Chapter 1: The Beach
Tony stood in front of his liquor cabinet, eyes running over the various bottles contemplatively. It was fully stocked, bottle after bottle of various colored alcohol lined up and ready for the drinking. And it wasn't the lack of desire to drink that kept him from unlocking the brand new child-safety lock on the front of the cabinet. It wasn't the fact that it was only ten in the morning or the fact that Rhodey was set to come over. No. It was the six-year-old in the other room sitting silently in front of the TV, his breakfast of sugary cereal untouched.
There were plenty of pressing matters that needed his attention, not the least of which was the thing in his chest slowly poisoning him. He needed to fix it. Needed to come up with a solution, now more than ever, because now, for the first time, there was someone relying on him. A six-year-old boy named Peter whose mother's assistant had dropped him off a week ago, leading the boy up to Tony's front door, ringing the doorbell, and then driving off without so much as a word of explanation.
Tony had been alerted by JARVIS that morning, waking him from an alcohol-induced sleep to inform him that there was a child outside his front door.
"A what?" he'd snapped, sitting up from his workbench and staring longingly at the remnants of watery whiskey in a glass a few feet away before reaching instead for the bottle of disgusting green juice that would hopefully keep him alive a little longer…just long enough for him to figure this out.
"There is a child sitting outside your front door. A man dropped him off approximately twenty minutes ago, and I have been trying to rouse you. Unsuccessfully, I might add."
"Dropped him off?" Tony had asked, putting the bottle down and ignoring the sass. "What the hell do you mean, dropped him off? What man?" Jumping to his feet, he'd grabbed a tablet to bring up the view of his front door. While he had doubted his AI would choose now to start playing practical jokes, he had figured there was no reason not to double-check. And, just as JARVIS has said, there sat a little boy, a red backpack at his side, a folder in his hands. Tony hadn't been able to make out his face from the angle of the video, but that hadn't mattered. Throwing the tablet down, he'd raced to the front door and pulled it open, making the child jump, huge brown eyes snapping to his own.
"Uh…hey, kid." He had tried to sound casual, like this kind of thing happened fairly often. He was a superhero. Little kids looked up to him and he'd made a serious effort since becoming Iron Man to live up to that as much as he could, taking pictures with them and signing their drawings which were seriously cute anyway. He'd never gotten fan mail before, and it was pretty cool. Still, the little boy had only looked at him, seeming to contemplate running away rather than facing Tony. "You, uh, you okay?"
Tony had had the mother of all hangovers, a headache pounding in his temples, not to mention the constant reminder that the thing keeping him alive was also killing him, but he'd decided to prioritize. The little boy had looked familiar. Sort of. With his wide brown eyes and mop of messy brown hair, the kid had struck something in Tony's chest. Without a word, the boy had held out the folder, and Tony had only hesitated a second before taking it.
The kid hadn't answered, only dropped his eyes in something like embarrassment. So Tony had opened it, reading the letter on top of a stack of papers in stunned silence. The world had seemed to go blurry for a moment, but he'd gotten the gist. "Peter Anthony Fitzpatrick. Mary Fitzpatrick, SHIELD agent. Unable to care for him any longer. He's special." And then he'd moved to the second page. A paternity test. They'd gotten his DNA somehow and this kid, Peter, was his. Of course, he'd have another paternity test done. In the meantime, though, despite the roaring in his ears, he'd gone to the next page. A birth certificate. Then school records and immunization records. A passport with the little boy's face, solemn and still wide-eyed, staring back at him. Peter. Peter Anthony Fitzpatrick. His son.
And finally, the last page. A lab report. Tony had put a hand on the wall to stabilize himself at that part. A lab accident. A spider. Mutations.
Tony had taken a deep breath, looking back down at the boy who had just stared at him from his spot on the porch. According to his passport, he was from New York, and he had been dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt with science beakers on it. Despite everything, despite the fact that he'd wanted to call Mary Fitzpatrick and whoever had dropped the boy off and ask how the hell they'd thought it was okay to do this to a kid who was, according to his passport, still months away from being seven years old, he'd taken a deep breath, reminding himself that the kid, Peter, had been sitting outside for almost half an hour and was probably scared to death.
"Alright. Peter?" The boy had just stared at him, lips pressed together in a tight line, the expression making him look older than he was. "Hi. I'm Tony. Why don't you come in, huh?" He'd given the boy a few seconds to think about it before holding out a hand to help him up. The kid had flinched back, grabbing his backpack and standing, staring at the man's outstretched hand. "Woah…hey, I'm not going to hurt you, Peter."
"M'not supposed to." Peter had whispered, eyes downcast, arms close to his sides.
"Not supposed to what?"
"Touch. 'M sticky."
It had taken Tony a moment to figure out what the hell that meant before remembering the last paper. Lab accident. A spider. Mutations. "Sticky? Like a spider?" He'd been too surprised to censor himself, and he'd worried as soon as the words had come out of his mouth that he'd offend the kid, but Peter had only nodded. "That's cool." He'd blurted, and Peter had looked up at him again, eyes full of naked hope that had made Tony's chest ache for non-arc related reasons. "Seriously…you've got spider powers?"
Finally, the boy's lips had twitched into a little smile, and he'd nodded, but the smile faded just as quickly as it had come. "Mommy said not to show anyone. She said they'd hurt me."
Tony had flinched, holding out his hand again. "I won't hurt you. Promise. And we don't have to tell anyone. Why don't you come on in? Are you hungry?"
Peter had clammed up again, shaking his head and dropping his eyes, so Tony had just ushered him inside and over to the sofa. Despite saying he wasn't hungry, the boy had devoured the frozen waffles that Tony had thrown in the toaster and smothered in syrup, then curled up on the couch, staring at the wall until Tony had turned the TV on.
The next two days had been a flurry of activity…calling Pepper to get another paternity test done, convincing Peter to let him prick his finger and that he wasn't going to do anything to hurt him, and then getting the news. They were a match. This was his son. He'd put Peter in the guest room at first, surprised when the kid made himself as small and unobtrusive as possible, never speaking without being spoken to, watching TV quietly or looking at books that Tony bought for him. Then, as of the day before, he'd had an entire child's bedroom set up while Rhodey attempted to figure out where Mary Fitzpatrick was so that Tony could have a talk with her.
It wasn't that Tony didn't want Peter. He did! Of course he did. This was his son and he already loved the kid and was trying his best to connect with him while also being a barely recovering, dying alcoholic and the boy was obviously terrified of doing anything wrong despite being told that he was very welcome and that Tony was happy to have him. But Tony was dying. And he knew that there was a chance that he might not come up with a cure. So he needed to let the woman know all this before she went on a Shield mission to North Korea or whatever.
"Tones?" The sound of his friend's voice made him jump, and he turned to find Rhodey standing behind him, eying him with concern. "A little early for a drink, huh?"
Tony hadn't had a drink since the boy had come into his care. Hadn't dared. Not that Peter would have noticed. Peter kept to himself for the most part, never seeking him out for anything, and Tony wasn't sure how to feel about that.
"Is he here?" Rhodey asked when Tony didn't answer, and Tony nodded, gesturing to the other room. "Tony?"
"Any news on Mary?"
"Nothing." Rhodey sighed. "So…what are you going to do?"
"About…" Rhodey jerked his head toward the other room.
"He's staying with me until we get this figured out."
The surprised expression hurt a little, Tony would admit it. But it wasn't like he had the best track record. Still, he was doing his best. Rhodey seemed to realize what he'd done and turned a little sheepish. "I'm sure you're doing a great job with him."
"I'm not. He barely talks. Barely eats. I don't have a fucking clue what I'm doing, Rhodey but…god…you should have seen him. She didn't even bring him over herself. Some guy dropped him off on my porch and I was in the lab and…hell, I was asleep. I left him out there for almost half an hour and…"
"Tones." His best friend's voice was gentle as he put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey. It's going to be fine. He's probably just adjusting. This must be hard on him…but I'm sure you're doing great." Tony sighed, shaking his head. "Why don't we do something with him today? Get him out of the house?"
It was the last thing Tony wanted to do…spend even more time not trying to figure out how to save his own life, which had significantly higher stakes than before thanks to the addition of his son, but then he thought of Peter, how the boy had woken up early and sat in his room until Tony had let him out, like he was locked in or something. How his eyes had been red-rimmed and he'd sniffed, turning away when Tony went to touch him. He still wouldn't let Tony touch him. Still wouldn't talk about his mother or his powers or the lab accident or anything. Tony figured he was having nightmares. Either that or crying himself to sleep. He wasn't even seven years old yet. And his whole life had been turned upside down. Now Tony would have to be the one to fix it.
"How about the beach? We'll take a picnic. Then we can take him out for ice cream. All kids love ice cream, right?"
Tony hesitated, then nodded. "Yeah. That sounds…it sounds great, actually."
Peter watched him enter the room, and Tony noticed that barely any of his cereal had been eaten. He had dark circles under his eyes, and Tony couldn't help noticing the way Peter curled up under a blanket like he was scared. Brushing that thought away, he went for a smile. "Hey, Pete. There's someone here I want you to meet."
Rhodey entered the room as if he'd been cued and smiled at Peter. "Hi, Peter. I'm Jim Rhodes. I'm…"
"Your uncle." Tony interrupted.
"Hi," Peter whispered, looking uncertainly between the two men. Rhodey knelt in front of him.
"It's good to meet you, Peter. Your dad's told me a lot about you."
They hadn't really discussed the whole "dad" thing. Tony had been so busy trying to figure out what to do with this kid and Peter never addresses him as anything, much less 'dad.' He wondered if they should. Maybe he'd dropped the ball on that.
"Nice to meet you." Peter responded, obviously on autopilot."
"We were thinking about heading down to the beach. What do you think, kiddo? You ever seen the ocean?" Tony wondered, and for the first time since he'd complimented Peter's spider-powers, the boy's face lit up and he shook his head.
"No…just out the window."
Rhodey grinned. "Well, why don't you get changed and we can go see it together."
Peter looked at Tony, unsure but hopefully, and Tony nodded with what he hoped was a friendly smile. "There are swim trunks in the bottom drawer."
With only one last hesitant look, Peter jumped up and hurried to his room while Rhodey followed Tony to his own bedroom where he pulled out his own swim trunks and threw an extra pair to Rhodes.
"It's only been a week, right?"
"Just barely," Tony confirmed.
"Well, I'd say you're doing pretty good."
"He looks like he hasn't slept all week. And I have no idea how to talk to him."
"You'll get the hang of it," Rhodey promised, pure confidence in his voice as Tony headed to the bathroom to change. "Have you taken him down to the lab yet?"
Tony paused at that, turning around and frowning as the red swim trunks hang from a finger. "The lab? Rhodey, he's six."
"And how old were you when you built your first robot? He's your son, Tony. He probably inherited some of those brains you're always bragging about."
Tony considered it as he got changed, staring at his face in the mirror for a moment once he'd put his shirt back on. He hadn't really looked at Peter's school records. It was May, and school wouldn't start again for another few months. The boy would be going into second grade, and Tony had planned on putting him in private school regardless of how smart he was. But maybe the kid would like playing in the lab. He could do what his father never did…set up some things for Peter to play with. Do some experiments. Introduce him to Dum-E and see if the boy wanted to know how the robot worked.
He found Peter and Rhodey both in the living room, with Peter carefully rubbing sunscreen over his arms, meticulously making sure to only get it on his skin. Rhodey, on the other hand, dripped onto Tony's carpet, and he had to chuckle as he joined them, putting his own sunscreen on. Peter was definitely on the thin side, with ribs that showed through his skin, but he was also wiry…muscles shown through his upper arms and Tony wondered just what kind of mutation the boy had. They hadn't really discussed it…hadn't discussed anything. But he made a mental note to try. He didn't want the kid to feel like a lab rat, but it was important that he knew everything if Peter was going to stay with him. At least, for however long he had. If he couldn't find his mother, then he would find someone else to care for the boy. Rhodey, probably.
They piled in the car, Peter wearing a shirt and flip flops and Rhodey carrying a beach bag while Tony carried the cooler, then Tony drove them down to the private beach at the bottom of the hill. They could have walked, but he didn't really want to carry everything, and he figured Peter would be too tired by the end of the day to walk back up the hill.
When they arrived, Peter was the last to climb out of the car, standing unsure on the asphalt right at the edge of the beach while Tony and Rhodey grabbed the cooler and the beach bag. "Come on, squirt. Let's go pick a spot." Rhodey called, gesturing to the umbrellas which had been stuck in the sand and which the groundskeeper always put away when there was a chance of high wind or storms. Hesitantly, Peter followed them, and Rhodey chose a spot close to the water, dropping the cooler between two umbrellas in his and Tony's usual place.
Still, Peter was quiet, just staring at the ocean with an unreadable expression. Fear, Tony wondered. Or wonder or awe…the little boy was oddly quiet for a nearly seven-year-old, but Tony wasn't sure if that was because he was naturally introverted or because he was scared. Scared to be living with a stranger and scared to be away from his mother and the life he'd known. Scared of the weird powers that his mom hadn't let him talk about or show lest someone hurt him.
