December 16, 1991
Numb as he was, Tony Stark pushed open the door to his father's study. A place his father would never see again. He'd just gotten back from the morgue, and the hospital. Both of his parents were dead.
But that wasn't possible. They'd both been alive not five hours ago. He'd spoken to them in the living room downstairs, kissed his mother goodbye and promised to not completely ruin the house while they and his little sister were away.
Eliza had survived. Safely tucked in the backseat, she'd survived the car wreck with only minor bumps and bruises. He'd just picked her up from the hospital after identifying their parents' bodies. He needed a damn drink.
Tony crossed to his father's liquor cabinet. He'd done this countless times before, but now there was nothing to fear about being caught drinking the prized bottle of fifty year old scotch. Finding a clean lowball glass, he poured himself a few fingers of the amber liquid, slamming it down his throat. A few fingers more, and he felt the pain ripping through his chest ease a bit.
He sighed and took the bottle and his empty glass to the leather chair in front of the picture window where his father had once sat and stared out at the ocean for hours. It was Tony's seat now.
But he couldn't think about that. About the tsunami of responsibility that was going to crash down on his head in the days, weeks, and years to come. So he poured himself another drink and stared out at the moonlit waves.
The door creaked open. Tony heard quick, tiny footsteps enter the room and his heart lurched.
The small brunette girl tapped the elbow that was resting on the arm of the chair and Tony looked over at her large, hazel eyes.
"Tony," she whispered, "I can't sleep."
A pang echoed through his chest. He put the glass on the side table and gathered the little girl up into his lap. It struck him then that she was all the family he had left.
"Me neither, kid," he agreed sadly as she cuddled into his chest.
"Are mommy and daddy really...dead?" She whispered the last word, as if saying it out loud could make it any more real.
He opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come out. Instead, he wrapped his arms around his baby sister and choked back a sob. Her thin arms wrapped around his neck and she patted his head in a small attempt to make him feel better.
This is so wrong, he thought, I should be the one comforting her. I'm the older brother, and she survived a car accident that killed our parents. Yet I'm the one sobbing on her shoulder.
"Yeah, kid. They're not coming back," he said after composing himself.
She pulled back from him and looked him directly in the eye. With a trembling bottom lip, she asked him, "Was the accident my fault? I-I had to go to the bathroom and it had started raining by the time we left so the road was all wet-"
"Eliza, no," Tony said firmly, gripping her tiny wrists in his hands. "It wasn't your fault. Accidents...happen sometimes. That's why they're called accidents."
"So you're not mad at me?"
"God no," he pulled her closer, "I'm just glad you're alive."
"I love you, Tony."
"I love you too, Eliza."
Tony and Eliza took turns crying for the next few hours. Sometimes they blubbered, sometimes they just sniffled quietly, tears dampening the other's shirt. Neither of them said anything more. Neither of them needed to. Right now, he was just an older brother comforting his kid sister in the wake of a family tragedy. Tomorrow, he would become Tony Stark - head of his father's company and heir to his legacy.
Finally, Eliza's breathing evened out and he could tell she was asleep. It was for the best; the poor kid must be exhausted. Gently gathering the small girl up in his arms, he lifted her with ease and carried her down the hall. He stopped outside her bedroom door, but he couldn't bring himself to open it.
It was such a simple thing, putting his kid sister to sleep. Open door, deposit kid on bed, cover her with a blanket, and call it a night. He'd done it a handful of times before.
But he found that he couldn't bring himself to be apart from her. What if the ER staff had missed something and Eliza never woke up? Or what if she got up to go grab some water and tripped down the stairs? These and a bunch more awful scenarios ran through his head, all ending with Tony ending up alone.
No. He wouldn't - couldn't - end up alone, and he had to be sure of it. Even if just for the night. In lieu of putting her to sleep in her own bed, Tony turned and walked further down the hall. He opened the door to his own bedroom, tucked Eliza in on one side of the bed, and finally laid down himself.
The sleep he got was fitful and light. Everytime he woke up, he put his hand out and found his little sister peacefully asleep next to him. A piece of his family was still alive. Bumped and bruised, but still alive. Traumatized, but she'd wake up the next morning.
It was a small comfort, enough to lull him back to sleep. For a while, at least.
The Next Morning
The elderly Jarvis was over first thing in the morning, calling the family lawyers and setting up a meeting at the funeral home. For his part, Tony had managed to get back down to the office when he finally gave into sleeplessness. He had watched the sunrise over the ocean and made a mental note to do that more often, even though he knew he probably wouldn't. The bottle of fifty year old scotch was empty, soon replaced with a glass of water and four pills.
"Sir," Jarvis said gently, "Obadiah Stane is here to see you."
"Great. Let's start the condolence train early."
"Of course, sir."
Stane entered the room, immediately crossing to hug Tony. The much larger man nearly suffocated Tony, who didn't move to hug him back.
"I hope it's okay I'm here. I just wanted to stop by before getting to the office. This is a goddamn tragedy. How's Eliza?" He pulled back, keeping his hands on Tony's shoulders. In Obi's mind, Tony was still Eliza's age. He hated that about his father's business partner - now his business partner, depending on what the will said.
"She's okay. A little bruised, but nothing broken. Doesn't remember much of the accident, which is lucky." Tony explained numbly.
"Good, good. I don't really know what to say here, Tony," Obadiah shifted between his feet uncomfortably, "But I'll hold down the fort at SI for you. As long as you need."
