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Born To Cherish

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When Tony was young, he loved to watch the colours dance across his mother’s palms. On her right hand, a bright orange that changed almost every moment, quick and fleeting. Sometimes there’d be little drawings, detailed pounding hearts or sloppily constructed portraits. While the orange script vanished and reappeared as a constant, Maria’s left hand stayed static, the same dark blue writing having never changed in over twelve years.

Head perched in his mother’s lap, Tony played with her hands, marveling quietly at the contrast. “Mama, why don’t the red thoughts change anymore?”

Maria pulled her hand back, rubbing her palm with her thumb, almost tracing the words. Tony was old enough to read now. He could see the words I wish I could have met you clearly, written almost like it was scribbled in a rush all along her hand.

Immediately, the orange writing changed: Don’t be sad, I hate it when you’re sad. Tony pulled away. Had he upset mama? But quickly, Maria rushed to gather him in her arms, holding him tight. “Tony, you remember what the writing means right?”

Tony nodded, still trying to figure out whether he had upset his mother or not. “The right hand is your soul mate who’s your best friend and the left is your soul mate that you marry.”

Maria smiled, pinching his cheek. “That’s right. And do you remember why the words always change?”

“Because it’s their most important thought.” he answered, proud when his mother nodded.

“But sometimes…” her voice trailed off, locked in a pain Tony didn’t yet understand, “sometimes the words stay frozen because that’s the person’s last thought.”

“How can someone stop thinking?” Tony scrunched his nose.

He knew for sure that could never happen to him. Even when he didn’t want them, his thoughts raced faster than even he could keep up with sometimes. Maria looked down at her hand. “Sometimes your soul mate dies.” she says quietly, “And the last thing they ever thought stays on your skin forever.”

Tony frowned. “But your soul-mate is supposed to be with you forever.”

“At least I had a soul-mate Tony. Some people aren’t so lucky.”

Tony’s frown deepened, a small kernel of anxiety clustering in his stomach, only to grow bigger with time. How could not everyone have a soul mate? That didn’t seem fair. Was it because there weren’t enough people? Or was it because some people are just impossible to love at all?

Tony’s voice was small, insecure and anxious, “Will I get soul-mates?”
Maria gathered him in her arms, pressing kisses into his hair. “Don’t ask questions like that Tony, soul-mates or not, everyone deserves love.”

He wouldn’t notice until much later that she never really answered his question. Maybe she had known, even then, that he would be difficult to love.

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The day Tony turns ten years old is the most exciting day of his life. He falls asleep when he’s still nine and knows that at 4:35 a.m, the exact time he was born, the writing will appear on his right hand. Whichever person turns ten first triggers the writing for both pairs. If he’s being honest, he’s more excited about his platonic soul-mate than the romantic one. Romance was icky and looked like hard work. Who wanted to always buy flowers all the time?

The clock ticks its way past ten-thirty p.m, a long time after his bed time. Flipping on his stomach, Tony reaches for his alarm clock, turning the dials to set the alarm for exactly 4:35 a.m. Burying himself into his pillows, Tony waits for the earth to turn. He can’t wait. He just can’t wait. Maybe now he wouldn’t be so lonely all the time. Because now he’d find a best friend and a wife and isn’t that the best combination ever? That’s more than Tony ever wanted.

He was just tired of being lonely.

Tony drifts off in a hazy dream. He thinks he catches a glimpse of a little girl with strawberry blonde hair. She looks really pretty. He wakes up before his alarm by only a second, a light burning sensation in his left hand tingling. Tony’s eyes widen, heart battering in this throat as he throws himself off the bed to turn on the lights, watching as a white script with almost curly lettering traces itself along his palm.

Cotton candy rain

Tony furrows his brows before remembering what time it is. Smiling to himself, he watches in fascination as the scope of his soul-mate’s dreams change. So this is the person he would marry? She seems really cute.

But something bothers him. His right hand isn’t tingling. He scrubs at his palm as though that had anything to do with the process at all but it remains just as blank. That kernel of anxiety pounds into something bigger. Something like dread coiling around it. He has one soul-mate, where’s the other? Why aren’t they connected to him yet?

Does he just not have one?

Tony thinks about what will be on his romantic soul-mate’s palm. All the scared thoughts rumbling inside his head. The fears. The insecurities. Immediately, he tries to think of better things. What if she wakes up and thinks those bad things are all about her?? She’d hate him before he ever gets the chance to meet her. And Tony really wants to meet her. More than he wants anything.

