Things don't normally go according to plan. Not when it matters. But as his own nano-blade enters his abdomen, and he collapses into the wreckage of a desolate planet light-years away from everything he has ever known, Tony Stark realizes this time things are really not going according to plan.
"You have my respect Stark," Thanos says calmly, placing a condescending hand into his hair. Tony tries not to think of Obi in that moment. But even as the blood loss turns his vision hazy, he realizes the two are quite similar. Something about the bald men in his life.
"When I'm done half of humanity will still be alive." Thanos rears back, but slowly, relishing whatever he's about to do next. "I hope they remember you."
As Thanos raises his fist, Tony feels slightly lucky that he doesn't have to live through another aftermath of yet another one of his failures. The most devastating one to date. He should probably feel guilty, or at least afraid. But hey, Thanos would make it quick. He seems to take pride in being pragmatic about killing, and as dramatic as possible at everything else.
"Stop." Strange cuts in, gritting his teeth. Tony grits along with him. "Spare his life. And I will give you the stone."
Wait, what? Dumbfounded, Tony runs the sorcerer’s logic over in his head. Wasn’t there all that magic jumbo about how Thanos couldn't even take the Time Stone from his dead body? And Strange had specifically said he would not hesitate to sacrifice him and Peter - oh shit, Peter - in favor of protecting the stone. And he was the one who knew exactly how small their chances of winning were. What the fuck is he doing?
"No tricks," Thanos utters.
That's my line, asshole. Tony thinks.
This is a cruel tactical decision clearly optimized by Strange to make Tony regret his existence as much as possible. To both lose and keep living. Again.
"Don't," Tony chokes out as Thanos raises his fist, only this time not to end his life. Just the lives of half of everyone. Pepper. Rhodey. Happy. Peter. Which ones would he lose, and which ones would never look him in the eye again?
As Thanos takes the stone in hand, with the smug satisfaction of - well, nearly every patriarchal figure in Tony's life - he fixes his gaze on Peter in the distance.
The kid had managed to spin everyone up safely in his webs. Even in total defeat, he's still a better hero than Tony could be. Father figure my ass. Tony thinks. He's more like the cracked out uncle who just buys shit for the young kids' attention.
He can't read most emotions through the Spider mask, but it certainly means something that while Quill flies in for one last desperate shot at Thanos (which he easily crushes him for) Spider-Man just makes a beeline for Tony. The poor thing actually cares about him.
Even more unfortunate is how Peter skids a landing close to him just in time to catch Thanos' attention again. He looks at the Spider, then flexes his hand in the gauntlet, clearly recalling how close Peter had been to prying it off just minutes before.
No. God no.
Peter, who has grabbed Tony by the arm at this point, goes very still under the gaze of the purple giant. Tony can only do the same.
Thanos raises his hand yet again in their direction, fingers stretched back like he's admiring a fresh manicure or a dazzling engagement ring. He tilts his head, perhaps finding just the right angle of light that makes the stones sparkle.
"The power of time. It's such a funny thing," Thanos says, though he’s not laughing. "We always imagine what it would be like to wield it, but to mix it with control of space , of reality ?" He turns his head to lock eyes with Tony, his palm fixed towards Spider-Man.
"...why, I'd have the ability to do this without you caring one bit."
In a flash, the stones glow, Thanos closes his fist as if to crush a fly, and Peter Parker is gone.
...Parker? Who is that?
"One to go," Thanos says as he backs into a cloud of cosmic energy, “I hope the boy enjoys the extra time.”
And with that, Thanos, and all their plans to stop him, have vanished into space-smoke.
Tony feels like he's missing something. Something other than just a quarter of the blood from his body. His arm is... not cold. But not warm.
"Did we just lose?" Quill spits out in a matching amount of confusion. That's the easiest question to answer, in Tony's opinion. They had lost about 3 stones ago. He could think of about 10,000 better questions to ask right now.
