There was a crack in space, floating in the middle of Times Square, and it’d been there for three days.
Peter had been with Tony when he’d first got the call. Working on their suits together in his workshop, it had just been another Sunday afternoon. Tony was teasing him about MJ as he’d carefully soldered together a few wires to the base-plate of the chestpiece in his armour, and Peter had been trying to ignore it as gracefully as he could manage- which of course meant digs at Tony about his not-so-subtle texting sprees with a certain Captain America, to which Tony vehemently denied.
Then JARVIS had spoken up hurriedly, informing them both that there were massive energy fluctuations spiking near 7th Avenue and what scans showed to be the first phase of some sort of portal opening up, and all hell had broken loose.
Large-Scale evacuation. Military and SHIELD called to ground. Huge, terrifying weapons pointed at the slowly-growing entrance, primed and ready to be fired at a moment’s notice. Tony had even called back the rest of the Avengers, and the UN had granted them all temporary pardon in favour of them suiting up and being ready to face whatever next came out.
Peter figured that, after the first time, planet Earth wasn’t fucking around any more.
He’d been stood by Tony’s side as they’d both sped over to the scene, breath coming in a little shorter and heart racing that bit faster than usual with the memories of the footage he’d seen on the TV as nothing more than a nine-year-old boy. Aliens and armies and buildings falling to dust and rubble, all of it flashing in his mind and sending his imagination into overdrive. Portals were never good signs. The Battle of New York was proof enough for that.
God only knew how Tony was feeling, stood in front of the thing and watching history repeat itself.
They’d been the first responders, of course- and try as he might, Tony hadn’t been able to stop Peter suiting up and following him to the point of origin. But even when the rest of Avengers had turned up hours later, all of them braced and ready for battle, there hadn’t been anything showing up on the other end. It was just slowly getting bigger- though the only thing visible on the other end was an intense, bright white light.
It took twenty-four hours of standing to attention in front of it before the team of superheroes had decided to make a tactical retreat back to Avengers Tower, which was closest to the portal. Seeing as Tony apparently still hadn’t managed to sell it, it was the easiest choice, really.
However, it had also meant he’d been spending three days without taking his mask off in a tower full of superheroes, trying not to go stir-crazy waiting for something apocalyptic to happen.
“If you spend another hour holed up in here, I think Captain America is going to break down your door,” Peter said as he walked into the labs at the base of the tower and spotted Tony hunched over the desk, holograms spinning around the room and showing equations and statistics even Peter couldn’t really understand. “Also- how come I can get in here but Cap can’t?”
“Biometric sensors,” Tony muttered, not bother to turn around as his hands expanded a particular hologram and then clicked once in the air. JARVIS reeled a string of numbers off to him and he just nodded once, before sighing irritably. He barely seemed to have acknowledged Peter’s presence at all.
Peter raised his eyebrows, wondering when exactly Tony had reprogrammed all the codes in here. Although Steve hadn’t seemed that surprised when he’d tried the overrides and found them useless. Guess he’d seen that coming.
He’d been a little miffed when Peter had just wandered up and walked right in, though.
Wandering further in, Peter cocked his head at the mess of a room and picked up a post-it note taped to the wall; yet another set of math that left Peter blinking in confusion. He could… there were a few bits he understood, but then there were other symbols he hadn’t even seen before.
They might just be exclusive to Tony, though. Peter had been on that man’s keyboard before- there had barely been any keys that had looked even vaguely like English.
“What’re you working on?” He asked, pulling off his mask with a sigh of relief and dumping it on the desk as he passed it and then flopping onto a spinny chair.
Tony didn’t say anything for a moment, and then side-eyed him with a blank face. “You do realise all of them know who you are, right? You don’t need to wear that mask.”
Peter jerked, eyes widening. “What? How? I- I didn’t-”
“Cap saw you when he came over and gave me a blood-sample to save your life when you went and got yourself poisoned. Rhodey picked you up when we both got kidnapped that time. Natasha and Clint have undoubtedly worked it out- they’re spies. Seeing as Bruce and Thor are still MIA, that’s the entire team there.” Tony waved a hand and turned back to his screen, picking up a pen and scribbling something down on the table absently. “It’s fine. They won’t use it against you. Wouldn’t dare.”
Peter frowned irritably, folding his arms. He’d been wearing that stupid mask around all the time for nothing? Brilliant, now he just looked like an idiot in front of all the Avengers. Not that he cared about the Avengers. But still.
He huffed, leaning back on the chair and kicking his feet up on the desk. A second later when Tony tutted and swiped them off again, he leaned forward and glanced at the holograms once more. “Seriously, Tony, what is all this?”
“Have you not noticed the massive crack in spacetime hanging a few feet above 7th Avenue?” Tony said a little snappily, glaring at him for a moment before turning back again, “I’m trying to, y’know, shut the damned thing. Or just work out what caused it.”
“Maybe it’s just… Thor trying to get back or something,” Peter tried, knowing before the words even left his mouth that it was weak. That diagnosis was confirmed a moment later when Tony actually paused what he was doing for a second in order to shot him a very dirty look.
“Aren’t you supposed to be smart or something?”
“I was just trying to cover all the bases!”
Surprisingly, that actually drew a little huff of laughter out of Tony. Inwardly, Peter let himself be pleased- he knew Tony was stressed, and was aware that the man didn’t exactly have the best relationship with big portals opening up in the middle of New York. Any sign of happiness was a win, in his book.
“Thor would’ve used a far more sophisticated method of transport than this,” Tony explained, leaning back on his chair and finally giving Peter his full attention, “and it doesn’t have any of the same energy signatures that Thor usually carries around with him after travelling. It’s not anywhere close to what… the, uh- the portal in 2012 was either. So. I’m confused, because we’ve dealt with this shit before and it’s always been relatively similar, and I could close those ones without- without freaking out too much, but this is- I can’t-”
Tony sucked in a sudden breath and swung away rapidly, facing the desk again and shutting his eyes. Peter just stayed where he was, unwilling to move and just put him even more on edge. Like he’d said- Tony Stark and portals didn’t really mix.
“Christ’s sake,” Tony muttered after a moment, running a hand across his face, “I thought we were over this. Your fault, Parker- if I hadn’t said what I was thinking out loud then everything would’ve been fine-”
“Maybe you’re just looking at it from the wrong angle,” Peter said quietly, ignoring the mumbled rambles from the man, “you’re looking at it as if you expect it to be exactly the same. But portals aren’t just… space ones, right? The origin could be from another point on this planet. Or- or it could be one that warps time rather than space. They’d both probably have way different readings to a spacey one, right?”
Tony looked at him blankly, and Peter’s spirits sunk a little. Right- because Tony had probably already thought of that, or it was just plain wrong and they were all the same, what the hell did Peter know about intergalactic gateways anyway, Jesus-
“That’s… not actually a half bad idea, Parker,” Tony said slowly, brow creasing just a little, “I- wow, yeah, how the fuck did I not come to that conclusion, that would be… yeah, okay, I think you might be onto someth-”
Of course, perfect timing as ever, at that moment JARVIS decided to blare the alarm out of every speaker in the tower and send both Peter and Tony jumping rather unceremoniously out of their chairs.
