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Presumed Dead

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**Trigger warning for mentions of attempted suicide**

 

The first text from Peter didn't wake Tony. It had been a late night of trying to get Morgan to sleep with bedtime stories and juice pops and outright begging. And then he'd gone to the lab, trying to get some Stark Industries work done. And finally, finally, at three in the morning, he had gone to sleep. Later, he would see that the first text from Peter came at 3:30am, the second at 3:35 am, and that the one from May came at 4:00am, just two hours before Morgan usually woke him. The phone buzzed on his bedside table and Tony slept, dreaming dreams he would never be able to remember.

The world was saved. He was retired. And something was wrong with Peter. He'd known it for a few weeks now. The kid had been quiet, almost withdrawn, nothing like before...before the snap and before he had been both dead and not dead. Before all of that, Peter had been laughter and constant motion and big smiles and so much brilliance in one kid...but now he was different. Oh, he still smiled at Tony, and he'd told Morgan that it was nice to meet her. He had told Tony that he was happy for May now that she was dating again, and happy that she had her own charity and he was proud of how much she was helping.

It had been noticeable before the whole Mysterio debacle. Now it was worse. He didn't patrol anymore...his original suit had been destroyed and the one Tony had given him, the Iron Spider suit, sat unused in his room according to May. His grades were slipping a little. Not enough to keep him out of MIT, but enough that May and Tony were worried. And he never wanted to come to the lake house anymore.

That last part had hurt Tony the most. But more than that, it had worried him. The kid had been pulling away ever since Europe and Tony didn't know why but it scared him. So he'd asked May if Peter could take a week off of school at the end of the month to spend at the lake house. He would try then, Tony thought. He would figure out what was wrong with his kid and he would fix it, because that's what he did. He fixed things. He was a mechanic after all. Peter would be okay. The kid was always okay. This was just a rough patch.

The phone rang at 5:30, but it was on vibrate, so it only buzzed on the table. He woke briefly, but didn't check to see who was calling. He was so tired...he had to start getting to bed earlier now that he was old. No way Morgan would let him sleep in. She was too excited about Peter visiting and too excited about life in general. She had no idea how close she had come to losing him...how close she had come to losing everything to Thanos. But, Tony reminded himself as he rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, she would never have to.

The phone ran again and again, and he dreamed of bees and humming until Pepper grabbed his shoulder, shaking him hard. "Tony!" She practically screamed his name, and her tone had him sitting upright in seconds.

"What? What?" he asked, staring up at her tear-stained cheeks. "Pep? What's wrong?" He demanded, scanning the room for Morgan. But of course his daughter was asleep in her room. The clock told him it was barely 6.

"You have to get to the hospital...now…" She was choking on her words, a hand covering her mouth and part of her red, blotchy cheeks. "I'll get someone to watch Morgan…"

"Why? What's going on?" Tony demanded, reaching out and taking her hands. "Pep, what's wrong? Who's in the hospital?"

"Tony…" She shook her head, closing her eyes and more tears spilled down her cheeks and ran over her hands. "It's...it's Peter…"

"What?" His voice was dry like sandpaper, and just getting the word out was almost impossible. That didn't make any sense. Why would Peter be in the hospital? He grabbed his phone that told him he'd missed two calls and a text from May Parker...and two texts from Peter. He started at the bottom, looking at May's text.

"Tony! Please call me! It's Peter!"

Then he looked at the ones from Peter.

"Mr. Stark? Are you awake?"

And then, five minutes later.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Stark."

He stared at the words until they blurred together, none of it making any sense. "Was...was he in the suit? How...what happened?" Without realizing it, he'd thrown his legs over the side of the bed and was starting to stand, a hand reaching out to touch Pepper's arm in an attempt to comfort her. She just shook her head.

"He wasn't in the suit."

"Then what…"

"He took all of his pain pills."

Those words hit Tony hard, and his knees folded, landing him back on the bed once more. No...no, Peter knew better. If he was hurt he would have just taken one. They were strong enough...Peter knew that. He knew that those pain pills were strong and a bottle held thirty so if he took all of them...he knew. Tony knew what she was saying, suddenly, and it knocked the breath out of him.

