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"He Knows..."

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Peter hates being a civilian. He walks the dirty streets and rides the subway. It takes hours to get anywhere he needs to be and where he needs to be in New York. Hours, he’s spending hours and money traveling from MIT to New York. The money doesn't matter, it’s all coming from Tony anyways but-

“Hey, kid?” There’s an older man standing above him, his music is too loud for him to hear the older man address him directly, but years of working with Tony in the lab has let him acquire a certain skill set. He’s quick at stopping a chemical fire and brilliant at reading lips and body language. “Mind if I sit?”

Peter nods and lets his head drop back down. He should have been with them, it’s Friday, and he promised. He promised last week only to shoot Pepper a text and call it off because he was too ashamed to call Tony himself. None of this would have happened at all if he’d been there.

 

“Hey,” Pepper hasn’t stopped crying since she made the call to Peter. She can’t spare herself the time to stop and calm down.

Without Peter around, lots of things started falling apart. Tony seemed to have forgotten how to communicate. Pepper keeps making three sandwiches and standing for minutes at a time just staring at the third sandwich. Life is odd but they’re still proud of their kid.

“Pep,” his voice is rough, hardly used but not the same gruffness that she hears in the early morning when he first wakes up and hasn’t thought about anything past her head laying on his pillow. He’s just Tony who loves Pepper.

She bends over him, running a hand over his face. It drags his facial hair up, showing the few black hairs he has left amongst the grey. She places a kiss at the corner of his mouth,” how do you feel?”

Tony has been Iron Man for so long that they’d had plenty of days spent in hospitals around hospital beds waiting for him to wake up but every time Peter was there too. Peter is always hanging upside down on his chair, leaning on the bed snoring into Tony's hip, but he's always there.

“I…” Tony's eyes bounce around the room, searching for some sign that Peter's been here. “Pep? I-I,” Tony coughs weakly. “Pep, he's not-why isn't he?”

Pepper isn't entirely sure what he means for a moment, she just brushes his hair back. “Honey, I don't understand.”

Tony becomes visibly upset, he twists his upper body and drags his left knee up. “Peter. I can't- why isn't-he's-”

“Sh, sh, sh,” the heart monitor picks up making high pitched noises that Pepper takes as bad. “Tony, please.”

“Ma'am,” the room is flooded with nurses and someone behind her forces her several steps back. All she can do is stand and watch as an oxygen mask is slipped back over Tony's face and the heart monitor shines red as the nurses announce something about an oxidation rate.

“Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to sit in the hall. We'll be out in a moment,” an older woman, twice Pepper's age, guides her out.

Pepper takes one last look in, watching the defibrillator being brought to the side of the bed, and turns away quickly.

 

It took Peter a long time to decide what he would major in. A part of him wanted medicine, naive and driven by the mask retired to the garage cupboard in Tony’s basement, he tried. If putting on the mask stopped villains and he liked that why not put on the white lab coat too? Only, he didn’t like it.

He got far, far enough to cutting up livers, kidneys, and a brain. As he held the brain in his hand, as he looked at the cadavers around him he decided medicine wasn’t his knack.

No one was upset when he came home that weekend and told them that in the end, he’d just chased a rabbit down a hole. They all came to the same conclusion, he’d end up using it somehow even if it really just meant understanding some doctor talk while one of them lay on their death beds.

He hadn’t thought it was funny but Tony had and Aunt May had slapped Tony’s shoulder as she giggled too. He could hardly see the humor but Aunt May was three glasses of whine in and Tony had that no sleep gleam to his eyes.

Now he’s juggling a double major in Engineering and Physics. His classmates hate him. He’s taking Senior classes and they hate him too but they’re nice when they want help with their homework and invite him to parties. He doesn’t tell anyone, not even when Pepper noticed something seemed off and corned him, he denied her allegations and played it off as stress.

He knows stress. How it presents, the way that it morphs when you leave it alone for too long. Stress, like bread left out for too long, grows mold and soon becomes unrecognizable. You start off with stress and it tumbles down the hill to collect as many other things as it can.

He’d seen Tony do it.

