back from the dead,
revival loophole

february 21, 2021 — tony stark & bruce wayne

It was a sensation Bruce wasn't itching to get used to, waking up in a body that wasn't his, an unfamiliar bed, head throbbing like he'd had too much to drink the night before. As he lay there, eyes closed, still pulling himself that last little bit into consciousness, he realized he might have actually had too much to drink the night before. Not him, Bastian, but same difference. There was that feeling in his mouth that came from it, the desire to drink about a gallon of water, how the pounding in his head was sharp in that telltale way.

He opened an eye a little, wanting to know at least if he was in the same place as before. Not to be rude to his host, because he genuinely didn't mean it in that kind of way, but from what he'd gleaned about Bastian in his research the last time around he wouldn't have been surprised to be waking up somewhere different. He didn't think he was completely wrong since he was in the same room as before but, once again, not alone.

A man this time, which was different, and Bruce slipped out of bed as he had before, finding clothes and getting dressed as quietly as he could. That all got ruined immediately by the phone on the nightstand going off loudly, ringing a couple times before he managed to silence it.

It didn't surprise Tony in the slightest to find that he had no idea where he was upon rousing to the sound of a raucous alarm vibrating somewhere to his left. Or was it his right? Regardless, he was already palming on either side of himself in an attempt to silence the sound, not out of any immediate physical need to be rid of it — e.g., a pounding headache — but because it was simply irritating. It dawned on him after roughly seventy seconds of blind hand movements that the noise had been silenced, and it seemed to occur to him simultaneously that this meant he wasn't alone in whatever bed he occupied.

One eye popped open, Tony scanning his surroundings in what he hoped wasn't an obvious back-and-forth dart from one corner of the room to the other, and he eventually pinpointed the other presence at about the time that his theatrics probably became comical. "Morning, sunshine," he said, still taken aback by the sound of a voice that didn't actually belong to him, the heel of his hand digging into the eye that he hadn't opened in an effort to rid it of sleep. "Mind passing me some pants?"

He raised to a sit then, the sheet rolling away from his chest to bundle at his hips, stretching one arm over his head and then the other in something of a ritual he'd performed every morning for as long as he remembered. "And yes," Tony added, nodding in the direction of the man standing in the room. "I realize you've already seen —" He gestured with one hand toward the bundled sheets. "But you could be a burglar, for all I know, and I'd like to die in a way very opposite how I lived: With some dignity."

Bruce watched at the way the man was still patting around for the phone despite the noise stopping, curious to see how long he would keep going. It was time he could have spent getting dressed the rest of the way, but he was invested now and probably a little too amused. He raised an eyebrow at the way the man actually did seem to come to consciousness, that eyebrow arching higher at being referred to as sunshine, but as he wasn't exactly looking for a show he threw the pair of pants he'd gotten for himself over at him, because at least he had underwear on to keep his own dignity intact. Well, as best he was able, all things considered.

"I'm not a burglar," he objected, a frown settling on his features before he moved over to the dresser again to get some pants, again. As he pulled them on, a thought registered and he lifted that scowl back up to focus on the man who'd been in his bed. "And this is my house, so you're more likely the burglar here."

As the strange man turned toward the dresser, Tony rose from the sheets to tug on the pair of pants that he'd been given, cutting a glance at the underwear once he'd reached the fastening part of the dressing sequence. "Nice skivvies," he remarked casually. Sauntering across the bedroom, eliminating most of the space between himself and this man whose name was completely escaping him — nothing personal, Tony had a hard time remembering his own name some days — he propped an elbow against the wall and set his cheek against his palm. The front of his body was positioned to face the stranger, a man whom Tony was regarding with a sort of impish grin and a waggle of both brows. "Your house, eh?"

He pushed himself off the wall, that same arrogance present in the way he swaggered across the bedroom with the full intent to examine the decor, and crossed his arms over his chest as he eyed the walls. "Interesting," Tony mused to himself. "Very interesting." A click of his tongue against his teeth in a tutting sound, he plucked up a picture frame atop the dresser and swayed it in the stranger's direction. "I think you've got a little crush on me."

Christ this guy was annoying. Bruce shot him a look, how close he was and how casual, the smarminess of him, it all made him irritated. He certainly wasn't the type of guy he'd keep around, which made him question Bastian's level of taste even more. Though the way he was acting, his comment of 'Your house' like he didn't already know it was his. So maybe it was like his own situation, this chucklefuck not being the actual person Bastian had brought home the night before. He could only hope.

