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Long Time Coming

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The choice was obvious, and he would do the same thing over again, even knowing what he knew after the fact. The Gauntlet had been thrown away from Thanos for the fifth time. Thor and Captain America had been smacked down by the Mad Titan. Peter had found himself near them, his Iron Spider legs wrapped around him as he fought with the aliens.

The force of Captain Marvel’s landing threw the gauntlet towards him, and he quickly caught it with a web, clutching it to his chest for the second time in less than an hour. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked, and he snapped his eyes up to find himself on the other end of the deadliest glare from the Titan. Peter swallowed heavily, and the vague idea of putting on the gauntlet crossing his mind before he shoved it down and lept into the air, webbing himself away.

Thanos snarled and started after him, only to be backhanded by Captain Marvel. He staggered back and returned the attack, barking an order at one of his men. Peter didn’t really know what Thanos was up to, but he did know that he needed to get away from him. His heart thrumming into his chest, Peter ran with no direction to go. The van with the thing in it had been destroyed–he didn’t know where to take the gem covered glove.

“Kid! Give it to me!” Peter skittered to a stop and snapped his head around. Thruster’s whirling, Stark landed next to him, his hand outstretched.

Peter started to pass it to him, uncurling his arm, but something kept him from handing it over. Something told him that if he did, everything would go wrong. “What’s the plan?” Peter panted, mask lowering so he could look his mentor in the eye.

Stark didn’t appear any better than he felt. He sighed shakily and glanced up at the aerial battle where Ms Potts was fighting. His gaze lowered before he snapped back around to Peter. “We need to get rid of the Purple Fucker–give it here.”

“What? How?” Peter blinked, dread curling in his chest.

Stark grimaced but quickly covered it with a strained smile. “I’ve got an idea, Kid, but I need the stones.”

That was exactly what he didn’t want to hear, although he knew that it was coming. “What? No–you can’t do that!”

Stark sighed. “Pete, we don’t have time–” He cut off when a yell sounded from behind them. It sounded feral and unhinged. The two heroes jumped back and Thanos landed where they had been standing, the ground cracking. He straightened with a growl and levelled his hate-filled eyes on Peter.

In that moment, he knew what he had to do, the certainty of his choice curling in his gut, making him feel sick.

Peter scrambled backwards, holding the glove up. Staring the Titan, down he jammed the gauntlet onto his arm. Surprise flickered across Thanos’s face while Stark’s shocked cry bounced around him. Quickly, the nanotech shifted and shrank so the gauntlet fit snugly over his hand. The moment it aligned, pain flared up his arm. It felt like what you would think a campfire would, harsh and hot yet warm and comfortable. It hurt less than the feeling of his cells ripping themselves apart.

Peter set his jaw, glancing a final time at the horrified look on Stark’s face before turning his glare back to the Thanos. Gritting his teeth, he raised his hand, the stones flashing excitedly on the back of his hand. “Go to hell,” he snarled and snapped his fingers.

That’s when everything changed.

He’d been willing the stones to get rid of Thanos and his army, to fix everything, so that he could go home. See his Aunt, go back to school, and have everything okay. Well, that’s what happened–in the long run.

The moment his fingers snapped white light exploded from the stones, and Peter turned his head away. Strong feelings washed over him from his arm, ranging from excitement, satisfaction, smugness, and then to inevitability. The sense that everything was falling into place.

Peter opened his eyes and gasped before clamping a hand over his mouth. His eyes were wide as he stared at his new surroundings.

“Wh-where am I?” he stammered behind his palm and twisted to see where he was. It was a large open plane, barren stone cutting off a few miles in every direction. Everything else was open space. Stars shone brightly in the vastness above him.

When he'd first arrived where he'd ended up, Peter had clamped down on his breathing, a futile effort if he ever actually found himself in space without the proper gear. His mask was off, so he wasn't wearing anything that could keep him alive.

He was though. He took an experimental breath in, and he didn't die. It wasn't air. He knew that. Whatever he was breathing, he wasn't meant to inhale–but he was.

“Hello?” he called, turning on the spot. “Is anyone there?” Not even an echo answered him. Wherever he was sound didn't travel.

“What's going on?” he muttered then looked down at his hand. He froze. The stones where gone. He wasn't even wearing the gauntlet.

What the fuck?

Language,” a mirthful voice echoed in his head.

Peter yelped and spun. “Who's there?”

Hello, Peter Parker,” the voice continued, still keeping its amused undertone.

“Okay, you know my name. Why–how do you know my name?” Peter stammered and took a couple of steps back, arms rising defensively.

Another voice giggled in his head. “You shouldn't fear us, little one. Many do/will/have.” His mind couldn’t decide on which present to focus on. It was like whoever was speaking was using all three at one. “But you shouldn't. And in time you won't. It's nice that you're finally here.

“That doesn't make sense,” Peter told whatever it was flatly. “I don't even know who you are.”

Look down,” a third voice suggested calmly. “All will be made clear.

Unsure, Peter did just that and screamed. The Iron Spider suit was gone, and he was standing barefoot in track pants and a t-shirt. But that wasn't what had alarmed him. Embedded in each of his arms were the infinity stones.

On his right, just above his wrist was a blue gem, which he immediately recognized as the Space stone. Before when he’d been running with the gauntlet, he had no idea which one was which, but now, staring at them, he could identify each of them. The red one resting above the muscles of his forearm was the Reality stone, and the one on his biceps was the Mind Stone. On his left in the same order and place was the green Time Stone followed by the Purple and Orange, Power and Soul stones respectively.

Jaw slack, he stared down at them. Numbly, he tried to grip the Space stone and pull it out of his skin, but no matter how much force he used, the stones wouldn’t budge–none of them.

“Wh-what’s going on?” Peter stammered. “Why–why do I have them…?”

You’re special, Peter Parker. We’ve been waiting to meet you.” Another voice joined in and the Time stone lit up as it spoke.

“Wha–are you speaking to me?” All of the stones flashed brightly, and he felt the affirmative surge in his chest. The Reality stone was giddy and amused. Space shared the ruby’s amusement but was more reserved.

Catches on quick doesn't he?” Soul pulsed dryly.

He’s a little overwhelmed–it’s to be expected,” Time spoke again, its tone gently chiding.

Peter closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re sentient?”

Is that so unexpected? We do command the forces of the Universe,” Space reminded him.

“Right. Okay, the Infinities stones are sentient. Wow. Sure, that’s… yeah.” Peter sighed and rubbed his face–hard. “Why am I here? And why are you in my arms!”

You wished for things to be fixed,” another voice interjected, this one deeper and rougher than the others. Peter looked at his arms and saw that Power was the one speaking. “That was too grand for us to fix by ourselves. A wish like that needs to be carried out by the wisher.

“Great,” Peter muttered. “So, I’m crappy at wording things. That’s nothing new. But that doesn't explain why I’m here, and you’re under my skin,” he stressed, his pulse rising. He really didn’t understand why he was there. Him messing up his speech won’t change. Not anytime soon. He looked out again at the expanse around him, black except for the flickering stars. As he watched them, he swore that more were coming into being.

Time shone lightly and a sort of calm rose up in his chest, causing him to lower his tense shoulders. “Power is correct, your phrasing was too vague for us to accurately grant your desire. However, they are not telling you the whole truth.

“Oh goodie,” Peter snarked.

Space chuckled bemusedly. “What Time is tip-toeing around is that we need an Avatar to correct things. It wasn’t just your wish that caused this. Before, we’ve always had guardians to keep us from destroying everything. You’ve seen what happens if we fall into the wrong hands.

Peter grimaced. He was starting to understand where the stones were going with this. And he didn’t like it. “Yeah, Thanos–trying to make everything balanced or whatever.”

Yes, even if he was sorely mistaken,” Reality continued. “There was nothing to balance. Everything was as it should have been. Thanos was the one disrupting everything.

Point being, we need guardians to make sure that what came to pass does not,” Soul told him flatly. “Time had a guardian and has had one since basically the beginning. I placed a fail-safe on myself to stop the nonsense before it began. However, every plan has its flaws–and they were found.

Therefore,” Mind added. “We need something or someone that will fill that role more permanently. I approve of the vessel that I was in before all of this began. The Vision was an ideal candidate–however, he still fell.

So, we need a guardian that will not fall,” Power finished grimly.

“No, nononon–that’s insane,” Peter told them, backing up instinctively. “I’m human. I’m flawed. I know I am. I-I-I’ve made mistakes–big ones! And I know I’ll make them again. Vision was an android. He couldn’t be as messed up as I am–it wasn’t in his programming. If Vision wasn’t fit for this, this, position, then there is no way in hell that I’m going to be!” As he talked, his voiced increased in volume until he finished with a screech. However, the voice still fell flat within the vastness of space. It made the hairs on his arms stand up, and he wanted to curl into as small of a ball as he could.

The stones were sympathetic, but Reality was unforgiving. “Yes, you are–but you, Peter Parker, are so much better than Vision was. Yes, he was a robot, so he wouldn’t make logical mistakes, but the universe doesn't need logic. Not now, not ever. Your soul, it’s the best within the Avengers, and we know you will not fail.

Despite the huge compliment that he’d just been given, Peter shook his head. “But I’m mortal. And a kid–I can’t be the-the Guardian of the Stones. That’s–no. I can’t.”

You can/will/are,” Space told him gently.

And you’re not mortal–no longer.” Soul flared brightly and solid agreement echoed from each of them.

There–that’s what he had dreaded hearing. Peter squeezed his eyes shut and sank to the ground. His throat caught and he bowed his head. His cries fell flat in the empty air.

___________________________________________________________

Pepper tucked her binder under her arm, and using her shoulder, she pushed the door open. The bell above her chimed, and she smiled as she stepped into the small establishment. A mop of brown curls popped out from the back and a bright grin was thrown her way. “Miss. Potts! Good morning–I’ll be right there.”

“Take your time,” she called back sweetly and started to go through her emails. She’d answered and solved about a dozen problems before the young man came to the counter, wiping his hands on a towel.

Throwing it onto his shoulder, he stepped up to the cash register and quirked his brow. “Trouble in paradise?”

Pepper sighed and slipped her blackberry away. “If paradise was looking after a five-year-old parading around as an adult, everything is peachy. Mr. Stark is just being himself.”

Peter snickered. “So, dumping everything on you.”

Pepper combined a grimace with a smile. “Got it in one. He may be the CEO, but he just signs things.”

“Ehhh, but he also makes everything you guys sell,” Peter pointed out.

Pepper sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear, even if the motion was pointless because it was up in a perfect bun. Peter’s smile turned soft and he jerked his chin at her. “What's today's poison?”

“Oh, definitely poison for Mr. Stark,” she responded immediately, inciting a laugh from the man. She smiled with him before ordering a caramel latte for herself and a black coffee for her boss.

Peter nodded. “That’ll come to $5.50,” he informed her, tapping it into the register before he started making the drinks. While working the espresso machine, he asked casually, “So, anything new going on?”

Pepper thought about that for a moment. “Not really. Mr Stark just finished the new missiles and started on the next. Oh–then there’s the Apogee Award Ceremony, which I hope he’ll actually go to,” she added with a click of her tongue, taking out her credit card to tap it on the machine.

Peter snorted and shook his head. “I wouldn't bet on it.”

Slipping her card back into her wallet, Pepper glanced at the man–-boy, really. He didn’t look any older than twenty, and even then, he had a youthful face. She’d always thought that something about him looked timeless, unchangeable. Even if his clothing style was strange–like when he still wore long sleeves in the summer heat, and considering how they were in California, that was impressive.

When she’d first found his little shop opening in the little town close to Stark’s Malibu house, she’d sworn that he was eighteen or nineteen. The last year hadn’t really changed that for her. However, she’d learned to roll with it–Peter Parker was one of the more mature people she knew, and that was saying something.

There were also little moment like this when he predicted something that would come to pass. She’d first noticed it when she’d said something about an important meeting and having to rush to get there on time. He’d purposely held her back for five minutes, making her order, saying that something bad would happen if he didn’t. She’d just barely missed a fatal car accident because of his interventions.

So, now, she groaned. “Great. More paperwork.”

Peter laughed and released the lever, moving around the machine to add the caramel shot to her drink. He stirred it and capped the cup before placing it on the counter. “One caramel latte for the Lady.” He bowed slightly with a fake tip of the hat.

Pepper scoffed, and he smirked playfully before going to make the other drink. So Stark wasn’t going to show up to the ceremony, she thought idly and sighed. Rotating the drink on the counter with her fingertips, she wondered if she should tell Rhodey and Obadia not to expect him. They wouldn’t believe her. She heaved a heavy sigh and scrubbed at her face, it was too early for this.

“Don’t think too hard on it,” Peter cut into her thoughts, and she looked up to see him placing the other drink on the counter, his face solemn. “This one won’t matter as much.”

This one?” she asked, grabbing the other drink.

Peter smiled sadly and shook his head. “With Stark? There’s always going to be a next one.”

Well, amen to that. Pepper pursed her lips and nodded. “Thank you for always letting me in early,” she told him and headed towards the door that’s sign was still showing ‘closed’.

Peter shrugged. “Where else are you going to get coffee at five o’clock in the morning?” Pepper shook her head and was about to leave when Peter called after her. “What was the name of the new missile?”

Pausing at the door, she cocked a brow at him, “Don’t you know that already?” Peter smirked and lowered his chin, looking at her under raised brows. She huffed and answered him truthfully, “Jericho.”

Peter’s face didn’t change but his hands stilled on the counter. He chuckled. “City of the Moon. The Canaan city that fell–did he name it or did someone else?”

“R&D did. Since it’s a weapon against the Arabs I think they thought it would be well fitting,” she mused. “When Mr Stark names things, it's far less profound.”

Peter laughed and made a shooing motion at her. “Have a good day, Miss Potts.”

“You as well.” She smiled back at him, and with a final wave, left the little cafe, leaving Peter alone.

He watched her go, his gaze soft before a quiet voice interrupted his thoughts, “You’re not going to warn her of the attack?

Peter glanced down at where the Soul stone was under his long sleeve. “... No. Even if I don’t want Tony to go through Afghanistan… Earth needs Iron Man.”

The other stones hummed in agreement, Soul sending him a wave of approval before they fell back into ‘slumber’ where they left him alone. He would always be thankful for that–-having six voices in your head all at once could get overwhelming.

Looking back out at the morning lit street, Peter sighed. No matter how horrible Tony’s future was for him, Peter knew that he had to let him go through it. Who he was at the moment wouldn't help anyone–-they needed the man that comes out of that cave.

He blinked out of his thoughts when a timer in the back went off. He smirked and turned, time to start the day.

Chapter Text

Aside from Pepper’s regular visits, Peter’s mornings were spent listening to music while he made sure all the trays were stocked with freshly baked goodies. He danced around the kitchen until around six-thirty when his help–a pair of college kids–arrived. They split up, one diving into the flour and baking, while the girl manned the cash register. Peter smiled to both of them, shouting a cheerful greeting in the form of a velociraptor call.

Jace shrieked back at him, while Kat laughed, hiding her giggles behind her hand. Peter grinned wolfishly and pulled out a batch of crescents, placing the rack onto the counter. “Hey, you two–get into any trouble lately?”

“We’re not you,” Kat snipped at him, tugging her light blue apron on over her head. “Trouble doesn’t chase us across the country.”

Peter paused, a fresh tray gripped in front of him, his head tilted thoughtfully at her. “True,” he stated and smirked as he slid the tray into the oven, closing the door with his hip.

Jace snickered, washing up to put on gloves, having already donned his own apron. Peter didn’t really demand a dress code aside from the apron–and cleanliness.

Taking off his oven mitts, Peter raised a brow at them. “Well, hop to it–we have about half an hour till morning rush.”

“Before the hordes descend,” Jace joked, sliding in to take over putting the muffins together–which Peter had half-finished. Kat smirked as she took an elastic from her wrist and pulled her purple hair back into a bun.

“Yup.” Peter grinned, thanking the day that the two of them walked into his store asking for a job. He could have manned his cafe alone but he was glad that he didn’t have to. Besides–they needed to save up to go to school.

