This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

He didn't notice anything amiss. Not at first.

(Nothing bad amiss, either, which he would have sensed coming into the apartment. Thanks, stupid, weird spider powers.)

"This crazy car parked outside," he said stupidly, before he had actually used his freaking eyes. Before he saw.

(He should have seen that May wasn't alone on the couch, why hadn't he seen?)

Tony Stark was sitting in the living room.

Tony freaking Stark was sitting in the living room.

Casually snacking on a piece of May's walnut date loaf.

Why. Why? Why was Tony Stark sitting in the living room?

"Oh, Mr. Parker," he said casually. Mr. Stark did. Tony Stark. Iron Man. One of the Avengers. Said his name casually.

Why. Why?

(Tony freaking Stark knew his name.)

"Um," Peter articulated.

God.

He was. He was smarter than this. He really really was.

"What. What are you doing—"

Nope. That's not what was supposed to come out first.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

He was meeting Tony Stark. He was supposed to introduce himself, first. God.

"Hey! Uh, I'm—I'm—I'm Peter," he tried instead, but that. That still sounded stupid.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

This wasn't how it was supposed to freaking go.

"Tony," said Tony. Because Peter had introduced himself like a moron. Even after Mr. Stark had greeted him by name. Even though Tony Stark was in Peter's apartment, and he clearly knew this. Clearly knew who Peter was. Had called him 'Mr. Parker.' Had been talking to May.

Peter was smarter than this.

Peter was supposed to be smarter than this.

"What. What are you—what are you—what are you doing here?"

What was happening? Why had he said that? He probably sounded so stupid.

He'd dreamed of this. He'd dreamed of meeting Tony Stark since…forever. And now the man was. Was. Was sitting on his couch. With May.

May was looking at Peter. She was mouthing something at him. 'You'll be fine.'

Because she could tell he was kind of freaking out.

Of course he was kind of freaking out! Tony Stark was here! Why? Why was he here?

If he could just turn his freaking hearing down a notch so he could listen over the too-loud pounding of his stupid heartbeat, he'd be able to hear that Tony was talking to him, now.

Because Peter had asked him what he was doing here, and he was answering.

"It's about time we met. You've been getting my e-mails, right?" And Mr. Stark. He winked. Well…sort of. He winked with his right eye, winced, and winked with his left.

(Probably because…he had a huge shiner on the right eye. Why…did he have a black eye? Something…the Sokovia Accords thing on the news. Duh. Peter, it doesn't matter, listen.)

"Right?" Tony asked again. His voice didn't change. Totally casual. But clearly wanting Peter to play along.

(Holy moly, was it even okay that he was thinking of Mr. Stark as 'Tony' sometimes? Was that even cool? That was probably totally not cool. Totally disrespectful.)

"Yeah. Yeah," Peter found himself agreeing. Oh, God. What was he doing? "Regarding the…" Peter said slowly, and May saved him, this time.

"You didn't even tell me about the grant!"

Oh, this was weird. He was having…what? 3? separate conversations? Sort of? 4? "About the grant," Peter repeated.

This. This was.

What the hell was going on?

He didn't know what was going on.

It was all so…different. Weird.

He never used to get so nervous all the time. But his own heart was so loud, now, and May's, too, and the next-door neighbor was arguing with the landlord on their phone, because of a missing invoice and none of that mattered, focus, Peter!

And…Tony Stark was looking at him. Talking…but…saying something else.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

Meeting Tony Stark wasn't supposed to feel this anxious.

"The September Foundation," Mr. Stark said helpfully/unhelpfully. Because Peter was playing along.

"Right," Peter parroted. He had crossed his arms really tightly, and made a conscious effort to loosen them so he could breathe easier.

He remembered he used to get anxious. When he was younger. Stupid stuff. He'd get scared when he heard planes, or when Uncle Ben took him to the top of the Empire State Building, or when those robots had started shooting people at the Stark Expo when he was nine, or after everything with Skip, when he had that therapist. Or when…when Ben…and he…had that other therapist. (He so did not need to keep thinking about how anxious he was, or used to be, or his feelings about therapists, or about Skip at all, thankyouverymuch.)

