Tony vaguely hears FRIDAY in his ear. He keeps flying for a moment, letting her voice fade to the back of his mind. It’s a nice night tonight. The sky stretches out above him, starless but clear, dark ink spilled across the canvas of blue that was there only hours ago.
“Boss,” FRIDAY repeats, “you have been travelling in a straight trajectory for the past three minutes. If you continue, you will collide with the top of the Brewster Building in approximately forty-three seconds.”
That gets Tony paying attention. He looks up suddenly to see the building approaching in the distance and he cuts some of the power from the thrusters to slow himself down.
“Got it, FRI,” Tony confirms. “Thanks.”
Tony tries to get his bearings. He didn’t even realise that he’d left Manhattan, and he definitely didn’t realise that he’d ended up in Queens. He can’t remember flying over the East River at all, but sure enough when he glances behind him, the lights of Manhattan sparkle at him from across the water.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. He usually ends up here some way or another.
Especially when it’s the sort of night where he has to get out of the tower. The sort of night where everything reminds him of a kid that’s slowly drifting from his memories like ash caught in the wind. The sort of night where Peter’s voice echoes through the back of his mind, always a little off and distorted because no matter how hard Tony strains his memory, he can’t quite remember it perfectly. The sort of night where guilt consumes everything and swallows him alive.
The sort of night like tonight.
A bad night.
Tony wasn’t all too familiar with Queens before Peter. He’d never had a reason to spend much time over this side of the Queensboro bridge. But now, the streets below him sprawl out in a familiar pattern, veins running through a borough that Tony knows because it was once home to the best kid in the whole damn city. It was home to the best hero in the whole damn city too, a hero that’s still worshipped so dearly - maybe even more so now that he’s gone, evidenced in the crudely coloured-in Spider-Man drawings taped up in apartment windows, graffiti in his honour splashed across alleyway walls.
A wordless love letter from Queens to Spider-Man.
Whenever Tony ends up here, something about the familiarity makes him want to turn away and never come back. He shouldn’t be intruding. This isn’t his home. It’s not his place.
But he has to do it. It’s a fucked up sort of second chance. His chance to do better. His chance to do the tiniest bit of good - exactly what Peter would have done, what he would have wanted.
Almost as if FRIDAY can read his mind, she speaks up again. “If you need something to keep you occupied, may I suggest paying a visit to the building directly below you? The city surveillance system is picking up a possible intruder.”
“Thanks, FRI,” Tony says. A distraction. Exactly what he needs. Something to do. He’s not much use to anyone when he’s circling the city aimlessly.
Tony swoops down lower to get a closer look and FRIDAY’s intel must be right, as usual, because his eyes catch on something shimmering in the orange glow of the streetlights. Shattered glass, he realises, fragments scattered all across the deserted pavement.
Before the snap, these kinds of break-ins were common in banks, or upmarket jewellery stores maybe. Affluent places, where the reward validates the risk. But tonight, Tony finds himself standing in front of an unassuming corner bodega. The glass of the door is broken, jagged pieces sticking out from around the door frame. The rest of it is underneath the boots of the suit where Tony stands on the sidewalk.
Tony steps inside, through the ruined doorway. There’s a figure - the intruder FRIDAY informed him about, he assumes. It's a small and scrawny man, and Tony can just about make out a slight glimpse of his face from underneath the dark hood he’s got pulled up over his head. The man doesn’t seem to be aware of his arrival.
Tony raises his arm, firing up the repulsor slowly - not enough for it to shoot, but just enough for it to whine in warning.
It doesn’t work. The man doesn’t even turn, apparently too focused on rifling through the shelves and shoving what he can into the backpack he’s holding open in front of him to take any notice.
Scanning around quickly, Tony notices that the register is still in place, the various impulse purchases surrounding it, gum packets and chocolate bars, still perfectly in place. Everything behind the counter is untouched.
He’s not after money, then.
The world changed irreversibly after the snap, life as they knew it crumbled around them. Industries collapsed, people lost their jobs, households shrunk to become single income or no income. He’s just trying to feed himself, Tony realises. He’s digging through the cereals now, movements sharp and frenzied as he grabs as many boxes as he can manage. The rest go tumbling to the ground, Honey Nut Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Lucky Charms littering the aisle.
