“Mister Stark, this is lame.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m being lame? Care to remind me exactly who it was that approved your spandex-wearing ass to be here right now when you have a history test tomorrow?”
Peter just frowns petulantly down at the stack of history textbooks Tony's dumped down in front of him.
He's squirrelled away into one of the cramped booths at the back of the Quinjet, military-grade seatbelt digging through the thin material of the Spider-Man suit and into his back. Steve's shield is resting opposite him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he hopes they don't encounter any turbulence because he's been hit by that thing once before and once was definitely enough.
It’s also not exactly the most conventional of study spots but it will do. Even with the roaring of the turbojet engines, it’s still probably better than his apartment right now. Peter has surmised that the college kid who lives above them must be learning to play the drums at the moment, judging by the incessant noise that's been pounding through the ceiling every evening for the past few weeks.
That doesn’t mean that Peter’s happy about this though. They’re on their way to Norway, for crying out loud, to reconnoitre an abandoned mental asylum that Steve suspects might have been covering up Hydra experimentation before it was shut down in the eighties.
That's cool. Peter's finally been allowed to come with them on something interesting, and he’s being stuck down the back to study while the rest of them plan out their movements for when the Quinjet touches down.
Tony ignores Peter's protests and stares pointedly until Peter grudgingly relents and reaches out to pull one of the textbooks towards him. He paused halfway and furrows his brow down at the copy of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War in front of him. “Why do you even have these anyway? I didn’t know you brought them.”
Tony hums noncommittally. “Yeah, well, I do lots of things you don’t know about.”
Peter screws his face up.
“Steve could probably give you a first-person recount of all of this,” Tony waves his hands across the books spread over the middle of the table, “if you wanted. Y’know, him being old and all that.”
“We’re looking at the battle of Atlanta during the 1860s Civil War, Mister Stark. Even Captain Rogers wasn’t around then.”
Tony brushes off the correction with a good-natured scoff as he pulls himself up from his own seat across from Peter, making for the front of the jet where Steve and Natasha are already huddled. “Just a suggestion, kid,” he says, before turning around to fix Peter with his stare again. “Get some study done; I won't be held responsible by the goddamned American education system if you flunk this test. Gimme a yell if you need me, or anything.”
Peter wonders how much help Mister Stark would actually be if he were to ask him for help, how much he knows, if anything at all, about the American Civil War, but he nods dutifully anyway as he’s left alone in his little corner with his pile of books.
High school sucks.
Peter is only halfway through the third chapter when the Quinjet lands. He kept getting distracted by hushed voices at the front of the jet, but the stern stares that Tony would shoot back his way were enough to keep him at least mildly on task. Whether or not any of the information is actually going to remain in his head is another, entirely different, question.
“Pete, get up here,” Tony beckons, and Peter hastily shoves the book in front of him closed and scrambles for the front of the jet to join the others.
“We’re in Norway, already?” is the first thing Peter asks, slightly incredulously, as he steps up to Tony’s side.
Tony nods. “I’m almost offended you even had to ask. These things travel at eight times the speed of sound. Plus, I invented them, so that's gotta count for extra points."
Natasha rolls her eyes at Tony's clear peacocking, and Peter just remains wide-eyed in his revelation that Tony's handiwork got them from upstate New York to a town on the edge of Norway in less than an hour.
Steve, clearly sick of their back and forth chatter, snaps his fingers lightly to get their attention. “Focus up. This doesn’t have to take all night as long as we operate efficiently. We just want to get in there and check the place out for anything that looks out of the ordinary.”
“Out of the ordinary for an abandoned mental hospital? Won’t everything be, like, out of the ordinary?” Peter questions.
Steve raises one shoulder in a sort of concession to Peter’s statement. “Trust me. If HYDRA’s been here like I think they have, you’ll know when you find something out of the ordinary.”
