“No school today, either?” Tony smiled down at his daughter.
Lily resembled him with her dark brown eyes and hair, but the look she gave him was all Pepper. “Dad, there’s still like three feet of snow.”
“Still?” Lifting her up, he settled her on his hip. “Want to come with me? I have to go look at designs for the new tablets.”
“Why do you have to go to the office to do that?”
“Sometimes we tech geeks need to communicate in person.” He brushed a strand of dark, wavy hair behind her ear. “And I like to get my hands on the models – see how they feel.”
“By models you mean the tablets, right?” Pepper asked from behind them.
Lily giggled as her father made an outraged expression at her mother’s question. “Pepper! I haven’t handled one of those models in years!”
“Sorry, I said it so many times in the past, it’s still an automatic response.” She winked at Lily.
“Don’t listen to her, I was a good boy,” Tony told her. “Do you want to come with me?”
“Can we go to the Top of the Rock after?”
“Yes. If you help me with the tablets. We don’t want boring, not kid friendly stuff going out.”
“Deal.” She rubbed noses with him. “I gotta get my coat.”
“Go.” He sat her on her feet and watched her run out of the room. “And you, Mrs. Stark – “
“Ms. Potts,” Pepper interrupted.
“Mrs. Stark when we’re at home – “ He leaned over the back of the sofa, putting a hand on either side of her head. “ – have impugned my good character.”
“It slipped out, really.” Reaching up, she wound his tie around her fingers, using it to pull Tony’s face down level with hers. “Can I owe you one?”
“I think a satisfactory arrangement can be worked out.” Smiling, he brushed his lips across hers.
“Not now!” Lily protested as she came back into the room. “No naps.”
They exchanged a glance. Lily was old enough that she’d apparently connected kissing with their ‘naps’. Luckily, she didn’t yet know what her parent’s ‘naps’ really were. They still had a few years before those awkward questions.
“Right, no naps.” Tony gave Pepper a quick kiss. “Ready to go, Lily?”
“Yep! I’m waiting on you,” she said as she tucked her doll into her coat pocket. “Let’s hit the road, Jack!”
“Impatient brat! You get that from your mother.” He lifted Lily up again, carrying her over to give her mother a kiss. “Looks and brains from me – attitude from your mother.”
Pepper kissed her daughter. “Be good.”
“I will be.” Lily promised.
“I meant your father.”
“Ha ha.” Tony stuck his tongue out at her, making her laugh.
The drive to Stark Tech’s computer development division took longer than usual, thanks to the snow and the native New Yorker’s stubborn belief that they could drive any type of car in three feet of it. Lily enjoyed the ride, laughing as she watched a group of people slipping and falling as they tried to push a Mini Cooper out of a snow bank. Tony was less amused, but completely entranced with his daughter.
From the front, Happy glanced at them in the mirror from time to time. With the heavy snow, SI’s main offices were closed, and he’d decided to temporarily demote himself from head of security back to chauffeur. If anybody was going to take the boss out in this mess, it was going to be him, and it gave him more time around his god daughter. He smiled as she squealed with laughter and told him to do it again when he deliberately let the Hummer slide at a stop light.
Happy parked and got out when they arrived at the SI building – a converted warehouse that made Google employees envious – opening the back door of the black H3 Hummer. He hated the ugly thing, but it was the best way they had to get through the snow. There was no way the Bentley or one of Tony’s sports cars was getting through this mess. Cleaning the city’s streets wasn’t a priority in a non-election year and Happy didn’t want any problems getting around in the sloppy mess, not with the boss and the squirt on board.
Tony eyed the snow covered distance between the car and the clean – semi-clean, anyway – sidewalk. Happy shrugged. “Sorry, Boss, this was as close as I could get. It’s piled too high for me to drive up on the sidewalk or I would.”
“It looks fun!” Lily unbuckled herself and scrambled for the open doorway.
“Whoa! Your mom will kill me if you get those shoes wet!” Snagging Lily before she could jump out, Tony set her back on the seat beside him. “I’m wearing boots. I’ll get out and then I’ll carry you in. Deal?”
“Deal,” she said reluctantly.
There was a narrow path through the snow piles to the sidewalk, and Tony eased out of the SUV onto it, waving away Happy’s hand as he found his footing. It was a long way down out of the vehicle – the ugly ass vehicle – and he wondered for the umpteenth time what idiot thought a military vehicle made for a good civilian car. “Hap, remind me to get a fuc – f – foot stool.”
“Will do, Boss.” And good catch.
“Come on, jump out, I’ll catch you.” Tony held his arms out to Lily.