Something knots uncomfortably in Tony’s stomach and he lowers his arm back to his side, powering down the repulsor. He clears his throat. The noise gets the man's attention this time and he startles and whips around to face Tony. As he does, something that’s been teetering precariously on the top of the stash in his backpack falls - a package with Huggies emblazoned on the label.
He’s not just trying to feed himself. He’s got a family.
The discomfort grows and Tony takes a proper look at the man’s face for the first time, pale, gaunt, weighed down with the type of desperation that’s become so hauntingly familiar. The armour suddenly seems too much, too threatening in a time where what they both probably need is a reminder that humanity is still alive and kicking - well, half of them anyway - not more violence.
Tony retracts it without a second thought but even out of the armour, the man just continues to stare, eyes dark and wide with something Tony can’t decipher. His arms tighten around the bag in his arms, like he thinks Tony is going to pounce and rip it from him at any moment. They watch each other silently, and when Tony doesn’t encroach forward or move to re-engage his armour, the man takes a few side steps to the right, starting to circle around Tony.
Tony takes one, small step towards him. The man freezes.
“You don’t need to do this,” Tony reasons, trying to keep his voice as level and calm as he can.
The man’s breathing quickens. “I have people to feed. I have kids,” he says, words shuddering as he confirms Tony’s suspicions. He’s shaking, trying to do up the zips on his bulging backpack but they won’t close, catching against the plastic packaging of a loaf of bread.
“I know lots of people are struggling right now. But there are places that you can go to for help. Food banks can help you, hell, even I can help you. Do you know who I am?”
The man nods stiffly. “Yeah, I know who you are,” he spits, a low anger in his voice. “Fuck off. I don’t want your help.”
Tony steps forward once more. It’s only a minute movement but the man locks up anyway, posture tensing. Tony’s fought enough in the past to know fight or flight instincts when he sees them. In the man’s eyes, he sees fight.
Before he has the chance to prepare himself, the man launches forward and draws his fist back, swinging it around to collide with Tony’s cheek. Stinging pain blooms on his cheekbone. Not even a second later the man strikes again, seemingly just for good measure, the sharp metal of his ring biting into Tony’s skin.
Tony can see the next blow coming, and he brings his arms up to try and shield his face but his reaction times and hand to hand combat abilities have seemingly gone out the window since his rendezvous with the endless depths of space, much to his despair. The third hit sends Tony staggering backwards, his back colliding with the shop counter. The previously perfectly arranged candies and gum are sent scattering.
There’s a second of stillness.
The man opens his mouth and snaps it shut again before he swings his backpack over his shoulder. He dodges past Tony and this time, Tony doesn’t do anything to stop it. He bolts from the shop without looking back.
By the time Tony’s regained his footing and stepped over towards the door, he only just manages to catch a last glimpse of the man as he darts across the street without even sparing a glance for any incoming traffic. He disappears down a side alley with a sharp turn, and he’s lost to the night.
Tony could go after him. He knows that. He could reactivate the suit and have the guy on NYPD’s doorstep in less than five minutes, shoplifting charges against his name within a half hour.
But Tony doesn’t want that. That’s the last thing he wants. He’s just trying to protect his family - Tony knows the feeling. What sort of man would he be if he got in the way of that?
He just hopes that this guy manages to do a better job at it than he has.
Tony deflates, shoulders sagging under the weight of his own defeat. This should have been something he could do. He’s taken down terrorists, murderous bots and aliens, and yet tonight a grocery store robber is what brings him to his knees.
Tony’s mind drifts to Peter, because of course it fucking does. Isn’t that why he’s standing here, in the middle of a trashed bodega with broken glass and squashed gum packets under his feet in the first place? He can’t seem to think, breathe, exist these days without the kid on his mind, reminding him of what he’s lost, reminding him of how much good he still has to put out into the world to balance the debt of ripping Peter Parker out of it.
