He drinks the first year.
The grief--not his, but the grief of the world--is still thick, so thick the entire world broke under it. They begin, slowly, to put the world back together--but the first anniversary of Snap…
The world went silent, a delicate hush of grief, and exploded into a ball of fury, almost a week of riots and destruction that later--later he would be aware of.
But this year, he isn’t. This year, he sits in a quiet empty apartment in Queens, on a lumpy twin bed, with a bottle of Scotch and drinks until he can’t stand, until his eyes go blurry with more than just tears.
This year he sits on his child’s untouched bed and drinks until he passes out and lets the world burn beyond his grief.
Morgan wakes him. Pepper offered to take her, to give him space to grieve. It felt wrong, somehow, to send his newborn away while he grieved his son.
Besides--the memorials were done now, the world pulled to some kind of rights, enough that SI was dedicating the Wall in New York.
She invited him--even Steve reached out and invited him, in the weeks before.
“I’m not ready for that,” he says, and its apologetic, almost. But firm. He holds Morgan, tight, tighter than he should, this precious child he loves so much it hurts, sometimes, and Pepper’s eyes go soft. Gentle.
Morgan wakes him, and she coos, quiet fussing as he stares at the ceiling and breathes through the pain. It’s been two years since his son died.
Two years and it still hurts.
In her crib, Morgan gives a sharp, high pitched squeal, giggles.
He pushes himself from his bed and goes to her, desperate suddenly to see his little girl, to hold her.
“Hey, baby girl,” he murmurs, lifting her gently and kissing her hair. It's baby fine, soft just the way Pete's was. "Let's get you breakfast."
He thinks, as he plays with her and listens to the silent cabin, that it might be time to start talking to his daughter about her brother.
He's alone on the third anniversary. He isn't drinking and gods knows he hung up his suit--but there's something broken in him and it's driving Pepper away.
No. Not something . Someone.
He goes in the middle of the night, drives into the city, to the memorial. It stretches for two city blocks, rows of stone and sidewalk and neatly placed benches.
There are flowers in clumps on the ground, left behind by the grieving.
It takes him no time ar all to find the right marble slab and the name. And then he stares at it, up and up and up, and lets all the grief well up.
And the guilt. It's been three years and the guilt never gets any easier.
"It isn't replacing you to love them and be happy," he says, a confession in the dark like so many of Peter's had been. "It doesn't mean I love you less or miss you less. But I gotta think--you'd want that. For me to be happy."
There is no answer--but there doesn't need to be. He sits there, in the shadow of his son's grave and allows the grief to swamp him, one last time. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow, he'd call and apologize and beg her to come home. He'd call the therapist she found and Rhodey and put away the grief and hug his daughter. Tomorrow.
Tonight, he mourns his son.
He takes Pepper and Morgan on a picnic the fourth year. He's retired now, pulled completely away from what's left of the Avengers.
He doesn't get called, anymore, for anything more than an emergency in R&D. And he knows, distantly, that around the world there are memorials happening, a day of grief and remembrance.
He watches Morgan, tottling after Happy, giggling and reaching for a bright red ball. He leans against Pepper's hip, and watches the clouds moving lazily against the bright blue sky. The world is beautiful, now. Not in the cities, where so much was left forgotten and rotting in place. But here, where the world is recovering, where it's bright green and impossibly blue and brilliantly alive.
"I wish he could see this," he whispers, closing his eyes against the well of grief. Pepper's fingers are gentle in his hair and Morgan is laughing and he can hear the familiar sound of Rhodey's repulsors.
All that is missing, all that will always be missing, is his boy, his Peter, loud and happy and alive.
Five years gone, and not quite the anniversary of the Snap, the memorials have less and less people every day.
The world is healing, slowly, learning to navigate around a hole of grief. Everyone lives with them, now. The person shaped space where half of the universe once lived.
His is shaped like Pete. And he's learned to live, to navigate the hole of grief, to avoid the pitfalls and live.
He even sets aside his guilt, some days.
He breathes and touches the stone, the sharp cut of his name.
"We're gonna fix it. I--I'm so scared, kid. But I'm gonna fix it. I'm gonna bring you home."
He walks away and grief follows like a familiar friend and hope--for the first time in five years, he feels hope.
the first year
There's a memorial.
It sits in the middle of two city blocks, where once upon row and rows of marble slabs stood, neat and orderly and listing the Lost.
Now it's a vast open space, and a small statue sits in the center. He knows what it looks like without getting closer. And he can't get closer, not today, with the memorial crowded around to lay tribute to Ironman. He watches from where he clings to a nearby building, wind tugging at him, tears burning in his eyes.
The Lost wear grey, a sea of it in the color, a black hole of people he saved.
Near the statue, a little girl stands with a tall, slender redhead. He watches until the Iron Legion fly overhead, and then swings away. To an apartment in Queens and a man with graying hair and tired, happy eyes and a hand that’s red and gold and reaches for him, tugs him into the dusty empty living room, eyes checking to make sure he’s ok, he’s unhurt.
Peter thinks Tony won’t ever stop doing that, for him and Morgan.
“We don’t have to watch the memorial, kid,” Tony says, and Peter looks at him.
“Was it hard, while I was gone?”
Grief spasms across his face, so raw and real it makes Peter’s breath catch, and he curls into Tony’s side, almost begging for comfort and sighing as his arms come around him. He feels safe, when Tony’s next to him, like Tony would never let anything hurt him.
He looks at the memorial, where the entire world grieves for him, where Pepper and Morgan stand and pass off a lie, and thinks--he wouldn’t.
Tony would die--had and came back and willingly faked his death again--to keep him safe and close.
Peter reaches for the remote. They’ve both had enough of important days and memorials and grief. “Trek or Wars?” he asks and Tony smiles against his hair.