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Bohemian Rhapsody

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Among many other talents, Tony Stark has the ability to quote from every Queen song ever published.   

There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man   

And  bring him to the ground  

 It's the terror of knowing what the world is about   

Are you ready hey are you ready for this?   

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?   

And not in his craziest nightmares would he have imagined that it would just take a single drive for a training session on the compound with Peter to hate their music for the rest of his life.   

It sends shivers down my spine   

Body's aching all the time   

Why, why, why?   

Insanity laughs, under pressure we're breaking   

When, in one impossible instant, he seems to be loosing one of the few people he‘d die to protect.   

These are the days it never rains but it pours   

Pray tomorrow gets me higher  

 

 


 

 

PROLOGUE  


 

 

“I think I’m going to explode within the next... five seconds.”   

 

Tony laughed, a mocking smile gracing the billionaire’s lips. “So you want to tell me there’s a way to fill that bottomless pit of your stomach?”  

 

“Hey!” Peter retorted, pretending to be huffy. “It’s not my fault I got that metabolism. And just because I have to eat more doesn’t mean I can’t be full.” To be completely honest, if he were hungry an hour after eating literally everything at the huge all you can eat-buffet, he would have either starved already or May would have gone bankrupt. Neither were exactly a nice image.  

 

“Alright, I’ll make a mental note that it takes four plates piled with food to cope with Peter Parker’s metabolism.”  

 

“Do you want me to put that in sketchpad for you?” Friday asked. Peter raised his eyebrows. The AI was an incredibly useful tool - a friend, he reminded himself, thinking of how much he’d grown to like Karen - but her sense of detecting sarcasm and jokes really needed to be updated.  

 

“No-“  

 

“Yes.” Tony interrupted his protégé. Not that it was a life-changing thing to keep in mind, but he liked stumbling over side-notes like this when stuck developing something new which happened quite often, even to the genius that everyone considered Tony Stark to be.  

 

“Why, Mr. Stark, this is-“ He was about to say “-really useless information for you” but was interrupted when the brakes squeaked and Tony pressed an arm against the boy’s chest. Peter hated it, because he felt like a kid every time it happened, but since that one time Tony had to jump on the brakes and the belt had refused to hold Peter upright - with his nose catching the worst of it - this happened frequently: Tony pushing him in the seat when he saw things coming. He couldn’t help it, it had just become a natural reflex.  

 

Around a year earlier Tony would’ve pretended it was because of the legal issues he’d get if one of his interns got hurt on a trip with him - or because he didn’t like bloodstains on the interior of his car. Nowadays, no one would believe that. You didn’t just invite any intern to lunch, let alone someone who wasn’t even an actual intern. Truth was, Tony Stark had started caring deeply for someone that wasn’t him, or Pepper or Rhodey. He might’ve smiled at that thought if it wasn’t for the anger rushing through his system.  

 

“I hate this goddamn quarter! Feels like all residents are just too stupid to comprehend the easiest of street signs.” Tonylet out a breath and relaxed a little, letting his arm sink. “Sorry kiddo.”   

 

The next free hour he’d definitely use to program Friday to avoid routes with higher risk for traffic accidents.  

 

“At least the sight’s pretty nice.” The man turned the car left, leading them away from the apartment blocks and into more natural areas of the city. Peter couldn’t agree more. The sight was astonishing: it was September, autumn was slowly settling in and the tree’s leaves looked like molten gold in the sunlight. Looking out of his window, he could watch it draw all known colors onto the surface of the broad river. This was one of the times that Peter wished he could just hop out of the car and swing himself to the top of those trees. If this place wasn’t so far from home, he might even do it on a spare day. Until then, he decided, he’d just enjoy the quick mini-road trip with his mentor.   

 

As if Tony had heard those words, he turned up the volume of the freshly installed audio system, and it took Peter all of his strength to not start head-banging when Bohemian Rhapsody started playing. It was entirely another question if humming along to the melody was less embarrassing.  

 

But Tony Stark was, even though he might not portray himself like that as often, just as much of a nerd as Peter was. The fingers of his right hand, wrapped around the steering wheel, twitched in the rhythm of the piano, and he rolled his eyes when he saw that the kid was holding back the urge to play along with the guitar. His taps intensified when they reached the well known bridge, and Peter finally couldn’t stop it from happening: He closed his eyes, ignoring the blood rushing in his cheeks by the thought that Tony - fucking Ironman - Stark was sitting in the driver’s seat next to him, listening, and just bursted the song out of his lungs.  

 

“Thunderbolt and lightning - Very, very frightening me!” Tony grinned, and the following happened with neither of them consciously thinking about it. As if they’d sang it in duet a billion times already.

 

“Galileo.”  

 

“Galileo.” Peter started grinning.  

 

“Galileo.” Tony grinned brighter.  

 

“Galileo.”  

 

And both finished, in perfect union: “Galileo figaro!” before taking a short breath to go along with the final chords: “Magnifico-o-o-o!” They laughed, and Peter let all guard down, wholeheartedly playing the solo on the air guitar. It was impossible to believe that a song connected to a memory as crazily beautiful as this would turn into one that Tony would hate to hear for the rest of his life.  

 

The song was still playing when his eyes widened in shock, his right arm snapping upwards to Peter’s chest, a curse slipping from his mouth when the brakes squealed for the second time that day.  

 

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye? (Yeah!)  

So you think you can love me and leave me to die?  

Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby  

Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.  

Chapter Text

Tony was awake through it all.  

Maybe if he had not been so into singing, he would have seen it sooner, or even sensed it.  

From the forest, a deer jumped to the road, its wide and innocent eyes staring straight at him.  

Tony had no time to plan his actions, it was all on reflex: his arm shielded Peter while his leg slammed on the brakes. The tires screeched; the deer tried to leap back but the collision was inevitable. Car hit the animal and spiraled out of control. Tony tried to steer back towards the road but karma was against him.  

The vehicle crashed down a steep hill and rolled over too many times to count. Air bags inflated and tried to hold the passengers in place as loose belongings slammed into seats and plastic parts.   

Their ride ended in a lake.  

Tony took in a deep breath, then another and opened his eyes: the windows gave nothing but darkness and diminishing light. His shoes were wet.  

Awareness slammed back into him.  

“Fuck!” He screamed and his voice echoed in the space. All the sounds were clearer: his breathing, the static of the radio and the quickening beats of his heart.   

“Do- don’t worry, Peter,” Tony stuttered and gulped to gain control over his voice. “We’ll get-”  

He looked at his right, expecting a pair of scared eyes and a silently panicking teenager. What he found was Peter, neck limp and head hanging against his chest, with a bleeding wound on his temple.  

This - this was too much.  

“Peter!” Tony struggled with his seat belt and crawled clumsily closer to the boy. Water was steadily filling their air space but for a moment the man forgot about it.   

“Kiddo,” he whispered urgently like the boy was only sleeping during a crisis, which was exactly what Peter was doing: sleeping so soundly. “Peter,” Tony first checked the boy’s neck for possible fractures. He had minimal knowledge of spinal injuries but he deemed a break would be easy to detect. Once deemed safe, he straightened Peter’s neck, opening the constricted airway and the boy reflexively took in a breath.  

“Good,” The man nodded with a smile and cradled the boy’s face in his hands. “That’s a good boy!”  

Peter was alive and breathing, he could deal with anything thrown at his way as long as the kid would heal.  

Water reached Peter’s knees and the car jolted from side to side as they hit the bottom of the lake. It was completely dark aside from dim car lights.  

“Alright then,” Tony tried to keep up bravado with overly cheery commentary. He unlocked Peter’s seat belt and caught the limp body as Peter tilted to the side. “We need to get out of here.”  

It was simple physics: pressure of the water was so strong car doors could not be opened until water filled the inside of the car and balanced the difference in pressure. Tony was secretly grateful Peter was out cold because the boy’s claustrophobia would most likely kill either him or both of them.  Tony did not have a fear of tight spaces but the situation was making him develop one rapidly.  

“Just a little while longer, kiddo,” He rested Peter’s head on his shoulder, keeping both their mouths and noses in the air. “Hang on tight, okay?”  

A part of him wanted the wait to be over so they could get out. A larger part of him wanted to wait for the rescue. Maybe by some miracle water would stop coming in and they wouldn’t have to fight their way to the surface alone.  

Tony spat out some water, hoisting Peter’s head higher. He could hold his breath but the boy had no control over his throat and muscles.  

What if the car doors wouldn’t open? What if water filled the car and they would both suffocate slowly and the team on arriving to the site would have to bring up their stiff, rigid bodies?   

Tony cursed himself for not taking his armor or gauntlets with him. The one day he actually needed extra help and he leaves them at the workshop!  

“When this is over,” Tony laughed bitterly in the bluish light,”I’m never taking off the wrist gauntlets. Never ever, I’ll even sleep with them on. IronMan would have already helped us out but I-” Tony adjusted his grip as Peter began to slip away, he had taken off the boy’s coat but he was still so heavy ”I can’t do anything.”  

Peter did not answer aside from steady breathing. The wound on his head was bleeding less and Tony took it as a promising sign.  

They only had a few seconds of air left.   

“Okay, kiddo, time to take in a deep breath.”  

Tony filled his lungs as his other hand closed Peter’s mouth and nose.  

And so they were both under the water.  

 

The last few seconds felt like decades, and his body seemed to have conversations with itself. His heart screamed a mantra that consisted of nothing but “Peterpeterpeter” his lungs added a bottom line of  “Breathebreathebreathe”  Then his ears filled with painful static, he could practically hear his blood flow in his veins. Tony’s eyes took a second to adjust to the murky darkness. His arm was wrapped around Peter with a hand still over the boy’s airways: if the kid was to suffocate it was best to do it dry than water in his lungs. He located the door handle and pushed.  

Nothing.  

Tony’s heart skipped a beat. He tried to ground his legs against the gear shift and pushed again. He managed to open the door slightly before the pressure got too huge.  

No!  

He should have checked the door before, made sure the crash hadn’t harmed the mechanism.   

Why hadn’t he - after years of working with the strangest of inventions - thought about getting his car water-resistant in the first place? His guilt complex invited himself to the song in his head: “Idiotidiotidiot” and his brain quickly shut it down. This was probably number one on the “worst places to get distracted in” list. Continuing to curse in his mind, Tony let go of Peter and forced his eyes away from the sight of his kid floating lifelessly in the water. He grasped the handle and positioned his shoulder against the window, ready to rip through the steel if need came.   

Come on, come on, fucking open!  

The door obeyed his mental commands. The screech was drowned by the water as the door gave in and allowed its prisoners to escape. Tony almost let out a breath of relief until he jolted back to reality. He turned around, grabbed the kid from under his arms and half-swam, half-scrambled out of the vehicle.  

A small trail of bubbles floated up from Peter’s nostrils and through a slight opening between his lips. Tony closed the boy’s jaw although he had a feeling Peter’s mouth would open again in a couple of seconds.   

But it seemed necessary at the time.   

Training had included deep-water rescue and Tony considered himself a relatively strong swimmer. Half way to the surface, he began to doubt he had overestimated his endurance. Aside from the bruises and slight injuries from the crash, dragging a lifeless body with him was making the task much more arduous than anticipated.   

His lungs began to rebel. He needed air and for a slight, frightening moment, he seriously considered letting go of Peter and swimming to the surface by himself. It would do no good to let both of them suffocate.  

His paternal instincts, Papa-Wolf as Peter so affectionately called his other side, arose with feverish determination.  

Peter needed help, he had to try.  

He could see the light of the sun.  

Safety was not far.  

Just a little way.  

He adjusted his grip of the boy again and kicked harder with his legs. He reached a hand up.  

His fingers met air.  

Tony broke the surface and his mouth opened before it was fully out of the water.  

He gagged as his mouth filled with foul tasting liquid and- was that a fish? Vomit rose up his throat and the man could not help but spit the acids out. He was in shock, adrenaline making his body shake. He could barely feel his lips.  

“Peter,” The man gulped in the air and struggled to lift Peter’s head above the water. Tony kicked with his legs to stay afloat as he stretched Peter’s body the best he could. He supported the boy’s neck with the crook of his arm and opened the small mouth. Peter’s lips had traces of blue in them and water dribbled down the corners of his mouth.   

“Come on, kiddo,” Tony adjusted his hold so that Peter’s airway was properly opened, his neck aligned straight but it had no effect. The boy did not draw breath.  

Tony tried to avoid falling into panic. Chances were high that the only reason it worked was because there wasn’t enough oxygen to allow panic to settle.  

“Okay,” His almost numb fingers pinched the boy’s nose closed. Tony took a deep breath into his starving lungs but rather than use it himself, he pressed his lips tightly against the boy’s. Warm air traveled down Peter’s throat but Tony could not determine whether it had made it to Peter’s lungs or not. In the worst scenario, he had just blown air into the boy’s stomach and risked him suffocating in his own vomit.  

“Come on, come on, Peter,” Tony muttered as he tried to listen to the air being exhaled. He thought he felt something but couldn’t be sure: cold, exhaustion and wind were messing with his senses. “Breathe for me, kiddo,” He forced another breath into Peter’s mouth, praying it would help the boy’s body to remember how it was supposed to work.  

His prayers remained either unheard or ignored, with just a wave of warm autumn winds meeting his cheeks.   He almost felt the panic level inside him rise to an unhealthy level, but the reaction luckily didn’t settle, his muscles using most of the air that he almost gasped in.  

“You have to stay calm coming out of the water. Wouldn’t be much of a big rescue if you hyperventilate right after coming up.”  Natasha’s voice echoed in Tony’s thoughts, and he tried to let his breathing slow to an acceptable pace before moving forward again. There was not much he could do for Peter at the moment - not in the water, anyway. Best he could do was bring them both onto solid ground, and rather quickly.  

He tried his best to ignore the fatigue hurling in like a storm when the rush of adrenaline began to ebb slowly but steadily, and his limbs began to quiver.   

Just another few meters. The shore was so close.  

Tony’s fingers twitched again, and this time so roughly that he lost grip of Peter for yet another time, with the teenager‘s face sinking underwater for half a second before Tony managed to get hold of him.  

“We’re almost there. Just stay with me, kid.” Maybe he’d be better off with saving the air rather than waste it by speaking, but it kept his worst anxieties from settling in. And hearing his voice might even help Peter find his way back to consciousness.  

The second Tony’s feet touched dry land, his knees gave in and he fell forward, face burying in the grass. For a moment he doubted he could ever stand up again. The position wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, and all he wanted was to close his eyes and just rest for a second. He’d worked hard enough, hadn’t he?  

May Parker’s voice jolted him out of that state, as clearly audible as if she was standing right next to him. If she ever found out he was taking a quick nap instead of helping her nephew, she would literally behead him.   

Half crawling, half walking, he made the final steps before sinking to the ground again, the last bit of energy saved only for dragging Peter’s still motionless body out of the water.  

“It’s alright, I got you now.”, he murmured, more to himself than the boy.   

The blue in Peter’s lips had become undeniably visible, his skin pearly white in comparison to the deeply green grass below, the color intensified by the drops of water that their soaked clothes were dripping. Tony’s heart sank to his knees and probably even stopped for a beat at the sight and a second passed before he restored his composure.   

No different than training.  He pretended.  You know what to do, you know how to bring him back around.    

Carefully, he tilted Peter’s head back, hoping, despite knowing better, that he’d started breathing on his own again during the time that had passed between his rescue breaths in the water and bringing him to the shore.   

Hope is a cruel thing when not fulfilled.  

This time however, Tony had more time and means to handle the problem that was easily found: In his unconscious state, Peter’s ability to control both his breathing and the natural reflex of closing his mouth when covered by water had died down, causing him not just to swallow water, but to catch everything else a lake provided for its ordinary inhabitants: Leafs, algas - when Tony reached inside to scoop the foreign matters out of the kid’s throat, he even feltd some smaller pebbles scratching at his still half numb skin. If they had any more bad luck, the kid might’ve swallowed some more of those, too.  

Once the airway was clear, he repositioned Peter’s head a final time, took a deep breath that his lungs greeted with thankfulness before giving the next one to his mentee, using the hand not occupied with pinching his nose shut to rest it on Peter’s chest in hopes of feeling it rise a few centimeters. There was barely any detectable movement at all and the amount of water sputtering out with the reflexive exhale didn’t exactly appear promising either. Tony attempted calming himself with the mental reminder that he  needed  the water to come out. The second breath did not help either: Peter’s chest was barely rising and he heard gurgling from the boy’s throat as some water dribbled down the sides of his mouth.  

“This isn’t working,” Tony breathed heavily and with effort grabbed the boy from under arms. It wasn’t that the kid was heavy, no, he was sturdy but surprisingly light given his muscles; must be a mutation thing. But Tony was already exhausted and the boy’s wet clothing, even without jacket, added unneeded weight that nearly toppled them both over.  

“You’ve got to work with me, kid,” The man sat Peter up onto his lap and wrapped his arms around his middle. He fisted his right hand and covered it with his left, he could feel how swollen Peter’s stomach was. He had no time to waste.  

He pulled in.  

At first there was nothing but a grunt from the boy and gurgling.  

“Okay, again, come on, Peter.”  

He used more force, made the movement sudden, sharp but pressed long and then foamy water spurted out from Peter’s mouth and nostrils.  

Tony’s heart leaped: “Yes! Good! Good, Peter!”  

He continued the Heimlich maneuver for a while, making sure Peter’s head was hanging low so the water couldn’t run back down the boy’s throat and suffocate him. Foam covered Peter’s already wet clothes and some made it to Tony’s sleeves as he pounded the boy’s middle, willing his lungs and stomach to empty.   

“Throw it up, kiddo, all out,” he cleaned the boy’s mouth after a spurt that brought up even more of the lake life. He threw the leaves to the side and leaned Peter against his chest as he started the thrusts again.   

Tony tried to pretend this was nothing more than a practice in first aid class, but again, then he had not dared to press his hands so deeply into Peter’s diaphragm. He tried to pretend this was similar to when Peter had almost choked on a piece of steak.   

But then he had had a conscious, panicked and loudly gurgling boy in his arms.  

This Peter was limp and so blue in the face.  

What had first been sudden, powerful spurts of water had now regressed to pure foam.  

“You okay?” Tony asked although he knew he would get no answer. “All gone? Think I can breathe for you now?”   

He used more care than necessary to lie the boy back on the ground. With swift fingers, he turned Peter’s head to the side. He wiped Peter’s mouth and face clean of whatever it was he had brought up and pinched his nostrils to clean them.   

“Okay, third time’s the charm,” Tony pulled the boy’s head back, closed the boy’s nose and set a hand on Peter’s chest. He took in a deep breath and locked his lips with Peter’s blue ones.  

He prayed this would work.  

Please let him get air.  

Peter’s chest rose in a beautiful arch.  

“Yes!” Tony cried and listened to air leave the boy’s mouth. There was still gurgling but he could deal with this. As long as Peter got a lungful of air, the boy could deal with some of it remaining in his system.  

Next, his still shaking fingers moved down on the Peter’s neck, coming to a rest right above his carotid artery, and Tony started praying again.  

One second.  

Two seconds.  

Three- and there it was, a flutter so weak that Tony almost missed it. He would’ve relaxed a little if the next thump didn’t take almost five more seconds in coming. Even an idiot could’ve understood the simple maths that was telling Tony that this rhythm was far away from being effective, let alone enough to supply oxygenated blood to all parts of Peter’s body - including his brain, including the organ that made Peter  Peter.  

Still succeeding in keeping the panic at bay, the mechanic traced with his fingers along Peter’s chest until he located the end of his breastbone and used the position to find the right spot for his hands to do effective compressions.  

Prepared for thirty pushes down on the chest, he started counting mentally, and his world began swirling when he physically did the first: a sudden rush of pain almost blinded him.  

Tony tried blinking away the tears that were suddenly blurring his vision, and the feeling of nausea after literally feeling something shift in his right hand. There was no doubt it was broken, and now, with the last bits of adrenaline vanishing, the pain hit him like a train. His heart began speeding up, his breaths quickened, and his cold and wet clothes didn’t exactly help with his shivering. He was so incredibly exhausted that he felt like he could collapse any second.  

His hands still rested on Peter’s chest, and he stared down at him, not sure if he could still find the physical strength to go on. His body‘s natural reflex to avoid harmful inputs told him not to. Not to put any more pressure on his battered hand.  

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t just sit there waiting for Peter’s heart to refuse making those few pumps it still did. So he ignored the pain, ignored the blur of his vision, ignored the grunts of agony leaving his mouth and just put the weight of his entire body to push down.  

Once, twice.   

He was supposed to do 100 compressions a minute at least, 120 if he really wanted to do it perfectly, but that seemed impossible, even though Tony tried his best.  

“I need you to work with me, kiddo.” He said, no longer seeing or hearing anything aside of the blood rushing through his veins. “I can only do this much for you, you have to fight yourself back around.”  

Never before had he been so happy to finish counting to thirty. His brain enjoyed the break from pain when he relaxed his hands and moved up to Peter’s head again. Resting his hand on the teen’s chest was now just a way of having his wrist in a comfortable position, but he wouldn’t deny that it was reassuring to feel the chest rise and it made his thought’s drift away from the cold of the boy’s lips and the water he could still hear rattling in his lungs.  

One breath.  

Two breaths.  

He dreaded resting his fingers on the side of Peter’s neck, fearing not to feel anything anymore, fearing to be forced to continue the physical and mental torture that the first aid means were to him.  

It was still there, that slow flutter, but it was a flutter after all.  

Tony’s curse sounded more like a snarl between shaking teeth.  

“Come on Peter, come on! You’ve made it through stuff worse than this.”   

He forced himself through agony, blindness, cold and dizziness to do the required compressions the way they were supposed to.  

He has an enhanced metabolism.  Tony reminded himself.  And you have to be a freaking enhanced rescuer.  

A rip cracked down below, loud enough for him to hear it beside the blood rush in his ears and he could’ve laughed in relief. If anything, the compressions were at least hard enough. Maybe the effort would be enough to convince Peter’s heart to pick up pace.   

“It’d be a disgrace if you deserted us like this. Spider-Man killed in a car crash. You wouldn’t want that as your reputation kid, you wouldn’t.”   

Talking helped push most of the discomfort away, but the words made Tony’s heart hurt and only caused him to go on even harder and faster, watching Peter‘s shoulders twitch involuntarily with each press, stomach bulging in response - a sickening symphony. He was glad to only see it in a blur.  

When he breathed into the kid‘s lungs this time, his head still hammered, not cooling down even after seeing how perfectly his chest rose. Tony approached his breaking point now, his body slowly overthrowing his mind, the heroism, the urge to save that valuable life below him.  

One breath. Two breaths. It all happened in a flurry now.   

Please let him breathe.  

Let me just have the chance to relax.  

But instead, the answer to his mental wishes came out as a slap in the face.  

A thump against his fingertips.  

Then nothing.  

Nothing for an entire six seconds before he could feel another sluggish movement.  

And Tony lost it, because he just didn‘t have any strength left.  

“Fight, kid, goddammit!” His left hand leaped forward in an instant, hitting Peter’s cheek hard. Peter didn’t fight, didn’t gasp, nothing: his head just lolled lifelessly to the right.  

Tony couldn’t stop the tears from falling anymore when he got his hands on Peter’s chest to start yet another round of compressions, begging for it to work, begging to hear another rib crack, or some gasping that would indicate that he was breathing again.  

“Peter, please. Come on. You have to come back.”  

As if the boy obeyed, Tony saw him move a little, realizing after a second that progress had finally settled in. He didn’t exactly draw breath, but some part of his brain had started working again after all, knowing that the body needed air, that air required breathing. Peter was trying to open his mouth weakly and Tony stopped the compressions, feeling manic laughter bubbling from his stomach.  

“That’s it kiddo, we can totally work with that, just hold on, keep working with me.” The movement of Peter’s lips felt strange and unnatural when he gave the kid a warm breath, but Tony reminded himself that this was good, maybe all he could ask for at the moment. He filled both their lungs, he was working for two and it was getting a toll on his mind, head and body, but Tony was not ready to give up.   

“You can do this, Peter, you are so close,” He crouched over Peter’s chest and began the compressions again. He could think of nothing but the pain, but the pain was good. It meant he was doing something, this was helping.  

Another rib cracked.  

Then Peter gagged. It was a weak sound, purely reflexive but the boy’s tongue moved.  

“Yes!” The man cried and cradled Peter’s face between his hands. “Come on, kiddo, breathe for me. Just a little breath!”  

All movement ceased, Peter became as lifeless as before. Tony’s heart sank to his stomach.  

“Peter,” he asked weakly and slapped the boy’s face hard. “Hey! Hey! Snap out of it!”  

Tony’s body became numb with shock as he pressed his fingers to Peter’s neck and vein. His other hand grasped the boy’s wrist. He counted, he waited, seconds lost all meaning.  

Too long, too long.  

A beat.  

“Oh my God!” He collapsed on the boy’s chest and could not help turning his head to the side so his ear was against the bones under which Peter’s young, warm and stubborn heart resided. The thumb echoed and so slightly raised the boy’s sternum with the pulse. It was still beating.  

“You can’t do things like this to me, kiddo,” Tony whispered and resumed CPR. “I’m an old man, you can’t go scaring me to death at a time like this.”  

His compressions were strong, sharp, precise but his hand was in agony. He couldn’t take much longer of this.  

“Peter, you have to wake up!” He screamed as the boy grunted with each compression. There was an occasional cough as faster circulation of oxygenated blood started waking up Peter’s brain and lungs. It was a terrible scene to witness.  

If Tony was grateful for something, it was that Peter did not have to resuscitate him. He didn’t want anyone to have to witness bringing a drowned person back to life.   

If it was him that hit his head, if Peter had to force breath back to his lungs, watch his mentor throw up half a lake and dig dead leaves from his throat-  

The roles were better this way. Tony had seen more evil, faced more hardships and trauma, he could take this, he could resuscitate Peter and deal with the nightmares but Peter-  

He completed the compressions and again shifted closer to Peter’s head. The blue on his lips had started to vanish only slightly. His throat was constricting like the boy was trying to cough.  

