Tony has known there is something wrong with Peter since he had picked up the toddler from kindergarten. The mop of brown curls isn’t jumping around and talking a mile per hour while Tony cooks dinner, but sitting on the kitchen stool still. Usually, it would be a dream come true for Tony, because he can’t get Peter to stay still. More than once, he has injured himself bumping into some furniture and falling from a chair. The lively five year old was always having his father at the edge of a heart attack.
But that evening, as Tony prepares dinner, Peter is sitting on a stool, tearing a napkin apart in tiny pieces and looking miserable. Tony has tried to ask him what’s wrong, yet the only thing he has gotten is a sad ‘nothing’ and more puppy eyes. At this point, he’s sure his heart has broken ten times already, and is going to shatter into tiny pieces if his little boy doesn’t put a smile on his face soon.
On his high chair, Peter looks even smaller than what he is. Because he was born two months early and in December, he looks a few years younger. There is baby fat on his cheeks, and his doe brown eyes remember his father to when he was just a tiny infant. The mop of brown curls that Tony has to cut soon threaten to swallow him whole; although he can’t deny they are the perfect excuse to run his fingers through and have his special moment with his kid. The lasagne is put in the oven and the soft hum fill the silent kitchen room. Tony has decided to try Peter’s favourite food to cheer him, but he doesn’t look excited at all. As he starts to clean up the counters, Peter’s shy voice catches his attention.
The word, that has been used thousands of times, still makes Tony’s heart jump to his throat. It amazes him that something as perfect as his kid has come out from him. Peter peeks through his curls to look at him, and to the man’s utter pain, his eyes are filled with unshed tears.
Tony wastes no time in rushing through the small space between the kitchen counter and Peter’s high chair. In three long strides, he’s right beside the toddler, who has let the first whine out. Tony knows Peter’s cries by heart, even if he rarely cries. The one that starts with a whine and makes him reach for his father is the worst one, because it’s not a tantrum or ‘I’m hurt, make it better’. It wasn’t even the silent, ‘pay me attention’. That one only came when Peter was really sad about something, and he had only heard him after the nightmares when the boy was two and Tony had gone missing.He grabs Peter under his armpits and pulls him close to his chest, letting him almost choke him with his little arms and cry into his neck. They are loud, hear-breaking sobs, his body shaking with them.
“Bambino” Tony tries the nickname that always makes Peter giggle; it doesn’t work. “No, bambino. Don’t cry. I’m here, Pete, daddy’s here”
There isn’t anyone in the house but the two of them, and he wonders if having a mother figure in Peter’s life would solve something. His mother wasn’t in the picture, some woman Tony had gotten pregnant in his bad years and that had left Peter in his door when he was born. A premature baby that almost died of a pneumonia because of her actions, and that had brought happiness into the billionaire life.
Even if she had been a shitty person, Tony would have liked for Peter to have a mother too. He tries to console the crying infant by rocking him up and down, walking through the kitchen. There is snot and tears on his shoulder, but they don’t seem that disgusting when they are coming from your own son.
“D-daddy” Peter cries once more. “D-daddy, I-I don’t-t wa-want you t-to leave-e”
Peter is seeing an speech therapist to try and solve his stuttering, that now only appeared when the little boy is too nervous or excited, or just before he goes into an asthma attack. Choosing to talk later about Peter’s revelation, Tony runs to his room between hard breaths from the little boy. He keeps the inhalators in the first drawer, the one Peter can reach in case he’s not around. Tony almost meets a few walls and doors on his way, the sound of the upcoming asthma attack making him run faster.
Finally, he reaches Peter’s bedroom and throws open the drawer of the inhalers. He quite literally pushes one of them into the boy’s mouth, always careful of not hurting his head or neck. While Peter’s gives it a few puffs, Tony sits on the universe-themed bed and let out a long breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Breath carefully, Pete” he reminds his son, who is looking up at him with teary eyes with the inhaler close. “Yeah, just like that. Copy daddy’s breathing”
Countless scares come to Tony’s mind when he thinks about asthma attacks. Peter’s lungs will always give him problems, and there isn’t a second of his life where Tony doesn’t hurt for it. That his son knows how to use an inhaler and that he can’t run like the rest of his classmates is something Tony will always carry with him.
