Tony closed the door with a sigh before leaning his back against it and allowing himself to slide down until his legs were stretched out before him on the floor. His head fell back with a dull thunk and his eyes closed. For a moment, he was content to wallow in misery and his wet jacket.
His cell phone buzzed in his pants pocket but he ignored it. Wallowing, he told himself. Then it buzzed again. Then again, a minute later. Eyes flashing open in irritation, he pulled it out.
Pepper Potts: How’s the date going?!!
Pepper Potts: Text / call me as soon as you get home!!
Pepper Potts: Don’t worry about the time change, I’ll be up! J
Hitting the call button would be much less painful than trying to explain his horrendous evening via text, so he pressed it and braced for an awkward conversation.
“Tony! You’re home already?! Tell me about the date? Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”
He smiled in spite of himself. Pepper’s exuberance was infectious despite most situations and his own tendency to indulge in self-pity.
“Hey to you too, Pepper. Are you sure you have time to chat? Aren’t you at work?” he was dodging, trying halfheartedly to avoid re-living his evening. Apparently, Pepper wasn’t in a mood to accommodate that wish.
“I’m on break, Tony and it’s the night shift. Nothing much is happening, I guarantee. Now spill.” Her tone went from its normal honey and sweetness to one that brooked no argument.
“Ok, spilling,” he took a deep breath and jumped right into it. Just like a band-aid, the faster you rip it the less it hurts. That was almost scientifically proven, right? “So, he picked me up and we went to this amazing little Italian joint I’ve never heard of. A real classy joint.”
“Aww, that sounds great! What did you wear? Please tell me it wasn’t a button down over a band tee.”
“I wore my suit, Pep, don’t worry. The navy one? The only suit I have?” Tony rolled his eyes. The woman was on the other side of the country and still knew his wardrobe better than he did.
“Excellent choice, I approve,” Pepper’s voice was practically beaming with pride. Obviously, the only thing that counted toward being an adult was dressing like one. Who would have known?
“Dinner was great, delicious. I haven’t had a meal like that in a long time.” If he was being honest with himself, the food was probably the highlight of the evening. He hesitated, not eager for this bit of the story. “But then David threw a little temper tantrum and walked out, leaving me with the bill.”
A pause. “Tony, people don’t just throw tantrums in public. What did you do?” Cringing, he fought back his disappointment and anger. None of this was his fault! Not this time, anyway.
“Uh, your sister about 4 years ago, apparently,” he bit out, somewhat scathingly.
Stunned silence echoed through the phone. When Pepper finally overcame her shock, her voice was gentle. “Oh Tony. I’m so sorry, I knew you really liked him.” The sympathy almost made it worse, and he scrunched up his face to keep the threatening tears at bay.
“Four months, Pep,” he whispered, not trusting his voice to hold. “I thought he was ready to meet Peter, but he just left. He just walked out on me.” Suddenly all the stress from the past few months reared its ugly head and he struggled to catch his breath. “I had to catch the bus home and barely had enough cash to pay the babysitter. I can’t do this, Pepper. I don’t know how I’ve been doing it. I can’t do this without her.” Finally, he let go and allowed the tears to fall and for small noiseless sobs to wrack his body. He pulled his knees up to rest his forehead on, hiding his shame from the empty apartment.
After a few minutes, he pulled himself back together. He shouldn’t fall apart like that while talking to Pepper, she didn’t need to deal with his issues. “Pep? Are you still there?”
“Of course, honey. I’m still here. I’ll always be here for you. You have no idea how much I wish I could give you a hug right now. Or punch that guy! Right in the nards with my pointiest shoes!” A ghost of a laugh escaped at that.
“Pepper, only pubescent boys say ‘nards’ but thank you for the sentiment anyway.” Absently, he wiped the wetness from his cheeks.
“In all seriousness, Tony, you should move out to New York. I can’t help you from across the country. And it would be an entirely new dating pool!” Pepper wheedled. She’d been hinting at him moving closer for months. He’d been refusing on the principle that he didn’t need help to support his own family, but he could maybe admit that he needed a bit of support himself. This phone call alone had been surprisingly cathartic.
“I’ll think about it, Pep. Seriously, I will, but I don’t think I’m ready to date again. This thing with David just proved that it’s too soon. I’m not ready and obviously the world’s not ready for Peter.”
“Thanks, Tony. That’s all I’m asking, but I’d worry less if you were here and I’d love to hug my nephew more often.”
“I know, and he’d love it too,” Tony sighed. He felt completely wrung out from his emotional night. “Well, I’m gonna hit the sack, I’ll let Peter call you tomorrow around lunch, ok?”
“Ok, Tony, sleep well. I love you,” and Pepper hung up before he could respond.
The wetness of his jacket was finally registering as uncomfortable and he was a little chilled. Time to get your ass off the floor, then Tony, his thoughts mocked. He stood, shrugged out of his suit jacket, and hung it on the rack beside the door. The white button down he wore underneath was slightly damp, too. A hot shower was definitely being added to the evening’s to-do list, slotted right underneath seeing his son.
The babysitter had been surprised to see him home so early, but said Peter had gone to bed at his normal time after playing with his dinosaurs and been read a story. Tony kept most of the lights off as he navigated to Peter’s room; they’d lived in this apartment for several years and not much had changed so the only danger was tripping over toys.
Peter was asleep in his bed, dinosaur print comforter halfway on the floor. His small pale face with its messy mop of brown hair just visible from where it was tucked behind the giant stuffed green dinosaur teddy he loved. Tony couldn’t help but smile. He walked in silently and pulled the blankets back onto the bed. Pressing a kiss to his son’s cheek, perfectly round the way small children’s always are, he decided that moving would be good for them. Peter deserved to have more people around who loved him, no more random dates or string of unfamiliar babysitters. It hurt to admit but Peter needed more family and Tony wasn’t about to back away from that challenge.
Tony reluctantly tore himself away from watching Peter’s sleeping face to haul himself to the shower. He stripped quickly, leaving his suit on the floor to deal with later, his mind was already racing with logistics regarding the big move. Firstly, he’d have to find a job; he wasn’t keen on a coast to coast move with no safety net. With his current financial situation, he’d probably have to sell the car in order to rent a moving van. He added in the fees for breaking his lease and grimaced, he’d have to eat lean for a few weeks, but that wasn’t a big deal.
Hadn't Thor ended up in Brooklyn? He’d met Thor maybe ten years prior when they both ended up working at a mechanic shop in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. Thor had stopped because of a girl and Tony because he ran out of money. He was pretty sure he still had the man’s contact info. He’d email in the morning to see if he knew of any work out there.
Decision made and to-do lists outlined, he allowed himself to relax. He turned the water up as hot as he could handle, skin prickling with almost-pain. It burned along his colder extremities, fingers and toes and he relished it, letting it take his mind away from his emotions so that he could tuck them down and away. This wasn’t the time to indulge himself, he’d already had his few minutes to wallow. It was time to pull himself together and move on. What had Pops always said? Oh yeah, Stark men are made of iron.