It had been a good day so far. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet and Tony recognised the fact, that his day had been damn good – so far at least. He woke up five minutes before his alarm and was able to just lay in his bed and soak up the remaining time he had left before it really roused him. When he wandered into Peter’s room the boy had still been asleep, buried under blankets and pillows with only a small but wild tuft of curly hair poking out from underneath the warm nest he had made in his sleep. He had run his hand through the soft locks and murmured good morning to the boy who was only half awake at that point.
“Morning Petey, how’d you sleep?” A mild and incoherent mumble was all he got in reply before he was met with a lapful of sleepy teen.
“Mmmm. Yurr warm” Peter slurred, too tired to even work his mouth properly yet. He nuzzled himself further into Tony’s top and furled his arms around his Dad’s waist, humming in content.
“Maybe it’s not me that’s warm, just the room. It is actually a nice day, so get up and check outside the windows instead of lying here,” he said fondly, a smile curling the edges of his mouth up. “Besides, you gotta leave for school in awhile anyway.” That woke him up more, because he groaned loudly and rolled over, stretching out like a cat.
“Nuuuuuh. I don’ wanna go to school,” he whined, but started to wake himself up slowly, rubbing his eyes and yawning widely.
He never said it out loud, but sleepy Peter was one of his favourite things in the morning. He couldn’t help but love it, the kid was just so clingy, and his curly bedhead was absolutely the cutest thing Tony had ever seen in his life. He had about a solid thirty – forty odd minutes till Peter was coherent again, so he made the best possible use of his time.
“C’mere then” he offered, slipping off the bed and stretching his arms out wide. Peter rolled back over and as soon as he realised what Tony’s spread-eagled arms meant his face broke into a bright smile. He jumped up with a blanket still draped over his shoulders and fell into the hug eagerly, slotting his head easily against strong shoulders and tucking it under the stubbled chin, his untamed hair brushing against Tony’s lips as he pressed down against the boy’s scalp. “Go get ready for school, I’ll sort breakfast.” Peter relented finally, pushing himself off Tony and dragging himself to the bathroom, leaving the blanket on the bed.
But that had been this morning, and even if he hated leaving Peter at home when he finished school because he had a mission, he still had to. That was why he was here, at an old Hydra base, staring directly at Loki’s glowing blue scepter.
“Thor, I got eyes on the prize.” He had the hint of a smile on his face, getting this weapon back to Thor would bring the mission to a close quicker, and that meant he could go home and relax with his son for the evening.
Good days don’t last – and apparently for Tony, they couldn’t even make it past lunch.
He was about three strides away from the main aim of the mission, when he froze. Something in his head tingled, something felt very, horribly wrong. A burst of red filled his vision and he could feel it’s coldness creeping into his skull and etching into his body, burrowing deep inside of him until he couldn’t even see the room anymore. Just a vast, expansive view of red mist.
Then, from somewhere behind him, he could see light again. It was yellow hued, and it reminded him of the lights in the kitchen at home. He turned towards it, blinking away the red which seeped out of his vision quickly enough to not raise flags. Tony was standing in his own kitchen, back at the tower. How did he… it didn’t matter, he couldn’t care less, because now he could see Peter.
“Hey kid, how was school?” Nothing. The boy didn’t move, make any acknowledgement that he was even standing there in the doorway, his eyes didn’t shift from where he was hunched over a homework book and chewing on the end of a pen. “Pete?” No movement, no response at all. Something was different about the familiar scene, but he just couldn’t… put a finger on exactly what was wrong. The kitchen looked exactly the same, the windows gave the same view of the city and everything outside the glass was normal, the books strewn across the table were ones Tony had seen the teen study a few times before, so that wasn’t it. Maybe it was Peter?
Now that he focused on his son, he did notice what was different. He was holding himself strangely, almost like he was on edge, or waiting for something, someone, perhaps even worried? He didn’t have to wonder long, because he heard eerily recognizable footsteps from behind him, and turning, he saw what was wrong with the situation.
When he shifted to see behind him, his eyes fell on the source of the footsteps. It was Tony. It was – well it was like looking in a mirror, a recording of yourself, or into another dimension. He wasn’t wearing the same thing, his hair wasn’t sitting the same way as his was today, but it was unmistakably Tony he was staring at. The – clone? Was he a clone? The… Tony… reacted the same way to the real Tony as Peter had, which was no response. ‘What the fuck?’ He thought.
