Things in the Stark penthouse seem normal right up until Tony makes it to the hallway. The door behind him had clicked closed, the only noise apart from his footsteps, and he had made for his room to start up some music to chase away the deafening silence that reigned through the penthouse whenever the Stark family wasn’t holding a gala.
Most days of the year Tony is the only source of noise apart from JARVIS, who is weirdly silent for an old guy whose cracking joints should be noise enough. But today Tony is three footsteps down the hall when he hears a voice. Then he hears two voices, which is even stranger.
Another step and he can hear both voices were arguing. Still abnormal for the penthouse, but regular for the voices doing the arguing. Tony doesn’t think he’s heard them have a conversation without arguing since he was eight or nine, and even then his parents’ talks had been filled with not-quite-arguments that sounded innocent unless you peeled back the words to reveal their subtext.
His steps falter as he nears the room where the whisper-arguing is taking place. He doesn’t want to get in the middle of what is sure to be the usual bullshit, but then again- he last saw Howard three months ago in passing, and Maria had spent the month before last at this house before fleeing on one of her holidays. Even then, Maria had been as distant as ever- the kind of distant she always is, like part of her wants to step closer but she’s long since forgotten how.
They’d had that one day together the month before last where they were more than two people occupying a massive space where you could pretend to be alone if you wanted: Tony had walked in on her playing piano in the music room and he’d hesitated near the door, but when she’d turned to him her smile turned surprised and genuine. Her smiles were always stunning- his own are only ever a pale mimicry of that careful radiance- but there was usually a layer between her and the world. It wasn’t there when she looked up at him, and Tony had said something like “Sorry, I-” only to have her say “No, no! It’s- it’s good to- do come and join me,” and move over on the piano chair.
That had been a good day. They hadn’t had many of them in the past few years- days where Howard was away or conveniently absent and Maria wasn’t hiding deep inside herself; days where neither her or Tony had enough to keep them distracted; days where they could steal an hour or two to play music or talk or read next to each other.
Tony pauses long enough that his choice is made for him- Maria Stark comes stalking into the hallway, almost flinging the door open behind her if it weren’t for how she catches it at the last second. She looks how she usually does after arguing with her husband: decades of disappointment and simmering resentment penned behind a mask of glamour that never fits perfectly, at least whenever there’s no one around. Still, she keeps it on, an old habit that Tony is familiar with even at seventeen years old.
Her eyes widen as she catches sight of Tony. “Oh! Oh.”
Tony swallows. “Hi. Uh-”
His gaze darts towards the room where Howard is no doubt scowling into a glass of whatever was closest.
Maria’s gaze, however, stays on him as she forces a smile. “How have you been, bambino?”
“Same old,” Tony says, hiding a wince when he hears Howard cursing quietly to himself in the other room.
He watches Maria’s smile tick- he wants to ask what’s wrong, but he knows that’d get him a fat lot of jack shit. “Hey, uh- they installed that new window after the sparrow broke it, want to go and see it? They upgraded some of the, um. The windowframe- things,” he finishes, gesturing vaguely.
Maria, thankfully, seems to catch it as the ‘lets’ get the hell out of earshot’ that Tony means it to be, and falls into step beside him as they trek down the hall.
She starts slipping away from him with every passing minute, until she’s all but muttering ‘mm-hmms’ in response to his feeble questions. She doesn’t say ‘mm-hmm,’ of course- she comes up with perfectly suitable answers, but they’re polite and short and every bit as faraway as Maria tends to get.
They don’t bother keeping up the façade and heading to the window. Instead Tony panics and says, “I was thinking about heading to the music room.”
It’s an olive branch. Or more accurately, it’s please don’t leave again, which Tony stopped verbalizing around age seven when he realized it wouldn’t make anyone stay.
Maria blinks at him. Her eyes are big and brown- so are his, but he has Howard’s colour. Still, people have told him that they look like Maria’s all the same.
For a moment it seems like she’s going to invent some excuse, maybe a charity function, an event she has to prepare for, a call she has to make, and then make that face like she wants to stay but it’d- like- Tony doesn’t know. Like it’d hurt her to stay, or something.
Tony’s throat clicks. He feels like he used to before he found the people he’s enduring high school for despite having finished the work when he was eleven; back when his parents were all he had and he hardly even had them.
“You should- you could join me,” he tries when she doesn’t say anything. If it’s not please, it’s the closest thing to it.
Her mouth ticks again. Photographers, models and magazine writers alike have fawned over the shape of that mouth. Once, an art major asked to write a thesis about it.
“I’d like that,” she says finally, and Tony has to bite his cheek to stop himself from going oh shit, really?
They continue making semi-polite small talk on the way down the music room. When they walk inside, it’s pristine as ever. It wouldn’t be, except that JARVIS comes in and dusts at least once a week.
They head for the piano. “I haven’t played in a while,” Tony admits as they sit down next to each other in front of it. Their elbows brush, barely, as they place their fingers on the keys.
“Me, neither,” Maria agrees. Her manicured nails rest gently on the keys, pushing with the slightest amount of pressure.
She looks over at him and Tony lets himself bask in it for a moment- his mother looking at him straight-on with something other than odd guilt or a practiced mask. Instead she looks like her, just Maria, just his mother, whom he gets to see so rarely these days; and when he does she’s hardly ever the Maria he had before she began to pull away a decade ago.
“What are you thinking of,” she asks, and he knows she isn’t talking about his mind.
“La Vie En Rose,” he says instead.
She smiles. For a moment he’s six years old again, feet dangling off the chair. “Good choice,” she tells him, and they press down in unison.
The familiar notes drift upwards. Tony always imagined them like heat, forever rising: he soon finds himself letting his eyes close. His fingers continue to press the steady notes into the air, and it isn’t until they’re nearing the end of the song that he hears his mother laugh.
His eyes fly open. He hasn’t heard her laugh like that since- he can’t pinpoint any specifics, but it’s been a while.
“You closed your eyes?” She laughs again, shakes her head. “Tony.”
A reluctant grin makes its way across his face. “What?”
She shakes her head again, turns her gaze towards the keys. “You’re a wonderful musician.”
Tony wets his lips. The praise glows, quietly pleased, behind his ribs. “A lot of people can play that song with their eyes closed.”
“Oh, sure.” She starts the song again, idly, and he follows suit. Her voice is fond when she continues, “I always thought you could become a musician someday. A composer, maybe.”
Tony bites down on his laugh but it makes it out anyway. Hastily, he tries, “Uh, yeah, that-” he stops. He doesn’t need to voice it, given by Maria’s face.
“I’ve never pictured another life,” Tony tries instead. It’s almost true.
