The city fell away beneath below as Tony flew himself and Peter toward the compound. It was a cool spring evening, perfect for flying, not that either he or Peter could feel the air much through their suits.
“Any turbulence ahead, FRIDAY?” Tony asked.
“No, boss,” she said. “Looks like smooth flying all the way home.”
“Thanks again, Tony,” Peter said through their comlinks, as Tony flew them out of the city.
“No problem, kid. We’re gonna have a great week.” He hoped. Spring break had come at just the right time, as far as Tony was concerned. He knew the kid had been struggling lately. The data Tony got from Karen told a very different story than the one he was getting from Peter himself, and he got worried text messages from May more mornings than not, about how tired Peter looked.
The end of the world had come and gone, they’d beat Thanos and saved nearly everyone, but Peter still had the fucking SAT’s to worry about. Tony had to admit that it didn’t really seem fair.
May had barely argued at all when he’d asked if he could have Peter for the week. Mostly she’d sounded relieved that he wouldn’t be in the city, going out as Spiderman every night. Peter had been thrilled at the suggestion––but now he just sounded exhausted.
“I’ve been really looking forward to this.” Peter let his head rest on Iron Man’s shoulder briefly.
“Don’t fall asleep,” Tony said, a little worried by how heavy Peter’s body felt, as though he’d gone boneless.
“I won’t,” Peter said. Tony heard him yawn so hard there was an audible pop. “But I might go to bed when we get there. Is that okay?”
It was pretty early still. But the kid had earned it, and Tony wasn’t going to make him stay up and watch a movie with him if he didn’t want to. They had the whole week for that.
“Sure, kid. Whatever you want.”
Peter went quiet, which was unusual. Normally Tony found his chatter a mix of endearing and annoying, but tonight he wished for it back. Without it, he found himself stewing about the possible monkey wrench that might get thrown into his plans for the perfect week.
Telling Peter about him and Steve.
Tony was the first to admit he should have done it months ago. But it had started while Peter was in the soul stone dimension, and afterward––well, there had been a lot going on. Which wasn’t a great excuse, and Tony found himself unaccountably nervous. But Peter was a great kid. He would be fine with it, Tony was sure. Mostly sure.
Peter really did stumble off to bed as soon as they got in, even though Steve and Bruce were both in the living room, watching some sort of docudrama about politics. Usually Peter would have been excited to spend time with them––well, with Bruce, anyway––but tonight he just mumbled a greeting in their direction and headed for the elevator.
“Is he okay?” Bruce asked, frowning after him.
“I think so,” Tony said slowly. “May said he’s been burning the candle at both ends. That’s most of why she agreed that he could come upstate for his spring break. If he’d stayed in Queens, he’d have spent the whole time either glued to his SAT prep book or out patrolling.”
“It seems like kids are under so much academic pressure now,” Steve said. “I’m glad so many people get to go to college, but I can’t imagine having been that stressed out all the time when I was his age.”
“You lived during the Great Depression,” Tony said flatly. “You weren’t in college because you were trying to put food on the table.”
“Well. True. Also most people didn’t go to college. Hardly anyone, unless they were rich.” Steve shrugged. “I guess it’s just a different kind of stress.”
“Yeah.” Tony sighed and threw himself down on the sofa next to Steve. “Anyway, I’m sure he’s okay. He just needs a good night’s sleep. Jesus Christ, what you are two watching? I leave you alone for five minutes and you both turn into old men. Gimme the remote.”
The next morning, Tony found himself awake well before Peter, which was not that surprising. They’d agreed that Steve would sleep in his old apartment until Tony managed to tell Peter, so the other side of the bed was cold and empty. Steve had been up for hours anyway, FRIDAY informed him. He’d done his morning run and was making breakfast in the communal kitchen.
Breakfast. Breakfast meant coffee. Tony got up and went in search of his morning caffeine fix.
“Good morning,” Steve said when he stumbled out. He kissed Tony and handed him a mug of coffee in one fluid move. “You awake yet?”
“Barely.” Tony took a deep gulp of coffee. “You sleep okay?”
“Yeah,” Steve said, tossing a handful of onions in the pan on the stove. They hit the hot oil and sizzled. “Weird to be in the apartment again. Peter’s still asleep?”
“I guess so,” Tony said, glancing at his watch. It’d been over twelve hours since he’d gone to bed. “I hope it’s okay I didn’t talk to him right away about us? I didn’t want to do it during the flight, and he looked so worn out after we got here.”
“No, it’s fine,” Steve said. “Just... you will at some point, right?”
“Of course.” Tony was silent for a few seconds. “I think it’ll help, the two of you spending time together this week. He needs to get to know you outside of weird gym class PSA’s and––”
Tony winced. “Well, if it was just Germany, I honestly don’t think it’d be a problem.”
Steve turned to look at him. “He saw you after Siberia?”
“At the hospital, yeah.”
Steve closed his eyes. “It’s a wonder he’s willing to be in the same room as me. I don’t know how to come back from that.”
“We did,” Tony pointed out. “Eventually.”
“It took Thanos. It took the end of the world.” Steve swallowed, eyes growing distant. The onions in the pan sizzled, neglected. Tony could tell that he was remembering that awful time. The only good thing that Tony could say about it was that it had brought him and Steve together again, both of them too worn down by grief to care about the past.
Tony took pity on Steve. He took his coffee and went to stand beside him, bumping him gently with his hip. “Hey. He’s a good kid. And it’s time for him to know. Past time, probably,” Tony reflected with a grimace. That was the part Tony was dreading––when Peter asked him how long it’d been going on, and he had to admit that it’d been going on since before the reversal.
Peter still hadn’t shown up by the time breakfast was ready. Tony thought about having FRIDAY wake him, and then decided that the kid had earned at least one day where he got to sleep as late as he wanted. Tony made sure to set aside some of eggs and bacon for when Peter did get up, and then he and Steve sat down together at the island with their food. It was a rare quiet morning; almost all the other Avengers were away. Bruce was one floor down in his lab, but he was in the middle of something he’d so far refused to talk about, and Tony didn’t expect to see him much over the next few days. He and Peter would pay him a visit later, make sure he wasn’t forgetting to eat. But for now, it was just Tony and Steve.
“So what do you have planned for you and Peter this week?” Steve asked, piling eggs onto a slice of toast for a sandwich.
“Some serious lab time,” Tony said. “I added in a bunch of spider-friendly stuff to the obstacle course, so I know he’ll want to try that as well. And I thought the three of us could train together.”
“That sounds good.” Steve smiled at him, so openly fond that it made Tony uncomfortable. “He’s really lucky to have you around, you know.”
“I don’t know about that,” Tony said, glancing away. “He’s had pretty rotten luck with... adult figures in his life.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “I think you can say the p-word.”
“I really can’t.”
“Well, even so––” Steve got up to get more coffee and pressed a kiss to the side of Tony’s head. “I think he’s really lucky to have you around.”
Peter still hadn’t put in an appearance by the time they finished up breakfast. Tony put Peter’s food in the fridge while Steve loaded the dishwasher, and then he checked his watch.
“FRIDAY, is Peter still asleep?” he asked.
“Peter is not currently asleep, boss,” FRIDAY said. “But I think he may be unwell.”
Tony frowned. “Meaning?”
“His temperature is elevated, especially for him, at just over a hundred and one degrees. He has been awake intermittently since five this morning.”
Tony blinked. “What the hell? FRIDAY, why didn’t you tell me he was running a fever right away?”
“Peter requested that I not, and his temperature does not exceed the parameters for reporting that you have set for yourself.”
“Right,” Tony said with a sigh. “Tell him I’m on my way up, all right?”
“Poor kid,” Steve said. “I thought he had an enhanced immune system?”
“He does,” Tony said. “But apparently it’s not ironclad. And if he’s been exhausting himself with school and Spiderman activities...” He grimaced. “Hopefully it’ll be a short-lived bug. Feel like spending the day watching movies?”
“Sure,” Steve said, “if you think he won’t mind. He might want to have you to himself for a few hours, especially if he’s under the weather.”
Tony hadn’t thought about that. “Maybe. Let’s play it by ear once I see how he’s feeling.”
Peter’s room in the penthouse was directly across from Tony’s. He knocked once, then opened the door slowly. “Pete?” he said. “You awake?”
“Yeah,” Peter said hoarsely. “Sorry. I’m up.” He was sitting on the edge of the bed, slumped over, bracing himself on one arm.
“You don’t have to be,” Tony said. “Are you okay? FRIDAY said you’re running a fever.” Tony sat beside him on the bed and put a hand on his forehead. “Jesus. You feel really warm, kid.”
“I don’t get sick,” Peter muttered, even as he slumped slowly into Tony’s side.
“Current evidence suggests otherwise.” Tony put his arm around Peter’s shoulders. “Come on, talk to me, Peter.”
Peter was silent for a long time, face half-buried in Tony’s shoulder. Finally he mumbled, “I feel like crap. Haven’t felt this bad since before the bite. But I don’t want to ruin my visit.”
“Hey, hey, you’re not ruining anything,” Tony said, ruffling Peter’s hair. “So we take a couple days for you to get back on your feet. We’ll still have plenty of time to play in the lab and run the obstacle course and train and do whatever else you want.”
“Yeah?” Peter said. “Promise?”
“Promise.” Tony squeezed Peter’s shoulders. “Now what do you think? You want to sleep a little more in here, or should we move this party to the living room for a movie marathon?”
“Living room,” Peter said. “Star Wars?”
“Yeah, of course. Whatever you want. Unless you want the prequels, and then we need to have a serious discussion about your education.” Peter smiled weakly. Tony hesitated. “Do you mind if Steve joins us?”
“Oh,” Peter said, in an unreadable tone. “Yeah. That’s fine.”
Tony pulled away to look at him. Peter was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. He wasn’t looking at Tony. “I’m pretty sure he has some stuff to do this morning. How about I invite him to come this afternoon?”
Peter nodded, looking unmistakably relieved. “Yeah. That sounds good.”
It took Tony a few minutes to get Peter settled on the chaise section of the sofa in a nest of blankets and pillows, with a mug of tea and a plate of buttered toast that he eyed warily. Tony sat down beside him with his phone and quickly texted Steve about plans for the day, and then texted May with an update and a surreptitious photo of Peter in his blanket burrito. Then he put his arm across the back of the sofa, allowing Peter to lean in if he wanted, and said, “FRIDAY, A New Hope, please.”
Peter was asleep almost before Luke met Obi Wan, tucked into Tony’s side. It made it a little hard for Tony to work on his tablet, but he wasn’t about to move. He split his attention between the specs for the next StarkPhone, Peter breathing slow and evenly against his side, and the occasional glance up at the movie.
It was probably because he wasn’t giving Peter his full attention that it took him a little while to notice that Peter had gone from too warm to hot. Tony tuned back in when the credits rolled, and realized that Peter felt like a banked coal, even through the blankets. He reached over and put his hand on Peter’s forehead.
He swore softly. “FRIDAY, what’s Peter’s temperature?” he asked.
“103.2 degrees, boss.”
It’d gone up by two degrees while they were watching the movie. “Okay, from now until I tell you stop, I want hourly updates, and if it shifts a half a degree or more in either direction, let me know.” A system he should have set up the minute he realized Peter was sick, but he’d honestly expected the kid’s super immune system to make quick work of whatever virus he’d picked up.
He pulled away from Peter, settling him carefully against the pillows. He was probably dehydrated. He hadn’t finished his tea before falling asleep. Tony should wake him up and get some fluids into him, and maybe Bruce had something in the lab that might work on him. At the very least, they had painkillers that worked on Steve, and which might work on Peter.
He shook Peter very gently. “Pete, wake up. Come on, kid, rise and shine.” Peter didn’t respond. Tony shook him again a little harder. “Peter. I need you to wake up some we can get some fluids and meds into you, all right? I know it’s hard. I know you don’t feel well. But I need you to open your eyes.”
Still no response. Tony felt his heart rate start to speed up. “FRIDAY, get me Bruce and Steve,” he said aloud, trying not to sound as panicked as he felt. “Tell them I can’t get Peter to wake up.”
“On it, boss.”
Tony shook Peter again, trying to get him to wake up, but he stayed limp and unresponsive. He gave up and went into the kitchen to get a damp cloth. Those were supposed to be good for people with fevers, he was pretty sure. Stupid of him not to have done it earlier. May would have, he was sure.
He wondered if he should call May. She’d taken the news that Peter was sick with equanimity and a distinct lack of surprise, but he hadn’t been this sick when Tony had texted her. He was going to have to call her eventually, but maybe he should wait and see what Bruce said. It’d be easier to break the news about how sick Peter was if he had more data. Or so he tried to convince himself.
Tony had unwrapped Peter from his blanket burrito––another mistake, letting him burrow into those layers of blankets––and was wiping down his face and neck with the damp cloth when the elevator doors dinged, and both Steve and Bruce stepped out.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Bruce asked, hurrying over, medical bag in one hand. “FRIDAY said you can’t wake him up?”
