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Don't Look Back

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Peter stood alone in the familiar room, looking around at his dimly lit surroundings. A small night-light cast soft light on the stuffed toys and child-friendly furniture in the room, as well as the animal caricatures painted on the white walls. The room filled Peter with an inner comforting warmth.

In the corner of the room by the darkened window stood a crib, and as Peter moved closer, he saw a small baby boy swaddled in blankets and cuddling a teddy bear tightly in his chubby arms. Peter looked down at the sleeping babe and smiled as the small boy opened his deep brown eyes and looked up at him.

As soon as the baby’s huge, innocent eye’s locked onto Peter’s, the child’s face fell and he let out a pitiful cry.

“Shhh, shh, it’s okay,” Peter said gently, trying to quieten the baby. But the boy’s cries simply got louder and louder, and Peter had to cover his ears.

The bedroom door behind Peter opened with a bang, startling Peter as he whipped around to find Tony Stark striding through the room towards him.

“I didn’t mean to, he just-” Peter began, but cut himself off as Tony brushed past him and lifted the child carefully into his arms. The cries quietened down to whimpers as Tony cradled the boy tightly.

A gentle hand landed on Peter’s shoulder and he turned around to find his mother smiling at him sadly.

“Peter?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I… I-” Peter stuttered.

“Aww, my baby,” his mother cooed, tugging Peter into a tight hug and stroking his hair.

Peter melted into the embrace, felling warm and safe, until his mother sagged in his arms.

“Mum? What?”

He pulled away, and his mother fell to the floor, limp and lifeless. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, trailing across her cold, pale skin.

Peter was shaking, bringing wobbling hands to his mother’s face.

“Mum? I don’t know… I don’t-”

A strong hand wrenched Peter away from his mother’s body. Tony towered over him, seething with anger and rage. The baby in his arms was gone, and instead he clutched a bottle of booze in his right hand like it was a lifeline.

“Wha’ did you do?” Tony drunkenly slurred, stumbling forwards as Peter shuffled further away. “You killed them! You ru’ned my life!”

“No, please!” Peter protested, tears streaming down his face. “I didn’t mean to! I’m sorry!”

Tony welled in fury. “Sorry doesn’t bring them back! You killed them! You killed them! You ruined my life!” he shouted, lifting his arm and throwing the beer bottle at Peter’s head.

Peter woke with a violent thrash as he tried to dodge the beer bottle that wasn’t actually there. Yet again, he sat up in bed panting and with cold sweat dripping from him, making his bedding cling uncomfortably to his body. He hastily pushed the duvet off himself and switched on his bedside lamp. To his relief, the lamp light illuminated the familiar surroundings of his bedroom in Queens, in all of its nerdy glory, and assured him that his dream was in fact that; a dream.

Unfortunately, he was no stranger to nightmares, but he hadn’t had them this badly since Uncle Ben died. It had been three months since he got back from his time in the year two-thousand, and he’d been having nightmares ever since. They usually consisted of him watching his loved-ones die and it being his fault. Usually it was his parents (Mary and Richard) and Uncle Ben, but sometimes he dreamed that he saw Tony fall to the floor in a dead Iron Man suit, or watch May get killed before his eyes.

Peter eventually calmed his breathing back to a regular tempo and pushed his sweaty bangs out of his face as he looked around the room for a distraction. Of course, his gaze fell on where he’d flung his Spider-man suit on his desk chair when he got back from patrol earlier that evening.

Glancing at his phone, he found the time to be only four in the morning, so he’d gotten about three hours of sleep after his late-night study session for the English test he had today. Well, beggars can’t be choosers, at least he got some sleep that night, and it was more than most nights.

With a resigned and tired sigh, Peter got up from his bed quietly and swapped his Star Wars pyjamas for his suit and clambered less than majestically out of his bedroom window.

“Good morning, Peter,” Karen’s life-like voice greeted. “It seems as though you have received a less than adequate amount of sleep tonight, which added to the regular lack of sleep you’ve been getting recently, could effect your reflexes and assertiveness as well as your overall health.”

“Yeah, yeah, Karen, you say that every day,” Peter grumbled as he swung between buildings and ran over rooftops.

“Maybe one day you’ll listen to me,” Karen replied in a tone as close to sarcastic as an AI could get.

Peter laughed. “I really need to talk to Tony about him making you so sassy.”

Talk to Tony.

Now that would be something. He hadn’t spoken to the man in about two weeks apart from a few sparse texts now and then. You’d think that finding out that your (almost) father figure was your actual father would strengthen a relationship. But Peter was actually making a conscious effort to see his father less than he would ordinarily.

Speaking of the devil.

“Incoming call from Tony Stark,” Karen informed him as he landed on a nearby building, spotting a mugging going on in the street below.

“Don’t answer it,” Peter said in an off-handed voice as he jumped down to the street. “Hey,” Peter called to the man in dark clothes currently snatching a smaller man’s wallet from his hands. To be fair, it wasn’t hard to be smaller than the mugger; he had to be at least 6’5’’ and looked like he could bench press a truck. “There are better ways to get money, you know,” he said, almost lamely, too tired to think up one of his usual witty quips.

“Stay out of this, bug boy,” the man sneered, pointing a small knife in Peter’s direction.

Peter rolled his eyes. “Not a bug! Spiders are arachnids.” He quickly shot a web at the guy's knife and yanked it out of his hand, webbing the wallet with his other hand. Peter discarded the knife but threw the wallet back to the smaller guy, who was looking at Peter wide eyed. “Go,” Peter told the man, who quickly scampered down the road.

Peter turned around just in time to catch a punch the big guy had thrown at his face. Peter twisted the arm behind the man’s back and webbed it there. To Peter’s utter shock, the man merely spun around and punched Peter painfully hard in the gut with his free hand.

Had Peter not been sleep deprived, he might have been alert enough to block the punch. But for now, Peter merely doubled over in pain. The big guy roughly grabbed Peter by with one arm and lifted him up.

Peter thrashed wildly in the man’s grip, but it was useless as he felt himself being thrown through the air. He collided hard with something solid and slid down it to the floor, feeling a sharp pain and a trickle of blood on his right calf. He'd hit a dumpster and cut his leg on a piece of jagged metal protruding from it.

“Ouch,” Peter groaned as he rolled over and saw the mugger running fast down the street, and away from Peter.

“Peter,” Karen said softly in his ear. “You had sustained a wound to your right calf that requires medical attention, as well as a blow to the abdomen that will cause bruising. I think that your lack of sleep hindered your ability to defend yourself.”

“Yeah,” Peter bit out as he tried to get to his feet, stumbling slightly as he put weight on his right leg and pain flared through his lacerated calf muscle. “I think so, too.”

“Incoming call from Tony Star-”

“Decline,” Peter grumbled as he used a web to hoist himself to the top of the building next to him, stumbling once he got to the top from the pain in his leg. “Today is going to suck,” he sighed as he began carefully web-slinging his way home.

 

Peter made it home at about five-thirty, knowing he only had half an hour to patch himself up before May’s alarm went off, and May definitely couldn’t know that Peter patrolled late at night (early in the morning?). He pulled off his sweaty suit and grabbed the first-aid kit he kept hidden under his bed, trying his best to not drip blood on the floor.

He inwardly debated for a moment about what to do, but decided that for now he should stop the bleeding, then take an early morning shower to wash all the blood off and wrap his leg up after he washed.

With a small hiss, Peter hobbled to his closet and rummaged in his pile of too-small clothes at the back and found an old black t-shirt he could use to staunch the blood flow without the stain being noticeable. At ten-to six, Peter hid his suit in his backpack, under his school books, and quietly made his way to the bathroom.

The warmth of the water and steam was comforting, easing the aches in Peter’s fatigued muscles and lulled his mind into a sleepy stupor.

“Peter? You okay in there, honey?”

Peter was startled by Aunt May’s voice calling through the bathroom door. He slipped slightly as he struggled to straighten up from where he’d been leaning against the wall under the soft spray of warm water.

“Uh… yeah, I’m good,” Peter replied lazily.

“Okay, sweetie, I’ll make you some breakfast,” Aunt May replied.

Peter quickly turned off the water and grabbed his towel, using a wad of toilet roll to stop the renewed flow of blood from his leg getting on the towel. He wrapped the wound shoddily in the bandages from the first aid kit, before getting dressed and heading out to the kitchen. If he was lucky, the wound would be healed in a day or two.

“Why are you up so early today, Peter?” Aunt May asked as she bustled about the kitchen making scrambled eggs. “You look a bit pale. Are you sick?”

With small sigh Peter slumped down into a chair at the dining table and rested his head in his arms. “I’m fine, I just didn’t sleep well last night.”

May looked at him sadly. “I know it’s Friday, but maybe you should skip patrol tonight and get to bed early.”

Peter shook his head. “It’s fine, I’ll wake up a bit when I get to school anyway.”

If only that were true.

 

***

 

Peter spent most of his school day hiding his limp and reminding himself to pay attention to the teacher, as well as struggling to get his hand and his mind to cooperate to complete his work. He spent the hour the teacher had given them to complete their English essays staring blankly at the file paper in front of him before hurriedly scribbling down anything he could remember about images of nature in the poem they’d been studying in the last fifteen minutes of the lesson.

“Dude, what’s up with you today?” Ned asked as they sat down at their usual table for lunch. “You’re super quiet and you didn’t even get Mr Nelson's Star Wars reference in physics.”

“I’m just tired,” Peter mumbled around his mouthful of sandwich.

Sensing that Peter didn’t want to talk about it anymore, Ned quickly changed the subject. “Hey, finally saved up enough money to get that Lego set I wanted.”

“The Millennium Falcon one?” Peter asked suddenly much more interested.

Ned nodded with a knowing smile. “Want to help me build it this weekend?”

“Of course, I do, that’s amazing.”

Just then, Peter’s phone buzzed in his pocket. Pulling it out, Peter saw that it was a text from Tony.

Tony: I’m picking you up after school today. Already spoken to May, she says you can stay over this weekend. No excuses.

“What’s up?” Ned asked from beside him, leaning over to read the text on Peter’s phone. “Oh, cool! You haven’t seen Tony in ages.”

Peter sighed, slipping the phone back in his pocket without replying to Tony.

“I don’t understand how you’re able to keep it a secret that he’s your dad, I’d tell everyone that would listen,” Ned rambled, unaware of Peter’s discomfort.

“Shh, keep it down,” Peter hissed.

He’d told Ned everything what had happened when he travelled back in time the day after he got back. Well, everything apart from the fact that he’d visited an alternative future with Fred Murray. But no-one else knew that Tony was his biological father besides himself, Ned, May and Tony. They’d agreed that the public never needed to know that Tony had a long-lost son, and they certainly didn’t need to know that said son was Tony’s "personal intern”.

“Oh, right… sorry,” Ned said sheepishly, before squinting at Peter suspiciously. “You used to get super excited when Tony picked you up.”

“I am excited, Ned,” Peter insisted. “I’m just…”

“Tired?” Ned supplied with a raised eyebrow.

Peter sighed. “Yeah.”

 

***

 

After struggling to concentrate through the rest of the day, Peter did not struggle to spot the brightly coloured Audi parked outside the school that undoubtedly belonged to Tony Stark. However, Peter did not manage to spot Flash’s foot protruding, quite deliberately, in front of Peter. Consequently, Peter fell forward completely missing the couple of steps in front of him and smacked his face on the concrete ground hard.

Thankfully, Peter had been a let out of class little late, so barely anyone was around to witness his dramatic fall.

Peter got to his feet and wiped the blood from his chin and cheek, where he’d grazed the pavement. He turned around just in time to watch MJ, who'd been nearby, kick Flash perfectly in the balls. He doubled over clutching the sensitive area as MJ quickly marched towards Peter and inspected him with a half worried, half curious glare.

“You okay, loser?” she asked.

Peter nodded, feeling himself blush. “Thank you.”

“No problem, I’ve been wanting an excuse to kick him in the balls for years,” MJ said with a small smirk.

“If a teacher saw, you would’ve gotten detention for, like, a week.”

“I know,” she shrugged. “You saying I shouldn’t have done it?”

Peter shrugged. “I’m saying you didn’t have to.”

“I did,” MJ assured him before walking away and leaving him standing there on his own.

With a sigh, Peter turned back around and began walking to the car, only to see Tony half way across the car park and heading towards him.

“I saw you go down, are you okay?” Tony asked, not waiting for a reply before gently tilting Peter’s head back to inspect the damage to his face.

“I’m fine,” Peter said, before pulling out of Tony’s hold and heading towards the car. “I fell.”

“If you fell, why did your friend kick that guy in the nuts?” Tony challenged, as he caught up to Peter and climbed in the driver’s seat.

Peter merely shrugged as he slouched into the passenger seat. Tony started the car and they travelled in silence for a few long minutes.

“Are you being bullied?” Tony asked suddenly, glancing at Peter.

“No.”

“Then why did that ass-hat trip you up, huh?” Tony couldn’t control his anger anymore and he gripped the steering wheel tightly.

The silence in the car was deafening as Peter looked determindly out of the window, not trusting himself to speak around the sudden lump in his throat and prickle of tears in his eyes.

Tony sighed loudly but spoke in the same gritty tone. “Is that why you’ve been ignoring me? You keep blowing me off when we’re meant to spend time together! You’re my son, Pete, but I never see you anymore!”

“No. No, I’m not… it’s just…” Peter trailed off, desperate to save Tony’s feelings, but unable to speak without letting his hidden tears show.

The waver in his voice didn’t go unnoticed by Tony as he quickly softened his expression and moved one hand from the wheel to gently squeeze Peter’s knee.

“I’m sorry, kiddo, I didn’t mean to upset you,” he almost whispered. “It’s okay. I know you haven’t been sleeping, and I know that you got hurt last night.” Peter looked up at him sharply. “I get a notification whenever you get hurt,” Tony explained. “So, why don’t we get your face and leg fixed up, then we can talk about everything tomorrow while we’re fixing the hole in you suit?”

Peter nodded solemnly and rested his head glumly against the window, silently cursing the loud engine and vibrations of the car passing swiftly over tarmac. Despite the noise and uncomfortable position, Peter slowly drifted off into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

He awoke groggily to a hand shaking his shoulder and Tony’s face a mere foot in front of his.

“Did you have a nice nap, kiddo?” Tony asked.

With a confused frown, Peter looked around and found that they were parked in the compound’s basement car park, and Tony was smiling gently at him from the driver’s seat.

“We’re here?” Peter asked in a small voice.

“Yep,” Tony said, unplugging both himself and Peter. “Let’s get you up to the med bay, shall we? Dr Banner’s going to take a look at you.”

Tony got out the car and walked around to open Peter’s door.

“Dr Banner?!” Peter asked excitedly as soon as Tony pulled to door open.

“The one and only,” Tony smiled down at the kid.

Peter had met the man before a few times, as Bruce had returned from his adventures in space with Thor a couple of months ago, but the kid was still star-struck whenever their paths cross on his visits to the compound. It was definitely not as bad as his embarrassed fanboying over Steve Rogers, though.

Tony had been exceptionally busy the last few months making amended accords, without the help of Secretary Ross, that he knew Steve and the others would agree to and worked hard on getting Wanda Maximoff and Bucky Barnes legally allowed back into the country. Thankfully, everything had gone smoothly, and the Avengers were back living in the compound, even if Barnes was on house arrest until some of the more complicated parts were worked out with the government (Barnes didn’t seem to mind, he was quite happy as long as he was with Steve).

And, although Peter had been trying his hardest to ignore Tony, at times where he’d run out of excuses or Tony had contacted him through May, Peter had had to spend the odd weekend here or there at the compound, following Tony around like a lost dog whenever they ventured out of their suite or the lab. This meant that Peter had the fright of his life a few weeks ago when he blindly followed Tony into the kitchen and saw the avengers sitting around the large dining room table playing Monopoly. Well, most of them were playing, some of them, like Bucky and Wanda, had never played before and were watching with amused interest as the rest of them angrily fought to collect properties and beg Clint, who had an impressive pile of paper money, to lend them some extra cash.

“Nope, this is all mine!” Clint said, refusing to lend Sam a meagre hundred dollars as he fanned himself with his money notes. “Oh look, the tin can has decided to join us!” Clint teased as he spotted Tony.

Everyone turned to look at Tony and, in turn, Peter. Peter felt his cheeks redden and he subconsciously stepped closer to Tony, feeling his arm brush his father’s was comforting. Seeming to understand how Peter was feeling, Tony had hastened to lay his arm across Peter’s shoulders.

“Sorry to disappoint, but we’re just passing through,” Tony quipped back, leading Peter to the kitchen island, but he could still feel their stares on his back as they went.

“I thought you said you were busy tonight?” Natasha Romanoff (the actual Black Widow, oh god! Peter thought, mentally freaking out) asking in an accusing manner.
“I am,” Tony remarked, starting the coffee maker and putting bread in the toaster. “I’m spending time with Peter. We just came to get a snack,” he explained nodding his head towards Peter.

Peter shot him a scared glance, but his father simply smiled reassuringly.

“Oh, so this is your son?” Rhodey asked, innocently and slightly curiously, squinting at Peter.

“What?!” the rest of the Avengers chorused, their heads snapping round to stare at Peter, who felt his heart’s speed increase by about a factor of five.

Tony put his head in his hands. “Jesus Christ, Rhodes, you weren’t supposed to tell them!” he reprimanded, glaring at Tony.

“Oh yeah, sorry, man. My bad,” Rhodey smiled sheepishly.

“You have a son?” Sam asked.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Bruce, who’d been quietly reading a book in the corner until now.

“Is Pepper his mother?” Clint asked.

“How come we’ve not met him before?” Wanda asked, looking at Peter with mild interest.

“Okay, slow down guys, or you’ll scare poor Peter away,” Tony said, raising a hand to stop their hurled questions, using his other to grip Peter’s shoulder comfortingly. “Yes, I have a son. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know if Peter was ready yet. No, Pepper is not his mother, he is the offspring of an ex of mine. You’ve not met him before because, firstly, I haven’t known Peter for that long, secondly you guys haven’t exactly been around, and lastly, he lives with his aunt in Queens most of the time.”

Peter could have sworn he saw a flicker of recognition in Steve’s gaze at the mention of him living in Queens, but it was quickly covered up as the team started asking more questions and muttering, and Steve, ever the gentleman, got to his feet and strode over to Peter. He could feel his father’s hand tighten on his shoulder and knew that not everything was back to normal between him and Steve. But the captain just smiled and offered his hand for Peter to shake.

“It’s nice to meet you, Peter.”

“Uh, hm… yeah, you too, Mr – Captain Rogers,” Peter eventually stuttered out, taking Steve’s outstretched hand with his own shaking one.

Steve smiled pleasantly. “Just Steve is fine.”

And in that moment, Peter thought peed his pants just a tiny little bit.

The rest of the team introduced themselves and now it was common for them to smile and greet Peter kindly when they saw him at the compound. However, Peter was still definitely not used to seeing his childhood heroes and certainly not used to them knowing him on a first-name basis.

“Dr Banner is going to help me?” Peter asked worriedly as he hauled himself up out of the car, barely concealing a wince as he stood on his injured leg.

“Yeah,” Tony shrugged, leading Peter to the elevator. “I thought you liked him?”

Peter sighed, only partly from the effort he was putting in not to show his limp in front of Tony. “I do… I just get nervous…” he admitted.

“Aww, are you shy in front of your heroes, buddy?” Tony cooed, pulling Peter into a one-armed hug as they made it into the elevator.

“No,” Peter huffed indignantly.

Tony laughed at him before saying, “To the med-bay please, FRIDAY.”

Peter stumbled slightly as the lift started ascending and let out a small gasp as he put his full weight on his right leg to balance. Tony frowned and put a steadying arm around Peter.

“That leg must be worse than I thought,” Tony commented, looking worried.

“It’s fine, Tony,” Peter insisted.

Tony clicked his tongue. “For some reason, I’m hesitant to trust your opinion of what is ‘fine’.”

The lift stopped, and Tony kept his arm around Peter, slightly supporting him as the made their way to the room at the far end, which was the room Peter usually used so that no one would see him.

Dr Banner was waiting for them when they arrived. He smiled, but it turned into a sort of grimace as he took in the graze on Peter’s face and the way he sort of hobbled into the room, helped along by Tony.

