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Inevitable

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Pepper walks across the Stark Industries atrium at a bracing clip.

It’s one of those mornings: twenty things on her plate before business hours actually started and fifty by the time Tony strolled in an hour ago without a care in the world but nursing his hangover. And Tony’s only here at all because he’s supposed to attend a meeting she stressed as mandatory. She assumes he’ll try to dodge it by running three hours late after lunch and apologizing only with ricotta cannelloni from her favorite place and a promise to let her steal a really good bottle of white wine from his cellar later on.

She’s already started on her third cup of coffee for the day and it’s barely ten, for god’s sake. She does not have time for distractions right now.

But security called about an incident in the lobby, and that could mean anything from a disgruntled ex-employee to one of Tony’s more persistent one night stands vying to get her boss’ attention.

Not today, Miss September 2005. Not on Pepper’s watch.

When Pepper rounds the corner from the elevators, it's quite a scene.

A swathe of guards are crowded around one particular wall. A few feet away, employees are clustered, whispering and gawking.

The main focus of which is...a girl. A little brown-haired girl curled against the wall. Her eyes are closed, but she’s holding out a hand in defense. A hand plated with red and a glowing sphere encased in her palm.

What is that thing?

“Miss Potts!” The head of security flags her down quickly. She only knows him from small talk and metal detector scans in the mornings, but it’s built enough of a rapport between them that he called her down here as a point of authority rather than Tony or Obie. Frankly, she’d much rather have Happy in a situation like this since she knows him best, but he’s watching out for Tony upstairs as he should be.

“Larry, what the hell is going on here?” she asks, flitting her gaze from the little girl crowded against the wall to the security guards surrounding her. 

The guards can’t seem to decide a plan of attack—some have their hands raised as a sign of good faith while the others still have their weapons out and seem ready to fire if the girl tries to retaliate against them. 

“We don’t know, ma’am. We thought she might just be someone’s lost kid, but when we tried to approach her…”

The man moves his gaze to the other side of the room. One of his people sits in a rolling chair, clutching his backside. Nothing’s visibly bleeding, but it was definitely enough of a strike to take a heavy-set adult down for the count.

“She’s old enough to know about stranger danger, I take it?” Pepper remarks.

“Must be,” Larry sighs. “Look, Miss Potts—I’m desperate. She’s just a kid, and she’s scared. We really don’t want to hurt her, but if she won’t put the weapon down, we may have to call in the actual authorities here.”

Pepper crosses her arms, a suspicion nagging against her brain. “And what do you want me to do about it?”

The larger man shuffles a little, embarrassed now that she’s cottoned onto his idea. 

“I thought, you know, since you’re…” He looks her up and down, her gender implied. “Maybe you’d be less threatening. Talk her down enough for us to get that thing off of her wrist. No one else down here is willing, and since it’s de-escalating the situation with you or calling Mister Stark down here…”

He doesn’t want to risk calling Tony. Sometimes Tony is forgiving about infractions, and other times—like with his past assistants before Pepper—incredibly cold and dismissive about firing people at the drop of a hat.

“That’s a terrible idea,” Pepper replies. Honestly, it’s 2006. Shouldn’t they be past those kinds of assumptions about a woman’s demeanor, their assumed gender-specific softness and capability with children? Hell, she makes more money than Larry himself and the other man is the one with two boys at home. Shouldn’t he be the one to handle this, in that case?

Still...Larry is right. If they can’t get this taken care of, they’ll have to call the police, then CPS will probably have to get involved, and someone’s scared, innocent kid will be wrapped up in a whole mess of trouble and paperwork before the day is over.

Clearly the security staff isn’t making the little girl comfortable by being clearly identifiable in their uniforms. The girl is still backed against the wall, defending her body with the strange device held out in front of her. Looking closer, Pepper realizes her arm is shaking—either under the weight of the device or out of fear.

Pepper sighs in the way that she always finds herself doing when she’s approached with an unpleasant situation that she simply can’t avoid.

“The presumptuous comment about me being good at this because I’m a woman is going on your performance review this year,” Pepper states plainly. “Tell them to move back. Weapons down.”

“Miss Potts—”

“You wanted me to handle this? I’m going to handle it. I’m not going out there in front of drawn weapons, Larry. Tell them to stand down.”

The man gives her a disbelieving look, but moves ahead to back the other security guards away. It’s not without protest—particularly from those with their weapons drawn—but after a few seconds, the guards step back, switching their roles to protect the other staff in the lobby rather than focusing on the girl in front of them.

The girl isn’t even looking to see that the guards have gone. She’s turned to the wall and trying to bury her face into her own shoulder. Pepper approaches carefully, letting her heels announce her presence.

Pepper crouches down as much as she can in her pencil skirt.

Up close, she can see the girl better. Despite the ostentatious gauntlet around her arm, the rest of her outfit is much what you’d expect from someone in her age range: a baby pink t-shirt, a cute little pair of cuffed overalls, sneakers with their white rubber and laces colored in by marker. Her hair is untamed from the scuffle, but clean, as is the rest of her skin.

Just a regular, normal kid.

“Hey,” Pepper says, finally attempting to garner the kid’s attention. “You wanna put that thing down so we can talk?”

The girl does so cautiously, opening her eyes and looking up at Pepper only to flinch back into her protective pose.

Then, however, she does a double take, looking up with wide, brown eyes and a smile missing a few baby teeth.

“Mommy!” the girl cries, launching into Pepper’s arms so hard that she almost loses her balance and ends up on the floor. Instead, Pepper stays steady while being clutched by this unknown child for dear life.

“Um.” Pepper doesn’t know how else to respond. She’s no one’s mother, that’s for sure.

She’s certainly not Tony, constantly plagued with parental custody cases after a life of fame, reckless one night stands, and irresponsibility.

Pepper’s practically religious with her birth control. She also doesn’t have enough time to date because she’s too busy with the full time job that is being Mister Stark’s assistant both during and after working hours when she’d much rather be sleeping or, hell, just reading a good book.

So, this little girl is wrong. Probably just scared and desperate for any kind of comforting, maternal figure. Maybe Larry had a point, as loathe as she is to admit it. At the very least, it means the girl is hugging Pepper instead of firing her strange weapon at the security team.

As for what to do with her now…

“Uh, sweetie,” Pepper tries, obviously not knowing the girl’s actual name. “This isn’t, I’m not—what are you doing here? This is an office. It’s no place for kids like you.”

The girl pulls away, a pleading frown planted on her face. “I didn’t mean to, I swear. It’s just—it looked interesting, and Daddy always says I should sa—saci—satiate my curious mind.”

Okay, so even if the girl is confused, she theoretically has parents to go home to. And at the very least, they’re smart enough to teach her to expand her vocabulary past anything Pepper would expect from a—four-year-old? Five-year-old? Six?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Pepper admits.

“You can’t be mad, okay? I didn’t mean to, so you can’t be mad,” the girl insists. It’s fallible, childish logic, but Pepper nods in assent anyway. That’s something for her actual mother to worry about.

“Daddy’s—one of the things he made. I took it. I thought it was just a bracelet like mine, but then it brought me here and I fell and now it’s broken and Daddy’s going to be mad a-and—!”

The girl bursts into a crying fit, burying herself into Pepper’s shoulder and essentially forcing Pepper to pick her up fully as she stands. She didn’t know kids could have a grip this strong, damn.

“Miss Potts?” Larry asks her, a bunch of questions all in one. What should they do now? How should they handle this? Should Larry call the police after all?

At the very least, she doesn’t think anyone else heard the child calling Pepper her mother. The last thing she needs at work are more rumors about her circling around.

