Peter Parker’s missing.
Tony knows who took him.
Months prior, during Tony’s first meeting with the Secretary of State himself and a handful of other equally as revolting political representatives, Ross’ first order of business was asserting that if he couldn’t have full control over the Avengers, he wanted every single enhanced vigilante snatched up off the street and thrown into a prison he claimed was higher-security than the Raft.
Tony doesn’t think all the blood has ever drained from his face that quickly.
He wasn’t about to let that happen. Not over his dead body. He fought tooth and nail to have the accords amended. Ross was shut down - he couldn’t snatch up enhanced individuals like he wanted to. So instead, somewhat conveniently seeming for Ross, they started dropping like flies.
They were falling off the sides of buildings. Wandering into the middle of traffic. Drowning in rivers, lakes, the ocean.
It all looked like an accident, tragedies of sorts. It wasn’t though. It’s never an accident when enhanced individuals are involved, nor when Tony suspects that Thaddeus Ross has his dirty nose stuck right in there. Tony knew this - and apparently so did Peter.
Peter overhears things, sees things he shouldn’t, spending so much time in Tony’s lab. FRIDAY barely bothers to censor any of her information when Peter is in the room now, having learnt that Tony always brushes it off with a casual, “eh, the kid’s fine, FRI, don’t worry about him.”
Peter was never meant to go after Ross. Not when he suddenly started showing his face with increasing frequency in New York, enhanced individuals suddenly succumbing to this unseen force in the same way they had been in Washington.
Tony put his foot down and absolutely forbade it.
But Peter did anyway. He went out on patrol one night and told Tony he was tracking down a minor drug ring.
Tony realised too late that he’d fallen for the words of a kid who usually can’t lie for shit.
Peter never came home.
The first week is a flurry of agonizing panic. Tony doesn’t sleep. He can’t - not when his chest feels like it’s constantly on the verge of collapsing in on itself from the anguish.
His kid is missing. All his Spider-Man tech has been deactivated. Tony can't track him. He can't even make his way into the baby-monitor footge to try and figure out what happened. Peter is just completely gone. Right from under his nose, where he was supposed to be kept safe and protected.
Tony can’t work out why May refuses to hate him. She’s staying in one of the spare rooms. She has been since the night Peter disappeared. He couldn’t bear the thought of her alone in that apartment, every glance at the photos on the walls or his closed bedroom door reminding her of his absence.
Sometimes, on the rare nights when someone drags Tony away from his frantic existence in the lab, they both sit out on the balcony with glasses of the kombucha May loves. Tony personally hates the stuff, but May insists on it. Something to do with probiotics and antioxidants and, 'needing to be as healthy as possible during all of this.'
They don’t talk while they're out there, not really. They tried that once but May ended up in tears and Tony’s adamant to not let that happen again. Instead, they just sit side by side and stare out over New York City, like if they stare for long enough, Peter might come swinging out of the shadows.
He never does.
Everyone is all hands on deck.
FRIDAY is scouring every corner of the globe for sightings of Ross or Peter. Every time Tony asks her if she’s found anything, she comes back negative and tells him that she will alert him immediately if she does. That never stops Tony from asking again half an hour later.
Pepper’s trying to work with Washington but every single government official she’s spoken to is adamant that Ross has nothing to do with any of this. That he’s been turning up to work daily for the past week. They simply laugh Pepper off when she suggests that he’s got the blood on his hands of all the enhanced individuals, some as young as teenagers like Peter, who have all been finding themselves in the middle of fatal accidents.
In the middle of all of this, Tony can’t help but feel like a dead-weight.
He’s combing through all the files FRIDAY can get him, trying to look for any clues as to where Ross might have taken Peter. He spends days and days hyper-focused on every single secure government building plan he can access, but everything comes back negative. There’s absolutely nothing about any high-security prisons. There are no holding facilities at all. He just ends up flicking through engineering drawings of libraries and parking garages, feeling more and more like a failure with every negative result.
Ross must have known Peter was different. Peter didn’t end up flattened in the middle of traffic or drowned at the bottom of the Hudson, thank god. Instead, he just disappeared. Tony tells himself that it’s better this way.
It means that Peter could still be out there somewhere.
One day, out of the blue, Ross calls Tony. He hasn't picked up any of Tony’s phone calls in the last week.
It’s all a control game.
“What you’re doing is illegal, Ross,” Tony says, barely managing to maintain a fingernail grip on his cool. He took Peter away from them.
There’s no point about pretences now.
He has FRIDAY trace the call and she does - all too easily. The blinking red dot on the holographic map in front of him Ross is right where everyone has said he is. In Washington, sitting in his office. A cold stone of trepidation grows in Tony’s gut.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Stark. I can assure you that I am no longer in possession of your treasured Spider-Man.”
Possession. Like he’s a thing.
“He was a cute kid, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t have all that much of a use for him anymore.”
Was. Was, was, was.
What the fuck does that mean?
“I need you to stop playing fucking games with me. Where is he, I swear-”
A tinny beep echoes around Tony’s ear. Ross has hung up.
Tony can’t breathe again.
Two weeks pass. Tony’s sure Peter is dead.
May scolds Tony when he says this, on the night when she’s the one that happens to venture out of her room for a glass of milk, dressing gown pulled around her, only to find Tony slumped over the kitchen counter nursing a glass of scotch in a trembling hand.
The bottle is, worryingly, half-drunk and open beside him, perched dangerously close to the edge of the counter. The first thing May does is move it out of the way, despite Tony’s grumbled protests. May doesn’t particularly feel like having to clean up a mess of shattered glass - or even worse, potentially having to stitch-up Tony’s hand.
“He’s dead, May,” is the first thing Tony says. He sounds scarily resigned and clear-headed considering his half-lidded eyes and the stench of alcohol hanging in the air. “Dead.”
May’s eyes widen in the fluorescent glow of the fridge light and she closes the door slowly, reeling back a little. Not because Tony’s a threat to her. He’s not. Not when he’s sober and definitely not when he’s in this inebriated state. His words are though. Peter is her world. She can’t ever imagine losing him. She doesn’t want to.
