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“Stark.” Coulson’s voice crackles over the intercom – it shouldn’t really, because the speakers are StarkTech and Tony himself upgrades them, like, every chances he gets (which isn’t often, hi, being a superhero keeps him pretty fucking busy) but a bit of crackle adds to the atmosphere. Besides, it gives him an excuse not to listen when he’s in his workshop and that can only be a good thing.

“Agent.” He pushes his goggles up, wiping some sweat away with the back of one hand and pausing to inspect what he was working on – work blackouts are kind of awesome sometimes, but that’s also how the experimental universal remote happened, and that ended up being a bit too universal. “What’s the problem?”

“There is a situation occurring at SHIELD that requires your particular expertise.” Coulson sounds almost shady – shadier than usual, even, but whatever.

“Don’t tell me Thor broke his iPod again trying to find out where the music was coming from? Because it is, quite frankly, an insult to expect me to fix outdated Apple technology, seriously, I keep offering to give him a Stark Nano and no one’s taking me up on my offer, I’m hurt, Phil—”

“We don’t have time for your feelings right now, Tony,” Coulson says and – what, is that a slight note of frazzle in his voice? Intriguing. “We’ll see you at SHIELD ASAP.”

“Roger that,” Tony says, and pulls his goggles off properly, gingerly poking at the invention in front of him. It doesn’t seem to be moving so whatever it is, it can wait. So can this so-called ‘situation’ - ASAP is a very different thing than urgent, after all, and Tony’ll be damned if he’s showing up at SHIELD without looking his tip-toppiest.

-

No one speaks to him when he arrives, which is a little weird but not that weird in the grand scheme of things – being an Avenger has seriously upped the ante for what Tony considers weird now. Still, it is a little eerie to travel up to Fury’s floor in almost silence (broken, of course, by the elevator music – no matter how top-secret the organisation, there is always Muzak in the lift and Tony finds himself coding a hack to replace it with Iron Man in his head almost without realising).

He considers himself a prepared sort of guy, and it’s difficult to render him speechless – no matter the occasion, Tony Stark will always have some sort of retort on the tip of his tongue, but nothing could prepare him for heading into the conference room and seeing an all too familiar boy sat sulkily at the table, Fury and Coulson on one side and Clint on the other.

Coulson nods his head at Tony when he enters, hands clasped behind his back.

“Tony Stark, I believe you know Tony Stark.”

The boy looks up at him, catches his eyes – sharp and dark and angry, shit, Tony remembers being that angry, fifteen and self-medicating already with whiskey or gin or whatever he could get his hands on. The boy – Tony – this is already confusing, he needs like, a code name for this kid, Tony II or whatever – baby Tony curls his lip, showing a split-second of distaste before tipping his chair back on two legs and kicking his feet up on the table.

That’s what I end up like in the future? Future me, Tony II or whatever, you’ve got to let me know about whatever you did wrong so I can fix it.”

“There’s two of them,” Clint mumbles under his breath, just loud enough to be heard. “If we got two of anyone, Tony Stark would be my last choice.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise we needed your input here, Legolas,” baby Tony says, frowning at the bow in Clint’s hand and Clint rolls his eyes.

“Your future self already made that joke about six months ago, you’re a bit late to the party here, baby Stark.”

“I’m not a baby,” Tony II says, frowning in Clint’s direction and allowing them to see genuine perturbation for the first time. “And I could dissemble that bow in about five minutes and make it even better, so watch your mouth.”

“You do not get to speak to a SHIELD agent that way,” Fury says, looming over him but hey, that never works on Tony at the moment so why Fury thinks it’ll work on a teenaged Tony is anyone’s guess, to be honest.

“So, uh, what happened exactly to bring Mini-Me over here?” Tony asks, looking anywhere but at baby Tony. Fuck, this is confusing. “And how do we send him back in the Delorean?”

“We think it was Reed Richards,” Coulson says and Tony rolls his eyes, leans back against the wall (not because his legs are shaking) and says, “Well, of course it was Reed, for a so-called intelligent scientist he does some really dumb stuff, am I right?”

“Look who’s speaking,” Clint says, and baby Tony flicks a glance at him. Tony recognises that look – trying to figure something out, get his bearings and it’s just so weird, because he knows what that was like and it seems so alien now (heh, alien, maybe not the best choice of words).

“So how does he fix it? I’m assuming it was some kind of rip in the space-time continuum – we can just push Mini-Me through and sew it back up, right? No, of course not, it was never going to be that easy, where’s Bruce, why don’t we have Banner over here? Someone other than Mr Stretch working on this would be great and oh, hey, guys, just a thought, don’t expect me to be the babysitter.”

“Like I need a babysitter,” baby Tony interjects. “I’ve got my own life, I don’t even need to be here.”

“This isn’t the ‘80s anymore, kid,” Tony says dismissively. If he doesn’t think about the fact that he’s essentially talking to himself – well, even if he does, it’s not the first time. “Hey, here’s some devastating news – no one listens to Suicidal Tendencies anymore, you need to find some new angry loud music to piss off your dad.”

“Howard’s still here?”