“I – uh… what, who are you?” For once in a long time, he was lost for words, stuttering out a shaky question which wasn’t answered by Peter or the other Tony. In fact, the other Tony walked straight past him, and stepped fully into the kitchen.
Peter’s head snapped up from what he was working on, and while he hurriedly readjusted his books and piled them into a neater stack, he smiled. It was a small smile, almost forced or strained in how it didn’t meet his eyes, but neither Tony said anything about it. He stayed in place, not daring to move as he watched everything unfold and play to him like a recording. He watched the other Tony walk by Peter, not returning the smile, and behind the counter, keeping his back turned as he reached into the fridge, actions seemingly on auto-pilot. When he pushed the fridge door closed he was holding a beer in one hand. That made possibly the least sense, because for one, Tony didn’t keep beer in the fridge anymore, and secondly, he had quit drinking a long time ago, specifically for Peter’s sake. He never wanted his kid to have to come home from school and give him a hug only to smell alcohol on his breath, or to hear him throwing up the next day, or god forbid – to be the victim of whatever emotion decides to take over when he got drunk. Peter was never going to have to deal with him like that, and so the only time he ever touched alcohol was special occasions, and in those cases, it was kept to an absolute minimum. He was so firm on that, it was his biggest rule for himself, so now standing here watching himself grab a beer from the fridge while his child sat at the kitchen table doing his homework, was dizzyingly worrying.
The other Tony popped the cap with a bottle opener he obviously kept close, and leant against the counter, taking a large mouthful of the beer like it wasn’t going to somehow fuck up the best thing in his life, Peter. He wanted to move so badly, he wanted to storm over to the man that was, and wasn’t, himself, and smack the bottle out of his hand. He wanted so much to stop what was unfolding, because he knew he had made mistakes before Peter was in his life, and drinking that shit while he was in his life? That terrified him, because what’s to say he wasn’t going to make mistakes again? Who would stop him if it got out of hand? He couldn’t move his feet, he was somehow stuck where he was and none of his limbs were cooperating. Come to think of it, he couldn’t move in any direction, his entire body was frozen in one place. Sure, he could breathe and blink and wiggle his fingers, but if he tried to take a step or lean forward something was holding him in place. Peter. He couldn’t get to Peter if his body wouldn’t move. This was too familiar, he didn’t like it. It felt too much like being stuck on the fucking couch, slowly dying while his arc reactor was ripped out of his chest by someone he had considered trustworthy.
“I can’t walk. Peter! I can’t – I can’t move!” He had to be able to move, he had to be able to get to his son if he needed to. Shit, shit, no, no. This couldn’t be real. He could not be frozen in one spot, in his kitchen, watching himself down a beer while his son looked down at his books and tried to avoid eye contact while his hand shook.
Wait. Why was Peter’s hand shaking? Why was he trembling? His eyes flitted between the beer, and the page in front of him. Oh. The beer. He knew what was happening too, he could see where this might turn. Peter recognised the fact that the other Tony was drinking, and it wasn’t an exception to his normal rule.
“Dad?” Oh my god. His voice was so small, so timid, so full of questioning and worry. No. If that’s the affect that him drinking one beer had on Peter, then he would burn all the alcohol in the world for that kid. His kid.
The other Tony downed the rest of the bottle and set it down harshly on the counter beside the bottle opener.
“What.” He would never. Never, talk to Peter like that. His voice was so cold, so distant and far from normal, so angry and demanding. The boy looked about as shocked as Tony felt, his face fell, and he clenched his hands into fists to stop the shaking.
“I – what… a – are you okay?” He stuttered, and Peter only stuttered when he was scared, or nervous, or really overexcited about something. God how he wished his stammering was caused by overexcitement right now. The fridges door slammed open and closed again, followed by the popping sound of another beer being opened. He hated this. He despised what he looked like, how he was acting, how his whole being was radiating purpose and anger directed at nothing. The other Tony tilted the bottle back and it made a gurgling sound as he guzzled a third of the bottle in one swig.