“Yeah,” Tony said, pressing the cloth to Peter’s forehead. “He was running a fever earlier, and he fell asleep during the movie. I tried to wake him up so we could get some fluids and maybe some medicine into him, and couldn’t. His fever went up two degrees in two hours,” he added, and he definitely wasn’t hiding how panicked he was now. Steve came over and sat beside him on the sofa, putting his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “I should have noticed sooner.”
“Okay,” Bruce said, seating himself on the chaise next to Peter. He glanced at his tablet, where FRIDAY had sent Peter’s data. “First of all, you did fine. He wasn’t this ill earlier. You can’t blame yourself for not being able to predict the future.”
“I’m a futurist,” Tony muttered. “That is literally my job.”
Bruce rolled his eyes. “Also, a hundred and three is not life-threatening. I know Peter runs cool,” he added, before Tony could, “so it’s higher for him than for a non-enhanced human, but it’s still not life threatening. He’s going to be fine, all right? We’ll figure out what’s wrong and we’ll take care of him, I promise.”
Tony relaxed, just a little. “Thanks,” he said, embarrassed.
“It’s okay.” Bruce pulled his stethoscope out of his bag. “I’m going to do a quick exam, and then we’ll get an IV with fluids and nutrients in him.”
That sounded like a reasonable plan. Tony leaned back into Steve and tried not to let on just how freaked out he was. “What can I do?” Steve asked quietly into Tony’s ear.
Tony shook his head. “Nothing right now. Maybe you could make soup later? I bet Peter would appreciate something not out of a can.”
“Yeah, of course,” Steve said. “Whatever you need. Whatever Peter needs.”
Peter stayed quiet and still during the exam. But when Bruce put the IV in his arm, Peter twitched awake suddenly with a gasp and a jerk that nearly dislodged the needle.
“Whoa, whoa, hey, kid,” Tony said, pulling away from Steve to lean over Peter. “It’s okay.”
“Tony?” Peter mumbled, blinking up at him.
“Yeah, it’s me. Bruce just put an IV in your arm. You’re pretty sick, but you’re going to be okay.”
“Oh.” Peter blinked again. “I feel... terrible.”
Tony slid forward and stroked a hand through Peter’s hair. “I know, kid. I’m sorry. We’re working on it.”
“It’d help me if I knew your symptoms, Peter, other than the fever,” Bruce said. “Where do you hurt?”
“Everywhere,” Peter said, eyes drifting shut.
“Yeah. M’ kinda nauseous. And achy.” Peter swallowed and winced. “And my throat is really sore.”
Bruce frowned. “Can you open your mouth for me, please?” Peter opened obediently and Bruce shone a light into the back of his throat. “Thank you, Peter. It looks like you might have strep, though I want to run a blood test to make sure.”
“Strep?” Tony broke in. “I thought he had the flu.”
“He might have both, based on his symptoms. I’ll run tests to find out.”
“Both?” Peter said, managing to sound indignant even though his voice was barely above a whisper. “I don’t get sick.”
“You do, apparently,” Bruce said. He snapped on a new pair of gloves. “In fact, I would classify this as an immune system meltdown. How many hours of sleep have you been averaging per night, Peter?”
Peter glanced at Tony before he answered. “Three.” Tony frowned at him. “Two,” Peter amended, guiltily.
Two on a good night, Tony guessed that meant. Bruce looked unsurprised. “And have you been under a lot of stress recently? I know we all have, but I mean since the reversal. Since starting school again.”
“Yeah,” Peter admitted. “SAT’s and school and Spiderman...”
Bruce nodded. “That sounds like a lot to handle. Sometimes, when we’re under a lot of stress for a long time, and then that stress releases, everything our immune system has been holding back hits us at once. My second year of graduate school, I had a really hard semester––I was taking too many classes and working forty hours a week in a the lab for a really taxing professor. I stayed healthy all the way through, but when the semester was over, I took a week off––and I spent the entire time in bed with the flu.”
“Oh,” Peter said weakly.
“When you’re better,” Bruce went on, in his perfectly calm Bruce voice that Tony adored, especially when it was calming Peter right down, “we will have the first of what I’m sure will be a recurring conversation about self-care. You’re still growing, Peter. It seems like your immune system is excellent but not perfect. You have to take better care of yourself.”
“He’s right, Peter,” Steve said quietly from behind Tony. Peter startled a little, and Tony realized he hadn’t even realized Steve was there. Bruce tsked and held his arm firmly as he drew blood. “We all have to take care of ourselves if we want to stay in the fight.”
“Sorry,” Peter muttered, looking extra miserable.
“Don’t apologize,” Tony said, before Steve or Bruce could say anything. He wrapped an arm around Peter’s shoulders. “It’s not your fault. No one blames you for it. We’re just worried about you right now. And I’m worried that you’re getting so little sleep, but we can talk about that later, okay?”
“Okay,” Peter whispered. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Tony’s chest.
Bruce finished taking blood and connected the IV line. “I’m going to start running these tests, see what we’re dealing with. In the meantime, Peter, I’d like to give you a partial dosage of the painkiller the Wakandans developed for Steve and Bucky. It might make you groggy and maybe a little loopy. You okay with that?”
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Thanks, Dr. Banner.”
Bruce left. Tony pulled Peter’s head and shoulders into his lap, careful not to dislodge the IV. Steve took the damp cloth they’d been using earlier into the kitchen and came back with it re-dampened. Tony draped it over Peter’s eyes and forehead.
“You need anything?” Steve asked Tony.
“Maybe a glass of ice water,” Tony said, thinking it’d be easier on Peter’s throat. “And one of my shakes from the fridge?” He wanted a cup of coffee but didn’t want to subject Peter to the smell.
“Coming right up.”
Steve started to move toward Tony, but stopped himself abruptly, eyes widening. Tony realized that he’d been about to kiss him. Instead, Steve gave him a sheepish half-smile and ducked into the kitchen.
Tony wished rather desperately right then that Peter knew about him and Steve. It would have been nice for Steve to be able to kiss him and sit on the couch with both of them. It would have been nice to feel like his partner was able to really be his partner, even if he didn’t have the same relationship with Peter that Tony did. But for all his reassuring words to Steve, Tony had been nervous about how Peter would react. And now clearly wasn’t the time to tell him.
But he would, he thought. Just as soon as Peter was feeling better.
Peter felt like he was dying. He knew he wasn’t––it wasn’t like strep throat or the flu was going to actually kill him––but he couldn’t remember ever feeling this sick.
“All right, antibiotics,” Dr. Banner said, setting a bottle down on the end table next to the couch. “And anti-virals.” He set a second bottle down. “Take as directed,” he added, mostly to Tony, who was on Peter’s other side.
“And the painkiller?” Tony asked, reaching across Peter to grab the pills.
“Going directly in the IV,” Bruce said. “You should start to feel better pretty quick here, Peter. Let me know if you feel queasy or lightheaded or otherwise strange, all right?”
Peter nodded, not moving from his place tucked up against Tony’s chest.
“You sure you don’t want to move to your bed?” Tony asked.
“No,” Peter mumbled. “Comfortable here.” He knew he was being needy, latching onto Tony like this, but Tony didn’t seem inclined to push him away. And he couldn’t bring himself to move from the sofa, where he was safe and cozy and taken care of, back into the bedroom. He’d spent hours alone there this morning trying desperately not to be sick, not to ruin his visit to the compound. It hadn’t worked, of course, because his luck was the worst.
He took both pills with the water Tony gave him. His throat hurt so much. He liked to think his threshold of pain was pretty high but swallowing the pills, even with very cold water, made him tear up. He shook his head when Tony tried to get him to drink more and lay back down.
Things went quiet for a bit. Tony had one arm around him and was stroking his hair with the other. Peter could hear Dr. Banner talking to Tony, and Captain Rogers, too, but he let himself zone out.
The pain relief, when it kicked in, felt like having a wave of warm water wash over him. His head hurt less. His muscles hurt less. His throat hurt less, and Peter thought he might cry with relief. He groaned, overcome by the sudden release of pain, and Tony’s arm tightened around him.
“Pete? You okay?”
“Yeah. Painkiller kicked in.” He did feel a little lightheaded, but nothing too terrible, and he was exhausted.
“Yeah.” Peter pressed his face into Tony’s side. Tony probably had places to be, Peter thought, suddenly more clear-headed than he’d felt since woken up at five that morning, disoriented and feverish. Tony hadn’t signed up for taking care of a sick kid.
He should offer to go back to Queens. Just the idea of a Quinjet trip made him nauseous, and he knew that if he went back home he’d be alone a lot; May had to work and she couldn’t take off just because he was sick. She hadn’t done that very often since a couple years before the bite, and not at all since Ben died and they only had her paycheck. He’d be at home, alone, with no one to talk to and no one to help him if he needed it.
“Pete? Whoa, hey, Peter, what’s wrong?” Tony sounded worried. Peter felt his hands on both sides of his face. Peter opened his eyes. Tony’s face was unexpectedly blurry, and it took Peter a few seconds to realize it was because his eyes were filled with tears.
“What’s wrong?” Tony repeated, using the damp cloth that’d been draped over Peter’s forehead to wipe his face.
Peter managed a shaky breath. “Do you want me to go back to Queens?” he asked, voice trembling.
Tony froze briefly. “Do you want to go back to Queens?” he asked. “I understand if you’d rather be with May.”
“She’ll be working,” Peter said miserably. He took another shuddering breath, trying not to imagine the horrible aloneness of being on his own in the apartment. To his mortification, even trying not to think about it brought on a fresh wave of tears. “But—but I’d be okay,” he said when he could talk again. “I can take care of myself. If you’d rather I go home. I know this isn’t—it isn’t much fun.”
“Oh, kid,” Tony said gently. “No, I don’t want you to go home. Not unless you do.”
Peter shook his head. Then, to his horror, he burst into wracking sobs.
“Oh shit,” he heard Tony say. “FRIDAY, get Bruce up here.”
Peter tried to pull away, but Tony wouldn’t let go. “It’s okay,” Tony said, holding on tight and rocking them back and forth. “It’s okay, Peter.”
“Hey, is everything—oh dear,” Dr. Banner said. Peter felt the couch cushion dip under him as Bruce sat down. He put a hand on Peter’s back. “What happened?”
“The painkillers kicked in, and about two minutes later he started crying.”
“Sorry,” Peter mumbled, totally mortified. “I don’t know why. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Dr. Banner said. “It’s probably a reaction to the drug, that’s all. People react in all kinds of ways to the same drug. It’s okay. Do you want me to swap out your IV bag for one without any of it in there? You’ll probably metabolize what’s already in your system pretty fast. But you won’t get the positive effects of it either.”
Peter was torn. On the one hand, sobbing all over Tony for no reason was humiliating. But on the other hand, the painkiller had actually worked. He still felt awful, but he didn’t feel flattened. He didn’t want to go back to feeling that bad again.
“Tell you what,” Dr. Banner said after a few seconds of silence, “why don’t you give yourself an hour or two to adjust? Watch a movie, try to eat something—I know it doesn’t sound good, but food will help,” he said, obviously catching sight of Peter’s grimace. “Distraction might be the most effective way to keep you on an even keel while you’re taking it. If that doesn’t work, we can adjust the dosage.”
Peter nodded. “That sounds good. Thanks, Dr. Banner.”
“Yeah, thank you, Bruce,” Tony echoed.
“No problem. Call if you need anything.”
Dr. Banner left. Tony picked up the remote. “Episode V?” he asked. “Or should we watch something else?”
“Could we watch Finding Nemo?” Peter asked, rubbing a hand over his face. That had been one of the handful of DVDs in Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s house when Peter was a kid. He had watched it endlessly, especially when he was sick.
Tony was silent for a few seconds. “Any other Pixar that might do? Maybe one that isn’t about a father searching frantically for his lost kid?”
Yikes. And also, Whoa. “Yeah, of course,” Peter said. “Sorry. Should’ve thought. Um. How about Toy Story? The first one?”
“Great. Cue it up, FRIDAY.” Tony settled in next to him and drew Peter down so his head rested on a cushion in Tony’s lap. Already he felt a little better inside his own head. Knowing that Tony wanted him to stay helped. His hand rubbing up and down Peter’s shoulder helped even more.
“We should call May after the movie if you feel up to it,” Tony said during the opening credits. “She’s off work at three, she said.”
“Yeah.” Peter yawned.
“And you should eat something. Steve is making chicken soup, I bet it’ll be ready by the time the movie’s over.”
Peter opened his eyes. “Wait, what?”
“Captain Rogers is—Captain America is making chicken soup. Is someone else sick?”
“Nope, just you, kid,” Tony said, smoothing the hair back off his face. “And Captain America isn’t doing anything. Steve is making soup.”
“For me,” Peter said slowly.
Peter blinked slowly. His thoughts felt sluggish. “Why?”
