There was a very distinct line in Tony’s life.
Before Peter and After Peter.
Before Peter consists of booze and hangovers, of women he can’t remember and ibuprofen every morning, of isolation and heaps of bad emotions drowned in alcohol. Before Peter is guilt and grief and anger and repression. Before Peter is everything Howard was, everything Tony swore he would never be.
After Peter consists of everything else. Of life and smiles and laughter. It’s Dr Seuss books and stuffed animals and toys left all over the living room. It’s baby proofing his lab and having Ice Cream Sundays. It’s good mornings and good nights. It’s learning how to do all the things he never thought he’d learn how to do like cook and bake and clean and care for someone. It’s love, so much love he doesn’t even know what to do with it.
And of course it’s fear and new things and anxiety and the worry that becomes like his shadow, but it’s not bad. He wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The Line that splits his life in two wasn’t a good line. It was hard and confusing and the scariest experience Tony had ever had.
He’d been thirty, nearly thirty-one. And Peter was barely a year old. Small and young, and left on the front porch of his mansion in Malibu with nothing but the clothes on his back and short handwritten letter explaining the situation.
Tony had, to say the least, panicked.
A child. He had a literal child. Young and crying in the fall breeze outside, chubby cheeks red and soaked in tears, and looking at Tony like he could fix everything.
No car seat, no bottle, no bag, no diapers, nothing. Absolutely abandoned on the front steps of the Malibu Mansion.
He vaguely remembered Mary Fitzpatrick. A smart, quick-witted woman with so many intricate thoughts in her head. She was a dreamer and he supposes she couldn’t have a baby in the way of her dreams.
And something in him ignited in his chest when he had scooped the little toddler into his arms, and he knew he couldn’t let this baby go.
It wasn’t easy to get rid of all his booze, to pour the bottles down the drain, to get rid of the bar in the living room. It wasn’t easy.
But whenever he needed a drink, he’d go to Peter’s nursery, with pale yellow walls and a little Star Wars mobile, and he’d watch his baby sleep. Snuffling and rolling and sucking on his little red pacifier, legs and fists kicking clumsily, and he’d remember why he stopped drinking.
Somedays were harder than others. Abandonment can affect even a baby, especially since he lost his mother.
Somedays Peter would cry and scream and couldn’t be soothed. Somedays he’d refuse to eat, bottom lip trembling and bambi eyes filled with shiny tears. Somedays he’d hang onto Tony’s fingers and wouldn’t let go.
Whatever it was, Tony would be there. He’d sit through all the crying, all the wailing, all the screaming. He’d sit with Peter and try to convince him to eat no matter how long it took. He’d read as many books as it took, with as many voices as he could to get Peter to give him one of his toothless smiles. He’d stay up for as many nights as it took to make sure Peter slept soundly.
Very quickly, his life flips upside down.
Parenting books are piled high in his lab, replacing all of the dangerous tools. Dr Seuss books fill the shelf in the lounge instead of Stark Industries technology. The bar’s been converted into a playhouse, stuffed animals replacing all of the alcohol.
Peter filling the hole in his chest that had been empty since his parents’ accident.
And he does his damn best to fill whatever gap Peter had after being left with Tony.
“Come on, bubba, don’t pull that today. You’re supposed to be meeting your Uncle Rhodey today,” Tony said, gently tugging the little bear onesie onto Peter who looked like he was about to start crying.
Peter pouted, bambi eyes filling with tears.
“I know, kiddo, I know, life’s tough. But Uncle Rhodey’s supposed to be here soon,” Tony continued. Little socks with fish are pulled on next, and then Tony finally scooped Peter up into his arms. “I don’t want Rhodey to think I’m a bad parent because you’re being fussy.”
Peter sniffled, little fist wrapping into his t-shirt.
“Okay, Bambi, okay. I’ve got you. You wanna read some Seuss? It’s been a few days since I’ve heard Green Eggs and Ham.”
Tony settled down in the comfy armchair, resting Peter comfortably in his lap, before he started reading.