“You’ll be okay,” Tony pinched the boy’s nostrils closed and breathed into Peter’s mouth. He watched from the side how the air filled Peter’s lungs and listened how the boy exhaled. He would never take the movement of that small chest for granted, he would love every single breath, cough and hiccup madly because he knew how empty the world was when Peter was lying half-dead and at his mercy.  

Again, he positioned himself for compressions, and all relief vanished in a second. His body was winning, his trembling hand refusing to obey any more commands.  

Tony knew he had to keep going, but he had lost most of his control. He had lost feeling in his right hand entirely, and he couldn’t hold himself upright enough for one handed compressions either. He collapsed over Peter.  

“I-” Tony gasped and clutched Peter’s shirt with his left hand. “I can’t, kiddo. I- you- please-”  

His chest shook with weak, tearless sobs as Peter laid unmoving underneath him. It took way too much effort for him to lift his head enough to press his head close to Peter’s and caress his face. His fingers traced the boy’s cheekbones, his nose, eyelids, the features he knew by heart. He could describe them with accuracy but had he ever really appreciated them.  

His fingers found the boy’s lips, he had gotten too familiar with them. They were cracked, cold, wet- and still moving. Peter’s body was not ready to give up. It was reaching for the impossible and putting faith in someone to help him.  

Tony felt sick.  

Would Peter give up in this kind of a situation? Would he let a broken hand stop him?  

No, Peter wouldn’t. Peter would try his all and find out the best alternative.   

There was always a chance for life.  

Precordial thumbs have proven shown effect in several cases of approaching cardiac failure.  Tony had no idea when he’d read about that, but it hardly mattered in the puddle of his memories. It was all he could do now, all that could possibly work, all he felt up to. He fisted his good hand and slammed it into Peter’s chest: the boy’s body twitched slightly but no other reaction came.   

Tony felt the warning signs of a breakdown.  

“Goddammit, you son of a bitch!”  

He slapped Peter’s face again. He didn’t care to be gentle. Peter was not being easy with him. Tough love had been needed to snap Peter out of his complexes of proving himself even at the risk of his life. Maybe tough love was needed again to give Peter the final push.  

“You have to breathe!” He slapped Peter’s face again, leaving ugly imprints of his fingers and palm. “Fucking breathe now!”  

He hammered a fist into Peter’s chest again, just where his heart resided.  

“Work goddammit!”   

He screamed from the depths of his lungs “You can’t give up like this! You have to try! You’re not even trying you fucking quitter, worthless little shit!”  

The deities finally seemed to have mercy on him.  

After the third thump, Peter gave a grunt, gagged and then gasped for real this time, his chest expanding properly, and though the boy was still out cold, it was the sweetest sound Tony had ever heard before.  

“My God,” Tears made his voice heavy and wet and for a moment Tony could do nothing more than take in the sight of Peter breathing and coughing. The boy’s eyes were still closed and his movements sluggish and weak but there.  

Peter was there.  

“Kiddo,” He sunk to the ground and gathered Peter’s into his arms. “My brave boy, my little buddy.”  

Despite popular misconception, Tony loved physical proclamations of love. He hugged his friends frequently but with Peter, he sometimes did not know where their relationship stood. Sure, he had the habit of tugging the boy under his arm, for both safety and warmth but they hugged very occasionally.  

This time, he peppered the boy’s temple with kisses, the kid had deserved each of them.  

“You did it kid, you did it,” Tears rolled down his cheeks as he listened and felt Peter’s chest rise and fall. The boy gagged and spit out some water.   

“That’s good,” Tony patted the boy’s back and rubbed his chest. “If there is more to come out, just let it. I’ll help, I’m here, I’ll help you.”  

Wind blew and Tony’s teeth started chattering.   

They were still not out of danger. Peter needed immediate medical attention and Tony suspected he also was due to at least one night at a hospital. He looked at the sky, wishing to see some sign their emergency signal had been spotted at the compound. They couldn’t be too far. Someone had to be coming for them.  

“Don’t worry, kiddo. We just need to save energy,” The man whispered but he was spent. All he could think of now, was how tired and cold and miserable he was, His thoughts were starting to circle. Peter was the only name in his mind, the boy needed care.   

It was not easy while lying down but he somehow managed to set Peter into recovery position, moving the boy’s arm under his torso and hand under his chin. Tony wished he had something dry to wrap the kid in and instead, he shifted closer and wrapped his arms around the boy. He moved as close as he could and clutched Peter as tightly as he dared. It would not do to get Peter’s breathing back but accidentally smother him in a hug.  

Peter’s breaths were slow but even, and the sound of them made it easy for Tony to drift towards unconsciousness.  

Chapter Text

Years of combat experience had made James Rhodes someone that people used to form their stereotype of a war veteran: A little rough around the edges but still caring. A perfectionist but someone cool-headed, someone that could make rational decisions even in the face of fear.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t shocked getting an alarm about Tony Stark’s car seemingly being part of an accident, causing its emergency system to send a signal to the compound. He immediately checked the system for further information but that did nothing to ease his mind. He had seen Tony in the morning and knew the man did not have Iron Man armor or any part of it with him.

“Sometimes it feels like a call for trouble,” Tony had explained as they shared morning coffee. “When I have the nanobot storage unit on, I am constantly being wary, checking the surroundings and expecting something to attack. I know it doesn’t make much sense-”

“Taken how twisted your mind works, it makes surprisingly much sense.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to be just Tony and not IronMan, or have the responsibility of being IronMan.”

Karma was hitting hard, it seemed, when Friday informed him that Tony’s agenda showed he’d been having a belated lunch with Mr. Parker before returning to the compound for the weekly training session. He had to assume the kid had been with him when it happened.

However, he did fulfill the war veteran stereotype in some way, because his voice was calm when he sent the data up to the emergency services and requested two fully equipped teams readied for immediate takeoff.

“And have an -“ He stopped, staring at the map for a second, his trained eyes scanning the area. The alert had come from a remote forest road, barely wide enough to allow two cars pass each other and with trees and hills and even a lake surrounding the signal site. There was no chance of getting even the smallest of helicopters to land somewhere close to the area.  

“I have two ambulances and a MICU prepared for them.” His conversationalist who’d just gotten to the same conclusion answered.

Rhodey was already on his way up when the man on the other line continued. “I’ll get them checked to the closest hospital, we can arrange immediate transport to the facility from there.”

“Thank you, doc.” He hoped they wouldn’t need any but he wouldn’t take risks in anything. Better be prepared for the worst then underequipped for the best.

The drive, even though at fast speed even for emergency cars, gave him much time to think about his best friend’s changes over the course of the past year.

In contrary to common belief, Rhodes had never considered Tony Stark a bad person. Difficult, yes, but never intentionally malicious. Sure, Tony had some major flaws the man himself was painfully aware of, which didn’t come as a surprise given how his childhood had went by. He still did not know the full extent of what being a young Stark had been like, Tony rarely told anything about his father other than “He was cold and never cared for me”. Apparently, anything good that was in Tony was thanks to his mother and family butler who gave the unhappy child all the love they had to spare. 

It was no wonder Tony had turned to alcohol and drugs during college to deal with his inner pain and adapted a “Live fast, die young” mentality which had continued until the experiences in Afghanistan reshaped him. Truth to be told, Tones fulfilled all “Hard shell, soft core” clichés: He intentionally portrayed himself as someone with a certain degree of arrogance, but in the end, Tony had the worst self-esteem he had ever seen. Maybe that was why Tony was so attentive with people who needed someone: he knew firsthand what it was like to be alone.  

It had come as no surprise that the man had quickly found admiration for Peter Parker in his heart, especially since the teenager hadn’t failed to remind Rhodey of a younger - and maybe a little less rebellious - copy of Tony himself. Seriously, the first time he saw Peter without a mask, he had pulled Tony aside and asked if paternity test had been done. Peter was smart, with a love for bad jokes as big as his appetite and a fast tongue, but he was also one of the most friendly and selfless persons that he’d ever met, and Rhodey had met a lot of people in his life. Tony shared the same wavelength, the same mindset with this kid, and Rhodey constantly pointed out how Tony had mentally taken over the role as the kid’s father figure. His friend always sneered and shook his head but still got the fond look on his eyes when ever Peter came into his line of vision, or was even mentioned.

How much he hoped they’d both alright.

“Okay, this is it.” He jumped out of the back of the ambulance he’d rode with, and his strategic mindset took over the worry they had no time for right now. His eyes scanned the area, and he immediately caught the black skid marks and the blood on the road, but no car.

It didn’t exactly take a genius to put one and one together.

“Car must’ve turned over to the lake. I want a team of two waiting here for further orders, and yet two other teams of two check over the area up and down the street. Check the shorelines. I’ll go down to check the car.”

This were his worst fears come true, the reason he’d taken the War Machine suit with him in the first place. But the signal had been sent around 15 minutes ago, so if they’re still in the car, they would’ve been without air for around ten minutes by now. And Rhodey wasn’t ready to find his best friend and his mentee drowned in the wreck of a car.

He suited up and flew off, years of combat experience taking over his mind. He calculated the angle and dove, thrusters steaming in the water but still propelling him downwards. He could feel the chill through the metal and he gasped reflexively. It was quiet aside from the silent hum as his suit fought forward. Thank heavens Tony had not focused all the updates on the Iron Man suit but every weapon Avengers used, even their support group was under his harsh jurisdiction. War Machine armor was originally designed for flying combat but Tony, being the worry-wart and opportunist, had perfected the air filtration system and made the suit waterproof. It expanded greatly the armors functionality and at a time like this, Rhodey wondered whether Tony had psychically predicted what would someday happen.

Black Audi came into view. Lights were out and the front door was broken. Even through the darkness it was clear the vehicle had taken a beating but survived relatively well.  

Rhodey braced himself, a part of him wanted to swim up and pretend he saw nothing but he had a responsibility. He had to make sure, he had to know whether Tony and Peter were there, floating lifelessly, beyond rescue.  

He turned off the thrusters and grabbed the sides of the door and peered in. The vehicle was empty aside from two jackets that had been thrown haphazardly to the back seat.

They had made it.

They could still be alive.

“They are not in the car,” Rhodey said into the communicator as he broke the surface. “Check the perimeter, I’ll see if I can get a thermal reading of them.”

He made the necessary adjustments and flew over the lake. Tony and Peter had made it out but there was no guarantee they had made it to the shore. In the worst case, they had both lost consciousness and were drifting in the current. It was improbable since the car was designed to endure crashes and the airbags had gone off. But if they both broken limbs, getting to the surface might have proved too arduous a challenge.

Rhodey did not check the entire water area since there was no reading in the proximity of the car. The current was not strong enough to aimlessly carry bodies.

“You found anything yet?” The man called to his team.

“There is dead deer in a ditch, right where the signal went off.”

“They must have hit it,” They came to the same conclusion. “Okay, good to know this was not an attack.”

“You found them yet, sir?”

“No, they don’t appear to be in the water anymore. I’m going to check the shoreline and see if I can spot something.”

“Roger that, we’ll check the forest, maybe they are trying to reach the road.”

“Unlikely but do that.”

He started flying again with a much lighter heart since he didn’t need to drag two lifeless bodies from the water. He knew the chances of finding both Tony and the kid unharmed were extremely slim but he could deal with injuries. As long as they both drew breath, anything could be fixed and dealt with.

The shore was surprisingly devoid of sand, grass took over the land almost immediately. It was certainly not meant for swimming or sunbathing.  

The scanners alerted him of two readings just below him.

Rhodey looked down and at first could not see anything amiss. But then his eyes found it, partly hidden by the grass, sheltered by trees, a pair cuddling close together.

“I found them!” Rhodey immediately called to his communicator and dove down. His suit clanked as he ran forward and leaped out when the metal opened. This was like in Afghanistan, seeing a small sign and then finding something much better than you had prepared yourself for.

“Tony!” The man shook his friend’s shoulder, goosebumps rose on his skin from the cold. Both Tony’s and Peter’s clothes were wet, chilly autumn air had done nothing to dry them but rather stiffened them against their skin. He set a hand on Peter’s face and was relieved the blue on his lips was not because of suffocation.

“They are both alive,” Rhodey pressed the communicator in his ear and positioned his fingers to Tony’s neck vein. “Yes, they’re breathing, I can feel pulse.”

“Good, that is all we can ask for at this moment. Anything else of note? Visible injuries?”

“Yeah, Tony’s hand is broken and Peter has a wound on his head that is slowly starting to clot. I assume they were both caused by the crash. I can’t say about inner injuries but they are both hypothermic.”

They were both white with traces of blue on their lips and under the nails. Tony had Peter in a tight grip, Rhodey assumed the man had tried to comfort the boy since body heat could not be shared through wet clothes. If anything, Tony was worsening both their conditions.

Rhodey felt awful having to separate them.

“I’m sorry,” He unclasped Tony’s arms around Peter’s shoulders and middle. “But they would separate you anyway.”

Rhodey tried to move the pair as little as possible so he resorted to pulling Peter away since the boy was lighter.

“Tony!” He kept the man in a halfway recovery position and slapped his face. “C’mon, wake up! Get up! Your kid needs you!”

Tony’s cheek showed a bit more color after the sharp hits but it had no effect on his level of awareness. Rhodey swore although he had not expected anything short of professional medical care to help. He took a penlight from jean pocket (never leave home without it).

“Stark’s pupils are responding to light,” he said to the communicator. “No sign of head trauma.”

He got up and moved to Peter’s side. As with Tony, he lifted Peter’s eyelids and shone the light into the boy’s eyes.

“Parker’s are unevenly blown, most likely a concussion. Could also be a neck injury if it was received in the crash.”

“I agree with the assessment. We’re now 30 seconds out.”

Rhodey could already hear them. He rubbed Peter’s shoulder and took off his jacket. He knew it most likely didn’t do difference in the timespan it would take for the professional help to arrive but it was something. He knew Tony would want him to put Peter’s needs first.

Finally, the team arrived with each member carrying either an emergency bag, several blankets, or both.  

“Alright, we have a risk for possible spinal injuries so we have to act quick but be extraordinary careful. Get an IV set for each of them, CC as a precaution and I want a preliminary report as soon as possible.”

Rhodey was more than glad Dr. McKane had been chosen as the head medic. Tony had made sure to hire only the best of the best - for obvious reasons - and that woman definitely deserved that reputation. After the battle in New York, she’d impressed James with her calm nature a lot - proving that you didn’t need a leading position in military to make you a cool-headed person. God knew how many of the younger medics would’ve freaked out at the amount of injuries they had to face during their time, not to mention the participation in all the high-risk rescue missions. If anyone would know what to do to get Tones and Peter up on their feet, it was her.  

He hated taking a step back in order to let the paramedics do their work, but he would only be in the way otherwise.

“Stark’s pulse’s rapid but strong. Right hand’s definitely broken, and given the swelling, structures are probably shattered. Has some more bruises at the TH 4 to TH 6 area and approximately a mild hypothermia, condition’s stable otherwise.“  

Rhodey let out a breath at the words of one of the younger medics working over Tony, professionally placing the neck collar. All of those were words he heard before; conditions he knew could get handled. After what he’d seen, things could’ve been far worse than that. It was a miracle the two of them were even still breathing.  

“Have a bag of warm saline and a round of beta-blocks ready, but I want to have a better read on vitals before we go on. “

Nodding simply, the small team of two went on freeing their patient from wet clothes and everything else that would hinder the leads from measuring correctly before attaching them and wrapping the man carefully in several blankets. Rhodey swallowed, but managed to look away, suddenly realizing that he hadn’t heard anything about Peter’s condition as of now. McKane seemed to notice, too.

“Status report?”  

Only then one of the paramedics looked up, the other still occupied with placing the neck support and getting rid of the clothing covering the kid’s chest. Someone seemed to squeeze Rhodey’s heart in his chest. Peter didn’t appear huge to begin with, but in this condition, motionless, with two medics eagerly working over him, he just looked incredibly small. It was year-long training that stopped him from getting nauseous at the sight, especially when they moved the breathing bag over the kid’s face, forcing air into the teenager’s lungs.

“Pulse’s weak and sluggish, breath’s labored and rattling. No hints for spinal injuries, but he’s definitely in for a concussion and a moderate hypothermia.”

“His chest’s starting to bruise too, we have to assume he was under before we came here.”

This time, it was harder to ignore his stomach knotting. Not just because of how much less promising Peter’s condition sounded, but by the horrifying image of how Tony must’ve used up his last bits of strength to save the kid’s life. Biologically/ juristically or not, Peter was like a child to him, and no parent should ever have to be forced to fight first-handedly for the life of his children. This was one of those things that’d break every normal human being.

“GCS?” McKane asked, still facing the two medics working on Peter, but Rhodey saw that she listened to the fast beeps coming from the monitor set on Tony’s side simultaneously. She simply nodded, giving the assigned paramedics the agreement to administer the prepared drugs.

“Solid nine currently.”  

“Try to bring his ox-stats up, his heart’s probably only in need of some more oxygen, and give him a bag of warm saline, too.”

Her eyes went over to Tony again, accessing his condition. The dancing lines on the monitor settled down a little, and together with the slow rhythm played by Peter’s heart monitor, the symphony sounded almost like that of a single healthy person.

The metaphor appeared cruel in that context, given how both their bodie’s still rested motionless and pale on the grass.

Minutes passed without positive changes. Both Tony and Peter were swaddled in blankets and paramedics held the warm saline bags high in their hands, trying to keep the line unhindered. Tony had on an oxygen mask, providing him 100% O, they had hope it would calm his heart from working overtime. Peter, however, was still being bagged, his breathing and O-Stats did not pick up even after minutes of trying.  

McKane rubbed her forehead.  

“We are not getting any further here, it’s more important to start transporting. Intubate Parker, we need to preserve the airway.”

The paramedics who had been in charge of keeping the ambubag in place and squeezing the valve, nodded. Rhodey watched as one gave another the full duty of giving Peter air while he dug through the bag to select a breathing tube that would suit the boy. He had hoped it would not come to this but he tried to reason it was better for Peter - he did not need to like it. Tony was badly off, sure, but at least he breathed by himself and that was a huge comforting point.

Tony’s heart monitor picked up a little.

“He is coming to,” A paramedic called to the doctor who turned around and crouched beside her employer.

“Mr Stark?” She set a hand on his shoulder and rubbed her knuckles into his bare sternum. “Mr Stark, can you hear me?”

Tony grunted in pain and confusion and struggled to open his eyes. He forced his lids up to allow dim sunlight to pass.

“Hello, Tones,” Rhodey rubbed his friend’s arm through the blankets comfortably. “We’ve got you, you’re going to be alright, just rest.”

The drugs that had been administered awoke Tony’s senses little by little but it was still like everything was behind a mist curtain. He was not certain of the day, all he could focus on was the feeling of numbness, every single joint and muscle was either in flames or cold. He moved his fingers and Rhodey grabbed them gently.

“Do you remember what happened?” McKane asked clearly but not too loud. She didn’t offer an answer, she wanted to measure how aware the man was.  

Tony squeezed his eyes shut and gulped, the memories suddenly rushing back into him. Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.... Then a sickening squeal. Water. The Shore. Peter.

Peter!

“Where-? Peter?” The man’s voice was weak, raspy but he freed his hand from Rhodey’s grip to try and reach for the boy. He tried to look for him, too, but the neck collar kept his movements minimal, he couldn’t nod or shake his head. It was panic inducing; he could only see the blue sky and the faces of his saviors if they bent right over him.  

He had to get it off.

“No!” Rhodey was immediately dragging his hand away from the support. “You have serious injuries, Tones. We need to keep your head in place until we get an X-Ray.”

“Peter is safe,” McKane answered diplomatically, knowing that the man wouldn’t calm down before having an answer.  

Tony was getting more aware each second and the doctor knew it was only a matter of time before the man heard the beeping of the monitors on Peter’s side. 

“Mr Stark, Peter is being cared for-”

Tony stretched his hand out a little further, and finally, touched some skin that wasn’t his. It was cold and soft and the fingers were so thin. He tried squeezing what he believed to be the kid’s hand but wasn’t sure whether or not his fingers had actually moved.

“I need a smaller tube,” The paramedic behind them said as he moved back to the bag and the other placed the mask over Peter’s face again.  

Tony’s eyes widened at the sounds. They were so different than the ones coming beside him. Too slow.

“What is that?” He tried to move his eyes.

“O2-Stats are not picking up.”

McKane turned back for only a second but it was enough for Tony to realize they weren’t talking about him.  

“Is he on 100% oxygen?”

“Yeah.”

“Then it’s the water, we have to wait until compound to suck the rest of it out.”

“I-” Tony’s face paled. “I got it out. I made sure I got the water from his lungs.” His voice broke.  

The doctor tried her best placating tone.

“Peter is fine, he just needs a little help breathing.”

The boy’s monitors were still screaming, a second notification turning up on screen.

“Pulse is slowing down, we’re risking bradycardia.”

“Give him 2mg of epinephrine, let’s see if it revives him a bit.”

“Peter,” Tony whispered, his own pulse quickening up to make up for all the beats Peter’s heart was missing.  

It was like his own heart was stealing the energy Peter’s had.  

While Peter’s slowed down, Tony quickened too much.

“Mr Stark, you need to calm down.”  

Calm down? How was he supposed to calm down hearing that Peter’s heart got slower every second? His thoughts shattered as he realized that he hadn’t helped at all.

His boy was still dying.

“Peter- safe- Peter.”

“Peter is safe, I assure you.”  

Tony said nothing more, his eyes closed and the heart monitor started screaming along with rapid blinks.

Chapter Text

“Mr. Stark!”   

In the moment Dr. McKane said it,  she knew she wouldn’t get a response. Being a medic meant she could differentiate monitor alarms in her sleep.  

“He’s tachycardic, probably slipping straight into a PT.” This would be rarely more than the absolute worst-case-scenario for someone healthy, but with Stark’s previous heart conditions, he was at a higher risk, which meant they had to get the arrhythmia under control before it got out of hand.  

“Get another round of beta-blocks and propofol and push it down immediately. Get him ready for cardioversion, quickly.”   

The situation developed in a squared multicode, hard even for someone with certified trauma knowledge. It was a relief to at least see that Parker’s condition began improving. His pulse was still too slow, but at least began stabilizing to a certain pace. They had means to support his heart speeding up. Right now, the main priority was keeping Mr. Starks’ from doing exactly that.  

“Sergeant Rhodes, I have to ask you to stand back.”   

“I was just-“ he couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence, but McKane saw it: He’d separated Tony’s hand from Peter’s, and rightfully so. They wouldn’t do the kid any good by accidentally cardioverting him, too. However, she wasn’t as cold-hearted as her professionalism made her appear. That small gesture of reaching out for Parker’s hand - like he was drowning and it was his only saving, like it was all that kept him from sinking. His condition worsening parallel to Peter’s improving gave that metaphor an immense emotional touch.  

“How’s Parker looking?”  

“Pulse’s steady at 49, adequate breath sounds on both sides, oxygen stat’s at a solid 97%.”   

She nodded, throwing a quick glance at the preparations done, eyeing especially the number of Tony Stark’s oxygen levels before turning back a final time.  

“If you deem him stable enough for transport, get him up on a gurney and in the ambulance. Could you lend them your hand, Sergeant?”   

Rhodey hated the sound of the doctor’s voice. It wasn’t a question, it was barely a suggestion, it was halfway order. He understood why she gave it. The two paramedics taking care of Peter were suited and trained enough to get him into the ambulance themselves, so this was only about not having him close when they were working on Tony. James wanted to stay, but his rational side knew better. Besides, he shouldn’t risk Tony ever finding out that he’d left Peter out of sight for more than a second, not for Tony himself, not for anyone. Tony hadreached for the kid to offer comfort, because he needed to know the kid - his kid - was alright, and realizing that he wasn’t might’ve broken him for good. No matter when Tony would come to senses again, he’d beat himself up for not helping enough, for not being there when Peter needed him, so someone else had to. That someone just happened to be Rhodey.  

“Sure.”  

“We’re prepped.”   

He tried to focus on the task at hand, listening to the orders given to him instead to those behind him.  

“Set it to 100 joules.”   

The machine began whirring and McKane added, “Do yourself some good Mr. Stark and make this easy for us.”   

She checked that the area was clear, that no one was in touch with Tony’s skin before announcing that she’d deliver the shook.   

“Clear.”   

Rhodey squeezed his eyes shut for a second, trying not to concentrate on a motionless and incubated Peter in front of him, or the scenery that he knew had happened behind his back a second ago: Tony’s chest and arms, now freed from the tight blanket wrapped around him, twitching slightly, heaving just a few millimeters before coming to a sudden rest again. The result was audible: Nothing had changed.  On the contrary. It was hard to tell and tormenting to think of, but Rhodey could swear the beeps of the monitor came even faster than before. Not that he could distinguish two beeps from another anymore, they just seemed to blur into each other.  

“Alright, same setting, try again.”   

When the machines began to whir this time, Rhodey was up on his feet and at the side of Peter’s gurney, helping to move it forward. But his mind and ears were still back at the shore, still with Tony.   

You have to make it Tones. If not for yourself, or me, then do it for Pepper. And Peter.  

“Clear.” McKane sighed but found herself relaxing a few seconds after the second shock. This time, the electricity jolting trough the man’s body did finally seem to help. The monitor alarms vanished.  

“Good decision.” She remarked before turning for the paramedics. “We give him a few minutes, hope his pulse settles below 100, then get him ready, too.   

“How’s Parker looking?”  

“49, still, and holding up. Oxygen stats looking good.” McKane smiled. For now, the most severe crises seemed to be overcome, and she hoped that would prove true, at least until they’d reach the compound, where they’d have more means to help care for both their patients.  

“Get on the road, we’ll be following in just a minute.” A minute she’d spent making a final decision on how to judge her current patient’s condition. She didn’t like the instability in Mr. Starks vitals. Once his pulse calmed, the man’s oxygen stats began going wild. Physical stress was hard enough for a human body to deal with. The emotional pressure didn’t exactly help with that either.   

