It’s the feeling that something is missing. That something important is absent from your life. It’s like a chunk of your world is nonexistent and the only way to get it back is “fate” and “destiny.”
Tony Stark did not believe in any of it.
When you’re younger, you don’t always understand what you’re lacking. You become accustomed to the grey that you see in your everyday life. You stop dreaming of a full world of color.
For Tony Stark, his world was very grey.
His hair and eyes and skin: grey. The wooden chair and tables in school and the bark on trees and his leather bookbag. Grey grey grey.
He thought it was bullshit. Not being able to see any shade of the color of your soulmate's eye color until you make true eye contact with them. He soon learned that the color that he was lacking was called “brown. People told him that he wasn’t missing out on much, but it sure as hell felt like it. “You’re lucky!” they said. “You aren’t missing greens or blues. It’s just brown.”
Well “just brown” felt like a whole lot of something.
So, he hid. When he went to college at fifteen, meeting so many grey eyed people, he decided he didn’t want to know. And then came the sunglasses.
You can’t make true eye contact with someone if you wear sunglasses, so, sunglasses meant shielding himself from a world of hurt — a world of wondering when — because if he could never find them, then he never had to wait because he never would find out.
When he met Pepper Potts, he didn’t think much of her. Blue. Bright blue eyes that he could see. So, it didn’t mean much. But, the incessant voice in the back of his head tried to reason that “your soulmate could be platonic.”
But then years turned to decades, sleepless nights with countless women and men who hoped they’d be a match with Tony Stark were proven wrong, and the realization that he had fallen in love with Pepper Potts made him realize that maybe soulmates were really bullshit.
So, he kept hiding. He didn’t call it hiding, but that's what it was. He was the master at feigning eye contact. The art of looking anywhere but their eyes if he didn’t have the protection of his sunglasses or his mask. He knew how to look invested and yet never meet another person’s eyes.
He didn’t like eye contact. He associated it too much with bad things. His father’s demands to always look him in the eyes when he reprimanded him. Being paralyzed on his couch with Obie’s beady eyes staring into his motionless eyes. He didn't like eye contact because it forced him to be vulnerable, and he didn’t like being vulnerable.
Hammer drone attack. Mask meets mask. No soulmate connection.
When he meets Peter Parker for the second time — though he didn't know that — he didn’t meet his gaze. His eyes darted around his tiny room as he snooped around and showed off holograms. Peter never looked him in the eye, his hero worship and Tony’s intimidation making him too anxious to look the billionaire superhero in the eyes.
And then the sunglasses came back. Awkward pats on the back, ignored voicemails, and real contact being replaced by virtual suit conversations.
But then the ferry happened.
Tony was fuming, his temples were ready to burst from the pressure of how hard he was clenching his jaw.
“Previously on Peter Screws the Pooch: I tell you to stay away from this. Instead, you hacked a multimillion-dollar suit so you could sneak around behind my back doing the one thing I told you not to do.” Tony glared through the eyes of his suit at the teen.
“Is everyone okay?” Peter asked softly.
“No thanks to you.”
“No thanks to me?” Peter got off the edge and stepped closer to Tony. “Those weapons were out there, and I tried to tell you about it. But you didn’t listen. None of this would've happened to me if you had just listened to me. If you even cared, you’d actually be here.”
Tony stepped out of the suit, Peter retracting in shock. “I did listen, kid. Who do you think called the FBI, huh? Do you know that I was the only one who believed in you? Everyone else said I was crazy to recruit a 14-year-old kid.”
“I’m fifteen,” he mumbled, not looking up.
“No, this is where you zip it, all right? The adult is talking. What if somebody had died tonight? Different story, right? ‘Cause that's on you. And if you died, I feel like that’s on me. I don’t need that on my conscience.”
“Yes,” Tony repeated, turning his gaze away from Peter.
“I, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it.” He looked at the suit.
“I understand. I just wanted to be like you.” He looked at his feet.
“And I wanted you to be better. Okay, it’s not working out. I’m gonna need the suit back.” He held out his hand and motioned for him to hand it over, not looking at him.
“For how long?”
“Forever,” he said, staring at the emblem on his chest. Peter shook his head, shocked. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s how it works.”
“No, no, no… please, please, please…”
“Let’s have it,” Tony insisted, not daring to look up.
“You don’t understand. Please. This is all I have. I’m nothing without this suit.”
Tony’s eyes snapped up. “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have i…” His head throbbed, overwhelmed. The ground felt like it was shaking, his vision brightening and spinning. Brown. Brown brown brown. He saw it. He could see it all. Brown brown brown. Then that means that he… and that Peter is…
Peter was staring at Tony, flabbergasted, mouth wide open. “I…”
And Tony did the only thing he knew how to. He hid. He stepped back into his suit and he flew away.
A multimillion-dollar Spider-Man suit in a paper bag was webbed to his lab window the next day.
A week went by and Tony continued to sulk in confusion. He overworked, the way he always coped. He ignored Peppers calls, ignored Happy’s updates, and ignored the world.
He couldn’t stand to look at himself in the mirror. All the brown was just a reminder of what he had done. What he had lost by leaving.
He wore long sleeves and gloves so he didn’t have to see his tan skin. He only worked on his glass workbench so he wouldn’t have to see the brown wood. He was avoiding it. He was avoiding the brown.
