The rest of the world carried on as though nothing had happened, and yet Tony Stark couldn’t bring himself to join them. He wished nothing more than to be a part of their wondrous oblivion, but the unconscious kid laying in front of him prevented it.
Swallowing the thick lump that had risen in his throat, Tony sat in the armchair, unmoving.
Peter had been his responsibility and yet he had failed the kid. It was his fault that Peter was like this. It was all his fault.
The Time Stone had been used to bring back the vanished population. Everyone seemed to have picked up from where they left on. A father wrestled his screaming kid into his pram, a business woman in her pantsuit spoke loudly into her phone, whilst carrying the largest coffee she could manage, a dog barked loudly on the corner. Everything seemed to be normal. Except Peter. There was nothing normal about him.
One by one, people reappeared, dizzy and disorientated at first, but conscious. But when Tony found Peter, he lay there unmoving.
“Kid. Come on kid, wake up.”
But Peter hadn’t woken. He had been transferred to the Avengers Facility to be monitored. A week had passed, and no one had been able to figure out what had happened to him, and why he was still unconscious.
“Come on kid.” Tony said softly, sitting up in his armchair. Several trays of food lay untouched at his feet. Feeling warm, Tony slipped off the blanket that someone had placed around him. He couldn’t remember who it had been. Rubbing his aching brow, he leaned in toward Peter.
A heart rate monitor blipped steadily beside him and a tube fitted just beneath his nose pushed oxygen into his lungs. Peter’s frame looked even smaller against the thick blankets that swathed him. He looked peaceful and he wasn’t in any pain, yet this did little to deter Tony’s anxieties.
Why hadn’t Peter woken? How was it that everyone who vanished had come back seemingly untouched?
Tony heard footsteps draw closely behind him.
“Anything?” said a low husky voice. Tony turned from his position in the armchair he’d taken up residence in.
It was Steve.
“No.” Tony said, turning back to face Peter. “Nothing.”
“You’ve been here for three days now, you should go home and get some rest.” The Captain raised a brow, his glance finding the tray of uneaten food.
“I’m fine.” Tony said, knowing full well that he looked like absolute shit. His whole body ached, and each movement felt stiff and forced.
“No. You’re not fine.” Steve said firmly. “Go home, have a shower and something to eat. I know Pepper is anxious to see you.”
“I can’t leave him.” Tony said. “Not again.”
Steve placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Let me take over for a bit. If anything changes, you’ll be the first to know.”
Tony stood up, a little too quickly. Dizziness washed over him, and his legs ached from cramp.
“Fine. I’ll go.” Tony said reluctantly. As he left the room, he saw Steve take his spot in the armchair, the fading light just visible over the Captains hardened face.
The elevator door opened to the Penthouse suite. Pepper leaned against the wall, her arms folded into the dressing gown she was wrapped in.
“Nice to see you home.” She said before enveloping him in a hug. Letting his body rest against hers, he buried his face into her shoulder, making him wish he had come home sooner.
“Steve called, said you were on your way home. I’m surprised he managed to get you to leave.”
Tony eventually pulled away. “It had to happen eventually.” Tony said, almost bitterly. But he knew that Steve was right. He needed rest, he needed to be able to function. He was no good to anyone like this.
Placing a cool hand on his cheek, Pepper smiled up at him. “I know you don’t feel like eating right now. But there’s some food in the fridge that I can heat up for you. Just let me know, okay?”
Tony let the water run over his head and down his body. His hand against the wall keeping him upright, Tony closed his eyes.
Ever since that day.
He hadn’t been able to get it out of his mind.
”Mr Stark, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.”
Peter’s last words rang through his mind over and over, never failing to haunt him whenever Tony found himself alone. Turning the water pressure up, he tried to drown the thoughts from his mind.
Tony could hear it in Peter’s voice.
“I don’t feel so good.”
Tony knew that Peter was going to die. And Peter knew that he was dying. His heightened senses told him half the universe was disappearing. And he was disappearing with it.
There had been nothing that Tony could do in that moment, except hold the kid. Hold him and make him comfortable, soothe the dying kid as best he could.
Hold him until had faded into nothing but dust, with traces of Peter’s ash staining his fingers.
Forcing his eyes back open, Tony turned off the water, his back burning from the heat. He stepped out of the shower and wrapped himself in a towel. With the back of his hand he wiped the mirror to clear some of the condensation.
His reflection gaunt and pallid, dark rings had set under his eyes. Tony winced as he dried his upper body with the towel. Turning to his side, he saw that his back and chest were a gleaming red from the burning hot water. Hastily pulling on a t-shirt and pants before Pepper could see, he left the bathroom.
Up until now, Tony had refused sleep. It was only as he climbed into bed that he realized how tired he was. Sleep pulled him under and he could just hear Pepper calling his name, but he was already gone. Sleep had consumed him.
It wasn’t until he heard screaming that he woke up. Blindly, Tony sat up.
A light switched on, sending searing pain through his head. Clamping his hands to his head, he swallowed thick bile.
Pepper was staring at him, her expression laced with concern.
“What-what happened?” Tony asked, gulping down cool oxygen into his lungs.
