“What if he doesn’t wake up?”
The question hit Peter right in the chest, and he froze where he’d been walking, leaning against the wall in the hallway and taking a deep breath to try and get rid of the tight feeling in his chest just like the therapist that he and his dad saw had told him to. Pressing a hand to his heart, Peter closed his eyes and leaned his head back, feeling the tears fill his eyes and run down his face. What if he didn’t wake up? What if his dad never woke up?
His dad had told him that the mission wouldn’t be long. That he and the Avengers were going on a secret mission for a few days, but that he would stay with Pepper Mom and that they would all be back soon. He’d also promised him that he would bring Peter back a souvenir, and even though nine-almost-ten was too old to cry because he missed his dad...Peter had cried every night. Pepper had tucked him in, of course, taking over for his dad and reading bedtime stories that he also felt too old for but still wanted so badly, and waking him up in the morning with a kiss on his forehead. She had made him special breakfasts for the three days that his dad had been gone, with pancakes and waffles and even cookies! And she had sat with him in the evenings after he finished his homework, telling him stories about his dad and promising that yes, his dad loved him and missed him so much and that he’d be back soon.
And then they’d come back. But his dad hadn’t come to see him.
Peter had heard Pepper on the phone from his bedroom a few hours before he’d snuck down to the medbay...had heard his uncle Rhodey telling her that his dad was hurt. That his dad had been hit really hard and there had been a lot of words Peter hadn’t understood, but he knew ‘coma.’ He knew what that word meant. Sometimes when people got hurt or sick, they went to sleep and they never woke up. Hadn’t Mary Mom told him that? How many nights had he lain awake, praying that his dad never did that. That he never went into that long sleep that he’d never wake up from?
Pepper had been trying to keep her face normal, and she’d told him that she had to go downstairs for a few minutes, but that she’d be back soon. To tell Jarvis if he needed anything. And then she’d left him in his room, apparently forgetting about his super hearing. Not that Peter couldn’t be alone. He was a big kid. Almost ten. Ten in just two months! But...but he didn’t feel like a big kid. He didn’t feel like he was almost ten years old, so old that he’d finally have two numbers in his age like all the big kid and grown ups!
He felt small. He felt like a little kid without powers and without his strength because what good was any of it when he couldn’t save his dad?
Peter had waited for ten minutes before creeping to the elevator, asking Jarvis to take him to his dad. And Jarvis had. He’d just stepped into the medbay, the room where people went when they were sick or hurt in the tower, especially the Avengers, when he’d heard Pepper’s question. “What if he doesn’t wake up?”
What if his dad didn’t wake up? Would he have to go with Mary Mom again? Would he have to move away with her? She didn’t like his powers! She got upset when he stuck to her and even thought he didn’t get stuck much anymore he still did it sometimes and Dad never got angry! Dad loved him and his powers and his Uncle Rhodey was talking softly to Pepper and the other Avengers were there too but Peter turned and ran the other way down the hall, moving blindly until he found a small, dark waiting room and slipped inside, crawling under a chair in the corner and hiding his face in his knees.
If he was small, the bad things wouldn’t find him. If he could be small and quiet, his dad would be okay. His dad had to be okay! Sobbing as quietly as he could, Peter huddled in the dark. For once, the dark wasn’t scary. The dark was safe. He wanted to go see his dad! But what if he did something and his dad got even sicker and then he died and left Peter alone? Peter couldn’t be alone! Not again! Not like when Mary Mom had explained that she had a very important job and that he had to go stay with his dad. He still remembered standing on the porch and knocking on the strange door...watching the car drive away. Sitting on the porch holding his backpack and trying so hard not to cry. He remembered being sure that no one would ever answer the door. That he would be alone forever.
The footsteps that had been walking down the hall came closer then, the door to the waiting room opening and the light switching on. The brightness that flooded the room hurt his eyes, and he wondered how long he’d been under the chair. Someone approached then, and knelt in front of the chair where he’d been hiding. “Hey, buddy. Jarvis told me you were in here...how much of that did you hear?”
Peter sniffed, not looking up at his Uncle Rhodey. “Will Daddy wake up?”
The man sighed, then scooted forward, reaching out to touch his arm but not dragging him out like Peter had feared. “Oh, Pete...he’s going to be okay. Your dad is so strong...you know that, right?”
Peter hesitated, then nodded.
“And you know that he’s a superhero, right?”
He nodded again.
“Your dad was helping save some people, and he hit his head. But he’s going to be okay. He has the best doctors in the whole world looking after him, and he has the best son in the whole world waiting for him. Why wouldn’t he wake up for that, huh?”
Peter finally looked up at him, lips trembling. Smiling faintly, his uncle opened his arms.
“Come here, buddy.”
That was all the invitation Peter needed. He flung himself into his uncle’s arms, sobbing into his neck as the man held him tight, his own hands sticking fast to the man’s back. “I don’t want to be alone!” he sobbed, unable to help the wail.
