Tony Stark could see a storm brewing as he got out of the car in front of the Stark Industries’ offices in Los Angeles. Clouds were towering over the sea, slowly rolling their way towards the shore. The air smelled like rain and lightning, the first tendrils of a stormy breeze tugging at Tony’s suit and hair.
”Are you nervous?” Obie asked, coming around the car with his briefcase in hand.
”Should I be?”
Obie smiled sharply and tugged his suit jacket in place. He struck quite the figure with his broad shoulders and earnest expression, a figure of authority. Together, they were an unstoppable force. Tony could always count on him when it came to decisions regarding the company … and sometimes, like today, trusted him to advise him in private issues as well. Opening the door for the both of them and letting Tony pass before following, Obie walked next to him through the small entrance hall towards the meeting rooms tucked away at the side of the building. ”Let me handle the conversation,” he said. ”I know how to deal with this.”
”Do this often then?” Tony asked, taking his sunglasses off and folding them into the breast pocket of his suit jacket before buttoning it. ”Dealing with women I got pregnant?”
Obie chuckled. ”I deal with women who claim you got them pregnant.”
”This one’s telling the truth, though.”
”She’s still only after one thing and that’s money,” Obie replied. ”You own one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world. She wouldn’t be here if you were just a plumber.” They stopped in front of one of the larger meeting rooms and Obie caught his eyes one last time. ”Let me handle it.”
With that, he opened the door and they entered. She was sitting at the polished table, bathed in the sunlight streaming through the panorama windows behind her, a cup of coffee in front of her and her handbag on the table off to the side. Through the windows, Tony could see the storm clouds rolling closer just over her shoulders, the sun’s fight for dominance a losing battle. She looked collected and calm, though her hands were fidgeting slightly. Her name, Tony knew, was Mary.
The last time Tony had seen her was roughly a year ago when they’d met at a charity event Tony had only reluctantly agreed to attend. She’d worn a stunning red dress that had complimented her slim figure, her chestnut-brown hair pulled into a complicated braid and her green eyes sparkling with intelligence and wit. He remembered her better than most of his other flings because she had been interesting to talk to and because she hadn’t seemed to care that Tony was rich. She was a smart and capable scientist and Tony had enjoyed her company for the few days they’d been together.
He didn’t know how it had happened, whether it had been an accident or whether they’d been too tipsy to be careful one night, but Mary had got in touch with him a few weeks ago via his office, claiming that he was the father of her baby. Mary wasn’t the first to claim this and she certainly wouldn’t be the last, but the mandatory paternity test had been positive and that had never happened before. Obie had taken over immediately, inviting Mary over to talk.
She looked just as beautiful as she had back then, even wearing jeans and a casual t-shirt, her dark hair tied back into a simple ponytail. She looked at Tony as they entered, her pretty face pulling into a frown when she noticed Obie. They shook hands, but Mary’s eyes returned to Tony quickly. ”I was hoping we could have a private conversation.”
”I’m sure you did, Miss Fitzpatrick,” Obie said before Tony could grasp for an answer. He sat in one of the chairs on the opposite side of table, smiling at Mary sharply. ”But this isn’t just a conversation affecting Tony. This is a conversation about a possible heir to Tony’s company and fortune, and that makes it my business as well.”
Tony sat next to him, folding his hands on the table.
”I’m not interested in Tony’s company or fortune,” Mary replied.
”I’m sure you aren’t.”
”Don’t placate me. What is this?” Mary asked, her eyes fixating on Tony. ”This … set-up? Meeting in a conference room, sitting across from each other as if we’re about to strike a business deal?”
”Aren’t we?” Obie asked.
She glared at him. ”Tony,” she said then, looking at him firmly, ”aren’t you going to speak to me?”
Tony met her eyes, but he didn’t answer, trusting Obie to lead the conversation.
Obie cleared his throat and opened his briefcase. ”Miss Fitzpatrick, Tony is willing to pay child support.” He pushed the contract over the table towards her. ”You will find that this is a very handsome offer.”
”I didn’t come here for child support,” Mary said. ”I came here to talk to the father of my baby.”
”There will be no further contact between Tony and the child. This contract contains a form signed by Tony which confirms he is giving up his parental rights as well as a confidentiality agreement which asks for your discretion in regards to the fatherhood of the baby.”