This is just an occupational hazard. At least those are the words Tony always used to say to try and fairly unsuccessfully soothe her nerves whenever Peter would come home injured.
Tony doesn’t seem to believe that anymore.
“I think it’s time to stop drinking, Tony,” May tells him calmly. “Thinking like this isn’t going to help anyone.”
“R-Ross had him. Ross wanted to kill mutants. He’s… He’s… Ross got ‘im.”
“He’s only been two weeks, Tony.” The longest two weeks of May’s life. She doesn’t sound all that convinced of her words, but there’s a steely quality to her voice, as if she’s trying her absolute hardest to not dare let herself think anything different. “There are people looking. You’ve got FRIDAY looking, you’re looking. We just all have to keep trying.”
“No… no. Spoke to him - Ross. I spoke to ‘im. Said he had n-no, I - uh, no use. For Peter.”
Tony hadn’t told her that. Not while he was sober. May freezes and when she meets Tony’s eyes, all red-rimmed and dilated pupils, the man seems to realise what he’s done. His fingers grip the glass he’s holding even tighter, knuckles going white.
“I didn’t, you weren’t meant to, no, I-”
“You need to go to bed, Tony,” May says sternly. She can’t listen for a single second longer. Tony can’t lose hope. If Tony, one of the richest men in the world, with the most advanced tech and intelligence agents at his fingertips, doesn’t have any hope, then what hope does May Parker, a single-income guardian from Queens, have?
Pepper is away in California tonight. May sits on the unoccupied side of Tony’s bed for two hours to make sure he doesn’t choke on his own vomit (she’s never had to do that for Peter, not yet at least. It’s probably a funny thing to wish for, but all she wants is the chance to get to do that for Peter one day. To see him grow up). She tells herself for a minute that it’s just the nurse in her, but she could never fool herself like that. She cares about Tony Stark more than she lets on. More than she wants to admit.
She never used to understand what Peter saw in the man or why he was so attached. But Tony loves Peter almost as much as May herself does. Her father always used to say that it took a special kind of man to love a child that isn’t his own.
She supposes Tony Stark has always been his own kind of special.
At the three week mark, Tony’s holed up in the lab. He’s not drunk, or even particularly hungover. He hasn’t been since Pepper and May made the terrifying pact of joining forces. The first thing they did was pour any of the alcohol still left in the penthouse - not that there was ever a great deal in the first place - down the sink.
He doesn’t feel any more clear-headed sober than he probably would feel drunk. All the coordinates that FRIDAY fetched, showing every single location Ross has driven his car to in the last month, blur together on the screen.
“Boss? I have incoming communication. It’s from an encrypted channel-”
Tony glances up as FRIDAY interrupts his workflow.
Please be Ross. Please be Ross.
Tony never thought those words would race through his mind once in his entire life, but there he was. Ross hasn’t picked up a single one of Tony’s phone calls since their two-minute ‘chat’ a week ago and at this point, he’d give anything at this point, just to know that Peter was alive. Tony’s slowly losing hope, day by day, that they’ll find Peter alive, or even be able to retrieve a body at all.
“-but I believe it to be Steve Rogers.”
Tony drops his work. The wrench he was holding clatters to the floor with a clang.
That’s the absolute last thing he expected and also, funnily enough, the absolute last person he feels like talking to right now.
“Get rid of it, FRI. I don’t wanna deal with whatever it is right now.”
“If I may, he does say that it’s important-”
“Mute. Shut it.”
FRIDAY goes mute. Tony goes back to staring at the coordinates like if he looks at it long enough, something might suddenly become clear to him.
Peter was missing for three weeks and two days.
On the twenty-third day, Steve Rogers brings him home.
Tony’s out for a morning walk around Bryant Park when he gets the call from Pepper, beanie pulled over his ears and obnoxious sunglasses shoved onto his face to avoid any recognition, despite the early morning sun struggling to even get a few beams through the thick cloud. He looks so far from his usual put-together public appearance that he doubts anyone will even look twice at him. He doesn’t want them to. He just needs to clear his head.
He tugs his phone out from his phone pocket and for a brief second, considers hitting decline before he stomps out that urge and holds the phone up to his ear.
“Have you spoken to Steve recently?”
Pepper definitely never beats around the bush. Tony balks. “I - what? Rogers? No. FRIDAY told me he was trying to get a hold of me for some reason, but I didn’t-”
“You need to get back here. He’s here.”
“In the flesh.”
“Tell him to f-”
“He brought Peter with him. You need to get back here.”
Tony stops in his tracks. A disgruntled jogger has to swerve around him, grumbling out a string of curses that Tony pays zero attention to. His world is fading to nothing around him as he zeroes in on one thing: Peter, Peter, Peter.
“Peter? And… he - he’s?”
That’s all Tony needs to hear. Peter’s alive. He can work with that.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Tony’s never flagged down a cab so quickly in his life. He feels like he’s moving through some sort of surreal, hazy dream state all the way back to the tower.
He steps into the elevator, finger hovering over the button he knows will take him straight down to the MedBay, unsure as to why he’s hesitating. Then, with startling clarity, a single thought pops into his head.
Peter hates the MedBay pillows. Ever since he’s gotten comfortable with Tony he’s complained about them every single visit. Tony doesn’t know what’s wrong with them personally, but he wonders whether maybe it’s to do with the material being too scratchy when he’s already injured and overloaded. He’s offered to replace them, but Peter only ever requests one thing instead: his own one.
He presses the button for the penthouse instead.
When he steps out of the elevator into the MedBay five minutes later, the sterile stench of bleach and cleaner assaulting his senses, he has Peter’s pillow tucked into his arms.
Tony hasn’t been down here since Peter was taken. He refused adamantly, even when Pepper tried to insist on the one night that he passed out cold in the middle of the kitchen - on his way to get another coffee, ironically - from a lack of sleep.
The MedBay is so distinctly Peter. All the times Tony’s spent entire nights by his bedside, stitched him up when there was no nurse on duty, forced him down here for a check-up if he’s even the slightest bit concerned about a hit FRIDAY told him he sustained on patrol.