“What the fuck?” Peter yelled, as Tony’s eyes widened and he lurched forward, beginning to sprint toward the exit, “Tony, what’s happening-”
“Something’s coming,” Tony stopped, turning to him as he reached the door, “Peter, get your mask on. Shit’s about to go down.”
“JARVIS, what are we looking at?” Tony asked, and Peter didn’t take his eyes off the opening of the portal, but he cocked his head slightly to the side in order to listen anyway.
He was sandwiched between Iron Man and Captain America, both of them with their weapons raised and prepared to fight. He could see the rest of the team in his periphery- War Machine hovering above, Hawkeye and Black Widow perching on the rooftops nearby for surveillance. A bunch of SHIELD agents were surrounding them a few paces back, each one with a weapon trained on the entry point with unwavering intensity.
“Energy spikes are becoming more and more frequent, pointing toward a climax in roughly 24 seconds,” JARVIS reeled off, and Tony nodded once, hand remaining raised in the suit.
“And how long do you think it will remain open?”
“I’m afraid the readings are too sporadic for me to be able to predict, currently.”
With every passing second, Peter could feel his heartbeat getting that little bit faster; the tension of waiting just furthering his fear. He’d rather just get it over with and deal with whatever was coming than stand here and just… wait. They’d been doing this for the past three days anyway, he was tired of twiddling his thumbs.
“Spidey, you know the drill, yeah?” Tony asked for the third time, and Peter just rolled his eyes in response.
“If they don’t stop coming, I start running, yes, I know, you’ve told me like ten times-”
“That’s because there’s an 87% chance you’re going to ignore me and I am trying to forcibly drill it into you before that can happen.”
“Well I mean, if there is an alien army coming, then surely it won’t really matter if I run from it, because they’ll come find me anyway, so I really might as well stay and fight-”
“Don’t you dare, Peter, you promised-”
“Yeah yeah, okay!” Peter turned to him, raising his hands defensively before huffing, “I’ll stay back and web them like you said.”
He pouted and then turned back around, spotting Rogers eyeing them both as a shadow of amusement crossed his face. Technically, he was still not cool with Rogers on behalf of Tony, so he just shot him a dirty look and then moved his gaze back to the portal. “So if we survive this, can we get something to eat after? I’m starv-”
He was cut off when suddenly and without warning, the crack in the air suddenly spasmed and then became almost blindingly bright, lurching and churning around in the air like it was having some sort of fit. Everyone braced at once, and Peter heard the sound of about five hundred different safeties get flicked off the guns behind him. His breathing stuttered to an embarrassingly loud halt, and a second after that his view was almost entirely blocked by Tony, who’d stepped in front of him.
Everyone watched for a few seconds, before suddenly there was a loud crackling noise and-
Peter looked around Tony’s shoulder just in time to watch one single body fall out of the other side, landing on the floor with a quiet ‘Oof, fuck!’, and then…
A moment later, the portal suddenly lurched once more, before snapping shut like a rubber band, leaving with nothing more than a sharp crack. That was that. Nothing else happened.
Peter stared at the body about fifteen feet away, curled up on the floor and only moving a little bit. All he could really see was a dark head of hair, and… and it definitely looked human, but then again, there were probably a ton of humanoid sort of creatures in the galaxy, so who knew-
“This is Iron Man, protector of planet Earth, and I’m ordering you put your hands on your head. Do not to make any sudden movements,” The sharp tones of Tony’s modulated voice rang out loudly through the street, “I don’t want you to get accidentally shot by three hundred different weapons.”
There was silence for a moment, and then the body on the floor groaned a little, straightening out on the floor slowly. “Holy shit, that was rough. I think I just lost about eight billion brain cells. Fuck.”
Peter made a face and turned to Cap, but found he was doing much the same. At least it wasn’t Peter who didn’t know what the fuck was going on, then.
“Hands on your head,” Tony said again, seemingly just as much at a loss for what to do as the rest of them.
The body stopped moving at that, apparently finally becoming aware of the situation he was in. Peter’s enhanced hearing picked up a small little ‘ah’ fall out of his mouth.
And then he looked up.
“What the fuck?” Tony blurted suddenly, faceplate snapping up to reveal his thoroughly confused face whilst Peter just gaped on his left. Because- because he’d seen a few pictures before in newspapers or photographs, and yeah, it was a lot younger and without the beard, but-
But that was definitely Tony Stark on the floor in front of them.
“What the fuck?” Tony- Younger Tony- parroted back, the exact same inflections and tone oh Fuck, that was so weird- “I… Dad?”
“Oh, now this is gonna be fun,” he heard Cap mutter on his right
So Tony had fallen through a portal. Thirty years ago, anyway.
The boy sat on the chair in front of them was eerily similar to the man with his arms folded at Peter’s left. Probably because, y’know, they were the same. Positive DNA results and everything- that boy was Tony Stark, without a shadow of a doubt.
He was also kind of an asshole.
“Okay, so when am I gonna be able to leave this fucking basement?” He asked through a groan, letting his head loll back against the chair and swinging his legs up onto the desk. “No offence, but you two aren’t exactly the most riveting company.”
“Hm- how about when I manage to get World Security to pipe the fuck down and convince them that no, you’re not going to blow up the planet and yes, you are actually a human. Do you even understand how much trouble you’ve just fucking caused? I’m trying to stop the US military shovelling you into a van to dissect you- me- whatever the fuck!” Tony threw his hands into the air jerkily, before sighing and then leaning against the wall. “How did this even… I never jumped through a portal when I was fifteen. I would remember jumping through a portal when I was fifteen.”
Younger Tony just shrugged. “I mean, depends how wasted you were-”
“Just answer the question, smart-alec,” Tony asked with a sigh. Peter eyed up the younger one curiously, until the moment Younger-Tony glanced his way, and then he snapped his eyes back down to the floor. It was… it was too weird, to see this teenager and think ‘Tony Stark’.
“I was curious to see if I could do it,” was all the kid responded with, a vacant shrug and then a stifled yawn coming from his mouth a moment later. “Turns out I can. Which is cool, ‘cause I’m gonna make a fortune off this-”
“No you’re not,” Tony told him with a shake of his head and a little snort, “I just told you, kid, we didn’t ever invent time travel. It doesn’t happen.”
“Then what’s happened here?” Peter waved a hand in the other boy’s direction, turning to the older Tony with curiosity. “I mean- it had to have happened. Because he’s here. This isn’t a hallucination.”
Younger Tony eyed him up for a moment, head cocking. “The random guy’s right. Once you eliminate the impossible - that being, that I just magically appeared here randomly and with no intention- whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Tony shot his younger self a dirty look. “Don’t quote Sherlock at me, I’m too stressed right now.”
“So has something in history been changed?” Peter turned to Tony in question, brow furrowed, “d’you think someone in this time went back and gave him the technology or something?”
