“Can you call your sister down for dinner?”
Peter takes his eyes off the nanoelectronics assignment he’s got open on his laptop in front of him to look up towards Tony. He’s standing by the stove, stirring herbs into the bolognese sauce Pepper left frozen in the freezer for them all before she left for London and Peter relishes in the smell of the oregano and tomato wafting through the room.
“Dinner’s ready? Like, now?” he asks. He’s lost all track of time this afternoon - well, evening now judging by the darkness that’s fallen out the window. He thinks he’s typed about seven words in the entire time he’s had the word document open.
Tony nods. “Sure is, kid, Chef Stark’s about to serve up. I just need you two gremlins to set the table.”
“On it.” Peter slips off his stool at the kitchen island and pads out of the room, socked feet slipping slightly on the wooden floorboards. The fire is crackling in the living room as he heads for the bottom of the staircase, emitting a comforting warmth through the house that Peter wants to wrap himself in. It’s a relief from the winter evening outside, frigid with the icy breeze blowing off the lake.
Peter’s always loved evenings like these in the cabin. They beat evenings in his freezing Manhattan apartment, by far. It’s the nicest one he could afford close to ESU but even still, half the time he has to line his window sills with old t-shirts to try to keep out the drafts and winter chill. Tony’s never been happy about it if the amount of times he’s threatened to acquire the leasing rights to the building just to forcibly evict Peter and find him a better place is anything to go by. Peter’s refused time and time again. If Tony’s going to pay for his tuition, then he can fund his living expenses just fine (even if it means freezing his ass off for a few months a year).
Peter reaches the bottom of the stairs. He leans against the bannister and calls up. “Morgan!”
There’s a beat of silence. A door opens upstairs. Then, a muffled yell. “What?”
“Dinner!” Peter calls back in reply.
He hears footsteps along the hallway above him until Morgan appears at the top of the stairs. She throws herself down them at a pace Peter won’t even pretend to be comfortable with, but he doesn’t chastise her as Tony might. Instead, he just wraps an arm around her shoulders as soon as she’s in reach.
He plants a kiss to her forehead as they head towards the kitchen. “You hungry?”
“Good, because Dad’s made bolognese,” Tony chimes in from the bench, watching the two of them as they walk in.
“Dad reheated bolognese,” Peter corrects.
Tony wipes his hands on the tea-towel over his shoulder and then waves it begrudgingly in Peter’s general direction. “Betrayal.”
Morgan laughs. Tony’s eyes crinkle as he smiles.
Maybe for tonight, everything might be easy.
Peter and Morgan both make quick work of setting the table, which Peter’s grateful for because he’s starving. He doesn’t think he’s eaten since he scarfed down the muesli bar he found at the bottom of his backpack this afternoon.
“Dig in,” Tony announces, as he sets a plate in front of each of them and then slips into his usual seat across from Peter.
Confusion settles over Peter and he looks down at the plate in front of him and then up, around the table. There aren’t any extras. There isn’t even anything left simmering on the stove either. Tony’s already transferred all the dishes into the sink to be washed.
That means there’s no opportunity to go back for seconds, or thirds, or even fourths if Peter’s feeling particularly ravenous. Tony’s only made enough for a single plate of food each - not nearly enough to sate his ridiculous metabolism.
Suddenly, everything doesn’t seem as easy anymore.
Things seem to switch quite quickly these days.
Peter sounds ungrateful right now, he knows he does, and he hates it. He went for months running on far less than this at mealtimes because he didn’t want to bring up his metabolism to May, until Tony had to step in. Has he gotten so used to people always going above and beyond for him that suddenly when it’s not there one night he feels entitled to be upset?
Morgan watches him carefully. She looks down from her own plate of food over to Peter’s. Peter’s sure she’s probably never seen him with a plate of food the same size as her own. Pepper and Tony always make sure to have more on hand for him.
But Pepper isn’t here tonight and Tony… well, Peter could never blame Tony. Not for this.
Morgan keeps looking at him like she’s waiting for him to say something but Peter can’t bring himself to do it. There’s not much he hates more than the look of defeat in Tony’s eyes when he realises that he’s forgotten something.
So he sits in silence and makes sure that he paces himself so that he doesn’t end up sitting there with a noticeably empty plate before Tony and Morgan are finished with their own. It’s fine. He can just come down and fix himself something later, no big deal.
He ends up finishing sooner than Tony and Morgan anyway. He just can’t help it, not with how much food his stomach demands.
Tony grins at him. There’s a slight smear of the spaghetti sauce just above his lip. “You must have been hungry, Pete.”
“Yeah,” Peter nods. He laughs awkwardly and Morgan fixes him with a look that’s far too knowing to belong on her ten-year-old face. “Something like that.”
The reversing of the snap was a miracle, in some ways.
It brought Peter back to May and Tony. It stitched families back together, slotted missing pieces back into place. It made a broken world whole again.
Tony surviving the snap was a miracle as well - a miracle that Peter will never stop trying to thank the universe for in any way that he can. But sometimes, he’s learnt, when the universe makes an allowance and decides to let you carry on walking the earth against all odds, there will be a price to pay.
The snap stole Tony’s right arm. It left silvery scars etched into the skin on the side of his face, and snaking from where his prosthetic meets his shoulder. It damaged his nerves to the point where his left hand might never not shake, at least a little.
After all this, they thought Tony had paid his debts. They thought they were out of the woods. He lived. He’s alive.
But then his memory started to go.
It was just small things at first. He began to forget what movies he and Peter had already seen together late at night when they couldn’t sleep, and suggested the same ones over and over, week after week. He bought the wrong type of Oreos, the originals, even when Morgan and Peter have prefered the Double Stuf for years. He forgot Gerald’s name every now and then, and very occasionally, he seemed to just completely forget they had the alpaca altogether, not remembering to feed him until someone reminded him.
At first, when Peter started to put things together in his mind and really notice what was going on, he thought it was just age. People’s memories fade as they get older, right? Minds get weaker. It’s just natural. May’s always forgetting where she put her reading glasses down last, or what day is five-dollar-deal day at her local grocery store.
But Peter should have realised. When it came to Tony, arguably the sharpest mind of the 21st century, it was never going to just be getting weaker. It was never going to be just age.
No - not when the sharpest mind of the 21st century also happened to come into contact with the deadliest amount of gamma radiation known to man five years ago.
And so it began.
Peter has had a lot of bad months in his life. Lots and lots of them. But last November is definitely, without a single doubt, right up there at the top of the list with the worst of them.
He’ll never forget the way the weeks raced by in a blur of doctors visits and CAT scans. All the hours spent unable to focus in his lectures as his brain mulled over worst-case scenarios. The anxiety-filled nights lying alone in his silent apartment, assignments abandoned as he waited for Pepper or Tony to ring him with the latest hospital results.
He could always tell exactly what was coming for him solely based on the caller ID. It was simple. Tony called to deliver the good news. Pepper called to deliver the not-so-good news - the kind of news that Tony couldn’t bear to even think about, let along divulge to anyone else.
The night that Pepper called and refused to tell him anything over the phone, Peter let himself collapse right back into the dreaded feeling in his gut that something really wasn’t right. And it wasn’t. It was that night, sitting on the couch next to Morgan, her knees knocking against his and her face splotchy, stained red with tears in a way that made Peter’s stomach twist and turn horribly, he learnt that the radiation had made it to Tony’s brain.
Tony was diagnosed with amnesia.
The doctors told them that right now, it’s a mild form of retrograde amnesia. The radiation has crept towards his temporal lobe. It will only get worse as he ages. There isn’t a cure, no way to stop the radiation from spreading further. Tony’s been prescribed a load of pills anyway. Aricept, Razadyne, Namenda - he’s tried just about every memory loss medication under the sun by now. They help a little bit.
But still, that one word has never really stopped bouncing around Peter’s head.
Maybe he’s just watched too many movies in his lifetime, but before Tony broke the news on that godawful night two months ago, he always thought amnesia only happened to people that were involved in tragic accidents, like car crashes or particularly bad falls. He thought it meant that they woke up without any recollection of the people around them or their life.
But Tony still knows them. He still looks at Peter and Morgan with adoration lit behind his eyes. He would still go to the ends of the earth for Pepper. He knows his home address. He remembers the recipe to Pepper’s favourite pasta dish.
Everything isn’t gone. But maybe one day, it might be. That’s what keeps Peter up at night.
Amnesia can be gradual, the doctors told them. Gamma radiation is used for the treatment of brain tumours, and that’s been known to cause memory issues later in life, they said. Someone should have predicted this.
But no one did. No one could have predicted this.
Not even Tony. Definitely not Tony.
Peter’s sitting propped upright in bed later that night, laptop open in front of him yet again. He’s added about twenty more words to his assignment this time and he figures that it’s better than nothing but before he gets the chance to make any more progress, there’s a knock at his door.
It swings open before he can reply.
He assumes that maybe it’s Tony. Maybe he’s realised his slip up from earlier. He does that sometimes, on the slightly better days. But when he looks up, it’s Morgan slipping through his door instead, decked out in her coziest fleece pyjamas. She’s holding a packet of cookies in her hands.
“Hey, Mo,” Peter offers. He shuts the lid of his laptop, assignment abandoned once again, as she makes the few steps to flop down on the unoccupied side of the bed.
“Hi,” she smiles a little as she makes herself comfortable, tugging at one of the pillows Peter was resting against until he relinquishes it. She curls up against it and tears open the packet she’s holding, plastic crinkling. They're chocolate chip cookies, Peter identifies up close, the fancy kind that Pepper buys from Whole Foods.
“What? No Oreos?” Peter asks.
She shakes her head mournfully and takes a bite out of a cookie before extending the pack out towards Peter. He grabs one and takes a bite out of it himself, stomach still feeling cavernous after the little that he ate at dinner.
