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Unexpected (Everything I never knew I wanted)

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Tony had done many fucked up things in the last few years. Ever since he turned eleven, really. It wasn't even his fault- he liked to blame his father actually. They hadn't had a relationship to speak of, it had been more Tony trying everything to be good enough and never being acknowledged. So it had turned into doing everything and anything to get his good old dad's attention.

It hadn't worked. His dad had rarely even cared enough to punish him, but he'd acted out for so long that he didn't know how to stop acting out, even after his parents died in that fucking car crash. 

So he didn't. He was known for being eccentric anyways, so why the hell should he stop having fun?

That kind of stuff would influence every child. And that paired with a never ending flood of money hadn't done him much good. He knew that he was different than others. He often had a different concept of right or wrong and because he'd seen his father cheat on his mom monthly, he never really considered it a bad thing. He knew that he didn't want it in his own relationship, if he ever were to have one, but he didn't consider it morally wrong to sleep with women who were in a relationship.

It wasn't his job to worry about their lives, they were all grown people. Responsible for their own future.

So when he had sex with Mary Parker, the wife of one of the scientists working at his company, he didn't think about it. It was fun, it was relaxing, it was a way to let of steam. So they had sex again. And again. And again.

It turned into a full blown, exciting affair that made Pepper frown in that sexy way of hers. That made his stomach churn, but he didn't know why. Or maybe he did, but he didn't want to admit it. So he didn't.

He didn't know all that much about Mary, it wasn't that they really talked. Actually, they spent most of their time not talking. He knew that she had a son in elementary school who spent most of his days with a nanny, but other than that- nothing, really.

He didn't care.

It was a shitty thing to say, and maybe it made him a shitty person- but it didn't make it any less true. He. Did. Not. Care.

She wasn't even the only person he was sleeping with in that time period,  he often went home with different women after parties. It was just who he was.

And then Afghanistan happened. He wasn't the same person that he had been before and he didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He found out that he didn't enjoy sleeping with random women as much as he used to- he still did it, of course, but he did it less and less.

He didn't think about Mary even once until Happy told him that Richard Parker and his wife had died on their way to their holiday destination with Parker's brother and girlfriend.

He wasn't sad, per sé, but he felt saddened that a whole family could be killed in a matter of seconds.

He thought about Mary once or twice before all of his thoughts became consumed by Pepper.

It shocked him, actually, that he never realized (never admitted?) that it was her. That it had always been her. He forgot Mary after that. He forgot most of the women he had slept with.

He was spending his time getting to know Pepper better, falling in love with her, being happy. He was carefree, in a way. It was hard to accept and he wouldn't admit it on Jimmy Kimmel or anything, but Pepper grounded him. It was nice. 

And that's why he was slightly pissed waiting in line at Starbucks in Manhattan, a cap pulled into his eyes.

He had just started dating Pepper a little while ago and he hated that she was in California while he was here in New York. He missed New York and was meeting with a few realtors to look at some Appartments. He had wanted Pepper to come along, but business came first, apparently. Weird concept.

"If you don't have any money, you won't get the Muffin. It's that easy."

"But I'm really, really hungry."

Tony snapped his eyes up from his phone and rolled them in the process. The kid infront of him was holding up the line because he didn't have enough money? Jesus Christ. He looked at the child. He was skinny, clothes dirty and worn. He looked like he could really, really use a bath. Tony wrinkled his nose.

"I'll pay for it. Make him a hot chocolate, too, will ya? And I'll take a large coffee, black."

"Do you mean Grande?"

He shot the girl behind the counter an unimpressed look. "You know what the fuck I mean. Please just let me pay." He turned to the kid. "You, sit down in the corner over there. I'll bring you your food."

The kid had recognized him, he saw it in the way his eyes widened, but he practically jumped to the table Tony had pointed at. Who would disobey Iron Man? Not a child.

He was actually pretty sure that some parents threatened their kids with Iron Man the same way they did with Santa Clause. Rhodey had told him his sister did. Rhodey's poor niece would probably be terrified if she ever met Tony.

He followed him a few minutes after. He had no idea why he was sitting down with a child. He didn't even like children. But something in him was telling him that he had to.

"Thanks, Mr Iron Man, Sir." The boy babbled and Tony smiled down at him. He tried really hard to guess how old he was, but he was so skinny and tiny that it could be anything between what? Four and ten? He didn't know. He didn't know shit about kids.

"What's your name?"

The child just looked at him and chewed his muffin with his mouth slightly open. God, he could really use some table manners.

"Okay then. How old are you?"

"I'm turning nine in a few weeks." He didn't  look excited about it, and Tony had no idea why. Were kids usually not meant to be super excited about birthdays? He couldn't remember ever being as a kid, but the children in movies usually were and birthdays meant parties, cake and presents.

Or amazing birthday sex if one was an adult.

"Are you looking forward to it?"

"Not really. I'm all alone and the people I'm staying with are Jehova's witnesses and they don't celebrate birthdays, you know?"

Oh. Sounded like he was staying with foster parents, then. Tony's heart ached a little. He didn't know much about the system but he knew that Pepper had stayed with foster parents for a while when her mother had been in a hospital when she was a teenager.

She had hated it. He didn't know if it was because she had missed her mom or if they had treated her poorly. She didn't want to talk about it, ever. So he didn't mention it.

"Are they nice to you?"

The boy looked at him in thought before nodding. "They work a lot but they are much nicer than the last three families I stayed with. They don't hit me or take away food, you know? Sometimes they just forget. I liked the very first one I stayed with after my parents died but I cried a lot, so I don't think they liked me very much."

Tony hummed carefully. What was he supposed to do here? He looked at his watch and hummed again. He had to go look at that overpriced penthouse on fifth avenue right about now, so he pulled out a few bills and shoved them into small hands.

"Here. Buy yourself some food. No take them, I promise you I want you to have it. But you know, you could tell me your name now. Then we could be friends." 

He probably sounded like some child molestor creep. Damn it, he was trying to be nice. First and last time he'd ever do that shit.

"Uh. Sure. It's Peter, Sir. Peter Parker."

He smiled and got up, waved goodbye and walked into the unforgiving New Yorker summer air.

He was already sitting in the back of his car, playing on his phone when something connected in his brain.

Peter Parker had been the name of Mary's child. The child she had barely paid attention to. A child that had lost his whole family and everything he knew in the matter of minutes.

He had no idea if the name was a coincidence or not, but he pushed it from his mind, eyes on the streets of New York City, the city he so desperately loved and missed.

They were moving headquarters here, because really, that had been the only way he could talk Pepper into moving. Pepper loved California the same way he loved New York so anything would be a compromise.

But she had never lived here. Had never experienced the movement and atmosphere and the way everything smelled but it smelled so good and it was home.

His thoughts were back on the woman he adored, the city he'd missed and within a matter of minutes, he had forgotten Peter Parker.

He remembered him again, a few hours later after exiting the penthouse. Pepper would have loved it. It was modern, and open, windows from the floors to the ceiling.

But it was weird, he hadn't felt anything when looking around. It hadn't been what he wanted, so now he was meeting another realtor a few blocks down on park avenue.

When he walked, he saw him. The kid. Peter. He was standing in front of a store, peeking through the windows, nose almost pressed against the glass.

"What are you doing?"

Peter jumped, hitting his nose in the process. When he turned to look at Tony with panicked eyes, blood was slowly trickling out.

"Fuck. Shit. Are you okay? I didn't mean to startle you."

Peter brightened instantly when he recognized him, wiping the blood with his sleeve and smiling brightly. "It's okay, I was just looking at that sweater. See, it has Captain America on it!"

"If you want one with Iron Man on it, I'll buy it for you, but I will not stand for any Captain America shit."

"That's a bad word." He whispered but leaned in closer to Tony. "You mean it? You'll buy me a shirt?"

Tony looked down at his watch. He had a few minutes to spare, so he nodded. He ushered the kid inside the store.

"What have I told you, you brat? I don't want you in here if you're not going to buy anything." A man barked and Tony was shocked to see that it was directed at Peter. Peter, who was now frantically moving backwards until he bumped into Tony.

Tony put a hand on his shoulder, flinching at how stiff that shirt felt. God, the kid's clothes really needed to be fucking washed. Or burned.

"Well, he's a child so you should really watch your tone. I'll be paying for whatever he chooses."

Fuck. He was bringing that jackass business. He should really just walk out, drag Peter along and buy him whatever he wants in another store. But he has a tight schedule, so he just purchases a bunch of shirts, socks and sweatpants - none of them with anything related to Captain America printed on them.

When he left the stuttering kid in front of the store to hurry towards the next Open House (well, open for him) he doesn't notice Peter trailing behind him.

He actually forgot Peter halfway to the adress his realtor had send him.

Maybe that made him an asshole, but it was how he was. He had met thousands and thousands of people in the fourty something years he'd been alive. He had learned to push them from his mind- one of the perks of being him.

Besides- he would never see him again. Having seen him twice in one day was already fucking unrealistic.

So, walking into the airconditioned building he didn't spend any of his thoughts to the child that was now sitting down a few feet from the door after he had walked in.

But something was nagging him, his subconciousness yelling at him. He didn't know what for, exactly, but it was.

He couldn't figure out what when he looked at the penthouse. He couldn't think of a reason for the pit of his stomach when he deemed the place perfect and put an offer in right then and there.

He didn't know where the uneasiness came from when he left the building again and he couldn't, for the life of all that was holy, understand why the feeling disappeared when he saw the dirty, tiny child waiting for him on the ground.

Chapter Text

Tony was staring down at the kid in front of him who was happily licking the popsicle Tony had bought him. They were sitting in central park, hidden by bushes, and he was hoping noone was going to recognize him.

Fuck, he was sweating. He could feel it dripping down his back, it was way to freaking hot and humid. He'd forgotten how terrible New York could be in the summer.

This was surreal. A living human being was sitting in front of him, dripping sugary icy water over his fingers and licking them to catch the juice. Disgusting.

"So, you just followed me there? Why?" He asked, hoping the treat would make the child talk.

"So, you just bought a house? Why?"

Tony bit back a laugh. "I didn't buy a house, I bought an apartment."

"Hmmh. Still pretty craycray."

Tony snorted. He had no idea why he was sitting on the ground in the sand with a child.

Oh. Maybe he was tripping? He didn't think he had taken anything in the last fourtyeight hours, but he could be wrong.

Pepper hated him doing drugs, so he only ever did it when she wasn't around.

So, maybe he had taken something and he wasn't even talking to a kid. Maybe he was just high. That made a lot more sense than anything else, actually. He giggled. If he was halucinating, he might as well enjoy it.

"Why are you laughing?" The kid- Parker- looked like he had given up trying to understand adults long ago. He looked kind of cute the way his eyebrows were furrowed and raised at the same time.

He poked the kid, just to see if he was there. He was. Solid flesh. So he wasn't hallucinating.

"Can I have five Dollars?"

"For what?"

"A Sandwich."

Tony raised his eyebrows. It had been one of the lessons his grandfather had smacked into him, once: never give away money to homeless people.

Because, apparently, they were like flies and would never leave.

Peter had said that he had a home, but the way he looked, he almost looked homeless.

"How about I'll take you to eat dinner instead? I don't have plans tonight. What time do you have to be home?"

"Before they lock the door at nine. Otherwise I have to sleep outside." He looked happy about the prospect.

"Outside? Where?"

"In the hammock. It's cozy."

Where did the kid even live that they had a hammock outside? This was New York City for god's sake.

"I spent a week in a hammock to piss of my dad once." He mused and looked down at Peter, eyeing the way he nervously wrung his hands. Tony couldn't even tell what was going on in either of their minds.

He didn't know what was going on in Peter's and he sure as hell didn't know what he himself was thinking when he told the child to get up and ushered him towards an iHop.

It was a good thing that he wasn't recognized nearly as often as one would think. People didn't expect to see him, so they didn't. Most of the times he made sure he was recognized. It's what made being out and about fun.

He didn't like it as much nowadays. Not liking it wasn't about Iron Man at all.

That was about Pepper. Nothing about their relationship was a publicity stunt. It wasn't even public yet, even though those rumors had been there for years. They only intensified after he appointed her CEO.

They could all suck his dick.

Or maybe not. Pepper probably wouldn't like that. Or maybe she would? Who knew. Maybe she was kinky like that.

They made it into the diner unseen and were seated in a booth hidden beside some kind of weird plant. Probably poisonous. That one would kill him. Great. Hopefully they would drag him down the block to Saks. He'd rather people thought he was killed there than at some cheap diner chain.

"I don't understand, though." Peter mused and played with the straw of his water. "Why would you buy an apartment if you're building one?"

"As an Investment, really. And I am not completely sure yet if I want to live in the same building my company is in. There would be no excuses to not come to work so I'm still pondering it over."

At this point he was just humoring that kid. Fucking hell, for not answering any questions, he sure as hell had many himself.

"So you bought a house that you will maybe never use?" Peter's brows were furrowed, but his face relaxed in thought. "That's wasteful."

"Yeah, well. I have more money than I can spend in a lifetime, so might as well go crazy. Can't take it with you when you die, ya know, so I am just going to live a little."

"Or a lot. So you are stinking rich? Can I have fries? And onion rings? And maybe some nuggets?"

He nodded and watched the kid stare at the menu. Something was weird about him, but Tony couldn't tell what it was and, quite frankly, he didn't care enough to find out.

It's not like he would ever see him again after tonight.

He did a good deed tonight in feeding the kid and he felt like he'd maybe owed that to him.. for Mary.

It wasn't like he owed Mary shit, though. So maybe it was more for Rick. Rich? Richard. For sleeping with his wife, for doing things with her that no husband would ever want anyone else to do with their wife.

God. The thought of Pepper trying out some kinky stuff with anyone but him made him want to gag.

"So, how's school?"

"Uhm, it's summer break." Peter ignored him otherwise, stuffing his face with the newly arrived food and spitting it out again when he realized that it was too hot.

Tony laughed. "Well, look at you. A gentlemen. You'll be a heartbreaker one day."

"Why are you not eating?" Peter was speaking with his mouth full, little pieces of food flying on the table. It was absolutely disgusting and it reminded Tony to be grateful for the vasectomy he had gotten years ago and the fact that Pepper was very much a carreer woman.

She didn't want kids.

Or at least, Tony thought that she didn't.

Jesus Christ, what if she did? Looking at that child eat made him silently plead and beg to a god he didn't believe in that Pepper wouldn't ask him to have kids.

"Because I don't to die of food poisoning. Why are your table manners so horrendous?" He asked back, trying to not gag at the way Peter wiped his mouth on his arm before stuffing three nuggets into his mouth.

God, where all kids like this?

"I have to catch a red eye to California in two hours." It was his own jet, but still. "Do you have a way to get home?"

Peter shook his head before bending it down to lick the ketchup off his plate and made little slurping noises. Now Tony might just throw up after all.

He almost reached out to smack the kid upside the head before he thought better of it.

This wasn't his kid (thank god) to correct. It didn't fucking matter.

He waved the waitress over and slid her a hundred and told her to keep the rest, not even asking for the check. He was ready to fucking leave and forget this ever happened.

He gave another hundred to Peter and told him to grab a cab to go home so he wouldn't have to walk. The child looked like Christmas came early and Tony rolled his eyes.

When he walked out and jumped into the car that was waiting for him, he breathed out a sigh of deep relief.

That whole day had been weird.

Like it was a page taken out of another book and shoved into the one he was actually reading- not realizing right away that something was off, just reading on without anything making sense.

He pushed Peter Parker out of his mind, then, and he didn't think of him again for quite a while.

That was how it had always been.

He remembered everything. Every person, every name, every face of every one he ever met.

But he'd learned to push it away. He had learned to filter his brain. He wouldn't think of or remember Peter's name until he would see him again, if ever, he was sure of it.

And he was right.

At least for a few days.

Then he drove by an iHop and he thought back to Peter, before he pushed that away again.

He remembered him when he saw Rhodey's niece eat fries a few days after thanksgiving.

And then again when one of the boardmembers reminded him that their name was Peter.

Christmas came and went, and so did easter and his birthday.

Ten months after that weird summer day, Pepper and him finally move to New Yeark part time to oversee the finishing touches on the new tower, and he leads her from the car to the entrance of their building so she could finally- fucking finally- look at the place that would be their home for at least a year.

When he walked in and pressed a kiss to her temple he looked over her shoulder, and right there, standing behind a garbage can, was Peter Parker.

He blinked and the kid disappeared.

What the fuck was wrong with him?

"Babe? Everything alright?" Pepper turned around, looking at the crowded sidewalk he was watching, before turning back to him.

"Yes, fine, my love."

He shook his head, trying to get rid of the picture of a child covered in dirt standing in front of a very expensive apartment complex mid in Manhattan.

It was like that child haunted him.

It almost scared him.

Almost.

He was Iron Man.

He didn't get scared.

Except maybe, this time he did.











 

 

Chapter Text

"Tony, come to bed." Pepper said tiredly. "What are you even doing out here?"

That was a good question, actually. Because he was doing nothing. He was staring out of the window of the penthouse he had bought all those months ago. He could see the new Stark Tower in the close distance just a few blocks away, the construction was taking longer than it had been supposed to, and just this morning he had threatened to fire the contractors.

He wouldn't, of course. Pepper wouldn't let him, and it would be a fucking desaster to find someone to even want to take the job on.

The contractors had called him on it, too, but he'd just reminded them that he was fucking Tony Stark and he did as he pleased. That shut them up.

"I'll be there in a second, honey."

He expected her to go back to bed, but she tapped over towards him with bare feet and one of his shirts.

He loved when she wore his clothes.. it did things to him that he couldn't really describe.

It just showed that she was his, that she wanted to be his.

He had never been the jealous type, or at least he had thought so, but there hadn't really been anyone it made sense to be jealous for.

He still didn't mistrust Pepper, he didn't want to see her phone or got mad when she talked about or to other men.

It wasn't like that.

Ugh. He couldn't even explain it to himself.

Pepper dropped down on his lap and snuggled her face into the crook of his neck. He breathed in her scent deeply, instantly calming down from whatever weird thing had him up and unable to sleep this time.

"We don't have to sleep, you know?" Pepper whispered into his ear and he stood up so fast that he almost got dizzy, carrying a giggling Pepper into their bedroom.

When he woke up the next morning the uneasy feeling was there again and he couldn't for the life of him figure out where it was coming from.

He turned to drape his arm over Pepper, but all his hands touched was cold sheets. Couldn't that woman ever have a lie in? Was that too much to ask?

Apparently, yes.

He dragged himself into the kitchen where Pepper, bless her, had made coffee before she left.

He filled a cup and then looked down at the pot for a second before shrugging and drinking straight from it, hot liquid burning down his throat. But fuck, if it wasn't the best burn in the world.

He took the cup into the shower and drank it while the water rained down on his back.

By the time he was dressed he finally felt alive again.

What the hell was going on? He never felt tired. He was constantly buzzing and working when he was up. It was frustrating him to no end and he actually had no interest in going to the construction side or do anything remotedly related to work.

It was only ten on a saturday morning.

He could call Rhodey. Or go day-drinking. Maybe drag Happy to a farmers market just to see him uncomfortable for the fucking fun of it.

"Boss." Jarvis' voice filled the room and he couldn't help but smile. He had refused to move into a place without his AI installed and this reminded him of why. It wasn't just convenience or safety. This felt like home. "You have been staring at the wall for twenty minutes. I feel that it would be helpful if I told you that the coffee you have set to brew is finished and ready to consume."

"Oh. Thanks, J."

He drinks another cup of coffee while he sits down at the dining room table- one of the only pieces of furniture that had been delivered so far. They had a bed, they had a couch, a few chairs and a fucking dining room table.

He should fire his interior designer.

But then he'd have to fire Pepper, too. She vetoed all of Melanie's ideas, didn't like any of the visions or pieces they were presented with.

"Tony." She had said. "This Apartment should like a holiday home. A getaway. Cozy."

Melanie, however, didn't do cozy. She did sleek and expensive and artistic. So, maybe, they really needed to hire someone else for the job anyway.

He signed some stuff Pepper had laid out for him and then stared at the stairs he'd had set in. They would lean down to an open lab area. It was smaller than any lab he'd ever owned but it would definitely be enough to
tinker and explore.

Not like he could do any crazy stuff here, anyways. There were people living in the building, after all.

"Jarvis, buddy, can you get me an appointment at the spa? I want the whole ten yards. Mani, pedi, massage, haircut. And get me Maira, she's the only one who knows how I like my beard."

"Very well, Sir."

It was silent for a minute and Tony thought back to the time in college when Rhodey had found out that Tony had gotten mani-pedis since he was a toddler and had laughed so hard he'd almost choked to death.

Imbecile. It was about looking the part-he was a fucking billionaire, for fuck's sake, not a hobo. He'd taken Rhodey along the next time, and he'd enjoyed it so much that he offered to do Tony's laundry for a week everytime he took him.

It was heaven on earth. Anyone who disagreed could fight him.

"She can squeeze you in at one, Boss."

Perfect. He'd just leave now, drink a glass of champagne or too, and fucking relax.

It was what he needed today. He didn't know why he was so tense, but Maira's hands could make anyone and anything better.

He made his way to the lobby where his driver for the day was flirting with the receptionist.

"If it's all the same to you, I'd love it if you brought the car around." He drawled and almost smirked when his driver (Ken? Kent? He hadn't listened, to be honest) scrambled away from the blonde woman working the desk.

"Of course, Sir."

He made his way outside to wait for the guy when he noticed the smell or pretzels in the air. He looked to the side and saw a guy selling them and before he could change his mind he basically jumped down the steps to throw money at him.

If it was a possibility, he'd say he was fucking pregnant with the way he was acting.

"Could you just put them right there? I don't like being handed things. Thank you."

He grabs the five pretzels and starts munching on one while he climbs into the car offering driverguy one as well.

Pepper would be over the moon proud. He was using his manners.

He would rather be sharing those pretzels with Happy, but oh-fucking-well.

He was staring out of the window when they stopped at a red light a few blocks down when he saw someone he knew.

He blinked a few times, stared, and blinked again. "Jesus, Kent, stop the car for a second."

He rolled the window down and watched as the boy looked up from where he was leaning against the lamp post next to a guy selling some kind of fake michael kors bags.

Tony beckoned him over and the kid frowned.

"What do you want?"

Well, wasn't he just lovely.

"Has noone taught you to show your elders some respect?"

"Respect has to be earned." The boy said simply.

Tony smirked and took off his glasses. He had said the same thing to his dear old dad once. The man hadn't smirked, though, instead he had slapped him so hard that Tony's ears had been ringing for the rest of the day.

It wasn't like Tony would say he hadn't deserved to be reprimanded, but it had still been an overreaction on his father's part. But the guy lived for respect.

Respect from his employees, respect from the neighbors, respect from the public.

Respect from his son.

Lovely man, happy memories, happy family, yada yada yada.

"Touché." Tony said. "Are you free? I'm bored and could use some company."

Excuse him, what the fuck was he doing? He was pretty sure this was a fucking fellony. Oh, heaven help him. Pepper would kill him.

"Sure." A shrug of the shoulders and Parker was walking around the car and hopping into it. "Oh, pretzels."

He stuffing his face before Tony had even said a single word. "Has noone ever told you to not go with strangers?"

"You're not a stranger, you're Iron Man."

Tony rolled his eyes. They should have a serious discussion about that argument. He should pull up some statistics about how many children had known their rapists, kidnappers or murderers before the events.

He looked over and made to open his mouth when he looked at the little hands holding the last pretzel and he tried not to flinch at the dirt under the kid's fingernails or at his dirty clothes. Or the greasy hair that hung onto his shoulders. Fuck, that child looked gross.

He would, however, draw the line at crumbs and saliva being spit across the car.

He reached out and cuffed Parker around the head lightly. "Don't speak with your mouth full, it's disgusting."

The kid grinned up at him with big, innocent eyes and a small giggle and Tony could feel his heart softening.

"Where are we going, Mr Stark, Iron Man, Sir?"

"The spa. I need to freshen up, and you definitely need a bath. I'm sure they can squeeze you in while they work their magic on me."

Parker rolled his eyes and instead of disrespectful, Tony found it endearing. He had no idea why he had asked the child (a literal fucking child) along, but it was entertaining.

"Maira." He cooed twenty minutes later. "It's been too long."

She wagged a finger at him while she let him kiss her cheek. "You promised last time, Mr Stark. And now I can see that you went to see someone else in Malibu. If you weren't such an excellent tipper, I'd refuse to let you come in anymore."

He grinned.

"And who have we got here?"

Yeah, well, how was he supposed to explain that? "His name is Parker. Make-A-Wish Foundation. Poor kid has been through a lot, you know."

He had actually no idea how the foundation really worked, but Pepper had made him meet a girl in Miami a few weeks back. It had been disturbing, to say the least. He had gotten drunk on the minibar that night.

"Ah. Okay. We'll get him sorted out. MICHAEL?" She yelled down the hall and it took all of Tony not to jump. "We have a guest. Would you mind?"

They seemed to have a private discussion between themselves so Tony turned to Parker, the corners of his mouth pulling down when he saw the way Parker was biting his nails.

"Stop that." He pulled the hand away from the child's mouth and glared at him. He almost laughed at the glare that was shot his way right back.

"Behave yourself, yeah? I don't need my excellent reputation to take a hit just because a kid I saw at the corner of a street can't recognize manners when they slap him in the face."

Before the boy could say something in return, Maira and Michael seemed to have come to a conclusion.

"Come on, Tony, Michael will take good care of him." She lead him down the hall, pulling him away from Peter and he turned around to wink at the kid.

When he caught his eye and Parker smiled shyly, it took everything in Tony to keep walking down the hall, away from him.

What the hell was going on with him?

Chapter Text

"So, how is your girlfriend?" Maira asked Tony while she massaged his neck. "Read all about it. My daughter gets People magazine delivered every Friday. She was so dissappointed when I told her I hadn't seen you in months and months and months."

Tony didn't have to open his eyes to see her pointedly glaring at him. He could feel it plenty.

"I would tell you about her, but a massage this good- honestly Maira, I feel like I'm cheating on her right about now, talking about her would be incredibly wrong. God, woman, your hands."

Maira giggled. "Oh, you sly dog, Tony Stark. You know exactly what I like to hear most, don't you?"

"Yes." He replied and if he was anyone else, he would maybe be embarassed by the fact that it sounded almost like a moan. But fuck that, he was the most confident person he'd ever met. "Because you told me the first time we met. Looked me up and down and said "Fine. But you better shower me in compliments whenever you come here." I remember vividly, Maira."

Tony could hear her giggle. "That's not true. I told you to bring me chocolates, but somehow that never happens."

"I'll make sure to let my PA know, remind him to take care of it."

She giggled again. "You say that everytime, too."

"Then that must mean something, at least." He hummed quietly, bordering on falling asleep.

Suddenly there was a yell down the hall and Tony basically jumped down from where he had been laying comfortably (so freaking comfortably) when a child's voice travelled towards them and seconds later, Parker was ushered into the room by a tall man.

"What's going on?" Maira demanded and Tony was grateful. He was solely concentrating on surveying the scene before him: Parker's arm grasped in the man's hand, both their red faces, the kid's defiant look.

"I left for a minute and I come back to him trying to-"

"I was just looking." Parker spat and glared at the guy but with the way he pushed out his lower lip- Tony suddenly had a weird feeling in his stomach.

"-break into the register."

Tony looked down and tried to catch Parker's eye but the kid had decided to not look anywhere but at his feet. It actually amused Tony more that he'd admit to him. Or anyone else, for that matter.

"We should press charges, Maira." The man spat and Tony woke up again.

"Uh, excuse you? I'm sure you're not implying that you left a literal child by himself and couldn't keep him safe and entertained for sixty minutes? Because that would be quite shocking, to be honest, especially since the service here is usually amazing." He looked pointedly and  Maira and back at the fuming man in front of him before continuing. "And if you don't have prove - maybe surveillance footage of whatever occurred - I apologize, but I gotta go with my gut and say this kid didn't do shit."

"Calm down." Maira said quietly. Tony turned to her and looked her in the eye. She nodded slowly and carefully. "Okay. Why don't we.. all take a deep breath. Your appointment was over a few minutes ago, anyways."

She smiled at him and this time it was Tony who nodded slowly. He understood, what she was saying. She was dropping it because it was him and because he tripped them an 100% upcharge on whatever he owed whenever he came.

But she was also saying that he shouldn't be bringing Peter along next time. Said it without saying it and that somehow made it worse.

"Yeah, sure. Charge it to my account, same as always."

Tony didn't know what he was supposed to be feeling when Parker was sitting next to him, in the back of his car, ten minutes later.

"I didn't do it." The child said suddenly and Tony actually rolled his eyes. "He was lying, you know."

"Oh, cut the crap." He sighed. "We both know you did."

Parker turned his head so fast to stare at him that it looked almost comical. "I didn't. How would you.. I mean, why..? I didn't."

"Parker." Tony sighed again. "It was written all over your face. Guilt, mostly - which is a good thing. You might be a pickpocket, but you're far from a criminal mastermind."

"I'm not a pickpocket!" He exclaimed heatedly before deflating at Tony's raised eyebrow. Not like he fucking cared.

"Well, do what you want, kid. But don't do it when other people are doing something nice for you. You know what, actually, just don't steal. Not a nice thing to do, you know."

"Technically, I didn't steal, Mr Iron Man." The kid said pointedly and with a small glare. Suddenly, Tony wished he could just drop him off right there at the stopsign. This was the beginning of a major headache.

"Are you going to take me to the police, now?" 

He sounded scared. Finally like a child again, and Tony didn't know why that relieved him, but it did. The same way the guilt had on his face earlier. Because if he felt guilty too, even if he felt defiant.. Well, then he was still a child.

That almost made no sense even to himself, but if Tony was good at one thing it was at making sense of things that really was un-understandable to 99% of the world population - and that included his own thoughts and feelings.

Unless he happened to ignore them, which happened too often according to Pepper. But he had gotten better at it and damn it, where was the praise he deserved?

"Well, Parker. Should I?"

He stared at the kid and finally realized how much better the child looked. The haircut (and wash, honestly) and done wonders and with his nails cut and cleaned.. he looked more like a human than a walking piece of mud, now.

Almost.. adorable?

And holy shit, if that wasn't a scary thought he didn't know what was.

He liked kids just fine. From afar. Like..very far. Too far to hear them whine and see the snot and saliva dripping down.

The possibility of little hims running around were - thankfully - just as low as a little Pepper living a weird life somewhere in Mexico unbeknown to her, thanks to a reversable vasectomy.

His Mom had cried when the bill had been sent home and that had ended in a talk by his Father about his responsibility to produce a heir.

What a wonderful family bonding moment that had been.

"No." The unsure answer pulled Tony back from his thoughts. "No, Sir. I mean I'd really rather you not."

"Ah." He replied. "I figured. How about you tell me where you live, and then I'll take you home?"

"I'd really rather you wouldn't." Parker said and Tony stared at him.

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why?"

It was almost frightening just how helpless and, once again, adorable he looked then and there, brows furrowed over big brown eyes.

For just a second he thought about how it would be to raise a kid with Pepper.

But hell, he was still half a kid himself and his ex girlfriend Steph had said once that it was good he had gotten a vasectomy because he'd fuck up every kid he ever had.

Probably true, honestly.

Not everyone was made to be a parent. Maybe Pepper was, but he sure as hell wasn't.

Now that he thought about it, Pepper didn't seem like the nurturing type. He had never seen her with kids, but she had always been very focused on work.

"Why. Simple word, simple question. Why do you not want me to take you home?"

Parker started to chew on his bottom lip and reaching up to play with his hair, hand dropping when he found his hair much shorter than it had been just earlier.

"I ran away."

"Ah." Of course he did. "Why?"

He didn't want to hear about Parker being abused or beaten, and what other reasons were there, ever?

"You wouldn't understand." He pushed his lip forward defiantly and crossed his arms. He looked like a mad puppy. Adorable. Again.

"Why don't you try me, huh? Kinda still owe me for not handing you over to the cops."

"They gave away my legos."

Okay. He had not expected that one and he just stared. Blinked a few times. "Ah."

"See? Told ya you wouldn't understand."

"Watch your tone."

Parker's eyes snapped up to his face, looking as surprised as Tony felt. While his tone had been light and  pleasant, he had just reprimanded the kid. Jesus Christ.

"Sorry." He sounded and looked sorry and Tony felt a little bad. While the kid's tone had been annoyed and bordering on disrespectful, he had no right to scold that kid. Or any kid for that matter. Ever.

"Don't sweat it, Parker." Tony sighed again. He had sighed so many times today that he was probably working hard on setting a new world record right about now. "But why don't you explain it?"

Parker dropped his head back and it hit the window with a light thunk. "I don't have anything of what was mine anymore."

"Come again?"

"All the clothes I used to have don't fit anymore and when they picked me up after my parents died, they told me to just take my favorite stuff, you know? So I took my stuffed bear," He looked up at Tony daringly, like he was waiting for Tony to make fun of that. He continued when Tony just nodded. "and my clothes and some Legos. That was all that would fit into my suitcase."

He looked around the car and down at his hands and Tony suddenly felt a weird longing to comfort him. He didn't, of course, but the desire was there.

It was strangely natural and incredibly weird at the same time.

"I forgot my bear on the Subway, a while ago." He said quietly. "And my clothes stopped fitting. So the Legos were the only thing that were still mine. From home. Everytime I come to a new family I think that maybe they will be my new family, you know? And I will have new things someday. A room full of things, maybe. Toys and books and a cozy carpet. But this family I was with, they said that it's bad to have materialistic things so they gave them away while I was at school. Donated them to someone less fortunate, and I wanna help, but I don't have anything, either."

He looked at his feet and then up at his hands again, and again, Tony wanted to put his fingers around the much smaller ones.

"They didn't ask." He breathed. It seemed like now that he had started talking, he couldn't stop. "And it wasn't even a punishment, you know? My dad took away my skateboard once because he tripped over it so that was kinda fair. But they didn't warn me."

It made sense. His explanation made sense. To a kid who had nothing, a toy meant everything. For Tony, it had been the other way around as a kid. He had everything, so it had meant nothing.

Just another "Sorry we didn't make it to your football game, here is a new bike" gift.

While that child was the total opposite of him in some ways, they were alike in many others.

Once again, Tony longed to comfort him. Could that be some weird hormones? Midlife crisis? Whatever it was, it was weird.

"So where have you been staying?"

The question was out before he even thought about asking it. This whole conversation was getting more and more bizarre by the minute.

"At school." He whispered, again, and he looked so incredibly small that Tony almost ran his hand through his hair. Almost. "In the drama room. There is blankets and pillows they used for a play, once. And I thought, you know, that they would notice if I didn't come back."

"Parker." Tony said quietly. "If you are still going to the same school, hasn't the family been by to pick you up? Surely they must have talked to the school to realize you're still going."

Parker's face fell and Tony realized why a second later.

The family he had been staying with had noticed, of course, but they probably didn't care.

Had an easy life, now, still getting paid but not having to do shit to care for Parker.

Fucking hell, he shouldn't have bought him that muffin all those months ago. Shouldn't have ever spent time with him. Shouldn't have picked him up today, because damn- he could feel the protectiveness flooding his body with a sickening wave.

"Okay." Tony said quietly. "How about- how about I'll buy you some Legos. And you can keep them at my House, and once in a while, you can come over when you miss having things and have dinner and play with that stuff and I'll keep them safe for you? That way noone can give them away and you can go back to that family. Or ask your social worker for a new one, hm, what do you say, Parker?"

The child looked up at him with big eyes once more and a smile suddenly showed across his face, bright and blinding. "You mean that? No fibbing?"

"Sure. Yes. I mean.. yes." He wasn't sure, actually. But whatever, if Tony Stark gave someone his word, he kept it.

"Okay. Cool. You can take me home, then. I live in Brooklyn."

Seeing that they were almost at his Appartement building, he almost felt sorry for the driver who had to take them all the way across the city. Almost. He paid his drivers very well.

They arrived at the building an hour later and Tony smiled down at the child. He pulled out a bill and wrote something on it.

"Here, kid. Buy yourself some new clothes, yeah? But before you spend it, copy my number somewhere else and somewhere safe. Call me, if you need me. But don't - and I'm serious about that - give my number to anyone else. You really won't like me if you do."

He was still confused about everything that had happened during the day. He was confused when they drove back, and he was still confused when he made dinner for Pepper later (Well, when he ordered it, but same thing).

"So what, you just took a kid to get a massage?" Pepper laughed and she looked so incredibly pretty when she did that Tony forgot what they were talking about for a second. "That could have been a PR nightmare."

"Could still become one, actually. Offered him that he could come by and hang out when he wanted to."

He expected her to yell at him or slap him, he didn't expect her to look thoughtful. "Of course you did."

"Why are you not surprised by me fucking up?" He picked up his glass and glared at it.

"I never said you screwed up, Love. Just that I'm not surprised that you offered that. In case you remember, I have always believed you have a heart."

It was that easy for her. Always. To say something to make him feel better, to make him feel less wrong about something.

He thought he might love her. That particular thought scared him a lot less that he thought it would.

"If that's what you want, I can make sure that we'll turn it around if it ever comes out. Make it out to be one of those big brother situation things, you know what I mean? I'd have to look up what that program was called. The family and the social worker would  have to sign some paper work, but I'm sure they would be happy to."

He wasn't, but he wasn't about to argue if Pepper would find an easy solution.

Somehow, for whatever reason, he needed to see Parker again.

She tapped her fingers against the
tabletop before looking up at him.

"Tony, If that's what you want I, promise to get on it tomorrow. But, and please, please, please listen to me for once, do not take that child up here until that is taken care of. Forget a PR nightmare, that would be bad. Like, the Twilight-Saga-Bad. It would be a Michael Jackson kind of scandal, and that poor guy has been dead for years. People still talk about it, anyways."

Ah. Of course, and as always, Pepper was right. Tony hadn't thought about it that way, to be completely honest. Not that he would admit that.

"Pinky promise." He said and held his pinky out, laughing when Pepper took it with hers.

"Okay, so we have a deal."

"Yes, we do Ms Potts."

This could either be the best or worst idea he had ever had.

Scratch that, it couldn't be worse than trying to steal the Queen of Denmarks yacht. That was and would forever be the worst fuck up in the history of his fuck ups- at least in the eyes of his father.

Because it had been the last one he had been alive for.

The last one he had punished Tony for, because damn- it had been over every newspaper in the western world: "Stark Heir Out Of Control." Yada, yada, yada. Same old, same old. Howard hadn't been the biggest of fans.

Couldn't be worse than that.

Could it?














Chapter Text

The last thing Tony ever wanted to be accused of what molesting a child.

Or any kind of weird shit coming close to that. He wasn't a freaking pedophile, and men (or women) who ever did something, anything like that to children wouldn't see the light of the day ever again if it was up to Tony.

He had been accused of many things, there had been many a rumor that had been so ridiculous that he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

He had chosen to laugh almost every single time.

Or get drunk, but you know - potato, potahto.

He wouldn't laugh if someone ever decided to spread rumors like that about him.

He hadn't even thought about the possibility of what paying attention to Parker could possibly look like until Pepper had mentioned it and now he was doubting his offer to the child big time.

Like.. as big as the Empire State Building. His ego. His fortune. His dick (thanks to whomever he had to thank for that. His dead parents, maybe? Ah, that thought was weird as fuck).

He could go on to list things that were as big as his doubts for pages and it wouldn't even come close.

He had just wanted to do something kind.

Something selfless.

And wasn't that a weird feeling in itself?

He was pacing up and down the still-not-really-furnished living room while he waited for Pepper.

Pepper, the light of his life (and he was only being a tiny bit sarcastic here), who was currently negotiating or something or other with Parker's social worker.

At least that's what he thought Pepper had said.

He'd gotten nervous while she explained it, deciding to stare at her cleavage instead of paying attention to the words that came out of her mouth, thinking about what that mouth had done just hours earlier - and well, he really hadn't heard shit of what she'd said after that.

Now he had no idea what the third meeting in as many days was about.

No regrets though, Pepper had amazing boobs and an even more amazing mouth. 10/10, would totally recommend.

Or maybe not - he wasn't really one for sharing. Only child and all that.

Pepper being Pepper, she had had the paperwork drawn up the morning after their initial talk about the topic, before Tony had ever even talked to the kid again (he still hadn't, but oh well).

Tony wondered why, though.

Did she want to test his parental streak? Did she want him out of the house? Working less? Being Ironman less? He hadn't bothered (dared?) to ask, fearing he wouldn't like the answer very much.

That had been very un-Tony of him.

"Tony?"

The most beautiful voice (barf, Rhodey would smack him) rang through the open space and he instantly turned to see Pepper's big smile, watching as she kicked of her heels and walked directly into his arms before pulling back and hopping onto the counter of the wet bar.

"So?"

"So." She grinned again and pulled him closer, so he stood between her legs before jumping into a lengthy explanation about the agreement.

Apparently, every Saturday, Peter Parker would spend time with Tony and if Pepper could, she would join them.

The whole thing had gone so fast and so weirdly without any hitches that Tony couldn't help but feel like they were making a big mistake.

But a tiny part of him also felt like maybe, just maybe, this was something that could be good for all of them. It would just be a few hours a week, no big deal.

And the way Pepper had been looking at him for the past 75 hours- Well, damn, sue him, but that alone probably made it worth it. Just a little bit.

"Why did they agree? Are there conditions?"

Pepper furrowed her brow slightly. "Nothing crazy. You're kind of sponsoring the child, paying for school books and that kind of stuff. I think the social worker is hoping we'll adopt him, to be honest. Think she thinks it's some kind of trial period. Apparently that really is a thing, you know."

He didn't. And he also didn't know what to say to that, because that was crazy. Absolutely, mindblowingly, fucking crazy.

Not the paying for stuff, he couldn't care any less about that, but ... The rest.

"Isn't the family supposed to take care of that? The foster family? They get money for taking care of him, no?" It's all he could get out. All he could concentrate on, at the moment.

"Becoming cheap, now?" Pepper teased before furrowing her brows once more. "Yes, but he isn't living with them anymore. He is living in a home in Long Island. But don't worry, I was there today, it's well kept and the room he shares with three other boys is cute."

Worry about the kid hadn't even crossed his mind when Pepper mentioned that he was living in some kind of home (yay, home sounded almost the same as homey, so there).

Fucking hell.

If that didn't prove Tony shouldn't be around a child, he didn't know what would.

He wanted to be nice but he had no desire whatsoever to be a father. Not even a foster father or adoptive father. Not even a father figure, actually.

He didn't want to give the child any weird false hope that he wouldn't ever fulfill. Couldn't.

"Have you met him?" He asked and looked at Pepper, concentrating on her lips, her brows, her eyelashes.

She hummed quietly. "For a few minutes, yes. He got back from school before I left. Apparently he is pretty upset about the move because he had to change schools once again. I was thinking, you know, that as part of the sponsoring we could just fund his education for the next few years, send him to a school around here, so he wouldn't have to change schools everytime he was sent to a new place. It would be a bit of a commute, sure, but - Tony, are you okay?"

"Pepper." He said it with a serious tone, furrowing his own brows to match hers while he squinted up at her. "Pepper, I don't have any desire to adopt him."

"Okay." She said with a roll of her eyes. "I never said you did, but you want to spend time with him for whatever reason and I figured out a way to make it happen. If you ever change your mind, we can talk about it, because I'm a part of this too, you know? If you don't, then that's fine as well."

It was hard not to agree with Pepper when her voice was so strong and convinced and smart.

He was actually almost completely convinced that Pepper was a lot smarter than he was in a lot of ways so it's not like he would disagree with her. At least not to her face. Or, you know.. not today.

Not when he maybe, secretly wanted her to be right.

____________________________________

"Why do you need to leave?" Tony whined and trailed after Pepper and into the half empty closet. They really needed to get an interior designer into this place.

"Because I have to work."

"Work from here." He whined again and walked back into the room, still trailing after her, watching as she zipped up her suitcase.

The material was grey and looked expensive and he wondered how easy it would be to rip it into pieces so Pepper would have to stay.

"We've been having this conversation for weeks, Tony. Our agreement hasn't changed; I'll be splitting my time between California and New York. I'll be back by next weekend."

"Just stay. We'll hire a new CEO."

"Tony." She sighed and she sounded so much like a tired mother that he would have laughed hadn't he been so desperate. "Stop it. I like my job, I am going to keep my job, and if you want to spend more time together, you can fly back to California with me. Now."

He grumbled, because Pepper was right. They had been having the same conversation again and again and a-fucking-gain.

The plan had never been for him to stay in New York for the majority of the time, but there wasn't much in California that was keeping him there, and coming back to New York had felt so much like coming home that he just didn't want to leave.

He wanted to stay, he wanted to furnish that gorgeous Penthouse he had bought, he wanted to finish setting up a workshop, he wanted to work hands-on at the new tower.

But he wanted Pepper there, too. And not just ten days out of the month.

"But I'll be bored."

Pepper looked torn between wanting to yell and wanting to comfort him. She settled on an eyeroll, instead.

"Tony. It's just a year or so until the tower is done, and as soon as the head offices have been moved here, we'll be here together. But, give me that time. Let me say goodbye to my home."

He immediately felt guilty, because fuck, he had forgotten that Pepper would have prefered to stay on the West Coast. She was moving for him and he was being ungrateful and impatient.

Selfish, as always.

He should apologize, he knew that, but somehow sorry was one of the hardest words he'd ever spoken...and he spoke quite a few languages.

"But I like having you with me."

Pepper's face softened and she stepped into his arms with the grace of an angel and he willed the flutter in his heart to stop. This was embarassing. He was a grown ass man, and his father had always said that men shouldn't be showing emotion.

"Pepper, do you think I should ever take advice from Howard?" He asked quietly, because fucking hell- Howards advice about emotions and freaking feelings should probably be ignored.

"Ah. Maybe business, yes. But other than that, I'm going for only heed it with great care."

"Yeah, I figured." Tony said gravely. "Well, with the motivation of proving Howard wrong: I'll miss you, Pepper Potts. I'll miss you a fucking lot and I can't wait for you to come back to me."

Pepper was quiet for a few moments, her voice careful and tender when she finally replied. He wondered if she knew what he had meant to express, if she knew how much he cared.

"I'll miss you too, Tony Stark. But remember, I'm not leaving you. And I'll come back for you always."

He wondered if she knew how much those words meant to him.

He wondered about many things in that moment, but when Pepper kissed him, it was like everything in his head dulled down to the sound of waves in the back of his head.

He spent the next few days on the floor below the two belonging to their penthouse apartment, setting up the workshop.

The workers had finished the ground work (soundproofing; strengthened walls and floors; the hidden compartments and closets) and Tony was now running around and organizing his tools and setting up the workstations.

When Jarvis spoke up, he was more than surprised.

"Sir, Miss Potts has sent a message to remind you that Happy Hogan will be delivering Peter Parker at the Penthouse. He will only drop him off, and then go straight to the airport to fly out to California."

Tony grumbled and made his way to the bathroom to shower. He was pretty sure he hadn't done that in a few days. Gross.

He felt a weird sense of excitement.

He tried to tell himself that it was because his workshop was finally ready to use. It wasn't because he would be spending time with a child.

Howard had always said that children were...

Fuck that.

Fuck anything Howard had ever said.

If Tony wanted to be excited to spend time with a kid, he fucking well could be.

And if he was honest with himself, he could admit that he mayyyyyybe kind of was.

He had just made it to the living room when the elevator opened to a boy who was tipsing on his feet out of excitement.

"Hey, Parker." He said with a smirk. "Wanna see the place?"

"Could you, Uh, maybe show me the bathroom first?"

Oh.

Oh.

He wasn't excited, he needed to piss.

Well, great.

Not only was the child less excited than Tony had thought, Tony had also fucked up in the first twenty seconds.

New record?

Twenty seconds was also how long he had lasted the first time he had had sex when he was fourteen.

And boy, had that gotten better.

So maybe a rocky start wasn't necessarily bad?

"Mr Stark, Iron Man, Sir?" The kid said desperatedly. "I really need to go."

"Oh, of course, yeah. Living room bathroom is right there through that door."

He watched as Parker dropped his tiny backpack and practically ran through the door. It was kind of cute, to be honest.

Not that he'd admit that out loud.

Maybe he would write about it in his memoir. He had planned on writing one for the fun of it and have it published after his death. Hopefully that would be a heroic one at some point in the far future.

"Mr Iron Man?"

He turned back to see Parker stand right behind him and he jumped backwards with an intake of breath.

Someone else might have called it a shriek, but Tony most definitely wouldn't. He didn't shriek. Ever.

"Jesus, Kid. You're as silent as a Native American tiptoeing through the wilderness."

"That's kind of offensive, you know." The child replied and Tony just stared for a few moments.

"Uhm. Yes, I guess you're right. Shouldn't be talking like that around you, huh?"

Parker looked at him with those big eyes and reached up to push shabby glasses up his nose. "You shouldn't talk like that, ever, I think."

Was this how this was going to be like every fucking Saturday? Tony being himself and a literal child scolding him? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

"You know what, fine. I promise I won't say that again. Happy, Parker?" Parker nodded and Tony rolled his eyes. "So, what do you want to do today, you little Gnome?"

The kid giggled and took a few steps back, looking around. "Can I get a snack?"

"Uh. Yeah. Sure." Tony said and took the few steps to the kitchen. They barely had any supplies in there and he was positive that all they had was some whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

They hadn't eaten a single meal in that place (and the whipped cream and chocolate hadn't been for eating, either. Well..not really, at least) and there weren't any snacks, not even any plates or forks for fuck's sake.

He opened the cabinets any way, maybe for show or maybe for something to do, he didn't know.

Fuck, he wasn't prepared for this. He hadn't even bought crayons or paper or some shit for the kid to use, there was literally nothing to do here.

But they couldn't exactly leave, either. Not today, not like this, not without a game plan. Not the first time they really hung out, before they knew if this was going to continue.

Pepper had made him promise.

"Well, how do you feel about ordering in?" He asked with a frown. "What do you like? Pizza? Chinese? Greek?"

Parker's eyes were as big as plates. "That's so cool. Can we do, like, Indian food? With Naan?"

"Sure." Tony sighed. Indian was never his first choice, but this wasn't for him. He could order in ten times a day, and Parker would probably only get to eat what he wanted (and maybe how much he wanted?) on saturdays.

That thought made Tony want to do better next week.

He pulled out a tablet and opened the menu to the first Indian place to deliver and ushered the kid towards the couch and dropped down next to him. "Here, tell me what you want."

Peter stared down and read very carefully. "Uh. The cheesy Naan?"

"And?"

"I get to pick something else?"

Oh boy. Tony didn't know whether to smile or frown, so he kept his face neutral, letting his eyes wander over the small face in front of him. He noticed the smudged glasses and fought the urge to pluck them of Parker's face to clean them.

Had the boy worn glasses the last few times he'd seen him? He couldn't really remember, but he didn't think he had.

They looked like they were second hand (or fourth hand, honestly) and Tony made a mental note about that.

"Yes. In fact, that's our first rule for Saturdays, yeah? When you're here, you get to eat how ever much you want. And before you turn that against me, I'm talking real food, not Candy and all that garbage. That's for movie nights."

"We will be having movie nights?" The child sounded so excited that Tony felt himself get excited, too. He pushed that feeling down. For fuck's sake, he was a grown ass man.

"Uh, I'm sure we might at some point."

"Cool." He looked down at the tablet again. "Uhm. The Red Curry with Jasmine Rice?"

He sounded hesitant and Tony looked over his shoulder before nodding. "Yeah, same for me. Thanks, J."

He took the Tablet and threw it down next to him.

"You haven't ordered, yet, Mr Stark."

"No, but Jarvis has. Jarvis, say hi."

"Hi."

Peter jumped up into the air when the AI's voice rang around them.

"What the fuck?" He exclaimed and something rushed through Tony at that.

"Oy." He reprimanded. "Parker! If I hear you say fuck again, I'll wash your mouth out with soap."

The kid stared at him with big eyes and started to chew on his lower lip before his face relaxed again. "If the rest of your place is as empty as the kitchen, I doubt that you have any soap."

Tony started laughing so hard his stomach hurt. "Touché. Hey, Jarvis, add a bar of soap to the shopping list. I want everything delivered by Wednesday."

"Sure thing, Boss. What else would you like to add to the list?"

"Apples, bananas, carrots, grapes." He mused and turned towards the kid. "Parker, what do you like to eat? Let's make a list. I need a stocked pantry, and I have no idea what belongs in one."

"That is so cool." The kid exclaimed before bouncing up and down on the couch. "You need pantry stuff. Flour and sugar and you know, pancake mix."

"Is that so?" He chuckled. He knew where this was going and he was enjoying it. Sue him for wanting snacks. It's not like only the kid needed to eat, Tony needed food, too.

"Yes! And cereal. Cheerios! They are the best. And milk. And you know, orange juice. Ohhhhhh! Poptarts, you really need those!" He exclaimed wirh a small shout of glee. "Is Mr Jarvis writing all of this down?"

"I sure am, Mr Parker."

The boy actually clapped his fucking hands when the AI said that and Tony laughed again.

"Iceberg, spinach, bread, broccoli." Tony mused and laughed again at the scandalized look that Parker was sending him.

"Gross. Pasta and sauce and Mac and Cheese and oreos!" He said and started jumping around Tony excitedly. "Please? That would be so awesome."

They went on like that, making a shopping list with anything Tony and Pepper (and Peter) might need.

They discussed the best brand of ketchup over their food (they agreed on Heinz, finally), had a ten minute conversation about whether they should get Ben and Jerry's or Dreyer's (Tony won, Ben and Jerry's was the best) and if they should be buying bottled water (yes).

By the time their shopping list was completely finished, herbs and spices and baking powder included, the sun had set and Jarvis informed them that the kid would be picked up in fifteen minutes.

Tony moved around and boxed up any leftovers. The kid would appreciate them more than he would.

"I'll have silverware next Saturday, Parker, I promise. Then we won't have to eat our food with our fingers."