“What’s it to you?” He spat forcefully. Peter took a shaky breath and opened his mouth to speak again. “I – am fine.” Peter exhaled softly, fists beginning to tremor slightly. Other Tony took another large gulp and then over half of the second bottle was gone. “I am fine” he repeated slowly, insultingly patronising, “you, on the other hand.” He burped slightly, and real Tony was so fucking disgusted he wanted to punch himself in the jaw when he continued talking, “are not fine.” What the hell was the man talking about? Peter was amazing, Peter was a perfect kid – he was so much more than ‘fine.’
“Dad I – I don’t know what –”
“Don’t interrupt me!” Peter’s left eye twitched when the man raised his voice and shoot him now if Tony didn’t want to wrap his arms around his kid and wipe that dumbfounded shock and fear that was creeping over his face away. The third bottle was opened, and he didn’t even see when the other Tony had finished the second.
“Please don’t have a third one…” Peter put down the pen he was clutching tightly, and looked like he was debating something, an internal struggle.
“What the fuck did I just say?” Right, that fucking settled it – nobody swore at his kid like that, even if it was him.
“Hey! Don’t talk to him like that!” He made no impact on the situation, it was like nobody could see him, like he wasn’t there. Maybe he wasn’t, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying again. “Put the beer away you drunkard!” Nothing he did was doing anything, he couldn’t move, nobody heard or saw him. He had to stand and watch himself betray Peter’s trust as he drank beers and grew steadily more aggressive.
“Don’t interrupt is what I said.” Peter looked down at his books and bit his bottom lip. “You are not fine. You look like you aren’t even working on that.” He raised the hand still holding the third bottle and pointed at the pile of homework sitting in front of Peter.
“I am – I was… it’s just that, I – you normally help with homework and we go to the lab and work stuff out together –” He was swiftly cut off by the other Tony after he had downed another mouthful.
“I’ll help if you genuinely can’t work shit out for yourself – but I’m not gonna sit and baby you while you pretend to be too dumb to do your own schoolwork.” Peter’s mouth hung open and his eyes were filled with offense and disbelief at his Dad’s harsh words.
“I – I don’t do that… I wouldn’t pretend to –”
“Oh, save it” other Tony waved an arm in disregard as he swung the fridge open again. “You know it’s true, don’t kid yourself.” He pushed the door shut with his hip and held two more bottles in his hand, the almost finished third bottle still hanging loosely in his other hand as he walked out of the kitchen.
Peter’s lip trembled, and he stared after the other Tony with horror painted over his normally smiling face. God, he looked so hurt, so offended by the notion of the words, it was such a backhanded compliment, saying Peter was smart enough on his own and then insinuating that he faked stupidity for time in the lab with his Dad. He shut his eyes and dropped his head after a moment of looking at the blank doorway which the man had just walked out from. He shoved everything in front of him into a messy pile and collected it in his arms before standing and rushing in the direction of his room, away from wherever the other Tony had just left to.
“Peter? Peter! Wait I – he didn’t mean…” The sound of his door slamming shut cut him off and he wanted to slide down the wall and just contemplate how the hell he was going to deal with this, but of course the universe hated him because once again, he couldn’t move. He relented to just rubbing his eyes sorely with the heels of his hand and burying his face into his hands for a few moments while he tried to clear his mind. “Jesus Christ, what is going on?” He sighed heavily and let his hands fall to his sides again tiredly. After he blinked a few times and his vision cleared again the kitchen wasn’t the same as before he had closed his eyes. This time, the main lights were off and only the few above the oven were turned on, they still illuminated the room, dim as they were and casting shadows, but still managing to highlight Peter’s lithe form slipping into the room. Was it later that night? No, the boy was wearing different clothes and his hair was laying differently than before.
“Pete?” Still nothing. The boy hummed softly as he pulled open the pantry and blinked at the light that was turned on automatically from inside the cupboard. He tipped his head back and peered into the space, reaching in and coming out with a small packet of chips.
“What are you doing?” Peter jumped slightly, and even Tony was surprised to see the other version of himself standing behind the counter, beginning to tap his fingers against its surface methodically.
“I was just, um, getting a snack.” He shuffled nervously, his grip on the bag wavering as if deciding whether to just put them back. The other Tony said nothing, just turned around and picked up a sheet of paper lying on the table.