“I checked. I don’t think we have any. It was Dad that went to the store on Wednesday. He probably forgot.”
“Doesn’t Mom write him a list?”
Morgan shrugs and rolls over onto her back so that she can stare at the ceiling instead of having to look at Peter. She’s grown into this thing where she tries to act unbothered when something’s playing in her mind, but Peter can see right through it - probably because Tony used to do a similar thing.
“Will you buy some tomorrow?” she asks.
Peter nods, even if she’s determinedly not looking at him. “Will do.”
Morgan hums quietly, clearly satisfied with his answer. Neither of them speaks for a moment. Peter finishes his cookie and Morgan does the same. There are crumbs collecting in the creases of his duvet and he reminds himself to shake it out the window to try and get rid of them before he goes to sleep.
“Any particular reason you’re in my room with cookies at-” Peter checks the time on his phone. 11:24 pm. “Half-past eleven?”
Another shrug. Morgan hugs the pillow she stole from Peter against her chest. “I don’t have a bedtime on a Friday.”
“Yeah, you do. It’s ten o’clock.”
Morgan ignores that statement entirely. “Dad forgot to feed you. I’m bringing you cookies so you won’t starve.”
An odd mix of affection and sadness rushes through Peter. He will never stop being grateful that through the reversal of the snap, he was brought into Morgan’s life. He’ll never stop being grateful for the easy way that she accepted him as her big brother like he’d been there her entire life. After five years, it feels like he has.
But now? The fact that Morgan feels like she has to look out for him in the place of some of Tony’s memories that are slowly being wiped from his brain by his sacrifice makes misery bloom in his gut.
“I won’t starve. Don’t worry,” Peter tells her. He reaches out and takes another cookie despite himself. Just because he isn’t about to drop dead from starvation doesn’t mean he isn’t hungry. He pauses. “Y’know, Dad can’t help it. It’s not his fault he forgot how much I eat.”
Morgan tilts her head back to look at him. She’s frowning and on instinct, Peter reaches out to brush a few messy strands of hair off her forehead. “I know it’s not his fault. Why does everyone keep telling me that?”
Peter’s about to rebut that, but then he realises that everyone is telling her that. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to forget that Morgan isn’t a little kid anymore. Well - she is in Peter’s eyes, no matter how much she insists that she’s in her last year of elementary school so that must mean that ten years old is practically a grown-up. But she’s older now. She’s not the tiny five-year-old who couldn’t comprehend how sick her dad truly was after the snap or how much effort he had to put in to get himself back to a healthy state. She understands what’s going on, and in some ways that makes everything ten times worse. Peter has to see the sting of hurt in her eyes every time Tony forgets one of their inside jokes, or when he asks her for the sixth time how her spelling test was at school.
She looks away from Peter again when she catches him watching her. He nudges her shoulder with a socked foot.
“You were staring at me. Stop being weird.”
Peter chuckles. “I’m your brother, isn’t that my job?”
“You’re really good at it,” she mumbles. She grabs another cookie out of the packet and takes a bite out of it. Peter wonders whether it’s just to avoid talking.
“You’re not gonna be able to sleep if you eat that much sugar,” Peter tells her, at the same time as he grabs another one for himself.
She sticks her bottom lip out in the same pout she’s had the whole time he’s known her. “Don’t wanna sleep,” she tells him petulantly.
“We don’t have to. You just wanna hang out?”
She turns, hope sparking behind her eyes like this is what she’s wanted the whole time. And then, “Are you busy?” asked in a tone that’s so familiar to Peter that it almost aches. God. It’s the same way he used to ask Tony to make sure he wasn’t too burdened to be spending time with him, or that he wasn’t doing it just because he felt bad.
“I’m never too busy for you. You know that.”
Taking that as the only invitation she needs, Morgan crawls further up the bed, pillow still curled in her arms, and presses herself against Peter’s side.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asks a few minutes later, once Peter has got them both tucked under the covers and removed the cookies from the vicinity to avoid temptation. He’d actually like to get some sleep tonight, and he knows that won’t happen if he lets Morgan have any more sugar.
“You just did, didn’t you?”
“That was a dad joke,” Morgan groans before all the traces of revelry slip from her face. She fidgets with the corner of Peter’s bed sheets. “Um, can you remember what it’s like not having a dad? Before you had our dad?”
Peter sobers up instantly, feeling bad for joking around in the first place. He rolls over onto his side to face her. “What are you talking about, Mo?”
“I heard the doctors on the phone telling Mom that Dad’s probably going to get worse,” Morgan starts, and Peter winces. There’s a reason that generally they try to have conversations like those away from Morgan’s ears. Peter knows she tries to eavesdrop sometimes, and honestly, he can’t really blame her as much as he wishes she wouldn’t. He’d probably do the same thing if he wasn’t regarded as old enough to be kept in the loop. “If he keeps getting worse, then what if he forgets about us?” she finishes quietly.
Peter swallows. As much as he’d love to be able to tell her that won’t happen, he can’t. “Everyone is trying their best to make sure that Dad gets better,” he says gently, “but he loves you so much, and he’ll always love you.”
“But why him? Why our dad?”
Because he’s always wanted to do the right thing. Because he’s always been a hero. Because he wanted a better world for you to grow up in, even if he didn’t know it yet.
“As much as it sucks, no one can control these things. They just happen. Life’s a little bit like that sometimes.”
“Sometimes I wish someone else could have saved the world,” Morgan murmurs and suddenly it all makes a lot more sense.
Every kid wants their parent to be their superhero.
Morgan just wants hers to be her dad.
“Everything will be okay,” Peter tells her, and he so desperately hopes that it’s true. “And I promise you, no matter what happens, I’ll never let anything happen to you. It’s you and me forever, so there’s no need to worry your massive head about it, okay?”
Morgan crosses her arms over the top of the covers, scowling weakly up towards Peter. “My head isn’t massive.”
“Oh really? You could’ve fooled me. You’ll have to let me know your secret then. Where are you hiding all those brains, huh? I know they’re in there somewhere, smarty-pants.”
That gets a laugh out of Morgan - a real one, not a sad sounding one - and when she mumbles, “Love you,” into the fabric of his t-shirt, Peter feels like maybe he’s managed to do something right. He tightens his arm around her.
“I love you too, bug. Thanks for my cookies.”
They just stay there for a while, slumped into the pillows, side by side. Morgan buries her face into Peter’s neck eventually, and he thinks she might be asleep, but he can’t be entirely sure. He carries on running one hand through her hair in the way he knows she likes as he lies there, her words circling around in his head.
He lost his dad. He lost Ben. Now he’s about to lose Tony, too. Not to a plane crash, or gun violence, or some freak-accident on an Avengers mission - the way he always feared he’d lose Tony, even before he grew close enough to him to know that losing him would mean his whole world falling apart.
He’s about to lose Tony to his own mind.
Has the universe, which Peter is forever indebted to for sparing Tony, simply been stringing them along, allowing them these extra years together only to rip them apart in a more drawn out, cruel undoing?
Peter goes out to get groceries the next morning - partly because Morgan wouldn’t shut up about the Oreos after she finished the other half of the pack of cookies for breakfast this morning (Peter is resigned to having to fully wash his sheets to get the crumbs out) and partly because the fridge is starting to look a little sparse so they really need something for dinner tonight.
He only went out for those two things. A pack of Oreos and maybe some chicken or something to throw in a stir fry for dinner. And yet here he is, climbing out of the car lugging three full bags of groceries. As a kid, he never understood how May could run down to the store for milk and come back with her arms full. Now, as a broke college kid let loose in the grocery store with Tony Stark’s credit card, he fully understands how easy it is to get carried away.
A shiver runs down his spine at the bite in the air, and he lets the handles of one of the canvas reusable bags slip down around his elbow so he has a spare hand. The packets of Morgan’s favourite chocolates he’s got stashed underneath a bag of frozen vegetables rustles as he does. She always likes to take advantage of whenever Peter does the grocery shopping for them.
With his newly available hand, he pulls his winter coat further around himself and starts towards the front door, gravel crunching underneath his shoes.
Stepping up the first few creaky porch steps, mentally reminding himself to try and fix those sometime tomorrow, or at least remind Tony about it, he sticks a hand into his pocket and rummages for his keys. He’s just curling his hand into a fist around them, recognising the distinctive clay texture of the spider-shaped keyring Morgan made him in art class last year, when the door swings open in front of him.
Instinctively, he expects it to be Morgan standing in the threshold. Offering him help with the bags perhaps, if she’s feeling particularly gratuitous. To pull her candy directly out of the bag before Tony can spot it while they unpack everything in the kitchen, more likely. But when he glances up, it’s not Morgan. It’s Sandra, Tony’s occupational therapist.
She’s been visiting ever since the amnesia diagnosis was confirmed, but he keeps forgetting they’ve upped Tony’s appointments to twice a week now.
Sandra is a godsend, but also yet another reminder of the things that are and the things that might become (the things that Peter would selfishly very much like to be able to ignore).
“Oh, hello, Peter,” she smiles kindly. “I was just seeing myself out.” She’s adjusting a woollen scarf around her neck, one with knitted pom poms on the end. Peter’s always had a hard time correlating her softened exterior with her stern side, the side of her that’s tough enough to not take any of Tony Stark’s usual brand of shit. She takes in Peter’s armfuls of shopping and sidesteps out of the way to let him get through to the door. “Do you need some help getting everything inside?”
Peter shakes his head. “I’m okay. Thank you though.” Sandra nods. He bites down on his bottom lip, chapped from the winter air. She must know that he wants to say something because instead of departing towards her car, she just watches him carefully. In moments like this Peter understands how she manages to get things out of Tony - her gaze simultaneously makes him want to shrink away and open his mouth to spill every dark secret he’s ever kept hidden deep inside of him. Peter’s eyes stray away to search the entryway but he can’t see Tony hovering. Sandra turns briefly to follow his gaze, before stepping out of the doorway and fully onto the porch. She shuts the door behind her.
