Summary: Peter survives the Snap after their fight on Titan. Tony does not.
There's ash in Peter's lungs. He can feel it: bitter and dry, making his throat itch and his breath come short and ragged. The sky is ablaze, same as Peter's lungs. Same as the wreckage surrounding him.
Mr. Stark's – Tony's – arms are no longer slung around his body and Peter wonders where he could have gone.
"Peter." Karen's voice is soft and clashes horribly with all the other sensation around him. The light of Titan's suns hurts Peter's eyes and his ears ring with the sound of his own rapid breathing. He can't make out the heartbeat of any of the others.
They must be too far away for him to hear.
"Peter," Karen repeats. "How are you feeling?"
But where did they go? Why was Peter left behind?
"Kid." The harsh voice cuts through the haze in Peter's mind in a way that Karen's softness fails to do. "Stand up."
Peter recognizes her as the alien lady who joined up with them on Titan. Nebula. Peter refuses to look at her for fear of what else he's going to see. Tony is no longer hugging him, and he can't hear him or anybody else, but that... that doesn't mean anything.
"Come on. We need to move."
There's ash in his lungs and denial clouding his head. Peter realizes that the reason he can't hear Nebula's heartbeat is because she doesn't have one. Machinery whirs instead, so subtly that nobody without enhanced hearing would notice.
Peter isn't sure himself why he feels the need to focus on something like that. He doesn't know why his brain feels so sluggish, either.
Peter isn't stupid. He isn't naive. He's the only one with a heartbeat because Nebula doesn't have one and Karen is an AI and the others… The others are… Tony is...
Nebula loses her patience with a growl. "Come on!"
Nebula's words sound like they're supposed to make sense, but they don't. Nothing makes sense. It hasn't done so ever since the echo of Thanos' Snap has spread a feeling of wrongness across a dying universe.
"We're the only ones left. We need to go." The feeling wells up with Nebula's words. "You're going to die if you stay here."
The prospect probably ought to be bothering Peter more than it does.
"Peter. Go with her," Karen encourages.
Peter obeys and doesn't allow himself to think further than each step that brings him closer to Nebula's ship.
The hunger sets in long before acceptance has the chance to take root in Peter's head. They have enough food for a week and water for a bit longer. Peter makes it last for four. Nebula's insistence on Peter taking it all is almost made pointless by Peter's metabolism wasting away at his body quicker than it would have for a regular human.
"Peter. You have not eaten for over a day. You should take care of yourself."
Karen is more painful reminder of their situation than she is of any help. She's new and inexperienced, an AI confronted with variables far beyond her programming.
"You seem chilled and fatigued. Those are symptoms of the flu. Peter, is your nose congested?"
Karen is cheerful. She's supportive. She doesn't understand that Peter is dying.
Nebula watches him out of guarded eyes. She's doing that a lot, these days. "You do not have to listen to your machine," she says quietly after Karen suggests a nap and a small snack to make him feel better. "It is useless and foolish. Why are you keeping it activated?"
Peter shakes his head and clutches his mask closer.
Karen – like all AI – grows with her challenges. Confrontation with new things allows her to adapt.
After two weeks, she's learned how to express concern. After three, she's started to come up with impossible survival plans that pass the time even though they aren't of any use. A month passes, and Peter spends most of his time sleeping.
The first time Karen almost fails to rouse him is the first time he hears desperation in her voice.
Captain Danvers leaves Earth almost immediately after dropping off Nebula and Peter. There are thousands, millions of other planets out there, and all of them are going through the same as them. Most of them have no protectors to help them, so she's doing the best she can for as many planets as she manages.
Peter is told all of this days later. He isn't aware of anything during his first couple of days back on Earth.
He spends that time in an exhaustion induced haze of hallucinations and hunger. People come and go – Aunt May and Tony and Uncle Ben and Nebula and many, so many more – and Peter can't tell which one of them is real and which one of them is an hallucination made up by his own mind.
He's afraid of waking up and realizing that all of them are, and he's only fooling himself when he really is the only one left. Perhaps he's already died, and this is what the afterlife is: a confusing mess of images and sensations and grief.
He almost weeps with the realization that he hasn't hallucinated Aunt May.
He wishes back the delirium when she confirms that only Nebula and he made it back.
