Tony hit the ground hard, his body banging against the suits. Groaning, he brought a metal covered hand up to his face plate and watched as Friday lit up the places that had been damaged. Cuts and bruises mostly, which was less than ideal but not terrible. He was getting old, he thought with a sigh as he sat up, stretching a little and trying to ease the ache in his back. It was times like this that he realized his time as Iron Man was limited.
Maybe one day he'd be okay with that.
Peter landed in a crouch a few feet away, straightening without so much as a grumble and shot an arm out to him, looking around to make sure the bad wizard was nowhere close before pulling him to his feet. "Mr. Stark? You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, kid." Almost two years of knowing Peter, if you counted Germany, and almost a year of working with him, and he still felt a little awkward around the boy. Still felt like he was surely going to hurt him. Drive him away. After all, wasn't he Howard's son? Of course, he'd never looked at his own father the way Peter looked at him...and he wasn't Peter's father regardless. Still, the kid came around every once in a while to have his suit worked on, and Tony listened to all of his reports via Happy's voicemail. Tony felt like he was making an effort. And the kid was fine. Maybe a little quiet, but fine. They were...well, they were getting to know each other. Slowly. And Tony was trying to make himself okay with that. He liked the kid just fine. Hell, more than that, he felt like he could really care about this kid. But Peter was just that. A kid. And Tony knew better than anyone what the men in his family did to kids.
They hurt them. They broke them. Hadn't his father done that to him? So he tried to keep his distance, even when Peter came to the compound. He decided to go through with getting rid of the tower. Peter was a superhero in his own right. He didn't need Tony around all the time to keep an eye on him, and one day, Peter would agree. He would see what kind of man Tony was and he'd be grateful that he'd dodged that bullet.
He'd been surprised when Peter had called for help, and even more surprised when the boy had said the other guy was using magic. Tony had picked up the phone call from the boy's suit a little warily only an hour before. He'd been in his lab, trying to perfect the nanotech suit that still had plenty of bugs to work out. He wanted to equip Peter's new suit with the nanotech, but it had to be perfect first. "What's up, Underoos?" He'd asked, trying to act as if Peter calling him was an everyday occurrence.
"Mr. Stark? Um... I'm sorry to bother….you." It has sounded like Peter was running. Or fighting. "Um, are you…are you busy? Right now?"
"Not particularly. What's wrong?" He'd put his screwdriver down with a frown. No way Peter would call him for just anything.
"I could kind of use some help?"
Peter had never asked him for help. Never. So Tony had summoned the suit immediately, racing toward the door and then shooting up into the sky. "I'm on my way. What's going on?"
"This guy's like...a wizard or something! I don't think I can hold him off for much longer."
Surprisingly, the kid had been right. Wizard seemed like a pretty good description. He even had robes. And seemed to be moving things without touching them. If this was magic, Tony wasn't a fan.
Peter had been doing an admirable job of holding the wizard off and minimizing destruction in Queens, but the kid was hurt. Tony wasn't sure how badly, but even if Peter didn't bring it up, Tony could see the gash across the side of his suit, the material dark with blood. They'd have to fix that later.
Tony surveyed the city block that was now deserted, looking down at Peter to find him doing the same, eye lenses widening.
Something was wrong.
Thats when the wizard appeared out of nowhere, hand outstretched toward Peter, and Tony moved without thinking. He grabbed the kid's shoulder, throwing him down and stepping right into the line of fire...and the world went dark.
Tony didn't know the voice but it sounded scared, and immediately he was scared too, gasping as he found himself trapped in a box. Why was he in a box? Where was his mom? Where was...no...his mom? That thought seemed wrong but he wasn't sure why. All he knew was that he was trapped and it was small and dark and his dad got angry when he was scared of the dark but he was scared anyway!
"Mr. Stark! Hold on!"
And then there was a light and he blinked at the brightness, covering his face and sniffed back tears. He was too big to cry. But it was so bright and it hurt his eyes and his head hurt and he was scared!
"Oh….oh god….oh no…." The person kneeling over him whispered, and Tony finally managed to open his eyes once the person blocked the sun. "Um….Mr. Stark?"
