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Better Than You know

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Peter Parker was a smart kid. Smart enough to have gotten the attention of the one and only Tony Stark at the ripe old age of six and a half. He'd lied about his age in order to enter the Stark Environmental Conservation Design Challenge that meant for middle and high schoolers. When his concept was chosen he'd been found out, thus disqualifying him. Though not until after Tony had already laid eyes on it.

 

Being more than impressed that a mere child could come up with a clean energy solution that was far better than most of the twelve to eighteen-year-olds who had entered, Tony was intrigued. It was also worth noting that not one of the other entrants had made use of the Stark branded clean energy power source. How a six and a half-year-old was able to not only have a basic understanding of arc reactor technology but have the ability to conceptualize it in such a way as to power an electric car was astounding. Of course, he'd had the same idea in the past and had messed around with the concept but he wasn't under the age of ten.

 

After spending an entire afternoon looking up everything he could find on a child named Peter Parker he learned that the boy attended a math and science charter school in Queens, lived with his aunt and uncle and had won the State Science the year previous. After cleverly, infiltrating the school's backup computer system he learned that Peter was at the very top of his class and participated in several extra-curricular including, a small robotics club. In short, the kid was a fucking mini genius. One that from the looks of him didn't have near enough resources at his fingertips. From there, his intrigue became an obsession that eventually led him to the kid's front door.

 

After a shocked May and Ben Parker, finally, let him in the front door he began searching the room for any signs of the boy himself. "Where's the kid?", he asked after May had handed him a piece of shitty banana nut bread and Bed had poured him a decent mug of coffee. That was all fine and good but he'd come there to meet Peter and he had a tendency to get impatient.

 

"He's at school.", Ben explained kindly. He would have thought that would be obvious. It was two-thirty on a Friday afternoon in the middle of February. Then again, what would a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist, know about, when elementary school-aged children got out of school. "He'll be home in an hour when the bus drops him off."

 

Somewhat disappointed that the kid wasn't there, Tony resigned himself to having a forced conversation with the boy's guardians until he was due to arrive. However, he ended up being rather surprised when the two adults proved to be far more intelligent and interesting than he'd first anticipated. In fact, he was pretty sure he could listen to them talk for hours on end. They were genuine and honest, unlike most of the people he currently surrounded himself with. He found himself actually enjoying their company. As such, the hour flew by and soon enough there was a little burst of energy, plowing through the front door with his mouth already going ninety-miles a minute.

 

"Uncle Ben! Aunt May! Guess what? I got the highest score on the reading evaluation. Even higher than Flash. Ms. Leonard said she would order some books to put in the library especially for me! Oh! ...and Ned wants to know if I can spend the night on Saturday. I promised we won't stay up too--", he rambled before freezing in place. "You're Tony Stark!", he squeaked out, once he'd rounded the corner to find a third adult in the room.

 

After that, he clammed up and Tony couldn't sort out why that would leave him feeling disappointed. Normally he couldn't stand the incessant chatter of small children. There was just something about this one that interested him. Maybe it was because he'd hoped that by listening to the boy talk he could decide for himself exactly how smart he was. According to his aunt and uncle, they'd never bothered to have the boy's intelligence tested. The evaluation was costly and they wouldn't be able to pay for him to go to any kind of private magnet school anyway. "In the flesh, kid. I saw your arc reactor powered car design. Who helped you with that?", he asked ignoring the fact that the child was nervously attempting to hide behind his uncle's legs.

 

Looking between his aunt and uncle for support, Peter took a half step forward and took a deep breath. "Um... nobody did. I uh, I, I read about your, your arc reactor online and, and then I thought that, maybe, it could, you know, power other things. I thought about trains first because I love trains but then, then I thought maybe smaller would be better. So, so I thought a car would be nice...", he started before going into a fairly sound explanation of his concept.

 

Tony smiled through the boy's stuttered speech because it was kind of cute which he instantly realized was a weird thought for him to be having because why the fuck would he think anything was cute. Especially a snot-nosed child. Then again, this particular child didn't look all that snotty and he'd just finish giving and explanation that he was certain some adults wouldn't understand. "You sound like a pretty smart, kid, Pete. What else have you got?", he asked mostly out of curiosity. He was somewhat surprised when the extremely shy-looking boy, carefully pulled away from his uncle and put his small hand into his. When the fingers weren't near as sticky as he'd imagined they would be, so he allowed it to happen but he would definitely be washing that hand later.