“It’s okay. I think Mister Stark should know about this after all. I’m going to—she’ll stay with me until we can sort something out.”

“Are you sure, Miss Potts, because I can—”

“No, thank you. It’s fine, I’ll let Mister Stark know that you’ve adequately handled the situation.”

With the promise of not getting reported for this situation to the CEO, Larry lets it go, herding the security guards and staff back to their jobs. Pepper takes the opportunity to sneak into Tony’s private elevator. If she’s lucky, Tony’s already cut out early before his set of meetings, and she’ll be able to deal with this situation by herself in his office.

She doesn’t even know what she’s planning on doing. The girl is still wearing the strange metal weapon while clinging to her, and Pepper’s definitely...frazzled by it all.

She walks out of the elevator attempting to shush her newfound ward, who still hasn’t stopped crying and is soaking the shoulder pad of Pepper’s suit.

“Hey Pep?” Tony’s voice sounds from around the corner, recognizing the private elevator’s arrival chime. 

Crap. For once he didn’t skip out on the meeting. He’s still in his office.

His voice comes closer along with the sound of his feet against the carpet.

“Which word sounds more powerful: obliterate or…” Tony trails off when he walks into the hall outside of his open door and finds Pepper standing there with the kid in her arms. He cocks his head sideways in confusion. “Devastate?”

“Obliterate.”

“Huh?”

“For your question. Obliterate. Means there’s nothing left. Devastate leaves something.”

“Right,” Tony answers slowly. “Hey, uh, Miss Potts? Mind telling me what’s going on here?”

“Daddy!” the girl calls, similar to how she addressed Pepper. Like the girl is finding security in their presence despite presumably not knowing where she is.

“Nope, that’s not—” Tony can’t even finish the sentence before the girl flings herself out of Pepper’s arms and presses herself against Tony’s legs. “Okay, hey kid. Hi.”

Tony looks to Pepper for answers, but she just shrugs, because really, she just got the same treatment less than ten minutes ago and didn’t take it much better. What else do you say to an upset kid looking for comfort? No?

“I’m sorryI’msorryI’msorryI’msorry—”

“Woah, woah, woah.” Tony crouches down to his knee, holding the girl away by her shoulders. “No need to apologize before you’ve done anything. Just about gave me a heart attack, is all.”

It shouldn’t surprise her that Tony’s decent with kids. He donates so much to LA Children’s that they’re always invited to the gala as VIPs. There are a few local orphanages that he also sponsors and visits from time to time, especially when one of the kids is particularly into science and wants to become the next child genius.

There’s also another reason—something Tony doesn’t know that Pepper knows: he loves the newborns the most. He touches them because their parents can’t or didn’t. He goes to the orphanage a few times a month when the reality of making weapons sits too heavy on his shoulders, when he misses his own parents. 

She only knows this because she tracked his phone once when JARVIS wouldn’t spill the beans, expecting to find him smashed at a bar and instead finding him nestled into a rocking chair with a little one in his arms. 

She’s never mentioned it, but she often builds a few Saturdays into his schedule to be off, and she’s the only one that knows what he does with them.

Despite that, though, Tony still mumbles a quick, “Daddy, Jesus,” to himself. The girl skips over that comment, wiggling under Tony’s hold.

“But I did, I stole your bracelet thingy that isn’t really a bracelet and I ended up here and I made trouble downstairs and—woah.”

The girl stops her speech to stare at Tony.

“What? I got something on my face?”

“Your hair’s so dark,” the girl says, reaching out a hand and pressing it against Tony’s iconic facial hair with awe.

“What did you think it would be? Blue? Purple?” he teases, making the girl giggle when he tickles a few fingers against her ribs.

She laughs, but shakes her head. “No, Daddy, it’s all grey striped, like a leopard!”

“Grey? I don’t think so, squirt. Doesn’t sound like me.”

Then Tony looks closer at her hand. It’s the one covered in the metal contraption.

“Then again, kiddo, I may just be getting older. Might need a reminder as to what this is and why you have it.”

Oh, he’s good. Pepper forgets sometimes, since she’s mostly become immune to it. The sweet talking, the charm...even from a little kid, Tony Stark is good at poking and prodding until he gets what he wants.

Tony furrows his brow and examines the circular light that rests in the girl’s palm between all of the metal appendages that cover her hand.

The girl giggles again.

You built it for me, Daddy. So that Mommy, Petey, and I would always have something to protect ourselves with even if you weren’t there.”

“That was smart of me,” Tony hums, moving the girl’s arm a few more times, poking and prodding at the spaces where the casing bends to reveal wires inside.

“Tony, don’t, you’re not her—” Pepper tries, but Tony waves her off.

“No, I know, just—hold on, Pep. Let her finish.”

“Mommy yelled at you for giving me a taser, but you taught me how to use it first and everything. I got one of the mean guys downstairs right in the butt!”

Tony chuckles. “I bet you did. But I don’t think you need it up here, do you? It’s just us.”

The girl nods and looks down at it, then frowns.

“Can you make it…? I don’t remember how it goes away.” The girl shakes her metal arm at Tony persistently, as if that’s supposed to be doing something.

She’s clearly getting frustrated when it doesn’t work, swinging her arm around and scaring all three of them when a blast of air hits the wall with a whoomp and an impact hard enough to knock a framed painting into the floor.

“Oops…”

“Cool,” Tony comments unhelpfully.

“Tony.”

“What, I’m apparently the one that gave it to her! Can’t I admire my own genius for a minute?”

Mister Stark.”

“Okay, okay. Back on track. Alright, kid, last question and then you can go spin around in my chair while Miss Potts and I have a conversation by ourselves. Easy question. Total softball. What’s your name? Full thing, like you were just introducing yourself to me.”

“Why?” The girl asks, tracing her lips with her uncovered thumb in a gesture of nervousness.

“Because if you shot someone downstairs with that thing, clearly you didn’t just try that first and have someone just find your parents.”

“Ooooh.” The girl nods. “Only ‘cause I was scared. And they were strangers.”

“I bet it was scary. So, for next time…?”

“Morgan Hope Stark. Except—when I do something bad you always say I’m a Potts through-and-through, because us Starks wouldn’t do something like that, and then Mommy slaps your shoulder and you laugh.”

At that Tony’s eyes meet Pepper’s instantly. She looks away, crossing her arms. The idea that—it’s insane. This girl must have just gotten their names from Stark Industries’ website and created this whole story. The parents she wanted, the parents she doesn’t actually know the names of. There is no way that she—that Tony would ever. 

Especially not do that and...and stay together, be functioning parents, be good at it, which this girl makes it sound like they—like her parents—are.

“That’s...you can go ahead, then, Morgan. Big wheelie chair in there, all for you. Your, uh. Your mom and I will help you get that thing off soon, okay? Don’t aim it anywhere. There’s some expensive shit in there.”

“Shit!” Morgan cheers before racing off into the office.

They’re alone in the hall, then, Tony staring up at Pepper from his spot still crouched on the ground.

She can’t tell exactly what the look on his face is about. Inquisitive? Going through the same mile an hour emotional rollercoaster that she is at being called someone’s mother? Part of the child-making process is sex, of course, and he could definitely be thinking about her being naked… 

Yeah, no, she definitely didn’t—isn’t going to have—there’s no question that this isn’t real. Can’t be.

“So,” Tony stands, brushing imaginary dust from his suit. “Motherhood looks good on you. Can’t tell how I never noticed it before.”

Bastard. Pepper turns on her heel, back towards her desk and her paperwork mountain and far away from this whole situation that Tony isn’t even taking seriously— 

“Okay, okay, okay, I’m sorry, alright? I’m sorry. That was tactless. I’m just—it’s crazy, right? That she’s—?”

