Pepper was always sure of his abilities. She always knew he would save her, she always knew he would take care of her, she always knew he would satisfy her every need, but she had also been sure he would be a wonderful father. Stark wasn’t so sure. Regardless, when he was told the news, he decided to take it in stride. He had nine months – give or take a week or two – to figure it out. He was a genius. If he could create Iron Man, surely he could handle a child. He was a genius, right? Right?
Well, in all of those nine months, he did what he did best: he tinkered.
Never once did he check out the books Pepper had picked up for him, nor did he thumb through the fruit-colored tabs she had placed on each of the “Daddy” chapters. Stark was still getting used to the fact that someone would soon call him “daddy,” and there was no way he could handle seeing it written in black-and-white on a page. Having it in a book made it seem too real and too close. It gave him panic attacks, which he hadn’t had since his major tinkering days. He had longed to leave those days far behind him. Now, he missed those days.
It only made it worse when they found out they were going to have a boy. The thought of a smaller version of him, running around and humping everything in sight, made him feel ill. Having one Stark in the world was bad enough, but how could the world handle two? He pitied the kid’s kindergarten teacher. Oh God, he would have a child in kindergarten. He was getting too close, and he could already feel the familiar fear-induced sweat beads forming on his brow.
Regardless, he always did his best thinking at night. Before the pregnancy, he could recall Pepper staying up at night and watching him as he thought through things. They weren’t always bad, but they usually were. She had been resourceful and watched over him, but the radiance of pregnancy had dampened most of her energy. Though he was sure she was aware of his weight leaving his side of the bed, there would be no way for her to keep her eyes open long enough to watch him. He sometimes wondered if she dreamed of him thinking, leaning against the glass, and listening to the ocean waves.
Tonight was no different. He kept thinking and always in a circle. Pepper’s well-being during the birth, whether or not he should take her to a hospital or have someone come to his home, if he had bought all of the proper tools necessary in case he did call someone, who he would call, did he clean the designated “birthing area,” well enough for Pepper? If any of these questions seemed without an answer, he would begin to tinker. He would go down to his work area, which he partially converted into a “birthing area.” It made him sick to think of the things that would go on down in his sacred place, but he knew it was all for Pepper, and that made it all worth it.
Tonight, he knew everything was perfect. He had done all he could do, and he couldn’t do anymore. Then, he asked himself, why couldn’t he sleep?
Removing himself from his thinking position, he turned back around to face his wife. Her back was toward him, and he could barely make out the shape of the body pillow he had bought her directly from a manufacturer in China, which he watched make it, personally. He wrinkled his nose in disgust at the memory of their argument prior to his agreement to buy it for her.
‘Pepper, I can make you one. A few sheep, a sewing machine, a few sanitary, chemical washes, and I’ll have you the greatest body pillow known to man.’
He remembered the way her swollen face pinched in frustration, though her entire pregnancy had him constantly on edge, he loved the way it filled in her face. She would be perfect to him though, no matter the circumstance.
‘Tony, I don’t want one of your creations. I want a normal, human-made body pillow.’
‘I am human, and I can make a damn body pillow!’
She had rolled her eyes.
‘You and I clearly have two completely different definitions of “human.”’
The argument went around in a similar fashion for days on end, but in the end she got what she wanted. He still didn’t see why she needed it to begin with. Sure, he wasn’t the world’s best cuddler, but he could try. Pepper wouldn’t have that either, and there was no way he was going to argue anymore with an emotional, pudgier version of Pepper. He was stubborn, but not an idiot.
As the memories of the pregnancy returned to the forefront of his mind, he made his way over to the bed and lowered himself gently beside Pepper. She stirred, but only for any instant, and she hadn’t even cracked an eye. His wife really was worn. Stark took the rare occasion to study her. Her arms were wrapped tightly around the pillow he hated so much, but her legs were tucked neatly beneath it and folded together in a fashion not unlike her former non-pregnant self. Then, her face. Her dimples were rounded out now, but their small indents could still be seen. The vitamins had done wonders for her hair, lengthening it considerably from just below her shoulders to the start of her bottom, which had rounded out with the rest of her, but he wouldn’t go into that now.
His wife had become something else entirely. He found it strange how she looked so much like herself, but so alien to him at once. Then, his eyes fell on her rounded belly. Eight months along and it had gone from a plum to a plump melon. Not quite a watermelon, but on the verge – he was sure. It occurred to him then that he had never once touched her stomach. He had missed every kick and movement, and the most contact he had with it was when he did his own sonograms, but that was done with tools and required no physical contact. She always told him the baby felt like butterflies. He found that comparison ridiculous, but Pepper always insisted. She also insisted he would one day regret never feeling a single kick, which he also found ridiculous.
Now, though, he thought about it. Not much longer and his son would no longer be a fruit analogy, but an actual being – a human, which scared him. It was another life he would have to protect. It would be another life that Pepper would have to protect. The little being in her belly was important to her, and he decided if it was important to Pepper, it was important to him. So, he gingerly reached his hand over Pepper’s side and rested it across her protruding abdomen. There was nothing. It would be an understatement to say he was disappointed, and as he began to remove his hand, he wondered if this was a sign of things to come, but then he felt it. He felt the kiss of a butterfly on the edge of his fingertips.
With a bit more urgency, he pressed his hand fully against the whisper of movement and willed it to happen again. It did. He felt his son move and twist against his hand, and he could scarcely make out a tiny hand reaching out and pressing against his own. She had been right, it did feel like butterflies, and it seemed the butterflies had woken her as she grumbled softly and cut a bleary gaze in his direction.
She sounded confused, surprised, and pleased all in that one word. Pepper blinked past the initial hold of sleep and met Stark’s eyes, but without a word her gaze flew to his hand pressed against her stomach. If she hadn’t been surprised before, she was now.
“Tony, can you feel him?” Her eyes went back to his, and she kept her mouth in a hard line.
He found that small detail strange, but he realized it was because she wasn’t sure how he would react. Stark simply shook his head and threw his legs over onto the bed. Pepper smiled brightly, radiating all of the wonderful glow, which came with her pregnancy, and she scooted forward a little bit to make room. Tony took the space with his body, laying down on his side and pressing close against her back, all without once removing his hand from their son, who continued to give him the butterflies.
It was the first time he had ever held Pepper so close just to sleep. It seemed to be a night of firsts. It was also the night his first son was born, Howard Stark. Pepper loved it because it was his father’s name, Stark loved it because she loved it, but like Pepper had told him before,
“When the time comes, you’ll be ready. I know you will.”
He hadn’t realized it, but the time wasn’t when she got pregnant. The time was when he held his son in his arms for the first time. When he met that little boy and could gaze into his blue eyes, he knew. He was ready.