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Lean Back And Breathe

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Peter shuffled to the side, dragging his face buried in his arms across his desk, missing the looks the team shot him. MJ cleared her throat, her face impassive aside from the minor tightening of her eyes.

 

"Well," she said, "The Yalta Conference was held when? And it was about what?"

 

Peter slid to the side again, his head getting dangerously close to the edge, knocking pens and papers from the desk. The muted thuds startled him, his head shooting up as he looked around panicked. His eyes caught on Ned first and then MJ, his body softening as he realized where he was.

 

"Peter?" Betty said quietly, causing Peter's face to swing to hers, his eyes blinking owlishly. When he realized where he was, in the middle of the mini-Decathlon practice, his face turned bright red and he groaned, dropping his head into his hands. "Peter," Betty continued. "Are you okay?"

 

He waved his hands at her, not bothering to lift his head. Above him, Ned and MJ exchanged a look, the glance not missed by anyone else in the practice. The silence lasted another beat before Ned cleared his throat, blushing lightly as the rest of the team swung to look at him.

 

"Peter- he's, he's fine," Ned said, his voice growing stronger with each word. "He- uhh, he had to get- help his aunt late last night."

 

"Right," Cindy said, her brow arched. "That's why he's always tired."

 

Peter groaned again, lifting his head up, tired annoyance etched across his face. "Why do you guys care so much?" He rubbed his eyes, unaware of the sweet picture he was portraying. In the back of the room, Flash snorted, covering his mouth at the glare MJ shot him. Peter yawned, dropping his hand. "I just- I had a lot of stuff to do for Mr. Stark and Aunt May."

 

"Oh, I'm sure you did," Flash muttered, keeping his gaze focused above Peter's head to avoided MJ's worsening glare.

 

Peter scrunched up his nose, blinking at them again as if he had just realized where he was. "What time is it?" He asked, frowning. He glanced down at his watch, freezing for a moment before swearing and scrambling for his stuff. "Shit!" He cried. "I gotta go, Mr. Stark-" he shoved a pencil in his mouth, shoving his chair back, the two muffling the rest of the sentence. "Gottagobye!" He ran for the door, never looking back.

 

MJ sighed, dropping her head into her hands. "Well," Abe said brightly. "It really is never dull in practice is it."

 

"Are we continuing?" Charles asked, glancing around. "Even though Flash is his alternate he really doesn't offer much."



"Hey!"

 

"No," MJ said, sliding her notebooks in her bag. She stood, Ned, rising across from her. "We will reconvene tomorrow. 3 pm sharp." She offered the group a blank stare and a nod before she turned to go. "Later losers."

 

"Yeah, bye!" Ned called cheerfully as they left the room. 

 

There was a moment of silence after they left. One-beat, two-beat - before the rest of the team drew closer together.

 

"So," Betty said, raising her eyebrows at them. "They really think they're fooling us all don't they?"

 

Abe snorted, Charles, rolling his eyes. "Uh-huh," Cindy answered, her tone vaguely fond. "Parker thinks he's slick."

 

"I still think you guys are wrong," Flash said, scooching closer to them. He ignored Sally's scoff and lowered his voice, leaning in even closer. "There's no way that it's true."

 

Abe rolled his eyes, irritation flashing across his face. "Peter has to be."

 

"No-"

 

"DC?" Sally said, interrupting. "C'mon Flash he has to be."

 

"No," Flash repeated, the word sour in his mouth. "Because if he is, why hasn't he decked me yet?"

 

Betty huffed, . "It's Peter, Flash. It's like you've forgotten that you, and most of us," she gestured around the group. "Grew up with him." She shook her head, eyeing him with disbelief. "He cried when one of us stepped on a beetle in 2nd grade, obviously he's not going to punch you."

 

"But-"

 

"He's protecting people," Charles cut in. "You were gonna say, 'but now he's out there punching people' - and yeah," Charles admitted. "He is." He looked over at Flash, taking in the tense lines of his body. "But the difference is that those people deserve it."