“Possibly, but if that’s the sort of portal that they needed to do it, then it would’ve shown up on one of my registers, so I don’t see how they would’ve been able to get away with it.”
“Maybe… maybe it’s you but like, a magic version? D’you think it’s Loki, maybe?”
“Again, possible, but why? I don’t think-”
“Hello, yes, I am actually in the room, you know?” Younger Tony waved at them and leaned forward, unimpressed, “You can talk to me as if I’m actually here, and not just some deaf apparition. God, I thought people over here would be different.”
He folded his arms and glared at the two of them when they just stared in silence. “I can write out the math for you, if it’ll help you two understand better. We all learn at different paces- although seeing this kinda makes me worry for my future,” he waved a hand at Tony, and then shot a look off to Peter, “looks like I lost a few million brain cells and had a kid. Jesus, what went wrong?”
Peter resisted the urge to jump up and automatically defend Tony from- well, himself- and instead just narrowed his eyes and shot the kid a dirty look. “I- I’m not his kid.”
That, at least, caused Younger Tony to pause. “Then who the hell are you?” He said in the end.
“None of your business,” Tony snapped before Peter could reply, “we don’t know how dangerous any of this information could be. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to get him home, either, or whether his ‘math’ will even hold up on the journey back. Best just keep him here and make sure he doesn’t blow anything up for now, ‘til I can sort this.”
“Uh, excuse me?” Younger Tony said, “you think I’m staying here?”
Peter watched Tony shut his eyes in exasperation for a moment, thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of his nose. “Unless you want to die of a stress-related heart attack in twenty years, please, could you just listen to me?”
The Younger Tony rolled his eyes- a hauntingly familiar gesture- and then when it became apparent he wasn’t going to respond to that, Tony sighed. “And take your feet off the fucking desk.”
“It’s my desk, I can put my feet on it if I want.”
Tony gaped at him for a second, before just shaking his head and then blinking a few times. “You’re not me yet. Doesn’t count. Feet off.”
“Why am I not you?”
“I have experience.”
“I have your DNA.”
“Yeah, and so did Howard.”
“You say that like you don’t think you’re exactly the same as him,” the younger Tony leaned back casually on his chair, swinging off on two legs and inspecting the room whilst Real Tony just completely froze up in front of him. He looked like he’d been punched in the face.
Peter looked between to the two of them; Young Tony’s apparent nonchalance, and Old Tony’s complete shock, and decided that he needed to say something, anything to just… diffuse this. Before he could, though, he heard Tony cough and then suddenly move back into life, like his whole system had just rebooted. “I need to- gotta try and fix this,” he muttered to himself, turning back around jerkily, “get that damn portal back open again, get you- me- home I’ll be, uh, talking to some contacts upstairs, probably-” he waved a hand absently to his elevator doors, and then pointed back to his young self. “Don’t leave this room, understand? Peter, make sure he sits his ass here ans stays.”
In response, the younger Tony stuck his middle finger up. Tony just looked at it for a second, before laughing humorlessly. There was a coldness in his eyes that Peter rarely ever saw- usually only saved for really repulsive villains and people he truly despised.
“God, no wonder everyone fucking hated us,” was all he ended up saying, voice barely even above a hiss- and then he was leaving, turning on his heel and walking off without another word.
For whatever reason, that seemed to hit his younger self in the weak spot, because this time it was him who temporarily allowed his face to show the hurt. It lasted longer than the Tony that Peter knew, and he realised with a lurch that this kid probably wasn’t as used to hiding things like that. Not yet, anyway.
Jesus, that was a bit morbid. And kind of… really sad.
“Hey,” Peter said as casually as he could, “uh, uh… I’m Peter. That’s probably safe enough to tell you, right? I hope so.”
Tony just looked at him for a second, his eyes analytic, and then he turned away without bothering to respond. He sat up off the chair smoothly and then retraced the steps that his older version had just walked, before reaching the door at the end. Young, unscarred hands traced the hinges, and Peter watched as Tony’s face creased with curiosity. “This is pretty cool,” he muttered to himself, “maybe I’m not totally stupid in the future.”
“You’re not even remotely stupid, actually,” Peter told him, frowning, “Tony- you- are the smartest guy on the planet. Probably.”
But rather than look impressed, Tony just rolled his eyes. His face looked angry. “Of course I’d say that,” he laughed, “I really do take after Howard, huh?”
Peter stopped. “That’s not what I- hey, wait, what are you doing?” He stood up suddenly, realising that the other boy had pulled out the keypad from within the door and was observing it inquisitively, “you can’t get out you know. No one goes through this door without Tony’s express permission.”
Finally, Tony actually looked at him- if only to laugh at him, admittedly, but still. “And who do you think I am?” He asked in amusement, before turning his head back to the keypad and then beginning to run his fingers over it, biting his lip in concentration. “Now- what would an older, more boring version of myself have as a password?”
Peter watched him, blinking rapidly. There was no way he’d get it, surely.
A few seconds later, the door slid open easily, and Tony grinned as he stepped over the threshold.
“Whoah, no, okay, hold up,” Peter said, going out to grab his arm- but Tony jerked away wildly, eyes going wide and hands coming up defensively.
“No, what are you doing?” Tony said in panic, “if you touch me, you could very well create a rift in time that might suck this world into a completely different reality. For the love of God, I really don’t want to be responsible for that- my Dad will never let me forget it.”
Rapidly, Peter jerked back in horror. Shit- see, this is what Tony had meant by ‘way out of our depth’. God, if Peter just touching him was going to do all that, then what the hell would be exposed to the outside world do?
“You can’t go out,” Peter said, making his voice firm, “you’re a danger to this world.”
Tony only rolled his eyes, and Peter held back the urge to grind his teeth. This Tony seemed particularly… difficult, to say the least. “Oh, don’t be such a fucking baby,” he waved it off easily and then shoved his hands into his pockets, “I’m not going to stay where he put me like some good little puppy. I get enough of that at home, thank you very much.”
“Well if you hadn’t noticed, this isn’t your home,” Peter told him, before pausing, “okay, well it is your home, but not yet. For now, it’s someone else’s. Someone who knows what they’re doing-”
“Oh, and I don’t?” Tony snapped, scoffing, “I was the one clever enough to make it here, wasn’t I? And I don’t see future-me with any ideas on how to get back just yet, so who’s actually the smartest here, huh?”
And with that, he ambled forward and then started to hurry up the stairs casually, looking around him curiously as he went. Peter spluttered helplessly, looking up to the ceiling. “JARVIS? Can you call Mr. Stark and tell him that our guest is, uh, making his way up to the penthouse?”
“Cancel that, JARVIS,” the younger Tony in front of him added before the AI could even respond, shooting Peter a smug grin, “Primary user here, remember?”
Peter groaned. He had no idea how… well, how dislikeable Tony was when he was younger. “Are you actively trying to be an asshole, or does it just come naturally?” He snapped, following up the stairs at a safe distance.
Tony paused, looking behind him with a shrug. “I mean, yeah. I’m a Stark. What else do we do?”
