Tony wakes up. He blinks around at the well-lit room around him—soft blue walls, clean sheets on his bed. There’s medical equipment around him, beeping steadily with his heartbeat.
He isn’t worried, but he is confused.
He has no idea where he is.
A hospital, he thinks, but he doesn’t know how he knows that.
Actually, the more he thinks, the more he realizes that he doesn’t know... anything.
His name is Tony. He’s in a hospital room. There’s a dull ache building at the back of his head.
That’s it. He closes his eyes and concentrates, tries to remember how he got here, but there’s nothing before he opened his eyes.
Tony jerks his eyes open, looks at the dark-haired woman suddenly standing in front of his bed.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” she replies, smiling a little. “I’m Dr. Helen Cho.”
Tony tries to think if the name is familiar. Or if it should be familiar. It isn’t, so he says, “Nice to meet you.”
Dr. Cho hums. “Yes. About that. I suspected based on the MRI results from this morning, but this confirms it. Tony, you have full retrograde amnesia. It is temporary. We’re finding a solution.”
Tony frowns. “How do you already know it’s temporary if I’ve just woken up?”
Dr. Cho doesn’t seem surprised by his blunt question. In fact, her little smile grows just a bit.
“The cause of your amnesia is not from blunt force trauma or a deterioration in the hippocampus, but another source that I feel is best not to disclose at this time. I’ve consulted another doctor with your case and he assures me that there is a solution that will fully restore your memories, it will just take a few days to take effect.”
“That sounds suspicious as heck, but I guess I’ll take your word for it, Doc. You seem like you know what you’re talking about.”
“I do. That’s why you hired me,” Helen says simply. That’s news to Tony. He thinks about his response for a moment.
“And the other doctor. I hired them, too?”
“Dr. Strange is a... colleague of yours. He wanted to help.” Tony raises an eyebrow, a retort on the tip of his tongue, but Cho keeps speaking. “Would you like to see your family now, Tony?”
Tony freezes. He... he has a family? Are they worried about him? Do they know he has amnesia... that he can’t remember them?
What if they get mad that he can’t remember them?
His mouth is suddenly dry. He swallows hard.
“Do they know?” He whispers.
“I’ll warn them before they come in,” Helen assures him. When Tony continues to stare at the door with wide eyes, she adds, “They’re very worried about you, Tony. They’d like to see you.”
“Right. Ok. Umm... bring them in, I guess.”
Helen leaves. Tony tugs at the blanket over his lap, his stomach fluttering with nerves as he waits for someone else to show up. He has no idea who to expect.
Does he have a spouse? Are his parents alive? Siblings, maybe? None of those feel right, but does that mean anything?
The door opens again and Tony’s jaw drops a little bit.
The woman walking toward him is easily the most beautiful person he has ever seen. Her long strawberry blonde hair falls over her shoulders, her blue eyes wide as she hurries over to him.
“Tony,” she murmurs, sitting on the edge of his bed. She puts one hand on the side of his face, worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth.
“Umm,” he breathes intelligently. “Hey.”
The woman smiles a bit, her eyes filling with tears. The sight makes something in Tony’s gut clench, icy dread shooting through his veins.
He sits up a bit, presses his hand over hers.
“Don’t cry,” he says without thinking. “Please don’t cry.”
Her face softens. She rubs her thumb along Tony’s cheek.
“Hi, Tony,” she whispers. “I’m Pepper.”
“Pepper,” he repeats quietly, hoping that it will feel familiar in his mouth. It doesn’t. “That’s a nice name,” he offers, smiling a little.
Pepper laughs, a soft exhale of breath. Tony likes the way her nose scrunches up when she does it.
“Thank you.” They sit for another moment, hands still overlapping. Tony looks at her intently, hoping that if he looks hard enough he’ll remember something about her.
Finally, he has to ask. “And you’re my...?”
Her smile is a little sadder this time. “I’m your fiancée.”
Tony gapes at her for a second. “Holy crap.”
Pepper laughs again, an actual laugh that makes Tony smile just from hearing it.
His breath catches in his throat when she leans forward and kisses his cheek. His heartbeat pounds in his ears, his stomach swarming with butterflies.
“Even with amnesia, you’re still my Tony,” Pepper says like it’s the greatest compliment in the world.
He smiles at her, a dopey grin that makes her laugh again. It’s officially his new goal in life to make her laugh as much as possible.