Suddenly, the nerves hit him, twisting and churning in his gut. This time it’s not a patrol gone wrong, not simply a stray bullet or measly stab wound. It’s his fault that Peter’s here. He should have been more careful. He never should have let FRIDAY relay anything to do with Ross while Peter was in the vicinity. He should never have accepted Peter’s weak cover story that night when he went out on patrol and never returned.
There are people milling about everywhere, members of their medical staff that Tony vaguely recognizes, but the only thing he manages to focus in on is Pepper moving towards him.
She pulls him into a hug the second she’s close enough.
“Peter?” Tony asks breathlessly when they pull away. “He’s - is he still?”
“He’s holding stable. May’s in there with him. She told me to send you in as soon as you get here.”
Tony shakes his head. He knows he needs to go in there. He wants to. He just doesn't know if he should.
Peter’s alive and breathing behind one of these doors. Does he really need Tony there making everything harder for him?
“Hold on a sec, you gotta tell me about Rogers. What the fuck happened there? How?”
Pepper takes a gentle hold of Tony’s arm, still covered in his thick coat, and pulls him a bit further down one of the empty corridors.
She still hasn’t answered his question, so Tony tries again. “Seriously, Pep? How was it that of all people, Rogers found Pete?”
“This is just what Steve told me, but you were right about Ross. Not about Peter being dead, because I’ve seen him and he’s most definitely alive, but Ross wasn’t lying. He really didn’t have Peter,” Pepper says, and normally, Tony would be shocked at this. Pepper admitting that he was right? Unheard of. Now though, he just nods numbly. “He must have, at first, it looks like he passed him on to somewhere else for,” Pepper pauses, “um, testing. They were all still working for Ross, though. Using Peter's enhancements to try and make a new version of whatever drug he was using to take out the rest of them a month or so ago. Steve said the same people tried to get their hands on Wanda. That’s how they found him, apparently. In some underground lab in Virginia.”
It will never cease to amaze Tony how Pepper’s experience as a CEO makes her completely capable of taking on and delivering the hardest news without even flinching. Whereas on the other hand, these words make Tony’s breath catch in his throat. Peter was only a couple of states over. He still didn’t manage to get to him. He couldn’t keep Peter safe.
Pepper notices that Tony’s completely lost for words, because of course she does, as he tries to process everything through his scrambled mind. Nothing makes sense anymore. Peter was gone. Tony thought he was dead. But he’s… not gone? He’s back? But so is Steve?
“Rogers. He’s here?”
“He is, along with the rest of the rogues” Pepper says with a nod of her head. She watches Tony carefully. “He asked to see you.”
Tony shakes his head before he even has time to formulate an answer. No. “I can’t, just, not right now.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Tony knows he’s not in the right headspace at the moment but he’ll have to speak to Steve at some point.
He brought his kid back to him.
“Helen said they did a pretty good job of patching Peter up on their way here. She thinks he wouldn’t be this stable if they hadn’t taken care of him,” Pepper adds.
“Rogers, Barnes and Wilson are all army guys. It probably makes sense,” Tony says. “Plus, it’s amazing what a year on the run can do for people,” he adds dryly. He hates the bitterness in his voice.
Pepper upturns her lips in a small, understanding smile. Tony’s paused, feeling like his mind is moving at a thousand miles an hour. “Wait… how did Steve even know who the hell Peter was?”
“He didn’t. Not until Peter recognised him. He asked for you, by the way. I imagine it wasn’t too difficult to figure out after that.”
Tony almost physically cringes away at that statement. He clutches Peter’s pillow more protectively to his chest out of instinct. He hasn’t done a good enough job. Peter’s identity should be difficult to figure out. It’s dangerous enough being associated with him as it is, let alone being an enhanced crime-fighting vigilante at the same time.
His mouth hangs open a little. He doesn’t really have the words to respond, but it doesn’t matter because, at that exact moment, a door opens down the hallway. A very familiar voice calls Tony’s name, and Pepper has to nudge him gently in the side before he even looks around to figure out where it’s coming from.
It’s May. Only her head pokes out of the doorway as if she can’t physically bear to set foot out of the hospital room.
Tony takes a few tentative steps towards her.
“I thought I could hear your voice,” May says, voice quiet. “C’mon. Helen’s got him dosed up on pain meds so he’s still out cold. Not very talkative, obviously. I could use the company.”
Pepper gives him a gentle push and Tony makes another few slow steps.
This wasn’t really how he expected this to go. He’d be kidding himself if he said he hadn’t imagined this scenario over and over in his head these past few months.
He thought he’d be the one to bring Peter home.
Not once in his wildest dreams had he imagined himself being a sideline player. Not once had he thought that Steve Rogers would be the one to simply stumble upon the kid that he’s been tearing himself apart, working himself half to death, to try and find.
By the time he makes the last few steps into the hospital room, where May is still holding the door open for him, nerves are churning in his gut.
He hasn’t seen Peter’s face in a month, not since he swung off the balcony, going off on the patrol that night that Tony wishes he could go back and re-do so damn desperately. He doesn’t know exactly what to expect, honestly. People could have done anything to Peter in three weeks.
Tony's eyes find Peter immediately. He still just looks like Peter and it’s relieving for a second until Tony’s brain really catches up with what he’s seeing in front of him and then suddenly all of the relief dissapates as soon as it came. He notices how pale Peter is tucked under the stark white bed covers. He doesn’t look relaxed, even in sleep - he’s tight, posture tensed up. He’s gaunt as well, deep bags smudged under his eyes.
He looks so lifeless. It’s because he’s drugged up, he always has to be drugged up like this when he’s injured to help accelerate his healing - Tony knows this. That doesn’t mean it’s not unnerving. Peter should never be this still, ever.
The bruises are what Tony hates the most though, the angry marks that circle Peter’s wrists. They’ve both been kidnapped more times than he wants to admit to himself, he’s seen marks like these on Peter before but he can barely take his eyes off them this time, the way his wrists are marred with deep purple rings, welts in various stages of healing. It looks like he struggled. Tony squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn't want to look anymore.