Then he turned and kept walking, hands tapping out a nonchalant pattern against the handrail of the stairwell. Peter just watched, slightly thrown by the answer. There were… well, there were a lot more things that Stark’s did, Peter knew from experience.
They came to the elevator at the end of the next floor, and Tony jumped into it, turning around and then blocking off the door with his body before Peter could follow. “Ah ah, this is for Tony’s only,” he said with a sympathetic shrug, “you’re gonna have to take the stairs, bud.”
Peter stumbled back, making sure he was out of touching distance. “What? No. Let me in right now, Tony.”
“No,” Tony told him simply, looking up, “hey JARVIS? Can you take me up to the penthouse please?”
“Oh for God’s sake,” Peter cursed, shooting evils at the younger version of what was to become Iron Man, “why the fuck are you being so insufferable? We’re trying to help you!”
At that, for some reason, Tony’s eyes went cold. “I don’t need anyone’s help,” was all he said, his voice blunt and cold before the doors closed with a slick slide and left Peter staring at his own chrome reflection.
He could hardly believe it. That was Tony? Really? Jesus- he had a lot of work to do on his personality before he became the guy that Peter knew today. What a fucking asshole.
Grinding his teeth, Peter turned on his heel and then ran over to the next set of stairs, jumping up them rapidly. Younger Tony had no idea he was enhanced, and that he could easily beat the elevator to the top floor. That, at least, would be satisfying to see. Wipe that smug grin off his stupid genius face.
Peter ascended rapidly, thinking as he went about where his phone was and how he was going to tell the older Tony that his young self had managed to break his password and just walk out with ease. Considering the stress he was under, it probably wouldn’t go down very well.
Peter sighed, jumping up the last set of stairs and then walking into the penthouse just as the elevator doors slid open and revealed Tony once more.
They looked at one another for a moment, and then Tony’s eyebrows raised. “Well that was fast.”
Without bothering to answer, Peter scowled and then flicked his wrist, sending a strand of webbing over to the elevator buttons and covering it in a sticky fluid. Now Tony wasn’t going anywhere without sticking himself to the web for six hours.
Except rather than look annoyed, Tony spun around, watching the web in fascination. “Oh wow,” he said through a breath, peering down, “how did you do that? Did that come out of you? Are you a superhuman?”
“Get out of the elevator,” Peter said coldly, putting himself into Spiderman’s shoes rather than his own. Peter Parker wasn’t equipped to deal with this- but his superhero alter-ego probably could.
Tony folded his arms. It was a stand-off. “No.”
Peter stared unwaveringly, but Tony just stared back. “Get out, now,” he said again, harder.
Tony’s eyes flashed, and there was something desperate there. “What are you gonna fucking do, huh?” He asked. “Lock me in the basement for the third fucking time? I’ll just find another way to get out, go into a different universe, a different time like I did before. You won’t even touch me for fear of ripping your own universe to shreds, so good luck with that, by the way.”
Peter opened his mouth to return something about not needing physical contact to make Tony stay put, but he stopped as his brain stumbled over something else Tony had said. “Wait- ‘third time’? What do you mean, lock you in for the third time?”
At that, Tony’s face slackened for a moment, looking surprised as if he’d been caught out. “I mean like earlier,” he said with a wave of his hand, smoothing his expression back down, “when you brought me into that little workshop and told me stay there.”
“No you didn’t,” Peter said, “you said you’d find a way to go into a different universe. Not just ‘break out’, you said a whole other universe.” He blinked. “And anyway, we’ve only locked you in there once before, not twice, so you wouldn’t be going in for a third time unless you’d already been… is that why you’re here? Were you escaping something?”
Something clicked in Peter’s head, and he realised that this Tony must have been from an alternate reality. That was why Peter’s Tony had no recollection of it happening. In their universe, this situation must never even have arisen in the first place.
The Tony that Peter was currently watching just remained silent, his jaw wound tightly shut. “None of your fucking business,” he said, “I don’t know you. You could easily sell any information I give you.”
This Tony was untrusting. He was edgy, ready to bolt. Peter was just now beginning to get a sort of scared-animal vibe off him. He was snapping and snarling because he felt backed into a corner. Helpless. It was in the eyes. This younger Tony had yet to learn how to properly school them, and Peter knew that if there was one way to know what any Tony Stark was really feeling, it was to look for what was in his eyes. They told more than he would ever let on verbally.
Peter was silent for a moment as Tony glared threateningly. The other boy was tall; nearly the same size as his adult version, and his hair was a little longer than Tony kept it now, curled in around the edges. His face was unnervingly familiar, and yet different as well. Peter wasn’t sure what he thought when he looked at this Tony, but he knew that trying to force him into complying was undoubtedly not going to work. If Peter wanted him to listen, he was going to have to try something else.
“You hungry?” He said, decision made as he glanced over to the kitchen. Stocked, definitely. They could find something.
That made Tony take pause for a moment, at the very least. “What?”
“Do you want something to eat?” Peter asked, starting to walk over to the cupboards, “I figure we might be here for a while, and Tony- my Tony- said I can have whatever I want, so-” he made a pleased face as he pulled down a jar of peanut butter, “-you like PB & J’s?”
At that point, it seemed Tony was completely thrown by the swift change in conversation. He was looking blankly at the jar in Peter’s hand. “I’m not staying here,” he declared with a shake of his head, “you’re not making me stay anywhere.”
Peter didn’t look up. “JARVIS, maximum deadlock override, Peter Parker, User 98347. Freeze tower activity. No one gets in or out.”
“Absolutely, Mr. Parker,” The AI replied smoothly, sounding somewhat smug.
Tony blinked as all the windows blacked out, and the sounds of various locking mechanisms clicked into place around the room. “What? No. JARVIS, override the override, Tony Stark, Primary User-”
“Won’t work,” Peter sat back on the chair and smiled, “that is my emergency code. Nothing gets through that for three hours, unless I either break or renew it. Not even Tony- or you.”
There was a long silence as Peter pulled out some bread and began whistling a tune.
“Who are you?” Tony asked again, sounding completely bewildered, “you’re not his son, but he gives you all that power? I wouldn’t ever do that. For anyone. Ever. What- are you like his Godson? His nephew? A fucking grandson? Oh God, if you’re a grandson I’m going to kill myself right now.”
“Answer my question first, then I’ll answer yours,” Peter told him, putting down the knife and turning to him calmly. He couldn’t win this through abrasiveness, but Peter was a natural-born pacifier, a diplomat. There were other ways to approach a problem. Like with sandwiches, for instance. “What were you running from? We might be able to help you.”
Tony just laughed, folding his arms. His protective walls were up a mile high, and it was going to take some doing before they came down enough for Peter to get through. This… this was Tony at his rawest, at his most vulnerable.
“Was it Howard,” he took a calculated shot in the dark when Tony still refused to answer. He knew that Tony’s dad was a sore subject for him- figured it might be a universal constant. “Did he… were you running from him or something?”
