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Something the Soul Needs

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Another day, another alien portal opening up over New York City.

God, I’m getting too old for this, Tony thinks as he sends a blast at another alien coming his way, propelling it directly into one its buddies and sending them both to the pavement below.

“Nice one, Mister Stark!” Peter says through their private comm, and Tony glances over at where the kid is swinging around a few blocks down, webbing aliens up and getting any stray civilians out of harm’s way. 

Tony had been grateful that Steve had told the kid to keep back from the main fight as they’d made their way over in the quinjet. Peter had only been training with the group for a few months, and this was only his third mission with the team. 

Tony had been hoping he’d be used to it by now, but the fear he harbored that Peter might get hurt or worse every time they departed to handle yet another crisis had yet to abate, even with the previous successes. It was why he had acquiesced to letting Steve take point in the first place– not trusting himself to make objective decisions where Peter was concerned.

But for the moment at least, the kid’s relatively safe.

“Thanks, underoos,” he says back to Peter’s compliment just before Steve’s voice comes onto the group comm.

“Strange just got here. Says he can close the portal but it’ll take a little time. Everyone hang tight and stay alert.”

“Roger, Rogers,” Tony replies, smirking to himself when he gets audible groans out of Sam and Wanda, while Peter just lets out a snicker that betrays his age.

“Wow, that was a terrible joke, Mister– whoa!

“Peter?” Tony cries out at the same time Steve does. He whips his head around to where he’d last seen the kid, but the street is empty. Nevertheless he begins to make his way over, though it’s slow going– there must be at least a hundred aliens in the air. 

Tony sends out another blast just as he hears a roar behind him. He turns around just in time to see one of the aliens fall, Sam giving him a nod before flying back into the fray. 

“Kid,” Tony says into the main comm when Peter still hasn’t responded, “answer me right now or–”

“I’m okay,” he finally hears Peter respond, and Tony lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.  

“Heads up though,” Peter continues, “the purple ones can shoot some type of paralyzing poison darts from their mouths– one just tried to stick me but hit one of the green dudes instead, and it went straight down.”

“Good to know,” Steve replies as Tony looks around again. All around him are the larger green aliens, although down nearer to where the kid’s at he sees two of the smaller purple ones.

He blasts two more creatures of the sky before heading in Peter’s direction. He spots the kid webbing up a purple one, before turning to Tony and giving him a thumbs up from where he is half a block over. As soon as Peter finishes he pushes off the building he’s clinging to and swings to meet Tony halfway. 

If Tony’s arrival hadn’t distracted him, what happened next might have been avoided. But as it is, a green alien descends on Tony just as another purple creature appears from around a building corner, directly behind Peter.

“Kid, watch out!” Tony cries, trying to blast the green alien but it dodges out of the way, still making its way to Tony and keeping him from getting to Peter.

“What’s the–”

The purple alien spits a poison dart directly at Peter’s back, and this one doesn’t miss. Tony watches in horror as the kid goes immediately limp, the speed of his last upward swing propelling him forward for a few seconds before gravity begins to carry him down.

Tony sends another blast at the green creature coming after him, pausing only long enough to make sure it hits its mark before sending a second perfectly-aimed one at the purple alien that stuck Peter and blasting over. 

The kid is careening down while Tony flies as fast as he can toward the teen, pushing his repulsors and ignoring the voice in his head that tells him he’s too far away, that he won’t make it in time–


The kid drops out of Tony’s sight then, and there’s only just a building between them now but it’s too much, and even though Tony doesn’t see him land he winces all the same at the knowledge that Peter had to have already hit the pavement.

But when Tony finally gets around the last corner, he sees that no– Peter didn’t hit the pavement. Instead, the scene that greets him is somehow inconceivably worse.

“Oh, my god.”

Rather than landing on the cement - which would have been bad enough - Peter had landed on a fence. An old, rusting, wrought iron spiked fence.

