The door to the elevator had barely shut behind him before Rhodey heard the sound of little feet running towards him, and he had just enough time to place down his bag and crouch down before Peter was barreling into his arms full speed, a bright smile on his face as he hugged him tightly.
“Hey, kiddo. How’s my favorite Spider-Monkey?” Rhodey asked, standing up with Peter in his arms, ruffling the boy’s hair once he was there.
“Daddy and I have been painting today!” Peter said, holding out his hands to show Rhodey the paint splattered across them (which at least looked mostly dry).
“I see that. Where is your dad anyway, kiddo?”
Peter pointed towards the door which led into the living room. “He’s with the paintings.”
“Oh, well why don’t we go say hi,” Rhodey suggested, already walking towards the living room. Peter was squirming to get out of his arms the moment they crossed the threshold, so Rhodey dropped the boy into the couch, causing him to giggle happily as he bounced once before jumping off, running towards the coffee table.
“Daddy helped me make a sunflower,” Peter said as he snatched his picture off the table, holding it out towards his Uncle with a proud smile on his face. “It’s just like the one’s daddy and I planted at the cabin last week!”
“It looks very good, Peter,” Rhodey smiled, his eyes drifting behind Peter’s picture to where Tony sat hunched over the coffee table, fast asleep. “I take it you’re also responsible for your dad’s uh, colorful look?”
It was mostly Tony’s face and arms at least that were covered in paint, of various colors, although yellow was of course the one most heavily featured. Even his hair had specks of paint in it.
Peter was clearly proud of his work, as he nodded enthusiastically in response to Rhodey’s question: “Daddy fell asleep while we were painting, and I finished my picture so I decided to paint him too! And now he looks pretty as my picture.”
Rhodey paused, wondering for a moment if it was really up to him to explain to Peter why he probably shouldn’t have painted his dad, or if he should leave that as a problem for Tony to tackle later, considering he was the one irresponsible enough to fall asleep around a 4-year-old with paint. And well, it wasn’t like Peter was going to get into trouble anyways and Tony would probably want to ask Peter why he did it anyways…
“He certainly does, kiddo. You did a good job.” Besides, what was the fun of being an uncle is he didn’t get to encourage things like this every so often? Not like Tony didn’t deserve it. “Do you happen to know when your dad went to bed last night, Peter?”
Peter frowned at Rhodey. “I’m 4 Uncle Rhodey. Why would I know that?”
“You have a good point, kiddo. What do you say we leave your dad to sleep then and clean up to have a snack?”
It was as if Rhodey had said the magic words. Peter carefully put down his picture before he rushed off towards the bathroom to get clean, his uncle trailing behind him at a slower pace.
“Daddy and I made brownies last night! We should have one of those,” Peter said the moment he saw Rhodey in the mirror behind him, as he tried to rush to clean off his hands. There was still paint covering them though, along with a few spots on his face, and Rhodey chuckled as he crossed the bathroom to help.
“Let’s get this paint off you first, okay Peter? Then we can sneak some of your daddy’s treats and some milk, how does that sound?”
“Okay but don’t tell daddy or he’ll be upset we ate them without him.”
Peter was just finishing his snack when Tony stumbled into the kitchen, looking exactly like a panicked father who had just woke up to find his kid missing. The tension left his body in an instant though when he saw Peter and Rhodey sitting together at the counter, entirely unharmed.
“Good morning sunshine,” Rhodey teased, as Tony made his way towards the coffee maker, only half awake, although he stopped to ruffle Peter’s hair as he passed causing his son to smile up at him.
“Uncle Rhodey and I had a snack cause you were sleeping,” Peter informed his father, causing Tony to chuckle softly at how casual he sounded. He clearly didn’t understand how much he had scared his father in just disappearing, which maybe was for the best. Just Tony being an overprotective father.
“Was I snoring?” Tony asked, mimicking the face Peter often made whenever he found his dad snoring. Peter giggled and nodded, copying the face.
“Only a little though. Uncle Rhodey didn’t hear you, don’t worry.”
“Not that it would be anything I haven’t heard before,” Rhodey said, a smirk creeping across his face as he turned to Peter. “Hey Pete, did I ever tell you about the time your dad scared a teacher by- “
“Hush you, enough of that,” Tony hit Rhodey lightly on the arm, earning another giggle out of Peter. “Peter is far too young for your stories. If you’re going to embarrass me you could at least wait until he’s old enough to remember and understand.”
“Hey! I ‘member lots of stuff!” Peter protested, crossing his arms, a small pout on his face. “Ask Uncle Rhodey, I told him all ‘bout the sunflowers we planted.”