He stays rooted to the spot as May walks back over to the chair she’s got pulled up by the side of the bed and slips her hand back into Peter’s own with ease. Peter’s fingers are limp. He doesn’t squeeze back. May smoothes her thumb back and forth over the back of his hand.
“They think he’ll be awake some point tonight,” May says with a faux-casual tone. She looks desperate for Tony to say something, anything as he stands frozen, only a few steps in through the doorway. He doesn’t dare get any closer. “Helen will probably start easing him off the painkillers.”
Tony glances up sharply, relieved to have something to focus on rather than Peter’s lifeless-looking form. “That’s not a little… soon? He probably needs rest.”
“I’m sure Helen will give you the rundown when she comes back. She's not too concerned about his physical recovery. He’s got a few bad bruises and scrapes but nothing like we could have expected. He'll be weak for a while, sore maybe, but she thinks maybe it was mainly psychological."
May can speak very clinically sometimes, and this is one of those times. Tony isn’t surprised, given her occupation, but he can see the pain buried deep in her expression when she talks about her nephew like this. He suddenly feels extremely guilty that she has to relive it all over again by explaining it to him because he wasn’t here when Peter was brought home.
Tony nods mutely.
There are so many things he should do in this moment, the things he’s been waiting for for weeks. He should sit down by May, be there to support her. He should hold Peter’s hand, wait until he wakes up so he can see those brown eyes he’s missed so much. He at the very least should wait until Helen returns so she can give him a full run-down of what’s going on.
He doesn’t do any of those things.
“I brought this,” Tony offers instead, holding out the pillow. The fabric of it quivers in his grip. May tilts her head slightly in question. “He’ll want it when he wakes up… trust me.”
“Are you not planning to be here when he wakes up?” May asks gently. Tony freezes. He… He can’t. What right does he have to sit by Peter’s bedside and appreciate his presence, the fact that he’s still breathing, when he was the one who got Peter into this mess in the first place? He doesn’t know how May can even want him here, how she’s been able to stand his presence for the last month. He can’t just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. For May to realise that now she has Peter back, neither of them need Tony. All he does is bring more harm into people’s lives than good.
“I - I shouldn’t,” Tony mutters, unable to even come up with an excuse.
He thinks he hears May say, “he’ll want to see you,” but everything is scrambled and that can’t be true. Tony’s always had a bit of a flight or fight response. Countless professionals have told him it’s a result of his own childhood. Whatever it’s a result of, that doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is that Tony chooses flight.
He gingerly steps closer to the bed to place Peter’s pillow down. He wraps a gentle hand around Peter’s ankle under the covers and squeezes a little. I’m here. I’m sorry. I love you.
Tony holes himself in the lab for the rest of the afternoon. It might be bordering on evening now, he’s not sure. He’s too engrossed in his work, typing, borderline frantically, line after line of code into the system of the Spider-Man suit. Steve managed to get his hands on a few pieces of Ross’ tech when he broke Peter out, and FRIDAY had them sent up to the lab. He's is working on making all of the new coding and hardware for Peter’s suit completely resistant to it.
It feels like a dick move, retreating from everyone like this. He kind of hates himself for being this resentful but it’s just a force of habit, at this point, after the last few weeks. It’s safe. The idea of the lab means that he’s attempting to do something useful, something productive.
This isn’t what’s meant to be happening. None of this is right.
Peter is alive. Peter is going to be okay. Tony's meant to be overjoyed right now, maybe even crying tears of joy. But he can’t help but feel deeply inadequate. Even through all of this, in the fleeting moments of optimism that somehow managed to find their way into his life despite all the darkness, he was sure he was going to be the one to rescue Peter. His face would be the first Peter saw as they got him out of that mess.
But it wasn’t.
It was Steve’s.
Tony kicks a stray bolt and it tinkers along the lab floor until it disappears under a cabinet. It's nowhere near aggressive sounding enough for the tumultuous storm of confusion brewing inside of him and he’s looking around for something he could smash, maybe an old project to bust to pieces, just to release some of his pent up energy, when he’s interrupted.
“What is it?” Tony asks FRIDAY in return, a hint of agitation creeping into his voice.
“Ms Potts is approaching.”
“Oh joy,” Tony mumbles under his breath. Pepper seeking him out specifically while he’s in the lab is never usually a good thing. He doesn’t want to hear her chew him out for abandoning May in the MedBay. He definitely doesn’t want to speak feelings with her.
There’s no point in trying to shut Pepper out, though. She’ll make her way in here anyway, she always does.
Tony doesn’t turn around when he hears the familiar sound of a code being punched in. He hears Pepper clear her throat.
That’s his cue to turn around, and he does because being in her bad books is not something he wants to add to his list of worries at the moment. That’s when he realises that there’s two of them. May’s there as well, standing just behind Pepper as if she’s not entirely sure whether she’s meant to follow her in or not. Tony frowns a little at Pepper but he doesn’t dare call out May. She looks exhausted; she has been doing all the emotional heavy-lifting today after all.
Pepper sends Tony a stern look before she surprisingly, turns to leave. “There you go, he’s all yours.”
“Lucky me,” May deadpans. The door shuts behind Pepper and she glances around in wonder for a second. Tony realises May has never set foot in here before. He quickly shoves the nail gun he’s been fiddling with under a stack of scrap paper. He doesn’t want her thinking that he’s been letting her nephew run amok in a room full of dangerous tools most afternoons.
“To what do I owe this pleasure, Ms Parker?” Tony asks. He can feel his voice slipping back into his media one, the smooth charm and ability to gloss over everything. He doesn’t really want to be using it with May, not when the two of them have been through so much together this last month. He can’t seem to help it though. She’s staying so strong and put together. He doesn’t want her to see his cracks.
“Peter’s awake,” May tells him, cutting straight to the point.
Tony’s mind short-circuits. Peter woke up, and he wasn’t there. It’s for the best, Tony tells himself. He had May.
May nods. “He didn’t really know what was going on at first. He’s a bit drowsy but not in too much pain. Just a little anxious. Helen gave him some of his pills.”
Tony gives her a slightly stunted nod. “Good… that’s good.”
