Snap Back to the Past AKA the Infinity Stones Decide to Adopt Tony Stark Chapter Six: Trade Mistakes
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 six, but you should start with the 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!
Chapter Summary: Questions and friendships
I may never sleep tonight
As long as you’re still burning bright.
Notes: So I had to splinter off the chapter again because it was so long 🙃 but I hope y’all like it! I’m so amazed at the way people continue to engage with this story, it truly is the best feeling to know I have created something that others enjoy.
Chapter Six: Trade Mistakes
Tony and Stephen had not made as much progress as they might have hoped after that first (re)meeting in Tony’s Malibu mansion. They knew that there were others who were like them out there, but with no way to find them they were at a loss.
They also still had daily life to attend to. Tony had announced to the world that he was Iron Man, and that came with expectations and repercussions. Now that he was free of the palladium poisoning, Tony’s thoughts were clearer, more focused.
He still decided to go ahead with the Stark Expo, because despite the fact that they knew the timeline was irreparably corrupted just by the fact that they had traveled back in time, there were some things that they had decided should still go forward.
They were planning on making a number of changes, of course, but they also knew that time had a flow to it. Besides, the Expo would allow Tony to showcase many of his ideas that he had been keeping in his back pocket. He felt incredibly sorry for Apple and Samsung, whose technology he was going to blow out of the water. He knew that there could not be too many changes too fast, but he also knew that there was a lot that they would need to do in order to prepare the world for the arrival of Thanos.
One of the most important things for Tony was to change gears from what he had done in the past. This was an opportunity to right many wrongs. The first among them was Vanko. Tony did not appreciate his methods, but he knew that Anton Vanko deserved to be acknowledged for his contributions to the arc reactor.
“The technology used to create the Iron Man suit is dependent on work that is proprietary to Stark Industries.” Tony looked out at the sea of reporters. “This technology was developed by Howard Stark, and therefore it falls to me as his sole heir and the CEO of Stark Industries to decide what to do with it.” Here he paused for a moment, though there were no questions. “That said, upon investigating the records left behind by my father about this technology I found that Howard was not the only person to work on this project. A man by the name of Anton Vanko also contributed to the project, and his name deserves recognition.” Here the reporters began to shout questions, but Tony held a hand up for silence, indicating that he had more to say and would not be answering anything just yet. “I do not know the whereabouts of Anton Vanko. He was convicted of espionage and deported to the Soviet Union. That said, as I stated previously Mr. Vanko still should have his name recognised as contributing to this project. While Stark Industries does hold and maintain all rights to the technology as its intellectual property, I welcome communication between Stark Industries and the Vanko family about the technology going forward.” Tony paused again, but the reporters were still silent. “Obviously we will be keeping a close eye on anyone who reaches out, and anyone who lays a false claim to Vanko and his research will be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law for forgery, identity theft, and corporate espionage. Now, I will be taking a few questions but this conference does have a hard stop.”
The grilling by the reporters was worth it, as was the scathing commentary that some wrote about Howard for his pushing Anton Vanko out of the project. Tony had high hopes that after extending this olive branch he would be able to coax Ivan Vanko out of where he was hiding. Ivan Vanko was a brilliant scientist. Tony hoped that he would be able to bring Ivan to his side by making it clear that he disapproved of Howard’s actions in pushing Anton out. Ivan would be a huge asset if he could be an ally instead of an enemy. All the same, Tony prepared himself to fight Vanko again if need be.
Stephen fell back into his routine easier than he at first expected. He was back in his 32 year old body, an up and coming neurosurgeon, and he had full use of his hands. He was also wealthy again, which was a shock. When he had found himself on the steps of Kamar Taj in 2016 he was desperate and had sold everything he owned. The only things he had left were the clothes on his back and a small bag of belongings. He stayed on the steps outside until Mordo and The Ancient One let him in because he had literally nowhere else to go. He was not paid anything as a Master of the Mystic Arts, or even as Sorcerer Supreme. He only had a few sets of robes and one or two more mundane outfits, though most of the time they were actually a glamor to hide what he was actually wearing. He had one small room in the New York Sanctum. His life was minimalistic to say the least.
