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What's Wrong with the System?

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He was there again. Faceless people standing over him, watching and laughing at him. Distorted whispers bouncing from ear to ear. Isn’t he a pretty one? A hand reached out and touched his shoulder. Another slid down his back. A nice catch, if I say so myself. The people had faces now, but they seemed to morph and slip into a different person every time Peter tried to look at one. They all shifted, but something always stayed the same. Their eyes. Cold and dark. Peter knew those eyes. Another hand moved up his leg. Peter tried to open his mouth to cry for help. To say something. Anything.

 

It wouldn’t open. His lips seemed to be sealed shut. His screams were muffled, but audible. Nobody seemed to pay them any attention. One of the shadows with his face leaned in close. Peter could smell the beer on his breath. The shadow raised it’s hand and…

 

BEEP BEEP

 

BEEP BEEP

 

BEEP BEEP

 

Peter never thought the day would come when he was thankful for his morning alarm. He shot up, breath ragged, eyes darting around the room for a few seconds before he reached his hand up to shield his eyes from the light pouring through his small window. He fumbled around with his other hand on his bedside table, if you could call it that, for his phone, squinting at the harsh blue light. It was seven in the morning, and shouting could already be heard from downstairs. The Gordians weren’t exactly the quietest foster family he’d ever been with.

 

But having been in their care for a little over a year, it had just become background noise. Loud, harsh, background noise. Mrs. Gordian always seemed to be mad at something. The neighbors, the little yappy dog that lived across the street, or how her husband never cleaned up after himself. And most often, Peter. Peter was just glad he didn’t have to share a room with their son. He was the spitting image of his parents.

 

Peter threw on whatever shirt wasn’t incredibly wrinkled and headed downstairs. He slipped past the living room that was currently occupied by the Gordians and their screaming match and into the kitchen. He moved quickly and quietly, but Mrs. Gordian still saw him.

 

“Peter!”

 

“Yes, Mrs. Gordian?” He asked cautiously.

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” She came through the doors and watched as Peter got a box of cereal and a banana.

 

“Making breakfast?”

 

She eyed the banana on the counter. “Don’t get greedy, boy. There are others in this house that need to eat too. And you know how little the system pays me to keep your ungrateful behind here,” Her voice was calm, but dripping with malice. Peter slowly put the banana back in the fruit bowl. Mrs. Gordian left, and Peter scarfed down the rest of his cereal. He raced back upstairs to grab his backpack.

 

“Don’t run in the house!” Mr. Gordian yelled.

 

“Sorry!” Peter walked the rest of the way out the door. He was thankful that his foster parents had given him a Metrocard. Or, rather, not taken it away when they found out he had one. He rode the three stops to school, peoplewatched on the way, and blended in with the swarm of students walking up the steps to the front door.

 

As promised, Ned was standing at the entrance, and wordlessly handed Peter a granola bar. Ned was Peter’s first real friend. Not just at Midtown, but ever. Not counting the other three-year olds that were in the playgroup his mom put him in all those years ago. Ned was also the only person who knew about Peter’s “parental situation” and all the horrors it entailed. Ever since Peter had told him, Ned always packed a few extra things in his lunch to give to Peter.

 

“Thanks, man.” Peter said as he took the granola bar.

 

“Don’t worry about it. So, I was thinking- after school today, do you wanna come to my house and watch Star Trek? There’s a new episode!” Ned walked beside Peter, extremely careful not to brush shoulders without warning.

 

“Dude, of course! I just gotta be home by-”

 

“Home by 6:30. Yup. Don’t worry. I wouldn’t let you get your ass beat just because we were watching Star Trek.” Ned laughed. Peter grimaced, knowing that if he was late, he would, in fact, get his ass beat. Quite literally.

 

“Can we go in already? I gotta turn something in to my chem teacher.” Peter readjusted his backpack.

 

“You mean our chem teacher? We sit next to each other!”

 

Our chem teacher.” Peter rolled his eyes. He pulled a piece of paper out of his bag and handed it to the teacher.

 

“Peter, I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.” Their teacher smiled, as they practically ran out of the door to make it to homeroom on time.

 

“What was that?”

 

“You mean the thing I turned in?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“An internship application.”

 

“I didn’t know there was an internship available? It wasn’t on the board…?” Ned seemed confused.

 

“I don’t know, man. Ms. Reynolds just gave the packet to me.”

 

“Where is it? The lab at Queens Community? I heard that’s a pretty good one.”

 

“Nah. Stark Industries.”

 

Ned’s jaw dropped. “Peter. What the fuck. A Stark internship? A. Stark. Internship. Do you know how cool that is? When you get it it’ll look absolutely fantastic on your resume. You know how colleges eat that stuff up.”

 

If I get it. It’s typically for college students working on their Master’s and graduate degrees. Mrs. Reynolds just thought my test scores and practical experience might be enough to get me in. I don’t think I’ll get it, though. I looked on the website and it says that people from STEM colleges usually apply. Like, MIT and Georgia Tech, and stuff like that.”

 

“Well, I’m rooting for you.” Ned said sincerely.

 

“Thanks.” Peter laughed. “I hope I get it. It’s probably only going to be going on coffee runs anyway. Still, it’s another thing to keep me busy. So I don’t have to be at home.” He looked down at his feet, wishing he hadn’t brought that point up. He hadn’t meant to pull the “poor orphan Peter” card.

 

“You know, you’re welcome at my place any time, right? Just say you’re coming over for a sleepover.”

 

“Pfft. You’d really think they’d let me go for a sleepover? They’re pissy enough as it is when I just come for the afternoon.”

 

“Just sayin’. Maybe I could…” Ned’s eyes lit up. “Shove you in my suitcase and cart you off to the Bahamas with me.”

 

They laughed loudly, getting a few side-eye looks from the students around them. “You know I’m not a fan of small spaces. I’d probably spontaneously combust as soon as you started zipping me up.”

 

“You’re claustrophobic?”

 

“Yeah, dude. Harry Potter situation? Living under the stairs?” It was an attic, but still.

 

“Right. I’ll just get a big suitcase then.” They started to laugh again, but this time got an accusatory throat clearing from the teacher. The entire student body was convinced that Mrs. Curnow had a stick up her ass. That’s why she was so uptight. “Sorry, Mrs. Curnow.”

 

She gave them a glare, and returned to angrily typing on her laptop. They sat in silence for the rest of the class. Homeroom was only ten minutes, but it was the principle of the matter that bothered Peter.

 

Classes seemingly went by in mere seconds. They only half paid attention to the lectures, choosing instead to write notes and whisper things across the aisle. They’d got really good at not getting called out by the teachers. At lunch, Peter was sitting in his regular place, eating the food that may or may not have been supplied by Ned.

 

The tingle in the back of Peter’s skull realised the apple was coming before Peter did. It hit him square in the back of his head, but Peter stayed still. He didn’t want to make it any weirder than it already was. Couldn’t Flash leave the food fights to poorly produced teen dramas?

 

Peter rubbed the back of his head, wincing at the lump already forming. He didn’t allow himself to look in Flash’s direction. Instead, Flash walked over to him and sat in the seat to his right.

 

“What’s up, Penis? Smooth sailing with your boyfriend?” Peter winced once again at the malicious-sounding voice, shuffling a bit across his seat in an attempt to get away.

 

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Peter mumbled. He flashed an awkward side-eye to Ned. I’m sorry .

 

“Flash, can we not? Can we not do this today?” Ned rubbed his brow, clearly unimpressed with Flash’s bravado.

 

“Why? Want me to leave so you can ‘get it on’ with ol’ Parker here?” Flash made a kissy face.

 

“Seriously, dude. If you sink any lower, you’d hit bedrock. Let’s just eat a civilized lunch today.” Peter turned around to face Flash. A chime sounded somewhere out in the hall.

 

“Fine. But only cause the bell rang and I gotta turn in an internship application for Stark Industries .” He was clearly bragging now. Peter and Ned just let it drop, rolling their eyes before gathering their stuff and leaving for class.

 

“Wow. Stark Industries. So impressive.” Peter deadpanned.

 

“Well, now you’ve got another legitimate reason to win this internship.” Ned offered.

 

“And what is that?”

 

“To rub it in Flash’s ugly face, of course.” Ned gave an awkward smile and waved as he went to his next class. He had French while Peter took Spanish. He was good at it, but it was his least favorite class. The class periods after lunch seemed to move so slowly compared to the rest of the day. He went home without seeing Ned again. He didn’t even bother to engage with his foster parents, choosing instead to head straight up to his room.

 

The next few weeks were uneventful. Nothing happened at school. Nothing happened at home, which was unusual. The November chill had set in, and everyone and everything seemed to be too cold to do anything. Even the taxis seemed to honk a little less aggressively. The slow motion seemed to stop as soon as Mrs. Reynolds told Peter to stay after class that afternoon.

 

He frantically sent a text asking permission to his foster parents, getting a “K” in response. Ned said that he would wait for him outside the class, and then they could walk home together. He flashed a quick thumbs up to Mrs. Reynolds. As the last bell rang, Peter made his way to the chemistry lab. He tentatively knocked on the door and asked, “Mrs. Reynolds? You wanted to see me?”

 

She looked up from her computer and smiled. “Yes! Peter, it’s good to see you. Remember when I asked you and some other students to apply for the Stark internship?”

 

“Yeah. Didn’t Flash apply as well?”

 

Mrs. Reynolds pursed her lips. “He did, but I didn’t recommend him for it. Between you and me, he’s a bit arrogant.” Peter knew all too well. “Anyways, you could apply to multiple intern positions with the same application. I looked over yours before I mailed it in, and signed you up for the positions that I thought you would do the best in.”

 

“And…?” Peter furrowed his brows.

 

“I would like to congratulate you on your new internship! I’m so proud of you, Peter. This is an amazing opportunity and I wish you the best of luck. Now, before you go asking, I don’t know your official position yet. All I got was an email saying you were accepted.”

 

Peter’s face broke into a huge grin. “Mrs. Reynolds! Thank you so much! Can I hug you?”

 

Mrs. Reynolds smiled and walked around in front of her desk. She opened her arms and welcomed Peter in for a hug. She was shorter than Peter, but she gave pretty damn good hugs.

Chapter Text

Peter walked out of the chemistry lab and across the hall to Ned. “I got it!” Peter’s face was a beacon of barely controlled glee.

“You got it?” Ned smiled.

“I got it!” Peter nodded vigorously.

“That’s amazing! When do you start?”

“Next Monday.”

“That’s only… what… five days away?”

Peter laughed, “Yeah. Come on, we’re wasting daylight! We need to get to your house if we want to be able to watch a full episode.”

“Did Flash make it?” Ned asked.

“Nope. Isn’t that beautiful? That dick finally got his ass handed to him.” They pushed the heavy doors open and headed out into the fading light.

“He’s probably gonna be on your case more, though.”

“Ugh. Didn’t think about that.”

“Who else made it?” They rounded a corner.

“I’m the only kid from Midtown. There were five open positions. Two people from MIT, one guy was returning applicant, and then a girl from Emory got the only biotech spot. But she’s in graduate school for biotech, so that makes sense.”

“So you’re the only high schooler.”

“Yeah.” Peter admitted.

“You little freakin’ genius prodigy kid.” Ned mock growled. “Hot damn! I wish I could be like you.” he grabbed the keys from his pocket and fumbled for the right one. “Come in. Shoes off, drop your bag in my room, you know the deal. I’ma get the TV on. Grab some food if you’re hungry.” Peter was always hungry .