“This is yours, I take it?” Peter nodded slowly and licked his lip anxiously. “What – am I supposed to congratulate you for scoring a –”
“Eighty-six… I – in English today.” He smiled weakly and once again it didn’t manage to meet his eyes.
“Mediocre, from someone like you.” Another backhanded compliment that quite clearly took Peter by surprise. “You don’t need food now, it’s late and you’ve already had dinner.” The teen didn’t argue, and he put the packet back in the cupboard carefully.
“S – sorry, um… I’ll study more next time I guess.” The real Tony shook his head slowly, brought a hand up to his lips and covered his mouth as he watched his son apologising for something he never should have to. That was an amazing score, surely, he was near, if not the, top of his class. Regardless of figures, he had never cared so much for Peter’s exact grades, because he knew his son was intelligent without them to prove it.
“Your school tests may prove you’re a genius, but you act like an idiot.” Peter just hung his head and closed the cupboard behind him, leaving the kitchen dim again. “Don’t leave stuff lying around again” the other Tony put the paper on the counter and left the younger boy standing in the dark without comfort or praise.
“I just wanted to show it to you…” He whispered into the empty kitchen, and Tony could hear him sniffle quietly as he picked up the grade and crumpled it, dropping it in the trash as he walked out of the kitchen, small shoulders sagging with the weight of disappointment.
“I think you did amazing baby, don’t listen to him.” Tony whispered right back into the now completely empty room.
He stood, stuck in place and unheard for several more encounters like the first two. In most of them the other Tony was either drunk or drinking something when he spoke. Occasionally they were in another room, once the lab, a few times the living room, but almost always in the kitchen. He thought it was the worst thing he’d ever had to witness, but just like he was wrong when he thought it had been a good day, he was wrong again. He was very wrong.
It was so much worse.
They were in the kitchen again. Peter was standing by the table, chewing his lip as he looked over some notes that Tony couldn’t read from the corner of the room but knew he was concentrating hard. He knew because the kid’s nose scrunched up when he thought hard about something, and on the occasion where he would pull the face when the two were working in the lab, he would look up from whatever he was working on and tap the boy gently on the nose. Without fail Peter would smile, redden slightly, and throw something playfully at him in retaliation. He loved his son so much, it felt like torture watching him slowly fall further into himself. His stutter was almost constant now, whenever he was around other Tony, and he had the suspicion that he had been crying more often. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his nose was pinker than normal, especially after he was yelled at or degraded. It didn’t exactly feel like torture so much as it actually was. He felt a physical urge to comfort the boy whenever he saw him, and it hurt to see his child so close to him, but too far away to even pull him into an embrace. He was pulled from his thoughts as Peter yawned and stretched animatedly, cracking his fingers above his head. He didn’t miss the fact that he immediately pulled back and made his form smaller as other Tony’s footsteps could be heard approaching.
“Peter?” He didn’t bother to turn as the man’s voice rang from beside him, but Peter snapped his head up as he waltzed into the room. “I’m sitting down and having a drink, so clear out.” He made a beeline for the fridge and pulled out two beers easily. The teen eyed them, and his nose scrunched in thought again.
“Um, actually I w – was wondering… if we could maybe sit t – together tonight? And I could get dinner or something, maybe order takeout or even I could try to make s – something for us?” He fidgeted and rung his hands together nervously, his chin down but looking up pleadingly at other Tony through his eyelashes.
“No. I want my beers and you can study in your room, you don’t need the table out here. That’s why I got you a desk – so you could work in your room like a normal kid.” He got the feeling that these weren’t his first drinks of the day.
“P – please could we spend some time together Dad?” Peter looked so afraid of asking and real Tony felt like he might start crying because his son was so timid and shy and scared. Sure, he had worries that if he ever started drinking things would get out of hand and Peter would get scared, but that’s exactly why he never did drink. Now, he was stuck here and watching his fear fold out in front of him and it was worse than he had imagined, he had never thought that his kid being so… apprehensive around him would hurt this much.
“Peter, I said no. Go away.” Other Tony enunciated each word very clearly, forcing his point across with no care for how much of an asshole he was being.
“Dad…” Peter looked like he was about to cry as well, he stared down at the floor like a kicked puppy, and that’s practically what he was. He felt sick when his head made the connection between his child and a hurt animal.
