Tony’s tired. Not just because of the lack of food and water he’s had in the past weeks, but his mind is working at a million miles per hour. Rethinking every possibility, every move he made, and how he could have done better. Should have done better.
Even as the Compound gets closer and closer, his mind doesn't slow. He thinks and thinks and thinks.
The rest of the team—the ones that survived the snap—wait for him. There are also a few new members, one of whom a woman with short blonde hair. Rhodey doesn’t hesitate to bring him into a hug the moment Tony shows his face, and then he backs away for him to see Pepper. She doesn’t cry when she hugs Tony, but he can feel all her emotions in the way she squeezes a little too tight, holds for a little too long. It’s vaguely reminiscent of when they’d hugged after the Killian incident, but a much more recent memory surfaces.
“I lost him, Pep.” Tony whispers, voice barely audible. “I promised to keep him safe and I didn’t. ”
Pepper stiffens slightly, but she knows exactly who he’s talking about. “Oh, Tony. ”
And Tony is tired, but his mind doesn’t slow, even in the loving embrace of his fiance.
The Rogues are keeping their distance, but he can see the concern clearly on some faces. Natasha had never been very expressive, and Clint looks murderous. It also looks like he had a haircut.
Nebula had immediately reunited with the talking raccoon; she’d told him about Rocket while they were fixing the spaceship. He vaguely realized the talking tree that was supposed to be there too was missing; he’d probably been dusted.
Eventually, they manage to move away from the Guardians’ ship, and Pepper has to support half his weight (which isn’t much anymore) for him to even be able to walk such a distance. The air is quiet and solemn, and Tony doesn’t have enough energy to talk. He allows Pepper and Rhodey to deposit him in the medbay, and doesn’t kick up a fuss when Bruce checks to make sure he’s okay.
Tony’s well aware that the team is still outside the room he was placed in, and they want answers. But Tony is too tired to care. He stopped caring about much after Peter disintegrated in his arms.
Everything passes by in a haze for a few hours, and in those few hours he barely says a word. He can tell he’s worrying Pepper, and he wants to smack himself for being so selfish when the love of his life had to suffer for weeks without any knowledge of if he was even alive.
Bruce tells him he needs to rest his body, but every time he closes his eyes he sees Peter dying all over again. So he doesn’t sleep. Instead, he silently pads down the hallway and into the elevator. “FRIDAY, my floor.”
The Compound isn’t as tall as the Tower was, so it doesn’t take long for him to reach his floor. It doesn’t look too different from when he was last here, but all of a sudden everything has new meaning.
There are Lego sets that are on the shelves, multiple finished Lego pieces placed around the floor as display. Tony remembers making some of them with the kid when he stayed over, and he fondly runs his fingers gently over the Iron Man one that’s closest to him. He’d bought it mostly as a joke, but Peter had gotten so excited that Tony had to bite his tongue and instead offered to help make it.
There are high school textbooks that are next to Pepper and Tony’s books. Tony knows that those textbooks used to be piled on the side of the coffee table before he left, because Peter was over so often that it was easier to just leave it out and about rather than keep rearranging the shelves.
Frames cover all the walls, and more are on side tables. On the fridge, there are a million cartoony magnets that hold precious memories to Tony. There’s Peter’s report card—which, he realizes now, was an incredibly dad-like thing to do to your kid—that he’d proudly put up when Peter had gotten perfect scores. There’s a To-Do list that Pepper had added, and it’s still filled with Peter’s handwriting. There are also photos around it, little snapshots that Peter had taken. The ones on the fridge are mainly the ‘bloopers’; the ones that were a little too blurred or someone in the photo was looking horrifyingly ugly and refused for it to be framed.
Tony’s eyes burn, but he holds back the tears. Instead of looking more closely at the miscellaneous sticky notes left on the refrigerator (which now look a lot more organized than they had been weeks prior), he looks at the table right next to the elevator doors.
At the very front was a photo of him and Peter standing in front of a Stark Industries logo. They’re holding Peter’s internship certificate upside down and giving each other bunny ears. He holds the frame as if it was as fragile as a bubble, and he wishes with all his heart that he would be able to wake up and find that it was all a nightmare. Peter would be right by his side and talking his ear off, and Tony would roll his eyes fondly at the boy—the young, happy, alive Peter Parker—and he’d ruffle his hair even though he knows Peter would whine about it.