Half of humanity is dead. Peter feels like he should be one of them.
Aunt May hovers. There's no better word for it. She's there when Peter takes his first tentative steps on shaky muscles and allows him to lean on her when they give out long before he makes it across his room.
She wakes him each and every time she obsessively checks his vital signs when she should really let him sleep.
She pretends not to notice him sneaking food into his pockets rather than eating it, battling both the unreasonable fear of running out and the nausea it causes him to actually consider eating any of it.
"I haven't seen you talk to Karen in a while," she tentatively points out after watching Peter pick at his dinner.
The smell of food makes Peter nauseous now. It's just another thing that's wrong about him, these days.
"I know." He sets down his fork with a shaky hand and gives up the pretense of putting any of it in his mouth.
Aunt May's expression falls for a split second, and the nausea in Peter's gut doubles. "Maybe you should talk to her," she suggests. "You always loved telling her about your day."
Peter stares down into his lap and doesn't answer. His hands are frail and sickly looking, skin pulled over his bones so tightly that Aunt May would have little trouble naming the separate bones of his hand.
He did love talking to Karen. But that was before.
Karen was there for the quite possibly worst couple of weeks of Peter's life. She played a large part in keeping him alive throughout it. Peter can't stand the thought of making her do more.
It's already too late, anyway. Karen being a learning AI also means the inability to undo her progress – at least, not without the uncomfortable feeling of cutting away parts of her to mold her into something different. She's already been shaped by his pain and grief and his slow, creeping death in space.
Peter's already changed her irreparably. He's poisoned her progress – her personality – perhaps beyond recognition. Forcing her to spend more time with him is bound to make it worse.
So, Peter doesn't. He shelves the suit. He doesn't talk to Karen. He tries to live in this world they've been left in, the one without some great, big villain to defeat. One without reason or direction. One where there's nothing left to fight.
Peter doesn't know what's supposed to come afterwards.
The day MJ and Ned come for a visit is one of the closest Peter's had to feeling happy since his trip into space. His hug with Ned is firm and teary-eyed, their reunion soured by the fact that millions of people weren't as lucky as them.
MJ has no morbid comment about their situation to offer, even though it should be exactly up her alley. (Peter immediately feels guilty about the thought.) She doesn't stay long, but Peter appreciates the gesture regardless.
He appreciates even more that Ned decides to stay. And keeps coming back.
Peter isn't fooling himself into thinking he's good company. He talks too little and then he talks too much and then he doesn't talk at all. He can't answer Ned's questions about what happened. He can't accept Ned's attempt to change the subject to something mundane like their favorite movies, either.
Ned brings one of his Lego sets and they try to build like they did before. They end up watching the news instead, the endless stream of updates and efforts to rebuild and obituaries.
The world reaches the point where it deems school important again. They're missing half their teachers, but half their students too, so Peter supposes it all balances out.
(It doesn't. It doesn't balance out in the slightest.)
(Peter reckons somebody ought to explain that to Thanos.)
There are no Decathlon meetings or after school activities. Some subjects are suspiciously missing from their lesson plan during the time it takes the school to fill the holes in their staff team.
It's an unspoken agreement to act as close to normal as they can (which, most often, isn't normal at all) because what else is there they can do? There's nobody to blame – nobody on Earth, nobody within reach, nobody who could do anything whatsoever to fix the gigantic mess they've slid into – and what else are they going to do but attempt to carry on?
Peter wonders whether life has it out for him before remembering that everybody else is in the same situation, and that he isn't special at all.
Peter caves on an almost tediously boring afternoon after coming home from school.
He doesn't know why exactly he does. He isn't feeling particularly sad or particularly angry or particularly anything. He rather feels like he's floating in his own little bubble, unbothered and unaffected by whatever is going on on the outside – or the inside, for that matter.
Aunt May calls it 'shutting himself out'. His therapist calls it 'dissociating'. Peter calls it 'not constantly hurting for the first time since Tony fell to ash in his arms', and decides that it doesn't matter what other people call it, as long as it helps.
In any case, Peter caves and he doesn't know why and he finds himself digging out the box he stuffed his Spider-Man suit into almost a month ago.
He gets out the mask and puts it on before he can second guess himself. It takes a bit longer to activate than Peter is used to, and he wonders if it's similar to a regular computer after it hasn't been used in a while.
