The wonderful thing about money was— Well, no, there wasn't just one thing. In fact, for a man like Tony Stark, there were many great things. Living without money would be basically impossible given just how synonymous he and luxury had become throughout his life.
But there were less frivolous things that he spent his money on too. Charity, though he didn't really handle that department personally, played a large part. When Pepper was put on the payroll, she made sure that various charities were widely funded and carefully given attention to, as the PR was good for business. More than that, however, in Tony's opinion at least, was that he was able to always to keep a constant eye on his daughter.
He might not have been there in person to see Darcy's first steps, but he had video footage, from afar, that captured her motoring through the backyard of the duplex her mother rented, excitedly bending down to rub her pudgy hands over the grass, fascinated by how it felt on her fingers.
He might not have heard her first words, but technology allowed him to record, again from a distance, her babbling baby talk as it progressed into words and sentence fragments and eventually proper speech.
And sure, some might call that ethically questionable, even creepy, possibly stalkerish, if they didn't understand the full scope of his situation. But Tony Stark really didn't care how it looked to others, especially when he was able to watch as the little girl, partly of his making and in full possession of his heart, grew.
He watched her face fill out, features beginning to show more obviously. She kept his hair, his chin, that stubborn tilt to her head when she got onto something and wouldn't let it go. She had her mother's eyes; a cool, silver blue that were always full of laughter.
And she was smart. God, was she smart. He had copies of every single one of her report cards; the fact that he could hack into their servers did bother him, but it was a public school, so he simply paid for an increase in security measures, and let Pepper spin it. To cover his tracks, he upgraded allof the surrounding public schools, and then waited for Kelly to call to remind him that he wasn't supposed to have any contact with their daughter. But she didn't and he was both relieved and disappointed.
Was he so easily forgettable? Did she really think he cared so little about their daughter that he never once did anything to make her life a little easier?
When, in fact, he pulled strings wherever he could. He had to learn subtlety for that particular issue, however. Because a car suddenly appearing in front of the house from a mysterious benefactor would be suspicious. But if he sent her birthday cards from 'distant' relatives filled with a little spending money or a graduation gift of the same variety, then Kelly didn't complain and Darcy was eventually able to buy her first beat-up little car.
Which he promptly had inspected while she was away for the weekend with her mother. And then had everything replaced with new equipment, except for the rusting outside that he knew she thought gave her car character. A car she promptly named Roberta.
The only one who wasn't surprised that car was still on the road and running like a dream was Tony, and that was because he made sure it was always kept in prime condition.
It was an unusual way to take care of her, he knew that. But unusual was basically his middle name (far better than Edward, in his opinion).
For all the years that Tony spent watching Darcy grow up from the outside, he'd never once met her. He had video footage and files filled with information and he knew every detail down to her very first kiss; a sixth grader that she actually gave a black eye for all his effort.
But he'd never heard her voice in person, never heard her call him dad, never had to mend her broken heart or kiss her owies better. He was just a faceless man that she never spoke of, never asked about; a sperm donor, in some respects. One who, in her mother's opinion, wasn't equipped to be a father.
And maybe he wasn't; maybe Kelly had been right.
As Darcy was growing up with a mother who always cared, always watched out for her, gave her everything she ever needed, Tony was doing the same thing he'd done before he learned of Darcy's existence. Partying and inventing and drowning out the pain and the rejection and the daddy issues he had in spades. He was putting on a good show for the cameras and spending his money on every frivolity the world had to offer.
It was only when the fame faded away for awhile, the cameras put away, the beautiful women shuffled out the door, that he sat down at his desk, red silk robe tied at the waist, and clicked through the locked file on his computer, the one filled with his little girl. With pictures of her growing from a beautiful, round baby to a giggly, curious toddler to an awkward, knobby kneed kid. And onwards and up through those hormonal, eye-rolling years where she hid her face behind her hair and wore baggy clothes to hide her growing body. Until she was graduating high school and sending away applications to college; a bright-eyed teenager with a mischievous smirk that she got from a father she didn't know.
Tony was fully aware of when she'd taken on an internship in New Mexico. He'd lamented to himself over her slow descent into political science, after changing majors twice before. When she'd started working for astrophysicist, Dr. Jane Foster, he'd held out hope that she might find a better science to interest her. But it became apparent enough that she was just a Pop-Tart and coffee dispenser, not all that interested in the science aspect of her internship.
