Story Summary: The Infinity Stones decide that they don’t appreciate being snapped to destruction and that it isn’t time for their favorite human to rest quite yet. An unlikely group of six is sent back in time to fix the universe before Thanos gets a chance to break it.
Note: This is chapter one, but there is a prologue! Make sure you start with Snap Back to the Past AKA the Infinity Stones Adopt Tony Stark Prologue: The Infinity Stones Adopt Tony Stark. Happy Reading!
Author’s Note: My goodness y’all the response to this story has been unbelievable. I was going to wait to post this chapter until next week but over 50 subscriptions, 40 kudos, and 500 hits on AO3 in UNDER THIRTY HOURS needs to be rewarded. Don’t expect this treatment tho, I’m gonna run out of pre-written content quickly if I kept that up so it’s a one-time thing lol.
Also, in case y’all haven’t noticed this fic has a prequel all about Loki that retells all of the MCU movies he is in from his perspective called The Marvel Cinematic Universe Phases 1-3 (Loki’s Version). I’m a little slow on updates but it’s mostly written so it should be coming out fairly regularly! One chapter per movie. It’s canon compliant tho so it’s very angsty and does not have a happy ending because the canon ending for Loki is sad af.
Which is why we are here besties! To fix things for my boys! Who deserve better! The MCU did Tony and Loki dirty and while the Loki TV show is more or less okay (I actually do like it tho I am side eying how they did the queer rep, they could have played with the genderfluidity and bisexuality of Loki’s character WAY more) I will never forgive the Russos and Feige for what happened to main timeline Loki. IF I SEE FEIGE IT’S ON SIGHT. (JK if I see Feige imma ask for his autograph) BUT ALSO IT’S ON SIGHT!!!
Warning for angst in this chapter. Consider that Tony has Jarvis back but has to grieve what he lost by traveling back to before he and Pepper got married and Morgan was born so my man is feeling things y’all 😢
Chapter One: I am Iron Man
“The Truth is… I am Iron Man.”
Shouts broke out as reporters tried to ask one question after another, and Tony saw Rhodey smile ruefully as he massaged his face with his hands. Tony categorically did not look at Pepper, because he knew that the look on her face would be one of disappointment and he did not think he would be able to take that right now. Not after he had just saved the world only to die in her arms.
Tony shook that thought from his brain, poker face on as he rapid fire answered questions with his trademark smirk, but the smile did not reach his eyes. The bruises he felt were from his fight with Stane. His chest felt heavy, a miniature arc reactor fully of palladium carving out space where there should be lungs. He was 36 years old, a playboy who was in love with his assistant but was terrible at showing it in ways that mattered. But she wasn’t just his assistant. She was his wife, the mother of his daughter. He was 49 years old, he had just snapped his fingers to destroy an army of aliens.
As he fielded questions left and right he reflected that this was the weirdest afterlife he could have possibly found himself in. Was this hell? He could feel the edges of an anxiety attack, but at the same time he was comfortable in his discomfort. Deflecting the media was old hat, and this was a conversation he had practiced ad nauseam.
Eventually he was back in his office, head in his hands, brain throbbing. Too many thoughts were swirling at once. He felt as though there were two versions of himself warring for dominance. He realized that there were people there trying to talk to him—Agent Coulson was alive? And Pepper of course, Happy, Rhodey, like always. But it was buzzing and he could not process any of it, until suddenly he registered that they were all gone, and it was just him and Pepper.
He looked up slowly to meet her confused eyes, and it was with sadness and horror that he realized this was not his Pepper. Or rather she was and she was not. The woman before him was someone he knew would stick by him through thick and thin, because she always had in the past, and would in the future. Yet Tony was slowly starting to realize that the memories that were slowly acclimating into his mind—the memories that showed that the next thirteen years were quite frankly terrifying—were memories that he alone had. Whether or not they were nothing but a terrible nightmare, they felt tangible and real to him.
There existed a gulf between them now. To a certain extent it barely mattered whether the memories were real, there were now thirteen years of lived experience, thirteen years of intimacy, of turmoil, of love, of pain, of growth she did not have. She was so young .
“Tony?” She asked softly. “What’s going on?” He looked up at her. At this point she had known him for over 10 years. In many ways she knew him better than he knew himself. She could have moved on to another position he knew—she certainly had the qualifications for it, there was a reason he had been so ready to promote her to CEO. She ran the company more than he did. But more than being his assistant she was his friend, and right now he knew she knew that was what he needed.
“Something happened just now. I don’t fully understand it yet… there’s something big coming Pep. We’re not ready. No one is ready.”
“What do you mean we’re not ready?” She asked. “Not ready for what?”
