“Shh, Peter, please,” Tony begged in a choked voice. He felt a moment away from breaking into sobs himself, but he couldn’t afford to. He wasn’t sure what was getting him through this, but whatever it was, he needed to keep holding on just a little bit longer.
Peter had been screaming for the last three hours. Tony had tried to calm him down at home before he got himself too worked up, but Peter wouldn’t listen to anything. He wasn’t dirty, he threw any bottle that came near him, and he smacked Tony whenever he tried to rock him. It was like Peter knew Tony was trying to soothe him, and he refused to let him. Peter didn’t want to be comforted; he just wanted to cry.
Tony had tried to handle that himself, but then of course, his mother had to butt in and try to take over. Her nagging was just the drop in an ever overflowing basket, and Tony flipped. He got into a huge argument with his mother about how she was always trying to control him ever since Peter, and he was sick of it.
He packed a bag of clothes for himself and Peter, along with Peter’s diaper bag before he hopped on the next bus out of the city. He wasn’t sure where he was headed, truthfully, but Peter decided that for him when he wouldn’t stop crying on the half hour bus ride, and Tony was sure one of the other passengers was about to stab him.
So at the next stop, Tony ran off the bus with a still screaming child, ignoring the applause that erupted when he did. It was so easy for them all to just write Peter off as just another annoying baby, but he was so much more than that to Tony.
Peter was his son. He was his entire world, ever since he was born a year ago. And Tony was just seventeen-years-old and trying to raise him as a single father. His mother, Tony’s high school girlfriend, didn’t want anything to do with their child. She planned on getting rid of Peter as soon as he was born because he would only hold them back.
Tony hadn’t had the same idea about the baby, and in the end, Mary gave him the ultimatum: her or the child. Despite dating her for three years and being in love (or so he thought), Tony chose the child without a moment of doubt.
Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy before cutting all ties to him. Then her father moved their family across the country to start somewhere fresh where she wouldn’t be known as the teen mom that abandoned her child.
That night in the hospital, Tony had known he made the right choice as those big brown eyes looked up at him. Even now, as those same eyes looked up, as he screamed so loudly he was probably tearing up his throat, Tony wouldn’t have changed his choice for the world because Peter was his world.
Tony bounced him gently as he walked, hoping to calm him down. Peter kicked and fussed still. Tony sighed as walked down a street he had never been down because this entire town was new to him. He wasn’t sure where the hell he got off, but he was close to getting right back on the bus and heading home.
He had been itching to run away and start somewhere new for months, but now, he wasn’t sure if this plan was really all that well thought out past the bus ticket and a few hundred bucks emergency cash. He had a child, a baby. He needed to find him shelter and security. The only place that was guaranteed was back at his mom and dad’s.
“What are we gonna do, Petey?” Tony asked with a sigh as he walked towards a small shop on the corner with the lights on. There was a giant wrench on the top of the building, by the glowing neon sign in the widow read: Steve’s Diner.
It was late, so hopefully, there wouldn’t be too many people inside. They were about to hate him, but he needed some place to just sit and figure out the hell he was going to do. The bell on the door rang above him, but it was drowned out by Peter’s screeches. Immediately, the few other patrons all turned their heads towards Tony.
Keeping his head down, Tony found the nearest table and sat down. “Please be quiet, buddy,” Tony whispered in his ear before kissing the hair just above his ear. Softly. “It’s gotta hurt you by now. Don’t you want a break?”
Peter was barely giving his lungs a break to reprieve between the cries. His face was bright red as he continued to scream.
Tony felt so helpless. He might have only been eighteen, but he wasn't a kid anymore. He hadn't been a kid since Mary found out she was pregnant when they were both only sixteen-years-old and they were having a baby.
But even if he had matured a lot in the last two years, sometimes he didn't feel like an adult. He wished he had someone to help him, but he didn't. He didn't have a partner, and he didn't have parents either. He was utterly alone.
"Peter," he begged, "Please, please, please be quiet. Even just for a moment. Please."
Peter squirmed in his arms even as Tony kissed the top of his head to try and help him relax.
Suddenly, there was a glass jug placed on the table. "You have a bottle?"
Tony looked up as Peter used one of his little hands to grab Tony's lip and yank. Hard. He felt his nails digging into his skin, probably drawing blood. "What?"
“Do you have a bottle for him to fill up with milk?”
Tony was shocked that someone was helping him. He’d never had someone help him. Even at home, his mother would just take Peter from him and handle it. But now, this stranger was offering to help without taking over. “Uh, yeah-- in this bag.”
The man reached for the diaper bag that Tony was gesturing to and unzipped it. He rummaged through the diapers on top until he pulled out a bottle. He unscrewed the top and began to pour the milk in. He handed it to Tony after screwing the top back on. “Here.”
Tony took it gratefully, even though he didn’t think it would do much help. Nothing had been working. He changed Peter’s position and cradled him against his chest, trying to fight his kicking. “C’mon, Pete, just...drink…” He pressed the nipple against Peter’s lips and when he let out another scream, Tony pushed it into his mouth. Once his mouth closed, he started to suckle on the nipple and his pace steadily increased until he was finishing the entire bottle.
Tony could have cried of relief right there. He looked up at the stranger with a watery smile. “Thank you so much.”
“Just didn’t wanna hear him cry,” the man grumbled.
Guiltily, Tony said, “I know. I’m sorry I brought him in here, but I wasn’t sure where else to go.”
The man’s blue eyes looked over at the duffel bag on the floor next to him. “Passing through?”
“I...don’t know,” Tony said honestly. “I’m looking for somewhere new to settle and start a life with my son.”
“There’s an Inn down the street,” the man told him. “If you need somewhere to stay and get situated. If you two need money for a night, I can--.”
“No,” Tony said immediately. He didn’t need people’s charity. “I don’t need any money, but thank you. I’ll probably head there after a meal...if I can find a waiter.”
“Oh, that’s me.”
Tony frowned, not noticing a name tag or apron. The diner must not have a uniform. “Oh, sorry.”
“It’s alright. I’m the owner. Waiter, owner, chef…”
“Jack of all trades,” Tony commented, hushing Peter gently when he let out a little whine. “Even a baby whisperer.”
“I just don’t like hearing the poor little guy suffering,” the man shrugged his shoulders. “You looked like you could use some help.”
“I appreciate it,” Tony said genuinely.
The man nodded his head. “And what can I get Dad to eat now that his son’s all settled?”
“A burger?” Tony asked with a sheepish grin. His parents would never serve something as improper as a burger for dinner, so he rarely had one. “Cheese and bacon please.”
“Well, that sounds healthy,” the man mumbled before walking away to go get his food, presumably.
Tony smiled and looked back down at Peter when he walked away. Peter’s eyes were shut as he continued to finish his bottle. Tony doubted he’d wake up even when he smelt the food, but he’d have to give him a big breakfast tomorrow.
Once he was asleep, Tony didn’t want to stir him at all. He didn't think he was going to get a break tonight, and he probably wouldn’t have if that man hadn’t come in to help him. Tony had been seconds from losing his mind and running back to his mom and dad, until he came over.
Glancing over at the bar counter where he saw the man grilling his burger, Tony smiled. He hadn’t seen any other part of the town he was in, but he didn’t need to. This was enough for Tony to know that this place was going to be home.
15 years later...
“I need it. Please.”
Steve didn’t even turn around. He continued to focus on the food he was frying on the griddle in front of him. He was, of course, dressed in his typical flannel shirt, jeans, and baseball cap.