“Dammit!” The wrong Tony slammed his fist down on the table, causing it to shake violently, and Peter flinched. He. Fucking. Flinched. Someone made his baby flinch and a small intake of breath was the only other sound he made as he backed up and away from the table, clutching his papers. “For crying out loud kid, I said I didn’t want you here – so get the hell out!” Peter clenched his jaw, his lower lip wobbled dangerously, nostrils flared slightly, and his face burned when he blurted out his next words.
“Why don’t you love me anymore?! What did I do…” He trailed off and seemed to realise what he had said, and he took another step backward, chin dropping down to his chest in shame and cheeks flushing.
“What did you just say to me?” The other Tony demanded, quirking his head and narrowing his eyes angrily.
“I – I didn’t… Dad I –” He took a drink and finished the last of it off, wiping his mouth crudely with the back of his fist.
“You wanna know why I don’t care about you?” He sneered and stood up deliberately, the chair scraping against the floor. Peter actually made a tiny squeak of fear and stepped back even more. Oh god what was happening? “You think I cared about you to begin with?” Oh no, no, what was he saying. “You are actually ignorant enough to think I ever gave a fuck about you, huh?” He advanced slowly, his feet dragging as he took each step, fingers drumming along the edge of the table menacingly. Peter took a very shaky breath.
“I, uh, no – D – Dad… I’m sorry – I –”
“Bullshit!” The man swept his hand against the surface of the table and sent an empty bottle flying across the room. It hit the wall beside Peter and exploded into millions of fragments, the boy cried out and jumped back in fright. “Bullshit you’re sorry! You think you deserve love? You are an intolerable brat – I never cared and I never will, you are a disappointment and a stain on the Stark name! You hear me?!” He had crossed the floor, and Peter rushed backwards away from him until his back hit the wall and he made a small noise of surprise. He moved like a skittish animal and the other Tony knew it.
“D – D – Dad –” He raised a hand.
“Shut the fuck up!” His hand was above his head and he brought it down as he screamed the words, his alcoholic breath filling the air as the real Tony howled behind everything.
“No, stop!” A resounding slap echoed through the room and Peter fell to the floor, his knees giving out underneath him, landing amongst the glass that littered the floor. The papers fluttered around the room and came to a stop amongst the glass shards. His mouth hung open, his eyebrows bent in abject horror at what had just occurred. The other Tony spun on his heel and left the small boy on the floor, surrounded by glass, grabbing his beer from the table and leaving the room without so much as a glance in the teen’s direction.
Peter was shaking vigorously, and he brought a trembling hand up to the red mark that now spread across the right side of his face, as if making sure it was real. His face crumpled as tears fell from his eyes and streamed down his cheeks steadily. He curled into himself and pulled his legs to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, burying his face deep into his knees. He started sobbing, his breathing was out of control and he heaved on air like he was hyperventilating.
“No! No! Peter! Pete, I’m here, I would – I wouldn’t ever do that baby, oh my god, ohmygod, ohgodno. Petey… I won’t hurt you, I swear on my life, I swear on everything. Oh baby, oh no, this isn’t okay…” He shut his eyes and tried to stop the onslaught of too many emotions building in his head and heart and gut and he let everything turn red again. He watched himself betray his kid. Hurt him. Emotionally degrade him and slap him… what kind of monster was he?
The red seeped out of Wanda’s eyes and she stood quietly, slinking back into the shadows.
Tony shook away the red for a second time, his face was beaded with sweat and his chest was heaving, much like how Peter’s had been… Oh god, Peter.
“Peter.” He whispered, suddenly feeling the chill in the air despite the sweat still dripping down his face. He pressed the button behind his ear and spoke quickly into it, “you know where I am – get the scepter I have – I need to g – go home, somethings wrong.” The comm line was silent before it came alive in his ear.
“Tony what are you –”
“I can’t right now! Okay?” He threw his arm out as he stormed out of the room, feeling the metal begin to encase him quickly, forming around him as he walked. “I’m sorry.” He said as he fired his repulsors and flew over the battle site.
“I want an explanation later, but you sound pretty shaken up so…” Cap was understanding, that was good – maybe he’d let up on the whole ‘language’ situation. Or maybe not.