She stepped to the edge of the doorway and leaped out toward her father. He caught her easily, holding her to his chest.
“Holy cow, you’re heavy!” He gave an exaggerated grunt.
“I’ll be back in two hours, Boss.” Happy reached out to settle Lily’s hat back on her head.
“We’re going to the Top of the Rock, Happy,” she told him. “Bring lunch, okay?”
“Will do, Squirt.”
Tony carefully maneuvered his way through the snow to the partially cleared sidewalk. He might not own the sidewalk or the street, but he was going to get somebody out here to scoop this crap off. And then throw his money behind whoever ran against the mayor next election. Finally on solid ground, he turned and waved at Happy. The other man waved back and the SUV pulled away.
“Wait – “ Lily patted her pocket, searching for her doll. “Wait – I think I left my doll in the car – “
“She’ll be okay. You’ll be too busy to play with her anyway.”
Tony nearly lost his balance as Lily twisted in his arms. “Hey!”
Lily shrieked and he instinctively clutched her closer to him, swinging his head around to look for the threat. The new armor hadn’t been tested at this distance, but Tony wasn’t unarmed. His left hand slid inside his jacket to the butt of the gun he’d started carrying a few years earlier.
“Natasha!” Lily leaned out and down from her father, reaching for something, nearly upending both of them.
“Lily! Stop it!” He struggled to keep them both upright on the slick sidewalk.
The SUV had slid to stop, and Happy was spinning the wheels trying to reverse in the slushy mess. “Get down, Boss!” he yelled out the window.
“Natasha, she’s dead!” Lily cried.
“What?” Tony looked around again. He didn’t see Natasha anywhere. “She’s not here, baby.” He focused his attention back on his daughter; her bottom lip was trembling and tears were welling up in the dark eyes. “Lily, what are – “ He stopped as he spotted a splash of red behind her on the snowy path they’d come through.
“Oh, man.” Happy picked up the doll and grimaced. It was crushed and filthy where the rear tire had run over it. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I didn’t know she was down there.”
Lily’s held her hands out for the broken doll. It was a doll, just a damn doll. Inwardly, Tony heaved a sigh of relief. “I’ll buy you a new doll, okay?” he pressed a kiss to her temple. “Don’t scare Daddy like that again.”
“She’s dead,” Lily said sadly.
“She’s not dead, honey. She’s a doll and there’s lots of dolls out there.” He kissed her temple again. “We’ll have Jarvis order you a new one, okay?”
“No. When I go to Sam’s house tonight, we’re playing Barbies. I have to have Natasha.”
“We’ll get you a Barbie for tonight,” Tony assured her. “We’ll get your mom on it, trust me.”
“I’ll go get one, Squirt. Red haired, no problem.” Happy promised.
She shook her head. “No, this was Natasha!” Holding up the doll, she showed them the doll’s face. “Aunt Natasha’s doll.”
The doll’s head was squished, and Tony couldn’t tell if the face was Natasha or the Thing. There were so many Avengers toys; he didn’t remember seeing a doll for Nat, but then he’d been more concerned with his dolls – action figures! Action figures, not dolls! There were no Iron Man dolls! “Baby, I’ll get you another one. Today. We’ll go to a toy store and get one, okay?”
“Okay.” She brushed at the dirt and snow on the doll. “Now what do we do with her, Daddy?”
“We’ll take her inside and give her to the receptionist to throw away.” The dark brown eyes widened and Tony hastily backpedaled to avoid the imminent tears. “No, no, I mean give her a respectful burial, of course.”
“Can we put her in a box?”
“Yes, and we’ll bury her.”
“Daddy.” She gave him a look he was pretty sure Pepper had patented before Lily’s birth. “She’s a doll.”
There was honking from the street and Happy shot a look over his shoulder. “I gotta move the car, Boss. We’re good here?”
Lily reached out to pat Happy’s broad shoulder. “We’re good. I love you, Uncle Happy, it wasn’t your fault.”
“I love you, too, Squirt.” He grinned and headed back to the car.
“Hey, we can put Natasha in the incinerator and give her a Viking sendoff. She’d like that,” Tony told her as he carried her inside the building. Two security guards held the doors open for them and Tony jerked his head toward the snow. “Get somebody out there and clean the sidewalk and curb, will you? Feels like climbing Everest to get in here.”
At the receptionist desk, Lily handed her broken doll to one of the women working there. “Can you put her in a box? Daddy said we can put her in the incin – incinerator – “ she sounded the word out carefully. “Please.”