Tony laid out three towels, two close together under one umbrella and one under the other for Rhodey. The waves over the ocean beat methodically against the sand, and almost as if unaware of his own actions, Peter began to walk toward it, shirt still on. Tony threw his off while Rhodey sat down on his towel, laying back and pulling a mystery novel out of the beach bag. Tony snorted, rolling his eyes and biting back a comment about his friend being thirty-eight going on ninety, figuring that he'd better keep a close eye on Peter.
But the boy stopped just short of the water, watching it with a cocked head, then knelt down to pick something up. Probably a shell. Torn between joining Peter and giving him some space, he searched his mind, trying to figure out what you did with kids at the beach. According to his own memories, nothing. You sat on a towel with your wife and let your kid do whatever the hell he wanted, then yelled at him if he got too close and dripped water or sand on you. You shoved his hand away when he tried to show you a crab or cool shell you'd found. But, Tony reminded himself, he wasn't Howard.
So he chucked his shirt in the sand by his towel, kicked his sandals off, and padded over to the boy crouching on the sand. "What did you find?" He asked, raising his voice a little over the roaring of the waves. Peter hesitated before holding up a shell, and Tony crouched beside him, wincing a little when it made his knees ache. "Cool."
The boy opened his mouth then closed it, eyes finding the sand once more, and Tony wondered what he could say…how he could convince Peter to open up to him, just a little. Then an idea came to him.
"You want to keep it?"
Peter jumped a little like he'd forgotten Tony was there, then stared down at his shell. "I…I can?"
"Sure. Let's find some more."
So for an hour, he followed the suddenly energetic kid up and down the beach, the two of them getting their feet and legs wet when the waves would catch them off guard, building up a collection of seven shells. Peter was apparently very discerning when it came to his new shell collection, only keeping the ones in perfect condition that spoke to him on a level that Tony couldn't understand. Still, the kid was talking to him! And yeah, they were just talking about shells, but it was something.
By the time the hour had passed, the sun was crawling upwards into the sky, and they headed back to their towels where Rhodey was pulling out sandwiches and bottles of water and juice. Peter practically inhaled his, and Tony felt something in him unclench just a little. It was working. He was talking to the kid and feeding him and Peter was having fun. He was doing it. He was being a father to his kid.
Rhodey asked Peter about his new collection, bless him, and, unbeknownst to Tony, each shell had a very specific backstory. So Tony sat back, listening to Peter teach Rhodey all about them while they ate sandwiches, watching the waves come up on the shore…and that's when an idea hit him.
They waited the required thirty minutes after eating to enact Tony's plan, spending the time building a sandcastle to protect Peter's shells. But once the time had passed, Tony stood, holding a hand out to Peter. The boy looked at it for a moment, unsure, but Tony kept his face open. "C'mon, kiddo. I want to show you something." He urged. So, in the biggest display of trust Peter had shown since arriving at his house, he took Tony's hand.
Peter's hand wasn't sticky, exactly, but there was something just a little off about it. His grip was strong as his tiny hand fit into Tony's perfectly, letting the man pull him to his feet. Tony led Peter toward the ocean, far enough away from Rhodey that the man wouldn't hear, before speaking. "You don't feel sticky." He told Peter with a little smile that he hoped the kid took as lighthearted. The boy hesitated, then something changed. The hand was no longer just holding his. It was superglued.
"Woah." Tony looked down at their joined hands in surprise. "And you can just change it?"
Peter gave a slow nod. "I can stick if I want to…but sometimes…sometimes I can't make it stop. If I'm…Mom said it was when I was upset."
The thought of the situation that must have led to that particular realization made Tony's heart clenched, and he squeezed Peter's hand gently. "Can you unstick it now if you want to?"
As the words finished leaving his mouth, Peter's hand went back to just holding his, and Tony chuckled. "That's pretty cool, kiddo. Might come in handy someday."
"Really?" Peter asked, looking up at Tony trustingly. Hopefully.
"Yeah. I bet it will. But in the meantime, can you swim?"
"Um, yes." Peter gave the ocean another look, this time more frightened than anything, and Tony squeezed his hand a little harder.
"I thought we'd give it a try. Don't worry. I won't let you go. You can stick to me if you want."
And, surprisingly, Peter just nodded, seeming to place all his trust in Tony as the two stepped into the water. It wasn't too cold, especially after a morning spent in the sun, and Tony made sure to brace the boy, not letting the waves knock him down. As they moved forward, it wasn't long until the water was up to Peter's chest, and without even giving it much thought, Tony did what he'd always wanted his father to do. He knelt down, pulling Peter close, then hoisted the boy onto his shoulders.
The delighted laugh took Tony by surprise as the boy who barely weighed anything gripped his head, but it only took a second for him to get his balance, and Tony waded further into the ocean, smiling as the boy on his shoulders laughed. He jumped whenever a wave came, bouncing the boy, and sticky hands gripped the sides of his head. One particular wave was higher than the others, and Peter leaped from his shoulders into it with all the reckless abandon of a boy who knew his father would save him if he needed it. But it turned out, Peter could swim like a little fish.
Tony started to reach out for him, not wanting the kid to float away, but Peter kicked his legs and righted himself easily, looking up at Tony with a smile Tony had never seen on the boy's face before. So he laughed, reaching out for Peter, then tossing him in the air just as another wave came by. The boy came up laughing, practically screaming in delight.
"Again!" He begged, reaching out his arms that Tony caught easily, pulling Peter upright once more before tossing him gently in the air to be caught by the water.
It took quite a few throws, but Peter was finally tired out from playing in the water, and Tony swung him into his arms, pressing a kiss to the side of his hair before his brain caught up with his actions. He froze for a moment, hoping Peter didn't pull away or ask what he was doing or worse, ask to be put down.
But Peter did none of these things. Instead, he laid his head on Tony's shoulder, letting out a long breath and shivering a little.
"You tired, kiddo?"
The boy nodded against his shoulder, and Tony tightened his arm around him as he carried him back to the shore. Rhodey was openly watching them, his book sitting on the sand next to him. His friend was quiet as Tony sat down on his towel, the slight incline allowing him to sit up a little and rest his head on the balled up shirt he'd dropped earlier, and Peter lay on his chest. Tony reached out, grabbing Peter's towel and, making sure the non-sandy side was the one to touch the boy's skin, he wrapped it around him. The sun hit everything from his neck down, despite the umbrella, and he wrapped his arms around Peter, moving the towel until it shaded his eyes.
The boy in his arms didn't stir, just rested his head against Tony's chest and sighed softly in his sleep. It had only taken him the walk back from the ocean to drop off, and Tony found himself pressing his lips to the boy's hair once more, rubbing slow, gentle circles on his back. His friend watched a small smile on his face as he pulled out his phone and held it up for Tony to see the screen. Using his thumb to scroll through pictures, he showed Tony the several photos he'd taken of the two of them playing in the ocean, and Tony grinned, squeezing the boy a little harder. His boy. This was his boy. His son. And he loved him like he'd never thought he'd be able to love anyone.
"Think he's too tired for ice cream?" Rhodey asked as Peter's breathing evened out, and Tony wondered how long it had been since the boy had slept comfortably, without tears or nightmares. Had he known that his mother was going to leave him with a stranger? Had he known anything about Tony before she'd had a random guy drop the boy off on Tony's doorstep? Had he been scared?
"Nah. Give him half an hour and he'll be ready for some sugar," Tony predicted. Then, laying his head back, he closed his eyes and started on his problem again. The arc reactor, the thing slowly poisoning him, needed to be dealt with. As soon as possible. No way he was leaving his son without a father.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 2: Lost
Previously published at a Febuwhump prompt.
Tony ran a hand over his face and tried not to groan out loud. Again. The boy stuck to his hand was already tense enough, and there was no reason to make him feel worse. He should have listened to Rhodey, he thought, and bought all his Christmas gifts online like a normal person. Or made them. But after all he'd gone through to fix the arc reactor and how freaked out Peter had been...how lucky he'd been that Peter hadn't been at the Malibu house when it had been attacked...well, he'd been trying to make up for all of it.
He'd maybe put Peter off on Pepper and Rhodey too often. Tony knew it had been a whirlwind for the boy, first being abandoned by his mother and dropped off outside his unknown father's house across the country, then to have that father tell him that he had to stay with other people while he...well, he hadn't given the boy much of an explanation, only that he had a lot of work to do.
Peter hadn't seemed angry with him. In fact, the boy had always been happy to see him when he'd managed to spend time with him over the last few weeks, but Tony felt bad. He knew that Peter didn't trust anyone as much as he trusted his father, and that Peter didn't even fully trust him. He wouldn't show anyone else his powers, and according to Pepper, he barely spoke to her when he stayed with her. Rhodey said the same thing, as did Natasha, who had been his babysitter once or twice. He hired a real nanny for Peter when he had to, and according to her, he didn't speak to her at all.
But that was all over now. Tony had figured out how to save his own life thanks to his father's research, and he'd brought Peter to New York, the two of them moving into the penthouse of his tower with the promise of frequent trips back to Malibu and the beach that Peter had started to love. Back in New York, Tony put Peter back in his old school...he'd only gone to first grade there but the boy had already made friends with another little boy named Ned.
So, Tony thought as he gripped Peter's hand, things seemed to be going okay. Peter liked his school, and second grade seemed to be going well. Pepper had been coming by more and more, practically moving into the tower, which Peter was cautiously happy about. He'd even started calling Tony 'Dad.' And now that he got a few days off school for winter break, Tony had decided to take him Christmas shopping, a decision he was regretting more and more every moment.
A woman chatting on the phone came too close, knocking into Peter, and the boy pressed himself to Tony as the woman moved on without seeming to notice. Tony turned his body a little, wrapping an arm around Peter and holding him close, glaring at the retreating woman. They were in a department store in the mall where he'd hoped to find Pepper something nice, and he'd thought bringing Peter along would be a fun outing for the two of them.
He'd been wrong.
Peter tugged on his hand a little, and he looked down to find the boy reaching up for him. He knew that Peter was probably too old to be carried around, but he couldn't help his smile as he reached down and swung the boy into his arms, then let him sit on his shoulders. "Better?" He asked, patting Peter's knee, and the boy hugged his head.
"Yeah. Why's it so busy?"
"It's almost Christmas." Tony thought about asking Peter what he'd gotten for Christmas in years past, but then he remembered how the boy had come to him...with nothing more than a backpack with a few spare outfits and an extra pair of shoes. Any Christmas presents he'd ever gotten would have been left behind. With his mother. Who the boy refused to speak about, even with Tony.
Instead, he chose a different conversation topic. "So, what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?"
The boy snorted. "Santa isn't real, dad." He told Tony, heels kicking against his father's arms. "Mom said...I mean, everyone knows he's just a story."
"Everyone, huh?" Tony squeezed his ankle and smiled when the boy giggled. "You haven't been telling other kids at school that, right?"
"No." Peter sounded offended, foot squirming until Tony let go. "That wouldn't be nice."
"It wouldn't." Tony agreed. He moved over to a display of sweaters, moving them one by one until he found one in Pepper's size. "What do you think?"
"I like blue better." Pet told him, leaning forward and resting his chin on Tony's head, and Tony chuckled.
"Maybe not a sweater." He put the sweater back and headed over to the jewelry section. "So, what do you want me to bring you for Christmas?" He wondered. To his surprise, the boy on his shoulders was silent, and he had to pause when a group of teenage girls came rushing by. "How about...some new underwear?" He asked, and the boy on his shoulders giggled. "Or...socks." He squeezed Peter's toes and the boy laughed again.
He was getting a couple of strange looks, or maybe people were just realizing that Tony Stark was shopping with a child on his shoulders. Either way, he focused on Peter instead as he carefully navigated all the people packed together like sardines. Rhodey had warned him not to go shopping this close to Christmas.
"But it'll be fun for Peter." He'd said. Like an idiot.
"So what would you like for Christmas?" It was kind of a pointless question. He'd already gotten the kid plenty of stuff. Still, if there was something else Peter wanted, he'd totally find a way to get it, even if it meant braving the shops again...or more likely, sending Happy to brave them.
"I...I don't need anything." The boy's voice was barely a murmur, and Tony had to strain to hear him as they moved into the jewelry department.
He furrowed his eyebrow, looking up at the boy but unable to see Peter's face from that angle. So, once he managed to get to a somewhat empty area of the store, he reached up, gripping Peter under his arms, and eased the newly seven-year-old onto the ground. Peter refused to meet his eyes, staring at the ground until Tony reached out, hooking a finger under the boy's chin. "Pete?" He asked, tapping Peter's cheek. "What's up, buddy?"
"I don't need anything for Christmas."
"Okay. It's not about needing something. It's about wanting something. Like when I got you presents for your birthday. Remember? The LEGOs and the Iron Man shirt you wanted?"
