“Peter, get back in here – Peter!”
“Why?” Peter snaps, his fury evident in his clenched jaw, the set of his shoulders. “What’s the point? You’re not listening to me. You never listen to me!”
“Well, seems like there’s a lot of that going around!” Tony shoots back.
“Jesus Christ, Tony, I’m nineteen!”
“I know that.”
“Do you? Because all you seem to be doing is breathing down my neck for every little thing.”
“Just what? I’m in college now, Tony. I can’t come running back to you every time I have a problem, and you can’t expect me to!”
“Okay!” Tony throws his hands up; at this point, he’d rather just give up than keep fighting with Peter. “I get it! You can do everything yourself, but the great thing is you don’t have to.”
If he thought the argument would be over, he’s sorely mistaken. “I’m not a kid!”
Fuck this. “Then stop acting like it!” Tony roars.
The silence is excruciating.
Peter nods and looks away. “Yeah, well, you know what? You’re not my dad. So stop acting like it.”
The kid might as well have punched him in the gut. “I…”
“I don’t need you hovering all the time, okay? I need to – I need space, Mr Stark. I need to just…go to college, and work, and manage my time by myself. I need you to stop babying me.”
“I’m sorry…” Tony says slowly. “I didn’t think I was, kid, but I can – yeah. Yeah, space is good. I can do that.”
Peter narrows his eyes, looking suspicious. “Why are you agreeing with me? What’s happening?”
“You’re right, you’re an adult. Independence is…fine. Good.”
“Yeah,” Tony murmurs. There’s a beat of awkward silence. “What’s this really about, kiddo? If there’s something going on, you know you can tell me anything–“
“You’re doing it again!” Peter cries, throwing his hands up before turning around and storming out.
This time, Tony lets him go.
Kid I’m sorry.
Can you call me when you get back?
Pepper doesn’t offer anything more than a sympathetic grimace when Tony finally shuffles back into the kitchen.
“Was I being an asshole?”
“No…” She smooths his hair back with a sigh. “I think you were being a father who’s just sent his son off to college, and both of you are scared and confused and trying to find a way to make it work.”
Tony groans. “You see May acting like this?”
“Just wait until he gets drunk the first time. Really drunk. She’ll be dragging you up to Cambridge, no doubt about it. She just…lets you deal with Spider-Man things. That’s not any different to before, honey.”
“He didn’t call me,” Tony whispers. “That…Rhino guy could’ve killed him, and I heard about it from the news.” He pulls his cell phone out and checks it: no missed calls.
“But he didn’t. He handled it. Pretty well, actually. Only a couple of cars got destroyed.”
“I guess.” Tony frowns at his phone screen. “Kid should be home by now. I told him to call me.”
“May’s or Cambridge?”
“I assumed Cambridge, but either way, he should be…”
“No, I don’t want to…be overbearing, or – or hover.”
“Being concerned about his welfare is not hovering, Tony. Call him.”
Tony has every intention to, but May Parker’s contact flashes up and he answers reflexively, more out of surprise than anything else. “May! Hi.”
“Hi, Tony, I’m just checking to see if Peter’s left yours yet. He said he’d be here by dinner time, and Happy wants to start cooking soon.”
“He left a while ago, May,” Tony says slowly. “At least two hours. We had an argument, and he left straight after.”
“I told him to call me when he got home – I was just about to call him.”
“I’ve tried his cell five times.”
Tony meets Pepper’s eyes, both of them suddenly frantic. “I – oh, shit, um…it’s possible he’s still pissed at me and went somewhere to clear his head? The suit isn’t active, so that’s out. Want me to try him?”
“Yeah, if you could – hang on, I’m getting another call. Be right back.”
“Yeah.” Tony swipes through his contacts and jabs at Peter’s name; it rings out all the way to voicemail. Beep. “Yeah, look, kid, you’re pissed at me. I get it, and we should talk about it. But for the love of God, at least text May.”
Text your aunt, she’s freaking out.
Beep. “Peter, can you please call one of us? Or even Happy or Pepper if you don’t want to talk to us. Just give us a sign of life, kiddo.”
Nothing. Tony’s heart is pounding, only Pepper’s hand on his shoulder keeping him from falling apart completely.
Finally, his phone rings and he fumbles for the answer button, but it’s May. “Anything?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that – the hospital just called, Tony.”
No. “The what? Why?”
“They said Peter – they said he–“
Tony is gripping the phone so hard he wonders if it will snap. On the other end, there’s a brief, muffled conversation.
“Happy? What’s happening?”
“The hospital said Peter was in a car accident, Boss. He was admitted about a half hour ago and went straight into surgery. That’s all they could tell us on the phone.”
“What – what hospital?” Tony stammers out. “I’m going straight there.”
Happy reels off the address and hangs up quickly, keen to get there as quickly as possible. Tony drops his phone onto the countertop with a clatter and turns to stare beseechingly at Pepper.
“Go,” she says firmly. “I’ll be right behind you, just as soon as I find someone to watch Morgan.”
“Yeah. Yeah, uh…”
The nurse at reception doesn’t look the slightest bit fazed by an out-of-breath, red-faced Tony Stark skidding up to her desk.
“I’m here for Peter Parker?”
