It was a Friday night in October and Peter was staying the weekend at the Compound with Tony to work on improvements for Peter’s suit. He’d been looking forward to this weekend ever since it had been planned. Peter loved these weekends. He would work on his homework while Tony worked on a StarkPad nearby, ready to answer questions. Then, when Peter was finished, they’d order takeout from any number of restaurants and go down to Tony’s lab to work. They’d eat and work and work into the early hours of the morning until Peter would inevitably fall asleep at the table, then Tony would wake him and they’d go to bed; Tony in his room and Peter in the room nearest Tony’s that was furnished especially for him.
Today, Peter and Tony were working on Peter’s web shooters. Empty takeout boxes littered the unused tables and the two sat next to each other, each working diligently on specific mechanisms of the devices.
The two of them were in sync, insomuch that they rarely had to speak to communicate. They worked in rhythm with each other, occasionally handing a tool to the other. If anyone else were to walk into Tony’s lab, they would have been dumbfounded at the ease with which the two seemed to read each other’s minds.
So they worked in happy quiet, content with each other’s company and fiercely focused on the work that lie before them on the table. Breaking the silence for the fourth time in the past few minutes, however, was another of Tony’s yawns.
“Mr. Stark?” Peter finally asked. He sounded concerned, and stopped working to look up at Tony. “When is the last time you slept?”
Tony drew a long sip of his coffee and sighed, not looking up from his work on the table. He tried to remember the last time he slept, but to no avail - it had been too long. He didn’t remember. “Uhm, yesterday? Last night. Back to work, we’re almost done,” he lied.
Peter did not return to his work but instead looked at Tony with worry. He faced Tony with his hand supporting his own head while his elbow sat on the table. “Yeah, I don’t buy that. When was the last time you slept?”
Tony did not respond as he kept quietly working. Peter noticed the dark circles under his mentor’s eyes. “Mr. Stark,” he implored.
This earned a look from Tony, who put his work down on the table and faced Peter. “Kid, you don’t need to worry about the sleep I’m getting, alright? Don’t worry about it. Seriously,” he said sternly.
“But if I don’t worry about it, you certainly won’t, and if no one is worrying about you then you won’t get enough sleep,” argued Peter.
“And why would that be your responsibility, Peter? I can worry about myself, you need to stop,” replied Tony with a bit more frustration than intended.
Peter was noticeably taken aback by Tony’s harsh tone. He returned to his work quietly, face hot, and made it a point to avoid eye contact with Tony.
The two sat in silence for a couple more minutes, Tony not moving as he faced Peter who silently worked. Tony’s heart sank in his chest, heavy with regret at his response to Peter’s honest worry, as he watched Peter who would not look up at him.
After a little while, there was a knock at the lab door. Rhodey’s figure was discernible through the glass, so Tony asked F.R.I.D.A.Y. to let him in. Peter glanced up from his work to acknowledge Rhodey’s presence, then returned to what he was doing, still not looking at Tony.
“Uhh, hey guys,” said Rhodes. “It’s 12:45, you may want to consider calling it a night.”
Usually Pepper was the one who would drop in on the two of them before going to bed herself, but she was on a week long business conference in Italy. She must’ve had Rhodey take her place, thought Tony. That woman thinks of everything.
When Pepper would stop in and announce the time to the two superheroes, they’d always assure her that they weren’t tired and that the work they were doing was important, after all. They wouldn’t stop working until Peter fell asleep, no matter the time and no matter the warning from Pepper.
That’s why it surprised Tony when Peter stood up from his stool at the table and said, “Thanks Rhodey, I’m going to head to bed.”
Tony was taken aback as Peter scooped up his backpack and walked past Tony to get to the door. “Goodnight,” Peter said as he walked past Rhodey who stood in the doorway. Tony slumped in his chair, feeling hurt that their night was over, but also that he had clearly hurt Peter.
“What’s up with the spider child?” asked Rhodey.
“I think I pissed him off,” said Tony.
Rhodey snorted. “How did you manage to do that?”
“He asked me when the last time I slept was and I snapped at him.”
Rhodey walked over and took Peter’s abandoned seat by Tony. “Well, when was the last time you slept?”
“I honestly can’t remember.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes and dragged his hands down his face in defeat. “What the hell, man.”
“Yeah, me too, no shit. Go to bed.”
Tony didn’t feel up to arguing with his friend. In fact, he had started to notice how tired he was after his second yawn. He wordlessly stood up from his seat and began to walk to his room.
“Goodnight, Tones,” said Rhodey sweetly as Tony left the room.
“Can it, honeybear,” Tony countered as he exited the room.
He entered the elevator and it began to carry him up to his bedroom, despite him not having said a word to F.R.I.D.A.Y. He exited the elevator on his floor and began to walk to his room. He stopped at Peter’s doorway and debated knocking on his door and apologizing, but after a couple minutes he figured it would be best to talk to him tomorrow after they had both slept.