Maybe his platonic soul-mate just comes later.

Yeah. Maybe that’s it.

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Tony’s platonic soul-mate never comes.

He’s eighteen now and knows two things. One, Pepper- they couldn’t share their real names- was his soul-mate and he loves her more than anything even though he hasn’t met her yet. Two, he doesn’t need a platonic soul mate or anyone else in the world because he has Rhodey and Rhodey is enough for him.

The white script flows over his hand, Say I’m just a girl one more time .

Tony winces. He would not want to be the sorry asshole on the other side of that conversation. Without even meaning to, Tony checks his other hand and even though it hasn’t changed in eight years, the blankness still hurts him somewhere farther down than he could hide. His mother tries to tell him that maybe his soul-mate just wasn’t born yet. But Tony knows the truth. He just doesn’t get one. Isn’t worthy of one. Pepper’s just a fluke, some kind of cosmic karma taunting him about how he shouldn’t have any soul-mates, let alone the most wonderful woman in the world. That it’s all just an accident he doesn’t deserve.

Hey. Stop that Tony. I deserve you and only you.

Tony stares at the words, wishing he could brand them on his skin forever. Usually the thoughts appeared automatically, but over the years, Tony and Pepper had learned that if they concentrated hard enough, they could craft their own messages. Tony doesn’t have to try though, for his most sincere appreciation to shine through.

But he knows the truth. His father stopped talking to him the moment he left home, tired of him and unwilling to put up with him. His old socialite circle was grandiose and bursting at the seams, lies upon lies piling up over gossip and half-meant kisses. Even Obadiah, mentor that he was, was never really there when he needed him. Everyone around Tony either loved him and then left him, or never really loved him at all.

--------------------------------------------------

Tony takes over Stark Industries and out of habit, looked down at his right hand and thought this has to be the day. This has to be. But as usual, his skin remains unchanged and he honestly doesn’t know how he can still feel so disappointed every time. He’s hosting interviews today, for the position of his assistant and he’s already tired and really can’t care less.

And then Virginia Potts walks into the room.

Tony doesn’t know how he knows. Maybe it’s the white blazer suit, the one she had thought about in a choice between it and the blue one. Maybe it’s the crimson writing on her palm she had told him was his colour. Or maybe it’s the way she looks at him that makes him feel like he’s known her his whole life.

“You wanna know something really weird?” he asks, smiling at her taken aback expression.

“Depends.” she answers slowly.

“I only have one soul-mate and it’s this girl who has Maroon 5 stuck in her head so much my entire hand is just She Will Be Loved lyrics.”

She pauses, narrowing her eyes like she almost doesn’t want to believe it. “That’s weird. My soul-mate always complains about the same thing as though heavy metal is any better.”

“Hey, it’s-”

“-the peak of music.” they say together, and Tony gapes.

Pepper smiles. “So I’ve been told anyway.”

Pepper lifts her hand, showing Tony his own thoughts. Oh my God it’s her. She’s beautiful.

When he runs to hug her, he tries not to let anything ruin the joy coursing through him, even when he catches a glimpse of bright green hand-writing on Pepper’s other hand YOU FOUND YOUR SOUL-MATE AHHHH!!!

Tony doesn’t think he’s ever felt happier than kissing Pepper for the first time. And yet he still feels half-way happy. Missing some crucial part of himself that he was robbed of.

But Tony has Pepper.

Maybe that could be enough.

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On August 10, everything changes.

Tony’s forty-one now. He’s married Pepper, a small quiet wedding with just their closest circles. Stark Industries has delved into automated weaponry, and despite everything, Tony’s come to terms now, finally, that he can still be loved even without any writing on his right hand.

He’s making a sandwich to bring back down to the lab when his right hand burns. Jolting, he drops the knife with a hiss, bringing his hand up to see where he had cut it when he freezes. It’s impossible. It’s utterly impossible but- scratchy blue writing scrawls across his hand, !!!!!.

Tony’s hand shakes. No. There’s no- there’s no way. Thirty years later, there’s no way- there just- there just isn’t- but the words keep changing, faster and faster. I have a soul-mate. Oh my god! Oh my God! Wow! I have TWO soul-mates!

Tony feels his eyes warm with disbelief, tears pooling at the edge of his lashes. He can’t stop staring at the blue writing curving all around his hand as his soul-mate’s thoughts get more and more out of control. Pepper’s thoughts had always been more constrained, elegant almost, even when they were kids. But whoever’s thoughts are on his hand jumps from one idea to the next, a flurry of energy and vitality that brings up every repressed emotion Tony had hidden deep inside come flooding to the surface.