The man kneeling over him was familiar, but it wasn't his mom or dad or Jarvis. Tony couldn't remember who it was. Was this one of his dad's friends? Where was he?
That was his name! This man must know him if he knew his name! Tony nodded, sniffing again. His arm hurt, and his head too, and the man reached out for him with shaking hands. Tony didn't care. He just wanted out of the box! Reaching out, he threw himself into the man's arms, noticing at the last second that the man was wearing weird clothes with a spider on the chest...and that Tony was practically drowning in a huge t-shirt. How had he even gotten here? Whose shirt was this? Where were his parents?
"Okay...um...Tony? Do you...do you remember me?"
Tony shook his head, face hidden in the man's neck. He did, but he couldn't remember who exactly he was. It didn't matter. He was scared and he wanted Jarvis. Or his mom. Or even his dad!
The street was silent, and the man pulled something over his face before he was running, leaving what looked like a big red robot behind. Tony didn't want to leave it! It was important. Tugging on the man's arm, he finally felt the tears spill over. "Don't!" He yelled, shaking his head and crying more when it made his head hurt. "The...the robot!"
"We have to get out of here! I don't know where that wizard guy went but I have to get you somewhere safe! You're a baby, Tony!"
Tony glared then, kicking his feet in indignation. "I'm not a baby! I'm…". Then it hit him. He had no idea how old he was! Hadn't his mom said he was a big boy now? Hadn't his dad said he was too big to cry! That he was almost old enough to build things? He was...he was big! "I'm big." He grumbled, giving up on remembering the number and dropping his head into the man's shoulder.
"Okay. I'm sorry." The man patted his back, slipping into an alley, then heading for a black ladder on the outside of a building, jumping and grabbing the bottom rung easily. "You're right. You're not a baby. But...uh...the bad guy wants to hurt us so we have to hide! And….and then I have to call Happy!"
The man sounded scared as he climbed the ladder, keeping Tony secure against his side with one arm, and the only part of that Tony really understood was 'bad guy.' He wanted to get away from bad guys. His dad had told him stories about his friend, Captain America, and how he'd fought bad guys and kept good people safe. Was this man like Captain America?
Soon, they were climbing through a window and the man put him down, shut the window, and leaned heavily against the wall, a hand pressed to his side. Reaching up, he yanked the mask off, teeth gritted as he threw his against the wall. "Are you okay?" the man asked him through his clenched teeth, straightening but keeping a hand pressed to his side.
"My head hurts." Tony whispered it, looking around the strange room. He was on the bottom bunk of a bed, bare legs dangling off the side. There were boxes along one wall, with words he couldn't quite read, and a pile of clothes in front of them. Beside Peter was a desk, and a desk chair crammed underneath. It was nothing like his dad's big desk, or the one his mom wrote at. It was old and messy and covered in papers that spilled onto the floor.
"Okay...okay. I have to...have to call Happy and…". The man gasped, legs bending as he slid down the wall, and something in Tony's chest started to hurt. The man was hurt. The man was hurt and he was really important to Tony.
Sliding off the bed, Tony walked over to the man, nearly tripping on the shirt a few times. The man didn't look up, just breathed through his teeth, a tear escaping after a moment. And Tony hated it.
Peter. This was Peter. The name struck him like lightning. Peter.
Who was Peter?
"Peter?" He asked, tapping the man on the leg.
His eyes flew open then, and he stared at Tony with wide eyes. "Yeah?"
"Yeah…" Peter nodded, smiling but not happy. "Yeah, but I'm okay. It's okay. I'm going to...uh...I'll call Happy."
"No...no, Happy is a person. It's his name. He works for...um...me." He finished, pulling something out of his pocket, then holding it to his ear for a long time. Nothing must have happened because he touched the thing again, then held it to his ear once more.
He said a bad word under his breath then, touching the thing several times.
This time something happened.
"Ned?" Peter asked the thing. Tony thought it was a phone because a voice came out of it, but it was a really small phone, nothing like the one on their wall at home. "I need some help. Like...now."
