When Loki appears before Tony, he had been staring at the phone in a sort of resigned disappointment. Steve may have meant it to be a link between the two of them, but to him, it feels like an ending. The final note of the song. Hope, crushed and blown into the wind. Because, with this one phone, Steve shows just how little he knows of Tony. Or thinks of him. Either way, it amounts to the same thing.
Maybe the soldier had watched too many spy movies and thought he was being clever, sending him this burner dinosaur. But there are other, better, burner phones available now. More likely, it is the most technologically advanced phone he knows how to use. Because sending Tony a phone like this? It's basically a 'fuck you'.
Tech is not a dead thing to Tony, but an extension of himself. So the fact that he is holding a flip phone in his hands does not say much to him about his former teammate. Worse, even, than that 'sorry not sorry' letter that came with it. That letter is a crumpled up ball in his trash can. The phone should be in the same place, yet he can't bring himself to throw it away.
Not because he wants to call Steve. No. Logically he knows the ball is in his court now. His move. But despite that, and despite how much he hates this and misses them, he isn't tempted to call. He knows the world is going to need them back eventually. He knows what is coming. He's seen it. And he knows he is going to be the one that needs to make the call. He is the one who is going to need to suck it up, to ignore his pride, to beg and plead and apologize because the others never will.
One thing he has learned, living with the team, is that it is always Tony Stark's fault.
So how stupid is he that he misses them. When the team first formed, a fragile hope bloomed in his chest. Maybe he could fit in with these people. Maybe he could have others in his corner now. People on his side, fighting for him and not against him. Maybe they could become his friends. His family. He thought they had.
Apparently he is the only one that thought so. Steve may have called the Avengers his, but who is left? He was the one who took the kids in the divorce, not Tony. No pretty words are going to change that fact. He is left with Rhodey, who has stuck with him since MIT and look where that got him. Wheelchair bound until Tony can improve the exoskeleton legs. And Vision, who is trying to deal with emotions he didn't even know he had. He can't bring himself to look at Tony or Rhodey, too guilty and unsure how to handle it.
It reminds Tony of JARVIS, when he was first learning. His AI had went through quite the adjustment period before he was the wonderful sass master Tony had grown use to. Part of him wants to take the Android under his wing, teach him and guide him. Another part wants nothing to do with him.
He is just so tired from everything. Ross is riding his ass. The Accords are on shaky grounds and being revised as he sits here. The UN is pissed. The world is pissed. And who is taking the blame?
The only visible Avenger left of course. He has been cleaning up their messes for years now. Why should this be any different?
Except that is. Except that Tony doesn't want to do this anymore. Everything has gone to hell in a handbasket. His life is a sinking ship and he doesn't know how much longer he can keep afloat. He knows if he verbalizes these thoughts, he will either be told not to be so dramatic or be pitied. Even Rhodey gets that look sometimes and he is the one paralyzed from the waist down. It makes his skin itch when he sees it, no matter how much his best friend tries to hide it.
What does it mean that even the person who has known you the longest is looking at you as if you are irreversibly broken? Nothing good, that's for sure. He spins the phone in his hands, sighing. Aliens are coming and the only people he has are a paralytic man, a confused humanoid and an over enthusiastic high schooler.
Tony winces at the thought of Peter. The kid is so bright, so full of energy and a desire to do good. To help. It makes Tony want to bundle him up and hide him from the world. He can't bare to see that light so out in him. And it will, if he hangs around Tony long enough. When he has lived enough years. When the world shows him its true colors. He should know, he use to be the same. Never so good, but so full of excitement and life. Look where that has led him now.
He's broken. He knows he's broken. He's not sure if he can be fixed this time. Then again, he hasn't been fixed since he came out of that cave in Afghanistan. Not really. He plays a part, he changes his lines, but underneath he is being held together by duct tape and rusted screws.
He always was a wreck of a human being, even when he was a kid. Too smart too young. Too loud. Too arrogant. Too needy. Too obnoxious. Too much to handle for too long. He grew up too fast and never enough. A genius, but never at the right things. Sure, he could build you a robot in half a day. But interact with someone without offending them? Forget it.
This latest situation is just the straw that broke the camel's back. It was a long time in coming and now that it is here, he's not sure what he is suppose to do. He's hit rock bottom before. But what happens when he has no strength to pull himself out? How long does it take to drown?
So when Loki, the would-be Ruler and supposedly dead mischief maker, appears before him in the workshop, he doesn't even blink. Frankly, he's not all that surprised. He was always slightly skeptical about his supposed death. So he looks up from the phone and asks, “Here for that drink?”
“If you would not mind,” Loki says regally, sitting down on one of Tony's benches as it was a throne or something. He looks out of place here, the only thing put together amidst the chaos all around him. Then again, maybe not. He is the god of chaos after all.
Tony just nods and gets up, pouring Loki a glass of scotch that he had been drinking earlier. He pours himself one as well before he hands it back to the god. Loki sips at his while Tony throws his back, draining it before filling it again. Why the hell not? Seems like a good response. Seems like a good response for a lot of things these days.
Loki watches him with hooded eyes.
Tony is feeling distinctly judged. “What?” he snaps, not in the mood for someone else to tell him he isn't good enough. That everything is all his fault. That there is something wrong with him, not them. That he will never be good enough. He is the villain here obviously.
Especially not by the actual villain sitting across from him.
“I have been watching,” the god tells him, “I have seen all that has occurred these past few years.”
“Good for you. Would you like a gold star?” Tony snarks.
“I have seen,” he continues, “and what I have seen has disappointed me greatly.”
Tony's grip on his glass tightens. If Loki is about to lecture him about how he has been doing a piss poor job of living his life, he will throw his glass at him, consequences be damned. He will not sit here and be patronized by someone who tried to take over the world. Forget his backstabbing friends, that will be the last straw. He stares defiantly, head held high. That, if anything, seems to make Loki happy. Damn bag of cats.