Peter nodded, still not looking at him in the eye, and Tony got an idea.
"Hey, how about we take a break from shopping and get a snack, huh? There's a place that sells cookies."
The boy's eyes lit up a little, and Tony smiled. "Really?" He asked. "Before dinner?"
"That's right. Just don't tell Pepper." He reached out, and Peter placed his little hand in Tony's, making it stick firmly. "Come on." And, once he got him a cookie, he'd find out what was going on in his little boy's head.
They reached the packed food court, and Tony noticed the boy's eyes drooping, his head resting against Tony's side. They had been shopping for almost two hours. It was no wonder the kid was tired. So Tony pointed to one of the only empty tables. "How about you sit for a while, buddy? I'll be right back, okay? What kind of cookie do you want?"
"Sure thing." Tony ruffled his hair, then headed over to the little food stand, ordering four chocolate chip cookies. When he glanced back at the table, he found that he was unable to see it...too many people were packed around them. So, grabbing the bag of cookies, Tony turned and hurried back to the table, only for his heart to drop, the bag of cookies falling from his hand.
The table was empty.
"Peter?" He asked, his voice failing him and he began to turn in circles, looking for the little boy. Surely he was at a different table. Tony must be panicking for nothing. There was no way he'd just lost his kid. "Pete?"
No one at the surrounding tables even looked up until he frantically started approaching them. "Woah...are you…". One of the teenagers at the table next to his started to ask, but he waved the question away.
"There was a little boy at this table. Seven years old. About this tall." He held up a hand. "Did you see him?"
The teenager shook his head, but one of the only two girls, both of whom had bright pink hair, nodded. "Yeah. A guy came over...I thought it was his dad or something. The little boy went with him." She pointed a finger toward the exit. "They went that way."
Tony felt his heart stop but it didn't matter.
He was running before he was really aware of it, gasping for air that wouldn't come. "Peter!" He cried, practically shoving people aside to get to the door. "Peter! Pete!" It wasn't long before people were staring, but he didn't care. "Someone took my kid!"
That got people's attention, and several people stopped what they were doing, moving quickly out of his way and looking around.
"He's seven." Tony told the crowd, stopping only for long enough to explain. "Small, brown hair, brown eyes."
He looked around frantically as he took off once more. There were too many people. Too much noise.
Tony grabbed his sunglasses out of his pocket. JARVIS wasn't quite as good pocket-sized but it would have to do. "Jar, find Peter. Now." He ordered, breathless. From the second day Tony had had Peter, he'd make the boy JARVIS's number one priority, and his AI was equipped to hack into literally anything to find him.
In the lenses on his glasses, he watched as the AI began to search, looking around the room and past all the concerned people. Peter wouldn't have just walked off with someone unless there was a good reason to, and Tony couldn't think of a single good reason to. He was just about to pull out his phone and call Natasha and Rhodey when JARVIS spoke in his ear.
"Sir, I found him."
Tony paused, hand frozen halfway to the door, when security footage appeared in a box in his sunglasses. A woman coming into the mall stumbled to a stop, then pulled the door open and walked around him. In the box, grainy security footage showered a man kneeling beside Peter, and the boy looked up at him, face obscured by the man. Then Peter stood up and the man gripped his shoulder and the two headed straight for the door, Peter's grainy form looking back at the direction where Tony knew he had been buying cookies.
The video footage switched and then they were walking out the door, and Tony threw the door open, slipping past a group of older teenagers who barely gave him a second glance. There were cameras in the parking lot but if that man made Peter get into a car…
"Sir, I think you should take a look at this."
Tony stopped his frantic search of the parking lot to focus on the footage. On the screen, Peter was following the man to a car, and Tony was about to try and get the license plate when his jaw dropped.
Peter grabbed the man's arm, and he must have squeezed hard because the man's knees buckled, and Peter pulled back a little fist, slamming it into the man's head which he could barely reach. Then the man went down, and Peter raced out of frame. His kid was strong...how had Tony forgotten that? Strong and so smart and Tony had to find him. JARVIS showed a map of the building, using a little dot to represent Peter, and Tony raced toward it, but came to a screeching halt when the map led him to the outside of the building. There was no door...no windows…
"Jar, did Peter go back inside?"
"No, sir. I believe you might want to look up."
Tony did, shivering a little in the cold and squinting his eyes against the dark. "Peter!" He hissed, not wanting to risk using his phone as a flashlight when people might see the kid. "Pete! It's me, buddy. It's Dad. Are you up there?"
There was a soft sniff, and he closed his eyes, heart clenching. Why had he left the boy alone? Even for a second?
"Come on, Pete. Come down. Please. It's just me."
There was shuffling overhead, and lowly a figure came crawling down. Tony waited until Peter was within reach to hold his arms out, and the shaking boy practically jumped into them, sniffing quietly as he buried his face in Tony's shoulder. He held the boy tight, rocking him back and forth and breathing him in, nose pressed to Peter's hair.
"It's okay. I've got you, buddy. I'm right here." Soon his shoulder was wet, and Tony realized it was maybe the second time he'd actually seen Peter cry. That only made it hurt worse. This was Tony's fault. "I'm so sorry, Peter. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have left you. I'm so sorry."
Without expecting an answer from the boy, he hurried back to the car, tapping a message to Happy on his phone with one hand and carrying Peter with the other. Peter clung to his neck, hands sticking to his shirt, and Tony knew he wouldn't fall. Still, he was kind of heavy, and Tony pulled the passenger side door open and sat down, placing Peter on his lap and shutting the door.
"I...I hit him...I'm sorry…". Peter sobbed, but Tony shook his head.
"No, baby...you don't have to be sorry. You did such a good job. You can always fight back if someone wants to hurt you."
"But...I'm not supposed to let...to let anyone...know…"
"It's okay. I'm not mad, buddy. You did good. Hey…". He put a hand on the side of Peter's face and pulled away just a little to look him in the eye. The light in the car was dim, but it was enough to make out his little boy's tear stained face. "Look at me, Pete. I'm not upset. I won't let anyone find out who you are...I'll protect you. From now on, we'll have Happy come with us, okay?"
The boy gave a hesitant nod.
"Can you tell me what he said? Why you went with him?"
Peter sniffed again, lowering his eyes. "I know I wasn't supposed to."
"It's okay, Pete. You aren't in trouble."
"He said...he said he knew that I was your son and that if I didn't go with him...he'd...he'd kill you."
Tony clenched his jaw, doing his best to keep himself from scowling lest Peter think he was angry with him.
"But then, when we were outside I knew he was going to take me away and I didn't want to…"
"You did so good, buddy. I'm so glad you got away." He whispered, pulling Peter close and pressing his lips to his hair. "Happy is on his way. He's going to make sure that man doesn't ever come near you again, okay?"
The boy gave a hesitant nod, and Tony ruffled his hair.
"Why don't we go home? We can bake our own cookies, okay?"
"You can bake cookies?" Peter asked, and Tony had to laugh despite the adrenaline still rushing through his veins.
"Yeah, I think we can figure it out. What do you say? Want to learn together?"
Peter gave a hesitant smile, bringing up a fist to wipe his eyes. Tony sat with him there, waiting for Happy to arrive. JARVIS had the man's identity, and the would-be kidnapper was still out cold, but he wanted to keep an eye out, just to make sure. Peter stayed in his lap, head resting on his shoulder, and Tony kept his arms around him, one hand rubbing his back.
"Dad?" He whispered after a while, and Tony's hand stopped making circles on the boy's back for a moment.
"Did...did you want me?"
The question took Tony aback, and he blinked down at Peter for a moment before pulling away just enough to try and get a look at the boy's face. Peter wouldn't look at him, though, and Tony thought maybe he'd be more willing to talk if he didn't force him. "Peter...of course I want you. I've wanted you from the moment I knew who you were. If I had known before...if your mom had told me about you, I would have asked to know you sooner." He thought that was true. Hoped that was true. Even in his crazy party days, surely he would have wanted to know his son. "Why would you ask that?"
"There was...this...this boy at school and...and he said that...that you only bothered with me because my mom didn't want me and…". He sniffed a little against Tony's chest but didn't cry. Tony pulled him closer in a hug, jaw clenching in anger for the second time that night, but he forced himself to stay quiet and listen. "And...I...I miss my mom but I don't want to leave you and…"
"Oh, Pete." He murmured, kissing his hair once more. "I don't know who that kid is, but he's wrong. Listen to me, okay?" He touched Peter's cheek and the boy met his eyes with his own red-rimmed ones. How long had Peter been worrying about this? Who was this little asshole that had said that to his kid? "I love you. You're my son and I love you so much. I don't ever want you to leave. If your mom does come back, then we'll work something out, okay? I promise. You don't have to worry about me not wanting you. Not ever."
Sometimes, Tony almost forgot how young his son was, just like he forgot how strong he was. But then Peter would look at him with his big, frightened eyes, saying something like that, and it would hit Tony all over. He took Peter's hand, letting the boy stick to him, and nodded. "I promise."
Chapter 3: Fever
Peter knew that people got sick sometimes. When the spider had bitten him, before he'd gotten his powers, he'd gotten really, really sick. So sick his mom had cried. She'd sat by his bed and rubbed his back, holding his hand and telling him that everything was going to be okay. And before that Peter had gotten sick, but...less sick. His nose would get stuffy or his stomach would hurt. His mom would make him soup and let him lay on the sofa and watch cartoons. And then, after a day or two days or a week, he would feel better.
Peter even knew that grown ups got sick. His mom has gotten stomachaches and stuffy noses too, even though she'd almost always gone to work anyway. She told him that her job was very important and that she was in charge of helping people. Sometimes, she would lay down on the sofa and watch TV and he would bring her a glass of water. Then she would ruffle his hair and kiss his cheek and tell him that he was her best boy. When Peter was sick, though, he stayed home from school with a babysitter or his mom's friend May.
So he shouldn't have been too worried when his dad got sick. He knew that. He knew that there was nothing to cry about, that he was seven now and that he was too big to be so scared of something so silly. But he was. Even more scared than when that man had made him go with him...the man who had wanted to hurt his dad. At least then he'd been able to fight back and then hide. He couldn't do anything about this except stand in the doorway and listen to his dad cough and watch Pepper go back and forth between his room and her office, keeping an eye on him.
Peter hid from her whenever she walked by, ducking into his own bedroom and sometimes crawling under the bed. What if his dad didn't get better? What if his mom came back? He missed his mom so much but she'd left him and what if she came back and took him somewhere else and he never saw his dad again? He tried not to think about his mom very much.
His dad had started feeling sick the day before. Peter had been able to hear the difference in his voice, and how he kept clearing his throat. Usually, his dad made him a snack after school, and then he would bring Peter down to the lab to do homework while the older man worked. Some days, he would even let Peter watch him do experiments and, on the most special days, help a little. But yesterday, he'd kept rubbing a hand over his forehead, not really seeming to get any work done, and Peter's snack had been an apple. Not even a sliced apple. Just an apple.
That night, his dad had gone to bed early, and Pepper had been the one to tuck him in. He'd turned his head away from her when she'd gone to kiss his forehead, not wanting to be mean…just scared. He wanted his dad. His dad was always the one to tuck him in. At first, he hadn't been any good at it, just hanging back and clasping his hands together after pulling Peter's covers up. The next night, he'd hesitantly asked if Peter wanted him to read a bedtime story, but, too afraid to say yes, he'd just shaken his head.
The next night, his dad had read one without asking.
That was their routine now. But then his dad had gotten sick and Pepper promised that he was fine, that he just needed some rest. But Peter was still scared. Pepper wasn't his mom. Sometimes sick people died. His mom had told him that. And sometimes they made other people sick, and they both died! Sometimes really sick people went to sleep and never woke up.
What if his dad did that?
Peter waited until Pepper went back to her office to get out from under his bed. He tiptoed out of his bedroom, then into the hallway, listening for Pepper. What if she made him leave? What if his dad died and she didn't want him and no one wanted him?
His mom had called him a freak.
Not to his face. Never to his face. But he'd heard her in the other room right after he'd gotten his powers, tears in her voice. "And now my son is a wall climbing...freak!"
He didn't know if it was something she'd said on accident because she was upset, or something she really thought. He didn't think he wanted to know. She had always gotten upset when he accidentally used his powers, like when he hugged her when he was sad and couldn't let go. It hadn't been too long after that first time that she'd started flinching away any time he went to hug her, whether he was happy or sad.
His dad still hugged him. He didn't mind when Peter stuck to him. Peter couldn't lose his dad.
He snuck into the bedroom, taking to the walls and crawling into the corner. Peter just wanted to keep an eye on him. He just wanted to listen to him breathe. His dad was asleep anyway, so he wouldn't mind. Curling up in the corner of the room, back against the ceiling, Peter closed his eyes and just listened to his dad's heart beat for a long time.