"Why would you do that?" is the only question that comes out, however, as he looks at Strange. He's pretty sure he wasn't going to find a satisfying answer from him. He doesn't even want to speak to him, but at the end of his fleeing train of thought he swears he had something he was going to say to someone he knew from Earth...
- - - -
What's the best way to explain what happens to Peter?
In all the movies he's seen about time travel, or amnesia, or general reality-fucking, you can't really say "what happens next..." because next is a relative term. Like how Marty McFly goes back to his present from the past then back to the past from the future and then to his present again but this time Biff has his own museum? To the main character, while the rules of the world break around them, the only thing that really remains constant is that they keep getting older, which is kind of a raw deal when you think about it.
The point is, one moment Peter is 17 years old, plus 8 months, 19 days, 11 hours, 1 minute and 32 seconds. He is supposed the be the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man from Queens. Only, he's on another planet, holding onto a broken and bleeding Iron Man's suit-exposed arm for dear life. He's also staring down a dude who looks like the California Raisin got jacked, and he's scared shitless.
When Peter is 17 years, 8 months, 19 days, 11 hours, 1 minute and 33 seconds old, he is still Spider-Man. He is still from Queens. He is supposed to be... somewhere. Probably not a hospital bed. It seems like everything just got a lot brighter, and his head is killing him. Honestly, his whole body is killing him. He’s wrapped in various bandages and dressed in a hospital gown. What the hell did he do this time?
Luckily, he's still Spider-Man, so without getting up he can easily read his chart even though it is hung on a clipboard on the opposite wall.
John Doe it reads. 04-29-87 14:02 Found unconscious, with level of trauma indicative of an automobile accident. No other persons at the scene. No eye witnesses. Police report filed for probable hit-and-run. Keep on watch for possible PTSD and cognitive trauma.
Nope. Peter had dealt with cars before, even had them thrown at him, and by the next day he'd be more worried about his group project in history. Whatever he had gotten into this time was much worse. Yikes.
Also, what kind of hospital was this? The equipment in the room looks extremely dated, yet somehow well taken care of, like mint condition. He looks at the letterhead on the chart. Cambridge Hospital. 1493 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA.
Whoa. He is not supposed to be in Boston. Unless there was a school trip he had thoroughly forgotten about, but he hadn't been able to convince Aunt May to let him go out of state since the DC debacle.
"Dude... did you just show up out of thin air?"
Peter nearly flips out of his bed as he realizes he was not the only occupant of the room this whole time. Good thing his identity was a secret, or it would simply be embarrassing for the lack of use of his Spidey-sense. To his right, a guy with pale skin and dark hair, about his age, it seems, had pulled back the separation curtain between them. He is staring at Peter with a somewhat glossy look in his chocolate brown eyes.
"To be fair, I am really high right now dude," he adds, exhaling with a chuckle.
"What-" Peter starts to ask, and stops himself. This guy seems nice, but not like a reliable source for information. Not at the moment at least.
Instead he cranes his neck so he can just barely look at his chart. Before he can even read the rest of it though, he is taken aback by the name.
Anthony E Stark
"Like the tech company?" he wonders aloud.
The guy scoffs. "It's my dad's company. And he only makes money from nukes these days. Considering he barely helped invent those in the 40s, not quite what I'd consider 'tech,'" he finishes with air quotes.
That didn't make sense. Nuclear tech was the specialty of Howard Stark, who hasn't been involved with Stark Industries since -
Peter's eyes go wide and he turns back to his chart, putting things together more quickly than he thinks he can handle.
April 29th, 1987.
Nineteen-eighty-fucking-seven. This hospital isn't dated. No, it's probably brand-spanking-new.
Peter Parker is absolutely not supposed to be here.
"Hey man, this isn't how I planned to spend my Wednesday either," the guy responds to words Peter hadn't meant to say out loud.
