Tony rolled his eyes as he heard his father's angry shout through the thick doors of his room. He turned away from the window just in time to see his father storming in, the doors banging against the walls at the force.
"Right here, father," Tony answered calmly, leaning back against the windowsill. Howard ignored his slightly sarcastic tone.
"The annual jousting competition is in three weeks' time. I expect you to be at your best performance," he ordered. Tony resisted the urge to sigh.
"Of course, father," he smiled, although there was no warmth behind it. Howard was about to turn around to storm back out before he stopped himself, the look he sent his son one of pure disgust.
"Stop slouching, boy," he ordered, pulling Tony up by the hem of his shirt, giving him a quick but painful hit upside his son's head. "And don't mumble. Kings don't mumble."
With that, he left, the doors banging shut behind him. Tony slouched back against the window, pulling a face at the closed doors.
"'Don't mumble. Kings don't mumble'," he mocked, scoffing. Peter, his squire, looked at him with his wide eyes, and back at the door before repeating the action.
"What was that?" He peeped. Tony waved him off.
"Kings aren't all that they appear to be in front of crowds, kid," he shrugged.
"He was really rude," Peter said, frowning.
"He's some piece of horse shit, that's for sure."
Tony, clearly done with their topic of discussion, waved him over.
"Well, come on, then. You heard the king. How about you do what I pay you for and get my stuff ready?"
To anyone else, it would've sounded rude and arrogant. But the playful glint in his eyes took away from his harsh words, and Peter smiled at him with an innocence Tony hadn't found in anyone else before mock-saluting.
"Yes sir," he said, chest puffed. Tony snorted (something his father would not approve of) and gave him a playful shove.
"Get out of here," he told the boy, pushing him towards the exit. Peter gave him one last grin before disappearing through the thick wooden doors, pulling them quietly shut behind him. Tony sighed, still feeling slightly uneasy as he did every time his father gave him one of his 'visits'. He allowed himself a few more seconds to compose himself before grabbing the stuff he needed and following after his squire.
It wasn't much later, and he was riding out onto the field, multiple knights already waiting for him (he was late, as always).
"Good day, men," he greeted. They nodded at him, some mumbling a greeting back. Tony was familiar with all of his knights as he made sure to know the men he was going to battle with. Sue him, but he didn't trust anyone he didn't know. "Let's get this over with, shall we?"
He put on his helmet, keeping his visor up, and pointed his lance at one of the knights.
"Barnes, you're first."
Dutifully, James Barnes followed his orders, riding out to the other side of the field. When the signal came, they both sped forward their lances pointed at the now protected shoulder of their opponent. Though Barnes was a strong guy, Tony knew exactly where and how to hit to make the man lose his balance. And that's exactly what he did. His lance hit the man's protection precisely where he wanted it, throwing the man off his horse easily. A few squires ran over to check on him as Tony slowed down his horse. Barnes was fine, of course, he was a tough guy. But Tony wasn't satisfied. Barnes' lance had nicked his shoulder, which was a mistake he couldn't afford in the real tournament.
"Next. Rogers," he called, and the blonde knight nodded dutifully, pulling down his visor and readying his lance. Peter quickly switched Tony's lance for a new one, and they struck again. And again, the other knight was thrown right off his horse. But again, Tony wasn't satisfied. Rogers had actually managed to land a pretty painful hit on his shoulder. He gritted his teeth and waved the next knight, Wilson, over.
They went on for hours, Tony still not satisfied with his own performance. His father would expect nothing short of perfection, and Tony was going to give it to him. But he also noticed how tired his knights were getting, and he knew the most reasonable thing to do was stop.
"Alright, that's enough for now," he announced, waving the men off. They left with a grateful nod in his direction, but Tony stayed behind.
"Sir?" Peter asked, confused as to why he wasn't leaving with the rest of them.
"Peter, set up the quintain," he ordered, wiping some sweat off his brow. Peter hesitated, but at Tony's no-nonsense look he quickly scurried off to set it up. The pole was standard in the ground, and Peter struggled to get the top on due to his limited height. The quintain had a bag on one side to keep the balance, and a small area on the other side serving as the place Tony was supposed to hit his opponent. If he hit it right, the top would circle around a few times, depending on the force of the blow.