The cry woke him, and Peter jumped, nearly letting go of the wall. His dad had said a bad word...and he was sitting up in bed, staring at him. "Peter?" He asked, rubbing his eyes. "What are you doing, kidddo?" His dad's voice was scratchy and it sounded like it hurt, but he was awake and he was still alive.
Peter shrugged in response to his question, unwilling to talk about it. Not wanting to put a voice to his dread. His dad looked really worried, though, and he wondered if, like his mom, his dad didn't like him when he was climbing walls. "Do I have to come down?" He asked in a shaky whisper, eyes downcast, and his dad sat up a little more, leaning against the headboard.
"No...not if you don't want to. Are you okay?"
Peter's lip wobbled even as he nodded, and he tried to swallow back his tears. When he got upset it was harder to control his powers, and when it was harder to control his powers, his mom got upset.
"Can you tell me what's wrong?"
He shook his head again, turning his face away from his dad just in case a tear did escape. His dad would think he was a baby. He would say he was being dumb. He would think he was a freak, just like his mom. But as the tears started to fall, his hands stuck even more firmly, and he couldn't make them let go. A sob burst out then as he tugged on his hands, eyes shut tight so he didn't have to see his dad.
"Woah...hey, buddy, what's wrong? Peter?"
And then his dad climbed out of bed, grabbing a chair and dragging it over to the wall, climbing up and biting back a cough. Peter wanted to tell him that he was supposed to stay in bed...that he was sick and he could die and then Peter would be alone. Again. Like when his mom had put him in a car with her assistant who had dropped him off on his dad's porch and driven off.
His dad stood on the chair, not grabbing him like Peter had thought he would, but reaching out and touching his cheek. "What's wrong, kiddo? What happened?"
"You...you're sick." Peter whispered, not meeting his eyes. It was dumb. What a babyish thing to cry about. But his dad only cupped his cheek in his palm.
"It's just a little cold, Pete. I'll be fine in a day or two." He tapped Peter's chin, trying to turn his face, but Peter refused.
"Mom said...she said sick people can die."
"Well...they can, buddy, but not of a cold. People only die when they're really sick. I'm just a little sick."
Peter did open his eyes then, meeting his father's with a sniff. "Promise?"
"I promise, Pete. Here. You want to come sit with me?"
His dad had barely gotten the words out before Peter's hand unstuck themselves and he flew into the man's arms, face burrowed into his shoulder, hands stuck to his back. Carefully his dad climbed down, and he tensed, hoping the man didn't ask him to let go.
He didn't, just rubbed Peter's back and carried him to the bed, sitting down and pulling the covers over both of them.
"I'm sorry I climbed the wall." He whispered, tears still falling and soaking his dad's shirt.
"Honey, you don't have to be sorry. I think it's really cool that you can climb walls." That only made Peter's tears fall harder, and his dad tightened his arms, his body just a little too warm.
"Mom got mad."
His dad stiffened then. "She did?" Peter nodded. "Well, I won't get mad. I promise. You can climb as much as you want...and you can stick to me whenever you want. I don't mind."
Peter felt his dad press a kiss to his hair and the tension seemed to melt out of his body, leaving him limp on his father who began to scoot down, pulling the blankets up and laying his head on the pillow.
"Why don't we take a nap, little spider? Then we'll have some lunch."
Giggling at the nickname, Peter closed his eyes and fell asleep to the sound of his dad's heartbeat.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 4: Unfortunate
Uncle Rhodey picked Peter up on Fridays. It had been their tradition ever since their house had gotten blown up and his dad had moved the both of them, along with Pepper, to New York almost a year ago. It was so weird to think that it had been a year. A full year since he'd seen his mom. A full year since he'd met his dad. A year was practically forever, and some days he found it difficult to remember exactly what she looked like. He didn't have any pictures of her, and when he'd gotten up the courage to ask his dad if he did, the man had pulled him into his lap and shaken his head.
"I don't. I'm sorry buddy. I can try and get one if you want." He'd offered, and Peter had looped an arm around his dad's neck, sticking his hand to the back of his shirt and resting his head on his shoulder.
"That's okay." His dad had only been back from his trip for a while, and although Peter didn't know what he'd been doing on his trip or why he and Uncle Rhodey had fought, he knew that they were okay now, and that he liked his school and his new best friend Ned. The tower wasn't the same as their house on the beach, but it was still really nice, and his dad had promised to take him back to the beach soon.
Deep in his heart, he hoped he never had to go with his mom again, and at the same time, he wished desperately that she'd come back for him. It had taken him almost a year to ask his dad the question he'd been secretly pondering ever since his mom had told him what was going to happen...that he was going to be sent to live with his father while she...did something. That part had never been clear.
Only about a month ago, after a really bad nightmare that had left him crawling into his dad's bed, Peter had finally asked.
His dad had woken up with a start, looking down at him and lifting the covers without hesitation. "Hey, buddy. What's the matter?"
Peter had only closed his eyes, trying to hide his face in his dad's chest as he'd sobbed. Rubbing his back, his dad had rocked him back and forth, shushing him gently and kissing the top of his head. "Shh...it's okay. It was just a nightmare. Just a dream. It's alright, Spiderling."
"Is it my fault?" He'd choked out.
"Is what your fault?"
"That she stopped loving me?"
His father had gone so quiet, nearly crushing Peter to his chest and kissing his hair once more. "No...no, baby. None of this was your fault. I promise. I don't think she stopped loving you. But no matter what, I love you. So much. Okay? I love you." He'd pulled away, touching the side of Peter's face. "I don't know why your mother left you here. But...I'm so, so glad I got to meet you."
Peter had dropped his head onto his dad's pillow, closing his eyes, and his dad had pulled the blankets up to his chin. "Get some sleep, kiddo."
And in the morning, his dad had made him pancakes and asked if he wanted him to try and find out more about his mom. Peter had shaken his head.
He'd tried to think of her less and less, and it had been working. Mostly. Every Friday Uncle Rhodey picked him up from school and drove him home, since his dad had meetings. This Friday was no exception as Peter spotted him in the car rider's line. He ran over to Uncle Rhodey's fancy red car, climbing in the back seat and throwing his backpack on the floor. "Hi Uncle Rhodey!"
"Hey, buddy. You have a good day?"
"Yeah!" Peter began to tell him all about it as they turned onto the street with Rhodey nodding and smiling along, sometimes asking questions. As always, they stopped at Peter's favorite burger place and ate burgers and milkshakes, taking a bag of food home to his dad. His uncle kept a close eye on him, almost always holding his hand or putting a hand on his shoulder. Rhodey knew about his powers, so sometimes when they were in big crowds, Peter would stick to his hand. He'd promised Peter that he could stick to him whenever he wanted, and that he would never tell anyone about Peter's abilities.
Once they'd gotten their dinner, Rhodey pulled into the parking garage and the two climbed out of the car, Peter racing to the elevator and Rhodey laughing and following behind. "I'll race you!" Peter cried, peering over his shoulder.
"I'm too old to race, buddy."
"No you're not!"
"I am. I'm even older than your dad."
Peter paused at the elevator, turning around, eyes widening in surprise. "Really?"
Rhodey laughed aloud, reaching down and swinging Peter up onto his shoulders. "Really."
Peter had to duck for both of them to fit in the elevator, and he gripped Rhodey's head as it took them up to his floor. He rested his chin on Uncle Rhodey's head, peering down at his uncle's phone just as the doors opened, the hopped down, bag in hand. Grinning and hoping to surprise his dad, he raced into the room, pausing when his uncle called for him. "Peter...wait…"
But it was too late.
He raced around the corner, sure that he'd find his father sitting on the sofa working on paperwork, but it wasn't his father sitting there. It was his mother. Peter skidded to a stop, nearly dropping the bag of food, and then Rhodey was right behind him, hands holding his shoulders. His mom leaned forward, giving him a soft, sad smile, and he realized she looked a little different than he remembered. She looked...older. Tired. But still his mom
"Look at you," She murmured, looking him up and down. "Peter...you're so big!"
Peter felt frozen, his uncle's hands on his shoulders the only thing keeping him grounded. "Mom?" He asked, eyes shooting around the room, looking for his dad. The question came out weak, almost afraid, and Rhodey squeezed his upper arms, rubbing gentle like he was trying to warm him up.
"Come here, Peter," she urged, arms open, and he took a hesitant step forward, then another, and before he knew it, he was placing the bag of food on the coffee table and stepping into his mom's arms just like he had a million times before. As soon as she wrapped her arms around him and he smelled her perfume, he started crying, face buried in her shoulder, hands sticking to her back. His mom was back. She'd missed him! She still loved him!
She only held him for a moment before straightening, though, her hand patting him briskly on the back. He couldn't remove his hands, he realized with a growing sense of horror. Couldn't stop himself from sticking to her. And he recognized her tone when she spoke again. "Peter. Let go."
She was scared of him. She didn't want him hugging her. The thought only made it worse and his fingers refused to let go. He was making her angry! He had to let go!
"Peter," she said again, voice hardening, and that's when his father stepped into the room with a glass of water.
"Pete?" He asked, sounding surprised to see them.
"I'm sorry...I didn't check my messages until we were already here…" Rhodey murmured.
"Hey...hey, buddy." His dad approached and knelt beside him, putting a hand on his back.
"Peter, you need to let go so we can talk," his mom told him, her voice strained.
He flinched at the reprimand and tried, eyes filling with hot tears. He was ruining everything! Again! But the hand on his back rubbed gentle circles. "Hey, Pete, look at me for a second." Peter did, sniffing, and his dad gave him a weak smile. "It's okay, buddy. Come here." He offered, and Peter found his hands suddenly letting go as he threw himself into his dad's arms, hands sticking fast to the back of his shirt. "There you go, Peter. It's okay." He murmured, kissing his hair. His dad had promised that he could stick to him...that he loved him, including his powers. That he thought they were cool. Just remembered slowed his racing heart a little. "You have a good day at school?
Peter nodded. "We brought you dinner." His voice came out as a whimper, but his dad didn't seem to mind.
"Thanks, buddy. Why don't you go put the bag in the fridge, and then we can all talk?"
Peter's fingers released with no issues, and he grabbed the bag from the table, glancing back at his mom before doing as he'd been asked. Then he joined the adults in the living room, Peter sitting on the loveseat beside his dad across from his mom, Rhodey on his other side. His mom was smiling at him again, but she still looked so sad. He didn't want her to be sad. He didn't want her to take him. He wanted her to love him like she had before.
"So...what can we do for you?" His dad asked, keeping a hand on Peter's shoulder. He wanted to stick to his dad...to hide behind him. He wanted to be in his mom's arms again and hold her and have her hold him. He wanted to go to his room and hide until it was all over.
"I wanted to thank you for watching after him. I know I've been gone a while...and I know I didn't give you a lot of warning…"
His dad pursed his lips, and Peter knew that he wanted to say something but was stopping himself.
His mom seemed oblivious, though. "If you want to watch him again…"
This time his dad did speak, holding up a hand, back going stiff like it did when he was mad. "What? What do you mean, watch him?"
"I know that this whole situation was...unfortunate. And I know it lasted longer than I intended. But my mission is finished and it's time for Peter to come home."
Peter felt his own back stiffen, and his fingers clutched the sofa so tightly that it ripped. Uncle Rhodey put a firm hand on his shoulder, grounding him once more, his thumb rubbing over his shoulder.
"Come home." His father's voice was flat when he repeated her words, almost angry sounding, and Peter had to fight the urge to flinch away.
"Of course. We can work out a custody arrangement if you want, especially with you living in New York now. If you can get me his school records then…"
"Let me stop you right there." His dad's voice had turned cold, angry, and Peter wished he could sink into the sofa. He hated it when his dad was angry. "You're not taking Peter. No way. Over my dead fucking body."
Peter flinched at the word, lowering his eyes, and his uncle put a hand on his shoulder. "Peter? Why don't you go to your room, huh buddy?" Rhodeh murmured, squeezing him in a quick half-hug and trying to smile. "Let the grown-ups talk."
"No, I think Peter should stay right here. I know you've been having a good time with your dad, Peter, but don't you want to come home?" His mom asked, as if trying to entice him. All Peter wanted was to go to his room and hide under his bed...or on the ceiling.
"Mary, you abandoned him. On my doorstep. You didn't even wait with him! Some man dropped him off and he was left out there for almost an hour."
"Peter knows that my job is important, don't you?" She asked, turning to Peter. On instinct, he nodded. "See? And you know that I had to go away for a little while. For work. But I'm back now, and I'm going to take you home."
Peter's lips trembled, fingers tearing into the sofa without anyone seeming to notice.
"Mary, there's no court in this country that would side with you if you tried to take him now. You abandoned him. For a year." His dad rested a hand on Peter's back but he barely felt it. He didn't want to go. He didn't want to go!
"I work for Shield, Tony." She told his dad in a tone that was almost amused, and Peter didn't know what that meant but it sounded like she was saying she was going to take him and tears were spilling out of his eyes. It was just like before, when she'd told him to pack a bag...that her driver was going to take him to his father's in California. That she was going away for work for a while and that she'd be back soon. And then, with a kiss to his hair, refusing to get close enough for him to wrap his arms around her, she had been gone.