The receptionist took the doll, shooting a look at her boss. He nodded slightly and mouthed ‘thank you’ over Lily’s head. “I’ll be happy to take care of her for you, Miss Stark,” she said solemnly.
“Thank you.” Lily’s bottom lip wobbled, and she turned to bury her face against her father’s neck.
She was uncharacteristically quiet during the elevator ride, resting her head on Tony’s shoulder and not demanding to be put down because she was ‘a big girl’ as she normally did. On the one hand, Tony didn’t mind the opportunity to hold his baby – she was becoming increasingly more independent and resisting being held or carried for more than a few moments. But on the other hand, he hated to see her sad.
The doors pinged open and Tony stepped off into a brightly lit area decorated with gears and mechanical constructs in a steampunk theme. The area had been redone since the last time he’d been on this floor. He spotted a steampunk Iron Man flying over a similarly themed Stark Tower and NYC skyline. “Now that’s cool.”
“Mr. Stark.” John Portner, SI’s division head of R&D, held out his hand to greet them. “And Miss Stark, it’s good to see the both of you. What do you think of it? We were tired of the old scheme – a year of being surrounded by the rain forest got boring after awhile.”
Setting Lily on her feet, Tony knelt and unbuttoned her coat, pulling it off and draping it over his arm. “Boring is bad, stifles creativity, right Lily?” She nodded, busy looking around at the interlocking gears that held up the desks and the other new items.
“Look, Daddy, there’s mechanical butterflies!” Pulling on his arm, she pointed them out to him. “Those are cool!”
“They are very cool,” he agreed. “Did you see the suit? I should build one like that.” When she shook her head, Tony looked offended. “What? Why?”
“I don’t think it’d be very practical, Daddy, those gears would be weak spots. Uncle Clint could just put an arrow in there and jam them up – not that he would, but somebody might.”
“How about you stick with the art and let Daddy do the engineering.” He pulled her hat off and tucked it in his jacket pocket.
“Speaking of art – the artist used the newest version of Miss Stark’s paint program to design all of this.” John told them. “We’ve got an awesome promo video for the new build showing how it went from sketches to paintings, accessories, and even the furniture using Stark Lily Paint.”
Tony looked around the area with a new eye. “All of this? What about the desks?”
“Those, too, and the partitions.” He pointed at the themed light fixtures overhead that resembled zeppelins with the original Stark logo. “Even the lighting.”
“Now I’m really impressed.” Tony ruffled his fingers through his daughter’s dark hair. “Look what we made, sweetie.”
“We?” She smirked her inherited Stark patented smirk at him. “How about you stick with the engineering and let me do the art.”
“Ow.” He put a hand over his heart before turning to John. “On that note…”
“I’ve got the new tablets in the conference room, Mr. Stark.” John motioned to a door a few feet away labeled ‘Caution: Mad Scientists At Work’. “We think you’re going to be really happy with them.”
“Well, I brought my chief tester with me.” Tony patted Lily on the shoulder. “Ready to go play with the new tablets?”
“And then the Top of the Rock and then the toy store?”
“And then the Top of the Rock and then the toy store, munchkin.”
“Let’s get this show on the road, then.” Lily flashed a smile that would have young men’s knees going weak in a few years.
“That’s my girl.”
Two hours later, Tony and Lily were back outside on a much cleaner and well salted sidewalk. The H3 was parked at the curb now that the mounds of snow had been cleared away. The Stark-owned building now appeared to have been untouched by the snowstorm. He nodded approvingly. The city might not give a rat’s ass about people being able to walk around safely, but he did and the next mayor would, too.
“I can walk!” Lily protested when Tony bent to pick her up.
“I know, but – “ He stopped, his heart twisting a little. “I know, I know! you’re a big girl.”
“You can help me in the car, but I can walk on my own,” she told him.
Tony sighed, watching her walk to where Happy was holding the door open. She had her head up, little hat at a cocky angle, and moved like she owned the world. One hundred percent his daughter. He just wished she wasn’t growing up so fast.
At the curb, Lily waited patiently for her father to catch up and lift her up to where she could step into the tall vehicle, with no clue to the battle between parental pride and sadness in his heart.
“Top of the Rock, boss?” Happy asked as Tony climbed into the H3.
“Yes!” Lily answered.
“You heard the boss, Hap, let’s go.” Tony winked at Happy. The other man smiled as he shut the door.
