“So what’s it like, living with the Avengers?” Ned said the name with reverence. Peter understood, even if that illusion had been broken for him fairly quickly. Sure, the Avengers were cool, but they were also people.
Quill made terrible references to old movies, and liked to challenge other Avengers to dance battles and sing offs. Bruce spent a lot of time with May in the kitchen, trying to make sure everyone ate decent food. Natasha liked to sit on the couch in front of the TV and thumb through thick novels. Thor…. well, he was a big puppy, essentially- a very excitable puppy, who always wanted to go off doing something or celebrating something, and insisted Peter be included in every one of these ventures. And, of course, there was Tony. Tony, who let Peter call him Dad and had given him his own space in the lab on the base to tinker around with experiments. Who kept updating the Iron Spider suit with new gadgets and gear to keep Peter as safe as possible. Who gave him an unassuming watch that actually doubled as an alert to Tony if Peter’s heart rate spiked due to another anxiety attack, and which came with a panic button if Peter needed rescuing.
“To be honest,” said Peter slowly, “it feels sort of….normal.”
Ned stared at him, open mouthed. “I want to hear everything.”
Peter started with the welcome party, trying to include details Ned might like- that it was Thor’s idea, and the God of Thunder referred to him as the Man of Spiders, that Tony had given him a huge room with plenty of space to mess around with his webs, and during one visit in Peter’s room had only commented on the sheer number of web hammocks he made, that Thor loved being allowed to help Aunt May and Bruce with the cooking.
Peter could always tell when Thor helped with a meal. He was usually given the duty of chopping up vegetables, and whenever he did it, the vegetables were served in sizable chunks. May had told Peter that he was always so proud of himself for being useful to her and Bruce in the kitchen that they hadn’t had the heart to tell him he was doing it wrong, so they kept the big chunks and let everyone else cut them into smaller portions.
“Dude,” Ned said, sounding amazed. “Bruce Banner and Thor make your dinner?”
“I guess.” Peter tapped his pencil eraser against the corner of his notebook, considering his equation. “I think….yeah, I should have multiplied.” He crossed out the offending addition portion and began to recalculate the problem. “There. That looks right. You got fifty-two, right?” He looked up at Ned. His friend wasn’t paying attention. He was watching Peter intently.
“Dude, you have to let me come see the base. Seriously.”
“The...base?” Peter blinked. He tried to think about what Tony had said in his rundown of the rules.
No entering someone’s room without knocking or permission.
If you finish something or want something added to the grocery list, write it down on the list on the fridge.
Potentially volatile experiments in the lab require Bruce or myself to be with you.
Nothing in there about no friends visiting, but nothing in there about friends visiting, either.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed,” Peter admitted, fingering the watch at his wrist. He could contact Karen, but what if he annoyed Tony with a probably obvious rule? One of those rules that never needed to be spoken aloud because everyone just knew it?
“Please?” Ned asked.
Peter shrugged. Couldn’t hurt to ask, right?
He tapped a button.
“Can you, um….” Peter had just realized Ned didn’t really know about his arrangement of calling Tony Stark Dad. It was strange to think that all the Avengers knew, but not his best friend. At the same time, Ned would make a much bigger deal out of that information than was at all necessary.
“Call Mr. Stark?” Karen suggested.
“Yes,” Peter agreed.
“Let me check with FRIDAY to make sure he’s available,” Karen said.
“Karen is so cool,” Ned said to Peter, staring at the watch. “What else can she do?”
“Mr. Stark says he will be glad to take your call, Peter,” Karen said, before Peter could answer Ned’s question. “Shall I patch you through?”
“Yes, please,” Peter agreed.
“One moment while I transfer you to FRIDAY,” Karen told him.
“Of course, Peter.”
“Apologies for the delay, Mr. Parker,” came FRIDAY’s cool Irish voice. “But Mr. Stark is having a quick conversation with Mr. Banner.”
“I can wait,” Peter told her.
“Thank you, Mr. Parker.”
“Who is that?” Ned asked, sounding starstruck.
“Huh? Oh, this is FRIDAY,” Peter said. “She’s...I guess she’s Mr. Stark’s AI. Am I allowed to say Karen is my AI?”
