Tony had known Peter for a few months now. They’d met on May 23rd, then left a month later for Germany and proceeded to have a gap of silence until homecoming happened a couple of months after that. After that, well, Tony decided to step up and mentor the kid properly, lend a hand, share some knowledge and hey, it’s not like he wasn’t enjoying it, Peter was a good kid.
Originally he’d mostly known that the kid was smart, had been through a lot for an average teenager and, most importantly, Peter Parker was Spider-Man. That knowledge hadn’t exactly changed, although he realised the kid was genius levels smart, not just slightly ahead of his age group, but capable of helping Tony smart. He still had some way to go but the intelligence was undeniably there, just not all the knowledge, though his ‘hobby’ of reading academic papers certainly aided him. What he didn’t know, Tony could generally tell him. Give it a few years and Peter would probably know more than him.
But beyond that, he knew more about the kid, like what he liked to eat and how much (learnt after the afternoon where he realised he could just keep leaving snacks on the kid’s workbench and they’d all be eaten within minutes, the kid could eat), his friends from school, some vague family history, but mostly he got to know his personality more.
Peter was kind and could really talk once he felt comfortable, he was always happy to help and energetic to the point where Tony felt tired, there was a quiet mental strength and well, a blatant physical strength. There was a lot to him really, but overall he was a good kid. The one thing Peter struggled to do was ask for help, hence why he found himself surprised that Friday afternoon.
Tony looked up as Peter waltzed into his lab, looking like a man on a mission, only to slap his hands down on the table in front of him and look right at him. Intimidated wasn’t the right word, but unnerved would certainly describe him right now. Peter didn’t tend to be super bold or sure of himself but this was a picture of certainty right now. The silence wasn’t helping
“Peter?” He tried.
“Mr. Stark. I need help. Your help.” Peter moved to make direct eye contact with Tony, eyes straying slightly as he seemed to waver a bit.
Well, that wasn’t exactly the direction Tony was expecting things to go in. Tony looked at Peter more closely, noting that he didn’t seem hurt anywhere, or even particularly worked up, and he knew for a fact he hadn’t patrolled yet today. But coming to him and asking for help? Peter must be pretty desperate.
So… “What kind of help?” At this point there was very little he’d deny the kid but that was for him know and no one else to find out.
Tony watched as Peter lifted up his hands, closed them into fists and splayed them out again dramatically facing him. And opened and closed them a few more times. And proceeded to slap them back down on his workbench again, staring at him like he ought to be understanding this nonverbal communication.
Which he didn’t. “Peter...I don’t understand.”
“Mr. Stark! My nails!” He sounded frustrated.
Okay? Tony glanced back down at his hands, noting that the nails of Peter’s left hand were painted red and blue which he snorted at, that was obviously a nod to his superhero personality, especially since there was a poorly done white cobweb on his thumb and the right hand’s nails was unpainted, but the skin surrounding the fingertips was somewhat red, like they’d been irritated.
“They’re...nice? Not at all Spider-Man fan worship. No, totally just a fashion choice, I’m sure.” He still wasn’t sure where his help came in here.
“That’s not the point, I’m going out tonight with Ned and MJ and,” Peter waved his right hand around wildly, “I have a goose level problem.”
Tony frowned, “goose level?” The hell? As much as he normally understood Peter, sometimes he just said the most bizarre things.
“A big problem, like really big.” Peter stretched his arms wide to emphasis his point, which really wasn’t that wide, he wasn’t the biggest kid ever but Tony guessed that wasn’t the point.
Of course, that totally clears everything up, makes perfect sense- Whatever. “Alright. So, let’s pretend I’m following you here. How can I help with this?”
Peter gestured at the wires he’d been soldering before FRIDAY alerted him Peter was on route to his lab. “You have steady hands.”
Tony nodded slowly, “I kind of have to if I want to make anything precise, which I do. You also have steady hands, you work on the same kind of things.” Within reason. Anything explosive, or, well, anything too explosive was out of bounds. Tony was a lot of things, but the trait of being excited to explode a child was not one of them.
Peter was clearly leading up to something here but for the life of him, Tony couldn’t figure out what. They’d reached stating the obvious. He was missing something here.
“Yeah, but I’m right-handed!”
“So?” So was Tony, and he was pretty sure Peter knew that.
“So. I can’t paint my right hand very well with my left hand. And I need you to. Otherwise, I’m going to look dumb. Or I’ll have to remove the polish on my left hand which I really don’t want to do. I’ve already tried and scrubbed off nail polish at least three times. It isn’t working very well at all.” And now everything was out in the open.