 

"I called him Penis."

 

"You still call him Penis," Sally said, a wry twist to her mouth. "I think at this point we all assume it's more of a weird fond nickname than an actual issue."

 

"But-"

 

"But nothing," Cindy said, slapping a hand down on the table. "We all know Peter is Spiderman."

 

A clap echoed from the doorway, the six of them tensing and spinning to look. MJ stood there, backlight by the harsh hallway lights of Midtown. "God," she said, raising an eyebrow. "It took you idiots long enough."

***

 

Tony Stark: I may have bugged your classroom.

4:23 PM

 

Peter Parker: mr stark???

4:25 PM

 

Tony Stark: c'mon Pete, like you didn't have my number before.

4:25 PM

 

Peter Parker: i didn't realize u'd know mine??

4:26 PM

 

Tony Stark: You thought that I'd not know your number - that I'd know you were the spiderling but not know your number?

4:27 PM

 

Peter Parker: … in hindsight that feels dumb

4:28 PM       wait, y'd u bug my class?

 

Tony Stark: why wouldn't I?

4:29 PM

 

Peter Parker: basic privacy laws???

4:29 PM

 

Tony Stark: those don't apply to me. I'm Tony Stark.

4:30 PM

 

Peter Parker: I think they still do

4:30 PM

 

Tony Stark: whatever, not the point

4:30 PM      The point is that I bugged your classroom and your fellow nerds know

 

Peter Parker: know what?

4:31 PM        wait, mr stark??

                    they know what??

 

Peter Paker: mr. stark??

4:36 PM

 

***

Peter scrambled from the car, his face flushing when Happy sighed behind him. He had told Mr. Stark that he was more than capable of swinging to him after school but the idea had been vetoed every time. He shut the door behind him, mindful of slamming it. The last time he had forgotten about his strength he had crumpled the car door. Mr. Stark had thought it was hilarious but Happy had been more than a little upset. 

 

"Bye Happy!" He called over his shoulder, slinging his bag over his arm and scurrying in through the doors Friday was holding open for him. 

 

"Good afternoon Peter," Friday said, her voice a familiar tone in his ears. "Boss is waiting for you in the lab - would you like me to take you there?"

 

"Yes, please!" Peter said, glancing down at his phone. Around him the elevator hummed, the doors clicking shut behind him as it began to rise. He frowned at the sight of Mr. Stark's texts, still open on his screen. He sighed, shoving his phone back in his pocket, resigned to having to ask Mr. Stark what he meant in person.

 

The doors opened, a tiny woosh of sound, the hallway empty in front of him. Peter glanced through the windows as he walked towards Mr. Stark's labs' door, taking in the scattered tools and bits of machinery strewn across the tables inside. He pushed through, the sudden noise almost overwhelming him.

 

"-And you need to stop!" Tony said, staring at Dum-E, a fond look on his face. He shook the wrench in his hand at the bot, ignoring the way he drooped in response. "If you go towards the fire extinguisher one more time-" Friday cut the music, startling him into turning around. "Fri- Kid!" He said, grinning at him. "Just in time!" 

 

"Just in time for what Mr. Stark?" Peter asked warily, sliding his bag off his shoulder and setting it on the table closest to the door. 

 

Tony blinked at him, the gleeful expression dipping for a moment. "Are we not re-calibrating the webs today?" He rubbed his forehead, smearing oil over his eyebrow. "I thought we were?" 

 

"We are," Peter said, biting his lip to keep from laughing. "I was just - nevermind." He cut himself off, instead wandering closer to Tony. "Friday can you bring up the schematics from the last time I was here?" 

 

"Of course Peter," Friday answered, the outlines unfolding in front of him in a haze of blue. 

 

"Thanks, Fri," Peter said, his eyes catching on a mistake he hadn't noticed before. He fiddled with it for a moment before glancing up and catching Mr. Stark smiling at him. He flushed, yanking his hand back from the schematics. "What?" He said, self-consciously. 