“Tony, you were screaming.”
“S-sorry.” He stammered, still trying to regain control of his breathing.
Tracing circles with her hands on his back, Pepper didn’t say anything.
Shaking uncontrollably, an anger rose inside Tony. An anger that he couldn’t quite figure out. How was it that everyone else seemed okay. No one else was…suffering.
“That’s enough sleep for me.” Tony said, throwing back the covers and stepping out onto the hardwood floor.
“Tony.” Pepper said, pulling back the covers to invite him back. “Come back to bed.”
But Tony was already at the doorway. “I’ll just be up for just a while. Go back to sleep.”
The dull black sky was beginning to lighten as Tony finished consuming his fourth cup of coffee. His side of the bed remained untouched from the previous night. Exhaling softly, he put down the tools he was holding, the suit on the table was in pieces. He switched off the desk lamp he had been working under and leaned back in the chair.
The sun seeped through the New York skyline as the city below him began to wake. He’d had enough of sleeping for one night.
The streets of New York city seemed quieter than usual. The vanished had been returned and the universe was once again occupied with it’s original population, and yet something seemed different.
Tony Stark made his way down the Upper West side, his stride slower than usual. he took his time to really notice everything, and everyone. No one spoke, the people seemed to move silently to their destinations. Everyone was oblivious to what had happened just over a week ago. None of the vanished seemed to be able to remember what had happened to them or were letting on that they did.
Hands in pockets, Tony started up the stone steps towards the building. The large glass windows opened automatically as he stepped into the entrance lobby. A water mist was coming off a fountain.
Supposedly it was to calm nerves and bring a peaceful ambience to the place.
There’s nothing peaceful or calming about this goddamn place.
“Welcome back Mr Stark,” the receptionist said in a cool voice. He nodded at her, hands staying firmly in his pockets as he walked toward the lift.
It quickly became apparent to Tony that something was different. The cocoon of blankets Peter had been wrapped in now lay at the end of the bed. Peter’s bed was empty.
The room was occupied by someone else. Someone tall in a baseball cap.
“Rogers, what are you doing here?” Tony asked, unable to keep the panic out of his voice. “Where’s Peter!?”
“Relax Tony, Bruce took him down to imaging a little while ago. He said not to disturb you, he’ll be back soon.”
“You said you’d tell me if anything happened-“
“Tony. Nothing has happened, he’s just having a couple of tests done.”
Anger rising, Tony forced his breathing to slow. “I should be there with him. I promised him I wouldn’t leave him again.”
“He was in good hands, Tony.” Steve said, his own face devoid of sleep. He wore the same tired expression as Tony.
“Have you been here all night?”
Steve nodded. “I wouldn’t leave him alone.”
It dawned on Tony that he wasn’t the only man in the room to have lost the thing he cared about most in the world.
Tony turned to the Captain. “Has-has he said anything. About what it was like? Does he remember anything?”
Steve shook his head. “Bucky hasn’t said anything about what happened to him. None of them have. No one who vanished has spoken about what happened.”
“How’s he holding up?” Tony asked.
“Bucky’s okay.” Steve replied, raking a hand through his blond hair. “He seems different, like the rest of them. He just seems quiet, not that he was a big talker anyway. He went back to Wakanda yesterday to help with the cleanup.”
“Of course, I should have gone too- “Tony started, but Steve quickly waved him down.
“No one expects you to be anywhere but here at the moment.” Steve didn’t say it out loud, he didn’t have to, he knew much the kid meant to the mechanic.
The two men sat in silence and waited.
“Tony. Steve. You’re here.”
Both men turned to see Bruce standing in the doorway. Tony felt his breathing hasten. Tony always had the unpleasant knack of being able to tell when someone was about to say something bad.
“Where’s Peter?” Tony asked immediately, vacating the armchair.
Bruce held up his hands in a calming gesture.
“He’s safe Tony, he’s still in imaging. But I do have some results, we have something conclusive this time.”
“What is it, what’s wrong with him?” Tony asked, moving toward Bruce.
Looking uncomfortable, Bruce shuffled backward. “Maybe you want to sit down, or go somewhere more private.”
“I'm not going anywhere” Tony said as the nausea set in.
Bruce took a moment to put on his thick rimmed glasses as he held Peter’s chart in his hands. “Okay, well, we’re still learning about the effects people sustained. Various people have suffered memory loss, migraines, panic attacks and increased anxiety. But everyone seems to be in a conscious state, apart from Peter.”
“Carry on.” Steve said.
“But information at this stage is telling us the reason he hasn’t woken up is something to do with his heightened senses. Something about the reversal process has meant that Peter hasn’t mentally been brought back. His brain scans indicate that his mind is fully functioning, but up until now we weren't sure why he wasn't waking up the way everyone else did.”
“So what are you saying?” Tony asked, his head thumping painfully.
“I’m saying that while Peter’s physical state has been returned, mentally he is still trapped.”
Steve’s mouth opened, his hand scrubbing his chin. Bruce looked almost…sad.
Tony’s body tensed further, his palms becoming slick with sweat “You mean to tell me that Peter’s mind is trapped? “
Bruce hesitated before answering.