Pepper scoffs, but lowers her voice to say, “She’s not my daughter. Or yours for that matter. I just didn’t know what else to say when she called me...that, and now you’re encouraging her!”

“Pepper, you can’t just think this is a coincidence. A little girl with your cute round cheeks and my eyes just waltzes into Stark Industries wearing the most advanced technology I’ve ever seen in my life? Arc Reactor technology?”

“My cute—wait, what? It’s—you can tell?”

Tony nods. “I’d know that tech anywhere. We’ve had the patents for Arc Reactor technology since my dad first invented it in the 60s. Nobody else could have made that.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Pepper. Come on.”

“You can’t be serious! You cannot actually believe that little girl is your...my...our—” Pepper shakes her head. Not going there. “From the future. Tony, that’s crazy.”

“You can’t look that kid in the face and say it’s impossible. Some kind of device that she broke, calling us her parents, that familiar mix of brash and cunning, a little naughty and a little charming…”

“Tony!”

“And isn’t Morgan the name of your weird uncle? The one your mom always says she can’t bring to the company Christmas party because he’s ‘not suitable for public consumption’?”

“How do you remember that and not my birthday that happens every year?”

“Pepper, if there’s even a chance that she’s ours...we can’t just let her go.”

Pepper scoffs. “Sure we can. We can call the police and have them find her actual parents.”

“When JARVIS is ten times faster? When her parents may not even be in this decade? Come on, Potts, think about it. If she’s got a file, JARVIS can find it. And in the meantime…”

Pepper sighs heavily, the argument practically already made with that point alone.

“In the meantime, you want to keep her.”

“Exactly.”

“She’s not a puppy, Tony. Frankly, I’m not sure you could care for a puppy full-time. It would probably piss all over the house if I wasn’t the one walking it every few hours.”

“She looks potty-trained to me.”

“Children are a responsibility. They need attention and time, neither of which you utilize well.”

“So I’ll figure it out! Pepper, she tased the last person she didn’t feel safe around and we still have to find a way to get that thing off of her arm. So we’ll keep her at the mansion and take shifts if we have to. Whatever it takes.”

Determination set in his jaw, Tony steps closer to her. “I’m not leaving her, Pepper.”

And in moments like this, she can see it. The person she’s always believed in, the one who sticks to his guns and does what needs to be done and does it well.

And if this child—if Morgan is what brings that goodness and dedication out in him...it’s a lot harder to say no, isn’t it?

 


 

They claim they’ve set up something with the police when they end up taking Morgan from the office, Tony’s afternoon meeting cancelled after all. Morgan holds their hands all the way to the car, ooo-ing and ah-ing at Tony’s Audi and the idea of driving with the top down. They probably should have taken Happy’s car, but then they would have had to explain this to Happy, which they both agreed would complicate this more than it already is.

The car is a stylish two-seater, so Pepper ends up just keeping Morgan in her lap and constantly badgering Tony to slow down, which he finally does after the third time he catches Morgan clutching the cupholder with her hand.

Morgan brightens again when they arrive at the mansion, though.

“Wow! Daddy, it’s so big! And the ocean is right there!”

“Nice, right?” Tony idly comments, accepting when Morgan grabs his hand to hold again as they walk into the house. He looks down at her, curious. “You’re telling me our house isn’t like this?”

“Of course not! We watched that video about the difference between bodies of water. We live near a lake, so it’s freshwater!”

Tony makes a face that Pepper might normally describe as offended. The idea of Tony moving somewhere remote enough to have a lake does seem pretty off-brand, but then again...probably not actually Tony, right?

“You’re pretty smart for a four-year-old, aren’t you?”

“Five, Daddy!” Morgan jumps up and pulls on Tony’s arm. “I’m five now, you have to get it right or people will think I’m a baby!”

Tony simply smiles and looks at Pepper. “You sure you don’t believe she’s half yours? Because this routine of being told what to do seems very familiar to me and I can trace it directly to that little crease you get in-between your eyebrows.”

Pepper only rolls her eyes. So he’s joking about this now. Excellent.

At the door, Morgan suddenly stops to pull at Tony’s shirt.

“Hm?”

More pointedly, Morgan lifts her arms.

“Oh, I don’t think—”

Pepper lets a smug smile inch at her lips. That’s what Tony gets for encouraging this.

Morgan paws at Tony again, a sad little pout fully broken out on her lips.

“I thought you weren’t a baby, huh?” he quips, his mouth too fast for his brain.

Pepper herself cringes at the remark, watching the way Morgan deflates into something a little more demure, back into the scared little girl she was at first, flinching away from Pepper as if she was scared her mother wasn’t real. Because she looks younger, different. Because she’s not Morgan’s mother at all.

And Morgan takes Tony’s words as the un-fatherly rejection that it is, her pout turning into a real frown.

Tony seems to realize his mistake, looking at Pepper, searching and helpless.

She silently urges him with her hand.

Tony’s eyes widen. Seriously? he mouths.

She nods exaggeratedly. Seriously.

There’s a look in his eye that means she might regret insisting on it later, but he’s the one that wanted to start this whole looking after a kid business. That means he needs to look after Morgan’s emotional needs too, no matter how repressed he likes to be.

Tony groans, but opens his arms. “Fine.”

Morgan looks up at him, rejected and unsure.

“One time offer, kid. Now or never. Your choice.”

Morgan smiles, happily wrapping her legs around his torso and adjusting herself to sit in his arms after a few awkward seconds of Tony trying to figure out exactly what to do and failing.

Morgan presses a kiss to Tony’s cheek, as if in reward for trying, and he definitely blushes.

Okay, well, if nothing else, Morgan is certainly adorable.

“Alright, little miss Morgan,” Tony says, attempting to recover from his embarrassment. “First things first, we need to get this thing off of your arm.”

“M’sorry I forgot,” the girl mumbles, lolling her head fully onto Tony’s shoulder. “I’ve never actually had to use it before.”

“Well, that sounds like a good thing to me. We wouldn’t want you to be in danger.”

Morgan nods emphatically. “It’s just in case.”

Tony starts to head to the couch, so Pepper finally speaks up. “Tony, shouldn’t you take that to the lab, see if JARVIS can scan it or something?”

Tony hums, in that way that means he’s listening to her but not actually considering what she’s saying. “Let’s just say I have a hunch.”

“Oh, good,” Pepper sarcastically sighs to herself, accepting when Morgan pats the couch to insist that Pepper join them for whatever Tony’s about to do.

“Alright, Morgan. When you turned this thing on, what exactly happened?” Tony asks, maneuvering the girl to sit on his thighs in a way that lets him examine the device on her arm.

Morgan holds the metal encased arm out, wiggling the fingers experimentally as she thinks it through.

“I was on the ground...and one of the mean men came up to me. He asked if he could help find my mommy and daddy, but then he grabbed me and tried to take me away without asking, so I pulled back and ran away. He chased me to the wall, so I…”

Morgan seems to catch onto what Tony’s aiming for, tapping her wrist twice like she presumably did earlier in the day. The metal encasing lifts, becoming pliable before liquidizing, flowing elegantly into a square still at Morgan’s wrist when the girl gestures backwards. All that remains is a little watch adorned with a glass screen. It lights up like a cell phone might, displaying an incorrect time of 9:30 AM before dimming back to darkness.

