“You ready?” Scott asked. Hope stood next to him flicking switches on the control panel.
Peter was suited up, standing on a platform connected to Lang’s van.
“Don’t miss me,” Peter said with a grin from behind the mask that had shut around his face. He was trying to keep up his usual talkative, boisterous demeanor. But his hands were clammy underneath the suit’s gloves. He felt like his organs were shifting out of place, bringing on a wave of nausea. He hadn’t even entered the quantum realm yet, but he felt like swaying on his feet. He was nervous, but it wasn’t because he was about to shrink down and back into time.
“It’ll only be a few second for us Peter,” Hope reminded him.
Peter didn’t know how he convinced them to do it. Most of the Avengers swore off time travel after bringing everyone back. But maybe Pepper put a word in for him. Or maybe it was because everyone from Aunt May and Happy, to Pepper, and to the people of Queens, were worried about how Peter hadn’t stepped into the Spider-Man suit since Tony died.
So now he’s getting one last chance to say goodbye.
“Okay Pete,” Scott said, widening his stance as if he was getting ready to shrink down with him.
Peter placed his sweaty, trembling hand against the side of his hip where Hope’s Pym Particles were securely attached to get him to Tony and back.
“3, 2, 1…”
The combined voices of Scott and Hope were suddenly sucked away as Peter fell into what seemed like a spiraling tube of blue and purple lights. He was moving fast away from the year 2023. The fluctuating colors and sweeping sensation carrying his made him think of Ned. How excited he’ll be when Peter says he went back in time.
The quantum realm guided Peter straight to his mark, and then suddenly, he popped into existence in the year 2019. He waivered as the world around him steadied. He swallowed down a metal taste in his mouth. That was the fun part, he crudely thought as he flexed his fingers. He wanted the trembling to go away.
It was a quiet night. He could hear crickets hiding in the shrubs and potted plants of the home in front of him. He checked the time device wrapped around his palm. 2019 Nov. 8th, a month before Pepper is due with Morgan.
He legs were numb, but he stepped towards the house. Pepper had said they moved here just a few months after Tony returned from space. Peter could see they were still settling in even after a year. A few boxes were stacked on the patio. In the hazy dusk, he could also see where Morgan’s tent will be, and where her toys will be scattered in the grass, and where Tony will lay down a blanket at Morgan’s request for a picnic. Peter knows that from Pepper’s stories.
Peter was at the front door now. He had worked so hard on swallowing down his nerves that they now had become a lump in his throat. His breathing went shallow. The mask retracted, and if someone was looking they’d be able to see the line of tears in Peter’s eyes the quantum suit had been hiding.
His shaky hand balled into a fist, hesitating at the door. He had practiced this a few times. What he would say. What he would do. But his brain was short-circuiting. All he could think about was seeing Tony’s face again. Healthy, awake, alive. A cooling wind swept through the patio. Peter could feel it against his face and a chill slipped past the suit and down his spine. He took in a sharp breath.
Then, he knocked.
He pounded on the screen door a couple times, suddenly struck with the fear of Tony not answering. It was late in the evening, what if he wasn’t home? What if he was asleep? But when his incessant knocking ceased, there was a jingle at the door - a lock being undone. He stepped back paralyzed. The door swung open and Tony stood there with an expression of terrified shock that mirrored Peter’s face. Seconds slipped by as they stared at each other.
“Mr. Stark,” Peter choked out before Tony could make a sound. Peter tried keeping himself together. He tried to hold his breath and blink back tears, but when Tony busted through the screen door and enveloped Peter in his arms with no hesitation, the kid couldn’t help but break. All the grief poured out of him at once. He cried into Tony’s chest. The nanotech suit retracted completely, and Peter could feel the warmth of Tony’s embrace.
Tony held him like Peter knew he would. He thought of how Tony hugged him during the battle and squeezed Tony tighter. He wished he could’ve known then that the first time they had a real embrace was going to be the last time.
But it’s okay. Because now he’s getting a do-over.
Tony tried to fight off tears of his own. He could barely wrap his mind around what was happening, but still he said, “Kid, your grip is like the Hulk right now.”
Peter stepped back from Tony, wiped at his tears with the back of his hand. Tony couldn’t take his eyes off the kid.
“How are you here?” Disbelief was thick in his voice.
“It’s a long story,” Peter said, the wind ever more present as its cool touch brushed his damp cheeks.
“I bet, kid,” Tony said with such relief in his eyes it made Peter’s nerves fizzle away. Tony put his arm around Peter’s shoulders and led him inside.
The house was warm and quiet. There were a few lamps glowing in corners and on tables, but everything else was shadowed in a comfortable darkness. Comfortable for Peter because Tony was right next to him and his heart was beating. It was a heartbeat Peter could tune into like a radio channel thanks to a certain spider bite. And a heartbeat he once heard stop.
They sunk down onto a couch in front of the fireplace. Peter had been there several times before and it felt strange to see pictures missing from the hearth. None of Morgan, none of Tony that Pepper put up after the funeral.
“Can I get you anything?” Tony asked. His hand was hovering in the air, unsure if he needed it to stand up to fetch Peter a glass of water, or to place it on Peter’s shoulder. He couldn’t believe Peter was sitting there. Solid, breathing, alive. His left hand, once covered in ashes, longed to linger on Peter. Part of his brain was still in denial. He needed to be sure the kid was here.