Peter would have known exactly what to do tonight - Tony doesn’t doubt that for a second. He would have been able to talk that guy down without even thinking about it. He was a real people’s hero. Tony can barely come close. He’s just a guy in an intimidating metal armour and a shadow of a man without it.
He re-engages the suit, a safety mechanism, something for him to shelter behind. He doesn’t want to be that shadow anymore, needs the strength before the thought of Peter, the way he manages to haunt every single attempt Tony makes at good, shatters him into pieces. Maybe he never should have disengaged it in the first place. “FRI?”
“Yes, Boss?” FRIDAY’S voice is calm, steady. Something for Tony to latch onto as his heart thrums in his chest, beating in time with the throbbing of his cheek.
“Find the owner of this place. Cover everything the guy took and all the damages. And uh, a tip as well. A generous tip.”
“Consider it done.”
If Tony looks at this in a really twisted way, maybe he can tell himself that he saved the day. And yet, he stands here with nowhere to go.
He doesn’t want to go home. He can’t.
He can’t face Pepper, not like this. She thinks Tony’s doing better, and he is sometimes, but he can’t help the nights like these when the whisper of grief and guilt becomes a deafening roar that he can’t escape no matter how far he runs. Pepper doesn’t understand that. She holds him at night and tells him that she loves him, tells him that even he can’t stop chance, that whoever ended up in that fifty percent wasn’t his fault. They’re all the things he should need to hear but she doesn’t understand.
She doesn’t understand what it’s like to wish it was you instead.
But Tony knows someone who will.
As Tony stands in front of the door, his cheek still throbbing slightly, chest heaving and the suit retracted once again, he realises that this is the first time he’s stood on this doorstep since Peter.
He brings his hand up to the knocker before he hesitates. His hand hovers out in midair in front of him awkwardly. Will she want to see him? Does he even have any right to be here?
He’s not sure. But right now he doesn’t belong anywhere else. Doesn’t want to drag anyone else down to the pits of despair with him. The most he can do is hope, horribly selfishly, that someone else will already be waiting down there for him.
He takes a deep breath, steadies himself, and knocks.
There’s rustling and the sound of footsteps. A floorboard inside creaks, a familiar sound - there’s one that’s always done that, at least for as long as Tony’s been showing up here. Then the door swings open.
May Parker is standing there.
Tony opens his mouth but no words come out so he just stares. She’s got a threadbare navy sweater wrapped around her like it’s the only thing holding her together. Tony is sure he saw Peter wearing it once or twice, on bad days. BP is stitched in tiny lettering above the hem.
She looks tired, worn down - even more so than the last time Tony saw her. He doesn’t know when exactly that was. He’s sure it must have been since the memorial service for the fallen at the Compound, but these past months have blurred themselves together in a haze of loss and trying. Trying to get better. Trying not to lose himself. Trying to grieve a kid that wasn’t even his kid.
It hurt to see her, that first time in candlelight at the memorial - she reminds him of Peter in every way. Just like she does now as she watches him, in the way her forehead creases for only a second as she tries to figure out what’s going on. The way that even though she’s clearly confused, her first instinct is to reach out and draw him closer, in the same unflinching way that Peter had just cared. She places a warm hand on his shoulder and the touch is comforting, something to keep him tethered to here when he feels like he’s at risk of losing himself to his mind at any moment. She pulls him into the apartment.
Tony looks around, wide-eyed as May shuts the door behind them. He vaguely registers the click of the lock that always used to jam. He wonders if it still does. He’d have no way to know. Even though he’s seen May since the snap, he hasn’t been here. Not since Peter’s shoes, that were once scattered haphazardly by the front door like a safety hazard, have been cleared away, seemingly stored elsewhere. Since the coffee table wasn’t covered in an assortment of textbooks. Since there was only one set of keys hanging on the hook by the door.
Since what was once hers and Peter’s has become just hers.
It feels lonelier. Smaller, in some odd way, like the apartment knows that one of its occupants will never walk within its walls again.
“Sorry,” Tony murmurs, partly because he feels like he should say something and partly because he truly is. “I didn’t know where else to go… not tonight.”