“Hey, Peter,” Bruce greeted kindly. “Tony says you’re a bit banged up.”

Peter smiled dumbly at Bruce, his eyes lighting up the way they always do when he’s around any of the Avengers.

“Hi, Dr Banner,” Peter said quietly, already blushing.

“He cut his leg last night and he face-planted the floor after school this afternoon,” Tony explained, getting straight to the point.

Bruce nodded, already thinking the injuries over in his head. He was the only other avenger who knew about Peter’s alter-ego, as he’d had to treat him for one or two injuries before and so had had to be informed of Peter’s enhanced metabolism and healing factor.

“Come and sit on the bed so I can take a look,” Bruce said, patting the nearby bed gently.

With the help of Tony, Peter settled on the bed in a slightly reclined position with his injured leg stuck out straight in front of him and the other tucked comfortably underneath him. Bruce rolled up Peter’s trouser leg to reveal blood-soaked bandages beneath. He unwrapped them and winced at the wound beneath.

“Peter, what exactly did you cut yourself on?” he asked, pushing his glasses up and moving away to get supplies.

“Uh, a dumpster,” Peter supplied.

“Did you clean the wound when you got home?”

“Yeah,” Peter said honestly.

Returning to the bedside with medical supplies in hand, Bruce sighed. “You have a minor infection,” he explained. “I don’t think your cleaning was enough, especially considering you were cut on a dumpster, which was probably filled with and covered in filth. It’s also a bit deeper than I’m happy with, I think you probably should’ve come straight to me with this one.”

Seeing Tony worry his lip beside him, Peter knew he was making a mental note to upgrade Karen’s systems.

It was comforting for Peter that Tony stayed by his bedside the whole time Bruce cleaned, stitched and bandaged the wound concealing a layer of ointment in the gauze to fight the infection, even gripping Peter’s hand as he tried to stop himself squirming at the feeling of the needle sewing his skin together, knowing through some omniscient power how uncomfortable Peter was with needles. He sat beside Peter and held the boy’s head still while Bruce cleaned the grazes on his face and put steri-strips on the deeper cuts.

Soon, he was being discharged from the med-bay with Banner’s warning not to put too much stress on his calf and to return tomorrow afternoon to have the stitches removed.

Tony helped Peter hobble into the lift and asked FRIDAY to take them to the communal floor, hastening to reassure Peter when the boy gave him a startled glare.

“Don’t worry, most of the Avengers are out on a training trip to Canada, they’re not back until Sunday,” Tony said, squeezing Peter closer to his side. “Only Bruce, Cap, Barnes and I stayed behind.”

Peter relaxed somewhat at this, he wasn’t sure that he could handle the full team right now, he was way too tired for their boisterousness and questions.

They arrived at the floor and Tony kept his arm around his son’s waist to help him over to the couch, much to Peter’s annoyance.

“Thanks, but I can walk on my own,” Peter said, trying not to sound too harsh but still pulling away from Tony.

“Sure you can, kiddo,” Tony replied sarcastically, eyebrows raised in disbelief.

Peter just huffed and flopped heavily and tiredly back onto the couch, bringing his legs up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them, pressing his face into his knees in an attempt to oppress a sudden headache.

“What do you want to watch, buddy?” Tony asked, sitting down next to Peter with a very parental sigh, one that Peter had heard Uncle Ben do whenever he had sat beside Peter in bed to read him a story. A sort of sigh that showed both tiredness and love; a sigh that only dads knew how to do.

“Hmmph,” Peter grumbled, not lifting his head from his knees.

Tony shuffled closer to Peter and prodded his arm. “What’s the matter, bud? Are you tired after your early start this morning?”

“How do you know about that?” Peter asked still speaking into his knees.

With a laugh, Tony relaxed back into the sofa, apparently sufficiently satisfied that Peter was okay. “Like I said,” he explained. “I got an alert when you hurt yourself. That reminds me; FRIDAY, put ‘review and upgrade alerts in Spidey’s suit’ on my to-do list for this weekend.”

“Of course, boss,” FRIDAY said.

“Also, play Brooklyn Nine-Nine season 3 on the TV for me FRI.”

“Playing now,” FRIDAY’s robotic voice said as the TV blinked into life.

Peter watched the TV with drooping eyes for all of about five minutes before he fell into a long dreamless sleep curled into Tony’s side.

***

He awoke to new sounds and smells permeating the room around him. Peter could tell there were new people in the room, the smell of the outside clinging to them and their muffled conversation carrying through the still air. As well as that, he could hear the oven fan whirring and smell pasta, tomato, cheese and minced beef; someone was making lasagne.

With a sleepy sigh, he shifted his head on his pillow that smelled like Tony and felt like warmth.

“You waking up a bit, buddy?” Tony asked, and Peter could hear the smile on his voice. Soft yet calloused hands weaved through his hair soothingly but brought Peter’s attention to the pounding in his skull; clearly his headache had not dimmed any during his nap.

“No,” Peter mumbled into his father’s chest. “’m still asleep.”

Tony’s laugh rumbled through his torso, vibrating Peter’s head as it echoed around his rib cage. A smile crept onto Peter’s lips, and he finally opened his eyes, looking up at Tony’s smiling face. At times like this, Peter felt bad for ignoring Tony and finding excuses not to visit the compound. Tony was very rarely as content and carefree than when he was with Peter. Of course, he was probably the same with Pepper, but Peter knew that his father cherished his relationship with his son, and Peter was ruining it.

The annoying thing was, Peter knew deep down that he’d made the right decision all those months ago. The other outcome could have killed millions, and it wasn’t like he piloted the plane that crashed and killed his parents, and he didn’t pull the trigger and release the bullet that killed Ben. But Peter wondered if maybe there was a way he could’ve have saved everyone. Maybe if he’d put a bit more thought into it, he could have fixed the future so that his parents and his uncle survived, as well as making sure that the avengers and Iron Man were still around.

He had wondered if he could go back to the specific time his parents and Uncle died and help. But that wouldn’t work, they might recognise him and he could risk damaging the future rather than fixing it. But maybe, just maybe, the alternative future worked out well. Maybe Peter did make the wrong decision, but there’s no way to know for sure.

“There’s my sleeping beauty,” Tony teased, eyes creasing with affection as he stroked Peter’s hair.

With an indignant grunt, Peter rolled off of Tony and slowly sat up, trying not to aggravate his headache.

“Hey, you two.”

They both looked around to see Captain America taking a perfectly cooked lasagne out of the oven. His boots were slightly muddy, so Peter guessed he'd just been on a walk around the compound with Bucky.

“Dinner’s ready,” he said kindly, while Bucky hovered by the man’s shoulder and watched intently as he worked.

“Thanks, Cap. We’ll be right over,” Tony replied, and stood.

Frowning, Tony looked round to see that Peter had not moved a muscle.

“Captain America made us dinner…?” he breathed, staring at Tony with awe-struck eyes.

With a bark of laughter, Tony hauled Peter to his feet. “You’re not going to freak out, are you?” he asked jokingly, but quickly turned serious. “Are you going to freak out? If it’s too overwhelming, we can eat in my suite.”

Peter shook his head, instantly regretting it as he headache flared angrily behind his eyes and had to grip the arm of the couch to balance himself. “No, it’s fine, Tony.” He moved over to the table quickly, before Tony’s worried glance could manifest into a question about Peter’s health.

However, he panicked as he reached the large dinning table, not knowing where to sit, and waited for Tony to take a seat before sitting down (right next to him).

Soon, Bucky and Steve came and sat opposite them, bringing the lasagne dish as well as plates and cutlery with them. Both pairs of eyes found the grazes on Peter’s face as they sat down.

“Uh,” Steve said clearing his throat. “FRIDAY? Can you tell Bruce that dinner’s ready?”

“Certainly, Captain Rogers,” the AI replied.

The four of them sat and started to serve themselves lasagne and salad, Tony made sure that Peter got a slightly larger portion than himself.

“So,” Steve said, glancing around the table. “What happened to, uh, to your face, Peter?”

Peter looked up from his plate and could already feel a blush creeping onto his cheeks. “I- I fell.”

He heard Tony huff beside him, but thankfully the man didn’t correct him.

Bruce arrived and sat on the other side of Tony, and they fell into easy conversation about Bruce’s latest project. Steve and Bucky were also talking quietly amongst themselves, so Peter just sat patiently and ate his lasagne, which was actually delicious; who knew Captain America was such a good cook.

“Did you get anywhere with those time-travel devices you had?” Bruce asked Tony, and Peter flinched.

“Yeah, actually,” Tony said casually, not noticing that Peter was listening in. “The guy was using some Chitauri energy core’s he stole from damage control. It was kind of cool actually.”

“You’ve destroyed the devices now though, right?” Bruce said, a little nervously.

Tony laughed. “Are you kidding me? Of course I haven’t! It’s the first recorded man-made time travel tech, I’m not going to destroy it.”

“But if that tech gets into the wrong hands Tony-” Bruce said, a frown creasing his features.

“It won’t get into the wrong hands, they’re locked up downstairs in my lab.”

They carried on bickering, but Peter wasn’t paying attention. He knew Tony hadn’t destroyed the devices like the NYPD had asked him to once he’d taken a look at them, but he didn’t know that he’d kept them in the compound. And, if Peter could head to the lab at some point, he could easily take them.

But it wasn’t as though he could go back in time and reverse what he’d done. The Goggle-man had practically confirmed that whatever happened in the alternative future was bad. But was it worse than what happened in this future? How could Peter be sure that he’d actually made the right decision? Maybe the Goggle-man was just trying to save his family, who’d died in the battle of New York.

Oh God, Peter thought to himself. It’s my fault that the Goggle-man’s family died, too. Maybe the alternative future wasn’t so bad, and he just wanted to save his wife and child.

“Kid?”

Peter’s mind came crashing back to reality, where he was sitting at the dinner table with Bucky Barnes and Captain America staring at him worriedly. Tony turned around at the mention of Peter.

“Peter, your hands,” Bucky said quietly.

My hands? Peter had no idea what he was talking about until Tony swore loudly and grabbed Peter’s clenched fists.

“Oh…” Peter breathed in slight shock.

Blood was slipping between his fingers and dripping to the table. In his right hand he’d bent his fork out of shape and the contorted metal was now squished tightly in his bloodied palms.

Tony quickly opened his fists and practically dragged Peter towards the sink, throwing the fork aside and putting Peter’s hands under the stream of water from the tap.

“What were you thinking, Peter?” Tony asked tersely.

But Peter didn’t reply. Instead he just watched the blood wash off his hands and mix with the water like ink, before falling into the basin and swirl around the plug hole before slipping down the drain. With the blood gone, Peter could see the deep crescent cuts on his hands from where his nails had been digging into his palms. He must have been clenching his fists pretty hard, because Peter’s nails were unusually short, due to his nervous habit of biting them when he was nervous.

“I don’t think he did it on purpose, Tony,” Steve protested kindly, as he hovered by the table, apparently not sure what to do. “It looked like his mind was a million miles away.”

With a sigh, Tony stopped the water and stuffed a napkin in each of Peter’s hands. Automatically, Peter curled his fists around the napkins, and Tony immediately took his hands in his own with a sharp reprimand.

“Don’t do that.”

Peter flinched slightly, feeling guilty for making Tony worry. Tony bent down slightly to look him in the eye, and Peter could already feel tears brimming on his bottom eye lid. Silently, Tony pulled Peter into a hug and planted a kiss in his hair, while Peter tried not to get blood or tears on his dad’s shirt.

“Here you go, Tony,” Bruce said suddenly, bringing their hug to an end. With gentle hands, Tony led Peter back to the table, sitting him down before letting Bruce start cleaning his hands properly with the first-aid kit he’d brought over.

Feeling slightly embarrassed at his own behaviour, Peter turned his face into Tony’s chest, who was sitting beside him, so he could try and forget that two super-soldiers had seen him have a mental malfunction. Tony held him tightly and played with his fingers in his son’s hair while Bruce wrapped Peter’s hands lightly in bandages, which seemed a bit over the top for a few small cuts.

“It’s so it doesn’t happen again while they’re healing,” Bruce explained at Tony’s raised eyebrows.

“He won’t…” Tony trailed off.

“He didn’t do it on purpose, Tony,” Bruce said. “It’s not uncommon for people to do things like this subconsciously.”

For once, Peter didn’t mind people talking about him like he wasn’t there. He felt oddly empty of emotion and thoughts. Peter sat quietly while everyone else finished eating, not missing their glances at his hands, all of them making sure he wasn’t hurting himself again.

“Why don’t we watch a film?” Steve suggested when they’d all finished, looking pointedly at Tony before glancing at Peter.

“Okay,” Tony said with a reluctant nod, as things were still somewhat awkward between him and Steve. “You two still have loads of films to catch up on, and Brucie hasn’t seen any new releases for a few years.”

“We should let Peter decide,” Bucky spoke up.

Peter snapped his head up and looked questioningly at the super soldier.

“If he wants to,” Bucky added.

Shaking his head, Peter replied quietly, “I don’t mind.” He looked up at Tony with eyes that practically begged his father to get the attention off him.

“I don’t think any of them have seen the latest Star Wars movie,” Tony quickly suggested, winking at Peter.

“Solo?” Peter asked.

“No, the good one.”

Peter laughed slightly. “The Force Awakens?”

“That’s the one,” Tony beamed.

They all put their dishes in the washer and headed to the living area. FRIDAY started playing the movie as they settled down on the couch, Bruce and Steve sat together on a sofa facing the TV, and Peter thought that Bucky would sit beside Steve, but to his surprise the super soldier sat himself next to Peter. Tony was on Peter’s other side, an arm around his shoulders, and Bucky sat a respectable few inches away, so Peter didn’t feel too uncomfortable. He did his best to pretend that he wasn’t sitting between Iron Man and the actual Winter Soldier and concentrate on the film.

It was about halfway through the film when Peter felt his eye-lids start to droop, try as he might to fight to oncoming fatigue. Closing his eyes gave slight relief to the still pounding ache in his skull and the ever-present guilt that seemed to be built into his very being. So, he gave in to sleep, allowing his mind a slight respite to the constantly raging tempest of guilt.

Chapter Text

The next day, Peter awoke in his room with no memory of how he got there but feeling remarkably well rested and not as though he had been half awake the whole night, like he usually was. FRIDAY was telling him that Tony said breakfast was ready and that he should go down to the common floor to get it.

Peter jumped in and out of the shower in record time and threw on some of the clothes he kept permanently in his bedroom at the compound, before speed-walking down towards the communal area. He stopped just in front of the door, however, as he heard raised voices.

“I’m just saying that you could tell us a bit more about him, and about your… relationship,” Steve was saying defensively.

“And I’m just saying that he’s probably not comfortable with me sharing that information with you,” Tony replied in the sassy yet serious tone only he had mastered.

Steve sighed loudly. “I thought we agreed to not keep secrets anymore.”

“We did and I’m not keeping secrets about me, it’s about me and Peter,” Tony insisted, sounding exhausted with the conversation. “I’m trying to keep him safe. To keep him out of the media and out of the public eye.”

“But we aren't the media or the public,” Steve countered.

“I know,” Tony said, and Peter could tell he was rolling his eyes. “But the less people who know about him, the better. We have enemies, Steve, and if they find out about Peter then they’ll target him.”

“I’m not saying you should tell the public about him,” Steve argued. “I’m just saying that we should know more about him, in case something happens to you or in case there’s an emergency.”

“Well, if that happens then he’ll tell you what you need to know, or FRIDAY will, or I will, or whatever,” Tony sighed, dejectedly.

“Tony,” Bucky spoke up, and it sounded like the name was new on his lips. “What Steve’s trying to say is that after what happened last night, when he hurt himself, we were worried. And that got us thinking, if something happens to you or him then we want to be able to help him, but we can’t do that if we don’t know any more than a name. We’ve only met him, what? Four times.”

There was a pause, while Tony seemed to be considering the question. “I’ll talk to Peter, see what he thinks,” Tony said, sounding somewhat defeated.

Peter decided that this was as good of a time as any to make his debut and opened the door and slipped into the room.

“Morning, kiddo,” Tony greeted loudly, apparently trying to ensure that Steve and Bucky knew Peter was there, so they didn’t keep talking about him.

“Hi,” Peter replied, letting Tony sweep him into a brisk hug as he approached the kitchen.

“Good morning, Peter. Do you want some pancakes?” Steve asked, already at the stove with a large pile of pancakes stacked on a plate beside him. His brow furrowed as he looked at Peter, the grazes on his face had already healed apart from a few lasting marks.

“Yes please, Mr- uh – Captain Rogers,” Peter stuttered.

Steve smiled and chuckled a bit. “Just Steve is fine,” he said, putting the last pancakes on the plate and bringing to the table, which was already littered with all manner of toppings.

“What’s the special occasion, Rogers,” Tony asked, helping himself to a pancake.

“You never make pancakes.”

“Selfishness,” Bucky supplied simply as he took a ginormous bite of pancake.

“No,” Steve hastened to deny. “It’s just if I make them when the whole team’s here then everyone wants some and making enough pancakes for the whole Avengers team is a challenging feat.”

Peter smiled at the thought of the multiple mountains of pancakes there would have to be to feed everybody as he carefully placed blueberries and strawberries on his pancakes, before pouring maple syrup on top. The task was oddly familiar and reminded him of Tony and Mary making him pancakes back in two-thousand, the morning after Peter saved Tony at the Gala. The memory of Mary’s mellow voice and kind expression seemed to stir up the emotion with in Peter and he found it difficult to hold his knife and fork. The pancakes and fruit seemed suddenly unappealing. He didn’t deserve it.

Being the polite young boy he was, Peter set aside his thoughts and ate the pancakes anyway, not wanting to offend Steve even though the food seemed to turn to ash in his mouth.

***

“Did you finish all your homework?” Tony asked, not looking up from whatever he was working on as Peter entered the lab.

“Yep,” Peter replied, throwing himself into a chair opposite where Tony was sitting. “And Dr Banner took out my stitches.”

“Excellent, I was hoping we could do some training tomorrow if you’re up for it?” Tony said.

Peter shrugged. “Okay.” He hadn’t mean for it to sound so clipped and disheartened, but he hoped Tony didn’t notice. Unfortunately, his father paused what he was doing to give Peter a frowning look.

He put down his tools and moved around the table to sit on a chair directly in front of Peter. “We need to talk.” Everything about Tony’s mannerisms – his arms crossed across his chest and his poised posture – told Peter that he was not going to enjoy this “talk”. “Peter… I know we’re still new to the father-son thing, and I know it’s hard for you, but as a father I need you to communicate to me better. I haven’t seen you in weeks, and now you’re acting like you don’t want to be here.” Guilt flared in Peter in a far too familiar way. “I’m trying to be a good father here and spend time with you at weekends and watch movies with you, but I keep getting this feeling that that’s not what you want me to do. I feel… I feel like you’re avoiding me on purpose. And, I get it if it’s just too much for you and you need some time to adjust to… this,” he gestured to the two of them, as though there was an invisible force connecting them. “But will you just tell me to my face that you don’t want to spend time with me rather than making excuses and ignoring me.”

Peter closed his eyes for a second, barely breathing as he realised that he had somehow managed to fuck up Tony’s life, again. He’d thought that if he stayed away from Tony then he couldn’t hurt the man anymore, and maybe Tony would be happier without Peter as his son.

“I didn’t mean to… I didn’t mean to upset you,” Peter mumbled, not looking at his father. “I’m sorry for ignoring you, I just thought it would be better.”

“That what would be better?” Tony asked, his tone a little gentler. When Peter didn’t answer, he continued. “I know something’s been bothering you.”

Again, Peter didn’t say anything and merely looked at the floor.

“Please, buddy,” Tony said, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees to look into Peter’s face. “I am trying my best here.”

Peter wanted to tell Tony that he knows he's trying his best, and he’s sorry and he’ll be a better son now, but another part of Peter was telling him he didn’t deserve Tony’s love and apologies. It was Peter’s fault Tony had turned to alcoholism all those years ago, it’s was Peter’s fault that Tony was so unhappy. Maybe the real reason that Tony didn’t reach out sooner was because he didn’t want to. He never really wanted a child, Peter knew that much.