Mary stared at him with wide eyes for a moment, uncomprehending, and then turned back to Tony. ”Do you have an opinion in this matter or do you let this man speak for you?”
Tony cleared his throat. ”I’m owning up to the consequences of my actions, Mary. Take the offer, it’s good.”
”Consequences,” she said, going through her handbag before slapping several pictures onto the table. ”This is the consequence,” she said. ”Your son.” She scoffed. ”God knows, Tony, that I’m not an idiot. I know you don’t want to build a family. I’m not looking for marriage. I’ve been dating someone for half a year now who is willing to be a father to your kid. I just thought …” She shook her head, her angry words faltering. She brushed her fingers over the pictures before withdrawing. ”I just thought you might want to at least know him.”
Tony stared at the pictures, at the chubby face of a baby with a shock of dark hair on his head and large brown eyes. He looked happy and innocent, so unlike everything Tony was.
”We’re moving to New York,” Mary said, softening her tone. ”I know you have offices there. Maybe you could … just sometimes.”
Tony tried to imagine it, tried to imagine making this baby a part of his life, as small as it would be … it didn’t feel right. He didn’t like to be weighed down by responsibilities he couldn’t shirk and at some point in time, the media might find out and then, the kid’s life would be nothing but a circus. Besides, Tony would be a bad influence and there was a better, cleaner solution. ”What’s the name of the guy you’re dating?” he asked.
Tony nodded and put his sunglasses on. ”Take the money, set up an adoption, tell the kid that Richard’s his dad. It’s the best you can do for him.” He got up and looked at Obie. ”I guess you don’t need me anymore?”
”I can handle the signature with Miss Fitzpatrick,” Obie answered. ”You go on.”
Tony turned towards the door but Mary’s clipped voice stopped him. ”Tony.” He turned back around to her. She was standing, her arms crossed, her face thunderous. ”You will regret this.”
”I doubt it.”
She swallowed. Tony was too far away to see whether there were tears in her eyes but he wouldn’t be surprised if there were. He averted his eyes quickly, tucking his hands into the pockets of his trousers. Mary scoffed. ”You sad man,” she said. ”You sad, sad man. I feel sorry for you.”
Tony didn’t answer. He turned and walked away. When Obie found him later in his office, he poured Tony a drink and set the contract down on the desk. ”She didn’t take the money. But she signed the confidentiality agreement.”
Tony leaned back in his chair, gulping the drink down.
”It’s a win, Tony,” Obie said, filling his glass back up and pouring himself one, holding it out to toast.
”It’s a win,” Tony repeated, clinking their glasses together.
He didn’t tell Obie that he felt just that little bit sad. It was probably normal and it would surely cease over time.
Tony pushed a twenty dollar bill into the tip jar on the top of the bar and grabbed the glass of scotch, turning away to face the mingling crowd again. The ballroom of the Four Seasons was brightly lit, the gentle music played by the small band in the corner floating through the air, not quite tuned out by the laughter and the chatting. A lot of people had come tonight. The sounds they made were reverberating through his half-drunken haze painfully and he felt slightly disoriented.
Tony wasn’t even sure anymore who the host was or why they were here. He just knew that Pepper had made him accept the invitation when they had still been a couple and she’d been adamant that they should turn up together. Mainly because their break-up wasn’t public knowledge yet. They had agreed to wait a bit before announcing it. As if it would make it easier to see the end of their relationship splattered all over the tabloids after they had had a chance to come to terms with it themselves. Pepper’s blue eyes looked down at Tony’s glass in judgement. ”Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
”No,” Tony answered.
He moved forward, swaying a little, and Pepper quickly linked her arm with his, steadying him. ”I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be here tonight,” she said softly.
”You insisted I had to come.”
”Well, I was wrong.”
He looked at her in fake surprise. ”I don’t hear that often enough.”
Pepper grit her teeth and looked away, her long blonde hair swaying gently with the motion. ”Be an adult about this, would you?” They smiled at the mayor as he passed and Pepper was drawn into a short conversation about the upcoming elections which Tony completely ignored, only paying attention again when Pepper nudged him gently as she said, ”Stark Industries believes in the generations to come, which is why we are going to initiate a fund for STEM schools all over the country, right, Tony?”
”Yeah,” he said, not really interested. ”Definitely.”
”I’d be more careful,” the mayor replied with a teasing smile. ”One day, one of those high schoolers will turn out to be smarter than you.”
