Tony Stark is deeply engrossed in the schematics of his newest Iron Man suit when JARVIS pings him. “Sir, you have an urgent message from Miss Potts.”
It takes a few moments for the words to break through his concentration, and when they finally do he pushes his palms into his eye sockets, sighing heavily. “Put her through,” he tells JARVIS.
A video chat window pops up in his field of view, and Pepper appears. She is the picture of professionalism, poised in a way that Tony could never hope to achieve. “Tony,” she acknowledges. “I’ve got something you should look at.”
Tony nods, waiting for her to continue. But her professional expression starts to crack, and he would say she looks hesitant, if he didn’t know any better. Pepper Potts, hesitating? Unheard of.
After a moment, she tells him, “You should probably come up here so I can explain this to you in person.”
Wow. This must be something big.
Tony needs another cup of coffee.
He stumbles out of Pepper’s office, feeling like his world has been turned upside down. There’s no way he’s got a… a… progeny out there. Sure, he messes around a lot – well, he did, before Afghanistan. But he knows how to be careful, and he’s always so careful. So that this doesn’t happen.
If it hadn’t been Pepper that told him, he would have dismissed it immediately. It’s not the first time someone’s claimed to have his child. But Pepper thoroughly vets these kinds of things, and if she thinks it has significant potential of being true, then he should probably be getting a paternity test, post haste.
Pepper had told him who the boy’s mother was, and after a little bit of forced reflection, Tony finds he can remember her. It’s not unheard of for him to hook up while blackout drunk and have barely any recollection of his partner. He’s glad he at least has a blurry face to put to the name.
Mary Parker, née Fitzpatrick. A scientist studying genetics who he’d met at a conference, about 4 years ago now. Which puts the child at around 3 years old.
Mary had apparently reached out to Pepper after deciding that Tony should be able to make a choice about being in the kid’s life or not. She’s married now, to another genetics researcher, Richard Parker.
Tony’s still trying to wrap his head around everything. He knows he’s in denial, but he can’t help but think about Yinsen’s final words to him. Don’t waste your life. Not to mention the man’s unshakeable dedication to his family, even when they were gone. Didn’t he owe it to Yinsen to at least give this kid – Peter Parker – a chance? To try?
And then there were his deeply sown fears of becoming like his father. Howard Stark had been – well – not a very good father. Neglectful, emotionally abusive, and known to lose his temper and slap him round the head every once in a while. Tony would rather die than turn out like Howard or subject a child to the same treatment. He could definitely do better than his old man.
And that’s the tipping point.
Maybe he won’t be a model parent, but he’ll sure as hell be a better dad than Howard. He’s going to make the goddamn man roll in his grave.
And he’s not going to let another boy grow up thinking that his father hates him.
The paternity test comes through a match. He calls up Pepper and tells her he’d like to meet Peter and figure things out with Mary and Richard. The expression on her face is almost proud. Tony decides not to look too deeply into that one.
So he, Pepper, and Mary Parker work out a date for Tony to talk with the Parkers. They live in New York, but Tony will have no problem traveling there from Malibu. He’s not Tony Stark for nothing, after all. So they agree to meet this weekend (after Tony surreptitiously checks the date to find out that it is Wednesday, which gives him plenty of time to process all this).
He spends that time, er, not really processing things. He throws himself back into his work, and by the time he gets on his flight his new suit is almost complete and ready for preliminary testing. On the flight, he works on coding a secondary AI – nothing that will replace JARVIS, but something to keep his hands busy and mind occupied.
Tony doesn’t know anything about being a father. He barely knows how to keep himself alive. He probably wouldn’t be alive, if not for Rhodey. But again, thoughts of his own father push their way to the front of his mind. Howard had been absolute shit at parenting. Tony was living proof of that. His mom… had loved him. But she hadn’t done much to protect him from Howard. Maybe she’d done her best, but regardless – Tony could do better. He wants to do better, he realizes. He wants to learn, he wants to help… he’s not ready to take complete responsibility for a kid, but he doesn’t have to. Mary and Richard have it handled. But that doesn’t mean he can’t play a role, be involved, and make sure this kid knows his father didn’t completely abandon him.
