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Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Chapter Text

Happy Hogan looked into the rear view mirror, briefly making eye contact with the child sitting in the back seat quietly. "You're awfully quiet today kiddo, something bothering you?'

Riley Stark, usually a talkative six year old, only shrugged in response. Her bright blue eyes looked gloomy as they met his in the mirror. "Did Danny say something mean to you?" The girl shook her head. "Did Daddy leave yet?" she asked, her voice soft. "Of course not. He wouldn't leave without saying goodbye." A smile came over her face, her blue eyes twinkling. "Can I go see him then? How far are we from home? Maybe I can-"

Happy increased his speed, barely going the speed limit. The six year old chattered the whole way to the mansion, talking about her sleepover with her friend Danny and her father. Two of her favorite subjects. The Rands were close business associates, and even though Danny was four years older than Riley, the two had bonded instantly. Danny was her best friend; her only friend actually. Her exceptionally high IQ did not attract many, but Danny and her father seemed enough for her.

The car pulled up to the mansion, and Happy had barely parked the car before Riley ran out of the car, leaving her Captain America teddy bear and backpack behind. The man laughed softly to himself as he watched the girl, thick black curls trailing behind her, run into the house.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., where's Daddy?"

"In his workshop Miss Stark. Welcome home." the A.I. answered, something akin to fondness in his robotic voice.

The child ran downstairs and smacked the glass door, music blasting through the workshop. "Daddy! Daddy!" Her voice was lost in the loud music. Her father didn't even look up. Huffing in frustration, her small fist collided with the glass again, harder. "DADDY!"

A crack appeared in the glass, and Tony Stark looked up from his car to see his six year old daughter with her fist raised and her eyes staring at the crack, looking panicked. Tony opened the door for the now sheepish child. "I'm sorry Daddy, but you couldn't hear me because the music was so loud, not that that's bad I just-" He shushed her. "It's alright baby. It's just a small crack." Tony picked her up and hugged her tightly to him. "I missed you." she said, her thick black hair smothering her voice. Her father smiled and hugged her tighter. "I missed you too kiddo."

Riley squeezed him tighter. "Riley." And tighter. "Riles let go." he chuckled (although it was a bit strained; the kid was way stronger than she looked). "Don't wanna. Keeping you here." Tony smiled and pulled her face out his shoulder, grasping her chin. "It's only for day, and then I'll be back." She pouted at his words. "I really don't want you to go Daddy. I have-" the girl paused." I-I have a bad feeling." A chill came over Tony's body, although he didn't let his worry show on his face. Riley seemed upset enough without him showing his concern over her words.

"I don't want to go either baby, trust me. We'll do something when I get back. I promise." The child nodded, although she still looked upset. Tony put her down and grasped her hand. "C'mon you want to work on the car with me for a bit? Huh?" He poked her cheek, tickled her sides until a reluctant grin came over her face. "That's what I thought."

The two worked quietly until the telling click of heels was heard. "Uh-oh." Riley looked at the door, where a disgruntled and stressed Pepper Potts stood. "Act natural." Tony whispered. Riley giggled and turned back to the car. "You are supposed to be halfway around the world right now." The woman said sternly, turning down the loud Metallica (?) . Tony pointed an accusatory finger at his daughter "Not my fault. She won't let me leave. Pulled out the puppy dog look and everything." The red haired woman raised an eyebrow at the smiling girl but said nothing.
Riley watched the two bustle around the workshop, sitting quietly by the car. Pepper had always been there, just as Happy had been. When Tony wasn't there, it was Pepper who tucked her in at night, kissed her head and told her bedtime stories. The woman would even try to help Riley with her homework, even though it (90% of the time) too advanced for her brain to wrap around. Pepper filled the void left by her mother's absence, and they loved each other as a mother and daughter would.

"Hey Riles, want to go the jet with me?" Tony asked, kneeling in front of her. Her expression grew sad, but she nodded slowly. Her father grabbed her hand, smiling softly at her. "Let's see if we can beat Happy to the airport." Identical mischievous grins grew on both of their faces as Pepper sighed behind them. "Tony you break the speed limit again so help me-" Tony only grinned wider.

Tony ends up breaking the speed limit several times (something Pepper will give him grief about, safety precautions and all; he didn't see the problem, Riley had her seatbelt on). It was worth it to see the bright smile on Riley's face though. "We won! We won!" she cried. Tony laughed, picking her up. "We sure did." Riley beamed.

"Hi Uncle Rhodey!" Looking stiff and crisp in his military uniform, the man waved at the small girl, letting a smile cross his features. "You been keeping your Dad busy for three hours?" Rhodey said as he walked down the platform. Riley giggled. "We were working on Daddy's car." Rhodey's mouth twisted in a half smile. "Of course you were." he said, giving Tony a pointed look. Happy pulled up just then, causing Riley to somber and hug her father tightly.

Rhodey walked into the plane saying a brief goodbye to Riley, giving the two time alone. "I love you so much sweetheart. Be good for Pepper ok?" His daughter nodded, eyes filling up with tears. "I love you too." she sniffled. Tony wiped away a stray tear and kissed her cheek before setting her down. "I love you more than anything. Don't ever forget that." Placing a last kiss on her forehead, he hugged her tightly and boarded the plane.

Happy let her stay to watch the plane take off and then goaded her into the car. Riley remained quiet the whole way, staring back at the airport sorrowfully. "It'll be ok kiddo. He'll be back soon." Dull blue eyes met his in the mirror.

"No he won't." she whispered.

Chapter Text

 MONTH ONE

 

The familiar scent of her father’s cologne coupled with the faint smell of machine oil seeped its way into Riley’s nostrils, providing her a small semblance of comfort.

 

Stop it.

 

You don’t deserve comfort.

 

Not after what you did to him.

 

Silently, Pepper slid into the bed with the child, shifting a lock of Riley’s curls behind her ear. “I miss him too.” A rare show of vulnerability from the usually stoic Pepper Potts. Although her words were meant to bring comfort, a swirl of guilt built up in her, overwhelming her, strangling her-

 

A sob escaped against her own will. She vaguely heard Pepper whispering reassurances, but none of the words quite molded their into Riley’s body like the crushing weight of the guilt that she had suddenly been appropriated with.

 

The warm embrace was abruptly ended with the ring of Pepper’s phone. The woman answered snappishly, then proceeded to apologize profusely.

 

“I’m sorry Obadiah, it’s just been very difficult…she’s not doing too great… if you could that would be fantastic. Thank you so much Obadiah. You’re a lifesaver.”

 

Riley pretended not to flinch at the last words.

 

“Sweetheart, I have to care of some things at the company. Obadiah is going to watch you while I’m gone ok?” Riley considered challenging her, but then considered the fact that such a dispute would reach his ears.

 

The last thing Riley wanted was for her misbehavior to reach his ears.

 

“Ok.” Pepper glanced at the girl in worry. Her eyes lighting up (as they always did when a new idea reached her), she placed her hand on her shoulder. “Why don’t you go work on your dad’s car for a bit? The black car with the with the red flames that you two are always tearing apart. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see it fixed when he get’s back.”

 

Adults were so naive sometimes. “Sure.” she replied, forcing a smile for Pepper.

 

Pepper walked out soon after, and Riley retreated into the warm embrace of the car she and her dad often worked on. If she concentrated hard enough, calloused but warm hands were guiding her movements, protecting her from every-

 

“Hello Riley.”

 

A sudden rush of cold rained down on her.

 

“I heard you’re feeling a bit down; you want to talk about it with your Uncle Obie?”

 

His mocking tone, accompanied by his hand slowly stroking the length of her arm, made her shake in fear.

 

“P-Please don’t hurt Daddy. I-I’ll d-do anything.”

 

The man chuckled, and Riley became very aware of how big he was.

 

“JARVIS, stop all audio and visual recording in this room.” He brought his mouth to her ear, a cold hand slipping beneath her shirt.

 

“If you want your father to stay alive, you will do exactly as I say.” The girl nodded, a stray tear crawling its way down her cheek.

 

“Take your clothes off.”

 

                                                                                                                MONTH TWO

 

There were more of them. More of them to please. Men her father had considered friends had manipulated and twisted her into a bastardized version of the innocent, bright eyed girl that her father knew.

 

The cold had become a familiar presence.

 

Pepper had been occupied with handling the business and government probes; Rhodey was looking for her father, although he did call to lie to her about the progress he making weekly. Riley supposed it was meant to comfort her.

 

Pepper did try though; occasionally she would drop in with Thai food and a smile that was too wide. These visits never lasted very long; they were always interrupted with the ring of the-

 

RIIIIINNGGGGGG.

 

Riley’s thoughts were disrupted by the chime of Pepper’s phone. The redhead stopped mid comforting lecture to fish the device out of her purse. Calmly, she answered the phone, turning away from the child in front of her.

 

Her sunken eyes followed the woman as she flurried about the table, cleaning up dinner while repeating her excuse to the girl (although she did take the time to chide her for not eating). “Obadiah will be over in a few minutes. Remember to say thank you.”

 

Riley nodded. She didn’t really speak much; if she opened her mouth she feared all of her secrets would come tumbling out of the box she kept them in, safe and secure under lock and key. She had become afraid of the sound of her own voice.

 

Pepper kissed her head, and she only flinched a little bit.

 

At least her father was safe.

 

                                                                                                                     MONTH THREE

 

Pepper poured herself a glass of Tony’s whiskey; he had always had the best taste when it came to these matters.  

 

A picture of Tony and Riley stood proudly on his desk. The pair were smiling, Riley’s grin bursting through the gloominess of the room. Pepper missed that.

It wasn’t as if she were actively trying to avoid the sullen blue eyes of his daughter. Government officials, unofficial government officials, board members...the list had continually stacked up until gray hairs had appeared alongside the red.

 

These people had kept her mind busy from the grief of losing Tony. The endless barrage of these people was still better than the harrowing silence that greeted her at every corner.

 

Her phone rang, and a small part of her wanted to smash it against the wall. Instead she read the I.D. card and sighed. Rhodey.

 

“Rhodey, I don’t know how much more bad news I can take so please-”

 

“Peps, we found him. He’s alive. He’s okay.”

 

She burst into tears, the cup of whiskey spilling over the desk.

Chapter Text

The zoom of a plane in the sky made the little girl in the backseat of Happy Hogan’s car jump a bit, but not in fright; no, for the first time in months, a kind of excitement had appeared within her again. Hope had made an unexpected return.

 

Her father had made an unexpected return.

 

She still would not utter a word though. She would communicate through nods, head shaking, and occasionally would cast a mysterious glance at either Pepper or Happy.

 

Riley had lost a significant amount of weight. Refusing food with a scrunch of her nose, Pepper  had pieced together that she had just lost all will to continue with her life. She had barely gone into the garage. Anytime Pepper mentioned the car, Riley would turn pale and pretend like she didn’t hear her.

 

Something had broken within Riley, and no one had been there to notice. Pepper just hoped that a small semblance of the chatty child would rise again.

 

If not..she was worried about the sanity of both of the Starks. God only knew what Tony had endured. Coming home to a broken daughter might just tip him over the edge.

 

The car pulled up to the arrival point, and Riley bounded out the car, leaving the redhead scrambling behind her.

 

“Riley-Riley slow down!”

 

Maybe it wasn’t completely hopeless.

 

Pepper held Riley’s hand. The anxious energy that emitted from the two of them was palpable; the tension was so thick one could reach out, grasp it and wrap it around their neck. For that was what they felt, a hand wrapping around their necks and cutting off their ability to breathe.

 

“Are you excited to see your dad Riley?” She nodded, the curves of her lips tilting upwards. The girl looked at her, question in her eyes. Pepper stared back in confusion. With a sigh, Riley tapped Pepper’s wristwatch. “They’ll be here soon.” she said after a moment. 

 

A large jet appeared on the horizon, and both of them squeezed the other a little tighter.

 

A minute stretched into eternity for Riley as the jet landed. She had long since given up on  her wish to see her dad again. It had become a fantasy that she had lived in while he was…

 

She couldn’t think about that. Her father was here, and the bad stuff was over now.

 

The jet door sprung open, and two figures walked out, one leaning heavily on the other. Riley broke away from Pepper’s grasp to run towards Tony, ignoring Pepper's  shout of caution. Tony met her halfway and scooped her up in his good arm, squeezing her tightly.

 

“Riley, baby, God I missed you, I’m so sorry sweetheart I’m sorry.” She was crying, burying her face into his shoulder. He was so warm. He smelled like he always did. 

 

He was here, and she was safe. 

 

Tony had worked toward this moment, had overworked his body and lost sleep in order to have this moment. To be able to hold his daughter again.

 

Then why did it not feel as fulfilling he imagined?

 

Riley’s body was too frail, and her eyes, although he had caught a short glimpse, were lined dark circles and seemed to have aged years in a matter of months. Worry clouded the happiness he felt.

 

Pepper had tears in her eyes at the display, which was not unnoticed by Tony.

 

“Your eyes are red. Tears for your long lost boss?”

 

“Tears of joy. I hate job hunting.”

 

Tony allowed a little smile at that. He had missed Pepper’s wit.

 

“Yeah, well, vacation's over.”

 

Still holding on tightly to his daughter, Tony climbed into the car. Riley reluctantly sat in the middle seat, although she clung to Tony tightly. “Where to boss?” Pepper answered for him, requesting a visit to the hospital, to which Tony immediately declined.

 

Hospitals meant doctors, and doctors meant more poking and prodding at the reactor lodged in his chest, and he wouldn’t be able to tolerate it.

 

“Cheeseburger. A cheeseburger is what I’ve been craving-” Pepper tried to object but Tony talked over her. “I’ve been in captivity for three months and  I want an American cheeseburger. I know Riles is craving them too, right?” Tony elbowed her, but a slight smile was her only response. Tony’s worry intensified, but he forced himself to keep a neutral expression.

 

“I also want you to call for a press conference.” Flabbergasted, his assistant and friend babbled in confusion, but Tony concluded his demands with a final statement. “Let’s go. Cheeseburger first.”

 

Riley had kept quiet the entire way, despite Tony questioning her; any attempts at conversation were met with head shakes or something that resembled a smile. The sight of a kids meal from Burger King (with a vanilla and chocolate milkshake) didn’t elicit any reaction. Before, the very mention of a meal from the fast food chain would bring a grin to her face.

 

And now there was barely a trace of a smile on her face as she picked at her food.

 

Arriving at the main offices of Stark Industries, a barrage of reporters stood with their microphones and cameras ready to capture the return of the infamous Tony Stark.

 

Riley just wanted to be alone with her father. She grasped his hand and implored him with her eyes to not step out. “It’ll be quick Riles. I promise. I just… I have to do this.”

 

Taking a deep breath, she stepped outside holding her father’s hand close. She could do this.

 

Obadiah was standing waiting to greet them. When he hugged her dad, she wanted to scream and shout and punch him to get off of him, you can’t hurt him anymore he’s home.

 

He turned to her afterwards, hugging her tightly to him. Nausea was simmering beneath the surface of her skin. “Don’t think you’re safe because he’s home.” He was smiling at the cameras when he whispered that softly into her ear. Anyone standing by would think he was comforting her. 

 

Riley quickly pressed herself against Tony’s side, too afraid to let go. The crowd of reporters and the presence of Obadiah made her feel incredibly nervous. She was scared if she let go,

 

“It’ll just be a minute Riley. I’ll be right back.” Reluctantly, she released him. Immediately she glued herself to Pepper’s side.

 

“Ms. Potts? I’m Agent Phil Coulson.” A short man with a perfectly pressed suit approached them. Riley hid behind Pepper. New people scared her now.

 

The man smiled at her warmly. “You must be Riley.” She waved at him, and both adults chuckled. “She’s a bit shy.” Looking the agent up and down, she seemed to conclude something. “Look, we’ve already been approached by the DoD, CIA-”

 

He cut her off. “We’re a separate division. Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” Pepper smiled. “Quite the mouthful.” Handing her a card, he said, “We’re working on it. We would like to brief Mr. Stark on the circumstances of his escape.” The woman nodded. “I’ll put something on the books shall I?”