“Because he asked me how he could help, and I asked him to do that? Because he wants you to feel better? Because chicken soup has scientifically proven medicinal properties when it’s not stripped of its fat, stuffed with sodium, and sold in a can?”
“But he doesn’t know me.”
“But he knows me,” Tony replied. “And he knows I—care about you.”
“But that doesn’t mean he cares about me. Caring about someone isn’t, like, a transitive property. ”
“An excellent mathematical metaphor, my nerdling,” Tony said. “But you’re wrong. Sometimes caring about someone is a transitive property. In this case, it is.”
“Huh.” There was something weird about all of this, something Peter had to be missing. But he was too tired and sick to be able to figure it out. He relaxed, and Tony’s hand started working it’s way through his hair again.
“So what do you say?” Tony said. “Chicken soup, extra patriotism?”
“Thought you said it wasn’t Captain America making it.”
“I did say that, didn’t I? Fine, no patriotism, just good old fashioned American values.”
Peter wondered if those values included beating the crap out of your best friend. Not that Tony seemed to care about that anymore. He hadn’t since the reversal, and all he would say about it was, Things changed. Old grudges didn’t matter anymore. Peter wasn’t sure he agreed, but Tony was selling him pretty hard on this soup. And really, Peter just wanted to go to sleep. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll try.”
Tony’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “Thanks, Pete.”
Peter fell asleep wondering just what it was Tony was thanking him for.
This time, when Peter fell asleep, Tony didn’t get out his tablet to try and work. He was unaccountably exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster of the afternoon, and he found himself slumping back and letting his eyes track what was happening on the screen. His head ached, but he didn’t want to shift Peter to get up and take something for it.
This was how Steve found him, maybe an hour into the movie. He paused as he got out of the elevator, clearly taking in the two of them on the sofa together, and smiled.
He had a silver travel mug in one hand, the kind that vacuum-sealed. Tony hoped it was what he thought it was. Caffeine-deprivation probably had something to do with how lousy he was feeling. All he’d had all day were three cups that morning. Usually he was at six or seven by now.
“Thought you might need this,” Steve said, handing it to him as he sat down on the sofa.
“You are my favorite,” Tony said fervently. He took a long swallow. It burned his tongue but he barely cared. It was hot and bitter and Steve had cut it with vanilla almond milk, Tony’s favorite. “That’s so good. Thanks.”
Steve smiled again. Then he glanced down at Peter, asleep with his head in Tony’s lap. He leaned in and kissed Tony softly. “Wanted to do that earlier and couldn’t,” Steve murmured, leaning back. “How’re you holding up?”
“Better now,” Tony said, holding up his precious, precious coffee.
Tony grimaced. “He had a bad reaction to the painkiller. Instead of it making him groggy and loopy like it does you and Barnes, it makes him anxious and weepy. But his fever seems to not be getting any worse, so that’s something.”
Steve nodded. “The soup is simmering downstairs. It’s ready pretty much whenever he wants it.”
“Thanks.” Tony sighed. “I told him you were making it. He was... confused.”
“About why you’d make soup for a kid you barely know. I told him that you knew me, and you knew that I cared about him.” Tony fell silent, then took a long sip of coffee. “I almost gave the game away then. If he hadn’t been sick, I think he would’ve figured it out.”
“Would it be the worst thing if he did?”
“No, but... it’s better if we tell him. Tomorrow, if he’s feeling better,” Tony said, decisively.
“Good plan,” Steve said, and leaned in to kiss him again.
Peter woke up just as the movie was ending. It was after four by then, and safe to call May. Tony had a quick conversation with her, just to give her an update, and then handed the phone over to Peter.
Tony had been a little concerned that talking to May would cause another bout of tears, but Peter seemed calm enough as he talked to her. Tony stayed in the kitchen, slicing up an apple for Peter to eat with his soup, and trying not to eavesdrop. Not that there was much to eavesdrop on; most of Peter’s answers seemed to be one word.
When Peter was done, he transferred the call back to Tony’s comlink. “Well, he sounds like crap,” May greeted him.
“Yeah, I know. Poor kid,” Tony said, as quietly as possible. Though with Peter’s hearing, he probably heard it anyway.
“But other than being really sick, he seems okay.”
“You don’t think you need to come up?” Tony asked. He wasn’t sure which answer he hoped she’d give. He didn’t mind taking care of Peter, and he appreciated the one-on-one time, even if all they did was lie on the sofa. But on the other hand, it’d be really nice to have someone else in charge, because Tony didn’t have a fucking clue what he was doing.
“No, I think he’s in good hands,” May said. “And I hope you know what a compliment that is, Tony.”
“I do,” he said, taken a bit aback.
“I have Thursday and Friday off this week. If he’s still not feeling well then, I’ll come up. And if he gets worse, I expect you to call me.”
“Of course,” he said, arranging the apple slices on a plate.
“Cool. I’ll call tomorrow. Kiss my kid for me, all right?”
“Will do,” Tony said, and hung up.
He took the plate of apple slices into the living room. He leaned down and kissed the top of Peter’s head. “From your aunt,” he explained, when Peter looked at him like he’d lost his mind.
“Oh,” Peter said. “Thanks.”
“Apple slices? Or you want to wait for the soup?”
“Soup,” Peter said. “Maybe just the broth.”
“Kind of,” Peter admitted, letting his head fall back like it was too heavy to hold up. “Woozy.”
“Hmm.” Tony fired off a message to Bruce, asking him to come up and check the dosage of Peter’s medication.
Steve arrived before Bruce did, carrying a giant pot of soup. He set it on the stove.
Tony blinked at it. “Do you think you made enough?”
Steve shrugged. “I wanted to make enough to get us through the week. Whatever we don’t eat, we’ll freeze. How’re you feeling, Peter?” he asked, stepping away from the stove. “Any better?”
Peter didn’t answer. Tony glanced over and saw that he had his knees pulled up to his chest, face white and eyes unfocused. “Peter?” Tony said, and swiped a bowl off the kitchen counter, dumping the fruit out. The oranges rolled across the counter. Steve caught a couple of them, but Tony was heading for Peter. “You feel like you’re going to throw up? Or pass out?”
“Dunno.” Peter mumbled. Tony sat down beside him and shoved the bowl in his lap. “I feel... weird.”
“Dr. Banner is in the elevator,” she replied.
“Can you make it go faster?”
“Not without exceeding safety parameters.”
“I’d be fine with that,” Tony muttered.
“Tony,” Steve admonished, but he looked worried, too.
Bruce finally showed up, still in his lab coat. He checked the IV and asked Peter how he was feeling. Peter gave a mumbled answer that mostly seemed to consist of sick, woozy, and bad. Bruce made him track his finger, then shone a light into his eyes, making the poor kid flinch.
“I think we should halve the dose of painkiller,” Bruce finally said. “He’s smaller than Bucky and Steve, and his body works differently. I don’t want to take any chances.”
“He’s been on it all day, why is it suddenly making him sick now?” Tony demanded.
“Possibly because he’s been on it all day,” Bruce said, patiently. “His metabolism might slow later in the day, and suddenly there’s more of it in his system, because he’s not going through it as fast. Or it could be something else. Hopefully the smaller dosage will be enough to take the edge off without snowing him under. We might think about increasing it slightly before he goes to bed, so that he’s comfortable enough to sleep.”
Tony stayed with Peter while Bruce made the adjustments to the medication dripping into the IV. Peter was worryingly listless, worse than he’d been since he’d failed to wake up from his nap that morning. Tony stroked his fingers through his hair, and Peter blinked, long and slow. Tony was aware of Steve, hovering near the kitchen island, watching them both. He glanced up and met Steve’s worried gaze. Steve hesitated, then reached up and gently touched his lips with two fingers.
“Okay,” Bruce said. “Let’s see if that helps. We should start to see a difference pretty fast.”
“Thanks,” Tony said. “I know we keep yanking you out of the lab.”
“It’s okay,” Bruce said, perching on the arm of the sofa. “I was actually working on a slow-release version of the painkiller so he doesn’t have to be tethered to the IV pole all the time. If I can get it done, we can just give him a shot every twelve hours. Much easier.”
“Yeah, that would be easier. Thank you.” Tony looked down at Peter and stroked a hand through his sweat-dampened curls. “Seriously,” he added, looking up. Bruce shrugged.
It took about ten minutes for Peter to start coming out of his drug-induced stupor. He stirred with a groan and started to sit up. “Whoa, maybe just stay lying down for a bit,” Tony said, pressing him down with a hand on his shoulder. “Since you almost passed out on us.”
“That was... really weird,” Peter said, blearily. “I’ve never felt like that before. Is that... is that what being high is like? It was awful. Why does anyone do that on purpose?”
Tony chuckled, mostly out of sheer relief. “Guess I don’t have to tell you to ‘just say no.’ Do you feel like you could eat some soup? We should probably get some food into you while we can.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Peter sat up slowly and then stayed leaning against Tony. Steve brought a mug of soup over with a spoon. It was mostly broth, with the occasional piece of carrot or chicken. Peter leaned over, breathing it in. “That smells really good.”
“Steve’s a good cook,” Tony said with a smile in Steve’s direction. He was making sandwiches and dishing up bowls of soup for the the rest of them––including Bruce, who apparently intended to stay and make sure Peter was okay. “When everyone’s in town, we do team movie nights, and Steve and Bruce usually cook for everyone.”
“That sounds nice,” Peter said, sounding wistful.
“God, it’s been years since we did that, hasn’t it?” Tony said to Steve and Bruce. They hadn’t done it since the reversal; the world was still kind of a mess, and there was hardly a week that they didn’t have to send out a team to deal with something. “Before––Jesus, it has to be since before Sokovia.”
“The week before,” Steve said. “Thor picked The Devil Wears Prada, and you pretended to hate it. Bruce taught me how to make curry. We left the next morning on the mission to take down the Hydra base.”
There was a tightness in his voice that made Tony look at him sharply. He had his head down, stirring the soup pot, and Tony couldn’t see his face. But it was clearly a painful––or at least bittersweet––memory for him. The last team dinner before everything went to shit.
Tony wished he could get up and hug him. But even if Peter hadn’t been lying on top of him, there was the matter of Peter not knowing that Steve and Tony were a thing. Thankfully, Bruce must have heard the same catch in Steve’s voice, because he went over under the guise of looking at the soup and put his hand on Steve’s back.
Steve cleared his throat. “We’ll do it this week. Rhodey, Nat, and Sam should be back soon. I’ll see if I can get Thor to pick up his comlink. Maybe Clint can come out. Team movie night on Friday.”
The four of them ate dinner in the living room, Peter and Tony on the sofa, Steve in the armchair, and Bruce cross-legged on the floor by the coffee table. Tony put on a random episode of Brooklyn 99––Peter’s comfort show––and settled in with his soup and sandwich. Peter leaned heavily against his arm, still feeling much too warm. But he was definitely more alert than he’d been all day.
Tony glanced over at Steve to check in and found Steve looking back at him, smiling dopily. Tony rolled his eyes, and Steve shrugged, unrepentant. Dopey was better than mopey, Tony decided.
Peter got most of the way through his soup before the painkillers really started to wear off. Tony could see it happening: he started wincing with every sip of his soup, a pain line appeared between his eyes, and his head got heavier and heavier against Tony’s arm.
“Ow,” he mumbled when Tony finally took the mug away from him. “Never realized how often I swallow.”
“Sorry, kid, you’ve still gotta take your pills.”
Peter grumbled, but he took his pills relatively easily. Then he curled up at Tony’s side and stared glassily at the TV. Tony worked half-heartedly on his tablet and let the autoplay run, while Steve sketched in the chair and chuckled once in a while at the TV.
The headache crept up on him. It’d been hanging out in his temples all day, thanks to his caffeine addiction, but it gradually moved into the base of his skull as he did his best to answer the deluge of email in his inbox. Most of it wasn’t important, but there was some stuff from Pepper that he had to answer, as well as the folks in SI R&D. Nat had emailed him and Steve an update on their mission as well, and God knew Steve didn’t check his email with any regularity.
He needed to spend a couple of hours down in the workshop after Peter went to bed, Tony thought, rubbing at his forehead fruitlessly. He’d counted on getting things done while Peter tinkered with his webshooters and the suit. He hadn’t counted on spending the whole day on the couch.
“Hey,” Steve said quietly. Tony glanced up and realized that Steve was hovering in front of him with a glass of water and a couple of Advil.
“Thanks,” Tony said gratefully, and swallowed the pills with the water. “Email will give anyone a headache.” He glanced at his watch and saw that it was just after eight o’clock. “How you doing, kid?” he asked, turning to look at Peter.
“Mmph,” Peter mumbled. Tony put a hand on his forehead and checked his temperature, which FRIDAY was updating in the corner of his tablet. 102.8. Not great, but the first time it’d dipped below 103 since that morning. “Crappy.”
“Yeah, let’s see if Bruce has that injectable version of the your painkiller ready. Hopefully you can fall asleep tonight and wake up feeling better.” Tony fired off a text to Bruce and tightened his arm around Peter.