“Alright, not taking any risks here. I want him intubated before we get on the road.”  

None of the assessing paramedics raised an eyebrow at her decision, they all agreed on it being necessary.   

Rhodey sat at Peter’s side in the ambulance, a hand on the kid’s shoulder, trying not to look into his face. It’d only be a horrible reminder that this usual hell of a healthy teenager wasn’t even able to properly breathe on his own. The conversations failed to bring his thoughts away from that.  

“Parker’s getting increasingly non-responsive, pupils’ reaction sluggish.” One of the paramedics spoke into the communicator, the penlight still in his hand. They all knew what it meant without verbalizing it. Peter was drifting closer to a comatose state, without any of them being able to tell what exactly was causing it. But doing an MRI and a CT wasn’t possible in here.  

“I’ve already arranged the transport. Helicopter’s waiting on us.” McKane’s voice sounded trough the speakers. Rhodey eyed Peter’s monitor, still showing several notifications, and although none of them were important enough to actually raise an alarm, it wasn’t hard to tell that his condition danced on the borderline between being manageable and dangerous. Besides, he could still hear the quick beeps of the other monitor at the end of the line.  

“Is it wise?” He asked. “They are both very weak. Flying might prove to be too strenuous.” The paramedic’s facial expression gave no hints of a personal opinion away when he repeated it for the head medic.  

“I know.” McKane said. “But it is our best bet. I am worried about Parker's concussion, regular hospitals don't have the resources to treat people like him.”   

Rhodey nodded, leaning back. He still wasn’t convinced that they weren’t putting unnecessary pressure on the two of them, but he hadn’t studied medicine for the better time of his life, so he wasn’t in a position to judge. He’d given his recommendation, the final choice was on McKane. All he could do was sit there and hope his presence gave at least Peter a little comfort.  

Whether or not that proved to work was a question that remained unanswered. The kid‘s only movements were the regular heave of his chest, and those were a simple, unconscious reaction tothe air forced into his lungs. But from experience, and from what Tony had told him (he talked about Peter a lot, basically like a parent documenting all minor developmental steps of their newborn child), he’d learned that the kid needed a certain kind of physical affection to feel at ease. Which was hard to grant, given that he was wrapped in blankets and strapped on a gurney. All Rhodey could do in their current position was stroke the kids shoulder over three layers of blankets.  

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” He said, his voice surprisingly toneless. It was reasonable, given that after you met Peter Parker, you couldn’t help but embosom him. This was nothing you second-guessed, nothing you could consciously prevent. Seeing him like this was just utterly wrong, and it suddenly dammed him that he would have to call the boy’s aunt to inform her about what happened.  

And Pepper? Tony’s spouse was currently on a business trip at the other end of the country, with god-knows how many meetings for her to attend. There was no doubt Tony would want her to stay exactly there, not intending to let the worry for him stop her from doing what she loved to do. Rhodey would’ve probably even agreed to that, but that was before his friend had drifted that close to a stress-induced heart-attack. Tony wouldn’t be able to deny it, he’d need her at his side, helping him to regain physical and mental balance. Not to mention what would happen if Pepper found out only after her return. He could handle Tony’s anger, he’d been familiar with his temper for long enough. But Pepper? That woman was another story entirely, and he didn’t want to pick a quarrel with her.   

 

The first time Rhodey saw Tony again was when they loaded him onto the helicopter shortly after he’d helped getting Peter on there. The kid had scared them for an awfully long second, his heart skipping a few beats before returning to its initial pace. They took control of it with medications now, so Rhodey was free to have his heart sink into his stomach when he caught the first glance at his best friend.  

“What-“  

“It was a precaution.” McKane explained, easing his worries. “After all, the accident wasn’t exactly helping with his existing heart-condition. We took care of the stress-induced arrhythmia and got it under control, but I wanted to take a strain from his body until he’s gotten more stable.”   

She rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. “As far as things are looking by now, I’m confident that they can extubate Stark as soon as the surgery is over. This is really just a precaution and in favor of the physicians on the compound.” With those last words she nodded her agreement for the preparing of the take-off before strapping herself in and allowing the paramedics to fill her in on Peter’s condition.  

Rhodey sat down quietly, trying to come to terms with all of what he’d witnessed in the past half an hour.  

Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it was a sudden wail of alarm that snatched him out of the process.  

“Alright, who’s crashing?”  

“Parker’s slid into VF.”  One of the paramedics announced, his movements quick and precise like a sickly perfect reflex when he loosened the straps of the gurney to free the kid’s chest from the blankets. Two hands, fingers interlocked, went down on an already bruised breastbone. The alarms went silent, tiny waves on screen replaced by huge curves. “Starting compressions.”  

McKane closed her eyes for a second, allowing herself a deep breath in. It was a simple trick, but usually, it helped. Set the world on half the pace for some time, allowing her to keep track of everything necessary. Going through the H’s and T’s was unnecessary, they already knew the kid had suffered a moderate hypothermia and deep inside she’d been prepared that it could happen. The pressure of both the flight and the cold, even though he’d warmed up a little already, was just too much to handle simultaneously. That she’d seen it coming didn’t change a thing about the weight of responsibility of saving a teenager’s life.  

“Keep going, I’ll prep a mg of epinephrine. Sergeant? I need you to hand the defibrillator over.”  

Rhodey had been paralyzed from shock ever since the alarm had rang in his ears, like an awfully violent reminder of where he was: A medical helicopter filled with just too many people, right in between his best friend and the man’s mentee, protégé, son by heart. A kid that was now dancing on the small rope between life and death.  

“Breathe.” What was meant to be a comment to the paramedic in charge of providing Peter air with the ambubag,snatched Rhodey back into reality. He turned around, reaching for the red case behind him and handing it over to McKane, avoiding to look at Peter. It didn’t work for long, as if the kid was a magnet, as if a cruel god wanted to torture him by forcing him to watch. The teenager’s hand twitched in a rhythm with the administered compressions, his stomach heaving in response to the hands forced down on his chest, forcing an unwilling heart to pump. None of that happened voluntarily. None of it was an initiated movement. All of it was forced from outside, and it felt wrong. The reality used to be different. Used to be Tony having to tell the kid to take it easy, with patrol, with training... But Tony wasn’t in his right spot either. Not making the usual sarcastic comments, not making fun of the kid in a lecturing, though mostly loving and protective way.  

“Epi’sin, hold compressions for a second.” The alarms immediately began wailing again, indicating that Peter’s heart still twitched instead of beating. “Still v-fib, keep going.”  

The paramedic was quick to restart with his work, starting the circle of movements again. Press. Twitch. Bulge. Raising only one hand when McKane moved forward to get the pads attached to Peter’s chest. The other hand kept doing compressions, providing a starving brain with oxygenated blood.   

“Charging to 180 now, keep going.” The agreement came without words, just in the newfound intensity of compressions.  

“Breathe.”  

“We’re charged.” McKane remarked professionally. “Stay back.” A second passed.  

“Clear. Come, on Parker, work with us.”  

With the jolt of electricity,  Peter’s entire body twitched, shoulders slightly moving inwards, his chest heaving half a centimeter for a nanosecond before coming to a rest again, accompanied by the sickening alarm sound of the heart monitor. The spikes didn’t return on the screen, neither did the previous waves.  

McKane - a woman that had never understood the concept of religions, found herself praying. Praying that the flicker of electricity Peter’s heart still offered hadn’t vanished entirely, that he still gave them something to work with.   

“There we go.” She couldn’t help but let out a relieved breath when the motionless line began heaving again. Still not in spikes, but at least not still. “Continue compressions.”   

Rhodey noticed, somewhere in the back of his mind, that the paramedics had changed places. No surprise, given that squeezing a vital organ between two bones that weren’t meant to be shift was taxing on the rescuer. All his rationality - all his distance - had vanished, and he watched and listened with almost a blank mind to what was going on around him. The cracking when a rib finally gave in under the weight crushed upon it. The whine following the hold of the compressions for the third pulse check.  

McKane’s muttered urges.  

“Come on, you made it this far. Don’t give up on us just yet.”  

Peter didn’t give a verbal answer.  

His body did, and the monitor translated. “Still VF, but amplitude’s going down. Administering another mg epinephrine, hoping it keeps him with us. Charging pads to 200.” By now, they almost worked in empty silence. There were no more agreements needed. Even the switch happened smoothly without talking, and when the second shock went through Peter’s body, they all just watched the reflexive movement of the kid’s chest, hoping.As 

“Still nothing. Charging again.”   

While McKane moved to have the unit charged, her colleague began hammering his hands into Pete’s chest again. “How far are we out?”  

“Estimated time of arrival is two minutes from now.”   

The doctor ignored the response.  

“Clear.”  

The third shock was as successful as the previous ones.  

Rhodey could think about nothing but the time. Two minutes out meant that Peter’s heart had refused to work properly around six minutes ago. He could barely stop himself from calculating what that meant.  

Come on Peter. Don’t do this.   

“Wait.” McKane signed the performing emergency responder to hold compressions. The monitor seemed to scream again for even daring to stop, but the sound was different to the one before, and accompanied by slow but regular beeps coming from the background.  

“That’s it. Almost.” All of the attending medics allowed themselves a short breather, appreciating the regular spikes on screen before focusing on the number.  36 BPM.  

“Bradycardia. It’s undeniable now.” Strong, sharp, quick compressions were suddenly replaced by gentler, more timed ones, even before the decision came.  

“Pass-time, we put him up for pacing before we loose that weak pulse again.” The required changes were done with a simple switch on the machine, and everyone just leaned back in anticipation. “Attempting capture at 55, let’s see how it goes.”  

Peter’s fingers twitched again, and again, and that minimalistic body response to electricity became regular, the impulse giving the heart muscle the sign to contract.   

“Pulse captured. I’ll try turning up to 70.”  

The impulses came quicker now, and for the first time in what had felt like forever, no alarm was interrupting the silence in the helicopter. Just some little click’s of the defibrillating unit when it fulfilled it’s purpose.  

“Doc, we’re ready to land now.”  

“Permission granted.”  

It wouldn’t make sense to wait. Peter’s condition wouldn’t stabilize within the next minutes, not before he was properly warmed up and treated, and the only place granting that possibility was the facility.  

McKane was just glad that Mr. Stark had held up the entire flight.  

And maybe all of them were too relieved to see an actual pulse on both screens to realize that the blood pressure on Peter’s was slowly but steadily gravitating downwards.  

The helicopter landed and the unloading of patients began when the rotators had yet to stop spinning. Airwaves were strong and made the people protect their eyes. Peter was taken off first, his fragile condition stating he needed immediate care on an even ground.  

“Let’s get them inside!” McKane screamed at the team that accepted the gurneys and gently helped them from the helicopter so their bodies would not be jostled unnecessarily. Automatic doors opened and soon they were all in the safety and warmth of the compound.  

“We have operating room ready for Stark,” A nurse said as she pushed off Tony’s blanket to get a good look at the hand. The swelling had gone up during the flight.   

“We need X-Rays for Stark’s hand and Peter’s ribs, he has been under two times now. Is MRI ready?” McKane walked fast in the narrow hallways.   

“Yes, we can take Parker there immediately,” The nurse pushing Peter’s gurney along looked at the woman.   

“Head-wound needs stitches,” a male nurse inspected the cut. “His healing is not working.”  

“I would be shocked if the healing focused on tiny superficial imperfection rather than ensure his heart kept beating,” McKane dryly remarked as they came to crossroads. Left led to operating theatre and right to treatment rooms.  

“Stark suffered from arrhythmia on the shore and has been tachycardic ever since. Mind that when you give him anesthesia.”  

“He has good breath sounds,” a stethoscope was placed on Tony’s chest and Rhodey breathed out, at least some good news. Sure, they were both on their death beds but hey, at least his lungs were clean!  

“Yes, intubation was just a precaution,” The man nodded. “Plane ride was a lot of stress from them both.”  

“Parker drowned, has still some water in his lungs, we don’t know how long he was resuscitated after the crash or if his heart stopped, Stark has not been conscious enough for questioning.”  

“What is Stark’s GCSE?”  

“14. Parker’s was 9 before helicopter ride.”  

“Seems about 6 now,” A nurse pinched Peter’s eyebrow to get a response to pain. “We need to rule out the possibility of brain bleed.”  

“They’re also both hypothermic and need further warming up.”  

A nurse arrived with two bags of warmed saline that were attached to Tony and Peter’s IVs.   

“I think we should just stick with liquids until the surgery and tests are over. Let’s hope cold prevented their brains and hearts from gaining long-lasting damages.”  

Tony’s hand was X-rayed and the radiologist winced at the picture.  

“Yep, completely shattered, bones are all over the place.”  

“But that can be fixed, right?” Rhodey asked nervously, Tony was right handed.  

“Sure, but that might leave some scars. We can’t really tell if there is nerve damage until he wakes up and he can start physiotherapy.  

Peter had two broken ribs, most were dislocated, only few lowest ones were intact. They medical staff could do nothing more than set the bones (that were luckily not threatening to puncture a lung), bind Peter’s chest and hope the boy would not need further chest compressions.   

Then Peter and Tony parted ways. The man was wheeled to the operating theatre where he was attached to a ventilator and monitors. Now that the flight was over, his vitals were slowly starting to go up. Warm air and tranquility aided his condition and the surgery went by without complications.   

Peter was taken to a room where a large MRI machine stood. Rhodey followed him because if he didn’t and Tony found out, he would be dead meat. He watched from behind the glass as the boy was lifted from the hospital bed to a stretcher for testing.   

Awareness level of 6 did not sound good. He was not an expert but knew it was below the threshold of comatose state. His heart tried to offer optimistic possibilities: it was just caused by the cold, there was a treatable hemorrhage or too much pressure in the brain. Those were common causes that could be taken care of with medications, surgeries and rest.   

The monitor turned on and a doctor started to look through the images of Peter’s brain.  

It turned out he had less time for that than he hoped.  

“BP’s going down.” The radiologist remarked, scanning the images even quicker now. “There’s no brain bleed to cause it. Temperature is almost back fine. He’s bleeding somewhere else, we have to get him out of there.” Both the nurse and the radiologists left the room in a hurry, and yet again, Rhodey was left in no spot to assist.   

“Prep a unit of Midodrine. Having him go into a hypovolemic shock is the worst-case scenario now.”   

The seconds needed to have the machine release the stretcher felt like hours, but they immediately started working on the boy.  

“Pupils are still sluggish and slightly dilated but neither is blown.”  

“Midodrine’sin.” They began carefully palpating Peter’s entire body before the radiologist slowed to a halt.  

“Abdomen’s stiff. Stomach must’ve been bleeding for a while. We have to get him to the OR, now. We’ll get the pMRI ready later.”  

Peter was quickly lifted back on the bed, and was wheeled out under excruciating alarms of the vital monitor indicating that his blood pressure was falling even further.  

Rhodey doubted it had taken longer than three minutes, but it  felt  like a gruesome eternity.  

Chapter Text

As soon as Tony and Peter were both in surgery, Rhodey was left alone, pacing, waiting. He hated it all: the inability to help, assistants swirling around, asking him every two minutes if he needed something (“Waiting could take a while Sergeant Rhodes, maybe you should sit down for a second”). He turned everything down, tried to focus on the view from one of the top floors of the compound’s main building. 

“Sergeant, are you sure you don’t want to sit down and have a glass of water after the shock?” 

Shock.  Shock was an understatement for what he’d just witnessed, but he answered firmly anyway: 

“I appreciate your concern, but no.” The red-headed assistant nodded, floundering off in some pretty high heels. That sound. 

It reminded him of an eager young woman that never failed to walk astonishingly straight in high heels. 

“There’s something else I’d like you to do for me, please, if you wouldn’t mind? Could you tell me how Mrs. Potts’ schedule is looking today?” 

“Of course, Sir, no problem.” That woman could win an award for ‘best-customer-service smile’. A nanosecond later, Rhodey felt his phone vibrating in his pocket, receiving the digital print-out of his request’s results. He eyed it critically. 

“Busy all day, it seems.” He sighed. It’d be useless to try reaching her during a meeting - the woman usually had her phone turned off or calls blocked during meetings, but at the same time, she’d behead Rhodey for every minute that passed without her knowing that Tony had been inflicted in a car accident. “Have to try it at six, probably the earliest time she might answer the phone at all.” 

“Don’t worry about that, I’ve already informed Mrs. Potts about the occurrence.” 

“You reached her?” Rhodey raised an eyebrow scanning the meetings again. “I assume she’s on her way back already, then.”  

Work meant nothing when Tony had been involved in a possibly life-threatening trouble. And as the day had proven, everything could turn out to be life-threatening for him. 

“I don’t know Sir. It does not seem as if she’d listened to the voicemail I sent.” 

Rhodey blinked, dumbfounded.  

“Pardon?” 

“I cannot figure out whether Mrs. Potts has listened to -“ 

“A voicemail?!” Rhodey interrupted, anger crashing over him. “You sent her a  voicemail  telling her that her husband has been injured in a car crash?!”  

The young woman seemed shocked by his response, but Rhodey didn’t find it in him to care. How can someone be insensitive enough to leave a voicemail with such vital information? 

“I’ve been trying to reach her around ten times. Since she wasn’t picking up and the information was so important, I assumed it would be for the best to have her get it as soon as possible.” 

Rhodey found himself just at a loss for words. He began eagerly tapping on the screen to dial one of Pepper’s assistants. Have them tell her to cut the meeting short - and most importantly, have them discreetly delete the voicemail. 

After that, he had to deal with the task of informing Peter’s aunt about the incident. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony woke up because his mouth was dry. It was a common situation: on busy days, he found himself forgetting to drink quite a lot, but this dryness appeared different. 

He twitched his fingers and felt a hand holding them. 

“Tony?” A feminine voice asked.  

He knew that voice but his brain seemed to be on vacation - or drunk. 

He tried to swallow but that led to coughing. His body was aching all over. His right hand felt numb, a little wrong, too, but it was better than the pain. A part of him remembered why, the other part tried to forget. 

“Shh,” the voice comforted him as he whimpered in discomfort. “It’s alright, honey.” 

He could not open his eyes. He didn’t want to. Was it all a dream? 

“Peter?” His voice was between a groan and whisper.  

Pepper almost shook her head. Asking for Peter before anyone or anything else had become such a typical Tony thing. She would never blame him, though. The teenager had helped changing Tony into an even better person, and after all that the man must’ve been through in the past few hours, starting with resuscitating his child, his question came as no surprise. 

“Peter is resting, he is alright, you saved his life.” 

Those words jostled something in his mind. Why didn’t those sentences feel good? 

He didn’t feel good. 

“Sick,” Tony mumbled and someone shifted beside him. 

“Are you going to be sick?” 

His response was a gag. Tender but firm hands helped him on his side and a bedpan was placed under his chin. 

“Take deep breaths,” Pepper coaxed him as Tony spat out bile. He was soon done, thanks to his stomach being empty but the overwhelming feeling of nausea did not leave.  

Tony gently rolled onto his back and breathed harshly. 

“Peter?” 

The woman rubbed his arm. 

“He is fine, Tony. He has not yet woken up but he is improving.” 

Tony’s hand shook, improving could mean anything. Anything was an improvement to dragging the boy’s limp body across the lake and then forcing breath back to his lungs. 

“I-” Tony closed his eyes for a moment as he felt dizzy. “I have to see him.”  

The request almost broke Pepper’s heart. She knew that Tony would never calm down until he could be sure that Peter was getting the best care possible. But at the moment, neither of them was in the physical condition to be moved. Pepper had been more than glad to find Tony breathing by himself and, aside of his hand, comparatively unharmed when she’d returned from her trip. The ease had vanished the moment she’d been informed the reason they’d keep Tony under more advanced care for a few days. 

“You can’t yet, you are still healing. Your heart-” 

“I need to see Peter,” The man’s voice was harsher. “I need to know he is here.” 

“Tony, you can see Peter later but first a doctor has to come and check you up.” 

“They can check me up there.” 

“Tony,” Pepper’s voice was firm but her eyes held the concern she could not convey through words: “Your heart nearly gave out.” 

“So did Peter’s,” Tony remembered the shore and his left hand shook. “I had to hit his chest to get him back.”  

“That explains the bruises, McKane suspected you didn’t use just mere chest compressions.” 

It was sick how normally they could talk about resuscitating a 16-year-old kid. 

“Still wasn’t enough to save him.”  

Pepper sighed. The agony in Tony’s face and his eyes was unbearable. She reached forward, her thumb gently stroking his cheek. 

“There was nothing more you could’ve done. And what you did was crucial in getting him here alive in the first place. You  did  save him.”  

Tony didn’t respond, occupied with trying to blink away tears. 

“Is someone with him?” 

“Sure. Rhodey has been with him all the time, he was never alone. His aunt will be contacted to. We’ve taken care of everything.” 

“Thank you.” Tony rasped, his tongue suddenly feeling heavy. “But I still want to -“ He took in a deep breath, trying his best to fight against sleep crawling over him. They were obviously dripping pain killers in his veins on a regular basis. “I have to see him, Pep. He needs me.” 

“Yes, he does.” 

Tony looked up, as best as he could, given that his neck felt awfully stiff, and found himself looking at an elderly physician. “However, I believe that he needs you in good shape. Which requires you working with our help to get you up on your feet as quickly as possible.”  

The doctor took a step forward and barely warned Tony before checking his eyes with a penlight. 

“Can you tell me your full name?”  

Tony grit his teeth but relented. Once the examination was over, Pepper couldn’t say anything against seeing Peter anymore. ‘Doctor has to check you up’. That’s all she’d wanted. 

“Anthony Stark.” 

“Good.” The doctor let the pen vanish in the pocket of his scrubs. “Do you remember what happened?”  

Awfully detailed, even As if every second of the day had been burned into his memory and the marks would stay forever. 

“Car crash, “ He remarked dryly. “Peter was with me. How is he?”  

“I have been assigned solemnly to take care of you, Mr. Stark. My colleagues are currently taking care of Mr. Parker.” 

It wasn’t the answer he’d wanted to hear, but the medic went on anyway. “Are you experiencing any pain at the moment?” 

Aside of his heart aching to see Peter? Not that much.  

Mainly, Tony felt like he’d been put in cotton wool: whatever painkillers those were, they really kicked in.  

“I want to see Peter. Right now.” 

“Tony, please. Just let him finish.” Pepper said softly, taking his left hand in hers. “I know you care for Peter. I do, too. But I care for you just as much, and I really want to be sure you’re alright.”  

She watched Tony sinking the last centimeter into the pillow. Her words definitely seemed to have touched the right spot. Which was enough, for now. The doctor took advantage of the moment, using a little metal stick to gently poke into each of Tony’s fingertips in his right hand. It was basically the only part easily reached, since the rest of his hand was literally covered in fixatives. Tony responded to have somewhat of a feeling in each of them, and that was all they could ask for now. The plastic - and neurosurgeons had obviously done a pretty good job. 

“‘S that it, now?” 

“Tony, you -“ 

“No.” The man used his last bits of his strength to wrestle himself free from his spouse’s grip. “He’s done and since he said nothing else, I’m good. I have to see my kid now.”  

The monitors beeped in alarm when his heart-rate made a sudden jump to 105. 

“Mr. Stark, I have to ask you to take a deep breath and try to calm down. Your heart has been trough a lot to day and it - you - need some rest to recover.” 

“I don’t need  rest , for fuck’s sake.” Tony began coughing harshly, the anger he’d wanted to portray putting a strain on a sore throat. It didn’t exactly help with the situation. 

He saw it, he heard it, felt his heart racing in his chest. It was making him feel even more dizzy and uncomfortable, but still, no one seemed to understand - or wanted to. He heard the doctor mumbling something to Pepper, but he couldn’t understand it. His world was static. 

“I just want to see my kid.” He mumbled, the painkillers suddenly making it hard to focus on talking. Sleep would’ve nudged in on everyone else already, but Tony Stark’s will was stronger than any sedatives. “Can’t ask me to be calm without knowing he’s alright.”  

On a good day, he would’ve added ‘ And think about whose paying your checks.’,  but right now staying awake was a hard enough task as it was, so he didn’t intend to waste energy on giving cynic comments. 

Pepper sighed. She had another thousand arguments on her list: Tony was tired, he wasn’t at the top of his game, he couldn’t help Peter, not in either in their current conditions. Arguments just wouldn’t matter, not right now.  

This was like the week Peter had been on a class outing and had forgotten to call Tony one night, even though they had agreed on it to ease the man’s worry of having Flash’s harassment’s going too far. Peter hadn’t picked up calls that day as the battery of his phone had died, and Tony had been awake all-night, pondering over whether or not to just take the suit and check on the kid. Pepper hadn’t gotten him to sleep that day, or the following, not until the teenager had finally answered one of the frantic calls.  

“Is there a possibility that we can make arrangements for him to see Peter-“ She saw Tony easing up a little and squeezed his hand “- without leaving the bed?” 

“Yeah.” Tony still fought against the effect, but the meds were making his thoughts cloudy and muffled, he felt slightly high. “Just have us share a room, I’m good with that. Kid’s been wanting to have a real sleepover for forever anyway.” 

Pepper raised an eyebrow at the doctor, who frowned, but nodded after a second. 

“I’ll see what we can arrange.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You must promise us to rest,” Pepper walked beside Tony, keeping his hand in warm hold. 

“Scout’s word,” Tony nodded. 

“She is correct, Mr Stark,” His doctor affirmed as they left his room and walked through the corridor. “Your heart can’t take any shocks.” 

“I have prepared myself,” The man said, his eyes fixed on the windows that saw to Peter’s room. “I have imagined the worst scenarios in my mind. I have seen him in a ventilator before.” 

Pepper couldn’t help to point out: “Tony, that was different. He was being extubated after a minor surgery on his ankle.” 

“It was still a breathing tube, Pep.” 

He tried to look through the window but his neck was too stiff to reach his head. The lights were on and the curtains shadowed the view partly. 