“Thanks, disconnecting now.” He turned off his comms and increased his repulsor speed as he blasted through the dull, grey skies. Peter’s crying, injured face flashed through his mind as he flew, and it only made him more desperate.
He almost fell out of the sky when it clicked for him. He faltered, and it felt like his head short-circuited when he realised why he had an odd sense of familiarity about the entire situation. Howard. The ‘other Tony’ was just Tony as Howard, an alcoholic, abusive version of the Dad he was now. Oh god, he hated how he felt exactly what Peter had. Memories of his own childhood and Father flooded and he felt more and more sick.
‘What do you remember about you Dad, huh?’
‘He was cold, he was calculating – never told me he loved me, he never even told me he liked me.’
‘This is yours, I take it?! Is this how you spend your weekend at home?!
“D – Dad, I –’
‘Waste of time! I don’t need to deal with this nonsense! Do you understand me?!’ He ran from the room when he saw the man raise his hand.
‘I wanna go back to school… I wanna go back to school… I wanna go back to school…’
‘Losing again, eh, boy? You always were a wimp. Never had the stones to do what had to be done.’
‘I always tried to do what was right!’
‘Brilliance isn't enough. You'll never reach your true potential worrying about consequences. You're weak... You're no son of mine.’ Howard lunged at him, and Tony turned and fled just like he had as a petulant child, unable to fight his own Father. ‘Coward! You were my greatest shame, but I'll make a man of you yet! I'll beat it into you!’
He focused solely on flying home and tried his best to ignore the memories in his head. He didn’t even realise that tears of his own were dripping down his face and making his shirt damp as he landed at the Tower and the suit began to retract from him.
“Peter? Pete! Where are you?” He called and ran through the labs and through the halls like someone had been shot, looking desperately for his son.
“Dad? I’m in here, you’re early.” His voice sounded a room over and it was happy, he sounded exited, he sounded like himself.
“Peter!” He burst into the kitchen and almost threw up when he saw the boy sitting at the table, luckily not studying but reading instead. “Oh my god Pete” he ran across the room and Peter took in his appearance. He was still crying; his shirt was damp, and his hair was mussed like he had driven with the top down.
“Dad? What happened on the mission… What’s going on? Why are yo –” He was cut off as Tony pulled him into his arms and nestled his face into his son’s curls, holding him so close and so tightly that the boy thought they were about to be torn apart. “Oh. Hug – yeah… are you okay?” His voice was hesitant, as if he were afraid to hear whether Tony was hurt or not.
“Yeah, yes, I’m okay, I’m fine, you’re fine – you’re better than fine, you’re perfect. You are amazing Peter, don’t ever think otherwise. I love you, I love you, I will never stop loving you baby.” He ran his fingers through his hair and tucked his head closer, sinking to his knees so Peter could wrap his arms around his neck and hold on like a koala would.
“I missed you today, you scared me… I thought – you were scared when you came in and I thought the mission had gone wrong or something…” His words were slightly muffled from where he was pressed against Tony, but it was easy enough to understand.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Pete. I missed you too, so much. I don’t want to scare you, ever. I would never, never hurt you, okay?” He pulled back to cup the boy’s cheek, checking him for any red marks or other wounds.
“I know you wouldn’t. You protect me… I love you Dad.” He had another armful of Peter and he wasn’t complaining in any way. He felt better, he just needed to check one thing before he would really, truly believe it.
“I love you too baby, I just need to make sure of something so hold tight.” Peter’s arms tightened in response and Tony stood, taking much of the teen’s weight as he stepped round the counter. The ground was clean, not a single piece of glass laid on the floor, and when he opened the fridge there were no bottles of beer, there wasn’t even any alcohol. He smiled and pressed a kiss into Peter’s curls fondly. “You’re the best thing in my life, you are the best genius around and I love you so, so much Peter.”
“I – thanks Dad, I love you too.” He smiled and wrapped his hands into Tony’s shirt, using it as a means of pulling him closer into the embrace. He would tell Peter one day, when he was older and understood more about his fear. Because that’s what all of this was, a very rational fear of becoming his Father, of hurting Peter because of it, of making him ever feel like he wasn’t the most amazing, precious thing.
“I love you so much Peter” they both squeezed tighter. He was confident that he would never, in his life, betray his son like that.