He has a soul-mate. He has a soul-mate. They appeared for him. He isn’t unloved. He isn’t a flaw in the universe. He’s- he’s whole.

The tears wash down his cheeks as Tony closes his eyes, bringing his hands up to his face. His whole life, he had felt like some part of him was missing. That there was something he was supposed to be looking for. And now-

Don’t be sad anymore. Your writing is so sad.

Tony’s mouth trembles. The writing shifting again, How do I cheer them up? A joke?

Two seconds later, I don’t know any jokes though…maybe Ben knows some!

Unprompted, the only thought in Tony’s head is, I don’t even know who this person is, but I love them.

I love you too!!

And this time, Tony allows himself to laugh, incredulous and thankful. He’s forty-one when his platonic soul-mate sends their first message. His mother was right, Tony had just needed to wait. The universe had never abandoned it him. It was just waiting to give him the perfect person. But this kid…how can Tony be perfect for him? How can he possibly be deserving of being in a child’s life? A kid so happy it’s almost contagious.

What is a soul-mate? A person whose atoms are made up from the same star you were born from? A person who has one half of your very own soul? A person you never abandon, no matter what? Maybe the universe gave this kid to Tony to prove he still has love to give in a way he never thought he could have. But maybe one day, this child would need him. Maybe not right now, maybe not that second, but sometime, in the future, they would meet, and Tony knows he’s going to spend every moment trying to make that happen and be there for this kid.

I can’t wait to meet you. He can’t help but think.

Me too! I live at

The text cuts off and Tony smiles in spite of himself. He doesn’t know the tricks of the trade yet and it was somehow more endearing than it should’ve been.

You can’t say anything personal except your name yet kiddo

That’s dumb. Rules are dumb. Super duper dumb.

Tony snorts. The kid’ll learn to control his thoughts more one day, but as it is, it’s adorable watching him. Tony takes in a breath, still unable to help his smile. He concentrates his thoughts.

I’m Tony.

My name’s Peter! Do I get to meet you soon??
I want to meet you.
Is that weird to say?
Oh no, you’re gonna see everything I think.
Tony!!

Tony bursts out laughing and he doesn’t know how his entire heart can expand until its swelled with adoration over someone he hasn’t met yet.

!!!
That’s so nice
Wow

Embarrassed, Tony quickly quiets his mind. No need to traumatize the kid with all his issues and troubles with love.

When you’re older, you’ll get better at only letting certain thoughts appear

Wait are you old? My soul-mate’s old??
I didn’t know that could happen

Hey-
I’m old, but not that old

Peter keeps on chattering and Tony counts down the days before the universe brings them together.

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It’s a while later, after Peter’s next birthday- his excitement made Tony smile- when Tony finds out just how deep Obadiah’s betrayal went. He sees the files upon files of under the table deals. Weapons sold to terrorists and warlords and profiteers of senseless violence and death. He traces each deal to an attack that killed more innocents than he could count from all parts of the globe. Stark Industries wasn’t protecting anybody. They were tools of murder.

Tony can’t move. He’s frozen in his chair. He’s the CEO, he’s the one in charge, he’s the one who had been duped all these years by that lying, two-faced son of a bitch. Shit. He really is the worst. Scum. Garbage. How many people died because of him? How much blood is on his hands? What could he have done better- god it was always about what he could’ve done better. Always playing catch up.

He thought he was the good guy. Turns out he’d been the villain all along. The universe was wrong. He isn’t worthy of love. He doesn’t deserve it. Smartest man alive. Kid genius. The most brilliant mind of our generation. All that means nothing if he can’t use that so called genius for anything that matters.

Tony’s head falls into his hands and he shakes. There are no tears. No sobs. He just trembles under the weight of everything he could’ve done differently and wishes he could shake hard enough for everything inside of him to fall right out so his guilt doesn’t consume him whole. He should’ve been better. He should’ve been better.

His right hand burns.

It stings with such a fierce intensity that it jerks him out of his self-pity. He stares at the blue writing, usually messily scrawled and quick, now bold and in all capitals, looking crisp and authoritative.

You are not a bad person

You are not a bad person

You are not a bad person

Every time the thought seems to disappear, the words come back bolder, like Peter’s focusing desperately on keeping that one thought coherent. Demanding Tony to read it. Demanding he accept it. Tony watches as Peter battles with his constant stream of ideas to present just this one and he can imagine a little boy, scrunching his face in concentration, clutching his wrist, working so damn hard so that someone like Tony would hear him.