Maria’s eyebrows draw inwards. Her lips pinch together, and that bone-deep sadness starts creeping back into her.
Wait, Tony thinks. I just got you back-
“We can do Clare De Lune,” he says, but she’s already straightened up and is eyeing the keys with that near-empty look.
Tony bites down hard on his tongue. Damnit. Shit.
They sit in silence for a few seconds, up until Maria makes a move like she’s about to get up and Tony feels it burst out: “Why do you even stay with him?”
They both freeze. Tony stares at the keyboard, wide-eyed, and he’d bet anything she’s doing the same. But she doesn’t move, and when he hears her swallow he says, “You’ve never been happy together since I was born- maybe before, I don’t know. You looked- happier in those interviews you did in those first few years, but now-”
“I can’t lose you.”
It’s low and almost confessional and it’s enough to make Tony look over at her. She’s looking at him with such intensity that it almost makes his gaze jerk back to the keys so he can get away from it.
“I-” he unsticks his tongue. “You wouldn’t? I’d come with you, obviously. Or we’d kick Howard out. I’m not staying with him if the other option is going with you.”
She looks away. Her hands are still resting on the keys.
“Why do you think you’d lose me,” Tony tries.
When she doesn’t say anything, Tony clenches his jaw. “Mom-”
She taps a nail against the ivory.
Tony sucks in a quiet breath. “Did Dad-?”
“How’s school going,” she cuts him off. “I- I haven’t asked. And- your long-distance schoolwork? How is that?”
Tony stares at her. This time when she looks at him, the mask is back on: the lives of the rich and famous, booze and glamour and fabulous dresses. The woman has owned every single room she’s ever been in, and she’ll be damned if she doesn’t do the same with this one even if her only son is asking her difficult questions.
But there’s also an underlying plea hidden in her eyes. This time it’s her saying please.
Tony relents. “School is good. I mean, it’s still the stuff I covered when I was ten, but the people make it worthwhile. And the MIT work is- really great. I’m learning a lot. It-”
He stops. There are very few people who don’t get bored or laugh at him when he starts getting overly enthused about his homework, and even Rhodey starts getting glazed in the eyes when Tony goes into specifics. Tony doesn’t blame them- he’d probably be bored if he couldn’t understand advanced engineering that’s now so advanced it’s going off into several fractions, and then narrowing into even thinner fractions that have only been theorized. Tony can talk for hours over the theories that haven’t been tested yet, which are the ones he has the most ideas about.
Maria has always been interested- or at least, she’s pretended to be interested- in what he’s said about his learning material, but she’s stopped understanding it before he turned ten, at which point she started looking bewildered and proud more than anything.
“It’s good,” is what he finds himself repeating.
She smiles. It’s dazzling, but nothing compared to the small, lovely one she had given him after he opened his eyes.
“Well,” she says. “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
Tony nods and wonders when the last time was that he saw her enjoying something with Howard in the room.
The next day, Tony doesn’t notice everyone is looking at him until Bucky reaches over and flicks him in the ear.
“Ow,” Tony says absently, rubbing at it. He looks up from his phone to raise his eyebrows at Bucky. “And that was for what, exactly?”
“You’re distracted,” Natasha says. “More than usual.” She leans forwards in her chair to steal a chip from Bruce’s plate, then rocks back in her cafeteria chair to resume wobbling on the edges of its legs to the point that passer-by would eye it anxiously.
Bucky leans over and knocks Tony on the side of the head. “What’s going on in that big brain of yours?”
Tony bats him away, but Bucky comes back around until Rhodey smacks him in the head.
“Hey,” Bucky says.
“See how you like it,” Rhodey says.
Bucky throws up his hands. “I’m doing it with love!”
“Thanks,” Tony tells Rhodey. “Now tell everyone to mind their own business.”
Rhodey says, “Right,” and looks around at the others. “Guys, quit bugging Tony. He’ll tell us in his own time why he’s been Googling lawyers for the past forty minutes.”
Tony glares at him, but Rhodey remains impassive.
“Traitor,” Tony says. Then, when people continue to stare: “Nothing happened, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Who’s worrying about what?”
Tony turns in his chair just in time to see Steve sit down next to Bucky. Tony is miffed to notice his stomach still breaks out into ripples of what he refuses to call butterflies when he notices Steve, even when his clothes hang off him slightly like always and his nose is red from a recent cold; not to mention the general unhealthy tinge to his everything.
Steve looks expectantly towards Tony, picking up the pathetic excuse the school calls a ham sandwich and biting into it. He then proceeds to choke slightly when Bucky says, “We’re thinking Tony ran over a hooker last night and needs a cover-up.”
When Steve’s airway is clear and his eyes are no longer watering, he looks over at Tony.
“I’m gonna assume Bucky’s being a dick,” he says.
Tony nods. “That’s always a fair assumption,” he says, grinning over at Bucky when the teenager aims a kick for his knee and misses.
Beside Natasha, Bruce speaks up. “Tony, if you’re in trouble-”
“I’m not,” Tony insists. His gaze drops to his meal. He used to get food delivered, but apparently that’s frowned upon by the students of state-funded public schools where no one can afford it.
He looks down at his phone screen where a few promising potential divorce lawyers are shown. “I, uh. I’m just considering something.”
That earns him a deafening silence where everyone trades looks.
“Something that needs a lawyer,” Rhodey says slowly, half a question.
“It’s not for me,” Tony tries. “I mean- it would affect me, but it’s not about me. Mostly.”
“Okay,” Bucky says. “If you’re trying to make me flick you again, man-” He dodges when Rhodey leans in to flick him. “I won’t, I’m just saying-”
“Are you okay?” Steve’s voice cuts over them.
Tony looks at him. His eyes are earnest in the kind of way that Tony used to think was fake, that he was making fun of him- no one could be that genuine. As it turns out, Steve Rogers is the kind of guy Tony thought only existed in books, or at least worlds away from the Starks.
Tony nods. “I’m fine,” he says. “I’m just- I need a few days. If anything ends up happening, I’ll tell you guys.”
They all look dubious, but they drop it. Ten minutes later they’re arguing over who caused Rhodey and Clint to end up in detention last week, and Tony sits back and takes it in with a look he hopes isn’t as fond as he feels.
All three Starks under the same roof is a rarity, so of course they have to attend a gala. They try to attend a few as The Starks a couple of times a year to keep up the illusion that they’re- well, a family. Which sits sour in Tony’s mind when he thinks it, but he can’t find another way to put it. They’re selling an idea and if the idea is a fake one, then they’re putting on a show for it anyway.