These are the thoughts that are racing through his head as he approaches the Parkers’ household. It’s small, but for New York, it’s not bad. A white-picket-fence neighborhood in Forest Hills, Queens.
Tony has never felt more out of place in his life.
He’s glad he didn’t take one of his flashier rides.
Tony Stark stands in the entryway for longer than is strictly appropriate, staring at the door in front of him. Everything looks so domestic, so clean and perfect. What is he doing here? What could he possibly have to add to this kid’s life? The kid has a dad, after all. Richard may not be his biological father, but the kid doesn’t know that, and he never has to know.
Tony could just turn around and leave.
But no – he’s already made his decision. So he knocks.
Mary opens the door.
It’s been a few years, but she looks just as beautiful, if a little more tired. He opens his mouth, closes it, and clutches his right arm tightly, trying to release the tension he feels.
They stare at each other. It’s painfully awkward. But finally, Mary sighs and attempts a smile. “Hi, Tony.”
“Hi,” he parrots.
“Well, come in.” She opens the door for him and gestures inside, so he enters the house.
It’s just as perfect on the inside as it looked outside. And despite the awkward entrance, the house does feel warm and welcoming.
He follows Mary into the living room, where Richard is already sitting. He’s flipping through a newspaper, and looks up as they enter the room. The man smiles and stands up to greet him.
“It’s good to meet you, Tony. I’m Richard.” They shake hands.
Tony nods. “Likewise.”
“Can I get you anything, Tony?” Mary asks. “Water, coffee…?”
He shakes his head. “No, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Peter is taking his afternoon nap right now, so he won’t interrupt us. Once he’s out, he sleeps like the dead,” Richard explains, smiling. Tony nods.
They sit; Tony in an armchair across from the couple on a small couch. Mary and Richard glance at each other, then back at Tony. Richard looks like he is about to speak, but Tony interrupts him.
“Can I just – get something out, first?”
Richard nods, Mary looks down.
“I wanted to say – well – I’m glad that you… approached me. I’m glad that I know about the kid. I know I’m not the greatest role model for a kid. Maybe not someone that most people would want their kid to meet. So… thanks.” Tony exhales. Geez, this is hard.
Mary speaks up, then. “You can thank Richard for that. I didn’t want to tell you.”
Tony winces. Well, that’s not a big surprise. He has been getting the feeling that she doesn’t want him here.
“But I didn’t want you to have a kid out there that you didn’t know existed.” Richard looks sympathetic. “Thinking about how it would feel if I found out, years after the fact… So I convinced Mary that we should get in contact.”
Tony nods. “Thank you.”
There’s a moment of silence, then Richard picks back up where he was presumably going to start. “So… Peter is your son, biologically. But he’s three years old. We haven’t told him about any of this. And I’m not willing to give up my place as his father.”
Tony agrees instantly. “And I wouldn’t ask you to. I don’t want to turn your lives upside down or anything like that.”
“I’m guessing that we don’t have to worry about you fighting us for custody, then?”
He’s appalled. The thought hadn’t crossed his mind. “No, absolutely not. I don’t know the first thing about caring for a kid. To be honest with you both, I don’t even know what I want out of this. I just… I don’t want the kid growing up without knowing me at all.” He doesn’t think his conscience could handle that weight.
“If you want to have any role in his life, you should start figuring out how to care for children,” Mary raises an eyebrow.
Another silence reigns, until Tony speaks again.
“I want to learn. I want to be a good figure in the kid’s – Peter’s – life. But you might have to be patient with me while I figure out how to do that.”
Richard smiles at him. “All we can ask is that you try. No parent is ever ready for a child right off the bat. We all figure it out along the way, sometimes.”
Tony manages a small smile back at him.
“Do you want to meet him?” It’s Mary’s suggestion, surprisingly enough. Maybe he had gotten through to her, somehow.
