Chapter 1: there are clouds in the sky
i have a playlist where i add songs i use for chapter titles for this story, along with some others i listen to when i'm writing this, so listen to it as you read if you so wish!
chapter title from "smile" by charlie chaplin
!!! tw for referenced suicide in this chapter !!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Three weeks ago, Peter had turned 16. Tony had offered to throw him a big party, but, like every single year before that, he declined. He just wanted to celebrate with the people closest to him. Ned, MJ, Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, his dads - Tony and Steve - and any of the Avengers that happened to be around. This year it had been Natasha, Bucky, and Sam. It had been a great day filled with laughter, cake, soda, and movies. The fact that he felt a little sick was the only thing that annoyed him about the day. Coughing every other minute.
Four weeks ago, he had caught a bug. Since then, he’d been coughing non-stop. And it wasn't really getting better. But he paid it no mind. It’d pass soon. Tony was getting worried, but Steve reminded him how easily their son could get sick. He’d always been small for his age, a little more fragile than the other kids, and had a tendency of catching any and every bug he came in contact with. But they both agreed that if it got worse, they’d make him get it checked out.
Feeling tired went hand in hand with being sick, so Peter just powered through. When school started back up the following Monday, he’d almost gotten used to it.
“You know you can stay home, right? Nothing important happens on the first day,” Tony proposed, probably for the sixth time that morning.
“I know, but I wanna go,” Peter repeated himself.
“It’s alright, you can go to school. But call us if you don’t feel up to it, and we’ll come get you. That sound like a plan?” Steve suggested, knowing that would make both his husband and his son happy. His mouth full of food, Peter just nodded in confirmation before putting his empty plate in the dishwasher.
It wasn’t that Steve’s cooking was bad, but Peter had had a hard time eating all the scrambled eggs and bacon on his plate. His appetite was just… not quite there. But, Peter being Peter, he didn’t want to worry anyone, so he had just forced it down. If he still felt like that at lunch, he could just skip it and see if that made him feel better. Honestly, his appetite had been weird for a little while now, but he was sick, so it didn’t matter.
The first day of school was alright. Peter was a junior now and would be lying if he said he wasn’t excited about that. What he wasn’t excited about was that school starting up again meant gym class starting up again. His least favorite subject. It was no secret he was a bit scrawny and clumsy. His only comfort was that he had Ned, who wasn’t that fond of gym class either. They always got through it together.
What he hadn’t expected from the first gym class of the school year was for it to hurt so bad. Every time Peter heaved for his breath, it stung badly in his chest. And he got winded much easier than usual. He blamed it on not really having worked out over the summer, only getting self-defense lessons by Steve occasionally. That added to the fact that he was sick explained it. The teacher went relatively easy on them for the first class, and Peter was grateful. He was also grateful that it was his last class of the day, so he could head straight home after.
Being the son of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark came with risks. With those risks came precautions to make it as safe for himself as possible. One of those precautions was that someone, mainly Happy, always picked him up from school. Peter was not to walk or take the subway home. Or to anywhere else really. If he was going to Ned’s house, Happy would drive them both there after school. Steve and Tony didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks with the person that meant the most to them.
Ned had planned on inviting Peter over, but decided against it after having observed him all day. He looked exhausted. So he just waved goodbye to him as they parted outside the school; Peter walking towards Happy’s car and Ned for his mother’s car. Sliding into the backseat, Peter let out a heavy breath which sent him into a coughing attack.
“You alright, kid?” Happy asked and turned around to look at him, wanting to make sure he was okay before driving home.
“Yeah, jus… just coughing… like I’ve been… doing… for the past mo… month,” Peter croaked out between coughs that felt like they were tearing at his lungs.
Still, Happy didn’t start driving until the coughing had let up at least a little. Peter finally got a deep breath in, but winced when it burned in his chest, just like earlier. Blaming it on too much coughing, he just took smaller breaths instead. Eventually, he got into a comfortable rhythm of breathing, and felt much better.
“Some bug you caught,” Happy commented, looking at the boy in the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, you know me,” Peter chuckled. For the rest of the drive back to the tower, he rested his head on the window, liking that it felt cold against his forehead. On schooldays, Peter and his dads stayed at the tower with Happy, Pepper and occasionally Rhodey. Stark Tower? Avengers Tower? No one was sure, really, but it didn’t matter. It’s where he lived. On the weekends, though, they almost always went up to the compound. That’s where he got to see the rest of his makeshift family, all of them going by either aunt or uncle.
Upon arriving home, Peter headed straight for the couch where Steve was already sitting. “Hi, Pops,” he sighed and sat down close to him. Steve put an arm around his son who curled up against him in a matter of seconds.
“Hi, sweetie. How was school today?” he asked, smiling fondly down at him, and placed a kiss on his forehead to check his temperature. It seemed fine. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“It was alright,” Peter mumbled, already feeling his eyes droop.
Steve just ran his hands gently through Peter’s hair to help him fall asleep. A little nap before dinner when he could barely keep his eyes open would do only good. FRIDAY always alerted Tony of Peter returning home from school, so Steve spoke up softly.
“Yes, Captain?” the AI answered, her voice quiet too.
“Tell Tony to be quiet. Peter’s asleep.”
Checking if Peter was still sleeping, Steve smiled at his partly open mouth and the occasional snore he could hear. Tony was considerably quieter than usual when he entered the living room and walked towards the couch. “This is adorable,” he whispered as he sat down on the other side of his husband, not wanting to disturb the sleeping boy. Wrapping his other arm around Tony, Steve had rarely felt happier. The two people he loved the most were both cuddled up to him and his heart was warm. He kissed Tony’s forehead before the smaller man tucked his face into his neck.
“I love you,” Steve whispered.
“I love you too,” Tony answered, placing a short kiss right above his collarbone. “How’s the kid already asleep? He came home not even ten minutes ago.” They were both used to a hyper Peter, always rambling about something.
“He just sat down here and fell asleep. Maybe we should keep him home tomorrow. Poor kid’s exhausted. And still coughing.”
“Yeah, good idea. Let’s keep him home,” Tony agreed, absentmindedly playing with Steve’s hand that was resting on his side, sometimes fiddling with the ring on his finger.
For a few minutes, they just sat there in silence before Steve decided to start on dinner. Very, very gently he maneuvered Peter so he was lying down with his head on Tony’s lap. Heavy sleeper as he was, he didn’t wake up. While Steve cooked, Tony gladly took over hair playing duty. He’d never get tired of just sitting with his son. It was one of his favorite things.
Peter was woken up by Tony lightly poking his side while speaking to him. “Huh? Wha… what time is it?” he mumbled, voice cracking a little with both sleep, and because of his coughing.
Tony chuckled fondly. “You only slept for half an hour. It’s dinner time, c’mon.” He pushed the boy up into a sitting position and got up from the couch. Peter blinked a couple of times before following him to the dining table, sitting down with his dads. Steve had made spaghetti carbonara, knowing it was one of Peter’s favorite foods. It had made the boy smile, but he didn’t eat as much as usual. His appetite was still weird.
Another coughing fit caught him off guard when he went to stand up from his chair. He sat back down again, holding his chest and trying to remember not to take deep breaths. Because deep breaths hurt.
Steve rubbed his back, making worried eye contact with his husband. As Peter’s coughing calmed down, Tony knelt in front of him. “You’re staying home tomorrow,” he told him, forehead wrinkled in concern.
“Yes, you are, honey,” Steve interrupted him, voice firm, yet kind. “Just for a day. You’re exhausted, and you haven’t gotten any better. Okay?”
“Okay,” Peter nodded. Tony ruffled his hair before standing back up. “But I’m doing my homework. I don’t wanna fall behind.”
“That’s fine,” Steve smiled, clearing the table. He was happy that Peter was motivated when it came to school. Always eager to learn, both from his teachers and from Tony in the lab. Ever since he was little, he’d been curious, and Steve and Tony never discouraged it. They loved seeing his face light up every time he had learned something new that he found interesting. And the rambling. Oh, the rambling. They couldn’t always keep up, but they enjoyed how lively he was, gesturing with his hands, facial expressions emphasizing his excitement.
Thirteen years ago. That’s when the police and social services had turned up with Peter at Tony’s door. His mother, a woman he had spent one single reckless night with, had died. Back then, Tony wasn’t at all ready to be a father. Still, he took him in, knowing that the foster system wasn’t an ideal place to grow up. That, and those big, brown eyes held more innocence and trust than he had seen in his whole life combined. He didn’t have the heart to turn him away. Peter is proof that Tony Stark has a heart.
Eleven years. That’s how old Peter had been when Steve became part of their lives. They both got along right away, even before Steve and Tony became a thing. When they did, though, it didn’t take long before Peter was calling Steve ‘Pops’. The super soldier loved it. So did Tony. Everything just fell into place. As if that was the only way it could be. As if Steve was meant to be frozen in the ice just so he could meet them. They were a family.
Immediately after Tony and Steve got married in 2015, Steve had officially adopted Peter. It didn’t really change anything, except for the fact that now they had it on paper. They were the Stark-Rogers family.
Another three weeks passed, and Peter’s coughing gradually got a little better. It still hurt if he took a too deep breath. And his appetite was getting even worse. But only he knew that. The only thing that worried him was that he could see his ribs more clearly than before. That meant he had lost weight, and both his dads would be able to tell if they either carried him or simply saw him without a shirt on. Not that those were things that happened a lot… but they happened. So he avoided situations like that as best as he could. As much as he wanted to fall asleep on the couch, cuddled up to one or both of his dads, he forced himself to make it to his bed before dozing off. Because they always made sure to carry him to bed without waking him if he fell asleep anywhere else when it was near bedtime. And thank god summer was over. If not, they would’ve eventually been somewhere that required swimwear.
All things considered, Peter was doing okay.
That was until that one Tueday. At 3:04 am, his alarm clock told him, he’d woken up from feeling like he was going to freeze to death. He felt like shit. “FRIDAY, what’s the temperature in here?” he groaned, sitting up. And then let his body fall back down when his head started spinning.
“70 degrees, just the way you like it,” FRIDAY informed him.
With that bit of information, he pieced together that he had a fever. Slowly, he sat up with a goal in his mind. That goal was to get to the kitchen and swallow down some Advil. When he had gotten used to sitting upright, he stood up, and was out of breath before he even reached his bedroom door. But he didn’t heave for air. He knew that could hurt, so he avoided it whenever he remembered to.
Having calmed down, he walked - very slowly - to the kitchen. He only got halfway before being launched into a coughing attack. At first, it was just like all the others, but when it went on for too long and he barely got a breath in, he began panicking a little. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop the coughing, and somehow ended up on the floor, clawing at his throat.
Faint thumping heading his way. He didn’t look up, but knew he’d be okay when he felt four hands trying to comfort him. Still, it didn’t stop his coughing. He looked up and stared right into Dad’s eyes, a hand on his throat, I can’t breathe. Steve saw no other option, so he gave his son a very firm pat between his shoulder blades. It made Peter fall forward, gasp, and his coughing stopped. Tony had caught him so he didn’t fall face first on the floor.
Catching his breath, Peter moved so he was sitting with his back against the wall. “Are you okay, sweetheart? What’re you doing up this late?” Tony asked gently, kneeling in front of his kid. Steve was standing with his arms crossed, looking down at them with uncertain eyes.
“I think I have a fever. I just wanted an Advil,” Peter whined, feeling like a little kid, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“You sure do,” Tony confirmed after having pressed his lips to his forehead.
“Just sit tight, and I’ll get you Advil and some water,” Steve smiled reassuringly, walking away from them.
“Are you hot or cold?” Tony asked, cupping Peter’s face.
“Cold. I woke up freezing.”
“Alright, come here, then.” Tony moved so he was next to Peter and wrapped his arms around him to make him a little less cold.
“Thanks,” Peter mumbled, melting into the touch.
“Does your head hurt?” Tony asked, voice muffled by curls.
“Oh, honey,” Tony cooed, wishing he could be sick instead of Peter. Steve returned with Advil, water and a thermometer, squatting in front of the two of them. Without needing to be told to, Peter opened his mouth and kept it under his tongue until it beeped.
103. Steve frowned and showed it to Tony, who mirrored his expression. It wasn’t often his temperature was that high. Sure, fevers at 101 they were used to. But not 103.
Slowly, Steve held out an Advil, which Peter popped in his mouth as he grabbed the water bottle right in front of him. When he had swallowed it, Steve brushed some curls away from his clammy forehead. “You wanna go back to bed?” he asked, keeping his voice soft. Peter nodded, starting to stand up.
“Don’t move, I’ll carry you,” Steve said, but Peter shook his head.
“I wanna walk. Stretch out my body after all that coughing,” he lied on the spot. Had he not been sick, they would probably have caught the lie, but he was already acting different from the usual so none of them questioned it. He let Steve help him up, though.
They noticed how winded he got even though they walked slowly, but didn’t say anything, both just wanting to get him back in bed where he’d be comfortable. Then they’d see how he was doing in the morning. Before they left the bedroom, Tony turned off his alarm clock. There was no way in hell that kid was going to school the next day.
Back in their own bedroom, Steve and Tony breathed out and got back in bed. None of them closed their eyes. “Pneumonia?” Steve guessed.
“That’s what I’d say, too. His coughing's getting worse. God, he couldn’t even breathe.” Tony put his face in his hands. “And he was wheezing all the way back to the bedroom.”
“He’ll be okay. He always is.”
“Just gotta give us a real scare first. That’s Peter for you. It’s like he wants me to have a heart attack.”
Steve chuckled, wrapping his arms around his husband and pulled him close. “Of course. Classic Peter.” It wasn’t difficult to tell that the smaller man was stressed, so Steve made sure to keep a strong hold of him to ground him. That combined with telling him a story in a hushed voice and lightly moving his fingers up and down his back soon had his husband fast asleep. Only then did Steve close his own eyes.
“Oh, sorry!” was the first thing Tony heard the next morning after being woken up by a dull pain in his ribs. Peter had squeezed himself between his dads successfully, but accidentally elbowed Tony in the ribs when he tried to adjust to a more comfortable position.
“C’mere, sweetie, I think Pops is still asleep, so let’s try not to wake him. You okay?”
“Yeah. Just wanted to sleep here.”
“Alright, just go back to sleep. We’ve got you,” Tony whispered as Peter rested on his chest. He threaded his fingers through messy hair, and soon managed to make him fall asleep. Unconsciously, Steve put an arm over the both of them, inching closer. A little while, Tony just watched them. He didn’t make an effort to fall asleep, but eventually, he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, so he dozed off.
Peter hadn’t had pneumonia for years, but the symptoms were the same as last time, so his doctor just gave him antibiotics after a round of routine questions. And they worked. Just two days after he had started taking them, Peter felt better and could move around without exhausting himself. A week in, he felt back to normal. Still coughing a little, though.
None of them thought anything of it. His coughing would probably go away when his pneumonia was completely out of his system.
When another week passed and he was still coughing, Peter was over it. He was so over it. His voice was almost gone, his throat burned and his chest stung. But he didn’t want to worry his dads, so, since he had turned 16, he booked a doctor’s appointment by himself and made sure that it would crash with decathlon practice. That way, he could just tell MJ he had a doctor’s appointment and she’d let him go, and he could be back at the school in time for Happy to pick him up. No need to worry anyone if nothing was wrong with him. Odds were, with his luck, that he had just managed to catch several bugs in a row that came with coughing.
Being Tony Stark’s son came with a few perks; one of them was having a general practitioner in a really fancy facility. That meant that when his doctor decided to have a CT scan taken of Peter’s chest, the machine was in another room down the hall. He didn’t have to worry about being referred to another place with an appointment weeks into the future.
The doctor sent him home after the scan, as he wouldn’t be able to tell him anything right away. So Peter made his way back to the school, his timing perfect. He got there just five minutes before Happy would pull up, so he hung out right inside the main entrance until he saw the car.
“Hey, Happy!” he greeted as he got in.
“Hi, kid. How was school?”
And with that, Peter was rambling, only stopping to cough. Happy pretended to be annoyed by it, but he’d truthfully missed Peter just talking about his day when he was sick. Picking up Peter was one of the few fun, lighthearted parts of his job.
Back home, Steve was already halfway through making dinner, expecting Peter to walk into the kitchen any minute now. When he heard his footsteps, he smiled to himself.
“Hey, Pops. Smells good,” Peter commented as he plopped down on one of the bar stools. Two minutes later, Tony appeared, having, as always, been alerted by FRIDAY that his son was home. Sitting down next to him, he just observed his husband working in the kitchen.
Peter’s phone rang, and the boy left the room to answer it. Neither of the adults thought anything of it; he always answered his calls in private. Tony just kept watching his husband with a dreamy look on his face.
“You good, honey?” Steve asked, amused when he saw the way Tony was looking at him.
“Never better,” Tony grinned, leaning to meet Steve in the middle when he moved in for a kiss. Short and sweet. Shaking his head with a chuckle, Steve turned back to the food, and Tony stood up. He jumped up on the counter to sit closer to Steve.
“Okay, thanks, bye,” they heard Peter say when he walked back into the kitchen. Pocketing his phone before sitting down, he smiled as he looked at his dads, almost forgetting what he was going to ask them. “What’s an oncologist?” He didn’t think he’d heard the word until just a minute earlier. Maybe at school, but if that were the case, he’d forgotten it a long time ago.
Tony gripped Steve’s arm, trying to ignore the way his heart started beating faster. “Why?”
“Oh, I just talked to my doctor. He said he’s referring me to one,” he shrugged.
Both men felt their hearts break. “Why would he do that?” Steve asked, knuckles white from how hard he was gripping the kitchen counter, but tried to keep his voice calm.
Now, Peter wasn’t stupid. He could tell something was wrong. “I-I just went to see him about my coughing, I thought I’d do it alone since I’ve been there so many times before. A-anyway, he took a scan of my chest and he, uh, he sent me home. I-I’m sorry if you didn’t want me to go by myself.” Whenever Peter got nervous, he stuttered.
“No, no, that’s not the problem. I, uh… I think we should all sit down in the living room,” Steve decided, keeping as calm as he possibly managed. It only took one glance at Tony to tell that he was fighting away an anxiety attack with all his might. Carefully, Steve lifted him off the counter and back onto the floor, and let him keep the iron grip he had on his arm as he led all of them to the couch. On purpose, he had Peter sit in the middle of them.
“What’s going on?” Peter asked, nervous as to why his dads were acting so weird.
Tony’s eyes cleared up, and he sent a look to Steve to tell him that he’d managed to chase his anxiety attack away. For now. “An oncologist is… it’s a doctor who treats cancer,” he explained, still squeezing Steve’s arm which was on the back of the couch behind Peter. The boy tensed.
“Sweetie, what did you do at the doctor?”
“Uh, he… He took a CT scan. Of my chest. But, I- Wouldn’t he… I can’t-”
“And did he say anything more on the phone?”
“No, he just… He said that be-because of what showed u-up on the scan, he’s sending me t-to an…”
“I’m calling him right now,” Steve said, getting up. Mildly put; he was furious. You can’t call a child and tell him you’re referring him to an oncologist and not even explain. A child. Over 16, but fuck that. You don’t do that to anyone. Steve made sure he was out of earshot before dialing. That doctor was about to have the least pleasant phone call of his life.
In the living room, Peter still tried to wrap his head around what was happening. Tony was doing his best to keep him calm despite all of his own emotions that threatened to spill any second now. “Pops is gonna clear this up, okay? And, whatever it is, we’ll get through it. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”
“What… what if…”
“None of that, Petey. Pops is figuring it out.”
Tears gathered in the boy’s eyes and he wasn’t able to keep them there. But Tony didn’t know what to do. Already, he was regretting telling him he’d be okay. There was no way he could know if that were the case. Not when his kid most likely has…
He was lost. He always knew what to say to Peter. How to talk to him, how to behave around him, how to care for him. But not this time. This time was-
Footsteps neared and soon Steve was back on the couch with them. There were tears on his face too. “I, uh… I talked to him. Peter. I need you to look at me,” he said with a shaky voice, his hands turning Peter’s head so they were facing each other. “Your scans. There are… tumors in your lungs. So, tomorrow, we’re going to an oncologist who’s gonna take more tests.”
“Do I have cancer?”
“I won’t lie to you, sweetie. It’s very likely. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
A beat of silence.
“Am I gonna die?”
“Let’s not even think about that before you’ve done some more tests, okay?” Tony was quick to shoot in. He couldn’t take it. Just the thought of his son, his baby, dying before him was too much. That kid was supposed to be the future. To make the world better. Kinder. Brighter. But he can’t fucking do that if he’s fucking dead.
“I wanna go to bed,” Peter mumbled, curling in on himself.
“You can sleep in our bed ton-”
“No, thanks,” he interrupted Steve as he stood up and hurried to his own room. He didn’t want to be coddled. Well, he did, but the fact that both his dads were so upset and what that meant was scarier than sleeping alone. He couldn’t take it. He just wanted one more normal night in his own room. Especially when he might have…
“... cancer, Steve. Our baby isn’t supposed to have cancer.” Tony gasped for air, and his husband quickly noticed he was about to dive head first into an anxiety attack. “Honey, come here,” Steve beckoned from where he was sitting on the end of the bed. No more words were spoken. Tony sat down and let his hand be led to a familiar chest that was moving up and down in a controlled manner. Unlike his. He couldn’t even fill his lungs. Oh, god, lungs. That didn’t make it any better. Peter’s lungs. Cancer in his lungs.
So he yanked his hand away.
“His lungs,” he whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Steve whispered back, realizing immediately what had prompted those words, and made sure to breathe as quietly as he could. There was no one who could read Tony as well as he could, so he put his hand on Tony’s shoulder.
No response. Tony just launched into one of his other grounding techniques. Good.
Look. “Steve, my hands, carpet, wardrobe, a shirt.”
Feel. “Steve’s hand, the bed, the floor, blanket.”
Listen. “Steve breathing, my heartbeat, rain.”
Smell. “Steve, scented candle.”
Taste… “Vomit.” He’d been forcing it back down ever since Peter asked them what an oncologist was. Now that Peter couldn’t see him, he just couldn’t anymore. In five seconds flat he had run to the en-suite and stuck his head in the toilet.
“Oh, baby,” Steve sighed sympathetically as he went to comfort him. He sat beside him on the floor, stroking his back as he emptied his stomach. For just a few seconds, he left his husband’s side to prepare a damp cloth and a glass of water. Tony finished just after Steve sat back down. The bigger man maneuvered the smaller one to sit between his legs so that his back was leaning against his chest. With the cloth, he washed Tony’s face, and then gave him the water. He rinsed his mouth, spitting it out in the toilet before flushing it down along with the contents of his stomach. Then he took another sip, and relaxed completely against his husband.
They were silent for minutes.
“If he dies, I can’t-”
“Please, Tony, don’t,” Steve begged, tears running down his cheeks. “We don’t even know-”
“Tumors in his lungs. If it’s not cancer, it’s a fucking miracle.” He took a shaky breath. “And I meant what I said.”
And Steve knew that. He knew that if Peter died, Tony would… “Let’s go to bed.”
None of them slept that night. Peter didn’t want the time to pass too fast, and it did that when he slept. Tony’s mind wouldn’t leave him alone, constantly whirring. His insomnia was thriving. And Steve was simply too scared. Scared of what the future had in store for them. Because he knew that there were two possibilities when it came down to it; he would either still have his family, or they’d both be gone by the end of this. He honestly didn’t know what he’d do if the second scenario became a reality.
Chapter 2: words don't reach
Peter flinched slightly when a door opened. A man in a white coat called his name, but he stayed in his seat until Steve and Tony pulled him up with them. The longer he could put this off the better. Avoidance seemed safer than confirmation. With his head down, he walked into the doctor’s office, sitting down in the chair the man gestured to. After having shaken his hand, Tony and Steve sat down as well, one on each side of their son.
“So, I’ve been looking at the CT scan. What I want to do is to have a PET scan of your lungs and then tomorrow we need to take a biopsy. Do you know what that is, Peter?”
He looked up. “Yeah, but not… I don’t know how when it’s the lungs.”
“I’m going to put a small tube up in your nose and then down into your lungs.” The doctor noticed Peter looking very uncertain. “And I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not comfortable. But you can have some medication to make you calm, some local anaesthetic in your throat and I’ll get it done as quickly as I possibly can. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Peter whispered, clearing his throat. He really wasn’t looking forward to any of that. He just wanted to be back in his bed and stay there forever.
That’s what he pretended he was doing when they got back home after his PET scan. If he wished hard enough, maybe - just maybe - time would stop and tomorrow would never come. He’d never have to go take that biopsy and the world would just stop and he’d be okay. Frozen in time.
He only ate dinner because he knew his throat would hurt after the biopsy and he didn’t want an aching, empty stomach on top of that. And he only fell asleep because it was on accident. He was cuddled up to Tony who was running his fingers gently through his hair. His feet were on Steve’s lap who was rubbing them softly. It was as if it were a perfectly executed plan to soothe him to sleep.
Little did he know that they’d actually planned it. No joke. They knew their son well enough to be worried he might not fall asleep at all if he were alone in his own bed.
Even though Peter knew he shouldn’t fall asleep on the couch, he couldn’t help it. He was exhausted after not sleeping the previous night. So he dozed off rather quickly.
“I think we can move him now,” Tony whispered, having been paying attention to his breathing and his facial expression. He looked peaceful and was taking slow breaths. Steve got up slowly and bent down, picking up Peter. He frowned. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right at all.
“What’s wrong?” Tony asked when he had stood up, facing his husband.
Steve just frowned and held Peter out for Tony to take him. With a confused look on his face, he took his son in his arms and instantly realized what was wrong. Before speaking, he looked at Peter to make sure he was still deeply sleeping.
“He’s too light,” he whispered, noticing how his arms weren’t aching even a little under the weight. There was a considerable difference since the last time he had carried him to bed, and that was just weeks earlier. A shared look between the couple had Tony walk steadily into their bedroom with the boy. They didn’t want him to be alone through the night, so they put him in their bed before walking back to the living room.
“How haven’t we noticed?” Tony asked, resting his head on Steve’s shoulder who readjusted the way they were sitting so Tony's head was on his chest instead.
“I wish I knew, honey.”
“It’s like he’s… like he’s already wasting away in front of us.”
“Why him? Why Peter?”
“I’m gonna be the sane one for once and just tell you right away that if we start asking that question, we’re gonna drive ourselves crazy trying to come up with an explanation when… when we know there isn’t one.”
“Yeah,” Steve sighed, dragging a hand over his face. What more were they supposed to say? The next few days seemed like they would last for years and years. Their entire lives could be turned upside down.
Peter was trying really hard not to cry. He really was. But having a tube down in his lungs proved to feel so awful that he couldn’t help the tears that ran down his cheeks. His dads were trying their best to comfort him; Tony playing with his hair, whispering encouragements to him, and Steve letting the boy squeeze his hand as hard as he needed to.
“Okay, that should be it. I’ll be pulling the tube back up now. In just a few seconds, you’re done,” the doctor explained softly, doing everything he could to make it better for Peter. Not able to do much more, Peter just let out a small, choked sound of confirmation. The doctor pulled on it, and as it went up his throat, he dry heaved a little. When it was out, he coughed violently and winced at the sore feeling in his throat.
“Good job, sweetheart,” Tony praised, drying away his tears.
“Not many people handle it as well as you just did, Peter,” the doctor said with a gentle smile which Peter returned. “The results will be ready in 3 days, maximum. I’ll give you a call and let you know when to come in. We’re all done here for today. Remember; soft, cool foods. Nothing hot and spicy,” he reminded them.
“Thank you, doctor,” Steve said as he stood up, shaking his hand firmly. Tony just nodded at him politely, not wanting to leave Peter’s side.
“Can I go to school tomorrow?” Peter croaked after having sat on the couch silently watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine for almost an hour. Tony almost flat out refused, but caught himself before he could. There had to be a reason.
He shrugged. “Just wanna feel normal, I guess.” Tony and Steve shared a look, coming to an agreement with small nods and facial expressions.
“Sure. But you gotta take it easy, okay? No gym class for you. I’ll write you a note,” Steve smiled and got up. “What do you say to ice cream for dinner? You up for that, Petey?” he asked, making Peter grin.
“Yeah,” the boy chuckled, voice hoarse, and followed him into the kitchen.
For a moment, Tony just had to sit there. To pull himself together. His mind was always looking for the worst case scenario. He wished he could turn that off. Stop the thoughts; the constant buzzing in his head. If he hadn’t had Steve to talk with, he might’ve gone insane a long time ago.
At school, Ned asked why Peter sounded so hoarse. Peter just said it was from all the coughing, and got away with it. He felt bad leaving Ned alone in gym class, but he didn’t really have a choice. The teacher sent him to the library and told him to do his homework instead. Other than that, he was happy to have a completely normal day at school.
When he got home, he begged to go the next day as well, a Friday, and they let him. The following Monday, though, the doctor called and told them to come.
Walking into the office, Peter actually fully registered the doctor in his mind. He had seen him often enough lately to recognize him anywhere, and had a feeling he’d possibly be seeing him a lot more in the future. He was a little shorter than Steve, had light brown hair with gray streaks in it, and looked to be somewhere in his fifties. His name was Doctor Miller.
“Have a seat,” he said, waiting to sit down himself until the family were settled in the three chairs in front of his desk. “How's your throat feeling?” he asked, looking at the boy.
“It’s alright." His palms were sweaty, and he dried them on his jeans again and again and again.
“Right. Several doctors have looked at your scans and the tests.” He took a deep breath, looking at them with serious eyes. “I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but we’re all sure that you have lung cancer. It’s already stage four, so there will be more tests…”
Terror. All Peter could feel was terror, and he tuned everything out. If the doctor was still talking, he couldn’t hear it. Stage four. He knew that was the last stage. The last stage.
I’m going to die I’m going to die I’m going to die I’m going to die I’m going to die
I don’t wanna go
He felt a hand on his arm and only stood because someone pulled him up.
Steve held at least half of Peter’s weight to keep him from tumbling to the floor. All the things he witnessed during the war, watching Bucky fall from the train, being frozen. Nothing could compare to the dread filling his chest when the doctor confirmed the worst of all of his fears. He was so scared. He'd never been that scared before.
It’s already spread to his liver.
We have to scan his entire body, lung cancer can spread almost anywhere.
I don’t want to say anything about how long until we have a complete overview of his cancer.
Hearing those things being said about his son - his baby - made Tony decide that ‘cancer’ was the ugliest word on earth and he never wanted to hear it again. He wanted so desperately to fix this. That’s what he did. Fix things. And now he couldn’t even fix the one thing that mattered the most to him.
It made his fingers itch. When they got home, all he wanted was to lock himself in his lab and fix something. But he stopped himself. That’s what he always did. He couldn’t do that this time. No matter how much his heart was aching or his eyes stinging, he would never leave Peter’s side. Would never do anything to hurt his kid.
Happy had driven them home, keeping a stoic front. None of them had needed to utter a single word. He could just tell by the looks on their faces. All three of them squeezed together in the backseat, Peter in the middle with blank eyes. “Has he dissociated?” Steve asked, voice as steady as he could possibly manage.
“God, I hope not,” Tony whispered, “he’s probably just in shock.” He held back a sob. Peter wasn’t crying. Neither of the men liked it.
Back in the tower, Pepper and Rhodey had cleared their schedules for the day, knowing well that with how much they were worrying about Peter, they wouldn’t get anything done. So they just sat with each other, not sure if they should be trying to distract themselves from the constant Peter Peter Peter Peter in their heads or if they should just let it take over. Upon hearing the elevator doors open, Pepper latched onto Rhodey’s hand. In any other circumstance, he would’ve laughed. But when it came to Peter, he knew she cared about him as much as he did. And he needed the comfort of a close friend as well, so he squeezed her hand, holding on tight.
She only let go when she saw the distant look in Peter’s eyes. Not even bothering to hide the fear in her eyes, she looked to Steve and Tony. Pepper had known Tony for years, so when she saw the complete broken, defeated look on his face, she just knew it was bad. Rhodey could tell too.
But what to say?
The five of them just stood there. Heartbroken. Scared. Rhodey took a breath to ask them. Tony noticed and interrupted him before he could even speak. “Lung cancer. Stage four.”
“Four?” Pepper’s voice broke, eyes filling with tears.
Tony interrupted Rhodey again. “He wouldn’t say. We need more scans before he can…”
“Peter?” the woman attempted, as gentle as she could. She didn’t get a reaction. Taking two steps forward, she cupped his face. And she smiled in a way that if you didn’t know them, you’d think she was his mother. “Peter.” He blinked slowly and met her eyes. “Hi, honey. Are you here with us?” she asked, afraid that he’d dissociated. He nodded and squeezed his eyes shut before looking at her again. His eyes seemed clearer for a second before they became clouded with tears.
