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close to my heart, never to part

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”Peter, maybe we should tell someone…” Ned said with uncertainty once Peter finally stopped retching.  

 

Peter shook his head from where it was practically inside Ned’s toilet bowl. “We can't. I don't want to worry May. I'll be fine by tomorrow morning.”

 

“I knew you shouldn't have gone out tonight.” Ned ran a hand through his hair anxiously. They were supposed to be sleeping for their trip to Florida tomorrow. Ned’s family had an extra bed in their beach house and bought Peter a plane ticket as an early Christmas present.

 

They had been planning this trip since the beginning of the summer. May had used the free week to herself to get extra shifts in at work.

 

She was working that night and their flight was at 6 the next morning, so Peter slept over at Ned’s house. He hadn't planned on patrolling that night, but there had been a report on the police scanner (of course, Ned had one; he was Spider-Man’s guy in the chair) about something weird going on in the warehouse district.

 

Peter suited up and ran out to save the day with Ned monitoring through his eyes. Ned couldn’t remember much of the fight; it was dark and everything was happening so fast. One second Peter was kicking ass and the next he was on the ground after a loud shout.

 

Ned remembered how he had panicked. Screaming Peter’s name while the thing ran off. It took 23 seconds, the most terrifying 23 seconds of Ned’s life, for Peter to respond. He moaned painfully as the screen blacked in and out, letting Ned know he was blinking. Finally.

 

Even after he was awake, he wasn't very coherent so Ned was forced to sneak out his window and go find him. Maybe he would have been annoyed if he hadn't been so worried. He found him hiding in an alley, holding his side. Ned helped him up and supported his weight until they were climbing back into Ned’s window.

 

It hadn't been the first time they snuck out the fire escape, but it was definitely the first time with one of them close to unconsciousness. Which was weird because Spider-Man got into lots of trouble.

 

But this time, it was different. Ne wasn’t sure why, but he had a bad feeling about it.

 

Now, almost an hour later, Peter was clutching to Ned’s toilet with white knuckles. The retching had only started a half hour ago, but it still wasn't over. It wasn't even normal puking; it was violent, painful, gagging, and gasping for air.

 

Apparently, the 20-second break he had was enough for his body before he was back to heaving. Ned hated seeing his best friend in pain like this.

 

He was already kneeling next to him (thank God he had a rug in here or his knees would hate him), but he continued to rub his back soothingly. “Maybe...maybe we should call someone? Mr. Stark? You haven't gotten sick like this since before the bite.”

 

“N-no, Ned, he doesn't--.” Peter cut himself off with another round of puking. When he stopped, he let out a whimper and fell against the wall.

 

“Peter,” Ned sighed. He didn't understand why he had to be so stubborn all the time.

 

“‘m fine. Already feelin’ better,” Peter mumbled, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “May’s tacos are just coming back to haunt me.”

 

Ned eyed him and declared, “If you're not done in the next 15 minutes then we're calling Mr. Stark.”

 

Blindly, because his eyes were now shut, Peter reached out and patted Ned’s shoulder. “‘m fine, bro. Just need to sleep.”

 

“I don't think you should be coming to Florida, Peter--.”

 

That had Peter shooting up in awareness. “No! I can go. I want to go.”

 

Ned frowned sympathetically. He knew how much Peter wanted to go. He'd never been anywhere out of New York for vacation and he was excited to be spending it with Ned. “Peter, if you don't feel well, then you don't feel well. We can...we can plan another trip, okay?”

 

Peter groaned, trying his head away, mumbling about how unfair life was. Ned squeezed his arm once. “Let's just see how the night goes, okay?”

 

Peter nodded before throwing up again. Ned sighed. This was going to be a long night.


As it turned out, their night didn't end until 2 when Peter finally stopped throwing up everything in his stomach. Ned cleaned him up and then dragged him to his bed. The minute his head hit the pillow, he was out.