"Thanks, Mr. Sta -" he caught himself, "Obadiah."
"Well, I should get going. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call me."
Tony stayed where he was as he heard Obadiah leave the house. He was paralyzed; there would be too much to do in the days to come and he had no clue where to start. On the cusp of a hangover, he dragged a hand down his face but made no move toward the water or painkillers Jarvis had left him.
Regret washed over him a moment later when the door to the study slammed open, banging loudly against the wall.
"I'm hungry," his little sister declared, "Where's Jarvis?"
"He had to run out for a bit."
"Oh," Eliza sighed, "Can you make me something then? I'm not allowed to touch the stove."
Tony sighed, "Well with the way I cook, I shouldn't be either."
Eliza made her way over to him and put her small hand in his. Tony looked at down at her, following her arm up to her face. It was clear she'd been crying, and her large hazel eyes held a look that was too tired, too sad, too old for an eight-year-old to have. He couldn't say for sure, but she'd probably cried herself to sleep last night.
"Please?" she asked. As if to emphasize her plea, her stomach growled loudly.
Raking his hand down his face, he realized couldn't say no to her. Mostly because his stomach was crying out for food as well. Finally, he dropped his sister's hand and turned to the water and pills.
"C'mon, kid," he said, extending his hand out to Eliza after he downed most of the water. She gripped it and the two of them left their father's study.
The kitchen was a mystery to Tony, but how hard could breakfast be? Every diner in America could accomplish such easy food as eggs and bacon with some degree of success. Just ask Denny.
Eliza dropped his hand and went to sit on a stool on the other side of the kitchen island as he stuck his head in the pantry.
"So, what shall two newly-made orphans have for breakfast?" he asked, unsure of how his sister would take his black humor.
"I think they make orphans eat gruel," Eliza replied easily. Not the answer he was expecting, Tony barked out a laugh and pulled his head out of the pantry. He looked at his sister with a mix of wonder and confusion. Unfazed, Eliza shrugged her shoulders. "I've read Oliver Twist."
His smile grew as he kept his gaze focused on Eliza. She focused on tracing the pattern of the marble island with one finger. The bruise from the seatbelt was dark purple against her collarbone, the small cuts from the broken window glass splattered across her face. He could see how sad she was, her hazel eyes were empty and her expression heavy. Tony reached across the island and caught her hand in his. Her eyes met his and he gently squeezed her hand in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.
"We're gonna be okay, Lize. It's just you and me now, but we're gonna be okay." He hoped he sounded like he believed it. In truth, he had no goddamn clue what was going to happen. But they had each other now, and he wanted to make this breakfast count for something.
Tony cleared his throat. "So, waffles it is."
"You don't know how to make waffles," she accused.
"I don't know how to make anything, but I graduated MIT at age seventeen. I can figure this out." His confidence returned with that last statement. Did Denny have a degree from MIT? Probably not.
The task got easier when he located the waffle iron and then discovered a recipe for waffle mix on the side of the Bisquick package. He enlisted Eliza's help in pouring in ingredients, but he took charge of the hand mixer. It was too heavy and cumbersome for her small hands.
Apparently it was too cumbersome for his hands as well; the damn thing seemed to have a mind of its own. As soon as he turned it on it jerked his arm forward and the bowl tilted, some of the batter spilling on the kitchen island. Eliza giggled and Tony did it again, this time on purpose. This elicited more giggles from the girl, and he found this promising.
"Should we make this a little more interesting?" He winked at his sister, and she nodded mischievously, hopping down from her stool and diving into the pantry. A moment later, she popped out with a shaker of sprinkles, a partial bag of chocolate chips, and a bag of marshmallows. "I like the way you think, kid."
"Thanks," she smiled and passed Tony each thing in turn. He dumped them all in, and he grabbed a spatula from the drawer to make mixing a little easier.
The first waffle was burnt, but the next few weren't too bad. They smothered them in whipped cream, butter, and maple syrup and ate silently at the kitchen island. The sugar rush was exactly what they both needed.
Each Stark child was tired from the night and their raucous laughter moments before. As they ate, Eliza reached over and grabbed Tony's hand, lacing her small fingers through his as she chewed her waffles.
At that moment, he thought everything would indeed be okay. Rationally, he knew that it wouldn't. The company would fall to him, as would Eliza's care. None of that mattered to him just then. He was perfectly content holding her hand in his, enjoying sugar-filled waffles with her in the messy kitchen.
The chaos would descend when Jarvis returned, so Tony savored the quiet. He glanced over at his sister, the eight-year-old sporting a thousand yard stare. The sight made Tony's innards turn to goo. His baby sister shouldn't have that look.
"Tony," she said as she set down her fork, "I don't wanna be an orphan."
He turned toward her, their hands still clasped together, "You're not an orphan, Eliza. Well, I guess, technically you are. But I'm your brother and I'm not going anywhere."
The little girl crawled up into Tony's lap and he heard her soft sniffles rise from his chest. He decided to let her cry. A few minutes later, she gave a final sniff and lifted her head to look him in the eye.
"Yeah?" he asked as he brushed a lock of her hair out of her eyes.
"Can we have waffles tomorrow, too?"
He kissed her forehead, "Of course, kid."
Thanks for reading! I would love love LOVE to hear what you think, as I'm planning a CapxOC story with Eliza as the main character. It'll start right after Steve awakens in the 21st century, and continue from there.
The more reviews, the more encouragement I'll have to post the new story!
Again, THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading!