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every promise don't work out that way

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Tony’s tired. Not just because of the lack of food and water he’s had in the past weeks, but his mind is working at a million miles per hour. Rethinking every possibility, every move he made, and how he could have done better. Should have done better.

Even as the Compound gets closer and closer, his mind doesn't slow. He thinks and thinks and thinks.

The rest of the team—the ones that survived the snap—wait for him. There are also a few new members, one of whom a woman with short blonde hair. Rhodey doesn’t hesitate to bring him into a hug the moment Tony shows his face, and then he backs away for him to see Pepper. She doesn’t cry when she hugs Tony, but he can feel all her emotions in the way she squeezes a little too tight, holds for a little too long. It’s vaguely reminiscent of when they’d hugged after the Killian incident, but a much more recent memory surfaces.

Peter.

“I lost him, Pep.” Tony whispers, voice barely audible. “I promised to keep him safe and I didn’t.

Pepper stiffens slightly, but she knows exactly who he’s talking about. “Oh, Tony.

And Tony is tired, but his mind doesn’t slow, even in the loving embrace of his fiance.

The Rogues are keeping their distance, but he can see the concern clearly on some faces. Natasha had never been very expressive, and Clint looks murderous. It also looks like he had a haircut.

Nebula had immediately reunited with the talking raccoon; she’d told him about Rocket while they were fixing the spaceship. He vaguely realized the talking tree that was supposed to be there too was missing; he’d probably been dusted.

Eventually, they manage to move away from the Guardians’ ship, and Pepper has to support half his weight (which isn’t much anymore) for him to even be able to walk such a distance. The air is quiet and solemn, and Tony doesn’t have enough energy to talk. He allows Pepper and Rhodey to deposit him in the medbay, and doesn’t kick up a fuss when Bruce checks to make sure he’s okay.

Tony’s well aware that the team is still outside the room he was placed in, and they want answers. But Tony is too tired to care. He stopped caring about much after Peter disintegrated in his arms.

Everything passes by in a haze for a few hours, and in those few hours he barely says a word. He can tell he’s worrying Pepper, and he wants to smack himself for being so selfish when the love of his life had to suffer for weeks without any knowledge of if he was even alive.

Bruce tells him he needs to rest his body, but every time he closes his eyes he sees Peter dying all over again. So he doesn’t sleep. Instead, he silently pads down the hallway and into the elevator. “FRIDAY, my floor.”

“Yes, Boss.”

The Compound isn’t as tall as the Tower was, so it doesn’t take long for him to reach his floor. It doesn’t look too different from when he was last here, but all of a sudden everything has new meaning.

There are Lego sets that are on the shelves, multiple finished Lego pieces placed around the floor as display. Tony remembers making some of them with the kid when he stayed over, and he fondly runs his fingers gently over the Iron Man one that’s closest to him. He’d bought it mostly as a joke, but Peter had gotten so excited that Tony had to bite his tongue and instead offered to help make it.

There are high school textbooks that are next to Pepper and Tony’s books. Tony knows that those textbooks used to be piled on the side of the coffee table before he left, because Peter was over so often that it was easier to just leave it out and about rather than keep rearranging the shelves.

Frames cover all the walls, and more are on side tables. On the fridge, there are a million cartoony magnets that hold precious memories to Tony. There’s Peter’s report card—which, he realizes now, was an incredibly dad-like thing to do to your kid—that he’d proudly put up when Peter had gotten perfect scores. There’s a To-Do list that Pepper had added, and it’s still filled with Peter’s handwriting. There are also photos around it, little snapshots that Peter had taken. The ones on the fridge are mainly the ‘bloopers’; the ones that were a little too blurred or someone in the photo was looking horrifyingly ugly and refused for it to be framed.

Tony’s eyes burn, but he holds back the tears. Instead of looking more closely at the miscellaneous sticky notes left on the refrigerator (which now look a lot more organized than they had been weeks prior), he looks at the table right next to the elevator doors.

