“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Tony groused as the three of them walked through the crowd, surrounded on all sides by yelling and glowing light sabers.
“Honestly,” Harley responded, “neither can we.”
Tony scoffed, leading the way through the mess of people to find their way out the other side. Above them, a large banner read COMIC CON NEW YORK, and there was a voice talking over a loud speaker, unidentifiable beneath the voices of everyone else. People were everywhere. People in costumes, people without, people lugging giant motherfucking swords on their shoulders like a 2002 anime character and Peter was having a great time.
Especially because he was dressed up in the skin-tight Fantastic Four suit he’d borrowed from the Baxter Building that one time his suit had been utterly destroyed and he’d been nearby. He also carried a paper bag in his hand with two eye holes cut out. It was possibly Tony’s favourite Spiderman moment to date, when he appeared on a crime scene in the aforementioned outfit, bag over his face, calling himself The Amazing Bag Man (retitled by Harley as The Bombastic Bag Man that night).
Next to him, Tony Stark didn’t wear a costume. Partly because he insisted that if he was going to the nerd con he wasn’t going to be caught dead in a costume, but also because he’d resisted all their group costume ideas. (Group costume ideas included: Huey, Dewey and Louie duck suits; Iron Man, War Machine and Rescue suits of armour – no, we’re not taking billions of dollars worth of weaponry to a convention, Harley – and finally, Peter’s favourite; Tony in a replica Darth Vader outfit with Peter and Harley dressed as Luke and Leia respectively.)
Finally, Harley stood, mask in hand, a backpack slung over his shoulder as he looked around the packed conference building. Tony had initially protested Harley’s costume, but eventually conceded when he realised that whatever authority he had over Harley Keener was illusionary; Harley Keener was Harley Keener’s boss, and Harley Keener answered to no man. (He did, however, answer to Pepper Potts, because she was no man, and he was both a little bit in love with her and a little bit terrified of her, all at once.) So when Harley decided he was going to wear one of Peter’s Spiderman suits, Harley Keener ended up wearing one of Peter’s Spiderman suits.
Tony had been quick to disable Karen and all her protocols before Harley even step foot in the thing, however. No one wanted to watch Harley in Instant Kill Mode.
They soon pulled on their masks, taking time to go around the exhibits and buy things from the stalls. Tony didn’t care for a lot of it, but when he came across a stand dedicated to Iron Man art, he stuck around for a while.
“Hey, oh my God, you look just like him!” the vender announced, grinning widely. “Man, you even got the goatee right!”
Tony nodded with a smile, in his hands a small, bobble-head Iron Man. “Took some time, let me tell you,” he replied. “Modelled my whole look after him.”
“That’s so cool.”
Harley and Peter stood nearby, watching and laughing over the exchange. Soon enough, Tony was by their side, bobble-head paid for at stuck in Harley’s backpack.
“I modelled my whole look after him,” Harley imitated.
“Hey, I actually met a guy who said that, once,” Tony replied as they began weaving their way through the crowd once more.
“Yes, Amazing Bag Man, seriously. He had a tattoo of my face on his arm.”
“Yes way, and it wasn’t even accurate. It wasn’t even done off a picture of me, but of a doll the guy made in my image.”
Harley cackled and Peter darted around a dude swinging katanas, dressed up as that mercenary, Deadpool (or, maybe that was Deadpool, Peter wouldn’t put it past him).
“Nice enough guy,” Tony said with a wave of his hand. “Now, Pete, didn’t you have schedule of talks you wanted to follow?”
Peter bounced on the balls of his feet, leaping forward into Tony’s eyeline. “Yes! And the first one is in half an hour so we better get going.”
They sat through a few panels, Tony not understanding anything that was going on or any of the references being made, before queueing up for autographs from a group of voice actors Tony had, once again, never heard of.
A few people came to take pictures with him, however, making Harley laugh uproariously as they said your Tony Stark costume is so cool! over and over, not realising who was standing beside them.