Peter's jaw drops, because if it wasn't enough that he had time traveled to the 80s, he was sharing a hospital room with the future inventor of the Mini Arc Reactor.
- - - -
Of course, the doctor came into the room in perfect timing, just when Peter was starting to fully freak out.
"What is your name son?" the older woman asks cooly from behind her clipboard.
"Peter. Parker." He chokes out. Should he be using his real name? Too late now.
"Can you tell me what year it is, Peter?"
"1987?" Peter offered hesitantly, like this was his last chance to find out it was all a joke.
The doctor nods, now clicking on a flashlight and shining it to check his pupils.
"And who is the president of the United States?"
Shit. Peter was not a genius at history. He swallows. But he counts himself lucky on this one.
Thank God he had watched Back to the Future so many times. According to the scene, it was now the doc's turn to incredulously exclaim " THE ACTOR?? " but instead she leans back in her seat, satisfied.
"I must say, you're showing signs of healing remarkably well, Peter." Oops. Probably shouldn't be in a hospital. He had enough to explain beyond having radioactive spider healing.
"Can you remember anything about how you got here?" she asks, just a bit more softly.
"No." Peter answers honestly. The doctor's mouth turns down ever so slightly.
"What's the last thing you can remember?"
Peter can only stare dumbly at the doctor for a few seconds. Before he even has time to think of a good answer, his roommate chimes in.
"He appeared in a flash of cosmic energy doc, of course he doesn't remember."
The doctor turns to the guy - Tony - and throws back the curtain, looking at him like a strained school teacher.
"I think you're just about ready to go home Mr. Stark. At the very least you should be done with that morphine drip."
Tony just smiles sweetly at her.
"If you promise not to mess with explosive propulsion mechanics unsupervised again, I can check you out after you've had time to clear your head."
"I should probably - can you check me out, too?" Peter cringes at the awkward phrasing. The doctor turns back to him, now looking as confused as he feels.
"Not so fast young man. I’ve barely begun to assess your condition,” she glances back at the chart like she might be checking for ‘dumbass’ in his records.
“I’m fine. I promise,” Peter insists.
“Mr. Parker, how much do you even remember? What can you tell me about who you are ?" the doctor retorts with a pressed expression.
He looks at Tony, panicked, like there's something the blitzed out future-billionaire could offer to help him in this situation. He just looks back at Peter curiously.
"I don't... I don't have to tell you that, right?" The doctor fully frowns at that.
"No, I suppose you don't. And I can't legally force you to stay here. But there's also the matter of who I check you out to, Mr. Parker. How old are you exactly?"
"18," Peter tries to say convincingly. It's not that far off. Tony smiles as the doctor abjectly rolls her eyes.
"I’m sure you are,” the doctor sighs. She is taking notes of this conversation, and Peter is pretty sure he sees her write quotation marks around that number. “And where would I be sending the bill for this hospital visit, sir?"
That's not even a question Peter would like to answer when he hasn't been mysteriously transported across space and time. The immediate response his brain comes up with is a sort of whine, which will have to turn into a convincing explanation in 3… 2… 1...
"Probably could send it to the dorms at MIT right?" Tony interjects from the sidelines.
"I mean, assuming you don't want your parents on your ass for the bill? Been there!" he continues.
"Do you by any chance live in Baker House?" Tony looks at Peter with a gleam in his eye.
"...yes," Peter does his best to go along with whatever is happening right now. He nods back at the doctor for emphasis.
"No way man! I thought I recognized you. Same building and everything. We should really hang out more."
The doctor is now looking back and forth between the two, completely exasperated.
"Is this true?" she asks Peter, now her turn to have a pleading expression.
"Y-yeah, yes. Freshman at MIT! I'm… studying electrical engineering." It’s the best story he can think of pulling off, considering he has the technical knowledge of thirty-ish years in the future.
