Title: Red Ribbon (Apple Of My Eye)
Category: Thor/The Avengers
Genre: Angst/Family
Characters: Tony Stark, Darcy Lewis, OFC
Rating: Teen
Word Count: 3,452
Prompt: Day #4 – Crimson | Darcy Lewis Week
Summary: The reason behind why Tony disliked signing things ran a little deeper than one might expect.

Red Ribbon (Apple Of My Eye)

"I need you to sign these…"

It was a common enough phrase; he heard it often in his line of work. But just as he had for most of his life, he cringed away from the papers being held out to him and avoided so much as looking at them, putting all of his focus on what he was working on. His eyes and interest stayed on snapping wires and the tools lined up over his desk.

Not for the first time, however, he let his mind wander back. Years ago, to when he was freshly in his twenties, just as care- and commitment free as ever. The world was his oyster, and what a delicious one it was when a person had as much disposable income as Tony did.

There were, of course, drawbacks. Where there was money, there was greed. Where there was fame, there were spotlight chasers. Tony had never seen the harm in that; it wasn't as if anybody was going to snare him for long. What was wrong with sharing the camera flash for a night? It wasn't as if any of the beautiful women he spent his time with were going to be there for the next one anyway.

Tony lived his life in excess; everything he had, he wanted more of. And because there was no limit, he never saw a reason to stop. Pushing boundaries was fun. He became bored easily, which meant he had to constantly find new ways to interest himself; the more dangerous, the more attractive, the better.

Women came and went; a night here, a weekend there, but in the end, they always walked away. Satisfied, he might add. Because if Tony did anything, it was always with perfection. But eventually, like all things, they left, and he returned to work, to the equations juggling in his head; the math and the science and the fuzzy, not quite finished images of the next thing he wanted to build growing larger and larger, taking up all of his time and energy.

If there was name for his first love, it would be experimentation. It would be that feeling of accomplishment he got when he built something and it didn't immediately explode in his face. It would be the way he felt his heart swell and his chest ache when he looked at something of his own making and knew, somehow, that this one would make his parents proud. Of course, those feelings were quickly stamped out, because an unhealthy animosity toward his father had almost always festered inside him. He would tell himself he wasn't trying to live up to the standards Howard had left; that he wasn't trying to impress a ghost. But he would be lying to himself.

That was where the alcohol came in; it was simply so much easier to fade out, to live in a constant buzz, to push that feeling completely away and live the easy, carefree life of privilege afforded to him by his natural born genius.

But there was a moment when not even his vast collection of expensive alcohol could push away responsibility, could numb that ache deep in his gut.

Kelly was a sophomore in college; she was smart, beautiful, and she had a killer set of lips on her. Lips that he'd enjoyed to the fullest, often, and over a couple months. But that was nearly a year ago, wasn't it? She'd called, left messages, and he'd eventually shoved the phone off the hook, too involved in his latest project to give it any attention. Until one day the phone calls stopped and the messages all went erased or ignored, and Kelly was just added to the long list of women that Tony had dated and enjoyed for a brief time.

But Kelly was different.

Where once she'd greeted him with a sly smile and a quick quip, now she stood on his doorstep glaring at him, her eyes hard, her full lips set in a grimace.

And if that wasn't enough, the baby in her arms was a real mood killer.

"Did we schedule a play date?" he asked, eyebrow arched. "I think we need to be a little more specific when we plan to spend time together." He pointed, cringing away a little when the baby moved. "This house is not equipped for small, squishy humans." His eyebrows hiked. "I'm not going to lie to you… The last robot went rogue, I still can't find him."

Kelly shook her head, turned her eyes away, and gave a huff, unamused. "We need to talk."

"Really? We need to?" He frowned, shaking his head. "Couldn't we reschedule?" He wiggled his eyebrows. "Maybe find a babysitter for the tiny human and you and I can get reacquainted over a bottle of wine? Play naked twister." He smirked roguishly. "I seem to remember you were very good at that game…"

"Too good," she muttered, before taking a step forward and pushing past him.

He might not have let her, except he was a little terrified that the little round baby in her arms would be harmed if he blocked her path. Tony wasn't exactly the type people trusted with their children and he had a healthy dose of fear when it came to them. They were so breakable and he was so not careful.