 

Ned sighed as he watched Peter sleep. He still looked pale and he was covered with a thin layer of sweat. He was upset that because of this Peter may not be able to go on vacation with him, but he was more worried that something was wrong. Peter wasn't supposed to get violently sick like this. He had super healing. That should include the flu, right?

 

He tried not to worry about it as he crawled into bed next to him. Luckily, Ned had a queen size mattress and was very useful for sleepovers so Peter and Ned weren't cramped together. (But even the space between them didn't matter some nights-- Peter was like a freaking leech in his sleep).

 

That night was no different and Peter was curled up in a ball with his back pressed against Ned’s side. So Ned didn't understand why he didn't wake up when it happened and how didn't he know something was different.

 

He didn't realize until he blinked open his eyes a few hours later and saw a baby laying on top of his chest,  staring back at him with big brown eyes. Familiar big brown eyes.

 

Ned shot up in bed. “ Peter?!”


”Um, boss, I think you wanna come up here…” Tony heard Happy’s voice over the speaker in his workshop.

 

Tony didn't even look up from his computer. “FRIDAY, can you open the intercom?” After the soft beep, Tony said, “What are the rules, Hap? No bothering me when I'm working.”

 

Happy hesitated. “This is an emergency, Tony.”

 

The sound of his voice made Tony pause. “What's wrong? Is someone hurt?”

 

“Um, just come up here and see…”

 

Tony swallowed and was almost afraid to ask. “Is it Peter?”

 

There was no response and that's when Tony knew. He cursed and didn't bother to save and shut down anything he was working on before running out of the room. He was skipping steps as he ran up to his main floor.

 

He was upstairs in less than a minute. He had to make sure Peter was okay. Happy would have told him if he was seriously hurt, right? He would have said something. But, when he reached the main floor, the sight in front of him stopped him in his tracks. There was Peter's friend, Ned, pacing around with a hand in his hair and Happy was there looking slightly disturbed...with a screaming baby in his arms.

 

Where was Peter?

 

Tony looked around the room, but no one else was there with them. He let his breathing slow down slightly because if Peter wasn't here and Happy wasn't rushing him to get the suit, then Peter wasn't bleeding out somewhere.

 

He focused on the other obvious issues: why was Ned here without Peter and where the hell did Happy get a baby from?

 

“Uh, Happy, what's the emergency? Where's Peter?” Tony asked, still feeling worried about the kid’s well-being.

 

Instead of Happy answering, the toddler's crying stopped and he squealed loudly. “Oh knee?”

 

Tony frowned at the kid and then turned back to Happy. “What's wrong with his knee?” He asked as the kid continued to yell those two words.

 

Happy fixed his hold on the kid when he started to try and jump from his arms. “He's not talking about his knee.” He grunted when a small hand smacked him in the face. “He's saying ‘'ony’ like your name, ‘Tony’.”

 

Tony raised his eyebrows and took a step back. “Why does he know my name? I don't have a kid.”

 

“Mr. Stark,” Ned finally spoke up. “That's because he's Peter.

 

Tony couldn't hold back his laughter. How often was it that your friend and some teenager tried to pass off a toddler as a 15-year-old kid? His laughter died down when he saw Ned and Happy didn't look like they were joking.

 

“Wait...are you serious?” He looked at the kid closely. He had wide brown eyes and a mop of brown curls on his head. Tony had never seen baby pictures of Peter, but he could see the resemblance now.

 

His face was red from crying, but when he saw Tony, his tears stopped and he sniffled softly every few seconds. “'ony,” he said in a soft voice as one hand reached out to grab him.

  

Tony ignored the tug in his heart that wanted to pull the toddler close to his chest. Instead, he turned to Ned. “How did this happen?”

 

“He was fighting something and it shot him.” He added quickly when Tony's eyes widened, “It wasn’t like a bullet or anything. Maybe a dart or a ray gun.” Like that made a difference. “And then he continued fighting until it ran off. We think it was an alien or some kind of mutant.”

 

“How do you know all this? You were there?” Tony asked, trying to ignore Peter as he started to cry again.