When things changed, it was Coulson who told him.
"Did we have an appointment?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at the agent he found standing in his living room. "I'm pretty sure I told JARVIS not to let you in…"
"You did," he said. "I can be persuasive when necessary."
Tony's brows furrowed. "JARVIS is an AI, programmed by me, nobody and nothing should be able to influence him… Although I've noticed he's partial to frisky women and expensive liquor, but I don't know where he got that from…"
Coulson's eye twitched. "Mr. Stark, I'm only here out of professional courtesy."
"Did we have that?" His eyes narrowed and turned up in thought. "I don't remember having that with you…"
"In New Mexico, there is a small town called Puente Antiguo; I believe you're familiar with it."
The teasing drained from Tony's face and posture as he sat up. "Geography lessons, Coulson?"
"There, a mysterious hammer was found in a crater… And curiously, an astrophysicist has been making remarkable breakthroughs…" He stared at him searchingly. "The kind of breakthroughs that draw attention."
Tony licked his lips, letting his words sink in. "You're sending in a team?"
Coulson nodded. "I'll personally be heading the team."
"To shut them down or to help?"
"That hasn't been decided yet," he admitted.
He sat back, hands stacked on his stomach. "What are the chances that this situation becomes dangerous?"
"I can't speculate as to—"
"Either you speculate, or I make a spectacle of myself by arriving on the scene in full Iron Man gear," Tony interrupted, offering a sarcastic smile. "In fact, I'm still considering it. Could be fun."
Coulson looked seconds away from rubbing his temple, where a headache was no doubt forming.
"Would it help if I offered to keep you apprised of the situation?"
Tony leaned forward, glaring up at the agent. "It would help if you could guarantee my daughter's safety." He tilted his head. "Can you?"
Arms tucked behind his back, Coulson seemed to give the question serious consideration. "I will do everything in my power to keep everyone safe, your daughter included."
"Right." Nodding, Tony stood. "That's not good enough," he decided. He started walking away, his finger raised, "You'll be the first to see the new additions I made to my suit though, Agent, so there's an upside to your visit after all."
"Mr. Stark, I can't allow you to intervene," Coulson called after him.
He snorted. "Really, are we having this argument?" He turned, facing him, but continued walking backwards. "You can't stop me," he said simply, his eyebrows hiked.
"As of right now, the situation in New Mexico is completely under control. I'm informing you that we are sending in a team for observation. If at some point we decide that we need to intervene, we will…" He stared at him seriously. "My entire job is based on keeping this country and its citizens safe… Your daughter is one of those people."
"My daughter would be expendable," he argued, coming to a stop, staring hard at the agent. "At the end of the day, this country outranks one person, at least in your and SHIELD's mind." He started back toward Coulson, his shoulders stiff, his chin raised with resolve. "In my mind and my world, she ranks number one."
Coulson met his dark eyes and gave a short nod. "Miss Lewis isn't aware that you're her father, is she?"
His eyebrows flashed, his gut giving a hard twist. "She doesn't have to be aware for me to care." He paused, his lips twitching over his unintentional rhyme.
Seeming to notice, Coulson gave him a droll look.
There was a long moment where he considered leaving for his shop, but for some reason he instead went to his bar, preparing a drink for himself and shaking a decanter with two rattling ice cubes at Coulson questioningly.
"No, thank you."
Filling the cup anyway, and taking both drinks for himself, Tony moved to take a seat in a leather armchair, propping his ankle up on his opposite knee, sinking into the cushions and tilting his head back to stare thoughtfully at the agent.
He took a long drag of his drink and licked his lips before telling him, "Darcy's mother didn't believe I was equipped to be a father. She was probably right." He shook his head. "You would know; I've been evaluated by SHIELD a few times, haven't I?"
Coulson took a seat on the adjacent couch. "Reviews were mixed," he offered.
Tony snorted into his cup, enjoying the burn on his tongue and down his throat. With a hum, he said, "Selfish, egotistical, not made for team-playing."
"That was the consensus," he agreed.
"Doesn't translate well to being a parent." He turned his eyes off, stared out the window, a bright, blue, cloudless sky as far as his gaze could reach. "Darcy needed someone reliable… She needed to know she'd always be taken care of." His jaw ticked. "I was unanimously voted off the ballot."