Peter gave him a sign to indicate he was ready, and Tony gripped his lance tightly.
"Come on, girl," he encouraged his dear horse as he kicked her flanks with his heels, and they sped off. His eyes zeroed in on his target, his lance held expertly in his hand. He hit his target with a blow that traveled all the way up his arm, tingling painfully. Peter counted out loud how many circles the quintain spun.
"... Seven, eight... eight and a half, sir!" The young squire called enthusiastically. Tony grumbled.
"... Nine, ten, eleven! Eleven, sir!"
"What?" Tony froze, turning his horse to look Peter in the eye.
"Well, ten and a quarter, technically."
"How is it suddenly ten? I was climbing!" Tony called, outraged. "We're doing it again."
"If I may, sir," Peter called uncertainly, stopping Tony from speeding off again. "We've been at this for hours. I think you're just tired. Sir."
"Nonsense," Tony dismissed him. "Ready the quintain, kid. We're doing it again."
Peter sighed in what could only be disappointment but sped off again to ready the tool once again. Tony blinked furiously, his sight a bit blurry. He dismissed it like he had dismissed the headache that'd started a few hours ago and urged his horse onward again.
Once again, his lance met its target with a sickening blow, although this time Peter called ten and a half. Tony grumbled in fury, turning to go again. And again. And aga-
"Friday?" Tony asked, kicking his heels into his horse's flanks once again. Still, she did not move, neighing and kicking with her feet in the grass.
"I think she's tired, sir," Peter called, panting as he ran over to him, almost tripping on a loose pol in the dark. Since when was it dark? "I think we all are."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony denied, even though the fatigue suddenly washing over him almost had him topple off his horse. Peter noticed, already stretching out his arms to catch him. Tony wanted to glare at him for acknowledging his moment of weakness when he saw how tired the young boy was. He sighed, pulling off his helmet and pushing back his sweaty curls.
"Go home, Peter. I'll finish this up," he ordered, climbing off his horse with a little more difficulty due to his suddenly shaking limbs. He took a moment to just lean against his horse, stroking her neck for a few seconds to regain his own strength. He whispered some reassuring words to her in his mother's (and his, don't tell Howard) native language before turning to clean up his mess. When he did, he noticed Peter standing not too far behind him, chest puffed and chin raised in certainty.
"What are you still doing here?" Tony didn't mean for it to sound like that, but he was suddenly so tired. Peter didn't seem to mind.
"I'm going to clean this up. You, sir, are going to your quarters and get some rest."
Tony raised a single eyebrow.
"So what, now you're telling me what to do all of a sudden?" He asked, but Peter still seemed unfazed.
"Let me take off your armor and you can rest. I'll make sure Friday gets to the stables." Tony didn't really have time to respond to that as he blinked and Peter was suddenly taking off his chest plate, helping him out of the rest of his suit. Tony let him, a little dazed. When he was done, Peter smiled at him softly, gently steering him towards the castle. "Go home, sir."
Tony nodded, still a little out of it, and walked mechanically towards his room. He got ready in the same way before collapsing onto his bed, just managing to slip under the covers before promptly passing out.
When Peter sneaked in not too much later to return his armor, he smiled sadly at the sight. He cared for his master more than he probably should, and he knew the man was pushing his own limits. Sadly, there was nothing much Peter could do about it, so he simply wished the sleeping man goodnight and quietly snuck back out.
The day of the tournament was chaos. People from all across the kingdom had gathered to watch, from noblemen to commoners. They all talked excitedly amongst themselves, placing bets as to who would come out of this battle victorious. Seven knights from different kingdoms had come to compete, all hoping to take home their prize of eternal glory. At least, until next year.
"Hey, Stark," Ivan Vanko, a knight from the eastern kingdom called, gaining Tony's attention, who had been speaking with his squire.
"Vanko," Tony nodded, trying to be as polite as possible.
"Be careful out there," Vanko said in that ridiculous accent of his. "This game might be dang'rous." Tony smiled politely, hoping it didn't look as forced as it was.
"I'll take my chances," he answered slyly. "May the best knight win." He extended his hand. Vanko shook it with a lopsided grin on his ugly face.