One short Star Trek episode later, Peter was on his way out the door again. He tugged his shoes on and threw his bag over his shoulder. He was running a bit late. He had to be home at 6:30, and it was already 6:15. The subway ride was ten minutes from Ned’s house to his, just by itself. He all but ran down the sidewalks and impatiently waited for the crosswalks to turn green. He flew down the steps into the Subway station and barged through the turnstile. He hopped on the train and headed back to his current home in Upper Queens.

It was 6:34 when he ran up to the door.

6:34.

Four minutes late. He wasn’t a religious person, but he hoped to God they they wouldn’t hear him come in 4 minutes late. It was only four minutes. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Right? He was wrong. He slowly opened the door, wincing at the obvious squeak of the hinges. Mr. Gordian swiveled around from his spot on the couch. Peter half-heartedly raised his hands in defense. “I swear I was going to get here on time. The subway was running late, and as soon as it got off I ran as fast as I could, and then there was-”

“Save it. I don’t want to hear another word out of your worthless mouth. I only impose one rule in this house, and it’s to be on time. You hear me? One rule. One simple rule. And you can’t even follow that? You’re a waste of space. I don’t even know why we keep you here if you’re so disobedient? I opened my home up to a poor kid like you and this is how you repay me? You know what happens to kids who get into trouble. They go back to the group homes. You don’t want that. Do you?” Mr. Gordian’s voice was getting steadily louder and louder.

Peter’s voice was shaky. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It’ll never happen again.”

“I don’t want to hear that ‘ It’ll never happen again ’ crap. What matters is that it did happen, and that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I can’t believe that you had the audacity to show up at our front door after curfew. You should just be happy that I’m not taking away that damn MetroCard.”

Mrs. Gordian came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “What he’d do this time?” She seemed more exasperated than annoyed.

“He was late.” Mr. Gordian accused.

“Of course he was. Peter, you really can’t do anything right, can you?”

“Mrs. Gordian, please, I-” Peter started. A loud slap echoed through the house. Peter’s hand flew to his cheek. It grew red and unshed tears gathered in Peter’s eyes, accompanied by a lump in his throat.

“Peter, go to your room and think about what you’ve done. Don’t bother coming down for dinner.” Mrs. Gordian said flippantly, as if she didn’t just hit Peter. Peter grabbed his bag and walked upstairs, head hung in shame. He felt heat rise in his cheeks and tears flow freely from his eyes. He was barely holding back sobs. The pain wasn’t even that bad, but the humiliation was worse. The fact that he has just allowed that to happen, and that he didn’t do anything to stop it. That was what really hurt. He felt so weak . Letting people hurt him and use him and he didn’t do anything to stop it. It was like Skip all over again.

Once he made it to his room, he didn’t leave his bed until it was time to get up for school again. He didn’t get any sleep.

---

For the next few days, he didn’t go to Ned’s house. He headed straight home. The Sunday evening before he was supposed to start his internship, he sat down at the dinner table and quietly served himself the smallest piece of chicken. They ate in silence for a few minutes, interrupted only by the clink of cutlery or a clearing of a throat. Peter spoke up. “Mrs. Gordian? I’ve been accepted into an internship program at Stark Industries.”

“And tell me why I care?”

“I, um, just wanted to let you know that I’ll be coming home late some nights. On Mondays and Thursdays, maybe a few in between if he needs me. I won’t be able to get home until 8:30.”

Mrs. Gordian raised her eyebrows. “You’d better figure something out for dinner, because I won’t be saving anything for you if you’re going to be that late.”

“Yes, ma’am. Of course.”

“I better not have to take you to and from Manhattan, either.” Mr. Gordian said.

“No, sir. I’ll take the subway.”

“When does it start?”

“Tomorrow, ma’am.” Peter answered timidly.

“Good.” she took a sip of her drink. Then, under her breath, “That means I won’t have to deal with him.” Peter just pretended that he didn’t hear that. He tried to focus on that fact that they actually let him go. When he finished clearing up the kitchen, he ran back up to his room and pulled out his least-wrinkled button-up shirt and a pair of black jeans from his drawer. He laid them out over a chair to let the wrinkles fall out. For the first time in a while, he went to bed excited.

He got to school, and was allowed to leave early in order to make it to Stark Tower on time. He rode the subway under the river, and he emerged in Stark Plaza. He looked up at the shining tower of sparking glass, and headed up the stairs to the entrance. He walked through the revolving door and into the lobby. It was a modern architect’s fantasy. The triple-height ceilings and glass walls kept it light and airy, and one of the walls in the back was a vertical farm, to show Stark Industries’ commitment to clean energy.

Peter walked up to one of the many reception desks. The woman sitting there, whose name tag read “Lucy”, smiled at him and asked, “How can I help you?”

“Hi,” Peter said nervously. “My name is Peter Parker? I’m here for the internship program? I was told I start today?”

“Peter… Parker….” she said as she deftly typed it on her keyboard. “From Midtown School of Science and Technology?” Peter nodded. “Alright, Peter! I’m printing out your badge, and then I’ll take you up to the lab. Jeremy?” Another receptionist looked over. “Can you cover for me for a sec? I’m gonna take this intern to the lab.” Jeremy flashed a thumbs up. “Alright! Peter, right this way.” He followed her past the desks, through security, and up to the elevators. You’re going to be on the 122nd floor. I’ll take you as far as I can, but I don’t have the clearance to go very far on that floor.” They exited the elevator and headed down a long, wide, hallway.

“Why not?”

“This is a personal lab floor. I’m not even really supposed to be here.”

“Personal lab? Why would I be up here? I’m just an intern.”

She looked at Peter in confusion. “Did nobody tell you?”

“Tell me what, ma’am?”

“You’re Mr. Stark’s personal intern.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “I’m what now?”

“His personal intern. Ms. Potts reviewed all the final applicants and gave everyone their positions herself. I guess she saw something in you.” She smiled kindly. “Anyways, this is where you get off.” Peter looked to his right and saw a pair of big frosted glass doors, with at least three different keypads to the side. “It’s Mr. Stark’s personal lab, and from the music absolutely blasting in there, I’d say he’s in there.” she laughed.

“Thank you so much. For everything.” Peter said sincerely. Lucy the receptionist smiled again, and waved as she left to take the elevator back to the lobby. Peter, on the other hand, turned and faced the massive doors. He tentatively knocked on one, to no response. The music was too loud to be able to hear anything. He knocked again, and once again, nothing. Peter swiped his new badge against the scanner, and heard a click as the doors hopefully opened. He pushed inwards, and they moved with him. The music hit him immediately, irritating his enhanced senses. The one and only Tony Stark was banging his head to the beat as he work on something on the back table.

“Mr. Stark?”

Chapter Text

There was no response. Peter tried again, a little louder this time. “Mr. Stark?” Tony didn’t turn around, but put down his screwdriver and waved the holographic screens away.

“FRIDAY? Pause the music.” he yelled over the guitar solo blasting through the speakers. The music turned off, giving Peter’s ears a much needed break. “Pepper, is that you?” he said, still facing the windows.

“Um, no, sir. My name is Peter Parker? I’m your intern?” Tony spun on his heels and looked at Peter.

“The intern thing? That was today? FRIDAY, why didn’t you tell me?”

A voice from the ceiling responded, “Ms. Potts reminded you of it in the briefing this morning.”

Tony cursed. “Damn. Pepper knows I don’t actually listen to those.” He shook his head. “Kid, I’m so sorry that I forgot that was today. I just was caught up in this,” he gestured to the mess behind him on the table, “and to be completely honest, I haven’t slept a full six hours in a while. Alright. Introductions. You’re Peter Parker, right? I’m Tony Stark. Nice to meet you. You can, um, put your stuff over there on the couch and I’ll meet you over there in a sec. I just gotta make sure this isn’t going to blow up. Exposed wires are touchy.”

Peter went to drop his backpack on the beat-up couch shoved haphazardly in the back corner. He sat and waited for Mr. Stark, like he was told. He wasn’t about to disobey his new boss within less than five minutes of meeting him. He sat and looked around at all the equipment surrounding him. There were huge rolling cabinets filled with tools on one of the back walls, and a large glass case displaying the Iron Man suits. One of the gauntlets was laying on the table closest to Peter, with the ring finger held on only by three wires.

Mr. Stark walked over to the couch and said, “Peter Parker. Tell me about yourself. Who are you and why are you here?”

“I, um, my name is Peter, but you already know that. I’m sixteen, and I go to Midtown School of Science and Tech.”

“Is that it? Where are you from? What do your parents do? What do you like to do? Come on, kid. I’m trying to make an effort here.”

“Oh! I’m sorry, sir. I live in Queens right now and I… like science.”

“Well, I hope so. Lab tour?” Tony asked. He noticed that Peter completely avoided the question about his parents. Peter got up and followed close behind Tony as he showed off his lab.

“Those are the suits. Every so often I’ll take ‘em out and update the software, but they’re mostly decor as this point.” He pointed to the holographic screens. “These are what I make most of my calculations and design plans on. There like a regular computer, but more see-through and with more programs.”

They weaved between the lab tables and to the other side of the room. Peter looked over to see a very expensive car held up in order to work on the underside.

“What’s the car?” Peter asked quietly.

“A McLaren P1. I’m trying to make the engine run on an arc reactor instead of gas.” He laughed.

“More horsepower as well,” Peter mumbled to himself more than Tony.

“What was that, kid?”

“Oh- Um- Adding the reactor could maybe increase the potential for more horsepower at it’s unlimited top speed as well,” Tony looked at the kid in shock, quickly looking away as he wondered how smart this kid actually was. He knew Pepper would pick someone good for him, but he was a bit unsure when a teenager showed up. Now, he was a bit more confident. He was evidently a very smart teenager.

Tony opened a door and beckoned Peter through to the lab on the other side. “This is my chem lab. It’s got chemicals and other supplies over there, containers on this wall, and safety stuff over on the other side.” He closed the door and they walked over to the more mechanical part of the lab.

“That’s really about it. Any questions? Ask me or FRIDAY.”

“Who’s FRIDAY?” Peter asked.

“FRI, say hi to Peter.”

“Hello, Peter.” Peter’s head spun around wildly, trying to figure out where the voice came from.

“She’s my AI. She’s nowhere and yet, everywhere.” Tony said mysteriously, waving his hands as if he was casting a spell.

Peter seemed to be finally be interested. “An AI? What does she run on? There must be like, a million servers! How long did it take you to code her? Did you do the code in Atom? Is she just in the building, or were you able to integrate the software into portable devices and computers? How were you able to hide the sensors and cameras so well?”

Tony laughed. “Damn, kid! You can techno-babble like the best of them. Able to compete with me, even. To answer your questions, FRIDAY is integrated into all of the tower and into my personal devices. I was actually hoping you’d be able to help me make a dumbed-down version of her to put in the next model of the StarkPhone. There are 5 very big servers that she uses. One for audio, one for video, one for speech and speech recognition, as well as interpreting body language. The other two are for her core and her information gathering capabilities. It took me about a year to finish her, but I based a lot of the code on my old AI. And, I code in a personalized coding program that I named Lantern. Also the cameras and stuff are just hidden in the walls.”

Peter looked amazed that he knew all that off the top of his head. “That’s… that’s revolutionary. The only other AI I’ve ever used was Alexa, and even she isn’t able to do all of that.”

“Yup. FRIDAY is the top of the line. Better than even Watson over at IBM.” The conversation seemed so easy. Peter couldn’t believe that he was being treated like an equal , even by his boss. Tony didn’t look at him like the rest of the adults did.

“Right. You know where everything is now, and mostly how it works. I guess I should lay down some ground rules?”

Shit . Peter thought. He knew the fantasy wouldn’t last long. He subconsciously hunched his shoulders in a little bit.

