Chapter 1: I Have Been Homesick For You
“Peter? Baby, wake up.”
He groaned, flinging an ill-tempered arm over his eyes and frowning. “Wha’ time is it?”
The ache at the base of his skull told him that it was early. Too early. Blasphemously early.
May laughed, flicking on his lamp. “2:00 am.”
Ha. He was right.
“Then why are you wa-”
“‘S nice for him.”
“Peter,” the amusement in May’s tone made his irritation twinge, “Tony called.”
Why is she saying it like-
He sat up so quickly that he nearly toppled off the bed, enhanced reflexes and all.
He could hear his heartbeat, May’s heartbeat, the sound of a bed creaking three floors down. Everything sharpened. In the span of a single moment, Peter’s senses picked up the world shifting.
“Is she coming?”
His Aunt grinned, eyes shining with joy despite the hour. “She is. Making a big entrance.” She poked him in the side. “Just like you did, if I remember correctly. Role model from the beginning, huh?”
A swell of warmth rose up in his cheeks. He tried not to look too pleased with the comment, despite knowing that May would see right through him anyway.
He cleared his throat. “We gotta go, right?” His comforter ended up on the floor in his haste to reach his dresser, pulse hammering with nervous excitement. “Can we go? I mean, you woke me up so I’m assuming that Mister Stark said that we could-”
“Yes, Peter, we’re going.” May grabbed a pair of sweatpants off the back of his desk chair and tossed them his way. “Now hurry up. We’ve got a baby to meet.”
He froze. The world had shifted. Everything was changing at a speed way above his level of comprehension.
There was a brand-new human about to enter the world, and that brand-new human would look up to him. Him. Peter Parker.
He stared at the wall for a few seconds before meeting May’s amused face with wide eyes. “This is the most daunting thing I’ve ever done.”
His Aunt’s laughter was light and musical. She was always too cheerful in the mornings. “Imagine how Tony and Pepper feel.”
His eyes widened even further. “Mister Stark must be freaking out.”
“Oh, he is. I could tell. He asked for you four times before Pepper took the phone and actually explained what was going on.” She threw him a hoodie, a good-natured smirk on her face. “So suit up, Spider-Man. Iron Man is in need of some immediate backup.”
He’d never gotten dressed so fast in his life.
When they got to the hospital, Rhodey and Happy were already there.
Rhodey was leaned back, somehow making the uncomfortable hospital chair look like the nicest recliner in the world. If there was ever a perfect picture of composed relaxation, he was it.
Happy was… another matter entirely.
He paced restlessly around the waiting room, like a riled wolf coiled for attack. Even the slightest blip of movement made him leap to the offensive.
Peter raised his hands in surrender the moment he turned to question them, swallowing down a laugh at the man’s paranoia. Really, he was glad to see him. It was nice to know that Tony, Pepper, and, very soon, Baby Stark, would be well protected.
“Oh, it’s just you.” Happy dug into his pockets and produced two laminated security badges. “Here. You need these. Keep them on.”
“Yes, Sir.” Peter forced himself not to give a mocking salute. “I swear I’ll keep it where you can see it at all times.”
He and May left Happy to his patrol and settled into the rough hospital chairs beside Rhodey, who shot Peter a little wink in greeting.
“Now the whole family’s arrived.” He smiled, letting his voice settle into something genuine. “Tony’ll be pleased you’re here. He’s been going on and on about having you meet the little one since Pepper told him.”
Peter grinned back. “I can’t wait.”
Rhodey laughed. “You’re gonna have to, kid. Last I heard, it’ll probably be a few hours yet.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “So, follow my lead.” He gestured widely. “Sit back and relax.”
Well, it wasn’t like he had anything else better to do.
After a few minutes, he curled tiredly into May, ignoring the way the arms of the plastic chairs dug into his ribs. She slid her arm around his shoulders and gave a little squeeze.
It’s so late, he thought, I’ll just doze for a bit. I’m too wired to fall asleep, so it’ll be fine.
The next thing he knew, a hand was brushing over his forehead. A gruff voice, lowered with gentle amusement, pushed at his awareness.
“C’mon, Peter. I’ve got someone for you to meet.”
He blinked his eyes open slowly. The lights were harsh, and he squinted. Tony was kneeling in front of him, one hand resting on his knee and the other still working through his curls. His mentor shot him a bright smile, eyes overflowing with happiness.
“Mm. Hi.” Peter yawned, pawing tiredly at his eyes. “Time is it?”
“Hey to you too, kiddo.” The hand in his curls slipped down to cup his cheek. “It’s 6:42.”
“‘S she here?”
Pure pride rose over Tony’s face. “Yeah, buddy. She’s here.”
Somehow, those words made the gravity of the event finally register in his brain.
“Mister Stark!” He lunged to his feet, and Tony hopped up with him, chuckling at the teenager’s enthusiasm. “She’s here? Did I miss it?”
“Gimme a second to adjust to your energy change. And there’s not much to miss from the waiting room, squirt. Besides, I’m glad someone got some sleep.” His mentor shot him a wink to take the bite out of the words. “But yeah, she’s here.”
He grabbed Tony’s wrists in a burst of excitement, bouncing up and down. Behind him, May laughed. “Really? Is she okay? Is she healthy? Is Pepper okay? Can I see her? Did you name her-”
“Whoa, buddy. Slow down a sec.” Tony clapped a hand on the side of his neck. “She’s perfectly healthy, and so is Pepper. Morgan Maria Stark. 8 pounds, 2 ounces.”
Morgan. Morgan Stark. “And I can see her?”
“Why do you think I woke you up, kid?” He smirked, nodding towards a hallway. “C’mon. Rhodey’s already in there. Thought I’d let you nap for as long as you could. I know you were out late patrolling.”
He skipped after him, tugging at his sleeve with barely contained enthusiasm. “You’re a dad, Mister Stark! A real-life dad.”
“Well, it’s good to know I’m not a virtual one.” Tony paused in front of a closed door, arm braced against the threshold protectively. “We have to use our indoor voices now, okay?”
Peter rolled his eyes. “You’re already getting into the spirit of things, I see.”
He chuckled, ruffling a hand over the top of the teenager’s curls. “Seriously, Pete. Quiet, okay? I know that’s a foreign concept to you, but-”
“Hey!” Peter made sure to keep his indignation as low in volume as possible. “I can be quiet.”
“Can you?” His mentor’s voice was playful. “I’ve never heard it.”
“Yes you have!”
Tony slapped a palm against his forehead in mock realization. “You’re right. Sometimes, you’re asleep.”
He glared, eyes dancing eagerly between his mentor and the door. “C’mon. C’mon. I promise I’ll be quiet. I’ll be… I’ll be so quiet. Please.”
Tony shook his head and pushed open the door, smile still plastered firmly on his face. Peter didn’t think it had wavered once. He guided Peter into the room with a steady hand against his back.
“I brought the kid.”
“So I see.” Pepper smiled at him from her hospital bed, eyes bright with the same emotion that seemed to cover Tony. The world had shifted, but it was a good shift. “Thank you for coming, Peter. It means a lot to us.”
“Yeah, kid, nice of you to join the party.” Rhodey was standing a few feet away, gently bouncing a bundle of blankets up and down in his arms. “Come to meet our new charge?”
He pushed up on his tiptoes in the hope of catching a glimpse of the infant’s face. “Our new charge?”
“That’s sort of the job description, yeah.”
Peter glanced at Tony in confusion. “Job description?”
Pepper’s voice was tired and slightly chastising. “Tony. You didn’t ask him?”
“I mean,” the billionaire glanced back and forth between his wife and Peter with a sheepish expression, “it’s not that I forgot, persay-”
“You just forgot.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “Tony, just ask him.”
“What are we asking me?”
Tony rubbed at the back of his neck, discomfort clear in the set of his shoulders. “She, uh, she needs godparents. Morgan, I mean. Morgan needs godparents. We—me and Pepper—we talked about it. She needs… people who’ll look after her, in case, well, in case anything happens to us. Hell, just people who’ll be there for her even if nothing happens to us.” Tony met his gaze, eyes tentative and hopeful. For a weird second, he felt their roles tip and reverse. For the first time, his mentor was looking to him for reassurance. “We want her to have a family. A real one. Pep and I… we don’t have a lot of blood relatives, but we do have a hell of a lot of people we want in her life. Thought we ought to give them some official titles. Rhodey’s gonna be one of her godfathers, and I thought, well, I thought that you might want to be the second.”
Peter blinked, swallowed, stared. Tony… Tony wanted him to do what? He wanted him to… to be what?
“Hey, it’s fine.” Apparently, his internal freak-out was more than just internal, because Tony was quick to reassure him. And just like that, their roles realigned. “You can think about it.” The man brushed a lock of hair from his forehead and smiled. The tenderness in his touch was so paternal that it made Peter’s chest buzz with security. The world had shifted, but this had stayed the same. This would always stay the same. “Do you wanna hold her?”
His eyed widened. “Can I?”
“Absolutely.” His mentor took the bundle from Rhodey and gave Peter a little nod. “Hold your arms out. Remember how people do it in the movies? It’s exactly like that.” He grinned when Peter rushed to comply. “There you go.”
From the moment his eyes landed on Morgan, something strange settled over him. He felt like, for the first time, he started to understand the looks in Tony and Pepper’s eyes.
Her face was just so small. Actually, everything about her was small. She barely weighed anything in his arms. Her eyes were closed, and he had to squint to see her eyelashes.
The world had shifted to make room for her. Peter decided all at once that it was the best shift he’d ever seen.
He thought about her future. He’d watch her grow up. He’d be able to say that he’d known her for her entire life.
The thought made his head spin.
“Hi.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tony grinning at the two of them. “I’m, uh, I’m Peter. I’ve talked to you before, but I don’t know if you remember that.”
“I sure she does.” Pepper’s voice was full of warmth. “Tony’s told her a lot about you, too. She’s ecstatic to finally meet you in person.”
He smiled. Some weird part of him felt like crying.
“Morgan.” He tried out the name in his mouth. It sounded nice. “Hi, Morgan. I think… I think we’re gonna be good friends.”
That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever-
“You are.” Evidently, his mentor disagreed with his internal monologue, because when he looked up, the man was hastily wiping at his eyes. “She’s gonna love you.”
His voice was barely a whisper. “I hope so.”
After a full minute of silence, he dragged his gaze away from the bundle in his arms and met Tony’s eyes.
“I don’t have any godparents.” He muttered. “I don’t, uh, really know what they do.”
Pepper’s voice sounded somewhere to his right, full of softness and maternal reassurance. “All you have to do is be yourself, Peter.”
Tony nodded in agreement. “And like I said, Pete, you don’t have to decide now.”
“No, I want to do it.” He blushed at his sudden forcefulness. “I mean, if that’s okay.”
“More than okay, bud.” Tony laid cool palm against the side of his neck. Peter had learned this language by now. He knew what the man was trying to say. “It’s the best, actually.”
The world had shifted and, for the first time, it had shifted in Tony Stark’s favor.
“Looks like I’ve got two kids to look after now, huh?” His eyes crinkled at the corners as he watched Peter stare down at Morgan, enraptured. “What a nightmare.”
Rhodey chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder. “At least Peter’s old enough to help.”
“Help?” Tony scoffed. “Teach her hundreds of new ways to disobey me, more like.”
Pepper grinned. “You’ll love it.”
“Yeah.” He decided, right then, that he could never love anything more than the loved those two kids. He didn’t think he could survive it. As it was, his heart felt like it was drowning. “Yeah, I will.”
Chapter 2: The Love In Your Yell
Pepper has her first business trip since Morgan's birth, so Tony and Peter are on Morgan duty.
They've got this. At least, Tony hopes he does.
I'm uploading this in my university's parking lot off of my phone's hotspot. You know. It's the finals mood.
This chapter was always going to be short and sweet. I hope you enjoy the domesticity, cause this story is gonna have a nauseating amount of it.
“You’ve got this.”
Tony grinned, trying to pour as much of his playboy charisma into his posture as possible. “Of course I do.”
Pepper leaned in and pecked him on the lips. To his right, Peter gagged and made a show of shielding Morgan, who was cradled securely in his arms, from the display.
“Not in front of the baby, Mister Stark!”
He cupped Pepper’s waist and shot the kid a false grin, lacing his voice with ignorance. “Who, you?”
Peter glared, turning away with a huff. “Fine. Be gross. But I’m leaving with your child. She’s mine now.”
He rolled his eyes as the kid wandered off. “Sure thing, bud.” He turned back to Pepper with a shake of his head. “Sometimes I feel like I have two newborn children.”
Her touch was featherlight on his hand. “We’re lucky to have him. All three of us.”
He threw a glance over his shoulder. Peter was sitting on the couch, Morgan in his lap, animatedly telling her some story, probably from patrol. She stared up at him with wide eyes, drinking in every single one of his movements like she’d never seen anything more entrancing in the first 3 weeks of her life.
The rush of adoration at the scene was familiar, now. He’d gotten used to feeling it every time he saw Peter and Morgan together.
“Yeah, we are.” He sighed, eyes flickering to the bag in Pepper’s hands. “It’ll be good to have him around. Even though I assure you that I can handle our child for a single night all on my own.”
“I wouldn’t be leaving if I didn’t think you could, honey.” She stepped back. “Have more faith in yourself.”
“I do have faith in myself. I’m Tony Stark. I can handle a baby. My baby. The baby that is… half mine.”
“Repeat until true.” She winked. “I’ll be home tomorrow. Call me if you need anything.”
He shot her a playful salute. “You got it, Captain.”
“I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“Oh, I know.”
Peter glanced up, pretending to cover Morgan’s ears. “Stop being gross!”
Pepper walked out the door laughing.
They ended up watching Aladdin on the couch after Pepper left. He wasn’t exactly sure why he and Peter had decided to change their usual viewing habits to fit the baby, especially since she was way too young to understand any of the storylines, but somehow he’d found himself slowly but surely working his way through every children’s movie on the planet.
And god, Tony loved it. He loved it so fucking much.
Domesticity was ridiculously underrated. He could live in this moment for the rest of his life and never begrudge it.
Unfortunately, the night had other plans. He checked his watch once the credits rolled: 8:30. Definitely bedtime for Morgan, and Peter needed as much sleep as he could get, what with school and Spider-Man and trying to give Tony a goddamn heart attack nearly every single day.
He liked it when the kid was asleep. He didn’t usually hurt himself when he was asleep. He also stayed put. These were all wonderful, beautiful, glorious things for Tony’s sanity.
Nightmares he could handle. Bleeding gunshot wounds were not nearly as easy to soothe.
“Okay. Night-night time.”
Peter snorted, glancing up at Tony from where he’d been scrolling through Instagram on his phone. “I’m sorry. Did you just say night-night time?”
“Yeah. This is all the cool parenting lingo you start to learn when you have a newborn baby. You’ll pick it up, too. Just you wait.”
“Yeah, sure, but night-night time?”
He stood slowly, careful not to disturb the sleeping child in his arms. Peter, despite his protests, followed his lead. “It’s a good phrase.”
“Whatever you say, I guess.”
“Wow. Did you just agree with me? It’s a miracle.”
“For the record, that wasn’t agreement. It was acquiescence.”
“It’s really not.”
Tony just grinned, pausing in front of Peter’s door when they reached it. “I’d give you a hug, but my arms are a little full.”
The kid gazed down at Morgan with eyes full of love. Damn it, there was that mushy feeling in his gut again. “Precious cargo.”
“You know it.” He settled for bumping Peter’s ankle with his foot. “Now listen here, young man. We’ve got a big day of babysitting ahead of us tomorrow. So,” he glared forcefully, swallowing down his amusement, “you better go night-night.”
He could hear Peter laughing the whole way down the hall.
Tony was pretty sure he’d only been asleep for an hour, maybe two, when he jolted awake to the sound of Morgan wailing.
He had to stifle a groan as he rolled out from under the warmth of his sheets and stumbled, half-blind, towards the crib.
Have a kid, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
This wasn’t the first time she’d woken him up, obviously. He was used to the nightly routine of sleep, hear cry, get up, console, sleep, hear cry, etc. It was, however, the first time he’d had to tackle the process entirely alone.
He had this. He had this. He had this.
“Hey, sweetheart.” He pulled her up and checked her diaper. Clean. “You hungry, baby? Okay. Daddy’s got you.”
To his left, the bedroom door opened, letting a brief beam of light streak across the back wall before it clicked shut again. Tony turned to greet his midnight guest with a surprised smile. “Hey, bud.”
Peter’s voice was thick with sleep. “Hey. ‘S she okay?”
“Yeah.” Tony winced in sympathy as the kid smothered a yawn. “She’s fine. Just hungry. I didn’t think you’d be able to hear her.”
He gestured lazily at his ears, flinching when Morgan let out a particularly high-pitched shriek. “Enhanced senses.”
“Sorry, kiddo.” He didn’t know why he worked so hard to keep his voice gentle, considering the fact that he had a sobbing infant in his arms. “Lab’s totally soundproofed. You can bunk there, if you want.”
