because of his mistakes and then get the fuck up because there was still a world to save and who the fuck else was going to do it if Peter just stopped? There was still a Happy and a Tony and a Pepper and a Morgan and a Ned and MJ and Tatum who needed him to get his shit together and sharpen his teeth and bite back because if he didn’t, the world would end, and that was his fault too. If Harley has ever had to go through the pain of the world forgetting his name and being homeless, cold, hungry, alone. Completely alone.
Peter cries into his knees for himself. He deserved better in this life. All of the things he willed himself to do for Tony Stark because Tony Stark was his only father left, and he still never really knew him.
Tatum Walker slides her ID card across the desk to the school rent-a-cop. He examines her picture, which she hates, before scanning it into a sticker and sliding both back across the wood.
“Good to go,” he drones. She’s pretty sure he didn’t blink the entire time she was standing there.
Tatum’s heeled boots click against the linoleum floors. She has her purse clutched in hand, and had worn business-casual for one of her classes today, so she supposed she looks more like a teacher than a student. This is the first time Tatum has visited Stuy since she graduated years ago.
The school isn’t much different than she remembers it. It’s an accelerated school, which meant that only the smartest of the smart were able to attend, and that was shocking considering some of the people Tatum knew in high school. She can recall her senior year, talking to people who were riding by with straight Fs, and still about to graduate because they had finished so many credits so early on. Most of her classmates went on to prestigious schools because of the college preparatory program. There was this boy in her seventh period that was insanely smart. She remembered that he was so advanced, he had come from a school that had stupidly high tuition and had gone on a scholarship because he was so intelligent. She wasn’t sure why he ended up transferring to Stuy from his old school, but he ended up being their valedictorian, she’s pretty sure.
She remembered there being a rumor that he was the only high school student with an internship at Stark Industries because he was so far advanced compared to his classmates that Tony Stark personally became interested in him. Tatum is fairly certain that rumor was verified, but she can’t really remember who in her class did it. Probably Ryan, if anyone. He was always in other people’s business, knew everything about everybody because his dad had dirt on everyone in New York, it seemed.
She hasn’t seen Ryan in a long time. Even though they both go to NYU, they don’t talk anymore. The last time she saw him was at his house party where Afton went missing. Where she had been accused of bringing Afton to the party in the first place when her Snapchat clearly had her and Abby being the ones walking in together. Something was wrong with the timeline, some kind of split…
Tatum stands in the senior hall, trying to remember the events that occurred after that. They’re spotty like Swiss cheese. For some reason, she knows the information, and can’t picture the memories. It’s like she memorized the information for a test but never saw it in real life. She knows that Afton went missing, and she, Ned, MJ and the wizard had to solve the problem. There was a theory, the quantum suicide theory, that helped them figure out that their timeline had broken when Iron Man snapped his fingers with the stones on his hand. He had made a wish to survive. It turned out to be the wrong wish to make.
She remembers having to send somebody to dimension Stark had moved to after making his wish. That person had a suicide mission. It wasn’t her, it was someone Strange had conjured up, some other kid she didn’t know, but he was really invested in bringing Iron Man home, so he went. He came back dying, she knows that part. She knows that they did CPR and begged him to wake up to greet the inventor he had saved. And after that, she doesn’t know.
Trying to remember gives her a headache, but at the same time, it makes her feel some kind of bittersweetness. She can’t picture the boy lying on the ground, desperate to breathe, but she knows he did, and she knows it was heart wrenching. She knows she had to come to terms with that boy dying and that it tore her heart apart. She knows that by the way it makes her feel sick to her stomach to think about for the first time in two years, it makes her mouth water with nausea at the thought of losing that boy in the Spiderman suit.
She must have known the boy in the Spiderman suit.
That boy, the boy in the photo, has to be the same one as the boy she begged to wake up in the grass in upstate New York.
Tatum stands in the varsity hallway, staring up at her reflection in the glass trophy case. Her delicately painted nail traces over the glass as she scans the varsity basketball team photos for each year she was in high school at Stuy. Freshman year, no luck. She holds the picture up next to the case to cross reference this boy’s photo with the tiny faces on the team portraits. Sophomore year, no luck, junior year, no luck, Tatum starts to worry her bottom lip because this is her only lead unless Ned and MJ find something from Midtown.
Ned and MJ are pouring over Ned’s Midtown senior yearbook with no luck to be had. It was thick with portraits and photos from conferences, events, fundraisers, sporting events. A sickening amount of pictures of Flash Thompson, ew, MJ makes a mental note to trip him the next time she runs into him in the dining hall and tell him he’s ugly blond.
They look through every single picture of every single student. There is no brown-haired boy in any of them. No face to the name. Not a Midtown student.
“If he’s not from Midtown, I mean…how did he end up in my house on Christmas?” Ned murmurs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Is this a mix up from the whole dimension-hopping thing? Did that picture somehow end up here because it’s in my house in the other timeline?”
MJ runs her fingers through her hair, which was a mess from repeating that action over and over, but she was getting stressed out. Both Tatum and Ned have a photo with this weird kid, and neither of them can remember who he is? Tatum had told them she’s literally in therapy over it because she’s sure she blocked out traumatic memories from this person. Who the fuck was this kid? What kind of danger would they be in if he decided to crop back up somewhere?
Ned traces his finger over each face in every single photo in the book. Now past the picture day photos, they were into the bulk of the book. Pictures of sports teams, events, clubs. Ned scans through the section of club and team photographs with no luck. Not a single one.
No brown-haired boy in the band, the choir, the key club, NHS, chess club, robotics, AcaDec, football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, rugby, or any other of the hundred clubs and teams that Midtown had to offer. Nothing.
“He has to be a Stuy student, then,” MJ reasons. “Or he’s not from here.”
“I’m voting he isn’t from here,” Ned sighs. He passes the heavy book into MJ’s lap. “Your turn. I’m going to make coffee. Do you want one?”
“Oh, sure,” MJ murmurs, reaching to steady the book as it slips down the blanket on her lap. The hardcover clatters to the ground of her dorm floor and she curses under her breath.
“Damnit,” she murmurs, and in frustration, MJ pulls the book open to a random page towards the back to start looking for where they left off when a picture catches her eye.
It’s from a basketball game where Midtown played Stuy. MJ vaguely remembers that basketball game–Stuy had some freaky good kid on their team that year. He had a ridiculous height-to-vertical ratio and he shattered their backboard during a game in MJ's senior year. She had a drawing of the Midtown coach’s expression in her Journal of Crisis. His round face made for a great study in shadowing.
The picture isn’t much to look at, it’s just a shot from mid-game that somebody must have taken and liked the exposure on. Someone must have forgotten that they lost this game in the last three seconds. There are two boys, one from each team, in the main focus of the photo. Midtown’s player is suspended in the air, trying to dunk overtop of one of Stuy’s players. The Stuy player is frozen midair, too, and the boys look like they are fighting for something much more important than just the ball. The Stuy player has a coldness in his eyes as he looks at his opponent that is unsettling, even for the picture. But it’s undeniable.
That is the boy in the photograph.
MJ can’t imagine Ned being friends with anybody on any basketball team. She loves Ned, and she thinks Ned is cool, but she thinks Ned is cool for all the things that everyone else assumes make him uncool. He was certainly not popular, and that was why MJ liked him so much, why they were such good friends. And Ned was a good friend. A really good friend. He was the one who showed up to MJ’s house when the sky cracked the first time to make sure she was okay. He was with her and Tatum when the wizard needed their help. He supported her ideas, and her art, and he visited her at work. Ned Leeds was a wonderful friend to have in your corner.
But Ned was also a dorky kid, and MJ can’t imagine that any jock from Stuyvesant was going to be his friend. It would be more likely that his picture was from the other timeline–something random that had filtered itself in, and that was why Ned had it, and maybe Tatum, too. Maybe this was a boy Tatum knew in this timeline, and MJ and Ned knew in another timeline. Who knows. But this photo in this yearbook certifies undeniably that this boy existed here, at Stuyvesant High School, during senior year. MJ draws her eyes down to the bottom of the photo, searching the brown-haired boy for any signs of a name, when she sees the stitching of a hand-made patch on the bottom of his basketball shorts that a teammate must have made for him.
The brown-haired boy stares back at Tatum.
She murmurs as she reads.
“...Parker,” MJ finishes, looking up at Ned. “It’s a start, right?”
1) i cannot wait to post chapters 7&8 because they are my fave and this story gets a bunch more complicated for peter so RIP peter parker’s will to live
2) one of you bookmarked this story with a note that said “absolutely traumatizing” and that is hilarious but also exactly the vibe I’m going for
Chapter 7: Come and Take It
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter Parker is hidden away under the mask. There’s only one thing to do when he feels this shitty, and that’s to go patrol.
He used to drown his horrible, guilty feelings in alcohol and sex. He supposes maybe he wasn’t so different from Tony Stark afterall. When he was playing sports at Stuy, his popularity soared from his athleticism, and then everyone wanted him to come over and party with them. After a while, Peter discovered that the goal was to drink the most without throwing up, and Peter’s metabolism put him at the top of the charts. He wasn’t a party boy, he was the party king.
That was where he had met Tatum. She was in his seventh period but had never spoken to her until she sauntered over to him at Ryan’s house, sat down in his lap and murmured in his ear about how smart he was and how good he looked. It turned into a regular thing after that, and then they actually dated, and broke up, and restarted the process. They had agreed to try again as he went off to MIT for spring semester. They might have made it, too, if the world hadn’t threatened to end for the hundredth time in Peter’s life.
He felt shitty a lot but couldn’t get a drink because he wasn’t old enough and didn’t know a single person, let alone someone who trusted him enough to buy for him, and he wasn’t going to hang around outside the liquor store until some creepy jerk agreed to go inside and come back with a plastic bottle full of nail polish remover. With how tight the bills were, there was no money to drink with, anyways. He had to train himself out of the habit. While he never considered himself as having a drinking problem, he definitely pondered that he might be a problem drinker, and the hangover in the morning certainly didn’t go well with college and work and Spiderman.
So he focused on Spiderman only. That was all he really wanted to be now, anyway.
Peter swings through the streets of New York. Even after all this time, his city treats him like a celebrity, cheering and clapping when Spiderman skates across the sky above them. It’s one of the only things that makes him happy anymore. As much as he thinks that Spiderman might be better off buried in the closet, he knows he’ll never go through with it.
“What’dya got for me, Karen?” he asks, the wind whistling past his face. The city lights blur into yellow and white streaks with each swing, going faster than usual. The speed makes him feel more alive, more like himself.
“There’s an ATM robbery three blocks east, or a high speed chase moving north ten blocks west.”
“Oh, it’s been a while since we had a good car chase, Karen. Lock me in?”
“You got it,” the AI quips.
Peter slings himself to the left sharply to follow the pin that Karen has dropped in his visual map. When they’re two blocks away, Peter can hear the sirens whizzing down the street after the runaway vehicle.
“What’s the reason for the chase?” Peter asks overtop of the wind. The summer air had cooled considerably, and now Karen was running his suit heater on low. The nanotech suit had better insulation, but it was warm during the sunset, and this suit breathes better. The thermoregulation aspect of being alive wasn’t Peter’s strong suit. He got cold easily, especially now that his food intake was considerably lower than when he lived at home or had Stark’s Amex to buy groceries with. Similarly, it takes him longer to heal himself, but it was still considerably faster than the average person.
“There were gunshots reported at 11:17 PM. Police arrived on the scene at 11:20 and the car ran,” Karen reports. “Would you like me to route you into the channel?”
“Nah,” Peter answers. He swings to the top of the highest building to peer down the street. The flashing lights were growing closer, and Karen zooms his vision on the left side in on the car in question. The driver is swerving everywhere, trying to avoid other vehicles and pedestrians, but his foot must really be on the gas to fly that fast down a New York side street.
“I got my own plans.”
Tony Stark suits up.
It’s not often he gets to experience suiting up anymore, but he relishes the feeling nonetheless. When he first started to do this superhero business, he used to get horribly nervous. Even as the most collected, calmest, most arrogant playboy on the market, Stark felt an undeniable pit in his stomach every time he donned his suit.
The original suit had been clunky, but it was his first love. He still has it displayed in Stark Tower. There is a museum on one of the visitor floors of different suit models that have been retired, the first Stark Phones and Starkbooks and Starkpads, arc reactor technology, and now, nanites. His nanotech suits remain with him to avoid someone attempting to replicate his work, so the nanites in the museum were only for show and essentially useless for anyone who might try to evade the state of the art security of the Tower with them.
Which makes this kid shooting webs at bad guys that much more interesting. The kid was wearing suits that Tony is sure he constructed, or at least, created the technology for, which is well-protected. He had reason to believe that the hero was young. His voice wasn’t very deep, and he had the build of someone who was a little younger, likely college aged based on his calculations, a little more tuned for crime fighting than some of the old guys that he usually saves the world with. His suspected age made the entire mystery even more bizarre than it already was–what college-age kid is able to build nanotechnology in secret? Who, other than Tony, has a facility equipped with enough expensive equipment and funding to produce such a high-tech piece of armor? Tony can vaguely remember the kid joining them for the war against Thanos in both realities, but he can’t recall the hero ever taking off his mask, which makes Tony suspect that he was someone the wizard had brought in for backup. Tony didn’t really know him that well.
Tony had spent hours watching Spiderman videos on YouTube, ones that the young hero had posted and ones taken on the iPhones and Stark Phones of New York citizens. There are no videos where he slips and unmasks, or gives any kind of indication of his identity, or does anything remotely useful in aiding Tony’s discovery of even just his name. The YouTube videos posted by the actual hero had stopped roughly a year ago, but the boy kept swinging through the city streets, so he knows the kid is alive. There are some suspicious gaps in between postings, though. Nothing for the past year, some in the year before that, next to nothing before Thanos for an entire year.
After that avenue ended, he started to look into videos from the news and common sightings. The suit that Happy had brought to Tony was only in some of them–mostly early ones. The Iron Spider suit, as it had been dubbed by the city, was suddenly present before the snap for a couple of months, and then it was a mix between the now-destroyed suit, a second fabric suit, and the Iron Spider. In the last year, it became secondary fabric or Iron Spider only, so something must have taken place in the summer of the year prior, but Tony wasn’t sure what it was. He has a feeling it was from the day the sky turned purple. Whatever that kid did to save the world, it nearly killed him, Tony is sure, because no normal or enhanced person could take that kind of damage to the face and walk it off. The fact that the kid was back to swinging around at all tells Tony that he has to have a much better healing factor than most of the other heroes he deals with.
Before making the decision to go deal with this himself, he put JARVIS in charge of scanning any local college students, particularly athletes, that seem…unusual. It was a long shot and a ton of data to sort through, but he’d have a couple hours.
With that, Tony takes off from his driveway and becomes a shooting star.
“Unidentified flying object entering on your left, Peter.”
Peter is not having an easy time getting this car to stop.
After diving head first into an Olympic pool of concrete, Peter had misjudged the car’s trajectory on the road and had to catch himself with a well placed web in either direction to swing himself forward. He was so close to the ground that he felt his toes skim the street. He had to use a considerable amount of energy to yank himself forward instead of spiraling out of control, and then he was behind. The cop cars were flashing their lights and blinding the hell out of him, so he tried to swing overtop of them fast enough to catch up, but it felt like he couldn’t get ahead no matter how hard he tried.
“Road blockage ahead,” Karen had warned him, “they’re forcing the car to go east.”
So Peter launched himself to the top of a building, and with a running start, dove again down between the apartments with children pressing against the windows to see Spiderman in action. He really, really hoped he didn’t turn into a squashed spider with the kids watching.
Shooting towards the ground like a missile, the car approached the exact spot Peter anticipated after drifting across the sidewalk with a screech that really stung at Peter’s ears. Even Karen asked if he was alright. Peter wishes Stark had built a decibel blocker into this suit like people have with their hearing aids.. There wasn’t a lot of time to worry about perforated eardrums, though, because he was freefalling out of the sky to land on the roof of the car.
The force of impact dented the roof in significantly and formed a crater right in the center. Peter thanks god that he’s extra sticky, or else the sharp swerve that the driver tried to use to throw Peter off would have succeeded.
The driver flings the car back and forth to try and throw the hero off of the roof. Blobs of web ensure that Peter sticks to the roof as desired, even though the windows are cracked and splintered from the impact. They whiz past dozens of parked cars and rocks fling up past the tires and into Peter’s limbs and fingers as he gives the windshield a good hit.
The glass shatters under his hand, sending a hole straight through the windshield. The driver must really be panicking now because he takes another sharp left, nearly sending the car spinning into the side of a building, and Peter braces himself for impact when Karen sends another warning about an unidentified object barreling towards him at seventy miles an hour.
Whatever it is, it can’t be good, because it doesn’t look happy to see Peter. He knows this because almost directly after Karen’s warning, the unidentified object clobbers Peter right off of the side of the car, ripping the roof off right along with it from the strength of the webbing that pinned the hero to the vehicle.
Peter is sent spiraling off of the side, tumbling with the roof of the car until he can disconnect himself and with a last-second attempt, he throws a web for the back bumper that is just barely hanging on. Another web lands on the trunk, and Peter has a flashback to the bots that invaded the Stark birthday party and trapped Peter under the building. He has a bone to pick with those mechanical bugs, so gritting his teeth, he hangs on tight as his body skips and sparks over the pavement, his suit taking a nasty rip right under the shoulder and gouging Peter’s back.
Being dragged behind a moving vehicle is exactly as fun as it sounds. Peter is slammed into the ground with each bump and rolled into lamp posts, trash cans, and other cars, but he pulls himself closer and closer.
Peter is in the middle of wheezing after another lamppost knocks the wind out of him while the pavement tears his skin off little by little when a new voice enters his comms.
“Sir is requesting that you leave this matter and converse with him,” a cool voice announces. What must be “sir” is flying overhead, a mass of white and blue light, but Peter can’t get a good look as he’s being swung around like cans on a Just Married limo. It’s certainly not a mecha-bug.
“What the fuck? Karen, is he in my comms?” Peter snaps. Oh, Jesus, he’s really going to feel this one in the morning. Each breath burns a little more each time he gets smashed against an inanimate object.
“It appears so, Peter, I’m not sure–on your right!”
Peter is twisted onto his stomach from his back with cop cars nearly eating away at his feet, clinging on for dear life just a foot away from getting ahold of the questionably attached bumper, when the unidentified object appears next to him and becomes very identified.
“You better let go, Spiderman,” the mechanized voice informs him. Peter squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t want to look.
It’s been a year since he was within any close proximity with Tony Stark. It’s been a year since he was even within miles of the man. Peter has purposely avoided looking at his face, any news coverage, any articles about Stark Tower, any posters or recruitment ads with the billionaire’s face on them. Peter knows that he doesn’t have the self control to refrain from texting, calling, showing up at the guy’s house just from seeing a Stark Industries billboard, let alone to be anywhere near him.
Losing May was the worst thing that has ever happened to Peter. He would go back and lose to Thanos a thousand times if it meant bringing her back. Putting on the stones and snapping his fingers was probably the worst physical pain that had ever racked his teenage body, even worse than being slowly crushed to death by thousands of pounds of concrete and rebar with a pole stuck clean through his calf. It was pain that went down to the particles of his being, pain that made him sure his tissue was separating from the bones in his arm fiber by fiber and then reconnecting just to separate again. And he would do it in a heartbeat for her.
But losing Stark, twice, it was a different kind of pain. Knowing that his greatest friend was alive and Peter wasn’t allowed to be in contact with him hurt constantly. When May died, all Peter wanted was to tell Stark, to sit in the Tower and cry with his dad next to him. To grieve with the support to the only parent he had left. And he couldn’t. Knowing that Tony didn’t know him, couldn’t remember him, it was a cruel kind of torture. It wasn’t better or worse than May. It was just different.
“Come on, kid, don’t make me force you,” the voice comes in again, and Peter is alive with fury that Stark is in his comms and overriding Karen. He wants Stark to stop talking and to never stop again. He hates hearing the man’s voice and wishes he could listen to it every day. Peter pops his eyes open when he feels metal fingers grip his wrists. Iron Man is nearly on top of him now and trying to loosen Peter’s grip to pull him off, and the driver is absolutely panicking, swerving around like a crazy person in hopes that he’ll lose both heroes at once. This would be going a hell of a lot different if Stark would just let go .
Deep in his mind, he knows that if he has to talk to Stark, he’s going to spill all of his secrets, and there is only one way out of this.
“Sorry, sir,” Peter says regretfully, and he uses all the force he can to swing his lower half up from the ground and kangaroo-kick Stark directly in the chest to send him spinning like a top midair.
Peter watches as Stark disappears into a pile of boxes and trash bags on the side of a building. The car whizzes around the corner and Peter sends another web to the next solid structure remaining on the car and flings himself forward to latch onto the back. He certainly has an array of broken ribs and fractures, but there’s still a chase to stop and he’s trying to do that without killing anybody, including the driver.
Peter launches into the backseat and uses another web to wrap around the driver’s torso and pin him to the seat. He twists the wheel as hard as he can to the left and Peter’s eyes widen at the brick wall they’re about to barrel right through.
Spitting another web from his wrist, Spiderman flings the car to the other side with his left hand and a well-timed yank on the wheel. His right hand is in charge of the emergency brake.
He must not have considered the speed they were going, because pulling the emergency brake sends the car screeching into fast circles that fling an unprepared Peter twenty feet forward out of the car. The only thing pinning the driver to his seat was the web that acted as a seatbelt, but Peter’s sure that the criminal is going to have a serious case of whiplash. It’s the least that could happen–Peter is tumbling across a New York City street until he slams against the back of a parked Buick.
A groan slips from between his lips and there’s definitely going to be some broken bones tonight. He rolls slowly onto his stomach to suck in a deep breath and steady himself against the pain resonating throughout his torso and legs.
“Fuck,” Peter hisses, pushing himself up on his elbows. Red and blue flashes light up the buildings around them as the police skid to a stop around the car to make the arrest. The sirens rebound off of the bricks over and over, mingling with the alarm of the car he just crashed into and stinging Peter’s ears.
And suddenly, Peter is floating. He’s being airlifted higher and higher. He can feel the fabric on his back being pulled away from his skin by the fistful. The cop cars come into view, and then disappear, and all he can hear now is the sound of the miniature jets that he probably helped build, kidnapping him in midair.
A rooftop comes into view and then comes into very close view when Peter is dropped, not very kindly, onto the roof. Everything hurts, and he doesn’t react fast enough, so he clunks like a sack of potatoes onto his very broken ribs with a loud hiss and a cringe of his entire body.
“Fuck,” Peter gasps, rolling onto his side and clutching his torso, “you're an asshole.”
The hissing from the jets stops and Peter is squeezing his eyes shut, waiting for the pain to subside.
“Let’s talk, Spiderman ,” the overly familiar voice says again.
Peter isn’t used to hearing this tone from Stark. Stark always spoke to him like he wasn’t sure what to say next, or with love and admiration, later on. This is different. His voice is cold, seething, sarcastic. It almost makes Peter forget who he’s talking to.
Except Stark let him build that suit and Peter knows exactly who’s inside of it. Peter keeps his eyes closed. He can’t look.
“Medical attention required,” Karen chirps in his ear. Peter takes another shaky breath.
“Shh, Karen,” he whispers before taking a painful breath in with a wince. The boy forces himself to sit up against his will. He comes face to face with red-painted iron legs just inches from him, and Peter recoils a little.
“You are so close, Jesus Christ,” Peter snaps. Talking hurts, and he winces with every breath. “Back up.”
“I’m sorry.” He’s not. It’s sarcasm. “But you don’t get to call the shots wearing my technology.”
Peter blanches behind the mask and tries to turn his panicky breathing into painful breathing because now he knows that the Iron Man tech can detect that kind of thing if he wants it to. Peter presses his fists into his thighs to distract himself. He doesn’t want to do this but everything hurts and he isn’t sure if he can swing away. Even if he does, the guy is going to come after him, isn’t he? Why wouldn’t he?
How Stark determined that the Spiderman suit was his own technology is beyond him, but he isn’t necessarily surprised, either. After all, he’s the only person in New York wearing nanites other than Tony Stark himself.
“Go away,” Peter manages out. His voice is shaky. He sounds afraid and he hates that, but he’s actively clenching his abdominal muscles to try and fend off the panic attack that’s coming on. It hurts like hell to clench his bruised body up, but the pain is distracting from the panic. He tries to breathe through his chest locking up. Your throat isn’t closing. Your throat isn’t closing. The liquid in your mouth is spit, not blood, and you’re not going to die, and you’re not going to ruin the world. He repeats the words over and over.
“Hello?” Stark demands, and Peter realizes he wasn’t listening. “Are you alive? I asked where the fuck you got my technology. Steal it? Buy it from someone?” The metal man takes a loud step forward, probably trying to scare Peter. “Trust me, kid, I really don’t want to hurt you.”
That last line catches Peter off guard and he has to stifle a laugh, but he can’t take the old man seriously. The amount of times Tony had threatened to kick his ass would have bought Peter a penthouse if he was betting nickels on it. Wrong move, considering he can tell that it infuriates the inventor.
“Is something funny to you?” Stark presses. He looms over Peter like a tower, staring down at the squashed spider in disdain. “Do you think this is a game? That I’m playing around here? What do you think is so funny about me blasting you four stories down into the basement?”
Peter shakes his head. “You can’t.”
Peter knows Stark has an eyebrow raised even with his face covered. Iron Man takes a step back.
“Kid, if you weren’t injured, I would have already knocked your head off and taken that suit back to the lab and skipped this entirely. You have one warning left. Tell me where you got it and fork over the suit, both of them, and I don’t kick your ass.”
Peter places a careful hand on the ground. He wobbles to his feet. Everything aches, and there’s blood coming from somewhere, soaking into his suit. He really, really doesn’t want to do this, but the alternative flashes in his mind.
Tell Stark. Put everyone in danger. Destroy the universe. Again.
Peter didn’t go to the other side to get this asshole back just for him to crack the sky open a third time.
Spiderman lifts his head, curling two of his fingers at the old man.
“Come and take it.”
y'all just wait i got some good shit up my sleeve
also i promised myself i was done changing the blurb but i think I'm finally happy with it
Chapter 8: The Hard Way
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
MJ’s phone announces her call loudly, making Ned snap awake on her bed.
“S’Tatum?” he mumbles, still half unconscious as he tries to force himself up. MJ has already hit accept, anyways.
“Hey, I got your text,” Tatum breathes. She’s walking outside, the sunshine obscuring her camera, but MJ can see somewhat of an outline of Tatum’s sunglasses. “I just left Stuy.”
“We only got a last name, we think,” MJ says apologetically. “But this verifies that he’s definitely from this timeline.”
“I got a picture.” Tatum steps into her car, making her voice muffled as she rearranges her belongings, but MJ gets the gist. “His first name is Peter.”
“Peter Parker,” MJ repeats, looking at groggy Ned. “That doesn’t ring a bell?”
Ned shakes his head slowly, running a hand down his face to wipe away the sleep. “Nope. Catchy name, though.”
“Dude, we’re talking about a guy that we think hurt Tatum,” MJ scolds him.
“It’s okay.” Tatum cuts in from the phone call to draw their attention back to her. “It is a catchy name.”
“Don’t encourage him,” MJ scoffs. She sits back against the wall her headboard is pressed up to and lets out a long sigh that sounds suspiciously of defeat. “Okay, so, you have his name. Is it going to help your therapy?”
MJ almost thinks Tatum doesn’t hear her over the sound of Tatum swishing her Starbucks around in the cup right above the phone, but she hears Tatum hum in the negative. “Well, technically, yes,” Tatum clarifies unhelpfully. “But I don’t think this is a therapy issue.”
“Should I be in therapy?” Ned takes on a tone of concern, glancing between MJ and the phone. MJ shrugs and wiggles her hand in an “eh” motion, to which Ned looks increasingly alarmed until Tatum cuts back in.
“Mm, no.” Tatum raps her fingernails on her cup, pausing to ponder a thought that MJ isn’t privy to. “Do you remember the wizard?”
“Dr. Strange is an entire superhero, whom we have saved the world with twice now, and you don’t know his name?” Ned asks in disbelief, like he can’t wrap his head around Tatum’s audacity. MJ stifles a laugh.
“Not important, Ned,” Tatum sighs. They can hear her car start and MJ is pretty sure Tatum runs over a curb while she talks to them, but she’s not going to be the one to point it out. “Yes, Dr. Strange. We should visit.”
MJ squints at the phone. “Do you know something we don’t?”
“Obviously,” Tatum replies casually as a car honks in the background. “But I don’t know that it’s particularly safe to talk about over the phone. How soon can you be in New York?”
“Dude, you look horrible,” Harley states, seemingly alarmed by the state of Peter when he sits down next to him in organic chemistry.
Like he didn’t know it. Peter felt horrible.
He had told Stark to bring it, and god damn, did that man bring it. The inventor had looked Peter up and down like he couldn’t believe the guts on this kid. Peter wished he could tell Stark just how strong his stomach really was.
“You want to do this? Seriously? We’re doing it the hard way?” Stark sounded unsure of himself, downright baffled that after being dragged two miles by a car, the kid was standing up and daring him to fight. Peter shrugged in his Spiderman suit. He’s pretty sure his nose was bleeding, and there were rips in his suit that let the breeze cool his road rash.
“You want the suit, you’re going to have to kill me.” Peter wiped at his nose through the mask out of reflex. Karen stayed silent.
“You want me to kill you.”
“I want you to go fuck yourself. But you must not get laid as much as the media says you do if you can’t even get that right. So if you want this suit, try to take it.” Peter huffs a breathy laugh, shrugging. “I’m the best there ever was, old man, and I’ll die in it before I ever hand it over to you.”
Despite his arrogant facade, tears snuck down Peter’s face.
There was nothing he wanted more in the moment than to break down the stupid wall he’s constructed around himself and hug his fucking father. There isn’t a single thing he wouldn’t give to take the mask off and tell Stark who he is. I’m your son, he would say, not by blood but by everything else. Please remember. Please remember.
For a second, he almost does it. But then he remembers.
The villains from other timelines. May dying in his arms while he begged her to stay, his tears streaming down her face. Her unwavering confidence that her boy was the only one who could save this world even when she knew he killed her. Being shot while leaving May’s limp body in the wreckage, Happy cuffed over the hood of a cruiser, standing in the rain while J. Jonah Jameson broadcasted Peter’s failures live to the world. His friends having to hold him on the rooftop of Midtown while he grieved his aunt. Having to stand the fuck up anyways. Saying goodbye to Ned and MJ, hugging them for the last time. Kissing Tatum goodbye, telling her he loved her one more time, that he’d find her and fix this mess, hearing her tell him that she would figure out his secrets again if he didn’t find her and make her remember him.
He remembers that he will never spend the night with Ned again. That MJ will never tilt her notebook towards him so he can see who she’s drawing this time. He’ll never hold Ryan’s Xbox controller in one hand and Tatum’s drink in the other at a party with his friends. He’ll never get Thai with May again, never play dolls with Morgan. He’s never going to make another dinner with Pepper or stay the weekend in the Tower with Stark, building suits and playing Call of Duty and eating Indian takeout for the third time that week. He’s never going to play basketball with Tony in Training 1, never going to help Pepper weed the garden, never take Morgan on the jet skis. He’ll eventually forget their voices, their eye color, their favorite foods. They already have forgotten his.
He remembers Peter 2 and Peter 3 trying to teach him to pull his punches, trying to save an angry boy from his own self. He remembers the month of recklessness and self-violence that came after the world’s memory was erased. The way he hurt every day, threw up anything he ate. The way he broke mirrors so he never had to see himself fail again. The way his inner child screamed and sobbed every time he lost somebody, beating on the inside of his ribcage to let him out and Peter refusing. He had chained that door shut, locked it tight and spun the combination without ever learning the code. He was a new man with a new mission and unfortunately, right now, that mission was to kick Tony Stark’s ass so hard that he didn’t come back.
Peter isn’t sure he’s going to survive this one.
It was a gruesome fight. Tony Stark came with everything Tony Stark had. He fired first, launching a blast at Peter so strong that it almost knocked him off the building and down to the dark streets below. His sticky fingertips caught him right along the edge of the roof with the wind whistling in his ears, the spot where the bricks corner, and Peter was ignited with rage.
When Stark walked to the edge to see the kid splattered on the pavement, Peter wasn’t there.
Spiderman streaked across the alleyway to ambush from behind and slung a web to wrap around Iron Man’s throat. There was no “pull his punches”. Iron Man collided against the rooftop doorway hard enough that it crumbled and Spiderman kept it coming. Throwing his fist into the red and gold armor so hard that it dented, Karen let it rip, sending a sharp shock down the entirety of the suit to hear the old man cry out at the jolt.
Iron Man had tricks too, though, and it was only a split second later that Peter was clobbered in the head so hard that his eyes rolled back and he was sent spiraling towards the edge again. If he was going to fall to his death, then he was bringing Tony with him.
“Done yet?” Stark shouted through his mask, the mechanical whirring filling the air as he charged another searing hot blast.
Another web wrapped around Iron Man’s middle and Peter used the leverage to fly across the roof and kick Tony in the chest so hard that it sent them both flying in the opposite direction.
Nothing but ozone and metal-on-flesh filled the rooftop air. Rain began to drizzle down on the heroes, slicking their tracks. Peter’s hair was matted to his face inside of the suit, sweat beading up under his nose and neck and making him slippery when it mixed with the rain water.
Repulsor blasts singeing skin. A beam shot from Stark’s chest blocked by a nanite shield just to be slammed into the roof so hard it threatened the structural integrity of the building. Electrifying shocks from Peter’s wrists, punches, kicks, Peter let it all loose. He punches the Green Goblin. Stark punches back. He smashes the Green Goblin’s face off of his knee. Stark slams him to the ground. Flickers of that fateful day at the Statue of Liberty flicker behind his eyes and it’s a good hit to the face that snaps him back. He hits Tony Stark. Tony Stark hits back. He hopes that one day, if the world changed, Stark would know Peter was just trying to save him.
What Stark doesn’t know anymore is that Peter used to box with him on the weekends. He knows all the man’s tricks. Peter gets in close, too close for Stark to use anything fancy, because he knows Stark isn’t trying to kill him. He wouldn’t. Even if he thought Peter was going to sell his tech to the world, he could never imagine Stark purposely trying to kill what he considers a kid, a teenager, someone Harley’s age, over a superhero costume.
Remembering Harley made Peter even angrier. Red blotches blurred his judgment. His vision tunneled as he swung towards Iron Man. He ducks left, lands a low hit, jumps back once, forward, back again, forward with another right hook to the bottom of the mask. Stark gets a good, solid strike on the side of Peter’s skull and he knows it’s about to bruise because he’s pretty sure it breaks his eye socket based on the sharp pain that explodes across the kid’s baby face. He wishes he had worn the nanotech just to keep his face from being crushed, let alone prevent all the rips in his suit that expose bloody skin. Peter stumbles backwards and ducks right just in time to avoid another devastating blow.
He swings again. And again. And again. Stark doesn’t stop swinging, so Peter does the last thing on his list and webs one of Stark’s hands to his own leg and starts hitting back. He backs Stark into the rubble from the rooftop door and gets him cornered amongst a pile of rocks. He can almost see the boxing ring in Training 1 around him rather than the New York neighborhood.
In the back of his mind, the gut-twisting thought that this fight might go to the death pierces Peter’s concentration.
Peter’s eye is caught by the nano housing built into the center of Stark’s chest. He’s the one who helped build it. He helped construct this suit, he recognizes it, he bets there’s even a P engraved in the palm like he programmed just to get on Stark’s nerves. He can remember that day–it was the first suit he took the lead in building. The first time he worked with nanotechnology without just being an assistant. Stark had been so, so proud of him. Peter pretended not to see the tears of pride streaming down Tony’s cheeks, and he even made Peter try it on first and take it for a test flight. Peter knows that suit. He just has to get inside it.
Duck left. Duck right. Left hook. Right jab. Peter runs his drill until he can thump his hand against Stark’s unit with a satisfying thud, and the suit freezes mid-swing when it reads Peter’s palm.
“Override code one two two three two zero two three,” Peter rushes out, and the man behind the legend is dropped right out of his suit.
Stark is taken by surprise when his nanites retreat away. He looks down at his body, quickly becoming exposed as the suit compresses back into its housing unit against Tony’s will. He feels his chest to make sure he isn’t imagining things, but the fabric of his shirt is real and he can feel it move against him. Tony’s jaw dropped and he clutched at his shirt, looking down with his eyes widened.
“What did you do? How did you–” He stops, looking up, looking down. He’s so aghast that he’s forgotten they’re even fighting.
The armor did its job. Stark is banged up but no major injuries, Karen reports in Peter’s right visual. Peter is face to face with Stark for the first time since the reset. He looks his father up and down.
His eyes were the same. Still crinkled in the corners from laughing too much. He still has a tiny scar on the corner of his eye from boxing Peter on the night of his graduation party. He’s greyer now, just a little, full of salt and pepper hair. Seeing Stark had gone gray had been a shock to his system when Peter returned from the blip, but very little about Tony had changed in the last year. Peter wanted to cry.
This was what he had to do, he thought to himself, licking his lips. This was the only way to save Tony from himself.
“Sorry,” he says. He is.
Peter swings, and Tony hits the floor for a nap.
Peter dropped right next to him almost immediately to make sure he was okay again. Even caught the old man on his way down to the ground. Unsure of how long Stark would be out for, Peter kept it short. He knelt next to Tony. Memorized his face as best as he could. Entered the override code again and told JARVIS to send the inventor home safely.
Peter watched as Iron Man turned into a shooting star before he projectile-vomited profusely across the rooftop.
