Tony stared down at the smart watch on the table, drumming his fingers and sighing. It wasn’t working. And he didn’t know why it wasn’t working. He knew that he would need to open it up inside...try to rework something or another, but his head was throbbing and he’d only been back in New York for a few months but already he felt tired. Burnt out. Between the constant paperwork required of him, despite the fact that Pepper was CEO, and the new threats now that the Avengers were an actual team of superheroes scattered around the world, he felt like he barely had enough time for his son.
Their vacation had been great. He’d been able to recover, Pepper and Rhodey had kept Peter entertained when he’d been asleep, and when he’d been able, he’d taken Peter to the beach and sat in a chair while Peter had built sandcastles and played in the water, all under Rhodey’s close supervision.
Peter’s 10th birthday had come and gone, and he’d planned a whole day for them to spend together, including way too much cake and ice cream. All in all, it had gone really well. Now the weather had turned cold, Halloween fast approaching. Peter had started fifth grade, his last year of elementary school, and already Tony was trying to find the best high schools for him to apply for when the time came...not that he wanted to think about that.
He’d been a terror when he’d been a teenager...surely Peter wouldn’t be quite as bad. Right? He thought he was doing a pretty decent job of the whole ‘parenting’ thing. Maybe Peter’s teen years would be just as good as the first four had been.
Checking his wrist, he sighed when he saw the time. Just after four thirty. So Peter was home. Happy was in charge of getting Peter to and from school, a job his head of security grumbled about but would give up over his dead body. The man had stopped taking vacations during the school year, absolutely refusing to let another bodyguard or member of security drive Peter around the city. Peter called him Uncle Happy and everything. And Tony knew that on some Fridays, Uncle Happy took Peter out for ice cream, delivering the sugar-filled child to Tony a little later than usual. But Peter got out at 3. So either way. His son was home. And Tony needed to get out of the lab and feed him.
Peter was pretty good at feeding himself these days. Hell, he always had been. The boy could always put together a sandwich or grab some crackers to tide him over until Tony was done with his work, but he knew that the boy needed to eat more than most kids, so he tried to make sure a whole meal was available to him when he was home. “Jar? Where’s Peter?” Tony asked from the elevator, hands in his pockets as he thought about what they could eat. It was Friday...so maybe he’d order pizzas as a treat. Peter had been kind of down for the last few days, and he kept meaning to ask him about it...but time always seemed to get away from him, especially with his work on the new Stark Phone and Stark Watch, and Peter’s homework and sleepovers and time with friends.
He was going to have to do something about that. Try to balance things a little better.
“Peter is currently in his room.”
“Have him come to the kitchen,” he ordered, heading in there himself and pulling out the milk. Spooning some chocolate powder into an Avengers themed cup, he filled it with milk and stirred it all together.
“He is on his way.”
Once the milk was stirred, Tony grabbed a packet of veggies with dip, figuring Peter could have a healthy snack and then Pepper would more readily accept a dinner of pizza. Footsteps from behind had him glancing up, the smile that had automatically been on his face starting to drop when he caught sight of his son. Peter was still in his jeans and dinosaur t-shirt, hair mussed, but his face was too pale, eyes dull and tired looking. “Pete? Hey, buddy.”
Tony stepped forward, casting his mind back, trying to remember how Peter had looked that morning. Had he talked to Peter that morning? He remembered making him breakfast...omelettes and toast and sausage...and he remembered kissing his hair and...and working on the Stark Watch. “Come here, Pete,” he ordered softly, and the boy obeyed sluggishly. Once he reached him, Tony put his hands on the kid’s shoulders. “You’re trembling...do you feel okay?”
“I’m cold,” Peter murmured, and Tony pressed the back of his hand to his forehead, wincing at the heat he found there.
“Wow...that’s one hell of a fever, buddy. How long have you felt sick?”
Peter shrugged, dropping his eyes and, letting that slide, Tony grabbed the chocolate milk and led Peter into the living room, urging him to sit on the sofa. “Why don’t you drink this and I’ll grab the thermometer.” Listless, the boy nodded, taking a lackluster sip from the cup as Tony found the thermometer in the bathroom. He brought it out, sitting beside Peter and pressing it gently into his ear. Peter closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the sofa, and when Tony looked at the display, he winced at the number.
“Okay...um…” he faltered a little, putting the thermometer down on the coffee table. 102.6 was...high. But Peter hadn’t really been sick since coming to live with him. He’d had a cold or two...but nothing like this. “Has anybody at school been sick?”
The boy shrugged again, eyes closing and staying shut.
“Okay…” Tony swallowed hard, looking around the room as if anyone could help him. “Okay. Jarvis, is Peter’s doctor down in the medbay?”
“No sir, she is out of the country this week.”
“Great...fantastic,” he grumbled. “Alright, come on, Pete. Let’s get you changed into some pajamas, huh? Are you hungry?”
The boy shook his head and Tony slipped an arm under his knees, and another behind his back as he lifted him. Peter was probably too big to be lifted, but he’d always been small for his age, so Tony cradled him in his arms and held him close, carrying him into his bedroom as his heart pounded. Should he make the boy eat? What if this wasn’t just a cold?
“Think you can tell me what hurts?” Tony asked, setting him down on the bed and going to his drawer, hunting for pajamas with hands that shook.
“Everything...and I’m cold.”
