The last thing anybody was expecting while leaving school was a bunch of photographers and news reporters surrounding the front of the building. Peter had felt on edge during the last twenty or so minutes of school, but he hadn’t put much thought into it. He grabbed hold of Ned’s elbow with one hand and pulled his phone out of his pocket with his other, expecting his friend to guide them through the crowd so he can find Happy’s car. Instead, he saw a missed call and a text from Tony telling him to stay put and that he was so sorry.
Sorry for what?
When one of the reporters shouted his name to get his attention, it became very clear what Tony was apologizing for. “Mr. Parker? Peter Parker? Would you mind answering a few questions for us?” one shouted.
“Mr. Parker, we got news that you have been adopted by Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man. Is there any truth to that?”
“There have been reports that you have been living with Tony Stark for about ten months now. Your response to these rumors?”
Cameras were flashing, people were staring, and too many voices could be heard. Ned had frozen in his place, also being caught off guard by the attack of reporters. It took Peter only a moment to realize that yes, he was indeed about to start panicking. He yanked on Ned’s arm, pulling them both backwards until he was safely in the school again. Relatively, at least. There were no reporters but there were staff and students all staring at him like he had two heads. Principal Morita ushered both Peter and Ned into the office, shutting the door behind them. “I tried to reach you before you were able to leave the school, but the bell had already rung,” he said apologetically. “Are the two of you alright?”
No, but neither said that. Instead Ned answered positively for the two of them and Peter called Tony, who answered on the first ring. “I’m so sorry, kid, I don’t know what happened. We’re still working on it. News got out not even an hour ago. They’re livestreaming this online. Happy called me as soon as he saw the reporters pull up to the school, but he’s just one man against all of them. God, kid, I’m sorry. Where are you right now?”
“I’m in the office,” Peter said, voice probably too shaky to play off as being only a little shocked. This was beyond unexpected. “They know my name, my school, my face.”
“Did you already come in contact with the reporters?”
“I’m so sorry,” Tony said, not for the first time in their very short conversation. “We’re going to figure out how the news got out and we’ll address it from there, okay? Pepper and I will hold a press conference later today, ask for privacy, all that jazz. Can anybody else hear me?”
“If you need to put on your mask and sneak out the back to get away, I can have Happy cause a distraction and then pick you up a few blocks down.”
He wanted to run away from this problem entirely, but he wasn’t going to go to such lengths to escape. “No, no, it’s, uh, it’s fine. All I gotta do is get through them, right? Shouldn’t be that hard.”
“I’m still ten minutes out if you want to hang tight for me. Or if you need to leave as soon as possible, Iron Man can make it in only a minute.”
He had a feeling that Iron Man showing up would only get more people interested. “Happy is here. I’ll just make it to the car and we’ll leave.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line before there was a sigh. “If that’s what you think is the best way to handle this, go for it, kid. Keep your eyes down and don’t say a word to any of them, you hear me? Stay on the line with me.”
Peter stood up and looked at Ned. “I’m sorry. You can probably hide out here until the reporters leave. I don’t want them on your case, too.”
“You’re going out there?” Ned asked, eyes wide in probably fear.
“Gotta get to the car so I can leave. I don’t think I can wait out reporters, and, uh, maybe having Iron Man here will make the reporters even more crazy.”
Ned stood up beside Peter, reaching around his head to pull up his hood. Then he dug around his own bag to find his pair of sunglasses before shoving them on Peter’s face. “I know this won’t do anything, but at least now your ears’ll be warm and the flashes won’t hurt your eyes,” he said, making the obvious attempt at keeping things light-hearted.
Peter smiled his thanks briefly. “I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Sure thing, man.”
There was never going to be a time that Peter would appreciate his classmates more than on that day. When he went outside, he saw a bunch of reporters trying to ask other students questions regarding him, but they all walked past everybody without uttering a word. At least, the students he was able to see was doing that. He half-expected Flash to be standing in front of all of the cameras regarding tales on why Peter Parker was a loser, but instead, Flash was waiting for him at the doors. As soon as Peter was outside, Flash grabbed him and all-but ran down the stairs and through the crowds, shoving a few reporters who had gotten too close aside. “Flash? What?”