"I am planning to."
He gave a frankly terrifying laugh before walking out of Tony's tent. Tony blew some air out of his cheeks, turning back to look at Peter.
"That man is terrifying," he said, shuddering. Peter nodded in agreement.
"I hope you kick him off his horse," Peter said darkly, and Tony laughed at his adorable attempt.
"That's cute, kid," he said, fondly ruffling the boy's hair. "That's cute."
Peter scowled at him, although it looked more like a pout. Tony simply winked and grabbed his helmet, holding it under his arm as he walked out of the tent.
The crowd cheered as the knights rode out into the arena, waving at the crowd as they circled the space. Tony blew some kisses and some women fainted. The men all lined up in front of the king, who gave some boring speech he held every year with fake enthusiasm. Tony spaced out a bit, searching for some faces he recognized in the crowds.
"May the best knight prevail!" The king called, clearly ending his speech. The crowd cheered wildly, although they all missed the pressing look the kind sent his son's way.
'You better win, or else...'
Tony managed to smile arrogantly past the lump in his throat, blowing his father a mocking kiss before donning his helmet and riding out. He was up first against some knight he didn't really remember the name of. It wasn't too much of a challenge, and his opponent was soon groaning in the sand. Tony had purposefully missed a few times to keep the crowd on their toes, and they all cheered loudly when the other rider was knocked brutally out of his seat. Tony rode a victory ride around the arena before disappearing from the scene.
He pulled off his helmet as he walked into his tent, winking at Peter's excited look.
"You totally beat him!" Peter called enthusiastically, practically vibrating with excitement. "Like, you missed a few times, and that was so good because everyone was like: 'is he gonna do it?' and then you didn't, and they were like: 'is he gonna do it now?' and then you didn't again and then suddenly, bam!"
Tony jumped in shock at the sudden outburst, a hand flying up to his chest.
"Sheesh, kid," he panted.
"Sorry," Peter apologized, not sounding the least bit remorseful. Tony shot him a look, but Peter just grinned back. "Anyway, that was really amazing, sir."
"You say 'sir' too often," Tony said, trying to dodge around the praise. "You could just call me Tony. It just so happens to be my name, too."
"Yes, but 'Tony' is technically longer than 'sir', so..."
"Oh, my gods, why?" Tony whined pathetically, throwing his hands up in defeat. Peter just beamed innocently. "Well, I gotta get back out there. See you later, kid."
Later turned out to not even be that long, as Tony's opponent was quickly felled. Apparently, the man had been injured a bit in his last round, which made it easy for Tony to strike. The man's injury, however, had been on his good shoulder, causing his lance to point slightly off-point, painfully hitting Tony's ribs. The crowd hadn't noticed, but Peter had. Peter... and the king's physician.
"Hello, Stark," Stephen Strange smiled kindly when Tony re-entered his tent. Tony's face immediately fell.
"No. No, Strange, I'm fine, I don't need your help- get off!"
But Strange had already started to skillfully remove the man's chest plate, motioning for Peter to help him out. Peter, the traitor, gladly did so, ignoring Tony's eyes boring into the top of his head.
"You little- ow, what the hell, Strange?"
A few moments later a very petulant Tony Stark was putting his shirt back on, mumbling what were probably curse words in his native tongue while shooting Strange poisonous looks. Strange ignored him.
"Well, I'll see you very soon, I suppose," Stephen smiled mockingly. Tony stuck out his tongue like the prince he was, donning his armor once again.
"Stronzo," Tony muttered at Stephen Strange's retreating back.
"I'm assuming that means 'thank you, kind sir, for helping me'," Peter said, his eyes sharp. Tony met his look with a careless one.
"No, it means asshole," he stated simply before walking past him to his horse. Peter sighed.
"You're hopeless, sir. Absolutely hopeless."
The rest of the tournament wasn't all that exciting on Tony's part, quickly ending his fights with a skillful and dramatic blow that had his opponents knocked clean off their horses. It was in the last round when it went wrong.