Closing the door behind them, he rolled his eyes, and followed after her, sighing to himself. "You know, I wasn't expecting guests… Really, is it so hard to call ahead?"

"When you don't answer the phone, yes."

His lips pursed. "I was busy. Things needed building. This business doesn't run on my good looks alone; occasionally it uses my brain too."

Kelly walked into the living room, ignoring him, and took a seat on the couch, crossing her legs and readjusting the baby in her lap.

"It looks small. Should it be out?" he said, cocking his head and staring uneasily.

"She's fine. I just fed her; so she's probably just tired."

"She," he repeated, eyeing her.

She had a tuft of dark hair on her head, tied with a little red bow, and there were faint, arched eyebrows over her half-closed eyes. She wiggled a lot, scrunching up her nose, and kicking her feet.

"Not that I don't appreciate the visit, but any particular reason… or?"

Kelly snorted, shaking her head. She dropped a hand and dragged a long finger over her daughter's eyebrow, tracing it down to her chubby cheek. "For a genius, you're an idiot, Stark."

He stared at her a long second and then looked at the baby, and just like everything always had, the pieces fell into place.

His knees felt weak as he sunk into an arm chair, wishing he'd poured himself a drink beforehand.

"It's almost been a year," he muttered, eyes wide, glazed.

She hummed. "Eleven months."

"You were…" His eyes fell. "That's why you were calling…"

"Well, it wasn't because I was desperate to spend time with you," she snarked.

He reached up and dragged a hand down his mouth, gaze finally settling on the little pink bundle. "She's… healthy?" He shook his head, feeling stupid. What was he supposed to ask? How long the labor was? Were there complications? What her name was?

"She's perfect," Kelly told him, reverence in her voice. "Ten fingers, ten toes, beautiful in every way."

"And she…" His throat burned hollowly. "She's mine."

"She was."

His brows furrowed and he raised his eyes to meet hers. "Last I checked, genetics weren't altered because mommy thinks daddy is an asshole."

"Genetics, no. Rights, yes."

He shook his head slowly. "Excuse me for not following, I'm a little distracted by the fact that I only just found out I'm a father…" He raised an eyebrow. "Would you run that by me again?"

Kelly reached for her bag with one arm and dragged out a thick file of papers and a fountain pen. "You're not made to be a dad, Tony." She shook her head. "Of the two of us, I'm light-years more responsible and I'm barely ready to be a mom." She stared down at the papers a long minute before tapping them. "I don't want your help… I don't want her to grow up with an absent father; I want her to always know that her parents are going to be there." She smiled sarcastically. "You can't be bothered to leave your lab long enough to answer a phone. You— You can't be a dad." She swallowed tightly and raised her chin to stare at him hard. "You can't be her dad."

Hiding his emotions came easy to Tony; so he pasted on a half-smile and met her anger with a dismissive expression. "Babies really aren't my style anyway… And like I said, rogue robots, probably not the best environment."

Kelly's shoulders sagged with relief. "Then you'll sign?"

He tapped his fingers against the arm of the chair. "Can I hold her?"

She looked confused. "You just said—"

"I'm sitting perfectly still in a chair, Kelly. Don't you trust me at all?" He offered a dark smile, batting his eyelashes at her.

She sighed, but stood from the couch and moved toward him. She paused, staring down at him, and he met her hard gaze with one of his own. Finally, she laid their daughter down in his arms.

She was heavier than he expected. She looked so tiny that he thought she'd be weightless. But as if to remind him that she was alive, she was breakable, he could feel that little bit of pressure in his arms. The top of her head touched the curve of his elbow and for a moment all he could do was stare at her, his eyebrows furrowed as if she were a puzzle that he desperately needed to understand. He followed the curve of one eyebrow with the edge of his thumb.

He took in her face, every inch, and said, "She has my nose, I think… Or maybe my chin."

"Your hair too," Kelly mentioned, arms crossed over her chest as she watched them.

He glanced at her, gaze settling on her blonde hair, and hummed agreeably.

"Sometimes they grow out of that, though," she reminded.

His jaw twitched. "I don't think having my hair is going to ruin her for you, Kel. Don't hate her because she's beautiful."