Tony laughed politely along to the joke and shrugged. ”Somebody will have to take over the company, right?”
His kid would be old enough to be in high school by now.
The thought of his son came unbidden, as always, and he suppressed it as quickly as he could. Pepper leaned in close. ”You okay?”
Tony noticed that the mayor and his wife had moved on. ”Yeah. Absolutely.” But he wasn’t. Not really. He actually felt a little sick. ”Maybe I did have one too much. I’m going to the restroom.”
He left without waiting for an answer, making his way out of the ballroom. He felt that he could breathe a little easier. There were too many people in the closest restroom next to the venue, so Tony headed through the hotel lobby and to the restroom tucked away next to the reception. It was empty, its chrome appliances, marble floors and gold accents shining in the bright lights. He felt his nausea increase. Turning on the water, he cupped it in his hands to splash it on his face. He felt better immediately.
Using one of the provided towels, he patted his face dry and fixed his tie and collar, then he leaned on the sink with his hands, lowering his head to breathe deeply for a minute. That was when his eyes registered movement in the mirror, something shifting directly behind him, and instinct kicked in. He whirled around, tapping his watch and pulling the repulsor over his hand to point it right at whoever had the audacity to sneak up on him … and found himself face to face with a scared-looking teenager. His brown hair was short and wet, slightly messy as if he’d run his hands through it a lot and his eyes were a dark contrast against his pale skin.
”Jesus, fuck!” Tony gasped in relief, lowering his hand so as not to fire by accident. ”What the hell? How long have you been standing there?”
”Just … just a minute,” the kid answered, his fingers twisting around the straps of his yellow backpack. He was huddled into a thin rain jacket which was dripping water onto the floor, his jeans and shoes damp. Tony remembered rain pattering the roof of the car on their way here.
“This is a weapon,” Tony snapped at him, his heart calming down only reluctantly. He pointed at the repulsor before he retracted it with a snap of his fingers, the parts merging back to form the watch around his wrist again. ”I could have killed you.”
Tony leaned back against the sink.
”I-I’m Peter?” the kid said, his voice shaky with nerves.
Tony frowned. ”Are you asking me or telling me?”
”Oh … I …” Peter folded his hands in front of himself, his fingers wringing nervously. ”Sorry.”
”Did you need something?” Tony asked.
Peter stared at him, wide-eyed. ”I … I need … I’m …” He closed his eyes.
Tony reigned himself in. The kid was probably nothing more than an Iron Man fan who’d spotted him in the lobby and Tony had certain standards when it came to fans. Especially the young ones. ”Listen, I’m sorry. It’s just … I’m actually busy,” Tony said. “So, let’s just take a picture and I’ll sign something of yours, okay?”
”You’re my dad.”
”Um …” Peter went through the pockets of his wet jacket and jeans and then held out a slightly crumpled print-out. A picture. ”This … this is my mom,” he said. ”Mary.” He swallowed. ”This was … I-I think it was taken the … the year you met. You must … must recognize her.”
Tony looked at the picture. Mary Fitzpatrick smiled back at him, stunning even though the colors of the picture were bleeding together a bit, slightly damp. He raised his eyes back to look at Peter again. Mary Fitzpatrick’s kid.
He had dark hair and brown eyes, like Tony’s. His jawline was slightly familiar, reminding Tony of himself at that age, and his face was just beginning to show signs of maturity, baby fat giving way to handsome features. ”You’re my dad,” Peter repeated, still holding out the picture.
‘This is bad,’ Tony thought, ‘really bad.’ He swallowed against a new bout of nausea, his heart racing in his chest. ”No,” he said. “I’m your biological father. Nothing more.”
He didn’t take the picture. Peter lowered his hand, frowning at him.
”You shouldn’t have come,” Tony continued. ”This,” he said, motioning between them, ”is a really bad idea.”
Peter looked at him. ”I …,” he said, his shoulders lifting.
”I’m sure it’s past your curfew,” Tony added. ”You shouldn’t be hanging out with old men in hotel bathrooms at this time of night or … ever.” He winced. ”Go home.” He tried to walk past him but Peter blocked the door and Tony didn’t dare touch him. As if not being in direct contact would make all this just an alcohol-induced dream.
Peter stared at him pleadingly. ”Mr. Stark, I just-just need, like, two minutes. Please.”
”No,” Tony said. ”Bad idea. Bad timing.”