“Holy shit!” Tony exclaims, grabbing Morgan’s wrist in his hand and twisting it around to look at the tiny, watch-like device. “That’s nanotech. That’s not possible, that’s—how—”

“Daddy—”

“Tony—”

“Pepper, you don’t get it, this is incredible! An entire nano-biotic gauntlet with Arc Reactor technology that forms into a metal alloy?! It’s impossible, it’s insane, it’s—”

“Daddy, that hurts,” Morgan whines, pulling on her arm in his firm grip.

“Oh.” Tony snaps back to the moment, remembering the girl in his lap and how exactly he got access to the gauntlet in the first place. He releases Morgan’s arm, petting her hair a few times in apology like one might do to an animal.

“Sorry. Sorry, kiddo, that’s—I just got excited, sorry. It’s just—I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s amazing.”

Morgan frowns. “Daddy, what do you mean? You’re Iron Man. You’re an Avenger! You build stuff way cooler than this all the time.”

Tony looks to Pepper, as if she’d know what the girl is referring to any better than he would.

“Is that, like...a game we play together, or something? A cartoon you watch? ‘Cause that stuff is just fiction, Morgs. It’s not real. I’m just a rich guy who builds things.”

“No, you’re a superhero and you and Mommy fought the bad purple guy and you saved the whole universe!” Morgan insists.

Tony looks completely dumbfounded, despite being the one that suggested Morgan’s presence was the result of time travel.

“Purple...like...Grimace? The McDonalds character? Or the Purple People Eater? I know kids’ imaginations are huge, but that seems a little out there.”

“Miss FRIDAY, show them!” Morgan calls out to the house frantically, looking at the ceiling like she’s...like they often look at JARVIS when they speak to the AI.

“Who’s—?” Tony starts, but now Morgan is clearly agitated by all of their questions, jumping off of Tony’s lap to stand on the couch, hanging onto the back as she keeps looking towards the ceiling for answers.

“The computer lady! She does everything in the house and reminds you to go to your meetings and—and—”

Oh, boy, they’re coming upon another meltdown really fast. 

Pepper tries to clarify. “Sweetie, do you mean an AI?”

Morgan nods, glad to finally gain recognition from one of them. “Yes! Miss FRIDAY!”

“Uh, okay. J, give the girl a holo?” Tony asks.

“Of course, sir,” JARVIS replies.

A blue-tinted hologram pops up from the living room table, displaying JARVIS’ usual search functions and transcription capabilities.

“So in this house...it’s a boy robot?” Morgan asks with a little quirk of her head.

“I have no assigned gender, young miss,” JARVIS answers for himself. Though he was based on the real Edwin Jarvis, she supposes numbers and code don’t have a preference for that kind of thing.

“Ohhhh. Cool,” Morgan replies before returning to her pleading. “Can you show them, though? Iron Man and the Avengers and—?”

“I’m sorry, young miss, but those searches return no results in the public sphere.”

Tony sits to attention from where he was definitely zoning out of the conversation a little, way too distracted by the technology that was just in front of him. 

“Wait, wait, wait. So they do...internally? What, in the military? Government?”

“I do not have access to external systems at this time without your assistance, sir, but the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division archives attempted to register the house’s IP address for accessing the term ‘Avengers’, and would have succeeded without your security protocols in place to hide my activity.”

“Do you remember now?” Morgan asks, turning from Pepper to Tony and back, harried. “Do you believe me? Can we go back home now? Please?”

Morgan’s desperate and scared. The comfort of Pepper and Tony is clearly wearing off in this new, different environment.

Pepper sighs. They can’t afford to continue this game anymore. If even what Tony thinks is true is actually true—and she’s not admitting that it is—trying to pretend that everything is normal isn’t going to work with Morgan anymore. 

Like Tony’s already observed: she’s a smart kid. She can recognize that the two people she’s calling her parents aren’t responding the way she’s used to.

“Morgan, listen to me for a minute, okay?” Pepper says, putting her hands on Morgan’s shoulders so that she’s fully sitting on the couch and looking Pepper straight on.

“Something happened when you touched that device of your father’s. We don’t know what, exactly, but it...sent you back. Back before you were born. And we can try to find a way to send you home, but we’re...we’re not your parents.”

“Not yet,” Tony adds unhelpfully, earning himself a glare from Pepper.

“But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to help you and take care of you until we can find a way to get you home, okay? It just means we don’t know everything you do. It means sometimes you have to help us so that we can help you. Does that make sense?”

“Oh.” Morgan replies, going from scared to sulky within a single breath.

“Oh?” Tony questions.

Morgan edges her mouth with her thumb again, nervous.

“That’s what the Avengers did. Went back. Daddy figured it out.”

Tony makes a muted, “Ah,” as if he’s just figured something out. “And that broken bracelet is how he did it.”

“Mmhm.”

Tony looks at Pepper over Morgan’s head, a little cocky and a lot of told-you-so.

And even if that’s true, even if Morgan’s their daughter…just because that’s a future doesn’t mean it’s the future, does it? She’s watched enough science fiction in her life to know there’s more than one theory of how time travel works. Tony may have cracked time travel in the future, but right now he doesn’t know a damn thing in actuality. He just thinks he does.

Pepper decides to disregard Tony’s look altogether, because thinking about it makes her brain hurt and her heart strain and it’s just too much for everything that this day has already been.

“What year are you from, Morgan? Do you know that?” Pepper asks.

Morgan nods. The child’s worry has transformed into some kind of pragmatism. A technique of getting through unexpected stressors that Pepper can easily recognize in herself, even if she’s trying not to look for such things.

“2024.”

Tony breathes out, falling back into the couch.

“That’s almost twenty years. I mean, taking into account the Law of Accelerating Returns…” Tony realizes he’s lost Pepper and backtracks. “It proposes a technological singularity—that we’ll have advanced 20,000 years or more within the next hundred with how fast technology is accelerating. I mean, that theory is technically suggesting a rupture in the fabric of history, but—that’s not my point.”

“What is your point?” Pepper asks, running a hand over her forehead. It’s only midday and she feels like all she wants to do is curl up in bed so that it can finally end.

“That’s why there’s nanotechnology and time travel and—and purple god-knows-what’s. Technology totally could have advanced that far that fast. I mean, knowing me, I’m the reason for half of it all on my own.”

Pepper sighs. “As always, your modesty is unparalleled. Stark Industries is a weapons manufacturer, Tony. And frankly, without Obie, the company wouldn’t get anything moderately productive accomplished."

Morgan squirms between them. Before, she might have just said whatever she was thinking, but this time, with the knowledge that things are different—that Pepper and Tony are different—she hesitates.

“What?” Tony asks. “You gotta pee or something? ‘Cause I told Pepper you were trained and—”

“It’s just...it’s different at home. The work stuff that you and Mommy do at the company.” She looks between them warily. “But I don’t have to tell you, if you don’t want me to.”

Tony enthusiastically props his hands on his knees. “No, please. Do tell. Especially if it rubs my accomplishments in your mother’s face.”

“Ignore him, honey,” Pepper retorts flatly. She does run a hand over Morgan’s shoulder though, trying to make her more comfortable. She seems older like this, more pensive. At least when she thought they were her real parents, she was happy.

“It’s okay, at least? Still standing?”

Morgan smiles. “Yeah. You’re the best CEO ever, and Daddy works from home so we can play together all the time!”

“A promotion, Potts! Look at that. Maybe I should tell Obie to watch his back.”

Pepper feels a blush running across her cheeks. Pepper, Tony Stark’s personal assistant, as the CEO? Maybe in her parents’ dreams. Morgan is probably just exaggerating. Pepper probably just does so much of future Tony’s work that Morgan thinks it’s also her job.

“Quiet, Mister Mom,” Pepper fires back.