Tony wandered off as Peter talked on the phone, staring up at the bunk bed that reached almost all the way to the ceiling, then at the posters of outer space on the walls. He wanted to go home...but also, he felt safe with Peter even though he didn't know who exactly Peter was. Peter was important. Peter was his friend. He loved Peter. All of these things were true even if he couldn't remember why.
"Okay, um….my friend is coming over and he'll bring you something to wear. And…". Peter swallowed, grabbing the wall and pulling himself up. "And I can get you something to eat...are you hungry?"
Tony just stared at him as he struggled to understand. "Where's mom?"
Peter's face fell and he looked lost for a moment...scared, just like Tony felt. Almost like Tony had done something wrong or said the wrong thing. He knew all about that look from his father's face. But then Peter's expression changed, and he smiled at Tony.
"I don't know, but I'm going to take care of you, okay? Just for a little while. We're going to fix this. I promise." Peter headed for the bedroom door, opening it and gesturing for Tony to follow. Not sure what was outside of that door, he reached out and gripped Peter's hand. Immediately, Peter turned his hand and held Tony's, squeezing gently. "It's okay. This is my apartment. I live here with my aunt, but she's at work all weekend, so it's just us for now. What do you want to eat?"
Tony shrugged, staring down at his bare feet. He wanted his mom. He wanted to go home. He wanted to remember how old he was and what had happened, and tears sprung to his eyes once more as it all hit him. Something was wrong!
"Hey...don't...don't cry. I mean...here." Peter reached down and lifted him, moving over to the sofa and holding him on his lap. "It's okay. I know it's probably really weird and scary. But you're safe here." Peter held a hand on his back, another on his hair, rocking him back and forth as he cried at the strangeness of it all. "We're going to fix it. Okay. I'll fix it. I promise."
Tony must have drifted off, because when he woke, he was laying on the sofa, a blanket wrapped around him, and there were voices coming from a different room. "But...dude! How…"
"It doesn't matter. Look, I need to make sure he's okay and then I have to sew this up and feed him and feed myself…"
"And you've called Happy?" the strange voice asked.
"I've called him six times! He's not answering! And I don't have anyone else's phone number! I don't know what to do!"
"Okay...okay. It's fine. This is why I'm your guy in the chair, right? I'll um...do some research on wizards! And I got the clothes."
"Good. He's just in a t-shirt and...god, Ned, I don't know what to do with a baby!"
"I think he's, like...three."
"Whatever! He's tiny and he doesn't remember and…".
Tony slid to the edge of the sofa and let himself down. His stomach was growling and his head still hurt a little, but he wanted to know who this other person was. So, following the voices, he found Peter holding a rag to his side and a bunch of bags on the table. Both he and another man, this one bigger than Peter, turned to look at him.
"Hey...hi, Tony. We've got you some clothes. Can you...uh...can you get dressed by yourself?"
Tony nodded, still staring at the other guy.
"Oh, this is Ned. He's my friend. He brought you some clothes. Here." Peter pulled a shirt with a red robot on the front out of the bag and glared at his friend for a second. "Seriously?"
Peter rolled his eyes, then pulled out a pair of sweatpants and handed both to Tony. "Um...the bathroom is in there."
Tony wasn't all that sure how to get the pants on right, but he did his best. He was a big boy and he didn't want to make Peter mad, even though all he knew about Peter was that he was important. He was the one taking care of Tony. But more than that...Tony loved him. He loved him a lot. He wanted Peter to be happy and he wanted Peter to love him too. So he did his best with the shirt and the pants, then came out of the bathroom to find Peter holding a needle, leaning against the kitchen counter and pushing the needle into his own side where a jagged cut ran from his front to his back.
"Peter!" Tony cried, horrified and something else. Guilty. It hadn't been his fault but he felt like it had! Like he should have stopped Peter from getting hurt!
Peter glanced up at him with a little smile, eyes red and filled with tears, one of which trailed down his cheek. "Hey. It's okay. Um...I got a cut and I've just got to close it. I'm okay."
He didn't look okay, but Tony gave a shaky nod, hiding a little behind the sofa and watching as Peter stabbed himself again and again, pulling the thread tight each time. Soon, he had a line of stitches just like when Jarvis had sewn up his favorite jacket, promising not to tell his dad that he'd torn it playing outside.
