“Good morning, Sir,” JARVIS greeted.
Tony pushed his face further into his pillow. He tried to force himself back to sleep but even after a few moments he knew it was no use.
“How’s cleanup coming J?” he asked.
“Approximately 68.2% of all Chitauri mess has been cleaned up,” JARVIS informed him.
It had been weeks since New York. Weeks since Tony and flown the nuke into the portal. Weeks since he had saved the damn world (and the damn Avengers). And yet he had yet to hear a damn thing from them or from Hill, their babysitter-slash-Director of SHIELD.
“Keep ‘em at it J,”
The past couple years had been very busy for him. First there was Afghanistan and Obadiah’s betrayal. Not to mention the arc reactor and Ho Yinsen and the cave. Then the Palladium poisoning and the new element. Castle “stealing” the War Machine suit. Then the Wakandans and their nanotech. And to top it all off there was an alien invasion and Tony had ended up flying a nuke through a wormhole to destroy the rest of the alien army.
“Anything from SHIELD?” he asked.
Tony just shook his head and made his way to the kitchen to pour himself a mug of coffee.
“Anything new at all?”
“Just some important emails from the Secretary of State,” JARVIS said.
“I’ll look at those next week,”
Tony took a sip of his scalding coffee and drummed his fingers against the mug. He was only slightly bothered with the whole SHIELD thing.
“Sir, may I remind you that you don’t trust SHIELD,” JARVIS stated, seemingly reading his mind.
“You’re right J,”
“I do try, sir,”
Tony smiled softly.
Tony knew he should look through his emails and actually read some of the military contracts that Pepper gave to him, but he decided to forgo all of that in favor of helping Dum-E re-learn how to make smoothies without adding in too much protein powder or motor oil.
“Atta boy Dum-E,” Tony said quietly, taking the smoothie from the bot.
“No motor oil!”
He held his hand out for a high five. Dum-E trilled excitedly and gently tapped his claw against Tony’s palm.
“Go tell U and Butterfingers,” he said.
Dum-E, as always, did as instructed and wheeled himself over to his brother and sister to- no doubt- tell them all about the smoothie he had just made.
“He’s learning every day, huh J?” Tony asked with a small smile.
“He’s been doing very well,” JARVIS agreed.
“Aw Dum-E, you hear that? Big brother things you’re doing great,” Tony called.
Dum-E beeped a number of times before going silent. Tony smiled softly and sat back in his chair.
“Sir,” JARVIS called.
“Captain Rogers is talking about you on the news,”
“Turn it on!”
A holographic screen popped up in front of him. Captain Rogers stood at a podium, behind him were the Avengers. Natasha Romanoff, Bruce Banner (one of Tony’s favorite friends), and Clint Barton. Thor was still off planet dealing with his overly dramatic brother.
“What Iron Man did was incredibly reckless, but in flying the nuke through the wormhole he not only destroyed the rest of the armada, but saved millions of people,” Captain America was saying on the tv.
“But they still won’t invite me to join the Avengers,” Tony said a tad petulantly.
“Sir, you say that as if you want to join the Avengers,” JARVIS drawled.
“I don’t! I would just really love the opportunity to turn them down,” Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest. He winced at the pressure the motion put on the arc reactor. It was getting more sensitive as of late, which meant Tony was going to have to start taking better care of himself and do things like drink water and eat a vegetable or too.
He turned to the mirror and lifted his shirt to inspect skin around the arc reactor. It didn’t look inflamed. He frowned and let his eyes wander over the bright blue arc reactor and the silver veins of the nanotech. He looked more machine than human. The nanotech inlay in his skin had only been possible thanks to Wakandan technology. But now, no matter what, he’d never be without the suit.
“Sir, Miss Potts is approaching,” JARVIS said.
Tony tugged his shirt back down and pulled up a few schematics. He had a number of things to finish up for SI.
“Good afternoon Miss Potts, what do I owe this visit to?” Tony asked when she walked in.
“Just checking in on you,” she told him.
“I’m fine,” he assured her.
He watched her glance at the schematics behind him.
“You know I haven’t heard from the Avengers yet,”
She closed her eyes and grinned softly.
“I don’t understand. I saved the world Pep,”
“Tony,” she started, a gentle smile playing on her face.
“I thought you didn’t want to be in the Avengers,”
Tony pulled a face, quietly mocking her words- even though she was right.
“I don’t. But after what I just did I expected them to be more impressed,” he said at last.
Pepper huffed out a laugh and shook her head.
“They still see Iron Man and War Machine as vigilantes. Besides, you, rolling up to the scene and saving the day doesn’t really scream that you’re ready to play well with others,” she told him.
“I play just fine with Castle, thank you,” he shot back.
Whatever she was going to respond with died as she caught sight of something behind him.
He really didn’t want to turn around to see what it was.
“Tony,” she said quietly.
He turned to see a shimmering white mist in the middle of his lab. He looked back at Pepper, she looked as confused as she felt.
“It just came out of nowhere,” she said.
“It appears to be some kind of portal,” JARVIS said.
“Analyze it. Where the hell’d it come from?” Tony whispered, leaning toward the mist.
“Tony!” Pepper warned.
And that was the last thing he heard before the mist grabbed hold of him and pulled him into the portal.
Tony ends up in a new universe, meets the new Avengers, and has a burger from a surprising restaurant.
Tony stumbled backwards. He wasn’t in his lab. Pepper wasn’t there. The bots weren’t there.
“What the hell,” he wheezed.
“JARVIS, J buddy you gotta help me out,” Tony said.
There was no response from his AI. Tony frowned. No JARVIS.
Distinctly he was aware of an alarm sounding. He was more focused on the fact he had no idea where he was and he had no idea how he got there.
“How’d you get in here?”
The voice was accompanied by a red, white, and blue shield. But the man holding it wasn’t Steve Rogers.
Tony jolted back as more people joined the room. People he recognized. Sam Wilson, James Buchanan Barnes, and Dr. Banner. The rest he didn’t. The girl with the bow and arrow, the one with the wasp wings, the man with the glowy runes, and Mr. America himself.
“I…. what the hell,” he said again.
“How did you get in here?” Mr. America asked again.
“There was a portal. I was in my lab with Pepper. And it just appeared and I poked it and it spat me out in this room,”
Mr. America shared a glance with Falcon.
“I’m just going to go. Where am I anyway? Am I still in New York? I gotta get back to my Tower before Pep panics and calls Castle in,” Tony said in a rush.
“Frank Castle?” Magic Man asked curiously.
“The Punisher?” Falcon asked immediately following.
“The Punisher what? No he hasn’t been that since he joined me- Iron Man. He’s War Machine,” Tony said.
“Is this a joke? I carried the nuke into space? Kinda saved the day?” Tony asked.
They looked like they had no idea what he was talking about.
“You said you were going to a Tower, which Tower?” Magic Man asked.
“S- Stark Tower,”
He was met with silence.
“What did you say your name was?” Bruce asked.
Tony felt his stomach bottom out. He and Bruce were friends. How could he-?
“Tony,” he grit out.
“My name is Tony Stark, and I’d like to go home now,”
Magic Man did something with his hands and glowing red symbols appeared in front of Tony and seemed to pass right through him.
Tony rapped his arc reactor twice and instantly the nanobots swarmed over him, knitting the Mark L into existence.
“What the fuck,” someone whispered.
“J where the hell am I?” Tony hissed.
There was no response from his AI.
“So,” Tony started.
“Who wants to tell me where I am?”
“You’re in an alternate universe,” Magic Man said calmly, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
The faceplate flipped up.
“I’m in a what,”
Tony blinked a few times, considering what Magic Man had said. Logically it made sense. No Steve Rogers, he only recognized half of the Avengers, they knew Frank Castle as the Punisher, JARVIS wasn’t responding to him, and they had no idea who he was.
“How do I get back?”
The people in front of him glanced at each other but didn’t respond to his question.
Magic Man seemed at loss for words.
“So I’m stuck here,”
“For the time being,”
The armor receded from his body, slinking back into the silver veins in his skin.
“How did you do that?” Bruce asked, taking a few steps closer to him.
“Wakandan Technology- well mine and Wakandan,”
“No shit,” Sam whispered.
“Didn’t you spend some time in Wakanda, Clucky?” Sam asked.
James flipped him off.
“Is it possible to get some food? I just travelled to another universe. I could use a burger,”
“Yea, yea we can do that,” Mr. America said.
“I’ll call in our order at IHOB,” Bow Girl said.
“I’m sorry what,” Tony deadpanned.
“International House of Burgers,”
He blinked again.
“What the hell,” he whispered.
Tony broke away from the group to wander around the room he was in. He was overwhelmed enough without all those people around him. He already wasn’t a fan of the universe. IHOB what the actual fuck was that? He only knew one International House of Food and that was IHOP.
“Better be some damn good burgers,” he muttered to himself.
He turned back to the Avengers and found that they too had broken off into small fractions. Mr. America, Sam, James, and Magic Man were talking quietly, and Bow Girl and Girl With Wasp Wings were talking with each other, hovering over a phone.