I need to soundproof his room. Why didn’t I think of that before? God, how does he get any sleep in the city?
“No. ‘S okay.” He reached out for Morgan. “I hold, you get a bottle?”
He gave Peter a grateful nod as he handed the bundle of wailing baby over. Yeah, he didn’t envy the kid the next five minutes or so. “Thanks, buddy.”
Peter just smiled, rocking Morgan in a way that made Tony realize just how much time the kid had been spending with them since her birth. His throat constricted a little as he grabbed a bottle and headed to the kitchen to find some milk. He knew Pepper had pumped some fresh this morning. It was probably in the freezer.
It only took him a few minutes to get everything prepped. At this point, he felt like a pro at all things baby. Well, half the time. The other half he just felt like he was flying totally blind.
Pepper said that it was normal. Tony said that it was bullshit.
Peter just laughed and called their opinions “creative differences.”
He couldn’t wait for Morgan to be old enough to weigh in.
Peter was still rocking her when he came back, but decidedly slower than he had been when Tony had left him. He let himself pause for a second in the doorway, taking in the scene, before walking over and tapping the kid’s bicep lightly to get his attention. “Hey, squirt. I’ll steal her back, now.”
Peter nodded. The transfer went seamlessly. Apparently, they’d had a lot of practice. Tony settled on the edge of the bed, bottle in hand, and Peter plopped down right beside him.
Morgan quieted once the bottle was in her mouth, and he didn’t miss the way Peter slumped in relief.
“Sorry, kid. Bet that’s hell for you. It’s bad enough without the super hearing.”
“‘S alright. Worst part’s the fact she’s upset ‘n the first place.”
“She’s not actually that upset. She just doesn’t have any words yet. So, you know,” he shrugged, “screaming.”
He could just see Peter’s half-awake smile out of the corner of his eye. “Wish I could just scream for fun.”
“Like I said, kid, lab’s soundproofed both ways. If you ever want a good scream, that’s the perfect place to do it.”
The joke won him a sleepy laugh. “Be fun when she can talk. Morgan, I mean.”
“It will be. Any bets on her first words?”
“Traitor.” Peter’s head dropped onto his shoulder, and Tony suddenly found himself ruing the fact that feeding Morgan was a two-handed job. He was itching to wrap an arm around the kid’s shoulders. “What was your first word?”
“Your first word was ‘no’?”
“Wow. That explains so much.”
“Haha. So funny, Mis’er Stark.”
“I know I am. I graduated top of my class at Dad School, y’know. We have a whole unit on humor.”
“Isn’t a thing.”
“Dad School most definitely is a thing, thank you very much.”
From the way Peter mumbled, Tony guessed he was already mostly asleep and only really speaking from some semi-conscious memory. “Isn’t.”
He made sure to whisper his next words. “It is.”
The only response he got was the steady in and out of Peter’s breathing. A few minutes later, Morgan’s eyelids started to droop, too. Man, he was on a roll tonight. He managed to make both kids nod off in the span of fifteen minutes.
Could he win an award for that? There should definitely be an award for that. He felt like Super Dad.
Once Morgan finished her bottle, however, he realized that he was in a bit of a predicament. If he moved to put the youngest back in the crib, the oldest would topple over. If he stayed in the position he was currently in for the rest of the night (or, at least until Morgan got hungry again), then he’d run the risk of falling asleep and making all three of them topple over.
Alright, well, he’d adapt.
“Peter?” He jostled the kid as gently as possible, feeling a bit guilty for having to wake him. “C’mon, kiddo. Wake up for me.”
“Hey, bud.” He twisted his neck so that he could smile down at the teenager, who hadn’t moved his face from its place on his shoulder. “Sorry. Need to put Morgan back in her crib and clean up.”
“‘M comfy though.”
“I bet you are. You’ll be even more comfy in your bed, though.”
“Nah. Wanna stay ‘n help.”
He blinked, a little surprised. The more he thought about it, though, the more he realized that he shouldn’t be. Of course he’d want to help. He was Peter. “With Morgan?”
“Mhm. What if she wakes up again?”
Oh, god. This kid. This precious, fantastic kid. If he could raise Morgan the way May and Ben raised him, then he’d be set for life. “I can handle her, kiddo,”
“I know. Still wanna help, though. You usually have help.”
“You sure? You’ll be exhausted tomorrow, let me tell you.”
“We can nap when Pepper gets back.”
“Oh? Is that our reward for surviving our babysitting duties?”
Tony just shook his head and chuckled. “Alright. I see you’re determined. Crawl into bed and I’ll put her back in her crib.”
Peter did as he was told, flopping back into the California king and curling into a ball. “Does she ever wake up when you’re putting her back?”
“She did a lot in the beginning. I’m getting better at gauging when she’s really asleep now, though.”
“‘S so complicated.”
He laid Morgan down carefully, checked that her crib was clear and clean, and wandered back to Peter. He sat beside the kid and finally got to drag a hand over the crown of his head. Both kids safe. Both kids comfortable. “It is. Remember this moment and always use protection.”
Peter peeped a single eye open. “‘S this your idea of male birth control?”
“That’s exactly what this is. You can thank me later.” He didn’t even bother touching the blankets as he flopped down on his back next to Peter. “Weird to think you were this young just a couple years ago.”
“Almost 18, Mister Stark. Not a couple of years.”
“18 isn’t very old at all, Pete.”
“Seems pretty old to me.”
“It always does.” He wrapped an arm securely around the kid, feeling a sudden and seemingly uncalled for wave of protectiveness rush through him. “Try to get some sleep. Morgan’s probably gonna wake us up again in about 2 hours.”
Peter nestled more firmly into his side, eyes shut. “Mm. Can’t wait.”
He smiled, staring at the ceiling and basking in the contentment flooding through his chest. “Me neither.”
Sleep deprivation? Check. The loss of all personal time and space? Check. A sudden and bizarre comfort with all bodily fluids? Check.
Loving every minute of it? Check.
Yeah, Tony thought, running an absentminded hand though Peter’s curls, for once in my life, I’m doing everything right.
Chapter 3: The Late Evening Thrill
Tony's on a mission to get Morgan to say her first words.
Peter helps by just existing.
“Iron Man. Iron Man. Iron Man .”
Pepper glanced up from her StarkPad with exasperation painted all over her face. “Tony, there is no possible way that our child’s first words are going to be Iron Man .”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do , actually. It’ll be mama or dada or something normal .”
Tony shot her a glare without heat and adjusted the way Morgan was sitting on his lap. “Peter’s first word was no.”
“And what was yours?”
He paused. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. I never asked. I doubt Howard even knew, to be honest. Mom probably did.”
But it’s not like she’s around to ask anymore, is it?
Pepper’s eyes were gentle. He knew it wasn’t pity, but it felt like a solid punch in the gut anyway. “Oh, Tony.”
He shrugged, desperate to escape the sentimentality of the moment. “Whatever it was, I bet it was impressive.”
“I’m sure it was.” Pepper pointed at Morgan, who was hyper-focused on one of her teething toys. “But she is going to say something nice and dull like the normal child that she is.”
“You do realize that she’s got half of my DNA, right? She’s never going to be normal.”
The words were half joke, half bitterness.
Pepper smiled. “No, you’re right. She’s going to be incredibly sarcastic. I delegate all of her teenage years to you.”
“No, see, I have a compromise-”
“And what’s that?”
Pepper laughed, loud enough that Morgan twisted around to stare to her. “Oh, that poor boy.”
“It’s the perfect plan.”
“Do all of your parenting plans involve torturing him?”
“He’s her sibling. Isn’t that, like, his job ?”
“I don’t think so.” The grin on Pepper’s face was dripping with amusement. “Is he still coming over today?”
Tony glanced at his watch. “Should be here any minute.” He took on a tone of mock annoyance. “High schoolers, always late.”
“He won’t be a high schooler for much longer, you know. Only a few more months and you’ll be moving him into his dorm at Columbia.”
“Don’t remind me.” He felt a strange pang of sadness at the thought. “I feel old.”
“You just don’t want him to grow up.”
“Of course I don’t. A grown-up Peter is a Peter I can’t supervise. A Peter that makes all his own life choices. God, the kid tried to put orange juice in his cereal the other day and society just expects me to release him into the world like he’s ready to be an adult ?”
“I’m not sure his strange cereal preferences are a good enough reason to deny him his right to freedom of choice…”
“It was orange juice, Pepper. Orange juice . The kid’s gotta be a sociopath.”
Pepper, in her defense, did pull a face at the thought. “Did he eat it?”
“ Yes . The whole bowl. I thought I was gonna puke. I wouldn’t even make Morgan endure that, and she eats baby food.”
As if sensing that she was being discussed, Morgan grinned up at Tony and clapped her chubby little hands together, teething toy now forgotten in her lap. A giggle shook her stomach.
“Yes, baby girl, I’m talking about you .” He tapped her nose, which only made her laugh harder. “Do you wanna talk for daddy? Say something awesome to prove mommy wrong, yeah? How about… uh… deoxyribonucleic acid? You wanna try that one?”
Pepper groaned. “You are incorrigible -”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Boss,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. didn’t sound very sorry, if Tony was being honest, “but Mister Parker is here, and you asked me to inform you when he arrived.”
“Fantastic. Tell him to get in here ASAP. We’re killing daylight, and we’re supposed to introduce Morgan to Aladdin before her bedtime.”
Pepper shook her head. “You two don’t have to spend the rest of your lives watching children’s movies, you know. I can take Morgan and entertain her all by myself while you two watch The Exorcist.”
He let out a crude bark of laughter. “Peter? Watching The Exorcist? I wouldn’t let the kid touch that film with a ten-foot pole. We’re keeping it PG for him , not Morgan.”
As if on cue, the elevator beeped out the arrival of the very subject of their conversation. Morgan turned her head towards the sound, then broke into an excited grin at the sight that greeted her.
Yeah, sometimes Tony forgot how much she fucking loved Peter.
She full-on screamed with joy, leaning out of Tony’s grip and waving her arms wildly at the teenager as he walked into the room.
“Morgan!” Peter slung his backpack across the floor and hurried towards the couch. “I missed you, M! I’d much rather be hanging out with you than learning about stupid economics, yeah?”
“Oi. No calling school stupid. Your education is very important, blah blah blah.” Peter scooped Morgan out of his lap, and he flexed his legs once he was free. Oh, that felt good . “Also, hi to you too, Pete. Glad to see you’ve got your priorities.”
Peter grinned over at him. “Hi, Mister Stark.” He glanced to the other couch. “Hi, Pepper.”
“Tony, Peter. It’s Tony .” He chuckled. “God, I feel like I’m talking to Morgan.” He pitched his voice up, carefully pronouncing every syllable. “ Tony . You can say it, buddy. I know you can do it. Tony .”
“Oh, shut up.” Morgan shoved a wayward fist towards the kid’s eye, and he cringed back in surprise. “Wow. You’re good at that, huh?”
“Her aim is impeccable and we all live in fear of her power,” Tony deadpanned.
Pepper leaned back and propped her feet up on the coffee table. “She definitely runs the house.”
“As she should.” Peter plopped down on the couch beside Tony, eyes still locked on Morgan as she giggled and reached up to tug at his hair. “Just wait until she’s talking.”
Pepper groaned, Tony grinned.
“Oh, god.” Peter glanced between the two of them nervously. “Did I just re-spark an argument?”
Tony glared. “It’s not an argument-”
“Tony is being ridiculous-”
“I am not-”
“You are .” Pepper pointed at him in warning before addressing the kid. “He thinks Morgan’s first words ought to be Iron Man, Peter. What kind of child’s first words are Iron Man ?”
“A very cool child, thank you very much.”
“A nonexistent child, more like. Peter, please talk some sense into him. I’m begging you.”
“Oh yes, Peter. Please, talk some sense into me. And on a completely unrelated note, please don’t forget who does all the repairs and maintenance on your Spider-Man suit.”
Pepper snorted. “And yet I control the salary for your internship.”
If Peter could’ve raised his hands in defeat, Tony imagined he would have. As it was, he just shook his head dramatically and pulled Morgan closer to his chest. “No, nope. I’m not getting involved. Not even a little bit. This seems like a topic for couples’ therapy.”
Tony shot him a look. “We don’t go to couples’ therapy, Peter.”
The kid had the audacity to grin back. “Yet.”
“Boss,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. sounded amused, “may I remind you of your plans to watch Aladdin?”
He grinned. “Breaking up family arguments now, sweetheart?”
“I am unsure of your meaning, sir.”
“Mhm.” He rolled his eyes, amused. “Go on, then. Play Aladdin for the children.”
The lights lowered and the TV glowed to life. Morgan squealed with glee, and Tony took her distraction as an opportunity to poke Peter in the arm.
“This isn’t over, you know. You’re supposed to be on my side.”
The kid rolled his eyes. “Why?”
“Because I’m living in a sea of estrogen. You’re supposed to even out the hormone playing field.”
“Since always , Peter. It’s a rule of life.”
Pepper tossed a pillow into Tony’s face from across the room, much to both Morgan and Peter’s obvious delight. “Will you two stop bickering and watch your movie?”
They both fell silent, dutifully fixing their gazes on the TV. Tony mostly occupied himself with watching Peter bounce Morgan put and down on his knees out of the corner of his eyes.
He loved his kids so damn much that he genuinely wondered how his heart could stand it.
“Hey, Morgan.” He tried to keep his voice quiet enough that Pepper wouldn’t notice. A useless plan, really, but he imagined it was admirable all the same. “Where’s Petey’s nose?”
Yeah, okay, so maybe he could love the kid and torment him a little too.
Suffering is good for the soul, and all that shit.
Morgan grinned at the question and had the kid’s nose in her tiny fist within seconds. Peter sputtered, briefly caught off guard by his inability to breathe, and then laughed.
“Wow,” he had to forcefully detach Morgan’s hand from his face, “thanks, M.” The glare Tony received was dry as the desert, and god was it funny. No matter what, Peter always managed to look about as intimidating as a wet puppy. “Thanks, Mister Stark.”
“Hey, she’s gotta know her body parts. It’s an important exercise.”
“ Is it now? Well, I-”
“Hey, Morgan,” he cut the kid off with a smirk, “can you show me where Petey’s mouth is?”
Yeah, that shut him up.
It only took a few more minutes for Pepper to come to the teenager’s rescue once again. She crossed the room and extracted Morgan from Peter’s lap while the movie droned on in the background.
“Here, I’ve got her. Something tells me that you deserve a break.”
Peter smiled. “From Morgan or from Mister Stark?”
“Both, I imagine.”
He pouted. “That’s unfair. Peter loves hanging out with me.”
The kid feigned innocence. “Do I?”
Pepper settled Morgan on her lap and pointed a finger at the two of them in warning. “Be quiet, both of you. Just watch your movie.”
Alright. So maybe that was enough teasing for one night.
Everything was better in moderation.
“Hey, Pete.” He raised his arm in a silent invitation for the kid to curl into his side. “C’mon. Movie night.”
Peter rolled his eyes, but slumped right into his usual position: head resting over Tony’s heart with his mentor’s arm wrapped firmly across his back.
Movie nights were one of Tony’s favorite traditions, and it rarely had anything to do with watching movies. They’d been created as a way for he and Peter to relax from their superhero gigs outside of the lab, to rest their bodies and their brains for once. They were lazy, and warm, and usually ended with both of them passed out on the couch in a tangle of limbs.
He ran a hand through the kid’s fluffed-up curls, voice barely above a whisper. “We can watch something more adult once Pep takes Morgan to bed.”
Peter matched his tone. “Star Wars?”
“I said adult , Peter.”
“Star Wars is very adult.”
“It’s literally a children’s movie. They market it to children.”
“ You’re a children.”
“Morgan has better comebacks than that, kid, and she can’t even talk yet.”
Peter flicked him in the chest. “Shh. You’re missing Aladdin.”
“What a tragedy.” He felt Peter curl up closer, shamelessly using Tony as his own personal cushion. “You gonna nap?”
“Maybe.” A yawn, which meant a solid yes . “You?”
“Nah. You go ahead, I’ll wake you for Star Wars.”
He spent the next few minutes watching Aladdin without really watching Aladdin. He was much more interested in just taking in the atmosphere. He could feel Peter’s warmth against his side, could see Morgan’s bright eyes fixated on the vivid colors coming from the TV. He and Pepper’s gazes met every few minutes, a mutual, silent exchange of this is a good moment passing between them.
After a while, he let his eyes drift shut, listening to the dialogue from the movie without really putting much effort into decoding it into actual language. He was too busy listening to Peter’s breathing and Morgan’s occasional babbles anyway.
He was starting to doze off himself when Pepper’s gentle voice roused him.
She was standing in front on him now, having deserted her previous spot on the couch. He must’ve really been out of it, too, because the TV was dark. It looked like he’d missed the entire ending to the movie.
Pepper smiled down at him and bounced Morgan on her hip. “Sorry, honey. I didn’t realize you were asleep.”
“‘S fine.” He yawned, rubbing Peter’s back unconsciously. “You okay?”