“He asked where you were. I didn’t know what to tell him.”
“He doesn’t need to see me.”
May raises her eyebrows. “Really? And what makes you say that?”
“He needs you, May, you’re his aunt. He doesn’t need me, we know that. Not when I’m the one who got him into this mess in the first place,” Tony mutters, rubbing at his forehead tiredly.
Tony doens't quite expect sympathy, but the last thing he expects is for May to roll her eyes and fold her arms over her chest. “I’m way too tired for this shit, Tony. I know these past few weeks have been hard for both of us. But Peter’s had it worse. He’s hurting and he’s confused and you’re not there. Don’t bail on me now and especially don’t bail on Peter. He needs you more than I like to admit to myself sometimes,” May says, expression softening slightly as she takes Tony in, his nervously defensive posture and the worry behind his eyes. “Just come and see him?”
“Yeah,” Tony says quietly. “Okay, yeah, I will.”
Tony sticks to his word this time.
He finds himself in the MedBay again an hour later.
This time, when he pushes the door open to the room he knows Peter’s in, Peter isn’t lying lifeless like he was before. He’s awake, exactly like May had told him, sitting up in bed, looking scarily vacant, fingers fiddling with the edge of the bedsheets distractedly. He doesn’t seem to notice Tony’s entrance until he closes the door behind him with a soft thud and suddenly his eyes flit over towards where Tony’s standing.
To Tony’s horror, instead of relaxing, he shoves himself back against the pillows that are propped up behind him, his entire frame stiffening up.
Tony stops in his tracks. He watches as May reaches out and takes both of Peter’s hands in her own. Peter doesn’t take his eyes off Tony, watching him warily.
“Hey, Peter, it’s okay. It’s just Tony. Told you he wanted to come down and see you.”
Tony watches as Peter seems to process the words and work through them in his head. A tiny bit of the tension he was holding in his posture eases. He glances over to May, eyes still wide and nervous, as if to check that she’s telling the truth, before slowly, he turns his gaze back to Tony. He still hasn’t moved, standing dead-still in the middle of the room, waiting to see if it’s okay for him to come any closer.
He’s just starting to think that maybe this was all a huge mistake, of course Peter wouldn’t want to see him. He-
Oh, thank god. Tony’s brain short circuits at the sound of his name. He didn’t think he’d ever feel so relieved to hear Peter call him ‘Mister Stark.’
“Hey, Pete,” Tony murmurs. He moves slightly closer again. Peter doesn’t tense up this time. “It’s good to see you, buddy.” He settles down in the spare chair on the other side of the bed to May. She shoots him a reassuring smile.
Peter doesn’t reply. He gives Tony the tiniest, shaky smile before he goes back to fidgeting with the sheets, grasping them in his fists. He’s trying to ground himself, Tony realises, and he has to shove his hands into the pockets of his hoodie to try and resist the urge to reach out and take Peter’s hand in his own like May’s doing. Then, May stands up from her seat and both Peter and Tony’s eyes simultaneously shoot up to watch her as she does.
“May?” Peter asks, voice cracking with resounding nervousness. Tony looks up at her imploringly, but she seems to pay him no mind, just kissing Peter’s cheek gently.
“I’m just going to go and put my pyjamas on, these jeans are getting a little uncomfortable. Think you and Tony will be okay for a little bit?”
Peter bites down on his lip. Tony notices that it’s already bloody and ragged. Peter looks from May, cautiously over to Tony, then back up towards May.
“Yeah, it’s okay.” It doesn’t sound like he thinks it’s okay, at least not to Tony. He can pick up the uncertainty in his voice within seconds.
Peter keeps his eyes glued on May’s retreating back as she leaves the room. Then, he fixes them down on his hands.
Tony lets himself sink into May’s now unoccupied seat. Peter steals a single glance at him, then looks away.
Tony doesn’t know how to start a conversation.
He doesn’t know how to say I'm sorry I let you get taken. I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough to protect you. I’m sorry I couldn’t bring you home sooner.
Instead, he just sits in the silence that Peter seems quite happy to maintain. Tony understands. It’s hard to settle back into reality after being trapped and held captive for so long. It’s hard to figure out what people want from you, when you’ve spent so long trying to obey orders.
Tony hates that he can use his own experience to figure out what Peter’s going through.
Peter should never have to experience half of the shit that lives on as traumatic memories in the back of Tony’s mind.
The silence lingers. Neither of them break it.
After half an hour, at which point Tony’s starting to think that it’s taking May a suspiciously long time to put her pyjamas on (surely she can’t have thought that Peter would actually talk to him), he notices Peter’s eyes slip closed again. This is the seventh time in the last minute, and as usual, he blinks them back open in a panic.
He’s obviously worried about what might happen if he falls asleep. Something cold curdles in Tony's gut when he considers that maybe Peter's worried about what Tony might do if he falls asleep. Or maybe what he wouldn't do... Tony coud never blame Peter if he didn't trust him to protect him ever again.
“I’ll leave you to get some rest now, bud,” Tony tells him, forcing himself himself up from the chair and away from Peter's bedside. He knows it's for the best. “You’re looking pretty sleepy.”
Peter wrenches his eyes open again and shrugs.
“I’ll see you sometime tomorrow, okay?” Tony says, once he’s crossed the room and is hovering by the door. It’s kind of a question, but he doesn’t expect an answer, and sure enough, he doesn’t get one. “Night, kiddo. Sleep tight.”
Then, Tony flicks the light off on instinct and it all goes to shit.
He doesn’t quite pick up on it at first, but as he’s reaching for the door handle, he notices the tell-tale sound of panicked, quickened breathing.
It doesn’t make much sense, because Peter’s been on edge, sure, but fairly stable the entire time Tony’s been in here. “Pete?” he says cautiously into the darkness.
A choked sob.
“FRIDAY, lights,” Tony demands quickly after a couple of seconds of unsuccessful fumbling about for the light switch. When the warm light from overhead bathes the room, his eyes find Peter sitting up ramrod straight in bed and shaking, eyes glazed over. He’s mumbling to himself as well, words that Tony can’t decipher, not with the way he's got his pillow pulled up in front of his face, head pressed into it, hands clenching at the fabric.
