Tony leans against the door to Peter’s bedroom at the cabin, watching the kid pack up his weekend bag. “Y’know, once my arm is healed up, I could just take all of us on a European vacation instead. Bet your little school trip wouldn’t even compare.”
“That’s not the point, Mister Stark.”
“Just think about it, underoos-- five star luxury hotels, Michelin-rated restaurants-- I have a standing invitation from King Charles to visit Buckingham anytime! Morgan would love the fountains in Venice, and there’s a great delicatessen in Paris that has your name written all over it. Even one of those on its own has to be way better than anything your decathlon coach has cooked up.”
Peter zips up his bag before turning to Tony, a knowing smile on his face. “It’s just two weeks, Mister Stark. I’ll stay safe and make sure to check in, okay? Even May’s not worried-- you don’t have to be either, I promise.”
Tony makes a face. “Who said I was worried? I’m not worried, absolutely not. I just think you’d have a better time if I was at least there to chaperone-- speaking of, any chance this Harrington guy can be bribed to postpone your little adventure until after my third shoulder surgery?”
Peter laughs, shaking his head. “It’s going to be fine, Tony.”
He doesn’t miss the way the kid emphasized his first name-- a designation Peter is only just getting comfortable using, and even then only when he wants Tony to see him as more than a kid.
Too bad for Peter, Tony thinks. The teen has yet to realize-- he’ll always be Tony’s kid.
Yet even he can begrudgingly admit Peter has a point-- he’s being paranoid. It is only two weeks. Just a school trip. And even if Peter hasn’t said as much, Tony knows a large part of the reason the kid’s excited is because that MJ girl he won’t stop talking about is going too.
17 year-olds go on school trips all the time. So why is Tony freaking out about Peter going on one?
It’s definitely not because Peter was dead for over five years, and Tony only just got him back nine months ago. And definitely not because Tony’s been avoiding calls from Fury about needing the kid for some damn SHIELD mission (over Tony’s bum arm will he let that ever happen).
It’s definitely not because this will be the longest he’ll have gone without seeing Peter, all while said kid is thousands of miles away-- far out of Tony’s reach.
Yeah, it’s not because of any of that. Obviously.
Tony sighs, running a hand across his face. “I’m sorry, kid. I promise to stop helicopter dadding you now. Just-- you know you can call me at any time, right? Nothing’s too small. And if you get homesick, don’t feel like you have to stick it out. Say the word and I’ll send Hap straight across the Atlantic to come get you.”
Peter nods, his smile somehow more gentle. “Thanks, Mister Stark. But really, I’ll be okay.” He sneaks a hand into his pocket, pulling out his Iron Man token. “See? I’ll carry it everywhere, I promise. And you got yours too, right?”
Tony stares down at the piece of cheap plastic Iron Man merch, a sad smile on his face at the memory of that sunny day years ago when he’d first seen that little token.
Seven years earlier
It’s a bright summer day, the sun high in the sky as Tony and Peter make their way through Queens. Peter had convinced Tony to make the trip down from the compound against his better judgment, arguing he just had to go to this little sandwich place the kid adored.
“Pete, I could have just given Happy fifteen bucks and a car to deliver you and the meal,” Tony said, lifting his sunglasses momentarily to wipe an arm across his face. He’s never done too well in the heat, not since Afghanistan.
Peter looks scandalized at his suggestion. “You have to eat it fresh , Mister Stark!”
“Says the kid who turns his sandwich into a pancake just to fit it in to his suit to eat later.”
“That’s just for practicality’s sake! I try to eat them right away when-- oh hey, look!”
Tony follows after the kid, who is jogging over to a small sidewalk merch cart. As they get closer it’s clear why it took the kid’s interest-- it’s primarily full of Spider-Man stuff.
“Whoa, Mister Stark, look at this-- they’re selling Spider-Man snow globes!” Peter exclaims, holding one out for Tony to see.
Tony eyes the scene inside. “Hate to break it to you, kid, but all I see is a tiny red and blue blob swinging through a poor excuse for downtown Manhattan.”
Peter rolls his eyes, setting it down and continu ing to rummage through the merch offerings. He comes across a basket filled with what look like plastic poker chips bearing the faces and symbols of various superheroes.
Peter turns to the merch seller. “Excuse me, sir, what are these for?”
The man shrugs. “Good luck tokens, s’pose.”
Peter nods, before continuing to dig through the basket. Tony picks up a Spider-Man rubber bath toy, giving a small chuckle when he squeezes the thing only for it to let out a pitiful squeak. He’s not really paying attention when Peter hands the seller a few dollar bills, and the two of them continue on their way.
“What’d you get, kid?”
Sheepishly Peter opens his right palm. Inside are two of the tokens-- one of Spider-Man and one of Iron Man.
“Ah, couldn’t decide between the two? I understand, Iron Man is pretty damn awesome.”
Peter laughs, biting his lip. “Actually, I thought you might want the Spider-Man one? The man said they’re for good luck, and I guess I thought if we each had the other’s it’d be like we’re always looking out for each other…”
The kid trails off as Tony stares down at the tokens dumbly. He finds he’s oddly touched. But before he can put his thoughts into words the kid pulls his arm away, tossing both of the tokens into his jeans pocket. “Wow, yeah, that was really stupid huh. You’re Iron Man, you don’t need--”
Tony holds out a hand, Peter’s embarrassment quickly turning to delight as he fishes out the tokens again, carefully placing the Spider-Man one in Tony’s palm. Tony motions for Peter to hand him the other token. “Iron Man, too, kid.”
Tony examines the tokens for a moment-- they’re cheap plastic, and the design of the Spider-Man mask on the front is a little crooked, while the Iron Man mask is a gaudy yellow instead of deep gold. They can’t be worth more than a quarter apiece, and yet Peter probably paid a good five dollars for both.
Tony hands back the Iron Man one, before carefully placing the Spider-Man one in the breast pocket of his t-shirt. “There, now I got a good luck Spidey looking out for me twenty-four seven.”
He puts an arm around the kid’s shoulders as they walk. “Thanks, underoos.”
Five dollars was a bargain deal, Tony decides when he sees the way the kid positively lights up at his mentor’s words.
“And don’t lose that Iron Man token, alright? Gotta do what I can to watch over my wayward intern, good luck charms included. Got it?”
Peter rolls his eyes, but his smile is warm. “Got it, Mister Stark.”
“Mister Stark? You do still have yours, right?”
Tony’s pulled out of his memories at the kid’s voice, his eyes glancing back up at Peter, his ever-kind and ever-patient kid. A kid who despite everything he’s been through, still believes in things like good luck charms.
Tony doesn’t mention how Peter had been carrying the token on Titan too. Doesn’t mention how it hadn’t saved the kid from turning to dust in his arms, good luck charm and all.
He doesn’t say any of that-- just puts a hand in his own jeans pocket, pulling out his matching Spider-Man token. “Sure do, kiddo.”
Peter grins. “See? Everything’s going to be fine.”
“If you say everything’s fine one more time, Pete, I swear--”
“But it is, Tony. I’m not hurt, nobody in the group is--”
“That’s not the point! The point is that some giant creature that can apparently control water almost killed you today. You can’t attach webs to liquid, kid! And do you have any idea how dumb of you it was to try to fight that thing in your street clothes? Without Karen? A damn jester mask is not even remotely a suitable replacement!”
Peter doesn’t say anything, and Tony takes a long, deep breath. He can feel Pepper’s eyes on him from where she sits on the couch reading a book to Morgan. He lowers his voice, trying to will himself to calm down.
“Look kid, I just don’t want you to get in over your head here. Whatever that thing was, you said the fishbowl guy handled it, right? So just let him keep handling it, and you keep enjoying your trip. That’s all I ask.”
“Well Mysterio defeated the creature and disappeared, so I don’t think I have a choice.”
“Good. A Peter Parker stripped of stupid options is the only Peter Parker that won’t give me a heart attack.”
“Har har . ”
Tony smiles for the first time in the entire conversation. “So you’re off to Paris next, right?”
“Yep, first thing tomorrow morning.”
“You gonna ask MJ out on top of the Eiffel Tower?” Tony jokes, only to be met with silence. “No way, really? Kid, that’s a little contrived, don’t you thi--”
“I gotta go to bed, Mister Stark. Long day tomorrow, y’know. Bye!”
“Okay, Pete but just wait a sec--”
The line goes dead.
Tony pulls the phone away from his ear, staring at it incredulously. “You little shit.”
“Mommy, Daddy said a bad word.” Tony’s head whips up to where Morgan is still sitting with Pepper, both looking over at him now.
Pepper gives Tony a slight shake of her head, but she’s smiling when she replies to Morgan. “He did. Sometimes your big brother just really frustrates him, and he can’t help it. Why don’t you go outside and play for a while before dinner, okay?”
Morgan - too smart for her own good - looks between her parents, clearly questioning why she’s being dismissed. But she says nothing, just shuffles off the couch, haphazardly pulling on her shoes before racing out the door.
With a long sigh Tony walks over to the couch, collapsing next to Pepper. “That kid’s gonna be the death of me, Pep.”
Pepper runs her fingers through his hair, lightly scratching at his scalp. “Well, it sounds like the danger’s passed, right? And they’re only in Venice for the night-- I highly doubt these water monsters will show up in Paris, Tony.”
Tony sighs again. “You’re right. I just-- knowing he’s so far away and I’m useless to him like this--”
“An injured arm doesn’t mean you’re useless--”
“I just don’t like that he could get in trouble and I won’t be there to get him out of it. And after losing him once… I don’t think I’d survive it a second time.”
Pepper gives him a small half-smile. “It’s Peter, Tony. He’s never going to run away when he could be helping-- you know that. It’s part of why you love him.”
Tony leans back into the couch, cuddling into Pepper’s side, who throws an arm around him. He rests his head on her shoulder with a small huff. “Yeah, it is.”
If Tony was angry yesterday, it’s nothing compared to how he feels when he sees the reports of the fire monster fight coming out of Prague. Despite their claims of the hero named Night Monkey being one of the two masked crusaders, Tony would know his kid anywhere.
The first three phone calls go straight to Peter’s voicemail, Tony leaving increasingly irate tirades, starting to panic that the kid could be hurt or worse.
“And where the hell did he even get that damn excuse of a stealth suit?” he says to Pepper, who just raises her eyebrows.
“Hm, I wonder who would outfit him in stealth gear. Probably the same person who wants to recruit him for their floundering spy organization, perhaps?”
By the time Peter texts him an hour later, Tony has left Fury eleven threat-laden voicemails. If he wasn’t so angry he’d find irony in the fact that he’s so desperate to get ahold of the same man whose own phone calls Tony’s avoided for weeks.
“You’re very lucky our daughter is already in bed, Tony, or I’d make you scrub her ears out,” Pepper remarks somewhere between the sixth and the ninth message.
He’s about to try Hill when the first text from Peter comes through.
Spider-Kid (8:13 PM): i’m ok tony
Spider-Kid (8:13 PM): omw to berlin
Spider-Kid (8:14 PM): meeting up with fury
Spider-Kid (8:14 PM): just found out something big and i gotta tell him
Spider-Kid (8:14 PM): can’t share over txt sry
“Oh no you don’t,” Tony says when he sees the last one, calling the kid again. It goes to voicemail after the first ring, right before his phone pings again.
Spider-Kid (8:16 PM): b in touch soon. g2g. Love you Tony.
He calls the kid a final time, but it goes to voicemail without ringing, Peter having clearly turned his phone off.
THE Iron Man (8:18 PM):
What the fuck Peter
THE Iron Man (8:20 PM):
Are you out of your fuckin gourd
THE Iron Man (8:23 PM):
If anything happens to you I
Boss Man (8:25 PM): I need you to get to Berlin ASAP.
Hapster (8:26 PM): What the hell did he do now
Hapster (8:26 PM): NVM IDC. I’ll call when I got him
THE Iron Man (8:47 PM): We’re having a very, VERY long talk when you get home.
THE Iron Man (8:48 PM): Happy’s coming to get you. Don’t even try to argue with me Parker. You’ve already gone far beyond screwing the pooch. Don’t make this worse for yourself.
THE Iron Man (8:50 PM): I love you too kid. Stay safe.
Unfortunately for Peter, Tony Stark is, well, Tony Stark. Which means a shut-off phone is not going to stop him from tracking the kid. Especially not a StarkPhone Tony personally gifted him.
Pepper doesn’t go to bed until after midnight, and he preoccupies himself catching up with some SI business until then. He knows she wouldn’t approve of him checking up on the kid like this.
For one thing, she would almost certainly accuse him of exhibiting paranoid and stalkerish behavior. But that’s just semantics to Tony.
Once he hears their bedroom door close, he puts his plan into action. He goes to his hologram table, the air lighting up with a pleasant blue at his presence. “FRIDAY, open the EDITH program.”
“EDITH, obtain GPS satellite visuals on Peter Benjamin Parker, ID 11-09-04, Level 1 Clearance.”
Within two minutes an overhead map of southeastern Germany appears, zooming in by degrees as EDITH recalculates until it focuses on a nondescript car driving through western Berlin. After about five minutes the car pulls into a gas station, and he gets his first look at Peter in nearly a week.
The program obliges as best it can. The result is grainy, and the angle means he can’t see more than the half-blurred top of a curly brown-haired head resting upon narrow shoulders, but even that is enough to instantly put him at ease.
He gets about eight seconds of looking fondly at his kid before Peter disappears into the gas station.
Six minutes later he re-emerges, getting back into the passenger side of the vehicle before they continue on. From there it’s about a nine minute drive before they stop outside a sleek office building.
Tony watches Nick Fury exit the car, Peter hurriedly following before the two go through the doors and disappear from Tony’s view.
“FRIDAY, what commercial entities occupy this building?”
“Currently there are none, boss. It is owned by the German real estate company Deutsche Wohnen, which acquired the property in November 2023 and began construction of a nine story office building six weeks ago.”
Tony’s brow furrows. “That can’t be right. It’s an occupied office building. You can see people going in and out-- there’s even damn planters outside! Confirm your sources.”
“Confirmed boss. Unless the property documents and other news articles that discuss the site are fraudulent, this information is correct. I cannot at present reconcile the satellite visual with the available property information.”
“But that can’t be--”
Just then there’s a flash of movement across the screen, almost imperceptible to Tony’s eye. But between blinks he finds he’s no longer looking at a finished office building but an obvious construction site. The people, the planters-- they’re all gone.
“What the fuck? FRIDAY, check EDITH for signs of malfunction, now!”
There’s silence before FRIDAY replies. “As best I can gather, boss, there is nothing wrong with EDITH’s systems. Rather, there appears to be ground interference that is altering the visual, likely an augmented reality system.”
“But to achieve a fake on that level, and so seamlessly-- you’d need a massive holographic machine, wouldn’t you?”
“Perhaps, boss. Or perhaps the system is comprised of many moving parts working in tandem. It would explain how the illusion can cover every side of the building.”
Tony thinks. “So, basically B.A.R.F. but using an unmanned aircraft system?”
“It is within the realm of possibility, boss. Assuming it is achieved using earthly technological means.”
Tony is about to ask FRIDAY to scan the building for any UAVs when a figure runs out of the building, back towards the car. The large gleaming fishbowl and dark maroon cape are obvious even from the height and angle.
“Mysterio,” Tony breathes out, eyes dancing back and forth between the caped crusader and where he exited, hoping to see Peter not far behind. But Peter doesn’t emerge, and something about the way the other man flings himself into the driver’s seat of Fury’s car and races away leaves a seed of panic in Tony’s gut.
“FRIDAY, locate heat signatures within-- shit! ”
In an instant the building that had only just begun being built explodes in a dazzling display of light and fire and debris. Tony watches in horror as what was once large concrete frame is leveled, leaving nothing but tons upon tons of rock and metal rubble encased in flames.
Tony shakes his head in disbelief. No.
“FRIDAY, tell me that was an illusion.”
“It appears to be real, boss. Berlin police scanners confirm a large explosion at the site.”
Tony gulps, throat suddenly dry. “EDITH, find Peter Parker.”
There’s ten seconds of silence before EDITH says, “System cannot at present locate a signal for GPS-enabled mobile device belonging to Peter Benjamin Parker, ID 11-09-04, Level 1 Clearance.”
Tony’s frozen in place, his vision narrowing down to the remnants of the explosion projected before him.
“Try again,” he croaks out.
“System cannot at present locate a signal for GPS-enabled mobile device belonging to Peter Benjamin--”
“System cannot at present locate a signal for GPS-enabled--”
“System cannot at present locate--”
Tony doesn’t hear the rest, every sound falling away at the blood rushing through his ears. He staggers to the side, clutching at his chest as his heart goes wild.
It’s not real. It’s not real. Itsnotrealitsnotrealitsnotreal--
Tony scrambles over to the couch where he left his phone, frantically pulling up Peter’s contact.
He calls the kid only to be met with endless rings, the call never picking up the chipper sound of Peter’s voicemail message.
“No,” he whispers-- no, wills. “ No , Pete.”
THE Iron Man (12:56 AM): Answer me NOW.
THE Iron Man (12:57 AM): Don’t do this.
THE Iron Man (12:59 AM): Peter. Please kid.
Tony feels his body go numb as his heart rate increases exponentially. It’s like all the air has been sucked out of the room, and he can’t breathe-- he can’t-- breathe--
He twists around to face Pepper. She’s at the foot of the stairs, watching him with a wide, frightened gaze. It’s the last thing he sees before his eyes roll up into his head and everything-- sight, mind, peace, happiness-- goes dark.
Tony is sprawled across his bed, staring mindlessly at the ceiling. Pepper had sent him upstairs to lie down almost as soon as he was able to stand again after passing out.
He’d barely had time to stammer out an explanation of what had happened before she was taking him by the arm and leading him to the stairs.
“Let me handle this, Tony,” she said reassuringly when he protested the dismissal, wanting nothing more than to strap himself in one of his dusty suits and blast off across the Atlantic. “I’ll reach out to Fury and Hill, get ahold of Happy-- together we’ll find Peter, I promise. But you need to rest now.”
“You swear you’ll tell me the moment anything-- I mean anything , Pep--”
“Of course. Who do you take me for?”
Nearly three hours later and Tony still hasn’t slept. But he hasn’t moved either. Like a frog prepared for dissection, he’s pinned to the spot. Only instead of his body it’s his mind which is being sliced open, memories escaping through palace doors.