“Yes, yes. Just… do you think you can handle both kids while I go pump?”
He sleepily held out his free arm in invitation. “‘Course I can. I am Super-Dad, after all.”
“You most certainly are.” She helped him get a firm hold on Morgan, gave him a quick peck on the lips, then withdrew with a grin. “Enjoy. Yell if you need help.”
“I’ll just wake Peter. He doesn’t deserve to sleep, anyway. It’s his turn to pull his weight in this family.”
She snorted. “Like you could bear to do that. If you could just see his face.”
And, to be honest, Tony didn’t even need to do that to know that he didn’t have the heart to wake him. Not only would it be cruel, but it would also deprive him of the opportunity to hold the kid. The older they both got, the more Tony started to value those moments.
“Mm. Maybe. We’ll see.”
Pepper rolled her eyes and moved towards the door. “See you in a minute, Super-Dad.”
There was blessed quiet for a few minutes after she left. Of course, Tony instinctively knew it wouldn’t last. Silence was a rare commodity when you had a baby around.
Sure enough, Morgan eventually got bored with her teething toy and decided to entertain herself with one of her newest favorite activities: screaming.
“Shh, shh.” He winced as Morgan squealed again, eyes locked on Peter. “Morgan, c’mon. Quiet, yeah? Petey’s sleeping.”
The baby ignored him, reaching out for the sleeping teenager with chubby hands. “Eedey!”
He froze. “Did you just-”
“Eedey! Eedey!” Morgan looked back at him with beseeching eyes, still making grabbing motions at Peter, who was scrunching his face as he slowly woke up. “Eedey! Eedey! Eedey!”
“Morg’n?” The kid blinked slowly, shifting away from Tony’s shoulder as he yawned. “She okay?”
“Oh, she’s just peachy.” He answered dryly. “Hear what she’s saying?”
As if one cue, Morgan restarted her chant. After a moment of listening in confusion, a huge grin spread across Peter’s face.
“Is that my name?”
A tiny part of him clung to the annoyance that of all the words Morgan could've chosen, she didn’t choose dada or something impressive enough for him to brag about for the rest of her life.
The rest of him was practically melting at how goddamn sweet it was that she’d chosen Peter .
He transferred Morgan into the kid’s outstretched arms, and the squeals stopped almost instantly.
Shit, maybe they were spoiling her.
“Sounds like an attempt, at least.”
Peter set Morgan on his lap and cooed at her. “Hey there, M. Did you want me?”
She just giggled in response.
Pepper took that moment to come back, pausing as she noted the change in positions and states of consciousness.
“Did I miss something?”
Peter looked over at her with glittering eyes. “She said my name!”
Pepper’s mouth dropped open. She glanced between Peter and Tony for a comically long amount of time, blindsided. “She didn’t.”
“Oh, she did.” Tony snorted. “Our baby loves Peter more than us. We’ve been betrayed.”
She clapped her hands together in glee, expression suddenly matching Peter’s cheek-splitting grin. “F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Tell me you have that footage saved.”
“Send it to my phone, please. I’d like to watch it later.”
Then, her smile turned sly. She turned to Tony with her hands of her hips, voice dripping with triumph.
“Told you her first words would be normal.”
“It’s barely even a first word,” he shot back, “just an attempt. And I don’t think a name counts.”
Peter glanced away from Morgan just long enough to glare. “It counts.”
“Since forever.” Pepper winked. “Just admit it: you’ve lost.”
He feigned innocence. “I wasn’t aware this was a competition.”
“It definitely was.”
“Oh?” His expression softened as he watched Peter kiss the top of Morgan’s head. “Y’know what, can we just agree that we’ve both won? Because I’m not really feeling like a loser right about now.”
Pepper followed his gaze and smiled. “Alright, fine. We’ve both won.”
God, Tony thought, greedily drinking in the sight of his two kids, content and happy and whole, I really have.
Chapter 4: Put Up A Flag, It Is Waving
Tony's no stranger to Peter's nightmares. It's a comes with the territory of being a superhero, after all.
But everything's a little different when Morgan's around to see it.
me @ me: stop apologizing for chapters that you think are inadequate, you do this for free and your readers literally do not care if your work isn't a reflection of Shakespeare
also me: haha hey y'all so this chapter is kinda shit and I'm really sorry-
The original point of taking Morgan on a trip to the aquarium had been to wear her out before Pepper left to California for the weekend, and their initial plan had certainly worked: Morgan was out like a light, cheek resting on Peter’s shoulder and tiny fists stretching the fabric of his t-shirt.
The unintended consequence was that said Peter looked about half a second away from passing out himself.
To be fair, Tony knew firsthand that chasing a hyperactive child through dozens of exhibits wasn’t really the sort of day that restored your energy levels. He was feeling pretty weary himself even considering the fact that Peter had, as usual, taken the brunt of Morgan’s enthusiasm.
Pepper squeezed his waist as the elevator doors closed in front of them. He didn’t even have to look at her to see the smile on her face. “Looks like we tired them both out, huh?”
“Seems like it.” He reached out and rubbed the Peter’s back to get his attention. “Hey, you want me to take her?”
The kid blinked over at him slowly, looking far more asleep than awake. “No, I‘ve got it.”
“Alright.” He grinned, tone playful. “But you drop my daughter and you’re dead, Parker.”
Peter glared blearily, arms curling protectively around the sleeping girl in question. “I’d never drop her.”
“Yeah, buddy, I know.”
He did, too. He wasn’t sure that there was anything he knew more.
The elevator doors peeled open to the penthouse, and he guided Peter over to the couch while Pepper disappeared, supposedly to grab her bags. The jet should be ready for her within the hour. She’d take a red-eye and be there for meetings at 8:00 the next morning.
He pushed the kid onto the cushions and squeezed the back of his neck in parting. “I’ll be right back, I’m just gonna put Morgan’s backpack in her room. Watch the baby while I’m gone, m’kay?”
“Mm. Got it.”
He gave Peter’s curls one final ruffle as he straightened. “Good boy.”
He wasn’t gone from the living room long. A handful of minutes, tops. All he did was take Morgan’s Paw Patrol backpack into her bedroom and put away the collections of toys and coloring books she’d demanded accompanied them on their outing. Once he’d finished, he hung the bag up on one of the colorful pegs by her door and headed back to the kids.
Pepper was already there, standing near the elevator with her duffle bag in hand. He followed her gaze and smiled.
Peter was sprawled out on his back, head cushioned on the arm of the couch with Morgan still wrapped in his embrace. Morgan’s face was squished up against his chest, thumb stuck in her mouth and one foot dangling by Peter’s hip. Both were fast asleep.
“I should get going.” Despite her words, Pepper didn’t move a muscle. She sounded wistful. “I need to be in Malibu by morning.”
“You sure you have to go?”
“You know there’s nothing more I’d love than to stay, but I need to get these negotiations sorted. I’ve been putting them off enough as it is.” She kissed his cheek. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, and Peter’ll be here until classes on Monday. She won’t even notice I’m gone.”
“Well, maybe Morgan isn’t the only person who’s gonna miss you.”
“Oh?” She slid a hand up his chest, a knowing smirk on her face. “And who might that be?”
“Are you not?”
He leaned in close, mouth quirking up at the familiar give-and-take. “Nope.”
“Well,” Pepper pulled away, much to his disappointment, “while I’m flattered, I still really need to go.”
He forced himself not to sigh. He was a grown adult, after all. He could handle his wife leaving without pouting.
“Do we wake them to say goodbye?”
“No, no.” Her eyes travelled back to the two kids, limbs sprawled and faces smooth. “I’ll just give her a quick kiss and then I’ll be off.”
He watched her move quietly over to the couch, steps the brand of careful you master when one of your kids has super-hearing. She knelt beside the coffee table and brushed a featherlight touch over Morgan’s cheek.
“I love you, sweetheart.” She pressed a kiss to the sleeping toddler’s temple, then turned her attention to Peter, pushing a few stray curls away from his face. “You too, honey. Take care of your little sister while I’m gone.”
Tony smiled fondly. Like he ever does anything else.
He got a kiss of his own as she left, and then a playful slap when he made an attempt to drag her to their bedroom with a murmured, “what’s the point of knocking the kids out if we don’t enjoy the fruits of our labors?”
Apparently, Pepper disagreed.
Well, bygones be bygones, and all that.
Once he was alone, he felt too tired (and, yeah, maybe a little too dejected) to carry both Morgan and Peter to bed. Besides, they looked comfortable where they were. Why mess with it?
He did go grab Peter’s comforter from his room, and gently pulled off both kids’ shoes before covering them with it.
A kiss to Morgan’s forehead. “Goodnight, piccola.” A brush of his thumb over Peter’s cheek. “Goodnight, buddy.”
He tiptoed back to his room with contentment in his bones, wishing that that he would never have to break the blanket of peace that seemed to cover every inch of the penthouse.
Four hours of later and, of course, that peace got torn right out from underneath him.
In all honesty, he wasn’t even surprised.
“Boss,” he blinked awake with a groan, “Miss Stark and Mister Parker are both in considerable amounts of distress. I suggest that you-”
He’d never thrown himself out of bed faster, mind already blurring through every possible scenario at a speed that was dizzying even to him.
Someone got into the Tower. They’re hurt. Someone’s hurt them. Fuck. I have to get to them. I have to save them. My kids. My kids. My babies.
He grit his teeth against the panic until his jaw popped in warning.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” I have to keep them safe, “tell me what’s happening.”
“I believe Mister Parker is having a nightmare.”
Oh. Okay, okay. He could handle a nightmare. He could fix that. He could fix nightmares.
The living room was almost exactly how he’d left it: lights off, curtains drawn. It was dark, but his vision had adjusted enough to see.
“Daddy!” Morgan was sitting on the floor by the coffee table, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. “Daddy! Daddy, Petey’s scared!”
Sure enough, the kid was curled into a ball on the couch, small whimpers escaping as he shivered. His face was twisted up in some invisible agony, fists clenched tight enough that Tony’s own hands ached in sympathy.
“I see, darling.” Every ounce of him hated walking right past one crying child to comfort the other, but he knew Morgan wouldn’t calm down until Peter did, and he had to prioritize. “Stay right there. Daddy’s gonna wake Petey up now, okay? It might look scary but I promise he’s alright.”
Might look scary was probably an understatement, considering the next thing he did was engage both wrist gauntlets and fold them over his hands.
The thing was, Peter was strong. Super-strong. Tony had learned early on that unless he woke the kid up hard and fast, before he could work himself up enough to flail and scream and throw literal punches at anyone within combat range, he had no chance of doing anything until the nightmare passed on its own.
He took a deep breath, steeling himself, and grabbed the kid’s forearms. The second he did, Peter jerked back, smacking his head against the arm of the couch with a bang.
“No, no, please.”
God, this never got easier, no matter how many times he’d had to do it.
He swallowed, forcing aside his own turmoil, then shook the kid hard. “Peter, wake up!”
The kid jolted back to him on a gasp, eyes snapping open and, after a beat of scanning through room in delirious confusion, immediately filling with tears. A few breaths passed between them before Peter seemed to fully recognize who was holding his arms but, once he did, he slumped into Tony’s chest with boneless relief.
“Shit.” Tony discarded his half-thought of scolding the kid for cursing in front of his sister as soon as it emerged. “Mister Stark.”
“Right here.” He soothed. “Relax, Pete. You’re awake now. It was just a dream.”
Peter’s voice was slow, almost childish. “Dream?”
“Yeah, buddy, you were just dreaming. It’s over now.”
“Just-Just a dream. It was… It was just a dream.” The kid’s breath hitched. Tony could feel his tears soaking into his t-shirt. “God.”
“I know, I know. Just breathe.”
If he was being brutally honest, he’d forgotten all about Morgan in the rush to comfort Peter. He only remembered that she was there when her voice, timid and unsure, piped up beside him.
“Oh, baby.” Guilt flashed through him. “It’s alright.” Peter’s breaths were quiet now, face still buried in the crook of his neck. He glanced over at her, standing a few feet away with her arms wrapped protectively around herself. “Hey, honey. Petey’s alright now. We’re all okay. Wanna come see?”
Peter’s voice was an exhausted mumble against his neck. “‘S she okay?”
“She’s just fine, and so are you.” He released one of the arms he’d been using to cradle Peter so he could beckon Morgan closer. “Come here, sweetheart. Petey just had a bad dream, that’s all. I’m sure he’d like it if you’d come say hi.”
She took a few nervous steps forward, craning her neck to try and catch a glimpse of Peter’s face. “Are you okay, Petey?”
Peter pressed even further into Tony’s chest. “Yeah, M. I’m alright. ‘M sorry I scared you.”
“It’s okay.” She bit her lip, brow furrowing. “Daddy said you had a bad dream.”
“Mommy and Daddy say you have lots of bad dreams.”
“I… yeah. I guess I do.”
“That’s not nice.” Something seemed to click in Morgan’s head, because she perked up immediately. “I know! When I have a bad dream, I go to Mommy and Daddy’s room and sleep with them and then they make sure that the bad dreams can’t get me! You can do that too!”
Finally, Peter pulled away, eyes darting between Morgan and the floor. “I, uh, that’s not really-”
“That’s a brilliant idea, Morgan.” He gave Peter a little push as he stood, sly grin growing on his face. “C’mon, kids. We’re all going to Mommy and Daddy’s room. It’s a sleepover night.”
Peter twisted to look at him, and Tony took it as an opportunity to pull him to his feet. “A what?”
Morgan seemed oblivious to the kid’s indignance. She grabbed his hand and started pulling him in the direction of Tony and Pepper’s bedroom. “Don’t worry, Petey, the bad dreams can’t get you in there. Daddy says so.”
“My, uh, my bad dreams are really bad, M.”
“That doesn’t matter! Even the biggest, baddest monsters are scared of Daddy.”
“She’s right, y’know,” he ushered the kids through the door and closed it gently behind them, “this is now a monster-free zone.”
There was the smile he’d been fishing for. It was tentative, sure, and he could still see the echoes of the nightmare reflected in Peter’s eyes, but they were getting there.
“Is it now?”
“It is!” Morgan crawled into the bed and plopped down right in the middle, arms extended and imploring. “C’mon, Petey!”
“Yeah, Petey,” Tony gave him a little shove from behind, “get in.”
The kid did, although Tony could practically taste his hesitation. It helped him loosen up a little when Morgan immediately burrowed into his arms, practically overflowing with excitement at the prospect of getting her dad and her brother all to herself for the night.
He crawled in beside them, pulling the comforter up and laying right beside Peter.
Despite the desire, he didn’t tug them into his arms. Morgan seemed perfectly content to mimic her earlier plan of sleeping on Peter’s chest, and he’d already decided to let the kid come to him, no matter how much the wait killed him.
Morgan’s presence was already working its magic, though, much to his satisfaction. Peter’s eyes were trained up at the ceiling, still a little glazed and detached, but his hand was unconsciously rubbing up and down his sister’s back, muscles loose and relaxed.
Just when Morgan’s eyelids were drooping enough that he was sure she was about to nod off, she gave a sleepy tug at the kid’s shirt and yawned.
Slowly, Peter’s eyes slid down to her face. There was a spark of life to them now, a recognition and a love. “Yeah, M?”
“You don’ have to be scared ‘f the bad dreams,” Morgan somehow managed to sound confident, even while half-asleep, “I’ll keep you safe too.”
If anything, Peter just looked like he was about to cry. “Thank you.”
Morgan grinned, obviously pleased with herself. “I love you, Petey.”
The kid wrapped his arms even tighter around her, voice strained with emotion. “I love you too, M.”
Morgan seemed content to check out after that, smile still lingering even after she was obviously asleep. Tony waited just long enough to be sure she was going to stay that way before reaching out and brushing a few curls out of Peter’s face.
“Hey,” he watched the kid’s gaze drift over to him, “so, what was it about?”
“What was what about?”
He didn’t bother to hide his eye roll. “We’ve been through this, Pete. Playing dumb is only cute when your sister does it.”
Peter watched him silently, eyes full of an emotion that he couldn’t quite place. “Just… something stupid.”
The kid let out a shaky breath, fists curling in the fabric of Morgan’s shirt. Tony doubted he even knew he was doing it.
“Spider-Man helped with a six-car pileup on Kennedy Bridge last week.”
“A minivan got caught in the middle of it. It was… really bad. I helped dig a couple of little kids out of it. The first two were alright, just a little scratched up, but the third…” Peter sniffed, voice thick. “I couldn’t do anything.”
“God, Tony, she was so small. And I-I feel so guilty, because the whole time I just… I kept thinking about Morgan. About what I would do if she… if she…” He shook his head. “See? It’s stupid.”
Oh, Peter. Trust the kid to second guess himself over basic human emotions. “You shouldn’t be guilty over that.”
“Shouldn’t I?” The kid’s smile was bitter, and Tony wanted nothing more than to wipe it off his face. “It wasn’t my tragedy, but I tried to make it that way.”