“I wasn’t fucking running, jesus, I’m not a coward and I’m most certainly not afraid of him,” Tony spat angrily, his blank facade breaking for a second as he looked away. When he turned and glanced back at Peter, his eyes were glinting dangerously. “How do you even know about him anyway? You a fan or something?”
“Opposite,” Peter told him easily, “he’s a prick, as far as I know. Tony- my Tony- hated him too. And I trust his judgement, so.”
There was a long silence, the Tony in front of him obviously still too wary to admit anything. Peter made sure not to look too disheartened by that. At the very least, he just had to keep Tony distracted enough so that he wouldn’t end up wandering off into the dangerous streets of New York, and that wouldn’t be possible if he got Tony’s back up. Instead, Peter slid the plate of sandwiches over the counter toward the other boy, landing it perfectly in front of him.
“Eat up,” he said easily. When Tony just looked at it in confusion, Peter smiled encouragingly. “Come on, you must be hungry. It’s been hours since you arrived here. And it’s not poisoned- you saw me make it.”
Tony looked up at him. “Why are you doing this?” He asked.
That, admittedly, threw Peter off a little. He frowned. “Uh, what do you mean?”
“Why are you being nice to me?” Tony folded his arms. “I’m only being an asshole to you. I don’t get it. What are you hoping to achieve? Like you said, we’re from different universes. Being nice to me won’t get you any brownie points for your own Tony.”
Peter shrugged, looking down at the counter and pushing some of the crumbs around with his finger. “It’s not about getting brownie points,” he said easily, “it’s about being kind to people, because you never know what might be going through their head. Assholes are usually assholes for a reason.” This Universe’s Tony acts like that when he doesn’t want people to see he’s scared, Peter didn’t say.
He didn’t look up; just got to work making his own sandwich and then bit back a smile when he saw the younger Tony tentatively pick up a slice of bread and then lift it to his mouth. Success.
They ate in heavy silence. Peter sort of wanted to turn the radio on, but he felt like then it might be too obvious that he was feeling awkward, which in turn would only make it even more awkward. So he kept himself seated and just chewed on his sandwich, sneaking quick glances Tony’s way every few seconds. It really was a trip, seeing the man Peter knew so young and different, but still so similar at the same time.
“Is this universe’s Tony gay?” Peter heard about a minute in, causing him to promptly choke on his mouth of food. He bit back on a cough and forced it down his throat, before gasping and looking up at the younger Tony with watery eyes. The boy was just glaring at him, fierce and yet blank at the same time.
Peter swallowed. “No,” he said with a shake of his head, “he’s bisexual though. At least, that’s what he told me.”
Tony’s eyes widened a little. “So he’s out?” He asked, almost in a whisper. “Does he… what do people say about that? I mean, I assume he’s as famous here as I am over in my own world, what with all the fancy tech and stuff, so like… how does that work? Don’t people tell him to-” Tony waved a hand awkwardly, “you know, resign and stuff?”
“What?” Peter asked incredulously, “no, of course not! You’re… well, you’re from a different time. Things have changed. It’s a work in progress, but- but things are okay now. You can be out and still be, well, you.” He paused, before cocking his head and frowning deeply at the other boy. “What is this about, Tony?”
Tony didn’t say anything. He just looked down at his sandwich with a scowl, like it had personally offended him. “Just curious,” he said eventually, a clipped laugh leaving his mouth, “I mean, I kiss some college guy on a night out one time and Howard tells me I’ve ruined my whole career and he’s never going to speak to me again, but this Tony, apparently, can be whoever he wants and not have fuck-all happen. Great.”
Peter blinked at him. “Don’t be Goddamn stupid,” he blurted in the end, which made Tony blink at him in surprise, “you’ve got no idea what he might have had to go through to get where he is now- what you might go through. All you’re seeing now is the end result. Trying to compare the two is just dumb, and you are a lot of things, but dumb definitely isn’t one of them.”
Tony didn’t respond. He turned his head to the side and then looked at the wall instead, his face empty, his jaw clenched. Peter, admittedly, wasn’t too sure what to do. Trying to navigate a Tony that was nearly thirty years younger was weird in a hell of a lot of ways, and he was having to relearn a lot of stuff as he went. This Tony was quicker to get his back up, he was more easily aggravated. And right now, they were in a minefield of potential explosions just waiting to go off.
And of course, right when Peter had decided that maybe the best option would be a tactical retreat and perhaps a phone-call back to the older version of Tony, his younger counterpart decided to do the exact opposite of what Peter had expected: Talk.
“He locked me in my workshop,” was what Tony decided to pop up randomly with, making Peter jump and then turn back to him with wide eyes, “Howard, when he saw the news report of me and that other guy- totally flipped his shit. Told me I wasn’t coming out of there until I promised not to ever talk to him again. But- but Michael is my friend, I didn’t want to-” for a second, Tony just looked completely and utterly miserable- but then his face hardened and Peter watched how his fist curled on the tabletop and his spine straightened. He grinned harshly. “So I decided I was going to get out on my own. He had the override codes and the walls were five feet of solid steel, but he couldn’t stop me from using all of my equipment.”
Peter looked at him, resisting the urge to gape. “So you created- what, a teleport?”
Tony shrugged. “Yeah, if that’s what you wanna call it. Instead of just agreeing to what he said, which would generally have just been a hell of a lot easier, I sat my ass down and teleported into a whole other universe, whilst also igniting an international incident upon arrival.” He rolled his eyes. “And of course, what happens once I’m here, free, away from that single room that Howard had fucking left me in for four days? Well. I’m put straight back into some other stupid basement and told to stay there, again.”
Peter leaned forward. There were about a billion different questions running through his head, and the scientist in him was going positively nuts over this- but he figured, first and foremost, this Tony simply needed a friend. “I mean,” he started with a small shrug, “you managed to get out of this one pretty easily, though. And like. You literally created universe-hopping just to piss your dad off. That’s… well, I don’t even know what that is. But it’s pretty cool.”
Of course Tony was cool as a kid. Tony was just cool, full stop. The most Peter had managed to do yet was accidentally get radiation poisoning. After that, it was mostly just being beat up a lot and trying to act like that was supposed to happen. This Tony had jumped through a hole in the universe already, and he was the same age as Peter.
Damn. Way to make a guy re-evaluate his life.
Tony looked at him for a moment as Peter thought all those thoughts in his head, but then he did something very unusual. He laughed. Peter made sure not to look surprised by it- laughing was normal. Just because Tony had seemed like he’d wanted to punch Peter (and everyone) in the face since his arrival didn’t mean that it was impossible to get him to laugh.
“Yeah,” Tony admitted with a small grin, “yeah, that is pretty cool, isn’t it?”
“It’s also like… completely insane,” Peter added with a shrug, “and incredibly dangerous. I mean. It’s still the eighties for you. You guys have barely even touched at string theory yet. You’re completely crazy, trying to go this hard just to spite Howard Stark. You could have just… I dunno, teleported six meters to the left.”
Tony cocked his head and leaned back on his chair. His grin was full now; cocky. “Hey, I’m Tony Stark. I don’t do shit by halves.”