Peter chances his question.
“Did everything, um, did it go okay today?”
He knows Sandra won’t tell him everything, not like the way she speaks to Pepper. He may be in his twenties now, but he’s still Tony’s kid in the eyes of most people. But she will tell him some things, and he can tell immediately by the way that her professional smile drops into something slightly smaller, slightly more wan, that today probably wasn’t a good day.
“We had a bit of a rough session today,” she admits under her breath, confirming what Peter has already deduced.
Peter’s stomach twists in sympathy. He knows how hard those are for Tony. He knows how badly Tony just wants to be able to remember everything. He knows how it feels, in a way. He doesn’t want anything as badly as he wants Tony to just be okay.
“He’s struggling a bit with denial. This isn’t uncommon, especially when we can’t tell him for certain whether these memory issues will ever ease in severity or whether he will-” she pauses. Peter feels his shoulders tense as he draws in a breath.
“Whether he’ll forget everything, right?” Peter asks softly, hating the way his voice shakes. “It’s okay. I know that’s a possibility.”
Sandra nods. “It is,” she tells him plainly. There’s a bit of sadness on her face, but no pity. Peter appreciates it. He guesses she has to deal with a lot of families like theirs - those that have to prepare to preemptively grieve the loss of the person they once knew and the loss of memories that retreat into shadowy corners, sometimes to be coaxed out, sometimes to never be seen again.
“I can’t say for certain whether that’s what will happen. The closest I have to go off is my patients who suffer from memory impairments as a result of radiation treatment. It’s safe to say that’s always going to be a little different from patients like your father-” Peter doesn’t correct her. He doesn’t need to. Tony’s been in his life for eleven years now. He’s a parent to him in every way that matters. “-who encountered his radiation by resurrecting half the universe with a set of, well, space stones,” Sandra finishes.
Peter shifts his weight from one foot to another anxiously. “Is there anything I should do?” He just wants to help. He hates feeling useless. But this doesn’t seem like something he can fight.
“Don’t let him fall into his negative self-talk. He was already indulging in that today far too often for my liking.”
Peter smiles wryly. It feels a bit forced. “You know what he’s like.”
“I do indeed. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. If you can try and pull the pin on it before he spirals too far that would be beneficial for the both of you.”
“I’ll try.” Peter pauses. “He can be difficult when he wants to be. I’m sure you know that.”
Sandra just gives him a knowing smile diplomatically. Peter knows what it means - if I could say those sorts of things about my clients, I would be the first to wholeheartedly agree with you.
“Just do your best. This isn’t easy but you’re all doing a very good job of managing it so far,” Sandra says. “I’ll see you soon, Peter, take care of yourself.” Peter nods vacantly as she steps down the porch steps and starts towards her car, leaving him standing there watching her go.
Ten minutes later with all the shopping unpacked, ingredients for a stir-fry sitting out on the bench for later and a few inappropriately sugary treats doled out to Morgan, Peter makes his way into the living room. He knows this is where Tony is - he saw him briefly tucked away in here when he first brought the shopping inside.
Tony barely seems to notice Peter as he steps into the room. The man is sitting on the couch, hunched forward over the coffee table. He’s focused on reading some of the papers he has in front of him, and his reading glasses looking like they’re about to slip off the end of his nose with the way his entire face is scrunched in concentration.
“What’re you…” Peter starts as he crosses the room, over to where Tony is still perched on the couch. He trails off when, from closer up, he realises that the assorted bits of paper haphazardly spread across the coffee table that Tony’s focusing so intently on are tax return forms. He frowns. “Those are taxes.”
It’s not accusing. Peter’s just a bit confused. He props himself up against the arm of the sofa and folds his arms loosely, going for an air of nonchalance that he’s not sure he quite pulls off.
Tony doesn’t look up. He ticks a couple of the boxes. He hums in vague affirmation. "That they are.”
“Why are you-”
“The electronic version was a nightmare so I thought I’d do it by hand. Looking at them on the screen was giving me a headache anyway,” Tony supplies, filling in the gaps for a completely different question that Peter definitely wasn’t asking. Peter frowns at the admission anyway.
“No, that’s not what I was asking,” Peter says, shaking his head. “Are you sure that you should be doing this right now?”
“Doing what?” Tony says. He’s stalling and Peter knows it.
Tony fidgets with his pen between his fingers.
“It needs to be done. And Pep isn’t here,” he says finally.
Bullshit, Peter thinks. That’s not it, and he knows it.
“I’m sure Pepper wouldn’t mind doing it when she gets back - it can wait until tomorrow night,” Peter suggests, words tentative. “It’s just… you don’t want to stress yourself out if you’ve just seen Sandra.”
Almost immediately, Peter notices the way Tony’s shoulders rise in defence, and he wonders whether it would have been best if he’d just stayed silent.
“I think I know what I can handle, Peter,” Tony says after a moment. His tone isn’t sharp or snappish like Peter cautiously expected. Instead, it’s hollowed out and tired.
Suddenly, his plan of heading upstairs and trying to hide away in his room for a few hours to finally get his damned assignment done seems far less appealing if it means leaving Tony down here on his own.
He thinks back to the afternoons not long after the snap, during the time when Tony was getting used to the loss of an arm and Peter was getting used to the loss of five years of his life, when Peter would sit through his therapy sessions and come out completely exhausted. Tony never once left him to it. Instead, he remembers afternoons sprawled out on the couch with Tony, watching a movie, talking, just lying there - doing whatever Peter needed to stop his anxious brain from spiralling after an hour of discussing his problems.
It helped him then. Maybe, five years later, it might help Tony.
“I’ve got some school work to do. Do you mind if I sit out here and do it with you?” he asks before he can talk himself out of it. Maybe he should give Tony space. But he doesn’t want to. He wants to spend as much time with Tony, especially if one day soon, Tony might not-
Peter halts himself abruptly. He tells himself he doesn’t need an excuse. He’s always loved spending time with Tony. Now isn’t any different.
(Except that it is. It’s so, so different.)
Tony looks up at the question, and suddenly there’s regret written all over his face. “Of course I don’t mind, kid,” he says quickly. “I, uh, look, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be all shitty with you.” He sighs. “I just want to be able to do this.”
“I know,” Peter tells him. Because he does. He knows this is hard for Tony. It’s probably one of the hardest things he’s probably ever lived through. He’s never needed super strength, or a serum, or too many fancy weapons. All he’s ever needed is his mind. That’s always been his superpower.
Now, he needs to prove to himself that he isn’t completely useless.
Peter understands the feeling.
He grabs his laptop up off the armchair where he left it this morning and sinks down onto the sofa next to Tony.
Peter lets himself become so engrossed in his assignment, finally feeling like he’s getting somewhere, that at first, he doesn’t register the frustrated huffs Tony’s emitting from beside him.
It’s only when Tony grabs one of the forms up off the table that Peter finally jerks out of his reverie, noticing the way the paper trembles violently in Tony’s hand out of the corner of his eye.
“Is everything okay?” He asks, hesitant, as he glances over and takes in the deep frown etched onto Tony’s face.
“Yeah,” Tony says tersely before his face slackens. He sucks in a shuddery breath. “Just a brain blank.”
Peter knew this would happen. He should have tried to put a halt to whatever Tony was trying to prove to himself the second he walked in the door. It’s too late for that now. “What are you stuck on?” Peter chances asking. “Can I help?”
“I…” Tony glances back down at the paper in front of him, like he’s willing whatever information he’s looking for to come to him all of a sudden. It doesn’t, obviously, because he just clenches his left hand tighter in his lap, balling it into a fist. His knuckles drain of colour.
“Pepper’s birthday,” he mutters softly, so quietly it’s almost as if he doesn’t want Peter to hear as he admits it. He probably doesn’t.
Peter stares for a moment, trying to wrap his head around it. This is Pepper’s birthday, a day that Tony puts so much effort into every year. He has to still know it somehow. He has to. But apparently his brain doesn’t - at least not right now.
Peter thinks back to what Sandra has told them. Give him a little bit more information, something he can’t quite grasp for himself at the moment, and see whether that triggers the memory. Memories aren’t completely erased. Sometimes he just needs a little help getting to them.
“It’s on the twelfth,” Peter offers. It’s followed with only silence for a moment, and he watches Tony’s face carefully. He can almost see the gears in his head turning, working overtime to try and conjure up the information he needs.
“Twelfth… twelfth… twelfth,” Tony says quietly, over and over to himself like a prayer.
Peter waits. He tries not to be anxious. It doesn’t really work. Just as the silence is dragging on for a little too long, stretching between them, he’s sure that he’s going to have to step in with the month as well, Tony sits up a little straighter.
“February,” he says, voice raised at the end like a question, like he’s still not a hundred per cent sure with himself. “February,” he repeats, sounding more confident this time. “The twelfth of February.”
Peter can’t help the grin of relief that spreads across his face. He nods. “You got it. Yeah.”
“We went to Glimmerglass park for the day last year,” Tony adds suddenly. His eyes are a little far away, like he’s ducked out of reality for a moment to wander through a memory. “Happy cut his foot in that tidepool and I genuinely think he thought he was going to die of blood loss. And Morgan made Pep that red velvet cake, the one that was a total disaster. I was scrubbing food colouring out of the counters for weeks after that.”
Peter laughs. He knows that Tony’s just listing off facts because he can, to prove to himself that he remembers, but he’d be lying if he said that he’s not relishing in it. It’s something that he would have taken for granted once. Now, he knows better.