Now, more than ever, Peter wished to find a way to fix what happened so that everyone could be happy and alive and together. He misses his parents and his uncle badly after thinking about them so much, and if only he could just find a way to bring them back without risking the fate on millions of people.

“Talk to me Peter,” Tony snapped. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong. Like what the fuck happened last night? I turn around at the dinner table to find that my son clenched his fists so hard that he cut himself.”

He fiddled with the bandages on his hand, which Dr Banner had refused to remove in case there was another ‘incident’, as he’d called it.

“I didn’t mean to,” Peter muttered, still not looking at Tony.

“I know, Bud,” Tony coaxed. “But you’ve got to talk to me about what’s bothering you.”

With a sniff, Peter rubbed at his face with his hands, trying to pull himself together. “It’s nothing. Nothing is bothering me, okay?” he snapped, a little irritated by Tony’s questioning.

“It’s not nothing,” Tony said loudly, slamming his hand on the table and making Peter jump terribly.

Peter stared at his father’s hand, remembering all of his nightmares of the last few months, before standing up, brushing past Tony and leaving the room. He heard Tony call after him, demanding that he came back, but he continued on through corridors and up the stairs.

He didn’t stop until he reached his room, he closed the door and locked it behind him, before jumping onto his bed and curling into a ball.

Nobody came to his room, and he couldn’t tell if that was a good thing. His brain was telling him that he wanted to be alone right now, but his heart secretly wanted Tony to come in, and hug him, stroking his hair and telling him that everything’s okay. He wanted Tony to save him from himself.

While he lay there, he formulated a plan in his head. He couldn’t lay there forever. Peter had to go and fix it. He had to fix everything.

***

Hours later, someone knocked on the door and roused Peter from his light doze.

“Buddy?” Tony called softly through the door. “FRIDAY says you were asleep, are you okay?”

Peter adamantly didn’t reply.

“I know you’re awake now,” Tony said. He sighed almost inaudibly. “I have to go to a meeting in the city tonight, Cap and Barnes and Bruce are here if you need them. I’ll be back late, so don’t wait up.” Peter heard the disappointment in his voice and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to suppress the desire with in him to rush out the room to Tony. “Peter, I’m sorry I was mad, but we still need to talk when I get back. Promise me you won’t cause any trouble while I’m out?”

Again, Peter didn’t reply, but pressed the heels of his hands into his closed eyes until he saw fireworks.

Tony sighed again. “See you, Pete.” His footsteps retreated painfully slowly, as though he was waiting for Peter to call out or follow him.

Sinking deeper into the mattress, Peter waited in silence for almost two hours before raising from his bed and pulling on a fresh outfit. He adorned his best jeans, a checked shirt and thick blue jumper, as well as his jacket. Peter lased his shoes quickly and pulled his backpack out from under his bed, stuffing in his spidey suit, a fresh set of clothes and his phone.

Slipping his bag onto his back and clicking his web-shooters onto his wrists, he was about to slip out of the room when FRIDAY called out, making him jump.

“Captain Rogers says that dinner is nearly ready.”

“Tell him I’m not hungry,” Peter bit out.

There was a short silence, and Peter stood with his hand hovering just above the doorknob.

“You have not eaten in almost five hours Peter, which is too long for you to go without adequate sustenance with your enhanced metabolism,” FRIDAY said.
“Uh, I’m fine, FRIDAY.”

Another pause filled the room with silence.

“Captain Rogers says he’ll put some food aside in case you’re hungry later.”

Peter smiled at Steve’s motherly kindness. “Tell him I said thank you.”

He shakily retracted his hand from the doorknob and covered his mouth, sinking back onto his bed.

They wouldn’t want him to do it. Steve, Bucky, Bruce, Tony… None of them would approve of it. How could he go behind their backs when they’d all been so nice to him.

But maybe they didn’t care? Maybe they just put up with Peter. He needed to find a way to fix this, or at least prove to himself that he’d made the right decision all those months ago.

Scrunching up his face Peter paced around his room for almost half an hour, before making up his mind and slipping out of his room. He tip-toed down corridors, ears straining to listen out for where the others where. Form what he could tell, all three of them were watching TV in the communal area.

He sneaked passed the door and saw them all lounging on the sofas before continuing through the compound until he reached the locked door to Tony’s lab. Peter entered the code he knew off by heart and slid the door open.

After spending time in this lab with Tony, he already knew where his built-in storage facilities were, but there were at least five in the lab alone, and each one had a pass code as well as fingerprint and voice activation.

Peter thought he could recall Tony keeping Iron Man suits in the first cupboard, and stuff for the other avengers in the second and third, maybe the fourth as well. So, he proceeded to the fifth cupboard, one near Peter’s own work station, and pressed his finger to the fingerprint-scanner. A keypad popped out of the wall and Peter typed in his personal code.

“Voice activation required,” a recording of FRIDAY’s voice said.

“Peter Parker.”

“Access denied.”

“Spider-man?” Peter tired.

“Access denied."

Rolling his eyes, Peter tried again. “Spider-baby?”

“Access granted. Welcome, Spider-baby.”

The door swung open and revealed a large cupboard filled with all sorts of prototypes and gadgets. Stepping inside and looking around, Peter found what he was looking for almost immediately. Stashed in a glass display cabinet sat the two time-travel devices that Fred Murray had made, one glowing green and the other glowing a brilliant purple.

Peter grinned as he pulled the front off the cabinet and grabbed the two watches, turning to leave before something caught his eye. In the cabinet was the crumpled edges and battered spine of an old book, underneath where the watches had been placed.

His curiosity spiking, Peter shoved the watches into his pocket and picked up the book, finding it was a diary of sorts. Flicking to the first page, Peter found the name “Frederic Murray” and under that, the words, “Research on time travel and alternative realities”.

“Whoa,” Peter muttered, leafing through the pages and seeing detailed diagrams of the two watches and diary-like accounts of his own journeys in time.

Encompassed in wonder, Peter shoved the book into his bag and made a mental note to read through it when he got the chance. He left the cupboard and locked the door behind him. Making sure the coast was clear, Peter pushed open the nearest window and crawled down the outside of the building to the floor. He paused and listed for alarms or sounds of FRIDAY telling someone that he’d left the building. When all remained silent, Peter all-but ran down the drive way and off of the grounds of the compound.

***

It was dark, and Peter wasn’t used to walking the streets of New York at night; he was used to web-slinging high above the ground as Spider-man at night. Peter had been travelling for close to two hours now, the long walk from the compound to the city had bored him to death, so he’d changed into his spider suit and half ran, half swung the rest of the way to the city, where he’d finally managed to swing effortlessly between the buildings. Now, though, as Peter approached his destination, he'd changed back into his normal clothes, feeling considerably more vulnerably as he walked through the streets.

It didn’t take long for him to come to a stop across the road from a tall building lined with windows that reflected the lights of the city beyond. At the top of the building was a curved landing-pad and a huge ‘A’ on the side. The empty Avengers tower stood tall above Peter.

Shuffling into a relatively clean alley opposite the building, Peter pulled his back pack from his shoulders and retrieved the two time-travel watches, as well as Fred’s diary. Turning over a few pages he found a page titled, ‘Peter Parker’.

He leaned against the wall as he read through the page.

To succeed in my plan, I must make sure that when I send Parker back in time he realises who his father is and changes the future to save his mother. I am predicting that reality will shift to the divergent timeline I have called ‘Earth 1.12’, an alternative reality in which Tony Stark and Mary Fitzpatrick raise their child together, said child being our reality’s Peter Parker and their reality’s Peter Stark. If I manage to get Parker to change the outcome of the future and shift our reality to that of Earth 1.12’s, then the passed eighteen years will be re-written, hopefully my family will be returned to me.

Peter didn’t bother to read on as beamed to himself and flipped through the other pages till he found the diagrams of the watches. The page on the left had a drawing of the green watch and was titled, ‘Linear Time Travel Watch’ in neat block letters, while the right page was titled, ‘Divergent Realities and Time Travel Watch’.

He put the green watch back in his bag and put it back on his back. Peter then held up the purple watch into the strip of light illuminating the alley from a street light across the road. An arrow on the diagram in the book pointed to a rectangular button on the side of the device, labelling it ‘Time of Day’.

Pushing the corresponding button, Peter changed the time displayed on the watch to 20.30. Then he found the button the change the year. And pressed it until it went back seventeen years. Satisfied, Peter looked back at the book and traced his fingers across the drawing until he found the label ‘Divergent Dimensions – click once for menu’. He clicked once, and the screen changed to show a list of different dimensions, all called Earth, and then a corresponding number from 1.0 to 1.12, except the first, which was labelled, ‘Earth – Home’.

Peter clicked the button until the words ‘Earth 1.12’ were highlighted and consulted the diagram before pressing the larger button on the top of the watch to select it.
Now the screen read:

20:30
6/11/2001
Earth 1.12

Standing up, Peter pulled the straps of his backpack tighter for fear of losing it in the rush of the time travel. He shook himself, wondering if what he was about to do was even sane, before breathing deeply and pressing the clock face inward.

 

The sensation was almost familiar to him now, the all-encompassing purple light, the rush of blood in his ears and the sensation of falling. He jolted as he found ground underneath his feet and toppled sideways into the wall of the alleyway.

He looked around him, finding this alley to be much dingier and dirtier than the one he’d left behind, but mostly the same, with the addition of torrential rain pummelling his head. Stumbling slightly, Peter came to the entrance of the alleyway.

Rain relentlessly poured over him, drenching his hair and clothes. Peter stood looking up at the Stark Industries building before him. Even in the year that had passed since he’d last been there, Tony had already started re-modelling it. He blinked a few drops of rain out of his eyes as he looked up towards the upper-most stories of the building, noticing that there were only a few lights left on in the darkness of the early evening.

Peter inhaled deeply, suddenly worried that Tony and Mary were in California, as the Goggle-man had told him they lived there part time. This hadn’t even occurred to Peter before he left home, but there was no harm in going in and asking. Even if he wasn’t there, Peter could just use the watch to come back another time when he was. He shrugged to himself before heading across the street and towards the entrance to the building. The automatic doors parted, and Peter hurried in out of the cold and rain. The lobby was virtually deserted except for a woman behind reception and a bored looking security guard sitting in a chair at the side of the room. The receptionist at the front desk looked up from where she’d been packing her things into her bag.

“Hi, I’m here to see Mr Stark,” Peter announced in a surprisingly confident voice as he approached the front desk.

The receptionist gave him an odd look and quirked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, office hours are over. If you had a meeting, then I’m sure you can reschedule-”

“I didn’t have a meeting,” Peter said in a flurry, simply excited that receptionist hadn’t said ‘he isn’t here’. “Mr Stark knows me, I’m family.”

The woman opened her mouth to reply, but immediately shut it again and looked over the lobby to their left, where Peter saw a security guard approaching slowly.

“No, please just call him,” Peter practically begged. “Tell him that I’m Peter,” the woman frowned at this, “he’ll know who you mean. Please, ma’am?”

Though Peter usually despised his small stature and young appearance, it came in handy when he needed people to do what he wanted. Right now, he was pulling his ‘kicked puppy face’ – as Tony liked to call it. He could see the receptionist softening, and his spidey sense told him that the security guard had stopped his pursuit, too.

“I’ll call Stark, but if he doesn’t know you or doesn’t want to see you, then we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

Peter watched with baited breath as the receptionist took a telephone from the desk and dialled a number.

“Sorry to bother you, Mr Stark, but we have a boy here in reception who says he’s your family?” she said into the phone. Peter could hear Mr Stark say something on the other end of the line. “Yes… he said his name’s Peter?” The receptionist sounded almost scared as she spoke, but Peter saw her expression change into slight surprise as Tony spoke over the phone. “Okay, uh, of course, Mr Stark,” she stuttered before putting the phone down and sharing a look with the security guard. “Mr Stark will be right down to see you,” the woman told Peter as she collected her things and began to leave the lobby. Peter heard her whisper quietly to the security guard as she passed him, “Keep an eye on him.”

Peter leaned against the desk while he waited for Tony to arrive, trying not to look suspicious under the calculating gaze of the security guard. He wondered whether he was making a good decision by coming to visit the alternative reality, but it’s not like he can damage the actual future by coming here, he'd have to got back in his timeline to do that. It’s not like he could harm his reality though, as this universe is not reality, it’s an alternative reality; anything that happens here doesn’t affect reality, it is merely a foreshadow of what could have been if the past had played out differently.

The familiar sound of the lift arriving and its doors opening lulled Peter from his thoughts. He turned to see a younger, more wholesome Tony taking a few steps out of the lift, before he stopped and looked at Peter long and hard. For a moment, Peter wondered if maybe Tony didn’t recognise him, it had been a year since he’d seen Peter after all.

However, a huge smile soon graced Tony’s face and he rushed forward and engulfed Peter in a hug.

Chapter Text

The familiar sound of the lift arriving and its doors opening lulled Peter from his thoughts. He turned to see a younger, more wholesome Tony taking a few steps out of the lift, before he stopped and looked at Peter long and hard. For a moment, Peter wondered if maybe Tony didn’t recognise him, it had been a year since he’d seen Peter after all.

However, a huge smile soon graced Tony’s face and he rushed forward and engulfed Peter in a hug.

But… though Peter could tell Tony’s arms were wrapped around him tightly, he couldn’t really feel them. He could merely sense they were there, like he was being hugged by a ghost. Peter thought this must just be because Peter himself wasn’t real in this reality, so it was different for him. This din't stop him grinning into Tony's shoulder and hugging him back tightly.

Tony pulled away and looked at Peter’s face, still smiling.

“I can’t believe it, I thought I’d never see you again, or at least for a long time,” Tony exclaimed happily. “Why are you here?” he asked, suddenly worried.

“I’m… just visiting,” Peter assured him. “It’s under control this time,” he said, gesturing to the watch on his wrist.

“Are these things common in the future?” Tony asked, inspecting the watch.

“No, there’s only two as far as I know,” Peter explained.

Tony looked in his eyes for a moment but gave another smile and pulled Peter over towards the lift. “We better get up there quick, Mary got so excited when I said you were downstairs.”

The lift went ever upwards towards the penthouse and Peter practically buzzed with nervous energy as the lift slowed to a stop. Tony slid an arm around Peter as the doors opened.

It took a few seconds for Peter to get his bearings of the room, as the place looked to have been completely remodelled (probably after it got ruined when Peter was attacked in here) and was a lot more child friendly. The single posh sofa had been replaced by a matching set of two deep-set sofas and an armchair, all positioned around a large TV and coffee table. The kitchen had been re-designed, and Peter could even see a fruit bowl, and no bottles of alcohol lining the counter, as there had been last time. A larger dining table with many chairs including a high-chair stood beside the kitchen.

However, Peter barely had time to look at the room properly before he was swamped in another ghostly hug, this time from his mother. He basked in the warm feeling that spread through him from being held by his mother yet again, even though he couldn’t feel the physical warmth of the embrace. Had Peter been able to feel her properly, the tightness of her grasp probably would have hurt him.

“Oh, Peter,” Mary said into Peter’s neck. “I’m so glad you’re here! I thought we weren’t going to see you again!”

“I’m sorry,” Peter breathed, swallowing a lump in his throat. “I didn’t even know I was going to visit.”

Mary smiled widely as they pulled away. “How are you? How are things at home?”

Peter’s heart stopped for a minute, thinking Mary was talking about his home in the future, until he remembered he’d used the excuse that he was having family problems to explain away his last visit. “Oh, yeah, we’re all good now. Everything’s fine.”

“Good. Here, we have a surprise,” Mary said, grabbing Peter’s hand and pulling him towards the sofa. The hand in his hand felt cold but he relished in the contact.

Peter was led around the sofa to where a baby play-mat lay on the floor, covered in stuffed animal toys and wooden building blocks. Amidst the toys, a tiny baby boy in blue footie pyjamas lay, clutching his Baloo (the bear from the jungle book) teddy bear with one arm.

“This is little Peter,” Mary introduced, scooping the child up and holding him so Peter could see.

“Peter?” Peter exclaimed, pretending to be shocked by the name choice as Mary and Tony didn’t know he’d met Peter before.

Tony came up behind Peter and put a ghostly hand on the small of his back. “Yeah. Peter James Stark,” Tony said looking at the baby proudly. “Named after you, for all the help you gave us last year.”

With a smile, Peter wondered to himself what the alternative reality Peter had done to help them last time he was there.

“Thank you,” Peter breathed, looking down at the baby version of himself in Mary’s arms. The child yawned cutely, and Mary cooed.

“He’s tired. How about I bathe him and then you can put him to bed?” Mary suggested to Tony.

Tony nodded. “Peter can help me, if he likes. Big Peter I mean” He shot Peter a familiar look that said, ‘we need to talk’.

Peter frowned for a moment before stuttering. “Uh, yeah s-sure. I’m happy to help.”

“Okay, I'll be a few minutes,” May said, taking the baby down the hall to what Peter remembered was the bathroom.

“C’mon ,” Tony said, leading Peter down the hall to a bedroom which was once the guest bedroom Peter stayed in. He closed the door behind him in the familiar child's room and turned to find Tony leaning casually against the draws.

The room was exactly the same as it had been last time, down to the positioning of the animal paintings on the walls to the space themed mobile over the cot.

“Are you sure everything is okay, Peter?” Tony asked as he started digging through the chest of draws.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” Peter said with a shrug. “I just thought it would be nice to come and visit you, you know.”

Tony looked at him as though he was trying to read a road sign from very far away. “Is that the only reason you came back?”

Nodding, Peter fiddled lamely with the straps of his backpack. “I won’t stay long,” Peter assured him.

“I’m not worried about that,” Tony said quickly, as though hastening to reassure him. “I’m worried about you.”

An odd feeling of comfort welled in Peter with the familiarity of Tony’s words and tone. He wondered if he made the right decision by coming back here, knowing how angry and worried (future) Tony would be if he found out.

“Why?” Peter finally asked.

“Because I know that you wouldn’t come back here unless it was for a reason,”
Tony explained simply. “Are we in danger? Are you in danger?”

“No,” Peter said quickly. “Nobody’s in danger. Everything is fine.”

Just then Mary entered the room with little Peter wrapped in a towel in her arms.

“He’s very sleepy,” Mary commented, slowly passing the baby over to Tony and Peter noticed they were wearing matching wedding bands on their ring fingers.

“Be careful not to wake him up too much.” She kissed little Peter and wished him goodnight, telling him she loved him, and (Big) Peter knew he was smiling dumbly at them. As Mary left, she preened at (Big) Peter’s big smile and ruffled his hair in a friendly way.

“She wanted to invite you to our wedding, you know,” Tony said with a smile after she'd shut the door, as Peter fixed his hair. “I had to tell her that I’d been ex-communicated from your family and you wouldn’t be allowed, but I caught her on my computer trying to find your address.”

Peter felt touched by that and couldn’t keep the smile off his face. “I have that kind of effect on people,” he teased.

Tony threw the nib of a baby bottle at Peter, before asking, “Can you pass me his pyjamas?”

Acting on instinct, Peter went to the cot and lifted the pillow, retrieving a fresh pair of blue pyjamas from underneath before turning and handing them to a confused Tony.

“It’s slightly worrying that you know your way around my child’s bedroom,” he said with a smile.

Peter shrugged. “It’s where I keep my pyjamas.”

A glimmer of thought appeared in Tony’s eyes, similar to the twinkle he gets when he thinks of a new upgrade for his suit. But alas, it was gone as quickly as it had come.

Tony rubbed the little Peter’s hair dry as gently as he could, fully engrossed in his task. He manoeuvre the baby’s sleep-heavy limbs into the appropriate holes in the pyjamas and brought him over to bed.

Once (Little) Peter was laid down, his hands instantly flailed blindly around the cot in search for something.

“Here you go, buddy,” Tony said as he placed the Baloo teddy bear next to the baby, who instantly snuggled his face into the fur. “Goodnight, Petey.” Tony kissed the child’s head and tousled his thin brown curls. He withdrew from the cot and turned on the space-themed night light on the bedside table, before beckoning (Big) Peter out of the room.

Shutting the door closed, Peter turned to find Tony standing very close to him. Ordinarily, his spidey-sense would have warned him of anyone being this close, even if they weren’t a threat.