"But that was half the fun." The kid assured him and Tony found that he agreed. It had been fun. Fun and easy. Nevertheless, they would be using forks next week.

"Here, Parker." He said suddenly and pulled  a twenty out of his wallet. He always had some cash to tip people and he found himself being grateful for that. "Your allowance or something. This is just for you, yeah? In case you want  to buy a pretzel."

He prayed that a twenty was an okay amount to give to a child, he seriously had no idea, if he was being honest with himself. He'd google it at some point.

"Oh, cool! Thanks, Mr Stark."

When Jarvis announced that the driver was waiting downstairs in the lobby, Tony started to get a tight feeling in his stomach.

"Do you need anything else, Parker?"

"No, thanks. You've given me everything I needed, Mr Stark. I had fun!" To Tony's great surprise, the kid hugged him tightly around the middle and then turned around and skipped off towards the elevator with a wave of his hand, no indication that he'd just hugged Tony, for godness sake.

"Uh. Yeah. I'll see you next week, Parker." He said and shot a smile and stared at the tiny kid with the smudged glasses.

"Oh. There is one thing I want to ask you." Parker said and glanced up at Tony. "Can you stop calling me Parker? My name is Peter."

The elevator shut down the second Parker- No, Peter - had finished talking and Tony realized three things all at once.

Firstly, he would never call that child Parker again.

Secondly, from now on, he'd personally drop that child off in Saturday evenings because it felt incredibly weird to just send him off with a stranger.

And third, and most frightening, he couldn't wait for it to be Saturday again.











Chapter Text

Tony was bored.

And incredibly so. He wasn't one for whining, but - ugh. Who was he kidding? He loved whining. And he wouldn't hold back now, fuck what people thought.

It had to have been the most boring week of his entire life.

And he was not being dramatic like Pepper had pointed out last night. Nope. He was fucking bored out of his mind.

When he was in Afghanistan he used to lay awake sometimes, not really conscious anymore but not fully asleep either. It was always shortly before exhaustion pulled him into an uneasy slumber, the lulling of Yinsens snores in the background.

In those moments he told himself he'd do anything to just be at home again, and he'd wished for the sense of boredom he was feeling now.

He had been fine the last few days. He had slept fine, he had eaten fine food, he had looked fine. Everything had been fine. Boring.

He'd gone to a charity event on sunday, he had spent monday at the golf course with some investors, he'd spent tuesday in the workshop and he'd lazed around most of wednesday, and he'd had meetings all of thursday.

Now it was friday and he was waiting for Pepper to come home. Finally.

"Tony?" Her voice rang through the open space and he dropped the spoon he had been holding to practically run into the foyer to pick up Pepper and whirl her around. That pulled a surprised but pleased little giggle out of her when he set her down.

"What are you doing?" She asked a little breathlessly and all Tony could think was that finally, finally his savior had arrived to fight off the boredom.

"I just missed you is all."

"Are you cooking?" Pepper turned to walk towards the kitchen and Tony suddenly regretted that he was cooking.

He was a good cook. Well, he could follow a recipe, so the stew simmering in the kitchen might not be a sexy meal, but it sure as hell tasted good. Great, even.

"Rude." He huffed. "Don't sound so surprised."

"Tony. Are those groceries? And a pot?"

"I only bought one, so we'll be eating one-pot-meals." He grumbled, trying hard to hide a smirk at the look Pepper was throwing him. God, he really had missed her.

"Okay, let me set the table. I'm starving."

She turned around to open the cupboards and probably realized Tony's mistake the same moment he did.

"You haven't bought any plates yet, have you?"

"Uhm."

"Spoons?"

He shook his head and Pepper started laughing so hard that he couldn't help but join in and he found that once he started he couldn't stop.

"I'm sorry." He said earnestly which only seemed to remind Pepper why they were laughing in the first place and she started giggling once more.

If Tony was a cat, he'd start purring right about now.

They ended up on the living room carpet, pot between them and feeding each other with the spoon Tony had used for cooking. He had been right, it tasted great.

And sitting there with Pepper on the floor making memories made his chest tighten in an almost uncomfortable way, leaving him to wonder how deep he was sliding into this whole relationship thing.

The old Tony would have fought it, but he didn't want to fight it anymore. He just wanted to be happy. And he was happy. Pepper and him.. they were happy. His heart was full, but it almost felt like there was room for something more, for someone else and that scared the fuck out of Tony.

He didn't want to cheat on Pepper, ever, but what if that was what was missing? Another woman? Maybe a man?

Another thing he pushed to the back of his mind.

"I'm exhausted, let's go to bed." Pepper whispered into his ear and her breath tickled his neck and seemed to run down his spine and around his body, making his dick perk up in interest.

"Yeah, let's." He said more breathlessly than he would have liked. He was thirty (cough), not thirteen.

By the time Tony woke the next morning it wasn't by choice, but by Jarvis letting them know that their guest had arrived.

"Guest? Jarvis, are you out of your mind? Fuck off." Tony grumbled and threw a pillow into the general direction of the ceiling, closing his eyes again. If Pepper wasn't waking, there was no reason for him to wake up, either.

A few minutes later he could hear the bedroom door open but he couldn't be bothered to sit up.

It's not like anybody but Rhodey was authorized to walk into their Apartment, and if it was a murderer? Well, at least he'd die well rested and naked after an amazing night of great I missed you sex.

"Mr Iron Man?" A voice called out and Tony jumped up, suddenly highly alert and awake. He pulled up the blankets to his chin and tried to cover Pepper as well. He knew very well how naked he was and how naked Pepper was, and there was no need to traumatize that poor kid.

"Peter? Fuck, I'm sorry. We overslept, I guess. Sorry. Shit." It's not like he could tell the child that he'd forgotten about him in his blissed-out-post-orgasm mind.

"That's okay. Mr Jarvis said I should come in and wake you."

Well, apparently telling your AI to fuck off made it want to act out. Who would have guessed? Apparently revenge tasted good to robot brains, too.

"Tony, hush, I'm trying to sleep." Pepper mumbled. "Unless you're carrying pancakes to eat or are planning to eat me, I'm gonna need you to shut up."

"Pepper." He hissed and smacked her arm lightly where he could reach from his awkward position. "Peter is here."

"Peter?" She sat up, rubbing her eyes and Tony wondered how she could look so incredibly perfect even with her hair a mess and her cheek red with an imprint of her arm, where her head had rested. "Oh. Hey, sweetie!"

She was brightly awake a second later and smiled warmly at the boy. "Hey. How about you go find a snack and Tony and I get dressed really quick and come join you, hm?"

Peter gave them a happy smile and skipped out of the room and Tony stared after him, amazed. True, the kid was only nine but he'd acted so grown up when he'd run into him the first couple of times.

He'd noticed it last time, too. He was acting more of a kid again, letting himself be excited and childish.

It had been good for him to move out of that family's house and into that home.

He stayed right where he was, watching Pepper get up and saunter into the closet, and he waited for her to leave fully dressed a minute later because he couldn't be completely sure he'd be able to keep his hands to himself with a naked Pepper standing next to him right now.

By the time he made it into the kitchen area, Pepper and Peter were sitting at the table with grapes and Poptarts between them. He picked up the cup of coffee that was waiting for him on the counter and carried it over, ruffling Peter's hair while he walked by before kissing Pepper on the cheek and settling at the head of the table.

"This is ridiculous." Pepper said and gestured in front of her and at Peter who was happily munchin on the sugary treat. "We should be eating eggs and bacon on plates with knives and forks, like the civilized people we are."

Peter giggled and the sound did something to Tony's insides that he didn't want to be thinking about today.

"I mean it, Tony, stop smirking! We don't have a TV, or paintings, or anything remotedly useful. We're going shopping today, that's it."

Tony could feel his face fall and he almost barked a laugh when he saw Peter's face fall, as well. Shopping with Pepper was a nightmare. She had a good eye for things, and she never bought anything unless it was perfect.

"But," he tried to come up with an der excuse, "what about..ah, Peter? You said we couldn't go out in public together. PR nightmare and all that, remember?"

"Yes." She said with a raised eyebrow. "I remember saying that you couldn't go out in public with him yet. No offence, babe, but you're a hotheaded idiot who might have made a mess of things or, I don't know, taken Peter for a ride across central park on a pony while flying next to him in one of your suits. I won't let that happen."

Tony groaned. "Pepper, if we're recognized, that would be a nightmare."

"Jesus, we're in New York where everyone and their sister is famous." She waved her hand dramatically and raised an eyebrow once again.

They both knew he was different. He was Iron Man, Tony Stark, and dating the CEO of his company. They would all care.

"We're not going to Macy's." He said. "Or anything here in Manhattan. We're getting in the car down in the garage and drive over to Jersey."

"Fine." She said, smiling brightly, like she did whenever she won some weird argument, before she turned to Peter. "I know you probably envisioned something else when you thought about today, but if you're good, I promise I'll let you pick something at Toys'r'us. And we could get McDonald's for Lunch, hm?"

Tony almost dropped his cup in his haste to stare at her. Not once since they started dating hat Pepper agreed to go to any kind of fast food restaurant with him and now some kid got her to offer without even asking?

His life wasn't fair.

The complaints on his tongues died before he ever spoke them when he saw Peter's eyes light up like a christmas tree.

Fuck what Tony wanted, If the promise of a Happy Meal made that child so happy, he wouldn't question shit. He wouldn't put it above Pepper to take back the offer to punish Tony, so he just gulped down the last of his coffee before standing up.

"Fine. I'll have the driver of the day wait for us, we're leaving in thirty." He sauntered off to take a shower, leaving Pepper with Peter.

She made her way into the bathroom ten minutes later when Tony stepped out of it, freshly showered and in his briefs.

He yelped when Pepper smacked his rear while walking past him. "Damn, Stark, looking good. And now hurry up, I left Pete with tablet. He's watching some weird YouTuber- something about pies. Pretty sure that's frowned upon amongst parents."

"We're not parents." He yelled after her, but she only laughed before she turned on the shower-effectively turning Tony out.

It was a small miracle, really, but they were all ready to go thirty minutes (and three reminders for Peter to use the bathroom) later.

Tony was excited for the day, almost against his own will, and listening to Peter and Pepper talk about some show (Zack and Code, maybe? Something similar) that Peter enjoyed watching left him feeling content, though he couldn't tell anyone why.

Should be annoying him, probably.

But oh-fucking-well.

He had decided to go with it a week ago and he was holding himself to that promise.

"We're here." Pepper announced and Tony ushered Peter out of the car to stare up at an old warehouse. What the hell?

"Pep." He said quietly. "Are you sure that's the place you meant to take us?"

"Yes." She said and turned to look at him, easily taking Peter's hand in a way that made Tony ache (though why... That was the question of the day). "It's appointment only, never more customer than ten at the same time. Called in a few favors when you were in the shower, so they cancelled on some doctor. They were more than happy to when I dropped your name and the fact that you we're ready to spend some paper." 

"Who are you and what have you done to my girlfriend?" He asked and looked at her with big eyes. Using his name (or hers, for that matter) to get anything that wasn't for the company was very Tony and very unlike Pepper.

But hell, he'd take it. Being rich was amazing in situations like those.

"What do they sell?" He asked while they waited in front of the small door.

"A little bit of everything." Pepper said while they stepped through that door.

He could hear Peter gasp loudly and Tony knew he should be used to this but he almost gasped, anyways.

As soon as they stepped inside, they had been offered drinks and it was easy to get lost in the huge ceilings.

Tony had no idea how someone could turn a warehouse into a lovely place that made even him fuzzy inside, he didn't know, but those people had done it.

"Hello." A woman said pleasantly. She was beautiful, but not in a sexy kind of way. She felt homey. She was older than Tony and held herself up in a way that made him instantly like her.

"We're glad to have you. As I've been told, you're looking to furnish your Apartment. Everything and anything you see here is available to purchase and will be ordered and delivered to you within the week. I'll be happy to answer any questions or help with advice if you want it, though we do advise you to look around on your own as a family and write down any pieces you want."

We're not a family, Tony wanted to say, we're not.

She turned to point into another direction. "Anything over here you can purchase and take with you today." She turned once more. "And anything over there can be delivered within a month."

"Thank you so much." Pepper said with a smile. "We'd love to look around on our own, thank you."

She was still holding Peter's hand and Tony gripped her free one while they made their way away from the desk they had been standing at. They started in the aisle to their right.

"Oh, Tony, look!" Pepper exclaimed and ran her hand over a carpet. "This is perfect for the guestroom. Write it down."

It went on like that for-fucking-ever (twenty minutes, if he was honest) and Tony got bored.

He kicked Peter's foot softly to get his attention and then nodded his head to the direction of a big bed standing on their right.

Peter perked up and smiled brightly and nodded.

Tony bent down to pick him up and threw him onto the bed before hopping up himself. He laughed when Peter launched himself at him and hit him upside the head with a pillow, practically howling at the way the kid looked at him before he climbed onto Tony's shoulders. They were still wrestling and laughing when Pepper appeared.

"Boys." She said evenly. "If you don't get down from there in five seconds, we'll be having salads for lunch and dinner."

They jumped down with three seconds to spare, both of them grinning apologetically at Pepper. Her smile softened and she leaned into Tony.

"Come on." She said with a smile. "Let's pick some plates."

What sounded boring turned out to be hilarious because apart from selecting some fancy, white set Pepper encouraged them to pick out some fun cups and bowls.

That's how Tony ended up with a bowl with boobs and Peter found a cup that had boxershorts printed all over them. He loved that cup way more than a child should be loving a cup, but Tony didn't question it.

Pepper picked curtains and towels and picture frames while Tony and Peter picked out some cooking utensils.

It's not like they needed Pepper's help for that, she was helpless in the kitchen anyway.

"Look, Mr Stark. Star Wars Cookie Cutters!" Peter pointed out and Tony dropped the baster and cheese knife he'd been holding into the cart before walking over.

"Okay, we need them." He agreed and picked Peter up so he could reach the box and held him over the cart so he could place them inside before setting him down again. "What else?"

"One of those big spoons!" Peter pointed and Tony picked one.

"It's called a ladle." He said and turned towards the measuring cups and spoons. "Plain black ones or these here with dinosaurs? They are pretty cool."

"Dinosaurs!"

Of course. He wondered if he would regret this at any point. Dinosaur measuring cups for 69,99 seemed like a weird purchase but they looked fun. He wanted them, too.

Peter helped him pick out so many things for his kitchen that Tony became more and more sure that they would never use all of it. He couldn't think of a single situation where he'd need a honey drizzler, but he wanted to own it, anyways. You never knew.

"Oh." Tony shuddered while he picked up a few wooden spoons and dropped them into their slowly filling cart, right on top of the cuttingboards that they had picked out (wooden with bears stanced into them). "I have bad memories of those."

"Why?" Peter said curiously and threw a bottle opener inside, too.

"You don't want to know." He answered dramatically.

"Now you need to tell me."

"I can't. I'm misterious like that."

"Oh come on, please." Peter begged but Tony wouldn't hear of it.

"His Mom smacked him with a wooden spoon whenever he annoyed her." Pepper said and rolled her eyes. "Nothing exciting. He's old and senile."

"Rude."

Peter stared for a few seconds and then laughed in a way that made everyone around him smile, too.

He'd probably be a heartbreaker one day.

They spent a ridiculous amout of time picking up weird little things for their home, like fancy soap dispensers and toiletpaperholderthingies, until Pepper ushered them into the clothing area of the store where she held sweaters of varying sizes up against Peter.

"You should have some things at the Penthouse." She said after he questioned what she was doing. "What If you spill some sauce and don't have anything to change into? We'll just leave them in the closet of the guest bedroom."

"But that one has a horse on it, Miss Pepper. I'm not a girl."

Pepper threw him a look and raised an eyebrow. "If you don't like it, that's fine - but I don't ever want you to blame that on being a boy or a girl. You can like whatever you want. We don't let our sex define what we like in this family."

Tony looked at Pepper and at Peter's confused nod and wondered who she'd meant when she'd talked about family. The two of them? Or was Peter included in her little outburst?

He didn't know, but he wondered If they would have to have another talk. This was a sponsorship. Nothing more, nothing less.

But he couldn't fight the feeling of longing when Pepper picked out a few shirts, sweaters, jeans and sweatpants. He felt helpless when she made Peter choose a pair of pajamas and he felt confused when she threw in socks and a five pack of underwear.

He didn't know why he was feeling like this but he wanted to go home and crawl into bed and not wake up again for a week.

"Good." Pepper finally said. "Good. We've got everything we need, I think. We'll be picking some vases and fake flowers on the way back to the register and then we're all done."

"Why not real flowers?"

"Have you met Tony, honey?"

The weird feeling didn't go away when they filled out the forms before they left or when they happily munched on their food on the way to some Toys'r'us store.

It didn't go away while Peter picked out a lego set and it only intensified when Tony bought him a stuffed Koala that was so soft he'd almost like to keep it, himself.

It stayed when Pepper added some paper and crayons to their basket and it got almost unbearable when she threw a bathrobe for kids, too.

"Are you okay, Mr Iron Man?" Peter asked after Tony had been quiet a little while too long. They were in Long Island, walking up the long walkway towards the home Peter was living in, the boy between him and Pepper. He looked at their interwined hands and felt a weird feeling he thought might be jealousy.

Weird. Maybe it was just hard to share Pepper after being apart from her for most of the week. He saw it in Pepper's eyes whenever she looked at Peter. She wanted this. Tony didn't know how he would tell her that he didn't.

He liked the kid fine. He was funny and cute and not as annoying as he could be. But he wasn't as invested as Pepper, it seemed.

For once in his life, Tony didn't have the answer. He didn't know what to say or do and he also didn't know if Pepper would forgive him if he pulled out of this.

The kid slipped his hand into Tony's much bigger one and looked up at him with questioning eyes before looking away and it took everything Tony had to not stop walking or pull his hand away.

The day had gone by quickly, and Tony had been surprised when Pepper had told the driver to take them here.

But it made sense, they had been together since ten this morning, and it was almost six now. It's not like they could keep the kid all weekend.

It's not even like he wanted to. Tony wasn't lying when he said he didn't. He barely even knew the child, they had only met what? A year ago? And they had only ran into each other again a month ago.

They didn't know each other at all.

"Wait." Peter said suddenly and stopped walking. "I changed my mind. Can I please take the koala with me?"

"Of course." Pepper said, already turning to walk back towards the car to grab it. "We told you that you can take any of the new stuff with you."

But he had refused earlier, had wanted all of it to wait for him at the tower next saturday. "So I have a reason to come back," he had said.

Tony wondered if the kid knew what was going on inside his mind, the fact that Tony didn't know whether he wanted to see the boy again.

He really didn't. But he also didn't know if he could not.


















Chapter Text

"So," Pepper said over lunch a few weeks later. "How much longer until summer break, Peter?"

"Two weeks, I think." He said while counting something on his fingers before looking up again. "Two. And then it's six weeks until my birthday."

"And then you'll be ten?" She said kindly and reached over to place more broccoli onto Peter's plate. The kid pulled a face but obediently rammed a fork into a piece. Tony wondered if Peter would have acted the same way if he had done that instead of Pepper.

Everyone always listened to Pepper. Hell, even he did most of the time. She would disagree, but as far as listening to other people went- well, he listened to her the most.

"Maybe you want to join me in California for a few days over summer." She said thoughtfully and Tony almost choked on his mashed potatoes.

"Uhm, Pepper.." He said, but she didn't pay him any mind.

"You mean that?" Peter said and looked up with big eyes. "I have never been to California! Can we go to the beach? I have never even seen the ocean."

Tony stood abruptly and muttered something about the bathroom before he practically ran down the hallway.

He just needed some air.

Instead of going to the bathroom, he walked into the guestroom that had some of Peter's things in them and sat on the bed heavily.

He looked around. The room was just that- a guestroom. Nothing more, nothing less.

There were two Legosets on the shelf, a cup from the movies that had a picture of that weird bird Rio all over it and a few of those ugly, artsy souvenirs Pepper had bought him at their trip to MOMA two weeks ago, but other than that.. nothing had changed since they decorated the room four weeks ago. 

The day at the museum had been incredibly fun. There had been a new something that Pepper had wanted to see, but because just showing up there on a Saturday would have been an absolute nightmare, they had gone before opening hours and Peter had been so excited it had made Tony excited.

He usually hated the MOMA, but running around and throwing Peter in the air and showing him how the Echo worked in the empty halls while Pepper glared at them from across the room - it had been fun.

There was almost nothing that belonged to Peter in the room, not much that screamed Kid at him, but it felt like Peter's room, in a way.

It wasn't even like the kid had spent a night in this room before. He hadn't even spent any time in this room, really, but Tony could see it now.

Pepper inviting him over more and more, slowly transforming the room into something more. First, it might be new sheets. More toys. A desk in the corner, a new paint job on the walls.

It scared the fuck out of him.

He liked their saturdays. He liked the ones they all spent together, and he also liked the few he had spent with Peter by himself. Even when he had to watch weird movies about colorful, singing birds that he would never admit to secretly enjoying.

It wasn't bad. It was comfortable and even easy, most of the time. Peter was funny and kind. Not the worst Kid in the world. Maybe even the best one out there.

It was, however, one day a week. Ten hours, lately. Ten in the morning until eight at night. He could handle that.
It was a good arrangement.

So what was Pepper doing? Taking him on fucking trips to the other side of the country was just going to give the boy false hope.

A hope of a home that they couldn't provide, even if Tony wanted to.

Pepper was still in California twenty days a month.

Tony still had long workdays, and galas, and dinners with investors and time in the lab.

He was fucking Iron Man. Sometimes he had to leave in the blink of an eye, he had enemies, god damn it.

He took another deep breath before standing and walking back into the dining room.

"Mr Stark?" Peter said quietly and looked up at him with big eyes through those smudged, old glasses. Fuck, he really needed new ones.

"Hm?"

"Are you still taking me to the movies today when Miss Pepper has that yoga class?"

"Of course." He said easily. "I always keep my promises to you, don't I?"

"Yes."

He could feel his insides tighten at the way both Peter and Pepper beamed up at him and he allowed himself a moment to wish that things were different.

That he was different.

That he wasn't so damaged and that he could be a dad. That he could think about having a family without wanting to drink enough to pass out. That he could give Pepper a child she so obviously wanted and Peter the family he deserved.

He really, really wished he could. He wished, not for the first time, that things were different.

But they weren't.

He was still Tony Stark and that wouldn't change.

Disappointing people since 1969.

"What are we going to watch, then?" Peter asked excitedly. "Can we go to that old movie theatre you told me about?"

"Let's google it," he said and reached for the tablet on one of the chairs before catching Pepper's glare, "uhm, after lunch, because you know - no electronics at the table."

Pepper looked pleased, Peter rolled his eyes with a grin and Tony didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

"So," Pepper said later in the car, "I need to get out right here, but I'll see you next weekend, okay, sweetie?"

She bent over to envelop Peter in a hug that looked so natural, Tony had to look away.

"Yes, Miss Pepper. I'll miss you." He whispered the last part and Tony was sure that he wasn't meant to hear it. That was something that had only been meant for Pepper's ears.

It's how their roles had somehow been divided. He was fun and gave the kid extra cookies, Pepper was firm but so loving.

A little bit like families in movies. That thought alone seriously gave Tony anxiety.

"I'll miss you, too."

Fan-fucking-tastic. Of course she would miss him. Hell, even Tony would miss that little knucklehead the next six days.

That didn't mean that they needed to talk about it.

It would only make everything harder in the end.

"Let's get going, or we'll miss our movie." He said moodily. "And Tarzan is a classic. Not missable."

He watched Pepper laugh lightly and hop out of the car with the grace of a ballerina before he turned back to Peter. "So. You feeling like popcorn or nachos?"

They ended up with both and because he saw Peter eye the Red Vines, he bought them too.

It was another one of the great things about their arrangement. He could pump him full of sugar and then send him back.

He didn't need to deal with any sugar-highs or sugar-crashes.

He got to be the fun guy. Like a fun uncle. He liked it like this.

He never had to punish him, or supervise his homework, or go to parent-teacher-conferences. He didn't have to read parenting books, yell at him to brush his teeth or discuss a fair curfew.

He took him to the movies and to the bookstore and the museum. And that was it.

They were doing fine. Everything was fucking fine.

____________________________________

"We need to talk about where we're going to live next year when the Tower is done."

"This is what you're thinking about when I'm massaging your back, Pepper? You're naked."

"I'm topless. But if the sight of my back is so distracting to you, I can put a shirt on." She huffed and stood up from where she was sitting in front of Tony to walk towards the doorway.

"That's not what I meant." He yelled after her, but it was of no use. Of course it wasn't. Stubborn woman.

"So." Pepper walked back towards the couch and dropped down a few feet from Tony before stretching her legs and dropping them into his lap. "If we want to move into the tower, we need to approve of the floor plans for the living area."

It had been one of their original thoughts. The tower was designed with that in mind - the top fifteen floors were not a part of any of the SI planning.

Tony had planned a place be would want to live at. It was a paradise in the middle of New York City. A safe haven.

There was a huge underground parking garage. A gigantic Cafeteria, a coffee shop and a bakery on the lowest floors. Offices and conference rooms filled the next fourty, and another thirty were filled by different labs and workshops as far as Tony knew.

There was a gym and a pool somewhere and he thought maybe a movie theatre - but he couldn't remember, not for the life of him. Something was off and he tried to find out what.

Everything seemed to blend into one in his thoughts right now as he tried to come up with a solution on where to live and why something about this conversation seemed to bother him.

"It makes sense to move to the Tower once it's done."

"It does." He agreed with her, of course he did. It had been his fucking idea.

"It would save us a lot of time, Tony."

"It would, yes."

"And we could-"

"Pepper." He interrupted and turned completely to face her. "I wanted to move to the tower. You were against it. You wanted some place seperate. What's going on here?"

"I was just thinking, you know. If we lived where we worked, we'd be safer."

"That's not it, Pepper. Just tell me."

She took a deep breath and looked up from her fingernails. "It's just, if we had a child someday, we'd be close by. Jarvis could let us know if a potential kid needed us. He wouldn't be by himself."

"He?"

It was quiet for a long time after that. Tony knew what talk they would be having now. Hell, of course he did. It had been two months since their arrangement started and Peter would be joining Pepper in California the next day ,for the first week of his summer break while Tony flew out to Japan for a few days.

He had known it would come up sooner or later.

He had just wished it would have been later.

"Well." Pepper said quietly, not looking up at Tony. "You said it last Sunday, didn't you? That we couldn't have a kid because we work too much and aren't home enough. This way we could be home more."

"Pepper."

He didn't say anything else for a moment and he just stared down at his fingers trying to find the least hurtful way to say what he was about to say.

"Pepper, Love, I can't give you that. Not right now, maybe not ever. I can't give you a child. A Baby is just not an option with our lifestyles."

Pepper pushed her hair back desperately and leaned over to grab Tony's hand. "I don't want you to knock me up, I don't want a baby, I don't want just any child, Tony, you know I don't. I want Peter."

Tony took a deep breath before pulling his hands out of her grasp. "Pepper, don't."

She shook her head and Tony wanted to throw up when he saw that her eyes were filling with tears. "Why won't you admit that you love him? Why won't you admit that he's a part of our family?"

He just stared at her. Didn't she know how fucked up he was? He couldn't be responsible enough to take care of
a child. He had just learned to take care of himself, and that had taken well over a year of dating Pepper.

"I do love him, of course I do. But that doesn't change anything, Pepper. I'm not ready to be a father, and I don't want to be ready either."

"Don't, Tony, please. Let's just think about this. Talk some more."

"No." He said, desperate now. "When this all started I told you, I fucking told you that I had no intention to adopt him and you said that was fine. You can't take that back now. You don't get to do that!"

"But that was before I saw you with him. That was before we went on all those outings and baked chocolate chip cookies and watched four seasons of Hannah Montana. Fuck, Tony! A child was never in my plans. But it's Peter, Tony. You have to see that, too."

He did. He really, really did. He could see himself marry Pepper down at the courthouse and sign temporary guardianship papers while convincing a judge that yes, he really should let the Tony Stark adopt a kid.

He could see it, and of course there was a part of him that wanted that. Maybe even a very big part. But there would be no going back and he couldn't do that to Peter.

"Pepper." He was begging now. He didn't know for what, exactly. He just wanted her to stop.

"I told them we'd watch him for the summer."

"Excuse me, you did what?"

"The home is closing. Apparently one of the workers slapped one of the older kids and the house is being shut down until the fall. With the school year over, Peter would have been transferred to Rhode Island. I couldn't let that happen."

Tony just stared at her, not sure of what to say. He understood that, of course, but he would have been a phone call away. He would have agreed.

"You can't make those decisions without talking to me first." He breathed and he couldn't help the wave of betrayal that crashed over him.

Why did she make this harder on them both? On all three of them?

"What should I have done?" She snapped and wiped and angry tear away before hugging her knees to her chest.

"Talked to me." He snapped back.

"Fine. You want to talk? Peter has been denying every single family that had wanted to meet him. He has thrown fits and yelled and apparently he even bit someone while he kept insisting that he already had a family."

Tony's insides coiled. This was what he had been afraid of all along - giving the boy hope. False hope, because Tony could. not. do. this.

"Pepper."

"No, you listen. What did you want me to do? Just say that it's too bad and that they could send him off to another freaking state? We have all the papers ready to take care of him for the summer. We got permission to take him out of statevand everything. We could spend the Summer on the Westcoast. He already knows he's staying with us for the next two months, Tony, we can't take that back."

She took another deep breath and pushed more tears away. "And you might change your mind, Baby, you might. And then everything will have been worth it."

He stared at her again and shook his head. "And what if I don't, Pep? Have you thought about what that would do to him? And to you? And to me, knowing how much I'd hurt the both of you, and myself? I'm not saying no to be a jerk, I'm saying no because it wouldn't work. And we wouldn't be able to just take him back. You're putting me in a horrible position and I-"

Suddenly it became all too much, too consuming, too real.

He stood abruptly and walked towards the elevator. He couldn't be here right now. He couldn't be anywhere near Pepper.

"Tony.." Pepper begged and jumped up to walk after him. "Tony, stay."

"I need some space." He whispered. "I can't be around you right now. Or this place. I need to think. I'll see you when I get back from Japan. Have fun in California with Peter."

He shot her a glance and pushed the button.

He just needed go get out of here.

He just needed to get some fucking air and think.













Chapter Text

"Can I offer you something to drink, Mr Stark? A glass of wine, perhaps? A glass of whiskey?"

Tony turned his head to look at the flight attendant. He was vaguely sure that he might have slept with her at some point a few years back.

He let his eyes travel down towards her cleavage - and yes definitely. They had. The way she was leaning towards him showed that she'd be interested to do that again.

It would be so easy to indulge in that fantasy once more, it would make his thoughts calm down, that's for sure.

And it would take care of all his problems in the matter of minutes. 

What the hell was he even thinking? He loved Pepper.

"Some water would be lovely, thank you."

He turned towards the window again and fought the urge to hit his head against it.

He hated fighting with Pepper. He hated that he always had to apologize for whatever he did or said. But usually it was his fault and this time - this time, for fucking once, he wouldn't take the blame.

The last twentyfour hours hadn't changed his mind, either.

Pepper just offering them to take care of a child for months without talking to him? That was a big no-no.

He wished Rhodey was here. He really, really wished Rhodey was here now that he thought about it. He would be able to give him perspective. He also wished that Rhodey had met Peter. They would probably get along great.

He had no idea what he should be doing. He usually loved the uncertainty of unmade decisions. It was exciting, god damn it. But this, here? This was annoying more than anything else.

"Here's your water, Mr Stark." She leaned across him to put the water down and he closed his eyes. Suddenly, staring at her boobs seemed more than disrespectful to Pepper, knowing that he had slept with her before. Scratch that, it would probably be disrespectful any time.

"Thanks. I actually need you to tell the pilot to turn this motherfucker around."

"Mr Stark, we're halfway to Japan. We can't just turn around."

He raised his eyebrows. Was this woman for real?

"People don't usually tell me no," unless their name was Pepper but that was a whole other topic, "and I don't like being told no. Especially not when those people are being employed by me and are flying on my plane."

"Yes, sir."

"And just to be clear." He called after her. "That sounded very wrong, but it wasn't meant like that. You're always allowed to say no in other situations. Just not situations like these."

God. He was making no sense at all. It felt like very little had been making sense, lately.

He watched her walk away, hoping that she realized that the only acceptable answer to come back with would be "we have altered the course, Mr Stark." Or however else these fancy pilots would be saying it.

He had no idea what he was doing and where he was going but he knew for sure that he shouldn't be going to Japan right now. He needed to get back to the States- even if that meant that Pepper would absolutely kill him for missing this meeting.

Oh fucking hell. Why was everything so fucking messed up? He felt more like a character on 90210 than a real person. Then again - it's probably how his life looked like to every normal person out there.

"The pilot would like to speak to you for a second, Mr Stark."

____________________________________

When Tony walked up to the door fifteen hours later, he was wrung out. Completely and utterly wrenched. Were those even words? He didn't know anymore.

He hadn't slept in days, he was tired, he was hurting, he was hungry and had he mentioned that he was fucking exhausted? The fact that he still didn't know that he was in the right place didn't help, either.

It was dark out already. At least he could just drop down into bed early and sleep without feeling eighty years old.

He opened the door for the first time in what felt like years and stepped over the threshold and into the house.

"Tony?"

He looked over towards the couch and stepped a little closer. He still had no idea if this was the right place to go to, but it was like an invisible force had pulled him here.

"You should be in Tokyo!"

"Didn't feel like it was the place to be, you know?"

"Tony."

It was all it ever took for her. It was like she had just spoken hundreds of words with as much feeling as she could convey with just his name.

It surprised him every. single. time.

Sometimes it was need, sometimes it was want, sometimes it was annoyance. Right now it sounded a lot like desperation and confusion.

"I said I needed space and time to think, and I got space and time to think."

"And?"

It was a whisper, quiet and scared somehow.

He was about to answer when Peter skipped into the room and stopped short when he saw Tony. "Mr Stark?"

His whole face lit up and Tony could feel his insides warm. He wished that this was all it took: a tearful reunion after a week apart, a trip down to the beach or to his favorite ice cream shop here in Malibu.

Peter was directly in front of him a second later and reached up to hug him tightly around the middle. Before Tony could think about what to do, the kid had let go and stepped back again. "You came back early! That's good timing, you know? We made Shepard's Pie! It's in the oven. And for dessert we'll have macan- macaronies- you  know, these cake thingies."

"Sounds delicious."

"I'll go and put a plate for you on the table." And with that he was gone again, off to the kitchen as it looked like. Jesus Christ.

"Tony."

"You heard the kid." He said and walked after Peter. He wanted to talk to Pepper, of course he did, but he also didn't want to have any kind of serious talk while a child was running around.

He also had no idea whatsoever about what he wanted to say.

It had to be his bedtime soon, right? It was almost eight. Great. Another thing he had no clue about, he'd just add it to the fucking list.

"That smells so good, bub." He said and ruffled Peter's hair while he walked towards the fridge to look for some beer. Maybe someone had stocked it. "Did you help make it?"

"Of course. You always say that we shouldn't leave Pepper in the kitchen by herself, unless she's making coffee or oatmeal."

He snorted. "She also makes a mean salad."

"But Mr Stark. We don't like salad, remember?" He said it with such convinction that Tony choked on the sip of beer he'd just been about to swallow.

"Yeah, how could I forget?"

It was a lie, actually. Tony liked salad. It had been a joke in the beginning to rile Pepper up when she'd tried to make them eat vegetables. Tony wanted the child to have fun and eat fast food on their saturdays, because it was a treat. A one time thing every week. But now?

It's like he'd fucked up before he even knew he was able to fuck up at all.

"There's vegetables in Shepard's Pie." Pepper said from the doorway before walking closer and stopping on the other side of the table. She eyed Tony guiltyly and he realized with a start that they hadn't even kissed or hugged hello.

He knew he could just go over to her and press a kiss to her temple and everything would be fine again.

He just .. wasn't ready to.

He sounded like some unsatisfies housewife and he hated it. But fuck, he was confused. How did people usually act in situations like these?

"Were you really in Japan?" Peter asked from where he'd climbed on the kitchen island excitedly. Was that a place for kids to sit? He had no idea.

When Pepper walked over and tapped Peter's thigh and he jumped down with a groan and walked over to the table to sit on a chair instead, Tony felt like an idiot.

Of course it wasn't a place for kids. It was probably unsanitary. And you know, unsafe because it was high up - right?

Pepper was a natural at this. But, then again, Pepper was a natural at about everything she did.

"No. I actually never made it over there, the pilot flew me over here instead."

"Because you missed us?"

"Yeah." Tony coughed slightly. "Yes. Because I missed you guys. Couldn't let you have all the fun this week, right? I mean, it's the fourth of July in a few days. Couldn't miss out on a pool day and fireworks!"

Peter smiled so brightly, Tony actually thought his face might just break in half.

He looked so innocent and young that Tony felt like the dirty, rude pre-teen he had picked up on the street a few months ago had all but disappeared.

"But tell me, Pete, how are you liking it here so far?"

Their whole dinner was an awkward affair. Tony and Pepper barely talked and mostly just listened to Peter go on and on about palmtrees and sand. It was like they were a newly divorced couple trying to have a weekly dinner for their son. Tony hated it.

It was half ten when Pepper finally told Peter to get ready for bed.

"Will you come up and say goodnight?" He asked shyly and Pepper assured him that she would. "Both of you?"

"Of course." Tony said with a forced smile when Pepper didn't reply instantly. "Wouldn't miss it."

Tony let himself be pulled upstairs and found himself sitting on the toilet seat where he watched Peter brush his teeth. He could think of 1637399 things he'd rather be doing, but he couldn't bring himself to walk out.

"Don't you need a bath or something?"

Peter turned and squinted at him. There was a bit of toothpasty slobber running down his chin and Tony fought himself to not look completely disgusted.

"Nah. Miss Pepper made me shower after I came in from the pool. I mostly take showers, now." He said it like he was proud of that. Was that a big deal? Showering? Tony was confused, that was for sure.

"Cool." He had no idea what else he could say so he just nodded like he knew what Peter was talking about.

"Can we go to the beach tomorrow?"

"Uh. Maybe."

Tony was getting stressed, to put it lightly. He had no idea what he should be saying or fucking doing and he had no idea if kids needed to be taken someplace every damn day or if they could just, you know, chill at home once in a while? He was exhausted. He didn't want to go anywhere ever again.

"Peter, hurry up." Pepper's voice called from inside the bedroom. "You're dawdling again."

Tony breathed out gratefully. Pepper, the savior.

When Peter had climbed into bed, his eyes were already dropping shut before opening again and finding Tony. "Can you tell me a story?"

"I don't know many, bub."

Something was placed in his hands and he looked down to find a book about a guy called Greg and his diary. Sure. He could read. He opened the page where a piece of paper was tugged between the pages and started reading.

It was surprisingly funny and he found himself a little disappointed when Pepper nudged him to show him that Peter had fallen asleep.

She pressed a soft kiss to Peter's temple before walking out. Tony looked down at the kid and wondered if he would ever feel the urge to kiss his forehead or hug him tightly.

It seemed like a very, very distant thing. Why couldn't he be more like Pepper? Why couldn't he be a natural when it came to things that had to do with feelings.

He made his way down to the livingroom to find Pepper waiting for him.

"Hey." He said.

"Hey."

Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, both obviously lost in their own thoughts.

"So?"

"I don't know what you want me to say, Pep. I didn't just magically change my mind."

"But you came back."

"You knew I'd come back. I'll always come back to you, Pepper. Always."

It felt like a conversation they'd had before, many times. Tony being scared that he was too much for Pepper and seeking reassurance, and  Pepper after having one more sleepless night after Tony had been out in the suit.

He'd done that a little less, lately. But he knew that wouldn't last, because he had been missing it. A lot.

"Oh." She breathed and he could see that she was blinking back tears. "I just thought.. you came back and you were so incredibly sweet with him, that you, you know, had thought about it and.."

"Pepper. I'm always sweet with him. You know I love that kid."

"But then why can't we keep him?"

"Because he's not a dog, Pepper. Because I don't know a first thing about raising a child and all the blogs online say that as soon as you have a child, everything else is about that. Our whole lifes would be built around him."

"Does that have to be a bad thing?"

"I don't know. How would I know?" He snapped and threw his hands up. "Fuck, Pepper, I have no idea. And you know what? I hate that I don't know. You know how much I hate not knowing shit, it stresses me the fuck out."

"But," Pepper pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "All parents have to learn. Nobody just knows everything."

"But normally, they have time, they have months until the child is born and then years to figure that stuff out. We don't. I don't. And I don't think I can handle that."

"You could handle anything you set your mind to, Tony. I know you could. Why can't we at least try, together? Please. I'm begging you."

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "What if I can't show him I love him and he ends up as messed up as me?"

He could feel Pepper creep closer and he shuddered when her hand brushed across his face. "I won't let that happen. Actually, you would never let that happen, Love. Please, just.. give me this summer?"

He kept his eyes closed for a little while longer. He should say no to this. It wasn't fair to any of them if he agreed, right?

"I'm saying yes to this, Pepper, but it's temporary. I promise, I'll try. But by the end of the summer, we are going back to the Saturday arrangement. And we will make sure Peter knows it's just for the summer."

It felt like the worst of suggestions, but when Pepper crawled into his lap and hugged him tightly and started pressing kisses onto his face, he let himself forget about Peter.

And because they were suddenly occupied with making up, neither of them noticed the boy who was making his way back up the stairs, head hanging low and without the glass of water he had just come down for.





Chapter Text

"This is stupid." Peter whined and stomped his foot. He actually stomped his foot. Tony didn't know whether to laugh or ignore the kid. "I never needed one in New York and you can't just make me use one just because we're somewhere else."

Tony just hummed and turned towards Pepper again, not paying much attention to Peter's whining. "That one?"

"That one's pink." Peter whined behind him and squeezed infront of them with crossed arms. Adorable. "Seriously, guys, I'm, like, almost ten. I'm too old for this."

"Well, I, like, don't care." Tony said lightly. "We decided that you'd get a booster seat while we're here and I'll be driving you around in a Lambo. Humor me, alright?"

"We're here in an Audi and you'll make me sit in it on the way back and I'm not a baby." He waved his hands around the store and pointed at everything around him.

The children store Jarvis had suggested, was in fact mostly for babies and toddlers and Tony really could understand where the kid was coming from. He really, really could - didn't change the fact that he wanted to do this right.

"It's just for the summer, tops." Tony said while looking over.

"Yeah, all things are." Peter snapped and stalked off towards the shelf with board games. Tony turned to Pepper, but she just shrugged. They had discussed this for days and had agreed; better safe than sorry. They wouldn't go back on that, no matter how much Peter begged and pleaded.

"How poetic of you." Tony called after him but couldn't help that something was a little off.

It had been like this since he got to California a few days ago, and he guessed that he'd been more right about the whole Saturday thing than Pepper would like to admit. Peter was a lot more withdrawn than he usually was, but Tony was sure that it was just because they suddenly spent so much time together.

"Can we just choose one? I have that meeting with Grey to be at in half an hour."

"I'm still saying the princess one." Tony shrugged slightly and smiled when Pepper took his hand and leaned into his side. "But I think buying anything but the Iron Man seat would be treason."

"That would mean Peter would be sitting on your face."

Tony choked on his breath. "Pepper. You're horrible! Oh my god, fuck, ew. Now I can't even buy my own carseat! Ew! Oh god. Jesus. We'll take the one with the triagles, Jesus Christ."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I couldn't not make a joke that was right there, I'm sorry." Her apology lost all of his strength with the fact that she was laughing so hard that she could barely talk.

"You're a menace."

She tried to take his hand again and pull him in for a kiss but he wouldn't have it.

Tony stalked over to Peter while Pepper gravitated towards the book section.

"Hey, kiddo." He pulled softly on a strand of hair. "See anything you like?"

Peter shook his head slightly but Tony stepped closer to the shelf anyways. They needed games they could all play together.

Hip, hip, hooray.

"Well. Then let's see if I can find something I like, how about that?"

He put his finger forward and let it glide along the boxes.

"Ah. Uno, that's a good one. Monopoly is a classic. I've read about Cards against Humanity, we're buying that one too. Hey, you like puzzling? Think you can finish one with a thousand pieces?"

Peter just frowned, so Tony put the puzzle back and picked up the Settlers Of Catan instead. That one looked promising.

"Anything else?"

Peter stepped from foot to foot and didn't answer right away while his eyes darted to Tony's face and back down again. "Uh, you know, Dixit sounds fun."

He didn't directly ask for it, but Tony still counted it as a huge win.

"You got it, kiddo."

Pepper appeared suddenly, a few books in hand. "I left you two for two minutes and you let yourself get talked into buying a ton of games?"

"Yes," Tony started to say but Pepper interrupted him.

"I was talking to Peter, actually."

"Rude." He huffed, but it had made Peter giggle, so it was whatever.

"I've got to go. Uber's here." She said and dropped the books into Tony's hands. He looked down and saw a parenting book as well as the first two Harry Potter books. Huh.

"Of course you do. As soon as it comes to paying, you leave." He said and made a little tsktsk noice before kissing Pepper softly.

It didn't make him want to run when she bent down to press a kiss to Peter's temple as well. Progress.

"Don't forget to go to Whole Foods to get the food for tomorrow." She reminded him before she left the store, looking like a badass.

Tony made his way over to the register where he dropped everything he'd been holding onto the desk.

The woman checking them out was around sixty and had obviously no idea who he was.

While that was nice, he also was kind of offended. Did she live behind a fucking rock?

"Your total comes up to 272,50." The woman said and smiled pleasantly. Dope. He had thought stuff for children would be more expensive. "Would you like me to box that up for you?"

"Please."

Tony was looking forward to spending time alone with Peter.

Now that he had agreed to spending the summer together, Pepper had committed to going back to work, which meant that they would stay in Malibu until the end of the month before flying back for appointments with the contractors and some charity events.

"Come on, let's conquer Whole Foods."

Tony watched Peter closely on the short drive over. Peter looked defeated and Tony wondered if he was homesick.

He parked the car and opened the door for Peter after.

"I can't believe you put childlock on the door. I'm not a baby." He pouted and Tony wondered if he should be shaken by the fact that Peter was angry at him. Again. But somehow, it was just cute more than anything else.

"Yeah, yeah. Come on." Tony said and took Peter's hand. He could feel that the boy wanted to pull away but didn't. Where was that coming from, now? Usually it was always Peter who initiated any sort of physical contact.

"Stop fidgeting or I'll make you sit in the kiddie seat in the shopping cart."

Peter glared which looked so adorable again that Tony almost had to laugh.

"Come on, we'll buy ingredients to bake cookies." Tony said.

Peter instantly dropped his attitude and smiled. "With chocolate chips? We need brown sugar, we can't forget that again."

Tony nodded earnestly while they made their way through the produce aisle. Peter tried to walk past the vegetables without looking, but Tony reached over to pick up the items from the list Pepper had given him.

"Wait, we need Blueberries."

"Can we go get baking supplies now?"

If Tony would have known that Peter's mood would drop the second they had chosen all items necessary, he would have picked them up last. As it was, he was left with a glum Peter a few minutes later.

Tony stared at the display intently, trying to figure out whether they should be buying hotdogs or hamburgers for lunch the next day.

"Peter, come over here for a second."

Peter trudged over obediently and moved to stand on his tiptoes.

"What do you like better? Hotdogs? Hamburgers?"

"Either. We can eat whatever you want."

"What if I want to eat cabbage stew?"

"Sounds good."

That startled Tony. If there was one thing Peter hated and wouldn't eat even if bribed, it was cooked cabbage in any form. He didn't blame the kid, it wasn't exactly child friendly. And it smelled.

He turned his whole body to face him and wasn't surprised to see that Peter found the Whole Foods meat display incredibly interesting now. He reached out and turned the boy's face softly. "What's going on?"

Peter wouldn't look him in the eye and squirmed away and took a step back while shuffling his toe. "Nothing."

Tony turned back to the man behind the counter and shrugged. "I don't know. Two pounds of your best ground beef, and ten hot dogs."

"That's wasteful." He heard Peter whisper to himself, but since the boy hadn't meant for him to hear it, he felt he could ignore him without feeling bad about it.

When they were back in the car, unrecognized and done with the holiday shopping, half an hour later, the feeling that something was off came over Tony once more.

He looked in the rearview mirror and stared at Peter intently. The kid looked miserable.

"Are you really that mad about the booster seat?" Tony asked with a frown. "Come on. I read that it's safer and we should never have driven you around New York without one. You're not exactly tall for your age, kiddo."

"I'm not mad."

"Then what?" Tony pulled into their driveway and waited until the garage opened to drive in, park and shut the engine.

"I just told you that nothing is wrong." Peter snapped and Tony raised an eyebrow at the tone but didn't say anything about it. What could he say?  It wasn't like it was his place.

Tony sighed. Being a fosterparent (thanks again, Pepper) was the weirdest thing he had ever agreed to. And he had dated a woman once who would only get it on if they were in the same room as a statue, so he knew weird.

But it was an awkward middle ground between being nothing and being everything.

It was one of the biggest reasons why he had known he didn't want this. Not yet.

"Can we go inside now?" Peter asked and started fidgeting with his seatbelt and quite obnoxiously trying to open the door again and again which pissed Tony off because the child was doing it to fucking annoy the shit out of him.

"Sure thing, pal."

Tony got out of the car and closed the door before walking around and opening Peter's just to watch the boy stomp past him and into the house.

"Fine, be like that." He called after him. "We're having salad for dinner."

"Fine! I don't care what we eat anyway, it's all yucky." Peter called back and slammed the garage door closed.

If this was how it was going to be, this would be a long summer.

The mood between them was still awkward by the time Tony fired up the grill the next day. It was part exhausting and part hilarious.

If he needed one more sign that he wasn't designed for fatherhood, it was right there: he would never survive the teenage years.

A moody child? Annoying.

A moody teenager? No, thank you. He had seen 90210 after all. Not fucking happening.

Peter was sitting on the side of the pool, staring at his feet and swinging them back and forth in the water. Once again, Tony wished things were different. In some kind of parallel universe, they'd be so incredibly happy. He knows they would. Peter would be their son, and maybe they'd have a little daughter running around and making Peter whine about being old enough to meet his friends by himself.

They wouldn't have the company, he wouldn't be Iron Man and they'd be normal. But Tony has never been normal for a day in his life. That's just how it was and how it would probably always be.

He watched Peter. The slight frown on his forehead, the way his whole body seemed tense even when he was sitting by a pool that was overlooking the cliffs and ocean of Malibu.

What had Tony been thinking? What had Pepper been thinking? This wasn't a place for a child, was it? And no kid should grow up as an only child.

He had been an only child, and Pepper had been as well. They'd both hated it, more or less secretly. It's not like Tony had ever told his parents that he hated them for not giving him a brother or a sister. A real family. A confidant. His life would have been different, so fucking different. But it was so normal in their circles. Families had one child, one heir, one future. And that child then spent a lot of fucking time with Nannies and Aupairs. Just how it should be.

But he didn't want to be like that. Ever. He was trying so hard to make a difference in Peter's life. He'd read a lot about fostering lately. Apparently, they missed out on a lot of stuff like counseling sessions and meetings because they were rich and Pepper was good - and their lawyers were even better.

What a fucked up system it was where Tony and Pepper could practically buy a fucking child.

He'd read a lot, one of the things that stuck with him was the fact that foster parents should know how much of a difference they made in a kid's life- negative or positive. Those memories would stay with Peter well into adulthood, maybe forever. So, they had to make a change, right?

"Peter. Peteeeer. Peter. Pete. Peter. Petey." He took an ice cube and flung it at the boy and grinned brightly when he finally looked up. "Come on. I'll teach you how to grill."

He could see the doubts on Peter's face but in the end, curiosity won over. He loved seeing and learning new things, which was so incredibly fascinating. Tony knew the kid was pretty smart, but he wondered just how intelligent he really was. Would it be over the top to ask to see the kid's report cards? Just to get a feel how good a student he is in any case.

"Can't be that hard if you're doing it." Peter said with a cheeky smile and squinted up at Tony through his eyes.

"Oy. You're spending too much time with Pepper."

Peter giggled and Tony realized how much he loved that sound. It made him happy.

"Are you mad at me?"

The question surprised him and he turned towards Peter, eyes furrowed. "Why do you think that? Have I acted as though I was mad at you?"

Peter stayed quiet for a few seconds and turned the Hotdogs. "No. You.. No."

"Peter." Tony said intently. He had no idea what brought this on, because he hadn't even scolded the boy for anything the last few days. Not for slammed doors, or disrespect or stolen cookies before dinner. "I'm not mad at you."

"Okay." Peter shrugged his shoulders and shot Tony a small smile. Something was still off and Tony didn't know what the fuck that was. God, he hated not knowing things. Gave him the creeps.

"They're done, can you run in and tell Pepper we're done and to bring out the pastasalad. And if she ruined it, she isn't invited any longer."

Peter giggled and Tony watched him run through the screen doors and towards the kitchen. He didn't realize he hadn't moved until Peter and Pepper stepped through the doors with bowls in hand and carried them towards the table. He blinked a few times. Fucking hell. God bless America.

____________________________________

"Uno! Excuse me, what? Sorry, I wasn't listening."

"You both obviously weren't." Pepper said and watched Tony throw his last card down, finally winning the fourty minute game. "I said that it's time for Peter to get ready for bed."

Peter whined but got up. He looked absolutely exhausted. Tony had taken him surfing again today while Pepper was at work. It had been bliss, actually, especially when they had been sitting out in the water on their boards, talking about their visit to Disneyland the week before. Peter couldn't talk about anything else.

Tony had rented out the park for a few hours, which was ridiculously expensive for anyone else - but also about the same amount of money he earned in a day, so it was whatever. It had been a really, really good day. Pepper had looked so happy, and Peter had looked even happier - even when he threw up after eating too much Cotton Candy. He'd fallen asleep in the car on the way back, in his booster seat, a new Lego Set beside him and a stuffed Pluto on his lap.