Then, it made Harley even happier when people wanted photos with him in the Spider-suit. Peter took a lot of these photos on strangers’ phones, grinning beneath his paper bag (people who knew Spiderman had worn an outfit like that into combat once loved it and asked for multiple photos each time). (When the guy dressed as Deadpool wanted a photo with Spider-Harley, imitating that one photo that was taken where Spiderman had picked a – legless – Deadpool up in a piggy back, Tony had leaned over to whisper, We’re talking about your weird friendship with that guy when we get home and Peter hoped Tony would forget immediately.)
“It looks so real,” a girl gushed, admiring Harley’s suit.
“You know what,” he said, “it just might be.” The girl laughed and Harley shrugged. Peter couldn’t see his face but he was pretty sure his friend was grinning. “I could be the real Spiderman and you wouldn’t ever know.”
After laughing once more – was she flirting? Peter wondered – she asked, “Are you entered in the costume contest?”
“There’s a costume contest?” Harley asked.
“Yeah! The Avengers one.”
“Spiderman’s not technically an Avenger,” Harley pointed out, and Peter felt Tony place a hand on his shoulder, smiling.
“Am too,” Peter mumbled.
“Are not,” Tony shot back.
“Yeah, but he’s in the competition,” she continued. “All the Avengers are. You should totally enter – you’d definitely win with that one!”
When she left, Harley pulled off the mask, grinning from ear to ear. “I have a terrible idea.”
Tony sighed. “What’s new?”
Harley’s idea was the furthest thing from terrible, in Peter’s eyes.
Harley was going to enter the Spiderman costume contest and so was Peter, because they were both technically wearing Spiderman outfits. And Tony – well, Tony was going to enter in the Iron Man contest. And he was not excited about it.
“This is stupid,” he said for possibly the thousandth time since he’d signed his name down. Tony Stark, he’d written. We need your actual name! the staff member had said, rolling her eyes. That is my actual name, he’d replied.
“Sure,” Peter agreed, “but if you don’t do it then you’ll regret it.”
“Really? Would I? Because I feel like I’d be able to live and long and happy life without entering a Tony Stark costume contest.”
Harley came back from the sign-in table where he’d written down both his and Peter’s names. “But your Tony Stark outfit is so good,” he said. “It’d be a crime not to enter.”
Tony pulled Harley into a headlock and Peter stepped back to take a photo, laughing along with his friend.
“An Avengers panel,” Tony drawled as they took their seats. Peter was glad they could catch this one before the contest, as he really thought it was the best one of the lot. “There aren’t even any Avengers signed to show up. How can this possibly be an Avengers panel?”
Harley snorted, before turning and stuffing a pink-iced Princess Peach doughnut in Tony’s mouth. “It’s half Avengers conspiracy theorists and half the writers of the shitty Avengers comics.”
Tony blinked, then through a mouth of doughnut: “Avengers comics?”
On Tony’s other side, Peter leaned forward. “You don’t know about the Avengers comics?” Tony shrugged. “Wouldn’t they have to get your permission to use your likeness?”
“Probably,” Tony replied, studying the doughnut in his hand with more interest than the comics. “Pepper sometimes places a bunch of papers on my desk for things I need to sign off on and I don’t really read them. That’s how I bought eighteen buildings in an afternoon one time.”
“Yeah. I’m sure we’re using them for something but I don’t know what. You know, Pepper could totally just rewrite my will and sign the company away to herself and I wouldn’t even know.” He tilted his head. “Nah. She wouldn’t do that.”
Harley and Peter shared a look before rolling their eyes in tandem.
Minutes later, the panel started, the long table on stage half filled with the creators of the bestselling The Avengers comics and half with people who’d been researching them since they first appeared during the Battle of New York.
Tony got bored about ten minutes in when he realised that the conspiracy theorists didn’t know their heads from their asses and the writers had talked to a lot of sources, sure, but no one who’d known the whole story. The The Avengers comics were therefore riddled with inaccuracies. He had no idea how far into the story they were, but he wondered absently about what would happen when they reached what the press dubbed as the Civil War and how they would write Tony’s family crumbling apart.
When the panel opened up to questions, Peter moved into the line and patiently waited his turn.