“You saw something traumatic, and your mind used it as a reflection of your own fears. That’s totally normal.” He tapped the side of the kid’s cheek until he looked at him. “Y’know, I have to turn off the news when they talk about college kids getting themselves killed in frat hazing and shit. Can’t stand it. Doesn’t matter what they look like, all I see is you. Is that wrong of me?”
Peter turned his face into Tony’s hand. “No.”
“Point made, then.”
“Yeah, I guess.” The kid set a protective hand on Morgan’s back, as if he could physically shield her from the world. It was a move that Tony related to, a gesture and a hope that he experienced every time he looked at either of his kids.
Without thinking, Tony pulled him and, by extension, Morgan, closer to his side. He felt better when they were right beside him like that, less shattered window and more purposeful mosaic. They made his world make sense in a way that he’d never quite managed on his own.
God, having kids had turned him into such a sap that he was enjoying being a sap.
When Peter spoke again, his voice was slow, eyelids drooping as he finally started to drift off. He ran a lazy hand through the kid’s hair, hoping to coax him along.
“‘S this how you feel about me?”
It took him a few moments to track the subject change, and then a few more to realize that the kid was referring to Morgan, who was still wrapped around his chest like a little leech.
“What do you mean?”
Peter gestured vaguely at Morgan. “I want to protect her. I’d die to protect her, I think.”
The words made adrenaline leap in his throat, and unconsciously clutched the kid closer. “Please don’t.”
“I don’t want to.” Peter closed his eyes with a contented sigh and nuzzled his face into Tony’s shoulder. “But I would.”
Tony studied him for a minute. “No, Peter. That’s not how I feel about you.”
He didn’t miss the little twinge of sadness on the kid’s face, and he shook his head fondly.
“That thing you’re feeling right now? Multiply it by a couple thousand, and then see where you are.” Without really thinking, he pressed a light kiss to Peter’s temple. “That’s how I feel about you two.”
Chapter 5: Blurry And Gray Like The Roar
Peter Parker isn't just Morgan Stark's older brother, or Tony Stark's surrogate son. He's also Spider-Man.
That means that, sometimes, he gets hurt. Explaining that to Morgan is... difficult.
in which the once-a-month-update fic gets two new chapters in a week... who knew I had it in me?
Morgan wandered into the MedBay with wide eyes. Pepper was right behind her, hands braced lightly on her shoulders as she guided her up to the bed. The heart monitor beeped in the background, slow and steady, a thread of calm that swelled throughout the room.
Tony smiled at her encouragingly, stuffing down his own anxiety and locking it up tight. “Hey, baby.”
Her eyes kept dancing between him and Peter, who was picking nervously at the tape over his IV. “Hi.”
Tony poked the kid’s hand until he got the message and gave his sister a dopey smile. “Hey, M. You okay?”
“Mhm.” She shifted nervously. “Mommy said you got hurt.”
“Yeah.” Peter’s voice was hoarse, throat still not fully recovered from the hasty intubation. “Jus’ a scratch.”
“See, Morgan?” Pepper rubbed her back soothingly as they finally reached Tony’s side. “Petey’s just fine.”
The kid nodded, the kind of grin on his face that only came from being high-off-your-ass on pain meds. Of course, Morgan didn’t know that. Tony hoped with all his heart that she never would. “Mom’s right. ‘M awesome.” He blinked rapidly, and Tony tightened his grip on the kid’s shoulder to stop him from tilting sideways. “You c’n, uh, you c’n tell me ‘bout your day, if you want. Like normal.”
Morgan moved right up against the mattress, eyes sparking in a more relaxed display of excitement. Pepper wandered back to the doorway, still watchful, but otherwise content to let Tony take the reins from here.
“I did coloring.”
“Mm?” Peter nodded encouragingly, managing to only look slightly drunk while doing it. “What… what kind?”
“Dinosaurs!” Morgan had a huge grin on her face now, the previous intimidation from the hospital room forgotten, dwarfed by the glee of having her brother’s attention. “I have your Star Wars book after I finish this one, and then Daddy said I can have a Spider-Man one, so I can color you!”
Peter snickered, eyelids drooping. “‘S kinda weird.”
“It isn’t, it’s cool!”
“Mm… mhm. Sure is.”
Morgan kept rambling on and on about every single toy she’d played with throughout the day, what she’d eaten for breakfast, her brief visit from Uncle Happy. Peter dozed off somewhere around the middle. For a while, she didn’t seem to notice.
Of course, Tony had known it wouldn’t last forever, that even though Morgan was young, she wasn’t blind, but he didn’t have the heart to keep jolting the poor kid awake. For one, he had enough analgesics running through his IV to put down an elephant, so the whole thing was kind of a losing battle anyway. Two, he had nearly died just twelve hours ago. If anyone deserved some rest, it was Peter.
Morgan, on the other hand, seemed to disagree.
Her face scrunched up in frustration as she realized Peter wasn’t offering her his most undivided attention (yeah, the kid had spoiled her, but who didn’t?), and reached out to give his arm a swift and merciless yank.
“Petey! Wake up!”
Tony rushed to quiet her, but not before Peter jolted, blinking awake rapidly and looking pitifully confused.
“Whoa, baby. Gentle, be gentle. Remember what Mommy said? If you want to visit Peter, you have to use your inside voice.” He reached over and rubbed the kid’s shoulder. “Sorry, squirt.”
He rubbed his eyes. “Didn’ mean to fall asleep.”
“I know. It’s alright.” He redirected his attention back to Morgan, who was watching Peter while chewing nervously on her lip. She seemed properly chastised, so he switched his voice from firm to coaxing. “Do you want to apologize?”
She nodded emphatically, looking up at Peter with wide eyes. “I’m sorry, Petey.”
“You’re okay.” Tony could feel the fatigue in the kid’s voice. “‘M jus’ sorry ’m not very exciting today.”
Morgan seemed to consider that, nose crinkling in thought. “Daddy, I have a question.”
“I may or may not have an answer.”
She giggled, then seemed to forcefully sober herself. Oh, so it was a serious question. “Why’s Petey not listening?”
He saw guilt flash over Peter’s face and squeezed his hand. “He’s doing his best, baby. Remember how Mommy told you that Petey got hurt?”
Morgan nodded, eyes wide and scared. “A bad guy hurt him.”
For a moment, he let himself wallow in the fact that this was the world his child was growing up in. One where “bad guys” tried to kill her big brother on a daily basis. “Yeah, baby. A bad guy hurt him really bad. Do you remember when you fell and skinned your knee last week? What did you do?”
She was watching him with surprisingly intense eyes considering her age. But Morgan was clever, very clever. She could tell he was making a point. “I cried.” She looked distressed, turning to Peter. “Did you cry, Petey?”
Tony winced, memories flashing back to clutching the kid to his chest as he choked on mouthfuls of his own blood. Meanwhile, Peter flashed Morgan a tired smile. “A little. But ‘s okay to cry.”
“Daddy was there, though. Daddy always makes it better.” Morgan grins, toothy and wide. “Daddy can fix anything.”
Peter glanced over at him. “Yeah, he can.”
(“Easy, buddy. Just breathe. Cho’s almost here.”
Peter just shakes and gags, eyes locked on Tony’s face. “M’ser Stark.”
“Shh. I’m here. I’m right here. I’ve gotcha. We’re gonna patch you right up, alright? I’m gonna patch you up, and it’s all gonna be okay.”)
He swallowed, regathering his thoughts and pushing away the images he’d rather not relive. “Daddy can’t fix everything, sweetheart. Sometimes he needs help.” He pointed up to the IV and the bag of pain meds. “Petey got banged up really bad, and he’s still healing. You cried because your knee hurt, right?”
“Well, Petey’s really hurt, and we don’t want him to be in pain, so Doctor Cho put a little needle in his arm so that she can give him medicine.”
Peter turned his arm over to Morgan could see his IV port. “See?”
She studied the device quietly for a moment. “The medicine stops him from hurting?”
He tugged her into his lap. “Yep. But it also makes him really sleepy. That’s why he’s not doting on you as much as he usually would. It’s also why we have to be extra quiet and gentle, until he’s better.”
“How does it work?”
Tony was well aware that this was long after the point where his father would’ve diverted the question or handed him off to a nanny or his mother.
But Tony was not his father.
“The medicine goes into his arm and gives his brain a message.”
Morgan whispered, like her question was a secret. “What’s the message?”
He matched her tone. “It tells his brain to ignore any ouch it thinks it feels. He’s sleepy because it also tells his brain to do things slower, so his body think it’s time to sleep.”
“But it isn’t bedtime.”
“But his brain doesn’t know that.”
She turned to Peter and crossed her arms. “Your brain’s stupid.”
The kid laughed good-naturedly. “Yeah, ‘n the drugs don’t help.”
“Oh, shush.” He forced himself not to grin as he dragged his gaze back to Morgan. “Do you understand?”
“Yeah.” Her face brightened. “Daddy! I have an idea!”
“Petey’s sleepy, so he should sleep, right?”
“We can read him a bedtime story! Like you do with me! So can fall asleep.”
He didn’t point out that the kid certainly didn’t need to be lulled to sleep. In fact, it looked like all it would take was a slip of his concentration and he’d be out for good.
Still, Morgan didn’t have any reason to know that, and it was a sweet idea.
“Sure.” He rubbed Peter’s arm to get his attention, and then waited an extra second to account for his delayed reaction time. “What do you think, kid? Want a bedtime story?”
The kid lay his head back against his pillow with an amused breath. “Sure. Sounds nice.”
“Perfect.” He glanced back to Pepper, who was still lurking in the doorway with a soft smile on her face. “Hey, Morgan. If you ask Mommy really nicely, maybe she’ll go get one for us.”
“Alright.” Pepper straightened, a loving expression on her face. He imagined that it was mirrored in his own. “Which story do you want, sweetheart?”
Morgan whipped her head around to stare at Peter. “Which one do you want, Petey?”
Tony held back a snort. He doubted the kid could even recall the name of one of Morgan’s storybooks right now, let alone form a coherent opinion on one.
Luckily, it seemed like Peter was one step ahead of him. “Why don’t you surprise me?”
“Hm. Okay.” After a few seconds of deliberation, Morgan hopped off his lap and ran to Pepper, tugging on her sleeve until she bent down and let her whisper her selection in her ear.
Peter did an admirable job of helping Tony entertain Morgan while Pepper was off collecting the book, although he had to slap the kid’s hand away from his wrist when he noticed that he was pinching himself to stay awake. All in all, though, Morgan seemed to have processed the idea of being gentle and quiet (or, as gentle and quiet as a kid her age could be). She spoke softly, aside from the occasional squeal of excitement, and kept her touches light, almost tentative.
Tony was pretty damn proud of her, really.
Pepper came back after about ten minutes, 5-Minute Star Wars Stories, a baby shower gift from Peter, tucked under her arm. Tony couldn’t help but grin at Morgan’s choice. Of course she would pick out a Star Wars book for the kid. He was pretty sure she only liked it because he did, the kind of secondhand passion that younger siblings seemed perpetually attracted to. Still, one of his favorite pictures in the world was of the Leia and Luke costumes Peter and Morgan had done last Halloween, so he didn’t have any plans to complain about it.
Morgan rushed to grab the book from Pepper’s hands. As soon as she had it, she was running back to the hospital bed hopping up onto the side. Tony was quick to situate her carefully, maneuvering her around the wires and monitors, hyper-aware of the incision in Peter’s chest. After he had her settled, he crawled, rather ungracefully, into the spot on the other side of the kid, sandwiching him between them. It was a tight fit, but he knew Peter thrived off of these sappy cuddle sessions, even if he did his best to pretend that he was getting too old for them.
As it was, the drugs made the gratitude plain on his face.
It took approximately four pages of Escape from Darth Vader for Peter to give up on keeping his eyes open and let his head fall onto Tony’s shoulder. It took two more after that before Morgan poked Peter’s cheek, eyebrows furrowed as she studied him. Tony watched the kid’s face twitch as he forced himself not to laugh. Yeah, definitely still awake. Damn kid has a determination of steel, I’ll give him that.
“Daddy, do you think he’s asleep?”
He nodded, plastering his face with an expression that oozed sincerity. “Oh, I think so.”
“Yay!” She shoved her hands over her mouth, giggling. “Daddy, shh.”
He didn’t bother pointing out that she was the one who had raised her voice. He just nodded solemnly and held a finger to his lips like a promise.
“Morgan,” he hadn’t even noticed Pepper walk over to stand by the bed, “why don’t we let Peter get some sleep? We can visit him again later.”
She perked up hopefully at the last statement. “Like after dinner?”
Pepper just laughed, gently guiding her off the bed. “Tomorrow, maybe. We’ll see how he’s feeling.”
Morgan groaned as she was marched towards the door. “That’s so long.”
“It’ll go by quicker than you think.” Pepper paused. “Do you want to say goodnight to your father?”
He smiled, massaging Peter’s shoulder reassuringly. Almost there, kiddo. “Goodnight, baby. Sleep well.”
After the door swung shut, he counted to ten, then let out a breath.
He loved his daughter with every essence of his being. Really, it was impossible for him to imagine loving her more, else his heart might literally explode. But sometimes, children were just exhausting.
He couldn’t imagine how Peter, still recovering from surgery and blood loss and hopped up on narcotics, felt.
“Hey,” he whispered, tucking a loose curl behind one of the kid’s ears, an incredible fondness warming through his gut, “little monster’s gone. You can drop the act.”
Peter blinked his eyes open with a muffled groan, arm curling around his stomach. “Thank god.”
“Sorry, kid. If it’s any consolation, you were a real trooper.”
“Wasn’t so bad.” Tony felt the kid sink lethargically into his side. Without Morgan around, it became glaringly obvious just how much Peter had been fighting for every moment of coherency. His words ran together, gaze trailing lazily around the room without really focusing on anything. “Jus’ didn’ wanna scare her.”
“I know.” He studied Peter’s face quietly, taking in his sunken cheeks and glassy eyes, and felt a sudden flash of guilt. “I should’ve waited to bring her until you weren’t drugged off your ass. I jumped the gun. My fault.”
“No.” He scratched lightly at the kid’s scalp and smiled when he let out a contented sigh, slurred words growing quiet and airy. “And don’… don’ argue wi’ me. ‘M too high to defend m’self.”
He chuckled. “Alright. I guess you’ve earned that win, huh?”
“Mm.” Peter shifted, face screwing up in pain. “Ouch.”
He winced in sympathy. “Your incision hurt?”
“A little. ‘S fine,” the kid said, biting his lip in a way that meant it most definitely was not fine.
Without really thinking, he reached out and set his finger against the pain med pump. “Want more drugs?”
“C’n I have more?”
“Mhm. We made sure we didn’t max you out yet.”
Just when he thought Peter was about to accept the offer wholeheartedly, he paused. “‘S Morgan coming back?”
Oh, buddy. We don’t deserve you.
“No, don’t worry about her. We’ll bring her back once you’re up and running again. Doubt it’ll be long, thanks to your super-healing.”
“Oh, okay.” Peter nodded gratefully. “Then yes. More drugs. Please.”
He hit the button twice before moving his hand back to the kid’s hair. “Alright. Just remember: you’re only allowed to get high under the watchful eyes of me and healthcare professionals. Don’t get used to this.”
“Don’ think this ‘s the kinda high most people’re looking for, Mister Stark.”
“Yeah, well, you better not be looking for any kind of high, y’hear me?”
He could pinpoint the exact moment the extra wave of pain meds hit the kid’s system, because his eyes fluttered shut and he let his head loll against Tony’s shoulder, his sigh practically dripping with relief.
“Better?” He whispered.
“Mm. S’much,” the kid responded, words barely intelligible. Tony contributed his ability to translate the jumble of sounds to all his practice unraveling Morgan’s baby babble. By now, he was an expert.
“Good.” He swiped the pad of his thumb against Peter’s temple, slow and soothing. “You gonna go back to sleep?”
“Think so. Stay?”
“Obviously.” He tugged the thin hospital sheet up to the kid’s chin, careful not to jostle his wound. “I think you’ve earned some Tony time.”
Peter grinned lazily, eyes still shut. “T’ny time ‘s… the best time.”
He rolled his eyes to cover up the way the comment made his heart flip with adoration. “Oh, hush. You’re only saying that because you’re drugged off your ass.”
“‘S still… ‘s still true.”
“Alright, alright. Now shut your mouth before you let something slip that you’ll regret.” Or before you melt me into a sentimental puddle and ruin my reputation. “I’ll have Cho set up some documentation to email the Dean of Students after your nap.”
“No problem, kiddo.”
Chapter 6: If I Die It's For You
Everybody has a lifetime, and sometimes those lifetimes end early.
HELLO PEOPLE SCROLLING PAST THIS. READ THE AUTHOR'S NOTE. DO YOU HEAR ME? I'M TALKING TO YOU. STOP SCROLLING AND READ MY GODDAMN WARNINGS.
Awesome! Hello! Let's see how many ways I can make this clear.
