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Walking The Wire

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2000

The fact of the matter was that paternity claims came in all the time. They weren’t an everyday thing, but they happened often enough that Pepper had actually gone through the trouble of creating a folder for them just so she could keep track. Jarvis helped to make correlations between the ones that were fairly possible, but everyone knew that while Tony liked to keep his bed warm that he was also a stickler for protection. Still, every contraceptive was only 99.99% effective so there was a whole set up to verify pregnancy and paternity if there even was a pregnancy. Some girls just showed up trying to get a marriage out of the claim, while others wanted a hand out. Pepper gave them nothing. Tony left it in her deft hands -- just like everything else -- and things just went on.

Then, came Mary Fitzpatrick.

Pepper had met Mary sometime after Mary started working for Stark Industries. She stood out a bit in part because her background wasn’t in mechanics but instead bio-chemical engineering. Pepper didn’t know the logistics behind what Mary did for Stark Industries, but she knew that Mary was a good conversationalist, absolutely brilliantly smart, and that she was beautiful. She looked the part of the kind of girl that Tony went for, but Pepper thought she was too smart to get ensnared in that web.

Mary had worked for Stark Industries for about a year before she met Tony. It happened at an office party and Pepper remembered seeing Tony break away from Obadiah to speak to her and had known that Tony would either charm Mary or get shot down hard.

Pepper knew everything about Tony and was in charge of almost every aspect of his life, so she was well aware of the moment when Happy picked Tony and Mary up and drove them back to Tony’s house.

Tony and Mary became friends. It surprised Pepper, at first, because Tony never befriended the women he took to bed, but she shouldn’t have been surprised because Mary was different and she seemed to keep up with Tony when it came to all the science talk. Tony even invited her into his workshop at SI a few times and they seemed to work well together. Pepper saw promise in the partnership and she could see how easily Mary could change Tony for the better.

2001

Two months later, Pepper found Mary crying outside her office.

Mary just whispered two words. “I’m pregnant” and Pepper knew. She invited Mary into her office and gave her a drink of water and let her calm down before asking if she was sure.

Mary gave her the full story. She had a long-distance relationship with a man named Richard Parker. He was in New York City but it was temporary and he was moving out to California to be with her and in the meanwhile they had an open-relationship to make things easier. Mary hadn’t expected for Tony to come into her life the way he did and she definitely didn’t love him. Mary loved Richard. There was no possible way for Richard to be the father and Mary hadn’t allowed herself to see anyone else in any sense except for Tony.

“So what do you want to do?” Pepper asked.

“I can’t have an abortion,” Mary said at once. Then, unlike all those other women claiming to be pregnant and carrying little Starks, Mary demanded that Pepper never tell Tony.

“I’ll talk to Richard. He’s -- he’s very understanding and we always wanted to have children. Tony doesn’t want kids. He doesn’t need this and this life he leads is not one that a child should be introduced to. This is my two weeks notice. I just need you not to tell Tony.”

Pepper couldn’t keep it from Tony. Not only did she not want to try to keep it a secret, but she knew enough about Tony Stark to know that secrets were not things he handled well. What he did handle well was being told how something was going to be.

“Mary Parker tendered her resignation. She’s pregnant, Tony.”

Tony’s expression was surprise and he was at a loss for words for once.

“She is leaving for New York in two weeks to her boyfriend. She doesn’t want anything except to be left alone. She’s going to raise the baby with her boyfriend or on her own. Mary didn’t even want me to tell you but I figured you should know.”

Tony responded just as Pepper had expected him to after the immediate shock had blown away.

“Set up a fund for the kid,” Tony said, “make it accessible on his or her 18th birthday and make sure that Mary gets some sort of paternal support. She has the right idea, you know, I wouldn’t be good for a baby.”

Mary sent Pepper pictures and stories and little tidbits about her and Tony’s son over the next four years and even though Tony never acted like he was interested, Pepper showed them to him and had Jarvis keep a file on him. Peter Parker was a beautiful boy with chubby cheeks, a huge smile, and just a tuft of brown hair on his head. His brown eyes were Tony’s and Pepper suspected that he would look more and more like Tony as he got older. Even though Tony had been reluctant to look at the pictures, once he did he seemed to be fascinated by them but even then he didn’t ask to contact Mary or ask to meet his son.

Every year brought more pictures and stories and a toddler Peter looked more and more like Tony had in the baby pictures that Pepper had found once in an old photo album. It was almost sad that they didn’t actually know Peter.

Then, Mary and Richard died.

---

2005

Pepper found out when May Parker called searching to Tony and for a long moment Pepper had feared that this woman who wasn’t even related to Peter by blood wanted Tony to step up and take his son or that worse she wanted some sort of incentive to keep the secret of Peter’s parentage. Having worked for SI for long enough, Pepper was well aware of how horrible some people were.

She was surprised when instead, May said: “My husband and I are going to take Peter in. He’s a wonderful kid and it’s what Mary and Richard wanted and specified in their will. I just figured that you might want to know. That Mr. Stark might want to know where his son is. He’s in good hands, Ms. Potts. Mary told us about Peter’s father and she always felt respected because Mr. Stark followed her wishes. These are her wishes.”

To Pepper it had felt a little bit like May was making sure that Tony wasn’t going to try and get custody because as Peter’s father he had more of a claim to be Peter’s guardian than May Parker did.

Since Tony had never expressed interest in actually meeting Peter, it felt better to just let May and Ben Parker take Peter. They were his family, after all, and Tony had only gotten worse since Mary. He had men and women both in and out of his bed and Pepper was just the face they saw in the morning on the way out. No one ever got as close to Tony as Mary had and while there were still paternity claims, none were true or Tony’s in one case. That girl had been happy the baby wasn’t Tony’s and so confused that Pepper had had to wonder about where he’d picked her up in the first place.

May didn’t send updates as often as Mary did, but she always sent a thank you note after all of Peter’s birthdays for the birthday gift that Pepper picked out and sent with Tony’s signature -- which she had perfected over the years. Along with it usually came a few pictures and tidbits about Peter’s day to day. Even though his parents were gone, Peter seemed well adjusted and happy.

Pepper knew that it didn’t matter what May sent because Tony looked in on Peter in his own way through Jarvis. He had files on him that had things like his school reports and medical records and all kinds of things that Tony really shouldn’t have had and yet there they were. He still sent money for Peter too and when that wasn’t enough made sure that Peter went to the best school in New York City, even if he was still just entering elementary school. He cared in his own ways, a care that intensified in some ways after Mary and Richard died.

Then, Afghanistan happened.