Tony is six years old and, to his delight, has been forgotten again. These afternoons are his favorites––long and empty, without his latest nanny clutching irritatingly at his shoulder or, worse, the shadow of his father keeping too-long paces in front of him while he tries desperately to keep up––and are few and far between. The spring sun is, he finds, taking off his sunglasses despite Nanny Ashtoreth's daily threat of cataracts, glorious.
He buys an ice cream cone from the vendor he'd been eyeing earlier and sits down on the park bench to enjoy it, vanilla and strawberry double-scoop because when he gets the rare chance to do what he wants, he always does as much of it as he possibly can, and they're not quite his favorite colors but they'll do. He's swinging his legs, enjoying his freedom, when he notices the strangely intense man in a wheelchair not six feet from where he's sitting, two fingers pressed to his temple, forehead all crumpled up. He's got thinning brown hair and weird girly pink lips––Tony glances doubtfully at his ice cream and hopes strawberry doesn't stain, and crunches off the bottom point of the cone as he watches the man concentrate.
He's dutifully sucking all the ice cream out from the steadily-soggier waffle when he finally figures out who the guy is staring at, across the way from his bench: a seriously beautiful blonde woman, her looks barely marred by her frown. Even at six Tony's impressed––she's not wearing all that much, but what's there is a pure, snowy white, exactly the kind of come-at-me confidence he frequently wishes he had. The two are glaring at each other something incredible.
Tony removes his mouth from the cone with a pop! and makes a face when a deluge of melted ice cream spills all over his newest pair of pants. Well, he reflects, sopping it up as best he can with the napkin that had accompanied the cone gratis and pushing his sunglasses back over his face, it's not as though anyone will care or scold him or anything. Nanny Ashtoreth will probably just buy him a new pair of pants and tell him weird rhymes about ten thousand men conquering nations of the world again. He reminds himself firmly that every other six-year-old on the face of the planet would absolutely die to have his life, and turns his attention back to the odd adults.
They've gotten closer to each other––or, no, Tony realizes, the blonde woman's crossing the street, the man is just sitting there, practically vibrating he's so obviously tense. Without the ice cream to distract him, just watching at them squint at one another is simultaneously incredibly tedious and boring but just weird enough that he can't stop watchi––hey, hey, hey, did she just––yeah, Tony realizes, she did just, her whole body glittering like the diamond-dipped edge of a drill bit for a split second before the both of them disappear.
Jesus Christ, Tony thinks, what was in that ice cream?
The sun is starting to cast its last long shadows, now, and Tony realizes he's been sitting on the bench for longer than he realized, long enough for his legs to be a little numb and his arms to be cold. It's going to be night soon and he doesn't have any way to get home, or any way of finding out where his parents got off to with their fundraising buddies, and––he finds his mind blanking a little with panic and takes a deep breath. He is six entire years old as of today, and he is Tony Stark. He has resources.
He just can't quite think of what they are.
Just as the last vestiges of daylight are going dim and soft with dusky grey, just as he's really beginning to think he might actually die out here eaten by wolves or bears or something (the park is practically the wilderness, okay, who knows what's hiding in the bushes?), the man in the wheelchair pops back into view. At this point Tony is too confused to even care what Mr. Pink Lips was doing, appearing and disappearing like that, like some kind of mutant...superhero or something––he briefly entertains the notion but dismisses it as too ridiculous even for his daydreams––but still watches him, secure in the knowledge that no one can actually tell he's looking at them from behind his sunglasses' mirrored lenses.
Then the man turns to look straight at him, rolling himself forward over the rough ground with the ease that speaks of long, painful practice. Tony nervously shuffles backwards, further into the comforting curve of the bench.
"Hello," says Mr. Pink Lips.
"Hi," says Tony, shortly, "I'm not supposed to speak to strangers," which is an out-and-out lie; no one has ever told him anything about speaking to strangers in his life, but it seems like a good line to use now.
"That's very wise," Mr. Pink Lips agrees, indulgently. "But I'm not a stranger, am I, Tony?"
Tony freezes himself up very very small. When he was three, he'd nearly been kidnapped, and again when he was four, and the only things he remembers from either experience are the honeyed-sweet succor of the would-be kidnappers voices. It sounds very like this man's, now––like a predator.
The man says, "Tony? I think you'll find I'm not a stranger."
Tony shakes his head. Of course Mr. Pink Lips isn't a stranger; he's seen him around, albeit briefly, while being shown off at dinners and scientific fundraisers, and even, when he thinks about it, remembers his name isn't Mr. Pink Lips at all.
"Mr. Xavier," says Tony, to Mr. Xavier's smiling face.
"That's right," says Mr. Xavier, very kindly, sounding like he's suppressing laughter, "and––" his face adopts a faraway look for a second before coming back to itself "––I think you'll find you've been missed this evening, Tony, more than you know."
Something about the idea strikes Tony as distinctly unlikely for a moment before he looks over his shoulder and sees his father coming for him, tie flapping carelessly. "Charles," he says as he approaches the bench, "thanks for looking after Tony, you know how unruly children can run off."
"Indeed I do, Howard," says Mr. Xavier, glancing to the open air beside him like it's holding a secret––Tony squints but can't see much beyond the dull glint of a few early lightning bugs in the grass. "Indeed I do. Have a nice night, Howard, Tony."
"Good night, Mr. Xavier," Tony says by rote, hanging onto his father's wrist as he begins to slide off the bench, then holding on tighter for dear life as he's actually lifted up, his father walking him back to the waiting car, safe, protected, practically asleep, Mr. Xavier a long-forgotten smudge in the residue of the evening's memory.