Still, it feels like every year the façade is getting flimsier. They pile into the limo, Jarvis driving and being politely quiet as he tends to be when Howard is around, and Maria attempts to make small talk until Howard snaps at her to shut up. Tony can smell whiskey on him already.
After that, they don’t speak. Tony follows his parents into the gala and takes a champagne glass and laughs along when someone jokingly asks if he’s old enough as if they care- as if they’d stop him if they did care.
Tony proceeds to get increasingly tipsy, flexing the social skills he’s been groomed into. He thinks he’s getting smoother, if anything, and he’s tired of it after an hour but the alcohol is really kicking in by then so he doesn’t mind as much.
Not long after that, a hand presses pointedly on his elbow and he turns to find Maria, blazing and lovely as always. The only thing tipping him off to anything being wrong is how her hand is shaking against his arm.
“Sorry,” he tells the woman he was talking to, “I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t take long,” she says. She’s maybe thirty, attractive in an almost unnatural way, and Tony is half-tempted and half freaked out by a thirty year old that would want to sleep with a teenager.
He flashes her a grin that has come easier in age as well as alcohol, then turns to his mother. Quietly: “Are you okay?”
It’s the wrong question to ask. Starks are always okay.
“I think it’s time for an early exit,” she tells him. Her grip is almost desperate on his arm, but as they turn to leave she slips her arm through his and Tony wonders what it would be like to live in a world where they didn’t have to consider what they looked like every second of the day. He can’t imagine how he’d hold himself.
Maria keeps their arms linked together even as they slide into the limo.
“I take it this is the total party of whom I’ll be driving back tonight,” Jarvis says. “Or shall I swing back around sometime later?”
“Howard can find his own way home,” Maria says after a moment. Her face is turned to the window, and Tony is almost glad. He probably couldn’t say it if she was looking at him-
“Yes, dear.” She only calls him that in public, or if she was so caught up in being looked at that she forgot how to act when she wasn’t being examined from all sides.
Tony nods to himself. “If- if you left Dad, I’d follow you.” No- too hypothetical. “If you do leave him, I’ll follow you,” he amends.
That gets her looking at him. Her expression is hazy, almost, but her eyes are keen. “I- what?”
He repeats it. From the front seat, Jarvis is pointedly quiet.
“I turn 18 in a year,” Tony continues. “If Dad wants to take me away from you, I can put up a fight in court. You’d get custody, no contest. And- and you guys signed a pre-nup, you’d get half of his money, we’d be fine.”
Maria stares at him. Her throat works. She looks from the window, then to the windscreen, then finally back at Tony.
“You know Howard would find a way to sidestep the laws,” she says finally.
Tony nods again. “But I’ve been researching. I’ve- I’m in contact with some lawyers, divorce ones and- other ones. It’s in the early stages, but they say we could win. We could- depending on what Howard does, we could cut it off before anything even goes to court-”
“He shouldn’t get to-”
“Tony!” Maria steeples her fingers against her forehead and breathes in thickly through her nose. “Dio.”
Tony waits. When she doesn’t continue, Tony opens his mouth, but Maria cuts him off.
“Could we please- could we not talk about this right now?”
Tony wants to give her the contact details of every lawyer he’s talked to. He wants to take her hands, to tell her he’s never seen her happy for more than a few minutes with Howard around, that he’s seen her in photos before she met him and she looked impossibly young and radiant, that she still does, but now there’s this heaviness living at the back of her eyes.
But he’s a Stark- it’s taken a lot from him just having this conversation, and most of him is balking at having come this far. So he says, “Okay,” and sits back.
Maria doesn’t speak for the rest of the ride. When they get out of the car, she heads straight to her room and Tony pictures her shelling out two sleeping pills and curling up on the bed she hasn’t shared with Howard in an age.
Tony stands in the lounge for a while, fists curling and loosening. The penthouse is quiet and empty, like always, and suddenly he longs for a home that’s actually homely.
He pauses before taking his phone out. Can I come over for the night?
The answer comes within a minute. Yeah you ok?
Tony types out Yep and pockets his phone. He turns to find Jarvis fluffing the couch cushions. “I’m heading over to Steve’s, be back tomorrow, don’t need you to drive me, bye.”
“Have a good night, Sir,” Jarvis says. Then: “If you and Maria were to walk out, I would be all too glad to follow.”
Tony’s steps shudder to a stop. He looks back at Jarvis, who hasn’t looked up from the couch cushions. “Yeah?”
“Of course,” comes the immediate answer. “Whether it ends with me having a job or not.”
Tony’s tongue is thick in his mouth. There should be better words, he knows there has to be, but all he can come up with is a quiet, “Thanks, J.”
Finally, Jarvis turns around. “Of course, Sir,” he says simply, with one of those smiles that Jarvis would deny happening.
Tony grins back and then heads out towards the elevator.
Nine hours later, Tony wakes up on a worn, cramped couch with his feet hanging off the end. There are the usual muffled noises that come with someone trying to be quiet and failing.
After a chiming noise that sounds like a dish being placed in the rack and hitting the metal of the counter, a voice says softly: “Sorry, did I wake you?”
“Mrgh,” Tony says. He cracks an eye open. Steve is trying to find a quiet way to crack eggs into a bowl. “’M up, you can be loud. Dick.”
“Would a dick make you breakfast?”
That urges Tony awake a little more. He sits up, rubbing a bleary hand down his face, and is about to stand when Sarah Rogers bustles in. She’s in a rush, which Tony thinks might be her permanent state: hair frazzled, clothes askew.
“Oh, hi,” she says when she spots him. She had already been asleep when he’d come over last night.
He leans into her forehead kiss obligingly when she bends down. It’s fleeting as ever, but he’s come to expect it since he’s become more or less a regular at the Rogers household. He pretends not to bask in it as she pulls back.
She points at nothing. “Okay, I had- keys!” She darts across the room and grabs the keys sitting on the kitchen counter, which connects in a tiny alcove you can see into from the lounge. “Right-”
“Lunch,” Steve says, and she looks at him unknowingly until it fades into a pleased smile as he points at a Tupperware container tucked against the corner of the counter.
She picks it up. “Aw, you made me lunch,” she says, and makes her way around the counter into the kitchen.
Steve tilts his head sideways absentmindedly to accept the usual forehead-kiss. “Welcome.”
“Aw,” Sarah mumbles against his forehead before turning around. “You two have a good day at school, yeah?”
“Yeah,” they say, one more alert than the other.
“Great,” she says distractedly, then: “Oh! Tony, tell Maria I said hi- I need to give her back that book sometime, shit. Is she missing that book? Has she said anything?”
“Uh,” Tony says, suddenly a lot more awake. “No, she hasn’t.”