Bruce did have it ready, as a matter of fact. One quick shot, which Peter barely seemed to notice, and he was able to take Peter’s IV out. Tony helped him to the bathroom and supervised him while he rinsed off a day’s worth of fever sweat in the shower, brushed his teeth, and changed into fresh pajamas.
“Better?” Tony asked, ruffling Peter’s hair.
“Yeah.” Peter leaned into him as he shuffled back into the bedroom, where they found Steve changing Peter’s pillowcases. Peter blinked, bewildered. “What are you doing?”
Steve thumped the last pillow into shape on the bed. “I always thought it was nice to have clean pillows when I was sick. I hope that’s okay,” he added, looking a little anxiously at Peter.
“Yeah, it’s... fine.” Peter yawned and crawled into bed. Tony pulled the covers back over him and smoothed hair off his forehead. Steve went into the bathroom and came back with a dampened wash cloth. Tony folded it over into thirds and draped it across Peter’s forehead. Peter yawned again, eyes heavy. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
“You need anything, have FRIDAY call me,” Tony said. “Whether I’m awake or not.”
“Mmkay,” Peter said, eyes already sliding shut.
Tony hesitated, then leaned over and kissed the top of Peter’s head. “Sleep well, okay?” he said softly, ignoring the fact that Steve was in the room. He didn’t care if Steve saw this.
Peter looked up at him, sleep-softened, and smiled. “That from May?”
“No, that was from me,” Tony said. “Good night, Peter.”
Tony pulled the door shut behind him and leaned against it, sighing. The Advil he’d taken didn’t seem to have done anything for his headache.
“You look worn out,” Steve observed.
“Thanks,” Tony said dryly, shoving himself off the wall. “I got at least three or four hours of work I should get in while I can.”
“Are you sure about that?” Steve asked, trailing him toward the elevator. “Why don’t you go to bed early, see if you can get up tomorrow and do it? You’ve had a long day.”
“A long day? I spent most of it on the sofa,” Tony said. He glared exasperatedly at Steve when he got into the elevator with him, but he decided he didn’t have the energy to really object. If Steve wanted to come and hang out in the workshop, that was fine with him. “Workshop, FRIDAY.”
“You were worrying about Peter the whole time.”
“Which won’t stop me getting a few things done while he’s asleep,” Tony said firmly. “I have deadlines! Which, contrary to popular opinion, I actually do care about. Just a few hours, then I promise I’ll sleep.”
“Promise?” Steve said.
Tony put a hand over his heart. “Promise.”
It was a good plan. Or it would have been, if his headache had let him work. Tony had worked drunk, high, exhausted, and horrifically depressed at various times in his life. He knew how to get things done even when his body was telling him no in no uncertain terms. He could ignore almost anything. Except, it seemed, the vicious throbbing that had taken up residence in his skull that night.
“Tony,” Steve said, the second time Tony dropped a wrench in ten minutes.
Tony glared at the clock. It was just after ten. He’d accomplished exactly nothing.
Steve stood up and took the wrench from him. “Come on,” he said, coaxingly. “You spent all day taking care of your sick kid. Give yourself a break.”
“He’s not my kid,” Tony objected, reflexively.
Steve gave him an exasperated look. “He was glued to your side. If you got up, he tracked you until you came back. He’s yours in every way that matters, and you know it. He has been since Titan, if not before.”
Tony shivered, chilled at the mention of the place. “It’d be better for him if he wasn’t.”
Steve sighed, leaning in and pressing his lips against Tony’s forehead, not unlike Tony had done earlier with Peter. “I don’t think he’d agree with that,” Steve said. “Come on. Time for bed before you hurt yourself.”
Tony gave up. He was exhausted, even if he didn’t feel like he’d earned it. He’d go to sleep, and maybe, just maybe, he could get up and work for a bit before Peter woke.
“Fine,” he said. “DUM-E, You, Butterfingers, hold down the fort, all right?”
He let Steve lead him up to the penthouse and into the bedroom. He stripped down and changed into clean pajamas, then went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face.
He came out to find Steve putting fresh pillow cases on his bed, just like he had Peter’s. “What’s this?” he asked. “I’m not sick.”
“Actually, boss,” FRIDAY broke in, “your temperature is higher than usual at 100.6 degrees.”
“What?” Tony said blankly. “No, that has to be wrong.”
“You did feel warm earlier,” Steve said. “And you haven’t felt well since after dinner.”
“I have a headache,” Tony insisted. Though now that he was paying attention, the general achiness that he’d attributed to too much time on the couch did feel kind of like something else. There was a tickle in the back of his throat that wasn’t an ache, exactly.
A chill crept down his spine. Tony shuddered. “Son of a bitch.”
“Into bed,” Steve said, pulling the covers back. “I’ll get you some more ibuprofen.”
Tony growled, but he climbed in bed anyway. He took the stupid pills and drank the glass of water and didn’t protest when Steve refilled it for him.
“We should have FRIDAY call me if Peter needs something in the middle of the night,” Steve said.
“No,” Tony said flatly.
“You need to get some rest.”
“No,” Tony repeated. “It’ll scare the hell out of him, and he doesn’t trust you yet. You call me, FRIDAY. If I need help, I will call you,” he added to Steve.
“I could stay in here,” Steve said, not sounding as though he thought Tony was going to take him up on that.
“I’m pretty sure that finding us in bed together is the worst possible way for Peter to find out about us,” Tony said, extra annoyed because he did want Steve to stay with him. He was feeling worse by the minute, as though realizing he was sick had flipped a switch. “You can sleep in the guest room if you want.”
“I should’ve known you get even more stubborn when you’re sick,” Steve muttered, dropping down onto the bed beside Tony.
“Should I ask Barnes what you were like as a patient?” Tony returned.
Steve groaned. “Please don’t. Fine, we’re both stubborn as mules. Lie down and let me cuddle you until you fall asleep and I go sleep in the guest room.”
Tony decided it was hard to argue with that plan. He slid down under the covers and finally let his aching head rest on the pillow. Steve rolled over and draped an arm across Tony’s chest, pulling him close. Tony sighed. “I feel like hell,” he admitted.
“I know,” Steve murmured.
“Tomorrow’s going to suck.”
“Probably,” Steve said. “But I promise I’ll be here. You and Peter can rest, and I’ll look after you. Could be worse.”
“I was gonna tell him tomorrow,” Tony said sleepily.
There was a beat of silence. Not even a whole beat. Half a beat. But it was enough. “You don’t have to,” Steve said.
“But you want me to.”
Another beat of silence. “Yes. I don’t like pretending my feelings for you are less than they are. And I don’t like having to be a worse partner than I am. I’m not sure I can keep it up. If you’re sick, I want to take care of you. Peter, too.”
Tony actually felt himself getting a little teary. “I want that, too. I just... I’m worried what he’ll say.”
“I know,” Steve said. “It’s okay if you decide not to. I understand that it’s not a great time.”
Tony put his hand on top of Steve’s on his chest. “I’ll see how we’re both feeling tomorrow. Maybe it won’t be that bad.”
“Maybe.” Steve kissed the back of Tony’s neck. “Go to sleep.”
Tony closed his eyes. They had held each other like this during those long months between the snap and the reversal, too. On nights when one of them couldn’t sleep, when the world seemed to terrible to contemplate, they had held each other.
It shouldn’t be so hard to tell Peter. Tony knew he’d probably be fine with it, and if he wasn’t fine with it right away for some reason, he would be eventually. But it was so hard to explain what had happened during those months. Tony wasn’t sure he could make Peter understand what he could barely comprehend himself.
His head hurt too much to think about it anymore. Tony let himself sleep.
Peter’s bedroom was dark and gray and still when he woke. His bedroom in Queens was never fully quiet or fully dark, but between the blackout shades on the windows and the lack of traffic outside, the compound always was. He burrowed into the covers, briefly, trying to go back to sleep. But his bladder wouldn’t let him.
He sat up slowly and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. His head spun. He felt terribly weak and a little sick to his stomach. His throat, when he swallowed experimentally, still felt like it was being stabbed with knives.
The distance between his bed and the bathroom seemed unthinkably long. “FRIDAY,” he finally said. “Is Tony awake?”
“Boss is awake and on his way to you. Just stay where you are, Peter.”
For once, Peter didn’t feel like arguing about it.
Tony didn’t keep him waiting long. It was maybe a minute later that he pushed the door open. “Hey kid,” he said, sounding weird––tired and kind of hoarse. Peter wondered guiltily how late he’d stayed up doing the work that he should’ve gotten done yesterday. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, “just, I have to pee, and I feel kind of shaky. You mind helping me?”
“No, of course not.” Tony offered him a hand up and kept an arm around his shoulders as they shuffled across the floor to the bathroom. Peter had to sit down to pee, and he didn’t bother shoving Tony out the door. It wasn’t like he had a lot of dignity left where Tony was concerned.
It was only when Peter got a look at him in full light in the bathroom that he noticed how bad Tony looked. He didn’t just look tired, he was pale and sweating, leaning against the wall like he was having a hard time staying upright himself. “Are you okay?” he asked. “You look kind of... terrible.”
Tony gave a brief laugh. “Thanks, Pete. I think I caught your flu.”
“Oh no. I’m sorry.”
“It happens,” Tony said with a shrug. “My immune system is kind of shitty. I’ll just be happy if I’m spared the strep throat. Speaking of which, it’s time for your pills. Not quite time for another shot, but getting there.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Peter said, standing up and flushing the toilet. He washed his hands and steadied himself against the sink as his head swam. “I’m––I’m actually pretty good at looking after myself. You shouldn’t have to worry about me.”
“Yeah, I saw that,” Tony said. “You can barely stand up.”
“You don’t look like you’re doing much better.”
“I’m not,” Tony admitted. “But it’s going to be okay. Steve went out for a run and to pick up some stuff for us. Let’s just go lie down before one of us falls over.”
It was a shuffling, unsteady path back to the bed. Peter took his pills and then forced Tony to lie down on the other half of the bed. Tony sprawled out with a groan, and Peter rolled over on his side to face him. “Sorry,” he said again.
Tony rolled onto his side, facing Peter, and mirrored him, pulling his knees up and pillowing his head on his arm. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault you got sick. And it’s not your fault my immune system is shitty. Steve’ll be back soon. He’ll take care of us.”
He said it with such certainty, as though he knew for an immutable fact that Steve Rogers was going to want to spend his day waiting hand and foot on them. And Peter had to admit that he’d basically done that yesterday. Tony had been the one fussing over him, but Captain Rogers had been the one fetching and carrying for Tony. He’d been pretty low-key about it, but there was only so low-key a guy that big could be. Peter’d been out of it, but he wasn’t stupid.
But even after all of that, he couldn’t say he got it. Not really.
“How do you trust him?” he asked, before he could stop himself. “After everything. You just... trust him.”
“I do,” Tony said.
“Why?” Peter asked. It was a question that had weighed on him since the reversal––since he’d come back and seen just how different Tony’s relationship with Captain Rogers was. He’d never felt like he could ask it. But maybe it was the fact that it was just the two of them, together, in a dark room, sharing a kind of miserable experience, that made him suddenly feel like he could.
Tony sighed. “I know it’s hard to understand. I don’t know if I can explain it myself.” He swallowed. “After Titan––after the snap––I was... it was a really bad time. Losing you––I can’t begin to explain what that did to me. Steve had lost people, too, but he’s good at putting one foot in front of the other, even when he’d like to just lie down and give up. I hated him a little for being so good at it. He got me out of bed every day, he put me in the shower, he fed me breakfast. Because he knew that if we were going to find a way to get you all back, we needed everyone to be working on it.
“But there were some nights when neither of us could sleep. We both started finding our way up to the roof of the compound and just sitting there, together. Not talking. Just sitting. We never did actually talk about any of it.”
“He beat the crap out of you,” Peter said. “He could have killed you.”
“He didn’t, though. And...” Tony swallowed. “I’ll be honest, Pete, it’d been a long time since I had family, real family. What I understand now that I didn’t then is that Bucky Barnes is Steve’s family. And let me tell you, kid, if someone wanted to kill you, I’d beat the crap out of them to stop them. Even if they were my friend.”
Peter’s brain kind of shorted out at the idea of Tony feeling like that about him. It wasn’t a surprise, exactly, but he’d never come out and said it before. He couldn’t deal with it right then, so he just skipped right over it. “But how do you know it won’t happen again?”
Tony sighed. “I don’t, I guess. Except that Barnes and I have learned how to peacefully coexist. I kind of like him, in a weird way. And my relationship with Steve is different, too. We’re... closer.” He reached out and brushed some hair off Peter’s forehead. “It’d mean a lot to me if you got to know him.”
“I’m trying,” Peter said. “He seems nice, I guess. But I have a hard time not thinking about what you looked like after Siberia.”
Tony smiled a little. “I appreciate you wanting to protect me, but I promise I can take care of myself.”
“You really can’t,” Peter told him seriously. “Colonel Rhodes and I talked about it.”