“Can you promise me,” Tony began in a whisper, looking at Peter with large and pleading eyes, “that everything is okay? That you aren’t in danger by being here?”
The pure concern and worry in Tony’s eyes made Peter feel genuinely sorry for putting Tony in that position.

“I promise,” Peter said confidently.

Tony seemed satisfied with this and led Peter back to the living area, where Mary was making herself a cup of tea in the kitchen.

“Have you had dinner, Peter?” Mary asked kindly, looking up at Peter expectantly.

Before Peter had travelled to this alternative reality, he had been too pumped with anger and anxiety and adrenaline to feel hungry, but now he was here it was catching up with him and he was even a little lightheaded from what he supposed was a low blood sugar.

“Uh, no,” Peter replied.

Tony sent a frown and an eye-roll his way, while Mary started routing through the fridge for something to give Peter to eat.

“I’ll do it,” Tony offered, gripping Mary’s arms and guiding her towards the couch, bringing Peter along too and planting them both on the sofa. “Is pasta okay, Pete?”

Peter nodded as he pulled his backpack off his back for the first time that evening and put his soaking wet jacket on top of it, not wanting got get their new sofas damp.

“So, Peter,” Mary began as she mindlessly flicked through the channels on the TV. “How are your family? I hear they wouldn’t let you come to the wedding?”

For a moment, Tony shot him a look from the kitchen and gestured with his hand in a way the indicated he should keep up the lie.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Peter said, looking at his hands as he didn’t want to lie to Mary’s face. “They don’t really want me seeing Tony, so…” he trailed off.

Mary looked at him sadly for a moment before turning back to he TV. “It’s a shame, we would have liked you to be there.”

“So, how have things been for you?” Peter asked, desperate to veer the conversation in a different direction.

“Oh, you know,” Mary shrugged. “We got married, had a kid; just average stuff,” she joked.

Peter proceeded to happily listen to Mary’s tales of almost everything that had happened in the last 15 months. And when Tony finished making Peter’s pasta, he listened to them talk about their wedding day and honeymoon, while he ate. Tony seemed undeniably happy and content, hand interlocked with Mary’s as he passionately retold his encounter with an angry Greek man on their honeymoon. There were notably less lines on Tony's face, and a less scarred and harrowed look to his eyes. He looked completely relaxed and there was no tension in his soldiers. It was funny how much strain carrying the weight of the world causes.
It reminded Peter of the times he’d spent Tony in the lab or watching a film. He’d become almost careless with his comfort, humming along to old rock songs or stroking Peter’s hair when he laid his head on his father’s shoulder. It made Peter feel something strangely similar to homesickness, though he really hadn't been away for that long.

They talked for an exceptionally long time, before Tony suggested they went to bed.

“You’re looking pretty tired there, Peter,” Tony commented, a slight glimpse of worry in his eye. “It’s too late for you to go home now, so I think we should go to bed.”

Nodding through a yawn, Peter wondered when he’d gotten so tired. He didn’t know how long he’d originally planned on staying with Tony and Mary, but the thought of going back out into the pouring rain, time travelling, and then finding his way from the middle of New York to the compound was exhausting him already.

“Do your parents know you’re staying in the city tonight?” Mary asked, the motherly worried look in her eye.

“They’re not expecting me back tonight,” Peter explained, standing with Tony.
Mary smiled in relief and gave Peter a hug, wishing him a goodnight as she headed towards her room. Peter followed Tony down the corridor to the new guest room, which was the other side of Tony and Mary’s to the room he’d staying in last time, which was now occupied by the baby.

He opened the door and switched on the light, showing a guest room similar to the one Peter stayed in last time, only a little homelier. There was a selection of books on the bedside table next to a lamp, there was a picture of some beach on the wall and one wall was painted a coral blue colour.

“The bathroom’s through there,” he pointed to a closed door across the room, “it has a toothbrush, shampoo, and basically anything you might need, courtesy of Mary,” Tony said with a smile. His expression turned serious for a brief moment. “Will, uh… will you still be here in the morning?”

After a pause, Peter nodded. Despite how confused his thoughts and emotions were right now, Peter couldn’t just walk out on Tony and Mary like that.

“Okay” Tony nodded with a smile. “I’ll see you in the morning, kiddo. If you need me then you know where our room is.”

Tony left and Peter stood still in the room for a moment before he put down his bag and coat and began getting ready for bed. Once he’d settled himself in the comfy bed, Peter switched off the main light and opted to use the bedside lamp. He pulled his bag towards in and produced from it Fred Murray’s research diary.
Though he would not admit it to Tony, the pasta he’d eaten had not taste at all, not even the bland starchiness of the pasta. He could feel the texture of the pasta and the sauce in his mouth, but his taste buds seemed to pick up no hints of flavour at all. That combined with the ghostliness of Tony and Mary’s touches worried Peter slightly and he hoped that the diary would hold the answers to his questions.

He flipped through the pages of the book and tried to find something that would help him. Fred Murray had some weirdly meticulous research on Peter written in hurried note form, and he wondered how easy it had been for him find out all this stuff. It made Peter feel uncomfortable in a way he assumed he’d feel if he ever had a stalker.

Fred also had images from newspapers the day after the Stark annual gala of 2000, and he’d circled Peter in red pen whenever he appeared in the back of a photo, and then on the next page he had a photo of Peter from modern day crossing the street outside Mr Delmar’s shop, which Peter had not seen before. He also had clippings of articles from the papers the day after his parents had died. Fred had highlight in each article where it said something like ‘they left their only son in the care of his aunt and uncle’.

The next page had clippings and print-outs of online articles from the day after Uncle Ben had been killed. Peter swallowed a lump in his throat as his eyes scanned the pictures of himself being pulled away from his uncle’s body and the highlighted words ‘In the presence of Parker when he died was his teenage nephew, who unfortunately witnessed the murder’.

Peter hurriedly turned a few pages over and read through the information and explanations about both of the time travel devices. Though peter considered himself to be relatively intelligent, he struggled to comprehend most of the information, and decided to blame it on his tiredness. One thing he did find out, however, was that alternative realities were not exactly real. Fred described them as ‘a shadow of possible futures’, and said that although the reality was real to the people in it, it was in fact a warped form of our reality, and when you went there it was as though you, yourself, were not real.

That explained why Peter couldn’t feel people’s touch properly; this reality was not real to him. None of it was real apart from Peter, it was as though Peter wasn’t real.

He was intrigued by a page that was marked as ‘IMPORTANT’ and decided to read it through, maybe it could tell him some more about the alternative reality.

I have found a dilemma.
I came across a problem in my recent visit to Earth 1.12, where I spent about two days following my family around and trying to figure out exactly what happens in that reality. After about twenty hours, I began to feel slightly strange, more strange than it usually feels to be in an alternative reality. I found that it was exhausting to do even the most minor tasks, like walk down the street, and I began to be completely unaffected by the environment around me; I could not feel the cold, and the feeling of people’s touch became less and less. My hands and feet began to lose feeling and shook uncontrollably. At first, I didn’t realise that it was an effect of the travel between realities, but by the time I realised, by body had began to fade and my reflection was like that of a ghost. I immediately travelled back to our reality, but was completely exhausted and dizzy, though I was a solid, real form.

The only theory I can come up with to explain this conundrum was that I became less and less real the longer I spent in the alternative reality. As the place is not real to me, I was not real to it, and I began to fade out of existence. This proves that the alternative realities are far from divergent dimensions, but merely reflections of possible futures, that seem real to those in them,and are not, in fact, real places.

With a yawn, Peter giggled to himself as he thought over the fact that he was not even in a real place right now, it felt like the plot of either a really good or really bad movie, or maybe a movie that was so good because it was so bad, which was a philosophy that Tony always said was definitely real. Peter smiled to himself, and before he knew it, he had fallen straight asleep with Fred Murray’s diary still in his hands.

Interlude: Earth - Home 10.44pm

Tony stifled a yawn as he sauntered out of the meeting room, cursing slightly at the business men who had let this meeting overrun so badly, clearly none of them had distressed sons waiting for them at home.

He was just walking into the parking garage when his phone vibrated impatiently in his pocket. Glancing at the caller ID before answering, Tony held the phone to his ear and said “Steve?” in greeting.

Expecting a snarky ‘hello to you, too’ or something in response, Tony was taken aback by the sound of Steve’s voice heavy with emotion and what sounded like worry.

“Tony?”

“Yes, it’s me. What’s the matter?” Tony asked calmly as he unlocked his car and got in.

“It’s Peter,” Steve sighed.

Tony’s heart clenched, and he immediately stopped fiddling with his seat-belt to
hear Steve more clearly. “What happened?”

“It’s…” Steve didn’t seem to know what to say. “We went to check on him, but he wasn’t in his room. Then FRIDAY said he was outside and… oh god, I can’t explain, but you better come home quickly.”

“I’m on my way,” Tony all-but yelled as he stamped down on the accelerator and sped out of the garage.

Chapter Text

Peter awoke to the sound of a baby crying, and slowly sat up in tired confusion. A book slipped from his lap and thudded to the floor, startling him wide awake. He immediately recognised that he was in the guest bedroom in Tony’s house, and that the baby crying was technically himself. With a yawn, and a stretch, Peter extracted himself from his blankets and checked the alarm clock on the night stand, it was already half seven. He changed into his clean set of clothes and headed out into the hallway.

Little Peter’s bedroom door was already slightly open when he got there, and the boy’s cries were dying down. Slowly, Peter opened the door wider and saw Tony cradling the small baby in his arms, cooing gentle nothings to calm him down.

“Oh, ‘morning Pete,” Tony said with a smile when he noticed Peter standing in the door way. “Did this little fella wake you up?”

Shrugging, Peter entered the room fully and leaned against the dresser. He was still pretty tired, even though he’d slept well last night and considerably more than he normally would.

“Sorry, buddy,” Tony apologised. “You looked pretty tired still.”

“It’s okay,” Peter reassured him quickly.

With a smile, Tony began dressing the sleepy baby in pyjamas. “How’s future Tony doing?” he asked Peter with a grin.

“He’s doing good,” Peter replied slightly awkwardly. “Same old Tony, you know.”

Laughing slightly, Tony pulled the now dressed baby onto his lap and cuddled him tightly. He sighed and looked up at Peter. “I can’t believe you’re really here. I didn’t think I’d see you again for years.”

“Neither did I,” Peter admitted. “It was a… spur of the moment visit.”

Frowning slightly, Tony asked, “Does Future Tony know you’re here?”

Peter hesitated, and that’s what gave him away.

“Peter?!” Tony chastised. “Does anyone know you’re here?”

Shaking his head, Peter looked at Tony guiltily. “Me and you, in the future, we argued a bit and I got annoyed and you had to go to a meeting, so I stole this while you were gone,” he explained sadly, lazily gesturing to the watch on his wrist.

“Was it bad?” Tony asked quietly. “The argument I mean.”

“No,” Peter admitted. “It was my fault and it was stupid.”

Tony sighed and looked pityingly at Peter. “I’m sure we’ll forgive each other,” he teased. “But do you know how dangerous it was to come here without telling anyone?”

Nodding sadly, Peter balled his hands into fists at his sides.

“How long were you home?” Tony asked. “I mean, how long has it been since you got back from last year, if you get what I mean.”

“A few months,” Peter explained.

Tony bounced the baby gently in his arms as he gazed around for a new topic. “You want to hold the baby?” Tony asked, holding baby Peter out towards big Peter.

Smiling, big Peter reached out for Tony to lower the baby into his arms. The tiny child opened his droopy eyes to look at Peter with wonder, and Peter made to curl his arms around the baby, but his hands passed right through the baby’s body and he ended up clutching his own chest.

“What the…” Tony started, still holding the baby out like an offering.

Big Peter tired again, moving his arm so he could cushion the baby’s back, but he could feel nothing when he should have felt the weight of the baby. It was lucky that Tony was still holding him, otherwise little Peter would have fallen straight to the floor as Big Peter’s hand went straight through him. Apparently, the baby couldn’t feel Peter either, as he remained looking up at him with curious eyes.

“What the hell is happening?” Tony asked, pulling the baby close to his chest and experimentally reaching out a hand to touch Peter’s arm. Tony could touch him perfectly normally, even though to Peter it still felt like just the memory of a hand touching him. “What the hell?” Tony said again sounding even more distressed when he found he could touch Peter. “How come I can touch you but little Peter can’t?”

“I… I don’t know,” Peter said honestly, looking down at his own hands and turning them over, as if they held the answer.

Tony glanced at him and narrowed his eyes. “I just…” he began to stumble over his words, as though he was nervous about what he wanted to say. “I don’t… Who are you, Peter?”

His heart was pounding in his chest as he weighed up his options. “My name is Peter Parker. Peter Benjamin Parker.” Peter put his shaking hands in his pockets. He didn’t know what was happening, but he knew he had to leave. Now. “And I’m gonna go.” He turned and sped towards the door.

“Don’t you dare, Peter,” Tony said in a quiet yet demanding voice that reminded Peter so much of the future Tony that he stopped in his tracks immediately, heart pounding uncomfortably.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Peter explained, trying to answer Tony’s unanswered questions without looking at him. “It’s different this time. I can’t… feel it when you touch me; not really.”

“Why?” Tony asked, seeming genuinely curious. “I know that you know why, and I know that you know why you can’t touch my son. So, tell me why?”

At this point, Peter turned around and fully considered his options. He saw the man in front of him; his father holding a baby, who was Peter, in his arms. And then he looked at himself, a scruffy teen with a time travel watch and some mad-man’s diary in his bag.

This wasn’t real. It never happened, and it couldn’t happen because Peter made it impossible.

He realises, that even by being here, he’s done all sorts of damage. Peter could tell Tony was minutes away for realising (Big) Peter was his son, that is if he hasn’t figured it out already, and he’d worried Tony with not being able to touch the baby.

“I…” Peter began but cut himself off.

Tony had a nice life here. He had a wife and a kid and if Peter told him that this wasn’t really real, that this wasn’t the reality that happened, then he could ruin him. He might spend forever wondering what the real future was.

“It’s a different device, see,” Peter blurted out, brandishing the device on his wrist and showing Tony. “It must just be a side-effect of the different power source.”
With a suspicious glance at the purple device, Tony held the baby even closer to him.

“Okay…” he said slowly, as though he didn’t believe him, so Peter put on his most imploring puppy eyes and smiled a little. Tony gave in with a roll of his eyes. “If you’re lying, I hope it comes to bite you on the butt,” he teased humourlessly as he stood up with the baby Peter in his arms and began leaving the room. “Breakfast?” Tony asked over his shoulder.

“Please,” Peter replied as he followed Tony down the hallway. Amazingly, as they entered the living area, the blinds over the windows automatically opened and let the dim morning sunlight flood the room. Peter winced, but marvelled at the advanced engineering as a robotic voice sounded through the room.

“Good morning. Today is Wednesday 7th November, the weather today in New York is sunny and cloudy. The current temperature is 12 degrees Celsius, 53 degrees Fahrenheit, although windchill is fairly cold today. The headlines today are-”

“Thank you, Jarvis, you have served your purpose,” Tony cut the voice off.

“Jarvis?” Peter asked suddenly, remembering reading about Tony’s first AI online when he went through his ‘Iron Man phase’, as May called it, when he was about eight.

“Oh, he’s a prototype AI I made and installed up here,” Tony said casually as he went to the kitchen and began routing through the cupboards. “He can’t do much else but tell me the weather and the news headlines ad monitor CCTV, at the moment.”

Peter smirked to himself, thinking about how basically anyone other than Tony Stark would have considered that a massive breakthrough in two-thousand-and-one. He sat himself down at a breakfast stool and yawned loudly as he watched Tony make little Peter formula milk in a bottle and helped him drink it. Tony looked much softer and much more domestic than Peter was used to seeing.

Though Peter was still noticeably tired, he helped Tony make breakfast for all of them; which really turned into Tony instructing Peter on what to do whilst he held the baby, which in itself turned into Tony stifling laughs as Peter frantically bustled around to complete Tony’s tasks.

“Ouch,” Peter exclaimed as he pulled his hand back to his chest when he grabbed the piping hot handle of a pan He’d been making eggs in. He shook his hand out, trying to rid the burning pain.

“Hey, run it under cold water, Pete,” Tony instructed, pushing Peter gently away from the pan and towards the sink.

“But the eggs-” Peter protested trying to go around Tony.

Tony just grabbed his wrist and held Peter’s hand under the running water, which was horribly reminiscent of the other night back home when he’d dug his nails into his hands, except now Tony was seventeen years younger and holding a baby in his other arm.

“Uh, thanks,” Peter said quietly. “But, Tony, the eggs are burning.”

“Oh, crap.”

The grip on Peter’s arm released as tony hurried to turn the heat under the eggs off.

“Ah, don’t you just love waking up to the smell of burned flesh and charred eggs,” Mary said as she entered the room in her pyjamas. Peter blushed as he turned the tap off and dried his hands.

She came over to the kitchen and kissed Tony and then pressed her lips to (little) Peter’s head.

“Moring, Peter,” she said to (big) Peter over Tony’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” Peter smiled as he helped plate up the (slightly burnt) scrambled eggs, beacon and toast.

Mary smiled widely while she got knives and forks out of a drawer. “How long are you staying with us for?” she asked, in a deliberately polite way, as though she was inviting him to stay for as long as he wanted.

Truthfully, Peter would like to stay indefinitely, but he remembered what he read last night, about how Fred Murray had started disappearing after only twenty hours in the alternative reality.

“Oh, I’ll probably have to leave this evening,” Peter said. He was pushing his luck, but he wanted to spend as long as he could with his parents in this reality.

“So soon?” Tony exclaimed, whipping his head up to look at Peter quizzically. Peter nodded.

“Oh, well I have to go into the office today, but I’ll be sure to finish up early to see you before you go,” Mary uttered, almost sadly.

They sat together and ate pleasantly. Peter watched fondly as Tony fed (little) Peter small pieces of eggs and toast delicately and patiently, celebrating every mouthful he manged to swallow instead of letting drop out of his mouth. Mary quizzed Peter about his family and parents more, and it appeared that she had been very offended that his ‘parents’ had forbidden Peter from seeing Tony. Overall, Peter found it most entertaining to come up with excuses as to why they hated Tony so much, and had to force back laughter as Mary muttered angrily about his ‘parents’ never going on her Christmas card list.

Thankfully, Tony also seemed to find it funny, and fabricated an elaborate story about setting fire to their carpet at a family party, although Peter wondered just how much of that story was actually made up.

Then Mary started asking him about school and Peter went on a massive tangent about how great his new biology teacher was, which excited Mary as he shared her love for the subject. They talked for ages about Mary’s new bio-chem research, and Peter excitedly asked loads of really complicated questions, which Mary was immensely pleased to answer in great detail.

“You see,” Mary began. “Tony says biology is the worst science, but that’s just because he’s not as good at it as his is with the others.”

“I’m right here!” Tony protested, while Peter laughed.

Mary grinned. “What? If anything, that was a compliment.”

Tony scoffed, but dropped his protests and opted to glare at them while continued their conversation. It was surprising to Peter when Mary mentioned that she was researching cross-species genetics as well, which Peter always thought was Richard Parker’s forte.

“Well, I’d better go and get ready,” Mary said, checking her watch as she stood form the table. “Will you be okay looking after Peter until this afternoon?” she asked Tony.

“Of course,” Tony replied, like it would be the easiest thing in the world. “I’ve got to run some errands, so they can both come with me.” Mary had already left to get ready, so this was more for (Big) Peter’s benefit than Mary’s. “Why don’t you go and get ready, Pete, while change little Pete and get dressed.”

With a nod, Peter helped put the dishes in the washer before heading back to his room. He dug out his spare clothes from his bag and put them in the bathroom, so he could change into them once he’d showered.

Turning the water temperature down low, he scrubbed himself harshly to attempt to wash away his fatigue. It was unsuccessful as the reflection staring back at him in the mirror once he’d got out was pale and sickly looking. Peter cursed, realising that lethargy was symptom that Fred Murray had explained in the diary entry he’d read last night, and he hoped he could make it to this afternoon without disappearing.

Peter got dressed and did his best to dry his hair with a towel and brushed it with a comb he found on the night stand, but with out his usual styling products, his hair twisted itself into a curly mop on his head. He did his best to neaten it up, but eventually gave up and headed out of his room.