May pays his apology no mind. Instead, in the light of the entryway now that he’s been pulled out of the darkened apartment complex hallway, her eyes drift to the marred spot on his cheekbone that must be purpling already. The cut still stings. “Oh, Tony,” May says, eyes alight with a mixture of emotions. “What happened?”
“Lost a fight to a grocery store thief.”
May’s eyes widen in surprise, but then her lips quirk in what could almost be a smile. “Iron Man lost a fight to a petty thief?” she asks, joking a little.
“Some might say that I’m not exactly at the top of my game at the moment,” Tony huffs out.
May’s face turns gentle. “No one is, Tony. It’s okay.”
It’s not okay. It’s not okay. Nothing is okay.
Tony just nods weakly. Arguing seems like too much work. May wraps a hand around his elbow and leads him further into the apartment. He follows her unthinkingly and sits down on the couch when she gestures for him to.
“I’m going to grab a few things to clean that up with,” May says. “I’ll be back.”
Tony frowns. She doesn’t have to do that. He’ll be fine. “S’just a scratch. It’s no big deal.”
“Just a scratch can turn into a lot worse if it isn’t cleaned up properly,” May tells him as Tony brings up his fingers to prod at the cut. He winces, and May tugs them away. “Just let me do this, okay?”
Tony looks at her again. Her posture is a little less defeated now, back straightened. She’s a woman on a mission when she’s got a task at hand and honestly, Tony kind of gets it. It’s why he leaves the tower every night. He needs to do something and this seems like the best way to try and make up for every misstep that’s led them right here.
Tony finds himself nodding and she disappears into the bathroom, returning only a minute later with a wad of dampened tissues and a box of band-aids in hand. She shoves aside a few dog-eared magazines to sit down on the coffee table in front of him. “Lean in a little closer?” she asks and despite the situation, Tony manages a barely noticeable smirk.
“I’m engaged, remember, Parker.”
May rolls her eyes. “Trust me, I’ve got absolutely no desire to rip your clothes off. You’re safe here.”
“Oh, goodie. You had me worried there for a moment.”
May ignores him. “I’m going to wipe away some of this blood, just with water and a bit of soap. It shouldn’t sting like antiseptic,” she explains to him.
Tony nods, watching as she brings a hand up to his cheek and pressing against the cut gently. He hisses under his breath but remains still. He catches blotted red staining the tissue as she pulls it away.
Tony Stark has only ever had blood wiped off his face by a small select group in the past.
Jarvis, standing over him as a kid when he got a little too mouthy with Howard.
Rhodey, in college, when he’d stumble home after drunken brawls, never one to back down from a fight but also too young and scrawny to ever win one either.
Pepper, after the nights he’d get a bit too reckless when he first started going out in the suit, Afghanistan still burned fresh in his mind.
And now, May Parker.
“This guy must have had a pretty good punch on him,” May says conversationally, as she continues to dab at the congealed blood.
Tony hums noncommittally. “He was wearing a ring. Metal.”
“That’ll do it.”
May presses another tissue up to his cheek, this one dry now, apparently content with the cleanliness of the cut. She reaches for the box of band-aids, pulling them into her lap. Closer up, Tony realises that they’re Star Wars themed. He cracks a smile. He recognises them, distinctly remembers the kid picking them up off the shelf on a late-night CVS run for an arm sling after Peter dislocated his shoulder on patrol.
She unwraps one of them, a green, wrinkly-looking creature that Tony’s pretty sure is Yoda on the front of it, before leaning forward to smooth it across his cheek.
“There we are. You’re all patched up.”
Tony smiles up at her, small and strained. “I’ll live?”
“I think you’ll scrape through,” she teases, and they both laugh. It’s tentative, quiet, but it’s laughter all the same.
Tony wonders how long it’s been since these walls heard that sound.
“Wine?” May offers as she gets up off the coffee table, gathering up the bloody tissues discarded next to her as she does.
Tony stares longingly as she walks over towards the kitchen. He wants to, so badly. Just a glass or two, enough to knock the edge off but knows he can’t afford to, not when he’s been doing so well so far. He shakes his head firmly. “No thanks,” he says, before he pauses to contemplate for a second, “I’m, uh, I’m trying really hard not to fall off the wagon.”