“You’re denying me basic human needs. I could complain,” Tony continued, knowing he’d crack eventually. He always did. “I’ll leave you a really mean review on Yelp. Is that what you want?”
“Oh, whatever will I do?” Steve asked sarcastically, still not turning around.
“You’ll run out of business and go under. Out on the street within a year. I can see it now.” Tony let out a faux sigh. “You could have avoided this by just providing me with my drink. You know I fund about 87% of this place.”
Finally, Steve turned around with a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage links. He didn’t look amused. “You have a problem.”
Tony watched as he set the plate on the bar in front of a man, sipping his mug of coffee. His eyes widened when Steve came back to him. “You let him have coffee, but not me? That’s rude. I thought we were friends.”
“I don’t have friends,” Steve replied grumpily before taking Tony’s mug from his hand. Tony grinned as he went to the coffee pot and filled it up.
“You know, I can kinda see why,” Tony teased. Steve was an acquired taste for most. He ran the diner in their small town, and it was rare that he was ever seen anywhere else or with a smile on his face. Tony didn't care what Steve said though; the grumpy man had been his first friend in this town.
“Just take your caffeine.” Steve handed him the mug carefully. “What number cup is that anyway?”
Tony pretended to think as he took a sip of his coffee. Steve always made it perfect. “Hmm, I’d say this is my fifth.”
Steve wasn’t surprised, but he did look disgusted. “It’s barely noon, Tony.”
“Yup. I’m behind, I know.” Tony shook his head before turning around and walking to his usual table. He sat at his usual seat, next to a wall of hardware tools as he waited for Peter to come into the diner.
Unfortunately, someone beat Peter to the empty seat. A woman that looked maybe around Tony's age smiled flirtatiously as she took the seat.
"Actually," Tony said, "that seat's taken."
"I won't be long," she said with that smile still on her face. She was really trying hard for this. "I'm just passing through town, and I was wondering if you knew any good places to eat."
"Just passing through, huh?" Tony asked with an amused grin. Could she be any more obvious?
"First time. I'm from the city a few miles out, but this is a cute little town." She leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand. "So any tips?"
"Steve's Diner is a great place to eat," he told her unhelpfully. "And the Independence Inn is the best place to stay in town." A little shameless plug wouldn't hurt.
"But we're in the diner…" the woman's smile faltered only slightly.
"Great deduction skills," Tony said, trying his best to let her know he wasn't interested without being an asshole. "Now, if you don't mind, that seat really is taken."
"Would you mind showing me where the Inn is?" She pressed.
"I really don't have time for that...I'm sorry." Tony stood up, leaving his mug at the table. He hoped she'd get the hint if he left the table. "Good luck."
He stopped at the bar and took a seat with a heavy sigh so Steve knew he was back. Sure enough, Steve turned around with a raised eyebrow. "Back already? I just filled up the mug."
"I'm here for escape," he said in a mock whisper. "Woman by my table obviously looking for a little something, if you know what I mean." Steve rolled his eyes before turning back to the grill. "And I know I am irresistible to any woman with a preference for the male specimen, but I've sworn off women ever since Peter's mom."
"That was sixteen years ago...she was just a kid. Has she really soured all of your future taste for women?" Steve asked, turning back around with two full plates of pancakes and bacon.
"Yes. I'll let you know if it ever changes."
"None of my business," Steve replied.
Tony glanced over his shoulder to see if Peter had arrived yet, and he was sitting at their table, but so was that woman again. "Oh hell no," Tony cursed, pushing himself away from the bar. It was annoying when she was flirting with him, but when she was flirting with his son, who was still just a child, that was a different story.
"--this is my first time--." She was saying, which was so obviously scripted.
Peter was sitting in his seat, glancing over at Tony. When he saw his dad in view, he relaxed.
"Yeah, sure it isn't, lady." She seemed alarmed that she had been interrupted by Tony. Why would she go for the exact same table a moment later? "You're passing through town, just as you've told me, but I can assure you my son is not interested." Tony stepped around her, putting himself between the woman and Peter.
Her wide eyes looked over at Peter before looking back at Tony. "Your son? Wow, I didn't think you were old enough to be his father."
Tony just smiled. "Yup. I look good for my age. I know. I take a Youth Serum every morning in my coffee."
She nodded her head, glancing over her shoulder. "Well, I do have a friend with me…"
"Did I mention my son is underage?" Tony's grin strengthened, but hers disappeared.
"Is this my new Mommy?" Peter asked in his little shit voice that Tony knew better than to trust.
"Oh, my God," she said once before she was hurrying away from the table and out of the restaurant with her friend in tow.
Tony and Peter both started laughing the moment she was gone. They were still laughing after Tony had taken a seat and Steve was there with their usual breakfast.
"If you keep scaring away my customers, I'll have to charge a fee," Steve grumbled.
"We're just keeping the rif-raff out," Tony replied, picking up a piece of bacon.
"Sorry about Dad," Peter said, though he didn't mean it. Steve had been serving them since Tony and Peter moved into Timely. “You know how he is.”
Steve had been one of the first people to welcome him and Peter to the neighborhood, and part of the reason he stuck around. The older man probably had no idea of that, but it was true. They were good friends, if not best friends. Everyone in town thought it was strange at first for Steve to be so patient with Tony and Peter, but now, it really was just widely known that they were just meant to be friends.
So, Steve wasn’t surprised by Tony anymore, and he definitely wasn’t tired of him yet. “Yeah, bud, I know.”
“Aw, you two love me. My biggest fans.”
“Mhmm,” Steve hummed sarcastically before walking away from the table to service his other guests.
Tony smiled as he watched him leave, and then gave Peter his full attention. “So, how is my mini-me this fine morning?”
“That doesn’t sound like a sincere ‘ great’ if you ask me,” Tony said, pulling a slice of bacon from his plate to put onto Peter’s. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he claimed before he then proceeded to say, “I just have this really big group project for my Econ class, and I’m doing all the work.”
Tony frowned, chewing on his crispy slice of bacon. “Why? Seems like it should be a group effort.”
“Because they refuse to do any of the work, and even if they did it, they wouldn’t do it right, so it’s easier for me to just do it all myself.” Peter stabbed his pancake a little harder than necessary before shoving it into his mouth.
Tony never went to college, but he wasn’t dumb. He was intelligent, which was where Peter got his brains from. But he was never this dedicated to his studies. When Peter was sitting in his room on Friday nights to study for an exam, Tony would have been at football games, making out with his girlfriend under the bleachers.
Peter took school and the stress that came with school to a whole new level. Tony wished he could take some of his son’s worrying away, but that was part of him. Tony couldn’t take part of him away; he could only help him.
“If you need help, you know I can always help out. I’m sure Uncle Rhodey wouldn’t mind either.” Tony knew that Peter knew that. More often than not, Rhodey and Tony helped quiz Peter on test material. Sometimes they even set up fun games to help him study.
“Thanks, Dad,” he said, eating his breakfast without much more of a complaint.
“You know...we’ve got a big wedding coming up at the Inn,” Tony said. “Rhodey’s making some test cakes for the bride and groom to choose from...you know what that means.”
Peter looked up at him with a smile. “Can Harley come too?”
“Of course. You know there are always so many leftovers after cake testing with him. He goes overboard. We’ll be having cake for dinner for days.”
“Not sure Steve will approve of that,” Peter pointed out and Tony glanced over at the mentioned man, who was at another table across the dining room, writing down a guest’s order.
“He won’t know.”
“If we stop coming here for dinner because we’re stuffed on cake, I think he might notice.”