Peter turning down Tony’s Avengers offer. Lazy Saturday afternoons in the lab. Movie nights with Pepper and May. Tony taking away Peter’s suit. The first time Tony saw Peter and Morgan together. Peter laughing at DUM-E’s antics. Visiting Ben Parker’s grave. Pizza parties at semester’s end. Peter dying in Tony’s arms on Titan. Peter packing to go to Europe. Watching New Year’s fireworks on the compound lawn. Hugging Peter in the middle of the final battle. Peter--
Suddenly the bedroom door swings open. Tony sits up to see Pepper standing there, a tablet in her hand. She doesn’t say anything but her eyes are deep pools of pain as she quietly strides over, as though scared of spooking Tony. Wordlessly she offers him the tablet, on which there’s a live video call.
Happy looks exhausted-- dark smudges under his eyes, a heavy slump to his shoulders. But underneath all that weariness is something else-- something like fear. Tony feels a painful twinge in his chest.
“Boss,” Happy begins before trailing off. His phone camera jerks around to face what looks like a grey sky before it returns to Happy, who is wiping a hand across his mouth. “Tony, I… I’m at the explosion site. The police think it was a gas leak, but Fury said that’s not right. He’s here - well, not anymore - he was just here but now he’s gone, something about an emergency in London. But he was here long enough to-- to tell me what they know about Peter.”
Tony’s jaw tightens. “Tell me.”
“Tony, I don’t know how to say this but, Peter-- Peter’s gone.”
Tony glances up at Pepper, desperately hoping she’ll say Happy is wrong-- that there’s been a mistake. But she just gently shakes her head, eyes overflowing with tears. He turns back to Happy. “How. How do you know? How do they know? Is there-- did they find--”
Happy bites his lip. “The explosion was practically nuclear, boss. Fury says there likely isn’t anything to find. But he-- well, he said his people did find one thing. No idea how it survived, but…”
Happy pulls Peter’s Iron Man token out of his pocket, holding it up to the screen. “I’m so sorry, Tony.”
(I guess I thought if we each had the other’s it’d be like we’re always looking out for each other.)
Tony closes his eyes as he bites down a sob, dropping the tablet on the bed as he puts his face in his palms.
My child is dead, he thinks. My child is dead, and I did nothing to prevent it.
Peter was too good for him-- Tony never deserved him to begin with. He’d known that since their very first conversation in the kid’s bedroom-- but this? Well, apparently the universe really had it out for Tony Stark, because consider the lesson fuckin’ learned twice over.
“Not again,” Tony pleads into his palms, no longer able to hold back the agony threatening to overwhelm him. “God, please. Please, not him. Not again. Not for good. ”
He hears Pepper pluck up the tablet, exchanging a few quiet words with Happy about coming home and collecting May before she shuts it off and tosses the thing onto the floor, climbing onto the bed just to the side of Tony. She wraps him in a tight embrace, pulling him forward until there’s no room between them. He buries his face in her chest, his entire body trembling as he tries and fails to fight against the rolling waves of grief.
“Tony, I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry, love.”
Pepper rocks him for a few minutes until his sobs fade into silent tears and shuddering breaths, before leaning them both back against the headboard. Tony’s head is still pressed against Pepper’s breast, and he can hear her heart pounding-- the only thing keeping him anchored down. Keeping him from drifting into the realm of eternal hopelessness, this time to stay.
No matter how hard he tries he can’t stop crying.
He doesn’t know how long they lay there before he finally falls asleep, nestled in Pepper’s arms. All he knows is that as he drifts into the twilight between wakefulness and oblivion, two memories somehow stay bound to him.
The first time Tony told Peter he loved him (I love you so much, kid )...
...and the last time Peter told Tony the same (love you Tony ).
The first was a whispered promise spoken in the soft light of a private hospital room. The second, a thoughtful and reassuring text meant to soothe fears.
But now with Peter’s death, Tony’s love is nothing more than a message echoing out endlessly into the cosmos-- waiting for a reply where none will ever again be found.
Tony wakes up to the mid-morning sun drifting in past the curtains. There is no moment of temporary forgetfulness-- he knows before he opens his eyes that Peter is dead. Blissful ignorance is not so easily granted to the aptly damned.
Pepper is gone, along with the tablet. Tony can’t hear any sounds of life besides birds, but he also doesn’t feel the crushing weight that would come with being alone in an empty house right now. Pepper at least must be downstairs, Morgan perhaps outside in her tent or on the swing set.
He sits up, sees his phone resting on the nightstand. He picks it up, heart skipping a beat when he sees he has a message. But it is only a text from Happy to both him and Pepper, sent over two hours ago.
Hapster (7:37 AM): With May now. On our way to the cabin. Hang in there boss
Distantly, Tony feels gratitude for having Happy there. Happy, who had to perform the impossible task of informing May that her son in every single way but blood was dead. Happy, who even in his most aggravated moments has never been anything but absolutely loyal to Tony.
Tony’s grateful, he is. But he’s also so many other, far more overwhelming things at the same that he can’t register anything beyond a deep grief.
As if his thoughts had summoned the couple, he hears a car pulling up to the house, followed shortly by voices downstairs and then the sound of someone coming up to the second floor.
May Parker doesn’t even bother to knock, just storms right in and heads directly for Tony, who sits up, floundering for what to say. “May--”
“Get up, Tony. We are not in mourning, do you hear me?”
Tony’s beyond confused, and - however unfair - also a little annoyed at May disturbing him in his own damn bedroom. He stands up and stumbles around the side of the bed, arms held forward as though calming a cornered animal. As gently as he can muster he says, “Peter’s-- he’s dead, May. He’s gone. I saw it happen.”
“Did you now? Happy told me about the damn token. Well you know what? They could find the entirety of Peter’s missing sock collection in that rubble for all I care-- because there’s no body. I may not be a genius, Tony, but I read those reports you gave me from all the tests you performed. Maybe if he was normal there’d be nothing left but fuck-- Peter could probably get hit by a speeding train and not even need a damn hospital. If nothing else, his strong-as-steel bones would have survived that blast. But more than that-- I know my boy.”