Mr. America took off his cowl and Tony had to physically turn his body to stop staring at him. He concluded that it must be a requirement for insanely handsome men to be Captain America.
“So how different is it?” Bruce asked as he slid next to Tony.
“Vastly… but so much is still the same,” Tony said.
“Do you have the Avengers in your universe?”
“Yea,” Tony said with a nod.
“Sam’s on it, so are you, and there’s a Captain America but it’s not him,”
“Do we know each other?”
“We’re kind of friends,” Tony said.
“So you’re an Avenger too then?”
Tony hesitated for a moment before he shook his head.
“You’re not an Avenger?” the surprise in his voice called the others to join their conversation.
“I’m a vigilante,” Tony said.
“Never qualified for the Avengers Initiative,”
“You flew a nunk into outer space,” Magic Man said.
“And I’m volatile and self-obsessed, don’t play well with others,” Tony added bitterly.
“How different are the Avengers in your universe?” Mr. America asked.
“Well I hate to tell you but where I come from you’re played by a white guy named Steve Rogers who isn’t half as handsome as you,”
“Punk,” James muttered under his breath.
“We have a Steve. He went Nomad a few years back. James here refused to take up the mantle,” Sam said with a nod to the Winter Soldier.
“So did you,” James shot back.
“James Rhodes- Colonel James Rhodes,” Mr. America said, offering his hand out to Tony. Tony smiled tightly and instead offered out his fist. Rhodes nodded and tapped his fist gently against Tony’s.
“However, I don’t know who three are,” Tony said to Magic Man, Bow Girl, and Girl With Wings.
“Doctor Stephen Strange, I am the Master of the Mystic Arts,”
“Katie Bishop, Hawkeye,”
“There’s a Hawkeye in my universe,” Tony said, unable to contain himself.
“Yea?” she asked with a smirk.
“Barton,” she said.
“He was my mentor. Now he trains new recruits,” she told him.
“I’m Janet van Dyne, Wasp,” the Girl With Wings said excitedly.
There was a chime and Janet looked down at her phone.
“Oh! Foods here!”
The food was brought in by a SHIELD agent. They all sat in the dining room and ate their IHOB burgers. Tony hated himself for how impressed by the burger he was. He listened to the Avengers talk and learned what he could about them. He even found out how James Barnes had survived WWII- he got brainwashed into being an assassin by HYDRA, who apparently had been eradicated by SHIELD since it was discovered that HYDRA survived past WWII.
“And Maria kicked his ass to Wakanda after she found him,” Sam added with a nod to James Barnes.
“Changed the Winter Soldier to the White Wolf,” James drawled.
“‘N so the Colonel took up the mantel,” James added.
“Funny as hell to watch people accidentally call him Captain Rhodes only to be reminded he’s a full fledged Colonel,”
“So how’d Hill find him?” Tony asked, gesturing to James.
“You said Maria. Maria Hill right?”
Sam and James looked at each other.
me? with a cliffhanger? it's more likely than you think
enter, Maria Carbonell and a tour of Carbonell Industries
Tony jerked back as if he’d been shocked, tears clouding his vision.
“I um… I wa- outside,”
Tony stumbled out to the balcony, hands gripping the railing as he tried to force himself to remain calm.
Maria was alive. He let out a shuddering breath that bordered on a sob. Behind him he heard the door slide open and someone stepped out to the balcony.
“She’s not alive in your universe, is she?” Rhodes asked.
Tony shook his head, not yet ready to trust his voice. Maria Carbonell was alive. His mother was alive.
“She uh,” he cleared his throat.
“She died in the crash that killed Howard,” Tony said.
“I’m so sorry,” Rhodes said softly.
Tony nodded his head slowly.
“You’re going to have to meet with her,” Rhodes said after a moment of silence.
Tony didn’t respond.
“We can’t keep this from her. A strange man pops out of a white portal with nanotech in his veins? That’s something she needs to know about,”
“Why her?” Tony asked hoarsely.
“CI provides for the Avengers,”
The acronym hit Tony’s ears wrong.
“Carbonell Industries? After Howard died she got full control and turned the company around,”
Tony nodded, seemingly steeling himself for something.
“Let’s get this over with then,”
“Ma’am,” Rhodes said quietly.
“We had a bit of a situation at the Compound. There was a portal that opened and someone came through,” Rhodes said to her.
Rhodes gestured to Tony and he stepped into the room. Tony had no words to say. Before him stood Maria Carbonell who was both his mother and not his mother. She was just as beautiful as he remembered.
“If that is all Colonel, you may leave us,” Maria said, sharp blue gaze still locked on Tony.
Rhodes caught Tony’s eyes for just a second before he walked out of the office.
Maria took a few steps closer to him, her cane making quiet thuds on the carpeted floor.
“I buried you, many years ago,” she said.
“So did I,” Tony whispered.
“So where did you come from?”
“An alternate universe, or so Magic Hands said so,”
Maria struggled to hide the smile on her face. She sat down in one of the chairs in front of her desk and gestured Tony to sit in the other. He wasn’t aware of how badly he’d been trembling until he sat down, his knees almost giving out under him.
“So,” she started.
“How did I die?”
“Howard was drunk. Crashed the car. Neither of you made it,” Tony told her.
“How did I…?”
She looked away from him for a moment.
“It was my fault,” she said quietly.
She held up her hand to quiet him.
“I should have tried harder to protect you from Howard. But he was so powerful bambino I knew if I took you and ran he’d find us. One day he took it too far,” she blinked a few times.
“You were only 13. Howard covered it all up,”
“What happened to him?”
“A car crash, and a well paid assassin,” she said.
Tony stared at her, mouth open like a gaping fish.
She glanced at him, the picture of innocence.
“I couldn’t let him get away for what he did. Sergeant Barnes showing up certainly was a surprise I must say,”
Tony physically could not process as damn thing that came out of her mouth.
“Are you saying Barnes was an assassin?”
“The Winter Soldier bambino. HYDRA had him in their grasps. I sent him to Wakanda and led a crusade against HYDRA,”
Tony closed his eyes and ran his hand over his hair.
“I’m thinking the crash may not have been Howard’s fault,” Tony said more to himself than to Maria.
“I’m going to have to investigate that when I get back,” he muttered as an afterthought.
Maria patted his leg before she pushed herself to her feet.
“Come on then,”
“We don’t know how long you’re going to be here Antonio, might as well give you the tour of the company,”
Dutifully Tony followed her out of the office, Colonel Rhodes was waiting for them.
“Would you care to join us Colonel? I’m going to give him a tour,” Maria offered.
Rhodes nodded and joined them on the tour. It was incredibly surreal to listen to them talk, both CEO’s of (technically) the same company, both brilliant in their own ways, and both huge dorks about advancement in technology.
Tony loved R&D the most, he was utterly fascinated in the things they were creating and all but demanded to meet the people that created the blueprints.
Rhodes wanted a picture of his face when he was introduced to Harley Keener, Peter Parker, and Riri Williams, Maria’s college-aged protegees.
“This is just for technology,” Maria said.
“Mr. Parker goes back and forth between this lab and Dr. Banners,”
Tony just nodded. He stared for a second longer before striking up a very excited conversation with the kids about the projects they were working on. Rhodes watched him carefully. He looked a lot like Howard, but he acted like Maria. He was encouraging, excited, eager to learn from the kids, he teased them like he’d known them their whole lives.
“He’s quite something, isn’t he Colonel?” Maria said, a knowing look on her face.
Maria just smiled at him before turning her attention back to Tony and the kids.
“Alright then,” Maria called.
“Time to move on to the next lab,”
Tony deflated slightly but he pushed away from the kids and followed Maria to Dr. Banner’s lab. The lab was currently occupied by Dr. Helen Cho and Dr. Strange.
Strange shot him a strained- yet fond- smile.
“Dr. Strange, a moment if you will,” Maria called.
“Of course, ma’am,”
Maria gave Tony’s arm a gentle squeeze before she and Strange retreated to a far corner of the lab. Tony stared at her for a moment, an unreadable expression on his face.
“It’s weird seeing her,” he said after a few moments.
“You know she’s not really… your mom,” Rhodes said quietly.
“I know. My mamma is dead. This… she’s like her twin sister that I never knew about, they may look the same but… she’s not mine,” Tony replied, a sad smile on his face.
He straightened, a mask falling over his face. He reminded Rhodes of a marionette on very tight strings. He approached Dr. Cho to ask about her research. Rhodes glanced back at Maria and Strange.
“Oh I could never replace my son, Dr. Strange. To be quite frank I’m not sure I ever knew him. The man that came through that portal… he…” Maria trailed off.
“He’s still my family. Alternate universe or not,”
Strange nodded carefully.
“Getting him home is going to take time. You may have to prepare some kind of statement for the press,”
Maria pursed her lips.
“He looks like Howard, someone is going to figure this out,”
“I’ll think of something,” she assured him.
rhodes, sees tony with kids: oh no
Maria schemes, Tony pines and has one (1) idea
i am physically incapable of keeping this boys from pining for each other
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Maria set a Manila envelope in front of Tony.
“Documents, stating that you’re my son,” she told him.