They'd started surfing a few times a week right before or after dinner, depending on when Pepper was supposed to get home. It was great. It turned the usual ball of relentless energy more into a tired puppy than anything else.

And Tony liked those hours by the beach with Peter. The swimming lessons, the surfing, the talking, the sand castles. He really, really did.

After Afghanistan, he hadn't thought he'd like to be in the water ever again, but it had actually turned out to be the opposite. He liked the water. It grounded him. Relaxed him, even. Funny how the mind worked, sometime.

His favorite day had been when Peter had thought he'd seen a shark in the water and paddled back to shore in record tempo. Tony had fucking cried tears of laughter, it had looked so hilarious.

Tony could feel himself smile at the memory.

"Shower, clean pajamas, teeth. Do you need help?"

"I'm almost ten." He said it as if it was an answer to her question and Tony smirked. It probably was.

"I'll be up to read with you in a while." Pepper said and smiled. Over the last few weeks they'd gotten a routine down. Tony did bedtime Monday, Wednesday, Friday; Pepper did Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and they did it all together on Sundays.

Tony wondered how they would do it when school started back up and Peter would have to be in bed long before ten. Pepper wouldn't be able to make it home on time every day and - fuck.

No, No, No, No.

He didn't need to think about that because. It. Wasn't. Happening.

"We need to fly back to New York a day early." Pepper said with a small frown. "I talked to Peter's social worker, and she and a colleague are organizing some kind of adoption fair."

"A what?"

"It's where potential foster- and adoptive parents can meet kids that are in the system and -"

"Why does he have to be there for that?"

"Because this is temporary, remember?" Pepper sounded bitter and Tony glared.

"So? No way is Peter going. I don't allow it."

"Not your choice, actually."

Tony stared. True, it wasn't. He still hadn't made a move to actually parent Peter and he doubted he ever would. Peter was the musterchild of all musterchildren and there was no situations where Tony chould have- bullshit. Tony knew it was bullshit.

He didn't want Peter going because he didn't want anyone else meeting Peter. Petey didn't need to meet anybody else because he had Tony and Pepper. And they'd been happy the last four weeks. Life in Malibu had been happy.

"You're manipulating me." Tony snapped and stared at Pepper. "You're putting pressure on me with this, because you know I don't want him going. I didn't think you'd ever be using my feelings against me."

She looked guilty and he instanly knew that he'd been right. "Tony, I'm sorry, I am. But when she told me before we flew out here, I told her he'd be back in time for -"

"Wait, back up. You've known about this for a month? So what? You kept this information to yourself until the day before because you thought I would back down on my word if I knew there was an expiration date? Fuck, Pepper. Fuck. That's not how we do this. You know what? Fine. Have the plane be ready to take us back tomorrow in time for the fair. I'll take him to the stupid motherfucking fair myself."

He stood up and made his way down to the lab, wiping angry tears from his face while stomping down. He hadn't been down here since coming back and his heart skipped a beat when he saw his bots in the corner whirl to life when he stepped in.

He could absolutely do this.

He'd been fine before, he'd be fine after.

He just didn't know what before and after were, anymore.















Chapter Text

Tony didn't go up to bed that night. He sat down in the lab and stared at the wall until he nodded off at some point. All he wanted to do was call Peter's social worker and tell her to shove that fucking fair up her ass.

Who did that? Who made children stand around, trying to sell themselves out to potential parents? It was all kinds of fucked up. Not getting picked by someone would fuck with those kids' mind and that feeling would stick with them forever, too. How would they ever be able to believe that they are good enough if they were just.. being left there?

He should just call some people, so they could go and check it out. Rhodey had.. he'd always wanted a kid. He should.. he should go, he could definitely foster a kid. Their kids could be friends, then. Something like cousins.

He shot Rhodey a quick text about the fucked up event before he froze up - what was he even thinking? This wasn't right. This was everything but.  He couldn't do that to Peter. He shouldn't.

He threw his phone against the wall and put his face into his hands.

"Mr Stark?" A small voice came from the door. He looked up towards Peter, already dressed and ready for the day. "Pepper said to get you for breakfast. We need to leave in thirty, apparently."

"Thanks, Bub." He sighed. "Hey, wait, how come she is Pepper but I'm Mr Stark?"

Peter looked at him like he was an Idiot. "Because you haven't offered. Mom always said the older person had to offer."

"I haven't? Are you sure? Huh." Tony thought back and he realized that Peter probably had a point. He couldn't remember ever offering to be Tony. "Huh. I mean..yeah. Call me Tony, please."

"Sure. But now it's breakfast time." He smiled and skipped up the stairs again, not looking if Tony followed him or not.

That kid really spent too much time in Pepper's company. He made his way upstairs, not really wanting to face Pepper yet. The other two were already at the table and Tony's stomach churned, suddenly the overwhelming wave of nausea seemed drowning.

"Why are we going back today? I thought we'd fly back tomorrow. I wanted to go surfing one last time."

"Oh." Pepper breathed. "We have an appointment this afternoon."

Tony found it hard to breathe. "Shower." He ground the word out before practically jogging from the room. He stood under the stream of hot water until it started burning. He wondered if he was crying. He couldn't tell, and he'd also never admit to it. Fucking figures.

There's an outfit laid out for him when he made his way into the closet, his packed-for-him suitcases by the door. He wondered if Pepper had packed Peter's suitcase as well, and if she remembered to pack his stuffed animal that he slept with every night, the weird thing he'd gotten at Toys'r'us all those months ago. He couldn't sleep without it anymore, another one of those moments where Peter's age was showing.

Tony loved that Peter finally got to be a kid again. He hadn't been allowed to be one for a while after his family died, but they'd given him back the feeling. Right? Tony and Pepper let him be a kid.

He took another deep breath, staring at himself in the light summer suit. He looked like a business man, rich and intimidating. Noone would look at him and think "he's a dad". It just wasn't the vibe he was emitting. Probably never would. But was that such a bad thing?

His thoughts were interrupted by Pepper calling for him and he pushed it all from his mind and picked up the bags to carry them downstairs.

It was obvious they were cutting it a little close and they would have to go straight to that fucking fair after getting off the plane.

The whole ride back to the east coast was awkward and miserable. He didn't talk to Pepper, no matter how much she tried, and Peter could feel that something was off which made him anxious and fidgety and Tony got close to yelling at him more than once but he breathed through it. He tried to remind himself that it wasn't his place, so he just turned back to the window.

He wondered what kind of father he would be if things were different. Engaged? Fun? Cuddly? Strict? The more he thought about it, the more sure he became that it would be a mixture of all those things because god help him, if Peter was his son the boy would probably have picked up some of his annoying habits which would end with him being send to his room on a weekly basis.

But Peter wasn't his son. Fucking hell.

When they drove up to the small park, Tony wanted to cry and scream and throw up.

"What are we doing here?" Peter asked and climbed out of the car, rounding on Tony with big eyes. "What the hell is happening?"

If Peter was his son, he'd tell him to watch his mouth or else. That's what parents did, right? God. But it wasn't his place to say something. Anything. He suddenly wished he'd taken Pepper up on her offer to come with, but he couldn't stand being around her right now. But, honestly, he'd kind of figured that Pepper would have told Peter what was happening here.

"Peter.."

"No!" He choked. "No. This is an adoption fair. Are you..am I.. you're giving me back."

"I'm not, it's not.. but you need to meet other people, Pete."

He wondered if the boy could hear how close he was to losing it, but as Peter's face clouded over it was obvious he didn't care either way. He just looked at Tony, his eyes shining and shoulders slumped before turning and stalking off towards the play area and the other children.

Everything inside of Tony hurt, but he made his way towards the sign in table anyways. He could do this.

"Mr Stark." The woman introduced himself with a warm smile. "Thanks for bringing Peter along. You're welcome to stay and talk to any children, if you're interested in-"

"Thank you." He interrupted and turned. It's not like he would ever be interested in any of those kids. He turned and practically ran straight into someone he knew.

"Rhodey?" He blinked before breaking out into a grin and hugging him tightly. "What are you doing here?"

"I have been here for hours. Do you remember when I took care of Nina's daughter when she went to rehab and had to get the right paperwork? Apparently all of that is still valid, so I have been talking with some kids and... But yeah, my best friend texted, so I came. Figured I'd finally meet Peter, huh? He's all you ever talk about."

"He's not all I-" Tony cut himself of. He didn't only talk about Peter, right? He didn't. That was.. atrocious. And completely unrealistic. "I'm not.."

"Tones. It's okay to want that, you have got to know that."

Tony didn't reply and stared at the grass in front of him.

"Okay, differently then. I've been talking to this little girl earlier. Cierra. She just turned six, really bright and sweet. Her mom died of an overdose when she was two, dad was never in the picture. She doesn't even remember them, but she's been bouncing in and out of families for years, she's got her struggles for sure. But she's kind and I feel like I could give her a happy home, you know? She doesn't deserve this."

Tony had no idea where Rhodey was going with this, but it seemed like he never had listened to anyone as intently before as in this moment.

"But I'm a single, gay, black male. I have just come back from my latest employment and who knows? I might have PTSD or some shit. Hell, I might need as much therapy as she does. But I could give her a happy home, I'd protect her and love her and make sure she's happy, no matter how much baggage we both come with. So should I forego applying because some people might think I might not make a good dad? I don't think so. Because family? They are there for each other, no matter what. They learn and grow together, that's how it goes, Tones. We all deserve happiness."

"You make it sound so easy." Tony breathed, his eyes looking for Peter in the sea of grown ups and kids alike.

"Hell, no. We both know it's going to be fucking hard. But that's what my sister says: parenting is hard. But rewarding, and I believe her. And you know it, too, right? Because it's already so rewarding taking care of him, isn't it? Tones, I knew why you texted me the second you did. You might have used the excuse of kids who needed homes, but we both know it wasn't that."

Tony looked up, eyes finding Rhodey's and he nods slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, I know."

"Can I meet him, now?"

"Yeah." They walked towards the playground silently for a few feet before Tony turned his head towards Rhodey. He never noticed how much he missed his oldest friend until he was back. "You'd be the best dad, Rhodey."

"Funny. I wanted to say the same to you."

Tony laughed weakly. Of course Rhodey would reply like that. "Did you mean what you said? About Cierra?"

"About applying? Yeah. I mean, I might, yeah. She's really something. I'll introduce you if - look, there she is."

Tony looked over and almost laughed. The girl Rhodey was walking towards had black hair and looked about as latina with a temperament as they came. He wondered if saying that was racist? He didn't know, but he'd make sure to never say it out loud, just in case.

"Hey, Ci." Rhodey said with a smile so bright that she mirrored just as brightly. Tony swore to himself then and there that he'd do anything to help those two become a family if that's what they both wanted. Fuck, he'd be the girl's aunt, right?

"You came back!"

"Told you I would. Was just talking to this big oaf here, Tony meet Cierra. Cierra, Tony."

It were the strangest fifteen minutes of his entire life. He felt in the way and the center of attention at the same time but it was .. good, in a strange way. Rhodey looked content and Tony wondered if that's how he looked like when he was with Peter.

"Tony?" He looked behind himself to find Peter standing there, obviously having come from a circle of kids sitting by the swings, a few of them watching intently. His heartbeat was picking up and all he wanted to do was reach out and hold him close.

"Yeah?"

"I was just wondering.. Am I coming back with you today? Or am I staying here?"

His voice was cold and almost rude and Tony had to fought really hard to not get up and grab Peter's ear or something like that. For once, the only reason he didn't wasn't that he didn't think he could, but that he didn't want to embarass Peter in front of all those people.

"You're coming back with me." He said lightly and eyed Peter.

"Yeah, summer's not over, rightio?" Peter bit back and Tony could feel both Cierra and Rhodey watching.

"Correct." Deep breaths. "Actually, I'd like you to meet someone. This is my best friend, Rhodey, and-"

"Hey." Peter said with a glance behind Tony. "I'm going back to the others. There's this really nice couple who is getting us cookies."

"Don't interrupt me when I'm talking." Tony said, still lightly. Peter was really beginning to piss him off.

"Why not? You're not my dad, right?" With that, Peter turned around and stalked off and Tony found himself staring after him before turning back to Rhodey.

"Well." Rhodey laughed. "He's so much like you already. I like him."

Cierra looked between Tony and Rhodey and just shook her head before turning back to the Barbie in her hands. Smart girl.

"I fucked up, didn't I?"

"I don't know." Rhodey said back, looking at his fingernails. "Maybe a little. No kid should ever feel unwanted, right? It's what you said in your text. And apparently Peter isn't really feeling like you want him, right now."

"But I do."

"You do what?"

"I do.. I do want him. I'm just so incredibly and unbelievably scared and no matter how much I try to explain that to Pepper it's like she can't really understand. I know she tries, but fuck - Rhodey, you met Howard. You saw how he ignored me even when I'd been away at college for months. Accepting that I loved Pepper took me years. Years, Rhodey.  Accepting that I deserve happiness and love, too? I'm still learning that. Fuck, Rhodey, I'm a mess most days. I'm all over the place! I can't.. I can't be a dad."

"You know, I think admitting to all that makes you more qualified than most fathers of the kids here. Do you realize that? All of these kids don't have fathers anymore. At least none that can or want to take care of them, some of them were abusive tyrants. You're not like that. You would never be like this."

Tony nodded slowly. Rhodey wasn't wrong, right?

"I need to get going, now. Go home, Tony." He turned to the side. "Hey, Cierra, do you want to walk me back to Miss Maple?"

Tony watched as she smiled shyly and let herself be pulled up by the tall man. It looked right, somehow. Crazy. For a moment he let himself imagine how it would be, Rhodey and Cierra coming over for Dinner every Sunday, all of them sitting around the table laughing and playing.. it would be something he had always dreamed of. Rhodey was the closest thing he had to a brother, and - it really could be reality now, right? It could become reality.

Maybe it could. He wanted this. it was his choice, right? He was sure he'd know what to do by the end of the day.

He stood up from his place on the ground and walked towards the spot where Peter had been sitting. He'd just talk to him and figure out what to do. What Peter wanted.

But when he got there, Peter was nowhere in sight.

"Where did Peter go?" He asked the boy sitting on the swing, trying to swallow down his annoyance. If someone was chatting up Peter before he had made his decision, he'd lose it.

"Said he wanted to go home, so home I guess. Left around fifteen minutes ago."

Everything around Tony stopped for a second. Home? He had no idea whatsoever where Peter considered home. None.

Queens? Long Island? Malibu?

How the hell was he supposed to find him? They were in New York City for god's sake. Anything could happen. Peter was a cute looking kid, if he walked down the wrong street at the wrong time.. Tony wanted to barf. What child thought it was acceptable to wander off in one of the biggest cities in the world? Anywhere, actually? Fucking shit.

One thing was for sure; when (when! Not if! Why was everything so fucking loud?) he found Peter, he'd kill him. Hug him really tightly and then never let him out of his sights ever again.

He was running towards the car before he knew what he was doing and jumped into the backseat like his life depended on it.

"Mr Stark, everything alright?"

"Did you see Peter leave, Kendrick? The kid I was here with? Fuck. Okay. Uhm, I'm going to need to borrow your phone and take me to the locations I'm telling you."

He called Happy and told him about the situation, almost choking on his own breath when Happy said he could have ten guys out and looking everywhere within the next ten minutes.

"Thank you, Hap, really. Oh fuck, let me know when you find something, yeah?"

They had driven to the home in Long Island by the time Tony realized that he was an absolute idiot. He should be in his suit, it would be that much faster and easier to.. to find his fucking idiot of a kid.

He called for a suit and waited patiently. "Okay, Ken, you just.. Drive back to Manhattan. Let me know if you find him, or see something, I'll be going as Iron Man.

It had long ago gotten dark and as  Tony stepped into the suit, he wondered what he should be telling Pepper - fuck. He hadn't called Pepper yet.

"Jarvis, call Pepper."

Pepper answered on the second ring, her voice already upset.

"Tony? Where are you?"

"Leaving Long Island right now. Pepper, I lost Peter." His voice cracked but he breathed through it. Everything would be okay.

"Happy dragged him in here two minutes ago and now he won't talk to me."

"I'll be there in three."

He called Happy on his way. Apparently they had found him him walking through Hunts Point without a care in the world. How and why he was running around in the southern Bronx, noone knew.

His heart was beating faster than it ever had and he felt like he had trouble breathing but he just needed to get home. See for himself that Peter was safe.

He flew straight to the lab and got out of the suit and took two steps at a time to get upstairs and he let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding when he saw Peter standing by the couch, arms crossed and glaring at Pepper who was standing against a wall, looking absolutely confused and hurt. Who knew what Peter had said to Pepper? Fucking hell.

"Where the fuck have you been?"

"Tony." Pepper said but he held up a finger. Enough was enough. He wouldn't just say nothing this time.

"Why the fuck would you care?" Peter snapped.

Later, Tony didn't know what made him act the way he did. Maybe it was Peter's atrocious language, his disrespectful tone or just the god damn fear he'd been feeling for hours.

He made his way across the room in two seconds and  grabbed Peter's arm tightly to turn him and smack him hard across the seat of his pants.

"Ow." Peter breathed and looked over his shoulder at Tony with tears pooling, threatening to spill over.  That's when Tony absolutely lost it. Peter was safe. He was safe and at home and he was okay and they'd be okay. They would be okay.

"Fuck, Petey, I was terrified." He dropped onto the couch and pulled Peter into his lap, holding him closely and rocking them both back and forth. "If you ever, ever do that to me again, I swear.."

He saw Pepper walk away into the kitchen out of the corner of his eye, giving them a little space, and he could hear pots and pans being moved around. Good. He was starving. Being fucking afraid apparently made fucking hungry.

"Are you going to send me away now?" Peter's voice was full of tears and Tony could feel his heart hurt a little more.

"What?"

"You said I would get to stay until the end of the summer, but now I ... I didn't listen, and now you, you sp-spanked me, and I didn't...and you didn't..and you said.. and I'll understand if you don't wa-want me here no more."

Tony didn't stop the movement of his hand across Peter's back and hummed softly. "No, I won't send you away right now."

Peter's tears had left a wet patch on Tony's chest, and he could feel Peter wipe some snot right there but he couldn't bring himself to care.

Maybe all of those parents were right? It all became less disgusting when it was your own kid.

"Wait." Tony said suddenly and stiffened. "How do you know about that? We never said anything to you. That was between Pepper and I."

"Don't be mad at me." Peter leaned back a little and looked up at Tony before dropping his eyes to where his hands were twisted in Tony's shirt. "I heard you talking about it when you came to Malibu."

Tony felt absolutely nauseous. How had this happened? How had Jarvis not warned them? Notified them? "Peter, that was never meant for your ears, you hear me? That was just me talking to my girl about things I was scared about."

He knew he should be saying something, but he didn't know what. What could he say? Apologize? He didn't know. He could barely remember all the shit he'd said and while he had meant everything, he would never have wanted Peter to hear any of it.

"What exactly did you hear, bub?"

"Just that you wanted to give me back when the summer was over."
Peter's forehead made contact with his chest, his hair tickling Tony's chin.
"Why don't you want me?" He cried.

"What?"

"Why don't you want to be my dad? Why am I not good enough?" He cried so hard that it was hard to make out his words and Tony continued to rock him softly. "What did I do? Why don't you love me?"

He was sobbing into Tony's neck now, and Tony held him as tightly as he could without hurting him. "You act like you wanna be my dad but then you d-don't but now you do and I'm scared."

Tony closed his eyes tightly. Nothing had prepared him for this.

"Shh. Petey, shh, listen, no, listen." Tony pushed Peter back by his shoulders and looked him in the eye. "I'm sorry. If I had known that you had heard, I'd have talked to you about it.  I was just scared. I needed some time to figure this out, but I do want this. And you're good enough, you hear me? You're the best."

More tears spilled from Peter's eyes and Tony reached out and wiped some away before puling him close against his chest again.

"I'm sorry. I am so sorry you went through that alone." He talked quietly while Peter was crying, combing his fingers through the tangled curls. "I wish we'd have known, I wish you would have talked about it. You're so special, bub."

He could feel that he was rambling, but he couldn't stop because it seemed like Peter was calming down.

"And I promise we'll be a real family, okay? I promise you that. We love you. You hear me? We love you. And we'll work this out, okay? We'll make it work."

He looked up to see Pepper standing in the doorway. She wasn't crying or looking like it was the happiest moment of her life - more like she had known all along.

And she had, hadn't she? She'd known from the very first time he'd talked about Peter. She'd gone about it the wrong way, but she'd done it how she'd always done it with him: pushed and prodded until he agreed.

God, he loved that woman. He really, really did.

He nodded towards the seat next to him on the couch and Pepper made her way over, sitting down next to him, pulling Peter's feet across her lap and leaning her head against Tony's shoulder.

"I burned the pasta. I ordered pizza, so how about a family movie night?"

Tony could feel Peter's nod more than he could see it, but it relaxed him just the same.

If the night had gone differently, Tony would have said no. He'd have send Peter to bed early or some shit because he deserved that for scaring the shit out of him, but now he didn't want any of them to leave the couch.

"Hmm." Tony hummed. "How about we all put our pajamas on and get tons of blankets and some soda and start with Zack and Cody?"

He pushed Peter of his lap carefully and into the direction of the hallway before standing up and pulling Pepper with him. "Whoever is back first gets the last can of Fanta."

They all started running and Tony didn't even feel a little bad that he pushed Pepper into the open hallway closet to slow her down. He could hear Peter laugh loudly and that alone made it worth it.

"That was uncalled for." Pepper said when she made her way towards the couch where Tony and Peter were already sitting innocently, Peter smiling proudly with a can of Fanta in his hand. "You guys are two peas in a pod, you know that?"

Peter leaned into Tony and giggled and Tony turned his head to press a small kiss onto the crown of Peter's head like he'd seen Pepper do so many times.

It didn't feel as suffocating as he'd always thought it would.

When Tony woke the next morning he turned himself over without opening his eyes, scooting closer towards Pepper to throw his arm over her when he heard someone squeak.

He opened his eyes and stopped midmovement, staring down at Peter. Peter, who he had personally carried into the guest bedroom after he'd fallen asleep during the movie.

"Petey?" He said and blinked a few times. "What are you doing here?"

The child looked guilty and started biting his lower lip. "I had a bad dream and Jarvis told me that you were still sleeping and I thought I could cuddle a little and then I fell asleep. Don't be mad."

"'M not mad." Tony assured and yawned, closing his eyes again and pulling Peter into his side. "We can cuddle. You wanna talk about your dream?"

Peter's breath tickled his neck while his hair tickled his nose, so Tony had to turn his head to avoid sneezing.

"No, it wasn't real." Peter whispered and pressed himself closer into Tony's side.

"You know," Tony could feel his breaths beginning to even out again, "You're lucky we weren't naked."

"Why would you be naked?" Peter asked innocently and Tony snorted.

When he woke the next time, Peter and Pepper were gone and he stumbled out of the bed and into his slippers by the door to make his way to the kitchen where there would be coffee. God, he really liked coffee.

When he made his way into the living room, nursing his second cup, Peter and Pepper were sitting at the dining table.

"You're up." Pepper says with a smile. "Good, I've got to go to work."

She ruffled Peter's hair and pressed a kiss to Tony's cheek, lingering in a way that made Tony almost blush. Almost. He wasn't a fucking teenager and he wouldn't be blushing, no matter how incredible their sex had been last night.

"Hey." Tony said and sat across from Peter.

"Hey."

"We've got to talk." It sounded serious when he said it like that, and somehow, it was.

"Oh. O-okay." Peter looked up to Tony and his face scrunched up. "Am I in trouble? Is it because I came into your bed? I'm sorry, I promise I won't do that again, don't send me a-away."

"What? No. I'm not sending you away, squirt, stop with that nonsense."

Only it hadn't been nonsense just a few days ago, right? Tony wondered if he ever could have sent Peter back after the Summer was over. He really, really doubted that. He reached over and brushed the single tear from Peter's face and sent a quick prayer towards a god that he didn't believe in that their conversations would eventually stop including the fear of being send away.

"I want to talk some rules."

"Rules?"

"Yeah. You know, more stuff like no electronics at the table." Tony sighed. "This isn't Malibu, and this isn't just a vacation anymore and there will be more rules and things we expect of you. I think I should have said something much earlier, but it's whatever."

"I think we were doing okay without so many rules." Peter said and smiled slyly.

Tony ignored the comment and leaned back a little. He wanted Pepper here for this. He really did.

"That.. Yesterday? Running away just because you're angry? I don't want to ever, ever experience you doing something like that again, you hear me? Anything could have happened. I don't care how angry you are, that's a no-no. Okay? There won't be any running away or sneaking out to see friends without us knowing where you are. When school starts up again, you don't go anywhere without us knowing. You tell your driver, and they will check in with us if it's alright. They can't reach us? You're going home."

Maybe that would stick with Peter well into his teenage years. Actually, that was something Tony didn't want to think about because teenagers seemed exhausting.

"Sorry."

"I want you to be respectful to others. You're angry at me? Fine. But you don't get to be rude to my friends when they haven't done shit to you."

Peter just nodded while looking close to tears again.

"I know I swear a lot, and that won't change, but I don't want to hear that from you, not until you're much older. I swear to god I'll wash your mouth out with soap the next time you talk to us like that."

"Okay." Peter breathed and started fiddling with his thumbs again. Poor kid.

"I know you've never done so in the past, but just.. don't go down into the lab, ever. It's not a place for kids and it's dangerous."

"Promise." Peter said and looked up. "Anything else? Like teeth brushing and cleaning the guestroom and stuff?"

"Well, that's common sense, really. But sure, brush your teeth and clean the guestroom and wait." Tony startled. "Oh god. No, Buddy, listen. It's not a guestroom anymore, alright? It's yours. We'll make it yours, come on."

And that's why, an hour later, Tony was sitting next to Peter in the back of a car on his way to a mall upstate.

"Do I really need to sit in this stupid seat?"

"Yes." Tony said and smiled. "And stop whining, or I'll buy you pink bedsheets."

"You wouldn't." Peter said confidently before faltering. "Right? You wouldn't."

"Nah, probably not. Unless you wanted pink sheets."

Tony pulled a cap into his eyes and pulled on the strings of his hoodie. It was always easier to hide out in plain sight than people thought, because people usually didn't expect to see him.

"Come on, we're here."

He smirked when he could feel his Bodyguards following close by. The man and the woman looked like an ordinary couple, giggling and in love, but were two of Happy's best men. Women. Whatever. They were always on high alert.

He missed the days when Happy was his personal bodyguard instead of the head of security, and he was really considering moving things around again. He liked and trusted Kate and Paul, but Happy was something else. He was the best.

Tony pulled Peter into Pottery Barn Kids first but they didn't find much apart from cute towels and a matching bathrobe.

"I want to go to grown up stores." Peter said with a frown when they walked out. "That was really, really babyish."

"Okay, crossing Toys'r'us from our mental list." Tony said and ushered Peter into Bed, Bath and Beyond. He was pretty sure he used to date a chick that worked at one. He was also pretty sure that they'd hooked up in the store after closing, but he'd been incredibly high, so who knew.

"Oh. But looking around there wouldn't hurt."

"Is that so?"

By the end of the day, they'd spent entirely too much time in the mall's food court, but they had at least bought two sets of bedsheets, a hamper, an alarm clock, the most adorable lion slippers and a huge framed Star Wars poster.

Somehow he guessed that they would have been more efficient with Pepper there.

Tony had bought an Iron Man figurine Peter had asked for and nothing else because Pepper had reminded him that it was Peter's birthday in two weeks, so instead he'd paid close attention to the things Peter was looking at.

He looked over to Peter who was babbling excitedly about the alarm clock ("and Tony, did you see? When you push the button in the dark the time gets projected to the ceiling.") and couldn't help but smile.

He could do this, he knew he could.  They'd work this all out, somehow, find out how it worked. He would probably fuck up twice a day, but as long as Peter didn't go out of their time together as fucked up as Howard had fucked Tony up.. well, he'd count it a win.


















Chapter Text

"I made up my mind." Tony said the night before Peter's birthday. He dropped down heavily next to Pepper on the couch before adjusting himself so he was laying on his back, his head on her lap. It had been his turn to read a story to Pete (they had moved on to the Goblet of Fire) but Peter had been so hyped and overexcited because of his birthday that it had been exhausting. Absolutely exhausting.

But thinking back to a year ago, when Tony had met Peter a few weeks before his ninth birthday, not excited about his birthday at all - it was a very nice and welcome change. But weird. But nice. Had he mentioned weird as hell? And with that he didn't mean Peter's pre birthday excitement but his own feelings about it.

"Made up your mind about what? Because you already agreed to all of this."

"Harhar." Tony said. "No, about where I think we should live."

That got Pepper's attention and she dropped the tablet and pushed it to the side. "If you say Malibu, I'm breaking up with you. I'm not even joking."

"Rude." He huffed. "No. I think we should move into the tower."

"Oh?"

"You were right when you suggested it before. We're safest there. Peter is safest there, and it's the easiest. We have to submit the final floor plans by this week. I'm thinking a two story appartement. Living room, kitchen, library, and a home office for each of us on the lower level and an open staircase that leads upstairs to the bedrooms."

"That sounds nice." He could hear Pepper smile and it made him smile in turn. Fuck he was going soft. Soft and mellow with old age. "I don't want any balconies upstairs. I don't care that it's pretty, Peter is ten. You designed that floor with the open bar and the huge roof terrace, that's enough."

"Whatever. Who needs beautiful, open balconies?" He huffed. "But there's something else I meant to talk to you about."

"And that is?"

"Well, we have those empty floors above the rec areas and I think we should be turning them into lofts or some kind of appartements."

"Are we broke?" Pepper teased. "Or why do you want to rent out living space?"

"No. It's just.. I don't know. Rhodey called today and said he got visitation with Cierra and I don't know.. it would be nice to offer them a place to stay when they're in New York. Obviously not living with us, you know, just.. close by? The same building is close. We could share a babysitter. Am I making sense? I can't tell. 'M tired."

Pepper's face softened considerably and she nodded. "I'll set up a meeting for the day after tomorrow, so we can talk it through with the contractors. Have I told you that Scottie called today and apparently they're planning to have the upper floors ready by Thanksgiving already? The lower floors won't be ready for the staff to move in until the beginning of January."

"We need a new interior designer." Tony mused, closing his eyes. "One we both like."

"Hm." Pepper hummed and started massaging his scalp. "All three of us. It's the best thing about this, right? We can build ourselves a home together."

"I really, really like that thought." Tony said, letting sleep pull at him. It was hard not to with Pepper's fingers in his hair.

"Hey Tony?"

"Mh?"

"Have I ever told you how sorry I am about how I handled all of this?"

"Mh."

"Good." She sighed. "Because I really, really am."

"S'kay."

"I love you."

"Too."

He could hear Pepper laughing even though he really had no idea what it had been about, but it was a beautiful sound to fall asleep to.

When Tony woke up he felt like someone was watching him, so he instantly sat up, kicking the blanket as he did so. "What the- Ow- Peter?"

"Ow, ow, ow."

It's not like he'd meant to knock his head into the child who was leaning over him, but Tony still felt bad when he picked up Peter and rushed him to the bathroom, wiping the blood from his nose and drying his tears. Great. Exactly how he had wanted the day to start.

"Why are you up already? It's not even seven."

"Because I'm excited." So much convinction, like Tony was an idiot for asking- which, fair, he probably was. Christmas was going to be a nightmare.

"So excited you need to scare me half to death?"

"Almost!"

Tony sighed. He was tired, he wanted to sleep and be woken up to the smell of coffee that Jarvis would automatically set to brew soon. Fuck that, there really should be coffee waiting 24/7. He'd take care of that, later.

"Can we eat breakfast now?"

Had Tony mentioned that he wanted to sleep? Yeah, apparently that wasn't happening. How could it, when Peter had seen the presents and the candy on the decorated table? He didn't know whether he wanted to kiss Pepper for setting it up after he'd fallen asleep, or kill her because - tired.

"Pepper is still sleeping, go wake her up."

"Aye, aye."

When Peter and Pepper arrive in the kitchen, Tony is on his third cup of coffee and finally starting to feel like a human.

"Oh, pancakes! Neat."

"I'd rather have scotch, neat." Tony muttered but he, surprisingly, didn't mean it one bit. Huh. "Peter, hot cocoa or tea?"

"Hot cocoa? For breakfast? Uh, sign me up."

"I'm signing you up for less screen time if that's how you talk every time you've watched Cutiepie videos."

"Pewdiepie." Peter corrected with an eyeroll, but he was beaming. Apparently nothing could kill his mood today.

Pepper carried the drinks to the table and Tony could see her smile at the fact that he'd used cookie cutters to make little stars and hearts out of banana slices. He'd never publicly admit to doing it, but he'd thought it looked cute. Not that anyone apart from the two other people in this room would find out, or there would be corpses. Very, very dead ones,too.

The whole morning was so domestic and Tony grumbled a little, but he liked it. At least kind of. He liked singing Happy Birthday and taking pictures of Peter blowing out candles and he liked watching him unwrap gifts and jump between Pepper and Tony to hug them.

It was nice. God. Jesus fucking christ. Was this normal? Shouldn't he be freaking out? He didn't know, but the fact that he wasn't freaking out freaked him out and that made no fucking sense whatsoever.

Two weeks later, when Tony was watching Peter throw some kind of tantrum, he tried really hard to remember that feeling he had on Peter's birthday.

"I don't care." Peter stomped his foot where he was standing. "I don't want to go. And you can't make me."

Tony leaned back and didn't even bat an eye. Pepper was more stern when it came to these situations, but that just wasn't his style and it took forever for him to snap at Peter, and the one time he had, Peter had basically sent himself to his room.

"Petey, you need to go back to school, and we need to go and look at those schools so you can choose where you feel most comfortable. And I know that you want to go to your old school, but it's not an option, I'm sorry. It's a fourtyfive minute commute away, and that twice a day plus traffic would be bad enough but the fact that your old school doesn't really have any security in place- it won't work."

"But you promised." Peter whined. Ew. Nails on chalkboard right there.

"I promised I'd look into it, and I did. But I'm saying no, and that's final."

Tony leaned forward and pulled Peter in by his hand and reached out to wipe the angry tears off the boy's face. He watched Peter's face drop onto his shoulder and let the kid climb into his lap- and fuck. He was going to miss this when he stopped doing that.

He hoped he wouldn't any time soon, but still. It was weird. While Peter was still a child and played with Legos and laserswords, and he liked being read to and cuddled - he was also growing and getting older.

"I'm sorry, kiddo. I know you miss your friends, but we can set up some playdates."

"What are the schools called? The ones we're looking at?"

"Trinity and Dalton. They're both extremely close to the tower. Walking distance."

"So I'd get to walk to school?"

Tony's heart clenched, because no. He wouldn't really let Peter walk anywhere alone until he's much, much older. But maybe with a security guard? That would be an option, right?

Fuck. This wasn't a place to raise a kid, right? Like this? They should have moved to Malibu.

"Not in the beginning, no." He said and he could feel Peter frowning against him. This was all so far from perfect that - no. No, he was doing his best to keep Peter safe and he wouldn't feel bad about it.

"I heard you and Pepper talking. We're not just looking at the school, we're going to an Interview. And the brochure that that the school costs money."

"Well, all private school cost money, and therefore they promise you the best of the best teachers, and a safe learning environment. And Pepper and I - it's really important to us that those people caring for you while we're at work know what they're doing, because they're used to it. Most of those kids have powerful parents." Tony sighed because he hated how much he sounded like his own father. A lot more patient, but still - Howard 2.0 in the making. "And the interview is for both them and us. They need to see if we're a good fit, and if you're a student they would like at their school. But you also need to see if it's a place you want to spend at least eight hours a day for the next eight years, Bub. Does that make sense?"

"What if I don't like either?"

"Then we have another week to find you a good school before summer is over. If you haven't found one you liked by then, you're going to the one you went to while you lived in Long Island for the coming semester."

Peter spluttered and Tony almost laughed, because it was obvious Peter had been suspecting (or hoping for) some kind of "okay, fine, you'll get to go to your old school in Queens" answer.

But that wasn't happening - even if Tony agreed to send a driver every day, he wouldn't agree with the lack of security and the unwillingness of the teachers to help.

Fuck them.

"So, would you please do me a favor to put on the clothes Pepper laid out for you, or do I really need to throw you over my shoulder and dress you myself?"

"I'll go." Peter muttered and slid off Tony's lap.

"Wait, kiddo. Just because you pick a school now, it's also important for you to be happy, yeah? And if you're unhappy, all you need to do is tell us and we'll look for a compromise. Deal?"

"Yeah."

"Good, so perk up, little knucklehead, because we're going to iHop after the day is done, no matter what Pepper says. The boss has spoken."

When Peter laughed and walked out of the room with his head just a little higher, Tony sighed and hit his head against the arm of the couch a couple of times.

They really, really should have set up some kind of playdates for Peter. Hell, the last time he had spoken to any kids, it had been at the adoption fair almost a month ago. He needed friends. He needed to go back to school and get a hobby and fucking hell, were they already screwing this up worse than he thought?

Who waited until a week before school started to even show up at Interviews? Who did that?

And who was looking forward to their kid going back to school so that there would be a little.. distance?

That wasn't something parents usually did, right? They liked having their kid around 24/7? (Unless their name was Howard Stark, because then - no thank you, ten months out of the year boarding schools only).

Tony faked a smile when Peter came running into the room and announced he was ready to go, but his smile dropped the second he sent Peter to put on shoes.












Chapter Text

Tony couldn't help laughing, all of his earlier worries forgotten for now.

"So, you didn't like that school? Why not?"

"Because it's a girls school, Tony. Girls! Not a single boy. Only girls. I can't believe you hate me that much."

Tony threw his head back and laughed. A lot of anxiousness was slowly disappearing and all because of Pepper making a mistake. He loved this. Pepper never made mistakes, so sue him for enjoying it but he'd milk this until the day they died. He ruffled Peter's hair and laughed again when the boy glared at Pepper.

It had been hilarious when the Dean of the school had stared at them when they walked in and asked after their daughter. Peter had been mortified, Pepper had been embarassed and Tony had been amused and elated.

"I'm sorry, Peter. I don't know how that happened!" Pepper promised when they skipped down the steps infront of the building and into the car waiting for them. "You'd think that they noticed I put down a male name."

"Well, to be fair," Tony added, "it's a beautiful school. And anyone could take ballet or riding lessons. I actually took ballet classes in college. Was great, four guys and twentyone girls. Pretty sure I dated half of them, if you know what I mean."

He laughed again when Pepper glared and laughed harder when he noticed that Peter didn't appreciate the story, either. Ten year olds were weird.

"Well, we only have Dalton left and then we can go to iHop and talk about which school you think you'd like to go to." Pepper said and reached over to brush a strand of hair out of Peter's face.

"And what if I like one that you don't like? You're only making me think I can choose and then you choose and I feel stupid."

"Maybe we'll surprise you." Pepper said and Tony could feel a little guilt swirling around in his stomach because, yeah, Peter was kind of right. Pepper and Tony had talked about it - that they would ultimately make the decision they thought was best for the kid. They were just really, really that their choices were close enough together for a compromise.

Being a parent, even a pseudo parent, sucked sometimes. Maybe he'd let Pepper take the blame. She was the stricter parent anyways. There, case closed.

"Sure." Peter grumbled with a tone so
close to disrespectful, Tony actually had to bite back a laugh. He didn't know why, but Peter acting like this always amused him - it was a little like watching Simba trying to roar like Mufasa. Just an angry lion cub that could whine a little and nothing else. Adorable.

The car stopped and Tony got out of the car, closing it in Peter's face so he'd scoot out on Pepper's side. It was one of the rules they'd set in place after Peter had practically jumped out of the car and right onto 32nd street and surprise: apparently their own carelessness was something to protect kids from. Who would have fucking thought.

Tony didn't want that to happen ever again, and he didn't care if they were parked in a parking lot or their own freaking garage - Peter would get out on the other side of the car.

What the hell was happening to him? He'd rarely worked the past few weeks and he worried about car doors and that apple juice had way too much sugar in it, and he really - what? How? When? Why?

When they stepped into the school, Tony was painfully reminded of the two weeks he spent at this school before he got politely asked to leave. Howard hadn't been impressed at all because apparently it was embarassing for the family, and no child from a proper family would think to organize a naked run through morning assembly.

The man who'd pushed for his expulsion all those years ago had long since retired, otherwise Tony was convinced they wouldn't even have gotten a reply to the request for a meeting.

To be fair, it had been a beautiful school and when he'd been sent to a boarding school in Europe as punishment, he'd wished he had been allowed to stay, but instead it had been the start of his carreer as a troublemaker without a conscience.

He wondered if it was stupid that he kind of wanted Peter to go to this school, just so they'd share something, even if it was as little as this.

They waited in the hall on the first floor and Tony stared down at the marble work beneath his feet before glancing at Peter.

Tony and Pepper were used to buildings like this. Hell, his childhood home had basically looked like this, but Peter wasn't.

He looked small in the wooden chair and when they were called inside, Peter inched closer to his side and actually took Pepper's hand.

It was both adorable..and mildly concerning.

"Mr Stark, Miss Potts." The man said and smiled pleasantly before turning to Peter and shaking his hand, as well. "And you must be Mr Parker."

Tony immediately liked the guy. He didn't even blink an eye at The Tony Stark with The Pepper Potts in his office. He didn't even seem to question why they had a child with them.

"My name is Landon Chang, and I'll be happy to tell you more about our school, and show you around the campus before we sit down in my office so I can find out more about you and what you like, Mr Parker."

He started walking, and did an exceptional job at making Peter feel included instead of just talking over his head, very unlike the interviews at Trinity and St Bernards this morning.

"As you surely know, our school has reached it's capacity for the coming school semester already, but we always make sure to meet promising students. Your school records have been most impecible, Mr Parker." He said and nodded at Peter before continuing his little speech. Tony's heart surged when he saw Peter beam, but at the same time - he had no idea how Peter's grades were like. Fuck. He promised himself then and there that from now on, he'd make sure to know about his grades and all that shit.

"I'll be speaking with all of you at the same time, and then seperately. First you, and then your parents. But you don't need to worry, that will only take a few minutes and I'll put you infront of a computer so you can answer a few problems and questions."

So, two Interviews and testing, as well as Tony's and Pepper's social status and Peter's grades to get him into this school. Possibly a few donations? Tony wanted Peter to get into this school and he wanted him to go here and like it, maybe because they didn't practically beg them to send their kid here like some of the other schools they had talked to. Maybe Peter's admission was a done deal, but even making them take all of the steps of the process made Tony feel normal. Well, as normal as it god when you tried to get your foster kid into a school that cost fifty thousand bucks a year.

"You'd be going to classes in this building for the next couple of years, before transfering to our middle and high school down the street. We are a very diverse school, with over fourty percent of our students with a Migration background, and we won't tolerate any kind of bullying or racism in either of our buildings." He said seriously and Peter nodded earnestly.

And honestly, if Tony ever found out about Peter bullying another kid or using racist slurs towards others, he'd personally ground the kid for a month. He made a mental note to remember to always encourage Peter's kindness. Thank god they got a good kid.

"We have great programs and we pride us in encouraging and supporting our students' strengths and interests. Down this hall, we have our chemistry labs."

They turned around a corner and followed the man, who was now walking next to Peter while building the illusion that he was only talking to him by not paying attention to Pepper and Tony at all. He smiled and slipped his hand into Pepper's, professionalism be damned. They were a couple for fuck's sake, he should be allowed to show that, right?

Pepper raised her eyebrow slightly when she looked at him, but she also squeezed his hand so he counted it as a win. Hell, if he could play dad, he could also play a loving boyfriend.

Only..he wasn't really playing neither.

He pushed that thought from his mind as he looked at the art room they had made it to, and he wondered how much longer the tour was going to last- they'd been looking at different class rooms for at least an hour. He glanced at his watch - okay, well fifteen minutes. But the sentiment still counted.

"I'll show you the cafeteria, and then we'll be going back to my office. We offer a variety of lunches every day, and we do encourage all kids to eat the food provided here. All allergies or cultural eating differences will be taken into account individually, and we guarantee healthy and fresh meals daily. The children here are still young, and there is too many for us to keep an eye out on kids trading their snacks. There are many students who, for example, are not allowed gelatin - therefore we just encourage.."

The man went on, but Tony stopped listening and instead put his attention on Peter. This kind of information was for Pepper, anyways. She'd probably write it down on a piece of paper and hang it on the memo board she'd put up in the kitchen.

Tony walked towards the windows and looked out back towards the rec area when he felt a tug on his sleeve and he smiled.

He'd hoped Peter would follow him, so he could ask him what he thought away from Pepper and Mr Chang.

He looked down at the tiny kid (really, how could such a small human being be ten years old?) and raised an eyebrow in question.

"I like it here." Peter whispered and tugged again, motioning Tony to bend down towards him so they could talk without being overheard.

Tony bent down a little, the smile never leaving him.

"Me too." He whispered back, like it was some secret between the two of them. "But let's wait until after the interview part to be sure. He might still turn out to be an asshole."

Peter giggled and Tony winked before straightening up again, holding his hand out to Peter. He couldn't even deny the fact that he felt warm all over when the kid grabbed it and didn't let go until they'd made it to the office.

"If you'll sit down out here, Peter and I can go inside and have a little chat."

Mr Chang was smiling pleasantly again, but Tony could feel Peter squeeze his hand tighter, making no move to leave Tony's and Pepper's side.

"I think that's a great idea." Tony mused and winked at Peter. "The faster we get done, the faster we can get food and I'm starving."

Pepper groaned, but Peter giggled and let go of his hand, so he really didn't give a fuck.

It was weird to watch Peter walk into a room with a stranger, it was really fucking weird. That man could murder him in a second and they would never even- yeah, okay, he wasn't making much sense.

"So?"

"So what?"

"Tony." Pepper sighed in exasperation. "What do you think? I really like this school and Peter seemed to enjoy it, too. It has really great ratings and it's so close to the tower. And I-"

"Pepper. You realize that you don't have to sell me on the school, yeah? I'm happy to pay whatever for that kid to have a great education."

"Hm." She sighed. "It's just.. he's signing up for a really crazy life with us and he doesn't even know it. He'll be talked about and he'll be in magazines and .. I don't want him to be spoiled, but I do want him to do good. Does that make sense?" She looked at her knees when she continued. "I talked to my Aunt Patricia last week. And she thinks we're doing a horrible thing by taking in a normal child because we're taking away his childhood. You think that's true?"

"Hm." Tony thought about it before answering. "I think we're giving him his childhood back. He's known so much hurt already but he's so good and kind and we'll shelter him as long as we can, won't we? We'll protect him and love him and try our best."

"Anthony Stark." Pepper breathed and stared at him with big eyes. "You really do still surprise me, even after all those years."

He huffed.

"Why are you taking parenting advice from Patricia, anyways? She only has dogs and I don't care what she says, that's not the fucking same."

They both burst into laughter and were still giggling when Peter opened the door, Mr Chang right behind him, and both looked at them curiously.

Tony coughed.

"Well, Mr Parker, why don't you come with me into this room here and I'll explain the test to you and then go have a chat with those two here, hm?"

"Yes, Mr Chang."

Their part of the interview was only fifteen minutes long- but a lot more uncomfortable than Tony would have ever thought.

"We take rules very seriously at this school." Mr Chang provided and glanced from Pepper to Tony. "We want our students to have fun, but we also teach them discipline. And it's important for us to know that rules are enforced at home as well. Is that something you can promise me?"

"Of course." Pepper answered, but Tony wondered if the question had been aimed at him.

He was proven correct when Mr Chang spoke again. "You see, Mr Stark, we don't pay much attention to what is written in the tabloids but we do pay attention to what is written in our own school records."

He could feel Pepper's gaze on the side of his head, but he ignored it.

"Mr Chang, with all due respect, that was 25 years ago and I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that I've grown up."

"Of course. I didn't mean to offend, but I need to make sure that is not behavior you would encourage in your son."

Tony almost rolled his eyes. Almost. If that wasn't prove he'd grown up, he didn't know what was.

"Would I hit my kid for breaking school rules? Hell no. But I promise I wouldn't encourage it either."

It was silent for a second and Tony knew why. He'd just basically told them how Howard had punished him for being expelled and he had to fight hard not to squirm in his seat, ears suddenly ringing at the memory of the slap his father had delivered to his face right here in this office when he'd been called out of a meeting to pick up Tony.

Howard had never been abusive and had very rarely raised a hand to Tony (would have been home more to do that) but he hadn't been loving either.

Tony didn't resent him for slapping him, the resentment was never about being physically reprimanded, he didn't care about the occasional spanking or slap to the face, he resented his father for never hugging him after. For never telling him he loved him. For never saying "all is forgiven."

"I believe you." Mr Chang said, effectively pulling Tony from his thoughts and smiling brightly. "I must say, Peter is a very lovely young man. He is polite and kind, very smart and even without his results I can assure you that we'd be happy to have him as a student. Because the wait list is so long and our acceptance rate of students lies under the twenty percent mark, I'd expect your answer by tomorrow."

"Of course." Pepper smiled pleasantly and stood, monitoring Mr Chang who had been moving towards the door.

Peter was already waiting for them, looking up from his hands when the door opened.

"Are you done already?"

"Yes." Peter said and jumped to his feet. "This came out of the printer."

He skipped towards Mr Chang and handed the paper over. When the man looked down and started smiling again, Tony couldn't help but feel pride.

"Great job." Mr Chang praised and handed the paper over to Pepper. "You'll do so well here, Mr Parker. I'm sure your mom and dad would like to hang those results on the fridge at home."

Tony knew, even if he couldn't see it, that Pepper and Peter were also staring at Mr Chang. Being called Peter's parents was one thing, but mom and dad? That was a whole other level.

"They're not.. not really.. I mean, you know, I'm not.. they aren't.. I don't.. uh."

And suddenly and surprisingly, Peter burst into noisy tears.

There was exactly one second were noone moved, and then everyone moved at once.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry." Tony heard Mr Chang say, but he ignored him in favor of scooping up Peter and holding him close.

"We'll wait in the car, darling. Mr Chang, I'll see you soon."

There was no way in hell that he'd have any kind of conversation with Peter sobbing in a school he wasn't even enrolled in yet.

It was like he didn't even breathe until they were safely in the back of the car waiting for them, Peter in his lap, his small hands twisted in Tony's shirt.

"Breathe, Petey. Shh, now, you're okay, I'm here, shh."

It felt like forever, but was probably five minutes, until Pepper squeezed in beside them. Peter was still crying, but he wasn't sobbing anymore so that was.. something.

"How about we drive home? Order in instead?" Pepper suggested while moving her hand through Peter's hair softly, the other in Tony's, mirroring the movent of his other hand.

"You promised." Peter wailed. "You said we could go to iHop."

"Of course." Pepper sighed. "But we could go on sunday instead. Or maybe on monday. Have breakfast on your first day of school."

Peter turned his head towards her. "Yeah? And you'll both ta-take me to school on my first day after breakfast?"

"Yes. Pinky promise."

Pepper held out her pinky finger and Peter entangled his with hers, not letting go after their promise.

"And we can have Indian for dinner?"

Tony almost laughed. They all loved Indian food, but Pepper hated the smell of it and wouldn't allow them to order it, ever, because she swore the whole appartment smelled of it. The only time she'd caved had been on Peter's birthday.

"Yes." She said and it really looked like she was in pain when she said it. "We can have Indian food for dinner."

"Can I have Naan bread? And Chicken Kiki Massala?"

"Tika." Pepper corrected automatically. "And sure."

They were in their garage already and Tony scooted out of the car, never putting Peter down. He carried him into the elevator and onto their couch where he contemplated how to go from here.

He glared at Pepper when her phone rang and she answered it, smiling apologetically before leaving the room.

Peter had stopped crying at the prospect of Indian food, but he had burst into tears just half an hour earlier, seemingly out of nowhere.

"Petey." Tony said. "We need to talk."

"Am I in trouble? I swear I didn't mean to cry. It just happened."

"You'll never be in trouble for feeling, you knucklehead."

"Then why do we need to talk? Whenever Pepper says she needs to talk to you, you get all nervous."

"I do, don't I? But no. Not that kind of talk. But I do want to know why you cried. I need to know, kiddo. Is it because you don't want us to be your mom and dad?"

"No." Peter whispered and looked down.

"Is it because you want us to be your mom and dad, then?"

"Maybe." The child breathed. "I don't know. I mean, I know that I want.. Uh, that. But I don't know if that's why I cried."

"Mhh." Tony hummed and looked at Pepper, who had reappeared a minute ago, for help.

She walked over and let herself down on the floor gracefully in front of Tony and Peter.

"Baby, you know we love you, right? And if you ever feel ready to call us Mom and Dad, you can do that. We won't be mad or disappointed either way, but just.. you don't need to ask permission or feel like it's wrong. We want you to be happy. Do you understand?"

"Yes." Peter looked close to tears again, but a small smile grazed his lips. "Thank you Pepper."

"Of course. And now go and put on some sweatpants, hm? No sense in showering before we eat, we'll all reek, anyways."

They watched Peter walk off and Pepper dropped her chin down onto Tony's knees. He started playing with her hair softly.

"You know, it doesn't even freak me out." He said earnestly. " The Idea of him calling me dad, I mean. I thought it would, but it doesn't."

"Yeah. The whole Daddy thing looks good on you, you know."

"Hm." He wrinkled his nose. "My fantasies of you calling me Daddy were always very different from this."

"Tony."  Pepper said and threw her head back to laugh. "You're horrible."


















Chapter Text

"Can you read me a story?"

"What kind of question is that? Are you saying that I don't know how to read?" Tony feigned hurt, clutching a hand to his heart while almost doubling over, first straightening up when he heard Peter's tired giggles.

"Fine. Will you read me a story, Tony?"