“Uhhh, not exactly,” Tony hedges and casts a glance at Coulson, who doesn’t seem inclined to help in the slightest. “Back to this fun time-space thing that brought us our own little bundle of joy. If I tell him shit about the future am I going to cause some kind of paradox? Or is that something else that Reed happily didn’t mention?”

“Knowing you and your mouth, Stark, we sincerely doubt that you could keep quiet for long enough to prevent a paradox so that’s a risk we’re going to have to take,” Fury says. “We’re getting Reed to send over the schematics and you and Banner can fix this.”

I can fix this,” interrupts baby Tony which, oh, this is so not what Tony needs right now. “I just got into MIT, I’m pretty sure I’m a qualified genius and I’m clearly as intelligent as your best scientists if they’re creating rips in time without any knowledge of how to reverse it.”

“While the kid has a point,” Tony allows because, seriously, Reed? “I vote that we stick him in a room with a minibar to keep him occupied until we can send him back.”

The force of two disapproving looks at once do nothing to crush his spirit – or make him think that is a bad idea because, hey, baby Tony would pass out after three straight whiskeys and then, bam, problem sorted.

“He’ll go where all the Avengers go,” Fury says, in a tone that brooks no room for an argument. “To the mansion.”

“Of course, you have a mansion,” baby Tony says, rolling his eyes, and Tony can’t even bring himself to point out that a) technically it’s their mansion and also b) baby Tony will know this mansion better than anyone.

Instead, he slips his sunglasses on and says, “C’mon, kid, let’s go. I’ve got a million and one things to do and none of them involve babysitting you.”

Baby Tony’s glare increases, the corners of his mouth turning down into a sharp frown, but he gets up and follows Tony out of the door anyway. Tony’s willing to get that it’s not so much wanting to go with him as it is not wanting to stay at SHIELD.

“I told you I don’t need a babysitter,” baby Tony says, when they’re in the lift. “Also, this music is awful, I expected better from a government organisation’s headquarters.”

“Okay, I remember what I was listening to when I was fifteen and you have no room to be criticising anyone else’s music taste,” Tony says, barely comprehending his words as his mind runs a mile a minute, trying to figure out how to fix this. “Now shut up and listen and I’ll give you a quick overview of the team living at the mansion, so you know who everyone is.”

“I’m sure JARVIS can do that,” baby Tony says, hands shoved in pockets, then flicks a distrustful glance Tony’s way. “JARVIS is gonna be there, right?”

“Right,” Tony says, glad in spite of himself that baby Tony will have at least one constant – and someone else to babysit him, JARVIS is more than capable. He’s dealt with fifteen year old Tony before, he’ll be able to do it again. “I think I’ve even got some of my MIT textbooks somewhere if you want to get a head start on the reading.” (He doesn’t, but he can get them sent over.)

“Why would I want to do that? I probably know it all anyway,” baby Tony says, stepping out of the elevator and frowning at the car.

“Of course you do,” Tony says, with as much sarcasm as he can considering that baby Tony does, or will do soon enough. “Here’s our car.”

-

“Tony – oh, uh, hi,” Steve says, looking slightly taken aback at a fifteen year old boy in the kitchen. Obviously Steve’s quota for weirdness hasn’t been affected at all by any of the seriously fucking weird things that have happened to him frequently over the past forever. “Have we met?”

“Steve, this is fifteen year old me.” Because Tony is nothing if not a star at introductions. “Baby Tony, this is Captain America. You’re welcome.”

Baby Tony flicks a suspicious glance at Tony. “You’re fucking with me.”

“No, and mind your language, I’m sure you can find a better way to phrase your disbelief than that,” Tony reprimands him. “Also no, I’m not, although guess what – it’s not Howard who finds him, so all that neglect is totally never even worth it.”

Baby Tony ignores him though, staring at Steve – and Tony recognises that look, he’s seen it on Coulson’s face enough times. He’d forgotten – or more likely blocked out how much of a fanboy fifteen year old Tony had been for Captain America, and this is him meeting Captain America before any of the disillusionment or resentment towards this legendary figure had begun to set in. Still, it’s embarrassing just how much blatant adoration is in his eyes and Tony can’t look, choosing instead to take a screwdriver to the toaster. It still hasn’t recovered from Thor’s attentions last week.

“Your costume is really lame,” baby Tony announces suddenly, and Tony’s startled into a laugh. “I never understood why you had wings on your helmet when you can’t even fly.”

“It’s not actually a helmet,” Steve says hesitantly. “And I didn’t design it.”

Baby Tony stares at him for a few moments longer and then says, “No. I could design you a better one. You could even actually fly.”

“No, he couldn’t,” Tony interrupts. “If anyone is designing Rogers a new uniform, a) it’s me and b) I’m the only one allowed to fly around here. Besides, they’re metaphorical wings on his helmet, he’s probably flying the American flag or something.”

“It’s not a helmet,” Steve repeats. “It’s a cowl.”

Tony can’t see the look baby Tony is sending Steve’s way right now, but he’s willing to bet it’s almost identical to his.

