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A Parent Apparent

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Tony had only meant to lay on the bed until Peter fell asleep but he ended up quickly drifting off himself.   When morning arrived he found himself up waking long before his alarm was set to go off.   The curtains being opened meant that the sun was relentlessly pouring brightly into the room.  Meanwhile, the spiderling rested peacefully, having buried his face into the man's neck, thoroughly avoiding the offensive rays.   


After half an hour of chasing sleep, Tony gave up and slowly rolled out of the boy's bed in an attempt to not disturb him.  Thought, the effort went unrewarded because the second Peter's face was no longer hidden he was blinking awake.  "Tony?", a groggy voice queried.  "Did you stay here all night?"


"Yeah, I suppose I did.", the man exhaled.  


Trying to sit and up and blink away the drowsiness, Peter watched his mentor as he stretched.  "Is it time to get up?"


"Nope", the man groaned as he continued to reach his arms over his head.  "You can go back to sleep.  I'll wake you up in an hour or so."


Already being awake the boy declined and the pair meandered into the sitting room.  There was very little debate over the menu and room service was soon on its way.  Peter sank down onto the couch and started the last twenty minutes of the movie from the night before to wait, while Tony went to put on a robe and brush his teeth.


It wasn't until they were part way through breakfast that Tony reminded Peter of the Accords Committee Meeting he would be attending later that morning.  They hadn't really discussed anything about it other than it was going to happen.  He tried to quickly create some sort of guidelines in his head but decided that the boy had been left alone before.  Going over guidelines seemed overkill.  Instead, he showed him how to rent movies and only asked that he stay in the room.  "I would assume I'd be back by twelve-thirty, I don't really know, but if I'm not I want you to go ahead and order yourself some lunch.  Whatever you want, okay?"


"Okay.", Peter replied trying not to sound worried.  He was fifteen and May had been allowing him to stay alone in the apartment for well over two years now.  It wasn't like that was a foreign concept.  Besides, the man was only going to a meeting.  He would be gone for three hours and that would be just enough time to watch a lengthy movie. 


It wasn't until an hour and a half later when the man started to walk out the door that Peter was starting to wonder what he was really worried about.  He hesitated just a few seconds too long when the man had paused in the hall to tell him he would see him later bringing a look of concern to his mentor's face.  "You'll be fine, kid.  I'll get back as soon as I can.", he had told him before giving his shoulder one last gentle squeeze.  It was right then that Peter realized that being alone wasn't actually the problem.  It was that Tony was going to some unknown place without him and he didn't know exactly when or if he would be coming back.  He took the next little while shaking those thoughts from his head.  Of course, he would be coming back.  He was Iron Man, The Invincible Iron Man and there was literally nothing to worry about.  He would be back for lunch.


Having calmed unease, for the time being, Peter settled on the couch to start a movie.  He carefully selected one that would not only hold his interest but also had a minimum, three hours run time.  He ended up settling on The Hobbit because it was on the list of free movies.  Even if he had been given permission to rent as many movies or shows as he wanted, free sounded much better. Besides, he had only seen it once making it the perfect option. 


He only paused it once to get a candy bar and a drink out of the minibar, never checking the time.   It wasn't until the credits were rolling that he looked at the clock.  It was after one in the afternoon.  All of a sudden anxiety was running through his torso like waves of electric energy.  He could feel it sparking and coiling within him making him feel momentarily nauseous.  After the immediate feeling of dread had washed over him, he managed to locate his phone only to see no missed calls or messages.  He considered messaging Tony himself but he didn't want to seem needy.  The man had made it clear enough that twelve-thirty was a guess and that he could be longer.  


Pacing the floor for no less than half an hour, his stomach began to clench and gargle with a lack of sustenance.  He hadn't had anything except a candy bar since breakfast.  Convincing himself that when his mentor returned and found out that he hadn't eaten he would be pissed, he forced himself to order from the room service menu.  Though all he did was pick at it for the next hour.  