Why hadn't he pushed? He'd known something was wrong. He'd known that Peter had been going through something big and he'd known that things must be hard on the kid after literally coming back to life and he'd known all this but he hadn't...he hadn't tried…

"He's alive. For now...he's alive. We have to get to the hospital…" Pepper whispered, trying to speak through her tears. "Now...May and Happy are already there but we have to…"

Tony nodded, lurching to his feet and dressing in a daze. Pepper would meet him later but he had to drive there now. By himself. Peter had taken all of his pain pills. Peter had tried to text him. He'd been asleep and Peter had tried to reach out to him. He'd apologized. Just like Titan.

Peter had tried to kill himself.

He cried as he drove, tears that dripped down his face without him noticing much. He'd let Peter down. He'd let him down in the worst way...he'd brought him back to life only to let this happen. Peter had needed him and he'd...Tony shook his head hard, wiping his hand roughly across his face. No. He didn't have time for that. He had to get to Peter and May and he would talk to the kid and figure out what was wrong and he'd fix it and...and Peter would be okay. His kid was going to be okay. He had to be okay. Tony had already tried living in a world without Peter. He didn't think he could bear to do it again.

Why hadn't he checked on him more? Why had he worried so much about hovering?

May was sitting next to Happy in the waiting room, and he spotted them before they spotted him. He hurried to May's side, dropping into the chair beside her, and she finally looked up, showing off red-rimmed eyes and cheeks covered in mascara. "I couldn't...couldn't get you so...I called...Sam and…"

Tony nodded, reaching out and grasping her hand. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I didn't answer the phone. I was asleep."

"Sam...he got Doctor Strange and they...they brought him here…". She swallowed, shaking her head. "He wasn't breathing…". Her voice broke then, and she covered her face with her hands, Happy moving to put a hand on her arm. "I didn't find him until 4...I got up to go...to the...bathroom and he…"

Happy pulled on her shoulder, letting her hide her face in his chest as he turned to Tony. "I gave him CPR until Sam got there. Strange is with him. They had to pump his stomach and they're not sure how much damage was done. He was having trouble breathing…"

Tony just nodded, not sure what the hell else he was supposed to do. Strange was with him. Doctor Strange was one of the best but Helen was his doctor. Pulling out his phone, he sent her a quick text.

"He...he's been acting so strange and…". May tried to take a deep breath and calm down, but it wasn't working. "I thought...I thought it was just...after he came back and…". She gave up, shaking her head and covering her face with her hands. "He wasn't moving...he was just laying on the floor…"

Tony wanted her to stop. He didn't want to imagine it. Didn't want to picture Peter Parker dead on his bathroom floor. "He tried to text me…I was asleep."

No one had an answer for that.

Doctor Strange emerged from the hallway after a moment, going straight to Tony and May, his face as somber as ever, but there was a sadness in his eyes that hit Tony right in the gut. "He hasn't regained consciousness, but we were able to purge the drugs from his system for the most part. His healing ability is definitely working in his favor." The man hesitated, lowering his voice. "Does Peter have a history of any kind of drug abuse?"

May shook her head, adamant. "Nothing. You can ask Helen. He never…we kept them in the medicine cabinet and he never…"

Happy squeezed her hand when her words cut off in a sob, and Tony had never wanted Pepper so badly in his life.

"Something's been off...he's been pulling away lately and...I should have tried to talk to him. I should have tried harder." Tony whispered the words as if admitting defeat.

"When he wakes, I want to place him on suicide watch for 24 hours. If you can get him to talk to you, that would be ideal. If not, I believe Sam can recommend someone."

Tony and May both nodded, and Strange led them back to Peter's room just as Tony got a text that Helen was on her way. Happy had volunteered to wait outside, since Stephen didn't want too many people in his room at once, and Tony had to grab at the door frame when he saw the boy laying in the hospital bed. He'd obviously lost weight, with his cheekbones sticking out and bruise-like shadows under his eyes telling Tony that he hadn't been sleeping. He had a tube going down his throat, breathing for him, and a blanket was pulled up to his neck, arms resting at his sides. An IV ran from the inside of one of his elbows, and although he had a little color in his face, he was still so pale.