The door opened and Tony was calm. It was not too bad, his mind told him. Peter was hooked in monitors and dozens of wires hung from his body. Heart line showed a steady, strong pulse and BP seemed to be acceptable. The boy’s eyes were taped shut and the same material had been used to secure the breathing tube to his mouth.  

“How is he doing?” Pepper asked and left Tony for a second to run a hand through the boy’s tangled curls. 

“Relatively good,” The doctor started the monologue while rolling Tony’s hospital bed next to Peter’s. “He had some minor bleeding in the abdomen but we managed to fix it.” 

“He is in a coma, how can you call that good?” Tony’s voice was low and grave as he stared at the boy, like his wishes alone could force Peter to wake up. There was a distance between their beds and he couldn’t reach Peter’s hand. 

“Mr. Stark, coma is not a death sentence,” The doctor was oblivious to Tony’s attempts to sit up as he focused on fixing the IV and monitors on the side. “It is body’s natural response to trauma. It is treatable and often beneficiary. It means his body is taking a time-out and focusing on repairing the damage.” 

Tony cursed his weakness, the drugs were taking away his strength. The doctor raised the head of his bed and it helped him to gather his bearings.  

“I need to-” He gasped and his heart line jumped. It gave him motivation. He had to try. 

Tony swung his legs over the railing and leaned on the night stand. 

“Mr. Stark!” The doctor rushed to him and steadied his uncoordinated steps. 

“Peter,” He reached for a chair but the lines were in the way. 

“Tony, “ Pepper was by his side and tried to untangle the IV and hear monitor lines. “Lie back down, please.” 

“No,” The man shook his head and took another step, this one much steadier than the previous ones. Determination was making drugs vanish from his system. “I need to see Peter. I need to check him over.” 

The doctor nodded, he was used to this reaction from parents. He fetched a wheelchair and helped the man sit on the padded surface.  

Tony pulled himself closer to the bed and the moment his eyes set on Peter’s face, tears started streaming down. 

“Kiddo,” He whispered and covered his mouth with his bad hand. The boy’s face was covered in tiny cuts, the deepest ones had been stitched. 

“His lips are dry,” Tony noticed and looked at Pepper. “He needs water.” 

“Ice chips are good for that,” The doctor took a cup and set it on the nightstand. “Just let it slide gently.” 

Tony took a small chip and it immediately started melting against the boy’s lips. They were chapped and unmoving but warm and pink. 

He couldn’t help a relieved chuckle. 

“You did it, kid,” He whispered and kissed Peter’s brow. “My brave little boy.” 

Ventilator provided the boy with air. Tony set his injured hand on Peter’s chest, careful that the weight would not hinder the movement. He could faintly feel the boy’s heart beating and imagined it, the most beautiful sight. 

Peter’s hair had air-dried but was dry, rough and hopelessly tangled. Peter hated tangles and his curls. 

“Is he in pain?” Tony tried to solve the problem areas but soon gave up, his fingers were not enough. 

“No,” The doctor shook his head. Tony sniffled, nodded and stroked Peter’s face with his knuckles: the boy was so warm. “He is in a deep, peaceful sleep. The drugs,” Tony eyed the lines that ran to Peter’s hand, arm and under the blankets ,”are there to provide him with nutrients and help combat possible infections.” 

“When do you suppose he will wake up?” Pepper’s voice was gentle and the doctor breathed out and shrugged. 

“I can’t answer that. Peter went through a lot and his body needs time to heal.” 

“What is usually the estimation?” Tony needed to know. 

“It varies from person to person. I doubt he wakes up tomorrow. It can take a week, or two, maybe a month.” 

“Isn’t it that the longer he stays in coma, the worse the prognosis is?” 

“It’s not that simple,” The doctor shook his head. “I have seen patients that have been in a coma for months and recover fully. Then some are in a coma for a few days and lose most of their cognitive functions. Mr Stark, I can’t say anything for certain but I do know that Peter’s tests were promising and he improves steadily.” 

Tony laughed wetly.  

“Yes,” He stroked Peter’s hair and gazed into the closed eyes. “He is stubborn as a mule, my little firecracker.” 

Chapter Text

When May Parker received the call, it had been a bad sign from the very beginning. There weren’t many people that would call her during work. The number wasn’t Peter’s, so it couldn’t be him telling her he was inviting Ned over - or staying for another night at the Stark Tower. It was a stranger talking on the other end of the line, calmly but urgently. He refused to tell what had happened, or why she was asked to come in the first place, just repeated he’d send a driver to pick her up and bring her to the compound.  

There she was now, in the back of a small limousine - a little extravagant, as was everything coming from Tony Stark, but at least she was getting where she needed to be and had a little more time to try and reach Peter. A part of her knew he wouldn’t pick up, but the bigger, more optimistic part was always expecting to hear his voice at the other end of the line, or a new message, but nothing. The last one was from eleven this morning:  

  • Dishes are washed. Mr Stark’s picking me up for lunch in a few. Be back tomorrow.  

May didn’t exactly dislike Tony, but she wasn’t entirely warming up to him either. She knew he was trying to be supportive, and that Peter had lightened up since Stark had walked into his life. However, she questioned his behavior. What did  Tony Stark want? It was a question that didn’t let her go. He appeared as if he really cared for her kid, but so had other people in Peter’s life - people who had ended up using him, in the truest sense of that word. May still felt sick thinking about it. Who was telling her that this was about Peter and not about IronMan needing a side-kick superhero? Or about having the kid work on some ideas Tony could present as his own in the future?   

As far as she’d heard – the man wasn’t exactly a hermit - it wouldn’t have been the first time. Back in 2002, there had been a heavy accusation of Stark stealing an idea - for using concepts that were rumored not to be his. The case was dropped two years later due to the lack of evidence, but with the amount of Tony Stark’s wealth, he might’ve just bribed the entire court. Peter could spen d  a day talking non-stop   about how the man had changed over the course of the past  few  years, but May couldn’t shake  off  her doubts. No one could make a 180 change after being an arrogant and eccentric millionaire for half of his life. Peter had a general tendency to trust people too quickly and too easily, believing in the good in everyone, no matter if they deserved it or not. The fact that he’d worshipped Tony Stark for most of his life didn’t help with that either. That’s what was getting her anxious about the two of them spending so much time together: If it was really Stark’s intention to exploit her boy, it would be easy for him, and Peter probably wouldn’t even realize anything until it was already too late.  

Twenty unlucky calls later they reached their destination, and May was guided inside the building.  

“Mrs Parker?” She heard it before she saw it, her worst fears coming true. The woman in front of her her was wearing scrubs. She was a medic.  

“Yes,” May answered tonelessly. “I’m here for my nephew, Peter.”  

“Sure. Follow me, please.” The worst part about the entire situation was that May had been working in the medical field for long enough to recognize patterns. They guided her away from the main area, because the news wouldn’t be good. Because they wanted her to have a private room, a place to sit down before they’d fill her in. And that was exactly what was happening.  

“I have to inform you that your nephew has been involved in an animal-vehicle crash earlier this afternoon.”   

May heard the words, but their their didn’t put itself together. As if she was trapped in a nightmare. Getting the gist of a situation, nothing more. “He’s receiving the best medical care in this facility, I assure you.” Yet another typical sentence. Nothing with vital information.   

May needed it. Needed some information, at least whether or not Peter was alright.  

“How is he?”   

The shuffle. A second offer for a glass of water. Again, May shook her head.  

“He’s suffered something we call a hypothermia, which is factually a lowered body temperature, alongside a concussion and a splenic trauma. His vitals are stable at the moment. However, I am obligated to inform you that the severity of his injuries had caused a cardiac arrest. We managed to take control of it rather quickly, but Peter has unfortunately slipped into a coma.”  

The universe around May Parker didn’t exist anymore. She’d heard all those words before. Screamed along hospital hallways, whispered between some doctors. All of them had a meaning that she was well aware of. The medic offered her sincerest apologies and suggested she’d bring her to Peter’s room whenever she felt ready but May ignored her. She wasn’t ready.  

Barely a few years ago she had lost her husband.  

And now they wanted to tell her that she almost lost her nephew by the skin of his teeth?  

No. This had to be a nightmare, a very, very cruel nightmare.  

Peter was at home, with Ned, building Lego sets.  

In Stark’s lab, working on some secret inventions.  

Maybe outside, as Spider-Man, saving ‘the little people’.  

Safe.  

Not in the ICU of a high-class medical facility.   

She barely listened to the explanation of how it had come to the crash in the first place. The only informations she tried to keep in her mind was how the current prognosis and future treatment looked like. „Tests came back promising, and we assume that his healing factor will continue to have a positive effect. However, we can not yer tell when he’s going to wake up.”   

Her vision blurred by tears that refused to fall and the pain was so awful it literally made her feel hollow, as if she was helplessly sinking into quicksand.  

Episodes of sadness had been a constant companion ever since Ben’s death, and usually Peter was helping her out. That’s what they always did: Cheering each other up - balancing each other out. But now? Now Peter couldn’t. Now it was on her alone.  

They were about to explain her that he was currently still ventilated, due to his lungs needing to recover from the effects of drowning, when they entered the room.  

Her first glance didn’t meet Peter - she doubted she would’ve recognized him under the thick blankets and with the countless wires covering him. But maybe it would’ve been good if that’s the first she saw. It would’ve anchored her.  

Instead, the first thing she saw beyond the waterfall in her eyes was Tony Stark - One hand in her nephew’s hair, the other resting on his chest, mumbling something she didn’t comprehend. The first thing she saw was him.  

The man who’d driven the car Peter got hurt in.  

In that moment, he wasn’t Tony Stark anymore. Not Peter’s hero, not the man who’d rescued him after the crash.  

He was the enemy.  

“You-”  You did this.  But the words didn’t leave her mouth, this cruelty was tying her tongue. She saw Tony looking up in what she believed to be shock and surprise.  

“May- I'm sorry-”   

“No. Don’t you dare attempt to apologize. This - you did this!”

“May,” Pepper stepped forward and tried to grasp the woman's arm in comfort. “We are all upset and shocked about this. How about you sit down, I'll get you tea-”  

“No, no tea can solve this! You people caused this! It was your car he was in and you were driving,” She screamed at Tony. Tears spilled from her eyes and her face was read with rage. “You promised to take care of him and you broke it! Why? Because  he  had that good idea before you and you needed him out of the picture?”  

“What?” Tony whispered and his shock and resentment flushed away to disbelief. “- I saved him! That doesn't make any sense!”  

“What do I know about you rich people? Intern in coma sounds better than a dead one.”  

Tony opened his mouth and closed it in the same instant, his chest suddenly feeling way too tight to speak, or even move. Somewhere outside of his mind, Pepper was asking him to calm down in a tone as worried as he’d never heard it before - which was huge, given the condition the woman had seen him in already, physically and mentally. But on the inside, there were only two things repeating themselves, one after another.  

Peter could be dead.  

You did this.  

“May, you need to be careful. Tony is also healing. He can't take much emotional stress or his heart-“ Pepper told as she helped her husband to the bed. He wasn’t fighting her, and Pepper realized that she hated this more than him arguing with her. It meant that May’s words, spoken in terrible grief, had left an invisible, but no less painful scar in Tony’s heart.  

“Yeah, that can be easily arranged,” May sniffed. “I want you out.”  

“What?” Tony whispered, eyes wide.  

“Both of you, out. I don't want you anywhere near Peter or me. Only family is allowed and you are certainly not family. Leave us alone or I swear to God I am taking this to the court.”  

 

 

 

 

 

“A lawsuit? She can’t be serious about that. What’d be the charges? Saving her nephew from drowning? We’re in America, not China, or the middle-ages.”   

Pepper kept her voice quiet only to avoid catching another deprecating glare from one of the night nurses. She and Rhodey stood outside Tony’s room in the long hallway. Although being on the possibly highest dose of non-anesthetic sedatives possible, Tony was in a light sleep, and Pepper did in no way intend to unnecessarily wake him. He needed rest, his heart and mind a break from conscious thinking. It had been hard enough to see how much the man had been suffering after May had insisted on him leaving. Doctors from both sides had tried to smooth down the conflict - arguing that it would be beneficial to both Tony and Peter’s conditions to not separate them, but May hadn’t listened. And with her being the boy‘s legal guardian, there was nothing they could do about it.   

Tony had been devastated, in a way that Pepper had never seen him. He’d been crying, unresisted, the entire way back, and even after they’d shot him the sedatives to lower the risk of a further arrhythmia, he’d still mumbled “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry” until he finally fell asleep.  

“She’s in shock.” Rhodey reasoned, and Pepper frowned at him in return.  

“As is Tony. We all are. Hell,  I certainly am.” Curses weren’t exactly in her typical daily word-repertoire, but this certainly wasn’t a typical day. “Gives her no reason to lash out at us that way. Her behavior could’ve caused Tony a heart attack and god knows I would’ve gone to court if that happened.”  

“Pep.” Rhodey sighed. “She’s raised the boy.”   

He almost made a step backwards at the ice in Pepper’s eyes when she looked at him. “I’m not saying I understand what she did, I’m just -“ He massaged his temple. The day had been nerve-wracking and horrible, and he was slowly feeling the pay-off. “Just imagine it’d be your kid in there. You, I, we all know Tony the way he is. We’ve seen him grow over the years, we have seen evidence enough that he isn’t the 00’s Tony Stark anymore. He proves that to us every minute of every day.  

“For May... For May he’s the man that everyone’s talking about. America’s most criticized person. Everyone who owns a functional TV has heard of him, and the media doesn’t have a reputation of showing people at their best. For May, he’s the billionaire superhero that supports her son fighting crime at night. She has no idea who he really is or how much he really cares. He’s honestly just that guy in the driver’s seat for her, but it’s her son that’s caught the worst of this crash, and she needs someone to blame, because otherwise, all of that might be too cruel to handle.”  

Pepper did not answer, but the words stuck with her. After all, Rhodey might be right. From the outside perspective, with just the media as a source of information, she probably wouldn’t trust Tony either, no matter how hard it was to imagine that. To imagine that no one saw her Tony as the gentle, loving human being that he was.  

“You’re staying with Tony till morning? I’ll leave her for the night, and hope she’s a little more at ease tomorrow. We can help her through this.”   

And Tony’s going to break if she refuses to let him see Peter for longer than a day.  

 

 

 

 

Tony woke up in the middle of the night, feeling like someone had smashed a building right on top of him. He needed a while to recognize his surroundings, and to scan his memory for the reason for his pain. As soon as he did, he wished he hadn’t.  

The worst seconds after trauma weren’t those when you’re confused about what’s been happening, but the flashes of minutes - hours even - burning themselves through your mind all at once.  

His movie had an injured Peter as the main protagonist, and May’s angry voice as soundtrack. Her accusations stung. They stung, because after all, he’d thought that May would know him better than that.   

The story she was referring to had happened years ago.   

Some “upcoming star technician”, that had just started his small independent business had denounced him because some of the blue-prints that Tony had used for filing a patent for his latest invention looked similar to his. It had become a top story; people believed it to be more realistic that a billionaire would steal ideas rather than a small company using the indictment to sneak themselves some money and attention.  

It wasn’t just that Tony’s ego was far too big to ever steal someone’s idea to enrich himself.   

He could  never  do something like that to Peter.  

The project the kid had been working on every time he’d been in the lab for the past couple of months had grown into something solid. There were still some edges on it that’d need fine tuning and Tony had gladly volunteered to help fix those, but this would always be Peter’s invention entirely,his baby, and he would make sure that he’d get all the well-deserved credit for it.   

He wouldn’t take that achievement away from the kid.  

And he certainly wouldn’t cause a crash to... he couldn’t even finish the thought without feeling sick. His breathing would’ve quickened along with his heart-rate under normal circumstances, but with the amount of anti-arrhythmias rushing through his system, his body seemed to be stuck in its rhythm.   

That didn’t make the idea any less hurtful. The image of how different the day could’ve ended for both of them. A world without Peter Parker would be a gruesome world, without light or colors, or sounds, just a hollow emptiness. That’s what Tony had almost pictured hell like: A hollow place.  

Sleeping had become impossible now. If he’d close his eyes, he would always see the picture of Peter’s lifeless, pale body in front of him. But staring in the darkness didn’t help the awful feeling either.  

Rhodey was sitting in the armchair next to his bed, head hanging on his shoulder, snoring lightly.   

For a moment, Tony considered waking him, aware that Rhodey would definitely be mad if he didn’t do it, but he had no intention to have the following conversation about how he felt, or that he should rest and not worry.  

He turned his head to the other side, searching for the access button they’d given him that’d give him a light dose of painkillers if his pain became unbearable, but his eyes met something else: a metallic object glistening in the moonlight shining throught the window.  

Oh please, let it be.  

It was indeed his StarkPad, and Tony suddenly relaxed. This was better than painkillers. This would keep his mind busy enough for a while not to be sucked in the downward spiral of anxiety.  

His arms moved sluggishly, and for a moment he feared he’d drop the Pad, but he managed to settle it quietly onto his lap.  

A memo turned up.  

You should really sleep, Tony.  

But I love you, and I know you won’t, so take it easy right now.  

Tony let out a breath and smiled weakly. Pepper had put up shortcuts to all his favorite music tracks and some brain-melting arcade games. However, Tony had other intentions. He couldn’t find it in himself to allow the distraction of playing simple mobile games - worse enough that Peter had infected him with that  BlockMastery hype a few weeks ago - and music was the last thing he needed right now. He doubted he could ever listen to a rock song again. Not with one of them being so closely associated with this day.  

No. He needed to do something else.  

The ObserverSystem refused his command.  

Access denied  It reported, and Tony already frowned, checking the command protocols until he found the error: A foreign protocol called “Recover & Rest” that blocked all functions aside from  games, music and video-platforms. Pepper knew him to well. But she should’ve known that this wasn’t keeping him from doing what he had to.  

//Override. 496e76656e746f72  He typed, and the protocol was immediately turned off. The next burden didn’t come as a surprise, and the needed code was easier to type.  

//Override. 50726f746563746f72  

The system needed a few seconds before the medical database was fully loaded. After that, it was a matter of seconds to get the access to Peter’s data and connect himself to the kid’s vital monitors. Audio output was still turned off, and for almost a minute Tony just appreciated the wonderfully rhythmical spikes on screen and the ease that came with not having to wait for the sound underlying one of them.   

He changed audio delivery to his headphones and the rhythmic beeps audible were more calming than even the best movie soundtrack could ever be, because each of them meant that Peter’s heart had made another beat, each of them meant that for now, his kid was alright.   

It was the soundtrack that guided him to sleep.  

Chapter Text

“Pepper, I need to see him.”

Tony had finally been given the clean bill of health apart from his hand and heart but pain was manageable with drugs and his heart was recovering. Pepper had brought him clothes to replace the hospital pajamas and she shook her head at the demand.

“Tony, May doesn’t allow you in Peter’s room. As painful as it is, we need to respect her wishes.”

Tony grunted in frustration: “How can she ever accept me again if I don’t try to reason with her?”

“She is still in shock, Tony” the woman gave him socks and opened the laces on his shoes so putting them on would be easier.

“Then get her a counselor or something, my treat.”

Tony bit his lip, when had socks become so impossible to tame? The wound around his toes and the material scratched everywhere.

“Look,” Pepper sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She needed to be calm to get through to the man. “I think it’s not about the accident, it’s mostly about you.”

“I know that,” Tony spat out,” but I need to see Peter.”

“May barely lets Rhodey in, let alone me.”

“She will never learn I want nothing bad for Peter unless I prove it!”

Something in Tony snapped and he threw the shoe away in frustration. His right hand was practically useless and the fingers on his left shook from emotional turmoil.

“Peter- he is not getting better,” The man whispered and pressed his left hand against his lips. “Something is wrong. His pulse is quickening day by day-”

Pepper blinked in confusion at the abrupt change of topic.

“His pulse is- Tony!” Pepper shrieked once everything clicked. She felt a strong urge to smack the man across the head. “I gave you that Pad for relaxation only!”

“I can’t relax unless I know he is alright!” The man argued back. “It’s a win-win-situation!”

“Look,” The woman bit her lip in frustration and shook his head slowly. Pepper knew she had to be sensitive. “I understand that you tend to go a little overboard when it’s about someone you care about,” she stepped closer to caress the man’s good hand ,” but to hack a device I with love and good intentions gave you-”

“It’s not about that, Pepper,” Tony shook his head. His eyes glistened with unshed tears. It had been a long week. “I can only focus on Peter. I need to know what is wrong with him.”

The woman looked into Tony’s eyes and saw so much panic and concern she couldn’t but yield. Peter had become a part of his everyday life, there was always something: a message, a call, a meme, some kind of sing from Peter that he was thinking about his mentor.

Pepper gave a final, reassuring rub to Tony’s hand and debated whether to attempt a comforting smile.

“She is in the cafeteria, nurses are giving Peter a bath,” She turned her face away. It was difficult being the intermediary.

 

“Hey,” Tony's voice was a whisper as he hurriedly closed the door and stumbled to the kid's bedside. Peter laid in the exact same position, on his back, with the same tapes over his eyes and around his mouth to keep the ventilator in place. Tony hoped the boy had been moved at least once during the week.

For a moment, he couldn't do much else but stare at Peter and ponder how the quick pulse did not match the serene image the kid was giving.

“Shh,” Tony took the boy's hand and kissed his knuckles. “You're okay, Peter. I'm here now, Tony's here.”

Peter's chest rose and fell with artificial breaths and monitors flashed with lights. It shouldn't be like this.

“I'm sorry,” Tony cried and pressed the boy's hand close to his mouth. His tears wetted the pale, cool skin. “I'm so sorry, kiddo. I didn't mean to- I swear I didn't mean to!"

Peter gave no answer. Secretly and against his better judgement, Tony had hoped his presence would be the final push Peter needed to awaken but that appeared not to be enough. There was no movement anywhere, not on eyelids, on lips or in fingers.

Peter was truly in a coma.

“It should be me there,” Tony sighed and wiped his cheeks although he was certain more would come out in a minute. “I don't know why you were punished. I was the one driving. I should have been hurt. God,” He gave a shaky breath and looked at the Heavens. He cursed every God and deity in existence. He cursed Karma and every law of world order. “Why did I let you sit in the front seat?”

He could not focus, he lost the track of time as he held the boy's hand and stroked his face gently, his fingers desperate to remember every dimple, every curve and the warmth of Peter’s skin. He muttered soft, loving words. He hoped that if Peter was aware, he knew he was loved and missed.

His moment of peace was shattered.

“And yes, if we take into account his-“ The door opened and Tony snapped back into awareness. Then, a shrill scream: “You!”

“Alright, I’ll go.” Tony raised his hands although speaking the words broke his heart. He didn’t want to leave, and he knew - and hoped - from the bottom of his heart that Peter wanted him to stay. It was only the fact that he’d spent the last few days reading nothing but scientifically proven researches on how to properly care for coma patients, and he’d learned that external conflicts between primary contact persons could cause an immense stress reaction. He didn’t want to have Peter hurt any more than he already was.

The physician was standing between Tony and May, preventing the latter from physically jumping at the man. Suddenly he looked up, eyebrows raised at the numbers displayed in the heart monitor.

“Wait a moment, Mr. Stark, ple-“

“Send him out!” May screamed. “He only wants to finish what he started!”

“I’m do not!” Tony forgot his rule about staying calm for Peter. The boy was his sore spot, the apple of his eye, and the thought of him wanting to intentionally harm the boy was so outrageous he considered suing the woman for slander. “I would never harm a hair on his head, I couldn’t!”

“Be quiet, will you?!” The doctor snapped and his sudden outburst was surprising enough to have the entire room fall quiet, aside of the steady beating of Peter’s heart monitor, still far too quick for everyone’s tastes.

“There we go. If you want to have a fight, have it outside, instead of letting Peter catch the worst of it.” He paused, silently enjoying the looks of embarrassment on the duo’s faces. He turned Tony.

“Please, take Peter’s hand again.”

“Why do you let him -“The doctor silenced May with a single sharp gesture before pointing at the monitor. Tony settled himself in the armchair at Peter’s right side, took the boy’s hand in his and softly kissed his knuckles. It took a second for the reaction to settle in and then another for May to understand it: the green 85 on screen was suddenly replaced with a wonderful - and most of all healthy - 69.

“What -“

The medic thoughtfully shook his head, half a smile on his lips.

“Mrs. Parker, you know we’ve run dozens of tests to figure out why your nephew’s resting heart-rate is off the charts, even with factoring in his exceptional healing. We were able to rule out all sorts of infections and internal bleeding. After our latest council, we had to admit that there seems to be no medical reason for his elevated heart-rate. But I assume we’ve just found it.”

May almost scoffed.

“Are you trying to tell me -“

“Latest research shows that the presence of beloved people has a calming effect on comatose patients, even in a very basic state of awareness. I do not intend to tell you that your presence didn’t have such an effect,” he added after seeing the hurt expression on May’s face. “However, I believe that the absence of Mr. Stark seemed to have a negative effect, and the changes in heart-rate might be the body’s attempt to express that.”

May remained quiet for a second, her eyes first fixed on the numbers on the monitor, then on Peter’s face. She still disliked that it was necessary to tape his eyes to protect his vision, and she hated how small and pale he looked in that huge bed, but she could still recognize Peter.

The boy who’d spent his entire life admiring Tony Stark. The boy who wouldn’t stop talking about Stark Expo for months (“He said I did nice work! Isn’t that amazing?!”). Her teenage kid that finally came home with a smile on his face again when he could talk about how he’s been working in the lab with Mr Stark.

She might dislike Tony - and she wouldn’t stop being suspicious about what had happened - but Peter loved the man and his presence was undeniably calming him. If she’d send him away, she’d probably only worsen his condition - and that was the last thing she wanted.

Besides, having him here meant she could have a closer eye on what he was doing.

May took a step closer to the bed.

“You really missed him that bad, honey?” She asked gently and carefully ruffled her nephew’s hair, still damp and color darker from the bath.

Tony looked up, his thumb still subconsciously stroking the back of Peter’s hand. He didn’t dare destroy the moment by saying something that could probably change May’s mind again. He only dared to finally take a breath of relief when she said it out loud.