The following hours were hectic–filled with rushing around, loud music which incited impromptu karaoke, and cups of coffee. But that was nothing new and Peter loved the energy that it caused. He greeted everyone with a smile and a cheerful welcome, even if he only got a tired grumble in response. The morning passed, so did lunch, till he closed at five–like any other day. Jace and Kat waved him goodbye, trudging away. Peter chuckled as he watched them go–they looked half asleep already.

The next day, he woke up around four and made his way downstairs, having bought the apartment above the cafe when he’d moved into the town. The air was charged and tense, crackling over his skin. Before, it would have made his spidey-sense go haywire and cause him to run in circles looking for the danger. Now, it lay mostly dormant, only flaring up occasionally for mild inconveniences. Nothing really set it off anymore–something that Peter was thankful for. He could live without the extra anxiety.

Stepping into the cafe kitchen, Peter grabbed an apron and set the ovens to preheat before taking down a large bowl to start on some oatmeal cookies. While setting ingredients down on the table, the Stones hummed under his skin, some of them doing a metaphorical roll-over before settling.

Measuring out the cooking oil, Peter murmured, “Time? What’s up?”

Time’s soothing voice hummed in the back of his mind. “Nothing to worry about–things are just falling into alignment.

Peter nodded, setting the measuring cup aside. “Figured. It’s Tony isn’t it?”

Time nodded, or made a sensation that he knew was nodding. “Tony Stark plays important roles in many pivotal moments.

Peter snorted, shaking his head. That was an understatement.

Power buzzed in agreement and added. “The moment that starts his story is charged with energy. You’ll probably feel it when it actually occurs.

Peter nodded, not expecting anything less. It wouldn’t be the first time that he felt the shifting of events.

He rolled his shoulders and let the temporal disturbance wash off him, using the Space stone to shift his alignment slightly, so it wouldn’t bother him anymore. Space sniffed disdainfully and did the equivalent of a glare for being used for something so minor, but Peter ignored them and set about finishing his cookies.

He didn’t see Pepper that morning but he didn’t blame her–if he was right, she had quite the morning wrangling Tony into actually going on the trip. She’d do that occasionally, arriving later for her coffee if he was being particularly difficult. Which was what happened–around noon she came in, her stilettos clacking on the tile. She was in a pencil skirt and a loose blouse, looking irritated.

Peter paused in the doorway to the kitchen and smirked, old memories of Before bubbling at the back of his mind. He’d seen her wear that particular combination of anger, fondness, and exasperation etched across her face multiple times. It always meant that she’d had to deal with Tony in some form or another.

Soul shifted and poked him, making him aware that he’d fallen into overthinking again. He cleared his throat and muttered a ‘thank you’ under his breath.

I should think so,” Soul hummed smugly.

Don’t be a brat–he’s allowed to remember,” Reality chidded.

Peter mentally shoved them. “Argue later. I’m working.

Did he just–?” Soul asked.

He did,” Mind answered dryly. “Leave him be.

Peter ignored them and started helping Kat with the register, greeting the next patron with a grin. When Pepper came up to the front, he made sure that he was the one to serve her. “Good afternoon, Miss Potts, rough day?”

Pepper leveled him with a bland look, inciting a laugh from him. Fishing through her purse for her wallet, she rolled her eyes. “Yes. He brought home another woman last night. I had to make sure her clothes were cleaned and ready for her. She had the gall to insult me.”

“And she’s still alive?” Peter mock gasped, faux surprised.

Pepper rolled her eyes, shooting him a glare even when a small smile tugged at her lips. “Yes, she is. It was a reporter this time. I swear. He should have better taste in women.”

Peter snorted and raised a brow at her.

She blinked at him and a light pink blush warmed her cheeks. “Be quiet,” She hissed.

“I didn’t say anything,” Peter responded innocently, which earned him a harsher glare. He switched to a cheeky grin and added, “Happy Birthday by the way–whatever you get today is on the house.”

Pepper blinked at him. “Oh, no–It’s fine. You don’t have to–”

“Pepper,” he interrupted gently. “It’s no problem. It’s your birthday.”

“But… but–” she started.

“Hey, everyone––who agrees with me that this lovely lady should get a free meal for her birthday?” Peter calls over the noise. The cafe quiets for a moment, the other patrons taking in what he said, before an enthusiastic agreement drowns out any objection she had left.

Pepper sighed heavily, hanging her head, but when she straightened, he could see a small smile pulling at her lips.

Peter winked at her then looked up when someone near the back of the line called out, “If I say that it’s my birthday, could I get a free coffee?”

“It’s not your birthday, Jeff,” Peter shoots back without missing a beat.

“Damn. How does he always know?

Chuckles filled the air before it fell back into the causal chatter and the newest pop songs.

He snickered then asked, “What can I get you?”

Shoulders relaxing a fraction, she glanced over to the chalkboard behind him. She hummed then picked out the Vanilla Cream. He nodded and started on making her drink.

After stirring and cupping it, he came back to the counter, placing it down with a smile. “Here you g--"

Energy flashed through the air, stinging his skin, cutting him off. A sharp pain shot through his chest, next to his heart. Peter sucked in a quick breath and placed a hand there. He knew he wasn’t actually hurt, that he was experiencing the echoes of a far worse injury halfway across the world. Tony had just been pierced with the shrapnel, blown back by his own weapon.

“Peter? Are you okay?”

Peter blinked and snapped his eyes to Pepper, who was staring wide-eyed at him, her hand over his where he was gripping her drink tightly.

He stared back at her before flicking his gaze around the small cafe. No one else seemed to have realized anything was wrong. He put on a smile and forced himself to remove his hand from the stinging pain, placing it on the counter instead. “Perfectly fine, thank you Miss Potts.”

Peppers eyes narrowed and she drew herself up. Uh oh, he knew that look. It was the same one when she was about to call bullshit.

“You saw something, didn’t you?”

Peter grimaced. “Will you yell at me if I continue to deny that?”

Pepper watched him for a moment, pursing her lips slightly. Finally, she nodded and drew her cup towards herself. “You’d tell me if it was important?”

Peter leveled her will a look. “Have a good night, Miss Potts. Happy Birthday.”

Her mouth tightened but she nodded, stepping away. She headed towards the door, smoothly avoiding the other people crowding the small space. Reaching the glass door, she paused and looked back at Peter, who met her gaze unflinchingly. She lifted her chin and chewed on her lip–a motion so small it would be missed by anyone else. She broke contact and left, thanking the person who’d opened the door for her.

Peter heaved a sigh before greeting the next person with a smile.

He wished he could tell her–but it wouldn't do any good. He knew that. It was for the best. However, Tony’s pain weighed heavily on his shoulders.

______________________________________

“See you tomorrow, Peter,” Kat yawned, waving goodbye, her keys in her hand.

Peter waved a rag at her direction. “‘Till tomorrow. Don’t stay up late watching Doctor Who.”

“No promises,” the friends chorused then shared a laugh before trudging off down the street.

Amused, Peter shook his head and went to lock the door behind them. As he twisted the bolt, Soul stated blatantly, “You’ll be invited to their wedding.

Peter barked a laugh. “Really? I’m not surprised–just roommates my ass.”

The rest of the stones snickered and Peter’s mouth twitched into a smirk. Tossing the cloth onto his shoulder, Peter checked around the store, noticing with satisfaction that they’d cleaned up perfectly. Going back into the kitchen, he made sure nothing was on before heading upstairs.

Climbing the last step with a little hop, Peter let his shoulders drop with a sigh, dropping his keys in a little original greek pottery bowl. Looking at it, he snorted, thinking about how an archaeologist would kill to get their hands on it. Although, technically, he’d preserved it, so it’s carbon date wouldn’t be accurate. Oh well.

Walking into his little living room, Peter was about to relax on his couch when his spidey-sense pricked. He turned towards the warning and smiled. “Director Fury, what can I do for you?”

Stepping out of the darkness, the one-eyed man leveled him with a scowl. His black clothing made it easy to blend in with the shadows, but Peter had lots of practice pinpointing where the man would be.

Peter flopped onto his couch, following the man with his eyes as Fury approached him. “What did you see?” he rumbled in the back of his throat.

“Hello to you, too,” Peter commented. “It’s been awhile. How’re you doing?”

“Enough games Sisyphus–what did you see?”

Peter hummed, propping his chin up on his hand. “You know–the Greeks were way off with that story. I didn’t cheat death because for selfish reasons, and I certainly didn’t have a wife. Hades owed me a favour. You could just call me Peter. Also–it’s incredibly creepy that you know that. Where did you put the cameras this time? Across the street? Or is it somewhere inside my store?”

Fury came up in front of him and loomed over him, forcing him to tilt his head so that he could keep eye contact. “The last time you even reacted slightly to anything, we had a rogue Kree soldier falling to earth.”

Peter cocked his head to the side. “You weren’t even part of Shield then–how do you know that?”

Fury glared at him. “Director Carter kept tabs on you.”

“Right.” Peter hummed thoughtfully then nodded. “Peggy would do that. She’s a smart girl.”

Fury sighed and rubbed his brow like he was trying to will away a headache. “Sisyp–”

“Peter,” he interrupted.

Fury glared at him. “Peter, what did you see?”

Peter sighed and got up, walking over to his personal kitchen. Filling up his kettle, Peter set it on the stove, hand lingering on the handle. “Nothing that you need to worry about.”

Fury followed him, his shoulders squared and tense. Looking at him, Peter was reminded of a cat with its hackles up. “Look, if there’s a danger to Earth, we need to know. We can’t be caught off guard again. We had people impersonating government officials last time–”

“Who turned out to be friendly,” Peter stated before the man could go onto a tangent. “Besides–you kept Goose.”

Fury’s one eye attempted to burn into him as he glared. “That’s not the point. We could have had a major disaster on our hands.”

“But you didn’t,” Peter pointed out. “You guys handled it–without my forewarning. This is the same, leave it be.”

Fury gritted his teeth. “There’s gotta be something that you can give me.”

Peter sighed and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. “You know, Nick–you can’t control everything.”

“I can damn well try. And it’s Fury”

Peter shook his head, a tight smile crossing his face. “That’s going to get you into trouble.”

“Is that a fact?”

Peter shrugged. “Being too rigid about anything will get you into trouble.” He huffed a laugh and shook his head. “Although in my experience, it’ll come find you regardless.” Glancing over his shoulder, he looked at the kettle and noticed that the steam was starting to come out of the spout, a low whine hissing out of it. Uncurling, Peter picked up the china pot from the counter and dumped out the rest of last night's pot, rinsing it in the sink.

As he went about making his tea, Fury eyed him. “Is what you saw a threat to Earth?”

Peter hummed, picking out a tea from his collection. He settled on standard Orange Peeko. “Hmm, it’ll be handled.”

“So it is a threat?”

“You don’t listen very well do you?” Peter set the small tea box back on the shelf, shooting the man an amused smirk. “I said it’ll be handled. Leave it be.”

Fury grumbled darkly and looked away, his scowl depending the lines on his face. He seethed silently for a moment before turning back to him. “You’ll inform me the moment something dangerous comes?”

Pulling out a mug and setting it on the counter, he turned fully to face him. “That was our agreement, Director. I won’t back down on it.”

“Good,” the man huffed and spun around, quickly leaving the apartment. After the door slammed, the kettle began to scream.

That man’s going to have an aneurysm before he relaxes.” Mind muttered causing Peter to burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

It was in the middle of morning rush when they announced it. Peter was fixing a drink for an older gentleman when the music playing on the channel abruptly shifted to the news. He looked up, relaxing his grip on the hot water tap, allowing it to close. He looked over to the TV he’d hooked up in the ceiling corner across from the counter.

We stop your scheduled programs for this announcement,” the onscreen hostess started, causing more people to pause and pay attention. In the open screen beside the woman, a picture popped up. Peter’s heart lurched at seeing the man who’d been like a father to him, the photo taken as Tony walked down a carpet, sunglasses hiding his eyes. “Billionaire and CEO of Stark Industries, Tony Stark, has gone missing during an attack on his vehicle after a weapon showing in Afghanistan. The bodies of the Marines were found in and around the humvee, however, there was no sign of Tony Stark. Search efforts are underway. Here’s a short statement from Obadiah Stane on Tony Stark’s disappearance.

The hostess was replaced with a balding man, who was halfway to his car, clearly having been stopped by the press. Looking at him, Peter couldn’t help curling his lip into a silent snarl. Obadiah sighed and rubbed a hand on his brow. “We haven’t found him yet, but we’re doing everything that we can. He’s like a son to me–there’s nothing that will stop me from bringing him home. Thank you.

Peter scoffed and he gripped the counter a little harder. “Careful,” Reality warned. “You’ll break it.” Peter nodded and forced his grip to relax.

The woman popped back into place on the screen, her hands neatly folded on the table she was sitting at. “No other news has been given. Now, here’s Bob with the weather…

Peter grabbed the remote from Kat, switching the channel back to the rock station it had been at previously. The girl didn’t react from where she was blankly staring at the TV until a man sitting at one of the tables spoke up. “Good riddance.”

A man in the line hummed in agreement. “Couldn't have happened to a worse person.”

Another patron spoke up, lifting a hand to emphasize her point. “He got what was coming to him–profiting off of war.”

Kat’s wide eyes flicked all other the room, bringing one hand up to grip at the dog tags around her neck. She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, Peter beat her to it.

“Hey,” he almost growled, his voice cutting through everyone’s else. They all fell silent and turned to him, compelled to listen. “That’s a human being that you’re condemning. Do you know what happens to be a prisoner of war? It’s not pretty, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Regardless of who that person is. Besides, they also said that people are dead. Do you have no respect?”

The men blinked, looking gobsmacked while the woman swallowed.

Peter levelled his glare at each of them. “Well?”

The man in the line looked down. “Sorry.” The other two echoed him.

Peter snorted then walked over to Kat and gave her a one-armed hug. She melted into it, her head knocking against his collarbone. When no one else said anything, he put his smile back on, turning to the man who was waiting for his coffee. “I’m so sorry, sir. I’ll have your drink ready soon.”

He shrugged and gave Peter a crooked smile. “No problem–and nicely put.”

Peter just jerked his head in a sort of nod before glancing at Kat. She nodded at his silent question and rubbed her eye. He squeezed her shoulders and murmured, “Go call your mom. Your brother is probably fine.”

She bumped her head against him before silently slipping from his hug, digging into her pockets as she ducked into the kitchen.

Peter watched her go for a moment then turned back to what he had been doing, giving the man a free cookie for his patience. He accepted it with a quirked smile before leaving. Glancing around the room, Peter noticed that the bad-mouthers had left.

Not caring, he switched to greet the woman waiting with a book clutched in her hand. He rang up her order, and while he was making it, asked silently, “Time? Look into Kat’s future. Any word on her brother?

He felt a flaring from his left wrist and knew the stone was looking. “You may tell her that he’s fine. He’ll come home within the year, then turn to policing.

Peter huffed and capped the drink. “Is that one path or most of them?

Him coming home is guaranteed, the job switch? Over 70%.

Thanks.

The stone hummed, pleased, sending a warm sensation to Peter’s heart. He smiled slightly and continued on.

A few minutes later, Kat came back, looking haggard. She came up beside him, wrapping her arms around her stomach. “Mom doesn't know. There’s been nothing from his base.”

Peter nodded then pointed at the cream she was standing in front of. Getting the hint, she handed it to him. Uncapping it, he clarified, “But they haven’t called you either. If something had happened to Brad, they would have informed you. Sometimes, no news is good news.”

Kat nodded, chewing her lip. When she didn’t say anything, Peter lowered his voice. “Do you want to go home?”

Immediately, she shook her head and Peter grinned. “Okay, then get back to work.”

She nodded and went to the register, calling the next customer over.

It was much later, during the evening, when Pepper came in. Peter was in the front, sweeping when the overhead doorbell rang, drawing his attention. She stepped in hesitantly, her normally pristine blazer and skirt rumpled slightly. She sniffed and stepped to the side, letting the door close while raising red-rimmed eyes to him.

Peter’s shoulders fell and he called over his shoulder, “Jace? Kat?”

“Yeeeah?” Jace yelled back, swinging halfway into the front. He was grinning but it fell when he noticed Pepper.

“Why don’t you and Kat go home? I’ve got it.”

He got a raised brow in response. “That… sounds ominous. Everything okay?”

Peter chuckled, propping up his broom against the counter. “Nah, this is Pepper–a friend of mine.”