"Hello Peter," Karen greets him for the first time since they're both back on Earth. "It has been 28 days since my last activation. I cannot properly assess your vital signs as long as you're not wearing the entire suit. Are you well?"
Her first statement sounds almost like an accusation. The second holds nothing but pure, genuine concern.
Peter doesn't know whether to feel proud about Karen's progress or regret the circumstances under which she's made it. Why couldn't she have learned something more pleasant from him? Peter would have much rather heard her crack a joke rather than listen to her become increasingly frantic as Peter's replies to her became more and more sluggish as the weeks in space dragged on.
"Peter? I have reestablished contact with Earth networks. I will proceed to arrange assistance if you do not answer within the next twenty seconds. Nineteen. Eighteen. Seven–"
"Woah, stop, hold on!" Peter leaped to his feet instinctively. "Don't call anyone! I just spaced out for a bit, but I'm fine. See? All good. Much better."
"I'm glad to hear it, Peter."
Karen's switch to her regular, cheerful self almost gives Peter whiplash. He stands frozen, processing the fact that Karen believes him.
Everybody else, once he utters the word 'fine', always reacts the same way. They all start giving him The Looks. The ones that say 'I know you're not, but I'm going to let it go.' The ones that tell him 'I'm going to frown at you in disapproval and concern to let you know that you shouldn't be closing yourself off like this.'
They're all followed by "Just let me know if you need to talk." or "... Okay. Just... Tell me if you need something."
Karen isn't like that. She doesn't know better than to trust Peter's words. She isn't programmed to look between the lines, to interpret the tense line of Peter's shoulder or the occasional tremor in his voice.
She's just herself. More importantly, she acts like Peter is himself, too.
"Would you like to tell me about your day?" Karen asks, and Peter almost weeps with the normalcy of it.
"I'd love that," is what he says, and if his voice is sounding hoarse for some reason, Karen doesn't mention it.
Karen doesn't experience grief in the way Peter does. Peter knows how pathetic it is to feel jealous of an AI, but he can't help it.
There's traces of Tony everywhere. His face is on the news, his name on the memorial and mentioned as one of many who lost their lives in the wake of the Snap. Peter sees him in the dorky over-sized shirt Tony gave him as a joke, hears him in Karen's voice during her more snarky remarks and in the way May carefully avoids his name.
Perhaps Peter hates himself, because when he can't bear it anymore, he goes to the place that carries more memories than any other.
The Avengers compound is dusty and desolate, far from the breathtaking, lived-in home Peter remembers it as. The Avengers – those of them still alive – are all over the world doing damage control (and likely running themselves ragged trying to outrun the aftershocks of what happened).
If Peter was them, he would avoid the compound as well.
Peter puts on his mask because the silence is starting to give him the creeps.
"Hello, Peter! Welcome to the Avengers compound. Are you looking for something in particular?"
Karen is as eager to help as ever. It soothes Peter's nerves enough to keep going, rather than turn on his heel and continue to let the compound gather dust.
"Not yet. Thanks, Karen."
As far as Peter knows, none of the Avengers are looking for a solution. There isn't one. They're simply dealing in the only way they know how: by plunging themselves into their work and be heroes.
"This area is off-limits for trespassers."
Peter is so startled, he leaps up the nearest wall. He wills his heart to calm down and sheepishly lowers himself to the floor. "F-FRIDAY?"
"This area is off-limits," she repeats.
It's definitely FRIDAY. Peter recognizes her voice. Maybe he's imagining it, but she sounds like a machine more than she ever did before.
"Hello, FRIDAY." Peter pauses. What is he supposed to say to the AI of his deceased mentor? "It's... nice to see you. Um. Are you… alright?"
"I am operating within normal parameters."
"That's, um. That's nice." Peter chews on his lip, casting a glance over his shoulder and wondering whether he should just head back. "I was, uh. I was wondering if you could... let me into the lab, maybe? I mean. I just. Yeah."
"All of the labs have been shut down. Nobody is allowed inside unless explicit access has been granted in Mr. Stark's will."
Peter's heart sinks. FRIDAY hasn't offered him entrance, which has to mean that he isn't allowed inside. Tony hasn't mentioned him in his will – and why should he have?