“Yeah... yeah that’s right. We did. It was nice.” Peter says softly.
A pause. Then, “I can’t believe I forgot her birthday.” The words are tainted with melancholy.
“These things happen,” Peter tries to reason diplomatically.
“Not to everyone.”
Not to people who didn’t almost die saving the universe. Not to people with radiation-free brains. Not to people who aren’t inching close and closer to complete amnesia day by day.
All of these things go unsaid, but they hang heavily in the air anyway.
Half an hour and no more mishaps later, Tony shuffles the forms he’s filled out for both him and Pepper together and reaches for the stapler. He furrows his brow. Peter glances up from his laptop just in time to meet Tony’s confused gaze.
“They didn’t send one for you, Pete.” He looks back down through his stack of forms. “Well, there wasn’t one in my pile, I don’t know where I would have put it if I-”
Peter goes through the motions. Watches Tony for a second to see if he’s going to realise his own blunder. He doesn’t.
“Don’t worry, I filled mine out at home last week,” Peter says, trying to keep his voice light and easy. “I don’t live here all the time, anyway,” he adds as a reminder.
Tony groans. He pulls his reading glasses off his face and dumps them a little too forcefully on the coffee table, leaning back against the couch and scrubbing at his eyes. “Of course you don’t,” he mutters lowly to himself. “My bad, that was… fuck.”
Peter’s at a little bit of a loss. He stares, which he knows definitely isn’t helpful, but he doesn’t know what to do. He feels like he should do. Tony’s known how to guide him through almost every one of his life’s major hurdles ever since he was fifteen. Now it’s time for Peter to repay the favour and he can’t.
How do you comfort someone when you can’t tell them it’s going to get better?
“It’s okay. Today’s just a bad day,” he offers weakly.
Tony covers his face with his hands.
The feeling of failure creeps into the back of Peter’s mind and takes up residence, refusing to leave for the rest of the day.
Compared to the day that preceded it, Sunday is a good day.
He and Tony go out for a run around the lake’s trails that morning, while Morgan races ahead of them on her bike.
Tony has no trouble recalling the chemical makeup of his new web formula straight back to him when he finds Peter tinkering in the garage in the late morning, taking advantage of all the tech that he could never fit in his own apartment, and definitely couldn’t use in his college labs without arousing suspicion.
They spend the afternoon surrounded by photo albums that Tony dug out from the attic. He’d remembered Morgan’s ancestry project for school, something that Peter had been absolutely sure that either he or Morgan would have to remind him about. But they didn’t.
They sit on the floor of the living room and page through the albums, Morgan choosing the ones that she wants to make copies of for her project. Peter is almost positive that she’s choosing the most embarrassing ones of Tony on purpose, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
Maybe he’s just too content to notice. His lips are curled into a soft smile as he turns yet another page and stops. He reaches forward to run a thumb over a photo of someone Peter recognises as Maria Stark. He lingers for only a second, before carrying on.
There are more photos of his mother, photos of Pepper’s parents. Baby photos of Peter’s, a Christmas present from May to Tony one Christmas a few years back - much to Peter’s embarrassment - are carefully stuck next to Morgan’s.
The photos of Howard are just as carefully preserved, Peter notices, but they’re glossed over. Tony doesn’t stop to look at them too closely.
Peter knows about the strained relationship that was there once. He knows that Tony’s tried his hardest to forgive his father now that he has children of his own. Peter wishes, not for the first time, that retrograde amnesia didn’t snatch everything you hold near and dear to your heart at the present moment from you first.
But Peter knows how it works. Your oldest memories are the ones deeply embedded.
He hates the fact that there might be a day where all Tony’s left with is an unfamiliar world around him and the hazy memories of his own lonely childhood drifting around in his mind.
For a minute, Peter spirals.
Because how is any of this fair? How is it fair that Tony put his life on the line for the universe and this is how he’s repaid? He’s happy now, Peter can tell. He’s never seen Tony as at peace as the first few months after the snap, during the times when Morgan would crawl into Peter’s lap or insist he read to them. He told Peter one night, sitting out by the dock, that for the first time in his life, he feels like he’s part of a family that is completely and utterly whole.
How is it fair that just as he’s struck gold and found happiness in the most recent years of his life, that will be the first to go?
Morgan laughs, loud and bright. Peter snaps himself out of it and sees her pointing at a photo of Tony wearing some stupid suit that was probably fashionable in the nineties - or maybe it wasn’t. It’s hard to tell with Tony. He’s never been one for fashion trends.
Peter tries to forget about his earlier thoughts. He pushes them out of the way as Morgan makes her final few selections, and then shoves them down as far as they can possibly go when they abandon the photo albums altogether in favour of making a disaster attempt at an apple pie to welcome Pepper back when she arrives home tonight.
It works, almost. Maybe he can pretend everything will always be this normal.
(He just really, really doesn’t want Tony to forget.)
Then the evening rolls around and Sunday becomes less of a good day.
Pepper walks in through the front door - looking far more put together than anyone should have the right to after an eight-hour flight home from London - and it takes Tony a solid minute to remember where she was the entire weekend in the first place.
She pretends it doesn’t bother her. She tells him it's an easy thing to forget. She lets him lean forward and kiss her, lets him tell her that he missed her. She says that she missed him too. No one doubts that part. No one mentions the sheen of tears shining in Pepper’s eyes either.
Later that night, in the darkness long after both Tony and Morgan have gone to bed, Peter holds Pepper while she cries.
Just as the sun is starting to appear up over the horizon the next morning, pale pink shimmering on the surface of the lake, Peter creeps out of the house - he needs to be able to make it to his first class of the week, after all.
He kisses Pepper on the cheek to say goodbye before he goes, as she stands in the kitchen wrapped in her bathrobe to fight the morning chill, waiting for the kettle to boil. He scrawls a quick note on the back of an abandoned shopping list for Tony as well. He doesn’t want to wake the man up. His mind is always that little bit sharper when he’s well-rested.
As he drives away, he tries to shove down the relief that rises inside of him, lifting some of the weight of sorrow off his shoulders.
Guilt and shame claw at him almost instantly. He shouldn’t be feeling relief.
None of this is Tony’s fault. He can’t help any of it. It’s not his fault that when Peter looks at him, and he’s got that far off look in his eyes, sometimes all Peter can imagine is a world where Tony looks at him like that. A world where Tony’s eyes don’t fix on him and shine with that soft parental look that he’s gotten used to seeing, a safe haven in the rough seas of the world around him no matter how old he gets.
Peter never wants to live in a world where Tony doesn’t recognise him.
Sometimes, weekends at the lake house remind him that that is a very real possibility. The radiation is spreading - slowly, sure, but it’s still spreading. Tony’s monthly CAT scans show that without a doubt.
Sometimes Peter wishes he could forget.
Forgetting is easier to do when he’s in the city. He can try and shove the word amnesia and the far-off look in Tony’s eyes when he gets lost in an empty mind underneath the bustle and the noise of New York City.
So he drives away.
It’s never as easy as simply leaving everything behind.
Tony’s problems don’t simply live confined within the four walls of the lake house. It would be easier if they did, maybe. But they don’t. They follow Peter everywhere.
The first day alone in his tiny apartment is always a feeling of horrible, shameful relief. Peter does get that damn assignment done finally though, even if it means staying up until five am on Tuesday morning to be able to turn it in.
Tony calls on Wednesday evening. He tells Peter how much he misses him. It’s not until a good couple of hours after Peter’s hung up that he realises the reason Tony misses him so much is because he doesn’t remember him being there last weekend in the first place.
On Thursday, Peter’s mind gets the better of him. He could have forgotten by now. He could have forgotten about me and I’ll never get to see the look in his eyes the last time he remembers me and-
Peter tries to stop himself from thinking like that. He knows it won’t happen overnight. He won’t drift out of Tony’s memories suddenly in the same way he drifted away in his arms that day on Titan, the day that no one can bear to talk about anymore.
Tony’s said that was the worst day of his life - losing Peter.
Now is he going to lose all of them?
Peter finds himself in May and Happy’s apartment that evening because he can’t bear to be alone, curled up on the sofa and sobbing into May’s shoulder like he’s fourteen years old again. She just holds him. Just like Peter couldn’t tell Tony it’s going to be okay, May can’t tell Peter that either.
Because no one knows whether it’s going to be okay.
Peter’s always hated the unknown.
Sometimes, Peter’s life feels a bit like a cycle. He survives the week, and by Friday evening, he’s sitting back at the dining table of the lake house with Pepper, Tony and Morgan around him.
It’s funny, how you never realise that the end of the world is on its way until it’s upon you, ready to tear apart everything in its wake and ruin everything you’ve ever known.
As strange as it might sound, their world collapses over a game of Scrabble.
“Are you sure we can’t play Candy Land?”
Peter looks over towards where Morgan is slumped in the chair to his right. She’s staring at the Scrabble box like it’s personally offended her. “We played that last game night, remember?” Peter tells her. Pepper hums in agreement.
“What about Uno?”
“Dad spilt coffee on that pack of cards, remember?”
Tony rolls his eyes good-naturedly, before he decides, “Scrabble it is then. No room for argument.” He tugs the scorecard towards him and starts filling it out. “Player one… Dad,” he mutters to himself, scrawling the three letters into the box. Morgan frowns.
“How come you get to be player one?”
“Because I’m the one filling out the scorecard. That means I make the rules.”
“Only because you hogged the box first.”
“For that, you can be player four.”
Morgan grumbles. Peter watches Tony scrawl Pete next to player two. Pepper’s name is written next.
And then, a pause. No movement. Nothing. Just Tony’s pencil hovering over the space next to player four.
No one notices for a moment, not until he’s been still for just a little too long.
