"Hey, Kid.", Tony called out not bothering to look over his shoulder. He'd heard the window to the lab side open and only knew of one person who regularly entered his personal space that way. "Isn't it a little late for patrolling?"
Crawling across the ceiling, landing nimbly on his feet beside where the engineer was working, Peter pulled off his mask. "It's summer, Mr. Stark and only ten o'clock. I don't have to be home for another hour."
Still not removing his eyes from his work, Tony, nodded his head. He'd really had no idea what time it was when he'd said that. He'd assumed it was later than ten. Then again, maybe it was the lack of sleep making him lose track of the time. "Hmm. So then what brings you over to my neck of the woods?"
Taking seat directly beside his mentor, Peter sighed. "I wanted to talk to you about something. Can we talk?"
"Aren't we already doing that?", Tony asked, looking the boy over for the first time since he'd entered the room.
"No, I mean really talk.", Peter insisted.
Going back to the mess of wires set before him, Tony relented. "Okay, sure, what's on your mind, Kid."
Peter hesitated before he spoke again, taking a moment to watch his mentor work. It was amazing to him that the same man who could blast a person into a wall or lift a man off of his feet by the throat if necessary also possessed the skill and patience to delicately untangle such thin strands without snapping them apart. "Well, I've been thinking--"
"--Oh Good Lord...", Tony groaned, letting go of the coils he'd been working with in order to drop his head into his hands. Those words never led to anything good.
"What?", Peter cried out innocently.
"Every time you say 'I've been thinking', I end up having to listen to you rant about something ridiculous.", the man stated, as he wiped his hands down his face and turned to look at the still innocent looking child.
Squinting his eyes in the direction of his mentor, Peter raised a finger and pointed it towards the man's chest. "That's not true, Mr. Stark."
Tony raised an eyebrow and waved his hand hazily towards the ceiling. "Should I have FRIDAY play back the footage of you pacing while going on and on about whether or not walnuts should be allowed in brownies?", he asked flatly.
"That is a legitimate debate, Mr. Stark.", Peter stated still wagging his finger in the man's direction. Tony should have realized that saying something like that would lead to Peter rambling a whole new string of thoughts but he didn't. As such, Peter became thoroughly distracted and ended up going way off track of whatever it was he'd set out to discuss. "Walnuts are good but do they really belong in brownies? Aren't brownies good enough on their own? I mean--"
"--Kid! You're digressing.", Tony interrupted with an amused shout. "How about you just get to the point already."
"Oh, Yeah.", Peter said as if he'd already forgotten why he was there in the first place. Of course, maybe he had, it didn't take much to throw the kid off track.
Shaking his head, as if that would bring everything back into focus, Peter continued, "Anyway, do you remember the guy I caught robbing the grocery store earlier this week."
"Vaguely.", the man replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "You mean the one that gave you the sob story?"
"Uh-huh. That one.", Peter said before pausing to throw the man a slight glare. "...but it wasn't a sob story--"
"--Is that so--", Tony asked in pure amusement. The kid was so innocent and trusting it was almost hilarious.
"--Yes.", Peter cut the man off indignantly. "It was entirely too detailed to be made up."
"Maybe the guy's just a pathological liar.", the man suggested with a shrug of his shoulder.
At this point, Peter threw himself up off the bench he'd been sitting on and looked down towards his mentor. "Mr. Stark!", he stressed, elongating the R's.
"Fine, Kid. Go on...", Tony relented as he watched the boy begin to pace the floor in front of him. He smiled knowing an exhaustive spiel was about to begin.
"Anyway.", Peter said poignantly. "I've been thinking. What if, like, some of the bad guys I catch aren't really bad guys."
"Pete, that guy had over a hundred dollars worth of food under his hoodie", the man started seriously before breaking into a humorous smile. "...and packs of sausages in his--"
"--hear me out!", Peter interrupted before the man could get any further.
Holding up his hands in surrender the man tried to stop laughing. "Alright, I'm listening.", he placated.
"Thank you.", Peter said not really sounding thankful at all. "As I was saying... what if some of them aren't really bad guys. I mean what if, like, just because they're a bad guy doesn't mean that they're a bad guy.", Peter said as he continued to pace, though, he paused for a moment to glare at his mentor when he started to laugh again.
"Did you just quote 'Wreck it Ralph'?", Tony asked with delight.
"Maybe.", he admitted defensively. "They have a point though, Mr. Stark! Like the guy at the grocery store. He was definitely acting like a criminal because you definitely don't just steal sausages, especially not like that... but he was being a good dad. Right?"
Tony tried and failed to keep a straight face, as he listened to the boy's assessment. By the time he had a reply in mind, he couldn't stop himself from smiling ear to ear. "I'm pretty sure 'good dads' don't put sausages in their--"
"You're missing the point!", Peter shouted, hands flying up into the air, still pacing back and forth.
"Am I?", Tony asked innocently.
"Yes, Mr. Stark!", Peter answered in frustration. Why couldn't the man just listen to him for once? "The point is sending him to jail for stealing food for his family was probably the wrong way to--"
"--You know Jean Valjean was sentenced to nineteen years for stealing a single loaf of bread. I'm pretty sure this guy will get off with only a few months of probation."
