Tony didn’t know what time it was. He could ask Friday, but he didn’t have the energy to force out the words. His curiosity wasn’t great enough to overpower the weight on his head and tongue and lungs, so he was left staring blankly at the wall. Time was relative anyway. What did it matter? He could barely find the strength in him to blink. His mind was empty and full at the same time and Tony couldn’t decide which option he would prefer, emptiness or thoughts filling his mind. The pondering of that decision was taking too much effort as well so Tony stopped and went back to the wall. His gaze then drifted to the ceiling. He stared at it listlessly. There wasn’t anything interesting about the ceiling. It was just white. Tony stared at the colour until his eyes unfocused.
Tony didn’t know if he had fallen asleep or not. He didn’t know how much time had passed. He still didn’t know what time it was. He didn’t know what time it was then and he didn’t know what time it was now. He was now staring at his bedside table. Maybe he should put a clock there. Or on the wall. Or have Friday programmed to read out the time every half hour. But that would get annoying. It’s not like his family needed even more annoyance because of him. Annoyed from him. About him. His thoughts were getting louder now, overtaking the previous emptiness, stopped being wisps and started being flying bricks. Tony was a fool before. The decision was easy now. He would much prefer the emptiness to this.
“Tony?” It took Tony half a second to recognise the voice, which he was distantly surprised by. It took him longer to recognise other people’s. He would have to swim through the haze to hear it then swim some more to figure it out, without drowning on the way. Of course Peter would be different. The door to his bedroom was nudged open slowly and Peter came into view, peering tentatively into the room. Tony stared at him blankly. Peter was here.
Tony closed his eyes briefly. Of course. Peter was here for their lab day. Days they both looked forward to. Days Tony looked forward to. And he forgot about it. Just another way he was letting the people in his life down. Letting Peter down. And that was somehow worse.
Peter approached the bed with soundless footsteps which Tony was grateful for. He didn’t think he could take more loud noise on top of the racket in his mind. Peter didn’t usually silence his footsteps in the house because it startled people when he seemingly suddenly appeared when they didn’t hear him approach.
“Bad day?” Peter whispered when he was crouched down by the head of the bed, near Tony’s head. Tony didn’t have the energy to snort or laugh, but he gave a heavier exhale than usual. Peter studied him for another minute before nodding.
“I’ll be right back.” He said as he rose and walked out the door. Tony felt his heart fall. He hadn’t even realised it had risen when Peter had come in but now feelings of disappointment, rejection, and pain were worming their way through the fog. Tony tried to gather the fog around him again. He didn’t want to be left vulnerable to those feelings which would rip him apart. It said something that his protection came down to wisps of fog but he was too tired to analyse it. He was pathetically grateful when Peter walked back into the room.
He was holding a glass filled with something, with a straw sticking out. Peter went back to his original position, crouched by Tony’s head, footfalls still silent. Tony’s eyes followed him.
He held out the glass and angled the straw to Tony’s lips. “Come on Tony. You need to drink this.” Tony managed to drag his eyes, from where they were hungrily taking in Peter’s face, down to the glass. He stared at it. Peter nudged the straw against his lips. “Please drink it Tony. It will help, trust me. Please.” That was a lethal combination of words usually for Tony; trust me, as if Tony didn’t trust him with everything he had and everything he was, and please, as if Tony wouldn’t do anything for him. Those feelings managed to stubbornly hold their place even now, even if they were muted by the fog. He didn’t think anything could snuff them out.
Tony managed to pry his mouth open, just the slightest bit, but Peter’s face lit up so brightly that Tony felt that he had finally done something right. Peter gently pushed the straw into his mouth and gently coaxed him to suck, to drink. The first few sips were hard, so hard, but Peter’s encouraging, hopeful face kept him going until instinct took over and he started drinking with more vigour. Still not very strongly, but definitely more than he had been doing all day. Or however long it has been. He still didn’t know the time. But that wasn’t the most pressing thing right now. The glass was filled with a sweet tea or sugary water and slowly, Tony felt energy trickle through his veins. Blinking didn’t take as much energy as before. Neither did breathing. Peter’s soft encouragement and praise went a long way as well, even though Tony felt pathetic for needing it.
When he had finished most of the glass, his drinking tapered off. He was full. He didn’t think his stomach could handle anymore. He felt momentary panic at not being able to complete Peter’s request but Peter was already pulling the glass away and was still smiling at him.
“Well done Tony. You drunk so much of it. I can get you more later if you want.” Peter stood up. “I’ll be right back.” This time before leaving, Peter carefully reached out a hand. When Tony just continued watching him calmly, he placed his hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. Tony was still marvelling at the warmth that seeped through by the time Peter came back. He now had his bag slung over his shoulder and crawled onto the bed beside Tony, pulling out notebooks and his pencil case.
For a long while they passed the time in silence, only broken by the scratching of Peter’s pencil or the occasional page flipping or calculator key clacking. Tony let himself sink into the comfort of it, as well as the warmth he felt radiating from Peter. He found the energy within himself to move his arm for the seemingly first time that day, dragging it painstakingly across the sheet and towards Peter. His fingers grasped weakly at his t-shirt. Peter looked up from his work and over at Tony, a smile stretching wide across his face. Tony felt a pulse of something in his chest at how easy it was to make Peter smile. At how easy it was for him to make Peter smile. Maybe he was good for something after all. If his only purpose in life was to make Peter smile then he must be doing something right. It was a worthy purpose.
