Tony and Pepper’s anniversary did not begin nearly as romantically or calmly as Tony would have liked. No, it began with lawyers. Lawyers who arrived two hours ahead of schedule for him to sign off on a copyright infringement lawsuit against some mid-range drone company that was trying to pass off Stark tech as its own. So instead of waking Pepper with a kiss as planned, he whipped on a white button-down, hit his elbow on the door jam, forgot his watch, and began his day in chaos.
In retrospect, he shouldn’t have expected the day to go any smoother just because it was their anniversary. With Stark Industries hosting a conference on aeronautic engineering on Saturday, his entire week had been so busy that it wasn’t until that afternoon that he was able to sneak out to buy Pepper a card and a gift. Granted, it wasn’t so much sneaking out as it was standing up in the middle of a conversation with his public relations officer and walking out.
Yes, he could send an assistant to pick up something pretty as he had in the past. He’d done so just last year out of necessity, but it left such a bad taste in his mouth that this year he was determined to pick everything out himself, necessity be damned.
Which is how he found himself in stop-and-go traffic in the heart of the city at three o’clock in the afternoon, tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel and listening to-
“You’ll only have fifteen minutes to get from the west entrance to the main conference hall if you still want to give autographs before the speech…”
“Which I don’t recommend. You remember what happened last time you did that?”
“Oh I remember,” Tony replied. He’d ended up being over half an hour late to his own keynote speech, prompting a scowl from Pepper so intimidating that he extended the speech an extra ten minutes just to avoid leaving the safety of the stage. “Why are you calling me with this? You’re head of security. You’re paid to tackle ne’er-do-wells and drive me around, not organize my schedule.”
“Because Jamie is busy dealing with the vendor issue and Samantha is out with the flu. Believe me, I don’t think I’m qualified to do this either.”
“Then don’t. I’m trying to buy something for Pep.” The cars in front of him inched forward, just enough for his hopes to rise, before coming to a stop again.
“Why’d you wait until the day of?”
Tony rubbed a hand over his eyes in frustration. “You review our past week and tell me when I should have gone out. It’s a miracle that we haven’t had to cancel our dinner reservations tonight as it is. I haven’t even showered yet!”
Happy released a sympathetic sigh.
“Whose idiot idea was it to plan this conference so close to our anniversary, anyway?” Tony huffed, throwing a hand out to no one.
Happy was quiet for a moment before answering in a slow, almost disbelieving tone, “You know we have to coordinate with the five other companies putting on presentations, right? And the vendors. And the board of directors has to agree. Just because we’re hosting doesn’t mean we can just pick a day…”
“I know! That was a rhetorical question.”
“Well I’m not there, I can’t tell! I can’t read your visual cues!”
A musical ringing interrupted them, along with a picture of Pepper flashing on the car’s dashboard display.
“That’s her, Hap, I’ll call you back.”
“Wait, we need to go over-”
Tony tapped Pepper’s picture.
“Hello Ms. Potts,” he said smoothly, then jumped when a nearby truck honked its horn. The driver threw a middle finger up at the taxi trying to cut him off.
“Hi,” she replied with a soft chuckle. “Just wanted to check in with you. Wish you a happy anniversary. ”
“I know, I can’t believe we haven’t even seen each other today. It’s criminal.”
“It’s criminal,” she agreed. “I’m on my way down to see Mr. Cranston, whom I was told you abruptly walked out on twenty minutes ago. Is there a reasonable explanation I can give him? Other than your well-documented and whimsical habits?”
Tony saw a break in the traffic and quickly changed lanes, feeling a small thrill of excitement at even that small amount of progress. “Ah. If you would, give him my deepest apologies and tell him that I’m an excellent fiancé.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line and when she spoke again he could hear the smile in her voice. “I’ll give him the message. Are we still looking good for dinner tonight?”
“Still looking good,” he confirmed, a small smile gracing his own face as well. Just a few more hours and they could enjoy a much-needed oasis of contentment amidst their jungle of a week.
The ring of another incoming call broke the moment and he frowned in confusion at the name on the screen.
“Gotta go, Pep. See you tonight?”