At the very front was a photo of him and Peter standing in front of a Stark Industries logo. They’re holding Peter’s internship certificate upside down and giving each other bunny ears. He holds the frame as if it was as fragile as a bubble, and he wishes with all his heart that he would be able to wake up and find that it was all a nightmare. Peter would be right by his side and talking his ear off, and Tony would roll his eyes fondly at the boy—the young, happy, alive Peter Parker—and he’d ruffle his hair even though he knows Peter would whine about it.

But this isn’t a nightmare. Tony might be back on Earth, but he wasn’t. Not really. He left something—some one —back there on Titan. He’d broken a promise. He knows exactly what he’s lost.

And as he watches his tears fall onto the glass, he knows that he will stop at nothing to bring Peter Parker back.




It’s actually the once laid-back Clint Barton that first loses it at him. Tony’s been back a few days at this point, and Pepper was practically force-feeding him to make sure Tony was nursed back to health. Bruce had told him to take it easy but that any threat of death by starvation or dehydration could be ruled out.

Even though Tony got better, he didn’t interact with the others.

One day, FRIDAY interrupted him while he was staring at the walls of photos in a daze. He still needed to call May Parker and apologize to her again; Pepper had already informed her of Peter’s situation, and while May had probably assumed Peter had been in the unlucky 50%, it was another thing entirely to have it confirmed.

Happy had been the one to comfort her when she needed it, and Tony had been relieved to find out that Happy wasn’t gone either. To the rest of the Rogues, it probably looked like Tony hadn’t lost anyone in the snap.

“Boss, Clint Barton is requesting to be allowed onto your floor. He seems upset.” FRIDAY’s soothing Irish voice broke the haze.

Tony’s too tired to argue, just waving a hand in the air. “Send him up, then.”

“The others are also joining him. Shall I tell them only Mr. Barton is allowed up?”

He shakes his head. “Let them come. They deserve explanations.”

He can’t help but wish Pepper were here. She’d left earlier that day to go look over Stark Industries business, and although Tony had assured her that he was well enough to look after himself, she promised to come back soon.

The soft ding of the elevator signals the arrival of the team. Tony rises from where he was sat on the sofa so he can at least look a little less pathetic.

Clint storms into the living room, practically frothing at the mouth. Tony raises an eyebrow. Not only did it seem like Hawkeye had gotten the ugliest haircut imaginable, but he’d never seen the man as angry as he was now. Tony hadn’t even done anything for the few days he was back on Earth. Maybe his lack of helping was what pushed Clint over the edge.

The agent was followed closely by Natasha, who was now blonde, and she was trying to grab Clint’s arm to stop him from moving closer to Tony. Steve, newly bearded, walked in, looking worried. Bruce and the new blonde lady, who Tony now knew was Captain Carol Danvers, trailed behind them. Nebula had Rocket on her shoulder, but she looked as impassive as ever. Rhodey and Thor are nowhere to be found.

Tony refocuses on Clint, who seems to have gotten angrier in the few seconds Tony didn’t look at him. “You.” He spits, and even the Rogues are taken aback with how much venom was in that one word.

“Me?” Tony’s voice isn’t as loud and boisterous as it used to be, but there’s still the sarcastic and arrogant undertone in it.

“How dare you sit up here and mope? Do you know how much we’ve lost? How much I’ve lost?” Clint takes slow steps towards the billionaire and Natasha gives up on trying to hold him back. “What right do you have to grieve? It was your fault that we’re in this mess.”

It’s on the tip of his tongue to yell back, ‘which one of us was the one that warned you of an outside threat? Which one of us was the one who tried so desperately to keep the Avengers together?’ but he doesn’t say that. “I know.”

“If you hadn’t fucked us all up with the Accords, we’d have had a bigger chance! But noooo, Mr. I-Am-Iron-Man caused a fucking Civil War, and I was stuck in goddamn house arrest! And when giant alien ships come descending down to Earth, does he defend it?” Clint goes on as if Tony hadn’t spoke. With each word, Tony lowers his gaze.