Maybe once, the company he kept earlier in life would have scorned him for not taking up the offer of alcohol. Maybe even now, he still expects it. But May just accepts it easily, telling him, “You’re doing a good job, Tony,” with a gentle smile on her face. “Can I get you a tea instead, then? Coffee?”
“A cup of tea would be good,” Tony says, “please.”
Half an hour later, both of them are still tucked on the sofa - Tony with his feet outstretched on the coffee table and May with hers tucked up under her, nursing a glass of red wine in her hands.
They trade conversation back and forth, quick quips and quiet murmurings about nothing in particular for a while. Then, like something inevitable, the changing of the seasons, the turning of the tide, Peter’s name is on both of their lips.
Spider-Man might live on forever, memorialised on the streets of New York City, but Peter Parker lives on in a far more intimate way - in Tony’s thoughts, May’s dreams, the stories shared between them both.
A precious secret for them to hold close to their chests. After all, not many had the privilege of really knowing Peter like they did.
Tony tells May about the ridiculously stupid way Peter dislocated his shoulder, the night that led to the procurement of the exact Yoda band-aid stuck to his face right now.
May tells him about the time that Peter and Ned went as Iron Man and Captain America as Halloween, and they both argued about who got to be Iron Man for days. She pulls a photo album out from one of the coffee table drawers to show him how they settled it: a photo of both Ned and Peter, probably eleven or twelve years old, both in knock-off Iron Man costumes and holding Captain America shields, the tacky plastic kind they sell in the toy section of Walmart. This draws a strained smile out of Tony, some emotion he can’t quite identify flickering through him. He doesn’t think it’s all bad.
In return, Tony pulls up a photo he’s still got saved to his phone - one of the selection he’s not willing to relinquish solely to FRIDAY’s archives just in case. It’s one that Peter sent him last Halloween as he poses with a bunch of college-aged students he met out on patrol, all of them dressed in an array of cheap-looking Spider-Man garb. Tony can still remember the elation that had lit up Peter’s voice when he told him that it was the first time he’d ever seen anyone, let alone a whole group, dressed up as Spider-Man, as him.
They go back and forth for a while, until one of Tony’s stories, a particularly mundane one, causes May’s eyes to fill with tears, gleaming in the low light of the shitty, flickering lamp in the corner. She tries to hide them, wiping at her eyes as discreetly as she can, but Tony sees. That doesn’t mean he knows what to say. Because he doesn’t. He doesn’t know how to make this better. If he did, maybe he wouldn’t be here.
(He’s glad he is though. So, so glad.)
The conversation lulls after that. Tony almost doesn’t want to risk saying anything in fear of upsetting May further. He’s got an awful track record of not being able to fix the things he breaks. So instead, he leans over and grabs her hand, tentatively. He half expects her to pull away, he’s not sure why, but she squeezes back.
He sits like this, one hand gripping his mug and the other May’s hand until May speaks again - her voice slightly smaller now than it was only a few minutes ago, clogged with emotion.
“Why are you doing this, Tony?”
Tony looks up towards her, meeting her quizzical eyes. He frowns. “Doing what?”
“This whole nightly tour of Queens thing.” She laughs. It’s weak and watery, a shadow of the sound Tony’s come to know. “You think I don’t notice that suit of yours flying through the sky every night? It’s always been kind of hard to miss.”
Honestly, Tony didn’t think people paid any attention to him anymore. Iron Man has been old news for a while as far as New York is concerned.
“I didn’t realise that anyone would notice.”
“Oh, trust me, people notice,” May says, shaking her head. “Or at least, I do anyway.”
She watches him for a moment longer, Tony not daring to pull his eyes away this time and something sparks behind hers, something brighter than melancholy and remembrance. She leans down to tuck her wine around the side of the couch on the floor and stands. Tony stares after her.
“I want to show you something.”
Unquestioningly, because May seems so certain and because he trusts her with every fibre in his being, Tony gets up. He sets his almost finished tea on the coffee table and follows her out of the room.
