A low budget fic which I probably should have posted to my alt, but I'm too lazy to log out and relog back in. A study in narrative voice. Written for C/P's A Thousand Words contest, for Shay, who posted a picture of Tom Holland's Spiderman.

Also it's too late to give it another edit to check for SPaG, so anyone who reads this please let me know any errors. Thanks much!

Who He Wasn't

"Did you take out the trash, Peter?"

"Two days ago, May. Trash day is Tuesday, remember? Sometimes I wonder what you'd do without me."

He wasn't everywhere.

May never saw his ghost on the sofa, flipping through channels with his feet propped up, homework untouched. And when she sat down at the table to unwind with a glass of red wine after work, her peace wasn't shattered by phantom keyboard clatter, his voice pitched half an octave higher as he argued with Ned over the finer details of Star Wars canon.

Peter was a private boy. He liked his space, and he kept the touchstones of his life, all the garbage pickings and oddball collectibles, out of the main rooms, guarded under lock in key within the four walls of his room, and whenever his presence began to leak into the house like long fingers of ice, gripping her heart and lungs, leave her gasping for breath and a will to live on, all she had to do was shut that one door, close off that missing part of herself.

Pretend like it never existed.

It worked. For a little awhile, for the days and weeks that followed and were passed in a foggy haze. Little by little routines clicked back into place, and then one morning May went to wash her hands and realized the soap dispenser was empty. It needed filling. When was the last time she had filled them? She didn't even know where they kept the soap. And why were all the houseplants dying? Better to throw them out than try to locate the watering can in his maze-like room.

And the trash. It was everywhere, wasn't it? Piled up high and spilling over the brim of the can and onto the floor. Why hadn't she noticed before? It was an angry blight on her neat-as-pin apartment, but May could never remember what day was trash day, and she would never have Peter to remind her.

He wasn't everywhere. But the places he was were more than enough.

"It'll be fun. There'll be pizza and –oh! I can finally introduce you to Kev. He's so cool, he –."

"Look Ned, you know I'm just not into that kinda stuff. We don't have to do everything together, right?"

He wasn't his only friend.

I mean, give him some credit. Maybe Ned was't the most popular person in school, but it's not like he was a pariah, either. He and Pete were cool with each other, but they weren't the exact same person. They had their differences. Like, the dude wouldn't touch anime with a five foot pole. Which was cool. Not everyone has to like it, but it meant that if Ned wanted someone to discuss the latest chapter of One Piece with, he had to hoof it alone every Friday night out to the library where they held anime club.

And honestly? That wasn't the only thing about Pete that he didn't get. For whatever reason, that loser was a lost cause when it came to Fortnite, and never joined him on Tuesday nights for his weekly battle royale. "I'm just gonna watch a movie, Ned." As if the two-hundredth superhero movie release of the year could ever trump taking out zombies with a rocket launcher.

And if that weren't enough, there were a couple people he'd hang with when he and Pete didn't have the same lunch period. We're talking normal people, the kind who just did stuff like, I don't know, play basketball or something.

So yeah, Ned had friends. He had other places to go besides Pete's place, other things to do besides being Pete's friend. He had plenty of other friends. Friends on Tuesdays and friends on Fridays. Friends in the lunchroom who played basketball.

He'd be okay.

Except for Monday nights, of course. And Wednesdays. The nights his mom worked late, and he'd wile away the lonely hours at Peter's, wolfing down pizza and laughter as they picked apart the latest Star Wars trailer. And then in passing period, when a whispered potshot followed him down the hall, something snide about his weight, his general appearance all around, there was no one there to just say, "Hey, you're cool. You're my best friend," and give him a fist bump.

He'd be okay, except when it was not Fortnite or not Anime club or not lunch time. All those in-between-times, when the hours were his own and he couldn't distract himself with anime or video games, couldn't gulp down air fast enough to ease that choking ache inside, because Peter was gone, Peter wasn't here anymore, and he never would be, never would be again.

He wasn't Ned's only friend. But he was the only one that mattered.

"Well, here's the thing, Mr. Stark – school gets out in just a few weeks, and I'm pretty sure I could convince May – as long as it's okay with you, of course, that –"

"Not happening. Listen, I appreciate all your help with that thing, and that other thing, but I'm not running a daycare, and you shouldn't be running into something to big for you to handle."

He wasn't an Avenger.

Which – don't get Tony wrong – doesn't mean the kid had no qualifications. He was smart, of course, and the powers – well. To say he'd never seen anything like Spider-Man before would be, not an understatement, but also not an exaggeration.

It'd be exactly what he said, which in their line of work wasn't something to be ignored.

But even with the brains and the powers and the weirdly genius movie-based battle tactics, there was still that – one – thing. The one thing the kid couldn't web sling his way out of, no matter how insane the tensile strength.

He was too young.

It was really that simple. The kid was too young. Pretty much a baby, in terms of experience and the median age of Avengers and blah blah blah – look, the basic fact was it would be unconscionable for him to let a teenager, no matter how smart, no matter how powerful, carry the burden of facing off against the world's – no, scratch that - the universe's greatest threats to mankind's future survival.

So no, he didn't keep Peter Parker on his the-world-is-on-the-brink-of-destruction contact list. And yes, he discouraged Peter Parker from throwing himself head first into every minor explosion New York City had to offer (you'd be surprised).

But don't call Tony Stark a gatekeeper. Don't. Not after Sokovia. Not after Steve. This? This had nothing to do with his ego, or his hurt feelings. His decision was the right one, what any mature, responsible adult in charge of a team of super-powered mega beings protecting the Universe from eminent destruction would make.

When did it get so hard? Life was so much damn easier when he lived in a haze of booze, girls, money, and that glorious, glorious genius. So much easier when he didn't have the kids words ringing in his ears. "When the bad things happen, they happen because of you."

Was there really a time when he felt smart? Competent? In control? All Tony feels now is the failure, each life lost like a stone balancing on his shoulders, piled higher and higher, crushing him into nothing but dust. And Peter at the very top, the straw that broke the tin man's back. "You can't be a friendly neighborhood Spiderman when there's no neighborhood."

Peter knew the stakes. But then, he always did, didn't he? Because he had heart, a moral compass, and more courage at sixteen years old than Tony's ever had, at any time in his life.

He wasn't an Avenger. But he should have been.

He should have been.