The fluff is over. This is angst. It is whump. It is not happy. It has an ambiguous, unhappy ending. Because there was some obvious confusion when I posted this chapter the first time: no, Peter does not die, but he doesn't wake up in this fic, either. I'll just go ahead and repeat that. Peter does not die at the end. There is no Major Character Death. Spoiler alert: this was meant to be a series. There's a second fic already written and posted that takes place when Peter is 27. He is 21 in this story. I've had a sequel planned for months. If I'm being brutally honest with you all, I don't know if that'll happen now, since even looking at this series makes me feel a little sick to my stomach, but he survives.
Now. I'd like you to go look at the tags on this fic. You see them? Nice. Read them. Now read them again. Go ahead and read them a third time. Are we clear? Do we understand? We all on the same page?
I'll go ahead and put this next bit in caps so it scares people into reading it:
THIS IS NOT TAGGED MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH BECAUSE THERE IS NO MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH. HOWEVER, THERE ARE STRONG THEMES OF DEATH. THEREFORE, IT IS TAGGED DEATH. THE TAG OF DEATH IMPLIES DEATH. PLEASE BE AWARE OF THE IMPENDING DISCUSSIONS, DESCRIPTIONS, AND THEMES OF DEATH. PLEASE DO NOT TRIGGER YOURSELF. PLEASE DO NOT FILL MY EMAIL WITH DOZENS UPON DOZENS OF CHASTISEMENTS OF VARYING POLITENESS. MY TENUOUS GRASP ON MY MENTAL HEALTH SENDS ITS KINDEST REGARDS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.
WARNINGS: severe injuries, cardiac arrest, total respiratory failure, CPR, presence of a child at the time of cardiac arrest, descriptions of a "dead" body, hypovolemic shock, emotional shock, shock in general, crying children, distressed children, distressed children crying, distressed Tony, distressed Tony crying, lots of crying, surgery, hemothorax, pneumothorax, thoracostomy, brain injuries due to oxygen deprivation, brain damage, hospital waiting rooms, hospitals, florescent lighting, doctors, ventilators, discussions of anesthesia, IVs, comas, brain scans, EEGs, mentions of brain death, parts of this could honestly be considered suicidal thoughts so you know what? suicidal thoughts, parenting, bringing a child to a hospital room to see her brother who is in a coma, therapy, mentions of PTSD, mentions of play therapy, cursing, yelling, gratuitous use of the word "brain," grief, grieving, grieving in hospitals, discussion of removing life support, making decisions to remove life support, life support, blunt discussions of death, explaining death to a child, explaining life support to a child, breaking the news to a child that her brother is dying, arguments, children
Just to clarify: I don't have a single issue with those of you who politely asked me to go back and retag this chapter when I first posted it. I did that as soon as I woke up and saw the first request. I didn't think it was at all unreasonable, and in the beginning, most of my breakdown came from the guilt of realizing I inadvertently hurt people. It was never my intention, and I thought I'd done enough tagging. The frustration that you see shining out in the first first of this Author's Note comes from a handful of comments that went far beyond kindly asking me to retag. After those started pouring in, all of your reviews started to blur together, even the kind ones, and I may or may not have had an entire crisis.
To be honest, I'm still in the phase of being so anxious over what happened that any comment about it is making me sick, but I am doing my best to take the kinder comments and suggestions some of you have offered me and growing and see the experience as a way to be more careful in the future. It's just hard to push past the initial urge to defend myself and relax enough to think about it objectively. I am, after all, a human being, and we have this unfortunate urge to snap back when we get snapped at. I'm... I'm trying. I really am, and I really am sorry if it's not enough.
To everyone who left kind comments, both before and now: thank you. They're the fuel that stopped me from deleting everything and yeeting off into the unknown. I appreciate them beyond what I can express.
“Daddy! Petey’s here!”
Tony didn’t even glance up from the slice of bread that he was carefully buttering for a grilled cheese. It wasn’t that he made a habit of ignoring his daughter, exactly, it was just that they’d reached the phase of her imagination spilling over into reality, and he’d learned to entertain her fantasies without putting his life on hold to indulge them.
It was an art, really.
“No, baby,” he said patiently, “Petey’s not coming until Friday. He has classes.”
“I know that.” Her sass was palpable. God, she was going to end up just like her mother. What a frightening thought. “But Petey’s right there. Look.”
He set his cooking aside with a sigh, turning to follow Morgan’s point without expecting any real result. Still, he was doing his best to be a good father, whatever the hell that meant, so he humored her.
He didn’t actually expect her to be right.
Peter, and, sure enough, that was Peter, was out on the balcony, leaning heavily against the railing. He was in the Spider-Man suit, which Tony would’ve expected at this time of night, but his face was uncovered, mask clutched in one of his still-gloved hands.
None of these details were particularly alarming. Hell, even Peter’s unplanned presence wasn’t the thing that made his heart leap. The suit might’ve been damaged, or he could’ve just had a slow patrol and decided to swing over for a little company.
The fear came from the fact that the kid was clutching desperately at his chest, legs shaking as he stumbled drunkenly away from the railing. It was the fact that, even from this distance, Tony could see how pale and sweaty Peter’s skin was. It was the fact that every single one of his parental instincts screamed out in one long, horrifying, piercing warning.
Child in trouble. Child in trouble. CHILDINTROUBLE.
“Fuck, fuck.” The kid was obviously injured, and Tony knew that he would’ve never come to the balcony like this unless it was bad, unless he physically couldn’t make it anywhere else, because he would never risk Morgan seeing. With that in mind, he shot a glance back at the girl as he made a beeline for the door. “Stay here, Morgan.”
“Is Petey okay?”
“Of course, baby. Just stay where you are and let Daddy handle it.”
She did, of course, not stay where she was.
In the end, he couldn’t even blame her. As much as she often reminded him of Pepper, he was the one who provided the other half of her DNA. Stark children weren’t engineered for sitting back, letting others take the lead.
He didn’t have time to tell her off, to send her back inside where the world couldn’t touch her innocence, because just as he was pushing through the glass door and sucking in a breath of the cool night air, Peter was collapsing.
There’s a concentrated single-mindedness that is unique to parents seeing their children in pain. It blots out everything else, eclipses rationality. And in that moment, Tony felt it. Nothing else mattered except getting to Peter, holding Peter, saving Peter.
He’d never moved so fast in his life.
“Hey, hey.” Somehow, he managed to hook his arms underneath Peter’s armpits as his knees gave out, softening the fall as they both sank to the ground in a tangled heap. He laid him down gently, cushioning his head as he settled it onto the hard cement. “Peter, buddy. Hey, talk to me, yeah? You gotta tell me what’s wrong.”
The kid gasped weakly, face ashen and pupils blown. He flailed a shaky hand up to his chest.
“Hurts,” he groaned.
“Your chest hurts? How?” He roved his hands up Peter’s sternum. No blood, no outward sign of trauma. “Did you get hit?”
A nod, followed promptly by a dangerous fluttering of eyelids.
“No, nope.” He tapped the kid’s cheek, fear spiking. “Stay awake, Peter. No sleeping until Cho’s got you drugged off your ass, you hear me?”
Peter’s eyes went comically wide as he tried to orient himself. Tony could see him clawing his way back to consciousness through sheer force of will, and, damn it, he couldn’t believe that he lived in a world where that sight made him proud, but it did.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” he left his palm pressed gently against Peter’s chest, their eyes locked, “call a med team.”
It’s alright. It’s alright. He tried to pour the thoughts into his gaze, to transfer them to Peter without words. I’m here. I’m here. Dad’s right here.
“Already done, Boss. Helen Cho is also en route from the Compound. She should be on location within the hour.”
“Good, good. Tell her that we’ll need-”
A small voice cut him off. “Daddy?”
Oh, god. Morgan. In the mind-numbing blur of terror for Peter’s safety, he’d completely forgotten that she’d followed him onto the balcony.
From the look on Peter’s face, it looked like he’d just realized it, too.
The kid swept every bit of pain out of his expression all at once, tilting his head to give her a wavering smile. “Hey, M. You,” he paused to gasp, a lung-deep grating noise that made Tony’s skin crawl, “you okay?”
She bit her lip, looking between Tony and Peter slowly, as if gauging exactly what her reaction ought to be. He could imagine her confusion: Peter looked totally calm, while Tony knew that his face was the picture of fear.
“Daddy was making me a grilled cheese.”
He almost laughed at the absurdity of the anecdote, at the absurdity of the whole situation. Five minutes ago, his primary concern had been spreading butter evenly on a piece of whole-wheat bread. What the fuck had happened?
Peter blinked, taking far too long to process Morgan’s statement for anyone, let alone someone with his IQ. “Sorry.”
That one word took enough air to vault him into a coughing fit. Tony propped him up until it passed, then eased him back down. Peter’s eyes re-found his easily, and he could see the kid’s veneer cracking. He was trying so desperately to play the big brother role, but Tony could tell that he wanted nothing more than to break down and cry.
“What hurts?” He whispered, trying not to alarm his daughter any more than he already had. “Still your chest?”
“Mm,” Peter clung to his composure, eyes flickering to Morgan, as he swallowed and choked out a little, “can’t… breathe.”
“Okay, you’re okay.” He brushed a thumb across Peter’s cheek, other hand still splayed across his chest. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., what’s wrong with him?”
“My scanners are limited outside of the building-”
“But you can scan him, right?”
He felt like screaming. They didn’t have time for this. “Then do it.”
The silence that followed was broken only by the wheezing of Peter’s breaths and the small whimpers Morgan made as she cried. It was like a symphony composed of Tony’s worst nightmares.
“My scans indicate that Peter is experiencing symptoms of hemothorax, which appears to have to have brought about a pneumothorax.”
On a better day, Tony could’ve processed the medical jargon. He knew, distantly, that both of the terms existed somewhere in his vocabulary. But Peter’s breaths were getting more and more desperate, and Morgan was crying harder and harder, and nothing made sense, nothing made sense, god, nothing made sense.
“English, FRI,” was all he could choke out. He felt like he was the one who couldn’t breathe.
“Peter’s chest cavity is filling with blood, which has led to the collapse of one of his lungs. He also appears to be suffering from the initial stages of hypovolemic shock. Without immediate medical treatment, he is at a high risk of cardiac arrest.”
“Okay. Alright. Shit.” He knew, distantly, that he shouldn’t be cursing around Morgan, that that was one of the family no-no’s. On the other hand, Peter was suffocating underneath his hands, so he had more important things to worry about then the expletives Morgan might parrot back at daycare.
He cupped Peter’s face, ran his hand over his forehead. “Eyes up, Spider-Man. Just keep taking deep breaths. I know it hurts, but you’ve gotta try.”
Just look at me, kid. Just look right at me.
The kid let out a small gurgle, fingers curling weakly against the cool cement, like he was reaching for something. “Mister Stark.”
He could see the plea in Peter’s eyes, heard it loud and clear: comfort me. Lie to me. Tell me I’m going to be okay, promise me that I’m not dying. If you say it, I can believe it. Please.
“Everything’s fine. Nothing’s gonna happen to you, alright? I won’t let it.”
He wanted the words to comfort the kid, to pull some of the fear from his eyes, but they didn’t, because Peter’s next breath was barely even a breath, more of a painful convulsion of his chest, and suddenly there were fresh tears to join the sweat soaking the kid’s face.
“T’ny.” Peter’s fingers bumped against his knee. “T’ny… help.”
“Shh, shh. I’m here, I’m going to help you.” Don’t be scared. Please don’t be scared. I can’t stand it when you’re scared. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., where’s my med team?”
“On their way. However, as only a handful of staff were on duty at this time of night, there is a slight delay in their response-”
He tensed his jaw until pain surged through his skull. “I don’t give a shit what their excuses are. Tell them to hurry.”
A pause. “Will do, Boss.”
“Daddy?” Morgan crawled closer until she was kneeling by Peter’s shoulder, face streaked with tears and still hiccupping on sobs. “Why’s Petey so sick?”
Oh, god. He couldn’t do this. She was too young, too young to stare the reality of the world in the face like this. How could she ever understand? Peter was dying just inches away. That’s not the kind of thing a four-year-old could possibly understand.
Tony could barely understand it, and he’d had half a century more experience with life’s shittiness than she did.
“M’rg’n,” This time, Peter’s attempt at a smile was more of a pained grimace, hand twitching weakly as he tried to reach for her, “‘s okay.”
Morgan’s face wobbled dangerously. “Petey…”
“‘S okay,” the kid repeated, managing to barely brush his fingers against Morgan’s leg. A second later, she was gripping it tightly. Some of the tension in Peter’s body released, and his voice grew fainter, like the contact had given him some sort of permission. “‘S okay, M. ‘S okay.”
“Hey,” Tony tapped the kid’s cheek, fear racing across his skin like a current, “stay awake, Pete, y’hear me? Remember that F.R.I.D.A.Y. said? You’re going into shock. I know your body’s telling you to sleep, but you have to stay awake.”
None of his words seemed to register. If anything, Peter’s gaze unfocused more, eyes trailing away from Morgan and up to the sky. His blinks were slow, and he wasn’t gasping for air anymore, although each breath still rasped painfully in his chest. There was an eerie peacefulness falling over the kid, and it made Tony thread a shaky hand through his hair on impulse. He wasn’t sure if it was a final comfort, another half-hearted attempt to keep him awake, or some sort of non-verbal plea, a tether to keep the kid here, at his side, to stop him from drifting somewhere he couldn’t reach.
Please don’t leave me. Please, Peter. Please.
He positioned himself in Peter’s eyeline, using both hands to cup the sides of his face. “Peter, buddy, look at me.” A blink, and the kid’s eyes slid over to his. Tony’s breath hitched at the sight. He could see everything that made Peter Peter leeching out of his gaze. A bit of him disappeared with every blink.
Tony had a terrible feeling that there was an invisible timer running out, that these were the very last moments he’d get to spend staring into his child’s eyes.
“Peter, please.” He tried to soak up every inch of Peter’s face, of the way that, even now, his eyes gentled when he was staring at him. The trust, the adoration, the love. “Stay with me.”
Suddenly, Morgan was pushing herself against his shoulder, little hands reaching out to fist in the front of Peter’s suit, cheeks glistening with tears. There was horror on her face, a heaviness that didn’t belong on features so smooth. Without understanding, she seemed to have understood.
“Petey,” her voice was pleading. Tony couldn’t tell if she was just mimicking him, or if it was coming from her own tenuous grasp of the situation, “Petey, please.”
“M’rg’n.” The corner of Peter’s mouth twitched as he looked at her, lips parting in an attempt to say something else, maybe another slurred interpretation of her name, maybe another comfort, another try for reassurance.
Nothing but a gag came out.
The kid’s eyes jerked back to Tony’s, wild and scared. Something passed between them in that second, something deep and clear. If Tony believed in clichés, he would’ve described it as being a spectator to someone else’s life flashing before their eyes. There were a million emotions warring for dominance on Peter’s face all at once, a million thoughts conveyed in a single breath.
And then it just… stopped. His eyes settled, stilled. His face relaxed. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony could see his weak grip on Morgan’s hand relax.
And then he didn’t move, didn’t blink, didn’t breathe.
His eyes were still fixed on Tony’s face, but they didn’t see him. They didn’t even look like Peter anymore. They were just… dark. Empty.
“No. No.” For a second, all he could do was freeze, locked up in his horror. “Peter, buddy…”
“Sir,” F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice was rushed. “The med team is about three minutes out. My scanners indicate that Mister Parker is in cardiac arrest. You need to perform chest compressions.”
“Daddy?” Morgan’s voice had never been so full of fear before. He felt sick. “Daddy, Petey isn’t breathing.”
Right. Yes. Fuck. Peter wasn’t breathing. His heart wasn’t beating. His eyes were even seeing, brown irises so familiar but suddenly so foreign, so lifeless and cold.
He folded his hands over Peter’s chest, somehow numb and explosive all at once. He pressed down once, twice, let his body fall in the rhythm that he’d drilled into himself over the course of countless first-aid seminars.
(“Wait, you do the compressions to the beat of Another One Bites the Dust?” Peter was laughing, hands poised over the practice dummy’s chest. “That’s a little morbid, don’t you think, Mister Stark?”)
“It’s okay, baby.” He didn’t spare Morgan a glance, gaze still locked on the vacancy in Peter’s eyes. It felt wrong to break the contact, like he was violating one of the kid’s final wishes. “Daddy’s gonna breathe for him.”
“Can you do that?”
“Yeah.” He wanted to scream, to sob. Unbidden, a few tears dripping down his cheeks, but his expression stayed impassive. “C’mon, Pete. Don’t do this to me. It’s time to come back.”
“Where did he go?” Morgan questioned, hand reaching for Peter’s pale face.
“Don’t touch him,” he snapped, too caught up in his spiraling thoughts to rein in his temper. He’d feel bad about it later, he knew, but now he felt nothing. “Stay back, Morgan.”
“Be quiet.” He was a terrible father. God, he was a terrible father. One kid sobbing beside him, rejected and afraid, the other growing cool and stuff underneath his hands. He choked on a gag, vision blurring with a fresh wave of tears. “Fuck, Peter, just fucking breathe.”