The rest of the night is a blur. Peter isn’t sure what happened. He woke up to his alarm this morning for his eight AM chemistry class, cursing and whimpering under his breath at the state of his body when he tried to sit up. If it wasn’t for study table hours, he wouldn’t even be going to school, but he had no choice if he wanted to be paid. There is no Spiderman if Spiderman starves to death.
Cue sitting down just for Harley to rush him. Peter certainly wasn’t in the mood to be here, and he is much less in the mood when the over-excited teenager plops his expensive laptop down next to Peter.
It’s not like Peter can even tell Harley the truth about what happened. He knows that’s why Harley is here. His only hope is that the kid will back off when he sees the dark shiner on Peter’s face that he was unable to cover up and just had to lie about.
The black eye was the least of his worries, though he is sure that his eye socket was broken when Stark punched him. Peter’s sure that’s going to take way longer than his other injuries to heal. When he pulled his covers off this morning, he had dark, nearly black, bruises that spattered his entire torso that made him whimper just from seeing them. It looked like he had been trampled. Most of his abdomen, side, and back were flushed with the rainbow of traumatic injury colors. There were raw, sore, and wet road rash patches across his stomach and lower back, and they painfully stuck to the bed when Peter tried to get up, forcing him to rip the scabs off where they fused to the bed sheets. There were half-healed burns, surrounded by blisters, on his limbs from the fight with Stark and the constant whipping around on the car. Other than when the building collapsed on him, these are the worst injuries he’s had as Spiderman.
And stupid Harley Keener’s dad gave him half of them.
He had spent a majority of this morning wallowing in his own misery. The fight last night had left him feeling conflicted down to his core. He could never dream of doing something like that to Stark, never in a million years. He almost cried when he busted Stark in the head boxing on accident years ago, and now he was on the rooftops, beating the shit out of Stark and hoping it was enough to keep him from ever coming back.
Peter spent most of the morning in the bath, letting the warm water soak his ruined body and trying not to be sick from how badly everything stung in the water. He didn’t even look down at himself. He was afraid he’d throw up again if he saw the state of his torso. He almost–not quite, but almost–wanted to go to the hospital, but that was never an option. If Dr. Cho was still available, he would go to Med at the Tower, but there’s no way Peter is getting past JARVIS, even if he is beaten half to death.
Peter chose to pretend that nothing happened. It was the only way he was going to cope with his actions, and therefore, he was accepting that there was no other choice. He simply would be numb to the memory of the previous night and hope that one day he doesn’t live long enough to see whatever kind of karma comes back around to bite him.
“Seriously, man, you look…not great. Are you okay?” At some point, Harley’s voice had dropped to a near whisper. It’s nice to see that the kid had some semblance of reading the room.
Peter nods his head. He’s hunched forward on the desk because if he leans back, everything aches. He has to be extra careful to avoid touching his torso to the table or resting too heavily on anything or the pain makes him cry out uncontrollably from the way it spreads across his entire body.
“Are you sure?” Concern begins to cultivate on Harley’s words, and he’s moving a little slower, like Peter is a wild animal.
“M’fine,” Peter mutters gruffly, resting his head in his hand to avoid looking up and letting other students see the crimson red that circles his left eye. “Just got myself really good with the cabinet door. I bruise easy. Not anything to write home about.”
Harley wavers for a moment, like he doesn’t want to believe Peter. Peter doesn’t care if Harley believes him or not. He really, really fucking hates Harley Keener now.
He did before, obviously, he had made that clear to himself when he sobbed until he puked in the corner of his bedroom over Harley getting to reap the benefits of everything Peter sowed. But now, after Peter’s night revolved around beating his father hard enough that he doesn’t come looking again, Peter really hates the kid. Harley gets to go home this weekend, see his dad, enjoy time with him and Morgan and Pepper. He’ll never know what it was like to be on the rooftop with a loved one who can’t recognize you, fighting to what Peter worried would be death. Peter went home after the fight to nurse his wounds alone. He dragged himself through the alley window, tripped in his living room, smeared blood from his knee across the floor in a long, sad streak. He sat alone in the bath with his insides half-liquefied and surveyed the damage his only living parent figure had left on him because Stark can’t recognize him .
So yeah. He went from hating Harley Keener to really fucking hating Harley Keener.
The lecture went by achingly slowly, and Peter couldn’t even pay attention. He’s sure it’s something he already knows, anyway, but it’s the principle of the matter that he shouldn’t even be here. He was irritated down under his skin, an itchy, hot prickle crawling along his epidermis and into his muscles. He twitches his arm.
All Peter wants to do is swing. He has the horrible urge to swing into imminent danger, certain death, impending doom. He wants to save something. Save someone in a way that feels like saving, not hurting.
He doesn’t realize the lecture has ended until Harley stands up. Peter automatically stands up, too. He has two more classes today that he doesn’t think will be happening. It’s only the second week, but he is drained, emotionally and physically, and the idea of walking across the campus to class after tutoring is miserable.
“Hey, Peter, can I walk with you?” Harley asks, albeit a little timidly. Peter huffs as he packs his things.
“M’going to study table,” Peter mutters. He zips his bag with more force than necessary, and it’s louder than intended when it slams on the table. People look. Peter ignores them.
“Um, yeah, I’m your nine thirty,” Harley clarifies. The younger boy rubs the back of his neck. “I just thought, um, we’d walk to the library together.”
Peter shoulders his backpack with a sharp wince, which he’s sure Harley picks up on, but the kid is smart enough to keep his mouth shut this time around. Peter shakes his head.
“You’re better off finding a new tutor.” Peter sidesteps out of the aisle to the stairs. They’re some of the last few remaining, and the hall has grown quiet.
Harley frowns. “What?” he asks, hurrying to follow Peter. “Are you not doing it anymore, or?”
“No, I’m doing it, just not for you.”
Hurt flashes across Harley’s face. Peter doesn’t feel bad this time because he can see the Stark Industries pin on Harley’s backpack strap.
“Did I do something wrong?” Harley presses, hiking the stairs two at a time in an effort to keep up with Peter, who winces every time he takes a step. “I mean, c’mon, I was just trying to be nice to you, but it seems like I did something wrong before we even met.”
Yeah, Peter thinks. You did.
He stops on the stairs to whirl around and face Harley, who nearly runs into Peter, with the coldest expression fixed to his face that he can conjure up. He can’t let Harley look any closer or he risks the fate of the dimension. Just like Stark, he had to make sure he hurt Harley bad enough that he wouldn’t come back.
“I just don’t like you, dude,” Peter snaps. The few people left in the hall stop what they’re doing to stare. “I didn’t ask for you to be my friend. I don’t want you to be my friend. So leave me the fuck alone, okay? I don’t know what I need to say for you to get it through your head that I don’t want you around, but just stop it.”
Peter doesn’t stick around to see Harley’s lip shake.
Clint steps through the window with a satisfied sigh, looking around. His face falls very flat when he surveys Peter’s apartment.
Clint’s whole homeless shtick didn’t really pan out the way he intended. He saw Spiderman plenty of times, but not when Spiderman was looking for him. He’d swing overhead while Clint was sitting out in the dark in his oversized coat and beanie, and Clint would wave to signal for help, but Spiderman went right past him, too far away to see Clint in faux distress.
He was actually on the verge of giving up his quest to find the hero because the kid was damn near elusive and NYC was so huge that Clint couldn’t pinpoint an exact place to look for him. He had already been at this for months, and nothing was panning out the way it was supposed to. He couldn’t cause enough trouble without becoming the victim of Spiderman’s wrath, and he couldn’t seem to get into trouble at the right time. His only option was going to be physically tracking the kid, and he wasn’t sure he felt right about stalking a sixteen year old boy.
And then, last night, while Clint was walking to the 24-hour McDonalds, he saw it.
Spiderman crawling through an apartment window and sealing it shut tight behind him.
Clint thought it was odd as he climbed the fire escape in the daylight. It wasn’t a particularly great neighborhood–he’d learned that on his mission of sitting outside the check cashing joint–and just a few blocks north were better, nicer places. He wonders if the family is on a low-income type of deal like a lot of other New Yorkers, but it was hard to imagine a superhero in a suit made out of nanotechnology was living on this side of the block.
He had easily gotten the window to open, considering the lock was already busted. Not a great sign, he assumes. The window leads into a bedroom with…almost nothing in it. It’s so bare that Clint would assume it was abandoned if he didn’t see the kid crawl through. He looks around, bewildered for a moment, at just how little there truly was in the room. There was a bed that looked older than himself, with scratches and dents and stains in the bed frame and a mattress with questionable sheets on top of it. There were clothes and shoes sorted in the closet, very neatly, Clint might add, but other than a few small knick knacks and books, there’s nothing else. A Star Wars lego figurine is the only thing on the desk, save for a few scrap papers with what looked like math on them. Clint wrinkles his nose. Ew. Math.
He supposes the kid must be a math kind of kid if he’s into building crazy suits and swinging from impossible angles and heights. A varsity jacket is laid over the back of the desk chair, and Clint gently lifts the lapel to look at the school. Stuyvesant. Interesting. Now Clint knows where to find him.
He thinks of the graduation ticket in his memento box at home.
Clint quietly treads across the old wooden floors and into the main space. It was barely bigger than the bedroom, realistically, and that bedroom was a closet. It’s at that moment that he realizes there is literally nothing in this apartment. The wood table that looks to be on its last leg and a very beaten up couch. A trash can next to the kitchen appliances. A microwave. Dish soap and a box of saltine crackers, a phone charger.
Clint’s observations lead him to believe that the kid is the only person living in this apartment. There is no one else here. He would assume that maybe the kid was in college, but his jacket is certainly from high school.
That thought makes Clint’s chest hurt. He can only imagine if it was one of his own children, living alone in a rundown one-bedroom and just trying to make ends meet. The kid obviously had no money, nothing valuable to himself, just the Spiderman suit and his wits. He wishes he could just get the hero alone, get him to talk to Clint. Maybe Clint could bring him some groceries or something, or just maybe even help the kid get some real furniture. A new mattress to replace the one that was certainly too small for a teenage or older boy.
The most shocking part was that the apartment was completely spotless. There is no dust, no spills, no cups or cans laying around. Completely different than Clint was at that age, for sure. The apartment smelled like…well, an old apartment, but it didn’t have an offensive odor or anything that teen boys were known for. Just dust, age, and lemon Fabuloso.
Clint is admiring the cleanest floor he’s ever seen when he notices the first droplet of dried blood.
His brow furrows. He almost missed it, the blood blending in with the dark wooden floor. There is another, just a few inches away. And another, a bigger one. Clint essentially retraces his steps as he follows the drips to the bedroom door frame. Clint’s stomach churns.
On the floor, where Clint entered, is a long, smeared streak of dark blood. The bed is dribbled in it, like the kid fell asleep bleeding. It’s on the desk, the blankets, the door handle. That kid came home hurt.
Clint tracks the blood in the other direction, across the small apartment living room and into the bathroom doorway. There is blood on that doorknob, too, dark brown after drying all night, but unmistakable.
Clint would have maybe chalked the injuries up to some normal superhero damage if he hadn’t seen the bathroom.
The tub is smeared in red and pink and brown. It’s on the walls, the sides of the tub, the shower handle. It’s on the toilet seat and the white tile floor, along with a spray of vomit mixed in. There’s a scary amount of crimson smears across the sink, the mirror, the countertop, like the kid had been on the verge of collapsing and was just grabbing onto anything he could before he lost his lunch. There’s standing water in the bathtub, long cold, but tinged a sickening shade of pink from whatever happened to that kid last night. Jesus.
Clint turns his gaze down to the Spiderman suit laid out across the bottom of the tub, like the kid was trying to soak the bloodstains out of it. There’s more than one or two gashes–there’s burn holes, slices, frays, like the child had been dragged and shot the entire way through Queens.
Clint has a strong stomach, but the idea of a child mutilated makes him queasy. He steps back out of the bathroom just to realize there was a metallic smell infiltrating his nose that he hadn’t even been aware of until he got a whiff of the rest of the apartment.
Clint has to leave, but he’s going to be back. He can’t not come back. That kid needs help.
And he knows just who to ask.
tatum is one of my favorite characters to write for because of her attitude i love it
also peter isn't catching a break any time soon. don't get your hopes up
Chapter 9: The One That Got Away
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Harley doesn’t understand what he did wrong.
He sits on his very flat bed, adorned with an old baseball-print comforter that was Harley’s comfort item as a kid. He still had it after all these years. It was a gift from his dad when Harley was seven. It’s old now–the baseball print is very faded, and the fabric has pilled up from years of use, giving the blanket a rough, scratchy texture that Harley liked to pick at when he was anxious. That’s what he’s doing now–picking at the little pill balls with his bitten-down nails.
He really just wanted to be nice. Especially when he saw that Starkbook–it was insanely high-tech, and he really thought maybe he could land Peter a job at SI with Tony. He had mentioned that he met this kid at school who was crazy smart, had a super cool Starkbook with personalized upgrades, and Tony seemed mildly interested. When Harley mentioned that the computer had an AI built into it, Tony was actually interested, but Harley kind of faltered since he couldn’t tell Stark the full capabilities.
The only thing Peter had used his AI–Carol? Karen?--for during tutoring was accessing files. He didn’t have her do anything that was, say, JARVIS’s level, but creating your own AI software and uploading it into the computer that you turned into a Holotable was…advanced. Even for college standards. That was insanely advanced, and the only person Harley had ever seen with that kind of technology was Tony, even on TV.
Peter looked cool . His hair did what Harley wanted his own to do. He obviously spent time in the gym because he was ripped, and Harley was sure Peter could bench press three of him if he really wanted to. He wore cool clothes, had a cool ass computer, and carried himself with an attitude that he didn’t really care what everyone else thought–he was his own man. His own hero. It was just refreshing.
But Peter didn’t want to be friends, and that was fine. Maybe Harley shouldn’t have pushed him so much. But Peter really didn’t need to yell at him in public.
Then again, Harley’s mom always told him that everyone was fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Maybe that black eye that Peter wore with shame today was his battle. Maybe there was something serious going on at home, or he had gotten into trouble the night before. Maybe he was mugged or something on his way home from work. Whatever it was, it definitely worried Harley, but cued him into the root cause of Peter’s outburst. He isn’t sure that pressing Peter again will get him anywhere or encourage Peter to open up, but maybe in a few days, things will have cooled down. Enough that Harley could apologize for being so pushy, maybe offer to start over. He was really, really certain he and Peter would get along. He isn’t sure why he’s so stuck on this guy, but he reminds Harley of somebody, and even though Harley can’t place a finger on it, he just wants to know the weird kid in his organic chemistry class.
He just wants a friend, to be honest. College is lonely . Sure, Ryan is cool, but he’s out a lot. He has tons of other friends. He’s invited Harley out a couple times, but Harley doesn’t like to feel like a burden, and isn’t exactly planning on pushing for more quality roommate time. How lame is that?
Back home, in Tennessee, the kids bullied Harley. He was poor, he had no dad, he had no cool toys or games. He stayed at home in the evenings with his little sister because his mom had to work, and they were barely scraping by even then. They were hungry, sometimes the water was off or the lights were out. The other kids called him Bed Bug for two years because the problem got so bad without the money to get them exterminated that Harley once unzipped his coat and two of the little nasty creatures were clinging to his hoodie. That reputation followed him well into high school.
He decided to join the football team freshman year, but it didn’t make a difference. He was still a loser, just in a jersey and in a consequence-free setting for violence. He got hit harder and more frequently than everyone else in practice. The other guys started beating him up in the locker room, smacking his face into the sink, stealing his things while he was in the shower. The fifth time he came home with a bloody nose, his mom decided enough was enough.
She called the engineer.
She really just wanted Harley to take boxing lessons. Mom explained to Tony that he was getting beat up at school and needed to learn to defend himself. She was really just asking for a little extra money on the next wire transfer to get Harley some lessons. Harley guesses she just expected him to either say yes or no.
What they didn’t expect was Tony showing up in Tennessee with two pairs of gloves and a high-quality punching bag with the promise of teaching Harley how to box.
That was years ago, now. Harley had been blipped during high school, and he honestly figured Stark would have forgotten about him. But he didn’t. And when his mom and his sister moved to a different state, leaving Harley to make it to college on his own, he went to Stark’s house. He and Pepper packed up and drove the thirteen hours to get Harley themselves.
So, yeah. Other than Morgan, who was a literal child, he didn’t really have friends. And he would be cool with that, but now he’s alone in a new place and really, really just wants someone to hang out with, but it looks like Peter Parker is going to be much tougher to crack than Harley originally thought.
Tatum, Ned, and MJ stand in front of the blue doors. Tatum reaches to press the doorbell, but the doors open on their own.
“Forgot about that,” MJ mutters, obviously not thrilled to be back in the Sanctum Sanctorum after last time.
The trio steps inside of the old house, looking around for a glimpse of the wizard.
“What if he won’t help? Then what?” MJ asks, and Tatum shrugs.
“All we have to do is convince him,” she remarks, and Ned glances nervously between the two as they approach the staircase.
A clatter from above catches their immediate attention, and the three jerk their heads towards the ceiling to see the figure of Dr. Strange floating down from the ceiling like a god.
Except the man is covered in soot, smeared from head to toe. MJ cocks an eyebrow.
“Did you come back from a universe where everyone is an orphan chimney sweep?” she asks, glancing Strange up and down as his feet touch to the floor with a quiet click. Strange narrows his eyes at her, brushing a few crumbs of ash from his blackened shoulder as he stalks down the stairs.
“I’d rather not discuss it,” the wizard says. Tatum has always liked his voice. Mysterious, but kind, even when he’s in a bad mood. Ned’s face says he feels otherwise, but he tries to speak anyways.
“Um, sir, we just–”
“We saved the world together, kid,” Dr. Strange calls over his shoulder as he paces along the floor of the main hall. “I think we can just go with names.”
“Okay, um.” Ned falters. “Stephen?”
Strange spins with a flutter of his cape to frown at Ned. Ned bounces back. “Strange.”
“There we go,” Strange affirms, and Tatum huffs.
“Look, we have questions, and you’re probably the one responsible,” Tatum muses. “Can we do this up here, or is any interrogation required to be in the dungeon?”
“You are no less sarcastic than I remember.” Strange sounds just as unamused as he looks. “But you’re inside my house, so I suppose there isn’t much I can do to get you to leave without participating. Let’s hear them.”
“Do you remember how you met us?”
It was the same question Tatum asked Ned and MJ when they arrived in New York via Ned’s rundown Camry. They were sitting in a coffee shop they had agreed to meet in, and that was how Tatum greeted them.
“Do you remember how we met?” she had asked, and the two MIT students looked at one another dumbly before shaking their heads.
“No,” MJ said slowly, her face gradually turning into a frown. “No, I don’t. Wasn’t it, um…”
“It was… I feel like the memory is there, I just can’t seem to…” Ned trailed off. He stared down at the table while he tried to think.
“Me either,” Tatum had confirmed. “And I think this kid…” she slid the photo she had of him onto the table. “...had something to do with it.”
“What, we all repressed him the exact same way?” MJ’s tone was bewildered. “What the fuck did this kid do for that to happen?”
“Not what he did.” Tatum leaned back in the booth, and MJ could almost hear the way Tatum’s brain was working. “What the wizard did.”
So they went to the wizard.
Strange frowns at her. “I, um…” he trails off, and Tatum raises her eyebrows expectantly. “We met during the last universe crack. The first one. Where the sky split. You helped us discover the problem.”
“And who is ‘us’?” Tatum presses, and Strange frowns again, the gears in his brain turning.
“You said helped us . Who is us?”
Strange falls silent a moment under the stare of three teenagers that obviously know something that he does not. He hates when that happens.
“You three, myself, Bruce Banner…” Strange trails off, frowning again. “And some other kid.”
“Do you remember what that kid looks like?” MJ asks, and Strange is obviously growing tired of the third degree based on what his weirdly well-manicured eyebrows are doing.
“No. I don’t. Is this some kind of school project?”
He says no, but MJ and Tatum both see it. A twitch flickers in his eye, just for a split second, but the two girls side eye one another past Ned.
Strange, glancing back and forth between the three kids, huffs and pivots to stalk further into the house. “I’m very busy, so if you don’t mind,” he leads, and Ned opens his mouth to argue, but Tatum elbows him in the side and he stops short.
“We understand,” Tatum says sweetly, and Strange can tell she’s feigning innocence, but the three kids rush out through the doors before they can say anything more.
Bustling down the city sidewalk, Ned turns to gape at them.
“What did we leave for?” he asks, throwing his hands out. “We didn’t ask–”
“Ned,” MJ says, and he stares at her.
“What? What? We–”
“Ned,” Tatum says, raising an eyebrow and making the boy’s face fall flat. “Strange was lying.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Tony asks, wiping his hands on the grease rag. His black eye had turned striking shades of red and purple. Clint had the manners not to ask about it. That wound to his ego was still fresh.
Clint steps around the fabricator in the garage to admire Tony’s craftsmanship on a new nanotech suit. “I’m…well, I’m here to ask a favor.”
Tony eyes Clint with suspicion. “Is it to convince me to invent time travel again? Because I’m not inventing time travel again, Bird Boy.”
“Yes, Tony,” Clint replies sarcastically, looking up from his work to meet the inventor’s face. “I came here, during the longest peace-time we’ve had in years, to ask you to reinvent time travel. What’re you doing here, anyways? I went to your place by the lake and Pepper said–”
“I’m working on a project. Late nights.” Tony’s voice was sharp and put a definitive end to that line of the conversation for now. “What do you need? I’m on a time crunch here.”
Clint puts his hands up in surrender. He’s not in a position to push when he’s asking for Tony’s help, specifically Tony’s help by way of finances.
“I need a favor,” Clint says, and before Stark can open his mouth to say something smart, he rushes to finish. “I need your help with Spiderman.”
Tony’s eyes knit into confusion. “Spiderman?”
“Yeah, you know, the kid that shoots webs and–”
“Yes, I know who Spiderman is.” Tony scoffs. “You need help with him? What, finding him?”
Clint wiggles his hand in a so-so motion. “Kind of. I know where he lives, I just don’t want to barge in, you know, secret identity type stuff, so I’d rather catch him on patrol.”
Tony’s eyebrow raises. That piques his interest. Maybe even makes the rest of his week a lot easier. “You know where he lives?”
Clint blinks, shrugging nonchalantly. “Yeah, I saw him crawling through his window. He lives in an apartment in Queens.”
Tony picks up part of the nanite chip from the fabricator, turning it over in his fingers. “Well,” Tony huffs with a kind of a breathy laugh. “That makes my job a lot easier.”
Clint’s face lights up. He’s surprised that Tony is even agreeing to this, let alone ready to go actually help. “So you’ll help me here?”
“Yeah, talk to Spiderman.”
Tony smirks down at the chip in his fingers. “I’m doing more than talking, Bird Boy.”
The hopefulness from Clint’s face drains slowly. He analyzes the smirk on the engineer’s face with growing suspicion, his eyebrows knitting together in concern.
“What’re you talking about, Tony?” Clint murmurs carefully, eyeing the man with caution. Tony flits his gaze back up to Clint–blank now. As always. Tony was always hard to get a complete read on, unless you were Nat, but Nat isn’t here.
“Oh, I’m going to kill him,” Tony states. He says it lightly, like there’s no cause for worry, but Clint’s face explodes in exactly that emotion.
“I’m sorry, what?” Clint gapes at the old man. “Kill him? I came here to ask you if you’d help him! What do you mean, kill him, I’m pretty sure he’s just a kid and he needs our–”
“He needs,” Tony snaps, cutting Clint off, “to fork over the suit.”
Clint steps back in disbelief, throwing his hands out. “What suit?”
“ My suit.”
“He stole your suit? You’re killing what could be a child over a suit?”
“That child is not a child, he is an adult, and somehow, that adult has my EDITH smart glasses, my nanotechnology, my override code for JARVIS , and he tried to kill me first, and he–” Tony points a slightly trembling finger towards his black eye. Tony stops before he can say the next thing–his next fear, his fear about the boy in the photo. His face has gone the shade of red Clint saw on the battlefield with Thanos, and Clint’s expression is nothing less than disgusted.
“You are losing it,” Clint states, taking another step back. “Absolutely losing it, Tony, that is insane .”
“Do you understand what kind of implications that technology could have on the world?” Tony narrows his eyes at Clint, setting the chip down. “If that kid sells my technology to any of the number of evil organizations, like HYDRA, mind you, do you know what that could do?”
“Okay, so recruit him, you psycho,” Clint snaps back. He lifts his bow, starting to shake his head. “I don’t… I can’t help you do that.”
Tony shrugs. The garage door opens for Clint to exit with a wave of Tony’s hand.
“That’s fine,” Tony states, the same, blank look in his eye when he stares at Clint. “I’d rather do it myself.”
Peter is in the library after study table. Harley didn’t show. That makes Peter feel a little better.
He hadn’t wanted to be so cruel the other day, but what else was he supposed to do? Let Harley into his life, find out that he’s the reason the world nearly ended, his secret connections with Tony Stark? Hide his identity again to live two lives and risk being discovered a second time? Let everything go to waste, all of the pain and suffering in bringing Stark back just to erase his memory, because Harley wants a friend?
Nah. Not an option. He wasn’t even supposed to be making friends that were completely unconnected to anyone he knew in his old life, let alone the secret adopted child of his former mentor/father/friend/boss or whatever he could consider Tony Stark. None of those labels ever felt right, anyways. Tony was just his person.
He had been trying to study for his psychology test, but he kept rereading the same paragraphs over and over again. There was no new ground being broken. He would reach the end of the page just to realize that he hadn’t absorbed a single fact, a single name, a single study, and then he’d have to restart. After an hour, he was pretty much tired of it.
He had been off all week, anyhow, after his brutal ass kicking from Iron Man himself. Peter had never had to fight another Avenger–well, he would practice spar with some of them, and then box with Tony, but he never had to genuinely fight somebody, real world situation type fighting. He knew they were strong, but Jesus, that nanosuit that Peter built must have been some really top of the line shit for his torso to be these sickening shades of purple, red, and yellow. He was fairly certain that his ribs had at least partially healed after being crushed into pixie dust, but there was still a slight sharp pain when he breathed in too deeply and agitated them. His black eye was just a red ring now, but he had a feeling that was going to take at least another week, if not longer, to heal properly. He hadn’t been out as Spiderman since the whole ordeal, either, too afraid to risk another facial or abdominal injury. If Peter really did have to go to a hospital, his face would be all over the news within hours, and the Avengers med bay was very much off limits now that he had royally pissed off the king of Stark Tower himself.
Peter packs his belongings rather than torture himself anymore with reading page 38 for the seventh time. Carefully shouldering his bookbag, he tucks his hands into his pockets and makes his way to the staircase. He hates the acoustics of the library elevator, to be honest. It bothers his sensitive hearing, and nobody takes the stairs, so it’s easy to get in and out without having to talk to anybody. Not that anyone knows who he is.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know people, though, and the second he reaches the first landing, his eyes meet ones that he hoped never to see again.
Tatum Walker is climbing the stairs with her books in hand. Peter’s chest aches.
At the Statue of Liberty, he had promised that he would find her and make her remember him. Explain everything she couldn’t remember. She had told him that he had better, because if he didn’t, she’d figure it out–she did it once, she could do it again. It had been one of the last things to make Peter laugh before spiraling into loneliness.
And he had thought about it. He’d been by her place enough times, as weird as it sounds, but he misses her. He had finally gotten his second chance after their breakup when they rescued Stark from the other side. She was the first person in his life to find out he was Spiderman, other than the old man, the first one that really, really mattered. Tatum had supported him. She was there for him when Stark died and Peter wallowed in his misery. She was there for him when he needed to complete what was supposed to be a suicide mission, knowing she couldn’t talk him out of it. She didn’t even try to convince him not to do it, or threaten him into coming back alive. She had accepted that this was Peter’s mission, and he had to do it, and instead of making it any harder on him, she simply kissed him for luck. She was the one who had been desperately doing chest compressions, Ned told him, trying to wake him up when he came back from the other side.
She was just there. For all of it. Peter misses her and always will. She was the one that got away and she doesn’t even know it.
Peter dips his head down to walk past her. Squeezes his eyes shut, even, holding his breath like she was a ghost. It’ll hurt for the rest of the day, but if he doesn’t look at her, it won’t be as bad.
She passes him. He passes her. She smells like she always does–vanilla and patchouli. Peter exhales a breath of relief when he reaches the next landing, and then freezes in his tracks when she speaks.
tatum is still my favorite character to write, but her interactions with strange are my extra favorite
Chapter 10: Choices and Chances
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter nearly chokes on his own spit. He’s so surprised to hear his own name, especially out of Tatum’s mouth, that he stops dead in his tracks.
Tatum sounded surprised to see him. Panic floods Peter’s brain. There’s no way she remembers, he thinks to himself, she can’t remember him. That isn’t how this works. Nobody remembers him. His father tried to kill him , and Peter literally saved him from the dead, so if Tony fucking Stark doesn’t remember Peter, Tatum Walker certainly does not.
Peter realizes he’s staring up at her like an idiot. She’s wearing an oversized sweatshirt–he’s pretty sure it’s his, actually–and her hair is tied up in a bun. She looks like she does when she has a self care day. There’s no makeup on her face, her bun is turning into a mess from the stress of her day and from her undoubtedly fiddling with it during classes, there’s a pencil tucked behind her ear and she’s wearing her “dorky” glasses (as she called them) instead of her contacts.
Peter is breathless looking at her.
She raises her eyebrows expectantly from a flight of stairs above him.
“That is your name, isn’t it?” she asks slowly, like she’s talking to somebody significantly dumber than her. Damn, she’s mean. It makes Peter want to fold immediately.
“Um…” Peter has no words. His mouth is full of sticky tack and pushpins, he thinks. “Yeah.”
She waits like she’s expecting him to say her name back, but if he does, he’s doomed.
“Um…do we know each other?” Peter asks cautiously, twisting the leftover length of his backpack strap in between his fingers. He had haphazardly thrown on his regional basketball championship T-shirt over his sweatshirt, but it didn’t have the school’s name visible, let alone his, and how she got his name was beyond him. A thin layer of anxious sweat formed down his back, and he could feel himself gearing up for a good panic attack in his Audi.
If Tatum is onto him, she knows how to play dumb. She smiles brightly at him.
“We went to Stuyvesant together, remember?” she asks, and Peter’s heart is about to fucking explode at her dimples, but at the same time, his stomach has dropped down to his ass. He feels like he’s going to be sick, and he absolutely does not want to throw up in front of Tatum. That would be almost as embarrassing as the time he blacked out in her apartment and she had to call Stark to come get him.
He sucks in a sharp breath, glancing around. “Y-yeah,” he answers slowly, “I went there, but, um… I don’t think I know you. Sorry.”
He swears he sees her face fall for just a moment.
“Well,” Tatum says tightly, swallowing. “This is embarrassing then.” She gives a little half-laugh, the cutest thing Peter has ever heard, and his knees are already weak, so she definitely isn’t helping.
He shrugs nonchalantly and tries to recall how to lie. “No, no, I’m, um, I’m just bad with faces. Um, maybe you know me because I was valedictorian? W-what did you say your name was, again? Tatum?”
She cocks an eyebrow, locked and loaded. His face pales.
“I didn’t say my name,” she responds in that smug tone she uses when she knows she’s got someone all figured out. Peter’s mouth gapes a little, opening and closing as he tries to find a response.
“Um…” Peter glances around, but nothing is helping him. “Yeah, I think I saw you at a party a couple times.”
“But you just said you didn’t know me,” she points out, shifting her books and giving him a look that says, try again.
Peter freezes and does the only thing he can think to do.
“I have to go,” he rushes out, taking a step down the next staircase. “Sorry.”
He takes the stairs two at a time and resists the urge to just throw himself down the steps in frustration with himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he repeats in his head, and he speedwalks the rest of the way to the car to have his regularly scheduled panic attack.
MJ: my prof looks like bill nye
Ned: my professor looks like the stay puft marshmallow guy
Tatum: saw him
MJ: the stay puft marshmallow guy?
Ned: bill nye?
Tatum: no assholes. Peter
Ned: not a contest
MJ: it is and i won. Take a selfie so i can sketch your face in the moment of crisis
Ned: Photo Message
MJ: you look terrible. I love it
Tatum: would u two focus? ned always looks terrible
MJ: ok fine. How did you see him
Tatum: he’s going to NYU i think
Ned: did you say anything
MJ: could u be any less detailed
Ned: offer more epxlanation pls
Ned: i hope lily spills her water on your sketchbook
MJ: @tate answer ur fckin phone
Tatum: omg i was walking to my car chill
Tatum: ok so
Tatum: i saw him in the library like on the stairs right and he walked past and i realized it was him bc he was wearing the basketball shirt from the picture
Tatum: dude looks really rough
Tatum: he has a really bad black eye
Ned: he’s spiderman duh
Tatum: no ned like really bad. Like it goes from his nose all the way around to his ear and down his cheek. Dark dark red and like caved in almost
MJ: jesus did he get hit by a truck
Tatum: i said his name and he like totally freaked out and froze
Tatum: and then he like said he was valedictorian at stuy
MJ: show off
Tatum: shut up it’s important bc the valedictorian at stuy had an internship w tony stark so now we def know he knows stark
Tatum: and then he said MY name and i didnt say my name so then i was like i thought u didnt know me and he freaked out again and ran away
MJ: literally ran?
Ned: is he super fast
MJ: ok so what now? He obv knows you and so he’s going to avoid you at all costs
Ned: we could try
MJ: yea but if he knows tatum he probably knows us too
Tatum: that’s what i was thinking. none of us can remember him but he can remember us
MJ: and strange acted so weird i bet he did this
Ned: duh he’s a wizard he obviously made us forget
MJ: i will let the air out of three of your tires
Tatum: i’ll help her
Ned: ok so what now. We try the wizard again?
Tatum: i asked ryan if HE remembered a peter parker and he said no, but peter said he went to parties and ryan threw ALL the parties for the football and basketball guys so peter had to have known ryan and DJ and avery too
Ned: oh so literally nobody knows him
MJ: ok wait lets list what we know
Tatum: we know that we were all present for that weird thing with tony stark being dead
Ned: and we were there when the sky turned purple
MJ: we know that peter went to stuy and he knew ned somehow
Ned: like really knew me. That pic is christmas
Tatum: i dated him, and i know i really cared about whoever was in the spiderman suit for the thing with stark, so it had to be him
Ned: and he must have been pretty close with stark to go get him from the dead
MJ: i mean, maybe? The world was ending so maybe peter was the only one who could fix it
Ned: nobody goes on what was supposed to be a suicide mission for someone they don’t care about plus he had an internship w stark
MJ: ok fair assumption to make
Tatum: to sum up we know i dated him, y’all had to be his friends, he went to stuy, im pretty sure there was a rumor that he had an internship at stark industries that ended up being true, and we know peter is spiderman so probably def had some “employment” at SI to cover his identity
Tatum: since we know he’s spiderman i think we need to go higher up the ladder
MJ: how does one get in contact with an avenger
Tatum: the avenger will be contacting us within two weeks
Tatum: omg relax i’ll explain the plan later. Just trust me
Clint is getting desperate. He’s been by Spiderman’s apartment twice now and is considering just camping out inside until the kid comes home to warn him about Stark’s death note on Spiderman’s head.
He’s looked around at night, but can’t find him. He thought about going to the actual apartment at night, too, but he doesn’t want to freak the kid out. He’d see the kid without his mask on and the kid would absolutely lose it. He doesn’t want to make the boy not trust him with news about his own death.
Clint sits on a rooftop at four in the morning, unsure of what to do. He wrings his hands as he sits and debates all of his options.
Up above, something is sending white and blue streaks across the sky.
His blurry options suddenly become very clear.
Tony remembers the ordeal with Ivan Vanko.
It was embarrassing on a national scale, to say the least. Playing down the capabilities of that villain’s technology was no easy feat, and nobody bought it after the events in Monaco. Everybody saw what happened–the exact thing that Stark said was impossible became very, very possible, and he almost lost Pepper in the process of trying to fix it.
So, yeah. He takes people stealing his work, or trying to replicate it, pretty seriously, and this spider-themed kid wasn’t any exception. He wouldn’t hand over the suit, then fine. Tony wasn’t going to risk the safety of the family he does still have, his daughter, to some kid trying to play hero. So what if the kid hadn’t actually sold it yet? Tony doesn’t know that, and the kid doesn’t seem interested in backing down on the problem, either, even though he knows he’s playing with fire, so let’s play with fire, Tony figures.
Was he going to kill him? Maybe. Probably not. Depends on the situation. It’s a gray area, he thinks.
Was he going to seriously injure him until that suit was in Tony’s hands? Oh yeah. Big time.
He wouldn’t consider it if it hadn’t been for the little shit knowing his override code. Even Tony didn’t know that override code. He had a completely separate one, but when he tried to access who the secondary code belonged to, it only gave an error message. He can’t remember if he switched codes somewhere along the line, or if he assigned one for Morgan for when she’s older, or what happened, but that kid, that little thief, he had that code somehow. Tony’s going to get that suit and figure out what the fuck that kid has been doing in his lab. The safety of his family, his work, and everyone he knows is worth one small spider.
Tony looks at the photos in his workshop. Him, Harley, and Morgan at the lake. He and Pepper on Pepper’s birthday. He and Happy on the day that he got engaged. He and all the Avengers in the Avengers’ lounge on Clint’s birthday, sitting around a cake with an arrow stuck directly through the middle. Maybe parenthood has made him soft, but he feels like he needs to remind himself of why he’s doing this. What he’s protecting.
He opens his toolbox, takes out the socket set. Removes the foam inserts. He looks at the picture of him and the boy he’s sure is his son that he’s hidden in the bottom of his case. Studies the baseball player’s face.
He’s not sure how, but he has a nasty feeling that Spiderman is the reason he doesn't have his kid.