Kat popped out from around the corner, a similar frown on her face. “Wouldn’t you want us to lock up then?”

Peter snorted. “You guys don’t have keys,” he reminded them flatly and waved the broom in their direction. “Get, I’m fine.”

They rolled their eyes then Kat nudged Jace’s shoulder. “Come on, let's go get pizza and binge Star Trek.”

Jace pursed his lips before nodding. They disappeared into the back then reemerged sans aprons and with their stuff. Waving goodbye, they slipped past Pepper, who had stepped further away from the door.

Once they were gone, Peter took in her rumpled appearance, which was like walking outside in track pants to Pepper and decided this wasn’t the place for the conversation they were going to have. Propping the broom up against the wall, he moved to lock the door. “Why don’t you head upstairs? I’ll be up in a bit.”

Pepper opened her mouth to object then glanced around and nodded. Peter smiled and shooed her towards the stairs. Once she was gone, he went into the kitchen and double checked that everything was safe before taking off his apron. Dreading the upcoming conversation, he groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. Jogging up the steps, he entered his apartment to find her in the entrance, clutching her purse to her chest, her knuckles white.

Dropping his keys into the bowl, he cocked his brow. “Do you want a drink?”

“Which kind?” Pepper rasped, her voice hoarse.

Peter winced and headed to his kitchen grabbing the kettle and started to make tea. She trailed after him and sat at his small table. As the water boiled, Peter leaned against the counter. He eyed her for a moment before jumping right in. “I don’t know where he is.”

She blinked and looked startled that he’d gone first before pinning him with a blank stare. “Bullshit.”

Peter sighed and tilted his head to the side, ignoring how the stones buzzed and shifted at her tone. Crossing his arms over his chest, he thought for a moment before admitting. “I know what’s happened to him, and I’m sure I could find him if I tried, but I don’t know where he is.”

“Will you?” she asked, her shoulders hunched and her fingers laced tightly together on the surface of the table. “Look for him?”

“I can’t–not with this.”

Her face scrunched and she bit her lip. Looking away for a moment, she stared at his cabinet doors. “Why?”

It was a simple question, one she had every right to ask, but one that he couldn't answer. There were rules to where he could intervene, rules that were needed to make sure that events happened as they should. It was a burden he carried.

Running a hand through his hair Peter huffed. “He needs to go through this, but I promise. He’ll come back to you.”

Her brows snapped down and she turned back towards him, finally meeting his gaze with a glare. “Who are you to decide that?”

Peter sighed heavily, not flinching from her dark look. Before, when he was only 15, he’d run away from that look, but now… “I’m no one,” he started simply, calmly, not reacting to her fire. “I don’t get to decide anything. I can’t tell you why,” he added when she opened her mouth.

“Is that the same reason you didn’t say anything before?”

Right, his vision about the attack, she’d put it together. He pursed his lips and leaned back slightly, raising his chin. He didn’t want to lie outright to her but he also didn’t think that she would understand. As he tried to figure out how to go about this she decided that his silence was answer enough.

She gritted her teeth and blinked rapidly. “Peter, you could have stopped this! You just had to tell me and I would have found a way to keep him here! He didn’t even want to go! I kicked him out of his lab!”

“Ah,” he mused. “That’s why you’re yelling at me. You’re blaming yourself.”

Her breath hitched and she drew herself up. “I’m not.”

The kettle started to heat up, making it hiss lowly. It further tightened the air between them. “Which is it?” Peter asked. “I know what’s going on or I don’t?”

She definitely feels guilt,” Mind offered. “Although it’s misplaced. She had no hand in this.

Hush.

She blinked at him, mouth working up and down before she pressed it into a line. “You could have told me.”

Peter shook his head. “I do not have that right.”

“Why? You saved me!” she screeched at him.

Peter inwardly shuddered. He’d frozen stiff when Time had told him that being in the town had altered things slightly so that she would now die in a hit and run. He’d wanted every detail on when and where so he could stop it–he did not like the images that Time had shown him. He never wanted to see her so bloody again.

Outwardly, he levelled her with a gentle stare. “That’s because it wasn’t your time–and he isn’t dead. All I know is that he’s in a dark cave.”

She gritted her teeth and her laced fingers tightened, her knuckles turning white. “Can’t you do something?”

He sighed, moving to deal with the kettle when it started to scream. Getting his teapot, he poured the water into it. “I would if I could, Pepper–”

“Then do something!”

He shot her a tired glare over his shoulder and continued. “I’d stop him from going through what he is a thousand times if I knew it could be prevented. But. It. Can’t.”

“Why?” she demanded, her voice straining as she tried not to yell at him again.

He sighed and picked out a package for a herbal blend, ripping the small sleeve open to pull the teabag out. Dropping it into the pot, he levelled a calm stare at her. “Because it’ll change him.”

Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. “What?”

Putting the lid on the pot, Peter went over and sat across from her. Leaning on the table, he caught her gaze and held it. “Would you say that Tony is selfish? A playboy, short-sighted?”

She paused, eyes flickering around the room. “He’s a rich kid. They’re all like that.”

Peter nodded but pressed on. “What do you think three months in captivity will do to that?”

She bit her lip and looked down. When she didn’t answer, he continued. “He doesn't think of others as much as he could. I’m not blaming him. It’s on his upbringing. Howard wasn’t the best parent.”

She snorted and shook her head. Offering a small smile, Peter continued, “It won’t be a large change at first–but he will. It’s a change that the world needs.”

Her eyes snapped back to him. “You’re trading the world for his wellbeing.”

Peter sighed and got up, grabbing a mug and pouring the tea into it. She gaped at him, face twisted in disbelief. “Oh my god, you are.”

Peter place the pot down harder then he should have and spun around to glare at her. “Yes! I am! If you’ve seen what I have, you would, too!”

Her jaw clicked shut and she leaned back in her chair, eyes wide. Peter hissed a breath out through his teeth and ignored the stones pulsing under his skin. Rolling his shoulder jerkily, he looked away, finishing making her cup of tea. He came back over and placed the mug in front of her. She didn’t touch it.

Retreating to the counter, he leaned against the edge, crossing his arms. “I’m sorry, Miss Potts.”

“What have you seen?” she whispered.

Peter huffed a laugh, shaking his head. “I can’t tell you that.”

Her back stiffened and she levelled her glare at him again. She didn’t yell, but her eyes travelled over him. Finally, she started slowly, “I wish I could understand what you go through. Being a psychic… you must see a lot of people die.”

Peter giggled at that, probably sounding a little unhinged. “That’s an understatement.”

Watching him, her brows sank lower, her mouth tightening until her lips lost most of their colour. “I wish I could trust your word, but I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

Peter sighed, rubbing a hand over his cheek. Soul pulsed thoughtfully. “Quite a spitfire, isn’t she?

Shut up,” he griped silently then admitted, “I wish you did. I wish I didn’t–but I do. This fate was given to me a very long time ago, and Tony being attacked or not is one of the things I have to make a choice on.”

Pepper paused, cocking her head and really looking at him. Her eyes searched his face, probably taking in every nook and cranny. Finally, she asked, “How long is long?”

Peter smiled at her and shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

She tapped her fingers on the table before nodding, looking down. Finally, she took the mug and sipped at it. Peter smiled and moved so he was sitting across from her again. Cupping her hands around the china, she sighed. “What can I do?”

Peter grimaced and sat back, rubbing his mouth thoughtfully. “You can be there for him,” he started, glancing up and holding her gaze, willing her to listen. “He’s going to need people to trust. He’ll have been stripped down of who he thinks he is and has to be rebuilt again. It won’t be easy.”

He paused and looked down, wrapping his arms around himself and gripping his elbows tightly. He chewed on his lip and flicked his gaze back to her. Finally, he sat up and leaned forwards. “I can tell you that there is more trouble ahead, something, or should I say someone, who is waiting to strike. When he finds out his first plan to kill Tony failed, he’ll try again and again until he gets it right.”

Pepper gasped and her hands tightened around the mug. “What do you mean the first plan? Who’s trying to hurt him?”

Peter’s jaw worked slowly from side to side and he tapped his fingers on the table. Inhaling and exhaling deeply, he shook his head. “If I tell you now, it will change how things go. You might not find him. I’ll explain more when Tony is safe.”

She watched him for a moment longer, eyes shining. Biting her lip, she nodded and sipped more of her tea. Placing it down, she scowled at the liquid, asking, “Do you have anything stronger?”

Chapter Text

Even if it was only five o’clock in the evening, Peter had gotten out the scotch and other alcohol, letting her drink anything she wanted. She drank herself silly, falling into a giggling, sobbing mess. Peter was more reserved with his intake but it didn’t matter thanks to his metabolism–no being drunk for him. He’d let her sleep over, tucking a blanket around her where she was curled up on the couch.

That’s how they spent the following months, Pepper coming over occasionally to make sure that Tony was still alive, Peter only giving her enough information to soothe her. He got to know this version of her a lot more, hearing her complain about her coworkers and how Obadiah was acting like Tony was never coming back, trying to shift the company over to more dangerous weapons. He growled under his breath at that but kept his mouth shut. He wanted to warn her to be wary of the man, but knew that if Obadiah suspected anything from her for even a second, she’d be in danger.

Peter, in the meantime, had hired two new workers so that they could take shifts and be open for longer. Edward was a vet who’d lost a leg and Paula was a single mother who just needed a job. The group of them deemed her one-year-old son adorable and even offered to babysit if she needed it. They both worked hard and earned their keep–which was all Peter asked from them.

In the third month, Pepper came over one afternoon around lockup, greeting Kat cheerfully, who returned it pleasantly. The two university kids had gotten closer to the PA but only enough for friendly conversation. Peter was cleaning up in the back, wiping down the counters when he’s sensitive hearing heard Kat sigh enviously. “How do you get your hair so perfect? I can barely braid mine without messing it up.”

Pepper snorted. “I’m blessed with easy hair,” she admitted. “I like the new colour. Where did you get that blue?”

Peter could basically see Kat beaming at the woman as she rattled off hair dye products. He snorted and shook his head, doing a last pass over with the cloth. He shook it out over the garbage and draped it over the oven’s door handle. Hanging his apron up on its hook, he joined the girls in the front. For a moment, he just watched them, a smile playing across his face.

Pepper noticed him first and waved, shifting so she was standing more relaxed. She smiled and tilted her head. “Hey, did you have a good day?”

Peter grinned and walked up to the cash register, clicking it open. “Yup! No one was overly difficult, so that was nice. Most of our pastries got bought, so I don’t have that much to give to the shelters.” Digging into the till, he counted the bills as he talked. “I’ll probably make a batch for them to compensate. Oh, we’re also getting low on cups and some ingredients, so I’ll have to order more.”

Pepper nodded, starting to talk about her own business gossip, although admitting that she had less to do since Tony was still missing. They were halfway through a conversation on sales when Pepper’s blackberry started to buzz.

She blinked and fished the cell out of her purse, muttering an apology. Pulling it out of its case, she blinked. “It’s Rhodey. I’m so sorry, Peter–I have to take this.”

“No problem,” he assured her from where he was, half in the display case, cleaning out all the crumbs.

He’d gotten another shelf sparkling when Pepper’s whispered, “What?” cut through his thoughts. He drew himself out and propped an arm up on the glass cover, looking over at her. She was standing half turned away from him with a hand over her mouth.

“Pepper?” he called hesitantly, drawing her attention.

Turning towards him, her hand lowered slightly and her mouth wobbled. She opened it but no sound came out.

The stones hummed in satisfaction under his skin and Peter realized what was happening. Getting to his feet, he leaned forwards. “They found him?” She bobbed her head, tears starting to flow freely down her cheeks.

Coming out from behind the counter, Peter reached for her. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. Where are they now?”

Pepper swallowed and turned slightly towards the phone pressed to her ear. “Rhodey, where are you?” Eyes flickering as she listened, Pepper nodded, pressing her lips together. Peter could hear the man on the other line but kept a straight face as she recounted. “They’ve stopped at the base in Afghanistan. They’ll be back in California by tomorrow.”

“Okay, that’s good,” Peter reasoned, nodding with her. “Is there anything else to be done before he comes home?”

Pepper nodded and looked to the door. When she glanced back to him, he retreated, waving her on. “Go, I’ll be here when you need me.”