But any anxiety he'd felt when he was young was nothing to the way his heart hammered when Joe's argument, next door, turned to yelling, or how his mouth was suddenly really dry, or how unnerving it was that Tony was so…relaxed. Even his heartbeat.

(When Peter lied to May, his heart always beat crazy fast.)

"Yeah. Remember when you applied?" Mr. Stark urged. And Peter wanted to feel bad for forgetting something he hadn't even done. Because Mr. Stark was really good at…lying to his aunt.

Tony Stark was lying to his aunt. Encouraging Peter to play along.

Why?

"Yeah," Peter said slowly.

May freaked, silently. She hated not knowing what he was doing with his time. Communicating was really important to her.

He was gonna get an earful about this, later.

"I approved, so now we're in business," Mr. Stark summed up. Then he gave Peter a very obvious look, taking full advantage of the fact that his voice didn't change, and that May wasn't looking at him.

He sounded so sincere. It sounded true.

Why?

"But you didn't tell me anything. What's up with that? You keeping secrets from me now?" May intervened. And. Because Mr. Stark was so good at how hard he was selling this, Peter actually felt guilty keeping it from her.

And it wasn't even real! He hadn't applied for any grant! He didn't…what was a grant? Like, granting college scholarships? Was this like that? He was only fifteen!

"I—I just—I just know how much you love surprises," Peter was stammering. "So I thought I would let you know…what…" Shit. What was the…thing? The grant. What was it called? "Anyway, what did I apply for?" he asked Mr. Stark.

"That's what I'm here to hash out," Mr. Stark said immediately.

"Okay. Hash—hash it out, okay," Peter repeated stupidly.

He must look like such an idiot, right now.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

It wasn't…dangerous. The lying. To May.

(If it was dangerous, he'd feel it. He would. Lying to her was just…necessary, sometimes.)

Tony Stark wasn't dangerous. He was a hero. He was an Avenger.

But…why? What was going on?

"It's so hard for me to believe that she's someone's aunt," Mr. Stark said, then, and he was looking right at May, now. It actually…took a second for Peter to realize that he was flirting with her.

"Yeah, well, we come in all shapes and sizes, you know?" May laughed.

Oh.

She was…flirting back.

A part of him hurt, at that.

(It hadn't been too long ago that Uncle Ben had…)

Nope.

"This walnut date loaf is exceptional," Mr. Stark said then, holding up his half-eaten piece, and Peter shook his head. Nope.

"Let me just stop you there."

"Yeah," Mr. Stark said distractedly, taking another bite.

And now they were both looking at him, again.

"Is this grant…like, got money involved…or whatever? N-no?" Peter wasn't sure what to do with his hands, so he put them behind him.

"Yeah," Mr. Stark said. "It's pretty well funded."

"Yeah?" Peter echoed.

"Look who you're talking to," Mr. Stark said, and…Peter didn't know what to say to that.

"Wow," he tried. He brought his hands back in front of him, but still didn't know what to do with them.

Why was this so awkward?

Peter wasn't even sure how much longer he could pretend to know more than he did; but this was freaking Tony Stark, and he desperately wanted to come across as more savvy and clever than he seemed, right now, so he could damn well try.

"Can I have five minutes with him?" Mr. Stark turned to May, perhaps sensing what Peter was thinking.

(Maybe just seeing how bad Peter was at this because it was so freaking obvious.)

"Sure," she said, nodding.

Oh. Oh, wow. Okay. It was done, now.

Peter was left with no choice but to awkwardly gesture to where his room was, and lead the way, relieved that at least now he'd be filled in on the real reason for the charade. And simultaneously nervous all over again about why.

Mr. Stark shut the door behind them.

And locked it.

Was. Was that weird?

(His heart was beating really hard, and Joe had stopped yelling, but Mr. Stark had locked the door, and Peter didn't know if that was weird.)

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

His room. God.