“Alright, I think that’s enough hanging out with Earth’s mightiest heroes for tonight. I’ll show you your room and you can do whatever you need to keep yourself occupied; I’m sure there’s some tech lying around and if there isn’t, there’ll be more than enough shiny objects for you to dismantle.”

Baby Tony looks like he’s about to protest but stops himself. It’s a battle he can’t win, and Tony’s – okay, Tony’s actually really into fighting battles he knows he can’t win, as it happens, but he also knows how to pick them.

“Can I just talk to Captain America for like five more minutes?” he tries instead and Tony didn’t remember actually knowing how to ask for things, so he’s surprised enough that he says it’s okay. It ends up being more than five minutes, but Tony’s too busy reading over Reed’s notes on the rip in the fabric of time to tell. Actually, maybe he should get Jane Foster in on this as well. She’s still trying to figure out how to permanently open up that rainbow bridge thing though, so maybe not.

Steve comes to find him afterwards, when baby Tony is safely ensconced in a room with enough fake-out security measures that even though he can probably get past them, Tony’s pretty sure he’ll get bored before he does. It’s also likely that there’s some booze lying around but he’s too tired to hide that, like seriously, the mansion isn’t baby proofed and it’s sure as hell not baby Tony proofed so whatever, someone else can deal with this right now. As good as Tony is at thinking about himself, that should be revised to mean only his present self, thank you very much.

Steve sits on the end of Tony’s bed and smiles at him, all golden and shining, fuck, it is so unfair. “You never told me you were a fan.”

Were, past tense,” Tony corrects, and Steve’s expression doesn’t even change. “Think I picked it up by osmosis, Howard never shut up about you.”

“It’s cute,” Steve says, and amends it. “You were cute. I mean—” and shit, is he blushing, has baby Tony managed to achieve something that Tony never manages to without the use of certain cuss words and innuendos? Oh, this is so not fair. “You know, you – he – asked to see my shield.”

“You saw how fascinated I was by it when we first met,” Tony says as dismissively as he can. “Vibranium isn’t something I manage to get my hands on very often.”

Tony,” Steve says exasperatedly. “It’s okay to like things, you know.”

“Maybe if you’re the great American hero,” Tony says, and rolls his eyes at Steve. “Fine, whatever, I kind of liked Captain America as a child. But then I met you, and we all know how well that didn’t go.”

Steve doesn’t say anything for a few minutes, and they sit in a not unpleasant silence. Tony feels like his head’s too full; it’s not a feeling he gets often because his head can hold a lot, just saying, but the recent addition of someone else to their island of misfit toys is not something he feels well equipped to cope with right now, regardless of who that addition actually is.

“I just want to get rid of him – of me,” Tony says, and makes a face. “Fucking annoying.”

“Which ‘you’ are you talking about?” Steve asks softly and Tony flaps a hand at him.

“Uh-uh, Rogers, don’t try that psychoanalysis bullshit on me. Better therapists than you have tried and failed and besides, you’re from the ‘40s, did this happy clappy talk about your feelings stuff even exist back then?”

“It’s funny,” Steve says, as though Tony hasn’t even spoken, “but I thought eighteen was the age you were supposed to be when you thought you knew everything.”

“I’m an early bloomer, Rogers,” Tony says, and ignores the look on Steve’s face. “No, really, I’m not being facetious – well, I am, but seriously, fifteen and I was at MIT, I’d invented a ton of stuff already and I had Obie telling me how awesome I was – probably turning me against my father, I know that now and also, hi, like he even needed to, but I was young and impressionable back then – don’t laugh, it’s true.”

“Not laughing,” Steve says, but there’s definite amusement in his tone. “I guess I just didn’t imagine you being like that at fifteen.”

“What, a total asshole? Let’s be real here, it’s not all that different,” Tony says, as flippantly as he knows how – like this isn’t horrifically embarrassing, everyone seeing what a complete mess he was back then.

“You’re not an asshole,” Steve says, and manages to make it sound like a reprimand. “Just... sad.” And wow, that feels like a punch in the gut.

“Well, you’ve got my father to blame for that one,” Tony says, and rolls over to face the wall. He feels petulant and stupid and all of fifteen, and maybe having baby Tony around is rubbing off on him somehow. “See you tomorrow, Steve.”

He feels the bed dip as Steve stands up and leaves without saying anything.

-

Tony offers to take baby Tony to see his workshop, but baby Tony refuses – instead, he picks up the bundle of wires and notes that he’s working on and insists on hanging out in the sitting room. Tony suspects it’s just because he wants to see the other Avengers but can’t bring himself to ask – but he doesn’t say anything, focusing on his tablet instead. They’re probably both working against each other, but it’s not like he’s going to speak to baby Tony more than he has to.

Thor wanders into the room around midday and doesn’t even look surprised to see a fifteen year old version of Tony sat in front of the couch.

“My brother once indulged in similar such trickery,” Thor booms, dropping to one knee and inspecting baby Tony. “Fortunately, his was but an illusion.”

“I’m not an illusion,” baby Tony snaps, but he’s intrigued by Thor. “And you’re not a god, you’re an alien. An alien from a planet that correlates heavily to Norse mythology, but still.”

