It starts with a puzzle. A one-hundred-piece puzzle of five superheroes all dressed in their signature colours posing in what Tony thinks are a bunch of inhumane and unnaturally contorted poses. “Who are these guys again?” Tony asks, lifting the box up slowly to inspect it, barely hidden ridicule in the curve of his brow.
“They’re the Teen Titans.” Peter says as though that were the most obvious thing in the world, “They live in T-Tower and fight bad guys with their powers like this!”
Peter jumps up off the couch spinning around and punching things, miming shooting things out of his fists and then stepping back onto the couch just to jump off roaring as he lands on his hands and knees, “I’m a tiger! Like Beast Boy! Raaawrr!!”
Ok. Fine. That was cute.
“Alright, alright, so they’re cool heroes who save the day. Gotcha.”
Tony smiles as Peter keeps rambling, peeling off the plastic wrap over the box and then pulling out the bag filled with the pieces. Peter’s eyes widen, “Ooooh, so many.”
“Well, you did pick the one-hundred set. Why didn’t you shoot for something smaller kiddo.” Tony teases.
“This one was the coolest!” Peter defends, “And May said she’d help me. And Ben said he’d try too except he doesn’t like puzzles that much because he’s bad at them.” Peter giggles like he’s just divulged a great and terrible secret, “And!” he announces, “You should be good at puzzles too.”
Tony raises a brow, “Should I?”
He nods intently, “You fix robots so you can fix pictures.”
Tony tries to smother his laughter. “Right. Yeah. Makes total sense.”
Peter takes the bag, ripping it carefully before spilling the contents all over the coffee table. “Okay,” he says seriously, “we have to start with the corners because that’s the easiest.”
“Roger that Captain.” Tony’s salute sends Peter into a fit of giggles who copies him at least three times before he’s found all the corner pieces.
They work on assembling the frame bit by bit, Tony coaching Peter along as he struggles to find connecting pieces. It’s been only two hours since May and Ben had kissed their nephew good bye and dashed into the taxi with their suit-cases, and Tony thinks so far so good. His eyes flick up to the long note pinned to the fridge with a cheesy magnet detailing all the things Peter might ever need and all the numbers Tony would ever have to call.
“There’s food money in the drawer there and you already have both our numbers so don’t hesitate to call us about anything okay?” May had said, eyes flush with concern.
“Don’t worry, the kid and I will be just fine. I’ll keep you posted. You just worry about making sure Ben doesn’t buy all the new gadgets for the precinct.” Tony jokes.
May laughs into her hand, sneaking a glance at her husband who’s still telling Peter to be good and that he’ll miss him. “That man.” she admonishes, shaking her head, “You sure you can handle this Tony?”
Quite frankly, he isn’t. How could he be? He’d never had to be responsible for anything than himself ever in his life. But he wants to be. Tony looks at Peter, at his gap-toothed smile and ruffled hair and really, really wants to be. He wants to feel like his existence matters in the world as something purely good.
So he nodded and said of course.
But for now, helping Peter with his puzzle is good enough. “Buddy, jamming it in won’t make it magically fit.” Tony laughs, guiding Peter’s hand away from the corner to somewhere further in the middle.
“It fits!” Peter exclaims.
“Yup, you did it kiddo.”
Peter’s cheeks are pink, almost like he’s embarrassed, but he’s happily sticking various pieces in the wrong spots humming slightly to himself. Tony finds it a little weird, but chalks it up to just excitement. An hour later, Peter’s stomach’s grumbling and Tony rolls over on his stomach, scrolling through his phone for some good take out. “What are we feeling today?”
Peter purses his lips, looking very seriously in thought, “I want a sandwich. But I also want spring rolls. But Lila at school brought lasagna and that smelled reallllllly good. Super good.”
Tony raises a brow, “So you want to make an absolute mess of your stomach, did I get that right?”
“Food’s food! It gets digested. We learned that in school.” Peter retorts proudly.
Tony snorts, “Alright, but if your stomach hurts, don’t come crying to me about it.”
Peter sticks out his tongue. Tony flicks him in the thigh before Peter scurries away shrieking. He ends up ordering from three different places and hopes they arrive at more or less the same time, charging it on his own credit card, because why not. Not like daddy dear couldn’t afford it.
