It was a miserable day in June, the day Tony Stark drew breath after five years of deathless nothingness – a bland imitation of the rest he'd been promised.
By the time Tony Stark was resurrected by a fancy superhero in a murky fishbowl, there was a shiny new superhero on the scene and Peter Parker was the Earth's Greatest Villain.
(He was too late. Five years too late.)
Oh, and Spider-Man was apparently the universe's leading contender for Earth's Greatest Supervillain. As if his resurrection could get any worse. That was Murphy's Law in action: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong – and that should really be his trademark from now on. That wasn't copyrighted, was it? Tony was a scientist; he deserved a science idiom. He’d have Pepper look into that sometime after he'd finished avoiding the unavoidable.
Fuck. He was stalling. He'd never been a staller. Tony preferred to be in the know, firmly in control – omniscient, like God (except not God because that wasn't doing his narcissism any favours). Even in his thoughts, he was unable to come to terms with this new world.
God, how he wanted a drink. How he craved for the distraction of liquor. An escape from the mess his death created, and the hollow emptiness that never left.
"Last time I checked; I was donating my body to science. Wakandan science. Not weird multi-verse, Quentin Beck science,” were the first words out of his mouth once plaintive introductions had been had. He didn't bother tagging no offence at the end.
Give him a break – he’d just risen from the dead.
If he were honest with himself (spoiler alert: he never was), he'd probably admit that he was just feeling the teensiest bit put out by the distinct lack of Peter Parker nervously bouncing off the walls, ready with that jovial charm that never failed to make Tony's heart miss a beat. So, it was only natural that he was going through friendly neighbourhood arachnid withdrawals. T'was to be expected.
His skin crawled involuntarily when Beck appraised him, raking his gaze all over Tony's form, as though drinking him in. Tony resisted the urge to fidget beneath the weighted stare. He was used to being objectified by many a fan and foe alike, but there was dark and... gleeful about the way this new superhero looked at him. Something complex passed over his face, and Tony had neither the tools nor the mental faculties to decipher it.
Tony knew one thing for certain: the only person he'd give implicit permission to look at him was Peter. The rest could go hang. Starting with this guy.
"Hey, Jack Twist. Not that I'm not flattered, but you're kinda sucking up my oxygen. Lay off a little bit.” Ah, and there was his signature charm. Good to know death hadn't erased it.
Beck, or Mysterio, or whatever the fuck his name was, pursed his lips tightly, profoundly irritated apparently, before smoothing his expression into one resembling a degree of normalcy. Nevertheless, he didn’t hesitate before falling over himself in his haste to explain what had come to pass. Tony always knew he possessed a larger-than-life persona, and that the next big superhero after him would be saddled with preceding his reputation (which was why Tony made his choice known, loud and clear), but it was all a bit much. The words that fell from Mysterio's lips were cloying, sickly sweet and honeyed; far too much so.
The resemblance to his old employee, the one with the deranged grin and the bouts of mania, was uncanny. Scarily accurate, in fact. When Tony nodded his acquiescence at Mysterio's proposed hypothesis for his impromptu resurrection, the indecipherable gleam in Beck's eyes shone too bright.
Pep was happy, a beautiful smile adorning her features, as she expanded on the post-Tony Stark life she’d always deserved to live. Mark was every bit the man Pepper deserved, and Tony felt none of the irrational jealousy he anticipated upon meeting him. Watching Mark parade around with Morgan, though, was a bitter pill to swallow; the way Mark praised Morgan's achievements, the unmistakable pride colouring his goddamn voice had Tony clenching his fists so hard they were bloodless.
Because... that was Tony's job. Maybe it was the narcissist in him, but part of him truly thought he was irreplaceable. Five years after the fact, though, and he was placed with the cold hard truth: he was no more special than any one. The world had moved on, and showed no signs of stopping and letting him catch his breath before he–
Tony jerked away, the tell-tale panic seizing his chest, all but tearing his ribcage apart like it was made of straw, hand fisting around his heart and squeezing.
The Avengers – the ragtag band of messed up individuals who somehow always pulled through despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary – were fractured. Most were gone: Steve had passed away about a year before Tony woke up; Clint had now officially retired; Wanda had gone rogue, and no one had seen or heard anything from here. Sam and the Winter Soldier were doing their best to hold everything together with Band-Aids, but there was nothing to hold on to. And who the fuck knew what Thor was doing with those crazies up in space?