“Goddammit, I knew I should’ve never introduced you to Rhodey,” Tony groaned. Peter grinned.
“I’ll try,” he finally said, because it clearly mattered to Tony, and Tony was looking pretty sad and pathetic at the moment. Peter found himself wanting to say something to make him feel better. “I promise.”
“Good,” Tony sighed. “You mind if I close my eyes for a bit?”
“Go ahead,” Peter said. That didn’t sound like a bad idea. But he kept his eyes open for a minute or two, watching Tony. Thinking about Siberia and how he’d looked at the hospital in Germany. Peter hadn’t known him that well yet; their relationship hadn’t been anything like it was now. It’d mostly weirded him out to see someone he thought of as invincible so clearly hurting, physically and emotionally. It was only in retrospect that he’d gotten really angry about it—and scared, too, maybe, thinking about how close he’d come to missing out on a relationship that was one of the best things in his life.
“I’d do it, too,” Peter whispered. “If someone tried to hurt you, Tony.”
Tony smiled without opening his eyes. “Thanks, kid. Go back to sleep.”
Peter drifted off feeling safe and comfortable. More safe and comfortable than he might’ve felt anywhere since becoming Spiderman.
He wasn’t quite asleep when he heard Tony swear and then roll off the mattress. His feet hit the floor, and he ran around the end of the bed toward the bathroom. Peter jolted fully awake just in time to hear Tony start throwing up.
“Tony?” Peter asked, still muddled with sleep.
“I’m fine,” Tony choked out between heaves.
“Right,” Peter muttered to himself. He got out of bed.
Tony had his head resting on his arm on the edge of the toilet. He looked kinda green, and there was sweat staining his pajama top. “Go back to bed, Pete. You don’t need to listen to this. Just close the door. Have FRIDAY play some white noise.”
“Yeah, none of that is happening.” Peter dampened a washcloth at the sink and draped it over the back of Tony’s neck. Tony threw up again. Peter sat on the edge of the tub, hovering awkwardly before deciding he was just going to do what May would’ve done. He started rubbing circles on Tony’s back.
After a minute or so, Tony sat back, panting, and flushed the toilet. He reached back and grabbed the washcloth off his own neck, and used it to wipe his mouth and face. He scooted back to lean against the wall, and Peter slid down off the tub to sit beside him so their shoulders were pressed together.
“When’s Captain Rogers getting back?” Peter asked after a few seconds.
“Dunno,” Tony said. “He was going to do a shorter run today, he said.” He fished his phone out of his pocket and unlocked it. “Can you text him and ask him to pick up some ginger ale?”
“Yeah, sure,” Peter said, opening up the text messages app and looking for Captain Rogers in the list of names. He was right at the top.
The photo Tony had for him was... interesting. Captain Rogers looked like he’d just gone three rounds with Thor in the boxing ring. He was sweaty and gross and grinning.
Weird. Distinctly, definitely weird. But probably not something to ask about right now.
Hi Captain Rogers it’s Peter, he wrote. Can you pick up ginger ale? Tony’s throwing up.
Oh jeez, came the reply almost immediately. Yes, I’ll pick up ginger ale. I should only be about 15 more minutes. Are you guys okay until then? You can text Bruce if you need help.
Peter glanced at Tony. He had his head tilted back against the wall, and he looked terrible. But they could last another fifteen minutes.
We’re okay, he wrote back. See you soon.
“He says he’ll be about another fifteen minutes,” Peter reported to Tony, handing him his phone. “How’re you doing? Want some water?”
“Yeah,” Tony croaked. “Thanks.”
Peter got him a glass of water from the sink, and Tony sipped at it slowly. “Are you okay, kid?” he asked. “You look kind of pale.”
Peter was feeling pretty lightheaded, and he could tell the painkiller was starting to wear off. He was going to need another shot as soon as Captain Rogers got home, probably. But Tony didn’t need to know any of that. “I’m okay,” he said. “I feel a little better today.” It was true enough at the moment. It might not be in an hour.
Tony didn’t throw up again, but he also seemed to kind of melt as they sat there. He slumped over so his head was resting on Peter’s shoulder, like he was too tired to hold it up. Peter took one of his hands in both of his. Tony’s hands were bigger than his. They had calluses from working with tools and tiny scars where he’d burned himself. Peter liked Tony’s hands––they were the hands of someone who built things––but he was pretty sure that his spider healing meant he’d never have hands like them.
When he’d been little and May had wanted him to go to sleep, she’d held his hand and run her fingers up and down the inside of his arm. Peter did that for Tony now, and it seemed to work for him just as well as it always had for Peter. Tony’s head got heavier where it rested against his shoulder.
That was how Captain Rogers found them when he returned, shopping bag in one hand. He dropped the bag and knelt down by Tony. “Hey, swee––Tony,” he said, darting a glance at Peter. “How’re you feeling?”
“Lousy,” Tony mumbled, opening one eye to glare sullenly at Captain Rogers. “Why do I get the puking when Peter didn’t?”
“Because you’re a delicate flower,” Captain Rogers replied, one corner of his mouth quirking up.
“Fuck you, Rogers.”
Captain Rogers just smiled. “Think you can keep down some ginger ale?”
“I can try,” Tony said, holding his hand out. Captain Rogers cracked the bottle open for him and handed it over. Tony sipped cautiously.
“You need anything, Peter?” Captain Rogers asked.
Peter really wanted something hot to drink. He was feeling chilled from being out of bed for so long and sitting on the tile floor of the bathroom. But he didn’t want to bother Captain Rogers with it, since Tony obviously needed him more. “I’m okay.”
Tony fixed him with one steely glare. “He took his pills, but he needs his shot soon.”
Captain Rogers nodded. “Can you hang in there until I get Tony settled in his bed?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, a little taken aback by the idea that Captain Rogers was going to move Tony back to his own room. He’d kind of assumed they’d be sticking together. He didn’t think he’d done a terrible job of looking after Tony, after all. He wouldn’t be a bother or keep him awake. The idea of being separated made his own stomach hurt.
He was being stupid, Peter told himself firmly. He should be able to be on his own. He didn’t feel as bad as he had yesterday. He could get his own water and juice. And it made sense that Tony wouldn’t really want him around. He hadn’t even wanted him in the bathroom while he’d been sick, but Peter had insisted. Which he probably shouldn’t have done, he realized with a sudden burn of embarrassment. Peter didn’t like to be alone when he was sick, but Tony was different. Peter hadn’t thought about that, though, he’d just shoved in where he probably wasn’t wanted.
Tony managed to keep the ginger ale down, so Captain Rogers decided he could move him back to the master bedroom. He picked Tony up off the floor, and Tony just let him. Didn’t complain or argue or anything. Captain Rogers didn’t try to carry him out of the room, but Peter could tell that Tony was leaning on him heavily. He rested his head on Captain Rogers’s shoulder and closed his eyes, letting Captain Rogers bear most of the weight.
“I’ll be back to help you with the shot, Peter,” Captain Rogers said, and left, helping Tony out through Peter’s bedroom.
Peter got slowly to his feet. He splashed some cold water on his face, feeling both too hot and too cold at the same time. “FRIDAY, what’s my fever like?”
“102.1, Peter,” she said.
“Thanks.” He made his way unsteadily back into the bedroom and lay down.
The painkiller wore off completely in the next half hour. By the time Captain Rogers finally came back, Peter was feeling much worse. His head and his throat were both bright spots of pain, and he ached miserably. But worst of all was his general feeling of weakness, like even holding his own head up was too much to ask. His earlier promise to take care of himself so Captain Rogers could take care of Tony seemed suddenly really ambitious.
“I’m so sorry for taking so long,” Captain Rogers said, readying the syringe. “I’m just worried about Tony––his immune system isn’t great, and I’m sure you know about the reduced lung capacity from the arc reactor. He gets infections at the drop of a hat, so the flu can be really serious.”
“Oh,” Peter said. He definitely had not known about any of that. “Yeah. Right. Is he okay?”
“He seems to be, for now. I just want to keep a close eye on him.” Captain Rogers gave Peter the shot in the meaty part of his arm. “There. All set. Just let that kick in. Do you need anything else?”
Water. Tea. Someone to sit and watch movies with him. Peter shook his head.
“Okay. Let FRIDAY know if you need anything. She can call me.”
Peter nodded. Captain Rogers left.
Peter pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around them, pressing his face into them. He hadn’t known about Tony’s lungs. Why hadn’t anyone––why hadn’t Tony––told him about his lungs? Peter should have gone back to Queens the minute the realized he was sick. If something happened to Tony now, it would be Peter’s fault. He was the one who’d gotten him sick. He hadn’t meant to, but that didn’t matter. He hadn’t meant to get Uncle Ben killed, either.
The pressure, the guilt, was sitting heavily on his chest. It hadn’t felt like a physical weight for months now. All the time he’d spent with Tony had helped a lot. Not that Tony could ever replace Uncle Ben, but Peter had felt like Tony understood, like he’d been through it all and come out the other side and he wanted to help Peter do that, too.
And now Peter might have fucked it up again, all because he got clingy when he was sick.
Peter had no idea how long he sat there, shaking with guilt, worrying himself sick. He didn’t want to ask FRIDAY to check on Tony, because he didn’t want Tony to know just how worried he was. Tony didn’t need to be thinking about him. And he didn’t want Captain Rogers to think he had to leave Tony to check on him. He was fine. He was fine.
His mouth was just so dry. He seemed more than able to cry, but his mouth was dry as the desert. He didn’t have the IV in anymore, he needed to drink. But he couldn’t get out of bed. And no matter what Captain Rogers had said, Peter couldn’t ask him for help.
“Peter,” FRIDAY said, “your vitals indicate that you are in significant distress.”
“I’m fine,” Peter managed, even though he felt like he was about three seconds away from a full blown panic attack.
“My protocols force me to contact Mr. Stark when your vitals cross into a certain range.”
“No, no, no,” Peter gasped. “Don’t bother him, please, FRIDAY. I’m fine. I’m fine.”
FRIDAY didn’t respond. It wasn’t worth arguing with her, Peter knew. She couldn’t be persuaded the way a person could. She would tell Tony, and then Tony would know how pathetic Peter was. And maybe Tony would feel like he had to help, and he would make himself worse trying to help Peter, and if something bad happened, Peter would be responsible twice over––
“Oh hell, Peter. Peter, I need you to breathe.”
It wasn’t Tony’s voice. It was Captain Rogers’s. And it was Captain Rogers who was reaching for him like he was going to touch him.
Peter jerked away from his hands. “Don’t touch me!”
Captain Rogers held his hands up. “I’m not. I’m sorry. I’m not going to touch you. You’re having an anxiety attack.”
Peter shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m fine. Go back to Tony. I’m fine.”
“I don’t think you are, and Tony is really worried about you. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have left you on your own. FRIDAY, can you get Bruce up here? Tell him I’m in way over my head.”
“Of course, Captain.”
“I’m fine,” Peter said again, even though he knew it was ridiculous. He could barely speak through the tears and the panic. “Go back to Tony.”
“Tony’s okay,” Captain Rogers said. “He’s worried about you. But he’s fine.”
“But––but you said––his lungs––” Peter choked on the rest of the words, feeling as though they were physically lodged in his throat.
“Oh God, no––Peter, I didn’t mean to scare you, Tony’s fine.”
“You said––my fault,” Peter finally managed to get out.
“I didn’t say it was your fault, Peter,” Captain Rogers said. “I would never say that, because it isn’t your fault.”
“It is,” Peter insisted. “Just like Uncle Ben.” He started sobbing, and this time he didn’t seem to be able to catch his breath at all. It felt like his chest was constricting.
There was a knock at Peter’s door. “Oh thank God, Bruce,” he heard Captain Rogers say. “Tony’s sick, and Peter’s having a panic attack. He won’t let me touch him.”
“Well, don’t have a panic attack yourself, that won’t help anything,” Dr. Banner said. “Move over, Steve. Peter, hey, Peter, look at me.” Peter managed to lift his head. “I’m going to give you something to calm you down. I think you’ll burn through it pretty fast, because it’s just a normal tranquilizer, but it might be enough for us to get you breathing properly again.”
“Tony,” Peter managed, but he couldn’t say anything else.
“And we’ll take you to see Tony,” Dr. Banner promised. “You okay with me giving you something? Nod if you are.”
Peter nodded. He felt a needle in his arm, and then a very slight burning sensation. Dr. Banner picked up his hand and held it to his chest. “Breathe with me, Peter, okay? In... and out... in... and out. Slowly. Just like that.”
The tranquilizer felt like being wrapped in cotton. The panic attack had ramped all of Peter’s senses up to eleven, and the tranquilizer dialed them down. He could breathe, and even though his head was throbbing and he felt awful, it felt like there was a layer of padding between him and the awfulness.
“Okay, good,” Dr. Banner said. He pinched the back of Peter’s hand. “We need to get some fluids into you. You’re dehydrated.” He glanced up at Captain Rogers. “Did he have anything this morning?”