A raw sob tore through his throat and he just hid his face in Pepper’s shoulder. She held him tight, stroking his back comfortingly, but now that Peter couldn’t see her anymore, the fear was back on her face. Her wide eyes darted between Steve and Tony who looked on wordlessly. And Peter cried loudly, his sobs tearing at everyone’s heartsrings. They were all so lost.
Tony was wishing he could take Peter’s place. Everyone in the room wished they could.
“Sorry,” Peter mumbled when he pulled back, wiping at the tears that wouldn’t stop.
“Don’t apologize,” Pepper whispered, pressing a kiss to his forehead.
When he turned around to look at his dads, he might as well have been five years old. His eyes were so wide and scared and uncertain. “Baby,” Tony whimpered, barely able to keep it together. And then Peter was back to sobbing, this time stumbling into Dad and Pops’ arms, almost unable to breathe.
Quietly, Rhodey and Pepper left the room, keeping their sobs at bay until they knew the small family couldn’t hear them anymore. Pepper dropped to a crouch, covering her mouth with her hands. “Come on,” Rhodey encouraged, voice shaky, as he grabbed her arms to pull her up. She straightened her legs and the two of them looked at each other for just a second before he pulled her in for a hug. They stood there and cried. Together. It was better than alone.
Happy hadn’t even left the car. He didn’t know how bad it was. He wasn’t sure if he could take it. After god knows how much time had passed, he spoke up. “FRIDAY?”
“Yes, sir, what can I do for you?”
“Play footage of… of them telling…”
“I understand,” she said, sounding too emotional for an AI and displayed what Happy had asked for.
“Lung cancer. Stage four.”
“He wouldn’t sa-”
That was enough. It took him a minute to actually, fully realize what he had just heard, but when he did, he burst out crying too.
“I’m scared,” Peter cried, grabbing a fistful of Steve’s shirt.
“I know, sweetheart, I know.” We are too. But he didn’t want to scare him even more. With his arms around both Tony and Peter, he carefully guided them towards the bedroom. As much as he hated the thought, he was almost certain Peter would cry himself to sleep. The only thing he could do was to get all of them to bed and just hold each other there. Hold Peter. Comfort Peter.
He cried for much longer than they had anticipated. It had to be hours. None of them checked. But one thing was clear; Peter hadn’t just cried himself to sleep. He had cried himself to exhaustion. Tony and Steve had woken up just a few minutes ago and were looking at him. So calm. He was just Peter. Peter with dried tear tracks on his face and puffy eyes, but, still, he looked so normal. Peaceful. They were both dreading him waking up because they knew he would be back to hurting. Back to being scared.
A small, almost unnoticeable smile prompted by something in a dream was what almost broke Steve. Choking back a sob, he covered his mouth with a hand for a second and made eye contact with his husband. He opened his mouth as if to say something, gesturing helplessly to Peter. “I know,” Tony whispered, tears running down his face yet again. Steve almost began torturing himself with ‘why him?’ before remembering what his husband had said to him. Instead, he tortured himself with thinking about Peter wasting away in front of their eyes. That was almost worse than ‘why him?’. Peter was already thinner. He didn’t like the fact that he could so easily feel each individual rib. Tony noticed what was going on and pulled Steve’s hand into his own instead. “I know,” he repeated, pressing a light kiss to the side of Steve’s wrist.
FRIDAY woke them up the next morning, making sure they wouldn’t miss Peter’s appointment to have more scans taken of him. Tony groaned as he stretched his limbs out and looked to his left. Steve was still sleeping. Peter was staring at the roof, but clung to Tony once he noticed he had woken up.
Two seconds. That’s what he got of holding Peter before remembering why he was in their bed at all. “Hey, Petey. You been awake for long?” he asked with a soft voice. Peter just shook his head in response. “Alright, sweetie. We gotta wake up Pops, let’s crush him,” Tony smiled, trying his best to create a light atmosphere. He almost couldn’t hear it, but Peter huffed out a breath. He hoped it was a laugh.
Gently, he pushed Peter towards Steve, the boy responding with doing what he always did when he slept in their bed and Steve was the last one still asleep; he climbed over him and let his arms go out so he collapsed on top of him. Because that was normal. He wanted to feel normal. Steve awoke with a small groan. “Oh, another blanket? Thanks, honey, I was feeling kinda cold,” he joked as he wrapped his arms around Peter. The same thing he’d done every single time before that. It made Peter let out a small, but genuine, laugh.
Despite the ache in his heart, - in his whole body, really - Steve kept a happy front. And he tried not to think about how Peter shouldn’t be that light. How his ribs were so noticeably digging into his own. Where they’d be going in less than an hour.
All traces of normal were gone.
It’s spread to his brain.
We have to start chemo as soon as possible.
One single, way too short, year. That’s what they got. In a year, their kid would be-
As soon as Peter’s diagnosis was clear, Tony and Steve quickly made the decision that they’d be moving to the compound. There, they’d have a private team of doctors and other specialists - anyone who could make Peter better. The only thing Peter didn’t like about that was leaving Ned and MJ behind, but his dads assured him that they could come visit anytime.
But first, he had to tell them. He hadn’t talked to either of them since the days he had begged to go to school. His phone was dead. It had been for a while and he didn’t want to turn it back on. Happy picked them up from school, and Peter was anxious. He couldn’t stop touching his thumb to each of the other fingers, one at a time. Index, middle, ring, pinky, pinky, ring, middle, index, one, two, three, four, four, three, two, one, one, two-
“They’re on their way up,” Steve told him, a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. Peter nodded, not stopping his counting. “Listen,” Steve knelt in front of him, “we’ll be there with you. If you can’t tell them yourself, we’ll help you. Okay?” As if on queue, Tony walked into the room, plopping down next to Peter, and Steve got up from the floor, sitting on the couch with them. The ding from the elevator made Peter tense up, but was soon soothed by fingers drawing figures on his back.
Ned and MJ looked confused and worried and upset as they approached the three of them. Peter sent them an apologetic smile. “Dude, what’s been going on? You just disappeared on us,” Ned began, not sounding angry at all. Just anxious. MJ just observed with furrowed eyebrows. She couldn’t figure it out. She just knew she didn’t like the look on any of the three faces in front of her.
“You should sit down,” Steve said, gesturing to the two lounging chairs facing them. They did as they were told, both of them leaning forward; far from relaxed enough to lean back and enjoy the soft fabric.
“What is it?” MJ finally asked after several - too many, in her opinion - silent seconds. She didn’t bother hiding any emotion in her voice as she so often did and it made Peter flinch inwardly.
He cleared his throat. “The… the reason I’ve been… away is- uh- I ha-,” he muttered a curse under his breath, “I-I can’t, Dad.” His voice made it clear he was on the verge of tears; high pitched and almost breaking.
The two teens watching felt their stomachs ache. It was bad. It had to be. Peter was almost crying and Steve was looking at his feet and Tony held onto his left wrist as he took an unsteady breath.
“This is gonna be… difficult to hear, you’re allowed to react in any way that feels natural,” Tony opened with. MJ’s lower lip shook slightly because Tony never spoke like that. “As you know, Peter’s been sick for a while. At first, we thought it was just a bug. Then, he got pneumonia. And, uh… after that, he went to the doctor for his coughing. Turns out it wasn’t just a bug.” A dry laugh laced with pain escaped him. “He has lung cancer with spreading to the liver and the brain. It’s… It's stage four.”
“What?” Ned blurted out. It took a second before his eyes filled with tears, and he was frantically wiping them away. “No, but- what? Not- Peter, I- you-”
“How long?” MJ choked out, interrupting Ned.
Steve opened his mouth to answer, but Peter was quicker. “A year,” he whispered. Those two words made MJ cry; it was the first time Peter had seen that, and he only needed three tears to come to the conclusion that he didn’t like it at all. An ugly sob tore its way up through Ned’s throat and Peter hated it. He hated seeing his friends in pain. Especially when he was the root of it. It made him stand up. Ned and MJ followed suit. They met in the middle in a bone-crushing hug filled with tears, sobs, whispers and shaky breaths.
He wanted to enjoy the hug. A part of him did. But he didn’t like how not normal it was. How this would never have happened if everything was okay. None of them seemed to know what to say, so Peter felt better when he had managed to steer both of them to the couch. He turned on the TV and the PlayStation, handing out their designated controllers and they played Mario Kart. That felt normal. They always did that. While they weren’t yelling at each other, as they so very often did, Peter was more than pleased to just smile and laugh with them.
The two adults watched them from the kitchen; smiles on their faces too. Barely noticeable, but they were there. “Can we just stay in this moment forever?” Tony whispered, leaning into his husband’s side.
“That’d be something,” Steve agreed as he pulled Tony close, none of them taking their eyes off of Peter. Pure, bright, selfless, brilliant Peter who deserved the world. Soon - too soon - he wouldn’t even be in that world. The world that was so much better off with Peter. Anyone who knew him would agree.
Chapter 3: busy begging the past to stay
“Daddy?” Peter nervously pulled on his small, chubby fingers. It was the middle of the night, and he had just woken up. “D-daddy?” he attempted again.
“Would you like me to wake your dad up?” the voice from the ceiling asked him. Tony had added to JARVIS’ coding to have him speak differently to Peter. More child-friendly and less sarcastic.
“Yes, please,” four-year-old Peter said with a sniff. He hated waking up when it was still so dark. It only took a minute before he could hear his dad’s footsteps out in the hallway. The sound of the door opening made him calmer.
“Hey, buddy,” Tony smiled, sitting down on the bed. “Can’t sleep, huh?” The boy just looked up at him with big eyes, melting Tony’s heart. “Wanna come sleep in my bed?” he asked and received an urgent nod. “Alright, sweetie,” he chuckled and picked Peter up. With his small arms, he clung to Tony as he carried him to the bedroom and didn’t let go until he was in the bigger bed.
Tony laid down next to him, tucking the duvet around them both. The little boy scooted as close to his dad as absolutely possible, one hand holding onto his shirt. And Tony found it absolutely endearing. Never in his life had he wanted kids but when Peter was thrust into his life a year ago, it all changed in a matter of days. He was so, so hesitant at first but couldn’t deny how much his heart swelled with love when he looked at him.
One of the first things he learned about Peter was that playing with his hair made him tired. That soon became second nature to him; play with his kid’s hair when he couldn’t sleep. And whenever else he got the chance really, because how could you not want to run your fingers through those curls.
It only took a couple of minutes for Peter to fall back asleep and Tony took his opportunity to just look at him. His little boy. He really was the light of his life. Before him, nothing had ever mattered as much.
Tony had been nothing short of terrified that he’d take after his own father, but was proved wrong after just two weeks with Peter. He’d been in meetings all day, leaving Peter with a babysitter. When he returned to the penthouse, Peter had sprinted towards him, screaming “daddy!” as he flung himself at him.
He held the boy a little tighter, never wanting to let him go. They could just stay there forever, and Tony would be more than happy. His kid looked so calm and he felt so… like he wasn’t supposed to be anywhere else.
2009 was the worst year ever. Peter was sure of it. His dad had been gone since February. Now it was almost May. He’d thought of all the things that could have possibly happened to his dad that an eight-year-old could think up; the grown-ups would only tell him so much. In turn, those thoughts had caused many a nightmare. Peter often woke up feeling terrified, sometimes with tears on his cheeks, sometimes not.
With Tony gone, Peter had gotten to know his assistant, Pepper, even better and found much comfort in her. She was the one Tony had trusted enough to take care of Peter if he wasn’t able to. Of course, she stepped up to the task when Tony went missing, doing her best to manage both him and her work. She was nice, but Peter really missed his dad.
Finally, one day in May, Pepper came into his room while he was playing with Legos. With a smile on her face (and tears in her eyes?) she crouched down next to him. “Your dad’s on his way home, Peter. Do you wanna go meet him when he lands?”
It had rendered him speechless, but he nodded and gave Pepper a big hug. With a happy laugh, she returned the hug before standing back up again.
On the jet, Tony was aching to get back to his boy. Three months. Way too long. Was Peter okay? Would he be happy to see him? Had he grown? Had he cut his hair? He hoped not.
As soon as they landed, he stood ready to get off the second the back of the jet opened. When it did, his eyes immediately landed on Peter who was holding onto Pepper’s hand. They looked at each other, both almost crying. Tony hurried towards his son who charged at him. Choking back a sob, he lifted him up, holding him so tight, never wanting to be parted from him ever again. “It’s okay, Peter, it’s okay,” he soothed the boy when he heard him crying, carding his fingers through his curls which were even longer than when he left.
“Hey, Peter, you done with your homework?” Steve asked with a smile when Peter walked into the kitchen where he was preparing dinner.
"Yeah, Pops, is-” The boy slapped his hands over his mouth. He’d called him ‘Pops’ in his head for months. After all, he’d been with his dad for over a year and was a big part of Peter’s everyday life. And he really treated him as if he were his own son.
“I- I’m sorry, Steve, I didn’t mean-”
“No, it’s okay, I don’t mind at all,” Steve assured him with a grin. He was so going to gush to Tony about that when he got home that night.
“Really?” Peter asked, hopeful.
“Really, Petey. I like it.”
He relaxed at that, sitting down on one of the bar stools by the kitchen island. “Where’s Dad?” he asked.
“In some important meeting. He’ll be home in late.”
Peter hummed in response, watching as Steve finished up dinner. The plate of spaghetti that was put in front of him was soon empty. Steve’s cooking was always the best.
“Wanna watch a movie?” Steve suggested, putting their plates in the dishwasher.
“Sure! What movie?”
“You decide. Go put one on and I’ll pop popcorn. It is Friday.”
“Nice,” Peter grinned, hurrying to the living room. Going through their DVDs, he settled on the first Lord of The Rings movie. Extended edition, of course. He was on a mission to show Steve as many movies he had missed while he was in the ice as possible.
As mentioned, Peter had picked the extended edition. He knew it’d run way past his bedtime, so he had conveniently forgotten to mention to Steve that it was almost four hours long.
There was a reason Peter’s weekend bedtime was at eleven; he was almost always dead tired by then. That particular Friday was no exception, so by eleven thirty, he was sleeping against Steve’s side and there was well over an hour left of the movie.
That night had confirmed what he already knew - he really loved that kid.
When Tony returned home, the movie had just ended and Steve was playing with Peter’s hair. Tony looked at them, feeling a little - just a little - choked up.
“Hey, honey, I’ll take him to bed, just a sec,” Steve said when he laid eyes on his boyfriend.
“Alright,” Tony smiled, giving Steve a short kiss when he passed him with their kid in his arms.
In their own bed, Steve and Tony were almost asleep. “He called me Pops today,” Steve said. Tony lifted his head from Steve’s chest to look at him.
“He did?” he asked, the widest grin on his face. Steve confirmed it with a hum, hugging his boyfriend even closer to him, feeling like he really had a family. It was all he ever wanted, and so much more.
Tony would kill to turn back time. He wouldn’t even need to relive any of those moments. Just have Peter’s lungs checked out early enough. That was all he wanted.
He didn’t want to have to comfort his son because he was so terrified of what was going to happen. He didn’t want Peter only stopping his tears because there were none left. He didn’t want Peter shaking with fear.
He didn’t want to watch his son go through fucking chemotherapy. Which most likely wouldn’t even save him.
If he didn’t have Peter in his arms and Steve by his side, he would’ve screamed. But he’d have to save that for later. Locked in his soundproof lab.
That’s precisely what he did once Peter had gone to bed and Steve was in the shower. After having frantically made his way down to the lab, making sure to lock the door behind him, he just broke down and lost it.
I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but we’re all sure that you have lung cancer.
He’d held it together as well as one might expect after hearing that sentence. But he just couldn’t anymore.
He screamed, shouted, cursed the world. But most of all he just yelled out unintelligible frustrations. He was so angry, tearing papers, throwing tools and shoving furniture. He kicked the wall, screaming, screaming, screaming. Why not me? WHY NOT ME?
Why little Peter? Why the light of his life? Why not him? Why not anyone else? He’d never felt desperation to that scale. Had never felt what it was like to be willing to actually do anything.
He punched the wall too hard. “Fuck!” he yelled. “Ah, shit,” he winced at the feeling of a broken hand. A knock on the door made him whip around. Just Steve. He motioned for him to come in.
Of course, Steve knew the code, but he still always knocked. Because he knew the lab was Tony’s space. That’s where he always went when he needed to be alone.
Before Tony could open his mouth to start rambling about the disastrous state of his lab, Steve spoke up. “Don’t. I get it.” He put his hands in his front pockets, sending Tony a sad look that turned into a frown when he saw him cradling his left hand.
“I, uh… forgot that one wall is made of concrete,” he settled on. “I think it’s broken.”
“Oh, honey.” Steve walked over to him, placing a kiss to his forehead. “Let’s go get it checked out,” he said and Tony didn’t protest.
Just a couple days ago they had officially moved into the compound after having packed up just the essentials from the tower, having the rest brought up by someone Tony had hired; Pepper would supervise them. The medical team had arrived yesterday, so they’d be able to look at Tony’s hand.
He ended up with a cast. “I’m such an idiot. Peter’s gonna worry. He worries about everything,” Tony mumbled into his husband’s chest as they were lying in bed. Steve let out a long breath.
“He will. But you’re not an idiot. To be honest, it’s worried me how calm you’ve been. This… a reaction like this is more you. It makes me feel better that you’re still you.”
“You make me sound like a nut-job.”
“No. I just make you sound like you,” Steve teased lazily.
“You’re lucky I love you.”
“The luckiest man in the world.”
“Get some sleep, hun. Tomorrow’s a tough one.”
Tomorrow was Peter’s first chemo session. They'd all been prepped earlier that day. Fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, stomach pains, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, loss of appetite. Those were just some of the side effects Peter might get. And hair loss.
Peter was so nervous - to the point Steve and Tony were dreading to wake him up the next morning, so they waited for as long as possible. But not so long that they’d have to rush. It hurt that this was what every third week would look like from now on - chemotherapy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
With a sigh, Tony sat down on the edge of Peter’s bed. Carding his fingers through his messy, tangled curls, he spoke softly. “Peter, sweetie, it’s morning. You gotta get up. Pops is cooking breakfast for us.” When he heard a small groan from the boy, he knew he was getting somewhere and upped the volume of his voice slightly. “C’mon, Petey, open your eyes… There you go. Good morning.”
“G’mornin’, Dad,” he yawned, stretching out his body.
Tony patted his stomach. “You ready to get up?” Peter just hummed affirmatively as he sat up next to Tony, leaning on his shoulder for a few seconds before standing up. Spotting Tony’s cast, he did a double take.
“What happened to your hand?” he asked, looking so concerned it made Tony’s heart sting.
“Just an accident in the lab. Don’t worry about it,” he assured his son, who hesitantly nodded. Wrapping himself up in his fluffy bathrobe, he shuffled out of his room with Tony right behind him.
In the kitchen, Steve greeted Peter with a kiss to the top of his head. “Did you sleep well?” Steve put a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast in front of his son.
“Yeah,” Peter said, putting a small piece of bacon in his mouth.
“And here’s a high fiber smoothie for you. To keep you full.”
One of the oncologists on the team, Doctor Anne Reynolds, had explained how hungry chemo could make you feel and to eat food that keeps you full before a session. And to drink more water than you think you need; it dehydrates you. Bring snacks - but nothing sweet as it could make the nausea worse - and a water bottle, wear comfortable clothes and bring warm ones, have something that can keep you entertained.
So Tony packed a bag for Peter. It was filled with chips, crackers, sandwiches, four water bottles, two changes of clothes, a warm hoodie, a scarf, a beanie, a Rubik's cube, playing cards, and Peter’s laptop. He hoped that was all he needed because he couldn’t think of anything else.
Seeing as Peter would have three days in a row of chemo, they’d stay in the medical part of the compound for that entire time, but it was still the same building, so if Peter needed anything else, they could just go get it.
The bag was ready by the door. Peter was not ready on the couch; knees up to his chin, arms wrapped tightly around his legs. Why couldn’t he just sink into the couch?
“Petey? We gotta go now,” Steve said, kneeling in front of the boy.
Peter muttered a small “okay” before standing up. Tony threw Peter’s bag over his shoulder, looking at them. With one hand on Peter’s back, Steve lifted up the bag next to the couch that he shared with Tony.
The walk wasn’t a long one; it only took them three minutes to get to where they’d be spending the next three days. Still, Peter knew that when they were going back to their part of the building, he’d most likely be in a wheelchair.
This is a tough treatment. Just so you’re prepared, you’ll feel like hell after three days of that.
Then he’d get a little better for a few days, then even worse, then a little better. That’s three weeks, and then it’s the same all over again. Six cycles - four months - of that. After that, they didn’t know yet.
Sitting in a comfortable chair, Peter grimaced as Doctor Reynolds, “call me Anne, we’ll be seeing each other a lot,” inserted the IV in his arm. She would be his primary doctor during chemo treatments.
“We’ve talked about this before. But I just want to remind you that since this is your first time, we can’t know if you’ll have any unusual side effects, and that means that I—”
“Can’t give me any specific medication for whatever side effects I might have, ‘cause we don’t know. Got it,” Peter chuckled with a fake smile. There it was. Tony cringed at his son’s coping mechanism, knowing he’d gotten it from him. Making jokes, pretending it isn’t serious when it really is. Ever since Peter got that call from his doctor, he’d been waiting for it and had started getting hopeful he wouldn’t do that. But he did. He made a note to try and stop doing it himself.
Some lighter drugs were pumped into Peter’s vein to prepare his body for the heavy ones. In those lighter ones were, amongst other things, anti-nausea medication. It made him a little loopy and incoherent. And tired; they worked almost like sedatives.
Once they switched to the actual chemo drugs, Peter felt… better than he had expected. “Do you wanna play Uno?” Steve asked after having watched Peter closely for five minutes to make sure he was feeling okay.
“Yeah, sure,” the boy agreed, shuffling a little so he was sitting up straight.
A few rounds of Uno, and he was feeling nauseous. There was already a plastic bucket next to his chair if he should have to throw up. But it settled after a little while, and then he was only tired, really. The only abnormal thing he noticed was this weird warm sensation throughout his body. However, it wasn’t bothering him, so he didn’t say anything; he only relaxed and let his eyes close without falling asleep.
“You still haven’t figured it out?” Bucky asked Natasha when she walked into the kitchen with a scowl on her face after being gone for an hour or so. She shook her head and Sam tutted. They knew Steve, Tony and Peter were in the building. Ever since they’d arrived, their part of the compound had been locked off. So had a part of the medical wing. Bucky, Natasha and Sam, the only other current inhabitants, had been trying to figure out why - with no luck whatsoever.
It was all a bit worrying, especially the fact that they were obviously somehow in need of medical attention. They had asked FRIDAY all types of questions in hopes of trying to trick the AI into revealing what they were doing there, but hadn’t had any luck with that either. The only information she provided them with was that “Tony, Steve and Peter are currently in the building. I can’t tell you any more than that.”
So, yeah, they were worried.
What they didn’t know, was that they’d soon get answers. In just a couple of days, Pepper, Rhodey and Happy would arrive after having wrapped up whatever they needed in the city. They had all agreed on that plan; Peter, Tony and Steve moved first, as soon as possible, and the three remaining would follow as soon as they could.
And Tony and Steve had left it to them to break the news. They really didn’t want to. Peter was their main concern, and, honestly, they didn’t think they would even be able to break the news yet again. It hurt more each time. Because each time they got closer to the day it’d change from “Peter has cancer” to “Peter passed away from cancer”.
Peter got through his first day of chemo like a champ. But he knew well that he’d feel much worse in a few hours when his preliminary drugs had worn off.
First came nausea. Peter was sure he’d never felt that nauseous in his entire life. He threw up so many times, until his stomach was empty, and then he just kept on dry heaving. Then came the fatigue and bone pain. It felt almost like growing pains, except that it was his entire body aching instead of just one or two limbs. He'd gone to the toilet, and it had absolutely worn him out. When he had plopped back down on his hospital bed, legs hanging off the edge, he barely had enough energy to put himself in a comfortable position.
And the amount of water he drank. So much - his lips were so dry and chapped. It made Tony and Steve worry a little less about the fact that he still didn’t feel up to eating. He'd snacked a little during chemo, but nothing after that.
That’s why his dads almost cheered when Peter announced that he was hungry just before midnight - small victories. He was craving grilled cheese, and Steve gladly hurried to the kitchen in their part of the building to make enough grilled cheeses for all three of them - and then some.
It took him a while, but Peter managed to eat two of them. It made Tony smile. But just an hour later, he was nauseous again, and threw it all back up. And he couldn’t sleep and was so uncomfortable. Throughout the night, he kept tossing and turning, unable to settle.
His hospital bed wasn’t really a hospital bed. It was much bigger and more comfortable and was in a room with a bed for Tony and Steve as well. But none of them slept that night. Peter was unable to settle, the pain in his bones constantly nagging at him and nausea came and went in cycles. His dads sat in chairs next to his bed for the entire night, comforting him as best as they could with what little they could do.
When the IV was inserted into his arm again the next day, it didn’t take long for him to fall asleep once the preliminary drugs had been pumped into him. His nausea went away and his pain was subdued. At the sight of their son getting some rest, Tony and Steve visibly relaxed themselves, and sunk into their chairs. Tony was holding Steve’s hand maybe a bit too tight.
“You okay?” the blonde asked him. Tony hummed confirmingly, scooting his chair closer to Steve’s so he could lean his head on his shoulder. It made Steve smile softly. “Get some sleep, honey. I’ll wake you when he wakes up,” he whispered into Tony’s hair before planting a loving kiss to the top of his head. Again, Tony just hummed, and then closed his eyes, letting sleep take over.
Before he knew it, Steve was waking him, telling him that Peter was done for the day.
And it was yesterday all over again. Peter was in tears from the frustration of not being able to fall asleep and how sick he felt. “Just one more day, Petey. And then you have an eighteen-day break,” Tony comforted him in a soothing voice while playing with his curls.
Peter just whined and leaned into Tony’s touch. Steve frowned. He didn’t like it at all how miserable Peter looked. “Would you feel better in our bed with us?” he suggested, and saw the boy nod immediately. “Let’s move you, then.”
Slowly, Peter stood up. He almost threw up on the way over to his dads’ bed, but otherwise, those steps across the room were fine. Slow, but fine. Curling up in the middle of the bigger bed, the boy closed his eyes, but scrunched his face at the pain in his body. Already wearing comfortable clothes, Tony and Steve got in bed with Peter, sandwiching him. Peter cuddled up to Steve, holding onto his shirt with a tight grip.
“You comfortable, sweetheart?” Steve asked as he pulled him close and felt Peter nod against his chest. Tony held onto Peter from behind, minding his cast, and Steve let his arm that wasn’t holding Peter drape over both his son and his husband.
After hours of hair playing and soft singing and storytelling, the boy finally fell asleep, Steve and Tony soon following suit. A peaceful moment.
The third day of chemo was just the same; Peter dozed off at the beginning, they played some cards and listened to music. The only different thing was that when the IV was taken out, Tony packed up their bags. Steve got the wheelchair from the corner of their bedroom. Peter hadn’t used it yet, but the walk back to their part of the building was too long for someone who got winded by walking from his bed to the toilet.
“I wanna walk,” Peter said when he saw it. Steve sent him a concerned look.
“That’s okay, but we’re bringing it. Just in case,” Tony said, putting the bags in it so that Peter would see it could be useful even so.
Getting up from the bed, Peter felt faint, but still wanted to walk. “Pops,” he said, making the man walk over to him.
“Yeah, sweetie?” he said, looking down at his son. Peter didn’t answer, just grabbed onto his hand and pulled him along, taking small steps.
Yes, he wanted to do it by himself, but he was tired enough to want the comfort of having his Pops close. Tony pushed the wheelchair right next to them, and both men were very careful not to walk faster than what Peter was able to.
The further they walked, the tighter Peter squeezed Steve’s hand, leaning some of his weight on him. They were about halfway when Peter tripped over his own feet, resulting in Steve letting out a loud choked gasp as he caught the boy around his chest. Coughs and wheezes left Peter’s mouth and his eyes filled with tears of frustration.
“I can’t,” he whined, feeling his legs were about to go out and he was about to fall asleep standing up. His first round of chemo had taken a toll on him, and he had barely been able to force down any food after those grilled cheeses.
“Hey, it’s okay, Peter Pan,” Tony comforted him, lifting the bags onto his shoulder with his good hand. “You walked so much further than we thought you’d be able to,” he continued once Steve had helped the boy sit down in the wheelchair.
“You really did,” Steve confirmed with a kiss to his son’s forehead before standing up. He placed a kiss on his husband’s forehead as well, taking the bags from him. With a grateful smile, Tony started pushing the wheelchair forward, occasionally moving his right hand comfortingly to Peter’s head.
That’s all that went through Peter’s head. He couldn’t even walk from one side of the building to the other. After only one round of chemo. He had at least five left, and after that- Well… Peter quickly steered his mind away from what he knew was inevitably coming.
Peter knew Pepper, Rhodey and Happy would be arriving very soon, but wasn’t prepared for Pepper almost running into them when they turned the last corner before getting to their apartment.
“Hi, you guys. We just got here. Has everything been okay?” she asked, and if she was startled by the fact that Peter was in a wheelchair, she didn’t show it.
“Oh, yeah. Better than we expected,” Steve smiled, indirectly praising Peter for how well he had handled it.
“That’s great. Are you hungry, Peter?” she asked, looking at him with safe eyes.
Peter squirmed, knowing nausea would set in in a couple of hours. “Not really. Sorry.”
“Maybe later, sweetheart,” Tony comforted him, and Pepper noticed his cast, sending him a concerned look. He just shook his head subtly, and she dropped it.
Rhodey’s recognizable footsteps came closer, and he smiled when he laid eyes on them. “What’re you standing out here in the hallway for? Come on,” he broke up the borderline awkward situation, opening the door for them, letting Tony push Peter inside the apartment first, frowning a little when he noticed the man’s cast.
“Couch or bedroom?” Tony asked his son, stopping in the living room.
“Bedroom,” Peter mumbled, so that’s where Tony brought him. He didn’t want to be on the couch when he could start puking any minute. Didn’t want them to see. He just wanted his dads.
Putting on the breaks on the wheelchair, Tony stood in front of Peter, ready to catch him if he lost his balance. Not likely, with Tony having sat him right next to the bed, but still. Peter managed fine, and climbed up on the bed, closing his eyes as he felt the pain in his bones return.
“I’ll be back in five minutes,” Tony promised, sealing it with a kiss to his kid’s forehead before quietly leaving the room.
Everyone was gathered in the living room, Happy had appeared as well, seemingly just waiting for Tony. Judging by the looks they were giving him, Steve had told them the reason behind the cast. For a second, he let his eyes trail to the floor before looking up at Rhodey. “You guys settled in?” he asked, not knowing what else to say.
Rhodey’s mouth formed an almost unnoticeable sad smile as he pushed some air out of his nose. “Yeah, we’re good, Tones. Just got all our luggage up. How’s Peter?”
“He’ll be pretty bad for some days,” Steve helped when he saw his husband’s eyes become distant.
“Anything you need, we’re he-” Pepper was cut off by FRIDAY.
“Boss, Peter just threw up. He requests yours and Captain’s presence.”
Both men hurried to his bedroom, feeling their hearts break just a little bit more when they saw Peter in the middle of the floor, not having made it to the bathroom.
“I’m sorry, it just came so suddenly,” Peter apologized for the pile of sick in front of him, bottom lip quivering. At first Steve thought it was because he was nearly crying, but after a quick look over the rest of him, he realized his entire body was shaking from exhaustion and the muscle spasms caused by throwing up.
“Don’t worry about that, it doesn’t matter,” Steve said, crouching in front of the boy, and noticed he had a little vomit on his chin and hands. “How does a nice, warm bath sound, Petey?” he smiled, running his fingers through his hair, dreading that it would start falling out in a couple of weeks. Peter nodded at the suggestion, looking genuinely happy with the thought of having a bath.
“I’ll go get it ready,” Tony said, walking into the boy’s en suite.
“Let’s sit on the bed while Dad runs your bath,” Steve said, moving behind Peter so he could lift him to his feet by his armpits without stepping in the vomit. Tucking Peter into his side, Steve kissed his hair.
“I’m sorry,” Peter mumbled again.
“Shh, it doesn’t matter. Wasn’t your fault,” he soothed him.
While they waited, Peter was counting again, his thumb meeting the other fingers in order, until Tony stuck his head out. “It’s ready,” he told them
Carefully, Steve pulled Peter up with him, supporting most of his weight as they walked the few steps to the bathroom.
“Stay,” Peter said before either of them could ask. He was too tired to care about them seeing him naked, and he needed help getting into the bathtub; it had high sides.
Once comfortably settled, he closed his eyes and let out a sigh, noticing how it made the pain in his bones and muscles a little better. Tony reached under the sink for a bucket to have ready if Peter needed to throw up again.
