Peter stood for a moment, his gaze focused on nothing. The city breathed around him, laughter echoing up to him, chatter seeping in, faint honks traveling to him on the breeze. Peter kept his gaze on the sunset, the sky awash in rays of pink and orange, the night sky creeping in above, as he paid attention to everything and nothing.
"Peter," Karen prompted. "You haven't taken a breath three minutes. If this continues, I will be forced to alert Mr. Stark."
"Oh," Peter said, blinking. He sucked in a ragged breath, ignoring the way it caught sharply in his lungs. Karen said nothing back, something Peter was suddenly, fiercely grateful for. May would've fretted, Pepper would've gone into her problem-solving mode, Mr. Stark would've tried to fix him, and Ben - Peter cut off his train of thought, sucking in another terrible breath of air.
He opened his mouth wide, his mask hiding his silent scream, the sounds of the city fading until all he could hear was his own heartbeat, the rapid thump-thump-thump swallowing up the noises of the city, swallowing up his home. He snapped his mouth shut, clenching his jaw at the ache that began to both build and dissipate in one fell swoop.
"Peter," Karen said, a moment later. "You have been standing on this rooftop for two hours and eleven minutes. Mr. Stark has checked on your location three times and has begun to get concerned. Would you like me to patch him through?"
"What?" Peter said, opening his eyes. He hadn't realized he had shut them. Above him, the sky was dark, the stars hidden by light pollution. In the building across from him, a person and their child stood, illuminated in the window, pointing at things on the street below. Peter heaved a sigh, coughing at the expulsion of the breath. Karen's words caught up to him, his head spinning suddenly. "No," he said, his voice steady as he rose from the roof, snapping his wrist out, and swinging from the roof, missing the child pointing at him. "I'm fine," he said, the noise of the city almost overtaking his words as he swung along the streets. "Don't call Mr. Stark."
Peter took a deep breath and glanced, for the third time, at the closet in the hallway next to May's room. He hadn't been able to open the door in two years.
It held all of Ben's things that May couldn't bear to part with, the smaller knickknacks, the multitude of strange, smooth cairns and statues that he liked to collect from the Richmond Hill Flea Market, along with all of his clothes. Peter stood in the kitchen, his eyes lock on the closet doors, his hands squeezing around the kitchen chair in front of him until he heard the minute squeaks of the wood beneath his fingers.
He swore softly, shaking his hands out before tangling them together and worrying his lip between his teeth. He took two steps forward, pausing for another beat, before glancing over at the clock, the red numbers, 5:24, glaring at him from above the stove.
May had left for her early morning shift at the hospital at 4 am. Peter had been awake, the thread of his thoughts loud enough to prevent him from falling asleep, even though he had felt exhausted. He blinked at the closet again, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, the bitter salty taste flooding his mouth.
He could - he could open the door, he supposed, inching forward as he prodded at the cut with his tongue. It wasn't like it held a body in it, he reasoned, his hands twisting together faster and faster, his nails catching in the flesh of his palm, the smaller stings barely even registering. He blinked again, suddenly at the closet door, his right hand resting on the cool knob.
The conflict that had been surging in his mind, to open, to ignore, fell silent as if the touch had shocked him. His fingers strained with the urge to clench shut, but instead, he pulled gently, the door swinging open smoothly as if it had been waiting for him. He swallowed hard, closing his eyes hard and breathing in.
The scent of Ben rose from within the closet, spilling out into the hallway, and devouring him whole.
Behind his eyelids, a familiar sweep of sorrow rose, heat prickling in the corners of his eyes. Ben, he thought, felt, ached, for the first time since the too loud gunshot. He breathed in again, taking in the clean scent of pine that always clung to Ben, and breathing out the scent of rust and blood that he thought, on his worst days, would always cling to him.