Peter kind of…stood there, self-consciously, wanting to clear his Star Wars pajamas off the foot of the bed, but not wanting to draw attention to them. Mr. Stark…went immediately for the trash can, and spit something into it.

"As walnut date loaves go, that wasn't bad," he said, and Peter blinked, unsure about the sudden battle in him to have bonding camaraderie with Tony Stark at May's expense about her cooking, or to defend her on principle because he'd nodded along to something he didn't get, yet, and he wanted to know why.

"Woah, what do we have here? Retro tech, huh? Thrift store? Salvation Army?" Mr. Stark was all glib again, careless in his tone, taking in the stuff on Peter's desk.

"Uh, the garbage, actually," Peter admitted and then closed his eyes.

Why had he said that?

"You're a dumpster diver?"

"Yeah, I was…" Peter shook his head. That didn't matter. "An-Anyway, look, um," he breathed, and then looked up at Mr. Stark. "I definitely did not apply for your grant—"

"Ah-ah!" Mr. Stark cut him off. "Me first."

"O…Okay," Peter said softly.

"Quick question of the rhetorical variety," Mr. Stark said unconcernedly, pulling out his phone, holding it up, showing the screen to Peter.

Peter stepped closer, and then back in surprise when Mr. Stark pushed a button and the screen…projected. A little 9x14ish square of…was that a video? Magnified from the phone and projected about a foot in front of Mr. Stark, clear as day.

Oh.

It was a Stark phone. Of course it was a Stark phone. He was Tony Stark.

In the video, there was a line of cars, and what looked like a guy trying to –oh, shit.

"That's you, right?" Mr. Stark asked, and he had a tone like he was faking the question. Like he already knew the answer, but was asking to be polite.

"Um, no," Peter said immediately. His arms were crossed again, and his heartbeat needed to seriously shut up with the beating harder because he was lying.

The video paused on a closer-up, blurred image of a popular camera-phone YouTube video of Spider-Man. (It wasn't playing through YouTube, Peter couldn't help but notice. Had Mr. Stark…downloaded Spider-Man videos? To watch? Was that weird?)

There were no distinguishing characteristics that would mark it as Peter.

(He'd checked.)

It wasn't like Mr. Stark actually knew. He was guessing. And Peter just had to convince him he was guessing wrong.

"What do you—what do you mean?" Peter asked, but Mr. Stark just interrupted him.

"Yeah." Arguing Peter's denial.

He flipped the phone horizontally, so the screen was facing the ceiling, but the projection remained. It had changed, now. A different video. A car speeding towards a bus, ready to T-bone it.

"Look at you go," Mr. Stark said, and he alternated between watching Peter's face and watching the video. The car was stopped, right before hitting the bus. And it fell back to the pavement to reveal Spider-Man, unharmed, slinging away. "Wow! Nice catch. 3,000 pounds, 40 miles an hour. That's not easy. You got mad skills."

He put the phone on Peter's desk, in front of the ancient computer monitor, and the projection continued to run, the next video in the feed playing automatically.

"That's—uh—that's all on YouTube, though, right? I mean, that's where you found that? 'Cause you know that's all fake. It's all done on the computer," Peter rambled, walking past Mr. Stark to the projection, intent on at least stopping it from showing more videos.

Mr. Stark let him, and walked closer to the door, looking around carelessly. "Mmm-hmm," Mr. Stark mumbled.

"It's like that video. What is it?" Peter rambled desperately, trying to figure out how to turn the projector mode off. He had an iPhone, himself, but the functions couldn't be too different…

"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah," Mr. Stark said, seemingly picking up on whatever Peter meant. "Oh, you mean like those UFOs over Phoenix?"

"Exactly!" Peter said, triumphant; he'd put the Stark Phone to sleep, and turned to look…

Just as Mr. Stark was poking open the trap door on the ceiling.

(Oh, shit, what was he doing, why?)

"Oh, what have we here?" Mr. Stark said in faux surprise, and the costume came down, bundled on a string, and Peter's reflexes couldn't help, here, couldn't make anything be un-seen.