“Yeah? Did you show him the picture you painted also?” Tony asked, to which Peter nodded enthusiastically in confirmation.
“He showed me both of his paintings,” Rhodey added, unable to hold in his laughter any longer when a confused look crossed Tony’s face. “Jesus Tones, did you not sleep last night? Seriously Peter, how has he not noticed this?”
Peter giggled loudly at Rhodey’s question, shrugging his shoulders as he watched his dad try to piece together what they were talking about.
“Maybe you should go look in a mirror, Tony.”
It took a minute, but suddenly Tony realized what Rhodey was trying to say. He let out a low groan, his hands coming up to touch his face, where sure enough he could feel dry paint. “Peter, Sunflower, you didn’t.”
“I wanted to make you pretty like my picture!” Peter said happily, smiling up at his dad like he had done him a fantastic service and not done something he definitely shouldn’t have. “Ms. Pepper said that lots of people draw on their faces to look prettier.”
“Oh, kiddo, that’s a different type of-“ Tony sighed deeply, looking over to Rhodey for help, but the best his friend could offer was a half-hearted shrug and
“What did you expect would come from falling asleep around a four-year-old with paint?”
Tony sent Rhodey a short glare before turning back to his son, crouching slightly so that they would be at the same height, and so Peter wouldn’t get upset about being in trouble. It’s not like Tony was mad after all (it was kind of his fault after all), but still, it was important that Peter knew he couldn’t do things like this.
“What Pepper was talking about kiddo is something entirely different, okay? It’s not just people putting paint on other people’s faces, it’s something they do to themselves,” Tony explained patiently, catching the exact moment Peter understood him as his son’s smile faded into a frown, like he understood now he had done something he wasn’t supposed to. Tony tapped the bottom of Peter’s chin to keep him from dropping his head, continuing in a soft voice “Hey, no, I’m not mad at you Sunflower, okay? None of that pouting. I just need you to understand that you can just go drawing on people without their permission first. And you shouldn’t be drawing on other people anyways unless you know it’s safe, okay? Some paints and stuff can react badly with skin especially if it’s left too long. And we don’t want anyone getting hurt, do we?”
“No,” Peter sniffled softly, not quite in tears but still upset at the fact he had done something wrong. “‘m sorry, daddy.”
“I know, kiddo. Thank you for saying sorry,” Tony soothed, and though he wanted nothing more than to hug Peter then, he still needed to be a responsible father and make sure he understood. “And now you know for next time, right? Think you can remember not to do this again?”
Peter nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good. I’m proud of you, Sunflower.” Tony smiled softly at Peter, holding his arms out now that their conversation was over. “Hug?”
Peter was in Tony’s arms in an instant, still not quite crying but close to the edge of tears. Tony stood up as his son clung onto him tightly, gently rocking him back and forth to calm him down. “I know, Sunflower. I don’t like these talks any more than you do, but it’s important you learn these things. You know I still love you more than anything, right Peter?”
Peter sniffled softly, lifting his head to look at his dad. “Love you 3000.”
“I love you 3000 too Sunflower,” Tony kissed the top of Peter’s head, eliciting just the smallest smile out of his son. “Now what do you say you help me clean this paint off my face? And then maybe we can order pizza for dinner.”
“Can Uncle Rhodey stay?” Peter asked, peeking over his dad’s shoulder at his Uncle, who was watching the pair with an indescribable look, although he smiled the moment he caught Peter’s eye.
“Who do you think is going to help you clean up your dad?”
“Oh no no no. You are not allowed near my face with water. Do you not remember what happened in college?” Tony said, shaking his head quickly as Rhodey began to laugh, the memory striking him as well.
“How about I just supervise then to make sure Pete gets all the paint, huh?”
“If you even get near the water, we are done,” Tony threatened, which caused even Peter to giggle quietly because he could tell there was no real heat behind the threat. As much as his dad tried to pretend to be angry, he was really bad at it when it came to people he cared about.
“I’ll take my chances,” Rhodey grinned, following Tony towards the bathroom, Peter safely and happily tucked in his dad’s arms.
Rhodey knew that Tony worried constantly about not being a good father. And sometimes, it was easy to see where the worry came from (falling asleep on a toddler certainly wasn’t the most responsible). All it took though was one look at Tony interacting Peter for anyone to understand, he was the best father that kid could ever want.
More importantly, he was exactly the kind of dad that Peter needed. And Peter just so happened to be exactly the reason Tony needed to pull his life together.