 

Nodding cordially, the agent took his leave. Though not before sparing a glance at the child behind Potts; she looked terrified. He put that as another thing to ask Stark about. He had seen that look many times before, and it never meant anything good.

 

Tony fluttering around the stage with his cheeseburger brought a small snippet of happiness to Riley. She didn’t really follow what he was saying, but she could tell it was important. Mostly from the uneasiness in Obadiah’s face.

 

That made her feel happier. That her father could make him so uncomfortable.

 

Suddenly the room exploded, Obadiah looked even more troubled, and Riley smiled for the first time in months.

Chapter Text

 

It was one a.m., and Tony could not sleep.

 

Sleep would bring the dead eyes of Yinsen, the screams of the American soldiers, and the feeling of a hand shoving its way into his chest…

 

And the blood. So much blood.

 

No, he wouldn’t allow himself to sleep. The people that had died for him, because of him, wouldn’t allow it.

 

He couldn’t sleep until he had done something to make it right. He thought he had by shutting down weapons production, but there was something inside of him saying that is wasn’t enough.

 

That was why he was sitting here, alone, staring at a hologram of the suit he and Yinsen had made. Wishing for an epiphany to come and hit him in the head.

 

Perhaps his conscience was finally making an appearance after all these years.

 

A hand tapped at his shoulder and he jumped, bracing himself for a blow. When he turned around, all he was met with was the blue eyes of his daughter. “Bad dream?” he asked. She nodded, climbing into his lap.

 

Riley had been very clingy lately. Tony could rarely move without Riley at his side, either holding his hand or wrapping her little arms around his thigh. This didn’t bother Tony; what did bother him was Riley freezing whenever someone touched her. It didn’t matter if it was a stranger or a familiar (like Happy or Rhodey). She would flinch away all the same and hid behind either Tony or Pepper.

 

Tony held her a bit tighter. He wished, not for the first time, that he could carry whatever weight she had taken on. No six year old deserved to have their shoulders hunched over in sadness. He supposed it stemmed from his...absence from the last three months.  At least he hoped it was because of that.

 

“Let’s get you back to bed, ok?” Riley shook her head violently and squeezed him tighter. Tony frowned and placed a hand under her chin, forcing her to look at him. “What happened in the dream Riles?” She opened her mouth but then shut it just as quickly. “Riley, c’mon. You can tell me.”  

 

She only gave him a sad look and shook her head again. Sighing, he picked her up and started to walk out of the workshop. “You gotta sleep kiddo. Not good for you to be up this late- or this early-whatever. You need to go to bed.”

 

When they reached her room, Riley was already half asleep against his shoulder. Placing her gently on her bed, Tony slowly tried to detach her hand from his shirt. Her eyes slowly opened and pulled him into the bed. “You want me to stay with you?” She nodded, her eyes drooping closed. “Alright.” She relaxed and snuggled into his side. “I love you.” he whispered softly, kissing her head.

 

He would stay until she fell asleep. And then he would go back to work.

 

                                                                                                                        ******

He did not end up going back downstairs. Tony found himself in Riley’s bed, who was currently wrapped around his torso. The clock on her bedside table showed that is was almost ten.

 

“Shit.” he muttered. He had lost precious hours sleeping, hours that could have been spent doing something fucking useful for once in his life. He could have thought of something that would have saved the world. And he had fucking wasted it, choosing to sleep instead. How selfish was he?

 

His daughter stirred, and his thoughts were temporarily pushed away into the back of his mind. Small blue eyes looked at him, and Tony was reminded why he hadn’t just offed himself in that cave.

 

“Do you have any children Mr. Stark?” Tony glanced up at the camera nervously; he didn’t want to put his daughter in danger, or give them any more power than they already had.

 

Yinsen chuckled. “So that’s a yes then.” Tony looked at him in confusion. The man smiled. “Your eyes,” he said, “they remind me of the father’s daughter’s I would operate on in my village. Always ready to pounce should I mess up.” He chuckled. “I suppose I was the same way.”

 

Tony smiled slightly at that.

 

Tony smiled at Riley, kissing her nose. “Mornin’ Riles. You sleep ok?” She answered with a sleepy smile and a yawn. He hugged her close to him, surrounding her like a suit of armour.

 

Protecting her.

Completely bulletproof.

 

Impenetrable.

 

Wait. Stop. Think.

 

“Riles?” The six year old mumbled, snuggling into his shoulder. “You want to help me build something?” She shot up at that, a wide smile on her face.

 

He picked her up and headed downstairs. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

                                                                                                                     ******

 

The two of them fit back into their normal routine seamlessly; Riley brought materials to Tony, while he handled the welding and the other tools labelled as “too dangerous for a six year old to be messing with Tony” (though it was completely ok for her to be lifting a fifty pound non-dangerous objects; he still didn’t know how she managed to lift them, but she did).

 

She refused to go anywhere near the car though. He had asked about it, and she had frozen up. Tony had  decided to drop it for now. She was smiling as they worked, and that was what mattered most.

 

“Alright, you ready to test this thing out?” The thing was a repulsor; definitely in Pepper’s handbook of “Things You DO NOT Give to Children (No Matter How Cute They Are)”. His arm was propped up and secured in case he was blown backwards.

 

Riley stayed a safe distance away, a motorcycle helmet on her head. It was a little big for her, but it was the best safety measure he could find. She looked adorable in it too.

 

“Ok, in 3, 2, 1!” The repulsor fired off, pushing Tony back and making an impressive dent in the wall.

 

“TONY!”

 

Shit. An infuriated Pepper stood holding Riley, whose motorcycle helmet had been removed.

 

“I thought you said you weren’t working on weapons.” Tony quickly removed his arm from the hastily built stand. “I’m not. This is completely harmless.”

 

“ I think your wall would disagree.”

 

“I think it appreciates the new decoration.”

 

Pepper huffed and put Riley down. “Regardless, Riley shouldn’t be in here with explosives-”

 

“I think she’s having a great time. Right Riles?” She nodded. Tony felt a little pang when she didn’t answer him with her voice but he quickly dismissed it.

 

The redhead looked at the girl too, pain masking her features briefly. “Tony, there are other things she could be doing-”

 

“Like what? It’s summer, what else is she going to do? She should be having a little fun.”

 

“Fun shouldn’t involve explosives. Look I know Obadiah was willing to let her hang around and follow him around the office for a day so she could get to know the-”

 

“No!”

 

Pepper and Tony looked at each other in surprise, thinking for a brief moment that one of them had shouted. But the voice had been much smaller.

 

“I-I want to s-stay h-here. I-I’ll be careful.”

 

Pepper’s eyes filled with tears. “Well, um, that’s, uh, fine with me.” She walked quickly from the room, wiping at her eyes.

 

Riley watched her go, her guilt building. She had made Pepper cry, she should’ve just stayed quiet why can’t you just be good and silent-

 

“Hey kiddo. You still here with me?” Riley’s mind snapped back to the present. She nodded and hugged him. “Daddy.” she mumbled.

 

There was so much power in words. A little bit of that weight, that fear, had gone and fled her body.

 

Tony hugged her back. “I’m proud of you sweetheart.” Riley flinched. He frowned and drew back from the hug, looking at her carefully. “You ok?”

 

Riley thought about that. And his threat came to mind. “ Don’t think you’re safe.” he had whispered.

 

She nodded.

Chapter Text

There was blood everywhere. It covered his hands, and it surrounded him, pooling around him, the putrid smell seeping down his throat and choking him.

 

Frantically, Tony searched for the source, clawing at the ground and holding his breath to keep that damn smell out.

 

He couldn’t find the source, and he was going to drown because of it, because he wasn’t smart enough to stop it-

 

A drip of red crawled it’s way from Tony’s chest onto the ground.

 

Slowly, Tony looked down at chest, shaky breaths escaping him.

 

A large hole was where his heart was supposed to be.

 

Tony woke up with a gasp, jumping from the bed to the bathroom. He barely made it to the toilet before the vomit had started coming.

 

He couldn’t save anyone. He just killed, killed killed killed-

 

“Sir, I advise you to take deep breaths. You are home, you are not in Afghanistan.”

 

Right. His bed was right there, and the sound of the ocean could be heard too.

 

“Riley.” he croaked. He couldn’t let them get to her, she was only a kid, she didn’t deserve this. “She is asleep in her bed Sir. She is safe. Please remember to breathe.”

 

Ok. He could do that. That was one thing he could do right.

 

The thoughts of the blood eventually crawled back into that corner of Tony’s mind. All that was left was the need to work, to be useful. To keep his promise to Yinsen.

 

He headed down to the workshop, keeping his mind occupied with the suit. What he was building was good. The suit was good. The suit didn’t kill innocent people.

 

He was bad, bad bad bad-

 

“Sir-”

 

What Jarvis?” he snapped. “Ms. Stark is having a nightmare. Her heart rate has increased beyond her normal-”

 

Tony ran upstairs, reaching his daughter’s room to find her whimpering, tears falling down her cheeks.

 

“Riley, hey, hey sweetie c’mon-wake up please. It’s me, it’s Dad, c’mon-” Blue eyes shot open before two small but strong arms clasped around him. “Hey, you’re ok baby. You’re safe, I’m here, alright? No one is going to hurt you. I’m staying right here.” He held her tightly against his, sitting on the bed. He repeated that mantra to her over and over. 

 

The shaking and crying finally stopped after a few minutes “Alright, back to bed-” Tony placed her on the ground to pull back her sheets, only to find them soaking wet. 

 

Riley’s face went red before she buried it in his shoulder. “Sorry.” she whispered, so softly that he almost didn’t hear it. “Hey- it happens. Nothing to be embarrassed about. You can sleep in my bed tonight, how’s that sound?” Her face was still inserted in between his shoulder and neck, but he could feel the slight smile form.

 

“Alright, now bedtime.” He tucked Riley in with a kiss in his bed, and stuffed Riley’s sheets in a washing machine that Pepper had insisted on keeping around in case the cleaners was closed. Tony went back to his workshop after, trying to bring himself to work, but part of him couldn’t forget the terrified look in his daughter's eyes.

 

“Jarvis, how long has-” He paused for a minute, not sure how to phrase Riley’s behavior, “ this been going on?”

 

“The nightmares have been occurring since your disappearance. They have been becoming more severe as of late.” Tony nodded, his worry growing. “And the bedwetting? She hasn’t done that in years.” The A.I. seemed to ponder for moment. “That has only happened tonight Sir. And may I add some more, ah, troubling, behaviors that I’ve noticed?”

 

Tony nodded again, dread creeping up on him. “Ms. Stark, although she has been improving, did not utter a single word while you were gone. She also seems to have lost her appetite; she has lost an unhealthy amount of weight for her age.”

 

Tony rubbed the edges of his eyes. “You think this is because of me?”

 

“Your disappearance caused this. Your actions have helped her, not hurt her in any way Sir.” Jarvis corrected him. “There are other things I took note of that are more-” the A.I. paused, “they are more of a sensitive subject.”

 

The father felt his heart drop. “Like what?” He tried to get control over his breathing, reminding himself that his daughter was safely asleep upstairs. “There was bruising on her wrists and on her inner thighs Sir. In the shape of fingerprints.”

 

Anger rose to the surface suddenly, without warning; he clenched his fist. “Did you ask her about them? A-are you saying that-”

 

“I tried to ask her about the source of these bruises on multiple occasions, but she refused to tell me anything or to tell Ms. Potts or Colonel Rhodes.” The gravity of the situation started to weigh heavily on Tony; it was crushing his chest, and he couldn’t breathe.

 

Breathe. This isn’t about you.

 

“I think-and this is all conjecture Sir, please remember- that someone might be harming Ms. Stark.”

 

Tears stung at his eyes, and he wiped them furiously. He wasn’t the one who should be crying dammit, it was his daughter who was being hurt, not him.

 

“Is she sleeping?” A video popped up in front of him. Riley was fast asleep, clutching tightly onto the Captain America teddy bear that Tony had reluctantly purchased for her. She was drooling a bit.

 

“She is completely safe sir; I suggest that you let her sleep for now.”

 

Tony sighed. “Alright.” He would work on the suit, make it bulletproof and help him fly through the sky. If he just got the suit done, he could be the protector he should be for his daughter.

 

*****

Riley silently stepped downstairs into the living room, trying to overhear the two voices arguing. It was Pepper and her father. He seemed angry at her for something.

 

“You should have watched her! How did someone manage to get their hands on her when she had you, Happy, Rhodey, and Obie to look after her?”

 

“You were gone Tony! I thought you were dead. But I still had to keep face and help run the company, stave off government officials, CPS,-”

 

“Your first priority should be Riley-nothing comes before her.”

 

“Obadiah kept an eye on her 24/7! I just don’t understand how this fucking happened, he promised he would watch her, he said-” A sob interrupted her sentence.

 

Riley felt like crying too, and a whimper escaped her. Her father appeared in front of her suddenly, concern wrinkling his forehead. “Hey kiddo.” he sighed

 

He sounded so tired.

 

Tony carried her into the living room and sat her down in a chair at the table. A bowl of Fruit Loops (her favorite) and chocolate milk (also her favorite) were in front of her.

 

Pepper sat at the couch, wiping her red eyes. When she saw that Riley was looking, she quickly smiled and stood up. “You sleep ok Riley?” she asked, sitting down next to her. Riley shrugged.

 

Tony sat down across from Pepper, in the seat next to Riley. The girl felt both their eyes staring at her as she picked at her food. “Riles… there’s something we need to talk about.”

 

He knows. He knows what I did.

 

A thousand excuses started to form in her mind, all followed by I’m sorry Daddy.

 

Her father grabbed her hand and looked at her. He looked so sad. “You know you can tell me anything right?” She nodded, fear starting to shorten the amount of breaths she took. “Ok. Good.” He took a deep breath. “You know why the private areas on our bodies are private right?”

 

She nodded. “Tell me why.” The girl chewed her lip, her uneasiness apparent. “Because no one is allowed to touch them.” Tony smiled and nodded at that, although it seemed a bit forced. “Riley did someone-” He paused for a minute, nausea seeping to the surface at what he was about to say.

 

“Has someone touched you? In the- the, ah-”

 

“Private areas.” Pepper supplied.

 

Take off your clothes.

 

Riley thought about telling the truth. She could tell both of them. She could be free.

 

“I-”

 

The sound of the door opening interrupted her, and the sight of the visitor destroyed any courage that Riley had conjured up in her mind.

 

“Obie, we were kind of in the middle of something-” The man shushed Tony, the hand not holding a cigar clasping his shoulder. “Just stopping by to pay a visit to my favorite girl, that’s all.”

 

“Obadiah this really isn’t a good-” Pepper said, trying to return to the earlier conversation. Obadiah interrupted her, saying “What, I can’t take my niece out to ice cream?” Riley’s heart dropped, but before she could utter an excuse, Obadiah started to glare at her.

 

She couldn’t think anymore. “We’ll be right back, I promise my boy.”

 

Riley tried to convey her words through a look. She hoped she looked scared. She couldn’t say that she felt this way, but the connection between her and her father was different; they understood one another better than anyone else.

 

And Tony saw. He felt her panic.

 

“You know Obie, Riley’s been feeling a bit under the weather. Don’t think you want to get sick.” The older man chuckled and grabbed Riley’s hand. “Oh I’ll be fine Tony. A cold won’t kill me.”

 

Tony didn’t know why, but a sudden urge to grab Riley and get her away from him came to the surface and took over. “Really Obie. I don’t think it’s a good idea.” he said, grabbing Riley’s other hand tightly. He gave the other man a hard stare, making it clear that he wasn’t moving.

 

Obadiah’s face hardened, and he dropped Riley’s hand. “If you insist.” he said coldly. “I’ll see you later then.” He smiled tightly, clasped Tony’s shoulder, and walked out.

