Tony Stark never wanted children.
It wasn't that he didn't like them, not exactly, though he'd never been particularly fond of them either. It had more to do with his own childhood, his own insecurities, his own unresolved issues, all of which would interfere with the proper and healthy raising of a child.
Even if he was a stable and balanced person, which he knew full well he wasn't, children were schedule-oriented beings. Tony was not. He slept sporadically—almost never, if passing out at the workbench didn't count, which Pepper had informed him snottily on a number of occasions that it did not.
He rarely ate anything that wasn't coffee or alcohol, and of course he drank both in extreme excess. Come to think of it, he did everything in excess; women, gambling, building, swearing, you name it. How was he supposed to teach some snot-nosed kid things like self-control and manners and kindness when he didn't have any himself? He was sarcasm and rough edges, weapons and booze and sex.
He wasn't kid-friendly, and he didn't desire to be.
So he had no idea how to react when JARVIS informed him that someone had just left a baby at his front door.
At first, it didn't quite click. He thought JARVIS was being a snarky little twat as per usual, or Rhodey was playing a joke on him, or something. So he laughed, commented about JARVIS having a weird sense of humor, and went to open his front door without any expectation of actually seeing a baby.
But there it was.
It was very young and very small, the pink and wrinkled stage of life where everyone looked pretty much exactly the same, but the eyes…those were all Tony. They were the same hazel-flecked, coffee-brown, and were blinking up at him inquisitively. His nose had a distinctly un-Stark-like button quality, but then, that might have come with baby territory.
"What the fuck?"
And maybe he shouldn't curse around a baby, but then, that was just reason 4,792 why he should not have them. Also, Tony kind of figured the thing wouldn't exactly go repeating it anytime soon.
"JARVIS, who left this?" Tony demanded with a scowl, "Uh, it. Him. Her?"
Fuck if he knew what the thing's gender was. It had a blue blanket, but it wasn't as if the face was particularly male or female looking. Just…pinkish, and sort of smooth-looking, at least until the baby scrunched up it's nose, then it looked wrinkled and disgruntled.
"Do not start crying," he ordered.
The baby didn't seem keen on taking orders, because Tony's harsh voice only seemed to upset the baby more.
"Shit, I mean, don't cry please," Tony amended, trying to make his voice softer, a bit more soothing, but the undertone of mild panic was still prevalent.
Which might have been why the baby started making noises. Not quite crying, but upset little hiccup-y sounds, a persistent sort of whimper that only made Tony panic more. He had absolutely zero idea how to comfort a baby, other than you were probably supposed to pick it up, and that was most definitely not happening.
"I have identified the presumed mother from the security footage, sir," JARVIS said over his growing panic attack, "Lydia Burnes, age 24. Current residence unknown, occupation, artist. You brought her to the premises nine months prior, after the BlueDot gallery opening you attended with Miss Potts. She does not own a license, nor is contact information listed on her website. This is all data available to me, sir. Shall I call Miss Potts?"
Pepper was going to flay him alive.
She'd warned him. To be fair, half the country had counted on this happening at some point, the way Tony went around. He'd always been careful, safe sex and all that jazz, but apparently, not safe enough. Tony remembered that gallery, a woman with an "L" sounding name.
She hadn't been particularly remarkable looking, but she'd been some kind of wild child artist, all fire and sass. They'd met at the opening of a gallery that displayed her work, something Pepper had dragged him to in order to expand "his" (her) art collection and impress upon their investors that Tony was a cultured and art-minded man.
Tony had been bored out of his skull until he'd met the artist. She was entirely unimpressed by both his wealth and fame, which, because Tony had never been one to turn down a challenge, only served to stoke his interest. They'd ended up in bed within hours, and though her looks were somewhat forgettable, he most certainly remembered her mouth.
In more ways than one.
"Yeah. Call Pepper."
Pepper is dead silent for almost a full minute, then begins shouting at him, full stop, for almost five, and nothing he said or did could get her to stop. After the shouting toned down, she gave a very tired, very aggravated sigh.
"Bring him inside, and-"
"I'm not picking it up!"
"Anthony Stark, so help me-"
"I don't want to drop it-"
"You're not going to-you know what, I'm not getting into this right now, just pick up the basket then and bring him in before some gutsy paparazzo snaps a picture."
Tony very carefully, very hesitantly, followed Pepper's instructions, carrying the basket by the handle, one hand under it, while the thing continued whimpering.
"Tony, for god's sake, I can hear him through the line, if you won't pick him up, try and calm him down at least."
"Calm down, baby," Tony told it, trying to maintain eye contact in order to impress upon the thing's small mind how serious he was, "It just keeps drooling. And whining."
"Well, the drool's not going to stop. The whining might if you picked him up."
There was a sigh over the line, a crackly burst of static, and Pepper gave in. She was his pushy PA, and she knew him better than perhaps anyone alive, but that didn't mean they were friends, and that sure as hell didn't mean she could tell him what to do.
"Right. Well, I'm already on my way, so I should be there in a few minutes. You're going to want a paternity test of course, then we can go about trying to track down the mother, get her to sign a custody agreement so she can't go changing her mind in ten years, and-"
"You can't really think I'm keeping it," Tony laughed in spite of the utter un-funniness of the situation, and he could practically feel Pepper bristle.
"He could be your son-"
"I don't even know if it's a he, I just assumed cause there's this blue blanket-" Tony pointed out, but Pepper was not to be deterred.
"You can't tell me you honestly want nothing to do with him-"
"I honestly want nothing to do with it," Tony insisted, making a face, "My life's not exactly child-friendly, Pep."
