I know dark clouds will gather 'round me
I know my way is hard and steep
But beauteous fields arise before me
Where God's redeemed, their vigils keep
While the war had raged on all around them, Tony had held on to Peter for as long as he could.
The kid, always so full of limitless energy and enthusiasm, had melted into his embrace like a sleepy child. Like Morgan.
It had made Tony’s back hitch and his breath catch in his throat, forced him to close his eyes against the tidal wave of emotion that threatened to sweep any thoughts of the stones or the gauntlet downstream, carried away by the steady rush of Peter. Peter. Peter.
He had not had time to say it then.
When he had fizzled back into existence smack dab in the middle of his own memorial service, they had rushed him all at once -- his friends, his family; it had been a confusing jumble of arms around him, voices pitched high with emotion, Pepper’s lips against his own, his daughter’s little hands wiping tears from his cheeks -- he had locked eyes with Peter through the chaos, had registered the wild-eyed disbelief staring back at him--
-- and the crowd had parted to make way for an old man with Steve’s blue eyes and Bucky Barnes at his elbow, and Tony had lost sight of him again.
The group had converged inside the lake house in understandably high spirits.
Thor’s booming voice echoed inside the cabin as he called for a toast. A broadly beaming Harley lifted Morgan onto his shoulders. Rocket hijacked one of the helmets in the garage and converted its hologram function into a kind of disco ball.
When Happy insisted the party of well-wishers allow Tony to spend the remainder of the night in peace with his family, most of the group had filed out. Steve remained at Pepper’s prompting, settling himself in the rocking chair that had once been a fixture in Morgan’s bedroom. Peter had followed May to the door. He’d almost made it out before Tony had spotted him.
Although the address had been unspecific, Peter stopped dead in his tracks.
"Where you going?”
Peter’s hands went to the pockets of his suit pants, and he met Tony’s gaze for only the briefest of seconds before looking away.
“I, uh…I just, Happy said we should…” he trailed off. He almost looked guilty.
Pepper came to his rescue.
“Tonight is reserved for family, Peter,” she cut in gently, “you’re family. Come and sit down.”
Peter glanced back at May, who cupped his face in her hands and whispered something Tony didn’t catch before turning to follow Happy outside.
Peter stood uncertainly by the door a few moments longer before Morgan abandoned her post on Tony’s lap and seized the teenager by the hand.
“Pete, sit with me!”
Peter allowed himself to be led to the sofa, his expression dazed. “You -- um, you know my name?”
Tony, whose heart had skipped a beat at the sight of his little girl and Peter together -- his kids, he had both his kids back -- found his voice at last when Peter perched gingerly on the edge of the sofa beside Tony.
“’Course she does. Spider-Man is her favorite superhero. She’s grown up on stories of her big brother.” He tucked Peter beneath his arm and pulled him in close, feeling a twinge in his chest when Peter’s shoulders remained stiff and tense.
But Morgan had brightened at the mention of Spider-Man, and had clambered back onto Tony’s knees to regale them all with her favorite stories. Gradually, Peter relaxed and leaned into Tony, pressing his forehead into his mentor’s shoulder as though to block out the world around them. Tony felt the sleeve of his shirt grow damp beneath Peter’s face, and rubbed gentle circles into the kid’s spine until his breaths evened out in sleep.
He had not meant to fall asleep on the sofa.
Across the room, the armchair once occupied by Steve was now empty; Tony faintly remembered the man bidding him goodnight before retiring to the guest house where Happy, Rhodey and May were set up. Pepper, he was willing to bet, had undoubtedly fallen asleep beside their daughter -- it was a position Tony had often found himself in at the end of a long day.
Beside him, Peter’s eyes darted rapidly behind his eyelids, his breath coming in short bursts against Tony’s collarbone.
Tony knew better than anyone the signs of a nightmare.
Carefully, so as not to startle the kid into waking abruptly, he let his fingers comb through Peter’s hair and settle at the nape of his neck, shushing him the way he’d once done for his infant daughter.
Peter’s eyes opened with a start, a punched out gasp hissing through his gritted teeth to shatter the silence.
Tony’s hand remained in its place, steadily massaging the tension from Peter’s neck as the boy craned his head to look up at him.
“You okay, kid?” Tony murmured, mindful of Pepper and Morgan just down the hall.
Peter didn’t answer; he looked at Tony as though waiting for the other shoe to drop. Suddenly aware that the kid had barely spoken a word to him since his -- well, his gruesome death, there was no sense mincing words -- Tony turned slightly in his seat to face him head-on, lifting his free hand to cup Peter’s chin, his eyes searching.