He could feel the heat of her glare, but he focused on his daughter. On the tiny, wiggling bundle pressed to his chest.

"She's beautiful," he said, watching as her eyes opened and settled on him.

She stared at him like she knew him and for the first time in his life, it wasn't a project or an idea that made his heart swell, but a person. It ached so much it hurt and he ground his teeth together, swallowing tightly, feeling the burden of expectation weighing on his shoulders. With work, with his inventions, he knew he could do what was expected of him. But with this… This child's entire life, her entire existence, would depend on him being a good, supportive, reliable person in her life.

"She'd never know me," he said, brows furrowing.

Kelly didn't beat around the bush. "No."

He blinked quickly as his eyes burned. "And you… wouldn't want any help?" He shook his head. "No money, nothing to make sure she was taken care of?"

"We'll be fine."

He nodded. "So I just… sign the papers and…"

"And it all goes away. We go away."

Tony traced the curve of the baby's cheek; her skin was so soft, so beautiful.

"I'll be a good mother, Tony. I'll be the best mother she could ever ask for."

He nodded, but he never looked away.

"You know you can't do this. You're not equipped to do this. You—You drink and party and spend most of your time tinkering in your shop; you're not ready for this kind of responsibility. You—"

"I know," he interrupted, taking a deep breath. "I know."

Kelly was silent a moment and finally walked back to the couch, picking up the papers and the pen, hugging them to her chest.

"This is the best thing you could do for her."

He smiled slowly, emotionlessly. "Of course it is…" Hugging her with one arm, he reached out, taking the pen from Kelly's hand, and signed on the dotted line. "What would I do with a baby, right?"

When everything was signed and the pen was taken, papers put away in her bag, he returned his attention to the baby sleeping in his arm, smacking her lips at random, feet wiggling.

Kelly put her bag over her shoulder and walked back to him, but he stood from the chair before she could take the baby back. "I'll walk you out," he said, turning on his heel and making his way from the living room, back toward the front entrance. He could hear Kelly's heels clacking behind him, but Tony was focused on the little girl he held. On the tuft of hair and the red ribbon holding it; the tooth that was already growing in her otherwise gummy mouth; the way her little fingers curled into her palms.

He wanted to slow down; he wanted to turn around and go back; he wanted another chance to do this right, to be right.

But then they were at the door and it was opening and Kelly was looking at him expectantly.

Tony bit his lip and gave a short nod before slowly reaching out to give her daughter back. Not his. Possibly never his. Or maybe, for that brief moment, when their eyes connected, she had been. She'd been baby Stark, his daughter.

With the weight gone from his arms, they felt too light, awkward. He reached up and scratched at his temple. "Hey, you… you never told me her name," he said, trying to look passive, even disinterested.

Kelly stared at him a long second but finally gifted him with, "Darcy… Her name is Darcy."

He clenched his teeth tight and nodded. "It's good. I like it. It… It fits her."

Kelly readjusted the baby so she was leaned against her shoulder. "Thank you, Tony," she said, as she moved to leave.

And those two words suddenly meant so much; thank you for both Darcy's existence and not being a part of it.

Somehow it was the best and worst feeling he'd ever felt.

His throat burned so much that he knew he wouldn't be able to reply, even as his mouth opened and closed, trying. Finally, she dropped her eyes and turned, walking away.

Tony watched from the doorway; a little red ribbon visible over Kelly's shoulder. When a single tear broke from his eye, he closed the door, on her, on Darcy, on the whole thing. He pressed his forehead again it to gather himself before reaching up and swiping at his eyes, dragging his fingers down his nose as he drew in a deep snip. And finally, he went to his liquor cabinet, searching for a way to make his heart stop swelling and aching and burning.

He drank until he passed out, but that feeling never left him.

"Mr. Stark?"

Tony blinked back to the present, a wrench in one hand, and the memory of a red ribbon still lingering in his mind. "What?"

Darcy Lewis quirked an eyebrow. "You take a wrong turn down Genius Avenue and get lost?"

He stared up at her, eyes darting searchingly, taking in the curve of her cheeks and the arch of her eyebrows, the stubborn tilt of her chin and the roundness of her nose. Finally, he replied, "Genius is a whole block, with skyscrapers and a mall; very difficult to navigate."