Now he was back in his spacious New York penthouse apartment, which was filled with a number of trinkets and far more clothing options and expensive watches than he was used to these days, though not quite as many as he had acquired in 2016. He would never admit it, but part of him had wept when he sat down at his piano and realized that he could play again.
And just like he had been able to slip onto the bench and stroke the keys with ease, sliding into his old daily life was not nearly as difficult as one might have expected. Stephen had lived a million lifetimes, but they all had the same origin.
That was not to say that fitting the mold of his old self was not difficult at times. For one thing, he found himself acting much kinder to many of the people around him. He was less… prickly perhaps was the right word. His bedside manner had certainly improved in a way that shocked many of those around him.
Another thing that had changed in his life was Tony. Stephen had expected that the two of them would remain in touch and remain cordial, but he had underestimated to what extent. The fact of the matter was that until they found the others who were supposed to have traveled back with them, the two of them were all each other had. Stephen knew that he probably should have been more prepared for Tony and him to become closer. The other man was one of the people that Stephen had been consistently close with in the many futures he saw. It was why he could not accept that they had won in any future that Tony had died. Stephen recalled all the timelines in which he had Tony had fallen in and out of love with each other. The timelines where they had died together. The timelines where they had shared their darkest secrets. Stephen did his best to push those all away, to engage with the Tony he knew now.
It was a struggle, however, when this Tony was so quintessentially Tony . Often the timelines blurred together, and he did not remember them all. But he still knew some of the people around him, who did not know him at all, better than they knew themselves. Or rather, he knew how they would act when pushed to extremes.
The first time that Stephen met Pepper again there was a pain in his chest. He remembered the timelines where the three of them had been together, had raised Morgan, had mentored Peter. The worst part was than even if Tony could appreciate being from the future, if they had that shared bond and trauma, there were things that Stephen knew that Tony did not, things that Stephen was not sure he could ever share.
Even the habit that Tony engaged in of calling him Stephanie or Gandalf or any one of his other nicknames for Stephen was something that Stephen was completely familiar with. He did not blink an eye, the familiarity comforting, and yet it filled him with an ache. This Tony was a stranger to Stephen, and Stephen had no good reason for why he would know so much about the other man.
Still, they had carved out a new friendship in this renewed timeline, though it was one that Stephen was keeping to himself as much as possible. All the same, he knew that as much as he might want to keep his changes to himself, the others around him noticed. They particularly noticed when he stopped working overtime, and when he started using vacation time that had previously been accumulating and never used.
“Stephen, do you have a minute?” Stephen started out of his reflection by Christine’s approach as she knocked on his open office door.
“What’s up? I was just finishing up this report before I clock out.” He really was supposed to be working on a report, he only had another paragraph to type up.
“It looked like you were staring off into space to me,” her tone was a mix of both amused and concerned.
“Hmmm, yes, I was just thinking about the best way to conclude this and I got lost in thought. Give me a moment to wrap it up, I think I’ve figured out what I need to finish.” The trickiest thing about working in the hospital again was actually how he kept coming up with and using techniques or basing conclusions off of advances that had yet to occur. Not to mention the fact that much of the tech he had available in 2010 was leagues behind what he was used to.
“No problem, I can wait. I’ve already clocked out.” She shrugged and sat at one of the chairs he had available for visitors and he was conscious of her gaze on him as he finished his last paragraph.
“Now, what can I do for you Dr. Palmer?” he asked with a smile.
She rolled her eyes. “See, this is what I wanted to talk to you about, you’ve been acting rather strange, Dr. Strange, and I want to know why.”
“Well it is my name—”
“Seriously Stephen, what’s going on? You’ve been friendly with all of the residents and nurses, you have been using your PTO, you stopped working overtime as much as you could, you’re—”
“So you’re upset with me because I’m being nice to people and not working myself to death at my job.” He drawled. “Has it occurred to you that taking time off has given me enough time to relax and that in turn has caused me to be in a better mood and less likely to be harsh with others?”