“Clint—” Steve starts, looking ashamed.

“No! You go off and disappear with no backup, and somehow manage to find Thanos, and then fail to beat him! Nebula told us that someone traded the time stone for your life.” He scoffs. “They should have just let you die.”

There are several gasps across the room. “Clint—” Steve tries again, sounding horrified.

“I know.” Tony whispers again, and silence reigns.

Clint is still huffing from rage; apparently that verbal put-down wasn’t enough to satisfy him. “So? What are you going to do? After being missing for weeks, you get back and mope around. Who do you have to grieve? The world? The trillions gone from your mistakes? I lost my family, Stark. Who did you lose?”

Before Tony can even think of a response, Nebula speaks up for the first time. “His son.”

Everyone turns to look at the blue girl. She doesn’t flinch at the new attention, staring right at Clint. Then she turns her dark eyes to Tony’s. “He lost his son.”

That seems to be what gets people to finally look around the floor. Their eyes roam around, drinking in the textbooks and spare shoes in the walkway that definitely did not belong to him or Pepper. The silly magnets and the sticky notes. They notice the dozens of photo frames that are scattered around the place; most of them feature him and Peter. Clint walks closer to one of them and picks it up, looking at it like he couldn’t believe his eyes.

When Clint turns to look back at him, Tony can’t bring himself to raise his eyes. Tony had attempted to get his old charismatic persona back with his stance in the beginning, but now he sags like a deflated balloon. He sits back down on the sofa and hides his face in his hands.

“I’m sorry, Tony.” Steve whispers, sounding absolutely destroyed. “We didn’t know.”

Of course they didn’t know, because Peter wasn’t really his son. Nebula had asked him that question back on Titan when he had just seen the boy crumble beneath him. “Was he your son?” and Tony had shaken his head ‘no’. “He’s so much more than that.”

“He’s not… Nevermind.” He wasn’t sure if Nebula truly believed that Peter was his kid, but he was too tired to refute her claim.

He can see the blonde lady, Carol, walk closer to him. She stops right in his line of sight so he can see her shoes. “We’re going to get them back, Stark. But we need your help. I’ve been told you’re the genius of the group.”

Tony raises his eyes to meet hers, and he can’t help but feel a jolt of adrenaline run through his veins.

He could bring Peter back.

“Okay. Okay.” He whispers, dropping his head back down. “Let’s go to the labs. We can discuss more there, just give me a minute alone please.”

They nod and start filing out of the room. Clint doesn’t move though, he stays staring at the photo of him and Peter. Tony shifts, feeling uncomfortable with how much Clint is staring. He feels judged; Clint is a real father, and Tony can’t help but feel like he was just a poor imitation of one when Clint was there.

He stiffens when the archer starts walking towards him. He stays seated, but is ready to bolt if Clint decides to throw the frame at him. But Clint doesn’t look angry anymore, but he looks just as defeated as Tony feels and stops in front of him, not unlike how Carol did just moments prior.

Even though Tony is pretty sure Clint won’t hurt him (physically) he still can’t bring himself to meet the other man’s eyes.

“Peter?” Tony jolts as if someone had poked him with a cattle prod. His eyes finds Clint’s, questioning silently.

In return, Clint flips the frame around and it’s the same photo Tony was looking at before. The one with him and Peter and the dumb bunny ears and the certificate with Peter’s name on it. “His name might have been upside-down, but it’s easy enough to read.”

Involuntarily, one side of Tony’s mouth quirks up. “He didn’t even notice until we looked at the photos later. I thought he was just playing around, but that boy is both the smartest person ever and the dumbest.”

Clint sits down on the armchair adjacent to him, smiling slightly. “My daughter is the same. She can hit a bulls-eye with ease and yet always forgets to take her socks off before she takes a shower.”

They continue to talk about their kids, sharing funny anecdotes as if they were still alive. They’re both very careful about the tenses they use, and ignore the elephant in the room. Tony’s sure that the others are wondering where they are, but he’s not willing to be the one to leave this little bubble of fantasy where Peter is still breathing. He wants to continue pretending Peter was really his kid.