"No one's ready for kids, not even people who think they are. You're just a little…less prepared than most."
"I still can't even remember what it's mom looks like! Besides, I can't raise a kid on my own. I drink too much and work a lot and I'm never around and-" Tony came to an abrupt stop, a cold, painful thought hitting him below the belt: I'm too much like my father.
"Tony?" Pepper called, trying to get his attention, "Tony!"
"I'm not raising this thing, Pepper, I'm not," Tony decided then, his voice leaving no room for question or argument, and that was the end of it.
Tony paid Pepper triple overtime to hold onto the kid until it was all sorted out, because she was good with that sort of thing, and if it were anyone else the news would leak to the press. She was being stubborn about it though, refusing to let him give it up yet without "thinking this through". Tony had tried to push for just leaving it at a police station and being done with it, but Pepper had given him the single most withering glare he'd ever received in his life, so he'd allowed her to think he was considering it. She had people working to track down Lilly-Lyssa? Lyra? Whatever, the mother's-location. Pepper wanted him to get a paternity test; Tony absolutely refused.
He didn't want to know.
He wanted to forget.
So he did; he went about the rest of his week as per normal. He spent time in the lab, met with a couple investors, and, at the end of the week, went out to Vegas for some award ceremony he couldn't remember the point of. He ended up blowing it off to hit up the casino, deciding that potentially having a child was reason enough for some R&R, in the form of gambling with a pair of gorgeous brunettes.
Until, of course, Rhodes interrupted to hand him some award and remind him about the Jericho presentation.
After Rhodes ruined his roll-honeybear claimed he didn't blow on other men's dice-Tony got bored. He passed off the award to some guy in a Caesar costume and almost picked up a pretty looking reporter with a mouth, until he remembered the last woman he'd picked up with a mouth.
He got in the car without another word to her or to Happy.
Happy may have guessed something was up, but because he was Happy and he was awesome, didn't mention it. The drive back to Malibu was uneventful, and Tony found himself wishing he was a hell of a lot drunker. He spent the night in the workshop, doing anything he could to keep his hands busy. In the morning, Pepper shut down his music, questioned him about appointments, harangued him about making Rhodey and the pilot wait, then tried to get him to talk about the baby again. Tony ducked right out the door, which may or may not have been her plan, because Pepper may or may not have been a genius.
After the flight, during which he got Rhodey gloriously drunk, he field-tested the Jericho in Kunar Province, some god awful, hell-hot place he never wanted to see again, ever. After the demonstration, he threw on Back in Black and nursed a scotch as they drove him back in the Funvee-yeah, that's right, fuck you, Rhodes-trying to forget he was here, forget what waiting back in America, forget everything, if he could.
Then there was a burst of gunfire and explosions. The soldiers were taken out one by one, and the blood was pulsed in his ears, eyes wide as he took in the warfare around him. His fingers itched for a gun, something to defend himself with; he'd never felt so utterly helpless in his life. He ducked out of the vehicle, stumbling through fire and smoke to get anywhere but there. He ended up scrambling for cover behind a rock, whipping out his phone, fingers darting over Rhodey's number, but not before a heavy, jet black bomb dug into the ground next to him.
The sleek, pointed logo was the last thing he saw before his world was nothing but a blistering blur of stifling heat and pain exploding like wildfire in his chest. He could still hear the echo of barked orders and gunshots in his ears, the sting of sand in his wounds as he bled into unconsciousness.
He drifted in and out of consciousness for a while, waking up from pain only to pass out again from too much pain. It was all a blurry, astronomically painful experience. He remembered very little, hazy flashes of a man he'd later come to know as Yinsen, flashes of blood and medical supplies and huddled, sweat-soaked faces, his own screams echoing in his ears for months to come. When he finally came to, really came to, he was still in pain, and more panicked and terrified than he'd ever been in his life. He and Yinsen talked briefly, their captors interrupted, he refused to build them the Jericho, and was water-boarded until he screamed.
They were sloppy, held him under longer than they should have, long enough for him to hit the brink of unconsciousness. He saw lights then, dancing around the edges of his eyes, and heard voices; a woman's soft, pleading voice for him to stay out of his father's study, a man's rough, alcohol-soaked laugh as he said it would put hair on his chest as he shoved the glass into his too-small hands, the whimpers of an infant without a name.
He passed out.
When he woke, he had an idea.
He shook hands with his captor, pretending to give in, and gave a list of materials he'd need to build the Jericho. He had a month, maybe a little more, and he had a lot of work to do. His head spun, his chest ached, he was bruised and bleeding in more places than he could count, and he couldn't stop thinking the same thought, over and over on loop.
I need to get back to my son.
It was the wrong time for the sudden realization that this was something that mattered, something he wanted, but later he'd wonder if, without that experience, he would have ever realized it at all.
Weeks passed, weeks of secretive building and sloppy torture and learning to be a better person from a man named Yinsen. Once, Yinsen asked if he had a family, and Tony almost dropped his welding torch, because, god, he did. For the first time since he was seventeen years old, he actually had a family.
And his first thought had been to abandon it.
Tony's resolve hardened, tempered as the palladium under his gloved fingertips. He'd been wrong, he knew that now. He'd been wrong about not wanting the baby, wrong about building weapons with nothing but a callous, unrepentant smile, wrong about the way he wanted to live his life. He was a drunkard playboy with the blood of millions on his hands, but he wanted to be more than that.