“I’ll go clean up,” Steve whispered to Tony, kissing his temple.
“You’re an angel,” Tony smiled as his husband exited the bathroom. He sat down on a chair next to the bathtub.
“Do you want me to wash your hair?” he asked gently.
“Yes, please,” Peter accepted as eagerly as he could, loving having his hair played with. The tired grin on his face almost made Tony cry of happiness. He stood up, retrieving Peter’s shampoo from the shower and sat back down again. Next to the bathtub faucet was a shower head that he pulled up and turned on, gingerly soaking Peter’s hair.
Feeling the warm water run through his hair made Peter sigh, and he closed his eyes when he felt his dad’s hands massaging the shampoo into his hair. It was pure bliss. Tony could tell, and spent much more time than necessary on the task in front of him, only stopping when Peter flinched slightly. Without thinking, he reached for the bucket on the floor, placing it under Peter’s chin just before he started throwing up again. Not that there was much to actually throw up. There was really only bile.
He couldn’t do anything else than comfort his son through it and silently wishing he could take his place.
In Peter’s opinion, the worst part was when he knew his stomach was empty, but couldn’t stop his body from dry heaving. His entire body tensing with each wave of extreme nausea, but nothing would come up. It went on for minutes. And it made him cry.
Getting a proper breath in, Peter settled, leaning back. “I’m done,” he panted, feeling so exhausted. Tony dried away Peter’s tears before quickly rinsing the bucket in the shower and then sat back down.
“I’ll finish washing your hair and then we’ll get you to bed,” he spoke soothingly, to which Peter nodded, eyes closed.
He rinsed Peter’s hair of the shampoo that had been in his hair through the many minutes of vomiting, and started massaging a new blob of shampoo into the brown locks. Peter relaxed even further.
When he had rinsed his hair again and put conditioner in it, Tony gave Peter a washcloth and his body wash. The boy accepted them wordlessly, sloppily washing his body while the conditioner worked on his hair.
Once again, Tony rinsed Peter’s hair. “You ready to get out?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Peter confirmed, sitting up properly.
“Hold on just a sec,” Tony said, standing up. Opening one of the cabinets, he pulled out the biggest, fluffiest towel he could find, and threw it to hang over his shoulder so he could use both hands to help Peter.
Grabbing both of Tony’s hands, Peter slowly stood, climbing out of the bathtub. With both feet planted on the floor, Tony momentarily let go of him to wrap him in the towel.
“FRIDAY, where’s Steve?”
“In the living room with Colonel Rhodes, Mr. Hogan and Ms. Potts.”
“Tell him to come to Peter’s bedroom and find some warm, comfy clothes for him.” Tony didn’t want to leave the warm bathroom before he knew there were clothes ready for his son; who was still shaking ever so slightly.
“Got it, Boss.”
“Wanna brush my teeth,” Peter said, turning towards the sink, taking careful steps. It was a slow process due to the mouth sores that had begun developing from the chemo, but he still brushed his teeth, feeling a little better when he was done.
There was a knock on the door before it opened. Pops. “Hey. Got your favorites,” he said, holding up the softest hoodie and sweatpants Peter owned in one hand, while in the other he had boxers and a pair of fuzzy socks for the boy.
“Thanks, Pops,” Peter said, smiling lazily as he finished drying up and reached for the clothes. Steve handed him the boxers and both men looked away when he put them on to give him as much privacy as they could. But Tony made sure to keep his hands on Peter’s side, his eyes on the ceiling. Just in case.
Maybe Peter could’ve done it by himself, but neither of his dads liked the idea of the boy balancing on one leg while trying to put his foot through each pant leg of the sweatpants with how faint he was looking. So Steve kneeled in front of him, bunching up one pant leg at the time while Tony kept the boy steady.
Having successfully gotten the sweatpants on, Steve stood up and helped him put on his hoodie as well, smiling at him when his head popped up, as if he was a little toddler, and kissed his forehead.
“You ready for bed now?” Tony asked.
“Mhm,” Peter hummed, “I’m tired.”
Steve held onto his son as they walked towards the bedroom and had him sit on the edge of the bed for a few seconds so he could put the fuzzy socks on him. The chemo had made him freeze easier, so they made sure he was properly bundled up in his comforter on the bed.
“How’re you feeling?” Steve asked, sitting on the bed.
“I’m alright. Just wanna sleep,” Peter mumbled, eyes drooping.
“Alright,” the man chuckled. “If you need anything at all, let FRIDAY know, and we’ll be right there with you.”
“Okay, Pops. Thanks.” He let himself drift off. Tony and Steve looked at him for a few seconds before leaving him alone, heading for the living room.
Tony stopped his husband by grabbing onto his arm before they could reach the living room. He needed a moment. Steve looked down at him with his eyebrows furrowed in concern, and Tony spoke up before he could ask. “I wasn’t expecting him to get so… frail so quickly.” Steve’s heart clenched at the thought. It hurt to see their son barely able to stand on his own feet after one round of chemo.
No more words were spoken, but the hug Steve pulled his husband into said it all. In each other, they found comfort, love and understanding. They stayed that way for at least a minute before Steve pulled away to cup the smaller man’s face. Raising his eyebrows slightly, he asked wordlessly if Tony was okay. Tony nodded, smiling as he leaned into the familiar touch, his own arms still around Steve’s waist. In the middle, they met in a soft kiss, lingering, as there were no one watching them.
Steve sealed the intimate moment with a kiss to Tony's forehead before they walked to the living room hand in hand.
It was obvious that they'd saved Tony and Steve a seat; Happy and Pepper were in lounge chairs, while Rhodey was occupying one end of the couch, leaving more than enough room for the couple to sit down.
“How is he?” Rhodey asked, watching Tony lean into Steve.
“Sleeping,” Tony answered relieved. To make it more comfortable for his husband, Steve lifted his arm to let him rest against his chest instead of his shoulder, and held him close.
“That’s good,” Pepper commented, noticing how tired Steve and Tony looked. Still, they stayed up, talking them through what the first three days of chemo had been like. They didn’t like what they heard, but Steve reassured them Peter had handled it well.
“What time is it?” Steve asked after they had sat there talking for a while. Looking to her wristwatch to check, Pepper took a breath.
“Ten past eleven.” When no one said anything more, she spoke up again. “I was thinking of heading down to explain all of this to Bucky, Natasha and Sam. FRIDAY said they’ve been asking questions non-stop. But it’s a bit late, so I think I’ll head to bed now. I’ll talk to them tomorrow. That sound good?”
“Yeah. Yeah, thank you, Pepper. We really appreciate it,” Steve answered, squeezing Tony’s shoulder. At that, she stood up from her chair, smiling at them as she walked out of the room, bidding them a good night.
The night ended with Rhodey pointing out to Steve that Tony had fallen asleep. With a fond look on his face, he bid the others a good night and lifted Tony into his arms without jostling him too much.
He successfully brought him to the bedroom and stripped him of his jeans and sweater, leaving him in his boxers and a white t-shirt, without waking him. The times Tony slept this deeply were few and far between, and he had a feeling it would only get an even more rare occurrence in the coming months. So he was very careful not to wake him, tucking him in gingerly, and getting into bed with slow movements, settling right next to him with a sigh.
The worried frown that never seemed to leave Tony’s face was gone in his sleep, and Steve just watched his husband until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore.
also, for the second flashback, this is the reason i chose to have tony's kidnapping set in 2009. did some research about when it was supposed to be, and that one seemed the most legit and exact. just in case anyone was confused about it not being 2008 ahahah
Chapter 4: pools of sorrow, waves of joy
A knock to his bedroom door startled Bucky a bit. Natasha never knocked; it was her bedroom as well. And Sam normally just yelled Bucky’s name, used to getting a reaction from that. Sam’s bedroom was on the same floor, but quite far from theirs for some privacy, and they all shared a large living room and kitchen, courtesy of Tony Stark.
Putting down his book, he walked over to the door, opening it. “Pepper? What’s going on?” he asked, his tone confused.
“I, uh… It’s best if you just go to the living room, and I’ll get the others.”
It wasn’t often he had heard that woman sound so uncertain, so he did as she told him. He shrugged as Sam walked in and sat next to him on the couch. Lastly came Natasha, looking like she came straight from the gym, Pepper right next to her. “Sit,” Pepper prompted her, standing in front of the three of them for a few seconds before sitting down in a chair facing them. She tried to keep her professional composure, but the three Avengers saw right through it.
Pepper swept her eyes over them once and took a breath; almost speaking, but stopping herself. How to word it? She exhaled heavily and took another breath.
“What about Peter?” Natasha asked warily, her pulse quickening at the mention of his name in combination with how upset Pepper seemed to be.
When she didn’t answer, Sam leaned forward. “Pepper. What’s going on?” he asked. Bucky sat quietly, trying to keep his breathing calm.
A thousand thoughts flew through each of their heads.
“He has… Oh god. He has stage four lung cancer with spreading to his liver and his,” a sharp intake of air, “brain.” The last word was barely audible.
They were all silent for several seconds. “What? Wait- what?” Natasha asked, hoping she’d heard her wrong. The stone cold spy who always hid her true emotions didn’t have a chance at stopping the tears that gathered in her eyes. Clenched fists. Nails digging into her palms. Bucky unconsciously pried her fingers open, letting her squeeze his hand instead.
“You’re kidding, right?” Bucky breathed out. He got no response. “Pepper, please, be kidding.” He was terrified. Please be a joke. The worst joke in the entire universe, but he didn’t care as long as it wasn’t true. His eyes were wide, trying to process her words.
Sam just looked at her in shock. Had that sentence actually come out of her mouth?
“I wish I was, Bucky,” she said, a sob escaping her mouth before she covered her face with her hands.
“What is- How long?” Sam asked, fully aware of the fact that that advanced lung cancer rarely ended well.
“One year. At most,” she whispered, not able to meet anyone’s eyes.
“No,” Natasha begged, “not him.” Her voice was thick with tears; she couldn’t hold them back anymore. She startled a little when Bucky let go of her hand and stood up abruptly.
“I- I can’t,” he mumbled, walking quickly to their room. Once he had some privacy, he tugged at his hair, trying to wake himself up from this nightmare. He pinched himself, slapped himself and splashed cold water on his face but he couldn’t seem to fucking wake up.
Because it couldn’t be real, please. Not Peter. Ever since he met him, he’d had a soft spot for the boy, never able to resist those brown, wide puppy eyes. That little boy just couldn’t have cancer. He couldn’t stand the thought of him dying. And, oh god, Steve. He’s Steve’s kid. His best friend’s kid. Bucky knew him well enough to be certain that he wouldn’t handle this well. Knew how much he loved his son.
“FRIDAY?” he grumbled.
“Yes, Mr. Barnes?”
“Can I go see Steve now?”
“I’m sorry, but all I’m authorized to tell you is that he’s in the building.”
“Goddamnit, let me see Steve!” he roared, ignoring the tears on his cheek. He had to see Steve; had to be there for him, so he hurried back out into the living room.
“Pepper, I need to see Steve. Please.” He didn’t care that he sounded desperate.
She nodded. “We can go now if you want?”
“Yes. Thank you,” he sighed.
“I’ll have FRIDAY make their part of the building available to you again. But… just Bucky right now. Peter’s pretty tired today,” Pepper explained, everyone accepting her answer with solemn nods and lowered eyes.
“The deal was three crackers, right?” Tony said, trying to get Peter to eat more.
“Please, Dad. It really hurts my mouth,” Peter complained. That was new to Tony. He hadn’t said anything about his mouth hurting.
“How does it hurt?”
“These mouth sores. They’re really annoying. I want something soft.”
Oh, yeah, mouth sores. Yet another side effect they’d been warned about. “Anything in particular?”
“Soggy corn flakes?” was the first thing he could think about. He wanted something with little taste.
“Sure, kiddo, I’ll be right back,” Tony smiled, ruffling his hair.
In the kitchen, Steve was cooking dinner for him and Tony. “Is he eating?” he asked when Tony walked in. Tony sent him an amused smile.
“He wants soggy corn flakes.”
“Soggy corn flakes?” Steve laughed.
“As long as he’s eating,” Tony shrugged, pouring corn flakes into a bowl.
“Yeah,” Steve agreed, passing his husband the milk he’d just used in the alfredo recipe. Tony took his time, making sure all the cereal was soft, letting the milk make it all soggy. He managed to spill a little milk on his cast, but pleased with the result, he brought the bowl and a spoon to Peter who was sitting on the couch.
He actually ate all of it. “Was that any good?” Tony asked, his nose scrunched up a little. Peter shrugged.
“Didn’t really taste anything, and hurt a lot less than crackers, so yeah, it was good,” he smiled tiredly. Tony counted that as a win. It would take some getting used to, though. Chemo made things taste differently and it had given Peter mouth sores. He made a note on his phone to remember to research what foods could be good for Peter.
“Can I go back to bed?” Peter yawned, feeling almost as if he had a fever.
“Of course you can. Let’s go,” Tony said, putting his phone down as Steve walked into the living room.
“Going back to bed?” he asked his son with a gentle smile on his face when he saw him getting up.
“Yeah. ‘m really tired.”
“Have a nice sleep then, sweetheart.” He kissed his forehead. “Dinner’s ready in twenty minutes,” he said to Tony, hinting for him to stay with their son until that. Tony wrapped a secure arm around Peter, even though he could tell the boy was relatively steady. Just in case. He couldn’t fix what was going on, but he sure as hell wouldn’t risk doing anything that could make it even only slightly worse. Not one to shy away from comforting physical contact, Peter just leaned contently against his Dad’s side as they walked to his bedroom.
Steve just smiled at the sight, walking back into the kitchen to keep cooking when he was interrupted by someone walking in the door that separated their apartment from the rest of the building, and went to greet whoever it was, expecting Pepper.
And, yeah, Pepper was there. But his breath caught in his throat when he saw Bucky was right behind her. It took him a second to compose himself. “Hey, Buck.”
Oh, Steve, Bucky thought. That fake front of I’m totally okay might work on everyone else. But not on him. And he knew that Steve knew that. He had a suspicion it was for Pepper.
“I, uh, was in the middle of cooking dinner, actually. Would you mind taking over just for a little while?” he asked Pepper, cocking his head towards his best friend to signal he wanted some alone time with him.
“I’ve got it, Steve,” she assured him with a hand on his arm.
Not quite sure where to bring Bucky, Steve ended up leading him to one of the guest rooms, closing the door behind them. “Steve, I’m so sorry,” Bucky said sincerely and was ready when Steve leaned into him for a hug. He only held him tightly, keeping quiet, and almost winced when he both felt and heard a raw sob escape Steve’s throat.
“I don’t know what to do,” Steve whimpered between cries, clinging to his best friend who was trying his best to comfort him. All Bucky wanted to do was to tell him that everything would be okay. But he couldn’t.
“I’m here,” he settled on, not knowing how else to help.
“He’s so young. And so good, I just- I can’t, Bucky,” Steve mumbled, trying to catch his breath in between sobs. He just couldn’t anymore and completely broke down in Bucky’s arms. Sitting them both down on the bed, Bucky held him while he sobbed his heart out.
Knowing his best friend, Bucky was nearly certain he’d been holding it all back for Peter and Tony’s sake. That’s why he didn’t try shushing him and calming him down. He needed to let it all out. Needed to scream about how fucking unfair it all was. And scream he did. Screamed and yelled his heart out, constant tears running down his face. About how scared he was. So, so scared. Every time he allowed his thoughts to stray one year into the future, he almost threw up. He knew what was coming, and it was the worst thing he could imagine.
He cried about Tony. How it was so obvious that he was barely holding himself together. And what he had said that night after they’d been told Peter - their child - had tumors in his lungs. It haunted him, hearing those words leave his husband’s mouth. Whenever Tony had that distinguishable broken, distant look on his face, Steve could only hear those words.
If he dies, I can’t—
But most of all, he cried about his son. Peter. “He’s fading away, Buck. S-so skinny already, and he’s barely eating. God, it fucking hurts,” he sobbed, hating the thought of how Peter was gradually becoming lighter to cradle in his arms. But, still, he couldn’t imagine anything better in this world than holding his little boy. It was equally painful and heartwarming.
Bucky held him until he had cried himself to sleep. Whenever he thought about how small Steve used to be, it was still a little strange to him that he was so big now. But sleeping, he could almost be mistaken for that scrawny boy he’d been back in the day.
With a sad smile on his face, Bucky made sure Steve was comfortable before leaving the room to let him sleep in peace. He let out a long breath, burying his face with his hands to calm down as much as possible so he wouldn’t worry anyone. That thought made him stop in his tracks - Steve had rubbed off on him. Always pushing his own needs away for the sake of others.
“Hey, you seen Steve?” Tony asked from the dining table when Bucky walked in.
“Yeah, he’s in the guest room furthest down the hall. Sleeping,” he said, clenching his jaw. It was barely noticeable, but Tony picked it up.
“And?” Tony prompted him to explain.
“And, he broke down completely and cried himself to sleep.”
“Thank god. He’s been holding back this entire time. But it’s so damn obvious that it’s all fucking gnawing at him from the inside,” Tony croaked, bottom lip trembling just in the slightest, trying his best to keep his emotions at bay in front of his husband’s best friend.
“It’s how he is. You know it’s just his way of protecting you two.”
“Yeah. I know.” Tony breathed through his nose, looking down on his wristwatch when it beeped. It felt weird to have to wear it on his right wrist because of his cast. “Pills,” he chuckled dryly. “I gotta go feed my son some pills. You should probably see yourself out, I might stay with him for a while.”
“How’s he holding up?” Bucky inquired, standing up.
“He, uh… You can see him tomorrow if he’s up for it, alright? Sam and Nat too.”
“Okay. Take care of yourself, Tony.” He glanced down at the man’s left arm, which prompted him to casually hide it behind his back.
“Guest room at the end of the hall, was it?”
“Yeah,” Bucky sighed after a silent second, sending Tony a look concern, even though he couldn’t see it; already halfway to Peter’s bedroom. “Shit,” Bucky muttered to himself as he walked out of their apartment, making his way down to his part of the building.
Natasha was in bed, seemingly waiting for him. “How is he?” she asked the second he closed the door behind him.
“I don’t know,” he sighed, “he was sleeping, and… God, just- Steve’s a wreck. Tony too, for that matter, but… I’ve known Steve for so long and I’ve never seen him so… distraught before. He cried himself to sleep, Nat.”
“I hate this,” she mumbled, tugging the comforter closer to her chin. Bucky got into bed, and held her tight.
“We all do. Try and get some sleep. Tony said we could all visit Peter tomorrow if he’s feeling well enough,” he whispered, placing a kiss to the top of her head.
“I love you, Buck,” she yawned into his chest.
“Love you too.” His voice was muffled by her hair and he found comfort in the familiar scent.
Confident Peter had consumed all necessary pills and was soundly asleep again, Tony went straight to the guest room. He curled up next to his husband, noticing how puffy his eyes were and the dried tear tracks on his cheeks. “Steve,” he whispered to himself, his chest aching as he traced a thumb over the man’s cheek. He drifted off to sleep with his family running through his mind, and it followed him into his dreams, which, for once, provided Tony with a good night’s sleep.
Both men felt rested when they woke up, and after FRIDAY told them it was only eight in the morning and that Peter was still deeply asleep, they stayed in bed a little longer. Tony was holding Steve who had his head right next to next to where the arc reactor had once been.
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Tony asked into Steve’s hair.
“Of course. I’ve just been… scared of making it worse.”
“It’s okay, honey. I get it,” Tony assured him.
An entire night’s sleep seemed to have affected Peter positively. The boy was less tired than the previous day, and he wasn’t nauseous. For breakfast, he had soggy corn flakes, and accepted Tony’s suggestion to have tasteless noodles for dinner. He still preferred the couch, his body feeling heavy and muscles and bones aching - not too bad, but enough for it to annoy him.
“You feeling up for some visitors today? Sam, Bucky and Natasha really wanna see you,” Steve smiled, looking down at Peter who was slumped against him, legs stretched out and feet on Tony’s lap on the other end of the couch. His eyes lit up a little at the idea.
“Yeah, I’d like that,” he told him. “When?”
“Right now, if you want,” Tony chimed in while massaging Peter’s feet, who nodded happily.
About ten minutes after Tony had told FRIDAY to summon the three Avengers, they heard them walk into the apartment. Peter perked up, moving his legs from his dad’s lap to sit up normally.
“Hey, kid,” Natasha greeted him with her signature smirk, leaning down for a hug so he wouldn’t have to get up. Bucky and Sam followed suit, and soon they were all lounging in the two couches in the living room, talking as if everything was normal. And Peter appreciated that so much. He knew he was visibly ill, skinnier than before, but didn’t care about that when they treated him just like always.
The way Peter kept changing his position, obviously in pain, made it hard for Sam to keep a straight face. He fought back when he felt his face scrunching up in pity, trying his best to be his usual self, throwing out jokes for the boy to laugh at.
“Kid, that looks miserable,” Sam teased as he watched Peter slowly eat his soggy corn flakes for lunch, and it made the kid giggle. A sigh of relief.
“Could be worse,” Peter smirked, mouth full of cereal.
“You’re doing good,” Tony commented with a ruffle to his kid’s hair, who only half-heartedly tried to get away.
“At least it doesn’t make me puke,” the boy laughed lightly. He’d eaten breakfast only a couple hours earlier, but both Tony and Steve agreed that as long as he wasn’t feeling sick, they’d try to get as much food in him as possible.
Halfway through the bowl, he pushed it away. “I’m full,” he yawned, leaning back into the couch with closed eyes. He let himself rest for a few seconds before opening them again; a soft smile on his face brought on by the people around him.
“Drink,” Steve encouraged, handing him a bottle of water which he accepted, taking a few sips before giving it back.
They honestly had a really nice time, Pepper joining them a little before dinner was ready, and Peter ate almost all of his noodles. Noticing Peter wasn’t comfortable at the dining table, Tony helped him over to the couch, and the rest followed.
It was a warm, loving evening, filled with smiles, stories and sentiment. All a big, very welcomed distraction that let them laugh and lightened their hearts for a few hours. The illusion was broken for Natasha when she noticed Peter scrunching his face up in pain, and the fifth time he did it, she spoke up.
“Peter,” she spoke softly as not to interrupt Steve and Bucky who were telling a story from when they were much younger. The boy looked at her with glossy eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked him, and he squeezed his eyes shut again.
“My head,” he whispered, wincing when the rest of the group burst out in a loud laugh. Tony turned to his right, where Peter was sitting close to him, just to see him genuinely laugh. The fact that his kid looked to be in pain wiped the smile off of his face.
“You okay, sweetie?” he asked, but Peter was covering his ears, eyes closed.
“Says his head’s hurting,” Natasha explained, and all attention was on them, funny anecdote forgotten.
“FRIDAY, lights at 20 percent,” he ordered, and gently pried Peter’s hand off of his ears. “Open your eyes for me, Petey. Do you have a headache?” he asked him, voice as soft as he could manage.
“Yeah, but I dunno,” he mumbled, “feels worse.”
“Never had one, so I wouldn’t know. But I guess that could be it.”
He frowned. “How long’s it been hurting?”
“Dinner, maybe? Not sure, but it just suddenly got a lot worse.”
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry. Do you wanna go to bed?”
“Please,” he whimpered, obviously keeping back tears. Steve wordlessly gestured for the others to leave with an apologetic look on his face, and they did so, very quietly, feeling bad for the boy. Suddenly they were reminded what was really going on. It wasn’t just another weekend at the compound.
“Can you please carry me? So dizzy,” Peter asked, and felt so embarrassed, but couldn’t bring himself to stand up on his own. He hadn’t really specified who he wanted to carry him, but then again, it didn’t matter.
“Of course, sweetie,” Steve said. Tony had almost said the same thing, but then remembered his cast. That wouldn’t be comfortable for Peter.
Trying his best to keep the boy steady, Steve carried him to his room. Tony muttered instructions to FRIDAY to make the bedroom as dark and silent as possible. “I’ll be back with something for him to take. Gonna see the doctor so we don’t give him anything that could be bad for him,” Tony whispered to Steve, who nodded as he put their son down.
The door closed silently, and Steve knelt next to the bed. “Dad’s just getting some medicine for you. Do you want me to stay here with you or do you wanna be alone?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Alone. Sorry, Pops, I just need quiet,” Peter mumbled, feeling bad that he was asking Steve to leave.
“That’s okay, baby,” Steve smiled, even though Peter couldn’t see it. “Remember, Dad’ll come back in a few minutes with some medicine, okay?”
“Yeah. Thanks. Love you.”
“Love you too, Petey.” He stopped himself from placing a kiss on the top of the kid’s head, and left the room. Right outside, he let himself slide down the wall, sitting down on the floor with his knees up to his chest. He wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his forehead against his knees, eyes closed. For the umpteenth time, he was reminded of how much he hated seeing Peter in pain.
And he just sat there until Tony’s voice startled him, too far gone in his own mind to register his footsteps approaching. “Steve?” His head whipped up. They shared a look.
“He wanted to be alone. Said he needed quiet, and then had the nerve to feel bad about it,” Steve explained with a tired smirk.
“It’s like he’s designed to break our hearts,” Tony commented, and held up a standard pill vial containing only a few pills. “I’ll be right out, honey.”
Steve smiled up at his husband who opened the door quietly, and listened to his and their son’s whispers which were clear as day to him thanks to his enhanced hearing. He’d learned to control it so he wouldn’t have to hear everything all the time. But with his mind solely focused on the conversation in the room behind him, it was like he was in there with them. He’d always loved how caring Tony was with Peter. How gentle, kind and loving he could be. Nothing like the Tony Stark the rest of the world liked to think they knew.
With a silent click, Tony closed the bedroom door. “Come on, handsome,” he said, putting his right hand out to help Steve up. He accepted it, but made sure not to actually make Tony pull his full weight up.
“When’s this thing coming off?” he asked, trailing a finger over the cast.
“Two weeks,” Tony groaned, already so over it after less than a week. It didn’t sit right with him, having done something to himself that prevented him from taking as much care of Peter as he wanted to.
“Not that long. You’ll be alright,” Steve smiled, and lazily bumped Tony’s hip with his own, getting a chuckle in return.
“I’m always alright.”
Chapter 5: you fill up my senses
Forty-eight miserable hours later, the migraine let go when Peter threw up everything in his stomach. Tony hadn’t slept at all, on constant alert if anything should happen to his son. Steve had dozed off once for a couple of hours, leaning against Tony who was relieved to see him resting. As much as they wanted to squeeze Peter between them to comfort him, they mostly left him alone so he could rest. Only going into his room to give him water, try to coax some food in him, make sure he took his pills, or replace the cold compress that the boy said made it a little better.
It was FRIDAY who alerted them that Peter was throwing up. They ran from the living room to discover that he’d made it to the bathroom by himself, and was knelt in front of the toilet. It was obvious he was in discomfort, tears streaming down his face, and he could barely get a breath in. Steve crouched down next to the boy, cooing and stroking his back comfortingly while Tony dampened a washcloth and got a glass of water ready for the boy.
The vomiting stopped, but he dry heaved for a little while before he sat back, out of breath. Steve gathered him up in his arms while Tony washed his face, smiling softly at his son. “You feeling any better?” he asked, brushing sweaty curls away from his pale forehead.
Peter nodded. “Mhm, head feels better,” he mumbled with his eyes closed, “I’m tired.”
“You can go back to bed in a minute. Maybe brush your teeth first?” Steve suggested, and the boy nodded again, getting up on his feet with some help. Minding his mouth sores, he brushed away the acidic taste in his mouth before heading back to bed.
“Wanna take a bath when I wake up,” Peter yawned as Steve tucked him in, feeling gross, but too tired to do anything about it.
“Sure, Peter Pan,” Tony smiled, stroking his hair soothingly.
“Get some sleep,” Steve whispered and gave him a kiss on the forehead. The two men walked away from the bed to give their kid enough peace and quiet to sleep.
“We love you,” Tony spoke from the doorway, leaning into his husband who had an arm around his waist.
“Love you too,” Peter responded, sounding fatigued, yet happy. With the door closed, Tony dropped his head to rest on Steve’s shoulder who then moved his hand up to his hair in an attempt to comfort. Tony hummed affirmatively, leaning even more of his weight on him.
If it hadn’t been for Tony sighing, straightening himself up and heading for the living room, Steve honestly would’ve scooped his sleep deprived husband up and carried him to bed. The tugging on his hand prompted him to follow him into the living room where Pepper and Happy were still sitting. Steve let Tony give them an update on how Peter was doing before he announced that they’d be going to bed, which Pepper was very pleased to hear.
They took a shower together; really just holding each other, whispering endearments, assuaging. Maybe they cried a little. Even if they did, there was no evidence of that when they had made their way into bed. There were only lazy smiles and loving eyes. A moment with just them. Thumbs stroking cheeks, lips brushing against each other and entangled limbs. They soothed each other to sleep.
With the room being light proofed, Tony had no idea what time it was when he slowly opened his eyes, face smushed in his husband’s chest. Shifting so that he could see Steve’s face, he smiled when he saw his eyes were closed, heavy breaths coming out of his partly open mouth. And he just looked at him. God, he loved him so much that it hurt.
Tony’s stomach growled, and he noticed how hungry he was, which meant that Steve would, without a doubt, be hungry as well. So he gently woke him up by pressing light kisses to his neck and poking his face. “Honey, it’s time to wake up,” he mumbled against his soft skin, and got a tired groan in return.
“What time is it?” Steve asked, pulling Tony to him and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Tony smiled, and tilted his head up for a proper kiss before answering.
“Don’t know, I haven’t checked yet. FRI?”
“The time is currently 11 am. You’ve slept for approximately 12 hours. You both needed it,” the AI informed them, and Tony scoffed playfully at that last comment.
“Is Peter awake?” Steve asked.
“No, sir, he’s still deeply sleeping. I recommend not waking him.”
Once again, Tony’s stomach growled. “You hungry? Wanna get some food?” Steve chuckled.
“Let’s just stay here a little longer,” Tony decided, entertaining the feeling of escaping reality if they just stayed in bed.
“Sure, doll,” Steve agreed, despite being quite hungry himself. Anything for Tony. Plus, he didn’t really mind just lying in bed with his husband. In fact, he adored it.
What finally roused them out of their drowsy state was FRIDAY informing them that Peter was beginning to wake up. “Let’s go. He said he wanted a bath, but I wanna get him to eat something first,” Tony said, pushing himself up with his good arm, and pulled a too big sweater over his head.
“You like my sweater?” Steve asked, not really minding at all. It was one of his favorite things, seeing Tony in his clothes.
“Oh, this is yours, dear? Well, gosh darn, I had no idea,” Tony teased. “I know you love it,” he added when he saw his husband just shaking his head fondly. He pulled some comfortable jeans on, Steve helping him with the zipper, button and belt. It had proved to be pretty tricky with a cast, but Steve was happy to help out in any way that was needed. He lifted Tony’s - his own - sweater up just a bit, pressing a sweet kiss to his hipbone before standing back up.
“We can do this,” he said, reassuring smile on his face as he held Tony’s cheeks.
“Yeah? ‘Cause I’m not so sure,” Tony sighed, leaning into the touch.
“Shh, none of that. We have a son to feed,” Steve whispered, letting his hands linger before dropping them from his face, one of his arms wrapping around the smaller man’s waist.
“We sure do.”
Peter was sitting up, and smiled at his dads when they walked into his room. “Good morning,” he beamed, looking almost normal.
“Good morning, sweetie. C’mon, let’s get some breakfast,” Steve said, grabbing Peter’s soft bathrobe and a pair of slippers for him.
A rush of dizziness passed through Peter when he stood up, thanks to how little he’d eaten. He held onto Tony’s hand as they walked, slowly, to the kitchen.
“What’re you hungry for, Petey?” Tony asked, opening the fridge.
“Take a wild guess,” the boy chuckled as he adjusted to sit more comfortably in one of the barstools at the kitchen island.
“Whatever could it be?” Steve joked, voice laced with fake confusion.
“I think it rhymes with groggy horn snakes,” Tony smirked, sending a playful wink to his son who giggled. He got the milk out of the fridge and looked over to his husband. “Omelette?” he asked, and Steve nodded with a soft smile on his face.
“I’ve got it. Make the boy some groggy horn snakes,” Steve said, grabbing the eggs from Tony who snorted out a laugh.
“FRIDAY, add corn flakes to the shopping list,” Tony spoke up when he noticed they were almost out.
“Corn flakes added,” the AI confirmed.
“While we’ve got you here, FRI, why don’t you put on Pete’s favorite playlist?” Tony added while pouring milk over the corn flakes, his heart maybe skipping a beat when he saw the genuine smile on Peter’s face. FRIDAY didn’t answer, only streaming the playlist at a comfortable volume in the kitchen.