With each ticking minute, Peter was becoming more and more unglued.  Scenarios were running through his head in flashes making his stomach drop with each new possibility.  This meeting was about the Accords, what if Tony had been attacked or arrested.  What if he didn't have a suit and someone had hurt him.  It was easy enough to push most of those images to the side when remembered that Rhodes was there too but then his mind conjured a whole new unfavorable idea... What if he had been in a car wreck.  He had to swallow down the sudden pressing urge to start calling hospitals.  No one would talk to him anyway.  He was just Peter Parker.   Some random kid from Queens can't just start calling hospitals requesting information on Tony Stark and expect to get answers. 


He finally opted to call Tony.  His frazzled nervous system couldn't take it anymore.  When the phone went to voice mail he hung up immediately and sank to his knees by the couch.  It occurred to him that he could call Pepper but he soon realized he didn't have her number.  Calling May would only worry her too and Happy, well, Happy only answered his calls when Tony told him he had to.  He tried reminding himself that his mentor had said he didn't know how long he would be but it didn't seem to help.  So there he sat, on the floor in the middle of the biggest most amazing hotel room he'd ever seen, fighting back tears instead of enjoying himself. 


It felt overly dramatic even to him but he couldn't seem to help it.  At some point, Tony's wellbeing had become just as much of a priority as May's and the idea of losing either one of them was overwhelming.  Tony had become something more than a mentor, more than a role model... he'd become important, like a father.  He knew people teased Tony about being his dad but the truth was he did see the man that way, he had from right about the same time Tony started calling him 'his kid'.  


When the floor became too hard to kneel on any longer, he pushed himself up and into a chair at the table, facing the door.  Laying his head on his arms, he was almost asleep when he heard the door open.  "Hey, Kid!  I hope you don't mind that Rhodey followed me ho-- Kid?"


Peter couldn't speak, he couldn't move.  He was so relieved that all he could do was stare.  He was trying to blink back his tears of relief when all at once he realized that both men were looking at him with unwavering solicitude.  He didn't know whether to feel grateful or guilty.  Before he could process it Tony was already across the room and pulling him out of the chair, while Rhodes made a weak excuse to run back to the car in order to give two some privacy.


Now in Tony's arms, Peter let out a sound that was something between a wet laugh and a contented sigh as the man held him close and murmured reassurances not yet questioning what had occurred while he was out.   "I'm sorry", Peter breathed into the man's chest before chocking on a small sob, his breath catching on the snot in his nose and throat.


"Hey, hey, hey, It's alright. Calm down.", his whispered into the boy's ear, not caring that his suit was inevitably being covered in tears and mucus.  This wouldn't be the first time he's coaxed the kid out of a breakdown so he let it happen.   He had long since decided that he was more than willing to be whatever the kid needed him to be and if what he needed him to be right now was to someone to hold onto, then so be it.  He didn't question him until the wracking sobs turned into soft sniffles and hitching breaths.  "What happened, Kiddo?"


"I don't know.  I just... you were gone so long and I didn't know where you were.  You didn't answer your phone and I guess I freaked out.  I don't know.  I thought something happened to you... and, and... I couldn't... I need you.", Peter babbled out as he tried to wipe his face and nose on his hands only to have the silky handkerchief from Tony's breast pocket handed to him.  


"Oh, Kid.  The meeting got tense and they decided they wanted everyone to go on radio silence to prevent leaked information.  I should have messaged you... Why didn't you message me?  I checked first thing when I turned my phone back on.  I would have called you as soon as I could have"


"I don't know.", Peter answered miserably.  "I did try to call you but I guess it was while your phone was off then I was going to call Pepper to see if she knew anything but I couldn't"


"Why not?", the man asked somewhat puzzled.  Pepper would have known about the possibility of radio silence and could have explained it.  She would have been more than capable of helping to ease the boy's mind.


"I, I don't have her number in my phone.", Peter replied, finally pulling out of Tony's arms so that the man could let Rhodey, who had returned from his nonexistent errand, back into the room.  


"Bring me your phone, Kiddo.", the man said over his shoulder as he unlocked the door to allow his friend access. Then, together, both men sat themselves onto the couch.  Rhodes on one end of the 'L' and While Tony took up the middle of the other half, Peter quickly joining him, close to his side.  Looking through the boy's contacts, it seemed to be limited to his aunt, a handful of friends, his school, Happy and himself.  How could he have failed to put Pepper's number in the kid's phone?  A few swift movements later and he was handing the phone back.  "There, Now you have her number too. Don't ever hesitate to call either one of us if you need anything, alright?"


