Peter stared down at his hands. The sterile white of the hospital room was making him nervous. His Aunt Mae sat at his bedside, waiting with him, but she was lost in her own thoughts.
He’d confessed everything… She had a lot to think about.
At first they assumed the knock on the door was the doctor. Peter could not have predicted that Tony Stark would walk into his hospital room. Or that his Aunt would be so clearly thrilled to see him.
Mae was standing and across the room in moments. Despite being inches shorter, she was folding the billionaire into one of her all-encompassing hugs. Peter winced, imaging just how much more the man’s suit cost than even the house they lived in.
“Mae,” Tony acknowledged into her graying hair. “How are you?”
She pulled back, looking at him with one of those ‘now cut the BS young man’ stares. “As if you don’t know.”
And Tony Stark blushed.
Peter knew he was gaping, but seemed unable to control his shock.
Aunt Mae continued, “The insurance adjuster told me exactly why Ben’s policy came through so quickly.”
She squeezed his arms, still half in a hug, “Thank you.”
Stark glanced to the bed and Peter shut his mouth quickly. “Mae, can I talk to you outside?”
It looked like she was about to agree and suddenly Peter considered that maybe this wasn’t a social visit.
Mae turned in shock at his outburst. “Peter, don’t be rude. Anthony is an old family friend.”
Peter firmed his resolve against the stares of motherly rebuke and calm consideration. “Then anything he has to say he can say in here.”
He reached out a hand and Aunt Mae crossed over to the bed to take it. With her at his side, closer to his protection, Peter took a deep breath of relief.
Stark stared at him for a moment, then his lips twisted into a wry grin. “I would never hurt Mae.”
“Hurt me?” Mae questioned, before turning to her charge. “Peter, really…”
At the mulish expression, Mae turned back to their guest. “Peter was caught outside during all that mess… We’re just waiting to have him cleaned and stitched up. He got shot, Anthony.”
Stark dropped his head, complicated emotions reaching and immediately dropping off his face. When he looked up, hands shoved in his trouser pockets rucking his suit jacket out of its crisp drape, he was looking straight at Peter.
“I know Peter was shot… And I know exactly what he was doing out in all that mess.”
“Oh,” Mae sighed, lowering herself back into the chair at Peter’s bedside. “Peter,” she whispered, as the teen’s grip tightened on her hand to the point of pain.
Peter took his hand back, clenching them in his lap. He refused to back down, to look away. Instead he met Stark’s gaze calmly, resolved to whatever consequences were coming his way. “Then you’re here from the government.”
Tony sighed, leaning back against the far wall. He knew that face. He’d seen it in the mirror. That was his ‘don’t corner me’ face and it burned like acid to see it directed his way. What the fuck was he doing with a kid?
“I’m here for a lot of reasons, Peter. Some that aren’t going to make a damn bit of sense without some background information. Now some of this your Aunt Mae knows about… but some of it I’ve just found out.”
Peter nodded. “And it’s about me,” he paused, “about what I’ve been… doing.”
Tony sighed, dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling. “Curt mutated. Did you wonder why you hadn’t?”
Peter flinched from the recurring nightmare. He had been wondering, ever since he’d seen what his mentor had become. “You knew Dr. Connors.”
Stark reached up, pinching the bridge of his nose. He gestured sharply, waving off the question for a moment. “I’m just going to start at the beginning.”
Mae frowned. “Anthony, is this about Richard?”
Tony scowled. “It’s more about Mary.”
He straightened up, crossing his arms over his chest. “So, the beginning. Richard Parker and Curt Connors were the two junior faculty advisors assigned to keep a fourteen year old MIT student in line. Though, really, asking two single post-grads to keep an eye on me? Total nightmare.”
Mae chuckled. “You weren’t that bad.”
Tony pointed. “Yes. I was.”
He started pacing at the end of the hospital bed. “So Richard decided to seek help from the parental authority he had – your Uncle Ben. Who, surprisingly, was a fairly good hand at keeping snot-nosed teenage me in line and out of trouble.”
Tony paused. “Most trouble.”
Mae reached over and patted Peter on the shoulder when he looked at her incredulously. He remembered Uncle Ben’s reaction to some of his tinkering. So that’s where the patient sighing had come from…
“And since I was a complete know-it-all,” Tony continued. “I agreed to be tested as part of their research.”
Peter was staring now, all rapt attention.
“It’s not mutant level, but I have a high human norm healing factor. In simulations, this increased the possibilities of success but it still wasn’t a guarantee. Maybe I would have continued working with them, but my parents were killed in a car accident and I had a new guardian. Richard and Curt took some funding from Stark Industries competitors and I was out of the loop. I finished up my degree programs, but I stayed in touch with Ben and Mae.”