But nothing good ever lasts, and Clint sighs, long and heavy. He clasps Tony’s shoulder and squeezes. “We should get going, Tony. We need to start working to get them back, and then we’ll know for sure if Peter could outdo Cooper in a meme battle.”

Tony smiles sadly, but he gets up anyway. “We’ll get them back, birdbrain. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Clint nods back. “Whatever it takes.”

 

Chapter Text

Bruised, bloodied, and battered, Tony is so tired. But it wasn’t the same type of tired as when he first landed back on Earth. He was just physically exhausted, but his mind, his very soul, was roaring. They’d defeated Thanos, and managed to undo the effects of the snap.

Wong had helped them with the Time Stone, and all the different minds that now made up the team were able to help make sure that everyone came back alive and whole. If all went well, everyone would appear where they had been hours before everything had gone to shit. The reversal of time meant all the second-hand casualties of the Snap (such as those who had been hit by cars that no longer had drivers in them) would come back as well.

This also meant that Peter should appear outside his school. Tony knew Peter was on a field trip to MoMA before leaving the bus and helping him against the big ugly alien that he was fighting. Tony was anxiously tapping his foot outside Midtown. Clint was antsy next to him as well.

Instead of immediately flying back out to his farm, he’d decided to stay with the team in New York until he was certain the effects of the Snap had reversed. Clint said he couldn’t bare it if he was stuck waiting for nothing to happen at home. Tony already had a Quinjet ready for Clint to hop in if nothing went wrong.

“Ready, Stark?” Wong asked him.

He nodded back. “I’ve been ready a long time.”

The stones glowed in the contraption Tony made. None of them were going to try wielding the Infinity Gauntlet after what it did to Thanos; none of them (besides probably Thor) would be able to.

It felt like ages before anything happened. Around him, it was like he was watching a crappy CGI movie in reverse: ash started collecting together, forming living human beings.

Everyone held their breath until the students were whole, all of them looking shocked and frightened. Some were patting themselves down like they couldn’t believe it, while others were crying and hugging each other. Few paid attention to the group of superheroes standing nearby.

But Tony had no eyes for them. He was waiting for a familiar head of curly hair to reveal itself.

After a few moments and no one else was reappearing, Tony’s heart broke. “Where is he?” Did it not work? Did he fail?

Steve gives him a comforting pat on his back, and Tony can’t bring himself to look at the man’s pitying look. Before he could work himself up into a panic attack, someone gasps behind him. “Tony, look!” Clint yells, sounding ecstatic.

Tony whirls around, heart in his throat. Down the sidewalk is Peter, looking down at his hands like they would disappear any second. It seemed like Peter had been late for the field trip; leave it to the Spider-ling to give Tony a heart attack. After a moment, Peter raises his eyes and meets Tony’s shocked gaze. Instantly, tears well up in both of their eyes.

The older of the two starts sprinting as quickly as he can down the sidewalk, and then Peter starts shakily running to meet him in the middle. By the time the two collide—softly, Tony makes sure not to hurt his protégé—tears are running down their cheeks.

Oh my god, Peter.” Tony breathes, arms wrapped tightly around his kid. “I’m so sorry, Peter. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Mr. Stark,” Peter sobs into his chest, arms around Tony’s torso. “You found me.”

“Of course I did, Pete. I wouldn’t stop until I found you.” Tony’s mind is on a loop of Peter’s safe, he’s safe, he’s in my arms, he’s not dead.

“I was so s-scared.” Peter hiccups.

“I know, I know, kiddo. But you’re fine now, I promise.” And this was a promise Tony was going to keep, even if it killed him. “Oh, god, kid, I was scared too.” I was scared I would lose you before even being able to tell you how much I cared, just like my father did.

Peter nuzzles into the fabric of his mentor’s top. “Good to know you do want me around after all.” It’s meant to be a joke, but Tony just squeezes tighter.