“Thanks, Dad,” Peter said when his bowl of cereal was placed in front of him, and mumbled the lyrics to You Make My Dreams between small mouthfuls of food. He ate all of it. He even drank some of the milkshake Steve had whipped together to be especially easy on his mouth sores.
“Can Ned and MJ come here this weekend?” Peter asked, both looking and sounding hopeful. He really wanted to see them before his hair started falling out. The thought made his stomach tighten.
“Of course. Just text them and have them check it with their parents. I’m sure Dad will have someone drive them up here,” Steve confirmed, and Tony nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, I’ll send Happy down.”
“Oh, no, he doesn’t have to go all the way there and then back again. Can’t anyone else do it?” the boy inquired, not keen on inconveniencing Happy. He knew the man wouldn't mind, but it still made him feel bad.
“Sorry, kid. I don’t want them to be driven by someone they don’t know. Happy’s the most reliable of ‘em all. I only want the best for your friends,” Tony explained. Sure, he could’ve hired another chauffeur for that particular drive, but MJ and Ned were just kids. Kids he’d grown to care about, as a matter of fact, and he knew he could trust Happy to get them from A to B safely. In response, Peter only shrugged, opening the group chat with his two best friends. At least he’d tried, and he could tell there was no changing his mind.
All of them having finished their breakfast, Peter squirmed a little when he brought his hands up to fix his hair. Ugh, gross, he thought when he felt how greasy it was. “I think I’ll have that bath now,” he said, nose scrunched up a little.
“I’ll come with you. Gotta make sure Dad’s cast doesn’t get wet,” Steve decided and put the dishes in the dishwasher.
“Yeah, I’ll build us a fort in the meantime,” Tony grinned at his boy.
“I’m not five,” he complained, albeit with a smile.
“No, but you still love it,” Steve chuckled, and met Tony’s eyes, “and mind your arm, honey.” Tony playfully saluted the two before heading to the living room to get started on his project.
Without it needing to be said, Steve held his hand out for his son who held onto it all the way to the bathroom. But Peter was considerably less faint than the last time he took a bath, and managed to undress and climb into the tub by himself. His face scrunched up again when he realized he hadn’t had a proper bath since the day he got back from chemo. “What’s wrong?” Steve asked from where he was sitting next to the tub.
“I just remembered that it’s been like five days since I last had a bath,” he explained.
“Huh, I didn’t realize. Not exactly the first thing on any of our minds right now.”
“That’s true. Maybe we could make, like, a schedule? So I remember to have baths and to eat and take my pills and stuff like that.”
“That’s a really good idea, Pete. Yeah, we can definitely do that.”
Peter hummed in response, feeling so relaxed in the warm water. It made Steve smile, and he squeezed a blob of shampoo into his hand to wash the kid’s hair. Once he had rinsed it out, he washed it again. And, as always, Peter loved the feeling of having his hair played with, but it also made him a little anxious.
“How does it work?”
“How does what work, sweetie?”
“My hair. How… how fast?”
“Oh. I’m not sure. It’s not gonna come out all at once, but I don’t know how long it’ll take.”
“Are you scared?”
“That’s okay. If you want, we can… we can shave your head when it starts falling out. Only if you want to. Your choice.”
“I think I want that. I don’t wanna- I just… It’s- I-” Peter groaned in frustration at not being able to arrange his thoughts into words.
“Hey, you’re alright. Deep breaths. We don’t have to talk about it anymore right now.”
But Peter had already been pushed over the edge, and was struggling to get a breath in. Steve noticed his chest moving up and down too fast, irregularly, and the way he was clenching his fists. He hated how used he was to recognizing and soothing anxiety attacks. Tony was an anxious, PTSD-ridden mess, and their boy had always been anxious as well; long before Steve came into their lives. Always a little hesitant, sensitive to the world and his own mind.
With Tony, he’d just have to be there. To be an anchor to keep him from slipping too far away. It was different with Peter. Still so young, still getting to know himself and didn’t know what to do when it felt like he was having a heart attack and his lungs seemed to shrink with each breath. He needed someone to guide him back.
While many shied away from physical contact when having an anxiety attack, Peter desperately needed it. Steve didn’t even have to think before he got in the bathtub, fully clothed, pushing Peter forward gently so he could hold him from behind. Putting grounding pressure on the boy’s chest with steady hands, he spoke with a calm, yet clear voice into his ear.
“Five things you can see, sweetheart.”
Peter fought to get enough air to speak, trying so hard to follow the rise and fall of Pop’s chest behind him. “M-my hands. Showerhead. Sham...shampoo. Wall. Cabi...net.”
“Good. Four things you can touch.”
“Tub. Water. T-towel. Your hands.” Shaky fingers brushed over Steve’s hands before he dropped them back into the water.
“Three things you can hear. You’re doing so good, baby.”
Peter let out a short sob and immediately heaved for his breath. “Pops, I-I-”
“You can do it. I promise. Three things you can hear.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. “Fan. You… you breathing. I don’t- I don’t know!”
“Yes, you do, you’re doing amazing. So good.”
“Water.” He had kicked his legs, causing some water to spill over the edge, splashing on the floor.
“I’m so proud of you. Two things you can smell now. Really focus, Petey, and you’ll be alright,” Steve encouraged.
He felt a little clearer. “Soap. You.”
“Good, Peter. One thing you can taste.”
“Banana.” The milkshake Steve had made for him.
His breaths were still unsteady, but Steve exaggerated his own ones while keeping hold of the boy. Peter had explained that it helped because he felt as if he were about to just float away and that was scary. He whispered encouragements into his ear, rocking them gently from side to side for several minutes until he felt Peter's hands on his own again; this time they weren’t shaking as bad.
“You with me, Peter?”
“Yeah, Pops. Thanks. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, nothing’s your fault.” He loosened his grip a little.
“Your clothes are soaked.”
“I have other clothes. And these’ll dry up. No damage at all done.”
Peter’s head slumped to rest on Steve’s shoulder. “As much as I want to let you sleep, you have to get out of there first,” he said, gently pushing him up so he could get out himself first to get a towel for him. Peter climbed out after him, closing his eyes when he was wrapped up in the towel. Anxiety attacks always wore him out. They drained him. He heard Steve talking to FRIDAY, mentioning Tony, as he mindlessly got dressed.
The bathroom door opened, and when Peter saw his Dad, he lazily leaned into him, sighing in relief when he felt him holding him securely. The two husbands had a silent conversation, which ended with Steve kissing the back of Peter’s head and then Tony’s cheek. “I’ll be right out,” Steve promised, ushering them out to the bedroom so Peter could lie down.
FRIDAY had alerted Tony about the situation mid-fort-building, causing him to slump down in the couch. He reminded himself a hundred times that Peter would be okay and that Steve was taking care of him in order not to end up panicking himself. Successfully, he kept himself relatively calm and was ready when FRIDAY told him that Peter was okay, but that they needed him.
The second Tony got under the covers, Peter buried his face in his chest. Tony’s left hand went to the boy’s hair, carding through it gently. By the time Steve joined them, Peter was positively asleep. Lying on the other side of Peter, Steve put an arm over both of them, caressing Tony’s shoulder. “You okay, darling?” Steve whispered, noticing his husband’s blank gaze. It took Tony a second, but he pulled himself down, meeting Steve’s eyes.
“Are you grounded?”
“Yeah. I’m good. Promise.”
“Good. I love you.”
“I love you too, honey.”
Three and a half hours later when Steve woke up, it was almost four in the afternoon. Peter had turned around, now clutching at his shirt, but Tony’s hand hadn’t left the boy’s hair. Briefly, he considered getting up, but decided against it when Peter let out a huff and cuddled closer to him. He smiled, running a gentle hand down his arm before reaching over the boy to rest it on Tony’s waist.
A soft-spoken FRIDAY reminded him that it was nearly time for Peter to take some pills. As carefully as he could, he loosened Peter’s grip on his shirt, and pulled his arm out from under the boy’s light body. Peter mumbled something in his sleep, but otherwise stayed still. Rubbing his eyes, Steve tiptoed out of the room to get the pills needed from the kitchen.
Hopeful that Peter might even have an appetite, he dished up another smoothie for him, bringing that, the pills and a glass of water back to the bedroom. None of them had moved even an inch in their sleep, and Steve wished he could just let them be, but took a deep breath before gently shaking the boy’s shoulder.
“Peter, sweetie. You gotta wake up.” A small groan made him chuckle. “C’mon, open your eyes, I can tell you’re awake,” Steve laughed, but Peter just groaned again, burying his face in the pillows. “Don’t make me bring out the tickle machine, kid. It's still in working order” Steve playfully warned, wiggling his fingers when Peter peeked up at him. Peter only yielded when he could feel fingers brushing over his sides.
“Okay, okay, I’m up!” he shrieked, and jerked away from Steve, startling Tony awake as he tried to cling to him for protection.
“You good, Petey? Any reason you’re acting like a koala?” Tony laughed sleepily, but wrapped his arms around his son, making sure not to accidentally hurt him with his cast. He may or may not have - not on purpose - punched Steve in the face in his sleep several times. Steve could confirm that it hurt.
“Pops was trying to tickle me awake,” Peter giggled, sending a not at all harsh glare in Steve’s direction.
“Oh, no, what a monster,” Tony gasped, clutching Peter to him even tighter. “Why was he waking you in the first place?”
Steve rattling a bottle of pills had Tony realizing the reason. After kissing his son on the forehead, he let him go so they could both sit up. Taking the pills noticeably affected the boy’s mood. He made a small grimace each time he swallowed one.
“Want a smoothie?” Steve offered him when he was done, holding it out for him.
“Sure! Thanks, Pops,” Peter smiled. Genuine, but dulled. Eyes glossed over by lethargy. He drank it slowly, finishing the entire thing before sliding down to rest his head on Tony’s lap. The man carded his fingers through his son’s hair, a melancholic smile on his face as he heard soft snores coming from his mouth.
The atmosphere was a lighter one that it had been a couple of weeks ago. They’d all gotten over the initial shock, and into a new rhythm. This was the way things were, and there was nothing to do but just live.
But Tony and Steve were a little worried about how Ned and MJ, who’d arrive at the compound in less than an hour, would handle it. First of all, they’d not seen him in weeks, and back then, he looked much healthier than now. The two dads weren’t sure how jarring of a change it was as they saw him every day. And, then, on top of that, were all the things that could go wrong. What if Peter got a migraine? Or puked his insides out? Or what if he simply had no energy to do anything but lie in bed? They were his best friends, they’d stay with him through anything, of course, but they were just kids. Or, what if one of them got a cold, and they’d have to send them back home immediately because Peter could not get sick.
“At some point, we’re gonna have to talk to their parents. Ask how much they think is okay for them to… to see,” Steve settled on, taking a sip of his coffee.
“I know. Let’s just let them enjoy this weekend for now, and I’ll set up a conference video call next week,” Tony agreed, sitting down on the other side of the kitchen island, facing his husband.
“How far out are they?” Leaning his chin on his right hand, Steve sported a lazy smile as he looked at Tony who unlocked his phone.
“About half an hour, loverboy.” When he had closed the app that showed Happy’s location, he met Steve’s loving gaze with a smirk of his own.
“You’re very handsome, have I told you that?” Steve spoke with a low voice.
“Just every day for the past five years,” Tony laughed, reaching out to hold Steve’s hand. “Can’t believe I’m banging the Star Spangled Man with a Plan,” he teased, barely able to contain his laughter, making Steve snort.
“You sure do know how to be romantic.” Steve got up to pour out his lukewarm coffee, stopping by Tony to kiss his temple, and leaned down so his lips were leveled with his ear. “And don’t kid yourself, doll. The Star Spangled Man with a Plan is the one banging you,” he whispered, poking his side, and chuckled smugly when his husband choked on his own spit.
“I’ll go get the kid,” Steve announced in an overly casual fashion.
“Jeez, Steve,” the smaller man laughed breathily, trying to wrap his mind around what just happened. Shaking his head with a grin, he stood up, getting the pills for Peter ready. Just as he sat a glass of water down on the counter next to the pills, he heard two pairs of footsteps getting closer.
“Let’s pop some pills!” Peter exclaimed with fake enthusiasm when he spotted the bottles lined up.
“Love the eagerness, let’s get to it,” Tony laughed, ruffling the kid’s hair when he’d sat down. Taking those pills were routine now, and part of that schedule he’d created with his dads. Tony had connected it to FRIDAY as well, so the AI notified Peter whenever he forgot something; like eating or if he went a little too long without a shower or a bath. He’d had a go at taking a shower instead of a bath, much to his dads’ apprehension who had stood right outside the bathroom door the entire time. It would be an understatement to say they were relieved when he admitted to it being a bit too taxing for him and that he’d much rather have baths.
“They’re here!” Peter burst out excitedly after having been on his phone for a little while. “MJ texted me saying they just parked.” The boy was beaming, but had to stretch out his limbs to try and make his achy bones feel a little better. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly bad as it could be. He couldn’t help but let out a giddy laugh when he heard them just outside the door, and he stood up to go greet them.
Happy had made sure both teens were healthy before bringing them, explaining that even just a cold could be dangerous for Peter. Ned solemnly swore that he was, and MJ just mumbled “same”. No matter how hard she tried to act indifferent, Ned could tell she was excited - and nervous - to see Peter again.
It showed particularly well when she raised herself slightly up on her toes as Happy unlocked the front door of Peter, Tony and Steve’s apartment. He let them enter first, just as Peter rounded the corner and came face to face with them.
“Ned! MJ!” he exclaimed happily, scurrying over to pull them in for a group hug. He didn’t even have to persuade MJ this time. She willingly brought her arms around the two shorter boys.
“You look like hell,” she smirked, arms crossed over her chest when they’d pulled away.
“Thanks,” Peter laughed, pleased that MJ was acting like… well, like MJ.
With smiles on their faces, Tony and Steve watched them reunite. When first greetings were over and done with, MJ picked up her bag and turned to look at the two men. “Sup, guys?” she said casually.
“Nice to see you again, MJ,” Steve chuckled, and then ruffled Ned’s hair. “And you, Ned.”
Tony shook his head fondly, and made eye contact with Happy who was standing just inside the door. “They behave nicely on the way up?” he asked playfully.
“Mostly, except for when they harassed me into getting them sundaes from McDonald's,” Happy faked annoyance.
“What were you expecting? We’re kids,” MJ deadpanned, but Peter was sure he saw the right corner of her lips lift just a tiny bit. The two boys had become quite good at reading MJ to understand her actual sentiment.
“Come on, I’ll show you where we’re sleeping,” Peter said, motioning for them to follow him. He only had one bed in his own room, so he’d asked very nicely if the three of them could use the biggest guest room where there were two king sized ones. He’d share with Ned, as they’d done hundreds of times throughout the years.
Apart from seeing the obvious physical change Peter had gone through since they last saw him, MJ noticed very clearly how slowly he was walking. She was used to a ball of energy who took long, quick steps, but now he was shuffling along at a much slower pace. His baggy clothes hid how skinny he’d actually gotten, but his gaunt face and bony wrists were good indicators. Ned frowned when he saw Peter kept squeezing his right forearm as if it was hurting, but didn’t say anything. Because Peter looked so happy. He understood why his mom had warned him that it would be different.
As soon as they’d settled in, the three of them sat on Ned and Peter’s bed, watching a vine compilation, acting them all out. “Oh, I forgot, you guys are probably hungry if you only had an ice cream earlier,” Peter suddenly remembered, adjusting his position to relieve some of the pain.
“I could eat,” MJ shrugged.
“Yeah, same,” Ned agreed.
“Pizza?” Peter suggested, to which he received two affirmative nods. “FRIDAY? Ask Dad or Pops if we can order pizza.”
“Will do,” the AI confirmed, and in the few seconds it took for her to get back to them, he confirmed that Ned wanted pepperoni and MJ wanted vegetarian. Nothing had changed there.
“Just let me know what you want, and the pizza will be here less than half an hour,” FRIDAY explained, and so Peter did just that. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to eat any of it, but he was happy to get his best friends the food they wanted. He wasn’t about to serve them soggy corn flakes.
“Okay, that is just miserable,” MJ commented, her mouth full of pizza as she watched Peter eat his cereal.
“So I’ve heard,” Peter laughed as he took another bite.
“I can pick off everything on a piece for you if you wanna try it?” Ned offered, feeling bad for his best friend.
“Thanks, Ned, but chemo kinda makes things taste weird,” Peter declined, deliberately leaving out the mouth sores. He wasn’t sure how much he wanted them to know. How much they could hear before it made them pity him even more - which he most certainly did not want. What they could see without being told seemed to be enough.
So he didn’t tell them that his bones and muscles were aching. That he could barely keep his eyes open. When he had to take pills before going to bed, he only told them he was going to say good night to his dads. And he didn’t say anything when MJ and Ned put on a movie he was too tired to even register the name of. He only fell asleep against Ned’s shoulder, who in turn carefully maneuvered him down so he was comfortable, and tucked him in. MJ watched on with a skeptical face. She didn’t know how she was supposed to feel, and she didn’t like that.
Before Ned could notice the look on her face, she scooted down in her bed, turning to face the wall. “Good night,” she said, barely loud enough for Ned to hear, but he whispered back.
Peter woke up at four thirty in the morning. It took him a few seconds to figure out that what had woke him up was… nothing? Both of his friends were deeply asleep, snoring lightly. Only thing he noticed was that he had to pee a little. So he got out of bed, tiptoeing to the en-suite.
With an empty bladder, he returned to bed. But as he laid there, bones still aching a little, he couldn’t seem to fall asleep.
Forty-five minutes later, Steve and Tony were filled in on the situation by FRIDAY, the AI having been updated to notify them when something was out of the ordinary with Peter. You could say that the two dads had grown a little paranoid.
“Right, uhm… What about Ned and MJ?” Tony yawned, not overly concerned. Peter was just awake. There wasn’t anything wrong.
“Both asleep, Sir. Would you like me to wake them?”
“No, let them sleep. Thanks, FRI. Let us know if Peter is still awake in half an hour.”
“Got it, Boss.”
“He’s been sleeping a lot lately. Maybe he’s just not tired,” Steve attempted as an explanation as to why their son would be awake at the ass crack of dawn.
“Hope so,” Tony sighed, cuddling up to his husband. He always felt so right with Steve’s arms around him.
“You better not keep yourself awake just in case Peter’s not falling back asleep,” Steve warned, burying his nose in Tony’s hair.
“I won’t,” Tony sighed, aware of the fact that Steve had become the master of soothing him to sleep. The larger man hummed in acknowledgment as he ran his fingers slowly up and down Tony’s back, satisfied when he felt his breathing slow down. Steve soon followed him in his light slumber.
Not that it lasted very long. Just as instructed, FRIDAY notified them again, thirty minutes later, that Peter was still awake.
“I’ll just shoot him a text. FRI would’ve told us if anything was wrong,” Tony mumbled, rubbing his eyes, to which Steve agreed.
dad: You alright? Fri says you’ve been awake for a while
Petey: yeah im fine
Petey: just cant sleep
dad: You sure? I can bring you some food if you’re hungry?
Petey: nahh i dont really have an appetite right now
dad: Alright, bud. Let us know if you need anything, okay?
Petey: okay i love u guys
dad: We love you too
Petey: oh and dad?
Petey: go to sleep
dad: Ditto, kid. If you can
“What’re you laughing at?” Steve smiled, to which Tony turned his phone, which felt strangely light in his hands, for Steve to see better. Reading over the texts quickly, Steve chuckled. “I agree with him, hun.” He grabbed Tony’s phone, putting it back on the bedside table before pulling him close again.
“It’s a miracle how well you’ve been sleeping these past few weeks. I was expecting your insomnia to act up,” Steve mumbled, lips brushing over Tony’s temple. They both knew too well that his insomnia thrived whenever he was stressed.
“Guess there’s no room for it.”
He sounded so drained; it made Steve’s breath hitch ever so slightly. “Is it crowded in there?”
“Yeah. Empty too.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“I don’t know if I can.” Tony’s voice was distant with a hint of fear. Steve furrowed his brows, moving so he could see his husband’s face. More specifically his eyes. They were distant too. He’d only seen that look in his eyes and heard him talk like that once before. That was very early in their relationship, when the nightmares and the panic attacks - which he hid from Steve - about flying through a wormhole became too much and his brain floated away. Everything existed through a lens.
“Tony. Tony, look at me,” he demanded gently when he didn’t meet his eyes like he usually did.
“I’m- I’m going, Stevie,” Tony whispered, the words not even feeling like they came from his own mouth. His fingers curled, and it frustrated him that he couldn’t remember having told them to do that.
“You’ll push through it. You did it last time.”
“Go to sleep. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but I’m right here, and you’re right here. I’ve got you.”
“I love you.” The words spoke themselves, leaving Tony with a confused look on his face.
“I love you too. You’ll push through.” Steve sent him a look of concern. Last time it had taken three days. Tony had no memory of it, except for how overwhelming snapping out of it had been. How loud, bright, clear and solid everything was.
“Peter? Why are you awake? It’s only nine,” MJ whispered as not to disturb Ned when she had opened her eyes, looking over to the bed next to hers. She knew Peter liked to sleep in late when he could.
Peter shrugged. “Woke up, and just couldn’t sleep,” he explained.
She studied him with a suspicious look, but deciding to let him off the hook, she didn’t say anything. “Wanna put on a movie?” Peter suggested, knowing Ned was a heavy sleeper.
“Sure,” she yawned, relaxing back against her pillow.
“FRI? Just put on… I don’t know, Mulan, I guess?” Peter spoke, at a low volume, and turned over to see if MJ agreed with his choice. She sent him a thumbs up. FRIDAY turned on the TV, and made sure it wasn’t too loud, having detected how quietly Peter spoke to her.
By the time Mulan had flawlessly wiped all her makeup off, MJ had fallen back asleep. With a sigh, Peter decided to get up. Steve was a morning person, maybe he was up? Peter shuffled to the living room, but found no other people awake, so he just plopped down on the couch, telling FRIDAY to keep playing Mulan, but on the screen in front of him instead of the one in the bedroom.
Steve joined him not much later, pulling his son to him so his head was resting on his chest, and he could run his fingers through his hair. Tony was still sleeping, and Steve hated that he dreaded him waking up. He didn’t want to see his husband struggling to even just function, and he was desperately hoping that dissociation would let him go as soon as possible.
“Where’s MJ and Ned?” Steve inquired softly.
“Still asleep. Didn’t wanna wake them yet.”
“And you couldn’t sleep?”
“Guess I’m rested,” the boy shrugged.
“You sure? ‘Cause when you came to say good night, it was almost one am, and you woke up before five.” Steve was concerned.
“I know.” Peter didn’t want to talk about it, cuddling closer to his Pops instead.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Steve smiled, and kissed the top of the boy’s head.
“Captain, Sir just woke up,” FRIDAY informed them. It made Peter scrunch his face in confusion and look up at his Pops.
“Why’s she telling you that?”
Steve lied on the spot. “So I can haul him out of bed and make breakfast for all of us. Why don’t you go wake Ned and MJ up, and FRIDAY will let you know when food’s ready,” he grinned, ruffling the boy’s hair carefully.
The man kept the smile on his face until he heard the door to the guest room close, and then dropped his cheery facade. He’d asked the AI to let him know when Tony woke up because he remembered how stuck he was last time when he woke up alone.
It only hurt a little when he was met with Tony lying flat on his back, staring at what looked to be the ceiling. However, upon getting closer, it was clear that he wasn’t really looking at anything.
“Hey, Steve. I love you,” Tony mumbled, his lips moving by their own accord. His head fell to one side, eyes meeting Steve’s. They were filled with nothing; seemingly a void of the man they belonged to. In an attempt to make him feel real, Steve cupped one of Tony’s cheeks - the one that wasn’t smushed down in his pillow, that is.
“Hey, Tony. I love you too.”
Present him Tony mid-anxiety attack, and he’d know exactly how to make it better. But, this - Tony dissociated, distant, barely present in his own body - this was foreign. Having only seen it once before, it was all trial and error. It was to Tony, too. It was only the third time it had happened to him. The first time was when he’d escaped the Ten Rings and was wandering aimlessly through the desert. Rhodey had managed to snap him out of it when he put his hand on his shoulder. Not that he knew that back then. In fact, he still didn’t know. Steve didn’t know about that either.
In other words, he had no idea how to get himself out of a dissociative episode. First, it had been Rhodey, and then there was Steve.
“How’s Peter?” Tony asked on autopilot, squeezing his eyes shut for a second to try and make everything a little clearer. Steve sported a painful smile.
“He’s okay. It’s almost time for breakfast. You need to get up.” He’d learned not to give him a choice. Last time, it seemed to only make it worse. He couldn’t find his own mind, so Steve guided him instead.
With an affirmative hum, Tony pushed himself up, feeling light. Steve made it better, so he reached for his hand, closing his eyes when he felt him taking hold of his. “You’re right here,” Steve promised.
“I know you know. But look at me, honey.” Steve cupped his face to get as much attention as Tony could muster. “You’re here,” he briefly removed one hand from face to guide Tony’s right hand to his chest. “You feel that? That’s your heartbeat. And you breathing.”
“I know. I love you”
“I love you too.”
Tony knew these things. That’s why they were so hard to grasp onto. He knew his heart was beating and that he was breathing. Those were constants. Just like Steve. He couldn’t seem to hold onto him either. He was always there. But he did his best. Even though it felt like he was watching through a window, he tried to cling to his husband’s voice. His promises and reassurances and his voice. It was all so safe. But he still couldn’t seem to get back into his own brain.
Getting up, Steve picked out something comfortable for Tony to wear, which he changed into fairly quickly. “C’mon,” Steve encouraged, grabbing his husband’s right hand. Gently, he pulled him along, but stopped in his tracks when Tony winced and let out a curse. He turned around to see what had happened.
“Went to itch my eye, forgot about the cast,” Tony mumbled, and started walking again. “I love you, Steve.”
“I love you too, Tony.” Steve was curious if that was an attempt to snap out of it, but didn’t ask. Tony had told him that he loved him three times in the last five minutes, his brows furrowing a little each time.
“What’s for breakfast?” Tony asked, sitting down at the kitchen island. He was trying so hard to pull himself together for Peter’s sake. Didn’t want to let his little boy know anything was wrong.
“Pancakes. I thought I’d ask if Rhodey wanted some as well.”
While having Rhodey over was always a delight, this time it was to see if he could help Tony. Steve told FRIDAY to invite Rhodey over for breakfast, and a few silent seconds later, the AI informed him that he’d be there in ten minutes time.
Even though it was through a filter, the sound of Peter’s laugh never failed to make smile. “Good morning, sweetheart,” he grinned when he saw his son.
“Mornin’, Dad,” Peter beamed back, his two friends following right behind him, mumbling out good mornings of their own. The three teens sat down at the kitchen island, Peter next to Tony, and the other two facing them.
MJ got back up again. “I can set the table,” she offered casually.
“No, it’s okay,” Steve assured her.
“You’ve literally set the plates ready on the counter, I think I can manage,” she decided, picking them up, and placing them on the kitchen island. “Where’s the cutlery? And drinking glasses?” she asked, making it clear that Steve was going to let her set the table.
So Steve reached over to open one of the cabinet doors to show her the glasses, and then pointed to the drawers right next to the girl. “And cutlery’s right there. Thank you, MJ.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t sweat it,” MJ brushed it away, and finished the task in no time, soon back to sitting next to Ned.
Tony hung onto the three kids’ rambling, finding it comforting. He did his best to act normal, mostly just smiling at their antics. Ever the observant one, MJ could tell something was off, her eyes lingering suspiciously on the man’s distant eyes, but she didn’t say anything. Peter hadn’t noticed, and neither had Ned.
The front door opened, and soon after, Rhodey walked into the kitchen, big smile on his face when he saw all of them. “Long time, no see,” he exclaimed, standing behind Ned and MJ, one hand on each teen’s shoulder. He chatted to them about what they’d been doing since he last saw them. Ned did most of the storytelling, MJ shooting in a sarcastic comment here and there, or correcting Ned whenever he got too dramatic.
When about half of the pancakes were done, Steve put a plate with them on in the middle of the kitchen island, telling them to help themselves. Peter even grabbed one, taking a small bite, looking pleased when he’d swallowed it.
“Did you like it?” Steve asked, doing his best to hide how delighted and surprised he was by occupying himself with getting a place set for Rhodey as well. Stuffing another bite into his mouth, Peter nodded with a smile. The texture was soft enough, and the flavor wasn’t overwhelming. Steve was relieved to have discovered another food his son would eat. Passing his husband, Steve whispered discreetly in his ear to remind him to eat. Tony blinked once and picked up his utensils, eating away at the two pancakes on his plate.
The day flew by, the kids spending it inside - eating snacks, watching movies, playing video games, and the occasional board game. You might think MJ would be good at chess, but no. Ned was even worse, and just watched as his two best friends played round after round - Peter was having a lot of fun. He’d won four times in a row, but MJ didn’t seem to mind.
“Checkmate,” Peter smirked, again, MJ rolling her eyes playfully. “Wanna go back to the PlayStation?” he asked, which had the girl’s eyes widen.
“Yes, please!” she agreed immediately. Peter furrowed his brows in confusion at how relieved she sounded. MJ noticed, and explained. “Losing to you was starting to get boring.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Peter fretted, feeling really guilty.
“You were having fun,” MJ shrugged as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She made it clear that that conversation was over when she made quick work of putting the chess board away. Then she handed each boy a controller after having grabbed one for herself.
Meanwhile, after hours of trying to act as normal as possible, Steve had brought Tony outside in an attempt to help him. Rhodey was with them too. Steve had explained the situation when they’d finished breakfast. “Do you feel the wind?” Rhodey asked, flinching when a particularly cold gust of wind hit them. Tony didn’t seem to notice.
“Yeah,” he whispered, even so. He could feel himself cooling down and the way it was blowing his hair in all directions. They walked around, Steve steering them from lawn, to gravel, to asphalt and back around again. When he was getting too cold for comfort, he figured Tony and Rhodey would be as well, so he cocked his head towards the building - a silent question to Rhodey who nodded in response.
“Feels nice,” Tony commented when he felt the warm air inside.
“It does,” Steve agreed, proud smile on his lips.
Realizing it was almost eight already, Steve set course for the kitchen. Rhodey gently pushed Tony in the same direction, and they followed the larger man.
Lasagna was on tonight’s menu. Steve had Tony smell every ingredient to stimulate his senses as much as possible. Whenever Tony slipped a bit too far away, Steve grabbed his right hand firmly, and cupped his left cheek to reel him in. It made Tony smile each time, and even brighter when he kissed his forehead. If Steve didn’t notice, Rhodey would sling an arm around his best friend and squeeze his bicep, speaking softly to him.
With only a few minutes left until the lasagna was done, Steve cooked some noodles for Peter before getting FRIDAY to tell the kids to come to the kitchen for dinner.
Peter greeted them with a yawn and a wave. “Tired, Pete?” Tony asked, putting a hand on his shoulder when he sat down next to him; the same place they’d sat at breakfast.
“Just a little,” the boy admitted, leaning into his father, who wrapped an arm around him. Steve was proud. And it went up for him that Peter was what helped him the most in situations like these, even if the boy had no clue that he was doing anything at all.
This time, Steve had set the table before telling the kids to come to the kitchen, and received a smirk from MJ. He chuckled at her, patting her shoulder when he walked past her to get the oven mitts.
A nervous look on his face, Peter didn’t seem up to eating the lasagna. Before the boy could say anything, Steve put the bowl of noodles in front of him. “Thanks,” he simpered.
Ned hadn’t even swallowed his first bite when he complimented the dish. “I say this every time, but this is even better than my mom’s.”
“Thank you, Ned,” Steve laughed heartily.
“You’re still not allowed to tell her, though,” Ned warned with a smile playing on his lips, making Steve raise his hands in surrender.
“I would never,” the man swore, making the sign of the cross. Peter giggled at their antics, and was, as always, genuinely happy that his friends got along so well with his family.
Come two am, and Peter was still wide awake. Ned and MJ were too, refusing to go to sleep before their best friend.
“Just go to sleep, I’m fine,” Peter argued, repeating himself for the fifth time that night.
“So are we. Let’s put on another movie. FRIDAY, uh… The Philosopher’s Stone,” MJ decided, the movie soon playing on the TV in front of their beds.
“Seriously, guys, I appreciate, but I don’t wanna keep you up and ruin your sleep, you’ve got school an-”
“Shh, I’m trying to watch,” MJ interrupted him, and he let out a long sigh. He felt really bad for them.
Ned knew his best friend like the back of his hand, and decided to try one of the things that always helped him fall asleep - playing with his hair. “Put your head on my lap,” he quietly told Peter, who happily did as he was told.
“Yer a wizard, Harry,” Peter mumbled, closing his eyes for a second when Ned started massaging his scalp, and running his fingers through his curls.