The tears finally well up in his eyes and Tony can’t help but feel worse because here he was bringing this little kid down. The kid Tony promised to protect is trying to protect him and he really is the worst.

Not the worst.
You’re the best Tony
The best the best the best
I’m your soul mate so I’ll love you forever even if you don’t love yourself yet
May says sometimes that takes a while
But I’ll tell you everything I love about you
Because you’re good
You’re good Tony, you’re good
You made good jokes
You give me better advice than Ned
You’re so smart! Sometimes I see words I don’t even know how to say on my hand and I’m like woahhh!!
And you always say nice things to me
And you give me funny nicknames
No one gives me nicknames so I really like that
You’re a good person
I know it

Peter’s writing flourishes on his palm almost faster than Tony can read them all and the tears come down harder when Peter doesn’t seem to run out of things to say. He keeps pouring out love and Tony tries desperately to receive it and he thinks maybe he was wrong about what the universe had intended. Maybe he wasn’t meant to save Peter, maybe Peter was meant to save him. Over and over, Peter tells him he can be good. That he is good. And Peter thinks of Tony and thinks about the power of the sun and the wind and the might of the ocean. Tony Stark can do anything and for the first time in his life, Tony believes it.

He doesn’t feel like a good person. He doesn’t feel anything but guilt and regret. But Peter thinks he’s good. And for Peter, Tony would change the world.

Tony grits his teeth. Wipes his eyes. Gets up from the floor. He marches down to his lab, ready to unleash hell and turn the entire company around. This isn’t the legacy he’s going to leave behind. He’s done with the world of war and blood. Peter is going to grow up in a world of peace. Tony will make sure of it.

It’s all over the news the next day.

STARK INDUSTRIES SHAKEN BY SHOCKING REVELATIONS OF OBADIAH STANE’S DEALS WITH TERRORISTS

TONY STARK, CEO OF STARK INDUSTRIES, EXPOSES STANE’S WRONGDOING AT BOARD MEMBER’S MEETING

STARK INDUSTRIES TO SHUT DOWN THE WEAPONS DIVISION EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY

TONY STARK, CRAZY? OR JUST STUPID?

CEO TONY STARK TAKES THE MANTLE OF SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ENTERPRISE TOO SERIOUSLY?

The media can say whatever they want. They can call him crazy or stupid or the worst thing to happen to business since the housing bubble, but Tony doesn’t care. Peter said he was a good person. And he intended on making sure he was right.

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It’s three years later and Tony’s been delighted with hearing the literal stream of consciousness from Peter over his first crush- a black haired girl named Lindsay,- his adventures in the world of Lego- ridiculous,- and every little dorky thing a nerd kid would get up to in his life. Bored at a meeting or needing a break from the mundane, Tony knows he can just glance at his hand for a good pick me up.

Peter’s gotten better at controlling his thoughts now. Tony’s hand is no longer an eternally marred canvas, but Peter’s thoughts are still hilariously out of control. Which is why when the blue splatters across his hand Tony almost chuckles before he really reads what’s going on.

No. No nonono no no nono please
Please please
Ben
Ben
Oh no
Please don’t go please don’t-

Tony’s hand trembles. He clutches it in his left, unable to stop staring at the horror unfolding across his skin. Peter’s in pain. Soul-mates can’t feel each other but Tony can see Peter unraveling anyway. The writing smudges on his palm like Peter’s barely coherent. Tony thinks he can make out the word ‘no’ and ‘please’ but mostly it’s Ben’s name, blurred on his hand like he’s seeing through tears.

I need help
I need help
Someone help me please
HELP ME

Tony clenches his jaw, a frustrated growl in the back of his throat. Running, he surges into his lab, throwing himself onto his chair, fingers clattering against the keyboard. “JARVIS call emergency responders tell them-” Tony trails off.

Tell them what? That there’s a kid somewhere crying about his uncle? Crying over what? What happened? Who else was there? More importantly, where was there. Tony’s heart tremors, he sucks in a breath. He feels like his lungs have shrunk inside him. That the air’s disappeared. His right hand is still on fire, the blue has now consumed his palm, there are barely any distinguishable words from how many of them there are and all Tony can do is press his hand to his lips and rock himself back and forth.