Tony blasts down, landing on the ground and racing over, face plate lifting. He shuts off his comms - ignoring the way Steve demands he answer him - and looks around quickly as he runs. Not seeing any more creatures, Tony focuses back on the kid.

“Peter?” he calls out, heart beating madly in his ribcage. The teen doesn’t respond, and Tony fights the urge to vomit as the damage the kid’s taken becomes all too clear.

Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, please god don’t be dead–

Peter’s body is strewn haphazardly across the fence, having landed on his back at a slight angle. His head, arms and legs hang limply, as though reaching toward the ground below. Peter's masked face is turned toward Tony, who moves to cradle the kid’s head and neck gently against his chest plate - thankful as all get-out when he sees Peter’s own chest is rising and falling - before examining the teen’s injuries more closely, a sharp exhale escaping him.

Three bloody metal spikes jut out from the Peter’s body– one through his right shoulder, another from his abdomen and the last jutting out from his left thigh. Blood is already flowing down the delicate ironwork and dripping onto the pavement below, small pools slowly increasing in size.

The way in which the kid is speared through and splayed out grimly reminds Tony of the butterfly collection his father used to proudly display in their mansion library when he was a child. The memory has Tony violently jerking his gaze away from the gruesome sight, trying to gather himself and stave off the panic attack he feels building.

“FRIDAY?” he croaks out, still refusing to look back.

“Three large puncture wounds, boss– the first just below the right clavicle, the second through the stomach and the third just to the side of the left femur, which has also nicked the femoral artery. Immediate medical attention is recommended or Mister Parker will soon succumb to blood loss.”

“Jesus,” Tony whispers, taking a long, deep breath. “How long do we have?”

“At the current rate of blood volume depletion, I estimate seventeen to nineteen minutes. I have already alerted Doctor Cho and her team of his injuries. They are preparing the surgical suite now.”

Shit. This is bad– really, really bad. Peter could die kind of bad.

As soon as he thinks that last thought Tony mentally flings it away, because no. Peter wasn’t going to die– not today, not tomorrow, not in the next seventy years if Tony has any say in it.

No, it was completely unacceptable, and Tony Stark just doesn’t do unacceptable. Never has, never will.

Tony turns his comm back on.

There’s a chorus of voices calling for him and Peter both now, but Tony talks right over them. “I need some help over here! Kid got hit by one of those poison darts and then landed on– on a damn spiked fence.”

There’s silence for a moment before Steve replies.

“How bad, Tony?”

Tony looks Peter up and down again, hoping the image before him will have miraculously improved, but nothing’s changed except for the growing stains of blood.

“Really fucking bad, Cap.”

More silence, then, “Everyone who can, get to the jet right now. Everyone else, make your way over as you can.”

That taken care of, Tony focuses again on his kid– his very smart, very brave, very hurt kid. His kid…

“Peter, can you hear me?” he asks, hating the tremor in his voice. When the kid doesn’t respond, Tony gently lifts his mask up, heart breaking when he sees Peter is indeed awake.

The kid is staring up at him, eyes full of tears and pain, but otherwise it seems the poison still has him completely paralyzed. 

“Oh, kiddo,” Tony says, retracting one of his gauntlets and using his fingers to first wipe away Peter’s tears and then to cup his cheek tenderly. “You’re going to be okay. I know it hurts but we’re going to get you out of here and to Cho and you’re going to be fine, alright?”

Peter just blinks at him, and Tony doesn’t break their gaze even as he directs his attention to back to FRIDAY.

“Fri, can I– should I move him?”

“The spikes should not be removed until surgery is immediate. Peter will need to be cut down from the fence, carefully lifted and then propped on his side for transport. It’s at least a two-man job, boss.”

Tony eyes Peter’s injuries once more before turning back to Peter, who is now trying to look down at them himself, but unable to lift his head up.

“Hey hey– eyes on me, kiddo,” Tony orders.

Peter’s gaze flits back to him, a shuddery breath escaping through his lips. The kid can’t speak but his eyes say everything– he’s terrified and in agony. And also, going by the glassy look he has, going into shock.

