Hammer was an idiot.
Tony didn’t think it was possible, but he’s quite sure he hates the man infinitely more so as he watched with wide eyes and a gaping mouth as his company’s stock literally plummeted into the Earth and out the other side. It was worse than when he came back from Afghanistan a year ago and made the decision to confess to the press his new intentions for him and his company. This… this was so, so much worse. Apparently, it didn’t matter that he had saved the city… nope, apparently not important, because here he was, being screwed over for doing the right thing.
There were an infinite number of articles trending on the main pages of Google, Bing, Facebook, and whatever other sites people mindlessly use to waste time from their day so they can hide away from the real-world issues taking place in their lives. There were many who had somehow obtained the information that Tony had been suffering from palladium poisoning, which, yeah, he had been at the time, but not anymore. Half the articles were practically foretelling for his death to occur in the next month. It most definitely didn’t help when people started putting the pieces together, such as the fact that he had practically forked over everything of importance to other people before his timely death. He wasn’t dying anymore though! And Pepper was good at running his company, Rhodey was making an enormous difference with War Machine, and those boy scouts were really making good use of his little donation.
It was all going great… until he got a call from one of the board members telling him to take a look at the SI stock records.
And apparently it most definitely didn’t help that he hadn’t made a public appearance since that small incident that had occurred at the Stark Expo. Which, by the way, led to millions of dollars in preparation being lost, because they had to cancel the whole freaking tour! Something about public safety or whatever. People were just so dramatic about every little thing nowadays… so sensitive.
He didn’t care! All he knew was that he was pissed.
“Tony,” Pepper begged, looking up at him with a tired glaze over her eyes as she massaged her hairline. She probably hadn’t slept in days with the way she stressed about everything, “please stop glaring at the screen. It’s not going to help. We need to come up with a good plan to raise your public image so people don’t think you’re a dying, selfish asshole with a drinking problem. Which means no ‘accidental’ wardrobe malfunctions, threats, lawsuits, violence, flashing the cameras, ‘accidents’, drunken rages, drunken twitter posts, or anything that you could have possibly gotten away with before all of this went down. Do you understand?”
Tony understood alright. That didn’t mean he had to like it.
“I don’t understand why these idiots have to make such a big deal out of everything,” he muttered to himself, ignoring Pepper’s advice and continuing to glare at the screen. “Get PR down here. They probably have some ludicrous idea of how we can fix this.”
If Peter could turn back time, he would have never begged Uncle Ben and Aunt May to bring him to the Stark Expo… if he hadn’t then maybe that stupid Hammer Drone wouldn’t have killed them. It was stupid! It was all dumb and stupid! Because all he got out of it, was a dumb little glove gauntlet, iron man helmet, a dumb shirt, a pat on the head by Tony Stark, and an up-close view of the Iron Man suit. He’d give it all up in a heartbeat if that meant he’d get to see his Aunt and Uncle again. He just wanted them back, that’s all he wanted.
It kinda sucked when you already knew that the one thing you actually wanted was impossible to actually get.
He sulked quietly in his new, raggedy bed, glancing over to spot an older boy in the bed across from him with his reading lamp on while he read through a new comic book he had found in the trash on the way home from school. He didn’t like his new bed, and he didn’t like his new guardian, and he most definitely didn’t like the new school he’d been placed in, or the classmates and teacher that came along with it.
He’d been moved into a crappy neighborhood, and because of a lack of funds for a poor, dumb, little orphan, there was no other choice but to go to the zoned ghetto school two blocks down from the house he was living in. He didn’t have any friends there, and no matter how hard he worked, he’d never be able to build his way up to go to the high school he’d been dreaming of going to since he was little: Midtown Tech.
It all sucked.
He hated it, but he only had 10 years before he was 18… at least that was something he could look forward to. He just had to stop thinking about all the bad things… then maybe he wouldn’t have to be so sad about it.
“Please Pepper,” Tony begged her as she tightened the tie around his neck. “Please don’t make me go to that weird school. I bet you those kids don’t do anything but pick their noses and pee their pants. Please.”
He didn’t like the way Pepper seemed to be amused by his obvious pain. She may be CEO now, but that didn’t mean she was allowed to belittle his feelings the way she was, especially after their very awkward fallout after that spur of the moment kiss on the roof. According to all those ridiculous romance dramas, they should be walking on eggshells around each other. He’d much prefer it that way because that would mean it actually meant something to her… he hated not knowing.
