It wasn’t that Peter didn’t want to tell Mr. Stark about his upcoming competition- in fact, he wanted to tell Tony so badly. It was just that Peter knew Mr. Stark would be way too busy to attend a measly Academic Decathlon competition, even if it was a semi-final.
I mean, he probably has a million other things to do, Peter thought, staring as Tony wielded another piece of Iron Man armour to his new suit. While Tony had become much more attentive of his mentee after the Homecoming fiasco, he was still the world famous Tony Stark: genius, billionaire, and former playboy philanthropist. If there wasn’t a crisis that required Iron Man, then there would be some event that needed Tony Stark.
Plus, Peter was already beyond grateful that Mr. Stark even bothered to spend any time with him. Every Friday night Mr. Stark would have Peter come over and help him work on new tech, suit repairs, and general awesome science stuff. The Stark Internship wasn’t a cover anymore, especially since Aunt May knew about his Spider-Man secret. Peter had even gotten a cool new ID card with his name and picture on it that said “Official Stark Industry Intern” which he had shown off at school, much to Flash’s chagrin. And sometimes they didn't even work on anything, instead opting to eat dinner together and watch a movie. Mr. Stark would ask him how school was, and Peter would regale tales to tony about his latest Spider-Man antics.
So, yeah, it wasn't fair to blame Mr. Stark for not wanting to attend Peter’s competition. In fact, it would be selfish for Peter to even ask, knowing how much stress-
“I can hear you worrying from all the way over here, kid,” Tony said, not looking up from his position across the table.
“W-what? I'm not worrying!” Peter defended, wincing at the way his voice cracked from nervousness. Really not helping my case here .
Tony looked up from the armour he was working on, and gave him a deadpan stare. “Honestly, kiddo, you need to work on your lies. So spill, what's going on in that big brain of yours?”
Peter swallowed, throat suddenly dry. Just tell him! He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, and said “Uh, nothing honestly.”
Mr. Stark rolled his eyes again. “So that's how it's gonna go, huh? Well, I was going to invite you to stay the weekend and even have a whole Star Wars marathon with you, but since you're keeping secrets, I guess I'll have to take my invention back.”
Peter, who had been staring at his converse clad feet, snapped up his head to look at Tony.
“Seriously?! Ohmygosh thank you Mr. Stark, we can watch them in storyteller order! Ned’s gonna be so jealous, and-” Peter abruptly stopped talking, suddenly remembering that the competition was tomorrow morning, meaning he couldn't stay. “Um, I'm really sorry Mr. Stark, I can't this weekend.”
“What's wrong kid? Don't you want to stay over? Or already bored of me?” Tony asked, trying to play it off as a joke, but peter could see concern in his dark brown eyes.
“No I do! I really do Mr. Stark, honest. It's just that, well, uh I have something to do tomorrow morning. In the city, I mean.”
Tony stared at Peter, and Peter could feel himself reddening under his gaze. Sighing, Peter reluctantly elaborated, “My academic decathlon team has a competition tomorrow at 10AM. It’s the semifinals, after this we’d be two comps away from states again.”
Across from him Tony made an affronted noise. “And you weren’t going to tell me because…?”
Still blushing from embarrassment, Peter answered, “Well, because I thought you’d be busy. I dunno, I didn’t want to bother you for some stupid competition.”
Tony shook his head. “Kid, for a genius, you sometimes have the dumbest ideas.”
“What do you mean?” Peter asked, confused.
“Kiddo, your important stuff is my important stuff. So if you have one of those adorable little nerd events happening tomorrow, I want to come and cheer you on.”
Peter felt a warm feeling bubble in his chest. “So… you would want to come?”
“Of course! I’d love to watch you wipe the floor against other nerds. Couldn’t imagine spending my time doing anything better.” Peter hadn’t had anyone come to cheer him on in his competitions in a long time, not since Uncle Ben died. Both his Aunt and Uncle were proud and supportive of his AcaDeca skills, always quizzing him on the days leading up to the competition. But since Ben died, May had to work a lot more shifts at the hospital. When Peter would remind her of an upcoming competition, her eyes would go strained and sad, and she would say, “I would love to go, baby, but I have to work that day. Next time, I promise.”
After awhile, Peter had stopped asking, hating himself for making his Aunt feel guilty. Just suck it up , he would think to himself . Aunt May has to work to provide for your sorry ass, and it's just a stupid competition.
But looking at Tony, who was staring at him with actual affection, made Peter feel that he could be believe that this competition was something to be proud of.
“Then I guess you can come.” Peter said, smirking. “Its at Midtown high, 10 AM sharp. You can watch us beat Bronx High School of Science.”
Tony laughed, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world, underoos.”
The next day Peter could feel the nerves building in his chest. Calm down, you’ve done this a million times before . But, he reasoned silently, this time was different. It wasn’t everyday that your hero and mentor would be in the audience, cheering you on.