“Peter, we could use you and Nat leading us in, if there are sensor systems in any of the entrances then your agility getting past them will be good. Tony and I will check the perimeter then follow you both in once the entrances are cleared-”
"Nuh-uh, back the hell up, Cap," Tony interrupts, "did you miss every word I said to you yesterday? If the kid is here, he stays with me.”
“Mister Stark, really, it’s fine, I don’t-”
“Nope. End of discussion.”
Steve to his credit, doesn’t even try to argue. All of them have learnt at this point that Peter is something that when it comes to Tony, you just do not mess with.
“Okay. That’s fine. Nat, you and I can do the perimeter. Tony, you guys okay to go in first?”
“Never heard a better plan in my life,” Tony says, and his voice lilts with sarcasm but no one calls him out on it. “Alright, kid. Ready to go and kick some ass?”
Peter nods diligently, but he’s practically vibrating with excitement and pent-up energy. That’s good, Tony supposes. He’ll need all the energy he can get out there this evening. God, Tony hopes it’s only for the evening and they find whatever they need so they can go home. Having to camp out on the Quinjet has never boded well for him or his back.
“Be careful out there, you two, and keep the comms lines open.” Steve knows how Tony is, frequently switching over to their private channel so he can talk to the kid without prying ears, but he wants everyone alert today, especially if it’s just the four of them. “This place could be rigged, you never know.”
Peter is the only one angled the right way to see Tony roll his eyes. “None of these places ever fuckin’ are. Probably just Fury trying to find something to do with us. We’ll be fine.”
“There’s literally no way this place isn’t haunted,” Peter mutters as he traipses behind Tony down a hallway. It’s dark, damp and every door they’ve passed has either been bolted shut or boarded over.
It kinda looks like a scene out of Grave Encounters, and Peter hated that film enough when MJ made them watch it last Halloween. Even though he's stoked to just be allowed to be here, he's not sure he likes the real-life version that much either.
Turns out there was no high tech security system like Steve had been worried about, only a set of rusted bars covering the side entrance they found that took Tony all of one repulsor blast to completely disintegrate.
And now, they’re just walking. They have been for the better part of half an hour and they’ve found nothing.
Peter sees the plates of Tony’s armours raise in a shrug to his statement. “Haunted, maybe, sure. Believe what you want, kid. But HYDRA? The most suspicious thing I’ve seen so far was that door blowing shut before and that was the damn wind.”
"I'm pretty sure there was a bloodstain on the wall we just passed.
“Could just be rust,” Tony offers nonchalantly.
“I’m sorry, are you even looking around? There’s no chance that was rust,” Peter hisses. “What exactly are we even looking for, anyway? I mean, apart from anything out of the ordinary, or whatever.”
"Steve and Fury seem to think HYDRA had their roots down here at some point. There were a few reports of pharmaceutical testing on patients here, illegal shit like that, that was confirmed, but whether it was HYDRA or one of their cover-ups, the jury's still out. I'm leaning kinda towards a hard no, at the moment."
They turn a corner, and as they do, they find the first open door they've come across so far.
Tony throws a quick searching glance around the room as he stands outside, but he must deem it safe for them both because he ducks through the doorway. Peter follows, just relieved that the monotony of walking down the same musty hallway is broken.
“I mean, if we’re looking for evidence of experimentation, this is probably it, right?”
The room is huge and Peter figures it must be nearly as big as the gymnasium at Midtown, but it’s nowhere near as inviting. It’s windowless, for a start, with at least ten metal examination tables in the middle. The base of Peter’s neck prickles uncomfortably at the sight.
“Mmm, probably,” Tony acquiesces. He picks up an old syringe from the floor and studies it for a second before dropping it again. He toes it back into a pile of trash that has accumulated in one of the corners of the room.
“Are we meant to be like, collecting evidence, because this looks pretty suspect if you ask-”
Peter is interrupted mid-sentence by the sound of the door creaking shut, and the two of them whirl around just in time to see it thunk closed behind them.