“You sure are, kid,” said Tony’s voice, as a small hologram of him appeared hovering above the watch’s face. “She’s yours. Sorry about that, Bruce just wanted to let me know we’re running low on a few lab supplies.”
“You’ve been patched through to Mr. Stark, Mr. Parker,” FRIDAY told him.
“Thanks, FRIDAY,” Peter and Tony said together.
“What’s up, kid? School treating you well?” Tony asked casually.
“Yeah, just going over some math homework,” Peter said. “I just...I had a question.”
“Shoot.” Tony took off his sunglasses- blue tinted lenses indoors? Really? -and wiped them clean with a cloth.
“Am….Am I allowed to bring friends to the base?”
Tony made a face. “Friends? Sure, bring friends over. I don’t mind. FRIDAY, do you know where my glass cleaner is?”
“In the top drawer of your desk, Mr. Stark.”
“Thank you!” Tony said, rummaging for the bottle. “Damn spots.”
“So Ned can come over?” Peter asked, shocked, while Ned did a silent victory dance.
“Your guy in the chair? Go for it.”
Ned looked up, fascinated. He knows who I am? Ned mouthed.
Peter shrugged to him. I guess so.
“I don’t mind if you want to bring anyone over so long as you don’t completely trash the base. Fair?”
“Fair,” Peter said quickly. “So fair. Super fair.”
“Alright. Is he coming over today?”
Peter glanced up at Ned, who nodded vigorously.
“Staying the night or am I driving him home?”
Peter glanced at Ned, who gestured to his phone. His mother’s number was waiting for him to hit the Send button.
“We’re still working that part out.”
“Alright. Let me know. Bruce and I are going to be out that way to pick up a few things so we’ll swing by and grab you two. You don’t mind waiting at the school for about five minutes, do you?”
“Not at all, D- Mr. Stark.”
“Alright, we’ll see you boys then,” Tony said. “Have a good rest of your day, kiddo. Let me know if you need anything else. And make sure you warn him about Thor’s yelling and how annoying Quill and Strange are. I think they might both make an appearance tonight. I have got to make the base magic proof locks. I’m getting sick of that wizard waltzing into the lab while I’m working on things.”
“See you, Mr. Stark.”
“See you, kid.”
The hologram flickered away and Peter looked up at Ned. He was in awe.
“Tony Stark knows who I am.”
“Come on,” Peter said, gesturing to his textbook and his half-filled math notebook. “The more we finish now the less we’ll have to do on the base.”
“Right,” Ned agreed. “Just let me call my mom first. If she says yes, do you think Mr. Stark would mind stopping by my house so I can pack an overnight bag?”
Ned looked ready to burst with excitement when the limo pulled up and Tony rolled down the window. “Come on, kids!”
Peter opened the door and let Ned slide into the limo first. He sat across from Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, looking starstruck.
Peter climbed in beside Ned, putting his friend directly across from Bruce and Peter across from Tony.
“Um, can we stop by Ned’s house?” Peter asked. He suddenly felt very sheepish. Tony had to know by now that Peter hadn’t told Ned he called Tony Dad. What if he was upset about it?
Tony, however, acted as though this was a normal conversation with Peter. “Sure. What’s your address?”
Ned rattled off the address and Tony buzzed to the driver to take them there first.
“So, you’re Ned Leeds, huh? Nice to meet you.” Tony held out a hand, and Ned shook it enthusiastically. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir!”
“And you. You make for a pretty good guy in the chair, from what Peter’s told me.”
“He does,” Peter said quickly. “He’s really helpful.”
“And you’re Bruce Banner!” Ned said as Tony released his hand and Bruce offered his own. “I’ve read some of your papers, and they were absolutely fascinating, if you don’t mind me saying so, sir!”
“Not at all,” Bruce said, smiling. “It’s nice to meet you. Peter speaks very highly of you.”
“So, Ned’s mom says he can stay the night as long as she can talk to you first,” Peter said to Tony.
“Fair,” Tony agreed.
Peter tried to convey a look of apology to Tony- I’m sorry I’m not ready for Ned to know I think of you as my dad- but Tony just gave him a small, understanding smile.
“Peter,” Bruce said, looking up from a small notebook he had in his hand, and taking off his glasses, “how do you feel about this new web formula Tony and I have been working on? We were thinking some more elasticity- at least to some of your web- might give you more of an edge in battle. We’re hoping it might prevent tearing.”