The life Tony had once known, had once been a part of, was gone. Rendered null and void. The end of an era.
Enter: the dawn of techno-terrorism.
All of that, though, paled in comparison to the truth concerning Peter Parker.
It was Fury who told him, in low tones so as not to frighten him. It was obnoxious and pretentious, and Tony would be rallying against the stark condescension were he not so consumed in abject horror at the atrocities Spider-Man has tallied over the years. The guilt took a momentary backseat while he tried to process this, before swallowing him whole.
Dimly, Tony remembered a time when Loki was the worst thing he'd ever faced. When a nuke and a wormhole were the only nightmares suffocating his every thought, bleeding into his reality.
The kid he'd mentored all those long years ago – and to think, they'd only been together for two years before the whole universe went to shit; for the first time anyway – was now apparently sitting a trial in absentia for crimes against humanity.
Tony had protested vehemently when he found out, to everyone whether they listened or not. It was all in vain; Spider-Man's crimes were far too heinous to go unpunished and, given his propensity for cool vanishing acts, they had not yet been able to physically catch him.
Was it wrong that Tony breathed a sigh of relief at that, even after absorbing all the knowledge of what his protégé had done in the years succeeding his death? He'd all but ruined Tony's image, tainting his hard-won legacy, and besmirching all the morals he'd once stood for. Yet all Tony could feel was a deep comfort at the fact that Peter hadn't been found.
Yeah. There had to be something wrong with him. But Tony'd known that going in, it wasn't news to him.
Rhodey was even busier than he was five years ago (to Tony, five minutes). Between his role as Vice President, and aiding Mysterio in leading what remained of the Avengers, he hadn't had the time to spend catching Tony up with the world. Spider-Man was a national threat, and everybody was on high alert for his next attack – none more so than Rhodey. Although, apparently, War Machine was rapidly closing in on Peter’s location. Tony didn’t know how to feel about that, so he refused to process it.
(There was never a mention of Happy, or May. Tony stopped asking. Sometimes a lie was preferable to the truth.)
Tony fiercely shut down the suffocating guilt and regret that threatened to asphyxiate him when he pictured Peter's smiling face, grinning at him so beautifully (a decade ago now), performing these savage acts. Report after report flooded every news outlet, with none as superior than the Daily Bugle – they always had it out for Peter, Tony thought viciously, before tampering his display of defence – and Tony listened in silent damnation, vodka bottle clutched in his fists like a lifeline.
Tony laughed to nothing and no one, at the spot in his lab where Peter Parker once resided, and tried not to crumble under the weight of silence.
A few days, Tony pressed for details on his mentee’s actions.
"Tony, he tried to kill Morgan," Pepper confided to him. His heart just about stopped. Because – that was it, wasn't it? The final straw? The deciding factor?
Whoever that was: it wasn't Peter.
Because Spider-Man was Tony's hero. The hero to end all heroes. He wasn't; couldn't be this. What the media were vilifying him as, slandering his good name and crucifying him on some heresy.
(Except it isn't heresy, a small, traitorous part of him hissed, like the devil, in his ear. There are countless witnesses. Dozens of crimes. Peter Parker is gone.
You ruined him.
Kinda hard to argue with that. Tony broke everything he touched. He wasn't the fixer of broken things – he was the purveyor of destruction. The Merchant of Death. Supposed it was about time he destroyed Peter, although he hadn't anticipated the fallout to be quite so spectacular.
That was his mistake.)
The infamous Pepper Potts was close to tears. Because of Peter. That was enough to make him choke. "He killed his best friends. Tony – the things he's done.” Brokenly, “I’m scared of him.”
Later that night, fuelled by nothing more than a rather generous helping of liquid courage, Tony finally pressed play on the videos of Spider-Man's heinous acts. One by one, the reports came rolling in, each one relaying a more gruesome act than the other. Tony struggled not to gag at the gore at the unnecessary level of violence. Spider-Man rivalled the adventures of Barton's Ronin days, except Ronin never killed innocents. And Peter was using Stark technology to perform these terrorist atrocities. Technology Tony had given him.
He didn't remember passing out but the buzz of accusatory blackness was welcome nonetheless.
Reuniting with his daughter, with his flesh and blood, almost made up for the horrors in the past he hadn't experienced. (Tony overlooked the hesitance, the way she clung to Pepper's leg when she was first brought in; how it was only Mark's comforting words that brought his daughter out of her shell. He had plenty of time to obsessively analyse his poor self-worth somewhere private. He wouldn't self-destruct in front of Morgan; refused to do that to her.)