“Hey,” Tony said without heat in his voice. “We don’t always eat here. I cook sometimes.”
“Microwaving frozen food doesn’t count as cooking. I think Uncle Rhodey would have a heart attack if he heard that."
It only took Tony a moment to think about his words before he said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Peter laughed and continued eating his breakfast in their shared silence. He didn’t stop until the door to the diner opened and the familiar sound of wheels against the floor filled the room.
Steve appeared from the kitchen, waving a spatula. “Dammit, Harley, I told you not to ride on that thing in here!”
Harley only laughed as he pulled up to a stop next to their table, flipping his skateboard into the air before catching it. “Sorry, Steve, I slipped.”
Steve groaned while shaking his head. That was Harley’s excuse everyday, but Steve never did anything about it. He wasn’t serious about his threats of locking Harley from the diner; he just had to make it seem like he was. He might not have been as close to Harley as he was to Peter and Tony, but he still liked the kid. Of course he did; he was Peter’s best friend.
Case in point, he walked over to Harley with the wrapped chocolate chip muffin he always had ready every morning for him. Harley took it with a smile. “Thanks, Steve.”
Steve grunted a “you’re welcome” before saying, “You know you can’t use that slipped excuse when you start to drive. I don’t need a car going through my front door.”
“God help whoever gives him a license,” Peter joked as he stood up, putting his backpack back on.
Harley shoved him gently and Peter just laughed. “Hey, see where that attitude gets you when I’m cruising through town in my ride.”
“Maybe I’ll have my own license and car. I won’t need you.”
Harley gasped, placing a hand over his heart. “Please don’t ever say those words again, Stark. I might die if I realize you don’t need me. Helping you is my only job on this planet.”
“Get out of here, you two, before you’re late to school,” Tony said, rolling his eyes at their dramatics.
Peter leaned over and kissed the top of Tony’s head. “Love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, squirt. See you after school.” Tony smiled up at him as he walked away towards the front door.
“Bye, Steve!” Peter called as he was opening the door, waving to the man.
Steve gave him one of his rare small smiles. “Bye, Pete. Have fun at school.”
Harley was right behind him, even louder. “Bye, Steve! Bye, Dad! Love you!”
“You’ve got enough dads,” Tony said. “Get to class, and I’ll see you both at the Inn later.”
Steve came over to the table once they were gone to collect Peter’s plate and fill Tony’s coffee cup. Tony grinned up at him. “I didn’t even have to fight you for it. You’re an angel.”
“Menace,” Steve grumbled as Tony blew him a kiss. He walked away from the table, shaking his head, but Tony knew he didn’t mean it.
It was part of the act, but it was an act that Tony had seen through on day one, and hadn’t believed since.
“Good morning,” Tony said to a woman as he walked into the lobby of his Inn. He wasn’t sure who she was, but she was probably here for the wedding along with the rest of the crowd in the lobby.
He walked up to the front desk, where Clint was handing a key to a couple. Once they walked away, Tony said, “Wow, we’re packed.”
“Yeah. Packed with idiots,” he muttered. “The amount of stupid calls I’ve gotten today is concerning. Like someone needs to check on the human race. See if they’re getting enough oxygen.”
Tony smiled as he rolled his eyes. “Sounds like you’re having a good day.”
Clint glanced over at him and said, “I had a phone call from room 312. They wanted to know why the remote wasn’t working.”
“Were the batteries dead?” Tony asked as he began to sort through the mail on the counter.
“She was pointing it at the microwave.”
Tony couldn’t help but laugh as the phone rang. Clint picked it up after a deep breath.
“Independence Inn. My name is Clint. How can I help you today?” Despite his obvious frustration, Clint sounded patient. Even as he said, “No, I’m sorry. We’re all booked through the weekend.”
Tony expected the call to end there.
“There’s a wedding in town and they’ve got all of the rooms booked,” Clint informed the caller. “Yes, I am sure there are no vacancies. Positive. 100%.” He paused, and Steve could tell he was struggling to remain calm. “I am not lying-- yes, I can check.”
Tony chuckled as Clint placed the phone down but only stared ahead for a few seconds before picking it back up. “Nothing there. Sorry. Uh huh, check again soon and we’ll have more rooms. Thank you. Have a good day.”
“It’s just one of those days,” Tony said.
“The stupid people are multiplying,” Clint replied as he hung up the phone. Of course that was when a guest had just arrived to check in. “No, not you,” Clint said immediately. “I’m sure you’re very intelligent.”
Tony rolled his eyes as he took the rest of the mail with him as he walked out from behind the counter. He took the last of the envelopes with him to the kitchen where Rhodey was working on the cakes for the tasting tonight. He was trying three difference recipes for a marble cake and wanted to know which the nest was.
Tony didn’t understand just how many different ways vanilla and chocolate batter could be made, but he was not going to argue food with Rhodey.
“Honeybear, I’m here!” He called, walking into a crazy kitchen. He knew Rhodey was in there somewhere. He found him before long as he headed towards the ovens in the back. It was hot in there, and Tony wondered how everyone was able to handle the heat in their white coats and long pants.
Rhodey was furiously mixing batter in a large bowl when Tony came over. He had an industrial mixer just behind him, but Rhodey insisted that hand mixed was always better. When he made the actual cake for the dozens of guests, he would have to use it to save time, but for small batches, it was all down by hand.
“Hey, Tones. How’re you?” Rhodey asked without looking up, a streak of flour across his cheek.
“Some woman hit on me at Steve’s today. It was a nice ego boost until she flirted with Peter after I turned her down.” Tony sat on the counter to finish sorting through the mail.
Rhodey chuckled. “Really? Pete looks like twelve though...Maybe she’s into the younger guys.”
“Gross. Don’t say that.” Tony glared up at him without even lifting his head.
Of course, Rhodey was smirking. “I’m just saying that she wouldn’t be the first person in this town that liked a younger guy.”
Tony frowned, not having a clue what he was talking about. “Huh?”
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “Nothing.”
Turning back to his pile of envelopes, Tony huffed. He was going to argue with him for making a comment like that and then just denying it, but the return address on the next envelope stopped him. “Oh, my God.”
“It’s from Midtown Prep.”
“The school Peter wants to go to?” Rhodey paused his mixing to look over at Tony.
“Yeah.” Tony placed the rest on the table to stare down at the envelope.
“Did he get in?” Rhodey came closer, trying to look at the letter.
“I don’t know. I haven't opened it yet!”
“What are you waiting for?” Rhodey pressed, elbowing him.
"Okay! Okay!” Tony took a deep breath and ripped open the envelope. He pulled the letter out and hesitated only a moment before reading the letter out loud. “Dear Mr. Stark, We are pleased to announce that there is an opening in the next semester of Midtown Prep, and based on both your eagerness and son’s test scores, we would love to welcome him to the school.”
“That’s amazing!” Rhodey said. “I knew that kid would get in. My nephew’s so smart. Must get it from me.”
Tony laughed, feeling just as happy. “Yeah. I’m sure it was your brains that got him in and not my eagerness.”
“Do I ever want to know?”
“I offered to suck the dean’s dick.”
“You didn’t,” Rhodey accused, his eyes going wide.
Tony laughed. “Do you really think I would?”
“Yes! That’s why I’m concerned.”
Tony winked as he folded the letter back into the envelope. “Good.”
“Just don’t tell the kid he got in until he comes to the kitchen tonight,” Rhodey said. “I wanna see his reaction.”