I’m sorry
I’m sorry
I’m sorry Peter
God I’m so sorry

He watches and waits for a hint, a sign, anything to help him know where Peter is and what happened, a hint, a kernel, just the possibility of being to help him. But the day darkens and Tony gets nothing. Not one useful thing.

Eventually, the blue melts away and it’s replaced by just one sentence that stays even into the night.

Ben’s dead.
My fault.

And Tony shakes.

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I don’t want to do this
I can’t do this
Please Tony
Please, please please
Make it go away
Make it stop
I can’t do this

Today’s the day of Ben’s funeral and Tony scours the web for any sign of it, but with no last name, Ben dies with thousands of his name.

Tony focuses everything he has into crafting the perfect message. He wants to be there. Needs to be there. The second Peter’s writing first appeared he had sworn that he would always look out for him, always be there for him, that he would be better than he ever could be because this was the universe giving him a second chance at love.

You can do it Peter
You’re strong and you’re kind and you loved your uncle
And he would want you there to see him off
And be with your aunt

Peter’s reply is immediate.

It should’ve been me

Tony knows he hadn’t meant to let that slip out. He can tell from how it disappears the second it’s written. But it’s too late. The damage is done.

Don’t say that

Tony doesn’t even have to try and focus. He can’t. Even if he wanted to. There’s something fierce inside him. Something deep and primal and unwilling to ever let go. A desperate love he’s never felt before.

Don’t you ever say that

For the first time in a long time, his thoughts become a wave, they douse Peter’s hand and he can’t stop it.

Your life is worth more than you’ll ever possibly know to your uncle
He loved you and he wanted you to live
Your life meant everything to him
I don’t need to have met him to know that
And so now
You’re going to go to the funeral
You’re going to cry and you’re going to mourn and hug your aunt
And then you’re going to live
Do you hear me Peter?
You’re going to LIVE
For your uncle
For Ben

And Tony’s feelings are like tidal waves, he can’t stop until he knows Peter understands. He’s never even met the kid but he knows just as certainly as he knows anything in this world that if he were Ben, he would’ve done the exact same thing. That loving someone you have to protect is stronger a force than anything on the planet and that Peter will get through this because he’s still surrounded by love and Tony would make sure of it.

Unbidden, his thoughts come out before can stop them.

I’m here for you. Now, later, forever.
I’m going to find you soon
I promise
I’m going to find you

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Except…Tony’s already tried. He’s tried so many times. But every attempt had failed and the failures were piling atop of him. Crushing and mocking. It’s been months since the funeral and he’s at the exact same place now as he was then. Pen twirling in his hand, Tony stops swivelling in his chair when there’s a knock on his office door.

The sunlight streams through Pepper’s hair like a halo and Tony’s smile comes as naturally as breathing. “Hey Pep.”

“Hey yourself.” she greets, an amused note in her wry smile, “You know you have a meeting in twenty minutes right?”

Tony feigns surprise, “What? Do I? Must’ve slipped my mind.” he makes a snide face, “No wait, I just decided it was boring and thought we could play hookie and go get coffee instead. My treat.” he waggles his brows in that way he knew always made her laugh.

“You know that we’re married and have a joint account right?” but she grins anyway. “Actually, I need you to sign this.”

Not even needing to look at it, Tony flips to the back, scrawling his name with a bit of a flourish. “Is it possible this is even more boring than the meeting?”

“Depends.” she shrugs, coy.

“O-n?” he says, dragging the word.

Something sparkles in Pepper’s eyes, “On whether you think hosting a summer intern would be fun or not.”

Tony groans, sliding in his seat. “When did this happen? Is this because I missed dinner a week ago because I told you that Happy refused to listen when I said to avoid traffic and-”

Pepper holds up a hand. “No.” she says slowly, “This is because we’re trying to encourage young minds remember? You know, this was technically your idea.”

Tony looks aghast. “How dare you.”

Laughing, Pepper sits across from him on his desk. “Remember when you said it might be fun to host a competition for kids at the next Stark Expo? I thought we could host something for all ages, it would be cute right? To see a bunch of eight year olds walk in with volcanoes? And then I thought, what should the prize be?”

“Explain how an internship is a prize.” Tony says, expression flat.

“What high school kid obsessed with tech wouldn’t want to work with Tony Stark.”

Tony smirks, lazy and slow. “Is that a little hint of admiration I sense Miss. Potts?”

Pepper smiles into his kiss. “Not admiration, just shaking my head at all the misguided youth.”

Quickly, she snatches up the papers from his desk. “And you already signed anyway, so!”

“Cheater!!”