He kept his eyes closed, reaching out into the closet, suddenly only able to stand the grief while he had his eyes closed, unable to look at the consequences of his actions. He didn't even need to see, he knew. The piece of clothing he was after was as familiar to him as May's thick cardigan, MJ's worn jeans, Ned's zip-ups.
He trailed a hand over hangers, the thick flannel suddenly under his fingertips. He paused, gently sliding a hand over the faded sleeves, his fingers lingering in the elbow hole that Ben always said he would patch and never did. He brought his hand back up, slipping the button-down from the hanger, and shutting the door, only opening his eyes after the click of the latch.
He looked down, the faded red and green pattern a sight for sore eyes. He sighed, the noise loud in the quiet apartment, laying the shirt over his arm, his movements gentle as if he was handling a newborn baby. He turned, catching sight of the clock out of the corner of his eyes, the glaring red 6:18 the only thing that spurred him to move.
As much as he wanted to curl up and just exist for the day, he couldn't. He had tests and classes, Ned and MJ, decathlon, and his internship. He sighed again, heading for the shower.
He got ready, his motions stuttering occasionally as if his body had forgotten what to do, how to be. He brushed his teeth, blankly prodding at the spot where his teeth had sliced through earlier, the smooth skin baffling to him. He didn't understand how he could be okay, how his body could heal, bringing him back from explosions and plane crashes, near-death experiences, and small scrapes, but still be unable to help him process grief.
He floundered for a moment in the bathroom, accidentally meeting his own gaze and getting sucked in, staring at the hollow look in his eyes, watching confusion flicker through followed by a moment of realization, before that too passed, leaving him trapped. He swallowed hard, blinking twice before rearing back from his reflection and shaking his head.
He made sure not to look at himself again, too wary of getting trapped in his own black hole.
He shrugged on the flannel, burying his nose in the collar as he left their apartment, locking the door behind him. He blinked as he entered Midtown, only slightly bewildered as to how he had gotten there. Last he had remembered on the walk was him passing Delmar's.
Ned stood at his locker, his face set into a mask of concern that brightened as soon as he spotted Peter but returned to concern as Peter got closer. "Hey," Ned said quietly, his eyes glued to the worn flannel Peter had on. "You okay?" Peter shrugged, too exhausted to even offer up a reply. Ned nodded like he had expected that answer. "We'll keep it on the down-low," he said, watching as Peter's tensed shoulders relaxed a bit.
"Hey," MJ said from behind them, her eyes also stuck on the flannel. "You sure you want to be here, Parker?" Peter shrugged again, shutting his locker door and shoving his hands in his pockets so they wouldn't tremble. MJ nodded, accepting the non-answer just like Ned. "We'll take extra notes regardless," she said. "You won't miss a thing."
Peter shot her a smile, reaching out to trail a hand over hers and Ned before ducking his head and pressing his nose into the flannel and heading into class. He didn't look back, completely unaware of the six other worried teens who had just descended on Ned and MJ.
Peter had awoken Wednesday morning feeling alive for the first time in - a while.
He had gone to Midtown early, brushing off awkward questions and concerned statements, telling everyone he had just had an off day. The school day had flown, leaving him feeling slightly off as the classes blurred around him. Nothing had stood out to him, and he was feeling even better about the fact that it seemed that criminals were taking a day off too.
He swung high, just barely refraining from whooping as he turned round corners and delighted in the feeling of being free. He came to a stop, not far from Delmar's, Karen's low scans of the police lines a familiar buzz in the background. He sighed, pausing for a moment before the back of his neck prickled.
He rolled his eyes, the feeling getting stronger as he swung over the alley next to the building he was on, glancing down and seeing a person being held at gunpoint. He paused for a moment, taking in the situation.
The alleyway was narrow and dim, natural light unable to make it to the ground at the angle the sun was currently at. He could drop down on the person with the gun, but there was no guarantee they wouldn't shoot. He couldn't angle the web-shooters correctly to knock the gun out of their hands, even perched on the side of the building as he was.