"Sorry, what?" He pulled a t-shirt on as he crossed the space between them, snatching the picture frame out of his hand and looking down at it. Sure enough, there were the two of them. Framed. Bruce sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose before setting the frame down again and turning his attention to the other man. "I don't know who you are," he said plainly. "So I think you should leave."

Tony was still smirking. Did he notice that the guy standing across from him was irritated? Of course he did. Did he care? Absolutely not — unless you counted the fact that it amused him endlessly. He was already chuckling when this guy wrenched the picture frame out of his grasp and stared down at it like he'd just been introduced to a ghost. "Fascinating," Tony chirped, mostly to himself, as he located a shirt from within the very same drawer that the homeowner had and tugged it over his head until it fell appropriately over his upper body.

"I don't know who you are either, pal," Tony said, particularly emphasizing the last syllable, his index finger jutting toward the picture frame he'd toward which he'd just drawn attention. "I take it that you don't know who that is either." This was in reference to the man in the photograph that looked identical to the one standing across from him. "And since we're in this boat together," he added, sounding a bit forlorn about this particular predicament. "It only makes sense that we put together whatever brain you've got and my literal genius to figure out what the fuck is going on."

Was this the first time this annoying man had gone through the shift? Was this all a side effect? No, because Bruce hadn't been a little shit the last time, he was pretty sure. So that meant this was his normal personality, which was unfortunate. Incredibly unfortunate. He needed coffee, a lot of coffee and less talking from this guy, the literal genius standing in front of him. At least he had the decency to sound sad about them being together, because Bruce certainly felt all that and more.

Together. Fuck. It hit him later than he wanted to admit, but he figured he could chalk it up to this whole thing still being new and Bastian's body not being his own, all that. Together. There was a ring on his finger. Bastian's finger. The finger. And, heaven help him, the literal genius was wearing one too. "What is that?" he asked flatly, staring at the guy's hand.

Laughter. That's what Bruce got out of him. "I can tell you what it's not," Tony countered coolly, twisting the ring on his finger around for several bored seconds before he dipped to meet the eyes of the man standing across from him. "I'm not a commitment kind of guy. Don't get any ideas."

Gesturing toward the photograph in the frame, Tony shrugged as he stretched back onto the foot of the bed that he had just vacated. "I'd guess they're together, whoever they may be, and that means we'll have to experience each other like this. Isn't that an exciting prospect?"

Considering how disorienting his first time had been with this whole situation, Bruce hadn't paid much attention to the decor in Bastian's house. He hadn't bothered looking at the pictures, as literal genius had done so quickly and efficiently. He'd looked things up online, dug into Bastian's computer, phone, business dealings, but not his personal life beyond establishing he wasn't in a relationship. He hadn't been a month before, Bruce knew that. And now he was ... married? Engaged? To this guy?

"Oh yes," he said dryly, thumb rubbing over his ring as he studied the man he was apparently tethered to for the time being. "So very exciting."

Snorting, Tony raked a hand through his hair, realizing it was much longer than he personally preferred it to be. Maybe he should do something about that. Compared to his current situation, however, it seemed like small potatoes.

"Look," Tony said, using his Most Reasonable Voice in an attempt to sound more logical than snarky, which was certainly not the easiest feat. "The way I see it, this won't be the last time that you and I interact. We can either become mortal enemies, or we can get acquainted."

Literal genius had a point that, unfortunately, Bruce agreed with. If Bastian and whoever were together in one way or another, it was inevitable. His 'mortal enemies' list was already longer than he would have liked, so adding another name simply because the guy was a jackass wasn't going to cut it. He studied him a moment before extending his hand. "Bruce."

Tony thought to gloat about it, he truly did, but there was a sneaking suspicion somewhere in the back of his mind that Bruce might actually murder him if he made another sarcastic comment in the next five minutes. Instead, he took the hand that he was offered and shook it once with moderate strength, then released it to flash Bruce a toothy grin. "I'm sure it's just as pleasant to meet me as it is to meet you."

Murder was, lucky for literal genius, not anything Bruce condoned, and even if it was he wouldn't be able to justify it for something as trivial as being an annoying pain in the ass. He'd dealt with worse, he could get through this guy being there for now and then they could part ways, go about their individual weeks, and then afterward Bastian and literal genius' other self could get back to their lives together afterward. For now he could find ways to keep himself busy that didn't include a pompous idiot. "I'm sure," he replied, rolling his eyes. "Get the rest of your clothes on, I'll get the coffee started."

Fuck. What time was it?