Although he wants her to stay, after a few minutes, he can’t help but wonder if there’s anyone else out in the hall, anxiously waiting for their chance to talk to him.
“Is... Dr. Cho said ‘they,’” Tony starts out haltingly. “Are there... more people?”
“Of course,” Pepper assures him. “I’ll go get him.”
Without any explanation as to who ‘him’ is, Pepper kisses his cheek one more time and leaves. He watches her go, his nerves mounting again. He half hopes she’ll come back with the next person. Her presence is starting to feel familiar and comforting—like his body is remembering her before his brain is.
To Tony’s surprise, the next person that walks in is a kid.
He’s scrawny and a little short, and could be anywhere between thirteen and sixteen. His brown hair curls over his ears, his forehead.
When he saw Pepper for the first time, she had felt like a total stranger. But as soon as he sees the kid, something in him seems to perk up, a voice in his head repeating I know him. I know him. How do I know him?
Tony sits up in his bed, watching the boy with furrowed eyebrows. Why does this kid seem so familiar?
And then their eyes meet.
The boy’s eyes are a warm brown. Tony doesn’t know how he knows, but immediately he thinks ‘just like mine.’
Tony’s heart skips a beat. His breath catches in his lungs.
Oh my gosh.
That’s my son.
The thought comes with the quiet certainty of fact. And then there’s a rush of emotion so intense Tony is dizzy with it. A sense of awe fills him at the thought that this living, breathing person is Tony’s kid, and with it an innate need to protect him from anything that could possibly hurt him.
The boy stops at the foot of the bed. Tony can see now that his eyes are red from crying, and it feels like being punched in the stomach, an immediate cry of fix it resounding in Tony’s mind.
“Come here,” Tony says, numbly patting the bed where Pepper had sat before. The kid hesitantly settles himself next to Tony, their legs brushing through the thin blanket.
Tony swallows hard, tries to take in everything about his son’s face. He’s beautiful, really, and he knows most fathers say that about their newborns, but this is Tony’s first time meeting his kid and he’s shaking and scared and already so completely in love with this kid that he doesn’t even know.
He raises a hand to the boy’s cheek, just like Pepper had done to him. His eyebrows beetle as he looks at Tony, an almost pleading expression on his face.
“What’s your name?” Tony whispers, hating himself for having to ask.
Tony can almost hear the sob his son chokes back.
“I’m sorry, Peter.”
“For being such a terrible father that I forgot my own son,” Tony explains.
To his surprise, Peter freezes. Maybe he had hoped that Tony hadn’t truly forgotten him, had still remembered who he was even if he couldn’t remember his name, only to be disappointed.
Tony almost apologizes again, but Peter stops him by slumping forward and hugging Tony around the middle.
“It’s not your fault,” Peter assures him, his voice breaking.
Tony wraps his arms around Peter’s shoulders, buries his nose in the kid’s hair. It’s comforting, if not familiar, and Tony is content to sit there for a long time.
Pepper comes back with Dr. Cho and two other men who introduce themselves as Rhodey and Happy. Tony makes a face at their weird names and they both laugh. Peter is still tucked into his side and Tony is happy to keep him there, combing fingers through his curly hair. He wonders for the first time who Peter’s mom is. She must have curly hair just like Peter’s, he thinks.
To his surprise, Cho says that he’s free to leave. He’s even more surprised to learn that this isn’t actually a hospital at all, but a medbay in a tower that he owns and lives in.
“Am I rich?” he asks at that, and everyone laughs so hard they cry, which Tony doesn’t understand at all.
Pepper and Peter lead him to the elevator after he’s changed out of the hospital gown.
“FRIDAY, take us to the penthouse,” Pepper asks politely.
“Of course, Miss Potts,” a woman’s voice answers. Tony jumps and looks at the ceiling where the voice came from.
“That’s your AI, FRIDAY. You made her,” Peter explains.
“An AI?” Tony asks, his eyes alight in curiosity. “And she runs the tower?”
“And a load of other things.”
“That’s amazing,” Tony says, grinning. Peter and Pepper both smile back at him.
“Wait until I show you your lab,” Peter promises.
The day speeds by to Tony. After Peter shows him around the lab, which had Tony feeling like a kid in a candy store, they mess around for a couple hours, Peter’s jaw drops and his eyes go huge as he realizes something.