So he finished development of a miniaturized the arc reactor and detached himself from the car battery, eventually using the reactor to power a prototype metal suit that enabled his escape. He tried his level best to save Yinsen, but in the end, yet another life slipped through his fingers.
Don't waste your life.
He wouldn't, he refused to. He made his escape into the desert, fueled by thoughts of a baby he'd never even held, a baby with eyes that mirrored his, a baby with small hands and chubby cheeks and a button nose, with a voice he'd only heard once. Rhodey found him, brough him home, helped him as he hobbled off the plane. Pepper and Happy were waiting, Pepper with red-rimmed eyes, Happy with as close to tears as Tony had ever seen the composed man.
"Your eyes are red," Tony sniffed, giving Pepper a once-over, "Few tears for your long-lost boss?"
"Tears of joy," she countered easily, her lips tugging into a bittersweet smile, "I hate babysitting."
"About…that," he was careful with his words, there were too many people hovering around not to be cautious, "Remember what I told you not to do? Do it."
Thank god for Pepper, who didn't even miss a beat at his muddled phrasing.
"I already did," she smiled softly, and Tony's heart stopped, his entire life stopped to wait for this answer, "He is."
No one else knew what they were talking about. No one could have known, because his face was impassive, the poker face he'd perfected for his first interview at age four, but in that moment, Tony came the closest he ever had to breaking down in public.
I have a son.
Tony Stark never wanted children.
Until he did.
He shut down weapons production immediately. He debated telling them in his speech that he didn't want that to be SI's only legacy, that it wasn't the future he wanted for his son, but was smart enough to keep his head on straight and know that he needed more time to settle into the fatherhood schtick before he went about announcing it.
He debated telling Obie, a father figure of his own, but decided against it after Obie clearly disapproved of the new direction he was taking the company. Again, there'd be time for that later. All Tony wanted to do now was go get—meet, really—his son.
Pepper brought the baby to him. Tony was supposed to be resting at home, but waiting for Pepper to arrive with his son made him anything but restful. He paced, tapping his fingers against every available surface, thinking about names and supplies he'd need and all the ways he'd have to reorganize his life.
But he could do it, and he would.
When Pepper returned, he'd made up his mind.
"Peter Parker Stark," he announced, all but ambushing her by the door.
"Christ, Tony," she held her free hand to her heart, "I've told you not to startle me like that."
"You kept me waiting," Tony shrugged, already moving on from her to his son, bending down to peer into the carseat Pepper was carrying, "Hey there, Peter. You like that?"
"Peter Parker Stark?"
Tony nodded, not taking his eyes off his drooly, wide-eyed baby boy. Peter looked older, of course, babies did a lot of growing in three months. He seemed more filled-out, more alert, and he had a bit of light brown fuzz on his head now. He waved a finger at him, letting Peter curl his little fingers around Tony's own. The grip made something grow warm and tight in his chest.
"It's a good, strong name," Tony explained to Pepper, still with eyes only for Peter, "No weird celebrity name, no old man, been-in-the-family-since-the-dawn-of-time name. It's simple, easy, and it rolls off the tongue."
"You've thought about this," she looked at him curiously, which, to be fair, he rarely gave anything more than a second's thought.
"Three months," Tony answered lightly, not letting the weight of the statement sink in before speaking up again, "Got any other baby supplies for me, or am I going shopping?"
"I've got the basics," Pepper put the carseat down and shrugged off the diaper bag slung over one shoulder, "But I'm sure you'll want more."
They were quiet a moment, Tony drinking in the sight of his son, the sight he'd been literally living for, with fervent hope and deep adoration. Then, in spite of how he'd tried to bypass it, Pepper asked gently,
"I had time and reason to rethink my priorities," Tony answered simply, not ready to talk about it anymore than that, and Pepper seemed to understand, "And Peter is my priority."
"I'm glad, Tony," she smiled softly, then, with a hint of humor to lighten the mood, "Would like help holding him, or do you think you can manage?"
"Is that sass I'm hearing, Miss Potts?" Tony tore his gaze from Peter long enough to give her a baleful sort of look, and she just smirked, "I am perfectly capable of holding my son, and I will do so soon. No, now. No more waiting, ever, I should be doing this, now."
He was mostly talking to himself, babbling a bit at the end, convincing himself to reach forward. He carefully scooped his hands under Peter, one hand careful to mind his neck, the other behind his back.
He was a bit hot from all the blankets, with smooth, somewhat clammy skin. He clasped him to his chest regardless, mindful of the reactor and it's bumpy edges, anything that might disturb the baby. He rocked on his knees a bit, lightly, gentle as could be. Thin, fuzzy hair tickled his cheek as Tony rested his head against Peter's.
Pepper was about ready to melt into the ground at how adorable they looked, but Tony didn't take notice of any world outside the warm, tiny bundle of pink skin and blue blankets in his arms.
"What do you think, little man?" Tony murmured, "Peter Stark has a nice ring, doesn't it?"
The baby made a gurgling sort of noise, and Tony smiled bright as the sun.
"Yeah. Yeah, sounds good, huh?"
He pulled his arms back a little, enough to look at Peter's face again. The boy just blinked up at him, not cautious, but not overly enthusiastic either, simply…content. Peaceful. He yawned a bit groggily, an squeaky, adorable sound Tony committed to memory on the spot, then managed to edge a thumb into his mouth.
Tony had sucked his thumb until he was four.
Something in Tony ached at that, ached in memory, in hope, in love. He kissed Peter's forehead before holding him against his shoulder again, not putting him down for hours after his arms began to ache from the weight.