His last opponent was Ivan Vanko. Tony grit his teeth at the arrogance the man seemed to radiate before dwarfing it with his own, once again charming the crowd. Ivan sneered at him and he smiled back arrogantly. They both put on their helmets, taking the lances handed to them. They raced towards each other at a sickening speed, both knowing they weren't going to actually try the first few times. They knicked each other, both reveling in the way the crowd gasped, everyone at the edge of their seats.
They did this a few times, just to keep the tension raised. Finally, they made eye contact, silently telling each other that it was for real, now. They both grabbed their lances once again, both horses speeding up. That's when Tony saw it.
Ivan's lance was pointing slightly down, which was unusual for someone as experienced as Vanko. He straightened it quickly, holding it skillfully, telling Tony that the lance was locked on target. The only problem being: it was aimed too low. Ivan wasn't aiming to throw him off his horse. He was planning something else.
It was too late to back out once Tony had come to that realization and his heart sped up in fear. He didn't know what Ivan was planning, but he wasn't going to die like this. Not like this, not with his father watching, not when it was supposed to be a friendly game.
The world seemed to slow down around him, his pwn breathing loud in his ears. His heart pumped wildly, adrenaline coursing through his veins. His eyesight zeroed in on his target as it always did, just like he'd trained himself to do. Finally, it hit its target, the lance breaking with a sickening crack. Ivan's lance, however, had hit exactly where it was supposed to, as well.
Thinking quick, Tony considered his options. If he remained on the horse, there was a good chance he'd just fall off, anyway, which could be more dangerous as he didn't know the exact moment that was happening. The lance was weighing him down, threatening to pull him off balance.
Having thought of a plan, he snapped back into reality, acting in a split-second. He dropped his lance and pulled his feet from the stirrup irons so he wouldn't get stuck before allowing himself to be thrown back with the force of the hit. He hit the ground hard, the straps of his helmet almost choking him. As soon as the stars dancing in his vision had faded the slightest bit, he reached up to undo the straps, throwing away his helmet as he gasped for air. He knew the crowd was silent around him, but it didn't fully register through the ringing in his ears. Currently, he was still mostly numb. A small, sensible part of his brain was screaming at him to make use of it, assess his situation before it was too late. But he couldn't move, feeling disoriented as the world spun around him.
Vaguely, he remembered he'd knocked Vanko off his horse as well, although not hard enough to make him stay down. Alarms went off inside his head, and he knew he should do something, anything. But the biggest part of him could barely remember his own name, let alone think rationally.
Suddenly, hands were on his biceps, holding his arms down as a knee was pressed in his stomach. Ivan's face was hovering over his, a crazed look in his eyes.
"I've got you now, Stark," he said, his accent so thick Tony's fogged up brain had trouble deciphering it. "I'm going to kill you, now. No! I'm going to let you die. You'll die slow and painfully, Stark." He laughed, that crazy laugh that would've made Tony shiver on a good day but now, his body was completely numb. His vision was swimming, and the harsh light of the sun seemed ten times brighter.
Ivan was still laughing, even as two men grabbed him by the arms, pulling him off of the prince and dragging him away. Ivan just spat out blood, laughing and yelling "you lose" over and over again. Tony groaned as the first bit of pain registered.
"...down, Stark. I'm here, you'll be okay. Calm down."
Suddenly, all sound filtered through in a huge tidal wave of noise, Stephen's gentle voice almost drowned out by everything else.
"Just focus on me, alright? You're going to be fine. Just focus on me."
Stephen kept talking and Tony tried focusing solely on his voice. But the pain in his side was flaring up intensely and he couldn't help a tear of pain escaping from the corner of his eye as he gasped for breath. He lifted his head far enough to look at his side, wanting to see how bad it was. Stephen tried to push him back down, but it was too late.
Tony was sure that he agonized and horrified yell he made was slightly inhuman but at the moment, he couldn't care less. Because there was an iron bar sticking out of his side. It wasn't big, maybe a foot long, but it was sticking out of his side and oh, gods, he couldn't breathe-
"Tony, Tony! Breathe with me, please. Stop looking at it- look at me, Tony. That's it, just look at me. That's it. Now, just do what I do, okay? Breathe in, hold, and breathe out. That's right. In, hold, out. You're doing great, Tony. In, hold, out."