They step into the hall and May heads towards the door at the end. The door with the chipped paint and the New York Mets poster stuck to the back, faded and curling at the edges.
He hasn’t set foot in there for months and months. The sheer thought of it knocks the breath out of his lungs. His already unsteady footsteps waver, bringing him to a halt.
He watches as May wraps a hand around the doorknob and pulls it open without any trepidation. She glances back over her shoulder at him and her searching eyes jolt him out of his thoughts. She gives him a tiny smile - encouraging, reassuring.
“It’s okay,” she tells him. “I come in here all the time. It’s actually not half as depressing as you think it might be.”
It’s so smooth and seamless, the way she moves around Peter’s memory. So unlike the jagged and debilitating way that Tony’s own grief has presented itself. He would almost be jealous if he didn’t know why. May Parker is no stranger to grief. She’s done this before. He will never forget the way that the agony on her face after he told her about Peter faded to resignation not long after. Like this is how she expected Spider-Man might end for their little family of two to all along - in a family of one.
Tony takes her word for it and lets himself step through the doorway. It’s dark inside - May hasn’t bothered turning on the light. Even still, the posters on the walls, the hoodie thrown carelessly over the back of the desk chair, the Lego sets on the shelves (the half-assembled one on top of his desk, gathering dust) all stare at him from the shadows. He kind of expects the grief, the guilt, all the dark feelings that have been hollowing out his insides to make their home inside him recently, to violently rear their ugly heads. For this to be that one last final straw that sends him crashing down into pieces.
But it isn’t. Instead, there’s just a presence. It’s one he knows so well, echoing off the walls in a way that’s achingly familiar. It surrounds him, feeling so close and yet so awfully far away.
Peter, Peter, Peter.
In the middle of the room, May sits down on the edge of the bed, running her hands over the dark blue covers. They’re unmade and rumpled beneath her. Tony wonders whether that’s because Peter never made it before he left for that fated field trip to MOMA, or whether May has spent nights in here, trying to get as close as she can to a kid that isn’t here anymore.
May motions for Tony to sit down next to her. He hesitates once again, only for a second, before he treads over to her. The mattress springs creak underneath him as he sits down.
Neither of them speaks for a moment. Tony follows May’s gaze out the window to the sprawled mess of bright lights, Queens stretching out in front of them.
The lights aren’t as bright as they once were. Half of them snuffed out like candles in the wind that blew Peter away. Tony wonders whether New York knows exactly how much it’s lost, whether the concrete streets and towering structures of steel and glass miss those who use to roam among them.
May speaks then, voice soft but sure. “Do you know how old Peter was when he first came to live with me and Ben?”
Tony wracks his brain. He knows Peter was fourteen when his uncle died in front of him. He knows his parents died in a plane crash when he was much younger than that. But he doesn’t know the exact details of it all. He has to shake his head in answer to May’s question. Something about that grates deep inside him.
He should know all this. He should know his kid.
Maybe he was always too scared to bring it up as if unlocking any of the trauma deep inside Peter might have obligated him to dredge his own up too.
“He’d just turned six,” May tells him. “He didn’t really know what was going on. It didn’t help that we’d just moved into this apartment. He didn’t even recognise the place.”
Tony glances around the room again, four walls which contain nine years of Peter Parker’s memories.
“Ben and I were going to have this room,” May continues. “The other one is kind of a shoebox. But that changed pretty quickly as soon as Peter found out that you can see that obnoxious tower of yours from here. He loved this view. We were doing anything at that point to make him smile because he was so lost. Whenever you were in town, he used to sit by this window every night before bed and watch the skyline just to see if he could see you out there,” May’s expression fades into one of longing. “Now, I do the same thing. Not to look for you necessarily. I just like knowing I’m seeing the same thing he stared at night after night.”
Tony doesn’t have any words.
He never considered that on the nights he spent in New York because the California heat became too stifling (sand under his feet, blowing in his eyes, sun beating down on his back, scorching him from head to toe-), the nights he’d fly around at all hours just to escape the nightmares, there was a little kid watching him from a window of a Queens apartment block. A little kid who would one day grow up to be the best kid Tony has ever known.