“Sounds cool,” Peter said, taking the notebook and reading over the notes Bruce had penciled into the indicated pages. “Is this what you guys needed more supplies for?”
“Actually, no,” Tony said, offering Ned a soda. “We decided to start brainstorming that while we work on a new suit for Natasha. Not that her old one is bad, but it could use some upgrades. In my opinion she is painfully less equipped defensively than the rest of us in terms of her suit’s protection. Unless you count Clint, since his suit doesn’t even cover his arms, which is another stupid design choice.”
Peter struggled not to laugh at Ned’s expression. He looked both awed and horror-struck at how Tony Stark so easily criticized the suits of the other Avengers.
“You’re always saying her suit is in need of upgrades,” Peter said, smiling.
“He won’t be happy with anyone’s suits until they’re protected from intergalactic superweapons,” Bruce replied, clicking his tongue in a falsely disapproving manner. Peter knew even if Bruce didn’t think the suits required the updates like Tony did, he liked helping to make and design them. “Just yesterday he was going over plans for an Iron Spider 2.0.”
“Iron Spider 2.0? Sounds neat,” Peter said, looking to Tony.
“Sounds like a surprise, you mean. You’re not seeing what I’ve got in mind for a while.”
Peter smiled. “If you say so.”
“I do say so.”
Peter wasn’t sure what Ned’s mother had been expecting, but it was quite clear it wasn’t Ned opening the door so Peter could lead the way in for Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. She stared at the two of them, a look of shocked disbelief on her face.
“Hello, Mrs. Leeds,” Tony said, offering a hand for her to shake. “I’m Tony Stark and this is Bruce Banner. I think you already know Peter. Ned said you didn’t mind if he stayed the night so long as you could have a chat with me, I assume to go over contact information and the like.”
She nodded wordlessly.
“Ah, excellent! Well, first, I should inform you of the safety features on-base.”
Bruce rolled his eyes as Tony launched into a long-winded speech about the number of smoke detectors and FRIDAY’s every safety feature. “You should go pack that bag,” he told Ned. “He’ll be going on like this for ages if we don’t try to nip it in the bud somewhat.”
Ned hurried off to his room, and Peter took a seat at the table, rummaging in his backpack for a spare granola bar or something.
“And of course, at any given time at least five Avengers are on base unless we get called on a mission- kid, catch- which isn’t terribly likely, so Ned should be perfectly safe in that regard,” Tony said, pausing only to warn Peter as he tossed an apple to him from the pocket of his suit jacket. Peter took a moment to envy what must be a tailor made suit to have such pockets, but to also be grateful for the apple.
“Thanks!” he said, taking a bite.
Tony winked at him, then began describing some other safety measure. Peter had already sat through this speech a few months ago; Tony had eagerly thrown himself into it when Peter had asked May about the possibility of the two moving to the Avengers base. Granted, there were now other safety measures that Tony had added, but Peter was fine with just eating his apple and adding a few extra notes to Bruce’s notebook while Banner stood behind him and looked over his shoulder.
“No, no,” Bruce said, leaning over Peter to make a mark over a note, “we tried that component a few web recipes back. It did not have good results.”
The way he said it made Peter think explosion, and but he didn’t press Bruce for the details. If that had been the case, best not to mention it around Ned’s mother, even if Tony had already explained in great detail where each sprinkler on the base was in case of a minor flame anywhere in the house.
“Oh, okay,” Peter said. “Um, how about….” he trailed off, trying to think of something else to improve upon the recipe when Ned came into the room, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
“All packed,” he said brightly.
“Ah, excellent!” Tony said, turning to look at him. “Absolutely excellent. Uh, Bruce, am I forgetting anything?” He turned on his heel to look at him.
Bruce straightened up and shook his head. “Tony, you don’t need to go in depth about the plumbing or the reason 911 exists. This is fine. Do you agree, Mrs. Leeds?”
Ned’s mother nodded, pulling her son over for a quick hug and kiss. “Behave,” she told him.
“Got it, Mom!” he said, turning to Peter with an excited gleam in his eye.
“Off we go, then,” Tony said, taking a piece of paper and pen from the counter and scribbling a few things down. “Here’s the number to the base, FRIDAY, and my personal cellphone. Feel free to call any of them should the need arise.”