A lump forms in Peter's throat and something prickles at the back of his eyes. "So, um. Does that... does that mean I'm not... Am I not on the list?"
The pause that precedes FRIDAY's answer is unusual for an AI. "I cannot answer that question."
Peter blinks. "W-What?"
"I cannot answer that question."
"You can't... But, but why...?" It dawns on Peter then. He knew that something about FRIDAY's phrasing sounded off. "You haven't looked at his will yet," he states, softly.
Miss Potts almost definitely has remote access to it. There's been no reason for anyone to order FRIDAY to open the file. Not until now.
"I'm sorry, FRIDAY. But uh... Could you, could you please... take a look?"
Peter shifts uncomfortably on his feet in the silence that follows.
The door to the workshop slides open wordlessly and Peter mutters a soft "Thanks" towards the nearest security camera.
The workshop is as desolate as the rest of the compound. Dust tingles in Peter's nose and makes him sneeze, and Peter spares a moment to be grateful that it doesn't feel as obstructively heavy as ash.
Peter walks through the workshop slowly, taking in the sight of abandoned, half finished projects and bits of machinery that don't seem to belong to anything in particular. "It's quiet here."
"You are the only person currently on the premise," Karen offers.
"No, I mean... Yes, I know." Peter bits his lower lip. "It's just... Nevermind."
Usually, Peter would be greeted by loud music and the sounds of tools on metal. FRIDAY would chime in with updates about current projects and suggestions, and DUM-E would ruin hours of work by trying to be helpful.
The few times that Peter has entered the workshop without Tony being there (for various superhero or SI related reasons), DUM-E has woken up immediately to greet him.
Peter sees him sit motionlessly on his charging station. Not so much as a blinking light or a whir of circuits betrays that he's anything other than a lifeless pile of wires and metal plates.
"Is something wrong with DUM-E?"
"DUM-E is operating within normal parameters."
Peter is beginning to vastly dislike that sentence. He steps closer to DUM-E's charging station and checks for any loose wires or switches that are turned off. He comes up empty.
"Why isn't he waking up?" Peter crouches down to look straight into DUM-E's camera. "Can he hear me?"
"Audio input is fully functional." There's a pause. "He can hear you."
It means that DUM-E is actively choosing not to interact with Peter – or anyone. The lump in Peter's throat swells, and he forces a smile on his lips despite DUM-E's camera not currently working.
"That's alright, buddy." He gives into the temptation and clasps his hand on DUM-E's claw. "I'm just gonna stay here for a bit, alright?"
He talks out loud because it feels less awkward than the alternative. DUM-E is unresponsive and FRIDAY doesn't talk unless spoken to, but Karen indulges him and throws in the occasional comment. Peter doesn't need more to keep up a constant stream of mostly one-sided chatter.
Oddly enough, he feels better on his way home.
Peter keeps coming back whenever he has the time. The thought of DUM-E standing alone in that big, empty workshop makes Peter feel queasy, and he can't stand it for longer than a couple days at a time before he feels the need to come back and spend time with him.
He manages to get DUM-E to circle the workshop with him (Peter wants to make sure none of his motor functions have suffered from the immobility) and he's hopeful that the bot will continue to become more active every time Peter visits.
"Are you heading over to the compound again?" May furrows her brows although she tries not to. "You could invite Ned over, instead. Or Michelle. You could put on a movie and I'll heat some frozen pizzas up for you, how about it?"
"Thanks, May. But I still have to run a few tests on DUM-E." He's never done maintenance like this before, but FRIDAY has been incredibly helpful in figuring it out.
"... Okay. Take care." Reluctance is heavy in May's voice, but she lets him go.
She thinks Peter is coping badly. She's probably right.
Peter hasn't talked to FRIDAY or Karen about DUM-E's change in behavior. He's taken by surprise when a couple minutes into his visit, FRIDAY is the one to breach the topic.
"DUM-E has been showing behavior outside of his usual parameters." She pauses. "I believe I have as well."
Peter thinks of clumsy, lovable DUM-E and snarky, sarcastic FRIDAY, and he thinks to himself that they almost seem like completely different bots. Out loud, he tells her, "It's okay. Things haven't been exactly... normal around here."