A little kid who would one day grow up, only to suddenly cease to grow anymore.
“God, it used to make his night when you were out there,” May murmurs, quiet like even her words are tiptoeing delicately around a memory. “He used to make a wish and everything. You were like his shooting star.”
Tomy’s brain stutters and then fails him completely. He’s not anyone’s lucky anything. Never has been, never will be. If anything, he’s more like a black hole, ensnares everything he touches and tears apart, ruins.
“I didn’t seem to bring him much luck on Titan,” Tony mutters darkly, the first words that he’s been able to force past his lips since he sat down on the edge of Peter’s old twin bed. Regret twists on his face as soon as they’re out there. He’s been trying his best not to dwell on it. He shouldn’t have even brought it up. Titan should be a no go but sometimes he just can’t help it, not when the thoughts haunt his mind at all hours of the day, taunting him. He spends too much time telling himself that Peter not being here anymore isn’t his fault but he knows he has to be honest with himself eventually - only a guilty man would spend this much time telling himself that he isn’t.
He sighs. May looks up at him. She opens her mouth, goes to say something, and Tony knows May well enough to know that right now it will be something reassuring, something to try and ease whatever he’s feeling, even just a little. She knows exactly when to be blunt with him and when to try and settle him - a little like Pepper, in some ways. He’s somehow seemed to attract all the headstrong women into his life, women that he’s convinced he does not deserve to have looking out for him in the slightest. And he doesn’t deserve kind words either, not right now, definitely not after-
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that up, that was insensitive, I’m just…” Tony pauses. He’s just what? He’s never quite sure these days. “I don’t know.”
“You’ve been making his day since before you knew him, you know. He’d hate to see you doing this to yourself.”
Her eyes catch slightly in the slither of light that creeps in from the hallway as Tony turns to meet her gaze.
Tony opens his mouth but he finds he can barely force the words out. He manages eventually. “Doing what?”
May’s eyes travel up to the bandaid on his cheekbone and Tony instantly knows what she means. In an unconscious movement, his shoulders hunch in on himself a fraction. “Getting hurt. Fighting grocery store robbers like that’s suddenly in Iron Man’s job description,” she says.
“I have to do it. You know I do.”
“Why?” May asks. Tony’s sure she must know. She’s pushing him now, but ever so gently still, so much reverence and far more concern than Tony deserves packed in the one, tiny word.
Tony doesn’t look at her. He can’t. He winds his fingers together in his lap and stares at them instead.
“Because he’s not here to,” Tony says quietly. “He’d want his city to be safe.”
May nods. She can’t argue with that. “You’re right, he would. But I knew my nephew. Trust me, he’d want you to be safe even more.”
The words hit Tony in the gut. He blinks away the awful wetness behind his eyelids as everything swells to a crescendo. He’s sure that May can’t be able to see, there isn’t enough light for her to be able to catch the tell-tale shining of tears but somehow, she just knows. She leans closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. Her hair tickles against the side of his neck.
“I just miss him,” Tony admits. “God, I miss him so much.”
There’s a tiny choked noise from beside him. “I do, too,” May whispers.
Tony wraps an arm around her shoulders and sitting there, they hold each other on the edge of Peter’s bed, looking out over the skyline of the city he loved.
A show of solidarity for the boy they both miss so much.
Later, Tony flies extra slowly over the city on his way home in case there are any other kids sitting by their windows who need a little magic in their lives tonight.
4 years, 7 months later.
“You cold?” Tony asks, glancing over at the kid sitting only a foot away from him, huddled in an old navy sweatshirt, knees pulled up to his chest.
“Nah. I’m good.”
“Tell me as soon as you are then, okay? We’ll go straight in.”
The kid rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Yes, Tony.”
Once upon a time, Tony thought the damage inflicted by the snap was irreversible - but here he is, sitting out on the dock on a still spring night with the very proof of how wrong he was.
He’s never been more glad to be wrong in his life.