It didn't stop him wildly catching the bundle and shoving it towards his laundry basket.

It had been a totally normal speed. With totally un-enhanced reflexes.

Totally.

"Uh…it's…uh…" He tried, anyway, and his arms crossed, trying and failing for nonchalance, breathing an audible 'oof.'

This wasn't. How it was supposed. To go.

Mr. Stark dropped the rod he'd used to help him poke open the trap door, seemingly unaffected.

"So. You're the Spider-ling," he said matter-of-factly. "Crime-fighting spider. You're Spider-Boy?"

Peter scoffed sadly, all dejection and resignation. "Sp-Spider-Man," he muttered, and God, he sounded like he was being scolded.

(On the plus side, since he couldn't fix this, he wasn't as anxious about it, anymore, and his heartbeat was finally slowing down, and it was nice. It was quieter.)

Tony scoffed in return. "Not in that onesie, you're not."

"It's not a onesie," Peter retorted, hotter than he planned. And he went over to his desk, picking up a screwdriver before he'd even realized what he was doing. "I don't believe this. I was actually having a really good day today, you know Mr. Stark," he said, and he was disappointed. But he was keeping with quiet disappointment.

(Loud disappointment would attract May.)

This was not what he had expected.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

In all the fantasies he'd ever dared dream of meeting Tony Stark, of having him realize that Spider-Man was…what? Cool enough to be an Avenger?

Yeah, right. He was probably here to tell him to knock it off, before he got hurt.

Tony Stark was totally ruining all of Peter's carefully-crafted thoughts of how this was supposed to go.

"Didn't miss my train, this perfectly good DVD player was just sitting there, and…" Peter looked back, seeing Mr. Stark absently handling the costume, having pulled it out of the hamper. "Algebra test," Peter knocked his desk with his screwdriver. "Nailed it."

"Who else knows? Anybody?" Mr. Stark asked, serious for the moment.

Peter slowly shook his head. "Nobody."

"Not even your unusually attractive aunt?" Mr. Stark was back to examining the costume, handling it, touching it, looking at it, rather than at Peter. He sat down, taking the rope from the bundle and looking more closely at the stitching and the zipper.

"No. No. No!" Peter said quickly (not loudly), until Mr. Stark was looking at him, again. "No, no! If she knew, she would freak out! And—and when she freaks out, I freak out, and— "

"You know what I think is really cool? This webbing," Mr. Stark interrupted him, and then he threw the web cartridge at Peter's head.

Peter caught it easily, and then sighed. It was like…Mr. Stark was testing him. And Peter was letting him. He'd just cornered him into admitting he was Spider-Man in the first place, and with that throw, he'd been able to discreetly see Peter's reflexes first-hand.

No one said Tony Stark wasn't smart. But Peter had never realized just how…strange it was. Because talking to Tony Stark in person was nothing like he'd imagined it would be.

(This wasn't how it was supposed to go)

Peter had always thought he'd be able to find…a kindred spirit, of sorts. In Tony Stark.

But meeting him was really making him anxious, actually, because…

The man was…like…the coolest person Peter had ever met.

And Peter couldn't measure up to that.

He was a huge nerd. He…he wore a suit he'd made himself that Mr. Stark had called a 'onesie,' and he was weird because he got his tech for free from the garbage…

Peter wasn't sure he could do any sort of damage control for this.

Like…he could never tell anyone at school that he'd met Tony Stark, now.

(He'd met him once before. As Iron Man. At the Stark Expo. But he'd always kinda hoped that meeting him…for real would be…better. This wasn't how it was supposed to go.)

"That tensile strength is off the charts. Who manufactured that?" Mr. Stark was saying, and Peter wanted to roll his eyes, not sure if he was being made fun of.

"I did." He chucked the cartridge towards the hamper.

Mr. Stark did…seem impressed. For a second. Then he was looking at the gloves. "Climbing walls? How're you doing that? Adhesive gloves?" Then he frowned, because it was obvious that the gloves were…normal.