Tony frowns and takes a few tentative steps towards the door. Peter tries to follow, but he throws one arm out and pushes back against Peter's chest; a clear message:
Don’t you dare. Stay back.
Peter stands alert, ready to spring forward should something be on the other side of the door, but when Tony tries the door handle, nothing happens. Yanking at it yields the same result. The thick metal of the door doesn’t budge. Nor does it when he shoves his shoulder up against it with all the force he can muster, or blasts it with his repulsor.
"You think your regular run-of-the-mill old asylum was using this level of security?" Peter questions, apprehension clear in his voice, as Tony steps back, shoulders slumped slightly in defeat.
"Who knows. Either way, may as well get comfy, kid. Who knows how long it'll take Cap and Nat to get over to this side of the building."
He thinks this over again for a second, before lifting one hand up to his ear. "FRIDAY? Can you get through to Steve or Natasha? We could use some backup." Peter watches as he waits for a second, before trying again. "FRI?"
There’s no reply, and there might even be a little bit of desperation in the next glance that Tony throws in Peter’s direction. “Any chance you've got Karen on standby?”
Peter shrugs. He hasn’t heard from his AI in a while, come to think of it. Probably not a great sign. “Hey, Karen? You there? We’ve kinda got a situation.”
Nothing but silence.
“And, comms dampeners, those are totally normal too, right?”
Tony hears Peter’s voice shake almost imperceptibly as he asks this. He doesn’t respond to this question either.
He’s not sure if he wants to have to face the truth of what the answer might be.
“Mister Stark, we have to do something," Peter tries, after a few minutes of standing around and watching Tony getting increasingly terse with FRIDAY when the AI won’t answer him. Peter isn’t sure why he’s even still trying. "You take this side of the room and I’ll take the other side. We can scout around and see if we find anything."
Tony just looks at him like he’s crazy, but Peter thinks this is a far more sane idea than standing around and hoping that speaking to a currently non-functional AI in a stern tone is going to get them anywhere.
"C'mon, there's gotta be a bigger vent or something around here that I could get loose, maybe get up there and unlock the door from the outside or something."
“I don’t like that plan,” Tony says without hesitating.
“We don’t really have a choice unless we just want to sit around and do nothing,” Peter points out.
He really doesn’t like the sound of that. Ever since the door clicked shut, things feel strange. Not dangerous, necessarily, but just straight-up weird. He's sure he can hear some sort of quiet whooshing sound from the smaller vents at the bottom of the walls, and what was just a prickling sensation at the back of his neck has begun to dial up for a reason he can't quite identify. They need to do something.
“Alright..." Tony relents, before adding, "just stay close," as if the room is big enough that they could lose each other. At the forefront of his mind is making sure Peter doesn’t do anything reckless, making sure he stays out of harm's way. He’s the one who agreed to let Peter tag along with them in the first place, after all. He’s been trying to get better at relaxing his boundaries a little bit recently, accepting that Peter can do far more than just web around New York and help Tony knock the dents out of his Iron Man suit in the lab.
Situations like this only serve to make him wonder whether he had those boundaries in place for a reason.
“Will do," Peter agrees.
Peter takes to the right side of the room, and out of the corner of his eye every so often, Tony can see him pulling himself up onto the ceiling to test the strength of the vents attached up there. Tony doubts he'd even fit but none of them budge even with Peter's super strength so it doesn't particularly matter, anyway.
Tony busies himself sorting through stacks of files in varying states of decay, dampness creeping over them and decaying the paper.
He’s getting into a groove eventually, keeping one ear open for the sound of footfall outside in case Steve and Nat come looking, while he rummages through drawers, taking stock of the various medications and equipment stored within them.
He’s distracted though, when after what must have been close to half an hour or so, Peter begins stumbling slightly, tripping over his own feet every so often. His breathing is catching in a way that Tony is absolutely not a fan of. He tries to keep his thoughts to himself for a few minutes longer to give the kid a chance to compose himself, but when he sees Peter reach out to grip the wall next to him to hold himself up, he can’t anymore.