Ten minutes of that, and he should’ve been asleep, but he was still wide awake, getting a little annoyed that he couldn’t even manage to fall asleep, but had a nice time watching Harry Potter.
He was brought out of his calm state when Ned let out a whimper. “MJ,” he quavered, and it caught her attention immediately, having never once heard Ned speak like that. She looked at them for a good five seconds before hurrying over to their bed.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked, sitting up, the way they were acting making him really anxious. None of his two friends knew what to say, but then he spotted Ned’s hand, and something dark in the middle of it. Peter touched it, and realized that it was a clump of hair. His hair.
Chapter 6: the sun will rise and we will try again
An array of distressed emotions flickered over his face, and that snapped MJ out of her stunned silence. “Peter, it’s okay. It’s okay, we knew this was gonna happen,” she tried calming him down, but Peter just pushed away from them, desperate for his dads. He almost fell out of bed, Ned grabbing his arm to prevent it, and rushed as fast as he could to get to his dads.
“Peter!” Ned worriedly called out, but MJ put a hand on his shoulder. She also grabbed the clump of hair from his hand, dropping it on the floor for now; just not keen on Ned to be holding or seeing it for any longer than necessary.
“He needs Tony and Steve right now. It’s okay,” she told him.
Peter wished he could sprint, but his body could barely handle a light jog. And still, it took its toll on him quickly; he stumbled, almost nose-diving right to the floor three times before he grabbed onto the door handle that would let him see his dads. First time, he lost his grip, but got it open the second time, stopping for a short moment, then walking into the room.
A raw sob tore up his throat, startling the two men awake from their light slumber. They'd both only fallen asleep less than half an hour ago. He spluttered nonsense as he walked to the bed, and Tony, being the one closest to the door, pulled him into his arms. He physically felt himself snap out of his fog, the need to protect Peter overriding absolutely everything else. He felt it all; it was almost too much, but moved his focus to his hysterically crying son who was shaking in his arms.
“You need to breathe. Peter, look at me, you need to breathe,” Tony encouraged, trying to get Peter to look at him, but he was avoiding his eyes. Steve pieced it together when he tried to calm him by playing with his hair, and instead of melting into the touch, Peter flinched away. An overwhelmed and confused Tony searched Steve’s eyes for an answer, and got it when his husband whispered “hair”.
The already upset Peter really didn’t need an anxiety attack on top of this, so Steve cupped his face. “Listen, sweetheart. Shh, listen,” he cooed, “you’re okay, we’ve got you.” Tears running down his face, eyes wide and mouth in a small pout, Peter looked much younger than he was. “Petey, we knew this was coming. There’s nothing we can do about it, and that’s okay. It’s okay, I promise.”
What they didn’t tell him was that the past couple of days, there’d been strands of hair coming out whenever they ran their fingers through it. Not much; just enough for it to be more than what could be considered normal.
Peter inhaled sharply, his crying breaking up his breathing into small gasps. “I’m so-sorry, I shouldn’t ha-”
“No, sweetie, shh. Nothing to be sorry about,” Tony soothed, rocking him back and forth as if he were a baby.
“MJ a-and Ned. Ned was- he was scared,” Peter cried, voice hoarse.
“He’ll be fine, MJ’s there. There’s nothing she can’t do,” Tony promised him, drying away tears with his thumb. “They’ll be there in the morning, you can sleep here.”
“I can’t,” Peter whined, voice cracking.
“What do you mean you can’t?” Steve inquired, tilting his head.
“Sleep. I… I can’t sleep.”
“You can’t sleep?” Tony clarified, feeling a little sick at the thought. Peter shook his head and then hid his face in Tony’s shoulder, puffing out warm breaths on his collarbone.
“I tried,” the boy croaked, “that’s why Ned was playing with my hair, and then… well, yeah. But- but I can’t sleep. I’m tired, but it doesn’t work.”
“Insomnia is one of the possible side effects,” Steve reminded them solemnly, wrapping his arms around both his husband and their son. “I’ll see the doctors tomorrow and ask if they have something that can help you sleep. Okay?”
A small hum accompanied by a nod made Steve smile. “Good,” he praised. “So proud of you.”
“We really are,” Tony added, but Peter just wriggled out of his arms to lie between them. He latched onto Tony, Steve holding them both from the other side of Peter. Upon feeling a hand in his hair, he squirmed away with a small whine, but was still clinging to Tony. Whoever of them that’d touched his hair seemed to get the hint, the hand making circles on his upper back instead.
“Can we listen to some music?” Peter mumbled.
“‘Course,” Tony smiled. “FRI, lullaby protocol.”
A playlist consisting of songs that never failed to calm Peter filled the room softly.
The boy tried his best to fall asleep, but couldn’t keep his eyes shut. Both Tony and Steve were wondering if they should distract him somehow, but he didn’t seem to want to move from the bed, having made himself very comfortable.
“You good here? Or d’you wanna do something else?” Steve asked him quietly.
“Stay here,” Peter whispered without hesitation.
“No.” Peter huffed a breath out before speaking again. “You two can go to sleep, I don’t mind.”
“We’re gonna stay up with you. Not sleeping is my specialty,” Tony chuckled, earning a glare from Steve, but the rest of his face revealed that he was really just worried.
“You need to sleep, Dad,” Peter argued lazily, playing with the fabric of Tony’s t-shirt - well, actually, it was Steve’s. He’d gotten used to his husband stealing his clothes a long while ago, and he still adored it.
“I’m fine, Pete. Really, don’t worry.”
Peter didn’t believe him, but didn’t push it, instead turning his head to stare at the roof. It was barely audible, but both Steve and Tony had fond smiles on their faces as they listened to Peter humming to the song that was playing. He fiddled with his fingers, and when, in Steve’s opinion, he’d picked at the lunula on his right thumb for too long, he grabbed his son’s hand. He held it, lightly tracing the lines on his palm, the outline of the entire hand, and the small hairs on the back of it. After a while, Peter retracted his right hand, only to replace it with his left, finding it very soothing, and it put the softest look in Steve’s eyes.
In the guest room, Ned had quickly calmed down, but the whole episode was, for them both, a grim reminder of the inescapable.
MJ had moved back to her bed, tucked under the covers. Ned had also gotten comfortable for the night, but none of them closed their eyes.
“This isn’t what it’s supposed to be like,” Ned whispered.
“It’s awful,” MJ said determinedly.
“I’ve known him for so long, I-”
“Don’t do that to yourself, Ned.” She let out a breath, turning to her side so she was facing him. “Can you sleep with music playing?”
“It helps me take my mind off things. Makes it easier to fall asleep.”
It was an effort to help Ned fall asleep, poorly disguised as something she needed herself. He saw right through her, but appreciated the act, so didn’t call her out on it.
“Uh, FRIDAY?” MJ felt a little awkward whenever speaking to the AI, not sure where she should look.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Jones?”
She cringed at being called that. “Please call me MJ,” she sighed, having told FRIDAY to call her that multiple times. It never called Ned Mr. Leeds, so she was pretty sure it was either Peter or Tony messing with her, always changing it back to Ms. Jones. “Anyways, what I was gonna ask was if I put on a playlist on my phone, could you connect it to the speakers here? And put it on a low volume?”
“Of course, MJ. Just put on the playlist you want, and I’ll handle the rest.”
“Thanks, FRIDAY.” She opened Spotify, soon locating her favorite playlist for sleeping. Upon pressing play, the sound only streamed from her phone for a couple of seconds before it was connected to the speakers around the room - which, for the record, seemed to be built into the walls and roof or something, because she couldn’t spot a single one of them. And she was certain there were several, seeing as the music was coming from all sides.
“Feel free to adjust the volume. I guess just tell FRIDAY, and she’ll fix it?” MJ mumbled, feeling her eyes starting to droop.
“It’s good,” Ned assured her. He paused. “You’re a great friend.”
“So are you,” she responded immediately. “Don’t tell anyone I said that. I have a reputation to uphold.”
“Oh, yeah, and what’s that? That you don’t care?” he chuckled.
“Bingo. Go to sleep.”
“You too. Good night.”
Steve deemed eight thirty in the morning an appropriate time to head over to the medical wing to see if he could get some sleeping medication for his son. He told FRIDAY to alert Peter’s primary chemo doctor, Anne Reynolds, that he’d be there in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, Tony brought Peter to the kitchen, dishing up pancakes for all five of them, taking a sip of his coffee at least twice every minute. He was very relieved that there was something else than soggy corn flakes he could feed his son - it wasn’t very nutritious. Pancakes weren’t exactly healthy, but they were certainly much better.
Leaning his head on his hand, Peter positively looked a mess. Bags under his eyes prominent, combined with his already emaciated face, he was the poster child of absolutely, completely, thoroughly worn out. Tony felt bad for him, but tried not to show it - it only made Peter feel even worse.
“Could you go wake Ned and MJ up? Pancakes are done in, uh… I’m guessing fifteen minutes,” Tony asked the boy who perked up a little at the mention of his friends.
He stretched out his body, both to try and get rid of the aching and to wake himself up - none successful, for the record. Approaching the bedroom door, Peter felt a little awkward. Was he just going to walk in there as if everything were normal? As if he didn’t run out of there in hysterics just hours earlier.
Taking a deep breath, he ran a hand through his hair to try and calm down, but soon regretted it. “Ah, shit,” he muttered to himself when he looked at the too many strands of hair in his hand. His pulse quickened, but he shook his hand, getting rid of the hair before he could work himself up over it.
The slow, heavy breathing he could hear when he opened the door let him know both Ned and MJ were still asleep. There was music playing softly from the speakers.
“FRI, lights at forty percent,” Peter ordered quietly, aiming for a gentle start of the day for his friends, “and turn the music up a little.”
It was enough for MJ, who soon stirred, blinking her eyes tiredly. She looked around the room before her eyes landed on Peter who was kind of awkwardly just standing by the door. “Morning,” she yawned. As if everything were normal. Peter smiled at her.
“Sleep well?” he asked her.
“‘Course I did. If I could steal this bed, I would.”
“Good.” Peter shifted his weight between his feet, and walked to the bed he’d been sharing with Ned, sitting down. “Ned,” he tried, poking his shoulder.
“Hey, Ned.” A little louder, this time with a shove. An unintelligible string of words left the boy’s mouth, drawing a small laugh out of Peter. Ned taking a few seconds to realize he was awake never failed to amuse him.
“Breakfast soon. Dad’s making pancakes,” Peter said, addressing both of them. MJ got out of bed, sending him a thumbs up before disappearing into the bathroom.
“P’ncakes?” Ned mumbled, cracking one eye open at a time.
“Yeah, Ned, pancakes,” Peter chuckled.
“Is Steve cooking?”
“No, Dad is today. Why?” Peter eyed his friend, entertained at how groggy he still was.
“Steve’s cooking’s better,” he groaned, making Peter let out a loud, genuine laugh.
“I know, but I think Dad can handle pancakes. You’ll live,” Peter chortled with a shove to Ned’s shoulder to help him wake up.
“What time is it?” he yawned, moving to lean against the headboard, halfway sitting up.
“Almost nine. I know it’s kinda early, but you guys are heading back home today so I wanted to spend as much time with you as I could,” Peter explained, playing with his fingers.
“I don’t mind at all,” Ned assured him when he noticed the nervous action. “You know I’m tired no matter when you wake me up,” he grinned, playfully bumping Peter’s shoulder with his own.
“Yeah,” Peter laughed, looking up when he heard MJ coming back into the room.
“You losers ready for breakfast?” she asked casually, a barely detectable fondness in the back of her voice, as she stood at the end of the bed.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ned saluted, ready for the pillow chucked in the general direction of his head, ducking before getting out of bed.
The three teens piled into the kitchen just a few seconds after Steve had gotten back. He sent a smile their way before it turned into a smirk as he turned to address his husband.
“I see you’ve managed not setting off the fire alarm with your pancakes,” he teased, arms crossed over his chest.
“Oh my god, Steve, that was one time,” Tony protested in a way that made it clear that this was something Steve often brought up for his own amusement.
“That actually happened?” Ned asked, grinning hopefully.
“It’s true, it woke everyone here up at like seven in the morning. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Auntie Nat scolding Dad while half asleep,” Peter recounted, smug smile plastered on his face.
“I’d pay to see that,” MJ shrugged.
“No need! FRIDAY, can you play-”
“Nope! Not happening, kiddo. FRI, don’t play a damn thing, thank you very much,” Tony interrupted his son, instead shifting everyone’s focus over to the pancakes that he was suddenly busy piling onto their plates. “Brat,” he fondly mumbled when he was standing behind Peter, and planted a kiss on the top of his head. The boy laughed, and thanked him oh-so-politely for the food.
“You wanna watch Star Trek?” MJ suggested, none of them able to settle on how they were going to spend the few hours left before she and Ned had to head back home.
“MJ, stop that, you hate Star Trek,” Peter sighed, slightly annoyed at the fact that she was being too nice. All weekend, she’d been up for whatever Peter wanted, and her teasing was down to an all-time low.
“No, I don’t,” she claimed.
“Yes, you do. You always complain when we make you watch it.”
“Well, maybe I have a newfound fondness for it.”
“You don’t,” Peter chuckled, his smile not reaching his eyes.
“How do you know?”
“Because I know you, MJ!” Peter snapped, taking both her and Ned by surprise. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Sorry, it’s just… I get that you’re trying to be nice to me because I- because I’m sick. And that’s… I really appreciate it, don’t get me wrong, but… I just wanna feel normal. Just for a little bit. I’m sorry, I sound like an asshole, I know-”
“You don’t, Peter. I’m sorry.” She looked down at her hands that were folded in her lap. “We… we get it. Right, Ned?”
“Yeah. Yeah, of course. Sorry, Peter.”
“Don’t be sorry, it’s okay. You guys are the best.”
The three of them went quiet, none of them really knowing what to say. They were in the living room, gathered on the couch, and tired of playing Mario Kart. Eyes cast downwards, it was Ned who broke the borderline awkward silence.
“How are you feeli- I mean, what… what’s it… like?” he asked, sounding very uncertain, but also like the question had been burning at the back of his throat for weeks.
“Ned,” MJ hissed. Peter just sent her a look to let her know it was okay.
“I’m… Do you really wanna know?” Peter asked, giving his best friend an opportunity to take back his question.
“Yeah.” He sounded sure.
“Okay. Uhm, I’m tired? A few days before you got here I could barely walk on my own. I was throwing up a lot, had a migraine, and my bones and muscles ache all the time. Right now I think I’m as good as I’m gonna get, and then it’s another round of chemo, and I’ll be back to feeling like crap times a hundred,” Peter explained with a strange smile on his face, almost flinching at how harsh the word chemo sounded and felt. “Ten out of ten would not recommend,” he added with a small laugh.
“This shouldn’t be happening,” MJ frowned, shaking her head.
“But it is. There’s nothing we can do about it, so… let’s just make the best out of it, okay?” Peter asked hopefully.
“I speak fluent Peter, and that right there means let’s just ignore this whole thing and pretend it’s not happening,” Ned smiled sadly. Peter met his eyes with his own tired, somber ones, but he was smiling too. A bittersweet feeling filled the three friends up to the brim, and MJ had to blink away a couple of tears.
Hesitating for half a second, Ned reached out for Peter, and pulled him in for a tight hug. “It’s okay, Ned,” Peter whispered, hugging him back as firmly as he could.
“It’s not, but that’s okay,” Ned mumbled, held on for a few more seconds before leaning back, hastily wiping away a few tears that were running down his face. Peter pretended not to notice, apparently very occupied with the loose thread on the side of sweatpants.
“What about…” MJ smirked, unlocking her phone, “a few rounds of guess the soundtrack?” She searched Spotify for a good soundtrack playlist, receiving optimistic nods from the two boys. It was a successful attempt at making the next couple of hours blithe ones. The game had become a thing of theirs at about three in the morning during a sleepover almost a year ago.
It was a simple source of hours of fun, and before they knew it, Tony plopped down in one of the lounge chairs. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. That’s easy, that’s The Shining,” he said, quickly realizing what game the kids were playing, and recognizing the movie’s main theme song.
“That is correct, Stark,” MJ, game master, announced, “one point for you. Nineteen more to pass Peter and get second place. Twenty four if you wanna be the golden boy.”
“As fun as that sounds, Jones, I’m actually just here to be the bearer of bad news. Thirty minutes till departure. Steve’s made some snacks for you to have before you leave, so go ahead and pack your bags, and get to the kitchen before I eat it all.” Playful look on his face, Tony lifted his hands to slap them down on the armrests, pushing himself back up. “Chop chop!” he jokingly called over his shoulder as he headed for the kitchen.
“Speaking of my last name - who’s fucking with FRIDAY’s code to get her to call me Ms. Jones every damn time I speak with her?” MJ demanded, standing up, and looked accusingly at Peter.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter insisted very innocently. “Let’s go, I’ll help you guys pack your… stuff.”
“Jeez, Pete, you couldn’t lie to save your life,” Ned snorted as they walked towards the guest room.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about either,” Peter claimed, but couldn’t even keep a straight face.
“Dork,” MJ poorly hid with a cough.
Bags were packed, snacks were consumed, hugs were given out in bountiful supply, and soon it was considerably quieter than it had been for the past couple of days. The boy’s shoulders slumped a little as if the air went out of him. While he hadn’t tried to hide from his friends that he was sick, he’d, without a doubt, worked hard to appear less worn out than he actually was.
“Got some pills from the doctor earlier. She said you’d have to wait until tonight to take them so you wouldn’t mess up your sleeping too bad,” Steve said when the three of them were alone.
“Sounds good,” Peter commented, failing to hide how relieved the news made him. He was so tired; the thought of falling asleep nearly euphoric to him. It was still a few hours until he could do so, but at least he had something to look forward to.
In an effort to make time pass, he plopped down on the couch, putting on The Great British Bake Off - it was surprisingly addictive. He lost count of how many episodes he watched, but when Happy joined him after driving all the way to Queens and back, he realized it had been more than just a few.
Peter being Peter, he let his head rest on Happy’s shoulder who he knew didn’t mind at all, but would deny it if asked; even though everyone had a soft spot for the boy.
“Season seven again?” he asked, just as obsessed with the show as Peter. It had kind of become their thing.
“It’s the best one,” Peter murmured, his attention on the screen.
“Hmm, you’re not wrong,” Happy hummed, lifting his arm to put it around Peter to let him cuddle up to him just like he’d done ever since he was little. It was one of Happy’s favorite things. He’d deny that too.
While it may not seem obvious, listening to Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry critiquing desserts was actually very soothing. Especially combined with Happy’s calm breathing. So soothing, in fact, that it had Peter’s eyes drooping. Before he even noticed it was happening, he’d fallen asleep. Nearly forty hours of no sleep was his body’s limit, apparently, because he was out like a light.
“I’ve always wanted to taste that mousse cake. Maybe if you ask Steve with those puppy eyes of yours…” Happy trailed off when he looked down to discover that Peter had fallen drifted off. He let out a relieved sigh - Tony had worriedly told him about the boy not being able to sleep.
The longer he looked at Peter, the more it hurt. He’d tried his best not to think about it, but that wasn’t easy when he had him sleeping in his arms. Up until that moment, he’d thought maintaining a certain distance was the best. That it would hurt less. He wanted to yell at himself for thinking such a thing. His time with Peter was running out, just like everyone else’s, and it became so obvious that doing anything other than spending as much as possible of it with him was foolish. Yes, it hurt to see him so up close, to see how the cancer was eating him up, but it hurt more to avoid him.
“Shh!” Happy stopped Tony. “He’s asleep.”
“Wha- he is?”
He nodded. “Dozed off a few minutes ago.”
“Good. That’s… very good,” Tony sighed, sitting down in the same lounge chair as earlier, this time making sure to be quiet. His expression as he watched his son was a blend of many emotions; most prominent were love and melancholy. He looked so small; like he should be covered by the red blanket he was so attached to as a kid.
Tony let out a heavy breath, running a hand over his face. “One sec,” he mumbled and got back up, walking to the kitchen where Steve was making some food for Peter to have before going to sleep. “Honey,” he breathed out, and gestured for him to follow him, leading the way back to the living room.
The sight of a sleeping Peter put a soft look on Steve’s face. “I’ll take him to bed,” he whispered, kissed Tony’s temple and walked over to the couch. Just like he’d done so many times before, he gently lifted his son, pausing a little to make sure he was still asleep before walking steadily to his room.
Having tucked him in, he stood watching him until he remembered Peter hadn’t had his pills so they’d have to wake him back up. “Damn it,” he muttered, walking out of the room silently, and made the decision to let him sleep for at least a couple of hours.
“Thank god he’s finally asleep,” Tony said when Steve sat down in the lounge chair next to him.
“We’ll have to wake him back up,” Steve groaned, rubbing at his temple with his index and middle finger.
“What for?” Happy asked from the couch.
“Pills,” Tony realized, letting his head drop back. “Let’s at least give him a few hours just in case. It’s still early.”
“‘Course,” Steve said, reaching a hand out towards Tony, who took hold of it with his own slightly unsteady one.
Happy stood up, shoving his hands in his pocket. He didn’t necessarily feel like he was intruding, but he’d been around the pair enough to know when they needed to be alone, even though they didn’t always know that themselves. “Well, I think I’m gonna say good night now. Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Happy. Have a good night,” Steve smiled, waving at him as he walked away from them. “You’re tired,” he sighed when it was just the two of them.
Tony let out a chuckle. “So are you, honey.” His thumb was drawing small circles on the back of Steve’s hand. “We’ll sleep later when Peter’s had his pills.”
“You can take a nap if you want. I’ll be here. You’ve been awake almost as long as Peter.”
“So have you,” Tony smirked.
“Not the point, babe.”
“If anyone should take a nap, it’s you. I’m fine with no sleep.”
“As a witness, I beg to differ. It wears you down, Tony. I know you can’t tell, but I can.” He lifted Tony’s hand, pressing light kisses to his knuckles.
“I’m fine.” Tony’s eyes were closed, his full attention on Steve now fiddling with his hand, drawing figures and touching it so gingerly it almost gave him goosebumps.
“You always are.”
Turns out Tony was way more tired than he’d ever own up to. It only took five minutes of Steve gently caressing his hand and lower arm for him to doze off. It didn’t come as a surprise, and he was happy to just sit there with him. In the past year, Tony’s insomnia had been making fewer appearances. It was kind of a big deal. Steve was beyond relieved at how often they went to sleep together instead of Tony coming to bed in the early morning hours or not at all. It would still hit him hard from time to time, but he was better than he’d been in a long time. Better than Steve had ever seen him.
When it looked like Tony was in quite a deep sleep, Steve decided that Peter wouldn’t be the only one he carried to bed that night. Still holding Tony’s hand, he stood up to place it in his lap instead of just letting it dangle over the side of the chair.
He wiggled one arm behind the smaller man’s shoulder, and placed the other one under his knees. Making sure he had a good grip, he slowly lifted him up. The feeling of Tony in his arms warmed his heart, putting a smile on his face that stayed there all the way to their bedroom where he put him down as gently as he could. He removed his husband’s shoes and jeans before tucking him in. Then a forehead kiss, and he left the room to go wake their son up.
On the way, he grabbed the pills from the kitchen, along with a large glass of water. He had FRIDAY turn on the lights at forty percent, and sat on the bed. What he did next was pure habit, and he was so relieved Peter was still asleep. He’d ran his fingers through his hair, and stared at the clump that’d come out. Quickly, he discarded of it in the trash can next to Peter’s nightstand, opting for running his hand up and down his back instead, and cleared his throat.
“Hey, Pete. You gotta wake up,” he spoke at a loud enough volume for it to register with the sleeping boy. The only reaction he got was a barely audible groan accompanied by him burying his face into his pillow.
“Just for a couple minutes, bud,” Steve chuckled. “You gotta take your pills.” Another groan. “I know, I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“I’m tired,” Peter mumbled, keeping his eyes shut.
“It’s okay, you can go back to sleep in a minute.”
“What if I can’t?” he whined.
“You can. I’ve got sleeping pills for you too. Now let me see those eyes, Petey-pie.”
He turned so he was facing him, and opened his eyes slowly, complying when Steve guided him to sit up. One by one, he swallowed the pills, nodding when Steve asked if he wanted a sleeping pill.
“You good?” Steve asked, watching as his son got comfortable again.
“Mhm,” he confirmed.
“Okay, sweetie. Go back to sleep.”
“And starve,” Peter mumbled instinctively. Steve furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.
“Are you hungry? I could get you some food if-”
“No, Pops,” Peter laughed, “it’s a vine.”
“Oh. Right,” Steve chuckled. “Well, good night, sweetie. Love you” He stood up.
“Night, Pops, love you too” Peter yawned.
“If you need anything-”
“I know,” Peter smiled lazily, one eye open to look at Steve who was standing by the door. He shook his head fondly, his smile not leaving his face until he fell asleep next to his husband.
“You sure you want this?” Tony asked, looking at Peter through the mirror.
“Mhm,” Peter nodded, determined, shifting his eyes from Tony to Steve, who was holding the hair clippers. When he turned it on, Peter flinched a little.
“It’s okay, we can wait,” Steve assured him, looking concerned.
“N-no. I wanna do this now. Feeling my hair fall out every time I touch it is worse.”
“Okay, if you’re sure, sweetie,” Tony smiled, Peter giving a tiny one back.
When the clippers were close to his head, he squeezed his eyes shut, but stood still. It wasn’t too bad at the back of his neck; he’d had tons of haircuts where they used clippers in that area. What did feel weird, though, was when he was nearing the top of his head. That was a new, not so nice experience.
“Doin’ alright?” Tony asked, watching Peter’s scrunched-up face. His own expression was similar, not at all enjoying his son’s adorable curls fall to the floor. He’d really miss running his fingers through them. And miss how much Peter loved it.
“Mhm,” he confirmed. “Just wanna get it over with.”
Nothing more was said until the haircut was finished. Tony was biting the inside of his cheek, fighting back tears at the sight of his son who was now bald. It made everything more real. More looming.
“We’re done, Pete. Just gotta blow the stray hairs away,” Steve explained, getting the hair dryer. Peter’s eyes were still closed.
He opened them when the hair dryer had been turned off and he felt two kisses on his head. Fighting the urge to squirm away from the foreign feeling, he studied himself in the mirror.
I look so sick, he thought to himself. Without hair on his head, his face looked even more gaunt, and the way his clothes were hanging off his ever-thinning frame didn’t make it better at all. He couldn’t help it when his face scrunched back up again; this time in distaste for his own appearance.
“It suits you,” Tony commented. But he’d think Peter was the most adorable kid no matter what he looked like, so it didn’t really count. Same thing went for Steve who was nodding in agreement.
So Peter scoffed. “It doesn’t. I just look sicker.” He tore his eyes away from the mirror, exiting his bathroom in a rush. He didn’t want to look at himself any longer.
They followed him into his bedroom.
“I think you look great, Petey,” Steve attempted.
“Please don’t. I don’t wanna think about it. I, uh… I’m gonna take a nap.” He curled up in bed, pulling the covers over him.
“Okay, sweetie. We’ll wake you up for dinner,” Tony said, but got no answer. His back was facing them and he was clutching the covers so tightly.
First thing Tony did when they got out of the bedroom was finding Happy, ordering him to go out and buy beanies, baseball caps, bucket hats, you name it. Anything the kid might want to wear. He had a feeling he’d want something on his head, judging by the way he’d looked at himself in the mirror.
It didn’t matter what Steve and Tony thought. Peter really hated what he looked like. And while that hurt to think about, both dads were willing to do whatever it took to make him feel just a little bit better.
Chapter 7: i intend to hold you for the longest time
ARE THE SUPERHERO HUSBANDS RETIRING?
Originally Posted on 29 Oct 2017, at 7:57 pm
Tony and Steve Stark-Rogers not making any public appearances for the past three and a half weeks has, understandably, started a flow of rumors. Avid fans have theorized everything from holidays to assassinations. However, the most popular theory is that this is the end of their careers as superheroes and the beginning of a comfortable retirement.
Tony is over halfway through his forties - I know, we can’t believe it either - and Steve will be an entire century old next year. The superhero business is a very dangerous and taxing one, so it would be understandable that they’d want to quit now, after all these years of risking their lives to keep civilians safe.
As much as they’ve earned it, saving the world and whatnot, there are a few things that just don’t add up with the retirement theory.
First of all, they haven’t made any public statements about it. They were not part of the fight that took place right outside New York City two days ago. Only Natasha Romanoff, Bucky Barnes, James Rhodes and Sam Wilson were present. People were, and still are, expecting an explanation as to why neither Tony or Steve Stark-Rogers were on the scene, but so far; nothing.
Another point that has been made is that their teenage son, Peter Stark-Rogers, has also been absent from the public for just as long as his parents. While not much is known about the boy, we all know seeing him out with his dads, or other Avengers, is a common occurrence, as well as seeing him outside the tower as he heads to and returns from school. This has led some to believe that they could have moved to a more remote city no one has figured out where is yet, since Peter would obviously have to attend school somewhere.
Something many have suggested is that this is nothing more than a successful attempt at a secret vacation. After the incident two years ago where the paparazzi figured out the address of their holiday home in Malibu, it would make perfect sense for them to do their best to keep their travel plans private. No one will ever forget the iconic video of the couple telling the paparazzi off rather aggressively. Rightfully so, as they had snuck into the backyard, spooking their then 14-year-old son who had been out there by himself.
So, the questions are many. Have we seen the last of Iron Man and Captain America in action? Are they on vacation? Are they just keeping a low profile? Or is something else going on?
Peter had just been scrolling on his phone, but handed it over to Tony when he saw the article. Tony held the phone in his left hand - he’d finally gotten the cast off the previous day.
“What’s wrong?” Natasha asked suspiciously as she eyed Tony’s skeptical expression.
“Press is speculating about why Steve and I haven’t been seen in public for a while,” he sighed, handing the phone over to Steve.
“What’s it say?” Sam asked, leaning forward. Everyone else was listening now too.
Bucky, Natasha, Sam, Pepper, Rhodey and Happy were all spending the day with Peter, Tony and Steve, seeing as the second round of chemo would begin the next day. They often popped in for short visits, but Steve had invited everyone over for dinner to take Peter’s mind off of things. By things, he really meant chemo.
“Just theories about why no one’s seen us. Looks like it’s tied between retirement and secret vacation,” Tony told them.
“Secret vacation would make sense, though. I mean, after what happened in Malibu,” Rhodey commented.
“A repeat of that, and I might actually throttle the paparazzi this time,” Tony muttered, not forgetting how much they’d scared Peter anytime soon.
“That makes two of us,” Steve agreed with raised eyebrows and slightly tense body language.
“Yeah, that was… not fun,” the boy agreed, a tad bit uncomfortable thinking back to the event, and adjusted his beanie. He was rarely seen without it now.
“Quite the understatement, kid,” Steve commented when he gave him his phone back.
“Can I see that, Peter?” Pepper asked, already planning out an approach to this in her head. “Thanks,” she smiled when he gave her the phone. Reading over the article swiftly, she soon handed it back, and straightened up, suddenly looking very professional.
“Alright, what we need to do is to make some sort of public announcement, or they’ll just keep on speculating. I’m thinking a small press conference where I choose who gets to be there so we know that whoever’s there are serious reporters. No tabloids, no people who’ve written or spoken negatively about you before, etcetera,” she suggested.
“You’re the expert when it comes to this. Sounds very good, Pep,” Tony approved.
“But what do we tell 'em? How specific are we?” Steve asked to clarify.
“We don’t lie, but they don’t need all the details,” she continued, and then made eye contact with Peter. “And you’re old enough to be part of deciding how much you want the press knowing. If you want them to know what’s going on with you, that’s okay, but we could also just tell them that there’s a personal emergency. They don’t need to know everything right now.”
“Yeah… Yeah, that last option sounds good,” Peter decided hesitantly. Pepper knew that they’d eventually have to come clean about what was happening, but didn’t say it out loud.
“Who’s gonna be holding the press conference?” Bucky asked. He was leaning back in the couch, arms crossed. Natasha was sitting next to him, cross legged, one knee resting on his thigh.
“Would you guys do it?” Pepper asked Tony and Steve, who both nodded.
“Definitely,” Steve confirmed, then looking down at a tense Peter next to him. “You don’t have to be there,” he assured him.
“Good,” he breathed out, not at all fond of crowds. Especially not ones where he would be the center of attention.
“I’ll arrange it for Tuesday,” Pepper said, looking around the room to see if anyone disagreed. Tony shook his head.
“That would be great, but… chemo’s Monday through Wednesday. We can’t leave Peter.” The boy squirmed at his Dad’s words, feeling like a bother.
“Oh, god. Sorry. I- Sorry, it completely slipped my mind for a second,” Pepper apologized, realizing she’d gone full work mode and forgotten about the actual nature of the situation.