He didn’t. Tony stopped the chest compressions just long enough to do it for him, his warm lips against Peter’s cool ones, then back to the rhythm. Beat, beat, beat. One of the kid’s ribs finally snapped on this round, and Morgan whimpered.
“Daddy, what was that?”
“Nothing, baby. Don’t worry about it.” Peter’s face was getting paler, lips blue. Whatever oxygen he was getting secondhand from Tony wasn’t enough.
He was dying. He was dying. He was dead.
Oh, god. There was no denying it, not when he looked into the kid’s face: slack and gray with glassy eyes.
“Damn it, Peter.” His arms burned from the force of the compressions, but he didn’t let up. “If you die in front of your sister, I’ll bring you back and kill you again myself. You understand me?”
He got no response, just the same blank gaze and the sound of the balcony doors tearing open. A moment later, a medic was kneeling at his side.
“Well done, Mister Stark, but we can take it from here.”
He pulled away and let the other man take over, falling backwards into the cool cement. Another medic shoved an oxygen mask over the kid’s face, pumping air into his stagnant lungs. She gently shut his eyes with her other hand.
Tony felt the action like a physical blow. For some reason, he knew that he’d never see them open again.
“Please,” he breathed, distantly aware of Morgan crawling into his lap, tucking herself underneath his aching arms, “please. He’s my… He’s my kid. You have to save him. You-You have to bring him back.”
My kid. My child. My baby.
“Petey.” Morgan was shivering against his chest. Was it cold? Maybe. He couldn’t remember, couldn’t bring himself to feel the air against his skin, not when he could still feel Peter’s still chest under his palms. “Daddy, I want Petey.”
“I know.” Me too, baby. Me too. “I know you do.”
When they transferred Peter onto a stretcher and started pushing him away, Tony distantly wanted to follow. His muscles twitched weakly, but he couldn’t muster the strength to rise. For once, Morgan seemed content to stay still, unnaturally silent. She just snuggled into his lax arms, chest catching as she cried.
Some time later, Pepper joined them, heels clicking as she jogged across the balcony. F.R.I.D.A.Y. must’ve called her back from her late-night meetings. She set one hand on Morgan’s back, and the other cupped his face, a parallel to the way he’d touched Peter.
He swallowed back bile.
“Hey, honey.” Pepper tilted his chin until their eyes met. “Why aren’t you with Peter?”
She shook her head, expression pitying. “No, he’s not. They got his heart started again. Last I heard, they’d just located the bleed that caused the hemothorax. He’s still critical, but he’s alive, and Helen’s with him. He’s got every resource in the world.”
“Yes, honey, he’s alive. Now, c’mon.” She looked down at Morgan. “Hey, baby. It’s past your bedtime. You must be tired.”
She shook her head violently, nose digging into his ribs. “No, no.”
“Okay, okay.” Pepper soothed. “That’s alright. We can go down to the MedBay with Daddy. How does that sound?”
Apparently, that wasn’t a good enough appeasement, because Morgan instantly started to wail, squirming out of Tony’s loose grip and making a bolt for… somewhere. Tony doubted she even knew where she was going. Luckily, Pepper snagged her before she could take off.
“I want Petey!” She screamed, slamming her little fists against Pepper’s collarbone as she hugged her close. “I want Petey!”
“I know, baby, shh.” Pepper scooped her up and stared pointedly at Tony until he clambered to his feet as well, swaying. The motion felt robotic. He felt robotic. “It’s alright. We’re gonna go wait for him now, okay? We’ll get him to you as soon as we can.”
Just as quickly as the fit began, it ended. Morgan went limp all at once, voice a whimper. “Petey was bad.”
Pepper herded her broken family towards the elevator. “Why’s that, sweetheart?”
“He didn’t listen to Daddy. He told him not to go to sleep and he didn’t listen.”
Pepper’s breath caught in her throat, the only outward sign of distress she let slip past her walls. She paused for half a second in the threshold of the elevator before shoving it away, pushing through, and joining Tony in the corner. “Oh, darling. Petey was really hurt. It’s really hard to stay awake when you’re that hurt. I’m sure he did his best.”
“Sometimes adults do that when scary things happen.”
Morgan buried her face into Pepper’s neck. “Petey was really scared, Mommy. I don’t want Petey to be scared.”
“Well, he’s safe now, baby, and he isn’t scared, so you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“Are you sure?”
“Mhm. He’s just sleeping, and Miss Cho is with him, so he’s not alone.”
Slowly, Morgan unstuck her face from Pepper’s shirt and looked over to Tony. “Are you still scared, Daddy?”
I’ve never been more scared in my life, and I’ve flown a nuke into a wormhole, had my best friend slam his shield into my chest.
“No, baby. Daddy’s fine.”
Sometimes, you lie to your children. Tony had done it twice in one night. Once, of course, was right then, staring his daughter in the face with an artificial smile and offering her an empty reassurance.
The other was when he’d held Peter’s face and told him that everything would be okay.
Morgan fell asleep on hour two of waiting for Peter’s surgery to end, drool sticking her cheek to Pepper’s expensive business dress. Tony watched her for a while, watched her back rise and fall with every breath, watched her eyelashes flutter as she dreamed.
He didn’t know how much time passed before Pepper pulled out her phone and started typing out a text one-handed, careful not to jostle Morgan out of her sleep. It was a normalized dance for them now: living life on their tip-toes, desperate not to disturb the precious few hours that their child was actually quiet and calm. It made his heart ache. That was a move he’d perfected long before Morgan was born, during movie nights with a patrol-weary Spider-kid dozing off on his shoulder, the buzz of lightsabers and whines of blasters filling up the negative space.
He would’ve given anything to transport back to those moments: back to high school Peter, foolish and youth-bright. Back before everything got complicated. Before he’d gotten a second child to protect. Before Peter had gotten his full ride to Columbia. Before the kid’s heart had stopped underneath his hands.
Minutes blurred. Then, Happy materialized in front of them.
“Hey, Boss.” He directed the words at Pepper, flicking worried glances in Tony’s direction. “What do you need?”
“Could you take Morgan to bed, please?” Pepper sounded apologetic. “I’m really sorry to ask, I now it’s not your job, but I… I don’t want to leave right now.”
Both looked pointedly at him, and he nearly laughed. They really weren’t being subtle, were they? Come on. He was in shock, not stupid.
“Of course, not an issue.” Happy slid the sleeping child into his arms with a gentleness that warred against his gruff exterior. “I’ll stick near her room, too. In case she wakes up.”
“You don’t have to do that, Happy, F.R.I.D.AY. can let us know if anything-”
“I want to.” Tony caught the man’s bitter grin out of the corner of his eye, felt a kinship with it. “Not like I’ll be sleeping until we get word on the kid, anyway. Might as well do something useful.”
“Thank you, Happy,” Pepper murmured.
He grunted in response, never one to linger in a compliment. “Just let me know once you hear anything. Even if… well, even if it’s not good news, I have to know.”
“Of course.” As Happy turned to leave, Pepper stopped him again. “Oh, could you call Rhodey? Tell him what happened.”
Happy nodded. “I’ll send him down when he gets here. Kid’s aunt, too.”
“That’d be wonderful, thank you.”
The muted slap of Happy’s dress shoes on the linoleum echoed down the hallway, only stopping once the elevator closed around him.
And then they were alone.
Pepper’s hand wrapped around his wrist.
“Tony, honey, look at me.”
Just look at me, kid. Just look right at me.
He did, eyes slowly coming to rest on hers, brown against green, life against life. He wondered if he would ever forget watching the life leave Peter’s, if he could ever erase the sensation of the kid slipping through his fingers.
“You’re in shock.” She murmured. “Do you understand that?”
She sighed, free hand coming up to trace along his jaw. “Everything is going to be okay, alright? We’re going to get through this, all of us.”
He didn’t believe her, but he nodded anyway.
It was almost worth it.
Five hours passed.
The stagnancy came to an end when Helen Cho strolled into the waiting room. She was back in normal clothes, must have ditched the surgical kit right before coming out. May had arrived by then, still wearing scrubs from her rounds. She’d sat on Tony’s other side without a word, just quietly rubbed her hand up and down his arm.
He hated to admit it, but the monotony of the rhythm was one of the few things that had kept him sane as the hours wore by.
May’s gaze jerked up the moment Helen approached, voice strained yet hopeful. “Helen. Thank god. Is he…?”
“He’s alive and relatively stable.” She reassured, kneeling in front of Tony and scrutinizing his face. “How are you feeling, Tony?”
He blinked, genuinely confused. “What does that have to do with any of this?”
“Peter isn’t my only patient. The medics said you were already in shock when they got there.”
He cleared his throat. “I’m fine, Cho. Tell us about the kid.”
She watched him silently for another few beats, then stood with a heavy sigh. “We assume that Peter must’ve experienced some form of blunt force trauma to his chest. That trauma caused major damage to the blood vessels lining his chest cavity. By the time the medics arrived, one of his lungs had already collapsed, and the hypovolemic shock, paired with the fluid filling his chest cavity, caused a cardiac arrest. We were able to intubate and restart his heart, as well as locate and cauterize the damaged blood vessels. We also performed a thoracostomy, which let us drain the blood from his chest. We’re still waiting for his lung to fully re-expand, so we’ve left the tube in place. Like I said, he seems to be stabilizing, although he’s still reliant on the respirator.”
“And?” May whispered, voice steady but hands shaking. “I’ve done this before too, Helen. Told families things they didn’t want to hear. I can tell you’re setting us up for something.”
Helen glanced away, visibly steeling herself, before offering May a tiny nod and continuing. “We think that his lung had collapsed by the time he got to the Tower, which means that he was already getting a decreased flow of oxygen before the cardiac arrest brought on a total respiratory failure. Even with the rescue breaths, Peter was without a sustained oxygen supply for a prolonged period of time. We need to run more tests, obviously, but… there appears to be some of the preliminary signs of brain damage.”
Tony’s entire being froze. He centered in on that one, damning phrase.
Was there anything worse for a kid like Peter? God, Tony had spent so many lab days just marveling at Peter’s brain, how beautiful and brilliant and abstract it was. Peter was his brain. Sure, the spider bite had made him athletic beyond belief, but at the end of the day, Peter Parker was defined by his intelligence. He was quick, and witty, and he constantly floored Tony with how even his simple ideas could end up changing the world.
He couldn’t have brain damage. He just… couldn’t. It wasn’t right.
“Do… Do you have any idea how severe it may be?” Pepper asked, voice thick.
“Not yet.” Helen glanced at each one of them, eyebrows knitted together in regret. “Once he’s had a little more time to settle, I’ll send him for some brain scans. Those’ll give us a much better idea of what we’re working with. We’re weaning him off the anesthetics now, so… we’ll be able to do some neurological tests at the same time.”
Tony swallowed. “You mean when he wakes up?”
“I…” It was strange, really, to see a woman as confident as Helen Cho dancing around her words. “I… I’m not sure that he’s going to, Tony. At this point, a coma would be our best-case scenario.”
“Helen.” May looked resigned. “Please be honest with us. His brain must’ve been without oxygen for, what, at least ten minutes? Longer?” She set a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “You don’t… you don’t think he’s ever going to wake up, do you?”
If Tony didn’t know better, he’d say that Helen was about to cry.
“He was without oxygen for longer than any normal human could survive. It’s a miracle that we were even able to restart his heart. You… You have to understand-”
“Helen,” May choked out.
Her shoulders slumped, defeated. “No, May. I don’t think he’s going to wake up.”
Something in Tony broke, all at once. His next breath was a sob, hand shaking and chest screaming, imploding, and god, is this how Peter had felt?
Peter. His kid. His child.
He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t be gone. He just couldn’t.
“No,” he gasped, shaking his head hard enough to make the world spin, “no. He-He was awake. He was talking. He said my name.”
The last thing he said was Morgan.
May’s arms wrapped around him, an awkward embrace over the uncomfortable plastic of the MedBay chairs. He let his face fall onto her shoulder, crying even harder when he realized that she was, too.
“There’s still some hope.” Helen’s voice felt like an intruder in their misery. “Peter’s healing factor works in ways that we still don’t fully understand, and we haven’t run the tests to confirm anything yet. It’s just… we need to be realistic about his future.”
He heard May respond, heard Pepper ask about visiting the kid, heard Helen give timeframes for scans and tests and a million other things.
All he could think about was the irony of the fact that Peter had been Morgan’s first word, and that Morgan would be Peter’s last.
Tony let May go to the kid first.
He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to see him. What would he look like? Would he look like Peter, like his kid, or would he look… different? Empty? Vacant? Would he be able to sense his absence?
He didn’t know what would be worse: staring at Peter and not recognizing him, or being able to trick himself into thinking that he was just sleeping, that all of this was some hyperrealistic nightmare.
Even with his best efforts, he only managed to avoid Peter’s room for about an hour, because May eventually emerged and all but dragged him through the hallways, past ORs and supply closets and to the wing set aside for severe casualties, only pausing her crusade when he balked violently at the kid’s doorway.
She turned to watch him with deep, understanding eyes. “What’s wrong?”
Everything was fragmented. The world was splintering, and so was he. “I… does he… what does he…?”
“He looks normal, Tony.” She gave him a miserable smile. “He just looks like Peter.”
His voice came out a broken rasp. “That’s almost worse.”
“Oh, Tony.” May rubbed his arm with her palm, like she could revitalize him with the gesture. “Go and talk to him. He might still be in there, he could still hear you. He’d want you to be with him, don’t you think?”
“What if he’s not? What if he’s really gone?”
“Then you don’t have anything else to lose.”
And, well, that was true. If he’d lost one of his children, was there anything else the world could rip away from him?
There just wasn’t a grief worse than that.
When Morgan was just a few months old, she’d had to go into the hospital for tongue-tie surgery.
It was a simple procedure, but it had still made his whole being seize up with terror.
The anesthesia was the worst part. He’d always hated it with Peter, although he thought he hid it well. Despite the way it turned his stomach, he never left. Always stayed right at the kid’s side, holding his hand, murmuring comfort and praise long after his eyes had rolled back.
It went against every instinct inside him, to let someone stick needles in his child, shove masks over their face, pump what felt like vials and vials drugs into them. It was even worse after they’d gone under, because then he had to leave. Had to hand his child, his precious, fragile child, over to near strangers (even if they were the best surgeons money could buy), and walk away.
And then he had to sit, helpless, waiting for news.
They’d let Pepper hold Morgan while they put her under. Tony had stood behind her, hand braced on her shoulder. She’d never had to do this before, not like he had, so he was determined to hold it together for her sake.
As soon as they’d pulled Morgan’s limp body out of Pepper’s arms and taken her back for the operation, Pepper had buried her face in his chest and cried.
The surgery had gone perfectly, of course. The nurses had fetched them to sit with her while she recovered from the anesthesia, and he still remembered how small she looked. Vulnerable, delicate. So desperately in need of protection.
That was the exact sensation that he felt when he stepped into Peter’s hospital room.
There were so many machines, so many wires, that the kid looked more robot than human. He had two IVs, one for fluids and the other for pain meds (do you even need pain meds if you’re too far inside yourself to feel pain?). He had sticky pads all over his bare chest, heartrate strumming across a monitor just a foot away. Tony forced himself not to think about the catheter, or the nasogastric line, or the tube crawling between the kid’s fractured ribs, sucking blood and pus and god-knows-what out of his lungs and into a clear plastic collection bag.
But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t ignore the ventilator.
Every one of the kid’s mechanical breaths sent chills up and down his spine. God, he couldn’t even breathe for himself. If this machine broke, faltered, then he could just… stop. Cease. Die. Slip further and further away until Tony didn’t even have the illusion of life to cling to.
He cleared his throat, sat in the chair May had pulled up to the kid’s bedside, gently took his hand. The other one had an IV stuck in the back and a pulse oximeter on his index finger, but this one was free. If he just stared at this hand, he could pretend that everything was alright. That Peter was bound to wake up soon, drunk on the good stuff, grinning up at him and slurring out some half-assed apology for getting hurt.
“Hey there, buddy.” He didn’t dare look at Peter’s face. He knew it would break him. “Anytime you wanna wake up and prove Cho wrong is fine by me. It’d save us on the brain scans and lab time. Honestly, now that I’m really thinking about it, it’d be a little rude for you to keep napping. All the nurses could go home early.”
Nothing. Just the mechanical rise and fall of the kid’s chest and the buzz of machines.
He dropped his forehead to the back of Peter’s hand, breaths shaky. Desperation rose in his throat.
“Peter, please. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I’m sorry I didn’t do enough. I’m sorry I lied. I’m so, so sorry. But you-you have to wake up.” Every breath hurt. It felt like he was being punished. Why should he breathe when Peter couldn’t? “What am I going to tell your sister, huh? She needs you. May needs you. I need you. So please, buddy. Come back to me. To us. I know you can. I know you’re brave enough. If anyone can overturn the odds, it’s you.”