"There. All done." Peter assured him with a grin, dabbing at the cut with a washcloth and gritting his teeth, hissing out a breath for a second, then pulling a clean shirt on. "Come here," he urged, and Tony did. Peter knelt down so that they were almost eye to eye, moving gingerly, and then reached out. "Arms up." Tony did as he asked, and Peter pulled his shirt off, turned it around, then put it back on. "It was backwards."
"Sorry," Tony whispered, shamefaced as he stared down at the floor. He should have known that!
"It's okay. We fixed it." Peter smiled at him then, a look he'd never seen on his father's face, and not all that often on his mother's. No...it was a face that Jarvis would give him. A smile that made him smile back, something warm and bubbly in his chest, and Tony felt it on his face, a grin growing from ear to ear. Stepping forward without thinking about it, he threw his arms around Peter, and, after a moment of hesitation, Peter hugged him back, squeezing gently and rubbing his back.
"I love you." Tony whispered the words...words that felt so right. He loved Peter! Peter needed to know that! Had he ever said it before? Had he even met Peter before? He must have! But the memories slipped away and he was left with only the feeling of Peter holding him so tightly and so safely in his arms. Peter would keep him safe.
But he also wanted to keep Peter safe. It was a strange thought. He'd never been able to keep anyone safe before. He wouldn't be able to until he was a grown up.
"Okay! I've got something! There's some place in Manhattan...I think there are, like...sorcerers there?" Ned called from the other room, and Peter straightened, lifting Tony into his arms as if he'd been doing it all his life.
"Okay...it's almost eight now...we can go in the morning. So...so I'll make him dinner and...what time do kids go to bed?"
"I don't know, dude...ten thirty?"
"Yeah, I guess?" Ned came around the corner and shrugged. "I left the address on the table. My mom's going to kill me if I don't get home soon."
"Yeah, of course. Thanks again for…" Peter waved a hand and Ned grinned.
"That's what a guy in the chair is for." He moved toward the door and waved. "Buy Mr. Stark!"
Tony furrowed his brow and watched the boy leave. Mr. Stark was his dad's name. Why would Ned call him that?"
Peter made him mac and cheese for dinner, something his father never wanted him to eat but that Jarvis made sometimes when his parents were out of town. He scarfed it down, hungrier than he'd realized, then drank the gross medicine Peter gave him, complaining about the taste until Peter gave him a tiny sip of soda, something else he wasn't supposed to have. After brushing his teeth with the new toothbrush that Ned had bought him, he was yawning, but didn't want to go to bed in this strange house.
Peter let him stay up, turning on some movie about outer space, and the next thing Tony knew, he was in Peter's arms, and being laid down on a bed not nearly as soft as his own. A blanket was pulled up over him, tucked up to his neck, and a hand brushed his hair back. It was nice. Jarvis was usually the one to put him to bed, but when his mom did it, she would touch his hair like that too, and kiss his cheek.
When Tony woke from the nightmare about a man that could shoot light from his hands, he knew right off that something was wrong, and tears were streaming down his cheeks before he could stop them. His dad was going to be so mad! Hiding his face in his hands, he sobbed, trying to be as quiet as he could, but a weak light came from the bed above him, and Peter peered down at him with half-open eyes, the little phone in his hands lighting up the bottom bunk. "Mr. Sta...uh...Tony?" He refused to look up, curling up into an even smaller ball and soaking the knees of his pants with his tears.
The man hopped down then, landing without a sound and kneeling beside the bed. "What's the matter? Did you have a bad dream?" He reached out for him, but Tony stiffened and pulled away, not wanting Peter to see. His dad had spanked him the last time. He wasn't supposed to do this anymore! "Oh." Peter's voice had gone quiet, and then a hand touched his hair. "Hey, Tony...it's okay. I promise, it's okay. It's no big deal. Happens to everyone."
Tony shook his head. That wasn't true. Big boys didn't do this! Big boys…
"Tony, look at me." A hand slipped under his chin, turning his face to look at Peter. "It's okay. Why don't we get you changed? Come on. If we hurry, we can go back to sleep."