Peter was hit with a wave of familiarity- he’d heard his own Tony say that so many times now he’d lost count. Maybe the two of them weren’t as different as Peter might have thought at the beginning.
“Hey,” he said suddenly, looking behind him, “we’ve got some time to kill- you wanna watch how far the visual effects on movies have come along since the eighties?”
Peter wasn’t 100% sure whether it would work, because Tony always claimed to hate the movies Peter forced him to sit through and watch- but this Tony’s eyes went wide with curiosity, and he slowly rose from his chair with a nod. “Oh hell yeah,” he said, “hey- are there any more Star Wars movies that’ve come out yet? I love those ones.”
Peter smiled, storing that away as blackmail for later when Tony tried to say how terrible they were. “Yeah! Come on- they’re all available on hand, so you can pick which one you wanna watch.”
Tony nodded and stood up when Peter did, following him over to the communal living room. His eyes moved rapidly as they walked, absorbing everything and anything in sight, including the skyline as they passed the windows. His eyes were wide, fascinated. Tony’s neverending curiosity was obviously a lifelong habit.
They both sat on the couch, Tony shuffling a little nervously as Peter grabbed the remote and then flicked the tv screen on. He couldn’t help but grin at the way Tony’s eyes lit up in wonder, watching the HD, flatscreen tv pull up a crystal clear image. “Don’t dismantle it,” Peter threw over to the other boy, “I can get you a mobile phone if you wanna check on of those- oh, wait, that won’t blow up the universe or something, will it? I don’t- I don’t really wanna be responsible for that, you know?”
Tony just rolled his eyes. “No, I’m pretty sure we’re good,” he poked Peter with his foot good-naturedly, and then just burst out laughing when Peter screamed and threw himself back, landing on the floor with a heavy thump.
“What did you just do?” Peter yelled, “You just ripped a hole in the- in the…” he saw Tony’s amused face, and the penny dropped. He sat up indignantly. “You made that up, didn’t you,” he said, unimpressed.
Tony shot him a slightly apologetic face, but it was sort of defeated by the laugh that came later. “I mean, I was trying to escape at the time.”
“I just thought I’d ripped my universe apart,” Peter said grouchily, getting back up to his feet, “you’re not funny, you know.”
Again, Tony pulled a face, shrugging and then lifting up his fingers. “Tiny bit funny,” he said, eyes twinkling.
Peter sighed, sitting tentatively back on the couch. “Shut up.”
Tony chuckled again, and a few minutes later Peter had pulled up the Star Wars films and was quietly running Tony through some of the cool new things they’d developed since he’d last watched a movie. The boy listened to him avidly, his shoulders relaxing with every technical and scientific word Peter spoke. This was the language Tony knew and understood, after all. They talked until the opening credits came up, when Tony’s focus rapidly shifted, smacking Peter’s arm in boyish excitement as he shuffled to face the screen with starstruck eyes. Peter hid his grin into his hand- he was never letting the older version of Tony forget this.
Tony Stark was a Star Wars fanboy.
The movie went down a hit. Tony was enraptured throughout the entirety of The Force Awakens; asking Peter a string of questions about the cinematography and how they managed to make it all look so realistic. His smile was huge, his eyes bright- a totally different person to the standoffish, cutting kid who’d fallen out of the portal a few hours ago. Peter couldn’t help but be proud of that. Okay, so he hadn’t fixed the problem, but he’d definitely helped- and he’d also made a lost, afraid and alone fifteen-year-old kid feel like he was safe. That was the whole point of being a hero, right? Making people feel safe.
By the time the first film was over, Tony had a billion questions on the tip of his tongue, all of them spilling to try and get out first. “So is Rey related to Luke? How is the resolution on this TV so good? Are there other films that have come out? What kind of editing programs were used here? The CGI was fucking insane, you gotta tell me how it’s done.”
“Tony, I don’t know, I don’t specialise in film,” Peter responded with a small laugh, we could look it up though.” He pulled out his phone from his back pocket and then shot a look over to Tony. “You know what this is?”
Tony cocked his head, lifting a hand and then looking at Peter in askance. When Peter handed it over, Tony’s eyes squinted and he frowned, before looking somewhat dazed. “It’s like a tiny computer, right?” he asked, his fingers gently settling down on the screen. When they pressed over an app and opened it up, he jumped and his eyes went even wider. “Oh, this is so cool. How much stuff can it do?”
“Pretty much anything,” Peter answered with a grin, taking it back and then pulling google up. “It’s actually a cell phone- but you’re right in that it’s also a small computer. In this age, we can condense all our tech into slim stuff like this. You’re one of the front-runners in this market, actually. This a StarkPhone,” he waved the sleek black phone through the air. “It’s brilliant. Voice-activated, facial recognition, built-in virus protector. Really cool stuff.”
Tony’s mouth dropped open. “That’s a cell-phone?”
“Yup. But we’re not using it for that; we’re using it for the internet. You- I mean, I take it you know what the internet is, right? The World Wide Web?” Peter asked, trying to do the math in his head. “You might know it as ARPANET.”
Tony pulled a face, and then grinned sheepishly. “Oh- the military system? Yeah- I went to one of the bases where they were running it and, uh, may have tapped into their systems to try and see what they were doing. So. I know a little about it, yeah. Although if anyone ever finds my floppy disk, I’m dead. US armed forces don’t particularly like kids knowing all their secrets.”
Peter blinked rapidly. “So you basically just created the first computer virus.”
“Virus?” Tony frowned in confusion, before laughing a little. “That’s actually pretty fitting. I made the computer sick, yeah, I guess so. Well- I mean it wasn’t malicious. I was just curious. So I looked over some of their files and found a way to slip in through the system.”
Peter didn’t even know what to say to that. God- fifteen and Tony was already making life hell for the Government. He had to hand it to the guy- Tony Stark had been a genius from birth, quite clearly.
“Okay, well anyway,” Peter decided to move on from that, otherwise they’d never be able to get through his explanation, “What I was trying to say was that it’s developed now. The internet is like… ARPANET on steroids. Lots and lots of steroids. Look, I’ll show you how to-”
“What the fuck are you two doing up here?”
Peter jumped, turning around in surprise and spotting the older Tony, stood by the elevator and staring at the two of them. “Mr. Stark,” Peter began, suddenly wondering how to explain it. Tony had left one explicit message: Keep his younger version in the workshop. That hadn’t gone down too great.
At his side, Tony’s younger counterpart tensed up. “Watching movies? Is that a fucking breach of the Geneva convention or something? ‘Cause your face makes it looks like we’re sat here trying to kill each other.”
Peter shot him a look and then put a hand on his shoulder placatingly. “Relax,” he said before jumping off the couch and then hurrying over to the older Tony who was glaring at him across the room. He grinned nervously, wringing his hands. “Okay, so I know what you’re think-”
“Seriously, Parker?” Tony hissed, and yeah, when the last name was pulled out Peter knew he was in shit, “I told you, I said ‘keep him in the workshop’, that was all I asked- “
“Yeah, and then he got out because he is you, he knew your passcode!” Peter said, waving his hands as he spoke quietly, “hey, listen, he’s not gonna do anything stupid anyway, I’m sure of it. I think we just got off on the wrong foot with him. He was scared. You know what you’re like when you’re scared.”