They end up on the floor, using the coffee table to lay out their boxes of take out as they watch Peter’s favourite movie- The Incredibles- for the millionth time. As usual, he mouths along to all the lines and then cries when the plane crashes even though he knows they’ll be alright. “It’s just so sad!” he wails as he flings himself into Tony’s arms.
Tony tries to ignore the trail of plum sauce Peter’s sticky hands leave along his shirt.
“Bob thinks they’re dead but they’re not but it’s his family and it’s so sad!!”
“I know, it’s okay, they’re gonna beat that triangle haired punk’s butt in like, thirty minutes.”
Peter sniffs, “Yeah, that’s true.”
Tony smiles, pulling out his phone to take a quick selfie to send to May as an update while Peter pushes his hand away for distracting him. Partway through the movie though, Peter goes strangely limp. He doesn’t bounce whenever something exciting happens and when the big battle happens, he doesn’t even try to imitate Frozone’s wife’s iconic lines- truly, seeing a seven year old yell “I’m greatest good you’re ever gonna get!” was truly incredible.
Instead, Peter blinks blearily at the screen, his cheeks a deeper shade of red and just sways slightly until he slumps into Tony’s side. Tony’s eyes flick down at him before he wraps an arm around his tiny frame. “Petey, you good?”
“Mmm.” he mumbles, snuggling closer, “Head feels funny.”
Tony’s immediately concerned, “Maybe it’s the screen, let’s-”
“No!” Peter cries, pulling back quickly to the point where Tony can see the vertigo in his eyes, “They’re almost done. Please can we finish it.”
Tony’s lips press into a thin line. Peter doesn’t look too good, but there’s only fifteen minutes left of the movie and the kid is using his bambi eyes. “Okay. Fine.”
Except Tony watches less of the movie and more of Peter’s droopy eyes and not so subtle mouth breathing when he starts sniffing more than he should. It’s then Tony realizes he’s actually an idiot and that the poor kid probably got a cold. Which is fine. It sucks obviously. But a little cold never really hurt anyone. He’d just feel stuffy and congested for a day or two and then he’d be back to his normal little self.
He places his hand on Peter’s forehead. It’s warm, but he doesn’t really know if it’s too warm. He puts his hand on his own forehead except that helps literally not at all and he feels like if Peter was too hot wouldn’t he know? It should be obvious shouldn’t it?
But Tony doesn’t want to take any chances. He carefully disentangles himself from Peter’s grip and nudges him slowly off the couch, “Go brush your teeth and get ready for bed, if you sleep enough, you’ll feel better in the morning.”
“But it’s only eight-twenty.” he complains, but even Tony can tell his heart isn’t in it.
“I know, but if you sleep early, then you’ll wake up early so you’re not losing any fun time right?”
Peter frowns, trying to follow the logic, but he looks too tired to really argue and just shuffles along to the bathroom. When Tony hears the tap running, he raids the kitchen cabinets for the medicine shelf, grinning when he finds a little bottle of child’s Tylenol. There’s not a lot left, but there’s definitely enough to give him a sip before bed.
He pours it in the little cup the bottle comes with and presents it like it’s liquid gold when Peter comes out. Immediately, he wrinkles his nose, launching back to shut the door in Tony’s face but Tony’s faster, catching the door with his foot, “Ah, ah, ah you little troublemaker. Come take your medicine.”
“I don’t want it!” Peter insists, pouting.
“I know you don’t. No one wants to take this stuff. But it’ll make you feel better. And you’re not feeling good right?”
Peter crosses his arms, looking stubbornly to the side, “I’m feeling fine.”
“You literally just said your head was feeling funny.”
“Well it’s not anymore. So hah.” Peter retorts.
Tony sighs, waving the cup enticingly in the air, “Come on kid, work with me.”
“Noooo! It’s gross!”
Trying not to get frustrated with him, Tony tries another tactic, “What if I take you to my lab.” he offers, giving his most persuasive face.
Peter pauses, looking at him suspiciously, “I get to see DUM-E again?”
“I still don’t trust you two.” Tony gripes, “After you guys almost gave me a heart attack and I’m not even old yet. But yes. I’ll take you back to see DUM-E and I’ll even let you play with him if you promise to be a good boy and let me treat you.”
Peter considers the offer, mulling his options over, “Fine. But I don’t like it.”
Tony tries hard to stifle his laughter, “Okay, that’s fine. I can live with that. Now c’mere.”