“Hey.” Peter was still smiling and was looking at him so softly Tony felt himself tear up a little. Peter reached out again, still slow, still analysing Tony’s reactions and facial expressions, before setting his hand gently on his head. Tony shuddered a little. Peter slowly began threading his fingers through, weaving them between the strands of his hair. Tony shuddered again, a small sigh escaping his lips as the petting continued. He didn’t think anyone had done this for him before. It felt unlike anything he had ever felt. The warm, tingly feeling spread from where Peter’s fingers touched, spreading across his head, down his neck, across his shoulders, down his back.
He used his meagre strength to tug at Peter’s shirt, which was still clenched in his grip. Peter seemed to get the message and shuffled more towards him, the warmth getting closer as well. Tony thought Peter was going to stop once he reached him but he lay down next to him before pulling at him gently. Tony let himself be led and manoeuvred until he was laying with his head on Peter’s chest.
“It usually helps me. You know, the heartbeat. Its grounding. At least it is for me.” Peter whispered. Tony breathed. He could hear Peter’s heartbeat. Loud and clear. But a good loud. Not like his thoughts were, or that the emptiness was. A nice loud. Grounding. Yes, that’s the word. Comforting. That’s another word. He breathed in and all he could smell was Peter. That was also grounding. And comforting.
They stayed that way for a while. Tony didn’t know how long. He still didn’t know the time. Slowly though, his peace – the first bit he had gotten in who knew how long (he certainly didn’t, he didn’t know the time) – was disrupted. His thoughts apparently didn’t like being ignored or subdued. They were back. Small at first, only feelings, but growing louder.
Peter shouldn’t have to comfort him, he shouldn’t be. He had better things to do and there Tony was taking up his precious time. He wasn’t worth that. There was nothing even wrong with him. He just hadn’t bothered to get out of bed. He had tried not disrupting anyone, not annoying them, and had failed even at that. Again. And it was Peter who was getting the brunt end of that failure.
“Hey, Tony. None of that now.” Tony hadn’t even realised he had screwed his eyes shut until he fluttered them open. He also hadn’t realised what a tight grip he had on Peter’s shirt. Peter probably wanted to leave. He wouldn’t blame him. And he was being annoying again, not letting him go. Tony tried to unfurl his fingers from the shirt, staring at them hard.
“I love you.” It was murmured softly, fingers still stroking through his hair. Tony froze. The fingers didn’t. Neither did the hand that had begun stroking his back. Tony was pathetically grateful. “You might doubt it right now. And that’s normal. But I just wanted you to know. To remind you. I love you Tony.” The sob had left his mouth before he had registered it building. Peter tightened his arms around him. “It’s okay. Let it out. It’s only me.” And Tony broke.
Everything he hadn’t known was building all day, for however long he had laid there and probably before, came flooding out in the form of tears and sobs and shivering. Words were sprinkled in occasionally, or gasps pretending to be words. Tony’s hand was tighter than ever on Peter’s shirt, he didn’t care how pathetic he was or how much the voices in his mind condemned him and scolded him and degraded him for any of this because he was just so desperate for Peter not to leave. He didn’t think he could bear that. He hated the thought of Peter leaving more than he hated himself.
Peter met all of his flood with gentle stroking of his hair, his back, and even gentler words. And he stayed. And stayed. And stayed. For however long it took Tony to finish. Then he stayed after as well. He wiped away his tears and got him water and chatted on about whatever came to his mind, filling the background, interspersing his soundtrack with frequent descriptions of how much he loved Tony and why. His money wasn’t on the list (not that he expected it to be, but still… it’s what he is used to and he has come to expect it). Neither were his looks until reason 67 and even then it was about how much Tony teases him for his nerdy shirts but wears nerdy shirts himself.
Tony’s mind settled and his heart swelled. He didn’t know how much time passed. He didn’t care either. He didn’t even know what time it was. His eyelids began to droop but he tried forcing them open. Ironic that this was what he had been doing all day, and hoping for, but now he was fighting it. He wanted to stay with Peter. But Peter noticed.
“It’s alright. You can go to sleep. I’ll still be here when you wake up. I’ve got you this time. And anyway, its time I helped you for a change.”
Tony had a desire to dispute the last statement, Peter helped him plenty, but he was tired and he had a feeling Peter wasn’t talking about lab work or teen slang references that needed explaining. He didn’t think that Peter would ever understand how much he helped him every day. Tony should make more of an effort to tell him. Peter was still petting his hair. He was still there. He said he would be there after as well and Tony trusted Peter. But he had to do one more thing. With great effort, he turned his head up to face Peter.
“I love you.” His voice was raspy and hoarse and he wanted to wince just listening to it. But Peter smiled a breath-taking smile.
“I love you too dad.” Tony turned his head down again, unable to stop his lips curling into a soft smile but trying to hide it anyway. He was sure Peter saw it though from the smile on his own face and the way his eyes lit up. Yeah, he must be doing something right, if he could ignite that smile and be bestowed that title. He let his eyes fall shut, peace spreading. Fuller than empty, but less than full. Content.
“I’ll wake you up at 6 for some food.” Peter said. “Sleep tight.” Tony let himself sink. He would know the time when he woke up again. But for now, the specifics didn’t matter, time was relative anyway. Peter was here and he loved him and he hadn’t ruined anything; that was enough.