"I have run multiple tests to check for any dysfunctions. I have not been able to detect any defects in my coding."
Peter feels his heart sink. He pauses his efforts of oiling DUM-E's joints and sits back on his heels. "FRIDAY... I... I don't think there are any flaws in your coding."
"If that were the case, I should not be showing these inconsistencies." There's frustration in FRIDAY's voice – or perhaps it's just what Peter expects to hear. "Neither should DUM-E. All of his diagnosis checks have been negative. He should be operating in the way he used to."
DUM-E lets his claw drop with a soft whir as though he feels bad about having disappointed FRIDAY.
"That's not how this works, FRI." Peter shifts uncomfortably on the hard floor. He can't believe he's going to try and explain grief to an AI. "When something… When something happens to someone – something big – sometimes, they just don't come out of it the same."
He's horrible at this. Peter knows he is, and he wants to cringe in the silence that follows.
"Explain," FRIDAY says, that and nothing more.
"It's... It's like this..." Peter lets out a frustrated breath. He tries again and wipes at his eyes impatiently. "You miss Mr. Stark."
"I am an AI," FRIDAY said. "I am incapable of feeling human emotions."
"Maybe it's not the same for you," Peter offers. "But still. Tony, he's... he's gone. And it sucks and everything... everything's different because of it. And accepting that change... it's hard. It's really hard."
DUM-E nudges Peter's arm and he takes it as a request to keep doing what he was doing. He works in silence, oiling DUM-E's joints and waiting for the questions he's sure are coming.
"Many of my protocols are centered around my duties to serve Mr. Stark."
"I know," Peter says. He's not sure where FRIDAY is going with this.
"My primary protocol, however, isn't."
Peter hesitates. Something squirms uncomfortably in his gut, and he tries to ignore it. "I guess he wanted us to keep going without him," he mutters, and doesn't say anything else for the rest of his visit.
Peter knows that Aunt May and his friends disapprove of his coping mechanisms. They don't like that he's spending so much time at the compound. They think spending time alone is making his mental state worse.
Peter doesn't try to explain to them that more often than not, he feels less alone with the bots than with everybody else.
"Colonel Rhodes has entered the facility," FRIDAY says, making Peter look up from his blueprints. He's found the plans Tony made for a new type of drone and is passing the time going through them sheet by sheet. "He's here for you."
Peter has a moment of startled panic in which he frantically looks around the workshop. His eyes zoom in on his carelessly tossed away backpack and the notes that seem to have spread out everywhere. He reminds himself that he's allowed to be here and tries to hold onto that confidence even as the door to the workshop opens for Colonel Rhodes.
Rhodes takes a step into the workshop and pauses. His eyes stray over Peter's belongings, and Peter instantly feels self-conscious. He shouldn't have made himself at home quite like this.
"Hey kid," Rhodes says quietly. He doesn't sound mad, so that's something.
"Hello Colonel Rhodes," Peter rattles out too quickly. He tries not to wince at the rushed, nervous quality of it.
Rhodes' lips twitch. "Rhodey is fine." He spots an empty corner of the couch (the other half is covered in Peter's chemistry homework) and settles down on it. "FRIDAY told me you were spending a lot of time in here."
Peter shrugs. He doesn't really know what Rhodes – Rhodey – wants to hear him say.
DUM-E wheels off of his charging station (still far, far too slowly for his usual enthusiastic self) before Rhodey has the chance to say something else.
Rhodey's lips pull into a strained smile upon spotting the bot. "Hey buddy," he mutters, reaching out to pat his claw as soon as he's close enough. His hand pauses, and he looks at DUM-E's frame. "Somebody's been taking good care of you."
Rhodey's eyes meet Peter's, and Peter looks away immediately.
"Look, kid." Rhodey pauses. "I'm gonna make this brief. People are worried about you."
"I noticed," Peter mutters. He frowns at his shoes and wonders if Aunt May asked Rhodey to come and try to get him out of the compound. Or maybe it was Happy.
"Can't exactly blame them."
Rhodey is still looking at him. His gaze is so intent, it makes Peter squirm.
Eventually, Rhodey sighs. "Let me ask you one thing. Coming here... does it make you feel better? Talking with the bots, being in his lab, does it make it easier?" There's a strain in Rhodey's expression that makes it look haunted. "Because I know for sure that it does the opposite for me."