He's trying not to make too much noise, Tony realises.
He feels panic claw at his own chest. What has he done?
“Peter, hey,” Tony tries again. The mumbling just gets louder.
“Don’t like the dark, don’t like the dark, don’t like the dark.”
Tony’s throat closes up. He didn’t mean to. He rushes to try and fix it but all he can choke out is a stumbled, “I’m sorry, buddy, my bad. I’ll leave the lights on, yeah? We can do that, no problem.”
Peter ignores him. Maybe he’s just so deep in his own head that he can’t even hear him. When he speaks again, his words sound like a plea. “Don’t wanna be in the dark again, please, Mister Stark, s-sir, please.”
Tony’s at a loss until he hears the door open behind him and suddenly, like a blessing, May is there.
Her eyes dart around the room. They land on Peter first, and they only snap over to Tony for a split second, to take in the way that he’s gone pale, the panic behind his eyes stupidly obvious. Tony’s pretty sure he knows what she must be thinking. Useless Tony Stark who suddenly has no idea how to comfort his own kid.
May hurries across the room and pulls Peter close to her in the way that Tony might have done, prior to the last three weeks. Prior to feeling like everything he does it bound to put the kid in harm’s way. This is no exception.
Shadows dance on the walls and Tony’s vision blurs.
He ended up in the MedBay kitchenette after he so kindly threw Peter right into the midst of a panic attack and then proceeded to handle it oh so skillfully.
He’s still sitting in the same spot now, hours later, at the table in one of the mildly uncomfortable plastic chairs. It must be well after midnight by now. There’s a clock ticking away on the wall behind him. If he could muster up the energy, maybe he’d turn and check.
Pepper must be in bed without him. He hopes she isn’t pissed, after how he’s been acting today. Selfish, is probably how she’d describe it. It’s definitely how Tony would describe it.
The emotional realities of today have hit Tony like a freight train. His lower back is sore. He’s got a stress-headache pounding behind his eyes. The sound of Peter crying out, the instant terror that riddled his urgent whimpers, the ones he tried to muffle in his pillow for a fear of being heard, reverberate in Tony’s ears. The guilt that struck him so intensely square in the middle of his chest is still yet to fade.
He couldn’t have known that the dark would set Peter off that badly. No one told him. He doesn’t even know if Peter had told anyone that at all. It doesn’t matter though, because at the end of the day, Peter’s his kid. Tony should have known.
He slumps forwards, dropping his head into his hands. He should try and get some sleep at some point, the reasonable voice in his brain says. He doesn’t want to move. He’s been states away from Peter for weeks. Now he’s just down the hall.
What if someone tries to come back for him?
Would Tony be able to stop them?
What if he’s too far away? He needs to be able to protect Peter and May.
All the panicked thoughts racing through Tony’s head come to a standstill. They’re coming from down the hallway, heading towards him.
He glances up. There’s a shadowy figure treading slowly down the hall, every step more cautious than the one before.
When he steps into the dim light of the kitchen, lit only by a lamp in the corner, Tony realises that it’s just Peter. He looks a little unsteady on his feet, and Tony isn’t even sure whether he’s meant to be out of bed at all but he knows that Helen unhooked him from his IV lines after he woke up so it can’t be all bad.
He’s easier to take in, in this dim lighting. It softens all the sharp angles of his bones, smoothes out some of the anxious worry lines that seem to be permanently embedded into his face now.
He hasn’t noticed Tony. He debates whether or not he wants to say anything to draw Peter’s attention to his presence, but he really doesn’t want him to freak out again. Tony knows he won’t exactly be at the top of the list of figures that Peter is going to find comforting right about now.
Peter turns his back to him fully as he approaches one of the kitchen cabinets and Tony resolves to just try and stay quiet. He’ll let Peter go about his business, do whatever he needs to do before he, hopefully, sends himself back to bed because god knows he needs as much rest as he can get.
Tony watches curiously as Peter hesitates and takes a quick glance back down the hallway towards his room as if to check whether May is going to follow him out before he reaches up to open one of the cabinets. He pulls his arm back towards his chest quickly as if he’s been burned, with the water glass he retrieved from the cabinet tucked firmly in his grasp.
Tony furrows his eyebrows together when Peter doesn’t immediately fill the glass with water like he clearly wants to. He takes a hesitant step towards the tap. He stares at it looking like he’s trying to work something out in his head. It pains Tony to watch Peter so unsure of himself in surroundings that are meant to be familiar to him.
As the next thirty seconds pass, Peter continues to wrestle with whatever his concerns are about getting himself a glass of water from the tap while Tony tries to work up the courage to let Peter know that he’s here, only a few feet behind him in the shadows.
Eventually, it gets too agonising to watch.
“Hey, kiddo,” Tony starts, trying his best to keep his voice as low and gentle as he possibly can. “It’s okay, help yourself to whatever you need.”
Peter startles. He whips around, eyes blown wide with fright and before Tony has time to open his mouth again and try to reassure Peter that everything is okay, there’s a piercing shattering sound. The glass Peter had clutched in his shaky grip, holding out nervously in front of the tap, drops to the ground, exploding into hundreds of fractured pieces on the tile.
The room freezes.
Peter’s panic practically becomes palpable. All the blood drains from his face and a sort of raspy wheezing sound escapes from his throat as if he’s trying to form words but he can’t quite manage it.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, p-please, I didn’t mean to, honest.”
It’s like Peter’s strings have been cut. He drops to the ground with a tiny cry of pain, the shards of glass surely cutting straight into his kneecaps but he doesn’t let that deter him as he scrambles desperately at the fragments in front of him, looking like he’s trying to gather them into a pile.
Tony feels like his heart stops in his chest and he’s up out of his seat immediately. “Peter, kid, hey,” he says, panic-fuelled protests stumbling past his lips. Peter pays no attention. He grabs at a few of the larger shards and his face screws up in a wince as a one of them cuts into his hand. “Peter, you need to stop,” Tony says, trying again. It’s a lot more assertive than he means it to be, but Peter’s hurting himself.