 

Shaking his head, Ned said, “We’re having a sleepover. He went out and I'm his Guy In The Chair.” He seemed sheepish when he admitted, “I hacked into the suit so I could see through his eyes.”

 

“So, the suit was recording? Or did you disable that for him, too?”

 

Ned blushed. “I'm sorry about that again, Mr. Stark, but no, I don't disable anything from his suit...not since DC. I know you're only doing this stuff to protect him.”

 

“Mhmm,” he hummed in disbelief. “Do you have his suit?”

 

“Yeah, in here.” Ned patted the backpack on his shoulder.

 

“Okay, good, you give me that. Happy, give him back the kid and we'll call you when we figure out how to fix this.” Tony clapped his hands together once.

 

“No, I can't keep him, Mr. Stark!” Ned shook his head. “I'm supposed to be going on vacation today. If I'm not at the airport soon, my mom will leave without me. I already have to figure out how to tell her Peter can't come without her calling May.”

 

Happy took the teen’s side. “He's right, boss. Peter can't be left with a kid and he can't be on his own. We need to watch him until this is sorted out.”

 

“Doesn't he have an aunt?” Tony refused to look at the little boy in Happy’s arms still calling his name.

 

“No!” Ned shouted but then cleared his throat when he saw how Happy and Tony stared at him. “You can't tell May! She'll kill him and take his suit away. I brought him here hoping you could figure it out before you go to her. She'll only worry and she can't take care of a baby right now. She's working triple shifts at the hospital to keep the apartment over their heads and food on the table.”

 

Happy looked at Tony with wide eyes and he pulled the kid a little closer. “Tony…”

 

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay, okay, fine. Happy, you watch the kid while I figure out how to undo this.”

 

“But, boss, he wants you,” Happy said. As if on cue, the kid started to whine Tony's name again.

 

Tony sighed and dared to steal a look at Peter. His face was red and his chubby cheeks were wet with tears. One hand held tightly to Happy’s collar while the other reached out to Tony beseechingly.

 

“Fine. I'll watch the kid and figure out what happened and how to undo it and keep your parental guardians off your backs,” he grumbled, making sure he was clearly unhappy about it.

 

Happy held out his arms and waited for Tony to take the squirming child. The cries stopped the moment that Peter was in his arms. “'ony, 'ony, 'ony,” he started mumbling into Tony's neck as he hugged him.

 

“Yeah, yeah, kiddo. It's Tony.” He patted his small back softly as Peter wiped his tears and boogers on his shirt.

 

Ned handed the backpack to Happy. “His suit and cell phone are in there.”

 

Tony looked at the toddler in his hands and ran his finger over the t-shirt he was wearing like a dress. They would need clothes that fit him before continuing.

 

“Thanks, kid,” Happy said. “We're going to figure this out. Don't worry.”

 

Ned looked nervously over at Peter. “Please tell me if anything happens...keep me in the loop. And take care of him...please.”

 

“We will, Ned. Don't worry about it. We'll call you with any and all news,” Tony said reassuringly.

 

Ned nodded hesitantly before walking over to Peter. He put a hand on the boy’s back to get his attention. Peter lifted his head and turned around to face Ned. Ned smiled when he had Peter's eyes on him. “I'm going now. Will you be okay with Mr. Stark?”

 

Peter reached out and grabbed Ned’s nose. It looked like he squeezed it hard, but Ned only laughed. “Go?”

 

“Only for a few days. And you can call me whenever you want okay? Your phone is in the backpack.” Ned’s voice was soft and patient with Peter like it was normal that his best friend was de-aged to a baby.

 

Peter leaned forward to wrap his arms around Ned’s neck. He left a wet kiss on his cheek and then was back against Tony's chest. Ned grinned and said, “Be good, okay?”

 

“I good!” Peter insisted, his face looking very serious.

 

Ned ruffled his hair once. “Have fun and be careful.” He turned back to Happy and Tony. “Thank you so much, again. If you need help, just give me a call--.”