May practically collapsed in a chair at his side, and Tony knew, as he sat down at Peter's side, that they would have to talk. That they would have to find a way to get Peter to explain to them what was going on. No matter what it took, he didn't think he could survive this twice, and he knew May couldn't. They had to fix their boy. Somehow.

It wasn't until an hour had passed that Tony thought to ask Karen. Sure, Peter hadn't been in the suit recently, but he could have her check his phone and see if there were any clues there. So, excusing himself and telling May he was going to find her some food, he headed outside, then found a deserted corner to pop an earbud in, bringing up Peter's phone display on his own, not feeling remotely guilty about it. If invading his kid's privacy got him answers, then he'd do it. Gladly. After connecting to Karen, he brought up the voice command. "Hi, Karen."

"Hello, Mr. Stark. How can I be of assistance?"

"Pete...um...Peter tried to kill himself tonight." He whispered the words, closing his eyes to hold the tears back. No time for tears. Not now. First he had to help Peter. "I want to see anything on his phone that might explain why."

"Would you like to see the logs of his correspondence with me that he began after his trip to Europe?"

Tony didn't hesitate. "Yeah. Bring it all up."

The video diary started with Peter in his room, knees to his chest, obviously in bed. He was holding the phone with a shaky hand, eyes looking anywhere but at the screen. "Hey, Karen." He whispered.

"Hello, Peter. Your vitals suggest that you are on the verge of a panic attack. Would you like me to call Mr. Stark?"

Peter shook his head on the screen. "No...no, just...um...can you talk to me? For a little while? About anything. Please."

"Would you like to hear tips on how to calm down after a nightmare?" On the screen, the boy closed his eyes, and then the screen went dark.

The next entry was the next night. "Karen? Can you tell me some of those tips please?"

That's how it went for a few days, Peter waking up and talking to Karen, asking her to help him calm down and shaking his head every time she suggested calling for help. And then, almost a week later, Peter brought up the screen and he wasn't in his bed. He was in what looked like a bathroom, head pressed against a tile wall. "Karen?"

"Yes, Peter?"

"I can't breathe...Karen…"

"Would you like for me to call…

"Stop asking that!" Peter snapped, closing his eyes as a tear ran down his cheek. "He's...he's busy Karen! He has a real family now! He doesn't have time to…"

That's when it hit Tony. Peter hadn't come to him because he didn't see himself as Tony's family. He didn't understand how much Tony loved him...how important he was despite the fact that there was another child in the picture now. How had Tony missed that? How hadn't he made it abundantly clear.

The recordings went on, with Peter suffering from more and more panic attacks, more and more nightmares, until the recording from that night.

Peter sat on the floor of the bathroom, hollow eyed and shaking. He was crying, but didn't seem to notice. "Karen?"

"Yes, Peter?"

"I can't..I don't know what to do."

"Would you like to call for assistance?"

"It's crushing me...everything...the nightmares and...and I can't even go one day…"

"Peter, would you like…"

"I don't belong here." The boy said it like it was a revelation, eyes widening as he looked at the camera for the first time. "I was supposed to stay dead."

"Peter…"

"Mr. Stark has his family and May has Happy and I'm supposed to be dead."

Tony shook his head despite the fact that it was a recording...despite the fact that it had all already happened.

"Peter, might I suggest…" Karen tried, but Peter went on, something manic and desperate in his eyes.

"They're all so worried about me. It would be better...Karen….". He sobbed out her name, closing his eyes. "Karen, would it be better?"

"Peter, I believe you need to call for help."

He nodded, swallowing hard. "Okay….um….can you just text Mr. Stark? Ask him if he's awake?"

Then, five minutes of torturous silence. Because Tony knew what happened next. He'd been awake. Slowly, the hope in Peter's eyes faded.