“Indeed I am alien to you, as Midgard and all its ways still remain alien to me,” Thor agrees cheerfully, standing up only to drop into the seat next to baby Tony. “Is this something that occurs often here? Should I be wary of my Lady Jane decreasing in age?”

“Uh, no, you shouldn’t, and also I’m still here,” Tony interrupts, coming into the room.

Thor beams at him. “Ah, good Tony, there are two of you! This is even more so like Loki’s ways.”

“He didn’t do this, though,” Tony says, at the same time as baby Tony says, “Loki, as in god of mischief? Why can’t he be the one that lives in your stupid mansion instead of Thor?”

“Hey, don’t be rude, and also Loki tries to kill you multiple times in the future so you’ll actually be really happy every time he isn’t around,” Tony says and then, at the hurt look Thor gives him, “Oh my God, Thor, I know you miss him but seriously, really happy that he’s not trying to kill us right now, I’m not going to lie about that.”

“People in the future want to kill you a lot, huh?” baby Tony says, and his mouth curls up into a smirk. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Oh, don’t act like half your MIT buddies won’t want to kill you too,” Tony snaps. “Also arguing with myself is a new low. Don’t you have some self destructive tendencies to fulfil?”

“Clearly they remain unfulfilled, judging by the way that I’m flying around in a giant tin can by the time I hit forty,” baby Tony shoots back – and seriously, Tony wasn’t kidding about the new low. Whatever, baby Tony can sit around and be a dick to people all he wants, but Tony really needs to fix this and he can’t do that by sitting around and exchanging barbs with himself. Baby Tony can hang out in the sitting room, but Tony has an actual workshop and a life now and he needs to send baby Tony back to where he came from. Fuck the rest of them.

-

“Elder Tony,” Thor says affably, as a greeting. “The Son of Coul wishes to speak with you from the room of video.”

“The video link, gotcha,” Tony says, pushing himself up off the kitchen stool. His back aches just the tiniest bit – he’s not sure how long he’s been sat hunched over on the stool, he only meant to sit there for a minute or two but then JARVIS finished running the analysis on some of the data Reed sent over and he’d got distracted by a possible anomaly. The problem with Reed’s work is that it’s not meant to be seen by anyone than him, and tends to go off on tangents. Plus, Tony is a hundred per cent sure that Reed isn’t giving the time-space thing his full attention right now. ‘Not a high priority,’ or some bullshit.

Coulson’s already on the screen by the time that Tony gets in there and he frowns when he sees that Tony’s alone. “You haven’t brought your younger self?”

“I wasn’t told that I had to,” Tony says, and shrugs. “But if you want to come over here and try and get him to do anything, be my guest. Literally. We’ve got a spare bedroom – hell, we’ve got a whole floor of them. Avengers slumber party time.”

“I think I’ll take a rain check on that offer,” Coulson says dryly. “Never mind, then. Director Fury wanted an update on the progress made.”

“Getting there,” Tony says, as non-committal as he can. “Slowly, but. Yeah.”

“Glad to hear it,” Coulson says. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but if you could make this your priority, Stark, it would be for the best. I know you subscribe to the belief that there’s no such thing as too much Tony Stark, but I believe we may have found that amount.”

“Ha ha,” Tony says in as deadpan a tone as he can manage (it’s difficult, he’s not really built for deadpan). “Good to know. No, seriously, I want this sorted just as much as you do, maybe even more so I’m on it – both of us are on it, don’t worry about it. Is that everything?”

“Actually,” Coulson says, and launches into a discussion on the new explosive arrows Tony had made for Clint the other week. It’s easy – he doesn’t really need to think about it, the questions are the kind that he could probably answer in his sleep, so it’s nice to put himself on autopilot for a while and not think about all the havoc that could be being wreaked outside of the room.

-

“Hey, baby Tony,” Tony says, sticking his head into the room that baby Tony seems to have claimed as his own. “Movie night tonight, you coming?”

Baby Tony ignores him. There’s some sort of robot nipping at his feet and Tony narrows his eyes at it – the flaws are obvious but it’s still slightly more advanced than he remembers being able to make when he was that age. Maybe baby Tony having access to the notes and equipment here is fucking up the equilibrium or something.

“C’mon, you totally heard me,” Tony says, snapping his fingers until baby Tony looks up. “That’s more like it. We’re watching Brave, are you in? It’ll be worth it just to watch Clint have a full on breakdown over the archery techniques.”

“I’ll pass,” baby Tony says, not looking up. “I’m actually trying to figure out how to get myself home, so.”

Tony really wants to just leave him to it – seriously, there are no words for how badly he just wants to fuck off and pretend that baby Tony doesn’t exist for an hour or two but he remembers the way Steve had looked at him earlier and – the robot. Tony knows that baby Tony must want a friend – it’s stupid, okay, he’s not exactly proud of it, but Dummy exists for a reason.

“You’ll have fun,” he says instead. “I don’t think you’ve met Natasha yet – well, okay, she’s not exactly fun, and Brave tends to make Thor a little emotional – I think Merida reminds him of Loki? – but hanging out with the team will be awesome, I promise.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” baby Tony says, flippant and somehow managing to inject something into it to make it more than a teenage cliché. “I mean, sure, if anyone could it would be you – me – I guess, but on the other hand, you should know more than anyone that I’m just not gonna do it. So.” He shrugs a shoulder. “You won’t even let me try on the Iron Man suit, so fuck you.”