Coulson stared at the floor, a knot between his brows. "You signed away custody of her."
"When she was two months old."
"Buried the record, so nobody would know… Not even the media; piranhas, if they're anything."
His mouth quirked up in a humorless smirk. "I know how to hide my tracks, I just choose not to, in most respects."
He nodded slowly. "But you've monitored her; kept watch from afar."
"When I could…" He cleared his throat and picked an imaginary piece of lint from his pants. "I couldn't be there… I wasn't welcome." He shrugged. "When has that ever stopped me?"
Coulson didn't reply for a long moment. "She's older now," he said, when the silence reached nearly uncomfortable levels. "Maybe if you explain why you weren't there…"
He scoffed. "That I was a coward? That I signed away my rights because her mommy hurt my tender feelings?" He pouted for effect. "If Darcy's anything like her father, she'll spit in my face and tell me to go fuck myself…" He ground his teeth together, nodded, and looked down at his lap. "And she would have every right."
"So you'll keep doing this…?" He turned to look at him, frowning now. "Drink yourself into oblivion, make an ass out of yourself, pine away for fatherhood and the responsibility of something you could but refuse to have?"
"Thank you, Dr. Phil," he replied, lips curled in a sneer. "For putting it all in such vivid detail for me."
Coulson's cheek twitched before he took a deep breath and found his composure. "I can't tell you what to do, Mr. Stark." He stood from the couch. "But I felt I owed you an explanation…" He smoothed out his tie. "I'll be flying into Puente Antiguo tomorrow. Miss Lewis will come to no harm under SHIELD's guard."
Tony finished off one glass before moving to stand. "I'll be flying over tonight," he told him.
"You've been drinking."
"I'd be more concerned with my flying if I wasn't drinking," he argued.
"And exactly how are you going to explain being there?" he wondered, eyebrow raised.
"Dr. Foster is an astrophysicist," he said. "I'm a big fan of science." He shrugged. "I'll say I heard talk of what she's doing and want to help her, fund her, build her wonky little machines for her, because…." He rolled his eyes. "I know she needs something that wasn't built out of toaster parts and duct tape."
"She'll think you're poaching; she'll push you out and Darcy will too, because her schooling depends on the six credits she's getting from the internship with Dr. Foster…" He shook his head. "I know it's not in your nature, but I need you to trust me on this… I need you to let me do my job."
Tony flexed his jaw and turned to glare at him. "You're asking me to trust you with something I don't even trust myself with…"
Coulson sighed, staring at him with sincere understanding. "I didn't have to come here. I didn't have to tell you what we were doing… But I did, because I know that despite the fact that you signed those papers, and even though you've never properly met her, she is your daughter… And I will respect and honor that while I do my job."
He turned his head away, eyes darting, searching for the right thing to do.
His voice was low, dangerous, warning, "If there are any problems…"
"I will contact you immediately."
Tony turned back to him, his eyes wide, serious. "If she gets hurt in anyway, even if your little agent thugs just hurt her feelings by looking at her the wrong way…" He raised an eyebrow. "I will take SHIELD apart, piece by piece, starting with you."
He nodded shortly. "Duly noted."
They were left in a stare off for a long, tense moment.
JARVIS intervened though, warning, "Miss Potts has arrived, sir."
"I'll see myself out," Coulson assured.
Tony gave a faint nod, brows furrowed, still feeling unsure about his decision.
The agent was across the room when Tony called out, "When did you know?" He raised an eyebrow at him. "About Darcy…? About me?"
"When we first began investigating you," he admitted. "Surveillance was placed on Miss Lewis; we weren't sure if she knew about you… Or if you were involved in her life at all."
He nodded, eyes dropping.
Coulson paused, fiddling with a cufflink before he said, "My dad once told me that a real father doesn't care what his children think… He just cares."
Tony stared at him, confused.
"In the last four years, I've seen you fix your daughter's car three separate times; once just because you thought the oil was low…" He took a step forward, arms crossed at his back. "You made a large monetary contribution to her school when they were faced with a financial issue and were considering cancelling the senior prom, just so she would get to go…" He nodded. "You paid off a mortgage payment when her mother lost her job and even had the bank convince her that they made a mistake in their records so she wouldn't know it was you…" Coulson stared at him, a faint tilt to his mouth. "I think she might be the only thing you've done that you don't seek glory in, Mr. Stark… And that is an amazing accomplishment."