"Any ideas Karen?" Peter muttered. The AI stayed silent. "Karen?" Peter said, suddenly aware that something was wrong. He glanced up, his eyes catching on the Stark Tower in the distance, fighting the urge to immediately go to Mr. Stark. "It's fine," he muttered, dropping his gaze to the two people at the bottom. "I can do this."
He dropped down quietly, his feet making no sound as he hit the ground. Normally he would make a quip, but with the nerves churning in his stomach, he decided to web up the gunman as quickly as possible and get to Mr. Stark. He aimed his web-shooters, looking down the sleeve of his arm.
"Don't," Karen said, loudly, her voice scaring him so badly he yelped. In front of him, neither person moved. He frowned, taking a step forward. "Don't," Karen said again loudly, her voice sounding strange to him. He walked closer, his arm dropping, his spidey-sense falling quiet.
"Hello?" He said, walking towards them, suddenly realizing that they were both wearing masks. "What's- what's going on here?" As he approached, the man with the gun tightened his fingers on it, his stance unchanging. Peter frowned at the masks, needing to take them off, needing to see them. He brought his arms up, blinking twice before shooting a web to the masks of both, ignoring the strange noise Karen made.
He turned to the man held at gunpoint, breathing in, one-two, before yanking. The mask fell from the man's face, Peter blinking at him for a moment before the realization set in. He stumbled back, yanking his mask off, staring into the blank eyes of Uncle Ben.
"Uncle Ben?" Peter whispered, so confused. "You were dead, I watched you die, how- what?" Ben said nothing, his gaze still fixed on the other person. Peter turned, rage filling his eye, to face the gunman. "You," he snarled, wrapping his hands around the web, ready to yank, as he brought his other hand up, ready to attack as soon as he got the mask off. "You did this! You killed Uncle Ben!" He screamed, pulling the mask off as hard as he could.
As soon as he tugged, his spidey-sense roared in the back of his mind, the sense of dangerdangerdanger, so great that he almost vomited. He clenched his eyes, grit his teeth peeked up between his lashes to see the gunman. Only, suddenly, he was the gunman.
He tightened his finger, pressing down on the trigger, hearing the click of the bullet inside, the insidious noise of a gunshot. He watched, impassive, as Ben got shot, the thump as his knees his the ground, the resigned look on his face.
I killed Uncle Ben, he thought. I killed Uncle Ben, I killed Uncle Ben, IkilledUncleBenIkilledUncleBenIkilledUncleBen
He jolted, panting, his face hot, tears running down his face. He flinched at the sudden sensation of hands on his forehead, glancing up and flinching back, even more, when May's concerned look filled his view. "Peter," she said, softly after a beat, her eyes full of sorrow. "You didn't kill Ben."
Peter let out a sob, launching himself at her. "I miss him so much," he whispered, tucking his face into the crook of her neck. She hummed, pulling him closer so he was curled into her arms better. "I wish he was here."
"Oh, baby," May said, stroking his back. "I wish he was too."
Peter swallowed hard, pushing down all the words that were filling his throat. May hummed under her breath, rocking him gently like she would when he first arrived on her doorstep, tear-stained and grief-filled. Her familiar voice soothed parts of him that ached, and he kept quiet, letting himself be weak for just once.
Peter slid into his seat in the lab, already completely focused on the chemical equation in front of him. Behind him, Tony watched, a faint frown etched onto his face. He had kept a closer eye on Peter than usual over the past few days, well aware that something wasn't quite right. It had only been the day before, when May had called him at five in the morning to let him know about Peter's nightmares, that he had made the connection. Tony watched him for another beat before turning back to his work, deciding that Peter needed to be the one to broach the issue.
"Mr. Stark," Peter said quietly after an hour had passed in the lab. "Can you come look at this?"