The Top of the Rock, the observation deck at Rockefeller Center, was the best place to have New York City at your feet. It was cold, but the view was breathtaking even for someone used to flying over the city or living in a glass tower next to Central Park. New York was spread out below them, white and dazzling in the afternoon sunshine. With the traffic cut down to nothing – or what New Yorkers would consider nothing – there was a peaceful air to the scene.
“Look! There’s a snowman on that roof!” Lily pointed. “And there’s kids playing in the snow on that one!”
The open air deck boasted the finest panoramic view in the city, but Tony’s preferred view was of his daughter looking over the city and pointing things out to him between bites of her sandwich. “Where?” He leaned close so she could show him the things catching her attention. Not that he cared about any of them; he cared only that her cheek was brushing his and she was pressed against his side. “They’re having fun, huh, baby?”
“Can we go outside and play in the snow when we get home?” She spared a moment to look up at him, dark eyes bright with excitement.
“Sure. We’ll drag Bruce and Clint outside with us. Cap, too, if he’ll let us use his shield for a sled this time.”
“Maybe Uncle Phil will be home, too?” Lily looked back across the city. “Where’s his office? Can we see it from here?”
“It’s…. there…” Tony pointed out the SHIELD building – or what he thought was the SHIELD building at this distance. He squinted. “Pretty sure it’s that one.”
“Hot chocolate’s getting cold, guys,” Happy said from behind them.
“Oh, my hot chocolate!” Lily scrambled back to the table and picked up her mug. She made a face.
Even with Stark technology, insulated mugs could only keep a hot beverage hot for so long out in the cold. Tony downed what was left of his lukewarm chocolate. “Ready for the toy store?”
Nodding, she followed his example and downed her chocolate as well. While Happy packed the mugs and thermos back into the picnic basket, she took the crusts of her sandwich to the edge of the railing and laid them there for the birds.
“Remember that when they poop on you in the park.” Tony shook his head. Pigeons were nasty and existed only to crap on things.
“They’re just birds, Dad, they don’t know any better.”
“You inherited your grandmother’s hippy genes somehow.” He gave Lily what was left of his own sandwich bread to feed New York’s hungry pigeons.
“Grandma Maria would have fed the pigeons, too, wouldn’t she?”
“Yes, she did. She fed them whenever we were in the park. Mom loved to take walks through the park.” The memory made him smile.
“Just like I do.” Smiling, Lily skipped towards the elevator. Anything about her grandparents made her happy. “And I draw and paint just like her, too.”
Tony smiled down at her and ruffled her dark hair. “You’re both artists. The picture in the lobby of Mommy’s office is one she painted, remember?”
“I’ll paint one someday that’s good enough for Mommy to hang in the lobby.”
“Sweetheart, we’ll hang one there right now if you want,” he promised. “Mommy has a couple of your pictures in her office already and Mrs. Arbogast does, too.”
“No.” She shook her head. “They’re not good enough yet. Someday though.”
There was a determined gleam in the dark eyes that made Tony both proud and a little scared. Was this how he’d looked to his parents? He remembered being very certain about what he was going to do with the robots he was going to build and nobody was getting in his way.
“When you’ve got the ‘one’, we’ll hang it up, Lily.” He chucked her gently under her chin. “That’s a promise.”
Happy smiled. If someone had told him that someday the boss would turn into a family man and a shamelessly doting father, he wouldn’t have believed it. Married? Maybe. Domestic? Never. A good father? Better odds of winning the lottery. Yet here they were having lunch and feeding pigeons and freezing their asses off before heading to a toy store for a doll.
“You’re coming in, too, right, Uncle Hap?” Lily asked as he lifted her into the H3.
“Of course, can’t be too careful. I hear those GI Joes are dangerous around pretty girls.” He grinned and pinched her nose between his knuckles, making her giggle. Then again, Happy never thought he’d find himself wrapped around a little girl’s finger, either.
“To the toy store, my good man,” Tony said as he buckled his daughter in.
“And don’t spare the horses!” She slid her arm through her father’s, grinning up at him.
“I think you got a little bit of your grandpa Howard in you, too.”
“Of course I do! I’m a Stark!” she said proudly.
You’d love her, Mom and Dad. Tony curled his hand around her little one. I know you would.
Tony was amazed at the size of the toy store and even more so at the entire aisle of Avengers toys. The ark from Raiders was probably in this store someplace. “Holy cow…”
“Geez, boss, you gotta be making as much from this stuff as you ever did from missiles,” Happy whispered to him. “There’s another aisle next door with even more Avengers stuff.”
“Let’s find Natasha and get out of here,” Tony whispered back. “It’s weird looking at so many of me.”
Lily was walking along the aisle, a frown on her face. There were plenty of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and way too many Captain America action figures – but not a single Black Widow. “She’s not here.” She turned to her father. “Aunt Natasha is still an Avenger, isn’t she?”
“Of course she is, babe. Happy – “ He turned to the other man. “Go see if you can find someone to help us.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Happy had shooed away the store employees when they had entered the store. The boss didn’t like strangers “helping” him. In this case, though, they were way out of their element.
When he returned with a woman who worked for the store, he found Lily in a stare down with a little boy that looked to be about her age. Tony was hovering nervously, as if unsure how to handle this situation. Which was probably the case.
“Mr. Hogan tells me you’re looking for the Black Widow doll.” The store employee stopped next to Tony. “They’re in another aisle.”
“Why aren’t they here? Everybody else is here,” Tony asked.
“This is the boys’ section. Black Widow is a toy for girls.” She looked at the toys in the cart he was leaning on. Talking Hulk, Lifelike Hair and Beard Thor, Hulk’s Hideaway Playset and Avengers HQ Playset #3. “Those are for boys as well – the doll houses are over in the girl’s section.”
“But – these – “ He waved a hand at the rows of Thors and Hulks and other male Avengers. “They’re dolls, too.”
“Action figures, Daddy,” Lily reminded him. ”Boy’s dolls are action figures.”
“Boys don’t play with dolls!” the little boy spoke up. “And you can’t play with these, they’re for boys!”
Lily rolled her eyes and cocked her head exactly as her mother would have done. “You’re wrong. Toys are toys and anybody can play with anything. My mother says so.”
“You tell him, sweetie.” Tony puffed up with pride. His little girl wasn’t taking crap from anybody.
“You’re just a girl and you can’t buy anything anyway.” The boy made a face at her.
“Chad!” A woman came rushing up the aisle from the other end. “There you are! You were supposed to stay with me!”
“The baby stuff is boring,” Chad pouted.
“I’m sorry if he was bothering you.” The woman took his arm and pulled him over to stand beside the basket she’d been pushing. A baby in a carrier kicked and giggled and Chad glared at it. “He’s at that age.”
“Let’s go get one of those Black Widow dolls, shall we?” the store clerk suggested.
Tony turned the basket and followed, Lily walking between him and Happy.
“Was that – is that Tony Stark?” the mother said mostly to herself as she watched them leave.
The boy’s eyes widened. “Mom… oh my God…”
Lily turned and stuck her tongue out at him before skipping around the end of the aisle.
There was pink everywhere. Everywhere. Tony turned to look back the way they’d come. Sure enough, those aisles were blue. There were two green aisles of electronic toys dividing them. Apparently a toy DMZ. “I think I threw up this color once,” he said softly to Happy.
“It looks like a few thousand cases of Pepto Bismol blew up,” Happy said back just as softly.
“Here you go!” The clerk pointed out the Black Widow doll.
“Natasha!” Lily grabbed one of the boxes and hugged it to her chest.
“All right! Now we can go.” Tony patted his daughter on the shoulder.
“Daddy, she needs clothes.” She gave him that look her mother gave him when he’d suggested something she thought was stupid.
“Clothes?” He turned to Happy and the other man nodded. “Sure, clothes. Every girl needs new clothes. And shoes, your mother taught me that. Every girl needs new shoes.”
“She’s new so she should have some new clothes. That’s only fair.”
“Makes perfect sense.”
While Lily busied herself picking out new clothes for her new doll – whom she’d entrusted to Happy for safe keeping – Tony studied the aisle they were in. Natasha – Black Widow of the Avengers! Made in the USA! – had her own section. There were three different versions of her and a surprising amount of clothing. And a Black Widow hover cycle that he vaguely remembered playing with when the toy company had sent over the prototypes. There were no weapons. Only the dolls came with any weapons. Each had a pair of pistols. He frowned. There were shoes, purses, and other girly items – but no weapons.
There were other dolls and doll stuff on either side of Black Widow. Barbie had the entire other side of the aisle and as he’d heard many times, that bitch had everything. A lot of everything. And all in pink. Tony began to worry that he’d gone some weird kind of color blind where he only saw pink.
“Why isn’t she over with the other Avengers?” Tony asked again, focusing on the multicolored shirt the woman wore to try and get his eyes adjusted to any other color than pink.
“Black Widow is for girls. The other Avengers items are for boys,” the clerk explained. “Boys don’t want to play with a female action figure. And little girls don’t want to play with male dolls.”
“Ken is over here. He’s a boy.”
“Yes, but he’s Barbie’s boyfriend, that’s different.”