Tony started off with an Arc Reactor. He got stress, he has to protect the world… and Pepper. He collected an Obediah and turned his stress into PTSD, treatable, PTSD. Then he got the palladium poisoning and it got worse, his PTSD spun into panic attacks and heart palpitations. Then he saved Pepper, he saved Peter and for a moment he just had stress again and then he forgot how to breathe.

Peter wasn’t around to see when Tony’s left hand had picked up it’s tremor. It took him too long to notice it all together and in the end, Pepper had to point it out to him. All the pieces fit, all the times he’d seen Tony clutch his hand to his chest, he knew, he just didn’t see.

It seems like Peter doesn’t notice a lot lately.

“No,” Pepper soothes, pulling him into her arms. “This isn’t your fault, Peter. There’s nothing you could have done to stop this from happening. We’re lucky to have made it this long without any if anything you’re the reason he’s still alive.”

Peter finds it hard to believe but he nods his head anyways.

Pepper holds him for a long moment and all he can do is think.

He thinks about the panic attacks, the anxiety, and the nightmares. How Tony had started wearing a wrist brace to bed because the cartilage was thinning in his wrist because the constant grinding motion the trembling did. The way that on bad days, Tony just laid in bed trying to breathe through his damaged lungs until either Friday called for the MedBay workers or he found the strength to pull himself out of bed.

The good times are hard to think of. Waking up in the tower and coming downstairs to find Tony cooking and humming and being generally happy. At his graduation when Tony had held him to his chest, his hand in Peter’s hair, and cried. He told Peter that he was proud. Proud and God, it felt like forever since anyone had actually said that. Not implied it or just implicated it but said it.

“Can I-” Peter swallows the lump in his throat,” can I go see him?”

Pepper nods, pointing down the hall,” you’ll know which room is his.”

Peter leads himself, nervous energy making his own hand bounce his thigh as he walks. Pepper ends up being right, the soft hum of ACDC is all the indication that Peter needs to know.

“Hey, dad.”

Tony looks up, tears in his eyes,” hey.”

He’s sitting in a wheelchair, nasal canal under his nose, and hands resting in his lap. He’s attached to an IV pumping three bags worth of something, squinting Peter can only guess some beta blockers and saline.

Maybe more medical courses would have been smart.

Peter backs into the hall, looking down both sides before stepping back in. “Alright old man, you better be buckled into this thing,” Peter works himself behind the wheelchair, biting his tongue as he tries to figure out the brakes. “How do you-” Peter makes a little satisfied noise and pushes the wheelchair.

“Peter, we probably-”

“Nonsense,” Peter pushes Tony to the door, looking down the hall one more time before starting a brisk pace for elevator. “Jesus, you have one heart attack and you turn into one of those old guys who doesn’t like to have fun anymore.”

Tony shakes his head and for a moment too long Peter’s mind catches on to his greying hair. Greying being the nicest term because Tony’s hardly got any black now.

“Pete?”

Peter clears his throat,” uh, yeah?” He brings them to a halt in the waiting room, positioning them to see out the window.

“Thank you,” Tony looks at him, his glasses low on the bridge of his nose.

Peter can remember when Tony came home for the first time with them. He and Pepper had argued all day long about them because Tony had been putting it off for years and finally Pepper made Tony do something about the squinting.

Tony had looked at Peter that day, defeated, and Peter had laughed. He laughed until he cried because Tony was starting to fall into this dad look, flannels, jeans, and t-shirts with odd logos. The glasses though, they completed the look. He just looked like a tired dad standing there in his Armani suit and nothing has ever been as funny as that to Peter.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Peter smiles and pulls up a chair beside Tony. “Anything happening in New York lately?”

Tony puffs, a stifled laugh,” what isn’t?” Tony leaves it at that for a moment until he looks at Peter,” May and Pepper miss having you around. They terrorise me, both of them, all day.”

Peter smiles at that, believing it but still knowing Tony’s exaggerating.

“They’re so used to feeding you that they’re constantly in the garage with snacks and sandwiches. Every week May bakes these cookies,” Tony stops, laughing but grimacing at the muscles it pulls at.

Peter nods,” and she can’t cook.”

Tony shakes his head, coughing now,” not a bit.”