Tony barely had time to brace for impact before his arms were full of Morgan Stark.
“Hey, Maguna. You miss me?”
Something dark and twisted unfurled in him when he felt Morgan nod against his chest. Tony ran a tender hand through her hair – so much longer than when he’d last seen her – and allowed his breath to catch up with him.
Morgan was his best creation yet, and he could never regret her. She was the light of his life, his reason for getting up each morning and living in a world Peter Parker did not.
Tony tried, he really did, to move on from Peter, and to make things work with Pep. He'd retired Iron Man, bought a nice, cosy house by a lake, and transformed himself into an unashamed work husband.
Too bad his issues never got the memo.
He shook his head, dispelling those memories. Instead, he smiled a genuine beam at Morgan, and offered to watch the latest rendition of the Toy Story saga with her. At least some things never changed. His heart felt light for the first time in years (weeks? Months? Does it even matter?) when, at the end of the evening just before Pep came to pick her up, she sleepily mumbled, “I love you three-thousand,” into his Black Sabbath shirt.
After a brief respite from his heart-breaking reality to ‘recuperate’, Tony was called in once more.
Fury said: We need you, Stark.
Mysterio concurred. Tony tried not to focus on the enthusiasm too much. The guy was obviously a fan.
After the events of Ti- of Titan, Tony swore he'd never don his Iron Man guise. Since his pledge, he'd participated in Scott's Time Heist and personally vanquished the genocidal grape-head and his band of wannabe Death Eaters, so his promise didn't mean much. Of course, Tony had worn his nanotech suit to save Peter, and then to protect... and now–
And now Iron Man was commissioned to arrest him.
Blood roared in his ears: vibrant, metallic red.
(Some truly awful, heinous part of him, though, was just ravenous to catch a glimpse of the kid Tony himself would commit genocide for.)
The plan was to plant Tony in Spider-Man's path. The newly reformed SHIELD, the reformation had come courtesy of Mysterio and his otherworldly contributions to the organisation, had received intel as to his next known movements. Tony didn't know how to react to the knowledge that Peter's plans were so predictable; that he was so easy to suss out.
SHIELD had orders to shoot on sight.
So did Tony.
His mission was to hang back, and only engage if necessary. SHIELD didn’t want to compromise Iron Man, even if he felt less and less like a hero the longer Peter donned his new lifestyle.
And then a crash, and a bang and then–
The breath was punched out of his lungs, leaving him wanting.
The whirring of nanotech shorted the circuits of Tony's brain. He'd recognise that sound anywhere; he knew all his creations like the back of his hand, but none more so than the Iron Spider.
Peter looked positively resplendent, decked out in red and blue nanotech finery, the Iron Spider glinting as dangerous and predatory as its bearer. Bullets ricocheted off the armour, bounding around the walls, yet Spider-Man stood proud and tall amongst his lessers, the smell of gunpowder putrefying the air.
(For just a flash of a second, a similar memory came crawling, unbidden, into Tony's mind – of the birth of Iron Man in an Afghani cave, metal untempered by the pounding of gunfire. The comparison made him dizzy, and he struggled not to gag.)
The mask hadn't yet receded. Tony wasn't sure whether that was for the better. In all honesty, he didn't think he could carry out this mission if he had to stare down the cold brown eyes of Peter Parker; yet his selfish amorality cried out in indignation at not being able to drink in the sight of the man he'd mourned for five painful years.
Peter hadn't noticed the Iron Man suit, red and gold a glaring juxtaposition against the darkness of the disused HYDRA lab, but then again, he wasn't really paying much attention to his surroundings; so indefatigable on his primary goal. It was smart. Tony knew how his spidey sense worked – how it waited until the very last second to warn him of an impending attack. Why bother keeping focus when your body already had an in-built protection system?
His heart gave a traitorous leap at seeing Peter wearing the suit Tony specifically made for him, the nanotech that Tony's hands had wired, and god if this wasn't an appropriate time for possessive thoughts. Yeah, his brain should really change the channel before he did something he'd regret.
