The Potato Gun Kid.
That had been Tony’s memory of the boy, a sandy haired kid shrouded by darkness, sitting in a cluster of tools and bolts. Because, for a while, it was only ever nighttime whenever Tony pictured him.
There was something about that kid, maybe it how well he knew his tools or, perhaps it was the fact that he won the competition, even though he was the youngest in the group but Tony couldn’t get him out of his mind. Wherever he turned, he thought he saw the kid from the fundraiser. It was ridiculous, and probably unhealthy, but no matter what he tried there seemed to be nothing Tony could do to make the boy disappear. Every meeting, conference, gathering, movie night- whatever- there the kid was.
It was infuriating.
Two years went by and Tony did nothing about it, finding that, with the more time that passed, the more the kid seemed to fade into the background. He wasn’t disappearing, more, blending. Like Tony was getting used to his constant appearance, his consistent lingering. It became a part of his daily that he could easily shrug off, even ignore if he put the effort in.
That was the case, at least until the third year.
The kid came back with a vengeance, haunting not only the man’s daytime activities but also his dreams at night. Over and over again he would relive the day at the expo, children bustling around him as they fought for an opportunity to meet Tony-freaking-Stark. his conversation with the one lucky boy who did. Awarding said boy the first place prize and then, simply leaving. Like he had that night.
He didn’t understand why his brain was wasting the few precious hours of sleep he would accidentilty (or forcefully, if Pepper were in town) retrieve. Three months later, however, the dream was different.
It started the same as always, Tony introducing the fundraiser to the group, talking into the microphone with practiced ease:
“Opportunities fall flat for those less fortunate. You all, even as young as you are, are gifted. I want to see if you have what it takes to do something with that talent. Who knows, maybe someday, some of you will work for me at Stark Industries.” The crowd cheered and he gave a firm nod and as he walked away from the podium. Pepper cut across to him.
“Where was the rest of it?” She asked. She had given him an outline of what to say a few days prior. He hadn’t even spent a minute skimming over it before he threw it, forgotten, onto his desk.
“That thing you gave me? It was longer than the Von Trapps’ Costco receipt.” He said, nodding a ‘thank you’ to a young man handing him a chilled water bottle.
“Those things on there were important, Tony! You can’t just ignore the things I give you like that.”
“It’s not my first rodeo, Ms, Potts. Don’t worry, I got all of the important stuff.” He waved goodbye and started onto the nearest booth, passing over the volcanoes and stopping at the ones that peaked his interests.
“Your in trouble.” Said a kid to his right.
“Ha-ha.” Tony mocked laughed. “Didn’t the workers at the orphanage ever teach you any manners?” He asked.
“Didn’t have to.” The kid responded, eyes narrowing. “My folks did that themselves.”
“Didn’t do a very good job.” Tony muttered. “What’ve you got here?” He asked a bit louder, gesturing to the trinkets on the fold out table. His question caused the kid to perk up slightly, giddily pointing at the items on the table.
“This here is an engine for a scooter I built out of old phone and computer parts. Here’s a teddy bear with a voice recorded message and a simulated heartbeat. This is an old toy car I suped up to drive by voice command, and that’s a solar powered potato gun.” He stopped, looking up at Tony with awaiting and wide eyes.
“That’s cool kid the voice to drive- wait, did you say a solar powered potato gun?”
“Yup! With it running on solar energy, I get a faster average firing rate than if I were to design it to shoot the potato’s manually.” The kids still smiling, all confidence and prowess. Tony blinks.
“A solar powered potato gun.” He repeats. “Well that’s a new one.” He picks up the plastic car. “This car though, this could get you somewhere, kid.” He says.
“I know.” The kid agrees, making Tony smirk. “It was one of my better ideas.”
“Right up there with the potato gun?”
“Right after the potato gun.” The kid smiles.
“Huh, right.” Tony turns the toy over in his hand again. It’s a neat job, good craftsmanship and excellent handywork. The wires are tucked away and even the plastic casing has been painted and decorated to look like an original design. “How’d you feel about coming by the tower?”