 

“No, enjoy your vacation. We've got this covered,” Tony said. He held Ned’s eyes until he finally relented and agreed to relax while Peter was being looked after.

 

“Give him a ride home, Hap,” Tony said before Ned could leave. “And see if his family needs a ride to the airport.”

 

Happy didn't hesitate. “Of course, boss.” He nodded once to Ned before they left.

 

Once they were both gone, Tony was left with just Peter. The kid was behaving for now, at least. His little hand was holding onto his shirt so tightly it would probably permanently wrinkle it, but Tony didn't stop him.

 

He walked over to the elevator and clicked the button for the infirmary. He wished he had Bruce here to help him out with this; he’d know exactly what to do.

 

The elevator doors opened and Tony walked into the infirmary. He set Peter down on the nearest table and waited until he wasn't going to fall over before addressing FRIDAY, “FRIDAY, I want you to scan him over. Check his blood and vitals and maybe see what we can see what's going on.”

 

Immediately, a holographic light shined over Peter's body several times, scanning him from head to toe. It didn't take too long since he was so small now. His wide eyes turned to Tony at the light and the voice with no body.

 

“That's FRIDAY. She's a friend,” Tony explained as he picked up his tablet from the table. Peter looked around the room, searching for her. “She's an AI. Like a computer.”

 

Peter looked content with that answer, so Tony looked down to read the information on his tablet. He spoke to himself as he read, “Everything seems fine. Hey, FRI, you have a guess on his age?”

 

“About 2-years-old, boss.”

 

“2? How the hell am I supposed to take care of a 2-year-old?” Tony exclaimed, running a hand through his hair. “Does he have any memories or skills from when he was older?”

 

“I'm not sure, boss. It's hard to tell,” FRIDAY answered.

 

“I want to check his blood. Maybe the dart put a drug into his body.” Tony put the tablet down next to Peter. He moved it away when small grabby hands stating reaching.

 

He went over to the small desk and pulled open the drawer. He took out a small syringe and an alcohol wipe. He came back to Peter's side, but the kid did not like the sight of a needle.

 

“No! No!” He squeaked, his voice cracking.

 

“Shh, Peter. It's okay. I just need to take some blood so I can see what's going on with you.” He took one of Peter's small hands and wiped at his bicep. He had Peter distracted so maybe he could take some blood without him even knowing.

 

“No. Pwease,” Peter begged. Tony eyed him trying to figure out if the kid was playing the baby sympathy card or if that's just how he pronounced the word.

 

“It'll be over soon. Can you count to 10?” Tony paused and asked, “FRIDAY, can 2-years-old count to 10?”

 

“Not typically, boss.”

 

But then Peter was softly counting, “One, ooh, free, fou, five, sick…”

 

Tony smiled at him. “Hey, that's pretty far and only a few mistakes. I forgot you have Super Brains, don't you?” As he was speaking, he brought the syringe to his arm and as quickly and safely as he could, drew some blood.

 

He inspected the small vile and grinned at Peter. “See? That wasn't too bad.” Peter held his arm and started whimpering as he curled up in on himself. “Oh, don't be such a drama queen.”

 

“Ow,” Peter moaned miserably.

 

“Don't start that. You're fine.” Tony patted his leg and turned back towards his desk. He set the syringe of blood aside so he could come down here later and study it.

 

Turning back to Peter, Tony looked him up and down. “So 2, huh?” Peter sniffled and looked up at him. “We're gonna have to get you some smaller clothes. That shirt is too big and I don't think you're wearing pants or underwear...do you wear underwear or are you still in diapers?”

 

Peter wiped at his eyes and reached out for Tony. Tony ignored him in favor of checking his watch. “Stores should be opening soon. I'll have Happy pick you up a change of clothes,” he said as he sent Happy a text.

 

He lifted Peter up once the whining started back up and balanced him on his hips before he could grab onto his chest. “I'll put you down for a nap upstairs so I can work on this. Do you have to use the restroom before you lay down? Because if you pee on my sheets, you clean it up.”