Peter dutifully walks out the bathroom, hand outstretched like he’s way too good to be standing around waiting to be medicated. He takes the cup, not bothering to hide his disgust and then pinches his nose before swallowing the whole thing down. He gags a little, face twisting comically before handing back the cup and darting into the bathroom to drink water. “It’s so GROOSSSS!!” he wails, “Why do they say it’s bubble-gum flavor? It’s NOT BUBBLEGUM!!”
Tony doesn’t answer, just scoops Peter up into his arms, chuckling as he shrieks, “That’s enough whining out of you kiddo, time for bed.”
Tony carries him into his bedroom, effortlessly navigating the various Lego pieces and action figures strewn across the floor. He drops Peter into his bed without aplomb and Peter giggles, thoroughly entertained. Peter pulls the blankets over himself, snuggling into his pillows, “I’m not sleepy.” he insists, just because kids have to.
“Yup. Definitely not. Just pretend you are. For me okay?” Tony says, pushing back the curls from Peter’s forehead.
“Fine.” Peter agrees, “But only for you.”
“Should we finish where we left off?” Tony asks, pulling out a short novel from Peter’s bookshelf.
He doesn’t need to hear Peter’s reply before he opens up chapter 4 and starts reading. He only gets halfway through chapter 5 when he looks up and sees Peter sound asleep, clutching tightly to his teddy bear.
In the quiet, Tony takes a moment to just look at him, exhausted right down to his bones, but also satisfied, in a completely fulfilled, at peace kind of way. There’s something about taking care of others, something intrinsically rewarding no matter how troublesome the journey of it was. It’s the little moments, stolen between big events that make it all worth it.
He’d never known it would feel that way.
It had been about himself for all too long; it was nice for the priority to be someone else for a change.
Tony closes Peter’s door quietly behind him, heading to the kitchen table and pulling out his laptop to work on some of his assignments with the few hours he had to himself. He checks his phone later, sees Rhodey’s left him a few messages. He smiles to himself, kinda wishing Rhodey were here if he was being honest.
Any mild misdemeanors yet?
No getting lost in the middle of nowhere?
Tony snorts, texting back quickly.
Your lack of faith in me breaks my heart platypus
R: so ur doing okay then?
T: perfecto, as the italians say
R: I’m rolling my eyes but you can’t see it, anyway, did you finish ur part of the project?
T: sent it a min ago but now I see you had an agenda checking up on me
T: fake friends ig
R: Has anyone ever told you you’re the most annoying person alive
T: Yeah, my fake friends.
Tony snickers to himself as he sees the text bubble pop up for longer than twenty seconds and he just knows he’s going to get an earful. He throws his phone on the couch to make Rhodey suffer and gets started on assignment number three.
Somehow, he ends up falling asleep on the couch with his laptop still on his lap when he’s woken up to the sound of choked vomiting. He wakes up with a lurch, stumbling off the couch in the direction of the bathroom, “Peter?” he calls, voice edging into a frantic note.
He hears another cough and the sound of spitting before he sees Peter hunched over the toilet, tears pooled at the edge of his eyes, vomit on his lips, “Tony I don’t feel so good.” he cries and Tony falls to his knees rubbing at his back when Peter’s face lurches towards the toilet again.
Peter sobs quietly to himself and Tony’s heart tears right in two at the sight. He quickly flushes everything away, wiping Peter’s mouth before handing him a glass of water. Peter’s nose wrinkles as he swallows the water mixed with the after-taste of everything he’d just let out, his shoulders trembling. Tony presses a hand against his forehead and this time, knows for certain it’s too hot to be normal. “Tony.” Peter calls again, his voice pleading.
“I know, I know. I got you kid. It’s okay.” Tony presses Peter’s hair down, noting how his forehead is sticky with sweat.
He opens his arms and Peter falls into him, shaking. Tony lifts him up, taking him to the couch where he lies him down, propping him up with some pillows. He grabs Peter’s blanket from his room and throws it atop of him. “I’m going to fix this Peter, just hold on.” he promises, sitting on the couch at his feet and pulling his laptop into his lap.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I just feel bad. My head hurts. And my throat too. It hurts to swallow. And I can’t breathe from my nose.” Peter makes grabby hands for a tissue box and Tony sets it closer to him so he can blow his nose without a hassle.
A few quick Google searches later and Tony’s pretty sure he has the flu. Which he knows isn’t a big deal, but he also knows that all kinds of sick still suck like hell. He also has no clue how to actually treat it. He didn’t get sick much as a kid and whenever he did, Jarvis usually knew what to do.