“Alright, that’s enough, kid, what’s wrong?” Tony asks, voice carrying around the empty space in echoes. “I swear to god, I thought you were limping when you swung by yesterday. If you’ve got an injury that you’re hiding, give it up. We've talked about this."
Peter stares at him from across the room, and maybe it’s just the slight distance between them but Tony is sure his eyes look slightly glazed over.
“I think… I think there’s something wrong.”
"You don't say," Tony mutters. The words are meant to come out as a sarcastic quip, but all the humour in them gets stuck in his throat. "Alright, that's it. I'm overruling your plan, it was a stupid plan in the first place."
“Hey,” Peter protests weakly, but just as Tony is beginning to stride across to the other side of the room, Peter’s legs fold underneath him as he almost collapses forward. He catches himself at the last second, wrapping his fingers around one of the metal examination tables to keep himself upright.
“Mister Stark? I, uh… d’you think this counts as the whole ‘something out of the ordinary’ thing that Captain Rogers was talking about?”
Tony ignores this pointedly as he makes the last few steps at an almost uncomfortably fast pace, reaching out to grasp Peter's shoulder and steady him. "You're alright. Can you stand?"
“Yeah, I think so,” Peter nods, but his legs betray him as he tries to push away from the table he was leaning up against and just ends up collapsing against Tony’s side.
“Okay, so no standing then. That’s fine,” Tony reassures him. He ignores the way his heart-rate is starting to speed up incrementally at the sight of Peter so unsteady on his own feet.
He supports him across the room until he can slide down to sit on the cold concrete floor.
“There we go, better?”
Peter nods minutely.
“You have any idea what’s going on, Pete?” Tony asks, because he’s at a total loss. Peter turns his head ever so slightly to catch Tony’s eyes. There’s guilt sitting in his own, and Tony immediately knows there’s something that he hasn’t been told.
“What is it?”
“I… I think there’s gas being pumped in here. I can hear a sound, like some sort of whistling sound, super quiet though, coming from the smaller vents,” he admits. “I can smell something as well, something kinda sweet, but I-I, I’m not sure.”
Tony’s heart drops. That’s not exactly great news.
Keep it together, Stark.
“We’ll just take a break here then. Steve or Nat will be by soon, the building wasn’t too big, it won’t take them much longer to get here.”
They both know that’s a lie, the building is enormous, it had loomed over them in the last of the evening light when they first disembarked the Quinjet. There’s no guarantee of when anyone might pass by.
For now, Tony just settles himself next to Peter on the floor, making sure he’s within arms reach in case he’s needed. He listens for footsteps. There are none.
“Mister Stark? I’m, uh…”
“I think, I think I’m a bit scared.”
Peter’s voice sounds small. It’s childish in a way that Tony hasn’t heard from him in a while. Tony has to remind himself that while he tries to make himself seem older than he is sometimes, Peter is still only sixteen.
“That’s okay. We’re all a little bit scared sometimes.”
He turns to give his full attention to Peter, rather than just staring at the door continuously in the hope of hearing some sign of life outside. His face is ashen pale, all the blood drained out of it, and his frame is trembling as he pulls air in through his mouth in a panic like he can’t get enough of it. If there is gas being pumped in here then he’s just speeding up the process this way; Tony knows he needs to be calmed down and quickly.
“How’re you feeling?”
“My chest hurts and m’sleepy, Mister Stark,” Peter mumbles and Tony freezes. He tries to stop his voice from trembling when he speaks next.
“No, no, no, Peter, we need to stay awake. Just try to stay awake and focus on breathing, yeah? As slow and steady as you can, you don’t want to breathe in any more of whatever’s in the air than you have to.”
Peter nods his head where it’s propped up against the wall. His eyes slip shut again and he reaches up with a shaky hand to grab at his chest, pulling at the material of the suit. “Make it stop. Want it to stop.”
Tony feels like he’s been sucker-punched in the gut.