 

"This is my room. I like to make things and fix things.", Peter said as he continued to hold tightly onto Tony's hand. "Come here, Mr. Stark. If you sit in that chair I can show you some of my other designs."

 

So Tony sat in the chair that had been pointed out to him and soon found his lap full of slightly crinkled papers. He glanced through them briefly and despite the fact that the majority of them had been drawn out in crayon, they were still slightly impressive. Most of them weren't nearly as practical as the car concept but they were creative all the same. Then when he got to the last page, he smiled but only for a second before the paper was being ripped right out of his hand.

 

"Oh! That's not one of my designs. I'm sorry, Mr. Stark! I, I don't know how that got in there.", Peter hurridly stated as he tried to hide the drawing behind his back all the while his cheeks and ears were growing a bright shade of red.

 

"No, no.", Tony replied as he set the other papers on the table beside him and tapped the top of the pile with his index finger. "I want to see it. Come here, kid.", he added in an attempt to get the flustered boy to approach him. What he wasn't expecting was for the child to then crawl up into his damn lap. His first instinct was to shove the kid off of him but then he saw the drawing again and his curiosity outweighed his initial discomfort.

 

"I drew this picture after Uncle Ben took me to the Stark Expo. I'm a much better drawer now.", the boy explained before pointing to various parts of the drawing for an explanation. "That's you after you saved everybody from the big robots. I drew a balloon in your hand because everybody likes to get balloons when they do something good."

 

"What about this here?", Tony asked as he pointed to a smaller red and yellow figure drawn by his side.

 

"Oh.", Peter replied as a blush crept back up onto his cheeks. "That's me."

 

"Hmm.", Tony said with a nod of his head before reaching under Peter's armpits and unceremoniously setting him back onto the floor before he had time to sneeze on him or pee or anything else of that nature. "It looks good, kid. Can I keep it?", he asked on a whim. He didn't even fucking know why. It wasn't like he was going to start putting artwork all over his fridge with those stupid little plastic alphabet magnets. He was Tony Stark for fucks' sake and those things did not fit into his life-style but he wanted the drawing all the same. Maybe he'd tuck it into a draw in his office to look at when Pepper was giving him a particularly hard time. It could remind him that at least somebody liked him.

 

When the boy handed it over, Tony folded it up and placed it into the breast pocket of the suit he was wearing before walking out the door and down the hallway to where Ben and May were waiting for them. He wasn't surprised this time when Peter's not-so-sticky hand ended up back in his.  Apparently the kid was clingy. "You guys's have a pretty smart kid on your hands.", he announced before making an impulsive offer. "Maybe you could all come by the Stark Tower and see the big arc reactor that runs the building sometime."

 

Peter nodded his emphatically and soon plans were made for the three of them to get a private tour by Tony Stark himself. A tour that led into dinner, which led to another dinner, which led to a Peter spending small amounts of time with him in his personal lab and eventually, as the year passed, spending near as much time in Tony's home as he did in his aunt and uncle's.

 

~o~o~o~o~o~

 

The first time, Peter ever stayed overnight with Tony was just a few months shy of the boy's eighth birthday and it was at the rigid insistence of his aunt and uncle. Apparently Peter's parents had died when he was four bringing him into their lives shortly after they were wed. They had friends but no one they could trust to take care of the kid for a more than a night or two so they'd never had the chance to go on any kind of a honeymoon. So when an opportunity arose for them to go on a cruise with a few couples from Ben's work, they declared Tony as the only one they trusted to keep their boy safe. "Come on Tony. You're so good with him and it would only be for a week. All you have to do it make sure he goes to school and eats on a regular basis and just so you know, if it's not you, then we aren't going.", May teased but she meant it. Tony would never understand what the hell they saw in him. How they never realized that he wasn't actually good with kids and that Peter was literally the only child he would willingly deal with on a regular basis was a mystery to him.  

 

Though to be fair, he didn't just deal with Peter, he loved him. He loved the way Peter was so shy around new people that he could barely speak but would talk non-stop the moment it was just the two of them. He loved the way the kid's ears turned pink when he all got worked up or flustered and how he was always wanting to put his hands around his waist in a tight hug when they parted. He'd even come to love the way his refrigerated looked, plastered in drawings and brightly colored goddamned star magnets but none of that made him feel prepared to be a fucking twenty-four-seven caregiver. Not even for a few days, let alone a full week. "May... I've never been alone with him for more than a few hours. I'm not a parent. I don't know anything about getting kids ready for school or feeding them or putting them to bed. This--"

 

"--Oh Stop it, Tony.", May said with a smile and Bed chuckled beside her. "We'll write you down a few instructions, you can call us if you need clarification and I'll make sure the school and his pediatrician know that you're watching him for the week."

