Tony wakes up lying flat on his face with taste of bile and bad scotch in the back of his throat, his nose clogged up and his eyes grimy. Not entirely unfamiliar with any of it, he groans and attempts to turn to his back, only registering the fact that he's lying on a table when he swings over the edge and falls onto the floor, hitting a couple of chairs on his way down and landing in a heap on top of what feels like a bottle. It digs into his midriff, hard.
Its not the worst way to wake up, but it's up there. Jesus Christ how much did he drink?
"FRIDAY, time," Tony groans, squirming to get the bottle from under him. He feels wet and everything has the cloying taste of regret, including the air which is saturated with the stench of alcohol, bad decisions, and vomit.
The bottle he landed on is a wine bottle. God damn chardonnay of all things. Why the hell had he drank chardonnay?
Throwing the bottle aside and listening the weirdly soft clatter of it rolling away, Tony rubs a hand over his eyes, trying to get the grit out. "FRIDAY," he calls a bit louder as his stomach roils. "What's the time?"
Tony waits and then opens his eyes, frowning. "Did I mute – FRIDAY, come on baby girl, you can talk... to me..."
For a moment Tony just stares at the ceiling. Its wood. Long wood panels painted creamy white, with just enough grain to identify the material, marked with dark red outlines.
He knows those panels – and they don't belong to his building.
Slowly, his head spinning and pounding, Tony sits up. Sure enough the panels of the walls are the same – cream white with red velvet outlines, like a goddamn cake.
"Oh god," Tony groans and for a moment covers his face in his hands, making a desperate bid for smothering himself and putting himself out of his, now considerably worse, misery. Just how drunk had he gotten to come here, of all damn places? Really fucking drunk, is the answer.
He'd been so good too, 4 months and counting sober. He'd been getting somewhere. Shit.
Tony spends a moment just feeling miserably sorry for himself, desperately putting off facing the reality for as long as he could. God he hopes he hadn't taken a car to get here. Not that flying was any better, drunk piloting never worked out well for him and FRIDAY is still too meek to just take the stick from him when he's being an idiot. Shit. Shit.
Eventually he has to give up on denial and look up, taking in the damage. It consists of about dozen bottles in various stages of spilled – mostly on the floor, judging by the looks of it. At least two bottles have been smashed against the wall – one of them red wine and that probably isn't going to wash off. There is one broken chair, rest are strewn about in disarray but the dining table is still standing at least – it was where he'd been lying before. The carpet is irrevocably ruined, not just by cocktail of dozen different brands of alcohol, but at least two puddles of vomit. And for some reason there are shreds of newspaper everywhere
It has been a classy night apparently.
"Shit," Tony sighs and slowly levers himself up to his feet, swaying. He still feels half drunk and his neck is like carved stone. Stretching a bit he waits for the usual tug at his chest, expecting the pain.
It doesn't come.
Frowning, Tony pats tentatively at his chest and then stops there, his palm pressed flat against the stained shirt. He runs his hand down a bit and then looks down in confusion.
His chest feels fantastic.
Slowly Tony unbuttons the alcohol soaked shirt and pushes it off his shoulders. It takes a while for what he's seeing to fully register, but understanding sadly doesn't follow after.
His surgery scars, faint though they had been thanks to thousands and thousands of dollars of plastic surgery... are gone. And he's skinny. His chest is flat, his stomach is soft.
The surgery scars aren't the only ones missing either. The scrapes and cuts and burns of almost decade of good intentions turning to bad decisions aren't there either. His skin is practically virginal.
"Well this is... new," Tony mutters and looks up. Then, dropping the dirty shirt on the soaked carpet, he goes to see what else is new.
Hour later he's back at the dining hall, staring at the carnage of alcohol he'd left behind the previous night, seriously debating on just giving up and continuing it.
Turns out, nothing is new. Absolutely nothing.
The mansion is as he last seen it – worse than that, it is as it had been before the contractors had stripped it of everything personal. This wasn't the mansion he'd sold more than twenty years ago – no, it is the mansion he'd lived in more than twenty years ago, full with portraits, paintings and old bookshelves with albums full of baby pictures.
There is a landline phone in the hall. The television is a CRT. And Tony's reflection is that of a clean shaven twenty-something with skinny arms and frankly twiggy wrists.