Peter is watching him with his pain written all over his face and Tony is just sitting there. The gap between them is suddenly a chasm. It’s too far. He can’t get to Peter if Peter needs him. Too far.
“C’mere, kid,” Tony shushes, his voice as steady and soothing as he can manage when he reaches out to pull Peter closer to him, up against his side and into his arms. Where he can hold him, protect him.
Peter, who has previously been holding himself rigidly up against the concrete, goes limp in his hold, curling against him like he can seep all of the comfort and security he needs from the contact. Tony hopes he can.
“Will you stay?” Peter mumbles against his chest. Tony hopes his mind isn’t already so addled that he’s forgotten Tony literally has no way to go anywhere else, even if he wanted to.
“I’m not going anywhere, Pete. I’m gonna stay right here with you.”
This is it, Tony’s sure. No one’s come for them yet. There’s no getting out of this one.
He and Peter are dying.
The gas fills the room now, air thick with the slightly sweet smell that Peter had spoken about earlier.
It’s slowly but surely making its way down their throats, curling in tendrils to wrap around their lungs.
Tony can’t breathe.
His vision is going hazy, everything blurring in front of him but he uses what little movement he has left in his body to wrench Peter closer to him. He may be slipping, but Peter’s state is deteriorating faster; the kid is still pressed right up against his side and he can feel his laboured breaths slowing.
There have been plenty of times in the short couple of years that he’s known Peter that he’s cursed his fast metabolism and this is definitely one of them.
“Peter,” Tony tries to say as loudly as he can, but it comes out as more of a rasp. His throat is closing up. His chest protests, fighting back with stabbing pain, every time he tries to talk.
“P-Pete,” he tries again, and he finally gets a feeble groan in response. Peter’s eyes remain closed.
“Gotta stay awake,” he tries, but this time he doesn’t even get a groan in response.
Peter is silent, head lolled into the crook of Tony’s neck. He strokes his thumb up and down Peter’s arm, clumsily tracing the webbed patterns of his suit to try and create some level of reassurance, no matter how small, no matter how useless it probably is at this point.
He just wants to go home.
Home. Where is that? His mind is jumbled now.
All he knows is the pain in his chest and the tightness of his throat and the weight of Peter resting against him.
Somewhere by the ocean springs to mind but it just doesn’t feel quite right. Home is flitting through his mind and sifting through his fingers, escaping his grasp. He's forgetting where it is.
Maybe it doesn't matter.
It's not like he's going back there anyway, but he'd kill to be able to have Peter back there. A home seems like somewhere he could keep Peter wrapped up. Safe.
He’s never believed in an afterlife, either, growing with a father who instilled in him that ‘the only things that are real are the things that can be proved.’
He doesn’t have a choice anymore. He has to believe, because the only other option is a dark void and an eternity of nothingness, and he doesn't want that for Peter. The kid hates the dark, he always sleeps with the door cracked open, even when he hopes Tony won't notice.
He'd hate the never-ending darkness of death.
He's good, though. He'll end up in heaven.
This should comfort Tony, but instead, he just shifts anxiously, frustrated when he doesn't have enough strength to pull Peter closer to him. It's selfish, the way he wishes that he and Peter could have more time together. They don't though, because even though he's tried his hardest to turn his life around, it doesn't matter how much clean energy, change the world for good type inventions he throws himself into, or how much money he donates to charity, or how much of his time he spends trying to look out for the orphaned spider-kid he has cradled in his arms right now, none of it has ever been enough to scrub the blood from his hands.
The merchant of death doesn’t belong in heaven.
But if anyone does, it’s Peter.
Oh god, please, please, just let him end up somewhere nice.
He’ll have his parents at least. And Ben. They’ll be able to take better care of him that Tony has ever been able to.
He wonders if his own parents will like Peter.
His mother was good. He’s always hoped that she ended up somewhere nice, as well. She’ll like Peter. So will Jarvis.