“You are Maria Stark’s son and I am Maria Stark. That’s all the press needs to know bambino. I’ve already accidentally let slip that you had returned to CI. The press will go ballistic and in case anyone digs too far I have all the documents ready to go,” she said.
Tony picked up the envelope, fingers playing at the seal.
“Start thinking of a cover story bambino,” she said.
“What about when I have to leave?” he started quietly.
“Then I’ll figure something out,” she said.
Tony felt like he was in a daze the whole day. For the first time in his life the press wasn’t going to assume he was drunk or high off his ass. He didn’t have to worry about his mistakes from his own universe. He… he could just be himself.
“I’ve never had to live in a universe where the press didn’t know about my mistakes,” Tony said quietly.
The Avengers- his team?- looked at him.
“I’m a very public man in my universe and I used to party too much. The press never let me forget it. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to dredge up that past but I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint either. I mean I’m not even a fucking Avenger in my universe,” Tony said, passing a carton of some kind of fast food to Bucky. He didn’t even remember what they ordered, was it Thai? Or Chinese?
“What’s your reputation in your universe?” Kate asked.
“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” Tony said, his titles rolling off his tongue.
“So we drop the playboy,” Sam said with a shrug.
“Just tell them you’ve been traveling the country. Didn’t want to grow up in the spotlight- can you pass me the- thanks,” Bruce said, taking the carton that Katie passed to him.
“That’s never going to hold up,”
“Who cares?” Rhodes asked.
“You don’t owe the press a thing,” Stephen agreed.
“If Strange gets a hang of multi-dimensional travel I can rough the press up a bit,” Barnes offered.
“There’s already one of you in my universe,” Tony said, waving off the offer with a grin.
“Yea? Am I still devilishly charmin’?”
“You never were,” Sam shot back.
Barnes flipped him off.
“I’m pretty sure you killed my parents,”
Katie let out a choked laugh behind her hand.
“Which, by the way, means I have to find you in my universe so thanks for the extra work,”
“I hope you kick my ass,”
Tony snorted as Barnes winked at him. He snagged a carton out of Rhodey’s hand.
“I was eating that!” Rhodes protested, taking the carton back.
“You were hoarding it, my turn now,”
At the other end of the table Katie leaned over to Jan.
“Mom and dad,”
Jan laughed and quickly stuffed food in her mouth when Tony and Rhodes looked at her. Tony dumped the contents of the carton on his plate- Thai?
“What is this?” he asked.
“Seafood Prik Pao,” Bruce said.
“You didn’t even know what it was before snatching it out of my hands?” Rhodes demanded.
“Like I said, you were hoarding it, I wanted it,”
Rhodes rolled his eyes.
“Don’t be such a sour patch, honey pot,”
“This is cute, this is a cute time,” Sam said.
Tony sat back in his chair, breaking away from Rhodes. He found the team looking at him, similar smirks on their faces. Jan threw a perfectly edible spring roll at Sam, a small frown on her face.
“What are we watching for movie night?” Barnes asked.
“Stephen’s turn to pick,” Katie said.
Tony, for the most part, tuned out the conversation. He was still too worried about what to say to the press to concentrate on what movie Strange wanted to watch. He could tell them whatever he wanted to, he could make himself out to be whoever he wanted to be. And that was a terrifying notion.
“Hey,” Rhodes said quietly, hand on Tony’s knee.
“It’s going to be alright,”
Tony nodded, a small smile on his face. Rhodes gave a soft squeeze before continuing to eat his meal. Tony couldn’t shake the feeling of Rhodey’s hand on his knee.
The team headed to the living room to start the movie that Strange picked for them. Rhodes headed to the balcony, Tony followed.
“I’ve always liked looking at the stars,”
“I used to. First time I flew Iron Man I went right for the moon,” Tony said, remembering the utter joy of flying in the suit for the first time.
“Then I sent a nuke through a wormhole and now I dread it. Too many unknowns,” Tony said.
Rhodes bumped his shoulder to Tony’s, their hands brushing together.
“Sometimes I regret taking the shield,” Rhodes confessed.
“But if I didn’t then I wouldn’t be an Avenger. And I’m damn good at my job,”
Tony glanced at him, silhouetted against the midnight sky. For a second he imagined Rhodes in charcoal and silver armor. Colonel James Rhodes War Machine.
That had a nice ring to it.
“Why not pass it to Sam?”
“He already said no. Besides, he’s the Falcon. Without the shield I don’t get to do this,”
Tony rubbed his chin thoughtfully. If he could get Rhodes to agree to an armor… he’d also have to see if Sam was ok with taking up the shield.
Rhodes would look real good in War Machine armor.
does tony is gay?
the aftermath of Tony's thought, and the aftermath of a press conference
“Sam! Do you have a moment?” Tony called, his head was already swimming with designs for the armor. He knew he wanted it to be structured like the one he built for Castle, but perhaps not as… terrifying.
“So how come you turned down the shield?” Tony asked, cutting right to the chase. He didn’t know how long he had in this universe and he didn’t want to waste any time.
“Wasn’t ready,” Sam said.
“I didn’t think it could ever feel like it was mine,”
Tony nodded carefully.
“What about now?”
“Rhodes took up the shield. I missed my chance and that’s something I have to live with,” Sam said.
Again Tony nodded, a small smile on his face. It was all working out so nicely. Sam wanted to be Cap, Rhodes didn’t want to be Cap- he should make Rhodes an AI to go with the armor.
“You’re up to something,” Sam said.
“I would just hate to leave this universe without some version of Iron Man,” Tony said with a gentle shrug.
Sam stared at the shield for a moment before looking back at Tony.
“You’re going to build him armor?” Sam asked. Tony watched his gaze drop to the arc reactor.
“Nothing too fancy,” Tony said a tad defensively. He couldn’t introduce Wakandan tech to a world that didn’t know what Wakandan tech was, that would mean he would be taking credit for it and he definitely couldn’t do that. However, he was more than happy to introduce his tech to this universe.
“I think he’ll love it,”
And really that was the only push Tony needed. He was going to make an armor for Rhodes, create the armor in a new universe. He didn’t have JARVIS to help him along- he didn’t even have Yinsen like he did in Afghanistan- he was going to have to build the armor on his own.
“How often are the kids in the lab?” he asked suddenly.
“Usually every weekend,”
“Then I have to teach some kids how to make Iron Man,” Tony said, he flashed Sam a grin and his signature peace sign and headed for CI’s lab.
Riri and Harley were the only two in the lab, they were flicking through holograms.
“Where’s Parker?” Tony asked.
“With Dr. Banner,” Harley replied.
“Either of you good with engineering?” Tony asked.
“Good. You’re helping me build an armor,”
They looked at each other, identical smiles on their faces.
“Armor?” the echoed.
Tony just grinned. The process of making an armor without JARVIS and with two kids that generally had no idea what they were doing took a little longer than Tony was expecting. But he was a good teacher and they were smart kids. Riri had a knack for reverse engineering which really made Tony’s heart soar.
“What are you up to, Tones?” Rhodes asked as Tony stepped out of the lab.
“Nothing you need to worry about, sour patch,”
“Well I’m going to worry about it anyway. And I’m not sour!”
Tony grinned at that.
“It’s just a fun little project,” Tony told him.
“Well it’s press conference day, Maria is getting ready to tell the world that you’re her son- which… technically you are,”
Tony followed him to one of the larger conference rooms where everything was all set up for Maria to announce that Tony was her son.
The press conference went surprisingly well, something Tony definitely wasn’t used to. He told the press that he’d been traveling the world, trying to be both vague and specific as he could be. If the press bought his story he couldn’t tell, and frankly he didn’t know if he much cared what they thought.
“Well Mr. Stark, how does it feel to officially be… a Stark?” Maria asked.
“Feels the same as it always has,” Tony replied.
“So what happens now?” he asked.
“We integrate you into CI, and the Avengers,”
“The Avengers?” Tony asked.
“The Colonel and the rest of the Avengers agree, they want Iron Man on the team,” Maria said with a small smile.
“I’m not going to be here forever,” Tony said quietly.
“One way or another I’m going to be sent back to my universe,”
“Until that day we must act as if you are staying,” she said. Her tone left no room to argue, and frankly, Tony didn’t want to.
Tony and Rhodes sat next to each other, plates piled high with a truly monumental amount of spaghetti that Maria made for them. It was a celebration dinner for a successful press conference. It had been decades since Tony had gotten to eat something Maria made him.
Rhodes glanced around at his team. Janet and Maria were in a deep discussion about the upcoming Gala. Bucky and Kate were flicking small bits of meat in Sam’s general direction. Bruce was talking very excitedly about a paper he had recently read, Stephen and Tony were chiming in, asking questions and geeking out along with Bruce.
“Preparations are all set then. Have you all invited your plus ones?” Maria asked.
“Clint is excited as always,” Katie drawled.
“For what?” Tony asked.
“The September Foundation Gala. We host it every year in May,” Maria told him.
“Funds charities, and renovation projects?” Tony asked.
“And the Avengers. Do you have one in your universe?” Maria asked.