“Rule one. I hope this should be fairly obvious. Don’t make stupid decisions. Like, don’t put potassium and sodium in water.” Peter let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He thought that the rules would be quite a bit harsher. Like, don’t-speak-unless-spoken-to-type rules, like there were at home.

“And that brings me to rule two. When working with explode-y things, check your math. And then check it again. Then check it again, and then bring it to me. I don’t want you to get hurt, and I also don’t want a nother half-melted lab table.” Peter blinked. He expected safety rules, but Mr. Stark explicitly saying that he cared for him? Why would be so inclined to do that? They just met.

“Rules three and four are more for me that they are for you. Don’t freak out if another Avenger comes in here, because I am old, and my ears aren’t built to listen to boyish screams anymore. And if you’re hungry, eat. A full belly means a working mind. I can speak from experience, work binges are only fun if you’re not hungry. If you forget or want more, don’t be afraid to raid my fridge.” He gestured to a lavishly stocked pantry in the corner.

Peter couldn’t believe it. He had known Tony for, what… less than an hour? And he was already nicer than his foster parents. He told himself it didn’t mean anything though. Everyone seemed nice at first. Even Skip. And look where that ended up. The only thing he could even think to say was, “Thank you.”

Tony just looked at him in confusion.

“Thank you, sir. So much. For all of this. Really. I just… I don’t usually get all-” Peter stopped himself before he exposed himself. He really had to stop pulling the “poor orphan Peter” card. Sometimes, he didn’t even know he was doing it. He was just telling the truth. Besides, what was he going to say, anyways? I don’t usually get all this attention? I don’t usually get all this food? I don’t usually get all of this civility? It was definitely good he stopped talking now.

“Alrighty then.” Tony cleared his throat. “I literally know nothing about you right now, except for your name, where you go to school, and that you like science. You gotta give me something more. What do you specialize in?”

“I don’t really know, sir. I’m taking chemistry right now, but my last big project was a biotech project. Recombinant DNA and molecular cloning and all that. I’ve always been good at physics, though.”

“So you’re well rounded.”

“I guess so, sir.”

“You’ve got to stop with the ‘sir’. It’s making me feel old. You know who they called ‘sir’? Mr. Howard Stark. I don’t like to associate myself with him.” Peter could totally feel where he was coming from. “And secondly, what if we do a kind of proficiency test in each subject? Just so I can get a sense of what you do best.”

Maybe Peter was reading into it too much, but he noticed that Tony said ‘what you do best’ rather than ‘what you’re not good at’. When you don’t get much attention at all, you really do start to pick up on the little things.

“That sounds good, Mr. Stark.”

“Cool. Cool. Let’s do mechanics and engineering first. I’m working on this McLaren right now because I think it looks very cool, and that it doesn’t go fast enough. Also, it’s electric motor range is like, the worst. 11 kilometers, and then it runs out of juice. Isn’t that dumb? Anyway, like I said, I’m hooking it up to another arc reactor. I haven’t done much besides getting the reactor ready. Do you want to unhook the motor and prep it for the new one? It shouldn’t be that hot anymore. The controls for the auto-lift are on the side panel, if you need to get under the hood.”

Peter nodded, and Tony threw him a pair of work gloves. Peter brought the car back down to the ground and popped open it’s hood. “Mr. Stark?” he called.

“How do I get one of those holographic screens up?”

“Ask FRIDAY!” Tony yelled back. He had turned on his music again and was making himself a cup of coffee.

“FRIDAY? Can you please put the schematics on a screen for me?” Peter asked cautiously. A blue screen popped up a few feet from his face, and it displayed a 3D model of the car, slowly spinning around. “Can you zoom in on the engine, please?” The task that Mr. Stark had put him too didn’t seem that hard. He had once had to fix the Gordians’ car after their son ran into a tree, so he knew a little bit. But all he had to do was disconnect a few tubes and wires, and then take the engine out, being careful not to disturb the rest of the systems.

“Mr. Stark? All you wanted was to take the engine out, right?”

“Yeah. Why?” Tony looked back up from the gauntlet he was messing with.

“I’ve finished. What’s next?” Peter took his work gloves off.

Tony’s eyes widened. “You’re done ? I thought that would take me a couple of hours, at least. Lemme come see what you did.”

“I pulled up the schematics and looked for what the engine itself was attached to. I then disconnected anything keeping it in, and removed the bolts keeping it in place. All the parts that I took out are over there on the table, in case you need them later.”

Tony lifted his head out of the cavern the now-missing engine once laid in. “Pretty straightforward, huh.” he said. He lifted a hand in the air, trying to initiate a high-five. Peter returned the gesture tentatively, lightly tapping Tony’s fingertips. “That was disappointing. Hit it like you mean it.” This time, Peter gave a satisfactory high five.

“FRIDAY, time check?”

“It’s six thirty-nine PM.”

“Oh! It’s kinda late. I didn’t realize it was this late. Do you want to go home? Or I can order pizza and we can keep working? What do you wanna do now you’ve finished with the engine?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Do what?”

“Let me stay, and, um, order food.”

“I like having you around. You’re nice, and you’re good at what you do, and you don’t talk that much. A few other interns I’ve had before just wouldn’t shut up .” Peter made a mental note not to talk very much, as Tony seemed to like it. “What do you want for dinner? Pizza was just a suggestion.”

“I can choose?” Peter was just used to eating whatever subpar meal Mrs. Gordian had made whenever it was time for dinner. Not once in one and a half years, had he been allowed to choose.

“Sure, bud. Anywhere in New York. What do you fancy?”

Peter thought for a moment. “I haven’t had Thai in a while?” It wasn’t a lie. When he was younger, he loved to eat Thai food. They had a lot of it too, as their apartment was over a Thai restaurant. He hadn’t been able to eat it since he was put in the system.

“Oooh. Thai sounds good. There’s a good place in Union Square. FRIDAY, open the menu, would you?” It popped up on the screen to his left. “Thanks, darling.”

“Can I have Pad Thai?” Peter asked cautiously. He had never asked for something so forwardly before.

“Sure. FRIDAY, add that to the list. Get Pepper and Rhodey whatever they want, too. And anyone else on this floor who’s interested. I’ll have the Praram. Tell ‘em it’s on me and that they can pick it up in here when it’s here. Also, get a few other things as well in case we get more hungry. Leave the doors unlocked.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stark. So much. For paying, and just offering, and- Do you want me to go pick it up?”

“Pssh. No. I’ve got people for that. I’ll get a lower level intern to do it. You’re my lab assistant. I’m not gonna waste you on picking up takeout.” A beat of silence. “Hand me that screwdriver though. The Phillips head one, and also those tweezers.”

Peter almost tripped over himself trying to gather the requested materials and hand them Tony. “Thanks.” He unceremoniously shoved the screwdriver between two metal panels and all but tore them apart. He could see the aghast look on Peter's face and just laughed. “Thought it’d be a bit more sophisticated?” Peter just nodded. “Eh. I just can’t remember what I used to stick this together and I can’t be bothered to find out. This works just as well as the resolving fluid.

Not a lot happened after that. They sat around Tony’s lab table and waited for the Thai to arrive. Peter would occasionally hand Tony things, and he listened to Tony fondly tell tales of his wild youth. They ate in a comfortable silence, with only snippets of conversation permeating the quiet. It wasn’t tense like family dinners with the Gordians. Peter, as promised, didn’t freak out when Pepper and Bruce popped in to grab their food. Well, he didn’t freak out externally . On the inside, he was screaming.

He bid goodnight to Tony around eight. The commute back to Queens took about 45 minutes. He quietly closed the front door behind him, and slipped upstairs to his room, and flipped down on his bed with a smile on his face.

Overall, it had been a pretty good day. He spent the afternoon with his childhood hero, and better yet, found out that said hero actually liked and trusted him. With just a quick Google search, Peter found out that the car Mr. Stark let him work on was worth about 1.3 million dollars. And, that was without any modifications. It felt good to be trusted like that, especially when his foster parents couldn’t even trust him to spend the night at Ned’s.

He was kicking himself though. He wasn’t careful to follow out Mr. Stark’s instructions to a T. He said that he was happy that he didn’t talk that much, so next time, he’d make sure to be quiet. Peter fell asleep with these thoughts running round his head.

—-

The rest of the week fell in the same fashion. He went back to the Tower on Thursday. This time, though, they were in the chemistry lab instead of the mechanical one. Tony had sent him a pretty daunting task. He gave Peter the atomic structure of the element he created once, and asked Peter to try his hardest to recreate it. It took him the better of the time in the lab to even figure out what equation to use to try and conduct the experiment. Peter had spent hours hunched over, and using all the brain cells he had to try and figure out how to make one of the rarest elements on Earth.

To be completely honest, he didn't even really know where to begin. How the hell was he supposed to create a new element? The whole thing about elements on the periodic table is that they were natural. Well, most of them. And the guys who created new ones were like, science gods. How was a high school kid supposed to measure up with literal legends?

But try, he did. He did everything he could possibly think of.

It wasn’t enough.

He and Mr. Stark were working on different sides of the lab, with not much conversation. They were both acutely concentrated in their projects. Tony seemed to be actually making progress, however. Everything Peter tried all dwindled down to a single unsolvable question. Peter was determined not to ask for help, though, as this was supposed to be a test of his skills. Not him with Mr. Stark’s help. Tony hadn’t paid him much attention, but Peter supposed that was a good thing. He didn’t want Mr. Stark to see him so frustrated. Never before had science brought him to the brink of tears. He felt so helpless. So unworthy. Wasn’t he supposed to be good at science?

“Mr. Stark?”

“Yeah, kid?”

“Where’s the bathroom?”

“Down the hall, second door on your left.” Tony answered. He didn’t even look up from what he was doing. Peter closed the door quietly behind him and sped down the hall. He locked the door behind him and slumped over. It was darker and quieter in here, and that was a welcome reprieve from the thoughts racing around his head. Deep breaths , he thought. He watched as his chest rapidly rose and fell, and brought the heels of his hands against his eyes.

He took a shaky breath and looked up to the ceiling, willing the tears not to fall. It was only his second day. He couldn’t fail Mr. Stark like this. Peter supposed he had two options. One, stay in here a suspiciously long time and wait for the panic to resolve itself, and then have to go back in there and face the problem again. Two, go back to the lab after splashing his face with some cold water and face the music. Admit defeat. Declare failure.

What was worse? Peter wasn’t sure. Let down his childhood hero? Or try his hardest to solve the problem again, and risk yet another bout of panic? There wasn’t a good choice. It was more of a ‘lesser of two evils’ situation.

Peter decided to just bite the bullet and tell him. A healthy risk of punishment, but it had been drilled into him to always be honest. He wet the hand towel and pressed it to his eyes, willing the redness to go away. He turned the lights off as he left. Peter made sure the heavy doors to the lab closed quietly behind him. He felt exposed, standing on top of the small staircase that led from the threshold to the rest of the lab a few steps below. The last place he wanted to be was on a pedestal. He walked across the lab floor, not to his own seat, but to Mr. Stark’s. His bench was covered in parts, and there were at least three monitors displaying the diagnostics of his gauntlet.

Peter held back a sniffle and stood at the other side of the table for a minute before finally opening his mouth to speak. “Mr. Stark?” Tony looked up. “I- I tried. I tried really hard and I just can’t… I can’t figure it out. I don’t know how-” he was rudely interrupted by a sob. That was when Tony got up.

“Hey, hey. Peter? You okay?” Tony reached to place his hand on Peter’s shoulder, but recoiled when he saw Peter flinch. His eyes were scrunched closed.  “Can I touch you?” Peter’s lips were still pressed together, but he nodded anyway. “You can’t figure out how to make it?”