There’s always been a little part of Tony in the back of his mind that wishes he could introduce Peter to them. He thought they might be proud of him, for the way that he’s stepped up into a role in Peter’s life that no one ever thought he would be present, responsible or emotionally stable enough to fill. But here they are.
The last thing he does as his eyes slip shut is wrap his arms tighter around Peter, as tight as he can manage when it feels like the life is draining from him.
Please, for the love of God, I'm sorry I couldn't do it, but please, please, someone look after this kid for me.
Tony would give anything to make sure that Peter Parker is safe.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much left to give. He’s about to have nothing left to give.
The world goes dark.
He drifts away.
The next time Tony opens his eyes, glaring white light surrounds him.
It’s too bright, too harsh and he hates it.
When he squints, he can just about make out a woman sitting by his side, blonde hair catching in the light.
Maybe he did end up in heaven after all.
The woman shifts towards him slightly at this, and a soft voice responds, “no, honey.”
He doesn't have time to work through it, though, because unconsciousness is tugging him under again and after a second, he’s gone.
The second time Tony opens his eyes, the world seems to have softened around the edges a little bit.
Bright light is no longer trying to sear his retinas whenever he cracks his eyelids open. A beeping comes from somewhere on his right, but it’s quiet, monotonous and droning. Tony has never really found comfort in monotony, but right now it feels safe.
He sucks in an experimental breath, slow and steady, and it no longer catches in his throat. His airways feel open again, and he lets out a tiny shaky sigh of relief. He’s not dying. He can breathe.
Then everything rushes back over him.
The mission. The locked door. The gas. Struggling for air, choking, the gas sucking the last life out of him. And Peter. Oh dear god. Peter.
He tries to jerk up in bed but his body isn't responding the way he wants it to yet. His limbs don’t quite feel like they’re attached to his body but he needs to know what’s going on. He needs to know where Peter is.
Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter.
The steady beeping somewhere to his right that had just before been comforting and relaxing flies off the charts, and a chaotic, incessant beeping fills his ears. Tony hates it. He just wants his kid. Where the fuck is his kid?
Someone is speaking, but it doesn’t sound like Peter so he doesn’t care.
“Tony, you’re okay, you need to calm down. Tony, Tony.”
“Peter,” he gasps out.
“He’s fine, honey, Peter is fine, I promise. Can you look at me?”
It feels like it takes all of the effort Tony can muster up, but he turns his head in the direction he’s sure the voice is coming from.
Pepper. Perched in a seat next to his bed, looking completely and utterly undone, blonde hair pulled messily away from her face, one of Tony’s old t-shirts that she sleeps in pulled over her head.
“You recognise me now?”
He isn’t quite sure what she means by that but he doesn’t care because she’s here. “Pep,” he breathes and she smiles, but it’s tinged around the edges with sadness, her eyes watering.
"Peter's fine," she repeats because she knows him like the back of her hand. She knows he won't give a single shit about his own condition until he knows that Peter is okay.
“He’s… you’re sure he’s okay? Because he was dying, Pep, dying. I nearly let him die.”
“I’m sure. Look over there.”
Tony shifts so he can follow where she’s pointing with his eyes, and he lands on a second hospital bed. Unruly brown curls peek out from the covers.
May's asleep in a chair at the end of the bed, one hand stretched out to wrap protectively around his ankle.
The panic that Tony was drowning in only thirty seconds ago eases.
“You both had a close call, god, Tony, you both had a really, really close call. You’re okay, though. You’re going to be okay.”
Pepper looks closer to tears now, bringing a hand up to cover the way she bites down on her bottom lip, something Tony knows she does to try and stop herself from bursting into tears. He's been the one that's caused it one too many times at this point.
He should try and comfort her, he knows that much for certain, but he's not sure how - words keep failing him.
He looks at her for a long moment, before settling on an ineloquent, “fuck, I love you.” It seems like enough, for the moment.
He would have missed Pepper if he was gone. He's glad that he's not.