"You're not taking him. No way. I have primary custody. Hell, I have sole custody. My lawyers are ready to fight. I've got three on speed dial."
She jumped to her feet then, eyes narrowed, and she pointed a finger at his dad. "You're not taking my son."
"You abandoned our son!" His father snapped, jumping to his feet as well, and Rhodey was the third to stand, hands up.
"Okay, why don't we…"
Peter slipped behind Rhodey, arms pumping as he raced from the room. None of them seemed to notice, their loud voices fading as he bypassed the elevator and headed for his room, then climbed the wall. There was a vent at the top of his wall, and although he'd never been inside of it, he figured it had to lead somewhere he could hide.
He crawled for ages, one shaking hand in front of the other until he found a little corner to curl up in, head in his knees. He was above his dad's office, a place he rarely went. But he was allowed. Once or twice, his dad had brought him inside with him, setting him up to color or build LEGOs while he did paperwork, but his father usually ended up giving up on his paperwork and joining Peter instead. Then Pepper would come home and try to act upset, but she'd be smiling, and sometimes she would join them too.
He didn't know how long he was up there, trying to keep his sobs quiet, but it was his dad's soft voice that brought him out of his tears. "Hey, buddy. I know you're up there. JARVIS told me."
Peter sniffed, wiping a hand over his eyes and crawling toward the vent. "Do...do I have to go with Mom?" His lip trembled and he tried to stop crying but he couldn't. "I don't want to go. Please...Dad, I don't want to go!" He begged, peering through the vent at his father.
"You don't have to go anywhere, Pete. You're staying right here with me. Come down, buddy, and we can talk."
Peter hesitated for a moment, then pushed the vent cover until it popped off the wall, landing on the floor with a clang. His dad stood under the vent, arms outstretched, and he climbed partially down the wall before dropping into them, face pressed against his dad's neck.
"I'm sorry. She left. It's okay. I'm sorry, baby...you don't have to go. You're staying right here."
"She left?" He didn't know what he'd expected. Had he expected her to wait? To say goodbye? To risk hugging him again when he couldn't even make himself let her go.
His dad lowered the both of them onto the sofa in his office, kissing Peter's hair. "Yeah, little spider. She's gone. I'm sorry."
"I couldn't...couldn't let go...I'm sorry…she got mad…"
" It's not your fault, Pete. I promise. None of this was your fault."
"But if I...if I could control it and...and let go…"
His dad didn't answer, just held him a little tighter and rubbed his back as Peter fought to make the tears stop. They wouldn't.
"I love you, Peter. I love you so much. More than anything."
It didn't make everything better, Peter thought, but at least it made his chest hurt a little less to hear those words. Curling up in his father's lap, Peter closed his eyes. "I didn't want to leave you."
"You don't have to. Not ever if you don't want to. You'll always have a home with me."
The next words were harder, and he had to whisper them. "I didn't want her to leave either."
"I know. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry she left you."
It wasn't everything he wanted. But, Peter realized, he would never have everything he wanted. His mom would never love him like she had before. It was a thought that made more tears fall as he hid in his father's arms. But he had his dad now, and his dad loved him. His dad didn't care that he could climb walls and that sometimes he couldn't control his powers. His dad read him a bedtime story every night and played with him and let Peter sleep in his bed when he had nightmares.
His dad had hired lawyers to make sure no one could take him away.
And that would be enough.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 5: Living Nightmare
When Tony opened his eyes, jumping at the sound of the Hulk's roar, his first thought was of his nine year old son. Had Peter seen him go into that wormhole? It had to have been on TV. Did Peter know what was happening? Did his son think he was dead?
He had sent Pepper a message to get Peter out of there at the very first sign of a fight...as soon as that wormhole had opened, releasing those aliens into the city, he'd given her directions to the nearest safe house, knowing he would pick the boy up as soon as he could. And, with Pepper and Peter safely out of harm's way, he'd been able to focus. Had been able to do what need to be done.
And he was alive. He was alive and his girlfriend and son might have seen him fly into a wormhole. It was a thought that made his chest ache a little. What if Peter thought he was dead? He had to get back to him as soon as possible. Sitting up straight, he dismissed Steve's offer to help him up and suggest shawarma, knowing that he could get some extra for Peter. His son was bound to be hungry...the little spider was always hungry. The others agreed, and he did his best to appear invested in whatever conversation was happening, but he knew that Natasha was onto him. As they sat in the shawarma restaurant that had been mostly destroyed, she tapped her foot against his leg. No one seemed to notice as he looked up at her, and she gave him a reassuring smile.
"Where is he?" she mouthed.
"Pepper," he answered silently.
Natasha gave a nod, expression telling him that of course Peter was fine if he was with Pepper. He'd had his son for almost three years now. The boy had just turned nine, and was Tony's favorite person in the world. He loved him so much...everyone that knew him knew it. And Peter trusted him. Really trusted him. Pepper had learned about his powers not too long after their disastrous Christmas shopping adventure, and since Tony had assured the boy that he could trust her, and that she was safe, Peter had relaxed a little. He'd even caught the kid climbing on his bedroom walls, curling up in the corners and reading.
The first time, the boy had scrambled down, eyes downcast like he'd done something wrong, but Tony had pulled Peter into his arms, kissing his hair and holding the boy close. "Pete, you can climb the walls if you want," he'd murmured, wondering if that was the oddest sentence he'd ever said to a child. "Your powers are part of you, buddy. I love you, all of you. Including your powers."
He'd found out, through several accidental slips on Peter's part after Tony had gotten a cold, that Mary had hated it when Peter used his powers. That she got angry when he accidentally stuck himself to her, and that she never wanted him to climb walls or use his strength or show anyone that he was anything but a normal kid.
When Tony had told the boy that he thought his powers were cool, Peter had cried, and Tony still wondered about Mary Fitzpatrick. He wondered about her mission and he wondered if she was alive and he wondered if she had meant to hurt Peter so much. Had she just been scared? Tony wouldn't have blamed her. But still. She'd called him a freak. Not to his face, but even Tony knew that Peter had crazy-good hearing.
Once they'd eaten and he'd grabbed two to-go orders, ignoring the questioning looks of most of his new teammates, they headed back to his tower. Loki had been apprehended and his scepter put in a safe place, and the ride up to the elevator was quiet. Bruce had disappeared to change back and get some clothes on, and he could leave them at the tower and go get his kid.
Maybe he'd introduce Peter to the Avengers. Maybe. The kid was kind of nervous around new people, but maybe this would be okay. Or maybe he'd introduce them one at a time, probably starting with Thor who was Peter's favorite apparently.
The elevator dinged softly, the doors opening to his private floor, and he and the team stepped into the penthouse. But Tony only made it a few feet before coming to an abrupt halt. The room seemed intact. The windows were all intact, and he could see the wreckage of the city from where he stood. But that wasn't what froze him in place, causing Clint to bump into him. Pepper was on the sofa, her head in her hands.
"Pep? He asked, dropping the bag on the nearest table and hurrying over to her. "Pepper, what are you doing here?" She was supposed to be at the safe house. With Peter.
She was crying. Why was she crying?
"Tony…" She started, looking up at him with naked terror in her eyes. "I didn't...I didn't get your message until too late and...and Peter…"
Tony could feel the eyes of the team on him but he didn't care. Couldn't have cared less. "Where is he?" He asked in a voice he barely recognized. "Where's Peter?"
"I thought he was in his room... but...one of them must have gotten in...one of the windows shattered…". She fought to get her words out through her sobs but Tony was shaking his head, a strange roaring in his ears.
"Tony?" Steve asked, stepping forward, but he ignored him. Natasha, on the other hand, knew Peter, and she wouldn't be ignored.
"JARVIS? Where's Peter?" She demanded of the ceiling.
"I apologize, Miss Romanoff. With so many of the cameras down in the city I am unable to locate him."
"But he's not in the tower?" She confirmed as Pepper cried and Tony clutched his chest, still shaking his head.
"No, Miss Romanoff."
Peter wasn't in the tower. There had just been aliens in the city, attacking everyone in sight, and his nine-year-old son wasn't in the tower. No. No, this…this couldn't be real.
To her credit, the spy beside him wasted no time in turning to the others, voice serious and urgent. "New mission. Search and rescue. Here." She pulled her phone out of her pocket, and to Tony's surprise, showed everyone a very current picture of his son smiling shyly at the camera. "Peter. Nine years old."
Steve blinked at the photo, then up at Tony. "Tony is he…"
"He's Tony's son, now let's go find him!" She barked, and the Avengers all followed her lead as they climbed back into the elevator. "Tony, get your suit on and start searching from the sky. We'll cover the ground."
And with that, they were gone, and Tony was alone with Pepper in his living nightmare. She was still crying, still clutching her hair in her hands, but he didn't have a spare moment to comfort her or sit with her...he had to find his boy first.
Without a word, he called the suit, then jumped out the window that opened for him, and took to the sky. "JARVIS, start searching everything you can."
"How far could he have gone?" Steve asked in the comms. No one had an answer for him. Instead, they spread out, and Tony supervised from the sky, keeping an eye on the surveillance footage JARVIS managed to find. But the city was full of cleanup crews and rescue workers...police and fire and rescue and EMS. Would they have found him?
He would find his son. Peter was okay. He had to be.
Tony looked on buildings and in the streets, scanning them for any sign of the boy. Would he have climbed up high to hide? Or under something? Or maybe...maybe he was…
Tony shook his head, refusing to entertain the thought. His son could not be gone. No way.
Below, the Avengers all called Peter's name over and over, occasionally stopping to help other civilians and always asking if they'd seen the nine year old boy. But everyone in New York was shell shocked and terrified, either frantically cleaning or hiding or mourning their own dead. And people were injured. Dead.
Peter could be…
It was Clint who found him, calling to Tony on the comms, and before Tony knew what had happened, he was landing on the ground, sprinting over to join the other Avengers that had all joined Clint in kneeling beside an overturned car, faceplate flipping up.
"Hey, buddy. It's Peter, right?"
And Tony practically shoved Steve and Natasha out of the way to get to his boy. "Peter?" He called.
And it was. It was Peter. The boy lay on his stomach, blood running down his face from an injury Tony couldn't see. His eyes were shut tight, and he took shallow, frantic breaths. At his father's voice, however, Peter opened his eyes and stared at him from behind the shattered glass of the driver's side window with pupils blown wide.
"Hey, Peter. I'm Clint. I work with your dad. Think you can crawl out of there so we can get you home?"
The boy blinked slowly, eyes moving over to Tony. "Dad?" He asked, and Tony scooted forward, reaching out and ignoring the glass as he rested a hand on the boy's cheek.
"Yeah, baby. I'm right here. Are you okay?"
"I fell...they broke the window and I tried to climb down to find you but I fell…". His words were slurred and unsteady, and Tony rubbed his thumb over Peter's cheek.
"I'm sorry, buddy. It looks like you hurt your head. Can you crawl out from under there so I can get you to Helen? She'll make you feel better."
Peter shook his head, blinking a few times before answering. "My arm hurts." Was all he managed to get out before his chin dropped to the ground and his eyes started to close.
"No, no, no...Peter!" Tony cried right before Steve pulled him back and Thor reached down, carefully grabbing the side door and pulling. The metal gave way easily under his strength, and the god of thunder crawled forward into the space as Tony fought for air.
"We're getting him out. He's okay. We're going to get him out of there." Steve murmured, gripping Tony's shoulder.
"Hello, Peter," Thor murmured, and Tony watched as the man reached out an arm to the boy. "I am going to get you out, okay?" Peter didn't flinch as the man carefully slipped an arm under his body and lifted him, turning him so that his head was cradled against his arm. Once Thor had backed up far enough so that they were both clear of the car, Tony lunged forward, reaching for his son that the other man placed carefully in his metal-covered arms.
"Pete?" Tony asked, jostling him just a little, desperate to get any kind of reaction, but the boy was silent. Still. His half-open eyes stared straight ahead without seeing, and his hands, which would usually stick fast to Tony when he was scared, were limp.
"Tony, let's get him to Helen,". Natasha urged, tugging Tony forward, and his brain snapped back into action. Peter was hurt. He had to get the boy to Helen. Helen could help him.
Without speaking to the others, Tony engaged the thrusters in the feet of his suit, shooting up into the air and keeping an extra-tight grip on his son. Peter wasn't holding on. Peter was hurt. Peter was hurt and Tony had to help him. His son had never been seriously hurt before. Never. He'd gotten almost kidnapped, and once or twice he'd gotten a cold, but he'd never gotten hurt.
"It's okay, baby. I've got you. I'm getting you some help. I'm right here, Spiderling. Right here. I've got you, baby." He whispered the words over and over, eyes clenching shut as he held Peter as tightly as he dared. Soon, the tower was in sight and he landed on the landing pad, not even letting Peter go for long enough to get out of the suit. Instead, he hurried into the tower, his suit clanking with each step, until he found himself face to face with Helen who was pushing a gurney. She barely paused, just gestured for Tony to put him down.