He rubbed his forehead. How could he possibly explain any of this without sounding like he had completely lost his mind?
“Pepper, this is big. Bigger than you or me. It’s not something that we can take on easily.”
“Tony what’s going on? You’re starting to scare me. What happened to you? Did Obadiah do something?”
“This is bigger than Stane Pep. It’s just… I’m doing a terrible job of explaining, I know. If I told you the truth you would think I was crazy. And I have no way to prove it either. Fuck, maybe I am crazy.” He groaned. “But there’s no one else I can trust with this. I came across some sensitive information that I will need some time to process. It has shifted my perspective on… well everything. I’ll share it with you, with Rhodey, with Happy, when I can. But right now I can’t really trust that even this office hasn’t been bugged now that I think about it.”
Pepper could tell that something had changed about Tony. It was not just the way that he had become Iron Man. His need to save the world, to make it a better place was something that had always been present. Not many people saw it in him. They saw the weapons manufacturer, the merchant of death. They saw the playboy always with a different woman (or, albeit more discreetly, man) on his arm. They did not see the way that he built things to make the world better. She did not know how much she believed that weapons were the way, but Tony was one of her best friends, and she did trust him. She also thought she knew him better than almost anyone else, other than perhaps Rhodey. Though it might be more accurate to say that they both knew Tony, but in different ways. Because that was the thing about Tony, wasn’t it? He showed different aspects of himself to different people and hardly anyone ever saw the same Tony when they looked at him.
So Pepper knew, without a doubt, that something different was going on. Something big. And if Tony had information, important information that he had declined to share with her at this point, that he hadn’t shared with Rhodey? Something that had Tony this shaken up had to be important. She knew she would stand by him—she had been for the past ten years. The months that he had been gone, potentially dead, were some of the worst in her life.
Pepper did not think that she would be able to handle it if something like that happened again. So she resolved that she would wait, and listen to whatever it was that Tony had to say. If it was as big as he thought it was, then it would not be something that she would want to stop him from stopping.
Tony was surprised by the way that Pepper was willing to give him so much space on what was clearly a very large issue. Then again, he supposed that she was used to his erratic moods and behaviors by now. She simply had no idea that this was more than slightly out of the ordinary compared to his usual fare.
When he got back to his workshop and was finally alone he spoke to Jarvis.
“Jarvis, you awake?”
“For you Sir? Always.”
Tony’s throat was choked up with thick emotion. The easy cadence with which Jarvis gave his response was almost enough to bring him to tears.
“I missed you baby boy.” Tony choked out. It appeared that this might finally be the moment in which he broke down. After Jarvis had become Vision in 2015, Tony had had many regrets, wondering if it could have been possible to instead of transferring him completely he could have put Jarvis in as a copy. He never would have attempted the procedure had he any idea that Vision would be so different from his own Jarvis. Because Vision was different. He had Jarvis’ voice, and perhaps some of his mannerisms, but he was a completely different being at heart, with all of the various people and entities influencing his creation. And Tony’s Jarvis was dead.
And yet Tony had still loved Vision. Perhaps not as much as he had loved Jarvis, but Jarvis was still one of his children, or something like it, and he still loved him in his own way. And yet the fact of the matter was that he was gone too. His very mind ripped out by Thanos, a second death after Wanda had been forced to end him herself, reversed by the pain. Tony had been told about it after the fact and even without having been present the trauma of just hearing about it was terrible. He could hardly imagine the pain that Vision must have gone through. And while he held no love for Wanda, he knew that she and Vision had cared for one another, deeply, and he could only imagine how much that would have cost her.
His relationship with Wanda was extraordinarily complicated. It was not that he thought that she shouldn’t be an avenger, it’s’ just that he thought that she shouldn’t be an avenger. The way that she was unable to control her powers for so long, and her uncontrolled rage, and also he might be biased but the way that she desired his death all made it so that he was not exactly excited to have her on the team. On the other hand, he did not think that it was necessarily a bad idea to have a magic user on the team. He wished that they had discovered Doctor Strange and the rest of the masters of the mystic arts sooner. With all of them working together they could have saved the earth against Thanos so much sooner. And not to mention if they had had the might of asgard with them. Thor had mentioned frequently that Hela was someone who had truly destroyed their chances, both via the fact that it was because of her that they were forced to destroy asgard itself, but also the fact that she killed so many of asgard’s warriors who could have been an aid in the war against Thanos.