Peter goes out as Spiderman for the first time since his fight with Stark. He tries to take it easy. Instead of jumping ten stories onto a moving car and being treated like a skipping stone, he helps an old lady find her car in a parking deck. Instead of fist-fighting a mugger, he walks a nurse to her bus stop and waits with her in the dark. He spends his night looking out for the little guy.
The only reason he risked going out anyways was because of Tatum.
Peter needed to clear his head, and the best way to do it was to go swinging. There’s something so freeing about dropping through the whistling wind just to catch himself again before he reaches the end of the line. Maybe he’s a little weird, but there were a lot of things Peter couldn’t save himself from. Freefalling wasn’t one of those things.
He had spent a generous amount of time sitting in the dark in his apartment, trying to determine how Tatum had remembered him. The spell cast was very specific. Nobody would remember who Peter Parker was, not even just a “we went to school together”. Maybe there was something wrong with Tatum that made her immune to magic. Maybe her and a different Tatum had been swapped between dimensions. After everything Peter has gone through, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t. Who is real and who isn’t.
Then again, she told him if he didn’t come tell her what happened, she’d figure it out like she did before. Tatum was always smarter than she was given credit for. Maybe she figured it out. Tracked Peter down. Maybe she remembered Spiderman.
That thought made him sick down to his stomach. If she remembered Spiderman, the whole world could be fucked. Now he has to avoid Tatum and Harley both on campus. He really does not want to switch schools for the third time in as many years, but he has to consider the very real possibility that this is his first and last semester at NYU. How long does he have to run before the past stops catching up?
He stays out way too late. It’s five in the morning and Peter is sitting on a rooftop somewhere in Manhattan, trying to make sense of everything happening in his head. He didn’t even feel tired, just sore from swinging while looking like a textbook example of rigor mortis, and even if he was tired, there was no way he could fall asleep with everything happening to him.
Peter is well aware that he’s spiraling. Nothing feels worth trying at this very moment. He’s going to miss school tomorrow, or at least his early class, so he can’t do study table for that unless he wakes up and researches the lesson to teach it to himself, and even then, what is the point? To make another thirty dollars that still leaves him hungry? If he has to bail on NYU, he’s going to end up with shitty odd jobs and minimum wage gigs for the rest of his life. Why is he still struggling financially if he has to quit school, anyways?
It’s in the middle of that spiral that his ears begin to ring. The noise from the city sounds like he’s underwater. Lately, that’s been happening to signal a panic attack, but the ringing tells him a different story this time. He doesn’t bother to lift his head–Karen fills him in.
“Unidentified object flying from the east,” Karen warns him, and Peter lets out a long sigh, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment to muster up the will to stand.
“Oh, don’t worry,” he mumbles. “The object is very identified.”
Peter is sure he looks bored with the way he stands lazily, like there’s all the time in the world. Like this is just another chore to check off of his never-ending list. He tips his head to one side, then the other, stretches before letting his arms drop to his sides as the rooftop trembles from the object’s harsh landing.
“What, didn’t get enough last time?” he asks.
Iron Man isn’t delighted to see him. This is the last thing Peter wants to deal with. If Tatum isn’t enough reason to leave New York, this will be, and something in the air is telling him that this is his last night in Manhattan.
“This is your last chance.” Stark sounds comically angry. Peter can picture the stone-still mad face he’s making under the mask, and that amuses him. “Either you hand over the suits, or you’re going to find yourself buried in them.”
Peter bends over to touch his toes in his limbering routine as Stark speaks. He sighs dramatically as he stands back up straight.
“Well, for starters,” Peter huffs, “you ruined my last suit, thanks a lot, by the way. So if that one is wrecked and you manage to bury me in this one, what do you win again, exactly?”
Technically, it wasn’t Peter’s suit. Stark built it as a gift. Peter had nothing to do with it. The first one had come for his graduation, but Stark had built it way earlier than that, as a surprise that Peter didn’t…take very well. Well, really, he yelled at Stark and stormed off in anger for weeks. Stark gave it to him a second time for graduation. The nanotech suit had been from when he was on the spaceship heading into the atmosphere and Stark, the total jerk, tried to get him not to come along for the ride, which was very lame and not at all cool even though the suit was so awesome Peter could barely speak. The only actual suit Peter had built on his own was Stark’s Model 3 nanotech suit that he hacked into the last time Tony came to find him.
Peter wasn’t about to give up his Spiderman suits, though, whether they were his or not. First of all, they were a gift, and Aunt May always said that it’s tacky to take back a gift, even if Stark couldn’t remember it. Second of all and more importantly, the only thing Peter had on this Earth that made his life not suck was the stuff that Stark gave him. His phone, his laptop, his Audi, his suits. Spiderman was the only part of himself he knew anymore. If he didn’t have Spiderman, he wouldn't have any impact on this world, and having some kind of impact on the world was the only way Peter stayed tethered to it.
He swears the eyes of the suit grow darker. Peter flickers his gaze over the Iron Man armor in the darkness. Some of the light reaches up this high, but not very much. He’s not sure why Stark keeps insisting on having these battles in the air. It’s chilly up here.
While examining Stark, Peter realizes his little trick from last time won’t help him. That suit is not Peter’s work. That’s a new suit. He stops himself from taking a step backward.
Jesus Christ, did Stark build a new suit just to fight Peter again?
“I,” Stark says, snapping Peter back to the present, “win the satisfaction of knowing you can’t do anything with technology that isn’t yours. I win the satisfaction of knowing my family and friends and kids are safe. I win–”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Peter huffs from behind his mask. The crisp air flutters leaves across some of the rooftops. Peter can hear the slightest rustling a couple buildings over. “You win, yes, blah blah. I haven’t sold any of the technology I have and don’t plan on it, and I have no interest in fucking with the literal Avengers. I’m just out here trying to help the little guy.”
Stark takes a threatening step forward in the dark. On the eastern horizon, the sky turns the faintest blue from the sun peeking up at New York.
“You had my override code , so I don’t buy that bullshit for a second. The only way you can have that code is by breaking into my lab, threatening my kid, or if you built the suit, and I know it isn’t the third option.” Stark’s palms start to power up a repulsor blast that Peter really doesn’t want to take to the face. He puts his hands up for a moment to hold Stark off.
“Would you relax, Bruce Banner? Jesus, you’re acting like you’re turning green. I didn’t break into your lab–how would I, whatever–and I didn’t threaten Harley. This is my suit. I made this.”
Iron Man’s head tilts menacingly when he hears Harley’s name, like a dog frothing at the mouth. Peter’s eyes widen. Bad move.
Peter’s quick instincts perry him to the left to dodge the blast of blue fire that whizzes past his head. Jesus, this is round two of the other night all over again, and he isn’t sure he can take the–
An arrow, shot from seemingly nowhere, sails past Peter’s eyes through the crisp air and digs itself right into the concrete in front of Iron Man. Peter throws himself backwards to avoid what he knows is coming.
A flashbang right to Stark’s face is enough to deter him for a moment and give Peter the chance to scan the area.
“Incoming, Peter,” she chirps, and two buildings over, silhouetted against the night, a man stands on the ledge of the rooftop with another arrow notched.
“Beat it, kid,” the man calls, and his voice is…so, so familiar, but Peter can’t place it, and that bothers him down to his core when Karen amplifies his vision and fucking Clint Barton’s face comes into view. He should know that voice. He’s starting to forget their voices?
Peter wants to stand and gawk, but he doesn’t need to be told twice about most things, so instead of pondering how Clint is here and why, he starts to run.
Another hot blast hits Peter in the back before he can lunge for the adjacent roof. He’s sent sprawling onto his stomach with a yelp of pain. There’s another pair of boots running across the rooftop, and two men yelling, and Peter is up, ready for a fight.
Lasers cut across the airborne battlefield, sizzling everything it touches. Peter watches Clint try to combat the robot by hand and knows it’s a losing fight, so he has no choice but to jump in against Clint's orders. He knows this part, and if he could just remember Stark’s own override code, he could pull off the same trick as last time, but then the inventor would really put a bounty on Peter’s head.
He bounds left. Stark fires. He evades with an impressive backflip just to get smacked out of the air again. Clint tries to lock up the mechanized arm and it gets him hit in the chest so hard that it sends him tumbling across the rooftop.
Peter isn’t sure why Clint is here. He isn’t sure if Clint remembers him. But it seems like Clint is on Peter’s side, and he’ll take it, for now. It’s two on one, and for a moment, Peter feels like maybe they’re winning. They’re hitting Stark from both sides, but it certainly seems like he’s going easier on Clint than on Peter. Clint gets smacked off to the side, Peter gets clobbered across the rooftop. Clint gets blasted, Peter gets hit with a laser that could absolutely kill him if he wasn’t wearing the nanotech suit tonight. There’s blood in Peter’s mouth, a familiar feeling for him now, and everything is on fire. His ribs are shattered and each breath sends a sharp, throbbing pain through his body, leaving him to gasp if he wants air. His nose is dripping blood inside of the suit and running down into his lips.
That laser is what almost sends Peter off the building with a flash of white, blinding light. It hurts so badly that he can’t breathe and when he drags himself back up to the roof, he drops to the ground instead of standing back up. Clint stands in front of him as a human shield–is he trying to protect Peter?-- but Stark is tired of the games. He slams Clint so hard that he goes straight through and leaves a crater in the roof. Peter can hear Clint groan from beneath them, and then the roof goes silent except for the thudding of Peter’s own heart.
Everything hurts. Nothing matters. Peter might just let the fucker kill him this time. He wishes, he wishes so badly, that Stark could understand that this was for his safety. That Peter was on his side. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to end that way, though, and Peter is stuck between a rock and a hard place–out himself, which Stark will never believe in the midst of his rage, or let Stark just kill him and be done with it.. He coughs just for his chest to explode in pain. He’s curled up on the ground, on his elbows and knees with his forehead pressed against the cold concrete, and when he opens his eyes to look at his chest, the nanotech there is disintegrated, too. Peter’s burned skin is showing through.
He can’t do this anymore. He can’t.
“You asshole ,” Peter growls. His voice is gruff and hoarse, and each breath is more ragged than the last. “This was my last good suit.”
He can feel Stark looming overtop of him. The light whirring of the nanites can be heard if Peter listens closely enough.
“I told you I’d kill you to get that suit,” Stark states. He sounds smug. Of course he does.
Even now–laying on the ground, beaten into submission–Peter wants to beg Stark to remember.
But then he remembers.
“Do it then.” Peter shoves himself up to his knees, falling back onto his heels. His chest is exposed to the night air which makes him shiver from the cold on his blistering skin. The boy tips his head back, almost too weak to hold it up, and stares at Stark through hooded eyes, covered by his mask. “Kill me. I told you, you son of a bitch, I’m the best there ever was, so if you want this suit, take it off of my dead fuckin’ body.”
Stark must be seething under the faceplate. His robotic fingers wrap around Peter’s throat and lift him off of his feet. Peter wheezes, squeezing his eyes shut as his legs dangle uselessly. He can’t gather up the strength to kick, punch, thrash. He’s done.
Accepting death is easier the second time around.
Peter closes his eyes. He’s so tired. He could fall asleep right now, just take a nap like that day at the compound, laying in the grass. He remembers what dying felt like, just a little, and it was peaceful. He remembers hearing Ben’s voice telling him to get up, but Ben isn’t here this time. This is his time, then, Peter determines. This is his correct time and place, murdered by his former father, and this is how it needs to be. He thinks of how nice it will be to finally see Ben again. To see May after such a long, hard year, to tell her his problems from his time alone and let her run his fingers through his hair. He thinks of maybe seeing Nat, and how nice it would be to talk to her over a sandwich and a Coke. It would even be nice to see Steve and tell Steve that he was right. Peter was the one who figured it out, he saved the world, Steve wasn’t gambling all his chips away by betting on Peter. He feels oddly peaceful, held in the air by his throat, only half-breathing. His body is numb and tingly, and Peter dangles limply in Stark’s hand. If it feels this nice, it must be the right time.
“Go on,” Peter rasps around his own saliva. His voice sounds unfamiliar. “Do it.”
Stark places his hand over Peter’s chest. The repulsor charges for a blast. Peter doesn’t regret a thing he did.
“Do it!” Peter shouts, and with that, Stark fires.
Peter realizes his eyes are clenched shut when he opens them wide at the air leaving his lungs. His chest is being vacuum sealed as all of his oxygen squeezes out of his lips.
But he isn’t dying. He remembers dying. He’s not dying this time.
When he opens his eyes, his screen is gone. Karen has saved his life, sending the nanites from his mask to protect his chest and leaving Stark’s hand around Peter’s bare throat.
If it isn’t bad enough that now he knows what Peter’s face looks like, Stark’s mask trickles away, too. The two men are face to face for the first time. Peter wants to look away and can’t.
Peter has grown used to the lack of recognition when people look at him. The first time he saw MJ and Ned, for example, right after he was erased, he had gone in for a coffee and looked them in their faces with every intent to explain himself and there was…nothing. There was nothing behind their eyes that showed him any kind of familiarity. Mr. Delmar had the same blank look. That hurts, a lot, to see your friends or acquaintances so up close and personal, and have them completely oblivious to who you are. It was a part of life now, though, so Peter grew used to the feeling of being forgotten. It was the way things needed to be.
He expects to see the same blank look in Stark’s eyes, if not a very angry, unhappy to see him type of stare, but what he doesn’t expect is shock.
The old man is holding Peter by the throat, completely awestruck at Peter’s face. He is staring so intently, so gobsmacked, that it makes Peter uncomfortable.
“It’s you.” The words escape Stark’s throat so quietly that Peter almost doesn’t hear them over the sound of being fucking strangled to death twenty stories high.
Stark must realize he’s still choking Peter, because he lets go much more suddenly than expected and Peter crumples to his knees to double over while he gasps and wheezes and coughs. He puts his hands on his own throat to catch his breath, swallowing down the tears that threaten to spill over, but Stark just stands there like a Sim waiting for his next order.
Peter tips his head up to look at the old man. Stark’s never been easy to read, but Peter can see emotions flashing across his face like a slot machine. Slowly, carefully, Stark kneels down in front of Peter to examine his face once again. Peter becomes very aware of his black eye, the blood, the split in his lip as the man’s gaze analyzes every inch of Peter’s skin.
“It’s you,” Stark whispers again. “You. You’re… the picture.”
Peter dips his head down to cough again, spitting out the metallic saliva pooling around his teeth. He doesn’t know what Stark is talking about, but he can barely focus on that.
He doesn’t know what Clint hits the old man with, either. One second, Stark is whispering to himself and the next, he’s unconscious on the ground. Pretty soon the guy is going to have a TBI if he doesn’t stop getting clocked in his dome. Peter watches from what feels like outside of his body as Stark crumples to the ground in front of him, and a panting Clint drops whatever he hit Iron Man with.
“I don’t know how long he’ll be out,” Clint wheezes. He isn’t very gentle with the way he drags Peter to his feet, even when Peter gasps in pain. “You need to get out of here. JARVIS will get him home safe. The sun’s coming up.”
And it is. Beautiful streaks of yellow and orange paint the horizon in the east, dancing over the city that is beginning to wake. It would have been a beautiful background to die against.
Peter has no time to enjoy the view. “Go,” Clint urges, putting pressure on Peter’s shoulders. “Hurry up and go, and don’t go home. Go hide before it's light. I’ll find you.”
With his head spinning, Peter stumbles off of the rooftop. His mask regenerates and exposes his chest again instead. The skin stings where it comes in contact with the outside air.
Peter jumps from the ledge. As badly as he wants to stay, as badly as he wants to be whoever Stark thinks Peter is, he can’t. Spiderman swings into the west instead, running from the daylight.
long one this time, but I'm not sure how close to the end we are. I'm kind of letting the story just play out how it needs to and seeing where it takes me
Chapter 11: 1,309,493 Outcomes
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Strange paces in the basement he and Peter Parker spent so much time in.
The visit from the trio of teens–well, Strange speculates they’re actually in their twenties now, which makes him feel even older than before–had rattled him. Do you know what that boy looked like, she had asked, like she was going to trick him into messing up his own lies. Of course he knows what Peter Parker looks like.
Sure, he cast the spell, said everyone who knew and loved Peter would forget he ever existed in their lives. And that is exactly what happened. It was enough to seal the cracks in the universe that threatened to let other uninvited beasts through to wreak havoc on New York. Strange wasn’t about to do anything even more drastic than already necessary.
But the thing about said spell is that there were some catches. Perhaps catches that Strange should have warned Peter about, but what does he always say? If he tells someone the future, it won’t happen?
That was particularly true for many of the adventures the wizard had accompanied Peter on. They have saved the world three times together now. The first in this dimension, fighting Thanos the first time. It had been Stark that needed to know there was only one winning outcome if he was going to do the right thing, but Strange had been wrong.
That was a real bone-shaker. Being wrong about time?
Truthfully, he simply hadn’t looked far enough. He knew it was the only outcome where they defeated Thanos, yes, but a blanket statement of “won” as in won forever was incorrect. Cue Peter’s part in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
The kid had guts, Strange would never deny that. He wanted his father back, yes. Strange understood. But he could tell by the cold glint in Peter’s eye, the way he felt that he was destined to be the sacrificial lamb, that it wasn’t about getting to see Stark again. It was more than that–the kid had been through a lot. He wanted to save something that could repay whatever debt he thought he owed the world. So he hopped realities, took Stark’s place, made the right wish–sent Stark home. Strange thought it a miracle from the cosmos that Peter Parker even survived, let alone woke up with no lasting damage to his psyche other than maybe a really good case of PTSD. He watched the trio try and revive Peter on the grass of the compound after dragging the kid’s limp body through time and space while he tried to bring Stark back to consciousness. He could see Peter dying, and then something just…didn’t let him. A miracle.
The third time, he was baffled that a child so stupid was still alive. That was all Strange had to say about that situation, but the boy did what was needed in the end. No matter how bad he fucked up the universe, somehow, that child managed to mend it.
The spell Strange used was particular. It was the only one he could manage that wouldn’t crack the rest of time in half, but there were some exceptions to its power. The photographs of Peter wouldn’t erase him because the spell simply wipes memory, not existence. If he had wanted to wipe out Peter’s existence, well, that is a much more complicated, dangerous, and unnecessary form of magic, and Wong would definitely have noticed that. But Peter’s face, name, significance? Doable.
So yes, obviously, the pictures would stay the same. Nobody would remember who he was, and that would lead to some suspicion, and Strange has been anticipating the childrens’ arrival for quite some time. Those three were too smart for their own good. They could see through whatever veil Strange tried to pull over the world.
As for him, he couldn’t erase his own memory. Nor would he, in the event that he needed to put another bandaid on time.
Strange has seen all 1,309,493 outcomes to this fix-it.
If he tells which one will happen, it won’t happen.
Peter’s life is over, he’s pretty sure. He almost wishes Karen would’ve just let Stark do it, but he knows it’s programmed into her to save Peter in any circumstance. Plus, it feels dumb to be mad at an artificial intelligence.
He had almost no time spent awake in his apartment. He collapsed into the window, nearly shattered the damn thing, stumbling onto the ground. He blacked out on the bloodstained floorboards.
When he woke up, he was filled with panic. He tried to stand and just hit the ground again in pain. One of the neighbors banged on the wall, rattling Peter’s only hanging photograph, and yelled at him to shut up. He had no idea what time it was, but the window was dark once again. Street lights shone against the alley wall, but Peter’s view was of bricks and fire escapes.
Half-dragging himself across the floor, Peter was able to get into his bedroom. By then, his breathing had grown labored and hoarse. He whimpered with every movement. He was afraid to even look at himself, afraid to see how bad it was now with second injuries overtop of the firsts. Despite Clint’s warning to get the hell out of dodge, Peter tucked himself in. He breathed in the smell of his sheets and pillows. He let himself fall asleep on his own terms with tears burning the abrasions on his face.
He woke up another full day later. He only learns that when he checks his phone. Standing up is a chore, but he feels not half-dead, which is an improvement, but then the panic settles in again.
The poor kid’s brain runs on autopilot. He can’t stay here. If Stark comes back for round three, he’s going to die. He’s going to let himself die, and there is no Spiderman if fuckin’ Iron Man kills him, so he packs his sentimentals into the box he moved in with. He collects his backpack with all his life’s work inside, his pillow and blanket, his phone and suits and chargers and keys and clothes in a trash bag. He hauls it all downstairs in one painful trip to his Audi and goes to the only safe place he knows at three o’clock in the morning.
The docks are eerily silent. Peter doesn’t have it in him to wonder if he’s going to be hunted like wildlife. He just wants to sleep. He just wants this to end. He puts on what is left of his suits, having to combine the two–nanotech body, fabric mask. Karen pairs the two together to work as one. The heater in his suit kicks on and warms Peter’s stiff body, the tints in the Audi go down to nearly black. He curls up in the backseat of his car and trembles underneath his blanket with his lip shaking and tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.
“Karen,” he whispers to his phone, careful not to drop it from the weakness of his fingers. “Can you play me a video of me and Stark?”
Tatum Walker sits on Ryan’s bed, swinging her legs. She tilts her head in pretend interest at whatever Ryan is saying about his glory days in high school. She was literally there, she wants to tell him. Stop talking about it. But she’s a woman with a mission, and Ned and MJ are waiting for her to complete it, so she smiles along anyways.
It’s been a few days since the run-in with Peter at the library. She hasn’t seen him since, but that’s not really a surprise. This is a big campus and happening to run into somebody by pure chance is unlikely. Still, she hung around anyways, wondering if she would catch another sight of him.
That kid remembered her for some reason and she couldn’t remember him, but Dr. Strange’s weird behavior absolutely had something to do with it and she thinks she’s beginning to figure out why. Tatum knows that people don’t think she’s very smart at first glance, even people she went to school with, like Ryan. Blonde, pretty, party girl. Nails are always done and daddy’s money on deck to fund her lifestyle. She is aware she fits the stereotypical bill.
But people forget where she went to school. It was an accelerated high school, and the only reason she wasn’t valedictorian was because of a stupid B+ she got in physics her junior year. She had sobbed over that report card. Now that she’s graduated, she realizes how little it actually mattered, but at the time, it felt like everything—it would’ve proved that she was one of the smartest kids in New York. Turns out, she was one of the smartest with or without that B+.
Her father always told her that intelligent people don’t have to say they’re smart. People who say how smart they are usually end up being pretty stupid, he had said, but she doesn’t think this is that. This isn’t a brag, it’s simply a fact about who she is as a person. Tatum knows she’s extremely intelligent, but she also knows that people forget that because she’s quietly smart. Tatum prides herself on always being two steps ahead and completely silent about it. Like at the Sanctum.
Dr. Strange had a tell, and the eyebrow twitch was all Tatum needed to know he was lying about her very specific question. She had asked a yes or no for that exact reason. If he lied, there was only one other option, and the option was an answer. This was not Tatum’s first rodeo. She had plenty of practice figuring out when boys were lying in high school. They were all so bad at it, anyway.
As far as Tatum could figure, Strange had erased the memories of everyone that Peter went to school with, and possibly because they knew Peter was Spiderman. Using common sense, she had determined that at least her, Ned, and MJ knew about it because they were there when Strange brought Peter back from the other side. But “people they went to school with” was kind of an echo chamber, and she needed to look higher on the list if she was going to figure out exactly who knew Peter Parker.
So when Harley comes walking through the door to his and Ryan’s dorm room, she puts on her showiest smile at him.
“You must be Harley,” Tatum says sweetly. She tilts her head at him, glancing him up and down and making sure he knows she does it. “Ryan has told me about you.”
Harley drops his bag down by his desk and clambers up to his bed to sit across from Tatum while Ryan swivels his rolling desk chair around and aimlessly spins sides on a Rubik’s cube. It is amazing that he managed to make it into Stuyvesant, Tatum thinks to herself before turning her gaze back to Harley and putting her smile back on.
He doesn’t look like Tony Stark. Well, a little. She knows she’s met the inventor more than once, and she has a feeling that was because of Peter. Even though the memory is a little foggy, she still knows what he looks like, and Harley is only halfway there. She doesn’t think she’s ever met Harley before, though, and that signals to her that he has to be adopted or “adopted” by the family.
Harley reminds her of a golden retriever with the way he lights up to see a new potential friend sitting in his room. Tatum might not even need to turn on the charm if she plays her cards right.
“Um, yeah,” Harley answers dumbly. She can tell he’s a little flustered. “I’m Harley Keener. I don’t think I know your name, though.”
Oh, definitely adopted.
“I’m Tatum,” she introduces herself. “I came by because I think you know someone I went to school with.”
Harley raises an eyebrow, signaling her to continue. Play your cards right, she thinks.
“Um, there was this boy,” she says carefully, “and we lost touch. Ryan said he thinks you know him. Peter Parker?”
Tatum, always observant, catches the mental wince that Harley has at the name. She runs her tongue over her teeth in anticipation.
“Um…” Harley shrugs. “I mean, he’s in my organic chemistry class. And he was my tutor for like, two weeks, but we aren’t really friends, I guess.”
Tatum sucks in a breath and glances at Ryan, who is oblivious, so she keeps going.
“Not to get too personal,” Tatum says, sliding the picture from her purse, “but I found this photo and now I can’t remember him. I had to kind of…track him down to recall his name. I’m not trying to dump anything on you, really, but I obviously had something happen, and now I can barely remember him, but I remember him knowing your dad.”
She holds the picture out, but Harley is looking away. She tracks his gaze to the picture on his desk of him and Tony. Harley’s face starts to scrunch together in confusion, glancing back and forth between Tatum and the photo.
Gingerly taking the picture from her hand, Harley holds it between two fingertips like it’s an ancient relic. For all Tatum knows, it might be. He examines the picture of this girl in front of him and the boy from his organic chemistry class.
“He…knows my dad?” Harley’s voice sounds as fragile as he’s treating the picture. He picks his gaze up to stare at Tatum. “What do you mean, he knows my dad?”
Tatum’s plan is going perfectly. That was the exact reaction she was banking on, now it’s time to plant the seeds.
“Um, yeah,” Tatum says, swinging her legs a little in fake discomfort. “He knew Stark, I mean. I don’t remember a lot, honestly. The therapy hasn’t been…taking. But I remember meeting your dad because of Peter. I found that picture a while ago, and then I couldn’t remember who the boy was, but some stuff has been kind of coming back to me and I very clearly remember your dad being there.”
It wasn’t a total lie. Stark was there. She just leaves out the part where Peter was Spiderman and Stark was dead.
Ryan raises an eyebrow for the first time during this conversation, holding the Rubik’s cube in his hand but freezing his motions with the toy. Tatum is pretty sure he’s still reliving his “glory days” in his head like they weren’t two years ago and he didn’t get a scholarship.
“You knew Tony Stark?” Ryan questions. “Like, you met him?”
“Long story,” Tatum breathes, but Harley looks like he wants to ask. “Don’t you remember, Ryan, the valedictorian supposedly had some kind of internship with Stark? Peter was the valedictorian. I’ve definitely met Stark, I just can’t really remember why.”
Harley is shell-shocked on his bed. If he thinks any harder, Tatum will be able to hear it, she’s pretty sure. She grits her teeth in an awkward grimace–she knows how to read the room, and Harley is certainly easy to read.
“I’m going to assume you didn’t know that,” Tatum says slowly, and Harley shakes his head.
“No, but…okay, listen.” The kid reanimates like he’s been plugged back into the mainframe. “I was getting tutored by him, right, and we had to come here because I forgot my book, and he saw that picture of my dad and, like, totally freaked out. Full blown panic attack, ran out of the room, the whole thing.” Harley looks between the other two in the room. “Do you think something happened between them? Like, he had that internship and something happened and now he doesn’t want to be associated with my dad at all? Because it was super weird.”
Tatum shrugs, and Harley hands back her picture. She starts to tuck it into her purse as she speaks.
“I’m not sure,” she says, “but if your dad remembers anything about what happened with me and Peter, it would really help.” Tatum meets Harley’s eyes, doing her best to put on a sincere, sad face. “Like I said, um…the therapy hasn’t really been working, and I’m tired of trying to figure out what happened to make me forget him, so I’ve been asking around and I’m not getting a lot of answers. I know it’s not your problem, but…”
Harley rushes to stop her, waving his hands a little and shaking his head. “No, no, you’re good, really,” he gushes. “I can totally ask Tony if he remembers Peter. Honestly, I’m really glad you told me he knew my dad, that makes everything make, like, way more sense.”
Walking out of Ryan’s dorm, Tatum waits until the door is closed to put a knowing, self-satisfied smirk on her face.
Tatum: ok starks kid is totally buying it and going to ask his dad
MJ: well hopefully
Ned: yeah hopefully
Tatum: idk he seemed happy just to have somebody talk to him but he gave me some more tea on mysterious peter
Tatum: hold on im walking to my car
MJ: why are u always walking to your car. Who goes to their car this much
Ned: ur just mad u dont have a car
MJ: ur going to be mad when i key yours
Tatum: shut up
Tatum: ok so harley told me peter saw a picture of him and stark together and totally flipped out. So something totally happened after we brought stark back from the dead
MJ: do u think peter is stark’s other kid
Tatum: idk but if we can’t remember him and peter is freaking tf out over that picture, he definitely erased stark’s memory too. maybe he’s stark’s kid or they were jus rlly close?
Ned: we’re going to have to corner this kid aren’t we
MJ: lets wait until harley reports back. Maybe he finds something out for us
Tatum: if everything goes the way i want it to, stark will call within a week, and then we can jump
Clint’s not having a good time trying to find this Spider kid.
It’s almost harder than the first time. He checked back at the apartment a couple days after the thing with Stark on the rooftop, but the kid wasn’t there. He told the kid not to be there, so that’s a good thing, but whatever little the kid had was gone, too. The place is bare except for furniture. Clint does kind of hope the kid can go home one day, though, so he does the boy a favor and cleans out his fridge before it gets gross in there. Not like there’s a lot to clean out, anyways, but he takes the trash down to the dumpster via the window before beating it.
Clint gets why Tony is upset. Really, he’s lost a lot of people, and that whole thing with Ivan Vanko was a long time ago, but now that Stark has a kid, Clint’s sure things are different. If Clint thought that a stranger was going into his house, he’d want to kill them, too. Really, he gets it.
And maybe the spider child isn’t really a child. Tony said he was an adult, so maybe a young adult, Clint could see that, but he really just wishes Tony would stop and listen to anybody else for ten seconds. The kid, man, whatever he is, is obviously struggling. Clint isn’t sure how the kid got nanotechnology, and the evidence does look pretty damning, but the parent part of his brain wants to help the kid anyways. Either way, getting his hands on nanites wasn’t enough to be a death sentence in Clint’s mind. There was too much of the unknown to make that call yet. The kid is literally five foot eight–he’s not Thanos.
So he jumped in to help. He was more of a nuisance to Tony during the fight than a true threat, but it had been enough to save Spiderman’s life. That whole throwing-Clint-through-the-ground thing wasn’t fun or comfortable, but there are worse things.
Since then, Clint has been trying to keep his head low in case Tony hunts him down, too, while simultaneously scouring New York for the kid. He isn’t sure where the boy took off to, but Clint isn’t leave any stone unturned, and he’s been out at night to see if Spiderman can be spotted. He’s even been listening to the police channel to find crime and see if the kid shows up with no luck.
He’s going to find the kid, though. He knows what his face looks like. That’s why he’s on NYU campus, wandering aimlessly until he finds who he’s looking for. He remembers where the kid goes to school because he had an NYU pin on his backpack, and Clint has seen him a thousand times outside of the check cashing place.
woooo i got behind working on this bc of school, boo, but i have the rest of this fic planned out finally and now i almost want to make a group chat fic to go along with Bad Influences
Chapter 12: No Clue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter misses classes for a week, citing a family emergency. Nobody makes sure he’s okay. He almost wishes he had been friends with Harley now and just went along with it. That had to have been better than the crushing loneliness that permeated the tinted windows of the Audi. Wishing for attention feels narcissistic, but Ned and MJ always checked on him when he missed classes at Midtown. At Stuy, the entire group chat was notified if he wasn’t in first period. Tatum would ask if he was doing okay, and sometimes she’d drop by the apartment with something for him–once it was a hot tea, once it was a cup of soup, once it was a slice of cake for them to share. It always made him feel a little better.
Now, nobody wondered where Peter Parker was when he missed class. Nobody cared. Peter hibernates in the back of his car, parked out at the docks. He feels disgusting after pissing on the sides of abandoned buildings and not showering for a week. His blankets smell funky and he hasn’t changed out of the clothes he haphazardly put on to run away. It smells like the summer between junior and senior year in that car, and so he decides that if nothing else, he needs to run home to shower. He has a place, though he doesn’t think he’s going to make next month’s rent after missing work for a week, but he might as well use it while he has it.
If Iron Man wants to come to his apartment in Queens to kill him, so be it.
These past two weeks have Peter reeling. He feels like before, he was living life in detail, even if he was permanently shifted into survival mode, but he forgot how blank and smooth depression feels. He doesn’t notice the wood grain underneath of his fingertips on the staircase railing. He doesn’t notice the tiny creaks and groans of the stairs bowing under the weight of him and his belongings. He doesn’t think twice about his apartment door being unlatched, or the quiet click the lock makes when he’s able to push right through with his shoulder. All he notices is how stagnant the air is around him, how the apartment doesn’t smell like lemons anymore because he hasn’t cleaned and isn’t motivated to do it. He’d probably feel guilty for not doing the cleaning, too, but he’s so tired that he just focuses on not suffocating from the weight of seeing his own blood smeared all over the floor.
He leaves it there. Instead, he steps into the shower to wash away his sins. His body is looking much better now than before–his ribs are healed, which he’s grateful for, because breathing isn’t so much of a chore, and his broken eye socket is just a yellow and brown ring, significantly smaller than it was before. The heavy bruising that covered his torso to the point where he was afraid to look at himself had faded to the same jaundiced color as his eye and no longer sends spasms of pain through his body when something bumped against him.
Peter washes his hair twice, scrubs all the dead skin holding his depression away. He’s never had a bout of it as bad as that one summer, but every time he thinks he might, the first thing he can find solace in is the shower. A shower is what rejuvenates him and motivates him to keep moving. It doesn’t cure him, by any means. Realistically, he should be in therapy. But that isn’t an option, and so the shower is the place where he makes himself feel new to keep going another day. It’s the reason he’s a morning-shower person instead of a nighttime one.
He brushes his teeth with baking soda and peroxide when he gets out of the shower to make his mouth feel fresh and clean again in a way that mint toothpaste just can’t. He shaves his face, cleans up his sideburns. Peter wipes the steam away from the mirror to look at himself for the first time in a while.
There’s a wild look in his eye. He feels like everyone treats him as if he’s a cornered animal, and now he understands why. There’s something there that Peter often sees in the eyes of criminals who have second thoughts about what they’re doing but are in too deep to stop. With the crescent-shaped bruises around his cheek, that glint reads less like second thoughts and more like, “however bad you think you are, I’m worse”.
Peter looks away from the mirror. Stares into the scuffed porcelain of the sink instead. He doesn’t want to see himself anymore if he’s not wearing the suit. He’s not really sure who he is anymore, and he has so many problems that he’s not even sure where to start.
The sun is beginning to set. He has work in the morning at the grocery store, but he has some time to kill in the evening. There’s only one thing to do when he feels this shitty, so he swears that tomorrow night, he’ll try one last time, and if Stark finishes the job, so be it.
Tony Stark has been in the Tower for a while. Pepper called and asked if he was doing okay. He said he was fine, but she knows he lies. JARVIS is set to report to her immediately if Stark starts drinking, and as long as she doesn’t get a report, she’ll wait until he’s ready to talk about whatever is keeping him up all night.
He doesn’t tell her about the fight. Either of them. There’s nothing to tell, anyways, because even he isn’t sure what happened. Everything that felt real at one time is just a cardboard city now, and Stark spends his time sitting in his workshop and staring at the photo that he hides in the ratchet case.
After the first fight, Stark had put a red dot on that kid’s head with a vengeance. He was certain that boy had done something in this Tower while Tony was in the other dimension. He’d broken in, stole equipment, fabricated something that he needed, used JARVIS, did something that would threaten the integrity of Stark’s Tower and his family’s safety. Tony was certain that the kid had as much information as he could locate. When the kid put his override code into the suit and it worked, that was all Tony needed to know that the kid was a threat that needed to be stopped ASAP. He had even gone as far as to worry that the boy in the photo wasn’t around, and Spiderman had something to do with it.
Then, the second fight, yeah. He had maybe overreacted a little. The person behind the red and blue nanotech was obviously young, but he knew Harley’s name, and even the media didn’t know Harley’s name. Harley had been through enough in this life without whatever this Spider Kid was going to bring to the table, and Tony had no interest in gambling with Har’s wellbeing. His son was just trying to lead a normal life and go to university.
Tony was already keyed up when he went to find the kid. When the smartass said Harley’s name, maybe he lost his temper a little bit. He had to give Spiderman credit where it was due, though. The kid was tough. He got up every time except for the last one, and still had the guts to call Tony a son of a bitch and dare him to try and kill him.
Tony’s mistake had been actually trying to do it. He regrets that. He more than regrets it–he honestly hates himself a little for the ordeal, the way he lost his cool. Nobody had spotted Spiderman, including JARVIS, since the fight, and Stark was growing more concerned by the day that the injuries might have killed the kid. He was in bad shape when he escaped the first time, but the second must have seriously injured him. The kid behind the mask couldn’t have been much older, if at all, than Harley. He even looked a little like Har. Tony almost made a grave mistake, one that might have cost him much more than his reputation. He can imagine the headlines now: Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, kills beloved New York hero.
But then he tried, and the kid’s mask materialized over his chest to save him, and Tony saw his face. It took him a moment to register what he was seeing, but there was no denying the features in front of him.