“So… if Black Widow was Thor’s girlfriend – which she isn’t, strictly hypothetical here – she’d be over with the other Avengers toys?”
“No.” She shook her head and the look on her face made it clear she thought the question was ludicrous. “She’d still be here, she’s a girl’s toy.”
“Daddy, can you reach for me?” Lily interrupted.
Tony looked to where she was pointing. “Barbie clothes?”
“Natasha has a party to go to. There’s no evening clothes for her.” She pointed out a black dress that came with little black high heels and a gold purse. “That one, she needs that one.”
“No evening dress for Natasha? We’ll have to fix that.” He handed her the package. “What else does she need?”
“Nothing, but I need a tuxedo for Uncle Clint.”
“Honey, he won’t fit in these.” Tony flicked a package that held a Ken sized outfit.
“Don’t be silly, Daddy.” She dropped the dress into the basket. “Natasha and Uncle Clint are infil – infil – sneaking into a secret – “ Lily stopped and looked up at the clerk and decided the woman didn’t have the right security clearance. “ – a secret bad guy’s party.”
“You have a Clint doll? What about me?” He stuck out his lip in a pout. “Where’s Daddy going to be?”
“You and Mommy will be there, too. I use a Stacy doll for Mommy, ‘cos there’s no Mommy doll.” She pointed at a doll.
The redheaded friend of Barbie was pretty and Tony thought she could pass for Pepper in the doll world. “Blame your mom. I was all for a Pepper doll but she said no.”
“I wonder why?” Happy muttered studying the Natasha doll he was holding intently just in case the boss happened to hear him.
“Daddy has tuxedos. Where’s the Tony Stark dolls?” Lily asked the clerk.
“Action figures, sweetheart,” Tony corrected automatically. “Tony Stark action figures.”
“A doll by any other name,” Happy said under his breath and then did his best to look innocent when Tony turned to glare at him.
“The Iron Man and Tony Stark action figures are back over in the section we were in earlier,” the clerk told her.
“Okay, wait. He’s got clothes and stuff like Ken does – “ Tony objected. “Better than Ken, because Tony Stark is not a kept man. So how come he’s not over here? You can’t tell me little girls don’t want to play with a Tony Stark d – action figure. I can vouch for how much girls liked to play with the real thing.”
“Boss!” Happy nudged him in the back. “Little ears!” he hissed.
“Well, some girls do,” the clerk said, “But he’s a boy oriented toy.”
Happy nearly choked trying not to laugh at the look on the boss’ face at the unintended subtext.
“This is… it’s… it’s… sexist.” Strange words to come out of his mouth, but Tony didn’t like his daughter being told she could only buy toys approved for girls. Or any girls, for that matter, but especially his little girl. ”Toys are toys. I played with whatever looked interesting when I was a kid.” Never mind that he’d been playing mostly with nuts and bolts and missile parts.
“I’d have played with a Natasha doll. My GI Joe got lonely on some of his missions,” Happy told her.
“There’s no rule saying she can’t play with boy toys. It’s just – well, it’s just easier if we have them in gender specific aisles.”
“I call bull crap,” Lily told her.
“Lily! Your mom will blame me if she hears you say that!” He put a finger over her lips. “Let’s go get that tux and get out of here, okay?”
Once they were back in ‘No Girls Allowed Land’, Tony noticed that all the action figures were indeed male. And they all had grim expressions. No wonder, they all have blue balls, he thought. Tony Stark – of the Avengers! Made in the USA! – was the only action figure with a tux and a selection of suits that would make Ken cry. Then again, he smirked, there was only one Tony Stark.
The Avengers action figures had a selection of accessories, mainly vehicles and weapons. There were a few different types of action figures in different outfits – Cap especially had several different Army uniforms and variations of his Captain America uniform. Other than that, however, there was no clothing to buy separately. Apparently Tony Stark was the only Avenger who needed clothes.
“Why aren’t there any outfits?” Tony asked the clerk.
“Boys aren’t interested in changing their action figure’s clothes,” she told him. As exciting as it had seemed at the time to get to help Tony Stark, she was getting tired of repeating herself. For a genius, he apparently didn't understand anything about marketing.
“That’s not true.” Happy shook his head. “I remember Joe having different uniforms – desert, camo, jungle – we changed their clothes to fit the mission.”
“Yes, but now you can buy an action figure fully outfitted for any mission. There’s Arctic Captain America and Iron Man right here.” She pointed to the action figures.