Tony snorts. 

“Micheal Keaton wishes.”

Between their banter, Morgan yawns. 

Right. 

If Pepper’s adult body is jonesing for rest already, Morgan’s poor child body is probably primed for a nap.

“How about we set you up in one of the guest rooms?” Pepper suggests. “You can grab a nap before dinner.”

Morgan doesn’t fight it. Instead, she lifts her arms, just as she did with Tony. So they’ve made her comfortable enough to ask for that, then.

Tony’s smiles smugly.

Pepper picks up Morgan without protest, making Tony frown like he’d wanted to watch her squirm a little. It’s not as hard for her as it was for Tony. All Morgan wants is a little physical comfort. Maybe kids aren’t Pepper’s particular forte, but...it’s part of this experience. Part of caring for a child. And Pepper has always been good at doing what is necessary. This time, it isn’t even as unpleasant as doing certain things for Tony can be.

It’s actually kind of warm, carrying Morgan up the stairs and placing her on the bed in the guest room that Pepper herself usually takes. 

“I don’t have pajamas,” Morgan complains lightly, like it’s something she hadn’t even considered about being in an entirely different home. “Can I have one of Daddy’s shirts? The one with the cool lightning on it?”

“You wear those a lot, huh?”

Morgan nods with a shy smile. “Peter gets Daddy’s sweatshirt. I get his comfy shirts and your old shoes for dress-up.”

“I bet you look great,” Pepper replies genuinely.

She can really see it, when Morgan talks like that. Something almost dreamy in its domesticity, reminiscent of her own suburban childhood memories. It’s just hard to imagine herself and Tony as the players in the parental roles, doting on this child between running a company and, apparently, being superheroes of some kind.

Pepper walks across the hall into Tony’s room, Morgan her little shadow. As Pepper digs around in Tony’s drawers for the desired t-shirt that Pepper can verify herself is still in one of these drawers in 2006, Morgan hops on Tony’s bed, jumping around like it’s a trampoline. 

Part of Pepper thinks to scold her for it, but it’s a part that feels wrong even trying to act like someone she isn’t. She’s not a mother, not the person that gets to tell Morgan what to do or not to do. And she’s relatively safe on a king-sized mattress anyway, right? She won’t crack her skull open or anything.

“You’ve mentioned Peter a couple of times now,” Pepper comments, throwing a pile of graphic t-shirts to the floor for a moment. “Who is he?”

“My brother,” Morgan responds nonchalantly, as if that doesn’t have implications like Tony and Pepper having not one, but two children in the future. And by 2024…

“And how old is he?” she asks, trying to do the math on when exactly she and Tony would have to be doing...that to have another child. By her estimate, she would have had—will have Morgan herself in her late forties, which is probably a pretty fraught pregnancy that late in the game.

“He’s so ooooold. He’s almost eighteen,” Morgan replies with all of the world-weariness that being five and dealing with everyone else being older entails. “He keeps telling Daddy he’s already basically an adult, but Daddy always says, ‘Slow your roll, Underoos, you’re gonna make me feel older than I already am!’ and then Peter apologizes even though he doesn’t really mean it.” 

Morgan giggles to herself at her impression of Tony, landing one more jump on the bed and then starfishing across the comforter.

In the middle of Pepper’s simultaneous shirt-search-and-crisis situation, of course, comes Tony, leaning against the door and smiling at the picture Morgan makes flopped across the bed.

“Looks like we gotta get started soon on the baby-making process, Miss Potts. I mean, seventeen? That gives us, what, just a few months to knock you up?”

Pepper crosses her arms and levels a warning look at Tony. She doesn’t want him even dreaming about her bodily anatomy right now.

He crosses the room toward her in a few strides, attempting to wrap his arms around in some kind of flirty, romantic pose, and only ending up earning a light elbow to the ribs and a couple of firm smacks to his hands.

Tony shrugs and steps back, completely undeterred. “There’s always in-vitro.”

“You’re not funny,” Pepper replies. “Where’s your AC/DC shirt, with the—?”

“Hold on, hold on…” Tony squeezes next to her, picking an entirely different drawer of polo shirts and picking the t-shirt from its place squeezed nonsensically between them.

Sitting up, Morgan wrinkles her nose and looks over to them. “He’s not actually my brother, you know. He’s half spider. That’d be gross.”

“He’s…” Tony blinks quickly a few times. “Excuse me?”

Morgan shrugs. “He’s Spider-Man. He uses his sticky powers and stuff to fight the bad guys. He used to be my favorite superhero, but then he got all annoying about it to you so I said Aunt Natasha was my favorite instead.”

Pepper takes the shirt from Tony’s limp hands as he continues to gawk. She’s trying to take Morgan’s declarations far less seriously, but Tony’s going quite literal with just about everything she says.

“That’s not—how—did we—?”

“Come on, Morgan, let’s get you into bed.” Pepper easily lifts Morgan back onto her hip, swiftly dodging a still-sputtering Tony.

“But—I still have so many questions!” Tony calls to her back, but doesn’t follow once she shuts the bedroom door to help Morgan get changed.

 


 

After Morgan happily settles into her nap, Pepper finds Tony in the workshop.

He doesn’t directly acknowledge her entrance, which is normal, but does allow JARVIS to turn down his background music. (Which—not normal at all—is less loud than it usually is in the first place. Like he’s trying to be considerate of Morgan upstairs despite the soundproofing of the room.)

“Morgan asked me to look after this for her,” Pepper states to announce herself.

She takes the metal band from the inner pocket of her suit jacket, placing it next to his arm.

“I thought it might be useful. Maybe you could examine it, take it apart, find a way to—“

Tony lets out a puff of a laugh though his nose.

“I have no idea where to start. Nanotechnology is one thing, but real life, actual time travel? That’s…”

He shakes his head, exasperated and tinged with a little bit of self-loathing because, for once, he can’t be the smartest person in the room.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Pep, I have no idea what I’m doing.” Tony looks up to the ceiling before exhaling again. “No freakin’ clue.”

She can feel him deflating from the inside out. Self-destructing so that no one else can pin it all going wrong on him before he ensures it himself.

“I think you’re doing pretty good so far. A couple of blow ups, but, well,” Pepper shrugs. “I could use a meltdown myself right now.”

“Yeah?” Tony smiles up at her, and she reads it as thankful for her support.

“Yeah. Especially since she’s just, you know, some kid. Not really…”

Tony scoffs. “Pepper.”

“What?"

“She knows how to work one of my AI, she knows things about the both of us that no one else in the world other than our closest friends and family could even speculate on. That’s not—there’s no other explanation at this point than the fact that she’s from the future and she’s our daughter.”

She can’t argue against his logic, but she doesn’t want to admit that he’s right, either. Because that makes certain things a bit too...inevitable. And she’s not really sure if she can handle the idea of choosing Tony and regretting it.

Yes, Morgan sees her parents as loving and happy, but don’t all children?

What are the things she and Tony fight about as parents? As partners? Did they get married before or after Pepper got pregnant? Or at all? Is she the breadwinner in the household? Does Tony resent her for leaving him at home with their daughter all the time? Does Pepper regret taking over the company and missing out on her family?

“I just—it’s all so—unexplainable,” Pepper stutters out between all of her wrestling thoughts.

Tony counts off on his fingers, “Fancy tech, Stark genetics, time travel. Explained.”

“Okay, fine. Fantastical, then. And considering other theories of time travel, by the way, she’s not ours at all. It’s a totally different universe or something, unless the future us met their daughter before they ever had her.”

Pepper Potts is trying to explain the MWI theory to me right now?!” Tony asks in bewilderment, more to the room than to himself. “That’s how far you have to reach?”