“It’s called the Maria Stark Foundation,”
Maria stared at him for a few moments before a smile over took her face. Tony ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck. Rhodes averted his gaze before he did something stupid like drool… or get caught staring at Tony like some kind of fool.
does rhodes is gay?
Tony works on the War Machine armor, Rhodes gets a little jealous, and Natasha comes home
lmao i couldn't not write in nat i love her
“I go deep undercover for two months and I come back to Maria having a son?” Nat demanded when she walked into the communal living room, eyes instantly falling on said son.
“I was wondering when she’d show up,” the man said.
“For a second I was worried she was still y’know all KGB,”
Natasha made a very specific what the fuck gesture.
“Tony isn’t from our universe. He got deposited here a month ago,” Kate told her.
“Why does that make him Maria’s son?”
“Tony Stark,” the man said.
Nat almost forgot that Maria once went by Stark. Maria had had a son named Tony who vanished from the public eye decades ago.
“You’re her son because you’re her son,” she said quietly.
“So I’m in your universe then?” Nat asked.
“Yea. You used to be a scary assassin but now you’re a scary Avenger,” he said.
A smile quirked at her lips.
“As long as I’m scary,”
Tony grinned back at her.
“Well come on then itsy bitsy, team bonding night,”
“You’re on the team?” Nat asked, eyebrows shooting up to her hairline as she sat down next to him.
She watched as some kind of nanobot crawled from the blue light on his chest to his hand, covering it in a red and gold armor.
The armor retreated back to the blue light- a casing?
“Arc reactor powers the suit and the nanobots,” he told her.
“If the two of you are done,” the tone of Rhodey’s voice made Nat curious. He’d never taken that tone with her before, not even when she and Clint were hamming it up in the middle of a movie. Why was now so different?
She had her answer before the end of the movie and it absolutely delighted her. Rhodes had a thing for Tony, and while she didn’t know Tony very well, she had a feeling that Tony had a thing for Rhodes as well.
Nat glanced to the other Avengers, both Janet and Kate caught her eyes, identical grins on their faces. She definitely wasn’t the only one who noticed.
Natasha stepped into Strange’s lab, a little surprised to find almost everyone in the room.
“Does he have to go?” Janet asked, greeting Nat with a quick nod of her head. Nat returned the nod and took a seat at the workbench, phone gently tapping against the metal table top.
“There’s no telling what could happen in his universe if he isn’t there,” Stephen reminded her.
“But he’s so happy here,”
Stephen faltered. Nat set her phone down on the table in front of her, around the lab she noticed the others stop working as well.
“They both are,”
“We can’t force him to stay here,” Bruce said.
“What if he wants to?” Bucky asked.
“Tony Stark is in a position none of us can imagine. Whether or not he wants to stay… he still has his own universe, he has people a things there are important to him,” Stephen said.
“Where are they now?”
“Rhodes is in his office, and Tony is in the lab with Harley and Riri,” Bruce said.
“Do we even know if Strange can pull this off?”
“It won’t be easy but I can do it,” Stephen sounded borderline offended in her lack of faith.
“Hey sweetheart,” Tony said quietly, wiping his forehead with the back of his arm.
“Hello Mr. Stark,”
“You are designation: ROXY. Your primary duty is the War Machine armor and helping Colonel Rhodes,” Tony said softly, brushing his thumb over the hull of the War Machine helmet.
He let her access all the relevant information. She had a lot of code to process and a lot of information to store.
“How’d you make her so fast?” Harley asked.
“I’ve made about six AI’s in my universe. The one I use most often is JARVIS. I lost contact with him when I came here,” Tony explained.
“You’d like J,” he said suddenly.
“He’s a sassy shit,”
Harley laughed at that.
“Hey Mr. Stark?” he asked quietly.
“Are you going back?”
“I guess I’m supposed to. It’s my universe isn’t it?” he asked.
“But who knows when Strange will figure out the correct variations to get me back,” he added.
Instead of dwelling on that, Tony stood, clapping his hands together.
“ROXY’s going to need a while to get used to her code. How are things going with the arc reactor?” Tony asked.
“You made this with Palladium you said?” Riri asked.
Tony nodded. He hadn’t told them everything about Mark I, or his little stint in Afghanistan.
“Palladium would have poisoned and killed you, how’d you stabilize it?”
“Synthetic vibranium. But this reactor won’t be in Rhodey’s chest. It can be made from Palladium and there shouldn’t be any problems,”
“Synthetic vibranium?” Riri and Harley echoed.
Tony glanced at the arc reactor and then back at the kids.
“What? Like it’s hard?”
“You have to teach us,”
Creating the synthesized vibranium was a lot easier with Riri and Harley helping him, and this time he really knew what he was doing. He coached the both of them through it, taking them through each step as slowly as he could as Riri was also writing down his instructions. He didn’t anticipate the arc reactor breaking, but if it did then Riri and Harley would know how to fix it.
The arc reactor ignited, glowing a familiar bright blue. Tony shut the machine off.
“Holy shit that worked,”
“Of course it worked!”
“Are we supposed to just destroy the lab every time we need to make this?” Riri asked.
“Peter is going to be pissed he missed this,” Harley muttered.
“Where is he anyway?” Tony asked.
“He’s spending the day with his Aunt,”
“Anyway we have the notes all typed up for him, he’ll be fine,” Riri said.
“It has to go inside the suit, ROXY will run diagnostics, I’ll do some test runs, she’ll run a few more diagnostics, and when she’s done we can show the Colonel,” Tony said.
Riri gently picked the arc reactor up and carried it to the War Machine suit. She and Harley connected it to the suit and Tony watched as it lit up. Harley and Riri leapt away from it, eyes wide.
“Holy shit,” they said together.
Tony and Nat bond, and then bond a little more, and then Rhodey gets a new shiny present
Damn I’m really uploading these and saying FUCK SUMMARIES
Tony wasn’t sure what he expected when he agreed to spar with Natasha as part of a team building exercise, but getting his ass whooped wasn’t it. It wasn’t that he didn’t know what he was doing, under any other circumstance he could hold his own, but not against a former KGB assassin/ballerina.
“Not bad Antonshka,” she crooned.
“Don’t pity me,”
“Just because I can’t win against a former KGB assassin-”
“HYDRA too,” she added.
Tony stared at her.
“Technically I was HYDRA for a bit, even if I didn’t realize it,”
Tony dropped his head back onto the mat, a whine escaping him.
“You are giving me so much to do when I get back to my universe. Finding the Winter Soldier, ripping HYDRA out of SHIELD- and I bet even then Rogers won’t let me join the Avengers- not that I want to of course,”
“Of course,” Natasha agreed a little patronizingly.
Then his words hit her.
“You’re not an Avenger?” Nat asked.
“I, apparently, don’t play well with others, am volatile, self obsessed, blah blah blah,” Tony muttered.
“And they don’t like that Castle is on my team,” he added.
Tony shot her a look that clearly said Yea, what about it?
“He’s War Machine now,” he said with a shrug.
Nat didn’t know much about Frank Castle other than he was a terrifying force of nature, she couldn’t imagine what he would be like encased in armor.
“Can you keep a secret?” Tony asked suddenly.
“It’s kind of my job,”
Tony grabbed her hand and pulled her through the Compound and to the lab that was usually occupied by three college kids. It was now empty.
“Good afternoon sweetheart,” Tony said.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Stark,”
Nat almost jumped out of her skin at the voice.
“That’s ROXY, she’s an AI. I have about six in my universe with JARVIS being the most advanced,” Tony told her, undeniable pride in his voice.
“Most advanced?” Natasha repeated.
“You guys have Skynet here? The movie? Well JARVIS is like that, but not evil… and he only cares about helping me run my company,” Tony said in a rush.
“Anyway, ROXY is going to help the good Colonel,”
Tony pointed to something behind Nat, she turned to see a silver armor.
“I don’t think anything but War Machine fits her,”
“Riri and Harley have been helping me build her,”
Nat was distinctly aware of Tony standing next to her, but she couldn’t stop staring at the armor.
“How’d you get to do this?”
“Sheer desperation,” Tony told her, a wry smile on his face.
Nat stood there, staring at the armor while Tony gave her a brief history of his time in Afghanistan.
“And thus Iron Man was born,” Tony said.
She could almost imagine him staring at the press, announcing that he was Iron Man.
“Overall, generally a shitty happenstance but the flying thing is cool,”
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him shook her a quizzical grin. She let a small smile settle on her face and nodded to the armor in front of them.
“Is it ready?” she asked.
“Just about, I think I’ll show him tomorrow, we can go for a test drive,”
“What do you think, ROXY? All ready?” he asked.
“Yes, Mr. Stark,”
Tony gently brushed this thumb against the cool metal of the armor. Rhodes would look damn good in it.
“Alright Ri, wanna get my honey pot for me?” Tony asked.
“Be right back,”
She stepped out of the lab and Tony returned his attention back to the armor. It was finally ready for Rhodes.
“He’s going to be so badass,” Harley said.
“He’s Captain America, he’s already badass,”
“Cap has a reputation. He can make War Machine into anything he wants,” Harley pointed out.
“Matte finish was a good call,” he said suddenly.
“Thanks kid, I usually know what I’m doing,” Tony shot back.
