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Time, Mystical Time (Cuttin' Me Open, Then Healin' Me Fine)

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If the ride to the city had been tense and foreboding, the ride back is anything but. 


Sure, the sky is dumping a fairly impressive amount of snow which makes the roads a pain to drive on (Tony skids at least three times), and there are a bunch of long lost memories bumping around in his head, reminding him of things he’d rather forget, and he feels a tremendous amount of guilt sitting on his chest for forgetting Peter, but he doesn’t care because the kid is safe and healthy and sitting next to him in the passenger seat. And yeah, the kid’s life might be a little worse for wear (okay, the kid’s life is actually really horrible), but Peter keeps looking over at him and grinning and frankly resembling a puppy, and Tony can’t help but feel that there is hope. 


He got his memories back. Others can get their memories back too. 


(A plan has been building in his head ever since he found Peter. A plan that involves Strange again, but sadly not in a way where Tony gets to punch the man in the face for messing with his kid.)


The kid talks his ear off the entire car ride, rushing from one topic (“And he shot organic webs, Mr. Stark. Right out of his wrists!”) to another (“It means String Theory is real! How cool is that?”) to yet another (“I’ve seen Happy a few times, but he didn’t recognize me.”). Tony doesn’t mind. Once upon a time, back when he was grouchy and very much not a kids person, he would have been annoyed, but now the words (which come in a rush, as if Peter feels he must get them all out at one time, lest he be interrupted or ignored) make him feel complete. 


He is complete now; he is whole. He knows what’s missing, knows who exactly the shadow is who’s been haunting his dreams. He’s found the last piece of the puzzle. 


The last piece is Peter, fitting perfectly in the middle of his heart to complete it. 


Peter, the poor kid who has spent the last two and a half months alone, with no one for company other than himself. Tony knows what that’s like, to have no one but yourself. Only the times he’s felt like that, it has been voluntary. He’s always had people around, people who loved him, even when he pushed them away. He’s never been truly alone, he’s only felt that way because he chose to ignore those who were reaching out. He can’t imagine literally having no one to talk to, to hug, to simply exist around. 


The thought of what his kid has gone through over the past months breaks his heart. 


Never again, he vows. Not now that he has his memories back. Not now that he remembers. 


Ignorance had not been bliss. It had been agony. But he remembers now, and he is better for it. 


At some point during the drive, the snow stops falling and the forested road he’s driving along starts to look familiar. They’re almost home. 


The cabin is about three minutes away when “Back in Black” comes on. He reaches out a hand to crank up the volume, and next to him, Peter perks up in his seat, eyes lighting up. 


“Hey, it’s Led Zeppelin,” he says enthusiastically, and just the complete surety in his remark alone has Tony almost doubling over with laughter. “What?” Peter asks, and Tony can’t tell if he’s just acting innocent or if he genuinely has no idea. A look to the side reveals a face that genuinely looks like it has no idea. Alrighty then. 


“Kid,” he starts, the laughter gone instantly, replaced by a faux frown, “please tell me you know that’s not Led Zeppelin.” 


Peter frowns. “It’s not?” 


One hand leaves the steering wheel to clutch Tony’s chest in fake shock. “You wound me.” He makes a gasping noise for dramatic effect. Peter just rolls his eyes.  


“So, it’s not Led Zeppelin?”


“Goodness, Pete, no it’s not. ACDC—‘Back in Black.’ The best album mankind has produced. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it. I thought you claimed to be a man of culture.” Peter has, on more than once occasion, claimed himself as such. 


Peter scoffs. “Yeah, for like, memes and stuff. Not eighties songs. They all kind of blur together eventually.”

Tony shakes his head. “I am affronted. Eighties songs speak to the soul. They are a work of art.” 


Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Peter squish up his nose in a look of distaste. “If you say so, Mr. Stark.”

“Oh, I do.”


The rest of the (albeit short) trip is spent in a heated debate as to what the definition of “art” is and how eighties songs do or do not fit the category. Peter is in the middle of a rant about how “just because someone can make cool noises with their mouths doesn’t make it art” (which Tony knows is definitely a defense about him getting called out over the Led Zeppelin comment because he has definitely seen the kid jamming out to eighties songs before) when the cabin comes into view in all of it’s small glory. 