His heart clenches when he remembers his butler’s face before he shakes his head, determined to be there for Peter like Jarvis was for him. As it happens though, there isn’t much for them to do. “Peter, today’s your lucky day, according to the best doctors in the world, the best medicine for flus is movies.”
“Really?” Peter asks, looking slightly happier.
“Yup. There’s a bit more medicine we have to take, but it’s mostly that. And sleep.”
“I already slept.” Peter argues, “But I still feel tired.”
“It’s the sickness kiddo. Your body’s trying to fight the bad guys making you sick.”
Tony smiles at how intrigued he gets.
“You have the flu, that’s what we call the sickness caused by the influenza virus. A virus is a tiny little thing you can’t see that goes into your body and makes you feel bad. But! Our immune systems are like little heroes that fight the virus to get rid of them. That’s why you have a fever, it’s your body trying to make it too hot for the viruses to live.”
Peter’s eyes go round, “Woah. That’s so crazy.”
“Super crazy.” Tony agrees, “So let’s say we get some fluids in you and maybe something to eat. Gotta keep your energy up.”
“Don’t wanna eat.” Peter says, paling.
“I know you don’t want to vomit again, but you shouldn’t have to anymore. I’ll give you something light. Just toast. You can do toast right?”
Peter looks hesitant, biting his lip, “Maybe.” he finally says.
Tony fills up a water bottle and puts two slices of bread in the toaster. While he waits for them to pop back up, he dials Rhodey’s number. He picks up on the second ring.
“What happened?” Rhodey asks without prompting.
“The kid’s sick and I don’t want to leave him alone, but I could use some pharmacy stuff.”
He can practically see Rhodey’s sympathetic eyes, “Aw man, poor little guy.”
“Do you think you could run to the CVS and get me some stuff?”
“You even have to ask? Just text me your list, I’ll be at the Parker’s in half an hour, tops.”
Tony doesn’t know why he feels so relieved. If there’s one person in the world he can count on, it’s Rhodey. He’s the most dependable person he knows.
He scoffs on the other end, “Don’t mention it Tones, you know I got you.”
The toaster pings when it’s done just as Tony hangs up. He spreads some jam on his own slice before putting Peter’s plain one on a plate and bringing it over. “Try to sit up okay. And make sure you drink your water. It’s important.”
“Okay.” Peter whispers, coughing into his elbow.
Tony runs his fingers through his hair in what he hopes is a comforting gesture before placing one more call. “Tony? Is everything okay?” May asks and Tony can hear the faint thrum of a giant crowd from the phone.
“Hey May, sorry is this a bad time?”
“No, it’s fine. How are you two?”
“We’re fine. I think. Peter has the flu though. I’ve been Googling stuff all day and I’m pretty sure it’s the flu, but I could take him to the doctor. I was thinking about it, but I didn’t know if that was covered and I didn’t want to do something you didn’t want. But he threw up this morning and I’m trying to get him to rest now and-”
“Tony,” May interrupts, “relax, take a breath. I’m a nurse remember? Changing seasons is always flu season, it’s normal that he’d catch it, it’s okay. Just keep an eye on if he’s having trouble breathing or dizziness, and if he vomits more call me.”
“I asked Rhodey to bring some medicine over. I told him to get more of that kid Tylenol but the flu version and some Halls, for his throat.” Tony hopes he doesn’t sound as nervous as he feels, but to her credit, May sounds completely calm.
“Those should be good. Just make sure to follow the instructions. The most important thing is that he stays hydrated and tries to sleep.”
“Right. Yeah. Sure.” Tony nods profusely, though he knows it’s mostly for his own benefit.
“Tony, are you sure you’re okay? This isn’t too much for you to handle is it?” May asks gently, “I know it can be scary, when Peter got sick for the first time after we took him in, I was terrified even though I’m around sick people all day. But this is a common thing, he just needs some care.”
“No, for sure. I totally have a handle on this. Don’t even worry about it.” Tony says, watching as Peter nibbles at his toast without gusto.
“For what it’s worth, I think you have a handle on it too. But I’m always a call away okay? And thanks for letting me know.”
“Do I get the baby-sitter of the year award yet?” Tony jokes.
“You’re competing with a baby-sitter who lost my kid. Try raising the stakes a little.” May teases, “Let me say a few things to Peter and then you guys can start your movie marathon.”