“Y-yeah.” Peter whispered. He looked up at Tony’s eyes. “Are you going to get mad?” Tony could feel Peter brace for impact.

“No, of course not. I’m not mad at you.” Peter let out a breath that he didn’t know he was holding.

“You’re not? But I…” he vaguely gestured to his work station. “I didn’t do what you asked…”

“And that’s okay. To be completely honest, I’m not a hundred percent sure how to do it either. That element was made when I was just messing around in the lab one day.” Peter nodded, relieved.

“I’m so- Okay.” He caught himself before he could apologize again. “I just thought that you would, you know…”

“That I would what?”

“It’s just that, at home, my parents- sometimes when I don’t do something right they… ” Peter looked at the floor and choked on a sob. “It hurts. They get really mad at me. And I didn’t want to fail you on just my second day here. It wouldn’t be right, you know? Like, I made it this far and when I’m actually here I just mess up. And then, you would get mad at me and it’s just bad for everyone.” Peter mumbled.

“Hey, hey, hey- that isn’t going to happen because I’m not mad. At all. In fact, I’m proud of you! The work you did on the P1 on, um,-”

“Monday.”

“Right. Monday. That was fantastic. Magnificent. Amazing. You figured it out really quickly! That shows me that you do have problem-solving skills. Just because you can’t figure out one chem question doesn’t mean you’re a terrible scientist. Hell, even Banner gets stumped sometimes.”

“He does?”

“Yup. And he’s one of the guys you science nerd kids look up to, right?” Peter nodded. “He’s human too. Well, most of the time.” Tony laughed to himself. “Tell you what. We’ll get pizza, and if you’re just itching to do some work, I need help calculating trajectories and scenarios for my suit. If you don’t want to, we can save it ‘till next time.”

“There’s going to be a next time?”

“Yeah! Of course! I’m not going to fire you because you couldn’t solve arguably the world’s hardest chemistry problem. After this whole testing phase as well, you can graduate to stuff more in your comfort zone. Next time, we’re doing physics, though. Then biology. And I don’t mean to freak you out by saying that, truly. I just want you to know what’s in store. What do you want on your pizza?”

“I can choose?”

Tony smiled softly. “Of course. I was thinking we’d each get one. I’m getting a medium pepperoni and mushroom. If you want to get a large, go ahead. You can take anything you don’t eat home.”

The pizza was delivered, and they ate in silence, choosing instead to listen to the music playing softly in the background. Peter got home that night around ten thirty. He didn’t see his foster parents as he came in. He didn’t want to, either. He just wanted to go to sleep. The events of the internship today had been a lot for him to handle. The fact that Mr. Stark wasn’t going to hit him made him see authority figures in a new light. They had always told him that he deserved it, whatever they had done to him. Mr. Stark didn’t care when he messed up. He was proud of him even when he messed up. It was a nice change from the rest of the adults in his life. He fell asleep to those comforting thoughts.

---

That was the weirdest experience that Tony had in a while . As soon as Peter closed the doors after he left, Tony ran his hands through his hair and sat down against the wall. Today, Peter simultaneously spilled his guts and tried his hardest not to. He knew Peter didn’t act like a normal kid, but Tony just thought he was polite. Now, he knew he was just scared. Scared of him, solely because he was an adult, and he thought that all adults were out to get him.

He said that sometimes his parents hurt him. Who knew if that was the full extent of it? Was it just verbal? Or did they actually hit him? It made his stomach turn. He didn’t want anyone to experience what his father did to him. Tony made the decision to help Peter whenever he needed. It was a strange feeling. He had an almost parental urge to make sure he was safe. It felt… nice. Weird.

Peter was a priority now. After he spilled his guts by accident, Tony had seen a side of him he hadn't expected to see. He bet the kid was kicking himself for being so vulnerable in front of his boss. But, Tony didn't care. In fact, he wanted to know more. Not in like, a weird, creepy way. He purely wanted to know the whole story, and if it was as bad as he thought it might be, get Peter out of there. He might even ask him to stay later a few days a week.

That was a good idea.

Chapter Text

Peter was suspiciously absent form his internship for the next two weeks. Tony was fine with it, as there were no specified hours, but it was odd to not have him in the lab anymore. It had become quite comfortable with another person in there. He sent an email to Peter asking when he’d return, but he never replied. But, life continued on without him. Albeit, with significantly less sleep, and more coffee. But life went on. Bruce popped his head in at one point, and asked where his intern went.

“He hasn’t showed up for the last couple sessions.” Tony fretted.

“I’m sure he’s just grounded or something. Maybe he stayed out past curfew or something. Got a little wild with his friends.”

“No, he wouldn’t... You wouldn’t understand. He’s a good kid. He barely ever talks, let alone breaks any rules or-”

“Tony Stark. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, mother hen. It’s a new look, that’s for sure.” Bruce laughed softly. “Well, shout for me when he gets back. Word on the street is that you want to do some bio experiments, and my door is always open.”

“Your lab is actually incredibly restricted.” Tony scoffed.

“There’s the smart-ass we all know and love.”

“Whatever. Go mess with your lab rats now.” Bruce closed the doors behind him, and Tony held his head in his hands. Where was the kid? He decided not to stress on it, and instead of worry, tinker instead. He stayed in the lab, definitely not stressing about Peter’s mysterious absence, until Pepper gently guided him into a shower and then into bed.

It was two weeks until Peter came back. Or rather, a poor imitation of Peter came back. He plastered on the fakest smile Tony had ever seen, and the bags under his eyes could easily hold a gallon of milk.

“Hey, kid! It’s good to see you again! Where’ve you been?” Tony held up his hand for a high-five, but slowly lowered it after he watched Peter flinch.

“I was grounded.” Peter kept his eyes trained on the concrete floor.

“O-kay. How do you feel about me going back on my word and we’ll do an easier chemistry experiment? You can leave your stuff in here. Meet me in the chem lab in a sec. I just gotta shut something down.” He did as he was told. He placed his things on the couch, and walked next door to the chemistry lab. He stood next to a lab table, uneasy on his feet. Being grounded in the Gordians’ house was not fun. Especially if your name happened to be Peter Parker.

He was having a good time after the internship, after the ‘incident’. Him and Mr. Stark had shared a few pizzas and he had watched him work on the gauntlets. He was updating the wire work that allowed the fingers to move easily. He had left the tower around 9:45, and got home about 10:30. He didn’t see his foster parents when he got home, and that was his first mistake. Well, his first first mistake was forgetting to text his foster parents to tell them that he’d be extra late.

The next morning, he came down the breakfast, completely oblivious to what was about to happen. He failed to notice the simmering rage that seemed to radiate from both Mr. and Mrs. Gordian. He started to get their breakfast ready, as he was normally told to do. Everything was fine, until Mr. Gordian opened his mouth to speak. “Peter, where were you last night?”

“Um, my internship.”

“My internship, what?”

“My internship, sir.”

“Right. And when my wife and I so very kindly agreed to let you go to this internship, what time did you promise to be home?”

“8:30, sir.”

“And what time did you come home last night?” Ms. Gordian asked.

“Around 10:30, ma’am.” It was the truth, but it was the wrong answer. He’d only get in more trouble for lying, though. “I’m very sorry. I lost track of time, and Mr. Stark and I were working on a chemistry experiment-”

Zip it . I don’t care what you were doing. What I care about is that you blatantly disobeyed a rule that I graciously agreed to change. You can’t even follow directions correctly? Even a toddler knows how to obey a rule! You’re just proving yourself to be even more worthless than I thought you were. Here I was, thinking that you could maybe redeem yourself after you broke curfew the first time. Obviously, I was wrong.”

“You’re pathetic. A waste of space. I don’t even know why, or how you got that damn internship to begin with. Did you cheat? Were you so desperate to be with your Mr. Stark that you would cheat to just be in the same room as him? Or, better yet, did he pick you because he likes you? So he can treat you like Mr. Westcott treated you? I bet you love getting down on your knees for your precious hero. I bet you even enjoy it.” Mrs. Gordian was yelling now. Malice lit up her eyes.

“Please! Please don’t bring him up, I-”

A slap echoed around the kitchen, bouncing off the walls and leaving a red mark on Peter’s cheek. Peter lifted up a hand to his cheek, his mouth open from shock. He felt tears well up in his eyes. He got up off the chair he was sitting on and backed away a few feet before tripping, and falling flat on the floor.

“We should invite him over sometime. I’m sure you learnt unforgettable things from him.” Mr. Gordian walked towards Peter and paused. He grabbed ahold of his arm, yanked him off his feet, and dragged Peter up the stairs and into his bedroom. Peter knew what was going to happen before they even got there. He tried to escape, not even bothering to hide the small whimpers coming from him.

Mr. Gordian slammed the door shut behind them and shoved Peter onto the floor. He started to undo his belt and Peter watched as he held it above his head. He hit Peter’s back with an inhuman amount of force that would’ve sent him to the floor if he wasn’t already there. Peter cried out in pain as the belt left a mark in his already bruised back. He was sure it would turn into a welt. If it had broken the skin, it would definitely scar.

Another hit left Peter curled up on his side, crying and trembling without control. Mr. Gordian didn’t have any mercy, and kept relentlessly beating Peter. In his mind, and now Peter’s, he deserved it.

Peter choked on his own sobs. His body hurt so much . As much as he hated himself for it, he just shut up and took the punishment. Rather that than fighting back and risking more lashes. He was sprawled over the rough carpet, trying in vain to at least get off his stomach. He scrabbled for the feet of the bed, hoping that having something in his hands would help to ground him. It helped, for a while. He was grabbing them so tightly that the sharp corners began to dig into his palms.

After that, he lost his grip on reality. His world became whatever was hurting him. Whether that be the belt, or Mrs. Gordian’s high-heeled foot slamming into his side.

The beating continued until Peter was numb, accepting the hits and the pain that came with it, he lay humbly on the floor and groaned when he was yanked up again. “You’re not going to go back to that ‘internship’ for a while.” Mr. Gordian snarled. “Don’t even think about coming out of your room.” He threw Peter out of his grip, and against the pointed corner of the bookcase. His cheek would definitely be bruised. Peter fell to his knees, chest heaving as Mr. Gordian closed the door and thumped back down the stairs.

Peter let himself sob in earnest now. Big, ugly cries that got caught in his throat and tears that dripped onto the floor below. He honestly didn’t think he could move. The logical side of his brain told him to go clean the cuts on his back and cheek, but he was too tired to leave the floor. He had retreated back into the dark, ugly corner of his brain. The part that agreed with Mr. Gordian that he deserved what just happened.

And from there, he spiraled. He started to relive his painful past. He crawled into bed, but couldn’t stay there for long. He swore he could feel Mr. Westcott breathing above him. He vowed he could feel rough hands holding his legs.

“Stop.” he pleaded to the empty room. “Stop, please! I don’t want to-” This time, louder. “No! You’re hurting me! You’re hurt-” Peter’s voice broke. “I don’t want to hurt anymore. Make it stop. Make… make it stop, please.” He curled in on himself, laying on his side with his knees to his chest and his arms wrapped tightly around him.

They left him alone for two days. It was both a blessing and a curse, as it allowed him time to heal, but that also meant no food. And with his metabolism, that wasn’t sitting well with him. His back stopped stinging, but was painful to the touch. Once the hunger pains started, however, Peter was reduced to a sobbing mess again. The knife in his gut kept twisting. On the third day, he was rudely awakened by a bucket of ice-cold water thrown in his face.