“Are you sure? Your armor is hot rod red and gold, very ostentatious,”
“Oh that’s a big word, hurt yourself there?” Tony shot back.
Harley barked out a laugh as the lab doors opened and Riri and Rhodey walked into the lab. Rhodey let out a low whistle at the sight of the armor.
“Rhodes, say hello to ROXY,”
“Thank you, Colonel,” ROXY said.
Rhodes took a step back, eyes wide.
“That’s ROXY. She’s your own personal AI. She’ll help you with anything you need. Autopilot, aim, someone to talk to,”
“Holy shit,” Rhodes whispered.
“You wanna take her for a spin?”
“Is it safe?”
“Sometimes you gotta run before you walk sugar plum,”
“You ready to go ROX?”
“Yes Mr. Stark,”
Tony tapped his arc reactor, letting his armor knit together around him. Rhodes approached the armor and it opened for him. He nestled in it and it closed around him.
“Holy shit,” Rhodes said.
The garage door opened. Tony shot out, repulsors whirring as he flew. He turned back to the compound to find Rhodes stepping into the sunlight. He was probably getting used to the weight.
The War Machine armor lifted off the ground, rising to join Tony.
“How does she handle?” Tony asked.
“Like a dream,”
“Try to keep up there honey pot,”
Tony touched down, the nanobots retreated back into the arc reactor. There was a heavy thump as Rhodes landed next to him.
“Let’s get her back to the workshop, upload the data and see if ROX has anything she thinks could be fixed,” Tony said.
Once they got to the workshop, Rhodes stepped out of the War Machine armor. ROXY uploaded the data to Tony’s computer.
“You can do this after every flight to see all this. Aerodynamics, average speed, elevation, what needs repairing in the armor. Harley and Riri can do the repairs, even with the reactor. They know their shit,”
“So is she mine?” Rhodes asked.
“I wouldn’t trust her with anyone else,” Tony replied.
“But the shield-”
“I think Sam’s ready for it,”
Rhodes stared at the armor for a moment, a smile growing on his face.
“Thank you,” he said.
Tony ducked his head to try and hide the flush on his cheeks. He couldn’t handle how earnest Rhodey’s voice was, or the way Rhodes was looking at him.
Peter suffers a bug bite, Riri and Harley build him a suit, Tony and Rhodey continue to pine
Tony stepped into the lab to find Harley and Riri hovering over Peter.
“Dad! Come here!”
Tony stopped dead, staring at them for a few seconds. Dad. They had said it so easily, so simply. He had never had much of a father figure to look up to- unless he counted Jarvis, who was awesome- but if three quite frankly amazing kids in front of him were calling him Dad then he must be doing something right.
Tony peered over them to find they were watching Peter stick to things.
“He had an ice pop and it melted on his fingers?” Tony guessed.
“I got… bit by a spider and now I can climb walls,” Peter said.
The canister fell from Peter’s fingers and he walked right over to the wall and started climbing it.
“What the hell,”
“Oh my god he’s a superhero,” Harley whispered excitedly.
Peter, who was now on the ceiling, glanced down at them.
“I can climb walls, how exciting,” Peter deadpanned.
“Spiderboy,” Riri offered.
“Oh we could go old school Daredevil like Crime Fighting Spider,”
“How about Spider-Man?” Peter asked, now standing on the ceiling like it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Do you make webs out of your ass?”
The question sent Peter crashing to the floor and left them all collapsed in laughter.
“So we need web shooters. Good thing you’re biochem,” Riri said once she had gathered herself.
“And a costume,” Harley added.
“Harley and I can do that. You and dad go find Dr. Banner and try to figure out how to make spider web,” Riri said. Tony could see ideas dance through her mind.
“You heard the lady, let’s crack some eggs,” Tony said, clapping his hands.
Peter pushed himself to his feet and followed Tony out of the lab.
“I thought you were going to freak out more,” Peter said.
“You did the smart thing, coming here first. Now we can get you prepared,” Tony said, an idea slamming into him.
“Actually kid… get started on the webs. I need to talk to Rhodes,” Tony said suddenly.
“Aye aye Captain,” Peter muttered under his breath.
Tony abandoned the workstation to seek out Rhodes. He found him in the kitchen with not one but two mugs of coffee.
Rhodes grinned at him and offered out a mug of coffee.
“I was just on my way to find you,” he said as Tony took a sip of the scalding coffee.
“So there’s a new development. Peter got bit by a spider and can now stick to things and climb walls,” Tony said.
“How does that happen?” Rhodes asked with a vague what the hell gesture. Tony shrugged in response.
“So he and Bruce are working on web shooters and Harley and Riri are working on a suit. What I was thinking is we give the kid some self defense lessons. Maybe from Natasha and Bucky-Bear since their terrifying- we should really figure out if he has more abilities,” Tony said in a rush. He almost wanted to keep talking so his brain wouldn’t bluescreen at the smile on Rhodey’s face.
“Definitely should test his strength,” Rhodes agreed.
The web shooters proved generally easy, Tony and Rhodey helped with mechanics of it while Peter created the web fluid with no help whatsoever. Riri and Harley were having a great time designing the suit, and that left only one thing for Tony to do, create an AI for Peter’s suit.
“You got a name for this one?” Rhodes asked softly, watching Tony type in lines of code for his latest AI.
“Not yet,” Tony said.
Rhodes was the only person in any universe that Tony trusted enough to watch the creation of an AI.
“Might let Peter name this one,”
“Oh so he gets to name his own,” Rhodes teased.
“I’m sorry Mr. War Machine Rox, did you want to change it?” Tony shot back as Rhodes laughed.
Tony finished the AI before Harley and Riri were done with the suit- which wasn’t surprising considering the kids could only work on the suit when they weren’t at school. Peter spent most of his free time working on better versions of the web fluid and trying to figure out how much he could bench, based on his latest report it was over 20 tons. Finding out how much the kid could bench also green-lit him starting to train with Natasha and Bucky. Tony suggested bringing out the Hulk, Bruce steadfast refused.
Tony started to integrate the new AI when Harley and Riri were close to finishing the suit. Peter started to bond with her and decided to call her Karen.
“It’s finished! Parker get your ass in here!” Riri yelled.
Peter damn near crashed into the room.
“Oh shit,” he whispered.
The suit was blue, red, and gold with a spider on the chest.
“We call it the Iron Spider, named of course for Tony,” Harley said.
Riri started to explain a bit about the suit but Tony didn’t hear a word she said, he was too absorbed in the shock of Peter’s suit being named after him.
“... and dad has Karen all set up in here, your webshooters are all hooked in too. So put it on! It should adjust to your size if you tap the chest twice, we need to test it out!” Riri said excitedly.
Peter wasted no time in getting the suit on, and then they were all rushing for the gym, eager to see what Peter could do. It didn’t take long for the rest of the Avengers to join them.
“He and Rhodes caught on fast then,” she commented, watching Rhodes and Tony discuss the data inputs from Peter’s suit.
Bruce started to respond but he stopped shortly, shaking his head gently.
“Out with it,”
“What if they were always supposed to be together? Like… y’know-”
“Soulmates,” Nat finished.
“They weren’t in the same universe so something shoved them together, and we’re just going to undo that,” Bruce looked up at her, a troubled expression on his face.
“And I don’t want him to go either Nat. He fits so well here,” he added.
Natasha knew just what he meant. In the short time she’d known Tony she had formed an attachment to him. He was good for the team, and they seemed to be good for him.
“Maybe it won’t work,” she said softly.
“And what if it doesn’t? I can’t imagine… to never be able to see your friends…” Bruce shook his head gently.
Tony watched Peter train, throwing punches to a reinforced punching bag and a sudden pierce of nostalgia stabbed him. It reminded him all too much of the time he and Happy used to box. Thoughts of Happy turned to thoughts of Pepper, the bots, Castle, and JARVIS and Tony felt like the wind got knocked out of him.
“Excuse me,” he murmured as he headed for the nearest exit.
He ended up outside, pulling in deep breaths of fresh air to try and calm himself down. He missed them all so much it hurt.
“Tones?” Rhodes called softly.
“Is everything ok?”
When Tony didn’t answer right away, Rhodey easily fit his hand in Tony’s and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“I miss them,” Tony said thickly.
“Pepper, Happy, my bots and JARVIS, hell even Castle,”
Rhodey nudged his shoulder against Tony’s.
“Tell me about them,”
Tony did, and Rhodes could have watched him talk about them for the rest of his life. He got so animated, his eyes lit up and he was the most beautiful man Rhodes had ever seen.
can you see the angst approaching? there on the horizon?
The Gala arrives, and so does a certain relationship
we gettin to the end lads
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The press had a field day when they introduced Spider-Man to the Avengers, hopefully it would be the last change for a while. In the past four and a half months the press have had to deal with Rhodes passing the mantle of Captain America to Sam, Rhodes becoming his own hero, Tony’s mysterious return as well as his rise to the Avengers with Iron Man, and now there was Spider-Man.
The Avengers, however, only had to worry about the upcoming September Foundation Gala. The guest list was set, they just had to make sure the world didn’t implode before the Gala happened.