Tony smiled to himself, staring at the polished floor, his eyebrows flashing, but he had no words.
And when he looked up, Coulson was gone, his words still echoing in Tony's mind.
Seconds later, Pepper appeared, smiling at him. "Hey," she greeted.
He pasted on a grin and walked toward her.
"Was that Agent Coulson I just saw leaving?" she wondered, motioning behind her with her thumb.
"Hm?" He shook his head. "About yay high, pasty, expressionless botox face…?" He pursed his lips. "No, absolutely not, never heard of him."
Rolling her eyes, Pepper shook her head at him.
"Lunch?" Tony offered. "I'm feeling hungry."
"Sure," she agreed. "Anything in particular?"
"Mexican," he said, directing her toward the elevator. He smirked at her suggestively, wiggling his eyebrows. "I'm feeling spicy."
"You're in a good mood," she mused.
He hummed. "I got some terrible news and then somebody made me feel better… It was like a Lifetime movie only shorter and nobody cried."
Pepper's face screwed up. "Are you okay? Is there—?"
"Fine. I'm fine." He nodded dismissively. "I just put the most important thing in my life in the hands of a man I don't particularly like…" He shrugged.
She frowned, glancing briefly up as the elevator dinged to tell them they'd reached the garage. "You need to be more specific… The list of people you don't like is fairly long."
He rolled his eyes. "I like plenty of people."
"Really?" She raised an eyebrow. "I think I can count them on one hand." She pointed at him. "JARVIS doesn't count."
"That's rude," he said, turning his eyes up. "Did you hear that, JARVIS? I think you might have cause for an unjust prejudice suit against Miss Potts."
"I had hoped it would never come to this, sir..."
Tony grinned, walking toward his powder blue Porsche.
Pepper sighed, circling the car to the passenger's side. "Are you going to tell me?"
He hit the button to unlock both doors and watched her climb in, following to settle on his side, eyeing her as she reached for the seatbelt over her shoulder.
He was distracted for a moment; the fabric of Pepper's dress was a bright, crimson red. He was reminded of a ribbon, tied in familiar brown hair some twenty-one years ago, getting farther and farther away.
His humor faded and he shook his head. "Some other time," he told her, turning the car on and listening to the growling hum for a few seconds before he put it into drive.
Pepper tipped her head, giving him that exasperated look that she wore all too often.
He offered a smile in return, pulling out and turning toward the opening garage door. "Lunch," he said, pressing his foot down heavily on the gas pedal.
She smiled up at him despite herself, tucking a loose strand of red hair behind her ear. "You'll tell me," she said, knowingly. "You always tell me."
His mouth twitched, amused, while he reached for his sunglasses and slid them on. "Eventually," he agreed.
But that day was not the day, and neither was the next.
Coulson kept him aware of the happenings of Puente Antiguo, but he was too late to intervene when the metal golem from a very literal other world showed up to cause havoc. He was half-dressed in his suit and losing his mind with panic when JARVIS patched Coulson in.
"She's all right!" he said in greeting. "She's fine. They're all fine. Scared, confused, but safe."
Tony sank down to his knees, adrenaline shooting through him too fast. "She's okay?"
"She's currently harassing one of my agents for her iPod back," he admitted.
His face screwed up. "Her relationship with Apple products offends me on various levels."
Coulson let out a cough of a laugh, trying to hide it and failing. "Will you be flying in?"
Tony stared down at the floor, eyes darting. "No," he said decisively. "If she's all right…" He struggled but managed to say, "I'll stay away."
"I think that's a policy you've taken a little too seriously over the years, Mr. Stark."
He clenched his teeth. "It's worked so far."
"To a degree," he allowed.
He glared. "I don't believe I hired a psychologist, Coulson."
"No psychologist would have this much patience."
He snorted, nodding. Sinking back to sit on his haunches, he bit his lip. He felt awkward when he asked, "You met her…?"
"She's loud… Obnoxious, smarter than she seems, and she keeps finding ways to sneak out without being detected… She's very obviously your daughter."