Tony has spent a long time wondering who that boy was. Looking over the slightly creased photograph that lives inside of his toolbox. Running his fingers along the smooth lamination, looking over the crisp outline of his suit in contrast to the dirty kid’s baseball uniform. He played for Stuyvesant High School–the red lettering was stitched across a sharp black baseball jersey. The kid looked like he was made to wear it. There was dusty baseball field dirt all over him, but Tony didn’t even look like he cared. There were little light brown smudges on his own blazer, but Tony’s smile showed nothing except for complete and utter pride in this baseball player. Tony’s arm was around the kid to pull him closer into Tony’s side.
He imagined what it would be like the first time he saw this kid again. Running into him on a New York City street, or seeing him at an event, whoever he was. He wondered if he would say something or back down, if he’d call after the kid or try to remember his name first. The photo is so recent that Tony thinks he’d be afraid to ask the boy’s name. Maybe he could lie, tell the child he had a TBI and can’t remember anything but faces, what is your name, kid? Sorry I can’t remember, it’s been tough, you know?
Tony then realized that if he doesn’t remember the boy, he’s either from the other dimension or he’s dead. Something terrible has happened to force Tony to forget what happened to this sweet-looking kid. He may not know the kid’s name, but his gut wrenches at the idea of having seen the kid mutilated, or gone without a trace, desperate to go home and unable to do it. Tony has to stop thinking about it.
And then, twenty stories in the sky, Tony had that moment. He saw the kid for the first time, but it wasn’t on the street or at an event. Tony’s hand was wrapped around his child’s throat, ready to kill him after beating the brutal fuck out of him, and Tony had frozen.
He didn’t see any signs of recognition on the kid’s face. Any sign that he knew Tony. That scared Tony even more–did this kid get taken? Was he kidnapped, by one of the hundreds of organizations that want Tony’s technology, and used as a weapon? Was he turned into something like Bucky had been, a brainwashed operative? He didn’t seem traumatized to the naked eye, that’s for sure, the kid had a mouth on him to rival Tony’s own and that makes Tony’s chest hurt even more. He wants to remember this kid so, so bad, he is desperately rubbing his thumb over the photo like he’s going to scratch away the secret lottery numbers, and a tear drips from the bottom of his jaw as he looks at a kid that looks just so much like Tony that it physically hurts that Tony doesn’t know the boy’s name.
So he uploads the photo to JARVIS. He never did it before because he was afraid of what he’d find, but his son is fuckin’ Spiderman, and now it’s worth finding out the worst.
JARVIS constructs a 3D holographic model of what the child looks like based on the photo and on the battle footage he saved from the fight. He searches databases to look for a match on a driver’s license or a school ID.
The second one pops first. A photo of the boy is produced on the monitor, along with the school name and his full legal name.
Peter B. Parker, Tony mouths with his lips. Parker. Parker. Tony knew a Parker, didn’t he? A woman, a Miss Parker, and if he’s remembering right, she was always quite pretty and he liked to tease…Happy, maybe, because now it’s coming back to him and he’s pretty certain that Miss Parker was Happy’s girlfriend.
Parker is a common last name, though, and Tony isn’t quite sure that the last name in a city this big is enough of a link to say Tony knows the family.
The photo catches Tony’s eye. The ID picture on Peter’s card. In the photo of him and Tony, he’s so happy. He looks so, so happy, that kid does, to have his dad watch him win a tournament and be there to hug him after, but this picture is dark. He looks angry. He has a bone to pick with somebody, and Stark is beginning to think it’s him.
The kid’s jaw is clenched so tight that it has to hurt his teeth for it to show up in the photo. Instead of a smile, there is a straight line affixed to this boy’s lips. His eyes look like they’ve seen a lot more than a teenager needs to see. There’s no crinkled corners from laughing. He just looks…dark. Like Tony did after the wormhole. There’s just numbness.
Anyone could tell from looking at this picture that the kid is traumatized. This isn’t just a “bad day” photo. This is the kid. This is how he looks now. Tony’s stomach hurts.
He goes to NYU, which Tony finds interesting. Any kid smart enough to pull off a nanotech suit has to be smarter than NYU.
He’s about to ask JARVIS to do a search for the kid’s family to see if Miss Parker makes an appearance when the airlock doors open with a quiet hiss and Stark jumps out of his skin.
Harley’s conversation with Tatum was downright weird.
He had assumed Peter maybe just didn’t like Tony, like as a corporate billionaire playboy guy. A lot of people didn’t like Tony. It wasn’t anything new.
But for Peter to have a panic attack, spring out of the room, freak out on Harley in the middle of the lecture hall, that was weird. He felt like he was doing everything wrong in a game where nobody told him the rules.
So Harley decided not to seek out Parker anymore. Harley didn’t look for the guy in class, or at the study table. He just avoided him. It wasn’t worth it, Harley figured, to be pining over a kid to be his friend when there are thousands of other people on campus. He just thought Peter seemed cool, but after the events in class, Harley decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Not worth the embarrassment.
He couldn’t help but notice, though, that Peter wasn’t there when Harley got to class this week. Even though he said he wasn’t going to look for him, it was totally normal to look for people you know when finding a seat, Harley figured. So he naturally did that, and couldn’t find the other boy. Harley assumed maybe he dropped the class, until Peter’s name wasn’t on the study table hours for this week, either. He mustered up the courage to ask Dr. Barnhouse if Peter was okay, and she had told him there was a family emergency, but Harley couldn’t shake the bad feeling that gave him. Guilt riddled his conscience for abandoning ship on trying to be Peter’s friend. The kid showed up to class with what Harley was pretty sure was a broken eye socket and could hardly move, even if he tried to fake it, and now there’s a family emergency and Peter’s MIA?
And then this girl shows up in his dorm room.
He can’t lie, he was flustered. Very flustered. She was really pretty, and he’s a little jealous of Peter for having such a pretty girlfriend, but then she told him why she was there and that freaked Harley out even more. Who the fuck was this kid that some girl he dated literally blacked him out of her memory? What did he do? He seemed, you know, normal for the most part, maybe a little antisocial, maybe a little mean, but not like…a monster. And Harley was growing seriously worried that Peter was a monster.
But he kept his promise for the girl anyway because that’s what good people do. Growing up, his mother always told him it was less effort to be a good person than it was to be spiteful and bitter. It would be worth it to be the nice kid. He didn’t quite think that was very true when he was being relentlessly harassed in high school. The bullying didn’t stop until the first time Harley popped off in the locker room and actually hurt somebody. After that, people kind of left him alone, and as time went on, he found merit in doing the right thing because he enjoyed helping others. It cost him nothing to be a good person and ask his dad if he remembers Peter for Tatum.
There’s something in it for Harley, too, and that’s figuring out what happened between Peter and Tony to make Peter have a full blown panic attack.
But as he steps off of the elevator, he sees Peter’s school ID blown up on Stark’s monitor and Stark scrambling to get it taken down. Harley stops to stare–what the fuck was he doing, stalking the kid Harley had problems with?
“Hey, kid,” Stark sputters, but he says it nervously and out of breath, like he’s panicking internally.
“Um, hello?” Harley rounds one of the heavy-duty steel workbenches to point at the now-black monitor. “Why are you looking at pictures of Peter?”
Stark pinches his eyebrows together and looks at the dark screen, turning to look at Harley again, and then looks back and forth. “I wasn’t,” Stark finally says, pointing at the screen. “See? Nothing there.”
Harley makes a bewildered face, looking around before landing his eyes back on Stark.
“You were very obviously just looking at pictures of that kid,” Harley states. He says it slowly, like Stark might miss one of the words. “That’s the kid I told you was being super weird, and you’re…stalking him?”
Stark’s mouth opens, but no sounds come out. He looks back at the dark screen before clapping to force JARVIS to wake the monitor up. Peter’s face appears once again before the two of them, along with his full name and student ID number.
“You know him?” Stark points, and Harley frowns.
“Yeah, we go to school together. Can you skip to the part where you tell me why you’re looking at…his picture?”
Stark clears his throat. His cheeks have taken on a slightly red hue at being caught by Harley doing something that is certainly weird, and he wrings his fingers together.
“Um…” Stark glances at the picture once again.
Stark can’t tell Harley the truth.
There isn’t a good truth to tell, anyways. If this is just the kid Har knows from school, he certainly doesn’t know Peter is Spiderman, so outing Peter is out of the question. He can’t tell Harley, “I have a son I can’t remember and so I’m hunting him down, do you want a brother?” He especially can’t tell Harley, “I’m trying to track down the kid I brutalized on the roof the other night, I’m a little worried he died from the injuries”.
He opens his mouth to speak, and all that comes out is kind of a strangled laugh as he swivels from screen to child.
“Ah,” Stark states, and Harley looks at him expectantly with his eyebrows raised, motioning for Tony to answer him.
“This looks pretty, um…creepy, Tones,” Harley says slowly, walking around the other side of the workbench. Tony presses his back against the cold steel, and with the expert of a world-class spy, pushes the upside-down photograph until it’s hidden underneath the ratchet case and out of sight.
“Uh, no.” Tony’s brain finally decides to start working like somebody flipped the switch. Usually he’s quicker than that. “He, um…he’s an intern at SI. Um, was an intern, might return.”
Harley exhales a laugh of relief, looking up at the picture. “Oh, dude, thank god,” Harley says with a grin, eyes fixated on the screen. “I thought you were, like, hunting down everyone who gave me problems. That would really make my popularity soar,” he adds sarcastically, making the same snarky face that Morgan makes when she’s being sarcastic.
Tony rolls his eyes. He opens his mouth to tell another lousy lie, but Harley cuts him off with a hand rubbing anxiously at the back of his neck.
“Um, so, I wanted to ask you about this kid, actually.”
Harley has Stark figured out.
Seeing Peter’s face on the screen was enough for Harley to know that Stark absolutely knew Peter. That was check one on the list, so he at least had something to report to Tatum that could help her.
But more, it tells him that Peter absolutely knows Stark, and Stark knows Peter, and something must have happened for Peter to be an absolute weirdo about seeing Tony’s face on Harley’s desk. Tony even mentioned the internship, so Tatum’s assumption was true.
Harley’s brain concocted a story to the best of his abilities. The most logical explanation was that Peter had done something to fuck up his job at the Tower. Maybe something big, maybe something small, doesn’t matter, but something happened, and he was fired or maybe forced to resign, and Tony was willing to give the kid a chance again. Maybe that’s why Peter was so nervous about talking to or knowing Harley–he was worried that Harley would tell his dad bad stuff about him and mess up his job again.
Harley feels silly. The answer was in front of him the entire time, he just needed to put it together instead of assuming he did something wrong or that Peter was just an asshole. The guy is just nervous.
It doesn’t fix the queasy feeling in his stomach about Tatum’s potentially traumatizing past with the guy, but one mystery solved was still better than none.
“Ask me about him?” Stark prompts, and Harley snaps back to reality after a moment of putting together the pieces.
“Oh, um, yeah.” He takes a seat on the stool he’s sure Tony was using, swiveling it back and forth lazily as a nervous tick. “So, that guy, Peter, he…well, I told you he like, super freaked out about your picture, right?”
Tony had totally forgotten about the picture thing. That phone call felt like forever ago, even if it was only a few weeks, and Tony hadn’t honestly paid a ton of attention to who it was that panicked at the sight of his picture.
Interesting, Tony thinks as he nods an answer to his son. When he looked at Peter, Peter wasn’t looking at him with any type of recognition. Like they’d been forced to forget one another, via brainwashing or magic or trauma, whatever it might have been. But if he saw the photo of Tony in Harley’s room, he definitely knew who Tony was. That, or Tony’s face was a trigger, which pained the man to think about, but regardless, Peter had some semblance of understanding as to who Tony was.
Tony couldn’t remember this kid for the life of him, but that kid certainly remembered him, and Tony thinks there’s one person who might be able to help him figure out why.
“Well,” Harley attempts again, “um, this girl showed up in my room–no, not like that, don’t make that face at me, dude, stop–she showed up and she’s friends with my roommate because they went to school together or whatever, but…I don’t know. It was weird. She came to ask me if I knew Peter at all because she dated him, and I was like, yeah, he’s in my classes but we don’t talk really, because we don’t, and she said she was in like…hella therapy for whatever he did to her because she can’t remember him at all so she wanted me to ask if you know anything about what happened between him and her because it might help her remember. Like, she found a picture of him, and she had no idea who he was, but like, the picture is very obviously them dating, so…”
Stark’s eyebrows knit closer together the more that Harley talks, and he leans forward a little to show his interest, trying to catch every word. Some girl knew Peter, and now she knows Peter knows him, but she can’t remember anything about Peter? Bingo.
“Uh, maybe, I might,” Stark says with a shrug. “Didn’t really talk to the kid a lot.”
Harley shifts in his chair, sliding down when he can’t sit still anyways. “Her name is Tatum? Tatum, um, Walker?”
Stark has to physically stop himself from raising an eyebrow when he hears Tatum’s name. Tatum fucking Walker. That little girl was sharp, too sharp for her own good, and she had a mouth to go with it. He can’t really recall how he knows her. He hasn’t thought about the kid for…longer than he can remember, but now that he hears her name, it floods back to him. She was there when he came back from the other side. He can picture her, kneeling in the grass and doing chest compressions on…someone. Someone. Tony tries hard to remember, using the time to seem like he’s pondering her role in Peter Parker’s life, but nothing will come to him. He can’t picture who she was trying to save.
He has a serious lead weight in his stomach telling him, based on the fear he felt watching her do the compressions, that the figure on the ground at the Compound was Peter Parker.
And if Tatum was sending Harley to figure out why she couldn’t remember Peter Parker, she must know, somehow, that Tony doesn’t remember the kid, either.
Stark shakes his head. “Sorry kid. No clue.”
poor harley, knowing the least out of everyone involved 😭
Chapter 13: Keep Up
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter Parker decides to head out on the town to clear his head.
Maybe it’s a stupid idea, maybe it’s dangerous. He’s mostly healed now anyway. All that’s left is the mental scars, and Peter has enough of those already, so he figures there’s no harm in going out for a little while.
He was wrong.
It started with a churro. A nice lady, one he’s helped more than once, gave him one for standing with her at the bus stop until it arrived. He ate it in about two bites and dusted the cinnamon sugar crumbs off on his suit.
Coordinating his movements and attacks is harder using pieces from two separate suits. He still has the fabric mask with the nanotech body until he can reprogram the nanites to use the materials from his iron spider legs to create a new chest piece. His suit wasn’t quite as advanced as Stark’s Iron Man suit had been because it was technically rescue armor, but for being just that, it was wildly advanced.
The churro took him to an aluminum awning that made his thighs chilly, so he had to bounce over to a different rooftop, and from there he decided to go swing for a little while until his arms got kind of sore. He figures it’s probably still from the damage he took during his several ass kickings and lack of proper nutrition, but the spot he picks on the roof of the university library is nice.
Until it isn’t.
Before it becomes very not-nice, he sits in the dark, watching the night ambiance settle over the city while he contemplates college. NYU looks nice in the evening with all the lampposts lit up and random dorm lights spattering the buildings like stars. Sometimes he wishes that he had actually just roomed in one of the dormitories, but it wasn’t convenient to be Spiderman with a roommate and no windows. Sharing a room with somebody was just asking to get screwed into his face being plastered over Times Square again, which was why he didn’t even have a roommate at the apartment to make his life easier with the rent.
This week off for a family emergency was enough to send Peter’s entire academic life off-kilter. Even if the absences had been excused, it was very possible that in the next couple weeks, he wouldn’t make the rent. His landlord didn’t play around with money, either, and missing his deadline was any easy way to find himself out on the street and cold again. Getting another place this cheap that isn’t full of mold or in a really bad area was only possible in his dreams. If he was homeless, getting to and from school was going to be a lot harder. He thought about maybe trying to walk on to the NYU basketball team like he did at MIT. He’d be able to shower, at least. Another reason he wishes he would’ve sucked it up and befriended Harley–he could have used his shower on the low.
Peter sits with his head in his hands, wondering who’s going to come hunt him down this time. Maybe Clint, maybe Stark, maybe Harley for all he knows. He wouldn’t be surprised if Ned, MJ, and Tatum all swarmed him from a hot air balloon at this point.
He can hear a party in the distance. It’s only a block or so away, and if he had to guess, it was one of the frat houses that border the outskirts of campus like a weird, beer-can fortress. He had gone past them a few times, helping drunk college kids get back to their dorms instead of walking or driving drunk, and all he could have hoped was that they at least recycle the copious amount of beer cans that were littering the yards.
It is getting later now, and Peter decides maybe he can do a little more good over at the house than here sitting on the roof, so he swings through the campus buildings and the trees to reach the source of the noise. He was right–SAE is alive with people. There are human-shaped shadows scattering the front yard of the massive house. He heard from somebody that it used to be a church that they renovated into a fraternity, and there are dozens of rooms inside. He’s got no friends, so it’s not like he would really know anybody that could get him in. Bummer, too–Peter knows how to party.
In any case, he perches on a rooftop opposite the entrance to the house to watch if anybody is getting ready to make a massive driving mistake. He’s sitting there for about fifteen minutes when he hears it.
There is a loud argument happening on the right end of the house. He has to scan for the source of it, but it’s difficult over the music and the chatter outside. Crawling along the outsides of buildings until he can wrap around to the other end of the house, he sees it–two people, outside of a car. There’s a boy, pressed up against the side of the vehicle, and holding him at gunpoint is a man in a ski mask. He’s significantly bigger than the boy against the car, but Peter can see even from here that the gunman’s hands are shaking so hard he’d miss his shot at point blank. The boy is clutching his backpack and shaking his head no around the tears that muffle his words.
The boy turns away from the gun as much as he can. Peter can see his face clearly now, even though it’s scrunched and streaked with tears.
That’s Harley Keener.
The malevolent part of Peter wants to walk away. For a split second, it crosses his mind. But that man is holding a gun, and if Peter walks away and the kid gets shot, or worse, killed, that’s on Peter. And as much as Peter needs Stark to stay away, he can’t do that to Tony. He doesn’t hate Tony.
Peter does hate Harley Keener. He does. But Spiderman is neutral. Spiderman is supposed to help the little guy. Right now, Harley is the little guy.
He has no choice. He can’t just be a bystander. Peter swings into action.
Shimmying to the edge of the roof, he launches into a backflip off of the shingles, slinging a web to snatch the gun from right between the car jacker’s fingers and into Peter’s own. The gun gets unloaded and dropped into the dumpster Peter bounds over, and both the college kid and the man swivel to see what machine of god has intervened.
Spiderman stalks across the tips of the wooden fence like a tightrope just to step off and land gracefully on two feet. A few steps away from the boy he’s trying to save, he uses his two fingers to motion for the man to step away.
“No more gun, no more power,” he states, raising his eyebrows. “Why don’t you beat it before the cops get here?”
Harley looks awestruck, swiveling back and forth between the man and Peter, jaw dropped. He loosens his grip on his bag just a little. Peter internally deflates when Harley speaks.
“You-you’re–” Harley stammers out, pointing a weak, trembling finger at Peter, who throws his hands up in exasperation.
“Yes, Spiderman, yes, it’s me,” he grumbles.
Peter turns back to the man, who is backed against a gate with nowhere to go.
The guy has to be at least six foot four, and he towers over Peter. He reminds Peter of Cap with his build–Peter supposes that working out so much doesn’t leave a lot of time for a real job and that’s why he’s snatching laptops.
“I wasn’t talking to the kid,” Peter remarks, taking a step forward. “Beat it.”
The man eyes him up and down with a snarl on his face. Harley presses himself back against the door of the car. Peter scowls at the gunman, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You aren’t a rottweiler, even if you look part bitch. Cops are on their way, Undertaker. Do you want them to find you on their own, or find you webbed to the side of a fraternity dumpster?” Peter takes another menacing step forward to close more of the distance between the two of them, positioning his body to be the wall between the man and Harley. Why the stupid kid won’t just take his ass out of here, Peter doesn’t know, but he can’t turn around to tell the kid to beat it without taking eyes off of Big Ugly.
“Fuck you,” the man says, but he doesn’t look like he’s willing to budge, and that means Peter is going to be the one who puts him in cuffs before he can go bother some other broke college kid.
“It speaks!” Spiderman exclaims with a laugh, throwing his hands up in celebration. “A feat of evolution, truly.”
The guy isn’t moving, so Peter stops moving, too, and instead just keeps himself at the ready. It’s a pure standoff–two men standing in the dark alley, bass thumping on the other side of the fence and the flies buzzing from the dumpster around them. Peter shrugs.
“What’s your move, player? Making a run for it so I can get my cardio in?” he asks, making a show of limbering up his arms and twisting his torso to crack his back. “Maybe reconsidering your life of crime and steroids?”
The man eyes Peter. Glances him up and down, and then huffs, like a breathy laugh.
“I,” the man sneers, spitting as he speaks, ew, “am not taking life advice from the guy that killed Mysterio.”
Harley huffs from behind him. Peter almost forgot he was even here. He lets his arms drop in exasperation and rolls his eyes. “Oh my god, dude, I thought we were so over that. It’s so last year. Try again.”
“Fine.” The guy rolls his head from side to side. “The guy that killed that innocent lady in the condos last year.”
Something inside of Peter snaps and all he can hear in his ears is his blood rushing. He squints his eyes.
“What did you just say?” he murmurs. The guy smirks.
Clint is getting so tired of looking for this kid on campus. It’s dark, late, and he’s tired, but he went to the apartment and nobody was there, so he figured if the kid wasn’t there, he was either at school or doing Spiderman, and now here he was, trudging around campus again to find this kid that he really, really hopes is not dead.
He would have preferred to get the boy some medical treatment before sending him off, but he didn’t have a lot of time and needed Spiderman to separate from Iron Man and get into hiding as fast as possible.
Clint stands on the sidewalk, staring up at a frat house that is absolutely jumping right now, and he wishes he looked a little younger so he could go inside and let loose for a little while. He imagines what Nat would say–you did that enough in Budapest, meh meh meh, the integrity of the mission, meh meh meh, who drinks Miller Lite, meh meh meh.
It’s while he imagines her perfectly circular eye roll that he hears commotion. Someone yelling. Someone hitting someone else. The partygoers don’t seem to hear it so close to the music, but Clint can.
Taking a few cautious steps to the left, he peers down the direction where the sound is coming from, down a dark alley between wooden fences. He assumes it’s actually the driveway for the frat brothers, but he has to squint to make anything out. Clint takes a slow step into the street, peering through the dark to figure out who is fighting, when he catches a glint of red and blue and sprints for backup.
The kid is pounding the shit out of some guy. When Clint says pounding the shit out of him, he’s pretty sure the guy has actually shit himself. That, or the dumpster on the left has been festering for longer than it should. There’s blood covering the man’s face, his cheekbones and lips split open in painful looking gashes that have already started to swell up. The kid is making horrible sounds. Grunting and panting and spitting with each crushing blow as he turns the once-criminal into a bag of pudding. There’s another kid there, Clint realizes as he closes in, pressed up against the back of a car, holding his nose and staring at Spiderman. He’s got the guy by the collar and that’s got to be the only thing keeping the man on his knees. Clint is shocked the guy is still conscious as Spiderman hits him with the left hook, then a right, then another right, a left…
“Hey!” Clint shouts as he runs. “Kid!”
Spiderman doesn’t respond. Clint isn’t sure if he can’t hear, or if he’s ignoring Clint, but he grabs the kid by the shoulders harshly when he finally closes the distance. The boy on the ground is holding his face, but his eyes widen around his hands when he sees another man rushing into the alley. The kid gets up like he’s about to scram but he just stands, motioning uselessly at Spiderman.
Clint’s grasp is enough of a shock to make the boy let go of the torn and bloody collar. Said grasp is also enough to make the boy panic and swing at Clint’s face. Must have done the same to the kid by the car.
Clint dodges down, grabs the kid’s arm in a lock. The eyes on his Spiderman mask narrow–weirdly expressive for a fabric mask–and when Clint goes to block a left hook that never comes, the kid swipes his legs out from underneath of him and Clint hits the dirt with a groan of surprise and pain. Even the kid by the car makes a noise of surprise, and Clint recognizes that kid now that he’s on the ground and can see his face clearly–that’s Stark’s kid. Clint’s only seen pictures in Tony’s labs and garages, but he knows that face.
Spiderman takes a step back. Clint thinks maybe he’ll snap out of it, realize what he’s done, but the boy just turns around and grabs his victim’s collar again. Clint’s eyes widen in realization.
“Don’t kill him,” Clint pants, sitting up and putting a hand out to try and stop the kid. “Don’t. You’re going to kill him if you don’t stop.”
Spiderman stands stone still, holding the man up by the shirt. The man is limp in the kid’s hand–his arms dangle uselessly at his sides, covered in welts like the boy beat him into submission long ago, and his legs aren’t supporting any weight. His face is swollen. If Clint knew the guy, he’d never recognize him now.
“Don’t do it,” Harley squeaks from behind his bloody fingers. “Don’t kill him.”
“Shut up!” Spiderman’s voice is hoarse and ragged, and he roars with an anger that Clint is all too familiar with. “Shut the fuck up.”
“Don’t.” Clint flickers his eyes between the kid and the man whose life dangles in the gray area. “Don’t. You’re better than that, kid, don’t.”
Spiderman is silent. Clint’s not sure whose heart is thudding in his ears, his or the kid or Harley. He exhales shakily,.He lets go and the man topples to the ground with a thud. The mugger lays there, unmoving, just breathing heavily through a broken nose.
Clint almost doesn’t even hear it, but the kid whispers to him. Clint’s eyebrows knit into concern.
“Yes,” Clint whispers back. “You are.”
Peter can’t remember the last time he ate something.
Clint had brought him to a pizza joint and bought him four slices to shove in his face, but his stomach felt like it was full of rocks and he wasn’t much in the mood to eat. There were a lot of drunk college kids scattered about, coming in and out. It looked exactly how one would expect–the whole place is painted white and red, there’s a sweaty Italian guy behind the glass yelling orders, and a drunk girl has just chucked up all 128 ounces of whatever she had to drink tonight somewhere in the bathroom. Peter knows because he can hear it.
He sits across from Clint in the booth, and it’s just how he remembers things being before Strange’s spell. He still doesn’t know if Clint remembers him from before the events at the Statue of Liberty, but he supposes it doesn’t matter. Clint knows what Peter’s face looks like, he just doesn’t know Peter’s name, and so sitting in a restaurant without the safety of his suit seemed silly to worry about. Peter’s already sure that the world is going to be ending pretty soon, so he might as well enjoy his last few days.
He’s not sure of the implications of breaking the rules. If someone were to know Peter, and know that Peter was Spiderman, he risked the entire world cracking in half again. Even though the reason he had to erase himself was because of his own selfishness botching Strange’s work, he’s still living two lives, and his only choices were to quit Spiderman for good or go completely public. All the other Avengers didn’t lead secret lives, but Peter was just a kid when he started his vigilantism, and the public would come down hard on the remaining Avengers for willingly endangering a minor like they’d tried to do with May. Leading a secret life had seemed doable when all the important people in his life knew his other identity, but now it seems impossible after what the poor kid has been through.
It certainly seemed like Stark knew who he was, or at least recognized his face by the way he reacted after trying to choke Peter to death on the roof. Peter’s been plagued with the image of Stark staring at him, unable to process a full thought while Peter struggled to breathe. He had even accepted his death at his father’s hand–that’s how Peter really knows he’s in too deep. The last time he had accepted death was when he was dangling in the gray area at the Compound. He knows he should feel bad about himself for being so willing to give up and stop breathing, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t know what he feels.
There’s so much emotion swirling in Peter’s brain that he just sits in silence with his shoulders slumped. There’s guilt, anger, rejection, anxiety. He was grateful that Clint had sent Harley home. They made sure the boy got into his dorm safely, of course, but Clint made it pretty clear he didn’t want Stark’s kid to see Peter’s face. The last thing Peter wants is another run-in with Stark.
In the beginning, that was who he missed most. After May had died and he’d been orphaned a second time, all he wanted was to go see Tony Stark and cry on the overly expensive couch in the main suite. He wanted to hear Stark’s smart ass remarks, listen to him curse and insult his bots and his tools and his cars, laugh when the world’s brightest inventor smacked his head off of the dual exhaust he was working on. It would have made the darkest days of Peter’s life into something to look forward to.
But that wasn’t an option. Peter and Stark had grown close under such a specific set of circumstances that he was certain there was no way to replicate that experiment again. The only thing more heart-wrenching than losing May and Stark both would have been meeting the man a second time just for Stark to not love Peter as much as he did before. It was a terrifying thought–being second-best to yourself, and now, second-best to Harley. Harley Keener was the wrench in all of this. He was the reason Peter had unknowingly gone from mourning the hole Stark left in his life to wishing to never see Stark again.
He’s not sure when that happened. When he went from missing Tony, to completely numb, to rejecting the image of the man’s face from his mind. He had asked Karen to show him a video the other night to remind himself of how it used to be before Peter fucked his life up. It made him feel a little better, and then riddled him with horrible guilt that made Peter want to throw up. He was doing a lot of that these days.
He’s not sure if the nausea he feels sitting in the sticky vinyl booth is from not eating or from eating too much. He sets down his third slice of pizza that he’s halfway done with, and Clint raises an eyebrow and opens his mouth to speak for the first time since they ordered.
“Don’t make yourself sick,” he says gently.
Peter shrugs. “Dunno when I’ll eat again.”
Clint’s face flashes a moment of hurt when Peter admits that, but it’s the truth. He doesn’t know when he’ll eat again. He’s been feeling some of the effects of his decisions regarding food, but what other choice does he have? It’s not like he hasn’t been hungry before. He’ll survive.
“Yeah.” Clint’s tone is somber. “That’s why I wanted to find you in the first place.”
Peter raises an eyebrow at the man.
Clint clears his throat. “I, um, well, I started looking for you because I thought you were a kid, and I wanted to make sure you got the training you needed to stay safe.”
Peter holds back a snort. That was how he met Clint in the first place back in high school–so concerned about a minor being unprotected in the city.
“And then I saw…okay, well, don’t think I’m weird, but I saw you going home and I broke into your apartment.”
Peter raises an eyebrow again. “You broke into my apartment.”
Clint scowls. “Well, it sounds bad when you say it in that tone.”
Peter pauses before he shrugs. “Fair enough. Continue.” At least this means Clint doesn’t recognize him. Doesn’t remember. Tatum and Stark were the only outliers.
“And I saw…blood, everywhere. I mean, it was after you got seriously messed up,” Clint says, and his voice has dropped to almost a whisper, like the thought was highly upsetting. “So…I asked Stark if he’d help me help you. And he told me he was going to kill you. I tried to find you but I was too late.”
Peter chews on another flavorless bite of pizza. He was forcing himself to continue eating. His stomach was protesting, but if he wanted long enough, he’d be able to eat a little more before he gave up, and that could get him through the next day.
Clint is silent, like he’s waiting for Peter to yell at him. Peter brings his eyes up to Clint’s when he feels the guy staring at him, and Peter squints at him.
“What?” Peter asks, taking another bite of pizza. Clint looks uncomfortable by the way he’s shifting in his seat and glancing around.
Clint shrugs a little, picking at his food on the greasy paper plate. “Figured you’d be mad.”
“No.” Peter surprises himself a little. “Not mad. I don’t have the energy to be mad, I don’t think.”
Clint is quiet for a moment. He picks off a piece of pizza crust. “You’ve been through a lot, it seems like.”
“How do you know?”
“Something in your eyes.” Clint leans back against the booth. “You have caged-animal eyes. Like if someone walks the wrong walk with you, you’re going to snap like that guy in the alley. People who aren’t going through hard times don’t do that. I did that, too, but it was the darkest point of my life.”
Peter blows out a puff of air. “I think I know what you mean.”
“So tell me about it.” Clint drops his pizza crust down onto his paper plate, and Peter frowns. Weirdo. What kind of person doesn’t eat the crust? Somehow, he had never known that about Clint. That, or he forgot it a long time ago.
“Your shit.” Clint sits back and pushes his plate away from him a little bit. Peter takes a sip from his styrofoam Coke, which will always remind him of Natasha, particularly when it’s diet. “Everyone has it, I mean, it’s not like you’re going to tell me something that nobody else has ever experienced. No need to be embarrassed or anything.”
Peter has to stifle a laugh. Clint cracks a little grin, and Peter doesn’t have the heart to tell him he’s laughing because he’s wrong.
“I have a very…unique situation.” Peter brushes crumbs off of his hands. Across the room, someone is mopping loudly, and the sloshing sound makes Peter push his plate away, too.
“Jeez, me too,” Clint says with a grin. “I’m an Avenger, kid, we fought an alien more than once and I had to share a hotel room with a god, a giant green monster, and an android at a press meet one time.”
Peter chews on the inside of his cheek. He thinks about his options in this situation, considering he has many. He tried to see the outcomes like Strange can, but they all lead back to the same thing. The universe would crumble soon enough. Tatum knows his name. Stark knows his face. Clint is sitting with him in a pizza joint at one AM right now after rescuing him from social suicide. What’s he got left to lose?
The only reason Peter makes the decision he does is because Clint never asked him his name.
“I was at that press meet.” Peter says it so quietly that Clint has to strain and process for longer than a moment.
“Oh, for real? Do you like…report or something?” Clint asks, and his hands move a little like he’s trying to draw the information from Peter’s lips.
“No.” Peter’s mouth has gone very dry. He licks his chapped lips and takes a deep breath. “I’m about to tell you something that will make you seriously doubt my stability, but I need you to listen.”
“Then we should talk elsewhere.”
Clint gets the kid back to his apartment. The kid apologizes for his messy place, and offers Clint water, and then apologizes for not having anything else to drink except for water. Clint is definitely going to be dropping off some groceries soon.
It is messier than the last time Clint was here–there’s a box full of the kid’s things, and there’s still blood dried on the hardwood floors that were, at one point, probably pretty elegant. The couch is scooted away from the wall where he assumes Peter fell into it and moved it, and there are cushions half-off and threatening to fall onto the floor because of whatever happened. Those have blood on them, too, but it’s more noticeable than the dark floors. Clint waves Peter off–seriously, it’s way better than when Clint was a college kid’s age–but Peter seems embarrassed by it anyways.
There’s not really anywhere to sit, so Peter sits on his bed and offers Clint the rolling chair parked under his desk. This arrangement is fine with him because that means he can swivel himself back and forth on the chair while he listens.
“You have to trust me on this, and believe that I’m not crazy,” Peter warns Clint again, and Clint shrugs.
“And I fought a purple alien in New York City. So. Me too.’
“Fair enough.” Peter’s fingers scratch over the knees of his pants as he takes a deep breath in and looks at the ceiling for courage. “I’ve never said it out loud before. Sorry.”
“You’re good, kid, really,” Clint says. He can’t help but wish the kid would spit it out, though–
“You and I know each other,” Peter blurts out, and Clint is taken by surprise. Slowly, his face crinkles into one of amusement and he starts to laugh a little.
“Um, yeah, I wondered if you recognized me, too,” Clint says with a quiet chuckle while he rubs the back of his neck. “You always put at least some quarters into the cup. Good coins, not useless pennies.”
Peter stares at him blankly, and Clint starts to feel a little stupid. His cheeks tinge the lightest shade of red behind his stubble. Clint kind of coughs, looking down.
“The check cashing place?” he tries again, weaker this time. “That, um, that was you, right? I’m not making myself sound dumb here?”
Peter shakes his head slowly, eyes trained on Clint. He doesn’t look amused, but he doesn’t seem irritated, either.
“Yes, it was me, but no, that isn’t what I mean.” Peter clasps his hands in his lap. “We have a lot to discuss.”
And they do. It's the first time in a year Peter has said it all out loud, and even though he cries, Peter tells Clint everything he safely can under the oath of confidence and makes him swear to keep it all a secret. The world’s fucked, anyways, probably, and the sky is turning into daylight, and he’s probably dropping out of college. Who cares?
And Clint takes it shockingly well. There’s only one thing he truly, genuinely doesn’t believe Peter about.
“Are you really trying to tell me you’re better at dunking than I am?!”
“Talk to me,” Tatum answers sweetly after punching “accept” on her car nav screen.
“Don’t steal my line.”
Tatum’s been waiting for this call since she talked to Harley a week ago, but she knew it was going to come through. MJ and Ned were starting to doubt her instincts. She told them to just be patient. She knew it would come through.
“How’d you get this number, anyhow?” she asks, drumming her nails on her pink steering wheel cover and taking another sip of her iced coffee as her car hums towards her Wednesday morning classes. “Stalking me?”
“I’m the richest and smartest–”
“Yes, yes, I know, smartest man in the world, very smart tools, blah, blah, blah,” she drones on as she mocks Tony. “I know your AI fetched it for you. What can I do you for?”
“Are you fifty? Who says that?”
“Aren’t you fifty?” she snarks back, and the other side is silent. “Mhm. Thought so. Answer my question.”
“You know, I used to think you were really nice.”
“Boo, I should send a condolences card.”
“Whatever.” Stark sounds huffy, and Tatum smirks on the other end. “My kid showed up here saying you asked him to ask me some questions about a Peter Parker.”
“Oh, so you don’t know him, either,” Tatum muses. “Interesting. Just what I thought.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“If you did, you wouldn’t be calling me.”
“Right,” she states, swirling her drink with a rattle that she knows irritates Stark to his core. “So I will see you at the Tower…Friday?”
“What do you know that I don’t?” Stark sounds suspicious, and Tatum shrugs even though he can’t see her.
“I know that if you remembered Peter Parker, you wouldn’t think twice about Harley asking what you know, and I wouldn’t be answering my phone for you because you wouldn’t feel the need to call unless you also had a photo that you can’t remember taking, and you are wildly predictable. So. The twentieth works?”
“Friday, Stark, keep up.”