“Shhh...it’s okay, buddy. You’re not going to be alone,” he murmured, standing with Peter in his arms and sitting in one of the chairs. “Your dad is going to wake up soon. And anyway, how could you be alone when you have Pepper? And me! I’d never let you be alone, Pete.”
“But...but if...if something happened...I’d have to...have to go with...with Mary Mom,” Peter stammered, fighting to speak through his sobs.
“No,” his uncle assured him, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t. You would live with Pepper. And if something happened to her, you would live with me. She tried to kidnap you, Pete. She’s never going to have custody of you again. Okay? I promise.”
The soft voice soothed him like it always did, but fear was still a knot in his stomach. “Can I see Daddy?” he asked, using the term he hadn’t in what felt like a long time.
“Of course you can. Come on. I’ll take you to him right now.”
Uncle Rhodey carried him down the hall, and he heard the other Avengers talking, then go silent when they passed by. Usually he was really happy to see the Avengers...but all he wanted was his dad. He needed his dad!
His dad was asleep. Deeply asleep, not like when Peter would creep into his room in the mornings on special holidays and jump on his bed, laughing when his dad would jerk awake. And not like the morning that Peter had brought him toast in bed because he wasn’t feeling very well, and his dad had woken up and pulled him into bed with him, kissing him on the cheek and calling him the best kid ever.
No. This was different. This was so much worse.
“Your dad is in what we call a medically induced coma,” his uncle explained as he sat him gently down onto a chair at his dad’s side. “That means the doctors gave him medicine to help him sleep so that he’ll be able to get better. But he is going to get better. Once they take him off the medicine, he’ll wake up. But we have to give him time. Okay?”
Peter nodded, eyes darting over to his father every few seconds. His head was wrapped in thick, white bandages, and his arm, the one further away from Peter, was in a cast. A machine at his side beeped while a line went up and down, showing numbers that Peter couldn’t understand.
“You can hold his hand if you want.”
Peter blinked. “Really?”
“Absolutely. I’ll bet it would make him feel better to know that you’re here with him.”
And so Peter reached out, taking his dad’s hand as gently as he could, just like when he touched Mr. Delmar’s kitten, being super careful not to pet him too hard. Uncle Rhodey smiled, ruffling his hair. “Hi, Daddy,” he whispered, leaning close to his dad. “I hope you feel better and wake up soon...but not too soon because you have to get better first.”
Uncle Rhodey was replaced by Pepper pretty soon. She sat in the chair, holding Peter in her lap and touching his daddy’s arm. The Avengers came in too, but Peter didn’t talk to them...didn’t even look at them. It wasn’t that he didn’t like them...he just had to concentrate. He had to hold his daddy’s hand and sometimes talk to him and tell him he loved him and missed him. They seemed to understand, patting him on the shoulder when they left and telling him they’d see him later.
And then Pepper got up.
Peter hopped off her lap, then sat back down in the chair when she started to leave. “Pete? Honey, it’s time for you to have dinner, and then you need to go to bed.”
Peter shook his head.
“Honey, I know you want to stay with your dad,” she started, voice gentle, but Peter shook his head again.
“I’m not leaving him.”
“I’m not leaving until he wakes up.”
Pepper sighed, starting to move forward, but Peter grabbed the railing of his dad’s bed, sticking fast and she hesitated, then knelt down. “Baby, I know you don’t want to leave him…”
She flinched a little when he shouted, but went on gently. “But you have to get ready for bed…”
“I’m sleeping in here.”
“And get ready for school…”
“I’m not going. Not until daddy wakes up.”
“I’m not going!” This time he screamed it, jerking away from her when she reached for him, tears running down his cheeks once more. “I’m not leaving! I’m not leaving!” He felt like a little kid again...only little kids threw fits like this. But he wasn’t leaving his father. Not until he woke up. Not until he knew for sure that his father wasn’t leaving him! “I’m not going!”
Uncle Rhodey came in then, brow furrowed in concern, and Peter turned away from them both, one hand gripping his father’s, the other holding fast to the railing as he sobbed. Behind him, he knew they were talking but he didn’t want to listen...didn’t want to hear them say that he was acting like a baby.
But when his Uncle Rhodey came up to him, kneeling down once more, he didn’t look angry. “Pete…”
“I’m not leaving!”
“Okay.” The man held up his hands. “Okay. You won’t leave. I understand. I don’t want to leave him either. But here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll have some dinner in here, and we’ll have a little bed brought in for you and Pepper. Okay? You can both sleep down here.”
“I...I don’t want to go to school...not when...when dad’s…”
“I know,” he murmured, reaching out and cupping the side of Peter’s face, a thumb wiping away a tear. “I know you don’t, buddy. You can stay home tomorrow. That’s okay. But you’ve got to eat dinner, or your dad will be upset. He wouldn’t want you to be sick, right?”
Peter thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Right.”
So Peter ate dinner in his dad’s room. He took a shower in the little bathroom off the side of the room, and curled up in the little bed beside Pepper who read him a bedtime story and kissed his forehead, promising that everything was going to be okay.
And, two days later when his dad opened his eyes, it was.
Thank you for reading!