“I am Sam, Sam I am…”
Tony postponed Rhodey visiting for a few days, not wanting to stress out his toddler. He knew how hard it can be to have sudden change in your life, so he lets Peter have the time he needs, and when he’s happy again, Rhodey comes to visit with bags of gifts and the softest smile Tony’s ever seen on him.
Is it selfish?
He’s rejoicing in a situation that came from pain and abandonment.
He tells himself he’s only finding the good in a bad situation. He tells himself that it’s okay for him to love Peter and love that he’s been given a chance at redemption. He tells himself that he’s not being selfish for simply enjoying what he’s been given.
But, there’s a lot on the other hand. Mary, for whatever reason, had to abandon her child. After a year, technically twenty and a half months, she had to leave Peter on Tony’s doorstep with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Something must’ve happened. If she really didn’t want the kid, she wouldn’t have had him in the first place. She wouldn’t have kept him for the entire year. She wouldn’t have waited so long to give him to Tony.
Something bad must’ve happened. Whether it was financial issues or if something happened to Mary. He knows how hard it can be in this profession.
And Tony’s here, reaping the benefits of the bad situation.
It’s selfish, he thinks. It’s unfair.
Even to Peter, who’s obviously been negatively affected by the abandonment, it’s unfair for Tony to disregard all the bad and enjoy what he’s been giving.
But he loves Peter. More than he’s ever loved anyone. Ever. He loves his kid to the moon and back, more than his parents ever loved him, more than anything. And that’s the thing isn’t it? That’s the thing that matters?
He loves Peter. His perfect little angel. His Bambi. His bubba. His kid.
It’s on the news nearly six months later.
Peter’s development has been slow according to his pediatrician. He should’ve been speaking at eighteen months, but he still hasn’t said his first word.
Tony doesn’t mind, but he hates that the bad situation has caused some sort of mental block for his kid.
But Peter’s laying on Tony’s chest, sucking his thumb quietly, making little snuffling noises. His eyes are drooping, but he’s mostly focused on the television where Tony’s boredly flipping through the channels.
Tony recognizes her vaguely from the one night they spent together. Short auburn hair, tied half-up in a little bun, round-framed glasses, the same sprinkling of freckles over her nose.
“Momma!” Peter shouts suddenly, pulling his thumb from his mouth.
Tony freezes, remote nearly slipping from his grip as he scrambles to turn on the volume.
“Mary Fitzpatrick has officially been found dead after disappearing six months ago among the wreckage of a plane crash. As of yesterday, there were no other remains found at the site of the crash. Fitzpatrick’s coworker, Richard Parker tipped the LAPD into searching the area for the then-missing woman. Police don’t suspect foul-play. Over to you, Amy,” the news reporter says.
The screen switches to the weather report, so Tony mutes it.
“Momma!” Peter cries out, little fists hitting Tony’s chest in his desperation. Tears streak down his flushed cheeks. “Momma! No! Momma!”
Tony’s too frozen in shock to stop Peter, staring at the TV screen.
He only knew Mary for one night, but they had a kid together. And now Mary’s dead? She’s just-
“No!” Peter wails. He’s just a baby, just a little baby, and yet-
He knows. He somehow knows that this is bad, that this is wrong. His kid-
Tony moves quickly to stand up, keeping Peter cradled tightly against his chest, running through all the techniques to get Peter to calm down, bouncing and rocking and shushing his cries, but he doesn’t stop. He wails and sobs and hiccups until he falls asleep, head tucked against Tony’s neck.
Peter’s first word was calling out for his mom, scared and confused and upset.
It’s not fair.
Not to Mary, not to Tony, not to Peter.
None of it was ever fair.
But Tony will do everything in his power to be everything Mary was to Peter, to keep his kid as happy as he can, to honor Mary’s memory.
He’ll do everything he can.
Peter’s four-years-old when the question comes up.
“Everyone at school has a mom and a dad,” he starts, confusion etched across his forehead. “Where’s my mom?”
It’s much too delicate of a conversation to have without any preparation, but Tony had been hoping for at least a couple more years of peace before having to break this to Peter.