“Okay, that’s mostly because it would be way too big for you,” Tony says, which is a lie – it’s mostly because the Iron Man suit is his baby and he definitely doesn’t trust himself with it. Also a little bit because baby Tony called it a tin can and Tony won’t forget an insult like that. “Look, you’re a smart kid, and I know that more than anyone so seriously, give Reed and Bruce and me a hand and we can send you straight back to MIT.”

“Why? So I can grow up to be an asshole like you?” baby Tony asks, and he’s got just the right amount of genuine questioning in his voice to make Tony flinch. “Don’t worry, I’m going to go back – there’s nothing worth sticking around here for, anyway. I just don’t get how I manage to turn out exactly like Howard.”

Tony finds his voice. “I am nothing like Howard.”

Baby Tony stares at him with unabashed resentment and hate in his eyes before turning back to the mess of wires and circuit boards in front of him, picking it up and not even looking at Tony. “Whatever.”

-

Baby Tony continues to avoid the other Avengers as much as he can – he has a soft spot for Thor, Tony is pretty sure, but he can’t stand Clint or Natasha and Bruce hasn’t been around much lately which is probably for the best, because baby Tony could probably make Tony himself Hulk out and he hasn’t even been zapped with gamma rays. For some reason, though, he puts up with Steve. Tony pretends that he doesn’t know why.

The thing is that Tony can’t bring himself to leave the two of them alone. It’s probably related strongly to his masochistic tendencies – and yes, he knows he has those, it’s not exactly a hidden part of his personality – but there’s just something about the way Steve is so patient with him... It’s stupid, but Tony can’t help wondering why exactly Steve couldn’t have been like that with him. Not that he wanted to be treated like a fifteen year old, but it’s just – never mind.

Whatever the reason, baby Tony and Steve are currently having some kind of... discussion in the sitting room. Tony’s not exactly how it started but he’s midway through a bottle of scotch and that makes it slightly more bearable, as does the fact that he’s only partly listening – Bruce keeps sending analytics over and Tony can’t help feeling like there’s something very obvious about this entire space/time thing that he’s missing.

Baby Tony makes a contemptuous huff and it’s overdramatic enough that Tony can’t help glancing over at Steve – who is, stupidly, entirely focused on baby Tony. Whatever, Tony isn’t a child who can’t share his toys – except, okay, that’s exactly what he is. The sooner that baby Tony gets out of here, the better.

“Oh please,” baby Tony says, frowning at Steve, “you don’t have to pretend you like me just because for whatever reason you can put up with having him around.”

“I do like you,” Steve says calmly. “You just make it very hard sometimes – and that goes for both of you, I suppose.”

“Not a part of this conversation,” Tony says, waving his glass of scotch in their direction.

“I don’t get it,” baby Tony bursts out, after a few moments of pretending he doesn’t care. That’s another thing which gets easier with age. “He’s a dick. I’m nicer than he is, and I don’t –” He falls silent, cutting himself off in time and Tony closes his eyes briefly because he knows exactly what baby Tony is thinking. I don’t have any friends, is the end of that sentence – ugly and raw and honest, in a way that Tony hasn’t let himself be in years.

“Well, I didn’t like Tony at first,” Steve says, as though baby Tony made sense. “I thought he was all style and no substance.”

“Not much style either,” baby Tony mutters, but Tony can tell that he’s interested in spite of himself – and there’s still more than a little Captain America hero worship in play. “Seriously, what’s with the creepy goatee? You look like you should be beating off to hentai on the internet.”

“Excuse you, the goatee is suave,” Tony says, and catches a warning glare from Steve. “Sorry, whatever, still not a part of this.”

“If I’d met you first then I probably wouldn’t have liked you very much either,” Steve says, turning his gaze back on baby Tony. “And I definitely wouldn’t have liked you when I was fifteen. But because I know Tony, and can get past his obvious flaws—”

“No flaws,” Tony mutters to his tablet. “I’m a flawless genius playboy, I know you know this.”

“—it makes it easier for me to see past your defences.” Steve shrugs a shoulder. “Besides, things are difficult at your age.”

“Like you’d know,” baby Tony says. “You’re Captain America, you have no idea.”

“I wasn’t Captain America when I was fifteen,” Steve says. “If it hadn’t been for my best friend, Bucky—”

“Bucky?” Baby Tony sits up, fixing Steve with a stare. “Who’s he? Why have I never heard of him? Where is he now?”

Tony,” Tony snaps, without thinking. “Steve was frozen in ice for seventy years, where do you think his friends are?”

“Oh.” Baby Tony glances back at his notes, ignoring Tony. “Right.”

“My point was,” Steve says, “that being fifteen, uh, sucks.” He glances at Tony who just winks and gives him a thumbs up for his correct use of modern slang. Five points to Steve. He should really make some kind of chart for that.

