a perfect shame

fanfiction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The wizard douchebag with the popped collar holds up one finger, and Tony continues to know what he’s always known.

At least they’re not short on Pym particles anymore.

The first time, he’s at MIT. The first time he remembers, anyway. Who knows how much time his future self spent hanging out with himself as a baby?

(Probably not a whole lot, actually. Tony’s childhood wasn’t much of a holiday destination.)

He’s sixteen, living in a dorm room plastered with graffiti art left by generations of bored geniuses. The common area has four refrigerators that haven’t been cleaned in decades and a contraption sealed around the smoke detector to keep it from tattling on their weed consumption. Tony doesn’t join the circles often, only when he’s stuck on a problem and needs to get out of his head. Most of the time, he’s busy.

The presence of real adults in the building is usually a clue that someone is in trouble, except that one guy who graduated twelve years ago and never left, and he’s not really a real adult. This guy, the guy who materializes on top of Tony’s hand-soldered loft bed, this guy is for real old, and Tony’s pretty sure if anyone’s in trouble it’s about to be him, given that he’s very obviously in the process of hacking into the course credit database.

The guy leans forward over the edge of the loft and says, “Here’s the deal. I can’t tell you anything, and you can’t act any differently because of me. If we can stick to the rules, I can stay. If not, the stream branches off, and I have to go back and pinch it.”

Tony looks more closely at the guy’s face. “Oh,” he says. Time travel. Figures.

“Yeah,” says his older self. “Look, I just hopped out of a very stressful moment and it would just be really nice to curl up here with a pillow that smells like old Cheeto dust and watch you change all your grades from As to Cs for reasons you’ve chosen not to confront. This is relaxing for me.”

“Whatever gets your rocks off,” says Tony, going for nonchalant.

He stays a few hours. When he leaves, Tony can tell it won’t be the only time.

It’s infuriatingly understandable that he can’t ask any questions. He wants to press the issue, to find the limits of what’s okay and push them, but he heard what Old Tony said and it makes total sense. They can’t talk about the chasm of time that yawns between them. Of course they can’t.

They talk about Tony’s present, instead, and the past they share. Tony is currently deeply in love with a girl in his mathematical modeling class, and he’s startled to learn that Old Tony doesn’t even remember that she existed, much less her name. He wonders if there’s some kind of reality-branching going on after all, but then he mentions the final project he’s working on with her and Old Tony snaps his fingers and says, “Right! The one that…” and then he cuts himself off, like he does sometimes.

He looks down at the fingers he just snapped like he’s regretting something. Tony knows better than to even try to figure out what’s up with that.

The final project gives him an idea for a new artificial intelligence framework, and he throws himself into it so hard he barely notices the academic year ending and summer passing by. Before August, his creation has passed the Turing test and the girl is long forgotten.

“Rachel,” says Old Tony the next time he visits. “Huh. Didn’t she have the idea for…”

His sentences tend not to end. Tony is too excited to fill in the blanks.

There’s a long time when Old Tony doesn’t show up. Tony wonders why, but not too hard. He can’t change his behavior because of the visits, and he has a very quiet suspicion that if he starts thinking about it, he’s going to come to a conclusion he won’t be able to ignore.

Then: the arc reactor.

Then: a press conference.

Then: oh.

“I am Iron Man,” says Tony, and sees his weathered face in the crowd, shamelessly dripping with tears.

That’ll be new, the public crying. His personal growth definitely has a ways to go before that’s going to be a thing.

He never comes to watch the fights, as far as Tony can tell. He looks for him, too. It doesn’t make sense. If Tony is going to get old and travel back in time to revisit his youth, he can’t imagine skipping the fights.

Old Tony only shows up afterwards, when they’re wiping off their hands and getting some post-workout calories in them. He sits where the others won’t notice him, and he watches them like a fucking creeper. They’re literally doing nothing, they usually don’t even have the energy to chat much. Tony doesn’t get it.

“Why do you only show up for the boring parts?” he mutters one time, frustrated.

“Sorry,” says Steve. “I came as fast as I could. Got a little sidetracked by that helicopter.”

“I’m not talking…” Tony starts, then cuts himself off and laughs at the familiarity of it. He’s going to have to learn to keep his mouth shut.

It’s some comfort that Old Tony starts so many sentences he has to bite back. He wouldn’t be Tony if he could really keep his mouth shut.

He looks in the mirror and realizes how close he’s getting. It won’t be much longer before he becomes Old Tony.

He refuses to think about why. There’s a reason his future self is joyriding through his past, and it’s not something he’s able to think about.

He’s on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere, and he’s dying.

“Is there a way to time-travel on this hunk of junk?” he asks Nebula. She shakes her head, impassive as always.

He tells the recording that he’s okay, even though that’s a broken rule. But he must be okay. He hasn’t gone back yet, therefore he will survive this. Sorry, physics, not fucking today.

His daughter is four years old by the time he makes the mental connection between the snap and Old Tony’s weird reaction to fingers snapping.

He hasn’t been visited since it happened, he thinks, and then realizes: of course he hasn’t. Why would he want to go back in time to hang out with himself when he has better people to see? It all makes sense, always, when he thinks about it.

He only catches them once. Morgan is outside playing with her stomp rocket, and Old Tony is out there with her, teaching her tricks to make it go higher. Tony watches them from a window. Pepper gets home while they’re still out there, and absently lays a kiss on Old Tony’s cheek on her way inside. He stares after her, and Tony continues to know what he’s always known: his story doesn’t have a happy ending. And whatever ending it does have is close enough that Pepper can’t tell the difference between her husband and his future.

When Scott fucking Lang shows up blabbering about the quantum realm, Tony weighs his options and selects flat-out denial. He knows it’s a matter of time, and not much of it. He fucking knows, okay.


He’s already in the throes of the final battle when he remembers seeing himself crying at the press conference, and thinking that it would be a long time before he turned into that person. He hasn’t yet, he thinks.

He’s looking forward to finding out what was going on in Old Tony’s head during all those long quiet hours at MIT. Still some personal growth left to go.

The wizard douchebag with the popped collar holds up one finger, and Tony…