“I––no, I don’t think so. He said he didn’t need anything,” Steve said. “Tony was throwing up, and I was worried about him.”
“Okay,” Dr. Banner said. “We’ll get an IV going again. Peter, is it okay if Steve picks you up? We’re going to take you to Tony.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, feeling drowsy. “S’fine.”
Captain Rogers picked him up and carried him out of the room. Peter knew the idea of that had freaked him out just a few minutes ago, but it didn’t seem worth worrying about just then. He was so tired. He’d been so upset, and now it was hard to remember why.
Captain Rogers laid him down on a bed. Tony’s bed, he realized when he turned his head.
“Hey Pete,” Tony said, propping himself up to look at him. “How’re you doing?”
“Okay.” Peter blinked. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tony said. “I’m under the weather, just like you are, but I’m doing okay. Here.” Tony slid down in the bed so he was lying flat and pulled Peter over so his head was on Tony’s chest. “Comfortable?” Peter hummed his assent. “We’re just going to lie here like this for a little while, all right? Let Bruce do his thing.”
Peter was sort of aware of Dr. Banner putting an IV back in his arm, and then of a spreading coldness as the saline drip started. But otherwise he was warm, tucked into a bundle of blankets and Tony’s side, and the cotton hadn’t lifted yet.
It didn’t last much longer. Peter felt it start wearing off; everything got crisper, sharper, less muted. But it didn’t ramp up as high as it had been before. And he was still warm and tucked into Tony’s side, and he could hear for himself that Tony was breathing easily and that his heart was beating steadily.
“Tony?” he mumbled.
“Hey kid,” Tony said, tightening his arm around Peter’s shoulders. “You back with us?”
“Yeah.” Peter flushed. “M’sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” Tony said. “That was our fault. We should have realized after yesterday what a number that painkiller does on you.”
“S’stupid,” Peter mumbled.
“Have you had anxiety attacks before?” Dr. Banner asked. “When you aren’t on medication, I mean?”
“Sometimes,” Peter admitted. “More since the reversal.”
Tony went still. “I didn’t know that.”
“Didn’t want to worry you. And it’s—it’s better, when I’m at the compound.” Peter turned his face into Tony’s side to hide it.
“Okay,” Dr. Banner said calmly. “Do the attacks have anything to do with why you’re only sleeping a couple of hours a night?”
Peter nodded, still not looking up. Tony’s hand landed on the back of his head and stroked his hair.
“Got it,” Dr. Banner said. “We can talk about that when you’re better. For now, just try to get some rest.”
“I can stay here?” Peter asked hopefully.
“Yeah, Pete, you can stay here.” Tony stroked the back of his head again. “I’m going to insist on it, in fact. You scared the hell out of me.”
“I’m sorry,” Peter said again, weakly.
“Don’t be sorry, Peter.”
“If anyone should be sorry, Peter, it’s me,” Captain Rogers said. “I should have made sure you were okay. And I really didn’t mean to freak you out about Tony’s lungs.”
“You told him—what the hell, Steve?”
“In my defense,” Captain Rogers said, “it hadn’t occurred to me that you wouldn’t have told him. Because it seems like the kind of thing you share with family.”
“Sure, unless your kid has PTSD from losing three parents by the time he’s fifteen and you don’t want to scare him for no goddamn reason—”
“Tony—” Dr. Banner started.
“Please stop fighting,” Peter whispered.
Tony deflated immediately. “Sorry. I’m sorry, kid. Oh God, my head is killing me.”
“I’ll get you some more ibuprofen,” Captain Rogers said, and left the room.
Dr. Banner sighed, and somehow Peter sensed it was directed at both of them. “All right. Here is how the rest of today is going to go. The two of you are going to stay right where you are and get as much sleep as possible. At some point, you will both try to eat something—I know your stomach is not doing great, Tony, it doesn’t have to happen right this second. When you need something, you will ask Steve for it.” Dr. Banner paused, glancing at Captain Rogers as he returned with Tony’s pills. Captain Rogers nodded. “Neither of you,” Dr. Banner went on, looking back at Peter and Tony, “will pretend to be okay if you’re not. And we can all stop apologizing and agree to hold off on all heart-to-hearts until everyone’s fevers have broken. Yes?”
“Yes,” Tony said, surprisingly meek.
“Yes,” Peter echoed.
Captain Rogers cleared his throat. “Yes.”
“Good.” Bruce sighed. “Steve, can I see you in the other room for a minute?”
“Sure.” Steve followed Bruce out of the room with one last backward glance.
Peter rolled onto his side so he could cuddle properly into Tony’s side. “You’re really okay?”
“Yes. Steve’s just a worrier. You two are alike that way.” Tony’s fingers slid through Peter’s hair. “How’re you feeling?”
“Not surprising. Panicking is hard work even when you aren’t fighting off the flu and strep at the same time. Close your eyes, all right? I’m not going anywhere.”
“Better not,” Peter mumbled. “You do, I’ll follow.”
“Yeah,” he heard Tony sigh just before he slept. “Don’t I know it.”
Peter was dead asleep by the time Steve came back. Tony felt like he was halfway there himself, but he woke up enough to ask, “Everything okay?”
Steve nodded. “Bruce mostly wanted us to give you two a few minutes.”
“Oh. Good of him.” Tony yawned. “M’about to fall asleep, but before I do—I know we said no more apologizing but I shouldn’t’ve yelled at you. Wasn’t your fault.”
“It was, kind of.”
Tony shook his head. “Another kid would’ve been fine with it.”
“I knew Peter’s background—”
“Okay, officially too tired for the argument.” Tony closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the top of Peter’s head. “Going to sleep now.”
“All right. I do want to point something out, though.”
“You called him your kid.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You did. And he is.” Steve smiled at him, almost smugly, and leaned over and kissed the top of Tony’s head. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks.” Tony closed his eyes and let himself pass the fuck out.
He woke to the murmur of the TV––Return of the Jedi, he recognized, within two lines of dialogue––and the sound of a spoon scraping against the bottom of a bowl. He slitted his eyes open and realized that Peter was on the sofa by the window, eating a bowl of soup off a tray on his lap, and Steve was in the chair next to the sofa. They were both watching the screen of Peter’s laptop, where the movie was playing. Which was sort of silly, considering that there was a 42-inch TV mounted right across from the bed, but it would’ve been hard for them to turn it on without waking him up.
They also could’ve gone out and watched TV in the living room, but Tony didn’t have a hard time imagining how Peter would’ve taken that suggestion. Tony would be lucky if the kid left him alone at all until he went back to Queens.
Tony decided he wasn’t quite ready to be awake––or for the others to know he was awake. He closed his eyes again and relaxed, listening to the familiar dialogue and taking pleasure in knowing that Peter and Steve were doing something together. Not something that required any cooperation or communication, but something.
“All done?” Steve asked.
“Yeah.” Peter said. “Thanks, Captain Rogers.”
“You should call me Steve.”
“Yeah. I’d like to get to know you.” Steve hesitated, pretty obviously. “I’d like us to be friends.”
“You do? Why?”
“Because you’re important to Tony, and Tony is important to me. And because I like you. You’re funny and smart and I think you’re going to make an amazing Avenger one day when you’re ready.”
“Whoa.” Peter sounded stunned. Tony could sympathize. Steve had that effect on people sometimes. “I... I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Steve said. “I’m not looking for anything from you. I know you’re suspicious of me because of what happened in Siberia, and you have every right to be.”
“He had six broken ribs,” Peter said quietly. “And a concussion. You could have damaged his heart.”
“I know,” Steve said heavily. “And the only thing I can say is this––if Tony had killed Bucky, he and I wouldn’t be––friends today. We wouldn’t be anything. I’m sorry I had to hurt him so badly to stop him, but I’m not sorry I stopped him. And I don’t think he is, either.”
“Hmm,” Peter said, not sounding satisfied at all with that answer.
“But I can’t change the past,” Steve went on. “All I can do is prove to you going forward that I have every intention of being a good... friend to Tony from now on.”
It was probably only because Tony was paying attention that he heard the catch, the slight hesitation in Steve’s voice before friend both times. It felt like he was being completely obvious, but Tony knew he probably wasn’t, not to someone who wasn’t looking for it.
Peter was quiet for a long time. The movie kept playing, and Tony could tell that Peter was really thinking about it.
“I’m open to it,” he finally said. “Tony likes you a lot. And he told me that he’d like us to be friends. But if you hurt him again, all bets are off, all right? I won’t be pulling any punches next time.”
“Fair enough.” Steve was silent for a few seconds. Then he said, “Were you really pulling your punches last time?”
“Sort of. It’s hard to punch the person whose sheets you slept on when you were six.”
“When you’re better, we need to train together,” Steve said. “I want to know exactly what you can do. We should run the obstacle course together.”
“That... sounds awesome,” Peter said, sounding awed despite himself. “Yeah. Give me, like, maybe another twenty-four hours?”
“How about I give you until Bruce clears you?”
Peter heaved a sigh that was pure teenager. “Fine,” he said sulkily.
Tony smiled to himself and went back to sleep.
The next time he woke the room was dim and quiet, and Peter was asleep on the other half of the bed, wrapped up in the quilt from his own room. Tony watched him for minute or two; he looked a little flushed, and Tony checked his watch to see what his temperature was. 101.6, according to FRIDAY. Tony’s own was 101.9.
He got up to use the bathroom and came back to find Steve waiting for him. “Hey,” Steve whispered, kissing his forehead. “How’re you feeling?”
“Tired. Achy. I need more ibuprofen and... do we have orange juice?”
Steve nodded. “You also need some toast if you’re going to have more ibuprofen. Think you can handle it?”
“Yeah.” Tony glanced down at Peter. “He’s doing okay?”
“Seems to be. He stayed awake for all of Return of the Jedi but he crashed right afterward. He took his pills with some soup.”
Steve went to get Tony’s toast and ibuprofen. Tony leaned against the headboard and closed his eyes. This week wasn’t turning out anything like what he’d intended for Peter’s spring break, but hopefully Peter would be back on his feet in the next couple of days. Tony suspected that he was going to take a little longer, but he could spectate while Peter and Steve wore each other out on the obstacle course. And if he and Peter spent a little more time on the couch and a little less time in the lab than Tony had intended––well, there were worse things in life.
He was dozing when Steve returned. Steve woke him up by kissing him on the crown of his head. Tony sighed and leaned his head back. Steve, the sap, kissed him on his forehead, his nose, and finally his lips. Tony smiled without opening his eyes and kissed him back.
“I mean.What? Am I awake? What is happening right now?”
Tony glanced up at Steve, who seemed just as frozen as he was. Then he looked down at Peter, who was staring up at them with his mouth open.
“I can explain,” Tony said, even though he didn’t think there was any explanation that was going to make this better.
Goddammit, he should have bitten the bullet and just told the kid while he’d had the fucking chance. And if he couldn’t do that, he should have been less sloppy about kissing Steve right in front of him.
Peter was still staring at them. “I kept thinking it was weird that you cared so much if Steve and I got along, but I didn’t think––I didn’t think this.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony said, “I wanted to tell you––I was going to tell you this week––but then you got sick, and I kept putting it off––”
“Oh my God,” Peter blurted out, looking horrified. “The photo of him in your phone!”
“What photo?” Tony asked, suddenly terrified.
“He’s all sweaty. Oh my God, that’s so gross!” Peter covered his face with his hands and looked like he was dying. Or wanted to be.
Oh. That photo, the one Tony used as Steve’s contact ID. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but Peter’s embarrassment was catching. Steve was approximately the color of a ripe tomato, and even Tony could feel himself starting to blush.
“For my own information,” Tony said in a strangled voice, because he had to get this conversation back on the rails, “are you upset that it’s Steve, upset that Steve’s a man, or is this just the realization that I’m an adult who has––”
“Don’t say it!” Peter yelped.
“I told you not to say it,” Peter moaned. “Oh my God, Tony. I can’t even.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t care that Steve’s a man. Who cares about that shit anymore?”
“So we’re looking at a combination of columns A and C?”
Peter sat up abruptly, scowling. “A, C, and Why the Fuck Didn’t You Tell Me?”
Tony thought for a split second about taking Peter to task over the language but quickly decided that wasn’t going to get him anywhere. Nothing was going to get him to the moral high ground in this conversation; better not to even try. “I was waiting for the right opportunity,” he said, hoping Peter would just stop there.
Peter, of course, was way too smart for that. He narrowed his eyes at Tony. “Oh, yeah? How long has it been?”
“A while,” Tony hedged.
“Before or after the reversal?”
Tony swallowed. “Before. And I didn’t tell you because I was worried you’d lose your shit. Which, to be fair, you kind of are.”
Peter set his jaw mulishly. “I’m losing my shit because it shocked me. If you had just told me, it wouldn’t have shocked me!”