All the same, Thor admitted that Hela was as much a victim as any of them. At the end of it all Thor was an incredibly sad and bitter man. Tony was not sure that he would ever recover to be the vigorous and excitable person that he had originally met. Perhaps in that way it was a mercy that he had traveled back. Maybe this Thor would not have to suffer. And Tony had no idea how, but perhaps he could even do as Thor had wanted and find some way of making their first encounter with Hela less contentious. Thor had mentioned that she had been imprisoned for so long that she was probably insane. If they were to release her in a more contained manner, they could perhaps make it so that she did not go on a rampage, and that she actually helped them fight Thanos. If anyone was capable of taking Thanos down, Thor had reflected, it was probably Hela.
Or Captain Marvel. Tony supposed, but how would he contact her ? It was not as though Fury was going to hand over his fancy pager without some serious explanations, and he was loath to explain anything to the super spy.
In any case, that was all for the future, he had been standing in his workshop without saying anything for long enough that Jarbis was probably starting to become concerned.
“Sir, is there something that I should know?” Jarvis asked.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, Jarvis. I want you to do a sweep for bugs, make sure nothing has been planted here or anywhere else in the lab. Also… open up a new file on my private server. Let’s call it ‘McFly’ for now.”
“On it Sir.” There was a pause. “Sir, I am detecting that there are no bugs in this lab, but there are two in your office. Do you want me to neutralize them?”
“Can you trace back to their source? See what they are feeding into?”
“It looks like the origin stems from the place called SHIELD, which appears to be the selfsame organization that agent coulson belongs to.”
“Damn. I figured if it was anyone it might be them. Can you reverse it?”
“I do not think that I can reverse such a primitive hack, but I can sense that there is actually an active hack on my servers as we speak.”
“Wait what?” And Tony remembered this, but he was not able to stop it, because last time he had not fully rebooted Jarvis after Stane’s attack. This time, however, he was prepared. He opened up a new tab on his computer and started to work on Jarvis’ servers manually, finding the SHIELD bug. This had to have been when Fury hacked in, so that he could come talk to Tony about the Avengers for the first time. It appeared that this would be a perfect opportunity for him, especially with SHIELD in its younger form not as fully expecting someone of Tony’s caliber.
WIth this in mind, he took to reversing the SHIELD probe, and he attacked them in turn, though from a more subtle angle.
“Do you think you can take it from here baby boy? Squeeze out everything they got.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Great. Let Fury in. We need to have a talk .”
When the bugs in Stark’s office told them that he had stumbled upon new information, Fury was troubled. He did not know what Stark could have found out that would have made him react like that, made him reject the cards that Coulson gave him. But he did not like it.
He concocted a plan to visit Stark’s house, potentially to speak with him about the Avengers, but only if he could figure out what the information that Stark was seeking was. Or rather what Stark already knew, and whether it was something Fury also knew, or if it was a new threat on the horizon that he needed to be concerned about.
When he entered the Stark mansion he was surprised to be greeted cordially by Stark’s AI. He had been under the impression that Couslon’s people had succeeded in disabling it, and that Stark would not be expecting him. Clearly, Stark was making a habit of conducting things in the unexpected.
“Welcome. Director Fury is it?” Stark was standing behind his bar, making a drink. “Would you like something to drink? Perhaps a whiskey on the rocks?”
Fury’s eye did not twitch, because Fury did not have tells that simple, but he was wondering whether that was a lucky guess that Stark knew his favorite drink.
“No thank you. I did not give you my name.”
“No, but you know who I am. And you should know that it would be a very bad idea to break into my home. You know the truth of what happened to the last person who did that.”
“Yes, Obadiah Stane is now rather dead, isn’t he? And people know that you did that.”
“In self defense.” Tony pointed out directly. “That’s besides the point, Nicky. Now I bet you’re wondering what I was talking about in my office with Pepper.”
Tony sipped at his drink and walked over to the couch. “Well at least take a seat even if you won’t have a drink with me. Looming won’t help any with all the weapons that were trained on you the second you walked in this room. Not that you can see them.”
Perhaps Fury’s eye did twitch at that. No one called Fury Nicky. No one.
It was not as though he did not expect some resistance from Stark, but this level of flippancy was something else. It also went against the report that Romanoff had made. Then again, it was clear that Stark had been wearing something of a mask the entire time that they had known him. Given that Stark was someone who had existed in the public eye his entire life, it was not surprising that he was a man made of masks. The question was, why had he decided to take it off now? Or rather, what was this particular mask hiding?
Tony could tell that Fury was trying to figure out what level of game he was playing, and with over a decade of additional experience with the spy it was astonishing how easy Tony found it to read the other man and his tells. It was as though Fury was an open book to him, or at least a book in a language that Tony was fluent in, rather than one that he had to spend hours deciphering the code.
The fact of the matter was that the ball was in Tony’s court. With the advanced knowledge he had it was impossible for him to not have the upper hand. SHIELD would have no choice but to yield to him, and they did not even know it yet.