He would've called it an illusion or another bit of mind fuckery à la Wanda Maximoff, except this place... there are details here he's forgotten. Books in the shelves, pictures and their details, the patch up done on the minute wear and tear the mansion had gone through. Small things like stains in the carpet, the glasses in Howard study, the knitting needles Tony's mother had forever been meaning to use but never got around to. Papers and files in the safe. The vault.
Too much too minute detail.
Slowly, Tony picks up the nearest tipped over chair and sits down on it, staring at the dining hall table. Its covered thin layer of drying muck, red and clear and golden liquids congealing into each other. There is one bottle – champagne – which is still standing unopened – everything else had been tasted and tested and then spilled everywhere.
Last night, Tony had done his damn hardest to drink himself to death.
He remembers the night now, or the before and after anyway, though the memory is hazy with time and bad nostalgia. Drinking away like this in his father's house – Tony has done it precisely once.
The day after his parents died, good twenty seven years ago.
It was the last night he spend at the old mansion too – he'd left for a hotel the next day and bought a place in Malibu the next week. Only time he'd been back had been for the wake and then to direct the contractors to clear it out of everything important, and even then he'd been there barely an hour. He'd sold the place without ever setting another foot in and he'd never looked back.
Now he is back. Back all the way at the fucking end
Shit, but he wishes he could deny this. Just little bit of denial would be nice.
Problem is, he and Bruce theorised this long ago – and Thor had cheerfully confirmed everything. Time travel isn't just possible, but it is established fact and the rules aren't just theorised – they are known, written-down absolutes of the multiverse.
You can go back in time. You can go forward in time. Hell, under certain circumstances it is offensively easy even.
It's just that every time you do, you don't change the time line – you just create a whole new one. Time travel is easy – changing the past, impossible.
And here he is, in the past.
Tony runs a hand over his face and really tries to convince himself is a delusion, hallucination, illusion – lusion-word of some kind. Or maybe a vision – maybe he's dead and his mind has been uploaded into his own personal BARF hell.
He can feel the stickiness of drying wine under his bare feet, smell the stench of it all. His stomach is still roiling and his head aches, like someone's trying to drive a nail through it.
BARF can't do this. Illusions, he knows, get minor sensations wrong. Delusions aren't this detailed. Hallucinations don't go for this long. He certainly wouldn't be this brutally clear headed and desperately sceptical in any of those situations.
And only reality is cruel enough to do this – and land him precisely beyond the point of no return. He's back in time – and his mother is still dead.
For a long moment Tony stares at the disaster zone he'd made of the dining room, listless in his wordless frustration and misery. And if it all isn't the perfect metaphor to everything too. Tony Stark, back at it again in a literal pool of debauched filth. A full circle of fuck up
He wants a drink so bad it sickens him.
Then he hears a distant thrum of an approaching car, echoing down the yard and frowns, looking up. He half expects instant identification for it – "Colonel Rhodes is on his way to the garage, sir," – but of course it doesn't come. This isn't Malibu and JARVIS isn't here.
And it's not Rhodey coming down the driveway.
"I hear you fired all of your household staff last night," is the first thing Obadiah Stane says to Tony, looking him over and then arching his eyebrows at his shirtlessness. "Must have been some night."
Tony stares. Obadiah is younger, thinner, still bald and... different. No golden rings or watch, no cigar in his fingers – and he's dressed in mediocre suit by Obadiah's standards. He doesn't exude wealth the way Tony remembers.
Obadiah sighs and shakes his head. "How are you hanging there, kiddo?" he asks gently. "Have you eaten anything?"
All Tony wants to do us ask him if he's HYDRA. If he knew. If he was behind Barnes, giving out orders, and benefiting from their outcome. Because Obadiah had benefited – he'd gotten fame, wealth and fortune out of Howard Stark's death. Eventually he'd tried to kill Tony to keep it.
And when Tony had become a damn super hero, Obadiah had been first in line to stop him. Had it been just greed – or HYDRA mandate? He isn't even sure which is worse – that there was no real reason or that there was.
"You're fired," Tony says.
