Peter had run over by now and was fluttering his hands around in front of Tony, but Tony couldn’t focus on the kid’s panicked words, no, he was staring at his number.
Or more importantly, the lack of one.
His worst fear had come true, he hadn’t been enough to stop it this time.
Peter was dead.
Tony couldn’t process it at first. As ancient as he was he had never faced this situation before. He had always just handled mass killings and complete strangers. He judged them for their lives, but it was all done with perfect detachment. Never had he talked to them before they died, never interacted with them on any level other than their passing.
He felt something in his newly mortal chest clench at the thought of this bright young, god so young, kid dying like this, alone in an abandoned building by some unknown enemy.
It shouldn’t be an issue! How many had he helped pass over, some even younger then Peter and he had never hesitated, just done his job and moved on. He had only met the kid recently, how could he already be this terrifyingly attached?
It seemed tonight was full of firsts for him.
He startled a little as Peter’s hand brushed his shoulder causing the other to flinch back in surprise as well. It seemed that even if he couldn’t make himself incorporeal that he still resided at least partially on the same plane as the dead.
“Tony? Tony are you okay, some of these look pretty bad. Can you heal yourself? I mean I probably can’t call an ambulance but if there is anything I can do to help then just tell me what to do.”
He had to tell him.
He didn’t know he was dead yet.
He had to tell him.
“I’m fine kid just some unforeseen difficulties, but Peter listen.”
The kid was looking at him so openly, god how was he supposed to tell this kid it was over.
“Peter, thing is, god kid I’m sorry. Listen, Peter...you- you didn’t survive the explosion buddy. I know you probably feel fine, but kid, your body is still under everything over there. I-I’m sorry Pete. I wasn’t fast enough.”
Peter just stared at him for a moment looking a little blank and Tony knew what was coming. Could already feel his chest tightening.
“I- I’m dead?”
The boy’s voice cracked a little on that last word.
“But, but I can’t be dead. No, that doesn’t make sense! I mean I feel fine, I look fine and I- I touched you!”
“Oh god Aunt May. She, she’ll never know what happened, she’ll never know why!”
Tears had begun to stream down the boy’s face and Tony could feel his own eyes moistening as this child, for that’s what he really was wasn’t he, slowly broke apart. The Merchant of Death shedding tears for a mortal, who’d have ever thought.
Then finally the words Tony dreaded the most.
“Wait! Wait you’re the Merchant of Death! Tony you could bring me back to life right? You said you had that kind of power, so you could do it right? ...Tony?”
Confused by the other’s sudden change in tone Tony was startled to find there were tears beginning to trickle down his face and he closed his eyes if only to block out that hopeful expression on the kid’s face.
“Pete I-, Peter when the building came down I was fully on this plane of existence. I- Pete I’m mortal. I can’t reach the other plane, my powers are keeping me alive until I heal, but that’s all they can do. I’m just a stupid, useless mortal right now.”
Tony spit the last part as he felt it all finally come crashing down. He was useless like this! All his ancient power and he couldn’t save the life of a single kid!
He couldn’t save his only friend.
“What do you mean you’re mortal? That can happen? And what do you mean they are keeping you alive, can you die?”
It seemed that Tony’s predicament had somehow distracted the kid from his own and Peter was now panicking over him. This kid was too good for this world or any other. Forcing himself back under control Tony gave the kid a small smile and winced when that pulled on a cut on his cheek.
“No one’s truly immortal kid, usually if I get hurt I just shift myself back to the other plane real quick or that happens automatically if I “die” while only partially on this plane, but I got sloppy kid, let my guard down.”
Tony sighed a little and looked down Peter’s feet that weren’t fully touching the ground.
“To really interact with this plane, I have to be on it entirely, no splitting the difference like I usually do when I come to this plane for a job. It’s how I can eat or feel temperature or...or push someone out of the way of an attack.”
He finished with a slight wince, a lot of good it had done. Peter might not have been hit directly, but he still hadn’t survived.
Tony risked a glance up at the kid who looked devastated for an entirely new reason.
“Wait you mean if you hadn’t tried to save me, you wouldn’t be hurt? You wouldn’t have almost died!”
Tony had set his face in a hard mask now, staring down the boy who looked ready to cry again.