 

Pepper had watched the whole display with confusion. She had stayed silent throughout it, mostly due to her feeling out of place. However, an unexplainable feeling of pride came over her when Tony had subtly forced Obadiah out of the house.

 

“Riles, why don’t you take your bowl and head down to the workshop? I got some stuff for you to work on for today.”

 

Riley beamed. “Ok Daddy!” The happiness she felt was unparalleled by other events in her life. Her dad had stood up for her.

 

He had heard her.

 

Even when no one else could.

 

When she had disappeared downstairs, Tony turned to Pepper, looking grim. “Please tell me I’m going crazy.” The redhead knitted her eyebrows in confusion before the pieces laid before her clicked. “No I-I noticed it too.” Pepper paused, collecting her thoughts. “She looked terrified.”

 

Tony dropped into the closest chair, running his hands through his hair. “Fuck.” He looked absolutely destroyed. “Fuckin’ shit. I should’ve known, dammit-we should’ve-”

 

Pepper placed a hand on his shoulder. “We don’t know anything for certain Tony.” The father gave her an incredulous look. “I know her Pepper. She’s scared.”

 

The woman sat next to him, both of them sharing an air of grief and guilt. “What the hell do we do Pep?”

 

Normally she would have snapped at him for the nickname, but she could not find the energy.

 

Instead her mind wandered to something else. Someone else.

 

We’re a different organization.

 

“I know a guy.”

 

A spark of hope lit in Tony’s eyes. “Can we trust him?” Pepper nodded.

 

God I hope so.

 

“Keep Riley busy. It’s the middle of summer, go out and do something fun.”

 

Tony smiled at her, and the mischievous smile she had grown to love came over his face, lighting up his features. “I’ve got a few ideas.”

Chapter Text

Pepper took a deep breath and smoothed down any stray hairs on her head. She looked put together, with her black heels, designer purse, and gold earrings. No one would be able to tell that she was holding herself together by a thread.

 

Sipping on her coffee, she scanned the diner for signs of the agent. They had agreed to meet in an obscure location (per Pepper’s request). She checked her watch; it was 9:30 exactly the time they had agreed to meet.

 

“Ms. Potts, if you look that nervous, someone is bound to suspect something is wrong.” Pepper looked behind her to find the agent nonchalantly sipping on his coffee, doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper in the booth behind her. He wasn’t even looking at her.

 

“Someone followed us here. I suggest we move our meeting to our headquarters; we won’t be overheard there.” Pepper had quickly gone back to sipping her coffee after he had mentioned someone tailing them. “Alright.”

 

“I’ll leave first. I need you to be on your phone, act as if you’re just stopping by for a morning coffee. Act normal. Pay your bill, then leave. Someone will call you, pretend as if it’s a business colleague. The person on the phone will give you precise instructions on how to get to our facility. Do you understand?”

 

All of this was said in a rushed whisper, but Pepper managed to memorize every piece of instruction given to her. She nodded, and the two ignored each other for about five minutes. Coulson finished the crossword, paid his bill, and left.

 

Pepper fiddled around on her phone, occupying herself with negotiating modifications to business contracts. She finished her coffee and put down her phone, only to notice that Coulson had dropped the newspaper he had been reading.

 

Craning her neck slightly, she saw he had written something in bold letters in the crossword:

 

BE CAREFUL, MAN WITH BLACK BUSINESS SUIT WITH BLACKBERRY

 

Pepper spared a quick glance at the man at the bar. He was speaking to someone on his Blackberry, with a plate of untouched eggs in front of him.

 

Pepper summoned the waitress and paid her bill in cash. Her phone rang, and she picked it up with an annoyed huff.

 

“Hi, Obadiah. Yes, I’ve been reviewing the contracts as well as the Board’s rights. I’ll be forwarding that information to Mr. Stark.”

 

The agent on the other end of the line chuckled. “Risky but smart. I’m impressed Potts.”

 

Pepper rolled her eyes, getting into the back of the car. Happy looked at her question. “Just tell us where we need to go.”

 

The agent, a woman, told them the location of headquarters, and Pepper relayed the information to Happy. The driver frowned. “That’s in the middle of nowhere.”

 

“Just drive Happy.”

 

It took them thirty minutes and a series of odd turns to reach the headquarters, which looked quite imposing from the outside. “Would you like me to stay here Ms. Potts?” he asked. The woman nodded and quickly got out of the car.

 

Coulson and another female agent stood waiting for her at the entrance. “Welcome, Ms. Potts.” They shook hands. “This is Agent Maria Hill. She spoke with you on the phone.” The female agent standing next to Coulson nodded at her briskly.

 

“I believe we have much to discuss. Follow me to my office.”

 

Pepper asked no questions about the facility on the way there; she simply wasn’t interested, and she had a feeling she would just be left with more questions if she inquired about anything she saw.

 

The three of them quickly made their to Coulson’s office, little chatter taking place between the three. After a brief security confirmation for the two agents and Pepper, they arrived in the spacious office.

 

“Please have a seat.” It wasn’t a request.

 

Coulson studied her for a minute as he sat down in front of her. She could feel Hill’s eyes drilling into her back as well. “Is this a meeting or an interrogation?” Pepper finally snapped after a minute had passed. The agent sitting in front of her smiled.

 

“You’re not here to discuss Mr. Stark’s escape at all, are you Ms. Potts?”

 

Pepper nodded. “This is about something more important. It’s about his daughter, Riley.” Coulson’s face was grave. “I feared as much.”

 

“We think that someone or multiple people might be hurting her.”

 

“How so?”

 

Pepper swallowed the bile that threatened to spill. “Sexually.”

 

The agent looked even more troubled at this. “What makes you think this?”

 

“Our A.I., Jarvis, monitors her health constantly. He noticed that during the three months Tony was…” she paused, “ gone that Riley often had bruising in the shape of finger prints on her wrists and on her inner thighs.”

 

“Have you noticed any shifts in behavior?”

 

Pepper nodded. “She’s lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and she’s hardly speaking.” She took a deep breath. “There’s something else we noticed too.”

 

Coulson raised an eyebrow. “Obadiah Stane. He came over the other day and Riley was-she was-”

 

“Scared?” The agent supplied. “Timid?” Pepper nodded. Coulson sighed. “Ms. Potts, I’m not going to lie to you; we’ve been watching both Mr. Stark and Stane for about a year now.”

 

Anger flared up in Pepper. “Tony has nothing to do with-”

 

“We figured that Stark wasn’t involved in any of the...activities Stane participates in. However, when Stark weapons started showing up in the hands of terrorists, we had to investigate.”

 

Coulson slid pictures of weapons branded with the Stark Industries logo printed on them across the desk in the backdrop of a colourless and bleak desert. “After Mr. Stark was kidnapped by the same group that had hold over these weapons, it was obvious that he had no idea of these deals being made.”

 

The man paused for a moment. “We’ve been unable to find sufficient evidence for arrest though.” Coulson looked at Pepper with what looked to be sympathy.

 

“What you are implying is much more serious. Stane is no longer just a crook; he is a potential child predator, which, on my list, is much worse. For him.”

 

“You think it could’ve been him that hurt her?”

 

“Ms. Potts, who did leave Riley in the care of while Mr. Stark was gone?”

 

Pepper’s throat felt dry. “Obadiah. Oh God-”

 

Coulson cut her off. “There is, in my mind, little doubt that Stane had at least something to do with this.”

 

Pepper had promised herself she would hold herself together, but she could feel tears springing up in her eyes against her will. “Ms. Potts, I know this is difficult.” Coulson said. “But you must be strong for Riley. This isn’t going to be easy for her, she needs to have figures in her life that she can look to for guidance.”

 

“I understand.” she said, a tremor in her voice giving her away. “We will need more proof to make an arrest and to put him away for good.” Coulson handed her a flashdrive. “This will hack into any computer and detect any ghost files kept on Stane’s computer. You have access to his computer I assume?”

 

“Anything you need, I can get; I have access to almost everywhere in Stark Industries.”

 

Coulson smiled. “I don’t doubt that. We will need to speak to Mr. Stark soon about his escape and the situation surrounding Stane.”

 

“And Riley? You’ll need to speak to her too?” The agent nodded, his expression grim. “A psychologist will conduct the interview. For Riley’s sake, I want to wait until a bit more intel comes in before we start interviewing her.”

 

Get to Obadiah’s computer. Help Riley. “Ms. Potts, we would like Stane not to know that we are onto him. As hard as it may be, you need to act as you normally would around him. The same goes for Mr. Stark.”

 

Normal? Nothing was normal about this. This-this was disgusting, reprehensible-there was no way she could face that monster and act like nothing was wrong.

 

Her face must have given her disgust away because Coulson said, “I understand Ms. Potts. I do. I’ve dealt with these situations before and please believe me, we’re at an advantage if he doesn’t know we’re building a case.” Then, more quietly, he added, “Do it for Riley.”

 

That was something she could do.

 

Standing up, she reached out her hand to him. “Thank you Agent Coulson.” she said earnestly. He smiled at her. “Thank you Ms. Potts. Please rest assured that I will do anything to ensure he never sees the light of day again.”

 

They shook hands, and after scheduling Tony’s meeting with the agent, Pepper left the facility.



Coulson collapsed back into his chair as soon as she left, a heavy sigh leaving him. Maria  came from the corner of the room, where she had been observing silently. “What do you need?” she asked.  

 

“I want Romanov on this. Contact Fury; I need to brief him.” The woman nodded and started to walk out. “And Hill?” She turned back around. “Make this your first priority.” Determination set into her face. “Already done sir.”

 

*****

 

Flying was fun, but incredibly painful as it turned out, which was something Tony had not anticipated. The silver, sleek suit had performed well up until a certain aptitude; then the ice had started to build up.

 

Yeah, that was going to be a problem. But not one that he couldn’t fix.

 

The only casualty had been his convertible. DUM-E had been unhelpful (as per usual) with his rescue efforts, but Riley had been prepared with band aids and an ice pack.

 

“You expecting me to fall?” She only smiled and pressed the ice pack to his head. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll rest. Relax.” Riley smiled at him again and kissed a bruise forming on his cheek. Love coursed through him at the simple gesture. He kissed the tip of her nose. “I love you Riles.”

 

“I love you too Daddy.” she said softly.

 

Riley frowned a bit then her eyes flicking to his chest. “What’s wrong?” She tapped the arc reactor with her hand, curiosity in her eyes.

 

Tony took a deep breath. “It’s keeping me alive. I got, um, hurt when I was taken by the bad men in Afghanistan. It doesn’t hurt.”

 

She had done this to him. Tears swelled up in her eyes. “Hey, hey.” Tony said, grasping her chin.

 

That was a mistake.

 

Riley cried out in terror, tears spilling over her cheeks. “Please, please, no. ” she whimpered. Tony watched her with horror. “Riley, Jesus, honey please look at me.”

 

The six year old had curled herself into a ball onto the floor, sobs quietly shaking her body. “Baby.” he whispered softly, crouching down in front of her. He kept himself a couple of feet away from her. “I’m not gonna hurt you. You’re not in trouble. You’re completely safe.”

 

She looked at him. “Promise?” Her voice trembled.

 

Tony nodded, opening his arms to her.

 

Riley cautiously hugged him, wrapping her small arms around him slowly, as if testing his word. When no pain came, she allowed herself to melt into her father’s arms.

 

Tony looked at the suit design being created silently by Jarvis on the array of computers on his desk. In the background, a reporter discussed the stars appearing for his party, which he hadn’t been invited to.

 

But Obadiah had. His smug, wrinkled face became the focus of the screen as the camera zoomed in.

 

Pepper had warned him to lay low. But murderous rage started to take hold over him, Stane it’s target.

 

He would go the party. And he would fucking ruin Obadiah for what he had done to his daughter.

Chapter Text

Tony sped through the streets, narrowly (but expertly) avoiding a few accidents along the way. He had put Riley to bed shortly after the newscast. He had stayed by her side until he was sure she was fast asleep. Trusting Jarvis to keep an eye on her, he had slipped on a suit and headed out.

 

The CEO arrived at the party in a few short minutes, cameras blinding him temporarily as he stepped out of his car. Questions flooded him from obnoxious gossip columnists and wannabe journalists.

 

Stane stood talking to a reporter, a white scarf wrapped around his neck. Tony wanted to strangle him with it.

 

The older man clapped him on the back in greeting, a smile on his face. “Didn’t expect to see you here, my boy!”

 

Tony desperately wanted to snap his arm in half. He wanted to break his neck, bring him to his knees in front of these reporters and make him confess what he had done.

 

Instead he smiled and said “I’ll see you inside Obie.”

 

Weak. He couldn’t do it. Not when he knew that Riley would see it on the TV. Then she would know that her father was a murderer. A cold blooded killer.

 

The sight of the bar temporarily distracted Tony from his thoughts. The alcohol would help, keep him numb from his thoughts.

 

A short man in a crisp suit stared at him as he nursed a martini. Tony stared right back at him. “You an autograph? Picture?” The man smiled, amused. “No thank you Mr. Stark.” He held out his hand. “I’m Agent Coulson. I met with Ms. Potts a few days ago.”

 

Oh. A cold rush of reality doused the effect of the alcohol. He shook the agent’s outstretched hand. “I think we both know why you’re here tonight Mr. Stark.”

 

Tony chuckled, although there was no humor in it. “It is my party.” Coulson looked skeptical, clearly unamused. “So the murder stare you gave Stane when you arrived has nothing to do with your presence here? A party you haven’t attended in the three years it’s occured?”

 

Tony’s silence was telling. “I know it’s hard to look at him in the eye and pretend like nothing's wrong. It is for your daughters own safety that this investigation remain a secret.”

 

“How’d you know I would be here?”

 

Coulson smiled. “Because you’re a good father. I know that you love your daughter and that you want to protect her. You’re, unfortunately, not the first parent I’ve encountered under these circumstances. I have a lot of experience, which I’ve learned my lessons from.”

 

The man paused, studying Tony for a minute. “Please allow me to do my job Mr. Stark; let me help your daughter.”

 

Tony thought for a minute. He seemed sincere, but Tony could never be sure. He didn’t know who to trust now. The man that he had considered a father figure in his childhood had done the unspeakable to his little girl.

 

He seemed to sense Tony’s hesitation and said “I know you’re suspicious of everyone now; that someone even looking at Riley is considered a threat to you. I know government officers are your least favorite people right now, but know this: I will not stop, I will not rest until I know every bastard that hurt your child or even knew what was happening will rot in jail for the rest of their worthless lives.”

 

He decided to take a leap of faith. Tony nodded in understanding. “You mess up in any way, you do anything -”

 

Coulson nodded. “Understood. Don’t forget about our meeting. The twenty-sixth Mr. Stark.” Those were his last words before he disappeared into the crowd.  

 

Tony decided that he liked Coulson. He didn’t exactly trust him yet, but he did like him.

 

Pepper walked up to him then, a vision in a dark blue dress with her red hair curled. She looked stunning.

 

“What are you doing here?” she whispered. Tony smiled at her and grabbed her hand. “Just enjoying the party Pepper. Dance with me, will you?”

 

She protested briefly, but soon the two of them were dancing slowly to the jazz music playing softly in the background. “Should I ask why Coulson looked so concerned while you two were talking?” Tony considered telling her about what was said, but decided to keep it to himself. Pepper already had so much on her plate; she didn’t need to worry about Tony too. “Just enjoy the music. Relax.”

 

They didn’t talk for the next several minutes, enjoying each other’s company. It felt like a breath of fresh air, a respite, from the chaotic pain of the past week. It felt selfish of Tony to think that, but it just felt so nice to have that weight lifted from him temporarily.

 

“You want something to drink?” he asked quietly. “Vodka martini. Dry. Extra olives.” The song had ended.

 

Tony made his way through the crowd to the bar again ordering Pepper’s drink. While waiting, a voice approached him from behind. “Well, well...Tony Stark. Didn’t expect to see you here.”