“Arctic Captain America?” Tony’s eyebrows went up. That was a mission not likely to happen… ever. “So now you have to buy a different do – action figure for each mission?” He frowned. A lot of the money from the Avengers toys went to charity, but this smacked of profiteering. His father must be spinning in his grave.
Pulling out his phone, he tapped Jarvis’ icon. “Jarvis, make a note. We need more outfits for the action figures and fewer variations of the figures themselves.” He pinched Lily’s cheek gently. “And we need Black Widow in the boys’ section with the other Avengers and my action figure over in the girls’ section with Black Widow.”
“And the other Avengers, too, Jarvis, please,” Lilly added.
“Did you get that, Jarvis?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve already drafted a memo for your approval,” the AI answered.
“Good.” He slid his phone back into his pocket. “Got everything you need, flower girl?”
“Well.... Can we go look at the electronic toys first?” The twinkle in her eye gave away that she knew he loved making fun of them.
“You’re so good to me.” Tony leaned down and Lily rose up on her toes to accept his kiss.
“We’re home!” Tony announced as they got off the elevator at their floor of the tower. “We come bearing toys!”
“I heard about Natasha.” Pepper knelt to help Lily out of her coat. “I’m sorry, baby.”
“It was an accident. Uncle Happy didn’t know she was there.” She gave her mother a quick hug before running to her bedroom with her new doll. Happy followed, carrying the bags with the other toys.
“She screamed bloody murder at the time. Scared the hell out of me, I thought there was an axe murderer coming after us.” Tony gave Pepper a kiss. “Oy, what a day I’ve had.”
“I knew I’d regret letting you watch that movie. What’s with the memo?”
“There’s sexism in toys, did you know that?” He slid his arm around her waist as they followed their daughter.
“Yes, yes I did actually.”
“And you didn’t tell me?” At her look – one reddish blonde eyebrow arched and a slight tilt to her lips – he shrugged. “Okay, I wouldn’t have cared. But I care now! It’s different now. Our daughter is being told to shop in just one part of the toy store. Even the electronic toys have divided sections hiding in their green aisles. Blatant sexism!”
“I know. Toy companies market girl toys and boy toys. Which is why Stark educational toys come in neutral colors and no gender specific themes or games.”
“Did you know Natasha isn’t with the other Avengers toys? And the Tony Stark action figure isn’t in the girls’ section. Ken gets all those girls to himself the son of a – something I can’t say.”
“I think Barbie keeps him on a pretty short leash,” she laughed.
“Even the Legos are segregated. The Lego aisle has everything but the new pink ones – those are over in the girls’ section. All the cool stuff is in the boys’ section, and did you know there’s a Lego Millennium Falcon?”
“Yes, and no you can’t have it.”
“Yes, I am,” she agreed.
Lily was in the corner of her room where her dolls ruled the roost. She was frowning at the Avengers HQ she’d just pulled out of the box. It was a jumble of pieces. Too many pieces. “Daddy, I need some help.”
“Engineering Daddy to the rescue. What are we doing here, Lily girl?” Tony sat down next to her.
“This needs to go with this part.” She pointed to the Avengers HQ playset #1 that was already assembled. “The Barbie mansion is the private quarters when they’re not on a mission. So it needs to connect to it.”
“Do these connect?” Not that he couldn’t make them fit together, he was an engineer first and foremost. And he had plenty of duct tape.
“The Avengers playsets will. They’re designed that way. Even the Hulk playset will connect if Lily wants it to.” Pepper sat down beside him and picked up the instructions. “It always frustrated me that my Barbie houses wouldn’t do that.”
“You played with Barbie? Did you see Ken naked?” Tony winked at her.
“My Barbies hung out with GI Joe.” She winked back.
The adults put the playsets together under Lily’s supervision. The Barbie section was soon secured to the Avengers sections with clips Tony recognized as the monster paper clip things Pepper used on large reports the rare times she printed them out.
“Here’s my Mommy doll.” Lily showed her father her red headed Stacy doll, now renamed Pepper (Stark) Potts, dressed in a smart business suit.
“She’s lovely.” He took the doll and waggled her at Pepper. “I told you we needed a Pepper Potts doll.”
“No we don’t. Lily has figured out how to make one on her own.” She took the doll away from Tony when he tried to pull up the doll’s skirt.
“And this is Uncle Clint.” Lily handed the doll to him.
“This…” Tony studied the doll. It looked like Ken to him. The one with fashion styling hair. Sometimes he hated having a photographic memory. “...is not your Uncle Clint’s action figure.”