He stood, then, leaning over Peter’s face and pressing a soft kiss to his forehead.
He still didn’t open his eyes, still couldn’t bring himself to stare down at the kid’s face.
“Please come back,” he whispered, like he was passing on a secret. “I need you.”
Please, Peter. Please.
I need you. I need you.
I love you.
He couldn’t have been sitting at Peter’s bedside for more than a quarter of an hour before Rhodey stepped through the doorway, exchanging a handful of hushed words with May as he shut the door behind him.
He cleared his throat. “Did they tell you?”
“Yeah, they did.”
“Did they tell you everything?”
“They told me everything.”
The statement dawned on him slowly. He realized, all at once, that even he didn’t know everything.
“I-I don’t understand.” He didn’t let go of Peter’s hand, kept clinging to it like he’d never held anything more precious in his life. “How could this happen? I have… I have protocols. They’re built into the suit. The second his vitals started fluctuating, it should’ve notified me.”
Rhodey set a hand over his shoulder. “I talked to F.R.I.D.A.Y., and she said that Karen got knocked out by the blow. Most of her wiring’s in the insignia on his chest, right? It was just… unlucky.”
An intense urge to understand reared up in inside him. If he could piece together all the data, he could turn it into something codifiable, something he could organize and repair. “Who was he fighting? Did the footage survive? What does-”
“Tony, don’t do this to yourself.” Rhodey knelt by his chair, eyes sweeping over the hospital bed, the machines, Peter. “You’re not gonna change what happened.”
“So you’ve seen the footage.”
It was a statement, not a question.
“I have,” Rhodey conceded. “And I’ve got no idea who he was fighting. It’s glitchy, pieces are missing. Seems like some new supervillain, but I couldn’t get any ID on him. It’s hopeless, Tones. You’ll just torture yourself if you go down that route.”
“He’s not supposed to take on the heavy stuff without me,” he whispered, swiping his thumb up and down the back of Peter’s hand, the same soothing motion he used when the kid was worked up from a nightmare. How much of his time had he dedicated to lulling Peter to sleep? Now, he’d do just about anything to make him open his eyes. “He’s not ready, he’s still a baby.”
“Tony, he is twenty-one years old. I know you call him kid. I know he’ll always be your kid, but he’s an adult, and in case you haven’t noticed, he’s been one for quite some time. You can’t protect him forever.”
“It seems like I can’t protect him at all.”
Rhodey sighed. “You couldn’t have prevented this. You know that, deep down, even if your guilt complex isn’t letting you accept it right now.”
He bit his lip, bowed his head. “Listen, I… I want to be alone with the kid right now.”
“Alright.” Rhodey pushed off his chair to stand, leg braces humming. Another reminder of Tony’s failure, a reminder that he would never be able to protect the people he loved. “I’ll be with Pepper if you need anything.”
“Don’t let his kill you, Tony. Please. It’s not worth it.”
“You’re not a parent, Rhodey,” he murmured back, “and I don’t blame you for saying that, because you’re not and therefore you can’t possibly understand, but if this goes the way Helen seems to think, then there isn’t life for me after this. You have to understand that.”
“No, I don’t.” The door opened. “And if this goes badly, then I guess I’ll just have to convince you otherwise.”
He waited in Peter’s room, side by side with May, while they took the kid back for a dozen different brain scans.
When they rolled his gurney in a few hours later, his hair was disheveled and clumped up from the EEG’s adhesive paste. Without really thinking, Tony walked over and started gently working the hardened goop out of the kid’s hair, drawing himself into the task to avoid the terror gnawing in his stomach.
Helen walked in a few moments later, StarkPad in her hands and sympathy in her eyes.
“I have good news and bad news,” she started.
“Tell us the good news, please,” May said. “I think we both need some of that right about now.”
“Peter has retained some electrical activity in his brainstem. That is, I can’t diagnose brain death.”
May’s voice cracked up with relief. “Oh, thank god. Thank god.”
Helen winced at the reaction, words careful. “However, the damage from the respiratory failure is… extensive. While his EEG showed some activity, it was minimal.”
He dragged his fingertips over Peter’s forehead, voice gruff. “What does that mean?”
“Obviously, the prognoses for coma patients can vary widely. The brain is a delicate thing, and we’re constantly discovering new neuroscience. But… I’ve never heard of a patient with Peter’s level of damage reaching a total recovery.”
May materialized at his side and gripped his elbow. He couldn’t tell if she was seeking support or giving it. “What’s our best-case scenario?”
“With a little time, he may shift from a coma to a vegetative state. With a miracle, he might even regain minimal levels of consciousness. But, and I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but… he’ll certainly never walk again. He won’t be able to speak or communicate. He won’t be the person you knew before. He won’t be Peter.”
May audibly choked. Tony looked down at the kid’s face for the first time since the balcony. Studied the curve of his jaw, the slightness of his nose. No wrinkles, no frown lines. Just the face of a 21-year-old kid.
May had been right: he looked like Peter. He looked like his child. This was the face he’d memorized, the face that was plastered all over the Tower’s walls, grinning behind certificates and awards or covered in marker after Morgan decided to make him her personal canvas.
He didn’t look dead.
“That can’t be all of it,” he murmured, resolve hardening. “You have to take his healing factor into account. It may still kick in. Like you said, it’s not like we understand how normal brains work, let alone his. We’re… We’re not dealing with a normal case here. We have to make exceptions.”
He’s not just a statistic, a newspaper tragedy. He’s my kid.
Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children.
“I don’t think you’re letting yourself process what I’m saying, Tony.” Helen’s hand came to rest on his free shoulder. “People don’t just… bounce back from damage this severe. I can keep his body alive. We can insert a permanent feeding tube, regulate his temperature, force his organs to function, but it won’t bring him back to you. He’ll never get up from this bed. He’ll never recognize you. He’ll never say your name.”
He was already shaking his head, raging against the implications of her words. “No. You aren’t listening to me. He’s not a normal kid. He… He might turn this around. He’s done shit like that before.” He gestured wildly at Helen. “You’ve said it yourself: his healing factor is a miracle. It can… it can do miracles.”
May was silently crying, grip on Tony’s arm tightening with every second, other hand clasped over her mouth to muffle her sobs. Helen seemed torn between comforting her and shocking Tony back to reality.
She met his gaze. “Do you want him to live like this, Tony? Do you want him to suffer in a hospital bed for the rest of his life, hooked up to all these machines, not even able to breathe for himself? Is that what you want for your child?”
Is that what you want for your child?
It was strange, hearing someone else acknowledge it. To hear someone else talk about Peter as his.
He wanted to scream. “But… he’s breathing.”
Helen’s voice softened. She could tell she was making headway. “With a ventilator, Tony.”
No, no. He has to come back. He has to. “Just… Just give him a chance. Please.” He looked over at May. “He… He just needs a few more days to get his strength back. Then he’ll heal. He’ll wake up. Please.”
Helen’s gaze bled with pity. “It’s May’s decision what happens next. She’s his power of attorney.”
He swung towards her, drunk on hope, desperate for an ally. “May, please.”
She observed him through puffy eyes, then looked to Helen. She sounded tired, like she was humoring a child, but he didn’t even care. They could humor him all day long if it meant that Peter might live.
“Is there any chance?”
Helen let out a disbelieving sigh. “I can’t say there’s no chance, not when Peter’s enhancements are such an anomaly, but May,” she stared at her, imploring, “it’s so unlikely that I struggle to even call it a chance.”
May bit her lip, gaze wandering to Peter, lying small and tiny amidst a sea of machines.
“Let’s… Let’s give him some time.” She whispered, eyes falling to the floor. “I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t at least give him that.”
Tony had always assumed that parents were lying when they said that they didn’t have favorite children. After all, you had to have at least one you preferred, right? That was just human nature. You picked people, made lists, built hierarchies in the most mundane places.
But now he was a parent, and he knew that they’d been telling the truth. Or, at least, they’d been telling his truth.
If someone made him choose between Morgan and Peter, he wouldn’t be able to do it. It’d kill him.
He still remembered one interview, a year or so ago, right after he’d started posting photos of Peter and Morgan on his social media. The reporter had insinuated that he would, naturally, pick Morgan over Peter, because she was his flesh and blood and Peter wasn’t.
He’d stood up and left, and the clip had gone viral as soon as it leaked. The next time he’d seen Peter, the kid had hugged him just a little tighter than usual.
For him, Peter was more than a just trial at parenthood. Peter was the thing that had made him a parent. He was as good as his firstborn. He loved him. He loved him so, so much. And he loved his daughter, too. He loved them both. Equally and fiercely.
But just because he knew that he could never pick a favorite didn’t mean he could ignore the fact that, sometimes, he had to prioritize.
When Morgan was a baby, Peter had gotten less attention. Their movie nights were cut short, and his Tower visits consisted more of diaper changing and tummy time than tinkering in the lab. Peter was sweet and genuine about the whole thing, because of course he was. The world hadn’t done a thing to deserve him.
When Peter got hurt on patrols, Tony and Pepper had a silent agreement that she would handle Morgan, and he would handle Peter. Once again: prioritization. He didn’t like it. It always left a bad taste in his mouth, always felt like choosing, but it was necessary. It was life.
At least, that’s what he kept telling himself now, three days since Helen gave them Peter’s initial diagnosis. It was the belief that was carrying him through each hour of his bedside vigil, each hour that he left his wife to deal with their daughter on her own.
It was the primary focus of his thoughts when F.R.I.D.A.Y. informed him that Pepper had brought Morgan for a visit.
Morgan didn’t say a word when Pepper walked her in, just wandered over to the bed and peered up at Peter curiously. There was something solemn in her expression, like she was struggling underneath an invisible weight, a weight that hadn’t been there before.
“Hey, baby.” He hoped his voice didn’t sound as rough as he imagined it did. At the very least, he hoped she didn’t notice. “Do you wanna come sit with Daddy and Peter?”
He pulled her into his lap, grunting as her elbow jabbed into his side. “Oof. Alright. There you go. Do you… do you want to say hi to your brother?”
Morgan’s gaze roved up and down Peter’s body slowly, taking it all in. “Hi, Petey.”
“You can hold his hand, if you’d like.” He held up his and the kid’s hands, their fingers intertwined. “Just like Daddy is. Do you see?”
“Do you want to try?”
He untangled his hand from Peter’s and helped settle hers in its place. “There. That’s it.” He ran his palm over the top of her head, encouraging. “Just like that. Give it a good squeeze, and maybe he’ll feel you.”
Morgan’s voice was small. If he listened closely, he swore he could pick up an undercurrent of fear. “If he feels me, will he wake up and say hi?”
“I… I don’t know.” I wish I could give you promises, baby. I know that’s what you want. What you need. “I hope so.”
Morgan’s free hand started stretching out the sleeve of his t-shirt. Her eyes stayed fixed on the floor. “Does Miss Cho know?”
He paused. “No, baby. Nobody knows.”
“But… but he’s getting medicine, right?” She stared up at him, the same pleading he felt within himself reflected in her eyes. “They’re giving him medicine so he feels better. So he can wake up a play with me. It’s… It’s Friday. He promised me that we could play Star Wars today.”
“Oh, baby.” He gestured helplessly at the IV. “That’s not medicine. It’s just something special to keep him from getting thirsty.”
“I can give him my juice.”
Every moment was a battle for composure. He couldn’t bear her innocence, couldn’t bear the weight of trying to preserve it. “I’m sure Peter would like that, but he… he can’t drink anything while he’s sleeping.”
“Oh.” Morgan sat silently for a few seconds, mouth downturned in a little frown. “What can Peter do, Daddy?”
Not breathe. Not move. If Helen’s right and I’m wrong, he can’t even think. “Well, if you talk to him, then he might be able to hear you. He just can’t answer.”
“But he’ll answer eventually, right? If I talk to him enough, he’ll have to wake up.”
If he’s going to claw his way back for any of us, it would be you.
“Why don’t you try, and we’ll see?”
“Okay.” Morgan gnawed at her lip for a second, contemplating. Then, she squeezed Peter’s hand and rambled like her life depended on it. “Petey! Mommy says you’re sleeping really really deep, and that’s why you don’t wake up, even if I talk super loud or touch you. Mommy talked to Miss Cho before I came to say hi, and she says it’s because you hurt your brain. I asked her if we could put a Band-aid on it but she said it wouldn’t help, which is stupid.” She wrinkled her nose. “I can’t wait until you’re all better and you wake up! Miss May says that Daddy thinks it’ll be really soon, and Daddy’s never wrong. Then we can play Star Wars!”
Pepper moved to his side and set a hand on Morgan’s shoulder. “Hey, darling. It’s about time for dinner. We can come visit Petey again later.”
“Will he be awake then?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart.”
Her face fell. “Oh. Okay.” She twisted to look up at him, face beseeching. “Daddy, are you coming to dinner? Mommy’s making alfredo.”
He helped her wiggle of his lap and let his hands linger on her shoulders, reluctant to let her go. “No, baby. Daddy’s gotta stay with Petey.”
“Oh.” More disappointment. “Okay. Bye, Daddy.”
He swallowed back a sob. “Bye, sweetheart. Sleep tight, okay?”
He wondered if he’d just managed to lose both his children in one night.
He glanced up from Peter’s face, giving his wife a weak smile. “Hey, Pep. Who’s got Morgan?”
“May’s watching her.” She crossed the room slowly, arms crossed. “You know that today was her first therapy session.”
Right. Yes. The therapy. The therapy that Helen had suggested and Tony had reeled against until Pepper overrode him.
“Mm. How’d it go?”
“Alright.” She pulled up May’s chair, which had been pushed off to the side, and dragged it up against his. “Doctor Rutledge had Morgan act out what happened with dolls.”
He winced. “Well that’s horrifying.”
“It… It was. But she seems to think it was a positive step.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He still hadn’t fully processed the idea that Morgan had been there when Peter had… well, during the chaos. It was too big a concept to grasp, that his precious child had seen something that even Tony couldn’t begin to analyze, to accept. “All that play therapy shit.”
“Exactly. Doctor Rutledge also thinks that we should stop telling her that Peter’s asleep. Apparently, that might be why Morgan keeps throwing tantrums when we put her to bed. She thinks that Peter went to sleep and didn’t wake up, so she’s scared that she might go to sleep and not wake up now, too.”
“Why would she think that?” The anger surprised him, but it didn’t seem to shock Pepper. She just watched him impassively, like she’d been expecting it. “She saw what happened. She knows he didn’t just go to sleep. That’s one of the reasons this is all so fucked up. She saw his heart stop, Pep. His eyes were fucking open. Doesn’t she understand that people don’t just fall asleep with their eyes open?”
His eyes were open. He was looking at me.
“She’s four, Tony.” Pepper paused, visibly collecting herself. When she spoke again, her voice was softer, more understanding. “She can’t connect events like that yet. It’s too much. Besides, she remembers you telling him to stay awake. I think some part of her subconscious thinks that it means that she has to stay awake, too.”
Well, that was a horrific thought.
He deflated, rubbing an exhausted hand down the front of his face. “So what do we tell her?”
Pepper started massaging his shoulder, slow, loving, everything he definitely didn’t deserve. “Doctor Rutledge said it would help if we tried to explain what’s happening to her. The injury, the coma, what… what might happen next.”
“You want me to tell her that he’s dying?” The words caught in his throat, his next breath a shuddering gasp. “That there’s not even enough activity in his brain for him to breathe on his own? That… that nothing even happened to his brain? His brain… his brain’s perfect. I’ve seen the scans.” He stared up at Peter’s face, peaceful and unmarred. “It’s… it just looks so fucking perfect.”
Pepper’s soft hand wiped a few tears from his face. She didn’t try to comfort him, didn’t offer any empty promises. She knew that nothing she said would transfer this weight. At the end of the day, Pepper loved Peter, but Morgan was her child. She knew that for Tony, things were different. She’d always known that, always accepted it. Now, she had to accept his grief as what it was: a parent watching their child slip right out of their grasp.
“He was without oxygen for too long, Tony.” Her fingers threaded through his hair, gentle and kind. “No matter how perfect it looks,” her eyes followed his gaze to Peter’s face, “no matter how perfect he looks, he’s g-”
“Don’t.” He couldn’t. For some reason, Pepper saying it made it more real, and he just couldn’t. “Please… just don’t. His healing factor still might kick in. There’s still a chance.”
“I… I want you to be right, honey. I really, really do. But the point is that we’ve got a frightened, confused child on our hands. She doesn’t understand what’s happening. To me, to you, to Peter. We have to help her. We have to… we have to prepare her. Just in case.”
His heart stuttered. What was it like to be Morgan? Too young for anyone to give her the straight truth, just old enough that she was starting to perceive the pain around her. She’d seen Peter die. She was holding his hand while it happened. And now her whole life had been uprooted. Her father was MIA, her mother trying desperately to hold the pieces together, her brother hooked up to a dozen different machines, not helping her build Lego villages or put all her toy ponies in their stable, just laying there, still and quiet.
“Yeah… Yeah.” He shook his head. “Fuck, we have to, don’t we?”