“I have a very important meeting on Friday, so no, and me and Pepper were–.”
Tatum clicks her tongue, settling her drink back in the cupholder as she turns onto the next street.
“You better reschedule, then,” Tatum remarks, and with that, she ends the call.
a nice long chapter before i go MIA while i fixate on writing this to the end
Chapter 14: Enjoy
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Pepper Potts sips a cup of tea that has long gone cold. She doesn’t mind, but she is just a touch sad that she forgot about it.
Sitting out on the back porch, watching Morgan play, she was supposed to be reading her gardening book. That was what she set out to do, but every time she picks one up, she remembers.
It’s funny, she thinks, how memories will attach themselves to random objects and instances. When she holds one in her hand, she can hear Tony telling her that he figured it out. Time travel. She had known, holding that book and listening to Tony’s discovery, that she would not see Tony for a long time after that. It was so strong that, after the funeral, she had thrown the book away entirely, couldn’t bear to look at it anymore while it collected dust on the coffee table. She didn’t know why, but there was a tugging in her stomach, like her sixth sense was telling her that Tony wasn’t going to return from this mission if he left the house.
But Pepper is smart enough to have known that Tony’s sacrifice would be worth millions of lives, and she was right. Sometimes the path of least resistance isn’t the wrong way to travel. For whatever reason, be it a curse or a blessing, the things that happened to their family were inevitable. The truth would come out sooner or later, always, and nobody had a choice.
Now, holding a gardening book, she remembers the pain of losing Tony. She also remembers the pain of him coming back. Being unable to understand what had happened, why Tony was standing in the pouring rain, trying to get back inside. Morgan, coming down the stairs just to burst into tears, and realizing Tony was crying, too, which made Morgan cry harder.
She would be forever grateful to whoever retrieved her husband from the other side, but she will never stop being on guard to lose him again.
Instead of reading her book, she looks at a photograph she has tucked inside of it. It’s the hiding spot she chose purely because she knew that Tony would never pick up the book on his own. It’s of the two of them, standing with a boy at what appears to be his baseball game. The boy is on the other side of the fence, obviously between innings or warmups, and Tony is taking the picture. He’s got the biggest, goofiest grin on his face, and Tony is wearing the matching one.
Pepper spent quite a while agonizing over this photograph when she found it three months ago, tucked inside a photo album she had almost completely forgotten she was putting together last year. At first, it tortured her, trying to figure out what happened to this boy, but she knew Tony wouldn’t have any answers. He would have said something by now if he did. The truth would come out eventually if she was patient.
Besides, she knows about the matching photo in his socket case.
Harley doesn’t tell his dad about the failed mugging.
Over the summer, while Harley was living with Pepper and Tony, they were prepping him for life in the big city. Always carry mugger money, always mind your business, don’t try to be the hero. Most places he’d be were in okay areas, but after dark in any city, anything can happen. Teenagers travel the city by themselves all the time, they said, but teenagers who grew up in New York knew how to traverse a large city without getting into trouble. They took Harley into the city often for this exact reason, but his head was always swimming when they wandered through the boroughs. There was so much to memorize, and even though his pseudo parents led him through the streets like they had forged the roads themselves, Harley couldn’t remember anything once they’d gotten home.
He had seen the city on TV and in movies. There were so many that took place in New York that if you watched enough of them, you felt like you knew the place front and back. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Watching shows, Harley imagined meeting a bunch of friends, having something to do all the time, going to all of these chic and trendy spots that his group would hang out at. He imagined hailing taxis and heading into a massive office where he was a big shot, or jogging through Central Park and making eye contact with the love of his life, or taking a girl ice skating in the Big Apple. Going out all night and getting pizza at three AM like Tik Tok told him he would, working amazing internships, living in a tiny little apartment where the rent was overpriced but that was okay because it had exposed brick and was right above his favorite coffee shop.
Yeah, that wasn’t what happened. Harley lived on campus, only had a few friends, and now, taking a shortcut home from what he was determined to make “his” late night coffee spot, got mugged trying to hop a fence that he’s pretty sure belonged to the fraternity. He wasn’t going to admit that to Tony.
So, instead, he pretends nothing happened, even though being saved by Spiderman was one of the coolest things to ever happen to him. Or it was, until the hero snapped and showed a dark side that Harley doesn’t think too many New Yorkers have seen.
At first, it had been breathtaking to see a hero in person. To watch Spiderman shoot a web in real life and jump down to his rescue, to smartmouth a bad guy in the flesh. Harley had been gaping in amazement that Spiderman was right there, right in front of him, helping him.
And then that mugger struck a nerve and Spiderman started to beat him. At first, Harley thought maybe the hero would just rough the guy up, teach him a lesson. But then he wasn’t stopping. The guy was bleeding kind of a lot, and Harley said that out loud, but it didn’t seem like the hero heard. And then the mugger literally shit his pants when Spiderman started to break bones. Harley could hear bones crunching, and he wasn’t sure if who the bones even belonged to, so he touched the guy’s shoulder to try and snap him out of it and all he did was scare the hero and get punched in the face. Well, it only gave him a bloody nose, but still.
It was one of the coolest, and most bizarre, moments of Harley’s life. He took a punch from Spiderman .
On his way to class, Harley was pondering whether or not his dad ever met Spiderman when he saw a familiar face that has been missing in O-chem for quite awhile–Peter Parker was entering the lecture hall with his head down.
Now, Harley has been thinking about whether or not he should say something to Peter, but watching him in person with his head low and looking kind of defeated fed him the answer. Harley has no idea what that guy has going on at home, but he can kind of relate to having a rough house growing up, and he knows how angry that can make you. You grow up, you leave the house, you still can’t shake the violence. Harley knows how it feels to go seek it out–destruction and pain, even if it’s self-inflicted. Drinking too much, not sleeping, refusing to eat. Maybe Peter’s form of self-inflicted punishment was to lash out at everyone around him.
Harley only wants to say one thing, and only because it’s the right thing to do. After that, it’s up to Peter if he wants to talk. Harley doesn’t want to push it.
Not until he knows more about whatever Peter did to Tatum Walker.
He slinks along the side of the lecture hall and zeros in on Peter sitting kind of hunched over his ridiculously high-tech laptop. He looks exhausted, even from where Harley stands at the end of the row, thirty feet away. For a moment, he sits so still that Harley thinks he might be asleep. The hall is still mostly empty since it's eight AM and nobody wants to be here, but Harley must be standing for too long, because even without Peter looking his way, he speaks.
“You can stop staring at me,” Peter states into his laptop. Harley blushes furiously with the embarrassment of being caught. “Fifteen seconds is the max amount of time you can stand and stare. After that you look weird. Just say whatever it is you want to say.”
Harley swallows hard and steps down the carpeted stairs to the next row. He shimmies past a girl who also looks like she wants to fall asleep, but Harley can tell by the side eye he gets that she’s very invested in whatever is about to happen here. He wonders what this looks like to outside people.
He stops in front of Peter, a foot lower than he would be if he was next to the other guy, but that still puts Harley a little taller on account of Peter sitting. Peter straightens himself up with a deep sigh and puts his hands behind his head to stretch before dropping them down to underneath the table. Harley swears he catches the sight of badly bruised knuckles, but Peter hides them, so Harley can’t investigate his hunch. Instead, he just swallows his worries.
“Hey,” Harley says quietly. Peter just raises his eyebrows. “Look, um, I’m not, like, trying to push it. I just wanted to say sorry for not throwing you a heads up on who my dad was. If I knew you were working at SI, I would have said something. It’s probably not, like, the first thing you expect, you know, seeing a picture of your boss in someone’s room, but really, don’t worry. I won’t tell him anything bad about you or anything. That’s totally not my place, so, just, you know. No worries.”
Peter’s eyes widen for a fraction of a second, but he pulls his composure back together so quickly that Harley’s doubting himself for the second time in the last sixty seconds.
“Um, yeah.” Peter shrugs. “No worries. Just surprised me, that’s all. I want to do a good job there.”
Harley chews on the inside of his lip, a nervous habit he’s never kicked, and rocks on his heels. He picks at his white tee awkwardly. “Um, yeah, Stark said you used to intern for him and might be going back, so…I don’t know if something happened and it’s totally not my business, but I’m sure you’ll do great. No worries.”
Harley doesn’t get an answer. Peter looks like he’s staring straight through Harley, eyes fixed on a distant point and completely blank. Instead of pushing, pressing, insisting that Peter pay attention to him, he simply flashes Peter a thumbs up and tiptoes down the aisle with a sheepish grin to find somewhere to sit.
Harley’s apology makes for the second horrible thing that has happened today.
Peter would have appreciated the sentiment, if it had been the truth, but all it did was freak Peter the fuck out.
Stark told Harley that Peter had an internship . An internship?! That was Peter’s original cover for being Spiderman. He would go to the Tower to train with the Avengers under the guise that he was Stark’s personal assistant so his aunt, classmates, and college admissions didn’t ask any questions about why a poor athlete from Queens was hanging out with an eccentric New York billionaire. The only reason Stark would say that is if he remembered Peter. Maybe their bond or something had been strong enough that Stark was able to pull the memories back from the dead after seeing Peter’s face and knowing that Peter was Spiderman. The spell didn’t work, or it was faulty, or it was too weak for the impact Peter had left on somebody.
Peter wants to know why Harley was talking about him to Stark at all. Had Stark asked Harley about Peter? How did he know they knew each other? Did Harley talk to Stark first, and mention Peter’s weird freak out?
Did he tell Stark about the mugging? Did Stark tell him that Peter was Spiderman?
He had done what he could to hide his hands today. The only person who really shouldn’t see them is Harley, and he thought he’d done a good job of it, because if Harley saw the marks on Peter’s hand after witnessing that altercation in the alley, he’d put two and two together. The kid was naive, maybe, but not stupid. Stark didn’t have stupid kids. But maybe it didn’t matter—maybe Harley had already known, and him talking to Peter was just another way to get an inside look on Peter’s life and secrets.
Peter was already stressed out. When he sat down in chemistry, he had been trying to quell the hammering in his chest that was making it hard to breathe. He’d gotten to campus early this morning to get a book from the library for his Wednesday afternoon class, and hadn’t been able to go over the weekend between shifts at the grocery and mutilating a mugger. He’d been thinking about that man nonstop since Clint left his house. The way his bones crunched under Peter’s fist, the fear in his eyes, how the man gagged violently when Peter punched him in the stomach. His face had already begun swelling by the time Peter dropped him, and he just…doesn’t know who that person was. Peter felt like he was outside of his body again, just looking in like Strange had thumped him right out of his skin.
Not unlike fighting Stark on the rooftop, Peter had just let it all loose. He saw the Green Goblin’s face every time he swung, saw Norman Osborn kill Aunt May whenever he considered that the mugger had had enough. Peter knew he had some problems after everything he’s been through the past few years, but he didn’t think it was this bad. This scary.
The memories of the mugger had not helped the panic in the slightest, but they weren’t the reason Peter was on the verge of another panic attack in O-chem this morning. During his mission in the campus library, he saw her again.
Peter had frozen just like the first time. He clutched the book in both hands, thanked the girl at the desk for finding it for him, and then reluctantly turned around to meet Tatum’s eyes.
“Funny seeing you again,” Tatum said with a quiet laugh, adjusting her bag on her shoulder. Her eyes dropped down to his bruised knuckles, but she said nothing about it. “I think I ran into one of your friends the other day, too.”
Peter laughed nervously. He still held the hardcover book in both hands, his nails leaving tiny crescent indents in cover. He’s not sure how Tatum would figure out that he knew anyone else on this campus, but she’s full of surprises, and he really has to remind himself to stop underestimating her.
“Oh?” he asked weakly, and she smiled broadly and nodded at him. She looked similar to the first time he saw her here–hair up, glasses on, wearing leggings and an oversized Stuy sweatshirt. His Stuy sweatshirt. An impulsive, insane part of him wants to ask her on a date, and he bites his bottom lip while he thinks about it.
“Um, yeah. Harley Keener?” she says sweetly, taking a sip of her iced coffee afterwards. “I’m friends with his roommate, Ryan? He went to school with us, I’m pretty sure he knows you.”
Hearing Harley’s name was enough of a punch in the stomach, but then he has a flashback to Harley’s first conversation with Peter.
“Aw, c’mon, my roommate is really cool. His name is Ryan, and he's, like, huge.” Harley expands his hands to emphasize his point. “He told me he knows all the good spots.”
“Going out isn’t my thing.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Harley repeats with a laugh. “You seem cool, I bet you would really get along with Ryan.”
Harley’s roommate was Peter’s high school best friend at Stuy. He felt so stupid. He should have figured that out–the name, the description, the Stuyvesant varsity jacket that hung on the back of the desk chair. Peter assumed NYU was so large, he never would have thought that he’d know some random kid’s roommate.
Small world. His former mentor’s son is roommates with his former high school best friend and they both remember Peter via Tatum Walker, Peter’s ex-girlfriend that he can’t stop running into.
“Um… yeah. I know Harley a little.” Peter’s mouth is sticky with nerves. “I wouldn’t call us, like, friends or something, but I know him.”
It would have been okay if Tatum had just left it there. But she didn’t.
She dropped her voice down real low, taking a step closer to Peter. “He said you were friends,” she says quietly. “I was hoping you would like…tell me about him? I really, really want him to ask me out somewhere, but he’s like, so secretive. I love it. Anyways, if you don’t know him, no worries. I’ll see you around, Peter Parker.”
And that's all she wrote. Peter had been furious. He almost wanted to take it out on Harley. When he saw the boy standing at the end of the row, the evil, green-eyed monster inside of him debated on just handling that situation right then and there. Harley had already taken his place in ways he’d never understand. Peter will drop dead before he takes Peter’s place with Tatum, too. Who cares if he gets kicked out of NYU? The only reason he hasn’t bailed yet is because his tuition is tied up this late into the semester, and he won’t get any money back, and he still needs that tutoring job if he wants to keep from being homeless. That was the fear that stopped him.
He was a hundred dollars short on rent for this month, and his landlord did not play around. Peter’s head was swimming with solutions as he trudged up the stairs to his apartment after his tutoring job. The money wasn’t going to materialize out of thin air, and picking up extra shifts wasn’t going to do much for him, either–he’d never get paid in time. Nobody was going to give him an advance on his pay, he’s pretty sure that’s not even a thing anymore, anyways, and the only thing to do was beg for change or ask for an extra five days to get the money together.
Peter dropped his things down on his floor by the door. Immediately, on smell alone, he could tell someone had been here. He runs a hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. There is no tingle, nothing to warn him of danger, but someone having been in his apartment was the last thing he wanted to deal with today. His stomach had been growling non-stop while he climbed the steps, his head was full of anger and jealousy for Tatum, and his wallet was emptier than usual. There was a box of saltine crackers and a mostly empty jar of peanut butter in the cabinet, though, and that would have to do until next week.
The window in his living room that had been covered with a trash bag for the time being was replaced with a fresh, white-paned window. Maintenance must have seen it from outside and come in while he was at school. Peter doesn’t even want to know how long he’ll go without eating because of that one.
But when Peter opens the cabinet, he doesn’t see his crackers, or his peanut butter. The shelves are stuffed with bags of chips and cookies, bread and tortillas and spices and packs of popcorn, rice and potatoes and cooking oils and mac n cheese and pasta noodles and red sauce and cans of veggies and fruits and soups. He gawks for a moment before opening the next cabinet–cereal, protein bars and granola and almonds and cashews and peanut butter (brand name!) and even drink mixes. Peter stares into the cabinet in wonder, his lips parted in shock as he marvels at the food that populates the once-empty pantry space. His stomach growls at the sight of all of his new snacks.
A lightbulb goes off over Peter’s head and he turns around, pulling open the fridge. He noticed the smears of blood are gone from the floor and a wet sponge, still smelling of lemon, is drying out in the sink. Someone had cleaned, too.
The fridge door makes a rattling sound when it opens–something Peter has never heard it do because there was never enough food to make it happen. Peter reaches inside to rifle through his small, but full, fridge. Before, there were only three things inside–a bag of empire apples, a six pack of eggs that was missing two from damage at the store, and the tube of ground beef he stole when the expiration date was coming and he was instructed to move it.
Now, he can’t process the image in front of him. It looks like the fridges he sees on TikTok. There are bags of fresh produce–apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, romaine, tomatoes and onions and herbs and carrots. There’s a massive package of fresh chicken, ready to be cooked. Workout drinks, juices, bottled waters. Sauces, butter, yogurts, cheeses, wraps.
He almost doesn’t want to check the freezer, afraid to see how much money is inside of it. He slowly closes the fridge and grips the handle, sucking a breath in. He feels like he’s going to pass out. He hasn’t seen this much food since Stark.
The freezer is as abundant as the rest. Frozen beef, chicken, pork. Chicken tenders, frozen fruit, frozen veggies, pizza rolls, meatballs, garlic breads, the freezer is stuffed to the brim.
Peter closes the freezer. He wants to eat it, but he’s afraid of what it would cost, like a minibar at a hotel charging him for every bag of peanuts he ate.
On the freezer door, there is a note with a $100 bill, crisp and shiny, paperclipped to it.
Peter slides to the floor, and he cries.
Tatum: phase three is fully in motion
Ned: you mean the phase 3 you refuse to elaborate on and just keep saying “trust me”?
MJ: obviously. What other phase three is there
Tatum: yes that one
Tatum: and it’s working so i think you should stop complaining
Ned: my bad
Tatum: phase three was to run into peter again to talk about some other boy and it totally worked i could see the jealousy all over his face
MJ: how did you know that would work
Tatum: every boy is the same
Ned: hey im not the same
Tony knows that sometimes, people forget that he has a heart. That doesn’t stop him.
good old big brother clint vs evil mastermind tatum/ned/mj
Chapter 15: Unbelievable
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter can’t seem to catch a break, so he decides it’s time to go see Dr. Strange. He doesn’t know if Strange remembers him, but he’s going to find out and fix this nonsense once and for all.
Peter lays out everything he knows, talking to Karen aloud while he’s in the shower. Clint had cleaned the bathroom, too, scraping dried vomit off of the floor around the toilet base and wiping away the pink stains of blood in Peter’s bathtub. Peter figures Clint was responsible for the window, too, and probably even replaced it himself. He feels bad that Clint has done so much for him and Peter can’t do anything in return. He felt guilty every time he went into the kitchen for the last couple days, just stared at the hundred dollar bill that was pinned to his fridge, nervous to use it even though he had to, and rent was due this morning, so he begrudgingly took the hundred and the rest of his cash in a rubber band down to the office for the landlord to condescending count the money and issue vague threats about being late.
He had handed over the wad of cash. The landlord looked at him like he was stupid. Peter wasn’t in the mood for it–the office always smelled like stale cigarettes and Arby’s, and both of those smells made Peter want to gag on their own, let alone together. It wasn’t a great sensory day to begin with.
“What’s this?” the landlord asked, and Peter returned the same condescending look that the landlord had given him.
“The rent?” Peter’s tone had taken a little sharpness he hadn’t intended to take. The landlord scrunched his nose a little at Peter’s nerve and then slid the wad of cash back across the desk with a huff.
“Your rent is paid.”
Peter’s face went from general displeasure to confusion in less than a second, knitting his eyebrows together and looking down at the money.
“The rent is paid,” his landlord answers, but he drags out each word like Peter is a moron who didn’t hear the first time.
“Yeah, I heard that. What do you mean, it’s paid?” Peter stares down at the guy in the rotting office chair. “I didn’t pay anything yet this month. Think I’d notice that much money missing.”
“I don’t know what you want, kid,” he huffs back, sitting backwards in his chair. Peter always makes note that the landlord owns the cheapest suits known to man. “Some guy came in here, paid you up for a few months.” He pops a cigarette back between his lips before he raises his eyebrows like an idea just crossed his mind. “Mmph,” he says, muffled around the filter, “said to give you this.”
The landlord slides an envelope across the desk. Peter wills himself not to go red in the cheeks at Clint’s generosity.
“Thanks,” Peter had muttered, and he took the note upstairs and shut his apartment door safely before carefully unsealing the envelope.
Except the note hadn’t been from Clint.
“Okay, so, Clint knows like, everything,” he tells Karen over the sound of the shower while he massages shampoo into his hair. “All the Dr. Strange stuff and that. Um, Harley knows who I am, and Tatum apparently remembers me, and so does Ryan, and…I wonder if she told Ned and MJ. Fuck, I hope not. Okay, and then Stark not only knows that I am Spiderman, but he must remember like…everything now. Maybe seeing my face was enough for him to remember me and it came back because he knows my name and said the thing about the internship to Harley, and he knows where I live because he paid my fuckin’ rent . If he knows, Pepper has to know, too, right?”
He rinses, does the rest of his shower routine while trying to weigh his options. He’s not sure that Stark would show up in his apartment and try to kill him again if he hasn’t already, considering JARVIS makes Peter’s nonexistent footprint look laughable. The only thing he might have to worry about is the inventor throwing more money at him. Peter doesn’t want the money. He wants that dick to fix the suits he destroyed.
Pacing the apartment in fresh socks and his boxers, Peter determines there’s only one option left.
He has to visit Strange, and figure out how to fix this.
“Your taste in coffee is deplorable.”
“You are literally so mean.”
Tatum scowls at the Keurig cups in Stark’s kitchen before finally abandoning the concept altogether to grab herself a glass of water. Ned and MJ seem too stiff in the apartment to feel comfortable getting their own drinks, so Tatum grabs three. She’s sure Stark can afford the bill.
The three young adults and Tony sit around the dining table, which Tatum is sure cost more than their tuition combined. Tatum is obviously running this meeting–the other three in attendance turn their attention to her as she sits down.
“We have bottled water, you know,” Stark points out.
“I tend to avoid killing the planet with plastic. Actually, what time does this end? I was hoping to build some light protesting into my day at the front doors of the Tower before I had to drive back to MIT,” MJ ponders, and Stark scowls at her while Ned and Tatum stifle a laugh.
“Very funny,” Tony mutters. He isn’t sure how he was conned into this, but his very important meeting had been moved to Monday morning, gross, and his plans with Pepper were on hiatus until Tatum deemed him free to go. Why he listens to Tatum Walker, he isn’t sure, but he fears that if he doesn’t, she’ll be under his bed when he goes home later. “Heads up,” he adds on as an afterthought, “Morgan is here. She’s playing…somewhere, if you hear the Jaws theme song. Really into that nowadays.”
“Very responsible. Okay,” Tatum says, clasping her hands together on the table. “Pictures, everyone.”
Tony places his picture on the table, of him and Peter Parker at the baseball game. He doesn’t look at it. It’s been making him feel guilty. Tatum does the same, sliding the photo of the two of them into the middle of the table. Ned places his photo between theirs–him and Peter, sitting on Ned’s living room floor on Christmas, holding neatly wrapped packages and cheesing at the camera. The four in attendance look over the photographs.
“Can we determine what year these were taken? Might give us a better idea of when we lost our memories,” MJ suggests, turning Tony’s picture to study it. The year on the bronze plate of the trophy is unreadable, and she frowns.
“That photo has to be from senior year,” Tatum murmurs, studying it carefully. “That was the only year I remember Stuy winning regionals. Mine is the summer after, I think, because it’s one of our graduation parties.”
“I think mine is from…six years ago?” Ned spins his photo for Tatum and Stark to see. “I got that lego set in the background six years ago for Christmas. It’s the Death Star.”
“Shut up, MJ.”
“No, she’s right,” Tony adds, and Ned scowls at him. “And he goes to NYU, right? Do you have any memory of him being there before this year, or someone you can’t seem to place?” Tony asks Tatum, raising his eyebrows. She shakes her head before leaning back to pull her hair up into a ponytail.
“I went to Penn State for freshman year. Didn’t transfer to NYU until winter of sophomore year, and I’m a junior now, so it’s only been a semester and a half. I have memories of visiting someone that I can’t remember who they are, which I assume is Peter, but I don’t know that it was NYU.”
“Well, I did some research,” MJ adds, sliding her phone onto the table for the rest to see. “He played basketball at MIT our freshman year. It’s possible that he didn’t go to NYU until this semester, either.”
The other three peer down at the team photo on MJ’s phone, where Peter Parker can very clearly be seen in the front row. He’s the shortest on the team, and it’s a little comical. Everybody bites back a smile to keep the others from noticing.
“So far, Tatum is the only one who’s had contact, right?” Ned asks, and Stark hesitates, which makes the other three turn their eyes towards him. Tatum’s eyes bore into him, irritation simmering there.
“Don’t tell me you did something stupid.”
Tony remains quiet, and Tatum blows out a sigh. He shrugs.
“I didn’t know it was him.”
“Would you just spit out what you did so we can deal with it?”
“Jeez, you sound like–”
“Okay,” Tony grumbles, putting his hands up in surrender. “Happy brought me stuff he found in his condo. My tech and an old Spiderman suit. So he knew Happy, too, we just…don’t know how, but I have a feeling it was through a girlfriend Happy had. She was that lady who died in the condo explosion, remember? Her and Peter had the same last name. Granted, it’s a common name, but considering the stuff was found at Happy’s…”
The three youths remain quiet out of respect. They just nod curtly. It was a sad story when that news broke.
“So, I did some research, and that Spiderman, he was wearing nanotech. Something I invented. I went to find out how he got his hands on it.”
Tatum raises her eyebrow at him. “You spoke to him?” Tony rubs the back of his neck and Tatum glares. “Don’t tell me you did what I think you did, Stark, I swear,” she warns, and he puts his hands up again.
“I was being irrational, yes,” he quickly defends, “but the kid told me to fight him for the suit if I wanted it. There was once, and then the second time–”
“ The second time? ”
“--it got…really ugly. Really bad. I regret it. But I was, um…he lost part of the suit, on the chest part, and when I went to blast him, the AI in the suit took the nanites from his mask to protect his chest. I let him go when I saw his face. Bird Brain knocked me out, and–”
“You are unbelievable.”
“--I haven’t seen the kid since, but he knows Harley somehow, Peter mentioned him by name, and then you, and yeah.”
The four members of the meeting sit quietly again--the other three don't want to be the first to speak, lest they stir Tatum's pot. Tatum has her fingertips pressed to her temples, her eyes closed like she’s started a miniature meditation session. She feels like she needs one.
An image pops into Tatum’s head and she scowls at Stark, opening her eyes to pierce him.
“Don’t tell me you’re the one who shattered the entire side of his face,” Tatum groans, and Stark’s stupid silence is enough of an answer. “Okay, you know what, whatever. So we know that, now, I guess, and he’s going to be terrified to see you at all.”
“I also paid his rent for six months.”
“I literally hate you. Oh my god, Stark.”
“Do we know what happened that made us forget him?” Tony switches to avoid Tatum’s wrath, and the other two shake their heads.
“Nothing is confirmed,” Ned says with a shrug, “but we have a feeling it was Dr. Strange. He was there when you came back from the other side, so we assumed he had something to do with this, but that’s all speculation. We went to visit him and he said he didn’t remember Peter, either, but the girls thought he was lying.”
“So, what? The guy just makes us all forget? Something had to have happened,” Stark says again, and the other three shrug.
“Listen, without anyone to confirm, it’s all speculation and we’re not breaking any new ground. What we actually need to know is what we do next.” Tatum clasps her hands again, looking at the others. “Do we try to remember? Do we try to get back into his life? Do we leave him alone?”
“Your vote doesn’t count. You shattered his entire face.”
“I say we leave him alone and mind our business. This doesn’t have to involve us,” MJ says, cutting a side glance to Ned. He nods in agreement.
“If we don’t know him anymore, it’s for a reason,” Ned adds.
“I think this kid is my son,” Tony states. His tone has a little heat behind it. “I can’t just…bail on my kid.”
“Does Pepper have a photo? Morgan?”
Stark pauses, chewing his lip. “If Pepper has one, I don’t know about it. She doesn’t know about mine.”
“Then he might not be.” Tatum trains her eyes on him. “I think he was my boyfriend, but I don’t…remember why. I don’t remember if it was fun or if it sucked. I feel like if we do this, we have to leave it up to Peter. There is a reason–a serious, possibly world ending reason–that we can’t remember.”
“Yeah.” Ned changes sides. “We should probably leave it up to him. Good idea.”
“But if he is Tony’s son…how do we find out?” Tatum asks, glancing from side to side.
The table goes quiet again. There’s the sound of tiny footsteps approaching in the background, and four heads swivel to see Morgan peeking around the corner in her shark hoodie.
“Duh-nuh,” a tiny voice squeaks. “Duh-nuh-duh-nuh. Duh-nuh-duhnuhduhnuhduhnuh duhnuhduhnuh!”
Morgan Stark’s face pops up on the side of the table, and the four sitting around it can’t suppress smiles. Tatum notices the lines in Stark’s face when he smiles at his daughter.
If this kid, this Peter Parker, is Stark’s son, who is she to deny him of that? Based on her interaction with Harley, Stark seems unopposed to adopting random children that need him, and while maybe that didn’t happen with Peter, he obviously was important to Stark. She remembers enough to know that. There’s a reason she knows this man, and it had to be because of Peter Parker, but there’s so much information and speculation that making an ethical choice seems impossible without the most important person being present in the room.
At the same time, if Stark can’t remember, either, maybe it’s best to leave the boy alone.
Morgan’s eyes settle on the photos on the table and go wide. Her hand reaches to the center of the table and grabs the photo closest to Tony–his picture that he brought. For a moment, Tatum assumes maybe because her dad is in it, but that isn’t who she points at.
“You know my friend?” she gasps, and all of them knit their eyebrows at her.
Stark leans in a little, poking a finger at Peter’s face. “Do you know him, Morg?”
“Duh,” she drones with a little bit of a condescending tone that makes Ned and MJ stifle a laugh. “He came to see me the day the sky turned purple.”
All, including Ned and MJ, freeze. Tatum squints at Morgan in confusion.
“He did?” she asks carefully, and Morgan nods knowingly. “What did he say, Morgan? Did he say anything?”
Morgan nods again, her hair bouncing with it. “Duh!” she exclaims, and Tony frowns at the back of her head. “He told me sorry.”
“For what, Morgan?” Tatum presses again, leaning lower to the table to peer at her across the mahogany surface. “What was he sorry for?”
“He said he was sorry he couldn’t be my big brother anymore because he messed up the world,” she states, nodding again. “And that I would forget him real, real soon, because the magic guy was going to cast a spell on everybody . Even Daddy.”
With that, Morgan Stark swivels and prances away, singing the Jaws theme song at the top of her lungs. Tatum, Ned, MJ, and Stark exchange glances.
“Well,” Tony says, “I suppose that answers your question, Miss Walker. When do we go to the Sanctum?”
I'm officially working on the ending ;) and my next writing venture (unrelated to this series), which will of course involve Stark and Peter, but a new player is going to enter the arena >:)
Chapter 16: The Truth
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter raps on the blue doors. No answer.
“Hello!” he hollers at the doors, peering through the stained glass window. He doesn’t hear Strange’s evil cloak anywhere, either, which means the inanimate doorman must be off duty, so he tries the knob on his own.
To his surprise, the door creaks open. Peter raises his eyebrows in satisfaction and lets himself inside–he’s been here enough and done enough crazy shit in this building that he feels maybe he and Strange are on a no-warning-needed basis when it comes to visiting.
The building looks just as he remembers, if not a little dustier, a little darker. It looks like it’s aged with Peter. The last time he was here, the entire place was filled with snow. This time, it’s empty. Silent. The only sound is Peter’s footsteps creaking across the wooden floors.
“Dr. Strange?” he calls again, peering up the stairs. He doesn’t hear anything up there, either, so he lets his curiosity lead him down to the basement, the area he’s most familiar with.
The containment chambers are empty. There is no more or less clutter in the basement as Peter remembers from last year. A year ago, or so, he and his friends sat around the table here, trying to track down interdimensional villains that all thirsted for the blood of Peter Parker. Now, it’s empty and still. Peter huffs out a sigh. Being in the dungeon leaves a bad taste in his mouth. Bitter and sour, like he just threw up. Fair enough–he’s thrown up enough because of Dr. Strange.
“Can I help you?” A foreboding voice fills the dungeon as Peter is inspecting a rune carved into one of the ancient walls. Those stone walls, Strange once told him, were thousands of years old. The Sanctum had been there, in Manhattan, forever–at the crossroads of something or other. Peter doesn’t really remember.
He’s so lost in thought that Strange’s voice makes him jump out of his skin. He puts a hand to his chest like he’s trying to keep the air from escaping his lungs, turning around to look at Strange.
The wizard does not look overjoyed to see Peter Parker. He has a cold stare fixed on the boy, his sharp and judgy eyebrows raised as he looks Peter up and down. Peter looks down at himself–he thinks he looks pretty normal, so when he meets Strange’s gaze again, he gives him a displeased frown.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Peter asks, taking a step away from the rune.
“This house isn’t open for strangers to just waltz in whenever they please,” Strange huffs again, crossing his arms over his chest. He’s looking surprisingly normal–he has a hoodie tucked under his cloak, which is interesting. That’s what he wore the last time Peter came here to ask for a favor, but there was also a foot and a half of snow piled up on the ground.
Peter’s jaw drops a little, like he can’t believe Strange has the nerve to call him a stranger. They did so much together, literally saved the world three separate times–even if some of it was Peter’s fault–to keep the fabric of reality stitched together.
“I’m not a stranger,” Peter insists, squinting at the wizard in front of him. Strange is by the rickety stairs, a good twenty feet away, but his gaze is so strong that it nearly makes the hair on Peter’s neck stand up.
“I certainly don’t know you, and this is my house, so I will ask you kindly to leave before you are escorted out,” Strange snaps curtly, and Peter huffs.
“Oh, I get it,” he says, crossing his arms and leaning back against the wall behind him. “You’re pretending like you don’t know me, too.”
“I do not know you. I’ve never met you before,” Strange rehearses carefully, eyeing Peter. “Were you summoned? By Wong, maybe?”
Peter huffs again, growing frustrated. “Um, yeah, summoned by your bitch ass like three times to save the world. Dude, this isn’t funny. I know you remember me.”
Strange’s eyebrow twitches. Peter narrows his eyes.
“I think you may be in need of serious help,” Strange says slowly, putting his hands out like he’s talking to the wild animal Clint says Peter embodies. “Is there somebody I can call for you?”
Peter gawks at Strange. He even starts to question his own sanity.
“No,” Peter states, narrowing his eyes. “I know you know me. You can’t wipe your own memory unless you want to. And I know you didn’t want to, so you didn’t. In fact, I think you fucked up your own spell anyways, because if you didn’t, Tatum wouldn’t know my name and Tony Stark wouldn’t have stopped trying to literally kill me so give me a fucking answer, Stephen .” Peter is yelling now, slams his fist on the nearest hard surface. He cracks some of the stone wall away in tiny crumbles and sends a pulse of sharp pain through his bruised hands, but Peter is so keyed up with anger that he doesn’t notice in time to flinch.
Strange’s facade disappears in an instant. Peter watches the confused, stony expression on the older man’s face melt away and he drops his hands down. A genuinely baffled look transforms Strange’s features.
“I’m sorry, what?” he asks, taking a step closer. His head tilts like he didn’t hear Peter quite right. “He tried to do what?”
“Kill me!” Peter takes a step back from the wizard, starting to feel cornered even from this far away. “He somehow remembered I exist, tried to kill me, and when he saw my face by pure luck, he fuckin’ panicked and started talking about some picture. So as far as I can figure, he knows who I am for real, and so does Tatum, first and last name, and so does Stark’s literal son that I’m guessing nobody knows about, and if Tatum knows, I’m willing to bet Ned and MJ do too, and Clint Barton only knows because after all of this, all these fuck ups on your end with a spell that didn’t work , I had to tell him so he didn’t think I was batshit insane. So tell me what happened and then fix it before I level this entire building and crack the sky again, Strange.”
Peter’s hands are trembling at his sides. The anger has bubbles into his throat and he can’t tell if he’s going to scream or cry or vomit. This basement didn’t exactly bring back good memories in the first place, and neither did Strange, and with all the uncertainty of what is going to be Peter’s fate, he suddenly feels like he’s on Titan again. He’s outside his body, watching Strange sedate the others so he and Peter can take their places. He remembers the way his throat felt, raw and ragged, blood staining the edges of his teeth and matting his hair as he snapped his fingers. He remembers what it felt like to die. The smell of damp rock fills his nostrils and transforms into the nighttime forest air from when Tatum brought him back to life, hammering on his chest while Ned and MJ begged him to wake up.
“Kid, you don’t look so good.”
Peter snaps his head up from where he’s been staring at the floor, reliving the many lives he’s had. He fixes his gaze on Strange with his chest heaving with each breath.
Strange is inching closer, hands up. He looks alarmed, his pointed eyebrows arched up at Peter’s reaction. Peter swallows thickly.
“Tell me,” he rasps, “what happened.”
“My guess is that they have photographs of you.” Strange speaks slowly, controlled, like he’s talking to a tantruming child. “The spell that I cast was the only one strong enough to fix our situation and weak enough to avoid blasting all of us to smithereens. Photos aren’t affected, Peter. Only memories.”
Peter gapes at Strange. He realizes he’s in a fighting stance, his feet staggered and his shoulder dropped low.
“It doesn’t work on photos?” he hisses. Strange shakes his head slowly.
“I told you what the spell would do. They don’t know who you are. But you have to remember, child,” Strange warns, “what we talked about with double lives. Eventually they’ll catch up to you. It was never Mysterio. It was you. This was never a permanent fix, and it’s time for you to face the truth.”
“Such a good move stopping at Starbucks first.”
“I told you.”
“I hate Starbucks.”
“Boohoo, Tony, you still offered to pay and it’s delicious whether you hate it or not. Capitalism popped off today, baby!”