“Okay...” Tony felt like a broken record, dropping Peter’s favorite Iron Man pajamas onto the bed. “Jarvis...is there anyone here that already knows about his mutation?”
“Doctor Banner is currently in his lab.”
“Yeah, okay. Yeah. Can you get him? Tell him that Peter is sick?” He turned back to the boy. “Alright, buddy, let’s get you changed.”
To his surprise, Peter didn’t argue when Tony helped him change into the pajamas. Usually he would have pushed Tony away, insisting he could do it himself. Now, however, Peter just let his dad put the new pajamas on him and ease him into the bed, pulling the blankets up to his shoulders.
“Dr. Banner is on his way.”
Tony sat on the edge of the boy’s bed, stroking his hair back and wondering how long Peter had been sick. Had he been sick that morning? Why hadn’t Peter told him? Why hadn’t he gone to the nurse? By the time Bruce appeared in Peter’s doorway, a black bag in hand, the kid was dozing. “Hey, Bruce...I’m sorry to bug you but Peter’s doctor isn’t here and he’s…” Tony swallowed hard, feeling like an idiot. Like a failure. “He’s sick. I didn’t know...he didn’t tell me but…”
“It’s fine,” Bruce soothed, voice soft as he glanced at Peter.
“He says everything hurts and his fever is 102.6 and...I know that’s too high but…”
“Why don’t you let me take a look at him? Think you could go make him some soup? That would probably make him feel better?”
Tony glanced at the boy again. Peter hadn’t moved, eyes shut, flushed face slack in sleep, and he felt his heart clench. “I didn’t notice. I’ve been so busy...and…”
“Tony,” Bruce murmured, dropping a hand on his shoulder. “The flu is going around. That’s probably what this is. He’s going to be fine.”
Nodding, Tony gave the boy one last long look before going into the kitchen to heat up a bowl of chicken noodle soup. While it was warming on the stovetop, Tony called Pepper, the words spilling out of his mouth as he tried to explain that Peter was sick and he didn’t know what was wrong and that the boy might have been sick that morning and that he was a failure of a father.
Once she’d managed to talk him down and promised to come right home, he poured the soup into a bowl and carried it into Peter’s room where Bruce seemed to be finishing up. “It’s the flu,” Bruce confirmed with a nod, and Tony sat the soup onto the bedside table, resting a hand on Peter’s forehead. The boy blinked at him, looking miserable. “It’s been going around, so he probably caught something at school.”
“But...with his mutation...he’s almost never sick,” Tony pointed out, sitting beside Peter, keeping his hand on his head. The boy felt too hot, and after only a few seconds his eyes shut once more.
“I’d say his body is better than most at fighting off viruses, so he’ll hopefully start feeling better in a couple of days. He has a sore throat and he told me that he’d been sick for the last two days, so his body has probably been trying to fight it off. He needs lots of fluids and rest, and you can give him tylenol to lower the fever. Make sure he stays hydrated.
Tony nodded, brushing Peter’s hair back from his forehead. The last two days. Peter had been feeling sick for two days. And he hadn’t said anything.
Once he’d managed to convince the boy to sit up, he held the soup, spooning it by the mouthful into the dozing child’s mouth. Once more, Peter just let him, not arguing that he was too big to be fed like a baby. Tony had never gotten to do this...hadn’t even known that he had a son when Peter would have been young enough to be fed like this. And as horrible as he felt about missing the signs that his son was sick, he relished the opportunity to feed him. To take care of him. He wasn’t sure how many of these opportunities he was going to get.
“Pete?” he asked, once the soup was gone and he’d swallowed some tylenol.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were sick, buddy?” Peter gave another listless shrug, but Tony couldn’t let it go. “Pete?”
“You were busy,” Peter mumbled, eyes downcast, and Tony swallowed hard, closing his eyes and wishing he could do the last week over. Wishing he could go back in time and find a different job...one that didn’t constantly keep him away from his son. But he couldn’t...he couldn’t do either of those things. So he just had to try and make sure it never happened again.
“Peter...” he murmured, brushing Peter’s hair back. “I know it seems like I’m really busy sometimes...and I am. I have a lot of work I have to do. But I’m never, ever too busy for you. Okay? Even if it seems like I am. If you’re sick, I always want you to tell me.”
To his horror, tears filled Peter’s eyes, spilling over his cheeks. “I don’t feel good,” the boy whispered, and Tony shifted so that he was sitting beside him on the bed, pulling him practically onto his lap and holding him close.
“I know...I know, baby. But you’re going to be okay, I promise. You’ll feel better soon.”
Peter sniffed, hiding his face in Tony’s shoulder. “Will you stay with me?”
“Of course I will. Of course. I’ll be right here. Why don’t you try to get some rest, huh? Pepper’s on her way, and we’ll both be here.” The boy nodded, reaching up to wipe his face with a clumsy fist, then slumping against Tony’s chest. “I love you, buddy. So much.”
“Love you too, Daddy.” It was a name that Peter used less and less, and Tony knew he was going to miss it. He was going to miss these days when Peter was small enough to hold. Small enough to be cuddled and to call him ‘Daddy’ and to wear Iron Man pajamas.
“Jarvis?” he asked as soon as he was sure the boy was asleep.
“Go through my daily tasks...get me a list of things that can be delegated. And create a posting for a new PA. Maybe two.”
This wasn’t going to happen again. He would be sure of it.