“I should do it, shouldn’t I? Tell her, I mean. I should… I should be the one to tell her.”
“Unless you don’t think you can.”
“I don’t,” I can’t think of anything else that I’m less qualified to do, “but I still know that it should be me.”
There was a spark of pride in Pepper’s eyes. It warmed him. “Doctor Rutledge gave me a list of books, for us and for her. I’ve ordered them all. We can go through them when they arrive and pick which ones we like. I’ll start reading them to her at bedtime, and then you can talk to her, when you’re ready.”
When I’ve decided that this whole thing is hopeless. When I’ve decided that it’s time to pull all these machines away and hold my kid’s hand while I stand by and let his heart stop.
He swallowed the thought down. “Books?”
“Mostly for Morgan. Storybooks that help children comprehend grief and death, but I got some for PTSD as well.”
Afghanistan, New York, nights of waking up in cold sweats, clawing at his chest, the perpetual sting of not safe on his tongue. “Does she have…?”
“It’s very mild. Doctor Rutledge thinks she’ll get through it with some more play therapy.” She paused. “And… she’s young. I’m hoping she’ll forget.”
The words hit him like a blow. “What a thought.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s going to forget him.” Oh, yeah, and now he was crying again. Strange how that was becoming his new normal. “She’ll… she’ll forget him holding her. Playing with her. Sneaking into her room when he’s staying over just to keep her company. By the time she’s his age, she won’t even remember his face.”
“Sweetheart.” Pepper cupped his face, forced him to look at her. “Yes, she will.”
“We won’t let her forget. We have photos, videos. She’ll always remember him, because he’ll always be a part of her life. We can… we can celebrate his birthdays. Make it a thing. Tell her stories. She won’t forget him, Tony. She won’t.”
“Pep… I… I don’t know if I can do this,” he half gasped, half whispered, “I don’t know if this is something I can survive.”
“Oh, Tony. You know I’ll always support you, and I want to be here for you-”
He winced. “Why do I feel like there’s about to a but that I’m not gonna like-”
“Because there is a but,” her tone was as forceful as it had been since the balcony, and it made him flinch, “and it’s that I know that this is hard, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain you’re going through, but you don’t have a choice but to survive it.”
“Don’t. Tony, please don’t take this as cruel, because I don’t mean it to be, but you have a child. Your flesh and blood daughter, the one you and I brought into this world together. You have a daughter who is frightened, alone, and feeling incredibly abandoned right now. You don’t have the luxury of just… giving up.” She sighed, hand falling from his face. “And you have to stop holing yourself up in this room.”
“He’s my child too.” He knew Pepper didn’t mean it like that, he knew, but he couldn’t help the urge to defend the kid. He’d never been able to help that urge. “One of… One of the first things I promised myself, when you handed me that test, was that I would never let him feel forgotten. I mean it when I say that he’s my kid.”
“I know that you do, Tony, and I’m not saying that he won’t always be your baby, but-”
“Do you want me to sacrifice him for Morgan?” He felt a little bad for cutting her off, but the stress was just building and building, and he couldn’t keep anything straight in his head. Couldn’t even control himself. “Is that what you want?”
“No,” she snapped, “I want you to use your common sense.”
“I am, and he needs me.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Pepper grabbed his arm, tight and unyielding. “He’s gone. I am so, so sorry, Tony, but he’s gone. Everything that made him Peter is gone. Sweetheart,” her voice broke, “he doesn’t even know that you’re here.”
It was the thing Tony had known, deep down, since the beginning. Peter was lively, unbashful in his care for other people. When Tony cupped his cheek, he leaned into the touch. When Tony brushed his hair out of his face, he let out a contented sigh. In the tender moments when Tony pressed a kiss to his forehead, he blushed, eyes shining.
The Peter on the bed wasn’t Peter. Despite what everyone thought, he knew that.
He just couldn’t accept that it would be that way forever. He couldn’t accept that his Peter wouldn’t come back.
“But… God, Pep, but he looks so perfect.”
“I know,” she murmured.
“I can’t let him go.” That was the truth of the matter. The one thing that kept him going. Tony Stark could not let Peter Parker go. It was an impossibility, a paradox. “I can’t just… stand back and watch him die.”
“You wouldn’t have to watch.”
I think I already did.
“That’s not the point.”
“I know, but you’re going to have to come to terms with it eventually. The sooner you do, the sooner all of us can start to grieve, and the sooner Morgan can get her father back.” Pepper rubbed his shoulder one last time and stepped back. She’d said her piece. She knew that there was nothing else to do but let Tony process the words on his own time. “I should go back to her. May’ll want to get down here soon, anyway.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The world was too much. There were too many expectations, too many decisions that were impossible to make. “Tell her I love her.”
“Why don’t you come up with me and tell her yourself?” She challenged.
“No. I… I can’t leave him. Not now.” He swallowed. “Even if he doesn’t know that I’m here, I just… I can’t leave.”
Pepper sighed, like she’d already known that that would be his answer. “Alright. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The door opened, shut. Outside, he imagined that the world kept on turning. People went to work, raised their kids, fell in love. And he stayed locked in this room, spending every second praying that the kid would open his eyes, so that his world could restart.
Pepper always kept Morgan’s visits short and sweet. Tony didn’t know who that was more for: him, Morgan, or Pepper herself.
It certainly wasn’t for Peter. As far as he could tell, the kid didn’t have a clue that she was even there.
Today, Morgan was wearing a summer dress, embroidered sunflowers scattered across the hem. It must be nice outside. Of course, Tony wouldn’t know.
She crawled up into his lap without an invitation: their usual ritual. Then, she asked her usual question.
“Is Petey still sleeping, Daddy?”
He gave the usual response.
They’d played through this interaction dozens of times over the past two weeks, but the sadness of Morgan’s face never got easier to bear. “Do you still think that he’s listening?”
“We hope that he is.” Please be listening, Peter. “Do you want to talk to him?”
“Yeah!” Morgan tucked her knees to her chest and gave Peter’s corpse-like form a little wave. “Hi, Petey. I colored you a picture today. I used red and yellow crayons because red is for you and gold is for Daddy. I brought it! Miss May promised that she’ll hang it up tonight, but you can’t see it with your eyes closed so I’m sad.” She frowned a little, then wiped it away. “Mommy and Daddy say you still need to sleep so your brain can feel better but I miss you. Wake up! You’ve been sleeping for forever.”
“Tony,” Pepper’s voice was thick, “I think it’s time for Morgan to come back upstairs.”
“Right, yeah.” Once she was here, he never wanted to let her go. He wasn’t very good at that: letting things go. That’s how they ended up in this mess in the first place. “Hey, baby. Do you want to go play with Mommy?”
She twisted to look up at him, pouting. “I wanna play with you.”
He swallowed back the guilt. “Daddy needs to stay with Petey.”
“No!” The outburst was so unexpected that both he and Pepper flinched. “You’re always with Petey! You’re never with me!”
It hurt because it was true, because it played on the exact insecurities he’d been grappling with for weeks. “I-I’m sorry, baby. But Petey’s really sick, okay?” Is this sick? Or is it just death? “I don’t… I don’t want to leave him alone while he’s sick.”
“But I’m bored.”
Pepper swooped in, firm and forever to his rescue. “Morgan, darling, let’s leave Daddy and Petey be for a bit, alright? We can go make some cookies with Miss May. Does that sound like fun?”
Morgan wavered, torn between the lure of cookies and her dedication to her tantrum. “But I want Daddy.”
Pepper took her hand and helped her hop to the floor. “Daddy will come later.”
She swung around, eyes wide and expectant. “Do you promise, Daddy?”
“I… yeah, baby.” Sometimes, you lie to your children. “I’ll be up later.”
There were a few seconds of silence while Morgan chewed through the answer. Then, to the relief of everyone, she nodded, contented. “Okay, then.”
Pepper met his eyes. He knew that she knew he’d just lied through his teeth, could see her disappointment. He was fulfilling all the fears she’d had ever since that positive pregnancy test. He couldn’t blame her for hating him, even if it was just a little.
She cleared her throat. “Can you say goodbye, Morgan?”
“Bye, Daddy. Bye, Petey.”
He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop.
It was immature, really. A major invasion of May’s privacy. But… he’d realized that he’d forgotten his phone as soon as he turned on the shower and thought he’d just slip back in to grab it.
The second he cracked the door, however, May’s voice trickled through, and he froze.
“Hey, baby. I kicked Tony out to go take a shower, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon, so don’t worry if you’ve gotten as attached as he has.” She sighed, weary. “I talked to Helen earlier, while Pepper had Morgan with her therapist. She said that there’s nothing else anyone can do. Tony’s had experts out, and they all agree with her. I’ve checked the scans myself, just to… to try to understand, I guess. I can see what they can, even if I wish I couldn’t. I’m… I’m actually taking it a whole lot better than Tony is, all things considered. I don’t get the impression that he ever really learned how to handle grief. But you and I had to, didn’t we? We wouldn’t’ve survived, otherwise. Not after your parents. Not after… not after Ben.”
It hit Tony all at once.
Peter was all May had left. He was her only child. Her only family.
Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
“Tony’s supposed to explain everything to Morgan tonight.” His stomach rolled at the mention of that evening. He’d never dreaded anything more in his life. “Pepper’s been reading her lots of picture books to help, but I still don’t envy him. How are you supposed to explain that to a child? I still remember explaining your parents to you. I think it might’ve been the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. And Morgan… she loves you so, so much. God, Peter, baby, she loves you so much. We all do. And nobody… nobody loves you more than me. Maybe that’s selfish of me to say, but it’s true. You’re my child. My only child. I… I just wish it was me, not you. I wish it was anyone else but you.”
I have Morgan. May has nothing. No one. Not even her husband.
“As soon as Tony has some time to process everything, I’ve given Cho permission to let you go.” The words weren’t a shock, but they choked him up all the same. “You’d never want to be hooked up to all these machines for the rest of your life. You’d… You’d want us to move on. So I’m gonna do that, baby. I’m gonna sit right here and hold your hand until you’re gone. You’re never gonna be alone, not even for a second. And I know that Tony’ll be right here with me, right here with you. From the beginning to the end. I… I promise.” She was sobbing, now. Tony could hear it in her voice. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. God, Peter. My baby. My bright-eyed baby. I love you so much. I’m never gonna stop loving you, okay? I’m never gonna stop.”
He shrunk back. Closed the door as lightly as he could. Sat down on the cool tile, and realized, in a swoop of all-consuming darkness, that Peter wasn’t coming back.
He pressed his back against the door and let himself cry, May’s words echoing in his head.
I’m never gonna stop loving you.
After his shower, he joined May at Peter’s bedside. For a while, they sat in silence, the rush of the ventilator and the beeps of the heart monitor filling the air.
“May,” he whispered, “he’s… he’s not here anymore, is he?”
She looked over at him. Neither of them had tried to conceal that fact that they’d been crying. “You heard?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry.”
She waved him off. “Don’t apologize. There’s nothing you heard that I’m ashamed of.” A pause. “But yes, Tony. He’s gone. His healing factor… it just isn’t enough.” She cupped his cheek, palm soft against his stubble. “I know they call it life support, but in situations like these, we usually start calling it organ support. Taking him off the ventilator is just… letting his body finish what it’s already started.”
He clenched his jaw, let out a shuddering breath. “How do I even tell her? It’s… I don’t even know how to handle this myself. How am I supposed to help her handle it?”
May smiled at him, teary-eyed but steady. “You’ve been a parent for quite a while now, Tony. Do we always know what we’re doing?”
“Exactly.” She pulled her hand away from his face and stood, leaning over to brush her fingers through Peter’s limp curls. “You don’t have to be sure of yourself to help her. You just have to be there.” She glanced back at him. “Just like you’ve been there for him. Like you’ll be there for him, until it’s over.”
His breath caught. “I was the last thing he saw.”
He doesn’t know why he said it.
“I’m glad,” May murmured, gaze back on Peter’s still face. “He would’ve chosen that, I think, if he could’ve. Don’t you think?”
“He would’ve preferred you.”
“Maybe, but I wasn’t there, and you were. The last thing he saw was someone who loved him. And that… that gives me some peace, at least. It should give you some peace, too. At the end, he knew that he was loved, that he was safe. That’s all any of us can ask for.”
By the time Morgan came down for him to break the news, he was numb. They’d talked with Helen, made the quiet decision to spend tomorrow saying goodbye, and pull the ventilator the next morning. After that, he’d given May some time alone with Peter, just wandered blankly through the MedBay halls until she came to fetch him.
Morgan wandered into the room cautiously. Her eyes darted from Tony, to May, to Helen, and back to Pepper, who was walking in behind her. Right from the start, she could tell something was wrong.
“Hey, baby,” he murmured, reaching out and letting her curl up in his arms, “how was your day?”
She ignored the question, balling her fists up in the front of his shirt, eyes wide. “Mommy said we’re gonna have a talk.”
“Yeah.” He’d been afraid of crying, of breaking down and frightening her, but he knew, suddenly, that he wouldn’t. He was too swallowed by grief to even express it anymore. The imminent loss just too massive to process. “It’s a really serious talk. It might make you sad.”
Her brow furrowed. “Is it about Petey?”
“Yeah, it is.” He paused, collecting himself, pulling his thoughts together. He had to get this right the first time. There were no do-overs. “You know how Mommy and I have been saying that Petey’s really sick?”
“Mhm. And he’s been sleeping to get better.”
He forced himself not to wince. “See, baby, he hasn’t exactly been sleeping. Have you ever heard of a coma?”
“It was on the TV once, on a show Mommy was watching.”
He nodded, encouraging. “See, our brains need oxygen to work. That’s why we breathe in air. But Petey didn’t get enough air, so his brain got hurt. When our brains get hurt, they shut off to protect themselves. That’s called a coma.”
“How do we fix it?”
Here we go. The rush to the finish. “Sometimes, we can’t fix it.” He took a second to apologize, silently, for Morgan’s childhood ignorance. “Sometimes, people are so hurt that their bodies can’t work anymore.”
“What happens then?”
“Well, we can help them with machines, like the ones that are helped Petey breathe.” He gestured to the ventilator. “But if they aren’t going to get better, sometimes we decide to turn the machines off.”
“And then what happens?”
“And then they die, baby. That’s… that’s just how life works, sometimes. Everybody has a lifetime, and sometimes those lifetimes end early.”
“Petey and I found a dead butterfly in the park once,” she said abruptly. No tears. No reeling against his implications. Just a random statement.
Okay. Uh, he could roll with that.
“Yeah? Did you feel sad?”
“I guess.” She shrugged. “Petey made me feel better, though.”
“I… I bet he did.” Even through the numbness, that one hurt. He checked himself, refusing to let his composure slip even as the thoughts of he’ll never be around to make you feel better again danced in his head. “See, Petey’s too sick to heal. Miss Cho did everything she could, but sometimes even doctors can’t make people better again. So we’re all gonna spend tomorrow with him, and then Daddy and Miss May are gonna let Miss Cho turn all the machines off.”
Morgan’s eyes were wide, voice small. “And then he’ll die?”
“Yeah, baby. And then he’ll die.”
The realization dawned on her face, horrible and crushing. “So he’s… he’s not gonna play Star Wars with me anymore?”
“No, baby. He’s not gonna be able to play anything with you anymore.” He’d thought he was good, thought he wasn’t going to cry, but now he was close. “But he’ll still be your big brother. He’ll never stop being that, okay? And we won’t forget him. You can remember him and love him even though he isn’t here anymore.”
Her face twisted up, the first few tears rolling down her cheeks. “I don’t want Petey to die, Daddy.”
He pulled her into his chest, every ounce of his body aching. “I know, baby. I don’t want him to die, either.”
“Then don’t let him.”
“Daddy can’t make him stay if he wants to go, sweetheart.” I already tried. “If I could make him stay, I would.”
“Is it gonna hurt?”
“No, baby, no. It won’t hurt.”
“Do you promise?”
Yes. Yes. That’s the only promise I can give you. “Yes, sweetheart. I promise he won’t hurt even a little bit.”
“Are you and Mommy gonna die too?”
His eyes flickered up to Pepper’s. “We… We all die eventually, Morgan. But Mommy and I are gonna stick around for a long, long time, okay?”
“Okay,” she murmured. “Do you promise?”
I have to live, he realized, stomach dropping, or, at the very least, I have to survive.
They let Morgan into Peter’s room as soon as she woke up.
She was being about as brave as a four-year-old could be, hiccupping and red-faced but otherwise calm. She didn’t scream or throw a tantrum, just climbed into Tony’s lap and took Peter’s hand, the ritual they’d perfected over the past few weeks.
“Petey,” she whispered the name in a tone that made Tony feel almost like an intruder, like this was a secret he wasn’t meant to hear, “Petey, please wake up. Please. Daddy says you’re gonna die but I don’t want you to. Wake up. Wake up.”
He dropped her forehead onto her shoulder, hiding his anguish where she couldn’t possibly see.
Oh, baby, he thought, of all the things he’d do for you, you just asked for the one thing he can’t.