She steps a bit closer, right in his face. “This is Peter, Tony. The same kid who took down a damn jet, fought fuckin’ aliens and has his trippy tingle thing I still can’t wrap my head around. So no, we’re not mourning. This isn’t the snap. If there’s no body then there’s no proof. Full stop.”
Tony takes a deep breath, eyes welling. “May…”
May’s own eyes are red but completely dry as she hits him with an incredulous stare. “You can’t honestly tell me you’re just taking this at face value? And from Nick Fury-- a man who faked his own damn death?”
Tony wants to believe so badly, but he just-- he can’t. Before he can say anything more, she turns around and stalks back to the door, flinging it open before pausing to look back at him.
“If you’re not going to believe in our boy, then I’ll believe enough for the both of us. But he’s not dead. I don’t buy it for a second, and neither should you.”
Tony’s out on the porch two hours later, Morgan dozing in his lap as he looks out over the lake. After May had gone back downstairs, he’d forced himself to put on clean clothes and follow her.
“Daddy!” Morgan had cried out when she caught sight of him, jumping up from the floor where she was coloring and sprinting straight into his embrace.
“Hey, Momo,” he’d whispered into her ear, kissing her hair and taking in the comforting smell of her watermelon-scented kid’s shampoo.
He’d barely let go of her since then, the feeling of holding his daughter so close a physical shield from the rest of the world and all its awaiting horrors.
The screen door creaks and Happy emerges, giving a small smile when he sees Morgan asleep. “All tuckered out, huh?”
Tony nods. “It’s her regular naptime, and normally we don’t let her sleep anywhere except her bed, but…”
“I understand. You need her close.”
Tony squeezes Morgan just a tiny bit tighter. “Yeah, I do.”
Happy nods, then leans forward from the rocker he’d parked himself in, snaking a hand into his breast pocket. “Listen, I uh, I thought you might want this-- just for safekeeping.” Gently he sets Peter’s Iron Man token down on the side table between them.
Tony studies it for a moment before his eyes fill with tears and he has to look away, no longer able to stand the sight. “Didn’t do him any good in the end, did it. Not on Titan, and not in fuckin' Berlin either.”
“Funny you mention the explosion,” Happy says, and his tone is so light - almost teasing - that Tony turns back to him, shocked at his gall. “Doesn’t it seem odd to you that this little thing is in perfect condition? It’s just some cheap plastic, but there’s not even one charred bit on it. Curious, that.”
Tony shakes his head. “I’ll take the skepticism from May, Hap-- Pete’s her kid. But don’t you come after me with that bullshit too. I know what I saw, and I also know his phone had to be in pieces the size of fuckin’ nanites before I’d lose the signal like I did. Don’t tell me to have hope.”
Happy shrugs, leaning back to look out over the lake. “I’m just sayin’, boss. It’s weird.”
Just like with May-- as much as Tony wants to believe, he simply can’t let himself. Hope had always been a dangerous thing to hold onto for him. Besides, he’d already gotten his miracle once before-- the universe would never be kind enough to grant it to someone like him twice.
Tony eyes the token again, and okay, sure-- he’ll admit it’s a little weird. But it doesn’t mean anything. It definitely doesn’t mean Peter’s alive.
Just then Pepper pokes her head out the door. “I think you need to see this.”
The two men stand up, Tony readjusting Morgan in his arms before they walk inside and into the living room. May and Pepper are glued to the television, May chanting something under her breath.
CNN is showing a live overhead helicopter feed of the Tower Bridge in London, where a massive creature similar to the Venice and Prague monsters has surfaced out of the Thames, whipping up a great wind and storm as it attacks the bridge and surrounding riverside area with both fire and water.
“It has to be Mysterio,” Happy says. “Fury said he had to get to London-- he must have known that was where the man was going to attack next.”
But Tony is hardly listening to him, having picked up on May’s quiet mantra.
“C’mon Spider-Man, c’mon,” she says to herself, gaze fixed on the live feed. “C’mon, Peter, c’mon baby, show us you’re still out there.”
Tony’s breath stutters at the words. May really does believe, he realizes. It isn’t just denial-- she truly thinks Peter’s going to show up and save the day.
It’s not like Spider-Man hasn’t pulled off such grand entrances before.
Tony clutches at his Spider-Man token in his jeans pocket, gripping it tightly between his fingers. He can’t bring himself to believe with her, but she’s still the person Peter loved most in the world-- Tony owes it to the kid to look after her.
He turns to Happy, offering up Morgan who the other man gently takes from him, then nods at the stairs. As Happy goes off to lay Morgan down, Tony walks over to the couch, sitting down next to May and holding out a hand. She glances over at him, giving a small watery smile before taking his hand in hers and clasping it tight.
“C’mon, Spider-Man,” she whispers again. Tony squeezes her hand, May squeezing back twice in reply. Happy comes back and sits on the other side of May, throwing an arm around her.
After only maybe a minute more of watching the chaos unfold in London, Tony notices a weird flutter in the corner of the screen. His eyes move to it, and sure enough-- one of the monster’s arms seems to be flickering in and out, before fading away altogether.
All four adults in the room gasp as within a matter of seconds the illusion completely falls away, revealing hundreds of drones where the monster had been. The newscasters prattle on in confusion as the drones all plummet at once, landing harmlessly in the river.
In an abrupt turn of events, what had appeared to be a terrifying harbinger of doom was no more, all remnants of it gone besides the dozens of UAVs now floating down the Thames.
Suddenly the helicopter camera moves in on the tower’s observation deck, revealing a group of agents, one of which appears to be Maria Hill, walking down its length toward a lone man outfitted in some sort of visual effects suit-- a man Tony guesses can only be Mysterio. Tony watches as Agent Hill twists the man around to cuff him, revealing the man’s face through the glass of the deck.
Tony’s stomach drops. No. Nonono--
“Tony,” Happy gasps out, “is that--”
“Quentin Beck,” Pepper exclaims, head swiveling from the screen to look at Tony who is still staring at Beck’s face in shock. “But how did he get--”
“This is-- he must have stolen the B.A.R.F. blueprints, or god-- maybe he just did it on his own, he was smart enough,” Tony stammers out, dropping May’s hand as he stands up and begins to pace. “How the hell didn’t I make the connection sooner? I could’ve-- god, this is-- this is-- I did this.”