"Sure kid," Tony said, sliding his chair back and making his way over. On the screen in front of Peter, the formula was laid out. Tony ran his eyes over it, clapping Peter on the shoulder. "It looks good, Petey." Peter nodded slowly, his shoulder tensing. Tony looked down, in concern. "Pete?"
Peter didn't look at him. "It's nothing, Mr. Stark."
"Hey," Tony said, spinning Peter to look at him. "I think-" He cut himself off, his eyes catching on the tear running down his face. Tony paused for a beat, wracking his brain before deciding to just go for it. "What's the matter?"
"I'm sorry," Peter muttered, angrily brushing the tear away. "I didn't- I'm sorry."
"Whoa," Tony said, crouching down. "You have nothing to be sorry for." He dropped his hands to Peter's gently squeezing them. "Do you want to talk?"
Peter shook his head and then shrugged his mouth twisting. "I dunno, Mr. Stark."
"That's fine," Tony said, before casting a glance over his shoulder at the couch across the lab. "You wanna come sit with me on the couch? Just stay close?"
"I don't want to be a bother," Peter said, keeping his gaze averted.
"Peter," Tony said, his voice utterly serious. "You could never be a bother to me." Peter shrugged again but complied when Tony tugged him up. Tony kept one hand clasped in his, having noticed over the months that Peter loved the small comfort of casual touch. He grabbed a tablet in his other and made a beeline for the couch. "Fri," he said. "Save and lockdown the kids' stuff, will you?"
"Certainly, Boss," Friday said, her voice lowered.
Tony sent a smile to her nearest camera, before setting down the tablet on the small table next to the couch. "How do you want to do this kid?" he asked, turning to Peter. Peter shrugged again, his face a mixture of embarrassment and gratitude. "That's fine," Tony said. "My choice I guess." He slid a stool to the front of the couch, snagged the blanket resting over the top cushions, and sat down, tugging Peter down with him. He kicked his feet up, tucking Peter under his left arm, and gently tossed the worn blanket over his body. Tony gestured to Peter's shoes. "Kick those off and comfortable," he said.
Peter waited for a beat, glancing up at Tony before complying, knocking his sneakers off and curling up under the blanket, his head resting against Tony's leg as Tony's arm kept him grounded. He sighed, the tension leaving him as quickly as it came, his mind emptying slowly.
Tony tapped away on the tablet, answering emails and double-checking release dates for products, vaguely mindful of the time. At 8 pm, Peter stirred, blinking a few times before stiffening. "Hey," Tony said, setting his work to the side and running a hand through Peter's hair. "Stop that." Peter squirmed, his cheeks reddening. Tony tapped one. "Seriously," he said. "You're fine."
Peter glanced up through his eyelashes. "You sure, Mr. Stark?"
"Of course," Tony answered, careful to keep the fond exasperation from his voice. "It's just me kid - you're always going to be fine with me."
Peter bit his lip, warmth flooding into his eyes. "Thanks, Mr. Stark."
"Always," Tony said gently. "I'm here for you."
"Hey," Ned said, watching Peter carefully. When he didn't tense up or yell, Ned sat down next to him, careful to give him space. MJ settled in on the other side, the two of them bracketing him. Ned glanced up, taking in the headstones all around them before focusing on the one Peter was sitting in front of, uncaring of the muddy earth soaking into his jeans.
BEN PARKER, the headstone read. BELOVED HUSBAND AND UNCLE.
Peter sighed beside him. "You guys should be in school."
"Nah," MJ said, her gaze measuring. "We're right where we need to be." Peter didn't say anything, instead sliding a hand out to each of them. MJ gripped his hand tightly, squeezing it as hard as she could, while Ned threaded his fingers with Peters, leaning towards him and gently brushing a kiss across his cheek.
"You need anything?" Ned said as he leaned back.
Peter shook his head, a tiny smile on his face. "Just this," he said, sighing and squeezing their hands, knowing that they both could hear the unspoken just you, underneath. "Just this."