Epilogue: Ten Years Later
Tony's mouth twisted in amusement as he stared down at his six year old, who was playing with his various toys. He'd only gotten home from school thirty minutes ago, and Tony knew how he loved procrastinating.
"Aren't you supposed to be doing your homework, Ethan?"
Ethan, who was a miniature Tony in every way imaginable, looked up at his father with a holier-than-thou expression. "I quit doing homework," he said matter-of-factly. "Homework is bad for my self-esteem."
Tony nodded. "Really…"
Ethan stopped what he was doing. "Sure. It sends the message that I don't know enough. All that emphasis on right answers makes me feel bad when I get them wrong. So instead of trying to learn, I'm just concentrating on liking myself as I am."
Tony shook his head as he made his way down to his workshop. He wasn't going to bother trying to deter Ethan. As far as he was concerned, the only schooling that mattered was Ethan's private schooling. Tony didn't much care for that public learning that Pepper had insisted on. In reality, it was probably just slowing the boy down.
"So, what you're saying," Tony clarified, "is that your self-esteem is enhanced by remaining an ignoramus?"
Ethan rolled his eyes as he stood up and followed Tony down to his workshop. "Let's call it 'informationally impaired'. Can I come down to your workshop?"
Tony shrugged. "Sure. I think I can find something for you to work on."
Rummaging around, Tony finally decided to let Ethan give Jarvis its monthly update. It was tedious work, but the boy had memorized the codes months ago, and was even starting to add in his own personal touches. After forty-five minutes of work, Ethan finished and slapped the counter in self appreciation. "See, Dad? I shouldn't need accomplishments to feel good about myself. Self-esteem shouldn't be conditional."
Tony hummed thoughtfully. While that was somewhat true, he decided not to mention that finishing the updates on Jarvis was an accomplishment. Of sorts... Jarvis was easy to get along with, and the computer seemed to like Ethan.
"That's why I've stopped doing homework," he continued as he began helping his father with soldering. "I don't need to learn things to like myself. I'm fine the way I am."
"So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they're already met?"
Ethan nodded, beaming up at Tony now that he'd caught on. "Right. We should take pride in our mediocrity."
"TONY!!!" Both boys started at the sound of Pepper's angry screech and turned to see her standing in the doorway. She didn't often listen in on what was happening in the workshop. She rarely went down to check on Tony and Ethan, as both were usually deeply absorbed in whatever they happened to be doing. But of course she'd listen in on this occasion. "What on earth are you teaching my son?!?"
"We were just – "
"I was telling dad about how I'm not doing homework anymore," Ethan said proudly.
Pepper raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"Yep. This morning Rhonda was reading the newspaper and she said my horoscope said that circumstances are in my favor if I assert my views in a confident manner, and many of my key policies will be implemented!"
"Nowhere in that statement did you specifically say that your homework is off limits," Pepper said sternly, pointing to the staircase that led upstairs. "Hop to it, young man. When you're older, you'll discover that there are few pleasures in this world greater than learning."
His nose high in the air, he declared, "Okay, so I'll learn when I'm older."
Pepper inhaled deeply and held it in for a moment before letting it out. "If you don't get cracking on those books now," she said as evenly as she could manage, "this will be as old as you get!"
Huffing angrily, Ethan stomped dramatically up the stairs and out of sight. "Looks like he's learned something already," Tony muttered.
"It's not good to thwart the intentions of the universe," Ethan shouted from the top of the stairs.
Pepper slumped onto the couch in the workshop and kicked her shoes off. "Whenever I hear about people trying to rediscover the 'child within,' I want to scream!"
Tony snickered, but not too loudly. "He's not that bad."
"He is! He absolutely is that bad, because he's you!"
"Trust me, I was worse at his age."
Pepper moaned and threw her head back. "Heaven help us!"
"At least Rhonda is well behaved." Pepper glared at him. "For a nine year old," Tony amended. She raised her eyebrow at his statement. "It's not her fault that she has so much energy."
"You're right, but it is your fault that she can run four hundred and fifty miles an hour. I read that thesis on mutant genetics being passed on from the father…"
"Admit it, she could have a much worse mutation than super speed."
"Give me one example."
Tony dropped what he was doing and sauntered over to his wife, lightly settling his weight on her lap. "Well..." He twirled her hair between his fingers lovingly. "She could read minds…" He gave her a dirty look as he nipped lightly at her neck, prompting Pepper to gasp. "She could have super good hearing…" He rolled them over so that she was on top of him and he kissed her hotly as he began slowly unbuttoning her shirt. "She could be able to walk through walls. She could have X-Ray vision. But she doesn't have any of those powers, so you and I can do whatever... we... want."
"For however long we want," Pepper mumbled against his lips, impatiently ripping her shirt off. "Stop playing around. I had a rough day."
Tony grinned, stripping his own clothes off in record time. "It's about to get a little bit rougher."
"No more talking," she snapped.
They didn't talk for the next three hours.
For real, this time. :) You've all been AWESOME!