He did. Helen could help him. He had to let Helen help him.
They wheeled Peter away and then he was walking back to the sofa, movements wooden and exhausted. The adrenaline that had hit him so hard was gone, and he was sitting in his living room. Alone. Were the others on their way? Where was Pepper? That second question seemed more important, so he asked JARVIS who directed him to Peter's room.
Tony let the suit fall apart around him as he walked to his son's room, leaving parts of it scattered in his wake. He didn't care. He just needed Pepper and then he needed to get the both of them downstairs where they could wait for Peter in the medbay.
Pepper was in Peter's room, standing by the gaping hole in the wall in the middle of Peter's room which had been almost completely destroyed. Books and papers lay scattered on the floor, and a picture had fallen off the wall and shattered. They would have to clean that up before Peter came back...he might step on the glass and hurt himself. And the TV hanging on his wall had a crack in it. The floor-to-ceiling window was the worst part. It had sprayed glass all over the room that crunched under Tony's shoes, and the room ended abruptly at a ninety story drop.
How far had Peter fallen?
"Did you find him?" Pepper asked, voice breaking.
He nodded, even though she wasn't looking at him, and reached out to take her hand. "Helen is looking at him. I think he tried to crawl out of the window when something broke it...I couldn't get the whole story."
"It's my fault." He was shaking his head before she could even finish the sentence but she went on, pulling her hand away. "No, it is! I didn't get the message in time! I was working on something for the company and I was distracted and then I heard something break the window! And he was gone!"
Tony reached out, gripping her shoulder this time and pulling her close, letting her rest her forehead against his. "This wasn't your fault. There was a literal alien invasion, Pep. And he's going to be okay."
He had to be. That had to be true.
Later in the medbay, he was allowed to sit at Peter's side as the boy slept, a bandage wrapped around his head and a cast on his arm. Pepper sat beside Tony, her hand firmly in his, resting her head on his shoulder, and every once in a while, he'd turn to press a kiss to her hair. According to Helen, Peter's accelerated healing meant that he would only need the cast for two weeks or so, but that he'd need to stay in bed for a little while considering the concussion.
That was fine with Tony. He wasn't letting the boy out of his sight ever again.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 6: Overprotective
Peter's mom had never been an especially hovering parent. He remembered that, even as memories of his mom faded a little. At first, after she had shown up a year after leaving him with his father, she would come by every few weeks, glaring at his dad and telling Peter that she missed him. That she loved him. Despite the glaring, his dad never seemed to mind the visits too much.
Then one day, those visits stopped, and they were replaced with calls every week or so, then every month or so. Those calls always made him anxious. On the days that his mom was supposed to call, he'd have trouble focusing at school and get notes sent home about how much he was talking in class or, once, how he'd refused to answer questions all day. And his dad would always sign them, sitting him down and asking him what was wrong.
It took nearly a year and a half to tell him the truth. It was just a few months before meeting the Avengers, on a day when he had a big test and couldn't focus on any of it. All he'd been able to think about was the call with his mom that had been scheduled for three months. She would call and tell him how much she missed him and how much she loved him. She would tell him how sad she was that she never saw him. And his dad would wait in the other room, giving him privacy. But Peter didn't want privacy. He wanted his mom or he didn't. He wanted her to love him all the time or none of the time.
At least then he wouldn't feel so sick on phone call days.
On that day, he'd gotten an F on his test and had been so furious and heartbroken that he'd curled up in the back seat of Happy's car, sobbing into his knees and jerking away when Happy had tried to touch him, screaming at the man to leave him alone.
His father had picked him up from inside the car when they'd reached the tower, carrying him inside and sitting on the sofa. "Okay. Okay, baby. It's okay." He'd muttered, rubbing his back for a long time. "Think you can tell me what happened?"
"I...I got...an F...on my...on my math test." Peter had sobbed, hiding his face in his dad's chest, forgetting that he hadn't wanted to talk to his dad about any of it.
"What happened? Did you not understand…"
"I don't want to call mom!" He'd cried, not daring to look up for how ashamed he was. He hadn't seen his mom in so long and she said she was sad and that she missed him and now he didn't even want to talk to her. His dad rubbed his back, not seeming upset. Just quiet. "She never comes anymore and she doesn't really want to see me and I don't want her to call."
His dad had given a soft sign, nodding his head and patting him on the back. "Are you sure, buddy?"
Peter had nodded. He was sure.
That night, after he'd been set up in the living room with his uncle Rhodey and a movie, the two of them covered in blankets with plenty of popcorn, he'd heard his father in the other room. "I'm not taking him away from you, Mary. You decided not to visit him anymore." He didn't hear his mom's reply, but when his father spoke again, he'd sounded angry. "You abandoned him, Mary! For a year."
"Hey, buddy." Rhodey had rubbed his arm, catching his attention again and wrapping him more securely in the blanket. Peter had scooted closer, rested his head on his uncle's shoulder. "You like the movie?"
Peter had nodded, wanting to forget about his mom for the moment...wanting to forget how much he still missed her and how much she didn't want him.
They hadn't had another phone call nor visit in the two months since. He hadn't really thought of it as his father projecting him, but looking back, that's what it had been. He'd been protecting him from his mother, who had wanted a son, but hadn't quite wanted Peter. Other than that instance, his dad didn't really hover. Never seemed to worry too much about him. He seemed to trust that Peter was fairly capable and could do things like make sandwiches and do his homework and go home with Ned after school without problems. Of course, his dad loved him. He loved Peter more than Peter had ever been loved by anyone, and he played with him and took him to fun places and let him work in the lab a little. But he didn't usually hover.
And then Peter had broken his arm.
Laying under the car in the dusty street, struggling to breathe and to stay awake, all Peter had wanted was his father. When the giant man had pulled him from the wreckage, trying to be careful but still hurting his arm so much that he'd struggled to fight back a sob. And then he'd gone to sleep or passed out, and when he woke up, his dad was right by his side, clutching his hand. On his other side was Pepper, her eyes red and swollen like she'd been crying.
"Peter?" She asked, leaning forward and nudging his dad who had been gazing out the window, eyes someone glazed. At the sound of Peter's name, though, his dad jolted awake.
He'd never called Pepper that before, but under whatever drugs they had him on, the nine-year-old had let the name slip. The woman's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped, but his father just leaned in, letting go of Pepper's hand and brushing his knuckles along his cheek.
"Hi, baby." He sniffed a little, but tried to smile. His own face was covered in bruises, and his eye was black and swelling a little. There had been aliens, right? Had they hurt his dad?
"Dad? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, honey. I'm okay," he promised with a smile. "What about you? How are you feeling?"
"I didn't mean to run away." Peter remembered that much. There had been a monster in his room!
"I know. You aren't in trouble, buddy. Does anything hurt?"
"Okay. You can sleep."
"Does Pepper mind if I call her that?" He asked, aware that the question might have been hard to ask any other time, but his mind felt so fuzzy. Pepper gave him a soft smile, leaning in to take his good hand. He'd kind of forgotten about her being in the room.
"No, baby. I don't mind. You can call me 'mom' if you want to."
He slept again, not waking until he was lifted and carried somewhere, but that only lasted for a minute, and then he was in a different bed. He dreamed about monsters and aliens, but in his dreams, his dad always saved him. His dad would always save him.
After a little while, he managed to wake up for real, staring down at the red cast on his left arm before looking at the ceiling. "Jarvis?"
"Yes, young sir?"
"Where's my dad?"
"Your father is in the living room. Would you like me to get him for you? He has been informed that you are awake."
"No thanks." Without thinking much about it, Peter swung his legs over the bed and stood, wiping his good hand over his eyes. This wasn't his bedroom. His bedroom had a hole in the wall where an alien had come in...it had tried to get him! And then he'd fallen! The thought made him shudder as he stepped away from the windows. He wanted his dad. His dad would keep him safe.
He was wearing a pair of old, comfortable pajamas, and he experimentally let his arm hang at his side, the weight of the cast throwing him off a little. Still, it didn't really hurt. Just ached a little. Ignoring that, Peter headed for the living room, slipping out of his bedroom, then nearly running into his father in the hallway.
"Hey, buddy. What are you doing out of bed?" He asked, ruffling Peter's hair, but he didn't really look happy to see him. More...worried.
"Yeah?" He put an arm around Peter, kissing his hair and tugging him close for a hug that felt too quick. "You want to go back to bed?"
Peter narrowed his eyes a little, shaking his head. "What's wrong?"
"What do you mean, buddy?"
"Why do you want me to go back to bed?"
"Peter!" The familiar voice startled him, and he looked up at his father, then past him to find his mother at the end of the hallway, a blond man standing right behind her looking concerned. His uncle Rhodey stepped forward too, pushing past both his mom and the man to stand between his mom and his dad.
"Mary, I told you, now's not a good time."
"My son was hurt! How is this not a good time?"
"I told you, he's okay. He needs to get some rest."
"I want to see…"
Uncle Rhodey cut in then, his voice hard. "He just woke up and Tony has a lot of paperwork…"
"And I want to make sure my son is okay! I still have that right!" She was yelling, and Peter couldn't help but remember the times she'd yelled at him...the times he'd stuck to her without meaning to and when he'd accidentally broken a glass when he'd squeezed it too hard. "It took me almost an hour to get here! Half of New York City was destroyed!"
What? Peter looked up at his dad who seemed torn, one hand on Peter's shoulder, the other pinching the bridge of his nose. "Daddy?" It was a title he only used when he was scared, and his father immediately dropped both hands onto his shoulders.
"I've...I've got a lot to deal with right now, buddy. I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
"My arm hurts." It felt stupid and childish to say it but he was scared and he wanted his dad to stay with him.
"Why don't you come in here with us and lay down, Peter?" Rhodey suggested, as if understanding he didn't want to be alone. That he was scared. And the sight of his mom made him want to cry but that blond man was watching him and he didn't want to look like a baby. Instead of answering aloud, he just nodded, gripping his dad's shirt in his hand.
"Okay. Yeah...okay, buddy. Mary, I can't do this right now. I'm sorry. I know you want to talk this over but…"
"He can come and stay with me. While you're getting this sorted out." She said it as if it was already decided, and Peter gripped his dad's shirt so tightly that he felt part of it tear. If his dad noticed, he didn't seem to care.
"No. Peter stays with me. We can talk later."
"Peter...baby, don't you want to come with me for a little while?"
"Mary." He'd never heard his uncle sound like that, but Uncle Rhodey stepped toward her, lowering his voice. "Do not put him in the middle of this. We have a lot to deal with here, so you need to go."
His dad reached down then, scooping him up into his arms and holding him on his hip. Peter was too big to be carried like that, but he didn't mind, just rested his head on his dad's neck. "Rhodey, can you grab the pain medicine Helen got him?" He asked as they stepped into the living room. Peter closed his eyes, not wanting to see his mom leave, and when he opened them, they were on the couch, surrounded by people he didn't know, all of whom were staring at him.
The only one he recognized was Natasha, and he gave her a shy smile that she returned. "Hi, Peter. How are you feeling?"
"M okay," he muttered. His uncle handed him a pill that he swallowed with a glass of soda, then took a seat on his other side. In the middle of the room was the coffee table, covered in papers.
"Everyone, this is Peter. Peter, this is the team."
"Yeah. Superhero team." That, at least, had made Peter perk up and forget about his mom for a moment. His dad smiled, putting a light hand on his shoulder. "This is Steve." His dad pointed to the blond man who gave him a quick wave and a 'nice to meet you' before his dad went on. "Clint is Natasha's friend." The short haired man smiled at him from Natasha's side. "Thor is from another planet."
His dad chuckled. "Cool huh?" The big man with long hair gave him a kind smile from his spot on the other sofa, and Peter tried to fight the sudden drowsiness to return it. "And that is Bruce."
"Hi," Peter murmured, eyes drooping.
"It's nice to meet you, Peter." Bruce reached out a hand, leaning forward with a smile, and Peter made sure not to squeeze too hard when he shook it.
"I think Peter's going to get some sleep while we work. What do you think, kiddo?"
"Okay…". His eyes were closing, and his father guided him down to lay his head on his lap, his feet pressed against Rhodey's legs, blanket covering him.
"We'll all have dinner when you wake up, okay?"
His father hesitated for a moment. "She...she left, buddy. Just now. Do you want to call her later?" He asked carefully.
His dad rested a hand on his shoulder, ruffling his hair, and there was a smile in his voice when he answered. "She's on the phone right now, but I'll have her come down when she's done. Okay?"
"Okay. Love you."
"I love you too, baby."