“I’ve been a jerk to you for so long just to find out you’ve been adopted by Tony Stark and could have easily had me destroyed,” Flash explained once out of the largest of the crowd. They still had to dodge some people and speed walk to avoid the reporters following them. “You didn’t have him send his suit to obliterate me, I save you from reporters, and now we’re even, right?”
“There was no reason to get even,” Peter said, still confused by the situation. “What you’ve been doing has never been right, but even you never warranted an Iron Man visit.”
Before Flash could respond, Happy showed up in between the two of them and dragged Peter at a very fast pace to the car. Flash gave a small wave goodbye which was reciprocated. Things were already so strange, and the news barely got out. “Nobody expected this,” Happy said, opening the door to the car and pushing Peter in. Once he got in on the driver’s side, he continued his thought. “I would have come with security had anyone known. Sorry, kid.”
“It isn’t your fault. It isn’t anybody’s fault. Nobody really wanted this,” Peter said, watching as the people started getting closer to the car. Before they could get too close to stand in front, Happy sped off with his tires squealing. He pulled the phone up to his ear to speak to Tony again. “You still there?”
“I’m here, kid. Flash got you out? Well, it’s as good a time as ever to stop being a bully. Don’t buy into it completely, though. Your guardian happens to be one of the richest men on the planet. People will do anything to get close to that.”
That was obvious, but he would never get too close to Flash. They still didn’t like each other, but maybe some mutual respect could become a thing. They were already working on that thanks to Decathlon. “No worries,” he chose to answer. “Happy and I are on our way now.”
“We’ll get this all figured out, okay, kid?”
“Okay, Tony,” he said and then he hung up the phone.
The problem with that general plan to figure things out, though, didn’t take into account the fact that some people were horrible people. About three minutes into the drive, a car slammed into them at such a high speed that Peter had only barely felt the hairs on his arm stand up. He unbuckled, jumped for the front seat, and covered Happy’s body as quickly as he could manage before the hit. The next minute or so was lost memory. He didn’t think was knocked unconscious, but he also wasn’t aware of what was going on around him. When he did realize what was happening, he looked down at Happy. He wasn’t awake. He checked his pulse to be safe and saw that he was indeed just out.
When people showed up at the car, he was relieved for a moment because people were coming to help Happy. It only took him a second to realize his Spidey sense was screaming at him again and he ducked away from a hand reaching inside the ruined car to grab him. There wasn’t any place to escape to, so he was eventually caught and yanked out. “Stark’s kid, huh?” the guy said, the mask over his face doing nothing to hide the pleased look in his eyes. “Looks like your new little daddy is going to be giving me a lot of money.” A concussion was to blame for the fact that he couldn’t easily pull away from the man, but he did manage it soon enough. The man didn’t look concerned. “You’ll come with me or this bodyguard guy of yours is gonna have more problems than the mercy of being asleep for this.”
Decisions came easily when other people were involved. Peter allowed himself to be grabbed again by the guy who all-but dragged him to the now-ruined vehicle that he had been driving when he slammed into Happy’s car. He was shoved in the backseat with a warning to avoid trying to be a hero and to hand over his phone before they then sped off. A mile or so down the road, the man pulled over and dragged Peter into a waiting van who had another driver. He was shoved in the back once again and the original kidnapped hopping into the passenger seat. “You kill him?” the new guy asked.
“Don’t think so. I left the ransom note on top of him. Stark’ll get the message soon enough, and then we’ll see how true these rumors are.”
“Hey, kid, is Stark your new dad?”
“Guess you’ll have to wait and find out,” Peter snapped. He was terrified. He could handle these guys as Spider-Man, not as Peter Parker, but he was going to try and keep a brave face anyways. If he had been Spider-Man when this ordeal started, he wouldn’t have batted an eye, but these guys knew his real personality, not his alter-ego. That made it personal. That made is scary. Also speaking of Spider-Man, his suit was stashed in his bookbag which was left in the car. The good thing, though, was that Peter wore his own web shooters when he wasn’t in the suit. Those had been upgraded many months before to have a tracker in them. So, Peter was armed, and Tony had access to find him. That made some of the fear dissipate.
The guys in front only chuckled at his attempt to be brave, but they didn’t comment on that. Instead, the first guy started monologuing. “You know, kid, I never thought we’d be these types of people. But money is hard in these times. Can’t hold a job without a degree yet you can’t pay for a degree without a job.”