“It does,” Tony agrees, and slams his stuff down. “But not as much as it looks like my forties are going to.”

-

Steve’s spending a ton of time with stupid baby Tony and Tony is definitely not jealous. It’s probably not even possible to be jealous of yourself, anyway, and it means that the time he isn’t spending on trying to send baby Tony back is going on Stark Industries instead, which can only really be a good thing and is going a little way at least to erasing some of the worry lines around Pepper’s eyes.

Of course, all this means is that he’s sat around feeling sorry for himself – but not moping, Tony Stark does not mope – and wondering exactly how much scotch he’s got left when Natasha unfolds herself from the couch in the corner of the room and shoots a glare at him.

Tony will never get over how much of a freakin’ ninja she is, seriously. “How long have you been there?”

“As though I’d tell you,” Natasha says. “Moping doesn’t suit you, Stark.”

“’M not moping,” Tony says in response. “Like you can talk, you’ve been avoiding me since forever.”

“I didn’t realise you were so inclined to seek out my company,” Natasha shoots back and leans back in her seat, stretching like a cat. It’s totally hot. Tony would be staring more if he didn’t think it would end with him impaled on one of her discreetly hidden throwing knives. “And I’ve been avoiding both of you. I hate teenagers.”

“So do I,” Tony says, and blinks at Clint as he enters the room. “Why, now this is a regular little party.”

“We really need to work on your definition of ‘party’,” Natasha says, sounding bored. “Clint, if you even think of putting Eight Legged Freaks on again then I will tell you right now, it wasn’t funny the first time.”

“Your sense of humour sucks,” Clint complains. “Also, Tony, the other you ate all the Pop Tarts and now we’ve got none left.”

“So get JARVIS to order you some more,” Tony says. “It’s not my fault.”

“Except for the part where it actually is,” Clint points out, and sits on the back of the couch – as though that’s remotely comfortable, seriously, SHIELD agents need to come with an off switch because it makes Tony jumpy seeing Clint perched in ridiculous places.

It’s only when Tony leaves that he almost trips up over baby Tony, who’s been sat outside the room the entire time.

“You know,” he says, “you could’ve come in and joined us.”

“I wouldn’t want to crash the party,” baby Tony snarls, picking up his things and stalking off. Jesus, Tony does not remember making that many dramatic exits as a kid.

-

They stay out of each other’s way for a while after that but then Tony’s rounding a corner, mind on the Quinjet upgrades when he hears it – the low murmur of conversation in the tone that means he’s not supposed to hear – and he slows automatically, back against the wall before he fully realises what he’s doing. Huh. All that training must actually be paying off in regards to his instincts then.

It’s a second or two before the sounds rearrange themselves into actual conversation (maybe he should work on some kind of advanced hearing aid – he’s pretty sure that Steve has slightly advanced hearing, it’d just be unfair not to have an advantage like that of his own) and he recognises the sound of his own voice with a shock; it will never not be weird.

“..just don’t understand why you even like him,” baby Tony says, sullen and confused – he’s used to being the brightest and the best, and here Steve is the only one of the team that even has time for him.

“I know,” Steve says – although he sounds all Captain America right now, and hardly any Steve Rogers. “And I know that you hate hearing this, but you’ve got a lot to learn – I don’t mean your engineering and things, you’ve very good at that. But even when I first met you, you were very different. I’m always surprised at how much you learn in so short of a time, so I expect you to be even more brilliant by the time you’re in your forties.”

Steve,” baby Tony says, as though he’s not sure he’s even allowed to call him that, and then there’s rustling and breathing and –

“Tony, I’m sorry, but –” and that’s Captain America speaking, firm and gentle.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” baby Tony says, brittle and – Tony winces at the thread of hurt running through that he hasn’t quite managed to hide. “I just – don’t know what I was thinking, forget it.”

“You’re fifteen,” Captain America says and baby Tony huffs out a humourless laugh and says, “And it’s not even about me, is it? It’s him – I’m not stupid, we both know I’m not, and I can see how you look at him. I’m never going to be him.”

“I don’t – I don’t look at him,” Steve stammers, thrown off guard and of course, if anyone can throw Captain America off their game then it’s going to be Tony, however old he is.

He turns, not needing to hear anymore, and heads back to his workshop. Baby Tony may have been stupid to think that Steve would look twice at him, but that’s something else he’ll grow out of.

-

“Look,” Bruce says. “If anyone knows what it’s like to hate yourself – and I mean literally, yourself, then it’s me, Tony.”

“Wow, is that how you pick up all the girls?” Tony asks, and picks up some gadget or gizmo – what’s the difference anyway? – from one of Bruce’s counters. “’Cause I’m telling you, Bruce, we gotta work on your lines.”

“Ha ha,” Bruce says, but he’s smiling. “I’m just saying, if you want to – I don’t know, have some kind of alternate personality past self bonding session, I could maybe do that. As long as you bring the blueberries.”

“What, the friendship bracelets weren’t enough for you?” Tony asks, and jabs him in the side with a pen – old times’ sake and all that. “Nah, I’m good. Just want to forget about it. And unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be enough alcohol in the world for that.”