He swallows, his throat dry. “Uh, yes. I would.”
“He doesn’t know who you are, remember. And he’s a little shy around strangers. Richard, do you want to go wake him up?”
Richard gets up readily, stretching. “Sure thing, hun. I’ll be right back,” he says as he disappears around a corner.
There’s a moment of silence, and Tony glances across the room. “Mary, I… I really do appreciate that you agreed to tell me.”
She shrugs at him. “I was opposed to it for a while. But after you got back from Afghanistan, and the whole… Iron Man thing… Well, I thought that maybe you were changing for the better. And I think I was right.”
Ugh, more emotions. But Tony acknowledges the compliment. “I hope that I am.”
There’s a slight commotion down the hallway where Richard had disappeared a few minutes before, and Tony looks up. This whole meeting has been nervewracking, and now his heart pounds even faster. He rubs at his chest across the arc reactor.
Richard appears, followed by a small human. Peter. He is holding Peter’s hand, and the boy’s other hand is rubbing tiredly at his eyes. Still waking up from his nap. Richard directs him over to the floor, where some of his toys are lying, and sits down next to Peter. Tony doesn’t know what to say, if he should say anything. Peter seemingly hasn’t noticed him yet.
But Richard takes care of that, pointing up at Tony. “Hey Pete, this is a friend of Mommy and Daddy’s. His name is Tony. Can you say hi to him?”
Peter yawns, looking up at Tony, whose heart has gone from beating a mile a minute, to stopping altogether. This is his son. Right here, in front of him. Peter Parker.
They haven’t even exchanged a word, and Tony knows that he is perfect.
The toddler stares at him for a moment, going from just-woken-up to realizing-there-is-a-stranger-in-his-house. Shy mode is activated. He pulls Richard’s arm in front of his face, mumbling something that Tony can’t make out. Richard leans close to him and pulls Peter onto his lap.
“It’s okay, bud. Tony is a friend. He’s really nice, and he really wants to meet you. Do you want to show him your favorite toy?”
Peter shakes his head, burying his face into his dad’s shirt. Richard smiles apologetically at Tony, who smiles back, mouthing ‘it’s okay.’
“I think he’ll really like it, Pete.”
The kid huffs. But he turns out of Richard’s grasp, and goes to the pile of toys on the ground. He knocks some over, shuffling underneath, obviously looking for something specific. Then, victorious, he holds up the toy.
It’s an Iron Man figurine. Complete with glowing arc reactor and repulsors, which light up when Peter pushes a button on the back. Peter holds it up in front of him, showing Tony.
Tony is speechless. He’s lucky his jaw hasn’t dropped open. Richard chuckles.
“It’s Iron Man,” Peter says, pressing the button a few times, so the lights go on and off. “He’s a superhero,” the boy explains.
Tony blinks. “Uh – yeah, he is, kid. That’s, uh – that’s a really cool toy. I like the lights.”
Peter grins. “Yeah! Even his feet light up!” He turns the figurine to show off the repulsors on the bottom, too.
“Wow,” Tony says. “That’s amazing. Can he fly as high as Iron Man can?”
The boy frowns. “Pro’lly not. Iron Man can fly really high.”
“He sure can. Do you know how high?”
Peter shakes his head, eyes wide. God, this kid has a huge pair of puppy eyes. Good lord. He’s never going to be able to say no to him.
“More than two hundred thousand feet high.”
“Wow!” Peter jumps to his feet and turns to Richard. “Daddy, that’s really high!”
“Sure is, Pete,” Richard laughs.
Tony feels a smile start to creep over his face as he watches Peter dig up more of his toys and explain each one, their names, what they can do. There’s no other word for it – this kid is adorable. Never in his life would Tony have expected to find himself thinking anything was adorable, and yet here he is. It’s hard to believe this kid has any relation to himself. But the longer he sits there, asking Peter about his favorite toys and watching him play, the stronger his conviction grows. He’s going to be there for this kid no matter what.