“Tony?” Pepper asks unsurely. She extends a hand out to wrap around one of his, to try and ground him but he pulls it away. The hand holding the pencil begins to shake.
“I just need a minute,” he murmurs. “Just a minute, just let me, uh-”
“A minute for what?” Morgan says suddenly. She’s tensed up from her spot beside Peter, and he can hear how terrified her words are underneath a slightly defensive layer.
“To… to think.”
Morgan’s player four. She knows what’s going on. Everyone knows what’s going on.
Tony’s mind can’t conjure up a name to write in the final space.
The pencil Tony was holding in a precarious grip drops to the floor as his tremours begin to ramp up. It hits the wooden floors with an almost inaudible click and rolls somewhere under the table. No one moves to retrieve it. Pepper looks at Tony with growing concern clouding her expression.
“No.” Morgan shakes her head. “Don’t tell… you can’t. He has to know this, he has to,” she says, sounding more like she’s trying to convince herself than anything. She looks straight at Tony. “What’s my name?”
Tony’s head jerks up to meet Morgan’s gaze. Morgan refuses to back down and Tony looks at her, looks and looks and looks, but still, the confusion shrouding him doesn’t seem to leave. There’s no moment of clarity.
He can’t remember.
“Dad,” Morgan says, more forcefully this time, “what’s my name?”
“Sweetheart,” Pepper warns Morgan quietly. She takes no notice. Her shoulders are hunched and her face is drawn in tight, almost unreadable. Peter can see the look behind her eyes though.
He’s my dad. This isn’t meant to happen.
“What’s my name?” she repeats again, for the third time. Her voice is losing it’s hard edge, morphing into something far more desperate. It shakes like she’s trying to get the words out around impending tears clogging her throat.
“I c-can’t,” Tony gasps out, sounding on the verge of tears himself. He flexes his hand into a fist to try and control the shakes. It doesn’t work. “I’m sorry, I-”
There’s a hideous scraping sound as Morgan shoves her chair back from the table, and she’s up out of it before anyone can even flinch.
Tony moves first, going to stand up as well, but before he’s on his feet, the back door slams shut, sending a rush of icy air through the room.
Morgan’s gone. Peter looks to Pepper. Pepper looks to Tony. Tony stares towards the back door.
“I need to go after her,” Tony says urgently, at the same time as Peter stands up himself and states, “I’ll go.”
“It should be me, I’m the one that-”
“I think maybe Peter should, honey,” Pepper says. Tony stares at her like she’s betrayed him until eventually, his face crumples. He slumps back down into the chair, his head in his hands.
“Yeah… yeah, you’re right.” He looks up towards Peter. The sight of tears in his eyes makes Peter’s stomach clench.
Peter nods shortly at him because he doesn’t think he could summon any words even if he tried, and turns on his heel to follow Morgan out the back door. He’s glad they let them be the one to do this, but horribly, he thinks he’s not sure whether it’s out of desperation to comfort his little sister or desperation to separate himself from this sudden reality in which Tony can’t even remember his own daughter’s name.
Is Peter next?
It’s dark outside. Peter’s way is only lit by the golden light washing out of the cabin windows, but even that dims with every step.
He’s thankful that he doesn’t need to be hunting around, or even taking a second to stop and wonder where Morgan is. He knows where she’ll be.
Sure enough, as he gets closer he can hear the sound of sniffles, quiet ones that make his heart ache.
He pulls pack the fraying fabric that substitutes for a front door to her tiny little tent that’s been left up for all these years. It’s not used as often anymore. Sometimes though, she and Peter still cramp themselves in there, Peter’s legs shoved out the door, for secret discussions that absolutely cannot be had indoors for the risk of adults overhearing, like whose job it will be to sneak downstairs that night and grab the chocolate from the fridge for their midnight snack.
Tonight, this conversation weighs far more heavily on Peter’s shoulders than that might. Morgan is tucked into the back corner against a pile of old cushions. She has her face hidden, pressed into where her knees are curled up to her chest. She doesn’t look up when Peter clears his throat gently to announce his arrival, getting down on his hands and knees to crawl in beside her.
“What?” she mumbles.
“It’s just me,” Peter says gently. “You okay?”
She shrugs. Peter settles himself down cross-legged and just prays he won’t end up with cramp. They’re both getting a bit big for this now. It’s not like it was when Morgan was little.
Nothing is like it was when Morgan was little.
“You gotta talk to me, bug.”
Morgan stirs at the nickname, lifting her head slowly. Her eyes are red-rimmed with tears that she’s obviously trying her hardest not to shed. “I don’t really have anything to say.”
“You always have something to say,” Peter reasons, teasing lightly. That doesn’t seem to work - she just hunches further into herself. Peter pauses for a moment and they sit in silence as he runs over his options.
“I know what happened in there was, uh, it was rough. And it sucked,” he offers eventually, treading carefully with his words. “But-”
“I hate it when he’s like this,” Morgan says suddenly. Her voice is laced with a bitterness that Peter isn’t used to, at least not from her. It sounds all wrong. “I just want him to be normal again.”
“He is normal, Morgan, you can’t say that-”
“Everyone else has dads that remember their names. That’s normal!”
Peter bites his lip. He tries to figure out how to word what he wants to say without sounding too preachy. “You’re lucky to have a dad at all, especially one that loves you as much as he does. Lots of people aren’t that lucky. I know it’s hard, but you need to try and remember that as well,” he says, as gently as he can. Morgan screws her face up a little, eyebrows scrunching together.
“Why? It doesn’t feel like I have a dad at all!”
Peter winces at the dramatics. It’s not her fault, he has to remind himself, she’s ten.
“It’s not his fault. I know you’re sick of hearing that, but it’s not. He didn’t do that to hurt you, his brain just can’t catch up sometimes. He can’t help it.”
Morgan sucks in a quivering breath. “I know it’s not his fault.”
“Good. Because he loves you so much, and he already feels so bad about this, I promise you-”
“I wasn’t done,” she insists. “It’s not his fault. It’s yours.”
Peter feels like all the air has been knocked out of his lungs. He blinks stupidly a few times. Every time he does, Morgan is still sitting there, staring at him with tears lining her eyes, anger burning behind them.
Your fault. Your fault. Your fault.
“Morgan, I - what?”
“Mom told me that Dad’s like this because he was a hero and he saved the world. And Dad always told me that he saved the world just for you!” she says, words rushing out angrily like she’s been keeping them in. “I don’t want him to be a hero. I just want him to be my dad. But he can’t because now he doesn’t even remember me!”
“Dad didn’t do that for me, Morgan,” Peter says desperately. He’s not sure whether it’s the truth or whether he’s just trying to convince himself. “Not just for me - he’s a good person, he would have done it for anyone.”
“No,” she snaps. “He always said he did it for you. That’s what he told me. If you didn’t disappear then Dad would still be okay!”
Peter’s breathing hitches. His blood runs cold, like ice in his veins that freezes him in place.
If you didn’t disappear.
He didn’t have a choice. One second he was there and then the next he wasn’t, fading, fading, fading until he was no more than dust in the wind. He didn’t want to leave.
If you didn’t disappear.
He didn’t want to disappear. He didn’t want to go.
Somewhere, the rational part of Peter’s brain that’s being stamped out by his spiralling thoughts knows that she’s just saying this because she’s mad. She’s a kid. Her dad, one of the people she looks up to more than anyone in the world, one of the people that she relies on to protect her through anything, just forgot her name. She doesn’t understand how to process everything or where to put the blame, not when you’re fighting an invisible enemy. Peter gets it, he does. It’s easier when you have a face to direct your rage towards.
But he didn’t ask for Tony to bring him back from the dead. He didn’t ask for any of this. And yet here he is, shouldering the blame for the inevitable demise of yet another father-figure. Only this time it’s worse. This time Parker luck isn’t only stealing from him.
He feels like he’s been shoved underwater and now he’s trying to find the surface but he can’t. He’s confused. He’s drowning.
Parker luck is dragging Morgan down with them too.
How goddamn stupid was he, to believe that Tony would ever be safe with him around?
“Okay,” Peter says, his throat is closing up - that’s really all he can manage. He goes to stand but he forgets that he’s still in the tent, and his head hits the fabric. He stumbles backwards until he can suck the freezing night air into his lungs.
“Wait,” Morgan says suddenly. Her voice sounds like it’s far away.
She shoves her way out of the tent to follow after Peter, shooting a hand out to wrap around Peter’s wrist but he jerks back instinctively. He slips out of her grip easily. “No, no, no, Peter. I didn’t mean-”
“Not right now, Morgan,” Peter says. He barely recognises his own voice. It’s rough and harsh - he doesn’t think he really means it to sound like that. He just needs to get away.
He starts back towards the house, Morgan’s calls echoing through the night behind him. They fade as he reaches the back door again. She’s probably stopped trying to follow him. She should come inside, Peter thinks. It’s freezing out here. He can’t bring himself to turn around.
Tony and Pepper are still in the kitchen, and it’s silent when Peter storms in. Their heads jerk up to look at him in unison.
“Is she okay?” Tony asks. Peter nods tersely. He barely stops to look at Tony as he continues his path straight out of the room. He needs to get out. “She’s fine. I’m sure she’ll be inside soon.”
“Peter?” Tony asks hesitantly. He pushes back his chair and stands up. “Are you okay?”
(Totally fine. If you don’t count being responsible for your little sister’s loss of her only father figure in her life, then fine. If you don’t count being responsible for the demise of your own third father figure, the last one you have left, then fine.)
“I’m fine. I’m going out,” Peter states plainly. Tony follows him out into the entryway, watching him closely. He squirms uncomfortably under the gaze as he tugs his coat off the coat rack and wraps himself in it.
“Wait, where?” Tony reaches for Peter’s wrist in a similar way that Morgan had. Peter pulls it away and snatches his car keys out of the bowl on the hall table. He glares down at the clay spider before he shoves it into his coat pocket. “Peter, talk to me, buddy.”