“Good, ‘cause I haven’t finished it yet. Soon, though-” Then her pager beeps and Tony catches the start of a curse as she makes her way out the door.
As it closes behind her, Tony stands and stretches.
From the kitchen, Steve calls “Want another cooking lesson?”
“You can’t cook for shit,” Tony replies. He’s far too young to have a crick in his back, but look what’s happened. He blames the Rogers’ atrocity of a couch and the fact they won’t let him buy them a new one.
“And yet I’m still giving you lessons,” Steve says. “Goes to show how terrible you are.”
“Terrible,” Tony mutters, but he pads over to the kitchen. There are several cut-up veggies lying on a chopping board as well as a bowl of eggs off to the side. On the stove, a pan is heating up.
Tony claps. “Okay. Eggs. How hard can eggs be?”
Steve grins. “That’s what you said about the muffins.”
“Hey, it made sense, okay?”
“What wiring the oven so it goes hotter than it plausibly should be able to get and-”
“If you’re supposed to cook it for 45 minutes at whatever the fuck degree it was-”
“I can’t believe you thought that would work.”
“Hey, I replaced the oven!”
Steve laughs as he spoons salt into the egg mixture. He looks over at Tony, who tries not to get too tangled up over how good Steve looks like this, all rumpled and early-morning scruffy.
“I have no idea how you haven’t graduated already.”
Tony shrugs and leans against the counter. “Yeah, well, you know what my parents said. I have to get socialized normally or whatever.”
It’s a bald-faced lie, but the other option is admitting that he arranged to stay in high school because he finally found people who liked him as a person and he didn’t want to give that up.
Still, Steve nods so Tony doesn’t think he’s been caught out yet. “Okay, we still on for that cooking lesson?”
“Go for it.”
Steve nods again and adopts a hard expression. “This is very important.”
“Pick up those cut vegetables.”
Tony scoops them into his hands. “Done.”
“Okay. Now- put them in the egg bowl.”
“Good. Now-” Steve holds out a fork. “Whisk it.”
Tony does, a smile twitching at his lips. “Are you done? Is it over?”
Steve leans against the counter. “That’s pretty much all frittatas involve, apart from the actual cooking. Very excited to see what you’ll do with it.”
“But I’ll have you here to guide me, Steve-san, so I’ll be fine.”
Steve grins and reaches over to adjust the heat on the element. “Hey, how’s MIT work going? What’re you working on right now?”
Tony, still whisking, opens his mouth only to pause. “You never understand what I’m working on, why do you keep asking?”
“I figured you don’t get to talk about it much,” Steve says. “And you get so enthusiastic. It’s-” he stops, clearing his throat. “Uh. We should do the eggs.”
Tony eyes him. There’s something close to a flush colouring Steve’s cheeks. “Sure.”
Steve nods, eyes dropping down to the bowl. “You can quit whisking.”
Tony does. He follows Steve’s instructions as he places the fork next to the sink and then comes over to the pan- already greased- to pour the egg mixture into it, which instantly starts to sizzle.
Steve steps back. “Now it cooks.”
“Right.” Tony takes the spatula from beside the stove and nudges carefully at the eggs. “This seems too big to flip. I feel like we’re going to get egg all over the kitchen.”
“You don’t flip it.”
Tony looks over at him. “What?”
“You don’t flip it,” Steve repeats. “It’s a frittata. It cooks slowly from the bottom and then you cut it into pieces and share it.”
“Oh,” Tony says. He thinks he’s seen Jarvis making these once. “Cool.”
He stands back and comes to lean against the opposite counter with Steve. The eggs sizzle quietly in the pan. “This is boring. Do we have to watch-”
“We can’t leave food unattended while it’s frying.”
Tony rolls his eyes. Steve always seemed to ricochet between safety-conscious and balls-out-daredevil, throwing himself at bullies twice his size but refusing to leave food while it fried lest it caught fire.
Eyes on the eggs, Steve asks, “So has anything happened with your lawyers?”
Tony blinks. “I thought you weren’t asking.”
“I wasn’t.” A beat. “I am now.”
Then he turns that damnably earnest gaze on Tony. Those eyes should be an interrogation technique, Tony thinks as he opens his mouth. “So you know how my parents’ marriage is a sham?”
“Right.” Tony pockets his hands and looks down at the eggs so he won’t have to meet those eyes. “I think- I think my mom is staying with my dad for reasons she shouldn’t have to stay with him for. So- so I’m trying to make those reasons go away so she can finally ditch his drunk ass.”
“What kind of reasons,” Steve asks after a moment.
Tony shrugs. “He might’ve told her he’d take me away if she ever left.”
Steve doesn’t speak for a second. Then he says, “Okay,” low and the kind of blank that sounds almost dangerous.
“I don’t know,” Tony says. “I’m working on it. Breathe.”
“I’m breathing,” Steve says, but there’s a wheeze that always creeps in whenever he gets upset. He takes several long inhales until it evens out again. “So- you and Maria are working on something?”
Tony pauses. “More me than Maria?”
Steve gives him a questioning look and he sighs.
“She’s- I think she’s just gotten so used to living like this that she doesn’t…” He trails off. In the pan, the eggs have turned to something more solid. “I tried talking to her about it. Didn’t go well.”
“She’ll come around,” Steve tells him.
Steve scuffs his heel against the floor. “Hey.”
“Sometimes when I get angry about your home life I think about that time I punched Howard at that dinner party and I feel a bit better.”
It startles a laugh out of Tony. “You- what, you sit around thinking about my home life?”
“Sometimes.” Steve’s elbow brushes his. “You say things sometimes that…”
“Yeah,” Tony cuts him off. He’s well too aware of looking up and realizing that the thing he just said made everyone go silent and start trading looks. “I know.”
They stand in comfortable silence for a few seconds. Tony wonders if the frittata is ready yet.
“Rhodey’s still pissed he didn’t get to see Howard get punched,” Tony offers.
Steve laughs. “Yeah, he brings it up now and then.” He moves forwards and Tony thinks he’s going for the egg, but all Steve does is pick up the spatula and turn it around in his hand. “Hey- if you and Maria leave, Howard could cut you off.”
“He will,” Tony nods.
“That doesn’t worry you?”
Tony shrugs. “Mom will get half of his shit. I’ve been told that half of his fortune is enough to live on for one person, and no matter what happens I’ll make a living for myself.”
“True enough,” Steve says. The spatula twirls in his hand and catches the sun, throwing light.
Other than being late to first period, the school day goes on as it always does- Tony pretends to pay attention until he gets bored enough to give up even the illusion of it. When Mr. Tilling, the maths teacher, catches him out on it, Tony solves the algebra problem on the board and sits back as Mr. Tilling all but breaks a ruler in his teeth- he’s been getting progressively more furious with him the more he blatantly ignores everything in class while still acing it.