The streets of Manhattan are bustling today, even as the afternoon is winding down. Something Tatum has always appreciated about New York was the variety. When she was young, she was living in Ohio, in a small, sleepy town that nobody knew about. Even as a six year old, she knew that while it was nice to bike through empty parks and have whole playgrounds to yourself, everybody was the same. They all went to the same school, liked the same things, did the same hobbies, went to work the same jobs. New York had so much happening all the time–there was always something to do, somewhere to go that wasn’t the playground or, on rare occasion, a McDonalds Playplace.
The four of them walk past businessmen in tense phone conversations, women visiting for a bachelorette party, someone blowing up balloons, teenagers on their way to an arcade, students looking for a quiet place to work, couples meeting for their dinner reservations. Tony leads the way, remembering the location of Strange’s place the most reliably. All four carry their various purchases from Starbucks. Tatum got her usual–caramel macchiato, obviously, because what else is she supposed to get?
Tony marches the stairs to the blue doors and just…lets himself in. Tatum cocks an eyebrow–she might have done the same thing, honestly, but Ned looks horrified that Stark would do something that rude, and MJ looks like she just wants to get their answers and get out of dodge. The other three have no choice but to follow, so MJ shrugs at the other two and trails through the open door.
Tatum opens her mouth to call out for Strange, but she doesn’t have to. The sound of the wizard stomping up the basement stairs permeates the old walls.
“Have any of you ever learned to knock?” Strange calls bitterly. “Were we all raised in a barn?”
The man comes into view as he rounds a corner, the cloak following after him instead of being wrapped around his shoulders as usual. He looks tired, like he’s been working hard all day. There’s a worn down element about him that clashes with his usual high-society/dark academia vibe that Tatum always gets from the wizard. Strange raises an eyebrow at the four mismatched friends standing in the foyer.
“Unexpected,” he notes with a long sigh. “Back for another round of interrogation?”
“Something like that,” Tatum hums sweetly. Strange narrows his eyes at her–she can’t fool him with the faux pleasantries, but she had a feeling it would go that way.
“I’m not interested.” He raises his chin as if he’s taking a stand against Tatum’s games. She narrows her eyes back at him.
“I brought your favorite tea.”
He eyes her suspiciously. “What kind?”
“Venti jade citrus mint green tea. With one Splenda instead of sugar.” She raises her eyebrows, and MJ holds up the cup like a prize, still steaming through the lid thanks to the double-hot brew Tatum requested.
“Damn, she thinks of everything,” Ned had muttered in MJ’s ear as Tatum ordered.
Strange purses his lips, locking his eyes on the tea, and Tatum can see him weighing his stubbornness against how much he wants that tea. “And how did you know that?”
Tatum returns an overly sweet, almost condescending smile. “Peter told me.”
There’s definitely heat simmering under Strange’s glare, but he reaches out for the tea anyways. A smirk breaks across Tatum’s lips, and she doesn’t forget to make a note of Stark’s impressed look to torture him with later.
“Fine.” The wizard looks like he wants to incinerate Tatum and Friends right then and there, but he takes a sip of the tea to appease himself for the time being, and damn, is it good. “What would you like to know this time?”
“We know you lied to the kids about knowing Peter Parker,” Tony states, arms crossed over his chest in a very stereotypical dad-stance. “Understandably, I assume, I wasn’t here, but other things have happened, and now we know you were the one who erased him from our memories. We need to know who he was to us.”
Strange’s interest looks piqued. He wraps both hands around his hot tea like a little old lady, and a smugness smudges over his features.
“Are you referring to his shattered eye socket?” Strange asks, raising another judgemental eyebrow. Stark hates it when he does that. “Or to Tatum’s determination to drive him insane from jealousy? Or perhaps Clint Barton’s desire to try and save young Peter Parker?”
MJ is the one who responds first, even though all her counterparts share the same frown.
“Clint Barton? Like, Hawkeye? He knows Peter, too?”
Strange shrugs. “Your friend was here earlier. Demanded that I fix the spell to erase him entirely so you couldn’t keep putting together pieces. However, I have a feeling that he has the wrong story. He seems to think the spell didn’t work, and you all have begun remembering him.”
“That’s the thing,” Ned stresses, and MJ is highly impressed with his ability to maintain his composure in front of Strange, “we don’t remember him, but we have pictures, and clues, and we have other memories, and we need to know why we can’t.”
Strange shakes his head. “That isn’t an answer I can give you.”
“Can you at least tell us who he was to us? I mean, Ned has a photo of this kid in his house on Christmas. It seems like Peter was a really important part in his life. Don’t you think that’s worth telling us about?” MJ argues, and her eyes narrow when Strange shakes his head again.
Stark pinches the bridge of his nose. “Look, I’m going to appeal to your…humanity, I guess. Are you human? Nevermind. I think this kid is my son.” He does that thing when he’s being serious, where he trembles just the tiniest bit and clears his throat to hide it. Tatum has always noticed that. “Or the closest thing to it. I know I made a mistake, and trust me, if the kid wants me out of his life, I can honor that. But I-I can’t bail. Not on my kid, I mean, not without trying. If it’s his choice, that’s something I can live with, I guess, but I can’t make that choice for myself. I need to know.”
The tension feels like strands running between all of them, like the laser lights in museums that they see in movies. If one of them moves even a fraction of an inch in the wrong direction, somebody is going to trip the alarm, and all of this will be in vain.
Strange and Stark lock eyes. Ned shrinks back a little like being caught in the crossfire will burn him. MJ crosses her arms, too, staring the wizard down.
Strange finally sucks in a deep breath. “He was something like that, yes.”
The four relax visibly. Stark lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding in, and Tatum and MJ both suck in a breath they didn’t realize they needed.
“But,” Strange cuts off their moment of peace, “you should know that the event that took place, the thing that made Peter Parker erase your memories of him, was because of something that happened to you all. It spiraled out of control. Nearly destroyed the cosmos. I cannot return those memories to you without risking another catastrophically bad event.”
Tatum chews on the inside of her cheek, glancing between her counterparts. “If we try to get to know him. Does it destroy the cosmos again?”
“If I tell you what happens,” Strange starts, and Tatum puffs out a breath.
“Yeah. It won’t happen.” She takes a step back. “Thanks anyways.”
The four turn around, only slightly more informed than when they entered, but the energy is different this time around. Before, they were a lot more sure about their next move–talk to Strange, get their answers, confront Peter Parker. Now where do they go? Retrieve Stark’s lost son to possibly destroy the world? Leave him to maybe die alone on the streets? Tatum, who usually prides herself on being one step ahead, feels hopelessly behind, and she’s starting to question if this actually even matters that much.
The months of therapy had been expensive and unsuccessful. She hadn’t been to another appointment since she, MJ, and Ned started uncovering some truths about Peter Parker. Nonetheless, she spent months trying to figure out what was wrong with her. Months on antidepressants she didn’t even need, months spent talking about her childhood, her teen years, trying to dig up any inkling of a traumatic memory revolving around this mystery boy, and there was no progress. It was hopeless, it made her question her sanity, she spent countless hours sobbing in her shower, car, bedroom, and therapist’s office out of pure defeat and embarrassment and shame. Nothing worked. Nothing helped. She had a boy she didn’t know sitting on her nightstand and for the life of her, she couldn’t stop looking at the picture.
So yeah. She wasn’t keen on giving up this whole thing. She wants answers.
Looking at Tony, he wants answers too. Even knowing that the boy really was his son was no comfort to him. Strange had verified that, yes, the boy Stark nearly murdered on a New York rooftop was his own son and yes, Stark had forgotten about him. Morgan had a big brother that she lost. Stark had a son–one he was obviously proud of, wildly proud of, based on the photo. Ned had a best friend that he couldn’t recall. Someone who probably shaped his life in ways he would never remember. Same with MJ–shaped her life in a way that she would be unable to place even with all the therapy and magic in the world.
“Now what?” Ned is the first to break the silence. The three kids are following Tony again–they didn’t really mean to, but he started leading, so they followed like ducks.
“Now, we go eat dinner, because I’m starving,” Stark states from ahead of them as he zips his jacket, “and then we meet Happy to take us to the next destination.”
“Talk about it later.”
“Are they gone?” Peter peers from around the corner of the basement wall.
“Yes, Parker, they have left.”
Peter emerges from his hiding place. His heart was still hammering in his chest, listening to them speak about him, but it helped to hear their voices. It made him feel like this was the right decision.
Strange regards him only a little warmer than before as Peter crosses the weathered hardwoods towards the door.
“Where do you go now?” Strange asks Peter’s back. Peter grips the brass doorknob, looking down at his bruised knuckles.
“To do what I should have done the first time.”
MJ wonders how Tony knows all of the good spots in New York. She fully expected him to pick some restaurant that was wildly out of the college students’ price range, something he’d pay for via wire transfer instead of carrying a wallet because that’s what uber rich guys do around here. It’s the dream of every finance bro at MIT to have that kind of luxury–to ask for a private room and have it handed to them, to sit at restaurants without menus and drink wine they can’t pronounce.
Where the kids actually find themselves is a bizarre hole-in-the-wall restaurant next to an empty suite waiting to be leased, still adorned with the sign from its former occupant.
“Swear, it’s the best Italian food you’ll ever eat,” Stark promised, and he was correct. Piles of dishes appeared in front of them without ordering–apparently, Stark frequents this place–stacked high with breads, pastas, chicken, veal.
The table is silent, both with the weight of the information they have and the growling in their stomachs. It isn’t long before the waiter does a final check-in, and Stark assures him that the payment should be wired to the restaurant by now. Maybe he does live the finance bro dream.
“Do we have a location on Clint Barton, J?” Stark asks his watch as they step into the brisk evening air. MJ raises her eyebrows when the watch answers.
“Happy has the coordinates,” the cool voice responds.
With a convenience MJ is sure always occurs for Tony Stark, a black SUV glides to the curb in front of them. Stark motions for the trio to sit in the back as they gather into the sleek vehicle. It smells like a new car.
“Sir, there has been pertinent information released about Spiderman that I think you must hear immediately,” the watch chimes at Stark, and the heater on full blast couldn’t thaw out the ice coursing through all of their veins as they listen.
Peter sits on a random rooftop in Times Square.
He knows this is stupid. It was stupid to do it when he had a massive PR team behind him, so it was definitely stupid to do it now. But Peter’s tired. He’s tired of running.
He hadn’t understood fully what Strange was trying to tell him the first time he heard it. Standing in the basement, trying to erase the revelation of his identity to the world, Strange had warned him of the dangers that lie in leading double lives. Secret identities. Peter knew that Strange was telling him he couldn’t run forever, but Peter was younger. Less wise. This year had been a hard one, and while it brought a lot of struggle, Peter learned a lot of lessons.
Strange told him he couldn’t hide forever. What Peter heard was that he could hide for a while. This time, the message stuck. Peter could run as long as he wanted, but time would pass regardless, and the future would come one day. One day he would have to come out of the shadows. It’s a nice night, Peter thinks, so why not this one?
He arranges a video call with none other than Jonah J. Jameson.
Watching himself on the massive screen in front of him, Peter wonders if this is the end of Spiderman.
“Here he is, folks, the world’s most dangerous vigilante! Have you come to finally answer for your crimes, Spiderman? Or are you here to justify your negligence once again?” Jameson sneers over the phone. He can see the old man’s face curl on the screens in the Square and on his own cell phone, and he puffs out a sigh.
“Neither.” Peter’s voice fills Manhattan and probably every TV screen in New York City. “I’m just here to set the record straight.”
“Which record? Your criminal record that we still haven’t seen you serve time for?”
The people down below have stopped their hustle and bustle. They’re watching in silence. There’s the blink of camera flashes below, capturing the news in personal Snapchat stories and live-streaming on Facebook.
“No.” Peter takes a deep breath to steady himself, but he’s ready. He’s been ready for a while now, he just didn’t know. “Someone much smarter than I am told me that I couldn’t run forever. I had to merge my two lives at one point or another, and it would be messy, but the longer I tried to split them apart, the harder they’d slam back into each other. So I’m here to do it myself before someone else does it for me.”
Before you do it for me again, asshole, Peter wants to say.
Peter doesn’t give Jameson the chance to speak again. He reaches up, grips the fabric of his mask in between his fingers, and pulls his safety net off of his head. Peter’s face is exposed on what he’s sure will become national television, but for now, it’s on every mega-screen in Times Square. His messy hair, the sheen of sweat across his forehead, the scar across the bridge of his nose.
“My name is Peter Parker,” he admits, “and I’m Spiderman.”
a little longer of a chapter than usual
also strange will do anything for his jade citrus green tea from starbies
this wasnt originally the way i intended for this fic to go, but I'm letting the characters tell me how to reach the end this story so blame them for everyone's poor choices
Chapter 17: Back in Blood
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Morgan Stark lays across Pepper’s legs, fiddling with a toy in her hands as they listen to the nightly news. It was a routine they had together when Tony wasn’t home. Morgan was weirdly obsessed with the news when she wasn’t talking about the Jaws theme song, and Pepper liked to listen, anyways, so this arrangement worked out for them.
“Mom,” Morgan says, peering at her mother upside-down. “Do I have a brother?”
Pepper stops what she’s doing–playing Candy Crush–and looks down at the child in her lap. She knits her eyebrows together.
“What?” Pepper asks, examining her child’s face curiously. “You mean Harley?”
“I know Harley is my brother,” Morgan groans, like she has better things to do than to explain this to her mom. “I mean another brother.”
Pepper can only think of the photograph in her gardening book. She considers how Morgan would have come across it, but she isn’t sure why the child would immediately assume that was her brother. Those photos were taken well before Morgan was even a thought in Pepper’s mind, and neither Tony nor Pepper had ever talked about another brother, as far as Pepper was aware.
Then she remembered something she read on a blog once that siblings can tell when their mother is pregnant before she knows herself. Pepper almost panics for a moment–they definitely hadn’t considered more children on purpose–but decides to investigate further. Her two options are fairly far apart in range.
“Why do you think you might have another brother?” Pepper asks gently, nudging a strand of hair away from Morgan’s eyelashes.
“Dad was looking at a picture today and I remember the boy in the picture. He came to my window the night the sky turned purple and said he was my brother but that he had to go away.”
Pepper’s blood runs cold in her veins and she stares down at Morgan, trying to contort her features to hide her abject horror at the idea that a stranger had climbed to their window, and then she remembers. Tony’s photo.
“You know the boy in Dad’s picture?” Pepper asks quietly, and Morgan nods, setting the toy down on the couch next to her.
“I don’t know his name. But Dad had friends over. They looked at the picture. Then I heard Dad say that when Uncle Happy brought me home, they were going to go find him.”
Pepper lifts her gaze, staring at nothing in particular–her eyes are fixed on the wall, but that isn’t what she’s paying attention to. She’s wondering what Tony is getting himself into.
The news announcer says something that catches Pepper’s attention, draws her away from Morgan’s questions and Tony’s potential recklessness. He hasn’t been around the house very much the past couple weeks–he’s spending more and more nights and mornings at the Tower, which makes her just a touch nervous, but J has strict orders to inform Pepper the moment Tony is either in danger, working too long without rest, or drinking.
“Reports are coming in that the notorious Spiderman, a New York vigilante that has been a presence in the city for years, is a young-looking boy named Peter Parker. Not much information has been released about Peter Parker’s past, but we do know that he graduated from Stuyvesant High School just over two years ago, putting his approximate age around 20 years old. The young vigilante has been swinging through the streets since he was only 16–a child by all accounts. This clip of the young man circulated New York news outlets during his senior year, depicting a game-winning dunk that shattered the backboard during a basketball game against Midtown in…”
Next to the reporter is Peter Parker’s face, a slightly grainy screenshot of his call to the Bugle. Pepper wasn’t a fan of that J. Jonah and his tendency to over-sensationalize the news, but it appears that was who Spiderman called to expose himself. Pepper is overcome with the strangest deja vu, but there’s not much time to analyze that when Peter’s face is staring at her from the screen instead of from her gardening book.
Harley and Ryan are watching from Harley’s laptop. Harley doesn’t even know what to say, so he calls his dad. Tony doesn’t answer.
Happy doesn’t speak while he listens to Tony’s phone play the video.
He doesn’t have any photos, not that he knows to look for one, but when he hears the name “Parker”, his chest hurts. He remembers that boy from May’s grave. The kid had left flowers for her. They were beautiful, as much as she was, selected thoughtfully and with her spirit in mind.
He misses May tonight.
The last thing Clint Barton expected was to see Peter’s face on TV.
The next-last thing he expected was to see Peter’s face on TV twice.
The first time he’s on TV, Peter’s reveal of his identity to the world sent New York into a frenzy, even as the day should have been winding down. New York never truly sleeps, he knows that, but there’s a hot time, and this shouldn’t have been the hot time.
Except Spiderman took his mask off on live television, and now every single post, news story, and article posted is about Peter Parker.
Clint tries to read as much of it as he can so that he’s ahead of the game, but there is one upside for young Peter, and it’s that nobody knows who he is. Nobody can come forward to claim to know him. He’s almost impossible to find digitally with no social media footprint and very little public information, other than that he attends NYU and formerly MIT, was a spectacular basketball player based on the three YouTube videos available for viewing after intense searches, and he once led his high school football team to the playoffs after never stepping foot on the field in his life.
There’s no dirt to dig up, nobody to press for answers, no one to ask if Peter’s ever been mean to a child or said something controversial on the internet.
The downside is that every bad guy with a bone to pick in New York is sure to come out of the woodwork. Clint estimates three days before Parker needs a new place to crash if he wants to avoid getting smashed into the pavement by a lot of guys with a serious bone to pick.
Clint’s half-dressed in his shitty apartment that he’s been renting out in his hunt for Spiderman. It could be worse–Clint’s seen Peter’s place–but it’s not exactly what he would call a headquarters. He’s got his pants mostly zipped and is holding his shirt out of the way with his teeth when a second breaking news report crosses the screen–the second one involving Peter.
His estimate of three days is about two days and 23 hours too long.
“...appears that Spiderman is on the scene just an hour after revealing his identity to the city, warning the NYPD of a radioactive Chitauri core about to blow. Police are arriving on the scene now to mitigate…”
“God damnit, kid,” Clint huffs, and yanking his belt tight, he drops his shirt and opens the window.
Peter really had no intention of getting involved in crime fighting tonight. He swears.
But with his face all over the news, it was hard to stay out of the spotlight, and the ghosts decided to claw their way up with a hot new piece of alien technology that Peter could have sworn was recovered after…well, everything that has happened to the tragic state of New York.
After his call ended with J. Jonah Jameson, Peter made it a point to get the hell out of Times Square before somebody saw him. Of course, it’s hard to miss a blur of blue and red whizzing through the air, so Peter did have to swing over a crowd of spectators holler, “Peter Parker!”
Last time Peter was exposed, Mysterio’s death was still fresh in people’s minds. After the world had a veil pulled over it, it had been determined that Mysterio was the one who caused the mass amount of damage to the bridge and had altered the video. Any moron with Photoshop could have put that phony piece of shit footage together, but with all of the excitement around the event, it took a while for that news to spread, and there'll always be some kind of conspiracy theorist or opponent of “big media'' out there. This time, it’s a little different. The onlookers are cheering his name, not spitting it at him. People are excited to see his face. They have a person to pair with their favorite local hero.
The last time there was this much hype around an Avenger reveal, it was when Tony Stark admitted in a press conference that he was Iron Man. That turned out alright for him, so Peter’s sure that once the initial shock is over, things will be just fine.
He swung for a bit to work off the leftover adrenaline from the ordeal. His hand had been trembling from the pressure of his face reveal, even if he was sure he was ready. Even if he knew it was the right thing to do. He had spent years upon years hiding his identity, covering his ass, telling lies and hiding his secrets and doing everything he could to keep Spiderman and Peter Parker as far away from each other as possible.
He took that time to consider what his future would look like. It was very possible that he was going to check his student email at the end of the night and discover that he’d been expelled from the university due to controversy, but that doesn’t even seem so bad this time. It had been everything when he had to leave MIT, but NYU might have mercy on him. Or they won’t. And that’s alright, too. Peter doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life, but he knows that he’s not hiding anything anymore, and that’s almost as freeing as the wind whistling in his ears and the sounds of the river in the background as he loops and flips over the warehouse district.
He’s relishing in that freedom when something purple and hot is fired from the ground level and Peter’s sent off-kilter. Whoever is shooting has shitty aim, but the blast is enough to throw the spider into a spiral and send him against a half-busted window four stories up.
Looking down, Peter squints to analyze the situation. The blast landed about a story above him and melted right through solid steel, which is Not Normal, as far as he’s aware, and he can see six guys down below that are no doubt looking for a comeback story.
“Karen, what do I have here?” Peter asks before launching himself into a freefall. Another purple blob is fired his way, but he’s well out of dodge by the time it reaches where he was supposed to be.
“The weapon appears to be based in Chitauri technology,” Karen chirps. “Be aware that the core is extremely pressurized and may cause significant damage to surrounding structures if compromised.”
“Wonderful,” Peter murmurs before diving head-first towards the pavement.
He’s freefalling from the sky when one of the seedier-looking guys drags out what looks like a giant claw welded onto the end of a gun. Peter’s eyes narrow and he prepares to swing another direction, but that isn’t what the claw does. It freezes him in midair, and no matter how hard Peter strains, he can’t break free of the waves that pin him against nothing at all.
“Whoa! What is that thing?” Peter exclaims. Karen begins to answer, but he soon can’t hear her voice over the sound of his body being slammed between two walls over and over at the behest of the man holding the gravity machine. That asshole ends his show by smashing Peter into a pancake on the ground, eliciting a groan from between the hero’s lips.
“Multiple contusions detected,” Karen chirps.
“Mhm. Detected that too,” Peter hisses from between his lips.
The waves release him. Peter wonders if they think that’s enough to stop him. The footsteps don’t come closer or move away, so Peter springs to his feet with a surprising amount of pep in his step for somebody who just went through a human pinball machine.
“What, were you lookin’ for me?” Spiderman snarks cheerfully, holding his hands out. “What’re we doing here, guys? Gonna take me to dinner?”
“You sent our boy to jail,” one of them snaps. Honestly, Peter could ask who, but it doesn’t matter. There’s been so many now over the last few years that he’d never be able to place that face, nor does he care to.
“And…?” Peter motions with his hands to keep the ball rolling. “Revenge, or…?”
“Revenge,” another one of them agrees in a deep, rusty voice. He raises his weapon, and Peter smirks behind the mask.
“Throw it back to the eighties, big man. You know who took that shit from you. Come get it back in blood,” Spiderman remarks, and with a leap and a bound, Peter is soaring overtop of their little gang and sending webs into the barrels of the guns to clog them up.
Six on one wouldn’t be the number Peter picked on purpose. The beginning started off alright with Peter swinging around them, leaping overtop, and trying to web them up, but those weapons are strong. The gravity machine snatches Peter out of midair again by the lower leg, and he almost dislocates it pulling himself free.
There’s only three weapons between the six of them, so Peter sets to dodging the alien tech and focusing on webbing up the three without any protection. They’re easy–a few well-placed webs and Peter has them stuck together and suspended over a dumpster.
His feet hit the ground running and he bounds over the guy with the gravity gun again to snatch it with two webs and rip it out of his hands. It ends up in an alley somewhere, Peter isn’t sure where he tosses it, he just focuses on kicking the jaw off of that guy’s face when he swings past.
A sizzle from the purple-exploding-thing fissures the leg of Peter’s suit and he hisses in pain as the molten nanites burn his sensitive skin. The hero flings himself across another set of rooftops and makes it his mission to get that away from the man holding it. It feels personal, the way that guy keeps aiming for Peter. So rude these days.
Peter kicks and punches his way through the other two. Another shot of webbing is what finishes off the second to last guy, and it’s just him and the man with the purple bomb, staring each other down.
“I’ll go high, you go low,” Peter announces with another grin and flings himself towards the sky with every intention of coming down with the force of Thor onto this dude for having the nerve to bring alien technology into New York City, but that isn’t how it happens.
The whom-whom-whom sound of the gravity gun pins Peter in place again. His eyes widen as he’s lowered down towards the ground and into the line of fire with the barrel of the glowing gun, and no matter how hard Peter struggles, he can’t break the force of the waves around him. He’s trapped.
He wonders if showing his face to the world with no safety plan was really the right move.
“Karen,” he hisses, “turn on taser webs.”
“Taser webs engaged, Peter.”
The man with the gun paces forward towards Peter. The barrel is trained for this face, and it’s hard to look at it without going cross-eyed. Maybe he should have gone home tonight.
“Well, Spiderman,” the man muses. “Or should I say, Peter Parker. You’ve been pretty hard to track down. We just happened to get lucky, and now, knowing that you’re just a kid under that mask, you’re a lot easier to defeat. Maybe you should have left the crime fighting to the Avengers.”
Peter frowns. He is an Avenger, but whatever.
“Is this the part of the movie where you tell me your evil plan? Because cops are going to be here, like, any second,” Peter complains loudly around the purple plasma encasing him. “And that gravity thing is making me super itchy. Be a real friend and scratch my nose, will you?”
The gun powers up with a loud whirring sound that reminds Peter of the mechanical bugs that trapped him underneath a building. He winces a touch at the memory.
“Yeah, kiddo. I’ll scratch your nose.” He raises the gun to aim right between Peter’s eyes. Peter’s last thought is of May.
“Fire, Karen,” he whispers.
Sparks of searing electricity course through the tensile fluid that spurts from Peter’s wrist. They wrap around the gun, shooting in blobs over and over until the gun is coated from rapid-fired web balls that send a burning pain up the arm of the holder.
The holder is writhing, but he can’t get his hands off of the gun from the stickiness of Peter’s webs. The electricity is strong–taser webs aren’t something Peter likes to use unless he has to, and he’s reminded of why when the gunman hits the ground on his knees and shrieks in pain. Peter can see the blue and white sparks searing his hands onto the vibranium casing of the weapon, likely melting his skin and fusing it with the metal sheath.
The purple core begins to glow. The gun is trembling. The man looks up at him with panic in his eyes, and the three goons suspended over the dumpster do the same.
“Is this about to fucking blow?” the guy holding the gravity machine shouts, and the one on the ground is useless to answer.
The gravity gun is dropped to the ground. Peter’s freed from his captivity at the same time the fifth man starts to sprint in the opposite direction. He locks eyes with the face of the man holding the weapon.
“Please help,” he rasps. Spiderman stands over him as the core destabilizes.
He wants to say to pay in blood. This is what he deserves. But Peter can’t do that. Spiderman doesn’t do that.
Sirens rebound off of the metal sheet buildings in the background. Lights flash in the distance as the cop cars wind through the industrial plant. Peter has no time–he either acts now or he becomes the man J. Jonah Jameson wants him to be.
So he drops to his knees, too, and starts prying the webs off of the gun.
“Peter, the core is going to blow,” Karen stresses. “We must flee now for optimal survival.”
“How long, Karen?”
“How long, Kay?”
“Twenty seconds by my estimations.”
“Karen, transfer the nanites from the area of least concern to my face.”
Peter rips his fabric mask off, leaving it on the dusty pavement next to him as he continues prying the webs away. He’s taking off some of the man’s skin with it, but he would survive that, just not the blow to the face.
The nanites from Peter’s back plate shift and crawl up the spine of the nanotech suit to curl around Peter’s face and form his lost nanite mask. Crisp night air crawls along Peter's bare spine while Karen loads her specs into his line of sight, but he doesn’t have time to read them.
“Ten seconds, Peter. If we don’t go now, we must–”
Peter tears away another blob of white. The man is yelling for the EMS services arriving on the scene. Tires squeal as they pull up to form a barrier against the escapees, but there are none. A line of New York policemen step out of the vehicles, and Peter can hear guns cocked in the background.
“Run!” Peter shouts. He hears the sick snap of his victim’s finger with his next rip. The core is shaking violently, sparking with the leftover reaction from the taser webs.
“Five seconds, Peter, deploy now –”
“Come on!” Peter shouts at the gun. The man fused with it looks at Peter with wide eyes.
The core blows.
yes i listened to pooh shiesty to write this chapter
i have my next fic fleshed out i think but that one is going to have explicit spicy content (NOT starker) and some crossover of another fandom (any guesses???) so i think the plan is to upload that and bad influences at the same time which means i need more ideas for bad influences
Chapter 18: You've Done Enough
Stark and friends try Peter’s apartment first.
“We have to get this kid back to the Tower before every bad guy and their mother come looking for him,” Tony tells them as he jiggles the doorknob. Locked. He hammers on the door three times and listens for a response. “Hey, kid! Open up.”
MJ shoulders past the inventor with a huff. “You’re taking too long,” she mutters, crouching down. She holds a hand out to Tatum. “Pin me.”
A jingle fills the hall as Tatum digs a bobby pin out of a tiny case on her keychain and places it into MJ’s outstretched hand. MJ’s nimble fingers skillfully slide the bobby pain into the keyhole and with what looks like magic and two flicks of her fingertips, the door is opening in front of their eyes.
“You know how to pick locks?” Ned marvels, and MJ shrugs.
“I went through a phase.”
Stepping into Peter’s apartment, the group looks around cautiously, and they come to see how Peter has been living for the last…however long they haven’t known him.
Were Peter there, he would be extra grateful for Clint’s cleaning spree, but the group still notices the little things. A box of bandages on the countertop. A thawed ice pack sitting next to the sink. There’s little to no furniture, and while the open cabinet door showed a massive grocery haul, the fridge still has Clint’s note held in place with an “I heart NY” magnet.
“I’m going to say he’s not here,” Tatum murmurs, peering inside of a desolate bedroom. The bathroom door leads to no new information, either, just that Peter is a real clean freak.
“So, what now? Is there any way to track him?” MJ asks into the window she’s peering out of. It has a nice view of nothing.
“JARVIS?” Stark asks his watch, and a loading screen appears on the face of it.
“Scanning all public access security.”
Stark’s phone rings again. He steps to the side, into Peter’s bedroom, to answer instead of sending Harley to voicemail for the third time.
“Hey, kid, what’s up?”
“Did you see the news? About your intern?”
Tony sucks in his bottom lip, looking up towards the ceiling as he ponders what to say.
“Um, yeah. I did.”
“Isn’t that crazy? I mean, did you know? He was Spiderman?”
“Listen, Har, am I able to call you back later? I got something kinda serious goin’ on over here at the Tower, and it’s time-sensitive. I’ll call you tomorrow, alright?”
“I’m already at the Tower.”
Stark pinches the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes in exasperation. Of course Harley’s there.
“I’ll…look, I’ll be there soon, like, a couple hours maybe, so just sit tight, alright? I need to finish this. Talk to you tomorrow. Love you bye,” Tony says as fast as he can without sounding like he doesn’t want to talk to Harley and hangs up after switching his phone to silent.
“Do we still need to worry about Clint?” Tatum wonders, sitting down on the couch. “I mean, he’s helping Peter, he probably knows you smashed his skull in and won’t be delighted to find you in the apartment if he swings by too.”
Stark paces out of the bedroom and to the window MJ is staring out of, looking down into what must be the carpark on the side of the building. He furrows his eyebrows.
“What?” MJ asks, looking from Stark’s face to the window in alarm.
“That’s my Audi.”
He doesn’t have time to ponder it further because the watch begins speaking to him again.
“Sir, a location on Spiderman has been obtained. His AI alerted the NYPD of an altercation at…”
Clint beat them there.
He’d been looking at the police scanner all night, and with the help of a well-placed ride on the top of a semi truck, he was able to get pretty damn close without being on foot.
The sirens were cut by the time Clint arrived, but lights still flashed against the steel buildings. Smoke billowed towards the sky, and tiny pieces of shrapnel glowed with purple fluid that looked like glitter across the ground.
The line of police cars have started to change into damage control. The fire department is there. An ambulance is there. Five men are being loaded into either police cars in handcuffs or into the backs of ambulances. One is being carted off in a white sheet. Clint slows his run to a jog, then stops as he deflates and takes in the scene.
“What the fuck, Peter,” he whispers, looking around at the carnage.
Now, he can see buildings have been blown out. Dumpsters have been demolished and sheared away into just scrap metal, holding roaring flames that won’t seem to extinguish. Fires lick the tops of roofs. Trash litters the ground. A roof is caving in and a team of hazmat suited biochemists are pointing towards a splash of purple goop that smokes on the ground where a seven-foot-deep crater is filling with water from a main break.
Peter is nowhere to be seen.
Clint paces around the outside of the perimeter, looking for the hero, but there’s no sign of him. He can’t possibly check through this amount of buildings and debris without getting caught up in the clean up crew, so he takes to the sky instead. Finding the world’s rustiest spouting, he ponders when his last tetanus shot was as he scales it to the rooftop.
It’s riddled with holes and rust spots of old age, but it does the job. He scans the other roofs, looking for a lump that might be boy-in-suit-shaped, until he hears it behind him.
It’s barely detectable, but the tiniest whimper slips into the crisp night air. Clint swivels and on the edge of the roof, back towards one of the larger holes, he can see somebody in a smoking suit lying motionless on the tin roof. Clint’s eyes widen in concern as he rushes the kid, and then his face falls when he sees how bad the damage is.
“Peter?” Clint murmurs. He kneels over the poor kid, rolling him onto his back.
The kid’s suit is either melted to his skin or missing in huge chunks, exposing his bare skin to the cold air down to the boy’s underwear. Half of the face shield was blasted off, leaving a painful-looking burn on the boy’s face that is already starting to bruise and blister. His hands are just as severely damaged, but it looks like all limbs, fingers, and toes are accounted for. There’s a shard of metal wedged deep–too deep for Clint to pull out–inside of the kid’s hipbone, and another more shallow one on the right side of his chest. His skin is raw and chafed, and he’s breathing, but not convincingly.
“Oh, Jesus, Peter,” Clint whispers. The kid’s visible eye is closed. He’s bleeding from his mouth and his eyebrow. Clint has to stop taking inventory before he throws up.
A near-silent whirring is above him, and were he not a trained Avenger, he likely wouldn’t have heard it. He knows the noise, though. He doesn’t look up when the feet land on the roof.
“Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” Clint states. His voice is watery and his words clipped as he fights the ball of tears and nausea in his throat. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough to this kid?”
Stark surveys the damage on the boy’s body, kneeling down as his faceplate retracts. Clint holds out a hand to stop him from getting any closer and snaps his stare to the man who has harmed Peter so much before. His eyes are red-rimmed, and he looks as defeated as Clint feels.
“I know,” Stark says. Clint can tell by the tone of voice that Stark is about to rationalize with him and be right about it. He hates when Tony does that. “But I have the best medical facility in the city, and this kid can’t go to a regular hospital. You know that. We need to get him there now before he dies. I can take him, but you have to trust me. You can’t argue that he doesn’t need immediate help.”
Clint breathes heavily through his nose. The cold air, tinged with the smell of burnt hair and whatever lies below the roof, against the back of his throat makes him want to gag.
“Clint, we don’t have a lot of time.” Tony’s voice rings in Clint’s ears. He pictures in his head the ways that this can go wrong. Stark drops the kid in the river to rip the suit off of his body, Stark gets the nanotech and throws the kid on the streets to die, Tony holds the kid hostage the way he did Wanda during the Sokovia mess.
And then he pictures Peter dying because Clint was stubborn.
“Okay.” Clint nods, swallowing his tears, but one cursed one slips down his cheek anyways. “Okay.”
Clint falls back on his heels to show Tony the kid. Tony picks the boy up with tenderness that Clint isn’t sure he’s ever seen before. He cradles Peter in his arms, holding the limp hero tightly to his chest.
“J, tell ‘em we’re coming in hot.” The faceplate materializes. “Happy is waiting for you in the car with three really annoying kids. Meet me at the Tower.”
And with that, Iron Man fires up into the sky and streaks across the stars to hopefully save Peter Parker.
“Mr. Keener, you’ve been instructed to report to Suite 14.”
JARVIS sounds calm and collected as always, but for an AI, there is almost the slightest tinge of alarm in his voice. Harley squints at the ceiling.
“Is Tony here?” he asks, and he sets down the project he had been working on. He had access to Tony’s private lab, sensor-gel print and everything, from the times Tony has brought him by to hang out in the work rooms with him.
“No,” the AI responds calmly. “But he is en route. The Tower will shortly be on lockdown. The lab will be off-limits to anyone except for Mr. Stark in approximately four minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Please vacate the lab and return to Suite 14.”
Harley’s browns furrow in alarm but he drops what he’s doing anyways and strides towards the elevator that JARVIS has already opened for him.
“Is everything okay? Are we in danger?”
“No,” the AI answers, but he provides no more explanation and instead simply begins to drive the elevator up into the sky.
When Harley is deposited onto Tony’s living floor, he immediately makes his way to one of the massive floor to ceiling windows that adorn the impressive living room and stares out. He can just barely see a white blip moving across the sky. With another minute or two of waiting, he’s certain that Tony is the blip moving towards him.
He’s donned his full suit, which makes Harley’s brain send off warning sirens. The sirens only grow louder when he can see Tony carrying somebody, and lights flash along with the sirens when Tony flies down to the medical landing instead of up to his usual landing spot on the balcony.
“Jay, take me down there,” Harley states, moving towards the elevator once again, but the doors stay stubbornly closed.
“I am not sure it required your presence, Mr. Keener,” JARVIS responds, and Harley scowls before simply stepping three feet to the left and opening the door to the stairs.
Hustling down, Harley considers what might have happened. If it has something to do with the announcement, if something happened to Pepper or Morgan, if something happened to another Avenger, if there was a world-ending threat and Tony was called out. He feels stupid for having called Tony in the first place when he was obviously busy with something a lot more serious than talking to Harley.
Harley wrenches open the door to the medical floor just in time to see Tony, still in full Iron Man armor save for the faceplate, laying a boy down on the gurney. Most of it is missing, but Harley sees the red and blue regardless.