“Yeah, a mouthy asshole who tends to go off on the deep end and put other people’s lives in danger!” Tony snapped, “did you not see what happened to my Malibu mansion last time I got scared? It was blown up and Pep almost fucking died! And that little shit is even more reckless than I am, he ripped a hole in the fucking universe-”
“-Hey, Tony, just listen to me,” Peter interrupted him, putting his hands up and then clasping them together, “listen listen listen- he was running. From your dad. He’s from an alternate universe, which’ll be why you don’t remember it happening, but yeah. It was because he was escaping.”
Tony’s features froze, hands ceasing their movement through his hair. His eyes sharpened. “What?”
“Howard locked him in a workshop because he- uh- kissed a guy,” Peter said, shrugging and glancing back at the younger doppelganger, who was now sat tensely staring at the wall, although Peter didn’t doubt he was trying as hard as he could to listen in. “He was trying to get out. He ended up here.”
Tony was looking at the back of his teenage head blankly, his jaw clenched tight. He glanced briefly back to Peter. “He told you this?”
Tony remained stoic for a moment, before sighing and then rubbing his face. “Jesus. That’s- that’s still really fucking reckless of him. And… brilliant. Wow. Wish I’d thought of that.” He smiled tightly, side-eyeing the kid again. “How did you get that out of him? I never used to tell anyone shit about… well, anything.”
Peter swallowed, his chest suddenly feeling a little tight. He hated thinking of anyone being in a situation like that. Especially someone he cared about. “Dunno,” he mumbled, “I gave him a sandwich, I guess.”
“You-” Tony blinked, and then huffed, bumping shoulders with Peter, “of course you did. PB&J, I assume.”
Tony nodded in satisfaction. “You know me well.”
Peter grinned, and then turned back to the couch behind him, where the younger Tony was still sat rigidly. “You should talk to him,” he said to the older man, “I think he could do with a bit of reassuring that… well, that things are gonna get better. He’s really on edge right now. And I’m pretty sure he just thinks you hate him.”
Tony bit his lip and rolled his eyes. “I’m not good at that stuff,” he said sullenly, “least of all when it comes to trying to give myself pep talks.” His foot tapped out a staccato rhythm for a second, looking over to the couch before his eyes squinted and he leaned forward a little. “Is that asshole disassembling my TV remote?” Tony blurted a moment later, suddenly walking forward.
Peter just sighed, turning to see Young-Tony fiddling with something black, holding it up to the light as he poked a screwdriver into it (where the hell had he even gotten that?) “I mean, it’s not exactly like you are innocent of that crime,” he called out to the older version as he walked over, “if there’s something unknown in your grasp, you’ve poked it with something in under two seconds.”
Tony flipped him off behind his back as he wandered away, over to his younger counterpart who was now watching the man was sharp, cold eyes. The tension was back in his shoulders again.
Sensing that this may not be a conversation for him, Peter turned awkwardly to the kitchen and then started making coffee for the three of them. However, his enhanced hearing meant that it didn’t really make much difference- Peter heard the two of them start to talk anyway. It was sharp and blunt on the younger Tony’s end at first, unwilling to open up. But as the coffee boiled, Peter heard the voice start to soften a little. Started to accept the Older version’s words and actually listen as he spoke.
“My version of Howard used to lock me in the shoe cupboard,” older Tony’s voice drifted across the room, blunt and casual, and Peter felt his hands stumble briefly over the mugs as he set them down. “Sometimes I’d have to sleep there, when he was really pissed. So- you know- I do get it. You could’ve just told me at the beginning. I mean, it’s still kind of a hassle trying to put out the fires, but… you know. I would have been less of an asshole to you.”
Younger Tony huffed. “I don’t need your pity.”
“Oh hell, don’t I know it. I’m three times your age and I still feel that way. But… you know, we are the same person. It’s not exactly as if I could have judged you.”
Younger Tony was quiet for a moment as Peter poured out the first cup, and then he heard the tentative voice speak up once more. “Peter, uh- he said you… you were out. Bisexual.”
“He’s right,” Older Tony responded cheerfully, “forcibly outed at 21, horribly conscious of for a few months after, then decided I didn’t give a shit, I was richer than anyone talking crap against me anyway, and never looked back after that.” Peter grinned to himself as he looked down at the counter, hearing the soft edge in Tony’s voice. “It’s okay these days. Or at least- way better than it is for you now. Takes a while to get there. But I could marry a guy now, if I wanted.”
Younger Tony gasped. “You’re shitting me.”
“Nope. I’ve dated a few of ‘em openly, too. So anyway- what I’m trying to say is that Howard doesn’t know shit. He’s an old drunk conservative bastard and you don’t need to listen to shit he says.” Tony huffed, and when Peter glanced up at them, he saw the man waving his hands around the room. “I mean, look at you. You’ve already jumped universes at fifteen. What’s he done?”
“Created Captain America,” younger Tony said sullenly, and Peter rolled his eyes before looking up at them both.
“Well Cap’s an asshole anyway, so you’re good!” He called out to them from the kitchen, waving at his face, “he gave me a black eye!”
Young Tony froze, and Peter realised that the kid, in his time, still thought that Captain America was long dead. “Wait,” he said slowly, “he… how old are you?”
“Okay, let’s not even go there,” the older Tony said hurriedly, nodding his head sharply to Peter as a blush crawled up his face, “we do not want to open up that can of sexually frustrated Teen-Tony worms. Kid-” Peter looked up, but Tony waved him off and then pointed to his younger self, “no, sorry, this kid- we need to get you back to the workshop. I think I know how to get you home, but I might need some of your input.”
Peter wandered over and handed them both coffees, smiling at the two of them. “This is still so weird, by the way,”
On his left, the younger Tony snorted. “Yeah, imagine how I feel.”
“It’s safe to say this is a pretty universally strange experience,” Older Tony finished, taking the coffee gratefully from Peter’s hand, “come on, Kiddos. Let’s go do some science. Also, Peter, I really hope you haven’t left anything of yours with him. A single transferred object going from one universe to the other could weaken the multiversal walls and cause a complete inward collapse.”
The two boys stopped, glancing at one another nervously, Peter wracking his brains to try and think. He hoped skin cells didn’t count- otherwise the Young Tony would probably have to go through a surgical bleaching before he left.
Then the Old Tony laughed, patting them both on the shoulders. “Just fucking with you, don’t worry.”
Peter rolled his eyes, smacking Tony’s hand away gently. “Can you two stop doing that, please? That’s twice I’ve thought the universe was going to implode today.”
Both the Tonys laughed, and the younger one bumped Peter’s shoulder fondly as they walked. “Hey,” he murmured quietly, hands going to his pockets and cheeks going a little pink as he smiled, “uhh- so I wanted to say thanks.”