Peter’s jaw quivered beneath his palm, and he stroked his thumb over his cheekbone reassuringly.
“I thought…I thought you were really…I really thought you were…” the kid seemed unable to finish.
“I know,” Tony swallowed hard. “I thought so, too.”
Something about the admission seemed to open the floodgates, and Peter tipped forward into Tony’s space, his body quaking with suppressed grief.
It was a grief Tony could relate to -- a grief he had taken it in turns to feel and repress for five long years. It struck him all at once that this was Peter -- his Peter, who had been dead and gone for years. Peter, whose loss had left him reeling and hopeless, forced him to hang up his suit and escape the horror he had wrought every time he tried to save the world.
Peter, whose mere memory had compelled him to reverse the hands of time.
Tony pulled Peter roughly into his chest, cupping a hand against the back of his head to tuck him beneath his chin. Peter’s tears were hot against his collarbone, and Tony could feel every muscle in the kid’s body tense and trembling with the effort to contain himself.
He remembered that feeling all too well.
“Don’t do that. You don’t have to hide from me, Pete. Let it out, kid.”
His own voice was rough with emotion, but it had the desired effect; the sobs seemed to rip themselves from Peter’s throat, and Tony could feel an echoing pain in his own chest. The seam of his t-shirt split open as Peter’s grasp tightened against his back and Tony pulled him closer still, carding a hand through his hair.
“God, Peter. I missed you. So much, kid.”
Peter hiccuped a laugh into Tony’s sternum, his teeth chattering. “M-missed you too, Tony.”
Tony muffled his own watery laugh into Peter’s hair. “Jesus, kid, if I’d known my death was all it would take to get you to use my name, I’d have done it a lot quicker.”
Peter’s answer had been a full-bodied shudder, and Tony winced. “Yeah, too soon. Sorry. Five years later, and it turns out gallows humor is still my only coping mechanism.”
Peter turned his head against Tony’s chest, sending waves of affection through Tony’s veins like a drug.
“F-five years. I still can’t…can’t wrap my head around it,” Peter swiped a hand over his eyes and nestled more comfortably in his mentor’s arms, all elbows and wild hair and clammy skin -- Tony settled his arms more securely around him, his throat tight. “What…I mean, what did everyone do? I mean, obviously you…you have a daughter now,” Peter’s voice was almost tentative.
It wasn’t a secret he’d intended to share; the memory of it filled him with equal parts shame and gratitude. But it spilled out of him all the same.
“Yeah. Morgan. Morgan was…she’d already started. Before we left New York.”
Peter glanced up at him in surprise. Tony smoothed a hand over his hair.
“I didn’t know. Pep didn’t even know until she thought I was long gone. ‘One hell of a parting gift,’ as she put it,” Tony smiled a little, but it faded just as quickly. “She told me when I was half-dead and strapped down to a hospital gurney. I think she was afraid I’d make a run for it.”
Peter scoffed, his eyes still damp.
The absolute trust in his voice seemed to alleviate some of Tony’s self-loathing; the kid sounded far more certain than Tony had been, at the time.
“I’d already lost one kid,” he murmured, one hand sweeping subconsciously along Peter’s spine, “I don’t know that I’d have given myself a second chance, if it was up to me. But Morgan…” his voice trailed off, his heart lifting at the memory of his daughter’s birth. “God. She was…she was a miracle.”
Peter smiled at the undoubtedly sappy expression on Tony’s face, his eyes soft. “She lucked out. Got the best dad in the universe. How many kids can say that?”
“Two.” Tony’s voice left no room for doubt. “Haven’t you been listening? You think I could love you any more if you were my own flesh and blood? I couldn’t.”
He leaned down to press a rough kiss to Peter’s forehead, which had the added benefit of hiding the wetness of his own eyes. “Anyway, you got the better end of the bargain for sure. All the emotional and financial support, none of the messy biological side-effects of being a Stark. Morgan will definitely resent you. I’d start buttering her up now, if I were you.”
He felt Peter’s laugh against his ribcage and his heart leapt -- God, fatherhood had made him soft. His arms tightened around the kid, who had drawn his knees up onto the sofa and curled into Tony’s side with a shuddering sigh.
“Love you, too,” Peter whispered against his chest.
Tony drew the woolen throw back over them both and let his head tip sideways and settle against Peter’s.