Stephen kept talking to him, signing to a horrified Peter to help him out. The young boy, bless his heart, obeyed, moving to his master's injured side. First, they removed the big chest plate before shedding him of unnecessary weight. Then they turned to the bar sticking out of his side. Stephen, still talking to Tony, counted down on his fingers. Quickly, they pulled the metal out, Stephen immediately covering the heavily bleeding wound with a thick cloth. They both cringed at the restrained scream of pain that emitted from the prince's throat, both their hearts clenching in sympathy. Stephen kept talking to him, motioning for Peter to take over putting pressure on the wound. Peter did, shaking hands pressing down on the bleeding wound as he bit his quivering lip, tears already making their way down his cheeks.
"You're going to be okay, Tony," Stephen said. He didn't really know what he should be talking about but he was sure Tony wasn't actually registering his words, so he decided to think aloud, hoping it would calm Peter down, too. "It's not as bad as it could've been. Luckily for you, you managed to his Vanko hard enough to soften his blow, so it didn't go all the way through. It's out now, Tony. You're going to be fine, it's just going to take some time."
He kept talking as Tony seemed to calm down a bit, his muscles relaxing as his eyes glazed over. Stephen saw some people rushing over with a stretcher ready. He carefully helped them lift Tony onto it, walking quickly beside him as they carried him towards the castle, Peter running not far behind. They rushed over to Stephen's workspace, carefully laying the prince out on the bed. Stephen was quick to set to work, Peter lingering in the doorway.
"Well don't just stand there, stay with him, make sure he doesn't fall asleep yet," Stephen ordered, rushing around the room to get the appropriate equipment he needed to tend to his patient. Peter moved quickly to his master's side, taking the man's clammy and limp hand. Tony blinked at him slowly, seeming to look right through him.
"Hey, sir," Peter laughed nervously, tears still trickling down his face. "You can't sleep yet, okay? You can sleep later, right now you need to keep looking at me, okay?"
Tony opened his mouth, but no words came out. Peter shushed him, squeezing his hand.
"I'll talk, okay? I-I'll talk about anything you want," Peter rushed out. "You were really great today, sir. You definitely won, no matter what your father says." Peter absently wondered where the king was. His son was injured and he didn't even check on him. "That practice really paid off. Although you shouldn't do it for that long, sir. That's not good for you."
As Peter rambled on, Stephen set to work. Tony didn't even acknowledge him, his glassy eyes focused on Peter. It allowed Stephen to work quickly, tending to the wound skillfully before wrapping it in thick bandages.
"Hey, Peter?" He interrupted the boy's ramblings softly. Peter's red-rimmed eyes snapped up to his, and Stephen felt his gut twist in sympathy. He smiled softly. "He can sleep now."
"You hear that, sir?" Peter relayed the message to the prince. "You can sleep now, okay? It's safe."
Tony's eyes slipped shut, the weak hold he'd had on Peter's hand slipping away as he drifted off peacefully. Stephen couldn't resist the urge to stroke back the prince's sweat-soaked hair from his forehead.
"It's weird, seeing him so calm, don't you think?" It was out before he could stop himself. Peter nodded mutely. "It's a good look on him," Stephen shrugged, grunting as he stood up. "That oughta keep him out of trouble."
Peter gave a soft giggle, more out of relief than anything else, and Stephen took a moment to just breathe.
"You can stay here tonight, if you want to," he offered. Peter nodded immediately.
"Please. I mean, I-I'd rather he wasn't alone right now." Stephen nodded.
"You can have the couch, I'll take care of him for now. I think this has been enough crazy for today, don't you think?" Peter nodded, yawning widely. "Get some sleep, kiddo. We'll all feel better in the morning."
Peter nodded, settled into the couch, and drifted off slowly. Stephen leaned back against the table, watching the two of them rest.
"Oh, boys," he muttered. "And what the hell am I going to do with you?"
Of course, neither of them answered, sleeping on peacefully. Stephen smiled to himself. They really were hopeless, those two. Luckily, the safest hands for them to be in were his own, which was exactly where they were. So he blew out the candles once the night fell, casting one last look at the two boys before sneaking into this own room, pulling the door shut behind him.