“Your hands are shaking, Mr. Stark,” Peter said softly. The remark threw Tony off guard and he clutched his hesitant hands together.
“So are yours, kid.” He said. He needed to keep his cool. For Peter. Because Peter was clearly anything but cool at the moment. “So what’s the deal? Did Pepper make me a special batch of brownies, or are you really…here again?” He was trying to make a quip, but he was so scared.
Peter took in a deep breath.
“Mr. Stark I’m…from the future.” It was a pretty bold start, but Tony sat quietly, ready to listen to Peter like he always does. “It’s complicated, but what happened previously in the life of Peter Parker is that I got all dusty on that planet where we fought Thanos and then I woke up, apparently 5 years later, because you and the Avengers – and I mean all the Avengers, managed to bring everyone back. You literally created time travel to do it! But you messed with time, and there’s always a counter reaction.” Peter’s voice trailed off briefly. He cleared his throat and kept going, “There was another fight with Thanos. We almost had it,” Peter’s throat began to tighten. His voice became softer. Most of what he was saying was going over Tony’s head but he still listened. “Something happened. I don’t remember what exactly.” – Peter’s face twisted – “and you had to put on the gauntlet.” He couldn’t look at Tony. “You won the fight, Mr. Stark. You snapped all of Thanos and his army away. But it wrecked you, Mr. Stark. I was so scared. I saw Mr. Rhodes run to you and I followed him. And I tried to tell you that we won, but you... I lost you Tony.”
Tony felt shivers crawl down his neck. His mind still couldn’t grasp all of what Peter was saying. It didn’t feel real.
'I lost you Tony.'
Something about those words was especially chilling.
“Pete, why’d you come back?” He tentatively asked, “to the past I mean.”
“Have you ever seen Terminator?” Peter asked, a small smile quirked at his mouth.
“You here to kill me?” Tony joked.
Tension that had been accumulating in the air dispersed as Peter shook his head with a full smile on his face.
“No, Terminator’s not even relevant. Just wanted to reference it,” Peter said, feeling a spike of shyness like he would if things were normal.
Tony let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. Peter was still Peter, even if he was from 5 years ahead. Silence filled up the space between them. For Tony it’s been a year since he lost his kid. For Peter it’s been nearly a year since he lost his father. For a minute, nothing needed to be said. Peter shuffled closer to Tony, leaned into his side.
If things were normal, Peter would have been wary about being so unguarded with Tony. He’d expect Tony to make fun of him for being such a sentimental sap because Tony claimed he was never one for physical affection and nostalgia. But after experiencing Tony’s care on the battlefield, Peter knew better. He always had a hunch that Tony didn’t mind Peter’s one-sided hugs he’d steal on lab days or the occasional heartfelt gifts he gave Tony. Like the picture in the kitchen, and the father’s day card he knew Tony had tucked away in his dresser. Pepper had showed it to him.
Peter curled against Tony’s side and Tony placed an arm around him. They sat there in the silence. Tony held onto so securely, Peter knew he was making sure the kid didn’t fall apart again.
“I can’t stay,” Peter whispered eventually, “and when I leave I’ll have to Men in Black you.”
Tony ignored the ‘I can’t stay’ for a moment, “You figured out how to erase memories?”
“Not alone, I worked with Dr. Pym and Dr. Banner. It was one of the only conditions they gave me so I could come here.”
“That’s okay then,” Tony said softly, like he understood somehow, “as long as you’re here for a little bit.” It wasn’t okay. Tony wished the kid could stay forever.
Peter nodded. He could feel tears coming back. Time is limited, even when you can dive into the past. Certain things are destined to be the way they are. Thor had told Peter something like that.
Tony and Peter managed to try and have one last normal night. They stayed on the couch for a while and then Tony mad hot chocolate after Peter had an outburst about how unfair it all is. He used to make hot chocolate for Peter on nights he had rough patrols. It didn’t happen often, just as the lab days didn’t, but the gesture always made Peter smile. They stayed up the rest of the night talking as if tomorrow would continue on with Peter around and Tony alive. Tony told him about how Pepper was visiting her mother for some sort of maternity tradition in the Potts family. Peter talked about a trip he had signed up for to go to Europe.
When morning came, Peter knew he needed to go back home. He sat with Tony out in the grass, where Tony would soon sit with Morgan for her picnics. They watched the sun come up. Peter’s head rested on Tony’s shoulder. The sun came up, and Peter couldn’t stay any longer. Without an exchange of words, Peter stood onto his feet. The red and white suit unfolded around him.
“Not my best design,” Tony remarked in a tight voice.
“Guess old age really impacted your fashion sense,” Peter joked.
Tony shook his head with a smile and then the silence settled back in. This time it held something bittersweet. Peter stood awkwardly. This was it. One last goodbye. What would he say? What would he do?
“Mr. Stark?” Peter said.
“Yeah, Pete?” Tony’s eyes flicked up from the ground at him.
“I love you,” Peter said, throwing his arms around Tony for a last time. Tony secured his arms around Peter tightly. Peter’s head fell against his chest. He could feel Tony’s breaths quicken and his heartbeat jump.
“I love you too, kid,” Tony whispered into Peter’s hair.