“What day is the gala again?” Tony asked, not looking up from the device in front of him.
“That’s my birthday,” Tony said without thinking.
“Oh my god like you couldn’t have said that sooner? We don’t have time to get you a present it’s dead week!”
“Who said anything about getting me a present? It’s just a birthday,” Tony said with a wave of his hand.
“Yes but you’re our father,”
“Then get me a Father’s Day gift,”
Tony glanced up at the three kids and grinned for a moment. They were some damn good kids. They were talking quietly, glancing at him as they did so. He shook his head and resumed his work on the device he was supposed to be upgrading.
He was excited for the Gala. It was the first one in a very long time that he wasn’t the host of. That responsibility fell on Maria, his beloved mother who had her work cut out for her with everything that had gone down in the past four and a half months.
Tony jerked back from his work at the sound of Rhodey’s voice.
“Hey honey pot,”
“Can I talk to you about something?”
Tony’s heart squeezed, but he nodded anyway and followed Rhodes out of the lab.
Harley, Riri, and Peter all craned their necks to see where the two went.
“I’ve got 5 saying Rhodes confesses,” Riri said immediately.
“He’s going to ask Tony to the Gala,” Harley said with a shake of his head.
“He’ll never hear the end of it if he asks to go as friends,” Harley hissed back.
“They’re too shy around each other!” Peter defended, his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
They crept closer to the door but Tony and Rhodes didn’t come into view.
“How far down the hall did they have to go?” Riri asked.
“Far enough to make sure we can’t see them,” Harley grumbled as Peter stood on his tiptoes to try and see anything.
They rushed back to their workshop table and tried to pretend like they were busy working when Tony walked in, his cheeks were a little red and there was a huge smile on his face.
“What’s with the face?” Harley asked, earning himself two sharp elbows to the stomach.
Tony glanced up at them, eyes wide.
“Did he ask you to the Gala?” Riri asked, she did not get elbowed in the stomach- which Harley found unfair.
Tony seemed to get very interested in the project in front of him. The three looked at each other, eyes lighting up.
“As a date?” Peter ventured, no elbows for him either. Harley made a vague what the fuck gesture- it earned him another two elbows.
Tony fumbled with the device, Riri let out an absolutely delighted gasp.
“You both owe me 5,” she said.
“I said he’d ask him to the Gala!” Harley protested.
They descended into their usual pattern of chaos which allowed Tony to get his thoughts in order. Rhodes had asked him to the Gala, Rhodes had asked him on a date to the Gala. He felt disgustingly warm and blushy just thinking about it. He really liked Rhodes.
Tony glanced up at the kids again, for the most part they seem to have forgotten he was in the room with him, too busy working on their own projects. The Gala was on his birthday. He had a week and a half to get prepared to go on a date with Colonel James Rhodes.
The days leading up the Gala found them constantly near each other. They had been on countless flights- Rhodes always looked so beautiful after some time out in the suit. Every night they ended up in Rhodey’s room watching some ridiculous syfy movie- and sometimes not watching some ridiculous syfy movie. They spent time in the lab with the kids, they made frankly obscene love-struck gazes at each other, and for the most part never thought about Tony having to leave to go back to his own universe. It was a thought they could push away, lock it away in the far corners of their minds and pretend that it was all going to work out.
The day of the Gala found Riri, Peter, and Harley in full relaxation mode. All three of them had on facemasks and were watching mindless shows on the tv in Riri’s room. None of them bothered to start getting ready until an hour before they were supposed to leave the Compound.
Natasha, Jan, and Kate were at a spa talking about the latest SHIELD intel and discussing whether or not Clint was going to pick a fight with anyone at the Gala like he was prone to do. It wasn’t so much that Clint liked to pick fights, they just always seemed to happen accidentally and nearly every time Clint ended up with a black eye.
Sam and Bucky were on their usual run around the Compound- the more calories they burned off in the run the less they had to worry about standing in a corner, eating, and talking shit all night.
Tony and Rhodes spent the day together, as they usually did. They had breakfast, lounged about and then finally started getting ready for the Gala. As they were going together, Tony wanted to make sure that they matched, but they were the best looking couple in the room. Rhodes seemed to have no objections.
Stephen and Bruce were in the lab, both of them already dressed for the Gala. Stephen was so close to figuring it out. If he didn’t get it before the Gala then he would just leave early, he knew that Maria wouldn’t mind.
“How long till we have to leave?” Stephen asked.
Stephen frowned. Bruce watched him try again, as much as he would love to see Stephen succeed in creating a portal to another universe, he would be just as happy if it never happened.
“Oh fuck,” Stephen whispered.
For just a few seconds the white mist shimmered in front of them, and then it was gone.
this chapter was a struggle lmao
The Gala, discussions of the moon, and a white mist
The Gala was, for lack of a better word, fun. He didn’t have to deal with so many stuffy socialites, for the most part he could just be with his friends and with his date. Tony reached out and thread his fingers with Rhodes, Rhodes responded with a gentle squeeze.
Bruce and Stephen were the first to leave, neither of them were big on crowd and Stephen seemed anxious about something. The kids left soon after to grab something to eat before starting up their annual Post-Gala movie night. According to his friends, the kids never stayed the whole time, they always liked to watch ridiculous syfy movies and try to build some contraption featured in the movie. It was a notion that Tony could get behind, he was incredibly interesting in what the kids would come up with.
“Clint’s going to get himself punched,” Janet said suddenly.
“Oh darn,” Nat drawled.
“What is this? Fourth year in a row?” Bucky asked.
“We should go intervene,”
Natasha slid through the crowd and seemed to appear at Clint’s side out of nowhere. Natasha was a pro at de-escalating the situation that Clint had somehow found himself in.
“Fourth year in a row?” Tony asked quietly.
“He’s good at pushing buttons,” Rhodes said.
“And being a dumbass,” Kate added.
“What was it this time?” Janet asked as Natasha steered Clint over to their little group.
“The moon landing,”
Tony frowned for a moment before horror slid down his spine.
“Oh my god tell me it really happened here. Honey bear, platypus, light of my life please tell me you put a man on the moon,”
“You believe in the moon?”
Rhodes waved Clint off, looking bemused.
“We went to the moon,” Rhodes assured him.
Tony placed his hand over his heart in relief, he wasn’t sure how he would feel about living in a universe where they didn’t put a man on the moon. If they hadn’t, however, it would be one helluva project for Tony to work on.
“Let’s head out to the balcony,” Rhodes said quietly, gently tugging Tony in the direction of the glass double doors. Tony followed without hesitation.
It was a warm night, there were no clouds in the sky to hide the stars. They stood at the balcony, their discussion of the nice night easily shifted into in depth analyzations of the dumb syfy movies they’d been watching recently.
“Time travel is totally in the realm of possibility,” Tony said.
“It is! You’ve got Strange figuring out universe jumping, it’s totally possible,” he insisted.
“If we’re going to have the time travel talk, then I’m going to grab us some drinks,” Rhodes said.
He pressed a gentle kiss against Tony’s lips before he headed inside. Tony leaned against the balcony, a grin on his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so genuinely happy. This universe was good for him, it made him almost hope that Strange wouldn’t be able to figure it out, but that thought almost made his heart hurt.
Next to him, a circle of orange sparks appeared and Strange and Banner stepped out of it.
“Tony! We’ve done it!”
Tony stared at them for a few moments, the smile sliding off of his face before he replaced it with his media smile. Oh this was it. He had to go home now… he couldn’t stay.
“It’s time for you to go home, Tony,” Bruce said gently, like he was afraid of Tony’s reaction.
Time for you to go home. A harsh reminder that Tony didn’t belong in this universe. He had to go back to where he came from.
Strange made a number of movements with this hands and before them formed a white mist.
“Shit,” he breathed.
“Thank you. For everything,” Tony said to both of them, offering his hand for them to shake. Strange rolled his eyes and pulled Tony in for a hug.
“The portal won’t stay open forever,”
Tony stared at the mist for a second.
“Um tell my mom I’m sorry. I didn’t get to say goodbye to her again,”
On the other side of that portal his kids were waiting for him, Pepper was there, but there was no Rhodes.
Tony blinked back tears and turned back toward the Gala. Rhodes stood at the doorway, two drinks in his hands. And Tony wanted to stay. By god he wanted to stay just so he never had to see that look on Rhodey’s face ever again. But he had to go home. There wasn’t another option. He couldn’t stay.
Tony forced himself to turn back to the white mist and stepped through it. He was deposited on the floor of his lab, still wearing the tuxedo made from the universe that didn’t belong to him. He shakily pushed himself to his feet and looked around his lab. Everything looked like it had the day he left. It all felt so damn wrong. He turned back to the portal to find it gone. That was it, there was no going back. He was back in his own universe.
Slowly he rotated, catching sight of his bots, his workshop, his cars, and then his vision was blurry. It took him too long to realize tears were obscuring his vision.
“Sir?” JARVIS asked.
Warm tears spilt down his cheeks.
“Hey J,” he croaked.
