Date night is something sacred for Tony and Pepper. Mostly because they’re so rare due to their busy schedules. Sometimes, they go weeks without having one, and even though they try to balance it out by having three in a week with little work to do (which happens almost never), it still isn’t enough. Hence the Date Night Protocol which blocks every call, text, and email, making it almost impossible to reach them. The only ones that can reach them in case of apocalyptical emergencies are Rhodey, Happy, and Peter.
They just finished their steaks when FRIDAY interrupts their home-cooked meal. “Mr. Parker attempts to contact you.” Tony’s mouth is already open, the words that asking him to come to the boy’s school for his Physics project is not an emergency, but the AI continues. “He wishes to speak to Miss Potts.”
“What?” Tony can’t help but yell, and Pepper laughs at his dumbfounded expression. “Why?”
“He did not specify.”
“Are you worried that you’re going to lose your intern?” she asks with a smirk and takes another sip of her wine.
Tony squints his eyes. “No, why? Are you conspiring against me? Should I be worried?”
“I’m just saying that he’s still starstruck every time he sees me. You, on the other hand, just get his sass.”
“Well, I’ll have you know that that’s how teenager express their love these days.” Pepper chuckles again, and Tony waves his hand. “Let’s see what he wants, then. Connect the call, FRI.” A soft beep indicates the connected line. “Parker! Why do you try to distract my date? I have dibs on her tonight.” He winks at Pepper and gets an affectionate eye roll in return.
Something is wrong. Peter isn’t rambling. He isn’t apologizing. Instead, they just hear heavy breathing, and some noises Tony cannot place. A bad feeling settles in his stomach, and Pepper puts her glass down.
Finally, Peter speaks. “I’m sorry.” He sounds awful. His voice cracks at the first syllable, and it carries a kind of hoarseness Tony can’t put his finger on. “I forgot it’s date night. I’ll call back tomorrow.”
“It’s fine, Peter,” Pepper quickly says before he can hang up. “What do you want to talk to me about?” More silence. Something Pepper had dubbed Peter Panic – the kind of frenzy panic Tony always gets whenever a certain spider-boy is involved – starts spreading inside him. Without thinking about it, he pulls up Peter’s vitals – or tries to, at least. He’s not in his suit, hasn’t been for hours. More panic. “Peter?”
On the other line, Peter takes a deep breath. “I know you’re in charge of all the bureaucratic stuff and all that, and- I’m really sorry for asking, but I need my internship to be a paid position.”
Tony and Pepper share a look. Peter never ever asks for money. They tried to give him some on multiple occasions, one way or the other; a paid position, a bonus, a special gift. He always rejects them, saying he isn’t doing this for money, it feels wrong to take it, it’s too much to accept it, etcetera, etcetera. And now, without any preamble, without a single, exiguous hint, he’s asking for money?
Something is wrong. Something must have happened.
Pepper’s voice is warm and calm, with absolutely no indication that she’s worried. “Of course. We already offered you one weeks ago.” Peter doesn’t comment, and Tony’s mind is racing. Pepper lays her hand on his to keep him calm. For the first time since, well, ever, it’s not working. “Do you want to talk about the details?”
“I –“ he takes a shaky breath, and clears his throat. “I don’t think so. I just need a certification as soon as possible.” Tony has to draw a deep breath to stay calm, his hands gripping the table so tight, his knuckles turned white. The only reason he isn’t screaming and demanding answers is that he knows that Peter probably will not answer them if he does. It takes a lot for the boy to ask for anything at all. Showing any negative reaction, no matter what it’s aimed at, will most likely backfire. “And I … I want to ask about lawyers.”
Tony is close to hyperventilating now. Why is he asking for money and about lawyers? Every atom in his body screams at him to suit up and fly to him and fix whatever happened. To demand answers, to demand them now, because he needs to know what’s going on. Pepper gives him a pointed look, silently asking him to let her handle this. He can’t open his mouth. He’ll most likely start screaming if he does. Instead, he closes his eyes and tries to concentrate on the noises in the background. They sound familiar. “What do you want to know?”
“Do you know any good ones that aren’t too expensive? I think – I think I can scrape about three hundred bucks together, but –“ Peter voice breaks.
Tony’s patience breaks. “Peter, where are you? What’s going on? Why do you need money and a lawyer?”
“Mr. Stark,” he says, but it comes out as a sob.
The mechanic’s heart aches so bad. Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees Pepper scrolling through her phone, most likely looking for their lawyer Johnson. “I’m here. Talk to me.” This time, Peter really sobs. He tries to hide it, but fails miserably. “Where are you? I need you to answer me.”
“Hospital,” he answers. Tony is standing in an instant, calling his suit to him, and asking FRIDAY to locate Peter’s phone. Pepper gets up, too, still focused on the device in her hands, but sporting her usual, badass business demeanor.
“I’m on my way, okay? I’ll be there in a few minutes. Just sit tight.”