 

Ugh. The smug, Brown-bred reporter who thought she could bring down the infamous Tony Stark while simultaneously securing world peace.

 

He turned around to face her, trying (but not too hard) to remember her name. “K-Karen?”

She rolled her eyes. “Christine.” Well he’d been close (give or take a few letters).

 

Christine was beautiful, and he probably would have taken her home that night in Vegas, but those days were long gone, although the tabloids liked to believe he still took women home with him every night; Riley had changed all of that, and the memory of his father putting everything else before him as a kid had made a shift in lifestyle necessary.

 

“Can I even get a reaction from you? You know I actually almost bought your little act.” Irritation caused him to snap. “I’ve been out of town for the past few months-don’t know if you heard-”

 

“Is this what you call accountability?” Photos were handed to him.

 

Stark weapons. In the hands of the Ten Rings bastards.

 

“Town called Gulmira. Heard of it?” He glared at her. “When were these taken?” he asked.

 

“Yesterday.”

 

Stane. Only explanation.

 

He tucked the photos in his suit pocket. He needed to confront Obadiah about this, he had to.

 

He took a step towards the door before meeting Coulson’s eyes, who was watching him from across the room.

 

Your daughter’s safety.

 

Obadiah would go down. Eventually.

 

And he had a few ideas on how to handle Gulmira.

 

******

 

Riley watched her father put on the suit, red and gold, and decided that while it was cool and all, that she didn’t like it all that much.

 

For one thing, it covered his face. She felt like she was looking into an unfeeling machine. This frustrated her; she knew her father was under there, but no one else did. He was going to be a hero, but no one else knew about it her and her father.

 

Riley was far from stupid; she had more than once encountered a headline calling her father terrible, untrue things. She had been deprived of friends due to their parents not wanting them to catch “whatever that playboy Tony Stark passed on” or simply didn’t want their children to be associated with the daughter of a murderer.

 

She knew who her father was, and it wasn’t this suit. It showed his impressive mind, but it didn’t show his heart.

 

The suit was cool. But her father thinking that it morphed him into some kind of hero was simply a lie. He was already her hero.

 

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

 

Riley shrugged. “Can’t sleep.” She could feel her father’s sigh. “I’ll be back soon. I’m just going to visit some, ah, friends.”

 

The child crossed her arms. “You’re lying.”

 

“Yeah… I’ll be back soon. And please go to bed.”

 

The responding eye roll made Tony smile. Some of Riley’s old personality was coming back, slowly. She still hadn’t talked about what had happened, but Tony’s plan was to ease her into speaking about it; confronting her hadn’t gone so well the last the time.

 

When Tony flew into the sky, he felt weightless, like nothing could bring him back down to earth.

 

Don’t waste your life.

 

He hoped Yinsen was somehow  watching him.

 

*****

 

Taking down the terrorists in Gulmira had been easy; escaping the Air Force however, was another story.

 

It was difficult. It just wasn’t easy.

 

Good thing Rhodey had his back.

 

He had to admit, their conversation at the Air Force base had put a damper on their friendship; Rhodey had told him, not so subtly, that he wasn’t in his right mind and should rest. He was hoping Tony would change his mind about weapons manufacturing.

 

He knew Rhodey cared about him, he did; that encounter however, shook Tony’s trust with his long time best friend.

 

Sometimes it felt like people only valued his mind, and not him as a person. Their conversation had hit that home and reinforced it.

 

But Rhodey had saved his ass in Gulmira, which meant he did care at least a little about Tony’s well being.

 

For fuck’s sake, he was Riley’s uncle. He had to trust him.

 

“Rhodes?”

 

“Tony, I told you, I don’t wanna know anything about what you have cookin’-”

 

“It’s about Riley.”

 

There was silence on the other end of the line. “I’ll come by tomorrow.”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

“What am I supposed to tell the press about this?”

 

“Training exercise. Isn’t that the usual BS?”

 

He could almost hear Rhodey’s smile over the call.

 

*****

 

He had been a hero.

 

He had done the right thing.

 

At least he was trying to do the right thing.

 

Pepper had walked in on him in the suit, and had freaked the fuck out (as she was prone to do). She had said she would leave him, that this was the final straw. Tony knew, they both knew, that she wouldn’t leave.

 

She had stood by him all these years, refusing to take any of his shit, and helped him raise a kid. Watched Riley when she was younger, had filled the gap that a mother should have taken place in.

 

Pepper had cleaned Riley’s dirty diapers, had wiped away her tears; she had helped Tony through his hangovers and keep his company successful.

 

Pepper Potts was not scared away by bullet holes in a suit, and not by bruises on a child’s body. Tony knew that.

 

Rhodey, on the other hand... he didn’t know how he would react. Tony was kind of terrified of it actually. Tony sipped the coffee in hands, anxiously waiting for Rhodey to arrive. He didn’t know how the man would react; knowing him, he would want to have the entire Air Force after Obadiah.

“Colonel Rhodes has arrived Sir.”

 

Tony took a deep breath. He could do this.

 

Riley was still asleep upstairs, unaware of what was occuring.

 

Rhodey walked into the room, with a black leather jacket and jeans on, completely dressed down from his usual military uniform. They hugged, and Tony could feel the worried energy emitting  from his friend.

 

“Everything alright Tones?” He knew Rhodey was asking about him, and he honestly didn’t know how to answer that. “It’s not me; It’s Riley.”

 

He gestured for Rhodey to sit down on the couch with him. “I’ve-we’ve noticed that she’s been acting completely different than usual.” Tony had to pause, choosing his next words carefully. “We think- well, we know, actually, that someone’s been hurting Riley-t-touching her.”

 

Worry turned to anger, and Rhodey stood up. “ Who?” he hissed, eyes full of ferocity. “Obadiah.” Rhodey punched the wall, cursing at himself. “Fuckin’ motherfucker, I’ll fuckin kill that son of bitch-”

 

Tony shushed him. “We have people investigating right now, they’re going to find proof and arrest him.” His friend looked completely distraught, shaking his head in disbelief. “Has Riley- has she said anything?”

 

Tony shook his head. “Jarvis noticed finger-like bruising on her inner thighs more than once. And Obadiah came over one day-” His voice broke. He had to- he had to sit down, breathe-

 

“Would you like me to explain Sir?” Tony nodded, his head in his hands. “Ms. Stark’s behavior has undertaken a dramatic shift within the last three months; bedwetting, frequent nightmares, muteness, refusal to go near certain places. Coupled with the bruising, I found it safe to conclude that some form of abuse was occurring.”

 

Rhodey was speechless. “Is that even in your coding?” he asked. “I had a direct order from Ms. Potts to make sure she didn’t harm herself. I was simply following an order.”

 

“Sir? There was something else I found as I going through surveillance, and I found something that is incredibly troubling. I believe it wise to call Agent Coulson over here immediately.”

 

“Coulson?” Rhodey asked. Tony stood, grabbing his phone. “I’ll explain when he gets here. J, what did you find?”

 

The A.I. didn’t respond for a minute. “It is very sensitive Sir. I believe it best to wait for Agent Coulson.”

 

Fuck. “Alright.”

 

******

Coulson arrived in record time, the same suit and tie perfectly pressed as always. Tony introduced him to Rhodey (who looked suspicious but accepting of the agent). “Your A.I. found something?” he asked Tony.

 

Tony nodded. “He hasn’t shown me anything, or told me anything.” The agent nodded. “Your daughter is still asleep?”

 

“Ms. Stark is not due to wake up for another thirty minutes, as per her usual sleeping habits.”

 

“Good. Now Mr. Stark, Colonel-”

 

“I’m not leaving, not till I have some damn answers. Tones?” Tony nodded. “We’re staying.” He might puke a bit, but he had to know.

 

“Play the video then.”

 

A holoscreen popped up in front of them. “This a day after Mr. Stark disappeared.” Riley sat the Roadster, working on the cars engine with Tony’s tools. This went on for a minute or so, before a large figure loomed over her.

 

Stane. Tony felt bile in his mouth.

 

The man stood behind her, large hands on her shoulders. Riley had stiffened, her eyes welling up with tears. Obadiah said something, but there were no words to match the movement of his mouth. “Stane ordered me to stop video and audio surveillance at that time.”

 

Yet the video continued. “I sensed his intentions to be hostile, so I kept monitoring, disabling the audio only.”

 

Stane slipped his slimy hands further down Riley’s body, whispering to her. Tears were falling down her face; she was clearly terrified.

 

“Jarvis, stop it please, stop .” Tony croaked. “I’m sorry Sir.”

 

Coulson took a deep breath. “Jarvis, please forward that to me.”

 

Rhodey grasped his shoulder. “You good?” He looked pale, disgusted, angry-but there was still that strength that Tony had come to rely on in his eyes.

 

Tony nodded, turning his gaze to Coulson. “What happens now?” Coulson looked visibly shaken, but quickly remembered himself. “The video is damning, but the lack of audio could present some problems.”

 

The father looked enraged at this. “Mr. Stark, I would like to bring Riley to headquarters. To interview her.”

 

“Now?”

 

The agent nodded. “We believe Mr. Stane is hiding something that Riley might know; we don’t know what, but the assassination of members of the Ten Rings strongly suggests that he intends to wipe his record clean.”

 

He was going to kill Riley.

“Ok. Just let me grab-” Coulson stopped him. “Stane already suspects our involvement. People have been tailing Ms. Potts and you for weeks now. It would look less suspicious if it was just Colonel Rhodes and Riley.”

 

“Why me?” Rhodey asked. “You two haven’t been seen in public together recently, and it wouldn’t look overly suspicious if military personnel were going to SHIELD headquarters.”

 

“Riley?”

 

“We can hide her, easily.”

 

Tony couldn’t explain why, but a sense of uneasiness had come over him at the notion of staying here alone. He quickly dismissed it. Don’t be selfish, he told himself.   

 

“I’ll get her up.”

 

******

It had been hours.

 

Rhodey had texted him brief updates, letting him know that Riley was ok. Information was slowly leaving her as the hours piled onto each other.

 

The sky was dark now, and the fireplace had lit up, warming the cold that had suddenly surrounded him.

 

His phone rang, and Pepper’s face lit up the screen.

 

Before he could utter a word, a sharp piercing noise paralyzed him. He couldn’t feel anything, a hand gentling his head back on the couch.

 

A dark chuckle reverberated throughout the room.

 

Stane.

Chapter Text

Tony couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. He felt himself slipping away slowly.

 

“Shame the government wasn’t interested in these, they really do work well.” Stane came to sit next to him, draping his arm around Tony.

 

“Tony, my boy…” He almost sounded remorseful.

 

He tapped the arc reactor in Tony’s chest. “Really is something isn’t it? You could’ve changed the face of weapons with this.” The man smiled. “But now,” he chuckled, pulling a claw-like device from behind him, “it’ll be my legacy.”

 

Stane plunged the device into Tony’s chest, detaching the reactor from where it belonged. “Ironic isn’t it? Your last contribution to this world was the very thing you tried to destroy.”

 

He tried to move, he tried to do anything-

 

“I thought I was killing the golden goose when I ordered the hit on you, but then I took a look at your precious little girl.”

 

No. Fight back dammit!

 

“She has twice the mind you do. And not to mention, well-” he grinned coldly. “I think you already know.”

 

Get up, do something you worthless idiot!

 

“Tell me when was the last time you heard from Colonel Rhodes about Riley?”

 

Two hours ago. No, shit, no-

 

“She’s mine now Tony. And all you can do is sit here and hope that death comes quickly.”

 

The man stood up, patting Tony’s shoulder. “Godspeed.” He left.

 

No.

 

This wasn’t how he ended.

 

Tony dragged himself, painfully slow, across the room, down the stairs, and into his workshop, seeking the reactor Pepper had gifted him weeks ago.

 

It was too far up. He couldn’t reach it.

 

Tony collapsed. He had failed.

 

Yinsen. Riley. Pepper. Rhodey.

 

The whir of a machine caught his attention. DUM-E had the reactor case  in his clawed hand, twirling it in question.

 

Tony reached for it, and DUM-E handed it to him. “Good boy.” he gasped.

 

He smashed the glass case.

 

*****

Rhodey’s vision was blurred, there was something pressing on the back of his neck. There was a girl screaming.

 

For him.

 

Riley.

 

Rhodey swept his feet under the man holding him down, knocking him over. Riley was being stuffed in a van by two men, their faces covered. He ran towards them, grabbing the fallen man’s gun and shooting at them.

 

“Uncle Rhodey!” she cried.

 

One of the men went down, a bullet piercing his head. The other one managed to throw Riley and himself in the van. They took off.

 

Rhodey shot a couple of bullets at it, taking out a window before it faded into the distance.

 

“Fuck.” He’d screwed up. Majorly.

 

He dialed Coulson’s number frantically.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Obadiah-he sent men- they took Riley.” The agent was silent for a moment. “Car type? License plate number?” Rhodey told him. “We’re on it. I’m sending an agent after her right now. Go to Stark’s place to make sure he’s alright.”

 

After Rhodey agreed, Coulson hung up on him.

 

Coulson walked through the SHIELD compound, speaking into his walkie. “Barton?”

 

“Yes sir?”

 

“Riley Stark has been kidnapped. Find her.”

 

“Right away sir.”

 

*****

She was so cold.

 

It was dark.

 

She was scared.

 

Riley tried to look around, but she couldn’t see anything.

 

“Hey, look, the brats awake.”

 

She couldn’t see where the voice was coming from.

 

“You scared?” Riley didn’t dare move. “You should be.” The voice chuckled. “Stane did say we could have a little fun, right?”

 

“Yeah.” replied another voice.

 

A hand touched her hair, and a little cry left her. “You mind if I go first?”

 

“Not interested in kids.”

 

The first voice sounded closer now. “Well, looks like it’s just you and me then girlie.”

 

No, no not again-

 

Something zipped through the air and something heavy hit the floor. “Jones, everything alright?” The second voice called out. “Jon-” he was cut short by another object zooming through the air.

 

The lights came on, and there was a man lying next to her, passed out.

 

Riley stood and scrambled away, backing up into someone.

 

A man stood behind her, a bow and arrow on his shoulder. He smiled at Riley warmly, even as she backed away from him.

 

“You’re Riley I’m guessing?” She nodded, her expression cautious. The archer held out his hand. “I’m Clint.” he said, his expression calm.

 

He seemed nice. Riley shook his hand quickly. “Listen, I’m gonna take you somewhere safe, ok?”

 

Riley stared at the bodies on the ground. Seeing where gaze was, Clint said “They’re just passed out, don’t worry.” The man knelt in front of her, searching her face. “They hurt you?”

 

Riley nodded. “They hit my head super hard.” Clint chuckled, although there was strain behind it. “Good. You’re a brave kid, you know that?” That got a smile from her. Clint smiled back at her and stood, holding out his hand.

 

“I’m gonna take back to where you were with Dr. Flores ok?” Dr. Flores had been nice, but Riley hesitated, which he noticed. “I’m not gonna hurt you Riley. Trust me.”

 

His smile reminded her of Daddy’s before he disappeared. She took his hand.

 

*****

 

Rhodey had found Tony on the floor, alive but gasping for breath.

 

“R-Riley?” Tony croaked. “Obadiah’s men took her. Coulson sent an agent after her. I’m sorry Tony.”

 

The father grasped his friends’ hand and stood. “Pepper?” he asked. “With four agents at the main office, they’re about to arrest Obadiah.” Panic ran through Tony. “That’s not gonna be enough.” he gasped.

 

He had followed Coulson’s instructions to a tee, but Tony had his own plan in place now to take down Obadiah. The man would never stop, even prison was too comfortable for him.

 

Death, however, seemed to be suitable for Stane.

 

Tony readied the suit, letting himself meld into the armour. Rhodey watched in amazement. “That’s pretty damn cool Tones. You want anything from me?”