“I’m not reaching for anything. I’m just pointing out the fact that it’s not...saying she’s ours isn’t technically correct.”

“Technically—” Tony stands, planting himself firmly in front of her so that she has to look him directly in the eye when he asks, “Pepper, why can’t you seem to accept that the little girl sleeping upstairs is our daughter?”

“Because…Tony, if she’s real, that means...” The answer stays caught in her throat. She eyes him through her bangs. “You and I…”

“Is the idea of being with me that repulsive?” he asks of her, almost...subdued.

“That’s not what I said—“

He shifts his gaze to the ground. 

“Being my partner, being married to me, having kids together, being a family…would it really be so bad?”

The problem is that it wouldn’t. That, as hard to imagine as it is, it’s also, so, so easy.

Tony passing tools into Morgan’s small hands, teaching her the intricacies of his machinations, teaching her to create anything other than weapons. Playing every ridiculous game their child’s imagination could conjure up with genuine fervor. Movie nights and family dinners and holidays with everyone important to them gathered around the table.

Tony actually satisfied, for once not carrying the weight of the world, of his failures, of the media’s opinions, of his parents’ deaths as personal penance because finally he’s realized there’s a better life, if only he would work for it. If only he would try and be the good man that she knows lies beneath the excessive drinking and drugs and the poor decision making that follows.

Tony Stark, finally at peace.

Pepper swallows hard, admitting, “I...I guess not.”

Tony’s gaze has returned to matching hers, sharp and interrogating to self-conscious and then something incredibly...charged.

Tony leans in closer, encroaching on her personal space. The warmth of his body teases against her without actually making contact. The smell of his expensive cologne is stronger up close—and without the usual undercurrent of bourbon tainting the crisp, woodsy mix of warm spices and the dregs of his perpetual coffee consumption.

His breath puffs warmly against her face as he leans in to breach the last few inches between them.

She presses a hand to Tony’s chest. A halting movement just before their lips meet.

His heart is beating strong against where her hand rests. The intake of her breath catches before she speaks. Her nails sweep against the cotton of his dress shirt. A shiver thrums through his body in response.

It’s tempting to know that Tony wants her. Any part of her, if only she’d let him. To know that he’d be willing, eager, whatever she asked of him. But Tony is willing to risk a lot of things that Pepper isn’t.

“You shouldn’t get so swept up in the moment that you make promises you don’t intend to keep, Mister Stark,” she whispers.

For a beat they just stand there, locked in the almost, what could be.

Tony backs away without Pepper having to move a muscle. 

Shakily, he nods. He runs a hand through his hair and turns away, a dismissal she’s familiar with, although never in this particular context.

Pepper takes the time traveling device with her as she turns around and exits the workshop without another word.

 


 

Morgan doesn’t sleep for very long.

Or, more accurately, Pepper doesn’t know how long a five-year-old is actually supposed to nap for in the middle of the day, but it feels like it wasn’t a long enough break from...well, everything.

Between her moment with Tony and dealing with everything that Morgan is and means and so on...she’s exhausted. She’s spent the last few hours in the office space upstairs that’s supposed to be Tony’s but is more often hers getting lost in rescheduling all of the things that were on the top of her list when the day started.

“Mommy?”

It takes long enough for Pepper to remember that she is Mommy that Morgan asks again.

“Mommy?”

“Sorry, sorry—yes, Morgan? Did you have a nice nap?”

Morgan skips the question. “I think I did something bad.”

That could mean a multitude of things, so Pepper attempts to clarify.

“Why do you think that, sweetie?”

“I asked the AI where Daddy was and I went downstairs and he got mad at me.”

Somehow, Pepper knows that’s the short of it. Tony, though volatile, doesn’t just get angry out of nowhere. There’s always a reason. It’s just a guessing game to find out exactly what that reason is when he refuses to talk about what’s bothering him.

Is Pepper to blame? For making him think about...for frustrating him?

Did she reverse his so far longest streak in months of not day drinking with that one not-so-simple conversation?

“That doesn’t sound like him,” Pepper only-kind-of lies, more to give Morgan the youthful illusion that her future father has always been as good as she seems to think he is.

“How about you tell me exactly what happened?”

Morgan nods sulkily, walking behind the elegant wooden desk so that she can crawl into Pepper’s lap.

She’s surprisingly pleased by the way Morgan tucks herself against Pepper’s chest. Morgan is such a clear daddy’s girl—the way she idolizes him, takes after him with her precocious nature, quick wit, and dark brown hair. It’s nice to see Morgan’s natural affection extend to Pepper, too.

“He was okay at first, but then I said I was hungry, and he always makes me Nonna’s pasta when I want it. Always! But then he turned back to his computer and said, ‘Go ask Pepper, she’ll get you something to eat,’ and I said I wanted Nonna’s pasta like he always makes it and he said ‘Now, Morgan!’ in his serious voice which I only ever get when I’m in trouble.”

Pepper sighs, standing up and taking Morgan with her.

“Well, I can’t make that, but I think I can cobble together something to eat,” Pepper says. “You don’t have any allergies, do you?”

Morgan nods. “Strawberries.”

“Just like me, huh?” Pepper smiles to herself without really thinking about it. Future Tony must have had one scare with their daughter and never forgotten about Pepper’s allergy again.

As they walk down the hallway, Pepper asks, “Does your dad talk about his parents much?”

Morgan tilts her head back and forth, then shakes it in the negative. “They died a long time ago, and it made him really, really sad.”

“That’s right. And I bet for you, he seems like he’s got it all together now. Because he’s a superhero, right?”

Morgan gives a quiet, “Mmhm.”

“Well, I’ve known Tony for...a long time, now. In the early days, he used to get mad at me like that too. It scared me, sometimes.”

Morgan’s mouth parts in a quiet sort of awe. “It did?”

“It did. But one time he yelled at me out of nowhere and I just snapped right back. Told him if he kept up the changing moods and treated me like, um—like garbage that I would find employment elsewhere. And do you know what?”

“What?”

“He started treating me with the respect I asked for. Even when he was sad or mad or had too much to drink. Because for all of his faults, Tony...your father is a good man. When he really tries and owns up to his mistakes, he surprises me, with how genuinely good and kind he can be.”

Pepper sets Morgan on the granite countertop in the kitchen, meeting her eyes.

“And I think, if you told Daddy that he hurt your feelings because he made you think you did something wrong—which you didn’t—that he would apologize.”

“And he’d mean it?” Morgan asks, a little shy.

“Of course, honey,” Pepper says, then smiles. “And if he didn’t, I would make sure he regretted it.”

She presses kisses against Morgan’s cheeks to make her laugh.

“Now, I can’t imagine I’ve gotten miraculously better at cooking in the next twenty years, but is there anything I can make for you? Comfort foods?”

Morgan looks around the kitchen, which is no real help. The surfaces are professionally sparkling clean without an ounce of clutter and minimally decorated.

“Mac n’ cheese?”

Pepper is thankful that the request is so simple.

“I think I can manage that.” 

Tony has a more expensive off-brand of the boxed mac that Pepper grew up with, but the directions are similar, and if anything, Pepper can boil pasta without burning the place down.

“Are you in school yet?” Pepper asks, trying to find a way to fill the silence that’s dropped between them. With Tony there’s rarely such a thing, and she’s not used to being the one to entertain company.

As she digs around in Tony’s rarely-utilized kitchen for the right pot, Morgan kicks her feet over the edge of the counter, relaxing into comfortable chatter.