“Of course I want you around, Pete. I care about you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before.” Tony lamented, running a hand through Peter’s soft hair. He’d never been so thankful for a head of hair before, but it was like a weight dropped from his shoulders when he felt the familiar curls under his hands. He presses a kiss to his forehead and mumbles, “I care so much.” I love you, Peter, as if you were my own.

Peter cries harder. “I care about you, too, Mr. Stark.” And Tony is smart enough to read between the lines: I love you, too.

Despite all the snot that is no doubt getting on his shirt, Tony smiles. “I know, kiddo. I know. And call me Tony.”

The boy laughs wetly at the joke. “Sure thing, Mr. Tony.”

“Still better than Mr. Stark.” He ruffles Peter’s hair, and Peter whines weakly at him. Tony laughs again and leans the side of his face on the top of Peter’s head.

Tony’s back is to the rest of the team, so he doesn’t notice them come closer to him until Clint rests a hand on his shoulder. “Tony.”

The mechanic jolts, loosening his hold and turns around to look at him, but then Peter lets out a distressed sound and holds on tighter, causing Tony to quickly turn back around to his kid and running a hand through his hair again.

“Don’t go, please.” Peter whimpers, and Tony’s heart breaks at the terror he can hear in his voice.

“Hey, baby, I’m not going anywhere, I promise.” Tony soothes, rubbing his kid’s back. “I’m not leaving you. I’m just turning to talk to Clint, alright?”

He wait until Peter nods into his chest before turning, a lot slower than before and making sure that their arms stay wrapped around each other. Once upon a time, Peter would have been over the moon to have been able to meet the Avengers, but now it seemed like all he wanted to do was hang onto Tony and never let go. To be honest, Tony felt the same way.

Tony turns his gaze to the archer, who was now looking at him and his kid with a fond look on his face. In fact, the entire team seemed to be looking at the pair with the same look in their eyes. “Clint?”

“I’ll be seeing my family now, Tony. This is goodbye for the time being.” Tony gives the agent a nod and a smile.

“We’ll walk you to the Quinjet.” Tony offered, but Clint just shook his head.

“You’ve got your kid to spoil; I can walk a few hundred meters.” Clint waves and jogs away, a few of the Avengers following him. They all had people they lost, and were going to go meet them. Tony was lucky he was able to get Peter so soon.

In the time it took to reverse the Snap, Tony had come clean about how Peter wasn’t really his blood-related son, but that didn’t seem to change much in the others’ eyes. They still referred to Peter as his kid, and Tony never corrected them; it would be a little hypocritical since Tony himself called Peter his kid.

For these reasons, the team readily agreed to reverse the effects near Midtown. And now he’s got his arms filled with a teary-eyed Spider-kid and it was the best feeling in the world.

The rest of Midtown (and the universe) were still celebrating, and now that it’s been a few minutes students have started to notice that Tony Stark and quite a few other heroes were in the vicinity. Tony could hear one of the kids whisper harshly to someone ‘dude is that Penis Parker with Tony Stark?’ and stiffened. That must have been the asshole that bullied Peter about him having a fake internship; it was actually one of the reasons Tony had gone out of his way to make the internship official. Fortunately, Peter didn’t seem to have noticed; small mercies.

“Hey, Pete.” Tony said softly. “Wanna go back to the Compound? We can see May and Pepper there.”

“May’s okay? Pepper too?” Peter lifted his head just enough to be able to look into Tony’s eyes. Peter had always had really expressive eyes, similar to Tony, and they’d always had the power to make Tony turn to mush.

“Yeah, kid, they’re fine. They miss you.” Tony replied, running a hand up and down Peter’s back. “I’ll have to bring you with my suit, is that okay?”

Peter hummed in agreement, and while it was a little difficult to maneuver Peter into his arms and take off, he managed it. May and Pepper had gotten closer and closer over time, and he and May had subsequently also gotten to know each other better. They’d both be over the moon when they see Peter.

