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Muffled Scream: Rements of a Nightmare

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Tony wrenched awake, the scream half-way out of his throat. He slapped a trembling hand over his mouth, muffling the last moments of the scream. Sweat dripped off his forehead into his burning eyes. Wrenching his hand away, Tony gasped in air, reaching up to wind his hands into his hair and pulled Hard. 

The pain brought him back to himself and after a moment the room stopped spinning. Oh hell. Fucking hell. And people wondered why he avoided sleep like the plague. 

Tony sat still for several long moments, allowing his lungs to remember how to breathe properly. 

I don’t want to go, sir. Please. I don’t want to go! 

It was truly the cruelest twist of fate that even now, even when it had all be righted, even now that Thanos was dead, he still dreamed of the death of his child. Though this must be what he deserved for letting him die in the first place. For standing there like a silent imbecile while his child begged him for help. 

It was a marker of the unfailing goodness named Peter Parker that the boy even still spoke to him. That he had been overjoyed to be reunited with the man who was supposed to be one of the world’s greatest heroes but hadn't been able to save the person who most mattered. 

Tony Stark would never deserve Peter Parker. Fact. But still…

Tony turned to look at the clock. 4:14 a.m. An ungodly hour when everyone with an ounce of sanity should still be asleep. But the words were still ringing in his head and Tony physically could not stop himself. 

“Friday, call the kid.”

He would just get his voicemail. Maybe he would leave a message. Pretend that the call had been an accident, laugh, and ask the kid to call him when he had a free minute.

“Mr. Stark?”

Tony closed his eyes for a moment. He despised the fact that just the sound of the boy’s voice made it feel, for the first time, like he was actually awake. 

“Hey, kid. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?

There was rustling on the other end of the phone and Tony could imagine the kid sitting up in his bed, rubbing at his eyes with the sleeve of a shirt far too big for him. 

“I was asleep. Then I heard the phone. So now I’m not. What’s up?” 

Suddenly, shame crept up Tony’s throat. It pooled under his tongue and tasted of bile. What the hell was he doing? Calling a kid in the middle of the night because he’d had a bad dream?

“Nothing, kid. I… I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking about the time. Go back to sleep, we can talk tomorrow.”

“Seems like a waste of a perfectly good phone call,” Peter chirped, sounding more awake. “Besides, I haven’t seen you since last weekend.”

“So?” Tony asked, bemused.

“So I miss you.” 

Damn this kid. Damn him and his heart that’s three sizes bigger than anyone else’s. How the hell could Tony ever possibly deserve him? It was an unthinkable notion. He could give away each and every cent to the Stark name and Tony would still never deserve the child on the other end of the phone. 

“I miss you, too,” Tony said and winced when his voice cracked. “But we’ll see each other tomorrow.”

“Which I guess begs the question,” Peter replied, “What’s with the 4 am phone call?” 

Tony searched his mind for a moment, looking for a plausible lie. 

“Bad dream.” Damn it, he couldn’t even successfully lie to this kid anymore.

“Yeah?” Peter said, his voice suddenly quieter. “About me? About, you know…”

“Yeah,” Tony replied, suddenly without any more words for it. Not that any words to capture the immense terror and grief of that day. Or of the five years worth of days after it.

“I dream about it too,” came a small confession over the phone. 

Tony closed his eyes, nails biting into his hand so hard he felt a prick of blood. “I know, buddy, I know. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“No, don’t be, I’m glad you have nightmares about it too.”

“Uh-huh?” Tony said, confused.

“Shit! Sorry, Mr. Stark, that came out, like, really wrong,” Peter said with a nervous laugh. “I’m not glad you have nightmares, of course I’m not, it’s just…. I feel less alone knowing that I’m not the only one who gets trapped in that day sometimes.”

Suddenly, Tony desperately wished that he and Peter were having this conversation in person. He wanted to reach over and pull the boy into his arms, bury a hand in his hair and kiss the boy who was his son in every way but blood. 

“You’re not alone, buddy. I swear to God that for as long as I live, you never will be.”

He could hear the smile in Peter’s voice as he replied. “I know that.”

The two sat in silence for a minute, listening to the other breathe across the line. 

“You should try to get some more sleep, Pete,” Tony said finally. 

“You should too.”

Tony shrugged even though he knew Peter couldn’t see. “Think I’m all slept out for the night, kiddo. But I’ll see you after school yeah? We’ll have the whole weekend, just the two of us, I promise.”

“Ok, Mr. Stark,” Peter said and Tony smiled at the yawn in the kid’s voice.

“I love you, Pete. You hear me?”

They were words that had become commonplace between the two since the Snap, but it still lit up Tony’s heart to say them aloud. 

“I love you too, Mr. Stark,” came the happy voice from the other end of the line, “You can call me anytime you want, you know. Day or night.” 

“Never doubted it, kiddo.” 

With that Friday disconnected the call and Tony was suddenly alone again in his dark bedroom, the remnants of the nightmare still clinging to his fingers. Tony reached up to scrub his hands over his face. Already, the anxiety was crawling back into his veins now that he couldn’t hear his kid any more. 

With a sign, Tony swung his legs out of bed and staggered to his feet. It wasn’t easy, any of it. But in a few hours, Peter would bounce into his lab with a smile in his eyes and a laugh upon his lips. 

Awake. I’m awake. I’m awake. I'm...