Waiting in the kitchen was Mary, dressed in a smart blouse and skirt, gathering the contents of her bag in one hand and holding her heels in the other.

“Oh hey,” she greeted. “Can you do me a favour and make sure Tony remembers to take Peter’s change bag when you go out?”

“Sure,” Peter smiled, running his fingers through his still damp hair.

Mary smiled at him and dropped what was in her hands to give Peter another ghostly hug. The tightness of her arms around him was comforting, but the absence of any warmth or feeling was chilling.

“Don’t leave without saying goodbye, okay?” she said, looking at Peter sternly but lovingly in the eye. It surprised Peter that she was slightly shorter than him and had to look up slightly to see his eyes; he must have grown in the last few months. He remembered how Mary used to have to bend down low to hug him, or how he’d have to reach up to hold her hand when he was younger.

“Okay,” Peter promised, making Mary smile.

Just then, Tony emerged from the hallway with a fully dressed Peter in his arms. Tony himself was wearing a dark grey suit jacked with a pair of jeans and a Black Sabbath t-shirt and managed to pass it off as ‘smart-casual’.

Mary released Peter to kiss Tony and little Peter goodbye before slipping her shoes on and heading to the lift.

“Hey, could you grab his pushchair from the cloak room, please, Peter?” Tony asked, indicating the door to the right of the lift.

Once they’d settled (little) Peter into his buggy with a blanket and his teddy, they got into the lift, while Tony rambled about how Mary never trusted him to not forget (little) Peter’s change bag.

They descended only a few floors before the lift opened again, and Tony was pushing the buggy out into the quiet corridor beyond.

Tony told him to stay outside in the hallway and push the baby’s pushchair around a bit while he went into the office to retrieve some paperwork.

For about five minutes, Peter waited in the corridor and pushed the buggy back and forth gently. A few people passed him by and crooned at the baby Peter, which made (Big) Peter feel almost bashful as it was technically him in the pushchair. The corridor wasn’t particularly busy, though, so the lift dinging down the hall made Peter jump. He looked round and held his breath as he saw Obadiah stride purposefully out of the lift. The older man did an almost comical double-take when he saw Peter ahead of him. His hand twitched while his face morphed into a frown, followed by a sly smile.

“Peter, my boy,” Obadiah boomed, and Peter prayed that Tony heard it form in his office and came to his rescue.

“Mr Stane,” Peter mumbled in greeting, subconsciously moving in front of the baby’s pushchair to act as a sort of human barrier between the child and Obadiah.

“I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again,” he leered, a threatening look in his eye. “Not causing problems again and worming your way into Tony’s head, are you?”

Peter gulped and tried his best to ignore the fact that his Spidey-sense hadn’t so much as tickled, even though Obadiah had tried to kill him the last time they met.

Thankfully, the office door behind Peter opened and Tony walked out, immediately clocking Obadiah and fixing him with a hard glare. “What are you doing here, Stane?” Tony said coldly. To say this surprised Peter was an understatement. He’d only ever heard Tony call Obadiah ‘Obi’ and he’d never seen such a steely look in Tony’s eyes when regarding someone who’d once been so close to him.

“I came to talk to you actually, about-” he started in a very business-like way, only to be cut off by Tony.

“The answer’s still no,” Tony stated dismissively, he clutched the pushchair handle with one hand and held Peter’s arm in the other and was about to steer them out when Obadiah stopped him.

“Come on, Tony, you aren’t thinking properly,” Obadiah said with a laugh, as though Tony was mad. “This is just your parental hormones kicking in and sending you a little crazy, you have to see sense.”

Tony rounded on Stane. “No, I’m seeing sense right now. You know when I wasn’t seeing sense?” Tony challenged. “When I was alone and depressed and drinking myself half to death. And I just went along with whatever you said because I didn’t know what I was doing. But now I do, so I don’t need your input anymore.”

Peter was completely lost. What were they even talking about? Before anyone said anything else, however, Tony began steering Peter and the pushchair down the corridor. Peter didn’t realise that Obadiah had grabbed his arm until he was yanked out of Tony’s grip with a sharp tug. Curse this alternative reality for messing with his senses.

“Get your fucking hands off him!” Tony yelled. Peter was so, so glad that Tony was a genius, because this corridor was filled with offices, and a shout that loud would be bound to draw attention to a middle aged man grabbing a seventeen year old while his back was turned.

Sure enough, Obadiah let go of Peter and shoved him away like he was ridden with the plague as several people popped their heads around office doors to see what the shouting was about.

“Don’t you dare come near him or any of my family again,” Tony threatened in a low voice. Peter didn’t have time to think about the strangeness of that statement as a new deep voice from behind them sounded through the hall.

“Is everything okay, Mr Stark.”

They turned to see a security guard approaching from the end of the corridor.

“Terrance,” Tony greeted with a small smile. “Would you mind escorting Mr Stane from the building and confiscating his security badge, he no-longer works here so he will no longer be needing it.”

The security guard, Terrance apparently, stood straighter and placed a strong hand around Stane’s arm. “Of course, Sir. This way Mr Stane.” He indicated for Obadiah to walk ahead.

Obadiah yanked his arm out of the man’s grip, but started trudging up the corridor all the same, glaring at Tony and Peter in turn as he passed them by.

“You’re making a mistake, Tony,” Obadiah called smugly over his shoulder. “This will all come crashing back down around you, you’ll see.”

“Keep walking,” Terrance barked as they approached the lift.

“Thank you, Terrance,” Tony called down the hallway as the lift doors closed on Terrance and a sneering Obadiah. “You okay, kid?” he asked Peter quietly.

Peter was still in shock, and looked at Tony with wide eyes. “I’m f-fine,” he stammered. “But- uh- not that I’m complaining, but… b-but -uh- don’t you think you overreacted a little bit?”

With a laugh, Tony shook his head as he started walking down the corridor again beside Peter, pushing (little) Peter along in the buggy. “Probably, but he’s been pissing me off for, like, a year now and that was the last straw.”

That did absolutely nothing to clear up any of Peter’s confusion, but he waited until they were alone inside a lift to ask more.

“What were you talking about? You know when you said 'the answer’s still no', and when he was like, 'you’re making a mistake'.”

Tony paused for a minute to laugh at Peter’s impressions before answering him.

“Not too long after you left last time, we closed down the sector of SI that made military weapons, and we focused our engineers and researchers on other things like renewable energy and all sorts of stuff,” Tony explained. The lift arrived at the ground floor and Tony lead them through the lobby to the parking lot. “No one was out of a job, and most people supported the change, but obviously you can’t please them all and I was getting a tone of negative backlash from the media, and also a few workers.” They reached the car, a fancy looking 5-seater AUDI, and Tony instructed Peter to hold the pushchair still while he fastened (little) Peter into the car seat. “So, I told employees the that were kicking up a fuss that if they didn’t like it, they can leave, and we won’t put a bad word on their CVs. Most of them left, which was only about twenty people, but then Obadiah comes along saying that it’s the biggest mistake of my career and how it was all because I was getting cold feet about having the baby, which was not true.” Tony helped (Big) Peter collapse the pushchair and put it in the back seats, and then they both climbed into the front seats and Tony started the car. “Anyway, so Obadiah was all up in my face about it, in my office everyday talking my ear off. Then it died down a bit. SI was still doing quite well without the weapons division, then we had Peter,” Tony said, gesturing to the babbling baby in the backseat, before turning his attention back to the road. “Then we got married. All was well. Then, along comes that dickhead, Justin Hammer and his stupid-ass company which sprung up from nothing overnight, and he has tones of prototypes that I scrapped a year ago with the weapons division. Turns out one of my ex-employees - who I’d written a personal note of commendation for when they left, even though they were arguing against the disbanding of the weapons sector – had stolen a bunch of blue-prints and crap before they left and went to work for Hammer, selling him all of our designs,” Tony grumbled, clearly annoyed as he took off a little too quickly at a green light.

“Did you take it to court?” Peter asked. He, too, was annoyed, even though it basically had nothing to do with him.

Tony sighed. “I couldn’t. There was no proof that they’d stolen the blueprints, even though they were physically not in my building any more and they’d managed to create the prototypes down to a T. And, anyway, technically the blue prints weren’t property of SI because they had never been finalised by a head of department.”

“What happened next?”

“Hammer went all out on the publicity, selling his stuff to basically anyone and suddenly I’m an idiot again in Obadiah’s eyes. He wanted us to be the ones hosting loads of Expos and being honoured by the US army and air force and whatnot. And he’s been going on and on again and I can’t stand it,” Tony spat out, thumping his hand against the steering wheel. He calmed pretty quickly though and began talking again in a gentler voice. “So, yeah. Basically, he was a dick, so I fired him.”

“I don’t think you should be swearing in front of the baby,” Peter reprimanded with a small smile.

Tony shrugged and laughed. “He can barely talk, and can you imagine Mary’s face if his first word was a swear,” Tony cackled.

Shaking his head Peter laughed. “Tony?” he asked once they’d sobered up. “Why did you close down the weapons sector?”

“Because... you can’t fight fire with fire,” Tony shrugged. “The government wants peace, but their way of getting that is by wiping out any threats with warfare and destruction. And a lot of innocent people get caught up in that. I don’t want to condone that, so I’m not going to make them weapons.”

“Seems fair,” Peter commented.

“Yeah,” Tony said lazily. “I just wish I’d realised all that a bit sooner.”

They pulled up to the entrance of a tall government building, where Tony showed his ID to the man in the booth before being allowed through and pulling into a parking space.

“Do you want me to wait in the car?” Peter suggested.

“Nope, I don’t want either of you out of my sight, especially after the last time you visited, when you almost got shot - twice,” Tony said in a kind yet stern voice.

They got the pushchair out, reassembled it and put the baby, who was now asleep, inside. They walked across the car park and into the building. It was a grand building, the type with stone support columns inside and mahogany floors. Tony sauntered up to a rather large desk in the centre of the room and greeted the receptionist with a charming smile, while Peter almost hid behind him with the pushchair.

“Good morning, how can I help you?” the receptionist said politely.

“Hi, I’m here to drop off some paper work to Mr Birling,” Tony replied.

The receptionist typed on his computer. “And, what is your name, Sir?”

“Tony Stark,” he supplied, without the usual eye-roll.

The receptionist’s eyes flicked up to assess Tony’s face. Then he smiled widely and said, “Okay, Mr Stark, Mr Birling has requested that you see him in person to deliver the papers as he has some queries to address. His office is on the fifth floor, third door on the right, but I’m afraid the kid will not be allowed to accompany you as he does not have authorisation.”

Tony seemed to fumble for a minute, and Peter knew it was because he didn’t want either of the Peter’s to be that far away from him.

“Is there anywhere safe where they can wait?” Tony asked.

The receptionist seemed to understand his concerns and smiled. “They can wait in the waiting room to your left. It has a security guard and CCTV surveillance.”

“Thank you,” Tony said as he led Peter and (little) Peter to the waiting room.

It was relatively small with a few chairs and a security guard’s desk in the corner. Peter sat in a chair near the window and kept one hand on the pushchair in front of him.

“You going to be okay?” Tony enquired.

Peter nodded in a way that implored Tony to trust him. With a smile, Tony ruffled his curly hair and left the room.

Sighing, Peter stretched back in the chair a little bit, but kept his eyes firmly on baby Peter. If anything happened to him under his watch, Peter would never forgive himself; although, he doubted that anything bad would happen in government building, especially when the only two others waiting in the room was and old man and a middle-aged woman, who was intently reading a magazine in the corner.

The old man shuffled over in his chair to get a better look in the pushchair.

“He’s a handsome boy, isn’t he,” the man said in a lulling New York accent that reminded Peter of old wartime movies. “What’s his name?”

“Peter,” Peter responded, somewhat proudly.

“Ah, little Peter,” the man crooned, and Peter wondered why that nickname was cropping up so often; he wasn’t that small. “He looks like you, are you brothers?” he asked kindly, surveying the similarities in both Peters’ features.

“Cousins,” he lied.

The man nodded knowingly and sat back in his chair still watching the dozing baby with a smile on his face.

“Mr Stevenson?” asked an assistant as they came through the door.

The man stood up and made to follow the assistant. “Have a good day, kid,” the man said to Peter.

“You too, sir,” Peter smiled.

“Keep safe… both of you,” he nodded to them as he left.

Smiling to himself, Peter looking back into the pushchair to see the baby version of himself looking back with drooping eyes.

“Hey,” Peter whispered, folding his arms on the handle of the chair and resting his chin in the crook of his elbow.

The baby babbled unintelligibly but smiled as he dribbled a little from the corner of his mouth. Reaching up at (Big) Peter, the baby made small grabbing motions with his hands, and Peter knew the child wanted to be picked up out of the chair.

“I’m sorry,” Peter apologised quietly. Feeling guilty, Peter tried to show the little Peter that he couldn’t lift him out of the chair by putting his hand within reach of the baby’s tiny hands. (Little) Peter tried to grab his hands and looked shocked when his hands went straight though Peter’s. His shock turned into wonder as he tried again and again, every time his hands slipped through (Big) Peter’s, he’d try again, determined to eventually touch him.

Peter continually glanced around the room, making sure no one – not even the security cameras – could see inside the pushchair. Then he tuned in to the baby’s babbling again and listened to how the tones resembled wonder and frustration and confusion. Running out of options, (Little) Peter weakly pulled his teddy bear Balloo in front of him and pushed it into Peter’s hand. He squealed in delight when the bear was stopped by (Big) Peter’s hand and struggled to put his tiny hand around Balloo’s arm. Frowning (Big) Peter wondered what the child was trying to achieve, then he realised as the baby held one of Balloo’s arms on both of his hands, that he was upset that he couldn’t hold Peter’s hand so he wanted them both to hold Balloo’s hand, like a chain. (Big) Peter put his hand around Balloo’s arm and (Little) Peter babbled happily and smiled widely.

Just then, Tony walked back into the room and smiled at them.

“I’m done, we can go,” he announced.

“Cool,” Peter said, dropping Balloo’s hand so he could put both hand’s on the handle of the pushchair and steer it out of the room. (Little) Peter looked devastated and his bottom lip began quivering.

“Hey, hey, shh,” Tony cooed gently as they headed out of the building. He reached a hand into the pushchair to sooth the distressed baby. “What’s up with him?” he asked Peter.

“He was upset that he couldn’t touch my hands,” Peter explained. “So, he gave be his teddy to hold hands with.”

“Aww,” Tony said softly.

They made it back to the car and started off through the city. They went to the bank, to the supermarket and to the pharmacy. It was becoming late afternoon and the sunlight was already dimming, their breath was visible in the cool air as they headed back to the car for a final time. Peter collapsed into his seat, and huddled in on himself, completely exhausted, his twenty hours was almost up.

“You okay there, buddy?” asked Tony, glancing at Peter as the boy bundled his hands under his sleeves and burrowed into his jacket.

“I’m just tired,” Peter murmured. “I have to go back soon.”

“Oh,” Tony said, somewhat glumly. “Well, you’re welcome to stay longer if you’d like.”

Peter smiled sadly, wishing he could take up Tony’s offer. “I can’t, I’m sorry.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Tony began. “How come you stayed for almost a week last time, but now you have to go after just a day.”

“It’s the different device,” he explained, holding up his wrist to show the purple device.

“What happens if you don’t go back,” Tony asked.

With a sigh, Peter wondered whether to tell Tony the truth, but he didn’t want to worry him. Although, maybe Tony deserved to know. “I’ll begin to fade away.”

“Like in Back to the Future,” laughed Tony, smiling widely.

“I guess so.”

“How long have you got before you go, McFly?” Tony joked.

Peter looked at the clock. “About an hour and a half.”

“Shit, kid,” Tony bit out, suddenly serious. “You could have mentioned it a bit sooner.”

“Sorry,” Peter said quietly. “I didn’t really want to think about it.”

Taking a long calculating look at Peter, Tony said, “Are you still worried about that argument with… future me?”

Nodding minutely, Peter shrank further back into himself.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Tony tried to comfort him. “I’d never hate you, Pete.”

“You don’t know that,” Peter bit out. “I was just trying to help you.”

“I’m sure you were,” agreed Tony. “And trust me, there’s nothing you could do that would make me hate you.”

Peter frowned at him, wondering how Tony could possibly say that about someone he barely knew. The man’s small smirk was unsettling.

He ignored his gut feeling telling him Tony knew more than he was letting on, in favour of trying to stay awake and focused for the rest of the drive. It wasn’t long before they were pulling into the SI car park, which appeared to be teaming with press.

“Shit,” Tony cursed as he parked up. “They must have heard about Obi.”

They watched as Happy Hogan spotted the car and inconspicuously sneaked away from where he was warding the reporters away from the front entrance. Tony rolled down the driver’s side window as Happy approached.

“Boss,” Happy greeted. “They’re not going to leave without speaking to you.”

“Well they’re gonna,so they can piss off,” he grumbled, then suddenly went very businessman-like. “I’ll go and tell them to get lost, I need you to sneak these two into the back entrance and wait for me there.”

“Who two?” Happy frowned.

“Peter and Peter, of course,” Tony exclaimed, leaning back slightly so Happy could see into the passenger seat.

“Hey, Happy,” Peter chirped up, waving slightly.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” the man whispered.

“Uh, no swearing in front of the kids, dear,” Tony chastised. “Now, I’ll get out and once the reporters are distracted, get these two out and into the building, okay?” Tony unbuckled himself and swiftly exited the car. The reporters immediately swarmed around him, but Tony continued his steady pace through the crowd towards the door, saying things like,
“No I do not regret it,” “This is not a publicity stunt,” “If you don’t clear off you’ll be forcibly removed from the premises.”

“Let’s go, kid,” Happy instructed firmly, grabbing baby Peter out of the back in his car seat and handing it to (Big) Peter to carry.

Happy walked next to and slightly ahead of Peter, leading them to across the car park and towards the back of the building, rather than the front. He typed in a code on the key pad beside the security door, and it opened automatically. Upon entering, they appeared to be just behind the lift shaft, out of view of the main lobby. Not ten seconds after they got inside, they heard Tony asking the security guards in the lobby to keep the reporters out of the building, and then the man was walking around the corner and ushering them towards the lift.

Peter hauled (Little) Peter's car seat into the elevator while Tony told Happy to stay behind on the ground floor until all the reporters cleared off. The man nodded but gave Peter a mistrusting side glance as he walked off. The doors closed, and a pressure released off Peter’s shoulder, brushing by his ear and making him jump. He whirled round to find a concerned-looking Tony staring at him. Peter deduced that he must have been holding Peter’s shoulder as they entered the elevator.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump,” Tony apologises quietly, still looking worried. “You didn’t feel that?”

“Uh, no,” Peter sighs, not meeting Tony’s eyes.

With a small intake of breath, Tony gripped Peter’s shoulder’s more firmly, as if trying to ground him. “How are you feeling? Anything fading yet?”

Glancing down at his hands, Peter shook his head, clearing it of the fog clouding his mind. “Not yet.”

“Okay,” sighed Tony. “You should go soon though. I mean really soon. I don’t want you fading out of existence on my watch.”

Peter smiled, but a pit hollowed in his stomach. He had to leave already, and he’d not determined if he’d made the right decision yet. Maybe he’d have to come back to this reality further along in the future, to gauge how the world survived without Iron Man.

The lift opened again and admitted them into the living area. It was peaceful and welcoming in the soft afternoon light and blissfully tranquil. Peter wanted nothing more than to collapse on the large sofa and sleep.

“Peter? Pete?”

Looking around, Peter found Tony looking at him with a fatherly worried gaze and his hands clasping Peter’s shoulders, rocking them slightly. Following the length of Tony’s arm to where he was touching Peter seemed surreal. He could hardly feel the pressure or warmth of Tony’s hand; it was as though his body belonged to someone else.

“Sorry,” mumbled Peter. “Just zoned out a bit.”

“It’s okay, we’ll get you home soon, okay?” Tony said slowly, which Peter was grateful for as it took a while for the words to align in his brain. “Go sit down while I put Peter down for his nap.”

Peter obeyed, sluggishly meandering towards the sofa as Tony took the baby down towards Little Peter’s room. He got one last look at the peacefully sleeping version of himself before he was out of sight down the corridor, and (Big) Peter let himself flop onto the sofa and watch the unchanging New York skyline out of the large window before him.