“Bye, Mom!” Ned called as the four of them left back through the door.
“Ah, Man of Spiders! How was your day of learning?” Thor said as they entered. He sat on the couch, chatting with Steve and Natasha.
“It was good,” Peter said, smiling back.
“We’re having pizza for dinner,” May said as she entered. “Steve, Natasha, Thor, what do you want?”
“Can we get a Hawaiian?” Ned asked.
“Already have it written down,” May smiled to
“Oh! Man of Spiders, is this a friend of yours?” Thor asked.
“Sure is,” Peter nodded. “This is Ned. Ned, this is Thor, God of Thunder, Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, and Steve Rogers, Captain America.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Ned told them.
“And you,” said Steve, holding out his hand so Ned could shake it. Peter noticed that Ned’s hand was shaking as he reached out to clasp Steve’s.
“Tony, Bruce, what would you like?”
“A couple of pepperonis, if you don’t mind, May!” Tony said, grabbing an apple from a fruit bowl on the island in the middle of the kitchen. “We’re probably going to be shut up in the lab for quite a bit tonight.”
“Are you trying to hide from Strange and Quill?” May asked suspiciously.
“What?” Tony scoffed. “Of course not. Maybe. Don’t let them in our lab.”
May rolled her eyes as he lead the way to the lab, Bruce following behind him after grabbing a few more apples, a handful of granola bars, and some water bottles.
“Can we go check out the lab?” Ned asked eagerly.
“After you finish your homework you can,” Tony called back. “And as long as you don’t let Strange or Quill follow you in.”
“He really doesn’t like them anywhere near the lab,” Peter said, setting his bag down by the coffee table and pulling out textbooks and notebooks. “Should we finish math first, or science?” he asked, settling himself down onto the couch next to Natasha, while Ned stared at him.
Ned didn’t seem to remember the lab by the time they were done with their homework, or maybe he’d just lost interest. As Tony had predicted, Quill, the other Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Wong had come to visit and participate in the pizza party.
Quill seemed particularly keen to watch a few newer movies, and Ned was currently going through the collection of Blu-Ray discs to help him pick something.
“We’re not watching another Star Wars movie tonight,” Strange said from where he was sitting. “We always watch something that takes place in space and I’ve had enough.”
“Let’s watch something that we know Ned’s parents will approve of,” Natasha said, pulling a case out from the collection and opening it. “Secondhand Lions seems like a safe bet.”
“That doesn’t look exciting,” Quill said doubtfully.
“Not every movie needs explosions to be entertaining,” Natasha told him. “Besides, it has a lion, guns, and a bar fight.”
“A bar fight?” Quill asked, taking the cover from Natasha as she put the disc in the player. “This movie might be interesting after all. Who does the kid beat up?”
“You’ll have to find out who beats up who later,” Natasha said. “We’re a spoiler-free base.”
“My favorite kind,” Ned said to Peter, who nodded fervently. He would hate to be on a base where the Avengers spoiled the plot of any book or movie to the rest as soon as they had finished it. The closest any of them probably got was Thor, but he’d quiet himself quickly if reminded that no one else had experienced what he was so excited about yet.
“What are we waiting for, then?” Quill demanded. “Let’s get started.” He reached for another pizza slice from the box on the coffee table.
“I can’t believe you just have movie nights and pizza parties with the Avengers,” Ned said as Natasha smacked Steve in the arm.
“You’re sitting on the remote. Get up.”
“Don’t say a word,” Dr. Strange said warningly as Quill opened his mouth, an eager gleam in his eye.
Star-Lord paused, clearly considering ignoring the order, but then shrugged in defeat. “I can’t think of a good enough joke anyway.”
“I am Groot.”
Peter laughed, as did Thor, while the Guardians gave Groot horror-struck looks.
“What did he say?” Ned asked in confusion.
“I probably shouldn’t repeat it,” Peter said, catching May’s eye and giving her a weak but innocent smile.
Peter and Ned were in Peter’s room. Peter had given Ned the bed and was using one of his hammocks for the night. Usually May insisted he use the bed- (“Tony bought you a brand new bed, and I’m sure it wasn’t cheap”)- but Tony didn’t care where Peter slept so long as he, well, slept. Besides, he was being a courteous host.