 

"Nothing, Pete," Tony said, his face fond and open. "Just proud of you." 

 

Peter blinked at him, blushing an even deeper red, his mouth dropping open. "Me- me?" 

 

Tony snorted, rolling his eyes. "Who else would I be talking to here?" 

 

"Friday?" Peter squeaked. 

 

"Incorrect," Friday said, her voice as fond as she could get. "Boss is proud of you Peter." 

 

Peter looked down, the action doing nothing to hide the shy smile on his face. "Thanks, Mr. Stark." 

 

"Of course kid." 

 

Peter fell silent, reaching back towards the schematics, his hands much slower than they had been. He worked for another moment before realizing that he had never asked Mr. Stark his question. "Mr. Stark?" Peter said, getting a nod in response, though he didn't look up from what he was working on. "What did you mean earlier?" 

 

"Earlier?" Tony said, highlighting a section of code to be revisited, willfully ignoring the fact that the entire section was basically neon yellow. "Like when I said I was proud of you?" 

 

"No-" Peter said, a tiny smile on his face. "Like with the texts?" 

 

"Oh," Tony said, looking up. "Your nerd friends figured out your Spiderman." 

 

Peter frowned. "MJ and Ned already knew that Mr. Stark." 

 

"No," Tony said, raising an eyebrow. "The other ones who are on your team." Peter's face drained of color. Tony stood, setting down the tablet and striding over to him. "Did you really not know kid?" Peter shook his head, completely mute. Tony sighed, slinging an arm around him. "If it helps, it sounds like they've known for a while." 

 

"What?" Peter said, his face shocked and voice strangled. "Since when?" 

 

Tony bit back a smile at the obliviousness of Peter. "Since DC?" He said, the smile coming out full force when Peter groaned and dropped his head into his hands. 

 

"God," Peter said, his voice slightly muffled. "They must think I think they're idiots." 

 

***

"MJ, heyyyyyy," Betty said, her face slightly panicked. "How long- how long were you standing there?"

 

"Long enough," MJ answered, her face impassive. Ned appeared over her shoulder, his expression equally unreadable. They slipped inside the room, MJ locking it behind her. The six in the center of the room swallowed hard, fear flickering through their eyes. Though they knew that Peter would've never laid a finger on them, MJ was a complete anomaly.

 

"We were just-," Flash began.

"Shut up Flash," MJ said, her voice betraying nothing. She slung herself over a chair, turning it so she was bracing her arms on the back of it. Beside her, Ned followed, snagging another chair and sitting in it, his face completely serious. "Here's how this is going to go," MJ said. "We're going to have ourselves a little discussion."

 

Ned leaned forward, staring each of them down. "No one is going to tell anyone about this discussion." They nodded, Ned leaning back once he was satisfied. He glanced at MJ, gesturing for her to go ahead.

 

"If Peter Parker was Spiderman," MJ began. "Then he would have quite a reason for being Mr. Starks intern." She glanced at Flash, taking in his rapidly paling face and didn't fight the coil of satisfaction that settled in her stomach. "And,  he would have a well-deserved reason for missing so much practice." She smiled at them with more teeth than needed. "Isn't that just so interesting?"

 

"He sure would always be tired," Ned said, his voice low. "Would be hurt far more than most." He glanced around the room again, taking in Betty's pained face, Abe's pressed lips, Charles' tightening grip on his water bottle. He blinked rapidly, his face suddenly pained. "Of course, this is all speculation."

 

"Of course," MJ echoed. "However," she leaned in close to the group, the others leaning in almost unconsciously as well. "If the word were to get out that this rumor was spiraling, well," she exchanged a look with Ned. "Someone would have to go down for it, wouldn't they?"

 

For a moment no one moved, the room falling even quieter as if the school itself had heard MJ's warning and was committing it to memory. In front of her, Sally shifted, everyone's gazes snapping to her. She blushed, almost lowering her gaze from MJ's but soldiered on.