“Of course. He and Harley will be over right after school.” Tony said as he hopped off of the counter. He swiped a finger through Rhodey’s batter and licked it while Rhodey tried swatting him away.
“Get out of here before I ban you from the kitchen.”
“Big talk from someone that relies on me for employment.”
“Oh, shut up. Go do your own job.” Rhodey rolled his eyes, knowing that Tony wasn’t serious. They’d been best friends since Rhodey came into town looking for a job after retiring from the Air Force. He was Tony’s family now. Moreso than his blood family, except Peter, of course.
“Goodbye, sweetheart!” Tony waved as he left the kitchen to go lock himself in his office and do a little happy dance about Peter being accepted into the school he’d been on a wait list for almost a year. Tony knew his grades alone would get him in, but it was just a matter of waiting for a spot to open up. Someone’s loss was Peter’s gain.
He pulled out his cell phone and called the number on the bottom of the letter. He waited a few rings before his call was answered. “Hello, this is Tony Stark. I’m calling about my son’s admission to your school.”
“Oh, yes,” the woman said. “We can admit him into the school as soon as Monday once we receive the enrollment fee and the first semester’s tuition.”
Tony felt nauseous as he looked at that big number again. “Oh, yeah...well, I was wondering if maybe there was a mistake on the printing. Those are a lot of zeroes.”
“That is the amount,” the woman didn’t sound very amused. “We need the payment by this Sunday to process everything.”
“Sunday?” Tony repeated incredulously, and suddenly, his admission wasn’t such a happy moment. Tony didn’t have that kind of money in his bank account. “That doesn’t give me much time to plan a successful bank job.”
“Sir,” the woman said.
“Can’t I have a few weeks extension? I’ll get it all to you, but I wasn’t really expecting to need a lot this money within a few days time.” Tony lifted his finger to his mouth to chew on a hangnail nervously.
“Sir, I can assure you that there are many people behind Peter in line and they have the money to secure their children’s spots.”
“No!” Tony practically shouted. “Don’t give away his spot! I’ll get the money in on time. I promise.”
“Aright. You can pick up his school uniform when you drop off the check. Goodbye, sir.” Then the phone line went dead. Tony shoved his phone back into his pocket with a frustrated groan.
“What the hell am I gonna do?” He muttered. He didn’t even have that kind of money in his savings account. But even though he didn’t have the money, Peter deserved this more than any other kid in the entire world, and no matter what, Tony was going to make sure he got in.
“This cake is the only thing getting me through the day,” Harley told Peter as he pushed him along the sidewalk, up the driveway of his father’s inn. Peter was balanced on his skateboard, holding his arms out for balance as Harley gently pushed him along.
“I thought you said that about the pizza bagels at lunch,” Peter said with a laugh.
“That was a pit stop,” Harley told him. “Rhodey’s food is unbeatable.”
Peter laughed as Harley gave him a hard push through the front door, and he went riding into the lobby. A few guests had to jump out of the way before he ran them over. Harley gave him another shove when he started to slow down.
“Oh, not you two!” Clint yelled from where he stood behind the desk.
“It’s nice to see you too, Clint!” Harley yelled, jumping onto the skateboard with Peter to make them go even faster down a carpeted ramp.
“”Why are you here?” Clint asked just before Harley let their skateboard crash into the front desk, but held onto Peter so he didn’t fall. “I told you not to skate here. Don’t make me tell your parents.”
“You don’t scare us,” Harley replied. “It’s not our fault that the lobby is the best place to skate.”
“Why are you here?”
“Rhodey invited us.”
After a loud groan, Clint said, “Of course, he did. Go find him then. You’re not welcome here, gremlins.”
Peter laughed as Harley pulled him backwards, taking the board with them and then started skating towards the kitchen.
“Not in the lobby!” Clint called after them as yet another guest had to dodge out of the way.
“Sorry, Mr. Mosby!” Harley yelled as they rolled through the kitchen doors. The wheels were smoother on the tiles and Dad just happened to be in the kitchen already, so he grabbed onto Peter to stop them from going too far.
“Were you too driving Clint crazy again?” Dad asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yup,” Harley replied, stepping off of the board. He then helped Peter off too.
“Good. I’ve been too busy in here to annoy him today,” Rhodey said as he finished icing the cupcake in his hand.
Harley hurried over to his side. “You can thank me with some of that delicious stuff.”
Rhodey put the cupcake down on a plate. There were three plates with three cupcakes each. “I need you to each try a cupcake on each plate. Let me know which combination is best for the cake.”
“Along with the cake, we also have another surprise,” Dad said, looking at him.
Peter looked from Dad to Uncle Rhodey. “For me?”
Uncle Rhodey was smiling as he nodded his head and Dad handed Peter an envelope.
Harley already had a cupcake stuffed into his mouth as he came back to Peter’s side. “What is it? Pregnancy results? Pete’s getting a little sister?”
“Very funny,” Tony said, rolling his eyes.
Peter ignored them as he opened up his envelope. He pulled out the paper inside and saw that it was a letter addressed to him. His eyes widened as he read the first line. “Is this real?”
“It sure is,” Dad said with a smile.
Harley looked over his shoulder to read the letter. “What is it?” He asked with a full mouth.
“I got accepted into Midtown Prep!” Peter exclaimed with a wide grin.
“Hey!” Harley said, patting him on the shoulder. “Congrats!”
Peter was smiling so wide that his cheeks were already hurting. Dad pulled him into a hug and Peter hugged him back tightly. “How did this happen?” Peter asked. “You didn’t do-- with the principal, right?”
“No!” Dad said, sounding offended by the accusation. “That was just a joke. You got in yourself, and I’m very proud of you, bambino.”
Peter rested his head against his shoulder and hugged him again. “Thank you, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, kiddo.”
When Peter pulled away from Dad, Harley pulled him into a hug. “I told you you’d get in!”
Peter laughed as Harley lifted him off his feet slightly. “I know! I know!”
“I’m making a big dinner tonight to celebrate!” Uncle Rhodey announced. “Tony, I’ll be over at five.”
“More cake?” Harley asked, eating his second cupcake.
“If you really want,” Uncle Rhodey replied, rolling his eyes with a smile.
"What am I gonna do?" Tony asked, running a hand through his hair. "I'm screwed six ways to Sunday. Literally. Because that's when the money is due.”
“I’d give you whatever I have in my bank account, but right now, that’s only like thirty bucks.” Rhodey gave him a frown as they sat on the porch, sharing a drink after dinner.
“It’s alright,” Tony said softly. “Thank you anyway.”
“You know...you could always ask your parents,” Rhodey said after a long moment of silence.
“No way,” Tony said immediately, even though he had been thinking of the same solution. “I’ve never needed anything from them, and I’m not starting now.”
“Needing help sometimes is no reason to be ashamed,” Rhodey said, shrugging his shoulders. “They’d want to help you.”
Tony saw his parents on holidays, and that was it. He really didn’t want to just drop by and ask for thousands of dollars. That was probably the most humiliating thing he could ever do. “I don’t want them to help. Their idea of helping is just so damn controlling. I can already hear my mom bringing it up every time I see her, about how she paid for my child’s education because I couldn’t support him.”
“She won’t do that.”
“You don’t know my mom,” Tony scoffed. “Don’t underestimate her.”
Rhodey sighed. “I’m not saying it’s ideal, but maybe, it’s worth it. For Peter.”
“Of course, it’s worth it for Peter,” Tony replied immediately. “Anything is worth it for that kid. Uprooted my entire life for him...I just wish I didn’t need to run back to Mommy and Daddy.”