Pepper shakes her head vehemently. “Tony, that’s not--”
“Who’s Quentin Beck?” May interrupts.
Nobody answers for a moment before Happy gives a low grunt. “Disgruntled former SI employee. Worked for years on Tony’s binary augmented retro-framing project - B.A.R.F. - which explains his know-how to pull off these kinds of stunts. Was with us for two years before he began exhibiting some rather unprofessional behavior and eventually we made the decision to--”
“Not we, Hap,” Tony bites out, voice grave. “This is on me, every last fuckin’ part of it. I made the decision to let him go because he was annoying me and I didn’t want to deal with his sniveling any longer. He lost it when I told him the news-- threatened me on the spot. And like a fuckin’ idiot I didn’t take him seriously, I didn’t even-- god, I didn’t so much as lift a finger to keep tabs on him. And now he-- he used my tech to-- to--”
All four heads in the room whip back to the television screen, where the camera angle has switched to street-level, watching as Hill and other SHIELD agents escort Beck out off the bridge and toward a van.
Beck looks positively rabid, eyes wide and lit with madness as he stares directly into the camera, his words being broadcast to millions but only actually meant for one man-- Tony. Beck gives his audience a crazed grin.
“Do you remember what I said, Stark? I said you wouldn’t even see me coming. Well guess what? Neither did he.”
As Beck starts to cackle May lets out an incoherent wail, Happy quickly pulling her into his chest. Meanwhile Tony remains completely adrift, his grieved thoughts calling to him from the direction of his own lifelong North Star. The one that twinkles with the innate knowledge of this is my fault.
He’d long ago accepted that if Peter died of anything other than old age that it always would be on him, regardless of how or when or who. But to know that the catalyst for it had been Tony disregarding a man he had considered far too weak to be a threat? The knowledge created in him a piercing pain far more acute than just the blanket coating of self-blame he’d already signed up for.
I did this. I killed my child.
With that realization, the tiny bit of sanity he’d managed to rebuild since that morning was torn apart until it was nothing but a useless memorial to that which could have been, just like the wreckage of the construction site.
And somewhere in both - buried deep amidst the carnage - lay the ashes of what had once been his beautiful, bright, so very brave boy.
Tony sits in silence, watching the loons float across the lake.
He’d retreated not long after May had begun sobbing, shaking off Pepper’s hand on his shoulder with a gruff “I need to be alone,” before racing out the door and straight toward the only place that held even a semblance of peace anymore-- the bench at the end of the dock. Peter’s favorite spot on their property.
It makes no sense to him, how tranquil an evening it is. Far too beautiful to be the same day Peter Parker died. But when has the universe ever mourned properly for those it ought? When has it ever recognized the true losses it’s suffered?
Tony knows he has many days ahead in his life where he will go over every single detail that led to the death of his child for the second time, but for now-- all he can think over and over again is, this is on me .
He’d known that from the moment he saw the building explode and Peter’s phone going offline. But to get confirmation of just how deep his own complicity goes… it’s a special sort of hell. A hell Tony can’t climb out of, or build a bridge over, or go back in time and rearrange.
Tony pulls out his Spider-Man token, turning it over and over in his hands as tears fall down his cheeks.
The universe had already decided once that Peter had to die in Tony’s stead. And now, destiny had taken back what Tony had stolen away. He should have known better than to attempt to defy fate. It was a battle he could never win twisted into an all-too-familiar ache that will forever be present-- a failure he will never move on from.
The worst part is that it’s a hell Tony thought he knew-- thought he’d faced before. But there’s a difference between losing someone once and losing them twice. A difference that puts Tony’s previous grief to shame, dwarfs it like Betelgeuse dwarfs the sun. Both are colossal compared to Tony, but when compounded they create an incomprehensibly cosmic sorrow-- an infinite torment.
The agony is simply too vast, too limitless-- Tony will never find the end. There will never be an end.
Tony’s so lost in his thoughts he almost misses the soft steps pattering down the dock toward him.
His daughter stands at his side, arms wrapped behind her back and looking at him with an impatient face. “You’ve been out here for forever.”
“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” Tony pulls her in for a one-armed hug. “I’m sorry, Momo. I just needed some time by myself to think. Listen sweetheart, can you please go back in and stay with Mommy for--”
“Everyone is napping,” Morgan protests, pulling back before lifting her arm, Tony’s cellphone clenched in her hand. “I brought you this. It won’t stop lighting up!”
Tony gives her a small, sad smile followed up by a kiss on the forehead, taking the cell from her. “Thanks baby. Now can you please go play inside again?”
Morgan frowns. “Are you coming too?”
“In just a little bit. Please, Momo, go on in now.”
Morgan rolls her eyes dramatically-- a habit she’d picked up from Tony, to Pepper’s enduring chagrin. “Ooooookay.”
Tony watches as she races off the dock and back up the lawn before disappearing through the porch door. Only then does he turn to his phone.
He has five missed calls and nine texts from the same unrecognized number. No voicemails. He opens the texts.
555-287-3492 (12:36 PM): hey its me
555-287-3492 (12:37 PM): had 2 destroy my cell--fury got me a new 1
555-287-3492 (12:37 PM): dunno if u saw but we got beck :)
555-287-3492 (12:55 PM): on furys quinjet goin home
555-287-3492 (1:48 PM): mr staaaaaark
555-287-3492 (3:12 PM): 4got i don’t have mays # so going str8 to cabin
555-287-3492 (4:17 PM): where r u 4 srs
555-287-3492 (5:09 PM): everything ok???
555-287-3492 (5:21 PM): plz dont b 2 mad
Tony reads the texts over and over. “What the hell?”
It sounds like Peter-- all the familiar text lingo and abbreviations Tony has begrudgingly become used to.
And yet Beck had been out to torture Tony by any means necessary. The man was crazed, sure, but he was also incredibly smart-- otherwise Tony wouldn’t have hired him to begin with. What if this was yet another trap, this time set for the criminal's main target? Yes, Beck had been arrested, but was that truly any guarantee?
Just then Tony hears a car coming up the drive. The thought that it could possibly be someone on Beck’s side - someone who might bring harm to Tony’s remaining family - has him racing up the dock and around to the front of the house.