He helped Pepper with what he could one-handed, and they slowly moved the supplies inside. She had the basics—a collapsible crib, a car seat, a stocked diaper bag, plenty of formula—but she'd been right, he wanted more, was already mentally cataloguing all the different things he wanted and how he planned to improve on them.
There were plenty of guest rooms he could turn into a nursery—it was a Malibu mansion, after all—even one close enough to Tony's room to hear a baby's cry, but Tony wasn't comfortable putting the crib anywhere but his room. Once he dismissed Pepper, he gave Peter the grand tour.
"JARVIS, you up?"
"For you, sir, always."
"Good. As I'm sure you've collected, this is Peter Parker Stark," Tony stroked a thumb over Peter's cheek, "And he's your new number one priority, above even me, you understand? Primary objective, JARVIS, is his safety. Anything happens with him, I know about it. You got me?"
"Of course, sir."
"We're opening a new project file, indexed under his name. Pepper'll be back with the physical results of the paternity test, I'll want that scanned and committed to file. Also, I'm going to give you a list in a minute, I want you to go through customer reviews on all the parenting websites you can find and order me the best of all of these items using the black Amex with the false name, priority shipping, then keep copies of the receipts for these items in the Peter folder. I want to be able to go back and see what I'm buying for him, what he likes, where to get it again."
"As you wish, sir."
"Good. Go with a blue and green color scheme, and let's start with a crib, a changing table, a carseat, one of those baby bouncer things—actually, make it two—a stroller, one of those things you can strap on and it holds the baby while you walk, a high chair, the top fifty recommended children's books for Peter's age, the top fifteen recommended parenting books, top ten children's psychology books, let's see, what else we got here…"
"Eh, not trusting your judgment on that one, JARV," Tony decided, "I'll do that later, Pep's got plenty of baby clothes jammed into the diaper bag for now—oh, throw a diaper bag on the list, the one she brought is an eyesore, and-"
Peter gummed his shoulder, and Tony's train of thought was temporarily derailed as he softened, observing his son's cuteness.
"And future note, don't interrupt me when I'm observing the perfection I've created, JARVIS," Tony huffed sarcastically.
"Of course, sir," the AI replied in a tone that implied it would have rolled it's eyes if it had any.
"And throw in a handful of pacifiers. I never used them, but who knows. Also, more bottles, Pep got the cheap ones."
"I doubt Miss Potts thought she would be caring for a child so suddenly, or for so long," JARVIS pointed out, and Tony nodded.
"Right. Order her flowers, chocolates, the works, have it delivered. Also, remind me to give her a bonus, an astronomical one."
"Noted, sir," JARVIS replied, this time without a trace of sarcasm.
"Project Peter is to be saved to the personal server, JARVIS," Tony added, "Not sure who to trust at this point, so let's play it safe with a solid nobody."
"That seems wise."
"Aren't I always?"
The gear arrived in less than two days, and though Tony made sure to have Pepper on lookout, there was no media story about Tony Stark ordering baby stuff. They bashed him relentlessly for his decision about the company's new direction, but then, he'd known they would.
He hadn't made the decision for them.
He'd made it for himself and for Peter, and he was standing by it. He spent the next two days reading every book he'd ordered from cover to cover, between feedings and diapers changes and shared naps. He already had JARVIS prowling the interwebs and keeping him informed about all developments on the childcare front, and by the end of the reading binge he considered himself as informed as he'd ever be without proper firsthand experience.
Though his decision to keep Peter didn't waver, those first few days were nothing if not awkward and difficult, and Tony was forced to deal with a number of unpleasant realities he hadn't quite prepared himself for. Part of it was a mental adjustment, shifting from gears from fast and furious playboy Tony, to slow and cautious father Tony. He wanted to change, but that didn't necessarily mean it was easy, didn't mean there were nights he wanted to go out and drink and gamble and fall into bed with some lusty blonde and forget everything.
But then Peter would grasp his finger or flash him a gummy smile or even just look at him with those eyes, nothing but pure adoration and trust, and he lost any desire to be anywhere else. If anything, it was Peter who helped Tony, not the other way around; Tony had never felt so loved in his life. It was new, but it was wonderful, and Tony wouldn't have traded it for anything.
In spite of this, they had their bumps.
His first diaper change was, frankly, a traumatic experience. It involved piss on his shirt and shit hitting the fan, unfortunately both metaphoricallyand literally, and Tony was never, ever going to get over it. Feedings were difficult too, since Peter seemed to only ever want bits and pieces of a bottle at a time, never quite getting full and therefore pretty much constantly hungry. Hungry meant whiny, whiny meant eating less, which meant being hungrier, which meant being whinier, until he was finally hungry enough to drink the whole thing. It wasn't a fun cycle, but it was one Tony eventually learned to navigate.
After finishing his reading and once he finally began to feel just the littlest bit comfortable in the role of parent, Tony gave Rhodey a call. He intended to invite him over for a drink next time he got leave, hoping to introduce his best friend to Peter. Before he could drop a hint about it however, Rhodey realized he wasn't calling to say he'd resume making weapons, and told Tony he needed to get his head on straight.
Tony hung up, and Rhodey didn't call back.
Tony adjusted to Peter's presence faster than he thought he would. He'd been prepared to have periods of regret, of second-thoughts, but they didn't come. There were rough times, certainly, sleepless nights where no amount of cajoling or bouncing would soothe Peter's wails, endless diapers Tony would never enjoy changing, fussy moods where he refused to drink his bottle then cried about being hungry for hours. It was hard, yes, and there were times Tony wanted to pull his hair out, but he never found himself actually regretting his decision.