He was sleeping at the moment, tossing and turning in his hammock.
Peter felt a rush of panic flood him. He stared around Titan, looking for the source. Wait… where was Drax?
He caught sight of Mantis turning to ash in Quill’s arms just before she vanished and Quill joined her. Tony looked horrified. Peter could see a very subtle tremble in his body.
“Tony,” said Strange’s voice, and Peter turned as Tony did, “it was the only way.”
With an almost peaceful sigh, Strange was also gone in a flurry of ash.
The panic grew worse. It flooded Peter’s senses, choked him somehow.
You’re going to die.
Somehow he knew it- knew it, and knew he couldn’t stop it, that this was a finality.
Tony spun on his heel. Panic was clear in his bright brown eyes.
“Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.”
Peter took a step forward, but his legs gave out beneath him and he collapsed into Tony’s arms. He clung to him, tears forming in his eyes as his senses began to scream out in earnest. He could feel himself being turned into ash, feel as bits of him floated away on the wind.
You’re going to die!
This is it!
No one is going to know.
May won’t know.
Ned isn’t going to know.
What if Tony can’t get home?
What if no one ever knows what happened?
Will anyone even remember me?
“I don’t know what’s- I don’t- I don’t know what’s happening,” Peter gasped in a panicked voice. He hugged Tony tighter, terrified to let go. “I don’t want to go,” Peter whimpered pathetically. “I don’t wanna go. Mr. Stark, please. Please, I don’t wanna go.”
“Hey, it’s going to be okay. You’re fine. You’re going to be okay.” Peter could hear the fear in Tony’s voice as he tried to calm him down. Tony gently laid him down on the earth, staring into his eyes, helpless to do anything but to try and comfort Peter.
“I don’t wanna go,” Peter repeated, still clutching at Tony’s arms. “...I’m sorry,” he said as the last of him was reduced to mere ash in Tony’s hands.
Peter jerked to the right so hard he threw himself out of his hammock and onto the floor, looking around in terror. “I DON’T WANNA GO!”
He heard Ned say something in a groggy voice as he sat up in bed, but he ignored him, scrambling for the door and trying to force it open. He finally managed to get out and nearly tripped onto his face as he spilled into the living room and kitchen setup. A few pizza boxes sat on the trash can waiting to be taken out in the morning. “I don’t wanna go!” Peter screamed again, trying to find a way to calm the panic. Nothing was working.
A door banged open down the hallway and two pairs of footsteps echoed as Tony and Bruce ran to Peter from where they were still doing late night experiments in the lab.
“Peter! Kid, it’s okay, you’re okay,” Tony said, bending down next to the boy as he panicked and struggled to breathe. “It’s going to be okay, Peter. You’re going to be okay.” Tony pulled him into a tight, comforting hug and led him to the couch. “Can you make him some hot chocolate?” Tony asked.
Peter didn’t hear a response, but he did hear things being moved around in cupboards.
“It’s over, Peter,” Tony said, still holding him close. “It’s over. Thanos isn’t going to do anything like that ever again. You’re safe now. You’re in the base, and no one is going to hurt you here.”
Peter was shaking with fear and panic, but slowly he began to calm down as Tony spoke. Slowly the fear began to ebb.
“Take deep breaths, now,” Tony urged him. “In…. And out…. And in…. And out.”
Peter tried his best to match Tony’s deep breathing. It wasn’t easy to hold the breaths, but it helped a bit.
“There you go,” Tony said, his tone comforting. “There you go, Peter.”
“Here,” Bruce said, coming over and offering Peter a warm mug. Steam rose off the hot chocolate and Peter breathed in deeply, focusing on the scent. “Be careful,” Bruce warned as Peter moved to sip at the drink, “it’s hot.”
“Is he okay?” Peter finally recognized Ned’s voice and heard what he was saying.
“He’s going to be fine,” Bruce said, walking over to Ned and leading him to the kitchen island. “He just had a bad nightmare. Tony’s calming him down. I’ll make you some hot chocolate.”
“Are you sure?” Ned asked, glancing back nervously.
“I’m sure.” Bruce was smiling. “Don’t worry. Tony has calmed him down before.”
Ned glanced back at Peter, looking uncertain. “I’ve never seen him act like that before.”
“The battle with Thanos was hard on him,” Bruce said carefully. “War isn’t a picnic. It’s difficult. And that was a really rough war.”