That... did seem like a fair point. “I’m sorry,” Tony said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
“Right.” Peter took a deep breath. “Right. Okay. I need to––I need to be alone.” He threw back the blankets and got up. He swayed a little, unsteady, but he caught himself against the headboard. “I’m going to go lie down in my room for a while and try to... not think about this.”
“Peter...” Tony said weakly.
“Stop, please,” Peter said. “I need some time.”
Tony nodded. He looked up at Steve, who hadn’t said a word. He’d just stood there holding the plate of toast and looking stricken. “All right,” Tony said. “Take your quilt, I don’t want you to be cold. And, um. If you want to call and talk to May, you can tell her.”
Peter seemed to relax, fractionally. “Thanks.” He gathered his quilt up and left.
“Well, that happened,” Tony sighed, letting his head thump back against the headboard. He glared at Steve. “Thanks for all your help, by the way.”
“Sorry,” Steve said. “I froze.”
“No shit.” Tony rubbed his forehead. “Now I really need that ibuprofen.”
Steve seemed to remember that he was still holding the plate of toast and the bottle of ibuprofen. “Right, yeah. Here.”
“Thanks.” Tony took the plate and nibbled carefully at the buttered toast. “Well, at least it’s over with now. I can stop putting it off.”
Steve sat down on the edge of the bed. “I guess I didn’t think he’d be quite so upset. We were getting along all right, I thought.”
Tony took a sip of the orange juice Steve had brought him. “I think he’ll get over it pretty fast. He’s a good kid, he’s just had a rough couple of days. I hope he does actually call May. I bet she’ll be able to help him process it.” Just like Tony had helped him work through May starting to date again for the first time since Ben’s death, a few months before the snap. His and Steve’s situation was fraught, he thought, but probably not as fraught for Peter personally as that had been.
Steve was silent for a bit. “Maybe I should leave for a while. I could go stay with Bucky in Brooklyn. It might be easier for Peter if I’m not here while he gets used to the idea. Bruce could help you out.”
For a second, Tony couldn’t speak at all. The idea of Steve leaving while Tony and Peter were both down for the count, foisting them off on Bruce, even though Bruce didn’t really want to be the one taking care of them fulltime––it really hurt. It made some very old––or possibly very young––part of Tony flinch.
Instead of replying, Tony set his piece of toast down and reached for the ibuprofen. He was trying to work through his initial impulse, which was to tell Steve he could leave if he wanted to, Tony didn’t care one way or the other. It was a complete lie, of course, and Tony didn’t need a PhD in psychology to know where it came from, even if he’d paid several people with PhDs in psychology handsomely over the years to tell him exactly that.
“Is that what you want?” he finally asked.
Steve glanced at him. “No, of course not. I just wonder if it might not make things harder for me to be here.”
“I think in the long-term it’d make things harder for you not to be here,” Tony said. “It might say to Peter that you don’t care that much about either of us, if you bail when we...” Tony swallowed, steeling himself, reminding himself that he and Steve had hit rock bottom already, and Steve was still here. “When we need you,” Tony finished, looking away.
When he finally chanced looking back, Steve’s eyes had softened. “I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Steve said. “I wouldn’t want him to think that. Or for you to think that,” he added softly, because Steve knew him too well by half.
“I don’t,” Tony said. “But... but I do really want you to stay.”
“Me too.” Steve shifted over and put his arm around Tony’s shoulders. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have even suggested it.”
“It’s okay,” Tony said, even as he curled into Steve’s side.
“Well,” Steve said, “if we have a couple of hours without Peter, I know a few things we could do with them.”
Tony groaned. “I like the way you think, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I can even get it up right now.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Jesus, Tony. I wasn’t thinking about sex. I was thinking more along the lines of running you a bath and giving you a backrub.”
“Oh,” Tony said. “That does sound nice.”
Steve shook his head, looking a little sad. “You say these things and I really wonder about the other people you’ve dated.”
“Most of them were terrible,” Tony agreed, “except for Pepper of course. But it’s mostly the low self-esteem talking. A bath sounds great.”
Steve leaned over and nuzzled his temple. “One bath, coming right up.”
Steve got up and headed into the bathroom. Tony leaned back against his pillows and sipped his orange juice. It was late afternoon by now; May was probably off of work. “FRIDAY,” he said, “what’s Peter doing?”
“Peter is on the phone with his aunt, boss,” FRIDAY replied.
“Is he upset?”
“Other than his temperature, his vitals are in the normal range.”
“Tell me if that changes, all right?”
“Of course, boss.”
Tony had to admit, it was nice to let Steve take care of him for a bit. FRIDAY was keeping an eye on Peter, and Tony trusted her to let him know if anything was wrong. He couldn’t turn his worry for Peter off entirely, and he wouldn’t have wanted to, but it’d been a stressful couple of days, and it was nice to let it go for a little while.
Steve wouldn’t let him sit in a bathtub of hot water, claiming it wouldn’t be good for his fever, so the bath was kind of lukewarm. Tony complained about it for the first few minutes, but he had to admit in the end that it was better than getting overheated. He let Steve wash his hair and clean up some of his stubble for him so it wouldn’t get itchy.
The truth was that Tony was probably never going to find it comfortable to sit with his neck bared––metaphorically or physically––for someone else, waiting for them to use his moment of vulnerability against him. But Steve and Peter were both teaching him about why it might be worth the risk. They had a lifetime of hard lessons to undo, but in addition to both being worriers, they were also both stubborn as hell. Tony was starting to think they just might do it.
It was late evening when Peter finally scrounged up the courage to emerge from his room. He found Steve in the kitchen, stirring a pot of soup on the stove.
“Hi,” Peter said, hovering awkwardly.
Steve looked up and gave him a small smile. “Hi. How’re you feeling?”
“A little better,” Peter said. “I think I missed my pills.”
Steve nodded. “They’re right there on the counter. Do you want to do another shot of painkiller? You’re about due.”
Peter shook his head. “I want to try and go without it. I think that stuff is for emergencies only for me.” He swallowed the pills with some orange juice, then leaned against the counter, watching Steve. He knew what he had to say but he wasn’t sure where to start.
A kettle on the stove started whistling, and Steve turned the flame off. “You want some tea?” Steve asked. “I was making some for Tony.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Peter said.
Steve dropped tea bags into two mugs and poured the hot water over them. He added honey to each and stirred. “We’ll let that steep a bit. There’ll be soup in just a few minutes if you’re hungry. I know you’ve already had it twice.”
“No, that’s fine. It’s––it’s really good.” Peter swallowed. His throat still hurt, but he could tell he was getting better, even without the painkiller. “Um. I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have freaked out so badly.”
Steve turned to him. “It’s okay, Peter. I know it was a big shock.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been really nice to me, and I was kind of rude about it. So, I’m sorry.”
“Well, thanks,” Steve said. “Are we okay then?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, relieved. “We’re okay. It’s just––like I said earlier. If you hurt him again, I won’t pull my punches. That goes double now.”
Steve nodded. “And I won’t argue with that. I’m glad he has you looking out for him.”
“Same here,” Peter said.
Steve nodded at the tea. “You want to take that in to Tony?”
“Sure,” Peter said, and scooped up both mugs.
Tony was out of bed, lying on the sofa by the window, wearing a bathrobe over his pajamas. He smiled when he saw Peter, and Peter felt something tight in his chest ease. May had told him that she was sure that nothing he’d said had been so terrible that Tony wouldn’t want to see him anymore, but he had still been a little bit afraid. But Tony positively lit up when he saw Peter with the two mugs of tea in his hands, so they must be okay.
“Hey kid,” Tony said. “Did you have a good nap?”
“Yeah,” Peter said. He handed Tony his mug. Tony passed him a pillow and Peter sat up against it at the other end of the sofa, so he and Tony were facing each other, their legs pressed together. Tony tossed him a throw off the back of the sofa, and Peter spread it out over his legs.
Night was had fallen over the compound while Peter slept. It was dark out, aside from the lights around the outdoor training area, much darker than the city ever got. It made Peter feel a little homesick, even though he was also really glad to be here. He looked back at Tony and caught him watching Peter himself, mug of tea cradled in his hands.
“I’m really sorry, Tony,” Peter said.
Tony’s brow furrowed. “What? No, kid. I’m really sorry. You were right, this was mostly my fault for not telling you sooner.”
“That would’ve probably helped,” Peter allowed. “But...” He took a deep breath. “I don’t understand it. I don’t know if I’m ever going to understand it. But May says I don’t have to understand it, I just have to be glad that you’re happy. And I am glad. Really, really glad. You deserve it.”
Tony’s eyes were suspiciously bright. “Thank you, Peter,” he said, his voice hoarse––and not, Peter suspected, because of the flu. He cleared his throat. “So you did tell May, then.”
“Yeah.” Peter made a face, horrified all over again by what he was about to say. “She said to tell you to––” Peter almost physically gagged on the words “––get it.”
Tony laughed. “Oh kid, never tell her I told you this, but your aunt is one of my favorite people.”
Peter smiled. “I won’t tell. And I think she likes you a lot more than she lets on.” Peter took a sip of tea and relaxed, falling deeper into the sofa. “So... anything else you want to tell me while we’re doing this?”
“No other big secrets, I promise,” Tony said. “Scout’s honor. Not that I was ever a boy scout.”
“Of course you were.”
Tony looked relaxed and way happier than he had earlier. Peter nudged him with his foot. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah, some,” Tony said. “I took a bath and it cooled me down. It’ll probably be a couple more days before I’m really back on my feet, but I’m hoping this bug is closer to a twenty-four hour one than not. I might be feeling better enough tomorrow for us to get in the lab for a bit.”
“It’s okay if you’re not,” Peter said. “We can watch movies and hang out. I can tinker with the webshooters up here if I feel like it.”
Tony gave him a wan smile. “I know. I just had such grand plans for this week and so far all we’ve done is lie around like Victorian heroines dying of consumption.”
“I wouldn’t say no to a couple more days of being a Victorian heroine,” Peter admitted. “I’ve been really tired.”
“Yeah,” Tony said slowly. “Speaking of big secrets, you mentioned insomnia and anxiety attacks. Anything else you want to tell me about?”
Peter felt like he’d walked right into that trap. Maybe he’d even wanted to. He looked away, trying to focus his eyes on something, but there wasn’t much to look at outside. “Nightmares,” he admitted. “When I do sleep, I have nightmares. And I’ve been getting headaches, which might just be from the sleep deprivation. And, um. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate. That’s why the SAT prep has been so awful, I can’t get through nearly as much of it as I should be able to.”
Tony sighed. “Oh kid,” he said sympathetically. Peter felt his hand land on his ankle and start rubbing it gently through layers of blankets. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Peter shrugged. “Didn’t want to worry you.”
“Okay, first things first. I want you to worry me,” Tony said. “That’s what I’m here for. I know I spent a long time sending you to voicemail and telling you to talk to Happy, but those days are over. I want you to come to me with this stuff––the small stuff, the big stuff, the scary stuff. I can’t help you if I don’t know.”
Peter nodded, looking down.
“Second. Hey, look at me, Peter.”
Peter looked up and met Tony’s eyes.
“I’ve been through this,” Tony said. “Depression and anxiety are old friends of mine. I don’t ever want you to deal with them the way I did, so we’re going to figure out some better coping mechanisms for you. You don’t just have to be miserable all the time.”
Peter frowned. “I’m not depressed.”
“Yeah, kid, I think you might be. But it’s okay,” Tony said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Pretty much every Avenger has struggled with anxiety and depression at some point. So you’re in a club––one that I wish you weren’t in, but at least you’ve got friends who know the way out.”
Peter swallowed, his throat aching now for reasons that had nothing to do with strep. “You mean I can feel better?”
“Yes,” Tony said, “I mean exactly that.” He rubbed Peter’s ankle again. “So tomorrow, maybe, we’re going to go see Bruce, and he might consult with our friends in Wakanda, to see if he can come up with something that will help with the anxiety and the not-sleeping. And then we’re going to talk to Sam.”
“Sam, like, Falcon?”
“That’s the one. He’s in DC most of the time, but he’s worked with a lot of vets coming home, and he has experience with all this stuff. And if he recommends it, we’ll get you into therapy.”
Peter frowned. “I can’t afford therapy, Tony. I don’t think May’s insurance has very good mental health coverage. She wanted to do therapy after Ben died––for her and for me––but it was so expensive that we just couldn’t.” He shrugged. “I would’ve had to lie about everything anyway, so it probably wouldn’t’ve helped me, but I wish she could’ve done it. I think she really needed someone to talk to.”
Tony looked horrified. “All right, so, we’re getting both you and May on the Avengers health plan, ASAP.”
“There’s an Avengers health plan?”
“Of course there is. Who would insure us? It includes excellent mental health coverage, because Pepper set it up and Pepper is a goddess among mortals. We’ll find you someone you don’t have to lie to. And we’ll get May whatever help she wants.”
“Oh,” Peter said. “That’s... that’s really nice, Tony.”