Christine huffed. “It sounds awful when you put it like that. You’ve just been so much different from before. Why the sudden change?” She sounded so sincere that Stephen had trouble thinking of how to answer her. Just as he opened his mouth to say something his phone started ringing.
“Is that AC/DC?” Christine asked, both confused and amused. “I thought you said that their music was an affront to your ears. Why is it your ringtone?”
Stephen sighed deeply. Tony had given him a prototype of the new StarkPhone, knowing that Stephen was as frustrated with the phones on the market in 2010 as he was. The condition… Tony got to pick his own custom ringtone.
“It’s complicated, do you mind if I take this? He gets pushy if I don’t answer right away.” That was true. Tony was paranoid and had Stephen’s entire work schedule at hand, and so knew that Stephen was supposed to have clocked out by now. He would get anxious if Stephen didn’t answer his calls because Tony always considered Stephen in danger. The other man’s concern was touching, if slightly claustrophobic at times. Still, Stephen understood the sources of Tony’s anxiety and PTSD then many others would have, and so he tried to always answer when he could.
“Go ahead.” Christine gestured. He could tell that she was curious about who would call him—Stephen was not known for having very many friends—and moreover who he would be willing to interrupt their conversation for. She had been his best friend and his priority for so long, she was bound to be curious who had usurped her in that regard.
“Hi. What’s up? I was in the middle of a conversation.” Stephen asked, not unkindly. Tony seemed tough a lot of the time, but Stephen knew that he was also incredibly fragile. Besides, the call had saved him from having to answer Christine, though she probably now had even more questions.
“Must you?” Stephen interrupted. He might be used to Tony’s nicknames, but that doesn’t mean he liked them all the time.
“Yes, I must. Why are you still at work?” Tony’s tone was impatient, and slightly distracted. But that was typical.
“How do you know I’m still at work?” Stephen asked, brow furrowed.
“Because Happy and I are outside and you haven’t left yet.”
“You’re here ? I thought you were in DC?” Despite their best efforts, Tony had still been called in for a Senate hearing. Stephen had watched during his break and thankfully Tony had kept things together without nearly as much grandstanding as last time, and hopefully avoided making too many enemies. Stephen assumed that they would debrief over the phone, not that Tony would come all the way to New York afterwards. He hastily started sorting out his desk and preparing to leave.
“I was in DC, but that was hours ago. We just got back to New York and I missed you.” Stephen could hear Tony’s pout.
“I just saw you two days ago, and we talked yesterday. I doubt that you miss me that much.” Stephen rolled his eyes. He saw Christine looking increasingly curious.
“I wish you had been able to come. It was fun, you should have seen it.”
“I did see it. I watched on TV. You know there are these things called cameras? Speaking of, I hope that you stayed in the car when you got here, I don’t want to walk through a mob when I leave.” Stephen put on his coat.
“There aren’t that many people, really. Happy is holding them back.”
“Tony. ” Stephen groaned. “I’ll be out in 5 minutes. I hope you’re buying me dinner.”
“Well I was actually planning on making dinner, we got groceries. And by we I mean Happy.”
Stephen sighed. “Fine. But you do know I have my own car, right? You didn’t have to pick me up. I still need to take it home.”
“Oh, you drove in today? I guess I can just meet you at your place then.”
“Yes, and we could have avoided you causing a scene outside my hospital.” Stephen sighed again and rubbed his forehead. “You have your key, right?”
“Of course I do. I’ll probably beat you.” Stephen eyed Christine, who he knew most likely had a million questions.
“You definitely will.”
“Hey Happy, he’s going to meet us there.” Stephen could hear him talking to their friend and driver.
“Happy eating with us?” Stephen prodded.
“Of course, I’m making lasagna and we can’t eat that all by ourselves.”
“Hmmm. Think it will be enough for four?” With the way that Christine was eying him Stephen knew he was not going to be escaping the conversation easily.
