Author's Note: Someone on livejournal requested a fic with a kid. It's not Tony/Pepper but it does have a kid in it. You can imagine the mom to be whoever you want. The story was inspired by my own childhood memories, although I have never helped my father debug software.
The clicking cadence of typing on a keyboard is broken by the faint squeak of the door swinging open. Light from the hallway stabs into the office where the occupant is so absorbed in his work that he has neglected to notice the setting of the sun.
"Jarvis, remind Pepper to have the hinges on the door oiled."
The man continues typing as though he was never interrupted but he knows someone is in the room with him.
"Yeah, squirt?" He looks up from the computer screen to see the silhouette of a toddler standing in front of his desk, four years old and hugging a stuffed toy to her chest.
"I can't sleep."
"Why don't you ask Jarvis to read you a story?"
He looks back to his screen, scanning the lines of code displayed in fluorescing light. Something is wrong because the program won't compile and he can't bring himself to stop until he figures out why. The glow of the screen casts shadows on his face, aging him beyond his years.
"She didn't want to hear any of the stories I have stored in my database," says the ever present AI. "The Brothers Grimm apparently gives her nightmares, sir."
"I already did," the girl says, glaring in a general upwards direction. "He said I should go back to bed. He's so sar…sar-car-stick."
The corners of the man's mouth curl with amusement at the child's complaint about the AI and her stumbling over the large word. She shuffles around the side of the desk to stand next to his elbow. Standing on tip-toe to see the screen, she asks "What are you doing?"
Instead of answering, he pushes his chair back and gestures to his lap. The girl clambers up, still clutching her toy and peers at the lines of what should be gibberish to a child her age.
"An upgrade for Jarvis. So he's not so sar-car-stick," he says with a teasing grin. She rolls her eyes at him in a way that four year olds shouldn't yet understand and tugs on his goatee impatiently. He pulls her hands away from his face. "I'm working on a new release for the arc reactor stations."
She looks at the screen in front of her and pokes a word with one slightly sticky index finger.
"What's pew-bick mean?"
The man chokes and nearly sends the toddler tumbling to the floor but he catches her just in time. He reaches up and rubs away the smudge. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to touch a computer screen?"
"No. What's that word mean?"
"It means," he says as he inserts the missing "L" to change the word to the correct "PUBLIC", "that you helped the great Tony Stark fix a bug in his code."
"There are bugs?" she asks, eyes wide and searching for little crawlies on the screen.
"Mistakes," he explains patiently. "They keep the program from working."
"Oh," she seemed to ponder this for a moment. "Do I get a candy?"
"No," he chuckles. "But there are sixty four more bugs in this code. I'll give you a quarter for each one you find. Then you can buy your own candy."
The girl makes a happy sound in agreement and settles back into his lap. She helps him spot three more bugs, dumb, obvious spelling mistakes he is too tired to have caught on his own, before she is lulled into slumber by the springing clack of keys as he types and the soft glow of the screen. She slumps backward, leaning against the man's solid chest, the miniature arc reactor humming reassuringly above her tiny ear.