A sleek black SUV is just pulling in. It comes to a stop, and then from the driver’s seat steps out--
“I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you,” Tony yells, lunging at Nick Fury before the man even has time to close his car door. Tony pulls at the taller man’s shirt collar with his good arm, yanking him forward. “You let my kid walk into a trap , you damn fu--”
“Stark, I can explain--”
From the backseat Maria Hill emerges, grabbing at Tony’s biceps and forcing him to let go of Fury. “Stand down, Stark! You need to calm--”
Tony freezes in Hill’s arms at the sound of the new voice, all rage forgotten in his shock. It was a voice he was certain he’d never hear again. It wasn’t-- it couldn’t be--
Tony turns to see Peter Parker - looking absolutely exhausted but otherwise healthy - standing on the other side of the car.
Tony blinks once, twice, three times.
Peter gives him a nervous smile, offers a half-wave hesitantly. “Hi. So, uh, I’m guessing you’re probably pretty angry, judging by the lack of--”
“Are you real?”
Tony watches as Peter’s brow furrows exactly the way it always does when the kid is his special brand of confused bordering on concerned. It breaks something in Tony to see, and his eyes dart back to Fury, unable to look any longer.
“Mister Stark, are you--”
Tony points at Peter, still refusing to look at the boy. “Am I-- tell me-- is he fucking real? ”
Fury opens his mouth to respond but Hill beats him to it.
“Yes, Stark. Not an illusion, nor a trick-- just the boy,” she softly says, giving his arms a gentle squeeze before letting go and backing up. It’s not quite the right move however as just then Tony’s vision blinks out. He stumbles as his knees go wobbly, both Hill and Fury reaching for him while Peter - his vibrant, amazing, apparently very much alive kid - races around the front of the vehicle.
Even in his momentary shock Tony recognizes the sound of May’s voice, followed shortly by her quick footsteps as she races down the front porch and across the drive.
The black dots in his vision fade away just in time for Tony to look on as May barrels into Peter, sobbing with relief. “We-- god, Peter, we thought you were dead! ”
Peter pulls away from her just enough to look around at everyone in disbelief. “What? Why?”
“Why?” exclaims Happy, and Tony swivels to see him and Pepper - carrying Morgan in her arms - have also joined the group. “Because Tony saw you get blown to smithereens from a satellite feed, kid! I was at the site of the explosion myself, Fury said--”
“Fury said what?” Peter interrupts, voice low and threatening as he stares down the man himself, who is looking more anxious than Tony can ever remember seeing him.
“Parker, I can explain--”
“You didn’t tell them?”
“Now now, I couldn’t be certain Beck wasn’t--”
“You promised you’d tell them!” Peter yells, and now it’s apparently his turn to stalk menacingly toward Fury, who starts to back up even as Hill jumps in front of him protectively.
Just as Peter passes by, Tony reaches out and grasps the kid’s shoulder, halting him. It’s real, he’s real, he’s here, he’s okay.
“Tell us what, underoos?”
Peter’s jaw tightens as he continues to stare down Fury, before he turns to Tony with an apologetic expression, eyes flitting between him and May. “That it was all a ploy-- a fake-out to make Beck think he’d killed me so he and his team would be caught off-guard when I infiltrated their London hideout. MJ found one of his drones in Prague and I was able to hack into it so when we were in Berlin he would think he’d trapped me. It also provided cover when I ran out, right before the whole place blew. I even left my phone behind just in case Beck was tracking it.”
Peter’s expressions hardens as he looks back at Fury. “Someone was supposed to make sure you and May knew all that. Did you even give them the token, or did you lie about that too?”
“Wait-- you gave Fury your Iron Man token?” Tony exclaims, alarmed. The kid took it everywhere with him. Tony would never have guessed in a million years Peter had given it up willingly.
Peter shrugs. “Well yeah. I knew you guys wouldn’t believe him unless he had something of mine that would prove he was telling the truth. So I gave him the token to give to Happy-- to show I was in on it. That I was okay.”
Only this kid would be so thoughtful, Tony thinks, while also being so incredibly reckless, and idiotic, and self-sacrificing--
Tony pulls Peter into a tight embrace, gripping fiercely at the kid’s t-shirt. “Thank god you’re alright, Pete.”
He plants a soft kiss on the kid’s neck just below his ear before pulling away to once again face Fury, who looks somehow even more nervous as he eyes both Tony and Peter’s twin expressions of disdain.
“You’ve got some serious explaining to do, Fury,” Tony says.
If Tony didn’t know better, he’d say the man looks frightened. “I couldn’t guarantee Beck didn’t have surveillance on you, Stark. It could have compromised the entire mission--”
“And you couldn’t come up with a better plan than letting his family think he was dead? ” May pipes up, sounding just as furious as Tony and Peter.
“There was no time for planning, we had to act--”
“If you so much as breathe in my kid’s general direction ever again, Fury, you can kiss your director job goodbye.”
“Is that a threat, Stark?”
“Hell no, One-Eyed Willy. It’s a promise.”
Hill suddenly gives a very long, very tired sounding sigh. “We never should have agreed to this,” she mutters under her breath. Then to Fury, “They deserve the full truth, Talos.”
“Now, Soren, don’t be hasty--”
But ‘Soren’ doesn’t listen, as just then Hill’s face melts away to reveal a female Skrull. The entire group except Fury gasps in surprise at the reveal, Tony immediately grabbing Peter by the shoulder and hauling him back a few steps. “What the fu--”
“My name is Soren, and this is my partner Talos. We have been undercover as Maria Hill and Nick Fury at their request for nearly three weeks now. But clearly-- ” Soren gives Talos a pointed look, “--we are not very good at it.”
Soren focuses directly on Peter. “Parker, we apologize if we’ve caused you and your family any undue stress-- don’t we, Talos?”
Fury rolls his one eye, before his own face morphs into that of a very annoyed-looking male Skrull. “Yes, Parker, we apologize. I should not have lied, even if it was absolutely the right-- ouch!”
Talos glances down at where Soren had just stomped his foot, the female Skrull looking quite smug. Talos backtracks, “Our sincere apologies, Mister Parker.”