"Normally, I would. But I thought we'd talk instead tonight. Scoot over."

He pushed and prodded Peter until they were both comfortable in the bed, Peter's head nestled in the crook of his arm, the kid's hair tickling his chin.

"Talk about what?"

"Well. You're starting a new school tomorrow, and I know you told Pepper you're not nervous, but I just want you to know that it would be okay if you were. Hell, I'm nervous, too."

"You are?"

"Course I am, squirt." Tony said quietly, two of his fingers going softly up and down Peter's arm. "We haven't really let you out of our sight in months and now we're just supposed to hand you over and trust others? I have half a mind to have you homeschooled and never let you leave the tower once we move. You could be Rapunzel."

"You wouldn't." Peter gasped, but he sounded unsure.

Tony wanted to laugh, because hell no, he wouldn't. He needed Peter out of his hair for a few hours a day and he needed Peter to have friends so he could have playdates and wouldn't need to be entertained 24/7.

What a great parent he was.

But he hadn't lied about the first part. He was nervous as fuck about letting Peter go, and he wondered if he'd just be constantly worried all the time and have that weird little feeling in his stomach he gets everytime they are somewhere and he can't instantly spot the kid - and really, If that's parenthood, does he even want that?

But then Peter snuggled closer and every strand of unsureness is pushed to the back of his mind, because hell - it really was worth it at the end of the day, wasn't it?

Peter laughs once, and the I don't want to brush my teeth you can't tell me what to do from the night before is more than forgiven.

All of this was weird. Really freaking weird.

"Of course I wouldn't. Doesn't mean I don't want to sometimes. But don't give me too many excuses to ground you, because I will absolutely use them, just so you know."

Peter sighed softly, maybe not appreciating Tony's devine sense of humor anymore. Or maybe he could sense that Tony was only half joking.

Fuck.

He really was worrying about all of it at the moment.

He blamed it on all the waivers and paperwork they'd been to sign at the school today. Who to call in life threatening situations, emergency contacts, allergies, all the damn policies and detention rules and.. eventually, Pepper had pulled the pages from him to go through them and milden the gist for him.

But still - he'd gotten nervous. He hadn't wanted to think about school shootings and fist fights and knives but apparently, they had to read through all the pamphlets and he was feeling clingy.

What, if the universe had heard his thoughts of needing the kid to shut up more and would turn that into something...more. He couldn't lose Peter to a shooting.

The Dean had assured him, though, that the Security at the school were impecible and the chances of Peter being stabbed while in music class were just as big as the sky opening and aliens falling out.

He knew that Mr Chang had humored him, but the facts and statistics about this school in particular had calmed him down a great deal.

Nothing was going to happen.

Peter needed to get out of the damn house.

And hell - Tony needed him to get out of the house, too.

Where was his parent of the year award? He was ready to pick it up right about now.

"A little nervous." Peter hummed quietly and Tony squeezed him a little closer.

"Yeah?"

"Mhh."

"That's normal. I started about twelve new schools when I was younger and I was a little nervous each time."

"Pepper said if I make it two weeks without getting in trouble in school, I'll beat your record and you'll buy me a Hogwarts Lego set."

"She said that?"

Peter hummed and Tony didn't even feel bad for rolling his eyes. Not like the kid could see it, anyways.

"And why doesn't she buy you that Lego set? Why does it have to be me?"

"She says she never got in trouble in school, and if I manage that until I graduate High School, she'll buy me all the Lego sets. Every single one!!"

"You think you're going to still like Legos when you're in High School?" Tony asked dubiously, because really- kids surely didn't play with Legos in their late teens?

"Of course." Peter sounded betrayed, as if Tony was an idiot for even questioning Peter's love for Legos.

"Okay, well, then I can't fight Pepper's logic. Better stay out of trouble."

It was quiet for a few minutes, and Tony almost thought that Peter had fallen asleep, but his breathing hadn't evened out yet which meant that he was still lost in his thoughts.

"Tony." Peter whispered quietly. "What if I get in trouble at school?"

"Then they give you extra homework or detention. We talked about that yesterday, Bub, surely your memory isn't that bad."

It was quiet for another minute while Peter was obviously looking for the right words to ask his question.

Tony thought back to a half a year ago and how different his life had been without the child. Hell, even the beginning of the summer had been a whole other story, even though Peter had been right there.

The public was making him nervous, because even though neither Pepper nor him had given an official statement concerning pretty much anything lately, more pictures had leaked of the three of them. Grocery shopping and Peter petting a weird looking dog in Central Park while Pepper and Tony were trailing behind him.

Peter's face hadn't really been visible in the pictures due to bad lighting or the way he was facing, but even Tony had to admit that he could look like his biological son with that mop of curly hair.

There were crazy theories that Pepper had read to him out loud in bed a few nights ago.

But his favorite had been the Idea that Pepper and Tony had been together far longer than they had admitted publicly and had a secret child they'd hidden away from the world.

It was almost sweet.

He knew it was a matter of time until the press found out everything - really, it was a miracle and a sign of Tony's incredibly amazing lawyers that it hadn't happened yet, if they were all completely honest.

He was pulled out of his thoughts and away from his worries when Peter spoke again.

"I meant, will you and Pepper be angry when I get in trouble at school?"

"Uh." This was more Pepper's domain, but he could do this. Hell, he had to be able to handle weird questions like that without her there, but what if he said No and then they did get mad or the other way around and Peter wouldn't know what to expect and how to trust them when they made promises? "Actually, that's not really a question I can answer with yes or no, buddy. It depends on what you get in trouble for. You bullying someone? You will absolutely be punished at home, too. You forget to hand in your homework once? We'll hardly be angry. Does that make sense?"

"Yes." Peter whispered back and started playing with the cuffs of Tony's shirt. "But, like, how angry? Angry enough to give me back?"

It took everything in Tony to stay calm and not move when all he wanted to do was sit up and shake Peter until he understood that he wouldn't be send away for getting in trouble.

"Peter." He said calmly instead, voice close to a whisper. "Love, we won't send you away for getting in trouble. We won't willingly give you away, ever. If you ever had to leave, it wouldn't be because Pepper and I didn't want you anymore."

"Oh." He sounded surprised and Tony wondered what they had done or maybe hadn't done to make him wonder about that again.

"Yeah, oh." Tony hummed back. "If Pepper comes in, we both pretend to be asleep, okay? You were supposed to be asleep half an hour ago."

"Great to hear you two scheming like that." Pepper's voice drifted over from the door and Tony cringed.

"I knew you were standing there." He said to Peter's amusement.

"Sure you did." Pepper said and walked over, sitting on the edge and putting her hand on Tony's knee. "It's almost nine, you should be sleeping, Petey Pie."

"I can't." He said miserably and Tony wondered how much he was playing it up for Pepper's benefit, because damn- they had to watch out for him playing them, especially as a teen.

"Would you sleep better if we all went to bed together?"

Both Tony and Peter looked up at her.

"Can we.. can we do that?"

A small part of Tony wanted to say no to that because he'd been looking forward to Peter going to bed early so Pepper and him could have a night of not rushing and taking their time with foreplay, but the bigger part of him would really, really feel better to have Peter close tonight.

"Of course we could, right, Tony?"

"Yes." He said before he could change his mind. "Tomorrow is a special day and we have an awfully big bed that we all love."

Peter was out of the bed and down the hall before Pepper and Tony had even moved and she just looked at him flabbergasted. "Well. Time to get ready for bed, I'm guessing."

"How are the chances of us showering together?" He asked cheekily, but Pepper swatting his arm was answer enough.

The next morning was much more relaxed than Tony would have guessed beforehand. Peter had been deeply asleep and lightly snoring with the light still on and Pepper and Tony walking around, changing and brushing teeth and applying creams. Apparently the slight bustling and their low voices had lulled him to sleep, and Tony instantly relaxed at the sight.

It was calming, sue him.

Getting Peter up the next morning only took the mention of the word iHop and they were all ready to go within half an hour.

"Just so we're clear," Pepper muttered while scooting into a booth, "this is a special occasion. I'll do this exactly once a year, and that's it."

Tony couldn't blame her. Hell, he'd been naked at more questionable places,but this wasn't exactly a place where he would want to frequent, ever. He loved diners as much as the next American guy, but he didn't like sitting inside of fast food chains. He loved Burger King, but he'd take it to go, thank you very much. Drive throughs were invented for that particular reason for fuck's sake.

But Peter looked happy so who cared.

"Cool! A tradition!" He beamed and smiled down at his menu, brows furrowing in thought.

Pepper still hadn't picked hers up and muttered something about oatmeal at Tony's questioning gaze.

"Petey, why don't you order for all of us? We haven't ever been here before." Tony suggested, eyes never leaving Pepper and smiling brightly when hers narrowed in turn.

"Neat." Peter mumbled and looked on the next page, completely concentrated on his new task.

"Hello, and welcome to this fine establishment." The waitress was young, maybe twentyfive, and smiled brightly. "My name is Rachel and I will be your server this morning- even though I'm already letting you know that I will be finishing my shift in a little while, so don't be surprised if it won't be me who brings you your food. What can I get for you?"

"We would like, uhm, one hot chocolate," Peter said and glanced at Tony and Pepper, asking for permission for the sugary treat that was usually reserved for weekends, "and two Coffee. And then we'd like three breakfasts with, like, everything because they need to taste it and they've never been here before."

"I'll make sure the kitchen will make you something with everything on it." She winked at Peter before squatting down. "Do you want some pen and paper to color or are you not a big fan?"

Peter looked torn, probably because he wanted to color, but he felt like he was too old and it would look childish.

"Well, actually," Pepper mused, "is it possible we all could color?"

Tony could really kiss her, especially when he saw Peter's eyes light up.

"Of course." She said and smiled. "I'll be right back."

"We'd also to settle the bill right away, if you could bring it along." Tony added because he liked this girl and the way she was treating Peter, she deserved the tip, not the person who'd carry their food over.

"Of course."

She was back with crayons and the bill a minute later. "It'll be 38,84. Would you like to pay cash or card?"

Tony wordlessly slid over the bill, waving away her offer to get change.

"Thank you so much." She beamed and Peter looked between Tony and the retreating back of the waitress.

"That was a lot of money."

"I guess." Tony didn't really know how to teach Peter that sixty bucks wasn't a lot of money to them, but it was to everyone else. He didn't know how to explain that neither Pepper nor Tony ever checked a price tag, but that they appreciated what they had nevertheless, that they gave a lot of money to different charities every month, that they tipped well whenever they went out. That Peter never needed to worry about them spending money on him, but that he needed to be mindful of sharing. How did you teach that to a kid who hadn't had anything in so long, but was about to have everything for the rest of his life if he wanted it?

"I didn't mean for you to spend so much money on breakfast, I'm sorry."

Peter looked crestfallen and Tony glanced at Pepper, silently begging her to handle it because he didn't know what else he could say.

"Honey, you obviously know that both Tony and I make a lot of money. We are very well off, and believe me if I say that we can afford taking you to breakfast as well as tipping the waitress." Pepper said carefully, obviously trying hard to use the right words. "It's very important to tip generously, especially because we can afford to."

"Because it's important to give back to the less fortunate." Peter said quietly, sentence he had no doubt heard while growing up, a sentence Tony knew, he had used in interviews and speeches before, too.

Their food arriving saved all of them from deepening this conversation. Logically, Tony knew that Peter would learn all of those things just by living with them and that his natural kindness would keep him from ever turning into a spoiled snob that wouldn't appreciate everything he had.

Hell, even Tony hadn't turned out to be a spoiled snob. Spoiled? Yes. Wasteful, too. But he was still kind, still cared. No matter how extravagant the life he lead had been and would continue to be.

Still, he worried.

He just wanted the best for this kid.

Tony looked up from his bacon, watching Pepper biting her lip to surely keep herself from telling Peter that it's enough syrup now.

He snorted into the surprisingly good coffee when Pepper pulled away the crayons from Peter because he couldn't be assed to eat his food while carefully filling out the mandalas in front of him.

"Tony?" Peter said quietly and slipped his hand into the much bigger one while they walked the two blocks towards the school a little while later. "What if I need you at school? What if I need you to come get me, or something?"

"You go into the office and let them know. I bet they have my number on speed dial. Or you go outside and let Kendrick know. He'll be around."

"But," Peter tried again, "shouldn't I have a phone? So I could call you?"

Tony threw his head back and laughed, because fuck - he hadn't even thought about getting Peter a phone in the past few weeks. Even though everybody who knew him probably wouldn't believe him, they did keep a very close eye on Peter's screen time during the week. He was allowed thirty minutes during the day, more on the weekend for movie nights. But that was it. He hadn't even considered getting Peter his own electronics because he wanted his kid to have a childhood that wasn't only dependant on youtubing and snapchat. Not yet, at least. He was ten, for fuck's sake.

"Why is that funny? Is that a no?"

Peter was right, he'd need a phone. Of course he needed a phone.

"It's a I'm surprised it took you so long to ask, actually. We can talk about it tonight, yeah?"

Peter nodded, seemingly taking that as a win, smiling brightly. The smile dropped as soon as he noticed the entrance on the right that a smiling Pepper ushered them towards.

The entrance hall was filled with parents saying goodbye to their kids, with running children and whispering pre-teens. It honestly looked like hell on earth.

"Rachel!" Peter gasped. "Are you a teacher here?"

Tony turned to where Peter was looking, recognizing their waitress from earlier this morning.

"Oh, hi there." She said back with a smile. "No, actually. I just dropped my son off for his first day of Kindergarten."

"But this school is expensive." Peter said with confusion, looking up at her with a frown.

"Peter." Pepper said and tugged his ear softly before she turned to Rachel. "I'm so sorry."

"All good." She waved her hand around. "This school is very expensive, yes. But Jake's grandfather wants him to have a good education, even though he doesn't agree with the choices we've made."

"What kind of choices?"

"Okay." Pepper scolded lightly and put a hand over Peter's mouth in warning. "That's enough and none of our business. Being curious is great, but being pushy is not."

"Oh. Yeah. Sorry." Peter looked up sheepishly, ears and cheeks glowing red at being reprimanded, however lightly, infront of someone else.

"It's all good, kid." Rachel smiled kindly and turned towards the exit. "I really need to get to bed, I'm beat. You have a good first day, kid."

As soon as she was gone, Peter turned towards Pepper with big eyes. "I'm sorry. Does that count towards getting in trouble in school? Please, no, I want to earn that Lego set."

Pepper brushed a hand over his cheek, wiping away some syrup from his chin before shaking her head. "No, of course not. Also, you're not in trouble, baby. You're fine."

Peter looked so relieved that Tony couldn't help but smile. Apparently, Lego was the biggest and best motivation one could find around.. at least when it came to their kid.

"Petey," Pepper added, "I'm going to the airport straight from here, so I won't see you until Saturday, all right? So be good for Tony, and remember to pay attention in class."

Her eyes looked a little too glassy for Tony's taste as he watched the two most important people in his life say goodbye to each other. "Have a great first day and call me tonight to tell me about it, okay?"

"I could even text you if Tony says yes to a phone." Peter mumbled with a glance towards him before letting Pepper brush a kiss to his cheek. She looked extremely smug when he didn't reach up immediately to wipe it away.

Tony's attention was wavering when he saw an Oscar nominated actor (what was his name again? Chris something?) walk in with a little girl on his hand and he immediately knew they had made the right choice with this school. Most of the students here came from similar circles as them and they wouldn't stand out as much as they would at any other school.

It might not be normal in everyone's standards, but it was as normal as it was ever going to get for them.

He squatted down and pulled Peter as close as he could without breaking bones. "You be good, yeah? Be yourself and enjoy getting rid of us for a little while. And now go find Miss Peters."

He had rolled his eyes when the school had announced they'd have an orientation afternoon for all new students the sunday before classes started, to meet their peers and teachers, but now he was more than grateful. It made all of this so much easier.

"Finally, am I right?" A man to Tony's left said with a tired smile.

"Excuse me?"

"It's just been a very long summer, dude. I have four kids under ten and our Nanny quit back in July and we couldn't find someone we liked to replace her, so I took the summer off and Jesus Christ, I won't ever do that again. I mean, I love them, but I counted down the fucking days, man."

Tony just stared at him for a second. "You..you did?"

"Hell yeah, I did. My wife made us this little Instagram countdown and we posted in whenever they annoyed us especially. It's the little things, right? I have a whole folder of end of summer memes that kept me going. I send one to the groupchat at least daily. We make our own, actually. It's funny. I'm sorry for talking so much, I'm fucking beat. Too tired to walk, so I'm just leaning here."

Tony glanced at Pepper and back at the guy. "Sounds..uhm, fun."

"The groupchat? Hell yeah, it is. We're like, ten dads from the school, and we meet up for beer whenever we wanna talk shit about our wives and kids."

"Lovely." He could hear Pepper mumble but Tony ignored her, because he wanted that too. Needed it maybe, to stay sane. Was that a horrible thing to think? He loved Pepper and Peter so much it was crazy sometimes, but most of his "friends" were from his partying days, and everyone else were people, like colleagues and businessmen, he wouldn't trust to keep his secrets when they thought they could use the stories to their advantage.

"That sounds awesome, actually."

"Yeah? Here, give me your number and you could come sometime. Maybe try out the groupchat first, man."

When Tony and Pepper were back in the car, he was oddly proud of himself because fuck, he was this close to making dad friends, and however crazy that sounded, he really, really wanted that.

"We'll miss you."

Pepper looked up from her phone and smiled a smile that somehow lit up the entire car. "I'll miss you guys more. But I'll be home before you know it and then I can be with Peter while you go out to talk shit about us."

"Pepper.."

"No, I mean it. I talk shit about you with my girlfriends all the time."

"You what?"

"Keeps me sane."

"Rude." He huffed, but he couldn't help smirking because - fuck, he'd thought he was a bad person for needing a break once in a while and now he was finding out that other parents needed that, too. Hell, even Pepper admitted to it.

Tony didn't cave to get Peter a phone until later that week. Not because he had been unsure about getting him one, but because he'd basically developed a phone from scratch. He'd spent all of his free time working on it and it was finally done.

"So," he said to Peter Thursday evening, "I have a phone for you. But before you get all batshitcrazy, it comes with rules."

Peter was practically bouncing around, promising to heed all the rules Tony could possibly give him if only he could get a phone.

"Okay, listen up. I designed this phone especially with you as it's owner in mind. It has everything you want- a great camera, a lot of storage, yada yada yada. But it also has all the functions a parent would want. You will always be able to call us, and text us, that won't go away. You won't be able to access your games from seven until seven, and if I find out that you've secretly been playing instead of doing your homework, I just have to press one button on my phone to restrict the usage of yours. I'll also be able to track your whereabouts, and whenever you want to download an app, I get a request to my phone that I need to approve. Capiche?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sounds great!"

Tony agreed. It did sound great. He just hadn't expected for Peter to agree so readily, because those rules sucked for any kid, right?

But he liked it, and the Board had liked it too. They hadn't approved a new product idea so fast, ever, but apparently the new StarkPhone SafeDelight was good for their image. Affordable and safe for children as parents could still control what went onto the thing.

He would feel better now that Peter would have a way to reach them, without going back on the rules Tony had set for himself and for Peter.

The next few weeks went surprisingly well, all things considered. Peter settled into school even better than Tony and Pepper had dared to hope and Pepper was beginning to spend less time in California. The Tower was finishing up quicker than anticipated and they would be able to move sooner rather than later. Tony was working very reasonable hours and was home everyday by the time Peter got back. It was idyllic and it was perfect.

Overall, they were happy.

And that's how Tony should have known that things could only go downhill from there.


Chapter Text

September had come and gone quickly, and when October rolled around and the days began to get colder, Pepper started staying in New York almost all of the week, only flying back for meetings.

She had overseen everything that needed to be finished for the big move and it felt good to spend so much time with her at home as well as at work again.

It looked like their appartment would be ready to move in sooner than they'd anticipated. It was ironic that Tony had been so happy when Pepper had announced the news a week ago.

It had been a really good day. They'd been to a pumkin patch with Peter as a reward for the A++ (seriously, how?!) had gotten in Trig. Funny to think that everything had changed without Tony knowing while they were having so much fun, but then he'd gotten the call.

Looking back, Tony should have known that everything had been going too well for too fucking long - he was never that lucky.

It had always been that way. Everything went great for him.. until it didn't. Until everything blew up in his face.

And really, business was great, the kid was great, his relationship was steady and healthy and good and his friends were good and he really should have fucking known.

But he could have never known how crazy the next few months (the rest of his fucking life? Not that he was being dramatic..) would turn out to be.

But of all the reasons he'd expected to cause his life to turn into an annoying piece of fucking work, Captain fucking America hadn't been one of them.

Really, that man could have stayed buried in the ice for all that Tony cared, but the universe never cared about what Tony wanted.. maybe he had used all of his good Karma already. Or maybe he had just never collected any good Karma at all.

Tony didn't know what to with his thoughts, so he did what he did best.. bury himself in work. The Generator for the tower didn't just build itself.

Everytime he got home way after Peter had fallen asleep and stumbled into their dark bedroom, he could feel her eyes bore into his head, the dissappoint clear in the tense air around them.

"At least you're not drinking." She'd muttered once before turning her back to him.

"Tony." Pepper called down the hall and suddenly her face was in the doorway, glaring. "I have been calling you for the past five minutes. What are you doing staring out of the window in here? You were supposed to check the bedrooms."

She grabbed his hand and pulled him along, up the stairs and into the first room down the hall. He looked around for a moment - the master bedroom. Their bedroom of their forever home or some shit like their architect had said.

"What do you want me to check?"

"I don't, actually. I checked all the rooms already, it looks great. The interior designer team will be coming in an hour or two, I had just thought you'd want to be a part of that, too. You love the tower and we'll be moving in a week and I just.. I wanted all of us to be involved."

"I'm trying so hard, Pepper."

"I'm going to need you to try a little harder."

Her face looked confused. Hurt even.

He didn't even blame her. He knew he had been distant for the past week, but he couldn't fucking help it.

He'd basically been working non stop just to keep his mind occupied and he was pretty sure he hadn't been home for dinner once in the past ten days. Which also meant that he hadn't even seen Peter for more than five minutes a day in that time every morning before he was rushed to school, but he just .. couldn't.

And fuck, that made no sense at all. Peter was one of the best things in his life and he should want to be around him non stop, but Peter was so damn energetic and needed attention and Tony needed a little time to himself to work through the dilemma he was feeling and now he was slowly turning into Howard when all he wanted was to not be like that egoistic idiot and Peter deserved better.

"Tony." Pepper tried again and placed a hand on his cheek. "Talk to me, I'm begging you. We're moving in two weeks, and I'm not going to allow you spoiling the mood. Your son misses you. You've spent the past week hauled up in the tower lab setting it up and you haven't been home for dinner once this week. Hell, you haven't even been home for bed time once."

"Howard."

"Howard?"

"Captain America."

"Huh?"

"Nick Fury called a few days after he was found, right before it became public knowledge. He wants.. they want us to get together with Natalie.. no Natasha again, talk about a possible alliance."

"We'll talk about that in a second, but love- what about Howard?"

Tony took a deep breath because he doubted that he could explain what he was feeling and just a few years ago he wouldn't have offered up any information, but Pepper deserved better of him.

And fuck, he told Peter to talk about what he was feeling all the damn time because you'll feel better afterwards.

"He never shut up about that guy. How good he was and how he wished I acted more like him, was more like him. How he was his greatest creation."

His voice broke on the last word, but he coughed carefully, hiding his emotion.

"Oh, Tony."

Pepper wrapped herself around him, her breath warming the side of his neck.

"How am I supposed to talk to him when I've detested him ever since I can remember?"

"You could say no, Tony."

"I could." He nodded slightly. "But I won't."

"I know. But I just.. you have a choice."

The quiet sound of tools and machines several floors away filled the air, making their breathing seem incredibly loud in comparison.

"We're not talking about meeting the guy anymore, right?"

"No," Pepper pulled back to look at him, "we're not. We're talking about the fact that you're not Howard. Not even close. You adore that kid and you love being around him. Hell, he's probably your best friend in some weird way. And I don't care how upset you are. You need time in the lab? Fine. But you come for dinner and bedtime and then, If you need more time, you can go again. That's a rule, now."

Tony just nodded and pressed a kiss to Pepper's temple.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you out, I just needed to process."

"And that's okay, Love, but not like this."

"Won't happen again. Promise."

The week passed in a weird blur of work and dinners and homework and storytelling, but his head was all over the place.

He didn't know what to do about it. Nick Fury had constantly been calling him and had even shown up at the Tower to demand an official meeting.

Damn, he missed Rhodey. He really, really wished he wasn't on the East Coast and he really thought about flying over there to talk. He knew it would help, but he also didn't want the help. It was more than fucked up.

Tony looked around the room that would be his official office and wondered if he'd ever spend much time in here. His eyes wandered, to the windows and over the skylines, appreciating the view. He would never get tired of New York in the dark. Or during the day. Or..ever, really.

"Tony Stark." A voice rang from behind him.

He didn't need to turn to know who was standing behind him, he knew. "Natalie Rushman."

He still didn't turn around to face her, but he could see her smirk anyway. "It's Agent Romanov, actually."

"Is it?" He muttered.

"Don't be like that."

"I'll be however the fuck I like."

"Fine." She said nonchalantly. "But you owe me. I saved your life."

"Please." He huffed, finally turning around to stare at the woman. "I saved my own life."

She shrugged. "Debatable."

"What do you want?"

"I need you to come to the meeting Fury has set up on Monday. You know that America needs this alliance. The world needs it. Fury thinks I'm the only one who'd be able to talk you into coming."

"Why would he think that?"

"Because I don't stop, Stark. I know where to press and I don't care about the consequences. He knows that. I don't want to go that far, but I don't give a shit."

"Are you threatening me?"

She looked surprised, then pleased. "I forgot just how smart you were."

She smiled and left and Tony just.. stared.

When he came home that evening, Pepper was already waiting for him.

"You look gorgeous." He smiled at her, but her expression remained neutral.

"I look like I need to get going to be on time. Peter is in his room, he is packing the stuff he wants to take to the tower. I talked to Marissa, the new furniture was delivered two days ago and they're setting everything up. We can move our personal belongings in by tomorrow evening the latest. I want you to be there for it."

"Of course." He pulled her in for a quick kiss. "I wouldn't miss moving into our new perfectly designed home for any reason."

Pepper finally cracked a smile and Tony felt like the room felt warmer.

"So, family weekend?"

"Family weekend." He agreed. "Now go, have fun. Tell Antonie I said hi."

"I will." She kissed him again before walking towards the elevator. It was strange to see her go, see her leaving the appartment like this for the last time. The boxes in the corner spoke for themselves, and because they wouldn't be taking any furniture with them, it felt like saying goodbye. Again.

Peter bounced into the room a few minutes later. "Hey, Tony, can we have ice cream for dinner?"

"Absolutely not." He smiled, pushing . "But if you're all packed, maybe we can have it for dessert."

"Oh." Peter pulled a face. "I'm not done."

"Then how about I help you?" He threw Peter over his shoulder, poking his sides and hopping down the hall. Really, if any share holders ever saw him like this, he'd never have a good night's sleep again.

When he pushed open the door to Peter's room, he almost dropped him on the floor.

"What the hell happened in here?" He hissed, setting Peter down a little more roughly than strictly neccessary.

"I was just playing."

Playing was a generous word for how the room looked like. It literally looked like a bomb exploded. Every piece of lego Peter owned was everywhere. The shelves were completely empty of all toys and books, clothes were everyfuckingwhere and Tony could barely see the carpet. Cleaning up everything would take them hours.

"What were you playing? World war three?" Tony counted to ten in his head. Smacking the kid because he'd been scared was one thing. Doing so for a messy room was just plain bad parenting. "I swear to god, I'm this" he used his fingers to emphasize a very small distance between them "close to just grabbing garbage bags and throwing all your stuff away. Who needs toys, anyway, right? Doesn't look like you care much about them anyway."

When Peter's lips started to wobble instantly and big tears started falling,  Tony felt like the biggest jerk in the history of jerks. Fuck, he knew what owning things meant to Peter after his time in foster care.

"Please don't, I'll clean it up, I promise." Peter blindly started showing things into containers, turning away from Tony.

Jesus Christ.

"Hey, hey, hey." Tony pulled Peter back against him carefully, trying hard not to step on anything - which was Impossible, so he just picked Peter up. "I won't this time. But what happened in here, huh? You never treat your things so carelessly."

Peter pressed his snotty nose against Tony's neck - fucking disgusting once again - and rubbed it along the skin. "I'm sorry."

"Just tell me what was going on, huh? Do you not want to move?"

It was quiet for a short moment and Tony knew he was getting very close to whatever was going on in Peter's head.

"I do." The voice was quiet, still shaking.

"But?"

"But this was my first home in a really, really long time. It's our home."

"So, what? You're trying to prolong leaving?"

"What if you don't want me anymore when we have a new home and you work more and all that."

"You," Tony bopped Peter's nose, "are a silly head. Of course we'll want you. Doesn't matter how busy we get, we will always want you. Okay?"

A sniff. "Yeah."

"Good. How about I help you now? We can order a pizza and sort through your stuff. If we get done before Pepper gets back, she never needs to know."

"And ice cream?"

"Definitely not." Tony wasn't even sure if that was the right choice, but a reward for..this seemed wrong. "But we'll have ice cream tomorrow, Bub."

Peter just looked at him defeated. "Yeah, okay."

What Tony expected to be one of the hardest nights of the last few weeks turned out to be anything but.

It was easy and fun and he'd forgotten just how much he enjoyed spending time with his kid. They ate pizza while putting books into boxes, they laughed so hard they cried when Tony accidentally got a lego into his nose and the five hours spent cleaning and packing didn't feel even remotely that long.

"Thank you." Peter said sleepily when Tony tugged him in, eyes falling closed.

"For what, Bub?"

"For being my Tony."

Tony smiled softly. Peter didn't need to say what he meant for Tony to understand what he was saying.

"Yeah, well. Thank you for being my Peter."

He stayed long after Pete had fallen asleep, just kind of watching him. He first moved when he heard Pepper come home early in the morning, tipsy and giggling.

Their actual move was as easy as expected. It's what the fucking paid people for.

So Tony was more than a little surprised when he walked into the space and all the boxes were there.. unpacked.

"What the..?"

"Oh sweet." Peter clapped excitedly. "We're doing this ourselves? The moving in part? Oh, sweet."

Pepper just looked at Tony smugly.

"Pep, love, what are all of those boxes? We didn't bring that much stuff?"

"It's the new things we ordered. Bedding, frames, towels, clothes."

Ah. Of course.

Tony knew that Monday would change things because he already knew he was going to agree to whatever Fury proposed. He'd consult or help or whatever the man wanted.

But right now, just for this weekend and for now, Pepper and Peter were enough.

"Tony. Can you help me with this? It's heavy like super duper super heavy."

He'd just enjoy this for as long as he could before everything would change. Because it would, right? Everything would have to change. Because that's how things went.




























Chapter Text

When Tony finally found his way into his car, he slammed the door shut and leaned his head against the tinted glass of the window.

"Drive." He said to Russell and spared a second to be grateful he was rich, because damn. Driving home in his state right now would be a nuisance. But, really, what was one more nuisance in his life? "And take the long way. I need to think."

The meeting had been.. interesting, to say the least. He'd been excited to meet Bruce Banner, but everyone else in that room was a mess and he'd gone head to head with Rogers five minutes after meeting the guy. He couldn't fucking help it. That man was a waste of space on his best day, and him calling Tony nothing but a suit.. it had pissed him the fuck off. 

He'd sounded so much like Howard that it took everything Tony had not to punch him square in the nose. And the only reason he did hold back was knowing that Rogers would punch back. And Tony liked his face without a superhumanstrength fist dent in it, thank you very much.

When Russell pulled into the Tower's garage, Tony was surprised for a split second. But of course - they lived here now.

"I'm home." He called when he left the elevator, but the apartment was quiet. "Jar, is anyone here yet?"

"No, sir. Miss Potts took Peter to a playdate. They won't be home until dinner."

There was a small part of Tony that was relieved noone was home, that he had some time to collect himself before he had to decide on what and how much he'd tell Pepper. But a bigger part, a part so big that it fucking scared him, was insanely disappointed. He wanted to forget about that stupid meeting, he wanted to hug Peter and kiss Pepper and complain about his day while Pepper rolled her eyes and Peter talked a mile a minute and.. how was it possible to miss someone so fiercely after just a few hours apart?

Tony held onto that feeling while he packed a bag to leave on the mission to get that fucking Tesserakt from the maniac.

"Sir." Jarvis' voice rang out suddenly. "You're running late. You need to leave within the next 135 seconds to reach the base in time. Nick Fury would like to remind you that saying your goodbyes to your family should have taken 20 minutes, not two hours. They are expecting you ASAP."

Of fucking course.

____________________________________

Peter knew somethig was wrong. Even if he was stupid he would have known that something was off.

He could feel it whenever Pepper was around him. She went from nervous to sad to annoyed in minutes and Peter was sure if she sent him to time out one more time he was actually going to cry.

Whatever was happening wasn't his fault. At least he didn't think it was.

"Hello?" A hand shook his arm softly. "I'm talking to you."

He looked up and blinked a few times. "Oh. Sorry, Luis. Was just thinking."

"No wonder you got a funny look on your face. Must have been hard for you and your pea sized brain."

It was obvious that Luis expected him to laugh, but Peter physically couldn't.

"Okay. What's up? Did someone die?"

"No! That's not even funny." Peter glared at him before sighing in defeat. "It's just .. something's wrong. My..Uh.. my dad hasn't been home and my mom is really twitchy and I think something is going on but nobody is telling me anything."

"Oh. Yeah." His friend grimaced.

"What?"

"I think your parents are seperating, dude. That's how mine were right before they got a divorce."

"They aren't married." Peter grumbled but he could feel his heart seize up while he said it, because it didn't matter, did it?

Whether Pepper and Tony were married or not, if they decided they didn't want to be together anymore they wouldn't be together. Tony never did things he didn't want to do.

And what happened then? Where would Peter stay? Would they still want him?

"I need to go." He stood abruptly from the bench they'd been sitting on and stalked towards the big tree in the back. Phones weren't allowed on school property so he'd have to hide.

He squatted down behind the leaves and pressed his.. Tony's name and dialed. He'd pick up. He always picked up when Peter called, because Peter's calls overrode every protocol Tony had. Tony had said so, and Tony never lied so he'd pick up.

But Tony didn't pick up.

And he hadn't been to see Peter in days.

He could feel his throat close up and his eyes were burning so he reached up to press his fists into his eyes.

He desperately wanted to call Pepper, but she would definitely reprimand him for using his phone when it wasn't allowed and the last thing he wanted was her taking it because he wasn't responsible. Usually it was Tony who was on his case about that stupid phone, but.. Pepper agreed with him.

And whenever they agreed on something, it was like the law and Peter had to follow that law. Tony always said Pepper's word was the law, anyway, so whatever they both said was like.. double the law. And that wasn't even making sense but he really, really missed Tony.

"Peter! Come on! You need to see this!"

He pushed every thought about his parents to the back of his mind and ran over to where Luis and Bella were standing and looking into the sky.

What he saw made his stomach turn and he had to swallow to keep his lunch down.

There was a hole in the sky. A huge, dark hole.

"Shit." He breathed, and found himself looking around to make sure that neither Pepper nor Tony were around to hear him because he really didn't fancy getting in trouble. Boy, he was really stupid, wasn't he?

"What is that?" Bella asked and looked towards the older kids in the corner where her brother was standing fifty feet away, clearly yearning to be closer to the comfort family provided. "Heck, are those animals?"

"Actually," Luis said quietly, "those look like aliens."

There were voices everywhere, a constant mumbling, a sea of noise that blended into the rush of traffic. Not just in the school yard, but in all the surrounding buildings. It seemed like people were streaming outside, a mixture of curiosity and fear filling the air.

"Back into the main building, please."

It wasn't like Peter didn't hear the announcement, it was that he couldn't really process it at the moment it rang out, because - that was Iron Man flying there. Tony. Right there in the distance. And there were aliens around him and he was moving so fast but it didn't seem fast enough and suddenly he couldn't be seen between the buildings anymore.

It felt like an iron fist was gripping his heart and breathing was becoming harder by the second and his eyes were starting to blur.

He didn't even know what he was doing when he started moving, but the yard was buzzing and the teachers were hurrying everyone towards the doors that nobody noticed when Peter slipped towards the fence and through the gate.

He didn't know what he was doing when he started moving, when he started running towards their house. It wasn't like he'd ever been allowed to walk home from school, but he knew the way. He wasn't stupid.

He didn't know what he was doing, but he knew that he wanted Pepper. He really, really wanted Pepper and she would either be home or working at the office downstairs so he was going the right way. And.. she couldn't be mad at him for that, right? He just really wanted to be held by his mom right now. He wanted to hear that this was okay and that everything would be okay, but the closer he got to the tower, the more he realized that this was a stupid idea.

The streets looked like in this movie that had given him nightmares. It was.. scary. There were holes and rocks everywhere, turned over cars and yelling people. It seemed that it got worse and worse the closer he got to their home.

Suddenly a green something was in front of him and a man pulled him to the side through a shattered window while the Hulk - the Hulk - ran by outside and was just smashing aliens into buildings and through windows.

Peter hoped he was dreaming. He really, really hoped he was dreaming.

He fumbled for his phone, but his hands came away empty. He must have dropped it back at the school.

"Are you okay?" The same man from earlier asked and Peter realized that he was still holding his sleeve. He pulled his arm away abruptly and stared with big eyes.

"I'm not allowed to talk to strangers." He whimpered and before anyone in that room could stop him, he was out on the street again.

It was just two or three blocks until their home and he could make it. He knew he could. He really, really needed Pepper.

His eyes scanned the air, but he couldn't get a glimpse of Tony again, but that didn't mean that something had happened. He kept telling himself that, because Iron Man was unbeatable. Nobody could hurt Iron Man. Tony had said so. And Tony wouldn't lie.

Right? Parents didn't lie.

By the time he got to the tower he was full on sobbing. He was scared and lonely and he wanted this day to be over. He'd fallen multiple times on his way over and his knees were throbbing.

There was no security around and he was free to run towards the elevators. He had never entered an elevator in the main lobby and he had never done so alone.

"Jarvis." He called. "Please, where do I need to go?"

"Goodday, Peter. Please go around the corner to enter one of the private elevators. I will send you up."

Peter could barely even see the corner with how hard he was crying, but he pushed himself along the wall, trying hard to ignore the noise coming from outside.

The elevator ride upstairs was the longest he had ever been on. It was like he could feel earthquakes multiple times.

When the elevator finally stopped, he realized that Jarvis hadn't taken him up to their floor but to the partyfloor that he wasn't allowed to be on without supervision. Did that mean Pepper was here? He really, really wanted Pepper. He didn't even care if he'd get in trouble, he just wanted a hug.

"Pepper?" He called and choked on his own words. Why couldn't he stop crying? "Mom?"

The next thing he saw pushed everything and anything else from his mind because the woman on the deck outside (that Peter wasn't allowed on either, unless Pepper and Tony were with him) was a glowing ball of light and none of the people standing there were Pepper. But.. she had to be close by. She'd never let people up here without her or Tony being close.

He just walked towards them, because they'd know something.

"Do you know where Pepper is?" He asked, not really caring that he shouldn't be talking to strangers. It was like his head couldn't think straight all of the sudden. "I can't find her."

"Who the hell are you?" The woman asked back and stared at him with big eyes, not lowering the weird thing in her hand. "And what are you doing up here? Are you crazy? Where are your parents?"

"Right there." He whimpered and pointed behind her, inching closer to the fence. "Please tell me this is a nightmare, please."

The woman turned around to look up. "What? Stark? Oh Jesus Christ. Fuck."

Peter found himself quietly agreeing with her, because Tony was flying towards the hole. He was flying right towards that hole, and he was carrying .. a rocket?

"No, No, No." He cried and he would've climbed onto the fence to be closer to his .. to Tony had the woman not pulled him back by his hair.

"Come down from there."

She wasn't even looking at him, she had her eyes glued on Tony.

Peter's eyes followed him, too and he couldn't really look away from the hole when he'd disappeared into it.

"Come on, Stark." She said behind him. "Come on."

But Tony wasn't coming.

She pulled on Peter's shirt and he fell backwards and landed on his butt, his eyes still on the hole in the sky. "Ow." He muttered, but he didn't turn around to glare or see what the woman was doing.

But suddenly- was the hole getting smaller? It was getting smaller. It was disappearing slowly.

He jumped to his feet, turning towards the glowing ball. "Was that you?" He screeched. "Stop. Stop. What are you doing? What did you do? Make it stop! Tony isn't back yet. My Dad is still up there."

He was hitting her wherever he could reach, his fists barely visible through his blurred vision.

It didn't occurr to him until much later that she was just letting him.

"Kid." She said suddenly. "Kid, stop, look."

He turned around again, running to the glass fence again. "Tony! Oh my god. Oh Shit. How is this better? He's falling." 

Tony disappeared behind buildings until Peter couldn't see him anymore. But maybe that was for the best? He really, really didn't want to see him smashing into the ground.

"Can you call Pepper?" He whispered. "Can you please, please call my Pepper?"

"Yes. Don't worry." He heard the woman talking on the phone, but he didn't pay it any mind. He couldn't even bring himself to wonder how that mysterious person had Pepper's number. "Hey, Peter? Peter. Your.. your Mom is going to be here in five minutes, yeah? She's almost here, okay?"

The next minutes passed in a blur. Peter couldn't even make out anything because he was crying so hard. All of this was... It was bad. .

He heard Pepper before he could see her. "Thank you, Natasha. Hey, Petey. Baby, hey, I'm here. Jesus, what happened to you?"

"Pepper." He sobbed and reached for her. "Pepper."

"It's okay, shhh, calm down."

Peter couldn't tell how long they'd been sitting there on the ground, but it was long enough for his tears to run out.

"Pepper." He tried again. "Pepper, Tony fell."

"I know, Baby. But he's okay, Baby, he'll be okay. Jarvis sent the diagnostics from his suit. We'll meet him at the doctor's. Are you ready to go?"

"Yes." Peter hopped out of her lap. "What are we waiting for, Pepper? We need to go, now."

"Well." Pepper said. "Yeah, okay."

His head was throbbing and it seemed like every fibre of his body hurt. Now that he had Pepper, he just wanted Tony, too. He wanted everything to go back to normal.

He wanted them being annoyed about all the rules he'd broken instead of him worrying about his father plummeting from the sky. What if Jarvis was wrong? What if Tony wasn't okay?

"Petey. We're here."

She pulled him into a building and they ran down the hall towards a door. Pepper pushed the door open, pulling Peter in with her.

There were so many people. He could see Natasha, and was that Captain America? Holy moly. And right there was - "Dad."

He was sobbing again as he ran towards the bed Tony was sitting on.

"Pete- oompf. Hey, buddy." Peter pressed his ear to where Tony's heart was beating, just to be absolutely sure that it was beating. "Pepper."

Peter could feel Pepper on their other side and he could hear them exchange a quick kiss and suddenly and his own heart's beating was slowing down. Finally.

"Cap." Tony said suddenly. "Can you get the doctor back in here, please? My kid looks pretty banged up."

"Of course."

It wasn't long until everyone was ushered outside to the waiting area while Pepper helped him take off his school uniform so the doctor guy could check him out.

"I'm fine." Peter insisted and tried to pull away from Pepper.

"Stop." She said in her no nonsense voice and Peter did stop. There were things one should accept and Pepper's word was one of them. "Oh, Baby. What happened?"

He looked down, surprised to see both his knees and hands covered in blood. He'd actually forgotten how often he'd blindly stumbled and fallen down on the way from his school to the Tower.

But now that he could see it, and he remembered it, he couldn't blend it out again. "Ouch."

He didn't want to cry anymore, but he couldn't not cry now that everything hurt again.

"Mr Parker." The doctor said. "I'm going to personally clean," he turned to glance at Tony stiffly, "clean and bandage your cuts and wounds."

It took forever for them to be completely finished and it took even longer for Pepper to finish all the  paperwork while Tony helped him dress. The clothes were weird and scratchy but it was all the private hospital had found in the lost and found. Pepper had pulled a face at that, but Peter hadn't wanted to put his ripped and bloody clothes back on.

"You're going to be healed up in just a few days." Tony said and brushed the hair out of Peter's forehead. "Jesus, kid, you scared me when you barged in here covered in blood. Don't ever do that again - especially when I can't see where the blood is coming from."

"Okay." Peter nodded and leaned into the touch. "But then you need to promise to never fall from the sky again."

"You saw that, huh? Of course you did."

He picked up Peter anyway, holding him close and smiling softly as Pepper leaned into them both as they all walked down the hall.

"You waited?" Tony asked and Peter looked up to see all of the people from earlier still sitting there. "You didn't have to."

"No." Captain America answered. "But that's what you do for your team members."

"For your..yeah. Yeah, okay, thank you." Tony said and Peter wondered if they'd had a conversation about this before. "How about you all come to our place for dinner? We could do Dinner, right Pep? Order in? Or pick something up on the way? Maybe Shewarma?"

There was muttered agreements from everyone, but Peter fell asleep before they were back home, and he didn't wake up until the next morning. He was just so exhausted and it seemed the shot the doctor had given him really knocked him out.

Everyone was gone by the time he woke up and sat down with Pepper and Tony for a late breakfast. He tried sitting on his own chair but he wanted to sit closer to Tony, just to make sure he was really there, so he climbed into his lap.

"Pete." Tony sighed. "How am I supposed to eat like this?"

But he didn't make Peter leave him, either, so he counted that as a win.

"Sir." Jarvis voice rang out. "You have a visitor that will be joining you in twentytwo seconds."

None of them moved, or paid Jarvis any mind. The only people who were authorized up here were really close friends of his parents, like Rhodey.

"Mr Stark? Miss Potts?" A voice rang out and everybody turned their heads. There was an older woman standing there, right next to his social worker.

"Who are you?" Pepper questioned and Peter could feel Tony stiffen.

"I'm one of Peter's other social workers. I was notified yesterday afternoon that Peter was taken to a hospital. We've been worried for quite some time about your.. situation and the fact that you still haven't filed for adoption. Then, yesterday - well, Mr Stark, we are worried that Peter isn't safe with you."

"What?"

"To make this short, Peter will be coming with us while your paperwork and your situation is being looked at."

"Are you joking?" Tony questioned, his hold on Peter tightening. "Those are your priorities?"

"I'm afraid so, Mr Stark. Peter's wellbeing will always be our priority."
















Chapter Text

Two days, six hours and twelve minutes.

Two days, six hours and twelve minutes since Peter's social workers had barged into the apartment and practically dragged him out kicking and screaming.

He'd been sleeping at a house that even though they called it a home was most definitely anything but. It was a house full of people, yet Peter had never felt so lonely before. Not after his hamster had died when he was five, not in any of the weird foster families he's had, not even when his whole family died all at once.

So he was at a home that wasn't a home. In any case this wasn't his home.

And Peter didn't really understand why he was there.

He understood that Pepper and Tony hadn't filed for adoption yet and that their right to be his parents could be revoked any time, because foster parents weren't real parents. He got that. He just didn't understand why.

A lot of whys, actually. Especially because people kept asking him - why had they not filed their paperwork yet? Why is Tony so careless about putting himself in danger? Would he be able to protect Peter? Did He want to protect Peter?

Peter hated not knowing things. And what he hated even more was that he had never doubted Tony, at least not recently, not once since the whole adoption fair and running away thing that he liked to avoid talking about. He didn't talk about it with Tony because Tony always turned it into a lecture and he sure would never mention it here where he felt like there was nobody to trust. He didn't want to doubt Tony. But everyone kept putting those thoughts in his head and he really, really just wanted to go home.

His social worker had been very supportive of everything when this all started, they had encouraged Pepper and Tony every step of the way, even before Tony had really wanted to be his dad. So Peter didn't understand what had changed. Another thing to add to the stupid list of stupid things he was confused about.

None of this made sense. There had been no reason Peter was aware of that would mean he just had to leave Pepper and Tony behind.

He really wanted to go home.

Everything here just felt off. The bed was too hard and the linens not soft enough. He didn't have any of his toys with him. Even the smell was wrong - their home always smelled nice, like coffee and fresh flowers and some weird candles Pepper liked and Tony liked to complain about. Here everything smelled of soccer practice, and mac and cheese out of the box. The cheap kind that Pepper would never allow Peter to eat because it's full of chemicals.

He had to sit through multiple interviews already were they tried to get him to say something negative on living with Pepper and Tony.

"Peter." A man he'd never seen before said calmly. "Surely, Tony was never really there, right? Both of them are very busy with their day jobs already and with him being Iron Man.."

"I want my mom and dad." It's all he could think to say, really. He didn't want to talk to him any longer, he didn't know him and no matter how they treated him, he wasn't an idiot and he was pretty sure that he should be scared that they'd use whatever he said against Tony and Pepper.

On the first day he had told them about drinking hot cocoa in the middle of the night after he just couldn't sleep and the lady had muttered something about disturbed boundaries.

"I know, buddy, but your Mom and Dad are in heaven. I'd give them back to you if I could."

"No." Peter said without looking up. "You don't understand. I want Tony and Pepper."

The man had looked up, startled. "Oh? Are you close?"

"Yes." He couldn't really hold his tears back any longer because they were close. They were his parents. Right? They had said that they wanted to be. And they wouldn't lie. After his little meltdown he was finally allowed to go to his bed in the room that he shared with three other boys.

"I know you."

Peter didn't want to be known, though, so he turned the back to whoever had spoken.

"I saw you in the newspaper before." The boy tried again. "Why are you here? Said you were Stark's secret love child."

Peter never answered those questions and he hadn't wanted to today.

"Look. You're ten. You're a boy. You shouldn't be crying."

"It's 2011. Boy's can cry If they want to, we all have feelings." He sniffed and tried hard not to think of the stuffed Koala that was in his own bed at home. He didn't care how old he was, he liked having it with him. It was one of the first things Tony had bought for him and it always grounded him. He'd been worried about having a stuffed animal after his tenth birthday but Pepper had just kissed his forehead and told him that it was 2011 and he could do whatever he pleased without having to worry about what other people said. Tony had helpfully reminded him that that only counted as long as it was legal.

"Why are you crying, then?"

"Because I want to go home."

"I don't think that'll happen, honestly."

Peter turned around to glare at the other boy and blinked a few times before focussing on the small face one bed over.

"How old are you?" He asked, surprised. Either that kid was even smaller than him.. or at least a year younger.

"Eight. Almost eight and a half. But age is just a number."

"What?"

"My last foster mother said that the day she turned fourty." He blinked thoughtfully. "She didn't like me very much."

"Why not?"

"Because I kept telling her she was old."

Peter snorted at that and he could feel a smile on his lips before he knew what was happening.

"I'm Peter."

"Yeah, Genius, I know."

"I just meant.. what's your name?"

"Then why in Dumbledore's name wouldn't you just ask that?"

Peter couldn't do much more than gape at the boy. "You like Harry Potter?"

"Who doesn't?" And then, in a way that reminded Peter so painfully of Tony, the boy reached a confident hand out and grabbed Peter's to shake. "Name's Harley."

"Peter." He mumbled.

"Yeah, you said that. Gosh, you're really out of it."

Peter didn't know what he should be saying to that but it was true. He was out of it. He just really, really wanted to go home.

"Sorry."

"No need. Did they tell you they wanted you?"

Peter thought back to all the backrubs when he couldn't sleep, the way Tony and Pepper had taken turns in pushing his sweaty hair from his forehead when he had fever, the spoken I love you's and the quiet ones. "Yeah, they do."

"And they weren't just fibbing?"

"No."

"Then why are you worried? That's Iron Man who has like at least a trillion dollars. He can just buy you back. Probably doing it right now."

"You think so?"

"Don't you? I am sure they have a lawyer."

"They have a whole law firm." Peter mumbled thoughtfully.

"So why are you so sad? It's just like a vacation then."

Peter stared at him doubtfully because this was honestly nothing like the beach in California. "It's really not."

Harley rolled his eyes. "No, you idiot. Think about it - what are you not allowed to do at home?"

"Uhm." There were lots of things if Peter was being honest. But he didn't want to say any of them out loud. That sounded like that would be embarassing. "I don't know. Swear?"

"Good one. Cool. Now say fuck."

Peter giggled. "No, I can't."

Harley just raised an eyebrow in question.

"I'll get in trouble."

"Ah." Harley supplied. "But that's the beautiful thing: you won't."

Peter frowned slightly. "It's still wrong."

"God damn, you're scared."

"Am not."

"You so are."

"So what if I am?" Peter bristled and sat up. "Just because they're not here doesn't mean that I'll ignore everything they ever told me."

"Good."

"Good?"

"Yes. You need to keep showing that side to the social workers too, make sure they and the judge at family court know that you care."

Peter blinked, pushing the blanket down to his knees. "You're smart. You sound much older than eight."

"That's because I'm almost eight and a half."

The conversation with the boy named Harley, who was a mix of cool and weirdly scary, was one of the most confusing and the most clarifying Peter had ever had. Especially with someone who wasn't an adult.

And after that weird half an hour in the stuffy room, they were friends. And no matter how much he didn't want to be there, life in that house got a lot easier with a friend. Even if it was a boy who was the complete opposite of him, but it was nice.

"Are you sure we're allowed out here after dark?" Peter mumbled when he hopped from one tree branch to the next before pulling himself up to where Harley was already sitting. It had looked a lot easier when Harley had climbed up.

"Are you crazy? I don't think we're allowed up here when it's light out." Harley said and sighed when Peter glanced back towards the dark house. "Chill, dude. Breathe. Enjoy. I don't know about you, but I don't like to listen to Kevin and Justin snoring and farting in their sleep."

Peter laughed softly, silently wondering if Tony and Pepper would scold him for his little acts of rebellion or approve.

"What's on your mind, Petey?"

"Something is wrong." He hummed after not saying anything for half a minute, ripping off leaves instead. "Everytime I ask if I can call Tony and Pepper, Miss Leonard says I legally can't at the moment. I just think it's weird that they won't even let me talk to them."

"You don't think it's about the paperwork?" It's beyond Peter how Harley can always sound so casual and carefree. He reminded Peter of Tony more and more and he wasn't sure if he liked that.

"No." Peter mumbles back thoughtfully. "No, I don't. If it was I would be going to my own school instead of being excused from class for the forseeable future. It makes no sense."

"What else would it be?"

"What if it has something to do with Tony's business? Maybe his company, or the whole Iron Man thing?"

Peter could hear Harley turn towards him. "Are you saying you think they are using you to blackmail Iron Man?"

"I mean," Peter didn't turn towards Harley, choosing to stare at the softly moving leaves, "it could be possible. They have really good lawyers, and last time they took care of everything, like, super fast. And there's no way a judge would just say no to them filing for adoption now, right? Right?"

"Yeah." Harley sounded careful, unsure. "I guess there really wouldn't be."

"What are you saying?" Peter bit back.

"That.. shit. Maybe they didn't try to file for adoption? Dude, you know just as well as I do that foster parents are full of shit. They always say things and-"

Peter didn't stay to hear the rest of what Harley had to say, he started climbing down the tree a lot faster and less carefully that he normally would have but he wanted to get away from Harley. Wanted to get away from one more person that didn't believe in his parents at all. He should really make friends with normal kids without so much trauma in their life. No other eight year old child would be so insightful. Peter was lying in bed by the time Harley made it back.

He was fully prepared to ignore him, but Harley didn't even try to apologize.

He actually didn't even try to talk to Peter at all until the next afternoon.

"Hey." He said and dropped down next to Peter on the grass. Peter glanced up, but didn't answer. "Okay, be like that. But I have an idea."

"What kind of idea?"

"We should run."

"Where?"

"To your home. If they won't let you call or see your parents, we should just go there. Then you can ask them what's going on?"

"I don't think that's a good idea." Peter mumbled and looked back at the book he'd been staring at for the better part of an hour. He had tried to read it, but the words kept swimming around in front of his eyes, so he'd long given up.

"Why?" Harley asked with a whine, ripping the book out of his hands and throwing it to the side. "I really want to meet Iron Man."

"Because the first time I ran I got in huge trouble." He continued louder when it appeared as if Harley was going to say something because there was no way he'd tell him about Tony's reaction. "And the last time I basically ended up here."

He didn't specify about what he'd seen in the battle, how he'd been right there seeing what Harley had probably only seen on television. The image of Tony falling out of the sky still kept him up at night, and the feeling of being ripped out of Pepper's arm after he'd seen the city destroyed would be something he'd never, ever be able to forget.

"Well, stop being a scaredycat. We can get you home! Fuck, you should know that we shouldn't trust adults. Like, ever."

"I trust Tony and Pepper." Peter said curtly. "And if I take you to meet them, you can't swear like that. They probably wouldn't let us hang out again."

Harley beamed up at him, squinting his eyes against the sun. "Let's go tonight?"

"Tonight? In the dark?"

"Peter." Harley sighed, expression looking like Pepper when she explained for the third time why a bedtime was something she wouldn't just drop. "You're not even allowed to leave the house to go to school. The only time we can sneak out is when Miss Leonard has sneaked into Mr Jensen's room."

"What?" Peter yelped. "Are you saying they are dating?

"Who knows." Harley sighed importantly and shrugged. "Maybe they are just fu-"

"Don't!" Peter interrupted him. "Please. Let's start practicing for when we get to the tower."

"Fine." Harley cackled. "Do you have anything here you need to bring?"

"No." Peter sighed, pulling on the sleeves of the shirt that had been provided for him. "No. Everything I own is at home."

"I bet that you have so much shi- I meant stuff, stop glaring like a grandpa." Harley rolled his eyes dramatically.

"We'll get in so much trouble." Peter mumbled again. Why couldn't he be more like Harley? Less careful, more daring?

"So what? What could they possibly do to us?"

"You don't know Tony." Peter said, trying not to think back to the last time he'd been found after he'd ran away. He didn't think Tony would punish him for coming home, but .. who knew?

"Yeah, I bet Iron Man can be a little scary if he wants to be." Harley pushed Peter's shoulder and just like that the tension dissolved and they started rolling around in the grass.

The rest of the day and evening passed much too quickly for Peter's liking. It was like he was constantly covered in cold sweat, sure that someone would find out that they would be about to break the rules in a very, very big way. Plus - anything could happen in New York City in the dead of night.

Climbing the tree and jumping over the fence was a lot easier than he had anticipated and they found themselves running towards the subway station way sooner than Peter had calculated.

When they got to the station he stopped dead in his tracks. "I'm not allowed to take the subway."

"You've gotta be joking." Harley actually laughed in frustration and threw his hands up. "So what else should we do? It's at least ten miles to your place and it's after midnight. It's not like we can walk and if we don't get out of here, someone will alert the cops. Dude, we're kids. We're not allowed to be out by ourselves."

"Can't we just take a cab?"

"A cab?" Harley huffed and stared at Peter disbelievingly. "And pay for it how? Jesus, Petey, sometimes I can't believe you're older than me."

"Oh." He hadn't thought of that. He could feel the nerves coming back full tempo now that the adrenaline was wearing off. "What if.. what if we try to find a cab driver who will believe I'm Tony Stark's kid and that he will be paid when we get there?"

"And risk him calling the police? All because you're not allowed on the subway?"

Peter felt a little stupid, but he also felt that he would get in a lot less trouble if he was breaking as few rules as possible on the way. He'd probably get one of those pet trackers permanently inserted under his skin after all of this."I mean.. maybe."

"Jesus." Harley sighed. "You know what? Fine. Let's do that. Shit, we should have grabbed Miss Leonard's wallet on the way out."

"That's stealing. I don't steal."

"Ever?"

"Ever."

"Huh." Harley sounded confused. "I don't know why I am surprised. You're a goody goody."

"So what if I am?" Peter bit back. He liked who he was. And where he was. Well.. not right this second, but usually. He liked his life with Pepper and Tony and even the chores he normally complained about. But he actually he didn't mind them that much, mostly he only complained because then Tony would ruffle his hair and promise he'd build Legos with him once he was done.

"Don't get your knickers in a twist." Harley sighed. "Look, I got a twenty right here. Why don't we please just sneak onto the subway? We can even buy tickets."

"Where do you have twenty bucks from?" Peter asked surprised.

Harley turned red and shuffled his left foot sheepishly. "Uhm. I took them from your pants the night you arrived."

Peter just stared. He hadn't even remembered that he'd had money with him, and the money was helping them now, but still. Stealing was wrong. "Don't do that again." He said calmly and walked towards the stairs that would lead them underground. He didn't know why, but he felt better about the fact that they'd have tickets.

The subway station smelled like urine, old sweat and burned sausages. It was cold, clammy and weirdly quiet. Peter really couldn't wait to be in his own bed.

They were in Manhattan a lot later than Peter had hoped, and when they walked from the station towards the Tower he finally found his voice again. "What if they don't want me? What if you were right?"

"Then I'll kick him in the shin, I don't care if he's Iron Man."

Peter laughed, putting his head down when a young couple a few feet in front of them turned at the sound.

He breathed a sigh of relief when they made it to the lobby, just walking past the security guards outside without any trouble.

"Hello, how can I help y- Jesus, Stark Junior! What are you doing down here in the middle of the night?" The night lobbyist, Jason, said. "Are you trying to get me fired? Do you want to get grounded that badly?"

"I.." Peter started confused. Did the man not know that he wasn't supposed to be here? "Sorry."

"That's okay. Just go up quickly." He winked at Peter meaningfully and he realized that the man knew something after all.

"Hey, Stark Junior?" Jason called after him. "Good to see you. It's been a weird week without you. Hell, I'm only working nights and I can feel the mood shift."

"Thanks, Mr Jason."  Peter smiled carefully before dragging Harley to the private elevator. "Come on, Harls. It's only one thirty, they might still be up."

"Only." Harley rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Sure. Only one thirty." 

It was quiet for a moment when Harley spoke again. "You really are their kid, huh?"

Peter didn't know how exactly Harley meant that, but it didn't matter because a second later, the elevator doors opened and he ran out, forgetting about Harley when he made his way into the living room, the smell of home instantly filling his nose.

"Peter?" Tony's voice rang out. "Fuck. Peter?"

Peter was in Tony's arms  before he knew what was happening and within seconds Pepper was there and they were just a ball of limbs.

"Hey, sh, buddy. There's no need to cry." Tony shushed him quietly, rocking all three of them. Peter hadn't even realized that he was crying, but he was, and he could hear Pepper crying, too. "Come on. I need to call Happy, let's make you a cup of hot cocoa, huh? Get you in some of your own clothes."

Peter couldn't do much more than nod.

"Good, and then you can tell us where you were and what you did for them to revoke phone privileges when we had had half the security staff looking for you and a whole firm of lawyers working through any piece of document we ever signed." Pepper added.

"Huh?"

"Let's just say that we are not completely sure there was nothing wrong with our paperwork." Pepper supplied quietly, pressing a wet kiss to his head. "But that's a story for a different day, yeah? Or any day, actually. Friday, alert Happy and Nick Fury, would you?"

Tony pulled them all up, hoisting Peter up on his hip, letting him tuck his head under his chin. Suddenly, Tony stilled on his way to the kitchen, and Peter turned his head to see why.

"And who exactly are you?" Tony asked, more surprised than anything, glancing towards Pepper.

"Name's Harley." Peter said tiredly. "He's my friend."

"Well, if he's you friend." Tony said exasperatedly. "Then I guess I won't ask questions why and how two children arrived here in the middle of the night looking like they haven't slept in weeks."

"Good." Peter mumbled, breathing in Tony's scent and closing his eyes. Now that he was home it was like all the sleepless nights were catching up to him and there was no way he could keep his eyes open just a minute longer. "Sleep now. Talk 'morrow."

"Okay, kiddo." Tony's voice was calm, the sound of his breathing more beautiful than any lullaby Peter had ever heard. "We'll talk tomorrow."














Chapter Text

Tony stared at the lawyers around the conference room table, one after one and wondered when his life had actually gone to shit. 

Probably the second he was born, but he should think more recently. 

Maybe it had been Afghanistan and becoming Iron Man. But if he hadn’t, he’d never have admitted his love for Pepper. At least not for the next few years. Maybe she’d have fallen in love with someone else, ready to accept that he wouldn’t ever settle. Maybe he would have even walked her down the aisle, seeing as there was no one else to give her away and it would have been fitting. 

The thought left a sour taste in his mouth. No, as much as Afghanistan had fucked everything up, it had also saved him in some weird, screwed up way. 

So, no, not Afghanistan. 

Maybe moving back to New York City? But then he’d never have met Peter, and no matter how cliché that sounded, Peter had saved him in a whole different way. Jesus fucking Christ, that kid had shown him a love he didn’t even believe existed in the first place. And every detour they had taken to actually ending up here made them closer. No matter what the paperwork said, that boy was his kid. So, no, not moving over here either. 

It was probably joining the stupid boy band. Saving the world (or, well, the state or whatever) sounded a lot more noble in theory than it really was. 

Because flying up into that wormhole and see everything fucking explode right in front of him, thinking that would be the last thing he‘d ever see, staring at monsters he didn’t think existed - not as cool as it would probably look like in a movie. 

Traumatizing is what it was.

Now he woke up covered in sweat in a way he hadn’t even after Afghanistan. He pressed a kiss to Pepper’s temple then, pulling her sleeping body as close as he physically could. After he made sure she was okay, she was safe, she was sleeping and not dead, all he really wanted was to sneak into Peter‘s room and do the same, just check he was still breathing.. but it was empty, of course. Had been for a grand total of eleven days. 

Then he’d stumbled in a few nights ago, but even that night he’d slept in their bed, neither him or Pepper ready to let him be anywhere but by their sides. His little friend had slept in Peter‘s bed instead. 

And that whole situation was the reason they were sitting in this room. And had been sitting  for the past two hours.

“What you don’t seem to understand,“ an old man sighed dramatically, “is that you’re lucky the state is not filing kidnapping charges.“ 

Tony just rolled his eyes, taking Pepper’s hand under the table. They’d agreed to let the lawyers do the talking for now. Funnily enough that wasn’t because he had lost his temper during that whole ordeal. Nope, Pepper had. Had been great. Honestly, top ten moments of his entire life. 

“Because the state can be happy we are not filing charges of neglect.“ Pepper mumbled under her breath. 

“What my client is trying to say,“ one of their thousand-bucks-an-hour attorneys supplied, “is that they have the resources to file the charges and see the case through to court. They have been muster parents, shown up to group sessions, been very hospitable at every visit to their home and have done nothing but provide for Peter. You know a high profile case like this, that has no merit whatsoever, will get dismissed before you can even say your name. You know how it works, Johnson. We have been right here before and I‘ve won every single time, so why don’t you tell me what is really going on here? The judge will rule on the adoption in two days and then it will be too late.“ 

Tony leaned back, happy to maybe finally get somewhere. As happy as he’d been to see Peter - all of that had caused a whole lot of trouble. While they were Peter‘s foster parents and his removal from their house was more of a warning than anything else, Peter had dragged a stranger along. And that kid had stayed with them until they’d both been dropped off at that fucking home the next morning. 

So, yeah. Tony wasn’t surprised that the kidnapping charges were on the table. A child that had no business being with them had disappeared from his bed in the middle of the night and shown up at Stark Tower. 

“Why don’t you tell me what you really want?“ Tony asked with a sigh, ignoring Pepper tensing up. “I know the state is well within their right. But removing Peter just because I saved the city? Not letting him call?“ 

“A message needs to be sent.“ Peter‘s social worker said. “A ten year old boy was raped and half beaten to death a week ago by his foster father. This case is high profile, Stark, and sending the message that not even Tony Stark can get away with anything and everything-“

“That what this whole mess is about?“ Tony snapped, voice rising with every word. “Traumatizing my kid, cutting off all communication and letting the whole word discuss if I am a bad father just to shift the attention from you fucking scandals? We get punished for protecting him while you are trying to get off for not doing your fucking job? Are you out of your mind?“ 

He expected Pepper to scold him, call him back but nothing happened. They were all staring at that woman across from them, but her lawyer briefly closing his eyes doesn’t escape Tony’s notice either. All of this had to be a fucking joke. 

“Don’t act all high and mighty.“ She answered tiredly. “This isn’t about you at all, it’s about all the people thinking to abuse those kids. Showing that we will do anything to protect them, even if it’s picking a fight with one of the most powerful  men in the country. And seriously, Stark. You paid off enough people to get this case in front of the judge tomorrow and we all know he will rule in your favor. There is no harm done.“

“And you couldn’t have told us about your plan?“ He asked, not sure if he was more confused or fucking pissed. This was not what he had been expecting. He could hear all three of his lawyers sigh, but it was obvious that this had become a conversation between him and the woman on the other side of the table.

“It needed to be authentic.“ 

“Authentic? Are you out of your god fucking damn mind?“ Tony wasn’t absolutely sure that she wasn’t joking. Surely she couldn’t be this stupid? “Do you realize what you have done? Apart from pissing me the fuck off and pulling a fucking child from everything he’s known and putting him into a home fifty miles from here, not letting him speak to us? He came here on his fucking own in the middle of the night because he was confused. Do you realize what could have happened to those two kids alone in the middle of the night in New York City?“ 

She just glared at Tony was shocked at how righteous a single woman could be - and that coming from him meant something. It really fucking did, he didn’t need Pepper to tell him that. 

“And let‘s talk about the message you are sending to the public and to the fucked up people hurting kids,“ he continued roughly, fighting to keep his voice even. He wanted to yell again, because he wouldn’t let anyone mess with his family, not even a social worker who had gone the wrong way about trying to help. “You are telling everyone that money fixes this. That no matter what they think I did or didn’t do to have my kid taken away, that I‘ll get him back. All those rumors you started? Dumbest fucking idea. Because you know what I fucking do when someone points a gun to my head? Or to the head of the people I love? I make damn sure that fucking gun ends in my hands, pointing right back.“ 

„What my client is trying to say..“ 

So yeah, joining the stupid boy band had put attention on Tony. Well, more attention. People always paid attention to him, but now the whole world did. Even more than the time he’d slept with Paris Hilton on a beach somewhere in Egypt and they both got arrested, starting negotiations between countries and lawyers that were covered by pretty much every newspaper and every tv station around the globe. 

That had been a mess - this, well, this was worse. Because half the world didn’t believe that he should be a father in the first place. 

And he would be the first to admit that he’d struggled to find his place in the family he’d formed with Pepper, and he’d be the first to admit that he’d had doubts. 

And he would continue to have doubts, because fuck, he just needed Peter safe and happy and he didn’t know if he was the right person to take care of that. Maybe Peter deserved better. 

But Peter had chosen him, had chosen them and they had chosen him in return. For fuck‘s sake, they had chosen each other. And honestly, he’d do everything in his power to make sure Peter had a happy and safe childhood. 

He thought back to the weird ass lawyer meeting yesterday, glancing at Pepper who looked so beautiful leaning against the wall. Jesus, he really, really loved her. 

“Mr Stark, we really need to get going.“ A voice rang out to his left and he stared at the guy who looked sweaty and nervous. 

“No.“ Tony said with a shake of his head. “He‘ll be here in a few minutes, and I don’t want to do this without him.“ 

Rhodey chose that exact second to show up, smiling brightly. “I hear you guys need a witness?“ 

Pepper pushed herself off the wall and hugged Rhodey closely. "It’s so good to see you." 

Tony took the extra step to be able to hug Rhodey, too, letting it last just a second longer than he usually would. "Thanks for coming, man." 

"Two of my best friends getting married and adopting their kid? You bet your ass I‘d come." With his oldest friend there, Tony felt himself relax and when he saw Happy approach, he knew he was ready. 

"Boss, they are ready for you. The kid will be here in half an hour and then we will go straight inside, so if you still plan on getting married before, you should do so now." Happy's smile was big and bright and it seemed to wrap Tony’s heart up in a blanket.  

The wedding itself wasn’t anything spectacular, they signed some papers and kissed because it felt like the right thing to do. There were no vows, there were no tears or anything spectacular. 

"Hey, Pep?" Tony asked quietly when they made their way down the hall, their hands holding on to each other tightly. 

"Yes?" 

"You deserve more than this." He mused quietly. "You deserve me going down on one knee and asking, you deserve a big white dress and a wedding that people will talk about for years to come. You deserve everything and I promise that I'll give it to you and we will do this right, yeah? After this is all over, we’ll do this right." 

Pepper just smiled and squeezed his hand. "I need you and I need Peter. I do not need a big wedding to be happy.“ 

"Maybe not." Tony agreed. "But you deserve it, and you’re going to get it." 

"Okay. Fine. But let’s get our kid first, yeah?“ She asked, pulling him along towards the doors of the courtroom. Signing stuff had taken longer that they had anticipated and they had been told that Peter was already inside. 

When they made their way inside all Tony could see was Peter, sitting in the front row with the Koala they had bought him so long ago, the one he said he’d missed when he was away and had demanded to take with him. It was insanely adorable. 

Even more adorable was Peter jumping up from his seat, side stepping the clerk guy and running straight for them. Tony could only focus on Peter jumping into his arms, on Pepper pressing a soft kiss into the kid‘s hair and when he was finally ready to look up, he saw the smile on the judge’s face. 

"Now that we’re all here,“ she supplied gently, "how about we all take our seats? The sooner we begin, the sooner we can all go home.“ 

It was similar to their wedding, it was a lot faster and less special for such a big fucking life changing event, but suddenly the judge announced them a family and asked them if they wanted to take a picture as a memory. 

It wasn’t until they were sitting at home on the couch that Tony realized what had happened. Not only was he a married man, he was also truly and legally a father now. Holy fucking shit. 

He expected panic to settle into his body, but when he looked at Pepper and Peter to see them brooding over the many take out and delivery flyers they had collected, all he felt was warmth. Happiness. Maybe even Relief. 

He had been disappointed when Rhodey had told them he had to get back to California to his own fosterkid, because he really wished that he could have celebrated with them- but right now he couldn’t be more thankful for the time alone with those two. They had the weekend off, and then Peter would have to get back to school, Pepper had to work and Tony had to oversee clean-up plans for the city and reparations and improvements for his suit.

"I need to talk to you guys about something." Peter said carefully, leaning his head against Pepper‘s shoulder and squinting up at Tony. 

"Cool. Is it about your disappearing acts from school and the home? Because we meant to talk to you about that, too.“ 

"Oh.“ Peter looked a lot less excited now that he had just moments before. "You can’t punish me for that because I wasn’t in your care.“ 

"We don’t want to talk about punishment." Tony said with an eyeroll. "We just want to make sure that you know that’s not okay. Anything could have happened, and we can’t have you running from the school again. We understand why you did it, but everyone was extremely worried. And running in the middle of the night? Don’t get us wrong, we always want you to come to us if you’re somewhere you don’t feel safe, but call next time. We will pick you up, no matter where, when or why. Okay?“ 

Peter had been squirming a little, but settled down again. "Promise." 

"Cool." Tony answered lightly. He had no interest in turning this into a big lecture, even though he was pretty sure that the kid‘s new watch that he was working on would calm his worries about not being able to find him played a big role in that. "So what did you want to talk about?“ 

"Uhm. Harley." 

"A motorcycle? You’re a little young for that, buddy." 

"No. My friend Harley. The one who slept here? You know?“ 

"Ah. How could I forget? We were threatened with kidnapping charges, after all.“ He mused, catching Pepper‘s smile. 

"It’s just, maybe he could come over some time? Hang out?“ 

"I‘ll see what we can do. But I‘m sure we’ll be able to work something out.“ 

"Promise?" 

"I promise to drive over to the offices myself and see what we can do,“ Tony agreed, "and try my best to make it happen. Now, can we order some food? I‘m starving."

Chapter Text

Of all the things Tony wanted to be doing on a wednesday afternoon, sitting in a stuffy office wasn’t really that high on his list. 

Sitting in an office that wasn’t even his? Hell, no. 

But he’d pushed this for weeks - he’d promised Peter he’d do it, and he’d meant it, but December had been busy as fuck and they wanted to make Christmas special. 

The offices at the tower had been finished and completely moved into the last week of November and both Tony and Pepper had worked more than they usually did (or, you know, Tony had - by a long shot) to help get everything and everyone settled. It had been a mess. 

The messiest mess of all messes had been all the team bonding with the other Avengers. Because, apparently, that just needed to happen. Some of the empty floors were being renovated into wider apartments to give them a place to stay if they needed it - they would have everything they could need close by. On a whim, Tony had even bought an old racing track on Long Island so they could practice driving fast as fuck. That’s how he had justified it to Pepper, he didn’t really think she would appreciate his dreams of taking Peter there. 

Steve fucking Rogers had moved into the building and Tony had to admit that he had been a great help whenever he and Pepper had some business to attend to, Steve (Tony actually didn’t vomit when he called him Steve instead of, you know, dickhead .. progress) dropped everything to come up to their floor to watch Peter. He gave him art lessons, showing Peter how to draw and sketch and whatever the fuck else, and Peter loved it. 

Peter loved it so much that Tony wasn’t even jealous about another man in the kid‘s life. According to Pepper that meant that he had truly become a dad - putting his child’s needs before his own. And, honestly, Tony liked that idea. He liked it a whole lot. So - Steve? They were slowly but surely becoming friends. Not even fake friends who fought together and were loyal because they had to be - they were becoming friends who liked to watch baseball on the team‘s common floor together. It was surprisingly nice. 

Bruce Banner was a whole other story because Tony was absolutely fascinated with the guy. So fascinated that he built him his own lab - the guy deserved one. He was almost as smart as Tony (well.. not really, but it was polite to say) and it was like he was speaking with someone like-minded. They were on a level in a really beautiful way and Tony was grateful that none of Bruce‘s suicide attempts had ever worked. When he told Bruce as much, the other man actually cried tears of laughter. So, yeah, they were becoming friends too. 

Tony hadn’t seen Clint in a while, but he was 70 percent sure that that was because he was boning Natasha somewhere. At least, they were giving off that vibe. They had disappeared after the last team bonding cooking session they had all participated in, wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. But they, too, were slowly growing on Tony. Even Natasha. 

And fucking hell, the worst part about that? 

Everything seemed so genuine. Tony hadn’t had so many real friends that he truly believed were interested in him and not his money in - well, ever. He had never really had friends like that. 

They had spent the Holidays at home, just the three of them, and then had flown to Aspen for New Years Eve and stayed for a few days. Happy, Steve, Bruce, Rhodey and Cierra had joined them. It had been so incredibly cute to see Peter interact with his cousin. Because that’s what Tony and Rhodey had promised each other drunkenly in College, if (it had been a really fucking big if back then) they would ever have kids, their kids would be cousins. 

And with Tony adopting Peter and Rhodey parenting that serious little girl- they were family, no matter what anyone else says. 

All the cookies and presents and decorating and new people to meet had tied Peter over and he had accepted Tony’s promise of "I‘ll take care of it in the new year“ willingly enough, but now, that school was starting again and Tony didn’t have any more excuses to prolong this visit, he found himself in the office of Mrs Lockhed, a strict looking older lady that worked for social services. 

"So what you are trying to say is that you are looking for a boy that you don’t even know the last name of to have a playdate with your son?“ She asked slowly, eyebrows raised. 

"That’s what I have been saying for the past five minutes, yes.“ He agreed patiently. "Are you able to help me with that?“ 

"I can contact the boy‘s foster family and see if they would be willing to set something up." 

He thanked her politely and made his way out of the building and into his waiting car. 

He should have just let Jarvis look for the kid, it would have been way faster. But he wanted to do this right, because fuck- if it was the other way around, he’d appreciate being asked. God, doing the right thing was exhausting. 

He checked his watch, pleasantly surprised that he’d be at Peter‘s school right before pick up if he left now. So he could actually pick up Peter himself, which was nice. 

He sent a quick text to Happy about the change in plans as he directed Craig to drive faster. 

"Tony!“ A voice greeted him when he climbed out of the car and walked towards one of the groups of people conversing. "We haven’t seen you in a hot minute. You alright?“ 

He smiled brightly and shrugged his shoulder. "You know how it goes. Business, all that boring shit.“

"Well," Scott said, smiling just as brightly, "we missed you.“ 

"Yeah,“ Chris added with a smirk, "Gang just wasn’t complete.“ 

Tony laughed and rolled his eyes. "Christmas Break ended two days ago, are you guys kidding? Plus, I sent you that little video of the baby and the pug to make up for it.“ 

"That’s actually true,“ Tom mused slowly, "so I guess we should just forgive you for abandoning us at drop off?“ 

Their conversation was cut short by the first kids arriving and demanding their parents attention. 

It still amazed Tony how chill most of the parents at Peter‘s school were- or, at least, the once he knew and talked to. There were also the parents that sent their Nannies instead, the parents so competitive they didn’t even think about talking to others and the ones who were just downright rude. But still, the ones Tony had picked to befriend (or, more accurately, who had chosen him) were genuinely funny and nice. What even was his life lately? 

"Dad!" An excited voice rung out, and suddenly Peter was right in front of him, hugging his middle. 

How was he so lucky that he had a ten year old that was never embarrassed to hug him or just be affectionate? It was something the other Dads teased him about, even though Chris had told him that all parents of older kids envied him. 

Even though Tony was pretty sure that they wouldn’t if they knew how much Peter struggled with separation anxiety, especially after the whole mess last November. He’d slept in their bed for two weeks straight after he’d come home. Tony hadn’t had a problem with that, because honestly, it made it easier to assure himself that both Pepper and Peter were safe - but it wasn’t healthy. 

They had started therapy before Christmas to deal with all of their shit. 

Nick Fury had demanded it of all the Avengers, mandatory sessions. And somehow, Pepper had agreed and decided that she and Peter could really profit from that too. Tony secretly thought that she only said that so he would actually go, but potatoe potahto.

Tony had deemed it ridiculous, but was surprised about how much it helped see things from other perspectives. Every Monday, they all went into therapy together. Or, well, therapy came to them in the tower. While their therapists would never come up into their apartment, they came to the medical floor in the building, where a wing had been redecorated with cozy offices and plush couches. Tony was nothing if not thorough. First, they spent an hour together with Dr Morten, and when that hour was up they walked down the hall and into three different doors. Tony went in to see Dr Jacobs, Pepper met with Dr Wolf and Peter spent an hour talking to Dr Jasmin. 

It sounded fucking ridiculous, and his good old dad was probably rolling around his grave right now because Tony would have never agreed to it if Peter wasn’t in the picture- but he was. And no matter what everyone said, it helped. It really, really did. 

Peter still came to them a few nights a week, Tony still struggled with panic attacks and flash backs and Pepper still had performance anxiety - but they at least admitted to it out loud. And it had gotten better. So, yeah, whatever. Therapy wasn’t as bad as everyone had made it out to be: he didn’t feel like a nutcase, he just felt like he was struggling a little. And that was fine. 

Tony didn’t hear back from anyone until Friday, so when Tony came into the penthouse half an hour after Pete had been dropped off, he was more than surprised to see another kid standing in the kitchen, too. 

He wasn’t sure if pulling Peter aside to tell him that he had a phone for a reason, that he should call ahead if he was bringing someone over would embarrass the kid, so he didn’t. But it’s not like he was exactly happy about this - Peter was ten, not sixteen and they should talk about play dates, make sure the other parents were okay with it. Right? Or was he being stupid? 

The other kid turning around stopped all of Tony’s thoughts because he knew that smirk. 

"Hey, Mr Stark." Harley said with a bright smile. "Any Chance you could make us a snack? Peter seems to think he will get in trouble for using the oven but we are really craving muffins." 

"I didn’t say that." Peter said and shuffled his foot. "I said I knew I would get into trouble because Pepper doesn’t like me using the stove when no one else is in the apartment.“ 

Tony grinned. God, he loved that kid. "Because you always just leave the kitchen and forget that something is cooking until it’s too late." 

Peter just shrugged his shoulders and walked around the island to press himself into Tony’s side for a hug. 

"So, muffins, huh? How about you tell me what you are doing here, Harls, while we’re making some."

"Harls." The boy muttered and seemed to consider the nickname for a second before apparently deciding he liked it if the beam on his face was any indication. "Well, a social worker called my foster parents and they don’t really care either way, so they dropped me off after school, because you know, I knew where you lived and they will pick me up around dinner time.“ 

Peter hugged him just a little tighter, a quiet thank you to show Tony his gratitude for keeping his promise. Tony pressed a quick kiss to Peter’s hair because he just couldn’t help himself. 

Something flickered across Harley‘s face, but Tony couldn’t really place it. 

"Sounds great." Tony smiled and gently pulled Peter from his side. "So, muffins?“ 

The whole afternoon was weirdly familiar, everything was smiles and laughter and Tony lounging on the couch with his StarkPad (god he really fucking loved the name) while Peter‘s and Harley‘s voice carried down the hall. 

It was nice to see Peter like that. Tony didn’t see him with his friends at school often, as soon as Peter spotted him, he ran over. Seeing him with Cierra over the break was incredibly cute, but she was very serious. She liked books and playing boardgames quietly. Peter liked that, too, so he had no problem with sitting still and doing just that. But something about seeing him so careless, laughing loudly and jumping around like a troll did something to Tony’s insides that he couldn’t really describe. 

"Hey, honey." He said surprised when Pepper walked in. "You’re early." 

"I’m really not, love, it’s almost seven.“ She said with a smile. "And I‘m starving. Have you not started on dinner?“ 

Tony just smiled sheepishly but got up from the couch, pressing a chaste kiss to her lips while pulling her along. "Have a muffin while you wait?“ He turned towards the door. "Hey, Boys, do you want to help with dinner?“ 

Both kids bounded through the door just moments later, smiles still gracing their lips and Peter’s lit up when he saw Pepper. He didn’t even slow down when he ran into her side and laughed when she let out a small oomph. 

"Hey, love. Hello, Harley, it’s good to see you again. I didn’t know you were coming over.“ 

Harley smiled at her distractedly while taking the tomatoes from Tony. „That’s because Peter was afraid you would say no if we asked.“ 

A second passed before everyone seemed to freeze for a moment and Harley seemed to realize what he had just said. "Fuck, I meant.. fuck.“ 

Tony looked between Harley and Peter. "Are you saying that your foster parents have no idea where you are right now?“ Harley flinched, but put his chin up defiantly. Tony turned towards Peter. „And are you saying that you lied to us?“ 

Peter looked on the verge of tears and Tony sighed. He had no idea how to handle this. Or if this was something that even needed handling in the first place. Sure, the kids had lied, but they had just wanted to hang out. He would have done the same. And at least they were hanging out here, where they were safe, right? He sighed again. 

"Okay, Risotto or Schnitzel tonight?“ he asked lightly. 

"We just,“ Harley started and then looked between Pepper and Tony. "What?" 

"What do you want to eat? We have a fridge full of food, and we need to decide now." 

"Are Steaks an option?“ Pepper asked. "I could really, really eat a steak. Harley, do you like steak?“ 

"Never had one." He said, still seeming confused and waiting for the hammer to drop. 

"Then it’s settled." Tony clapped his hands. "Pete, you‘re on potato duty. Babe, you’re helping Harley with the salad.“ 

Everyone seemed to start moving and bustling around to find their ingredients before ending up on the kitchen counter together. 

"Are you mad?" Peter asked carefully and edged closer to Tony. Tony didn’t miss the way Harley stopped carefully peeling the carrot he had been holding and looked up. 

"No, I am not. You’re not in trouble. I am a little disappointed that you didn’t feel like you could tell us the truth.“ 

He could feel rather than see that Peter stiffened up. "Sorry.“ The kid whispered. "It had just been so long and then Harley was waiting in front of the tower and I told Happy that it had been arranged by you.“ 

"So you lied to Happy, too?“ Honestly, Tony was a little surprised. And impressed. He shouldn’t be impressed by Peter lying, but it had been a white lie. "Bub, I said I am not mad and I meant that. But the next time you lie to me, I will be. Deal? Lying sucks.“

That seemed like a fair compromise. Parenting was weird. 

He smiled when both Harley and Peter snorted at him swearing, and he shot them both a wink. 

"So, where do your parents think you are?“ Tony questioned lightly. 

"My foster parents,“ Harley corrected him, "don’t get home until eight. And it’s better to not be there when they do, you know? Not everyone is as lucky as Petey here.“

The tone in his voice made clear that he didn’t want to talk about it, and Tony’s heart hurt a little. He could see Pepper‘s frown. 

"You wouldn’t last a day here," Tony said to lighten the mood, "We’re too strict." 

Harley laughed while Peter groaned, and for a second Tony felt himself wondering how it would be to have another kid. 

"Okay, one of the drivers will take you home after dinner.“ Tony mused and shot a smile towards Harley while pulling open the pepper shaker. "Are there any allergies we should be aware of?“ 

"Uhm. I don’t think I have any, Mr Stark.“ 

"So, Harley,“ Pepper asked with a small smile, "how old are you? Where do you go to school? We didn’t really get to talk all that much the last time around. “ 

„I'll be nine in the summer.“ The kid sounded careful now, on edge, like whatever he told them could be used against him later. "I go to school in Far Rockaway at the moment.“ 

"Excuse me?“ Pepper questioned sharply and both Tony and Peter stared at her with big eyes. A tone like that wasn’t really in Pepper‘s nature when she talked to kids, ever. Even when she was pissed as hell at Peter, she never even raised her voice. To Tony’s knowledge, she had never snapped at the boy before. "Please tell me you’re not attending PS 106." 

Tony still had no idea what Pepper was on about, but Harley furrowed his brows and shrugged. "Well, depends. Do you want to hear the truth or do you want to hear what you need to hear to make you feel better?“ 

"Harley." Peter whispered. "Don’t be rude." 

"It’s okay." Pepper said, eyes never leaving Harley, one perfect eyebrow pulled up. "The truth would be nice, yes. We do not much care for lying.“ 

„Then yes.“ Harley said evenly. "I am a student at PS 106.“ 

"Would you like to go somewhere else?“ 

"I’d like a lot of things, but that’s not how life works.“ He said it in a nonchalant way, he didn’t sound bitter at all. Just like that’s the way it was, and would always be for people like him. Which was true, Tony supposed. 

"That wasn’t my question.“ Pepper said, leaning forwards and smiling softly. "If life worked like that, would you choose a different school?“ 

"Who wouldn’t?“ Harley asked and added the last of the cucumber to the bowl. 

"Okay this has been fun and all, but I am feeling really left out." Tony whined and smiled when Peter instantly agreed. 

„PS 106 is known for being on top of the list of the shittiest schools in the city, probably even the country.“ Harley said evenly, eyes hard. "But it’s right down the street from where I am living, so it is what it is. Could be worse. My teacher is out sick a lot, and because they don’t hire subs, we get to watch movies instead. Wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t stink of piss in every fucking classroom.“ 

"Language.“ Pepper said and turned to Tony. "We’ll talk about this later, honey.“ 

They did talk about it later, when Harley had been taken home and Peter was asleep. Or, at least supposed to be sleeping anyway. 

"That boy is bright.“ Pepper said. "He has no place in a school like that. You heard him talk during dinner, he is smart. Even if all of his swearing and his attitude are hiding that. A school like that will ruin him and lay down the way for the rest of his life.“ 

"Pepper. We just adopted Peter, we can’t take in another kid.“ 

"That’s not what I am saying at all, Tony.“ She rolled her eyes and Tony wondered how he suddenly became the idiot. It really had sounded like that was exactly what Pepper was asking. "I think we should sponsor him. Get him into a nice school, pay his tuition.“ 

"We can’t just decide that, Pep. The boy has parents." 

"Foster parents. And we sponsored Peter too, before we took him in. Tony, he has potential. And he was there for Petey when no one else was. He was there for him when he couldn’t be, and we have the money.“

"You take care of the paperwork and I will be on board. And maybe write to Kathrin, she is taking care of the charities we donate to, right? See to it that we take part in supporting local foster kids. Maybe invest in an after school center so they have a place to go to.“ 

Pepper‘s smile got softer the longer he spoke, and when he finished his thoughts, she was practically in his lap, pressing kisses to his jawline, mumbling sweet nothings. He would definitely have to remember that. 

From that afternoon on, Harley started showing up a few times a week. Sometimes he just dropped something off for Peter, sometimes he looked longingly towards the kitchen and almost blushed when he was offered food, sometimes they played in Peter’s room. Or, you know, as Tony liked to call it: cause havoc. 

He showed up on a Thursday almost two weeks after his first visit. 

"Hey." Harley looked at Tony, eyebrows furrowed. "Is Peter not home yet?“ 

"You know, it’s nice to knock when you waltz into someone’s office.“ Tony said without any heat and smiled when Harley looked lightly surprised. He wondered if that was because Tony wasn’t annoyed or it it was because he just had never learned to be polite. "But no. Peter has dance class after school on Thursdays. You usually only show up before five on the weekends.“ 

"So, he has a lot of hobbies?“ 

„Well, we have a family thing on Monday, he has dance classes tuesdays and thursdays and I‘m pretty sure he talked Pep into letting him on the debate club. Or Decathlon team, I‘m honestly not really sure, he would do almost anything if we’d let him but she told him to choose one.“ 

"Why don’t you? Let him, I mean?“

"Because that’s a really long week, you know? All kids get overwhelmed, and we just want to make sure it’s still fun.“ 

„So, no Instrument? Don’t all rich kids need to play one?“ 

Tony laughed softly. "That’s part of the curriculum at Peter’s school, actually. So, no need to do it after school unless he really wants to.“ 

Harley smiled, but let the smile drop a moment later. "So we won’t be home for another hour?“ 

"No, sorry, kid. But you’re welcome to hang out around the place if you want. By now you know what you’re allowed to do and so on, yeah?“ 

"Yes.“ Harley smirked. "Don’t go where helicopters can’t reach, right, Mr Stark?“ 

"Very funny.“ 

"Thank you, I try.“ He lingered in the doorway, and opened and closed his mouth a few times before speaking again. "You know, uhm, is it okay that I am here so much? Not that I would stop showing up if you said it wasn’t, just thought I would ask to be polite. Petey seems to think I don’t have a polite bone in my body and I wanna prove him wrong, y‘know?“ 

"Impressive, Harls. And no, we like having you over.“ 

"David, my social worker, said I might switch schools.“ 

Tony put his pen down. It wasn’t really like he had been using it, but he liked to chew on the end of one to help him think. He was actually thinking about going down to the workshop. He hadn’t been down there in two or three days, which for him - crazy long. "Is that so?“ 

"Mhm. They want to find a placement first, though.“ 

"What do you mean?“ 

"They want to find a school close to where I will be living when I move in with my new fosterfamily. And it makes no sense to keep changing schools, apparently.“ 

"You don’t agree with that?“ 

"Nah. The subway rides everywhere. They should pick somewhere close to a station, and then just let me go there until graduation. Then at least I can find friends and not have to leave them for the next shitshow.“ 

"Language." Tony said with a smirk. "But maybe you’ll be staying with them longterm. It’s a possibility, you know." 

"Yeah. Maybe. Sure." He said with a shrug. "But at least it’ll be in Harlem so it will be closer that the ass of the world of Queens.“ 

"Language." Tony corrected again but he didn’t know why he bothered. Pepper had been worried about Peter picking up on Harley‘s language, but their kid seemed more scandalized than them everytime he Heard Harley swear. It wasn’t like Harley was theirs to correct. Or was that a thing? Correcting your kid’s friends while they are in your house? Tony had no idea. He made a mental note to ask the groupchat later. 

"Yeah, yeah, sorry." Harley rolled his eyes with a big smile. "Are you even listening? I’ll be living in Harlem. That’s, like, down the street." 

Tony laughed. God, he liked that kid. No matter how different he was from Peter, they made really good friends. "Awesome. But this time, we’ll do this right, you hear me? With your new fosterparents permission." 

Harley groaned but turned around to leave the room. "We’ll see, Mr Stark." 

Harley’s new foster parents, Carla and Mike, turned out to be really sweet, kind people that Tony and Pepper invited over for dinner a few days after Harley moved. 

"Is it the first time you’re fostering?" Pepper asked politely while Harley and Peter whispered on the other side of the table and shot them looks every few seconds. 

"Hell, no." Mike said with a chuckle. "We currently have two other foster kids. They are with my mother right now. But we have been fostering for, what, honey? Seven years? Eight?"

His wife smiled and nodded and Pepper seemed relieved while Tony wasn’t sure what to feel. 

"Dad?" Peter interrupted. "May we be excused?" 

Tony glanced at their plates, checking if they had eaten enough. "We’ll call you for dessert in a little while.“ 

"Sweet." Peter smiled and pulled Harley with him. 

"He calls you dad?“ Mike asked, an unreadable impression on his face. 

"He’s our son." Tony took a sip of his water. "And we‘re lucky that he sees it that way, too." 

Mike just nodded, sharing a look with his wife. "That’s nice. Very nice. So, you adopted him, huh? Or are the rumors true?"

"Yes, we adopted him after he had been living with us for six months." 

"He seems polite and well-mannered.“ 

"We were lucky.“ 

"Lucky is one word for it." Mike smiled at Tony and Tony wondered what the guy was trying to communicate.

Pepper leaned forward, smiling a smile that she usually reserved for very tender moments. "We just wanted to make sure that  you have met us to see if you were still comfortable with Harley coming over here."

"That’s a very noble thing to do." Mike agreed while his wife nodded along. "Of course we are. But we would like to drop him off and pick him up. His former fosterparents told us that he disappeared all hours of the day and no one knew where he was. That won’t work for us. We are very concerned for the safety and well-being of our kids.“ 

"Of course." Pepper agreed, smile turning brighter, but Tony didn’t miss the way her eyebrows crinkled for just a second. "That sounds good.“ 

Later, when they were getting ready for bed, Pepper turned to him. "So, what do you think?“ 

"Hm.“ Tony hummed. 

"You didn’t like them?“ 

"I am thinking the same thing you are thinking, Pepper." 

"I was afraid of that." 

"Yeah.“ He mumbled. 

The fact that both him and Pepper had a weird feeling about Mike was something Tony didn’t know how to feel about. He didn’t even know if it was his place to feel something about that in the first place. 

But it seemed like they needn’t have worried at all. With Pepper’s help and the social workers’ approval, Mike and Carla enrolled Harley in Peter’s school, so while Harley came around less than before, Peter got to see him every day in the school yard. 

„Dad!“ Peter called the second he stormed into the conference room. "Dad, can I go to Harley’s?“

Tony raised his eyebrow and turned away from the committee to look at Peter. "Why don’t we try that again?“ 

Peter looked confused for all of a second before he left the room and a soft knock could be heard. He waited for Tony to call him in to come back, face blushing furiously. "I’m sorry to interrupt. Dad, can I ask you something really quick?" 

Tony waved him over, still not paying any attention to the others in the room. He had told Peter he could always come to him, and as long as he used his manners about it, he could walk into a meeting with the president for all Tony cared. 

„Sorry." Peter whispered into his ear. "Didn’t mean to be rude. I just wanted to ask if it was okay if I went to Harley’s.“ 

"Yes. But Craig is taking you and picking you up again before dinner. I have a day full of meetings, so I can’t do it myself. And take your phone with you.“

"Thank you, thank you, thank you.“ Peter hugged Tony tightly before hopping out of the room with a smile towards the people around the conference room table. 

"Cute kid." Sanders comments. "Who would have thought you looked good with a child?“ 

There was laughter in the room and Tony grumbled. But a small part of him inside of him beamed at the comment, because in a way - that was a huge compliment, wasn’t it? Sanders may not have kids himself, bit he’d take it. But now it was time to concentrate on other things. "Let’s get back to business.“ 

Tony first made it back to the penthouse when Jarvis told him that Peter had come home and Pepper was at that dinner meeting she had reminded him about - like three times. Or four. 

He ordered Chinese on the way up because he sure as hell didn’t feel like cooking. He just wanted to cuddle with Pete on the couch, watching Toy Story and enjoy a calm Friday night. 

"Petey." He called while he moved up the stairs towards the bedroom. "I‘m just putting on some sweats and then I am coming. Why don’t you turn on the tv and choose a movie?“ 

When Tony walked into the living room, he expected Peter to be sitting on the couch with a blanket and his koala, thrilled about the prospect of eating dinner on the couch. 

That wasn’t exactly the picture he was greeted with when he came downstairs, though. 

Tony stopped short, heart dropping like a stone.

Peter looked absolutely miserable. Like he had spent a considerable time crying. His eyes were red rimmed and swollen. 

But that wasn’t what made Tony almost sit down right where he was standing. 

Next to Peter sat Harley, both his lip and his right eye swollen and the beginning of a bruise forming on the side of his face. His eyes were dry and, opposite to Pete, he didn’t look like he had cried at all. Tony wasn’t surprised, while Peter would cry if he fell down the stairs, Harley would get up and limp away. It wasn’t that Harley was stronger than Peter, it was just that they dealed with their emotions a lot differently. 

"Holy fucking shit, Harls.“ Tony breathed and went down on a knee to gently turn Harley’s face to get a better look. "What in fuck‘s name happened to you?“ 

"Language, Mr Stark.“ Harvey joked weakly, but he didn’t offer an answer to Tony’s question. 

A small bag was sitting at Harley’s feet and Tony figured that maybe he didn’t need to answer. 

He could figure out what happened just fine on his own, but he needed to hear it. If he jumped to wrong conclusions this wouldn’t end well for anyone.

"Harley?“ Tony asked softly, carefully. "I need you to tell me what happened.“ 

Harley glanced at Peter and Tony almost sent Peter to his room before Harley nodded. "Uhm, it was no big deal, honest. We just made a sandwich without asking. And Mike wanted to eat that bread, you know? No big deal.“ 

"Harley." 

"No, don’t look at me like that.“ Harley said defiantly. "We’re not allowed to make a snack without asking here, either.“ 

"We don’t want you cooking when you’re alone because Peter almost set fire to the kitchen not once but twice. That’s a rule we put in place to keep everyone safe.“ 

"I know." Harley said with a frown. "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.“ 

"I know." Tony said softly, getting up and returning a moment later with an ice pack to press to Harley’s face. "Harley, has this happened before?“ 

Harley stared straight ahead, not looking at anyone. 

"Pete." Tony said, turning to his son. "Why don’t you go and get a pair of super cozy pyjamas for Harley?“ 

As soon as Peter left the room, Tony turned back to Harley. "Harls. Has this happened before in the month you have been staying with Mike and Carla?“ 

Harley’s face scrunched up, and before Tony knew it, he was greeted with a sight he thought he would never see. He pulled Harley into his chest, and he might have only known this kid for a few months, but the fact, that the he was crying and letting himself be hugged proved everything Tony needed to know, because Harley wasn’t Peter and for him to accept comfort from anyone, especially adults, meant that something was incredibly wrong. 

Fucking hell. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


If Tony wasn’t Tony, he would have panicked. But he was Tony and his mess of a life had put him in situations way worse. He dialed Pepper for the fifth time and is sent straight to voicemail again. 

Who else is he supposed to call? The police? Social workers? Actually, that’s probably exactly what he should be doing. He dialed Ms Lockhed‘s number, leaving her a message. Knowing the state he wouldn’t get a call back until Monday. 

He texted Happy, too, knowing his Head of Security would know exactly what to do and who to talk to. 

His brain was somehow softened with cotton, slowing his thoughts down. Was that normal? Was he having an anyeurism? 

How could someone hit a child like that? 

Tony wasn’t naive. He knew that violence can be found in the best of families, anywhere and at anytime. But what gave those people the right to take out their anger on a child? 

Tony thought back to the time he’d smacked Peter after he’d ran away, stomach curling slightly. He hadn’t really hurt Peter, and he hadn’t really traumatized him, either, but did that make him any better than Mike? He had let his temper get the better of them, then, too. 

But.. Tony had been terrified, terrified for Peter and not angry at him. That made a difference, right? He wasn’t abusive. He just wanted Peter to be safe. Or, at least as safe as he could be. 

He rubbed his eyes with his palms before getting up and walking towards Peter’s room, knocking softly. "Guys, it’s time to get ready for bed." 

"Five more minutes." Peter begged with a whine, not moving an inch. Harley didn’t move either, but Tony hadn’t expected him to. 

"I gave you five more minutes, ten minutes ago.“ Tony said with a smile. "So, no. Now.“ 

Peter shot him a look but instantly moved to shove the Legos into the box. 

"Harls, where do you want to sleep? You can sleep in here, or in a guestroom.“ Tony walked towards Peter’s closet, pulling a set of pajamas out for his son, and placing them on the bathroom counter. 

"Here." He said simply, pushing the cuffs of the pajamas he had burrowed higher on his arms. 

"Great. Why don’t we talk for a second while Peter takes a shower?" God, he really wished Pepper was here. "I just wanted to make sure you’re okay, you know, all that jazz." 

"Mr Stark." Harley said with a smirk. "I’m not Peter. I’m fine.“ Tony raised an eyebrow at the kid. "Oh come on, that’s not what I meant. It’s just - I deal with things differently than he does. I don’t need you to smother me.“ 

"Of course, kid. Can’t blame an old man for trying." He raised himself up slowly, fixing Harley with a look. "You’re always welcome here, Harls, you know that. And I know we can’t make you do this our way, but as long as you are here you will at least heed our rules." 

"I don’t need rules, Mr Stark. I’m not-" 

"Peter, yeah. You’ve said that. But no matter how grown up you feel, you’re eight years old, Harls. So, you don’t just go out without asking us, you don’t -" 

„Okay, fine. Jeez. I know the rules, I‘ve been over plenty.“ 

If Tony needed more proof that Harley really wasn’t Peter, it was right there. If anything, Harley was like Tony. And that was a fucking scary thought in itself. 

"Great." Tony said pleasantly, clapping his hands on his legs before standing up. "I’ll get you another blanket, and a mattress." 

"I don’t need a mattress. Peter’s bed is big enough for four people." 

Tony just smiled and nodded, almost grateful that Peter stumbled out of his bathroom right then, cheeks flushed and hair wet. "Okay, Harls, your turn. Towels are under the sink." 

Tony sat back on the bed, not surprised when Peter instantly climbed into his lap, tugging his wet hair under Tony’s chin. "Hey, squirt. Do you want to talk about it?“ 

"It was bad, Dad. I know Harley won’t say it but he was scared. I was scared. Mike was.. it was just terrifying. He was so angry, I have never seen anyone so angry." 

"Not even me?" Tony didn’t mean it, not really. But part of him wanted to hear what Peter thought about that. If he had scared Peter more than he hoped or thought, because they hadn’t really talked about that part of their reunion before. It wasn’t even that Tony regretted it. He stood by it, and if he could turn back time he would react in the exact same way. But still, somehow seeing Harley with a swollen face did something to Tony’s heart.

"Are you joking?" Peter actually pulled away, squinting up at him. "What are you talking about? You never get mad at me." He paused for a second before he flushed and hurriedly tugged his head under Tony’s chin again. "I know what you’re asking, and it wasn’t anything like that. He didn’t spank Harley, Dad. He hit him, like, really hit him. Right in front of me. Even Harley was scared and he never gets scared. Not even on the subway in the middle of the night." 

Tony just breathed in the scent of Peter’s shampoo and pressed a light kiss to his head. This could have been Peter. Anything could have happened to Peter had he been placed with a different family. 

"You know you’re safe, yeah? And we’ll keep Harley safe, too." Peter nodded against his chest. "I love you so, so much, kiddo." 

Tony glanced up to see Harley standing in the doorway uncomfortably. He smiled at him and gently pushed Peter onto the bed so he could climb under the covers. Harley hopped up after him and Tony told them both good night and turned to leave the room. 

"Dad." Peter said urgently. "You can’t go without reading the next chapter." 

"You read bedtime stories?“ Harley asked with an unreadable expression on his face. 

"Yeah, we‘re reading The Hobbit at the moment." Peter said defiantly, but shot Harley a smile. "Come on, you’ll like it." 