Peter was worth every minute.
Peter, with his gummy smile and pudgy fingers and wiggly toes. Peter, who giggled when Tony crossed his eyes and always reached for Tony's finger when he saw it and watched Tony like he was a god, a hero, the end all and be all of his world, brown eyes wide in wonder and pure, unadulterated love.
Tony didn't part from Peter if he could help it. They had tummy time on the playmat like all the books suggested, but even then Tony didn't walk away, just laid down in front of Peter and made faces, waggled his fingers, crossed his eyes. Peter gurgled and giggled and made grabby hands at him in turn, able to hold his head up enough now that he could see Tony cooing at him.
Peter couldn't quite roll over yet, only just barely four months old, but he gave it a valiant effort. Tony talked him through it, talked to him constantly, about anything and everything just so Peter could hear his voice, feel his presence. It was a somewhat silly idea, but Tony wanted to impress upon Peter that he was here, not just physically like his father been, but invested. Emotionally present, to borrow a phrase from Parenting Book #4.
They did a lot of reading, too, something Peter seemed very interested in, thought that may have just been the colorful pages of the books. Tony was impatient at first over having to read the same books again and again, but eventually he grew to like it, got into using funny voices and letting Peter turn the pages, making up a different story since Peter turned the pages too fast for Tony to read them.
What Peter loved most, and what never failed to soothe him, even at his fussiest, was baths. He loved the water, could sit contently in his little baby tub chair for hours if Tony let him. He never whined when Tony washed him or shampooed his hair, just splashed at the water gleefully and grabbed at his rubber ducks.
In fact, Peter was making attempts to grab at pretty much everything, which prompted Tony to baby-proof as best he could. Considering the baby couldn't crawl yet he kept it simple for now, mostly just putting things out of reach, making a note to hire someone to give the place the works once he went public with Peter's existence. Which he intended to do soon, though not quite yet. He had other plans first, plans that he would feel much more comfortable executing if he knew Peter wasn't something enemies would know to target.
In the meantime, he carried Peter in his arms whenever he could, and in the carrier he strapped to his chest when his arms grew tired. Sometimes, when he didn't feel like losing that skin to skin connection quite yet, he just moved to the couch, letting gravity do the work for him while Peter lay against his chest. Sometimes he'd let the tv lull them both to sleep, sometimes he'd read to Peter, but more often he'd work on the Mark II designs on his StarkPad.
He had plans for the Mark II. Those bastards had his weapons, and they were being used against soldiers, soldiers he'd spent his life trying to help protect. There was no accountability anymore, and if no one else would step in, he would; he had a son that was going to grow up in this world after all, and Tony would be damned if he wouldn't do his level best to make it the best possible world for Peter he could.
He worked on the plans whenever possible. It was pretty much the only thing he did outside of spend time with Peter; all other work was abandoned while he completed the Mark II. When he finished the schematics and had to actually start work in the lab, he cleared out a large space in the workshop and built a solid, bulletproof-glass wall of defense around it. He had JARVIS specifically lock it so that Dum-E, Butterfingers, and You were all prohibited access; they pouted, but Tony wasn't letting the often clumsy robots anywhere near his still fragile infant.
It may have been a little excessive, but his work was dangerous and his son was precious. He set up one of the baby bouncers in there, and let Peter giggle to himself while he worked. He was aware of how lost in his work he got, and had JARVIS set to permanently remind him if he didn't check on Peter every twenty minutes.
He couldn't go five without looking over his shoulder.
He could see Peter from every angle of the workshop, which was the point, and thankfully Peter seemed perfectly happy to watch Tony work, gumming on his toys or playing with the rattles on the bouncer. They were noisy, but Tony liked it; he didn't have his music playing, too wary of damaging infant ears, so the rattles reassured him of Peter's continued well-being even with his back turned.
Days became weeks that became a month, and Tony couldn't remember how he lived without this.
Peter was sitting up all by his little self now—admittedly, only for a few seconds or so, but Tony was blisteringly proud nonetheless. He was also ridiculously happy to see Peter start rolling over, pushing himself off his tummy and onto his back. He couldn't quite manage to get back over, but when he seemed frustrated Tony just blew raspberries on his tummy until he giggled wildly and forgot about it.
He babbled constantly now, rarely seemed to stop, which Pepper declared made any doubts that Peter was Tony's child zero. No real words yet, though Tony kept up a nice stream of "Da da da da da" every chance he could. He turned his head at his name now too, so Tony tried to say it as often as possible. Peter also loved music, though the one thing Tony refused to buy was baby music. He kept it low-key, no blaring rock guitars or thumping basses, but played regular music for Pete, who clapped and smiled and babbled along to the sound. His grasp was getting stronger too, almost able to hold his bottle up on his own at this point.
He was sleeping through the night most nights, which Tony appreciated greatly. It helped that they'd established a bedtime routine as the books suggested. He gave Pete a warm bath, read him his two favorite books, then rocked him while humming various ACDC tracks, because the boy needed to know his basics even if his eardrums couldn't afford to hear them yet. He put Peter in the crib when he was drowsy—something Parenting Book #7 had suggested, so he learned to self-soothe—and stayed in the room, either reading in bed or working on schematics on the StarkPad until he was certain Peter had fallen asleep, not just stopped crying.
He did all the testing work for the Mark II after Peter was down, because despite the bullet-proof glass, he wasn't comfortable with his son being in the same room when he ran his tests. God forbid a repulsor blast manage to shatter the glass, send it crashing down…
Tony shook his head, such thoughts making his skin crawl.