"It's a—a long story," Peter muttered. "I was…"

"Lordy!" Mr. Stark interrupted, again. He'd found the goggles. "Can you even see in these?" Mr. Stark was holding them up to his eyes, and Peter had attached them to sit just-so on the mask, and he was messing it up—

"Yes! Yes, I can! Look, I can—"

"Oh, no I'm blind!" Mr. Stark mock-groaned, and Peter yanked the suit away and put it back in the hamper.

"I c—I can see in those. Okay?" Peter didn't…snap. He said it with deliberate gentleness, because this was not going to be a loud conversation. (Loud conversation would alert Aunt May.)

Mr. Stark was looking at him, and not talking, so Peter elaborated.

"It's just that…when whatever happened…happened, it's like my senses have been dialed to 11." Peter breathed. He'd never…he'd never gotten to explain it all, before. With…with someone…actually listening. "There's…there's way too much input, so…" he sighed. "They—they just kinda help me focus."

"You're in dire need of an upgrade," Mr. Stark said pointedly. "Systemic, top to bottom, hundred-point restoration. That's why I'm here."

Peter sat on the bed, and his face didn't react. He didn't react.

Tony Stark…wanted to upgrade his suit? Did that…did that mean he wasn't going to…to tell him to knock off being Spider-Man?

(He needed Spider-Man. He needed to feel like good could come from these powers.)

Mr. Stark was still looking at him. "Why're you doing this?"

Peter stopped breathing.

Oh.

It was like…he'd been reading Peter's mind.

This was…unexpected.

"I gotta know. What's your MO? What gets you outta that twin bed in the morning?" Mr. Stark quipped when Peter didn't immediately answer.

"Because…" Peter said, and…he couldn't look at Mr. Stark and say it. He looked at his hand, instead. "Because I've been me my whole life, and I've had these powers for six months."

That…was a stupid way to explain. Peter looked back up at Mr. Stark.

Mr. Stark just sat. Listening. "Mmm-hmm," he said encouragingly.

"I read books, I build computers," Peter continued, gesturing around his room. His projects, on the desk, the bookshelf; May had several bookshelves, too. "And—and yeah, I would love to play football. But I couldn't then, so I shouldn't, now."

Mr. Stark nodded. "Sure. Because you're different."

Peter nodded.

He had been different. He used to have asthma. Had it all his life, until this happened. Glasses, too. He could do band; a lot of kids with asthma still did marching band, and just suffered hay-fever season together. He was a whiz with Speech and Debate, and Science—he'd gotten into a STEM school! Midtown tech!

Peter nodded, again. "Exactly. But I can't tell anybody that. So I'm not."

He paused. And then plunged forward, when he wasn't interrupted. He had the feeling that Tony Stark was…all about speed. But…to Peter, this wasn't a… 'quick-fix' sort of conversation. "When you can do the things that I can, but you don't…" he said slowly, "and then the bad things happen…" he swallowed pointedly before continuing, "they…happen because of you."

Peter looked straight at Mr. Stark, and for a second…they were…what? The same?

Equals.

Mr. Stark cleared his throat. "So you wanna look out for the little guy, you wanna do your part? Make the world a better place, all that, right?"

That…wasn't exactly what Peter had meant. But he found himself nodding. "Yeah. Yeah, yeah, just looking out for—for the little guy. That's what it is."

What else should he say it was? Redemption?

(If he did enough good deeds, maybe he'd make up for one bad one?)

Mr. Stark stood, and Peter just watched him. Mr. Stark looked expectantly at him, but Peter didn't know what the look meant.

"I'm gonna sit here, so you move the leg," Mr. Stark said, nodding at Peter's leg, which he'd stretched out over the foot of the bed without realizing it.

"Oh," Peter said, and moved it.

Mr. Stark sat, true to his word, and put his hand on Peter's shoulder. "You got a passport?"

Peter blinked, taken aback by the randomness of the question. "Um. No, I don't even have a driver's license."