A plane was crashed. A note was left. A boy with brown eyes almost died.
Pepper leaned against the doorframe, crossing her arms. “Tony. You have to stop.”
“I’m on the brink of something, Pep. I can’t stop.”
“Yes,” she continued. “You need to stop. You need to stop hiding in your lab and burning yourself out and you need to sleep or shower or eat or anything but sit at that stupid lab bench and tinker.”
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
“Just talk to him. He saved your ass with that stunt he pulled by the shore, and now you have to go there and make amends.”
“You know it’s not that easy.”
“Then make it that easy, Tony! I don’t know what got you so worked up, but I can’t stand by and watch you destroy yourself again.”
“He’s my soulmate, okay? He’s my soulmate and I took his suit and he nearly killed himself for me and what did I do? Not answer his calls. Not listen to him. Not back him up. Not give him life saving tech that could’ve… and I… I’m a coward. I’m a coward for running. And I know I’m never going to… I told him that I wanted him to be better than me, but he already is. He’s a better man than I’ve ever been and he’s not even old enough to be a man and I… I don’t know what to do.”
She kneeled next to his chair. “Talk to him.” She recoiled back in disgust. “After you take a shower.”
And so there he was, staring at the worn down apartment door of the Parker residence, hesitantly raising his hand up to knock but putting it down every time he lost the courage.
“Fuck it,” he whispered. He knocked.
There were distant footsteps, and the door swung open, a very unhappy May Parker answering. “What are you doing here?”
“Is he here?”
“Not like you care,” May replied bitterly.
“I… I need to see him.”
“Who the hell do you think you are, Stark? You let my nephew, my child , swing around New York and risk his life for months behind my back, then take away the one thing that kept him safe, and let him crash your plane to save your stuff to stop some grown man who tried to kill him, and you show up here after it’s all done and expect, what? Forgiveness? For him to come crawling back to you and work with you again when you didn’t give a damn enough to give him the time of day? Well guess what? You lost the chance to do that when he came home on the brink of death, sobbing about how he wished he could’ve told me sooner and that he had nowhere else to go.”
“I just need to see him.”
May’s hard exterior faltered. “He didn’t tell me, but I know. He was very invested in my meatloaf, and believe me, he never is. He just marveled at it. And he keeps staring at his hands and standing in front of the mirror and just doing nothing but look at his reflection. I know he sees brown now, and I know that he only started seeing it after you left him out on that ferry. So, tell me, what are you doing here?”
“I just… I want to fix this. To figure it out. To make things better.”
She paused. “I’m giving you five minutes. He’s in his room doing homework right now, and I know he has heard this entire conversation, so he knows you’re coming. If he tells you to go, you go. If he lets you stay long enough to talk, I will allow it. If he wants to continue seeing you, then we’ll discuss, but this is my home, and that is my child in there, and if you so much as dare to…”
“I won’t. I just… I need to talk to him.”
“So you’ve said.”
Tony nodded awkwardly, entering the apartment and taking it in for the second time. It looked so different with the brown.
He approached Peter’s door, raising his hand to knock the door gently, but Peter sensed him. “You can come in.”
Tony slowly opened the door, his breath hitching as he caught sight of Peter. He could really see him. Brown hair, brown freckles, brown eyes. Brown eyes.
“I’m sorry about your plane,” Peter said.
“Your plane. I crashed it and I’m sure it costed like a fortune, but it was the only way to…”
“That’s not why I’m here,” Tony blurted out. “I don’t care about that plane. I’m more wor… I just… how are you doing?”
Peter looked at his cast ridden body with healing burns. “I could be better.”
“Right. Well, uh, I came here to tell you that I am… I am s… that I’m just here to say I…” He took a breath to compose himself. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re just saying that because you have to. I’m your soulmate and it would be uber awkward if you ended things like that and never saw me again, so you’re here saying you’re sorry because you have to.”
“No. No I… I’m not.”
“Then why are you here?” Peter pushed.
“To… to well… to see you. To see if you’ll… I don’t know… I just wanted to…”
“To actually talk to me for the first time in the last year since the big fight?”
“You’re taking this better than I am, clearly.”
“I’m terrified, actually. And freaking out all the time. But I just… I’ve had this last week, and I’ve accepted the two outcomes.”
“I never see you again, the way it was before, or…”
“Or I get to actually know Tony Stark and find out why I’m his soulmate.”
Tony let the words sink in. Finally, he turned back to Peter. “You craving anything?”
He shrugged. “I could go for a good burger.”
He smiled. “Well if May says yes, how does a good burger sound?”
“I’d like that.”
“I never believed people when they told me that when you mixed all the colors together it would make brown. I didn’t think it was possible for that to be a real color.”
“I always thought that brown was going to be this amazing color, like the most neon, most extravagant color ever. It’s… it’s okay, I guess?” He laughed. “I mean, it’s absolutely insane to see brown for the first time, but I thought it was going to be like holographic or something crazy.”
“Exactly!” Tony took a moment to think. “What’s something that’s brown that you never imagined would look the way it does?”
“Hair. Like, all the different shades of brown in just their hair with the highlights and stuff? It’s crazy.”
“I think what has really surprised me was nature. Bark and dirt and leaves? It’s all really new.”
The waitress set their food on the table. “Here ya fella’s go. Enjoy your meal."
Their eyes went wide. “Hamburgers are brown?!”