“See you tonight.”
He switched the call over. “Samantha?”
“Hi Mr. Stark.” His event coordinator’s voice was so nasally, so congested, that he might not have recognized it if he hadn’t seen the caller ID. “Mr. Hogan said to tell you that you’ll only have fifteen minutes to get from the west entrance to the main conference hall...”
“-but that’s only if you wanted to sign autographs first. If you-”
“Go back to bed, Samantha. Feel better.”
“Okay, thank you, sir,” she said, sounding only partially awake as it was.
She sniffled and hung up, and with that the car fell blessedly silent for a good five or six minutes. The traffic began to break up and with the good luck of several green lights in a row, he finally pulled into the desired jewelry store parking lot.
He was about to turn the car off - hoping to get in and out of the store before the steadily darkening clouds hanging over the city got any ideas - when the phone rang yet again. This time the face that blinked at him was that of Peter Parker. The kid must have figured out how to enter his own contact photo into Friday’s system, because Tony had definitely never seen this particular selfie of Peter with a dopey, open-mouthed grin and scrunched-shut eyes.
It was Thursday… he should be in school. He wouldn’t call in the middle of a class, would he?
“I hope you’re in the bathroom,” Tony said by way of greeting.
“Mr. Stark, hi! Wow,” said an excited young voice. But not the excited young voice he was expecting.
“Oh my God, yes! That’s my actual name, too! This is so cool.”
Tony glanced impatiently through the windshield into the oh-so-close store, seeing sales staff lingering behind the counter and talking with other customers.
“Why are you calling, Fred?”
“Oh, no it’s- you had it right before… why do you hope I’m in the bathroom?”
“I thought you were Peter,” he replied, then closed his eyes when he realized that didn’t make it sound any better. “Just- why are you calling on his phone?”
“Oh. Well, I think… I think he needs you. I mean he does. Need you.”
Tony sat back in his seat, brow furrowing. “How? Is he okay?”
“Uh, I don’t think so. He’s sort of… sick?”
“Sick? Why didn’t you call his aunt?” The words sounded harsh, but May was Peter’s guardian and would, for obvious reasons, want to be the first person called if her nephew was feeling unwell.
“Well, that’s the thing. Or, one of the things. She’s been away for a few days and Peter has been staying with me. But I don’t think I’m equipped to handle this.”
“Okay,” Tony said carefully, already putting the car into reverse. “What kind of sickness are we talking?” He inched his way back out into traffic, the jewelry store forgotten behind him. FRIDAY intuitively brought up a map with the quickest route to Midtown High.
“That’s the other thing, it’s- hold on.” He heard a few muffled voices and the opening and closing of a door. Then, in the loudest whisper Tony had ever heard in his life, “I think it’s a spider thing! If you know what I mean!”
“What happened? When did it start?”
“Okay, so we were in home ec class and we sort of… dared each other to do shots of vinegar?”
Tony rolled his eyes but resisted the urge to scold, considering the amount of things he had downed in his youth.
“Totally not as fun as it sounds by the way, it was so gross. But Peter- I was pretty much fine after, but Peter didn’t look right. I think he didn’t say anything for a while because he thought I must be feeling the same thing and that it was normal. But then he was really quiet the next period and when I asked him if he was okay, he said he thought he had heartburn. His throat was hurting and his stomach was hurting. And it looked like it was getting worse, so I started thinking… and I looked it up, and… I guess vinegar is poisonous to spiders? Some people use it in their houses to kill them.”
Tony’s stomach dropped. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I guess it burns them. I’m really worried, Mr. Stark. I don’t know what to do. We’re at the nurse’s office right now but we can’t really tell her that it’s the vinegar, so we’re playing it like a stomach bug or something. But I don’t know how to help him.”
“Okay, well I’m glad you called me, good job on that,” Tony replied, despite not yet knowing how to help Peter either. But he knew people who would hopefully know.
“Thank you, sir!”
Tony glanced at the ETA on his display, grateful that he already happened to be in the city. “Okay, tell Peter I’ll be there in about nine minutes.”