Peter nodded and admired the addition to his contact list.  It was incredible enough that he had Tony's personal number programmed into his phone.  Now he had Pepper's too.  Next thing he knew the phone was being removed from his hand and Rhodey was adding his own number to the list.


"...and...", Rhodes started as he was inputting the information, " you have my number also.  Call me, text me, whatever.", the man added with a shrug of the shoulders.  "...but definitely keep me in the loop on all of the ridiculous shit that Tony does.  If you don't tell me I may never know and we can't have that."


Laughing for the first time since Tony had returned, Peter nodded his head.  "Yes, sir.  I'll keep you posted."


"Traitor", he heard the man grumble beside him but he knew he didn't mean it.  So, rather than stress out as he would have several weeks ago, he just leaned more heavily into the man's side.  Bringing the phone back up to his eye level he looked at his contacts list again before cutting quiet side-eyes towards Rhodes who had listed himself in the phone as 'Uncle Rhodey'.  The man just grinned at him.  Peter shook his head and put the phone back into his pocket.  I would change it later... maybe...  


For a little while, they all just sat there on the couch.  Tony, holding Peter casually at his side, as he and Rhodey participated in idle banter.  Then, before Peter could get too comfortable his mentor looked down at him.  "I asked Rhodey if he wanted to go to dinner with us but when I told him you wanted to go to a museum he got all excited and I couldn't tell him no.", the man teased.


"You're cute Tony.", replied drily before looking at Peter.  "He invited me and don't let him tell you otherwise."


Not really knowing how to respond to that, Peter just smiled and sat all the way up.  "Are we going now?"


"Are you ready to go now?", Tony asked him, looking him over with the little bit of concern that was stubbornly staying with him despite the fact that the boy was now calm.  In passing, he wondered if that's what parenthood felt like.  Constant lingering concern.


"Mm-hmm. What museum are we going to?" 


"Whichever one you want to go to.  Keep in mind, it's getting late and we have dinner reservations at nine.  That give us about three or four hours to do whatever you want before we have to get back here to change."


While Rhodes remained in his business attire, Tony changed into lighter more touristy clothes.  He refused to have a repeat of the night before.  It was too damn hot to be walking around in a three-piece suit.   While he changed Peter talked to Rhodes about all of the museum choices, trying to pick one. Then, a short drive later they were filing into the Air and Space Museum.  It wouldn't have been Tony's first choice but since it was the kid's he would go without complaint.   Peter excitedly dragged him from exhibit to exhibit, as Rhodey followed behind smiling at the dynamics.  Then laughing loudly when Peter ended up grabbing Tony by the hand to pull him towards the newly installed Iron Man and Iron Patriot exhibit.  "Oh my God!  Did you know about this?  How did I not know about this!  This is awesome.  Tony!  Take my picture.  Wait!  Let's get someone to take a picture of all of us together!  Please, Tony." He begged.


Tony wasn't sure if this was a good idea. He didn't want to draw attention to himself and the trip get ruined like that trip to the mall but a museum volunteer seemed to have overheard and stepped up to offer assistance.  It was clear that the woman knew exactly who he was despite the casual attire and hat.  She had very quietly referred to him 'Mr. Stark' though in the end, she had the good sense to not say anything out loud and cause a ruckus.  


By the time they made it to the majority of the space-themed exhibits, Tony had decided to casually avoid them and the potential anxiety that could come with the imagery.  He opted to excuse himself to go get Peter a snack, he would wait for them in the food court.  His plan seemed to work because while Rhodey looked at him knowingly, Peter agreed without question, making a request for Nachos if they had them.  


Thirty minutes and a quick text later they were all sitting in the naturally lit food court, Peter munching on chips and cheaply manufactured 'cheese sauce'.  The kind the kid loved despite Tony's insistence that it wasn't actually cheese.  Peter practically circular breathed as he told Tony about all of the exhibits he'd missed, occasionally pulling up a picture on his phone.   Despite the subject, the man remained at ease throughout the exchange.  Even Rhodes seemed to notice.  He was smiling at them from across the table because the kid was good for Tony.  Then again, he figured from what he had witnessed earlier that maybe they were good for each other.