“Just remember...it’s for Peter.”
“I know, I know…”
Tony looked up to see Bucky and Sam standing by their fence that split their yards. He waved over with a smile. “Hey, guys.”
“We heard about Peter’s admission, and we wanted to congratulate you. I bet your proud.”
Tony grinned, though it felt tighter than he would have liked. “You have no idea.”
“We really don’t,” Sam said with a chuckle. “Our son would jump off a cliff blindfolded long before he went near a uniform.”
“Speaking of our son, is he over there still? He knows he’s supposed to be home before nine on school nights.” Bucky knew very well that if he wasn’t in his house, he was in theirs.
“I’ll go get him now, Buck,” Tony said, standing up and walking over to the front door. He stuck his head inside and called up the stairs. “Hey, Harley! Your dads are looking for you!” There was no response, so Tony stepped inside and called up the stairs again. “Boys! Now!”
Then, there were two set of feet pounding around on the floor above. Tony took a step away from the bottom of the stairs so when they came barreling down, they wouldn’t knock into him. Of course, Harley skipped the last three steps on the way down and jumped.
“Ha! I won!” Harley wrapped an arm around Peter and gave him a noogie.
“You’re a cheater,” Peter accused as he laughed, trying to shove Harley away from him. They sent both of them backwards, towards a small table with a bowl of keys, change, and other miscellaneous things.
“Hey, bring that outside. You two have broken enough in this house.” Tony put a hand on Harley’s shoulder to escort him towards the front door. He’d never leave without the push.
“Harley!” Bucky’s yell was loud enough for them to hear inside the house, and it had Harley groaning.
“I guess I gotta go.”
“Yeah. They’re waiting for you. Get your butt out there.” Tony gave him another shove so he ran out of the house to his own.
“See ya tomorrow, Pete!”
“Bye, Harley!” Peter waved as he walked out.
“Now it’s time for you to get to bed, kiddo.” Tony started leading him back up the stairs because he didn’t want to make Rhodey wait too long outside. “I’ll tuck you in.”
“You don’t need to tuck me, Dad. I’m not a baby.”
“Let me tuck you in,” Tony said, following him up the stairs and into his room.
“I’ve still gotta brush my teeth and get ready for bed,” Peter pointed out once they were in their room.
“Ugh, fine...I’ll let you get ready and then come up and say goodnight once Uncle Rhodey goes.” Tony leaned forward to ruffle Peter’s hair. “In case you fall asleep though, I want you to know that I’m so proud of you, kiddo.”
Peter grinned. “I’m so excited, Dad. I’m going to the school you went to! I’m just like you!”
Tony’s smiled faltered, but he kept it on while he was still with Peter. “You sure are, bud.”
Without even knowing it, Peter decided what Tony was going to do. He had to go ask his parents for the money, no matter how much ride he lost. Tony grew up very well off with his parents and because of them, he went to Midtown and he had so much more. Peter didn’t have any of that stuff because he ran away from the financial support. It wasn’t fair for Peter to not get the opportunities that Tony had because he was too prideful to ask for help.
“Thank you, Dad,” he whispered, pulling him in for a sudden hug. “I wouldn’t have gotten in without you.”
“Of course, bud…” There was no way that Tony was keeping him from getting in.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving me,” Harley said as they took their usual seats at the lunch table.
The worst part about going to Midtown was not going to school with Harley anymore. “I’m gonna miss you too, Harls.”
“I’m losing you,” Harley said dramatically.
“You’re not losing me. We still live right next to each other,” Peter reminded him.
“You’re gonna be too busy with all of your new school stuff. Homework, friends, parties...you’ll never have time for me.” Harley opened up his lunchbox and handed Peter his orange just like he did every day. Sam and Bucky liked to make sure that he was eating well, but Harley hated any kind of vegetable or fruit.
“We both know I’m not going to any parties, and I doubt I’ll make any friends. We’ve been going to school together for how long?” He asked rhetorically. “You know I’m not like that.”
“You should be,” Harley said, nudging his arm gently. “Try to talk to just one person. Those kids would be lucky to have you as a friend.”
Rolling his eyes, Peter said, “You sound like my Dad.”
“We speak the truth.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Peter said. “I’m not going for the social life. I’m going for the challenge and I think it’ll look good on my college applications.”
“Ugh. College is like forever away.”
“It’s really not,” Peter said. “It’s never too early to prepare for college.”
“Whatever, nerd.” Harley shook his head. “Just don’t forget about me when you meet all your new smart friends.”
“Don’t say that,” Peter said seriously. He hated when Harley put himself down for not being as smart as other people. He was great with his hands and building things, but academic studies gave him some trouble. Peter thought it was perfect because he loved academics but couldn’t figure out how to do anything in tech. They fit like a puzzle piece, strengthening each other’s weaknesses.
“You’re about to sound like my dads if you start talking about how I have other talents than learning from a book.”
“Hey, we speak the truth,” Peter replied with a grin.
Harley rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “I really am gonna miss having you here, Pete.”
Peter rested his head on Harley’s shoulder for a moment. “I’m going to miss you too, Harley.”
“If my parents think I’m at your house too much now, just wait until I never get to see you in school. I’ll practically live in your house.”
“You know my window’s always open. I’ll start leaving the ladder out.”
Tony took a deep breath as he stood outside of a home that used to be so familiar. It hadn't been home in fifteen years, but sometimes, it still felt like yesterday.
He knocked three times before taking a slight step back. Tony didn't know if he wanted the door to be answered or not, truthfully.
No more than a moment later, the door opened and Jarvis was on the other side. He smiled warmly at him. "Anthony, what a pleasant surprise!"
"Hey, Jarvis," Tony said, stepping inside to give his old butler a hug. "How are you?"
"Much better now that I've seen you," he said with a smile. "I wasn't aware you were stopping by."
"It wasn't really planned," Tony told him sheepishly. "There's something I need to talk to my parents about."
"I can fetch them for you," Jarvis offered. "Wait in the parlor and I'll return shortly."
Tony knew where everything was because this was one his home, but now, he felt like a stranger walking through. He took a seat on one of the expensive couches that was probably worth Peter’s yearly tuition.
He sat still with his back straight as a board as he waited for Jarvis to return with his parents. Not too long afterwards, his mother walked into the room with his father behind him.
"Anthony," she said, raising an eyebrow. "What are you doing here? Has a new holiday been invented that I'm not aware about?"
Tony struggled to keep a smile on his face. "No, Mom. I was in the area, and needed to talk to you about something."
"In the area? We're at least a half hour from your small town."
Tony forced out a chuckle. "I was running some errands and they brought me here. I thought we could talk...it's been so long since we have."
His mother sighed as she rolled her eyes. "Oh, just cut to the chase here, Anthony? Do you need something from us?"
"He needs money," his father said from the small cart of alcohol he kept stocked in the room. "Isn't that right, Anthony?"
"Not exactly…" Tony said, despite the fact that she was exactly right.
"Then what is it?" His father questioned, walking over to them, but he didn't sit down to get comfortable.
After a calming breath, Tony said, "Peter got into Midtown Prep."
"Midtown Prep?" His mother gasped. "Why, that is a wonderful school!"
"I know," Tony said. "He's worked really hard to get in, but the school needs the application fee as well as the first semester fee by Sunday to secure his spot or else it's passed along to the next child."
Howard made a clicking sound with his tongue. "See. He needs money."