 

When Tony continued to look at them skeptically, Ben, in all of his wisdom knew exactly what to say. "Tony, you don't have to be a parent to know how to take care of Peter. You just have to love him. That's all we've done, May and I. We had no idea how to do any of those things either but when his parents died... we took him in any way. We literally figured it out as we went along. You can too. We all know you love him.", he said and then paused to reach out and tap the arc reactor that was glowing beneath his shirt. "...and if you can figure out how to create that fine piece of machinery there in your chest then I'm certain you can figure out how to take care of our little boy."

 

Looking into the eyes of the two people who had so quickly entered into the ranks of his most trusted friends, Tony sighed. "Fine. I'll take him for the week but only if you write me up some sort of lengthy manual on how to operate that thing on an around the clock basis.", he grumbled half-heartedly before he felt May wrapping her arms around his neck.

 

"You're the best, you know that?", she said so genuinely that it made Tony feel uneasy. He was pretty sure he was not the best. His other friends made sure to point that out to him on a regular basis as he continued to drink too much and sleep too little. 'An irresponsible asshole'  "I'm pretty sure both Happy and Rhodey would disagree.", he said knowing that they were right and that all of that shit was going to have to change, at least for the week. He wasn't going to subject Peter to his tired, drunken self and while he knew he would probably never be the best, he could do his damndest to be better. For Peter, the only super smart, non-gross kid he'd ever had the pleasure of meeting.

 

"You're a better man than you know, Tony. Thank you for doing this for us. You're a good friend.", Ben added before they were parting ways, leaving Tony exactly four days to transform one of his empty guest rooms into the perfect bedroom for a seven-year-old boy.

 

As promised, Ben and May dropped by the day before Tony was meant to pick up Peter with several sheets of instructions stapled together into a small book. As he skimmed through it, he began to panic. "He wets the bed?", Tony asked in horror as he made his way down to that particular gem. Aside from a couple of close calls when the boy had been too shy to ask where the bathroom was, he'd assumed the kid was completely fucking housebroken.

 

"Not all the time anymore but it still happens occasionally. It'll probably be fine but I thought it would be better to give you a heads up.", May replied as if cleaning up piss in the middle of the night was no big deal.

 

Except it was a big deal. It was a very big deal. Mostly because even after a year and some change, Tony'd still been thoroughly convinced that Peter was the only kid in the entire universe that he would consider clean enough to actually touch. Hell, as far as he could figure the kid was a bit of a neat freak. There was a day just a few weeks back that the boy had adamantly insisted on changing shirt after a tiny bit of ketchup had dripped from his hotdog onto his chest. He couldn't imagine what sort of reaction would come after making a mess like that and he sure as shit didn't want to clean it up either. "Are you sure this a good idea?"

 

"Absolutely.", both May and Ben laughed out in unison before urging Tony to skim through the remainder of the list.

 

Deciding that he'd already made a promise and there was no getting out of it without majorly disappointing two of his few genuine friends, he sighed. They were right, it would be fine. Fucking fabulous even.  It was only a week and surely there would be no occasional bed wetting in that short of an amount of time. So he read on, praying that there wouldn't be any more unpleasant surprises hidden in there.

 

As it were, the rest of the list was pretty straight forward. A list of times and phone numbers related to the school and a handful of other notes regarding suggested meal times and snack options. He read all the way up to the next to the last page, before he closed it back up and declared it to be sufficient. "Alrighty, I think I've got it. Happy's going to do the driving to and from school bit and I promise not to give him ice cream for dinner.", he quipped with more confidence than he actually felt but he was a fucking fantastic actor so no one had to know.

 

"Good. Then we're all set.", Ben said with a smile. "I've got his bags in the car and we'll take him to school in the morning. See you next Saturday, Tony. You'll do great."

 

Those would be the last words he would ever exchange with May and Ben Parker but he didn't know that at the time. If he had he would have asked a lot more questions, hugged them good-bye rather than shaking their hands and made a point of thanking them for trusting him, the piping hot mess that he was,  with something so important as their child. He had no way of knowing that his life was about to be turned upon its head in one of the best and worst possible ways. As such, he instructed them to take care and went about the remainder of his day.