“Oh do I finally get to meet the mysterious Christine?” Tony questioned.
“If she’s not busy.” Stephen turned to Christine, who was doing her best not to fidget. “Do you want to have dinner with me and my friends?”
Christine looked surprised, but nodded. “I’m free tonight.”
“Great, Christine is coming. You know where the wine is, right?” After Tony’s affirming hum Stephen continued. “Great, chill a bottle for us, we’ll be there soon.”
“Sounds good.” There was a click and the phone call was over. Now he just had to give some explanations.
Christine wasn’t sure what to expect when she confronted Stephen. He had been acting so odd lately that she could swear he was a different person at times. So she decided after clocking out one day that there was nothing to do for it other than to ask him upfront. Stephen had always appreciated honesty. Beating around the bush would not do her any favors.
Stephen answering a phone call while they were in the middle of a conversation was very unlike him. He always made a point to pay full attention for the people he was with in person. The fact that there was someone he was close enough to that he would forego his typical habits was odd to say the least. She wondered who the person on the other end of the phone was that they were so important. Then there was also the conversation itself. She could only hear half of it, but her attention was piqued to say the least.
“Must you?” Stephen was using his ‘you’re annoying me but I’m used to it’ voice. The person on the other end of the phone was likely teasing him in some way. She had rarely found him to be so open with others at work—it was only her that he had ever let speak to him like that. Her curiosity about the other person was increased at the realization that there was someone that Stephen was fond of. He was even smiling softly, in a way that she did not know if he even realized. This person had changed him.
“How do you know I’m still at work?” Apparently not only had this person changed him, they knew his work schedule and the fact that Stephen would normally be off right now, considering that he was not working as much overtime anymore.
“You’re here? I thought you were in DC?” Christine fought to keep her eyebrows level. The mysterious caller was someone who traveled hundreds of miles to surprise Stephen? When they were supposed to be in a completely different area of the country?
“I just saw you two days ago, and we talked yesterday. I doubt that you miss me that much.” Stephen rolled his eyes . He was definitely smiling as well. Despite the fact that the mystery caller was frustrating him, his tone seemed almost… beesotted? She could not help her eyes raising in surprise. Part of her felt like she was spying, listening to what was starting to feel like an increasingly private conversation. The other part of her was too intrigued to pretend she was not listening to every word.
“I did see it. I watched on TV. You know there are these things called cameras? Speaking of, I hope that you stayed in the car when you got here, I don’t want to walk through a mob when I leave.” Stephen had at this point closed up his computer programs and had his coat on. So she could not convince him to stop working but whoever this was not only had enough of a hold on him that Stephen was willing to drop everything to see them. They were also important enough to have been on television? Were they some sort of politician then, having been on television in DC? How did Stephen become friends with a politician?
“Tony. ” So mystery caller had a name. She started to wrack her brain about whether she had ever heard him mention some named Tony before. “I’ll be out in 5 minutes. I hope you’re buying me dinner.” So it was official that he would be ditching their conversation then? She would have to see how much she would be able to get out of him in 5 minutes then. The other person presumably said something else before Stephen sighed in what sounded like reluctant defeat…. He was also still smiling in a way that she had rarely seen before.
“Fine. But you do know I have my own car, right? You didn’t have to pick me up. I still need to take it home.” Stephen sounded exasperated and there was another pause as he registered… Tony’s response.
“Yes, and we could have avoided you causing a scene outside my hospital.” Stephen sighed again but was obviously not particularly angry. He rubbed his forehead and there was mild irritation in his tone but despite the fact that he thought ‘Tony’ would be causing a scene he was more resigned than anything. “You have your key, right?”
Christine felt Stephen eying her as she attempted to make her interest in his conversation less obvious. She had never heard him mention anyone to her, yet this could not be a young friendship if he had already offered this Tony a key to his apartment. It had taken her years of gaining Stephen’s trust before he gave her a key to his place. Something which he had in fact asked be returned to him a few days after their last breakup. She knew that they were better off as friends, but part of her mourned the loss of their relationship with how much she had begun to appreciate this new Stephen, primarily because of his new attitude. Yet the ask that she return her key when he never had the previous times they had separated felt… final. And here was someone that was a stranger to her and nevertheless had a key to Stephen’s apartment.