“Tony,” she placated, “all you have to do is read a couple children's books to them and answer a few of their questions. You’ll be fine.”
“Will you come with me? You’re so good with kids,” he pleaded as she finished up with his collar and awkwardly patted the lapels of his suit down, forcing a smile onto her face when she looked up at him.
“No. I’ve got a lot of work to do. Phil’s going with you though, and so is Happy. You shouldn’t have a problem. They'll make sure you don't do anything stupid.”
“But what if one of them sneezes on me?”
Pepper just looks at him, with that arch in her brow raised in a way that signified annoyance… he got that look a lot.
One of the children did sneeze on him. He'd just like to make that clear. In fact, that was practically the first thing that happened when he stepped into the sketchy looking classroom where a room full of young minds and press cameras were eagerly waiting for him. He was proud of the fact that he didn't hightail it out of that room as soon as it happened.
He tried his very best not to look too uncomfortable, even though he felt extremely so. He didn’t even have to say anything before the teacher was clapping her hands to garner the classes attention. This drew the students’ focus away from him for just a moment so they could scurry over to the old, stained carpet in the middle of the room, facing a, by the looks of it, germ-infested bean bag chair where he guessed was his seat. He held back the grimace as he glanced around the gnarly classroom, and simply focused on the one clean spot on the wall across the room.
He was sure to make a big show of smiling for the cameras as he walked past the groups of desks towards the big bean bag chair. Phil rushed to his side to hand him two colorful books when he sat down, and Tony frowned in annoyance when he looked down at the cheesy titles. ‘Amelia Bedelia’? What the heck? He’d heard of the other one: ‘The Giving Tree’, but the other one just sounded ridiculous. So, with a quick greeting to the children he discarded the weird book and started on the familiar bright green book by opening up to the first page.
Pepper had given him clear instructions on how to read to the children before he left. First, he was supposed to read the words on the page. Then, he was supposed to turn the book around and show the kid’s the picture on the page before moving on, because apparently their tiny minds couldn’t be stimulated without pictures.
He definitely did not happen to miss the, probably, five kids with their fingers so far up his nose it should have hurt. He tried so hard not to focus on it, and he most definitely didn’t look at that little girl dead in the eye while she stuck her finger straight in her mouth right after passionately digging for gold. He didn’t gag; he swears by it. But Happy and Phil would both probably disagree. So, after that incident, he tried his best to avoid eye contact with any of the other gold-diggers… just in case.
He was almost done with the first book, and he was getting a bit antsy; ready to leave and escape the horrendous hellhole he'd been sucked into. Then, there was a little knock at the door, and the teacher jumped from her seat and rushed over to answer it. Tony paused in his reading and craned his neck curiously to try and get a look at the new visitor. Maybe it was Pepper coming to rescue him.
It wasn't. On the other side of the door stood a timid looking little boy. His gaze was cast down to his worn and scruffy sneakers as the teacher quietly reprimanded him, probably for being tardy for class.
When the little boy looked up to meet Tony’s gaze, his tiny brown eyes widened comically, and his small mouth fell open before splitting into a large, excited grin. He was missing his two front teeth and for some reason Tony found it absurdly endearing.
The poor kid must have been shy, because after maybe two seconds, he seemed to realize he was staring, and his mouth quickly clamped together in a tight frown and he averted his eyes back to his shoes while the teacher ushered him into the room.
“C’mon kid. You’re just in time for the depressing ending,” Tony smiled, waving the timid boy over. He scurried over quickly, shooting various wary glances around at the crowd of students and cameras staring at him before taking a seat on the carpet at the very back of the group.
Tony continued reading, and he couldn’t help but notice that the late kid wasn’t a designated gold-digger. Or, he at least had the common decency to not do it in public.
Then, it was time for questions, and for some reason he dreaded that part more than the actual reading. He prepared himself for many, many questions about Iron Man and his money, because those were really the only things about himself that seemed to interest children… and most adults.