“Hey, yeah,” he said when he reached the mic. “I don’t mind who answers this, but I was just wondering why every single one of you have such an outrageously inaccurate and negative opinion on Tony Stark?” Tony blinked, and he caught Harley’s glance towards him in his periphery. “I mean, he saved the world more than once, took down terror organisations and revolutionised prosthetics and renewable energy, and yet? The Avengers comics only create an antagonist out of him and the theories regarding his role in the Avengers and the Accords have often considered him to be either a bad guy or in it for glory, not for the safety of the public? Yeah, I was just wondering.”
The room was silent for a moment as the experts on the panel glanced at one another. Eventually, one of the writers leaned forward to say, “I don’t believe the comics make Stark out to be an antagonist at all-”
“Really? Because I read them and so far his entire character has revolved around drinking, being a jerk to anyone who talks to him and – for some reason I can’t quite grasp – a severe amount of sexism? Like, you realise that out of all the things Tony Stark could possibly be, a misogynist isn’t one of them, right?”
“Stark’s been reported as to being narcissistic and not a team player,” the writer said, though with less confidence than the small amount they started with before.
“Yes, he has incredible inventions,” one of the theorists continued, “and Western culture idolises him – but he was a weapons monger, The Merchant of Death, for many years before he ever became whatever hero we’re calling him. His weapons ended up in the hands of America’s enemies-”
“Not by his own doing,” Peter interjected.
“-and his entire legacy has revolved around death. Now, I get it – you’re young, you look up to Tony Stark. Many people your age do, but when you were little, he was out there selling weapons to the military and making money off of death. I appreciate that maybe he’s changed his ways, but we can’t ignore who he used to be-”
“Sure,” Peter said into the microphone. “Who he used to be, because we judge everyone on who they used to be, not who they are now. Because we’re judging on what? His business practice that funded their innovative research into medicine and arc reactor technology? So we’re gonna focus on who he used to be, in the comics about who he is. We’re not gonna focus on him saving the world; flying that nuke up into a wormhole, taking down the Ten Rings and the Mandarin and the Hammer Drones. We’re not gonna focus on him being a hero in the comics about him being a hero.”
There was quiet for a moment before someone in the audience shouted, “YEAH!” loudly and Harley whistled in support. There was a smattering of applause and Peter laughed away from the mic.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll sit down. I’ll just say though, that Tony Stark’s just about the only Avenger we’ve got left. He’s the only one who stayed and he’s the first one SHIELD went to when creating the Avengers Initiative. If he’s all we’ve got left, you might want to at least show him some respect, because he’s the only one coming to save our asses next time they’re in trouble.”
There was louder applause when Peter moved to return to his seat. Tony blinked a few times before looking to Harley’s shit-eating grin.
“Does he just have that speech prepared?” he hissed, making Harley let out a bark of laughter.
“He has a Tumblr dedicated to destroying people who shit on your good name. He’s probably said that exact thing a thousand times. It’s also the only reason we came to this panel – we read those comics and they’re so fucking dumb.”
“Yeah, they are,” Peter said, taking his seat. “The Iron Man origins comic blatantly ignored Pepper and glossed over Afghanistan entirely. I’m pretty sure Stane was drawn with hair and the Battle of New York comics didn’t even mention you and that nuke.”
Harley nodded sagely, lowering his voice now the next person was asking a question. “They bullshitted the whole thing, I’m pretty sure. Peter and I think we should write the next set of comics about the Avengers.”
Tony quirked an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
Peter nodded. “We’d call it Avengers Assemble and it’d actually be accurate and Pepper would be on every page at least once.”
When the costume contest rolled around, the room was packed with flashing cameras and a clapping audience. They went through the Avengers, one after another, though some are clearly less packed than others. They got Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch out of the way first – they were still technically war criminals, vanished off the face of the planet (Tony took three seconds of his time once every two weeks to find their newest location; it was not difficult), and the public didn’t like them as much as they used to.
There was about fifteen people in costume across the four categories and the judging panel voted and awarded the winners before they left the stage, one set after another. Then there was the Hulk – with nine competitors, seven of which were painted green or wearing large, green cardboard appendages, the other two dressed as Bruce Banner in lab coats and glasses – and then Thor – fourteen contestants, ten of which were tall, buff white men, three of which were short, not buff women, and the last of which was a baby in a Thor costume, who came third place, because they were adorable.