“It feels like I swallowed bleach,” Peter groaned, crawling into the backseat before Tony even had the chance to ask him where he wanted to sit. “I should have known something was wrong, it smelled so bad. Like bleach.”
Tony slid into the front, putting Peter’s backpack next to him on the passenger’s seat. “Shots of vinegar, kid? Really?” He glanced into the rear view mirror in time to watch Peter sink down out of sight.
“And it tasted… like bleach.”
“I know you don’t know what bleach tastes like, despite what your generation would have us believe,” Tony muttered, starting the car up. “Wait, are you sure it wasn’t bleach? What did the bottle look like?”
“It was white and said ‘bleach’ on it.”
“No it didn’t.”
“We were learning how to make chickpea and bleach curry.”
“No you weren’t,” Tony responded somewhat absentmindedly, focused on pulling out of the school parking lot as speedily as he could. As soon as he merged back onto the main road he had FRIDAY call the person he trusted most with superhuman medical issues.
“Bruce! I have something of a problem on my hands.”
“Is it about the number of emergency medical staff to have on hand for the conference? Because I already told Happy I’m not comfortable making that kind of decision.”
“God, I didn’t even know that was a thing. No, I have Peter in my car and he swallowed some vinegar.”
Within seconds Bruce understood. “My mother used to use vinegar to kill household spiders.”
“Right, and I’d like to make sure it doesn’t kill our spider.”
“How much did he drink?”
“How much, Pete?” Tony glanced in the rear view mirror again, but saw nothing.
“...two tablespoons,” Peter answered, then rustled around a bit. “We were careful with our measurements.”
Bruce gave a thoughtful sigh and then was quiet for a few seconds. “Well, this is obviously an extremely unique situation.”
Peter moaned something about not wanting to go out in such an embarrassing fashion.
“That being said, I don’t think that small of an amount is going to do any lasting damage. It’s probably given him some pretty bad acid burns in his stomach and throat, but his healing ability should work fast enough to keep it from getting any worse than that. Though I definitely want to do an exam as soon as you get here. I assume you’re on your way here?”
“You assume correctly.” The tight knot of fear in Tony’s stomach had begun to unwind as Bruce spoke, but his concern for Peter didn’t lessen. “What about the pain? There’s gotta be something we can do.”
“There is, have him start drinking water to dilute it. He can try eating a banana too, if you can get your hands on one. It’ll coat the lining of his esophagus and stomach, and might ease some of the irritation. Helps with acid reflux, at least.”
“Hear that, kid? I hope you like bananas and water, because we’re stopping at the next convenience store.”
“... Oh, come on... crap, I’ve gotta go, Tony. Happy is calling again. Can you ask FRIDAY to remove my number from his phone?”
“Sorry Brucie, you’re too useful. Good luck! And thank you.”
“Thank you,” Peter’s muffled voice echoed from the backseat.
“You’re always welcome. See you when you get here.”
As soon as the call ended, Tony drew in a deep breath through his nose to ground himself. “Alright, good. Very good. You’ll live to vex me another day.”
He was met with silence and glanced in the mirror. “You okay back there?”
Peter pushed himself into an upright position and Tony finally got a good look at him. His curly hair was smushed on one side and a light sheen of sweat was visible along his hairline and neck.
“I’m okay,” he said sullenly, one arm wrapped tightly around his midsection. He met Tony’s eyes briefly before blushing and turning to look out the window. “I feel stupid.”
An unexpected rush of fondness brought a smile to Tony’s face. “Why do you feel stupid?”
“I dunno,” Peter mumbled, then winced and rubbed at his chest. “I just- I should have known better. I should have known when I smelled it, at least. I mean it still smelled like vinegar, I know what vinegar smells like. But it was just so strong, so much more vinegary. And I dunno, I thought maybe it was just my new senses. Everything is louder, everything is brighter. You know. And then I drank it, and… I dunno.” He trailed off and hunched lower in his seat.
“You drank it, and…?”
Peter had both arms wrapped around his stomach now, but with his shoulders scrunched up as well, it was starting to look a little bit more like a pout than anything else.
“I dunno. It started burning right away, but I was just…” He slid just a little bit lower. “I didn’t want to look dumb.”