It was one such night that Pepper dropped by while he was testing a gauntlet.
"I've been buzzing you, did you hear the intercom?" she deposited a coffee on his desk and sliding over a package of files.
"Pete's sleeping, I shut it off," Tony answered distractedly, flexing his hand to see the gauntlet reach, "What's up?"
"You can't keep putting Obadiah off, Tony, he hasn't seen you since you came back. It's been almost a month, he's getting insistent."
"Right," Tony hummed, thinking a moment, then, "I'll put Pete's stuff in a back room, send him over in an hour."
"I thought you said you were done making weapons," she looked pointedly at the glowing light in his palm, the metal wrapped around his arm.
"It's just a flight stabilizer," Tony waved her concern off, hitting the power-up button, "It's completely harmless."
He aimed it at a wall to prove his point, and the resulting blast of energy sent him flying into the wall behind him.
"Okay," he groaned, "Didn't expect that."
Pepper winced, helped him up and get disentangled. While Pepper let Obie know Tony was free to see him in an hour, Tony went and cleared out all of Peter's gear. It wasn't as bad as he'd thought it'd be; he'd bought the absolute top of the line items of course, but not actually all that much. There weren't that many toys, just lots of books, but most of them were kept in their bedroom anyway. It was the playmat and high chair he needed to move, along with a handful of toys and making sure all the bottles were put away in case Obie felt the need to wander into the kitchen.
The meeting went about as well as Tony had expected. Obie had been in New York recently, talking to the board of directors, and that could only mean bad things. Tony himself had been supposed to go, but he'd told Obie he was just doing what he'd told him to, lying low. He didn't regret it, it was time much better spent with Peter, but that didn't mean he wasn't pissed the board was filing an injunction.
They claimed post-traumatic stress, which, to be fair, he had announced a halt on weapons development and then promptly stayed locked inside for the next month, so yeah, he could see how that looked PTSD-y.
Obie of course wanted to bring the arc reactor tech to the board to appease them, and Tony of course denied him. He made a quick exit soon after, trusting Pepper to usher him out post haste. Soon as Tony was down the stairs, he questioned JARVIS.
"Young sir is sound asleep."
"Good. Note for the future, if I'm with Obie, or anyone else who doesn't know about Pete, say there's a project going wrong in the shop, don't mention Pete or anything baby-related."
"Of course, sir."
He spent another few hours doing flight work-ups and rendering the rest of the aesthetic parts of the armor now that he had the functions working how he wanted. He checked the time—Pete would be up at seven on the dot, no chance of sleeping in with that one—and figured he could afford one quick test flight before heading to bed.
Conclusion? It was terrifyingly awesome.
When he returned he iced his head and went to inspect the package Pepper had left him earlier, unwrapping it to reveal a glass case containing his first arc reactor, the one he'd had her change. It was encased in silver plating now, with the inscription, Proof that Tony Stark has a heart, a picture of Peter he'd taken a few weeks ago printed out and taped over the center.
Tony rubbed at his eyes, which were clearly only bleary with sleep, nothing else.
The next night he was rendering the fixes he'd made after the flight test when the something the tv announcer was saying caught his attention.
"-red hot carpet right here at the Disney concert hall where Tony Stark's third annual benefit for the firefighter's family fund has become the place to be-"
"I don't recall turning down an invite for that," Tony frowned, "JARVIS?"
"I have no record of an invitation, sir."
"-hasn't been seen in public since his bizarre and highly public press conference. Some claim he's suffering from post-traumatic stress and has been bed-ridden all these weeks. Whatever the case may be, no one expects an appearance from him tonight."
Tony scowled at the screen, already considering it. He may be a father, but that didn't mean he wasn't the same guy he'd always been, and he'd never been one to do the expected. Peter was already down early, Pepper was doing work upstairs, he could been in and out long before she was supposed to leave for the night, and JARVIS would alert him if Peter woke up…
"Render complete, sir."
The gold, shiny image on the screen spun for him, and Tony gave it consideration.
"Little ostentatious, don't you think?"
"What was I thinking? You're usually so discrete."
"Tell you what," Tony glanced over at his Roadster, "Throw a little hot rod red in there."
"Yes, that should help you keep a low profile."
"I really need you adjust your sarcasm levels."
"I like it," Tony nodded, "Fabricate and paint it."
"Initiating automated assembly. Estimated completion time is five hours."
"Don't wait up for me, honey."
Tony told Pepper he was stepping out, and she gave him a strange look but didn't ask too many questions, since she'd been trying to get him to do so for weeks. He changed into a nice tux and hopped in his favorite car, hitting the road and burning rubber on his way out.
Obie's surprised face was well worth it. After surprising as many people as he could, Tony made his way through the crowd and over to the bar. God, he hadn't a had a drink in weeks; he hadn't wanted to do so around Peter, but a little nightcap couldn't hurt, and he'd be long sober by the time he returned home. An off-putting man in a suit approached him, an Agent Coulson of Strategic something for something and something Division approached him, rattling off something about how Tony needed to be debriefed. He nodded to whatever the guy said before being ambushed again,by the blonde reporter he'd abandoned that night in Vegas.
Her name escaped him. She reminded him, he made it a point to forget it again immediately, because his brain was frankly much more devoted to other things. At least, it was until she showed him pictures of his weapons, pictures taken just yesterday of StarkIndustries shipments in Gulmira.
The town Yinsen had been from.