He didn’t want to leave. Peter’d been here less than twenty-four hours and he’d already decided that this was definitely the place he wanted to be. This reality seemed so much better than his. Little Peter would grow up with both his real parents, he’d go to good schools (probably private schools knowing Tony), he’d make friends with other rich kids, he’d be well-off but not spoilt (Tony and Mary would never let him be spoilt), he’d be able to use his brains and money for good. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t become Spider-man and Tony wouldn’t be Iron Man, but surely, they’d save people in other ways, using their combined intellect.

This place held a feeling of inexplicable safety, like it was his home. He couldn’t help but feel completely relaxed in Tony and Mary’s home, there was nothing to worry about and there were people who loved him and looked out for him. He was safe.

 

It was as though that thought was a trigger.

 

Peter heard the soft sound of feet cautiously, quietly stepping on carpet. His mind dismissed it, telling him that it must have been Tony returning from putting (Little) Peter down. After all, his Spidey-sense had not alerted him of any danger.

Only then did his confused brain reminded him that his Spidey-sense had not warned him this morning during the incident downstairs. Come to think of it, it had not bothered him all day, which was definitely unusual.

As though to prove his point, a small concentration of pressure hit his temple without warning, barely noticeable but still there. Peter sucked in a breath as he saw a gun pressed against his head in his peripheral vision.

Chapter Text

Peter heard the soft sound of feet cautiously, quietly stepping on carpet. His mind dismissed it, telling him that it must have been Tony returning from putting (Little) Peter down. After all, his Spidey-sense had not alerted him of any danger.

But then his confused brain reminded him that his Spidey-sense had not warned him this morning during the incident downstairs. Come to think of it, it had not bothered him all day, which was definitely unusual.

As though to prove his point, a small concentration of pressure hit his temple without warning, barely noticeable but still there. Peter sucked in a breath as he saw a gun pressed against his head in his peripheral vision.

“Don’t move,” a deep voice hissed behind him. He recognised it immediately as Obadiah Stane.

Peter immediately thought of Tony and Little Peter and prayed to anyone who would listen that they stayed in his room, out of harms way.

“Stand up,” Stane demanded. Had Peter not been overwhelmed with fear and exhaustion, he would have argued that Stane had literally just told him not to move, but instead Peter just slowly rose from the sofa, the gun at his head the entire time.

Obadiah guided him around the back of the sofa and put his free arm around Peter’s neck and pulled the boy towards him so that Peter’s back was pressed firmly into his chest. Peter could feel nothing of the contact except the pressure against his skin and the coldness that seeped through his clothes. An involuntary shiver raced up and down his spine as he vaguely felt Obadiah’s breath brush past his ear like ghost.

Peter could swear his heart stopped as he heard heavy footsteps approach down the corridor, in rhythm with Tony’s usual long, well-paced strides.

“I packed up your bag for you, Pete, so we can get you going quite soon, after you’ve said goodbye to Mary of course - ” Tony stopped speaking and walking abruptly as he rounded the corner and say Peter’s current predicament.

“Surprise,” Obadiah taunted maliciously.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” Tony demanded, throwing down Peter’s backpack from his hands and moving closer to the pair. Peter willed him to stand further out of the danger-zone, or better yet, rush to the lift and escape before Obadiah hurt him.

“What does it look like?” Obadiah laughed. “I’m threatening you.”

Tony scoffed. “Actually, it kind of looks like you’re dragging an innocent child into one of your petty arguments and threatening him.

“Potato, potahto,” Obadiah shrugged.

“Seriously,” Tony snapped. “What is your problem?! Let the kid go!””

Obadiah merely tightened his strangling grip on Peter, which Peter didn’t mind so much; in his already exhausted and dizzy state, standing up for so long was draining him, and Peter was basically relying on Obadiah to keep him up right at the moment. “No, Tony!” Obadiah shouted, causing Peter to jump. “You are the problem! You’ve been blinded by your own stupid family, you’ve gone soft! You’re a coward and you can’t even see it! I tried to stop you closing the weapons branch, but you did it anyway and now Hammer is walking all over you, and you're too cowardly to fight back!”

Seething with anger, Peter struggled slightly in Stane’s hold, and received a reward of Stane’s ghostly arm encircling his airways and squeezing, causing Peter to gasp weakly as his air supply diminished.

The anger in Tony was visibly replace by concern as Peter spluttered, struggling to draw breath.

“Okay, okay. I’m a coward -whatever. Just let Peter go and we’ll talk this out properly, okay?” pleaded Tony, holding his hands out in front of him as if to show he meant Obadiah no harm.

“Do you think I’m an idiot?” Obadiah laughed humourlessly. “No. First, I’m gonna kill this kid – whoever the fuck he is, he for sure isn’t your cousin - but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is you care about him and I’m going to kill him. Then I’m going to kill your son. Then I’m going to shoot you – not enough to kill you but enough to effect you the rest of your life. Then you’ll tell everyone the story of how I saved you from a home invader who miraculously got away and you’re going to put me in charge of Stark Industries while you wallow in pain and self-pity,” he finished triumphantly.

There was silence for a few moments, only disturbed by Peter’s gasped breaths. Then, Tony began to laugh. It was a loud, booming laugh that brought a small smile to Peter’s face even as his eyes welled with tears.

“Oh my god,” laughed Tony, clutching his belly. “How long have you been thinking of that? Not long by the sound of it. Well – anyhow – you clearly have not thought that through because firstly, I would never consider re-hiring you in my wildest dreams. Secondly, I have security cameras all around the penthouse which can prove that there’s no home-invader beside you-”

“The cameras can be wiped!” Obadiah hollered.

“Thirdly,” Tony continued as though Obadiah had not spoken. “You did not account for one other thing.”

“What-” Stane began to question, but he was interrupted by the dinging of the lift arriving at there floor.

Peter could have sworn he’d never been so happy to see Happy in his life. The man’s appearance in the elevator was enough distraction for Obadiah to loosen his grip on Peter. Mustering up as much strength as he could, Peter simultaneously craned his neck to bite Obadiah’s arm and kicked him hard in the shin.

Howling in pain, Obadiah released Peter, who staggered forwards to be caught by Tony’s strong arms. Whirling round in Tony’s hold, Peter heard Happy let out a cry of fury as he rushed across the room. Obadiah barely had time to look up before Happy’s large frame was barrelling into him and pinning him to the floor.

For most stories, it would have cut off there and Peter would have gone back home and they’d have all lived happily ever after.

This, however, was a Peter Parker story. And there is no Peter Parker story without the infamous Parker Luck.

And so, somehow, as Happy and Stane struggled on the floor, Obadiah managed to stretch his hand out and point his gun directly at Peter and Tony, a determined and manic look in his eye as he pulled the trigger.

The piercing sound of the shot was not enough to block out Peter’s shouted inner monologue of, protect Tony, protect Tony, protect Tony.

It all happened too fast for Peter’s sluggish brain to keep up with. Tony’s hold on Peter’s shoulders tightened at the same time Happy let out an animalistic cry and knocked Obadiah’s gun clean out of his hand and across the room, before proceeding to punch him in the face and knock him unconscious.

Tony threaded a shaky arm around Peter’s shoulders and lowered them both to the ground, whispering, “It’s okay, you’re going to be okay.”

What the hell? Hadn’t Tony been shot? Hadn’t Peter failed to protect him? Why was Tony laying Peter on his lap and slapping his face?

Peter only came back to reality when Tony pressed sharply on a sensitive spot just below Peter’s ribs.

“Oh,” Peter grumbled, hitting Tony’s hands away impatiently, only to see a small bullet hole in his shirt and going through his skin and an impossibly small trickle of blood staining his top. Oh, so he’d been shot. But why wasn’t there more blood?

“Yeah ‘oh’, kid, you got shot,” Tony grumbled as he examined to wound. “Happy, throw me a towel.”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Peter observed in a wholly unfazed tone, as though he was simply bird watching at the park. “Only when I touch it,” he added, prodding experimentally at the wound and wincing.

“Hey, stop that,” Tony snapped, swatting his hand away as he pressed the towel Happy handed him over the wound and pushed down, making it hurt again.

Peter grumbled miserably and flopped in Tony’s hold, letting his eyes slip closed, more exhausted from the physical exertion of standing up, being strangled and falling into Tony than from being shot.

“No sleeping,” Tony all-but shouted, shifting Peter further into a sitting position. “We’ve got to get you out of here. Happy, call Mary, tell her everything that happened – Obi came up here with a gun, threatened and shot Peter. Tie Stane up, make sure he can’t get out. Make sure the baby’s safe. Call the police tell them what happened but leave out anything about Peter - this Peter, I mean, not the baby. Tell them… tell them I was grazed by a bullet or something and I took myself to hospital.”

Happy looked bewildered, but nodded, pulling his tie off and rolling Stane’s limp body over to tie his hands with it.

“Jarvis,” Tony called to the ceiling. “Delete any security footage from the penthouse from the past two days, use the alibi that the cameras broke if anyone asks to see footage.”

“Of course, sir,” Jarvis’s robotic voice rang from overhead.

“I’ll be back in a second, buddy,” Tony said, putting one of Peers own hands over the towel and leaving him sitting on the floor as he pulled his phone out and called security while rushing down the corridor to check on Little Peter.

Dizzy and confused, Peter leant back against the nearby sofa and shut his eyes. What felt like mere moments but what was probably a few minutes later, Tony was crouched in front of him with Peter’s backpack slung on his shoulders, tapping his cheek to get his attention.

“You with me?” Tony asked quietly. Peter nodded lazily. “Okay, let’s go.”

He looped an arm around Peter’s waist and pulled one of the boy’s arms over his shoulders, before hauling him to his feet. Peter was really not in the mood to be walking around, and so leaned heavily on Tony without realising.

“Elevator,” Peter muttered in distress when they went on the opposite direction of their escape.

“No, buddy. Security will be coming up here any moment and I don’t want them to see you,” explained Tony as he practically dragged Peter along the corridor to the secret back door Peter had come in through with the Goggle-man last time. To their surprise, the door was ajar, and the lock had been broken.

“That stupid snake must have sneaked in here the back way,” Tony muttered, throwing a distasteful glare over his shoulder, even though Obadiah was out of sight.

The stairs behind the door proved challenging as Peter was little to no help in supporting his weight. Tony grunted with the effort of hold Peter up and carefully manoeuvring them down the steps.

Once at the bottom, Tony shouldered the second door open and picked up a steady pace along the deserted corridor.

“Where is everyone?” Peter asked quietly.

“The building is on lockdown,” explained Tony. “Everyone has to stay in their offices until further notice, apart from security.”

They soon reached the lift shaft and Tony impatiently jabbed the button to call the lift to them. It arrived, thankfully empty, and Tony pulled them in. He fished a fancy looking security pass out of his pocket and pressed it to a small scanner beneath the floor button. The thing beeped and several of the floor buttons lit up, including the top one for Tony’s private floor and the bottom two for Tony’s lab and one labelled basement. He selected the basement button and the lift zoomed quickly down, causing Peter to overbalance slightly and fall further into Tony, who tightened his hold on him.

The basement was dark, but not uncomfortably so. There were several rooms coming off the main corridor, which were for CCTV surveillance and storing private company information. All of them were empty however, and Tony lead them to the end of the corridor and through a large door. Inside was a large room which resembled a carpark. It was filled with fancy, expensive cars which probably all belonged to Tony, along with a driveway leading up to a quiet road above them.

“Here,” Tony said, taking Peter to the car nearest the driveway, which was a discrete back AUDI. He helped Peter slide into the passenger seat before rushing around to the drivers side. Tony had to help Peter buckle himself in as his hands were shaking uncontrollably at this point.

“Press on that tightly,” Tony instructed, putting his own hand on top of Peter’s shaking one, holding the stained towel to his side.

“I can’t,” Peter explained quietly as Tony started the engine and steered the car out of the garage. “Where are we going?”

“To the hospital,” he replied, revving the engine and speeding up the road.

“No,” Peter protested weakly. “Not hospital.”

Tony cursed as he almost bumped another car when he turned a corner too quickly. “I know it’s not ideal, but you were shot, you need help.”

“I don’t have time,” he said calmly and quietly. Peter held up his free hand and showed Tony. He was shaking, and his fingers were beginning to look slightly grey and transparent.

Another, louder curse escaped Tony’s mouth. “What do we do? I can’t send you back like that?”

He was right, Peter could hardly walk right now, let alone swing around as Spider-man to get himself back to the compound.

The compound.

“Can you drive me upstate?” Peter asked Tony quietly.

“Upstate?” Tony questioned with a frown. “Why?”

“It’s where you live now,” explained Peter in an even quieter voice.

Tony frowned for a minute before turning back to the road and making a sharp turn that would lead them out of the city. “Okay, I’m not even going to ask. How much time do you have?”

“Half an hour,” Peter said in a dull tone, realising that they were not going to make it close to the site of the compound before he disappeared.

With a knowing nod, Tony pushed hard on the accelerator and sped down the roads at a definitely illegal speed.

Peter let his head fall back against the seat with a small thud and breathed deeply through his nose. Thankfully, he wasn’t in much pain, but the exhaustion was settling in and making it hard to focus. His hands shook dangerously where they were clasped against the slowly weeping wound.

“I need you to stay awake, Pete,” Tony said suddenly, his voice laced with urgency and worry. “You need to tell me where we’re going.”

Nodding, Peter vaguely muttered for him to keep going straight a head for a bit. He felt numb, apart from a constant pulse of exhaustion originating in his skull and expanded across his body. The voice in his mind was telling him to panic, but he was too tired and floaty to be bothered to get worked up about stuff.

He could tell Tony was getting agitated in the driver’s seat, glancing at the digital time on the dash and urging the car to go faster every few minutes. Peter felt suddenly very lucky to have someone who cared about him so much, even though they’d previously only been in acquaintance for about a week.

“You’re the best,” Peter slurred, reaching up a shaking hand to squeeze Tony’s arm.

Tony let out a forced laugh. “Thanks buddy, you’re pretty good, yourself.”

“No,” Peter mumbled unhappily. “’m not. I just stress you out and fight with you. You don’t deserve it.”

Was Peter confusing his Tony with the alternative reality Tony? He couldn’t even tell anymore.

“Kid, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me, I don’t care what you do, you’ll never lose me,” Tony assured him.

That sounded suspiciously profound. Oh, well – it was nearly their turn off.

“Turn right up here,” Peter said, only loud enough for Tony to just hear.

“Where is it that we’re going, Pete?” asked Tony as they turned onto a narrow track running through a loosely packed plot of trees.

“Home,” Peter breathed, blinking heavily. “Middle of nowhere really.”

Tutting, Tony huffed a sigh. “Why don’t you get your watch out and set it up so you’re ready to go as soon as we get there?”

Peter struggled to adjust the settings on the watch with his shaking fingers, but he painstakingly searched through until it was set up to the exact time he left. By the time he’d finished, he could barely see his hands anymore.

“Hurry,” Peter gasped.

“Tell me where to go,” Tony instructed, panicking.

Looking around wearily to get his bearings, Peter replied, “Left at the next turn we see.”

The engine roared as Tony sped ever faster up the track, almost missing the turn because of his speed. They pulled into a grassy plain bigger than a football field that Peter knew as the plot of the Avengers Compound. Tony didn’t even shut off the engine before he leapt out of the car and ran around to Peter’s side, where he was struggling to get his nearly disappeared hands to open the door.

Tony wasted no time in yanking to door open and hauling Peter out of the car by the arm, along with his backpack.

“Go now, hurry!” Tony said.

But Peter could already see the floor in that plan, even before he heard the minute thud of the watch that had just been strapped to his wrist hitting the grass beneath him. Looking down, Peter saw what he’d feared. His body had faded so much that the watch had nothing to strap onto anymore. He had no hands, no wrists – and the rest of him was fading fast.

“Fuck!” Tony yelled, reaching down to pick up the watch.

“Tony,” Peter whispered so quietly it was barely audible. Tony ignored him, determinedly looking at the watch in his hands. He looked up at Peter momentarily before fumbling to strap the device to his own wrist. “Tony don’t!” Peter warned thickly.

Too late.

Chapter Text

“Fuck!” Tony yelled, reaching down to pick up the watch.

“Tony,” Peter whispered so quietly it was barely audible. Tony ignored him, determinedly looking at the watch in his hands. He looked up at Peter momentarily before fumbling to strap the device to his own wrist. “Tony don’t!” Peter warned thickly.

Too late.

Tony put an arm around Peter’s waist and forcefully pressed the face of the watch inward.

Purple light drowned out Peter’s scream of protest. Tony’s arm stayed firmly around Peter as they seemed to float away into the blinding light. The feeling of solid ground meeting their feet was sudden, and Peter would have toppled over had it not been for Tony.

Almost as soon as they’d landed, Peter was overcome with the pain in his side, barely noticing the changes in their surroundings, letting out a small cry of pain and pressing a now fully visible hand to the wound, which was suddenly bleeding profusely.

“Hey, it’s okay, we’ll get you inside,” Tony said reassuringly to Peter as he looked around wildly at the large compound before them, illuminated by bright floodlights in the harsh darkness of the night.

“S-someone will have noticed us arrive,” Peter explained in a quiet pained voice.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” asked Tony, still looking around in confused wonder.

Peter took in a laboured breath and looked up imploringly at Tony. “You need to go.”

“I’m not leaving you.” His tone left no room for argument, and he determinedly began practically dragging Peter across the grass towards the large building of the compound.

“You don’t understand,” Peter begged, now nearly in tears.

A bang and a shout made both of their heads snap up to where the door to the Avengers common area had been thrown open.

“Peter!?”

Yep. That was Steve. And now he’s running towards them.

“Go now,” Peter hissed at Tony, but the man was transfixed on the Captain running towards them.

“Peter! What happened?” Steve shouted as he approached. “FRIDAY said you were – Tony? I thought you were in the city?”

“Is that Captain America?” Tony whispered to Peter under his breath.

“Would you freak out if I said yes?” asked Peter in reply, not meeting Tony's eyes.

“What is going on?” Steve interrupted, looking incredulously at the pair before him. “Tony – you look… younger?”

A cheeky smile flared on Tony’s lips before he turned suddenly serious. “Hi, yeah I am Tony, but I’m not your Tony, per say,” he explained hurriedly. “But right now, can we ignore that, and I'll ignore the fact that freaking Captain America is stood in front of me - Peter is hurt, can you help him at all, please?”

Steve seemed taken aback by the politeness of this man who looked like Tony, but apparently wasn’t. Only then did he notice Peter was bleeding dangerously, and his eyes widened.

“Of course, oh god,” Steve sprang into action, rushing to Peter’s side and helping Tony support him. “We’ll get you to the med-bay, Peter. You’ll be okay. What happened?”

“He got shot,” Tony supplied, still eyeing the Captain wearily.

“Christ,” Steve mumbled, looking around wildly as if to spot the shooter. A frown appeared on his face and he looked up at Tony. “How do I know I can trust you? How do I know you didn’t shoot him?” Steve had pulled Peter closer to himself as he spoke, so that now Tony could barely reach him.

“Be-because I trust him,” Peter stutter through laboured breaths, looking up at Steve earnestly. “He-he helped me, he brought me here. He’s T-Tony.”

“Listen we don’t have time to explain now, can we please just get him help,” Tony implored the Captain.

It took a moment for Steve to come to his senses, and Peter could almost see his brain working to put his confusion aside to help Peter.

“Okay,” he said determinedly, swooping Peter’s knees out from under him to carry him bridal style, ignoring the boy’s pained grunts. “We’ll get you to the med-bay. Banner will fix you up right away.”

Steve tried his best to keep Peter still as he half-ran to the building, but Peter couldn’t help but grumble in pain as he practically felt the bullet inside him move with each jolt.

Shouldering, his way through the door, Steve couldn’t help but throw a confused look over his shoulder to Tony, who was following close behind. Bucky met them in the hallway and swore at the sight of Peter’s bloodied and exhausted form in Steve’s arms.

“Is he okay?” Bucky asked Steve, approaching and looking worriedly at Peter.

“He will be,” Steve assured him. “I need you to keep an eye on him, don’t let him out of your sight,” he said, nodding at where Tony was standing behind him.