“For what?” Peter asked, looking back at him.
Tony shrugged, watching as his older replica walked on ahead down the stairs. He swallowed and looked away a second later. “You didn’t have a reason to be nice to me, but you were anyway. That was… well. It was probably more than I would have done.”
Peter frowned, fiddling with the sleeves of his shirt absently. “Well, you would have done the same if it had been me,” he said, and when Tony just looked at him with a small note of confusion on his face, Peter waved a hand down the stairwell where the other version was, “I mean- you will. I think. God, it’s weird- do you think there’s a Peter Parker in your universe at all?”
“Hope so,” Tony told him with a smile, nudging him again, “you’re pretty cool.”
“You’ll regret saying that in thirty years or so,” Peter responded, “Future Tony always says I’m a nerd. Or a disaster. Haven’t heard ‘cool’ used until now though.”
It’s funny, the things that stayed the same from universe to universe. Tony’s laugh, for instance- it filled the whole room, a warm giggly thing that was infectious to everyone around him. Peter watched this younger, wrinkle-less, skinnier version of Tony as the guy chuckled to himself, and thought briefly about how he actually looked pretty similar to Peter himself.
Except maybe with a weirder fashion sense. The 80′s was a wild time.
Hours later, and the machine in Tony’s workshop had been built and was whirring to life, after all three of them had worked through the night in order to recreate what Young Tony had been talking to them about. Peter had been fascinated whilst watching the two of them work- taking a while to warm up one another’s styles, but then learning from eachother quickly before almost becoming like some sort of hive mind, knowing exactly what the other was thinking or wanting. It was freaky and weird and God, Peter loved science.
He noticed, toward the end once the machine was in its final stages, however, that the Younger Tony was beginning to become quieter and quieter, more agitated and jumpy. Peter knew why.
He didn’t want to go back.
And really, who could blame him? Quite clearly, he wasn’t having the best time back there. And this… this was the future, bright and amazing and offering so much more personal freedom than back where Tony was headed. He’d be mad not to want to stay.
But he couldn’t. Obviously, he couldn’t.
“You don’t think he could just… stay, could he?” Peter said to the older Tony quietly as he screwed a bolt into place, watching the younger boy fiddle numbly with a monkey wrench as he sat on the desk with his feet propped up.
Tony stopped working and sighed. “We can’t risk it,” he responded quietly, “we have no idea what might happen if he stays here too long. He might be fine, yeah- but he could also create a cataclysmic event. Anyway- one day, his own universe might need him. Who knows.” Tony looked over to him and pursed his lips, nodding once. “Childhood was shitty. In fact… a lot of it was shitty. I know that right now, he’s sat there thinking of every shithead friend and loveless relative who he’s going to have to go back to, and he’s going to want more than anything to just not. But… you know. It makes him who he is, I guess. Without that, Iron Man might never have happened. Then who’d save New York? Who’d stop the bad guys that try to take over the world with giant lizard people? Sometimes you just- you just gotta let life go through the motions. Let it move without intervention. Gotta just pray that one day, it’s all gonna be worth it.”
Peter watched Tony take a small breath and then rub an imaginary speck of grease off his hand nonchalantly. He tentatively rested his hand against Tony’s shoulder, knowing that the man was probably going through an emotional turmoil just then- and when Tony looked up at him, his smile was soft.
“Hey,” he said cheerily, getting to his feet and beginning to wander over to his younger version, “for the record? I think it was all worth it.” Tony turned his head before Peter could respond, clapping Young Tony on the shoulder and then smacking his feet off the desk surface as Peter just smiled stupidly at the both of them.
Well. At least this universe’s Tony had made it through. Peter was very glad of that.
“How you feeling?” He asked later to Young-Tony, when they were calibrating the parameters and coming to the send-off. He watched as the kid next to him went through a couple of hundred emotions at once, before eventually just settling on a strained smile and shooting it Peter’s way.
“Tired,” he admitted, “ready to go to bed.”
Yeah. Peter figured he probably wasn’t going to getting anything deeper than that. “You know, one day you’re gonna save the entire world,” he told the boy firmly, watching the way Tony’s eyes turned slightly incredulous at the strange out-of-the-blue nature of Peter’s words. Nevertheless, he persisted. “I’m serious. People are gonna sing your name in the streets. You’re gonna inspire a generation of new scientists and push for a better, cleaner future. You’re going to change everything.”
Tony didn’t say anything; but his grip on the monkey wrench just tightened a little bit and his heart sped up, just a fraction in Peter’s ears. Peter simply smiled. “The human race needs you, Tony Stark.”
“Well-” Tony said, his voice throaty. He blinked rapidly, before coughing and then recomposing himself. “Well, the human race isn’t going to release the next Star Wars film for another goddamn thirty years, so I’m mostly just pissed off with the human race right now, Peter,” he finished, his smile dry and amused as he pushed himself forward and then started to walk toward the chamber they’d spent the night creating. Older Tony was there waiting for them, and when he looked at the two of them he huffed gruffly.
“God,” he muttered, “thank the lord I didn’t meet you at this age. I would’ve got you into so much shit, Pete.”
Young Tony just tutted, rolling his eyes as he stepped up onto the chamber. “Old man.”
Tony looked indignant for a moment, before simply choosing to flip his younger counterpart the middle finger and then pull a face. “You ready to get thrown through space and time, you cheeky little prick?” He asked, but his tone was fond.
Young Tony shrugged. “It’s a little bit like surfboarding while drunk.”
“I’m not even going to ask how you know what that feels like,” Peter said, looking between the two versions of Tony and sighing. He looked down at the panel in front of him and then started flicking the buttons to start up the process, glancing up at the Young Tony’s wistful face as he stared around the workshop one last time.
“Hey, kid,” Older Tony said, waving to his young self as Peter got ready to flick the final set of switches, “want something to look forward to for the next 25 years or so?”
Young Tony cocked his head, intrigued. “Go on.”
The chamber was emitting a pretty terrific sound by that point, and so he watched as Tony leaned forward with a grin, cupping his hands around his mouth to boost the sound. “You get to have sex with Captain America!”
Peter burst out laughing, hand flicking at the last set of switches. He looked up just in time to see Younger Tony’s face go completely slack with shock, staring at Tony in complete disbelief.
“What thE FU-”
There was a terrific white light, just like before, and Peter stumbled back as a small shockwave pulse. Papers scattered all over the room and for a moment, Peter couldn’t see. But when his eyes refocused, they caught sight of the empty chamber. Tony’s replica was gone.
They both looked at the empty spot for a second. Peter wondered whether he’d made it- gotten home. Or at least, gotten to the coordinates that Young Tony had given them, which apparently led to Rhodey’s place.
He really hoped so.
Peter took a breath and shut his eyes. It was going to take a while to absorb all of the weirdness. He felt like he’d learned more about Tony today than he had in six months combined. He glanced over to the man in question, watching as he straightened out his collar. Peter decided to bring up the most important topic first.
“So,” he said, “You and Cap, huh.”
“Oh f-… just shut up, Parker.”