"Peter, I believe he might be asleep. Should I call him? That might wake him."

Peter on the screen shook his head. "No….um….don't do that. Just text him? Um...just say, I'm so sorry, Mr. Stark." His voice broke, and he was barely able to get the name out.

Peter waited for almost five more minutes, something so heartbreakingly hopeful in his eyes as Tony felt his heart break in his chest. He hadn't answered. He'd been asleep. He hadn't pushed hard enough and he hadn't been there and now…

Then Peter stood on shaky legs, wiping at his eyes. "Karen?"

"Peter, I must insist you…"

"Power off."

Tony stared at the black screen and had to swallow the scream. How had he missed it? How had they all missed it? He'd returned from the dead and had been in a major battle with a deranged lunatic all within a two month span...of course the kid hadn't been okay!

But Tony has wanted him to be okay so badly.

May was asleep when he returned to the boy's room, and he sat in his own plastic chair, gripping Peter's hand and resigning himself to wait. But Peter was going to wake up, and when he did, Tony was going to be there. Hell, the kid would be begging him to leave his side before long. But never again was Peter going to think that he didn't belong.

On the bed, Peter flinched a little in his drug-induced sleep, head moving to the side as much as the tube would allow.

Tony leaned forward."I'm right here, buddy. You're not alone." He squeezed the cold hand resting in his. "I've got you, Pete."

Chapter Text

Led Zeppelin blared through the radio as Tony eased his foot off the gas, glancing over at the boy beside him. Peter sat in the passenger seat, forehead resting on the window, eyes staring blankly out the window. Neither of them had spoken in a while, and Tony remembered when their silences had been comfortable. When the two of them had spent hours together every week. But that had been before. Before the snap and before Tony had managed to bring Peter back to life along with the rest of the half of the universe and before Peter had swallowed twenty-eight pain pills.

Before May had found him on the floor of their bathroom. Before Happy had given him CPR until Sam and Doctor Strange had arrived.

That had been almost a week ago.

After watching the videos of Peter talking to Karen, Tony had gone to Peter's side and hadn't really left it since, other than to video chat with Morgan, or to step out of the room when Stephen Strange or May wanted to talk to Peter alone, which they'd done a few times since the boy had woken up.

Peter had woken in the middle of the afternoon, coming to slowly a few hours after the breathing tube had been removed. Strange had explained that usually they would use restraints on patients who might present a suicide risk, but Tony had vetoed the idea, with May backing him up. If Peter woke up restrained, he'd be even more freaked out than he was already going to be. Instead, they'd promised to stay with him at all times. To try and talk to him.

He'd started to stir, just a little at first, with his fingers twitching in Tony's hand, head moving a little from side to side. "Hey, bud. You with us?" Tony had asked, leaning in. May, who had stepped away only to wash her face and change into regular clothes, had sat upright, fighting the tears that had filled her eyes and wiping them away as quickly as she could. Peter had groaned, a hand moving to his stomach that Tony knew must be sore. He remembered the good old days of having his stomach pumped all too well. He also remembered waking up alone after nearly drinking himself to death. He remembered the voicemail from his father, asking what the hell he'd been thinking. He remembered his mother's disappointed silence. Most of all, he remembered how Rhodey had thrown his arms around him when he'd picked him up from the hospital and his best friend's words.

"I'm so glad you're okay."

When Peter had finally peeled his eyes open, looking more bewildered than anything, Tony had leaned in and placed a hand on his cheek. "Hey, buddy. There you are." Peter had blinked at him, looking around the room, confusion and worry warring in his eyes, but Tony had just shaken his head. "It's okay. You're alright. Just take it easy, okay? Here...drink this." He'd handed Peter a cup of water, sliding a hand under the back of his neck to help him sit up, and the kid had flinched when he'd done so, that hand going back to his stomach. "I know you're sore, Pete. Drink this. It'll make you feel better." Tony hadn't known if that was true, but he'd said it anyway, helping Peter drink, then easing him back to the bed.

And that's when it had hit the kid.