“You definitely will.” Three was something in Stephen’s tone that she could not quite place. Perhaps it was the fact that he sounded comfortable, at ease despite the frustration he had exhibited.
“Happy eating with us?” Another friend? Or a friend of a friend. Stephen seemed to have an entire social circle that she was not privy to. Not that he necessarily owed her anything, they were no longer together after all. But still, she missed the closeness. She thought she had reached the limit of her surprise when he threw another curve ball.
“Hmmm. Think it will be enough for four?” She started to figit. Did he have a third friend to invite?
“If she’s not busy. Do you want to have dinner with me and my friends?” …oh. She was the friend. Perhaps she would now have the chance to fully question Stephen.
She nodded and tried not to look too eager. “I’m free tonight.”
“Great, Christine is coming. You know where the wine is, right?” So mystery Tony had come around often enough that not only did he know his way around Stephen’s apartment, but Stephen trusted him to go through his things while he was not home. “Great, chill a bottle for us, we’ll be there soon.”
Stephen hung up the phone, and the way he looked at her was if nothing else apprehensive. She opened her mouth, though she truthfully did not know what to say. She was saved by Stephen cutting into the silence.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions, can they wait until we get in the car?” It was a reasonable request, so she simply nodded and stood up. “Do you have everything or do we need to stop by your office?”
She shook her head as they made their way out of his office, Stephen locking up behind her.
“No, I have everything I need. Ready when you are.” She smiled and hoped it did not look as forced as it felt. He evaluated her carefully before continuing to head out of the hospital and into the parking lot. “I took the subway here, not my bike, so I’m fine just heading out in your car.”
Stephen nodded and they were quiet until they got to the lot. Stephen clicked the doors open and she slid into the passenger seat. It all felt uncomfortably familiar.
“So, lay it on me.” Stephen eyed her out of the corner of his eye as he pulled out of his parking space.
“I guess the first thing is I’m wondering who you were talking to?” She took a deep breath and continued before he had a chance to respond. “They are clearly a close friend, but I’ve never heard you mention a Tony before?”
“Well.” Stephen cleared his throat. “Tony and I are friends, as you surmised. We have been aware of each other for quite some time, but only recently in the past free months became close. We met because one of his friends was in a crisis and stumbled upon me by complete accident. I offered to help his friend and in the process met Tony. We had a rocky start, but ended up gravitating towards one another. Before I knew it we were friends ourselves.” She got the feeling that Stephen was being vague on purpose, and decided not to pry. Well, not too much.
“Is Tony why you have been acting so differently lately?” Christine could tell that her question was not the one he had been expecting. He hummed and she knew that if asked Stephen would say that he was focusing on the road and the tricky left turn he had just made. Still, he did answer the question eventually.
“I suppose that when you look at it a certain way, meeting Tony changed my life. But he is not the only influence.” This sounded reasonable, but his response was still vague enough that she found it lacking. Still, she moved on.
“And who is he that his showing up at the hospital would cause such a stir?” She did not expect Stephen to tense at the question, but he nonetheless answered her, albeit while not looking her in the eye. This was again reasonable — he was driving after all, but his hesitance was surprising, though not as surprising as his actual answer.
Tony was more than slightly disappointed that he did not get a chance to see Stephen at his work. While it had been a spur of the moment decision, he had genuinely wanted to see his wizard after such a long day. Wait, when had Stephen become his wizard? They had certainly grown closer in the months that they had spent together in the past, but the possessive, even when used only in his own mind, bewildered him. He respected Stephen, he enjoyed the other man’s company, so much so that after a long day Stephen was the only one he wanted to see.