Then it was Spiderman.
There was eleven contestants total in three different categories: the Stark suit, which Harley modelled the official one of, though no one knew that; the original “onesie” suit that Tony retired and eventually confiscated when it became apparent that Peter was going to use it against his better judgement; and The Amazing Bag Man, of which there was only one: Peter.
People applauded them as they came out on stage, and Peter did a flip, just because he could, which made the audience whoop for a moment. The judges looked at them one by one in their outfits before deliberating; the eleven Spidermen standing awkwardly on the stage, bar a few who were trying to hype the audience up and occasionally doing little jigs in their suits. (It did, in fact, make Peter’s heart soar that people would make their own Spider-suits to resemble his original one and that people would spend money on recreations of his current one.)
“And in third place,” the presenter announced, the audience hushing a little, “Peter Parker as The Amazing Bag Man!”
Peter couldn’t help himself as he jogged over to collect his ten-dollar iTunes voucher prize; he flipped along the way and high-fived Harley before moving back to his space.
The presenter laughed. “The judges seemed to appreciate the creativity that comes with recreating one of Spiderman’s least known looks.”
Peter made a mental note to go out in this outfit more often.
“In second place is Tyler Hill’s OG Spiderman!” A guy wearing a pretty accurate rendition of Peter’s old onesie suit jumped forward to collect his prize. “And finally, in first place… Harley Keener’s Stark suit!”
It became clear, quite soon after, that not many people really remembered who they were out in the real world. They were never stopped on the street for being the “Iron Sons”, nor were they recognised when they walked around the convention with their masks off. Even with their names announced over a loud speaker, no one copped on to the two of them being the prodigy interns of Tony Stark – which was why, Peter thought, no one copped onto Tony Stark being Tony Stark.
However reluctant, Tony went out on stage in his regular clothing for the final contest: Iron Man. However reluctant, he waved and smiled and high-fived the guy in the LED-lit up, plastic Iron Man suit based on Mark 42.
However reluctant, he stood there and waited for the judges to declare a winner.
And somehow, somehow, Tony Stark didn’t win.
He didn’t even place.
Behind the curtain, Harley and Peter fucking lost it. They laughed so hard Harley ended up on his knees when they buckled, and Peter was wiping tears away from his face. Tony Stark looked fucking offended, standing on stage, and Harley was mentally marking this as the best day of his life.
Especially when Tony started muttering, “I’m literally Tony Stark. I am Tony Stark. How can a guy dressed exactly like me beat me out? I’m literally Tony Stark. Anthony Edward Stark. I was born me. How can I not even place? Who looks more like me than me?”
The guy in the plastic Iron Man armour next to him started cracking up upon hearing this, too. Which made the next guy over pay attention, and the next. And soon enough every fake Tony Stark on stage was half in shock, half doubled over in laughter as Tony just stared out at the audience, defeated, shaking his head.
“I’ve just been informed,” the presenter said slowly into the microphone, “that one of the contestants today is actually Tony Stark.”
There was silence in the room, apart from Harley and Peter’s loud, eternal wheezing. Then there was chaos, as Tony rolled his eyes, shook his head and flipped the half-hearted bird towards the laughing audience, wandering off stage.
“I hate Comic Con,” he announced, staring dead-eyed down at his surrogate sons.
Harley posted four photos to his Instagram at once. The first was he, Peter and Tony, wide-eyed and smiling at the beginning of the day. The second was of he and Peter in their Spiderman/Bag Man outfits, throwing up peace signs next to an Iron Man cardboard standee that they’d found funny because it was supposed to be life-size and it was actually taller than Tony really was. The third was of them with their winnings from the costume contest, and the fourth was of Tony, defeated and blank, standing in a row of fake Tony Starks and Iron Men.
@harleyk: shout out to spiderman for letting me borrow his spare spidey-suit for comic con this weekend; it won me first prize in the costume contest
Next to him, Peter snorted. “No problem, dude.” They bumped fists.
Nearby, Tony Stark was downing his fourth cup of coffee in five minutes, desperately trying to erase the day from his memory.