“Uh-huh. In normal school, we’re reading Dr. Suess. I like the rhyming, and Green Eggs and Ham is my favorite because Daddy tried to make it for me once and it all turned blue!”

“Normal school?” Pepper parses out from the excited rambling.

Morgan nods. “Daddy teaches me special lessons at home sometimes. Petey helps. Says it’s good for my ‘velopment.”

“Development?” Pepper clarifies.

“Yeah. ‘Cause sometimes I know stuff the other kids don’t yet, but Daddy says I gotta go to school like a normal kid or I’m gonna end up all weird like him!”

Pepper can tell it was a joke by the way Morgan giggles to herself as she says it, but still rolls her eyes. 

“Your dad is just silly. And it’s a good thing, being smart like your dad. It’s what—I like that about him.”

Morgan nods excitedly. “He says I gotta be smart like you. Less ob—obno—um, less of a show-off.”

“I do think Tony could stand to be that,” Pepper admits, stirring the dry pasta into the now-boiling water.

“I thought my ears were burning.” Tony walks into the kitchen, all bravado and snark in his tone, but a little subdued in his stance with his hands in his pockets.

“I’m sure there’s a cream for that,” Pepper hums.

“Ouch, Potts.” Tony dramatically mimes being shot, turning to his captive audience of Morgan only to find that she’s shirking away from his attention.

Tony frowns, then looks at Pepper while pointing to himself.

Pepper nods sagely.

Tony sighs, but sidles up to sit next to Morgan on the counter, where he as a grown man probably should not be.

“I think I owe you an apology for earlier, Morgs.”

“Yeah,” the girl agrees.

Tony smiles at her frankness. “I’m not great at them, but I’ll do my damndest, okay?”

“Okay,” Morgan mumbles.

“So, as anyone will tell you, stuff with my parents wasn’t exactly great. And sometimes bringing it up makes me upset, and I shouldn’t have taken that out on you. I’m sorry.”

Morgan eyes Tony shrewdly, raising her pinky and asking, “Promise?”

Tony nods, curling his pinky with Morgan’s and nodding. 

“I promise. Won’t happen again.”

Morgan snuggles into a side hug.

“Good. Mommy says you’re in trouble if you don’t mean it.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior,” Tony promises, sending Pepper a smirk at her threat. He then moves his gaze over to the pasta she’s stirring. “This is what it’s come to?”

Pepper huffs a laugh. “It’s your pantry, you know.”

“Yeah, but that’s not…balanced and shit. For the rugrat.”

“Shit!” Morgan cheers with delight, and it’s not the first time.

Tony jumps, putting a hand over his ear at the interruption. “Good god, please don’t ever become a cheerleader.”

Pepper ignores his wisecrack. “What’s your solution then, Master Chef Stark?”

“Mmm.” Tony jumps off of the counter to poke around in his fridge, which he definitely never looks at enough for a grown man, in her opinion. (But she orders takeout as much as he does, so really she can’t complain too much.)

“We have some chicken breasts, enough vegetables for a side salad situation…how’s that, kiddo? Will you choke it down for the sake of my conscience?”

Morgan nods. “No strawberries though. I reminded Mom, too.”

The side-eye Tony gives her at this allergy revelation does not go amiss.

“This is a pro-blueberry household anyway,” he comments, getting out the ingredients and setting up shop next to Pepper at the kitchen island without another word.

 


 

Morgan falls asleep a few hours later, filled with dinner and worn out from a few very intense rounds of Mario Kart.

Pepper and Tony are still sitting in the living room, the game’s theme music playing as they watch Morgan’s soft breaths rise and fall between them, knowing they should take her to bed but not wanting to break the moment yet.

“Thank you,” Pepper eventually says, causing Tony to look up at her from his slumped position in confusion.

“What, for—? Pep, I was the one that got all bent out of shape at a kid. Definitely nothing to thank me for.”

“Yeah, but I told her you would apologize, and you did. If you hadn’t…”

“You’d be a liar and I’d be the bad guy.” Tony nods to himself. “Well, good thing I’m not a total monster then, huh?”

Pepper shoves his shoulder, slightly angry that his firm muscle doesn’t take the impact hard at all.

“You’re nothing close to a monster just because you got a little angry.”

Tony shrugs, looking away. “Feels like it.”

Pepper sighs. “Tony, we’re new at this. We didn’t even sign up for this the way other people do. We’re bound to make mistakes.”

“Seems like it’s mostly me, though.”

“Because you’re spending more time with her. Because you aren’t afraid to care about her. I...I have my own issues, Tony. You’re well aware of that.”

“Mmm,” is Tony’s guilty non-answer.

She lets them sit for another minute before feeling that she has to ask.

“Was it really just because she mentioned your mother?”

Tony sighs heavily, flopping as much of himself back into the couch as he can in a common fit of dramatics.

“Yes? No? I don’t know.” He lets out a quiet groan into his hands. “Just—I haven’t cooked my mom’s recipes in years because it would mean I’d have to find her recipe books in storage, and all of the memories…I get plastered every year at Christmas because I can barely handle thinking about it, you know?”

Pepper angles herself towards him.

“20 years is longer than you’d think. There’s room for growth.”

“I never thought...it always felt wrong to do that. Like it’s something I’m not allowed to move on from, because I’m the only one that’s left to really remember them. But if I make Mom’s pasta in the future, if I talk about my parents and remember them like that, it means...I don’t know. Imagining a version of myself that could…” 

He shakes his head. 

“I don’t know how to be that. A dad, I thought...maybe. A husband, your husband, well…” He tries to play it off as a joke, but she catches the earnest tone in his voice when he says, “Who wouldn’t want to be that guy, right?”

“Tony…”

Tony shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m just...I know you’re going through your own stuff with this situation, and now I’m all over the place...maybe this was a bad idea.”

“It wasn’t,” Pepper replies, sudden even to herself, but sure. “Actually her parents or not, it would have been so much worse to try and explain to the authorities. I mean, time travel? Come on.”

“But not just because of that.” Tony looks down at Morgan sprawled between them, comfortable and deep in sleep.

Pepper runs a hand over Morgan’s back, both she and Tony smiling when the girl lets out a content sigh. 

“No. Not just that.”

Tony meets Pepper’s gaze over Morgan, his smile soft and warm. And again she finds herself considering dangerous things. Dangerous, wonderful, life-changing things with her playboy boss, of all people.

Tony is the one to break their stare this time, clearing his throat.

“I’ll take her to bed. You’re welcome to one of the guest rooms, as always.”

Pepper nods awkwardly herself, but doesn’t stop watching as he carefully cradles Morgan’s body in his arms and carries her to bed.

 


 

Pepper wakes just before Tony, convincing him to get out of bed and dress Morgan for the day while for once she gets to enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet of the early morning.

It’s a sheer miracle that she doesn’t drop her coffee onto the patio a few minutes later.

“Oh my god.”

In front of her is Tony...but not her Tony. The man on the patio is wearing an entirely white exosuit, emblazoned with a black A. His head is uncovered, showing off the thinner, grey strands of hair working through light brown.

And by his eyes...laughter lines.

The man seems frozen himself, but he speaks up at Pepper’s exclamation.

“Hey, hi. Uh, I was kinda hoping you wouldn’t be here, but that’s fine, we’re fine, don’t freak out.”

“Oh my god!” Pepper yells louder.

“See, honey, you’re freaking out, and I told you not to do that, there’s no need to—“

“You’re—your face—“ Pepper gapes at the scarring that weaves down half of the familiar jawline she’d know anywhere. 

“Savior of the universe,” Pepper whispers to herself. “She really meant—oh my god.”