“You can stay.” Her voice still sounded gravely, but it was a start. Tony leaned forward and gently kissed Peter’s brow.

“I’m not going to leave your side, kid. Not ever again. I promise.”

 

 

Tony was allowed to stay in Peter’s room but the cold between him and May didn’t vanish. The man held himself back in fear of saying or doing anything that could possibly upset her, so he remained quiet for a while, letting May do the talking and care for Peter. She started with how the weather had been over the day before coming to a little more serious topic, her voice getting quieter.

“Ned has been texting me non-stop for the past couple of days. Has been asking me if he could come visit you after school, at least.” She paused, smiling sadly, shaking fingers stroking trough the curled hair. The nurses had neatly brushed it and May realized she didn’t like it. The last time Peter had styled his hair that way had been on the first day of High School and May's encouragement and begging had played a large part in it. With school and lab-work and being Spider-Man, the ‘approved messy hairstyle’ had become his thing.

“I asked him not to,” May continued after a moment. “I know you wouldn’t want him to see you this way. But don’t worry. He’s not mad, I even think he understands. Said he’d wait for you to wake up before continuing on that Avenger’s Lego set.”

At this point, despite all the fears and agony over Peter’s condition, Tony couldn’t help but have a hint of a grin grace his lips. The kid basically knew the greatest part of the Avengers in person and he still lightened up with joy when he got the Lego set.

 

“Sure, I do. Like, I’m not always Spider-Man. And I’m not always at the compound either, so this’ll remind me of you when I’m ho-“The boy didn't the final sentence, there was suddenly blush on his face. He looked down, grabbing for a pencil before hastily noting something down. “Please just forget I said anything, Mr. Stark.”

Tony just laughed. “Forget what, Underoos?”

He knew Peter thought what he said was sort of cheesy and Tony agreed it definitely was but nonetheless it warmed Tony’s heart.

 

He squeezed the kid’s hand as if hoping to transfer the happy memory by simple touch.

“But you shouldn’t keep him waiting for too long,” May continued. “You shouldn’t keep me waiting for too long. We need you here. Cheering everyone up with your quips, or unwittingly making me feel stupid for not understanding half of the science stuff you do.”

Tony smiled again.

“Oh, and I almost forgot he asked me to tell you the following, and I’m supposed to quote: ‘Mr. Spock’s not even half as cool as Luke Skywalker”.

Tony saw May wait and he did too. A healthy Peter would’ve started rambling right now because who would dare to compare Star Wars to Stark Trek?!

Eventually, May accepted there was no hope of getting a response from Peter that day.

“He has always been a heavy sleeper,” The woman sighed and leaned back on her chair. “Ever since he was a baby. I remember we once walked by a construction site during a stroller nap and Peter didn't even flinch.”

“I have noticed,” Tony nodded. “I have to practically drag the kid up from bed.”

“I started setting an alarm clock a few feet from his bed so he would have to get up.”

“Okay, I haven't considered that,” The man had to admit the idea had potential. “Mind if I borrow the idea?”

“If it gets him to school on time, nope.”

They fell into silence and watched over their kid. Only a day in and they were both exhausted from the tension. Would Peter sense it?

May was the first one to break to resume conversation.

“Do you mind if I let my friend see Peter's scans and info? He is a renowned doctor and has worked with coma patients before.”

Tony had to think it over.

“Personally, I have nothing against it but there might come some disclosure issues. I suggest you ask from Peter's doctor.”

“But aren't you the head boss?”

“Technically, yes, but I am not an expert in medical field. I don’t know if info on Peter’s condition would reveal he is enhanced.”

May understood and fell silent. “If he is enhanced, why hasn't he woken up?”

Tony again did not have a ready answer.

“Maybe he is not ready to.”

“What would keep him in his head?”

“Maybe he is having an adventure there.”

“I'd rather he rests.”

They fell silent again. Their conversations were still forced and quickly cut short. The only reason they were having them were because hearing their voices was usually calming Peter, and aside from that, it sometimes helped with getting questions across.

Eventually, Tony felt a desperate need to get out of the room. To do something even slightly useful.

He clapped his knees and stood up.

“I’ll go get coffee. You want some?”

May shook her head. “Thanks, but no.”

“I’ll try to fetch his doctor too. Ask him about his opinion on getting a second opinion.”

“Thank you.”

Tony tried to smile reassuringly at her but it felt wrong. He turned to Peter instead. His heart sunk just looking at him. The facial features were Peter’s, but the posture was wrong. He looked too clinical, too tense. And he definitely shouldn’t need a ventilator to support his breathing but that’s where they were now.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back in just a minute.” His injured hand remained grasping Peter’s, the other gently wandered up before reaching Peter’s face, stroking his cheek. He could still cry in joy by the fact alone that the skin below was finally warm. That was a positive, at least.

May watched the scene and Tony’s leaving in silence, eyebrows slightly raised. What she’d seen so far didn’t fit her mental representation of him, more prominently not the media version of him. There was no logical reason for him to even settle in Peter’s room. Why should he care that much for just one of his company’s interns? But then again maybe he was just worried that he’d lose his “Spidey-Sidekick”.

May reached for one of the tablets Tony had offered her to stay on track with the details on Peter’s entire condition. It was also a gateway to majority of recently published papers that could probably include further information on how to take care of Peter the best way possible. She’d been offended at first, she certainly knew more about coma than Tony Stark, but realized that there was nothing against being completely up to date.

Tony returned five minutes later a mug of coffee in his hand and once he’d settled down May took the chance to have a few minutes for herself, too. No matter how much she disliked leaving Peter’s side, there were some basics she couldn’t reschedule forever. And she definitely needed a shower, too.

“I’ll be gone for a few, can you take care of him ‘til then?”

“Sure.” Tony nodded. “We might do a session of therapy in the meanwhile, what do you think?”

Peter didn’t answer but May did in his stead.

“Yes, that’d be good.”

 

 

Tony had hired physiotherapists to come up with an exercise plan to maintain Peter's physique, and he was eager to begin as soon as the door closed. Starting with the boy’s feet and legs, he slowly worked up to upper limbs.

“Curl,” Tony made a fist with Peter's fingers. “And open.” He rubbed the boy's palm between his hands. “Okay, we're done. Then light massage. Mustn't let those wonderful muscles wither away.”

It did not compare to training together in the Tower and then relaxing in sauna and talking about their day, but it would have to do for now.

“You're a mark A student,” The man held onto Peter's hand and patted it. “Same time tomorrow?”

Peter gave no answer, only the monitors beeped. Tony felt the all too familiar sting in his eyes and hid his face in Peter's hair.

The door opened and May stopped at her place.

“Sorry, did I-”

“Nope,” Tony straightened and discreetly wiped his face. “We just finished working out.”

“Everything good?”

“Yep, aiming for the Olympix.”

May snorted quietly and took her seat. She had brought an old timer for the bedside table and at the moment, it started ringing. Tony hated the sound, his cooking timers had soft tunes but this one seemed better suited as an alarm clock for the military.

“God, put that out!” Tony covered Peter's ears. At first, he had hoped the loud, abrupt sound would help the boy wake up but now his main concern was possible bleeding in the kid's ears.

“Why? We need this,” The woman stood up and gathered the supplies.

Tony raised an eyebrow but understood when he saw May working on the settings of the ventilator, a catheter line in one hand. He backed off, not wanting to disrupt her work.

“Don’t worry, kiddo,” The man massaged Peter’s temple with his thumb. “Your aunt’s just cleaning your breathing tube. Sucking all that stupid mucus out so you can breathe just fine and don’t have to deal with a nasty infection.”

His hand came to rest in the softness of the boy’s curls but his eyes were fixed on May performing the task.

The woman waited for the system to inform that thirty seconds of highly oxygenated air had been delivered, making it safe for her to disconnect the ventilator and insert the smaller tube. She was careful, her brows burrowed in the effort of letting the catheter follow the breathing tube and turned the suctioning machine on only after being sure that everything was well set.

Tony counted the seconds in his head.

“Take it out.” He said suddenly. “You aren’t supposed to go on for longer than five to seven seconds or you risk asphyxia or a dry and sore throat.”

“Which of us works in the medical field?” May’s answer was dry. She turned the device off and slowly moved the catheter out before reconnecting the ventilator.

“That was it, sweetheart. You can rest now.” She squeezed Peter’s hand softly.

Tony pursed his lips but said nothing more.

Chapter Text

May was curled up in her chair, dozing off, relaxed by the soft humming Tony supplied. Peter's heartbeat was calm and slow.

“How did you know it?” May couldn't help asking. She'd been battling herself but couldn't take the quiet anymore. Tony blinked and raised his head.

“What?”

“Earlier when I was sucking the breathing tube clean, you told me to stop it then.”

“Yeah, sorry, I shouldn't have-”

“No, no,” May shook her head and planted her feet on the ground, her lower back was getting sore. “You were right. It's just that medicine isn't your field.”

“I'm a curious person.”

“Noted, but that was quite specific knowledge.”

Tony lifted Peter's left hand and began to rub the boy's fingers. “When I have downtime, I read medical articles about coma patients and how to care for them. There are some excellent educational videos about different procedures.”

May nodded, a bit surprised by the revelation. She wondered when Tony had time to do that. Did the man even sleep?

“I shouldn't have stepped on your toes, May.”

“No, it's okay, I was just shocked.”

They were silent for a moment.

“You know, things like that can't be learnt from books.”

“I understand and I won't be in the way anymore,” Tony admitted.

“No, no,” May shook her head. “I might not be here every time so it's good you learn how to do everything. I can teach you, or at least try. If it looks like you are not getting the hang of it, the task rests on my shoulders. That good?”

Tony smiled. “Sounds good.”

May was still hesitant, but had to admit that Tony was putting all his effort in doing whatever she told him as perfectly as possible, without ever once getting impatient or careless. His voice was always soft, and he explained to Peter what he was doing in excessive detail, no matter how minor it was.

“Tugging you in tight. I know you like sleeping like a burrito,” Tony cooed as the adults silently co-operated the blanket. May helped him by wrapping the right sight of the blanket around her nephew’s small body, so that Tony could focus mainly on the left one. “And it keeps you all warm and cozy.”

May smiled sadly. “I never understood how he can sleep like that.”

“It’s not like he actually sleeps in that position,” Tony rolled his eyes. “He closes his eyes, falls asleep, and as soon as he does, he starts freeing himself. I usually find most of the blanket towering over the floor.”

Tony paused, looking up. “But I guess that’s nothing I have to tell you.”

May shook her head with a sad smile: “Not really, no. I really have my own share of stories when it comes to Peter.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Tony slumped back into the chair, taking a deep breath in.

“Bet you don’t know he can snore like a sawmill on a good day.” May laughed quietly, partly at the memory and partly at the sight of Tony’s bewildered expression.

“He does?”

“Did. Not that much since the Spider-manning started, if that’s what he’s calling it. But he used to when he was starting to get sick.”

She turned away, trying to blink away a sudden rush of tears. “We have a small flat, you know? And after a particularly rough day at work, it was pretty hard to fall asleep with an electric drill in the next room. But right now... I’d happily listen to snores twice as loud instead of this.”

“Me too,” Tony admitted quietly. He lowered his head, eyes focused on the sight of Peter, his kid, unconscious and helpless. “I’d be damn happy to have him walk through the lab doors, rambling at a speed quicker than light about things I have no idea of - without him ever taking a breath once.”

“Yeah, he can have quite exhausting monologues sometimes.”

“Quite some -“ Tony huffed, half a smile gracing his lips. “Let me show you something.”

He grabbed his StarkPad and quickly searched for the file he had in mind. He flipped the screen so that May could see the video recording of a very enthusiastic Peter almost running down to the lab, dropping his bag while giving a speech about black holes and how they meant that time was both a finite and an infinite concept and how it was being a paradox from probably greater value than every other astrological and physical phenomenon combined.

“I was nodding in agreement, but I had to listen to the recording after he left to understand at least half of what he was telling me.” Tony turned for Peter, squeezing the kid’s hand fondly. “Sorry kiddo, but I fear I’m getting too old to follow someone at your speed.”

Peter did not respond, the mechanical breaths only movements he gave.

“At least you got the gist of it.” May countered after a silent moment both reserved for the young man alone. “I’ve never had a perk for science, so most of what he’s saying feels like he’s speaking another language. Not to mention that I sometimes watch him doing his homework and realize that I would have no idea how to solve anything.”

Tony hemmed in agreement: “Believe me or not, I went to MIT and sometimes find myself frowning at some of the problems when we’re doing his homework.”

May raised her eyebrows. “You help with his homework?”

Tony gave half a shrug as he closed the tablet and set it back on the table “Occasionally. When he’s having questions on it. Has gotten somewhat of a coming in rite - once he’s finished his monologue, of course. We’re usually having a lot of fun with it, don’t we?”

Peter didn't give an answer but Tony and May still acted like he was an active participant in any conversation.

“You're gonna have a lot of homework to catch up on,” Tony stroked the boy's hair. He lifted his eyes to meet May's. “I have no idea how long he is going to be in coma and then the recovery- I read it can take weeks or even months.”

“Yes, it's very individual,” May nodded. “He might have to skip the semester.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” The man bit his lip. “Maybe I can bring his school books here and read them aloud.”

“Yes, because that is every teenager’s dream: History lessons while hooked on a ventilator.”

“Maybe not anything boring,” Tony saw the point,” but sciences. Spanish texts, Italian books. I could go and buy the latest Science Journals. Does Peter like medicine?”

“Not until a few weeks ago.”

The remark hung in the air between the two adults like the metaphorical sword of Damocles. May had said the words without a conscious thought but the accusation resonated in her voice nonetheless. A part of her wanted to apologize: she was not oblivious to the pain and guilt in Tony’s eyes whenever he looked at Peter. But she wasn’t ready to let her guard down and definitely not yet ready to believe that things had been a mere coincidence.

Tony swallowed hard and tried to buy time. He was playing versions of apologies in his head until he realized that none of them sounded convincing. If somebody harmed Peter, even indirectly, there was no kind of apology Tony would accept.

At the same time, he couldn’t deal with the reproaches either. He looked at Peter.

“Yeah, medicine has been an interesting mental field trip, kid. Who knows. maybe you’ll even settle for medical engineering when the time comes?

The ventilator hushed a wordless response. Tony leaned forward and grabbed Peter’s hand while giving a small kiss on his knuckles.

“I still remember the day you came up with the idea,” The man’s voice was soft as he reminisced, for a moment not plagued with guilt. “Right out of the blue, while working on the webbing formula. I thought you were just playing around, seeing how sticky and imperishable you had made the webs. You got some stuck on your hair,” Tony chuckled and caressed the place the substance had rested on like the most devilish gum drop. “I had to give you a haircut. And it took forever to get the stuff out of your hands.”

The man shifted in his position and closed his eyes, trying to focus. “Who could’ve guessed you suddenly had bigger things in mind than mere Spiderman?”

“He always wanted to change the world for the better.” May said, her fingers gently tracing her nephew’s facial features. She remembered well how Peter had come home, eager and words falling out of his mouth.

“He already has.” Tony corrected. “And he will.”

He looked away while saying the following sentences. He had to tell Peter, even if it meant possibly increasing May’s anger. “The final formula you designed is in testing stage right now. I don’t have the results just yet but if it didn’t look promising, we would’ve definitely been informed already.”

Before May could huff her disbelief over the pronoun “we”, Tony was again talking.

“I’ll keep you tuned if they leave me any messages for you. And don’t you worry your pretty little head if they send it back to us with twenty pages of issues the testing brought up. No good invention has worked properly at the first try.”

After installing the life lesson, Tony forced himself to smile and squeezed the boy’s hand. “But no matter what happens, keep working, don’t give up, because this could very well revolutionize the field of applied biological chemistry.”

“He will,” May’s eyes flashed at Tony. Her demeanor switched 180 as she looked down on her nephew. “You will, sweetheart.”

“May.” Tony sighed, his eyes on Peter. He had to maintain his temper, Peter need peace, his heart was weak, he was so weak. “I made a mistake, alright? And you can be sure that I’ll be beating myself up for that for the rest of my life. It was my car, I drove it and I should’ve held the wheel straight but couldn’t.”

The man raised his glance, forcing himself to look at May. “I can never put into words how sorry I am. Never. But I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an awful accident that’s going to haunt my nightmares forever. And if you can’t believe that I could never do that to Peter as it is, then I guess the only chance I have of convincing you is to tell that this project won’t work without Peter.”

Tony’s eyes wandered to the kid again, tears of pride and pain stinging. “Honestly, I’ve lost track of the details of the formula. I’ve seen it work, and I know the basic science that makes it work but the details are beyond my scientific horizon now.”

“You can’t be serious about -“

“I am.” Tony disagreed vehemently. “He had the basic formula for the webs he uses down before we even met. Secretly made solemnly with the material that his chem class could supply. Believe me when I say that he outsmarted me with that feat alone. When I want to invent something, I just order the material.” The man shrugged. “All I ever wanted was to give him a place where his ingenuity could blossom in the best way possible.”

May found herself just staring at Tony, at the visible tear tracks on his face, even if the man tried to wipe them away. Tony was inhaling air heavily in an attempt not to sob. She tried to swallow all the new information. The fact that Tony helped Peter with his homework just as much as the fact that he was still there, sitting at her boy’s bedside, using the time reading journals when he should be sleeping and watching videos just to know how to take care of her nephew. Finally, she could look beyond the curtain of her own grief.

“Tony?”

The man looked at her, eyes holding the guilt and worry from all the previous days.

“I believe you.”

The sentence was simple, too simple maybe, but it was enough to have the last ice between the two adults melt.

 

 

“Huh,” Tony stated after reading an article in a Medicine Journal aloud. “You live, you learn. But again, engineering is my specialty, not human anatomy.”

The man tossed the journal to the bedside table, almost knocking over a vase of flowers. Pepper had practically bought out a flower shop: all kinds of plants inhabited every corner, window shelf and table. Tony both appreciated and hated the gesture.

The fumes were relaxing and he had a fun time moving Peter's fingers over different textures on petals. He would stroke the boy’s face with leaves and bring the buds close to his nose, in hopes that the aroma would awaken his brain.

But again, flowers dying was a cruel reminder of how long they had been here, how long this had been their normal. It had been too long since Peter had opened his eyes, since that day on the shore he had gotten the boy's breathing back and clutched him in his arms. Tony had thought after that the worst was over but no.

The man sniffed and wiped his eyes. Peter needed positive attitude, not pity.

“You want to take a nap?” Tony asked softly while stroking the boy's hair. It was ridiculous to ask it but he wanted, needed to keep up some resemblance of normal day rhythm. And around this time of the day Peter’s crazy metabolism would require the boy to crash and take a short rest from the stress of the day.

Tony frowned and stroked a strand of hair between his fingers. The usually soft, slightly rough curls were slick and matted. Tony grimaced. “You need a bath. Yeah, it's about time. I'll take it up with May when she comes back from her break.”

An hour later, May opened the door, freshened up and carrying a tray of food. “Pepper asked me to bring you this.”

“Just leave it on the table.”

May raised an eyebrow. “Tony, if you don't eat, you'll get sick. If you get sick, you can't be here because Peter is extremely vulnerable to any kind of germs and diseases.”

The man grunted and offered his arms. “Fine,” He took the tray and started nibbling on meatballs and mashed potatoes.

May sat in another chair and planted a kiss on the boy's hair. “Hello, sweetie. You need a bath.”

“Just told him that,” Tony began to get his appetite back. His stomach was screaming for meat. “I can do it, just talk me through the motions.”

“Yeah, no,” May shook her head. “The nurses are here for it.”

“Why pass it on to them?” Tony did not see anything wrong with the issue. His mouth was half-full and he placed a hand over it discreetly. ” They have enough work as it is.”

“Yes, but I would rather they do it.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “It's nothing to me, May. I have seen him naked before, we are both male, what is the big deal?”

May sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Try to think it from Peter's point of view, would he like you to wash him up?”

Tony crossed his arms. “What about you? Whom would you choose more: Me, a trustworthy adult who loves the kid to the moon and back or some sleazy old woman who would probably fantasize about the kid's body and do who knows what?” 

“Okay, first of all, there is nothing sexual about washing a comatose person and two, yes, I would rather it's someone Peter doesn't know.”

“May, that’s really irrational. I don’t think -“Tony interrupted himself. Even after only a few days, he could instantly hear if something about Peter’s condition had changed. May seemed to recognize it too, now that the room was silent aside of the sounds of the ventilator and the steady beeping of the monitor, in a quicker pace than usual.

“You don’t like it when we fight, do you?” She asked, fingers stroking Peter’s cheek in an attempt to calm him. Tony was immediately down on earth too.

“Sorry kiddo.” He whispered, hand moving to take Peter’s, kissing the kid’s knuckles, he’d learned it relaxed the boy a lot. “We didn’t mean to upset you. We’ll sort it out.”

May frowned at him, gaze steady and leaving no doubt that she wouldn’t give in to Tony’s plea no matter how rational he made it sound.

“Fine.” The man complied. He didn’t like it, however, putting Peter under any more stress was not worth winning this argument. “But I want to oversee them washing his hair. It’s a delicate process with the breathing tube and the weakened neck muscles, and I want to make sure none of the nurses are too distracted to do it properly.” 

In the first days, May would’ve disagreed with him, trying to explain that he was overly careful, but time had taught her that it was a blind end. Tony cared for Peter so much that no rational argument could be used to change his mind.

 

 

“Keep your hands behind his neck!” Tony ordered, heart thumping hard in his chest while he watched. He hated the risk of Peter suffering a spinal damage - even if it was minor and more than unlikely - just because some of the nurses made a reckless mistake. Next time the physiotherapist would visit, he definitely needed to have a talk with them about how to strengthen the kid’s neck too, because that’d only get more important in the long run. Until then, he had to endure the torture of helplessly watching until the nurses finished their work.

Thirty minutes later, nurses were gone and Tony was drying up the water droplets from Peter’s ears.

“There you go, kiddo. All clean and fresh. Feels good, huh?”

“It sure does.” May said, smiling, ruffling the now finally washed hair. The nurses had listened to her when she’d asked them not to brush it neatly. Now, he at least looked a little like her boy again. “I have a surprise for you, too.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, smiling. He knew Peter loved surprises. Good ones, at least.

May rummaged in her bag, and retrieved a stuffed animal. It took Tony a while, but he recognized it as Roo, the little kangaroo kid from Winnie Pooh, looking like it had been loved for a few years.

“Remember? Ben bought it for you when you had that really awful flu and watched the new movie all day long.” She gently moved it along Peter’s fingers, intending him to feel the plushy texture and love. “You didn’t go anywhere without it afterwards, especially not when you were sick.”

Tony saw her lips twitch with emotion and didn’t dare disturb the moment. But May wasn’t finished yet. 

“Brought something else too. Although that’s probably something Tony and I will enjoy a little more.” 

The next thing May had in store was an old photo album. 

“He has been sharing some of his good memories, so I thought it’s only fair if we show him some of ours? I brought your favorite album” She told Peter and waited a few seconds before turning to Tony. Normally the two adults took places on both sides of Peter’s bed. Now, however, the boy had been positioned on his side to hopefully avoid bed sores. May and Tony sat beside each other, both facing the boy.

It’s the only one with some pictures of his parents in it, “May explained and Tony nodded understandingly. Peter didn’t really talk much about his biological parents, given that his aunt and uncle had been more of a family to him than they ever could, but he had once found the boy scamming some very old audio recordings of Richard Parker and Mary Fitzpatrick. “I... don’t want to forget how their voices sounded, you know?”

Tony could only assume how hard it must be for a teenager that has lost his parents at an infant age to find a balance between moving on and mourning a loss far beyond his comprehension.

“You’re one of the people that thinks newborns look like old potatoes, aren’t you?” May remarked, closely observing Tony’s reaction to yet another ‘newly welcomed to the world’ Peter in the arms of his mother. He was about to say something on the contrary but May only laughed. “It’s fine, really. Infants do look like unpeeled potatoes. Even Peter.” She squeezed the boy’s hand. “But you were an extraordinary cute little vegetable.” 

Pictures of 2001 passed, then 2002 and the following years, and Tony saw a change in the facial expression of that once happy rambling, chaotic little toddler that May had described. As if the light in the bright eyes was suddenly missing. 

“He didn’t know what was happening. He cried, all day, all night, asking for his mom and dad.” She explained, sighing. “It’s been a decade, but I still remember the first time he smiled afterwards.” The next page revealed a picture of a roughly four-year-old, curly-haired Peter, face covered in ice-cream, obviously giggling. All hearts in the room melted and May smiled while telling Peter which picture she was showing his mentor.

“And I’m sure you’re going to love these ones, too.”

The following ten pages were all scrambled with pictures of a young Peter at Stark Expo: Eyes glistening with joy whilst pressing his face against the glass surrounding the exhibits, broad smile on his face posing next to a life-sized cardboard stand-up of Iron Man. Tony felt another wave of tears welling up at the admiration in the kid’s soft, brown eyes. If Peter didn’t idolize him so much, he probably wouldn’t be where he was now, but instead having a sleepover with Ned, like any normal sixteen-year-old. He should never have-

“It was probably the greatest thing that ever happened to him at that time. He just wouldn’t stop talking about it, ever. Imagine how hard it was to get him to sleep that evening. I could still hear him whisper about what he’s seen at two the next morning.” May went on, forcing Tony to get his mind away from blaming himself.

The distance in time between pictures became wider in the following years, but the most important moments were still captured: School events, Christmas eves, the hugs following. And then, yet again, there was a change in the pictures, more subtle in the face of the teenager, but still there. Faked smiles in the rare pictures taken of him.

“We... had a lot to deal with. I still do, and I assume Peter has, too. Maybe that’s why I never realized it and couldn’t help. Neither with his grief nor with the superhero identity. So, I guess I really have to thank you for taking him under your wings. Both him and Spiderman.”

“May I -“

“No. I mean it. That internship - working with you - has made him become more like the boy he used to be. Happier. You helped him find a mental balance and purpose again. These last couple of weeks, before the accident, have been the first time I’ve seen him at the top of his game ever since Ben died.”