Tony looked up as Bruce began to pour milk into a mug. “Mind making one of those for me? Smells great.”
Bruce nodded and began fixing two more mugs.
“Feeling better?” Tony asked, still holding Peter close.
“A-a l-little,” Peter mumbled, sipping at his hot chocolate again. “Th-the peppermint is nice,” he added to Bruce, who smiled.
“Glad you like it.”
“Nightmare?” Tony asked gently.
Peter nodded. “About…. About when…. When I had to go.”
Tony shuddered. “You’re safe now. He can’t do that to you again.”
“It felt like it was happening again,” Peter whispered. “Like…. Like I was dying all over again.”
“Shh,” Tony murmured. “Don’t think about that right now. Focus on something else. What can you see?”
“....The trees outside the window.”
“Good. Four more.”
“...May’s favorite lamp. The DVD case for the movie we watched. That fern. The loveseat.”
“Good,” Tony praised. “Very good. Four things you can hear.”
“The air conditioner,” Peter began, looking around and cocking his head to the sides as he listened hard. “The microwave. Thor’s snoring. Does Bruce moving the cups around count? He keeps clinking them.”
“Yes. Three things you can feel.”
“My mug. The couch. You hugging me,” Peter recited.
“Good. Two things you can smell.”
“The hot chocolate. I think some burned paper from the lab.”
“Kid’s got a good nose,” Tony said to Bruce, who chuckled.
“Alright. One thing you can taste.”
Peter took another sip of hot chocolate and pointed to his mug in answer.
“Can’t argue with that,” Tony said, nodding. “How do you feel now?”
“Weak,” Peter admitted. “Really weak.”
“It must have taken a lot out of you,” Tony said.
“It was terrifying,” Peter said quietly. “It was like it was really happening again.”
“I’m sorry, kiddo. Hopefully it runs its course soon.”
“I think it’s almost over,” Peter murmured, breathing deeply again. He could still feel his racing heartbeat, but things didn’t seem as terrifying as they had before.
“Good,” Tony sighed, relieved.
Bruce walked over and offered Tony a warm mug of hot chocolate.
“Thanks,” Tony said, taking it with his free hand. Bruce nodded and sipped from his own mug.
“This is really good, Mr. Banner,” Ned said from his seat at the island.
“I’m glad you like it,” Bruce said, smiling at him.
“You feeling better, Peter?” Ned asked, concerned.
“Y-yeah, I think so,” Peter said, nodding.
“What was that?” Ned asked.
“I… I’m not entirely sure.” Peter admitted. “I’ve never had a nightmare like that before.”
“A flashback,” Tony supplied.
“Y-yeah. And then when I woke up, I had a bad panic attack.”
“It looked like you were pretty scared,” Ned told him.
“You have no idea,” Peter muttered to himself.
“Maybe don’t sleep in your hammock for the rest of the night,” Tony suggested, glancing at the door to Peter’s room nervously. “I know you’re not banged up or anything, but that was still a nasty height to fall from.”
“Sure, Dad,” Peter sighed. “I don’t feel like climbing back up there anyway.”
“How about you take the couch?” Tony suggested. “I’ll bring you some blankets and pillows when you’re ready to try getting back to sleep.”
“Sounds perfect,” Peter told him honestly.
“You should go back to bed, Ned,” Bruce said, taking his empty mug and adding it to the dishwasher with his own. “Your mom might not let you come back if she thinks we don’t let anyone get a full night’s rest.”
“Yeah….” Ned said slowly. He glanced over at Peter. “You sure you’re okay?”
Peter nodded. “Go to sleep. I’ll be fine.”
Ned nodded back, though he looked uncertain as he entered Peter’s room and shut the door behind him.
“You can go to bed, Dad,” Peter said quietly. “You don’t need to stay up with me.”
“Nonsense,” Tony grumbled. “I’m staying up until you fall asleep. You need me more than I need sleep.”
Peter considered arguing, but he kept the words to himself.
“You two are going to freeze,” Bruce sighed.
“We won’t be here long,” Tony yawned.
Bruce rolled his eyes and headed back to the lab to shut off all the machines that needed to be. When he came back a quarter of an hour later, he was not surprised to see Tony fast asleep, still hugging Peter close. Peter was fast asleep too, his mug sitting on the coffee table and one hand resting on Tony’s chest, directly over the arc reactor.
