Tony Stark knew that he was a lot of things. He was a billionaire, a superhero, and very pissed off that he had to wait in line for his coffee.
He never had to wait in line before.
Gawkers were looking and paparazzi was swirling all around him trying to get pictures. He really wished he’d listened to Pepper and just got another assistant.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw a little boy with circular blue glasses that were latched tightly to his head. The little boy was looking curiously around as his legs kicked beneath the chair he was sitting on reading the Science Today Magazine.
Tony wasn’t sure what happened, but soon people were running in the street and out of the shop. Shrugging his shoulders he walked over the booth where the kid was sitting and sat down. The science magazine was laying flat on the table in front of him as his little eyes poured over the page.
"Well hello there," Tony said.
The boy’s head shot up in a daze. Tony smiled as his big brown eyes were wide as saucers behind the glasses.
“Y-you’re Iron Man!”
“I am and who are you?”
“I-I’m Peter. N-nice to meet you, sir,” the boy said still in awe.
“So Peter, you’re uh sitting here all by yourself. Is there someone you’re waiting for?” The boy shrugged.
“My uh Karen, she’s working right now. I can’t be there when she’s gone.”
“Why not?” Peter looked around as if he was looking for someone.
“Mr. Jeff, he uh likes it better if I’m outside during the day,” the boy said quietly. “He wants me to play ball n stuff.”
“Ball, huh?” The boy nodded.
“He signed me up for baseball this time.”
“Do you like it?” Peter shook his head.
“I’m not real good.” He laughed to himself. “I suck.”
“You can’t be that bad,” Tony said kinda smitten by the adorable kid. Out of his pocket, the small boy showed him an inhaler.
“I got it bad. With the grass ‘n stuff, it’s hard to do much running.”
“Did you tell uh what’d you say, Mr. Jeff or Ms. Karen?”
“Ms. Karen knows but Mr. Jeff makes the rules so she says I gotta do what he says.”
“Why?” The boy shrugged.
“Grownup stuff I guess,” Peter said.
“Well, what do you mom and dad say?” Tony noticed the boy stiffen visibly.
“I don’t got none,” he said quietly.
“Oh kid, I’m sorry,” Tony said.
“Well, I had some, but my uh they died.” Tony nodded.
“My parents died too.” The boy perked up.
“So you’re like me? I didn’t know that.”
“I am, I was older than you when I lost them, but yeah kid we’re the same.” Peter smiled widely at Tony.
“I can’t believe I get to sit here with Iron Man. Wait til the other kids here about this!”
“Other kids?” Peter nodded.
“Mr. Jeff and Ms. Karen gots two other kids right now. I’m the youngest.” Tony nodded.
“Are they nice to you?” Peter shrugged again. Tony noticed how baggy the kid’s clothes were on him.
“Them other kids?” Tony nodded. “Sometimes. The other day Kyle let me play on the Switch. Nigel he uh he doesn’t like me much.”
“Are they like us?”
“Without mommies and daddies?” Tony nodded. “Yeah, but I think Mr. Jeff and Ms. Karen are gonna keep them. They’re going to court next week. They’re real brothers and they’re good at sports. Nigel is thirteen and he plays on the high school basketball team. Kyle is eleven and he’s 'n um throwy guy in football.” Tony smiled this kid was in far over his head.
“Well, what does Peter like?” The boy’s face lit up completely.
“Nobody’s asked me that before! I like science! Like a whole lot! I read all the books in my class and the teacher lets me stay inside during recess and watch more movies about science! I know almost the entire periodic table! I like Legos too! I can build almost anything if I see it!”
“That’s great!” Peter continued to ramble on and Tony couldn’t keep the smile off his face. After Siberia, things in his world had changed suddenly. It felt like his whole world was shifting into the darkness around him, but right here in this moment, this kid was a light.
After letting the kid eat his fill on pastries, milk, and a sandwich Tony stood up. “I guess it’s time to go, bud. I’ve got to get back to my work now.” Peter nodded, but Tony saw the disappointment cross his face.
“It was real nice talking to you Mr. Stark,” the boy said. “This is the best day ever!”
Tony ruffled the boy’s curls and started to walk out the door. He almost made it before he turned back around. He walked over to where the boy was sitting once again.
“Peter, what time is Ms. Karen gonna be home?”
“Uh, 3 in the afternoon.”
“Do you think she’ll mind if you come to my lab with me?” Peter’s eyes grew wide.
“Really?” Tony smiled.
“I don’t think she’ll mind! I need to call her and tell her. Is that ok?” Tony smiled. This kid was too precious.
After working in the lab all afternoon Peter looked like he was ready to drop. Tony couldn’t keep the smile off his face. He was amazed by the boy’s ability to retain and understand what he was teaching him.
“Pete let’s get you back down to the diner,” Tony said. Peter nodded slowly and followed Tony out of the door.
“This was the bestest day ever! Thank you, Mr. Stark,” Peter said.
“No problem kid.” Tony had been eyeing the boy all day. His shoes were ratty and his clothes looked worn like they’d been in circulation for more than five years old. They must have been hammy downs. Tony wondered if he could slip the kid in a new shirt or donate some stuff to the family anonymously. He felt the kid tense at his side before slowing his pace. “You tired bud?” The boy didn’t respond. Once they hit the street where the diner was, Tony noticed how Peter was growing quieter with each step.
The kid hadn’t shut up since he met him. Tony looked down at the kid and then back in the direction where the boy’s eyes were.
Then he saw it.
There was a man with a baseball bag in his hand and two other boys looking around. “I left my bag by the dugout,” Peter said quietly. Tony grabbed his shoulder.
“Will you get in trouble?” Peter’s big eyes looked up at him and he nodded. “That’s Mr. Jeff?” Peter nodded again. He could see why the kid was skittish. This guy was around six feet tall and two hundred pounds of muscle. Tony would have been intimidated if he wasn’t Tony. He couldn’t imagine how Peter felt.
One of the boys noticed Peter and hollered, “hey Dad there’s the space case!” Tony felt Peter whimper against his side. His eyes gazed on the boy in front of him. This kid’s clothes weren’t old or ratty. In fact, they looked brand new.
Tony noticed how the trio seemed to walk with an aura of swagger. His heart went out to the little boy next to him who didn’t seem to know what confidence was if it hit him in the face.
“You little hard headed troll, where have you been,” the man thundered. Peter flinched.
“Hey, take it easy ok,” Tony said stepping in front of the man and Peter.
“Look I know who you are. Thinking you can fly around and rule the world. Well, that’s not how things work. He’s my kid and I’ll do and say whatever I want with him. So back off. Peter, come here,” he demanded. Tony felt Peter move from behind him.
“Thanks for today, Mr. Stark,” the boy timidly said. Before Tony could respond the Jeff guy already had Peter’s arm in his massive hand and dragging him down the street.
Tony sighed as he watched the exchange. He could only hear a little bit of what the guy was saying to Peter, but Tony knew by how the boy was shrinking with each step that it wasn’t good.
His heart clenched at the sight. Tony wondered if he’d ever be able to see the little boy again, but knowing how things were going he figured that was a fat chance.