Without yelling...without saying a single mean thing, Peter led him to the bathroom, brought him a change of clothes, and dressed him in the new pants and shirt, this one with a spider on it. The shirt made Peter laugh a little, but Tony didn't ask why. He was waiting...waiting for Peter to yell or tell him that he was acting like a baby. Instead, Peter just knelt in front of him again, ruffling his curly hair. "It's okay. I promise."
"Dad...he gets really mad." Tony whispered it like it was a secret. Like talking about his father too loudly might summon him. Peter's face darkened for a moment, but then he was smiling again.
"Well, that's not very nice. You can't help it. Now come on. You want to sleep on the couch?" Tony hesitated, and Peter seemed to notice. "Or you can sleep on the top bunk with me?"
Tony slept on the top bunk, lifted there by Peter, and he wondered if he'd ever been so high. Curling up by the wall, he gripped Peter's shirt in his fist, and Peter threw an arm around him, giving him a quick smile before closing his eyes. When he thought Peter was probably asleep, Tony curled up a little closer, his head slowly migrating to Peter's arm.
He didn't seem to mind.
Breakfast was cereal, and then they were on a bus, Tony practically on Peter's lap. He'd never been on a bus before, and Peter kept an arm around him. "It's okay. It's just going to take us to someone who can help you."
Tony thought about asking for his mom and dad...but really...he didn't miss them. He was confused, and he was a little sad when he thought about them, but he didn't miss them like he thought he would. He missed...someone else. Things he couldn't remember. And he didn't want to leave Peter.
Peter was important. Why was Peter so important? His brain ran itself in circles as he tried to figure it out. Why did Peter seem so familiar?
They arrived in a busy part of the city, and Peter kept a firm hand on Tony's, leading him across the streets and down sidewalks until they reached a tall building with a huge front door. Hesitating for only a second, Peter stepped up to the door and knocked, giving Tony a hopeful smile. Tony, for his part, stared around at the busy sidewalk and stuck close to Peter, resting his head on Peter's leg. Peter would keep him safe. Peter was Spiderman.
Tony paused at that thought, blinking in confusion when the door opened to reveal a man even taller than Peter wearing a strange outfit. "Can I help you?"
Who was Spiderman? What did that mean?
"Hi. Uh...I'm...I'm Peter. This is Tony. Are you…I need some help. I'm looking for a wizard."
The man's name was Wong, and apparently he couldn't help them, but he led them into the building, shutting the door behind them and gesturing for them to sit on some pillows on the floor. Peter did, and without thinking, Tony climbed into his lap, getting the closeness while he could. This was another thought that confused him...it wasn't like Peter was going anywhere, but he didn't question it. Wong left for a moment, then returned with another man, this one tall with black and white hair who stared down at him with a furrowed brow. Tony gripped Peter's shirt, fighting the urge to hide his face in his shoulder. He was a big boy, he told himself. He wasn't scared of...well...whoever this was.
"Hi. I'm Peter Parker."
"Doctor Strange." The man sat across from them, still staring at him. "You're looking for a wizard?" He said this with a raised eyebrow. Tony flinched. His dad talked to people like that sometimes, and it usually made them nervous. But Peter just gave a weak laugh, shrugging a little.
"Yeah. Um...I'm...well, this is Tony." The man lifted his other eyebrow, not seeming too happy to be bothered. "Tony Stark."
This got his attention, and the man's head jerked toward Peter once more. "Tony Stark?"
"Yeah. We...I mean he was fighting a wizard...a bad wizard. And he shot a beam of light at me but Mr. Stark pushed me down and now…"
"So you must be Spiderman?"
Peter stiffened, the arm around him tightening before Tony felt him nod. "Yeah."
Spiderman. What was Spiderman?
"Well...it's a fairly simple thing to reverse. Although we will need to do some research on this rogue wizard." Doctor Strange said this to Wong who gave a quick nod before leaving the room. "I'll take him in here...we should have some clothes to fit him. We'll be right back." As soon as the doctor reached for Tony he scrambled back against Peter, shaking his head and throwing his arms around his neck.