She nodded again and moved to leave, but before she got very far, she came back and wrapped him into a small but tight hug. Peter blinked, stiffening at the abrupt embrace but quickly hugged her back. Pulling away, she offered him a shy smile before leaving.

~~~~~~~~

Pepper paced back and forth in front of the black Audi, Happy standing impassively beside the hood. He didn’t say anything but watched as she tried to wear a path in the tarmac. She only snapped to attention when the military plane’s back end started to unfold, lowering the ramp.

She neatly clasped her hands in front of her and bit her lip. It’ll change him. Peter’s words echoed in the back of her mind as she chewed the skin. You can be there for him. He’s going to need people to trust.

She’d hated it when he’d first told her that, not willing to believe that there would be that much of a difference. However, the more she thought of it, the more it made sense.

She took a deep breath and shakily blew it out. She could do this. Maybe it wouldn’t be that much of a change; it was Tony after all.

Gripping his free hand tightly, Rhodey walked Tony down the plank, pointing out the gap, and to Pepper’s surprise, Tony humoured his friend by carefully stepping over the space. Then his personality snapped back when he waved away the gurney the med team was rolling forwards.

Pepper hid a smile--so some of the old Tony was still in there. He might have changed, but some things would always be the same, and when it came to his health, he avoided doctors at all costs.

Tony sniffed at it then turned towards her, letting go of his friend. Except for the arm in the sling and a few scrapes on his face, he looked the same as always, even dressed in a pinstripe suit. A part of her felt like he hadn’t even been gone. The thought of that broke her resolve and a bigger smile spread across her face.

Walking up to her, he looked her over and stopped a few paces away. “Your eyes are red,” he informed her bluntly. “Few tears for your long lost boss?”

“Tears of joy,” she shot back. “I hate job hunting.”

He nodded. “Yeah–vacation’s over,” he snipped then walked towards the car. She spun to follow him.

The guards opened the doors for them and they climbed into the backseat of the car. As they settled, Happy asked from the front, “Where to, sir?” like nothing had happened.

Leaning forwards, Pepper started, “Take us to the hospital, please–

“No.”

“No?” Pepper turned towards Tony as he stared blankly at the back of the headrest in front of him. “Tony,” she started, a harder edge coming into her voice. “You need to go to the hospital. A doctor has to look at you.”

He started to talk over her, “No is a complete answer. I don’t have to do anything. I’ve been in captivity in three months. There are two things I want to do. I want an american cheeseburger. And the other…” he trailed off, his eyes falling onto her face.

Pepper held in a scoff, so not that different. “That’s enough of that.”

“It’s not what you think,” he informed her, turning back to the front. “I want you to call for a press conference.”

She snapped back to look at him, her eyes narrowing. “Call for a press conference? What on earth for?”

He ignored her. “Hoggy–drive. Cheeseburger first.”

Happy nodded and started the car. Pepper stared at her boss incredibly, then shaking her head, dug out her cell, doing as she was told.

After a stop at a Burger King, they made their way to the Stark Industries building, where a bunch of press were already gathered. Obadiah greeted them, smiling widely and bantering with Tony, commenting on how they were going to meet him at the hospital. As they went inside, Pepper followed at a slower pace. Cameras flashed as her boss made his way through the gathered people.

Stopping near the back, she heaved a sigh, unable to help a smile pulling at her lips. As she settled her stance, someone bumped her right elbow. “A weight off your shoulders?”

Glancing over, she blinked at the cheeky grin pointed at her. “Peter!” she whispered shouted. “What are you doing here?” the twenty-year old’s smile twitched higher. He looked good, wearing a black suit to fit in with the crowd. His curly brown hair, which she’d never really seen tamed, was gelled out of his face.

The cafe owner shrugged. “I wanted to see how this goes down myself.”

“But how did you–” she started then cut herself off. “You saw this.”

Peter lifted one shoulder and shot her another grin without further comment. She opened her mouth to press him further when someone coughed on her other side. “Miss Potts?”

She jumped and swivelled to see another man standing there, a gentle, open look on his face.

“Yes?” she asked politely.

“May I speak to you for a moment?”

“I’m…” Pepper blinked and waved to the crowd in front of them, ignoring Peter’s snort. “I’m not part of the press conference–but it’s about to begin, right now.”

“I’m not a reporter,” the man informed her. “I’m Agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.”

Pepper blinked, her brows raising. “That’s quite a mouthful,” she told him and accepted the card that he offered her.

“I know,” he admitted with a little smirk. “We’re working on it.”

Pepper nodded and heaved a sigh. “You know, we've been approached already by the DOD, the FBI, the CIA…”

Agent Coulson nodded, interrupting her. “We're a separate division with a more specific focus. We need to debrief Mr Stark about the circumstances of his es...cape…” the man trailed off and his eyes widened as he looked past her.

Frowning, she followed his gaze to see Peter raising an eyebrow at the agent. He smiled crookedly, cocking his head to the side. “Good morning.”

Agent Coulson’s blinked heavily and his jaw worked up and down. “Sisyphus…” he started and his gaze flicked to Pepper then towards where Tony was. He looked back to Peter and opened his mouth but nothing came out.

Peter’s nose wrinkled. “It’s Peter. Don’t mind me, Agent–I’m just here for the show. You can tell Fury that,” he added with a shrug.

Pepper frowned and looked between the two, Peter nonchalantly amused while the Agent looked starstruck. He swallowed then looked back to her. “So, a meeting…?

She nodded, even if she was trying to figure out what was going on. “I’ll put something in the books.”

“Thank you, Miss Potts,” he said and shot one last look at Peter before melting into the crowd.

When he was gone, she swivelled to look at her friend. “What was that?”

“Shush.” Peter smirked. “It’s starting.”

She shot him one last look before turning back to the podium where Obadiah was speaking into the mic. Pepper frowned when Tony got them all to sit on the ground, although Peter cheerfully plopped down, regardless of the dust he would get on his suit.

She squatted down slower, carefully folding her legs under her. Rhodey had come over while Tony spoke and raised a brow at the young man beside her. Peter smiled pleasantly up at him. “I’m just a friend of Pepper’s.”

Rhodey gave him a hesitant nod, glancing at Pepper, silently asking if he was telling the truth. She nodded in response. He shrugged then whispered, “What’s with the love in?”

She shook her head as she kept her eyes on Tony. “Don’t look at me–I don’t know what he’s up to,” she muttered back then paused and shot a look at Peter.

He was leaning back on his palms and watching Tony with a half smile on his face. Noticing her look, he smirked. “Just wait,” he told her, winking before turning back to the podium, ignoring the very confused frown that Rhodey was giving them.

They listened silently while Tony talked about his dad and what he’d seen. When he got to the part about his plan for the company, Pepper sucked in a breath and hissed at Peter, “You could have warned me!”

He levelled her with a calm stare and climbed to his feet, helping her when she followed. “Would that have changed anything?”

“Yes!” she stressed. “I could have stopped him!”

“Why?” Peter asked, cocking his head to the side and slipping his hands into his pockets. “It’s a more humane direction. Isn’t that better?”

She made a sound of disbelief in the back of her throat and glanced at where Obadiah was trying to speak over Tony and recover from the disaster that he’d just made. Tony wasn’t having it though and raised his voice to finish his statement.

Pepper looked back to Peter. “This is what you meant–isn’t it?” she realized quietly. “His change.”

Peter tilted his head back and forth, not a no but neither was it a yes. “Partially. He was tortured by his own weapons Pep, what would you do?”

She sucked in a shaky breath, nodding slowly.

“Wait wait wait–” Rhodey broke in. “Who are you? How do you know that?”

Peter smiled sweetly at the man then looked to Pepper. She glared at him before straightening. “Colonel James Rhodes, meet my friend and someone who I consider a brother–Peter Parker. He owns a small cafe in town.”

Peter blinked and turned towards her. “Really?”

Pepper nodded, holding his gaze. “You were there for me,” she told him simply.

“Huh,” Peter mused, nodding before turning back to Rhodey with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” the man responded slowly before adding, “That doesn't explain how you knew that Tony would stop making weapons.”

The corner of Peter’s mouth twitched and his smile grew into a smirk. He nudged Pepper causing her to suck in a breath as her shoulders drooped. “He’s–um… he’s a psychic.”

Rhodey’s eyes snapped to hers before flicking between the two of them. “You’re joking,” he told them flatly.

Pepper raised a brow at him while Peter snickered. She elbowed him, grumbling, “You’re not helping.”

Sobering slightly, Peter grinned. “Sorry, Pepper, but do you really think he’ll believe you?”

“Not really,” she admitted, “but what other answer do I have? You just know things! You also rarely never leave your store.”

“That you know of,” Peter pointed out. “You can do a lot with a simple computer.”

Pepper sighed and rubbed at her face. “Oh my god–not you, too. Peter, stop. You’re not helping.”

“You’ve said,” Peter hummed and shrugged in a way that screamed ‘it doesn't really matter.’ His eyes travelled over a stunned Rhodey before settling on the doors that Tony had disappeared through. Jerking his chin over there, he asked, “Don’t you think you should make sure that Tony doesn't do anything else?”

Her eyes snapped to the door. “What? What is he going to do?”

Peter shook his head. “Nothing right now. He’s going to go hide for a bit.” He smirked when she physically looked relieved before he added, “And–I should be going. What I came for is done so–”

“Oh no you don’t,” Pepper interrupted and latched onto his elbow when he started to walk away. “You didn’t help at all, so now you have to suffer with me.”

Peter squawked and tried to get out of her grip. “Pepper, Pepper–no–I’m–I’m just an observer–I can’t be in the middle of all this!”

“Well, that’s your own fault for coming here then, isn’t it?” she hissed back at him and dragged them down a hall.

Peter growled at her and muttered under his breath. She didn’t hear all of it, but it sounded suspicious like ‘should have listened to Mind,’ which didn’t make much sense, but she plowed onwards.

Chapter Text

After making sure that Tony was safe, even if he was standing alone looking up at the ach-reactor, Pepper dragged Peter to her office. At first she asked him to make a pot of coffee, saying that it was going to be a long day of answering calls and emails, but then he surprised her.

He’d made the pot, knowing she’d only asked because he made the stuff daily and would be good at it–and that she needed a good cup. He’d chuckled and said he’d be back, and using the Space Stone, he ducked back home to grab his special blend. When he returned, she was surrounded in paperwork and had a hand on the bluetooth piece in her ear. She was arguing with the person on the other line, the small lines of her face pulled tight.

Noticing him, she waved before snapping at her phone. Quickly, Peter went about making her that cup of coffee. When it was brewing, her desk phone went off. Before she could get off the other line and grab it, Peter picked up. “Miss Potts’ office, how may I help you?”

Pepper stared at him as the person on the other end started complaining. Peter winked at her and listened politely then dealt with the problem.

Pepper had frozen for a moment before the stockholder she was talking to brought her attention back. Answering the man, she picked up the phone base and held it up to her friend. Peter took it with a grin.

For the next two hours, they worked through the landslide of problems that was falling on them. Peter had shed his suit jacket and was leaning against the wall with the phone base in his hand, gesturing around as he argued. This ended up with the cord being flung all over the place. He’d caught Pepper stealing surprised but thankful glances at him since he’d first picked up.

Finally ending a half hour long call, Peter sighed and rolled his neck as he placed the phone back onto the receiver. “I’d forgotten how annoying dealing with businessmen could be.”

Pepper snorted and nodded, finishing up her own call. “Yes, yes, thank you. Have a nice day.” Clicking her phone off, she groaned and flopped back into her leather desk chair. “I’m going to strangle him,” she whined and covered her face with her hands.

Peter giggled and went back over to the coffee machine, pouring her another cup. When he brought it over to her, she peeked at him and sighed contently. “You’re a blessing.”

Smirking, Peter shook his head and took a chair across from her. “If you say so.”

Sipping at her drink, she leaned back in her chair, eyeing him critically. “When did you learn how to do this?”

“This, as in business?” Peter shrugged. “I got some training a long time ago. Due to circumstance I couldn’t put them to use for a while but–you never go anywhere, without having to deal with bullshit.”

Pepper snorted and sipped at her mug again. They fell into a comfortable silence, one that Peter was perfectly content to leave alone–he’d been talking way too much in the last few hours.

The stones, however, were quite vocal. “You should not be here,” Soul hissed.

Peter laced his fingers over his chest and stared up at the ceiling. “I know. I’m just helping with the fallout–I’ll leave shortly.

You of all people should know that intentions aren’t always what happens,” Mind reminded him quietly.

Peter grimaced. “Alright, alright, I’ll leave soon. I just want to make sure Pepper will be okay,” he told them and sat up, going for his jacket. “Welp, I think the majority of it is finished for now, and I believe that I’ve paid my debt.”

Pepper blinked at him then lifted her wrist, looking at her watch. She gasped. “I’m so sorry, Peter–I didn’t mean to keep you this lon–”

She cut off when her door swung open and a man waltzed into the room. “Alright, I’m heading back home. You can stay–hello, who’s this?” Tony flipping Stark asked, his eyes falling onto Peter.

Peter stuttered to a stop, his fist clenching around the smooth fabric of his jacket. He’d been okay when Tony had been up on the podium, but having the man so abruptly there had Peter’s throat closing.

Tony’s dark eyes fell onto his with a mild interest that was off putting and strange. The only time that his Tony had ever looked at him with anything but warmth and amused affection was when he’d made his big mistakes–or when the man was scared.

Long buried images flashed into Peter’s mind, phantom explosion pounded in his ears. The man in front of him blurred and an older, softer version was in his place, ironclad and crying for him to stop. The stones flared, making his arms feel like they were burning. His vision flickered and the 2010 version of Tony was in front of him again, raising a brow at him.

Peter bit his lip and drew himself up, silently thanking them. They all shifted uneasily and Power tightened the air around him, giving him a pseudo hug. “The past is in the past–leave it there.

The other stones echoed them and Soul added, “This is too soon, you should not be here–get out.

Getting to her feet, Pepper smiled. “Mister Stark–this is a friend of mine, Peter Parker. He came in for a visit.”

“A friend, huh?” Tony asked, eyeing Peter. “Isn’t he a bit young?”

Pepper’s smile froze on her face and the last of Peter’s vision cleared. His lips twitched downwards and he resisted the urge to glare at the man. He was glad to see him, but he’d forgotten how much of an ass Tony had been. Peter cocked his head to the side, standing taller, so he was at eye level with him. “Looks can be deceiving. Besides–I’m more like her little brother. I just came in to help her with the overflow.”

“Ah.” Tony eyed him again, but a little more slowly. “Brother?” he asked, turning towards Pepper.

She nodded, lifting her nose and staring at him with narrowed eyes. “As a matter of fact–yes. He owns a coffee shop not too far from here. I ran into him one morning and spilled my drink. He made me another as compensation. Since I normally start so early, he allows me to come in when everyone else is closed. He’s become the closest thing to family I have.”

Peter blinked and swiveled to stare at her, his jaw falling. He had not expected that. Sure, they’d joked about it before, and Rhodey’s reaction was amusing but he didn’t know it had gone this far. He swallowed heavily and resisted the urge to rub a hand over his face.

Flicking his eyes back to Tony, Soul whispered in his ear, “You’ve gotten too close.

I know,” he shot back and plastered a smile on his face. “It’s nice meeting you, Mr Stark, but I have to be going now. I’ve left my workers alone at my store for too long.”

Tony blinked at him while Pepper’s face fell. Before she could say anything, Peter offered her a genuine smile. “Don’t worry, Pep. Jace’s been asking me to let him manage for a while. Everyone will be fine–even the new kids.”

Closing her mouth, she nodded and waved a hand at him “Still, thank you for helping me. I owe you.”

Peter smirked. “I’ll cash in on that later. See you.” He waved, hooking his jacket over his arm. He nodded once to Tony before exiting, briskly walking away.

Once he was gone, Tony swiveled back to look at Pepper, raising a brow. “Brother?”

Giving him a look, Pepper started to organize the papers around her. “That’s what I said. If you’re that curious you could come with me when I visit.”

“Why have I never heard of him before?” Tony asked, crossing his arms over his chest. She noticed absently that he’d taken his sling off. She was surprised that he hadn’t done so sooner.

Levelling him with another blank look, she reminded him, “You can’t even remember when my birthday is.”

“Right.” Tony sniffed and jerked his head at the opened door. “I’m going home. You coming?”

She nodded and gathered her stuff.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the two of them entered his stop around four forty in the morning, Peter stuttered to a stop. He was in the middle of restocking the cups and had his hand half stuck down a plastic cylindrical bag.

“Uuuhhh, good morning…?” Peter started, shooting Pepper a confused look.

She offered him a sheepish smile. “He wanted to come.”

Nodding slowly, he glanced back at Tony, whose eyes were traveling the interior of his store. Peter figured that it looked very bland to what the billionaire was used to. He cleared his throat and focused on Pepper. “What can I get you?”

Black pumps clicking on the floor, she walked over and hummed over her choices. “How about… two cream and a shot of vanilla?”

Peter nodded and withdrew his arm, placing the cups in their proper spot, grabbing a medium one as he went. Bustling about, he asked over his shoulder, “How were things after I left?”

Pepper shrugged. “Could have been worse,” she admitted, keeping one eye on her boss, whose eyes were trailing over the TV and the wiring connected to it. “There were still some freak outs, but all we can do now is wait. The stocks are dropping but there’s nothing that we can do about that now.”

“Unsurprising,” Peter hummed and Pepper sighed and gave a resigned nod.

Tony walked around the small shop, hands tucked in his pockets, eyes sharp. Peter kept an eye on him as he prepared Pepper’s coffee. He poked at the napkin dispensers and gave the tables an appraising nudge, testing their strength.

“Tony,” Pepper hissed. “I’m sorry, Peter. He’s really a child sometimes.”

The genius frowned, shoulders straightening. “Am not.”

“Really, Tony. You even sound like one.”

He huffed, locking his gaze with Peter. “So, should we address the elephant in the room?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “There could be a couple elephants. Which one is bothering you?”

“How about that you’re Pepper’s brother and I never knew you existed or that Rhodey tells me you’re some kind of clairvoyant?”

“Tony, I didn’t bring you so you could be rude.”

Peter snorted, “What is this? A backwards shovel talk?”

Tony frowned. “What? No–I just want to know how I could have missed a whole brother and I’m not even touching the whole ‘I see the future’ thing.”

Pepper shot him a half-exasperated, half-horrified look, but before she could say anything, Peter raised a hand. “It’s fine. Firstly, I’m like her brother–it’s a new development, so that one really isn't your fault. As for what Rhodey said, it’s what we told him.”

“I call bullshit,” Tony declared, pointing a finger at him.

“Tony,” Pepper hissed and shot Peter an apologetic grimace.

Peter smiled, setting her drink down on the counter in front of her. He looked to Tony, not backing down from the man’s intense stare. “Do you now?” he asked, and then looked to Pepper. “I take it you haven’t told him much.”

Taking her drink, she pried the lid tab back and shook her head. “It wasn’t my place. It’s your gift, not mine.” She blew lightly on her drink and leaned back, watching how he would handle this.

Tony looked impatient. “There is no such thing as magical foresight or psychics. It’s a bunch of bullshit. I stand by my statement. If you’re really psychic, then prove it.”

Peter tilted his head as his eyes narrowed. “You sure you want to go down this road?”

Tony jutted his chin out mulishly, looking at him in a way that was almost vocal with how it said ‘there’s no way I can be wrong, so come at me.’

Peter nodded and quirked a brow at Pepper. “Can I?”

She held her hands up. “Permission granted. He dug this himself.”

Tony made an offended noise as Peter turned back towards him. He was silent as his eyes cooly regarded him, his gaze dipping lower to stare at his chest–where the arc-reactor was buried in his chest. Flicking back up to Tony’s eyes, he held them. “The last thing he said was, ‘Don't waste it. Don't waste your life,’ and you’ve been doing your best to honor that.”

Tony paled, his smug look slipping from his face, his breath stuttering. He clenched his jaw, and Peter could faintly hear his teeth grinding together. Heaving an internal sigh, Peter leaned back and relaxed his shoulders. “I know you don’t want to believe it, and I won’t blame you for still not. But don’t make fun of me–or Pepper for doing so. That’s all I ask.”

Tony’s gaze flicked between the two of them, lingering on Pepper before returning to Peter. He gave them a clipped nod, looking away. “Right–okay then.”

Peter quirked a brow at him and smirked, trading amused looks with Pepper.

“If it helps at all,” she offered. “It took me almost dying to believe him.”

Tony’s eyes snapped back to her. “What?” he squawked. “Dying? What? When–?”

“About a year ago,” she told him. “Remember that morning that I came in and couldn’t do anything right because my hands where shaking?”

“No.”

Pepper huffed and shook her head with an fond smile. “That’s okay–it was a while ago.”

“How did–” Tony started then stopped, looking like he swallowed his tongue.

Knowing what was going through his head, Peter shot Pepper a playful smile. “You were in such a rush that day, too–some big meeting. I think on a sale of a shipment of guns.” He paused, raising a brow at her and she nodded. “Anyway, someone was going to fall asleep behind the wheel and run a red light, while she was walking across the street. You were so angry at me, wanting me to hurry up with your order so you could get there. When I told you why, you scoffed and rushed out the door. Thankfully, I’d delayed you enough.”

“It was close though,” Pepper admitted, her voice quieting. “He almost hit me, and even though I didn’t believe you–a part of me listened.” Suddenly, she laughed. “I’m pretty sure the next day I came in and just gave you a hug.”

Peter smirked. “That you did.”