Tony moved forward on his seat, ready to beg. "It's not for me. It's for Peter. I wouldn't be asking if it was for anyone else, but he deserves this."
"He deserves a lot more than what he has," his mom said, and Tony chose to ignore that comment before if he didn't then it would start a fight, and he definitely wouldn't be getting the money.
So, he just agreed, because he did. "He does. Peter deserves the world. I wish I could give it to him, but I can't do this without your help. I just want him to have the same opportunity I was given with this school."
"Peter had the chance to receive every single opportunity you were given," she snapped. "But you took that child and hid him far away from us."
"I don't want to argue about the past, mom," Tony whispered. "I just want to know if you'll help me. You know I wouldn't ask for anything unless I really needed it."
"Yes," she huffed. "I know."
Another snide comment that Tony had to ignore. "So, can you loan me some money for his tuition? I'll pay it all back with interest."
His mother sighed heavily. "We will give you the money."
Tony smiled, feeling a weight off of his shoulders.
"There are two conditions."
The weight was right back. "Of course there is."
"Number one, you will call me once a week and tell me about life. Not just Midtown but your life and Peter's too. I want to be kept in the loop."
Tony nodded his head slowly. That really wasn't too bad.
"And you and Peter are to come over here every Friday night for dinner together," she ordered.
Tony pinched his face. That wasn't something he wanted to do, but it wasn't bad if it meant that Peter was getting his money. "Alright. Fine."
"Don't act like I'm asking you to do something outrageous." Maria narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm asking to see my baby and grandbaby for more than just holidays. Is that such a big ask, Howard?"
"I get it. Sheesh." Tony huffed. “Dinners and phone calls.”
Maria smiled at him. “I’ll see you both tomorrow. That’s when you’ll get your check.”
“I just have one more favor to ask,” Tony said hesitantly. “I don’t want Peter to know that I’m over here and that you’ll be paying for his schooling until I can pay you back. I was hoping it could stay between the three of us.”
She smiled, and it was more like a smug grin. “Of course, it can be our little secret. I won’t say a word to Peter. And neither will your father.”
“Thanks, Mom,” he said, even though he didn’t feel like he should be thanking her. She seemed way too eager for Tony to be back, groveling for financial help. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
“We cannot wait.”
Tomorrow was going to be fun...and by fun, obviously he meant any antonym of the word fun. Disaster came to mind first.
“I can’t hang out on Fridays anymore,” Peter said from where he was laying on Harley’s bed.
“What?” He frowned, pausing his skating. Though, really, he was just gliding from one side of his room to the other. “Why not?”
“My Dad said we’ve got to go to my Grandparents for dinner every Friday night for the next few weeks.”
Harley’s eyes widened. “Every week to your Grandparents? But I thought you only saw them like four hours in total every year?”
“Yeah...I don’t know why we have to go,” Peter sighed, furrowing his brow. He had been trying to think of an answer ever since Tony had told him a few hours ago. “But, I’m not looking forward to it.”
“Well, duh, less time with me.” Harley rolled closer to him, flopping onto the mattress smoothly from his board. It went rolling until it hit the wall with a thud.
Peter smiled. “Obviously. But, I hate how my Dad gets when he’s there. He’s always so...drained after we get home. Not that I blame him. His mom and dad are rough on him.”
“Still mad for knocking up the prom queen and running away, huh?”
“It’s been fifteen years, but yeah...they hold it against him every time. And then they usually bring up my mom.” Peter hated that the most. Not only did it make Dad feel bad, but it made Peter feel like crap too.
“Who needs moms,” Harley said after a long moment. “Moms are dumb and stupid.”
Peter chuckled softly. Dad always had a really deep and sensitive conversation with him about Mary after a visit with Grandma and Grandpa. He always wanted to make sure that Peter knew Tony would love him more than enough for the both of them. Peter always loved the reassurances, but sometimes, he needed Harley’s blunt honesty.
“Yeah, moms do suck.”
“Yup,” Harley replied. “That’s why my kids are getting two super cool, badass dads.”
“Your kids are getting two dads ‘cus you’re gay,” Peter replied.
Harley smirked. “Yeah. That too. I really suggest it.”
“Thanks, Harls,” Peter said with a laugh, rolling his eyes. He wasn’t really sure what he was yet...girls and boys were both attractive to him, but he never had the desire to date one. He kinda wanted to just focus on getting his grades ready for a good college, being the best son for Dad, and Harley’s best friend.
“Hey, what are best friends for if not initiating a gay awakening?”
Peter shook his head. “Got me there.”
“But seriously,” Harley said, poking him gently. “Your mom is really missing out. You’re a great kid. Your Dad knows that. And if you need to be reminded tomorrow night, my window will be open.”
Peter rolled over, resting his head in the nook between Harley’s head and shoulder. “You’re the best friend ever.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Tony held his breath as he and Peter stood outside his parents’ front door. Coming here was bad enough on Christmas and Easter, so now that this had to be a weekly thing, Tony wasn’t sure how long his mental stability was going to last.
Peter stared at him with a tilted head. “Are you gonna knock?”
“Yeah,” Tony mumbled. “Just give me a second to say a few Hail Marys before I go in.”
“You’re not religious.”
“Now’s a great time to start to be,” Tony mutters as he finally reaches over and knocks on the door. Jarvis is on the other side and seeing him is enough to relax Tony slightly. “Hey, J.”
“Good evening, sir. Welcome back.” Jarvis smiled. “Your parents are waiting in the parlor.”
Tony and Peter followed him inside and saw both Maria and Howard sitting on the chairs Tony had begged Tony for help in only 24 hours earlier. Howard is reading a newspaper, but he lowers it when he sees them walk in. His eyes widen as he looks over Peter. “Wow, Peter, you’re tall.”
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Peter replied with a shrug. “I’ve grown a bit since Christmas.”
“You’ll have to excuse us, dear,” Maria said. “When your father only brings you over a handful of times a year, we miss a lot of your growth.”
“Hello to you too, Mom,” Tony muttered, not surprised that she was starting already.
“Hi, Grandma,” Peter said politely with a head nod. He was dressed in a nice button up shirt and slacks. Tony had to give him a pair of his own pants, freshly hemmed, for the dinner because he didn’t have any that fit. His hair was combed and gelled neatly too, even though Tony had to practically strap him down to the kitchen chair and do it.
“Oh, come give your Grandma a hug, my dear,” Maria said, opening her arms but not making a move to even get up from her chair.
Peter went over and leaned over to awkwardly hug her, and then he shook hands with Howard.
“I can’t believe I have both of my boys here on a day when the banks are open!” She smiled, looking up at them. “I can’t wait to hear how you both are. Peter, you have to tell me all about Midtown Prep.”
“I haven’t gone yet,” he replied, fidgeting with his fingers before catching himself and separating his hands. “I don’t start ‘til Monday.”
“I’m sure you still have plenty to tell me! You’re probably so excited! Oh, I still remember your father’s first day at Midtown Prep. I’m glad you’re finally getting the opportunity he was given.”
Tony felt the dig deep, but he hoped that Peter wouldn’t. He was either great at brushing her comments off, or it went over his head. “I am very lucky.”
“Would you like to sit?” She gestured to the couch in front of them. Tony knew it wasn’t a request and took a seat anyway. He wasn’t in the mood for her useless small talk, but he couldn’t argue. Once Peter sat down too, she continued speaking to him, “Education is very important. Almost as important as family is.”
“You know what else is important?” Tony asked, not waiting for a response. “Dessert. It’s usually glossed over and not seen as a necessary meal, but I think it’s just as important as breakfast and dinner. It gets a bad rep when all it wants to do is give us happiness. It’s a shame. Really.”