Peter pays attention this time. Tony’s not sure whether that’s a good thing when he sees the way Peter freezes. It’s like all of his muscles lock up and he stays still, not even daring to look up at Tony.
Tony makes his way over slowly. He keeps his movements small and open, making sure that Peter can always see him out of the corner of his eyes. He knows what trauma looks like when he sees it. He was the poster child for it for years.
“C’mon, buddy. We gotta get you up, you’re hurting yourself.”
“I made a mess. I failed. Gotta clean it up.” Peter’s voice is barely audible. It breaks and it cracks and it sounds scared. Tony’s chest clenches painfully. He crouches down next to Peter. He still refuses to look him in the eyes.
“Is it okay if I touch you, Pete?”
Peter shrugs, a tiny movement Tony barely picks up on in the low light. It wasn't a yes. Tony doesn’t move.
“If you don’t want me to, that’s fine. I just want to get you away from the glass, kid. It’s sharp. You’re bleeding.”
“Is that… a good thing?”
Tony balks. A good thing?
He’s going to murder every single sick fuck that had their hands on his kid.
“No, bud. You bleeding is never good. It’s one of my least favourite scenarios, honestly,” Tony says, trying to keep his voice light, but then he backtracks a little because he doesn’t want Peter to think he’s done anything wrong. “Don’t worry though, it’s not a hard fix. We just gotta get you up outta this mess.”
And god, is it a mess. Tony hates the way that the deep red of Peter’s blood gathers in-between the glass shards. Tony tries his best to ignore this, though, as he leans down and wraps his hands around Peter’s forearms, trying to avoid the cut-up palms of his hands. When Peter doesn't pull away, Tony, as carefully as possible, helps him to his feet.
Peter’s almost a dead-weight leaning against him but that’s no surprise to Tony. He’ll be worn down and weakened as it is having spent three weeks locked away, let alone throwing significant blood loss into the mix. He guides Peter over towards the table he was sitting at only a few minutes ago and pulls out one of the chairs, gently pushing Peter down into a sitting position. He’s a little worried about how pliant the kid is but he figures right now isn’t exactly the time to mention it.
“Stay there, okay? I’m just going to grab a first-aid kit,” he tells Peter. Peter’s brown eyes blink up at him, confusion painstakingly obvious in them.
“I can do it myself, s’okay.”
“Not a chance, buddy. I didn’t get three doctorates for nothing. Doctor Stark, at your service.” It’s a poor attempt at a joke in the first place but Peter usually would have laughed. Now, his face remains impassive. He opens and closes his mouth a few times like he’s trying to work up the nerve to say something. Tony stays carefully still and silent, waiting to see if Peter can find the courage.
“But… b-but you should be mad. I dropped the glass.”
Tony tries his best not to screw his face up in confusion like he wants to, in case Peter takes it the wrong way. “There are plenty more where those came from,” he says.
“I didn’t stick.”
While Tony’s relieved that Peter’s talking, he’s honestly struggling to make sense of any of this. “Stick to what?”
“Why would you need to stick to the glass, buddy?”
“They wanted me to. The men who had me. I dunno why. It was a test. They just didn’t like it when I couldn’t,” Peter says before his voice drops to a hushed whisper. “Sometimes when I’m scared I just… can’t.”
This is a whole new can of worms. But there’s still droplets of blood oozing out of lacerations on Peter’s kneecaps, morbid crimson red trails tracking down to his bare feet. Tony has to deal with one thing at a time. He places a gentle hand down on Peter’s shoulder. He flinches away, a split-second reflex but then he relaxes.
Tony breathes out a silent sigh of relief.
“Whatever happened to you while you were… while you were gone, I need you to know that none of it is ever going to happen again, okay? You’re safe now. May and I have got you.”
He receives a numb nod in response, which he guesses is better than nothing. He hopes Peter got the message.
Tony’s as quick as he can as he leaves the room, darting into the supplies room a few doors down to dig out the first-aid kit from the drawer.
Peter’s still sitting in the exact same position when he gets back. He doesn’t look like he’s even moved a single muscle. He’s watching Tony though, tracking his movements carefully as he re-enters the room.
Before he makes his way over to Peter, Tony grabs yet another glass out of the cabinet and, side-stepping the glass still littering the floor, fills it up. Peter was only ever trying to get himself a glass of water, after all.
“Thank you,” Peter murmurs when Tony places the glass on the table next to him, before he drops down to the floor, kneeling so he’s at the right height to be able to examine the damage to Peter’s knees before he unzips the first aid kit, rifling through it to try and find a pair of tweezers.
Peter suddenly looks up and down, horror written all over his face.
“What?” Tony asks.
“You’re on the floor,” Peter says. “You should be on the chair, I can sit on the ground, I’m fine, I swear.”
Tony takes a steadying breath to calm himself and sends Peter a reassuring smile. “I’m good down here, don’t worry about me, kiddo. I gotta be able to reach your knees, remember?”
Peter’s pale skin flushes red, and he ducks his head. “Oh, right. Sorry, that was dumb," he mumbles a moment later.
“Not dumb, buddy. I just need you to hold still for me now,” he says and Peter accepts the instruction without reservation or complaint.
Now, this is something that Tony knows how to do.
He takes a second to hope and pray that maybe, just maybe, he isn't as useless as he thought he was before he begins working methodically. He uses a pair of tweezers to tug out the shards of glass embedded in his knees first before he gently tugs Peter’s palms towards him one by one, and does the same thing.
Eventually, both Peter’s hands and knees are glass-free, disinfected and bandaged. There’s a pile of bloody glass sitting on a paper towel next to Tony.
Tony leans back. He’s exhausted suddenly, and by the looks of it, so is Peter. He doesn’t blame him.
As much as the idea of being able to sit here and revel in Peter’s company sounds perfect, he knows that Peter needs rest.
“We should get you back into bed, bud,” he suggests, trying his best to sound casual and nonchalant but Peter just shakes his head. He pulls back a bit after that, tucking his arms up against his chest like he’s worried about what Tony will do in response to him saying no.