It was only a few minutes later that he fell asleep to the soft voices of the Avengers discussing paperwork he didn't bother trying to understand.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 7: Unwanted
It was a month after Peter had met the Avengers that his mom picked him up from school. She was waiting for him in front of his school in her usual black car, and he almost didn't hesitate. It was like first grade...like climbing into her car after his first day of school only for her to smile at him and ruffle his hair and ask how school had been. On other days, her assistant would pick him up, but on that day it had been her.
On this day, it was her.
He knew that Happy was supposed to pick him up, but his mom rolled down the window and smiled at him, giving him a little wave. "Hey, baby. Your dad said I could pick you up from school today. I thought we could stop and get some ice cream."
Peter hesitated, hands gripping his backpack straps. Happy was supposed to pick him up. He wasn't supposed to go with strangers. Ever. But this wasn't a stranger. It was his mom. And she wanted to take him out for ice cream! "Dad said it was okay?" He clarified.
"Yeah. Come on, Peter. Get in the car." There was just a little steel in her voice...just enough of the sharpness to get him moving, and he hurried to slide into the passenger seat, backpack between his knees on the floor. She put the car in drive, pulling away from his school, and then they were in the opposite direction of the tower.
"Where are we going?" He asked, trying not to sound worried. This was his mom. He didn't have to be scared. Maybe she had missed him, he thought as he stared at the city through the window, catching glances of his mom only when he dared to turn around for too long. He wouldn't make her angry, he told himself sharply. He would control his power and he wouldn't stick to her and he wouldn't ask too many questions.
"To get ice cream. How was school?"
"Oh. Um, it was good. Ned, uh, he's my best friend, almost got us in trouble because we were talking about the new Star Wars and he was saying that…" He glanced over at her, closing his mouth when he realized she wasn't listening. Instead, she had pulled to a stop at a red light, and was texting someone.
She hadn't always been like this. Before she'd started working so much, she'd been different. She'd wanted to spend time with him. They'd spent hours talking on Saturdays when she'd take him to the library and sometimes to the movies. She'd read him stories before bed...she'd stopped right in the middle of The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe. He still didn't know how it ended...if they ever beat the white witch. She'd bought him all the Star Wars movies, and his room at their old home had had a big Star Wars poster.
Did she still live in the apartment that she'd told him had belonged to her boss, but that they rented? Did she still have his Star Wars movies and his poster and the stuffed bear she'd gotten him one day when they'd been spending a whole day together, just the two of them?
"Mom?" He flinched when the person behind them honked their horn, and she swore under her breath, hitting one more button on the phone before hitting the gas.
They got ice cream to go from the drive through, his mom getting a chocolate dipped cone and him getting a banana split. He ate it silently as she drove through the city, finally getting on the big interstate, and that's when he got scared.
"You know that I love you. Right, Peter?"
"And you know that I'd never let anyone hurt you?"
"We're going away for a little while, okay? Just the two of us."
Peter shook his head, forgetting all about his ice cream that was no longer appetizing. "I want to go home."
"We're going to have a new home…"
"I want dad!"
She shook her head, speeding up as they drove along the interstate, and in the distance he could just make out his dad's tower. His home. His real home.
"Peter, I know you don't understand this right now, but your dad took you away from me. And that was wrong of him. I needed him to keep you for just a little while to keep you safe, but he wouldn't let me have you back. He didn't want you when you were a baby, Peter. Why do you think he never came to see you?"
"He...he said that he didn't know about me." Peter's voice was small as he felt tears build in his eyes. His dad loved him. He loved him more than anything and his mom had to be wrong.
"Baby, you know your father. Do you really think there's anything he doesn't know?"
Peter didn't think she meant the words to be comforting, but they were. His dad knew everything. He would find him. His dad would never let her take him. Never. He would find Peter and they could go home!
It was dark when they stopped at a hotel, and Peter's stomach was growling. His mom didn't seem to notice, hurrying him inside of the hotel while tapping at her phone. She stopped at the front desk, paying the old lady before leading Peter to a room on the top floor.
The clock told him it was nearly 8, and he hadn't had any real food since lunch. "Where are we going?" He asked his mom while she placed a suitcase she'd pulled out of her trunk onto one of the full sized beds.
"I told you, we're going on a trip. I've got our passports...I was thinking France. I'm sure you'll pick up the language in no time." She looked at him then with a smile he remembered. One that had always meant she loved him. Dropping the lid of the suitcase, she moved around to his bed, cupping his cheek in her palms. "I love you, baby. That's why I'm doing this. We can have a fresh start. Just you and me, like it always was. No more long work trips. We can go to the Eiffel Tower. And the Louvre...there are so many places to see in France. You're going to love it."
He forced himself to smile, fighting back the tears that he knew would make her angry. "Can we have dinner?" he asked, feeling as though he were talking to a stranger. She nodded, brushing his hair back and kissing his head.
"Of course, baby."
That night, they watched a movie with him right at her side, her arm around him, and he was sure to keep his hands away from her so he didn't accidentally stick. As soon as the movie was over, he crept over into his own bed, waiting until almost 2 in the morning before he crawled out the window.
The window opened with a soft hiss, and he looked back at her, and at his backpack beside the bed. He didn't dare grab it. She slept soundly, curled up on her side, the blankets covering her, and he crawled down the side of the building, hitting the grass outside with a soft thump before he was running.
He knew which direction they'd come from, so he ran that way as fast as he could, climbing onto the tops of apartment buildings and houses and jumping from roof to roof, scanning the skies for his dad's suit. They'd been driving for hours, but he just wanted to put distance between him and his mom. Tears streamed down his face in the cold air, and his bare feet felt frozen, but that didn't matter. He wanted to go home! He wanted his dad!
It had to have been almost an hour since he'd left the hotel, and he crawled down from the building he'd been on, scanning the empty streets before trying to find a convenience store or a gas station. Both were open late, he knew. If he could find a police officer, he thought, that would be even better.
The streets were mostly deserted, with the occasional car driving by. No one seemed to pay him any mind though. It didn't matter...he was cold, and he was so scared, flinching away from every person he saw. He still remembered the man who had tried to take him when he'd first lived with his dad. What if someone else tried to take him?
The gas station he finally spotted was well lit, and he shivered as he went inside. There was a man behind the counter looking at his phone, and he thought about leaving to find a gas station with a lady working there, but he was too cold and too tired and too scared. So he approached the counter and gathered up every ounce of courage he had. His dad was a superhero. He could be brave too.
"Excuse me? Sir?"
The man looked down at him, eyes widening as he took him in. "Hey, kid. You okay?"
"I'm...I'm supposed to be with my dad but...but I don't know...where I am…". Peter had to swallow tears, but he managed. "Can I use the phone please?"
"Um...you need me to call the police, kid?"
"I just want to call my dad. Please."
The cashier hesitated, then nodded, handing Peter his cellphone. "Alright. Don't run off with the phone though."
Peter dialed the one phone number he'd been told to memorize and prayed that his dad hadn't gone to bed already. It rang twice before his familiar voice answered with a hesitant 'hello' and Peter felt himself break.
"Peter! Oh god...where are you? Are you okay?"
"I want to come home...please…"
"Of course. I've been looking everywhere...Peter...baby, are you hurt?"
"No. She was going to take me away. She wants to go to France."
"You're not going anywhere baby. I'm on my way with Uncle Rhodey. Can you tell me where you are?"
"I don't know!" Peter sobbed, barely able to speak through his tears. "I ran...ran away when she was...asleep...and...and now I'm cold…"
"Okay. It's okay, Pete. Whose phone are you using?"
"The man...man at the...the gas station…". Peter sobbed.
"Can I talk to him?"
Peter held up the phone, wiping his eyes. "Will you...talk to my...my dad?" he whispered. The man nodded, taking the phone, and Peter closed his eyes, trying to calm down and listen to the conversation while still keeping an eye on the door, sure his mother would come in and take him away at any moment.
"I'm Tony. Peter is my son."
"Hi. I'm Jo...uh...he just came into the gas station. In Buffalo. I think he's okay…"
"His mother kidnapped him...she was trying to take him out of the country. Can you keep him there until I get there. I'll only be about two hours."
"Yeah...sure, man. You want me to call the cops?"
"No. I'll take care of it. I'm on my way. Can I get your address?"
Jo led Peter to what he called the break room. After giving him a bottle of water and a bag of cookies, he headed back to the front of the store, and Peter curled up on the sofa, arms wrapped around himself, praying that his mom didn't find him. That she was still asleep at the hotel and that she'd forget all about him. It would be better than this. Better than worrying that she was going to take him. Worrying that he would make her angry by not calling her and worry that she wanted him and worrying that she didn't.
He heard his dad's suit an hour and a half later, and he burst out of the break room to find the Iron Man and War Machine suits outside of the gas station, Jo staring wide-eyed as his father stepped into the store.
"Daddy!" Peter screamed, racing into his open arms and not caring that he was too old to call his dad that and too old to be picked up. His dad picked him up anyway, burying his face in Peter's hair.
"Peter, Peter, Peter…" His father whispered his name over and over, squeezing him tightly and kissing his hair. His uncle Rhodey stepped closer, placing a hand on his back.
"Pete, you okay?" he asked, sounding serious and almost afraid, and Peter nodded. He was okay. He was scared but he was okay. He just wanted to go home.
"You're okay?" His dad pulled away just a little with red-rimmed eyes, placing his hand on Peter's cheek. He nodded. "Okay...okay…" He looked around the empty gas station, pressing his hand to Peter's hair, his head resting against his dad's shoulder. "Rhodey...can you take him? Just for a second? I need to…"
"Yeah." Uncle Rhodey reached out, pulling him into his own arms, and Peter wrapped his arms around him, sticking to his back. "Can we use…" Rhodey must have gestured, and Jo said something...and then he and Uncle Rhodey were in the break room where Peter had been sitting on the couch for two hours, half dozing and doing his best to stay awake to see his dad. Rhodey sat on that same sofa, holding Peter in his lap and patting him on the back. "Pete?'
Peter looked up at him, not wanting to lift his head from his shoulder. Not wanting to unstick. Uncle Rhodey was safe. He would keep him safe. If his mom found him, Uncle Rhodey wouldn't let her take him.
"Can you tell me what happened?" He dropped his eyes, but his uncle squeezed his shoulder. "You're not in trouble. I promise. We just need to know what happened. Your dad is calling the police and they're going to make sure nothing like this happens again. We're going to rent a car to get you home."
"Can we go in the suits?" Peter asked, and Rhodey chuckled.
"Maybe someday, buddy. But not today." He ruffled Peter's hair. "Alright, buddy. What happened?"
Peter bit his lip, but told Rhodey everything, from his mom showing up to pick him up to the ice cream to her plans to go to France. "So I waited until she was asleep and I climbed out the window. I know I shouldn't have but…"
His uncle shook his head. "No, kiddo, you did great. You did the right thing." He pulled Peter close, patting him on the back. "It would have been really hard for us to find you if you'd gone out of the country with her."
"If she doesn't want me, why did she try to take me away?"
His uncle sighed, squeezing him and kissing the top of his head. For a moment, he just held him. "I don't know, buddy. I really don't."
"She said that Dad didn't want me...that he didn't want me when I was little."
"He didn't know about you, Peter. You know that."
"She said that he knew about everything."
Rhodey pulled away a little, hands on Peter's shoulders. "Your dad did not know about you. I promise. Because if he had, he would have wanted to know you. He had a rough time of it for a while, but he loves you more than anything in the world. I've never known him to love anyone like he loves you, and I've known your dad for a really long time. When you didn't come home from school, he was so scared." Rhodey brushed some of his hair back and kissed his forehead. "I love you too. You know that, right?"
Peter nodded, smiling a little. "I love you too."
When his dad came back to the room, it was to pull Peter back into his own arms, pressing a kiss to his hair. "Okay...alright, buddy. We're going to get you home, okay?" Peter nodded. "Let's get you some shoes first, okay?"
It turned out the gas station didn't sell shoes, so Rhodey disappeared for a moment, then returned with a packet of socks and some slip on-shoes. His father barely let him go for long enough to put the shoes on, and when Rhodey pulled up in the rented car, his dad sat in the back seat with him, practically holding him in his lap all the way back home. And, finally knowing he was safe, Peter fell asleep almost immediately.
Thank you for reading!!
Chapter 8: Teddy Bear
Tony had never been very good at sleeping. According to his mom, this had started when he was just a baby. As a child, he'd stayed up way past his bedtime, a flashlight and a book stashed under the covers. As a teenager, he'd started the habit of staying in the lab for hours, working until his eyes crossed and were so dry that they hurt when he blinked. This was a practice he kept all through college and well into adulthood.
Peter's arrival in his life helped a little, especially after he managed to fix his arc reactor. The boy was an early riser, and Tony hadn't wanted the boy to be alone in the mornings. So he'd started trying to go to bed at a normal hour, and had almost gotten used to getting up at six every morning to be up before Peter. Recently, the kid had been sleeping in a little more, and since he would be ten in less than a year, Tony wondered if he was going to start sleeping in.