Tony turns to Peter, who is still gaping at the pair. Tony realizes then that Peter probably doesn’t even know what a Skrull is-- Tony having only met the few he did during the blip years. Gently he checks the kid in the shoulder, pulling Peter out of his shock. “What d’ya think, kid?”
Peter rubs at the back of his neck, still looking dazed. “Uh, that’s okay-- well not really okay, like, at all, but I mean-- I guess thanks for the apology, anyway?”
The two Skrulls nod slowly in tandem, as if to signal an end to some sort of ritual.
“But if you’re not Fury and Hill, where are they?” Pepper chimes in.
Talos shrugs. “They wanted a vacation.”
“A vacation?” May exclaims just as Pepper barks out an incredulous laugh.
“You mean to tell me that we--” Tony waves an arm at the three adults behind him, “--just went through our collective worst nightmare because SHIELD doesn’t hand out enough fuckin’ PTO?”
Talos shrugs again. “Capitalism, man.”
Tony wakes up a little after 3AM, finding himself unable to get back to sleep. It had been a whirlwind of an evening. Talos and Soren had departed shortly after they revealed themselves, Talos cryptically saying he had a phone call to make as way of explanation.
As soon as the SUV disappeared from view there had been a giant group hug with Peter in the middle, followed by the equivalent of a cuddle puddle on the living room couch as the adults listened to Peter recounting exactly what he’d been up to over the last 48 hours.
Beck was lucky he was already in SHIELD’s custody, Tony had thought vengefully as Peter had told how the lunatic had tried to use his illusion tech to mess with the kid in Berlin.
God knew the man’s a hell of a lot safer in prison than he would be if was still on the loose and Tony could get his hands on him. Or rather, repulsor beams-- Tony’s not picky.
When he’d said as much, Peter had only giggled and shook his head, and that was all it took for Tony to set his revenge fantasies aside-- for now, at least.
Happy had cooked them all a late dinner of hotdogs and mac’n’cheese, Peter nearly passing out twice at the dining table before May had winked at the group and marched the kid upstairs to his bedroom. Everyone else had followed not much later.
But now here Tony was, wide awake in the middle of the night and feeling incredibly restless.
He knows why, of course. Tony thought Peter was dead again -- that his absolute worst case scenario had come true. And even though he knows now the teen is perfectly safe - knows he’s sleeping only down the hall - his mind still hasn’t had time to readjust back to its normal worry levels when it comes to the kid.
Maybe if he checks in on Peter for a moment he’ll be able to sleep again, he decides. As quietly as he can he gets out of bed and puts on his robe and slippers, so as not to disturb Pepper, before carefully making his way into the hallway and toward Peter’s bedroom.
But when he gets there, he’s surprised to find the door already ajar, and the bed empty.
Oh god, oh god, oh god-- where is he?
No longer trying to be quiet, Tony spares a quick glance into the dark upstairs bathroom before racing down the stairs, looking all around but not seeing Peter until--
The main porch door is open, leaving only the second screen door closed. Tony makes his way over, relief melting away his panic when he sticks his head out to see Peter sprawled out on the same rocker Tony had been holding Morgan in earlier that day, a mug of what looks to be tea in his hands.
Peter stares up at him, eyes wide and awake. “Jet lag fuckin’ sucks, Mister Stark.”
Tony chuckles, settling himself down in the second rocker.
“Now you understand why I always had such an erratic sleep schedule before I retired.” Tony eyes the mug again. “And that better be decaf, underoos.”
Tony rolls his eyes. The two of them sit in silence, listening to the sounds of crickets against the steady waves of the lake crashing onto the beach.
“I found this out here on the table,” Peter says after a few minutes, opening a fist to reveal his Iron Man token. He sets it back on the side table where Tony had left it in his haste to follow after Pepper earlier.
Tony looks down at it, the sight leaving an ache in his gut. “Don’t ever give it away again, Pete.”
The kid frowns, looking contrite. After a few moments he snatches the token back up, stuffing it in his pajama pants pocket. “I really didn’t think that’s what Fury - I mean, Talos - was gonna do, I swear.” He stops then, seeming to mull over his next words before barreling on. “But even if I knew, I still would’ve done it-- I had to.”
Tony gives him a sharp look. “And why, pray tell, did you simply have to fake your own death, kid?”
Peter fixes him with a determined stare. “Beck, he-- he was gonna go after you next, Mister Stark. I had to stop him, even if that meant scaring you guys. Because whatever it took, I wasn’t gonna let him hurt you. Even though I know how mad you’d be at me for doing that to you-- I still would have knowingly done it if it meant protecting you and Morgan and Pepper.”
Tony shakes his head. “I’m not mad at you, kid-- I know Talos lied to you. It’s just the thought of you going toe-to-toe with any more baddies like Beck without that thing-- well, it scares me.”
The teen’s wary expression morphs into a sly smile. “You’re not saying you actually believe the tokens work now?”
“Are you suggesting you don’t?” Tony shoots back with a wry look.
Peter’s grin turns just a few shades softer. “I do, but probably not the way you think.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
The kid gives a half shrug, face turning slightly pink, as if he’s already said too much. “Having it with me… it reminds me that Iron Man - that you - have my back. And knowing that, I guess, makes me feel stronger. Which I think makes me be a little stronger.”
Tony didn’t think he could possibly love Peter any more than he already did, but hearing the kid’s words only serves to make his heart feel that much closer to bursting.
He reaches his good arm across the side table, palming Peter’s cheek. “That’s quite a coincidence, underoos-- that’s how carrying my Spidey token around makes me feel.”
Peter grins in response-- one of his giant, genuine ones that Tony lives for to see on both his kid’s faces. His dusty-pink cheeks turn a few shades redder at the admission, and he ducks his head down, still smiling. Tony moves his hand from Peter’s cheek to his curls, ruffling them a bit before leaning back again his chair.
“No more faking your own death though. Or at the very least, make sure to DM me next time.”
“I can’t believe you just asked me to DM you.”
“What, your old man can’t be hip with the cool kids anymore?”
“I love you, Tony, but if you keep talking like that I might have to actually yeet myself off the face of the earth.”
“I love you too, kiddo,” Tony says with a casual, hard-earned ease, before he suddenly frowns at Peter.
“What the hell is a yeet?”