He was snapped back to the present by a choked groan. Peter was a force to be reckoned with in battle, a fact Tony had never really appreciated before. The kid was hesitant about displaying his full strength, even in the lab, and so to see Peter so willing to exhibit his powers against his foes was a startling reality check. Not that Peter was aiming to murder, but rather to incapacitate. Tony was sickeningly certain he'd heard the snapping of bones.
Running on pure instinct, Tony retracted his faceplate, gazing upon the Spider armour with his own eyes. Peter's name was torn from his lips unconsciously, a breathless confession laced with regret, yet dipped in longing.
"Underoos," Tony called against his better judgement, a grim mockery of that airport in Germany a lifetime ago.
Spider-Man dropped the agent like he was nothing, turned around, and then it was just Peter and Tony. Peter kept his faceplate up, and even the mask's normally expressive eyes belied nothing, as though Peter had adopted his own mask.
"Oh, great. Gold star for originality, Beck," Peter drawled, mechanical due to the armour, much to Tony's bewilderment. "Really – Tony Stark again?"
There was so much about that sentence – specifically how it was phrased, the accusing again, and all that was left unspoken in the subtext – but Tony pushed all that to one side for now. And then Peter retracted the Iron Spider, and Tony's higher brain function fizzled out.
Truly, it had to be illegal how just one measly glimpse of Peter Parker sent shockwaves pulsating up and down his spine.
The face that stared back at him was a cruel facsimile of the overabundant enthusiasm that had laced Peter's face before. Exile did not agree with him. His brow was laden in frown lines, big brown eyes as hard and unyielding as rock. His forehead was damp with exertion, the only noticeable strain from taking down the SHIELD masses single-handedly.
But underneath all that... he was simply, ludicrously Peter. The kid Tony'd stupidly fallen in love with, and the kid Tony'd lost.
And suddenly, that was all that mattered.
“Go home, Mr. Stark.” The venom in his words made Tony flinch.
Peter's biting words drew him back to the here and now. "What– you gonna kill me?"
For a second there, Peter's carefully constructed mask slipped. Tony glimpsed the utterly broken glint that scarred his expression; the crestfallen slant of his brows, and the godawful vulnerability that made tears spring into Peter's eye. But then Tony blinked and the moment snapped. The façade was erected once more, steely walls firmly encapsulating the man Tony loved.
"I will if I have to."
Tony bit down on the urge to weep uncontrollably, because, well this was it. The death of Peter Parker here and now.
God, he wished the kid hadn't taken down his mask. Selfishly, he could pretend that it wasn't really Peter (his Peter, that possessive part of his brain supplied, and for once Tony wasn't going to argue) in there, that it was just some random who'd taken control of the suit and parading around as Spider-Man. That would make Tony's job easier.
But, he thought bitterly as he raised his repulsor, when did life ever grant him his desires?
"If you don't stop, then I'll have to stop you."
Underneath: Please don't make me, please, please, please Peter.
Peter acted blasé about this turn of events, even seeming bored by it. Maybe he knew how superfluous Tony's threat was, how utterly enthralled Tony was for him, in spite of the blood that splattered the Spider-Man red.
"Do it, then, Mr. Stark." Peter pressed his forehead firm against Iron Man's repulsor. He closed his eyes, blank and neutral, like he hadn't just ripped out Tony's heart. "Kill me."
As if there was a reality in any universe where Tony could.
Tony lowered his hand as if he were in a trance, hypnotised by the eyes of the person he knew he'd never stop loving.
Tony didn't know what he was going to say, but nevertheless, his trailing was abruptly cut off by the incessant press of Peter's lips against his own.
Peter set a demanding pace: harsh and firm and unyielding. Warm tongue licking its way across Tony's bottom lip, waiting for Tony to grant access, before resuming its bruising intensity. Tony had the sense that the kiss was punishing him – for dying, for leaving, for just not being on Peter's side. Their noses bumped, teeth clanking together as Peter tried to devour him. It was inexperienced, lacking in grace and finesse, yet Tony couldn't find it within him to care.
This wasn't the kiss that headlined a great many of Tony's dreams and daylight fantasies, but it was the greatest kiss he'd ever received because it was all Peter.
Peter took a step back, sharp eyes calculating Tony's flustered demeanour. Whatever he saw made him chuckle darkly. "Beck, if you wanted a kiss all you had to do was say so."
Before Tony could summon some semblance of rational thought after having just had his brains snogged out – and maybe invite an emotion that wasn't confused jealousy at why the hell was Peter kissing Beck – Peter punched him out cold.