"Yeah… he's in some classes with me," Tony adds. He looks intrigued at Peter's choice of fib. Peter, meanwhile, is glad Tony seems to be on board with this charade because he really should have known said department would be shared by the world's most well-known inventor.
The doctor, meanwhile, looks utterly defeated. "Well, I guess I'll be checking you both out - one of you against medical advice," she clicks her pen rather menacingly and jots onto Peter's chart. If “dumbass” wasn’t in there before, it probably is now.
"Should I call a cab for you to go back to campus together?" she adds sarcastically.
"No, it's fine, I have my own car!" Tony replies sweetly, throwing her a bandaged thumbs up as he flops back down on his bed.
The doctor responds only by humming in a way that says ‘this is my best possible execution of bedside manner.’
Tony, in contrast, has decided to end the conversation by immediately falling asleep with a dopey expression on his face.
Beyond being extremely grateful for him saving his ass unprompted, Peter has decided that he is really starting to like Tony Stark.
- - - -
Peter doesn't know if he should feel grateful or disappointed that when a nurse hands him his bundle of clothes, it isn't a spandex spider suit.
The clothes he finds instead are reminiscent of the original Spidey getup, in a way. A droopy red v-neck sweatshirt. Blue high-waisted jeans. Red high-tops, blue undershirt, and so on. He cringes a bit when he sees that in place of his web-shooters are two black wrist bands. Rad.
It's all very retro to Peter, even though it's more unnerving that he doesn't understand why he would fit so well into this time period. He wonders if maybe he Quantum-Leaped into someone else's body. If he looks in a mirror, is he going to see Scott Bacula? He's never actually seen that show, but it's the closest thing to a theory that he's got.
Only, when he checks his clothes for signs of a previous owner, like a name written on the shirt tag, he finds there aren't any tags. Or even name brands.
Even the backpack he was handed with the rest of his clothes is empty, except for -
"Hey, Desperately Seeking Susan, are you decent?" Tony raps on the wall as if to knock but swings around the divider anyway.
Tony is dressed in belted red chinos, a light wash denim jacket, and a gold-ish button up. Or at least, he's pretty sure it would be that color if it wasn't half splattered up the right side in soot from whatever explosion supposedly landed him in the ER in the first place. His right arm is still bandaged and now that Peter has the chance to really look at him, there are some shrapnel-like cuts on his face.
At least his eyes are looking clearer now, and that's good. Tony notices that he's being scanned, and flashes a reassuring (or perhaps flirtatious?) smile.
"Come on, my ride will be here soon."
Tony reaches out his good arm to help Peter up. Not that he needs it, but he takes it anyway, and offers a smile in return. Peter is just relieved that they won't be here long enough for the nurse to change his bandages again, since she'd most likely be unnerved by the complete vanishing act most of his injuries pull within 24 hours. Even now, Peter is sore, but probably not as sore as he should be.
While Peter thinks to himself how does someone who has recently been hit by a car walk? Did people walk differently in the 80s? Tony strides out the door with the confidence of a grown man who totally didn't just sober up from a morphine drip.
They have to swing by the front desk to finalize their respective release forms. A tired looking nurse reaches from behind the counter with a clipboard in each hand. As Peter takes his with a quiet "thank you" Tony takes a small step back.
"I don't like being handed things," he mutters.
The nurse rolls her eyes and drops the clipboard on the counter with an indignant clatter.
He and Tony fill out their forms in the waiting room which has grown quiet - it’s past 11 PM at this point, not really visitor hours for whatever wing of the hospital this is. Peter's form is considerably longer, filled with warnings about leaving the hospital against the advice of medical staff, essentially promising not to sue the hospital if he dies in his sleep tonight.
It's all totally fine with Peter, until he gets to the billing information section. He turns to Tony, who seems to be at the end of his own clipboard.
"Um," Peter starts, trying to fit a thousand questions into the strained syllable. Remembering Tony's earlier reaction, he places his forms on the side table between them and nudges it towards the brunet. "Do- uh, could you?"