Reaching for his phone, it suddenly occurred to him that it wasn't as close by as he had originally suspected, and the entirety of his body weight crashed to the floor at an alarming speed. Various profanities spilled out of him as he worked to pull himself up off of the floor. When he finally made it to a stand, it dawned on Tony that he wasn't in his own bedroom in the same instant that the realization that he hadn't been sleeping alone hit him like a ton of bricks.

(The sleeping naked part wasn't an issue, it seemed, though he did have the forethought to swath a sheet around his hips in case his companion awakened sooner than he was ready for him to.)

Bruce startled awake at the loud thud that came from Tony hitting the floor, blinking rapidly to get his eyes adjusted to the light as his brain slowly processed the swearing filling the room. Not that he blamed him, because he'd have more than a few choice words if he was the one who'd fallen out of bed, but he'd been sleeping, goddammit. Rolling over onto his back, he pushed up to sit, glancing over as the figure popped up from beside the bed.

Great, this guy again. Bruce was certain Tony 'literal genius' Stark hadn't been there when he'd gone to bed.

"Why are you here again?"

"Excuse me?"

Why was he here again? Tony had thought he'd put himself to bed in another room in an entirely different wing of the house. He was certainly not notorious for sleepwalking, and it was highly improbable that Bruce had carried him into bed like a beloved infant, so the options as to achieving these whereabouts were somewhat limited at best.

"Don't get a big head. I didn't put myself here."

He realized that sounded insane, but what other response was there? Tony hadn't crawled back into bed with Bruce. Whether this guy believed him or not was an entirely different story.

"Yes, excuse you."

Bruce rubbed his hand over his face before throwing the blankets back and getting out of bed, folding his arms across his chest as he looked over at the man on the other side of the bed. No, Tony definitely hadn't been there when he'd gone to bed, hadn't been in that room with him since the morning before, and that Tony was there now was confusing and irritating to say the least.

"If you didn't put yourself here, who did?" He raised an eyebrow, gesturing at the bed. "Because here you are."

"No, excuse you," Tony countered, gesturing in Bruce's general direction. "You do realize this is no way to treat a house guest." He stared at Bruce for several seconds, unblinking, before he started a slow sidestep in the direction of the dresser.

The dresser, the location of which he remembered, because he had been there yesterday. He hadn't known how he'd gotten there then either, but those pieces were a little easier for him to connect.

He began rifling through the drawers like he owned the place before tugging a shirt and a pair of boxers onto his otherwise unclothed form. After completing that step, Tony turned to face Bruce with confusion written all over his face. "It's unclear."

"You're not a guest, you're more like an intruder," Bruce pointed out, watching Tony as he moved over to the dresser. Yes, the prior morning had an easier explanation, that first morning of a new month where he'd had no control over where he'd gone to sleep the night before, or who with. But he knew Tony hadn't been there the night before. He'd gone to bed alone, no reason for anyone to join him.

"It's unclear," he repeated flatly, an eyebrow arching. At least Tony looked as confused as him. His phone started blaring a few seconds later, an alarm he turned off easily enough but then he frowned down at the screen. "Wait. Yesterday was the twenty-first, right?"

An overly dramatic roll of his eyes later, Tony was regarding Bruce with the sort of stare one might receive from a petulant child. "You're not my number one fan. I got it. Do we have to continuously go through these motions or would you just like to call the cops already?"

Truthfully, Tony had no idea how he had landed back in this bedroom with Bruce, but he wasn't going to attempt to explain that at length. He'd like to say that he'd drunkenly crawled into bed with him, but that was entirely unlikely, given the nature of their 'friendship.'

Glancing up at Bruce with a slight smirk, he gave a single nod before he said, "It was. Thank you for keeping me up to date."

Bruce huffed out a breath, rolling his eyes. His dislike of Tony wasn't the most pressing matter at the moment, or likely any moment. The guy rubbed him the wrong way — he wasn't the first and definitely wouldn't be the last, though most of the time those people didn't show up in his bed.

"It's the twenty-first again," Bruce said simply, tossing his phone over for Tony to see.

Tony didn't believe him. That much was evident in his expression. He didn't immediately reach for the phone, regarding Bruce with mildly narrowed eyes, the remainder of his expression shadowed in suspicion when he finally did pluck it from the mattress.

A quick glance at the date confirmed that Bruce wasn't lying, however, and Tony threw the phone back onto the bed like it had suddenly caught fire. "Did you fuck with your time and date settings? Neat prank."

Honestly, Bruce hadn't expected Tony to believe him, or to take his phone as proof. He wasn't sure he believed it himself, considering it was a bit much. First this bizarre situation with them only having a week of existence a month in bodies that weren't there own, and now days were repeating?