 

"No one here would do that," she said, her voice quiet but firm, her conviction backed by the rapid nods of everyone around her. "And we're the only ones who ever even thought-" she cut herself off, her voice quieting. "You don't need to worry."

 

MJ sighed after a beat. "I like you guys," she said, smirking a little bit at Flash's shocked face. "Yes, even you Eugene. But," she said, her face dropping back into impassivity. "This is Peter's life we're talking about." Beside her, Ned coughed suddenly, his eyes wide.

 

"Uh," Ned said, his eyes on a familiar figure on the window. "I think we're about to get some company."

 

***

 

"Activating," Friday said, in response to Peter's query about the listening devices. "Broadcast begins in 3, 2, -"

 

"Shut up, Flash," MJ's voice came through, Peter's brow furrowing. "Here's how this is going to go. We're going to have ourselves a little discussion."

 

"Is this old?" Peter asked Mr. Stark, frowning.

 

He shook his head, his face placid. "This is all live, kiddo."

 

Ned's voice began. "No one is going to tell anyone about this discussion." There was a beat and then MJ started speaking again.

 

"If Peter Parker was Spiderman - then he would have quite a reason for being Mr. Starks intern." Peter groaned suddenly, gesturing for Friday to stop the device.

 

"I have to go," Peter said, glancing at Mr. Stark who was smiling at him.

 

"Keep your stuff here," he said, reaching over and ruffling his hair. "You and your partners can come back after. I know Pep wants to meet them."

 

Peter flashed him a smile, pushing his chair back and heading to the bathroom off to the side to go change. "Can you ask if Aunt May can come?"

 

Tony spluttered. "Your hot aunt can always come," he said, ignoring Peter's familiar Mr. Stark!

 

He strode out of the bathroom, fixing a glare on Tony before it melted off his face. "Can- can you send Happy to pick us up?"

 

Tony held up his phone. "Already texted him, kid." He raised an eyebrow at him. "Got a change of clothes?"

 

Peter nodded. "Ned made me stash one in my locker."

 

Tony stood up, tugging Peter into a hug. "See you in a few hours kiddo."

 

Peter pulled back, smiling up at him. "Thanks, Mr. Stark," he said, his smile shy. "Love you."

 

"Love you too, Petey," Tony said, swallowing down a lump in his throat. "Friday can take you up to the top so you can swing from there."

 

Peter grinned, turning to go. "MJ's gonna wanna have words with you," he called cheerfully over his shoulder. "She doesn't like being bugged." The door shut behind him, Tony watching as he slid his mask on, bouncing up and down in place as the elevator doors opened. He turned, waving at Tony before Friday shut the elevator, bringing him up to the balcony.

 

Tony smiled, shaking his head. "Friday," he said, the AI already bringing the audio from the device back up. "Keep playing and continue to record. I want to hear these threats."

 

***

 

"What?" Sally said before the window slid open and Spiderman tumbled through.

 

"Oh shit," Flash whispered, his face dropping. "We're about to die."

 

Spiderman stood in silence for a moment, the whites of his eyes narrowed at Ned and MJ. In front of them, the others were mostly frozen, their hands tangling together in their sudden nerves as if that would protect them from a pissed off superhero.

 

"Goddammit," Spiderman said, reaching up and yanking his mask off, the brown eyes of Peter meeting MJs. "I told you not to threaten anyone."

 

"I knew it," Cindy muttered, her face splitting into a massive grin. She yanked her hands back, knocking her fist gently against Flash's shoulder. "Ha! You're the idiot now." Flash groaned, his eyes never leaving Peter who flashed Cindy a smile before going back to stare at MJ.

 

Surprising everyone but the three of them, MJ cracked first. "Protection?" She offered, her mouth twisted. "Cause you wouldn't do it yourself?"

 

"I wouldn't do it myself because I thought it was just rumors," Peter stressed. "If I had known that Cindy had figured it out, I would've done something."