But this isn’t a nightmare. Tony might be back on Earth, but he wasn’t. Not really. He left something—some one —back there on Titan. He’d broken a promise. He knows exactly what he’s lost.
And as he watches his tears fall onto the glass, he knows that he will stop at nothing to bring Peter Parker back.
It’s actually the once laid-back Clint Barton that first loses it at him. Tony’s been back a few days at this point, and Pepper was practically force-feeding him to make sure Tony was nursed back to health. Bruce had told him to take it easy but that any threat of death by starvation or dehydration could be ruled out.
Even though Tony got better, he didn’t interact with the others.
One day, FRIDAY interrupted him while he was staring at the walls of photos in a daze. He still needed to call May Parker and apologize to her again; Pepper had already informed her of Peter’s situation, and while May had probably assumed Peter had been in the unlucky 50%, it was another thing entirely to have it confirmed.
Happy had been the one to comfort her when she needed it, and Tony had been relieved to find out that Happy wasn’t gone either. To the rest of the Rogues, it probably looked like Tony hadn’t lost anyone in the snap.
“Boss, Clint Barton is requesting to be allowed onto your floor. He seems upset.” FRIDAY’s soothing Irish voice broke the haze.
Tony’s too tired to argue, just waving a hand in the air. “Send him up, then.”
“The others are also joining him. Shall I tell them only Mr. Barton is allowed up?”
He shakes his head. “Let them come. They deserve explanations.”
He can’t help but wish Pepper were here. She’d left earlier that day to go look over Stark Industries business, and although Tony had assured her that he was well enough to look after himself, she promised to come back soon.
The soft ding of the elevator signals the arrival of the team. Tony rises from where he was sat on the sofa so he can at least look a little less pathetic.
Clint storms into the living room, practically frothing at the mouth. Tony raises an eyebrow. Not only did it seem like Hawkeye had gotten the ugliest haircut imaginable, but he’d never seen the man as angry as he was now. Tony hadn’t even done anything for the few days he was back on Earth. Maybe his lack of helping was what pushed Clint over the edge.
The agent was followed closely by Natasha, who was now blonde, and she was trying to grab Clint’s arm to stop him from moving closer to Tony. Steve, newly bearded, walked in, looking worried. Bruce and the new blonde lady, who Tony now knew was Captain Carol Danvers, trailed behind them. Nebula had Rocket on her shoulder, but she looked as impassive as ever. Rhodey and Thor are nowhere to be found.
Tony refocuses on Clint, who seems to have gotten angrier in the few seconds Tony didn’t look at him. “You.” He spits, and even the Rogues are taken aback with how much venom was in that one word.
“Me?” Tony’s voice isn’t as loud and boisterous as it used to be, but there’s still the sarcastic and arrogant undertone in it.
“How dare you sit up here and mope? Do you know how much we’ve lost? How much I’ve lost?” Clint takes slow steps towards the billionaire and Natasha gives up on trying to hold him back. “What right do you have to grieve? It was your fault that we’re in this mess.”
It’s on the tip of his tongue to yell back, ‘which one of us was the one that warned you of an outside threat? Which one of us was the one who tried so desperately to keep the Avengers together?’ but he doesn’t say that. “I know.”
“If you hadn’t fucked us all up with the Accords, we’d have had a bigger chance! But noooo, Mr. I-Am-Iron-Man caused a fucking Civil War, and I was stuck in goddamn house arrest! And when giant alien ships come descending down to Earth, does he defend it?” Clint goes on as if Tony hadn’t spoke. With each word, Tony lowers his gaze.
“Clint—” Steve starts, looking ashamed.
“No! You go off and disappear with no backup, and somehow manage to find Thanos, and then fail to beat him! Nebula told us that someone traded the time stone for your life.” He scoffs. “They should have just let you die.”
There are several gasps across the room. “Clint—” Steve tries again, sounding horrified.
“I know.” Tony whispers again, and silence reigns.