 

His face plate shut. “Keep the skies clear.”

 

*****

Tony arrived on the roof of the offices in mere minutes, all the while talking to a frantic Pepper.

 

“What do you mean he took Riley? Oh my god I am literally going to murder this man-”

 

“Eyes on target Pepper. I need you to got to the arc reactor and press the red button when I say so, alright?”

 

He didn’t hear her answer. A black, bulky  suit had flown in front of him. “Tony, you just don’t know when to stay dead, do you?” came Stane’s voice.

 

Motherfucking copycat.

 

“Real original design there.” he snarked, shooting a blast at him. He flew behind a wall before Stane would recover and notice.

 

“My suit is better in every way, Tony. Your daughter designed it, after all.”

 

Cold pressed his chest inwards. “When you escaped, I found your designs. Had Riley give her input and improve it while you were off feeding your ego in Gulmira.”

 

A blast pushed him forwards, sending him off the roof. Tony caught himself, flying upwards. “Sir, we are approaching low energy levels. This arc reactor was not built to sustain a flight.”

 

“I don’t care. Climb!”

 

Stane followed closely behind him into the sky, grabbing Tony’s foot. He began to crush Tony. “Hey Obie,” he wheezed, “how’d you fix the ice problem?”

 

“Ice problem?” Tony managed to free a hand and smacked Obadiah’s helmet, sending the inferior suit downwards.

“Entering low power mode.” said Jarvis.

 

Tony ungracefully met the ground again on the rooftop of Stark offices. “Pepper you still there?” he said, ripping a gauntlet off.

 

“Yes.”

 

Stane landed back on the roof then, and Tony held out his hand to blast him, only to realize it was gone.

 

A punch sent him tumbling backwards. Obadiah opened his faceplate. “You can’t win Tony. This-” he gestured to the building,  “will be mine, and Riley belongs to me. You can’t change that.” Tony growled.

 

Son of a bitch.

 

Tony tackled him, surprising him for a moment. Tony punched him repeatedly, anger taking over.

 

Riley was his kid. No one could take that from him.

 

Obadiah recovered from his surprise, pushing Tony backwards. “Pepper, push it NOW!” he yelled, scrambling out of the way.

 

“You’ll die!”

 

“Push it!”

 

White light exploded before his eyes before everything went black.

 

*****

 

Tony thought he was hallucinating. He must be.

 

There was no way there was a baby in front of him, on his doorstep.

 

Fuck what had he drunk last night?

 

“Jarvis?” he asked, panic in his voice. “It’s a baby Sir.” Tony rolled his eyes. “And why exactly is there a fuckin’ baby on my doorstep?”

 

“Probably because she is your daughter Sir.”

 

Fuck. “Did you run-”

 

“Yes Sir, DNA tests confirm that she is your daughter.”

 

Well fuckin’ fuck. “Mother? Who dropped her here?”

 

“I was unable to identify the mother and the person who dropped her off.”

 

Tony looked at the baby. Bright blue eyes stared back at him, and a tuft of black hair stuck out from her head. The girl gurgled. “Um, hi.” A little smile came over small face. “You’re kind of cute huh?” he smiled at her.

 

He picked her up. She was so soft. “Do you know what you want to name her Sir?” Tony thought for a moment. “Riley.” he decided. She seemed to agree with him, a delighted gurgle leaving her.

 

“Well I guess it’s us now kiddo.”

 

*****

 

Tony woke in a bland looking room. Bland meant hospital, and Tony hated hospitals. Pepper sat next to him, holding tightly to his hand.

 

“How are you?” she asked gently. Tony tried to shrug. “Been better.” he managed. “Obadiah?”

 

“Dead.” Tony smiled at that. “Riley.” he said, panic overtaking him. He sat up but Pepper calmed him. “They found her. She’s alright.” Tony let out a sigh of relief. “Can I see her?” Pepper nodded and walked out.

 

She returned with Riley, who hopped on Tony, crushing him in a hug. “Daddy I’m sorry, he-he made me do it-”

 

He shushed her, wiping her tears away. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Absolutely nothing ok?”

 

“I hurt you.” she said, her voice still teary. “Obadiah hurt me. Not you.”

 

“I love you Riles. Nothing will change that.” Tony smiled. “That suit was pretty impressive though.”

 

“I made it bad. I knew he was gonna hurt you, like he did in the other place.”

 

Tony felt tears come to his eyes. “You don’t worry about that anymore, ok?” Riley nodded.

 

“It’s you and me kiddo.” He looked up at the redhead in the doorway. “And maybe Pepper.”

 

Pepper watched the two of them, her family. She felt her own tears come. “Ms. Potts I-” Coulson came into the doorway. At the sight of the father and daughter hugging, he left quietly.

 

Briefing could wait. There were more important things at the moment.

Chapter Text

Bruises faded.

 

Tears were wiped away.

All this over the course of the three days the Starks were given to pick their lives up from the ground Obadiah Stane had scorched. The part of Tony’s mind that enjoyed torturing him through insomnia and nightmares delighted in this new development; he had not slept in the three days since that man had been consumed in the blaze.

 

But that was okay; in fact it was great. Riley was finally safe from harm. It didn’t matter the cost to him.

 

He was fine. They both were going to be.

 

Right?

 

Three days had been given to them before the government (and Pepper) could no longer satisfy the curiosity of the public.

 

It was enough time to gather a story, but the expectation was that both Starks would be able to keep face; show to the world their invernulability.

 

Three days felt more like a death sentence rather than a finality to the disaster of the past couple of weeks.

 

Riley, at least, looked lighter and happier. A bit of the light that came with a child had reignited within her.

 

But there was still that darkness that had twisted her against her will and stolen her innocence; that was something, the psychologist had warned, that Riley would have to learn to overcome.

By herself.

 

It was sick, really, how Tony had done this to her and now he couldn’t even help his own kid. That made the guilt that rested on his shoulders all the more heavier.

 

A finger poked at his cheek, interrupting Tony’s thoughts. Riley’s concerned blue eyes looked at him. That’s right, they had been working in the garage on... on….

 

“Are you ok Daddy?” Tony chuckled, ruffling her black hair. “Of course I am kiddo.”

 

“You’re lying.” Tony frowned. “Excuse me?”

 

Riley chewed on her lip, looking nervous but confident. “You’re lying. I can feel it.”

 

Well that was fucking heartbreaking. And painfully true.

 

Tony sighed, exhaustion finally creeping into him. “You aren’t ok either kiddo. I wish you would talk to me. You used to tell me everything.”

 

Coulson and Dr. Flores had confirmed Tony’s suspicions and his fears. Obadiah had harmed her, had left a permanent blemish on her.

 

That wasn’t even the worst part.

 

There were more men.

 

Dr. Flores had mentioned that Riley’s memory would be skewed, leaving her unable to remember specific names. They had drugged her severely when the abuse had been occuring, messing with her memories of what had happened.

 

Tony was almost grateful for that. Maybe it would make it less painful for her.

 

Coulson had promised they wouldn’t stop investigating.

 

Riley fidgeted around, holding her Captain America Teddy Bear close.

 

“I had to.” She whispered, not meeting his eyes.

 

Tony nodded at her encouragingly, and Riley took a deep breath.

 

“He said I had to b-because he would kill you i-if  I d-didn’t.” She clutched her bear even closer, tears springing to her eyes. “I didn’t like it. It hurt.

 

The remains of the emotional dam that Tony had built over the years crumbled. Tears sprung to his eyes, and he had to suppress a sob from leaving him.

 

“Riley, god baby-I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” He had to hold her, he had to have her close to him. Riley seemed to understand (or she wanted the same thing) because she folded herself into his arms.

 

They sat there, Riley’s quiet sobs turning into soft whimpers after a time. Tony felt tears leaving his eyes as well, soaking into her black hair.

 

They were together. Broken and chipped at the edges, but somehow they still found a way to fit seamlessly together as they always had.

 

“I’ll always protect you baby. No one will ever hurt you again.”

 

A twist in Riley’s gut at his last statement warned her otherwise; he probably didn’t even realize he was lying. Unless he didn’t believe it himself.

 

“I love you Daddy.”

 

Everything would be ok, she thought.

 

Don’t lie to yourself, her gut told her.

 

*******

 

Tony had already known what he was going to say before he even stepped on the platform of the press room.

 

I am Iron Man.

 

And no one would dare mess with his family again.

 

He felt so free when those words left his mouth.

 

It was like he was flying in the suit for the first time: exhilarating, kind of terrifying, and freeing.

This was for Riley. He had to protect her. He wouldn’t let her be vulnerable again because of him.

 

Then why did the guilt suddenly become so much heavier when he saw her standing next to Pepper in the corner of the room, her eyes wide at the flurry of questions being barreled at him?

 

She looked so scared-

 

It was fine. It was all for her.

 

If he had to build her a suit of armour to keep her safe, then so be it.

 

He couldn’t screw up again.

 

******

 

Three agents sat in the California base of SHIELD within the confines of Agent Hill’s temporary office, watching Tony Stark bare himself to the world. They all watched with a detached curiosity.

 

Clint, sprawled across the length of the couch, felt sadness for Stark’s daughter, wincing when the camera panned in on her confused face.

 

“Jesus, could they turn the camera away from the kid?” He snapped, glaring at the television. “It’s like they get off on watching a terrified kid.”

 

Maria smacked him, her glare full of poison. “Really Clint?”

 

Clint realized his mistake and turned pale with guilt. “Sorry.” He muttered, looking down at the floor. He picked up one of his hearing aids that had fallen on the floor sheepishly.

 

“What else does Fury want with the kid?”

 

Clint watched Natasha carefully when she asked that question; there was a tightness in her voice that indicated a slight twinge of anger or annoyance.

 

The Russian had been keeping an eye on the case from a distance, not intruding but gathering intel on Obadiah Stane. To her confusion, Fury had not allowed her on the field; said she would be better served later.

 

It was understandable that she wanted off of a case where she was essentially useless; she couldn't do a damn thing to help. 

 

“We’re not done yet.” Maria said, grabbing a file from a cabinet.

 

“Stane is dead.” Natasha stated, with no conviction in her voice. “We’re done. The girl’s safe.”

 

Hill shook her head. “Stane wasn’t the only predator after her. And some things Riley said during her interview with Flores...are, um, interesting. Fury wants to know more about her.”

 

Clint refrained from rolling his eyes. “She’s a kid, Hill. It’s not like she knows the ultimate truth to the world.”

 

“She may be a kid, but she’s got some pretty damn good instincts on her. Strong as hell too.”

 

Nick Fury emerged from seemingly nowhere, his black coat sweeping behind him.

 

“Sir?” Romanov asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

“She almost broke the hand of one agent when he startled her. Was trying to give her some water during a break but he came up behind and she had a bad reaction. He was lucky it was only a few bruises.”  

 

“Sir, with all due respect, is now really the best time to be questioning her?” Maria asked.

 

“We won’t be questioning her.” He said, causing even more confusion.

 

“Romanov will shadow her. I have a feeling they’ll be looking for a tutor soon.”

 

Natasha scoffed a bit. “Why, she not as brilliant as her father?” The bite behind her words was unmistakable.

 

“I’m thinking even more so. She was able to identify and speak five different languages given to her, as well solve college level math problems. She’s a brilliant kid, but something is off. I want you to find out what.”

 

Natasha nodded. Looking for cracks in a facade was what she was best at.

 

With that, the Director and Hill left leaving a single file and the two assassins alone with the TV showing an obnoxious blonde reporter speaking.

 

“You think Stark is hiding something?” Clint signed in quick succession to Natasha, not wanting their movements to be seen.

 

The redhead shook her head. “I think there is something he doesn’t know. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

 

Clint gave her a look.

 

She flipped him off and walked out, mentally preparing a list of qualifications she could give herself, ones that would appeal to Stark.

 

There was always something odd with people like the Stark’s. There was a crack, and she was going to discover it.

 

******



Tony held his sleeping daughter, his own eyelids drooping as he seemed to sink into the plush mattress.

 

No. He couldn’t sleep. He had to- he had to do something-

 

There was a sudden pain in his chest, and Tony shot up, trying to be quiet so as to not wake Riley.

 

He swiftly got off the bed, gently laying Riley down on her pillow.

 

Clawing at his shirt, he went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror to see dark blue lines crawling their way across his skin.

 

He couldn’t breathe.

Chapter Text

“Who the fuck speaks Latin?” Tony asked, flipping through (Natalie? Natasha?)- the prospective teachers resumé.

 

“No one, it’s a dead language; and watch your mouth.” Pepper admonished him, texting someone on her atrocity of a Blackberry.

 

The hopeful was aquanticing herself with the house, having Jarvis guide her through. Riley was out with Rhodey, getting ice cream (and hopefully not at the shooting range).

 

“Doesn’t have much experience in science…” Tony mused. While Riley had not shown the same proclivity towards engineering as he had at her age, she was still drawn to science as he was. She loved to learn.

 

“Look Pepsi-” Pepper smacked his arm for that one-pretty hard too. “I can just teach her, I have like, five doctorates. None of the people we’ve seen are as qualified as me.”

 

Pepper rolled her eyes. “Not everyone goes to college when they’re fourteen Tony. And you have three doctorates.”

 

“Still not hearing a good excuse. No one’s gonna understand how her minds works like I do.”

 

The redhead sighed. “Tony, Riley needs to spend time with other people outside of you, me, Happy or Rhodey. It’s not healthy; it’s bad enough that she hardly has any friends.”

 

Tony was silent; he knew Pepper had a point, he just...he hated not being able to help.

 

“Sir? If I may?” The other redhead had returned, emerging from around the corner.

 

“I understand that Riley is a special case; You will be involved in her learning, but I agree with Ms. Potts in that she needs a rounded education.” She pulled out a tablet from her purse.

 

“Riley has shown a proclivity towards language in her IQ tests, as well as leaning towards astro-physics as well.”

 

Well, Tony couldn’t say she hadn’t done her research. “Do you have experience at astro-physics? You have the linguistic qualifications”-her resumé indicated that she spoke about ten languages- “but you have little experience with any science at all.”

 

The woman only smiled at Tony’s criticisms. “Mr. Stark, no one will be as brilliant as your daughter or you when it comes to science. I am merely seeking to help stimulate that knowledge as well as teach her in other subject areas-not just language.”

 

Why did the redheads always have to be right?

 

Tony sighed. “You’ll have to meet Riley first before I hire you; if she likes you, you’re hired, ah, um Nat-”

 

“Natalie.” Pepper supplied.

 

“Natalie. Riley should be back soon, you want to stick around to meet her or wait?”

 

“I would like to meet her today, if you don’t mind.”

 

“Ok then I’ll-” A sharp pain in his chest almost made him keel over, making him gasp.

 

Both women rushed to him. “Tony are you ok?” Pepper asked, concern pinching her features.

 

“I’m fine. Head rush. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go-” Another spike of pain, like a knife was stabbing him in the chest- “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”

 

He tried not to run out of the room, quickly going into the nearest bathroom and pulling out a blood toxicity meter of his own invention.

 

He was already at 25%. Shit.

 

“Sir, I have finished researching all known elements, but none of them can serve as a viable replacement for the palladium core.” Jarvis said, concern weaving into his robotic voice.

 

Double shit. “Can I do anything?

 

“You can temporarily combat the symptoms with chlorophyll drinks, but that will only gain you a small amount of time.”

 

He was going to die.

 

“Sir, Ms. Stark has arrived home. I suggest you tell her of your condition soon, before it is too late.”

 

What a fucking perfect time to die. When his daughter needed him most, he was checking out. Typical.

 

The strange pattern had made it’s up his chest, almost at his neck.

 

He couldn’t tell her. Riley needed him to be strong, and he was going to do that as long as he was able to.

 

He buttoned up his shirt and walked out, grinning at Riley, who ran up to him with a hug of greeting.

 

“You have fun with Uncle Rhodey, pumpkin?”