“You can say goodbye to holding a job after you get this felony charge stuck to you,” Peter quipped. He kept his hand away from view of the mirror as he checked to make sure his shooters were loaded. He didn’t intend to use them and give up his secret identity, but if the other option was death, he’d have to.
“You either are Stark’s kid and you have too much confidence in his ability to find you, or you’re just an overly-cocky teenager who expects a rich man like Tony Stark to free some kid he ain’t never met before. Either way, you have placed too much faith in a man who doesn’t deserve it,” the other one said. Peter chose not to comment this time. He couldn’t keep pushing his luck. It had been about five minutes since the accident. No doubt Tony had found out already. It was also just as believable that he had already tracked his phone which was laying on some street somewhere far behind them, his suit which was in the wrecked car, and the web shooters that were still attached to Peter’s wrists.
Shoot, Tony probably already had his location and was waiting for the right move. He couldn’t attack a car that Peter was still in, so he was probably biding his time. Waiting for the car to park so he can make his attack.
He knew he didn’t have misplaced faith in Tony. He knew the lengths Tony would go to in order to ensure his safety. That’s why when the car finally did come to a stop and his door was opened, he prepared himself to move. A gun was focused on him by the driver of the car, but Peter wasn’t worried. His Spidey sense would warn him if it was about to be fired. So, in a show of trust for Tony, Peter ran and threw himself behind another parked car as he waited for the blast. Seconds later, it came.
Tony had fired a repulsor at the car Peter had been brought in. The two men tried to flee, but one made the mistake of looking for Peter which only made their already slim chances of escaping slimmer because they didn’t leave immediately. A familiar shield came seemingly out of nowhere and knocked the first guy while a taser arrow came from somewhere far in the distance, bringing both men to the ground. Peter uncovered his ears and peered around the side of the car just as Tony came barreling towards him out of his suit. “Are you okay?” he heard being asked, hands on his shoulders.
Truthfully, Peter barely felt present in the conversation. There was a lot going on and his mind couldn’t keep up. Not even thirty minutes earlier, he had been having a relatively decent day at school, and then word of the adoption got out, he was bombarded by reporters, took a hard hit in the car, and was kidnapped. Wait – hard hit. “I, uh…” The pain tore into his body so suddenly that it made sense why his brain was moving so slowly. He felt around for blood, but thankfully everything was inside of his body where it belonged. His arm was ruined. He could actually see the break and he was grateful nothing protruded from his skin. His body ached. He knew his back was littered with bruises. When they were hit, they were hit from the driver’s side of the car. Peter only had time to throw himself over Happy from the other side. He remembered his arm coming up to block Happy’s head from the hit. That’s probably where the broken arm came from. It sucked that it hardly worked because Happy ended up knocked out anyways with probably a concussion. Peter had a hefty one himself. “My arm,” he finally finished lamely, holding it up for inspection.
“Christ, kid,” Tony sighed, bringing Peter in for a hug mindful of the arm. “I hoped something like this wouldn’t happen. I didn’t even think to start expecting it yet.”
“He said he’d hurt Happy more, so I went with him,” Peter explained when they broke apart. “Is he okay? He was knocked out when we left him.”
“He came to in the ambulance. Aside from a concussion, he seems alright. He’s definitely been through worse before.” Tony leaned down, staring intently into Peter’s eyes. “You seem to have one, too. That would have been nice to know. I mean, your arm needs obvious medical attention, but your head always comes first.”
“Oh,” Peter said dumbly even though he knew that fact. “I didn’t think about it. Sorry.”
Tony sighed again. Peter felt like he’d be hearing much more of that for the next few hours. “Don’t apologize, kid. Let’s get you to the doctors.”
Thankfully, they didn’t have to wait long for either the police or security to show up, the police to deal with the criminals and the security to drive Tony and Peter to the Tower. While they were in the car, Peter laid his head on his shoulder. “Are we gonna hold a press conference today?”
“Yeah. Need others to see what happens when you mess with my kid.”
“Will I need to be there?”
“Not with your concussion you won’t be. You’ll rest. Heal. This weekend, I’ll hold a bigger press conference where we’ll introduce you to the world.”