“Well, if it helps, I’ve been looking at the schematics but you know we picked up those Doombots the other day and I haven’t really been giving it my full attention – I’m sorry, Tony, it’s just—”

“I know, I know, it’s not really a priority,” Tony says, and waves a hand as dismissively as he can. Bruce sounds apologetic and really, this is Reed’s mess and Tony’s job to sort out – apparently, no one else is up to it, and baby Tony isn’t an active threat. “What’ve you got for me?”

“Nothing of any interest, I’m afraid,” Bruce says, “but there is something about the Doombots that you might be interested in.”

Tony manages to forget baby Tony even exists for the next few hours. It’s pretty awesome.

-

“I fixed it,” baby Tony announces first thing the next day, wired and jumpy in the kitchen, stool tipped precariously back on two legs. “It’s a pity that it’s classified so I can’t publish it and no one will ever know how much of a child prodigy I was at fifteen—”

“I’m sure you’ll let someone know,” Natasha interrupts dryly, casting a glance at Tony.

“But I did it. And I’m going to take full credit, of course. Tell Fury I love him, I feel like the big guy and I really had something, you know?”

“‘The big guy’ refers to someone else that you’ve been lucky to not meet, actually,” Tony says. “But rest assured I’ll pass the message on. You ready to go home? Got everything? Passport, keys, overinflated ego? Definitely don’t want to stumble across that next time I’m in the kitchen.”

Baby Tony slants a look at him and says, “Pot, kettle. Pot, kettle, tin can, actually.”

“And that’s why you never got to try on the Iron Man suit,” Tony says. “How soon can it be ready then? Today, tomorrow?”

“I sent the notes over to Reed, like, this morning,” baby Tony replies. “It should be ready as soon as we get there – Central Park I think.”

“I am going to be so glad to be rid of you,” Clint says cheerfully. “Can we put you both in there?”

“You can try,” baby Tony says, glaring at him and woah, when did baby Tony actually start being defensive of Tony? Weird.

“No, don’t say that, because while you could probably take Cupid over there, Natasha will take you up on that challenge and succeed.”

“Okay,” Steve interrupts, and actually smiles at baby Tony. “I’m assuming that SHIELD are already aware and will have the area blocked off from the public.”

“Yeah, I pretended I was you,” baby Tony says, nodding at Tony who makes a face at him – not his most mature moment, but whatever. He’s not going to be relieved until baby Tony is actually gone from his life. “Coulson said that we just need to get over there ASAP. You know, I don’t think he likes me. It’s a little heartbreaking.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t bond with him over your Captain America action figures,” Clint says, and beams at Tony when he shoots him a glare. “Okay, let’s assemble. Do we all need to be there? We don’t, right?”

“Just me,” baby Tony says, and sounds a little – well, Tony can’t really place that.

“I’m coming,” he announces instead. “Got to see myself off and all that.”

In the end, Steve ends up coming along as well and the look of happiness on baby Tony’s face is a little heartbreaking. Tony resolves to practice making that expression in front of a mirror as soon as they get back so he knows exactly what to avoid.

-

Everything goes off without a hitch.

-

“Hey, Steve.” Tony flops down next to Steve and grins at him, kicking his legs over Steve’s lap. It feels so, so good to do that without a malevolent fifteen year old shooting him death glares. “What’s up?”

“You know,” Steve says hesitantly, “he said he was in love with me.” He shoots Tony a rueful smile. “I wasn’t sure whether to tell you or not but then I thought – it’s not sharing someone’s secret if I’m sharing it with... them. Right?”

The thing is, Tony isn’t surprised although his hands are shaking. Obviously baby Tony was in love with Steve because adult Tony – Tony is, he doesn’t need any identifiers anymore. It’s not a new thing – it’s been a slow burn almost since he met Steve, which is incredibly embarrassing to admit even to himself. And of course baby Tony, still with hearts in his eyes for Captain America, would fall for Steve – generous, patient Steve who was the only one even willing to spend time with him. Even Tony didn’t want to be around him – and he knows how that must have felt, that not even his older self wanted to be around him, but he didn’t and selfish is one thing that Tony has never pretended not to be.

“If we’re sharing his secrets then here,” Tony says instead, and taps a few buttons on his tablet. The specs for a new Captain America suit project into the room, slowly rotating 360 degrees. “He made you a flying suit. Although I’m not sure how he had time, in between sorting out the whole time travelly thing.”

Steve looks at him as though he’s stupid, or at the very least just incredibly slow. “Of course he did,” Steve says. “He’s you.”

“Well, I am the master of multi-tasking,” Tony agrees, preening a little bit and trying to ignore the way that his hands are still shaking because really, that’s just ridiculous. “If you’re going to have a new flying costume, though, then it’s going to be designed by me – and I mean present me, not past me, I’m just letting you know.”

“Oh,” Steve says, and looks down at his hands briefly before catching Tony’s eye again with an abashed expression. “Uh, I’d rather not, if that’s okay. I mean.” He shrugs one shoulder, dropping his gaze back down to his hands. “I kind of like flying with you.”