“I-I- what?” It’s funny, seeing this overly boastful kid go from cocky to speechless in less than a second. Tony’s almost proud of it. Almost.
“Yeah, come by my workshop, come tinker around a little bit?” He set the car back down to get a better look at the kid. He looked maybe ten or eleven, and skinny.
“I… Yeah, that sounds awesome!”
Except… that’s not what happened. Tony never invited the kid to ‘come tinker’. He hadn’t even seen or heard of the kid since that day.
The change in his dream, it was weird, probably from the takeout he had eaten the night before. Heartburn from getting old and all, as Pepper loved to remind him.
This had to mean something though, didn’t it? Wasn’t there some physiological thing where dreams were meaningful? What if there was a decision of him that was carrying the world? Like time would stop next week if he ignored this dream tonight?
Tony couldn’t take that chance. He couldn’t let the people of the world down (or let his curiosity build) and it was about time he does something about this damn kid.
He climbed out of bed, grabbing a pair of old, grease stained jeans to shimmy into on his way out. He didn’t bother to check the time, he knew it was late, or early or whatever. That didn’t really matter. He just needed to find this damn kid before he ended up in a mental clinic.
Finding that ‘damn kid’ was a lot easier than it probably should have been, and definitely a lot easier than Tony thought it would be to find a child of whom he didn’t even know the last name of. It was all thanks to Pepper, really. Her and her immaculate record keeping, every detail every event ever hosted by Stark Industries was accessible through Tony’s network.
The orphanage was in Queens, and called (very simply); Queens Home for Boys. It was only a short drive, and the winners receipt provided Tony with a last name. So, whether it was nearing four in the morning or not, he was on his way to Queens.
By the time he actually reached the facility, and adding the time it took him to work up his courage, it was almost six. He straightened the rumpled suit jacket he had shirley thrown on and smoothed out his ‘floor jeans’ before taking a deep breath and knocking.
He didn’t know what here was there for exactly, to tell the kid off? Tell him to stop hovering in Tony’s peripheral vision? To quite stalking the man’s mentality? That seemed a little psycho-esque. He still hadn’t formulated a plan by the time a middle aged lady in a rumpled pantsuit opened the door.
“May I help you sir- oh my goodness.” She gasped when she seemed to finally realize who he was. “Mr. Tony Stark, sir?” She stuttered.
“Tony should do it.” He corrects, using the moment to gather his bearings. “I was wondering if there was a kid here? Goes by Harley, Harley Parker.” He peers around the woman’s shoulder and into the home as he asks.
“Ah, yes. Is-is there a reason you would want to be seeing him?” She asks warily. “I apologize if he did anything, I’m sure-”
“No, no.” Tony cuts her off, confused. “He didn’t do anything. I was actually here to talk to him about a summer internship.”
“An internship? Are you sure, Mr. Stark? He’s only thirteen.” She asks, still standing in the center of the doorway.
“Positive.” He assures, nearly struggling at this point, to stay composed. “May I come in?”
“Oh!” It seems only now, the woman is realising she has kept him outside all of this time. “Of course, right this way.”
She leads him down a narrow corridor and into a slightly larger entry way. There is a room to his left, the living room or playroom, he presumes, and a large dining room to his right. There is a wide staircase directly in the center, in front of him.
The orphanage itself isn’t in the best shape. Its a run down and archaic putting it generously. The light bulbs are dimmed and at the end of their life span, their low glow casting shadows onto the worn wood of the floor. There is wallpaper on some areas of the dining room wall, and paint peeling in the living room. The toys are old and used, colors fading from years of both love and misuse. Tony suspects not all of the children that have come here have been kind to them, or the building. He makes a small mental note to write this place a check in the near future. He cringes as he catches sight of a small bathroom. Make that the very near future.
“How many boys do you have here?” He asks as he is led to the stairs.
“Eleven at the moment. We used to have twelve but there was multiple… complications, with one of them and we were forced to put him into a foster home just last week.” Tony nods, thinking about his college days and picturing a teenager filled to the brim with angst and the continuous craving for alcohol, sex, and weed.