“He has plastic hair. This one has hair.” She ruffled the reddish brown hair with her fingertip. “Only you and Uncle Thor and Aunt Natasha have hair. Everybody else has plastic hair.”
“Jarvis – “
“Noted, sir,” the AI told him.
“So… you like the dolls to have hair, and extra outfits – “ Tony knew Jarvis would add these to the memo that would be going out to the toy manufacturer tomorrow. “Black Widow needs weapons and some evening wear and the guys need more uniforms and off duty outfits. Anything else?”
Lily looked thoughtful. “I don’t think so. I’ll let you know.”
“You do that.” He got to his feet and held a hand out to help Pepper up. “Daddy is always available for consulting sessions.”
“Are you packed to go to Sam’s tonight?” Pepper asked Lily.
“Almost! Everything but my dolls and their stuff. Daddy bought Natasha an evening gown and Uncle Clint a tuxedo. They’re going on a secret mission after HYDRA.”
“Sam likes to play things like that?” Pepper couldn’t remember playing with her Barbies like that, but then she hadn’t grown up with SHIELD agents and Avengers in the house.
“Sure. Girls can save the world, too, you know.”
“Of course they can,” Happy told her. He grunted as he got to his feet. She reached out to help him and he swept her up in his arms, making her shriek with laughter. “There’s a belly for me to tickle!”
“Make sure she finishes packing, tickle monster.” Tony guided Pepper out of the room. “How quickly can we get these changes made?”
“You’re serious about this?” Tony got ideas all the time but he didn’t always follow through – and he wasn’t always serious. “You really want to do this?”
Tony pulled his head back in that way he had of doing when he was startled or asked a question he thought was odd. “Pep, you say that like I’m declaring war on the toy industry.”
“Well, you sort of are. This is how things are – the way they market their products – and you’re trying to change that. There’s going to be blowback from the industry.”
“You say that like I care.”
“What was I thinking?”
“When did this start? I mean, I don’t – I never really went into toy stores or any stores except Radio Shack and parts stores. I didn’t really play with toys.”
“I’m not sure.” Pepper let him lead her into their bedroom, and they sat down on the loveseat in front of the floor to ceiling windows. “I remember girls in Lego ads, but that was years ago. Toys were always pretty much divided into boys and girls, but not like it is now. It’s really rigidly enforced. Gender specific and color coded – “
“Blue or pink.”
“Yes, and it’s everywhere. Baby clothes, too. There used to be greens and yellows and lavenders, but now it’s ninety-nine percent blue or pink and one percent neutral colors. Maybe even less than one percent. Well, maybe not that much. Ten percent, though. Less than ten percent.”
“I love it when you talk math.”
“It could be partly due to everyone knowing the sex of their baby before they have it. Why buy neutral colors when you know for sure you’re having a girl? Or a boy?”
“Baby clothes is one thing. But toys? The sales lady was really hardcore on this is for girls – “ He gestured to one side. “ – and this is for boys.” He gestured to the other side. “I’m surprised there wasn’t a mine field between them.”
“I just ignore it and Lily and I wander all the aisles.”
“And the pink! Geez! What color is that?”
“Barbie pink.” Pepper grinned at his expression.”Didn’t you notice?”
“Yeah, it’s like a bad acid trip. And there was this little boy – “ Tony threw his hands up. “He flat out told Lily that she couldn’t have any of the Avengers toys because she’s a girl and they’re only for boys!”
“How’d that go over?” Lily was very much their daughter when it came to standing her ground. She leaned into him as he slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her snugly against his side.
“Please.” He snorted. “She told him he was wrong. And she said Mommy said so.”
Pepper smiled at that. Tony leaned over and kissed her. “Mommy is very smart.”
When the kiss ended, she curved against his side, settling her head on his shoulder. Tony kissed the top of her head before resting his cheek against her hair. They sat together, not talking for awhile, listening to the sounds of Happy helping Lily get ready for her night over at her friend’s house. The sun was beginning to set and Jarvis decreased the opacity of the windows so the room was filled with a warm golden glow.
Pepper reluctantly broke the peaceful moment as she heard Lily coming down the hallway. “I’ll have the memo sent out tomorrow and start a new ad campaign. It’ll be our stand against the forced gender specific toys.”
“I don’t want my daughter told she can’t have something or do something because she’s a girl. Jeez, you’re CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world, and you're a girl. Lily can do anything she wants to – anything that some snotty little boy can do.”
“Tony Stark, champion of women’s rights.” Tilting her head back, Pepper smiled up at him.
“That’s right, and don’t you forget it, woman.” He kissed her as she started giggling.