His comment got Howard to look up from his newspaper and a glare from Maria. Even Peter looked confused. Tony just wanted to keep the conversation away from family so he wouldn’t have to hear about how he destroyed theirs.
“Do you take anything seriously, Anthony?” Maria asked, raising one of her perfectly sculpted eyebrows.
“Sure do,” Tony replied. “I take Peter’s health and well-being very seriously. He gets three meals a day, plenty of social interaction, and I make sure there is always water in his bowl.”
“Anthony,” Maria warned.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I take my own health very seriously as well,” Tony reassured her. “I get my prostate checked at least once a month. I mean, granted, I’ve never gotten checked by a doctor-- actually, scratch that, I think November was a doctor. Or was it, December? No December was the part time Santa…”
His mother’s face turned into the shade of a tomato and Tony gave himself a tally in the win box. He had to have some kind of entertainment during these dinners, and bothering his mother was number one on his list.
“Dad…” Peter muttered, looking just as red as his mother. Tony was used to embarrassing Peter, so he just rolled his eyes. The kid got embarrassed if Tony even breathed sometimes.
The room went silent and Howard sighed, going back to his newspaper. Peter started to fidget again next to Tony, and Maria eyed him wearily. Tony knew she’d have some speech prepared about the importance of sitting still and being polite for company, but surprisingly,she was holding back. Tony had been on the other end of that conversation plenty of times.
Tony wondered just how long their awkward silence could last before someone spoke. He was seriously ready to pull out his phone and start a timer, but Jarvis stopped him by entering the room. “Dinner is ready to be served.”
Peter shot up off his chair almost immediately, and Tony followed, though slower. He patted Peter on the shoulder. “I was hoping we’d hit ten minutes of silence at least.”
“Me? Silent for ten minutes?” Peter said, relaxing slightly. “Keep dreaming, old man.”
“Old man?” Tony repeated, placing a hand over his heart. “I’m only thirty-three.”
“Your father is still very young,” Maria said, taking a seat at one end of the table while Howard sat at the other. “He only had you at sixteen.”
Tony narrowed his eyes over at her. “He knows how old I was, Mom. He can do math.”
Maria turned to Peter was Peter was sitting down, right next to Tony. “You’re almost sixteen, aren’t you?”
“I hope you’re making more responsible choices than your father is.”
Peter choked on whatever words he was going to say next.
Tony answered for him, “Peter is better than I ever was, and better than I’ll ever be. No need to worry about that, Mom.” Peter hadn’t even had a girlfriend yet. He hadn’t even shown an interest in dating. Tony liked to keep it that way for as along as he could.
Clearing his throat, Peter said, “So, Grandpa, how’s the insurance business going?”
Howard shrugged his shoulders and replied casually, “People die, we pay. People crash cars, we pay. People lose a foot, we pay.”
“Oh.” Peter turned to his foot and started to cut up whatever meat was on their plate. Tony doubted it was from a turkey, chicken, or a cow.
“You should think about making that into a jingle,” Tony suggested. “You could really boost up sales with something that catchy.”
Howard didn’t take the bait. “How about you, Anthony? How are things at your motel?”
“The Inn?” Tony corrected. “They’re great.”
“Dad’s the executive manager now,” Peter told them proudly.
Maria smiled and nodded her head, while Howard responded. “You know, speaking of which, Mary called yesterday.”
Already, Tony knew this conversation was going to go horribly. He glanced over at Peter, but couldn’t tell how he was feeling at the mention of his mother-- only by birth. “How is that a speaking of which? She has nothing to do with the conversation.”
Howard continued on, ignoring Tony, “She’s doing very well in California. Her entire research study was just funded by a group of other very well-known and successful geneticist. This could be something very big for her. Your mother is very talented, Peter.”
Peter smiled though Tony knew it was forced.
“He knows,” Tony replied, disgusted by the conversation. They had to know how sensitive the topic was for Peter. It could be understood why she wouldn’t have wanted a child at sixteen, but there was no good excuse for her to not make more of an effort in her son’s life now that she was an adult. The only excuse was the truth, and that was that she just didn’t care about being a mother.
“She always was so bright,” Howard said, shaking his head with a fond smile. “You must take after her.”
Tony freezes at the comment. It’s like a slap to the face, and the worst part is that Tony doesn’t even know if he meant it cruelly. Tony knows exactly how it sounds though, and he knows exactly how it makes him feel. He shoves his chair backwards. “Speaking of which, I’m going to get some more soda. Or a knife. I’ll decide on the way in.”
He storms out of the dining room, desperate to get somewhere private. He doesn’t want to cry in front of anyone in that room, but the frustrated tears were getting hard to ignore.
“Sir,” Jarvis said, looking shocked to see him enter the kitchen. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, J. Dinner as usual.You know how it is.”
Jarvis’ face softened. “I’m sorry--.”
“Do you mind giving us a moment please, Jarvis?”
“Of course, ma’am.” Jarvis nodded his head and stepped out of the room.
Tony watched him go, wishing he could have stayed. He much preferred his company over his mother’s. He turned to the sink so he didn’t have to look at her.
Once Jarvis was gone, Maria sighed heavily, “Anthony, come back to the table.”
Tony whirled around with a glare. “Is this what it’s gonna be like every week? I come over here so the two of you can take your cheap shots at me?”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic.” Maria rolled her eyes.
“Dramatic? Were you at that table?”
“I was,” she replied. “And I think you took what your father said the wrong way.”
“The wrong way?” Tony parroted before she could continue. “How could i have taken it the wrong way? What part of what he said was open to interpretation? When he brought up Peter’s mother? Or when he implied that I’m too dumb to be like my son.”
“Keep your voice down,” Maria said, glancing back to the dining room. “Voices carry.”
“Why would he bring up Mary?” Tony asked, begging for an answer. “Was that really necessary?”
“He likes Mary!”
“He didn’t like her when I got her pregnant sixteen years ago!” Tony shouted.
“You were sixteen! What did you expect from us? A party?” Maria’s voice was rising to match Tony’s volume.
“I don’t know what I wanted back then! I was a kid. I was scared! A little support would have been nice.”
“We were disappointed,” Maria said as if that pardoned their behavior. “The two of you had such bright futures.”
“Exactly, Mom. And we both managed to keep those bright futures. Mary is doing great, apparently, and am I. The difference is that I chose to add Peter to that future. She didn’t.” Tony lowered his voice, so Peter wouldn’t hear that. Tony knew he couldn’t blame Mary for not wanting a child, but it didn’t mean he could understand it. He would never understand how Mary could send a card on Christmas and call for his birthday and be satisfied. It was heartbreaking.
“A child needs a mother and a father, Anthony,” Maria said. “If the two of you had gotten married, Peter would have had that.”
“Peter doesn’t need that!” Tony argued. “Look at him! He’s been living for almost sixteen years, and he is fine.”
“If you had stayed then maybe he’d have an idea of what a mother is,” Maria commented. “Your father would have gotten you started in the insurance business and you’d both have a lovely life right now.”
Tony shook his head, thanking God that he wasn’t as shallow as his mother was. “I don’t want to be in the insurance business, and guess what? Peter and I have a lovely life right now without the thanks of anyone else. We don’t need anyone else.”
“Really?” Maria raised an eyebrow. “Because if I remember correctly, you needed my help not very long ago. A disaster that could have been avoided if you had stayed here with us instead of taking him away.”