“Oh you’re good.” Tony whistles, laughing at her pre-cognitive abilites.
“You know it.”
Tony walks over to Peter, handing him the phone, “Hey Pete, May’s on the line for you.”
Peter’s eyes brighten and he holds his hand out, “Hi May.” he greets, trying to be cheery despite how stuffy his voice sounds, “Tony says I’m sick.”
“No it’s okay. You don’t have to come home early. Tony can take care of me. He made me toast!”
Tony’s lip twists in that familiar oh-damn-my-heart kinda way, and he leaves them to their conversation, doing some more researching on the best foods to eat when you have the flu and other various remedies. When Peter’s done talking, he says his I love you’s and passes Tony his phone back. “Tony can we play cards? May said that would be a good idea.”
Tony pretends to mull it over, “Anything but Go Fish.”
They’re mid-way through their fourth round of War when Rhodey knocks on the door. “Oh thank God.” Tony says, when he sees the supermarket bag along with the pharmacy one, “You got my text.”
“You mean all sixteen crazy messages?” Rhodey asks, raising a brow, “Yeah I got them.”
Tony digs into the bag, pulling out the kale, shoving it in Rhodey’s face, “It’s a superfood it deserves a few extra messages.”
“It’s a gross food is what it is.” Rhodey retorts before Tony smacks him.
“Shh!! He won’t eat it if you hate it!”
“I ain’t eating that!” Rhodey hisses, “What do I look like to you? A suburban wine mom trying to fit into her yoga pants??”
Tony clicks his tongue, “I’m calling the reverse racism card.”
“I will hit you in front of the child.” Rhodey warns but Tony just snickers.
“I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I’m sure it’ll taste fine. You just have to,” he waves his hand around, “I dunno, do some cooking mumbo-jumbo on it and it’ll be fine.”
Twenty minutes later however, it is proven that it is very much not fine.
Kale is disgusting. And no matter which way they attempt to mask its distinct flavor, it still comes up loud and clear.
Peter watches them with amused eyes from the couch as the two boys fight over who has to taste test the newest concoction. Eventually, Tony’s able to sneak attack using his shorter height to jam the spoon of kale smoothie into Rhodey’s mouth before he chokes. Rhodey swallows hard, lunging forward to grab Tony before he ducks out of Rhodey’s grip sprinting to where Peter is. “I’m going to END you Stark.”
“Oh no, he’s using last names.” Tony whispers to Peter while he giggles.
“Come on honey bear! You had to take one for the team!” Tony cajoles, hands in the air, “But I’ll tell you what. How about you go sit down, throw a leg up, and I’ll make soup like a responsible adult.”
“You’re literally twelve.” Rhodey grumbles, eyeing him suspiciously as Tony walks into the kitchen, hands still in the air in mock deference.
“No need to get aggressive James.”
Rhodey rolls his eyes, “Come on Pete, let’s hang out and exclude Tony from the fun.”
“Okay!” Peter says, cackling at Tony’s dramatic hurt.
Rhodey re-deals the cards while Tony tries to figure out how to make canned soup while reading the medicine labels at the same time. He’d already given Peter some Halls to suck on when Rhodey first came in. Apparently, kids had no problem with peppermint flavored medicines. But to be fair, they at least actually tasted like peppermint.
When the soup is warming on the stove nicely, Tony heads over with a small cup of Advil Cold for kids and tries to look as unthreatening as possible. “How you feeling kiddo?”
Peter shrugs, “Same. But I think I can kinda breathe through half my nose.”
Tony’s lip quirks up, “Well that’s good. I bet if you take this you can breathe through all of it.”
Peter looks skeptical, “I don’t know.”
“Remember DUM-E Pete, he misses you.” Tony kicks Rhodey in the shin, giving him A Look until Rhodey coughs, nodding.
“Yeah. Yeah, he really misses you Peter. He feels very neglected.”
Peter’s eyes widen as he clutches the blanket like he’s grief stricken, “Okay! Okay I’ll take it! But you have to promise that when I’m better you’ll take me.”
“When you’re better.” Tony promises, “And if your aunt and uncle agree.”
Peter takes the cup gingerly, “They’ll say yes.” he says with every confidence of a boy who knows he’s right, “They like you.”
He pinches his nose and gulps down the medicine so he doesn’t see Tony’s expression. Rhodey catches his emotional blip and smiles, patting Tony on the leg. “Well that’s good, I like them too.” Tony’s finally able to say.