His assumption turned out to be correct. There were a few science based questions thrown in there, but they were the mundane, child-like questions that seemed to intrigue all young children for some odd reason. ‘Why is the sky blue?’ ‘Are aliens real?’ ‘How do airplanes stay in the air?’ All of which he knew the answer too… however, he wasn’t all too familiar with explaining them to a group of small children with the mental capacity of a well-trained Chimpanzee. I mean, they were picking their noses for god's sake! So, he stuck with the very basics, hoping that they were somewhat able to comprehend it, and if not… oh well. Sucks to suck.
He couldn’t help but notice that, unlike all the other eager children around him with their hands raised so emphatically that he’d probably strain his shoulder if he put as much effort into it, the shy, curly headed boy in the back didn’t raise his hand. He seemed to be perfectly content with playing with his shoelaces instead, perhaps looking up once in a while when Tony said something he found particularly interesting.
Tony squinted slightly, trying to see through the sea of small hands, to get a better look at him. He’d never met a quiet, unobnoxious child before, and he was kinda intrigued.
“Hey, quiet kid in the back,” Tony spoke, looking straight at the boy. Somehow the kid seemed to know he was talking about him and his neck practically snapped in half with how quickly his head jumped up, and he stared at Tony with wide, worry stricken eyes. As if he were scared he’d done something wrong. Tony stored that particular observation at the back of his mind and continued on with what he was planning to ask him. “You got any questions? You seem kinda quiet back there.”
He didn’t know why he seemed to like this tiny, shy, little kid, with a weirdly shaped dirt smudge on his cheek, more than he liked the others. There was just a look in his eyes that seemed to charm him. He seemed… more mature than any 7-year-old should be.
The small boy stammered quietly and a few of his classmates lowered their hands and turned their gazes to glare at him. It didn’t take Tony awfully long to realize why he had taken to hiding at the back of the group.
“I-I-I do have one,” the kid was able to choke out eventually. His voice was high-pitched and scared, and he dropped his gaze away from Tony, back down to his shoes while he spoke.
Tony couldn’t help but smile at his charming awkwardness. He could hear the shuttering of the cameras going off in the background as he waited patiently for the kid to ask his question, but he paid them no mind.
“You-um. You discovered a new element to replace the palladium in your suit power…,” his face scrunched up as he thought for the right word, “core. How-how did you do that?”
The question surprised Tony, and his eyes widened a bit from the surprise, he definitely wasn’t expecting that to come out of the kid’s mouth and he couldn’t have been happier. But before he could answer the beautiful question, the nasty little girl who ate her own boogers was rolling her eyes at Peter as if he were the dumbest person she’d ever met in her tiny, insignificant little life. Tony really didn't like her.
“Ugh, Peter, stop being such a nerd,” she taunted, “Nobody likes a show off.”
“I-I’m sorry,” the boy, Peter, stuttered, looking shamefully into his lap, and squeezing his eyelids together tightly. Tony didn’t like that. Nobody should be ridiculed for asking a question. Such a great one at that.
He frowned and made quick work to praise the kid before he took to beating himself up too much. “Hey-hey-hey it's alright. It's a good question.”
The kid's face lit up at the praise he was offered, and the corner of Tony's lips quirk up in amusement at his excitement.
“So, Starkanium, interestingly enough was discovered by my father. He didn't have enough fancy technology to develop it while he was alive, so he left behind clues so I could create it for him.”
“Yeah,” Peter's eyebrows furrowed in confusion and Tony could swear he saw a little eye roll in there, “but how did you make it?”
“Peter!” His teacher reprimanded. Tony waved it off with another amused grin. The kid was snarky too… could this get any better?
“It's alright. He's persistent, that's good,” Tony turned to look at Peter again, and he raised his hand up to wave him forward. “C'mon up here kid. Let's get our science geek on, I'm about to blow your little kiddie mind.”
Peter seemed unsure of the instruction at first, but slowly he rose to his feet, and a series of rapid camera shuttering followed as the young boy hesitantly made his way to the front of the group.
Tony pointed at an empty spot on the carpet near his feet and Peter obediently sat down. All while staring up at the genius with wonder and amazement sparkling in his eyes. Tony tried not to go into too much detail while explaining how he re-discovered the element and began the process of building the particle accelerator. He tried dumbing it down as much as he possibly could, but it was hard explaining complicated things like particle accelerators and impossibly synthesized elements in a way toddlers could understand it.
