Laynie went directly to her room after getting back to Stark Tower. Pepper came in not ten minutes later and sat on the bed. She placed a hand on the girl's shaking shoulder. Laynie turned into Pepper, and was overjoyed to have Pepper hug her back and speak comforting words.
It's just how her mother would have reacted to the situation.
"What can I do for you sweetheart?" Pepper asked, running her fingers through Laynie's short hair.
"I'm okay," she said unsteadily. "I'm going to go get something to drink."
The two redheads stood and left the room, heading into the kitchen. Laynie pulled a pitcher of sweet tea out of the refrigerator and poured herself half a glass. She slumped into a chair at the island and started playing on her phone.
"I've got to get back to work, but Tony's in the living room, and there are guards outside the suite, just shout if anything is wrong." Pepper gave her a smile before rushing out the door.
Laynie was suddenly very glad to have Pepper. She was filling in the empty space her mother had left in her heart. It was slow, and there was still a gaping hole Pepper couldn't ever fill, but she couldn't deny its existence.
Hey Carter, worried about you. Text me when you feel up to it. Laynie clicked the send button on the phone, then set it to the side. She had a feeling the message wouldn't be read anytime soon, but she was anxious to hear the status of her friend.
Suddenly a hand was roughly placed on her head. She startled before turning and seeing Tony. He gave her a half-smile as he ruffled her hair.
"Oh hey Tony, you scared me."
"Yeah, that much was obvious." He walked around the island and began rooting through the fridge. "I heard that the social services found your dad, you must be happy about that." He pulled out a tupperware container and inspected the contents closely, throwing it in the sink after a moment of scrutiny.
"Not really," she muttered. "I never really knew my dad. All I know about him for sure is that he up and left me and my mom, that's all I need to know."
Tony decided on a greasy paper box of chinese takeout leftovers, placing it in the microwave. "Don't judge a book by another person's bad experience with it." He paused and smiled, proud of himself for the analogy.
"Um, isn't that contradictory to the learn from other people's mistakes thing?"
He frowned, then shrugged. "Forget the analogy. Just don't mark off your dad as a bad guy yet."
"I don't need him," Laynie said unhappily.
"You're starting to sound like Carter. Who, by the way, is out of surgery. I do have to-" Tony cursed loudly as the metal handle on his chinese box caused the box to burst into flames. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and doused the box, moaning about his poor leftovers. He gave up on the pursuit of an afternoon snack and sat down beside Laynie instead. "Look, you do need him now. You certainly can't live here forever, and he's your best bet. Just don't hate him before you meet him."
"'Kay," she grumbled.
"That done, I'm going down to my workshop and you have to come with me."
She internally groaned. The last thing she wanted to do was go down there and listen to him drone on and on about his latest Iron Man. She was almost sure that's how it would go. "Let me grab some stuff."
Laptop tucked under her arm, Laynie willingly followed him down to the basement of Stark Tower, also known as Tony's workshop.
The workshop looked just like Laynie expected it to, cluttered with pieces of armor and blueprints, empty coffee mugs, and surprisingly, a lot of clothes.
"If it's free of crap you can sit on it," Tony said, waving a hand at his vast playhouse of mechanics.
Laynie chose a spot on the floor near an electrical outlet and plugged her laptop in. She spent thirty minutes playing a game before she became bored and sought out Tony. It took a minute to find him, eventually just following the stream of cussing and finding him half inside the chest piece of a new Iron Man armor.
She tapped the arc reactor on the suit with her knuckles. "Stuck?"
He startled and hit his head on the back of the suit, also dropping a wrench directly onto Laynie's sandaled feet.
They both shouted in pain at the same time, one taking a step away from the armor and the other trying to get himself out of it.
"God, kid, don't do that. You could have gotten us both blasted to smithereens or something."
"Yeah I'm sure I could have," Laynie spat, a little more spitefully than she meant to. She was doubled over, clutching at her damaged toes.
Tony gave his hair a ruffle, then sighed and eased himself onto the ground in front of her. He pulled a first aid kit out from under a nearby tool rack.
Laynie tried to calm herself down as he rummaged through for what he was looking for. She still couldn't wrap her mind around all that had happened that day. Falling from the top of Costco, seeing her friend shot in the leg, knowing that her dad was still out there. She was exhausted and wanted nothing other than a good nap, but instead she was stuck with Tony. She was trying not to be irritable, but she had already passed irritable and crossed into silently raging.
She sucked in a breath through her teeth as he dabbed alcohol on her bleeding toes. "I'm sorry I startled you."
"I'm sorry I snapped at you." After he tossed aside the alcohol wipe, he dried them off and carefully wrapped a bandaid around each one that was injured. "Up to date on your tetanus shots?"
He shoved the first aid kit back where it came from and stood up, turning to pick up the offending wrench. "I'm not used to being around children. Fury shouldn't have sent you two here."
Laynie moved an empty coffee cup off an old diner-style plastic covered stool and sat down on it, wiggling her toes to see that they functioned properly. "We really aren't children. I mean, we act like it, but my mom used to tell us that we're way ahead of other kids our age... Didn't you ever think about having kids?"
"No interest," he replied dully.
"Me neither. Maybe it's because, even though my mom loved me, I never had a properly functioning family life." Laynie looked down at her feet, putting her hands on the seat of the chair and spinning it round. "I, um, my dad left before I could remember. I don't know what he looks like except for a couple old pictures. And my mom was always on a mission of some sort. I spent a lot more time on the Hellicarrier than I should have." She swallowed hard. "My mom hated that too."
Tony gazed at the girl. He wasn't angry or sympathetic, just curious. Maybe a little saddened. "You're so serious for such a young person. I'm three times your age and I can't take life so seriously sometimes."
Laynie laughed. Even though it was sometimes annoying, Tony's tenacity to be passive was a relief at the moment. "Yeah, but that's a good thing. You don't care about the bad stuff as much. You make others around you happy with your joking around. I mean, other than the people who don't understand your sarcasm. I just nag all the time."
"Y'see, the thing is, I do care about the bad stuff." He rapped a few knuckles on the armor behind him and gave a lopsided smile. "I just have this. I get to beat the living snot out of bad all the time, so it's an easier thought to carry that it's out there."
"Hm. That does make sense," she remarked quietly. "I wish I had a way to fight bad. Even if it was just getting the bullies at school off the other kids' backs."
Tony put away his tools and sat down in an identical stool near Laynie. "Do you and Carter have a problem with bullies?"
"No," she said all too quickly.
He gave her a sideways glance that suggested he thought BS, but didn't say anything to that effect. "Well if you ever do, any one of us would be willing to help you with that. But I would differ to Pep, you should see her scold a kid." He laughed. "It's scary."
Laynie smiled and nodded.