“It’s okay, you can say no to me,” Tony reassures him. He’s not going to force Peter to do anything he doesn’t want to do. “You not sleepy anymore?”
“Don’t wanna wake May.”
“You want to stay out here for a little while then?”
Peter contemplates, then nods his head tentatively. “Only if you don’t mind.”
Tony can’t help but frown at this. “Why on earth would I mind?”
He figures that maybe, if Peter’s not keen on the whole sleeping thing, Tony can at least try and get him talking a little more and show him it’s okay. Peter being this timid and quiet is quite honestly freaking him out a little.
When that tactic appears to fail and Peter doesn’t reply, Tony stands, stretching out his stiff muscles after sitting on the floor for so long. He pulls out the chair next to Peter's and lowers himself into it. Eventually, seemingly in response to his question, Peter shrugs.
“Thought you were mad at me,” Peter admits softly.
“I told you, Pete, a glass is just a glass. It’s no big-”
“Not the glass. I mean, like, for uh… um, going after Ross. I didn’t mean to let him get me, honestly.”
Oh. This is a conversation, Tony realises. A big conversation. And of course this is how it started because only Peter could be sitting here apologising for being kidnapped.
“No, kid,” Tony says desperately. “No, no, no. I’m not mad-”
“But you weren’t there when I woke up. You didn’t wanna come and see me,” Peter blurt nervously. Tony hates how resigned he sounds.
“I’m not mad,” Tony says firmly. Relief floods Peter’s face at this. “I’m not mad at you for going after Ross. I’m mad at myself for not stopping you. I know what you’re like, I should have known you’d try to stop him.” He pauses, takes a breath. “It’s over now, though. I’m going to make sure that Ross gets locked up for a very long time.”
At Tony’s last few words, Peter’s expression falls into one of indifference. “It wasn’t him, at least not really. I dunno, at least I didn’t see him much. There were just a whole load of other dudes and they watched me all the time, wanted to figure me out.” Tony tries to school his face into a neutral expression, but he doesn’t think he does enough to hide the horror of Peter talking so plainly about this like he’s come to terms with these things happening to him and he thinks it’s normal. Peter must notice Tony’s expression because suddenly he’s scrambling. “I mean, it really wasn’t that bad, I swear. I had like, a bed, sorta, and they gave me food when I didn’t fight back. They kept me in the dark most of the time, which I kinda didn’t like-” Tony would say ‘kinda,’ is an understatement considering Peter’s episode earlier, but he doesn’t interrupt, “-but I don’t think they really wanted to hurt me. They only handcuffed me if I was really not cooperating.”
Peter’s runs his fingers compulsively over and over the still-healing wounds on his wrists as he says this. He flinches a little when Tony gently tugs them away.
“Don’t want you to think that m’broken,” Peter says, heartbreakingly. “But I couldn’t get myself out. I tried, really. I just… I kept waiting for you. Wanted you the entire time.”
Those words send waves of emotion rushing through Tony and Peter seems to realise this when he glances up towards Tony. “Sorry,” he adds quietly, again trying his best to figure out what Tony wants and appease him.
Tony shakes his head. “I was looking every fucking day, trust me. You have no idea how badly I wanted it to be me that got you out of there, bud. I just wanted you home and safe.”
Peter thinks about this. “We’re together now, I guess” Peter says eventually, voice hushed. Tony leans over to press a kiss to the top of his head.
“Yeah, kid. You got that right. I’m not letting you out of my sight. I’m coming with you on every single patrol from now on, just try and stop me,” Tony warns lightly, voice riddled with affection. Peter makes a quiet sound of protest.
“You’re staying home then.”
“Maybe for a lil’ while.”
They end up back in the hospital room eventually. It’s inevitable. Peter’s clearly exhausted, eyes drooping and he needs the rest.
May’s still fast asleep, dressing gown draped over her lap like a blanket. She’s snoring softly, and it seems to appease Peter’s fears of waking her up and disturbing her.
“Let’s get you into bed, buddy,” Tony says in a hushed whisper. He pulls back the crumpled bedding and helps Peter climb in, hating how ginger his movements are and the way his face screws up in pain. “There we are,” he soothes, pulling the blankets up around his chin.
It feels parental in a way that the little voice in the back of Tony’s mind tells himself that shouldn’t be allowed, that he should back off. Your fault.
He tries to block it out. He’s not going to do Peter any good from afar, he knows that now. So, instead, he watches, reverently, as Peter squirms about to try and get comfortable.
He knows they still have a hell of a lot to work through.
Tonight is just night one. They’ll have many, many more nights like this, no doubts about it.
He has so many things to sort through. Whether they did manage to create whatever drug Pepper was talking about earlier. What exactly they put Peter through. Exactly how many people were involved (so that Tony can tear them all to pieces).
But right now, none of that matters in the slightest. What matters is that Peter’s curled between May and Tony, safe. How he got here isn’t important, or the fact that it wasn’t Tony. He’s home.
“You're goin’?” Peter murmurs when he feels Tony retract his hand.
Tony falters. “Course not. Not if you don’t want me to, that is.”
Peter shakes his head. He tangles one hand in the sleeve of Tony’s hoodie. “Want both of you. Missed you.”
Peter moves over, closer to May, to let Tony climb onto the corner of the bed. It’s a little cramped, but Peter prefers it to sleeping alone. He’s just spent three weeks alone.
“They didn’t like it when I slept,” Peter mumbles a few minutes later. His eyes are almost fully closed now, only blinking open every so often to look up at Tony and check he’s still there. “Someone’d always wake me up. Wasn’t very nice.”
“No one’s gonna wake you. You need the rest, you can sleep. I’m not going anywhere, you’re safe,” Tony promises. He wraps one arm around Peter and tucks him tighter to his chest. Peter burrows into the fabric of his hoodie.
Hours later, Tony’s still awake. Peter twists in his sleep with a fearful whine. Tony ghosts a hand over Peter’s hair, smoothing it back from his forehead.
“I’m here, buddy,” he whispers into Peter’s curls, love and pain bleeding into every word. Peter settles a little. “God, I am so, so sorry. I love you so much.”