He gasped and stuttered as he shot up into a sitting position. “Up and at ‘em.” Mrs. Gordian deadpanned. “I want eggs for breakfast.” With that, she left. Peter made the eggs, and waited in the corner for them to tell him his next chore.

“Peter, the toast is burnt.” Mr. Gordian remarked.

“I’m sorry, sir. Would you like me to make you more?”

“No. A beating should suffice. Come here.” Peter swallowed hard and stepped forward to receive whatever was about to happen. This time, it was just a slap. He felt as if he got off easy, compared to the last two days.

The rest of his two-week grounding followed in a similar fashion. It felt as if the Gordians were trying to get rid of any spirit that Peter might have once had. He would be woken up at six every day, told to make breakfast, then scolded or punished if it wasn’t a chef-quality meal. Then, he was made to work around the house until the sun went down. If the floors weren’t sparkling by the time he was done, Mr. Gordian would come back up and get Peter reacquainted with the feeling of a belt whipping his back until it bled.

Peter regained his meek and submissive mindset. He was utterly confused when Mr. Stark didn’t act like the Gordians, especially with two weeks of non-stop abuse from them. He followed behind Mr. Stark as he opened the door to the chemistry lab. Tony turned around and said, “I was thinking we’d do some good-old fashioned chemistry. We’re going to mix chemicals and watch what happens. Any ideas?” Peter stayed quiet. “Alright. For the first one, I thought we could try potassium chlorate and sugar. Someone told me something cool happens, but I’ve never tried it myself. You go get a Bunsen burner, a beaker, and a stand. Oh, and a pipette. I’ll go grab the potassium and some gummy bears for the sugar.”

Peter went to grab the equipment, being careful not to drop the glassware. He put it down on the counter, and waited for Mr. Stark to return.

“I grabbed some extra stuff. Gummy bears for us to eat, and powdered sugar for science. The potassium chloride, and I’ve decided that we’ll use sulfuric acid instead of heat to catalyze the reaction.” Peter nodded, and began to measure out the powdered sugar on a little scale. “Want one?” He offered a gummy bear to Peter.

“No, thank you, sir.” He said with wide eyes. Once again, he wasn’t used with things being offered to him. Tony found Peter’s shyness to be worrying but decided to let it go and shrugged instead, putting the gummy bear in his own mouth. He reached over and sprinkled some of the potassium chloride into the beaker.

“Do you want to put the acid in?” Tony asked. It was a question, but Peter took it more as an order.

“Yes, sir.” Peter filled the pipette with the sulfuric acid, and leaned over the beaker to get a better view. He dropped it in with shaky hands. Tony watched the drop of acid fall in slow motion. He ran calculations in his head, and realized why he’d never done this experiment in all his time at school. The glucose and potassium chloride didn’t mix well together, and the acid only made the reaction more violent.

“Peter! Get back!” Tony tried to grab the back of Peter’s shirt and drag him away from the impending explosion, but it was too late. The reaction had already taken place, and Peter standing with his face right over it. An explosion of light and heat broke the beaker, sending shards of glass across the lab, and into Peter’s face and neck. Peter screamed. It was a broken scream, and his hands shot up to protect himself from the explosion and the shrapnel that followed. It was too late, however, and the damage had already been done.

“Peter! Peter, hey, Pete-” Tony caught Peter as he fell backwards. He could see that his face was burnt, and it was already starting to blister. There was a cut on his cheekbone, and another one to the left of his mouth. His neck was scratched, and there were still bits of the beaker lodged in some of the cuts. Peter slowly blinked his eyes, and brought his hands to rub at them. He looked up to see that his head was basically in Mr. Stark’s lap. His eyes got wider, and he tried to sit up as quickly as possible. However, he could barely lift his head.

“Peter? Kid, are you okay?” Tony asked, and brushed Peter’s hair back from his forehead.

“Mr. Stark, I-” Tears started to fall from the corners of his eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” he let his sentence trail off.

“Hey. No. You don’t get to be sorry. It’s my fault.” Tony assured. “More importantly, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Peter mumbled.

“Nope. That’s a lie. You just took an explosion to the face. You’re hurt.”

“It blew up? It blew up -” Realization flooded into Peter’s voice. “I made it blow up… Mr. Stark, I messed up. I’m so sorry. I did the wrong thing, and now you’re mad, and oh god , now you’re mad. That’s my fault, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please, please, don’t get more angry. Just hit me. Please, don’t get angrier, just hit me.” Peter scrunched his eyes closed and tried to steady his breathing. He felt Mr. Stark’s hand move from his arm, and he could tell he was about to strike him.  

He was surprised when he didn’t. There was no echoing slap, no grunt of pain. Nothing but the feel of Mr. Stark’s calloused thumbs running gently under his eyes, wiping any tears away. “Peter, I’m never going to hit you. I promise.”

“You promise?”

“Of course, buddy.” It looks like there has been a visible weight lifted off of Peter’s shoulders.

“Besides, my first foster home was worse. You don’t need to worry about me too much.” Peter smiles a little bit, and sat up next to Tony on the floor. He sat cross legged, his back hunched over.

Now it was Tony’s turn to look confused. “Worse?”

“I-” Peter tried to cut in.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Peter’s breathed hitched and he pressed his lips together. He looked away for a moment. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“No, no, I will. It’s just- I’ve never told anyone. Not even Ned.”

“Who’s Ned?”

“A friend of mine.” Peter wasn’t about to come out right now. That was a whole other basket of snakes.

“Do you want to clean your cuts and stuff before we start? Having glass stuck in your throat can’t be all that comfortable.” Peter nodded, and pushed himself off the floor. He faltered as he stepped forward, and allowed Tony to support him the rest of the way to the couch in the other part of the lab. He helped to sit Peter down, and went to grab a first-aid kit under the counter. He began with unrolling gauze, and putting band-aids on some of the smaller cuts.

Peter spoke up when he grabbed a bottle of antiseptic. “Can I do that part? And I’ll do the tweezers for the little shards.”

“Sure, kid.” Tony handed the supplies to Peter, and he started with the nicks on his arms at first.

“My parents died when I was eight. My very very first foster family was really nice. They had a daughter my age. I think her name was Nicole. They didn’t have me for long, as I think they acted as a type of halfway house for kids who just got into the system. A couple of weeks, they sent me to an actual foster parent. His name was Skip Westcott.”

“Why do I feel like I know that name?” Tony asked.

“He works at Oscorp. He was a scientist that studies how DNA mutates when exposed to different toxic substances. Anyways, he wasn’t as nice as my first family, but he was okay for the first week. He acted like he genuinely cared about me.”

“And I guess that he did care about me, but not in a good way.” Peter winced at the memory. “But a couple weeks into living with him, he said he wanted to take me to where he worked. I was really excited because I was going to watch a real live scientist do science stuff. We got into his lab, though, and it went downhill from there. He said we were going to do an experiment, and that the subject was, um, me.”

“What do you mean?” Tony’s voice was concerned.

“He took a blood sample from here,” Peter held the crook of his elbow, “and said that my DNA would be the next ‘scientific breakthrough’. I just thought that he would use my blood or something, but then he came over with another syringe full of I-don’t-know-what and jabbed it into my arm. We left and went back to the house, and that night I started throwing up and I had a really bad fever.”

“That son of a-”

Peter continued, “Mr. Westcott didn’t do anything to help. He just took notes on a clipboard and left me shivering on the bathroom floor. I stayed like that for what, three days? But by the end of it, I felt different. I didn’t really need my glasses anymore, and I was hungry all the time . I didn’t ask for more food, though, because Mr. Westcott told me that only greedy people ask for seconds. After the change, or whatever you want to call it, he took me down to his basement.”

“It wasn’t a regular basement, though. More like a creepy lab slash operating room slash torture chamber. When I asked him what was going on, he said that I was his new pet. ” Peter spat out the last word. “He said that the serum he gave me was made out of spider venom and some other chemicals, and that it changed my DNA. He said that he was going to ‘figure out how I worked’.” He bit back a sob, but his voice was still shaky.

“He strapped me down on this metal table, and gave me some laughing gas or something to knock me out. But with my new metabolism, I got anesthesia awareness and I couldn’t move but I could feel everything . He was taking tissue samples, and he was digging around everywhere and cutting me open and-” Peter didn’t bother to conceal his tears anymore. “Mr. Stark, I know it happened a long time ago but I still remember how much it hurt .”

Tony looked at Peter, silently asking for permission to give him a goddamn hug. He nodded, and Tony tentatively wrapped his arms around him. “He didn’t stop.” Peter sobbed into Tony’s shirt. “One day, he tested my strength, and I could barely move for the next week. Then he tested my endurance and stuff and he made me run until I passed out and if I slowed down the machine would shock me really hard. It was always something.” Tony noticed that Peter absolutely melted into the embrace.

Tony ran his hands in soothing circles on Peter’s back. “I’m so sorry, Petey.”

Peter flinched when he said that.

A voice flaring around the back of his head was whispering nonsense. You’re doing so well, Petey. It brought back memories that Peter definitely didn’t want to remember.

Tony looked Peter hard in the eyes and said, “Was there anything else? If there was, I promise I will do whatever I can to fix it.”

“You can’t fix this. You can’t fix me.” Peter sniffled.

“I can damn well try.”

“Um, I came to Mr. Westcott’s house during the summer. When school started again, I couldn’t wait to leave. It was a couple weeks after the first day, and I went upstairs to my room to do homework. He came into my room and I heard him lock the door behind him. I felt something really weird. Like, everything seemed off , if you know what I mean. The feeling got stronger as he walked closer to me, like a weird buzzing feeling in the back of my head. I was on my bed, and he sat really close to me. Almost touching. He started to touch my hair and my face and I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, but he was whispering in my ear.”

“Then he…” Peter paused, and scrunched his face together. It was obvious he was trying to compose himself. “He kissed me. And he kept doing it and I didn’t do anything because I was so scared. I knew I should have fought back, or something , but I was so scared-”

Tony drew in a short breath. “Hey, no. You can’t apologize. It’s not your fault. I promise it’s not your fault.” Peter nodded tearfully, but he didn’t seem to be completely convinced.

“He made me do things for him. He made me touch him and he said that I could either do that, or do another experiment and Mr. Stark, I had to. I didn’t want to get hurt anymore and I thought it was the only option, but there wasn’t ever an option where I didn’t get hurt, was there? It was just a different kind of hurt and I hated it.”

“And where I am now isn’t as bad, but they still hit me. You said your dad hit you, the Gordians hit me, and Mr. Westcott hit me. Do all parents do that? Does this happen to everyone and I’m just complaining about it?”

“Shit, kid. I- I really don’t know what to say. Like, at all. What happened to you, it’s not okay. I don’t know what to do right now. All I know is that I can try to make it better.” Tony didn’t want to move in case Peter thought he was going to hurt him.

For once in his life, Tony Stark was completely and utterly stunned.

He hated that his suspicions were correct. In fact, it was worse than he thought. What kind of sick game was the world playing on Peter? Why did he keep drawing all the bad cards? More importantly, why would anyone ever hurt him? This sweet, little, doe-eyed boy who had seen and experienced more horrors to last him a thousand lifetimes. It was disgusting. And so, Tony offered something completely out on a whim.

“Stay here,” Peter looked up at Tony completely shocked.

What?

“ I’ve got a couple guest rooms you can sleep in. I just don’t want you… going back home after all you’ve told me. It just scares me, you know?”

Peter blinked back his tears and peeled himself away from Tony’s shirt. “I can’t. My foster parents are pretty strict about curfew and they don’t like it when I’m out late.” Peter checked a clock on the wall. It was almost seven. “I have to be back at eight thirty and I wasn’t last time, so if I’m late again, they’ll…” Peter let himself not finish the sentence, but the meaning was clear.