Here is the place where he found peace for the first time, where he married the woman he loved, where he raised his girl, where he’s bringing home another kid. It’s only some logs and some furniture, but it represents his heart.


Peter trails off in the middle of his argument as Tony parks the car. He looks over at the kid, expecting to see a look of delight, or maybe one of those smiles he’d been flashing during the trip here, but to his surprise, Peter has slunk back into his seat, teeth gnawing at his lip. 


“Welcome home, kiddo,” Tony says, trying to coax a smile out of the boy. Peter only turns his head to deliberately avoid Tony’s gaze. 


“Hey,” Tony reaches out a hand hesitantly, hovering it in midair for a second before dropping it down to rest on Peter’s shoulder, “you okay there, bud? Talk to me.” For a moment he fears that he’s made a mistake bringing Peter back to the cabin so soon. Maybe he should have waited a few more days. Last night had to be shocking enough, and after all the kid’s gone through, he isn’t sure if more change is a healthy thing, even if it's a good change. 


Peter shifts under his grip, turning to look at him, and he can see anxiousness in Peter’s eyes, but there’s hope there as well, and that warms his heart a little. 


“What’s Pepper going to think?” Peter asks. And, oh, there’s the issue. At least this is something fixable. “She wasn’t exactly thrilled to see me a couple days ago. I don’t think she’s going to be very happy about you bringing me back to your house. And, well, it’s not that I don’t want to be here, Mr. Stark because I do. Really, this is more than I ever thought I was going to get again, but it’s just so hard to look at them”—he doesn’t clarify who “them” is, but Tony has a good idea who Peter’s referring to—“when they don’t remember me. It only drives home the fact that… they don’t know me.” Tony can see Peter’s hands clench into tight fists at his side. “I hate it,” he adds after a momentary pause, almost like a footnote, a thought that had somehow slipped out and been spoken aloud. Not for the first time that day, Tony’s heart breaks for this brave, selfless kid who has given so much and received so little. 


“Well, first things first, Pete. Pep and I had a nice little talk after you left, and she told me to go do what I felt I needed to. What I felt was right. And this, Peter,” he slings an arm around Peter’s shoulders, a bit of an awkward arrangement seeing as they’re both still in the car, but he can see Peter relax, “this feels like the right thing. In fact, it was the right thing. I’m so glad I remember you, kid, and I want this to feel like coming home, so don’t mind what Pepper says or thinks. She’ll come around, and she’ll love you as much as I do.” 


And if she doesn’t, I’ll talk to her.


This is the most he’s shared of his soul in a while, even to Pepper, and while he’s usually not one for dramatic speeches or just emotions in general (emotions are a nuisance and generally tend to wreak havoc in his life, 10/10 doesn’t recommend), but Peter has lived the past two months of his life with nothing kind or loving said to him, and if the only way Tony can remede that is by sharing a bit of his heart, then so be it. This kid makes him do things he wouldn’t do normally (in a good way). 


Peter leans so his forehead is resting on Tony’s shoulder, and he can feel the reassuring pulse point against his arm. A sign that Peter is alive and breathing, that Tony still has time to make up for the two lost months, really the whole year he’s lost with his kid. It makes him breathe a little easier. “Thank you,” Peter whispers, the words muffled by Tony’s shirt, but crystal clear all the same. Tony knows the thank you is for everything that has been said between them, and all the things that are still unsaid but known all the same. In response, he presses a kiss to Peter’s head, nose hidden amongst the curls that are starting to grow out. 


“I’m glad you’re here, Pete,” he says, as they break apart, Peter leaning back into his seat and blinking his eyes a little too fast to be casual. Tony dutifully ignores it. “And I know how hard it’s got to be for you, with everyone thinking you’re a stranger. God knows I would go insane. So I understand if you don’t want to do this. I can drive you back if you want me to.”

Peter shakes his head, and Tony watches as the confidence floods back into his face, persistence lighting up in his eyes. “No,” he says, “I want to stay here, let’s do it.” 


Tony smiles, the kind of smile that only Peter or Morgan can bring out of him, the one that breaks out on his face when he’s proud of his kids. “Alright then, kiddo.” He waves a hand toward the front door of the cabin. “Welcome home.”