“Thursday could work,” Steve suggested. “If someone could look after Pete while we’re gone.”
“I’m not a baby,” Peter protested lazily.
“No, but you’re not gonna be feeling well,” Tony told him, even though he knew Peter knew.
“Right.” He looked uncomfortable at the thought. He’d rather forget about it for as long as possible.
“We’re watching the press conference together, so we’ll all be here with him,” Natasha said, as if stating the obvious.
Peter was relieved, but also a bit reluctant to let them see him at his worst. Even if it would only be for an hour or so, it could turn out to be just when he’s puking his insides out. He wasn’t keen on anyone having to be there for that.
“Good. Good, thank you,” Tony smiled. How he’d ended up with such great friends, he’d never understand. Natasha sent him a half smile, a little put off by the way he was acting. The snarky, sarcastic Tony had faded away rapidly the past few weeks, and the change was kind of unnerving. She’d kill for a ‘thank you’ packed into a joke at her expense. There’d never been any doubt that Tony cared about his family and friends more than anything. But he’d always shown it in his own distinct way. Not like this.
“You’ve lost some weight, Peter,” Doctor Anne Reynolds said, her face expressing gentle concern when he stepped off the scale. Before each round of chemotherapy, he had to go through a few standard tests; a scan of his lungs, a physical examination, and a weighing.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Peter said sheepishly.
“It’s alright, I know it’s difficult to eat. What kind of foods have you had?”
“Uhm, it- it hasn’t been very varied,” he chuckled. “I’ve had a lot of smoothies and milkshakes. And pancakes and, uh… soggy corn flakes.”
“You’d be surprised how many people’s go-to food is soggy cereal,” Anne smiled reassuringly, writing down what he told her. “Well, everything is set. I’ll give you more antinausea drugs this time, that sound good?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice.”
After a last minute trip to the toilet, he settled in the same comfortable chair he'd sat in last time. “I’m sorry, I know you don’t like this part,” Anne apologized when she saw Peter squeezing his eyes shut at the sight of the IV. “You’re lucky you’ve got good veins, so I don’t have to stab you five times to get it right.” That got a slight laugh out of the boy. “There. All done!”
He relaxed his tense body, leaning back in the chair. “Bring on the drugs,” he smirked playfully, trying to hide how nervous he was. The first time he’d been scared because it was all new. He didn’t know what to expect, other than it being not nice. This time he was scared because he knew what it’d be like: very not nice. Maybe even less nice than last time.
With even more antinausea medication than the first time, he became really drowsy, curling up into a ball. Steve and Tony spoke softly to him, and by the time he was switched over to the chemo drugs, he was half asleep. He dozed off completely shortly after, and was only really awake to drink water. When awake, he recognized the warm sensation murmuring in his body that Anne had explained was completely normal, and nothing to worry about. It was constant, almost buzzing, and even though he’d describe it as warm, he still felt cold. He was wrapped up in a thick duvet, and was, as always nowadays, wearing his beanie.
It was Steve who woke him up when it was time to move to the bedroom. He blinked tiredly up at him. God, he looked so young. “We’re just gonna move to the bed, and then you can go back to sleep,” he explained, putting an arm behind his back to gently push him to sit up properly. “And Dad has pills for you that’s gonna help even more with the nausea later.”
“Mhm,” Peter acknowledged, stretching his legs out; they were pretty stiff after being curled up for hours.
“You good to walk?” Steve asked just to be sure.
“Mhm. Yeah, I’m good,” he yawned as he planted his sock-clad feet on the ground. “Where’s Dad?”
“In the bedroom,” Steve told him with a smile. Peter was adorable when he was tired. Shuffling his feet, he eventually made it there, Tony ready by the bed to tuck him in.
“You just go back to sleep,” Tony whispered, making sure the boy was comfortable, and kissed his forehead. With closed eyes, Peter reached one hand up to pull his beanie off, dropping it next to his pillow before dozing off.
Biting his cheek, Tony held back tears with a slight grimace on his face. It was so obvious - too obvious - now how sick Peter was, and he hated thinking about it so much. He absolutely despised it. Still, he couldn’t stop looking at him. His son. His only son. Probably the only child he’d ever have. And that was more than enough - he didn’t need anyone else. Peter was all he wanted. All he could ever wish for, and so much more.
I won’t ask why, he reminded himself.
“You okay?” Steve asked quietly, observing his husband. Tony shook his head.
“Me neither.” Steve tugged at his hand, making him turn around so he could see his face properly. He didn’t like the hazy look in his eyes. “Don’t go,” he pleaded, voice so full of emotion, yet so quiet. His fingers danced over Tony’s cheekbone.
“I won’t. I’m right here.” Even though he was whispering, it was clear that he was sincere. And determined not to dissociate again. Steve was too, and brought him to their bed in the same room. None of them planned on sleeping - Peter could wake up at any given time - but Steve just wanted to hold him. To keep him firmly grounded. Tony let him; allowing his husband to dominate his senses. They breathed.
Steve hummed a melody Tony only recognized because he’d hummed it to him before. A part of him wanted to ask him what song it was, but he didn’t. If he did, it wouldn’t be special anymore.
The lights were dimmed - dark enough for Peter to sleep undisturbed, but bright enough for his dads to be able to see him. They were both faced towards him, Steve spooning Tony, holding him tightly.
“When he was little, I used to just watch him sleep. I… I didn’t sleep much, so I’d just sit and watch him,” Tony mumbled, eyes never leaving Peter. The way he let his sentence hang in the air told Steve that he wasn’t done talking. He just needed to organize his thoughts. “Always made him look even younger than he is,” he settled on.
“Mhm. Looks like a baby when he sleeps. Even now.” His voice was slightly muffled by Tony’s hair, and he used the opportunity to place a couple of kisses to the back of his husband’s head. Tony reciprocated by bringing Steve’s hand that was resting on his stomach to his lips, leaving feathery kisses on his knuckles, then cradling said hand to his chest.
How much time had passed when a noise from Peter caught their attention, they weren’t sure of, but they were up right away to see if something was wrong. By the time they reached his bedside, he was sitting up.
“Are you gonna be sick?” Steve asked, a hand on his shoulder. The boy’s face scrunched up.
“Not sure. Probably,” he mumbled. His face paled. “Yeah. Definitely.”
Tony grabbed the plastic bucket from right next to the bed, bringing it up to hold under Peter’s chin just in time. As he threw up, tears rolled down his face, and he sobbed whenever he got a break, which in turn had him panicking because he couldn’t catch his breath.
“You gotta breathe, sweetheart,” Steve coaxed when Peter’s throwing up paused for a little while. His breath hitched, making him cough, but he got a good, albeit shaky, deep breath, and it calmed him down a little; stopped his crying. Another deep breath, and then he was heaving into the bucket again, his stomach nearly empty, and then there was only bile coming up. It burned in Peter’s throat.
When nothing was left, Peter was still dry heaving, unable to stop his stomach from spasming, and he was crying again. He absolutely despised that part. It went on for at least a minute, and then he was breathing heavily, feeling exhausted. “I’m done,” he sighed, letting himself be pulled into Steve’s side while Tony went to clean the bucket.
“Honey, will you get him his toothbrush?” Steve called out.
“Sure thing,” Tony confirmed, flushing the contents of the bucket down the toilet.
“How’re you feeling?” Steve asked Peter, voice low and comforting.
“‘m okay. Really tired,” Peter mumbled into his chest, and it was just something about the way that he was slumped against him that made him tighten his grip around the boy and take hold of his legs to carefully hoist him into his lap. “Not a baby,” Peter attempted to protest, but the way he relaxed in his Pops’ arms betrayed his words. His face was pressed into Steve’s shoulder, and Steve was drawing slow circles on his back.
The endearing scene made Tony swoon when he came back into the room with the - now clean - bucket and Peter’s toothbrush.
Not even two minutes later, Peter was tucked back in, having brushed the acidic taste in his mouth away, and he’d swallowed an antinausea pill which he was begging would work.
When he’d dozed off again, the dads were still at his bedside, and Tony lifted his hand up hesitantly. He drew it back, letting it linger in the air. He almost put it back down in his lap, but decided against it, bringing it to Peter’s head.
Ever since they’d shaved his head, Peter hadn’t let anyone touch it, and always wore a beanie in the day. But the way he leaned into the touch even in his sleep, had Tony and Steve smiling. Tony lightly drew figures with his fingers, consumed by the way his son reacted to it; the same way he always had.
The usual feel of his soft curls was gone, and it felt a little strange to caress his son’s bald head, but he still adored it. Anything that’d make Peter feel better, Tony would do, and that was no secret. Steve would too, and was just as captivated by the scene in front of him as his husband.
Quietly scooching his chair closer to Tony’s, he latched onto the arm that wasn’t occupied with Peter, resting his head on Tony’s shoulder.
“Tired, honey?” Tony whispered, turning his head to look down at Steve.
“Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled with a smile, meeting Tony’s eyes for a couple of seconds before looking back down at Peter, content to just sit there watching him. “Love you, Tony,” he whispered.
“Sap,” Tony smirked, but still placed a kiss to the side of his head.
“Sure,” Steve laughed softly, tightening his grip on Tony’s arm a little.
There was a knock on their bedroom door fairly early in the morning. Being the least groggy of the three, Steve got up and opened the door.
“Morning, Doctor. Everything alright?” he smiled politely at Anne who was holding a plastic bag.
“Oh, yeah, all good. I brought something for Peter. Is it okay if I come in for a bit?” she asked cheerily.
“Sure, of course. Pete just woke up.” Steve stepped aside, opening the door wider to let Anne into their room. She always had a smile on her face, and it was contagious.
“Good morning,” Tony greeted her from the chair next to Peter’s bed.
“Hey, Anne,” sounded the boy, giving her a wave. He was sitting up in bed, messing around with his phone.
“Sleep well?” she asked, sitting down in a chair on the other side of the bed. Steve sat down next to Tony.
“Yeah, pretty well. Only woke up a couple times, and fell right back to sleep,” Peter confirmed, pleased with at least feeling rested.
“Yeah,” Peter grimaced, “but it’s fine. Less than last time.”
“Well, good. ‘Cause I brought you something.”
“Mhm. You said you hadn’t been eating very varied, right?”
“Yeah,” he chuckled, curious as to what she’d brought.
“So, I brought some other foods I think you might like.” The plastic bag she had put down by her feet rustled as she picked it up to put on her lap. “Get that overbed table, would you?” she asked Tony. It was right next to him, against the wall, so he was able to grab it without getting up, wheeling it so it was over Peter’s lap. “Thank you, Tony.” Both men had insisted on being called by their first name, just as Anne had.
First thing she put on the table was a small lidded plastic bowl of fruit salad. “I just brought small samples of everything, ‘cause I’m pretty sure you won’t like even half of it,” she chuckled. “But I think this is a great way to figure out more things you can eat so you don’t grow tired of the same things over and over again.
“Soggy corn flakes is getting a little boring,” Peter admitted.
“Good! Means you’re open to trying some new foods. This fruit salad doesn’t have anything with really strong flavors. Just bananas, pears, watermelon, honeydew and, uh, dragon fruit actually! Looks really exciting, but doesn’t taste much.”
“That sounds good, actually,” the boy smiled, taking the lid off the bowl to taste.
“You don’t have to taste it all now, I’ve got a few more options I’m gonna leave here for you, so no rush,” she explained, receiving a nod from Peter who took an experimental bite of watermelon. All three adults were very pleased when he gave a thumbs up.
“Next up is chicken,” Anne announced, pulling up a rectangle plastic box. “Skinless and boneless, and,” she pulled up another box, “you can have mashed potatoes with it.”
Peter nodded fairly enthusiastically, not even noticing the fact that he’d eaten five entire pieces of fruit. Steve and Tony looked excited at their son eating, and were so very grateful to have a doctor who truly cared about Peter.
“And then the less exciting counterpart to what you’re eating right now.” Another box was placed on the overbed table. “Normal salad. But, you might be surprised, this treatment can change up your tastebuds, so maybe you’ll love it!”
She proceeded to pull up a plain sandwich, applesauce, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, and even some mints and hard candy. “It can help with nausea,” she explained, sending a sneaky wink in Peter’s direction.
“You’ve got an entire buffet here, kid,” Tony chuckled, looking at all the different foods on the table. “Thank you so much, Anne,” he said sincerely, gratefulness gleaming in his eyes.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she waved away, getting up from the chair. “I’ll get going, but I’ll see you guys in a few hours. Don’t eat it all at once, Peter,” she joked, and walked to the door. Peter laughed, waving at her before she closed the door behind her.
“You really liked that fruit salad, huh?” Steve asked, surprised, but happy to see that there was only one piece of fruit left. It wasn’t a big portion by any means, but Peter evidently enjoyed it.
“Yeah, guess I did,” Peter agreed, just as surprised as Steve when he realized the piece of dragon fruit he just picked up was the last one. He popped it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed before speaking again. “Don’t think I wanna try anything more right now, though. Can we put it away for later?”
“Sure, I’ll go put it in the fridge,” Tony said, stacking up the boxes so they’d be easy to carry.
While Tony was out of the room, Steve noticed the way Peter kept wringing his hands together quite harshly. “You okay, Petey?” he asked, and Peter looked confused when he met his eyes.
“What?” Steve gestured to his hands. “Oh, my hands just hurt a little.”
“Want me to massage them?”
“Could you?” Peter almost sounded desperate, and Steve furrowed his brows.
“Of course,” he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. And, to him, it was. Peter held out his hands, and Steve took hold of his right one first, kneading it gently. The boy sighed with relief at the feeling, visibly relaxing back into the bed that kept him sitting up. His eyes were closed, and the corner of his lips were curled upwards in a barely-there smile.
Getting back from his trip to the nearby kitchen, Tony looked on from the door for a few seconds, a little lost in how content Peter looked before Steve beckoned him over. “Sit on the other side of him,” he told his husband, and Tony did so. “His hands hurt,” he explained, lifting Peter’s hand up to show Tony he was massaging it.
“Mhm,” Peter confirmed sleepily, and Tony laughed fondly as he reached for his son’s other hand. Both men were happy to keep massaging his hands until they had to get ready for the chemo session of the day.
They’d do anything for him.
Come Wednesday evening, and Peter was back to being absolutely worn out. Him feeling so well at the beginning of the second round on chemo had only been false hope. He’d barely been able to sleep, his bones and muscles had ached, and he’d thrown up a lot. But, he’d become quite fond of fruit, and ate quite a bit of that, to everyone’s relief.
When Tony had gotten the wheelchair from the corner of the bedroom, Peter hadn’t even protested. He just slumped down in it, feeling faint. Tony pushed him about ten feet before Peter shifted uncomfortably. “Wait. Wait, I’m gonna be sick,” he warned, sitting up straighter, and Steve was thankfully able to get the plastic bucket in time. Bags forgotten on the floor, Steve kneeled in front of Peter, while Tony tried soothing him with soft words and comforting touches to the back of his neck.
Leaning back, Peter was out of breath. “Done,” he sighed. “Sorry.”
“I’m about to ban that word, Pete,” Tony smirked, a hand on Peter’s cheek, and was delighted to be rewarded with a laugh. He dried away the tears on Peter’s face, and kissed his forehead.
“That was quick,” Tony commented when Steve was back by his side. He’d gone to rinse the bucket and put it back.
“Met one of the really nice nurses, uh… what’s his name? Tall, with that tattoo.”
“Oh! Uhm, Leonard?”
“That’s it! Yeah, he insisted on taking care of it so I could get back to you guys.”
“Well, that’s very nice of him,” Tony smiled as Steve picked their bags up from the floor. “You know, I could take one of them,” he offered, pushing Peter along, who was half asleep.
“Nonsense. What’s the point of having super strength if I can’t carry all the bags?”
“You’re right. That’s the sole purpose of the serum, obviously.”
“Yeah, you dum-dum.”
“My favorite insult,” Tony snickered. “So clever, babe.”
“You’re the brains. I’m just here for brawn.” Steve was barely containing his laughter, and Tony shook his head as he chuckled.
“So you’re saying you’re the dum-dum?”
“I’ll take it; that’s my own fault for making it too easy.”
“You’re both dum-dums,” Peter mumbled, eliciting surprised laughter from his dads, and earning himself a playful flick to the ear from Tony.
“I suppose we are,” Steve sighed, big smile on his face.
With Tony and Steve having just left for the press conference, Peter was sitting on the couch next to Rhodey, leaning his head on his shoulder. One look at the tired the boy had Rhodey lifting his arm to let Peter rest against his side instead. It was a familiar feeling. Peter had always been a cuddle-bug with the people closest to him, and Rhodey had always been one of those people.
Natasha sat down on the other side of Peter, a bowl full of pieces of fruit in her hand for Peter. He hadn’t had much to eat that day, so Steve and Tony had encouraged them to feed him while they were gone. They even left a list of foods Peter liked, which now consisted of soggy cornflakes, smoothies, milkshakes, pancakes, fruit without too much taste, scrambled eggs, and chicken.
“If you need anything, or if you don’t feel good, you let us know, okay?” Rhodey said, lightly squeezing Peter’s upper arm.
“I’m good for now. But, uh… I should probably have a bucket here in case I need to throw up,” Peter told him, a little embarrassed at the last part, but no one else minded. “There’s one in my room.”
“I’ll go get it,” Bucky offered, getting up from next to Natasha, discreetly caressing her hair as he walked past her. The corners of her mouth lifted at the gesture, and she let her eyes follow him until he was out of the room.
Sam emerged from the kitchen with two smoothies; one for Peter and one for himself. “Here you go, kiddo,” he said, holding one out for Peter, but Rhodey reached out and got it instead. “You better not steal it from him,” Sam teased, and Rhodey put his hands up in a show of innocence when he’d passed it to Peter. He sat down in a lounge chair close to the couch.
When Bucky got back, he put the bucket next to couch, within reach from his place next to Natasha. She mumbled something in Russian that made him smile, and his response had her rolling her eyes fondly.
“And you’re sure you’ve got this?” Pepper asked Tony for the third time.
“Yes, Pep, I’m sure. Don’t worry. Really.”
“Can’t help it. You’ve got quite the history with press conferences,” Pepper smirked, and got a small chuckle from Steve who was adjusting his tie.
“True, but this is about Peter.”
“I know. You two are gonna do great,” she smiled. “I’ll go and introduce you.”
Just as Pepper had said, it was a pretty exclusive press conference, with no more than twenty reporters in the room. Some were with newspapers, while others were with TV channels, so there were a few cameras there ready to capture the event. It was being held in a room in the compound that’d been used for press conferences on several occasions; perfect for it with a stage for everyone to be able to see them.
“Do I look okay?” Steve asked, wanting his husband’s approval before they went on national television.
“Perfect,” he smiled, running one hand down Steve’s chest to straighten his tie. And also just because he could. “Do I?”
“‘Course you do.”
A short kiss was shared before they turned their attention to Pepper, who soon waved them out on stage. “Good luck,” she whispered when she passed them.
They’d planned for Tony to open, so he stood in front of the microphone, leaning his forearms on the podium.
“Thank you, Pepper. Well, as you all know, we’ve been out of the public for a few weeks now. And, no, we haven’t been on holiday. Nor have we been abducted by aliens, or assassinated by the Illuminati,” he joked to set the mood to a light one. “And we’re not retiring either.” When he said that, his breath caught in his throat just a little. He hadn’t given it any thought. The world just might’ve seen the last of Iron Man and Captain America. For them to come back after all this, there’d have to be a miracle.
“But, as of right now, because of a personal emergency, it’s not possible for us to take part in usual Avengers business, or leave the Compound.” Tony took a step to the side to let Steve take over.
“While we’re dealing with this, we can assure you that the safety of the public is in good hands. As you all saw last week, they can manage better than fine without us.” He looked to Tony, wondering if he should say anything more, but he just shrugged. Steve nodded towards the reporters, a silent question of whether they should just open for questions now. Tony approved with his own nod, so Steve addressed them again.
A bunch of hands shot up, and Tony picked one out randomly. “You, with the blue and white tie. On the left.”
The man stood up. “Can you tell us who this emergency is about?” he asked.
“Not at the moment, no, just that it’s someone close to us” Steve answered. Short and to the point.
The next reporter was chosen. “How much longer will you be confined to the Compound?”
“We’re not sure. It’ll probably be a good while.”
Another reporter. "Is there a reason you've specifically chosen the Compound?"
"This place has its perks. We also thought it was best to get out of the city."
They kept asking questions, politely attempting to get more information out of them, but with Steve in charge of answering their questions, they got nothing else than the exact amount of information they’d agreed on sharing for now.
In a very out-of-character way - at least to the press - Tony stood to the side in courteous silence. However, one particular question had him taking over the microphone without hesitation.
“There have been rumors that you’ve put your son into the foster care system, is this true?”
“Absolutely not,” he denied firmly, but didn’t want to let him keep the attention, so he looked through the room to pick out the next one, but the same reporter kept talking.
“Wouldn’t that be for the best, though? I mean, with your lifestyles…” he trailed off, gesturing to them, and the room started murmuring.
From the tone of the question, Tony and Steve both had a feeling that he wasn’t talking about them risking their lives on the job, and the smaller man swallowed thickly before speaking into the microphone again. “Because we‘re Avengers?” he still asked, with a disapproving frown and tight jaw, hands clenching down on the podium until his knuckles turned white.
“No, no, it’s just,” he chuckled, but no one else at all were amused, “don’t you think he should get to grow up in a proper family?”
With ice cold eyes, Tony stared at him, doing his best to stay calm. “We are a proper family. I’m not gonna waste my time trying to get through your thick homophobic skull, so just get out.”
“What? Oh, come on-”
“I’m not joking. Leave of your own volition or I’ll have someone remove you.”
He muttered something to himself, a certain slur starting with an ‘f’, as he turned to pack his stuff up, but didn’t take Steve’s enhanced senses, which were laser-focused on him, into account. The soldier’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief of what he’d just heard that man refer to his husband as.
“Hey!” he called out, away from the microphone, but voice loud enough to carry across the room, catching his attention again. “Don’t you dare call my husband that. Don’t call anyone that,” he warned. "I don't think you understand how offensive that word is." He had a protective hand on Tony’s back who looked slightly confused. Steve cleared his throat, pulling himself together before calmly speaking to the crowd through the microphone. “I think we’ve answered enough questions for today. Thank you all for coming and being so polite. I apologize. Please respect our privacy and don’t speculate any further about our public absence.” He led Tony off the stage to where Pepper was anxiously waiting for them.
“Did he call him… you know-” she began, but refused to say the actual word.
“Yeah,” Steve confirmed, disgust clear in his voice.
“I’m really sorry. This is my fault, I let them send him instead of the person I requested, I’m so sorry-” she rambled, distraught at what had just happened.
“You couldn’t have known,” Tony cut her off, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “The only one here who’s done anything wrong is that nimrod. Not you.”
She sighed, sending them a smile that didn’t really reach her eyes before excusing herself when someone called her over.
Tony held Steve’s hand and looked up at him. “You didn’t have to do that, babe. I didn't even hear it. And I’ve been called worse,” he mumbled, just loud enough for Steve to hear. The look he had in his eyes was one reserved for his husband and no one else.
The words Tony thought would make the situation better only made Steve’s face crumple in disapproval. Not of Tony, but of anyone who’d ever made him feel like that. “That doesn’t make it better. It just makes me feel sure that calling him out was the right thing to do.” He made circles on the back of Tony’s hand with his thumb, lost in his eyes for what seemed like the millionth time. “I’ll always stand up for you.”
“I love you,” Tony whispered, squeezing his hand.
“I love you too.” Steve kissed his forehead.
With them in the room were a few people working, hurrying around, directed by Pepper; none of them really having time to notice the pair’s intimate moment at the edge of the room.
“Let’s get back to Peter,” Steve smiled, pulling Tony by his hand with him to the elevator.
Once the doors closed and they were by themselves, Tony placed his hands on Steve’s chest, and lifted himself up on his toes to whisper into his ear. “That was really hot.” A kiss to his neck and he got back down to his regular height, smirking up at Steve who was sporting an open-mouthed, lopsided smile along with wide, delighted eyes.
He collected himself, walking forward until Tony was trapped between him and the elevator wall. “Yeah?” he asked, voice low and gravelly, pressed up against him; now he was the smug one. Tony might pretend to be offended whenever Steve pointed out how much smaller he was than him, but Steve was very well aware of the fact that Tony actually enjoyed the size difference. A lot.
“Mhm. Now kiss me, we’re only going a few floors up,” a flustered Tony spluttered out, pulling him down before he could say anything more. They fit together as perfectly as ever, and the kissing grew heated within seconds. Hands exploring known territory, soft sounds of approval being swallowed by each other, and then they were startled apart by the ding announcing that they’d reached their floor.
Composing themselves, they felt like teenagers as they walked out of the elevator, heading for their apartment where they knew Peter was waiting along with everyone else. Except Pepper who was still working on getting everything back to normal at the compound after the press conference, and Happy who was doing his job as head of security. Just outside the front door, Steve pulled him in for another kiss, cradling his neck, one arm around his waist. Tony melted into him, and stayed glued to his side even after they pulled away.
Upon opening the door, they could hear everyone talking, and when Peter laughed, it was like nothing else mattered. They just wanted to see him happy.
And he was. His back leaning against Rhodey’s side, the man’s arm resting across his chest, and feet on Natasha’s lap, he was tiredly grinning. Everyone was happy.
Peter noticed that they’d gotten back and his smile got impossibly more radiant.
“Hey, Petey-pie,” Tony laughed softly as he walked over to Peter to place a kiss on the top of his head - well, the beanie.
“Hi, Dad. You guys were great.” He paused as if he suddenly remembered something. “But that guy was such a dick-”
“-like what does he think this is? The nineteenth century? I’m so tired of people like him spewing bullshit like that. Like what- what does he even get out of it? It's not like-”
“Hey, hey, hey, it’s okay, Pete,” Steve cut him off, kneeling in front of him, before he could work himself up about it. He always did when someone insulted his dads purely based on the fact that they happened to be not straight. “There’s always gonna be people like him. And that’s okay, because we know that he’s wrong. The only reason I got so mad was because of what he called Dad. You're smart, so I assume you’ve figured out what it was?”
“Yeah,” the boy whispered.
“You gotta pick your battles. And, for me, this was one of the ones worth picking. That word just… It stings a lot more than other words. Okay?”
Peter nodded, feeling a little bummed out thanks to that reporter, but Rhodey was there and he was ready to make it better.
“One thing’s for certain, Pete; you sure do have two badass dads,” Rhodey smiled. He looked up at Tony from where he was still confined to the couch by Peter resting against him. They shared a look, one with decades of friendship contained in it. Just a slight lift of one eyebrow, and Tony knew Rhodey was asking him if he was okay. He answered with a crooked smirk.
Peter ended up being carried to bed by Tony after he’d fallen asleep on Rhodey. Making sure he was comfortable, Tony then pulled his beanie off, having gathered that he liked sleeping without it. Steve looked on from where he was sitting on the end of the bed, hand protectively resting over Peter’s legs.
“We need sleep too, you know,” Steve whispered when it looked like Tony was about to grab Peter’s desk chair to settle down in it for the night. Tony paused.
“Yeah,” he admitted, slouching a little, not caring about keeping up appearances for his husband.
He followed Steve voluntarily to their bedroom, intertwining their hands on the way.
Once tucked into bed, Steve stayed awake, humming songs and stroking Tony’s back to help him fall asleep. It took a while, but Steve didn’t mind. He was just happy when his husband started snoring.
Chapter 8: thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy
“Is that mine or yours?” Tony mumbled, not even opening his eyes. He and Steve were still in bed, as was Peter in his own bedroom, and they’d been woken up by a phone ringing. Steve grunted, leaning over to the headboard on his side of the bed where they’d both left their phones.
“Yours,” he yawned, picking the phone up and placing it in Tony’s outstretched hand, then slumped back down on his pillow. He didn’t know what time it was, but it was too early.
Without looking at the caller ID, Tony answered the phone. “Hello?”
“The hell’s going on, Tony?” He recognized it was Clint’s voice, and if he’d been more alert, he would definitely have caught onto the fact that Clint had called him by his first name instead of the usual ‘Stark’.
“Top o’ the mornin’ to ya,” Tony said in an overdone Irish accent, and wasn’t surprised when Steve lazily slapped his shoulder. “Is that you, Barton?”
“Yeah. It’s me.” He sounded agitated. Impatient.
“What’s so urgent that you had to call me at,” he forced one eye open to check the time, “five thirty in the morning? Damn, that’s four thirty for you.”
“Was hoping you could tell me, actually.”
“Just got off the phone with Nat. The press conference.”
“Oh,” Tony breathed out, realization jolting him awake. Clint didn’t know. “What’d she tell you?”
“That it was about Peter, and I’d have to call you. She wouldn’t say anything more than that.”
“I’m putting you on speaker. It’s just me and Steve.”
“Sure. Just tell me what’s going on, she sounded strange.”
“You should, uh… Are you sitting? You should be sitting down.”
“What- Just get to it before I lose my damn mind!”
“Hey! I’m serious, Barton. It- It’s bad. Really bad.”
“I don’t- Sure. Yeah, okay, I’m sitting down.”
“Okay. Uh… It’s Peter. He, uh… Ah, shit, Steve, how do I say this? Fuck.”
Steve held his hand up to stop Tony before he could spiral. “I’ve got it, honey,” he assured Tony, sitting up in bed. “Want me to tell him?” Tony nodded, hiding his face in his hands. “Okay. Okay, you still there, Clint?”
“Yeah.” He was wary, and he was right to be.
“Peter is… He’s really sick. He’s got cancer.”
It took a couple of seconds for it to register in Clint’s brain before he spoke. “What?”
“It’s… It’s lung cancer. Stage four, spread to his liver and his brain.” Steve’s voice faltered slightly as he delivered the news; the words felt so wrong in his mouth. Tony had sat up, feet on the floor, and his back facing Steve.
“No, that… That can’t be right. Right? Not him. Not- Not Peter. He’s…”
“I know, I- I’m sorry we didn’t tell you before. Everything just…” Steve gestured with his hands even though Clint couldn’t see him.
“No, no, I get it.” Having kids himself, he understood. He wouldn’t have been able to focus right, either. So he got it. “Stage four? That’s… God, that’s bad, isn’t it?”
“It’s really bad.”
“Is he gonna- Can I come visit?”
“‘Course you can. Peter loves you, you know that. We’re at the Compound.”
“Okay. Yeah, okay, I can be there by tonight, the drive’s like 15 hours.” Clint was already throwing clothes into a suitcase, Laura still in bed, slightly confused, but mostly concerned.
“No, I’ll send a jet,” Tony decided, straightening his back.
Clint stopped his frantic packing. “What?”
“I’ll send you a jet, Legolas. Don’t worry about it. It’ll be there in three hours.” Steve cringed at Tony’s forced casual tone.
“Oh. Thanks. See you soon, then.” Clint was surprised, and it was audible even through the phone.
“See you soon, Barton,” Steve said, hanging up. “That was really nice of you,” he smiled at Tony, reaching out a hand to put on his shoulder. Tony let his head drop to the side, rubbing his cheek on Steve’s hand.
“FRI, make sure a jet gets sent to pick up Barton,” Tony told the AI.
“On it, Sir.”
He turned around to face Steve who was sitting cross-legged on the bed with a sad, concerned look on his face. He mustered a smile for Tony. And Tony did the same for Steve. Both faltered.
“It hurts to say out loud,” Tony spoke into the silent room.
The early November air was cold. The wind was hitting Steve’s face like thousands of small needles piercing his skin, but he stood steadily as he watched Clint making his way towards him from the jet with a bag slung over his shoulder.
“Good to see you, Cap,” he smiled, half-genuine, when he was stood in front of the taller man.
“You too, Barton.” Steve pulled him in for a short, friendly hug before leading the way inside. Clint had obviously been at the Compound before, but Steve thought it’d be polite to greet him outside. And it’d give him a little more time to brief him about Peter’s condition.
“Have a nice flight?”
Clint just sent him a look that clearly meant cut the bullshit.
“Fair enough,” he chuckled. “Peter’s awake, but he’s pretty tired - worn out, really. And he… He probably looks sicker than what you’re expecting him to. He might just fall asleep, he might throw up, he might be in pain, and he might get a migraine,” Steve warned. “Just don’t get your hopes up.” That makes it even more painful.
Clint didn’t really know how to answer that. “I… This is so fucked up, I can’t even wrap my mind around it.”
“Yeah,” Steve breathed out, and neither of them said anything more until they were in the living room where Peter and Tony were. At least that’s where they’d been when Steve left them.
“Captain, Boss asks if you could come to Peter’s bedroom,” FRIDAY announced.
“Sure,” Steve confirmed, and then addressed Clint. “Uh, you know where your space is. Go ahead and leave your bag there, and then just come back here.”