He’s expecting the penthouse to be more of the same- he’d come in, if anyone was home they’d ignore each other, and Tony would retreat into his bedroom-slash-workshop and work on the MIT homework they should’ve emailed to him by now.
Instead, Howard is sitting in the living room when he gets home. It’s the only room in the house you have to pass through to get anywhere else, which means it must be on purpose, and that alone has Tony on guard even if Howard doesn’t seem to notice him as the front door closes.
Tony pauses. Howard is sitting facing the side wall, meaning he’s not directly looking towards the door, but he should’ve been able to see something from the corner of his eye and he definitely would’ve heard the door close, so maybe he’s just-
“How was school.”
Tony holds back a wince and straightens his shoulders. The slump on the last word makes it clear that it’s hardly a pleasantry. Howard says it more mockingly than anything else.
“Fine,” Tony says. A year or two ago he’d have started a fight, half out of spite and half to get Howard to talk to him- it was always icy silence or screaming fights when it came to Howard and sometimes Tony wanted to get looked at so bad he chose the latter- but he’s tired and he’s not entirely convinced Howard doesn’t already know about his divorce-related research.
He starts for the hallway, but Howard’s voice stops him.
“I can’t believe you’re still wasting your time in that trash heap. That you’re choosing to.”
Tony bites back a sigh. Here we go again. He’d walk away, but Howard would follow. Might follow. He isn’t sure how dedicated his dad is to take him down a peg today.
“Yeah,” is the gem he comes up with to defend himself. For now, he stays put.
Howard snorts. He’s not drinking, but he’s some variation of hungover. Tony can both smell it on him and see the drops on his suit. He mutters something and Tony catches none of it except failure, and it stings enough he finds himself talking again.
“I’m almost finished my MIT work.”
“You could have been finished with it years ago if you pulled your finger out of your ass and committed to it,” Howard barks. When Tony was ten, this tone used to scare him. Now, it almost makes him pity Howard- the man was old when he had Tony, and now he’s all but frail. Sometimes he needs help standing; not that he lets people help.
“Why do you even bother with that place you go to every weekday,” Howard continues. “What, your friends?”
Tony’s jaw works. God, he regrets ever admitting that- he hadn’t meant to, last year, it had just slipped out.
Howard continues, “Those- those good for shit nobodies who go to public school? You think any of them are worth that, that any of them appreciate you for it? You’re wasting your time. You think they’ll even bother checking up on you after graduation unless it’s to ask for a loan or a party invitation?”
Tony thinks about walking off, but it’s too late now. Howard’s worked himself up and now he’d definitely follow him, so instead Tony stands with his side to him and tries not to show anything on his face.
“You think any of them actually care,” Howard says. “That they aren’t going to toss you to the curb the second-”
“I see the both of you are home, what a lovely surprise.”
Both Tony and Howard look over to where Maria has just come in from the kitchen. She’s holding a green smoothie and her fingers are white from how hard she’s squeezing, but other than that everything about her is cool and even.
She doesn’t look at Howard. Instead she meets Tony’s eyes and says, “Bambino. I was wondering if you’d come to the music room with me.”
“Okay,” he says after a moment passes, surprised but pressing it down as he watches her pass him. He follows her down the hall, ignoring Howard when he calls something down it. He doesn’t think it’s anything either of them wants to hear.
When she slides into place in front of the piano, he sits down next to her and waits. She seems like she’s holding herself back, but this time it’s more purposeful. He keeps waiting for her to say something.
She opens the piano and lays her fingers on the keys. Tony doesn’t do the same.
Finally, Maria takes a slow breath inwards. It comes out even slower. “He hit me once.”
Tony’s jaw clenches. He wants to say I’m sorry but it doesn’t sit right.
“Well,” Maria continues. “Slapped.”
“Same difference,” Tony says softly.
She hums. “I always told myself otherwise,” she says, and then sits quietly, staring straight ahead. Her throat works. “That was when I started seriously considering leaving. But it wasn’t until you were born when I- you were two or three, maybe. He made you cry for the first time; he yelled at you for something or rather. He always- he treated you like you should be held up to the standards of an adult, as if a toddler should be chastised for wanting his father to pay attention to him for once-”
She stops and blinks rapidly until the bright sheen of her eyes reigns back into her control. “I told him I was going to take you and leave. He replied that if I tried, he would use every power he had to make sure I would never see you again as long as I lived.”
Her face crumples. It’s only for a second before she ducks her head. When she holds it up again, she’s moulded herself back into composure. It looks as hard-won as anything she’d achieved in her life.
“I-” she swallows. “I know I should’ve- but it seemed so hopeless, and I didn’t want to lose you, or this life, I always told myself I wanted this life-”
She stops. Her fingers tremble, the shaking almost too fine to be noticeable on the keys.
Tony hesitates before bringing his hand up and laying it over one of hers. She doesn’t respond for several seconds, but then she turns her palm upwards and squeezes his hand.
“You said you had talked to lawyers.”
Tony’s heart thuds. “I did.”
“Enough to know we’d win if this went to court. Enough to know we might not have to go to court if we play this right.” He holds his breath.
She nods to herself. “I might need their numbers,” she says.
Tony lets his breath out.
They move out before the month is up.
It’s supposed to go smoothly. They’re expecting the storm to arrive later in the form of paparazzi and online articles and Howard finding out and setting his lawyers to combat their own.
Howard is supposed to find out when they’re well and truly gone- they choose a week he’s on a business trip to Japan. In their plan, Howard will return home days after they’ve left with their things.
Instead, Tony is busy packing a suitcase and wondering what he can survive without for a day- the moving crew will be shifting the rest of their things tomorrow afternoon- when he hears the distant sounds of a commotion down the hall.
He pauses, and is about to go back to sorting his clothes when he hears a voice that is unmistakably Howard’s, arguing with what sounds like Jarvis. Shit.
Tony bolts up, wavers around his suitcase- should he bring it and make a run for it, or will that be too obvious? No, Howard will know something’s up, there are movers shifting one of the spare beds into a moving van for fuck’s sake-
He piles the nearest few things into his suitcase and slams it shut. He’s got his phone, keys to the new place and his wallet- anything else, he can buy. Even if Howard shuts down his account he can’t shut down Maria’s yet, and Tony can pay her back later when he starts earning his own money.
As Tony makes his way down the hall, the voices get clearer. Howard’s shouting, trying to get past Jarvis, but he’s not getting physical yet. Instead he’s just loud: “-the hell, these are my things! Hey- hey, get your hands off-”
“They’re just doing their job,” Tony says as he sees Howard grabbing at a bewildered mover.