“They’ll what kid?” All the pieces seemed to fall into place, and Tony could feel his face pale.

“They sometimes hit me. Sometimes it’s not that bad, but last time, they used the belt. That’s why I couldn’t come for those two weeks. They kept me in the house, and I couldn’t even go to school. They made me do everything for them, like a little Cinderella or something.” Tony’s eyes widened.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

“You heard what I just said, they’ll-”

“What if I personally deliver you to their door tomorrow morning? They can’t say no to me. You can grab anything you need and I can get you to school as well.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Of course, kiddo. Knowing,” Tony loosely gestured in the air, “everything you’ve told me. I don’t want you to have to go through anything else. You deserve a better childhood.”

“I’ll stay.” Peter decided.

“Cool. Let me tell Pepper we’ll have an extra dinner guest, and I can show you where your room is. FRIDAY, you got that Pepper part?”

“I have informed Ms. Potts of the new plan.”

“Thanks. You’re a star. Come on, Peter. Come get your backpack and jacket.” They got up from the couch, and found Peter’s belongings. They took the elevator to the floor that held Tony’s personal apartment, and he steered Peter down a long hallway. About halfway down, Tony opened a door.

“You’re in here. Dinner will be ready soon-ish and you’re welcome to do whatever you want until then.” Peter nodded, and thanked Tony profusely.

Dinner was quiet, to say the least. Tony noticed that Peter finished his food quickly, but made no move to get seconds. Pepper piled on some more pasta, and that was soon gone too. Peter wanted to go to sleep pretty early, so Pepper excused him from the table. When they heard the door to his room close, Pepper put down the salad bowl and just looked at Tony.

“What’s up with the kid?”

“His name is Peter.”

“What’s up with Peter?” Pepper corrected.

“He’s my intern. You know, the one you picked out? We just had a major confession session and he told me some things that made me a bit concerned.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s just say he never had a very good home life.” Tony didn’t really want to go any deeper.

“Okay? And I’m guessing that you let him stay tonight because you don’t want him going home?” Pepper guessed.

Tony nodded. “Yeah. I’m going to take him back home to get some stuff and then I’ll drop him at his school. He goes to Midtown Science and Tech. You know, that nerd school?”

“Yeah.” Pepper said softly. “Is there anything you want me to do?”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do.”

Pepper took Tony’s hand in hers from across the table. That was when Tony broke. “Pep, I’m so scared . Like, give me a horde of aliens and I’ll go crazy. But this? I don’t know how to fix it. I know I didn’t know him when all of the bad stuff happened but it absolutely kills me that I wasn’t there to help. I’ve only known him for a little while but he’s like a son to me. And, and… I just can’t fathom why someone would want to hurt him like that! I mean, you saw him.”

Pepper bit her lip. She hadn’t seen him like this since, well… she couldn’t remember. His eyes were full of tears, but there was something else there too. A deep, primordial sadness, like he was mourning something. “Well, I’m on his team too. Make sure he knows that, okay? I want to help just as much as you do.” Pepper said.

They quietly cleaned up dinner, and then went to bed. Tony lay faced away from Pepper, so she couldn’t see the silent tears hit the pillow. When he was sure Pepper was asleep, he whispered, “FRIDAY, please tell me if Peter has a nightmare or something, okay?”

FRIDAY matched his volume. “Of course.”

—-

They made it through the night without any problems. Tony woke up at about seven thirty to a lot of noise in the kitchen. He blearily rubbed his eyes and trudged out to there to see what was going on. It was Peter opening and closing cabinets.

“Where’s your spatula?” He asked cautiously.

“Why are you looking for my spatula? What’s all this?” Tony motioned to all the things on the counter.

“You let me stay. I thought that the least I could do was make breakfast.” Peter said.

“I didn’t ask you to do that.” Tony smiled. “It’s very kind of you.”

“My foster parents make me cook breakfast for them.” That puts a damper on the conversation. The rest of breakfast was eaten between small snippets of unimportant chatter. They got in one of Tony’s more conventional Audis and started the drive to Queens.

“I’ll walk you to the door, then you can just run in and grab anything you need for school. I can wait outside.” Peter smiled and nodded.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark. For everything, really. For letting me stay, and the food, and listening to me, and this, and just… being there I guess. I’ve never really had anyone before. I mean, my real parents, I guess, but I don’t really remember them very much. I guess you’re like a real dad. You know, one that actually cares about his kid.” Tony’s heart warmed at the thought.

Tony Stark. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, dad.

“This is me.” Peter said as they pulled up to the apartment. They parked next to the sidewalk, and Tony walked up the door. Peter followed close behind. He rapped on the glass part of the door, and waited for someone to answer.

A woman with a cigarette in her mouth peeked through the curtains, and then opened the door. Tony supposed that was his foster mother.

“I’m Tony Stark. I just wanted to tell you that Peter stayed late last night for his internship. I was bringing him by to get stuff for school, and then I can take him there.” Tony put on his paparazzi smile as Mrs. Gordian looked him up and down.

“Stark.” She said curtly. “Stay here. Peter, get inside.” Peter bowed his head and slipped through the crack between the wall and the door. Mrs. Gordian then closed the door in Tony’s face. The curtain had been left open, and Tony could see Peter go down the hallway and into another room. He could hear muffled talking. He could make out Peter’s voice, as well as Mrs. Gordian’s. There was another man in there as well. He waited for a little more than five minutes, and got lost in his thoughts.

The thing that brought him out of his stupor was a loud crack, and then a shout. They couldn’t be… they wouldn’t dare hurt Peter when he was standing right there. Would they? He banged on the door, to no answer. He yelled, “Let me in!” but nobody came to the door. He just kept hearing sharp cries of pain.

Tony decided that enough was enough. He pulled the gauntlet out of his watch face, and fired a repulsor beam at the lock. The door banged open, and Tony stormed down the hall and into the room where he saw Peter go. The scene that he was greeted was exactly what he feared was happening.

Peter was on the floor, held down by Mrs. Gordian’s foot jammed between his shoulder blades. A raised red mark shaped like a belt buckle was forming on the side of his back, and there was a pretty deep gash on his forehead.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Tony roared.

Everything seemed to freeze. Mr. Gordian turned around to face Tony. “And who might you be?” He sneered.

“I’m the one who’s gonna shoot this repulsor at your head if you don’t tell me what’s going on right now .”

Peter tried to wiggle out from under Mrs. Gordian’s foot. “Mr. Stark! I-”

“Save it, kid. I’m trying to figure out why your legal guardians, who are supposed to keep you safe , are beating you with a belt!”

“He… he was- he was late! This disobedient little rat deserved it! He doesn’t know how to follow a goddamn rule!” Mr. Gordian shouted.

“That’s where you’re wrong. Peter doesn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this! Well, except for you. I’m taking Peter. As for you two, I hope you rot in hell.” Tony spat. He helped Peter to his feet, and out the door. He got him in the passenger seat of the car, and closed the door behind him. Before he started the car, he leaned over the center console and brushed Peter’s hair back from his forehead. Aside from the cut there, his nose was bleeding, and he was forming a nice black eye.

“Hey, hey, Peter? You with me?” Peter nodded. “I’m so sorry. I was right there, and I should have done something sooner. I’m sorry. But right now, I’m gonna get you back the the tower, okay? We’re gonna go to medbay, and we’re gonna fix you up, okay? I have a really good doctor that works with other enhanced people too, and she’ll help you. And I’ll be there the whole time, right next to you, okay?”

Peter sniffled. “Okay.”

“FRIDAY, alert the NYPD and tell them not to pull me over, okay? I’ve got an emergency and I’ve got to get back to the tower ASAP. Have Helen prepare a bed. And get Pepper to call Midtown and say that Peter’s home sick.”

They got back to the tower in under fifteen minutes. Tony helped steady Peter as they went up the private elevator up to medbay. As soon as the doors opened, Tony shouted, “Helen! We’re here! Which bed?”

“I’m at five!” She shouted back.

Tony carried Peter the rest of the way. He laid him down on the bed, and Helen and her nurse descended upon him. The nurse cleaned the wound on his forehead, and wiped away the dried blood on his nose. Dr. Cho followed behind and used some specialized local anesthetic in order to stitch it up.

“These are Cap’s meds. It’s the closest thing we’ve got if you say his metabolism is as fast as you say. We’ll take some blood samples and synthesize some drugs just for him.” Tony nodded, and squeezed Peter’s hand.

“Dr. Cho is gonna take some blood samples, okay? She’s gonna make you some painkillers that work, so you feel better.”

“You promise? It won’t be like before?” Peter whispered.

“No, it won’t. I trust her.” Peter weakly exposed his inner arm for her to take blood. The nurse tied a band around his bicep, and Dr. Cho inserted the needle. “We’re gonna just look at that freaky DNA of yours. And then, she’s going to give you something to help you sleep.”

“Uh huh.” Peter said. The needle drawing blood was taken out, and an IV connected to a heavy-duty sedative was put in. Peter’s head lolled to the side, and Tony breathed a sigh of relief when his eyes finally closed.

“Hey, Helen? Send the blood to Bruce, okay? I want him to find out what kind of enhancements he’s got.”

Tony looked back to see Peter in the hospital bed. He had a nasal cannula in, and had various tubes from the IV hanging from his arm. He looked so small , lying in that bed. He was really pale, and the dark purple bruises around his eye was a stark contrast from everything else. What Tony had heard and seen today had absolutely shifted his view of the world. He wasn’t sure how he would help Peter, but he would. Tony was absolutely sure of that. He’d move heaven and earth for this kid.

“I promise,” Tony fought to keep his voice steady. “I promise that I won't let anyone else hurt you. You can count on that.” He pulled a chair close to Peter’s bedside, and held his head in his hands.

He stayed there until Peter woke up.

Chapter Text

Tony didn’t let Peter go back to his foster parents after that. In fact, in the first few weeks, Peter was barely allowed to leave his bed in Medbay. Tony never thought of himself as a helicopter parent, but it seemed that he was turning into one. What he had seen at the Gordians had thoroughly shaken him up. Hearing about the things Peter had gone through was one thing, but seeing it actually happen was really something else. The thing that scared him the most, however, was that Peter said that that wasn’t even the worst that happened.

 

Peter seemed content to heal and relax for the days following the ‘incident’. In fact, all he seemed to do was sleep. Tony was fine with it. Around the one week mark, Peter started to get antsy. “Mr. Stark, I’ve gotta do something ! Can I call my school and get my work sent over? Or can we at least do some science, or anything . I’m bored out of my mind. I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m bored of watching TV.”

 

Tony looked up from his tablet. “Really? You’ve exhausted all the seasons of Friends?”

 

“Believe it or not.” Peter rolled his eyes. “But I remember you wanting to work with DNA for an experiment? That doesn’t involve moving that much. Could we bring all the stuff in here? We could set up a table over my bed and I could work right with you.” He said hopefully.

 

“Not with me. DNA is a bit out of my wheelhouse. You’d need to get Banner in here for that. He’s your biotech guy.”

 

“I’d be working with Dr. Bruce Banner ? On a DNA experiment? Have I died and been sent to heaven? I mean, this bed sure is comfy…” Peter trailed off.

 

“I mean, we’d have to see when he’s available, cause he has his own stuff to work on, and board meetings, and you know, he’s a busy man.”

 

“Can you just ask him, please? I really want to meet him.” Peter said.

 

“Oh, is your fanboy side rearing it’s ugly face?” Tony snorted.

 

“Maybe.”