“I have seen you take on the weight of the world and falter beneath it. I have seen you ridiculed and belittled and blamed and spat upon. I have seen your spirit slowly crushed by those who should have protected it.” He looks directly in Tony's eyes and the genius has to suppress a shiver.
This is the gaze of someone has lived for millenniums. This is someone who has lived and lost and fought till their nails bled. This is someone unbelievably ancient who has seen too much. Far more than they have ever wanted. This is not the gaze of someone who has lost their mind, lost their way as Thor insisted. This is someone who knows.
“I have seen and I have waited for something to change. For the spark to come alive again. For you to be the man who challenged me with words alone. It has become clear to me that he is not coming back. Not without some assistance.”
“Fuck you,” Tony snarls.
Loki shakes his head. “You misunderstand me Stark. I am not here to degrade. I am here to help. You are essential to my plans. I need you hail and healthy.”
“I am not some pet-”
“No,” Loki interrupts, “you are not. You are your own man. You have your own mind. A brilliant intelligence and desire to know and conquer. You have your own thoughts and ways of thinking. You have your own eyes. Eyes that have seen,” he emphasizes, “You alone know what is coming. You know that the Battle of New York was not the last of the Chitauri. They will be back. And with them, their leader.”
A chill runs through Tony. He knew it. He feared it. And here Loki was confirming it. Space, the final frontier. How fucking cliché.
“And you know him?” he asks.
“Who do you think sent me?” Loki answers.
“Then why warn me?”
“Because,” the god leans forward, “do you really think I am the type to do anyone's bidding but my own willingly?”
Tony shakes his head instantly. No. One of the reasons he was able to predict Loki's next move had been because he understood the god. They had more in common than he cared to admit. Even Thor had commented on it, once. Thank fuck none of the others had been around to hear him. Tony never would have heard the end of it. Especially from Clint. So no, he knows Loki doesn't play by anyone's rules but his own. Because neither does Tony. Or he did, anyways.
“You are needed because you are one of the few whose preparations can make a difference in the coming fight.”
“Me?” Tony asks skeptically, “I know I'm awesome and everything, but you really expect me to believe that I, a powerless mortal, can do something gods and aliens can't?”
“But there is where you are wrong Stark. You do have a power. One of the most mighty and unique I have seen across all of the Nine Realms. And believe me when I say I have traveled far and long, before and after, to see your match. I have not found one.”
“And what's that?” Tony crosses his arms, challenging.
Loki says it gravely. As if he is dead serious. All Tony can do is laugh in his face. “Really?” he snorts, “That's the best you can come up with? Come on Silver Tongue, give me another.”
“I do not jest. What many of the Realms neglect to remember is that Midgardians, while short lived, are an ever changing, ever developing race. You may seem to be centuries behind all the others, but that has never stopped you. You do not back down from challenges others flee from. You explore where others dread to trod. While other Realms stagnate and languish, you speed forward. And you Anthony Stark, are a King among commoners. You have technology comparable to those gods and aliens that would scoff at you. You are the ace in the sleeve, as the saying goes.”
Tony... really wants to call bullshit right now. Useless flattery. Emotional manipulation. Only he can't. Because he is able to see how serious the god is. He is not using fancy words. The only manipulation here is the truth. And damn if Tony doesn't know what to do with that. On par with gods and aliens when basically everyone on his own planet hates him right now? It seems impossible.
But he is Tony Stark. He lives to defy the impossible.
“So what exactly are you doing here? Giving me a pep talk so I keep going? An ego stroke so I can do your dirty work?”
Loki chuckles. “Oh no Stark. I am not here to offer empty words. I, of all people, know how useless they are. No, I am here to offer you much more. You are broken right now. I am here to fix you.”
Tony growls at Loki again. Just because he can admit that he is broken doesn't mean anyone else can know.
“Peace Stark,” Loki offers, “I know what it is like to be broken and have others take advantage of that fact. I do not seek to do the same.”
“What are you planning exactly? Don't think I haven't noticed that you haven't explained your so called help yet.”
The smirk Loki gives him is pure mischief. “Why, it is as if you doubt me. I simply plan to do this,” he waves his hand and Tony is engulfed is a green light. Tony yelps, freaked out, but the light doesn't hurt. It tingles more than anything. He must black out for a couple of seconds because when it clears he is alone. Loki is gone as if he was never there. The only evidence is the empty glass on the bench.
“Boss?” FRIDAY asks hesitantly, “That still you?”
Tony frowns. “Who else would it be baby girl?” he asks then freezes. That isn't his voice. Or, it is, but it is one he hasn't heard in decades. “Mirror Fry. Now,” he barks.
FRIDAY moves a screen over so that he can see himself in it. When he does, he swears. “Son of a bitch. What the hell did he do to me?” He doesn't need to ask though. It is obvious. Looking back at him is his seventeen year old self.
“By my scans you are now a teenager Boss,” FRIDAY answers him anyways.
Part of Tony's mind is freaking the fuck out. But it is a very distant part. He stares at himself and gives himself a minute for his thoughts to untangle themselves. Logically he knows he should be pissed as all hell. He has just been de-aged back into the tail end of puberty. But the last thing he remembers, really remembers besides the visit with Loki, is graduating from MIT. Last week.
The rest of his life is still there, but it is like watching a movie. Reading a book. He knows what happens, but he doesn't feel any of the emotions that go with it. Detached. As if it didn't happen to him. As if it isn't really true. As if he didn't live it.
“Don't let anyone in baby girl,” he commands his AI, “Daddy has to take a serious trip down memory lane.”
“Yes Boss. Might be a good idea to reassure the other kids though.”
Tony turns to see Butterfingers and U peeking out from behind Dum-E. He grins. “Don't you recognize your old man? I'm hurt.” He places a hand on his chest. Dum-E speeds over to greet him enthusiastically. He is the only one of his bots who has ever seen him this young. To him, Dum-E should only be a couple of months old. He was his thesis project. “Hey boy,” he grins, “been a while since you saw me like this huh?”