Well, Tony can try to help with one of those things, at least.

“Jeez Pete, you really can’t stay away from trouble, huh?” Tony says as lightly as he can manage, trying to distract the teen. “We might need to rethink this Avengers recruitment business. What would you say to switching tracks and being the team mascot? Or, how does waterboy sound? At the very least I think we need to add bubble wrap to the list of planned suit upgrades.”

Tony’s chuckle when Peter rolls his eyes at him is perhaps a bit too forced, but it doesn’t matter– the pain and fear in the kid’s gaze has momentarily dulled, which is all Tony was aiming for.

However, the moment of levity is broken when Peter starts to cough, and Tony can’t hide the terror he feels when specks of blood appear on the boy’s lips. Peter lets out a moan, more tears escaping and running down into the curls at his temples.

Tony can barely stand to see the boy in pain like this. And worse, there’s nothing he can do about it– nothing to do but comfort the teen and wait for the cavalry.

Peter groans again, face twisting into a tiny grimace. The poison must be wearing off, Tony realizes. The kid coughs again, more blood leaking from between his lips, a macabre contrast with how frighteningly pale Peter has become.

Some fuckin’ superhero I am, Tony thinks bitterly to himself. He can’t even keep his own damn kid safe… his own damn kid… 

I love you, Peter, he thinks just then, and it’s not the first time he’s thought it.

But for the first time, he actually allows himself to fully revel in the truth of the thought. 

This is my kid– my child.

Fuck with him, universe, and you answer to me.

Tony shakes his head, trying to ground himself in the present. He can’t think too hard about how much he loves the kid right now or he’ll really lose it, and Tony can’t afford that– Peter can’t afford that.

Once again Tony wipes away Peter’s tears. “I know it hurts, kiddo. I know. But I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere.”

More coughing, more blood. Peter’s gaze begins to go distant as he strains to breathe.

A small sob escapes from between Tony’s teeth, and he looks away as he tries and fails to hide his growing panic. By sheer will he forces the next sob down, turning back and giving Peter a reassuring smile.

“You’re going to be okay, underoos,” Tony repeats, and is surprised when the promise gets a tiny nod from Peter.

Peter, who pins Tony with an expression of complete and utter trust, as if Tony’s simply saying he’ll be okay will somehow make it true. It’s a belief only the soul of a child can carry the weight of, and it floors Tony to have it directed at him.

God, Tony loves this kid so damn much.

He hears the sound of the quinjet approaching then, and looks up just as it descends. As soon as it lands Natasha and Wanda hop out, racing over.

Natasha’s face reveals nothing as she takes in Peter’s state, but Wanda lets out a loud gasp when she sees the spikes speared through the teen’s body. Tony shoots her a meaningful glare - don’t scare the kid - and she quickly gathers herself. 

He turns back to Peter again, hoping the kid didn’t pick up on Wanda’s reaction. But Peter’s eyes are closed, his ashen face totally slack.

“Hey, kid,” Tony says, gently tapping the boy’s cheek. “Kid? Peter!”

Peter doesn’t respond, not so much as a twitch. Tony doesn’t have to look down to know the pools of blood at his feet have grown exponentially, even in the short time they’ve been waiting.

No, not him. You can’t have him–

“No,” Tony exclaims, then louder. “No!”

He feels a hand on his arm, turns to see Natasha gazing at him intently. “He’s going to be alright, Tony. Now let’s trade places so you can get him down and to Cho, okay?”

Biting his cheek and once more forcing himself to swallow his panic, Tony manages to respond with a tight nod. Carefully he places Peter’s head in Natasha’s hands, as if passing a newborn infant.

He starts to slice through the wrought iron spears just a few inches below where they pierced through Peter, while Wanda uses her magic to hold the teen’s body steady.

As soon as the last spear is sliced clean, Tony stands back, gaze fixed once more on Peter’s slack features. 

“Okay Wanda,” Natasha says, “Let’s take him to the jet and–”

“Actually, I have a better idea.”