Tony had watched the knowledge slam into him like a train, high speed and ruthless, and immediately his eyes had filled with tears. "May?" Peter had asked, turning to her like a toddler would turn to his mom for comfort, and she had leaned in, biting down hard on her lip as she'd pulled him into his arms, a hand pressed to the back of his hair desperately, as if someone would take her boy away. "I'm sorry...May...I'm so sorry…"

"I know, baby. It's alright. You're going to be okay."

"I didn't...I didn't know what to do and...I just...it was so stupid I'm…" He had gasped out his words, hands shaking, and Tony had shifted to sit on the bed, resting a steady hand on Peter's back and hoping that his voice could be just as steady...that it wouldn't give away his anguish and terror.

"We know. It's alright, Pete. We can talk about it. It's okay."

"Mr. Stark...you shouldn't...you shouldn't be here…" Peter had whispered, and Tony had shoved back the hurt...had shoved back the childish urge to leave to spare his own feelings. This had been the problem in the first place. He hadn't pushed hard enough. Hadn't hovered enough. Hadn't made sure that his kid knew exactly how important he was.

"Peter, I don't know if you know this, but if my kid's in the hospital, that's where I'm going to be."

Peter had blinked at him a few times, shaking his head as if clearing it. "But Morgan…"

"Is going to be fine without me for a little bit. She and Pepper are going to do 'mommy daughter' things, whatever that means." He'd forced a little smile. "And I'm going to make sure her brother is okay." Peter had looked like he'd wanted to argue. But he hadn't. He'd just dropped his eyes, looking impossibly small and so tired, and Tony had ruffled his hair. "You're going to have to talk to the doctor at some point. Us too. We've got to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Okay?"

And that's when Peter had started to withdraw again.

Not from May. Not really. He'd answered her questions with an honesty that Tony knew had hurt her. It had hurt him too. The boy had admitted to feeling alone and scared, to the nightmares and the panic attacks. He'd admitted to feeling left out of his own family, now that she had Happy. But he hadn't said a word about Tony and his family. And when it had come time for May to leave for work that night, which Peter insisted she do, he'd responded to all of Tony's small talk.

But Tony had had no idea how to talk to him about this. Not really. Things had always been pretty easy with Peter, at least after he'd gotten past the urge to push the kid away to protect him. Peter had loved spending time with him and they'd had a great time working in the lab and watching movies together and just spending time together. So now, when Peter made polite small talk with him like he was a stranger, he had no idea how to respond to that. He didn't want to upset the kid, not when he was laying in a hospital bed with an IV hooked up to his arm. And he didn't want to push Peter even further away.

That's when he'd gotten the idea. He'd have Peter over to the lake house. It would be just the two of them, plus Friday who was under strict instructions to monitor Peter every second of every day, and alert Tony to any suicidal or self-destructive behaviors. Stephen and Helen had released Peter after three days in the hospital, and after only being home for two days, during which he'd stayed home from school and May had stayed home from work, Tony had dropped by his apartment to pick him up.

He and Peter were going to talk, damn it, if it was the last thing Tony did.

"What do you think?" Tony asked, gesturing to the radio and glancing over at Peter once more. The kid hadn't protested against the idea of going to the lake house, exactly. But he hadn't looked thrilled either. More resigned. And that was something that Tony didn't understand but he was determined to break through to the kid. Somehow.

"Huh?"

"The song. What do you think?" Before all of this, Tony and Peter had talked about everything, from music to Peter's crush on the 'really scary but really pretty MJ,' and Tony just wanted some sense of normalcy. He knew that the kid was tired of everyone watching him every minute of every day...that he felt guilty about what he'd done. So Tony decided to try to make things normal as they drove through the forest.

"Reminds me of Thor."

Tony lifted his eyebrows as Immigrant Song played at an enhanced-spider-sense approved level. "Thor?"

A tiny smile lifted the corners of Peter's lips, and Tony took it as a win, no matter how confused he was. "Yeah. I think he'd like it."