Eventually, the medicine makes its appearance and his son’s breathing goes back to normal. There are still a few whines and attempts of sobs that Tony comforts quickly, and Peter’s cheeks go back to being dry.
They stay there for a while, Tony rocking him softly even if he knows Peter always complains about not being a baby anymore. The boy doesn’t complain though, just hug his father close.
“Want to tell me what’s going on?” Tony asks, and he isn’t sure if Peter has heard him or if the boy has fallen asleep.
“There is a new b-boy in class” Peter whispers, not looking up. “He s-said that… that… I-I’m not as smart as-s him”
“You’re really smart. I bet he doesn’t know how to take apart the TV remote and hide the batteries when he’s angry with his daddy”
The memory seems to trigger a small smile on his face, and he shifts on Tony’s lap. Tony still remembers the first time he gave Peter time out for throwing a tantrum, and in return, the boy took the batteries of all the remotes in the penthouse and hid them in different places. Probably, it had been a good reason to be angry at him, but Tony had found it too funny and ingenious to care.
Peter says something else too quiet for Tony to hear, and the father already knows that he isn’t upset for something as simple as that. He’s a model student – and even if he’s still working with the difference between writing six and nine, his homework is always perfect for his teacher. Tony urges him to repeat himself, and Peter finally looks up from the Pluton drawing of the sheets to his father.
“He said that people who don’t have a mommy aren’t real people, and that you will leave me because I’m not as comp’ete as him” Peter sighs and goes back to looking down. “And that Iron Man doesn’t need a half kid”
Tony wants to praise him because he has managed to say the whole sentence only mispronouncing the word ‘complete’, something really hard for his speech impediment, as his therapist likes to call it. But there is a growing feeling of pure rage, protectiveness and hate that he forgets about it. He vaguely remembers Peter talking about his mother, maybe once or twice, when the school thinks is a good idea to exclude people with non-traditional families over mommy-son dances or mother and father’s day presents. The boy had grown understanding that it’s only Tony and him, and he seemed okay with it.
That a 5 year old kid managed to take that away from Peter makes his blood boil. The toddler seems to understand his father’s silence as something bad, because his breathing starts picking up suddenly.
“A-are you gonna-a le-leave me?” Peter asks, tightening his fist on the sheets.
“Bud, look at me” Tony tries to act as calm as possible. Peter obeys and looks, again, with wet eyes. “What that kid said isn’t true. There are a lot of people that only have one mother or one father, and they are complete”
“But Flash has a mommy and a daddy” Peter whines, not convinced at all. “A-and Ned too. Why I don’t? Did I do some´ing bad so mommy left us?”
If there is a part of Tony´s heart that was still untouched, it shatter with those words. He wants to go to the school and kick that boy and his family out of the country, or build a school just for his son. He tries to keep the anger down, and considers himself lucky because Peter said the kid’s name.Tony shifts him so that the small boy is looking at him, or at least at his chin, and he can hear good what he’s about to say.
“Your mommy left because she was a coward, and Flash said it because he’s a coward too” he states. “And besides, doesn’t MJ has only a mommy?”
“Do you think she’s less than the other girls in your class?”
“No! MJ is the best, cause she gives me the toys I can’t reach and is the only one who I can read with” Peter defends her quickly.
“Then you’re the best too, because you’re kind, and funny, and smart. And if you don’t have a mommy, it doesn’t matter. You have me, and I’m not gonna leave you never”
“Even if I hide the bat’is of the remote?” A small smirk plays on his lips before he emits a small giggle when Tony tickles his side. “Daddy, no!”
“I’ll love you until you’re a moody teenager and you slam doors on my face”
“I’m not doing that” he scoffs, sincere disgust on his face. Then, the lovely brightness that Tony had been looking for since he came from school appears again, and a second later Peter is jumping off his lap and running towards the kitchen. “I’m eating all the lasa’n!”
Laughs and hurried footsteps fill the Stark household as Tony lets Peter win the small race, purposefully slacking back so that his little legs can arrive sooner. He knows he isn’t the perfect father, and that letting Peter eat ice-cream after dinner isn’t healthy nor good for his sleep schedule. But later that night, when he lets Peter sleep with him and the boy snuggles against his father’s chest, he feels like he’s doing good enough.