“What?” Tony asks, self-conscious. As fun as the day has been, Tony’s amnesia is a stumbling block in most of their conversations, a handicap they have to work around.
“You’ve never seen Star Wars,” Peter gasps.
“Umm... no,” Tony agrees, because he definitely doesn’t remember ever seeing it.
Peter grabs his wrist and doesn’t even wait for Tony to put his tools down before starting to drag him from the room. “Come on. The only thing better than watching Star Wars for the first time is watching someone watch it for the first time.”
“That good, huh?” Tony asks, laughing, letting his kid tow him along.
Peter stops dead and stares at him. “They’re the best movies in the world.” Then he keeps pulling him along.
And so he spends the evening sprawled on the couch with Peter and Pepper, eating pizza and watching Star Wars and Tony thinks maybe he doesn’t need his memories back if this can be his life from now on.
When Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke’s father, Tony is appropriately shocked.
“He just cut off his son’s hand?” Tony asks, outraged. Peter nods against his shoulder, seeming pleased with Tony’s reaction. Tony uses a finger to tip Peter’s chin back so they’re looking at each other.
“I promise, even if I go dark side, I will never cut off your hand, ok, baby?” Tony tells Peter in faux-seriousness.
“Good to know,” Peter laughs, tucking himself closer to Tony’s side. Pepper, on his other side, is watching them, and when Tony looks over at her she doesn’t clear the confusion off her face quite fast enough.
He wonders if maybe he and Peter don’t usually act like this, if maybe Peter is just relieved that he’s ok and is humoring his more tactile tendencies.
He thinks maybe he should be more concerned about the fact that he can’t remember the previous years of his life, but there’s something... freeing about it. He can just exist, in this moment, with his fiancée and his son, with no recollection of any past tension or grief or worries.
He isn’t sure why, but he has the terrible suspicion that a lot of his memories are not good ones.
That night he dreams of monsters and flying and fathomless space spread out before him. Someone is screaming, and it’s him and Pepper and Peter all at the same time.
He wakes breathless, the void of his past a welcome reprieve.
The thing he finds weird, he decides as he wanders around the penthouse the next day while Peter’s still asleep and Pepper’s at meetings, is that there are no pictures of Peter as a child.
There are plenty of recent pictures, where Peter looks the same as he does now, and Tony’s in many of them, but if the kid was his son, wouldn’t he have baby pictures around? The kid with a trophy of some kind, a Christmas, a birthday?
Maybe they were estranged for a long time?
The thought that Tony could have had a son and not been allowed near him makes him sick.
There are no pictures of anyone that could be his parents either. He gets a sinking feeling he knows why.
He almost asks FRIDAY, which is still the coolest thing he’s ever heard of, but he doesn’t. He has a hard time admitting to himself it’s because he doesn’t want to know.
When Peter is finally up and dressed, he comes to Tony with a grin on his face.
“I have a surprise for you,” Peter says.
“Kid, I have no memories, everything is a surprise.”
Peter laughs and takes Tony by the wrist, leading him to the elevator. They go down past the labs, but stop before the Medbay. Tony waits for the doors to open with baited breath.
The room Peter leads him into covers the entire floor, and is lined on every wall with gleaming metal statues in shades of red and gold.
“Woah,” Tony breathes, stepping out and turning slowly so he can see more. “What are these?”
“These are your babies,” Peter says simply.
Tony arches an eyebrow at him. “You’re my baby. These are... awesome.”
Peter rolls his eyes, but he seems to be blushing a little, which Tony again finds odd. He was just stating a fact, what was there to be embarrassed about?
“You know what I meant,” Peter says.
“I... I made these?” Tony asks. Peter had told him that he’s a world-class genius and a mechanic, but it’s hard to believe when he has no memories of being either of those things.
“Every one.” Peter sounds proud, and Tony preens a little internally. His son is proud of him. It’s a good feeling.
“What are they for?”
“Brace yourself,” Peter warns, smiling. Tony waits. “Along with being a genius and a billionaire, you’re also a superhero. Called Iron Man. These are your suits.”
Tony looks again at the suits, walking slowly around the room and taking in each one.
“I... I’m a superhero?”
“You’ve saved the world a few times,” Peter admits, tipping his head against Tony’s shoulder as they stand together, looking at a clunkier model of the suit. The plaque under it reads “Mark III.”