Tony abruptly excused himself to accost Obie, who shrugged him off with a wide grin to the press as he told Tony he was naïve, that Obie himself had been the one to lock Tony out of the company for his own good. Furious and betrayed, Tony started staying up later and later, perfecting his armor and watching news about Gulmira and it's tyrants, an organization known as the Ten Rings, late into the night.
Less than a week after Obie's words, Tony asked Pepper to watch Peter while he went out. He'd of liked to do it at night while Peter was sleeping, but the attacks were during the day, and he could get to Gulmira and back in half a day, max. Pepper didn't like his sudden secrecy about where he was going, asking question after question, and insisted that she wasn't a babysitter, that she didn't even enjoy kids all that much, but Tony deflected, asked her to do this one thing for him.
Eventually she agreed, and Tony was gone.
He took out the people terrorizing Gulmiran citizens and destroyed all of his weapons he could find. He ran into trouble on the way back, interference from the military that warranted a call from Rhodey, which warranted explaining the truth to Rhodey. Fortunately, he made it out just fine, though the suit was going to need a hell of a repair job.
Unfortunately, Pepper caught him taking off the armor.
They had a shouting match, Pepper berating him for making such dangerous, irresponsible decisions when he had Peter to look after, and Tony coming back with the fact that he was doing this for Peter. He explained what he was doing, that SI was dealing under that table and that he needed to find and destroy his weapons before anyone else got hurt, needed to create a better legacy for Peter and himself, than the one he'd inherited from Howard.
She almost quit on him, insisting she'd rather quit than watch him kill himself over this, but he pushed back, maintaining that he knew in his heart that this was right. She gave in, and he sent her to retrieve the files he needed from Obie's computer while he reunited with Peter.
"Miss me, buddy?" Tony hoisted Peter up into a hug, and Peter clasped his hands around Tony's neck as far as they'd reach.
"Ahgaba!" Peter babbled happily with wide smile.
"Yeah, I bet you did. I'm sorry little man, Daddy had some work to do today, but I'm gonna make it up to you, I promise. How about some reading time? Just you, me, and Thomas the tank engine."
They read until Peter got hungry, and just when he'd settled on the couch to feed Pete his bottle, Pepper called.
"Think you can hold the bottle?" Tony chuckled at Peter, "Not yet, huh? Soon, little man, soon. If you'll be kind enough to budge that arm of yours, I can get my pho-"
Before he could answer it, before he could even finish his sentence, there was a ringing in his ears and he stopped cold. Peter was at angle in his lap that he stayed put though Tony's arms went lax, but the bottle dropped from Tony's hands to the floor.
"You're better at keeping secrets than I thought, m'boy."
Tony knew that voice, that rumbling chuckle, and he didn't need to see the man holding a sonic paralyzer to his ear to know who was standing behind him. His mouth went dry as he looked into Peter's wide, confused eyes. He'd had many terrifying moments in his life, most of the top contenders recently, but this shattered the competition by a long shot.
It wasn't fear for himself, but fear for his son that left him absolutely gutted.
"I have to say, of all the things I expected of you, this wasn't one," Obie—Obadiah, never Obie, never again—gave another dark chuckle, "Having a baby to deal with wasn't in the plan, but then, you clearly have problems sticking to plans, don't you?"
Peter was starting to fuss, and Obadiah reached a hand toward him.
Tony wanted to scream.
All that left his lips was the beginnings of a "no", just an "n" sound, raspy and choked. Obadiah was touching his son, cradling the boy's head as he eased him off Tony's lap and onto the couch. Tony wanted to move, to snatch Peter back, even just to curl his fingers enough to hold onto Peter's hand, something, but the paralysis was still too strong, and Peter's hand slipped away.
"Don't make those eyes at me boy, I'm not so vile as to kill an infant. Besides," he cocked his head in thought, "I'm sure there will be plenty of people willing to pay high prices to raise a Stark child…after your tragic death, of course."
No. No, no, no, he hadn't fought torture and captivity only to abandon Peter like this. He hadn't, he couldn't. He ached to move, but the only thing he could manage was slightest twitch of his fingertips.
"You know, when I ordered a hit on you-"
He'd suspected, but fuck if that wasn't another punch to the gut.
"-I worried that I was killing the golden goose, but you see," Obadiah pressed a silver device up against the arc, "It's just fate that you survived. That you had one last golden egg to give."
With that, he yanked, and Tony's body arched forward as the reactor was plucked from his body, still glowing like the metaphorical golden egg.
"Tony, you fool," Obadiah sneered, "Did you really think that just because you have an idea, it belongs to you? You father helped give us the atomic bomb. Now what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as you?"
He ripped the cords connecting the reactor out, and Tony let out a hiccupping gasp. To his side, Peter was trying to roll, trying to see, but if nothing else, Tony was thankful that he couldn't.
"Oh, Tony," Obadiah murmured, "This? This is your ninth symphony. A masterpiece."
He settled on the couch, an arm around Tony in a bizarre, invasive sense of closeness. Tony could almost get his hand to twitch now, and he longed to reach for Peter; he resisted, knowing that if he did so, Obadiah would see, and that would seal any possibility of their survival. Tony worried about Peter rolling off the couch while Obadiah kept talking, about the future of weapons with arc technology at the heart, and it wasn't until Obadiah mentioned killing Pepper that Tony's attention was once again caught.
But he was already leaving.
It was 37 more seconds until he had the motor function to stand, each one worse and longer than the last. It was more of a slump when he could finally move, but it was enough for him to carefully, painstakingly move Peter from the couch to the ground, kissing him on the forehead before heading for the elevator. Peter began to wail as he left, but he couldn't afford to stay if he wanted to live long enough to comfort him again.