 

MJ shrugged, her elbow knocking into Ned's. "We were trying to help." Ned shot her a betrayed look and she shrugged again. "It was a group plan, Leeds."

 

 Peter shifted his gaze to Ned, ignoring the fact that the others were enthralled in their discussion. Ned sighed. "You do too much sometimes," he admitted. "We wanted to take something off your plate."

 

Peter sighed, looking impossibly fond all of a sudden. "Just a little warning next time?"

 

"To be fair," Betty said slowly, looking between the three of them. "It was a very spur of the moment thing, I think."

 

"Oh," Peter said, blinking. "Just don't do it again?" He offered, grinning when MJ shrugged and Ned nodded.

 

"How did you know?" Abe said, wonder in his tone. He flushed slightly at the looks he got. "That this was happening?" He clarified.

 

"Wait, yeah," Sally said, her brow furrowed. "Do you know when people figure it out? Who you are?"

 

Peter laughed, snagging a chair and sitting in it, neatly sliding into the group. "No," he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. "Nothing like that." He glanced around the room, nothing sticking out to him. "Mr. Stark bugged the room."

 

"What?" Flash said, his voice strangled.

 

"That's illegal," Charles said, though his voice was light.

 

Peter's mask crackled to life, Mr. Stark's voice suddenly coming out of it. "And I'm Tony Stark, what of it?"

 

The room froze, Peter rolling his eyes at his mentor's ego. "Mr. Stark," he said, ignoring the looks everyone but Ned and MJ gave him. "Please stop bugging my classrooms."

 

The mask was silent for a beat before his voice came through again. "We'll talk about this at dinner," he said, evading the plea. "MJ, Ned, you're coming with him, right?"

 

"Mr. Stark!" Peter said, fond irritation in his voice. "You know I haven't asked them yet, please, please stop interrupting this."

 

"Fine," Tony sighed. "I'll leave you to it." The mask crackled once more and when silent.

 

"Er," Peter said, glancing up at them. "Sorry about him."

 

Abe grinned at him. "This is the best day of my life," he said. "You've proven me right and I got to hear Tony Stark harass you?" Peter grinned back, grateful that someone was pleased with the turn of events. Abe shook his head. "It's an honor Spiderman."

 

"Oh geez," Peter said, flushing. "You don't - please-"

 

"I have questions," Cindy announced cutting him off.

 

Peter nodded but turned to Ned. "Can you-"

 

Ned cut him off. "I'll grab the change of clothes." He turned, leaving the room, exchanging a fond look with MJ as he left.

 

Peter smiled after him, turning back to Cindy. "Sorry about that- your questions?"

 

"Yeah, how are you Spiderman?"

 

"Do you produce those webs?"

 

"When did you become Spiderman?"

 

"What do you do with Mr. Stark?"

 

"Have you met the Avengers?"

 

"Okay!" MJ snapped, her glare silencing them all. "Peter can-"

 

"MJ," Peter said quietly, reaching out and squeezing her hand, the rest of them watching avidly. "It's okay." She glared at him for another beat before squeezing his hand back. "Right," Peter said, turning back to Cindy. "One at a time?"

 

Cindy smiled at him, her normally open face even more delighted than usual. "How are you Spiderman?"

 

"I got bitten by a spider," Peter said, rubbing his thumb over MJ's knuckles. "It was, uhhh, biologically altered and so it altered me."

 

"What the fuck?" Sally and Charles said in tandem, blinking at each other and then back at Peter.

 

He shrugged. "It was an Oscorp spider," he said, as though that made it make sense. "It died after it bit me."

 

Flash snapped his fingers, pointing at him, things clicking into place. "You- you were sick for like a week after," he said, ignoring the look MJ shot him. Peter nodded, smiling tentatively at him. Flash flushed, dropping his eyes and falling silent.

 

"So," Abe said, breaking the slightly awkward silence. "Those webs- do they come out of you?"