“And what are their ages?” He continues, mostly out of genuine curiosity.
“The youngest is nine and the oldest is fifteen.” She answers, as if the lack of young children is a relief. Tony understands that, but that doesn’t explain why there were so many colorful plastics along the floor of the living room. Perhaps they just liked to be prepared. “And here is the middle boys’ room.” She says, gesturing to a white stained door.
“Thank you.” He tells her, giving a slight nod. “I can take it from here.”
“Of course. Let me know if there’s anything you need Mr. Stark.” She says before giving him the once over and heading down the hall, where he assumes, the workers rooms are. She’s probably on her way to spread the news about his arrival to all her co-workers. If that's the case, which he is almost sure is, then he better get a move on.
It takes a good amount of his willpower to do so but, finally, he knocks on the door.
The kid that answers is small and pudgy. He has a mop of tangled black curls atop his head and has to be no older than twelve. Tony immediately recognizes that this kid isn’t the one he’s looking for.
“Hey kid.” He says, clearing his throat. “Harley around?”
The kid in front of him, previously interested in a game on his small and outdated gameboy, finally looks up at the sound of the familiar and all to famous voice.
“T-tony Stark?” He stutters, slowly dropping the hand holding the electronic. “ The Tony Stark?” He asks again.
“That’s me.” Sighs Tony, trying to peer around the boy and into the room. “Is Harley around?”
“Harley Parker?” The kid asks, eyebrows screwed in confusion.
“There any other Harley’s around here?” Tony asks. He’s probably pushing into what could be considered rude but honestly, he’s had it with all the fanboying. Its seriously dampening his progress.
The kid blushed, angling his head down slightly as he opened the door and moved out of the way to allow Tony room to pass through.
The bedroom itself was cluttered and cramped. There were three twin beds in the small space, two of which made up a rickety bunk bed. There was a small desk, presumably shared by the three boys, wires and tools coated the top. At the desk, with his back to the door, sat the fabled Mr. Parker.
“Stark.” The kid greets, back still to the door as continued working on his small creation. Tony didn’t know what to say; long time, no see? How’ve you been? Sorry but can you please stop invading my dreams? What did you say in this type of situation? There should be a code for it. He briefly wonders if there are How To books on how to hold conversations with kids. Not that Tony was good with kids on his best days.
Instead he says:
“Still working on that potato gun?” Its foolish and stupid, the kid probably won’t even remember the details of their first (and only) conversation. Honestly, Tony doesn’t understand why he remembers it himself.
“No, actually.” The kid says, tinkering some more as he talks. “Voice controlled toy car.” The response startles Tony some, bringing him back to that conversation two years ago; This car though, this could get you somewhere, kid. Right. So the kid apparently did remember.
“Good.” Tony laughs, reverting back to humor and sarcasm in his awkwardness. “Those toys downstairs could use some help.”
“Especially now that there’s no one to play with them anymore.” Harley mutters under his breath. Tony doesn't think he was meant to hear but still, the comment gets the best of his curiosity.
“What?” He asks.
“Oh-ah, nothing.” Harley says, before suddenly whipping around in his chair, screwdriver held tightly in his hand. “What do you want?”
Yeah, that. The trickiest part of this whole experience.
“Do I have to want something?” He says instead.
“Yeah, right.” Harley huffs a laugh. “The great Tony Stark comes all the way out to Queens just to chat with a couple of poor, mopey orphans. Even I know of your massive ego, Stark.” He says, turning back around to continue with his work.
Tony stills. He knows that he’s bad, that most of the things that he does come across as selfish, that he often thinks about himself first. And really, the kids not wrong, Tony did come here for his own benefit.
There's something different about this Harley Parker though, something that has Tony making more small talk instead of finishing business quickly and then going on his way. He’s also the first person at this place that hasn’t gaped at him or silently wished for an autograph. Harley talked to him like a person, something very few people seemed to be able to do.
“Fine then.” He says. “You got me.” Tony makes his way to stand by the desk. “How would you like to come to my lab?”