He glanced around at the other kids, and they were all beyond confused at his ramblings, as expected, along with a few of the adults. But then he looked down at Peter, and the boy was still staring up at him in fascination, as if Tony Stark himself had hung the moon and the stars just for him to look at. So, he decided to just keep his focus on Peter since nobody else seemed to be interested in what he was talking about.
“Like-like a particle accelerator?” Peter stammered excitedly when Tony began to explain the process it took to make the element. He tried leaning closer to Tony for some reason with his growing excitement, and he didn't seem to notice that his little hand had landed directly on top of his left shoe, because apparently children didn’t understand the concept of personal boundaries at their youthful age. Peter also didn't seem all so shy anymore. Tony felt a little pride in himself for being able to draw the young boy out of his shell.
Tony grinned down at him, happy the boy was able to piece together his ramblings. “Exactly like a particle accelerator. I built it in my own garage.”
“Cool!” Peter squealed, his large grin growing wider, showing off his toothless smile. “How-how much energy did it take to power it. I bet it was lots, wasn't it?”
Tony nodded, feeling his own excitement begin to grow. The kid's elation seemed to be rubbing off on him… that is until the dumb teacher decided to ruin Peter’s enjoyment.
“That's enough Peter. I think it's someone else's turn to ask a question.” The boy in question shrunk back into himself again, removing his hand from Tony's shoe, and wrapping his hoodie clad arms around his middle, looking back down at his lap in shame as if he’d done something wrong.
Tony got the feeling that the teacher wasn't very fond of Peter, and Tony already knew he wasn't very fond of her.
In any other circumstances, Tony would have gladly put her in her place, ignored the rest of the children, and continued his riveting conversation with the adorable little science nerd in front of him, but he couldn’t. Per Pepper’s insistence, he wasn’t allowed to be rude, or harass anyone while in front of cameras, and he supposed it would look just as bad if he ignored the teachers instructions and the rest of the children.
Hands shot up again, and he had to repress an annoyed groan at the thought of having to answer more obnoxious questions. He gently nudged Peter's tiny foot with his larger one to grab the kid's attention, and he the young boy snapped his head up to stare at him in bewilderment. Tony smiled warmly at him and shot him a subtle wink before explaining one of the nauseating gold-digger's questions.
He hides his disappointment and annoyance well as he answers more exasperating questions. It was made just a little more bearable being able to spot the little happy smile on Peter's face as he stared down at the stained carpet, picking at one of the threads.
Then, the questions are finally being put on halt when Coulson steps out into the cameras’ view with an apologetic smile directed at the kids.
“Alright kids, I hate to disappoint you, but Mr. Stark is a very busy man, and he has to get back to work now.”
A collective ‘Aww’ disperses amongst the crowd of children, and Tony stands from the beanbag chair, showing off a showy grin to the group. Peter didn't lift his head to look at him, and Tony felt it was the perfect little opportunity to show off a kid-friendly, kind and caring Tony Stark that the world oh so desperately wanted to see for some reason. Then, maybe Pepper would stop hounding him about all this too.
He crouched down directly in front of Peter and used his index finger to tap the underside of his chin to direct the kid's gaze up towards him.
“It was really nice to meet you Peter,” he smiled, “never stop asking questions. I can already tell that you'll be going places. Stick to it and you might have a place at Stark Industries one day.”
The sparkle in Peter's eyes drew out a genuine smile from him, and the boy’s toothless smile was back.
“Yeah?” He giggles, bouncing a little in his excitement.
Tony nodded his head.
“Well, it was super-duper nice to meet you too Mr. Tony Stark sir. I've always really, really loved all your cool inventions!”
Tony held out a hand to him, and Peter eagerly reached forward to grasp it, shaking it wildly. It was kind of funny the way Tony's hand practically engulfed the kid's much smaller one.
“Welp,” Tony sighed. He reached out, ruffled the kid’s hair slightly then stood up from his crouch. “Maybe I'll see you around Pete.”
Peter nodded again and was thankfully oblivious to the jealous glares he was receiving from the rest of his classmates.
“Bye kids,” Tony waved, grabbing his suit jacket from Happy and shrugging it on. “Thanks for having me.”
A chorus of ‘Bye Mr. Stark's followed him out the door, and he could finally release a sigh of relief.
Boy, was he glad that was over.