All of his best days turned tragedies begin the same way: soft, domestic, unassuming. Like pastel skies before a thunderstorm brews into town. Tony’s anxiety takes up every nook and cranny it can, leading the inventor to believe doom is lurking forever. Some days… some days his minds quiets and he can simply be.
Today is one of those days; a quiet day.
Pepper’s putting an apple pie in the oven while Tony wipes down the countertops. It’s the end of summer break and to celebrate Peter heading off to MIT next Thursday, he decided they needed a small cookout. Peter had initially protested, because it’s his last weekend here at the lake house. Tony knows that Pete’s been fretting over life changing events on and off all summer. Not to be deterred, Tony pointed out he didn’t go all out for Pete’s eighteenth birthday and Peter sagged in defeat at the reminder. He hadn’t gloated outright (much), but Tony sees the merit in having agreed to ten people for his kid’s party. So Pepper and Tony are busy prepping for the afternoon’s festivities, wanting to have side dishes ready to pull out of the refrigerator in time for Tony to fire up the grill. If the pie makes it that long because Peter’s been begging for it since his arrival.
A noise draws his attention and Tony pauses his ministrations, asking his wife, “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” she wonders, shutting the oven and tossing a dish towel on the counter.
He doesn’t answer simply strains his hearing and fights down the acidity raising at the back of his throat.
Tony ambles out of the kitchen and toward the front porch. Peter took Morgan out on their boat about an hour ago. Peter knows the rules on what is and is not accept—
At Morgan’s blood curdling screams, Tony pushes open the screen door, calling his wife’s name over his shoulder, and bolts onto the front lawn, eyes immediately scanning the water for sight of their boat and his children. In fact, Tony has to crest the large oak tree before he can see the hint of white on the water. They are much too far away and he cries out,
The front door of the cabin bangs against the siding as his wife follows him out, calling his name and wondering what is going on. Tony does not waste time, keeps sprinting down the water’s edge. They’re too far away, over a mile. His feet pound along the grass. His heart rate soars. His first instinct is double tapping his chest.
Only his arc reactor housing unit has not seen any action in twenty-two months. Tony officially retired Iron Man and all his armor after his miraculous recovery. He is not wearing nanites.
Half a mile away now.
Morgan screams for him again and Tony does not know what the fuck to do; he’s too far away, he is sprinting as fast as he can, and one of his children is hurt. And judging by who is screaming—
“Morgan!” he bellows, sliding as he stops insight of the boat, doubling over to catch his breath. Bent at the knee, Tony peers up to see a hysterical little girl pointing frantically at the water.
He reacts on instinct and dives into the lake.
Tony knows this: Peter would never maliciously tease Morgan. He knows this: something had to have happened that caused Peter to become unresponsive. He knows this: Peter must be unconscious because the kid knows how to swim.
His anxiety reaffirms that Tony’s time is limited because he has no idea how long Morgan had been screaming before he heard her and how long Peter has been under water.
Tony comes up for three quick sips of air.
His eyes sting when he opens them beneath the water. Murky the further downwards he goes, but the sun shines brilliantly at the surface. His kid’s name is on his lips; he doesn’t make a sound. There is only panic icing his veins, lining his nervous system the longer times passes without sight of Peter. He swims and swims and swims and swims. Internally he is kicking himself for not putting anything worthwhile in his prosthetic arm. What use is he to Peter if he can’t pull him up as soon as Tony is in the water?
Where is he? Gotta find—
Tony kicks as if he wears thrusters that could power him onward. Too much distance, too much time, PetePetePetePete. He stretches his right hand out, pulling the muscles down his flank until they pinch and go taut, but he keeps pressing forward until yes! he brushes against Peter’s shoulder. Not worried about bruising, his hand clamps onto Peter’s shoulder and jars him closer to Tony until the distance lessens and Tony is able to maneuver his kid around into his chest. His feet propels them upward at the same time Tony’s left arm holds Peter securely to his chest, as if he’s swaddling a newborn without any blankets, freeing up his right arm up to assist bringing them to the surface.
Tony is the only one gasping when they break.
Morgan continues to bawl from inside the boat, fraying Tony’s nerves against the unnatural silence of her brother, and Tony knows he can’t help both children at the same time. His focus remains on Peter as he hefts them back onto shore. Briefly he hopes Pepper is with their daughter.
Blue lips are the first thing Tony notices about Peter. If he didn’t know any better, then he would have been none the wiser because Peter’s lips have the tendency to take on a similar hue thanks to Morgan’s leftover juice pop colors she dislikes, specifically Morgan hates the blue raspberry flavor the most. Trick of the lighting. Tony sucks in a breath. Because he does know better. It’s not a trick, nononono—
“Fuck, Pete,” he curses under his breath, walking on his knees until he is level with Peter’s chest and starts compressions, rambling under his breath all the while, “Shit, c’mon, c’mon, don’t do this to me, Pete.”
He’s running out of air.
His heart sings a high-pitched litany in his eardrums.
A patch of limp curls cling to a particular section of Peter’s forehead. However, seeing as he is unwilling to stop pumping his kid’s heart for him, Tony can only guess that must be the place that Peter hit. Vivid imagination kicks into gear and Tony sees what happens: Peter assisting Morgan back onto the boat after lounging in their tubes, helping Morgan back on first despite the use of her own lifejacket and her indignant protests of I’m six, Petey, I can do it myself!, before Peter is shoving the tubes onto the boat, then finally climbing back on board himself. Only by this point everything is slick. And Peter’s stickiness has inconsistent traction on water surfaces; so if he lost his grip, however momentarily, and couldn’t gain any kind of balance back, then he easily could have whacked his head against the boat hard enough to lose consciousness and fall into the lake.
First rib cracks and Tony flinches.
He does not falter. His pace remains steady. However, his mind subjugates mostly anxiety and what if scenarios and Tony exhausts his mental resources on shutting them up, giving his all to Peter without disengaging his focus.
Another rib cracks.
Time dances atop the water, both alive and frozen in the moment, out of Tony’s reach. Suspended. Nothing more than teasing Tony with what had been on the horizon only this morning, even just thirty minutes prior.
He breathes for Peter.
Breaths are important but keeping his kid’s heart pumping is more vital. A sickening choice. He trembles.
A breeze blows in from the east, rustling earth and carrying Morgan’s horror.
He breaks another rib before he stops to give Peter a second breath.
As he pulls away, water regurgitates and Tony fumbles to maneuver the teenager onto his side, allowing him to vomit it and whatever else comes up, clearing his airways as much as possible. Peter coughs, violent and deep within his chest, sputtering and spazzing out. Tony reaches for one of Peter’s hands in hopes of offering comfort. He bows, resting his forehead against Pete’s shoulder, and breathes.
His chest twinges.
“Roo,” he whispers, a sob and a prayer.
“T’ny,” is his answer.
Next several moments are indistinct: comforting Peter as he finished vomiting and catching his breath; listening to the hum of Pepper consoling Morgan from the boat; pushing back the nausea in his stomach and ignoring the pounding in his eardrums; his teeth chattering; Pepper calls out but he can’t think can’t move can’t breathe until it all crescendos—
“STOP!” he screams, voice catching and coming out hoarse. “Just stop it—cancel all of it— I can’t— I can’t, Pep you’ve gotta…,” he clutches his chest and finds Peter’s bloodshot eyes peering back at him.
Pete latches onto his wrist, anchoring him in the moment. “Tony, hey,” but the kid doesn’t have much momentum to keep going and it serves to stab painfully at Tony’s chest.
“We gotta get you to the hospital.”
“Don’t.” His eyes squeeze shut, blocking out the knee-jerk phrase Peter’s fond of overusing, concentrating intently on his adrenaline crashing and Peter’s body wracked with shivers; they are similar micro-movements, brief tremors and muscle spasms. “Jesus Christ, don’t say that shit to me.”
Peter apologizes by squeezing Tony’s wrist three times.
They help each other stand up, Peter listing sideways before Tony tucks him into his side and anchors him with the prosthetic arm, and the whole way back Tony refuses to budge on the idea of Peter seeing a doctor. Secondary drowning echoes in his in-shambles mind palace, a worry he had specifically only had for Morgan up until today. He knows they are passed the threshold to worry about dry drowning, but fuck it all if Tony will allow them to shrug off the entire ordeal.