Again Tony couldn’t help but smile at the somewhat child-like display. “Hey, I can understand that.”
Peter immediately looked up. “You can?”
“Sure. No one knew it was actually hurting you and you didn’t want to be the only one to make a big deal about it.”
Peter nodded and his shoulders inched downward ever so slightly.
“I get it. I do. But listen to me, Peter.” He made sure to meet Peter’s wide eyes before continuing. “If you drink something or eat something - even touch something that hurts you this bad, you can’t just do nothing. Okay? If you know something is wrong you excuse yourself, go to the bathroom, do whatever you have to do and you get help. Call me. Or your aunt. Or Happy, I know he gives you a hard time but he’d do anything for you if you were in trouble.”
“Okay,” came the quiet response.
“Okay. We’re just a block away from the store, I’ll get you some water and bananas.”
“Um.” Peter cleared his throat. “I need to come in with you, if that’s okay.”
Tony couldn’t help a quick laugh of disbelief. “No, that’s not okay. You’re staying here and waiting for me.”
“But-” Peter briefly cut himself off with a grimace and hugged his stomach. “I just need to get something real quick.”
“Are you going to get sick? Do you need the bathroom?” Tony glanced back and saw the boy’s ears go pink.
“No. I need to buy something.”
The convenience store came up on their right and Tony pulled in, snagging a parking spot right near the front door. “What do you need? I’ll get it for you.”
“No, you can’t see what it is.”
“Then you’re not gonna get it. You have poison in your stomach right now, Pete, so just stay still.” Tony hit a button on his left armrest before turning the car off and getting out. “I’m serious. Stay,” he said again before closing the door.
Peter immediately reached for his handle and pulled on it a few times before frowning. He pressed the button to unlock the backseat and tried again, then looked up at Tony, mouth dropping open in betrayal. “Did you turn on the child safety locks?!”
“I didn’t trust you to stay put. And would you look at that, I was right.”
“You know I can still open this if I really want to!” The boy’s voice was comically muffled through the window, completely nullifying his attempt to sound threatening.
“You break my car and I’ll never let you meet Thor. Stay,” Tony ordered, and gave him a firm, two-finger point before turning and going inside.
He moved as quickly as he could to the back of the store, grabbing a twenty-four pack of bottled water and the largest bunch of bananas he could find in their limited food section. There was one person ahead of him in line when he got to the counter and as he stood waiting, his eyes strayed to a rickety wire stand of greeting cards. With a resigned sigh, he reached for the single, slightly-warped card that read ‘Happy Anniversary.’
Peter was lying down on his side again when Tony opened the car door but he sat up to make room for the twenty-four pack.
“Start drinking,” Tony said simply, then closed the door and got into the driver’s seat. He handed the plastic bag of bananas back. “And start eating.”
Peter gulped down water as Tony pulled back out onto the road but then suddenly paused and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “Whoa. How did you know?” he said, voice filled with wonder as he dug into the bag.
“Uh. Know what?”
“That I wanted to go in so I could get you an anniversary card! Oh, but you’ve seen what it looks like - it won’t be a surprise. Well. At least you got to pick out one you liked, I hope. And at least it will be a surprise to Ms. Potts, right? I hope she likes it too.”
Tony stared at Peter through the mirror, affection welling in his heart so suddenly and so fully that he was rendered temporarily speechless. It wasn’t even a marriage anniversary, it was a dating anniversary. The fact that Peter not only knew the day but still tried to get them a card in the midst of his current situation only cemented Tony’s belief that Peter was something special.
The boy’s head was bowed as he inspected the card more closely but he finally looked up at Tony’s lack of a response and immediately turned red.
“Oh my god, is this supposed to be from you? I’m so sorry, I thought- I mean, I thought- I thought you were getting it for me to give… I assumed you would already have bought her a card and a present and everything by now! Your anniversary is today, you know!”
“Yes I know, thank you! And yes, I bought it to be from me. How were you planning to get a card to us in time, anyway? Mail it? Our anniversary is today, you know!”
“I was going to swing it to you!”
“At the compound?”