Tony had been pinballing his gaze between the two of them, his face becoming more and more disbelieving and pale. “Right,” he said finally and cleared his throat. “Well, sun's rising and I need to be hidden again before the press comes out to play. Obie told me to lay low, so that’s what I’m doing. It was nice to meet you, Mr Brother.”

“Sure,” Peter agreed then placed a second drink down on the counter and pushed it towards him. “Take this for the road.”

Tony paused, halfway to the door and eyed the cup suspiciously. “I didn’t order anything.”

“No, you didn’t. This time.” Peter held his gaze, unbothered by his reaction. Pepper started towards it, going to grab it for the man, but Peter lifted a finger without looking at her. She nodded and back off, watching quietly.

Peter smiled, his face open and innocent.

Hesitating Tony glanced at Pepper while she took another drink from her cup. He chewed on his lip before strutting over and snatching it up. He didn’t go to taste it, instead heading back to the door, calling over his shoulder. “Free up your evening and come to my house around five. You’re having dinner with us. Come on, Pep, we’ve kept Hoggy waiting long enough.”

“Tony–” she called after him but the door was already closing, the bell chiming cheerfully. Turning back to Peter, she rushed, “I’m so sorry–you don’t have to come.”

“It’s alright,” he reassured her. “He just wants to figure me out while having the home field advantage. Get, I’ll see you tonight.”

“I’m so sorry,” Pepper said again before following her boss, sending him apologetic looks. He just gave her a relaxed smile.

When they were gone, his expression fell and he propped his elbows up on the counter, holding his head and groaned.

You shouldn’t go,” Reality informed him quietly. “It will only hurt.”

Peter groaned and lowered his head further to grab the back of his neck, fingers digging into his hair. “I have to.”

No you don’t.” That was Soul, sniffing disdainfully. “Getting close to Pepper Potts was fine, but being near Tony Stark will, at best, only hurt you and at worse–mess up the timeline.

“I know, I know.” Peter dug his nails into his skin, grounding himself. “But this is Tony. If I don’t go, he’ll come to me. You guys know how he is–there’s no way out of it.”

There is,” Time rebutted. “However, Peter is right. The damage is done. Whatever Peter would do to distance himself would only cause him pain.

Peter grunted in agreement and released his hair, straightening as he rubbed his face. He sighed and tilted his head back, feeling the stones disapproval rolling over him. It settled over him silently and he stood there, his mind wandering.

Your scones are going to burn,” Mind told him quietly.

Chapter Text

He was stressed the whole day, and the kids knew it. Paula and Jace were on the morning shift and they both asked what was bothering him, but since the answer was far from simple, Peter gave them a smile and brushed their concerns aside, shooing them towards their respective posts.

They weren’t too happy about it but got to work. Peter tried to go over his inventory and order some needed products. All the while, he could feel some of the stones disapproval like needles constantly poking him. It didn’t hurt, but it was definitely uncomfortable. Snapping his binder closed, he growled at them, “Stop it. Now.”

The unhappy ones grumbled and shifted uncomfortably but settled, their energies leveling out. The few that were impassive to the whole thing did the equivalent of amused smirks. Satisfied, Peter shook himself before getting back to work.

As the day passed, Peter smiled cheerily and talked with his regulars, even if it felt fake to him. His hands were shaking and his senses had started to heighten. It was around noon when he gave up chatting with customers and rotated to the back, mindlessly baking more apple strudel. Jace glanced up at him but wisely didn’t say anything, and they worked in silence.

Until Time broke it. “You were less scared when you dined with Leonardo Da Vinci.”

Peter’s hands jerked and he smushed the pasty he was working on. He sighed, hanging his head for a moment before starting over. “Meeting Leo was cool—still is—but… but this is different.”

Surprisingly, Space spoke up next, its voice sounding quiet and calm in the back of his head. “Because it’s Tony.

Peter nodded, the motion barely visible. “The last time I saw him was on a battlefield. Doctor Strange said five years had passed, he hadn’t seen me in five years, and what did I do? Get kidnapped to the beginning of time.”

Soul made a sound of protest, but Reality butt in. “Are you still mad at us?

Peter grimaced. “No. No, I’m not. I’m just nervous. I haven’t seen my Tony in billions of years. This shouldn’t be a problem.

Power shifted its energy to nudge him. “But it is. Otherwise you wouldn’t be shaking.

Peter blinked and looked down. The stone was right. His hands were trembling where he was mixing the diced apples and syrup. He gripped the side of the bowl, trying not to break it. “What should I do then?

The stones didn’t answer, falling silent, energies moving in a way that he knew they would be looking at each other if they could. He snorted at the mental image. A few minutes passed before Soul spoke up. “I’m against you going, but… he’s still Tony Stark. You can always make new connections.

Peter looked down at the apple/sugar mixture in front of him and asked, “It’s been so long… why does this still matter?

Because you are who you are, Peter Parker. We would not have picked you if you were otherwise.” Peter snorted and Soul continued, “Would you have wished we had not?

No,” Peter said immediately. “You showed me what would have happened if I didn’t. This is better.

“Peter?” a real voice asked tentatively, and he jerked his head up to look at Jace, who had paused in the middle of kneading a lump of dough. “Is everything okay? You’ve been staring at that bowl for ten minutes.”

Peter blinked, had he? He smiled and began mixing again. “Yeah, I’m good. Just got lost in my head for a bit.”

Jace snorted but left it at that. Peter was thankful, and they fell into silence as they worked—that days playlist filling the air between them. He tried to push down his nerves, keeping his hands still when he caught them shaking, but he didn’t manage to completely still them. The stones didn’t chat at him either, leaving him alone to sort through his thoughts.

————————————

Much later, around five or so, Peter found himself standing in front of Stark’s door, his black motorcycle propped up on its kickstand behind him. Tucking his helmet under his arm, Peter scowled at the mansion in front of him. He knew that Tony didn’t put a lot of stock into appearances, however old habits of dressing up for dinners had him in good black dress pants and a dark emerald button-down, the cuffs snug around his wrists to hide the stones.

His chest heaved with a sigh before he marched up to the door. He was just about to press on when the door was yanked open and he found himself staring at a frazzled Pepper.

Peter blinked at her before his face fell into bland amusement. “What’s he done?”

Pepper sighed and waved him in, Peter gladly stepping forwards. Marching back the way she’d come, she raked her hands through her hair. “He’s in the kitchen, cooking—after going into cardiac arrest. Goddamn that man, he could have died, and now he’s just making lasagna like there’s nothing wrong.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Peter interrupted, placing his helmet down and following her. “He went into what now?”

Pausing at the entrance of the kitchen, she looked back at him. “You don’t know?”

“Pepper,” he groaned. “We’ve been over this. I don’t see every detail—only the important ones. Which means, whatever happened would have worked out fine.”

Pepper sucked in a fortifying breath and nodded. “That’s good to hear.” She hesitated for a moment before admitting, “He got me to change his arc reactor. You know, th-the thing keeping him alive. I accidentally pulled out something important that started to shut down his heart.”

“Ah,” Peter hummed. “That was today.”

Pepper glanced at him, frowning. At her confused look, Peter continued, “I knew that he would switch the old one for a new one, but I didn’t know when. Now I do.”

“Right,” she muttered, nodding sharply, her eyes darting around as she thought things through.

Peter allowed her a moment before asking, “Does he need help?”

“Oh—right.” Pepper jerked herself and marched back into the kitchen, her strides long and purposeful. Although, Peter was happy to see that she’d discarded her four-inch heels to pad around barefoot. Good, standing on shoes like that were nothing short of torturous.

The smell of cooking meat, cheese and spices wafted over them as they entered the large room. Tony was setting the table, placing down knives and forks when he saw them. A grin immediately sprung onto his face and he waved his hands around. “Welcome! Dinner will be out in a few, but then we have to let it sit.”

Peter nodded and walked slowly into the kitchen/dining room. Sniffing at the air again, he straightened slightly. He knew this smell, it was a special one. Mr. Stark had only made it for him once or twice. He glanced over at the thirty year old, paying more attention to his movements. They were still quick and purposeful, but there was a certain want to them.

Stepping up to the table, Peter rested his hands on one of the chairs. “Is there anything you want me to do?”

“Nope,” Tony told him cheerfully. “You’ve been on your feet all day, right? Just sit and look pretty.”

Pepper snorted, looking over to Peter. “He’s not wrong. You’re always working. Sit.”

“Oh, I thought I was pretty,” Peter quipped, smirking, but pulled out the chair to plop down, resting his head in his propped up palms. They weren’t wrong, he did work far longer hours then what would be doable normally, but his physique was different than theirs—he could work for longer than regular humans. He wasn’t about to tell them that, though.

Pepper smiled sweetly. “Nah, you’re more adorable than pretty.”

Peter gasped and placed a hand on his chest, open mouth gaping at her, scandalized.

She scoffed affectionately and shrugged. He smirked and settled back, content to be around them—even if he was buzzing with nervous energy.

The timer beeped and Tony moved to take the pan out of the oven. While he did that, Pepper came over with a pitcher of water and topped off his glass. He smiled at her in thanks.

A few minutes later, Tony had put the lasagna on the table and was offering him a basket of garlic bread. Peter took it, a large smile cutting across his face. “Wow, man. I haven’t had this in so long.”

Settling into the end chair, Tony lifted his brow. “Yeah? You like Italian?”

“Yup.” Peter bit into his piece, making a sound of approval when he found it was still fresh. Hovering his hand over his mouth, he continued, “You made this?”

“Uh Huh,” he confirmed as he took his own piece of bread. “Took out my mom’s recipe and everything.”

Pepper froze, her wide eyes flicking towards him. Peter just nodded, already knowing that. His Tony had made it for him and May a couple of times—it was a distinctive taste. Taking another bite, Peter looked between them innocently, completely ignoring the intense look that Tony was observing him with. The other man’s jaw twitched. When Peter didn’t say anything, he nodded sharply and tore his piece of bread in half.

“So, Peter,” he started and the immortal turned to him, cocking his head slightly. “Why did you open a coffee shop here?”

Pepper shot him a look, a slight grimace tugging at her painted lips, her eyes widening. Peter had to fight not to smile. He’d missed that look. The one where she’d tell him not to do something but he’d do it anyway.

Purposefully taking a bite of bread, he chewed it, cocking his head like he had to think about it. Swallowing, he shrugged. “Nothing specific, I was in the area. Why do you live here?”

Tony blinked, before squinting at him. Completely ignoring Peter’s question, he continued, “Why a coffee shop?”

Tony!” Pepper hissed through her teeth.

Peter hummed and sat back. “It’s simple,” he told him.

Pepper paused and frowned, turning towards him. “Owning a business isn’t simple,” she commented, forgetting her own want not to interrogate him.

“True"—Peter nibbled on his bread—"but the day to day stuff is. It’s nice. Also, I like talking with people. You don’t really get that sitting at a desk.” Pepper raised a brow at that and Peter curled his lip. “Calming frantic businessman is not talking with people—I don’t care what you’re going to say. That’s talking to a wall.”

She snorted and shook her head and Tony jumped back in. “Pepper said that you helped with that. When did you learn how to?”

“I didn’t really,” Peter told him. “I was more… thrown into a similar position and had to learn as I went.” The stones rumbled lowly under his skin, and Peter inwardly smirked. He knew that they were remembering what he was referencing. Around the beginning of time, he’d been put in charge of a similar establishment on another planet. The stones had helped him blunder through it while he mourned the loss of his timeline. Although, the aliens that he’d resided with were a rowdy bunch, so he’d never been short on people dragging him out to have fun.

He’d been so young back then, he mused silently to himself. The stones shifted in agreement but kept silent.

“That’s impressive,” Tony stated, his brows lifting.

Peter shrugged. “It is what it is.”

“Which is impressive,” Pepper cut in, lightly knocking her elbow against his. Peter mock winced and rubbed at the spot, causing her to roll her eyes. “I had formal training, and even with that, I had difficulty when I started out.”

Peter hummed. “The key words being 'started out.'”

Pepper blinked and Tony sat back, regarding him. His eyes were open and confused, while Pepper’s narrowed in thought. Her fingernail tapped on the tablecloth as she processed that.

“When did you start out then?” Tony asked. “What are you—nineteen?”

The corner of Peter’s lips twitched to the side, and he fought a full blown grin. He’d lost count of how many times he’d heard that question. He’d always looked younger, but it was hilarious how much of a baby face he had now—compared to his real age.

“Something like that—hey, is the lasagna cool enough now?” Peter asked, jerking his chin to the dish in front of them.

Tony squinted at him before nodding. “Should be,” he told them and started to cut into the dish.

They continued to talk and chat for a while, Tony still trying to get information out of him. Peter didn’t expect anything else from him, answering their questions truthfully, although he kept them vague. As he ate, he was relaxed, slouching in his chair and smiling along with the other two. He was having fun, he’d admit. The mind games that Tony was trying to play with him were cute and he had fun fluidly avoiding anything too damning.

They were just finishing up when Javis interrupted them, “Sir, you have a guest.”

Toying with the food left on his plate, Tony snorted. “A little late on the uptake there, buddy. He’s been here for a while.”

“I am aware that Mr. Parker is over for dinner,” the AI informed him dryly. “Obadiah Stane has just arrived.”

Chapter Text

Peter froze, his hand halfway to his mouth, his fork stilling. His pause lasted for two seconds before he calmly took his next bite. He put his fork down and slowly sat back, forcing himself to relax, observing as the other two reacted.

Tony glanced upwards, his brows rising. “Obie? I thought he was busy.”

“Apparently not,” Jarvis sassed back.

“Yeah, yeah—do you know anything about this?” Tony shifted in his chair to look at Pepper.

She frowned and bit lightly on her lip. “There were meetings today—he might be here to talk about them.”

Tony groaned and leaned back, drawing his hands down his face. “Oh goodie.”

Pepper rolled her eyes then pitched her voice towards the ceiling and Jarvis, moving to get up. “Where would he like to meet us? Tony and I can go speak with him.”

“There's no need for that,” a new voice interjected, and a tall man sauntered into the room, carrying a couple of pizza boxes. “I see that I wasted my time with these.”

“Oh no,” Pepper objected and got up to take the stack from him. “They'll be handy tomorrow—when he stays in his shop all day and forgets to eat.”

“I resent how true that statement is,” Tony grumbled, watching as Pepper carried the pizzas over to the counter. He eyed them for a moment before cocking his head towards the older man. “That bad, huh?”

Obadiah offered him an amused smile. “Just because I brought pizza from New York does not mean that it went bad. Although, it would have gone better if you were there.”

“Sure it doesn't.” Stark leaned back in his chair and held up his hands in a shrug. “Hey—you said to lay low. That’s exactly what I'm doing—I'm laying low, while you fix all the… ya know.”

“From the media,” the older man griped. “Not from your own company. This was a board of directors meeting.”

“This wa—” Stark blinked and sat up. “This was a board of directors meeting?”

“Uh huh.” Obadiah flicked his gaze around the table and his eyes narrowed slightly. “I didn’t know that you brought reporters into your home.”

“A reporter?” Tony parroted and looked over his shoulder, frowning.

Obadiah rolled his eyes then waved a hand towards the fourth member in the room. “This guy—he was at the press conference.”

Tony and Pepper both turned to stare at Peter, who hadn't moved from his spot. In fact, he was eerily still. His eyes were locked onto the businessman, his face a blank mask.

“Oh, no—” Pepper held up a hand and dithered for a moment before placing it on his arm. “This is Peter, a friend of mine. He wasn't there as a reporter.”

“Ah—my bad.” Stane smiled warmly. “I thought I knew all your friends, Pep.”

Peter's lips twitched into a return smile, but like Stane, it didn't reach his eyes. The businessman's smile was inviting and soft while his gaze glinted with calculated interest. Peter's was just guarded, a shield of polite apathy.

Pepper, either ignoring the underlying messages or oblivious to them, chuckled socially. “You know all my work friends—Peter runs a little cafe in town.”

“Oh? What's the name?” Stane inquired as he rummaged through the cupboards and pulled out a plate.

Peter watched him for a moment, his eye twitching minutely, as Stane gathered his utensils and found a spot at the table. “Mayflower. It's called the Mayflower Cafe,” he informed the man, his hands stone still where they were on the table.

“Like the settlers' ship?” Stane asked, dishing himself up.

His smile turning a little bitter and ironic, Peter shook his head. “Nah, I'm not that patriotic. I named it after my aunt. She was a lovely woman.”

Stane nodded, cutting into his serving of lasagna with his knife. “How's business? I'm sure Pepper can give you tips if you're having trouble.”

Pepper glanced at the older man, a slight frown tugging at her lips. He didn't see Tony react to the insult, although with how little the mechanic knew him, Peter didn't expect him to.

“Thank you for the input. I’ll do that,” he responded warmly, causing Pepper to glance at him. Her brows lowered a little more and her eyes flickered back and forth between them. She opened her mouth, then closed it, her expression turning troubled.

Peter looked at her and his smile fell slightly. Dammit. She knew for a fact that he would never have to ask for business help, and that he wasn’t the kind of person to let a comment like that slide. He’d only do so if it was necessary. She was definitely picking up on his unease.

Silently he bade her not to say anything and to keep up the appearance of friendliness. It would be disastrous if she acted differently around the man now.

She caught his gaze with her own and her lips twitched further downwards into a slight frown. Like always, when she switched on her work mind, her expressions flattened and it was harder to tell what she was thinking. Her poker face was almost infallible. The unhappy look she was giving him was equal to an angry remark. Then she blinked out of it and once again she wore a mask of social happiness and turned away to ask Stane something.

Peter relaxed back into his chair, relieved. The stones hummed in approval, happy with her choice. Power was the one to voice it in its deep rumble. “Having her as an ally was a smart choice.

Slowly going back to his meal, Peter scoffed silently. “Her brain is not her only worth.

The amethyst stone was nonplussed as it answered. “I never implied that it was. And before you snap at me, I know that her friendship was the drawing factor. However, you cannot deny her usefulness.

Peter grumbled and shifted in his seat, ignoring them. Used to this, the stones went back to silent observers.

The dinner continued, none of the others noticing his slight distraction. Thankfully, Tony held off on continuing his line of questioning. Watching him, Peter tried to figure out why, since he’d had no shame before.

Do you wish the answer?” Mind asked politely.

Nope,” Peter answered instantly, his tone cheeky. “You know I don’t want the answer unless it’s necessary.

As you wish.

Peter smiled at the stone’s playful response. It was a game that they’d started a long time ago, starting as a way for Peter to figure out what the right path on his own. Since then it’s become more amusing than necessary.

Returning his attention to the conversation, Peter watched the mechanic. It took a few minutes but quickly he came to a realization. “Tony doesn't trust him.

Mind hummed in agreement.

Tony was being polite with the men that helped raise him, but any time Stane was more forwards with his questions on his decisions for the company, he was shot down. Although, Peter wasn’t that surprised by that. In his own time, Tony had never talked of the man, young Peter only knowing about him through history books.

Meeting the man himself, he couldn’t say he was impressed.

Ten minutes later, he stretched and stood up. “Well, thank you, Tony, for dinner, but I should be getting back. I have to go through inventory before I can take the night off.”

“I’ll show you out,” Pepper offered immediately and also got to her feet. He glanced at her and didn’t even try to tell her not to. She had questions and she was going to get them, sooner or later.

Tony, pausing mid argument with Stane, looked up at him. “You don’t want to stay for dessert?”

Peter glanced at the counter where two lemon meringue pies where left cooling. He must have made them earlier in the day. “Hmmm, tempting,” he admitted. “But I have to go. My bedtime is much earlier than yours.”

“You know, that’s not helping selling the idea that you’re older than 18,” Tony commented.

Peter rolled his eyes, but didn’t snip back, his eyes flicking to Stane. Plastering on a pleasant smile, he inclined his head and tapped into the power of the Mind Stone. For a brief moment, the other man’s eyes flickered with a golden light before fading like it had never been there. With that done, Peter turned on his heels and marched to the front door, Pepper close behind.

Once they were far away and at the front door, she hissed. “You don’t like Obadiah—why?”

Picking up his motorcycling helmet, Peter hummed. “What gives you that idea?”

“Don’t start,” she snapped. “Don’t even try. What have you seen?”

Tucking his helmet under his arm, he turned so he was facing her. “Are you sure you want to have this conversation here?”

Pepper blinked and frowned down at him, thrown off by his question. Glancing around the foyer, she asked. “What’s wrong with it?”

He shrugged. “Nothing really, but we’re not the only ones here.”

Her lips being pulled further downward, she glanced over her shoulder, back where they came. Her lips parted, but before she asked anything, she turned towards him. She started to flick her eyes up to the camera in the corner of the room but her chin only lifted slightly before she froze. Eyes wide, she stared down at him.

Good, she understood. Jarvis was always listening and would inform Tony of anything of interest. Peter not trusting Stane being something that he would pass along. While Tony becoming privy of that information now wouldn’t change things too much… it would affect the timeline. Peter wasn’t willing to risk messing anything up. Not here, not now—he’d paid too many times for miscalculating.

Smiling cheerfully, Peter opened the door. “Want to get together for drinks tomorrow? Around six?”

She shivered, which was her shaking herself out of it, and nodded. “Sure, do you want me to bring anything?”

“Only if you want to. Good night, Pepper.”

“Night.”