“So, uh. Morgan’s been chatty, I take it?” Tony asks. Not-Tony. Future Tony?

Pepper nods, still in shock.

He sighs, rubbing at his forehead with a still armored hand.

“Okay. No, y’know what, that makes things easier. You know who she is, you obviously know who I am. I tracked the location of the device to bring her home, so I’ll just, um. Do that. And then be out of your hair.”

“Tony—you were right. About time travel. That’s—“

“I figured it out? Go me. We’re only in 2006, so that means...oh, damn, there’s a blurry, carnival shaped hole in my memory around that time. Am I right?”

Pepper nods. “I had to bail you out of a Brazilian prison.”

Future Tony cringes.

“Oh, Pep. I’m so sorry. He doesn’t know any better,” the man says it much like one would about a puppy who peed on the carpet.

And part of Pepper thinks, does this Tony know better?

She looks at this man from the future: a husband, a father. 

A man who for some reason assisted in saving the entire universe.

What kind of life is that, really? Loving a man who almost died? Probably not for the first time, even. How can she do that? Put her heart through that, their daughter’s?

Future Tony tilts his head. “Oh, boy. I know that look.”

“What?”

“That look on your face right now. Pursing your lips, all wide-eyed and determined not to show how scared you are. I’m half the reason for that look existing.”

“It’s overwhelming,” Pepper answers. “Time travel, a daughter, but you and I—being a superhero, I can’t do this, I can’t—“

She feels the panic closing in, and with it, this different version of Tony comes a few steps closer as well.

“Woah, woah, woah. Pepper, slow down. Look, I’m sorry this happened. We don’t like screwing with the timelines, but Morgan accidentally used the device and things here are screwy and—“ Tony sighs, collecting himself. She’s never seen that before. Never looked at Tony Stark and felt anything close to calm.

“Pepper, this doesn’t—I can’t tell you if this is your future. Once we mess with the past, things change. You know things you shouldn’t have to yet, and I’m sorry to shock you with all of it like that.”

Since when did time travel logistics become a part of her life? And why is this Tony so good at making her feel better?

“But I can guarantee you one thing, because despite the differences, I’m just as much Tony Stark as any other universe’s. Once your Tony he realizes what he’s got—what you really mean to him? He’s gonna do everything in his power to be a better man for you. And if you let him, he is never gonna let you go.”

Future Tony is confident as he says this. Assured and comfortable with her in a way her Tony has never managed without cracking a flirtatious joke to break the moment.

“And no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in this universe...you are always going to be stronger together. That is how my wife and I have survived every single thing that’s happened to us, and my only regrets are making her life any harder than it already was.”

He wipes a tear when it falls down her cheek.

“But she forgave you for that too, didn’t she?” Pepper asks with a smile crawling up her face unbidden, knowing herself well enough to know that underneath it all, Tony is her best friend. Any hardship she went through to support him...she wouldn’t have gone through it if she didn’t want to. If she didn’t believe in him.

Future Tony smiles back at her, giving her hand a squeeze.

“She did.”

Future Tony backs up, shaking his head and laughing to himself. “So weird. Feels like I’m cheating on you with...you.”

“I’m sure I would understand,” Pepper remarks smartly.

Future Tony raises a familiar brow to waggle it, older, but still the same flirt.

“Kinky, Potts.”

Pepper snorts. “Terrible, Stark.”

“That’s what the kids tell me. I am, apparently, terribly embarrassing.”

“I meant to ask...Peter, Morgan's brother? Is he really part spider?”

Future Tony sighs.

“I mean, he’s not not—and he’s not even technically our—“ Future Tony scratches at his beard nervously. “I mean, it’s really not that weird, considering all of the other stuff going on in the future. And he’s really such a sweet kid—“

“Daddy!” Morgan’s voice calls, running up to them in the clothes she arrived in. So Tony did manage helping her get dressed all on his own.

The girl practically tackles her father—the real deal, from the future—and he takes it by crouching down to one knee and catching her in his arms with ease.

“Morgan, what the—oh.” Behind her comes Tony, skidding into her when he stops short.

“There’s my Morguna,” Future Tony comforts his daughter. “You scared the crap out of us, kiddo. Mom and I were so worried.”

“Sorry,” Morgan says, repeating it over and over a few times.

“Is that…?” Her Tony—Current Tony asks.

Pepper nods.

“Badass,” he mumbles, eyeing the suit his other self is wearing.

“It’s not too shabby,” Future Tony answers looking up at...himself. “This is a trip, though, meeting myself. We try to avoid that kind of thing, when we can.”

“We?” Current Tony asks.

“Oh, you’ll get there someday. Or maybe not. The multiverse opens up the door to a lot of crazy stuff. But I need to get this one home to the grounding of her lifetime, so I’d better be on my way.”

“Daaaaad,” Morgan whines.

“I don’t wanna hear it, squirt. Go on. Say your goodbyes.”

Morgan detaches from her father, barreling into Current Tony’s legs first.

“You’re a good dad,” Morgan says into his shoulder, loud enough that Pepper still catches it. “Thank you for saying sorry.”

Tony leans down, mirroring himself as he pulls Morgan in for a hug. “Of course, baby. You’re the best kid a guy didn’t ask for.”

Tony pulls back and presses a kiss to Morgan’s forehead, his voice thick when he says, “You be good, okay? Don’t tell your mom how many swear words you heard from me.”

Morgan shrugs happily. “I never do.”

Tony laughs, but pushes her off to Pepper. 

She crouches too, meeting the eyes of this girl that isn’t her daughter, but could be. In this life or another. A million little choices ahead of her and Tony now, knowing what they know.

Pepper passes a hand through Morgan’s hair, taming a few strands into place.

“I’m glad you trusted us to take care of you. I know you were scared, but I loved being someone you could trust.”

“I love you too,” Morgan replies to what Pepper didn’t say. To what she’s scared to admit for fear that it won’t come real, that wanting it will make it all disappear.

Pepper hugs Morgan for longer than she planned.

Finally, Morgan pulls away, running back to her father’s side and grabbing his hand.

“Pep, if you wouldn’t mind?” Future Tony holds out his hand.

“Oh!” Right. He appeared in front of her because he tracked the time travel device. She still has it on her because she slept in this suit last night instead of going back to her own apartment, worried Morgan would need something.

She digs the device out of her pocket and places it in Future Tony’s hand. He squeezes her fingers before pulling away.

“Well, it’s been real and it’s been fun, so on and so forth. You crazy kids enjoy the future as it comes to you.”

Future Tony’s hand clamps a new, unbroken device around Morgan’s bare wrist, causing a nanosuit to appear over her as well.

Future Tony squints at his past self.

“And no universe jumping any time soon. We’ve done enough damage here as it is and I know how you get,” he says to Current Tony, who holds up his hands in innocence.

Then with only Morgan’s quick shout of, “Goodbye!” the pair shrinks into nothingness with a rapid flash of light.

There’s a beat where Pepper and Tony simply stare out at the blank space in front of them, listening to the sound of the waves.

“I think future me was a little handsy. Don’t you?” Tony remarks suddenly.

“Tony!” She scoffs.

“What, it just seems like maybe he’s tired of the old, looking to steal the new…”

“There’s nothing to steal, Tony. As far as I’m aware, I’m a single woman.”

“We could change that.”

“You know, green isn’t an attractive color on you.”

“I mean, if you have comments about what is, the suggestion box is wide open, and I aim to please.”

“I would suggest focusing on your agenda for today, considering it’s doubled in size after yesterday’s missed meetings.”

“I can multitask, Miss Potts. I’m very...attentive, when I want to be.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Mister Stark.”