“There’s my soloist!” Natasha exclaims as Morgan walks into the dance room. “How has your first couple of months back been like?”
“It's been okay,” Morgan shrugs, setting her dance bags on the floor. “I forget how easy and quick the first week goes by and how much quicker it gets harder to keep up. It’s depressing.”
“Well, hey,” Natasha says. “Good thing is, in my class all but your solo is done… even that’s almost done. So the only thing we’ll be working on from now until June is cleaning and fixing technique issues. Way easier than learning all of that.”
“True,” the teenager says, taking her MIT sweatshirt off her waist and setting it on the ground.
“Where’s your Mom?” the teacher asks.
“Oh, um… she said she was probably going to explore the town?” Morgan recalls. “She said she didn’t want to intrude.”
“Tell her that next time that she's okay to come in like she has in the past,” Natasha says with a smile before walking over to grab her phone.
“I will,” Morgan answers, loosely following the redhead.
Tony glances away from an assignment to the answer key and frowns. He picks up his pen and jots down an ‘X’ next to question eight on the sheet. He writes down a correction note next to the incorrect answer. “Question nine,” he mumbles to himself before huffing quietly.
He’s interrupted by a knock at his door. Rhodey? Bruce?
Tony gets up, abandoning his grading to see who’s at the door.
Tony unlocks the door and opens it. He swears he zoned out for a second, because there Rhodey was, standing at his doorstep.
“U-uh… hello?” Tony asks. “Rhodey, what are you doing here? I thought you didn’t get back until—“
“You’re going to want to kill me,” is all Rhodey says before he walks in.
“For what?” Tony asks, carefully shutting the door.
“I saw Morgan grow up.”
Rhodey nervously shifts his weight from one leg to the other, awaiting a response. “Tones?”
“My Morgan? The same kid that won’t even actively participate in my class anymore because she figured out I was her Dad? Who takes her corrections to her dorm during break and brings them back before lunch begins so she doesn’t have to sit in a room with me because she doesn’t want to make conversation anymore? The one who got rid of the letter you suggested I write out to her? That Morgan?” he baffles.
“That Morgan… yes,” James answers.
“And you wanted to wait to tell me that until now?” Tony asks.
“It was a slippery slope Tony,” he admits. “I love both you and Pepper. If I stepped away from either there would be tension. I knew both sides of the stories—even Morgan’s, and was there for the both of them and you when I could. I’m sorry.”
Tony’s quiet, covering his mouth with his open palm.
“If it makes you feel any better, Pepper doesn’t know I’m still friends with you,” Rhodey adds, trying to add sympathy to his tone.
Tony looks at his friend. “Why'd you suddenly feel the need to tell me?”
“I dunno,” the eldest man says. “I was driving through and the next thing I knew, I was at your house.”
“You’re the guy she was talking about on her first day when she said her mom’s friend went to MIT, weren’t you?”
“Probably,” James nods. He smiles for a second.
Tony raises a brow. “What?”
“There’s a photo I have of her somewhere when she was like nine in the MIT sweatshirt that you gave me when mine got stolen our senior year,” he recalls. “It about swallowed her whole at that point and she used it more like a blanket for a while. I don’t think Pepper ever figured out that it was originally yours. She still wears it… when I came over to Pepper’s house to celebrate Christmas, she had it on one of the days I was there. I gave it to her at Christmastime too.”
“Do you, uh, do you think I could see it?”
It takes a few minutes of scrolling before Rhodey turns his phone around to show an old photo taken on December 25th, 2012. A nine year old Morgan, dressed in santa pajama pants and Tony’s old MIT sweatshirt, posed with her other Christmas gifts—two record vinyls, one notably being Red by Taylor Swift, and a concert ticket… she’s smiling so big, happy as can be.
Tony sees his daughter smiling just before Rhodey turns the phone off and it breaks him. He doesn’t realize he’s getting teary eyed until he speaks. “I-I should’ve been there.”
“I know, Tony.”
“I hate him… I really fucking hate him,” Tony vents. “My father ruined my life, Rhodey.”
“I hate him too,” he says, calm.
“He’s the reason my daughter hates me,” Tony trails. “...the reason Pepper can’t stand me.”
“Pepper doesn’t hate you anymore,” Rhodey disagrees.
“Not according to what I’ve gathered,” Rhodey recalls. “Give her time, she’ll come around. Same with Morgan.”
“How? She won’t even let me talk to her.”
“I have a feeling she’ll eventually hear you out,” James attempts to reassure.
“Good job today, Morgan,” Natasha compliments when she catches Pepper coming into the studio in the corner of her eye. “Remember to practice getting the sounds out during your buffalo turns and get used to showing emotion. Listen to the song and create your own story in your head or stare at the mirror for an hour if you’ve gotta… it’ll bring your performance up about thirty percent.”
“Thank you, I will,” the youngest girl says happily as she pulls her sweatshirt back over her head.
Maria, who had come by midway through practice says, “I’ll make sure she practices the buffalo turns, babe.”
Morgan’s eyes widened at the pet name said to the redhead. So does Natasha.
“Are you two—“
Natasha and Maria look at each other. “Don’t tell anyone. It’s new information.”
Morgan grins. “I won’t.”
“You ready to go?” Pepper asks, breaking up the conversation.
Morgan hums before beginning to walk out.
A couple minutes pass when Pepper takes a detour just outside of the Woodvale Academy gates.
“What’re you doing?” Morgan breaks away from her thoughts. “This isn’t the way home?”