Tony entered his bedroom and shed his clothes that he had been wearing for the past day? two days? was it more? and changed into pajamas. He sprawled across the bed in a way that Pepper would have never allowed had she been there to stop him and within seconds Tony was asleep.
The next thing Tony knew, he was fighting some weird looking aliens in New York City.
Actually, he and some of the Avengers were fighting these aliens. Tony looked around, taking a mental note of who he was fighting with. Cap, Natasha, Falcon, Rhodey’s War Machine, Vision, and of course Queens’ Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman were here, fighting off the nasty looking creatures. Instinctively Tony called out over the comms to Peter first.
“Kid? What do you see?”
“Uhh, well, there’s a ton of these alien thingies! And some of them can fly! Where did they come from, does anyone know? My webs don’t stick to them all that well so I’ve been just swinging around and kicking the shit out of them. It’s pretty dope, actually, Mr. Stark! Like, here, watch!” Tony looked up as Peter shot a web at a lamppost and gained momentum as he swung around and kicked an alien in its ugly face down to Natasha, who shot it in the mouth. “See? Totally works. Improvise, adapt, and overcome, right? Also my grenade webs work pretty well too! And -“
“Ok, thanks for that, Queens. Can you head up north and make sure the civilians have evacuated the area?” Steve’s commanding voice interrupted Peter’s overeager one as the fight raged on.
“Sure thing Captain America!” said Peter who dutifully began swinging northward, gaining both distance and height as he scaled buildings to avoid the fight.
“Wait, Peter, hold on,” said Tony hesitantly. Something was about to happen, he could feel it. In a way he couldn’t explain, he could feel it.
“No, Peter, we need you over there, to save those people, okay? Why are you holding him back, Tony? It’s safer over there.” Cap’s voice again came over the comms.
Natasha spoke next. “Tony, he’ll be safer away from the fight, ok? Trust him on that one.” And Tony wanted to trust them, he really did. He just felt like something really, really bad was about to happen to Peter and he didn’t know how to prevent it and it was all going to be his fault and -
“Boss, your heart rate is exceeding that which would be considered normal. Are you in distress?” His A.I. interrupted his train of thought, and his vitals were displayed in his view.
Before Tony could respond, though, one of the aliens flew sharply upwards maybe a quarter of a mile from Tony. He followed it with his eyes until it met its target hundreds of feet in the air.
Tony watched helplessly, unable to move, as Peter’s form fell from the sky. Voices came over the comms, but Tony wasn’t listening. He was stuck, unable to do anything except for watch his kid fall out of the sky.
He remembered Germany, when Rhodey fell after being hit by Falcon in a similar way. Peter’s suit could withstand a lot of things, but it wasn’t build the same way Rhodey’s War Machine suit was built. If the parachute didn’t deploy, Peter likely wouldn’t survive the fall.
Tony was helpless to do anything but watch Spiderman fall from the sky. Even as he approached the earth at high speeds, his parachute wouldn’t go off. Tony couldn’t move.
Peter hit the ground with a heart-stopping thud that caused the entire battlefield that was formerly a series of streets and intersections in New York City to fall silent. As Peter hit the ground, Tony found it within himself to move himself toward the boy. His Iron Man suit flew him to where Peter lay motionless on the ground. During the fall, Peter’s mask had somehow flown off. Tony looked at his face. It was pale, bloodied, and lifeless. Undoubtedly Peter was gone.
“No. This can’t - you’re not - Peter! Wake up, right now, you hear me? Right now!” Tony grabbed Peter’s face with his hands and tears streamed down his face. “Peter?” He asked in a pained whisper. Tony’s heart crumbled inside him and his knees gave out as his entire world was now gone; laying still and unbreathing on the ground before him.
The world didn’t stop for Tony to grieve, and neither did the fight around him. Before he could stand himself up, Tony felt one, two, three, four . . . too many of the aliens piling up on him and on Peter. Tony went to fire his repulser at them, only to find that it wouldn’t work. Suddenly, his entire suit was offline and he was left to fight the ever-increasing number of aliens on his own, completely vulnerable. He screamed and yelled in agony and in fear. He couldn’t move again. The aliens were overcoming him and he couldn’t move.
Peter was woken by the sound of his name being called. He confusedly grabbed his phone from his bedside table to look at the time. 3:29 am. Maybe I dreamed that, he thought. He considered going back to sleep. It just seemed too real, he finally concluded as he swung his legs over the side of his bed and stood up, running his fingers through his hair.
He walked to his door and exited his room, unsure of where he was going. “Fri, is everyone asleep right now?” he asked, looking up at the ceiling.
“Currently, you are the only one awake. However, Boss seems to be experiencing some distress in his sleep. Would you like me to tell him you’re awake?”
“No, that’s fine. I’m headed there anyway,” said Peter, now aware of what was going on. Tony was having a nightmare. Huh, usually it’s me having the nightmare and Mr. Stark wakes me up, thought Peter.