Glancing down at the arm that Tony had put in a makeshift sling for him, Peter turned to whisper quietly in Tony’s ear without the security driver hearing. “Can you try to play off the arm injury? It’s gonna be healed soon and people will wonder.”
There was no surprise by his request which meant that Tony likely already thought of it. “No need to worry about that, kiddo. It’s all gonna be taken care of.”
The thing that kind of made a bad situation worse was the fact that Peter had to watch Tony’s press conference live on TV. He called an impromptu one in the Tower which was nice because that meant they were still in the same building, but Peter was still stuck in hospital bed with Bruce taking care of him and Bucky keeping him company. He liked Bruce and Bucky, definitely, but he didn’t want to be up in a hospital room. Tony made it mandatory that Peter stay the night there. Overprotective.
On the TV, Tony was standing in front of a podium holding some cue cards. After a quick glance down at them, he tossed them behind him and gripped the podium with both hands. “I’m gonna make this short. We’ll have time for more this weekend, but this is all you’re getting right now, and I’m not answering questions. If anybody interrupts, you’ll be removed from this building and banned from ever returning? Everybody clear? Good.”
“This afternoon scared him,” Bruce said gently. “He’s a little on edge. I expected him to be worse with the reporters.”
Tony stood up a little straighter. “Earlier today, somebody illegally leaked information regarding a minor. We don’t know who just yet, but we are close to finding out which one of you scumbags from children’s protective services it was, and then you’ll be dealing with my legal team. I must warn you; my legal team is better than yours. However, this leaked news needs addressing, so here it is: The rumors you’ve heard are all true. I have adopted a boy named Peter Parker, beginning the process back in March. He was previously an intern of mine, and when it was between me and a foster home, I didn’t hesitate to bring him in. He is, for all legal purposes, my son and the heir of everything here at Stark Industries.” This is where he paused and stared directly at the camera. “News travels fast, and the wrong types of people heard. They tried to seize their opportunity by kidnapping a sixteen-year-old who was simply trying to make it home from school. A ransom note was left at the scene where they had run their car into the car of my dear friend who happened to be driving Peter home from school. They demanded money for the return of my kid. What they didn’t bank on was that I take his safety seriously. The entire team of Avengers teamed up together to bring my kid back, and we did so successfully. I don’t expect them to get released from prison anytime soon. So, for all of you sick people out there looking to capitalize on the fact that the billionaire Tony Stark has a child? Remember that I’m also an Avenger called Iron Man, and I will kick your ass into next Tuesday. My kid is now holed up in a hospital with a concussion from where he tried to save our friend during the crash, and instead of being up there holding his hand, I’m out here warning idiots with a death wish to leave. My. Kid. Alone.” He finished by storming off away from the podium, walking inside an elevator that Pepper and Rhodey were waiting in.
“That went much better than expected,” Bucky said, grabbing the remote to turn off the news. Nobody needed to hear whatever the people on TV were saying about the situation or Peter. “He lost his mind when he found out what happened. Your webshooters apparently monitor your health and all that jazz, and when he flew by, he saw the wreckage. He called the Avengers line in a panic. It may have only been for a few minutes, but he was already going out of his mind.”
“It was scary,” Peter said, laying his head back against the pillows. “I hate when things like that happen when I’m just…me.”
“I can see why,” Bruce said. “Tony’s gonna make sure this never happens again, though, okay? You don’t need to be too scared of a repeat occurrence.”
“It’d be believable that the child of Tony Stark knows some self-defense. Don’t be afraid to let someone have it. You have good control on your strength. Nobody will know the difference between a kid who’s been trained to protect himself and a kid who can probably lift a bridge if he tried hard enough,” Bucky said, getting a smile out of Peter at the end.
Nobody said anything when Tony, Pepper, and Rhodey made it to the medical area and Tony walked directly up to the bed. Nobody said anything when Tony nudged Peter aside and slid in beside him. Nobody said anything when Tony draped one arm across the pillows and the other around Peter, pulling him close and hiding his own face in Peter’s shoulder. Nobody dared to even think anything when Tony’s own body started shaking with tears, instead all choosing to leave the room silently. Nobody would need to know that two of them cried together until they both fell asleep.