He takes a shaky step forward. He wonders if he should have stayed upstairs–if Peter would even want Harley to witness him like this. If he’s doing something ethically wrong by being here.
“Harley,” Tony breathes. Harley breaks his stare from Peter’s mangled body to meet his fathers eyes. The doctors begin wheeling Peter back to another sterile white room.
“Dad?” Harley glances back to the squeaky door they’re taking Peter though.
“Go back to the suite,” Tony commands, but there’s no real heat behind it. His voice is thick, like he’s swallowing down tears, and his eyes are rimmed with red. “I’ll be up soon. Go up. The others should be here.”
“Dad,” Harley says again, shakier this time. “Tell me the truth. How do you really know Peter Parker?”
Chapter 19: Just One Each
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tatum, Ned, and MJ are slumped on one of Tony’s expensive couches. JARVIS has been instructed to wake them up with any pivotal news, but so far, it’s been three hours and they’re still knocked out cold. Tony is sitting on the other side of the massive room with Harley after explaining the situation as best as he could, which Harley didn’t have much to comment on. There wasn’t a lot to say.
Clint was the only one who remained in the med bay. The others wanted to stay down there, but Clint’s rabid-dog eyes showed that he wasn’t interested in having Tony anywhere near the kid, and Tony would respect that. JARVIS would inform him whenever Peter came out of surgery.
The elevator dings, and the two awake turn their eyes to Clint, who steps out of the silent doors and treads carefully around the three sleeping kids on the enormous sectional sofa. Clint never got around to asking Tony how expensive that couch actually was, but he certainly had his guesses.
“Any news?” Tony asks. He keeps his voice level and calm to avoid a fight.
Clint shrugs. “He’s out of surgery. I told JARVIS I’d come up and tell you so he didn’t wake the kids up.”
Silence settles over the room again. Harley is the next to speak.
“Is he going to be okay?” Harley asks in a near-whisper.
“Dr. Cho thinks so,” Clint responds flatly. He pulls out one of the plush armchairs around the breakfast table and takes a seat. “They said a few hours before he’ll wake up. Major wounds in his hip and chest, but he seems to be healing already. Cho thinks his mutation might give him an edge health-wise because nobody should have survived that explosion, much less a Chitauri core straight to the face. Some pretty significant damage to his skin, especially around his face and hands, but she thinks with extra care he’ll be out swinging again in a few weeks. He should have full use of his fingers by then. Lucky he didn’t get them blasted off.”
The three men remain quiet around the table. There’s just nothing to say.
Peter doesn’t see Ben this time while he’s unconscious. That’s how he knows he’s still alive.
Peter’s lived too many lives, he thinks to himself in the gray area between asleep and awake. He’s been through too much to only be in his twenties, and there’s not a lot left for him to do at this point–he’s really starting to run out of identities.
The faint beep of a heart monitor is in the background, coming in here and there. He’s not sure why he can’t wake up all the way, but he’s alert enough to know that he can’t still be on the rooftop. After the core had exploded and sent him airborne, he used the last of his strength to drag himself onto the sheet roofing and laid down to die. A regular hospital wasn’t an option, and he’s sure that after the explosion, he’s going to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted list if he wasn’t already. Karen had shorted out. Peter didn’t know if she called somebody or sent a ping out to the Stark Network, or if he had been found purely by chance.
He starts to fight himself awake. The heart monitor means one of two things. Either he’s in a regular hospital, chained to the bed with handcuffs, or he’s in Stark Tower, where he really, really doesn’t want to be.
Just because Peter decided to merge his two lives doesn’t mean he can afford to come back into Tony’s.
His vision is blurry. He’s forcing his eyelids apart until he can see around him, make out something that tells him where he’s at. It’s a quiet, white room–not nearly as nicely done as some of the others–but there are Stark Industries labels on everything nearby. Even with his eyes only half-open, he can see them plastered on the monitors, the blood pressure cuffs, etched into the window. As far as he can hear, there’s nobody else in the room. No heartbeats sound in his ears. He’s alone.
He doesn’t know if that’s better or worse.
“Mr. Parker?” a voice sounds from overhead. He hasn’t heard that voice in a long time, not since Tony hacked into his stupid nanotech suit that Peter still wants him to replace, and before that, for a year.
“Jay?” Peter mumbles. His mouth is full of glue. “JARVIS?”
“I will alert your companions that you are awake.”
“Mm,” he responds, but he was really trying to say no. He doesn’t want Stark in here. That’s a step closer to putting Tony in danger, the world in danger, and for all Peter knows, it might never be the same.
He’s thought about it before. How things might never be the way that they used to be. The first time he grew close to Stark, it was under such a special set of circumstances that he isn’t sure it could ever be duplicated. Stark had found him first, showing up at Peter’s high school basketball game and scaring the shit out of him. Strongarmed Peter into agreeing on coming to the Tower for training out of “concern” for the wellbeing of a young superhero. At the time, Peter wasn’t even out fighting crime. He used his crappy suit on occasion to swing to friends’ houses and avoid the extra attention.
It turned out that Peter actually liked Stark okay, and even enjoyed boxing with him. Then they started hanging out in the lab more, and Stark got a look at how smart Peter actually was. They worked on cars, machines, suits, all kinds of things together. They had a fight over a Spiderman suit that Peter regretted, but through a few different fights, life-threatening situations, and Tony’s relentlessness in making Peter Parker his mentee, they actually got close. Way closer than Peter ever intended. Way closer than even Stark intended. That was basically his dad.
But Peter has changed, and he’s sure Stark has changed too. Even though Peter will never regret going to the other side to get Stark back, blipping him back into existence, he knows that telling someone about how it used to be and actually having that “used to be” were two completely different things, and Peter isn’t sure that “used to be” will ever come back.
And he’s okay with that if it has to be that way, but he really doesn’t want to find out by trying and failing. He isn’t sure he can take that.
The airlock opens and there’s more than one set of footsteps. Way more than one set. When Peter can force his eyes open again, there’s a myriad of faces around him. He can make some of them out, but his vision is still blurry. It’s then that he wonders if he lost his vision in the explosion. Was he blind? Was he going to never see again, would he need eye surgery he couldn’t afford, would he need prosthetic eyes? He’s sure Stark has them on deck, or schematics for them, but would it make a difference?
He can make out Clint’s voice, but he’s still foggy on what it sounds like. He knows it isn’t Stark’s or Ned’s. There’s too many heartbeats to identify them individually.
“Mm,” Peter responds again. He wonders how bad the damage to his face was. If nanotech had been able to save him. It’s hard to talk, but he doesn’t think it’s from the blast, just from whatever sedative he was on to keep him down during surgery. Stark always had the good shit.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” a girl’s voice says next to him.
“Jay, page Dr. Cho, please.”
“Dr. Cho will arrive momentarily, sir.”
“Peter? Are you there, kid?”
“Don’t rush him, Clint, it’ll be alright. He just came out a few hours ago. He might need more time.”
“Give him some space, jeez.”
“Stark. Now, really, back off of the poor boy.”
Another figure leans close to Peter’s face. He recognizes her as Dr. Cho–he’s only been her patient a handful of times, but he’s dragged Tony in to visit with her more often than anybody else. He remembers one time, Stark had returned from a mission swearing he was fine and could still maintain his plans with Peter to play basketball. Peter didn’t even think Stark liked basketball, but it turned out the old man was a pretty good shot. Not even fifteen minutes into their game, Stark collapsed, puked, and tried not to black out while Peter dragged him into the elevator and told him to stop being such a smartass.
Peter’s a little saddened when he remembers Stark doesn’t even have that memory anymore.
“Peter? Can you hear me?”
“Are you in any pain?”
He wants to say, emotionally or physically? But that’s a lot of words, and he’s tired, just fighting the sedative out of pure desire to get the fuck out of this building.
“Mm,” is all he’s able to manage.
Dr. Cho fiddles with a bag next to him, and he’s out like a light.
The next time Peter wakes up, he’s much more alert. His eyes and mouth actually work.
He’s not alone this time, either. Dr. Cho is recording vitals on a clipboard when he opens his eyes. His mouth is painfully dry–like he’s been chewing on sand and glass for over a week.
Dr. Cho’s eyebrows raise when she sees him open his eyes, but she doesn’t have the same rush of excitement that the others had when he woke for the first time.
“Welcome back to earth,” she says, and Peter gazes at her slackly. “You’ve been out for five days, young man. We were wondering how long you’d sleep for.”
Peter struggles to remember what exactly happened. He feels like he knew more the first time he was awake.
“Wha?” is what he gets out. Stupid, he thinks.
“You are a very lucky kid,” she remarks, setting her clipboard down and taking a seat next to his bed. “You managed to keep all your fingers, limbs, and eyesight. The other man wasn’t quite as lucky. That suit really saved you.” She pauses to make sure Peter is following before she continues. “You had some nasty burns on your face and body. A lot of your suit was melted into your skin and there were a lot of areas that required heavy grafting to save them. Your face and hands will have…permanent scarring, but nothing too severe. Your enhanced healing abilities have really shown through the last few days. Most of your bones have reset, the two areas where you had been impaled with large vibranium shards have completely healed, and the grafts are mostly healed. I know facial scarring isn’t an easy pill to swallow, but you are lucky to be alive. Very lucky.”
She stands. Peter’s eyes track her wordlessly across the room as she pours him a cup of water that he would give everything, even Stark’s Audi, to get his hands on.
He looks down at his fingers that are wrapped in gauze. His chest is covered by a gown. He wonders how long it’s going to be before he can see the scarring. He’s not even worried about how bad it is. He just wants to know.
Dr. Cho sets the cup down next to him and gingerly reaches over to unwrap his hands.
“Flex your fingers for me?” she asks as she takes the white gauze off. Peter watches intently. His hands are…fucked up. She wasn’t kidding about the scarring, but it could be worse. He wiggles and flexes and makes a fist until the doctor is satisfied. It’s a little hard to make a tight fist, and he feels like he can’t close his fingers quite right, but she assures him that with some physical therapy, he should regain full use of his fingers. He’ll be out swinging again in no time, she tells him. That makes him feel a little better.
“I told JARVIS to wait for clearance before he lets anyone in. You have quite a few people worried about you,” she tells him. Until now, Peter hasn’t had much to say, but that piques his interest.
“People?” he rasps. She hands him the cup of water before he tries again. Once he takes the first sip, it’s hard to stop, and the doctor gently moves the straw from his lips.
“Don’t make yourself sick,” she warns.
“Who is here?” he asks, a little smoother this time now that his throat isn’t full of sandpaper.
“Mr. Stark and Miss Potts, of course, and Clint Barton. Stark’s son Harley. Their daughter Morgan. Happy Hogan. And your friends Tatum, Ned, and MJ. They’ve been very insistent on seeing you, mister. You have a real bond there,” the doctor remarks, setting his cup down for him. “Should I let them in?”
Should you? Peter isn’t sure.
“Yes,” his heart betrays him.
It was then.
It could have been when Stark saw his face on the rooftop, or when he paid the kid’s rent. Any of the times he gazed at the mystery boy’s picture. But it wasn’t. It was waiting for Peter to wake up from the medical wing that Stark retrieved his first memory of Peter Parker.
It’s not a nice one. It's Peter's first injury. The first major one, when the building fell down on top of the kid and he didn’t call for help. Stark had been worried sick, sleeping in the infirmary with May Parker against his shoulder, waiting almost a week for the kid to wake up. He didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, set a record for how long he’d been awake until Pepper quite literally trapped him in his room. He was a worried mess.
He remembers yelling at Peter. Wildly mishandling the situation and shouting at the kid who was finally on his feet after days of being under. Watching the kid heal was like watching paint dry, but slowly, he did. When he woke up, Stark was so furious that he asked Peter what the fuck was wrong with him. He remembers this kid screaming back–he remembers that it was one of the reasons he liked this kid so much. The kid stood up to him. He yelled back. He didn’t take Tony’s shit. He remembers storming away and coming back to apologize to see the kid was gone.
He doesn’t remember anything else, but he remembers that, and he decides he’s going to do it right this time. He doesn’t know what happened before or after the kid almost died, but he knows that he fucked up with how he handled it. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
When he enters the infirmary, the kid looks rough. Dark rings under his eyes. A long scar across his face, starting at his forehead, crossing one of his eyes, down to his cheekbone. It kind of made him look cool, but that’s an inside thought.
The others shuffle in around him.
Seeing Peter in the bed was like a truck hitting him. He suddenly remembers a graduation ceremony. The ticket in his box makes sense again.
Clint remembers crying at the ceremony. Nat was making fun of him and Tony at the same time. Two old men crying in a high school football stadium, she had teased them. Clint remembers being so proud. So, so proud of that kid.
He remembers playing basketball with the teenager after the ceremony and getting his ass kicked. Peter wasn’t lying–he was definitely better at dunking than Clint was, and could soar over the other man with ease, which Clint’s pretty sure was against the rules. Peter was the reason they made that a rule. He remembers now.
Tatum’s moment was seeing Peter soaring away with Stark towards the Tower for emergency surgery. She saw Iron Man streaking across the sky from the ground, in Happy’s car, and remembered.
She remembers sitting in her room with Peter while he got undressed, and then got dressed again. She remembers never wondering how he managed to get in her fourth story window. She just let him in and shut him up, except for that night. She told him she knew he was Spiderman. She’d seen him one night, taking his mask off while she waited for him to show up to a party, hoping desperately that her crush would be there. It would be months before she admitted it out loud. She remembers sending him into a panic attack. Having to call Tony, finding out that Tony wasn’t just some guy from a boxing gym but the literal Tony Stark that had arrived in the suit to take Peter home while Peter was on the verge of blacking out. She remembers being so worried about him after Tony had cradled Peter in his arms and shot into the sky with him. She texted him a few times and he didn’t answer with much to go off of. She doesn’t remember what happened after, but she knows she thought it was over.
Morgan remembers Peter teaching her how to swim. He was funny.
Pepper’s memory is, of course, Tony returning after six months.
She had visited his grave that morning. It was bittersweet every time she did. Morgan would go around the yard and pick out dandelions and wildflowers to leave on her daddy’s grave. It was like Pepper knew something big was happening outside.
Then the sky turned purple, and a few hours later, Tony was knocking on the door and trying to get into this house. It had started pouring rain just before. He was soaking wet, standing on the porch and dripping all over the floor she had just mopped that afternoon, tracking mud in like he always did. Like he never left. She remembers crying.
But she already had that memory. She knew that part–how could she ever forget her husband coming back from the dead?
The new pieces that fit into the puzzle are Peter Parker-shaped. She remembers him bringing Tony home. Standing behind the man with the proudest smile on his face, like he had just earned the Nobel Prize. She remembers that he was the one who went to the other side, snapped his fingers instead of Tony, and returned him to the right time. Saved the world, even, only 19 years old. Pepper considered signing the company over to Peter that very night.
Ned and MJ have the same memory. They remember the night that May Parker died.
Peter’s name was exposed on live TV. Villains from other timelines started to pour in. They did all they could, but they ended up needing more help. They had accidentally recruited Peter 2 and Peter 3, and taken them to the only place they could think Peter would be–the roof of his high school. They remember holding him, along with Tatum, while he trembled in their arms and cried for his loss. They remember crying just watching their friend fall apart.
Happy remembers when May disappeared and Peter was pacing the apartment, yelling about Dr. Strange making him wait a whole week before getting back to him on the alternate reality front. The kid had been so mad that it was almost comical. It was the first time Happy laughed after May disappeared. He told the kid to go visit Tatum, and the look on Peter’s face had been so shocked and disgusted that Happy couldn’t help it. He had to laugh.
The kid always made him laugh.
Dr. Strange stands in the basement Peter Parker hates so much. Gold rings scripted with ancient runes spin around him.
He had to restore their memories. He had to. Just one each, he reasoned. Just the most important one for each of them, that’s all. He had to do at least that.
How could he not? The poor kid had been through enough.
the end of the story kind of snuck up on me! we're getting pretty close! i think i only have a couple more chapters left!
Chapter 20: If It's Like That
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter stares at all the eyes on him. It makes his skin crawl.
“Well?” he asks, breaking the silence. “Can’t get the suits anymore. They’re destroyed.”
A wince of hurt flashes across Stark’s face. Peter wants to apologize, but he already said it.
“I’m sorry,” the inventor says quietly. The words ghost across the room and die in the silence. Everyone else just stands.
“We have…questions,” Pepper says gently. Peter shrugs.
“Can’t escape you, so. Hit me.”
“Why did we forget you?” MJ asks. Peter looks down at the shockingly white sheets that lay over his waist in shame. He wishes Strange had erased his memory, too.
“I messed up,” Peter admits finally. His voice is raspy and quiet. “I tried to fix it and then I made it worse. The only fix was to make everyone forget. Everyone.”
“Were we happy?” Tatum asks, and Peter raises his gaze up to her. Her eyes are rimmed with red. He can tell she’s been crying, but he’d still fold in a second if she asked him to. Disbelief crosses his face.
“What do you mean?”
“Were we happy together?”
How she knows that is beyond him, but he nods anyway. “Yeah,” he croaks. “We were.”
She nods with finality, and then looks at Stark. He clears his throat and motions for them to skip him. Peter knows that trick.
“Yes,” Peter says without Stark speaking. “You were my parental figure. The only one left alive. And I stole your car. And yes, I built that Iron Man suit and programmed my own override code. You were really proud of me.”
Stark nods briskly and then looks away. Peter smirks a little. He knows that trick, too.
“Did you live in my house? How did you get in my house, were you a weird little hermit or something?” Happy asks. His voice is accusatory and grouchy in the lightest way possible, and it makes Peter laugh wistfully. Even the others crack a smile.
“Yes. Briefly. I lived there. And destroyed your wall with a fabricator by accident. Never got the chance to fix it.”
“Did we build the Death Star together?” Ned interrupts, and Peter remembers that Christmas fondly. He smiles.
“Yes. You got it for Christmas. Well, we did. It was a joint gift.”
“Were you really my brother?” Morgan asks. She peers at him from behind Pepper. Peter’s features soften into the slightest smile.
“Something like that.”
“Will you be again?”
Silence settles over the room. Peter doesn’t have an answer. He looks helplessly at them, and he doesn’t have to speak for them to know.
“Well,” Stark finally says, clearing his voice. “I suppose we should let you rest. We can only interrogate so many people in a day. Run along, kids,” he orders, motioning with his hands for them to clear the room.
“You stay,” Peter rasps, and Stark’s eyes pierce Peter’s. “I want to talk.”
The others move single-file out of Peter’s room and past the frosted window emblazoned with the SI logo. When they’re out of earshot and their footsteps have faded, Peter turns his gaze to the man in front of him.
“You tried to kill me,” Peter states. Stark freezes even though Peter’s sure he knew it was coming.
“I know what you thought.” Peter clears his throat. “I don’t blame you. But it’s hard. You, um…you don’t remember. But you meant a lot to me. It was a rough six months when you were on the other side. I was acting crazy. When you came back, it was like, you know, things went right back to how they were. There was no awkward period. You just showed back up and it fixed my life. I don’t know if it’s like that this time. Assuming that’s even what you want.”
Stark is quiet. Peter looks at him expectantly.
“I understand,” Stark says. “I don’t know if it’s like that this time, either.”
“What do you remember? Anything?” Peter presses, and Stark sucks in a sharp breath. He sits in the chair next to Peter’s bed.
“I have a memory of yelling at you. You got hurt, really bad. And I handled it really poorly. I can remember that now. It came back while we were waiting for you to wake up. I don’t know why, but I can picture it clearly now.”
Silence again. Peter’s starting to get sick of that sound. He looks down at his sheets.
“Is the scar bad?” he asks quietly. “On my face? I haven’t seen it yet.”
Stark leans forward to peer at Peter’s skin. It makes him a little insecure, but he lets it happen anyway, and eventually Stark sits back and shakes his head.
“No. Well, it’s noticeable. It isn’t small. But it looks cool.”
Peter can’t help but laugh. It’s a Tony thing to say.
“I’ve had worse, then,” Peter states. He pauses for a beat. “I don’t know if we’ll be alright after this because you don’t know me. You don’t know, but it was so specific, the way we ended up being like that. That close, I mean.”
Stark shrugs. “I don’t know either, kid. But if it happened once, it’s going to happen again. Some things are inevitable in every timeline.”
“Thanos said that.” Peter leans his head back against the crisp hospital pillows.
“Before I snapped with the stones.”
“Before I snapped with the stones,” Peter corrects, looking at Stark with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Stark frowns.
“That happened in the other timeline,” Tony states, squinting at the kid. “How do you even know that?”
Peter twiddles his burned fingers with a smirk growing on his face. “Who do you think went there to bring your stupid ass back home? Do you know how many times that trip made me throw up and look bad in front of the wizard?”
Stark snorts. Peter cracks a real, genuine grin, and Stark claps a hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, kid,” Stark says, slumping back in his chair. “I’m sure we’re going to be just fine.”
Peter spends two more days in the infirmary. He was right–when he checks his student email, he’s been expelled from NYU. Figures.
After two days, he’s moved into an extra room on Tony’s floor. Tony doesn’t know it, but Peter used to sleep in here all the time. It’s not a place he needs to get comfortable with. Tony gives him the rundown of the suite, and Peter raises his eyebrows until Tony realizes he’s preaching to someone who doesn’t need to be preached to.
“Sorry,” Tony grumbles. “Some of us are old and forgetful.”
“More like a victim of magic, but we can go with the old thing.”
Stark had considered everything, as always, when arranging Peter’s room. Peter discovered during his time hanging out with Tony Stark in high school that while JARVIS handled a lot of stuff around the Tower, Tony still had a personal hand in making guests comfortable by trying to learn and accommodate their preferences into their living quarters. Peter’s closet was full of things from his actual apartment, but there were new items as well that he’s sure Stark picked personally. They were the same brands Peter had in his closet at home, with the addition of new underwear, socks, and a new pair of gray and black Air Jordans that Peter knows aren’t cheap. He’d gotten a taste for more expensive apparel in high school when he was trying to fit in and be on top at Stuy, and Stark had honored that by filling his wardrobe with Nike, Kappa, Jordan, and Billionaire Boys Club clothes, along with some even pricier items. After some more digging, Peter finds more than just the Air Jordans in fresh shoe boxes at the bottom of the closet.
He had added new sheets and a new duvet set to Peter’s bed about three hours after Peter was scheduled to move into it. Three gaming consoles–Xbox, PS5, Nintendo Switch–adorned the entertainment center that took up an entire wall of the room, complete with at least thirty games a piece that spanned across all the genres of games Peter knew. He knows that Stark only ordered so many because it was easiest to give Peter that many choices. Stark was particular about what went into someone’s space, but he had enough money that sometimes he could just order an array and be correct for convenience.
Other than that, the room was mostly just a guest room. Dr. Cho requested that Peter stay for at least another two weeks for monitoring, especially because of his limited use of his hand. She had said she didn’t want him out there swinging himself around on fingers that don’t close all the way, but he knows part of it is Stark’s doing. Peter’s face is still on every news channel and poster. It’s not quite safe for Spiderman in the city just yet.
Peter’s ordered to start PT as soon as possible to get his hands back in working order. He doesn’t love physical therapy, but he notices the difference after a week of consistent exercises, so he begrudgingly continues with it.
In his free time at the Tower, which is almost always, he’s typically alone. Stark is somewhere in the massive skyscraper, and Peter is certain that JARVIS is keeping meticulous tabs on him, but it seems like Stark is trying his best to give Peter space. Peter could respect that.
Harley’s assigned room is down the hall from him. The still-jealous part of Peter is happy that Harley didn’t take his room. He wonders if Stark somehow knew, but realizes that’s just him being annoying.
Harley isn’t there often, but there is one day, about four days after Peter is moved out of the infirmary, that he comes by after his classes at NYU. Tony said he offered to bring Peter the organic chemistry notes, but Peter had declined. He doesn’t say why, but Tony probably has a feeling.
Tony was somewhere, likely a lab, doing his “giving Peter space” thing. Peter appreciated the distance, but it was honestly getting kind of boring being in the Tower alone. Not to mention, being here brought a confusing mix of memories. Some of them made Peter smile, others made his chest hurt.
Peter is sitting on the couch in the main space. He’s doing his second set of hand exercises that the physical therapist recommended Peter do three times a day, and he has nothing better to do anyways. He’s got his hand shoved in a five gallon bucket full of white rice sitting between his knees and is opening and closing his hand against the resistance. He had put something random on TV–Stark has so many channels that it’s not worth scrolling through them–to listen to in the background while he worked out his hand.
He hears the elevator across the massive room before it’s even within five floors. Peter’s body tenses against his will–it’s either Stark or somebody working for Stark, and Peter isn’t sure he’s ready to face anybody yet. While he’s bored a lot from being alone in the suite, he thinks it’s also making him a little antisocial.
The elevator doors glide open to let Harley Keener step out onto the floor. Peter stretches his fingers out through the rice again to hide the true reason behind the tensing of his jaw. Even if it was awkward and weird being in the Tower after so long, even if Peter had the crushing anxiety of the world ending because he’s admitted his identity to the entire world, he still can’t battle the feeling of jealousy that boils in his throat whenever he’s reminded that Harley Keener has taken his place in Stark’s life.
It’s annoying, Peter thinks, because yeah, he didn’t want to be in Stark’s life at first. He fought Tony on it. But he made his place fair and square. He did things for Stark that other people wouldn’t or physically couldn’t do. He’s had to see things that haunt his memories, do things that torture him when he should be sleeping. For a year, he’s been emotionally numb because that was how he was going to survive, and what does Harley get? He gets to go to NYU on what Peter still assumes is Stark’s money, enjoy the benefits of all the terrible things Peter’s gone through, and still have the nerve to stand in the same room as Peter.
The energy radiating off of Peter Parker must permeate the rest of the room because Harley immediately looks embarrassed to have walked in on whatever Peter is doing. He stands there awkwardly, shuffling his feet.
Peter raises his eyebrow. “Can I help you?” he asks into his rice bucket, squeezing his hand again. He makes another face, but this one is legit–that one hurts just a little.
“Uh, um, no. No.” Harley gingerly sets his bag down by the elevator door. Pepper always hated when Peter did that. Peter makes a note of how careful Harley’s being with his bag. Either he remembers that it irritated Peter, or he actually broke something and learned his lesson for once. “Um…what are you doing?”
“Physical therapy stuff,” Peter responds. His tone is a little clipped, but he isn’t trying to be rude. The feeling of replacement still lingers on his shoulders. He is painfully aware that, when it comes down to it, he and Stark might not be just fine. And if they are, Peter’s going to have to learn how to share his place, and he isn’t sure that he wants to do that. This has been great, but Peter knows he’s going to be alone again when he leaves the Tower in a week.
Harley stands for another few moments, watching Peter open and close his hand in the rice. He opens his mouth again, but gives up on trying to speak when he can’t figure out what to say. Peter wonders if he’s come to thank him for kicking that guy’s ass in the alley, or ream him for hitting Harley in the process.
Instead, he just tells Peter, “I like your shirt.”
Peter glances down at the Metallica shirt he’s wearing. He usually just slept in it since it was a size too big for him, but with the right outfit, he was sometimes inspired to wear it out and about. Today was one of those days. Peter shrugs.
“Thanks. It’s your dad’s. Stole it after I broke his nose playing basketball.”
Harley raises his eyebrows, and an elfish grin peaks on his face. “Really?”
Peter nods. He doesn’t mention that Tony bought him the Jordans he’s wearing, either, or that the ripped jeans he has on are stained on the knee because of a 50-yard dash he and Tony failed in the parking lot, or that the hoodie he’s wearing under the Metallica shirt is the one he wore the night he got Tony back from the dead. Stark is woven into every part of Peter’s life, and it makes his inevitable departure that much harder to handle.
Harley rocks on his heels, tucking his hands into his pockets. “I wish I could dress like that,” he says sheepishly, running a hand through his hair. “I have, like…no sense of fashion, at all.”
Peter shrugs. “I just bought stuff my girlfriend liked.” And an old T-shirt and bloody jeans are hardly fashion, Peter thinks, but he keeps that to himself. Harley snorts.
“Yeah, so, I’m really doomed,” he mutters. He doesn’t sit down, but it seems like he relaxes a little bit. Peter raises an eyebrow.
“Girlfriend doesn’t like the way you dress?” Peter asks, and Harley blushes furiously.
“More like no girlfriend to speak of.”
Peter pulls his hand out of the rice. His fingers feel like jelly. “Whole college campus is full of pretty girls, and there’s not a single one that you can speak of?”
Harley’s blush goes even darker and he shakes his head. “No, I’m, um…not very smooth. I’ve never really been good at getting girlfriends or anything like that. I wasn’t popular like you were. Or so Tatum says.”
Peter raises an eyebrow at Harley as he leans back against the sofa, crossing his arms over his chest. “Been talking to Tatum about me?”
Harley’s eyes widen in surprise and he hurriedly shakes his head, waving his hands. “No, no, not like, bad, she just–”
“I’m teasing you.” Peter’s tone is a little lighter. He’s trying to force himself to be optimistic. “I was, um…not popular until I went to Stuy. I was like, the world’s biggest loser at Midtown, so I went to a new school my senior year and changed my whole personality and everything. It worked, but…” Peter shrugs. “I don’t know if it was worth it. The only good parts were meeting Tatum, playing sports, and letting your dad bully me into hanging out with him.”
“She said you were good, from what she remembers,” Harley offers, like that makes Peter’s terrible high school experience better, but Peter knows he’s just being nice. “He did…what?”
“Oh, he cornered me at a basketball game when he figured out I was Spiderman. Forced me to come train at the Tower with the Avengers. Turns out he just wanted to hang out with a superhero.”
Harley is quiet for a moment. His hands are still at his sides, not fidgeting anymore, just thinking.
“He’s pretty, um…he feels really bad that he can’t remember anything about you,” Harley says quietly. He glances around like he’s telling a secret. “He said it’s like, the memories are right there, but he just can’t quite get them. Pepper said the same thing. Well, everyone has said the same thing.” He pauses for a moment. “Do I have memories of you?”
Peter shakes his head. “No. I didn’t know you existed until O-chem.”
The room falls quiet. Harley shifts uncomfortably again.
“Do you think you’ll stay?” Harley asks, and Peter shrugs. “I mean, like…Morgan seems really excited to have another sibling. I know it’s not like, you can’t just go back to that and everything, but Tony said he can tell why he liked you so much. You call him on his shit. He wants to get to know you again. Not to pressure you. Just wondering.”
Peter sucks in a sharp breath, looking up at the ceiling like Thor might come down and give him the answer. “I don’t know. Time’ll tell, I guess.”
Harley nods, picking his bookbag up. “Um, well, I’ll leave you alone. If you want to…hang out with someone or something, I’m going to go play Call of Duty, you’re welcome to join. And you can borrow any of my games or anything in there if you want to. You don’t have to ask.”
Peter doesn’t respond as Harley starts to pace his way across the hardwood floors towards the bedrooms. He stares at his blurry reflection in the blank television. The black screen doesn’t show his new scar, but he kind of doesn’t mind it anymore. It could be worse.
“And, for what it’s worth,” he hears Harley call over his shoulder, “I always wanted a brother.”
only a few chapters left besties!!! and then i will finally put this series to rest
Chapter 21: Videos
Tony is trying his hardest to give the kid space even if he wants to hear every single thing Peter has to say.
He’s been busying himself in the lab, working on a project. Really, he’s working on a new Iron Spider suit–he feels pretty guilty for destroying the old one. He realizes now that the kid didn’t steal his tech. Tony built the boy his own suit because that was his child.
Tony has so many blurry memories that he’s sure Peter Parker fits into. It’s driving him a little insane–the important part of the memory is right on the tip of his tongue, but it’s more like he’s learned the information and memorized it rather than lived it. Tatum said something similar while they waited for Peter to wake up after the explosion. He can clearly recall that there was a 50-yard dash in the parking lot, but he can’t picture it, or provide any details. He knows that he hosted a graduation party, but can’t determine why it was significant, anyone who attended, or why he hosted it in the first place. He is completely positive that he had a boxing partner that wasn’t Happy, and he can’t place a finger on any single session or meaningful event.
The real kicker is that he has no memories, but he has all his feelings.
When he looks at Peter–the rare instances where they’re in the kitchen at the same time or passing one another in the hallway–he feels a surge of pride ignite his chest. Love like he does when he sees Morgan or Harley. He gravitates towards Peter Parker and craves time spent with him, but he doesn’t know why, and it’s breaking his heart. There’s so many moments with Morgan that he can picture down to the last detail. Memories that make him smile when they replay in his head. He can’t do that with Peter.
It’s even more unsettling when the kid walks around like he’s been in the Tower a million times. He wanted to go shoot free throws a few days ago, and Tony started to explain where the basketball courts were. Peter just stared at him until Tony realized he was telling Peter information he already knew. The kid walks through the entire building–gyms, labs, suites–with a confidence that tells Peter he has been to the Tower a million times. He knows where the soda is, he knows which floor is boxing and which floor is courts, he knows the three robots’ names and talks to them with familiar affection.
The only thing Tony can remember–really remember, not recall–is the fight he and Peter had after the kid had been seriously injured. That is the only scene that he can picture in his brain that has any amount of detail, cause, who-what-when-where- and -why. He doesn’t know where it came from or why it came at all, but he has a feeling Dr. Strange is behind it, and that makes Tony even more unsettled. Why that memory, of all memories that he supposedly has?
After their talk in the infirmary, the next real conversation they have is a week later. They’ve been living alongside each other like feuding roommates or a ghost haunting the living. According to Thor, ghosts hate the living, but they don’t hate each other, Tony just doesn’t want to push it. Typically, his involvement actually tends to be over-involvement, and usually just makes everything worse. He hasn’t forgotten the strawberry fiasco with Pepper all those years ago.
Tony is sitting on the couch in the main living area, watching something dumb on TV. He’d told JARVIS to just surprise him and landed on a cooking show that he was half-listening to, not that he was any good at cooking.
There were footsteps so quiet behind them that, had he not looked, he would have guessed Peter was down the hall, not directly behind him. The kid climbed over the back of the couch with such a smooth grace that Tony was amazed at how easily Peter could maneuver himself without any noise at all.
The kid sits next to him without a word and wraps his ankles around the orange physical therapy bucket. He pops the lid off–it’s never fully sealed because if they do that, then Peter can’t get it back open–and carefully slides his hand in among the cold rice. The sound of thousands of tiny grains crunch and skitter as Peter leans over the bucket and flexes his fingers inside it. He must have gone and played basketball with Clint just before, because he’s freshly showered, hair still damp and everything.
Tony almost immediately gets up. He tries not to do it too quickly so that he doesn't send off the wrong message, but he doesn’t want to make Peter feel awkward or like he can’t be out in the main spaces because Tony is occupying them. He’s about to shuffle away, retreat to his lab or the gym or somewhere else he can hide, when the kid speaks to him.
Tony pauses, stopping in his tracks and looking over his shoulder. Peter is still staring into his rice like it’s mesmerizing him, but he casts Tony a side eye and then tips his head to motion for Stark to sit back down.
So he does.
It’s quiet for a few minutes, like it always is. The Tower is silent all the time now. Even with people milling around, it’s quieter than it is when it’s just Tony.
The kid breaks the silence first. “You don’t have to keep avoiding me. I’m not going to suplex you again.”
Tony responds the only way he knows how. “I’m pretty sure I won that fight.”
“I went easy on you. You’re an old man.” Tony tries not to look, but he can see the kid suppressing a smile.
Tony shrugs. “You’re the one stretching out your bad joints. I’d say that makes two of us.”
Peter glances up at the television where contestants on Masterchef are opening their mystery boxes. “Learning how to cook?”
Tony frowns. “I know how to cook.”
“You certainly do not.” Peter actually looks at Tony this time and raises his eyebrows. “I know you better than you know yourself. One time you made me a quesadilla and fucked it up so bad that it shattered on the ground. Do you know how bad you have to screw up to turn a tortilla into a frag grenade?”
Tony scoffs at the kid. Another downside to having no memories–Peter seems to know so much about Stark that Tony can’t get away with anything. His eyes drift away from Peter’s face to the sweatshirt he’s wearing. Tony raises an eyebrow.
“You went to MIT, or that’s just for fashion?” Tony inquires. He had a feeling the kid was crazy smart. Anybody who could create the tensile fluid that Peter had made for crime fighting had to be, and then Peter confirmed his intelligence when he admitted that he had built Tony’s suit. Tony had tried the previous day to test Peter on that one, and the damn kid had another one over on him–when Tony checked the palm of the suit, there was in fact a P engraved on the nanites.
“Does it stand for Parker?” Tony had asked. Peter started to make himself laugh before he could even answer.
“No. Pumpkin. There was a suit I wanted to name Pumpkin and you were so mad about it that I named my Iron Man suit Pumpkin just to fuck with you,” the kid had answered.
Peter shakes his head about the sweatshirt, crunching another fistful of rice inside of the bucket. Tony thinks the kid actually just likes the texture of the rice and doesn’t care about the physical therapy benefits of the exercise.
“I went there,” he says, and then bites the inside of his cheek. “JARVIS, please play the MIT acceptance video.”
“Certainly,” Jay replies, and the cooking show is blipped off of the massive television screen and replaced with surveillance footage from inside of Tony’s lab. A blurry-looking Peter Parker (and a younger-looking Tony) are standing inside, and Tony watches as the kid in the video hands him a letter. Peter’s face is just fuzzy enough that if Stark didn’t know it was him, he wouldn’t be able to guess. Video-Tony is nearly jumping with excitement, ranting about all of the things they need to do to get Peter ready for college.
Tony watches quietly. He strains to picture this moment from his point of view, but he can’t. It’s getting really frustrating–the kid will just drop random snippets of information on Tony, and Tony can’t place them in his memories. Or, if it’s something Tony knows, like the fifty yard dash, he can’t picture the memory at all, and if he can kind of construct what it might have looked like, he can’t put Peter Parker into the vision. All he gets is whatever feeling he has associated with it.