He had almost made it to Tony’s bedroom door when he heard another scream, unlike anything Peter had heard from Tony before. This scream seemed desperate, agonized, and fearful; very seldom would Peter ever see Tony not be cool, calm, and collected. This caused Peter to disregard any niceties that would have him knock and wait to be allowed inside Tony’s bedroom. He anxiously walked into the room and found Tony laying in his bed, sleeping, just as Peter suspected.
Tony was covered in sweat and was motionless in his bed, even as he screamed. “Mr. Stark?” Tony wasn’t the heaviest of sleepers, so Peter didn’t think he’d have to do much more than say Tony’s name at his bedside.
Tony didn’t wake.
“Mr. Stark, it’s me, wake up,” Peter tried again, and to no avail. Tony let out another scream, causing Peter to jump.
“Ok, let’s try this again,” Peter muttered to himself. “Tony, wake up!” Peter said louder as he nudged Tony’s arm. Tony quickly jerked his arm away and sat straight up in his bed.
“Mr. Stark! I’m so glad you’re awake now! You were just having the worst nightmare, and -“
“Go away! Somebody help! Somebody, please!” Tony screamed, looking over in Peter’s direction with a blank stare.
Tony couldn’t move as the aliens kept piling on top of him. He couldn’t fight them off. Their snarls and growls intensified and all Tony could do was scream and what the hell was going on and why couldn’t he move and somebody please help.
Suddenly he heard a voice that he could not discern. All he knew was that he was in danger and he was going to die and he couldn’t move and Peter was gone and there was nothing left for him and it was all his fault.
He felt something push against his arm. What was that? What was going on? Where was he? Why is it dark now?
Then came a voice. “What’s going on? You’re fine, Mr. Stark, it’s just me!” Who is Mr. Stark? Who was talking? What is going on? Where am I? I’m going to die. Peter already died. Where are the aliens? I can’t move.
Where are the aliens?
“Mr. Stark, seriously, you’re scaring me. What’s going on? Are you okay?
What is going on? Who is that figure in front of me? What - something has my legs. Something has my legs!
Forcing himself to lay down, Tony violently thrust his legs in every direction until his blanket was on the floor. He laid still again, eyes glossed over, looking at nothing in particular.
Peter was officially scared out of his mind for Mr. Stark now. “Hey, Mr. Stark? You’re safe now. It’s Peter, I’m safe. Wake up, please. Do you recognize me?” Peter’s voice shook and so did his hands as he reached out to ground Tony and wake him up by resting his hands on the older man’s arms. At the touch, Tony recoiled sharply and let out another scream.
“Don’t touch me!” He shouted. Peter quickly withdrew his hands and took a step back, tears forming in his eyes. He didn’t know what to do.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y., what is going on?”
“It seems that Boss is experiencing a night terror as a side effect of sleep deprivation.”
“Ok, well what do I do?”
“The best course of action is to remain calm, refrain from waking him, and wait until it’s over.”
Peter nervously agreed and walked over to sit quietly in the chair nearest Tony’s bed, waiting until the night terror passed.
Tony woke with a start, sitting up in bed violently. He felt his heart beating fast, and adrenaline coursed through his veins. Where is Peter? He thought. For some reason he felt like Peter was in danger and needed to know that Peter was okay. “Peter!” he called out unthinkingly.
“Mr. Stark?” asked Peter quietly. Why was Peter in his bedroom? Tony turned to face him.
“Peter? Are you okay?” asked a very relieved Tony.
“Yeah, I’m okay. I think you just had a night terror?” Peter sounded nervous and hesitant, and now Tony knew why.
“Shit, kid. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“I’m not,” responded Peter.
“I’m not sorry I had to see it. I’m sorry I couldn’t wake you up.”
Tony stood up from his bed and faced Peter, who had walked over to Tony’s bedside. Tony gripped Peter’s left bicep and used his right hand to turn Peter’s face over to make sure he was okay.
“I think you may have dreamt about me,” Peter said when Tony let go of his face.
“Yeah, I think I did,” said Tony.
“I promise I’m safe,” reassured Peter.
Tony looked at Peter for a few seconds as if making sure for himself that Peter was okay.
“Thanks for coming to help me, Peter. You’re a good kid, you know that?” Peter smiled.
“I’m going to head back to bed now,” he said as he turned to walk towards Tony’s bedroom door to let himself out.
“Peter?” Tony caught himself calling out before he could decide otherwise. Peter turned around to face him. “I’m really sorry about tonight. You were worried about my health and I snapped at you, which was totally uncalled for. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, really. I’m sorry for leaving like that.”
“You had every right to leave. What I said was not cool. Just, thanks for helping me tonight. And for the record, I’m glad you’re safe.”
“Yeah, me too. And I’m glad you’re okay too, Mr. Stark.”
“And hey, no telling anyone about this, okay? It’ll make them think I don’t take care of myself.”
Peter laughed. “They think that already, I don’t have to tell them,” he said happily as he walked out Tony’s door and into his own bedroom.
Tony relaxed once again in his bed with a smile on his face. How did I land the best kid in the world?