He leans into her and lets her hold him.
When Bruce reappeared in the room after an alert from Pepper that Tony had woken, he put his foot down and refused to fill Tony in on everything until he's deemed calm and stable enough to handle the information.
By that, he means that Tony has rehydrated himself, rested a little more and can take his eyes off Peter for more than ten seconds without throwing himself right back into the midst of a panic attack.
So Tony does just that. He chugs at least four glasses of water to appease his parched throat, albeit Pepper had to wrap her own hands around his to keep him steady. He lies back in bed and tries to rest as best he can.
The Peter thing, though, that takes a little more work. There’s a worry hardwired deep inside of him at the moment, that if he’s not watching over Peter constantly, when he looks away the kid will go limp and he’ll be choking again, not getting enough oxygen and Tony so nearly lost him, he doesn’t want to go through it again. He can’t go through it again.
Eventually, Bruce relents when he's happy enough with Tony's condition. He can't even get a word out before Tony is opening his mouth with questions.
“What the hell happened in there? Peter thought he could hear gas coming out of the vents, I - that must have been it, right?”
Bruce nods in confirmation. “He was right. Nitrous Oxide, to be exact”
“Wait, laughing gas?”
“I definitely wasn’t fucking laughing, I can tell you that much” Tony mutters.
"It's just a name, Tony. It's usually a fairly harmless gas, hence why we use it for most standard medical procedures, but with prolonged exposure to high levels like the both of you experienced it can be dangerous. I spoke with Steve and Natasha when they were here before. From the files they brought back with them, it seems like the room you were in was used for patient experimentation. My guess is that whatever mechanism was in place to release the nitrous when the door closed behind you both was probably once upon a time just intended to debilitate patients who tried to leave the room temporarily until the whoever was in control could reach the location."
Tony processes all of this slowly. His mind is still trapped in a fog. "Did Steve and Natasha find us?"
“They did. Got there just in time by the sounds of it. Even with the oxygen they had you both on aboard the Quinjet, by the time you got to me Tony, you had-”
"Honestly, I don't particularly give a shit about me. How's Peter?" Tony insists. Neither Pepper nor Bruce looks the least bit surprised at this.
“Peter… uh, Peter had the worst of it. Severe atelectasis, mostly. His left lung collapsed as a result of the amount of gas his body was trying to metabolise and process at once. We operated on him as soon as the both of you were brought in, and he’s breathing as normal. We’re not overly concerned about too many long-term health issues. A weakened immune system can sometimes be a side-effect of prolonged nitrous oxide exposure but considering his DNA, his immune system is strengthened anyway. He shoudn't have any adverse side effects going forward after recovery."
“You’ll keep an eye on it though, yeah?”
Bruce nods. “We will, of course.”
Tony relaxes a fraction more. They’re going to be okay.
They’re both okay.
Peter finally jerks awake just after one in the morning,
Pepper and May had been convinced to leave not long beforehand, eventually giving in to relinquishing their bedside vigil in favour of showers and proper rest at Tony’s request.
Since then, he’s been lying in the silence of the dark room, the dim glow of the monitors that Peter is still hooked onto, and the screen in the corner of the room displaying their vitals allowed him to make out the way Peter’s chest rose and fell in sleep. He relished in the fact that Peter is breathing. He trained his eyes on it, let it soothe him.
It was quiet. At least until Peter’s breathing sped up and his heart monitor started to beep wildly, similarly to Tony remembers his own doing when he woke up.
He sits up in bed, blankets pooling around his waist and the movement has Peter whipping his head around, eyes blown wide with fear and confusion.
When he meets Tony’s gaze, the heart monitor slows.
He opens his mouth for a second, then closes it again. He raises his hands in front of him, turning them slightly as if to check whether he's totally intact, solid, alive. His bottom lip trembles.
Tony is seriously considering calling Bruce, hand hovering over the call button beside his bed, but Peter’s vitals are still holding steady, save for his slightly erratic breathing and heart rate. It’s the middle of the night, Tony can handle this without waking anyone up.