From there, Rhodes took a cab back to his own apartment with the promise to rejoin the two for dinner.  While Peter and Tony walked through one of the nearby gardens until it got dark and it was time to drive back to their hotel. 


Peter went straight to the shower once they had gotten back. Returning to his room, he found his suit laying across the bed.  Sighing he shook off the hotel robe and began to dress.  Pants and dress shirt in place, he went in search of the tie he swore he's draped over the hanger.  Unable to find it he went over to Tony's room and knocked on the door. Tony answered the door in slacks and a tank top, a dress shit tossed neatly over his shoulder.   "Do you need help with your tie?", he asked after looking the kid over.


"No, well sort of... I can't find it", the boy grumbled.  He was sure he was going to be in trouble for not packing it.  Tony had specifically asked him to make sure he had a set of dress clothes.  "I swear I hung the tie over the hanger before I brought it to you, but it's gone."


Tony seemed unperturbed by the situation and waved the boy into his room, pointing towards the closet.  "Go check the bottom of the garment bag.  If you don't see it you can wear one of mine.", he said casually as he began to pull the shirt he had been holding onto his shoulders.  


Peter stepped into the large closet and opened the garment bag only to find that his tie was still missing.  Hanging his head, he came out and stood beside Tony who was dexterously doing up his buttons at the mirror. "It wasn't in there."


Tony pulled up the collar of his shirt and draped his tie around his neck before beckoning the child back into the closet.  "Here, Come with me.", he said without judgment.  Once inside he pulled out a travel rack of ties.  There must have been twenty on it and Peter couldn't fathom why the man would need that many ties for a three-day trip.  "Pick one.  Whichever one you want but I suggest you stick with something in the blues or reds with that shirt and Jacket."  


Peter ran his hands through the ties.  They were Tony's ties and the small collection probably cost more than his entire wardrobe.  The tie Pepper had bought him had cost only twenty dollars and he thought that was pricey for a piece of cloth.  Taking a deep breath he grabbed a red one with small blue accents on it.  When he showed up beside Tony, tie in hand the man smiled.  "Hermes.  You've got good taste, Kid...  Put it on.", he urged and Peter hung it around his neck.


Rather than attempting to tie the tie, he watched in the mirror as his mentor stood at the dresser and made a watch selection.  He didn't even realize the man had so many watches.  There had to have been a dozen displayed in the small case he was looking through.  Tony slowly ran his fingers over each of piece before gently pulling one out, examining it in the light and securing it to his wrist.  It was then that he noticed Peter watching him through the mirror.  "Do you want to wear one?", he asked.  "It completes the look."


Peter adamantly shook his head in the negative.  "Oh, um, no thank you.  They look really nice.  Like really, really, expensive nice.  I wouldn't want to mess it up or anything." 


Tony rolled his eyes.  "Just come here, Kid.  At least try one on.  You might like it."


A few guarded steps later and Peter was by the dresser having an overpriced watch strapped to his wrist.  He couldn't deny that he liked it.  It was cool and heavy against his arm, the deep navy blue face had silver accents that seemed to scintillate in the light, and the second hand made a soothing, rhythmic tick in his ear when he held it up to admire it.  "This, this is nice.", he said, a smile pulling at his lips.


"It looked like it would go well with your navy jacket and it suits you.  You should wear it.", he said in reply, smiling proudly.


All Peter could do was nod his head.  He was about to go to dinner wearing one of Tony's ties and watches. It felt unreal, almost like he was playing dress up.  He was still staring at the watch when he felt a pull on his neck and realized the man was knotting up his tie for him.  "I remember how to do it.", he said with mild indignation.   


The man just smiled at him.  "Yeah?  Well, you keep looking at that watch so I'm guessing you know what time it is.  We need to go.", he laughed.  "Grab your shoes while I finished up in here."


Shortly after, they were at the restaurant where Rhodey was waiting for them.