Clint is still huffing from rage; apparently that verbal put-down wasn’t enough to satisfy him. “So? What are you going to do? After being missing for weeks, you get back and mope around. Who do you have to grieve? The world? The trillions gone from your mistakes? I lost my family, Stark. Who did you lose?”
Before Tony can even think of a response, Nebula speaks up for the first time. “His son.”
Everyone turns to look at the blue girl. She doesn’t flinch at the new attention, staring right at Clint. Then she turns her dark eyes to Tony’s. “He lost his son.”
That seems to be what gets people to finally look around the floor. Their eyes roam around, drinking in the textbooks and spare shoes in the walkway that definitely did not belong to him or Pepper. The silly magnets and the sticky notes. They notice the dozens of photo frames that are scattered around the place; most of them feature him and Peter. Clint walks closer to one of them and picks it up, looking at it like he couldn’t believe his eyes.
When Clint turns to look back at him, Tony can’t bring himself to raise his eyes. Tony had attempted to get his old charismatic persona back with his stance in the beginning, but now he sags like a deflated balloon. He sits back down on the sofa and hides his face in his hands.
“I’m sorry, Tony.” Steve whispers, sounding absolutely destroyed. “We didn’t know.”
Of course they didn’t know, because Peter wasn’t really his son. Nebula had asked him that question back on Titan when he had just seen the boy crumble beneath him. “Was he your son?” and Tony had shaken his head ‘no’. “He’s so much more than that.”
“He’s not… Nevermind.” He wasn’t sure if Nebula truly believed that Peter was his kid, but he was too tired to refute her claim.
He can see the blonde lady, Carol, walk closer to him. She stops right in his line of sight so he can see her shoes. “We’re going to get them back, Stark. But we need your help. I’ve been told you’re the genius of the group.”
Tony raises his eyes to meet hers, and he can’t help but feel a jolt of adrenaline run through his veins.
He could bring Peter back.
“Okay. Okay.” He whispers, dropping his head back down. “Let’s go to the labs. We can discuss more there, just give me a minute alone please.”
They nod and start filing out of the room. Clint doesn’t move though, he stays staring at the photo of him and Peter. Tony shifts, feeling uncomfortable with how much Clint is staring. He feels judged; Clint is a real father, and Tony can’t help but feel like he was just a poor imitation of one when Clint was there.
He stiffens when the archer starts walking towards him. He stays seated, but is ready to bolt if Clint decides to throw the frame at him. But Clint doesn’t look angry anymore, but he looks just as defeated as Tony feels and stops in front of him, not unlike how Carol did just moments prior.
Even though Tony is pretty sure Clint won’t hurt him (physically) he still can’t bring himself to meet the other man’s eyes.
“Peter?” Tony jolts as if someone had poked him with a cattle prod. His eyes finds Clint’s, questioning silently.
In return, Clint flips the frame around and it’s the same photo Tony was looking at before. The one with him and Peter and the dumb bunny ears and the certificate with Peter’s name on it. “His name might have been upside-down, but it’s easy enough to read.”
Involuntarily, one side of Tony’s mouth quirks up. “He didn’t even notice until we looked at the photos later. I thought he was just playing around, but that boy is both the smartest person ever and the dumbest.”
Clint sits down on the armchair adjacent to him, smiling slightly. “My daughter is the same. She can hit a bulls-eye with ease and yet always forgets to take her socks off before she takes a shower.”
They continue to talk about their kids, sharing funny anecdotes as if they were still alive. They’re both very careful about the tenses they use, and ignore the elephant in the room. Tony’s sure that the others are wondering where they are, but he’s not willing to be the one to leave this little bubble of fantasy where Peter is still breathing. He wants to continue pretending Peter was really his kid.
But nothing good ever lasts, and Clint sighs, long and heavy. He clasps Tony’s shoulder and squeezes. “We should get going, Tony. We need to start working to get them back, and then we’ll know for sure if Peter could outdo Cooper in a meme battle.”
Tony smiles sadly, but he gets up anyway. “We’ll get them back, birdbrain. We’ll do whatever it takes.”
Clint nods back. “Whatever it takes.”