May paused, clearing her throat. “Certainly, it cheers me up, too. Although, I don’t know if there’s a single sticky note without a chemical formula on it left in our apartment.”

That was certainly something Tony could relate to.

“You think I have any clean napkins left?” The man chuckled.

“You care about napkins?” May teased. “I was doing laundry and found a note on one of his socks!”

“Ever seen a formula written in letter-shaped noodles?” Tony returned, finding himself grinning at the memory of Peter eating two bowls of hot soup just because he was searching for a ‘2’

“Ever seen your living room covered in schematic blueprints from door to window?”

The competition went on for a little while longer, given that Peter had taken the saying “never leave a good idea waiting” very literally. 

The good mode broke when both of them slowly sunk back from joyful memories to the reality of machines beeping around them.

“So... Steak formula was the last one?”

Tony raised an eyebrow, but his eyes were fixed on Peter’s face. Ignoring the breathing tube, he could easily pretend the boy was just sleeping peacefully after a rough patrol. “‘Steak formula’?”

“The nickname Pepper and I gave, after the two of you were rude enough to leave the dinner you invited me to halfway through.”

Tony finally remembered the evening. The pride he had felt warming his body when he heard Peter exclaim “I got it”, knowing that this time, the boy didn’t just have another idea how to fix the issues they were having – Peter had fixed them.

“It is. As of now, at least.”

“You think it’ll work?”

“Sure.” Tony leaned forward, grabbing for Peter’s hand, massaging the boy’s fingers. “And if not, he’ll just continue to work on it until it does.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, sorry,” the doctor smiled at the sight of Tony slouched in a chair, his legs resting over Peter's.

“Hey! It's alright,” The man straightened up and closed the book. “It was getting a bit monotone anyway. There are only so many times you can stand the story of Peter Rabbit.”

“Tell me about it,” The doctor stepped into the room and watched Tony adjust the blanket over the patient. “I have a daughter who loves that story, I know it by heart.”

“I can only imagine. So, a check-up?”

“Just a quick one,” the doctor stared at the monitors that displayed Peter's vitals. “Your boy is doing magnificent progress!”

Tony ruffled Peter's chair with an affectionate smile. “Well, he has always been a straight- A- student.”

“We were a bit worried the cardiac arrest would set him backwards a lot but it seems the hypothermia-“

In life, there are few moments you go through a complete pause, one where your thoughts cease and your mind needs to reboot. That happened to Tony at the words ‘cardiac arrest‘. His eyes snapped open and his pulse turned into rapid fire.

“THE WHAT?”

The doctor turned to him.

“The cardiac arrest, in the helicopter? Weren't you told-“

“NO, I WAS NOT TOLD ANYTHING!” Tony shrieked and buried his face in his hands. “This is not good, this is not good- “

“Mr Stark, I understand it is a shock but Peter is doing fine!” The doctor tried to set a hand on his arm but Tony recoiled further away. “I admit that cardiac arrest raises the risk for another by about 70 percent if I remember correctly-“

“OH MY GOD!”

May had barely heard the last words of the conversation, but she wasn’t surprised to find Tony panicking at the physician’s exclamation. She couldn’t even count how often she had had to deal with relatives that had yet to swallow that information – and how often she had to explain that it was incorrect. Signing the doctor to leave the room, she made a step towards Tony.

“Tony, Tony, Tony,” May grabbed the man's shoulders. “You need to calm down.”

“Peter- but Peter-“

“Tony, forget those numbers! They don't mean a thing!”

“How can you say that?” The man hyperventilated. “He could have another cardiac arrest!” “Tony,” She guided his head between his knees. “Take deep breaths and I'll ease those worries. Now, forget those figures, they are not reliable and are only rough estimates. They include all cases in them: old and young, sick and healthy. Yes, initial heart failure might raise the risk for another but there are numerous other factors. Peter does not have heart issues, his main problem was hypothermia and lack of oxygen.”

“But-“

“No, Tony, those statistics include everything from cancer patients and people suffering from severe infections to people who were hit by lightning.” She squeezed his shoulder. “Peter is fine. He’ll maybe spend some more time in slumber land but he’ll be fine.”

It took Tony quite a while to calm down after that. Every time he tried taking a breath he could feel his heart burn at the thought of how close he’d gotten to loose Peter forever. He could’ve done more, he should have -

“Stop it, Tony.” May still stood beside him, hand resting on his back. He couldn’t even understand why she was helping him, after everything that happened. “You want a glass of water?” The woman hurried off before he could give an answer and returned only a few moments later, handing him the glass.

“I’m not -“

“Yes you are. Everything’s alright and you need to drink something without caffeine for once.” When he didn’t make a move to sip, she gently gave him a reason to.

“You know we have the breathing therapist coming today, they’ll tell us what we can do to support and quicken the ventilator withdrawal process. We need to be clear-minded for that.”

“It’s today already?” The appointment had seemed in distant future when he’d scheduled it.

“Yeah, they’ll be coming this afternoon.” May was glad to see Tony’s breathing finally evening out and him taking a half-conscious sip of water. She decided to swiftly change the topic to something less heavy, something that would distract the man from the weight of knowledge. “Has Rabbit Peter finished his adventure?”

He weakly gestured to the book at the nightstand. “For the tenth time. Wanted to hear it twice today.”

While his condition was still classified as ‘vegetative comatose state’, May and Tony had quickly learned to interpret signs of Peter’s comfort and discomfort. It was still try- and- error sometimes, figuring out what he wanted and needed, but they got better at it. After trying to read another story, it hadn’t taken Tony long to figure out the kid’s pulse only calmed down when he continued to read that one particular story. On other days, Peter wanted his hand held, or May humming some old lullabies.

“What luck I brought some new ones.”

Tony looked up, trying to smile at another bunch of young children’s novels. For the moment though it only reminded him of the fact that they were slowly making this hospital room Peter’s room, with the flowers Pepper had bought, some more of his old stuffed animals, including a Captain America and Iron Man one that currently sat at his right and left side

“What do you think, sweetie?” May whispered, sitting down at her nephew’s bedside, her fingers affectionately caressing his cheek. “What do you want to do ‘til the big visit?”

As always, the only response were the continuous beeps of the vital monitor and the mechanic huff of the ventilator.

“We can put up the old Star Trek movies, if you like. I can read for you, if you want. Tony read the entire night reading for you, I bet his voice is too scratchy to sound like the little Heffalump.”

Tony raised his eyebrows.

“The what?”

May’s mouth opened in shock but she smiled when she turned to Peter again. “Can you believe it? He doesn’t know the Heffalump!” She handed him the book without further words, an old copy of a children’s book called ‘Winnie meets a new friend’.

“Seems like I have to read it, huh? No way we can let him leave without him knowing Piglet’s best friend Lumpy.”

May started reading shortly after, her voice soft, and Tony found himself actually following the story of that little pink elephant and his adventures. Who knew whether or not the knowledge couldn’t come in handy someday? When May reached for her tea and paused reading for a moment to oil her voice, Peter’s pulse quickened slightly, a fact Tony did not miss. His eyes scanned the open page of the book in May’s lap before he found the sentence she’d stopped at, reading the following few lines. The next thing just happened, without either one of them thinking about it: Tony paused and May jumped in, reading the little elephant’s part, before Tony continued casually with the story, reading dialogue lines of Winnie, Rabbit, and Tigger while May took over for Piglet, Lumpy, and Roo.

 

May and Tony were both interested in what the appointment would bring, but for slightly different reasons. Tony still hoped the efforts would quicken Peter’s healing process to the point were they could just get rid of the breathing tube after one or two weeks of doing what the therapist recommended. May, on the other hand, knew that although they might be supporting the process with said means, Peter couldn’t get tube-free without being fully conscious, and that was a state they’d not yet reached. Which was about exactly what one of the invited physicians just tried to explain.

“What we can do is strengthen the diaphragm. That will be the main goal of all designed exercises. However, due to the vegetative state he is in at the moment, most of them have proved rather ineffective because of the lack of willing impulse control.”

“But there’s still something we can do, isn’t there?” Tony asked. He knew the basics and issues of breathing therapy, but when he’d scheduled the appointment, he’d hoped they were way past the vegetative state. In all honesty, Tony had made the necessary calls in simple hopes of never needing them. Back then, he’d thought that Peter would heal just as impossibly fast as usual - and by now be that once healthy teenager he had grown to love.

“Sure there is, I just wanted to point out that while we’ll be able to show you certain therapy aspects, they’ll be almost useless until he’s less deep in his coma.”

As if the physician picked out Tony’s growing impatience (he wanted to do something to help Peter, not talking about “hows” or “whys”), he stood up, moving to the bag of tools they’d brought: sandbags, modified air balloons... None of those were of interest right now, but the specialists still explained the details of “the daily breathing workout” that’d include Peter learning how to regain control over the air traveling down, even though he wouldn’t be able to in- or exhale entirely by himself at the beginning. It would be a rather rough step by step work when Peter was ready for it. Until then, they had another method of artificial support that Tony was far more interested in: Electric impulse triggering.

It basically consisted of a small belt that was laid on the appropriate area, where the included electrodes would continuously send signals for the muscle to contract and relax, which would hopefully strengthen the muscle fiber that could otherwise easily dwindle.

Tony insisted on being walked through a session set-up from beginning to end.

The first step was to allow the belt skin contact, and Tony tried his best to keep a straight face when moving the gown aside. Peter still seemed covered in so many tubes and wires that the burning knife in his heart twisted at the sight. The only relief was that at least the most prominent bruises had faded away within the past weeks.

“It’s pretty simple. You enable it. There’s just one setting, no frills or anything. But you have to take care of the time. Start with two minutes a day and slowly move upwards from that so the body can adjust to the new pressure. If you want too much too quick, you could risk a charley horse that could easily impair muscle movement.”

“We won’t let it come to that.” May promised, listening to the silent whirs of the new machine added to the symphony she had somehow gotten used to. Peter laid still, showing no obvious signs that the machine was doing anything and his pulse was calm and steady. As long as it wouldn’t harm him, a condition both May and Tony had agreed on, they would try anything that could be even slightly beneficiary to Peter’s condition. 

 

“How has the appointment been? Any progress?” Pepper asked, placing a tray of food on the nightstand before leaning towards Peter, squeezing his hand to let him know she was there.

Tony shrugged half-heartedly and watched his spouse take her place. The woman had learned pretty early on that if she wanted to spend some rare time with Tony it had to be here since the man refused to leave Peter’s room for any longer than he necessarily had to. Showers and shaving had become less frequent too - which easily caught attention, given that Tony Stark used to be a very spruced person.

“Just like we’ve guessed. They gave us some recommendations, but in the end, we mainly have to wait until he reaches at least a minimally conscious state.”

“Still no changes?” Pepper handed him the cutlery.

“No. Still sleeping deeply.” Tony began forking up the noodles without looking, his eyes fixed on the teenager in the hospital bed. “The doctors keep assuring it’s nothing to worry about but -“

“Then it isn’t. Trust them, Tony, they know what they’re talking about.”

“It’s been so long, Pep. Too long. If he’d be normal, I probably wouldn’t worry that much... But he’s enhanced, the spider genes should’ve taken care of the damage by now.” 

Pepper sighed, not in frustration or annoyance, but in pure understanding. “After all those papers you’ve read by now, you should know that there’s no such thing as a reliable estimate on the duration of coma. There’s no correlation with the severity of injuries, so there might be other factors that his healing factor does not have a direct impact on, or they’re just... new. We have to remain patient.”

“I know.” Tony sighed. “I just hate seeing him like this. He should be in school outsmarting his classmates - not here. This is not what I meant when I said I wanted to have him around more often.”

“He’ll be fine.” Pep assured, for what must be the thousandth time ever since the accident. “And when the rough part is over, you two can have a talk about prolonging your weekend sessions.” She smiled, before frowning, suddenly remembering that there was something else.

“You should check your emails. They’ve sent first reports to Peter’s mail address, but since he isn’t able to read them just now, I had them forwarded to you, too. I assume you want to read them to him.”

“Are they good?” Tony asked, faking a casual tone.

“I didn’t look.” Pep answered. “But let’s just say the research group doesn’t exactly consist of scientist that have a happy expression on a day to day basis.”

Tony’s eyes lightened at the words, and he would’ve given everything to have Peter wake up at them, just to see the glance of excitement in the boy’s warm, brown eyes, too. No matter how the results would look like, it would give them something new to work with, which would definitely be a reason for celebration.

Peter, as always, slept the happiness away.

But Tony refused to give up just yet. Maybe that’s what Peter needed: Hearing that the world needed him, awake and aware, to change it for the better.

So, as soon as he’d finished at least half of his portion, he reached for his StarkPad and went through loads of emails of no interest before he found the one he’d been looking for, opening the attached files.

“‘Dear Mr. Parker,’ he started, eyes already lines below. “The chemical fluid design that Mr. Stark has sent us on your behalf has been in Alpha-Testing for the past couple of weeks. Main goals of the research were to study the advances and potential weaknesses of said design in the light of the intentional idea for its use in, quoting your own descriptions, ‘biological engineering as a possible construction material for 3D printed organ layouts.’ Our momentary, rather basic results prove that the fluid hardens to a nearly perfect degree in the printing settings you recommended. Further, the general construction flexibility is very good, allowing the print-out model to accede certain movements without loosing structure.

“It is yet to be seen whether or not the chemical design will be adopted by surrounding, natural cells. Testing the inter-body-dynamics will be a huge part of further research phases.

“Enclosed, you will find the used experimental designs as well as their results, showing minor inconveniences with the current formula.” Tony stopped reading, and realized only then that he had started smiling. Scanning the list of mentioned “inconveniences” with the ‘Steak Formula’, it became clear that all of those were minor and probably easily corrected by changing just simple aspects of it. Maybe even just adapting the printer settings a little again. 

“This is better than you probably ever dreamed of, kiddo. This is extraordinary.” He threw a glance at May who’d come in after the first half of the mail, eyes widened in surprise, too.

“They’re waiting for you.” She said, thumb moving along the lines of Peter’s cheek. “You hear that? They’re waiting for you too continue what you started.”

The happiness left when a response failed to appear. But the pride in both May’s and Tony’s heart remained.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, your hair is getting too long,” Tony muttered as he brushed the boy's curls. “How can that be? I thought your body would be focused on repairing your brain! Or did I misread the manual to your powers?”

Peter, as always, gave no answer but Tony did not let it get him down. If he did that, he would have lost his mind weeks ago.

“Would you mind if I cut it some? You have so many split ends you won't even believe!” He brushed loose hair from Peter's pillow and let out a breath. “You know, I do love myself but monologues are getting kind of boring. So, if you would be so kind to wake up that would be great.”

Peter stayed silent.

“Hey, any sound would do. A groan, a mumble, a scream, anything your mouth can come up with.”

Tony waited but nothing happened. He was too used to the ventilator, he was afraid Peter would never learn to breathe by himself again.

“Okay, do you want to see a movie then? May brought a bunch of them. Let's see... Peter Pan, the human version, Harry Potter, Robin Hood, God I have not seen this in ages! I loved it as a kid- Mom took me to see it in the premiere.” He trailed off and did not witness Peter's eyes opening. It was a shock that nearly stopped his heart.


“Peter,” Tony breathed out and stood up from the slouched position. He cradled the boy's face in his hands and tears filled his eyes. “Kiddo,” He kissed the boy's temple and embraced him. “Oh my God! You- you're here!”

Tony let go and stroked the boy's cheek, tears falling onto his skin. “You gave us such a scare but you came through, like you always do.”

Peter was staring at the ceiling, his eyes unblinking.

“You're such a brave boy,” Tony moved closer so he was in Peter's line of vision.

Nothing happened.

Tony frowned. “Peter?” He waved a hand over the boy's face. No response.

“Hey, kid,” Tony's heart nearly stopped again and he grasped the boy's shoulders in a desperate act. “What is wrong? Are you blind? Can't you hear me?” He pinched Peter's arm, but got no sound, no twitching, just a red mark from his nails. “Help!”


Things happened all to suddenly for Tony to make sense of them when the doctor entered the room, May following closely behind. It didn’t take either of them long to find the reason for Tony’s panic, and paradoxically, the medic managed to ease his worries and make his heart ache at just the same time.


“Don’t worry, Mr. Stark. This is a good sign. A very good even so.” He said, swiftly moving the penlight across Peter’s line of vision. “This counts to the first signs of reaching a minimally conscious state. While he won’t yet be responding to commands or follow objects and such, he becomes increasingly aware of his environment. You might be experiencing him grasping your hands, probably even attempting to vocalize on reflex.”


“Vo-“ May stopped. “Will he be aware of the ventilator?”


“That’s hard to say. Given his vitals, he’s clearly already fighting back against it a little. But most patients in coma do not mind the ventilator in early stages of even a newly gained full consciousness. And we hope to have him away from the vent before that happens. If he continues to progress at the rate he is now, I don’t see any reason for it not to happen.“


“Alright so - what are we supposed to do now?” Tony asked, still struggling to regain his composure after the initial shock.


“Just continue as you did before.” The doctor answered with a smile on his face. “Talk to him, respond when he’s showing physical signs of short consciousness. The only thing that becomes important now is that you close his eyes when he opens them for too long at a time, because the blinking reflex might be hard to control just yet. But at the state he is in right now, I would rather not want them to be taped, in case he quickly regains consciousness.”

“Quickly? What time spans are we talking about right now?”

There it was again, the casual shrug. “Hard to quantify. Maybe just a few hours. Maybe another few weeks. It’s very individual.”


Tony sighed, fingers tracing the line of his eyebrows before he turned around, looking at Peter. The boy’s eyes had closed again. “You’re an especially sleepy individual, huh?” He smiled weakly. “But take your time. Your aunt and I won’t go anywhere.”

 

 

 

 

“Man, this movie is dark,” Tony muttered as Lampwick turned into a donkey. “How did your parents let you watch this?”

Peter laid beside him and Tony was almost expecting the boy to stay silent for the rest of his life. The doctor had informed them a week ago that Peter was now in a minimally conscious state and yes, there were some moments when Tony was certain a part of Peter got through the haze in his brain. But those moments were few in between.

“Jiminy Cricket is absolutely useless,” Tony shook his head and leaned on the pillows. Peter’s hand twitched and the man smiled tiredly. “Fine,” he grasped Peter’s hand and kissed the boy’s knuckles. “He is a great little bug. My new favorite.”

Peter grasped his hand.

Tony snorted. “Oh, so that you hear? And all those heartfelt proclamations of undying love you chose to ignore.”

“It’s not his fault, you told them while he was sleeping,” May chuckled as she opened the door. “Oh,” She glanced at the screen and offered Tony a take-away cup of coffee. “I was so scared of this movie.”

“I am not shocked,” Tony smiled and took a sip. “I have half a mind to turn this off but Peter doesn’t let me.” The man softened the blow with leaning down and setting a tender, long kiss on Peter’s head. The boy grasped his mentor’s hand.  “You’re pretty communicative today, kiddo.” He remarked, caressing the boy’s cheek with his knuckles.

“Maybe he simply knows what time it is.” May guessed, letting herself sink in the chair at Peter’s left side, her hand finding his. Tony had his eyebrows raised, but taking a look at his watch, he understood what she was talking about.

“Your aunt’s right. Almost forgot it’s training time already.” That fact was true in even two definitions: Ever since the first days of coma - or rather ever since his hand allowed it - he’d done the prescript workout with Peter every morning and evening, hoping to counteract the muscle-loss that the doctors feared was only increased by how enhanced his metabolism worked. However, it was Saturday, and Saturday evenings were usually spent training with the other Avengers. Tony should probably be down there too, but he couldn’t care less. At the moment, he had more important things in mind than his superhero-side or even company business. Pep kept him informed over the most important stuff when she came for lunch, but the decision-making rested on her. Once all of this trouble was over, Tony mentally reminded himself, he definitely needed to profoundly thank her for never not having his back.

“The others miss you a lot.” He started, standing up, deciding to start with the kid’s legs this time. “If you’d be conscious enough to give it a glance, you’d see the tons of gift cards and presents. Literally everyone sent one.”

“It’s beautiful, really.” May agreed. “There’s the new flowers Pepper brought yesterday, Areca palms. Huge ones, but the doctors said it might do you good because it supposedly keeps the air in this room fresh and clean.”

She and Tony shared a look instantaneously, realizing yet again that neither of them had an idea when Peter would have the pleasure of breathing in said freshness again.

May shook her head and just went on. “Then there’s literally dozens of ‘get well soon’ cards. And I mean dozens. Probably more than I have colleagues - and you know what that implies. I probably don’t even know half as many people.” Tony laughed while his hands were gently moving Peter’s feet.

“Me neither.”

“How come everyone knows Peter then?” May asked.

“Answer’s easily given, isn’t it?”

The smile finally reached the woman’s face too and she tightly squeezed her nephew’s hand. “Yes. Yes it is.”

“I can’t really pinpoint when it happened, but he certainly became everyone’s favorite intern. He’s really talkative, but in a genuine way. Most highly intellectual people have a tendency to be very unsociable. Peter isn’t. He’s the one person you tell about your daughter’s birthday once and he remembers it and brings a card the right day the next year. People like him because he actually listens to what he’s told.”

“Most of the time.” May put in.

“Most of the time.” Tony agreed, thinking about those plenty times the kid has disobeyed orders given, though for a good reason. “But seriously. If engineering isn’t going to get your speciality, you could really become one of those classic talking therapists. You never fail to make people happy, and make them become the best version of themselves he can.” Tony coughed, contrived enough to ensure May that he wasn’t sick, but natural enough to hide the intense sadness lingering behind the words. Peter had really managed to get the very best out of him.

“Speaking of Happy,”, he casually changed the topic, moving up to the kid’s arms to work on the arm muscles too. “He brought a card, too. And that new self-driving Lego car you so eagerly talked about last time he shuttled you. He might appear a little distant sometimes, but he really cares for you, too. We all do. And we’d all be goddamn happy if you just wake up soon.”

Peter didn’t respond, neither by a hand twitch, nor by opening his eyes, and after a while, May just continued to describe the presents he’d gotten.

 

 

 

 

Tony woke up around midnight that day. Lights were dimmed down – he’d asked Friday to gradually lower the settings beginning at eight pm to imitate somewhat of a daily routine to Peter. It took him a few minutes to realize what had woken him, and another to try and translate it into his language. Peter was moaning quietly, single vocals forced out of his mouth despite the breathing tube holding them down.

“You’re okay, kiddo? Does something hurt?” The boy had been laid on his back again, and Tony feared that it had not yet fully recovered from being laid on for almost two weeks straight. However, Peter’s heart rate was too low to indicate that something was physically painful.

“Or was it because I fell asleep?”, he inquired, squeezing the kid’s hand gently and massaging his temples with his thumb. “I should’ve stayed awake. It’s your aunt’s sleeping time. I’m sorry. Watching movies all day is just really tiring.”

Peter moaned again, and the sound broke Tony’s heart. He’d give everything he had just to hear the kids real voice again.

“I’m here, don’t worry. I’m always here.” He assured, but that didn’t entirely seemed to be it either. Tony tried to make the next guess. “Wanna hear a story?” Peter neither agreed to, nor refused the offer – or maybe Tony just couldn’t tell. He reached forward, scanning the literal tower of books they’d built for something he could read. “Something light-hearted, I assume, huh? Don’t have to get deep into the sciences when it’s almost midnight.”

Tony laughed at the irony that – if things were alright – they would be probably awake spending their time in his lab; on science stuff. Although Peter always became a little groggy around midnight, and they usually spent an hour just sitting in the kitchen, finally eating and drinking the required amounts and sometimes searching for new shirts for Peter. “I really miss seeing those engineering puns on your shirts. They certainly never failed to make my day.” He swallowed, suddenly having a vivid image of the hoodie Peter wore the day things were still alright. The print said: “I make horrible science puns, but only periodically.” The kid had loved it, given that this basically summed up his humor. But it had probably been cut apart by the emergency services. Tony would definitely order him a replacement. “Maybe that’s what we should do. Try and find you some new jokes to try out when you’re better. What do you think about that?” He used the time waiting for an answer looking his request up until he found some good ones.

“Okay, you’re ready? Here we go: A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage. He says, ‘No, I'm traveling light.’” Tony rolled his eyes. “God, that was a really bad one. This one’s better. Organic chemistry is difficult. Those who study it have alkynes of trouble. If that isn’t worth a shirt-print I don’t know what is.”

He saved it, deciding for himself that he was going to get the kid the best self-made science-shirts that ever existed, just to see Peter’s eyes light up in laughter. “Let’s mix it a little. One good – one bad. Although I bet you’d laugh about all of these. What did Gregor Mendel say when he founded genetics? ‘Woopea!’. We forget about that one and just go on. A couple of biologists had twins. They named one Jessica and the other Control.” Tony smiled. “I bet we’re going to hate this one in just a few weeks. When we’ve adjusted your formula to the new requirements, they’re gonna beta-test it on rats to see how efficient it is in comparison with control groups.”

Tony spent the next half an hour reading all kind of science jokes to Peter, suddenly realizing he probably wasn’t doing it mainly for the kid – but for himself. Whenever he finished reading one he imagined the boy’s reaction to it: Simply rolling his eyes, or even crying in guffaw over how awful some of these were. When Tony had once pulled the “Iconic Bond” joke, Peter had laughed so badly he couldn’t breathe straight for a solid ten minutes. God, how badly he wanted just to travel back to that moment and pretend the last weeks have been nothing but a very, very cruel nightmare.

I had to make these bad chemistry jokes because all the good ones Argon.” He finished fittingly, after what must be the hundredth joke. “Some of those were actually quite good, weren’t they?” Peter squeezed his hand, and Tony smiled. At that point, he could easily imagine the kid might’ve even heard him in the haze of his brain. “But it’s really late, so maybe we’re just going to read you a goodnight story, and then you just relax for a little while. I put on some music, too.” He picked a book filled with Toy Story short stories and searched one he hadn’t read to the boy just yet, leaned back in his chair and started telling Peter about Woody’s on-road adventures, until even his eyes almost dropped.