To a certain extent it was primarily trauma bonding. Stephen was the only one who knew what Tony was going through. When Tony had nightmares about the future, Stephen was the only one who could truly understand. Tony struggled to lean on his friends in the present because while they were close, the others thought of him as the same person he was thirteen years ago, and the fact of the matter was that the Tony of 2010 — the first time around — was gone. His memories were fresh — he remembered both 2023 and 2009 as the recent past. Yet he could not deny that his trauma-filled memories of three future dominated.
Tony was lucky that most people attributed his new behavior to his time in Afghanistan, and Stane’s betrayal. Still, he knew that Pepper did not fully understand why he could barely look her in the eye. He knew that he needed to tell her, tell Happy and Rhodey, the truth. Yet he hesitated. The more people who knew the future, the more things would change. And they had already changed so much. He knew that Pepper was not his wife. He mourned his Pepper, and the child they would never have. He also spent time monitoring both Peter and Harley, albeit from a distance. He knew that if anyone else knew how much he observed them they would find his interest unusual and unnatural, which is why he kept his distance. He figured that one way to meet them again was to introduce a young scientist program, and then ensure that the two joined it. He was never going to have a repeat of Germany, or allow the Mandarin to rise again, if he could help it.
Stephen inviting Christine to their dinner was unexpected, but not unwelcome. Stephen seemed to be in a better place than Tony with regard to meeting up with his ex, though to be fair Stephen had not been with Christine for years. Especially when considering Stephen’s confession to him that he remembered the millions of lifetimes he had lived through the time stone. Tony was impressed than the man was not completely insane, and if anything was more put together than Tony. Well, on the outside at least. The small glimpses of vulnerability that Tony witnessed proved to him that Stephen was not necessarily as put together as he might pretend.
Still, Tony was familiar with how one bottled things up and did not speak of the most distressing of emotions. Though after having worked through therapy for years he knew that as a coping mechanism it was not particularly healthy. He did not blame Stephen for keeping things in, however, because Tony was certainly not a therapist, and who else could Stephen go to? In many ways they only had each other, at least until they found the other champions.
All the same, Tony was glad that Stephen was bringing Christine. Not only did he want to meet the woman, but also because it showed that Stephen was in some ways starting to heal.
Stephen was not exactly astonished at the silence to his admission that he was good friends with the Tony Stark. He knew that Christine knew he would not lie about such a thing, especially when they were on their way to meet Tony himself. Nevertheless her shock was apparent, as he expected. It was not every day that one revealed that they were good friends with a celebrity who was richer than god. He was also unsurprised when Christine shoved aside her initial reaction in favor of instead asking him about Tony’s likes and dislikes, and how she should act. Christine liked to be as prepared as possible. It was one of the things he had always liked about her.
He had high hopes that Christine and Tony would get along. They were the two most important people in his life, even though Christine did not remember all of the ways that they had known such other in the future. This Christine was young. She had not been subjected to all the cruelties he had heaped upon her while struggling with his own self and his own anger.
To his relief, when they returned to his penthouse and met Tony and Happy everything went smoothly. Christine was a people person and Tony was a perpetual charmer. They got along fabulously just as Stephen had hoped for, and he of course had worried for nothing. It was a fun night, one of the most delightful he had in a while. As his three guests prepared to leave Tony gave Stephen a hug, which was not unusual, though Tony showing affection in front of near-strangers was. The other man was incredibly tactile, but only with those he trusted. One had to reach a threshold, though once it was past it was almost impossible to avoid Tony hugs. In fact, Stephen reflected, Tony had grown increasingly tactile throughout the night as he grew more comfortable in Christine’s presence. It warmed Stephen to know that his friends were comfortable with one another, as Christine was obviously — at least to Stephen — growing to trust Tony as well.
All the same, when he said goodbye to everyone — they were leaving together as Tony had offered to give Christine a ride home and save her the trouble of public transit — part of him was relived to be alone again. Having three people in his space was a lot even if he liked them.
Stephen steadfastly ignored the small voice inside of him that said it would not have minded if only Tony stayed.
Next chapter: shenanigans occur feat. alien drama and crash landings.