Howard lets the guy go in favour of staring at Tony. It quickly becomes a glare. “What- you’re moving out then?”
Tony’s throat clicks. “I’m, uh-”
“Who said you could do that?”
Incredulous, Tony says, “What, you want me around now?”
Howard pauses. Tony is almost relieved when Maria comes in, sunglasses donned and a white headscarf tied around her dark hair.
“I’m leaving, Howard. I’m taking our son with me.”
The movers have wisely made themselves scarce. The silence builds and then breaks.
“Who- who said you could do that,” Howard repeats, almost vicious if it didn’t sound so lost. It quickly hardens: “Maria-”
“No. I refuse to be bullied anymore, Howard.” The sunglasses make it impossible to know where she’s looking, but her face stays trained ahead as she waves behind her for the movers to continue. “You’ll speak to us through our lawyers from now on. She’ll be contacting you sometime over the next few days. Come along, Tony.”
“Hey.” Howard surges sideways to grab her wrist as she tries to pass him to the front door. “You do not get to do this to me. Even if you- if- Tony is still mine,” he says, baring his teeth.
Maria hisses, “You don’t even like-” before visibly reigning herself in. “He is our son, but you do not get to claim him like a summer house.”
“That is exactly what-”
“No, I’m taking my son with me. I care about him, Howard, as a person. Not as an heir, not as mine. As Tony. Now let go, or I’ll have Jarvis take care of you.”
Howard snorts. “Jarvis wouldn’t-”
“I’m pleased to inform you I can and I will,” Jarvis tells him.
It’s only when Howard looks away from Maria to blink at Jarvis that Tony realizes it’s the first time Jarvis hasn’t added ‘Sir’ somewhere in there while talking to him.
Howard releases Maria’s wrist, almost throwing it away from him, before straightening in Jarvis’ direction. “You’re with them, then, are you?”
“I always was,” Jarvis says. “And before you can relieve me of my position, I’m quite happy to say I quit.”
Howard’s mouth moves wordlessly before he looks towards Maria again. “I’ll leave you both with nothing-”
“Again, you’ll have to speak to my lawyers about that, and they have a very convincing case that says otherwise.”
Howard’s breathing is starting to sound like a broken machine. His shoulders rise and fall in rigid bursts, and when he turns around to Tony, Tony almost backs up against the wall.
“You,” Howard says. “You think you’re going to inherit my company after this? You’ll be disowned before you step foot out of this building- I can make sure you never make a name for yourself in this industry-”
Seventeen years of simmering boils over. “Dad, I’m pretty sure- no, I’m certain- that whatever I do, I’m going to change the field. The world will need me, whether I make weapons or not, and I’m going to be successful even if you somehow ostracize me from every single manufacturer in the world.”
Howard stares at him, his breathing thin and heaving. He keeps making like he wants to continue, but air is the only thing that leaves him.
“Tony,” Maria says. She steps forwards, close enough for Howard to grab, sunglasses turned at him as she passes, but Howard stays still.
Tony follows, keeping an eye on Howard. He’s almost in the clear when Howard makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat and lurches at him like he’s going to- push him against the wall, maybe smack him, and Tony is too busy stumbling backwards to notice Maria.
She steps up and shoves Howard backwards. He loses his footing and trips, back slamming against the wall, and his breath wheezes out of him as he slides into a heap on the carpet. His eyes are wide and brown, like his wife and son’s, but not quite the same as either.
Jarvis hurries around him to follow Maria and Tony to the front door. They leave in a group, and Tony hears his dad yell something as they close the door behind them. Tony doesn’t bother to figure out what it was, but it sounded like wait.
“Well, that was bracing,” Jarvis says as they walk briskly to the elevator. None of them seem to want to slow down. “Shall we head to the new flat, then?”
Maria shakes her head. “I think we should head somewhere closer to home, first.”
When they knock on the front door to the Rogers’ apartment, there’s nothing for so long that they trade glances. Tony opens his mouth to suggest texting Sarah again when there’s a noise like an elephant and the woman herself throws open the door, panting.
“Hi,” she says. She pushes a swathe of blonde hair out of her eyes. “Sorry, I was busy in the kitchen. You’re not vegetarian, are you? I only realized I didn’t know halfway through making it.” She points at Maria.
Maria smiles at her. “I’m not, no.”
“Oh, good. I’m making meatloaf.” Sarah steps back and stares around the lounge like she’s checking for anything wrong with it before saying, “Come in,” like she’s forgotten that they were supposed to do so.
When they’re both inside, Sarah stands in front of Maria. “And still not a hugger, huh?”
Maria pauses. “I hug.”
“Yeah, but that’s just you and your ‘donate to my charity!’ shtick. I’ve seen footage of you at those parties. This is my way of asking if you want a hug, by the way.”
Maria’s lips twitch. “I think I could be persuaded.”
Tony hangs awkwardly around the middle of the room as they hug. It’s fast, but they squeeze each other tight and Tony thinks he even sees Maria let her chin rest against Sarah’s neck for a moment.
“I’m proud of you,” Sarah says when she draws back. “Both of you,” she adds, heading over and giving Tony an even quicker but no less sincere hug. “But mostly Maria. No offence. Hey, the meatloaf is in the oven now- you want to head outside for a bit, get some air?”
“You mean smoke,” a voice says, and Tony turns to see Steve standing in the doorway that leads to the narrow staircase, which leads to his room.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Sarah says dryly. “Maria?”
“I’d love to get some air, thank you.”
Sarah nods and opens the door she just closed. She waits until Maria has stepped out onto the rickety steps before pointing a finger at the two boys. “Neither of you are allowed smoke, ever.”
“Hypocrite,” Steve says.
“Ever,” Sarah repeats.
Tony grins when he spots Maria smiling at Sarah as the door closes. Their friendship had been fast and unexpected- they had liked each other before Steve and Tony had. It still bewilders him, but he supposes it’s good that Maria has someone like Sarah, someone down to earth who has never and will never get caught up in the blinding lights of the Stark-esque lifestyle. Tony thinks that if either of the Rogers somehow made it into that life, they wouldn’t let it corrode them.
“How was it,” Steve asks. He comes to sit down on the couch and Tony follows, sitting on the opposite end but pulling his legs up so one of his knees brushes Steve’s.
“Could’ve gone better,” Tony admits. “Uh, Howard showed up.”
Steve sits up straight. “I thought he was on that business trip to-”
“-Japan, yeah. I think someone tipped him off? A paparazzi watching the house or something, you know how the grapevine works.”
“With Howard? Not much. He yelled. We left.”
