“ Mr. Stark. ”
Tony stops, eyes widening as he brings the phone closer to his ear, a shiver down his spine at the panic in Peter’s voice.
“Kid? What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“Are you there? Is Cho there? I need—I need help.”
Peter never asked for help, Tony getting onto him time and time again about coming clean when he’s been hurt.
It’d been a dance between the two of them, one that Tony wondered if it would end with Peter’s AI calling him, telling him his worst nightmares had come true — that Peter was dying in a ditch somewhere, bleeding out with no one to turn to.
It was something that terrified Tony, something he worried about more and more each day.
Knowing that the older Peter got, the terror that gripped him anytime he got the alert that the Avengers were heading out to face any number of battles - that there would be a time when Tony wouldn’t be able to save him.
That there would be something that Tony wouldn’t be able to fix.
For Peter to call him, begging - almost pleading for help, makes the panic in Tony’s stomach twist into knots.
Something was wrong.
“Cho can be here in fifteen minutes, tell me what’s going on kid.” Tony sends a message through the StarkPad, sending the command to FRIDAY even if he knew she was intelligent enough now to pick up on his requests without him even having to say anything.
“I—I’m almost there.”
Tony hears how pained Peter’s voice is, his mind whirring at the possibilities. Peter was clearly okay enough to swing his way back to the tower, though the memory of the last time Peter had done this - delirious and insistent he was okay before passing out on the tower balcony was not something Tony wanted to repeat.
“I’m here.” Peter sounds out of breath, something that just sets Tony off even further - knowing that the kid’s super-strength made his endurance something of an anomaly.
If Peter was short of breath, something was terribly wrong.
Tony rushes out of the room that he’s in, towards the balcony that he knows Peter would have landed on - the balcony Peter might be bleeding from, that Peter might be dying on —
Until he sees him, Tony freezing at the sight.
Peter, mask off, an agonized expression on his face, looked relatively unharmed. But it was who Peter was holding in his arms, slumped over and listless that took Tony’s breath away.
Because there in front of him was Peter, kneeling on the balcony floor - holding Michelle.
Tony can see from where he’s standing, without even having to ask FRIDAY, that Michelle was no longer with them — had long faded into oblivion from the waxy sheen of her skin and the stillness of her limbs, her only movements coming from how visibly Peter was shaking.
It hits Tony like a sledgehammer, the realization almost doubling him over for what he was walking towards.
Something had happened, Tony could only guess what it was - only knowing that whatever happened, whatever had led them to this moment - that Tony was going to have to do the hardest thing he thinks he’ll ever have to.
His worst fears, his nightmares had revolved around Peter dying in his arms. But now Tony realized, even as Peter’s hands continued to shake - holding Michelle tight - that Peter had just survived worse.
And that this was worse than any nightmare he could ever have.
““Mr. Stark, I need—I need Cho. She’s here right? She’s gotta come up, she’s gotta—MJ needs help.”
Tony quietly walks up to him, kneeling down in front of Peter, heart breaking as Peter cradled her closer to his chest.
“I tried to stop it, Mr. Stark. I tried and he, he grabbed her and I didn’t, I didn’t know what else to do.” Peter lets out a broken sob, Tony wishing with everything within him that he could erase whatever horror Peter had just encountered.
But he couldn’t, Tony knows it - just as deeply and as viscerally as he knows that Peter loves Michelle, holding her and begging for a fix that Tony knows will never come.
“He just, he let her go and I had to, I had to stop it, Mr. Stark.” Peter looks up to him, pleading - almost as if to ask for forgiveness for something, the sinking feeling in Tony’s stomach growing as Peter’s sobs increase.
“I tried, I jumped right after her but I knew I wouldn’t make it. I knew I wouldn’t make it in time so—” Peter’s voice cuts off, the dread in Tony’s gut building as the tears stream down Peter’s face.
“I sent out a web. I thought, I thought it would—”
And it hits Tony, the horrifying realization coming to him suddenly and then in waves.
He can see it, without Peter even having to continue. Some villain holding Michelle, flinging her off some distance - something Peter couldn’t reach in time.
Peter’s hand extended - throwing himself after her, sending out a web to save her.
Only to be too late.
Tony sees it now, even as Peter cradles her - the odd angle of her neck, the lack of blood or any other kind of noticeable wound to indicate why she was gone, the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach at what Peter was saying.
Peter hadn't just been too late to save her.
He might have caused this.
It’s a thought that Tony dismisses as soon as it arrives, forcing himself to chase away the nightmare he knows will haunt him - and Peter - for years to come.
It didn’t matter what happened, didn’t matter that Peter’s web might’ve been shot too quickly - panicked and terrified of losing the girl that Tony knows he loves.
No matter what had happened, no matter the technicalities of how Michelle met her end tonight - Tony knew, and would spend a lifetime proving it to him, that it wasn’t Peter’s fault.
But Peter, holding Michelle tight even as he continued to ramble, shaking so violently that Tony thinks he can hear his teeth rattling - seemed to be in denial that she was gone, his voice starting to come back into focus for Tony.
“She hit her head, I think she did at least. I don’t know. She won’t wake up. She—she needs Cho, Mr. Stark. She needs to wake up.”
Tony feels completely out of his depth, his heart aching at the way Peter held her close.
“She’s fine, Mr. Stark. She just—she needs help.” Tony closes his eyes, Peter’s cries growing louder.