“Ye- oh. I guess- a taxi? Well okay, I would have mailed it to you and it would only have been a day late. Why is there a snicker’s bar here too?”
“It’s her favorite.”
Peter considered that as he began to peel a banana, the heavy scent of it immediately filling the inside of the car. “I really admire that, actually. Saving money on gifts. Especially you guys, who could get each other anything. As long as you get to spend time together, right?”
Tony snorted. “Well. I won’t lie and say it was planned this way, but you’re not wrong. Tell you what, why don’t we both sign the card?”
Mouth full of banana, Peter hummed and nodded excitedly in agreement.
The forty-something minutes it normally took to get to the compound felt closer to an hour. The city traffic was not forgiving and despite eating several bananas and drinking what was probably over six bottles of water, Peter went through periods in which he’d go very quiet and stare out the window, face pinched in pain and arms glued around his middle. Tony tried to distract him by retelling some of his most embarrassing memories of his early Iron Man days, which seemed to help.
Happy called once during the trip and Tony took pity on him, letting him walk through the weekend’s schedule aloud and saying yes at the appropriate times. Though partway through he was distracted by Peter’s torso suddenly appearing next to him as the boy leaned through the seats to dig through his backpack. Tony smacked him on the arm and pointed back to the backseat, but Peter just whispered that he needed a pen to sign the card.
“You need to put your seat belt on is what you need to do!” Tony hissed, trying to sound stern while keeping his voice low enough to avoid detection. “Have you had it off this whole time?”
At Tony’s glare Peter sheepishly sat back down and buckled up.
Once again Happy didn’t make it through his whole spiel before their call was cut off, though this time it wasn’t Tony hanging up on him. No, it was Happy hanging up on himself when Peter suggested a way to save time that would require rearranging an entire half a day.
Tony felt that hanging up so abruptly when the kid was only trying to help was a bit harsh, but Peter just looked thoughtful for a moment before telling Tony that he needed to pee.
Of all places for Tony to see his fiancé for the first time on their anniversary, of course it was the bathrooms. Peter had insisted he wasn’t going to make it up to the medbay in time and considering the amount of empty water bottles Tony found in his backseat, he was inclined to believe him.
Pepper stepped out of the women’s room just as they turned the corner, looking immaculate as always, and suddenly Tony was very aware of the fact that he smelled like bananas. She stopped short upon seeing them, a crease appearing between her eyebrows.
Not yet willing or prepared to answer the hundreds of questions that must be going through her mind, Tony grabbed Peter by the shoulders and extended him towards her in lieu of explanation.
“Happy Anniversary, Ms. Potts!” Peter said, in turn extending the card.
A fond - albeit very confused - expression spread over her face as she took the card from him. “Thank you Peter. Shouldn’t you be in-”
“I’m so sorry but I have to go really bad!” Peter pulled out of Tony’s hands and darted for the men’s room, calling over his shoulder, “I’ll be right back!”
As the door swung closed behind him, Pepper opened the card and read the extremely generic three-line poem within, punctuated by Tony and Peter’s names at the bottom.
“Happy Anniversary, Ms. Potts,” Tony echoed, suddenly nervous now that he was standing in front of her, unshowered, with nothing more than a snicker’s bar as a gift.
But the sparkle in her eye and the smile that graced her features when she looked up at him washed his anxiety away as quickly as it came. She stepped closer and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “It’s perfect, Tony. Really.”
Entranced, he leaned in for another kiss- but the flush of a toilet from the men’s room had him leaning away again and he cleared his throat. “I hate to ask this, as I’m already horrifically butchering my role of ‘good fiance’, but would you mind terribly if we moved our reservation back a few hours? I’ve gotta take Pete to see Bruce, and then I’d like to keep him around for a while. He drank something poisonous. Long story.”
“Or, here’s another idea,” she replied easily, “we cancel our reservation and have dinner here with Peter, if he’d like to and if he’s feeling okay. You two can tell me your story. Because I absolutely want to know why he drank poison and why you both smell like bananas.”
Tony grinned. “Your ideas always were better than mine. Just as long as we don’t have anything with vinegar in it.”