”Listen, kid,” Tony spat, his panic and the alcohol in his blood taking over, ”just turning up at an event like this is not cool.”
”Twitter said you’d be here and I didn’t know how else to find you-”
”I’ve got a huge-ass tower in Manhattan.”
”Security wouldn’t let me in.”
”They were doing their job, then.”
”I had to see you!”
”No, you didn’t!” Tony snapped. “You didn’t have to see me for the past sixteen years-”
”I’m fourteen,” Peter whispered.
”Fourteen,” Tony repeated. ”So what is it that you need now that you didn’t need the last few years?”
”I-I need …” Peter swallowed and ducked his head. His fingers twisted into the straps of his ratty backpack. Tony noticed that his clothes looked like they had been washed too often, the material of the jeans thin and ripped in some places, his sneakers past the stage of being comfortably worn in. ”I need money,” Peter said. ”I-I don’t … I don’t know who else to ask.”
Somehow, the words hurt, striking something in Tony’s chest that made him go cold. ‘Of course,’ he thought. Money is all anybody ever wanted from him. ”So you thought you’d come to me?” Tony huffed a breath. ”And what are your expectations of how this should go?”
Peter stared at him, puzzled. ”I … I-I thought-”
”You thought what? I’d drive to the next ATM with you? Just like that?”
Peter ducked his head.
”You know, I offered your mother money. A lot of money. She turned it down,” Tony said. “Does she think sending her kid after all those years would help her get it after all?” He scoffed. “How do I even know it’s really you?”
”Why would I lie?”
”You’re the one asking for money, kid, you tell me.”
Peter ducked his head before raising a hand and passing it over his eyes quickly. ”I just …” He looked at him again, tears shining in his eyes, tracking down his cheeks. ”Please, you have to help me.”
Tony took a deep breath and ducked his head, his arms crossing out of their own volition and his body sinking back to lean against the counter. He squeezed his eyes shut against the headache that was quickly developing. ”I signed away my parental rights fourteen years ago. I don’t have to do anything.” He turned towards the sinks. ”And tears aren’t going to work on me, kid.”
He heard a hiccup of breath, almost like a sob, then the sound of sneakers scuffing against marble and the click of the door. He turned around quickly. Peter was gone.
As if he had never been there in the first place.
Guilt slammed into his chest and he cursed, opening the door to go after him. There weren’t many people in the lobby at this time of night, but Tony wasn’t able to spot the kid. He jogged towards the revolving doors leading outside and looked up and down the crowded street, trying to catch a glimpse of Peter, regret forming like lead in his stomach when he couldn’t. He hadn’t meant for his words to cause the kid to run.
He turned towards Happy, who was frowning at him questioningly. He must have seen him leave and followed him outside … he’d been in the lobby when Peter had left the restroom. ”Have you seen the kid?”
”The kid,” Tony replied. ”This high, brown hair, black rain jacket-”
”Yellow backpack?” Happy asked.
Tony’s eyes widened. ”Yes! Where did he go?”
”I don’t know. I saw him, like, an hour ago when I went to get my wallet from the car. He was lurking around the parking lot. He seemed a bit young so I told him to go home. Did he approach you?”
”Yes,” Tony said. Fatigue settled on his shoulders and he shivered in the cold night air.
”Who was he?”
Tony shook his head. ”Nobody,” he said and, noticing Happy’s frown, added, ”A fan.” He looked around once more, though he knew that Peter was long gone. ”Just a fan.”
Avengers Tower was quiet these days. Following the Ultron fiasco, the Avengers had moved to the Avengers Facility in Upstate New York, which had taken up operation just a few months before Ultron had happened and was now slowly growing into a training facility for the Department of Damage Control as well as the headquarters for the Avengers themselves. Avengers Tower had remained behind in New York … its upper floors mostly empty and devoid of life. Tony still slept here, sometimes, whenever he had Stark Industries business to attend to in the city, but lately, he’d started considering to sell the Tower. It would mean moving a large part of Stark Industries, which was currently occupying floors one to eighty-five, but Tony was sure they’d be able to figure something out.
In moments like this, he was tempted even more to just leave New York behind for good. This late at night, the standard light setting of the penthouse in the ninety-second floor was only very dim, just bright enough to see, and the gentle lights did wonders for Tony’s headache, so he kept them like that as he stood at the large panorama windows and looked down at New York. The only sound was the soft clinking of ice cubes in his drink whenever his hand shifted.