“So,” Peter concluded, “You’re a family friend. That means whatever Agency keeps an eye on Iron Man sent you here?”
Tony met his gaze in all seriousness. “That wouldn’t have been enough. That secret agency, it’s SHIELD, by the way. The Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division has me listed as a consultant. But the reason I’m here, rather than a very scary man in a suit not nearly as nice as mine? Little more complicated.”
He leaned back against the wall and Peter’s senses started tingling. Whatever this was, he wasn’t going to like it, but he wasn’t quite sure how it was being perceived as a threat.
“I don’t remember your mother, Mary. It’s not something I’m proud of, but she’s a name on a list of people my PA has shown out of my homes. She was also one of Richard’s students, then his TA, and finally a research assistant. She was in his files as testing at the high human normal for the healing factors as well. I hope like hell he loved her, and you, and that this whole bullshit circumstance wasn’t some selective breeding as part of his experiment.”
Peter’s head jerked back like he’d been slapped. “What are you…? You’re not saying…? I don’t understand.”
It was denial and disbelief rather than a lack of understanding and Tony could see it in the kid’s face. Damn, he could see himself in that face. Young, pissed off, and desperately in need of some form of control of his reality.
“Peter, I’m your father.”
“What?!” Mae exclaimed. “Anthony?”
Peter just stared.
“You’re getting a load dumped on you here, Peter,” Tony continued. “You left a lot of blood behind when you were shot. SHIELD ran a standard profile to determine how to neutralize you if necessary. This wasn’t anything that any of us could expect, but it’s going to keep you out of a lot of trouble.”
“I don’t understand,” Peter repeated.
Tony made a face, lips pursed. “Okay, one step at a time. First, you’re not being treated here. There are people waiting outside to transfer you to a SHIELD treatment facility.”
Seeing the panic rising in Peter’s face, Tony added another option. “Or, you can be moved to Stark Tower and I’ll have a private physician take care of you. That’s one small decision, but it has to be made now. All the rest of them? They can wait.”
Peter was still staring.
“Look,” Tony said, stepping close to the bed for the first time. His hand trembled slightly when he reached out, but he rested it on Peter’s ankle. “You don’t know me, I get that. I would have helped you as Mae’s ward. But you’re my son. No one is going to hurt you. Not SHIELD, not the NYPD, no one.”
“So,” he stepped back and clapped his hands once. “You ready to get out of here?”
There was a long beat of silence.
Then, throwing back the sheet covering him, Peter jerked towards the edge of the hospital bed. “Are you crazy? You can’t just come in here and throw my life out the window and expect me to go with you!”
Mae was reaching for his arm and Peter yanked back. He tried to stand and his leg wobbled beneath him.
“Aunt Mae, you can’t believe any of this?”
She frowned, letting out a deep sigh. “Peter, your mother was four months pregnant when they were married… Ben and I, well… Your dad…” She paused and took a deep breath. “Ben had a lot of hard words for Richard because he never thought…”
She fell silent and Peter’s face crumbled. “Is this why they could just abandon me? Walk away and ignore that they had a kid?”
“Peter,” Mae implored. There were tears in her eyes, glistening in the cold fluorescents of the hospital room.
Peter turned to look at Tony Stark, at his father, and found the man within a step. He closed that final gap, reaching out to grasp Peter’s shoulder lightly but somehow with reassurance.
“I know this can’t be what you wanted to happen today, Peter. But we need to go. Those people out there?” Tony gestured to the closed door. “To them, at this moment, you are a tabloid payday or a kidnapping ransom. Let me take you to my Tower, get you safe and treated. Then the three of us can decide what happens next.”
Peter met his gaze and then looked at his Aunt Mae. “We’re not going to be able to go home, are we?”
Mae bit her lip. “There were seven kidnapping attempts while Tony was at MIT, Peter… And those are only the ones I know of.”
Peter turned back as Tony squeezed his shoulder.
“For a long time, I ignored the best advice your Uncle ever gave me. With all my money and power, comes the responsibility to use it the right way. I don’t want to let him down again.”
All the energy seemed to leave him, Peter slumping as the emotional and physical exhaustion magnified. Tony caught him, bracing the teenager against his shoulder. He allowed himself a single moment of weakness, closing his eyes and solidifying his resolve against the terror of being responsible for a child.
Tony opened his eyes to find Mae smiling at him through her tears.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” she said, rubbing Peter’s back.