Peter swallows heavily. His eyes feel itchy and raw, and he hopes they're not as red as the feeling suggests.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I know it's been... really hard. For everyone. But I just... I just really like coming here." He shrugs. "I know everybody thinks I'm torturing myself or whatever. But it's... it's helping. It really is."
He likes hanging out with the bots. He likes fixing up DUM-E as well as he can, and he likes talking with Karen and FRIDAY. He doesn't want to stay home and pretend like everything is alright, so being in the workshop is the closest he can get to feeling normal.
Rhodey seems to do his best to spot the insincerity in Peter's voice. He sighs when he doesn't find it, and he pushes himself to his feet. The look he sends through the workshop is almost painfully strained.
"You do you, kid." He pats DUM-E's claw again, and he mutters, "Sorry, buddy. I know I should have come for a visit sooner."
He says it so quietly that Peter has to rely on his enhanced hearing to pick it up. He can't exactly control it, but he still feels like he's intruding on something not meant for him.
Rhodey doesn't stay long afterwards, and Peter wonders if he's going to talk to his aunt.
They're all grieving themselves. Peter wishes they'd stop focusing only on him.
Peter enters the workshop one day and finds a teenager inside of it, kneeling in front of DUM-E and staring straight into his camera. Peter is so startled, it takes him several embarrassing, motionless seconds to react.
"Um," he says, taking a cautious step forward and reminding himself that FRIDAY would warn him if there was a serious threat. "Who are you?"
The teenager barely spares him a glance. "Harley," is all he says, and he turns back towards DUM-E without adding anything more. Like how he's gotten in. Or why he's there.
Peter drops his backpack on the couch and considers how to proceed. An introduction sounds about right. The teenager hasn't asked, but isn't that what you do when meeting new people?
"I'm Peter," he offers, raising his hand in greeting before realizing that Harley still isn't looking. He lowers it awkwardly and doesn't know what to do next.
He's almost sure Harley is just going to let them stew in uncomfortable silence for however long he's planning to stay when Harley mutters, "I didn't really believe he was gone till I came here myself."
Peter's throat goes dry. He swallows against the feeling and is only marginally successful. "You knew Tony?"
"Kind of." Harley shrugs. "He broke into my garage when I was eleven. I helped him fix up his suit and beat up some terrorists."
Somehow, it sounds exactly like Tony. Peter walks closer and settles down a couple feet away from Harley. "Did you keep in contact?"
Harley gives another shrug. "He checked in on me from time to time. Fixed up my garage with some gadgets. He came to this science fair my school hosted once. It was kind of cool."
Harley is staring straight ahead. His eyes are dry, but Peter recognizes the telltale redness from himself. He doesn't mention it.
They sit in silence for a while, the only noise in the workshop the occasional whir from DUM-E.
It's what Peter zooms in on when the silence becomes too heavy for him to bear. "Have you met DUM-E before?" If there's something Peter is sure of, it's that there's no better way of bonding than over robots and cool tech.
Harley can only stay a few days before he has to go back to Tennessee. They barely exchanged a word in all the time they spent in the workshop, although Peter knows that in other circumstances, he would have probably talked the other boy's ear off with ease.
They exchange numbers regardless and promise to stay in contact. Maybe after all of this is over and they're a bit closer to 'normal', they'll manage to become friends without having Tony's absence hanging between them.
Peter is constantly talking to Karen now. He wears an earpiece so he no longer has to depend on his mask and throws it back to the rest of the suit, not knowing when or if he will wear it again.
Karen whispers comments in his ear while he sits in a class half the size it used to be, and her voice calms him down when nothing else is able to. She doesn't tell him that she's worried. She doesn't tell him to stop what he's doing. She only does what she's asked, because that's what she's programmed to do.
Peter doesn't know if that means he's taking advantage of her, and he doesn't really want to.
"Miss Potts has asked me to deliver a message," FRIDAY tells him during what has become one of his daily visits in the workshop. "She'd like to invite you to dinner this week."
"Tell her thank you," Peter says, "but I'm afraid I'm a bit busy."
He doesn't look up from his work, knowing that Miss Potts would tell him the same thing everybody else does. It's been a long time. He should try to move on.