With a nod, Clint turned around, starting on the familiar walk, while Steve headed for Peter’s bedroom, his steps somewhat rushed.
“Hey, you alright?” he asked upon entering the room, and closed the door behind him. Tony was keeping Peter steady as the boy pulled a pair of sweatpants on.
“I’m good,” the boy said, prompting Steve to look at his husband for more details.
“Had a little accident. Got some vomit on his clothes,” he explained, holding out a beanie for Peter when he’d tied the string on his pants who took it, immediately pulling it on. Tony had wanted to place a kiss on the top of his kid’s head and couldn’t help but look a little defeated when he wasn’t quick enough. He settled for a forehead kiss instead, forgetting his disappointment the second Peter leaned into the touch.
“You feelin’ up to seeing Clint?” Steve asked, wary of the pale, tired look on Peter’s face.
“Mhm,” he answered with a smile, blinking rather slowly.
“Maybe tomorrow we could invite everyone over for dinner,” Tony suggested.
“Sounds good. Would be nice for Pepper,” Steve commented.
“Pepper?” asked the boy, confused as to why it would nice for Pepper specifically.
“Yeah, she has to go back to the city for a while. She’s got a company to run,” Tony explained apologetically.
“Oh.” Peter sounded disappointed. He wasn’t, really, but it just reminded him that the world hadn’t stopped turning just because his life had been put on pause. And he didn’t want her to leave.
“We meant to tell you last night, but I guess we just forgot. Sorry, sweetheart.”
“No, it’s okay,” he assured his dad with a close-mouthed, genuine smile.
“C’mon, I’m sure Clint is excited to see you,” Steve said, walking the few remaining feet to wrap an arm around Peter. He didn’t know how much he’d thrown up, but he knew he usually became a little wobbly after it either way. “Want breakfast?” Steve mumbled on the way.
“Not really,” Peter declined, pretty sure that anything he ate would come right back up again.
“Not even a smoothie?” Tony asked, wringing his hands tensely.
“I could try,” he shrugged, having learned a long time ago how to lessen his dad’s worries.
“I’ll make it, Tony” Steve offered. “You go with him, Barton’s in the living room.”
With a hum of agreement, Tony wrapped an arm around Peter’s frail body. Because he knew exactly how much Peter had thrown up. It’d been a lot. But he happily supported some of his weight, and they made it to the living room in less than a minute.
Despite Steve having warned him, Clint still had to fight against the horrified expression that almost showed on his face. How could he not? Peter looked so sick. So thin. His face was gaunt and nearly gray, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that under that beanie, there was no hair. And the way he was leaning heavily into Tony, as if standing up was too tiring. The change was… jarring.
He smiled at Peter.
“Hey, bud,” he chuckled, walking over to them.
“Hi, Uncle Clint,” the boy beamed, letting go of the back of Tony’s shirt, and reached both arms out for a hug. Clint caught on right away, strategically wrapping his arms around Peter’s middle - he didn’t know how steady Peter was, and this way he could lift him up if he needed to.
He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway. Just to feel how light he’d gotten. Peter laughed when Clint pretended to groan as he lifted him a couple inches above the ground, thinking nothing of it, because Clint often did that to mess with him. Clint, on the other hand, met Tony’s eyes over Peter’s shoulder, nearly disturbed at how little the sixteen year old boy in his arms weighed. He was only met with a look on Tony’s face he couldn’t completely understand, but it wasn’t hard to tell that the man was both heartbroken and exhausted in a way he knew couldn’t compare to anything he’d ever felt himself.
Putting Peter back down again, he wiped the distressed look off of his face, replacing it with the smile from earlier. He let one arm stay wrapped around the boy as he pulled away, mirroring the way Tony had been steadying him.
“Wanna sit down on the couch?” he asked, and Peter nodded, feeling a little embarrassed as Clint helped him over to the couch, but pretty much forgot about it when he’d sat down, relief then taking over.
Well, as much relief as he could ask for, that was. The familiar aching in his bones was back, making it near impossible to completely relax. But he kept it together as well as he could for Clint. He might only be a kid, but he’d seen the look on the archer’s face, and he was well aware of how sick he looked. Biting the inside of his cheek, he refrained from shifting too much or squeezing his hands for some sort of relief.
“Quit it,” Tony whispered subtly to Peter when he’d sat down next to him, casually grabbing one of his hands to massage it. It felt so nice that Peter forgot himself for a second - by extension listening to what his dad had told him - and stretched his legs out, repositioning himself.
“Here you go, sweetie,” Steve said, approaching the couch, handing the freshly made smoothie to Peter before sitting down next to Tony. One glance down on Tony massaging Peter’s hand, and his smile faltered a tiny bit. Seeing Peter in pain would eventually drive him crazy, he was sure of it. There was something about seeing discomfort on that young face he knew so well that went against every instinct in him.
Clint’s mind was working on overdrive, trying to come up with something to say. The room was abnormally quiet; he was used to Tony’s quips and Peter’s rambling. But they were both occupied - Tony with massaging his son’s hand and watching his face, and Peter with trying to stay awake and drink some of his smoothie. “How are those two friends of yours doing?” he finally asked.
“Ned and MJ?” Peter perked up at the mention of them.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Clint encouraged, eager to hear him talk.
“They were here a couple of weeks ago. Was really nice.” He smiled tiredly, sinking further into the couch. Clint noticed, and changed his goal from getting Peter to talk to getting Peter to rest.
“Tell me about it later. I’m feeling up for a movie right now,” Clint decided. He was a dad, so of course he had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to getting kids to go to sleep.
“Sure! What do you wanna watch?”
“You choose, buddy.”
“Alright. What about… Back to the Future?”
“Good choice, Pete,” Tony chimed in. “FRI, you heard the kid.” The AI only started playing the movie on the TV in front of them, dimming the lights. Peter managed to pay attention for about ten minutes. That was not-so-coincidentally just when Tony caught Clint’s gaze, flicking his eyes down to Peter’s hand in his. More prompting than that wasn’t necessary - Clint took hold of Peter’s other hand, copying what Tony was doing.
Anxiety boiled in Tony’s stomach as he waited for Peter to fall asleep. Just the thought of another bout of insomnia hitting his kid or him simply being uncomfortable to the point where it stole away his sleep was enough to make him feel off - to make his breathing pick up enough for Steve to notice. “He’s okay,” Steve murmured, pressing a kiss to his husband’s temple. Tony knew what Steve meant, but he still almost snapped that Peter was most definitely not okay.
All three men focused on Peter. Steve and Tony were able to pinpoint the moment he fell asleep, and Clint caught on a couple minutes later. “Is he asleep?” he whispered, looking at Tony.
“Mhm, let’s lie him down, and we can go sit in the kitchen,” Tony confirmed, letting go of Peter’s hand. Clint did the same, and stood up slowly. Cupping the back of Peter’s neck, Tony gingerly maneuvered Peter until he was lying down. Normally, he’d pull his beanie off, but with Clint there, he refrained from it. Then the boy was covered by a blanket, and they left him alone to rest.
Between the living room and the kitchen was the dining room, and a pair of sliding doors separated the living and dining room, allowing them to talk without disturbing Peter.
“You hungry, Barton? I think we have some leftover pizza from yesterday,” Steve offered, pulling a box out of the fridge.
“I could eat,” Clint said. “Thanks.” Steve put the box down in front of him, and grabbed glasses for each of them.
“Any requests, honey?” Steve asked Tony. “And don’t say coffee,” he smirked when the man opened his mouth, looking a bit too excited. For a while, Steve had tried helping him cut back on the amounts of caffeine he consumed in a day and they were actually making a little progress.
“Fine,” Tony snickered. “Iced tea? Do we have that?”
“I think so…” He rummaged around in the fridge. “Yeah, here we go. What about you, Clint?”
“Iced tea sounds good,” the archer said, picking up a slice of pizza, looking a little lost in thought.
“You good?” Steve asked him as he filled his glass.
“Hm? Yeah, just… Peter,” he sighed.
“Yeah,” Tony agreed.
“What’s with his hands?” Clint asked.
Tony looked at Steve with exhaustion clear on his face, so Steve decided to carry the burden of the conversation. “It’s not just his hands. His whole body hurts. Sometimes his hands get especially bad.”
A beat of silence. “Why?”
“Chemo side effect. One of many.” Steve sent him a sad smile, taking a sip of his drink.
Leaning his head back, Clint looked for words. “Not all the time, right?”
“No. Just sometimes.”
“I- He’s not even my kid, but seeing him in pain… All I wanna do is to fix it.”
“He’s okay now. He’s sleeping,” Steve assured him. Tony flinched. There it was again. “You alright, Tony?”
“Yep. All good.” His response was clipped, and his focus stayed glued to his apparently very interesting fingernails. It made Steve frown, but he decided to ignore it for now, instead opting to further explain Peter’s condition to Clint.
“Sleep usually helps. Hopefully he feels a little better tomorrow. But we can’t know for sure. The days after chemo are bad.”
“When was chemo?”
“Monday through Wednesday.”
“Jeez, that’s rough.”
“Yeah, it’s a… It’s a harsh treatment. It takes a toll on him.”
“He’s down to 110 pounds,” Tony blurted out, and then followed a sharp, humorless laugh. “But that was four days ago, probably even less now. He’s not okay. He’s not.”
“I’m going to bed.”
“Honey, it’s noon,” Steve attempted.
“And I’m tired.” His voice was much softer, much more vulnerable than it had just been a mere second earlier. That, combined with how completely worn out he looked had Steve let out a somber sigh, concern filling his chest. It was a common sensation these days.
“Okay,” Steve said, too many feelings packed into such a short word.
“He good?” Clint asked when Tony was gone.
“He’s… We’re tired.”
Per Tony’s request, FRIDAY alerted him when Peter began showing signs of waking up. Still groggy from an unexpectedly good nap, he sat up in bed, running his fingers through his hair once. He tugged lightly on it to wake himself up, then headed to the living room. Passing the kitchen, he saw Steve cooking while chatting with Clint.
On the couch he found Peter stirring, just beginning to open his eyes up. “Hey, Peter Pan,” he whispered, kneeling next to the couch despite his knees protesting. He tuned it out, instead fixating on gently rousing his son out of his sleepy state.
“Mmm, Dad?” Peter mumbled, stretching his arms over his head as he yawned.
“That’s me,” Tony confirmed playfully.
“Time is it?” The boy searched for his father’s hand, happily leaning into the touch when he felt it cup his cheek.
“Didn’t check, but it looked like Pops was cooking dinner. Feeling rested? You got a few good hours of sleep in.” He let his fingers gently caress Peter’s cheek even though it looked like all it was doing was coaxing him back to sleep.
“Yeah, it- oh, no.” Peter tensed, sitting up abruptly with a hand in front of his mouth.
“There’s a- shit, it’s in your bedroom. Sit tight, just a sec.” Tony bolted to the kitchen to get a trash can after realizing the bucket they’d had next to the couch for instances like this had been moved.
Crashing into Steve, he only yelled out a hurried apology as he pushed him out of the way, grabbing the nearest trash can. Steve closed his mouth that had been open to ask Tony what on earth he was doing - it was rather obvious. Especially when he could hear Peter puking into said trash can just about three seconds later.
“I trust you’re able to look out for the pasta?” Steve asked, pulling his apron off, and abandoned his nearly finished homemade pesto.
“Go ahead. Let me know if you need any help,” Clint told him, and Steve sent him a nod in thanks before going to be with his son.
It was common occurrence by now to see Peter emptying his stomach in a rather miserable way, but that didn’t mean he’d ever get used to it. Peter was sitting on the edge of the couch, clutching the trash can, Tony kneeling on the floor next to him, one hand on the trash can and one on Peter’s back. Steve sat down on the other side of Peter.
There really wasn’t anything else to do than gently encouraging him through it, telling him that it’d be over soon and how brave he was. It made both dads feel powerless. There was nothing to do. They just had to witness it, with no opportunity to make it any better no matter how hard they wished, hoped, wanted, prayed, whatever.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Tony said optimistically when Peter was done, even though they all knew it was only because there wasn’t much in his stomach to begin with.
“What do you want for dinner?” Steve asked, anxious to make sure Peter got a little substance in him. “Anything you want, just as long as it’s something.”
Peter grimaced. “At least let me brush my teeth before you start talking about food.”
“Okay, fair point,” Steve smiled. “You good to stand?”
The sudden flush on Peter’s face told Steve everything he needed to know. “It’s just us, don’t worry about it,” he assured him, wrapping a secure arm around his middle and pulled him up. He supported some of his weight, but Peter was relatively steady as they walked out of the living room to brush his teeth.
Tony couldn’t help but be a little stunned. There was nothing special about what he’d just witnessed, and it was far from the worst thing he’d seen the past few weeks. Still, it stung deep in his chest, a helplessness so all-consuming that he had no idea how to handle it.
Clenching his fists so hard that his nails nearly broke through the skin on his palms, he felt his chest tighten and throat close up. He sat down. His eyes were wide, searching the room as he tried to fill his lungs. “TV, trash can, paintings, chairs, phone,” he whispered to himself, voice shaky and mouth dry.
“Sofa, pants, pillow,” he reached his hand out, “table.”
“Clint in the kitchen, footsteps. Peter laughing.” He calmed down considerably at that one, especially when his husband let out a laugh as well, the noise getting closer to him. Honing in on it, he let himself forgo the rest of his familiar grounding technique.
“There we go, let’s sit you down next to Dad, and I’ll go rescue Clint in the kitchen,” Steve said, sending a smile Tony’s way, a little put off by the look in his eyes he’d seen too many times before, if it were up to him to judge.
“Oh, no, you left Clint in the kitchen by himself?” Peter joked as Steve helped him sit down, still a bit unsteady.
“I know, it’s a miracle if any of the food is salvageable,” Steve jested right back. “Gotta go get rid of this first, though,” he said, picking up the trash can next to Tony. Eyebrows furrowed subtlety in concern, he caught his husbands gaze who nodded reassuringly in response.
“You still haven’t told me what you want, Petey,” he said, holding the trash can in one hand, halfway turned to leave the room to dispose of the bag, and make sure it’s clean.
“I know it’s not a dinner food, but scrambled eggs, please?” Peter requested hopefully.
“Sure, sweetie, I did say anything you want. As long as you’re eating.” With a final smile, he walked off, leaving Tony and Peter alone. The man’s breathing was pretty much under control by now, and there were no tangible traces of him panicking just a couple minutes earlier.
“Feeling better?” Tony asked, hand gently taking hold of the back of Peter’s neck, drawing circles on the smooth skin with his thumb. It was just as much to comfort Peter as it was to help himself get completely grounded.
“Much,” Peter sighed, and leaned into the touch, ever the tactile one.
“Stay awake until you’ve eaten something, okay?” Tony told him when he saw his eyes starting to droop a little.
“Okay,” he agreed, shifting to lean into Tony’s side. Ever since he was little, it’d been his favorite place to be, and it always fit him perfectly, as if it grew with him. With Dad’s arm around him and head resting on his chest, he felt just as secure as ever.
Sometimes, the childish side of him missed the arc reactor. He was always fascinated and soothed by the blue light it emitted. After Afghanistan, the boy had been plagued with nightmares of Tony disappearing again. All the times he’d timidly made his way to his father’s room because he was scared and couldn’t sleep, the blue light never failed to steal his focus away from the bad as he traced over it with his fingers. Whenever anyone else, including Rhodey, and sometimes even Steve, got close to touching the reactor - be it by accident or not - he couldn’t help but flinch away.
But, oh, Peter; he could touch it as much as he wanted because Tony knew how gentle he was, fingers barely there as he studied it as if every time were his first time seeing it. Though, above all, it was because Peter was his kid, and he’d do anything to make him feel better. He grew to be quite fond of it, marveled at how the piece of metal in his chest not only kept him alive, but was important to Peter as well.
The sensible side of Peter, however, knew to be relieved that Tony didn’t need the arc reactor anymore. There were no pieces of shrapnel threatening to stop his heart, and Peter was eternally grateful.
One thing the boy didn’t seem to notice was the way his fingers would sometimes move on their own accord in the same way they did back when the arc reactor was still in place, drawing small, light figures on his father’s chest even though there was nothing there.
Tony had noticed and it was something that never failed to make his heart swell with contentedness. He looked down to watch Peter’s fingers move around as if tracing the design of the arc reactor, patterns stored somewhere deep in the boy’s mind.
“Hey, no sleeping, squirt,” Tony reminded him, squeezing his shoulder to wake him up a little.
“I know. Just closing my eyes for a minute,” Peter mumbled, not sounding very convincing. Tony could only laugh lightly at him, holding him a little tighter as they waited for dinner to be ready. It couldn’t be much longer; he could hear either Steve or Clint getting plates and utensils ready to set the table.
His suspicions were confirmed when Steve stuck his head into the room. “Dinner in five,” he spoke softly.
“Are his eggs ready?” Tony asked, Steve giving a confirming hum. “Maybe give it here? I’ll make sure he eats some, but he’s so tired. I don’t want him to have to get up. I’ll join you guys as soon as he’s asleep, okay?”
While Steve knew Clint wanted to spend time with the boy, it wasn’t hard to give in, especially when he watched Peter bury his face in Tony’s chest.
“Alright,” Steve smiled, and went to get Peter’s food and a bottle of water.
“Chow time,” Tony announced moving his hand to Peter’s ribs, tickling him.
“Dad, stop,” Peter laughed, trying to squirm away from him.
“What? I’m not doing anything.” Tony feigned innocence, barely able to hold back his grin.
“Yes, you are!” With a huge smile on his face, Peter grabbed Tony’s hand and pulled it away from his side.
“Oof, busted,” Tony chuckled, and wasn’t surprised at Peter settling close to him again, despite his tickling attack.
Steve came back with food and water for Peter. “Eat up, and then have a nice nap, okay?” he said when he’d put it down in front of him, and leaned down to press a kiss to the boy’s forehead.
“How old is he again? Two?” Steve asked after Clint told them about how Nathaniel had managed to lock Laura in the bathroom and that’s why keys are now banned in their house.
They’d finished dinner about an hour ago and had just cleaned the table, but stayed in the dining room to let Peter sleep.
“Yeah, just turned two, the little jackass,” Clint confirmed with a chuckle.
“Well, I wouldn’t call him a jackass; kid managed to lock a door all by himself. I’d say he’s bordering on child prodigy,” Tony quipped with a deliberate straight face, but amusement was glinting in his eyes.
“Hm, you might reconsider when I tell you about how he tried to eat a pine cone five minutes later because ‘chocolate’s the same color.’ Swear to god, I’ve got three kids and they just keep getting weirder,” Clint laughed fondly, managing to get Tony and Steve to laugh pretty hard as well.
Hearing about Clint’s kids made something in Tony ache to check on Peter, so he asked his AI. “Hey, FRI, how’s Peter doing? Sleeping beauty still going strong?”
“He’s still deeply sleeping and seems to be comfortable,” she assured him.
“Honey, he’s just sleeping in the other room. FRIDAY would’ve told us if something was wrong. He’s okay,” Steve said, aiming to reduce some of Tony’s worries. Had he avoided those two final words, he might’ve succeeded, but it just backfired.
In bone-deep frustration, Tony slammed his fist down on the dining table. “Jesus, Steve, he’s not okay. Why do you keep saying that when he’s anything but?” he snapped, staring into Steve’s eyes.
“You know what I mean by it,” Steve sighed, his eyes softening while Tony’s stayed harsh, unrelenting, but the quiver of his lips didn’t escape Steve’s attention.
“Of course I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s miles away from okay. He’ll never be okay.”
Clint awkwardly excused himself, feeling very much like he was intruding, none of the other two men looking his way when he left the room.
“What do you want me to say then, Tony? That he’s not? That he’s dying?”
“It kills me when you say it because you look like you believe it.”
“I do that for you.”
“I never asked you to.”
“I know that! Don’t you think this is fucking killing me? You think I’m walking around here waiting for it to get better? You’re my husband, I’m just trying to carry as much as I can.”
“Carry as much as you want, it doesn’t change the fact that this time next year, he’ll be dead!” His voice was raised, echoing the turmoil inside of him.
Steve physically took a step back upon hearing him say those words with such bluntness. “Tony-”
“That’s how this is gonna go, I don’t know what else to tell you.” Tony was biting back tears, but couldn’t help the shakiness in his voice.
“Tony, don’t,” Steve whispered.
“In a year, we’ll have nothing. We won’t be parents anymore. Our son’s gonna be gone.” He gave up, letting the tears fall down his cheeks, but he ignored them.
“I know.” Clenching his jaw, Steve tried to stay calm despite how much everything hurt, because he knew. He knew Tony was in just as much pain as him.
“I know that you know. You know what’s gonna happen to him, and you know what’s gonna happen to me.”
“Not that- no, Tony, not that again. You can’t-”
“I can. There’ll be nothing.”
Steve didn’t bother holding back the sob that climbed up his throat. “Well, I can’t. I won’t let that happen.”
“It’s my choice. It’s not your business.”
“Not my business? You’re the love of my life, Tony, of course it’s my business!”
“This is about Peter. You know damn well that I love you, so don’t pull that card,” Tony seethed, so angry, but no amount of anger could make him forget how much he loved Steve.
“I’ll pull any card if it keeps you alive. I don’t care if it’s not fair, we’re well past that!”
“What the fuck do you expect me to do without Peter?” Tony exploded, raising his voice in a manner Steve hadn’t witnessed before.
Taking a shaky breath, Steve tried ignoring how that meant that even he wasn’t enough. “What do you expect me to do with both of you gone?” he yelled right back.
Tony was interrupted before he could even think of how to respond to that.
“I’m still here. You know that, right? I’m still here.” Peter was standing at the edge of the room, leaning on the doorframe for support, having opened the sliding doors with no one noticing. His eyes were wide and his cheeks were wet with tears, but his voice was steady; somehow both cold and vulnerable at the same time.
“Peter,” Tony breathed out, everything about him softening.
“Of course you are,” Steve said, realizing how defensive his body language had become, and relaxed his muscles.
“That’s not what it sounds like.”
“Peter, we’re sorry,” Tony nearly whispered, unable to find his voice.
“Next time you have a fight like that, make sure I’m out of earshot because I know-” he hesitated for a second before walking further into the room, unsteady on his feet, and inhaled deeply. “I know I’m gonna die. But I don’t need to hear you screaming about it. Because I’m still here. And I definitely don’t need to hear you screaming about what’s gonna happen after I’m gone.” His eyes met Tony’s, and the man felt ashamed.
“Sorry,” Steve echoed his husband, both adults stunned by the words that had just left their son’s mouth.
Hearing Peter say it hurt more than they could’ve imagined.
He rejected it in a heartbeat, but Tony couldn’t help but feel jealous of Peter because he’d never have to live in a world without Peter. He thought he knew guilt, but nothing could even come close to the shame washing over him in that second.
“If you wanna talk-” Steve attempted.
“I don’t. I’m getting my pills and I’m going to my room and I’ll see you tomorrow,” Peter decided, walking past his dads to get to the kitchen where his medicine was.
“Okay. But let us help you,” Steve said, going for a combination between firm and loving, but it only came across as desperate.
“You might be surprised to hear that that’s not what I want right now,” Peter snarked, sarcasm cutting through the air. Tony flinched, his son’s hostile front unfamiliar to him, and he didn’t like it at all. But he didn’t say anything. He knew that whatever clever thing he might come up with, it’d just make it worse.
“I’m fine,” Peter continued. Medicine and a water bottle gathered in his arms, he intended to storm off to his room, but the adrenaline that’d been pumping through his body ever since he realized what Tony would do once he’s gone was wearing off. Quickly. His knees buckled slightly, making him stumble towards his dads. Two choked gasps sounded, and four arms caught him. “I can walk by myself,” he protested, but there wasn’t much truth to that statement.
“We’re gonna help you, and then we’ll let you be alone for a while if that’s what you want.” Steve didn’t leave room for any arguments, and Tony wrapped an arm around the boy to steady him, feeling the tension in his body match the one in the room. Steve picked up the medicine and the water bottle, following them to Peter’s bedroom.
Once safely settled on his bed, Peter curled up into a ball, facing away from the door; away from his dads.
“FRIDAY’s gonna remind you to take your pills. Let us know if you need anything,” Steve told him.
“We love you,” the smaller man added.
“More than anything.”
Peter didn’t answer.
Chapter 9: lay it on me
“Am I making it worse?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… If I died now, would it be better?” He searched for the right word. “Easier?”
“No one wants that to happen. So, no, it would not be better, I assure you.”
“Everyone’s sad because of me.”
“They’re sad because of something happening to you. It’s not your fault, Peter.”
“Is there anything else you need? Should I alert Boss and Captain?”
“No, FRI. Thanks.”
Peter didn’t mean anything by it. He was just… brainstorming. Yeah, that was it. Brainstorming. And while Tony had updated FRIDAY’s code to alert him and Steve whenever something was out of the ordinary with Peter, he hadn’t thought to add anything about alarming conversations the teen might have with the AI.
So neither of them were ever made aware of that conversation. They really should’ve been, but they were none the wiser. Tony was in his lab, just tinkering, trying to steer his mind away from everything that hurt by drowning himself in complicated work. And Steve was keeping Clint company while they waited for Peter to get up - it was nearing lunch time, and FRIDAY had told him the boy was awake when he asked. Nothing more.
Tony made his way to Peter’s room, on a mission. No matter how angry Peter was at them, he’d have to get up to eat and take his pills. The closer he got, the heavier the ball of guilt in his stomach got and by the time he opened his bedroom door, he felt as if it were about to make his knees give out.
“Hey, Peter,” Tony attempted and wasn’t surprised to be met with silence. “I get it, but you have to get up and eat something,” he said, staying by the door in favor of sitting on the bed.
“Anything you want. And you need your pills.” Tony tried his best to keep emotion out of his voice, knowing that anything could set his son off.
“Not hungry. Got my pills here.” His words were short, cut off, and harsh. Tony could count on one hand all the times Peter had been this angry. And he would let him be angry - he was entitled to his anger - because it was Tony’s own fault so he wasn’t about to tell him what to feel.
“You need to get something in you-”
“Alright,” Tony gave in, knowing he wouldn’t get anywhere but further away from his goal if he kept pushing.
Walking into the kitchen, the mood was lighter than Tony had expected, Steve and Clint making lunch. Well, Steve was making lunch and Clint was joking around, trying to sabotage whatever Steve was doing - but not really, because that would mean no lunch for him either.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve smiled with something distantly sad in his eyes that Tony only barely picked up on.
“Hey,” he answered, apologetic look on his face.
“Haven’t got the kid with you?” Clint asked, settling down in a stool by the kitchen island.
Tony snorted. “If I were to get him up, I’d have to physically drag him out of bed.”
“Angry?” Steve cringed.
“Very. Remember when we accidentally threw out that card Ned made for him when they were little?”
“Oh god, I still feel bad about that,” Steve sighed.
“Well, multiply that by ten and you’re getting close,” Tony said, slumping down next to Clint.
“I can try to get him up when lunch is ready,” Steve suggested.
“Bad idea. We’re sending him in.” Tony pointed at Clint. “Don’t think any of the two of us would be able to do any good right now.”
“True,” Steve agreed. “You up for that, Barton?”
“‘Course I am. I’m his favorite uncle,” Clint chuckled, trying to lighten the mood a little.
“If you fail, I’m telling Rhodey you said that,” Tony playfully threatened with a perfectly straight face that made Steve roll his eyes fondly. “That reminds me - FRI, tell everyone to come for dinner tonight.”
“Will do, Boss,” she dutifully answered.
“What’re we even serving?” Steve asked, drying his hands on his apron. Tony gave him a dumbfounded smile.
“You just finished making the most elaborate chicken salad I’ve ever seen, you’re wearing an apron, you have flour on your cheek for crying out loud, and you’re asking me? Where did that flour even come from?” Tony laughed, licking his thumb, then reaching over to get the flour off of his husband’s face. Steve scrunched his nose, but let him. When Tony was satisfied his cheek was clean, Steve pointed to the oven.
“I might’ve baked some bread,” he said, looking sheepish.
“Stress baked some bread,” Clint added oh-so-helpfully with an amused smile.
“Sounds about right,” Tony snickered. “But, seriously, honey, you decide. You’re the best at food.”
“Alright,” Steve laughed, shaking his head, “let me rephrase. Is there anything in particular you want?”
“Something simple that everyone likes. Don’t know what Peter wants. He’s reverted to almost exclusively using single syllable words.” Tony held onto his left forearm. Steve didn’t let it show that he noticed.
The couple were good at this dance. At pushing away what they needed to talk about, while reaching for the sweet bliss of ignorance. It required an equal amount of effort from both sides, but Tony usually took the lead. His area of expertise. Steve perfectly matched whatever was thrown his way, and they fell into step.
Knocking on Peter’s door, Clint didn’t get an answer. “If you’re not decent, you better tell me now, ‘cause I’m coming in in three, two, one, and there we go.” He pushed the door open, looking at the still lump in bed. “I can tell you’re awake. No one looks that stubborn when sleeping.” At that, Peter stretched out his limbs, rolling over so he was kind of facing Clint’s way, but mostly the ceiling.
“So they sent you instead, huh?” Peter asked, voice a little raspy.
“No one sent me. There’s only so much young love I can stomach before I have to make my escape.”
Peter let out a snort. “Pops turns 100 next year. And Dad’s older than you.”
“And yet they act fifteen,” Clint sighed dramatically. Peter rolled his eyes goodnaturedly, and the archer took it as a sign that it was okay for him to sit down on the bed.
“That dinner tonight still happening?” Peter asked, moving his legs to make more room for Clint.
“Oh, yeah. What’re you craving?”
“I don’t know - chicken, I guess?”
“Don’t look at me, kid, they’re your tastebuds,” he teased, and in response, Peter kicked him lazily. “Have you taken your pills?”
“I have. You suddenly know when I need my pills?” the boy asked suspiciously.
“Uh, yes, what kind of uncle do you think I am?”
“The fun kind,” Peter said as if stating the obvious.
Clint pondered his answer for a second before a smug look made its way onto his face. “Damn straight. Now, come on, you need to get some food in you.”
“I know,” Peter smiled tiredly as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. He tugged his slightly askew beanie further down over his ears, the thought of anyone besides his dads seeing him without it making him irrationally nervous. Standing up, he saw black spots, but when they went away, he was relatively steady on his feet. Clint still slung an arm around his shoulder.
The parents overdid the treading-lightly-thing when they saw Peter. “Good morning,” they blurted out at the same time, looking more apologetic than Peter had ever seen them.
“Hey,” Peter answered, eyes lingering on them for a second before sitting down.
No forehead kisses, no comforting hand on his back, no genuine smiles.
He was angry, but it still felt wrong.
“What do you want for breakfast?” Steve asked tensely.
“Uh… corn flakes.”
Tony was the one who got to work on that, quickly getting a bowl ready for his son. When he put it in front of Peter, he placed a tentative hand on the boy’s shoulder. He didn’t flinch away. But he didn’t lean into the touch either. He always leaned into the touch. Tony retracted his hand.
Feeling, yet again, like he shouldn’t be there, Clint could only send Peter an apologetic smile. He didn’t know what had been said after he left the room the night before, but it was obvious that it was something heavy. And that Peter had heard it. Peter wasn’t an angry person, so, really, his behavior was the most telling of all.
“I, uh, I was thinking about seeing Nat and the guys after lunch-”
“Can I come?” Peter interrupted him.
That was way too easy, Clint thought to himself. “As long as you’re feeling up to it, I assume that’s okay?” He looked to Tony and Steve for approval.
“Of course. Actually, I think they’d be offended if you appeared without the kid. Maybe you could get some fresh air as well,” Steve said, a bit too casual, standing a bit too far away from Tony. He could still reach out and touch him if he wanted to, but he didn’t.
Tony hadn’t slept at all that night. Didn’t even go into the bedroom. Steve knew there was no point in trying to stop his husband when he’d muttered something about going to work in his lab, and, “I love you,” because that never went unsaid - no matter what.
“I love you,” Steve had said, too, and retreated into their bedroom. His sleep, when it finally caught hold of him, was fitful and filled with echoes of the words that hurt him the most. He’d woken up at four in the morning, drenched in sweat and his husband’s name stuck in his throat. He took a shower and didn’t go back to sleep.
If you asked Tony what he’d worked on that night, he wouldn’t be able to tell you. He’d just throw out something about nanites and that’d be enough because no one knew enough about whatever he did in his lab to either question him further or catch him in a lie. The only thing Tony knew was that he wanted everything to be okay.
When Clint and Peter took off, leaving the couple alone, neither of them said anything right away. They kept their eyes trained on the kitchen counter as they stood next to each other.
“He wasn’t supposed to hear any of it,” Tony whispered, breaking the silence.
“That’s what you have to say?” Steve asked disbelievingly, not raising his voice, but volume mismatched with Tony’s quiet tone. Of course he wasn’t supposed to hear; that was more than obvious.