Except everybody would soon find out about this because Pepper was the queen of public relations and knew how to manipulate other people into feeling sorry for Tony to avoid the bad press. At the press conference that weekend where Peter would officially be introduced, Pepper started the talk by playing security footage of them in the hospital room. She only played a small portion of it because nobody needed to see the full clip of them crying together, but she did cut to the end where they had both fallen asleep. Then, she started speaking. “I understand why there is some negativity about Tony Stark adopting a child,” she began with. “We all saw the interviews. The parties. The recklessness. All of that stopped years ago, however, and yet everybody is stuck in the past. This side of Tony Stark?” She pointed at the picture of them on the hospital bed. “This side of Tony Stark is something nobody ever wanted to try to see. Yes, he has made some mistakes in the past, but Tony Stark of today? He is the best man I know.”
The photos on screen changed to Peter’s official school photo. “This boy? His name is Peter Parker. Tony adopted him when the kid was fifteen years old. They didn’t even know each other for a full year before Tony rushed into adopting him the second Peter lost his last living relative. That isn’t me bragging about how good of a man Tony Stark is: that’s me bragging about the kind, loveable, selfless boy who somehow found a place in Tony’s distrustful heart. These past few days, everybody has been talking about Tony’s past, but everybody has also been talking about Peter’s. Yes, it’s true, he’s had a sad life: his parents passed away when he was just a small child, leaving him in the care of his aunt and uncle. He had to watch his uncle die of a gunshot wound and then watch his aunt die from health issues. This isn’t something that should be common knowledge, but somehow, it is. I wish I wouldn’t have to address his sad life, but I do before other people get more thoughts into their heads.
“I want everybody to take away one thing from this situation: Tony Stark didn’t adopt a teenage boy with a sad life just to gain some credit in the public eye. The idea that some people believe this is insulting. Peter has been living with us since March of last year, yet this is the first anybody has heard of it. The culprit of the leak has been found and is being dealt with by our legal team. Nobody wanted this to happen. Peter wasn’t yet ready to move to the public eye, so we allowed him to stay hidden as long as he wished. Now, he is known by the world, and there is nothing he or any of us could do about that. What we could do is this: respect his privacy. Don’t use his dark past as a way to further exploit him. Let him have his friends, let him leave our home without being followed by paparazzi, and let him live his life as he should. You are all about to have the privilege to meet with Peter Parker as he comes out here and answers questions for you. He is allowed to refuse any question he wants, and nobody is going to argue. You may all twist the words all you want in your news articles, but this is being livestreamed to our own online pages rather than just playing on the news. Be mindful of him when he comes out. He never asked to deal with the cameras. He never asked to deal with the interviews. Thank you.”
After Pepper left the stage, it took a few moments for Peter to gain the strength to walk out like planned, but he managed. Happy stood (mostly unscathed) directly behind him for both protection and encouragement with Rhodey only a few steps behind. Rhodey was there to call out people to have them ask their questions and turn down the too personal ones. Tony and Pepper stood off on one side, both ready to step in should it get out of hand. The rest of the Avengers were either mixed in with the crowd or standing on the other side of the stage as Tony and Pepper. He had his support group there with him. He could do it.
The first question was simple. “Mr. Parker, I understand that you are a student at Midtown School of Science and Technology. What grade are you in, and what would you say your favorite subject is?”
He was relieved it was so easy. “I’m a junior, and I like anything science, really.”
Another reporter. “How are you feeling after that attack earlier this week?”
There was no soreness or anything remaining. His healing rocked. “I’m still a little sore, I guess, but I’m getting through it. Tony has been, uh, he’s been helping me a lot. Took a few hours to convince him I was okay enough to handle this interview today.” That was the truth, too, even if it wasn’t for physical injuries. Tony had nearly called the whole thing off, but Pepper calmed him down.
“How does it feel knowing that one day you are going to be in charge of everything Mr. Stark has created?”
The nerves in his body continued to fade away because, really, he was expecting much worse than what he was getting asked. “It’s scary, I have to admit, but I’ll have time to learn. I’m not expecting to take over any time soon.”
The next question made him falter a little bit and his heartbeat skyrocketed. “With Iron Man being such a well-known presence and one of the founding members of the Avengers team, how are you prepared to handle any possible injuries to your guardian, or perhaps something worse?”