“You’re my friend kid. I don’t regret what I did, and I would do it again, the only thing I regret is that I still didn’t save you and that I’m too weak to fix it.”
“It’s all right Tony, I’m glad I’m not alone at least.”
Tony felt his newly mortal heart shatter and suddenly he was angry.
“No, you know what? It’s not alright Pete! There has got to be some way I can fix this. I’m nearly a god for Hel’s sake!”
Peter seemed a little surprised at his friend’s sudden mood swing, but it distracted him from his current dark thoughts, so he was willing to follow this new conversation. Plus, Peter had always loved solving the seemingly impossible.
“But you said you were mortal and that all your power was focusing on healing you.”
Tony nodded, blinking hard as that made his vision blur a little, gods being mortal was annoying.
“I am yeah, and my power is healing me, but that means my power is still there and well, powerful, it’s just been diverted. So! I have to go back to the basics here now kid. Okay so, after a human dies it’s not always immediate, that’s why you’re here because you are tethered to your body still. You haven’t been here long enough yet to be trapped on this plane because you haven’t started fading yet, you are still basically opaque which is good!”
Peter was a little lost, but the older man was on a roll now, so he just nodded. Plus, if his rants to Ned had taught him anything any questions asked during this rant were rhetorical and just a way to organize his thoughts.
“Okay so if you are still tied to your body then by all technicality you can be put back in it and healed back to your young healthy self without your body having too much of a chance to start decaying or becoming too detached from you to accept you back in.”
“But you said you don’t have your power.”
“No Peter we covered this! My powers are still there they are just diverted to another task, which means if I force it back on task it should still work as normal.”
Peter shook his head.
“But aren’t they keeping you alive? I mean I’m not a doctor Tony, but your injuries are pretty serious. Would it be safe to mess with the healing?”
Tony looked exasperated at his comment.
“Who cares if it’s safe kid we might have a shot at bringing you back!”
“Well I care! What good is it if you bring me back but kill yourself in the process?”
Tony shook his head again, slightly slower this time.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, plus come on kid I’m made of heartier stuff then that! Now where is your body? I need to see how bad it is to see if this is even possible.”
Peter looked worried, but slowly made his way over to a pile of debris.
“I’m pretty sure I’m under there.”
Tony nodded grimly before bending down and beginning to shift debris away from the spot. Peter tried to help, but his hand just passed through causing him to stare at it in morbid fascination.
It took longer than Tony wanted it to, he quickly found out that his right arm was basically useless, and his side hurt if he bent and his vision would black out if he stood up too fast, but eventually he had cleared enough to pull the kid’s body out from under it.
It was surprisingly clean thanks to a lucky beam that had taken the weight of the debris. There were places stained with blood and his one wrist was bent at a very incorrect angle, but it was obvious what had been the killing blow. One side of his head was covered in blood and seemed almost dented inwards.
Peter noticed with a detached feeling that it was actually quite surreal to look at one's own body and not feel any of the pain from it.
Meanwhile Tony had dragged the body completely free and had carefully arranged it on a flatter patch of concrete pieces panting a little from the effort.
“This is a clean death Pete, I think I can actually fix this!”
Peter was pulled from his musings by the excitement in the other’s voice. Glancing up he saw Tony grinning madly as he prodded at the head wound on his body.
“For real? You think it’s possible?”
Peter asked breathlessly as he came to stand closer careful to avoid looking at the body too hard. Next to him Tony’s grin became almost ferral.
“Well only one way to find out! Stand still kid this is probably gonna hurt a bit.”
Before Peter could say anything, Tony reached out and pressed the base of his palm against Peter’s forehead and gripped his head as he mirrored the movement with his other hand on Peter’s body.
Closing his eyes Tony scrunched his face in concentration and dug deep for the core of his powers, feeling it flowing away from his center to all of his injuries.
Well here goes nothing, he thought to himself before giving those lines a harsh tug and forcing them all to redirect to his hands. His body felt like it was burning as he forced his power through his fingertips and into both Peter and his body.
It was like nothing he had ever felt before. He was fully connected to Peter and grounded to this plane by the kid’s corpse. Peter began to shudder beneath his touch and he could vaguely hear the kid screaming as he forcefully drew the kid’s spirit into him, absorbing the spirit and turning it into raw energy sending it straight through his core before pushing it through the hand touching the body.