~~~~~

Later that evening, after Tony had stormed back downstairs to his lab from them not agreeing with him, Pepper was alone with Obadiah. She sighed at her bosses retreating figure as she started to clean up their dessert plates.

Stacking the small dishes, she went over to the sink and started to clean the dishes from the night. Sure, that really wasn’t her job but she wanted to keep her hands busy.

While the warm water was washing the worst from the plates, Obadiah came over and leaned against the counter. “Has he been acting like that the whole time?”

Pepper shot him a look, Peter’s words about Tony ringing in her ears. “He just got home, let him adjust.”

“So you also think that he has PTSD?”

Pepper hummed unspecifically. “I think he’s been through things that I can’t even imagine. I don’t know what to think.”

Obadiah shifted and crossed his arms over his chest. “Keep an eye on him, would ya? There’s no knowing what he’s going to do.”

Pepper bristled inwardly at his tone, not liking what he was implying about Tony, that he was a loose cannon that was going to go off. Granted, that’s not a wrong assumption with the mechanic, but still. “I’ll keep him out of trouble,” she assured him.

Obadiah smiled and patted her shoulder. “Thanks, Pepper.”

Pushing off the counter, he started to the door then paused, looking at the table and the four chairs not neatly placed around it. He frowned and pointed at the spot that Peter had occupied. “There was someone else here?”

… What?

“Pardon?” Pepper stammered out, shocked. Did he not remember? Peter only left a little while ago.

Obadiah glanced back at her, his eyes flicking over her face. Suddenly, he smiled. “Never mind, have a good night.”

“I—I will,” she called back and watched the man leave.