 

Peter snorted, glancing over at the door and dropping MJ's hand. "It's Ned," he said, nodding to it right before the knock sounded. MJ rolled her eyes but stood to get it as Peter ignored the slightly shocked looks he was getting. "No," he answered, turning back to Abe. "I made the webs myself, and Mr. Stark helped me improve both them and the web-shooters." Abe wiggled his eyebrows at him and Peter huffed. "You are not going to get to wear them."

 

"Damn," Abe muttered, a grin on his face. "I really thought I had you."

 

Behind Peter, MJ let Ned slide through, relocking the door. Ned tossed the clothes to him, nodding at the teacher's closet. "Best place for you," he said, grimacing. "Someone on twitter posted that Spiderman was out swinging so people are frantically looking for you - phones are everywhere, even in the hallway."

 

"Fuck," Peter said, dragging his hand over his face. "I really thought I could be stealthy this time." Ned poked him, urging him up and towards the closet. Peter sighed but complied, trying to change as fast as he could.

 

MJ snorted, leaning close to Ned. "He definitely needs to listen to Natasha more," she said in an undertone.

 

"Hey!" Peter said, popping his head out of the closet, yanking the sweater over his head as he reached behind him, tapping the suit as it folded up. "Not cool, MJ!"

 

"You heard that?" Betty asked, her face twisting. "I barely could and I'm right here."

 

"Oh, yeah," Peter said, slipping the suit into Ned's bag and reseating himself, scooching closer to him, his hand snaking out and gripping his. "I've got like super hearing and strength."

 

"Like how-"

 

"Stronger than Captain America," Peter admitted, frowning when Flash shrunk in on himself. He glanced at Ned and MJ, only to see both of them shaking their heads at him. He arched an eyebrow, sighing when all they did was shrug back at him. "Anyways," he said, turning back to them. "I actually do have to be somewhere now," he said, sighing. "I wasn't even supposed to be here, I had some stuff to do with Mr. Stark in the lab today."

 

"That's okay, Peter!" Sally said, cutting off everyone else. "We can definitely text you questions later, right?"

 

"Sure?" Peter said, before frowning again. "Though I think I'm gonna have to ask Mr. Stark if it's okay - secret identity and all that." His face suddenly got serious, all the humor leaving his eyes. "I really really really need this to stay on the dl," he said, biting his lip. "I will do all I can to answer your questions and stuff but I can't have this getting out."

 

"Of course," Cindy answered, the rest of them following. "We've kept a secret all this time, we can keep doing it."

 

Peter smiled at her, the relief clear in his eyes. "Great!" He said, standing up from his seat and tugging Ned up with him. "And like, not a threat, but if Mr. Stark finds out someone leaked it-" he shrugged, his face not nearly as amused as it had been. "He takes that shit seriously."

 

"Got it," Charles said, shooting a look at Ned's backpack, where the mask lay. "We won't piss off Mr. Stark."

 

"Awesome," Peter said, grinning at them. "I'm gonna go," he said, gesturing to the door and holding his hand out for MJ to take, which she did with a sigh. "See you guys tomorrow!"

 

MJ unlocked the door, the three of them exiting, Peter's excited chatter carrying through the hallways for a moment before they rounded the corner, and the sound muted before disappearing entirely.

 

"Oh fuck," Flash said, his face pale. "I'm going to die."

 

"Well," Sally said, her eyes alight. "I think that went really well." She exchanged a look with Cindy and Betty, the three rising together. "We're gonna go chat about this in a classroom that isn't bugged," she said. "My place?"

 

"Sure," Cindy said, Betty, nodding in agreement. The three gathered their stuff, leaving as quickly as they could without outright running down the hall.

 

"Fuck," Flash repeated, staring at nothing. "I used to bully Spiderman."

 

Charles began laughing, Abe grinning at Flash. 'Well," Abe said, his voice bright. "At least it's a 'used to'."

 

Flash sighed, burying his face into his arms. "My life is a fucking nightmare. God." He sighed again once more before muttering. "Fuck!"