“Next question, please,” Rhodey said, allowing Peter to breathe out in relief. That was a question he didn’t even want to think about more than he had already.
“We all know drunken Tony. Business Tony. Flirty Tony. Avenger Tony. What’s Dad Tony like?”
“Oh! We call that Iron Dad,” Peter said, and then he immediately felt himself turn red by saying that. He didn’t really mean to say it, but he popped in his head and then came out of his mouth. “But, uh… I don’t know. He’s great. That’s all there is to it. Sometimes it feels strange to have Iron Man ask me if my room is clean or if I remembered to turn in my homework. I’ve watched Disney movies with Iron Man. I’ve roughhoused with Iron Man. Iron Man sometimes makes me my lunch for school. My friends get a real kicker out of that one. In case anyone was wondering, Tony is definitely that person who will sit on the remote while he watches you go crazy looking for it.” He hoped he was doing a good job. Before the conference, he was basically told to go for as adorable as he could. Being a sixteen-year-old and not a six-year-old, going for adorable was a little difficult. “Tony as a parent is…He’s very similar to the way he was when he was my boss, except not at all, you know what I mean? Because now he makes dad jokes and gives me chores to do that doesn’t include science. Tony’s personality isn’t always an exaggeration. He has always been a fun guy to be around. Now he’s a fun guy to be around who makes me eat all this healthy food to ‘maintain a well-balanced diet.’”
“Seeing as how all of the Avengers live under one roof, you must spend a lot of time with them. What’s that like?”
“Everybody is amazing. They were all crazy-super supportive when Tony brought me in. I had met them all before, too, because me and Tony had grown kinda close even if I was just an intern at the time. We’re one giant family. When, uh…” He cleared his throat. “When what happened a few days ago happened, they all jumped in to find me, and they hover almost as much as Tony has because of it. It’s kinda weird sometimes, watching them fight together on TV like well-oiled machines just to watch some of them chase each other around the place when someone eats the last slice of pizza. I’d be happy to use some stories of them as blackmail in the future.”
Talking so openly about his life at home was easy yet difficult at the same time. It was easy because all the stories were true, but it was difficult because he had to go against his initial thoughts on what to say. He wasn’t trying to look like an anxious nerd who mumbled and gave two-word answers. He was trying to channel enough of his real personality that he saved for his friends and family. While he was normally quiet and reserved around large groups of people, he couldn’t afford to act on that. Since he was talking about his family, though, it came off in a way that made it feel real and not as if he was over-thinking literally everything about what he was doing.
He made it through the rest of the questions without much issue. He was fairly certain that he came off much more likeable during the interview than he ever did during school. Later that night when he finally decided to scroll through what people were saying over social media, he was surprised at all the positive responses that came from his classmates.
Who would have thought that Parker had a sense of humor? #PeterParkerWHO
mike wazowski @michaelxlewis
Weve been going to school with iron mans son all year remind me to tell him sorry next time i see him #PeterParker
Sweet little Petey??? Had no idea about all those parents. But he keeps smiling, good on him (: #PeterParker @TonyStark
Christina Aguafina @stinasays
Shout out this boy who is literally a billionaire yet never tries to show off. Also Tony Stark crying? Ouch #PeterParker
But is nobody gonna talk about how @TonyStark said that @PeterParkour literally saved his friend in that car accident a few days ago #PeterParker
Ned Leeds @nedward
THERE GOES MY BEST FRIEND #PETERPARKER #THATSMYBESTFRIEND #TONYSTARKKNOWSMYNAME
Fast as Flash @flashthompson
Mad respect for @PeterParkour cause he could have had Iron Man beat me up but he didnt #PeterParker
Most news outlets were on his side, too, talking about how nice of a man both he and Tony were and other positive things about their relationship. Some weren’t as positive, but those ones went mostly under the radar. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to having to return to school on Monday because he expected so many reporters, but he felt a little more confidence after both seeing his classmates ignore the reporters a few days ago and then reading their responses to the press conference. How it happened kind of sucked, but news of the adoption was bound to come out, and he was honestly expecting worse from the population.
Of course, being kidnapped briefly was awful. But the rest? He could deal with that.