“Wow,” Tony breathes. And then he notices the one suit different from all the rest—instead of a robotic suit of armor, it’s more form-fitting, metallic red and blue with a spider emblem on its chest. He walks toward it. “Is this mine, too?” He asks, confused.
“No, that’s actually... that one’s mine,” Peter tells him. “I’m a superhero, too.”
Tony whips around to look at Peter. “I let you fight supervillains?” he asks, suddenly appalled at his own parenting.
Peter shrugs. “You tried to stop me. It didn’t work. So now you protect me, instead. You made this for me.”
“Are you... is it just the suit? Like me? Or do you...?” He doesn’t really know how to ask his kid if he has superpowers, so he trails off awkwardly. Luckily, Peter gets what he was trying to say.
“Want to find out?” he asks, grinning slyly.
If Pepper were home she definitely would have stopped them. But turns out Tony’s decision making is very easily swayed when Peter’s enthusiastic and excitable, and before he knows it, he’s suited up in one of the Iron Man suits, Peter’s in his Spider-Man suit, and they’re both exiting the tower from the balcony on the 98th floor.
Tony nearly falls to his death the second he takes off, but FRIDAY helps, and Peter gives him pointers as he swings along next to him, and soon he’s flying like it’s second nature. And maybe it is, to him, buried in his muscles, so deep that even amnesia can’t make him forget it.
He and Peter explore New York from the air, laughing and whooping as they go, and Peter shows him what he can do: the strength, the wall-climbing, all of it. Finally, breathless, they both sit on the edge of the roof of a skyscraper, their feet dangling hundreds of feet above the pavement.
Gosh, how could he ever forget this? This life, this amazing family, this job.
Or maybe his life wasn’t actually like this. Maybe he didn’t spend his days flying around the greatest city in the world with his son at his side, happy and carefree. But the possibility of it is there now—he’s gotten a taste of it and wants more. Even when Dr. Cho’s miraculous solution comes through, he can’t imagine he’ll ever choose to go back to what he was before.
Peter’s rambling next to him, talking about a time when the two of them had stopped a bank robbery together. He sounds a little wistful. For the first time, Tony feels guilty about not remembering.
“This must be hard for you,” Tony says when Peter pauses.
Peter looks at him. He’s taken off his mask, figuring they’re so high up no one can see his face. He shrugs, bouncing his heels against the concrete below him.
“I... I know I don’t... know you super well right now. I can’t remember when your birthday is, or your favorite food, or what you like to do.”
He stops and takes a breath, before reaching out and turning Peter’s face toward him. The kid’s eyes are wide, and there’s something sad about them that makes Tony’s heart break.
“But I know I love you. I just look at you and there’s this weight in my chest and I just know that I love you so much.”
To his dismay, Peter’s eyes fill with tears.
“Oh, jeez,” Tony says, hastily moving to wipe the tears away as they fall. “Do I not tell you that enough or something, Pete?”
“No, no, I just... I love you, Dad,” Peter whispers, and there’s something in his voice that Tony doesn’t understand, something guilty and sad and afraid.
“I-I’ll get my memories back soon,” he promises, hoping that will fix it.
“I know,” Peter says. He smiles sadly, then yanks on his mask and stands, leaping without hesitation off the building. Confused and a little hurt, Tony follows.
As they make their way home, all Tony can think about is how Peter’s voice broke when he called him Dad.
In his dream, Tony is holding Peter in his arms, cradled to his chest, looking down at his son’s face.
Peter’s crying. Tony’s crying, too.
He watches his son slowly turn to dust, and at the same rate, his heart shatters into pieces.
The fragments coat his hands.
Tony wakes up and can’t breathe.
Whatever sick joke his imagination is playing on him, he isn’t having it. He stands from his bed and tiptoes down the hall. With a little help from FRIDAY, he finds Peter’s room and slips inside.
He can hear the kid breathing and is instantly soothed as if it's a lullaby.
Did Tony sing lullabies to Peter when he was a baby? He wonders what his favorites were, which ones Peter would babble to, which would calm him down when he was crying.
Tony steps forward and crawls into his kid’s bed.
Peter stirs next to him, the shift in the mattress alerting him to Tony’s presence. “M—Dad?” Peter asks groggily.
“Hi, baby. Sorry I woke you,” Tony whispers.