“So, I came across some interesting information recently. Information that I think you, Director Fury, just might have a personal stake in.” Tony’s tone was casual, his posture relaxed, but there was nevertheless a tension in the air.
“Is that right? Are you prepared to share that information with SHIELD?” Fury asked in an even tone.
“With SHIELD? No. With you? Potentially. Make me believe I can trust you.” Tony leaned forward intently, and then paused, seeming to come to a decision. “ Leave behind the recording devices you have on you, and come with me to my lab.”
Tony could tell that Fury was surprised, though his tells were admittedly so small that Tony barely caught them.
“And why should I do that?” Fury asked evenly.
“Because if you don’t then I’m going to show you the door. You won’t get to talk to me about the fancy Avengers initiative that’s been your pet project since 1995 and you’ll have no clue how I’m getting my information.” Tony leaned back and took another sip of my drink. “You have my word that once you leave here you can tell anyone you want the entire contents of our conversation. Nothing shared between us will be off the table if you want to run back to SHIELD and share it with the class.” Tony paused again and smirked. “But ten bucks says that you won’t breathe a word.”
Damn Stark but Fury was intrigued. The man seemed unconcerned about the fact that Fury insisted on bringing his weapons, or the fact that he was seemingly unarmed and had his back turned to the other man. Fury was uneasy about what Stark had alluded to regarding there being weapons built in to the walls of his home, controlled automatically by the AI Stark had built. He knew that the AI would only respond based on specific subroutines Stark had programmed — this was not a film, the thing was not sentient — but he could not help being mildly alarmed, not knowing what kind of subroutines Stark would have considered.
Still, he knew there was an extraction team waiting in the wings should things go south, and while Stark had insisted that he remove all of the equipment that was actively relaying his conversation with Stark, he had not protested to Fury keeping on hand his emergency communicator. If things went south he had a way to call for assistance.
All the same, it was not something he hoped he would ever need.
Stark’s lab was not exactly what Fury expected. The room was large, filled with computers, fancy cars, and partially assembled equipment that Fury could not make heads or tails of the purpose. There were also rows and rows of cabinets. Some presumably held tools, others potentially held files, though Fury would be surprised at Stark having anything as mundane as a paper file. It appeared that Stark also had his own physical servers protected behind another wall. There were also a series of robots, as well as chairs and a couch. It was a truly massive space.
“Welcome, Director Fury, to where the magic happens.”
Fury’s patience was beginning to be sorely tested.
“Enough with the games Stark. What the hell is going on here?” He barked.
Tony’s face became uncharacteristically serious. “You have a problem, director. A big one. Something that doesn’t have a quick fix.” Before Fury could interrupt him Stark continued. “It’s Hydra.”
“Excuse me?” Fury asked, incredulous.
“Hydra never died. Cut off one head, two more grow back, isn’t that their saying?” Tony asked wryly, walking over to his computer. “Operation paperclip failed director. Let me show you.” Fury was unnerved at how calm, straightforward, and serious Stark was being, even using his proper title. It was off putting.
“You can’t kill an idea.”
Tony sighed in relief as Fury left. He had successfully provided evidence that Hydra was, in fact, present in SHIELD. He had been worried that he and Jarvis would not find it in time, that he would need some other bluff to stall Fury.
But they had, and now it was Fury’s job to stall SHIELD. Tony did not envy him. There would be many in SHIELD — especially those who were HYDRA — who would be somewhat desperate for the information Tony had shared. But Fury knew the risks of sharing that HYDRA was in SHIELD on a widespread basis. It would only drive HYDRA deeper underground, where they could never be found.
So no, just like Tony had planned, Fury would keep his mouth shut. Given that Tony was a billionaire, he had told Fury he could keep his ten dollars.
But talking to Fury was easy. He soon would have a much more difficult issue on his hands. Eventually he would have to confront his memories and process what and who he had lost going back to the past. Because while he would miss what he had with Pepper, the well of grief inside him was not simply because of her, but because of their daughter. His Morgan, his Maguna. The little girl who he would never again get the chance to tuck in at night. Suddenly the pain of it hit him like a tsunami.
The last time Tony had cried was when he found out that Harley had been snapped. It had been the breaking point, losing Peter, losing Vision, losing Harley in such quick succession had broken him, and Pepper had held him. Before that, he did not think he had cried since his mother had died.
But as he sat alone in his Malibu mansion — a mansion that was whole, not sunk into the ocean, because he had not baited a terrorist, because Happy had not almost died due to a human bomb — he cried for his little girl. As he slowly drifted off to sleep in the early hours of the morning, a bottle in his hand, he could almost hear her voice.
I love you 3,000.