Bucky frowned at Tony and Steve. “Tony? Why would I need to watch-”

“It’s not Tony, I don’t even know what’s going on, but we don’t have time, just watch him,” Steve commanded sternly, before he took off with Peter down the hallway. “FRIDAY, tell
Bruce to meet us in the med-bay right now, tell him Peter’s hurt.”

“Already done, Captain Rogers,” FRIDAY said politely, which was unusual for her, being the sassy AI Tony had created.

A shuddering breath escaped Peter as he got jolted particularly violently, and a tight pain spread across the right side of his chest.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Steve apologised as Peter gasped.

The trip to the med-bay seemed to take hours, but with Steve’s carefully steady pace, it probably only took a few minutes. But Peter was almost asleep by the time they entered the med-room Dr Banner was waiting in, despite the intense pain in his side and chest.

“Put him on the bed, Cap,” Bruce instructed as soon as they entered.

The doctor began examining his patient before Peter even had time to groan at the pain of being laid down, no matter how gently Steve did it. Steve stayed right next to Peter while Bruce checking him over, and jumped to reassure the boy when Bruce pressed on the wound and ran his cold hands along Peter’s bare chest.

Peter shuddered, and Steve immediately put a steady, reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“He’s having difficulty breathing,” Bruce observed, pushing his glasses up his nose with his inner elbow, as his hands were covered with Peter’s blood. “I think the bullet nicked his lung and it’s collapsing.”

That would explain why his breaths were getting weaker and why his head was spinning.

“We need to do scans and get the bullet out,” Bruce said, looking at Steve. “The nurses are on-call but they won’t get here fast enough.”

“What do you need me to do?” The Captain asked, squaring his shoulders as if he was about to go into battle.

“I need you to assist me with the scans and procedure.”

Steve nodded worriedly, like he didn’t think he could do it.

“I’ll tell you everything I need you to do, you’ll be fine,” Bruce reassured him, before turning back to Peter. “I’m going to put him under now.” Bruce released the pressure off the wound and moved away from the bed to begin the preparation for removing the bullet.

“I’ll call Tony, tell him what’s going on,” Steve said, pulling his phone from his pocket as he made to leave.

The loss of contact on Peter’s shoulder spiked his nerves, and before thinking, Peter reached out a floppy hand and latched onto Steve’s wrist. Steve turned back to Peter with a sad smile.

“What’s up, Pete?” he asked kindly and quietly.

“Stay,” Peter answered in a breathy voice, tugging weakly on Steve’s wrist.

***

*Steve’s POV*

Steve’s heart gave a sad flutter as he felt Peter pulling at his wrist weakly. He looked down at the pale, bloodied boy with sad eyes.

“Okay, Pete,” Steve said softly and reassuringly, manoeuvring his hand to hold Peter’s smaller one gently. “I’ll stay here, but I’m going to call Tony okay, tell him what’s happening.”

Nodding slightly, Peter seemed to relax deeper into the bed, whether form the exhaustion or the comfort Steve didn’t know. He dialled Tony’s number, and dreaded to think the state his friend would be in when he found out what condition his son was in.

He watched Bruce put an IV in Peter’s arm and slip an oxygen mask over his face while the dial tone played in his ear.

“Okay, Peter,” Bruce said softly, now cleaning up some of the blood from around the room. “We’re going to remove the bullet and hopefully get your lung sorted out, now. You’re going to feel really sleepy now, so just take some deep breaths - well, as deep breaths as you can manage - and close your eyes for me when you feel yourself falling asleep.”

Steve rubbed his thumb against the back of Peter’s hand, waiting with bated breath for Tony to pick up the phone. He almost jumped when Tony’s voice cut off the ringing tone.

“Steve?” Tony said down the phone.

“Tony?” Steve asked, because it was a habit from his old age to check who had answered the phone.

“Yes, it’s me. What’s the matter?” He said calmly.

Steve hated to ruin his calm demeanour, because contradictory to certain people’s beliefs, Steve actually considered Tony a friend and cared about his feelings. He watched as Peter struggled to draw in deep breaths.

“It’s Peter,” he said with a sigh.

There was a pause, in which Steve knew Tony was thinking of the worst possible scenario. He didn’t know if the reality was better or worse than what Tony was imagining.

“What happened?”

“It’s…” Steve struggled to find what to say, not wanting to upset Tony right away. “We went to check on him, but he wasn’t in his room. Then FRIDAY said he was outside and…” Steve heard the doors down the hall of the med-bay crash open and was viciously reminded of the strange Tony-like man who’d appeared with Peter. He could hear Bucky’s gruff tone and the other man’s pleas from here. “Oh god, I can’t explain, but you better come home quickly.”

“I’m on my way,” Tony said determinedly before ending the call.

Just then, Bucky entered the room with his metal hand clasped around Tony(?)’s arm. Bruce’s head whipped up to frown at the two.

“Steve, can you tell me what’s going on?” Bucky asked. “This guy says he’s Tony Stark.”

“He’s not, I just spoke to Tony on the phone, he’s on his way,” Steve supplied, fixing Tony(?) with a harsh glare.

“H-he is. He is. T-Tony,” Peter’s weak voice spoke up, as he raised a sluggish hand to gesture towards Tony.

Bruce hurried to shush Peter, and put his hand back on the bed, while Steve watched as Tony(?)’s eyes creased with affection and worry as he surveyed Peter.

“I am Tony,” he said quietly. Then he lifted his free hand to show them a glowing purple watch.

“That’s one of the time travel watches,” Bruce said with wonder and confusion.

On the bed, Peter shifted uncomfortably in distress. “I’m sorry,” he said through a gasped sob. “D-don’t hurt him.”

“Hey, shhh, it’s okay,” Steve assured him, immediately jumping into action to calm the distressed teen. He carded his large fingers gently through the boy’s hair in the loving manner Steve had seen Tony do sometimes. “We won’t hurt him, we promise.”

Steve continued muttering gentle nothings until Peter had relaxed and drifted into a heavily sedated sleep.

“Okay, we’re going to have to sort all this out after we’ve fixed Peter up,” Bruce said to the three men in the room. “Peter’s our priority right now.”

They all nodded, but Bucky kept a firm hand around Tony’s arm.

Bruce instructed Bucky and Tony to say in the waiting room while they took Peter through to the operating room and did the necessary procedure, now that the bleeding was mostly under control. Steve and Bruce had to quickly change into scrubs before scanning Peter’s chest and side.

Humming distastefully, Bruce muttered about not being this type of doctor as they saw the results of the scan appear on the screen before them.

“It’s like I thought,” Bruce told Steve. “The bullet has moved inside him and nicked his lung, air escaped into the chest cavity and caused his lung to collapse.”

The doctor led Steve back into the operating room with Peter and spread his supplies across a small table. The oxygen mask on Peter’s face was replaced with a breathing tube.

“All I need you to do,” Bruce said kindly to Steve, “is hand me equipment when I ask and keep an eye on his vitals.” He tapped a monitor near the bed that displayed Peter’s heart rate and vitals, before pulling a mask over his nose and mouth and instructing Steve to do the same.

Steve considered himself to have a relatively strong stomach, but his hands shook as he handed Bruce the scalpel and watched the doctor widen the entrance hole of the bullet, before practically digging around inside Peter’s body to retrieve the offending piece of metal.

Stark red blood oozed from the wound and dripped to the table below, reminding Steve of the incident at dinner last night, when the poor kid had been so lost in thought he’d punctured his own skin with the force of clenching his hands. He wondered if that was linked to why Peter had used to time travel device Tony had locked away, the boy had been acting a little strangely recently. Steve and the other Avengers had been told the story of Peter’s last (accidental) escapade to the past a little while after they found out Peter was Tony’s son. This trip to the past however, seemed to have been deliberate.

“Do you know why he did it?” Steve asked Bruce quietly, not wanting to distract the man too much. “Why he went back to the past I mean?”

“He didn’t go to the past,” Bruce told him simply, still concentrating on getting the bullet out of the boy’s side, but not seeming to mind the conversation. “Well, technically he did, but the purple device takes you to alternative realities, though it does look like Peter went to the past in whatever reality he went to.”

Steve was shocked. “So… so the Tony out there isn’t the same Tony we know?”

Shaking his head, Bruce finally managed to pull out the bloodied bullet with a set of tweezer-like things and placed it in a glass beaker with a small tinkling sound. “Nope, it’s probably a version of Tony from a branch of reality that split off from ours at some point,” he said as he began stitching the wound closed. “We’ll have to wait till Peter wakes up to know what reality he came from, so we can send him back. And to answer your question; no, I don’t know why Peter went to the other reality, but he’s a good kid, I don’t think he meant any harm.”

It only took them half an hour to finish treating Peter. After stitching the wound, Bruce inserted a chest tube just below Peter’s armpit to get rid of the air trapped in his chest cavity and stopping his lung inflating fully. Steve had to hold the end of the tube while Bruce put it in position but had to look away, so he didn’t spontaneously vomit or pass out.
When the chest tube was in place, they moved Peter back to the med-room and tried to make him as comfortable as possible for when he woke up, which Bruce said would be in about an hour. Steve pulled up a chair next to Peter’s bed as soon as he’d changed out of his scrubs, taking Peter’s hand firmly in his, as though he’d be able to sense Steve’s presence.

“He’ll be okay, Steve,” Bruce assured him as he watched the monitor display of the kid’s vitals. “You did well, thanks for your help.”

Steve smiled at the man and sub-consciously rubbed his thumb in soothing circles on Peter’s hand.

“Mr Stark has just entered through the garage, he’s on his way to the med-bay,” FRIDAY said suddenly.

“Christ, how are we going to explain this?” Steve cursed, tensing with anticipation.

“We’ll have to ask the other Tony what happened,” Bruce said. “But let him see that Peter’s okay before we introduce the Tonys; no doubt it will be a bit of a shock for them both.”

Sighing, Steve rubbed his free hand through his hand and down his face. He wondered if Tony would ever trust him again, considering they’d only been asked to watch Peter for a few hours and now look at him. Could it have gone any worse? It was selfish to be thinking of himself when his friend’s son had been shot, but he couldn’t help but feel responsible for not taking better care of him.

They could hear the hurried footsteps approaching down the corridor long before Tony burst into the room. The man looked frazzled, but his expression turned serious with worry and pain as he saw Peter lying on the hospital bed. Bruce had put a gown on him to cover the bandages and the chest tube going into the skin under his arm, but the tube was still visible trailing out from the gown, as well as an IV in his hand and an oxygen mask over his face as a precaution to ensure he was getting enough oxyeg nwhile his lung was re-inflating. Overall, he looked a little worse for wear, to say the least.

Tony was at his side immediately, stroking a hand through the boy’s matted hair and looking him over as if doing a visual assessment of his health.

“What happened? Is he okay?” he asked hurriedly, not looking up at either of the other men in the room.

“He’s going to be fine,” Bruce said softly and gently, with a reassuring hand on Tony’s shoulder.

“What happened?” Tony repeated more quietly this time.

Scratching his neck timidly, Bruce looked at Steve for help.

“We don’t know how, yet, or by who, but he got shot,” Steve explained in the calmest manner he could muster, not that that stopped Tony’s eyes shooting up to meet Steve’s.

Bruce cleared his throat, suddenly gaining his confidence back. “We got the bullet out, but he lost a fair bit of blood and his lung was punctured. Give him a day or two, though, and he’ll be fine.”

A small amount of relief seemed to envelop Tony momentarily, before his expression shifted back to the I’m-a-dad-and-someone-hurt-my-kid look. “How did this happen?” he asked no one I particular. “Who shot him? I didn’t get a notification saying anyone broke in and he didn’t go on patrol and-”

“Calm down, Tony,” Bruce consoled. “Don’t freak out but… we think he stole the time travel devices from your lab and used them to go back in time.”

At any other time, the look on Tony’s face would have been priceless. It was a perfect mixture of outrage and confusion, and it summed up the whole situation pretty accurately.

“What did he do?” Tony breathed.

“We don’t know,” Steve spoke up, standing from his seat, but keeping his grip on Peter’s hand. “But there’s someone here who does know, other than Peter I mean,” he explained.

“FRIDAY, will you please ask Bucky and Tony to come in here please.”

 

“T-Tony?” Tony stuttered, looking at Steve in disbelief. “As in-”

“As in you,” Bruce stated gently. “From the past. From an alternative reality – although, I’m not sure he knows that bit yet.”

Tony looked astounded. “What the fuck?”

“Language,” Steve whispered.

Not a moment later, Bucky and the other Tony entered the room. Steve saw their older Tony almost recoil at the sight of himself from an alternative reality, while the other Tony had eyes only for Peter, seemingly not noticing Tony yet.

“Is he okay?” The other Tony asked nervously, looking as though he wanted to approach the boy’s sleeping form, but Bucky’s hand on his arm was stopping him.

“He’s going to be fine,” Bruce explained again. The other Tony looked up at Bruce when he spoke, and only then seemed to catch sight of the older Tony.

It was an impossible moment.

Now that Steve was faced with both a younger and older Tony in the same room, he could see how harrowed and lined Tony’s face had become over the years in comparison to what the other Tony looked like – fresh faced and darker haired, with a fuller, neater beard. It showed how much Tony had really gone through over the last few years.

“Okay, um,” Bruce began to break the silence. “We know this is weird, but can we get the weirdness out of the way to find out what exactly happened to Peter.”

In the moment, it was almost easy to forget that there was an unconscious teenage in a hospital bed between them, but now almost all attention was brought back to the injured teen.

“Uh-m,” Tony fumbled, looking between the other Tony and Peter, struggling for words. “Do you – do you think you could tell us what happened?” he managed in a quiet voice.

The other Tony nodded minutely, scratching his beard absently and still looking directly at his older self. “Yeah, uh, he showed up last night at the tower and said he came to visit us. He spent the day with me, but because it was a different time travel device this time, he started getting really shaky and was beginning to fade, he said he had a limited amount of time before he had to come back here or he’ll fade completely. So, we-we went back to the tower and… and there’d been a confrontation with Obadiah Stane earlier in the day and… uh he basically tried to kill Peter and I.”

“Stane did this?” the older Tony practically bellowed, angrily. When the other Tony nodded sadly, Tony balled his hands into fists and turned his back on everyone in the room, and Steve would have guessed his was trying to suppress tears. “That mother fucking piece of shit,” he mumbled. Steve didn’t bother in chastising his bad language – he thought that the moment was appropriate.

Though neither Steve, Bucky or Bruce had known Obadiah, or knew Tony when Obadiah was around, they all knew how the man had ordered the Ten rings to kill Tony, and so the following weeks Tony spent in pain and being tortured in Afghanistan were primarily Obadiah’s doing. And that’s all before he tried to make his own iron man suit and nearly murdered Tony.

“I think, um, now there’s another important issue we need to discuss,” Bruce interjected shyly. “Tony,” he said, addressing the younger of the two, “you said that Peter used a different time travel device this time – the purple one I’m guessing?” Tony nodded. “Do you… do you know what that device does?”

Tony (the younger one) gulped slightly and looked around the room at all of the occupants. “I think so,” he admitted sadly. “This is an alternative reality isn’t it?”

The room was silent as Steve, Bruce and the older version of Tony shared a solemn look.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, in his most sensitive tone.

The other Tony nodded his head. “It’s fine… I kind of guessed it already. I don't know the details, but in my reality, I'm pretty sure Captain America's dead.”

"Don't worry, we thought that too for about seventy years," the older Tony interjected with a huffed laugh.

Steve cleared his throat in the silence that followed, squaring his shoulders. “Bucky, I think we should leave them to it,” he said and gestured his head towards the door. With a nod, Bucky headed towards the door. Steve followed, looking back over his shoulder before he went. “Let FRIDAY know if you need us,” he instructed before leaving them to talk amongst themselves.

Chapter Text

Steve cleared his throat, squaring his shoulders. “Bucky, I think we should leave them to it,” he said and gestured his head towards the door. With a nod, Bucky headed towards the door. Steve followed, looking back over his shoulder before he went. “Let FRIDAY know if you need us,” he instructed before leaving them to talk amongst themselves.

*Tony’s POV*

Steve left, shutting the door behind him, trapping them in with the elephant in the room.

“What’s FRIDAY?” the Other Tony asked – God this is so weird.

“An AI,” Tony answered.

A prolonged silence took over the room, only disturbed by Peter’s heavy breathing.

“Uh,” the other Tony began. “I’m sorry I let this happen to Peter… I should have been more careful.”

Tony looked up at his other self and saw the complete guilt and sorrow in his eyes. “It’s not your fault. It’s my fault.”

Both Bruce and the other Tony snapped their heads up to looked disbelievingly at Tony.

“How could you say that? He loves you and looks up to you so much,” Bruce protested, not unkindly.

“We fought right before I left for the meeting, and now…” Tony gestured to the unconscious, injured teen on the bed.

“I’m not saying I agree with you,” The Other Tony began cautiously. “But he did mention that you’d fought, but I don’t think he was rebelling – I think he was just clearing his head.”

Tony hoped he was right. The thought of his son running away to live in an alternative reality with a different, more desirable version of himself left a pit in his stomach like an abyss. He knew Peter had been reserved and quiet recently, but he’d just thought it was stuff in school, or stress from his busy extra-curricular activities on top of spider-man duties.

“He has been acting a little differently recently,” Bruce observed with slight nod of his head. “And he hasn’t spent as much time here with you recently, Tony.”

With a sigh, Tony pinched the bridge of his nose to quell an oncoming headache. “I just thought he was sulking – that’s what teenagers do, right?”

“Tony, teenagers aren’t machines; they have real emotions,” Bruce explained slowly and tiredly. The Other Tony huffed a small laugh.

Tony rolled his eyes at Bruce and dramatically flopped down to sit at the chair next to Peter’s bed Steve had recently vacated. “I know, Bruce, but I never know what he needs. I don’t know if he wants me to help him or if he wants to figure it out on his own. Does he want me to give him space or give him comfort? He’ll never say these things to me, and I don’t know how to tell what he needs from me.”

“Tony, every parent has times like this. You’re not alone, okay, and I think you need to make sure Peter knows he’s not alone either,” Bruce said softly.

They listened for a minute to the rasp of Peter breathing in the artificially supplied oxygen.

“Man… and I thought raising a baby was hard,” the Other Tony mumbled to himself.

“You have a baby?” Bruce asked incredulously.

The man nodded, and an awkward silence filled the room for a second.

“Let me guess,” Tony (normal Tony) spoke up in a slightly snarky tone. “A kid named Peter born on April 1st 2001, curly brown hair, too clever for his age, sassy, noisy…”

“You guessed it,” the Other Tony remarked as if it was a private joke. “I fucking knew it….”

Bruce’s frown was now alarmingly deep, almost forcing his glasses from his face. “I’m sorry, I’m not following.”

Tony sighed. “It would appear that in what ever reality this fine gentleman comes from,” he said, gesturing to the other Tony, “he raises Peter, our son, from birth. I suppose you’re still with Mary too then?”

“You’re not?” the Other Tony asked, affronted.

Shaking his head, Tony fiddled awkwardly with a button on his jacket. “No, I’m not. We broke up right after she told me she was pregnant with Pete. It was a mutual thing, I didn’t just abandon her like an unwanted puppy,” Tony clarified. “Peter was brought up believing he was the son of Richard Parker, Mary’s new boyfriend. He only found out I was his father a few months back – the last time he visited you actually.”

“That’s rough,” the Other Tony commented. “And clearly you’ve got some other shit going on in this reality because Captain America is standing in your hallway.”
Bruce and Tony laughed.

“For obvious reasons, it would be unwise for us to tell you anymore about our reality,” Bruce said calmly. “I’m sure you understand.”

“I get it,” the Other Tony nodded. “That was something Peter was quite adamant about actually; he never told me more than I needed to know about his life.”

“Smart kid,” Tony agreed. “Listen… Tony, I’m sorry you got dragged into all this, none of this is your fault, at all.”

“It’s okay,” the Other Tony reassured him. “I … I don’t know, I think I already knew that Peter was not from the same place as me. I’m glad he has you. He loves you, a lot.”

Tony nodded, closing his eyes for a moment to drink in the reality of the situation. “Thank you for taking care of him.”

“Well, he is technically my son after all,” the Other Tony replied with a shrug and a smile.