He isn’t equipped for high stress situations any—
He sucks in a breath, clutching his chest.
And everything goes black.
When Tony blinks awake, everything is dark. There is a monitoring device on his index finger, which confuses him, because he knows they should be at the hospital but not for him they were supposed to go for—
“Peter,” he gasps, bolting upright.
“Hey, hey, easy,” comes a sleepy voice and a pair of hands quickly find Tony’s flailing ones and holds. “I’m right here, I’m okay, you’re okay.”
One of Peter’s hands disappears and then a moment later soft yellow washes across the room, courtesy of an end table lamp, and Tony blinks as the spare bedroom on the first floor of the cabin comes into view. Peter is sleep-rumpled and bleary eyed. And alive. So very, very much alive.
“We’re both gonna be alright,” is the first thing Peter quickly reassures. “I promise. Dr Cho came and checked us both out, courtesy of Pepper calling and bossing Dr Strange around.” here he pauses briefly, biting at the corner of his mouth, before continuing on, “Y’know, Pepper’s kinda scary when she really wants something.”
The laugh that wheezes out of him startles Tony.
A pout forms at the edges of Peter’s mouth and forehead, as if he doesn’t know what he said could have been entertaining. Usually he would murmur an s’not funny to Tony, though he remains staring at Tony intently without any commentary.
It sobers him up.
“Tell me what happened?”
“As soon as we crested that big oak tree by the dock, you passed out on me. I assumed it was a bad panic attack that caused you to faint. I—uh, I was still pretty weak, so when you went down, I did, too. Luckily, Pepper had brought the boat back, like, thirty seconds after you went down and—anyways, once we got you into the house, then Pepper made FRIDAY call Dr Cho, y’know, since you invited her for the cookout, and she was too far away so that’s why Dr Strange had to get involved—” Peter took his first breath “—and she said you had a minor heart attack.”
Tony blinks at the information.
Peter’s lower lip trembles.
“Bud, it’s al—”
Peter cuts him off, “But it isn’t! If I could just not be a damned klutz, then this disaster day wouldn’t have happened!”
“Shhh, hey, we’re good.” he reiterates. “I’ve known since the arc reactor went in that my heart is weak. Just ‘cause it came out doesn’t meant it strengthened. I’ve always known heart attacks were high in my future. Isn’t my first rodeo—”
Peter makes a displeased noise at the admission.
“Yeah, that’s on me,” he murmurs, tugging Peter up so his kid can curl into his side, which he does after a moment’s hesitation. “I’m all good now, as you can see. Tell me how you are?”
“No water in my lungs and Dr Cho didn’t find any bacteria or what have you in my system. She says your quick thinking and my mutation did the heavy lifting.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Aside from the fact you saved me? It means that she gave me a clean bill of health,” he shrugs.
Tony buries his nose in Peter’s hair, breathing him in and urging his body to calm down. It soothes him, having his kids nearby and taking in their unique smells, and nothing works faster at rerouteing anxiety than Morgan or Pete. “I’m so glad you’re alright, Roo.”
Peter hugs him.
“Sorry your last weekend this summer turned out—”
“No way!” a giggle slips out between Peter’s proud smirk. “I expect nothing less than drama whenever I’m around you—”
“What a shame you’re going off to Massachusetts by the end of the week,” Tony is all faux-sympathy and short vowels. “Whatever will I do—”
“If you thought you were getting rid of me, think again.” scoffs Peter. “I’ve just updated my phone and have been reliably informed it’ll work well in the dorm rooms; I’m video chatting every other day!”
Tony shuts his eyes, pulling Peter in closer, and ignores the ache in his chest that protests Peter leaving, moving so far away. World is forever shifting. He knows this is an important next step. And he’s thrilled for the future, don’t get him wrong; it’s only… his heart aches for the number of moments he has left with Peter before the inevitable happens and Tony’s title will lose these close times in place of something other.
He drops a featherlight kiss to Peter’s crown, savoring the moment.