Obadiah laughs, shaking his head. "Well I guess that's a good sign," he says and pushes past Tony into the mansion, patting his shoulder as he goes. "Come on, I'll fix us a breakfast and we'll talk it through."
Tony takes a breath, and then thinks better of it. "Yeah, okay," he says, deflating a bit and turns to follow Obadiah inside.
No hasty, bad decisions now. He's back in time. Better not step on any bugs just yet. Play it cool and all that.
Damnit, he can't remember how this conversation goes at all. If something important was said or decided or put aside, he doesn't remember a thing about it. The weeks after the accident have always been bit of a blur.
They walk past the dining room. Tony waits almost vindictively for the comment, ready to shoot it down with – but it never comes. Obadiah walks past without a glance that way and leads him straight to the kitchen instead.
Tony had been avoiding the kitchen. There were far too many memories there – first of Jarvis and then of Maria, trying to ineffectively patch up the Jarvis-shaped hole there, trying to be the perfect mother all too late. There are moments there, good and bad and bitter, and they loom over Tony like shadows waiting to descend upon him. Years and years of issues, stemming right from here.
Obadiah walks in like none of them even exists, and goes straight for the fridge.
"I'm going to take care of all of it, Tony," he says calmly, with that casual command and confidence that had always made it so damn easy to trust that he actually would. "You don't need to worry about any of it, alright? You don't have to do anything at all until you feel up to it."
"All of what?" Tony asks and it comes out a bit hostile. Of course it does.
"The arrangements," Obadiah says with a negligent wave of his ringless hand and takes out a frying pan. Its cast iron – Jarvis' favourite one, he'd cooked the best bacon on it.
"Arrangements," Tony repeats, watching him handle the pan watchfully.
Obadiah sighs. "Come on, Tony, I'm trying to be sensitive here – the funeral, I'm going to handle the funeral arrangements for you," he says with a sigh and turns to Tony. "And all that entails – and we'll figure out about what comes later... later."
Tony slowly sits down by the kitchen island, staring at him. Obadiah had handled the funeral last time and it had came out... fine. It had struck a delicate balance between respectful and a complete media circus. Of course it wasn't as bad as some celebrity funerals got – Howard wasn't exactly a rock star when he died, his popularity and fame has come and gone. But then the circus hadn't been about him.
It'd been about Tony – the richest twenty something of his generation, the future of Stark Industries, the suddenly most eligible bachelor in the States and a complete goddamn mess of a human being.
He'd gone to the funeral completely shit faced, he recalls. The media had had a field day – called him, among other things, ungrateful, disrespectful and completely unreliable. It had set the tone for the rest of the decade for him, really.
Now Tony can't help but wonder if that had been deliberate on Obadiah's part, if he'd been manipulated into it. It would make sense and it would've been so easy too. Paint Tony as a complete fuck up and claim control over all of his affairs – which he'd done, pretty much. It wasn't as if Tony had made it difficult either – because for a while that was what he'd been.
Hell, he still was, just on a much grander level.
"Eggs?" Obadiah asks.
"No," Tony says.
"Alright, just bacon then," the man answers amiably. "Don't mind if I have some – I'm starving…"
"Not that – and yes eggs," Tony says and looks up. "I'm going to handle it. The funeral, arrangements, whatever, I'll handle it."
"Tony you don't have to – I got it under control –"
"I said I'll handle it," Tony snaps and Obadiah pauses, turning to look at him with a slight frown. Tony frowns back. "I got it," he mutters and looks away before he does something stupid, like accusing Obadiah for murder.
"Alright then," Obadiah says slowly and turns to get the plates. "If you're sure – but really, Tony, you don't have to. I'm here for you, kiddo."
Tony manages not to scoff, somehow. "Yeah. Thanks. Still gonna handle it myself," he says, feeling like a kid and looks at the surface of the kitchen island. "What's the media saying?" he then asks and tries to remember how media even worked before online news outlets and smart phones.
"Its been respectful," Obadiah assures him, handing over his plate. "Been pretty low key, really – couple of mentions in news, some comments – nothing bad. It won't get bad until they start talking about what comes next and if we're lucky that won't come until after the funeral."
Tony nods slowly. Respectful media. Now there's a concept.
"And the Will?" Tony asks, trying to remember how that had gone. He'd probably been drunk then too, because he can't remember much about it. "Who's the executor – you?" That's be just perfect, wouldn't it?