Tony turns to see Dr. Strange appear out of thin air, Steve and Sam right behind him. They must have just finished closing the alien portal. 

To his credit, Strange wastes no time, glancing over Peter impassively before he turns away. With only a few hand movements he opens a portal to reveal the compound’s surgical suite, Cho and her team all looking up at them in surprise.

As Wanda uses her magic to lift Peter through the portal, Tony takes one last chance to grasp one of Peter’s limp hands just long enough to give it a tight squeeze. 

“Hang on for me, kiddo. Please, hang on.”

I love you.

Awareness comes back to Peter in waves, his senses flipping back online one by one.

His nose crinkles when he smells a clean, antiseptic scent. Medbay, his brain supplies foggily– a thought which is confirmed when the first thing he hears is a steady beeping sound that matches his heartbeat.

Uh oh, he thinks as he blinks his eyes open, what did I do now?

The lights in his medbay room are very dim, a sign that it’s nighttime. But the last thing Peter remembers is fighting aliens in the middle of Manhattan, and it wasn’t even noon.

No, wait– the actual last thing he remembers is Mister Stark promising him he’d be okay, after he– 

The memory of getting shish-kabobed a few times over by an old spiked fence comes back full force, and Peter lets out a soft moan as his sense of touch returns, along with a dull but manageable pain emanating from a few points in his body. His right shoulder, his abdomen, and his… left thigh? It’s hard to pin-point the exact sources.

At Peter’s moan there had been a soft rustling on his left, and Peter lazily turns his head to see Mister Stark sitting up from where he’s crashed out in a medbay chair, blinking a few times before his eyes catch the teen’s gaze.

“Peter,” the man exclaims, glancing up and across the room before looking back down at Peter, expression soft and adoring. His voice is quiet when he asks, “How are you feeling?”

Peter turns his head to the other side, sees May laid out sleeping on a cot. He turns back to Mister Stark, a fuzzy memory of the joke the man made when he was comforting Peter popping up to the forefront of his foggy mind.

“Y’r a dad, M’ssr Star’,” Peter says, only to belatedly realize that didn’t come out quite the way he meant it to. 

Wow, they must have him on the really good stuff. That fence must have done quite the number on him.

“What was that, kid?” Mister Stark softly asks, his expression remaining kind, if slightly confused.

“Team m’scot… w’terboy,” Peter tries to explain, struggling to get his brain to cooperate. Already he feels sleep pulling him back down. “S’a dad joke.”

“Got you to forget about the pain though,” Mister Stark says with a small chuckle, before his eyes turn stormy, his voice going low. “You scared me today, underoos. For a few moments there I thought…”

“S’rry,” Peter replies, blinking slowly. “G’nna be okay though. Tha’s wha’ you said so i‘s true. Cuz y’always watch out f’r me… jus’ like a dad.”

Jeez, he really has no filter right now, huh… good thing he’s too drugged to care, he supposes.

Even as his brain drifts back offline Peter doesn’t miss the myriad emotions that flit across Mister Stark’s face at Peter’s words before his expression settles on a simple, unmistakable one: love.

Mister Stark raises a hand to gently smooth back some of Peter’s curls that had fallen into his eyes. “Yes, well. In that case, get some more rest, son.”

Peter knows his mentor was making a joke in an effort to keep things light and perhaps even plausibly deniable, but all the same– the amount of affection in the use of son is obvious, and Peter can’t help the sleepy grin that overtakes his features.

He doesn’t think he’ll ever call Mister Stark Dad– he never even called Uncle Ben that. But at the same time, he recognizes calling him Mister Stark no longer fits their relationship either.

Peter closes his eyes, still smiling. “Love you, Tony.”

There’s a few beats of silence before Peter hears Tony respond in a voice tinted with reverence, “Love you too, kiddo. Now get some rest– May and I’ll be here when you wake up.”

The last thing Peter registers is a soft kiss at his temple before he drifts off once more, content in the knowledge he’s safe and protected.