Staring at Peter's chair, Pepper’s blinked owlishly. What had he done?

~~~~~

The following evening, Peter was finishing up the nightly cleaning when Pepper got there. He’d already sent the closing crew home and quickly waved her upstairs. He locked up and followed her into his home, sighing as he dropped his keys into the bowl.

Having already poured two glasses of wine, Pepper was curled up on one end of his couch, sipping at hers. “Long day?”

“Nah, not really. Just busy,” Peter assured her and flopped down on the other side of the couch, accepting his wine with a quiet thank you. “How was yours?”

She sighed and slouched against the cushions. “Uneventful. Tony’s been locking himself in the lab all day. I think he’s working on something, but I have no idea what since nothing’s on any of the servers I have access to.” Leaning her cheek on the rough fabric, she started to rotate the tall glass in her hands, lightly gripping it with her fingertips.

Peter hummed agreeably and stayed silent as she gathered her thoughts.

Looking up at him, she scowled. “You already knew that.”

“Yup—sorry,” Peter told her, unapologetically.

She stuck her tongue at him, causing him to chuckle. Sipping some of her wine, she continued. “Normally, I would look over his work, making sure he’d put in everything he’d promised before sending it off, but now… there's nothing there. He’s serious about this nonlethal route, isn’t he?”

Peter hummed. “In a sense, yes.”

Her nose scrunched. “What does that mean?”

He shrugged. “Your decisions might change if I told you.”

She groaned and banged her head on the back of the couch. “What’s so important that the smallest amount of knowledge will disrupt everything?” she asked in a voice close to a whine, but since it was Pepper, it wasn’t.

“It’s not you I’m worried about.”

She paused and peeked up at him, her ginger hair—which she’d let down— falling over her shoulders.

Shifting so he was facing her more, he explained, “Right now, Tony is freshly home from being a captive for three months. When he was in the cave, he saw a lot of his own tech in the hands of people he would never sell them to. So, how did they get them?”

Pepper frowned and shook her head. “We only have a contract with the military. There’s no way…” Her lips parted and she sat up. “Someone’s dealing under the table.”

Peter tipped his glass at her. “Exactly. So, if someone high up is dirty…”

“He won’t trust anyone. That’s what he meant—shit,” she griped and gulped a mouthful of her drink.

“Meant?”

“Mmmhmm,” she hummed and lowered her glass. “When I changed his reactor, I was saying something about never making me do something like that again. He told me that he didn’t have anyone else. His whole family is dead, the Jarvises, too. Obadiah is the only one left and he’s part of the higher ups.” She froze and her eyes snapped to his. “You don’t like him.”

Aaaahhh crap. Peter smoothed out his face and blinked innocently. “What?”

“Nope—no, don’t even try.” She sat up and jammed an accusing finger at his nose. “You hate him. I saw it on your face. I’ve seen you deal with awful customers. You don’t even hint at anger or annoyance. You turned as fake as a doll last night. He’s the dealer, isn’t he?”

Peter stared at her, his eyes widening with every word she threw at him. Panicking slightly, he called mentally, “Time! What will change?

Calm down,” the stone chided him. “Nothing. She’s smart enough to not let her behaviour change.

Still screaming internally, Peter pursed his lips and leaned back. They both knew that his silence was as good as any answer but apparently she wanted him to admit it. Tapping his nails on his glass, he asked a little more calmly. “She’ll keep it a secret from Tony?

Yes, but you have to tell her why.

How much?

However much you deem necessary,” the stone told him, its tone gentle.

Peter sighed, rubbing a hand down his face, before finally nodding, his lips pressing into a line.

Pepper pressed a hand to her mouth, looking down. Ah, so she’d guessed but didn’t think it through. “Obadiah was the one that got him captured?” she whispered.

Peter grimaced. “Tony was actually supposed to die,” he informed her, which made her eyes snap back up to his. His heart squeezed at the terror plastered on her face, but… if she was going forwards with this, she needed to know everything. “He was never going to. The chances of that happening has always been low.” Peter then explained to her the Ten Rings and Stane's dealings with them. How the man hoped to kill the last Stark, so he’d get full control of the company.

She was horrified at that. “He already owns a large chunk of the company!” she protested. “How much more does he need?”

“Everything, apparently.”

She scoffed and shook her head. “Men,” she muttered darkly and took another drink.

Peter didn’t object and sat quietly as she processed that. He knew that the spiteful comment was more out of distain and anger towards Stane than any real hatred towards the sex as a whole. Having gone around as a woman for a time himself, he couldn’t blame her.

Historically, women had not been treated well. That had been one of the hardest things to witness as he travelled through human history. Granted, a lot of the inhumane things of the past bothered him, but he couldn’t change it.

Finally, she sighed and shifted, so her arm was over the back of the couch and her hand was holding her hair out of her face. “What else?” she asked. “That can’t be everything.”

Peter nodded. “Nope, it’s just the start.”

“Wonderful,” she groaned.

His lips twitching at how resigned she sounded, he continued. “Well, Stane’s plan will backfire spectacularly—in his face. Tony will go through some rough times, but will be far more well off than if Stane had done nothing.” Peter paused and smiled at her. “He’ll have more than just you. He’ll have the family that he deserves.”

Pepper glanced up at him, and a hesitant, genuine smile crept onto her face. “Really?”

Peter nodded. “I can’t tell you exactly what will happen. It can still change after all, but in the most common timeline, he’ll become a hero to many, many people. He’ll be needed. To Tony, that’s the best gift.”

Her smile grew, spreading into a grin, and she nodded, sipping her wine. Relaxing against the couch, she asked, “What can I do to help him?”

“For now,” Peter started. “Keep problems off his back. He’s going to be working on something for a while. Maybe a month. By then, he’ll be finished with it—mostly.”

Pepper snorted. “Oh, so keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

He snickered. “You’re not wrong. That man wouldn’t survive without you.”

She blinked and tilted her head. “Really?”

“Really,” he agreed. “You hungry? I have some leftover cookies.”

“I’d love some,” she told him and watched as he placed his glass on the coffee table and got up to rummage in his cupboards. As he found the tin that he was looking for, he felt her eyes following him. As he was returning, triumphant, she asked, “What did you do to Stane?”

Peter froze, his knee up on the couch, so he could flop down with it curled under him. “Aww shit—he said something?”

Pepper blinked up at him, shock pulling her eyebrows up. Obviously, that had not been the answer she'd been expecting. "He couldn't remember you," she managed after opening and closing her mouth a couple of times.

Peter nodded, not surprised in the slightest and settled down on the couch, grabbing his drink to sip at it. "I was hoping he wouldn't notice anything," he admitted to the brim of his glass.

Pepper shifted, so she was sitting more upright and levelled the full brunt of her gaze at him.

His lips twitched at the intensity of her silent question and he continued. "Yes, I erased Stane's memory of Peter Parker. He won't even recognize me if he meets me again. For the correct events to pass, his attention cannot be focused on anyone but Tony. I can't have him being distracted by a random small store owner he met at dinner with Tony Stark."

The Mind Stone could be used to manipulate anyone's mind in any way, completely changing a person, if the user wished. Peter didn't. He'd long since placed restrictions on himself, so he wouldn't use the stones for every inconvenience, hence his little freakout about Pepper figuring things out for herself. He'd done so in an attempt to keep his humanity, trying to keep who he used to be alive.

Pursing her lips, Pepper nodded, her eyes drifting as she mulled that over. Leaving her to her thoughts, he one-handily opened the cookie tin and munched on a shortbread. When he held the container out to her, she absentmindedly grabbed two. Satisfied, he set the tin aside and sat back, waiting.

Finally, after she'd eaten one and was still fiddling with the other cookie, she spoke up. "You can do more than just see the future, can't you?"

Peter nodded.

Absorbing that, she breathed in deeply and shakily blew it out. "Okay… you've also been on earth for way longer than you look." It wasn't really a question.

He nodded again.

Placing her glass of wine down, she roughly rubbed her face, uncaring that she was smudging her makeup—or didn't know. Pressing her palms into her cheeks, she looked up at him. "Did I befriend a god?"

Peter barked out a startled laugh and shook his head. "I'm no god."

"What are you then?" she demanded. "You're not human."

The amusement dropping slightly from his face, he admitted softly. "I was, once."

"... What happened?"

Peter shrugged and offered her a strained smile. "Something that I'm trying to stop."

Chapter Text

The rest of the evening passed as per usual, chatting and gossiping about day to day things. Pepper had obviously caught onto his clam impression and didn't pry. They joked and laughed for a couple of hours until Peter sent a slightly tipsy Pepper home, driving her to her house personally. She did not like the bike ride. Tough.

Yes, he could have used the Space Stone to open a gate for her, but he wasn't ready to show her that. Sure, she now knew about the mental manipulation, but that at least was similar to future telling. Opening up portals in the fabric of space was a big leap.

The following two weeks passed smoothly, the two of them both focusing on their jobs. Although, not without mild grumbling from Pepper. "Job? What job? There's nothing to do and Tony's locked himself in his shop." Easy to say that she was bored.

Peter, on the other hand, was very busy. He spent a lot of time in his kitchen flitting to and from the ovens and the counters where he mixed everything together.

He particularly enjoyed it when Edward, one of the new hires, was back there with him. The vet could sing and loved to hum or follow along with any song that was playing. And he was a good baker, unfairly so. Peter technically owned the kitchen that they were using, but Edward ruled it, his prosthetic leg not slowing him down in the slightest.

One morning when he was coming down the stairs, he paused when Edward's singing drifted through the kitchen opening, his voice strong and unwavering. As always, Peter enjoyed the sheer gentleness that came from his songs, but a frown pulled at his mouth.

Walking over to the open archway, he peered in to see the man baking a fresh batch of muffins. By the smell of it, the chocolate chip ones were already in the oven.

Peter listened quietly until the song was done before speaking up. "Dude, it's four in the morning."

Edward startled and looked up at him, his arms rising reflexively. When Peter didn't move, the vet lowered his fists. "Sorry, sir. I didn't think you'd mind."

Peter shrugged and entered the kitchen, grabbing his apron off the hook and putting it on over his black long sleeve. "Never said I did, but I didn't give you keys so you could invade whenever you wish. Everything alright?"

Edward looked down as Peter moved to the other side of the island and starting up on some fudge. He didn't press, just waited for the man to answer. He had a fairly good idea why he was here, but wasn't going to out him.

Finally, the other man picked up the bowl of prewashed and measured blueberries and added them to the batter in front of him. "Couldn't sleep."

Peter nodded. "Well, at least you're doing something useful while avoiding Morpheus."

Edward blinked. "Sorry, sir?"

Flopping his hand in a dismissive way, Peter measured out his own ingredients. "Greek god of dreams, and please, for the love of God, call me Peter. I'm going to develop a complex at this rate."

Edward snorted and ducked his head. “Sorry, force of habit.”

“S’okay, I get it. You were in the army for what—six years?” Peter asked, more out of conversation than curiosity.

The other man nodded. “I’d still be, if I didn’t step on that IED.”

Peter grunted in understanding and left it at that.

“I was joking earlier,” Peter started after a moment, lifting his eyes to lock gazes with him. “If you don’t want to go back to sleep, you’re welcome to waste time baking. Lord knows that the ones you make go quickly.”

He chuckled and shook his head, a faint dusting of red touching his cheeks. "They're not that good."

"Sure," Peter replied easily, "and the moon is made out of cheese."

Edward gave him another head shake but didn't comment. Peter didn't expect him to and continued. "My only condition is that you actually try to sleep for a couple of hours and you must get at least thirty hours of rest per week."

Edward paused and glanced up at him, a slight grimace tugging at his mouth. "Understood, s—Peter."

Peter grinned in response and they continued working, and he even had the pleasure of hearing Edward sing ‘Livin' on a Prayer’ in the following hours.

A few days later, Peter was turning in a little later than normal, humming as he made his way upstairs. Edward had taken him up on his offer a couple of times in the preceding days and Peter guessed that the vet would be back around two or three to ignore sleep.

He didn’t blame the guy. Before, when he could still call himself human with 100% certainty, he’d fought with his own share of midnight demons. Now, he didn’t dream at all. He would never take away a coping method that was at least somewhat healthy.

Doing his usual cool down routine Peter was making himself a pot of tea when he called out. “I’m surprised it took you this long to come here. I ran into Coulson a week ago.”

A shadow in his living room shifted and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the dark shape of Nick Fury move towards him. “I was delayed.”

“Oh?” he hummed disinterestedly and left the pot to steep on the counter, turning to face the man. The director of SHIELD didn’t look any different, and he knew age would be the only thing to change the man. “Anything interesting?”

“Nothing that concerns you,” Fury shot back.

“You’re probably right,” Peter agreed easily. “If I haven’t seen it, then I don’t need to. Tea?”

The other man made a sound like he was being strangled and glared at him as Peter opened a cupboard to take out a mug. “Thank you, but no. I don’t plan to stay long.”

Peter just hummed in agreement and placed the cup down, crossing his arms to look the man over. “So, what did Coulson tell you?”

“He informed me that you were sniffing around something that you shouldn’t be.” Fury grunted and placed his hands on his hips, brushing back his trenchcoat to show the gun holstered there.

"I highly doubt those were his exact words." Peter raised a single eyebrow to show how impressed he was with the not so subtle threat. “And who are you to say what I should and shouldn’t do?”

Fury shrugged. “No one. However, our agreement was that you tell me if there was something big going down.”

“No,” Peter objected calmly. “I agreed to give you a warning, and offered my help if there was a big threat to Earth—this isn’t that.”

Fury growled in his throat. “Then why the hell are you getting so close to Stark? You had dinner with the man for christ’s sake—Is he going to be a danger to the world?”

Peter tipped his head to the side. “That’s debatable. If he’s ever a threat to Earth it’ll be on accident.”

“That’s even worse,” Fury snapped and pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

Peter snorted. “It’s Tony. The threat of explosions is guaranteed, always. But, the good he’ll do far outways the damage he’ll cause. Also, for all I know, things won’t go as I’ve seen it.” Or as it did in my timeline, he thought to himself.

Fury stared at him for a second before commenting with a bit of awe. “You’re emotionally invested in this.”

Peter froze and his gaze, which had been lazily watching him, snapped to the man’s one working eye.

A smirk tugged at the man’s lips for a second as he watched him. “You are—you care about Stark. I’d be more amused if I didn’t know what happened last time you cared for something.”

“Gee, thanks—you’re making me sound like a heartless thug.”

“Am I wrong?” Fury asked calmly. “You are an immortal, Sisyphus, and immortals don’t tend to care too much about lowly humans.”

“God, with that name again,” Peter snapped, crossing his arms in a huff. “If you want to stick to one of my ancient names use Prometheus—I liked being him far more than someone that cheats death for the hell of it.”

Fury paused and looked like his brain short circuited. “Prometheus? Wasn’t that the Titan that gave us fire?”

Snorting, Peter shook his head. “That’s the one, but the myth is still wrong, just like with the stupid idiot with the rock. The Greeks took any and everything and turned it into a story. The only thing that I can safely say that they took from me for the Titan Prometheus is his future telling—and, maybe the tricking people thing.”

Frowning, Fury also crossed his arms over his chest. “So why didn’t they turn you into one of the fates?”

Peter shrugged. “Beats me.”

Fury was silent for a moment as he puzzled over that, then he snapped out of it. “Dammit—don’t do that!”

“What? Go off on a tangent?” Peter laughed. “I wasn’t the one that first brought it up. Stop calling me Sisyphus, I go by Peter now.”

Fury raised his brow. “Just Peter? I thought it was Peter Parker now.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “You can’t own anything in this day and age without a last name.”

The other man nodded slowly at that. “Why Parker?”

Peter paused, his eyes flicking away. He stared off into the distance for a moment, a long buried memory of familial laughter making his ears twitch. “It felt right.”

Fury let him stew for a moment before speaking again. “You said something about Stark being a hero, is there anything more to that?”

Unable to hold back a snort of amusement, Peter shook his head. “You have no idea. You sure you don’t want any tea? It should be steeped by now.”

“I’m good.”

Peter shrugged and moved to pour the boiled liquid into his mug. He was stirring two sugars in with the water when the other man continued. “If Stark is going to be as important as you’re implying, why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“I had no reason to,” Peter told him simply, picking up his mug and blowing gently on the steam. “Everything will fall into place when it’s needed.”

Fury’s lips pressed into a line. “If you’re right, then we need to get him to the base, so that we can evaluate him properly.”

“You will do no such thing,” Peter snapped, his head lifting as he narrowed his eyes dangerously. “You will not touch Stark until this is over. If you fall on him now, nothing good will come of it. I told you to leave it be—So. Leave. It. Be.”

To his credit, Fury didn’t even twitch while being growled at. He stood still as Peter put down his mug and stalked towards him. “You’ll get your Avenger,” he told the man flatly. “But only if you leave him with me. I know what’s going to happen I’ll be there to catch him if he falls—your meddling is not needed.”

Fury didn’t move as he looked him over, his eye sharp as it darted around his face. Finally, he commented quietly, “Director Carter said not to trust you. She didn’t know where your allegiances lie. Was she right about that?”

Peter snorted and turned away. “Peggy was heartbroken when she confronted me. Her opinion is biased. She blamed me for not stopping his fall.”

Going back for his tea, Peter leaned against the counter and crossed his right leg over the other. Sipping at his beverage, he watched the current Director. “But she’s not wrong. My interests do not align with yours. The Earth is just one of many planets that I watch over. However, there are major players that will be born here. You can trust that I'll do everything to keep them safe, so they can protect you.”

“You didn’t stop her love from dying. I think she has some right to her anger,” Fury reminded him.

Peter hummed. “Did I? I don’t remember doing that.”

Fury froze and stared at him. “You’re shitting me.”

Peter just raised his brows and his lips quirked into a playful smile.

“You’re not shitting me,” Fury realised and his jaw dropped. “He’s alive? Still?”

Drinking some of his tea, Peter shrugged. “He’s somewhere. I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now.”

Fury levelled him with an unimpressed stare. “So this is another ‘it will come’ thing that I have to wait for.”

“Yup,” Peter said cheerily, popping the p. “Steve will be found when he’s needed, not a moment sooner.”

Fury groaned and Peter smirked as he watched him massaged his temples, clearing not enjoying the headache he was getting. He glared at him. “You’re a pain.”

Peter raised his mug in a salute. “Guilty.”

Fury snarled at him, looking like he swallowed a lemon.

“Hey,” Peter started with a smile, “if I fixed everything for you, there’d be nothing for you to do.”

Fury rolled his eyes and looked like he wanted to strangle him but settled for putting his hands on his hips in a huff. They stood in silence for a moment before a meow echoed in the small apartment.

They both turned towards the sound and Fury demanded, “What are you doing here? I thought I left you at home.”

Peter, on the other hand, smiled widely and crouched, holding out a hand to the owner of the meow. “Hey, Goose—come to say hello?”

The orange tabby cat trotted cheerfully up to him and rubbed against his hand, purring loudly. Peter chuckled and started running his hand along the Flerken’s back, making her purr even more, if that was possible.

“Stupid, teleporting alien cats,” Fury muttered darkly. “Traitor,” he told her flatly. He was ignored, Goose rubbing up against Peter’s leg.

“See?” Petter asked. “Goose likes me. I can’t be that bad.”

Fury turned his glare to him as he kept petting his pet. “Don’t push it.”

Peter chuckled and stood up, leaving Goose to look up at him mournfully. “Are you sure you don’t want some tea?”

The Director stared at him for a moment before asking, “Got any coffee?”

With a laugh, Peter moved to make him some.

~~~~~

A week or so later, Peter was opening, Edward in the back baking, when Kat came bounding into the store, a large smile on her face. “He’s coming home!” she exclaimed and barreled into him.

Peter rocked back a bit from the force of her hug and laughed, squeezing back.

She let go of him and hopped a little in place. “He called last night, telling mom and me that his tour will be over soon!”

“That’s amazing!” Peter grinned back at her, chuckling at the sheer joy that was rolling off the girl in waves.

Edward popped his head out from the kitchen, calling, “The muffins are in the oven.”

“Thank you! We’ll need a batch of chocolate chip cookies next,” Peter said over his shoulder then watched with a smile as Kat bounded over to him.

“Got it,” Edward answered then jerked at the suddenness of Kat being right there but easily caught her hug.

“He’s coming home!”

He stared at her for a moment before he clued in. “Brad’s tour is finished?”

Kat drew back and bobbed her head in confirmation.

A smile tugging at his mouth he asked, “When does he touch down?”

“In a couple of weeks,” she told them with a grin.

“And everythings okay?” he inquired, shifting his weight, keeping more off his prosthetic leg.

Kat’s smile dipped a bit, but she shook her head at his silent question. “He’s okay. He just finished his tour.”

Edward nodded and his returning smile was softer.

She danced around a little bit. “I can’t wait for him to come home! He’ll finally get to meet all of you.”

“Awww,” Peter started cheekily. “Did you tell your big bro about us?”

“Of course I did,” she scoffed. “You’ve done so much for us, Peter. Of course I told my brother.”

Peter blinked while Edward grinned. “She’s got you there, boss. Not everyone would hire a bunch of kids and people down on their luck. You’re a big softie.”

Peter stared at him then back at Kat as she fiddled with the dog tags around her neck. “Dad would have loved you.”

Peter opened his mouth, not knowing what to say to that. Sure, he helped people that others wouldn’t, but he didn’t deserve this reaction. He was still floundering with what to say when Soul gave him a mental push, “Just take the compliment.

He swallowed and nodded. “I’m sure that I would have liked him, too,” he managed after a moment.

Kat’s face split into a kilowatt smile and she shimmied her hips a little.

Peter laughed at her obvious excitement. “Okay, did you just come into gossip or are we going to get to work?”

She sent him a playful glare. “To work,” she shot back then bounded into the back.

The men watched her go for a moment before Edward turned towards him. “You know she’s right, ya? You’ve done a lot for all of us.”

“You said that,” Peter grumbled. “Shoo, your shift started ten minutes ago—earn your keep.”

“Yes, sir,” he shot back and ignored the scowl that Peter directed at him, whistling as he ducked back into the kitchen.

“Damn kids,” Peter grumbled as he continued to organise the counter.

~~~~~

Another morning, while he was flipping through the inventory, Peter called out, “Jace?”

A couple of paces away, working on unboxing a new shipment of ingredients, the college kid looked up at him. “Yeah?”

“Come over here for a sec.”

Jace blinked at him but stood out of his crouch and came over, his face open with his unspoken question; what’s up?

A smirk tugging at his lips, he handed over the binder. “What would you do with this?”

Jace frowned at him then looked down at the page that he was presented with. They chatted back and forth for a moment, Peter testing to see his managing skills and giving helpful tips when they came up.

A little into the conversation, Jace paused for a moment, a frown tugging at his face. “Peter…you’ve been giving me a lot of responsibility lately…why?”

Peter stilled and looked up at him, his face smoothing out.

Jace immediately started to backtrack. “Not that I don’t appreciate it. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m really thankful, but…”

“But you’re wondering what it could mean,” Peter finished for him.

Jace nodded, rubbing the back of his neck.

Peter sighed and looked down at the itinerary between them. “I won’t own this shop forever,” he stated quietly.

Jace opened his mouth, starting to shake his head as Peter continued, “Don’t deny it. It’s the nature of things. It’s a fact. I won’t be here forever. I really like it here, I do—but everything ends. You’re smart enough to figure that out.”

Jace swallowed and nodded slowly. “Are you planning on leaving or is this in case something happens?”

Peter mulled that over for a moment before shrugging. “A bit of both I guess. What will come, will come.”

Jace chewed on his lip for a moment then asked, “Do you have a time table for this?”

Peter hummed and slightly shook his head. “Not for a couple of years,” he answered honestly, then patted the other on the arm. “Don’t worry too much about it. I won’t force this on you if you don’t want it. A whole store is a bit much, isn’t it?”

Jace shook his head. “It’s not that,” he objected. “The store is fine, it’s… you’re planning on leaving,” he added hollowly.

Peter sighed and shifted, so he was facing him better. “People leave, Jace—sometimes without any plan at all. But I have to—I can’t stay in one place for too long. I know that you’ve figured that out.”

Jace froze before looking down. He was still for a minute before he nodded tightly. “My grandfather was in the war—did you know that?” he started quietly, his voice just above a whisper. “He told a story about a kid who worked with Captain America. Apparently, the guy disappeared off any pictures that he’d had of him. Everything else in the picture stayed the same, but he was just…gone one day. But Gramps had a photographic memory and wasn’t too shabby of an artist, so…you look just like him.”

Peter inhaled and blew it out. “You’re Tom’s grandkid?”

Jace’s head snapped up and he stared at him.

Peter smirked. “Yeah, I remember him. He was a good artist, wasn’t he?”

Jace stared at him for a moment before nodding slowly.

Peter’s smile turned softer and he asked, “Can I trust you to take care of the Mayflower when I can’t? It’s not for a while, but it’s in the cards.”

Jace sucked in a breath and looked around the empty kitchen, gnawing on his lip. He nodded. “Yeah, I’ll keep it going. Will you come back to it?”

Peter shrugged. “Unknown.”

Jace dipped his head and they left it at that.