"Yes, I fucked with my time and date settings just in case you appeared in my bed again this morning," he said dryly. "No, obviously not."

Tony crossed his arms over his chest like a disappointed father and regarded Bruce with a similar sort of expression. "So explain it to me, then. How is it the twenty-first again?" Nothing else really made any logical sense, as far as Tony was concerned, and he hated to imagine the realism of a scenario like this one.

"Explain it to me how I woke up in this body one day," Bruce replied, because it being the twenty-first again made as much sense as that and they already knew one was possible. "And explain how you woke up in here when both of us know you weren't here last night."

Watching him with slightly raised brows, Tony pressed his mouth together into a thin line, avoiding a response until he felt like he had enough of his wits about him to formulate a coherent one. "Are we trapped in an unexplainable time loop?"

Bruce frowned through the silence, waiting for Tony to offer up any kind of explanation even though he knew there wasn't one. He rubbed at his jaw a little at the question, brow furrowing. "Could be. Though that brings to question how, why, and how do we break it."

Tony rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and heaved an exasperated sigh. "That's the trouble with space and time," he reasoned. "You can't always control it the way you'd like to."

"Didn't realize you were a philosopher," Bruce replied, shaking his head. If they were in a loop, that meant this was likely to happen again, and again, and who knows how many times until they figured out how to break it. "Alright, I need coffee if I'm going to be thinking about this," he added, starting out of the room.

He thought to remain where he was standing, maybe pen a few equations somewhere, but it occurred to him that there was no visible pen or paper anywhere in the bedroom. If he was going to work this out, he was going to have to locate both of those things, and that meant Tony would have to leave the room. "Are you another literal genius?" He posed this question not with sarcasm, but with genuine curiosity, lagging along behind Bruce for several steps before finally cutting ahead of him with irritation over his slow stride.

"Are you actually one?" Bruce replied, rolling his eyes and huffing out a breath at the way Tony cut in front of him, like an impatient child. He picked up his pace as he got closer to the stairs, the thought of coffee inspiring him to move a bit faster, and he knocked shoulders with Tony as he passed him.

A roll of his eyes, Tony fought against Bruce as he attempted to work his way forward and take the lead, using the sum of his weight to manipulate his way back into the initial position. "I am, but even literal geniuses can't correct the space-time continuum. We can merely, shall we say, attempt to bend it to our will."

"Jesus Christ, are you a child?" Bruce groused, shoving Tony away from him as the other man attempted to get in front of him again.

Tony was going to counter. He had an entire arsenal of responses at the ready, right there on the tip of his tongue, but the force of Bruce's shove was enough to send him careening over the nearby rail. The only thing that came out of his mouth was a shocked, unfiltered scream of terror just seconds before the sickening thud of his head hitting the lowest floor.

As soon as he was aware of being conscious, Bruce's eyes snapped open and he looked to his left, checking to see if Tony was there again, unsure how anything worked in this loop they'd found and especially so about it where death was concerned. Because Tony had died, very clearly, right in front of him. Because of him, which Bruce had not done well with knowing. But Tony was there again, in bed beside him, and Bruce watched him carefully to see if he was breathing. He was, thank god, though that did nothing to lessen the guilt Bruce felt over what happened. Letting out a slow exhale, he rubbed his hand over his face then buried it in his pillow.

It took Tony longer to awaken than he had the previous two incarnations of this day. When he did rouse, there was an unfamiliar but startling pain in his neck, one that elicited an immediate groan as the palm of his hand roamed over it in an effort to ease it. Something in the back of his mind told him that he wasn't alone. Tony's eyes snapped open to find Bruce there beside him in much the same fashion that he had been for the previous two days. Flashes of the day prior seemed to come to him in snippets, like a film that had been rolled through a projector much too quickly, but the ending was unmistakable. "Murdered me, did you?" This was said with the same wry tone that Tony applied in most everything, a snide curl of the right side of his mouth into a smirk as he spoke it.

Bruce didn't move even as he heard Tony waking up, moving around. He wasn't sure he could look him in the face just yet, not when the last time he'd seen that face with its eyes open it had been staring up at him lifelessly, on top of a pool of blood. No, he stayed with his face buried comfortably in his pillow, as if he might suffocate himself as penance for the day before. Tony's statement certainly didn't do anything to push that notion away. "It was an accident." His words were muffled, but clear enough to be understood. "Accident."