Steve waits. Tony doesn’t meet his eyes as he continues, “He might have said he’s going to disinherit me, but we were expecting that, so.”
“He could take it back,” Steve suggests. “You’re his only heir.”
Tony shakes his head. “He won’t take it back. He’s too stubborn. We’re alike that way.”
“You’re nothing like him,” Steve says, and it comes out with all that earnest fierceness that Steve can never seem to shake off.
Tony eyes him dubiously. “You’ve met him twice, and both times he was in one of his worse moods. I’ve known the guy my whole life and trust me, I’m more than a little like him.”
“Not in any way that matters,” Steve says. His leg presses harder against Tony’s knee and he isn’t sure if it’s intentional. “I always thought you were much more like Maria.”
Tony is horrified to feel his eyes prickle. He waits until the lump in his throat has settled to say, “Thanks.”
Their flat is in Brooklyn- not a far cry from Manhattan, where their penthouse was, but they’re as far away from Manhattan as they can get without heading over to Staten Island. It’s a decent size, with a bedroom to spare in case of visitors, and a large kitchen that neither Tony nor Maria know what to do with.
“I can make pasta from scratch,” Maria tells him, “but that’s about it.”
“I can make eggs,” he says. “And muffins.”
They spend a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon with Jarvis making masses of homemade pasta for their housewarming party, which is a thing they’re apparently doing. It ends up being a jumble of Maria’s friends from high society, all of whom are supportive if not slightly bewildered by the change; and Tony’s friends. They mostly stay in the lounge and eat packets of chips they brought along until they find out that Tony helped make the pasta, at which point everyone has to try some to find out if Tony managed to ruin it.
“I’m touched by the faith you have in me,” he tells them. “Really.”
“You torched Steve’s oven,” Bucky reminds him.
“Once. One time. And I replaced it,” Tony says, and pretends not to be waiting on his friends’ responses about the pasta. All in all, it comes around to ‘pleasantly surprised to the point that no one is convinced that Tony made the last batch all by himself.’
After he’s finished his way through a worrying amount of lasagne, Rhodey says, “I didn’t know you played piano, Tones.”
“What?” Tony looks over to where they’ve managed to fit the piano in the corner. They don’t have a music room anymore, unless they want to turn their spare bedroom into one, and they never much used anything but the piano anyway. “Oh, yeah. My mom taught me.”
Clint makes a noise into his pasta. “Play us something!”
Tony says, “Uhhh,” and holds off until Bucky starts kicking his feet and Rhodey starts kicking Bucky in retaliation.
He’s played in front of people before, of course. When he was a kid, they used to drag him out and get him to perform for crowd- look how talented, how well trained- but this feels more intimate than some gala filled with drunk people who want to coo over the tiny genius. This is him and his friends, sitting carelessly around his new lounge.
He sets his fingers to the keys and wonders what would be the least intimate song to play and starts going through the notes of ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen until the others catch on and start booing. He narrowly dodges a cushion aimed at him by Clint, shooting a grin at him when he straightens back up.
“Okay, okay.” He starts the piece he plays when he’s got too much in his head: Rachmaninov Concerto No.2. There isn’t much fast-paced fingerwork involved in the first few notes, but as the song kicks off his brain narrows into that tunnel-vision he hates to love and his fingers take over.
The laughter slowly fades into silence as the song builds. As Tony rushes his way through a very shortened version of the piece, he thinks he hears someone swear. It sounds like Steve. Tony hardly hears it under the building intensity as he follows the song, but it sounds impressed and almost wondering.
When he finishes it’s with a flourish and a flush of clapping. It sounds more numerous than the ongoing clapping during the song, and when he turns around he spots Maria along with several of her guests standing around the lounge doorway applauding.
He falters, but Maria’s blazing smile has him standing up and giving a bow that he tries to only make half-serious.
“That was lovely,” Maria tells him. It’s for the stage, of course- almost everything she says is for the stage when she’s entertaining people, but her smile is full of genuine warmth and pride glows behind her tone. If no-one was here, he knows she’d call him bambino.
Tony says, “Thanks, mom,” and returns to the couch to sit with his friends.
After everyone leaves, Maria and Tony help Jarvis with the clean-up until he gets tired of telling them what goes in which bin and shoos them off to bed.
As Tony is about to head into his room, Maria says, “Your friends seemed… nice,” and Tony knows she means the kind of nice that doesn’t just mean ‘okay,’ that she approved of them more than she expected to. It’s the same tone she’d used after she first met Steve and Sarah.
“They are,” Tony says.
“I don’t think I’ve met most of them,” Maria continues.
Tony nods. “I usually went over to theirs instead of the other way around.”
“Uh-huh.” He tries to say it in a way that makes it clear he doesn’t want her to pry- he’d had some of them over exactly once and they’d played 30 minutes of Halo before Howard had come in and drunkenly told Tony he should be studying instead of ‘fucking around on this bullshit with his public school friends.’
Maria nods curtly and, thankfully, changes the subject. “You’re quite close with some of them.”
“Some of them more than others, I guess.”
Her lips part, then press together before she says, “You and Steve seem to have grown on each other. Sarah mentioned you two had a rocky start.”
“Yeah, we- yeah. It wasn’t great.”
“But you’re close now.”
“Yep.” Tony wipes his palms, which are suddenly sweating, on his pants. He looks at her with an expression that he hopes gives nothing away.
She falters around words for a moment before settling on, “Well. You seem very good together nowadays.”
Yeah, no, she knows. “Thanks,” Tony croaks. He clears his throat. “Thanks,” he tries again.
Her lips purse around a knowing smile. “Goodnight, bambino.”
The paparazzi find them, because of course they do. When Tony was small he’d imagine them with bloodhound noses, sniffing the air for scandal. He pulls this image up again when they corner him outside of school with more force than they ever have, asking about Maria and alleged abuse- apparently she’d been photographed with a bruised shoulder last year in Prague, did that have anything to do with their recent split; is Maria planning on going back to him; does Tony want to be living with her; is Howard going to disinherit him from Stark Industries-
Tony keeps his head high and repeats, “No comment,” and convinces Clint, Rhodey and Steve to stop making a human shield around him after about two blocks.
Maria acts normally when he gets home, but Tony finds pictures on Google later of her walking home from the supermarket as a swarm of paparazzi descend on her. He wonders how personal the questions got when they were talking to the woman herself instead of just her son.
The next night, he gets home from school and asks if she wants to make pasta again. She looks up from her tablet, blinking in vague surprise- it seems the both of them have yet to get used to the other wanting to do something together- and says, “Give me one moment.”
He waits for her to put down her tablet and walk with him to the kitchen. Without Jarvis, the ordeal feels much quieter, though Tony can’t remember the man talking when they had last made this.