Tony snorted. The kid had barely met Thor...just for a few minutes after the battle at the compound which was still being rebuilt from a twisted wreck. But Tony was just glad to see the kid smiling, even if it was just a little. "If you say so. The next time he's around, we'll play it for him."

Peter gave a halfhearted nod, lips twitching a little. He wasn't there, though. Tony could see it in his face. Peter wasn't really there with him. His was somewhere else, and Tony had no idea how to fix it. No idea how to wake him up...to shake him out of this. No idea what was actually causing it. How did he prove to the kid that he wanted to be there for him? How was that something that needed proving?

"So...Morgan and Pepper are on a little vacation all weekend...it's just you and me for a few days. What do you want to do?"

Peter was silent, forehead still resting on the window as the trees rushed by. The road they were on circled one of the lakes in the area, and Peter stared at it like it held the secrets to the universe. The lake his own house bordered was still a few miles away, but they'd be there in time for lunch. Tony was planning on making pancakes...the kid's favorite. Or, one of his favorites.

"I've got the lab set up," Tony went on. "We can play around with nanotech if you want. Or take a look at Friday's movie database. Get you caught up. Or take the canoe out. Can spiders swim?" He asked with a twitch of his lip, a desperate smile, and Peter huffed out a tiny laugh.

"I can swim."

"Good. Pepper insisted we get a million life jackets, and she taught Morgan to swim when she was practically an infant...some weird mother daughter water aerobics class. But I won't make you wear one."

Peter was still smiling, just a little, but his eyes drifted away from Tony and he went back to staring at the lake.

Tony went back to searching for something to talk about...anything that didn't involve the snap or May and Happy or anything else that could upset Peter. "So...how's your scary girlfriend?"

Peter's lip twitched again. "MJ's fine."

Tony turned to him after glancing at the road. "Have you talked to her since…"

"Tony!" The sharp use of his first name took Tony aback, and all he managed to do was glance over at Peter and watch his hand reach out for the steering wheel when something slammed into them, throwing Tony against the airbag that burst out of the steering wheel, and he turned his head to see the boy's head slam into the window hard enough to crack the glass...and then the car was rolling.

Tony's eyes snapped open and he realized something was wrong. The car smelled like the dust from airbags and they were...moving. Sinking. Looking around, he saw Peter first, the boy's head limp, chin to his chest, the window covered in blood and cracks beside him, and just beyond him...the lake.

Tony was wet. He glanced down, everything coming to him in pieces, and then he gasped, fighting desperately to undo his seat belt, then Peter's. "Pete! Peter! Wake up!" He cried, his throat so dry it hurt. The car was in the lake. They were sinking. They were sinking fast and the water was up to his lap and he managed to get his seatbelt off only to grab the door handle...but it wouldn't budge. The water pressure held it fast, and the front of the car was a crumpled wreck, but the windshield was only cracked, not broken. They couldn't get out that way either. "No no no...kid!" He turned back to Peter just as the water hit his chest, the car tilting forward. "Peter!"

With shaking hands, Tony grabbed Peter's seat belt and unclicked it, struggling to move through the dirty water that filled the car. His phone was in his pocket...he was sure Peter's was too. Neither was waterproof. He swore as he shook Peter's shoulder, the kid's head falling limply to the side, that he was going to make the new Stark phone waterproof if it was the last thing he did. "Peter! Please! Come on, kid!" He smacked the kid's cheek, feeling bad about it even as he did it. "Please!" He tried the door again, panic threatening to take over.

And then, as the water hit his chin and Peter's face, the kid jerked awake, sitting ramrod straight and turning to Tony with horror in his eyes. "Mr. Sta…"

The water was up to their chins, their mouths, and then covering their faces completely. And Peter just stared.