“Goodnight, Pete.” He whispered, tenderly stroking the boy’s curly hair.

Chapter Text

“You’re really missing out on things.” Tony remarked, taking a bite of his steak. Sometime in the past, Rhodey had certainly picked up some of the grilling tricks Tony had taught him over the course of the past few years. Even though this piece was a remain of yesterday’s lunch, it still tasted incredibly delicious. “Like seriously, this is amazing. Hand that to a vegan and he’s gonna forget about his ethics in an instant.”

At this point, he was probably exaggerating, but who knows, maybe a little excitement was just exactly what Peter needed.

“I’d let you have a taste, but May’s still worried even the hint of red meat might be too much for your stomach to handle.” He paused, waiting. “Yes, I did ask her what’s the matter about it if you didn’t actually swallow it, but she explained that the taste is enough to get your stomach readied for it and whatsoever. So just ice-chips for you, kid.”

Tony let his fork down and reached for the cub of chips he’d prepared to counteract the dryness of the boy’s lips. The ice melted immediately. 

“There you go. Feels good, huh?” The man returned to his meal, simply staring at the piece still forked up. “You wanna have a smell of it, kiddo?” He switched hands to have more control over the fork, his comparatively useless right hand resting below the meat to prevent sauce from dripping onto the blanket as he moved it up to Peter’s nose. “There’s nothing against that, I guess.” Especially not since Peter still barely breathed by himself. Tony suppressed a sigh, again waiting for a response and almost missing that he actually got one. Peter’s nostrils twitched - something that hadn’t happened before.

After all those weeks, Tony probably shouldn’t be that excited. Should know that if his hopes weren’t fulfilled, it would only break his heart once again. But here he was, almost throwing the cutlery aside to have his hands free.
“Peter,” Tony grasped the hand so tightly the skin turned white. “Kid, are you with me? Please be here, please be here, I don't want to be alone anymore.”

Peter's eyes opened to slits.

“Is there too much light? FRIDAY, dim the room!”

The overhead lamp nearly shut down but light came to the room from underneath the door.

“Kiddo, Peter, squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”

The boy's fingers twitched. But maybe it was another reflex.

“Peter,” Tony rose to face the boy, barely flinching when the tray he’d rested on his legs crashed down to the floor. “Kiddo, are you there?”

Peter's eyes stared at the ceiling - and then moved to look at him. Tony cried in joy.

“Yes! Yes!” He screamed and embraced the kid so gently. Tears streamed down his face as he buried his nose into the boy's neck. Peter lifted his other arm weakly and touched his mentor's hair. “I can't believe it,” The man's voice broke. “You're here. You're back.” Tony pulled back and kissed Peter's brow and temple. “Sweetheart,” he cradled the boy's face, tears falling on Peter's cheekbones. “Kiddo, my brave little boy.”

Peter followed him with his eyes and tried to say something. “Shh.. don't, it's okay. You are on a ventilator, relax.”

Peter trusted the man but still tried to talk.

“Don't, you'll hurt yourself, Peter.”

But Peter was insistent. He kicked his feet. He had so much to ask. He didn't know a thing. He was scared, hurt, confused and Tony's over the top reaction did not help him to catch his calm. Tony seemed to notice he needed backup.

He ran to the door and nearly pulled it from the hinges.

“He woke up!” He screamed. “Peter woke up!”

“Peter, do you know me?” Tony whispered. “One blink no, two blinks yes.”

Peter gathered his strength and then blinked two times.

Tony cried in joy again. The Doctor then gently pulled him away so he could check Peter's level of awareness.

“Welcome back, Mr Parker,” The man smiled at the boy. “Do you know where you are?”

One blink.

“You're at the Tower,” Tony offered, not worried about the fact the boy could not recognize the room he had been to multiple times. “MedBay. There was an accident but you're going to be alright.”

“Do you remember what happened?”

One blink and Peter's pulse quickened. The doctor frowned at the numbers.

“Are you in pain?”

Two blinks.

Tony felt his heart beat fast. “Why is he in pain? Shouldn't he have recovered?” He pulled the man away so Peter hopefully wouldn't hear them.

“His body might be sore from being in the same position plus his muscles are underused. Even small pain might feel a lot to him.”

The pair approached the boy again. “Okay, Peter, I will give you something for your discomfort but first I need to check your limbs.”

“He has been kicking in his sleep,” Tony said while grabbing the boy's hand.

“Oh, that is good. Excellent, in fact.”

“As I keep saying, he’s a mark-A-student.” Tony said, voice filled with pride while he wondered whether Peter remembered those words. He would’ve probably asked, but the kid’s brows were furrowed in the effort to follow the doctors instruction that went from telling him whether he felt the pen slightly moving up his extremities to attempting to push against his hold with both his feet and his hands. 

Sounds of discomfort sneaked their way from Peter’s mouth. Tony was halfway ready to tell the physician to stop making the boy suffer even more, but he knew that those examinations were necessary to determine the general state of Peter’s health and whether or not he might’ve suffered brain damage from the accident. As of now, things were looking promising, and for the first time in forever, Tony felt real relief flooding over him.

His voice remained calm when he carefully pressed Peter’s hand down that had reached for the breathing tube.

“Hey. Don’t touch it. I know it feel strange, but it’s helping you breathe, alright?”

Peter’s eyes were filled with an indescribable fear, and Tony tried his best to shush him. “Just don’t think about it. It’s nothing. And you’re gonna get rid of this in no time, I promise.”

The doctor nodded. “You’re really doing an extraordinary job breathing. Keep that up for the next two days and we can unhesitatingly extubate you.”

“Hear that, kid? God, I’m so proud of you.” Tony found himself subconsciously sniffling. “Your aunt’s going to be so excited to see you awake. We’ve been waiting for so long.” He expected to look down at a now worried Peter - given that the kid hated to have May get anxious because of him - but the boy’s eyes were already closed again.

“Peter?”

He felt a hand on his shoulder. “That’s normal.” The doctor explained. “After weeks of having a rather deep sleep, being awake for ten minutes feels like a decade for the body. It’ll take it some time to adjust, but eventually, it will.”

Eventually was still a big word for Tony, but now he could believe there was more to it than just a simple supposition to calm him and May.

His fingers caressed the boy’s cheek, still not fully able to comprehend what happened. If he could, he’d embrace the kid fully and never let go. For now, he had to be satisfied with Peter finally consciously looking at him.

He longed for his phone, and forwarded some quick messages.
- Guess who finally woke up.

To May, he added a picture, and although for everyone else nothing would have changed, he knew that she would see that Peter’s left cheek touched the pillows, that his general position was different. He’d store that imagine forever.

 

 

Even if her personal life was a mess and at a standstill, SI needed Pepper Potts' full attention and efficiency. She listened patiently how the accident of Tony Stark had affected the stocks negatively. Even if Tony was no longer running the company, his influence was undeniable.

“We can make a statement about the newest innovation,” Pepper opened a page on her Pad. She screened it for everyone's view. “Tony told me the initial testing results were very promising and-“
Suddenly, the Pad pinged with a new page opening up. Pepper stared at the bolded text for a second without realizing it. Then her eyes widened and a hand flew flew over her mouth. “Oh my God!”

 

 

Rhodey had just finished working out and was heading to the kitchen for a protein snack. He was just checking the messages when Tony called. It was normal for them to keep in touch frequently but now, with Peter in a hospital, Tony needed him more than ever. Just as much as after Afghanistan. And Rhodey was ready to offer his support, be it any time of the day.
“Hey, Tones!” He smiled tentatively. “Tell me.” He expected Tony to be calling to pass the time, give him some stats or anything that had become their normal. What he heard made his brain pause and legs stop. “Oh my God!”

 

 

“You can't be serious,” Steve muttered into the phone. He walked into the lounge where the others were sprawled around on couches. Wanda was studying (she aimed for high school diploma) with Sam helping her with physics. Tony usually did it but he had been unavailable for months. Nobody blamed him, though. The man had much more pressing matters to attend to, although he did try to give her some pointers through texts. Natasha and Bucky were following a reality cooking show on the flat screen but neither were focusing on it: Bucky worked on crosswords while Natasha played with her phone.

 

Steve walked into the room and looked at the team. They all straightened up and inspected the man's expression. Steve had tears in his eyes.

“Oh my God,” Bucky muttered. Was it what they had been living for, the confirmation of Peter's fate? Wanda's hand covered her mouth. They all waited in anticipation.

“Okay, I will tell them. Thanks, Tony,” Steve nodded and ended the call. He took in a deep breath and choked out: “Peter is awake.”

The reaction he got could be comparable to the end of World War 2. They all cheered and laughed and hugged each other.

“Yes!” Sam hit air with his fist. “I knew that fucker was not giving in!”
Rhodey more or less stumbled right into ongoing celebrations. He’d gotten Tony’s message just minutes ago, and someone had already beheaded a bottle of champagne.

“Rhodes!” Sam cheered. “Take a glass.” James had one in hand before he could even disagree. “Our little Spiderling’s up again.”

“Took him long enough.” Bucky remarked. “Kinda missed his quirky nature in training. He certainly gave me a challenge.”

“Could be because he listens when I give him advice on how to improve.” Natasha remarked, but the smile was vivid on her face, too.

That was the magic of getting to know Peter Parker: Once you did, you enjoyed his company. The laughs, but most of all the genuine interest in everything he was taught. That’s what had been missing in the past few weeks, and they were all looking forward to having Peter around again. 

“I’m not saying I told you so, but I did.” Rhodey remarked casually. He’d spent the afternoon with the kid the day before - one of them always made a late afternoon visit, so that Peter wouldn’t feel like Tony and May were the only ones caring about him. The teenager had already appeared comparatively eager to communicate, hands twitching frequently, eyes opening more often than before. He hadn’t dared to tell Tony in fear that he would hold his hopes too high, but he’d told the other Avenger’s about the progress, guessing that the kid was far closer to waking up than ever before.

“Hey.” Natasha snipped. “This isn’t about you.”

“No, it isn’t.” Rhodey agreed, raising his glass. “To Peter.”

“To Peter.” The others repeated. 

 

Even before May could take a look at her phone, she heard rambling seemingly coming from everywhere. When she‘d come up here to quickly refresh herself – Tony had instantly offered her a room of her own, including a separate bathroom so she wouldn‘t have to commute between here and her apartment in Queens everyday – the hallways had been almost deadly silent, reminding her of some more or less relaxing night-shifts at work.

 

Tony had taken care of that too, ensuring that her wage was still paid regularly and that she wasn‘t storing missing days on her account, so that she could care for Peter full-time. Which was, although she‘d gotten used to this new occupation, still felt so terribly wrong. She‘d spent so many days at work in the past few years, explaining others how to take care of their comatose relatives – and for their own mental health – but she‘d never imagined to be in their stead one day.

And it had been so long that she‘d cried earlier this week about how the diary she‘d bought for Peter (a recommended practice to make it easier for patients to keep track of what had happened in the time they‘d spent in the non-responsive state) was already half filled.

That was what filled her mind when she picked her phone up, trying to make sense of why she had twenty-seven messages from Tony.
- Guess who finally woke up.

She loaded the image he‘d added, and her heart almost stopped, suffocated from all that joy streaming over her.
- He did it, May
- Can you believe it?
- Our boy did it.
The last few messages were about the same, but May barely read them before quickly making her way back to the MedBay.
After nothing but moderate days for weeks, this was finally a good one.

She was halfway ready to just wrap her boy into a tight hug, but when she entered the room, she already knew that she had to wait for a while to get to that, because Peter was already back to sleep again. However, she reminded herself, when he woke up the next time, she‘d finally see the beautiful depth within his brown eyes again – which was worth every wait.
Falling back into her usual position, one hand in Peter‘s hair, the other one caressing his fingers, she looked at Tony.

“Why didn't you call me?“

“I didn't want to wake-“

“Do you have any idea how it feels to find out through text? Don't you have any tact?”
“I fear not. Pep has noted that quite frequently.” Tony answered, and he and May locked gazes for almost a minute before the latter rolled her eyes and started laughing. She just couldn’t hold a grudge against anyone. Not today.
“I still won't forget this.”

“Fair enough.”

Chapter Text

“There he is,” Tony smiled as Peter opened his eyes. “Hello, had a good nap?”

 

It was incredible. How could he forget that something like opening one's eyes was normal? When Peter fell asleep, Tony had worried the boy would return to coma and all progress would be lost. But no, Peter was back, bleary and confused but that gleam in his eyes was so undeniably him.
Tony tried to discreetly wipe tears from his eyes but Peter caught on. The boy touched his hand, visibly tried to curl his fingers around his mentor's but couldn't. His muscles were weak and small and his body couldn't handle the strain.

“I'm okay, kiddo,” Tony sniffled and grasped Peter's hand tightly between his own and kissed the boy's knuckles, like he had done numerous times during the past few months. “Let's play the game again, one blink no, two blinks yes. Do you know me?”
Peter blinked two times.

Tony kissed the small hand again. “Do you know where you are?”

One blink.

“You are in the Tower's medbay.” They had told Peter the fact before but it was not surprising Peter's brain was still a mess. Tony remembered when the boy got a severe concussion, he had had to repeat same information countless times because Peter's memory had not been working.

“Are you in pain?”

One blink.

“Excellent. Feel sick?”

One blink.

“Scared?”

Two blinks and Tony gently pulled the boy closer to himself.

“It's okay,” he whispered and stroked Peter's hair. He wrapped his arms around the boy and felt Peter weakly lift his hands to rest on his biceps. “It will all make sense, I promise.” The boy was warm and moving and Tony couldn't help crying. He buried his face in Peter's shoulder and grasped the kid tighter. He had tried to hold it in, focus on Peter and his needs, but the joy was overflowing.

He had no idea how long they remained in that position, Peter closely tugged to his side, and when Tony managed to look up, he expected the boy to be sleeping already. However, he found the kid still awake, groggily blinking up at him.

“You’re tired?” Tony asked quietly. “It’s okay. Close your eyes and rest, kiddo. I’ll watch your sleep.”

“We will.” May agreed, and Peter made a weak attempt to turn his head in her direction. They saw him slightly kick his feet, suddenly moaning in discomfort.

“Hush, sweetie. Everything’s fine. We’re here.” May rested her hand on her nephew’s arm, the other finding his cheek. But the choked whimpers didn’t stop.

“Does something hurt?” Tony inquired, suddenly becoming worried.

Peter didn’t respond.

“Hey, Peter.” Carefully, minding the position of the breathing tube, he reached for the boy’s cheek and moved his face back in his direction, repeating the question.

“One blink no, two blinks yes.”

Peter blinked once, and Tony could’ve sighed in relief if they wouldn’t be groping in the dark right now.

“Still scared?” May tried, hoping with all her heart that the answer would be ‘no’ - because how were they supposed to convince him that he had no reason to be afraid when he was obviously flooded by all sorts of foreign medical equipment?

Peter blinked his agreement and Tony tried to move the boy even closer to him, giving him as much physical comfort as he possibly could without hindering any tubes or lines supplying the kid with everything he needed.

“Do you remember the story where Piglet gets sick?” May didn’t wait for Peter to give an answer, just retrieved the book from the little improvised library that the window stills had become.

“He was very scared, too. And when Winnie found out about it, she had everyone scramble together in Piglet’s room so that he wouldn’t have to be worried about anything while they took care of him.”

“I don’t know that one yet.” Tony whispered, fingers moving through Peter’s hair, hoping the gesture and comment would help cheer him up just a little. Just get him comfortable enough to fall asleep. “But your aunt’s an amazing story-teller.”

May started reading the story that usually never failed to lull Peter to sleep when he was sick, but there was no effect this time. It rather seemed to make things worse.

Tony’s heart broke into a billion little pieces – likely beyond repair - when he saw tears leaking from the boy’s eyes. God, that kid was so awfully tired that even blinking happened only at half speed, and Tony doubted he registered what happened around him. It made the fact that he wasn’t feeling comfortable much worse.
May and Tony tried everything: Reading stories, telling jokes; Tony even scrambled his mind for a funny and g-rated story from his MIT- era that he usually refused to reveal to anyone. None of it worked and the tear tracks slowly became visible on Peter’s face.

May tried to reassure herself with the knowledge that it probably wasn’t a controlled reaction, though that failed to make it sting less. Tony felt much the same way, and he almost became desperate. Desperate enough that he wasn’t thinking about what he did in the following:

Humming the first accords, Peter stirred, recognizing the melody, eyes lazily moving up to Tony’s face.

“Far over the Misty Mountain cold -To Dungeons deep, and caverns old - We must away, ere break of day -To find our long, forgotten gold.”

May only watched, mouth slightly open, how the man that the media presented as a heartless businessman, held her nephew close, singing what she recognized to be the dwarves' song from The Hobbit.

“The pines were roaring on the height - The winds were moaning in the night - The fire was red, it flaming spread -The trees like torches, blazed with light.” His voice was passionate, his eyes holding an affection that was beyond anyone’s comprehension. It was heart-melting.

Peter hadn’t expected Tony to be a singing person. Someone with a good taste of music, for sure – just not one that sung to others. Not that well, anyway. If he was clear-headed enough, he’d probably think about how unfair it was that someone could be blessed with so many talents. For now, however, it was the only thing that kept him from falling apart. He felt incredibly uncomfortable, not physically, but mentally. Everything was just terribly confusing. There was too much light, to many sounds he couldn’t place to the scenery – though he knew he should be able to. Then the glances from May and Tony, concealing the worry laying underneath rather badly. Nothing made sense to Peter, and it made him feel almost physically sick. But all the questions he had in mind simply couldn’t get out. Tony had asked him more than once not to talk, and in the back of his mind, covered in fog, laid the reason that he just couldn’t grab a hold of.
All he wanted was to be back in the lab with Tony, just like he had been right before he woke up. He was trapped, however, and hated the feeling more than everything else in the world. His attempts to move himself closer to his safe haven remained rather fruitless.

The kitchen-clock screamed in alarm just the second Tony finished the song. The man wondered how many mistakes he must’ve made in previous lives that karma decided to punish him by watching the bright kid he’d grown to love suffer so terribly. If there was any deity at all, Tony would definitely need to have a very intense talk with it. Punishing him was one thing, but Peter was too pure to deserve any of this.

He exchanged a glance with May. Both adults hated what they’d have to do, but they couldn’t reschedule it again. The initial alarm had gone off roughly two hours ago and they’d agreed on not wanting to do it while Peter was sleeping, in fear he could wake up to the feeling of not being able to breathe. Neither of them wanted to traumatize the kid further than he probably already was.

“Sweetie?” May rested her hand on her nephew’s shoulder, squeezing it in reassurance. “I’m going to have to clean the tube, okay? Don’t worry about it. It won’t take long. Just listen to Tony, alright?”

The man nodded. He still felt slightly embarrassed about the situation – he hadn’t really sung to anyone in years (if at all), and although he enjoyed speaking in public, music was a different thing entirely – but as long as it calmed Peter, he’d jump over any shadow.

“I have another song in store for you, little nerd.” He assured, and the tones leaving his mouth were softer when he started, this one more of a lullaby than ‘Mystic Mountains’ had been.

“Deep in the meadow -” His hand moving through Peter’s hair got slower, adapting to the new rhythm. “Under the willow – A bed of grass – A soft green pillow.”

The first step was done easily, without Peter even realizing it. The trouble began the second May disconnected Peter from the ventilator, his heart-rate immediately picking up. Tony tried not to think about it, not to let the scared look in the kid’s eyes rip his heart into any more pieces, and focused on singing, softly, whispering the text right into Peter’s ear. “Lay down your head – And close your eyes –“ Tony raised his voice over the sound of the suctioning machine and Peter’s panicked whimpering, gently forcing the boy to focus on him instead of the sounds. “And when you wake – the sun will rise.”

By the time the process was done – needing rarely more than two minutes of time – Peter had started crying again. Tony just kept singing, kept doing the only thing that appeared to be soothing.

“Here your dreams are sweet – And tomorrow brings them true.” His own eyes suddenly felt watery too when he came to the end lines of the song. “Here is the place – Where I love you.”

The man didn’t stop, not with Peter’s eyes still on him. He started the song from the beginning, the only lullaby that came to his mind. Only when the boy’s eyes remained shut for longer than a few seconds at a time, he gave his voice a break.

 

 

 

 

Although the constant feeling of uneasiness didn‘t vanish, May and Tony adapted to Peter‘s needs fast. When he woke up for the third time after coma – and the two adults could still cry in joy at the sight alone – the process was similar: They inquired whether Peter was able to tell where he was or what happened, then asking for the boy‘s well-being.

“Does your chest hurt?”

One blink.

Tony sighed in relief. He’d feared that the impulse therapy might make the kid feel uncomfortable, causing them to stop in mid-treatment. The doctor had explained that continuing with it was probably the best solution, given that Peter’s breathing hadn’t seemed quite strong enough for complete ventilator withdrawal just yet.

“Good.” He kissed the boy’s hand, feeling another weak attempt of the fingers moving. It was an arrow in his heart so see how much trouble such a simple movement was causing Peter, and after the latest talks with doctors and therapists, he was beginning to fear that this wasn’t a result of mere muscle degeneration.

“So you’re feeling a little better, now?”

A moan, but two blinks.

A smile crossed May’s face. “That’s great, Peter.”

“More than that –“ Tony was about to correct, but was interrupted by a physician entering the room.

“Good morning.” He said, eyes wandering over every face in the room, resting the longest time on his patient’s.

“I see you’re awake, that’s good.”

Tony rolled his eyes in sheer frustration. How could no one else see that this wasn’t just ‘good’ or ‘great’ or even ‘astonishing’? This kid had made it through a car crash, almost drowning, and weeks of coma. He deserved a billion rewards for that, not some simple, meaningless English words thrown at him. For Peter’s sake, however, he didn’t allow himself to make a scene. Instead, he leaned forward to bury his hands in the boy’s hair, knowing that the following check-up might not be exactly relaxing for the boy, with the doctor assaulting his vision with a bright penlight, his chest with the coolness of the stethoscope pressed against it, and his body and mind by forcing him to move his limbs on his own. Peter hadn’t shown any signs of distress when Tony had gonethrough the therapy regime with him, just sleeping soundly the entire time. But he was awake now, and Tony saw the first hints of Peter realizing that he wasn’t able to control his muscles properly.

“I assume you remember that we’ve talked about getting you tube-free as quickly as possible. And when I make a promise, I sure keep it –“

“Does that mean he’s going to get rid of it?” Tony’s mood immediately lightened again.

“We’ll see. What I’ve been trying to say was that we have to make sure that his breathing is constantly stable.” The doctor turned for Peter. “We will turn down the ventilation to a minimum, now, so we can check that. Just try and keep breathing nice and even. And don’t worry. The ventilator will jump in and help out if it’s getting too much. Do you understand?”

Peter kicked weakly with his feet, a sign that – accompanied with the groggy but eager gaze in his eyes – Tony imagined to be determination. He passed that information to the doctor.

“I assume I have your consent, too, Mrs. Parker?”

“Of course.” May agreed, barely regarding the man but rather stroking Peter’s cheek. “You’re gonna be great with that. I know you will, my amazing little boy.”

A few minutes afterwards it was quieter in the room than before, with the hissing of the ventilator gone. Tony was about to ask whether he should fill the silence with music, but Peter already drifted back to Slumberland.

He yawned, suddenly realizing that he was awfully tired himself. It felt like months since he’s been sleeping properly. Realistically judged, it most likely was. He’d rarely spent a night in his own bed since the crash, not being able to relax while Peter’s condition was still unstable.

“Guess that’s the sign you should finally take a nap, Tony. Really.” May remarked, fingers gently interlocking with her nephew’s. “He’s fine. And if they really get him off the vent tomorrow, he’ll need you at the best, most alert state.”

Tony laughed. “I’d bet.” He agreed. “But that’s fine, kiddo. Whatever you want and need, you’ll get.”

“Did I ever mention that I feel like you’re spoiling him?”

“I’m definitely not –“ He paused, catching May’s expression. “Okay, maybe a little. But it’s not like you could blame me, can you?”

“No.” The woman shook her head. “God, no. He deserves the world. Literally.” A single tear traced its way down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it away. “But I meant what I said. Take a nap. You need it.”

Tony almost felt his eyelids dropping at her words, wondering if that was some secret power that only parents possessed: The ‘make you sleepy’- voice.

“I’m still here if you need me, kid. Not going anywhere.” He assured the boy before leaning back, falling asleep almost faster than Peter had.

 

“Tony, look out!” Peter's scream is drowned by Tony's own cry of alarm. He tries to hit the brakes, turn the wheel, anything to save the boy. He doesn’t care about himself but Peter, Peter has to live. His brain short-circuits and the next thing he realizes, everything is darker, bluish. His pulse slows down but adrenaline remains. He should be aching, injured but Tony feels nothing but numbness. His fingers tingle and blood rushes to his face.

“It- It's okay, kiddo,” Tony pushes the remainder of the air bag to the side as his hand tries to grasp the boy. “We'll be okay, we'll get o-” The words die on his lips as he takes in Peter's injuries: the boy is pale as a sheet, with a wound on his temple and blood flowing down his cheek. His head hangs towards his chest, the only thing keeping him upright is the seatbelt.

“No,” Tony's voice is muted and he starts to shake in shock. The man opens his seatbelt and crawls closer to his protege. “No, no, no, kiddo.” He cradles the boy's head gently between his hands and straightens his neck. Peter takes in a gasp and opens his mouth slightly. “Peter, sweetheart,” Tony strokes the boy's cheek with his thumb. “Wake up, you have to wake up.”

But Peter is dead to the world. A crash. Tony whips his head to the windshield. He sees multiple cracks, and water is pouring in.

“Oh shit,” He mutters and pulls himself closer to the boy. “It's okay, kiddo, I'll get us out of here.”

He presses the lock connecting to Peter's belt. It doesn't budge. Tony tries it several times with same results.

“Not now!”