“No,” Peter says suddenly, sharply. He whirls around. “You need to talk to your daughter. Not me. You don’t owe me shit.”
Tony’s eyes widen.
“If Morgan doesn’t come back in soon, then go get her. It’s fucking freezing out there.”
Peter leaves - the front door rattling in its frame as he slams it behind him. The last thing he sees is Tony’s desperately confused face, trying to work out how he’s managed to go so wrong with both of his kids in the space of twenty minutes.
“You after any more?”
Peter stares down into the five empty shot glasses in front of him. He thinks he downed them in less than a minute but he can’t really remember that, just the bitter taste as it burned its way down his throat.
He hates the taste of vodka really. All it does is remind him of those awful parties in his first year of college. But it’s cheaper than tequila, and beers are never going to get him drunk - at least not with his metabolism.
He looks up. He knows he probably shouldn’t, but he’s not really feeling all that much like a man of logic tonight. “Yeah. Sure, why not?”
“Just the one?”
Peter shakes his head. One shot isn’t going to make a dent in anything, let alone drown out his problems. That would be ridiculous. “Another round, please,” he says, and if his words are slurring a little bit, then that’s nobody’s business.
The bartender’s eyes widen a fraction. Peter suspects a round of shots is usually ordered for a group of people, not just one sad, lonely college kid on his own.
“Are you sure you’re okay, man?” the bartender asks Peter. He frowns at the question, but then somewhere in the back of his mind, he figures that he’s probably drunk far more than the usual patron might. That might be a concern to an outsider, but if college has taught Peter anything, it’s that he can drink anyone under the table. So no one needs to be concerned. He’s Spider-Man, after all. He just can’t tell anyone that - no, absolutely not. That would be bad. Very bad.
Peter nods in answer. He’s fine. He remembers being asked the same question earlier in the night, maybe two rounds down. He doesn’t know how long ago that was. He’s still fine.
Five more shots are put down in front of him. He tells himself that he’ll go slowly this time.
In the back of his mind, he knows that’s a lie.
He can’t exactly say that he’s proud of the fact that he’s ended up at a bar tonight. But this was one of the only places open past nine and Peter’s options were either holing himself away in here for a while or spending hours driving around in his car, which wasn’t the most appealing idea considering that his heating is busted and he hasn’t had the time to take it in to get fixed yet. He keeps telling himself that he’ll do it soon.
It was either sitting in the front seat freezing his ass off or getting drunk on his own. Both are pitiful options. At least this way, Peter figures, he can try to forget.
But he can’t.
Peter takes a shot.
Morgan’s words won’t leave his head. They keep circling, round and round, like vultures after the last precious scraps of mental sanity that he’s been clinging onto over the past few months.
Peter didn’t mean to cause all of this. He really didn’t. If anyone deserves a functional and whole family unit, it’s Morgan. He would give up everything if it meant that she was happy, if it meant she never doubted that she was loved.
Peter was just trying to give himself that chance as well. He always had Tony and May, but then Happy came into the picture and Pepper swept him under her wing and Morgan became his little sister and for once in his life, he didn’t doubt that the people around him were here for the long run.
He never would have gotten too close if he knew that someday, a little girl named Morgan - who he was yet to meet, yet to find out that he would end up loving her with his whole entire heart - would suffer for it.
He should have known. No one he loves has ever really been safe.
He wants Tony to be able to drop Morgan off to her first day of middle school next year, to be able to take prom photos with her, to smile and cheer embarrassingly loudly at her graduation like he did at Peter’s. He wants Tony to be able to do all of this with a proud smile on his face because he remembers exactly who she’s been and he’s looking forward to who she’s going to become.
But Peter disappeared. Tony brought him back.
Now, everyone is paying the price.
The last shot.
Peter doesn’t know how much time has passed when there’s a clap on his shoulder. He spins around, vision lagging and blurring as he does. He has to blink a few times to re-focus on the figure in front of him - the bartender again. “It’s closing time, buddy,” he says. He doesn’t sound that regretful, just more annoyed that Peter’s still here in the first place.
That probably makes sense. He has no idea of the time, but the few people that were in the bar the last time he glanced around have cleared out. The chairs have been stacked on top of the tables.
Peter stands up, grabbing his coat from where it’s slung over the back of the stool. The world spins around him and he has to grab at the bar to steady himself. He doesn’t miss the concerned frown the bartender gives him.
“Do you have a ride home? Because I can’t let you drive, man, not this intoxicated.”
Peter pauses, hands curled around his car keys in his pocket. It’s at least a fifteen-minute drive back to the cabin, so by the time he makes that trek on foot, he’ll be frozen solid. He fumbles around for his phone.
“I, uh, yeah. I’ll call someone. Thanks.”
He stumbles out.
Peter stands alone in front of the shut-up bar only a few minutes later. The street is icy underfoot and barely lit, and he’s left with only the darkened windows of the Dairy Queen across the road to stare into as he listens to his phone’s ringback tone echo in his ear.
It still sounds a little far away. He feels like he’s floating, even if the cold has sobered him up significantly. He just wants to go home.
The sound of a voice - a slightly frenzied, “Peter?” - jerks him back to reality.
“Yeah, kid, it’s me,” he says. It’s Tony. He picked up. There’s movement at the other end of the line - like he’s pacing, maybe. Peter hopes he doesn’t wake Pepper. “Where are you? Are you okay? I’ve been trying to call you for hours now.”
There’s the slightest bit of bite in his voice but even in Peter’s current state, he knows not to take it to heart too much. Tony’s overprotective instincts have always had a tendency to come out a little sharper than he means.
“Had m’phone on silence.” Peter pauses. That’s not right. “I mean silent.”
“Okay,” Tony says, perplexed, “are you drunk? Are you safe?”
“I only had a couple.”
“Uh-huh, sure,” Tony says. He sounds a lot like he doesn’t believe Peter. Peter’s a little affronted by that - he’s not that drunk. “You’re dodging my questions. Where are you? Can you get home safely?”
Peter groans. He can’t keep up. “That’s because you’re asking so many.”
He hears Tony take a breath. “We’ll start easy. Are you okay?”
“Can you get home?”
“That’s kinda my problem,” Peter mumbles. “Walking seems hard.”
“Do you need me to come and-” Tony stops, and after a second, he backtracks. “I, uh, no wait that won’t - do you want me to call someone for you? You know Happy will come and get you anytime, all hours of the day, no questions asked.”
Peter does know that. Happy’s seen him in various states of inebriation in the passenger seat of his car. That doesn’t mean that Peter’s insides don’t curl with the worst kind of rejection. He’ll have to stand here for hours before Happy gets here.
Maybe Tony’s finally realised that he wouldn’t be like this if it wasn’t for Peter. Maybe he’s finally realised that-
“Pete? You still there?”
“I just...I, uh, I thought maybe ‘cause you’re closer, you might come but you’re right. I can call H’ppy, or maybe just get a taxi. I’m, um, I’m really sorry for waking you.”
“Closer?” Tony sounds confused. “Where are you?”
“In town,” Peter says. He looks around for any landmarks that he might be able to describe to Tony. “At the bar next to, uh, the place that Morgan likes. The candy shop. The one that, uh, that sells those really sour candies that she always has to spit out.”
“You’re there? Fuck, I thought-”
“I’m outside,” Peter corrects him. “They kicked me out five minutes ago.”
“You got kicked out? What’d you-”
“They closed. I didn’t actually get kicked out,” Peter protests weakly. “That would be bad.”
“Yeah, it would,” Tony acquiesces. He curses quietly. “I thought you would have gone back to the city.” Peter can hear more movement in the background. “I’m coming now, Pete. I’ll be there soon.”
“You’re really c’ming?” Peter asks, feeling like he has to make sure.
“Of course I am. If I knew you were still up here I would have been in the car as soon as I got your call.”
“Yay,” Peter says under his breath. Walking home in this cold really doesn’t sound overly appealing. “Thank you.”
“Just wait where you are,” Tony tells him. “Or, do you have anywhere warmer you can go? Is anywhere open?”
The street is dead. “My car?” Peter wonders aloud. Tony hums in distracted agreement - Peter distantly hears the sound of a car starting up. “The heater doesn’t work though.”
“Better than outside,” Tony says. “Why don’t you go and hide out in there for a few minutes, okay? I won’t be long, I promise.”
“And make sure you sit in the passenger seat,” Tony adds. “They’ll give you a DUI for being behind the wheel intoxicated.” Peter nods, but when the line stays silent he remembers that Tony can’t see him.
“Yeah. I’ll wait there,” he says. He starts walking in the direction of the side street where he’s pretty sure he left his car. “My car’s red, by the way. And like, s’per old.”
“I know, buddy. It’s parked in my driveway every weekend, remember?”
“See you soon,” Tony says. There’s a beat of silence. “I love you, Pete.”
“L’ve you, too.”
Blessedly, when Tony finds Peter slumped in his car twenty minutes later and ushers him out with the promise that they’ll come back and collect his beloved old Honda tomorrow, the passenger seat of Tony’s Audi is heated.
Peter sinks gratefully into the leather. He tugs up for his seatbelt, pulling it across himself and fumbling around trying to clip it into the buckle for a moment before Tony leans across and does it for him.
“Thanks for coming to get me,” Peter mumbles into the quiet. Tony offers him a smile. It’s small and strained, but it’s there.
“I’ll always come and get you, kid,” he says softly. The words are only just audible underneath the sound of the car engine starting up again but Peter hears them. “How’re you feeling now-”
He’s cut off with a groan from Peter as they pull away from the curb and turn a corner, the movement making his stomach churn a little uncomfortably.