He felt the moment the kid’s spirit was back in its body and despite the fact his entire being was screaming out in pain he knew he needed to work fast.
Lowering his other hand he kept his injured arm laying on the kid’s head as his other hand found its place above the kids center and he pushed more and more energy through his fingers into the body as he slowly knitted together skin and bone and muscle and finally he sent one last push of pure energy into the kid and felt him his lunges lurch to life as his spirit was slotted fully back into its mortal shell.
And even as darkness closed around Tony and he heard the kid yell his name Tony could feel the smile stretched across his face because he had done it. Peter was alive.
And Tony knew no more.
Everything came back slowly in waves of pain, each from seemingly a different part of his body. Which was weird right? He shouldn’t be feeling pain. Annoyed Tony tried to shift himself out of this plane but was met with a weak spluttering from his power and a warning pulse from his injuries.
He must have made a sound because there was suddenly a rush of movement somewhere to his right and a worried voice right next to him.
“Tony? Tony talk to me! Come on Tony you’re really scaring me cause you aren’t healing and you’re not human so I don’t know what to do! Should I call someone? What can I do! Tony please open your eyes.”
Oh ya, the kid had died, and Tony had brought him back. Go him!
With a small grunt of pain Tony managed to shift his head and open his eyes allowing Peter’s terrified face to swim into view.
“Oh, thank god, Tony what am I supposed to do? I used my webbing to stop the bleeding, but it’s still bad. You are basically mortal right now right, so could I take you to a hospital?”
Tony took a moment to think that over, but eventually shook his head slightly.
“Still not really human kid.”
Wow he sounded terrible, no wonder the kid looked worried.
Peter meanwhile was chewing on his lip in a somewhat frantic manner as his eyes darted around. Tony could vaguely hear the sound of those human law enforcers, they probably were finally responding to an entire building coming down. Little late in Tony’s opinion.
Peter was suddenly touching him, and he focused back to what the other was saying.
“Okay, okay we can’t stay here. Tony listen I know it’s gonna hurt, but we gotta move okay? I’m gonna lift you up and we can lay low for a minute while I figure out what to do.”
Tony sighed already knowing this was going to be rough but nodded in consent. He was even managed to hold in the scream when the kid got him upright. Panting from just that action alone Tony managed to keep his feet under him as Peter helped him stumble his way out of the rubble and down an abandoned street.
Tony actually managed to keep it together a lot longer than he thought he would before his right leg suddenly buckled nearly sending them both to the pavement. Cursing quietly Peter managed to pull him to the side where a park bench made up a sad bus stop.
After he was seated, and Tony had ducked his head to simply focus on taking short breaths to see if breathing was something that would help his head stop pounding, Peter started pacing off to the side.
Finally, he made the decision to do what he did any other time he had a problem he didn’t know how to solve, he called Ned.
Came his friendly groggy voice from the other end of the line.
“Ned! Ned listen it's an emergency, I don’t know what to do!”
Ned, thank god, must have heard the urgency in his voice and realized what time it was because he immediately replied.
“Oh man what’s wrong? Is this a Spiderman kind of emergency? Do I need to call the cops or something?”
“No! No cops, but yes this is a Spiderman emergency. Listen Ned I have someone here with me, remember that guy I was telling you about? The not quite human guy who is actually really cool and I hung out with sometimes?”
“Well something really bad happened tonight and now he’s really hurt, and I don’t know where to take him cause he’s not human Ned! I can’t take him to a hospital, but I need to do something because he’s really hurt, and he can’t heal himself and I- I don’t know anything about this kind of stuff. I mean I’ve read about it, but I don’t know how to actually do it and I don't have any supplies!”
Peter broke off and tried to calm down a little. He didn’t have time to panic he needed to do something to help Tony.
“Pete, I don’t know, I mean could you take him to a super? Like is there any other superheroes you could ask for help?”
“Ned I’m just a friendly neighborhood Spiderman! I don’t have any of other heroes on speed dial or anything!”
Ned was quiet for a second before coming back cautiously.
“I mean there is an obvious answer here, it’s not a great option, but like if you're careful you can make it work and even then, it’s gonna be bad, but not like catastrophic and adults know this kind of stuff so I mean it’s better than you just doing it yourself-”
“Who can I call Ned just say it!”
“You can call Aunt May.”