Would he still want to get up at six in the morning when he was a teenager? Tony couldn't imagine Peter as a teenager. Couldn't imagine the boy having a rebellious bone in his body. But, as Tony knew all too well, turning thirteen could change everything.
Tony's sleeping troubles had only gotten worse in the last few months. First the wormhole, then Peter's disappearance, then his near kidnapping...all three featured prominently in his nightmares. He had dreams of the wormhole looming above him, of being trapped in space with all of those alien spaceships. He dreamed that he walked into his tower and couldn't find Peter, no matter where he looked. He dreamed that his son was crushed under a car but this time he couldn't get back to him. He dreamed that Peter was with his mother, arms outstretched, screaming for him, but he couldn't reach him. He just couldn't reach him!
The nightmares happened almost every night. Pepper was living somewhere else. He felt like a zombie, going through the days in a haze. He did his best to hold it together when his son was around, not wanting to scare him, but there had been a few near misses. A few days when he'd felt like one loud noise away from losing it. And yeah he'd heard of therapy. He knew he probably needed it. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. Couldn't bring himself to tell anyone all of this.
So he stumbled through the day and stared at the ceiling for as long as he could at night, until finally sleep would come and with it, visions of the wormhole and losing his son until he thought he might go insane.
It came to a head a month and a half after Peter had called him from a gas station in Buffalo, New York...a month and a half after Mary had slipped away, hopefully for good. He'd told her that she was welcome to visit as long as she cleared it with him first. He'd told her that he wanted Peter to have some kind of relationship with his mother. And then she'd kidnapped their son. As far as Tony was concerned, she was done. If Peter wanted to try and find her when he was older, Tony would help him, but for the immediate future, she wouldn't be stepping foot within a mile radius of his son.
This time, the nightmare was about Peter...he was gone. He was gone and Tony was racing through the halls of the tower, looking everywhere in slow motion because that's the only way he could move in nightmares. And he knew that Peter was gone. That if he didn't find him, he would lose Peter forever and in his sleep he screamed for his son, calling for Jarvis to find him, but the AI wouldn't respond and Tony knew, he just knew, that his boy was hurt and he needed him but Tony couldn't find him!
A hand touched his arm, and it was the person that had taken his son. Tony gestured, calling his suit. He wouldn't let them take him. He would make them tell him where his son was and then he would kill them and then he would find his son and bring him home. The armor formed, one of his Iron Legion standing beside him, arm out, repulsor charging…
The cry jerked him out of sleep just as the repulsor fired, and Tony stared for a moment at the suit standing in front of him, hand out, repulsor cooling as the color in the palm faded. The wall beside the bed had been singed, but the suit's face was looking up, lifting it's hand to point upwards. Tony followed the line of sight, jumping a little when he saw the boy in pajamas pressed to the ceiling, huge eyes staring down at him. "Peter?" He asked, jumping out of bed as the pieces in his mind came together. "Oh god...Pete...did it get you?"
Silently, the boy shook his head, and Tony made a rough gesture at the suit, glaring as it fell apart. Then he turned back to Peter, climbing onto the bed and standing up, holding out his arms. "I'm so sorry, baby. Are you okay?"
Peter sniffed but nodded, releasing his grip from the ceiling and climbing into Tony's arms, hiding his face in his shoulder. Carefully, Tony sat down against the headboard, heart clenching when the boy gave a soft sob. "It was going to shoot me…"
"I"m so sorry. I was having a bad dream...I didn't mean to call it. I'm so sorry."
"I thought the suits were supposed to protect us."
Tony closed his eyes and shook his head, exhaustion making his eyes water. "I'm sorry. Baby, I'm sorry." He felt tears run down his face as he squeezed his son as tightly as he could.
"You were yelling for me."
"I know." He swallowed, needing to give him some kind of explanation. I had a bad dream...I couldn't find you."
The boy sniffed, wiping his eyes and looking almost worriedly up at his father. "You're having lots of bad dreams."
"Yeah…" Tony nodded, scooting down in the bed so he could rest his head on the pillow, Peter scooting with him, turning naturally to lay against his side. "I know."
"I am too." Peter whispered it, head resting on Tony's shoulder, his knees pressing into Tony's ribs. At the admission, Tony turned to look at the boy, but he wouldn't meet his eyes in the dimly lit room. "I dream that mom...not Pepper, but Mary mom, comes and takes me, and I can't find you. Or that you give me to her and…" His voice cracked and he sniffed again, obviously fighting tears.
Tony hadn't noticed. He hadn't noticed because he hadn't been sleeping because of these stupid nightmares. His son had been having nightmares like this and he'd been scared but Tony hadn't noticed! Something in his brain seemed to switch on then...something serious and determined. He was going to call someone. As soon as they got up in the morning. Be it Rhodey for a recommendation or just whoever Jarvis picked for him. No way was he letting his little boy go through this alone. He shifted so that he could rub Peter's back, a silent invitation to keep talking if he wanted.
"Last night I dreamed that the bad guys killed you. I don't want you to go…"
Tony tightened his arms around him. "I'm so sorry. Pete...it's going to be okay. No one could ever take you from me. I wouldn't let them. I'll always keep you safe." He wiped a finger under Peter's eye, wiping a tear away. "What do you do when you have these nightmares?"
The boy seemed to flush a little in the dark. "Sometimes I get my old teddy bear out and hold him," he whispered. "I know I'm too big…" Peter started to go on, but Tony had to interrupt.
"You're not too big to need comfort, buddy. You're never too big for that. And if you need to, you can always come to me. Wake me up if you need to. I promise, I won't ever be upset. I don't want you to be alone if you're upset." He squeezed Peter in another hug, kissing the top of his hair. "I love you. More than anything. You know that, right?" Peter nodded. "And I'm going to keep you safe." He didn't just mean from aliens and people who wanted to take him. "Tomorrow, I'm going to find a doctor to help me….so I don't have so many nightmares. If you want, you can talk to them too. Maybe they can help you."
Peter hesitated, looking up at him unsurely. "Really?"
"Yeah, buddy. It might help. What do you think? Should we give it a try?"
After thinking for a moment, the boy nodded. "Okay. We can try."
Tony grinned. "Sounds good. For tonight, since I don't have a teddy bear to hold, I'll just have to settle with you."
He squeezed, surprising a giggle out of the boy who squirmed and then, when Tony's fingers found his side, he laughed aloud, kicking the covers and throwing his head back where it thumped into the pillow. "Dad!" He cried, trying to get away, but not really trying. At nine years old, Peter was stronger than Tony. By a lot. And the kid was usually very careful with his strength, but Tony knew that if he really wanted Tony to stop tickling him, he would get away.
"What's the matter, Pete?"
"Dad, stop!" He laughed, arms flailing and hitting gently against Tony's arms.
"Quiet down, buddy. It's time to sleep!" He couldn't hold back his own laugh as Peter screamed with laughter, twisting away just a little harder, and Tony stopped, resting a hand on Peter's side to keep him from rolling off the bed, then pulling him close, pressing a kiss to his forehead.
"I love you, Dad." Peter scooted closer, tucking himself into Tony's arms, fitting perfectly just as he always had.
"I love you too, Pete."
Within minutes, the boy's breathing had evened out, and Tony pulled the covers up, making sure he was covered up. Making sure he was warm. And safe. And then he rolled over, whispering to the ceiling. "Jarvis? Start looking for the best therapist in the state. See if Helen has any recommendations. I'll need a list by morning."
Thank you so much for reading!! Happy Febuwhump!
Chapter 9: Long Sleep
“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!
Chapter 10: Three AM
Tony groaned as the world came into focus. The first thing he knew was pain...pain in his head that throbbed in time with his heartbeat. Taking a slow, deep breath, he tried to focus. Where was he? The last thing he remembered was a mission. A mission with the Avengers. And then...that was it. He tried to bring a hand up to his forehead but found that it was being held in a very strong, very small hand. He blinked himself awake, sighing as he once more found himself staring at the medbay ceiling. He’d been in this room too many times since taking up the mantle of Iron Man.
Turning his head a little, he startled when he saw the bed right next to his, Pepper curled up under a blanket, and, in the chair between the two beds was Peter, asleep with his knees to his chest, his hand gripping Tony’s. Bringing his free hand up to his face, he sighed when he saw that it was wrapped in a cast. “Great,” he grumbled, trying to lift his other hand, but Peter held it firmly. He squinted at the boy, frowning when he got a better look. Peter was pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and he looked...skinny. Skinner than Tony remembered. He squeezed Peter’s hand gently, rubbing his thumb over his knuckles.
“Tony?” the soft voice startled him and he looked up to find Rhodey in the doorway, looking as tired of Peter. Walking around the bed where Pepper slept, he glanced first at Peter, then perched on the edge of Tony’s hospital bed. “It’s three in the morning. How are you feeling?”
“What’s wrong with Peter?” Tony asked instead of answering, and Rhodey sighed.
“I swear, the two of you...he hasn’t left your side in three days. Had a breakdown when Pepper tried to convince him to go to school yesterday. He just sticks to your bed and screams. We can barely get him to eat...he’s terrified, Tony.”
The man sighed, squeezing Peter’s hand again. “Oh, buddy,” he murmured.
“You didn’t answer my question. How are you feeling? Besides worried for your kid?”
“Headache. Tired. The usual.” Tony shrugged. “I’ll be fine. But…”
“Peter’s going to be fine too,” Rhodey assured him, heading him off before he could say it aloud. “As soon as he sees that you’re okay, he’ll be back to normal.”
“His dad is a superhero, Rhodey. He has spider DNA. He’ll never be... “ Tony cut himself off, shaking his head. “What if something happens to me? What…”
“Don’t,” Rhodey cautioned softly, eyes cutting over to the boy. “Peter is already terrified that something is going to happen to you.”
“Of course he is! So am I! And...and what about when he gets older?”
“What are you talking about, Tones?” Rhodey asked gently, reaching out resting a hand on his arm.
“What if he follows in my footsteps? He already has superpowers. What if he...what if he wants to do this too and I have to sit at my son’s bedside after he gets hurt?”
His friend sighed, squeezing his arm and smiling a little. “Tony, you’re spiraling.”
Tony dropped his head against the pillows, squeezing Peter’s hand and fighting the urge to wake the boy. It looked like Peter needed the sleep. But he wanted to hold his son. Wanted to kiss his head and tell him how sorry he was...how sorry he was for putting himself in danger all the time. For being a superhero. For setting the example he was setting.
Rhodey cleared his throat. “Even if something were to happen to you, you know I’d take care of him.” Tony lifted his eyes and his friend tried for a smile. “I’m his godfather. And I love him. I’d take care of him like he was my own son. And if he suddenly decided to become a superhero...then...I’d do everything I could to protect him. But Peter is your son and I know better than anyone there’s no way to stop a Stark from doing exactly what they want.”
He had to chuckle, and finally, the little boy at his side shifted, uncurling a little from the chair and blinking heavily. “Uncle Rhodey?” he asked.
“Hey, buddy,” Rhodey murmured, a soft smile lighting up his face. “Look who’s awake.”
“Huh?” Peter rubbed his eyes with his free hand, then blinked at his dad who watched him, waiting with his own smile. “Dad?” he asked, voice breaking a little, and Tony tugged on his hand a little.
“Hey, buddy. Are you…”
Before he could finish the question, Peter was jumping into his bed as carefully as he could, throwing his arms around Tony’s neck. Tony lifted his good arm, rubbing Peter’s back. He closed his eyes, sniffing when Peter sobbed into his neck. “Oh...baby...I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Are...are you okay?”
“I’m okay, Spiderling. I just need a little more rest and I’ll be just fine.”
“I was afraid...afraid you wouldn't...wouldn’t wake up!”
Tony felt his chest clench as he held the boy as tightly as he could. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Pete.”
“I..I know your job is really important but…” The boy pulled away a little, huge, teary brown eyes staring into Tony’s. “But I…”
“Hey,” Tony murmured, reaching up and running a thumb over his cheek. He pulled him close and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I’m going to take a little time off, okay? We’ll do something. Just you and me and Pepper. Go back to the beach for a little while so I can get better.”
Peter sniffed, and Tony knew that he was letting him down. He should quit. He should give it up. But he couldn’t. And he suspected his son knew that too. But the little boy managed a smile, reaching up and wiping his face. “Can Uncle Rhodey come too?”
Behind him Rhodey chucked, and Tony laughed a little too as Rhodey reached out and patted his back. “Yeah, buddy. Uncle Rhodey can come too.” Pulling him close once more, Tony kissed his son’s hair and let the boy wrap his arms around him, always careful not to squeeze too hard. “I love you so much. So, so much, Pete.”
“I love you too, Daddy.” And then the boy’s eyes were drooping, and Tony shifted him so that he could lay beside him on the bed, Rhodey moving the covers so that he could tuck the boy in.
“Get some sleep, buddy.” Closing his eyes, the boy did, but Tony lay awake for the rest of the night, holding his son and praying that a day never came when he couldn’t.
Chapter 11: Sick Day
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.