Tony laughed. He really had the best kid in the world. Too bad he couldn’t even take credit for that. He really liked being credited for good things. And could anyone blame him? Pf.

The kids were asleep by the time Pepper came back. 

"Where were you? Why didn’t you answer your phone?" 

"Am I in trouble?" She giggled, obviously a little tipsy and stepped out of her dress slowly. "Am I past curfew? What are you gonna do? Ground me? Put me over your k-"

"Pepper." He interrupted her. "Now is not the time for this." 

"So no roleplay?" She asked, confused before sobering up. "Oh shit. Did something happen? My phone died hours ago. What’s going on?“ 

It was a sign for how stressed he was over the whole situation that he just handed Pepper one of her sleep shirts instead of staring at her lean body. 

"Peter was at Harley’s today when Mike decided to beat Harley up. They are both asleep in Pete‘s room. I need you to handle the police and the paperwork and all that stuff. Please? I’ll lose my chill and that won’t help any of us." 

"When," Pepper said quietly, "have you grown up so much? It just hit me. You’re still crazy, and eccentric but you’re also.. you’re so different from the Tony I fell in love with." 

"Is that a bad thing?" 

"No, not at all. I just didn’t think the day would come so soon." 

"But you thought it would come?“ 

Pepper smiled and pulled her socks off, throwing them in the hamper before putting her hair up in a ponytail. "I knew it would, yes." She was quiet for a moment. "I’ll just go check on the boys, and then I‘ll come to bed and we can talk, yes?" 

It took Pepper longer than Tony had anticipated to come back to bed and when she finally did, they stayed up well into the night to talk through different scenarios and options. None of which Tony really liked, honestly. 

Tony woke because he felt someone staring at him, and when he opened his eyes Peter was right in front of him. "Pete? Is everything okay?" 

"Don’t be mad.“ Peter instantly told him, brows furrowed. "You need to wake up." 

Tony instantly sat up, panic clouding his thoughts. "What happened? Peter, is Harley okay?“ 

"What?" Peter questioned him. "Yes, he’s okay. We just.. we made you breakfast." 

Tony took a deep breath, giving himself a second to calm his beating hard. "You.. why would I be mad about that? God, kid, you gave me a heartattack, I‘m sure of it." 

He leaned back against the headboard, looking at Pepper‘s sleeping form. Crazy how she could just sleep while he almost died. 

"Because we cooked breakfast. I know I’m not allowed to!“ He said quickly and looked at Tony’s face carefully to see if he was showing any signs of annoyance. "But we wanted to surprise you and Jarvis was watching and I promise we didn’t leave the kitchen and yeah." 

Tony looked at Peter carefully. He wasn’t mad in the slightest, not at all, but he was a little surprised that Peter and Harley both would break a kitchen rule after what had happened the day before. But, maybe that was a good sign? That they weren’t afraid of breaking a rule, even if it was such a small and simple one. 

"Are you mad?" The small question pulled him out of his thoughts. "We really just wanted to surprise you." 

"I’m not mad.“ Tony said calmly. Hell, he knew it was a rule they had come up with, but why enforce it if he didn’t think it was necessary any longer? Fuck. Was he fucking up as a dad right now? "Maybe you’ve outgrown that rule, hm? But the second you leave the kitchen while something is cooking to go play, the rule is back in place until you start Highschool. Clear?" 

"Yes." Peter beamed and kissed Tony‘s cheek before climbing up onto  the bed and over Tony to wake up Pepper. "Mom? Wake up.“ 

Tony smiled and made his way into the bathroom for a quick shower. Maybe that way he could wash his disgust for Mike off of his body.

By the time he made it into the kitchen, Pepper was already fully dressed, hair in a bun and sitting across from Harley, speaking quietly while Peter was setting the table. 

Breakfast was a calmer affair than usual. The only person who spoke was Pepper, and only to explain that she and Harley would be going down to the conference room floor to meet with some people. The social workers would be coming at ten, the police officers around the same time. That calmed Tony down, because Pepper would handle that stuff. She would take care of all of it. 

"What are we doing today?" Peter asked while he helped Tony cleaning up the kitchen. When he’d first seen it Tony had seriously thought about leaving everything right there until either the cleaners came on Monday or at least until Harley came back so Peter and him could clean this pig stall together. But .. it was something to do. 

Time passed slowly and Tony wished he could have gone down to the workshops, but he had never before taking Peter down there and he didn’t plan on doing that now. 

His workshops and labs were no place for a kid and he wasn’t desperate enough to break his own rule yet. And Pepper would probably slap the shit out of him. 

"You’re going to finish your homework for the weekend, and then you can clean up your room and your bathroom." 

"You said you weren’t mad." Peter said and turned towards Tony. "Why are you punishing me?“ 

"Punishing you? What? There’s clothes and towels all over the place and I‘d like you to pick them up and put them away. And you need to do your homework at some point." 

"Oh. Sorry." 

When Pepper made her way back into the penthouse, Harley isn’t by her side and she is trembling. 

"Pepper? What .. are you.. where is Harley?" 

"I tried. I really, really tried, Tony." A few tears trickle out of her eyes and down her face, but she didn’t even seem to notice they were there in the first place. "I thought they would just let him stay here until they figured everything out, because there’s proof, you know? A doctor was there. They recorded everything, wrote it down, catalogued the pictures they took of him."

"What happened? Don’t tell me they sent him back to Mike and Carla?" 

Pepper wiped her eyes angrily. "His Father was there. He suddenly just showed up. He had waved his rights when he seperated from Harley’s mother. They found him, he said he had no idea that she even died until they contacted him last night. A judge is going to rule on it next week.“

"Isn’t that a good thing?“ Tony asked carefully. "What’s going on?“ 

Pepper slid a folder towards him. 

"Because," she said, sounding tired, "Happy did some digging. And the reason his parents got divorced in the first place is that .." she took a deep breath. "They never reported him to the police, but Kate Keener was in the hospital multiple times, broken bones, bruises, concussions. She claimed she was just clumsy, but then she lost her baby seven months into the pregnancy due to trauma to her abdomen. She packed up everything then, including Harley, and moved to New York." 

"Fucking hell, Pepper. If he did that to her, who says he didn’t do that to Harley? Who says he won‘t?" 

„He‘s Peter’s best friend, Tony." Pepper said carefully, scooting closer. "We tried it my way. Now I need," she took a deep breath again and shook her head, "now you need to do this your way. We can’t let anything happen to this kid. We can’t." 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


Tony sat across from Steve feeling more stupid by the second. 

"So let me get this straight." The other man said confusedly. "You want to beat up Peter’s friend?" 

Tony rolled his eyes. "Fuck, Cap, were you even listening? Not his friend. Not even anyone else. But It’s a good plan. Pepper is going to do all the paperwork shit, because I seriously would rather die. Not even exaggerating, you know? I’m stupidly shit at filling out forms. No, I just want to make sure that Harley’s father knows that we are watching and we will swoop in if anything goes wrong.“ 


"And you are coming to me because you want me to watch Peter while you do that?“ 

"No, no. I’m coming to you because with we, I mean the Avengers.“ 

"You’re out of your mind." Steve laughed and then sobered up instantly. "God, you’re serious, aren’t you? Tony. We can’t do that. That’s insane. Even for you.“ 

"What is that supposed to mean, Cappikowski?“ Tony asked. 

"Well, let‘s say I agree and we do.. warn the kid’s father and something does happen. What are you going to do then? Adopt him, too?“ 

"No, I mean we’ve talked about it, but we aren’t ready for another kid."

"Then why would Pepper need to fill out any kind of paperwork? I feel like you make less sense than you usually do. Don’t forget to tell me the things you are only thinking, I can’t guess what’s going on in that big brain of yours."

"I’ll take that as a compliment." Tony perked up and decided to ignore Captain Asshole‘s big eyeroll because, you know, rude. "But seriously, we’d help him find a wonderful family. Maybe you could-" 

"No." Steve didn’t even let him finish and you know.. rude. "You know I am old fashioned, Tony, you make fun of it daily. I wouldn’t even think to raise a kid without a woman by my side.“ 

"For fuck‘s sake." Tony sighed. "If you get any older in the next five minutes, you will die of old age right here and now." 

Steve raised an eyebrow. "So what are you saying? That you would have had a kid without Pepper?" 

"Hell no." Tony rolled his eyes. "Okay fine, you‘re good. Yeah, whatever. Fine. But you’ll come with me, right? Just to make sure that he knows we will be looking out for the kid?" 

"So help me god." Steve sighed again. If he sighed any more, Tony was sure the wind would actually blow him off his chair. "Yes, I will. That’s what friends are for, right?" 

Warmth filled Tony’s chest and he had to look away from Steve’s earnest face before he did something stupid, like.. cry. He wouldn’t, like, ever. God he sounded like Peter.

"Thanks, Cap. We’ll go there while the kids are in school tomorrow, yeah?“ 

"Looking forward to it." 

"I’m sure lying is one of the deadly sins, Steven. Better make sure to hurry to church before confession is over for the day." 

"Oh, har har, very funny." 

What was decidedly less funny was standing in front of Harley’s father twelve hours later. 

The man was an investment banker, wearing an expensive suit and was nice. Really nice. It was hard-to-not-instantly-like-the-man kind of nice.

"Why don’t you come in for coffee?" He offered and steps aside, letting Tony and Steve into his cozy looking place in lower Manhattan. "It’s crazy, you know? All those years and I had no idea my son was within a few miles of me. Can you believe no one contacted me after his mother passed? My poor baby, in foster care." 

"Thank you, that’s very kind." Steve accepted the cup of coffee with a bright smile, letting his eyes wander around and over their surroundings whenever Keener‘s back was turned to him. Tony found himself incredibly grateful that he’d brought the guy along.

"What can I do for you gentlemen? Or are you just here to see where your kid might be spending some afternoons?" 

The thought of letting Peter go to any friend’s place ever again made Tony feel all kinds of anxious even though he knew not letting the kid have play dates, or hangouts or whatever kids called it these days, wasn’t the answer to anything. God, when had he become such a mother hen? Or helicopter parent, as Harley loved to call it. 

"Something like that."

"Harley told me all about his last foster family, so I know and understand you have reservations, but I promise you that this is not that kind of home environment. Harley’s mother and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but this kid is all I have left and I will do right by him." 

"That’s," Tony coughed slightly, "that’s really good to hear, Mr Keener. We just.. want you to know that we’ve really gotten to know Harley over those past few months and we care about him a great deal and we wouldn’t let anything happen to him, if you know what I mean." 

"Are you threatening me?" 

"You can call it whatever you want." Tony shrugged nonchalantly and surveyed Keener‘s raised eyebrows. 

But suddenly the man broke into one of his smiles. "Captain America and Iron Man are looking out for my kid? And are going to protect him? You have no idea how much that settles my worries." 

When they left half an hour later, Tony didn’t feel better. Something was really bothering him but he couldn’t really place whatever the fuck it was. 

"He was nice." Steve said, brows furrowed. "But something was..off. What was it?“ 

"I don’t know." Tony sounded frustrated, even to his own ears. "Hey, Cap, can we go punch Mike? I’m sure we’d both feel better." 

"How about we egg his car? Less illegal?“ 

"Oh, come on.“ But Steve just laughed and dragged him into a corner store to buy five cartons of eggs. 

And if he didn’t ever tell anyone how much fun it was to throw eggs at a grown man‘s house and car, no one would ever know. (Even though their loud laughter was discussed on every stupid show from Wendy Williams to Fox News because of fucking course someone filmed them.) 

And he really did feel better after that. 

"Thanks for today, Cap." 

"Did the Tony Stark just thank me?" 

"Oh fuck off and get out of my car, I need to get going to pick up Peter on time." 

If there was one thing Tony was absolutely sure he would never get tired of, it was the way Peter’s whole face lit up when he showed up at school for a surprise pick up, even though he did try to do that on some days. 

Harley made his way out of the school first, and Tony expected him to come over to say hello but he didn’t even look over before turning right. Or course there was the possibility that he hadn’t seen Tony, but he seriously doubted that. Harley loved to walk over and say hello or try to talk Tony into taking them to the mall or something equally miserable. 

But maybe he just hadn’t seen him.

"Dad!" Peter smiled softly and squeezed himself as close as he humanly could without crawling under Tony’s skin. "I’m so glad you‘re here. Can we go home?" 

"I thought we could get ice cream." 

But Peter pretty much ignored him, taking his hand instead to pull him down the block to where Tony had parked his car. 

"Or would you rather get pretzels? Fly to disneyworld? Buy a dog?" Tony tried before realizing that Peter wasn’t even paying attention to him in the slightest. He stopped short and Peter stumbled back into him when his weight dragged him back instead of following him forward.

"Why are you stopping?" He snapped and Tony raised an eyebrow. 

"What’s going on?" 

"Can we talk about it at home?“ 

It almost physically killed Tony to drop the topic until they made it back to the penthouse. Actually, he should have made his way down to the workshop to work on the new StarkWatch design after taking most of the day off, but now he really wanted to know what was on Peter’s mind. 

"We’re home now, kiddo." He said softly. "Why don’t I make you some apples with peanut butter while you wash your hands and then we can talk, hm?" He pressed a soft kiss to Peter’s head before softly pushing him to the sink. 

"It’s nothing big." Peter said with a shake of his head. 

"Big enough to have you upset." 

"I’m not upset, I’m just.. I dont know what I am." 

Tony shrugged softly and pushed the plate towards Peter before grabbing a can of Fanta from the fridge for his son. Pepper didn’t really like him drinking soda all that much, but Peter looked like he could use a pick-me-up.

"Thanks." Peter shot him a smile. "It’s just that Harley and I had a fight today. I just asked if he was okay after everything and he nearly bit my head off and he said .. he said that..“ Peter looked at Tony, and then down again. 

"He said what?" Tony pushed carefully.

"He said that," Petet whispered quietly, voice getting lower with every word and face turning red, "that it wasn’t any of my fucking business." 

"Ah." Tony said, trying hard to hide his smirk. It sounded a lot like Peter and Harley; Harley cursing in every other sentence and Peter trying everything to avoid it in fear of getting in trouble. "Well, love, you know that it’s probably a big adjustment for Harley and I am sure the whole situation is embarrassing to him." 

"But I don’t get why.“ Peter answered sadly. "We’re best friends, right? We have each other’s backs, like, always.“ 

"I know, baby, but don’t blame him for not wanting to talk about it, even though he shouldn’t swear at you. Just invite him over this weekend, hm? I’ll take you both to the zoo."

"You don’t have time, you‘re supposed to fly to Philly this weekend for the Teddy talk." 

"What the.. Are you sure that the TED talk is this weekend? I haven’t written a speech yet." 

Peter giggled, brightening up considerably. "Mom has been telling you for like two weeks." 

"Well," Tony waved his hand around, "I’ll just wing it." 

"Mom says that you can’t just wing it." 

"Excusez moi monsieur? She should know better, she was there in 2005 when I had never even heard about a Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile and aced that meeting completely drunk of my ass, developing a new fleet just by playing around on some buttons. Made us more money than you can even fanthom." He shook his head, mocking disappointment. "The great Tony Stark will always be able to wing it, that’s a lesson you should learn early on, sweet child." 

"You’ll get in trouble for telling me that stuff, won’t you?" 

"Not if you don’t tell your mother." 

It wasn‘t until he was in bed that night, spooning Pepper and listening to her soft little snores (that she would never admitted were real) that he realized that what had bothered him with Harley’s father was that his bright smile never seemed to reach his eyes. 

He fell asleep with an uneasy feeling in his stomach that seemed to linger when he woke up, but faded during the next few days. Nothing happened and everything just sort of started falling into place.

Pepper could say a lot of things, but she had to admit that the TED talk was highly successful and broke the record for most viewed talk in the first 24 hours - and that five hours in. 

He flew his suit directly to the Grand Canyon where his team was meeting for an extended training session and then, as fate seemed to want it, to New Mexico to fight a spirit gone haywire.

By the time he made it back to New York he hadn’t even talked to his family in twelve days apart from the messages they had sent via JARVIS. 

He creeped into Peter’s room, smiling softly and his son‘s sleeping form and walking over to pull his blanket up again. Because he was so focused on his own kid, he didn’t see the other three that were sleeping in the room. 

"What the..?" He could make out Harley next to Pete, but he was pretty sure that there were a girl and a boy on a mattress on the floor. 

He was sure that he had never left Peter’s room so quick, practically running down the hall and to the master bedroom. 

Pepper was, thank fuck, still awake and reading a magazine (was that really InTouch? What the actual fuck, Pepper.) 

"Did you adopt like ten kids when I was gone?" 

"Hello, Tony, I am so glad that you made it home safe. Of course I missed you!" 

"Yeah, yeah, too. But; the kids?!" He was on the verge of a heart attack. He could feel it. One kid? Sure, cool. Having Harley over? Yes. Two more? Nope. Like.. nope. 

"They’re just staying the night. Their mom had a medical emergency and didn’t know who else to call." 

"We don’t know any people with two kids!" 

"Apparently we do. They are Clint‘s kids." 

Tony just stared at her, absolutely baffled. "Excuse me?" 

"Married with two kids, they have been kept secret and were supposed to be kept secret but that went out of the window two days ago." 

"Do you want me to contact him?" 

"No, Laura left him a message, he should have gotten it by now. Something happened at that farm of theirs, and they won’t be able to go back." 

"You offered them a place to stay, didn’t you?" 

"Of course I did, they are part of this weird team slash family kind of situation. They’d be safest here now that their identity is about to be public knowledge. Or well, more public than before." 

"This is a lot to take it. Wait, is he cheating on his wife with Natasha?"

Pepper smiled at his little outburst. "I mean, who knows. But Laura made it clear that Natasha is like a sister to both of them. Cooper is Harley’s age, by the way, and 
Lila is four. She tells you every chance she gets, but you know, that makes he just a little younger than Cierra." 

"You like this." Tony said in wonder. "Don’t you?"

"Well. Kind of, it’s nice, isn‘t it? Neither of us had a big family and this just means that Peter will always have places to go. Don’t tell me you don’t like the thought." 

"Yeah." Tony said slowly. "Okay, sure, yeah, I like the thought. How’s Harley?" 

"Who knows but him?" Pepper said and turned her body more towards Tony. "He doesn’t seem unhappy, you know?" 

"But?" 

"It’s just.. he doesn’t really seem happy either."

"Maybe they just need to get used to each other or something.“ Tony mumbled. "They hadn’t seen each other in years." 

"Yes, true, you’re right."

"Hey Pep?" He asked quietly, already walking towards the bathroom. "Come join me in the shower while those little monsters are asleep?“ 

When Tony woke that morning it was after noon and he felt incredibly well rested, but he had to admit that he was kind of hurt that Peter hadn’t woken him up. He pushed himself up and his eyes fell on a note that told him to come to the Avengers common floor.

The closer he got to the dining room of the common floor the louder the overall volume got and when he rounded the corner he could see why. There were so fucking many kids and his whole team and he was pretty sure he had just seen a dog? Like what the fuck? 

"Dad!" He could only do so much as blink before Peter slammed into his chest. "You slept for forever! Mom threatened everyone with kitchen duty if they would try to wake you up! Look, those are Hawkeye‘s kid. Isn’t that cool? Together with Cierra we‘re own gang because we’re the Avenger‘s kids. Cool, huh?" 

He just let Peter ramble on, pressing him closer to his chest. How was it possible to live someone so much? 

When he looked up, his eyes found Pepper’s and she shot him a wink while handing out the plates of pancakes that Steve seemed to be cooking while Natasha had a small girl on her hip, carefully cutting up bananas. 

Whatever weird thing was happening this morning, Tony was pretty sure that his heart had never been so relaxed before.

And for a day, just a day, he pushed away every worry and negative thought, instead concentrating on showing his support for Clint and Laura, and laughing while Steve and Bruce kept throwing the kids towards the ceiling. He had never seen Harley laugh like that, and if he could, he’d freeze that moment in time. 

But freezing time doesn’t work, but maybe Tony would have tried harder (honestly, how hard could it be? Timetravel would be impossible, but prolonging time should be manageable. Right?) if he knew how the next weeks would play out. 

 

 

Chapter Text


Tony was about as close to hitting his head against the wall as he could be without actually doing it. Very close. Very, very close. 

He loved his team and he loved all those weirdly annoying but endearing kids but they were loud. God, they were fucking loud. 

HOW could humans so little be so loud? 

And what had he been thinking when he had agreed that all five of the kids in the building  could come up to his penthouse and he would watch them? By himself? He kind of felt reminded of the time he thought he had been high when Peter had been sitting next to him. Completely nuts. 

"Dad!" Peter called from the kitchen and Tony tugged his head under one of the couch pillows, dead set on ignoring the tenth request to do something for them, like show them a demonstration of his repulsors. "Dad, can you come and help? The dough keeps running out of the waffle iron and all over the floor!" 

"And I‘m up." He grumbled and sat up so fast that he needed to close his eyes again for a few seconds because everything was spinning. When he walked into the kitchen he stopped short because he was absolutely convinced that this wasn’t happening. There wasn’t just a little dough on the floor like he had thought, the whole floor was swimming in it, and Lila and Cierra where pretending to ice skate through it. 

"Are you fucking joking?" His eyes found his son who was already looking like a kicked puppy. Peter hated getting in trouble probably more than any other kid in the world. "What the hell are you guys doing?" 

"We wanted a snack." Harley said carefully, eyes observing Tony’s face, probably to see if he would be getting angry for real. 

On another day, Tony would have laughed but today he really didn’t feel like laughing. At all. He was getting a headache and those kids had been hollering for the better part of five hours. He should have gotten suspicious when they were all quiet for almost fifteen minutes. 

"Over here." Tony sighed, addressing Peter and pointed to right in front of him. 

The next two seconds would have been funny if they weren’t so sad. He wouldn’t even have noticed had Harley not moved so quickly - but the small boy wanted to push himself in front of Peter to keep himself between Tony and his son. He seemed to realize what he was doing and moved back, ignoring the look Peter shot him. 

But while Peter seemed afraid of Tony’s disappointment, he was in no way afraid of Tony and the thought that Harley would think that there was a reason to be, hurt Tony’s heart. As if he’d ever hurt Peter for making a mess in the kitchen. He pushed that to the back of his mind, instead hoisting Peter up onto the counter to get his socks off.  

"How did all of your guys‘ clothes and hair get covered in dough, huh?" He pulled off Peter’s shirt and put him on the floor again. "Pants off, put them right here- no, here, not on the carpet, Peter! And now off to the shower."

He repeated the same with each of the kids until there was a huge pile with disgusting clothes and all kids had been sent to get cleaned up. "Wait, Lila, you wait until Cooper is done, so he can help you, okay?"

Maybe he should have supervised them in the shower, but after telling Jarvis to alert him if anything went south, he resigned himself to the idea that he’d find all bathrooms in a huge mess when he checked later. Whatever. 

What he did next was probably the biggest dick move in the history of dick moves but he’d never get the kitchen cleaned by himself and not that fast, so he called up three of the cleaning staff. They were fast and effecient and he apologized, okay? 

"Don’t worry, Mr Stark, you pay more than any other person in the city - and this is what you pay us for." 

He still gave them each a hundred dollar tip because they went out of their way to help him and even took the clothes down to the washing center. Of course he knew that he didn’t do his laundry, and Pepper sure as hell didn’t, he just hadn’t known that there was a dry cleaner downstairs somewhere where they washed all their clothes. Wow. He really was out of touch with the real world sometimes. But when he looked at the kitchen that took the three nice ladies ten minutes to clean, he couldn’t bring himself to care. Hell; it would have taken him hours. At least. And it wouldn’t have been half as clean- so, whatever. 

He had just finished the dough for blueberry chocolate muffins when Peter came back into the kitchen, hugging Tony tightly. "I’m so sorry, Daddy. We didn’t mean to make a mess." 

"It’s okay, I’m not mad, baby. But next time you clean this up yourself, I don’t care how long it takes. Okay?" Well, Well, Well, if his new  middle name wasn’t hypocritical, then he didn’t know what was. 

"So we‘re not in trouble? Harley thinks you looked real mad." 

Had he looked mad? Maybe. But had he looked mad enough to scare Harley of all people? Or was Harley just beginning to second guess everything adults did? 

"No, you’re not in trouble. But we’re ordering dinner tonight when mom comes home because I sure as hell won’t cook, and if she gets mad at me I will blame it on you." Peter laughed and hugged Tony just a little tighter. "And the others are being picked up at seven, and I swear to god, I don’t want a weird tantrum like the last time Jarvis told you to come up." 

The first few days it had been great, the kids spent a few hours a day together, but they were all expected home for dinner. All of them had busy lives, so spending time with their kids was important - so dinner in their respective families was something like a rule. Sometimes all the boys were at Clint‘s place, while the girls were in Rhodey‘s flat. Sometimes they all visited Steve, sometimes they went to annoy the hell out of Tony. The one thing that didn’t differ was the fact that at seven sharp, everyone went home to their floor, Peter sometimes bringing Harley along, but by this point this boy was practically family. 

When the kids had somehow realized that Jarvis couldn’t make them do shit, they started hiding in staircases after having been sent home by whoever they had been staying with. Lila had gotten lost in a staircase, Cierra had ended up in some dark offices and without Jarvis alerting their Dads, those girls would have been lost in the tower. 

So, now, instead of just being able to send them home, the kids were either picked up or dropped off. It was absolutely ridiculous. They all lived in one damn building for fuck‘s sake. 

"It’s been two weeks." Peter mumbled and pushed back from Tony. "You can’t keep holding that against me." 

"No, it’s been two weeks since the time I was waiting for you upstairs, but do you really think your mom and I don’t talk? I know that you didn’t come up when Jarvis told you to." 

"Oh." 

The conversation is cut short when a few hungry monsters (because really, when they’re hungry, they’re not kids anymore, they get scary) run into the living room, dressed in some of Peter’s clothes. Tony snaps a quick picture and sends it into the tower groupchat, demanding thanks for getting bath time taken care of for everybody. He was a saint, wasn’t he? 

Pepper first made it home at half past seven, smiling sweetly and holding up multiple boxes of take out. "I met the guy in the lobby. Thought you were cooking tonight?" 

"But Harley was craving Eggrolls." Tony said with a shrug of his shoulders. 

"This is Greek food, Tony." 

"Yeah well, I was craving Gyros and I’m the dad so I get to make those decisions.“

A laugh bubbled out of Pepper, wrapping his heart up in something nice and cozy. 

"You’re a menace." 

"And you love me." He said lightly. 

"Yes." She smiled so softly that Tony almost had look away. "And there’s actually something I need to talk to you about." 

"That sounds serious, Mrs Stark." 

"It’s really not." She grinned, kissing him on her way to the cupboard to get some plates for the food. 

Before he could ask what it was about, Harley and Peter entered the living room to greet Pepper. And honestly: saved by the bell, because Tony had no desire to talk about some business shit or other on a perfectly relaxing Friday night, especially after the day he had had. 

If the school ever had a short day again? He didn’t give a fuck, Clint would keep him company,  he sure as hell wasn‘t doing that again. Unless.. he knew he would because that, apparently, was his life now. Hip, hip, hooray. Gone were the days of snorting coke, hot strippers and endless parties. 

And the worst thing? He wouldn’t trade it in for the world. Ugh, he was lame. Whatever. 

"Can Harley sleep over tonight?" 

"Yeah, can I? My.. my father says it’s okay." 

"Well, if he says it’s okay, it’s fine by me." 

"Neat, thank you!" 

Looking back later, Tony wondered how everything would have turned out if he had just checked in with Keener. 

He had his number, he could have called. But he trusted Harley to be honest about stuff like that and neither him nor Pepper thought anything by it. Maybe it showed how much they still had to learn about parent codes and do‘s and fucking don’ts, but for all that was holy - Tony just really didn’t question it. 

They were sitting on the couch when Keener showed up, Pepper tugged into Tony’s side, while the boys were lounging on pillows on the floor with popcorn between them. 

"Of course." He sneered and all of them just kind of jumped while Tony wondered why Jarvis hadn’t alerted their visitor - only to remember that he had muted him this morning when he’d told Tony that five cups of coffee were too much and he really didn’t need that kind of negativity in his life, thank you very much. 

"Is everything okay?" Pepper asked while sitting up, glancing at the clock on the mantel and Tony could feel her frowning without having to look at her. "Did something happen? It’s after eleven." 

"Yes." He spat. "So forgive me for wondering why my son isn’t at home on his own bed after eleven.“ 

Said son was glaring at his father, but not coming any closer. Tony couldn’t really blame him. 

"I didn’t know you’d be home." 

"What did you just say to me?“ Keener snapped and Harley sat up a little straighter. Tony really didn’t know what to think about this scenario - to be fair, if Peter just wasn’t home when he was supposed to be tugged into his bed .. well, Tony would make a scene too. But something about everything seemed a little off. 

"Well, you haven’t been home before midnight all week and you leave for work before I even get up for school, so sorry for thinking that you wouldn’t notice." 

"That’s not how this works." The man‘s face hardened, "and watch your god damn tone." 

Tony felt the need to sweep in but he still held himself back. He had no right- all parents were allowed to scold their kids; right? Even the ones who neglected their- and holy fuck. 

"What?“ Tony asked, his uneasiness bubbling over. "Are you saying you left your eight year old kid home alone late into the night?"

"I am saying that how I choose to raise my son is none of your business." Gone was the kind man Tony had had coffee with all those weeks ago, his cold face now matching his eyes. 

"Listen." Pepper said softly. "We don’t want to overstep-" 

"Then don’t!" 

"-but a child needs love and care and attention, not to mention that you need to provide childcare if you have to work, this is against the-" 

"I get it." He interrupted rudely, eyes like steel trained on Pepper. "You adopted a wuzz for a son that can’t go a day without crying about some shit, right? And that’s not an heir to your legacy, Stark. And it’s fucking you up inside that you screwed up, adopting a kid that will turn into some sort of cock sucking twink, right? So you want to have my son, too. Because he’d be the perfect kid and-"

"Enough!" Pepper shouted. "You are talking about a Child here, Mr Keener!"

Everything in Tony went still. It felt like it heart stopped beating, his blood stopped flowing and his eyes stopped seeing before all his senses rushed back to him. 

"When we adopted our son,“ Tony said slowly, voice quiet and deliberate, "I promised Pepper and I promised myself that I would be a better person for him because he deserves better. I swear to god, Keener, the only reason I haven’t called a suit right here to blast you through the window is that my kid is standing right fucking there and he deserves better. Because, you know, that’s what parents too. They don’t do the things they really, really want to do if it would harm their child." 

Pepper had moved from Tony’s side to Peter’s, whose big eyes were trained on his  best friend‘s father, his face a mix of fear and hurt. Harley‘s eyes were jumping between everyone in the room, landing on Tony again. Tony silently willed him to say something to defend Peter, but Harley stayed silent, eyes returning to his father.

"I think we should go home." 

"Yes." Tony agreed sadly. "I think it’s time you went home." 

Harley chewed on his lower lip, turning to Peter. "Bye.“ 

He walked the few steps towards the man by the door and Tony watched as he gripped Harley’s arm tightly and hauled him towards the elevator. When they rounded the corner, the unmistakable sound of a hand colliding with jeans could be heard; and Tony made a step towards the direction of the elevator  before stopping and turning around to look at Peter. He might really care for Harley, but right now.. Peter was silently sobbing in Pepper‘s arme, and whatever was going on outside of their penthouse- Peter always came first, and maybe that made him a shitty person, but it sure as hell didn’t make him a shitty parent. 

He walked over to the two with long strides, dropping to the floor. His knees groaning in protest while he mentally prepared himself to make damn sure his son didn’t even start questioning their love for him. 

Peter slept in their bed that night, cuddled tightly between both of his parents and his koala tugged under his head. "Can you please tell me again?“ he whispered, voice heavy with sleep. 

"We love you more than anything." Tony whispered back patiently. "Adopting you was the single best decision we ever made and we are so proud of you. You have no idea how happy you make us, Bubba.“ 

"And You’re not," a yawn interrupted Peter’s sentence, „embarrassed by me?" 

"Never have been, and never will be." Tony answered sadly, relieved that Pepper was already asleep. "And the Perfect heir to the company if you should ever want it. We would never make you follow in our footsteps, baby,  because we want you to be happy." 

"Am s‘happy." Peter whispered quietly, and Tony pressed a soft kiss to his son‘s head, listening at his breathing finally (finally!!!!) evened out and Pete fell into a slumber, just before the sun began rising outside. 

"Are you calling social services tomorrow?" Pepper asked quietly. 

"I thought you were asleep." Tony mumbled back, ignoring her question. 

"No. But he needed you a lot more than he needed me tonight and I am woman enough to admit that, so I gave the two of you space." 

"You, Mrs Stark," Tony said softly, "Are amazing. Have I ever told you that?" 

"And you, Mr Stark,“ Pepper replied even softer, "are an amazing father. Have I ever told you that?" 

He smiled and it was quiet for so long that Tony thought that Pepper had now fallen asleep for real before she spoke up. 

„Are you? Calling social services tomorrow?" 

He didn’t answer for a few seconds, his inner argument from earlier continuing. Keener has the right to reprimand his son, and if all he did was scold him and maybe even pop him once or twice, Tony wouldn’t even fault him. At least, not for that- even though he was still the biggest fucking idiot in the entire universe and he wanted to break every bone in his bone for hurting Peter. 

He wouldn’t, because he’d promised Peter and Pepper, but he’d mention it to Natasha in passing because that guy would at least end up with some slashed tires, hopefully a broken nose. (A thought that relaxed Tony to no end.) 

But if that’s how he spoke to an innocent child, if he became verbally abusive and left his kid to his own devices, was he really fit to be a father? Should he be allowed to take care of a kid? And fuck, what if when he got mad, he did more than just pop Harley? 

The report of the miscarriage Harley’s mother had suffered before she had run off entered Tony’s mind once more. 

"Yes." He said. "I’ll call them first thing tomorrow."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


When Tony called CPS he expected to see some kind of result immediately because, well, why the fuck not? It wasn’t just that he was used to people dropping everything and everyone to assist him of whatever he wanted or needed, it was also that the well-being of a child was at risk. 

Why people couldn’t see that, he had no idea. He had called and voiced his concerns but when he’d mentioned what he had said about Peter, they kind (not kind of, they did) seemed to think that Tony was plotting some kind of revenge because that man had offended him -which, to be fair, he had. No one should talk about a child like that. Not even Piers Morgan would drop that low, and that kind of meant something. 

So, yeah, he was mad. But he was also proud about not losing his cool, all things considered. And Pepper was really proud that he hadn’t lashed out and punched Keener, and she had made sure to show him just how proud in the shower that morning. And when Peter had been down at Clint's. Holy hell, even at work on Monday morning and if that experience didn’t make not punching someone completely worth it, he didn’t know what would. 

He’d promised Pepper to not do his thing - to not obsess over it and think over every possible situation and outcome to be prepared for whatever situation that could arise. Easier said than done, because that’s what his brain does, has done so ever since he could think; he’d outthink every situation. Because he’d promised Pepper, he didn’t act on it though. 

But still, he set Jarvis to call CPS multiple times a day so many times that they had threatened to block his number and HAD actually tried to block it, but come on. Jarvis couldn’t be blocked. (What could he say? He’d never really liked being ignored but he hoped nobody would tell Pepper, because he was afraid all the sex in crazy positions at weird times in amazing places would stop and wouldn’t that be the real tragedy of it all?)

Well, if Tony was one thing, it was thorough. Yay, him. 

"Dad?" Peter slowly creeped into his workshop, carefully waiting by the door for Tony to react. This place was completely off limits for Peter unless he was explicitly told he could come in, a rule Peter followed religiously. Maybe Tony was being a scared little idiot, but this place was dangerous. He wasn’t just saying that to keep Peter out. "Can I come in?" 

"Of course, bubba." Tony turned around to press a kiss to Peter’s hair once he jumped close enough to do so. "Did you just come home?“ 

"Yes, we got stuck in traffic on the way home and Happy almost cried because we took over an hour for two miles.“ Peter looked absolutely delighted about that, and Tony couldn’t blame him. He loved Happy like family (god, he was family and had been for many years) but seeing him suffer just a little was hilarious. "But he made me finish my homework on the way, so I thought maybe I could help you until dinner, down here? Mom is still working and I‘m bored." 

"Still no Harley?" Tony asked but Peter just looked down and pushed his chin out, so Tony didn’t need a verbal answer. It had been almost a week since the whole debacle last weekend and Peter and Harley weren’t talking. They both each had their own group of friends their age, but it was normal for them to at least speak, if not hang out. It made Tony’s heart hurt. "No Cooper?" 

"Can’t I just wanna spend time with my father?" Peter snapped and Tony just stared for a second at the unusual behavior. Peter was an angel most of the time and he was confused about how to handle this. 

"Of course you can, buddy." Tony said softly and tipped up Peter’s chin carefully with a finger. "It’s just that we had to drag you home so many evenings lately that I am surprised you came here out of your own free will. Thought I’d had to ground you to get you to be home before six. And now, look at the time! Five thirty! The day of all days has come! And here I was, thinking you forgot what I looked like. But no, my son wants to spend time with me! Wants to. Because I am awesome, the coolest, I am Iron Man. Hell, of course you would want to-" 

"Stop!“ Peter giggled softly and finally leaned into Tony’s side, melting into the man. "I am just tired after dance class and I missed you all day." 

"Missed you too. Your mom made me go to shareholders meeting and take a conference call because, apparently, she only speaks French and not German. Told her that she was a nervige alte Frau but apparently she understood that so it was all lies. Lies! My whole life is a lie! My relationship with my wife the biggest lie of them all! Built on lies!"

Peter just sighed and Tony wondered when he had become so accustomed to Tony’s dramatics. A shame. 

"You’re so extra." 

"And I might just have Pewdycake's You Tube deleted it you don’t stop verbally abusing your old man." 

Peter laughed softly. "That’s not even his name." 

"Doesn’t matter.“ 

"So you’re saying you aren‘t extra?“ 

Tony knew he was being ridiculous, but he could see Peter forgetting about his day and just .. coming home mentally, as well. He’d do anything to make Peter just relax a little. 

"No. In fact, extra should be my new middle name."

"I heard you tell Clint and Steve that your middle name should be good lover because you make Mom so happy." 

"Excuse me?" Tony spluttered, blinking multiple times before breaking into laughter that moved his whole body. "I’ll take you to the movies if you don’t tell your mom that I said that where you could hear!" 

Peter smiled his little angel smiling. "Sweet. I like getting rewarded for listening on other people’s conversations instead of being sent to my room." 

Tony threw his head back to laugh again. "You’re something else, you know that?“ He reached out to pull Peter closer and tickle him while Peter tried to move away while moving closer at the same time, giggling loudly. 

"Come on, now, my little devil. Why don’t we continue with your wagging dog robot? We have half an hour until dinner." 

"Or," Peter said with big eyes, "or I could maybe get a real one? Then I wouldn’t have to build one." 

"No, Bubba. We have had that conversation one time too many, now. We will not be getting a dog and that’s final." It was one thing Tony would never go back on. He didn’t like dogs, he had never wanted one and a penthouse in the middle of Manhattan wasn’t a place for a dog. Plus, Pepper was a cat person. 

"But wouldn’t a pet be nice?" 

"Maybe, yes. But you’re not asking for a pet, you always ask for a dog which neither your mom nor I want. You can get one for your own kids one day if you still want one then." 

"I will." Peter nodded and shot Tony a look. "I would never do that to my kids." 

Tony ruffled his hair, looking at Peter’s precise hand movements fondly. He’d known Peter was smart from the beginning, and he’d known he was diligent and hard-working ever since he started his new school, but it was incredible to see him show his potential more and more every day. Peter wasn’t just smart. He had an eye for things that Tony reminded him of himself sometimes. While Peter’s personality wasn’t anything like him, his brain seemed to be. It astounded him to no end. He would have loved Peter either way, but still. 

It was amazing to have something to share with him, even though Peter liked to spend time in the labs more than in the workshops. He loved chemistry, biology and physics just as much as Tony did, and they had tried multiple experiments in the labs but Pepper had told them to stay out of it since one of the burners exploded when they hadn’t been paying attention. Nothing had happened to them, but it could have, and Tony blamed himself for getting distracted, because something could have happened. And if something ever happened to Peter because of him? He’d never forget himself. 

So yeah, he hadn’t fought the lab break, even when Peter had been devastated. But, on the bright side: the four week lab grounding for the two of them, as Steve and Clint had annoyingly dubbed it, was over on Monday. 

"Boys." Pepper‘s voice rang out behind them and both of them jumped and turned to her and her stern face. "Jarvis told me you were still down here. It’s half eight, and it was your turn to make dinner." 

"Sorry, honey." Tony said sheepishly and pushing Peter in front of him. "Go hug your mom so she smiles. I don’t like when she looks at us like that." 

"Me neither." Peter whispered back and skipped to Pepper, throwing his arms around her middle. "Can we have Subway, mommy?" 

Pepper rolled her eyes. "Like father, like son. Just calling me honey and mommy won’t make me forget that I could be eating right now. I am starving. And I ordered Indian food before I came down, so come on.“ 

"With the cheesy naan?“ Peter squinted up at his mother and Tony’s heart just kind of jumped the way it always did when something like this happened. It was so normal for them, those little displays of affection, but still.. his heart became so full sometimes. 

"Yes. And Tandoori Chicken, I have been craving it all day." Pepper smiled, kissing Tony on the lips. "By the way, do we still have those chocolate truffles? I have had a long day and I need some.“ 

"I mean, I don’t know? You’re the only one who eats them." Tony said while threading their hands together, conversing evenly while walking towards the elevator, eyes following Peter who’d run ahead. "He is asking for a pet." 

"Pet or dog?" 

"Well, both." 

"Tony, I swear to god, if you promised him a dog and now I have to be the bad guy to break that promise I am going to divorce you." 

"I didn’t.“ He huffed. "I don’t want a mutt, either." 

"Clint’s getting a dog this weekend, he reserved a puppy from Rhodey‘s sister‘s litter." Pepper answered with a smile. "Laura told me when we had breakfast yesterday. She’s kind of upset because she’s pregnant and - god, don’t tell anyone, she hasn’t told Clint yet!" 

"I love that you’re so close. You needed a better friend than Karen and Bethany." Tony added before shuddering slightly. "Fake bitches, seriously. But can I just say- Two kids as wild as lions, a dog and a fucking baby? I don’t envy him one bit. God, can you imagine having a baby right now? I’d jump off the tower." 

"Well, aren‘t you just sweet?" Pepper asked with a tight smile. "Makes me feel the love when you talk like that." 

Turned out all he had to do to ruin the amazing sex life they’d been having recently was to talk like that. Ugh. Yay, him, once again. Pepper turned her back to him the second they were in bed and he knew exactly what that meant and he didn’t even try to touch her because a no didn’t have to be verbalized to be understood. Maybe he should hold some kind of consent talks to college students? That sounded like a money maker. 

He spent the next week trying to make it up to Pepper which was hard because it had been a joke. 

The best part of his week was coming down to their weekly team-family-dinner on the common floor only to listen to Natasha‘s story of how she’d accidentally ruined a date Keener had been on, running into them and pretending to be his girlfriend who found out he was cheating on her. 

Tony actually cried with laughter. 

Bruce smiled sheepishly and added that he’d called a friend who had a friend who was a head hunter at some big wallstreet firm who had offered Keener a job with the purpose to instantly take back the offer. 

Steve just shrugged. "I rang his doorbell and, you know, just kind of slapped him - not hard or anything, Laura, don’t look at me like that - but we had warned him." 

Had Tony ever mentioned that he really, really loved his friends? 

"Is that why Harley isn’t coming over anymore?" Lila wondered, looking up to Cap. "Because you hit him, Uncle Steve? We don’t hit people, you know. Not even Auntie Nat does, she said so herself." 

"Yeah well,“ Steve replied evenly, "maybe someone needs to teach Auntie Nat that we don’t lie to people either." 

They heard from CPS two weeks after his initial call. He came home from a team training that evening, to Pepper sitting in the livingroom by herself, room only lit by dimmed lights. 

"Pep? Have you been crying? What happened?" He dropped down beside her, pulling her closer protectively. 

"Why didn’t you answer your phone?" She asked, looking up at him carefully. "I tried to reach you. CPS called, they asked us to fill as emergency foster parents for Harley." 

"What? What happened?" 

"I don’t really know, but she said that they went over there yesterday afternoon for one of those surprise visits but Harley was home alone. The social worker waited with him until night time, and took him with him back to the offices. Apparently Keener didn’t notice Harley was gone until almost twentyfour hours after they’d taken him, so those neglect charges kind of .. yeah. They are dropping him off any minute now, they wanted to do that before the weekend." 

Tony just kind of.. sat there for a minute or two until he answered. "Where is Peter?" 

"His room. Finishing his homework." 

 Before Tony could react, Jarvis announced that Harley was on his way up with the social worker, the whole exchange and dropping him off took ten minutes. 

"Thank you for agreeing to this, it made the most sense. Harley spends so much of his time here, and with all of your paperwork in order - just thank you, especially since you were the one to push us into the right direction." 

Harley stiffened up and doesn’t talk until the man has left, turning his eyes to Tony. "What did he mean by that?" 

"Hm?"

"What did he mean by that? That you pushed them into the right direction? What did he mean?“ His voice got louder with each word. "Did you tell them to check on me and my father?" 

"Harley." Tony said carefully., he didn’t know what he had been expecting. But this wasn’t it. "You know we care about you. I was worried." 

"What the fuck is wrong with you?“ Harley shouted. "Why the hell would you do that? Do you know what you have done?"

 

Chapter Text


"I," Tony started, looking to Pepper a bit helplessly, "I mean.. what?" 

"Why in hell would you do that?" Harley yelled. 

"We just wanted to help."

"You can’t just decide that people need your help! You can’t just decide for me that I need to be saved because I don’t!“ Harley’s voice was shaking with anger and for the first time in a very long time, Tony had no idea what to do or say. "You might think that you’re this big and almighty hero and because you have money everyone needs to do what you want and say but all you are is an annoying and entitled old man." 

"Harley." Pepper said softly. "We were just trying to look out for you." 

"But I don’t need anybody looking out for me, why don’t you get that? I have been doing fine on my own in foster care before Peter came along, and then they found my father and I got to move in with him. Don’t you understand that? He is my father. And now I won’t see him again unless someone is supervising." 

"Harley, you’re not even nine yet, you can’t be home alone all the time." 

"But I can. I am not Peter, I don’t need bedtime stories and hugs and cuddling, I don’t even want that. I like being on my own and not having all those stupid rules to follow and people to answer to, my father and I were doing fucking fine!" 

"Harley." Tony said carefully, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say. 

"No! You don’t get to scold me for my language or how I am talking because you are not my fucking dad! And thanks to you, I won’t get to spend time with mine either, huh?" Harley paused and turned to glare at Pepper. "And you! Everyone thinks that you’re this perfect angel and everyone’s darling but you’re just as entitled as he is! You see something you like, and you get it, isn’t that right; Pepper Stark?" 

He turned back to Tony, eyes flashing. "Maybe everyone is forgetting what a fuck up you are, but I haven’t. You killed millions of people. You treated people like dirt and just a few months ago, you destroyed half the city. And you really think I want to stay here? You think all of this is better than my birth father? Are you out of your mind?“ 

"That’s enough.“ 

Everyone turned around to stare at Peter, who was standing there in the door, breathing shallow and cold eyes set on Harley, body tense. Tony had never seen him like that, and he wasn’t sure he liked it, even if it was to protect him and Pepper - and fuck, it wasn’t Peter’s Job to protect them in the first place.

"Those are my parents you’re talking to. I don’t care how angry you are, you don’t get to speak to them like that." 

"Peter, I..“ 

"No, whatever, Harley. I am not ashamed of liking them close. You don‘t need to like that for yourself, but what kind of friend are you to act like this right now? They have never been anything but welcoming and caring to you. They are just trying to help. Because you can say what you want, we all were here the last time your dad came over. Can you look at me and tell me you will miss him? That you even like him?" 

"Everything would have been fine.“ Harley said quietly, all fight leaving his body. "Everything would have been okay, if you all had stayed out of this. It would have been okay if I had never met you." 

Peter‘s eyes went big, brows furrowing with hurt. Tony could feel the betrayal radiating off of his son and he really hoped that this wouldn’t destroy the bond the two shared - fuck, they were as close as brothers. He knew they were only kids, but a bond like that- shouldn’t that be protected if possible? 

Tony shook his hand out softly, trying to gather his thoughts. "Harls. I know you’re mad at me now, but you’ve been part of this mess of a family for a while now, and we can figure this out, too, if that’s what you want. We can also call CPS first thing on Monday to find another placement for you, the ball is in your corner. You do have a say in this."

Harley looked up at Tony, brows furrowed. "I stay here and then what? You forgive me for everything I just said by the time the  baby comes and you send me on my merry way because you can’t deal with three kids? Because you can’t deal with me because I am not perfect like Pete? And if one has to go it sure as hell won’t be the boy you adopted or the child that’s biologically yours." 

"What,“ Tony asked, "are you talking about?" 

Harley turned towards Pepper; raising an eyebrow mockingly. "Still haven’t told him?" 

"Still haven’t told me what?" Tony was turning towards Pepper now, heart beating faster. "What haven’t you told me, Pepper?"

Pepper was looking at Harley with big eyes, eyes watering slowly but surely before she turned to Peter. "Why don’t you take Harley to your room?" 

"But I-" 

"That wasn’t actually a question." Pepper said sharply and Tony didn’t need to look at Peter to see that it would look utterly betrayed and hurt. "Take him to your room; or show him to the guest room next to yours if you don’t want to be with him right now, but go."

"Yes, ma‘am." Peter muttered and turned to leave, making his way towards the stairs, not  waiting to see if Harley followed. Tony wished he could just.. go with them. 

"Pepper." Tony said again, voice panicking slightly as soon as the boys had left the room. "What is he talking about?" 

"I meant to tell you forever ago." 

"Tell me what?" 

"Will you please stop freaking yelling at me?" Pepper bit back sharply and Tony just stared. He hadn’t even realized he’d raised his voice at all. "I am not your assistant anymore, I am your wife. You know what, don’t ever yell at your assistant either."

"Will you please stop ignoring my questions?" Tony snapped, completely ignoring Pepper‘s (very valid) argument. But he was panicking, he couldn’t stay calm, sue him.

"I’m pregnant.“ 

And fuck, if that wasn’t the last thing he wanted to hear. He’d known it was coming ever since Harley had mentioned it but fuck. Was it April fools? Couldn’t it please, pretty fucking please be an April fools joke?

"Please tell me you’re joking.“ Tony begged. "Pepper, please, this isn’t funny." 

"Yeah. It’s not." She answered. "This is why I didn’t want to tell you." 

"How long have you known?“ He didn’t know what he was feeling. Panic, definitely. Confusion, betrayal, hurt. Had he mentioned panic? Because he was feeling a lot of that. 

"Had a feeling for a while, and I took a pregnancy test two months ago. Harley saw the package and he kind of figured it out, I guess. I got it confirmed by a doctor two weeks later." 

"You’ve known for two months?" Now, betrayal was the main emotion Tony was feeling, boiling inside of his stomach and filling everything up like a wildfire. 

"Yes.“ 

"Why haven’t you said anything?" 

"Why? Fuck, Tony, I tried! I tried to talk to you so many times but you were so afraid that it might be about work that you dodged me every fucking time! You change channels when anyone talks about pregnancy or babies and you just told me last week that you‘d jump off the building if I got pregnant! Why, oh fucking why do you think I haven’t said anything?" Pepper was angry, now, too. Good. Anger Tony could deal with because he was feeling plenty of that, too. 

"Well, this is not a problem that would go away on it‘s own, Pepper! Ignoring it won’t make it go away!

"I didn’t want to make it go away, Anthony, this is not a problem! It’s our child. Ours.“ Her voice was shaking now. "I just wanted to enjoy the feeling and the happiness for a little while before it had to become like this. This is our baby, Tony, and as long as I didn’t tell you I could pretend you’d be happy about this." 

Ouch. "I need time.“ 

"Time to what? Decide if you’ll run out on us? Leave us?" Pepper was silently crying now, eyes desperate. It was quiet for a few moments and Tony went over every possible outcome in his head. Whatever he did and however he reacted would change their relationship for the rest of it’s course. He didn’t want that. He loved Pepper and Peter more than anything else in the world. 

"No, Pepper, no!" Tony whispered and walked over to her, dropping onto his knees. "No, no, no. I’m sorry. I know I suck and I know this isn’t the reaction you hoped for or deserved but I swear to god that there isn’t anything you could do or say that would make me want to walk out." 

"You don’t believe in god.“ Pepper whispered back, eyes firmly on their hands in her lap. 

"Fine. I swear on Burger King.“ 

"That’s a big promise.“ 

"Please look at me, honey." She looked up slightly, eyes finding his. "I’m sorry. I am just - I am terrified. I can’t raise a baby." 

"But you’re a great dad." Pepper pleaded. 

"But Peter came to us like this. Potty trained and with manners and a heart of gold. I can’t.. Pepper, I can’t. I don’t have the patience or the-"

"You can and you will." She said sternly, tears still falling. "You didn’t think that you could be a dad to Pete and now? You’re the absolute best. We will figure this out together, as a family."

"I never wanted kids." He said softly. 

"I know." 

"But I love Peter more than anything.“ 

"I know that, too." 

"Do you think I can love another one like that?" 

"I know you can, Tony." 

"Fucking fuck. A baby." He said slowly, placing his head in his wife’s lap practically purring when Pepper let her fingers trail through his hair.

"Yeah. Our baby." She mumbled. "Peter will have a Brother or a sister, the same age as Clint’s and Laura’s kid. And whenever we’re tired we can just drop him or her off downstairs, they won’t even notice."