Peter tries not to get worried when the coughing fit gets worse, leaving Tony breathless and pale, but he stands up, pulling the oxygen mask off from around the tank hooked to the chair. It takes his fingers only a moment to adjust the mask.

“Tony?” Peter’s chest feels impossibly tight,” come on, Tony.”

The coughing doesn’t stop and when Tony’s eyes threaten to roll back into his head, Peter screams for help. The sound of his voice, raw and hot with emotion surprises him. “Help! Help! Fuck! God, what did I do? What did I do?”

 

“We’re just waiting on him to die?” Peter wipes his tears away from his eyes,” we’re just going to give up on him?”

Pepper strokes his cheek, wiping away the new tears. “Honey, we knew this was coming. His heart is weak. It’s a miracle we got the time we did.”

Peter pulls away from her, trying to cover the sound of his hiccups with his hand. He sniffles, looking at them all. Happy who looks defeated as he stares at his shoes, Rhodey fighting off his own tears for his best friend is dying, Aunt May who had grown fond of Tony, and Pepper. Pepper who seems to have forgotten who it is she’s given up on.

Peter wipes his nose with the bottom of his sleeve,” I’m going to see Tony.”

He leaves them in the waiting room, headed to the room still softly playing rock music. When he gets there, he stares at the heart monitor. He’d seen the ST-segment elevation, known too well that Tony’s heart was failing.

Tombstone T-Waves, that’s what his professor had called him. It was funny then, helpful even, but now it seems like it’s laughing in his face.

It’s like every enhancement ever made to his suit. He knows that when Tony spread out the arc reactors in his suit he’d probably set up all night thinking about Siberia, probably woken up in the middle of the night to feel Steve’s shield in his chest.

Because everything good has to come at a price.

Tony’s pride in him means that he can’t give up.

His education means that he’s got to do something great for his father, for the man whom he owes so greatly.

Some stupid radioactive spider comes at the price of watching his mentor die.

“Hey dad,” Peter sits on the edge of the bed, his hand slowly coming to take Tony’s. He sniffles, wiping his eyes with his upper arm,” I-I met this girl. She’s amazing and I think…” Peter hadn’t been honest with himself so he shakes his head,” she’s not the one, dad. I haven’t met the one so that means you’re just going to have to stick around.”

“Yeah,” Peter stands up, wiping his tears again and nodding his head as an idea starts to form. “I’ve got an insane idea, dad, so I’m going to need you to stick around for at least a long time.” Peter searches his pockets and searches the room for pen and paper.

Peter mumbles to himself as he draws out his plan,” I can build you a heart.” He looks down at his finished product and shakes his head,” I just need time.”

All through the night, Peter sketches and scratches out ideas.

By six in the morning, he’s slumped in the chair. Three coffee cups, empty and upturned, surround him.

“Cover him up with a blanket.”

Pepper jumps, she’d come into the room and been distracted by just how young Peter still looks asleep. Her eyes land on Tony. He’s paler and seems heavy with fatigue but alive.

He repeats himself,” it’s too cold in here for him. You gotta cover him up.”

Pepper nods and carries one of the extra blankets in the cabinet over, taking Peter’s pens and papers before covering him.

“What’s he working on?”

Pepper sits on the edge of Tony’s bed, looking over Peter’s scribbles. “An idea,” she puts the paper’s down, not trying to let new found hope get her too excited. “Just scribbles, he must have thought of something mighty clever.” At least, she certainly hopes it is.

Tony smiles and Pepper eases her way down beside him.

“You should be resting,” Pepper chaste softly. “So that you can bust us all out of this place.”

He knows as well as she does of his future but smiles none-the-less. “I am resting, I was watching him sleep.”

Many nights they’d spent watching Peter sleep. It helped Tony calm down after a panic attack and after a while, his breathing would Peter’s. It was peaceful anyways, Peter never moves in sleep and talks softly to himself.

“Pepper?”

She sighs, stroking his chest with her thumb,” yeah?”

“I love you.”

She laces her fingers with his, touching where his wedding ring should be. “I love you too.”

Peter sleeps on, his idea spinning webs of hope through his mind and helping Pepper finally sleep. As for Tony, he watches them, trying to soak in as much of them as he can before his time runs out and if Peter has anything to say about, his time will never run out.