"the white mist giveth, the white mist taketh awayeth"- me, every time i work on this fic
the aftermath of Tony's return to his own universe
Bruce watched the portal close, the white mist dissipating the instant Tony was through. One of the drinks in Rhodey’s hands fell, glass shattered around his feet, soaking his shoes and the hem of his pants.
“It was time then?” he asked hoarsely.
“We just got it right, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to summon it again,” Stephen explained.
Rhodes looked like he was on the verge of shattering just like the glass had. Bruce didn’t know what to say.
“I… I’ll tell Maria,” he said.
They watched him turn around and walk back into the Gala to tell Maria that her not-quite-son had vanished from her life, again.
“Did we do the right thing?” Stephen asked quietly.
Bruce didn’t answer immediately. There was an empty feeling in his chest, hollow and heavy. He was going to go back to the Compound and Tony wasn’t going to be there. No more Tony during movie nights, or during sparring sessions, or late night science experiments. Tony, who had become such an integral part of their team in a few short months, was gone.
“Open a portal,” Bruce said instead of answering.
Stephen did as instructed. Bruce stepped through the orange sparks and ended up in his room. Behind him, the orange sparks vanished.
“No,” he said to the empty room.
They hadn’t done the right thing.
Natasha took a sip of her drink and tried to pretend like she was interested in what the man standing before her was talking about. She glanced at the doors to the balcony where Rhodes and Tony had vanished off to. She hoped they would be done with their romantic bullshit soon, she needed some entertainment. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Rhodes step into the room and make a beeline right for Maria. Natasha felt her lips quirk in a smile, maybe he was asking her permission to marry Tony.
“Pardon me,” she said, cutting the man off.
She slunk through the crowd toward the balcony. Outside she found only Stephen there-
“Stephen?” she asked as she took a step forward.
Glass crunched under her heel. She glanced down to see the remains of a shattered glass.
“I thought you went home? What happened?” she asked, a sinking feeling in her stomach.
Stephen turned to her, his eyes rimmed red.
“I figured it out,” he said quietly.
Natasha stepped over the shattered glass, holding up the skirt of her dress so it wouldn’t get caught on the jagged pieces.
“He… he went back through the portal,”
Natasha felt tears sting behind her eyes. Tony was gone.
Rhodes closed the car door after her. Maria sat in silence thinking only about Tony, the son she lost to Howard and now the one she lost to an alternate universe. She let out a heavy sigh as Rhodes slid into the driver’s seat. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say to him. She knew there was nothing she could say that could ease the pain he was in.
Maria folded her hands on her lap and closes her eyes and forced herself to draw in a deep breath after deep breath. She had always known that Tony would have to return to his own universe, but she never thought to prepare herself for how much it hurt.
She had had a wonderful few months with a different version of her bambino, it was more than she could have ever hoped for. She hoped his decision to go back didn’t cause him too much grief.
Harley, Riri, Peter
There was a knock on the door. Riri looked at Peter and Harley. They looked as confused as she felt.
Harley stood up and crossed the room to the door. Bruce stood on the other side, his expression drawn.
“Strange figured the portal out,” Bruce said gently.
Harley looked back at Riri and Peter.
Bruce wrung his fingers together.
“He… went through the portal,”
Just like that the mood in the room shattered. The great time they had been having was gone. Tony had left. He was gone.
Bruce looked like he wanted to say something but instead shook his head and shuffled away.
Harley closed the door slowly. The three stayed silent for a few moments. Harley walked back to his seat and sat down, he was fully aware that he was on the verge of crying.
“Fucking stupid,” Riri muttered.
“He shouldn’t have left!” she exploded.
Harley and Peter seemed to have nothing to say to that.
“We always knew it would happen Ri,” Harley said quietly, his voice cracking.
“He should have stayed,” she said, eyes flooding with tears.
“We should have been- why weren’t we enough?”
Peter pulled them both into a crushing hug.
“No. Fuck this. We’re getting him back,” Rhodes said.
Stephen looked up at him.
“Open the portal,”
“Colonel,” Nat said quietly.
“I’ll go through and convince him to come back,”
“I can’t,” Stephen said quietly.
“The portal is fractured. I’ve tried so many times to open it again. It won’t open,”
“We think it’s tied to Tony. He was the only one here who wasn’t of this universe, and now that he’s back in his own universe the portal has no reason to work,” Bruce said.
“He’s stuck there?”
No one answered that question.
Rhodes found that he hated life without Tony. Less than half a year is what it took for Rhodes to fall head over heels in love with Tony Stark. There was a Tony shaped hole in his heart that had always been there. Tony had not carved it out by appearing in their universe. The hole had always been there, Rhodes just didn’t know about it until Tony was there and the hole was filled.
Now Tony was gone, and Rhodes was painfully aware of the hole in his heart.
Pepper stumbled to a stop in the kitchen. It had been nearly five months since Tony had stepped through the white mist and JARVIS had just pinged her phone to tell her he was back.
He was leaning against the counter, a mug of coffee in his hands. There was a vacant look in his eyes.
He blinked a few times and shook his head, his gaze fell on her and he brightened considerably.
He set his coffee down with a loud clunk and pulled her in for a tight hug. She held him back just as tight.
“Where have you been?” she asked, her voice cracking.
“Different universe,” he said quietly as he took a step back.
“It was a lot like ours, just- I felt more… I liked-” he was trembling as he pushed his hands through his hair.
“I’m so glad you’re back home,”
Even though he smiled at her she had a feeling it was the wrong thing to say.
*shows up two months late with starbucks*
Tony is in his own universe and he absolutely hates it
Tony felt like his skin was crawling, nothing felt right since he had stepped through the portal. His skin felt simultaneously too big and like it was stretched very thinly over his bones. It didn’t feel like home. The universe that he was born in, that raised him and tore him to shreds felt like a foreign wasteland. He fucking hated it.
He hated his cover story- something about vacationing on a private island- and he hated that no one fucking believed it and still assumed that he had been on a five month bender. He hated the press and the whispers and having to deal with the SI Board.
He wanted to go back to the other universe. He wanted to go back to Harley, and Peter, and Riri. He wanted to go back to a team that supported him. He wanted to go back to his mom and Rhodes. He wanted to go home.
“Fuck this,” Tony said quietly.
It had been three days since he had stepped out of the portal. It had been three days since he had felt comfortable in his own skin.
“J, pull up the data from the portal,” Tony said.
JARVIS did as instructed. Tony stared at it for a moment, resolve settled in his stomach like cement.
“How do I get it back?” he asked.
“ Sir ?”
“How do I recreate it?”
“I have to go back, J, I can’t stay here,” Tony said, hating the way his eyes stung.
“ How did you get back to this universe ?”
“Magic hands- Stephen Strange. He’s Master of the Mystic Arts,” Tony said.
“ Stephen Strange is a surgeon ,” JARVIS told him.
“Took him 5 months to send me back and that was with the residual portal data he collected. It’s been three days and I don’t think anyone else can conjure it,” Tony said.
He was going back.
“What are you doing?” Pepper asked as she stepped into the lab.
Tony stepped back from his workbench and turned to her. She was staring at the skeleton of the portal stabilizer. It was some weird quantum bullshit that was supposed to keep the portal from collapsing in on itself- which if the portal collapsed in on itself that meant Tony couldn’t get back to the other universe.
“I’m going back,” Tony said.
She looked confused.
“I’m building a portal. J is running simulations as we speak,” he said.
She watched Tony cross the lab to a series of holographic screens and pull up a keyboard. If he was trying to go back to the other universe… that meant he was planning on staying there. He was going to leave, but for good this time. He wouldn’t be back.
“Are you sure you can do this?” Pepper asked, trying to blink back tears.
“L-leave all of us behind,”
Tony paused, hands hovering over his keyboard. Could he do it? Could he leave his whole life behind? On the other side of the portal was the love of his life, his mom was there, his kids were there, his friends were there. What did he have in his own universe? Pepper? People who loved to tear him down?
His gaze flicked to Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers and he felt some of his resolve weaken. Could he leave his bots? Could he leave JARVIS?
Could he take them with him?
“Yes,” he said quietly.
Tony heard her let out a sigh. He knew that wasn’t a good sign. She only sighed like that when she was getting worked up about whatever stupid thing he was doing.
“So you’re just going to leave?” she asked.
“That’s the plan,” Tony said, wincing at his own tone. He knew how he was coming off, but goddamn it he wanted to go back.
“I want to go back. It’s better there. There’s Rhodes-”
“Jesus Christ tell me you’re not doing this for one man? Tony what if he doesn’t even feel-”
“I have to try!” Tony snapped, cutting her off before she could finish.
He heard her sniffle but he didn’t turn to face her.
“Will that be all Mr. Stark?” she asked stiffly.
“That will be all Ms. Potts,”
He heard her leave the lab and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. It was better if she was pissed at him. She wouldn’t be too torn up about him leaving.
Tony glanced at the bots again. He could take them with him. He just had to… make them smaller.
“Get me the contact information for Janet van Dyne,” he said suddenly.
“ Sir ?”
“Just do it, J,”
If he was going back then he was taking his bots. It would be too hard to get them through a portal when they were full sized, but if Tony could shrink them, he could just carry them through the portal.