Her mouth curved in a grin. "Glad you found your way back, sending out a search party means a whole lot of paperwork." Her eyes widened for emphasis. "Not really sure you're worth the energy yet."

He snorted a laugh. "Already that expendable, Miss. Lewis?"

She shrugged. "Depends…" She tilted her head. "Is it you or Miss. Potts that signs my checks?" she wondered.

"In your case?" He nodded. "Me."

Her eyebrow arched skeptically. "So what, you use up all of your signing energy on my paychecks and you're all burned out when the important stuff comes up?" she wondered, waving the paperwork in her hand.

"Don't undersell yourself, kid. I happen to think you're incredibly important." He nodded. "Much more than whatever that—" He grimaced, motioning toward the papers before trading his wrench for another tool. "—is."

"Not really a fan of fine print, so I don't actually know…" she admitted. "But Miss. Potts said I needed to get your John Hancock, so…"

He waved dismissively. "You sign it."

"Yeah," she snorted. "I don't think my name's gonna hold a whole lot of weight around here."

"So make it." He shrugged. "You work for me, I trust you, I hereby assign you signatorial duties."

"Uh, not only am I not sure that's a word, I'm even more sure it's not a thing."

He sat up a little straight, his eyes wide for emphasis. "I'm Tony Stark. I make non-things things all the time," he argued, waving a screwdriver.

She grinned at him. "Fine." She grabbed up a pen and dropped the paperwork to his desk. "But if I get called into court or something and they ask me why my name's on this and not yours, you better back me up."

He held up two fingers as a promise. "I'll even visit you in prison."

"Better, you could break me out of prison."

He smirked, pointing the screwdriver at her. "I like the way you think."

She flipped her hair and fluttered her eyelashes. "It's a gift."

His eyes dropped for a second before he said, "Your parents must be proud of you… Top secret government job, living at Stark tower…"

Signing her name with a flourish, Darcy shrugged. "I dunno. My mom gets super quiet when I bring it up. Or she does this weird humming thing that's probably the most disapproving sound a person ever made." Her eyes widened. "Seriously, she does it to me all the time."

"Well…" he mused, "You did major in poli-sci…" His nose scrunched. "Not a real science, Miss. Lewis, I'm a tiny bit offended." He turned his chair side to side.

She raised an eyebrow. "One, my science is better than yours. And two…" She stared him down. "Boss or no boss, I have a tazer."

Tony smirked slowly. "Duly noted."

"Thank you." She stood upright, grabbing the papers. "You're sure this is going to work?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Not even slightly. But you can tell Pepper they were signed and it'll buy me some time before they figure out the problem, print off more, and send you in to try again."

"Sounds like more work than it's worth," she snorted. "Why not just sign them?"

He stared at the stack in her arms. "I don't like signing things…"

"Why? Accidentally give away something important?" she teased. "Small country? Half your business? A few vital organs?"

"More important than that," he said, sounding very serious, his eyebrows furrowed. "And a lot more valuable."

Her head cocked, eyeing him curiously. "Are we about to have a heart-to-heart, because I'm not good with those…" She frowned. "When I get nervous, I word vomit and, yeah, talk about awkward."

Tony's lips twitched. "No... No heart-to-heart today. Or, well, ever…" he added. "It's not really my style."

"Coolio." She saluted him in goodbye before moving toward the door.

He watched her go, a hand reaching for where his heart once swelled and now his arc reactor seemed to glow a little brighter.

"Hey, Mr. Stark," Darcy said, turning back to him.

He raised an eyebrow in question.

"That thing, that you signed away…" She stared at him. "What're the chances you can get it back?" she wondered.

He smiled at her faintly. "I'm working on it…"

She grinned, nodding, and then shot a finger-gun at him. "Any consolation, I hope you get it."

He tapped his screwdriver against the side of the desk. "Yeah. Me too."

She pivoted on her heel and walked away; her ponytail swinging at her back. A crimson red ribbon tied around it.

"JARVIS?" Tony said, turning his eyes.

"Yes, sir?" his AI replied.

He considered it for just a moment, before finally saying decisively. "Tap into Coulson's files on my new assistant," he told him. "Find the contact information for her mother, Kelly Lewis, please."

"Accessing file now, sir."