Tony, as always, was right. When they spotted Peter in Iron Man’s arms, they’d both burst into tears and came running towards them. After a solid half-hour of kisses and tears and hugs, they’d managed to move onto the couch and put a movie on. Peter was sandwiched between Tony and May, with Pepper on Tony’s other side.

Peter hadn’t stopped holding either of them for a while now, and Tony couldn’t bring himself to care. The feeling of Peter’s warmth beneath his arm meant that Peter was alive, and was safe. The only time Tony had left his side was to go to the bathroom, where he received word that everyone had reunited with those they had lost. Clint sent him a photo of his family in a pile similar to what him and Peter have been doing.

He made sure to tell FRIDAY to send Clint a picture in return.

After only a single movie, the cuddle pile (and Tony’s hand carding through his hair) had made Peter into a drowsy mess. He looked about half a second away from passing out onto Tony’s side, and while Tony usually didn’t mind, he thought Peter would rather sleep in a more comfortable position.

“I’ll get him to bed.” Tony whispered as lowly as he could to the two women beside him, and he got two nods in return. Pepper gave both him and Peter a kiss on the cheek, and May pressed multiple onto her nephew’s face and gave Tony’s arm a comforting squeeze.

“Up and at ‘em, kiddo.” He draws Peter up into a semi-standing position with most of his weight on Tony. This would be as good as it gets with Peter, Tony knew, so he just started walking towards Peter’s bedroom.

The problem revealed itself when Tony was trying to get Peter to undress himself so he’d be able to sleep more comfortably. It took a lot of maneuvering but he managed to get the kid’s sweater off and convinced him to at least change into a pair of sleep shorts (he did have to bribe him with the promise of using an Iron Man glove, but he never told him if the glove would actually have any weapons on it).

By the end of that, Tony was ready to flop onto the floor and take a nap. The soft carpet would make a great bed.

“Night, Pete. See you in the morning.” Tony pressed a kiss to the mop of curls, not expecting much of a reply from the sleepy spider. He stands up to leave, but a hand shoots out from under the duvet.

“No, please.” Peter whimpers, eyes wide and not at all the adorable droopy ones they were just a moment ago. “Stay. I d-don’t want to be alone. Please, Tony.”

The elder man was already convinced to stay from the moment he had seen those scared brown eyes. “I’ll stay right here, Peter. You’re not alone.”

Peter’s grip on Tony’s arm relaxed, and he heard a relieved sigh come from the teen. The boy shuffled over so now there was a Tony-sized space for him to lay down. He kicks off his shoes and shuffles in next to him, thankful that he’d been forced to take a shower and change earlier by Pepper.

As Tony settles down, Peter scoots closer to him so Tony lifts an arm so Peter can tuck himself right into Tony’s side even though this means Tony will be trapped there until morning. Once they’re all comfortable, Tony presses another kiss to Peter’s forehead. “Goodnight for real now, Peter. Sweet dreams.”

“Hmm, ‘night, Dad. Love you.” Then the boy buries his face into Tony’s body to hide his flushed face. Instead of making a big deal and risk Peter being too embarrassed to say it again, Tony just grins at the title and rubs Peter’s back. He kinda wants to scream in joy, but settles on pressing yet another kiss to Peter’s face.

“I love you too, Peter. More than anything.”

Ever since getting close to Peter, Tony had realized he had always wanted kids despite always saying he didn’t, and was simply scared he was going to mess up spectacularly like Howard did. And while Tony had made plenty of mistakes in the pretty short amount of time he’d known Peter, it meant the world to him that Peter was still willing to look up to him and love him just the way he was.

Peter was one of the few people Tony associated with the word ‘love’. He was colorful sticky notes plastered on fridges, he was printed pictures placed all around the flat, he was the footprints that were on the ceiling. He was a handful, but Tony had two hands.

The next morning, Pepper and May both came in and took about two dozen photos of them as they slept. And if one of the photos ended up in a frame around the floor, well, it wasn’t that surprising to anyone.