“There was an accident and- ,” Peter continues, his voice wet and so, so shaky. Tony stops. His mind connects the dots. No. He doesn’t want to hear what comes next. He can feel it in his bones, can feel the overwhelming sadness, can feel the unbelievable cruelty of the world. Why does such a sweet boy like him deserve so much grief and tragedy in his life? “May is- She’s –“ The rest of the sentence is swallowed by a violent sob, but they don’t need to hear it. Pepper gasps, grabbing Tony’s arm, either for his sake or hers. Tony’s heart is shattered in a million pieces. There is only a single thought on his mind: he needs to get to Peter. Now.
“I’m coming to you, Peter. I’ll be there before you know it, okay?” Peter mumbles something about a doctor coming to him and ends the call.
For a split second, neither of them moves, too floored by what just happened. Then, the moment is over and Tony turns to her, his mind already made up. “Pepper, I can’t-“
She shakes her head. “I know. And I’m on board.” A small, sad smile tucks on her lips. “The Tower would be awfully quiet without him. Go. I’ll have Happy drive me there, and deal with the rest.” Tony loves this woman. He can’t wait to spend the rest of his life with her. He gives her hand a quick squeeze, and dashes to the nearest balcony where his suit is already waiting for him.
It takes nearly seven minutes for him to get to the hospital. He lands in an alleyway, steps out of the suit, and runs inside the building. His glasses navigate him to the location of Peter’s phone, and with every step he takes, his heartrate picks up. Tony doesn’t really have a plan other than make sure Peter is okay. No matter what it will take, though in the back of his head, he already knows what that means.
Peter sits in an otherwise empty corridor on some really uncomfortably looking chairs. His face is pale, except for a few bright red blotches on his cheeks. He doesn’t appear to be injured. Physically, at least, but he’s probably in some kind of shock. His gaze is empty and far away, and he’s perfectly still, which is something Tony has never see him do before. Tony wants desperately to run over to him and engulf him in a hug that makes him forget all of his worries, but something stops him.
Instead, he approaches him cautiously, opting to crouch down in front of him. Peter’s gaze is going right through him. “Peter?” he asks in a soft voice, and puts a hand on his arm.
For a long moment, it looks like Peter didn’t hear him. Then, he finally says: “I don’t know how to do taxes.” Tony doesn’t interrupt him. It’s not too hard to figure out what Peter wants to do. He lost his legal guardian. He’s asking for a paid position, and a document that proves it. He’s asking for a lawyer. He wants to emancipate himself. “Or what kind of insurances I need. And I’m really bad at doing the laundry. Or cooking. All I can do is reheat leftovers and cook frozen meals. May always reminds- … reminded me to eat greens and veggies, but I don’t know how to cook them. Or how to store them. What if everything I buy just addles?”
“We’ll figure it out,” Tony says, even though he isn’t sure Peter hears a word he’s saying. “We’ll have FRIDAY look everything up and make a list.”
“There is a convention next month. Ned and I planned to go. May was supposed to drive us there.”
“Happy can drive you.”
It looks like Peter wants to continue, but he stops. His eyes snap to Tony’s, finally recognizing the man in front of him. It takes Tony everything to stay still, to be strong for Peter, because the boy looks miserable. “May is dead,” he whispers with a broken voice.
The stupor breaks. Peter shakes uncontrollably as tears stream down his face, and Tony doesn’t even hesitate for a heartbeat before he pulls him in for a fierce hug. He whispers comforting nonsense, saying how sorry he is, that it’s okay to cry, to feel grief, that he isn’t alone, but he doubts Peter can hear his words over the sobs. He clings to him with such a tight grip, Tony is pretty sure the seams of his jacket rip. For a while – it feels like it could be everything from a few minutes to an eternity – they stay like this, Peter drowning in his grief and sadness, and Tony doing his best to hold his pieces together.
“I can’t go into foster care,” Peter sobs into his shoulder. “I can’t-can’t live with strangers. I just- I can’t.”
“You don’t have to live with strangers,” Tony reassures him.
“Th-That’s why I need the lawyer and the paid position.”
Tony’s heart is beating way too fast. Memories of his own childhood flash before his eyes. Doubts of his ability to be a father for any living being haunt him. The urge to make sure Peter is safe overwrites them all. “You don’t need to emancipate, Peter. You can live with us. With Pepper and me in the Tower.”
The boy stills and slowly looks up to his mentor. Tony wants to wrap him in a blanket and shield him from all the bad things in the world, but he just holds his gaze. “For how long?”
His next words should feel heavy. They should be difficult to say. But in this moment, they’re rolling off the tongue. “Forever, if you want to.” Peter blinks, a few stray tears that pooled in his eyes rolling down his cheeks. Tony quickly brushes them away. “Or just until the morning. However long you want or need. Whatever you want to do, I’ll always be there for you. You’re not alone, Peter.”
Peter doesn’t answer him. His eyes well up, and he buries his face in Tony’s shoulder, crying again. Tony just holds him, unable to do anything else. But he truly means what he said. Whatever Peter will decide to do, Tony will always be a step behind him to catch him if he tumbles and falls, and cheer for him when he succeeds. He just prays it’ll be enough.