“All’s fair sweetie.” And she flashes him that smug expression over her shoulder that makes him want to simultaneously kiss and her and sulk, “And get up. The meeting’s in five minutes!”

Tony’s hand burns. She sure got the better of you huh?

Zip it kid

Tony shakes his head to hide his grin.

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The universe as it happened, brims with people destined to be together, but who only truly belonged together at a certain moment. Sometimes the people you love the fiercest are those who, in a different time, in a different place, in a different state of mind, you might never have come to love at all. And Tony’s always loved Peter. From the second he knew he existed, he loved him.

But the right time.

The perfect time.

A time where Tony wasn’t grieving and drinking and falling into pits of self-destruction and a time where Peter wasn’t imploding on the inside with guilt and loss, a time where both of them could come into each other’s lives at the perfect moment to acknowledge the worst but bring out the best had yet to come. And Tony’s finally entered it. And he has never felt more afraid and yet, a deeper, intense need for anything ever before in his life.

The competition’s started. There are three separate rooms, three separate groups. He enters the Kid’s Corner, full of elementary school kids racing through the booths admiring projects their own parents helped them make. Tony takes photos and high-fives children and encourages one shy girl to give a presentation that makes him feel oddly misty. The second room has middle schoolers, probably the worst age group Tony can think of. Even Peter had his days when he was thirteen. And Peter was the sweetest thing since the sugarcane. To be honest, he’s so busy navigating the crowds and playing the part that he doesn’t really notice the burning in both his hands until he’s standing outside the high schooler’s room.

Pepper’s cursive writing appears like art on his palm, she’s running through her checklist, making sure everything’s all set and good to go. It’s such a small, common thing. But Tony can’t help but think I love you anyway. Pepper always takes such good care of him. Sometimes he doesn’t know if he deserves it. But he cherishes it anyway.

He looks to his right hand and furrows his brows, fond. The kid’s freaking out. Nervous about presenting soon and that the lights are on him and there’s no way he can compete with all these rich kids when he’s a dumpster diver but it would be so cool to win the competition and-

Tony stops. No way.

No way.

It’s- it’s impossible.

But it isn’t. It isn’t impossible. And Tony bursts through the doors, eyes wide, muscles tight, his mouth is open like he wants to shout when the curtains draw open on the stage and everyone stops to stare and Tony stops with them.

He can barely breathe.

“Presenting Peter Parker and his chemical invention.”

Peter Parker.

Tony claps his hands to his mouth. Emotions bursting through every part of him. He can’t take his eyes off him. Peter. Peter. It’s Peter. Peter Parker. And he’s wonderful. Boyish brown curls, a shy smile, the gangly teenage body that doesn’t quite know how to hold itself in the world. “Hi- hi everyone, I’m Peter Parker.”

He sounds exactly like Tony’s imagined. Young and polite and sweet. So sweet. He’s perfect. He’s absolutely perfect. And he’s happy. And Tony’s happy. So so so happy that he’s here. And that today’s the day. And that even if he doesn’t get to meet him at least he got to see him and that’s enough for Tony. It’s enough.

But his thoughts must have been too loud. Too emotional and strung and so uncontainable he could power a thousand earths because Peter glances down at his own hand and his eyes widen. His head jerks up. Something like longing in the curve of his brows. Hope that he barely wants to believe. He scans the crowd. Tony and Peter lock eyes and he can tell the exact second that Peter realizes that Tony Stark is his soul-mate. His lip wobbles and he looks like he wants to jump into the crowd and run but Peter’s a better kid than Tony ever was and he just shakes his head slightly, like he’s laughing to himself, glances at his hand, I’m so proud of you, and pushes through his presentation because he knows it has to be done and that they’ll have time later.

Peter’s brilliant on stage. More brilliant than Tony ever was and he knows that Peter will be even better with time. Peter finishes his speech with a shy duck of the head and the sweetest half smile that has Tony feeling endeared to him all over again where he’s waiting in the wings. Peter catches his eye, smiling so uncontrollably it makes him beam and when the curtains close he launches in Tony’s direction, throwing his arms around him like they’d done this a million times.

The first time Tony spoke to Peter, he had cried from gratitude. The first time he got to hold him, his arms wrapped so tightly around him, feeling Peter’s fingers around his shoulder, he buries his face in Peter’s hair and feels that same gratefulness, that same adoration, that same love for the universe that loved him after all and showed him he could find and give love in return.

Tony and Peter hold each other tightly and on both their hands, I finally found you.