~~~~~

Finally, about a month after Tony came back, Peter and Pepper were curled up in his apartment, sipping at drinks and chatting. It was a normal day, just sitting around and trading stories, when Peter froze.

Pepper stopped in the middle of telling him about a dog she ran into and stared at him. “Peter? Is everything okay?”

He nodded slowly, not looking at her. Setting his tea aside, he got up and walked to the large windows pointing at the street. Drawing the curtains aside, he looked up and out into the dark night.

Frowning, Pepper put her own mug aside and came up beside him. “What are you looking at?”

“That,” he told her, pointing at the sky.

She glanced at him, her frown deepening, before looking at what he was directing her to. At first, she didn’t see what he did but then she muttered, “What on earth…”

A streak of bright fire shot across the sky, a lot like a falling star, but she knew that wasn’t what it was. It circled the flashing lights of the amusement park before flying up and towards space.

Peter chuckled and leaned against the window, watching as the star that wasn’t continued on it’s upwards travel. “It’s almost finished.”

Tearing her eyes from the thing, Pepper sighed. “You’re not going to tell me, right?”

“Nope,” he told her cheekily and continued watching, his eyes tracking it. “You’ll find out in a couple of days anyway.”

She groaned and pushed away from the window. “You’re a pain, you know that?”

“Hey, if I can wait for thousands of years, you can wait a couple of days,” he shot back good naturally.

She groaned as she retrieved her tea and reclaimed her spot. “Stop using that. It’s getting repetitive.”

Joining her, he shrugged. “It’s valid—you people are so impatient.”

She watched as he settled in the other end of the couch, holding his mug to his chest. “How old are you anyway?”

“Older than the earth.”

“What?” she squawked, her eyes round. “But you look human! Homo sapiens didn’t evolve until waaaay after the earth was formed. There's no way that you’re older than it.”

“Her,” he chuckled and just sipped his tea.

She blinked then repeated, “Her. The planet is a girl, whatever. I don’t want to know how you know that,” she commented and squinted at him, trying to tell if he was pulling her leg or not. She really had nothing but his word to go on. But, older than the Earth? There was no way.

She was still mulling that over when he spoke up with a grin, “You know, Earth isn’t the only planet out there.”

“Now I know you’re pulling my leg,” she declared, stabbing a finger at him.

Peter shrugged, a know-it-all smirk playing at his lips.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, really?!”

Chapter Text

The next night, Peter found himself cleaned up and sharply dressed in a suit, easily slipping into the gala being hosted by Stark Industries. Rich, finely dressed people were milling about, laughing and chatting with each other, indulging in adult party drinks.

As he went, he vaguely heard the reporter talking to the camera, announcing the event and talking about Tony—his supposed PTSD and how no one thought that he would show.

A smirk tugged at Peter’s lips. “That’s going to bite them in the butt.

The stones rumbled in agreement, Power chuckling. “Never tell that man what to do, he’ll do the opposite just to spite you.

I’m well aware,” Peter answered good-naturedly, moving smoothly through the crowd. Then he spotted his target. She was dressed in a stunning purple backless dress, and her ginger hair was falling in neet waves around her shoulders. Grinning he slid up beside her and whispered, “Boo.”

Pepper jumped and snapped her head to him, her eyes wide. She stepped back a bit then blinked at him. “Peter! What…?” then her brows snapped down. “What's going to happen?”

His lips still twisted up in a grin, Peter shrugged. “Nothing.”

“And why don’t I believe you?” she shot back but eased herself back into a more comfortable stance. Well, as much as she could when wearing heels.

“Cause you’re smart,” he retorted easily.

“Uh-huh, if you say so,” she responded dryly. “Really, why are you here?”

Peter glanced around the large room, taking in the people milling about. “You know,” he started offhandedly, “events like this used to include a lot more dancing.”

She blinked at the subject change then pulled her lips in a resigned scowl. She knew that she wasn’t going to get anything else out of him. “Really?” she asked, half curious, half irritated.

“Yup, everyone would be taught the dances when they were growing up, and they’d waltz in groups across the floor. The only place you could gossip would be at the edges. Well, for noble events anyway.”

Eyes flicking around to the other people there, she inquired, “Isn’t that what we’re doing here?”

Peter glanced around as well, his eyes falling on the people slow dancing in the center, and the groups huddled up against the edges. He snorts. “Hardly. This is standing on the spot and swaying back and forth. That’s not dancing—when you see people whirling about with large, fancy footwork, then talk to me.”

Pepper stared at him for a moment, her eyes larger than they would generally be, before shaking her head in good mirth. “If you say so, Mr Ancient One.”

Peter laughed. “That title is already taken, find another.”

Pepper blinked again, her mouth falling open slightly, and wow, it’s fun to catch her off guard. “There’s more of you?”

Peter twitched, his lips dipping into a small grimace. “One other, but they don’t call themselves that. Nah, the Ancient One is actually far younger than me. But she knows what she’s doing, so I’m not going to bother her. Not for a while anyway.”

Pepper was silent for a time before she sighed. “You know what? I’m not even going to ask.”

“Good choice,” Peter quipped, earning him a sharp glare.

She shook her head then went about introducing him to some of her work friends, letting him come up with a reason why he was at the charity gala. Peter smiled at them and simply said that he worked in the building and got invited. They left it at that.

He stood in their circles, chatting and watching before Mind tapped his shoulder. Figuratively, of course. “He’s here.

Peter pushed down a smirk and easily slipped from the group, wading through the people to find a nice wall to lean against while he watched. Tony came up behind Pepper, his signature snark echoing around her. She jumped and blinked at him, then whipped her head around, her eyes frantic. When Pepper caught sight of him, Peter grinned and waved his fingers at her. A dark scowl crossed her face for a brief second before she turned back to her boss.

Soul chuckled in his head. “You enjoyed that way too much.

Peter covered his mouth with his knuckle, hiding his smile. “Can you blame me?

The stones all hummed a negative.

Peter continued to smile as he watched the people that, in another life, he’d considered his pseudo parents. Idly watching them sway back and forth on the dancefloor, Pepper glancing around nervously, he couldn't help but see the older versions of them, dancing much more relaxed on the common floor carpet, swaying gently to the music that Friday had put on.

He was still watching them when a presence slid up beside him. “Having fun, Peter?”

He froze, his limbs locking up. He knew that voice. God, he knew that voice, and he did not want her here.

Smoothing out his face into a blank mask, he turned to see a woman leaning against the wall, her arms crossed loosely over the bust of her cobalt blue gown. Midnight black hair fell over her shoulders in glossy waves. As always, she was the picture of beauty. “Eris,” he greeted tightly. “What are you doing here?

Kaleidoscope eyes that were a perfect reflection of the stones danced with mirth. “I just wanted to say hello, is that too hard to believe?”

“Yes,” he responded flatly, coldly.

“Harsh,” she muttered, earning her a scowl. “Come now, I haven’t seen you since the forties, I think we were due a visit.”

“Where you were messing with the Tesseract,” he snapped back.

Eris snorted. “Did you expect anything different from me?”

Peter stared her down before admitting, “No. No, it’s in your nature, as what I do is in mine.”

“You see?” she purred. “All in good fun.” Finally, taking her eyes from him, Eris looked out at the people moving around the floor. “Look at them,” she murmured. “In half a century half of them will be gone, while the other will be too frail to move around like this.”

“They last a little longer than that,” he snapped back, but his voice lacked the bite that it had earlier. Eris wasn’t wrong.

Eris shrugged and continued watching the people mill about. “Give or take a couple of decades.” She fell silent before her eyes were cutting back to him. This time, purple was the prominent colour staring back at him. “The Avengers last even shorter.”

Peter gritted his teeth. “I know.”

“Then why are you doing this?”

He sighed and scratched the back of his neck. “Eris, we’ve been over this. If they are not there, the balance would be shifted out of place, and we wouldn’t be here.”

“I only exist because you do,” she reminded him quietly.

He inhaled slowly as her comment settled over his skin. Sometimes he would rather a raging fire over the cold certainty that she was giving him now.

“I know,” he responded just as softly. He remembered how a girl, a reflection, visibly no older than him, suddenly appeared before him. A being that looked so much like him at first, but was the exact opposite. She, too, had the powers of the stones, but they didn’t mark her like they did him.

That was during his first century. He’d know what she was then, and he knew it now. If he was the one keeping the stones out of trouble, Eris was the one putting them there. The piece on the other side of the scale, the other half to the universes balancing act.

“So,” she interrupts his memories with a grin, a feral one that twists in a way that belies her inner nature. “Ready to play the game?”

Peter sighs heavily and shakes his head. “Can’t you start after he becomes Ironman? You left Steve alone.”

Her nose wrinkled to show how much she thought about that. “Pre-serum Steve Rogers was boring. He was a lot more fun to tug around after. Sure, messing with you then was a blast, but I’ll have more time to fool with him soon. As for Tony… he’s already on his way. Delaying it a bit won’t matter.”

Peter scowled, really disliking what she was getting at.

“However,” she continued, “this is just the formal declaration—you don’t have to worry about me doing anything tonight. Go and look after your pet, she’s stranded out on her own.”

Peter’s eyes snapped to the bar where he saw Tony walking up, alone, and talking to the bartender. His lips twisted farther into an angry scowl. “Pepper isn’t a plaything.”

Eris hummed. “So you say,” she commented offhandedly, “but haven’t you been enjoying yourself?”

Peter's glare was icy as he pinned her with it, or tried to—she just smiled cheekily and pushed off the wall, sauntering into the crowd.

He watched her as long as he could, following her black head of hair until she vanished. He knew better than to try and find her, try and convince her not to mess with the timeline.

He gritted his teeth and the stones, who’d be silent throw the exchange, reawoke. “It’s annoying how we get cut off when she’s around,” Mind commented dryly.

If anything less happened, the balance wouldn’t be fair. Eris is not linked to us in that way,” Power reminded them.

But she’s also more like you guys then I am,” Peter cut in. “A creation of the cosmos, not a human that couldn’t word something correctly.

The stones all chuckled at that, some more lighthearted than the others. “That is true,” Reality commented.

Peter rolled his eyes then watched silently as the reporter talked to Tony, showing him the picture that would really get things moving. Tony was frozen as he looked down at the definite proof that someone was double-crossing him. He followed quietly when Tony left the bar to confront Stane, rage twitching across his features. He was shocked as the older man put an arm around him, smiling to the camera’s, but Peter heard the betrayal that he admitted to. How Stane locked Tony from the board, from his company.

Soon enough, Stane left him there, sauntering off to his car. Tony watched him go, eyes following his vehicle as it left, before snapping at a valley to bring his car around.

Once he was driving off, Peter turned and went to the bar, scooping up the drink that had been left on the counter. Going outside and up to her, he offered it to Pepper.

She looked up at him, her eyes widening slightly when she saw him then sighing and taking the martini from him. “He left, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

She nodded and sipped at the drink, the olives bumping her lips. Lowering it, her mouth twisted. “God, I’m an idiot.”

Peter shook his head but didn’t verbally object.

Sending him a mild glare, she retorted, “Yes, I am. I know what he’s like and, god—what am I doing? We’re not even involved like that, and I feel like I got stood up.”

“You have every right to feel that way,” Peter reminded her.

She snorted, still looking down at the drink. She was rolling the stem back and forth in her fingers, just watching it. “And you knew,” she added. “You knew he was going to do this.”

“Yes.”

She groaned and rubbed her free hand on her cheek. “That’s even worse.”

“It’s not because of you,” Peter cut in, finally making her look at him. Her eyes were shining slightly, and she was biting her lip. When she didn’t say anything, he elaborated, “He found out that Stane was the one locking him out and was so caught up in it that he forgot to return.”

She scoffed and look skywards, shaking her head slightly. “Is it a bad sign that I’m not surprised?”

Peter shrugged. “That’s up to you,” he told her, also looking up, gazing at the couple of stars that were visible. It was kinda sad how few there were. “My advice is, don’t let him get away with it.”

Looking back at him, she squinted at him. “What are you playing at?”

Peter sighed and rubbed at his own face. “Nothing, Pep, can’t I just look after you?”

She looked at him for a moment longer before asking quietly, “What happened?”

Peter glanced at her, studying the worry that he found there. Adopting a tired smile, he shook his head. “Don’t worry about me. It’s nothing that I haven’t dealt with a thousand times before.” Since literally the beginning of time.

Pepper watched him for a moment before nodding, not in the mood for prying. Taking another drink she scowled. “He really just left me here to go chase an idea.”

Peter smirked and bobbed his head, happy with the mood change. “That’s it—give him hell.”

She shot him a look before starting to snicker. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

~~~~~

The following day, Pepper was walking down the halls of Tony’s Malibu home, her conversation with Peter mulling around in her head. It was like he was … pushing for something, but she couldn’t tell what. And he’d been unnerved by something. He’d waved it away, but she’d never thought that she’d see a day when he wasn’t in complete control of something, even when he was acting like he wasn’t. Last night he’d been genuinely worried and wouldn’t tell her.

That in itself didn’t surprise her, he kept so much close to his chest, but that had always been with the excuse that her knowing too much would be dangerous. This … this was him being upset about something. Emotional, not logical.

She wanted to help him, really help him, but how the hell do you do that for an immortal? One older than the earth. Maybe he was right to keep it from her. What could she do? She’s not even half a century old. What did she know?

She sighed as she descended the stairs to Tony’s workshop, pushing her thoughts away. There was nothing she could do now, so it was best to ignore it.

Nearing the bottom of the stairs, Jarvis’s voice penetrated the haze that had clouded her mind, his robotic voice slightly annoyed and exasperated. “Sir, the more you struggle, the more this is going to hurt.”

Feet hitting the concrete floor, she noticed that the glass walls where shattered. They were in little cubes on the floor, broken in the way that every glass window had been designed to do, her sluggish mind realized. The small cubes pinged against each other when her heels sank into the pile.

“Hey—be gentle. It’s my first time.”

Pepper’s eyes swept over the mess on the floor and slowly upwards and looked in shock at what was in front of her.

“I designed this to come off so—ow! Hey!”

“Please try not to move, sir.”

Pepper walked forwards and into the workshop and away from the mess behind her. Tony was suspended in some sort of contraction as robotic arms pulled pieces of something off of her boss. She had a sinking feeling about what he was wearing but didn’t—wouldn’t—put it together yet.

Instead, she asked shakily, “What’s going on here?”

Tony froze as Jarvis continued to pull the device off him. He stayed still for a moment before glancing over his shoulder at her. He stared at her for a moment before saying with a resigned smirk, “Let’s face it—this is not the worst thing that you’ve caught me doing.”

He was right, it wasn’t, but that wasn’t what she was focusing on. Her eyes were locked onto his chest where his armor—that’s definitely what it was—was marked and dented by small circles. “Are those bullet holes?”

"Uhhh…" He trailed off then asked, "I plead the fifth?"

Pepper clapped a hand over her mouth and just stared at him. "This is what you've been up to?"

Tony's brow furrowed, and he shrugged. "Yeah? Wait, how do you know I was working on something?"

She gave him a look. "When are you not?"

"Okay—point," he admitted, then yelped and snapped his head towards one of the robotic arms. "Watch it!"

"Sorry, sir."

Pepper closed her eyes and placed her hands together, pressing her nose to her thumbs. "Okay … okay. Just—get out of that. Come upstairs when you're done."

Tony looked over at her as she pivoted toward the stairs. "What are you going to do?"

Marching forward, she called back, "I'm getting someone who'll know how to deal with this cause I don't."