With the MIT letter, it’s pride.
Peter stands. He sets the lid loosely on the bucket and steps around it without another word, off to wherever he goes when Tony isn’t here.
That night, Tony can’t fall asleep. He ends up in the lab to tinker, something he does know and can remember, but it’s lackluster. He gets nothing out of it and can’t stay focused. JARVIS suggests calling Pepper, but Tony knows she’s asleep by now. Her and Morgan had been visiting the Tower frequently while their family was in this weird limbo. Tony imagines this is what it feels like when you find out you have a child with a one night stand.
He sits in his chair, feet up on the desk in front of him in the analytics lab. The large screen in front of him is blank, but Tony looks for answers in the darkness.
“JARVIS,” Tony says, “play me every important video of Peter Parker you have.”
Harley isn’t quite sure what to make of Peter.
The naive part of him had hoped that the whole brother-reveal thing would make Peter a little less standoffish towards him, but that wasn’t the case. It’s not like Peter was mean or anything, but he wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy, either. Harley followed Tony’s lead and gave Peter some space instead of trying to breathe down his neck, even though Harley has so many questions and hopes.
He now realizes that Peter must have gone through a lot with Tony. The whole panic-attack thing never sat right with Harley no matter how many ways he tried to spin the situation or analyze it, and now it all clicks into place. It’s not something Harley had on his bingo card, but it makes a lot more sense. Harley isn’t totally sure of why seeing Tony would give Peter such a bad reaction, but the way he talked about the event that caused everyone to lose their memory, Harley can assume it was pretty bad. Bad enough that Peter was probably just waiting for one slip-up to destroy the world again and mess up everyone’s lives. Harley isn’t sure he could live with that kind of stress, so he can forgive Peter for being a little short with everybody in the Tower.
Tatum, Ned, and MJ haven’t been by since Peter was in the infirmary, also citing that they wanted to give him space and that Peter was welcome to reach out to him when he was ready, if he was ever ready. Harley doesn’t know if he has or not, but if he and Tatum were actually dating, Harley thinks Peter would be super stupid to not jump on that chance again the second he could. Then again, Harley has no idea what her involvement in everything had been. Peter told her they had been happy, but he could have been lying, or they could have been happy at one point and then things fall apart. Harley is just relieved that Peter isn’t some abusive monster that made Tatum miserable like she, and then he, had originally thought.
Harley can assume Peter probably feels replaced. He can forgive the other boy for lashing out during class that day when Harley couldn’t figure out what he did wrong. Between finding out that his only surviving parent figure that he’s no-contact with has another child and living with the constant stress of the world ending, Harley’s sure he’d lash out too, but he thinks maybe he should mention to Tony about Peter seeing a therapist or something. The guy could probably use it, even if he does go eviscerate a punching bag twice a day.
Harley stands in the hallway, not too far from Peter’s room. He can see the slightly ajar door. He knows Peter’s inside because he heard the shower running earlier. Harley’s hands tremble just a little at the idea of going and initiating something with Peter, but he takes a shaky breath to try and steel himself before walking as casually as he can to the door and knocking gently.
There’s music playing in the background–rap, which he thinks fits what he knows of Peter’s personality, but it’s not anything that Harley knows. When Peter calls for the visitor to come into the room, Harley stands there a little dumbly, but he prepared a way to start the conversation ahead of time. He’s just really nervous.
“Hey,” Harley says, a little more of a croak than he would have liked. He tries to recover quickly. “Uh, what’re you listening to?”
Peter glances at Harley from his bed. He’s playing Nintendo, but it looks like he’s getting frustrated with trying to use the controls while he doesn’t have full use of his fingers in his left hand yet.
“Um, this one is King Von.” Peter pauses his game and sets the console aside. This is the most eye contact he’s probably ever made with Harley. “Why? You like it or it’s too loud?”
Harley shrugs sheepishly. “I was just wondering.” He pauses for a moment to muster up the courage to ask Peter before he chickens out. “Um, no, I was wondering… well, Dad gave me some cash to go get new clothes for school since it’s getting colder out, and I just… do not know how to dress myself.” He forces a quiet laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. “And your clothes always look really nice, I just don’t even know where to start with trying to get that style so I was wondering if you wanted to come shopping with me? And help me?”
Harley is sure he sounds a little desperate. He is. Part of him is desperate to spend a little time with Peter. He knows it’s dumb, but he really has always wanted a brother, and things have been in such a stiff, awkward limbo lately that maybe if they go do something together it would convince Peter to stop being a shut-in. The other part is that Harley actually does not have a sense of fashion and really, really wants Peter to just pick out clothes that Harley won’t look dumb in. Right now, he’s wearing his coolest outfit, and it’s just a pair of regular blue jeans, an ACDC shirt he stole from Tony, and a kind of vintage Nike windbreaker that he got from a thrift store.
“Plus,” Harley adds, “Tony says you haven’t left the Tower since you got here. Maybe fresh air would be nice?”
Peter looks down at his game and seems to consider his options. Harley is waiting for the rejection.
To his complete shock, Peter agrees. They actually go shopping. Together!
Peter mostly works in silence, but Harley can tell he’s actually trying. He keeps looking at Harley, holding up shirts and jackets and pants next to him and either shoving them into Harley’s arms or putting them back on the rack with a shake of his head. Harley isn’t actually sure what Peter’s criteria is, but it must be meticulous.
He finally sends Harley to a dressing room and waits outside patiently. The first thing Harley comes out with is a pair of cargo joggers and a hoodie that sits right at his waistline. He shifts uncomfortably, looking down at the length of his top.
“It’s a little short. They all kind of look short?” Harley says uneasily, and Peter raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah, dude. They’re supposed to be. You’re supposed to wear a shirt under it like this.” Peter picks at the hem of his own shirt, layered underneath a hoodie and sticking out by about two inches. “Baggy pants and layered tops will always go together. You can even throw a jacket over it for more texture. Just trust me, Blue Jeans.”
Harley does. He can’t deny that he looks good in the outfits Peter picked out and put together for him, and all of the ones that fit right end up in shopping bags that Harley carries around in and out of stores. By the end, he probably has enough clothes to outfit an entire college campus, but he can’t suppress the giddy feeling in his chest when Peter is starting to open up a little. In the stores, he was quiet, but out on the streets of New York, he’s more talkative. They don’t discuss anything in particular, and definitely nothing deep. Harley wouldn’t classify Peter as a chatterbox by any means, but he actually lets himself laugh at something Harley says, so Harley is going to take that as a win and roll with it.
By the time they get back to the Tower, it’s easily past dinner and very dark outside. Happy lets them out in the underground garage.
“Jay, where’s Tony? I need to give his Amex back,” Harley asks, to which JARVIS simply takes them to the floor. It’s one of the lab floors, and Peter looks like he’s taking in the sight of it with fondness. He meanders over to a table, stopping in front of it and gazing over everything that’s sprawled out across the steel top. Harley has been here many times now, and he’s never seen Tony touch that table. Watching Peter’s fingers ghost over the items laying across it, Harley comes to the realization that it was probably Peter’s.
The inventor is nowhere to be seen, so Harley isn’t sure why JARVIS brought them here, but he pauses his mission to go inspect whatever Peter is examining. He stands at the end of the worktop, not wanting to get too close and make Peter uncomfortable. Peter’s staring at a crushed pair of glasses. They don’t look like anything special, but Harley sees the SI logo branded on the side and he knows that anything Tony creates is far from “not special”.
“Are those–were those yours?” Harley corrects himself, looking at Peter. The other boy shakes his head wistfully.
“No. Well. Kind of. They were his, and then when he died, I inherited them. They broke like…two weeks after I got them,” he says with a laugh, pushing them across the table. “It was a whole thing. I don’t know how he has them back. I left them in the ceiling at Happy’s.”
Harley watches Peter’s face morph into realization as he says it aloud. He looks across the table at the broken web shooter and something clicks in his head.
“Son of a bitch,” he murmurs. He reaches past Harley to pick up the broken wristlet, and it seems to confirm something Harley isn’t privy to.
“Um, I should go find Tony,” Harley says, starting to feel like he’s witnessing something he shouldn’t be. He felt bad enough rushing in on Peter in the infirmary. He doesn’t want to push it.
“He’s in the analytics lab,” Peter says, jerking his head to motion towards the steel door across the lab. Harley frowns.
“How do you know?”
“I can hear him,” Peter states simply. “He’s watching videos of me.”
Harley makes a face at Peter, confusion and bewilderment mixed together. “He’s what?”
“I can hear it.” Peter picks his gaze up from the table and motions towards the door. “Go on. Sneak up on him. I can hear the video playing. It’s the time we boxed at my graduation party.”
Harley is sure Peter is yanking his chain, but he slowly steps away towards the lab. He can’t see Tony inside–that lab is separated by a solid concrete wall. Harley opens the door without knocking, and before Tony can pause the video, Harley can see that Peter is right. The screen shows the two of them boxing and, honestly, Peter is kicking Tony’s ass. It makes Harley start to laugh while Tony scrambles to black the screen out like he did the night Harley caught him looking at Peter’s student ID.
“Was I right?”
Peter appears silently behind him, making Harley nearly jump out of his skin, and Peter grins at Tony.
“I told you. I know you better than you know yourself,” he says with a mischievous glint in his eye before he disappears around the wall and leaves Harley and Tony to figure out what just happened.
It’s that comment–the one about knowing Tony–that makes their next conversation harder than it needed to be.
Peter is sitting in the kitchen, watching videos on his phone. He has no social media, but Tony discovered that he really enjoys TikTok. He’s noticed that most of the games in Peter’s room have gone untouched. He wonders if the kid is nervous to use them. Harley has never been weird about using or accepting anything Tony buys for him, but it’s so hard to get a read on Peter that Tony wonders if he maybe overdid it when he stocked Peter’s room. The only thing he ever sees Peter use is the Nintendo Switch, and it’s usually for about twenty minutes until Peter gets frustrated and gives his fingers a break.
According to the physical therapist and Peter himself, his range of motion has significantly improved. Peter says it’s still awkward and his fingers don’t always do what he wants them to do, but the therapist says that he’s made immense amounts of progress and should be back to normal in the next week or two. They hypothesize that it’s due to Peter’s enhanced healing abilities, but Dr. Cho maintains that Peter was extremely lucky and his injuries would have been much more gruesome had it not been for the suit.
Which is what Tony’s been working on, anyways. He steps off the elevator with a black case in hand, and Peter raises an eyebrow. Tony’s been working himself up to this for two days. He keeps picking up the case with the intent of taking it to Peter, but he gets too nervous and sets it back down. He doesn’t know why until JARVIS shows him–a video of Tony and a blurry figure, shouting at one another until the kid storms out.
Safe to say, he wasn’t feeling his best about this.
“Is that a suit?” Peter asks, setting his fork down. Tony gapes at him.
“How did you even know that?”
“The question of the year,” Peter quips back, leaning back in his chair with the sigh of a fifty year old man. “That’s the same case you gave me all my suits in.”
Tony crosses the room while Peter speaks to set the case down with a satisfying thump on the marble island.
“You weren’t kidding when you told me you know me better than I know myself,” Tony mutters, sliding the case across the table for Peter to open. The kid slides his plate out of the way to undo the latches–Tony notes that it does look like he’s got better usage of his fingers than he did a week and a half ago–and opens the cause. Peter cocks an eyebrow down at the case, which Tony takes as a good sign.
The first nanosuit that Tony built for Peter was housed in a chest unit like Tony’s own Iron Man suit. This one is different. It’s a gold wristlet, shiny and elegant looking, and Peter has a feeling that it has holographic capabilities based on the almost invisible projection holes Peter only can see because he knows to look for them. He slides the wristlet out of the protective foam and examines it.
“Is Karen programmed into it?” he asks hopefully, looking up at Tony. Tony is unable to fight back the pleased grin on his face at the kid’s tone–he sounds impressed, appreciative, and genuinely excited to have a suit again.
“I salvaged her from the old suit, or what was left of it,” Tony says, sitting down across from the kid. “So all of your preferences and everything are already preloaded.”
The kid is quiet for a moment. “Is this one of those things where you’re giving me a suit because you want me to stay, or is this something I’m allowed to take with me when I leave?” he asks. There’s a little bittersweetness to his tone, but it makes Tony frown.
“Leave?” he asks quizzically, and Peter turns up his gaze from the wristlet to meet Tony’s eyes.
“My two weeks are up in three days.”
Tony’s frown only deepens. Yesterday Peter told him to stop doing that because it made him look old.
“You…your two weeks of rest, yeah, but kid, you don’t have to leave. I didn’t know you were going to leave.”
“I have to.” Peter sits back in the chair again and leaves the wristlet discarded in the case safely. “I can’t stay here. I don’t…we don’t know what’s going to happen with everything. If the world is going to be doomed again because of this. I can’t do that to you. Not again.”
“I, um…” Tony isn’t sure what to say. He swallows thickly. For once, the smart-mouth is speechless. “I guess I assumed things were going better than they are.”
Peter stands with his plate to load it into the dishwasher hidden behind wood paneling, something else that surprised Tony to see that Peter knew. He shrugs.
“I’m not saying they’re going bad,” Peter states, eyeing Tony so seriously that it makes the man shift in his seat. “But I…I don’t think you understand. If something happens, that’s on me again. I almost killed a lot of people, Stark. And it’s been great, being back in the Tower. Honestly. You can watch as many of those memories as possible, but you’ll never truly remember them. You have no idea how much this place means to me. How much happened here for me. But you have a new me, and a new life. You’ve been doing well without me. And I’ve been without you for just as long. Things were the way they needed to be, whether I liked it or not.”
Tony can’t argue with that. He can’t remember any of the memories he’s watched. It doesn’t matter how many times over he analyzes them, he’s only memorizing them like he’s preparing for a test, not like he’s living the time he spent with Peter Parker.
He tries to put himself in the kid’s shoes. He loses the only parental figure he has left–the fifth one–and returns to find that said parent has another teenager in his care, taking his place. Tony understands that Peter has been through hell and back for him, and Harley gets to enjoy the work that Peter has put in. It’s nobody’s fault, but to a young, traumatized twenty-something, Tony gets where the kid is coming from.
He takes a deep breath. He has to talk about his feelings, and that makes him want to drink, but this is his kid. Memories or not.
“I, uh, I get it. I mean, I don’t, but I hear you. It’s probably been…really bad. Living here and knowing you have to go.” Tony stares down at the table. “And I can’t remember you, and that probably sucks even worse. I can’t pretend to know what that’s like so I won’t. I just, um…you know me better than I do, so you know I suck at this–”
“A lot, yeah, always have.”
“--okay, unnecessary, but anyways, I just want you to know that I can see why we got along so well. You’re a really good kid, Peter. And I don’t remember any of the memories you tell me, and that sucks, too, but the spell only erased the image in my head of you. It doesn’t erase the feeling. I talk to you and I have the same feeling that I do when I talk to Morgan or Harley. Memory or not, I know that I love you like one of my kids because you are one of my kids. Ultimately, this is your choice.” Tony clears his throat. “But just, if you want to come visit sometimes or… if you go, don’t be a stranger. Call me and stuff.”
Tony stands from the island, leaving the case on the countertop. Peter is quiet as Tony turns to walk away. The inventor tries his hardest to swallow down the lump of tears in his throat that he can’t explain, and then he hears the kid laugh at him .
Tony whips around. He narrows his watery eyes at the kid, who’s double over laughing, and glares at him.
“Are you laughing at me, asshole?”
Peter takes a moment to collect himself while Tony steeps in his embarrassment. The kid gasps in a breath to finally speak, wiping a laughter tear from his eye.
“You stole that from me, right?” Peter asks, crossing his arms back over his chest with a grin on his stupid smug face. “The boxing video. I caught you watching it in the lab. That was the night I told you that and you laughed at me, you dick, you…oh, you made me so mad , I was so pissed at you.” The kid starts to crack up again at the end of his sentence.
Watching his kid laugh at him, Tony knows that boy isn’t going anywhere.
Chapter 22: Move-Out Day
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peter: what’re you doing today
Tatum: nothing right now. Are you doing ok? Do you need anything
Peter: let me take you on a date tonight
Tatum: wheres this coming from
Peter: I told you. we were happy.
Peter picks her up in the Audi.
Stark told him that someone tried to retrieve it for him, but that Karen totally freaked out. It made Peter laugh a little. He has Happy take him to pick up the car instead so he can drive to campus and meet Tatum outside of her dorm.
She doesn’t remember the car, so Karen startles her when she asks Peter for a destination. Peter just throws her a half-cocked grin. He’d told her to wear something fancy–he knows she has plenty of smart-looking dresses, and he actually forgets to greet her right away when he sees her.
“Damn, you look…Jesus,” is all he can say, and Tatum might not remember anything about Peter, but she still leans up to press a kiss to his cheek when he opens her door for her.
Typically, before the whole thing with Strange happened, their dates were not quite this fancy. They usually went to small places, grabbed picnic food and ate in Central Park, went to the movies or to arcades or just walked around the city shopping. But this is Peter’s chance to restart, and while he’ll tell her everything, he just wants to enjoy the night.
Stark got them a reservation at Carbone with a quick phone call. Peter has never been, but Stark has taken him to a couple of really fancy places before, and so he has a relative idea of what goes on and how to act. The first time, he had been completely out of his element–they’d been working in the lab, so Peter was dressed in jeans and a hoodie as usual, and Stark had mentioned going out for once. Peter was mortified when they rolled up to a wildly expensive restaurant (that had a dress code no less) and he was horribly underdressed. Tony was also wildly underdressed, but nobody even batted an eye. Peter guesses you can kind of do what you want when you’re the richest and most powerful man in the world. And a superhero.
“The reservation is under Stark,” Peter tells the impatient-looking man behind the books, and while Peter’s last name is definitely not Stark, it’s always a little bit of an ego boost to throw Tony’s name around. The man’s eyes widen, stretching out his smile lines around his eyes, and he hurries to seat Peter and Tatum with a glass of wine and their menus.
“So.” Tatum sits back in her chair a little, and Peter takes the opportunity to really look her over. “I talked to Harley. He said you’re moving out of the Tower.”
Peter shrugs. He picks at the very end of his tie, looking down at it and tightening his lips. “I don’t know yet. It’s been…hard. Adjusting, I mean.”
“I know I don’t know you,” Tatum says, tapping her nails on the stem of her wine glass, “but from what I figured out about you, you’ve been through a lot. Nobody will be mad if you want to take some time to yourself, Peter. I was honestly surprised you were ready to see me.”
“I’m always ready to see you.” The words slip out of his mouth before he can stop them, but he supposes this isn’t the time to be stingy with emotions. “I wasn’t lying when I said we were happy. We were. I, um, I promised you I’d find you and explain everything.”
“You did very poorly, I’m sorry to report,” she remarks with that stupid, sexy, smug look on her face that makes Peter fold every time. He can’t help but laugh quietly and shrug again.
“I guess I did. You did tell me that if I didn’t explain it all, you’d find me, because if you figured it out once, you’d do it again.” He licks his lips quickly, taking a sip from his water glass. “All I really learned is that I need to stop underestimating you.”
A sly smirk graces Tatum’s features while she takes a sip of her wine, folding her hands on the table after setting her glass back down.
“Everybody does,” she says with a wistful sigh. She’s always had such perfect teeth, Peter thinks to himself. “I thought you, um…well. When I found that photo of us, and I couldn’t remember you, I assumed the worst. You know, who would assume magic kind of thing, because normal people don’t have to worry about that, I guess.”
“You’re on a date with Spiderman. Your life will be anything but normal.” Peter fails at holding back a smile. “I understand if this is a one time thing. This is only the second time I’ve been out of the Tower since the reveal, and…I mean, look, those people right over there are trying to take secret pictures of me,” he says with a laugh, using his head to motion over at a table fifteen feet away. The girl with the phone immediately looks embarrassed when both Tatum and Peter make eye contact with her, and the phone drops instantly. “It’s going to be like that all the time. And I’m always going to be in danger. We got together in high school, and when we both went to separate colleges, it was…not ideal. We broke up because, well, I’m always in danger, and I wasn’t being responsible after Stark’s death. Stopped pulling my punches. I’d disappear for days at a time. You grabbed your purse and left and didn’t look back until Afton went missing at that party, I don’t know if you remember that.”
Tatum nods solemnly, rapping her acrylics on the table softly. “I do.”
“We started hooking up again, and then the whole thing with bringing Stark back, you were there. And you did chest compressions until I came back at the Compound. After that, we got together for real, not just sneaking around in the Audi at the warehouse district, but it was good. Things were better. And then the thing with Mysterio happened, and my identity got revealed, and you got kicked out of Penn State and me, MJ, and Ned all got kicked out of MIT, so I tried to fix it. And I failed. Really bad. So you had to forget.” Peter’s eyes are glassy. He tries to blink it away and clears his throat. “What I’m trying to say is, I understand if you value your privacy and safety over some guy you don’t even know.”
He glances up at Tatum to see her laughing at him. He scowls.
“What?” he asks, frowning at her.
“Peter,” she says around her laughter, “I might not remember you, but I know you. I’ll know you in any life. You’ll have to fill me in on all the memories, but I know what I feel when I see you. Strange can’t erase that.”
Peter can’t ward off the smile crossing his features, even if he ducks his head down to hide it.
“Besides.” Tatum shrugs with a teasing smirk. “I could get used to dating a superhero with a super rich dad. How else could I afford to keep up my lifestyle after college if I don’t marry a nepotism baby?”
“Shut up,” Peter laughs, but there’s no heat behind it.
The only heat left in his body is in his chest.
Stark and Harley are sitting in the living room. Peter knows because he can hear their hushed, tense conversation.
They think Peter hasn’t come out of the room because he’s packing, but he’s really just playing Nintendo. He’s getting the strength and coordination back in his fingers slowly, and he can tell by how long he’s able to play his game without stumbling over the controls and quitting. He’s up to an hour now.
Today was supposed to be move-out day. Peter didn’t have the heart to do it.
He tried, last night, to get some of his belongings together. He combed through the items in the closet and pulled out all of the clothes that were actually his, not ones Stark had bought him. He decided he’d keep the Jordans, though–they were already worn and useless to anyone else in the Tower anyways.
He tried to fold the clothes nicely and pack his laptop and suit and all his other things. He didn’t have much. Peter probably could have uprooted his two weeks at the Tower in an hour if he focused, but every time he tried to fold a shirt or unplug a charger from the wall, he faltered. The worst feeling overcame him every time he attempted to leave this stupid place.
Everyone else might have forgotten what happened here, but Peter never will.
Each clothing item in his bag reminded him of something different. His neon yellow T-shirt had turned into a lab shirt because Tony got saffron sauce all over the damn thing. His jeans with the rip from their parking lot race that Peter totally would have won if he didn’t turn around to gloat. The regional championship T-shirt Peter wore at his graduation party. The Starkbook and Starkphone and suit, all gifts from Tony, his watch, a gift from Tony, his shoes, a gift from Tony. Any hoodie that was Playboy branded, because Tony would tease him mercilessly for it and Peter would always throw whatever was in his hand. His boxing gloves that he wore to practice with the old man so many times he had to get new ones, but he kept the old ones as a memento.
Everything was tainted with memories of Tony Stark because that was his dad.
He went through the same thing twice already. The first was when Tony died–that was hard, but he was able to get through it. He knew that it had to happen that way, and even though some of his belongings made him cry because of the memories tied to them, Peter knew his mentor was waiting for him on the other side.
The second time was way worse. When Peter knew Tony was alive and well, and that Peter could just go see him whenever but wasn’t allowed, that one hurt. That hurt way worse than Tony actually dying.
And yeah, this is torture. Knowing that Tony can’t remember him and everything they did together is a nightmare that Peter just isn’t going to wake up from. Knowing that Tony has another kid, a new Peter, that he can remember is hell. But Peter’s not mad at Harley. Harley didn’t know, didn’t have a choice, and it isn’t his fault. It would be like being mad at little Morgan for showing up when Peter had been blipped. Peter’s not a brat, and so he’s not mad at Harley. He could get used to Harley. Maybe not like him, but tolerate him well enough. Peter doesn’t want to admit that he had fun shopping, but he can’t deny that he enjoyed it.
When push comes to shove, Peter knows he has the opportunity to have the one living parent figure in his life return to him. He can’t give that up. No matter how much it all sucks.
His identity has been out for two weeks. Nothing bad has happened. And if something does take place, some world-ending event, Peter would sure as hell rather take it on with Tony next to him than alone.
So Peter put his clothes away. He put his chargers back. He sat down on his bed and played Nintendo instead.
The lightest knock sounds from his door, but Peter already heard them coming down the hall. One day they’ll figure out that they aren’t sneaky.
“Yeah?” Peter calls, glancing up as the door creaks open. Tony steps in, and without even looking around, begins his rehearsed speech.
“Hey, kid, um, just wanted to know if you needed any help taking your stuff–” He stops. He takes in the actual scene in front of him–Peter, sitting on the bed. No boxes. No bags. Everything in place. “Um, what?”
Peter stifles a laugh as Harley peers him around him with the same bewildered expression.
“Um, you said it was move-out day,” Harley squeaks in embarrassment. Then his eyes widen in mortification. “Not that I-we were trying to rush you, we want you to stay,” he rushes to clarify, and Tony nods along vigorously. “Just we thought you were packing and wanted to help if you were, which you don’t have to, but if you want to, we would help if you wanted that.”
Peter raises his eyebrows at the two stammering men on the other side of the room. Harley finally tapers off and they both stay quiet, and Peter sucks in a deep breath before turning his eyes back to his game.
“Decided to stick it out awhile,” Peter states simply, unpausing Limbo and starting to move his character again. “Stark was right.”
“These are the end times,” Harley murmurs, and Stark scowls at him before Peter continues.
“I have lost a lot of parents,” Peter says. Buttons on his Nintendo clack in the background “Like, a lot. More than most people. I know better than to keep running from the last one I have. Memory or not.” He pauses a moment, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “You’re still my dad, maybe not by blood, but by everything else. Strange can’t take any of your feelings. Only your memories. And that’s fine. I just get to reuse all my old material, and you’ll never know the difference.” A smirk creeps across his face at the same time a grin creeps across Tony’s.
“I, um…well, then we need to outfit your room a little better,” Tony says, recovering from his bumbling earlier. He clears his throat. Harley squints at the old man.
“Are you crying!” Harley exclaims, and Peter laughs so fucking hard that his stomach starts to hurt.
there is only ONE CHAPTER LEFT in this story and then this series is finished!
Chapter 23: That's All
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
—Five Years Later—
Peter straightens out his bowtie. It’s a deep, emerald green. Tatum picked out the colors, and Peter can’t lie–he looks pretty good in them.
The “getting ready” photos had ended about a half hour ago, and now they were just playing the waiting game until it was time to go down to the venue. Outside of the bathroom, on the other side of the oak doors, he can hear the chatter amongst his groomsmen, and of course, Tony. Every once in a while, he can hear Happy nag at somebody to “stop doing that” or “don’t touch that”, and it’s always followed by Tony’s laughter, which tells Peter that it’s actually just Tony being irritating purely for the joy of upsetting Happy.
When Peter exits the restroom, most of them are sitting down, except for Tony, who hasn’t been able to sit still for a week straight. He did a shocking amount of the wedding planning for a guy who pays for everything to be done for him. He also paid for just about all of it against Peter’s will, but according to Tony, his first son getting married should be no small event. Tatum wanted a big wedding because she has a big family, and Peter didn’t really care if it was big or small as long as they were married at the end of the day, so to Tony’s delight, a big wedding was what they decided to have.
Ned was, of course, Peter’s best man. He also looked good in the colors Tatum (and Tony) had chosen. They went with jewel tones, so Ned’s deep blue bowtie sat against a crisp white shirt that he looked honored to wear, and in the pocket of his jacket were the rings. He checked every five minutes to make sure he hadn’t lost them.
Across from Ned is Harley, who had been given a golden yellow, and he sat next to Tony, who wasn’t in the wedding party, but he couldn’t bear to be left out of the commotion. Tatum was going to let Tony pick whatever he wanted until Peter stopped her because Tony’s sense of humor would have won over his sensibility in that instance. Harley is eating Pringles, and Tony is nagging at Harley to cut it out because there was much better food waiting for them after the ceremony. Harley pointedly ignored his father and instead gave Peter a wink with a mouthful of chips.
One of Tatum’s cousins was sitting towards Happy’s end of the room. Peter didn’t know LJ very well, but he was younger–maybe eighteen–and had been so excited to join in on the wedding that Peter couldn’t say no to having him as a groomsman. Next to him is Ryan.
Peter and Ryan had reconnected, but for Ryan, it was just connected. Ryan didn’t know about the spell that Strange had placed on the world, and he didn’t need to. The same applied to Avery, who Peter “met” at a party Tatum dragged him to not long after the whole identity-reveal fiasco. Both of them had been way more wowed that Peter was Spiderman than anything else, but after some time, it was nice to have his two friends back.
And that leaves his last groomsman. It was a choice Peter made with absolutely no second thoughts. Even if Clint was significantly older than just about everyone else in the group, he couldn’t not include Clint in the wedding party.
MJ was in Tatum’s dressing room with the rest of the bridesmaids. Peter hadn’t been allowed to see Tatum’s dress, but MJ told him it was breathtaking, and Peter believed her. MJ wasn’t one to exaggerate.
“About time,” Tony says, standing up and breaking Peter’s train of thought. “C’mon, the photographer said five minutes six minutes ago. I got a schedule to keep here, Parker.”
Peter rolls his eyes, but he can’t fight the grin that appears across his face anyways. The door opens and the boys all step out together, and the music begins to play, and it all begins. Two years of planning kicks into motion.
Peter watches the wedding party parade down the aisle. Tatum’s family sits on the left side. She has a huge family, something Peter can hardly keep up with considering his shocking lack of one, but she has something like twenty cousins and a million aunts, uncles, friends that are like aunts and uncles, friends that are like cousins, and everything else.
On Peter’s side are a lot of Avengers, friends of the Avengers, and Tony’s friends, but Peter definitely doesn’t mind. He’s met all of them–even the economical-political powerhouses. Clint’s family sits towards the front, with Sam, Banner, Bucky, and Wanda. Strange and Wong are in the row behind them, sitting with Ned’s family, and MJ’s family is in the row behind them with Scott Lang, his wife, and their kids. King T’Challa’s family sits in the row behind them, along with Thor, Jane, and the Guardians (including the raccoon, which Tony had to fight the venue on but ended up winning). Last of all is Rhodes, sitting with Pepper and Fury towards the back–Pepper didn’t want the photographer to catch her ugly-crying, according to Tony.
Ned walks down with MJ. Blue was certainly her color. Harley walks with Morgan, who is only just about to turn thirteen, but was so excited about being in Peter’s wedding that she cried when Tatum asked her to be a bridesmaid. Ryan walks with Abby, Avery with one of Tatum’s friends, LJ with one of her cousins.
And then Tatum.
Peter fights the urge to cry and fails. He has to wipe a tear away that tries to sneak down towards his scar. It’s mostly faded now, five years later, but serves still as a visible reminder of the day Peter announced to the world that he was Spiderman.
Tatum’s family was not impressed that their daughter would be marrying a superhero. The danger that Peter’s existence would put her in was insurmountable, they said, and she was making a choice that could very well cost her life. Then, during a family vacation to Florida, Peter stopped a semi-truck from skidding into the family’s vehicle after it had flipped over at seventy miles an hour with his bare hands. After that, they seemed cool with it.
Tatum looks so…Peter doesn’t have words. He’s happy he doesn’t have to speak until the minister tells him to, because he wouldn’t be able to say anything. Instead, he just stares as she walks down with a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth and thanks everything in the cosmos for bringing Tatum back to him.
The reception is beautiful. Tony hired somebody to take care of the transformation, and the work that man did had to be god-level. Peter can hardly recognize the venue from when they stepped into it last night for the rehearsal, and that was only 24 hours ago.
The muted-rainbow theme that Tatum had hoped for was perfectly executed. Faux trees and vines hung in deep emerald shades, golden yellow flowers bloomed across the ceiling, massive amethyst and burnt orange and navy blue centerpieces shone on the tables. It looked like a fantasy land, like they weren’t really here. The outdoor patio of the venue was decorated in stained glass and crystal that danced rainbows across the white stone flooring.
They say you don’t remember most of your wedding day because there’s so much commotion. Peter sees that now. Between the dancing, drinking, toasts, all the people to talk to and catch up with, Peter can barely keep up. He and his wife walk arm in arm to each table to thank them for coming, and there are some people from Tatum’s family that Peter doesn’t even know and couldn’t dream of remembering their names, but everyone is smiling, joyous, happy. Peter can’t remember the last time life felt this easy.
Over the last five years, Peter has settled back into normalcy. Living in the Tower helped. It had been such a long time since he was around other people that he had to work up to it slowly, but everybody was patient with him. Ned and MJ had been more than happy to give Peter space, but by the end of the second year, Peter felt as though things were finally the way they used to be. It was hard sometimes to remember that everyone in his life had to start from scratch with him, but trying to ruminate on the past only put Peter into an Avengers-approved therapist’s office to talk about his trauma. He was more focused on the future now.
He realized during his time at the Tower that he was trying to make things the way they used to be or the way he thought they needed to be. Instead, he should have been looking forward to new experiences, new memories. Getting to know people all over again was kind of cool, to be honest, and on top of that, he was so wrong when he thought that his relationships would never blossom the way they did before. Underneath all of Peter’s defensive armor, he was still the same person he’s always been. He supposes maybe Stark was right–they were going to be just fine.
With a stable place to live and no more financial concerns regarding college, he was able to actually finish with his masters. Tony pulled some strings for him at MIT to re-enroll him for the next coming semester. While Peter wasn’t a fan of taking Tony’s money, he’s learned his lesson over the past however many years. Tony is going to do whatever Tony does, and Peter just has to hang on for the ride.
So he finished. He did groundbreaking research regarding nanotechnology and its uses in the medical field in Tony’s lab, and they published new papers and prototypes together for Peter to use on his graduate school application, which he gained acceptance into with ease. It’s hard to turn down Tony Stark’s personal intern, Peter figured.
Now that he was well-educated, graduated, and working on a doctorate, Tony decided it was time and Peter was hired into Stark Industries through Pepper as a lead director in R&D. Peter and Tatum lived in the Tower still, though, because Pepper and Stark decided to move back into the city with Morgan for her to attend a close-by private school that had stellar recommendations, and a shocking amount of the Avengers had also chosen to move back in on their respective floors after a particularly grueling six months battling aliens off the streets of New York about two years ago.
It was probably untraditional, but having all the living Avengers under one roof again was nice. It was like having one big, happy family again. Peter wasn’t sure how he expected life to pan out, but he likes how it did.
And that leads him to now, standing outside on the patio of the venue with Tony for some air about halfway through the reception. It’s gone dark outside, and the crisp night breeze feels good on Peter’s back. All the dancing made him overheat.
“Well,” Tony says, taking a sip from the sweating glass in his hand, “how do you feel?”
Peter shrugs, leaning back against a glass table. “It’s nice having everyone together.”
“You live with them, kid,” Tony says with a laugh. Peter turns to roll his eyes at his father. He’s gone more gray than five years ago. Peter feels like he notices more gray hairs ever time he looks at Tony.
“No, I mean…well, yeah, we live together, but Thor and the Guardians are off planet a lot, you know, and Clint’s family doesn’t live with us, and T’Challa and Shuri don’t come around often. When I say everyone I mean like, everyone , you know?”
Tony watches the party through the floor to ceiling glass. The lights have dimmed to an orange glow, and shadows move to the music in the background.
“I miss my aunt,” Peter admits, watching the people inside. “She always liked Tatum.”
Tony claps a hand on the kid’s shoulder. Peter leans into it a little. The grief never goes away, it just changes.
“She was so, so hot,” Tony responds, and Peter huffs and shoves at Tony’s side.
“I hate you,” he says, but he can’t keep the laughter from creeping into the edge of his words. Tony grins over at him.
“C’mon, ready to go back in?” he asks, and Peter nods, picking up his drink from the table and taking one uninterrupted step.
“Sir,” JARVIS chirps from Tony’s wrist at the same time Karen calls Peter’s name from his own. They both look down.
“What’s happening, Jay?”
“A small alien ship has entered the atmosphere above Brooklyn, sir.”
Tony puffs out a stream of air and meets Peter’s eyes. Peter’s lips quirk up into a smirk.
“What do you say?” Tony asks, his own lips matching Peter’s mischievous smirk. “Half hour?”
“Nobody’ll even notice,” Peter reasons, sliding his shirt cuff up to show his gold wristlet is ready for action. Tony grins.
“Nobody’ll even notice,” Tony says. He taps his chest piece to expand his nanosuit over his expensive tuxedo. Peter does the same, the red and blue nanites curling around his wedding outfit until the two heroes stand together in full armor.
“Thirty minutes, that’s all,” Peter justifies, and Tony nods.
“That’s all,” he echoes. “Route a flight plan, Jay.”
Peter attaches himself to Tony’s suit with a strand of new-and-improved web fluid and looks up at the night sky, twinkling with stars and invaders.
Some things are inevitable in every timeline, Peter supposes.
They blast off.
AND THATS A WRAP!
thank y'all so so so much for all the kudos and reads and comments and support you put into this series. i had so much fun writing it and couldn't end it without the happy ending you all deserve for reading through over a hundred thousand words of me tormenting poor peter parker.
next up in my line up i have a Percy Jackson/Peter Parker fic, and I think I have an idea for another Peter and Tony fic, as well as a couple ideas for Bad Influences that hopefully I'll actually return to now that this series is completed.
thank you thank you thank you!!!!!