 

“Uh-huh. I had three different types of ice cream!” Wonderful.

 

“That’s great. Uncle Rhodey still here now?” Tony was going to make him stay for the inevitable sugar rush.

 

“No, he left. He said he had to work.” Smart move Rhodes, he thought.

 

“Riley!” Pepper called, rounding the corner with Natalie at her side. Riley recoiled behind Tony at the sight of the unfamiliar woman.

 

“Riley, this is Ms. Rushman.”

 

“Hi.” The six year old muttered, her hands wrapping around Tony’s leg.

 

Natalie smiled and kneeled to Riley’s level. “It’s nice to meet you Riley. Your dad tells me your very smart.”

 

Riley shrugged, not responding.

 

“I was hoping that you would let me teach you some new stuff.” Still no response.

 

“I heard you like language. Do you know how many I can speak?” Riley shook her head.

 

“Ten. I would like to teach you all ten that I know.” Riley’s eyes had widened in amazement.

 

Ten?!” The six year old said incredulously. Natalie smiled and nodded.

 

Riley jumped, reaching her arms up at Tony. Her father picked her up.

 

“I like her.” She whispered loudly. Tony chuckled.

 

“You want her to teach you?” Riley nodded.

 

“Alright then, you’re hired.” Natalie smiled wider again, although it seemed disingenuous.

 

“I have some contracts for you to look over, stipulations, wage…” Pepper rushed the other redhead away, Riley waving at her new teacher as she walked off.

 

Tony felt a sense of resignation at this development, as if he was letting go of something important.

 

His daughter watched him carefully. “Are you ok Daddy?”

 

He would miss her so much when he was gone.

 

“I’m good. Just missed you.”

 

“I was only gone for two and a half hours.” She gave him an incredulous look.

 

Tony snorted. “Felt like longer.”

 

“And lying is not very nice Daddy.”

 

“I never lie.”

 

“That’s another lie.”

 

Tony flicked her nose. “When did you become a human lie detector?”

 

“It was the ice cream.” she supplied, giggling a bit. Tony rolled his eyes, but not in annoyance.

 

“We need to have a serious talk with your Uncle about your sugar intake.”

 

Riley looked affronted at this. “Sugar is healthy.”

 

“Sugar makes Daddy go nuts because you don’t sleep all night.” Riley scowled.

 

“You don’t sleep anyway.” she mumbled. Tony sighed.

 

“Well, I’ve got something new we can add onto the Roadster, you wanna see it?”

 

Riley shook her head. “Uncle Rhodey got me a new book. I wanna read that.”

 

Tony frowned. “Well alright.” The six year old shuffled away, picking up a book she left on the counter.

 

He headed down to the workshop, wanting to distract himself before a thought occurred to him.

 

That doctor had said that Riley would be apprehensive about certain areas in the house, as that would have been where the abuse had taken place.

 

He smiled.

 

Some redecoration was in order.

 

*****

 

“Something’s up with Stark.”

 

Natasha had not forgotten that display of sickness that the billionaire had shown; it had set off an alarm in her.

 

“Almost fainted getting up. Blamed it on a head rush, but it seemed like more than that.”

 

Director Fury seemed to consider this, not responding right instantly.

 

“Maybe it was; he almost died five days ago.”

 

“This wasn’t that. Trust me, he looked like he was about to keel over.”

 

“Keep an eye on him, but focus on the kid.” Natasha rolled her eyes; what was so special about this kid?

 

“Yes sir.” He hung up on her without a goodbye, as typical with him.

 

Clint, at least, had leave at the moment (broke his finger on a mission in Kuwait; typical)  and was spending it with her. He was staying in the apartment across from her own, although he often to choose to lounge on her couch.

 

“Kid can’t be that bad, is she?” he drawled, spinning an arrow around his fingers. Natasha had been in a foul mood ever since being assigned to this case.

 

“Waste of my time.” she snapped back. “I’m not a therapist and I don’t deal in charity.”

 

Clint studied her. “You sure it’s not because she reminds you of you?”

 

“Shut up Clint. Or I’ll take your hearing aids out and watch you act like even more of an idiot.”

 

The archer flicked her off. “You know I’m right.”

 

Shut up. ” With that, she retreated into her room.

 

She and that kid had nothing in common.

 

Riley had been born with the world at her feet, and Natasha had forced it to come to its knees.

 

Yet lost blue eyes joined her nightmares that night, mixing in seamlessly with the eyes of the other children.

 

******

 

“Okay, now don’t open your eyes. No cheating.”

 

Riley giggled, her eyes squeezed shut. “I won’t.”

 

Tony had spent almost all day in the garage, only leaving to purchase a few things; he had been working on something all day for her. He just hoped it would be worth it.

 

“Okay, now open.”

The walls of the garage had been repainted to a light blue, tools reorganized into neat sections.

 

The Roadster was gone, replaced by a beat up 1962 Ferrari 250.

 

A little corner desk had been built next to Tony’s, bright pink with a sign that said, in neon lettering, Riley’s Workspace.

 

Riley walked over to the desk, a small smile on her face as she ran her hands over the wood and picked up the books and tools available.

 

Tony had taken the liberty of purchasing a set of the finest colored pencils on the market (Crayola was garbage ) and several of Howard’s old history books laid there as well. If his kid was going to have a well rounded education, it would be the best.

 

“I love it!” Riley hugged him. “Thank you Daddy.”

 

“Anything for you kiddo.”

 

He wanted to make her last memories of him good, not sad. This would live on past him, give her something to remember him by.

 

Tony wanted to make his last few weeks count, and he would be damned if he spent it wallowing in self pity.

Chapter Text

синяя птица полетела по небу.” Natasha said, purposefully pronouncing each syllable slowly for the young child. They had started their lessons a day after she had been hired, spending long hours pouring over lessons in language, history, and other core subjects.

 

“синяя птица полетела по небу.” Riley repeated perfectly, speaking as if she were a native Russian herself.

 

Natasha, although she wouldn’t admit it, had been impressed with the girl so far. Riley had shown incredible versatility in each of the subject areas Natasha had brought to her. Spanish Riley had easily mastered yesterday, but Natasha had wanted to see if the kid could master her mother language as well.

 

“и над темными лесами.” Natasha finished.

“и над темными лесами.” The child echoed. Riley was smiling at Natasha, knowing she had performed well.

 

The woman kept her face neutral, and Riley’s smile faded.

 

“Хорошо.” Natasha pulled out a book from her bag. It was rather plain looking, and looked too thin to be a textbook. The cover was worn and weathered, the pages yellow. A black signature stood out against the yellow-white of the cover.

 

“Translate this for me.” Riley took the book, her brow furrowing.

 

This was technically a highly classified file, but seeing as it as it was over seventy years old and only had recently been cracked by a SHIELD coder and had nothing particularly valuable in it, there was no real harm in showing a little girl.

 

Riley was frantically scribbling on a sheet of paper, quickly reading the text over.

 

“I think I got the first page. It’s very weird Russian though.”

 

“How so?”

 

Riley bit her lip, becoming timid. “Well, every third letter in every third word was swapped with the sixth letter in every seventh word. At least I think.”

 

“And what did it say?”

 

“The person who was writing was trying to keep the location of his-” Riley looked at her notes again, “ ‘treasure cove’. Doesn’t say what that means though, but he gives the location of where he put it.”

 

Natasha hated the kid more now; she was already privileged, why did she get to have brilliance as well?

 

Instead of snapping at Riley, Natasha forced herself to smile at her. “Very good.”

 

Natasha took the book and shoved it into her bag, her irritation at this assignment growing by the minute; she was an assassin , an agent, not a tutor for some wealthy brat who had experienced some hardship in her life for once.

 

If she was being honest with herself though, Riley really wasn’t the source of her frustration; the kid had made things easy enough for her, only speaking when spoken to and asking few questions.

 

The admiration in her eyes when she looked at Natasha was really what scared her; no one should ever look at her in that way.

 

What Natasha hated most of all though, was that Riley still had the innocence of childhood within her; it was in her perfectly blue eyes and smile and in every hug she gave her father.

 

A part of her envied that innocence.

 

Why did Riley get to keep it, but not her?

 

You have no place in the world, маленький паук

 

“Miss Rushman?” Inquired a cautious little voice.

 

“Yes?” she replied stiffly. It was almost time for her to go, three minutes and sixteen seconds.

 

Riley flinched a little at her tone. “Do you like me?” she whispered, not meeting her eyes.

 

If possible, Natasha’s heart hardened and softened at the same time.

 

“Yes, of course I do. Why would you think such a silly thing?”

 

The girls eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. Like you lied about your name being Miss Rushman.”

 

Natasha was too shocked (and a bit too freaked out) to answer.

 

“Daddy lies too. He says he’s ok when he’s not.” Riley played with one of her pigtails, fingers tugging the end strands.

 

“How do you know I’m lying?”

 

Riley shrugged. “I can feel it. You also spoke Russian differently than Spanish, you seemed a bit more comfortable speaking it. And Rushman isn’t a Russian name.”

 

Natasha leaned close to Riley, locking their eyes together.

 

“You listen to me, little Stark.” she growled. “You tell anyone, and I will personally make sure that your father ships you away to boarding school because no tutor can bear teach you.”

 

The girl didn’t seem intimidated, only sad. “You don’t scare me. Do you wanna hurt Daddy?”

 

Natasha thought for a moment. “No. I’m just here to make sure everything is alright.” It wasn’t technically a lie.

 

Riley nodded, her eyes sad. “I liked you. I thought you were cool. But you lie like everyone else.”

 

0 minutes and 0 seconds. Natasha picked up her stuff and smirked at the kid. “Everyone lies. Get used to it, маленькая мышь.”

 

Riley’s defeated gaze followed her out, and there was extra heaviness on Natasha’s shoulders as they parted ways.

 

******

 

Riley had tried to make friends, she did.

 

Before, her father would take her to parties or to the park, where kids her age were playing. They always looked like they had so much fun, laughing and screaming in excitement. Riley yearned for that.

 

But children don't take kindly to someone who is different from them. And Riley was very different.

 

Very few children ran numbers in their heads every second of the day, counting each minute and second and storing in a section of their brain.

 

Very few children didn’t have their gut twist in an unpleasant way when someone told a lie. One boy, Darryl, had tried to spin a story about how a pigeon had eaten his friend Matt’s candy bar. Riley had informed Matt that his friend was lying, and the two had called her a freak and walked away.

 

Riley couldn’t have friends because no one could understand her.

 

After Obadiah and the hurting, she felt even more out of place in the world.

 

Sometimes it felt like she had no place in the world.

 

A loud knock on the bathroom door interrupted her thoughts. “You ok in there Riles?” her father shouted.

 

“Fine Daddy!” Quickly, she pulled the plug on the bathtub and watched the water drain down the pipe.

 

A part of her wished to disappear along with it.

 

Tony was waiting for her outside, two cups of what looked to be hot chocolate in his hand.

 

“Movie night?” he asked with a grin.

 

Movie nights meant he was going away the next day, but Riley smiled nonetheless.

 

“Get changed into your PJ’s first kiddo, then we’ll watch a movie. Star Wars sound ok?”

 

“Which one?”

 

“A New Hope...you haven’t even seen the rest sweet pea, why do you care?”

 

“I saw the prequels.”

 

Tony shuddered. “Thou shalt not speak of those prequels. Rhodey showed you?” Riley nodded and the father rolled his eyes.

 

“Figures. Now go get dressed before the hot chocolate gets cold.”

 

In record time, Riley was downstairs with her hair combed and braided into pigtails. She settled into Tony’s side, nestling her head on his lap and curling up in a blanket.

 

“Don’t fall asleep on me sugar plum.”

 

Riley did fall asleep, right before Obi Wan was killed; Tony let her be, knowing that she needed her rest. Something caught his eye though, and he pulled up the back of her shirt a bit.

 

Scars, jagged white lines, ran across the bottom of her back. There was not an inch of skin left on her skin that was unmarked.

 

“Jarvis.” Calm, he reminded himself. Calm. “What the hell are these?”  

 

“They appear to be scars from a knife Sir. Acquired over multiple occasions.”

 

“And why is it, that my top of the line, Artificial Intelligence neglected to tell me about this?” The fury is his voice was barely contained.

 

“The lasserations are already healed Sir. I was only scanning for open wounds.”

 

Tony wanted to yell, scream, curse but the peaceful child in his lap shifted, and he took a breath.

 

“Jarvis, from now on I want to take note of any changes to her body.”

 

“Yes Sir. I am-I regret deeply not having noticed them before. I’m sorry Sir.”

 

“It’s alright J. Call Coulson for me, will you?”

 

“Right away Sir.”

 

******

 

It was almost one in the morning, but Natasha couldn’t sleep.

 

Clint had gone as his finger had healed; he left with a tight hug and a word of advice.

 

“Be nice to the kid Nat. I think you’re more alike than you’re allowing yourself to realize.”

 

The assassin had shoved him out with an exasperated sigh, and calling his words a load of bull.

 

But there was one mission that wouldn’t leave her mind.

 

Not a mission. An initiation.

 

The training section of the Red Room was expansive, filled with obstacles and challenges for the young trainees.

 

It had been towards the end of her training, before her graduation.

 

She had been lead into a room, in which a black sack had been placed in the center.

 

A gun was handed to her, and the Black Widow had shot through the cloth without a second thought.

 

The sack had been opened however, revealing the small frail body of a child. Bright, dead, blue eyes had followed Natasha out of the room and through her recruitment into SHIELD.

 

It was one of the nightmares that wouldn’t leave her alone.

 

The child that she had killed, she found out later, was an orphan. No one would miss her.

 

Natasha had found herself wishing sometimes that she had been the one in that black sack. Her eyes had been so much like her own.

 

But now those eyes had been replaced with lost blue eyes of Stark’s daughter; the brilliant child who could bring the world to kneel before her if she desired.

 

Clint had been right.

 

Natasha saw too much of the wish to be dead, to disappear, in Riley’s eyes and that terrified her more than anything else.

 

But damn her to hell if she would ever admit that.

Chapter Text

There was not an imperfection on Tony. His suit and tie were perfectly pressed to perfection. His hair was tamed, for once in his life, and his eyes…

 

They were fine. Sunglasses would cover them, mask the bags under his eyes, make them disappear…

 

He couldn’t show any weakness, even if he felt like he was going to collapse at any minute.

 

It was for Riley… he couldn’t show that he was decaying right in front of her eyes… he had to give her the illusion of a healthy father. It was for the rest of the world too. He was buying Riley time, protecting her by posturing in front of Congress, letting the world know that his daughter was not easily hurt…

 

Tony’s vision focused on Riley and Natalie in the back of the jet, the two of them pouring over a book that the woman had procured. Riley was still reserved around her tutor, but was learning more each session; the six year old had started communicating in several different languages in the span of an hour, the two of them chatting over the body parts of the 1962 Ferrari 250.

 

“Riley seems to be warming up to Natalie, don’t you think?” Pepper asked, pushing down a stray hair. The newly appointed CEO looked regal, imposing but still approachable in her blue polka dot dress.

 

The idea to promote Pepper had been something he had been mulling since he’d found out about his… condition, but only had the guts to carry it out recently, after the shit show that had been the Senate interrogation.

 

It wasn’t that he thought Pepper would do a bad job; he knew that she would kick ass as the head of Stark Industries. Riley’s future was what he was worried about. Whether or not she wanted to be CEO of the company or not in the future, he wanted to ensure she had access to all the money she would ever need.

 

Tony Stark was actually worrying about money.

 

The world was really going to shit.

 

The father had ensured that Riley could lay claim to the company whenever she wanted (providing she was older the age of twenty one). Pepper had readily agreed to this, signing the official contract giving her ownership of the company without blinking (although Tony could swear she was holding her breath).

 

“I guess.” There was something about the other redhead that unnerved him. Her eyes were always watching him closely, intently. There was a certain coldness about her that he didn’t like, a reserved nature. Riley seemed to like her though; there was a hesitant admiration in her eyes everytime the girl looked at her.