Tony groaned. “There it is! I knew you’d throw that back in my face! I just didn't know it would be so soon!”
Maria narrowed her eyes at him. “You took that boy and completely shut us out of your life, Anthony.”
Of course, she had to play the victim. “You wanted to control me.”
“You were a child! Just a baby...you couldn’t raise a baby.”
“I could and I did!” Tony hated that he couldn’t stop shouting. He hated this side of himself that his mother brought out. “I figured it out. I found a place to live and I found a job all while taking care of a baby.”
“You found a job as a maid,” Maria scoffed, rolling her eyes. “With all of your brains and talent.”
“I worked my way up, Mom! I run the place now. Why can’t you just be happy for the life I made by myself with no help from anyone?”
“Because you could be much farther if you had asked for even a little bit of help! Think of where you’d be. Where Peter’d be. But no, you’re too proud to ask for help.”
“Too proud? Is that why I came here begging for money to pay for my kid’s school yesterday?” Tony asked, coming closer.
“No, you certainly weren’t, but you’re too proud to tell him where you got it from, aren’t you?” Maria narrowed her eyes as her smug grin returned. “But that’s fine! You have your precious pride, and I have my weekly dinners. Isn’t that nice? We both win.”
Tony watched her leave, and finally, the tears fell from his eyes. Tony didn’t know what the hell this was, but it surely wasn’t a win.
"Please," Tony begged, sticking his lower lip out in a pout. "We need it."
Steve raised his eyebrows, looking from Tony to Peter. They probably looked strange dressed up in their slacks and dress shirts. "You need it."
"We do!" Peter chimed in. "I think my stomach might eat itself if I don't get that bacon cheeseburger."
"You had a bacon cheeseburger for lunch," Steve replied, not impressed.
"We had a really bad night...your burgers are always the best." Peter amped up his puppy dog eyes.
Of course, because Peter had Steve wrapped around his finger, Steve sighed and gave in. "Alright, you'll get your burgers. No matter how unhealthy it is to have two bacon cheeseburgers only a few hours apart."
"Thank you, Steve!" Peter's pout turned into a big smile.
"Mhmm," Steve grumbled as he walked away from their table.
Once they were alone, Tony let his smile waver. "I'm sorry you had to deal with them tonight. Mother was in rare form."
"It's alright," Peter said quietly, trying to give him a reassuring smile.
"It's not alright," Tony argued. "You don't deserve that."
"Neither do you," Peter said, reaching out to take Tony's hand. "Especially just for me."
Peter shrugged his shoulders. "I overheard you and Grandma in the kitchen."
"Oh-- how much did you hear?"
"All of it, huh?"
"Yeah…Grandpa wasn't really keeping me company. He was just reading his paper."
Tony was reminded again why he avoided taking his son to that place. It just sucked the life out of a person. "I'm sorry, Pete...it was just...part of the deal."
"What else was?"
"Phone calls to loop her into our lives, as if she couldn't have called me at any time to check in." Tony rolled his eyes.
"That won't be too bad," Peter said, shrugging his shoulders. "Unless you don't want to go back. But, I already know the kind of dad you are. Nothing your mom or dad say will make me think less of you."
Tony had feared that very thing since the day Peter was born. "I don't blame you for hating me for taking you away from that house and that life. We could have been in a much better place by now if I had just stayed."
"A better place financially or mentally?" He asked, tilting his head. "Because having more money would be nice, but that's not worth every we have here. You would have never met Uncle Rhodey. I would have never met Harley."
Steve chose that moment to come over with two plates of burgers and fries. "Two heart attacks coming right up."
"And we would have never met Steve either!"
"Excuse me?" Steve asked with a frown.
"Pete and I were just debating whether or not I made a colossal mistake fifteen years ago when I ran away. You are in the positives category, sunshine."
Steve had the faintest of smiles on his face. "What's on the con side?"
"Not having enough money to send my son to the school he belongs to without being tortured by my own mother." Tony sighed heavily. "I could have been a sugar daddy, Steve. Then maybe I'd have a date on Friday nights."
Steve studied him for a moment before speaking in that no nonsense tone of his, "I like you just the way you are."
"You don't say that when I'm on my third cup of coffee before noon." Tony raised an eyebrow, daring Steve to disagree.
"Peter doesn't need his father having a stroke at the age of thirty-three because his diet consists of saturated fats and caffeine. He'd miss you."
"He's the only one that would miss me, huh?" Tony asked, leaning forward as he rested his chin on his hand.
"I guess I'd miss you too," Steve said. "Probably go out of business without you, like you said."
Tony laughed and just like that, the rest of his troubles were forgotten. Funny how his boy, a burger, and Steve could turn his entire night around. "You got that right!"
"Hey, Steve, can I have cheese and bacon on my tater tots?" Peter asked innocent, popping one in his mouth.
"Oh, God, no. You're lucky I didn't exchange that side for steamed broccoli." He shook his head. "I swear it's like having two Tonys. You're just like your dad."
Peter grinned up at Steve. "Thank you. There's no one else I'd rather be."
Tony smiled over his son, feeling a wave of pride rush through him. Maybe he made a few mistakes throughout Peter's life, but overall, he'd done a pretty damn good job at raising him. No one was ever going to convince him otherwise.
15 years ago…
“I’m sorry I don’t have a better place for you to stay,” the man with a thick accent Tony couldn’t place said as he led Tony to a small old garden shed. Tony had walked to the Inn’s front desk looking for a vacant room, and he was met with an apologetic frown before the man led him to the yard out back. “We’re all booked up tonight.”
“That’s alright,” Tony said as he tried to soothe Peter back to sleep by bouncing him. “How much do I owe you for the night?”
“Oh, no,” the man said. “I can’t charge you for living in there. It doesn’t have much of anything. I haven’t even brought in a cot yet.”
“I don’t want to just get a handout,” Tony said, knowing the man was probably pitying him for being a child with a crying baby.
“It won’t be a handout,” the man said.
“What about a job?” Tony asked. He needed something, and this was a good place to start looking.
The man raised his eyebrows and asked in a non judgmental tone, “You're looking to stay permanently?”
“That’s the plan,” Tony said before wincing after Peter let out a particularly loud whine. At least he wasn’t sobbing hysterically anymore.
The man hummed. “How about you work in the Inn? We need another housekeeper. It’s not much, but--.”
“That’s perfect,” Tony said before he could continue. “Anything is perfect.”
“Alright, then, you can start whenever you’d like.” He glanced down at Peter. “As long as he doesn’t get in the way, you’re free to bring him along if you cannot find someone to watch him.”
Tony could cry as he held Peter closer. He thought that was going to be yet another problem. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome.” He nodded. “This shed is now yours to make your own. Feel free to change it however you’d like. I’ll be right down with your cot and I’ll see if we have a crib or playpen in storage for the baby.”
This man had to be an angel. “Thank you...uh, I don’t think I ever got your name.”
The man smiled and replied, “Ho Yinsen. I’m the owner of this Inn.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Yinsen. I’m Tony, and this is Peter. He’s my son.”
“If you don't mind me asking...how old are you, Tony?”
“Eighteen,” Tony answered, hoping that wouldn’t change his mind on the job or the home. “Peter is one. Newly one. Just last week.”
“Well happy late birthday to the little guy,” Yinsen said. “He’s very lucky to have a father who loves him like you do.”
Tony gave him a small smile of relief. “I hope he agrees. I just about changed his entire life overnight.”
“As long as you keep loving him like you do, everything will be alright. I promise.”