"No, your father's lawyer is the executor, Mr. Johnson," Obadiah says thoughtfully. "He told me he has it under control so, we'll hear about it when the time comes. Bit early to be thinking about that, don't you think?"
There's a bit of reproach in it, which makes Tony glance up with some disbelief. Obadiah, being judgemental about him – that was a laugh. "Right. Good," Tony says and picks a strip of bacon on his fingers. Its still soft. "Nice to know it's covered. One less thing to worry about right now."
"You don't need to worry about anything. All you need to do right now is get through the funeral – everything else can wait," Obadiah assures him, gentler now. "Though that includes a wake, you know – and you fired your household staff."
Tony doesn't even remember that but yeah, he probably had – otherwise there would've been a cook or two giving them disapproving looks right now. "I'll hire new staff," he says, which he knows he probably won't. Getting away from well meaning janitors, maids, gardeners and the cook – none of whom held a candle to Jarvis – had been one of the best things about moving out.
"So you're… thinking of staying here?" Obadiah asks, glancing around as he too sits down to eat. "In this old place?"
Tony's first instinct is to say no, oh hell no. There'd been a reason why he'd been in hurry to get away from the place… and yet…
He'd never regretted selling the mansion. It wasn't exactly his sort of place – he preferred spaces he could control, which he knew inside out. JARVIS would've never worked anywhere except in a house Tony build with his own two hands. Tony wouldn't have worked either, wouldn't have been able to become… whatever he'd become.
The old mansion had too much history and too many secrets for his taste, too. Enough to choke you.
Except now so does he, and in never exploring those secrets, in refusing to delve into that history, maybe he'd shot himself in the foot without ever knowing it. That way lay SHIELD and HYDRA and all the bullshit that came with them, after all – and he'd almost wilfully turned a blind eye to it.
Although on the other hand, chance is that it was the only reason he hadn't gotten assassinated himself. His wilful ignorance may have been a form of protection. He hadn't been a threat to anybody while he'd been busy debauching himself at the world at large for the most of his twenties, and thirties…
Whatever happened now, he had to make sure that HYDRA wouldn't see him as a threat either. Still… the house could be a resource he could use. It would save him the two year project of building his own, anyway – and, he's better at architecture and retrofitting nowadays. He could make it work. Probably.
If it didn't drive him up the walls.
"I guess I could try it out," Tony says, making a face as he looks around in the kitchen. "It would put me closer to the main office than my first choice."
The look Obadiah gives him is half amused and half worried. "Oh?" he asks curiously while gathering some egg whites onto his fork. "What's your first choice, then?"
"Beach front in Malibu?" Tony offers.
"Now that sounds more like you," Obadiah laughs. "Wouldn't mind a beach front in Malibu myself. Get a better tan there than here, that's for sure."
Tony forces a smile and looks down at his plate. Now that he has Obadiah here to offer perspective and reference with his very presence… it all comes into focus a bit clearer. Tony is in the past. Twenty seven years in the past and more. Years and years before Sokovia, before New York, before Avengers, before Iron Man. Before Afghanistan.
Twenty seven years of knowledge, and advancement and warning of what was to come. Asgard, Chitauri, Loki… Thanos. And the rest of the universe too. And he's at the start of a timeline split – everything from here on out would be re-shaped by his actions, whatever those would be from. He would literally be changing the world, for better or for worse. And he can do a lot with twenty seven years of advanced warning.
Never mind twenty seven years of advanced technology.
Keeping it all carefully from his face, Tony bites into his too soft bacon. This is not going to be good for his megalomaniacal tendencies, probably. Or his manipulative streak. Or any other of the many character defects that had made so many people hate him in the future. Would that stop him though? Probably not.
Of course he could be looking into getting back to where he came from, too, but… why?
"Hey, Tony," Obadiah says and Tony looks up as the man reaches out to lay a palm on his shoulder. "It's going to be okay," he says seriously. "We'll get through it."
"Yeah," Tony agrees. "Yeah, it's… it's going to be just fine."
He'd damn well make sure it would be. This would be the world where he got it right.
And then he remembers.
Shit. His company is still making weapons, isn't it?