He grinned, his head falling back, eyes burning in a way he couldn't help. "She's perfect."
"She talks like you… Like a snarky, female version of you that's slightly more appropriate, given her age."
He laughed, closing his eyes a long moment. "What happens now?"
"We collect their data, offer Dr. Foster a job with SHIELD, continue to monitor her work from here on out… Miss Lewis has the choice of staying on as Foster's assistant or returning to school… She'll sign a gag order and she'll be kept under surveillance until we're sure she'll honor it. After that, it's up to her…"
His brows furrowed. "And if Foster joins SHIELD and Darcy sticks with her…?"
"Dr. Selvig will be offered a position with SHIELD in a separate department and I'm aware that Director Fury is already interested in recruiting Thor, who appears to have romantic intentions toward Dr. Foster…"
"Fury wants Point Break for the Avengers Initiative," he said knowingly.
"You're still consulting for it, aren't you?"
Tony could practically hear his smirk.
"It looks like you might just be meeting your daughter, Mr. Stark, whether you're ready or not."
As the phone disconnected, Tony frowned thoughtfully.
"I need to speak to Pepper…"
"Of course, sir."
It was mere seconds later when Pepper answered her phone. "Tony?"
"Pep…" He ground his teeth together and nodded, gathering his courage. "Do you remember that thing that I didn't tell you?"
"I'm sure there were many things, Tony, could you be more specific?"
He rubbed a hand over his forehead. "A few weeks ago; I told you I'd tell you some other time… Now's that time."
Seeming to notice his serious tone, she only took a moment to tell him, "I'm on my way."
Just before he hung up, he added, "Hey, do you think you could pick up food on the way? I'm hungry... And before you argue, drinking on an empty stomach is supposed to be hazardous to your health, so really, I'm just looking out for you." His eyebrows hiked. "Let me care, Pepper."
She scoffed. "What makes you think I'll be drinking?"
"That's the kind of news I have," he told her. "The kind that prompts good people to get overwhelmingly drunk."
She sighed. "I'll pick up Thai."
"Wonderful." He clapped his hands. "JARVIS, break out the mood music. Pepper, drive safely."
The phone conveniently cut off and he grinned, pushing himself up to stand.
"You're sure it's time to tell Miss Potts about Miss Darcy, sir?"
Tony raised his arms, watching as mechanical arms began to take his suit off of him. "I'm probably a decade late on telling her," he admitted.
"It's a sensitive subject, sir…"
"Yeah." He nodded, eyebrows flashing. "But it'll be better to tell her now, before she meets her."
"I take it you'll be spending more time at SHIELD headquarters then, sir?"
"I'm going to meet my daughter," he declared, as if the AI who was always listening didn't know.
"If I might say, sir, it's high time."
Stepping off the platform, no longer in his suit, Tony hummed thoughtfully. "We'll see how you feel on the subject when she clocks me, JARV."
"Wouldn't be the first time a woman has taken it upon themselves to show you their true feelings, sir."
He snorted, making his way to the elevator. "True," he admitted, "But I might actually care about how this woman feels…"
"In time, when she understands the length of how much you care, I think she'll understand."
"I'm not so sure…" Tony shrugged, but raised an eyebrow. "Care to make a wager?"
"I'm programmed not to behave foolishly; more likely to create balance in relation to yourself."
"I must've been drinking when I did that," he mused, frowning.
"Not unlikely, sir."
He leaned back against the wall of his elevator, arms crossed over his chest, before finally asking, "Do you think she'll like me, JARVIS?"
The AI took a moment before answering. "I think you can be a very charming person, sir, when you want to be."
He smiled slowly, nodding. "Then I'll just have to up my game, won't I?"
"A warning to Miss Potts might be in order, sir?"
He stepped off the elevator, smirking. "Not yet."
JARVIS sighed. "As you wish."
A little over a half hour later, JARVIS informed him that Pepper had arrived and Tony stood from his couch, his palms sweating, the speech he'd concocted repeating in his mind.
But as Pepper stepped into the living room, he simply held out a glass of Scotch and told her outright, "Twenty-one years ago, I gave up the rights to my only daughter..."
She blinked at him, before crossing the room, ignoring the glass he offered, and took the whole bottle from the bar, plopping down on the couch as she gave a long sigh.