He crosses around the table into the living room, Peter in tow, settling him down on the couch and sitting on the coffee table across from him. His kid already looks nervous, Bambi eyes wide and expecting.
Tony really doesn’t want to tell him. Doesn’t want to break it to him that his mom abandoned him, disappeared, and died, but he doesn’t really have a choice. The last thing he wants to do is lie to his kid about something this serious.
“To be honest, kiddo, I don’t know why it happened the way it did, but I didn’t get to meet you until you were a year old,” Tony begins, trying to keep his head from spinning. Moments like these, the urge to drink sparks a little bit inside of him, but he’s learned from past mistakes.
“That’s…” Peter counts on his fingers. “Three years ago.”
Tony smiles. “Yeah, that’s good, buddy. But yeah, me and your mom didn’t know each other very well, I only got to see her for one night, and she left. I had no idea you even existed.”
He tells the story like how he used to tell the Dr Seuss stories.
“But then, one day, I woke up and there you were, right outside my door. All by yourself.”
“Where’d momma go?” he asks, little forehead creasing in confusion.
Tony hates this part. “She didn’t tell anybody. I like to think she wanted you to be safe, and that meant being away from her.”
“But where is she now?”
He wishes he had the option to preserve Peter’s beautiful innocence and optimism towards the world around him. He wishes he could keep his boy away from the traumas the world casts upon the best people. He wishes he could close the book on this conversation and distract him with snacks and a movie.
But he can’t.
He can’t, with good conscience, lie to his kid forever about what happened to his mom. He can’t pretend that everything in sunshine and rainbows in life. He can’t pretend that he’s Peter’s only parent.
“She’s gone, bubba,” Tony responds softly, gently taking the kid’s tiny hand in his. “She got in an accident a little while after I got you.”
Peter’s face scrunches up. “All gone? Like bye-bye gone?”
“Yeah, kiddo. I’m sorry.”
“Like when Miss Pepper went to… to the not-party and was wearing all dark?”
He tries to smile at his kid’s purity, but it’s all backwards. “Yeah, kid. Just like that. Except your mom didn’t have a not-party, she was just gone.”
It’s almost a little too much guilt for him to harbor, but he had been a new parent, and he didn’t actually know Mary enough to give her a funeral. He didn’t feel worthy of that. He assumed Richard Parker, the coworker from the news, but he found out a little while later that there hadn’t been anything for her.
Peter nods, like he understands everything just fine. “Okay. But you’re not going to be gone?”
“No, bubba, I’m not going anywhere.”
Some days every year are hard on them.
Mother’s Day comes and goes every year with a sad silence passing over them, until one year, Peter’s bold enough to give a handmade Mother’s Day Card to Pepper who accepts it with tears in her eyes when Peter’s seven.
The Anniversary of Mary’s Death only becomes significant when Peter’s older. And when he’s eleven, he asks to visit Mary’s grave for the first time, and Tony tells the story of how they met. It’s not a particularly long story, and one that’s blurred with alcohol, but it’s the only one he knows.
The holidays are always tension-filled. It’s never easy to have constant reminders that they’re a ‘broken’ family. They don’t have the families everybody in the movies and on the cards have. It’s just Tony and Peter, that’s it. No Mary, no siblings, no extended family. Just them.
For Tony, the day Peter was dropped off at his house, is a hard day. Not because he regrets any of it, but because he can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been for her and for Peter. He can’t even imagine. All he can think about is Peter’s flushed chubby cheeks, crying and begging for his mom to come back.
But they manage.
They always manage.
Because they have each other and that’s all that matters.
There was a very distinct line in Tony’s life.
Before Peter and After Peter.
Before Peter is bad. It’s the worst years Tony’s life will ever have.
After Peter is everything else. It’s hope and joy and laughter and tears, but good tears because they’ll always have a shoulder to cry on.
Peter’s abandonment on Tony’s front steps may have been one of the worst days for Mary, but it was the first good day of Tony’s that would lead to a lifetime of happy memories. He’s just making the best of a bad situation.
And at the end of it all, they were both only doing what was best for Peter.
Because that’s what Peter deserved, and he’d make sure that’s all Peter got.