For a horrific second, Tony thought Peter was going to give up...to accept the death he'd wanted a week ago. But then Peter sat up even straighter, gasping for the last bit of air along with Tony right before turning to his window, pulling back a fist, and shattering it on the first try. Grabbing the window ledge, he pulled himself out of the car, and Tony felt a moment of relief. Peter was okay. Peter was going to make it out. Even if he didn't…

There was a tapping at the glass before Tony could even finish that thought, and he instinctively leaned back out of the way as Peter's fist came through his window. The kid grabbed the glass that was left, pulling hard and yanking it out of the window as blood filled the water around them. Peter didn't seem to notice, reaching out for Tony with bloody hands and grabbing his arm. He'd made sure there was no glass, Tony realized as the kid pulled him through the opening, so that he wouldn't cut himself. They swam together, Peter doing most of the work, until they broke the surface with twin gasps.

"Pete? Kid, you okay?" Tony asked, turning to the boy who had his arm around him, practically dragging him through the water and toward the muddy shore.

Peter nodded, still gasping for air, and as soon as they were on the shore, the kid's knees buckled and the two fell together, sprawling out in the mud. Tony reached out and gripped his arm, needing to touch the kid. Needing to know that he was okay. That he was physically there. That this wasn't like Titan. But Peter seemed to be focused on breathing, sitting on his hands and knees and sinking just a little in the mud. The kid's face had a streak of mud on it, but Tony was filthy too, so he didn't bother trying to wipe it off.

"Pete? Kiddo, talk to me. Are you okay?" Tony practically begged, coughing between words and trying to catch his breath.

The boy looked up at him with tear-filled eyes and shook his head. "I don't know if I can do it anymore." Peter gasped out the words, looking suddenly as though he was going to break, hands bleeding from where he'd grabbed the glass. "Tony...I don't think I can do it anymore." He was crying, tears mixing with the water that soaked him from head to toe, and Tony sat up, reaching out for his shoulders and shaking his head, an icy fear gripping his chest.

"Do what, Pete?"

"I don't know if I can be Spiderman anymore." It was whispered like a secret...like the most shameful secret in the world, but Tony only nodded, reaching up to cup Peter's cheek as they sat together in the mud.

"Okay. Hell, kid, it's going to do wonders for my cardiogram if you give up the vigilante work."

And then Peter was crying, full-body sobs shaking him as his arms gave out, and Tony had to lean forward to catch him, worrying only briefly about the cuts on his hand getting infected from the mud now covering them.

"Easy...it's okay. It's okay, buddy." Tony held him as best he could, letting Peter bury his face in his shoulder. "Pete...it's okay. No one would blame you for wanting to take a break."

"What...what if I…" Peter started, nearly crying too hard to speak, but Tony waited. "What if I can never...do it again?"

"Then you work for Stark Industries and probably live longer," Tony told him, squeezing him hard. But Peter only cried harder, apparently not in the mood to laugh, and that's when it hit him. Pulling away, he held Peter by the shoulders, then reached up and gripped Peter's chin to make him look at him. "Hey. You're my kid. Peter?" The boy hiccuped, obviously trying to stop crying, but Tony went on regardless. "I love you. I love you just like I love Morgan. You're both my kids. In every way that matters, you are a son to me. Just like Rhodey is my brother, you are my son. I love you. I love you if you decide to be Spiderman and I love you if you don't. I love you if you're depressed and when you're happy and when you have panic attacks and when you get pissed at me for hovering too much because that's probably going to happen real soon." He cupped Peter's cheek and smiled a little when Peter did, the kid's expression so heartbreakingly hopeful. "I love you so much. I didn't think it was possible to love someone this much, but god, Pete, did you prove me wrong. I have loved you since...I don't even know. Before the snap. Before Titan and Thanos. And I'm going to love you until I die, whether or not you decide to keep being a superhero."

The boy surged forward, throwing his arms around Tony and sobbing even harder, but this time it was a release, and Tony just held him, rocking him back and forth in the mud. "I love you too...I'm so sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry, buddy. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't tell you all this earlier."

"I scared you."

"Damn right you scared me. But I know what it's like, kid. I get it...but please, please...if you ever feel that way again, please come to me. Call me. Again and again. Until I answer. Because I swear, if you need me, I'm there. No matter what."

He felt Peter nod against his shoulders and squeezed him as tightly as he could.