 

“Okay, I’ll ask him. Or, you can do it. Just yell at FRIDAY. I’ve gotta answer this email, or Pepper will literally eat me. Like, grind up my bones and turn me into a stew.”

 

“FRIDAY? Can you ask Dr. Banner when he’s available to work with Mr. Stark and me on an experiment? Say it’s for the internship.”

 

“Ah, appealing to the ethics. Smart. He’s all over that ‘shaping the minds of the next generation’ jazz.” Tony smiled.

 

“Dr. Banner is currently on a conference call with the World Health Organization, but I have relayed your message. I will let you know what he says when the call is done.” FRIDAY replied evenly.

 

“Cool! Guess I’ll watch more bad nineties sitcoms while I wait.”

 

“Not so fast, kid. That thing you said about calling the school about your work was a smart idea. Call them, and I’ll go get it.”

 

“What am I supposed to say?” Peter fretted. “I can’t exactly say, ‘Oh yes, this is me, Peter Parker. I’m calling to say that my boss, abducted me in the nicest way possible after seeing my legal guardians beating me on the floor. Why yes, he is Mr. Tony Stark. Yes, I have seen the suits. Can I please have my homework?”

 

Tony laughed. He noticed that he had only been gone from the Gordians for a little while, but he was a lot more open. It seemed as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders. He laughed more, and his smiles seemed more genuine. “No, kid. You are the worst at this. Say that, um, you are conducting official Stark Industries business. You’re attending sessions with esteemed scientists to broaden your depth of knowledge in different fields, and that I stress that understanding each realm of science can help you innovate for the future. And that you apologize for not alerting the school earlier, but that you have been with me the whole time. Tell them to contact me if they have any additional questions.”

 

“Wow, Mr. Stark. That was really… eloquent.”

 

“You don’t become a multi-billionaire without learning how to bullshit on the spot.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah, half of my speeches are just me rambling with big words. I promise, I’m not as put together as I look.”

 

“Boss? Mr. Parker? Dr. Banner wants you to know that he’ll be open from three-thirty onwards today, and is ready to ‘do some science’, as he says.”

 

“Oh, great! What time is it now?” Peter asked.

 

“It is two forty-five.”

 

“Just enough time to call Midtown, right?” Tony butted in.

 

“Fine. FRIDAY? Call Midtown School of Science and Technology. Put them through to here.”

 

“Calling…”

 

The lady in the main office started to talk. “Midtown Science and Tech.”

 

“Hi! Um, this is Peter Parker. I’m calling about my absences and seeing if I can get any work I missed?”

 

“It says here you’ve been out for a week, all unexcused. Are you calling with a note?”

 

“Yes. I, um, I’ve been absent because of my internship at Stark Industries? My boss was able to get a bunch of esteemed scientists over to the Tower, and I’ve been working with them all week to expand the depth of my knowledge in various scientific fields.”

 

The front desk lady didn’t seem impressed. “Get your boss to send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.”

 

“What’s your email?”

 

“Find it on the faculty page of the website.”

“Oh. Okay, thanks!” The call ended.

 

“FRIDAY, find that email. Have it sent to me.” Tony said, pulling up his email.


To: sharonjames@midtownscienceandtech.edu

From: tony.stark@starkindustries.com

Subject: Peter Parker

 

Ms. James,

 

I was given the instruction to send you an email regarding my intern’s absences. I can confirm that he was working with me all week, and since the internship was attained through the school, should be considered a school-sponsored activity. As my personal lab assistant, Peter’s schedule can change wildly, which is why I am just contacting you now. Please change the absences to excused. Peter will also stay with me for another week or so.

 

I will come to the school to pick up any work that Peter may have missed. Does around 10:30 tomorrow morning work?

 

Please don’t hesitate to contact me again with any further questions.

 

From,

Tony Stark

Stark Industries, President

 

“Sent.” Tony said, “You should be good to go. Do you want to get something to eat before you start with Bruce?”

 

“I swear to God, if you make me eat another energy bar, I am going to riot.”

 

“Nope. I won’t. Whatever you want. After all, Postmates is a magical thing.”

 

“Mr. Stark, I really just want a sandwich.”

 

“I’ve got a panini maker upstairs. FRIDAY, is there anyone on the common floor that can make a decent panini?”

 

“Ms. Romanoff is on the common floor, and once took culinary classes as part of her undercover training.”

 

“Great. Tell her to make one with… um… tomato, mozzarella, grilled chicken, pesto, and arugula.”

 

“Ms. Romanoff wants to know why she needs to make this sandwich.”

 

“Say that if she doesn’t, I’ll cancel the Netflix account.”

 

“Ms. Romanoff has reluctantly agreed. She is asking where the sandwich needs to go.”

 

“Medbay, bed five.”

 

“So, a Caprese panini? I haven’t had one of those in a while. My mom used to make them for me all the time.”

 

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Mine too.”

 

“She was a good cook. She was Italian, and I remember every Friday night, she’d make enough Bolognese to feed the entire block.”

 

“My mom did the same, but with lasagna. It was just her and my butler, Jarvis, as her sous chef. They were always cooking up a storm. Maria Stark, the woman, the myth, the legend.” Tony said wistfully. “I’ve still got her recipes, and your panini’s one of ‘em.”

 

As if on cue, Natasha came in with a plate. “Panini. Who’s is it?”

 

“The kid’s.” Peter sat up to take the plate from her, and she sat down in the chair next to Tony.

 

“Wanna tell me why you’ve got a teenager in Medbay?” she asked.

 

“He’s my intern. He’s, you know, been through-” Peter gave Tony a look. The if-you-keep-talking-I’ll-eat-you-instead-of-this-sandwich look. “Appendicitis. He’s been through appendicitis. It happened here, and I thought it was dumb to take him to the hospital when we’ve got a fully loaded Medbay, so Cho opened him up and took the nasty little fucker out, and now we’re here.”

 

“Hmm. Okay. Let me know if you need another panini.” Natasha said.

 

“Will do.” With that, she left, and not much longer, Bruce came in, wheeling a large table with all the supplies needed for today’s experiment.

 

“You wanted to do DNA?” he asked Peter.

 

“Oh, my God. You’re Dr. Bruce Banner.”

“So I’ve been told.” Bruce smiled.

 

“I’m a huge fan.” Peter gushed.

 

“You like the Hulk?”

 

“I mean, yeah, but I’ve been reading your papers, and the one on the usage of radiation in gene therapy was absolutely mindblowing! I mean, I never thought you could create recombinant DNA with mutated genes on purpose, and that you don’t have to use gel electrophoresis to sort through all the DNA, and just… Oh, I’m rambling. Aren’t I, Mr. Stark?”

 

“Yup.” Tony laughed.

 

“I’m… honored. When most people meet me, they want to know all about the Other Guy.” Bruce put down a box of things he was carrying.

 

“Well, you’re the Hulk, but you’re also Dr. Banner! Like, the greatest scientist ever!” Peter said animatedly.

 

“Hey! I thought that was me!” Tony mock-pouted.

 

“Sorry, Mr. Stark.”

 

“Well, let’s get sciencing. Grab the microscope, the Petri dishes, and your blood sample.”

 

“Is this the one that Dr. Cho took?”

 

“Yeah. Is that alright?”

 

“Uh huh. Just want to warn you, I think my DNA’s pretty funky. I’m pretty sure I’ve mutated.”

 

“Peter, you can’t just-”

 

“No, like, I’ve got some weird powers. My metabolism changed really quickly, and one day I didn’t need my glasses, and Mr. Stark, I didn’t tell you this, but I can stick to stuff.”

 

“Like, without any help?”

 

“Watch this.” Peter picked up a plastic Petri dish and tried to make it fall off. It didn’t. Bruce tried to take it off too, but to no avail.

 

“Wow. I’ll, um- keep an eye out for that.” The tests were performed, and then, Peter insisted they try it with Mr. Stark’s DNA as well.

 

“Kiddo, all you’re gonna find in there is my Italian grandmother and my elevated risk for heart disease. I promise, I’m not that interesting.”

 

They did the experiment over again, and as promised, found Tony’s Italian ancestry and risk for heart disease.  Peter thanked Dr. Banner profusely as he began to clean up. “Hey, Banner? Meet me outside when you’re done. I wanna talk.”

 

“About what?” Peter said curiously.

 

“World-ending, top secret, mind-blowing stuff.” Tony smirked. He followed Bruce out the door, and a few feet down the hallway. “Bruce, can I ask you a favor?”

 

“Sure. What is it?”

 

“Can you do in-depth labs on Peter’s blood sample? I want to see what kind of mutations he’s got.”

 

“Yeah, I can. Do you mind if I ask why?”

 

Tony looked around to see if there was anyone else in the nearby vicinity. “Peter’s a foster kid. He’s been in some pretty shitty situations, including one where an Oscorp geneticist treated him like a fucking lab rat. He told me about a week ago about everything that’s happened, and it’s… a lot to say the least. I at least want to know what happened to him, you know?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, of course. I just- I feel bad for him. He seems like such a sweet kid. And he can talk science like the best of them. Almost like you, but without the smart-assery.”

 

“That’s the other thing. I don’t know why, but I feel like his dad.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

“I don’t know,” Tony signed. “He’s just… like you said, a mini-me. He acts like me, and he looks like me, and I just get this urge to protect him, like a… like a-”

 

“Paternal instinct.” Bruce supplied.

 

“Right, a paternal instinct. And I don’t know if this is because kids have never ever been in my life before, and I’m just being weird, or this is how all adults act around kids, or he’s actually mine, or what. Can you just run a test and confirm that this is all in my head? Cause he’s been talking about his birth mom a lot, but never his dad, so maybe that meant he doesn’t know his dad?”

 

“What’s the mom’s name?”

 

“Mary Parker.”

 

“Shit. I know that name. I’m pretty sure, FRIDAY? Didn’t she use to work here?”

 

“Mary Parker was a research assistant in a lower-level biotechnology lab.”

 

“And you’re sure he’s never mentioned his dad?” Tony shook his head. “Jeez, Tony. I’ll do it, but I can’t guarantee the results. I mean, what would you do if he is your son?”

 

“I’d adopt him.” Tony said it like it was the obvious thing to do.

 

“You’d adopt him.” Bruce deadpanned.

 

“Yes. I would adopt him. I mean, it doesn’t seem like that far of a stretch, does it? I need to get him out of his god-awful situation at home, and he spends so much time here already, and if he’s really mine, that’s just another scratch on the wall.”

 

“Alright. Fine. I’ll do the test, just, keep it to yourself for now, okay? I’ll let you know when I have the results.”

 

--------

 

The next few days were agony for Tony. The last time he had been this anxious about the results of something was when he was checking the palladium levels in his blood. Scratch that. This was even worse. They continued their routine of sitting in the hospital room together, except that this time, Peter had homework to do. Finally, Tony got a notification. It was an email from Bruce, and he was almost hesitant to open it. Subject line: Test results. He worked up the nerve to press the “open” button, and started to read.

 

The first few lines were just details about the different genes that had mutated to give Peter his powers. Bruce did a bit more digging and found out that Oscorp had been working on something like this about five years ago, but the research was discontinued after proving to be unethical. He scrolled to the bottom, where a simple graph was provided. A checklist.

 

Accelerated healing factor: Positive

Enhanced hearing and vision: Positive

Enhanced strength: Positive

Enhanced stamina: To be determined

Ability to manipulate molecular attraction: Positive

Paternity test: Positive.

Chapter Text

Well, shit. Tony thought. I was right. I mean, I usually am… but, I don’t know if I wanted to be right right now. Tony sat in his lab, looking out the window. He has been there ever since he read the email. That had been around four this afternoon. Now, the New York skyline was a twinkling picture of glittering glass and blinking lights against the dark sky. It was times like this that he would pour himself a healthy serving of scotch. The good kind. But, not now. He needed to keep a clear head, for Peter.