It feels intimate, almost, as they knead the dough together. It fills Tony with a sense of calm he doesn’t remember having felt since he was a child, and he’s almost sad when they put it in the fridge to chill. He expects them to go their separate ways until dinner, but Maria invites him to sit in the lounge and Tony comes.
“I think I’ll use the lounge more often,” Maria tells him.
Tony nods over the flood of warmth. The words are innocuous, but underneath them lies days of walking in the front door and saying hello, asking about each others’ day, sitting together in comfortable silence instead of locking themselves up in their separate rooms.
“Me too,” he says.
By how pleased her smile is, he thinks she knows what he’s actually saying. “My parents taught me to make pasta,” she tells him. “I wish you could have met them. They would have loved you.”
Tony tries to remember their names. “Hey, when did they-” he waves a hand “-pass?”
Maria sighs, putting her chin in her hand. “My father passed before you were born, but lung cancer took my mother… seven years ago now.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, but she reads the question in his expression anyway.
“I don’t know why I never took you to see her. I didn’t-” she folds her hands in her lap and looks down at them. “Honestly, after I left Italy it was like another life. Nothing was the same here. It was like stepping into a dream, until finally this was my life and Italy was the dream.”
She trails off and Tony tries to imagine the woman she was when she still lived in the country she was born into. There are pictures, but they’re rare- she had always been radiant, but the woman in front of him has a different quality than the girl in the photos. Maybe it’s the immaculate makeup, the expensive dress and the matching jewellery, but it feels like something more.
A ripple of shock runs through him at the realization that Tony is now the same age she was when she met Howard- when had they gotten married? It couldn’t have been more than four years after. Tony can’t imagine getting married in ten years, let alone four.
“It must have been a change,” Tony says, at a loss of what else to say.
She nods. There’s a hint of a smile at her lips, but her eyes are wistful. “It was wonderful. I had everything I ever wanted.”
Tony stays silent. What could he even start to say to that? The woman she’s describing is delirious with happiness, having achieved everything she wanted in life by 25. He’s only ever known the woman who made people marvel at parties, who tolerated her husband, who loved her son but acted like it hurt her to do it.
When he chances another look at her, her face is blank, her lips are parted and there are tears sliding down her cheeks.
“Yes? Oh.” She reaches up and brushes them away, hasty but graceful. “I- sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Tony says, even though a good part of him wants to run. “Are you… okay?”
She hums in what sounds like agreement, but the tears continue to drip down her face. “Dio mio. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Tony wets his lips. Should he hug her? Do they hug now? “Uh, is there anything I can do-”
“I was so distant,” she interrupts him. Her eyes are full of tears as she stares at her hands. “I couldn’t take watching what that world- what Howard was turning you into, and I turned away so I wouldn’t have to look. It- it was easier after you found those friends of yours, you seemed like Howard had less of his claws in you, but it was still-”
She sniffs and finally looks up at him. “I am truly sorry, bambino. I will try to be more present, more involved.”
Tony’s words get stuck in his throat. Finally he manages a feeble, “Okay,” which doesn’t sound like enough, so he clears his throat. “Thank you.”
She bobs her head in a nod. Her back is ramrod straight as she continues to wipe her eyes, but the tears seem to have stopped.
“I mean- that’s fair enough,” Tony tries, only for Maria to start shaking her head.
“I should’ve tried harder.”
Tony flounders. “I think you did a good job anyway?”
She lets out a tearful laugh. “Well, that’s something, I suppose.”
He hesitates, then reaches out and squeezes her shoulder. He’s about to drop it when she lifts her hand and sets it on top of his.
Their pasta- they go for spaghetti, too emotionally exhausted to try for anything involving extra effort- turns out even better than their first try.
“We should cook together more often,” Maria suggests.
Tony agrees and starts loading pasta onto their plates. They sit at the living room table, and it’s nicer than all their rare family dinners combined, which used to tip between unpleasant and traumatizing depending on the day.
“This is nice,” Tony says as he’s scraping his plate. “The- the us part, not just the pasta. Which is way better than anything I thought I could make.”
Maria takes another neat bite of her pasta and nods. “Would you like to take a quick spin on the piano afterwards?”
Tony considers. Usually he wants to retreat into sweet, sweet solitude after spending more than a few hours with someone, but he finds he’d gladly spend another couple with his mother right now. “Sure,” he says.
He finishes first, and goes to the kitchen to rinse his dishes before going into the lounge to wait for Maria. She follows a minute later, and Tony moves over to make room on the chair.
“Thank you,” she says as he does. She settles into place.
Tony is lifting his fingers to the piano when he says, “I was thinking about trying to start another company in the next few years.”
Maria raises her plucked eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Yeah. Not weapons, though- some weapons, maybe, but there would be other focuses, I haven’t decided what the main one would be yet.” Tony rests his fingers on the keys but doesn’t press down. “In a few years, though- it’d take a while to start up, anyway, and I’ve- I spent my whole life being the heir to Stark Industries. It’s weird to have other options now. I could work for someone else and work my way up, even.”
“You could do something else, if you wanted,” Maria agrees. She looks at him curiously. “You’re a wonderful musician, you know. It could be another career path, if you wanted.”
“Hah,” Tony says, but he lets himself consider it- he’s dabbled in composing, mostly when he’s bored or he wants to make music that goes with the scientific problem he’s trying to work out. “What about you,” he asks. “What are you going to do?”
Her answer comes instantly. “I’m going to focus on my charities for a while,” she says. “Build my image back up in the public eye.”
Tony grins as he imagines that- Maria Stark, a force of nature in her own, but finally free to be a separate entity than Howard Stark. “Hey, are you going to change your name back to Carbonell?”
She looks over at him, surprised. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she says. “Maybe when the divorce becomes final, which might take a while. And after that…”
She pauses and ducks her head to look down at the keys. She’s wearing a small, almost hopeful smile Tony hasn’t seen before.
“Well,” she says, shaking her hair out of her face. “There’s a whole life ahead of us, isn’t there?”
At her words, Tony is filled momentarily with the slow calm that had overtaken him while he and Maria had been kneading the dough, their hands bumping together as they rubbed flour into it, rolled it around until it oozed back into shapelessness after they let it go.
“I guess so,” he says. He turns back to the keys. “What are you thinking of?”
“Hm,” Maria says, considering. “How’s about something sentimental, to fit today?”
“You got it,” Tony says.
They press down in unison to form the first note of La Vie En Rose.
It rings clear and sweet through the lounge, drifting out the window to the heady evening where it hangs, soft, before joining the song of Brooklyn in the spring.