Without super senses he would have surely missed it, but there is a slight softening in Tony's expression when he sees the effort of Peter's gesture.
"Still can't remember your own dorm address?" Tony tuts at him in mock disapproval, shaking the pen in time. "Typical freshman."
He picks up the clipboard regardless, and slides his own towards Peter.
"Here. You can sign off as my legal-guardian-slash-witness. Since you're 18 and all," he winks.
"But wait... Don't you... Should your dad sign it or something?"
Tony's expression shifts again, this time hardening a few shades. His brow flexes a micrometer down, but he forces a smirk through.
"He's a busy man. I'm a reckless teen doing what reckless teens do. These things are below his pay grade. He'll get the memo eventually." He doesn't look up as he fills out the form.
"Oh... Ok." Peter didn't exactly have a frame of reference for daddy issues, what with not having one himself, but even he could tell it was a sensitive subject.
"T-thanks man," he adds, nodding towards where Tony is writing what must be his own mailing address for the bill. "Should I-"
"I'm the one who's rich dude," Tony cuts him off. "Unless you're gonna tell me you're hiding a secret billionaire identity, count this one as a freebie just for being cute. I'll tell my dad thanks."
Peter blushes, partly because he realizes there's really no way he could pay Tony back anyway.
Rather than push the subject, he scrawls his signature on the witness line. He feels slightly ashamed about lying, like they are two kids in a trenchcoat trying to buy booze. Not that anyone could verify his age. But honestly, shouldn't Tony Stark have other friends, or like, servants who would help out in these situations? As opposed to playing along with an apparent amnesiac homeless lying teenager?
When he's finished, Tony scoops up both clipboards and slides them over to the nurse who serves him a dispassionate glare.
"I get it, doll. They don't pay you enough to smile," Tony smirks at the woman as he heads for the door.
Peter realizes that this just about ends their little charade. He's now free of the hospital... And ready to roam around Boston with little to no idea how anything works.
Could I call someone? Aunt May? Pay phones are a thing now. Pay phones need quarters. I could probably find a quarter. What's my aunt's phone number in 1987? How should I introduce myself?? What if she tries to make out with me at the school dance??? W-
Tony whistles, holding the door open impatiently.
"Princess Anastasia. You coming or not?"
"Oh. Uh. Yeah!" Peter tries to tamper down his excitement as he scoops up his backpack and follows him out into the chilly night air.
"So, uh, are you seriously okay with me, like, following you?" Peter glances around to make sure the doctor isn't somehow listening in.
"That like, depends," Tony mimics. "Do you seriously not have anywhere else to go?"
After a beat, Peter just shrugs pitifully.
"And yet you don't want to stay in the warm hospital with the people who want to figure out what happened to you?"
Peter shakes his head fervently.
"Cool. I like mysteries," Tony shrugs back.
"But how do you know I'm not a delinquent who's gonna rob you for drug money in your sleep?" Peter protests.
At that, Tony whips around, grabbing Peter by his shoulder and tugging him down slightly to stare deep into his eyes.
"Are you a delinquent who's gonna rob me for drug money in my sleep?" Tony asks, all serious with an expression that shoots a laser beam into Peter’s soul.
"Great! Then it's settled," Tony steps back looking satisfied with his brief interrogation.
“...and you’re welcome.”
“Oh, yeah, thanks! Seriously, thank you.”
Peter blushes and rubs at his shoulder where Tony’s hand had been.
"I know I shouldn't be pushing my luck dude, but is it a good idea for you to even hang out with random strangers? Aren't you kinda famous?"
Tony throws back his head and laughs, more amused at this idea than he was the first time Peter hinted at his reputation.
"The only people I'm famous to are extremely boring. And the only person who even knows where I am right now is Rhodey," Tony looks over Peter's shoulder and smiles.
"Speak of the devil. Our ride's here."