“Well,” Tony says again, because he’s totally not lost for words or anything but it’s just – taking him a moment or two to respond to that. In the end, he goes for an awkward, “I like flying with you too, big guy,” and gives Steve a friendly punch on the shoulder.

Two things happen. The first is that Tony doesn’t quite manage to hide his wince – Steve’s shoulder is like rock hard, that should be illegal or something – and the second is that Steve’s brow crumples into a frown and he says, “Did you just hit me?”

“It was a friendly hit,” Tony explains. “Like friends do.”

“Friends hit each other?” Steve asks, with a raised eyebrow, and Tony allows himself a brief moment to mourn for the days when he could pass anything off to Steve as ‘something we do now in modern times’ and Steve would believe it.

“Yes,” Tony says as firmly as he can – hey, the playful punch is totally a thing, just because he can’t remember a time when he’s ever done it before doesn’t mean that he hasn’t – and nods for good measure. “But don’t hit me, because I don’t feel like being bruised for weeks. Even if it will probably end up turning red, white and blue.”

Tony,” Steve says, and sighs. Tony can’t shake the feeling that he’s disappointing him somehow, but Steve doesn’t say anything else so they end up watching the end of Junkyard Wars in silence.

-

The thing is, Steve can’t leave anything alone. He’s the kind of guy who will sit and poke at his own bruises – or he would, if they didn’t heal super fast – so Tony’s not overly surprised when Steve waylays him outside of his room the next morning.

“I’m on my way to a board meeting, can this wait?”

No,” Steve says, refusing to move. “Tony, I know what you’re like, I’m not going to let you start drinking yourself to death over the next few months because there’s something bothering you that you don’t know how to deal with.” Tony doesn’t say anything and Steve takes a step forward, one hand carefully encircling Tony’s wrist; he’s used to his strength now in a way that means he never uses it.

Except Tony isn’t whatever Steve thinks he is, so he shakes off his hand and grins at Steve instead, as sly as he knows how and just as careful. “Thanks for your concern, Captain,” he drawls out, “but I think I’ll be fine. In case you haven’t noticed, my blood alcohol levels are just about where they should be right now.”

“Tony,” Steve says, exasperated, and Tony rolls his eyes in response and says, “Yes, I think we’ve established that you know my name by now.”

“Listen to me!” Steve snaps and it’s enough to throw Tony off his guard for like, an entire second. It’s not like he’s never heard Steve lose his temper before, and especially with him, but they haven’t – Steve hasn’t been like this, properly frustrated with him, in a while. A long while. So he sighs, and texts Pepper to let her know he’s going to be late (she should be grateful for the advance notice, really) and doesn’t move away from him.

“Alright, you’ve got – oh, five minutes of my time,” he says, making a production out of looking at his wrist. “Go.”

“It’s a good job that I’ve been dealing with your – with fifteen year old you for the past week or I would not be able to deal with you right now,” Steve says, almost to himself. “Look, I love you.” He’s blushing furiously and Tony – Tony actually has a sick feeling in his stomach, like missing a step on an escalator or – no, more like when the jets in the Iron Man fail, seriously, when was the last time he was even on an escalator?

“And,” Steve continues – because oh shit, there’s more, of course there is, and the fact that Steve is bright red and desperately looks like he wants to be anywhere but here right now is apparently not doing anything to stop him, “the last few weeks made me realise that I must really like you, if I still do after you were really mean to everyone, even you. And that I don’t like keeping secrets, mine or other people’s.”

“Well, duh,” Tony says, before he can help himself. “You’re the only one that’s never had a secret identity – apart from Thor, obviously, but there’s not really any way we could’ve passed that guy off as a normal Midgardian.”

Steve looks confused. “That’s... it? That’s how you’re going to – ” He makes an abortive gesture and something on his face changes. “No, you know what, that’s fine. I just – thought you should know. That’s all.” He turns to walk off and without knowing what he’s doing Tony automatically reaches out to stop him – it doesn’t do any good, obviously, because no one can stop Captain America if he doesn’t want to be stopped, but... Tony caught sight of the boy from Brooklyn on Steve’s face for a moment, angry and defiant and oh so sick of being rejected and that’s not an expression that he ever wanted to be responsible for.

“I just need a minute,” he says instead. “It’s a lot to take in.”

Tony,” Steve says again. “I didn’t mean for this to be some big declaration or anything, I didn’t want you to freak out.” He makes a face. “I just like being around you, okay?”

“Okay,” Tony says slowly and, without taking his eyes away from Steve once, he hits a button on his phone. “Hey, Pepper? Did you get my text – yep, no, sorry about that. Just wanted to say cancel all my meetings for the rest of the day – I’m going to be a little busy. Love ya, bye!”

Steve’s face is lit up with something close to hope now and just – everything in Tony is saying this is a bad idea, that he’s not allowed to have nice things, but – “Does this mean that – I mean, can we –”

“You know, someone once told me that it’s okay to like things,” Tony says loudly, stepping forward into Steve’s personal space (he can do this, Steve wants him to do this). “And I guess I like you, Rogers.”

“Well, how about that,” Steve says smiling, and he hooks one finger under Tony’s tie to pull him closer. “I like you, too.”