Peter Parker is here, alive, breathing and very, very real. A human with a physical form that Tony can wrap his arm around, keep close. He’s not a ghost anymore - not the whispering call of the unused guest room at the end of the hall or the final dying words that haunted Tony’s nightmares.
Peter’s only been to the cabin a few times, but he’s already established that his favourite spot is right here, at the end of the dock - despite the splintering of the wooden planks beneath them that dig into your palms and the creaking of the structure beneath them. He can breathe in clean air. Hear all the birds, be reminded that they’re alive, just the same as him.
It’s especially peaceful at this time of night. Neither of them sleep that much anymore, so they come out here just to sit, sometimes watch the sky when it’s clear like tonight. Both of their heads are tilted upwards, the glow of the moon breathing a pale light across their faces.
After a minute, Tony sees a flash of light streak across the sky. It’s only there for a second before it disappears back into the darkness as quickly as it came. He smiles.
“Hey, you catch that, Pete?” Peter looks up at him in question. “The shooting star,” Tony clarifies and Peter’s face shifts in a way Tony can’t quite follow. Tony can’t help the twinge of insecurity he feels.
Since the snap, his parenting style has had an almost unrecognisable overhaul. Peter’s suddenly come back to a world where Tony is apparently comfortable with kisses on the forehead to say goodnight and affection doled out just because. Peter’s taken it all in his stride, but Tony forgets sometimes that parenting him isn’t like parenting Morgan. He’s a little jaded before his time, he probably isn’t going to be enamoured with the little stuff like this.
Tony clears his throat, trying not to sound as awkward as he feels.
“Sorry, kid, force of habit. Morgan goes wild for that sort of stuff. I know you, uh, probably don’t like thinking about space all that much.”
Tony hated it too, for a while, looking at the stars and wondering whether if he looked hard enough then one day he might see Peter, keeping an eye on him from wherever he was.
Peter shrugs, a tiny frown creasing his forehead at Tony’s apology. “It’s not really that. I was just thinking. I don’t think I’ve ever actually wished on a star.” He hesitates, before saying, “I used to make wishes on Iron Man instead sometimes.”
Tony’s silent for a second as the memory of that night with May years ago hits him like a freight train. The first year or so after the snap is a haze. He remembers that night now though. The robber and the Yoda plaster, sitting on Peter’s bed trying to keep each other away from the gaping dark hole of grief.
Peter must misinterpret Tony’s silence for something else because he lets out a self-deprecating laugh, dropping his head so Tony can no longer see his eyes. Tony hates it immediately.
“I know, it’s stupid. I just, uh, I dunno.”
“Hey, hey, no, it’s not stupid.” Tony shakes his head, his turn to fall quiet as the insecurity of his battered and broken body returns. “I just don’t think you’ll be getting any more wishes granted anytime soon, bud,” Tony says. “At least not from Iron Man. I think my days in the suit are long gone.”
Peter looks, oddly, relieved at Tony’s answer. He simply shrugs, uncaring, and shoves himself a little closer to Tony. Their shoulders knock together and Tony knows what he wants immediately, lifting an arm - his real arm - to let him slide under it. There’s something exhilarating about the way Peter’s shoulder’s rise and fall ever so slightly with each breath of air he breathes in.
Back with me.
“I don’t mind. I don’t think I have anything left to wish for anyway,” Peter says, craning his neck to look up towards Tony. There’s something light and bright and hopeful behind his eyes now that Tony has missed so damn much. “I’ve got all you guys.”
Tony swears his already struggling heart skips a beat and he tightens his arm around Peter’s shoulders, thumb rubbing gently at his shoulder blade. The kid is a comforting warmth against his side. Tony likes the sounds of the birds in the trees, the traffic on the highway, the chatter on the streets - all the reminders that life is whole again. But this right here, Peter pressed to his side, is the only reminder that will ever really matter.
You were like his shooting star, May Parker told him once, a long time ago.
Tonight, Tony pulls Peter closer and wishes on his own shooting star, the one in the sky above them in this newly perfect universe where he can hold his kid in his arms once again.
Let me have this happiness, please. I think I’ve earned it. We’ve all earned it.