Dum-E circles him and then beeps, raising his claw.
“High five, that's right buddy. Good job,” he praises.
Dum-E chirps happily. The other two take that as a sign to greet him. It takes him a few seconds, but he remembers making them. “How's my magpie?” he coos at U, “And the first girl of my heart of course,” he smiles at Butterfingers, stroking her frame. “It's ok, Daddy just got an upgrade to a new and younger model.”
“And most handsome too,” FRIDAY pipes up cheekily.
“Fry, are you saying I wasn't good looking before?” he acts hurt.
“You were too old for me before Boss.”
Tony snorts. So apparently he perfects his skill at making cheeky AIs. Of course he did. That was always his goal. Make an AI smart enough to keep up with him. He collapses on his couch. “Time to watch The Life of Tony Stark,” he mutters as he sighs and closes his eyes. He has a bad feeling about this.
“What the fuck do you mean Howard got my Mother killed along with his drunk ass?”
“I managed twins? Sweet.”
“God, what was I thinking? Oh wait...”
“Pepper... very nice.”
“Oh cool, Rhodey is still my bro.”
“Oh god, why do I have to remember the donkey still?”
“Shit, fuck, damn, what do you mean I was kidnapped?”
“I had a fucking arc reactor in my chest?!”
“Iron Man. Wicked.”
“What the hell Obie? Douche move.”
“PTSD my name is Tony Stark.”
“And now the arc is poisoning me.”
“Fuck Nick, you old bastard. As if I don't remember you, my favorite old babysitter.”
“And Captain America is alive and well.”
“Ah, that's why we fuck Loki too. Hmm, wonder if I can make that a literal expression? I'd totally tap that. ”
“More Norse gods. Fine then.”
“Oh! Banner! Banner is awesome. And adorable, oh my god, he's like a teddy bear. I want him and his glorious brain.”
“And Captain America is disappointed in me. I'm shocked. Asshole. Fuck Howard.”
“Aliens. Fucking aliens.”
“Holy shit, I flew a nuke into space?!??”
“Damn did that fuck me up.”
“Really Pep, are you shocked?”
“The fuck? HYDRA?!”
“Yeah, old Nicky isn't dead.”
“And now SHIELD is gone.”
“Yeah, I am a walking disaster.”
“Fuck the Mandarin.”
“Fuck that creepy guy who got pissed I blew him off one time when I was drunk. Seriously, self entitlement much? Such thing as personal space, dude, and the creep factor. Just because I'm an asshole genius does not mean you are entitled to my time anytime you want. I'd do the same thing dead sober.”
“Bros before hoes.”
“And now mine is kidnapped.”
“Shit Pep is hot. Pun not intended but totally intended now. Wow.”
“And now the arc is gone.”
“Damn am I still fucked up.”
“Is it just me or are the Avengers a bunch of leeches? I am rich and all that, but... Team player now I guess.”
“Taking down HYDRA, oh yeah.”
“What the fucking hell? That little Witch raped my mind! How did I not realize that before?”
“Fuck did that fuck me up even more.”
“Ok, so Ultron, bad move, but also not all on me.”
“Alright, why does every single person and their second grandmother on their father's side twice removed feel the need to go for my neck? Is there is sign there or something? 'Grab here'?”
“And what the hell is up with Vision? And the Mind Stone? Research, research, research.”
“... Oh is that going to leave a mark. Ultron very bad.”
“What the ever living fucking hell? The little bitch is an Avenger now? Brought on by the same person who was mind raped before and absolutely should have a god damn fucking problem with another mind raper?”
“Loki dead? Obviously not.”
“Alright, Accords. We'll see how it goes.”
“... Aunt Peggy...”
“Fuck, now Barnes is here too.”
“The hell with the cat guy?”
“... This is going to go so badly...”
“... Rhodey Bear.”
“God, is everything fucked. Including me.”
“What the fucking shit do you mean my parents were murdered by Zombie Barnes?!?”
“Oh my god,” he gasps, sitting up, “I've become a fucking tool!” he shouts in horror. He turns eyes to the camera he knows is in the corner. “Fry babe, a tool,” he wails, “Oh my fucking god, no wonder Bag of Cats did this. I was such a fucking mess, I'm disgusted with myself.” He shudders. “A tool for the man. Shit.”
His gaze lands on the phone he had been staring at before Loki appeared. A sense of absolute rage fills him. One very similar to the one that made him go after Barnes. You know, without the PTSD attack this time. He gets up, marches over and snatches it up off the ground. Placing it on the table, he grabs his mallet and brings it down with a resounding thud.
The phone shatters, pieces flying in every direction. Tony gives a satisfied smirk. “Take that Captain America,” he spits, “I take shit from no man. A god just called me his equal. Why would I need you and your 'sorry not sorry' after that?” He grins victoriously, whooping, “Tony Stark is back in business baby!” He rubs his hands together. “First stop is my platypus,” he announces, running to the elevator. “Rhodey!” he shouts as he runs into the game room where his best friend is sitting.
Rhodey looks up, blinks, rubs his eyes and then blinks again. “What the hell? Tony?”
“Yup Rhodey Bear, it's the one and only. I got an upgrade from a god. What do you think?”
“I think you should have had a meal and a movie first. Shit man, what is this life anymore?”
“Crazy ain't it?” he grins happily.
Rhodey can't stop staring.
“Jealous honey buns?” he teases.
All the other man does is shake his head.
Tony frowns, getting worried now. “What is it sugar pie?”
“I think the last time I saw you smile that wide was when you were seventeen,” he answers, “I haven't seen you this happy in years man. It's... it's a good look on you. Even if you are jail bait again,” he adds, smirking.