“Nothing,” Tony assures. The fear of the dream is behind him, the details slipping away. It wasn’t real, obviously. Peter’s here, warm and sleepy, and not ash on his hands. “I had a weird dream, is all.”
Peter blinks himself into alertness. “What happened in it?”
“It doesn’t matter, it was just a dream.”
“Dr. Strange said to tell him if you access your memories in your dreams. I need to know,” Peter insists, sitting up.
“Well, I know it wasn’t a memory, cause you died in this dream, alright? And clearly, you’re not dead, so not real,” Tony says, propped up on his elbows.
Peter’s face goes pale, then he sighs. He lays back down, resting his head on Tony’s chest and getting him to lay down in the process.
“You were holding me,” Peter says quietly. “And I started turning to dust in your arms.”
“How—” Tony starts, but Peter interrupts.
“That really happened. I... I died.”
“Oh my gosh,” Tony breathes, horrified, wrapping his arms tight around his kid. He remembers the dream more vividly, all of a sudden, remembers the horrible red dirt and the pain in his chest and the absolute, desolate grief. “Oh my gosh.” There are tears in his eyes.
“It’s ok,” Peter whispers. He curls into Tony’s side like he was made to fit there. “You saved me.”
“My son. My son.” Tony holds Peter so close he can feel his heart beating against his own chest. It’s the only thing that lets him sleep again that night.
If his life is anything like his nightmares, he thinks before he falls asleep, he doesn’t want his memories back.
Apparently, the single memory is all Dr. Strange needs to bring them all back. He explains, in a rather pompous way, that he’s a sorcerer who is going to retrieve Tony’s memories from where the other sorcerer who did this hid them.
That sounds like the most absurd thing in the world to Tony, but he thinks about Peter yesterday on the roof, of Pepper that morning when she’d gone to kiss him and he’d stiffened in surprise and she’d turned away, trying to hide her frown, and forces himself to sit still.
And just like that, his memories are back. It’s overwhelming at first, all the information pouring in like a computer rebooting. Then he’s just... there.
He opens his eyes and sees Peter across the room and thinks, Oh, crap. Amnesia Tony was an idiot.
Now that he has his memories and knows that Peter is not, in fact, his son, he is absolutely mortified. And, judging by how much Peter’s avoiding eye contact, he’s not the only one.
Dr. Strange leaves in a spray of golden light and then Pepper looks between the two of them and excuses herself and suddenly it’s just Tony and Peter, not looking at each other.
Tony thinks he should be the adult here and speak first, but Peter beats him to it.
“So, we’re all good now, right? I should probably go back home, May’s been wondering,” he rambles, already halfway out the door.
“Kid,” Tony calls. “Come on, we should, um... talk? About this?”
Peter’s shoulders slump. He seems to steel himself before he turns around and forces a smile. “It’s ok, Mr. Stark. I get it, you don’t need to explain. Why else would a kid be hanging around, it was natural for you to assume...”
“Pete,” Tony tries to say, but Peter just plows over him.
“—And about what you said, it’s-it’s alright, I know it’s just cause you thought I was-“
“Peter,” Tony says loudly. There’s a beat.
“I’m sorry I called you ‘Dad,’” Peter whispers. Tony stops breathing for a moment. “It was selfish.”
“What do you mean?” Tony asks, his heart beating loud in his ears.
“I just wanted to see how it felt.” Peter’s voice is small, ashamed.
“Come here, Pete.” Peter doesn’t move. “Alright, I’ll come to you,” Tony says, and crosses the room until he can rest both hands on Peter’s shoulders so he can peer into his eyes.
“Kid, you have this all backwards. I didn’t love you because I thought you were my son,” Tony murmurs. It’s strange how much easier it had been to say when he had no memories of his father telling him he was weak, of his team leaving him beaten and bloody, of betrayal after heartbreak after injury. He tries to channel that Tony, the one that lived in the moment because there was no past to dwell on. He takes a breath and plunges on.
“I thought you were my son because I loved you. Because you walked into that room and I knew you, even if I didn’t remember why.”
Peter’s expression cheers up marginally. “Really?”
“Yeah, buddy. Really. And I,” he hesitates for a second cause it’s feelings and not necessary, but it’ll make Peter feel better. “I liked you calling me ‘Dad.’”
Peter gives him a watery smile. “I liked having a dad. For a little while.”
Tony chucks him gently under the chin.
“You’ve always got me, kiddo.”