 

Pepper looked at him, worry creasing her eyes. “You ok?”

 

Riley smiled that cautious smile of hers as Natalie said something, and Tony’s heart constricted.

 

“I’m good.”

 

*****

 

Riley had never been out of the United States, and her father had deemed it fit to take her with him to Monaco with him for a leisure trip. Natasha, as Riley now called her tutor in private, had readily agreed to go with the family. Riley would be able to practice her French and the spy would be able to keep an eye on Tony.

 

The girl was still acting reserved around Natasha, and the spy felt a horrible, unwanted, want for the child’s admiration once again. Riley had stopped greeting her with tight hugs and a wide smile, and Natasha almost yearned for that affection again.

 

“Do they only speak French in Monaco?” Riley had been reading Eric Selvigs’ papers (which Natasha had not stolen from the SHIELD database) but had grown restless being kept in the jet for hours.

 

“No. Some people speak Italian, English and even a language called Monegsque.”

 

“Can you teach me it?”

 

Natasha flicked her nose and Riley giggled, despite her cautions about her tutor. “You haven’t even learned French yet.”

 

“Je parie que je peux mieux parler français que toi.” Of course the girl somehow already knew French. Natasha rolled her eyes and huffed.

 

“Petite merde.” she muttered, and Riley’s eyes widened.

 

“Daddy, Natalie said a bad word!”

 

******

 

After a brief reprimand from Pepper, the jet had landed shortly after in the bright city. All of them were dressed to perfection. Riley was dressed in a pale blue dress that Pepper had picked out, and Natasha (per a shy request from the little girl) had French braided her unruly curly black hair.

 

Riley had kept a tight grip on her father’s hand the entire time, standing silently next to him as he greeted business moguls in the dining room. Everything had been fine, until a familiar voice had crept up behind her.

 

“Tony! Good to see you!” Ray Moore was the owner of Moore Medical Technology, a highly successful developer of medical technology. The company provided new arms to veterans and cutting edge treatments to children afflicted with disease.

 

A good man he appeared to be, but Riley had seen who he really was.

 

He had dragged a knife against her back, had touched her even though she had said no. The other men were a blur, and he had disappeared with the rest of them until now. The pain came back to the surface, and she could swear a knife was still dragging against her…

 

“Riles, you alright?” Her father was looking at her in worry. Moore was staring at her, his eyes dark with threat and a smirk on his lips. “I gotta pee.”

 

The child fled from the two men, trying to catch her breath. Tony took a step to follow her but a hand grasped his arm. “She’s probably just tired of being cooped up on that jet for hours. I wouldn’t worry. See it all the time.”

 

Tony smiled, but the same paranoid feeling came over him as before. He was about to say goodbye to Ray and go after her, but a sharp pain in his chest drove those thoughts away, making him collapse.

 

“You alright?” Tony nodded, forcing a smile. “I’m fine just… ah, still sore...see you later…” Tony stumbled away, tearing into the nearest bathroom.

 

He was fine, fine fine fine fine…

 

*****

 

Riley cried quietly by herself in the bathroom stall, her sobs nearly silent to the untrained ear. It was a skill she’d developed months ago. Obadiah had hated it when she started crying loudly. There was always punishment if she did, always…

 

“Riley? Is everything okay?”

 

It was him. Riley fell silent, biting her lip to keep the sobs from tumbling out. Even the trembling of her body sounded too loud. A stall door crashed open down the row from her loudly and she tried not to whimper.

 

“You looked a little scared, your father was very worried.”

 

Another door, closer to her.

 

“That was bad of you, little girl. And you know what happens when you’re bad.”

 

His voice was getting closer.

 

“You get punished.” Her door flew open, and Moore kneeled in front of her. A finger drew slowly down the length of her face, and Riley whimpered.

 

“Oh sweetheart, I missed you…” A hand drew it’s way up her skirt and Riley tried not to close her eyes. It would be worse if she closed them, it always was…

 

“Riley? Are you in here?” Natasha!

 

Moore drew away, standing up. Her tutor came to the bathroom door and glared at the man.

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The woman spat, picking up Riley in her arms. The child clung to the woman tightly, burying her face into her neck.

 

“She seemed upset, I was just trying to help.” The woman’s glare did not relent and the man shifted uncomfortably.

 

Get out.” He scrambled out of the room. Natasha held her tightly, speaking to her softly.

 

“You’re safe, маленькая мышь. He’s gone.”

 

“I w-want D-daddy.” The spy nodded, wiping the girls tears away. “Alright, I’ll take you to him. But you need to stop crying, ok?” The child hiccuped. “Ok.”

 

Natasha set her down and grasped her hand tightly, the two of them walking back into the dining room.

 

Stark and Potts were nowhere to be seen. Everyone was drawn to the televisions in the room.

 

Iron Man was fighting on the racetrack, a man with electric whips thrashing against the suit. He should’ve been here, Riley thought.

 

“I hate that suit.” Riley muttered.

 

******

 

Natasha had decided not to tell Stark about the encounter with Moore. After his brash actions in Monaco, the spy did not trust the father to not kill Moore. Riley was curled up against him, looking peaceful in her sleep.

 

Her father looked absolutely exhausted. There were severe bags under his eyes. Defeat had settled into his figure, highlighting the lines in his face. He was having an intense whispered conversation with Potts, the woman seeming to finally give up. She stood up and walked into the restroom.

 

Stark held his daughter closer to him after she left, placing a kiss on her head with the utmost gentleness.

 

He did love his daughter, Natasha didn’t doubt that. But she lacked in faith his ability to watch over his daughter.

 

*****

 

It had been a nightmare, at first.

 

Moore was whispering in her ear, the blunt edge of his knife dragging against her. Obadiah was watching them from the corner of the hotel room, a smile on his face.

 

“You feel that, how excited you make me sweetheart?” Something grinded against her and she cried out in terror. She squirmed away and the knife sliced across her skin.

 

Moore tsked at her. “You know better than that, sweetheart. I’m disappointed.”

 

Help help help help…

 

The room faded away, and the knife with the two men disappeared.

 

A golden room replaced it, and a man with black hair dressed in strange clothes appeared before her.

 

He kneeled in front of her, his eyes widened in amazement. A hand came to caress her face and Riley jumped back in fright.

 

“Oh dove...I won’t hurt you. I would never.” He looked so familiar and his gaze was welcoming . There was warmth and affection in his eyes. Those eyes… they reminded her of Daddy; he always looked at her like that.

 

“I know you…” she whispered. As if in a trance, her small hand touched his face. A tear fell down his face.

 

“Don’t be sad.” Riley hated to see people cry. The man gave a watery chuckle. He held her hand against his face and looked at her with love.

 

“I am happy, my dove. I’ve found you at last. My child.” He hugged her tightly, and Riley didn’t pull away or feel scared. His embrace was warm.

 

“Who are you?” she asked. He drew away from her, his familiar eyes sad.

 

Riley woke up, but not screaming or crying; there was a smile on her face and she felt safe.

 

The man had looked so familiar. She had trusted him instantly. And his eyes…

 

They looked so sad and lost.

 

Like her.

Chapter Text

The sad man was back again.

 

He was sitting in the corner of the golden room, reading a book. He didn’t see Riley at first, engrossed in whatever he was reading. He was sitting at a window seat and the sun shone through, illuminating the room.

 

Riley coughed slightly and the man looked up, his face softening in relief when he saw her.

 

“Are you real?” she asked. The man gestured her to come closer, patting the seat next to him at the window. The girl sat next to him, leaning against the man slightly. Looking out the window, there was a wondrous sight; waterfalls and lush green hills accompanied by golden palaces.

 

“Does this look real to you?” he asked softly.

 

“What is your name?” The man smiled at her affectionately and ran his fingers through her hair, so much like the raven locks on his own head.

 

“I am Loki.”

 

“I’m Riley.”

 

Loki looked saddened by this.

 

“What is it? You’re making the face again.” Riley pouted at him and Loki chuckled.

 

“Nothing dear one.” He picked up his book again and opened it to the beginning.

 

“Would you like to read with me?” Riley nodded, settling in his lap and leaning back against him.

 

“What’s it about?” Loki smiled at her mischievously.

 

“Magic.”

 

Riley hadn’t had a nightmare since Loki had come to her a week ago. He would read with her and would conjure up objects for her; one time it was a rose, another a small green serpent made out of metal.

 

She had woken grasping both (very real) objects in her hands.

 

“Riley? Are you still with me?” Dr. Flores was sitting across from her, the lines in her face pronounced with worry. Riley had started to see her regularly not long after the incident in Monaco (at Rhodey’s insistence).  

 

“Yes.” Riley fiddled with the serpent in her fingers, and Dr. Flores looked at the object in question.

 

“Where did you get that?”

 

“Loki gave it to me.” The woman smiled cautiously. “Right.”

 

Riley had only mentioned the mystery man twice now in their past couple sessions; Riley was hesitant to offer any information on the man besides his name, and Flores didn’t want to press. It was the least of the child’s problems.

 

“Any nightmares recently?” Riley shook her head.

 

“I had one about a week ago but that was it.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Riley hesitated, gripping the serpent tightly in her hand. “I guess.” she mumbled.

 

“What happened?”

 

Dr. Flores had really kind eyes; dark brown with smile lines surrounding them, they were incredibly soothing. And strong.

 

“Obadiah and his friend they- his friend was cutting me and t...touching me. I was really scared.”

 

Her psychiatrist nodded, encouraging her to go on.

 

“I started crying and...they hate it when I cry. I couldn’t move.”

 

Riley’s breath was coming in short spurts, forcing its way out of her lungs and rattling her body.

 

“Breathe Riley. You’re safe.”

 

Right. Riley looked into her doctors brown eyes and felt the soft sofa beneath her. Safe.

 

“Who was this friend?”

 

“I-I can’t...he’ll hurt me-”

 

Dr. Flores shushed her. “That’s alright, you don’t have to tell me right now. Did he come often?”

 

Riley nodded, holding the serpent tighter in her grasp.  “Yeah.”

 

The woman went on, offering comforting words of advice. Riley could hear none of her words. She became lost in her own world, full of waterfalls and gold palaces and sad men with blue eyes.

 

*****

 

The pain was getting worse.

 

His vision had started swimming before him; people would mush together into one distorted figure. The burning throughout his entire body made it difficult to move at times.

 

That was alright, that was what the suit was for. It moved for him. He didn’t even need to think anymore.

 

Tony took a sip of the putrid green drink. Ivan Vanko’s face stared back at him.

 

Another victim of Howard's ambition, he supposed. Maybe in a different life he would be a world renowned scientist.

 

“Sir, Lt. Colonel Rhodes has arrived.”

 

Rhodey, still in uniform, swept over Tony’s figure, taking in his pale face and the unfocused look in his eyes.

 

“Tony? You still in there?” His best friend only chuckled, but no smile came across his lips.

 

“Good question.” Tony stood and stumbled, clutching onto his best friends hand for support.

 

“Can you-get me-” Tony gestured to the desk at the far end of the garage and Rhodey had to basically carry him to it. Tony collapsed into a chair, quickly swapping out the palladium core with a fresh one.

 

Rhodey studied the rust covered core with concern. “You had this in your body?” Tony shrugged, not meeting his eyes.

 

“Listen Tony,” there was a sternness in his voice that Tony recognized, “ The government has been on my ass all day; they wanna take your suits. I barely convinced them not to come here with tanks and blow up your front door!”

 

He didn’t sound angry, just frustrated. “CPS is threatening to take Riles away and Pepper and I-we can’t- what’s going on with you Tony?”

 

Tony opened his mouth, but Rhodey wasn’t done. “You keep acting like you have to do this alone and it’s unnecessary; you’re not alone in this Tones.” He gestures to the picture of Vanko glaring at Tony from the holoscreen.

 

“I know what I’m doing.” Tony grits out. He’s fine. Riley is taken care of, what the fuck did CPS think he was doing?

 

“Really? Then why did you pull that stunt in Monaco Tony? You could’ve been killed.”

 

“Wasn’t exactly planning on a maniac being there.”

 

Rhodey sighed. “Look Tones- it’s been hard lately, I know- but you need to get your priorities straight. You go and do reckless shit like in Monaco, Riley will be taken away in a heartbeat. CPS was turning a blind eye before because you were saving the world, thousands of miles away, but now the danger’s at your doorstep.”

 

His best friend grasped his shoulder firmly. There wasn’t any anger in his eyes; just exhaustion and irritation. Rhodey grabs a picture frame sitting on his desk and hands it to him.

“Whenever you need to talk to someone, I’m here alright?” Rhodey walked out then, leaving Tony clutching the photo.

 

Riley was three, with Mickey Mouse ears and a big grin on her face. A line of ice cream lined her upper lip. Probably from the ice cream sandwich she’d had earlier that day. It had been three in the afternoon.

 

Had that really only been three years ago?

 

Riley’s smile was so different now. Less bright.

 

He would get that smile back though. The suit would help.

 

The suit would outlive him, and protect her. It would be better than he was.

 

He became lost in his work, his hands functioning for him. Building more suits had become a second thought.

 

Don’t waste your life.

 

His life didn’t matter anymore.

 

*****

 

“Nat, is Daddy going to be ok?”

 

“He will be. We’re figuring some stuff out, alright?”

 

Against Natasha’s own will, they had grown closer since the encounter with Moore the week before. Riley was becoming dependent on Natasha’s strength, the woman’s confidence and calm demeanor soothing her worries temporarily.

 

“It’ll all be fine in the end. Don’t worry.”

 

Riley still looked sullen. Her father had all but locked himself in the garage, only coming out to talk to someone once a day. He no longer tucked her in and he wasn’t in his room when she had nightmares and needed to sleep with him.

 

Natasha ruffled her hair and walked out, leaving Riley alone.

 

It was happening again.

 

Riley didn’t have anyone to talk to anymore, there was no one there for her-

 

The serpent grew colder in her hand and Riley remembered her new friend. He had come before when she’d cried for help, maybe she could-

 

“Something the matter dove?”

 

Loki was dressed in normal clothes now, a black suit with a green scarf around his neck. Riley tugged on it, feeling the soft material.

 

“You’re real!” Little arms hugged his legs, and the man stumbled.

 

“Of course I am. I heard you call for help, is something wrong?” Tears welled up in her eyes and a little sob left her lips.

 

“I’m scared.” she admitted, whispering the words as if they were forbidden. She was trembling violently, and Loki picked her up and held her tightly against his chest.

 

“Why are you scared love?” Loki sat them down on Riley’s bed, only slightly wincing at the bright pink sheets.

 

“Daddy he… he doesn’t even notice me anymore. He doesn’t love me. The suit is more important to him...he’s gone all over again.” The girl murmured her confession into his neck, tears soaking his collar.

 

Loki sighed, anger stiffening his body. “He is not your father, little one. I should have put an end to this sooner; I did not realize how neglectful humans were of the young.”

 

Riley sniffled, looking at him oddly. “What...I don’t understand…”

 

He wiped her tears away with a sad smile. “I lost you a long time ago, when you were barely a day old. I have never stopped looking for you. Every realm, every corner of the world I searched for you, my daughter.”

 

Riley’s heart stopped. Loki was her-

 

Her gut didn’t twist in the familiar way whenever someone lied to her, which terrified her even more.

 

“H-how did you-how did you find me?”

 

“I heard your cry for help in your dreams. I didn’t know it was you at first but…” he paused, his lips drawn in a tight line. “...I felt such profound pain, I could not ignore it.”

 

That wasn’t a lie either. Loki seemed to notice her uneasiness and smiled at her softly.

 

“I know this must be overwhelming to you.”

 

Riley nodded, her eyes round. He couldn’t help chuckling a bit at her expression.

 

“But if you would like, you can come with me. To my home.”

 

Golden palaces, flowers always in full bloom… the place he called Asgard. It was everything Riley could have wanted in one place. It was perfection.