“I am not!” he protests. “And I'll see about that meal. Apparently I'm one special snowflake, even compared to advanced alien civilizations,” he says proudly, chest puffing up.
Rhodey rolls his eyes. “And just who is the one who inflated your ego so big again?”
“Loki,” he answers easily, “cause, you know, dead not dead kind of deal. He's an admirer.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Rhodey deadpans.
“You never were a scout. They wouldn't let you in.”
“Rude,” Tony sniffs, “but you can watch the video of it if you don't believe me. He digs my brain.” Tony wiggles his eyebrows.
“Just what you need,” he laments, “a god stroking your ego.”
“It's a real confidence builder,” he agrees easily, “and with how fucked up I was before, I can see why I would need it then.”
Rhodey frowns. “Do you still have your memories? Or is this a select few kind of deal.”
“I have them all,” he says, shaking his head, “but it's like watching it happen to someone else. I can sympathize, but it's like it didn't happen to me. It's a load off a lot of issues, let me tell you. I was so fucked before.”
Rhodey is staring at him again, shaking his head.
“It's like you're back to life. I haven't seen you this blase about your issues in... ever actually.”
Tony gives an uncomfortable shrug. “They aren't my issues anymore are they? I'm not that Tony anymore. This is a fresh start platypus and I intent to make the most of it.”
“Are you sure you can trust Loki? I mean, you know what he did.”
Tony tilts his head. “I know, but I don't think we got the whole story. There's a reason he did this. He needs me.”
“He needs you?” Rhodey asks incredulously.
“First of all, I resent that tone. Second of all, yes. He needs me. I know.”
“Know what Tones?”
“I know all of you got tired of me mentioning the nuke I flew into space, but I did that because I was freaking the fuck out about what I saw there.” He shakes his head, “That nuke? Didn't even make a dent in their fleet. I couldn't get a count of them before I blacked out and you know how fast I count. Even worse, neither could JARVIS. And that same fleet is headed straight for Earth. Rhodey,” he looks his best friend in the eye, “we are all going to die unless we get our shit majorly together. Rogers can talk all he wants about winning or losing together. Unless we prepare, we are going to lose. Horribly.”
There is a long, drawn out silence before, “Damn. I've heard you say it before, but I never realized...” he shakes his head as if to clear it, “I am so sorry Tones. You needed me and I wasn't there for you.”
Tony waves him off. “All in the past sugar pie. Now is the time to face forward. And I know just who I need to talk to first.”
Tony blinks and then grins sheepishly. “Oh yeah, I sort of forgot about Pep. How about you talk to her instead?” he grins and runs away, “Tell her she's smoking hot for me,” he calls.
“Tony!” Rhodey shouts, “Get back here you little shit!”
Tony just laughs as he enters the elevator. “Workshop Fry, we have another hot woman to call.”
“You're not cheating on me, are you Boss?”
“I would never baby girl,” he reassures, “I only want this one for her brains.” He walks into the shop and sits down. “Call Jane Foster.”
There is a dial tone and then a hesitant, “Hello?”
“Jane Foster right?”
“Yes, who is this?” she asks warily.
“Tony Stark. Do you have a way to video chat? I think we have a lot to talk about.”
There is a long pause before a FaceTime call opens up. Jane's face appears on screen. She blinks at him. “I thought you said you were Tony Stark,” she accuses.
“I am. Google what I looked like when I graduated MIT.”
Her eyes stray, obviously doing just that. “And just how are you supposedly seventeen again?”
“You're actually familiar with the method. Thor mentioned the two of you met.”
She looks at him questioningly.
“Loki,” he answers.
She grimaces. “We did,” she agrees, “I slapped him and he complimented me for it.”
“I bet he did,” he grins cheekily, “I'd do the same thing honestly. Being slapped by a woman of your standing? Quite an honor.”
“And you're quite the sweet talker,” she says dryly.
“Hey,” he protests, “I'm serious. Just because we never talked doesn't mean I never read your work. You didn't get to the top of your field by being pretty.”
“Some would argue differently.”
“Some are assholes,” he shoots right back, “Your research is solid and you have a sound thesis to go along with it. Anyone who thinks you got anything simply by being Thor's girl can suck it.”
“Thank you,” she says, seemingly stunned, “But I'm not Thor's anything. Not anymore.”
“The two of you broke up?”
“I can count on my hands the number of days I have spent with him. I do like him, but...” she trails off.
“You need something more than a weekend romance,” he offers.
Jane quirks an eyebrow. “And just what would you know about those?”
“Plenty. How do you think I got my playboy title? Being in a serious relationship was never in my agenda. It takes too much to hold my interest for long.”
“Is that what you call it?" she asks sweetly.
Tony laughs. “It's true actually. Call me an asshole, I know I am one, but a pretty face can only hold my attention for a short while. My kink is actually intelligence and/or a shining personality. Those aren't as easy to find as you would think. Or, not at least to my shallow other self.”
Jane is still giving him that look.
“What? I already admitted I was an asshole too. What more do you people want?” he complains, “I admit my faults and you tell me to change. I finally change and you tell me it's not enough, change some more. I do and you still say it's not enough. It's never enough, no matter what I do. What do I need to do? Have a complete personality transplant? Will that make you happy?” He scowls bitterly. Even at seventeen, he has this problem. And it only got worse as he got older. The emotions may be removed, but it still leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
The look is now a softer one now.
“I don't want your pity,” he tells her, “That's not why I called.”
“Why are you calling?” she asks, “Because if you need Thor, I can't help you.”
Tony snorts. “I called for you, not your man. Ex man, whatever. Did he ever mention anything about an invasion possibly heading towards Earth?”
“No,” she says slowly, “Should he have?”
“Yes, because one is. You know that Battle of New York?”
“No,” Jane answers dryly, “I am completely oblivious to what you are talking about.”
Tony grins. “I like you.”
“You're officially too young for me sweetie.”