Bruce shook his head. “‘We won’t be here for long’,” he quoted to himself, heading to one of the linen closets to find blankets to wrap Tony and Peter in.
Peter awoke slowly, to the sound of quiet chatter and the scent of French toast cooking in a frying pan. He blinked open his eyes slowly, looking around.
Ned sat at the island, pouring syrup over a stack of French toast as he chatted animatedly with Thor. Bruce was making more batter while May cooked French toast and put the finished pieces on plates.
Then Peter became aware that he wasn’t lying on a pillow.
Tony shifted, still fast asleep, readjusting his grip on Peter as he stretched in his sleep. He groaned, then lifted his head, looking around groggily. “What? What happened?” He caught sight of the commotion in the kitchen and then groaned again, reaching his free arm to his neck. “Ugh, someone remind me next time that I always mess up my neck when I sleep like this.”
“Okay,” Peter yawned.
“Oh!” Tony seemed to have only just realized Peter was there. “Sleep well, kid?”
“Yeah,” Peter yawned again. “Th-thanks, D-Mr. Stark.”
“Of course,” Tony said, releasing Peter and lifting his arms above his head in a stretch. “Man, I am exhausted.”
“Why were you sleeping on the couch?” Thor asked.
“Bad nightmare,” Peter told him, getting up and taking a plate of French toast that May was offering him.
“Hmm,” Thor said, looking thoughtful.
“Hey, Peter, Bruce and I are going to Wakanda for the weekend. You want to come?” Tony asked, checking his phone and seeing the date.
“Uh….” Peter looked at Ned. It was a tempting offer, but it seemed rude to blow Ned off.
“I’ve got family coming to visit,” Ned said, showing Peter a text his mother had sent. “I’m supposed to leave after breakfast.”
“And I already said you could go if you wanted to,” May told him, passing him the butter dish.
“Then…. Can I come?”
“Sure thing,” Tony nodded. “You’ll probably like Shuri’s lab too, from what T’Challa has told me.”
“Great!” Peter said eagerly. “I bet it will be cool to see Wakanda.”
“Should be an enjoyable trip,” Tony agreed. “After you finish eating, pack a bag. We’ll drop Ned off and head out. May, do you mind saving me a plate? I need to find some Biofreeze for my neck, it’s killing me.”
“Not at all,” May told him.
Tony headed off towards his room while Peter poured syrup over his French toast.
“Both of you,” May said firmly to him and Ned, holding out the fruit bowl.
Ned chose an apple. Peter took an orange.
“Good.” May replaced the bowl and used her spatula to add a few more newly finished pieces of French toast to the sizable stack waiting for more Avengers to wake up and eat them. Peter watched as she picked two perfectly golden brown pieces and added them to a separate plate. No burnt edges for Tony, it seemed.
Ned sat with Peter in the back of the limo, waiting while Tony chatted on the phone to someone outside the car while Bruce made his way outside.
“Can I ask you something?” Ned asked, and Peter started a bit.
“What? Oh, yeah. Sure. What’s up?”
“Last night….” Ned trailed off, unsure of how to phrase the question.
“I’m really fine,” Peter said earnestly. “It was just a bad flashback.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Ned told him. “I was gonna say…. You called Tony Stark Dad.”
Peter froze, blinking slowly. “....D-did I?” He asked, trying to remember.
“When he told you not to get in your hammock again.”
“Oh.” Peter paused, looking at his hands while he tried to think of something to say. He could see a cut under his third knuckle on his left hand. Had he done that falling out of the hammock, or had he done it earlier and just not noticed?
“So Tony Stark lets you call him that?”
Peter nodded. “He gave me permission. The...the first time.”
Ned waited, and Peter sighed. “He must’ve woken May up making me hot chocolate, but she said something about how he was good at the parenting thing, and he said something like ‘I like this kid, I think of him as a son’. And I haven’t really had a dad before.” Peter sighed, fiddling with his jacket nervously. “I just….I dunno. I’ve never had that before, not really. Ben and May aren’t my parents. So when he said that I sort of…. I asked if I could before I stopped myself.”