"Holy fuck, Pepper." A laugh bubbled up, escaping his throat, he could totally get on board with having Clint as their personal babysitter. "Holy shit, we are going to have a baby.“ 

He jumped up, ignoring the protests his knees were screaming at him and pulled Pepper into a hug. "A fucking baby, Pepper, half you and half me. Can you tell it that I want a girl?" 

"That’s not how it works." Pepper giggled, letting Tony twirl her slightly. 

"Well, whatever. Can you imagine a little girl? Beautiful like me? With your brain? Unstoppable." 

Pepper just stared at him and threw her head back, laughing one of those laughs that warmed his whole body. "Yeah.“ she agreed, "beautiful like you. Hopefully also just as humble." 

He leaned forwards, pressing a kiss to her lips. "Holy fuck, a Baby.“ 

"Are you saying you’re happy?" Her question was carefully placed, expression hopeful. 

"I don’t know! I might be? I’m still angry and panicking but I am also feeling super light and excited and .. are those hormones? I think I am experiencing pregnancy hormones, Pepper! Oh god. Should we paint the nursery? Tomorrow? Holy fuck, I think I am hyperventilating. I think I need to sit down. We need to figure out what you can’t do anymore. Oh! No smoking, Pepper."

"I don’t smoke, Tony." She deadpanned. 

"Well, good, but don’t think about starting, either!" He said, only half joking. He had seen those pictures they used to deter women from smoking and drinking during pregnancy. "Oh. No alcohol either. No drugs! Don’t let me catch you with drugs." 

Pepper just rolled her eyes but dropped down beside Tony on the couch, letting herself be pulled into him carefully. 

"No coffee, right? Fuck, I love you, but I am not switching to decaf with you, I‘d rather get divorced." 

"Lovely." 

"No sushi! And you know, no more hot yoga. Can’t be good for the baby.“ 

"Yes, dad."

"We’re having a baby." 

"Yes." Pepper agreed softly. "We are."

"We should be more careful with sex positions, you know. Imagine our baby becoming traumatized before it’s birth because my dick nudged it’s head too many times." 

"Are you actually serious?" Pepper asked, turning to squint up at him. "I can’t tell if you’re joking, but that’s not funny. If you’re serious I am making you take a sex ed course, I swear." 

"Oh, courses." Tony said, ignoring Pepper completely - because honestly, he’d been kind of serious. Whatever. He wasn’t perfect. "We need to book some. How to change a diaper, what to do when our baby chokes, maybe a cooking class? You know, all the good stuff." 

He didn’t know how, but the longer he talked, the more the anger left his body, making room for the excitement any dad should be feeling. He felt so warm. 

"I am happy.“ 

"You are?" 

"I am. I didn’t even think that I‘d want this, ever, but fuck- the more I think about it, the more I do. And Peter will be the best big brother.“ 

"Yes." Pepper choked slightly. "Yes, he will." 

"You’ll get fat -"

"Lovely, again." Pepper said, slapping his arm harshly and - ow. 

"You didn‘t let me finish, shut up! I meant to say that you’ll get fat and hate me because naturally, it will be my fault and I promise to tell you how beautiful you are every single day. Because that’s our baby that’s going to ruin your body and that makes it so beautiful." 

"I know you are trying to be sweet, but you’re really not." Pepper deadpanned. "So just shut up." 

It was quiet for a few moments, before Tony started again. "Yeah, okay, I get your point. Sorry. Nothing is coming out right." 

"It’s okay, you know." Pepper turned her face and pressed a kiss to his chin. "I’m kind of glad you didn’t jump off the balcony. Would have been hard to raise two kids by myself." 

"Three." 

"Huh?“ Pepper asked and leaned back to look at him. 

"Three. It’s.. what about Harley? We can’t.. we can’t just give him back because I am freaking out or because it gets hard. He might go back to his father in a few months or whatever, but we can’t just.. we can’t give him back. That will fuck with his mind."

"Tony." Pepper said slowly. "Tony, I don’t think I have ever loved you as much as I love you right now.“ 

And then everything went kind of quick and suddenly she was in his lap and Tony prayed that Jarvis would keep the boys away from the living room because if they were to come in, it wouldn’t be a hypothetical baby being traumatized by it’s parents sex life.. it would be a very real situation. 

"I love you, I love you, I love you." He breathed into Pepper‘s neck when they were both catching their breath after. "Fuck, I love you." 

"Uh.“ Pepper breathed back. "Too.“ 

"Don’t fall asleep, woman. We need to shower and get dressed so we can talk to the boys. And you know.. dinner. And dessert. Or we’ll ignore the kids and I’ll lick whipped cream out of your-" 

"Okay." Pepper interrupted him. "That’s enough out of you for now, Mr Stark." 

She climbed off his lap and pulled him up, both of them stumbling slightly on their weak legs. God, he really liked his life sometimes. 

They were in front of Peter’s door twenty minutes later (it would have been longer because Pepper looked beautiful in the shower but he wasn’t twenty anymore and he needed some more time to regain his energy, fucking hell). 

Tony opened the door without knocking and felt like a jerk right as he did so. That wasn’t respectful of Peter’s privacy at all and he should probably be more than thankful that Peter was ten and not sixteen and the chances of walking in on him jerking off were still below zero. Fuck. He hoped that would never happen because he would probably cry and laugh and cry and traumatize all of them. 

"Hey love." Pepper said softly and walked towards Peter’s bed where he was sitting with his koala in his lap. "You okay?" 

"Yes." He said softly and smiled up at her before the smile dropped. "I am sorry for not listening earlier. I didn’t mean to make you mad, mom, I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful-" 

"You were not." She interrupted him. "I appreciate your apology but there really is no need, angel. I won’t apologize for snapping at you  because sometimes that’s just how it will be - but I wasn’t mad. "

He nodded slowly. "Was Harley right about That? Are you pregnant?“ 

Tony pulled a chair closer and sat down across from the two, looking on as Pepper took Peter’s hand. "Yes, I am. I am just starting my second trimester so if everything goes right, you’ll have a brother or a sister running around in six months. Okay, Well, they won’t be running but you know what I mean." 

Peter giggled before his face dropped into a frown again. "Will anything change?" 

"Everything will change, Petey.“ Tony said softly. "There will be a screaming little thing keeping us up and pooping all the time and we will be tired. But nothing will change the fact that we love you so fucking much ("Tony." Pepper sighed tiredly.) and you will always be our first born and nothing can change that. We won’t love you any less and I promise that we will still spend as much time as possible with you.“ 

"Yeah? Promise?" Peter‘s voice was small. "Harley said that you might want to give me back too, now that you will have a kid of your own." 

"That kid is lucky he’s been through so much already or I’d really kick his ass." Tony grumbled. "You are a kid of our own. It doesn’t mean that we love one of you more or less, but you’ll always be special because you showed me how much fun it is to be a dad." 

He pulled Peter into his lap, hugging him to his chest. "You know that I love you, Bub, and that will never change. And Harley just.. he is just in a difficult place right now. Don’t listen to him right now, yeah?" 

"Okay." Peter said and suddenly his mood picked up. "This is actually really cool, isn’t it, mom? You’re excited? Happy?" 

"Yes." Pepper smiled brightly. "Very happy." 

"I need to tell you something, though." Peter said and looked from Pepper to Tony, holding his dad’s eyes. 

"What is it? You can tell us anything." 

"It might make me a bad person." Peter whispered. "But I don’t want Harley to become a part of our family."

 

Chapter Text


"You want Harley to leave?" Tony asked  carefully. Disappointment in his son was  slowly overtaking him and he really needed to hear Peter’s reasoning behind it because - This didn’t sound like his kid at all. Peter had asked why Harley couldn’t just stay with them for months, he wouldn’t want Harley to not have a family just because the kid was struggling. Bad conscience was mingling with the disappointment, he had no right to be mad at his kid for communicating his feelings. 

"No. I mean, yes. I don’t know, Dad.“ Peter‘s lip was safely tugged between his teeth and he was biting it so harshly that Tony wondered if it would split open. "He used to be my best friend and now he hates me." 

"He doesn’t hate you.“ Tony said slowly. "He’s has it hard for nearly all of his life and I’ve not really helped, lately. So he’s mad at me, you know? He’s hurting and he’s angry, but not at you. Not really." 

"How do you know that?"

"Because I used to be the same. I was mad at Howard, but I made my mom suffer, too." Peter nodded and Tony shook his head softly to clear his thoughts. "Harley will be staying with us for now. I am not, in any way, saying that we will adopt him, hear me? But he needs a place to stay and we’ll give it to him because it’s the right thing to do.“ 

"So," Peter said slowly, considering, "you already decided?" 

"I decided that he’d have a place to stay here, yes. And I decided that long before I called social services on his dad, Peter." 

"Okay." Peter nodded. "Yeah, that sounds fair."

"How about food now?" Pepper asked and shot Tony a funny look that he couldn’t completely place. "It's getting awfully late and we need to eat."

Pepper had dragged Peter downstairs to order dinner and Tony found himself standing in front of Harley’s door by himself. He raised his hand slowly and knocked, before walking into the room after not receiving an answer.

"Leave me alone." Harley was pacing, fists balled at his sides. Tony was a little surprised to see that everything in the room was in place, Harley hadn’t smashed anything. He wondered if that was already a dick move - being surprised about shit like that. Whatever. 

"We’re about to order dinner, Harls." Tony said softly. "And Pepper and I would be really happy if you joined us."

Harley stopped his pacing and looked at Tony. "Will Peter be happy about it?" 

When Tony didn’t answer right away, sitting down on the bed in the room and shrugged his shoulders, Harley started pacing again. "You hurt his feelings today but I still think that he’d really like you there. Just, maybe without the attitude.“ 

"Well, the attitude is a part of me, Stark. Deal with it.“ Harley snapped, walking up and down infront of the windows faster and faster. "You can kick me out if you want but I ain’t going to change." 

"Good to know.“ Tony said lightly, eyes never leaving the kid. "It’s considerate of you to let me know. Appreciate it. The kindness.. I am seriously blown away by you! I don’t know what to do." 

Harley’s lips crawled up into a smirk before dropping it right away, glancing at Tony to see if he saw. Tony just shrugged his shoulder. 

The child (who was still acting like he was ten years older than he really was, fucking hell) sat down where he stood. "He was right, you know." 

"About what?" 

"I didn’t like him. And I won’t miss him, either. But he’s my dad, you know? I lost my mom and now my dad and everyone. And don’t say I still have you because it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same." 

"Not yet, no." 

"Huh?" 

"It’s not the same yet. But it might be one day. One day we might be a family, all of us." 

"How can you say that? After everything I said to you?" 

Tony shrugged, and waved his hands around. "Do you really think that that was the worst thing anyone has ever said to me? Kid, while it was rude - it didn’t even come close. Not in the slightest. I have a thick skin, and so does Pepper. It comes with the job and the media attention, you know? Don’t get me wrong, I‘m not pleased you did talk to us and Peter that way, but I understand. Lashing out sometimes seems like it’s the only thing that will help and fill that weird hole in your chest, where it feels like everything and everyone is trying to fuck up your life. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that not everyone is out to hurt me, and that I am not the only one struggling. You know what I mean? We all have our baggage, some just maybe carry heavier suitcases than others."

Harley stared for a couple of moments and then shook his head. "I mean.. yeah.. fuck. Stop going all Dr Phil on me. You don’t know me!" 

"Maybe not. But you really remind me of myself when I was your age." He considered that. "Actually you remind me of myself, period." 

"I do?" Harley looked at him with big eyes and for the first time that evening he looked like a kid who was about to celebrate his ninth birthday in a couple of weeks and not like an angry teenager.  "How about Peter?“ 

"No. Not really. I mean, of course we are rubbing off on each other and I love hearing him use phrases that I use and the way he raises his eyebrow sometimes because I do that, too. But you.. your snark and sass and the way you think and act. And don’t smile like that! It’s not just a compliment, you heathen. I mean, I am fucking awesome but you’re a kid and you shouldn’t be talking like me.. ever." 

"I am not smiling." Harley corrected Tony, furrowing his brows and all easiness disappearing from his face as he did. Tony almost sighed. The kid had looked so carefree for a moment. But suddenly his frown dropped and his face looked unsure. "So you didn’t come in to take me to the offices?" 

"Do you want me to take you there?"

"I don’t give a fuck." Harley said and looked at Tony, eyes squinting at him. "You can do whatever." 

"But do you want me to?" 

Harley was quiet for so long that Tony wondered if he was planning on answering but he waited. No matter what people said, he could be patient. Sometimes. Not often, but.. now and again. This was using up his patience for the rest of the year to be honest. 

"No." The voice was quiet, almost a whisper. "No, I, uh, I don’t. Want that, I mean. Not because I particularly like you." He added in thought. "But you’re rich which translates into getting the new PlayStation.“ 

Tony stared at him for a full thirty seconds before bursting into laughter. "Whatever, you gremlin. Let’s go eat before it’s time for bed." 

"I don’t do bedtimes." Harley snapped. 

"Well." Tony mused and pulled Harley off the floor to push him towards the door gently. "You do know. Besides, only kids who behave and do well in school get PlayStations." 

"This already sucks balls." Harley muttered and kicked a vase while walking past that tipped over and broke into multiple pieces. He didn’t even look sorry about it and Tony just tugged at the boy’s ear once, choosing to ignore it otherwise. Rome wasn’t built in a day, either. 

Getting Harley and Peter to bed was .. a challenge, to say it lightly. They still hadn’t made up and while Tony put Peter down, Pepper was taking care of Harley which had maybe not been the best of their ideas. 

While Tony seemed to always kind of know how to handle the kid (he really would like some credit, thank you very much) Harley wasn’t really into Pepper‘s motherly way of doing anything. Tony wondered if he would like it one day. Maybe he would, if he should stay with them. There weren’t many people who could withstand the natural charme of his wife. So he was worrying about how bedtime was going one room over while Peter was being all whiny. 

"One more chapter.“ Peter begged with an obnoxious whine while Tony tried to hear what was going on in the other room. "I just want to know what happens to Peter and Susan next, you know?“

"I already read one more chapter." Tony said and raised an eyebrow at Peter. "I know it’s the weekend but it’s late as hell and you need to sleep. Damn, I need to sleep, you little knucklehead."

"Can I sleep with you tonight?" He whined but Tony shook his head. First of all, their family therapist had said it was healthy and important for Peter to sleep in his own bed. And second of all, he just needed to hold Pepper as close as possible tonight. They had just found out they were having a baby! Or well - Pepper had known it for a while, but Tony had just found out. His thoughts wandered to pink onesies and little blue sweaters. They had missed out on everything with Peter and he couldn’t wait to get to live it all, now. Crazy how it went, a few hours ago he was panicking and now he was practically dreaming of Peter holding his baby sibling. 

"I need alone time with your mom tonight, bud. Believe it or not, we actually like to be romantic and lovey dovey once in a while." 

"Gross, dad." 

"You’re gross." Tony said and pressed a kiss to Peter’s forehead before walking towards the door. "Sleep tight, bub." 

When he finally made it to Pepper, she was looking at him without any emotion for a few seconds before furrowing her brows. "Harley hates me." 

"Why would you say that?" 

"I was in his room for two minutes before he kicked me out." Pepper said and let her head drop back against the headboard. "I am not used to-"

"Not used to people not liking you?" Tony teased. "Harley isn’t Peter. He needs time. He’s just been here for a few hours, Pep." 

"How long will he be staying?" Tony didn’t answer, so his wife pressed on. "Come on. Tell me what you’re thinking, we’re partners in all of this." 

"So not like when it was about taking in Peter?“ 

Pepper rolled her eyes, but nodded slowly. "Yeah, sure. I just want us.. need us to be on the same page with all of this." 

"I don’t know. But there is this weird feeling in my body that keeps telling me that taking in Harley is what  we’re supposed to be doing, you know?“ 

"We’d have three kids in a few months, Tony. One new born and at least one struggling kid. I just don’t know if that’s the smartest decision." 

"I know that." He said, careful not to snap. "And hell, I have only known about the Baby for a few hours, Pepper. But everything tells me that we need to do this. You know? You had the same feeling with Peter and you asked me to jump on board and you were right, he was everything. And now I just feel like we need to divide our everything into three pieces and.. fuck, Pepper. I just need you to trust me this time. Let’s just give it a try.“ 

"Tony." Pepper said, sounding more tired than she had in a long time. "I just want to make sure that you know that this won’t be like Peter, this will take a lot of work and he will need therapy and a hobby to get away from us and get his aggression out and we will need to work on all of the shitty things. It won’t just fall into place by itself." 

"But won’t it be worth it one day? All of it?" He asked and reached for her hand, letting his thumb glide over her knuckles. "I didn’t think I’d ever have any of this, you know? A wife. Kids. We should get a weekend house somewhere. Anywhere. Somewhere we can get a break when it’s supposed to be just us, someplace where we can drive out of the city to have a treehouse and maybe a pool. A fireplace for Christmas, and trees and flowers and chickens. And the boys can get dirtbikes and the baby will have a swingset."

"That sounds like it’s too good to be true, you know?" Pepper said with a soft smile on her lips, but Tony could tell that he was getting to her. "Who would have ever thought that it would ever be you to convince me to take in another kid?" 

"Nobody, ever." He said lightly, letting the feeling of winning surround all of him. "But it still happened." 

"Trial period."

"Yes, trial period.“ Tony said and kissed her nose. "But look what the last trial period brought us." 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


When Tony had said he was ready to put the work in, he had meant it. It was just that.. he hadn’t known what he was signing up for, apparently. Like, things were nowhere near as bad as they could be, he knew that, but it was.. weird. 

He had thought that the hardest part would just be getting Harley to accept them at all. Which was partly true, but it was more like Harley was testing boundaries and trying to ignore rules and telling them that he could do everything and anything by himself. Like homework (which Tony didn’t allow any longer after getting a call from Harley’s teacher saying he hadn’t done any of it in any of his subjects) or going to the cafeteria on the fiftieth floor (because that ended with Harley sneaking off to Central Park by himself).

He spent more time than he would care to admit saying "No, absolutely not." to things he never even thought about before like ordering poisonous fish on the internet that Harley wanted to learn to cook. Like.. what? 

At first it was also hard to remember just how different Peter and Harley were and how differently they needed to be handled. If Peter misbehaved it was more than enough to raise an eyebrow and seem disappointed for Peter to feel bad about it . To send him to his room left him crying for at least half an hour because he felt like he’d really been bad. Harley needed firmness instead of cuddling and it left him sulking more than anything else.

He also spent a lot of time putting band aids on knees and elbows after mishaps with skateboards and soothing upset stomachs because Harley wanted to prove that he really could drink five milkshakes at Burger King when he’d sneaked away from school during lunch with some friends (Tony had grounded him for the weekend because it hadn’t been the first disappearing act of Harley’s. That earned him a slammed door.)

Parenting Harley was picking your battles a lot of the time. And it was learning to accepting just how different the kids were.

Where Peter was calm, Harley was loud. Where Peter was careful, Harley was careless. Peter was hard working and earnest while Harley was lazy and tried to do as little work as possible. Pete was incredibly kind and selfless while Harley was a little more selfish and trying to see what he could get out of it while also being very protective.

"It’s easy." Peter had said one evening at the (mandatory) family dinner with a shrug and a smile. "I’m a mix of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw while Harley is Gryffindor and Slytherin." 

Harley had really liked the explanation and honestly, both Pepper and Tony thought there was no better way to explain those two than that. 

"He gave me a goodnight kiss." Pepper said while she dropped back down on the couch beside Tony, cuddling up to him. 

"He did?" Tony asked, because - nuhuh. After two weeks of Harley staying with them, they were nowhere near something as Harley asking for comfort like that. 

"Well, no, but I told him that I’m hormonal and I might cry if he didn’t let me give him some love." 

Tony laughed. "That sounds like blackmail and like.. kind of non consensual if you say it like that!" 

"Tony!" Pepper screeched and he laughed harder. "Ew! No! It wasn’t like that at all! It was sweet. He liked it, I swear!" 

"Sure he did.“ Tony hummed. 

"You are disgusting and I think you should sleep in the guestroom tonight." 

"Oh come on." He mumbled and pressed a kiss to her hair, pulling her over. "How do you like this changing table for the nursery? Or do you think the wood is too dark?“ 

"It’s black, so yes." 

"Black is badass." 

But then Pepper kissed him and pulled the StarkPad from him so she could climb into his lap and everything about changing tables dropped from his mind. It wasn’t his fault that he thought more with his dick than with his head if he had his wife on top of him, whatever. 

"So." Dr Roberts said while he looked between them all. "How are we all doing?“ 

"We’d be doing better if I wouldn’t be dragged here twice a fucking week." Harley said under his breath and Tony reached out to softly cuff him on the side of his head. "Well, that was uncalled for, Tony."

"Oh, sorry, my hand slipped." Tony said with a shrug and shot him a sweet smile, it’s not like it could have hurt the kid. His heart warmed a little when Harley smirked but when he opened his mouth he realized that nothing good could be coming from this.

"My hand slipped too yesterday." The boy said innocently. 

"What did you do?" 

"I was just looking. I didn’t mean to break it." Harley answered lightly, but his anxiousness wasn't completely hidden behind his facade. 

"Break what?" Tony questioned and turned his whole body to look at the boy, completely ignoring anyone else in the room. 

"The grandfather watch in your office at home. I just wanted to see how it was working, you know." He said quickly. "And you know you’re not allowed to get mad! This is supposed to be a safe place." 

"Actually, that relates to feelings." Dr Roberts said and Tony turned back towards the man. "The idea behind that was that all of you could communicate your frustrations and fears without it upsetting the family dynamic. So, Mr Keener, would you like to apologize to Mr Stark?" 

"I already did." 

"Actually you just explained that you didn’t mean to break it, not that you were sorry about it." Dr Roberts said with a raised eyebrow. "Owning up to your mistakes is a very good step into the right direction. But it’s also important to show that we are sorry." 

"Yeah, fine, whatever." Harley said and turned to Tony. "I’m sorry for going into your office after you told me not to and I am sorry that I broke that stupid clock. I could have fixed it if you had just come home five minutes later!" 

Tony opened his mouth to reply but Roberts interrupted him. "Do you want to tell Mr Keener what you‘re feeling, Mr Stark?" 

"Yes." He said through his teeth and turned back towards the kid. He could feel Pepper’s and Peter‘s eyes on them, but he ignored it. "I am thankful that you told me, buddy. I just wish that you would have told me right away, and I hope you both know that I wouldn’t chop your damn heads of for something like that. And I know you can fix it and you will as soon as we get home, and then it’s forgotten, alrighty?" 

"Perfect, Mr Stark." The guy said and shot a smile at Harley, too. "Good job, Mr Keener. I can see the improvement between this week and last week very clearly. So, as my last question for the day, how have you and Mr Stark junior been getting along?" 

"Good." Peter said and shrugged. "I mean we fight sometimes, but all brothers fight, right?" 

Tony couldn’t explain it, but something shifted in that moment and he could tell that he wasn’t the only one who felt it. Harley looked up from his hands with big eyes, Pepper seemed to freeze and Tony could feel his heart beat so clearly he thought he was maybe actually having a heart attack as his arc reactor whirled louder than ever before. 

"Yes." Harley coughed. "Uh, yes they do, right?" 

"Absolutely, Mr Keener." Dr Roberts said and smiled. 

"Actually," Tony said and leaned forward, eyes fixed on the man, "I’d really appreciate if you started using our first names." 

"Why? Explain your feelings about it." 

"It’s just.." He said and leaned back again. "We’re all a family and you calling Harley by a different last name than the rest of us separates us intentionally. There’s no need for that." 

For a second time in two minutes the time seemed to stand still as Tony felt all eyes in the room on him. 

"Very well." Dr Roberts said looking incredibly smug and Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that this is what the man had been waiting for the last few sessions. "You guys might not realize it but you have made incredible progress today. Our time is up for the afternoon and until next Monday, I want Harley to pick up a Hobby. Peter does dance and Harley also needs something to get away from everything a few times a week. Pepper, Tony, please stay for a second. Boys, you can go ahead and collect some treats at the front." 

"Yes?" Pepper said when the door closed behind the kids. 

"I think it would be great for Harley and Peter to have a joined chore of taking care of something. I have made the experience that kids that have experienced trauma can quite immensely profit of taking care of a pet." 

"Has Peter bribed you to say something?" Tony questioned but Dr Roberts just laughed. 

"Think about it, it might really help." 

Tony didn’t want a pet, but he knew they were probably going to get one if it helped Harley and that’s how he found himself with two fidgeting boys in the back of the car the following Friday. 

"I think have decided." Harley quipped. "I tried Kickboxing, Soccer, Basketball and Football  this week. And I think I really want to play soccer. There is just so much running and you feel good after and the rules just make sense." 

"Yeah." Tony coughed slightly and looked in the rearview mirror, heart speeding up at the fact that Harley had just shared that all by himfuckingself. It might be a weird thing to be excited about, but it was a huge milestone. "I think that sounds great, Harls.“ 

"I think so too.“ Peter agreed lightly. "And soccer practice is on the same days I have dance so we will be home to hang out at, like, the same time." 

"Really?" Harley asked lightly. "What a coincidence?" 

Tony glanced in the mirror again, eyes trained on the faint blush on the kid’s cheeks and he realized with a jolt that Harley had planned it like this. Fucking hell. Maybe this would all work out, after all. 

"Where are we going, Dad?" 

"The shelter." 

"The what?" 

"The shelter." Tony said with a sigh and drove into the parking area of that weird looking warehouse. "We are not getting a dog. The second you’re asking for one, we are going home without a pet." He parked the car and turned around. "Don’t test me on that." 

They didn’t test him on it and Tony wondered if there had been something saying I am dead fucking serious in his face because there must have been. 

The boys chattered excitedly all the way up the stairs and both went silent at the same time, Peter pressing into Tony’s side and even Harley stepped closer. He had never seen Harley shy before and it was cute. 

"How about a snake?" Peter said to Harley. "That could be cool." 

"I, Uhm, I actually don’t really like snakes. Or you know, spiders." 

"Oh, okay, cool." 

Tony let the conversation go on without interrupting. He’d have steered them away from any kind of reptile because Pepper would have killed them, but he was trying to let them make their own decision. 

"Bunnies? Guineapigs? Rats?“ Peter read from the sign on the wall. "Ferrets. Oh, they have turtles, too. And cats." 

"I.. can we look at the bunnies?" Harley said and Tony waved over one of the people working there. They were all lurking and staring anyways. 

"Of course, right this way." The girl said. She winked at Tony and he smiled politely. She was twenty years younger than him and would have been someone he went for just a few years back. Now, he could never imagine not being with Pepper. 

"Bunnies should be kept together at least two at a time. They get very lonely. Female bunnies tend to fight a lot more than a male and a female or a male and a male." 

"No surprise there." Tony mumbled and earned a glare, which, yeah. That had been sexist and he shot her an apologetic smile. 

"Bunnies will need attention, but they can also be trained. They like their cages neat and clean like us so they will most likely like to pee into a little toilet area. They can’t always control their poo the same way, but as it dries it can be picked up easily." 

"Won’t bunnies make us seem lame?" Harley asked Tony with a frown. 

"First of all, bunnies are cool. Remember Bambi? Those rabbits were the shit. And if you guys really want bunnies but don’t want to tell anyone about it, that’s fine too.“ 

"You think they are cool?"

"Hell yeah." Tony said and winked at his kids.

"I’ve always wanted a bunny."

Both Peter and Harley seemed unsure while they walked past the cages, but suddenly they both stopped in front of a rather small cage with two bunnies inside that seemed to cuddle with each other a lot like cats did in those weird and funny videos. 

"The white and black one is Zack, and the brown one is Cody." The girl supplied with a smile. "They are two years old and have only been here for two weeks. They were incredibly loved, but the girl they belonged to moved to Germany and couldn’t take them with her. They are brothers and very close." 

Tony didn’t need to look at Harley and Peter to know that they had decided. He also didn’t need to ask them to know that they had made the decision after hearing that those two were brothers. 

Their weekend turned into a whole "cage building fiesta“ project. 

All the rooms upstairs were bedrooms, and Tony was not planning on having those fluffy monsters up there. 

"You can choose." Tony said. "We can either build them a cage for the terrace or transfer the small room at the other side of the kitchen into a bunny area. 

"It gets really cold in the winter." Harley had said and it had been decided just like that. He really was going soft. 

The room really wasn’t big, maybe 150 square feet, but it had a lot of potential. They had brainstormed as a family, Pepper and Tony on the couch and the boys on the floor with the bunnies hopping between them. 

"Could we build a box outside the window where they could hop into if they wanted, so they could look out and enjoy the sun? It could have a slide all the way to Central Park and they could run around the grass before coming back home." 

Harley just stared at Peter before snorting. 

They painted the room the same evening so it could start to air out overnight. Pepper painted trees onto the wall while Peter carefully painted flowers. Harley and Tony both had paintrollers in their arms and did their best at painting the ceiling blue. It actually looked pretty good when they were done. 

"Can we have ice cream before bed?" Peter asked and looked nervously at Pepper. While she was soft and loving, sugar wasn’t something she was a big fan of. 

"Oh!" She said and rubbed her stomach. "Yeah, that’s a great idea." 

"It is?" Peter asked. "Can you get pregnant more often?“ 

Tony laughed and pulled Pepper out of the room and down the hall towards the kitchen. He was kind of worried that she had spent too much time in the room with the damn paint, but she seemed fine. He laughed even more when he heard Harley tell Peter that they needed to have sex in order to get pregnant which, apparently, was quite gross.

"We’re out of Ice cream." Peter screeched when they entered. "How? We always have ice cream!" 

Tony glanced at Harley, because it seemed like the boy to finish all of it in the dead of the night. "I bought three tubs on Monday." He said lightly. He didn’t need to accuse anyone of anything. Finished ice cream wasn’t the end of the world. Even if it was three tubs. Whatever. 

"Shoot." Pepper sighed. "I am sorry. I just wake up in the middle of the night and have the biggest craving for ice cream and I forgot to buy more." 

They all turned to her and were just quiet for a second before all breaking into fits of laughter, and it seemed hard to stop once they had started. 

"Jarvis." Tony wheezed after five minutes of almost choking. "Find a place that delivers ice cream and get some sundaes here pronto.“ 

He sent the boys into the shower and to change into pjs so they would at least almost be ready for bed. 

They were just saying goodnight to the bunnies in the small metal cage when the ice cream was delivered. 

"Damn." Harley mumbled. "Being rich is sick."

By Sunday afternoon the room was done and just about perfect. Tony had outdone himself if he could say so himself. They had laid out the room with wood and old carpets to lounge on, they had build some kind of sand area where they could lounge and dig if they wanted, Harley and him had built three wooden houses where they could hide if they wanted and Pepper and Peter had transferred a cat litterbox  into a perfect toilet for rabbits. 

Tony was especially proud of the small mini lake they had installed in one corner. It wasn’t deep, but it looked cool as fuck and was self cleaning which meant that the animals could drink out of it. 

They had also built some kind of maze in the other corner where the pets could explore. 

They sat the boys down for a talk before showing Zack and Cody their new home.

"They are your responsibility." Pepper said seriously. "You will feed them before school and before we eat dinner. You will make sure their toilet is clean and that they have entertainment. You will do it together but you will also respect each other. You each have your own bunny, so Pete; if Harley tells you he doesn’t want your friends to pick Zack up, you accept that. And the other way around, Harley, you won’t just hand off Cody." 

"Yes." They both agreed and nodded earnestly and Tony wondered if they would lose interest in the pets eventually. 

"I want a promise." Harley suddenly added and sat up. "They are ours and we need to take care of them so you can’t use them as punishment." 

"Come again?" Pepper said, not seeming sure what Harley meant. 

"Well if I get in trouble and I am grounded or something stupid, you can’t say that I am not allowed to see Zack." 

Tony smirked. "Fine. But if one of you is sick, the other does the chores by himself and the sick one stays in his bed and doesn’t sneak down." 

"Deal." Harley said and held his hand out to shake first Tony’s and then Pepper’s. "Can we get them out of that stupid metal cage now? They wanna run and play and explore."

"Sure, go ahead." Tony smiled and relaxed into the couch. It was a little crazy how well the weekend had gone. If he’d known that Harley would go up in taking care of a pet he would have bought him one three weeks ago. 

"We’re good bunny grandparents." Pepper whispered into his ear when Peter and Harley carried their rabbits into the room and set them on the floor. 

"I think we’re doing alright at the parenting thing, too." Tony said and pulled his wife into his chest, his hand resting lightly on her stomach. They would do okay. Everything would be okay. 

But of course it couldn’t go that smooth sailing for long and a week later, four weeks after Harley had moved in with them, Tony found himself completely at the end of his wit for the first time since taking in Peter and becoming a parent.

The worst part about it? It wasn’t even Harley’s fault that the two of them got in trouble. It was Peter’s one hundred percent. Or like, at least ninety percent. Harley should have some common sense after all. 

Peter had been told to stay away from Bruce’s lab on multiple occasions. A lot of things in Tony’s workshop could potentially be dangerous, but he’d been taking the boys along more and more. They were both incredibly gifted and were holding their own in there like they were much, much older. He didn’t even have to worry about them going in there by themselves because they were never home alone. They were very, very responsible. So, Harley couldn’t really have known that Peter (and all the other kids in the building) were absolutely forbidden from entering. 

But Bruce’s lab? A lot of things in there were toxic. Radioactive. Explosive. There were a million reasons why that room wasn’t only soundproof but also secured against gases escaping and explosions rocking the whole building. There were fucking reasons that the doors didn’t just open without a crazy passcode. And there were even more reasons why no one but Bruce, him and Grant had those codes. 

He couldn’t even begin to fanthom where Peter got those codes from. So when Jarvis spoke up to him and interrupted a meeting with Fury, Hill and some of the other Avengers, he thought he heard wrong. 

"I am sorry to interrupt, boss, but I feel the need to alert you of your kids‘ whereabouts." 

Not only had Tony gotten in trouble for leaving the meeting without looking back or thinking twice about it, he’d also yelled at both kids for ten minutes straight about their carelessness before sending them to their respective rooms and then knocking his head into the wall just to see if he was dreaming. 

Nothing had happened to them. Thanks to Jarvis, he’d been there three or four minutes after they had entered to "see where the hulk worked." Like, seriously? Didn’t they have working brains?

It was the middle of the night when Tony woke up to Jarvis telling him he should check on his kids, once again. He really wished Pepper would get back from San Diego already because it seemed like he was going nuts. 

"Well, J, where are they? With the bunnies? I swear to god, if they are back in Bruce’s lab, I am going to lose it." He mumbled while pulling on sweats. 

"They are actually on the terrace of your party floor, boss."

"It’s freezing out there." Tony bit out, already jogging towards the elevators. Not only was it two in the fucking morning, it probably also was two fucking degrees outside. He was going to kill them both. 

When he entered the floor, he could hear their voices. 

"This is stupid, Peter! I believe that you can but let’s just fucking go back to bed before we get caught or you fall down and fucking die! You are supposed to be the reasonable one!" 

"Stop whining and let go of my leg." Peter shot back and then Tony saw them, right there by the fence and he thought his heart about stopped beating and everything froze. 

It looked like Peter was trying to climb the fence to .. yeah, to what? Sit down? Jump? Just climb for fun? 

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" Tony said, absolutely flabbergasted after he’d made sure that Peter wouldn’t tip over the fucking fence after being shocked by Tony being there. He watched Peter jump down from the wood, turning around to stare at him with big eyes. "Are you trying to kill yourself today? Is that the damn goal here?" 

"I was just.. I wanted to.. just see if I dared to..I didn’t mean to.. I mean.." Peter babbled and for the first time ever Tony could feel himself lose his patience with his son. This afternoon he had been angry at Peter for disobeying and dragging Harley along, but this, now? Anger didn’t even come close. He wasn’t just angry, he was fucking terrified. 

Peter took a deep breath. "Camri from my English class took a picture like this at her Grandpa’s penthouse and I really wanted to have one like that because I know she’d like it, you know?"

"This was about a girl? You risked falling down over a zillion floors onto the pavement just to impress a fucking girl?"

Tony moved before he could stop himself and grabbed Peter by the arm to pull him closer and smacked him hard across his backside. His son would have probably stumbled a few steps if Tony wasn’t holding his arm, he turned him around and shook him as lightly as he could make himself. 

"Have you lost all of your senses?“ he started, dragging Peter along with him. "Harley, move it, we're going upstairs. Now." 

Harley trailed along, glancing between Peter and Tony. Tony didn’t look at Peter until they made it back to the penthouse. "To your room, I’ll be there in a minute." 

Peter pulled himself free from his grasp and it took everything in Tony to not follow him right then and deliver a few more pops because fucking hell he could have fucking died. 

"And you." He rounded on Harley who squared his chin. "You never should have gone along with this, but I am glad you did." 

"I.. what?" 

"Peter is very sweet and careful and reasonable but he has his days, you know? Has had them ever since we’ve known him. He’s an angel 30 days of the month, and then one day he might just think that it’s time to just try something crazy and it never ends well. Never. So, I am glad that you were there and held him back. You probably saved him, hm? Who knows.“ Tony sighed and reached out to place his hand on the side of Harley's face softly. "At least when you’re doing stupid shit, you’re not that stupid." 

Harley giggled softly before leaning into Tony and before he knew it, they were hugging. A real hug. A close hug and it felt like neither of them was ready to let go and they stayed like that for so long that Tony just reached down and picked Harley up and carried him back to bed. Everything about this moment was so peaceful, no matter how they had gotten there in the first place.

"So you’re not mad at me?" Harley asked when Tony put him down on his bed and pulled the covers over him. 

"Nah, I don’t think so. Can I sleep on it?" He jokes and was rewarded with one of Harley’s smirks.

"Sure. Let me know tomorrow." He yawned and closed his eyes and Tony would swear that he leaned into him when Tony pressed a kiss to the boy’s forehead. 

"Sleep tight, Harls.“ 

The whole talk with Peter was a little less .. cozy.

All the anger that had left Tony’s body appeared again when he walked in to find Peter glaring at him. "You didn’t need to spank me in front of Harley." 

"And you didn’t need to climb a fence on a terrace on the 85th floor in the middle of the night, but here we are." He replied sarcastically. 

"Fine. I am sorry. Happy?“ 

"Drop the attitude." Tony said calmly. "You scared the shit out of me. You know what that would do to me? Losing you? Over something so incredibly stupid? What it would do to Pepper? To Harley? Jesus Christ. If you wanted to have a picture like that I could have photoshopped it for you. Hell, I could have had a few suits flying around so you couldn’t have fallen more that a feet before being caught." 

"Oh." Peter said softly. "Yeah, okay. I am sorry." 

"I know." Tony walked over and pulled Peter into his chest. "I am sorry for losing my cool." 

"It really hurt.“ Peter confessed with squinted eyes. "Like, a lot." 

"Good," Tony smiled. "I meant it to."

He tugged Peter in the same way he had Harley just moments before, pressing a kiss to his forehead. 

"Dad?" 

"Mh?“ He turned around at the door, looking back to Peter. 

"Can we do that tomorrow? Take the picture with the suits?" 

"No, but you can do something much better." 

"Really? What?" 

"Tomorrow when your mom gets home, you can explain to her why you’re grounded for the next week." 

 

Chapter Text


Tony didn’t actually find out if Peter told Pepper about his grounding - or if he even stuck to it at all. 

Jarvis woke him at the crack of ass o'clock in the fucking morning because they had spontaneously been called to some idiotic conference in Arizona. According to Hill, they’d be back by noon, so he just wrote Pepper a quick note, saying he’d be back soon and pressed a quick kiss to her nose. He wished he would have woken up when she got home, but she’d been quiet. Or he had actually slept deeper that he thought he did. Maybe finding your kid on the verge of falling of a fucking building was exhausting in more ways than one. 

He didn’t even bother to say goodbye to the boys, because why would he? He’d be gone for six hours. They’d hardly even notice he was gone - or, after his little freak out aka almost heart attack last night, maybe they’d welcome having him gone for a few moments. He probably would have if it would have been a Howard situation. But then, Peter wasn’t him and he sure as hell wasn't Howard - and Peter was the one who got in trouble and whenever he got in trouble he wanted to be close and be reassured and held. Jesus fucking Christ, how was it possible to feel so much love when thinking about a child in trouble? Shouldn’t he be mad and feel anger? But then.. he’d never really been angry in the first place.

He’d planned on being gone for six god damn hours. He had definitely not planned on being gone for six weeks. He’d planned to be right there with Harley on his first birthday with them, he’d planned on filming him opening the stupid PlayStation they had bought him. He’d wanted to be there for the bedtimes and the dinners and the weekends in the Hamptons and the homework supervising and the hugs and fights and all of it. He‘d wanted to be there for Pepper's doctor appointments and painting the nursery. 

He had been supposed to be there. He had wanted to be there. But the conference turned into a mission in Montenegro which had turned into spending six weeks two hundred feet below the earth training and plotting and working their asses off to find a way to outsmart an incredibly smart family from Italy who had developed a poison that would be able to kill millions in mere minutes. Tony and Bruce had, in the end, developed an antidote that could be pumped into the air to null the poison while Clint, Nat and Steve worked hard to get them whatever they needed, to keep them safe, and to spy on those fuckers' next moves, all from the place they had locked themselves in to stay below any kind of radar. 

They had worked well as a team. They had trusted each other and with only the other four as company and no way to reach their loved ones at home, they had grown close in a way Tony had thought impossible. 

They had been incredibly proud, exhausted and happy to get out of there. Until they received a call from Nick Fury himself, congratulating them on a training exercise well done and a test passed.

So all of that, all of the missed moments at home and hours and hours of missed sleep, of never seeing the sun, of eating canned tomatoes and sardines.. turned out to have been a fake fucking training exercise. All of that for nothing.

"So you are telling me," Tony bit, "that this was never a mission? It was just to see how we’d work together if there was a mission? Is that what you are saying?" 

"That is absolutely what I am saying, are you deaf? Why are you asking that again?" Fury asked with a frown. "Am I working with idiots? Look, just be proud and take the compliments, you fuckers. Seriously, why question me?"

"Maybe because we are pissed?" Clint asked with a shaky voice. "We have kids, Fury. Kids. Pregnant wives. It’s one thing to be away from that to save people, it’s a whole other thing that we had to that for six weeks without being able to contact them just because." 

"Did you know about this?" Tony rounded on Steve. "Did you? And not tell us?" 

"No! I would have never done that to you!“ Steve promised, voice urgent. "I swear! We don’t keep secrets from each other.“ 

Tony knew he was telling the truth. And the firm line in Bruce’s frown and pursed lips in Nat's mouth told him that they hadn’t known either. He didn’t know if that made it better (he trusted them) or worse (how come none of them had ever questioned what they had been told? Were they all idiots??!)

"This is bullshit.“ Tony snapped and pushed the hair out of his forehead. "I can’t believe Pep didn’t tell me." 

"Well, she didn’t know. So she couldn’t have. It had to be authentic." 

"Well, how did they react when you told them?" Clint’s frown was getting deeper, but it seemed like he tried to push that aside in favor of finding out more about his family. Tony really could feel him. He missed his own so much it hurt. 

"We haven’t yet." Fury said. 

Everyone in the jet stopped moving, it seemed like they all stopped breathing as well. 

"What?" Tony asked, looking from Clint to Steve and back to Clint before his eyes found the hologram again.

"Are you fucking with us?“ Clint questioned and turned. "Are you actually fucking with us?“ 

"I am not." Fury snapped. "Since when do I do that? You land in fifteen minutes and you will be able to tell them yourself." 

"Fuck you." Clint spat and jumped out of his chair, actually taking a step towards the projection and Tony wondered if they’d have had to hold him back if Fury would have been there on the jet in person and not only on a screen. "Fuck this and fuck you." 

"Amen, brother." Tony agreed. "Nat, I’ll give you fifty k if you log out of the call now." 

"Agent Romanov," Fury warmes, "We are not done with this conversation, we still need to talk about days fourteen through-"

"Nice." She laughed, disconnecting the call. "I love easy money." 

"I'll have Jarvis Venmo you as soon as I have him running again, you know I’m good for the money." He winked at her, a lame attempt at a joke, and let his head drop against the headrest. "Fucking hell. Pepper is going to kill me for not contacting them and now it wasn’t even worth it." 

"I will sleep on the couch for the next month." Clint groaned. "I swear to god, she told me that she wouldn’t be so forgiving after the last mission. I promised I’d never do that to her again." 

"When did we become each other’s therapists?" Nat mused and winked at Steve. 

"Shut up." Tony rolled his eyes at her. "Just because your boo is on this plane and therefore can’t get mad at you."

"You told them?" Steve asked. "Nat!"

"No. But I guess you just did." She quipped. "You moron." 

"I was actually kind of thinking Bruce.“ Tony said to Clint and shrugged his shoulders. "Huh.“ 

"Me?“ Bruce questioned from the side. "You do realize that I am dating someone, right? And that that someone is a man?" 

Tony leaned back, letting the information wash over himself. "Wow. I am really losing my touch. Did you guys know about that? Why did I not know about any of this? Do you not trust me?"

"You just never asked." Bruce smiled. "I’ll happily tell you all about it another time, but we’re about to land and I think you'd rather get home." 

"This day has gotten weirder and weirder. I can’t even be mad about any of this any longer, what the actual fuck is going on. Is there a hidden camera somewhere?" 

"That’s how I always feel being in the 21st century." Steve muttered and Tony saw Nat reach out her little finger and trace his cuffs slowly and  carefully, a hidden movement in the busyness of whatever shitshow was going on. Even though he was still angry, he also could not believe how much closer he’d gotten to the teammates that he’d already been calling family for months.

"When did this become my life?" He muttered to Clint. "I used to be Tony fucking Stark. Everyone wanted to be me. Or be friends with me. Or date me. And now.. this."

"Don’t let this get to your head,“ Clint replied softly, "but people still want to be you. Or be friends with you, or date you. You’re still Tony fucking Stark, just as a grown up." 

"You think so?" He didn’t know why he needed to hear that right then, it’s not like he cared. He liked his life, and his weird friends (who, honestly, were real friends and not like the people he used to hang out with at parties) and his family. He wouldn’t change any of it - but still, it was nice hearing that people still liked him. Maybe they liked him for him now, and not just for his money and the fact that he could snort more cocaine than Mike Tyson. 

"Dude, fuck off, I am not telling you again." 

And just like that the moment ended and Tony threw his water bottle at Clint’s head. 

Tony wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he was scared of coming home. He wasn’t scared of Pepper or her reaction, she‘d understand. He was scared of what he would come home to. 

What if Harley had been too much? What if Pepper had given up and sent Harls away? What if something had happened between them? What if Harley liked Pepper better than him? What if Peter hated him for how he had reacted to his stupid stunt on the balcony? He wouldn’t have reacted differently if he could turn back time, seriously, he wasn’t raising an idiot without common sense. He’d maybe not let Peter watch any more YouTube challenges of people climbing on buildings and.. it was just weird. Weird being away for so long, weird coming home. 

"It gets easier." Clint mumbled and Tony didn’t realize that he’d spoken to him at first. 

"Hm?" 

"It gets easier. Being gone and coming back. You get used to it."

"What if I don’t want it to get easier?" 

"Doesn’t matter what you want, Stark. That’s not how this works, it doesn’t matter if you hate being away from your family. Because you will hate staying home too, you won’t be able to rest knowing we are gone. You won’t be able to sit at home knowing you could have done something to help and not do it. People might think that you’re selfish, but you’re not. You could never sit out while others put themselves in danger." 

Tony couldn’t do anything but stare at Nat. He hadn’t known she thought so highly of him. The saving grace was not having to reply because Steve started shuffling them off the plane, and by the time they were done with whatever needed signing it was after seven.

He didn’t know if he wanted to come home while the boys were still awake or not. What the fuck was going on? He shouldn’t be afraid. Those were his kids for fuck's sake. But still.. he couldn’t help but be nervous about the fact that they might have been enjoying their time without him. What if that was the case? What if they’d resent him for coming back? 

"Stop worrying." Clint whispered before the elevator stopped on his floor. "I can hear you thinking. Just... stop being so paranoid." 

And then he was gone and alone with his thoughts. 

When the elevator opened and he stepped out into the hallway, it turned out he needn’t have worried about being welcome home. By the time he was in the living room, Pepper was in his arms. "Oh, God, how I’ve missed you." 

"I missed you more." She whispered, pulling back to look at him with those blazing eyes of hers. "We didn’t know you were coming home today! The kids are still downstairs at Rhodey’s- he’s here for the weekend - oh, Jarvis, tell the boys to come up! They are late anyways. Oh my god, Tony, it’s so good to have you back. Oh god, oh hell, oh I love you."  

It was him who pulled from their kiss first, because there was something touching his stomach in a way that hadn’t been nearly as prominent just a month and a half ago. "Oh my god, Pepper, you’ve gotten fat!" 

"Why, thanks Tony." She deadpanned and leveled him with one of her looks. 

"Okay." He mused, reaching out a hand to the bump that had grown so much. "That came out wrong! Sorry, honey, but Jesus- look at you! That’s our baby in there! Get as fat as you want, you know I’ll still love you then." 

"I know you are trying to be sweet, but maybe just don’t." 

"You’re beautiful." He whispered softly, hand trailing the firm skin below her flowy shirt. "You’re incredibly beautiful. Oh fucking hell, look at you! I can’t believe this. You’re the most beautiful you have ever been- oh fuck, what the hell was that!!?“ 

"Oh." A smile, soft but big. "It’s kicking. Maybe it can feel his daddy just came home?“ 

"You calling me daddy sounds incredibly dirty, you know that?“ 

"For fuck's sake, Tony.."

Seeing Pepper again, having her jump into his arms after six weeks apart and getting to feel his baby kicking? He was pretty sure that nothing could compare to that.. but then the elevator door opened and he saw Peter and Harley and suddenly they were laughing and pushing each other and running towards him and all he could do was bend down to catch them both and it was just like everything was right in the world. 

"Oh my god, Dad!“ Peter squealed. "There you are! I am glad you’re back!!" 

"Yeah!“ Harley agreed, wriggling to get out of Tony’s arms so he could squint up at him. "But it was good you were gone because we missed you and Pepper felt bad about it so she booked a Disney Cruise for Memorial Day weekend and we are going with the Bartons and Rhodey and Cierra and you can’t back out anymore because she already promised." 

"Yeah!" Peter agreed, pressing his side into Tony’s once more. "And you missed Harley’s birthday so mom said you’d take us to see The Lion King, even though you hate musicals but she said you’d want to make up for being gone and Harls really wants to see it and I want to too and mom said it would make her and the baby incredibly happy.“ 

"Is that so?“ Tony glanced at Pepper who seemed to dare him to disagree. He really did hate musicals more than anything else in the world, but once look at Harley’s happy face and Peter’s excited one - he’d have to suck it up. 

"Yup." Harley said happily, dragging Tony towards the couch. "And now, can you, like, tell us everything? All of those fuckers at school won’t stop asking and now we can just tell them to shut their idiot mouths-" 

"Harley!" Tony looked between Pepper, who’d just snapped, and Harley, who looked more sheepish than Tony’d ever seen him. Apparently Pepper had started to work on Harley’s swearing when he was gone. "I don’t want you talking like that. You know how to-" 

"Yeah, yeah, I know, whatever.“ He muttered. 

"Don’t interrupt me." While Pepper didn’t raise her voice, she did raise her eyebrow, and all three of the boys knew that this was a move way scarier than any yelling. Tony hated when she raised one at him, and he knew the boys did too. 

"I’m sorry.“ He said quietly, a careful smile on his lips. "I swear I didn’t mean to, sorry. I won’t say fuckers no more.“ Tony laughed and Pepper groaned. "But, like, can you tell us stuff?" 

"Maybe tomorrow." He said with a shrug. "I want to hear what I have missed here.“ 

"Oh!“ Peter said quickly, jumping up and running out of the room to reappear a moment later. "We made you a vlog! It was Harley’s idea. We started after a couple of days when they told us it could be some time before you came home and Harley said you wouldn’t want to miss out on anything." 

"You.. you did?“ Tony had to blink a couple of times to get his eyes to focus. "That was incredibly considerate of you." 

He pulled Harley into his side while Peter leaned his back against his legs, Pepper robbing closer to drop her head into his lap. 

They had to pause the vlog at one point, just to pay the delivery guy with the Chinese food, but Tony had no appetite. All he could to was watch.

It looked like his family filmed only a few short minutes a day, or maybe the boys had done a great job editing it, he didn’t know. But for three hours, he watched all the things he’d missed. 

He watched Peter complain about being grounded when all he wanted was to go to dance class and to the park now that the weather was better. He watched the boys hear the baby’s heartbeat, he watched Harley blow out his candles on his cake, he saw the boy hold up an A he’d received on some assignment. Pepper was laughing whenever the camera was on her, but suddenly the camera showed the boys who’d fallen asleep on the couch before her voice could be heard, just a soft whisper in the dark, "come home soon, love, we need you." 

Tony’s heart ached. 

He watched a trip to the arcade, he saw them play with the bunnies, Peter cleaning up a mess in the lab when Pepper waltzes in, hands on her hips, and starts scolding him for breaking the rules. Harley can’t really keep in a giggle, so Pepper turns to see him standing there. It’s clear that he realizes he’s just landed himself in trouble when he mutters an oh shit and the recording stops. 

Tony couldn’t stop laughing about that for five minutes straight. 

He could also basically see Pepper's bump grow by the second just how he could see Harley’s hair grow longer and both boys grow taller. His heart ached even more, but in a good way. Maybe even the best way possible. 

"I can’t believe you made this for me." He whispered after it ended, eyes still glued on the now dark screen. Pepper had fallen asleep with Peter on the other end of the couch a few minutes before the finale of Harley teaching Peter how to stand on a skateboard. "It was perfect. How did I get so lucky?“ 

"Well." Harley said tiredly from his spot tugged into Tony’s side. "Don’t know. But we, you know, kind of, maybe missed you just a little bit." 

"Well. I, you know, kind of, maybe missed you just a little bit as well." 

"You did?" 

"No." 