Tony winces. “Okay, you know what? I think maybe we’ll save the chit-chat for later. If you feel sick then let me know so I can at least pull over before you hurl.”
“Not gonna vomit.”
“Sure you’re not,” Tony says easily, refocusing his eyes back on the road. “But let me know anyway.”
Tony goes into full-on mother hen mode as soon as he guides Peter through the front door and into the living room and Peter, in fairness, just lets it happen.
Maybe normally, he might insist that he’s fine, that he doesn’t need coddling, but he feels so looked after as Tony places his hands onto his shoulders and presses Peter down onto the couch gently that he can’t resist.
It’s nice to be taken care of. It’s nice to be taken care of by Tony.
“Stay,” Tony says firmly, and Peter opens his mouth to make some sort of retort about being spoken to like a dog but by the time he’s thought up anything remotely witty, Tony has disappeared into the kitchen.
Peter sits there in a daze for a minute, entranced by the sound of water running, until he decides that he could at least be useful and try to get his shoes off. He manages it, albeit a little clumsily, but his socks are practically soaked through from standing on the icy pavement. He makes a mental note to buy himself a new pair before Tony notices the holes in these ones and quickly shoves them around the side of the couch before the man gets back. He just hopes that Pepper doesn’t chastise him for not putting them away in the shoe rack tomorrow morning.
When Tony reappears, he’s got a glass of water and what looks like one of the plastic bowls that they use for baking - especially when Morgan’s involved. It’s not one of Pepper’s fancy glass ones.
“Right, one glass of water for my drunken Spider-Kid,” he announces, pressing the glass into Peter’s hands and placing the plastic bowl down on the coffee table. Peter takes the proffered water gratefully and once he lifts the glass to his lips to take a sip, he finds that he can’t stop, the bitter aftertaste of vodka washing away.
He wipes his mouth on his sleeve once he’s finished and Tony just sits there watching expectantly from where he’s perched on the couch next to him.
Peter thinks that maybe Tony’s just waiting for him to crack, but tonight, he doesn’t really have all that much to say.
He’s just sad. He’s missing something that he hasn’t even lost yet. May’s told him over and over that anticipatory grief is normal but that doesn’t mean it makes it any easier. He shouldn’t be missing Tony when the man is sitting right next to him, wrapping a throw blanket around his shoulders with so much concern in his eyes. He should be appreciating the moment.
Instead, all he can see is what, one day, he won’t have anymore.
Tony speaks first, eventually, when he realises that Peter isn’t going to.
“You want to tell me what got you so worked up that you went and got this drunk by yourself?” Tony asks. It’s not accusing, more so just curious, but Peter still shrinks back into the blanket a little. “Buddy, I haven’t seen you like this in a long time.” Tony’s face softens. “I know you and Morgan had an argument. I know I fucked up-”
“You didn’t fuck up,” Peter blurts. “You can’t help it.”
Tony brushes off his statement with a wave of his hand. “-But we talked it out. Or more accurately I let her sit in her room and yell for ten minutes because Pepper said it was healthy to let her express her emotions and then we talked it out,” he says. “She told me what happened. Well, sort of - I don’t think I got everything out of her, but I know she mentioned the snap, and I know that she said some things she didn’t mean.”
Peter hums noncommittally. He doesn’t want to say anything that might throw Morgan under the bus.
“She feels pretty awful about it if that’s any consolation to you.”
“Not really,” Peter admits. He couldn’t really help his dramatic storm off, he needed some space, but he regrets it a little now. He was meant to be the adult in that situation.
A tiny, fond smile graces Tony’s face. “I knew it probably wouldn’t.”
“S’not her fault,” Peter mumbles. It wasn’t - she’s fully within her right to be hurting and Peter would never let her take the fall for him.
“I hope you don’t believe a word she said, bud. She’s scared but that’s not an excuse, I know she got into your head. She didn’t mean what she said. And even if, for a second, she thought that was the truth, you know that every choice I’ve ever made, I made because I wanted to. I don’t regret a single thing I’ve done that’s got me here.”
Peter shakes his head. He wants to tell Tony that maybe he should regret it because one day everything that he’s got right here and now might cease to exist inside his mind and then what will his sacrifice be worth? He doesn’t get the words out though because the head movement has made him kind of dizzy. He regrets it instantly, screwing his eyes closed and groaning lowly.
“Okay, yeah, no, not on the couch,” Tony mutters, reaching for the plastic bowl and holding it out towards Peter.
“I told you, m’not gonna vomit,” Peter mutters indignantly, cracking one eye open. Tony raises an eyebrow and presses the bowl into his lap anyway. “I haven’t puked anywhere near you since, like, freshman year of college.”
“And those poor pants have never been the same since,” Tony says wistfully. “Y’know, there are some things I wish I could choose to forget and that night would be one of them.”
Peter freezes at those words.
Much to his horror, he can feel hot tears burning his eyes all of a sudden. It’s almost like the words finally send all the stress and worry that he’s been piling on his shoulders the last few months tumbling down and he breaks.
Tony obviously notices the twisted expression on Peter’s face, the tears in his eyes, because his face is instantly overcome with regret. “Sorry, my bad,” he says gently. “That was probably in poor taste, huh?”
“No, I - it’s just, I don’t want you to forget a-anything,” Peter admits, brokenly. “I’m so scared.”
It only takes all of a few seconds for Tony to shuffle over closer to Peter and pull him into his arms easily like he’s still just as small and scrawny as he was at fifteen. Peter lets his head fall against Tony’s chest, knocking up against his collarbone. “’m gonna miss you so much.”
Tony makes a small choked noise before he recovers enough to speak. “I’m not going anywhere, Pete.”
Peter screws his eyes shut again. It must be the vodka. It’s definitely the vodka. If he was sober, he’d never give himself the permission to be this vulnerable, to fall apart this much - not when he’s practically an adult now.
“S’always my fault,” Peter murmurs softly. “Why is ever’thing always my fault?”
“Pardon?” Tony says, voice suddenly sharp and full of edge. He wraps his arm tighter around Peter. “Peter, bud, all this shit about the snap isn’t true. I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it a million more if I have to - I would do what I did a hundred times over if it meant that the universe had you in it.”
“But… it’s always me.”
“What do you mean?” Tony asks slowly.
Peter shrugs. He doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. He’s tired and drained, his whole body feels heavy. He slumps into Tony’s side almost bonelessly.
“I dunno,” he mumbles. “It doesn’t matter, I-I shouldn’t even be upset. You didn’t forget me. You forgot Morgan.”
Tony winces. “She said she said some pretty heated things to you. It’s okay to be upset.”
“You shouldn’t be having to comfort me. This is stupid. I… it’s… you’re the one that’s...” Peter trails off. He’s not sure if he can’t find the words or whether he just doesn’t want to speak them out loud. He tries halfheartedly to pull himself out of Tony’s embrace, suddenly embarrassed by how heavily he’s leaning on the man for comfort right now, but Tony just pulls him straight back.
“I’ve had my chat with Morgan, Pete. I’ve got more than enough wisdom to go around, you know that.” Peter chokes back another sob and buries his face further into Tony’s neck. The world is still fuzzy around him, he feels a little sick and honestly he really, really just wants today to end. “I think I’ll leave the whole reasoning-with-you thing until the morning. Something tells me you’re not gonna remember a whole lot of this.”
“Neither will you,’ Peter blurts without thinking, before the look on Tony’s face shuts him up. He looks sad. “I just want you to remember all the time,” Peter adds, voice hitching. If he had a single ounce of self-control in his body he would wrench himself from the arms that are holding him securely, lovingly, safely. All he does is hurt the people that he loves. But he doesn’t, so he lets himself be held.
“I think on that note, it’s time for bed,” Tony says quietly, but neither of them moves for a minute. Tony presses a kiss to Peter’s hair and lets him cry himself out.
Peter ends up in bed, eventually, once Tony has coerced him into changing into his pyjamas, brushing his teeth and drinking another two glasses of water.
He’s curled up under the covers as Tony smoothes the duvet over his shoulders, in the same way that he still does for Morgan even now. But then to Peter’s surprise, instead of turning to walk out the door, he settles himself down on the other side of the bed.
Peter blinks at him a few times, his eyelids already feeling heavy now that his head has hit the pillow.
“Someone’s gotta make sure you make it through the night. Choking on your own vomit, not fun. You’ll have to trust me on that one, kid.”
“I’m not going to vomit,” Peter grumbles for what feels like the hundredth time tonight, “m’fine.” His words are half-hearted. He doesn’t want Tony to go, not really.
“Tough luck. I’m not going anywhere,” Tony tells him.
Peter doesn’t argue. He drifts off with the familiar comfort of Tony’s hand running through his hair.
Everything sucks the next morning when Peter wakes up. There’s a faint pounding in his head, his eyes are swollen and achy and he’s hot - way too hot for a winter morning.
He groans, blinking his eyes open, and he realises all of a sudden that the reason he’s so unusually warm is that there’s another person beside him.
She’s tucked up in bed next to him, covers pulled up to her chin and staring at him, wide-eyed. It’s just like all the nights she’ll do the same if she’s had a nightmare, or if there’s a particularly bad storm and the branches of the tree outside her bedroom window bang against the windowpane. She hates that.
“Morning,” Peter murmurs quietly, trying to avoid waking Tony, who’s still slumped up against the headboard on the other side of the bed, mouth wide-open and snoring softly.
“Hi,” Morgan whispers back, rolling over on her side to face him. They both stare at each other for a moment, but Morgan cracks first.
“I need to say sorry,” she blurts, biting down on her lip straight after. She looks over to check whether she’s woken Tony. Her voice is lower next time she speaks, a little more nervous, “I know what I said wasn’t nice. I really promise I didn’t mean it. Mom said it was because I was sad and mad, and, um…” she pauses, searching for a word, “and conflicted.”