He felt like a ghost, a silent observer, invisible and lonely.
“You don’t want to be saddled with a child, Tony,” Obie had said all those years ago. ”You told me yourself that you don’t want children.”
Tony sipped on his drink. He hadn’t, at that time. Later on, he’d thought about it more often; the possibility of fathering a child that he could raise better than Howard had raised him. But he’d always been too afraid to fail, too afraid to cause the kind of damage which had been caused within himself. In the end, he’d convinced himself that he’d made the responsible choice by not becoming a father.
The events in the hotel tonight had shown him he’d been right. It had taken Tony five minutes to crush Peter, to push him away, to drive him to tears. He’d been standing there, half-drunk, annoyed and overwhelmed with the situation … just like Howard had been whenever they were around each other. It was better for Peter not to know him, he decided, gulping the rest of the scotch down.
He refilled his drink at the bar and took the bottle with him to settle on the bench in front of the piano. His hands reached out, unsure after such a long time of not having played, and touched the keys carefully. The large, open-space living area had the perfect acoustic for a piano, but the instrument hadn’t been played in a long time and sounded slightly off. He didn’t mind. Nobody was listening any way.
He played listlessly, getting used to the movements again, and then, three glasses later, got up to open the bench and get the box with sheet music from within. He fell back onto the seat and rifled through the sheets until he’d finally found the composition of his mother he’d been looking for. He smiled and put it on the stand, his fingers clumsily finding the first few keys.
Tony felt he didn’t play it very well, didn’t manage to make the melody sound as hopeful and happy as it was meant to be, but it still made him smile. He went through the box again once he was finished, looking for another piece of hers to play, then another and a fourth one … when his fingers brushed over a stack of three sheets at the bottom and froze.
It was the last piece she had written. She used to tell Tony that she was writing it for him. She had died before she could finish it. Tony had rarely ever played it and had never ventured further than the end of the first page.
He shook his head, suddenly not in the mood anymore, and gathered the sheets to put them back when he accidentally knocked the box off the piano. It landed on the floor with a clatter, pages of sheet music escaping. He sighed and bent down to put them back, freezing when he noticed the envelope which had fallen out of the box alongside the sheet music. He swallowed before reaching for it tentatively. It had slid away, almost out of reach. Tony nearly fell off the bench when he tried to pick it up and caught himself on the keyboard, a sudden, mismatched tone ringing through the penthouse when several keys were pressed down clumsily. Tony cursed softly and managed to snatch the envelope off the floor. His fingers slowly opened it and he slid his hand inside to pull out a picture. It still looked as good as new, the ink had been protected by the dark inside the bench all these years.
It was the picture of a baby, dark hair and dark eyes, looking at the camera.
He’d had too much to drink to reign himself in. ”F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” he said, though her name came out slightly slurred.
”Find Peter Fitzpatrick, resident in New York or the surrounding area.”
”I have thirteen matches, boss.”
”Fourteen years old.”
”No matches, boss.”
”Are you sure?”
She seemed to think about this, because one moment later, she came back saying, “One possible match found. The name on the birth certificate is Fitzpatrick, but was changed later.” The television flickered to life and showed him a picture of the kid he’d seen tonight. It looked like it had been taken for a passport, the smile on the boy’s face slightly forced as he sat ramrod straight, his dark eyes not looking directly at the camera.
“That’s him,” Tony said.
”Peter Benjamin Parker, né Fitzpatrick, resident in Queens,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. introduced.
”Parker?” Tony asked and then closed his eyes in realization. ”She got married.” He wondered whether she’d married the man she’d told him about all those years ago, then realized that it was probably none of his business.
“Do you want more information?” F.R.I.D.A.Y. asked.
Tony hesitated. Did he?
”Boss, do you want more information on Peter Benjamin Parker?” F.R.I.D.A.Y. repeated patiently.
Tony looked at his glass. Why did it matter to him now? Because he’d seen him? Or because he was lonely and drunk? One thing was for sure, he was still unfit to be a father. He’d successfully chased the kid away tonight. He thought about the papers in the envelope; the contract in which he’d signed away his parental rights. ”No,” he said. ”Close file.”
He gulped down another glass. ”FRI?”
”Should I ever ask again, block the information for 24 hours and then ask for reconfirmation before opening that file.”
Tony closed his eyes. It was better this way.