Peter makes a face as he gets over the after-taste, completely ignorant to the moment that just transpired. Tony kinda loves him for it. He never even realizes how he impacts Tony’s whole entire world, “Blegh, that was gross. Can I have the soup now?”
Tony smacks a hand to his face, “Oh shoot, yeah probably. Hold on.”
“Nice one Tones.” Rhodey snarks.
“Not like you remembered either!”
“You’re the one who said to put my feet up!”
And it’s not like Tony could argue with that.
The soup is fine though- miraculously maybe. And Tony feels grossly domestic pouring the three of them bowls. He knows it’s out of character when he sees Rhodey snap a “sneaky” photo of him snickering. “Tony Stark, the same kid who exploded ramen in a microwave, a chef.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re the worst?”
Rhodey grins, “Yeah, a fake friend of mine.”
He can’t argue with that either.
Rhodey leaves a little while after that having to go to a group meeting. He bumps fists with Peter as he goes, “Be strong little man, you’ll tough it out soon.”
“My immune system’s fighting the bad guys don’t worry.” he replies seriously.
Rhodey catches Tony’s eye and he shrugs helplessly. “That’s the spirit.”
Rhodey closes the door behind him, but stops before he does, “Call me if you need anything ok Tones? I mean it.”
“Yeah, yeah get outta here before they launch a mutiny and throw you overboard.” Tony waves him away, clearing Peter’s bowl from his lap.
“Alright Pete, time for our first movie?”
Tony shuts the room lights, letting the city scape leave a gentle glow in the room. He sits on the end of the couch and Peter lets his head fall into his lap. Tony brushes his fingers through Peter’s hair and half an hour in, Peter’s fast asleep. Tony presses a hand against his cheek and forehead, trying to feel if there’s a difference. It seems like there might be- but again, he really doesn’t know, and he wishes he had asked Rhodey for a goddamn thermometer.
He lets the movie keep playing, just reaches slightly for his laptop so he can work while it drones on. He balances it atop the arm rest, trying not to disturb Peter as much as possible. Peter’s still asleep when the first movie ends and Tony picks something else just to keep some white noise on. They’re a bit into the second movie when Tony’s phone rings. He answers it quickly, not even checking to see who it was so that the ringing wouldn’t wake Peter but the second he says hello, he regrets it.
His stomach crunches, “Dad.”
“I have good news.”
Tony fights the urge to roll his eyes. No hello, no how are you, just straight to the point. As fucking usual.
“There’s a technology symposium being held tomorrow and I managed to book you in for a slot to present your little AI project. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get the company some more exposure. I sent you a plane ticket. The flight leaves in four hours. So pack quickly and text Jeffrey when you’ve arrived at the airport so he can arrange your pick up.”
Tony doesn’t know what to say. He genuinely can’t think of any words that could express the maelstrom of things he was feeling right then. “Are you serious right now?”
“Yeah excuse you.” Tony hisses, trying to keep his voice level to avoid waking Peter but also feeling that familiar anger only his father can elicit broiling inside of him, “You don’t talk to me for months after calling me a waste of space and now you’re pretending you care about my invention so you can grease the wheels for your upcoming deal with Delta Tech?”
Tony smirks, “I read the news dad, shocking right? They had a huge advancement in AI right? Passed the Turing test? I’m not here to be your fu-” Tony bites his lip, hard, “I’m not here to be your dancing monkey.”
“That’s enough of your backtalk Anthony. You are boarding that flight in four hours and that’s final.”
“Actually, I won’t. Because I can’t. I have a previous engagement.”
“There is absolutely nothing more important than broadcasting your name in the industry and getting ahead of the competition.” Howard replies, voice sharp.
Tony looks down at Peter’s face, mouth partly open, a tiny pool of drool growing on Tony’s knee. His hair is matted to his forehead from the fever sweat and his cheeks are still a dusty pink. He’s small and sticky and his germs are probably all over Tony at this point, but he loves this kid.
He almost can’t believe it when he realizes it. But he loves Peter. Truly. Like the little brother he never had. The sibling he’d always wanted. The kid’s annoying and chatty, but he’s funny and sweet and he makes Tony want to yell but also just smile carelessly, because nothing else really matters when he’s in these walls.
“I think our relationship would’ve been a lot better if you’d made more of the decisions I’m making now.” Tony says quietly, his heart thumping in his chest when he knows what he’s saying is true, “Didn’t anyone ever give you a welcome to fatherhood pamphlet?”