Tony sat there a moment, considering, weighing his options. He could continue to give Bruce shit about this happenstance — and, let's face it, that would be his modus operandi — or he could let it go in favor of finding a solution to what appeared to be an ongoing problem. He was, after all, alive and seemingly well despite the shove over the stair rail. Could he really fault Bruce for something that hadn't ended in permanent damage? The silence, of course, was deafening. When he finally did speak, Tony tried to make his voice sound as casual as possible. "How do you suppose we find our way out of this hellhole?"

It was obvious he was taking pity on him, which wasn't what Bruce expected. Tony had every right to be upset, Bruce had killed him and neither of them had known he would come back. It could have been permanent, Tony and whoever his alternate identity was, dead and gone forever because Bruce got annoyed and shoved him when they were too close to the stairs. Disaster. The relief he felt was overwhelming, both that Tony was alive and not torturing him about it. "Don't call it a hellhole, my house is very nice," he replied, his tone lighter than it had been before as he turned his head to be able to look over at Tony. "And I don't know. Do you, literal genius?"

From the looks of the guy next to him, Tony couldn't have done much more than Bruce had already done to himself, and there wasn't much fun in kicking an already beat-down horse. So, in a surprising twist, he opted to take the high road. It wasn't often that he chose that travel itinerary, but this one time certainly wasn't going to hurt his reputation. "Is it, though? Is it?" Tony regarded him skeptically, then sat back against the wall to glance across the room, his expression thoughtful. "I'm not sure."

Bruce propped himself up on his elbows, rolling his eyes at the way Tony looked around the room as if actually considering it. "Well it's not what I would've chosen for myself, but it's plenty nice anyway. You're the one that keeps coming back here, so you must like something about it. Or my cheery disposition."

Snorting a laugh, Tony eyed Bruce with something not that far off from surprise. "Are you making jokes right now? I'm trying to get us the hell out of this time loop, and you're over here starting your career in stand-up comedy. Phenomenal." Of course, though he said this, there was amusement evident in his expression regardless of how much he tried to hide it.

"I figured it was a good place to start with you here to give feedback, considering what a big joke you are yourself." The corner of Bruce's mouth twitched with a smirk, clearly nothing behind his words but the jabbing felt like a comfort zone with them. If anything could be. "But alright, literal genius. You have some ideas?"

Tony stared at him, dumbfounded, blinking at Bruce several times. "Did you just attempt to insult me?" He looked upset, but he wasn't. Tony was just trying to give Bruce a little hell by making him think that he was upset. "Nice try, Goth Babe 1980, but you'll have to try harder than that." Smirking, he returned his attention to the wall, as if it held some mystifying answer that Tony had yet to discover. "We have to find a way to interrupt the loop."

Bruce simply raised an eyebrow at him, because if Tony was going to dish it out he could only assume he could take it too. He made a quiet little sound of consideration as he thought, bringing a hand up to rub over his face. "Well apparently death doesn't do it."

“Apparently, death doesn’t do it,” Tony imitated wryly. He cut his eyes to Bruce with a casual smirk playing at one corner of his mouth. “You don’t say.” After a moment of silent rumination, Tony let his forefinger and thumb rub along his chin and one side of his jaw. “Or would we both have to die for that to be effective?”

"If this is your attempt to lure me into a suicide pact, it won't work." Bruce stretched out a moment before shoving up to get out of bed, finding some pants to pull on and tossing some across the bed at Tony too, all too aware he wasn't wearing anything, per usual. "Is it just us in the loop, or are there others too? If everyone in it has to die, that's going to be a problem."

“Damn,” Tony soldered in Bruce’s general direction. “And here I was so sure that we were making some headway on our relationship.” Smirking, he plucked the pants up from the bed, but he made no immediate movements to rise out from under the sheets and slide on any clothing. “I don’t know. Do you have any contacts that might be of use to us there?”

Bruce made a noncommittal noise, rubbing both his hands over his face and pushing them back through his hair. There were various members of the family out there, he knew that, but he still wasn't as up to speed with most of them. This was still new, this body, this circumstance. It would be better if he had the cave — but he did, he knew where it was and how to access it, get to the computer. "I might be able to poke around, see what I can find out."

"You're better off than I am," Tony admitted. He wasn't going to say that he didn't have friends, because that wasn't the actual truth. He simply didn't know where to locate a single one of those 'friends' at present. "You'll let me know what you uncover?"

Yeah, I'll let you know." Bruce paused, because he didn't know Tony enough to trust him, not even close, but they were stuck together in this thing so it wasn't like they could, or should, pretend they weren't. "We should meet back here for dinner, debrief on what we might have found out. Since we're just going to wake up here again in the morning," he added with a hint of wryness.