He couldn't leave Peter he loved Peter! Peter was important!
Peter wrapped his arms around him, patting his back. "Hey, it's okay. This guy's going to help."
"No!" Tony screamed it, shrinking away and gripping Peter's shirt even more tightly. "No! Stay with you!"
"I'll be right in here, I promise!" Peter assured him, standing up and holding him. "Hey...Tony?" He stepped away from Doctor Strange who had retreated a little, and Tony chanced a look at him, not relinquishing his hold. "The doctor has to fix you. Okay? You're...you're sick, and he's just going to look at you really fast and then you can see me again. I promise."
Peter looked sad when he said that, and Tony hated it. He hated that Peter was sad, and he chanced letting one fist release the shirt to pat Peter's face. "Sad." He whispered. "You."
"I...I'll really miss you. I mean...I'll see you again. I promise. I'll be right in this room, waiting for you. But...I don't think it's going to be the same."
Tony didn't understand, but Peter just smiled then, still sad. "Go with Doctor Strange for one minute, and then you can see me again. Okay?"
Tony hesitated. "Can we have mac and cheese for lunch?"
Peter gave a quick laugh, wiping his eyes. "Yeah. You can have whatever you want for lunch."
Leaning forward, Tony wrapped his arms tightly around Peter's neck, hugging as hard as he could. "I love you."
"I love you too." Peter squeezed him, not seeming to want to let go either, but then he did, smiling with red eyes and handing him to Doctor Strange who carried him away.
"Peter?" He asked, voice thick with tears that he knew he couldn't stop.
"Peter's still going to be there." The doctor's voice wasn't nice, exactly, but it wasn't really mean. "You, sit here." He wrapped Tony in a blanket and sat him on a sofa, then took a few steps back.
And then everything went black.
When Tony opened his eyes, he came awake with a gasp, a hand flying to the scar of his arc reactor as he sat straight up. The memories hit him hard, one after the other in quick succession. That asshole had turned him into a toddler. He'd wet the fucking bed at Peter Parker's apartment. Peter had been hurt. Peter had taken care of him. Peter was important. Peter loved him.
He loved Peter.
"Peter?" he demanded, looking around the room only to find the tall man, Doctor Strange staring at him. "How long have I been out? Where's Peter?"
"Don't worry, Stark. Your ward is safe in the other room, as promised. If you'd like to…"
Without stopping to correct him or thank him, which he'd do later, Tony jumped up and grabbed the clothes, yanking them on then bursting out of the room.
Peter loved him Peter was important he loved Peter.
The kid sat on one of the pillows, staring down at the floor almost listlessly, but when he looked up and saw Tony, he jumped to his feet, hands up as if in surrender. "I'm so sorry...Mr. Stark...I swear I tried to call Happy but he didn't answer and I didn't have anyone else's number and I promise I'll never tell anyone and…" The boy only stopped talking when Tony reached him, hands dropping out of the way when Tony threw his arms around him, pulling him close like Peter had done for him so many times over the last fourteen or so hours. "Oh…" The kid froze, then hesitantly lifted his arms up to return the hug.
Peter loved him Peter was important he loved Peter.
"I love you, kid," he whispered. He'd known it for a long time. But now he had to say it. He loved Peter. This kid was important to him and he loved him and Tony didn't want to ever see that sad look on Peter's face again...that look that was so sure he wasn't actually loved by someone he cared so much about. Tony knew that look. He'd seen it in the mirror so many times as a kid. But he was going to break the cycle. For real this time.
Peter swallowed hard, and his voice broke a little when he answered. "Love you too. I'm glad you're okay."
"All thanks to you, buddy." There was a comfortable moment of silence, and then the memory of the needle and thread hit Tony anew, making him pull away a little. "Did you seriously sew yourself up? In your kitchen?" He didn't mean it to come out so harshly, but Peter only gave him a sheepish smile.
"Yeah...but it's fine. I swear...I do it all the time…" As if realizing he shouldn't have said that, Peter dropped his eyes and literally bit his own tongue.
Tony sighed, then pulled Peter back in for a hug. "Yeah, we're talking about that later."