Peter was sitting up on the stage, Ned to his right, and Michelle to his left. Sally, Abe, and Charles all sat up on the stage, while Flash sat in the first row of the audience, just an alternate for the event. Across the stage from the Midtown team sat the Bronx team, six students wearing burgundy jackets.
“What’s up with you, dude?” Ned asked while Peter fidgeted with the sleeves of his golden jacket. “Are you actually nervous? You’re never nervous, c’mon! We beat this school last year easily!”
To his right Michelle raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “You better not blow this for us, Parker. We trained way too hard for this.”
“Guys,” Peter groaned, “I’m fine. I just want this to get started.”
Michelle snorted but didn’t say anything else, going over the flashcards in her hands silently while Ned turned to Sally when she asked him a question. Biting his lip, Peter anxiously scanned the crowd, looking for any glimpse of Mr. Stark.
“May I please have your attention,” Mr Harrington announced into the mic, “The competition will be starting in two minutes, so please find your seats and turn of all cellular devices. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the competition.”
Maybe Mr. Stark had something come up last minute , Peter thought morosely. Or maybe he realized he didn’t want to come to one of your dumb events .
Right when Peter was about to officially give up hope, the back auditorium doors opened, and Mr. Stark strode in, impeccably dressed in a suit but looking out of breath, like he’d been running. He walked over to the last row and sat down, taking off his black sunglasses. He squinted up at the stage, and when he saw Peter looking at him he gave a smirk and a thumbs up. He mouthed, ‘Good luck.’
Peter found himself smiling, suddenly feeling at ease with himself as the judges started the competition. I got this .
“We are proud to announce that this year’s tri-state competition is Midtown School of Science and Technology. Please give the Midtown team a round of applause,” announced one of the judges. The crowd, who were mostly friends and family of the Midtown team, clapped and applauded joyfully.
“We did it!” Ned crowed, hugging Peter.
“Good job, guess you decided not to suck today,” Michelle said, the genuine smile on her face betraying her sarcastic words as she got up to shake hands with the Bronx team’s captain.
Peter couldn’t help but grin, knowing that he had really helped his team in this competition. The judges had asked some intense questions, and both teams had gone answered dutifully. The score kept going up, and the lead kept getting exchanged in key moments. However, once the engineering questions had started to come up, Peter answered them with a clear head, fully confident in his responses. He had even managed to answer the last question, which secured Midtown the win.
The Midtown team continued to cheer and laugh as they exited the stage, giving hugs and high fives to one another. Mr. Harrington came over with the trophy, laughing as he congratulated all of them on the win.
“And congrats to you, Pete, the judges were impressed with your rapid answering.”
Peter blushed but grinned, pleased with himself as everyone turned to pat him on the back. Looking around, he spotted Mr. Stark in the back of the auditorium, hidden from most people. “I’ll catch you guys later, alright? I gotta go say hi to someone.”
Grabbing his nearby bag, Peter half-walked an half-skipped to where Tony was standing. Once he was near enough, Mr. Stark grabbed him by the shoulders while ruffling his hair. “Great job kid! You sure did wipe the floor with them. I’m not too surprised, I’ve never doubted your skills. I am very impressed, though, those were some tough questions for a high school level competition.”
Peter grinned bashfully, suddenly feeling shy at his mentor’s words. “Thanks Mr. Stark.”
Tony smiled down at him, but it wasn’t his usual snarky smirk, nor was it his trademark shit-eating grin. No, this one was his soft “I’m proud of you, kiddo” smile that he reserved for only Peter. It made a feeling blossom in Peter’s chest, a feeling Peter hadn’t felt since before the spiderbite. It was the same feeling Peter had had whenever Ben had come home to see straight A’s in Peter’s report card, or when Peter helped carry an old lady’s groceries up 12 flight of stairs just because he wanted to help.
Peter knew he would miss Uncle Ben every day for the rest of his life, but everyday it got a little easier to breathe whenever he thought of the man. He knew no one would ever replace his beloved uncle, but he also knew that it was ok to accept new people who actually cared about him into his life because his Uncle would have wanted that for Peter.
Blinking away the sudden prickle of tears in his eyes, Peter cleared his throat and added, “Thanks a lot, for everything, Mr. Stark.”
As if sensing the extra emotions behind Peter’s eyes and words, along with the sudden melancholic pain of the past, Tony gave Peter’s shoulder a small squeeze, and nudged him toward the door. “C’mon Pete, let's blow this popsicle stand and celebrate your amazing win. We can get anything you want.”
Laughing, Peter allowed Tony to lead him to the exit. “Alright yeah. Then we can go watch that Star Wars marathon you promised!”
Tony good-naturedly groaned as he got into his car, “Why do I put up with you?”
“You know you love me, Mr. Stark,” Peter grinned, buckling into the passenger seat.
The start and hum of the car would have blocked out Tony’s words if it wasn’t for Peter’s spider-enhanced super hearing. “Yeah, kiddo, I really do.”