He sticks his tongue out at her. “There's a fleet of those aliens. Way more than I could count in the few seconds I saw them,” he says, getting back on topic. “And as of right now, we are officially screwed. So I am going to do something about that little problem. I thought, you being an expert and all, that your beautiful brain would like to help.”
“I'm shocked you're asking.”
“The more the merrier. How about it?” He wiggles his eyebrows, “Would you like to make sweet science with me?”
She snorts. “Only if you stop flirting so much. I feel like I'm being hit on by a child.”
He pouts. “I am only one year from legal thank you very much. And just because my body is seventeen doesn't mean my mind is.” Sort of. Technically no, since he has all of his memories from before. But then again technically yes, because he really is seventeen, memories or no.
Alright, so there might be some small problems with this after all.
Still, he is thrilled to feel as free as he does. At seventeen, he might have been a selfish mess, but at least he wasn't a PTSD ridden disaster waiting to happen.
“So shall we talk space?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Oh Tony,” Pepper signs when she sees him for the first time. It's taken a couple of days, but she has come to the Compound to see him.
He grins. “Hi Pepper.”
She comes over and enfolds him in a tight hug. “Why is it always you,” she murmurs into his hair.
Tony returns it, somewhat awkwardly. He's not exactly use to hugs – giving or receiving. “Because I'm awesome?” he answers with a question.
She let's out a snort of laughter. “Well, I'm glad your personality is still intact.”
“What? A god literally digs my brains. Obviously I'm awesome.”
“You are never going to let that go, are you?”
“Nope,” he smiles, popping his 'p'.
“Fabulous. Just another reason to kill Loki.”
“You can try, but I doubt it will sticks. What's the others?”
“This,” she motions to him, “Do you have any idea how we are going to explain this? Because the last thing we need to do is tell the truth. With the political climate right now the public will eat you alive.”
His smile grows. “Well then, I think it is the perfect time for me to step aside and let my son take the reins.”
“And I assume this son has proof of his existence?” she raises a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at him.
“What do you take me for? Of course he does. Right Fry?”
“Right Boss,” FRIDAY answers, “Everything is set for Edan Lucio Stark to take the stage.”
“Edan Lucio?” Pepper asks, bemused.
“Hey, are you insulting my naming abilities?”
“Shall we inspect your track record so far? Your bots?”
“They fit them fine,” he defends himself, “so you leave them out of this.”
“I am the one who came up with Boss' new name,” FRIDAY announces proudly, “I thought it fit him rather well.”
“So there,” Tony crosses his arms, daring Pepper to comment.
She wisely doesn't, opting to smile instead. It's her soft smile. The one she only used when he did something particularly sweet or romantic. Not that the latter is going to apply anymore. Their romance hadn't been working for a while now. The whole de-aging thing is just the final nail on the coffin. It's kind of a relief to be honest. Everything had been awkward before as they tried going back and forth between friendship and lovers. They never seemed to know where they stood with the other. Now there is going to be no questions.
“When are you planning on making this announcement?”
“I was going to leave that up to my wonderful and talented CEO,” he smiles at her winningly.
“Oh really?” Pepper's tone is amused exasperation. “Does this mean you are actually going to listen to me when I tell you to stick with the cards this time?”
“Would I do such a thing as go against your marvelous advice?”
Tony laughs. “No worries Pep, there's no chance of me telling the truth this time. Even I know how bad that would be.”
She sighs in relief. “Good.”
“Humph. Really, it's like you people have no faith in me.”
“Oh I have faith in you alright,” she reassures him.
“Faith you have the ability to make everything more difficult, no matter what.”
“I am feeling so loved right now. I can't even tell you how warm and fuzzy I am inside right now. I'm a big pile of marshmallow goo.”
“Well you always have been a bit of a mess,” she smirks.
“Lies!” he shouts, “That is all lies and slanders and I'll not be insulted in my own home like this.”
“Whatever you say Tony,” Pepper laughs.
“That's right. That's exactly how it should be.”
She snorts. “Clearly I need not worry about you. I have to go back to the office now. Will that be all Mr Stark?”
“That will be all Miss Potts.”
As far as planning goes, Tony does a great job of it – except for one small detail.
“Mr Stark!” Peter calls as he bounds in the room, “Mr Stark are you free? I don't want to bother you if you're busy, but I had a question about my math homework and there is a small glitch in the suit I was wondering if you could maybe look at. It's nothing major if you can't, I'll be fine, but it's sort of annoying and I haven't seen you in a week and-”
“Peter!” he shouts from the kitchen, “breathe kid and come on. I'm free right now.” It feels weird calling him kid now that they are only a few years apart. It's like calling himself one and that's definitely not on. No matter how much Rhodey likes to tease him now, he is not a child.
Peter walks into the kitchen and freezes. Oh yeah. He forgot to give him an update on the latest development.
“Mr Stark?” he asks hesitantly.
“Yeah, hey, slight development on the age front.”
“Oh my god, what happened?” he immediately starts babbling again, “Are you alright? Did it hurt? Who did this to you? Is it permanent? What are you going to do? How are you dealing with it? Do you remember-”
“Pete,” he cuts him off again, “As impressed as I am with your ability to talk without taking a breath, breathe before you pass out one of these times. And in answer to your questions: I'm fine, no, Loki, yes, there's a plan, I'm fine and yes I have all of my memories.”
Peter frowns. “Loki? The guy who tried to take over the world? Why did he do this? To put you out of commission?”
“Ironically enough, he did it to put me back in commission. I know I never admitted it before, but I wasn't in the best of places after everything that had happen.”
The look Peter gives him is a 'no shit' look that only a teenager can pull off.
“Yeah, ok smart guy. And it's Tony. I've told you before Mr Stark makes me feel old. Even older now.”
“Just how old are you now?”
“Seventeen. Essentially I've just graduated. The first time,” he adds, “only, you know, I still have the rest of my knowledge cause it would suck if I had to do that all over again.”
“How does that work?” Peter asks curiously.
“A lot better than you would think.”
Peter hops up on a stool around the island. “So what are you going to do? You said it was permanent. And that you had a plan. You aren't going to tell the truth are you? Because that could be dangerous. I mean, I know you can take care of yourself, you're still Iron Man, but-”
Tony just covers his mouth with his hand this time to stop him. “I'm introducing myself as Tony Stark's son. Dear old Dad thought it was time to step down and let a younger generation handle everything, considering how well his was doing,” he smirks, amused by the whole thing honestly.
Peter snickers under Tony's hand. “What's your name?” he asks when Tony moves it.
“Edan Lucio Stark and don't you dare laugh. Pep already did and I don't want you hurting Fry's feelings.”
Peter grins. “You come up with it FRIDAY?”
“Indeed I did Spiderling,” she answers happily.
“Good job,” he tells her, but grimaces at 'Spiderling'.
Tony snickers. The best part is that she came up with that all on her own. Tony didn't encourage her at all. Not that anyone believes him, but he's actually telling the truth this time. They may be use to JARVIS' prim and proper way, but FRIDAY is an AI of her own.
That reminds him that he needs to talk to Vision. He hasn't seen the Android since all of this happened, although he knows Rhodey told him about it. Maybe it will help seeing Tony like this, given he doesn't have the same emotional attachment as before. Plus, he is technically kind of his grandson. Damn does that sound weird. “So you had a problem with the suit?” he asks, changing the subject.
“Yeah, one of my web shooters is acting odd. It still shoots fine, but the web is a little off for some reason.”
Tony hums. “It still hold you ok?”
“Yeah, that's the thing. I can still do everything normally, it's just... off,” he shrugs, “I tried to look at it myself, but I couldn't figure out what went wrong. I mean, I'm always careful with the suit, but-”
“Shit Pete, you should see the work I have to do on my suits after a fight. This is nothing. Between upgrades and repairs, I was always replacing something. Come on, let's go to the shop and I'll have a look at it.”
Peter slides off the stool, grabs his book bag and follows Tony. “So are you still going to be an Avenger? Not that there is really a team left. I mean, no offense but with most of the team convicted criminals and Colonel Rhodes in a wheelchair and-” he shuts his mouth with a click this time.
“Don't sweat it Spiderboy, it's only the truth.”
“It's Spiderman. I'm not that much younger than you now. Or are you going to call yourself Iron Boy?”
“Nah, doesn't roll off the tongue as well. Now, hand it over,” he waves a hand at the cleared space of the work table. “I don't know if the Avengers is really going to be a thing anymore,” he tells the other teen, “It has a bad rep right now. I could try and salvage it. It will take a lot of work, but theoretically it could be done. Or I could scrap the name and use a new one. Personally, I'm leaning towards the latter. Not feeling too good about being called an Avenger anymore.”
“So you're going to start a new team then? Can I be on it?” he asks excitedly.
“We'll see,” he answers cautiously. It is a fools errand to refuse him outright. For one thing, he is going to keep fighting, whether he is on the team or not. For another, he can hardly use his age as an excuse anymore. It would be hypocritical of him and he hates hypocrites. He tries not to be one although sometimes he failed.
“Besides, I have to,” he continues.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean Loki didn't do this for me out of the goodness of his little black heart.”
“He did it because he needs me. Aliens are coming whether we are ready or not. And we need to be ready because they aren't the friendly green martian.”
Peter's eyes are wide. “You mean like New York?”
“Exactly who is coming. And apparently, according to Loki, I have the kind of intelligence he needs to help him defeat the fleet.”
“Wow,” he looks dutifully impressed, “So that means you need all the help you can get!” he grins, “I can do that. And Ned. Ned can help too. Er,” he rubs the back of his neck, “Ned is my best friend. He kind of found out about the whole Spiderman thing a couple of weeks ago. He wants to be 'the guy in the chair',” he quotes, “And he's smart too. I mean, if you don't mind because I know how busy you must be and now you have even more things to deal with and you are already helping me-”
Tony grins at him as he covers his mouth again. “It's fine Pete. It's good that he knows now. Having a support group for this kind of thing is important, trust me. Have you thought about telling May?”
Peter looks down and shakes his head. “I'm worried about what she will say,” he admits, “Either she'll worry about me more or she'll try to make me quit. I can't quit, Mr- Tony,” he corrects, “I just can't. Being Spiderman... some days it's the only thing that feels right in my life. I know I'm only fifteen and too young. But being a hero, helping people,” he shakes his head, “It's like I've found my calling. My purpose. I have these powers and it's my responsibility to use them.”
“What?” Peter asks defensively.
“You are so much more put together than I was at your age. Hell, than I am now frankly. The first time around it took me being kidnapped for me to find that feeling. Now? I still have it, of course, but it's also because I need to. I am one of the few that can do anything to stop this.”
He startles when he feels a hand on top of his own. He looks up to see Peter looking at him earnestly. “You have always been my hero Tony. And you're not alone now. I will do anything I can to help you,” he promises.
“That's what I'm afraid of,” he sighs.
Peter frowns. “What do you mean? Do you not want me because-”
“Christ Pete, no that's not what I meant,” he interrupts quickly, “but I don't want you to get hurt.”
“But it's fine if you do?”
“It was my job before, it is my responsibility now.”
“It's my job too! That's what I meant. This isn't something I just do, it's something I feel. It's my responsibility. You once said the suit and you are one. You are Iron Man. Well I am Spiderman, no matter what happens. This isn't a hobby, this is who I am.”
“And this right here is why I wanted to protect you,” Tony mutters.
“I don't understand?”
“I know what the world is like. I know how it can crush you. Hell, it took a god de-aging me to fix me again. I never wanted you to have to deal with that.”
“You're not broken!”
“Well not now,” he says dryly.
“You weren't before. I don't know why this Loki told you that you were, but you weren't!”
“He didn't need to tell me. I already knew. I just didn't want to admit it.”
But Peter shakes his head. “You weren't broken,” he insists, “Having a few mental problems doesn't make you broken.”
“I had more than a few problems Pete,” he tells him gently, “I had some serious issues that I never dealt with because I couldn't handle everything and I didn't trust anyone enough to talk to them about it.”
“That still doesn't make you broken,” the teen insists. “Having a mental illness does not make you broken. It does not make you weak. It makes you human, just like everyone else.”
Tony quirks an eyebrow at him. “That's some pretty strong words Petey. Something you want to share with the class?”
Peter takes a deep breath, “After... after Uncle Ben was killed, I was pretty messed up,” he starts.
“Peter,” Tony says, “you don't-” He didn't actually think he would answer that teasing question.
But Peter shakes his head and keeps going. “I was moody, I didn't want to get out of my bed in the morning and I snapped at everyone. Add to that I was just adjusting to my powers and didn't know how to use them or what exactly to do with them,” he shakes his head again, “I went through a period of depression. Sometimes, even now, I still have trouble. But that doesn't mean I am broken.”
“No it doesn't,” Tony agrees, “you lived through something traumatic, it is understandable that you needed time to recover. No one can go through something like that unaffected. Never let anyone tell you that makes you weak.”
“You aren't weak either Tony. You went through so much more than I did, but still kept going. No matter what knocked you down, you got back up. That's why you've always been my hero.”
Tony shakes his head. “I want you to be better than me,” he says. He remembers thinking that too, back when he first met Peter. He saw such potential in him. He knew he could be great. Better than he could ever be. He wanted to make it his goal to ensure that.
“No one could be better than you Tony. No one.” The look in Peter's eyes is so intense he has to look away. That kind of trust from someone is a heavy burden to bare.
He snorts in amusement, shattering the mood on purpose. “Whatever you say kid. Now come here and I'll show you the problem. You see right here...”
The press conference 'introducing' him goes flawlessly in Tony's opinion. The press eats up Tony Stark's prodigal son, kept out of the limelight so he could have a normal childhood. They loved him and his big sad eyes as he told them how 'Dad wanted to hand over his mantle to me now that I am an adult so that someone who has a new perspective and energy can lead. He admitted to me that he feels too old and cynical after all that has happened to keep going. I am proud to take up where he left off, going boldly into a new, brave and better future.'
What a load of crap. Of course he made himself eighteen or none of this would have worked anyways. The funniest part about it is that it even has some truth to it. In a way, the old Tony Stark is dead. Loki killed him and brought a new one to life. Edan Stark isn't just a new name, but a new him too.
He now has regular conversations with Jane about space and the theory on Einstein-Rosen Bridges and interdimensional travel and different universes and science in general. It is fascinating to listen to Jane when she gets going and he thinks Thor is a fool for not holding onto her better. He eventually gets an introduction to Darcy, Jane's intern. They get on ridiculously well and it makes everyone around them groan every time.
In addition, Peter is now spending more time than ever around him. He has officially introduced himself to May – again – and gotten her approval. It seems, while she may not be the biggest fan of Tony Stark, Edan passes her tests. Ned has a major fanboy moment when they meet. He has an even bigger one once he was sworn to secrecy and told the truth. He does indeed make a good 'guy in the chair'.
He has even introduced Peter and Ned to Jane and Darcy. They will occasionally work together. It's fun in a way Tony never expected. He has a chance to goof off like the teen he now is in between sciencing with Jane.
“You know he has a major crush on you,” Jane says as they drift from the topic at hand.
“Huh?” Tony asks, “Who?”
Jane rolls her eyes at him. “Peter of course.”
“What? No he doesn't. Or maybe he does, but that is just hero worship.”
“Oh no, I know what I am talking about,” she reassure him, “He follows you around like a lost puppy, growling at anyone who looks at you wrong. Did you know he even snapped at Darcy once when she made a joke about you.”
“Oh god,” Tony snorts in amused horror, “he didn't.”
“He did,” she confirms, “And the way he looks at you, one would think you hung the moon and all the stars along with it.”
“Hero worship,” he repeats.
Jane shakes her head. “I've seen lovesick before and he has it bad. Maybe it started off as hero worship. But now? Now it is a full fledged crush. Haven't you noticed how he babbles and blushes around you?”
“He's always done that though,” he protests, “He babbles when he's nervous and he blushes because he's embarrassed. It doesn't mean anything.”
“Tony,” she sighs, “it's not just that. I wouldn't have said anything unless I was sure. He knows how you take your coffee and what your favorite meals and snacks are. He is horribly protective of you. He let's you babble and talk at him for hours if no one interrupts. He can finish your sentences and thoughts for god sakes! The boy is so far gone on you, it is past the point of funny into painful to watch.”
“Jane...” he trails off. While it was true that he had been spending a lot of time with Peter, he didn't think it was that much. Yeah, Peter had somehow turned into his best friend besides Rhodey. And yeah, Peter was always ready to help and listen. And yeah, he tended to say some of the sweetest things by blurting them out and then blushing crimson red. But it didn't mean he had an actual crush on Tony. Seriously, he started off as a semi father figure, mentor thing.
But wasn't he the one who said the old Tony was dead and he was Edan now? And Edan was very much available. There was only two years between them. His Aunt liked him. He was smart and able to keep up with Tony. He was nerdy enough that they could have in depth arguments about Star Trek and Star Wars. He understood a part of him that very few did – Rhodey at this point – that he was Iron Man. Like Peter said, it isn't a hobby, it a part of him. Separating the two is impossible.
Plus he can be kind of adorable, in an awkward, puppy kind of way. His hair falling into his eyes and his sweet, shy smile. The way his eyes light up when he is excited. The way he flings his hands all over the place and has to be careful not to hit anyone or anything.