 

Peter either didn't understand what he was saying or didn't know how to respond because he stayed silent. “'ony,” was all he seemed capable of saying.

 

“I'm holding you, kid, stop the crocodile tears.” Tony rolled his eyes wondering why he got stuck with this job. There was a reason he didn't have kids. And that reason was clear as day in his mind every time he looked at the toddler.

 

He made his way back into the elevator and up to the main floor. Hopefully, Peter would go down quickly and sleep. Walking through the living room, he went down the hallway into his bedroom. He walked into the en-suite bathroom and showed the toilet to Peter. “Do you have to go? Because I'm not joking about my sheets. They're the softest and most expensive sheets you'll ever feel and if you pee on them I will shave your head.” Tony brought him to the toilet and bunched up the t-shirt under his arms. With closed eyes, he held him over the seat. “Okay, I'm not watching, go.”

 

“'ony,” Peter said, sounding slightly panicked as his hands grabbed onto Tony's wrists tightly.

 

“I won't drop you,” Tony promised. He waited a few seconds until his arms started to get tired. “Nothing?” Tony peeked an eye open and saw Peter looking back at him in confusion. “Do you know what to do?”

 

“Go.”

 

“Yes. Number one, number two. You do it in the toilet so I don't have to clean it up.” If this kid wasn't potty trained, Tony was already thinking about how much he would have to charge the maid to change the diapers.

 

Tony let the shirt drop and lifted him back up. “I gave you a chance,” he warned as he carried him into his bedroom. He laid him on the large bed and pulled the blanket over him. “Sleep.”

 

He tried walking away, but he heard the ruffle of blankets and, “'ony.”

 

Tony turned around to see Peter already crawling after him. “No. Tony has work to do for you . You need to stay here. I'll put on the TV.”

 

He flipped on the television and put on a child's cartoon. He turned back to Peter, but he didn't seem to be happy. Tony sighed and laid him back down. “You asked for this,” he said as he pulled at the t-shirt well below his feet. He grabbed the ends and tied it in a tight knot so the shirt was like a sack.

 

Peter looked down at where his feet were hidden and grunted. He looked back up at Tony, looking as angry as a little 2-year-old could. “You should have listened.” Tony shrugged his shoulders. Peter furrowed his brow and tried kicking his feet. Tony laughed at him when he couldn't get free. He pulled the blanket back over him and stood up. “Now you stay here. I need to figure out how to get you back to yourself.”

 

He could hear Peter struggling as he walked away, but he didn't stop. “FRIDAY, let me know if he's about to hurt himself. Other than that, I have work to do.”

 

He went back to the infirmary where the syringe of Peter's blood was lying on the counter. He carefully poured in a dish under a microscope and studied it carefully. “Scan for any cells or bacteria or particles that don't belong in Peter's blood, FRIDAY.” The best part about having an AI was all of the cool tricks it could do in a short period of time that would take Tony hours.

 

Minutes later, FRIDAY was saying, “I have detected abnormal anomalies in his blood.”

 

“Can you tell what they're doing?”

 

“They're slowly trying to kill off Peter's immune system,” FRIDAY answered, not sounding too worried because she was just a robot.

 

“What? What does that have to do with Peter being a toddler? And why isn't his healing working?” Tony asked, looking back at his blood trying to see if he could spot the cells trying to kill Peter.

 

“It seems Peter's aggressor turned him into a child because children have weaker immune systems, if any at all, at that age. And his body is trying to fix itself. It is trying to get rid of whatever is keeping him this age, but it's too busy defending itself from the cells attacking the immune system.”

 

Tony followed her every word, trying to figure out if there was some way to stop this.

 

“Any normal person would have died within hours. But Peter's body keeps killing off the toxin, only to have more take its place.”

 

“So, Peter is a baby until we can get the toxin out of his body and then the spider bite will heal him up good as new?”

 

“Correct. But the toxin is getting stronger and Peter is only 2. He does not have a good chance of beating this,” FRIDAY so rudely pointed out.