"Oh." Harley mumbled. "That’s okay. I know you were incredibly busy." 

"I am just trying, and failing, to say that I didn’t just miss you a little bit, I missed you a whole hell of a lot. So much you wouldn’t believe me if I told you." 

"I think,“ Harley whispered, "I think I have an idea." 

"You do, hm?“ Tony asked back, holding the boy, his arms feeling like they were in a place they’d always missed and longed for. "Yes, maybe you do. Hey, Harley?“ 

"Mh?“ 

"Sorry I wasn’t there for your birthday. We really wanted to make it special." 

"It was special." He said, now sounding so close to sleep that Tony wondered how many seconds it would be before the kid would doze off on him. How was this the same boy that had been so angry just a few months ago? He was still crazy and careless, he’d seen it in the damn vlog, but still.. he seemed more at ease. Tony knew he’d hear about all the hard moments from Pepper, or in therapy, but still.. it seemed like a lot of steps into the right direction had been taken. 

"So it was special?" 

"Yeah, had cake n everything." Harley said back. "Blew out candles and made a wish." 

"Did it come true?" 

"Yeah.“ Harley whispered, breathing beginning to even out, "I think it might have."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


Tony hated his life. 

Of all the things Tony wanted to do, taking care of a sick human being wasn’t really on the top of his list. 

Taking care of two sick kids? Even less so. 

Taking care of two sick kids while Pepper stayed at a hotel to not catch any of their germs? About the last thing he wanted to be doing. But she was seven months pregnant, and .. they had decided that better safe than sorry was the motto to live by. 

Alas, Tony really hated his life right now. And he hated that his kids had the flu. How could he have forgotten to get their vaccinations checked? How, how, how? They had a fucking medical wing in the tower. Fucking hell. That wouldn’t happen again. Ever. He’d drag them downstairs once a month if he had to. 

It had started over night, both had been incredibly sleepy right after dinner and Peter woke up in the morning with a stuffy nose and a sore throat and Pepper had suspected a cold when Harley had started throwing up in the bathroom just an hour later. 

He’d called Cho up, who confirmed his worst fears. "It’s the flu and I’m afraid they’ll be out sick for two or three weeks. You’ll be fine, Tony, but Pepper should stay away from them. They’ll need fluids and as much sleep as they can get." 

"Wait." Tony said, panicking, "Are we not taking them down to the medical wing?" 

"No. They’ll want to be in their own home. It’s the flu, Tony, not Leukemia. You’re perfectly capable of taking care of your boys." 

"No, I’m not!" And he wasn’t lying, either. Peter had been sick with fever before, and Tony hadn’t been able to sleep for the three days it lasted. He’d been so worried that Peter would just not wake up from one of his feverdreams that he’d just sat by his side the whole time. Doing that for two kids at the same time, alone, for at least two weeks? He couldn’t.

But he had to. He had sucked it up, accepted all  the vitamins Cho had brought up and had Steve help push two twin size beds into the empty guestroom with the bathroom that had a shower, a tub and a small armchair that the boys could sit in while they brushed their teeth. 

So, for now, he was basically chained to the small room with the two beds, Harley sleeping on one side of the room and Peter on the other while Tony had tugged himself onto the couch by the window.

"Dad." Peter whimpered from the bed. "Daddy, needa bafroom.“ 

Carrying your kids to the bathroom everytime and holding them up so they could do their business without falling off the toilet? Also something Tony hadn’t ever thought he’d be doing. He’d also thought his boys were too old to need help taking baths and washing up, but he’d been proved wrong when Harley had thrown up all over himself and had gotten everything in his hair. 

The saving grace? The boys were way too out of it to be embarrassed about needing help. And they looked so young and helpless that it didn’t feel as wrong as Tony had feared it would. 

Still, when Cho had said that the worst was about behind them.. Tony had never felt more grateful. 

He knew all the statistics, of course, how many people died every year thanks to the flu, how many people suffered and what the  chances were of catching it. He’d just never.. had the flu. He’d been sick, he’d had bad colds and all that jazz. Broken bones, a parasite, shrapnel in all of his body - just never anything as normal as this. 

"Tony." Harley mumbled. "Tony I don’t feel so good." 

Tony knew what that meant because Harley said that sentence multiple times a day and he was on his legs before he could really think about it, holding the small bucket while he basically dragged Harley over the edge of the bed so he could throw up into it instead of all over himself. 

"There, buddy, all good." He whispered, his hand softly gliding over the boy's back before he made him wash out his mouth with water and spit that into the bucket, too. 

"Yuck, teeth?" Harley whispered. 

"Do you want to go to the bathroom and brush your teeth?" 

"Here?" 

"Sure, baby, give me a minute." Tony sighed and carried the bucket into the bathroom to wash it out and get it clean so it would be ready for the next time Harley needed to throw up the soup he’d eaten (yes, Tony was mad. It had taken two hours to feed Harley that bowl, sue him) and walked back with the toothbrush for his son. 

He had no idea if he was doing this right. He had no idea if he made them shower too often or too little, if they should even brush their teeth, if he smothered them. He’d spent entirely too much time on google to read about other parents caring for their sick children and he didn’t think he was doing too bed. They were still alive, weren’t they? 

"Jarvis, can you scan the kids, please?“ 

"Harley’s temperature has been resting at 100.4 for the past three hours while Peter’s has been ranging between 100.2 and 101.3." 

"That isn’t too bad.“ Tony mumbled to himself. "That’s better.“ 

But, as it turned out, it had been a little optimistic of Tony. He’d expected the boys to be up and healthy by the weekend, but that hadn’t happened.

Another thing he hadn’t thought he’d be doing until their new baby would be older was changing sheets full of piss, but he was lucky (ugh Tony really hated his life) enough to experience it when Peter was so feverish that he just didn’t realize he had to go to the bathroom. Worst part about it? Tony hadn’t even noticed until Jarvis noticed in one of his scans because the kids had been sweating so much that everything was wet anyways. 

Two weeks. Two weeks of fever dreams and rashes and soup and begging them to drink more water and bribing them with Coca Cola. Two weeks of never sleeping, of helping the boys shower, of missing Pepper, of calling Cho demanding help in the middle of the night when he was sure that he was fucking everything up or panicking about the rash Harley had been developing.

On the fifteenth day of the whole mess, Peter was awake for two hours and asked for applesauce and popsicles to ease his throat while Harley drank two bottles of Gatorade without complaining. 

On day sixteen, Harley went to the bathroom by himself and on day seventeen, they all moved to the couch in the living room to watch movies and eat mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup. Day eighteen went by without anybody throwing up or crying. Day nineteen was a good day - both boys went to sleep in their own beds which meant that Tony could sleep in his own bed. 

He was so fucking tired he didn’t even manage to jerk off before falling asleep even though it was his first night alone in a zillion fucking years. 

Funnily enough, it still felt weird. He didn’t miss the boys at all (and the father of the year award goes toooo) but now that he didn’t have them coughing in his ear, he had time to miss Pepper. Really miss her. Ugh. He was getting soft. 

He pulled his phone out to text her some mushy goodnight message before finally (finally!!!) turning the lights off to sleep. 

Morning came much too fast - as in three hours later when Jarvis woke him to tell him that Harley needed help with changing his sheets after he’d thrown up in his sleep. 

Babysteps, apparently. 

"I'm starving." Harley whined after Tony had ushered him into the shower. "Can we order some Pizza?" 

"Harley." Tony wondered if he sounded as unimpressed as he felt. "It’s four in the morning, you just barfed all over your room and fatty things is the last thing you need right now." 

"Well, this is New York City and You’re rich. I am sure you can get me some pizza." 

"True. I could. But it still doesn’t change the fact that you should not be eating fast food yet." 

"Can I have joghurt?" 

"How about some crackers?“ 

"Please, Tony. Anything but fucking crackers." 

"Harley!" 

"I‘m sick! You can’t get mad at me!" 

Tony wanted to disagree, he really did, but Harley looked so pathetic that he was pretty sure he couldn’t get mad about anything right now. Not that he was really mad about the swearing. He found it actually kind of funny. Maybe cute, even. But he’d never tell Harley, of course. Or Pepper for that matter.. she’d kill him. Or cut off his dick. Both scenarios were pretty plausible if he was completely honest. 

"How about a poptart?“ 

"You mean that, Tony? You’re not joking with me? A poptart?" 

"If you stop bugging me." 

"Oh my god, hell, yes! I promise! Oh god I love you!"

Tony knew that Harley was just saying it as a figure of speech, that he’d just blurted it out and had not meant it, but still. It felt monumental, this was a big fucking deal. Harley had never said anything like it before. 

So what should he do? Treat it as a joke? Ignore it? 

"I love you, too." He didn’t care if it was too gooey and smushy. It felt like the right thing to do. 

"Oh.“ Harley looked up at him, still holding fresh pajama pants in his hands. "I didn’t mean.. I hadn’t.. you didn’t need to.. it was just..“ 

"I know how you meant it." Tony said easily and started moving towards the door to go and grab a poptart from Pepper's secret stash in the hallway closet. When he came back thirty seconds later, Harley had put on his pants, but hadn’t moved otherwise. He was just standing there stiffly, and Tony threw the snack at him before opening the windows. The whole room still smelled like throw up. 

"I.." Harley whispered softly. "Uhm. Okay. Yeah." 

"Do you want to sleep in here? Guestroom?“ 

"Can I maybe," Harley took a deep breath and stared down at the sugary treat that would possibly make him sick again, "stay with you? Like Peter does sometimes?" 

"Yeah." Tony said. "Yeah, of course, Bub.“ 

That was sweet enough, and would have made Tony’s night had Harley not leaned closer to him and whispered "I love you too sometimes" in his ear when he was on the edge of falling asleep. 

Peter's and Harley’s first real fight as siblings occurred a week after Pepper had come back and they’d been declared healthy by Cho herself. 

They’d fought before, of course, but it had never been like this; with both treated as their sons and with both acting so much like brothers. 

They’d also argued before, about idiotic shit that was probably very important to a nine and a ten year old. Who’d get to choose the movie, whose turn it was to clean the bunnies' room, who had the bigger bowl of icecream. It was cute, really, how they acted like they’d grown up together. 

Their fight.. it wasn’t cute. Not at all. 

First of all, it hadn’t been necessary by any means. At all. Peter had had a bad day, and Harley had bumped into him. It hadn’t been on purpose and he’d apologized, for fuck's sake, Tony had seen it. He’d been in the kitchen washing the dishes while the kids were in the living room, just walking past each other. 

"Can you watch were you’re going?" Peter snapped and pushed Harley. It couldn’t have been hard, but it surprised Harley so he stumbled back a few steps. 

"I said I was sorry!" 

"You walked straight into me, Harley." Peter snapped again, and suddenly they were, for the lack of a better word, hitting each other. 

Tony had no idea how it happened so fast about something so minor but by the time he made the first few steps towards the kids, Peter had a split lip and Harley was holding the side of the face. What kids used fists? His apparently. 

"I don’t want to do fight anymore." Harley said and rubbed at his cheek. "This is stupid." 

Harley turned to walk away from Peter and 
it seemed like Tony only blinked and suddenly Harley was falling into the small glass table, hands first, breaking the thing into a million pieces.

"Peter!" He yelled at the kid, but not even looking at him. He jumped the last two steps to pull Harley up carefully, examining all the skin he could see. The table had shattered and it seemed like small little pieces were all over the carpet. "Are you hurt anywhere else besides your hands,  love?"

"No." Harley muttered. He sounded like he didn’t care about his bloodied fingers, but the way his face scrunched up told a whole different story. "I don’t think so." 

"I got Harley." Pepper mumbled and jerked her head towards Peter. "You take Peter.“

Tony turned around to look at the kid, expecting to find him crying. Or at least apologetic. Something? But Peter wasn’t even there anymore. He’d probably run off already. 

He walked to the fridge to grab an ice pack for Peter’s face and then took the stairs two at a time. 

"Peter." He said when he walked into the room. He wondered if he should have knocked. He really needed to learn how to knock. 

"I don’t want to talk to you." The boy snapped back. 

"Good, so I can do all the talking." 

"No, you’re just here to punish me and I don’t want any punishing." 

"I think that’s kind of the point about a punishment." Tony said, biting down a laugh. He hadn’t come up here to talk about punishments, but now that he thought about it, maybe that was where the talk was heading. But that started a new dilemma. Did they both need to be punished? Or just Peter, since he started it? But then.. Harley had punched Peter too. But Peter had pushed him after Harley had given up.. well. This was going great. 

"I don’t want a spanking.“ Peter announced and glared at Tony. "I won’t let you.“ 

"Good." Tony said, probably sounding as flabbergasted as he felt. "Why would I spank you for hitting your brother? That would take me right back to wenn Stark Industries was still fighting bombing for peace. Makes no sense at all." 

"Oh.“ 

"Yeah, oh." Tony repeated softly before pulling Peter to the small sofa in the corner to sit down with him, his stomach tightening. "Have I ever given the impression that I would hit you if you misbehaved like that?" 

"No.“ 

"Is this still because of the swat I gave you three months ago? Because, baby, that was different. I got scared and I thought you-"

"No." Peter whispered. "No. I promise it’s not. It’s just Larry, he was one of my foster parents, you know?" 

Tony did know. He’d studied Peter’s and Harley’s folders back and forth. Multiple times, quite obsessively. 

"Yeah. Go on." 

"He was so nice all the time. Until he got angry, and one time I pushed his daughter because she was annoying me and I know I shouldn’t have but suddenly he was taking of his belt and -" 

Peter stopped talking for a moment and Tony was grateful. More than that. He didn’t want to hear about that, at all. He needed a moment.

"I didn’t know that." 

"I know." Peter said, still looking at his hands. "I had forgotten about it. But then we talked about it in therapy this morning and it was all right there and then Harley.. and I just wanted.. and I didn’t mean to hurt him, Daddy, not really."

"I know you didn’t, baby.“ Tony mumbled and pulled Peter into his lap, softly putting the icepack up against his face again. "It’s okay, you’ll apologize to Harley and he'll forgive you, okay?" 

"Yeah." 

Tony hugged Peter closer to his chest and blinked a few times, willing the tears to go away. He didn’t need his son to see him upset over something that has happened years ago. He was supposed to be the strong one. 

But if Tony was honest with himself, he wasn’t only upset about that. He was upset that he didn’t have any fucking clue that this had happened at all. How many things were there that he didn’t know about? That had happened in Peter’s life? And in Harley’s? 

"Pete." Tony said, a new thought suddenly coming to his mind. "Do you feel that since Harley came to stay with us.. do you feel as if we’re paying more attention to him? To his trauma?“ 

"Why are you asking?" Peter looked genuinely confused there and Tony hoped that he wasn’t acting. 

"Well, you were our priority for a while before he came along. And we have all been working really hard to make sure that he feels welcome that I just want to make sure that you don’t feel like we love you less now, or don’t pay as much attention to you." 

"Oh.“ Peter thought about it for a moment. "No, I don’t feel that way. Harley deserves a family just as much as I do, and sometimes a family member needs something else than another and that’s okay, right? Like the new baby will need a lot of attention, but I’ll still love it.“ 

"Her." 

"Huh?“ 

"The Baby. It’s a girl. So you’ll need to protect her, okay? Be the same awesome big brother you’re to Harley?“ 

"You still think I am awesome even though I hit Harley first? And I pushed him?" 

"Siblings fight.. or so I’ve heard, anyways. I am not happy that you pushed him when his back was turned, and I swear to god Pete, if I ever see you do that again - or him, for that matter, I’ll ground you for a month." 

"Okay. Yeah. Seems fair." Peter cuddled closer to Tony, face pressed against the crook of his neck. "So, it’s a girl? I always wanted a little sister, you know."

"Yeah. You’ve been telling us for weeks, squirt. Don’t tell your mom I told you, she wanted to surprise you.“ 

"Pinky promise." 

"Good. Thanks, bub." 

"You know I love you, right, Daddy? You don’t need to worry about me." 

"When did you become so smart, huh?" Tony said softly and pressed a kiss to Peter’s hair. "But that’s my job. I’ll always worry about you." 

"That could be annoying when we get older and want to go to Parties and try to sneak out." 

"What are you talking about? I’ll be the cool dad. I’ll drop you off and pick you up, you don’t need to sneak out." 

"Harley said that the uncoolest thing you can do is get picked up and dropped of by your parents." 

"You wound me! When does that start? You love when I pick you guys up!" 

"True. Maybe in Highschool?" 

"See, we still have a few years together, hm? Even though I really don’t understand how I could ever be considered uncool." 

"Me either." Peter said with a shrug and Tony wondered if he could melt at the cuteness. "But Harley says that changes when we’re older." 

"Well if Harley says so." Tony laughed softly. 

"Dad?" 

"Hm?" 

"Am I in trouble?" 

"Uhm.“ He leaned his head back and closed his eyes for a few seconds. He had no idea what he should answer to that. "Do you think you should be?“ 

"Yes. I hurt Harley without a reason.“ 

"You’re a really good kid, you know that? Can we just agree that there will be no TV for either of you tonight and you’ll both go to bed early? I really don’t want to have to cancel the trip to Fantasy Island on Sunday that Clint talked me into." 

"We’re going to Fantasy Island?" Peter sat up so fast that his head knocked into Tony’s chin and Tony needed to blink a few tears away again, but this time for another reason because.. fucking ow. He probably had a concussion now. 

"On Sunday. Clint and I are taking you guys so Pepper and Laura can go to some fucking spa or whatever." 

"You shouldn’t swear." Peter said with a sweet smile. 

"Yeah, well, I shouldn’t drink ten cups of coffee a day, but I will still do that.“ 

Peter rolled his eyes and climbed off of Tony’s lap to make his way towards the door. 

"Where are you going?“ 

"Apologize to Harley. It wasn’t his fault I was mad. Can I go? Or do I have to stay in my room?“ 

"Oh. No. You can go." He said and watched Peter go, before he decided to follow downstairs. He walked into the kitchen to hug Pepper from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. 

"We really got the good kids, didn’t we?“ 

"Oh yeah." Tony replied. "So easy. It will be a walk in the park with three of them." 

"Are you kidding, that kid will have your DNA." 

"Yeah, you’re - hey! That was rude!" 

"Well, I love you. And your DNA. And everything you’ve become." 

"Stop being so schmoopy." 

"That’s not a word, Tony." 

No matter what Tony said or didn’t say in that moment.. hugging Pepper and watching Peter and Harley talk quietly he felt all schmoopy inside. It was this weird feeling of happiness that consumed all of him in moments like this. 

He didn’t think he could ever be any happier than he was right then and there in that moment but he’d thought that before, many times during the past year. He wondered how that would change when their daughter was born, if that would ever stop. Or maybe he’d be too tired to ever feel like that? Who knew. But he couldn’t wait to find out. 

"Who wants ice cream?" He yelled over to the boys, eager to stop those mushy thoughts. 

"So now we're rewarding them for fist fights?" Pepper asked with a laugh. 

"Oh shit, I forgot." Tony said with a sigh. "Well, we’re rewarding them for making up and talking about it. Perspective, darling, perspective!" 

"Yeah." The crinkle around her eyes made his heart skip a beat, before his heart stopped beating all together when her face went emotionless and numb before it exploded . "Oh, fast, she’s kicking! Peter, Harley! She’s kicking, come feel it!" 

Peter and Harley ran over so fast that Tony wondered if they had been standing right  behind him. "Oh this is so cool!" 

"So it’s a Girl, mom? A girl?" 

Everyone just kind of stopped and stared at Pepper. 

"Oh shit! I meant for it to be a surprise! I just got so excited! Damn it!"

Peter turned around to wink at Tony and Tony couldn’t hold back the laughter. God he loved his family. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


The way Morgan Virginia Stark came into the world was just as Tony envisioned any biological offspring of his would be: dramatic. 

With summer and the due date of their daughter fast approaching, Tony and Pepper had decided to rent a house by a lake in the woods, just to get out the city. Alone. Sleep in, have sex, eat in bed. All the fun stuff.

"I don’t understand why we can’t go to your house in the Hamptons, that would be more dope than a house without any reception. Maybe even without electricity." Harley sighed while sitting on the floor of Tony’s and Pepper‘s closet.

"You know," Tony said without looking up from the pants he was pondering over, "this is a babymoon, you’re staying home." 

"Wait." Harley said and Tony could feel movement behind him. "You’re not taking us? Or are you taking Peter and not me?" 

"We’re not taking either of you." Tony said with a grin. "You’re going to be staying with Steve for the weekend.. we’re enjoying one last weekend before the little monster is born and won’t let us sleep or have s- or drink wine.“ 

"Oh." 

Something in Harley’s voice made Tony look up, after all. "I thought you knew that, Harls. I’m sorry."

"Does Peter know that?"

"You guys are too much." Tony said with a smile. "Entirely too much." 

"Is that why you’re making us stay with Steve? Because we're too much?" 

Tony dropped the pants he’d finally decided to not bring along back into the drawer he’d originally taken them from. "You’re not being cute, Harley." 

When Harley didn’t reply, Tony turned to look at him, but the boy was gone. What was that all about? The kids loved Steve. In their eyes, he was the coolest human being and could do no wrong. Tony knew that, because apparently it was embarrassing when he sang karaoke and it ended on buzzfeed or what not, but when Steve did it (on the same night!!! With the same fucking song! They sang it together!) it was so cool and all did you see how awesome Steve looked, Dad? Tony wasn’t bitter about it. Okay, maybe a little bit. 

It’s just - he was Iron Man, god damn it. He was the coolest person in the world according to the Rolling Stones magazine, which, hello? Had to count for fucking something. 

"Harley?" He called, but the son that strolled into the room was his first born. He wondered for a fleeting second if he could call Peter that, even if he wasn’t his biological child. But, he was his now plus he was his first and was also born before Harley. And his unborn daughter. Or would she technically be his first born? He actually didn’t like that thought at all. It felt right to call Peter that. 

"Nah. It’s only me." Peter said with a small smile. "Harley said you’re not taking us to the lake house?"

"Well, Mom and I are going by ourselves.“ 

Peter considered that for a moment before looking down at his feet. "Is it because we tried the beer? Are you punishing us?“ 

"I am not punishing - wait, what?" Tony had to have heard wrong. His sons were babies. "When? Where? What the hell are you talking about?" 

Peter turned bright red, mumbling a small "oh" while glancing at Tony. 

"Harley! Get your butt back in here!“ Tony shouted  and waited for the kid to shuffle back in, pointing at the chairs in the middle of the room. "Sit. Now.“

"Uhm. We really just kind of dipped our tongue in. We didn’t drink it, we’re not that stupid." 

"What did you tell him for? You stupid fucking snitch.“ Harley hissed and Tony reached out to flick his ear. 

"Watch your language." He reprimanded and sighed. Not for the first time since becoming a parent, Tony didn’t know whether to shout or laugh - both options seemed highly plausible.

"I swear to god, kids, if I ever catch you drinking alcohol before you’re in high school, I can’t guarantee that I won’t do something we’ll all regret.“ Tony said, voice stern enough for Peter to scoot back on the chair he’d dropped himself into. 

"Drinking isn’t legally allowed before you’re twentyone." Peter mumbled with a frown. 

"Yes, and if you’re good, you’ll wait that long but you might be tempted before then and I will probably still ground you if you’re coming home drunk at sixteen, but at least you will be sixteen, not ten!" He could feel his voice rising with every word, not completely sure if he was explaining his emotions about the scenario right .. or if that was something he should be explaining in the first place. 

"We didn’t get drunk, dad." Peter whimpered. "We really just kind of dipped our tongue in to try it when Steve went to the bathroom." 

Tony could have laughed with relief- at least Steve only drank root beer, or beer without any alcohol in it since he couldn’t feel the effects anyways. So, at least his kids hadn’t really tried alcohol at nine and ten, which - parenting win, right?

"I don’t care." He said sternly. "If you wanted to try it so badly, you could have asked instead of misusing our trust. And, Steve’s trust as well. Can the two of you really not be alone without any adult supervision?“ 

"We can!“ Harley mumbled. "It wasn’t a big deal. We didn’t drink it."

How were these kids so much like him without even being his biological kids? His daughter was doomed. 

"Yeah, so you’ve said." Tony sighed, suddenly feeling tired. Did situations like this even occur in other families or was this reserved for his own? He thought back to the night Peter tried to take a picture of the ledge of 163822 story building and figured that, yeah, it was probably just his. Great. This was absolutely absurd. 

"Well.“ Harley said with a frown, voice bordering on rude much closer than Tony would have liked. "What’s our punishment then?" 

Tony thought for a moment before deciding that there was only one thing that would work. "You’re going to go and tell your mother." 

Both boys‘ eyes widened. 

"That’s unreasonable." Harley tried to reason. "Can’t you just .. spank us or something?" 

"I don’t want one." Peter said with a frown. 

"Really? So you wanna go tell Pepper?" 

They stared at each other for a full ten seconds before turning back to Tony. "Yeah, okay, what Harley said." 

"That’s not how this works." Tony sighed. "Go tell her." 

"But she’ll cry.“ Peter sighed right back. "She always cries lately. Those hormones are crazy." 

"Go." 

To be honest, he sent them to Pepper so she would have to deal with it and he could just have a nap before they needed to go.

Which was smart. Completely smart. Tony was very proud of himself.. until Pepper came into the room an hour later. "We’re all packed." 

"I know, I packed my own bag." He grumbled without opening his eyes. "I’m a big boy." 

"I actually meant the boys." 

Tony sat up so fast that his head started spinning. "What are they packed for? Steve is coming upstairs." 

"We’re taking them with us." 

"We’re.. absolutely not, Pepper!" 

"I wasn’t asking, I was telling." 

"Why?" Tony whined and dropped back down on the mattress. "We were supposed to have sex ten times a day." 

"Tony, you wouldn’t even be able to get it up ten times a day even if you wanted to." 

"Okay, rude." The huff he let out made him sound older than he would like to admit, but whatever. "I could totally fuck you ten times. My record is eleven, just so you know." 

"First of all, don’t say fuck like that, it’s just crude. And second of all - you were what? Twenty?" 

"Nineteen." He grumbled and crossed his arms. "Okay, fine. Seven, then." 

"Four, maybe." Pepper said with a chuckle. 

"Stop dragging me down, wife." He huffed. He was a good lover, thank you very much. So what if he could only do it four times a day? He was in his fourties (ouch). 

"Just keeping you on your toes, husband.“ Pepper said lightly, dragging his bag over the floor. "Do you realize that I am eight months pregnant? You should be carrying your own bag. Move, Tony." 

"Yes, dear." He said ironically, but did get up. She was right, after all. She was pregnant and getting ready to press a small elephant out of her vagina, so he really should take care of whatever she needed. 

"Thanks." The kiss she pressed to his lips was sweet and sent a small tingle down his neck. "And now, let’s get going.“

"Why are we taking them?" 

"Because they wanted to come.“

"Oh?" 

"Don’t look at me like that! I can say no! But .. Harley cried, Tony. There were tears." 

"Fake tears, probably." Tony huffed. Really. When did Harley ever cry? Right. He really didn’t. "I think you got played." 

"Maybe, yes. Or the boys we have taken in haven’t spent more than a few hours without us in months are anxious after they have lost everyone they loved. So I am willing to risk being played." 

"I hadn’t seen it like that." He admitted quietly. "Okay, cool, whatever. We’re taking them."

"Oh, glad you graciously agreed." 

The whole drive to Connecticut was .. loud. The boys played some kind of weird game that Tony had never heard of, they went from laughing (fucking loudly) to arguing (even louder) in five fucking seconds. But every time he was a minute away from losing his patience and shouting (or pulling over to give them a time out or something), Pepper would reach over and place a hand on his arm and smile that sweet little smile and he calmed right down enough until twenty minutes later.

Had Pepper always been able to read him like that?

"I want food." Harley said from the back. "Can we stop?" 

"And I need to pee. Now." Peter added, already sounding desperate. 

"Or what? You’re gonna piss yourself?“ Harley teased. 

"Language." Pepper said softly. "Pete, honey, there’s a restaurant in two miles. Can you wait?“ 

"Yeah. I think." 

The rest of the drive got worse when they got stuck in traffic and the kids really got on his last nerve when they started singing along to Nicki Minaj. 

"You’re going straight to bed after dinner." He snapped after he had told them to quiet down five times. "I mean it."

"You can’t tell me what to do." Harley huffed. "You can’t tell me anything.“ 

Tony counted to ten in his head before glaring at him in the mirror. "Don’t test me tonight. I have a headache and I’m tired." 

"I’ll test you if I want to." 

"Harley,“ Pepper reprimanded softly, "I know you have a lot of energy and want to move around, but we’re only five minutes away. You guys can go swimming while we’re preparing dinner, hm?" 

"And do we still have to go to bed after?" 

"Yes." Tony said before Pepper could undermine him. "But so are we." 

"Fine." He huffed. 

They arrived at the house fifteen minutes later and it was really something. Different than any of the houses Tony owned. "Maybe we should put in an offer." He mumbled to Pepper while the boys were exploring and changing into swimming trunks. 

"Tony, you own seven properties on the east coast alone. You don’t need another one." 

"We could sell the one in Aspen. I haven’t been back since I bought it when I was thirty and completely high.“ 

"Charming." 

"My middle name.“ Tony agreed and kissed her cheek. 

"Really? I thought it was asshat." 

"Wow, Pep, how grown up of you." 

"I am, aren’t I? Why don’t you go outside, watch the kids? I’ll make dinner." 

"You want to cook?" 

"I sure as hell don’t want to order take-out. The next restaurant is half an hour down the hill." 

"Fine." Tony said. "Great. I’ll go watch the monsters." 

The monsters, as it turned out, had turned into little angels at the sight of the lake. They were running around in the shallow water, splashing each other and throwing a ball around. 

"Dad!“ Peter called happily. "Are you coming in?" 

Tony really, really wanted to say no and just sit on the little pier and watch, letting the sun shine into his face, all that jazz. 

But those hopeful faces? Damn it. 

"Of course I am.“ He called back, already taking of his shirt and running into the water. He was next to Peter five seconds later, scooping him up only to drop him into the water a moment later. He laughed when Peter resurfaced spluttering. 

Harley just stared at him before starting to run, but Tony caught him before he couldn’t get too far. Sometimes longer legs could really be an advantage. 

He grabbed Harley and kind of just swung him around. 

"No! Don’t drop me! Stop! Tony,“ Harley begged, giggling. "Stop! Please!" 

Being the good father he was, Tony dropped him anyways. 

"Boys!" Pepper called an hour later. "Get dressed and come eat." 

When they made their way towards the backyard table, Pepper was leaning against the small tree, smiling up to him. 

"Are you okay?" Tony asked. He got concerned right away, his body tensing up while he made the next few steps towards her.

"Yeah." She sighed, accepting a hug from Peter who’d shown up next to her. "Everything is great. Just getting tired now." 

Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong all through dinner, eyes always going to Pepper. Just checking - if her face had enough color, if she looked like she was in pain, if she was smiling. 

But everything seemed completely fine, except his weird sense of foreboding. It was stressing him the fuck out. 

Everything was fine and nothing happened. 

They sent the boys off to bed around eight, and made their way to bed themselves. He had to admit that everytime they slept together he was worried that he’d bump his daughter's head.. even though he completely knew that wouldn’t be happening. Still. He was sure every father to be was afraid of that anyways. 

"Tonyyyyyyyy," Harley said when they were sitting by the lake the next day, "Petey and I wanna go exploring the woods. Can we?" 

He realized that Harley asking instead of just wandering off was a very big deal. Still.. he wanted them close. God, he was really turning into the lamest person ever. Eeeeever. But he didn’t want his kids to know that. 

"Actually, I found some boards in the garage. Think you want to try stand up paddling?" 

"Sweet." Peter agreed and pushed Harley’s shoulder in excitement. "Oh, sorry, Harley.“

"Can we go now?" Harley scrambled to his legs, stumbling over Pepper’s in his hurry to get towards the water. 

"Sunscreen first." She said without opening her eyes. "Tony, your turn." 

"Actually, it’s yours." But he was already grabbing the bottle she had shoved inside the cooler. It would feel kind of fake if he refused the day after he had told himself that he’d have to let her relax more. 

He really was a good husband, no matter what Wendy Williams said. 

"There." He said with a smile and clapped on Harley’s back. "And now go grab the boards.“ 

It took the boys twentyfive minutes to drag all the boards down the small hill to the beach of the lake were Tony and Pepper were dozing in the sun. 

"Dad." Peter said. „Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad." 

It wasn’t that Tony didn’t hear him, because he did. It was just that his body was too relaxed and his mind just on stand by mode that it seemed too hard to move. 

Suddenly something cold splashed in his face and water ran into his nose, leaving him snorting and coughing. "What the fuck?" 

"That’s a bad word." Peter said joyfully while Harley dropped the cup he’d been holding hurriedly. 

"Yeah." Harley agreed with a big smile. "Language, Tony. But now that you’re awake.. we’re ready to go paddling." 

"You should be getting a paddling instead.“ Tony grumbled while he rubbed his hands over his eyes. "You made my mascara all runny." 

Pepper snorted and Tony just rolled his eyes, trying to pull himself up, but he had to admit defeat a minute later. Damn the whole world. "Okay, Kids, help me up. My legs are still tired." 

"Or he’s just old and won’t admit it." Peter whispered to Harley which made both boys shake with laughter. 

"Okay, you know what? That’s it." Tony jumped up and caught both boys, one in each arm, before they could even start fleeing. He ran into the water, kind of hopping on his still kind of tingly legs (he wasn’t old, thank you very much) until he made it in deep enough to drop them. "That’s what you get for calling me old." 

He laughed when both heads appeared over the water, hiding behind his hands when they started splashing at him like crazy people. 

They stayed on the boards for so long, falling in and climbing back up and kind of trying to bump into each other, that the sun started going down by the time Pepper called them back to shore. 

"Go take a warm shower, get dressed and come back for dinner." She smiled that smile of hers that made Tony feel all mushy whenever he saw it. "And don’t forget to dry your toes and behind your ears. That goes for you too, Tony!" 

He flipped her off when the boys weren’t looking. 

Dinner was hotdogs from the grill and pasta salad and because apparently, stand up paddling and playing in the water made hungry, Pepper needed to pop pizza rolls and corn dogs into the oven because they were starving. 

"I know this isn’t the weekend we had planned.“ She was smiling at him, and god, it was that smile again. Was Tony too old for a woman to make him feel weak in the knees? "But it’s perfect, isn’t it? They needed it." 

"So did we, didn’t we?“ He asked lightly and turned to pull the popcorn out of the microwave. 

He couldn’t explain why, because they’d watched Finding Nemo five times in the last year, but it had never  been as good as it was that night. 

Maybe because he’d always associate it with a perfect weekend that ended with the arrival of his daughter. Even though he’d have liked to do that bit in a hospital, if he was honest. 

By the end of the movie, Pepper was kind of stiff in his arms, slightly shifting to find a more comfortable position, but Tony didn’t think much of it. Why would he? They had weeks and weeks to go. 

"Tony." Pepper mumbled. "Can you help me get to bed? I feel weird. Think it might be better laying down." 

"Ofcourse." He agreed, only paying half of his attention to her. "Can we wait until Marlin meets Dory? That’s my favorite part." 

"Is it because you’re in love with Ellen Degeneres and are still upset she wouldn’t sleep with you?" 

"Okay, rude." He turned to face his wife, brows furrowing. "I’ll have you know that she hadn’t come out back then, otherwise I wouldn’t have tried. It really hurt my ego, you know, so you shouldn’t make fun of it." 

She laughed softly, but her face consorted in pain and Tony forgot  what they had just been talking about. 

"Help me up, now." She wasn’t asking anymore, and Tony moved to help her up. The few feet they had to walk to the room they were staying in felt much, much longer. 

"Do you want me to stay with you?" 

"No. Go watch the boys, I will feel much better by the time you put the next movie on." 

She didn’t join them for the next movie (Stripes - another one of Tony’s new favorites. It was genius, okay?) and Tony went to look for her while the boys put on Cars. He loved, loved, loved that they still liked those kind of movies. It was cute. 

When he made it into the room, Pepper was breathing harshly, and Tony didn’t like this one bit. If something was wrong.. Jesus fucking Christ, they were at least thirty minutes from the next hospital. This whole idea had been stupid. Idiotic. Foolish. Ugh. 

"Baby? Are you okay?" 

"I don’t think so." She gritted through her teeth. "I think.. I think I’m in labor?" 

"Asking or telling?" He was already turning the light on and hurrying over. 

"How the fuck would I know how labor feels like?" She snapped. "This is all your fault!“

"I know it is." He said soothingly. "Okay, I’m panicking, what do you want me to do? Do you want coffee?" 

"Do I want coff- are you kidding me?" She was kind of just staring at him, maybe to see if he was joking or not. "Can you check if I’m dialated at all?" 

"Yes." He moved her dress up and moved closer to look. "I’m not really sure what I am looking for." 

Pepper groaned in frustration, but that kind of puffed away when the groan turned into a groan of pain instead. Great. 

"But it’s  too early." He said, kind of lost. 

"Yeah, well, apparently your daughter doesn’t care." 

"She’s your daughter too! Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital." 

"I can’t move!" She snapped. "Call them here." 

"What’s going on, mom?" Peter asked suddenly. "Are you having the baby?“ 

"Yes. Harley, can you call 911? And Pete, Can you get us some warm water and fresh towels?"

"What for, Dad?"

"I don’t know." He admitted sheepishly. "They always ask for that in the movies."

"What if she hasn’t turned yet? She hadn’t by the last ultrasound. God, Tony, tell them to hurry up! Oh, fuck. Ow. This is all your fault! We’re not having sex again, ever." 

The  next few hours were a blur of holding Pepper's hand, of yelling and crying and arguing. He wouldn’t remember all of it, later, but he’d never forget to see the boys, one at each side of Pepper‘s head petting her hair and him standing next to Dr Ackles while Morgan’s head appeared, which, also traumatic by the way. 

"That’s gross." He mumbled. "And beautiful." 

"Can I see?" Harley asked excitedly. "Can I go look, Pepper?" 

"I kind of need you up here." She gritted back and shot him a smile. "It makes me want to murder Tony a lot less." 

Morgan was born at five in the morning in a lake House that was hours away from civilization and Tony thought it couldn’t have been more perfect. 

She looked absolutely gross and bloody when the Doctor put her on Pepper's chest so she could hold her while he prepared everything to get her cleaned up. 

"Wow." Peter said and looked at her. "She looks like a rat." 

Tony threw his head back and laughed, pulling his phone out to take a picture. They needed to be able to look at this later as show Morgan and he couldn’t stop laughing either, until suddenly he was sobbing. 

"Tony?“ Harley asked softly. "Are you finally going completely mad?" 

"I don’t think so.“ He walked around to stand by his family. "Just really fucking happy."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


"Dad!" Peter called up the stairs. "Dad, Morgan threw up, you need to come clean it up.“ 

Of all the things he wanted to hear when he woke up? Sure as hell not one of them. 

"And I think she pooped!" Harley shouted. "She stinks like shit." 

"Language." He mumbled, fully aware that none of his kids could hear him. The sun shining through the window let him guess that his nap had lasted all of thirty minutes. He glanced at the clock and - yay, twenty. Better than nothing. 

Just.. a few more years until his daughter didn’t want to be carried constantly and could nap somewhere that wasn’t his or Pepper‘s arms. Then his sons would be teenagers which would probably be a whole new level of crazy. Great. Fatherhood was tiring.

The track down the stairs felt a lot fucking longer than it should, but .. well. What was he supposed to do? Maybe age down ten years and at least two kids. 

"Hey, you little devil." He cooed softly and picked up his daughter who was laying on her stomach happily between Harley and Peter on the floor. "Jesus, you do stink, huh?" 

"Gruhh." She gurgled, which Tony was sure would roughly translate to something like "I’m sorry I am not potty trained, Daddy, you’re the best and I love you.“ 

He kissed her softly and turned to Peter. "You’re Eleven. I’ve seen you change her diaper, I know you can do it." 

"Yeah when she peed, not when she pooped. Are you crazy?" He even looked up from brushing Cody who he was holding, seizing up his father. 

"I guess." He walked towards the changing table in Pepper‘s office-he didn’t like stairs, what could he say. "And bunnies don‘t need to be brushed." 

The four months since Morgan’s birth had been.. hectic, to say the least. Pepper had managed to stay home from work for a full six weeks before she went crazy about a deal with Apple gone wrong. 

In the beginning he’d been completely against having a Nanny, but when he didn’t find time to make it down to the workshop for even five minutes or be alone with Pepper for more than two, he’d relented, so now they had Gwen. 

Gwen was an angel, sent from heaven directly, who came to take care of the kids Tuesday through Thursday. She came after the kids had breakfast and had been dressed, taking the boys to school and Morgan to the park before she put her down for one of her many naps. She dropped them  all off around five, after their after school activities. The kids liked her, and so did. Tony and Pepper. 

Like, really. Tony had never been as grateful to another human being in his life.

"It’s almost Saturday." He told Morgan while he tried not to gag at the mess he was wiping from her butt, frowning when he realized he had gotten poop on his finger. "Great, thanks, Morg. But whatever, you know what the weekend means? That your mom comes home from Malibu tomorrow. Has this felt like the longest two days since.. ever? Yes it has, yeeees it has, hasn’t it babygirl?“

He didn’t even know what was happening with his life, and he wasn’t completely sure he liked it. He loved his kids, all three of them, a whole fucking lot but it was just kind of .. he missed going on missions, and he missed turning around and having sex with Pepper without a baby sleeping in their room. 

"Tony." A voice called from the living room. "Come down, I have something for you!“ 

The voice turned out to belong to Clint, who had a sleeping baby strapped to his chest. What the fuck? 

"What.. what are you doing?" 

"He won’t sleep, ever, and he wants to be held around the clock, and Pepper told Lor that it’s the same Morgan, so we bought you a carrier too." 

"You’re telling me I am supposed to strap that thing to myself? What am I, a kangaroo?" 

It just looked wrong, honestly, like a weird torture device to pull someone’s limbs longer. That couldn’t be comfortable at all. For anyone involved. 

"Don’t mock it until you tried it, dude." Clint shrugged. "I mean it, it’s a lifesaver during the day. You can thank us once you’ve tried it."

Clint pecked a kiss to Morgan’s forehead and patted Tony on the shoulder before leaving. 

"You want to go in the playpen while I look after your brothers? Hm?" He put her down in the corner of the living room, ready to walk away when she started screaming. It was unsettling, really, the way she just opened her mouth and screamed, without any tears coming out. "Come on, Morguna, just chill for a second, would you? I don't want to carry you around with that ugly thing, come oooon."

He didn't care that he was whining. Surely it had to be enough to be where she could see him.

It wasn't.

"Dad? Can we have more screentime? Jarvis turned everything off again."

"No." He sighed. "No, you can't."

Harley appeared out of nowhere, reaching into the play pen to pick up Morgan who instantly stopped screaming and instead started patting and scratching at her brother's face. The kid was so small and uncoordinated that he stumbled back a step before straightening up.

"Gee, little miss, you're getting fat."

"Stop that. She doesn't need to develop an eating disorder before she can talk or walk." He reprimanded sternly. Because, really, that poor girl would probably be struggling enough as it was. 

"So now we're not allowed to make jokes anymore? Fine. Have it your way." Harley muttered. "Can we take Morgan into Zack and Cody's room."

Tony nodded and waved them off, silently appreciating the few minutes of silence he was going to get from this. Having a baby when they had older kids to help take care of her? God, he really was a genius. Not that it had been planned, but whatever. 

He reached down to open the box CIint had brought up. He didn't want to, but it looked like it might allow him time in the workshop. Not to work on anything dangerous, of course, Pepper would castrate him. But maybe one of the new Phones he was supposed to be developing? He really, really liked that idea with every passing second. So what if he would like an overgrown child? He'd seen that Twilight actor guy with his baby strapped to his chest in people magazine. Plus.. trendsetter was his middlename. Everyone who wasn't on board could just go fuck themselves. 

It took him an embarrassing four minutes and thirtyseven seconds to figure out how that deathtrap worked, but.. he had to admit, it wasn't horrible. 

"Dad!" Peter put his head around the corner. "Morgan is asleep next to Cody, you have to come look."

When he walked up to the door and stepped over the little fence and into the room, he almost cried because what he saw was so incredibly cute he wanted to die. 

Not really, but they had recently started to binge watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians and that's the kind of weird shit they would say, so yeah - it was rubbing off on him.

Harley had obviously put her down on his sweater, and Cody had hopped over. It looked like Mor had fisted her little hand into the bunnies fur, who was now very calmly laying next to her arm. It looked absolutely adorable, and for the first time ever Tony wondered if it would really be so bad to get a dog, which, yes it would. But also kind of cute. 

Morgan tugged in her sleep and the bunny jumped away from her. She didn't wake up, but the moment seemed broken and Tony bent down to pick her up. "I'll put her down, and then we can do something fun."

"Can we go to the Arcade?"

"And leave your sister home alone?" He shot Peter a look and rolled his eyes.

"I guess that's a no? But Jarvis would call us if she woke up."

"It's a no." He sighed. "We could make cookies, or play badminton on the roof." 

"It's too windy up there." Harley said. "Maybe soccer?"

Tony wanted to say no, because he'd really rather chill on the couch, but the boys heard the word 'no' way too often these days, and he really couldn't bring himself to say it then, when he had no real reason to. So he said yes, and found himself on the rooftop in a jacket and a ball in hand. 

"You're staying away from the walls, at least ten feet at all times."

"Tony." Harley said exasperatedly. "There is glass that is ten feet high. We can't exactly fall down."

"Probably not, but it'll make me feel better when you're running."

Morgan slept for an hour, and when they made it back downstairs around seven, he sent the boys straight to their rooms to take showers. It would at least make the bedtime routine easier. Especially because then he could pretend to not notice that both kids were playing on their stupid Gameboys well into the night. It was Friday, so who cared? Maybe they'd sleep in the next day. 

"Can we make cookies for dinner?" Harley asked when he ran down the stairs. "Before mom gets home?"

It was like everything around Tony stopped. If he hadn't strapped Morgan into that ridiculous thing on his chest, he probably would have dropped her right on the floor. Harley clearly didn't realize what he'd said, otherwise he would have been embarrassed. Mortified, even. But Harley was just hopping around in the kitchen, not waiting for Tony's answer, and pulling out all the ingredients they would need. 

"I have stew on the stove." He said with a smile. He really wanted to talk about the mom thing, but he also didn't want to make it awkward. That was really the last fucking thing he wanted, so it was probably good that Pepper wouldn't be home until the next day because she would have cried, no doubt about it. They had come so freaking fast in the year since they had met Harley, and since the year and a half since Peter had come to stay with them. It was crazy.

"But Pepper will make us eat healthy every day. Can't we have cookies?" He whined, still holding onto the bag of sugar.

"For desert, yes." Tony nodded, pointing to the Kitchen Aid. Seriously, the best eight hundred dollars he'd ever spent, probably, even though he knew that he could build one a thousand times better. But Peter and Harley had picked it out at Macy's when they had gone to look for a birthday gift for Happy. They had bought him one, too. Theirs was red, and they had gotten one for Happy in a happy yellow color. Tony had laughed for three minutes straight at Peter's reasoning for the color. He had let the boys paint little Sunflowers all over it, just to drive Happy wild. Joke had been on him, though, because Happy had absolutely loved it and just about cried with joy. Who would have thought the man would grow to love the kids so much? 

"Fineeeeee." Harley singsonged and started beaming when Peter ran into the kitchen, hair still dropping water. "I won."

"Fine." Peter sighed. "Congratulations, little brother."

Tony's heart just about somersaulted. Was that normal? Feeling like that? For the second time in just about as many minutes. It was seriously exhausting.

"Great, so you're taking my kitchen duty tonight."

"I know, a bet's a bet." Peter agreed. "Are we making cookies? Sweet. Was kind of worried we'd be eating something healthy which would be a waste because mom comes home tomorrow."

"Oh for fuck's sake, guys."

 

----

 

"Tony?" Pepper was calling his name, but he ignored her while he finished shaving. He needed to concentrate while he did that, his goatee didn't look that perfect naturally, it was hard work. Okay, well, not really, but it wasn't his fault that he looked so good. He sent a silent thanks to his parents. "Tony? Can you come downstairs?"

He pulled a shirt over his head and hopped down the stairs. It was far too quiet in the penthouse for anyone to be home and he tried to look around the corner to see if the boys had talked Pepper into letting them on the StarkPad, but they weren't there. He bumped into the small shelf with his toes where they usually kept their keys. A sudden pain flared up and he started hopping in place while trying to get to Pepper's office. "Ow, fuck, ow. Help, I've been shot."

He'd never said that he wasn't dramatic.

When he leaned himself against the doorframe of Pepper's study, she looked way more tense than he'd expected. "Okay, shit, whatever I did, I'm sorry, okay? And if it was something the kids did, I am sorry for not realizing they did something. I'll go ground them right now if you want, you don't even have to be the bad guy. I'll do it. Where are the kids, by the way? Kind of need to know if I am supposed to be yelling at them. Or was it Morgan? Did she do something? She really is too young to get grounded or yelled at, but I'll wag my finger at her and have Jarvis make a note that we are going to ground her as soon as she is old enough. Hm? How does that sound?"

Pepper still looked less that unimpressed and Tony was kind of at a loss. What else was he supposed to offer? He really had no clue if he'd fucked up. Wait - did he forget some kind of anniversary, maybe?

"Can you just shut up for one second, Tony?" She said exasperatedly. "Nobody did anything. I called Gwen, she and Happy have taken the kids to go costume shopping, it's Halloween in a few days."

"So.. what's going on then? You kind of need to help me out here. It's not Gwen's day to take the kids out."

"She'll drop them off again after lunch, we just needed.. okay. A Kate Archibald called. Apparently, she's been assigned Harley's case."

The temperature in the room seemed too warm and too cold at the same time all of the sudden. The light coming through the windows seemed just a tad too bright and he tried to blink against the onslaught of senses and impressions.

"His..his case? Why does he have a case? He's ours. Right? This is just a formality, like the time I was caught speeding but the judge just wanted me to come to court so he could meet me?"

"The thing is," Pepper looked around, standing from her chair and moving towards him, "I don't think it is."

"Why? We filed for adoption to weeks ago. It was just a formality when we adopted Peter, wasn't it? This hardly seems like a get-kids-out-of-the-house-so-we-can-talk situation, Pepper."

Pepper sighed and pulled him out of the room and towards the open living space. Her doing that didn't calm him down in the slightest, he knew she wanted to get him into a bigger space so he wouldn't feel trapped. Knowing that she thought he might freak out really wasn't doing it's job of relaxing him. 

"Peter was an orphan, Tony. Harley has a father. That complicates things a little."

"Why? It's not like he wants him, right? He was a shit dad."

Pepper didn't reply right away, just kind of shrugged, and Tony instantly knew he had hit the nail on the head. 

"Well, apparently, he is not ready to sign away his rights, Tony. And no matter how much we hate it, Harley is his son."

"But he is our son, too."

"Yes." He wasn't looking at her but he knew that she was crying. It wasn't hard to tell with the way her voice broke. "She reminded me that the goal of fostering a child is to temporarily care for a child, keep them safe, and meet their ongoing needs until it is safe to reunify them with their birth parents or other family members. Temporarily. That it might take years, but as long as he.. he says he still wants Harley, Tony, and unless we can prove that he has seriously harmed Harley and put him in danger, we can't do much."

"But he neglected him. And Harley wants us to adopt him, doesn't that count for anything? We can't just.. we can't just tell him oh, sorry kid, nevermind. We made a promise!"

They never should have made that promise, but they did make it nevertheless. The thought of looking at Harls and taking the promise back made him want to throw up. His kids were siblings, now, and he didn't want anything to change that.

"Keener isn't asking to get him back, you know, so nothing has to change."

"I don't want that to hang over our heads, though. To just wait for a knock on the door? No. Not happening."

Tony wouldn't let that happen. Hell, he was the guy who cut wires for a way out., That's what he did - he always found a way out. 

"He doesn't want Harley." He said. "He has never wanted him. And he just said he's not ready to sign away his rights, right? So there is something that he wants in return."

Pepper's face turned white when she grabbed Tony's arm. She didn't say anything, but Tony wasn't sure that he would have heard her if she had.

"Money? Would that be some kind of human trafficking? I'm too pretty to go to jail. I really am. Okay, why don't you get Kate Archibald and some of our lawyers into a conference room downstairs? I just want to make sure every angle is covered."

The next few hours were a mess, and Tony didn't like what he was being told one bit. Apparently, Harley's opinion would be considered, but no court would override a man who had a good job, and was trying to show that he had changed. That he hadn't even asked to see Harley didn't seem to matter to anyone.

"Look, Mr Stark, It seems like Mr Keener has never physically harmed Harley."

"But he-"

"Yes, he neglected him. I know that, but he is really trying to show us that he has changed, has reasonable hours and all that."

"But he-"

"What? He's physically corrected his son? Spanked him, maybe? That is still very legal in this state, Mr Stark."

"But he doesn't love him." Tony finally got out and he could feel five pairs of eyes on him. Kate Archibald's eyes were full of petty. He hated it.

"I know." She admitted and Tony didn't know if he had heard her correctly. "And I can see that you do. It's always in the parent's eyes,you know? We can see it there. That only makes it harder, because that won't hold up in court, you know it won't."

"Then what do you say we should do?" 

"Think about what you know about the man, and think about how you can prove what you only assume but don't know. Always act with Harley's best interest at heart." She added the last part on an afterthought. "We need to get going now, but I hope you figure something out."

Neither Pepper nor Tony spoke until everyone but them had cleared the room and had gone back to whatever their busy work days entailed. It wasn't like there was something they could say while they were being observed by everyone else.

"Did she tell us to blackmail him?" Pepper asked with a frown. "Because I really don't think that's a good idea."

"Nope. She was telling us to get him to admit what he's done, not blackmail him with it. She wasn't talking about what he did to Harley, she was talking about what he did to his mother."