“ Ms. van Dyne was killed in a plane accident 10 years ago ,”
“Start a secure file on the Wasp, it’s an alias. She can shrink with ease,” Tony said, tapping his fingers against the table.
Something like the Wasp had to exist in this universe.
As it turned out, something like the Wasp did exist in that universe. It was called Ant-Man, piloted by Hank Pym. Ant-Man did everything the Wasp did with the notable exception of flying. All Tony had to do was contact Pym and convince him to and over some of the particles. Easy peasy.
It was not easy peasy. Hank Pym had no interest in letting him have the Pym Particle or in believing that Tony had been in an alternate universe. Tony needed the particles to shrink the bots down to a carriable size so he could take them through the portal. He wasn’t going to let a goddamn thing stand in his way.
“Your boy is in the news,” Natasha said the second Pepper walked into their apartment.
“When isn’t he?” Pepper asked dryly.
“It’s not good,”
“When is it?”
Pepper found her girlfriend in the living room, on the tv, the news anchor was saying something about Iron Man wreaking havoc at Pym Technologies.
“Well Steve’s talking about going on a crusade against him,” Nat warned.
Pepper smiled softly.
“They have nothing on Iron Man, and you know it. If he ever went true supervillain no one could stop him,”
“Try telling Steve that,”
Pepper looked at the tv again, a frown pulled on her lips. What the hell was Tony doing going after Pym Technologies?
“Do you know what he’s up to?” Natasha asked.
“I don’t know,” Pepper lied.
She needed to talk with Tony.
“I want a suit,” Pepper said as she walked into the lab.
Tony wasn’t sure how long it had been since their argument, he had been too busy analyzing the data JARVIS found to worry about anything else.
“If you’re going to leave this universe without its Iron Man, then I want a suit,”
Tony stared at her.
“Castle needs someone level headed with him,” she added.
“You’re implying I’m level headed,” he jested.
She actually smiled at that.
“Have you met Castle?”
Tony had to give her that one. Frank Castle was a madman.
“You could come with me,” he said softly.
“This.. this is my home. This universe. And I’m sorry it never made you feel at home here,”
Tony’s eyes burned.
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
She looked away from him and swiped at her eyes. She couldn’t ask him to stay, not when the universe caused him so much pain. He deserved to be happy, even if that meant somewhere where she could never see him again.
“What happened with Pym Technologies?” she asked.
“Needed the Pym Particle,” Tony said.
“Shrinks things. I’m taking the bots with me, and they need to be small,” Tony told her.
“I’m doing it right this time. No loose ends. I’m bringing J too. I’ll leave SI with a different AI,” he added.
For a few moments they were silent.
“The Avengers aren’t happy with you,”
“They never are,”
“Tony if you keep going like this they’re going to come after you,” she warned.
me, banging my fists on my laptop: WHITE MIST WHITE MIST WHITE MIST
Tony goes home
wi discord made me end this not only in a happy way but in a cheesy way you can blame mei specifically <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It has been three months since Tony had stepped through the portal that brought him back to his own universe. In those three months he had burned every single bridge he had tried to build between himself and the Avengers. They- apparently- were out for Iron Man’s blood. Or at least that was what Pepper told him, and Pepper got all her information from Natasha- Tony was pretty sure they were dating.
Of course Tony didn’t care that the Avengers wanted him to answer for his crimes. (Maybe he cared a little). But in a few days he was going home, in a few days the Avengers wouldn’t have to worry about Iron Man ever again.
Tony looked around his lab, dark gaze catching on Pepper’s suit, on the portal stabilizer, on his bots, on the Pym Particles, on FRIDAY’s data card, on everything he had spent three months working for.
Pepper’s suit was done, he just needed to give it some color- and a name. She had given it a test drive or two and seemed satisfied with his parting gift. JARVIS was busy running simulations with the portal, so far he was up to 98.2% certain that he had all the right data to get Tony to the right universe. The bots, his beloved children, were excited for their trip- or so JARVIS assured him. Tony had asked them each individually if they wanted to come with him and JARVIS said that all three did. The Pym Particles sat on his desk, Tony hadn’t fucked with them much other than to confirm that they worked- they did. FRIDAY was going to be the new AI that helped Pepper run SI, she was brilliant and sassy and Pepper would love her.
He had achieved so much in the past three months. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Magic Hand’s face when he found out it only took Tony three months to get a portal working instead of Strange’s five months.
“How’s everything going?”
Tony barely managed not to jump at the sound of Pepper’s voice.
“I’m pretty much done here,” he said as he turned to face her.
She was looking at the silver armor. Tony couldn’t quite pinpoint the expression on her face.
“Hey, maybe without me at the helm you can convince the Avengers to let you and Castle in,” Tony said.
Pepper rolled her eyes, a fond smile on her face.
“Your girlfriend could probably convince Rogers. She’s second in command, isn’t she?”
For a second Tony was afraid he got it all wrong, but Pepper blushed.
“How’d you figure it out?”
Tony winked at her.
“I’m thinking purple and silver color scheme for you Ms. Potts, it will look nice next to War Machine and Black Widow. Besides, red and gold is my brand,”
“What am I going to be called?” she asked.
Tony sat back in his chair, cycling through all the names he’d given to his armors, he glanced at Pepper again and smiled.
“Rescue,” he said.
“Oh an Ms. Potts? I need you to find some people for me,”
Pepper pulled out her tablet, ready to jot down the names.
“Peter Parker, Riri Williams, and Harley Keener,”
“Who are they?” she asked.
“Hopefully, my successors,”
“As they were in the other universe,”
“Will that be all Mr. Stark?”
“That will be all Ms. Potts,”
She nodded for a moment and for a second Tony thought she was going to leave, but instead she looked at him again.
“Don’t leave without saying goodbye,” she said.
“You were never a scout, Tony,”
A small smile tugged at his lips.
“I could never leave you without a goodbye Pep,”
She left with a satisfied nod.
It was a week later when Tony called her back to the lab. It was time. FRIDAY was ready to go, she had all of the information she needed to get the portal working, the suit was ready, and Tony had finished up all his instructions on what to do with the company after he was gone. He was finally, finally, finally ready to go home.
“Is this you saying goodbye?” Pepper asked.
“Last change to come with me. There’s a Natasha in that universe too,” Tony tried.
“Not my Natasha,” Pepper said with a shake of her head.
Tony took her face in his hands.
“Thank you Miss Potts,” he said, he brushed away the tears that spilled down her cheeks.
“Pep you’ve been amazing,” he whispered.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said, her voice breaking.
“I’m going to miss you too. You’re one of a kind Miss Potts,” he said as he dropped his hands.
“So are you,”
“You won’t be saying that once you meet the kids,” he said.
Pepper didn’t respond to that.
“Alright FRIDAY, do your thing,” Tony instructed.
The portal lit up as a hum filled the room. Tony watched electricity crackle before a familiar white mist appeared.
“Analyze,” he said, his throat tight.
“ Data signatures match, Boss ,” FRIDAY told him.
He was going home.
“You sure you got everything?” he asked.
“ Yes, Boss ,”
Tony swallowed thickly and turned to the large case on his worktable. He double checked that all the bots were in there, snug and comfortable. His eyes lingered on JARVIS’s chip and he snapped the lid closed and locked it.
“You got all of big brothers info?” Tony asked, double checking for the third time that he had everything.
“ Yes Boss ,” FRIDAY chimed.
“You’re amazing baby girl,” he said.
“ I know ,”
A shaky smile took over his face as the portal appeared. It was time.
“Once I’m through send out the Goodbye Protocol,” he said.
“ Goodbye Boss ,” she said quietly.
He stepped through the portal, suitcase clenched in his hand. The portal spat him out in the exact same place it had the first time. The Avengers Compound in upstate New York.
He was aware of an alarm blaring. He bent down to his suitcase and opened it up. The bots were still in tact, as was JARVIS’s chip.
“Thank god,” he whispered.
“How’d you get in here?” a familiar voice asked.
Tony pushed himself to his feet and turned. The Avengers were on the other side of the room.
Avengers. Sam, James, Bruce, Kate, Jan,
Strange, and in front of all the Avengers in all his silver suit glory, stood War Machine.
I did it , Tony thought hazily. He was acutely aware that he was seconds away from bursting into tears.
Rhodes stepped out of the War Machine armor.
“Tones?” he whispered.
Tears spilt over Tony’s cheeks.
Then he was in Rhodey’s arms and it was real- it was so real. Tony did it. He had made it back to the one place he truly belonged. All the bullshit he had struggled with for the past three months in his birth universe was worth it just for the feeling of Rhodey’s arms around him.
“You came back,” Rhodes choked out as he pulled away from Tony to cup his face.
For a second Tony could only stare at him. Rhodes was the most beautiful man Tony had ever seen. And then Rhodes’ words hit him and really what else was Tony going to say?
“Don’t fucking say it,” one of the Avengers said.
“I came home,”
Rhodes struggled with the exasperated smile trying to fit it’s way on his face.
“See I was going to kiss you but just for that-”
Tony grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him in for a kiss.
hhhhhhhh listen i know i said 13 chapters but there's gonna be a sweet lil epilogue