“I tried-I tried to wake her up, but she wouldn’t. I didn’t know what to do, Beck got away and I…” Peter gasped, Tony’s vision blurring as he opened his eyes, staring into Peter’s as he rocked Michelle gently.
“What if he comes back? What if he tries to take her again? I can’t, I can’t lose her, Mr. Stark.”
Tony braces himself, knowing that what he was going to say next was not only going to stay with Peter for years to come, but would possibly break him - Tony’s heart shattering at the losses in front of him.
The first being Michelle - bright, passionate, sparkling Michelle. He’d always liked her, from the minute Peter had told him about her and Tony knew from the moment that he’d met her that he had met his match - someone who loved Peter just as fiercely and as completely as he did.
Michelle was dead, a life snuffed out before it had ever really had the chance to begin - Tony couldn’t even begin to make sense of it.
But what broke Tony was the loss of Peter’s innocence, the knowledge that while this wasn’t the first death in Peter’s life that he had been unable to prevent — it might be one that Tony feared he would never be able to recover from.
“Peter, I need you to listen to me.”
“You—you called for Cho right? MJ she— she’s been unconscious for too long. She needs to wake up. You have to help me wake her up.”
“Peter.” Tony’s voice is soft, staving down his own grief as he looks past Michelle - his own eyes boring into Peter’s, seeing the unimaginable and overwhelming grief in his.
“Mr. Stark, please. Help me, please. She won’t, MJ won’t wake up.”
“Peter, listen to me. I need you to listen, okay?” Tony wills his voice to be stable, soothing - wills for his hands to be steady as he softly rests it on Peter’s shoulders - Peter shuddering as he does.
“ Please. ” Peter cries, his voice barely above a whisper.
“She’s gone, Peter. MJ’s gone.” The tortured cry that comes out of Peter’s mouth causes a chill to run down his spine, Tony’s composure threatening to break.
But he has to continue, Tony knows that he can’t afford to break down, no matter how much this horrifies him - no matter how much the idea of a world without Michelle Jones and the effect of what that would do to Peter threatens to overwhelm him.
Tony has to be present - right in this moment - and walk Peter through to the truth.
“No she’s—she can’t be. She just needs Cho. She needs, you have to get me Cho.”
Tony says nothing, bringing his other hand to rest on Peter’s shoulder even as Peter holds Michelle tighter, his head leaning down against hers.
“I tried to save her.” Peter whispers, Tony’s breath hitching as a haunted look forms in Peter’s eyes. “I tried—I thought I saved her.”
He looks back to Tony, a sob building in the back of Tony’s throat at the desolation in Peter’s eyes, the sheer horror at knowing that it may never leave Peter’s eyes again.
“ Mr. Stark, please .”
“I’m sorry, Peter. I’m so sorry.” Tony’s voice wavers, tightening his grip on Peter’s shoulders as they start to shake.
Peter lets out a pained gasp, a sound that rattles Tony’s insides for how broken and miserable it is.
“I know, Peter. I know, I’m sorry.”
“I tried, I tried to save her.” Peter chokes out.
“I know, I know you did, kid.” Tony can hear the footsteps of the unnecessary medical team now, swallowing down his own agony to focus on Peter.
Tony could barely reconcile what he was seeing, Peter still holding Michelle tight - knowing that he was going to have to hurt Peter even more - to convince him to let her go.
Something that Tony knows that no matter what happens, Peter will never be able to do.
“Peter,” Tony’s voice is soft, one hand moving to his face. “You did good kid, okay? You brought her here but now it’s—“ Tony takes a shaky breath, “Now it’s time to let us take care of her okay?”
Peter stills, his eyes red-rimmed as his lip trembled - searching Tony’s face.
“I can’t-I can’t—“
“You can, Peter. You did good.” Tony feels Cho’s soft hand on his own shoulder, registering that she was bending down beside him.
“Hi Peter, it’s Cho. Let’s take Michelle down to the medical bay alright? Can you let me do that?”
Peter’s breath hitches, his eyes dancing between them. “You’ll… you’ll help her?”
Cho and Tony share a look, only to look back at Peter who lets out another choked sob.
“Let me take her, Peter. You’ve done great, you did great in bringing her here. But let us take her now.”
Peter says nothing, Tony wondering how much of a monster he’ll have to be - how much stronger he’ll have to become, to take Michelle’s body out of Peter’s hands. But then Peter relents, loosening his grip on Michelle even as he begins to sob even harder.
In one swift motion, Cho takes Michelle - Tony seeing the blur of people around him, lifting her away from them. But Tony’s eyes are on Peter, immediately leading him into his arms as Peter falls into them.
Haunting, guttural sobs come out of Peter as Tony holds him, gently rocking back and forth. Tony closes his eyes, running one hand across his back, another softly threading through his hair.
Tony knows that there’s nothing he can do, nothing he could possibly say to ease the agony of what Peter’s going through - his own memories of seeing Pepper fall, fingers just out of his grasp, as she disappeared into the fire and darkness.
Pepper had survived it, impossibly - something Tony still thanked the universe for. But as Peter’s cries grow louder, Tony’s grip on him tightening, he only wishes the universe had been kinder to Peter, had given him a miracle too.
Tony can’t fix this, no one ever could. But Tony could hold him, bring Peter close to his chest and embrace him, willing with everything within him that he could take away the devastating pain of this loss.
He can’t, Tony knows it.
But as Peter’s horrifying cries ring out, the agonizing reality finally settling onto him - Tony does the only thing that he can.
He holds him.