“Yeah, well.” Tony drew a sharp breath. “I spent most of my life dealing with my own anxiety and depression by drinking too much. I was in ten kinds of pain most of the time, and I didn’t know how to make it stop any other way. I’m lucky I didn’t die before I turned thirty. That isn’t going to happen to you.”
Peter nodded, ducking his head. “Thanks,” he whispered.
“And there’s one more thing I think you should think about. You don’t have to make a decision now.”
“What?” Peter asked, though he had a feeling he knew what Tony was going to say.
“Would you consider taking a break from Spiderman? Not stopping,” Tony added hastily, “just taking a break long enough to start feeling better. I don’t like the idea of you out stopping crime while sleep-deprived, and it can’t be helping your anxiety. Maybe take a break until after the SAT’s are over, and then––I was thinking we might talk about you spending the summer here at the compound.”
That sounded amazing. A whole summer of training with Steve and the others and working with Tony and not running himself ragged balancing Spiderman, a summer job, and college applications––not to mention giving the heat and smell of the city in summer a miss. “That sounds great,” Peter said quietly. “It really does. But statistically, summer is the worst time of year for crime in New York, and I can’t just not be there. People will get hurt, people I could have helped.”
“Whoa, kid.” Tony squeezed his ankle again. “Listen to me. You are not responsible for every person in Queens who gets mugged, all right? You can’t stop everything that happens out there.”
“But shouldn’t I try? Don’t I have to try? Uncle Ben told me––right before he died, he told me, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Isn’t that true? Isn’t that why you’re Iron Man?”
Tony was staring at him. “Pete. Was that the last thing your uncle said to you?”
Peter felt his eyes go hot. “Yeah. And he was right. I could’ve––I could’ve stopped the guys that shot him. I didn’t. So now––I know I can’t save everyone, but I have to try. I have to.” His voice was trembling, and he was about three seconds away from bursting into tears.
“Kid, come here,” Tony said, opening his arms. Peter probably should have been embarrassed by how quickly he threw himself into Tony’s arms, but he wasn’t. He was just relieved to not be sitting so far away anymore. Tony tightened his arms around Peter, and Peter tucked his face into Tony’s neck.
“Okay,” Tony said, in a very deliberately calm voice. “This explains a hell of a lot. I hope that it’s the one of the first things you talk to the therapist about. But for now, I want you to listen to me, all right? Not just as Tony but as someone who has been superheroing for a long time and has made some serious mistakes. Are you listening?”
“Yes,” Peter whispered.
“You’re right that we have power, and you’re right that that gives us responsibility. The Accords were about exactly that. But our power isn’t limitless, and neither is our responsibility. If we can do something, we should. But we have to accept that we can’t save everyone. We could kill ourselves trying to do that, and I’m not being metaphorical or hyperbolic. And then we couldn’t save anyone at all.”
“But...” Peter swallowed painfully. “But I have to...”
“You don’t, Peter,” Tony said softly. “Think about it. I didn’t know Ben, but I know May, and I know you, and I think he must’ve been a pretty great guy. Would he want you to run yourself into the ground?”
Peter drew a shuddering breath. “No,” he said. “I guess not.”
“No,” Tony agreed. “He wouldn’t. I’m sure of it. And May and I don’t want that either. So I think we need to take some time and think about ways to make this more sustainable for you, because you can’t keep going the way you are.”
“I know,” Peter said. “I know that. I––it felt more manageable before the snap, but since the reversal, everything’s just been... hard. The world is such a mess and some nights I can hear everything and it’s just... it’s so much.”
It felt like the words were ripped from him. He hadn’t realized just how overwhelmed he actually was until he got a few days to just stop. He hadn’t realized how much it weighed on him, being able to hear all the suffering in his little corner of Queens. He could hear all the joy, too, but the suffering seemed so much louder, and there was so much of it since the reversal. Peter heard all of it, every night.
The door to the bedroom opened––quietly, but Peter heard it anyway. Peter untucked his head enough from Tony’s neck to look over and see Steve standing in the doorway. “Everything okay?” Steve asked.
“Not really,” Tony said. “But we’re talking about ways to make it better.” He hesitated, then added, “Steve, you took a break after the reversal.” His voice went up a bit at the end, almost like he was asking a question. But of course Tony knew the answer.
“Yeah,” Steve said, coming a little further into the room. “I needed some time to recover. So I took a couple months and let other people handle things until I was feeling better. It happens to all of us sometimes.”
“I took a break after Ultron,” Tony said.
Steve, seating himself in the chair beside the sofa, gave him a look. “You tried to retire after Ultron.”
“Yeah, okay, I tried to retire after Ultron. It didn’t take. I failed retirement. Which is why I would never tell you to quit,” he added to Peter. “But Ultron probably could have been prevented if I’d taken a break when I started feeling burned out. Not saying that you’re going to fuck up on that level––I’m really in a league of my own that way––”
“Hey,” Peter and Steve objected, almost in unison. They stared at each other, startled, until Tony started laughing.
“Oh God, I’ve created a monster––which is not nearly as bad as the last time I created a monster––”
“Stop that,” Peter said, hitting him lightly on the arm.
“Yes, stop that,” Steve echoed.
“Ow. Okay, okay,” Tony said. “Anyway, are you hearing what I’m saying?”
“Yes,” Peter said, a little sullenly. “I’ll think about it, okay? And I’m saying yes to the other stuff.”
“That’s all I ask, that you think about it. And that you tell me when you start to feel this bad, instead of collapsing on me like a puppet with all its strings cut.”
“I didn’t collapse on you,” Peter said indignantly. Tony cocked an eyebrow at him. “All right, so maybe I kind of collapsed on you,” Peter muttered.
“Mmm, yes, kind of,” Tony echoed. He sighed, glancing at Steve. “Did you come in here to tell us dinner was ready?”
“Yes,” Steve said, reaching over to brush some of the hair out of Tony’s eyes. Tony smiled at him, and Peter wondered how he’d ever missed the fact that they were a couple. Tony had been smiling at Steve like that for a while, now that Peter thought about it. And Steve smiled back every time, just as ridiculously fond.
It was kind of gross. But it also reminded Peter of what life had been like with May and Ben, before the bite, before Ben died. It reminded him of how safe it was possible to feel, knowing that he was part of a family, knowing that there were people whose job it was to make him feel protected and cared for. People who loved him and loved each other, too. Peter hadn’t felt that safe in so long, he’d forgotten that he could.
It wasn’t the same as May and Ben. He was still kind of wary of Steve, as much as he wanted to like him. It was going to take time for him to get over that. They were probably both going to have to work at it. But it seemed like it might be worth it, to have that again.
“Kid? Did you hear Steve ask if you if you want toast with your soup?”
“Sorry,” Peter said, and snuggled closer to Tony. “Yeah. Toast sounds great.”
This had been a good idea, Tony decided. It wasn’t just the kid or Steve that needed a team movie night. They had all needed one. And for once the universe had cooperated and there weren’t any emergencies.
About half the group had a drink with booze in their hand; the other half, including Tony, was dry, which was probably for the best. Tony would never stop wishing he could have one drink, just to taste scotch again, but at least a few of them had to be sober in case they got called out.
Everyone had put a movie into the hat, and Rhodey was making a valiant but probably wasted effort to get everyone to pay attention while he pulled the first one. Nat and Clint were leaning together near the bar, conspiring about God knew what; they’d probably rigged the hat somehow. Thor and Bruce were playing pool and pretending they didn’t care what movie got chosen. Steve and Bucky were out on the balcony, talking to each other.
Peter and Sam were missing. Tony had seen them put their jackets on about an hour ago and head out onto the grounds. Tony checked his watch and saw that they were still down by the lake, exactly where they had been for the last forty minutes.
“Where are they?” May asked, sidling up to him. She had a beer in one hand, and she looked like it probably wasn’t her first. Tony gave her his best innocent look, and she rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Tony, you’d microchip Peter if you could.”
“They’re down by the lake,” Tony said. “And you wouldn’t?”
She sighed. “I try not to be that parent. It’s hard. Harder now that I know exactly what’s going on with him. But easier, knowing that there are people who have his back.”
Tony tried to smile reassuringly. “Anyone here would do anything for him.”
“No, anyone here would take a bullet for him,” May said, gesturing with her bottle around at the assembled Avengers. “But I don’t think anyone else would spend three days with him glommed onto them like a needy koala, and I’m pretty sure that’s what you did this week.”
Tony had to laugh at the image. “Maybe. It was really only the first couple of days.”
She swigged her beer. “And you’re feeling better?”
“Much, thanks,” he said. “I’m just sorry it took me most of the week to get back to normal. I’ll have to have Peter up again soon so I can make it up to him.” He’d made it as far as the living room sofa the third day of Peter’s visit, and Peter had ignored his injunctions to go have fun in the gym in favor of setting up shop at the coffee table to tinker with his web shooters while they watched all three Lord of the Rings with Steve.
On the fourth day, Tony had gotten as far as the gym, where he’d lounged on a pile of mats with a bottle of Gatorade and watched Peter and Steve basically destroy his obstacle course. He was going to have to build a whole new one, and they both wanted input.
Tony had grumbled about it, but the truth was that it had thrilled him to see Peter and Steve getting along so well. Steve was still being careful not to seem too familiar, and Peter still had moments where Tony could tell he was looking at Steve and thinking about Siberia, but overall, he thought they were out of the woods.
May rolled her beer bottle between her hands. “Peter told me about the talk you guys had,” she said. “I appreciate the offer. I think I’ll take you up on it. The last couple of years have been rough. It’d be good to talk to someone.”
He nodded. “I’ll get you guys on the plan right away.”
“He also told me about your suggestion that he come up here for the summer.”
He couldn’t read her voice, and when he looked at her, he couldn’t read her face, either. “I know I should have talked to you first,” he finally said, cautiously.
She shook her head. “No, it’s fine––I’m just––I want him with me, you know? I never understood parents who couldn’t wait for their kids to go back to school. I always loved having Peter home, especially since my days off are usually in the middle of the week. We couldn’t afford fancy vacations, but we’d go and do things together around the city... and now––I want him with me, but not if he’s going to be risking his life every night and not sleeping and having anxiety attacks.” She stared off into the distance. “I can’t believe I didn’t know about those.”
“I didn’t either,” Tony said. “If he hadn’t gotten sick, it probably would’ve been months before one of us figured it out. And it’s not hard to get you up here. It’s a bit of a commute every day, I know, but weekends at least.”
“Damn right,” she said, pointing at him. “Every weekend.”
“Yeah, of course,” he said, and then his brain caught up. “So––wait, you’re saying––”
“I’m saying I think it’d be the best thing for him. I don’t know that he’s convinced yet, but I think between the two of us, we can probably get it done.”
“Yeah,” Tony said, and smiled at her. “Yeah, I think so.”
“All right, who put the fucking Princess Bride in the hat again?” Rhodey yelled. “Who did it?”
“That’s not the relevant question,” Clint yelled back. “The relevant question is what do you have against the fucking cinematic masterpiece that is The Princess Bride, Rhodey?”
“That I’ve seen it eight times with you people!” Rhodey replied. “And you quote along with it and it’s goddamn annoying, Barton!”
Clint shrugged. “Either way, you pulled it, we watch it. Fair’s fair.”
May laughed quietly while Rhodey and Clint started arguing about the definition of “fairness” in this context. “Is Peter still down at the lake? He won’t want to miss this.”
Tony glanced at his watch. “They’re on their way up. Hang on, wait until the kid gets here,” he added to the group generally. Steve and Bucky were coming in from the balcony; Steve’s gaze landed on Tony, and he smiled, almost like he couldn’t help it. Tony smiled back.
May whistled. “Peter said you two were disgustingly in love, but I had to see it to believe it. Never thought I’d see that look on your face.”
“Shut up,” Tony muttered, glaring at her. She laughed and went to sprawl on the couch, kicking her feet up on the coffee table like she owned the place. Tony sat on the same sofa, leaving a Peter-sized space between them, and Steve wedged himself in on his other side, even though there was barely enough space for a regular-sized ass, much less a super soldier one.
Nat was distributing popcorn when Peter and Sam finally appeared. Peter looked a little damp around the eyes, but Sam gave Tony a secret thumbs up.
Peter sat down between him and May, and they both tried to put an arm around him at the same time. “Oh my God, don’t be embarrassing,” Peter said, rolling his eyes. He shoved his feet under Tony’s thigh and snuggled into his aunt’s side. Tony tried not to be jealous. He had a Steve to snuggle with, after all, and May had missed out on all the extra physical affection this week. It was only fair.
He put his hand on Peter’s ankle, and Peter glanced over at him. Tony gave him a half-smile, trying to ask without asking if everything had gone okay with Sam. Peter smiled back but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Tony rubbed his thumb over a patch of bare skin right above the kid’s sock, and Peter’s smile relaxed a little.
Not okay. Not yet. But better. And maybe willing to accept help to get the rest of the way there.
Tony put his head on Steve’s shoulder, kept his hand on his kid’s foot, and watched the movie.