“What are you talking about-”
“I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d disapprove, and I didn’t want to hear it. But I started baby-sitting this kid, Peter, and he’s really great. His aunt and uncle are at a conference this weekend so I’m staying over but the poor guy got the flu. He’s been in pain all day and the last thing I’m going to do is leave him just because you say the company needs it.”
“You think you’re giving me opportunities to meet with investors and CEOs and tycoons, but I would’ve been happy if you’d just given me the opportunity to spend time with you. But it’s too late now.”
And it isn’t the same obviously- the relationship with his dad and the relationship he has with Peter. But Tony remembers growing up achingly alone. He had his mother sometimes, Jarvis too. But when the world pushed and pushed he never felt like he had anyone in his corner to help him push back. And when all he wanted was a dad to ruffle his hair and say he was proud, he was met with scorn and neglect instead.
And the older he gets, the more he doesn’t want to be that person. The more he wants to be the exact kind of person he had always wanted when he was younger and vulnerable. And he knows he isn’t always good enough to deserve Rhodey but he tries and he knows that he’s a fuck-up but Peter looks at him like he’s brilliant and so he works even harder.
May and Ben trusted him to be there for their kid and he was going to be there. No matter what.
“I’m staying with him. Find someone else to show off.” Tony hangs up the call without any more thought feeling like something invisible but heavy had just disappeared off his heart.
Peter rubs at his eyes, yawning, “Tony…where you talking to me?” he mumbles.
“Nah, just setting someone straight.” his eyes are gentle when they meet Peter’s own,
How you feeling?”
Peter frowns, looking decidedly the other way, “The medicine stopped working…”
Tony raises a brow, far more amused than he knows he should let on, “Are you saying you want more?”
“No.” Peter drags out.
Tony laughs, “Alright kiddo, guess I’ll have to force you then.”
“Fine!” Peter languishes, “Only for DUM-E.”
“Right.” Tony humors him, “For DUM-E.”
Tony refills Peter’s water bottle as he fishes out the medicine again, handing both over to a chagrined Peter. As a reward for his good behavior, Tony elects to put on an episode of Teen Titans while the two of them work on the puzzle as a good restful activity. Peter slides off the couch, sitting cross legged at the coffee table, giant blanket wrapped around him. He slides around the pieces without as much energy as before, but he’s still invested, especially as the Teen Titans theme starts to play.
“Never met a villain that they liiiiiiked.” Peter sings along, voice raspy and still ridiculously cute, “Teen Titans! They’ve got the bad guys on the run, never stop till the dada dadad daaaa.” he hums along until the next, “Teen Titans GO!” before the exertion has him throwing himself back, head leaning on the couch.
“Take it easy there Pete, or you’ll miss the good part.”
“It’s all the good part.” he retorts.
Tony pinches his nose, “If you say so squirt.”
They’re at the part where the team’s fighting the HIVE Five when Peter places the last piece completing Cyborg’s portion of the puzzle, “You know, you’re like Cyborg.” he says randomly, fishing out the Raven pieces.
Tony raises a brow.
“Yeah,” Peter nods, “because you build stuff too and you like robots and you like pizza.”
“Don’t they all like pizza?” Tony asks drily.
“Yeah, but Cyborg likes it more. And meat.”
Tony juts out his lip, “I sure do love a good old fashioned burger.”
Tony shrugs, “I dunno Petey-pie. I’m not really the hero type.”
Peter looks mortally offended, brows furrowed all the way, “What?? But who’s gonna help me fight the bad guys?? Ned can’t because he doesn’t like fighting. And you could make really cool super suits!”
“We’re fighting bad guys together now?” Tony asks, laughing a little.
“Uh huh. Because you’re really smart and you’re really nice and Ned says I’m really nice too and the most important part about being a superhero is that you have a biiiiiiig heart. And! I watch more superhero stuff, so I know how to defeat the bad guys so together, we’ll always win!”
Tony bites his lip, feeling a little choked. He doesn’t think he’s ever been described as having a big heart. A big ego maybe. But Peter’s still babbling away about how they’d fight crime and save the world together and Tony finds it so crazy that the first person to ever look at him and see past the wealth and the bad decisions and media notoriety was this little kid he found alone in a park.
“Alright kid, you win, should we design a super suit for you right now?”
Peter’s eyes light up like stars, “Are you serious???”