 

For Peter.

 

His kid.

 

His son.

 

His son, who had been through hell and back again, while Tony sat in board meetings, and flew around in a metal suit.

 

His son , who he didn’t even know existed until a few hours ago.

 

His son , who was probably a product of one of the many one night stands that had filled his nights in his twenties and thirties. He never thought that any of them would actually amount to anything.

 

His son , who was hopefully asleep down in Medbay, who had no idea that Tony’s world was crashing around him. Oddly reminiscent of a Depeche Mode song that he listened to in his teenage-angst years.

 

And when our worlds, they fall apart,

When the walls come tumbling in,

Though we may deserve it,

It will be worth it.”

 

But that was the thing. Would he ever deserve Peter? What gave him the right to just waltz into Peter’s life? Besides, how would he break the news? “Ta-da! I’m your father! I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you these past sixteen years, while you were getting beaten in a basement somewhere. Oh well, have a shiny new car to drive instead of dealing with your newfound daddy issues! Not to mention, the boatload of other trauma you’re carrying around with you. Come here! Give me a hug.”

 

No, he’d be better than that. What did he say earlier? That he was a master of “eloquent bullshit”, or something along those lines. Tony didn’t even think that that would cut it either, to be honest. Maybe he’d take a page out of Pepper’s book and make dinner. A real, sit-down dinner with real silverware and maybe a couple candles on the table- if he wanted to be proper. Just them, and that way Tony could break the news. He did make a really good lasagna. Or rather, he could follow his mother’s really good lasagna recipe.

 

That’s what he’d do. After all, Peter was getting cleared from Medbay tomorrow. He could disguise it as a sort of, “congratulations on healing” dinner. He thought it was a pretty foolproof plan. Even if it all went downhill, there would still be food to eat. Tony gave himself a mental pat on the back, and decided to stop moping and start tinkering. It wasn’t like he was going to sleep anytime soon, anyways. Might as well be productive.

 

The morning woke him bright and early, and his back hurt as he sat up straight. He fell asleep at one of the tables, his cheek pressed to the cold metal. It was time to go see Peter. He made a cup of coffee, and took it with him on the way down to Medbay. Peter was already awake when he got down there.

 

“Where did you go last night?” He asked.

 

“The lab. It was part of that super secret stuff i was talking about with ol’ Brucie the other day. Did Cho tell you you’re getting discharged today?”

 

“I am?” Peter asked excitedly. “That’s- that’s great! I can come and see the rest of the tower, and see your lab, and meet this bot you keep telling me about, and-”

 

“Save your breath. If you lose it, you’ll just be spending more time here.”

 

“Oh, okay.” Peter slouched back down. “Do I have to… do anything? Or can I just leave?”

 

“Nope. Cho’s gonna be down here in,” Tony checked his watch, “hopefully a few minutes and then she’ll do a little check-up, and then, voila! A mostly healthy Peter Parker.” Tony thought that Peter’s last name should be changed, Stark, perhaps? Or Parker-Stark? Depending on what the kid wanted, anyway.

 

Dr. Cho came into the room as if by magic. Tony swore she just appeared. “Alright, Peter.” She unlooped the stethoscope from around her neck, and placed it on his chest. “Deep breaths.” Peter breathed deeply a few times as Cho moved the stethoscope around. “Those ribs sound a lot better. Do they hurt when you breathe in?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“That’s good. I’m gonna check under your bandages, and make sure that everything…has…. healed….” she lifted the gauze off Peter’s forehead to reveal smooth skin, with only a hint of redness to even suggest that it has been an open wound not that long before. “I think that’s it. Come back down here if you have any problems, okay? And I mean anything, at all. You’re not a bother, Peter.” She smiled kindly, gently patted his cheek, and left.

 

“Well, you heard the woman. Let’s scoot.” Tony started to gather the various things around the room.

 

“Where are we going?” Peter asked.

 

“Your room, and then the kitchen, for some real breakfast. I’ve gotten tired of watching you eat oatmeal and granola.”

 

“I have a room?”

 

“Do you plan on sleeping in the vents, instead?” Tony laughed.

 

“No, just, I- thank you. For all of this, really. Taking care of me, and getting me a room, and, yeah.”

 

“Kid, you’re killing me. Please stop with the thank-yous. All of this? It’s the least I could do.” And I would do anything for you . Tony finished in his head.

 

“Oh, okay.”

 

“Now, go get some real clothes on. The kind that aren’t pajamas. I’ll be out here, so shout if you need me.” Peter closed the door, and returned clad in one of Tony’s old MIT sweatshirts and some jeans.

 

“Nice choice.” Tony smiled. Peter looked down at the the sweatshirt. Tony could practically see the ideas connect in his head.

 

 

  • I am in Tony Stark’s house.
  • The clothes were probably put there by him.
  • Tony Stark went to MIT.
  • This is his sweatshirt.

 

 

“This is yours?” Peter gasped. “Why… why’d you put it in there?”

 

“I gave it to you.”

 

“Why?” Peter was really confused.

 

“‘Cause it’s too small for me, I thought you’d like it, being the little nerd that you are, and it’s really soft. Well-loved, you could say.” Tony explained.

 

“Oh. It is really soft…” Peter agreed.

 

“Now please, go eat something. I can practically see your ribcage. And then, you can help me make the lasagna for tonight.” Tony placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder and steered him in the direction of the kitchen. It was a lot brighter in the kitchen than in the hallway, and Peter almost had to put his hand up to block the sun from his eyes.

 

“Your kitchen is really nice, Mr. Stark. And, oh! The famous panini maker.” It sat on the counter, tucked close to the backsplash.

 

“Do you want another?”

 

“Sure,” Peter said, and slid into a barstool. He sat across the island from Tony, who was currently slicing a tomato. The sandwich was made, and they made easy conversation while Peter ate.

 

“You done? Not going to eat the crusts?” Tony asked in mock offense.

 

“No.” Peter wrinkled his nose. “The crust is nasty.”

 

“What are you? A three-year-old?” It wasn’t that funny, but neither of them could stop laughing.

 

“Mr. Stark!” Peter snorted, “I’m not… a three-year-old!”

 

“Okay! Okay! You’re not a three year old. But you do need to get over here and help me with this bechamel sauce.” Peter got up and walked around the island. “Here, stir this.” Tony handed him a spoon. “I’m gonna start on the bolognese, and you make sure that doesn’t burn. Ah! Banner! Just in time! You’re my new sous chef. Come cut this up.” Banner looked up from his tablet, and set it down on the table.

 

“Sure. These mushrooms?”  

 

“Attaboy.” This whole scene, cooking together in the kitchen, was disgustingly domestic. Tony wouldn’t be surprised if a guy in a suit flung the door open and yelled, Honey! I’m home! But now, it seemed, Tony wasn’t afraid of that. For a long time, he’d laugh off any question someone asked about settling down in the future.

 

With the extra help, the lasagna was soon constructed and placed in the oven. Tony handed Bruce the task of laying the table. “Only two places! Tonight’s special!” He called. Bruce was promptly kicked out as soon as the lasagna was ready, however. Tony cut servings for Peter and himself, and placed them on the table, along with a salad and a basket of garlic bread.

 

“Wow, this is really nice.”

“Would you expect your first real night at Stark Tower to be anything less than perfect?” Tony quipped. “I wasn’t kidding when I said that I wanted to make it special.”

 

“I appreciate it.” Peter smiled.

 

“Well, dig in! There’s a lot more, if you want seconds.” Peter was too busy shoveling lasagna in his mouth to respond. It looked like he was really enjoying it. “Is it good?” Tony asked. Peter nodded vigorously in response.

 

“Mr. Stark, you weren’t wrong. Maria Stark never disappoints.”

 

“Amen to that.” It was quiet for a while, as they were too busy eating to manage any more than a few sentences between bites. When Tony’s plate was mostly clean, he put down his cutlery and dabbed at his mouth with the napkin. “So, um, Peter. This night is really special, and for a couple of reasons. Of course, you’re walking around, and chattering your head off again, so I know you’re feeling better.” Peter laughed, and put his fork down as well. “But, when Bruce and I were trying to figure out what the heck happened with your freaky DNA, we came across some other stuff as well.”

 

“I ran a test that I didn’t really need to run, and I thought at the time, this was just paranoia kicking in, but I had a feeling I couldn’t shake.” Peter looked worried.

 

“Am I sick?” he asked quietly.

 

“No! No, sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s, um, something else. Back in the day, when I still had that damn arc reactor in my chest, I got poisoning from palladium, and so the wonderful, fabulous scientists took a lot of blood samples when I wanted a cure, and worked a lot with my DNA, and we noticed it looked a lot like yours.”

 

“Well, humans do share more than 99% of their DNA with each other…”

 

“Kid, would you please just listen, just for a second. Answer me this: Did you ever know your father?”

 

“Like, my foster dad?”

 

“Like the person who got your biological mother pregnant.” Tony deadpanned.

 

Peter thought for a moment. “I don’t- she was married? To Richard Parker? But he, now that I think about it, he never looked like me, and…”

 

“Peter, I’m shit with emotions, I’m just gonna get to the point. I ran a paternity test. It was positive. I’m your dad.” Tony sighed. Peter froze, and the tension in the room was so thick, you could cut it. “Mary Parker, your mom, worked in R&D for Stark Industries before you were born. She attended a gala I was hosting, and there is security footage of us… leaving together , if you catch my drift. I promise, I never thought that it would go anywhere, and-”

 

“You’re my dad?” Tears welled in Peter’s eyes.

 

“Yeah, buddy. I’m your dad.” Tony choked on his words.

 

“You’re my dad .” Peter whispered. Tony got up from his seat, and knelt beside Peter. “I-I always wished, at night, that Iron Man would come and save me, and… and now you have , and,” realization dawned on Peter. “Does that mean that I don’t have to go back?”

 

Tony pulled Peter into a tight hug that Peter practically melted into. “No, you don’t have to go back. I’m not gonna send you back, and I’m so sorry that you were ever there in the first place. I should have- I should have been there. I wasn’t there for you…”

 

Peter laughed. “No! You can’t cry. I’m the one crying.”

 

“I’m sorry, kiddo.” Tony wiped away his tears, a faint smile playing upon his lips.

 

“Don’t be sorry. You’re here now , which is what really matters. I’m not going to blame you for not knowing I even existed.” Peter whispered.

 

“What did I do to deserve such an understanding kid?”

 

“I don’t know.” Peter laughed quietly.

 

“Do you want to move this over to the couch? My old man back isn’t loving being on the floor for this long.” Tony asked. They left everything on the table and migrated into the living room. Tony sat at the end, and Peter curled up right next to him. He absentmindedly started to play with Peter’s hair. Weaving his fingers through the untamed curls. Peter didn’t even realize that he leaned in a bit closer.

 

“Mr. Stark?” Peter looked up.

 

“Are we still doing that?” Tony smiled.

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Was there something real you wanted to say?”

 

“Oh. Yeah. Thank you, for this.” Peter sleepily gestured behind them at the table still laden with food.

 

“How many times do I have to tell you? Stop thanking me! Stop apologizing! One dinner, one hospital stay, one internship, although a good start, isn’t nearly enough to replace what I wasn’t there for. I’m really, truly, just doing my due diligence.”

 

“Oh, okay. Um, not-thank you?”

 

“Sure, buddy.”

 

“One more thing?”

 

“Anything.”

 

“Can we stay here for a little bit?”

 

“Absolutely.”