 

“Hey, no talking like that in my house. We're gonna fix him.” Tony refused to let Peter die like this. He refused to let him die at all. Unless it was of old age. “So, he's still got his spider powers then, huh?”

 

“His healing won't be able to work while the toxin is in his body. It's too busy with that; it won't protect him from anything else.”

 

Tony scoffed. “Well, I'm not sending him into battle so that's okay.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “We need an antidote to flush everything out of his system.” He turned to FRIDAY and said, “Can you isolate the toxin so I can go through it and then we can figure out how to reverse it?”

 

“Of course, boss, but this is alien science. I'm not sure how long it will take to figure something out,” FRIDAY replied.

 

“I like to believe we're smarter than aliens, FRI.”  FRIDAY started her scan and displayed the progress on the computer screen so Tony could watch. “You know, if Bruce were here, we'd have the answer already,” Tony said. He really missed his science buddy, but he hadn't heard from him since Ultron. He hoped he was doing okay and didn't get himself into any trouble.

 

“While I decipher this, I suggest going to see Peter, boss.”

 

Tony glared at the ceiling. “Peter's fine.”

 

“He has not stopped crying since you left, boss,” FRIDAY challenged.

 

Tony rolled his eyes, trying not to hear those cries in his head. “He's building character. He can't cry and just get what he wants all the time.”

 

“But, boss--.”

 

“No more talking unless it's about the toxin.”

 

FRIDAY went silent.

 

Part of Tony missed the company even if it was in the form of an AI but he didn't apologize. If he went up there, Peter would attach himself to him. Tony couldn't have that for either of their sakes.


It had to be a half hour later when the doors to the infirmary opened behind him. Tony suddenly remembered why he preferred to work in his lab; nobody could barge in without the code.

 

“You've got to be kidding me, Tony.” That was Happy, but he didn't sound so happy.

 

Tony glanced at the computer screen, seeing FRIDAY had 60% of the toxin identified. Then he turned around to face Happy...and Peter.

 

“You can't leave a baby on another floor and hide away in here!” Happy scolded him as he held Peter close to his chest. “He was screaming up there.”

 

Tony crossed his arms over his chest. “Which is why I'm here. Where I can work in peace and quiet.”

 

Happy rolled his eyes. “It doesn't work that way. You can't just leave him.”

 

“Then why don't you watch him? You're his point guy!” Tony refused to look at the small bundle in Happy’s arms as he hid his face in his neck.

 

“He doesn't want me , Tony.” He took a deep breath and continued in in a calmer voice. “He obviously has some memories of being a teenager. He knows who people are and he knows he adores you. Why can't you just sit with him until he’s back to normal?”

 

Tony turned back around to work on the computer. 22% “We both know why. And I'm surprised you even have to ask.”

 

It was so quiet, Tony thought that Happy left. But then he spoke up a few seconds later, “You're not Howard.”

 

Tony squeezed his eyes shut. He had been hoping to avoid this conversation.  

 

“Howard was a shitty dad. But you're not. I've seen you with Peter and you already act like his father. It's just easier to ignore when he doesn't actually rely on you. But now he does. You can't just leave him to fend for himself like this.”

 

“I shouldn't be watching him. I'm not a dad. I'm not meant to be a dad,” Tony argued.

 

“And why not?”

 

Words that Tony had heard too much as a child slipped out before he could stop them, “Because I break everything I touch.”

 

Happy’s hand was suddenly on his back. “You know that's not true.”

 

Tony stayed silent.

 

“Just...give him a chance, okay? Stay with him today and if it doesn't work out, then I'll take him.” Happy turned Tony around slowly.

 

Tony's eyes fell on the baby in Happy’s arms and he fixed his own arms to cradle the boy. Happy smiled and lifted him carefully into Tony's hold. Tony fixed his positioning so it was safe for Peter and comfortable for both of them. He looked down at the toddler and saw those big brown eyes staring up at him.

 

And for the first time in a long time, Tony didn't mind being handed something.