“Does Cyborg love pizza?”
Tony pulls out a notebook and a pen scribbling down all of Peter’s ideas and presenting him with a rough draft. “Is it to your standards Mr. Hero?”
“It’ll do.” Peter teases.
By the time the sun has set, Peter’s fever seems to have let up and he feels up for a quick shower. He comes out looking more refreshed than he had all day and buries himself in one of Ben’s hoodies. Tony can’t help but think about how adorable he is swimming in the giant NYPD sweater. Tony pulls the drawstrings closed laughing as Peter squeaks batting his hands away. “Hey!” he cries.
“Hey yourself. You brush your teeth?”
“Mhhm.” Peter replies, flashing his pearly whites in a giant smile.
“Good job, okay off to bed with you.”
“But I’ve been sleeping all daaaaay.” Peter whines.
“But how much better do you feel?” Tony asks, smirking as Peter looks away, refusing to admit it, “Come on, I’ll read you your story and tomorrow we’ll finish the puzzle okay?”
Tony reads until he thinks Peter’s asleep, pulling the covers higher over his shoulders, “Night kiddo.” And just because he can, just because he wants to see how it feels, just because he thinks about his own life and wishes he’d heard it himself, he tucks Peter in tighter, “Love you.” he whispers, like he’s too afraid to be heard.
He’s halfway out the room when Peter shifts in his sleep, eyes still closed, “Love you too Tony.” he mumbles and Tony almost wants to cry.
Peter runs to May and Ben when they come in shrieking in delight. “I missed you!” he shouts and May smiles, hugging him close.
“Hey baby, we missed you too. How are you feeling today?”
“Lots better! Tony made me take a lot of yucky medicine and made me soup and look! We finished our puzzle!”
He drags his guardians over to the coffee table where he proudly displays the now complete puzzle. “Wow,” Ben whistles, “looks good Pete.”
Ben turns to Tony, grabbing him on the shoulder, “You okay son? He wasn’t too much trouble was he?”
“Not more than usual.” Tony teases, flashing Peter a look.
Peter sticks out his tongue and Tony laughs.
“You guys have a good time?” Tony asks.
“May was only bored thirty percent of the time, so I’d say it went pretty great.” Ben smiles as May pushes his arm playfully.
“But seriously, thanks Tony, we really appreciate you taking the weekend off of school for us.”
“Hey, you know I’m always down for baby-sitting shenanigans. Way more interesting than coding homework.”
Peter jumps from the table, hugging Tony around his legs, squeezing hard, “Thanks Tony! It was really fun! Even though I got sick and it sucked but it was still good.”
Tony smiles, ruffling Peter’s hair, “Be good kiddo. I have a surprise for you for next time.”
“Surprise??” Peter’s eyes practically glow.
“Yup. And we’ll see about playing with DUM-E again okay?”
That week, Tony pulls multiple all-nighters in the engineer workshop learning how to sew and hide batteries in inconspicuous places. When it’s done, he admires his work, wiping at his forehead with a self-satisfied smirk.
Later that day, Peter comes home from school to see May with a big smile on her face, “Hey Peter, look what arrived for you today.” she says, holding out a box she has hidden behind her back.
“Oooh!!!” Peter runs to her, setting the box carefully on the floor before tearing into it.
When he sees what’s inside, he shrieks in delight, pulling out the onesie and jumping all around. “It’s my superhero costume!! Did Tony make it??”
“Yup, custom made, just for you.”
Peter races to put it on, finishing off the look with the masquerade mask Tony had left inside. May turns on their fan so that Peter’s cape billows behind him. “Okay honey, now pose for the camera.”
Peter gets into his fighting pose and when he makes a fist, the transparent gloves glow a brilliant blue. “I have SUPERPOWERS!” he shrieks, punching the air and running around the room laughing.
May’s heart is warm as she watches her nephew catapult off one couch to the other like he was flying between buildings. She sends a little video to Tony with a red heart and a short message, He absolutely loves it. Now he’s just waiting for his side kick :P
When Tony opens May’s message, he can’t help but laugh. Him? A side-kick? He watches as Peter somersaults on the floor before kicking the air and snorts. Alright, maybe he could live with that.
When Peter turns to the camera and grins with his gap-toothed smile yelling, “THANK YOU TOONNNYYYY!! LOVE YOUUU!!!”
Tony smiles harder. Yeah, he could live with that.