"Jean Valjean isn't even a real person, Mr. Stark.", the boy retorted in annoyance. "Your point is invalid."
Tony raised his eyebrows and leaned back in the chair he'd been sitting in. "So let me get this straight, you can quote 'Wreck it Ralph' but I can't reference classical literature?"
Making a noise of frustration, Peter dropped back down onto the bench he'd been previously sitting on. "You're supposed to be hearing me out!", he fully whined this time.
"Right. Hearing you out.", Tony said with a nod of his head. "I'm listening. Go."
Hopping back up to go back to pacing, Peter started to falter a bit with his words. "What if, what if his family is like, starving and, and I just sent their only source of food to jail."
Tony sighed because this kid was too good for this world. "Kid, we live in New York, I promise there is an abundance of resources out there that that man would have been better off taking advantage of.", he promised. "Crime isn't the answer, you know that."
"...but, what if he didn't know about the resources.", Peter pleaded. "What if he was from like, Kentucky or something and thought he was doing what the needed to do."
This had Tony laughing again despite the obvious stress on the boy's face. "How exactly is a guy and his family getting here from Kentucky if they don't even have money for sausages?", Tony asked with a smile. He was never going to let the whole sausage thing go. In fact, he wasn't sure he was ever going to be able to eat one again with a straight face.
"Ugh, leave me alone about it.", Peter griped as he stopped his foot petulantly. "You know what I meant, Mr. Stark."
"Okay, okay. I know what you meant", Tony said in an attempt to appease the kid. "...but, Pete, I promise there are places people can go to get food and shelter if they need it."
"I've been to some of those places, Mr. Stark. Like I volunteered at some of them last summer.", Peter said dropping his head towards the floor. "They, they aren't very nice and they aren't very easy to find. Especially if you don't already know where they are."
Sighing again but this time in defeat, Tony rose from his chair to stand before the now seemingly spiritless boy. "What would you like to do about it, Kid?"
"I, I don't know. ", the kid answered, raising his head so that his eyes met his mentors. "What can I do about it?"
Tony shrugged his shoulders and offered the first idea that came to mind. "Well, what if you used your presence as Spider-man to draw attention to the needs of the homeless?" It was a broad concept but he figured the kid could work with that. It seemed like something of a start anyway.
"I don't know, Mr. Stark. Those places are pretty run down, I get that they're what's out there but I'd hate to promote something that I wouldn't want to go to myself... even if I did need to.", Peter replied sadly. He couldn't imagine needing to sleep in one of the dirty shelters he'd encountered the year before. The whole idea made him feel... sad.
"Drawing attention to the problem might help solve it.", Tony suggested as he placed a gentle hand on the boy's slumped shoulders.
Peter sighed because he really wished there was something more he could do but he was just one person. Spider-man or not. He could only do so much. "Maybe."
"What if I helped?", Tony added with a small smile.
Raising his eyebrows hopefully at his mentor, he gave a hesitant smile. "Like, How?"
"What if I started a campaign through SI to support local shelters.", Tony suggested. He figured the company could use some good press and if this was something the kid felt so strongly about, maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. He could get some positive media presence and have a happy kid. After giving it a few more seconds of thought, he decided that the boy was definitely onto something. "We could even go so far as to vamp a few of them up. Get people excited about it, make them want to get their hands in it and help out."
"You would do that?", Peter asked in surprise. He knew Tony had an abundance of money and had used it to help people in the past but generally, it was funding college student's tech projects or hosting galas and events supporting large scale charities.
Taking a chance, Tony pulled Peter into a firm side hug. "Would it make you feel better?"
"Yeah, yeah it would.", Peter sighed out, as he soaked up the rare bit of affection his mentor was currently offering.
"Then I would do that.", he replied matter-of-factly.
"Thank you, Mr. Stark!", the boy shouted unexpectedly turning the carefully maneuvered side hug into a full-on embrace, taking Tony slightly by surprise.
"Anything for you, Kid.", Tony said as he gave the boy a soft pat on the back. "Look, It's getting late.", he added as he pulled away from Peter before things got too mushy and feely. "Do you need a ride home?"
"No, I like swinging through the city at night. It's pretty.", Peter mused, already collecting his mask from a nearby table.
"Sure, Kid.", the man scoffed as he watched Peter climb the wall towards the same window he'd entered. "Hey, why don't you come by sometime this weekend and we'll start coming up with an outline for this outreach project of yours."
"Will do, Mr. Stark! ...Good night ... and thanks again.", he shouted as he leaped out the window, causing Tony's heart to jump up into his throat. While he knew Peter was fine, he was positive that he would never get used to seeing a teenaged boy dive from his seventh story window.
"No problem, Kiddo.", he whispered to himself as he started to walk back to his previously abandoned undertaking.
As he sat at the table, fingers occupied with the task at hand, he thought about Peter. He'd once told him that he wanted him to be better. However, in truth, he already was better. He thought to himself that while it might be true that Tony Stark has a heart, Peter Parker might actually have something even bigger. Something like compassion and empathy. He really couldn't ask for a better kid to mentor though he couldn't help but think that maybe they could learn from each other. Time would tell, that was certain.