"You ever been to Germany?" Mr. Stark asked next, and Peter blinked.

"No."

"Oh, you'll love it."

What?

"I can't go to Germany!" Peter said, and it was maybe a little too loud.

"Why?" Mr. Stark looked genuinely curious.

"I got…homework," Peter said haltingly, and Mr. Stark scowled.

"All right, I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that."

"No, I-I-I'm being serious! I can't just drop out of school!" Peter stammered, unsure of why he needed to…like…explain this. He really couldn't. He was on a scholarship, and Midtown Tech was really prestigious and he liked going there because it was the first school he'd gone to where he wasn't bored all the time—

Mr. Stark stood up, and started walking toward the door. "Might be a little dangerous. Better tell Aunt Hottie I'm taking you on a field trip."

It was his new reflexes, this time. His web-shooter was attached to his wrist, the cartridge loaded, and he had shot already in the time it took Mr. Stark to consider twisting the knob on the door.

His aim was perfect, his shot didn't miss, and Mr. Stark found his hand webbed effectively in place, unable to move.

"Don't tell Aunt May," Peter said with authority. No stuttering, no awkwardness.

(When he wore the web-shooters he was Spider-Man, and Spider-Man didn't need to be cowed by Tony Stark.)

"All right, Spider-Man," Mr. Stark said.

And that moment was there, again. When they looked at each other, and they were the same.

Heroes.

"Get me out of this," Mr. Stark intoned the next second, and Peter nodded.

"Sorry, I'll get the…" he had a special solvent he sometimes used. (He used to need it more, before he'd perfected his formula.) Otherwise, Mr. Stark would be stuck to his doorknob for the next…two hours? And wouldn't that be lovely to explain to May?

"Worked it all out," Mr. Stark said easily, and loudly, once his hand was able to open the door. "The September Foundation is usually how we reach out to college students, which Peter is not," he said for May, easily slipping his hand into his pocket and making it look casual, because they hadn't been able to get all of the residue off, and it was sticky. "However my pals at Stark Industries love Midtown Tech. We're gonna file this as more of an internship with SI. Right?" Mr. Stark glanced at Peter, as if verifying what they'd discussed.

"Y-yeah. Right," Peter said weakly. He trailed behind Mr. Stark, now, not sure what exactly he was getting into, here.

"An…internship? A…paid internship?" May asked, and she sounded way more casual than Peter had, asking about the grant, before. She had seemingly gotten a third mug for the coffee table, unsure of whether the couch-side conversations would continue, and assured that Peter would be a part of that conversing.

"Obviously, we'll need to hash out more details," Mr. Stark said carelessly. He was pulling a pair of sunglasses out of his coat, tapping them smartly, which seemed to adjust the opaqueness of the lenses. "Paparazzi's a killer," he indicated to Peter. Then, he turned to May. "So, short notice, but we do a…retreat? Every quarter? And your nephew is more than invited to come. I can arrange everything; you just have to give him the green light."

"That's not necess—"

"Green light! Green light! When's the retreat?" May interrupted Peter, giving him her best 'are you crazy?' look.

Peter opened his mouth, but Mr. Stark had heard everything he needed to hear.

"Great! I'll email you instructions. Pack a bag. Essentials. You know. I'll send my personal head of security to pick you up in the morning."

"Oh," May said, and she clearly hadn't expected it to be so soon.

"I have…school tomorrow," Peter said absently, but May shook her head. "It's fine. I'll let them know you'll be absent," she said quickly. "This is…a great opportunity, Mr. Stark, thank you."

Peter quickly realized how rude May thought he was being. Mr. Stark had migrated toward the door, and Peter took a step in his direction, causing the man to pause.

"Th-thank you, uh, Mr. Stark. I…uh…look forward to working with you. Thank you."

Stark smiled. "Great. I'll keep in touch." And then he was gone.

This…wasn't how it was supposed to go.

But all things considered…

Peter supposed it hadn't…been that bad.


AUTHORS NOTE

I larb me some Petey.

I'm still writing other stuff, too! I promise!