“I-” Tony threw his hands up, I don’t know what to say. Not many people could render the billionaire speechless. Steve was reigning champion.
“I can’t do it. Rhodey-”
“Don’t guilt trip me, Steve.”
“I don’t care. You have to-”
“I don’t have to do anything. It doesn’t matter what you say.”
“I can’t do it,” Steve repeated, more desperate this time. “I’d have to- I just can’t, Tony. Not without you.”
“No, don’t- don’t say that. You can’t-” Tony quickly became alarmed, speaking before he could realize how much of a hypocrite he was. He couldn’t stand the thought of Steve doing that to himself.
“God, listen to yourself! You can’t expect me to just stand back, and let you do… that.”
“Stop it. Please, stop it. You’re too… You’re too good, okay? People need you.”
“I need you. So does Rhodey. And Happy, and Pepper, and-”
“Steve.” He was back where he started. A whisper. They made eye contact, a silent conversation none of them backed down from. Steve shook his head.
“I need to get started on dinner,” he sighed, knowing they weren’t getting anywhere. Still, he couldn’t blame his husband.
Tony was on autopilot, and headed back to his lab with intentions to stay there until dinner was ready.
Within a minute of seeing Peter, Natasha knew there was something going on. He was subdued in a way that didn’t have anything to do with him being sick. She whispered in Russian to Bucky that something was wrong as they all settled down in the couches in their living room. Sam also picked up on it, but pretended not to.
Natasha asked Clint about Laura and the kids, and then they were off. Peter was sitting in the middle of Clint and Sam, and was feeling tired, knees pulled up to his chest. Seeing as Clint was leaned forward, animatedly recounting some ridiculously cute thing Nathaniel had done, Peter let himself tip slightly towards Sam. The man chuckled, gladly opening his arms to let the boy rest against him.
It had been a while since Sam had held Peter, and that became very clear when Sam ran a comforting hand down the boy’s side and he felt his ribs through his thick sweater. He wouldn’t let it show, though. “Tired?” he asked instead, when Peter sighed, leaning even more of his weight against him.
“I guess,” Peter answered, closing his eyes for just a few seconds.
“It’s okay if you fall asleep,” Sam told him, almost bringing a hand up to play with his hair. Anyone who knew Peter knew that was a guaranteed way to make him relax. He drew small figures on his upper back instead. Out of curiosity, he switched to tapping out Peter’s name in morse code to see if the kid would pick up on it. It was something he’d learned in the army.
He didn’t get a reaction, so he tried again, in case Peter just hadn’t been paying attention.
This time, the boy shifted, and placed a hand on Sam’s knee.
The man smirked proudly, tapping on Peter’s back again.
“W-H-Y D-O Y-O-U K-N-O-W M-O-R-S-E-?”
Of course he’d learned it for fun. There was something so unapologetically Peter about that, and it made Sam break into a full smile. Natasha sent him a strange look, but he ignored her.
Sam thought for a few seconds before he decided on his next sentence.
“I-S S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G W-R-O-N-G-?”
Peter patted his knee once with his palm, then started over.
He drew the letter Y on Sam’s knee. Sam had used it earlier, twice even, but Peter had a tendency of mixing it up with X, and didn’t want to get it wrong. When he was on the receiving end, he’d just see which of them fit in with the rest of the letters.
He felt Sam tap out the letter for him. Dash, dot, dash, dash. Peter nodded. That meant that X was dash, dot, dot, dash. For some reason, he just couldn’t keep them apart, no matter how many times he relearned it.
“T-H-E-Y H-A-D A F-I-G-H-T A-N-D I H-E-A-R-D”
Peter paused as he tried to come up with an answer.
At that, Sam had to hold back a sad sigh.
“W-A-N-N-A T-A-L-K A-B-O-U-T I-T-?”
Peter pulled his hand back, but stayed cuddled into the man’s side. “Okay,” Sam whispered, holding him a little tighter, “but I’m here if you change your mind.”
“What’re you two whispering about?” Natasha asked teasingly.
“Secret stuff, obviously,” Sam tutted dramatically. “And you call yourself a spy.”
“My bad, I should’ve figured that one out” she laughed. Peter sent her an amused smile accompanied with an eyeroll.
“Yeah, Nat, you should know better,” Bucky said, barely able to contain his laughter.
“Oh, you shut it,” she said, lightly slapping his shoulder. Bucky huffed, big smile on his face, and settled his arm on the back of the couch behind Natasha. She leaned back, rested her head against his arm for just a second, took a deep breath, and straightened up again.
When Peter was busy talking with Sam and Clint, Bucky asked her quietly in Russian if she was okay. She had that look in her eye. Of course I am, but he’s not, she told him. Bucky just nodded, biting his cheek. He didn’t like to think about it.
During and after dinner, Peter stayed close to Pepper, dreading the fact that she had to go back to the city despite not having seen her very much the past few weeks. Maybe that was why he was so reluctant to let her leave. He felt a little guilty about barely spending time with her when he was the reason she was at the Compound in the first place. So he stayed pretty much glued to her side the whole night.
The woman just smiled, held him when he needed to rest for a while, and talked with him, delighted to spend time with the boy. She didn’t want to leave either, but her duties as CEO of Stark Industries didn’t disappear just because Peter was sick. Still, she’d be able to come back to the Compound after some time. She was already subconsciously mapping out in her head what she’d absolutely had to be physically present for and what she could just pack up and bring with her to the Compound.
“I’m sorry I haven’t spent much time with you here, Pepper,” Peter voiced his concern, lifting his head from where it was resting on her collarbone.
If it were even possible, her eyes became even softer when he said that. “Peter,” she sighed, cupping his face, and kissed his forehead. In many ways, she was the closest thing to a mother he had. “You don’t have anything to apologize for. I’m here because I love you, sweetie, no matter what that entails. Got it?”
Peter wasn’t always very good with words, but the hug Pepper got from him was more than enough for her. She didn’t catch how everyone was watching them out of the corner of their eye, too busy hugging Peter back.
“Damn, Pepper, you know he’s everyone’s favorite, and you’ve been hogging him all night,” Bucky sighed, plopping down on the couch on the other side of Peter.
“Oh, shush, you live here. I have to stock up on his hugs before I leave,” she smirked, and held the boy even tighter for a couple of seconds, making him laugh.
“Gimme a leg at least,” Bucky joked, and Peter saw it as an opportunity to make himself even more comfortable. He shifted so that he was still leaning against Pepper, but was able to plop both his legs into Bucky’s lap. “Two legs? Man, this is my lucky day,” he chuckled. And then much softer, “You comfy?”
“Mhm,” Peter confirmed with a smile that could melt the hearts of literally everyone in the room. Steve watched with a fond look, his heart filled to the brim at seeing his oldest friend be so great with his son.
There was something that had been on Steve’s mind all night, though. He needed to talk to Rhodey. He knew that what had been said during the fight was supposed to be between himself and Tony, but he didn’t know how to carry those words all by himself. So, while Tony was busy talking with Happy, Steve subtlety asked Rhodey if they could talk, and lead them away from the living room everyone was gathered in.
“Does this have something to do with why you and Tony have been acting so strange all night?” Rhodey asked when they stopped.
“What do you mean?” Steve asked. Was it that obvious?
“Come on. You guys usually can’t go five minutes without at least holding hands. You’ve barely looked at each other.” Rhodey’s tone was softer than his words, concern shining through.
“I… We had… a fight. And he said something that I just- I can’t not tell you.”
“Okay, what did he- what did he say?” He couldn’t deny the anxious knot in his stomach.
“I didn’t- I didn’t think this through, how do I say something like this?” It wasn’t common to see the soldier so vulnerable and unsure of himself. Yet, there he was; wringing his hands together anxiously while physically restraining himself from pacing back and forth.
“Preferably straightforward. I have a feeling this isn’t something I want to misunderstand.”
Steve nodded, taking the words into consideration. Rhodey was right. He couldn’t be vague about this. “He said- Tony said he’s gonna… He’s gonna kill himself when Peter… when Peter’s gone.”
For a good ten seconds, Rhodey stopped breathing. “This probably sounds fucking horrible, but I’ve known that man for over thirty years, and him saying that, it hurts so much… But I can’t say that it shocks me as much as it should.” He tried his best to be gentle.
“Hear me out, Steve. This is a man who almost drank himself to death. Sure, he ran the company, he did what he was supposed to do. And those videos of him drunk off his ass at parties aren’t even close to how bad it could get in private. I can’t even count how many times I’ve found him all alone, half conscious, and had to help him get into bed, and then sit by his bed to make sure he didn’t throw up in his sleep and choke on it.
“I don’t know if he’s told you this, but just a couple weeks before he got Peter, he almost… he almost died. I wasn’t even supposed to be there, I just went to the tower ‘cause I’d forgotten my jacket there the day before. When I got up there, he was… He was on the floor, covered in his own vomit, and he wasn’t breathing. If I hadn’t forgotten my jacket…”
The man had to clear his throat before continuing. “My point is that when he got Peter, he stopped drinking on the day. Cleaned up his act immediately. Because that little boy was enough reason for him to make an effort to- to keep himself alive. Because I don’t think he really cared about that very much before Peter. He never told me directly, but I… I know him. So when he loses Peter, in his mind, he probably loses everything that was worth living for. And don’t get me wrong, Steve, he loves you so much, but…”
If Steve didn’t know about Tony being so close to dying, he didn’t show it. “I know. Believe me, I know. And I can’t tell him this, but I get it. I really do. Because… It’s Peter, you know?” He couldn’t find any other words to explain what he was feeling, so that would have to do.
“I know,” Rhodey said, rather strained. They were all still various degrees of fucking livid that of all people, it had to be Peter.
Chapter 10: i have strength for you
“I need a favor,” Tony blurted out, startling Steve a little. He had thought Tony was asleep, as he’d been lying completely still in bed for a good fifteen minutes while Steve was reading.
“Anything, honey,” Steve spoke, touching Tony’s shoulder. It had been a week since the - for lack of a better word - fight, and while they hadn’t talked about it as much as they maybe should’ve, things between them were as normal as they could be.
“I need you to hide all the alcohol-- no, you know what? Throw it out. Just throw it all out, can you-- can you do that, please?” While he spoke, Tony sat up, legs crossed, with his knee bumping against Steve’s thigh as he faced him.
“Of course I can. Did you--”
“No. No, I didn’t. But it was too close. I can’t risk it. Not with Peter.”
“I’m really proud of you,” Steve said, kissing his husband lovingly. The kind of desperate look in Tony’s eyes prompted Steve’s next words. “Want me to do it now?”
The previous night, when Steve was asleep, Tony had ended up in front of the liquor cabinet. They didn’t have much, as Tony had been sober for thirteen years and Steve couldn’t get drunk from anything else than Asgardian alcohol. What they had was for whenever they had guests over and they wanted to serve drinks. Still, it was more than enough for Tony to drink himself into oblivion.
He’d only been in the kitchen to get himself some snacks. Yet another night was spent in the lab, and Steve’s constant reminders of him needing to eat had apparently gotten through to him. It was when he dropped a knife, and it landed in front of the liquor cabinet, that the night so very nearly took a dangerous turn.
If Tony wanted to know how long he’d sat on the floor, clutching a bottle of Bacardi in his left hand, all he had to do was ask FRIDAY. But he just couldn’t. He didn’t want to know how long it’d taken him to tear himself away. For a little while, he’d sat there with the bottle in one hand and the cap in the other. It was way, way too close and it could not, under any circumstances, happen again.
Maybe he could’ve stopped after one drink. But that wasn’t a risk he was willing to take. With Peter around, that had to be out of the question.
So that’s how Steve found himself crouched in front of the liquor cabinet at one in the morning, filling a plastic bag with all their bottles that contained alcohol. When he’d gotten all the bottles, he stood up, and was startled for the second time that night.
“God, Pete, don’t sneak up on an old man like that,” he chuckled, a hand to his chest. Peter just looked at him. “What’s wrong, baby?” He was relieved that he wasn’t as angry as he had been, but something was obviously wrong, so he wasn’t all that happy. He’d take Peter being angry at him over Peter in pain any day.
Peter took a shaky breath. “Everything hurts,” he whispered, and Steve thought he could see tears on his cheek, but it was a little too dark to make out at that distance. He walked closer, the bag full of bottles clanging in his hand, making Peter look down at it. “What’s that?” he asked, his voice still a whisper.
“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” Steve told him, and put the bag down before cupping his son’s face. Definitely tears. He kissed his forehead. “Wanna sleep in our bed tonight?”
“Of course you can. Let’s go, I think Dad’s still awake.” Steve put his arm around Peter, and lead him steadily to their bedroom.
“Thanks, honey, I--” Tony started when he heard what he assumed was just Steve come back into the bedroom, but interrupted himself with a smile when he turned around and saw Peter close to his side. “Hey, Pete, what’re you doing up so late?” he asked.
“Hurts,” he simply muttered, too tired for anything else, and walked over to the bed. Tony held his arms out for him, and he slowly maneuvered himself until he was relatively comfortably resting against the man.
“I’ll be right back,” Steve said, leaving the room again. Tony hummed in acknowledgement, but focused on Peter.
“Everything. It won’t stop.” The boy sounded strained - exhausted even, as if each breath, each movement was a battle.
“How can I make it better?” Tony asked, and thought about how much easier everything would’ve been if he could take Peter’s pain away and carry it himself.
Peter let out a strange sound, something between a scoff and a sob. “I don’t know, Dad. I just want it to stop,” he cried. He sounded much younger than he actually was; a child trusting his parent to fix whatever was wrong.
“What if I massage you? Like how we do with your hands. Would that help?” Tony asked, trying to hide just how desperate he was to make it better.
“Can you try?” Peter asked hopefully.
“‘Course I can. Want me to try with an arm first?” Peter just nodded in response, making Tony smile. “Okay, let me sit up then.”
Peter moved so Tony could sit up, and ended up with his face pressed into the side of the man’s thigh, effectively blocking out any light in the room, with one arm slung across his lap.
A small sense of relief washed over him when Tony started massaging his arm, because it really helped, just like with his hands, but the rest of his body still ached. It was better than nothing, though, so he did his best to focus on the arm that hurt a little less than the rest of his body.
“Hot water bottles? Heating pads? Think those might help?”
“I’ll try anything.” Tony was barely able to make out what the boy said, voice muffled by his sweatpants.
“FRI, have Steve get together all of those he can find around here,” Tony said as he kept on massaging Peter’s thin arm.
“Alright, Boss,” the AI confirmed.
While they waited, Tony hummed out whichever songs he could think of, a habit he still had from when Peter was little and wouldn’t fall asleep. He’d lift him out of his bed, and bring him into his own, letting him get comfy on his chest, almost like a baby. Then he’d just hum songs to his kid until he fell asleep. And he never put the boy back in his own bed. Maybe he was supposed to. Something about teaching him to sleep by himself, but he just couldn’t when he looked so peaceful; small face lit up by his arc reactor.
About halfway through the third song, a very toned down rendition of Smoke on the Water, he stopped upon hearing Steve open the bedroom door.
“Thank you,” Tony mouthed. Steve sent him a sad, yet loving smile.
“This is all I could find,” he said, approaching the bed. He laid out two hot water bottles, an electric heated blanket, and an electric heating pad, which he pointed to. “Natasha was awake, and she had this. Says it helps her on her period and thought it might help Peter.”
“What, did you go and knock on everyone’s door?” Tony teased, making Steve snort.
“No, I asked FRIDAY if anyone were awake.” He brought his hand to Peter’s back, running it up and down slowly.
“This is great, though, I think it’ll help. Whaddya say, Petey, wanna try this one on your lower back?” Tony asked, gently pushing Peter so he rolled over.
“Sure,” he mumbled, and sat up when Steve quietly asked him to so he could fit the heating pad around him, the velcro fastening in the front.
“Okay, you can lie back down now, sweetie,” Steve said, but there wasn’t really any need to, as he pretty much guided him down himself.
“You okay with being on your back?” Tony asked.
“Alright, where do you want these two?” Steve asked, holding up the hot water bottles up.
“My legs- my calves maybe? My arms hurt really bad, but massaging really helped, so those on my calves and then if you could please massage my arms? But-- but you can go to sleep if you’re tired, it’s late--” Peter rambled, feeling like he was being a bother.
“Shh, just relax, of course we will,” Tony said, taking hold of one of his arms to prove that he meant it.
“That feel good?” Steve checked with Peter when he’d placed the hot water bottles, and the boy nodded. “You want the heated blanket as well?”
“Just over my stomach and thighs. Otherwise it’ll be too warm, I think.”
“Sure thing,” Steve said, turning it on before neatly laying it over Peter. Then he sat down, resting against the headboard like Tony, and grabbed the boy’s other arm. Neither of them liked how thin his arms were, but they were, as terrible as it sounds, getting used to it.
“Lullaby protocol, FRI,” Tony said quietly, and soothing music at a low volume filled the room. “Does it hurt a little less, sweetie?”
“Yeah, it feels better. Thank you,” he whispered, eyes closed.
“You don’t need to thank us,” Steve whispered back, moving one hand to stroke Peter’s cheek lightly. He hated how polite Peter had become. Weird thing for a parent of a teenager to feel, sure, but it was just so wrong. Not that Peter had been a brat - oh, no, he was an angel. But while he was timid and sweet, he also had bite, a sense of humor, and a particular kind of sass that he’d definitely picked up from Tony. Was still picking up. It still shone through at times, but it was clear that the boy felt like a burden and that he had to make up for that somehow. Make fun of me for babying you. Tell me to stop fussing. Anything, please.
Peter answered with a tired hum and by leaning into the warm hand. He didn’t tell them how much it actually still hurt; how this was just barely enough for him to be able to fall asleep, and hopefully stay that way for a few hours.
As he slept, neither man stopped massaging, afraid it’d be enough to wake him. Judging by the slight grimace on his face, even in his sleep, they were grateful for each minute of rest he got. Tony tried smoothing out the pained expression with gentle fingers, but was unsuccessful.
“I can’t stand seeing him in pain,” Tony whispered. “I swear, I’d rather be back in that cave.”
Steve shook his head. He didn’t know Tony back then - wasn’t even awake. But he’d been there for so many nightmares. So many flashbacks and panic attacks. “Tony.”
“Yeah.” He took a deep breath that was a little too shaky. “I know."
Throughout the night, Peter got about three hours of unconnected, fitful sleep, his dads wincing every time he woke up, and did everything to make him fall back asleep. They’d massaged pretty much every part of his body, and were dead tired when morning hit, but that didn’t matter.
“Hungry?” Steve asked Peter, whose eyes slowly met his.
“A little, yeah,” he confirmed, trying to focus on anything but the pain in his body.
“Wanna stay here in bed and eat?” Steve followed up, receiving a jerky nod. “Alright,” he chuckled, “I’ll get you some painkillers as well and see if that helps. What do you wanna eat?”
“Just some fruit, please?”
“‘Course, I’ll be right back.” Steve kissed both Tony and Peter on the forehead before leaving the room.
Doing his best to soothe his son, Tony drew figures on his back. “Are you feeling any better at all? And be honest, okay, Petey?” he asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Peter sighed. “Just a little, really. And I think it’s just from the massaging and the heating pads and stuff,” he breathed out.
“On a scale of one to ten?” Ever the clumsy kid, Peter was used to being asked to rate his pain, and had plenty to compare it with. The only time he’d used ten was when he managed to dislocate his kneecap. He was eleven years old at the time, and thought it’d been a good idea to, instead of walk the remaining six steps of the stairs, just jump. And it was a good idea - it was really fun. Until he landed and heard a pop. A second later, the pain registered, making him let out a blood-curdling scream that almost sent Tony into cardiac arrest.
“Like, a six. Seven, maybe,” he admitted, feeling his eyes fill with childish tears.
“Let’s hope that painkiller works, huh?”
“Yeah,” he laughed shakily as one tear escaped his eye, immediately dried away by Tony’s thumb.
“I’ll massage your legs while we wait for Pops to get back. Sound good?”
Does that make it better? Wanna try this? Where does it hurt the most? Are the painkillers working?
That’s how their day passed.
To Peter, it wasn’t unbearable. Either he’d gotten so used to it after an entire night and day of pain, or it was actually slowly going away. He especially felt a little better when he took a bath in almost too hot water - heat seemed to be the most effective pain relief, next to massaging. The pills weren’t really doing a good job.
He was for sure handling it better than Steve and Tony. Seeing their son in that much pain for so long made their insides scrunch up into one big ball of steadfast helplessness. Steve was expecting a breakdown from Tony as soon as this passed - as soon as Peter was tucked safely into his own bed, his mind far, far away in his dreams.
But it never came. At least not in a noticeable way. Well, unless you knew his eyes. Not many people did.
“Talk to me, honey. What’s going on in there?” Steve asked, sitting across from him at the dining table. He’d cooked them a quick meal after an entire day of making sure Peter was in as little pain as possible.
“I… I fix things. I’m good at that, I can-- I can fix anything you throw at me. Your shield, Peter’s phone, a fucking TV remote, just fucking throw it at me and I’ll fix it, so why can’t I fix my son?” Tony’s voice had risen as he tried to explain, but it broke again at the last word, followed by an ugly sob. “I don’t need to fix anything else ever again. He just-- I need him fixed. I need to fix him. I need him to be okay. I fix things,” he rambled, earning a very concerned look from Steve who reached out and held his hands in his.
“Shit, Tony, you… The doctors, they-- they’re doing their best to fix him. You can’t fix everything, baby, no matter how much it means to you. I wish… I wanna fix him too, but we just can’t, okay? I know how your brain works, so I need you to hear this-- to really hear this.” Tony just looked at him, blank expression - don’t go, Tony. “None of this is on you. I know how you’re able to twist things and make yourself think that things are your fault. But this is not your fault. You’re not to blame in any way. Got it?”
“Got it,” Tony whispered.
“I’m gonna need to hear you say it, baby,” Steve sighed, a soft and relieved look in his eyes as he watched all kinds of emotions flash across his husband’s face.
“It’s not-- this isn’t my fault,” he said, not very convincing, but that wasn’t really the point. Steve hoped that if Tony could say it out loud, maybe he’d eventually believe it. It was worth a try.
In a way, Steve was always trying to fix Tony. Nothing was wrong with him, but sometimes his mind did more harm than good, and Steve would always be there to fix it. Often, a part of that was giving him something to tinker with. To fix. Ironic, isn’t it.
“It’s not your fault either,” Tony added, squeezing Steve’s hand.
“I know,” he smiled. “It’s no one’s fault.”
“We make quite the pair, don’t we, babe?” Tony chuckled, and leaned down, pressing a kiss to Steve’s knuckles.
“I guess we do,” Steve agreed with a quiet laugh of his own as he lifted his hand to lightly caress Tony’s cheekbone; a touch the smaller man leaned into contentedly.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed, eyes closed as he focused on the warmth of Steve’s hand.
“Peter gets that from you.”
“What?” Tony opened his eyes, confused.
“Apologizing when there’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“Well, then,” Tony smirked, kissing Steve’s palm, “I’m sorry about that.”
At that, Steve snorted out a laugh, and moved his hand from Tony’s cheek to playfully flick his ear. “You’re something else.”
“Oh, you love it.”
Whenever around others, Natasha might seem like she’s coping better than most. Bucky could confirm that that was most definitely not the case. Sam, too, because sometimes he could hear her screaming in her sleep before Bucky would be able to wake her. But he didn’t say anything.
She never told Bucky what made her scream. Only that it was about Peter.
Now, Bucky wasn’t a stranger to nightmares - the couple had a good number of those between them. The only others that came close to Natasha’s dreams about Peter were hers about the repressed memories from the Red Room and Bucky’s about the moments he’d been able to fight through the brainwashing and really feel the terror.
Back when she didn’t let anyone at all get too familiar, she had let Peter in. Or, more accurately, he’d unknowingly wriggled his way into her heart with his shy stutter and partly toothless grin. She constantly reminded herself that this is a mission, don’t grow attached, he’s just some kid, while playing the role of personal assistant to the billionaire perfectly. But he wasn’t just some kid. There was something special about him. No one could pinpoint it, they just knew it was impossible to not love him if you knew him.
The dreams that made her scream weren’t the worst ones. Waking up from them was a relief because reality was better than those dreams. The happy ones, though; they were so much worse. They were too realistic, and waking up was like her own personal hell. Realization would hit her like ice cold water, and she’d be gasping for… she didn’t know. Bucky helped. She knew that.
“FRIDAY, Peter’s vitals, please,” Bucky requested, knowing the calming effect it had on Natasha who was currently too still in his arms, her face a trained facade of emptiness.
“All vitals normal, he’s currently in stage two NREM sleep.”
“Did the heating pad help?” the woman asked, voice choppy and raw.
“Yes, he’s said that it relieved some of the pain, Ms. Romanoff.”
“Alright. Okay. Okay, that’s good.”
“You good, babe?” Bucky asked, squeezing her upper arm so she’d look up at him.
“Mhm.” Her eyes were filled with tears but she acted as though they weren’t. When one rolled down her cheek, Bucky kissed it away, and then she hid her face in the crook of his neck. Bucky pressed a kiss to her hair. “You tell anyone about this, you’re dead,” she mumbled, no heat behind her words whatsoever.
“That threat’s starting to lose its desired effect, Natalia,” he spoke, muffled by her hair. It was something she’d say every time. Unnecessary, yes - because Bucky wouldn’t share something so personal with anyone else. He knew that this was Natasha at her most vulnerable, and he’d never violate her trust. But something about it brought her comfort.
When they were called out for a mission, Steve and Tony were again reminded that the rest of the world didn’t stop even though their world did. They flat out refused, to the dismay of some higher-ups, but everyone realized that going against the two of them wasn’t the smartest idea. Especially when the other Avengers had their backs, Natasha eventually giving them the ultimatum of accepting the ones willing to help or not getting any help at all.
The press conference they’d held not even two weeks prior was becoming old news, and with them not being present at that mission made rumors and speculations blow up again. Pepper reluctantly called and told Tony that the best thing for them was to give the public more information. That way, at least they’d put a stop to all the theories, and hopefully be given more privacy.
“Written statement. I just-- we-- can we just do a written statement?” Tony asked, not keen at all on another press conference.
“I was thinking press conference--”
“If you let me finish, Tony.”
“Press conference. I’ll do it. You guys don’t have to, you don’t need anything else on your plate.”
“Pep, you’re an angel. A saint. What would we do without you? You’re our--”
“Alright.” Tony could hear the smile in her voice, even over the phone. “Tell Peter I love him.”
“Oh, he knows. But I will.”
“How is he?”
“Right now? He’s actually pretty good.”
“Yeah, uh, Clint’s still here, so the two of them are just watching a movie.”
“Sounds nice. I-- hold on a sec, Tony,” she said, and Tony heard a distant voice, and then Pepper spoke back to them. “No, just leave it on my desk. I’ll deal with it later.” The voice said something else Tony couldn’t make out, but whatever it was, it made Pepper sigh. “Sorry, Tony, I have to go. We’ll talk later, okay? Steve as well.”
“Alright, boss. Will that be all, Ms. Potts?”
He got a laugh out of her. “Yes, that’ll be all, Mr. Stark-Rogers.”
“Two years, and being called that still gets me--”
“Bye, Tony,” Pepper said, obviously holding back another laugh because of whoever was in her office, and hung up. Tony snickered to himself as he pocketed his phone. Along with Rhodey and Happy, he considered Pepper to be his best friend, and one of his favorite pastimes was messing with her. If you didn’t know them, and caught them at the right moment, they could easily be mistaken for siblings.
“What’s got you in a good mood?” Steve asked when he walked into the bedroom, seeing an amused grin on his husband’s face.
“Just spoke to Pepper.” His smile softened. “She’ll do a press conference. We don’t have to do anything.”
“She’s a saint,” Steve sighed in relief.
“I actually told her that,” Tony pointed out before leaning up for a kiss.
Steve pecked his lips. “Good. She deserves it.” He pulled Tony closer, kissing him for a bit longer this time, but unable to fight off the smile on his face.
“What?” Tony mumbled against his lips with a breathy laugh.
“Just you,” he whispered.
“Oh, just me?”
“Yeah, just you.”
“Okay, I’m good with that,” Tony breathed out, grabbing onto Steve even tighter as they lost themselves in each other in a moment of lightness.
Clint left two days later, just a few hours before Pepper would be holding the press conference. He’d gotten to spend relatively much time with Peter - as much as one would expect from someone as sick as him, and he didn’t take any of it for granted. Didn’t complain when Peter needed peace and quiet, and was up for anything when the boy had enough energy.
Peter, Tony and Steve watched the press conference from the husbands’ bed. They’d meant to watch it with the others, but Peter had tired himself out in the process of making the most of Clint’s last day.
The way Pepper could control a room full of reporters was kind of mesmerizing. Walking onto the stage, she managed to quiet them down without saying a single word.
“I will make a statement. There will be no further questions,” she informed them. When some of them started muttering in disappointment, she fixed them with a look.
“Tony and Steve Stark-Rogers have been, and will be for a long time, unable to partake in any Avengers business. This is due to their previously mentioned personal emergency, which, after all the speculation there’s been, they’ve decided to disclose to the public. Their sixteen-year-old son, Peter, was in early October diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and is currently undergoing treatment. They ask that you please respect their privacy, and to be left alone. Don’t make this more painful for them than it already is. Thank you, that’s all.”
Despite her disclaimer, almost all of the hands shot up into the air. She knew what they would ask if given the chance, which was why she wouldn’t give them that chance. “No questions,” she reminded them, and left the stage.
Peter was nervously fiddling with his fingers, the whole situation making him a little uncomfortable. Steve, who he was cuddled up against, noticed how tense he was.
“You good, sweetheart? Does anything hurt?” he asked, rubbing his arm. This caught Tony’s attention, who worriedly looked down at his son and noticed how uneasy he seemed.
“It’s just… no, nevermind, it’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid if it’s got you this on edge,” Tony told him.
“I’m-- it feels so weird that everyone needs to know. I don’t… I don’t like it,” he admitted, eyes fixated on his lap. This was one of Tony’s biggest doubts back when he took Peter in. He knew what it was like to grow up for the whole world to see and he knew that it was the opposite of fun. He felt guilty for putting Peter through it, and always did his best to shield him from it all. Not an easy task.
“Shit,” Tony hissed, too alarmed to mind his language, despite the giggling, oblivious four-year-old holding onto his hand.
He thought he’d been sneaky enough. Thought that the low-key car he’d chosen, the baseball cap on his head, and his casual clothes would keep him from being recognized. He thought wrong.
Happy’s inevitable “I told you so” was already playing in his head, as he’d convinced the bodyguard that they’d be fine without him. They were just getting ice cream.
Now there were at least ten paparazzi outside the ice cream parlor they’d just exited.
“Look over here, Tony!”
“At the camera, look at the camera, Stark!”
“Let’s see your boy!”
The cameras were flashing, and Peter didn’t understand. “Daddy?” he asked, confused. He didn’t like how loud they were yelling or how close they were getting, so he clung to Tony’s leg.
“Up you go,” Tony said, voice soft in the way he only used when talking to Peter, and hoisted his son up onto his hip. In the process, Peter had tipped his ice cream, and the scoop had fallen off, leaving only the cone.
“Daddy, my ice cream,” he whined, momentarily forgetting about the paparazzi.
“We’ll have some at home,” Tony soothed him, and tried his best to shield Peter from view. There weren’t many pictures of Peter out there, so the paparazzi were having a field day trying to get a shot of him.
“For the sake of my son, I’m gonna be decent. Let us get to our car in peace, and I won’t-- Hey!” Tony snapped when a camera was suddenly right in Peter’s face, the flash making the little boy flinch.
“Why they taking pictures of us?” Peter asked, hiding in the crook of Tony’s neck.
Tony hated ignoring his son, but right now, getting them out of there was slightly higher on his list. He nearly went feral when a camera knocked into the back of Peter’s head, but held himself back.
“Lawsuit,” he simply said with a cold glare, the guy behind the camera paling. Tony pushed his way to the car, cradling Peter’s head, his cries tearing at his heartstrings. As quickly as he could, he strapped him in, kissed his forehead, and stood up straight when he’d closed the door.
“Have some fucking decency when I’m with my son, will you.” It wasn’t a question.
Tony let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, I know you don’t like it. We don’t either. It’s… part of the deal I guess. Wish it wasn’t.”
“Yeah, me too,” Peter said. He’d never liked attention, but with Tony and Steve as parents, staying out of the spotlight was near impossible.
Being at the Compound always gave him a break from that; no one could even enter the area without proper identification and permission. Now, though, as he watched the press conference which was held only because of him, it dawned on him that no matter where they were, the media would constantly be scouring for a new, juicy story. It didn’t always matter if it was true or not, as long as people bought it.
At least this story was true. No one wanted it to be, though.