 

But still…

 

Her father. He was in so much pain…

 

“I can’t leave Daddy. He’ll be too sad if I leave.” Loki looked disappointed.

 

“No need for a decision now. Think about it. You will never doubt your safety or my love for you if you come with me, dove. Remember that.”

 

With a tender kiss to her forehead, he disappeared, leaving Riley alone on her bed.

 

So Daddy wasn’t… he lied to her?

 

It wouldn’t have been the first time. In fact, he almost never told her anything now, choosing to keep to himself and hiding in his shop. He hardly told her he loved her anymore….

 

No-just she couldn’t- no. Her dad loved her. Of course he did. He was just in a lot of pain.

 

Riley tucked herself beneath the sheets, her eyes drooping closed.



Secretly, a part of herself wished to travel back to the heavenly land.

 

You will never doubt your safety or my love for you.



Still...

Chapter Text

There was a mess of colored pencils and markers surrounding Riley, whose brow was drawn in with concentration. The paper in front of her was folded into a card, and on the front it read “Happy Birthday!” in neat cursive.

 

She hoped Daddy would like and hang it on his wall in the garage.

 

Loki had come back to visit several times, each time asking if she had changed her mind. And every time she had still answered no.

 

But it was getting harder to get that word to slip between her lips.

 

Tony had only become more of a recluse, only occasionally speaking to others through the phone. When Riley would come in, he would greet her with a kiss; but that was all she would receive before he was drawn back into his work. She no longer could help him with his suits or other projects anymore.

 

His face was always pale, with strange lines running across his neck. He was constantly clutching at his chest (at least when he thought no one was looking) and the wrinkles in his face were constantly drawn in pain.

 

Riley was worried about him, but he always lied to her.

 

Loki never lied to her.

 

Loki tucked her in at night, kissed her head, kept Obadiah, Moore and the others far away from her mind.

 

He kept her safe.

 

He kept his promises.

 

Riley paused, the red marker she had been using to draw a heart with bleeding into the paper.

 

Daddy never kept his promises anymore.

 

A soft knock on her door interrupted her thoughts. Uncle Rhodey stood in her doorway, a small smile on his face.

 

“You ready for the party kiddo?” Riley shrugged; parties meant lots of people, and people made her nervous. Really, she just wanted to give Tony his card and ask him about...herself.

 

“Uncle Rhodey, do you know who my mom is?” Her uncle looked momentarily shocked before collecting himself. He sat down next to her the floor.

 

“No, I don’t. Why do you ask?” Riley hesitated before thinking of an excuse.

 

“I see other kids with their mom all the time.” Rhodey sighed and tried draping an arm around her. Riley flinches on instinct and he lowers his arm, trying not to let his disappointment show.

 

“Look Riles...your mom left you on your dad’s doorstep. You were about a day old. No one knows who she is or why she left you.”

 

“Then how did he even know he was my father?” Her tone comes out harsher than she intended and Rhodey stared at her for a moment before answering.

 

“He had Jarvis run a DNA test on you, and he’s hardly ever wrong kiddo.”

 

Riley nodded, not accepting his explanation. Rhodey stood and offered his hand.

 

“Now c’mon, you want to give that card to your dad right?” Riley smiled brightly and nodded, running out of her room. He would love the card-he had to- she needed him to.

 

She just wanted him to acknowledge her.

 

******

 

Tony was pleasantly numb, the constant pain eliminated by alcohol he’d consumed in the past two (?) hours. Faces were blurs to him, and his words started to slur. Several women came up to him with lustful eyes, but he rebuffed them all; he wasn’t interested in any of them.

 

“Pepsi!” he crowed, slinging an arm around Pepper. Who looked ravishing in her dress, and her hair...so pretty…

 

“How much have you had to drink Tony?” He shrugged, taking another drink of whatever was in his hands. Pepper sighed in exasperation and made a gesture to someone.

 

“You’ve had way too much already. You need to lay down.” Rhodey came over then, taking away Tony’s drink and supporting his ailing friend.

 

“M’fine.” he mumbled, breaking free of his two friends and grabbing another drink. He stumbled over something-someone- and his drink went everywhere.

 

“Hey, sorry I-”

 

Riley stood there, her dress now soaking wet and the card in her hand damp. Tears were falling down her cheeks rapidly and her bottom lip was trembling. Tony was absolutely horrified at himself, god what had he done…

 

The child ran out of the room, leaving a speechless Tony. The part continued on as normal, but the host felt like his world had just been taken away from him. He crumbled, and he was caught by Rhodey.

 

“She hates me…’m jus like Howard…” Distantly, he heard Pepper ushering everyone out. Rhodey only tightened his grip.

 

Rhodey was good. He was better than Tony. “Gonna give you a suit-you deserve it-you’re better than me I’m stupid...no good…” The other man shushed him, settling Tony down on his bed. When had they gotten to his room?

 

“None of that Tones. We’re gonna sober you up, you’re gonna go apologize to your daughter, and then you’re gonna tell me what the fuck is going on with you.” The smell of coffee filled his nostrils and the sound of a shower in the background.

 

Fuck, he had really screwed up.

 

******

 

Riley sobbed into her pillow, her tears soaking the sheets. It was getting a bit hard to breathe, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. This was the only way to get this pain, the horrible pain, out of her. It was unbearable.

 

A knock at her door. “ Solnyshko? It’s me.” Natasha opened the door, still in a tight party dress. She was holding a glass of milk and container of Oreos. The woman smiled at her cautiously, sitting down on the bed next to Riley.

 

“Is this ok? Do you want me to move?” Riley shook her head, pulling the woman closer. Natasha placed the cookies and milk on the nightstand and wrapped her arms around the girl.

 

“He...he didn’t even know who I was.” Riley sobbed, soaking Natasha’s dress with her tears. She ran her hands through the girls’ hair softly.

 

“Your father Riley...he’s in a lot of pain right now. I think he was just trying to forget about it.”

 

Riley looked up at her in horror. “I’m causing him pain? He wanted to forget me?”

 

“No, no that’s not-” This was not part of Natasha’s job. Letting herself be devoid of emotion for so long had repercussions, and not just for herself. It was frustrating; she wanted to comfort Riley, wanted to be there for her.

 

She just didn’t know how to do that. That would mean allowing herself to feel the same things as the girl, and she didn’t know if she was able to handle that. It had been so long...

 

“Riley? Honey? Can we talk for a minute?” There was no slur in Tony’s voice, and he sounded clear headed (mostly anyway). Riley flinched at the sound of his voice and Natasha wrapped a protective arm around her.

 

“I can tell him you’re asleep. He’ll leave you alone.” Riley sniffled and shook her head.

 

“It’s ok. He can come in.” Natasha didn’t look too happy with this, but nodded anyway.

 

“I’ll be right down the hall if you change your mind, ok?” Riley nodded her understanding, wiping away her tears. Natasha squeezed her shoulder before standing, opening the door.

 

Tony stood there in sweatpants and a sleeveless shirt. There were dark circles under his eyes and his face looked gaunt. He looked like a wreck. Natasha gave him a warning glare before stepping out of the room.

 

“Riles...I’m…” He didn’t know what to say, if words were even enough. He sat on the bed next to her, and she scooted away from him. Something in him broke.

 

“I am so sorry sweetheart. I just-there’s-I messed up, ok? I can’t tell you how sorry I am, I never should have done that to you. Any of it. I’m sorry I shut you out, I’m sorry that Iron Man started to come before you. Nothing comes before you. Never again, ok? I promise.”

 

Riley only looked at him. Her eyes looked far too old and tired for a child.

 

“You’re lying.”

 

She turned her back to him, lying down on her bed and pulling the covers over herself. Tony felt himself being ripped apart, down to a molecular level. The burn from toxic leftovers in his blood could not compare to this-this- wasn’t anything like he’d ever felt before.

 

“I’ll prove it to you. I’ll...I’ll make it right. Just believe in me. Please.”

 

No response. Trembling, Tony brushed her hair back and placed a kiss on her forehead.

 

“It’s you and me kiddo. I love you.” He left quietly, shutting the door silently.

 

Riley clutched the serpent in her hand, calling out in her mind for Loki. He appeared in an instant, although now he was wearing the strange green and gold clothing he had worn the first time she saw him.

 

He opened his arms and Riley fell into them, settling into the familiar warmth of his body. She didn’t cry, just allowed herself to take a deep breath.

 

“I can’t…” Loki kneeled in front of her, taking her hands into his own.

 

“Darling, are you ready to come with me?”

 

Riley took a breath.

Chapter Text

Six Years Ago,  The Royal Palace of Asgard

 

Loki paced around the room, nearly cracking a hole in the floor with the force of his steps. His heart was pounding in his ears, and he wanted to rip the damn thing out of his chest.

It already felt like someone had.

 

His child, only a day old, was gone. Her cradle was empty, her toys almost mocking him with their painted smiles. A green blanket lay there in her place.

 

Hulda sat in the corner, weeping. Loki knew he should comfort the young Queen, but he couldn’t bring himself to muster up the sympathy. His own pain was too much for him at the moment.

 

Hulda was a good woman, and would have been a fantastic mother. But their little Raya, only a baby, was gone. Vanished.

 

His mother walked in at that moment, light blue robes sweeping behind her. Both of them stood at her entrance, and Hulda attempted a bow. Frigga only smiled sadly at the woman’s gesture, grasping their hands together.

 

“Is there any sign of her?” Loki asked, his voice reeking of desperation. His mother shook her head, her eyes grieved.

 

“I’m sorry, my son. Not one glimpse or trace of our poor Raya.” Hulda sobbed at her words and Loki sat and buried his face in his hands.

 

“Heimdall will constantly be looking for her. We have Asgard’s and Eira’s finest sorcerers and warriors tracking every movement on every realm. We will find her.”

 

Hulda scoffs. “It is just as well; we never” -she forces herself to take a deep breath- “should have meddled with that gem. This is our punishment.”

 

Anger boils within him. “We have created something more beautiful, more powerful-”

 

“Enough, both of you. How do you expect to find your child if you are bickering all the time?” That silenced the two of them.

 

“We will never stop looking for her. I promise you both.”

 

Loki had waited. For six years he had waited for his child to be in his arms again. And for nothing.

 

Hulda had returned home to Eira, attempting every spell imaginable to find Raya. She would send letters, visit him, but those faded away with time. There was no lost love between them; they had been merely two young, curious sorcerers who had accomplished something great-bringing life from mere air.

 

What did they have to show for it now?

 

Hulda had others to lean on; her sisters, her parents. Loki had no one else. His mother had tried to talking to him, but he couldn’t allow his feelings to escape him. Father and Thor were too preoccupied to notice anything. His brother had looked thunderous when he had heard the news of his nieces disappearance, but had since buried himself in battles and parties.

 

His father was, as per usual, his indifferent self. Not even the great and powerful All-Father could bring himself to shed a tear for his granddaughter.

 

And so he stayed in the shadows. For six long years.

 

His mind chipped away for six long years. No one paid him any mind. His brother, the golden spectacle, occupied the hearts and minds of the people-of his father. With time, his resentment grew, as did his loneliness.

 

Was it so wrong to yearn to be noticed?  

 

*****

Six years ago, Tony Stark’s Malibu House

 

Tony Stark was a hot mess.

 

He was never without his drink in his hand or a smile plastered on his lips. People in his life circulated in and out in a constant motion; different faces, same intentions. They all wanted a piece of the prodigal son of Howard Stark.

 

And Tony had handed those pieces of himself with a large grin, downing a shot of fire down his throat to numb the pain.

 

It was too much. The cameras, the press...the attention.

 

Was it possible to feel alone when you’re the center of attention?

 

It was thoughts like these that Tony Stark, the unfeeling playboy billionaire, that plagued his mind.

So when a baby girl showed up, literally on his doorstep, he was a little freaked out- to say the least.

 

How could anyone expect Tony Stark to be a good father to a small little girl who could barely open her eyes on her own?

 

There had been no note accompanying Riley, just swathed in a soft material Tony had never felt before. She had a plump of hair on her head and the brightest blue eyes he’d ever seen. A smile brightened her chubby face when she saw Tony.

 

Needless to say, he’d fallen in love instantly.

 

He’d still called Pepper, who had hung up the phone laughing after promising to come by the house. She had not expected to find Tony holding a baby, a living baby, in his arms with red eyes and about five new wrinkles on his face.

 

Together, they dramatically shifted Tony’s life around. No more big parties, less press conferences, and definitely no more one night stands. Tony’s lab was baby proofed and now he had a four seater car sitting in his garage.

 

He’d stopped drinking, and he cut contact from people who were only with him for fame or affluence. Rhodey, Pepper, Happy, and Tony had kept Riley Stark away from Tony’s old world.

 

For a little bit at least.

 

******

 

He was back. There was a cigar in one hand and a needle in the other.

 

“What? You thought I was gone forever?” He chuckled. A cold hand ran across her body, and Riley suppressed a sob from leaving her lips.

 

His lips came close to her ear “I will always be there. You’re never getting rid of me.”

 

Cold intruded her then, and she was screaming…

 

A hand. A smooth, unscathed hand was reaching out to her.

 

“L...Loki?”

 

It was a woman’s voice who answered her. “No. Take my hand, Riley.”

 

Riley grasped the woman’s hand tightly. She couldn’t see her face, but she had the strangest instinct to trust her.

 

The motel room and Obadiah faded away.

 

Riley was back in her room, but it was different. There was no pink anywhere and her Captain America teddy bear wasn’t anywhere to be seen. The walls were painted a light blue instead of a bright yellow.

 

“Hey there.”

 

A woman was sitting elegantly on her bed. Black curls flowed down her shoulders, and warm blue eyes were watching her with curiosity. A red leather jacket was the only pop of colour in her otherwise black apparel. She was the most beautiful woman Riley had ever seen.

 

“Who are you?” Riley wasn’t scared, no; she felt completely calm. The woman only smiled at her sadly.

 

“I forgot this.” She stood, trailing her hand down the wall, a wistful look on her face. Her eyes looked over Riley’s smaller form, a million memories seeming to be running through her bright blue eyes.

 

She kneels in front of Riley, a real smile coming over her face. There’s not a flaw on her face. “It doesn’t matter who I am. What does matter is what I know.”

 

A sigh leaves her lips. “Do not go with Loki. I know it is tempting, but do not let yourself be fooled by the gifts and magic.”

 

“He makes the bad men go away.” Riley tries to defend him.

 

The woman only shakes her head, and tears now illuminate her eyes.

 

“Only you can make the nightmares stop. You alone. What those men did- what that man forced you to do- it happened to you. Not Loki. You get to decide if they will haunt you for the rest of your life. Not Loki, not anybody else. You .”

 

A sad smile dances across her lips, understanding in her eyes. “It won’t be easy. But just- talk to your dad, to Pepper. Appreciate them.”

 

“Daddy hurt my feelings.”

 

“He made a mistake. That doesn’t mean you leave him. You’ve made some mistakes too, right?”

 

She’s right, so Riley says nothing.

 

“Remember this, Riley.”

 

The woman faded away into nothing, and the light blue of the room turned into a bright yellow. Her teddy bear reappeared, and her pink bed sheets came back to life.

 

Loki was still kneeling, where the woman had just been seconds ago. Riley blinked hard, her eyes searching for any remnants of the room she had seen before. There was nothing remaining except the words the woman had left her with.

 

“I need you to make a-”

 

“No. I’m staying here.”

 

Loki’s jaw clenched and his eyes seemed to glow.

 

“You would turn down a perfect life? You could have everything you ever wanted. You would wish for nothing.”

 

Riley considered this. She was about to take her words back when-

 

Remember this, Riley.

 

“I have everything I need. But thank you.” She gives him a hug. He doesn’t return it.

 

“I’ll see you again, dove.”

 

Then he was gone, and Riley felt a part of herself go with him.

 

“Bye Papa.” She whispered to nothing.