Who knew, Tony actually got along with himself quite well.

***

Peter woke up half an hour of stuttered small talk and awkward silences later.

“’the hell happened?” he asked groggily as he shifted uncomfortably on his hospital bed. “Am I seeing double?”

“Nope, this is the souvenir you brought back from your little holiday,” Tony reminded him, gesturing to the Other Tony beside him.

“Tony!” Peter greeted happily, looking pointedly at the Other Tony.

“Hey, Pete,” the Other Tony replied with a grin.

Tony huffed in agitation. “Pete,” he said, effectively gaining the teen’s hazy, drugged up attention. “What do you have to say to this handsome man?” he nodded to the Other Tony.

“Oh,” Peter said, his face falling instantly. He lazily tried to sit up further but gave up with a small moan of pain and impatience.

“Easy, Pete,” Bruce warned.

“I’m sorry,” Peter said to the Other Tony solemnly, brushing off Bruce’s concern. “I’m sorry I came back and ruined your day and probably got blood in your car and in your carpet and almost dropped your baby, and I didn’t say bye to Mary, which I’m sure you’ll get an earful about when you get back -”

“Jeez, kid,” Tony grumbled. “I only meant for you to say thank you.”

The adults in the room chuckled at Peter’s flushed face of guilt and embarrassment.

“It’s okay, Pete,” the Other Tony reassured him happily. “I’m glad you visited – though I still think you should have told Tony or someone about it first, before you jumped into an alternative reality on your own.”

“I agree,” Tony and Bruce interjected in unison.

Peter looked at his hands guiltily. “I’m sorry,” he said, sounding genuinely guilty. “I didn’t mean to worry you guys.”

Tony gave him a small smile to indicate that the apology was accepted, but that they’d be talking more about it later.

“I think that, though you’re more than welcome here, Tony,” Bruce said to the Other Tony. “It’s probably best if you go back home now, just to avoid any further complications.”

“Of course,” the Other Tony smiled.

 

They agreed that it was best that they go back outside to send the Other Tony off on his way, so that he didn’t re-materialise in mid-air from being on the second floor of the compound. Peter insisted on going with them but was forced into a wheelchair by Tony and Bruce.

(“I can walk fine, I wasn’t shot in the legs,” Peter whined.
“Yes, but you got out of surgery less than an hour ago and the sedatives pain meds in your system will probably make you dizzy and sleepy, not to mention the chest tube you still have in to help with your collapsed lung,” Bruce said factually.
“But I’m fine, I’m not dizzy at all,” Peter insisted, sitting up and swinging his legs off the bed to prove his point.
“Peter Parker, you either get your ass in this chair right now or you don’t get to come outside with us,” Tony commanded, in his sternest ‘dad’ voice – the Other Tony gave an approving nod and looked as though he was taking mental notes on how to control teenagers for the future.
Peter huffed and grumbled indignantly but sat himself in the wheelchair and allowed himself to be wheeled out of the building.)

Steve and Bucky followed behind them, still eyeing the two Tony’s in wonder and suspicion.

They’d also agreed that it was best if someone went with the Other Tony to the alternative reality to bring back the time travel device, that way they could ensure that both were destroyed – not that they didn’t trust the Other Tony to destroy it in his reality, but one Tony had already proved that they were not trustworthy enough to destroy them when told to, as Bruce had pointed out.

So, once they all got outside the compound, all slightly shivering in the cool night air (especially Peter, who was only wearing a hospital gown) Bruce and the Other Tony moved to stand in front of the group, ready to travel back to the alternative reality together. Peter explained to them both in precise detail how to use the device, so that Bruce could reset it to come back home after he dropped Tony off.

The Tonys shook hands, exclaiming their appreciation of each other’s facial hair, and offered each other luck for raising their respective sons. The Other Tony then shook hands with Steve and Bucky, stared at them quizzically for a few moments and then muttered to himself, “I’m not even going to ask.”

“Good job,” Bucky chuckled. “It’s a hell of a long story.”

The Other Tony then turned to Peter, who stood up from the wheelchair to hug him, despite Tony and Bruce’s protests.

Peter squeezed extra hard, as he knew that Tony probably wasn’t feeling the hug fully. Tony squeezed back to reassure Peter that he was feeling it.

“It’s was good to see you again, Pete,” Tony said quietly. “But – and don’t take this the wrong way – don’t come and visit again.”

Peter laughed slightly, but his breath got caught on a shaky sob. Tony pulled back to wipe tears from Peter’s cheeks, ignoring the water welling in his own eyes.

“It’s okay,” Tony reassured him. “You still have a version of me, and I still have a version of you, if you know what I mean.” Peter gave him a watery smile and glanced at his Tony briefly. “And let me tell you; if my Peter turns out to be half the man you are, I’d be the proudest man alive,” he whispered quietly into Peter’s ear.

Tony stood back and pushed Peter gently back towards his own Tony, who enveloped him in warm arms, resting his chin atop his head, as though claiming Peter as his own, stopping him trying to go back to the Other Tony - not in a mean way, more in a protective father way.

“It’s been nice meeting you, Pete,” the Other Tony said with a sad smile before moving to stand next to Bruce.

“You too,” Peter mumbled through his tears.

“We’d better get going,” Bruce said politely. He held an arm out to the Other Tony, who held on tightly and eyed the watch warily, now knowing how unpleasant it was to travel through time and reality.

Bruce held the watch out and adjusted it to the correct time settings. “I’ll be back in a second,” Bruce explained to the others.

“It was nice meeting you all,” the Other Tony said in ways of a goodbye.

Before any of them could reply, Bruce pressed the watch face inwards and purple light expanded outwards from the watch and encompassed the pair. The last Peter saw of the Other Tony was his face illuminated with purple light and a small, sad smile gracing his lips. The light vanished, and they were gone; Steve, Bucky, Tony and Peter were left staring blankly at the empty garden.

Tony kissed Peter’s hair and gently shushed him as his son’s body shook with silent sobs. Not a moment later, the purple light came back, and through teary eyes, Peter saw a pale faced Bruce stagger back into reality.

Swallowing thickly, Bruce mumbled to himself, “I’m never, ever doing that again.”

As planned, Bucky went over to Bruce and took his phone from him, checking the time. “Only a minute out,” he told them as he compared the time and date to the display on his own phone. Bruce shook his had at their lack of trust in him.

“Okay, let's get you back inside,” Bruce said to Peter, and began leading the group back inside.

Instead of forcing Peter back into the wheelchair, Tony swept Peter up in a bridal carry and held him tightly as hey headed to Peter’s room.

“We know there’s no way you’ll be sleeping on your own tonight, so Bruce said that if you promise to take it easy and not pull your stitches, you can stay up with us to watch a film if you wanted,” Tony told Peter in a hushed, loving tone.

“Yes please,” Peter mumbled into Tony’s chest.

“Okay, kiddo. But let’s get you into some proper pyjamas first.”

Once Peter was changed out of his hospital gown into his favourite Iron Man pyjamas, Tony helped him make his way down to the common room, where Bucky, Steve and Bruce would be waiting to watch a movie.

“What are you going to do with the time travel watches?” Peter asked Tony sleepily as they plodded through the corridors.

“They’re locked in a super secure volt now, which FRIDAY is monitoring – even I’m not allowed in until tomorrow – and then in the morning, we’re going to destroy them,” Tony explained simply.

“But I thought you wanted to keep them?” Peter protested.

Tony tutted. “You think I’m just going to leave powerful time travel devices lying around for any unstable teen to get their hands on? I don’t think so,” Tony shook his head.
Peter looked at him incredulously, until the older man smirked at him.

“Seriously though Pete, we actually have to destroy them, time travel is just too dangerous,” Tony assured him as they entered the main living room.

“Hey guys, we were thinking about watching Back to the Future, Steve and Bucky haven’t seen it – is that okay with you?” Bruce asked innocently as the pair sat down beside him.

Tony rolled his eyes so violently, he must have seen his own brain. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”

Peter smiled happily as he shuffled closer to his father’s side. He knew they still had to have a Big Talk about … well, about everything. But right now, Peter was just pleased to be sat in a room with four of his heroes, watching Back to the Future with his head on his father’s chest, drifting off to sleep.

***

Tony woke up surprisingly early for having only got into bed at two in the morning, after carrying a sleeping Peter back to his own room once the movie had ended.
With a yawn and stretch, Tony committed fully to getting out of bed, ignoring his old, aching joints, and began the day.

Steve was probably already out on his early morning run, but they’d agreed that once he was back they’d use his vibranium shield to destroy the time travel devices, once and for all.

He went about his slow weekend morning routine of showering, washing, checking emails, all the boring stuff. On his way to the lab, he remembered they’d left Peter’s clothes and bag in the med bay last night and made a quick detour to pick them up.

The med bay was quiet, considering no body worked there at the weekends unless they were called in specially to treat a member of the team. Tony quickly picked up Peter’s clothes and bag, and then went to the laundry room.

He threw Peter’s dirty, blood stained clothes into the washing machine, though he knew it was probably not going to clean the blood off – he made a mental note to either ask Pepper how to get blood out of clothes or to buy replacement garments for the ones that were ruined. He pulled the spare clothes out of the backpack and put them in a different machine, not wanting them to get unnecessarily bloodied. Tony was reaching back in the bag to pull out the Spidey suit when his hand hit something hard in the bottom of the bag.

Frowning, Tony retrieved what he recognised to be Fred Murray’s (Goggle-man as Peter had called him) research diary.

He shouldn’t.

He really shouldn’t read it.

But when has Tony ever listened to his conscience.

Chapter Text

Tony’s hands were shaking when he heard FRIDAY telling him that Steve was looking for him.

He had no idea how long he’d been cowering in the laundry room, next to the washing machine, but it was long enough for Steve to finish his morning run – and he did not hold back on his runs.

Taking a few deep breaths, Tony stood up and shook himself out before grabbing the offending book, along with Peter’s backpack and heading out of the room towards the communal rooms. He found Steve there, cooking breakfast in an apron.

“Oh, hey Tony, I was wonder- are you alright?” Steve began, interrupting himself.

“I’m fine,” tony assured him, much too quickly.

Steve narrowed his eyes at Tony, before looking down to see what he was holding in his hands. “What’s that?” Steve asked.

“Peter’s bag,” Tony said, throwing the almost empty backpack on the couch, “and Fred Murray- Goggle-faced-freak’s research diary.”

Without any explanation to Steve, Tony crossed to the sink and tossed the book in haphazardly. He spun and ignored a stunned Steve as he retrieved a box of matches from the cupboard. Next, Tony struck a match and held the flame to the pages of the book. They took alight instantly, charring and burning in front of their eyes. The two of them watched in silence as the flames greedily ate up the paper, until nothing but ashes and the charred leather bindings remained.

Tony flicked the tap on and watched the water extinguish the flames and wash the ashes down the plug hole.

“Not a good read then I suppose,” Steve shrugged as Tony retrieved the soggy book bindings from the sink and chucked them unceremoniously in the bin.

“What Peter doesn’t know can’t hurt him,” Tony said to Steve with a quirked eyebrow.

Steve nodded, acknowledging Tony’s wish to keep this whole scenario from the boy. “But…” Steve began in a small voice. “You know, and it can hurt you.”

Slumping down in a chair at the kitchen island, Tony mentally cursed Steve and his finely tuned moral compass.

“When Peter went to the past last time, that fucker Fred gave him an option to change the future or keep it the same,” Tony began to explain, knowing Steve would not shut up about it until he told him. “The Tony we met last night was from the reality that ours would have switched to had Peter decided to change the future. I don’t know how the kid did it, but, obviously, Peter chose to keep the future the same, even though Fred tried everything to persuade him to change the future - he was trying to save his own family who died in the Battle of New York. But… in that book it explained that in the other reality, because Obadiah is put in prison in 2001, I never become Iron Man. And therefore, the Avengers were a man down in the battle of New York. Now, I don’t know how stupid Fred must be, but he never actually visited the Battle of New York in that reality; and he obviously did not realise how fucking stupid he was.”

Steve was silent. “The nuke,” he whispered. Tony nodded slowly, silently.

“I don’t know for sure… but I can make a fair guess that without Iron Man there at the Battle of New York, the whole fucking city got blown up by that nuke I put through a wormhole,” Tony ran both his hands through his hair manically. “Fred was trying to get his family back, who died in the invasion, but what he actually would have done was killed millions of people – including himself and his family.”

“And…” Steve stuttered. “And he decided to put the fate of the whole city on the shoulders of a teenager.”

“Not just the city, Steve,” Tony explained in strained voice. “He would have killed the whole of the avengers – Earth’s defenders. Everything we’ve faced, every invasion and terrorist we’ve stopped would have been able to go on their merry way.”

Steve stood with a vacant expression. “Shit…”

Tony had a similar reaction – but was mostly in awe of how Peter Parker’s selflessness and genius mind accidentally saved millions of people.

“He’s a hell of a good kid,” Steve breathed.

With a small laugh Tony smiled in pride. “I know. He’s a fucking genius.”

“So… if it turned out that Peter made the right decision, why don’t you want him to know? Why did you burn the book?” Steve asked.

“Oh, believe me I want him to know he made the right decision, now I know that that’s what’s been fucking him over all these months,” Tony said. “But that book had all sorts in it – diagrams and instructions on how to make and use the watches, information about all the other realities Fred visited, a creepy amount of information about Peter. I just don’t want Peter, or anyone else, finding it and getting any more ideas, you know.”

“Agreed,” Steve nodded.

 

It didn’t take long for Bruce, Bucky and Peter to wake, and soon they were all in the kitchen eating waffles. Peter still looked exhausted and haunted, but Tony figured he could take a nap once they’d watch the time travel watches get destroyed.

All of them gathered together in the training room to watch the show, and to make it more creative, they found other ways to fuck up the watches before they got properly destroyed.

Peter and Steve each threw a watch as hard as the could across the room and watched as Tony fired a repulsor blast at one, and Bucky pelted the other with bullets from his favourite gun.

They threw the watches at the walls and floor until the outer fixtures were broken beyond repair and the only parts left where the glowing green and purple gems.

“I never did figure out how Fred used them to manipulate time,” Tony mumbled to himself as Steve spectacularly sliced through the gems with the edge of his shield, causing each of them to shatter until they were nothing but dust and no longer glowing.

Since that was over, Bruce shepherded Peter back to the med bay to remove the stitches and the chest tube that had been annoying him since the previous night. Bruce did an ultra-sound on Peter’s chest and happily told them that his lung had re-inflated, and then easily removed the chest tube while Tony made exaggerated gagging sounds from the corner of the room.

Bruce discharged him as soon as he’d been cleaned up, and Peter began a sleepy march to his room.

“Not so fast kiddo,” Tony called after him. “Why don’t we head to sofa for a bit?”

Both of them new that was an obvious code for ‘we need to have that talk’, and so Peter gulped nervously before following Tony to his large, luxury apartment suite.

Tony led Peter to a large sofa and turned on some nature documentary on a low volume to take the edge off the silence, before turning to face Peter, who seemed to be trying to diffuse into the sofa by squishing himself into the furthest corner.

Sighing, Tony shuffled closer to the boy and put a firm hand on his knee.

“The first thing I want to say is a good thing, okay?” Tony said in a calm and reassuring voice. Peter nodded shyly. “I want to congratulate you for being mature and selfless and ingenious.”

“What for?” Peter asked quietly.

Smiling sadly, Tony began to explain what he’d read in Fred’s book that morning, and what he’d predicted from that about the Battle of New York. Peter’s eyes grew wider with each sentence, until Tony finished with the news that he burned the book.

“So… I did make the right decision?” Peter questioned disbelievingly.

“Of course you did, kiddo,” Tony smiled. “You saved millions of people, you know.” Uncharacteristically, Peter stayed deathly silent and still, and Tony decided to move the conversation forward himself. “So, now you know that, do you think you can talk to me about what’s been bugging you all this time?”

Peter hesitated, pulling the sleeves of his sweater down to cover his hands ad bundled them up near his mouth, as though physically stopping the words forming. Gently and slowly, Tony pulled the boy’s hands down and looked deep into his chocolate brown eyes.

“I… I just felt – felt like I had… I don-don’t know… It sounds stupid…” Peter stammered, not looking at Tony.

“Hey, nothing you say is stupid, Pete,” Tony reassured softly, rubbing soothing circles on the boy’s knees. “Take your time.”

Taking a deep breath, Peter started again. “Don’t… just don’t say anything until I explain – please?” Tony nodded. “Okay, so… so- you know when I came back last time, and I told you about how Goggle-man told me I could change the past – I mean the future…or reality? You know what I mean… well, he kind of implied that in the other reality, my parents didn’t die, and neither did my uncle Ben, since he wasn’t technically my uncle. And so, even though I guessed that the other reality would not turn out well in the end, with you not being Iron Man and stuff, it still kind of felt like it was my fault even more that they died this time, kind of like because I chose for them to die.”

Tony processed what had been said for a minute. “But, you realise that you didn’t choose for them to die, you just chose for millions of other people not to die?”

“Yes, I know that, but I don’t know know that… like – like when you know you locked the front door when you left but there’s still that voice in your head that tells you you didn’t.” Tony smirked, but nodded anyway. “Well, it’s like that. And it’s like that voice gets louder sometimes until I’m totally convinced that it’s my fault they’re dead.” Peter didn’t realise he’d started to cry until he felt tears running down his face and clinging to the bottom of his chin.

“Peter,” Tony began quietly. “I understand what you’re saying, and why you thought what you thought, but do you understand how none of their deaths were your fault?” he implored. “You didn’t pull the trigger. You didn’t crash the plane. It’s not on you.” He moved forward to pull Peter towards him, hugging the boy to his chest and stroking his hair comfortingly. “So that’s why you’ve been hiding from me for all this time? Why you haven’t been sleeping and why you’re working yourself to the bone?” Tony asked.

“Basically yeah,” Peter agreed, as he steadied his breathing out again. “It’s just, I thought… th-that in the other reality you were so happy – you had a little baby and Mary and you loved them and you just seemed happy. And then I know that the real you - this Tony,” he said, pressing his hand to Tony’s chest. “He isn’t always happy, and he used to drink and he was sad and depressed and anxious, and I thought you would prefer it in the other reality.”

Tony was lost for words. Why was this kid so fucking selfless?

“Kid….” Tony began, but trailed off, not knowing where he was going. “Peter, listen to me now,” he instructed, positioning himself so that was looking directly into Peter’s eyes. “I fucking love you so much for thinking of me even at a time like this – but you really don’t need to worry about me. All the drinking and anxiety and stuff is what made me who I am today, and I don’t want to be anyone else. Of course, I regret not being able to spend your childhood with you, and I know that some aspects of your childhood were shit, but some of it must have also been amazing, because you are the most amazing and strongest person I know – and everything that has happened to you has shaped who you are. And you are fucking amazing.”

“You’re not half bad either,” Peter mumbled.

Smirking, Tony pulled Peter towards himself again and smothered him in hugs. “Never, ever think that I’d ever want to change this relationship we have now Peter, because you’re my son and I think you’re the best person ever and I don’t care if I’m sad and stressed – you always make me feel better, even if you’re the one who caused the stress, like when you got thrown against a dumpster at four in the morning on Friday.”

“Sorry,” Peter muttered into his father’s chest.

“What are you apologising for, Pete? There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Tony assured him. “You may be reckless and you may think it is a good idea to jump into other realities as you please, but I never want you to feel that anything that has gone wrong in my life, or even your life, is your fault. As cheesy as it sounds, everything happens for a reason – and me being here right now with you, my son, watching nature documentaries on the TV, is exactly where I want to be, where I’ll always want to be. So never apologise for causing me to worry, Pete, okay? Because the good times make up for the bad times tenfold.”

Peter’s face scrunched up cutely as he let tears drop from his eyelashes and onto Tony’s shirt. Tony sat there, working out the knots in Peter’s back muscles with one hand and encircling his son’s whole body with the other and mindlessly watched a female badger tend to her cubs on the screen.

And, if Steve, Bucky and Bruce came to check on the pair an hour later and found the two fast asleep on the sofa, bundled together in a beautiful bubble of paternal love, then they never mentioned it, but they may have taken a couple of photos to show the rest of the team later; the real proof that Tony Stark has a heart.