He lost his energy in the elevator, and when the doors opened to his lab, he had to crawl to get the reactor Pepper had given him, the one in the glass box. Dum-E handed it to him when he couldn't make it, and Tony had never been prouder of his beloved bot. He smashed the glass and slammed the reactor into his chest, just in time for Rhodey to burst in through the doors and roll him over.
"Peter," he gasped, clutching Rhodey's jacket desperately.
"Pepper? She's with some agents, they're-"
"Peter," Tony insisted, still gasping, "Baby, upstairs."
"I thought I heard something upstairs, figured I was crazy. What the hell are you doing with a baby? Is that why there's a picture of one on your new react-?"
"Help me up," Tony interrupted to grab at him, using Rhodey as leverage to hoist himself up. He'd forgotten about the picture on the new reactor, and he peeled it off, tucking it into his pocket, "Explain later, get me to him. What were you…about Pepper?"
"She and five agents are on their way to arrest Obadiah."
"That's not gonna be enough," Tony shook his head, "I need…fuck, 'm asking a lot, but I need you to watch after Peter, I've gotta go after, after them, Obadiah's got…they're not prepared."
"You're asking me to babysit the kid you didn't think to tell me you had?"
"Time, essence," Tony waved a hand insistently.
Rhodey nodded then, giving him the benefit of the doubt and helping him over to the armor station before going upstairs to get to Peter. Every cell in Tony's body wanted to go after him, but he knew he couldn't, not until he took care of Obadiah.
Not until he was sure that bastard didn't have the hands to touch his son with ever again.
The suit was difficult to maneuver with the reduced-power reactor, but Tony managed. The resulting battle was lengthy, rough, and destructive, but ended with Obadiah's electrocution and Tony's painful but continued existence, so all things considered it went about as well as he could have hoped.
"Iron Man, huh?" Tony observed the next day, flicking through the paper before his press conference while Pepper tended to the scrapes on his face. He had ten minutes left until camera time, "Not technically accurate, the suit's a gold-titanium alloy, but it's kind of evocative, the imagery. What d'you think, Petey?"
Tony reached down to the car seat at his feet, letting Peter grasp his finger. Peter babbled happily, though he reached both hands out in a grabby motion for Tony to hold him.
"Daddy still needs a few more band-aids, Peter," Pepper told the baby seriously, pressing another to the gash on Tony's forehead, "Then he'll hold you."
"Aunty Pepper's a slave-driver," Tony fake-whispered to Peter conspiratorially.
"Here's your alibi," the agent from name-as-long-as-fuck division informed him, passing him a notecard.
Apparently, he'd been on some yacht having a party. There was nothing about Stane, and the agent informed him it'd been handled. Tony complained that the bodyguard story was flimsy, and was assured that this was not the agent's first rodeo.
Eventually, Tony picked Peter up, held him tight against his hip, and walked onstage.
Every camera in the room flashed, every reporter instantly began talking.
"Ah ah ah," he waved his free hand, "Patience is a virtue, or so I'm trying to teach my son."
A thousand more questions, as expected, all of which Tony ignored. He continued talking, knowing from experience they would fall silent to hear him.
"I've prepared a statement, so I won't be taking any questions, not that that's ever stopped you from asking, but hey, a man could dream," Tony adjusted his hip, taking Peter's hand in his, "This little guy's name is Peter Parker Stark. He's five months old, and he is 110% mine. The mother has made the decision not to be in his life, so no, there won't be any surprise videos of elopements in Hawaii or fiery custody battles on the Dr. Phil show."
There was a smattering of nervous, surprised laughter, and Tony continued.
"As for the other reason you're here, there's been speculation that I was involved in the events that occurred on the freeway and, uh, rooftops of-"
"I'm sorry," one of the reporters interrupted, not looking sorry at all, "But do you honestly expect us to believe that was a bodyguard in a suit?"
He recognized this one; the blonde he'd turned down in Vegas, the snoop that had found him at Disney concert hall to show him pictures of Gulmira. The fact that she'd given him a heads up that probably saved his life was outweighed heavily by his intense dislike of her everything else.
"A bodyguard that conveniently appeared," she continued, "Despite the fact that you're historically known for despising and refusing bodyguards-"
"I know that it's confusing," he gave her a pitying sort of sneer, "But it's one thing to question the official story, it's another thing entirely to make wild accusations, or insinuate that I'm a superhero-"
"I never said you were a superhero," she cocked a smug eyebrow at him.
"Didn't…? Well, good," Tony fumbled, just a bit, "Because that would be outlandish, and uh…fantastic. But I'm just not the hero type. Clearly. With this laundry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made, largely public-"
"One of them recently," she smirked at Peter, and Tony about lost his shit.
"Peter is not, was not, and will never be a mistake, and if you insinuate so again you'll never find another day's work in your life," he shot back without hesitation, voice thin and cold as ice as he rubbed a thumb over Peter's hand soothingly.
"It's okay, Tones," Rhodey leaned to whisper reassuringly in his ear, "Just stick to the cards, man."
"Yeah," Tony nodded, holding them up to read from with his free hand, "Cards. Right. Truth is…"
He looked out at the reporters, waiting on his every word. He looked at the blonde, her pursed, displeased lips pressed into a thin line, though she hung on his words just like the rest of them. The woman who thought his son was a mistake, who thought he didn't have what it took to be a hero.
"…I am Iron Man."
The room exploded, but he just flashed a smug grin of his own in the blonde's direction before sauntering off the stage, already murmuring to Peter.
"Vultures, didn't I tell you?"