Water is now up to their chests. Tony grits his teeth and tries to break the system. Stark cars are designed to endure crashes and it shows. The lock stays intact.

“Fuck!” Tony cries and feels tears. Peter was going to drown. He straightens the boy's neck further so that his nose and mouth would stay in the air longer. “I'll just grab a knife, okay. Hold on a second.”

It would not take but few seconds until the boy was completely submerged. Tony opens a glove box and carelessly throws stuff away until he finds the cutter, designed for seat belts. He had hoped to never have to use it. Tony grabs the belt tied around Peter's waist and begins to work. Water is dark, making it hard to see and cold steals his breath and makes his hands shake. The man takes in a breath and dives to get a closer look. It would not help if he accidentally caused more injuries or nicked an artery.

Water was making the progress slow and difficult. Tony stops halfway and rises for air. Peter's head is now completely submerged, small trail of bubbles floating up from his mouth. The man makes the decision in a second. He takes in a lungful of air and dives. He moves closer to the boy's face. Even if Peter had some water in his mouth, air had to get into his lungs, right? He pinches the boy's nose closed and presses his lips tightly over Peter's mouth. He grabs the boy's jaw with his other hand and opens the boy's mouth slowly so that the seal didn't break. Once he deems it safe, Tony forces the air in his lungs into Peter's. He could not determine whether it worked, if the boy's lungs now had air or water in them. In the worst case, he had breathed out and caused air to fill the boy's stomach. But Tony has no time to feel Peter's torso for any swelling. He had to get them out.

He stands up and coughs. Water had almost filled the entire vehicle.

"God," He whispers and looks around. There was no way out. The window to his left shatters and water steals the rest of the air. He couldn't die, he couldn't die, he has to help Peter. Peter has to live, the kid, he could not leave the kid.

Water is not still, it becomes tornado. Everything spins, water fills his mouth, his nostrils. He tries to grab Peter's hand but there is nothing. Tony's eyes snap open. The seat is empty.

Peter was gone.

 

Seconds passed that Tony spent staring into the darkness, heavily panting, heart racing in his chest, threatening to jump out of its cavity at any second. Memories merely dripped back into his head.

The nightmare that was only half a dream. The crash. Sitting at Peter’s bedside for the past few weeks, doing his best to maintain the kid’s muscle strength and get him out of the comatose state. Steps of success they’d made, no matter how little they’d seemed, from a simple reflexive hand twitch to the promise of getting him ventilator free within the next few days.

Another minute passed before Tony understood what had woken him up in the first place: A gentle, yet meddling hiss – of the ventilator.
This time, the man actually panicked. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. They’d turned the settings of the machine down just hours ago, because Peter had been almost strong enough to breathe on his own. Tony’s breathing quickened, and it took him all his strength to focus on the calming techniques he and his therapist had been working on the past couple of years.

He turned his hand, taking a look at the watch on his wrist, staring at the numbers.

“Check the time twice in short intervals. Has time passed? Has it jumped hours?” Tony took a deep, almost hitching breath, before looking again. Only the last digit had changed. His anxieties began spreading, fingers began feeling numb.

Fingers. You’ve got ten of them. Count them. Count if you really have ten fingers.

Like a child, he trailed along the outlines of each finger with ones in the other hand, coming to the awful conclusion that he, in fact, had ten fingers. Which meant…

Squeezing his skin between his nails, he made a last, desperate attempt in vein that this was just another nightmare, that he was just caught up in a spiral of anxiety, that this wasn’t real. Peter was fine. He woke up barely two days ago, Tony had been there, had cried on the boy’s shoulder in relief, this was…

It hurt. His skin burned, and when he looked up, he could still see Peter’s chest rising in one rhythm with the mechanical sounds in the background. Vomit rose up in his mouth, and he stood up semi-consciously, running towards the restrooms, literally falling on his knees in front of the bowl, spitting out bile and a few remains of today’s lunch.

His breaths came so irregularly that he feared they’d just stop coming entirely. Not that he would’ve cared much. It had all been just a dream. Peter still wasn’t safe. He could still silently slip away in coma, and there was nothing Tony could do about it. Even worse. This was his fault. All of it. He’d been driving. He hadn’t held the wheel straight. He had hesitated a second to long. But Peter was now paying the price for it.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tony kept repeating how sorry he was, but no sound came through his teeth, jaw locked in sheer panic.

“Tones?” He felt a hand on his right shoulder, then another at his left, strong hands moving his trembling arms away from the porcelain, letting his back now rest against it.

“Tony, can you hear me?”

He did, although he didn’t want to. Didn’t want to return in a universe where he couldn’t make sure that Peter was alright. Because Peter deserved it. Deserved a long, happy life, without any major incidents. Something spoiled little brat Anthony Stark had never deserved, but gotten anyway, and it simply wasn’t fair.

He felt a faint movement under his palm, hearing the voice continuously talking with him.

“Breathe with me, Tony. In – and out. You’re safe. In, and out. Everything’s perfectly fine, I promise.”

No. Nothing was. But something about the words and the movements unknotted the hitch inside him, and he slowly felt his body beginning to relax, strain in his muscles easing.

“That’s it Tones. You’re good. We’re good. You hear me?”

Tony managed a very weak nod, almost sniffling when he tried to inhale. It didn’t even sound half as miserable as he felt.

They sat in silence for a while before Tony found the strength to verbalize the crushing truth.

“It was my fault.”

“No.” Rhodey disagreed. “It was an accident, Tony. It wasn’t your fault. Will never be.”

“I –“ Tony heaved in a breath, and Rhodey used the possibility to stop him right there.

“Tones. There was nothing – nothing you could’ve done. The deer… You had no control over it. You couldn’t have known that it was going to jump on the road right in front of you. And before you start it-”, he remarked “No, you shouldn’t have left him alone. That kid needs those lab and training days with you. Not to mention that you do, too. You’re doing everything you can.”

Those words were what made Tony’s world shatter, water leaking from his eyes as if only the metaphorical glass in his mind had held them back.

“What does that matter? I can’t do anything! Anything, at all! It should be me, not him. I’m the one with loads of negative karma on his back, not him! God no.

Peter’s probably the first being to ever enter Nirvana without being reborn once.”

Rhodey was about to say something, but decided not to. Tony wasn’t finished, and all of those bottled up emotions needed to finally get out. He’d forced himself to be at his best for weeks, it had only been a matter of time before the walls would break down. The man just needed to wreck the old one down in order to build a stronger, fresher one.

Tony covered his face with his hands, feeling small drops of water trailing down his palms.

“Why’s he in there? Instead of me?” A sob. A tearful, heartbreaking sob. “Why do I have to watch? Why do I have to sit at his bed everyday, hoping and praying that the world’s not gonna loose him, that he’s not gonna loose the world, that I’m not going to lose him? I can’t do that anymore, Rhodey, I can’t.”

His hands were shaking, his feet were, even his heart felt as if it was stuttering more than it was beating.

“I can’t sit there anymore waiting, and praying that he’s finally going to wake up, that he’s… It’s been three weeks. It’s been three weeks, he should’ve woken up, this should’ve just been a quick checkup, it’s –“

“Tony?” Rhodey suddenly begun to understand what this was about. He hadn’t panicked because of the accident. He’d panicked because he’d been caught up in a no- progress spiral of nightmares.

“Rhodey, I can’t.”

“You can. Look up. Look at that.”

Tony did, after few seconds, but with the tears in his eyes, it took him a long time to identify what he was looking at: A conversation with Rhodey, consisting of nothing but messages from him.

Guess who finally woke up!!

Why the fuck aren’t you answering?!

You obviously don’t care

You’re banned from this room

I’m calling you now.

“He woke up, Tony. He did it. Doctors said if everything goes smoothly, he’s tube-free at lunch tomorrow, they’ve turned the settings down already, remember?.”

Whatever positive effect Rhodey had imagined, it didn’t settle, but rather seemed to increase Tony’s panic.

“No. No, no, no. That’s not real. This isn’t real. I’ve been… The ventilator was going when I… when I…”
Rhodey sighed, not sure whether he could blame Tony for not listening, but at the moment he was just glad that May had filled him in on the details of the process when he’d paid a quick visit later that afternoon.

“Yeah, it was. His physician has been telling you about it, remember? That it will jump in in case it’s getting a little too hard, and that it might happen while he’s sleeping? He’s fine, Tony. He’ll pass tomorrow’s testing with flying colors, just like he always does.”

He waited a few seconds, then gently coaxed Tony into a standing position.

“Come on. We’ll have you take the emergency meds, and then get you to bed so you can –“

“I’m not – I’m going to see Peter. I have to check on him. Not gonna go up to my bed when he’s here.”

Rhodey considered his options, but it probably was the best solution to let Tony see the kid. To be there when he woke up – and have the last bits of disbelief erased. By then, the emergency dosage of his anxiety medication would have calmed him down already.

“Alright, Tones.”

 

Things turned out both better and worse than they’d expected, since Peter was obviously awake when they entered the room, kicking his feet in discomfort, heartbeat slightly accelerated. May must’ve been tired enough not to notice (truth to be told, all Parker family members were rather heavy sleepers).

It was like a switch turned on in Tony’s head, from panic right back to his job as the kid’s caregiver.

“Hush, Peter, it’s fine.” He whispered, hurrying closer to the boy, grabbing his hand and smothering the skin in kisses. “Tony’s here. I’m sorry. I’m here now.”

Rhodey smiled half-heartedly at the sight of the boy slowly calming down in Tony’s presence.

“Everything’s fine.”

Chapter Text

“And we’re done,” Tony proclaimed with a smile and started unfastening the belt. “You did amazing, as always.”

Peter attempted to smile but only managed to curve one side of his mouth.

Tony gathered the breathing aid into his arms and pinched the boy’s nose with a smirk: “Teacher’s pet.”

Peter shoved out his tongue: a trick he had learned from the extubation test the doctor had performed earlier that morning. In order to take the breathing tube off, Peter had had to reach numerous values and the boy had done so with flying colors. His 02- stats were up, he could lift his head off the pillow and show his tongue on command.

Tony tried to appear strict: “Hey,” he bumped the boy’s forehead. “None of that attitude or I will leave you in that machine.”

Peter fisted his hands and glared.

“You’re so cute, when you’re angry,” Tony cooed and pinched Peter’s cheeks.

The boy would have snorted if not for the tube in his throat.

Tony took a moment to water the flowers on Peter’s bedside, Pepper had brought the boy yellow tulips, their color was like the bright autumn leaves Tony saw from the windows. He could not remember when he had last gone out.

“When you are off the ventilator, we are going on a picnic in Central Park. Sound good?”

Peter nodded eagerly.

“Of course, we need to give it some time since you need to adjust back to eating solids. Maybe just a walk?”

The boy looked a bit crest-fallen but blinked ‘yes’.

Tony took a cup of ice-chips (they really were not too bad when you got used to them) and sat down by the bed again. He took one, fingers already melting the thing and began to slide it over Peter’s lips. At first, Tony had been worried Peter would be embarrassed with such an intimate gesture but it seemed the boy was only grateful that people were looking into his basic needs.

“You know what I just realized?” The man tried to slide some water into Peter’s mouth. “You get to do-over your first word!”

Peter weakly lifted an eyebrow.

“What was your first word?” Tony wondered aloud. “Was it Mama? Mine was Mama.”

Peter tried to shrug.

“I have to ask May about it. But anyway, you have been here for a month, everybody is eagerly waiting for you to speak again.”

Peter shook his head and touched his throat.

“Yeah, your voice might be gone for a while but is important to try. We don’t care if you sound like an old man with stage 4 lung cancer- we love you either way.”

Again, Peter made a weak attempt to smile, and Tony almost melted at the sight. He could barely stand the wait to seeing the typical, broad Peter Parker smile back on the kid’s lips.
“Talking about that… you’ve gotten another gift.”

‘Another’ as in ‘one other’ was more than an understatement, but he knew that Peter’s attention span wasn’t exactly long enough to focus on things for too long, and he didn’t want to make the boy feel bad for falling asleep in the middle of a gift opening.

“That one’s from Larry. That small, blond, lab guy, you remember?”

Peter seemed to consider the answer for a second, then nodded.

“Although… technically, it’s from me. And if you narrow it down it’s actually from Pep, so…” The glance in Tony’s eyes brightened when the kid rolled his eyes. No one could ever even possibly understand how much that simple movement meant to Tony, after almost a month of Peter laying limp and motionless on the bed. That’s probably why he’d let it come to that in the first place.

“We never really got to celebrate our huge progress on your formula. And – you know I wasn’t a big fan of the idea – “ Who would’ve? “But you’ve been rambling so much about it that we just couldn’t resist, so…” Tony made the reveal dramatic, currently still hiding the present from Peter’s rather limited line of vision. “This is a lucky charm, alright? Not a mascot or anything.”

Who was he kidding? Sure the stuffed yellow platypus with his white coat and the protective goggles was a goddamn mascot. It was just less embarrassing to sell it as a lucky charm since he was giving it before the extubation.
As soon as the color and form were within Peter’s sensual reach, the surveillance monitor began beeping in a quicker pace, causing Tony to immediately freeze mid- motion.

“You alright, kid? Does anything hurt?” The man frowned when Peter blinked a ‘no’.

“I’d make a guess that this is the excitement talking.” May remarked casually, making her way back to her nephew’s bedside. “Who wouldn’t be, at the sight of a stuffed platypus five times the natural size?”

She threw Tony a glance, and he caught her words without verbally hearing them. “So much about not spoiling him, huh?”

With that said, Tony wished she’d needed a few minutes longer refreshing, so that he could’ve secretly revealed that he’d ordered a smaller one, too – and more practical at that – for Peter to actually have beside him.

May just huffed, doing her best to hold back the laughter. One media cliché was obviously true: If anything, Tony Stark was a man of big gestures. Instead of mocking him, however, she decided to help Peter explore the texture, gently supporting him by wrapping his fingers around it.
“Oh my goodness.” She exclaimed. “How’s this thing so fluffy?”
“Hey, if I’m already ordering individualized stuffed animals, I’m ordering the good ones.”
“I see.”

There was a short pause during which both adults just enjoyed the sparkle of happiness in Peter’s eyes.
“So, a lucky charm, I heard? Good that you have it, but you wouldn’t need it, sweetheart. Yours is gonna be the smoothest extubation the medics here are ever going to see.”

 

 

Water heater clicked. Tony lifted it from the platform and filled the instant noodles cup to the line and added in the sauce powder.

“You know those have little to no nutrition,” May pointed at the man with a plastic fork as she held a container of Caesar salad on her lap.

“But it’s quick to eat,” Tony shrugged and sat on the seat on Peter’s other side. The boy was resting up after getting excited about his gifts. The doctor platypus was lying on the bed beside him, the boy’s arm slightly cuddling it.

It was a such an adorable sight; Tony would have saved as his phone’s background if not for the ventilator.

Once he deemed the noodles cooked enough to eat, he began his lunch hour, eyes on the clock.

“Slow down or you’ll burn your mouth,” May chewed on a piece of chicken.

“We running late on schedule.”

“Stark, your money runs this hospital. They will wait.”

“I just want to see Peter get out of that fucking monster.”

Peter moaned something in his sleep and turned around towards his aunt. Tony froze in place, heart in his throat and May’s soft glare fixed on him.

“Shhh,” May calmed the boy down and stroked his hair. “You’re okay, sweetie.”

Peter’s fingers twitched. Tony sat down his meager lunch and lifted the stuffed animal. Maybe a bit juvenile gift for a teenage boy, but hey, the boy loved animals and anything cute. He was not going to judge.

Peter was going to need all the comfort to manage the dreaded but highly anticipated extubation.

“Here’s your little buddy,” Tony whispered gently, tickled Peter’s cheek with the platypus and tucked the toy tightly under the boy’s arm. “All good now?”

He would have sworn the boy purred.

Tony chuckled and sat down again.

“We need to figure out what to do from now,” May approached a new topic.

Tony nodded, eyes on the food, he didn’t want to spill. “Agreed. I have already called a speech therapist. I can imagine Peter is going to have a hard time controlling his voice. Plus the pain.”

“Also, then we need to think of easing him into eating again.”

“Nutritionist?”

“Yes. Also, I highly recommend a psychologist.”

“You think he might have PTSD?”

“Maybe not necessarily PTSD since Peter doesn’t remember what happened,” May frowned. “I was thinking more about the adjustment period. He missed a month of his life. That has got to be a huge issue.”

“But he is very resilient,” Tony tried to think of the positive. “But yeah, I’m more worried about the physical incapabilities. He is used to running around. I have read that prolonged hospital stays plus immobility can cause depression.”

“There is a risk of that. Also, I would like Peter sees a neuropsychologist.”

“Alright, I can make a call,” Tony nodded. “You’re the expert here, I trust your word.”

May gave a small smile. “Recovery from coma can be very strenuous on all of us. Peter- well, it can take a while until he is himself. We need to patient but strict. If we don’t give up on him, he will feel secure and commit to the process.”

Throwing the empty cup to the trash can (which was again overflowing), Tony considered the words. So far, things had worked out great but Peter only managed to stay awake for so long and even then, he was not fully there. The boy’s attention span was short and he zoned out frequently. The doctor had assured them it was not all because of the brain injury, the drugs played a big part in it.

Little steps, Tony reminded himself. They‘d see how things worked out along the way. The only thing they could do was prepare for everything.

 

 

The noodles Tony had had for lunch threatened to make a comeback as Peter was preparing to get the breathing tube out. The boy passed the final exam with flying colors and got to choose a sticker as a reward.

Peter chose one of a puppy with a soft coat.

Tony smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair.

“That was great, kiddo, and all you had to do was show your tongue and lift your head.”

“Maybe the most important test of your life,” May smiled and stroked the boy’s knuckles with her thumb.

Tony shook his head. “You know he has SATs coming up?”

“Oh please, you can get him to any school already.”

The man grinned. “True.”

Peter tried to smile but it was lopsided, the breathing tube was in the way.

The boy was laid on his left side with nurses and two doctor’s hovering around him. Everyone was gentle and made cheery small-talk as they took note of his vitals and went through the process so Peter would know what to expect.

“We will keep you in the loop,” one of the doctor’s patted Peter’s shoulder. “You just relax and focus on breathing, let us do the hard work, alright?”

Peter tried to give a thumbs up but the attempt was miserable. Tony chuckled as he took his place behind Peter’s back. May sat in front of the boy so Peter could look at her, Tony would provide more physical love and support.

“Alright, we’ll begin now.”

Peter clutched the platypus plushie to his chest, a whimper escaping his throat.

“You’re alright,” Tony grasped the boy’s shoulder and stroked his hair. “You are so strong, so brave-”

“Just breathe, Peter,” The doctor said as he and a nurse worked on releasing the tube. It was a slow process with many steps.

“This might feel a little uncomfortable.”

Tony did not watch the process, his focus was only on Peter. He offered silent support, rubbed the boy’s arm and then placed his hand over Peter’s. He pressed the stuffed toy tighter to boy’s chest.

“Breathe, kiddo, breathe,” Tony tried to ignore the sounds coming near Peter’s mouth. What on earth were they doing, shredding the boy’s throat?

“Alright, Peter,” The doctor finally said as the only thing left was the final process. “I need you to take a deep breath and then we’ll pull the tube out. You need to exhale or cough as we take it off. You might feel nauseous but that will abate soon, I promise.”

Peter nodded and grasped May’s hand tighter.

Tony stroked the boy’s knuckles: Peter’s hand was chilled from anxiety.

“What if there are complications?” He asked and rubbed a place just beside Peter’s ear.

“Peter is what we would describe as a low risk patient,” The doctor explained. “We will put him on 100% oxygen the minute the tube is out to secure the airway and monitor him carefully for six hours.”

“He has never been taken off ventilator when awake,” Tony countered. “The only time he has been put under was when his wrist was operated.”

“Oh yes, I remember,” The doctor’s eyes twinkled. “You insisted on being in the room when they removed the breathing tube.”

Tony flushed but tried to regain his composure, even under May’s triumphant smile: “Well, it was the first time we ever put him under, I had to make sure there would be no complications.”

“You took very precise notes of his vitals-”

“Are we doing this during this century?” Tony snapped and rubbed Peter’s hand: the boy moved it so Tony’s hand laid between his own and the toy.

A nurse stepped closer.

“Here it goes, Peter,” The doctor took a hold of the tube. “Deep breath in.”

“Start thinking of your first words,” Tony whispered to the boy’s ear. Peter’s lungs expanded, he was eager to get the ordeal over with.

“And breathe out.”

Tony could not describe the sound Peter made, it was something between a long gag and a moan. The boy squeezed his eyes shut and clutched May’s hand tighter.

“A little more, sweetie.”

“Very good,” the Doctor pulled the tube out and Tony who had been waiting for words, something akin to “Thank God!” or “Hallelujah!”, cried in alarm as Peter spit out saliva and mucus.

“It’s okay,” The doctor pressed a mask on Peter’s face and Tony heard the air current that was forced through Peter’s mouth and nose. “Now just focus on breathing.”

“You’re alright, sweetie,” May rubbed Peter’s arm as a nurse moved a stethoscope over his chest. Tony could not help thinking how those muscles had deteriorated during bed rest.

“Good breath sounds on both sides.”

Tony grinned and leaned over to gaze at Peter’s hazy eyes: “You just keep being an overachiever. I’m really, really proud of you, kid. My heart’s bursting.”
“Oh Peter.” May whispered, her hands moving through Peter’s curls. “You make Tony all cheesy. You make the man of steel cheesy. And me the happiest aunt on earth, believe me.”

Tony was about to return the quip, knowing that it usually cheered the kid up, but Peter’s eyes were glassy with confusion, pain and exhaustion. The man could barely imagine – and he certainly didn’t want to – how raw his throat was, or how much his lungs probably burned with the artificial support of his breathing finally gone.

A few weeks ago, when his life had still been within the ranges of ordinary, he’d never have considered allowing his feelings show, especially not with so many people in the room, waiting the ordered three minutes to check whether or not Peter’s vitals would remain stable, so they could immediately re-intubate should the need arise. Tony hoped it wouldn’t get that far, but right now, his main priority was his kid’s mental well-being.

“It’s fine. We’re all here.” He said, catching the boy’s glance, understanding the request without either of them verbalizing anything. Without any more reconsideration, Tony softly hummed the beautiful, nerdy lullaby into Peter’s ear, fingers gently caressing his cheeks.

He didn’t even need to do it for long – although he would’ve sung for a year straight if needed – Peter was in Slumberland fast as light.

A part of him wondered where that deep, unquestioning admiration for the kid came from. Had it been born after the car crash, when Tony had done nothing but prayed and begged for him to wake up, not wanting to waste the second chance he’d gotten with the boy? Maybe.

But something inside him was very aware that he’d wrapped the kid in his heart way, way before that.
“Sleep well, kiddo.”

 

The following five hours were both the best and the hardest in Tony‘s life so far. He was on edge the entire time, already fearing the worst because why would recovery be easy. But Peter, the champion he was, pulled through those hours without any respiratory issues, and not even a single serious drop in his oxygen stats.
“Told you.” May remarked. “Parker’s are fighters. They’ve always been.”

There was a sad undertone in her voice, and Tony knew better than to say anything, granting the woman a rare minute of grief. Time was cut short, however, when Peter’s lids moved slightly. Tony recognized the gesture as a sign of discomfort, and quietly ordered Friday to dim the lights to a lower level, to have Peter gradually adjust to coming to. Tony felt his heart swell as soon as he realized that the sound of his voice made the kid frown, his head lolling slightly into his direction.

“Sorry, kiddo.”, he whispered, fingers gently massaging the boy’s knuckles before he lifted the small hand to his lips, pressing a tender kiss on the back. “Take your time. We’re here.”

It seemed to take longer than the last couple of times, but after around four minutes, Peter finally found it in himself to prevent his eyes from squeezing shut as soon as he tried to open them. He still felt strange, with his body being mostly numb but not heavy, and the soft beeping in the background somewhere between comforting and worrying. In comparison to the haze of memories he could remember from the past couple of days though, this was great.

His eyes met his mentor’s and he forced himself to smile. There was an ‘Hey, Mr. Stark’ somewhere within him, but it didn’t dare to pass his hurting throat just yet. Mimics and gestures had to do for now.

For Tony and May, those small things were more than enough. They cherished the simple voluntary blinking, admired the finally not lopsided smile, stored the image of seeing eyes looking at them in their memory forever. None of them would ever make the mistake to take something like that for granted. God no.

From now on, every day they got to spent with Peter would be even more of a blessing than it already was. Tony might even overwrite Friday’s programming on deleting lab sessions not marked important after a year. All of those held moments too valuable to be allowed to sink into the oblivion of a limited human mind.

Peter slowly turned for May, recognizing her soft hand resting in his hair, caressing his forehead, before he stopped in mid-movement, eyes fixed on the door half a second before it opened, a slender figure walking in. It took longer than he would have liked, but Peter managed to identify him as Rhodey, and his smile got even brighter.

“Hey, Peter. Great to see you.”

The boy did his best to convey the ‘Great to see you too, Sir.’ with his eyes.

“How’s being tube free been so far?”

“Astonishing, isn’t it?” May translated, giving Peter a question he could nonverbally answer. The blinked to signal a yes before feeling something foreign on his face that turned out to be one of his aunt’s tears. His heart quickened in pace before he could prevent it, and he weakly moved his hand up to her face to wipe the streams of water away. He hated to see May cry more than literally anything in the world.

“Hush, sweetheart, it’s…” she suppressed a sob. “These are happy tears, Peter. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“Oh yes.” Rhodey backed her up, resting a hand on Peter’s left leg. “All our tears have only been happy tears. You can’t even imagine how glad we all are to see you awake again. Now you’ll hopefully be better in no time.”

“Sure he will.” Tony promised, having taken time during Rhodey’s short speech to blink away the wave of tears coming over him. He didn’t want Peter to see him cry. The boy needed to be the one receiving, not giving it to others. “We’ll make sure of that.”

“Of course you will. We all will. Which reminds me… you have quite some visitors out there and they can’t wait to see you.”