They’re not dying, after all (at least, not anymore).
Echoing that sentiment, the first quivering words out of Peter’s mouth are, “I’m not dead.”
Tony nods his head. “That’s right, bud. The land of the living welcomes you.”
“But, b-but I couldn’t breathe and I was dying and I thought you were… uh, you were dying too. I thought we were going to die, Mister Stark.”
It’s something he never would have admitted to Peter when they were stuck in that room, but now in the safety of the MedBay, where he can hear Peter’s breathing from across the room. Though it’s laboured, it’s so far from the strangled sound he’d had to listen to trapped in that room, he decides it’s okay.
“Honestly, kid? So did I. For a while there I thought we were both goners.”
“We’re okay though, right? Not dead.”
Tony nods his head in confirmation. “Totally, one hundred per cent okay and not dead. I promise you.”
Tony just needs to hold the kid.
The last time he did was tainted with the idea of goodbyes and the promise of demise. He wants to hold Peter not because they're on the brink of being ripped away from each other by the ruthless and all-consuming force of death, but just because he can.
He slips from his bed and makes his way barefoot across the hospital linoleum to Peter.
“What’re you doing?” Peter asks dozily. The urgency and panic has faded from him and now he just watches Tony move across the room warily.
"Coming to give you a hug," he says, as if it's a common occurrence, something they partake in reguarly, rather than just something that happens when they're both half-asleep, or one of them is sweat-soaked and still in the throes of residual panic from a nightmare.
“Oh.” Peter’s lips quirk up in a tiny smile. “Should you even be out of bed?”
Tony managed to wheedle his way out of Bruce leaving him hooked up to machines and IV lines all night earlier, and not being physically being kept in bed by all that crap is all the permission he needs.
“Yeah, I’m good. Not tied down like you.”
“Okay,” Peter accepts, and he doesn't say anything more as he moves over to make room for Tony easily, allowing himself to be gathered into his arms and pulled closer in the way that Tony’s been aching to do ever since he woke up.
He’s been struggling to erase the memories that flash through his head and coincide them with the fact that he’s still here and so is Peter. This makes it easier though, having Peter right here. Warm. Relaxed against him, not writhing in pain. Breathing. Exactly like he’s meant to be, like he has to be.
He wraps a hand around the nape of Peter's neck so his fingertips just brush his pulse point. It thuds against the skin, slowly and steady.
Peter glances up at Tony sleepily, one eye open.
“‘D’you think you could write me a note or something so I can re-sit my test?” he slurs slightly into Tony’s chest.
Tony's lips tug up in a smile. Peter was on his deathbed five hours ago and of course, this is what he's concerned about.
“Maybe let's just leave the history study for a few days and just take it easy, huh?”
“You wanted me t’do well.”
“I’m sure you will, Pete. I know you will. Let’s just worry about that later.”
Tony only feels Peter nod because the hand he has placed gently across the crown of his head shifts ever so slightly. “You’re the best.”
He’s not sure exactly what he did to deserve that amount of praise right now, or at any point, to be honest, but in a rush of unguarded emotion and thankfulness to the universe for sparing Peter, for sparing him even when he probably didn’t deserve it, he leans down to press a kiss to Peter’s temple, chapped lips pressing against warm skin.
Still breathing. Still alive.
He needs to show that he’s grateful. Because once upon a time, things like this, brushes with death, were just an occupational hazard, part of the job.
There have been times when he hasn’t been overly bothered about whether he makes it home or not, committed to throwing all of himself into this all-consuming saving the world gig. He didn’t have a purpose outside of it.
He had nothing to come home to that he would damn the entire universe to hell for.
Then Pepper came back into his life for good and he started to doubt that a little bit. And now? Lying here with Peter? He’s never been more sure about how wrong he was.
They both survived and he gets to lie here with Peter next to him for a little while longer.
He’s never been more glad to still be alive.