“What would you think if we moved closer to Woodvale?” Pepper inquires. “Like, not now or anything. But there’s a few jobs I could apply for in the area, so I know there will be some if and when we pursue it and then there’s houses in the budget…”
“Is there a problem at work or—“
“No?” she answers. “I want to help you have all the options. You’d get to come home and hang with me more often since I could get you to school every morning at a decent time. When you’re a junior, you get the option to stay home and just get there in the morning all the time because we're within driving distance… but I’d want you to be closer so that way you don’t have a thirty minute commute.”
“I mean, maybe… but I like our house, Mom,” Morgan mumbles. “I like our town. I don’t really, um… y’know… wanna move.”
“You moved to Woodvale?”
“Not like that.” Morgan shakes her head. “I mean like literally moving. Not just there in the week and get to come home on the weekends and breaks.”
“I’m not looking at houses today, but there is one in this neighborhood up ahead that I want to drive by and see before we head on back… it’s been on the market for awhile. That okay?” Pepper asks as she turns into the neighborhood in question.
“Fine,” the teenager grumbles before she fidgets with the drawstring on her sweatshirt.
“Hey, Mo,” Pepper says, quietly attempting to grab her attention a couple moments later. “What do you think?”
Morgan looks up and to her left. It’s a small white house with paneled siding. There’s a garage on the left side. On the right, stairs led to a small porch and entryway. “It’s nice…” She trails off when her eyes glance to her right to see two people walking out of the house next door and goes stiff. “No. Nope! Not happening. Never in a million years.”
“Wha—Why?” Pepper asks before she sees the same. “Oh. Wait. Why is Rhodey… of course they’re still friends.”
Morgan sinks in her car seat when she notices that they see her and her mother. She shuts her eyes and murmurs: “Please don’t come over here, please don’t come over here, please don’t—“
“You checking out the neighborhood, Virginia?” Rhodey interrupts Morgan’s mumbling.
“Well, when Morgan’s a junior she doesn’t have to live in the dorms if she wants to… and I don’t want to have to make her get up way too early if she doesn’t have to,” Pepper answers. “Which isn’t for awhile but it’s always good to look around for what type of jobs and properties are available.” Her tone changes. “Didn’t realize that this was Tony’s neighborhood, otherwise I wouldn’t probably come look around right now… you know, for Morgan’s sake.”
“I understand,” Rhodey nods. “You’re not mad?”
“I probably would’ve been a year ago,” Pepper answers.
“I was just leaving,” Rhodey says. “Can’t promise that Tony won’t come up and attempt to make conversation, though… sorry, Mo.”
Morgan grumbles, still sunk in her seat with eyes shut. If he does, you can ignore him and he’ll go away.
She hears Rhodey walk away and a car door open and close. Please just drive away, Mom. He’s going to try to talk to me.
But she doesn’t, and the next thing she knows:
“The neighborhood is nice,” Tony says after Pepper asks. “But I’m finding as years pass that it’s kind of like a starter subdivision for families and they move out after like two or three years… I’ve been here since I got the job at Woodvale.”
“Thank you for the input,” Pepper thanks.
Oh? They’re friends now?! When did that happen?
“Is she taking a nap or…?”
“No, she thinks that if she ignores your presence you’ll just walk away,” Pepper answers. Morgan would bet money that her mother had rolled her eyes.
“Ouch,” Tony answers, tone somber. “Why are you even out here on the weekend… before spring break?”
“She got awarded a solo in January and has practice on Saturdays since she doesn’t have any free time in the week,” Pepper answers.
“Oh, congratulations,” he compliments.
“Thanks,” Morgan mumbles.
“She speaks!” Pepper jokes.
Morgan sits up and stares directly at her mother. “Why are you—“
“Just being civil. Is that a bad thing?”
“Yes, because you’re taking his side again,” Morgan yelps. She saw Tony furrow his brow when she said that.
“You know if you just heard him out you’d understand why I’m trying not to burn a bridge,” Pepper attempts to reason.
“What do you know?” Morgan asks.
“More than I knew a few months ago,” Pepper says. “That’s his story to tell and up to you whether you hear him out or not. Nothing to do with me.”
Morgan rolls her eyes and huffs. “What is there to hear? He—“
“Morgan Hope Potts, no ma’am,” Pepper scolds.
“You’re taking his side! Right now! I can’t believe you. You take his side and not your own daughter’s.”
“Because you’re siding with your biased opinion on the situation,” the eldest woman says. “Did you even read the letter he gave Sofia to give you when you got back in December?”
She notices Tony’s eyes widen at the question. “How did you know about—“
The one sitting on my desk somewhere? “No…? It’s on my desk in my dorm,” Morgan admits.
“I’m sorry she’s being stubborn,” Pepper says, ignoring her daughter’s answer. “Give her time. She’ll come around.”
“Thank you,” Tony nods. “Have a good rest of your day and your spring break.” He walks back toward his home and disappears inside.
Morgan rolls her eyes when Pepper begins to drive around out of the neighborhood.
“I don’t understand you. How do you honestly expect me to get along with and side with the man who left us ?” Morgan asks after a few minutes pass on the road.
“Morgan. There are things you simply do not know, and I didn’t know either until I was willing to listen to him,” Pepper answers. “You can at least be civil with him until you’re willing to hear him out.”
Pepper’s scrolling through job listings around the Woodvale area when an alert from her personal email goes off. She moves her cursor over to the tab and clicks it before finding the new email in question. It’s from ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. She opens the email and reads it before quickly typing a response back.