Tony freezes in realization. “Fuck,” he whispers.
Jane hums. “Just figured it out have you?”
He nods reluctantly. Panic climbs up his throat. Gripping the table to keep his balance he leans down and breathes deeply. Oh god, this can't be happening to him. It can't be. This is going to ruin everything. He is going to ruin everything. He is going to ruin Peter. He can't do that. Peter has become too woven into his life. Removing him would mean ribbing the entire tapestry to ruins. Only this isn't fabric, but his life. His new life. His second chance. He wasn't suppose to screw this one up.
“Tony!” Jane shouts.
“Huh,” he looks up at her, eyes slightly blurry.
“Do not have a panic attack on me like that,” she sighs, “I can't do anything over video chat. What set you off?”
He shakes his head.
“Tony,” she says.
“Jane,” he answers.
“Don't make me get FRIDAY to send someone down here. You know who will come.”
Tony sighs. “You're evil. Are you sure you don't want to try dating Loki instead?”
“Hilariously. Spill,” she commands.
“Peter likes me,” he starts off.
“Yes...” she hesitates, “and do you like Peter?”
“That's the problem.”
“Alright then. Why did that make you have a panic attack?”
“Because this will mess everything up.”
“My track record says otherwise.”
“That doesn't exactly count anymore.”
“But don't you see? It does. Loki de-aged me. He didn't give me a new personality. I am the same as I was back then. I was an irresponsible partier. I was an asshole playboy. I wasn't stable enough for a real relationship. And when I did have one, it was with one of my best friends – Pepper. It didn't work out. She couldn't handle me either and it threw years of friendship into chaos. It took me turning seventeen for it to balance itself back out. How is this going to be any different?”
“I see where you are coming from, but I think you are missing some key factors in the equation.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Well, for one thing you are seventeen again, but you are at a much different place now than you were then. You aren't a partier or a playboy. You are much more responsible. For another, I happen to know that your rocky relationship with Pepper was not solely your fault. The two of us have talked about it – comparing superhero boyfriends,” she explains, “And she emphasized that she had an issue with you being Iron Man. She admitted to not fully understanding that part of you. That's definitely not a worry with Peter. And lastly, we have your own words.”
“What?” he can feel his brows crinkle in confusion.
“You once said that you were attracted to intelligence or 'shining personality'. I know you think Peter has both. You're well suited for each other.”
“Oh my god,” Darcy appears on screen, “are you finally going to ask Peter out? Because the two of you would make an adorable couple. Young love is so cute,” she grins.
Tony rolls his eyes at her. “No I'm not going to ask him out.”
“Why not?” Darcy frowns, “Is this some insecure teenage thing? Cause screw that if it is. The two of you need to make nerdy, superhero love together. They can even write comics about you,” she exclaims excitedly, “Like Batman and Robin, but way more amazing balls and gay, you know?”
“Thank you Darcy,” Jane sighs fondly.
Darcy grins. “IronSpidey for the win!” she shouts before flouncing off again.
“IronSpidey?” Tony asks, slightly horrified, “Please tell me that isn't our official ship name.”
Jane grins. “Afraid so. There's even fanfiction about the two of you now that you've been seen together fighting. It's actually quite sweet. Not that they have any idea who Peter is of course. Still, it's growing by the day and there are some good stories out there.”
“Jane,” Tony whines, “I can't believe you read them.”
“Hey, someone has to be willing to discuss them with Peter besides Darcy.”
Tony, if possible, becomes even more horrified. “Peter reads them too,” he squeaks.
Jane nods. “He was the one who found them in the first place.” She grins, “Just be glad they don't know Peter's real name. There aren't a lot of good combinations of Edan and Peter. Pedan is the best.”
Tony buries his head in his hands. “I hate you all,” he mutters.
“Somehow I don't think the two of you are talking about space,” a voice comments from beside Tony. He jumps. Peter.
The other teen takes one look at him and asks, “What's wrong? Did something happen? Someone say something? I can talk to them if they did. If you want,” he offers instantly.
Jane gives Tony a pointed look as if to say 'See?' before answering, “Tony has just found out about IronSpidey.”
“Oh god,” Peter blushes instantly and intensely tomato red. “Why did you guys have to tell him?” he asks, panicked, “He didn't have to know. I mean,” he tumbles over his words, “I didn't want you to be uncomfortable or get the wrong idea or anything. I would have never pushed and I know you probably hate the idea. I know you don't do... relationships and things anymore and I respect that. I do. It's just a crush – I mean they're just stories. Oh god,” he moans, “shoot me now. I am so sorry Tony. I didn't mean-”
Tony cuts him off before he can pass out. With his mouth. There is nothing skilled about this kiss. It can barely called one at all, compared to Tony's previous experiences. It is lips against lips, no tongue or teeth or anything. It takes a moment for Peter to even register what is happening and kiss back. He wraps his arms around Tony's neck and pulls himself close, as if afraid Tony will disappear or change his mind or something.
Tony puts this fears to rest by gripping Peter's hips and deepening the kiss just a bit more. Just a hint of tongue on those soft lips. Peter lets out a loud moan and startles, pulling away, blushing even more. “Tony?” he asks hesitantly.
Tony grins. “Yeah Pete?”
“This mean you'll go out with me?”
He grins wider. “Yeah, it does. I reserve the right to say 'I told you so' if it ends in flames, but yeah.”
“Great,” Peter perks up immediately, “because I've been thinking about it. Daydreaming really and I have a couple ideas for the perfect dates if you think you'd like them. I mean, they're nothing fancy, but I thought maybe you might like-”
Tony cuts Peter off again with the same method. This might be his new favorite way. And most effective.
In the background he can hear Jane cooing and Darcy shout “Pedan for the win.”
He rolls his eyes and keeps kissing his boyfriend. He'll have to send Loki a fruit basket, after all of this is over.