Peter hesitates, a little dumbstruck by the apology so soon, so early in the morning - especially when he feels like a marching band has taken up residence inside his skull. But Morgan's always been a bit like this, a little impatient, desperate to get things she's dreading over with.
She looks so unsure while she’s waiting for him to answer, and Peter hates it. She shouldn’t have to feel unsure - they’re siblings. Peter never really knew what that meant until he met Morgan, but he does now. It’s the same fierce kind of unconditional love he feels for May and Tony, that he felt for Ben, that he’s sure he felt for his parents a long time ago before he could really remember.
She messed up but she’s a kid.
He doesn’t need her to grovel, or to prove to him that she knows what she said was wrong. He just needs her right now - his sister, while both of their worlds are falling apart - and she needs him. Holding a grudge was never an option.
He scoots over a little to press a kiss to the top of Morgan’s hair.
“It’s okay. Everything is okay,” he reassures her. It’s not, really. Everything is still far from okay. But between them, everything will be okay. It has to be.
That’s all they need.
There’s stirring from beside them and they both turn to see Tony rubbing at his eyes blearily for a second, before taking in the sight of his two kids curled under the covers beside him. His face softens. “Are my two kids having a cuddle session without me?”
Peter flashes him a tired smile, just as Morgan declares, “Sorry, no old people allowed.”
Tony makes an affronted noise but he leans over to wrap his arms around the both of them anyway, and neither of them complains. Actually, no one says anything. Maybe they don’t need to, not now. Morgan and Peter just let Tony hold them together.
Over breakfast - which is a slightly awkward affair considering the events of the previous night and Peter’s clearly hungover state - Morgan lets him have the last chocolate chip pancake.
That’s how Peter knows she’s really sorry.
He gives her a small smile as he grabs the pancake off the plate in the middle of the table.
Forgiving Morgan is easy, natural. It’s the way the world is meant to be.
The only difficult part is trying to forgive himself.
Peter disappears for a while later that day. He’s not overcome with emotion anymore, feeling like he might burst. Instead, everything is a numb, and he just needs to get out of the four walls of the house, at least for a little while.
He doesn’t dare to stray too far, not after last night, so he finds himself out by the lake, sitting on the shoreline. It’s nice, out here in the quiet. He figures it’d probably be even nicer if he could switch his brain off.
He tosses a rock into the water every so often - Morgan has long since taught him all her tricks about how to pick the best ones for skipping - but mostly he just… sits.
He gets about half an hour alone in the end, and honestly, that’s more than he was expecting - he knows Tony saw him disappear out the door when he skulked off and he’d kind of been expecting him to follow straight away. Contrary to everything his brain has been screaming at him recently, that he needs to be savouring every single second he gets to spend with Tony, the half an hour was nice. He needed it.
But when he hears the voice behind him, Tony’s, it doesn’t catch him off guard at all. He’s been able to hear his footsteps approaching ever since he stepped outside the house. “You mind if I sit?”
Peter turns to look up at Tony and quirks his lips up in a small smile. “Free country.”
“Sure it is,” Tony says easily. “But I just want to make sure that you want me here.”
A pause. I want you here, I’ll always want you here, is stuck on Peters’s tongue, but he can’t quite force it out. He stares up at Tony uselessly, hoping that maybe his eyes will convey the words that are choked up in his throat but Tony’s brows just furrow a little. He glances down towards his shoes, in a show of something that might almost be insecurity.
“I can go, if-” Tony starts, misinterpreting Peter’s silence.
Peter shakes his head. He doesn’t want Tony to go. He always wants Tony by his side.
He always will.
“Wait, no, no,” he hurries out. “Don’t go, please.”
Tony takes an extra second to study Peter’s face, almost as if he’s checking that Peter’s actually telling him the truth, before he apparently finds what he’s looking for, because he lowers himself down to the ground. Peter moves over a bit so that they’re sitting hip to hip.
“So, how’s the hungover brooding going?” he asks.
Peter rolls his eyes. “‘M not that hungover.”
“So you are brooding, then.”
Tony considers him carefully. “Are you still upset?”
Peter diverts his eyes down towards the ground and plucks some grass that’s growing from underneath a stone. He wraps a blade around his finger.
“Not with you, or anything. Everything is still just a lot, I guess.”
Tony hums in acknowledgement before he goes quiet. They just sit like that for a while, the two of them and nothing else but the familiar sight of the lake stretching out in front of them and the sound of the birds in the trees high above them.
“You said something last night,” Tony says eventually, voice soft and parental in that same way he’s always used, at least since the snap, when he’s trying to get Peter to open up.
Peter groans. “I don’t think I want to know what it was.” He glances over at Tony. “You’re gonna tell me anyway, aren’t you?”
Tony pulls an apologetic face that Peter knows means yes before he even starts speaking. “You said something about everything being your fault.”
He knew that Tony was probably going to bring this up. His memories of last night are fuzzy at best, but he remembers sobbing into Tony’s shoulder, remembers the deep gut-wrenching shame that comes with dredging something up that you’ve kept inside of you for so long.
“I was drunk, Tony,” Peter defends weakly. “I say some stupid shit when I’m drunk, you know that.”
“Yeah. Like the one time you told me we should try and take Gerald out in a canoe because you thought he was always looking at the lake-”
“His pen is facing the lake, bud. He can’t help it. Or when you told Happy that you thought I was cooler than him because I’m Iron Man, and then you cried about it for an hour because you thought you hurt his feelings? That’s stupid shit. My point is, this wasn’t that.”
“It was nothing, really-”
“It’s not nothing,” Tony says, maybe more harshly than he intended judging by the way he winces. He softens his tone when he speaks again. “But, I just, do we need to have that chat again? Sober this time? Because I’ll have that conversation time and time again if it means that one day it finally seems to stick in your head, Pete. The snap stuff, what happened after and what’s happening now, it’s not your fault. I made a choice to try and bring you back because I wanted to. I wanted to live in a world where you were alive. I couldn’t do it any other way. I couldn’t live with myself.”
Peter draws in a breath. He looks down towards his bare feet, out across the lake, at the loose thread hanging off his hoodie, at anything apart from Tony’s searching eyes. He knows he has a choice right now. If he sits here quietly and nods, agrees with Tony, tells him that of course he knows it isn’t his fault, then all of this might go away. At least for now.
But he’s got enough emotional maturity under his belt (or at least, experience dealing with a plethora of traumatic life events) to know that’s just like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. It will bleed through eventually - probably sooner rather than later.
Admitting everything feels a little like taking a leap without knowing where you’re going to land. But he trusts Tony to catch him.
Before he can think too much about it, he jumps.
“It’s not just that,” Peter admits quietly. “I mean, I - it’s not just the snap stuff. Do you, uh, do you think there’s something wrong with me?” At this, Tony is rendered completely silent. Peter chances a glance over towards him. His eyebrows are drawn, closely knitted in confusion. Peter stumbles over his words rushing to explain. “Like, my Dad’s gone, and then Ben, and now it feels like I’m probably going to lose you as well. What if it’s all just… me?”
“Peter-” Tony starts, but now that he’s started he can’t stop.
“I just mean, I didn’t know my Dad, but I know I loved him. And I loved Ben, so, so much but then he was, uh, y’know, he’s gone now because I was being stupid and then I had to go and get on that spaceship all those years ago and then you had to go and try to get me back, and what if it’s not worth it anymore?” Peter tugs at the loose thread he’d been examining earlier, stalling. “What if I’m not worth it anymore? And then you’ll forget all about all of us and you’ll be gone too, and it’ll be my fault. Again.”
“And what if-”
“Peter,” Tony says. “Listen up, okay?” He swivels around so that he’s facing Peter, and slightly reluctantly, Peter turns to do the same. They’re cross-legged, and their knees knock together. “You are not some kind of damn curse. You’re not. Life’s drawn you a godawful hand so far, but I’m here for the long-haul, okay? I’m not leaving you.”
“But… but you might not have a choice. What if you just can’t remember?”
“I don’t have to remember you, Pete,” Tony says suddenly, sounding so sure that Peter sucks in a tumultuous breath, sharper than he intended. “I know you. You don’t have to remember things you know. It’s like riding a bike. Sure, maybe one day I won’t be able to remember that your favourite colour is the obnoxious red both of us seem to have a penchant for or maybe I don’t always remember to feed you enough for dinner.” Peter blanches a little. “Yeah, Morgan told me about that, by the way,” Tony adds. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t want you to feel bad,” Peter mumbles. A melancholic smile graces Tony’s face like he knew that was probably going to be the answer.
“That’s not important right now, anyway,” Tony says, waving it off. “What is important is that you understand that no matter what happens to me, I’ll never need my brain to remember that you’re a good kid, my kid,” he says. “Brains are for suckers, anyway. I just need this.”
He grabs Peter’s hand and covers it with his own, bringing it up to place it over his chest, right over his heart. Peter can feel it’s steady beat even through the thick coat he’s wrapped in.
“You’re a sap,” Peter says, voice choked, because he’s too emotional and he doesn’t know anything else apart from trying to diffuse the situation. Tony doesn’t rise to the bait but just looks at him through softened eyes.
“Kid, there are only a few things in life that I know for absolute certain, and one of them is that there’s nothing on this earth that could stop me from loving you. I’m not going anywhere. I’m gonna stay right here.”
Peter buries his head into Tony’s shoulder and curls his fingers into Tony’s coat, hand still right over his heart.
“You promise?” he mumbles.
Somewhere, deep down, he knows that Tony can’t promise that his brain won’t forget Peter one day. But he can promise that his heart never will.
Maybe that’s all that matters.
“You’ll never need to miss me, bud. I’ll be right here as long as you need me. I promise.”