“Yes, yes – if you check with his aunt, she’ll confirm–“
“Okay, I believe you, sir. They’re in a private waiting room just down the hall here.” She lowers her voice as she gets up from her chair. “We’ve been informed about his, um, special circumstances, so that’s all dealt with. They’re just in here.” She opens a door and ushers him in, and then she’s gone.
“Tony.” May manages a watery smile from her seat beside Happy. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”
“Of course,” Tony says. As if he’d be anywhere else. “Is it bad?”
“We don’t know,” May whispers, “just that he went into surgery, and we had to sign a whole load of forms once we finally found a doctor senior enough to deal with enhanced people.”
“Car accident, right?”
Happy nods, stiff. “Wasn’t even his fault. Driver ran a red light, massive truck swerved to avoid them – kid had no chance, even with his super reflexes. Four cars were in that collision, apparently.”
Tony shakes his head. “He must have been distracted. He…we were fighting, and he stormed out.” He can’t let that be the last thing he and Peter said to each other. He can't.
“It’s not your fault, Tony,” May says. “He was driving perfectly. If that other car hadn’t–“ She breaks off. Happy takes her hand.
They sit in heavy silence until the door flies open and they shoot to their feet, but it’s just Pepper.
“Pep,” Tony breathes.
“Hi, honey.” She takes a seat between him and May, grabbing both of their hands. “Anything?”
“So we just have to wait?”
“Yeah,” Tony whispers, like every second that passes isn’t torture. “We just wait.”
Finally, finally, the door opens again.
“Family of Peter Parker?” the nurse says, and blinks when she looks up. “All of you?”
“Yes,” May says, lifting her chin and visibly inviting a challenge.
“Okay…well, I’m pleased to tell you that Peter came out of surgery well. His, ah, uniqueness meant he had a better chance than most, so he’s escaped with a broken leg, a fractured wrist, some cracked ribs and most likely a nasty concussion.”
“What was the surgery for?” Tony says.
“The paramedics who – do you have full details of the crash?”
“No, only the basics.”
“Okay, well, Peter’s car was crushed between two others and he was trapped inside it for a while; he had to be cut free. This put pressure on his chest for an extended period of time, and the paramedics were concerned about the possibility of a punctured lung. The surgery was to correct the position of his ribs, and the prognosis going forward is good.”
Tony nods, trying to swallow down bile. Peter had been trapped in a car, and he’d been wallowing because they’d had a stupid fight. Beside him, May looks equally nauseous.
“Can we see him?”
“Right this way.” The nurse gestures for them to follow. “He may not come around for a few hours, and even then, he needs to take it easy. We’ll keep him in overnight, and he can go home in the morning if his healing kicks in. Do you have any questions?”
“I’ll be delivering NDAs in the morning,” Pepper says. “I expect everyone who’s been involved with Peter to sign one.”
To her credit, the nurse just nods. “Of course. Just in here.”
The next few hours are excruciating. Tony hovers on the outskirts until May practically grabs him and shoves him in a chair by Peter’s bed.
The kid looks so still. Too still. He should be talking, laughing, fidgeting, making faces at Tony behind May’s back when Happy holds her hand in front of them. Shit, Tony would happily go back to them shouting at each other. Anything is better than this.
“I should go,” Pepper murmurs around midnight. “I left Morgan at the apartment in Manhattan with her sitter, plus I need to draft up those NDAs.”
“I’ll go, too,” Happy says. “Don’t want to crowd him when he wakes up.”
“See you in the morning,” May says. “We’ll text you if anything happens.”
Their vigil after that is quiet. May takes one side, Tony the other, and they clasp his hands tightly. They’re cold, even by Peter’s standards.
“Getting on for a good few hours now, kid,” Tony murmurs when he can’t stand the silence any longer. “Whenever you want to wake up, that would be great. Take your time, but not too much time, okay? Find a grey area.”
“We’re right here, honey,” May says. “We’re right here with you.”
Tony starts running his fingers through Peter’s hair, slowly, on autopilot. They’d figured out a long time ago that it calmed him just as much as Peter, and now it’s instinct to do it whenever they’re close enough. He’s so preoccupied with the soothing motion of his hand, the gentle untangling of Peter’s curls, that he almost misses when the kid blinks, wrinkles his nose, sniffs.
“Oh!” May gasps. “Hey, baby, are you awake?”
Tony manages a grin. “That’s exactly how he sounds before coffee, so I think we’re good.”
The instant Peter’s eyes land on Tony, they fill with tears.
“Hey, hey, no no no, don’t cry. It’s okay, Underoos. Does it hurt? Do you need more pain meds?”
A jerky shake of the head.
“Okay.” Tony swipes his thumb across Peter’s cheek. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about trying to talk for a while. Just rest.”
May takes Peter’s other hand again, gently stroking the back of it. “He’s right, sweetie. You can go back to sleep. You’re alright.”
Peter nods, his eyes already slipping closed, but he turns his head to the side, presses his nose into Tony’s palm.
They don’t need words. “I know, kid. I’m sorry too.”
That gets an agitated grumble.
“Okay, I get it, I get it. You’re more sorry.”
“Get some rest, kiddo,” May says. “We love you.”
“Yeah,” Tony agrees, his voice soft, “even when you’re screaming at me, I love you.”
Peter manages a content hum before he’s out again, his face relaxing. Tony sits back in his chair and smiles.