Peter knows it's a lie, because none of the Avengers are moving on. Peter won't, either.
Five years pass, and Peter copes. He refuses to move on, but he copes. He finishes high school. He applies for college. He stays close to his home and the compound because he can't bring himself to move away. He can't risk... he doesn't even know what he'd risk, but he knows that for some reason, he needs to be there. He needs to be ready.
He's at the compound when the Avengers start trickling back in, having dealt with the worst of the aftermath. He's there when they settle into their old home, and he's a constant presence when they use it as their base of operations like in old times.
"You should be focusing on college," Steve tells him once, and Peter knows he's saying what everybody's thinking.
"You know that there's more important things to do," Peter says quietly, and he goes back to building the newest version of his suit.
Only because he isn't going out as Spider-Man anymore, doesn't mean he allows himself to get rusty.
Peter is there when Mr. Lang returns from the presumed dead. He's there when he and Dr. Banner brainstorm about time travel, and he's speculating right alongside them.
Determination burns in his gut where once hope might have been, and Peter knows that this, this is what his life has been leading up to. Tony's recorded knowledge is preserved on FRIDAY's data banks, and while it isn't the same as having him there in person, they make do.
Peter can't help the thought that Tony would have found a solution in a fraction of the time it takes them.
They make it work, and Peter uses his suit outside of a training room for the first time in five years.
He almost ruins their trip in time by losing his composure the second his eyes find Tony.
They collect the stones.
They fight a war.
In all the past years, Peter has never felt more alive than while facing down Thanos with hate in his eyes and determination burning in his gut.
Thanos dies. Somehow, things work out.
Everybody who fell to dust returns.
Peter is able to relax for the first time in five years.
Tony can't take his eyes away from the figure sleeping on the couch. The sight is almost incredulously surreal, and Tony keeps having to check that this is reality and he isn't just going through an exhaustion induced fever dream.
Peter dropped almost as soon as he could be convinced to let go of their near crushing embrace after the battle was over. He's no longer the gangly, awkward teenager Tony remembers. He's an adult.
"What am I gonna do with you," Tony mutters, trying to suppress the suffocating feeling of nostalgia and loss rising up in his chest.
It's not all the emotion he's feeling, and he has trouble to even identify it all. He's angry that he didn't get to see Peter grow up. Five years of his life have been stolen, and he'd like to have them back.
"He's so much older," Tony says, because maybe if he says it out loud, it'll stop feeling quite this surreal.
Peter shifts in his sleep but doesn't wake.
"Peter has grown since you've last met," Karen agrees. Tony doesn't know when exactly she's made the jump out of the suit he's made, but he's glad she's still around.
"I barely recognize him," he admits, wishing it wouldn't sound quite as vulnerable as it does. Five years is a long time. What if the teenager he's gotten to know no longer exists?
FRIDAY disagrees. "He hasn't changed that much. He's still Peter."
DUM-E announces himself with wild beeping, narrowly avoids driving over Tony's foot and deposits the blanket he's fetched on top of Peter before whirling around to face Tony.
Tony's lip twists into a smile. "Good job. You've gotten attached while I was gone, hmm?"
More beeping follows, and Tony takes it to signal agreement. There's so much he's missed. So much he desperately wishes to get back.
"Can you tell me about him?" he asks, keeping his voice low so Peter can get the rest he so obviously needs.
"Of course, sir," FRIDAY says at the same time as Karen chirps, "What would you like to know?"
Tony doesn't have to think long about the answer. "Everything," he says, and he stops petting DUM-E's claw long enough to properly spread the blanket over Peter. "Tell me everything."
A/N: For the prompt:
After Endgame (changed to Infinity War) (everything is ficking sad), Peter spends a lot of time haunting Tony's old workshop. Friday's still linked up with the workshop and being passively protective of Tony's things. Peter takes some time to fix up Dum-E who's been deactivated for a while now. Dum-E and Friday have to deal with grief, which they don't understand, and Peter suddenly has 2 more robot children he feels like he needs to take care of. Bonus points if Karen's around and gets to freak out over Peter being back.
Me, being given an angsty prompt: "... okay, but like. with happy ending, yeah?"
Written for a prompt exchange with the lovely JustAnotherOutcast and To Mockingbird! :D
Let me know what you think!