He chewed on his lip, thinking back to that night. “And… he said I could. So he’s been Dad ever since, for the most part. It was hard to remember he didn’t mind it for the first couple of months. He didn’t push me to call him that or anything, but it was nice, so I did it. And it fit, somehow.”
He sighed. “I didn’t mention it because I thought it sounded weird. Or you’d make a big deal out of it. I just…. This is sort of my thing, you know? And the rest of the Avengers and May, they just accept it and don’t say anything. I guess I just don’t see the point in a lot of fuss.”
Peter looked up. Ned was watching him intently.
“Don’t be,” said Ned. “It’s fine. Like you said, it’s your thing. I guess I probably would have made a big deal about it if you told me about it at first. I mean, it’s really cool.”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed slowly. “It is.”
“I thought it was kinda weird you didn’t call him Tony or something since you’re on first-name basis with everyone else. Guess I know why.”
Peter laughed. “I made it kind of obvious something was up, huh?”
“Just a little.” Ned grinned.
Tony tapped on the glass. “Ready to go?” he asked.
Bruce was coming out now, luggage in hand.
“Yeah,” Peter and Ned said together, sliding out of the way to make room for Tony and Bruce.
“So, Ned, have a nice visit?” Tony asked, tucking his phone back in his jacket pocket.
“Yes sir,” Ned said, nodding. “Good. Very good.”
“Well, you’re welcome to come back for a visit any time.”
“You’ll have to check out the lab next time,” Peter told him. “It’s really cool.”
“It’s Candyland,” Tony said, an almost wistful small falling across his face before he clapped, an eager gleam sparking in his eye. “But Shuri’s lab is supposed to be even better. I can’t wait.”
“Like a kid in a candy factory,” Bruce told them, rolling his eyes at Tony’s expression.
Peter was jolted awake by a small bout of turbulence. He looked around, as if the source of it was on the aircraft.
“Morning, kiddo,” Tony called from the front where he and Bruce were flying. “Sleep well?”
Peter yawned. “Yeah. Where are we?”
“Almost to Wakanda,” Tony told him. “Bruce says crossing the barrier is amazing, so I’m glad you’re awake for it.”
Peter hurried up to the front to watch as they skimmed lower, towards the tree line. Just when he thought they should be running into tree trunks, they phased through and were instead greeted by a magnificent city on the water.
“Whoa,” Peter breathed, staring at it.
“Amazing,” Tony said, his voice almost reverent.
They landed in front of a huge building, and Peter saw T’Challa waiting among the others to greet them. “It’s Black Panther,” he said excitedly.
“Sure is, kid. Come on.”
Tony grabbed his and Peter’s bags before getting off the craft, followed closely by Bruce and then Peter.
He caught sight of a pretty girl standing a few paces behind T’Challa, who looked to be around his age and seemed a bit bored by the proceedings.
“Tony,” T’Challa said warmly, “Bruce. Peter. Welcome to Wakanda.”
“Thank you,” Tony and Bruce said together.
“Thanks,” Peter said.
“This is my little sister, Shuri,” T’Challa said, motioning for the girl to step forward.
“Hello, Mr. Stark, Mr. Banner.”
They both greeted her in turn.
“Hi,” Peter said awkwardly. Shuri appraised him.
“Hello,” she replied.
Just then- why did it have to be while he was meeting a king? -Peter’s phone went off.
Hey! How you doing? Well I’m doing just fine. I lied, I’m dying inside.
Tony turned stark white as Peter hurried to pull the phone out of his pocket and silence it.
“I’m so sorry,” he gasped to T’Challa and Shuri.
Shuri was looking at him with a new gleam in her eye, though. “You know Vines?” she asked.
“Y-yeah,” Peter said, nodding. “I love Vines.”
“I think we’re going to get along,” Shuri told him. “How do you feel about science?”
“I love it!” Peter said, lighting up. “I’ve been trying to develop new web recipes with Dad and Bruce!”
“Tell me everything,” Shuri demanded as she threw her arm over his shoulders and steered him into the building.
Tony watched them go. He looked like he might’ve suffered serious blood loss.
“Are you okay, Tony?” Bruce asked, concerned.
“My heart can’t take this shit,” Tony grumbled to himself.
“What’s up with you?” Bruce asked.
“We’re stealing that phone,” Tony told him, “and we’re changing that fucking ringtone.”