Ah. Help needed, nails, goose level problem, his steady hands. Well, it’s not as if he’d mind but he didn’t exactly have a record of doing that, so why the hell would Peter be coming to him?
“Why can’t May do it?” Nurses needed somewhat steady hands, right? He didn’t like the idea of someone inserting an IV into him with shaking hands, so surely they did. Maybe May was still working?
“I know that she’s a nurse. But Tony? Those steady hand skills don’t translate to nails. We’ve tried.” Peter stared off into the distance before glancing down at his hands like he was remembering something unpleasant.
Tony figured he didn’t want to know whatever May managed to do with nail polish and Peter. How bad could you get? Surely, at worst you’d just get the polish on the finger? Peter’s expression said otherwise though so perhaps it was best to stay in the dark this time.
“Fine. But only if they’re red and gold. And you’re not allowed to complain if they’re terrible, I’ve only done this like, twice before.” And he may have been drunk on at least one of those occasions. It was only fair that if Peter had Spider-Man themed fingernails done by him, he could do Iron Man themed fingernails done by Tony. Mind you, all it would take would be the kid asking otherwise to get him to cave. But Peter didn’t know that. Hopefully.
Peter stared at him and reached out his right hand, “deal.”
Tony took it and shook it, “I’m going to teach you about negotiation after we do this, saying deal at the first offer is rarely a good plan in business, kid.”
“What if I wanted Iron Man themed fingernails this whole time? And you walked right into it?”
Tony shrugged, “deal of the century then? Anyway, do you have the nail polish or are you dragging me out into public to buy some for you?” He would buy a whole store for him but again, Peter didn’t need to know that.
Peter rushed to slide his backpack straps off, getting it stuck in the process, wiggling his arm until the strap slid off and he dumped it on the floor, rummaging through it like a raccoon in a trash can. Which probably wasn’t all that far off, Tony thought, as he squinted and swore he saw at least 3 muesli bar wrappers. This was more like the Peter he knew.
He watched Peter finally pull out what looked like a light red bottle and a yellowy-gold bottle of nail polish.
“They’re not exactly the Iron Man colours but I don’t really have anything closer. I think they’ll do.” Peter put them on the workbench near him.
Tony twisted and kicked a stool in Peters direction, gesturing for him to sit. “They’re fine, kid, we’ll have to get you some better ones though, it’s a crime not to have the exact colours of my suit in nail polish when you’re my intern. I won’t stand for that.” He pushed aside his work so there was more room for his task.
Peter sat down, nudging his backpack to the side with his foot so it wasn’t in the way and put his right hand up on the workbench. And immediately starting bouncing his leg. “You don’t have to, Mr. Stark, I only use it sometimes anyway.”
“I don’t have to do anything, I just do it because I want to, Peter. Now, number one, do you have an artistic vision or are we going red, gold, red, gold, red? Or dare I say, gold, red, gold, red, gold? Now that’s bold. Number two, I respect your leg bouncing and I get it, and by all means keep it up if you want me to get nail polish all over your fingers, but otherwise how about you cease that while I’m anywhere near your fingers with this.” He lifted up one of the bottles of nail polish to make his point,
Peter stopped bouncing his leg immediately and rested his left hand on it like he was holding it down, “sorry. I didn’t even realise I was doing it. But you’re in control here, do whatever you want.”
Tony could picture tiny Iron Man helmets on each finger, painstakingly drawn out, maybe on a silver background. Tony, however, was also realistic and knew that would never happen with his current skills, in fact, solidly red and solidly gold nails were probably a big enough test for his current nail painting skills. So that would be what Peter would be getting if all went well.
“We’ll just start off simple, Pete, I doubt I could do anything fancy. Let’s start with the red.”
Peter pushed the red closer to him and he started to unscrew it, getting a feel for what he was working with. A few tiny paint flakes fell off as the lid came off and he brushed them aside, lifting the lid up to inspect the attached brush. It was seconds away from dripping red polish off the brush but seemed pretty flexible and in good condition. He brushed it against the neck of the bottle, partly to thin the amount of polish on the brush and partly to get a feel for how the brush bent.
Then the smell hit him. Strong and distinctly chemical and honestly? Kind of horrible. But he’d pushed through worse. This probably wouldn’t kill him. Right? Probably. He’d look that up later.
He looked up at Peter, who was watching him quietly, “alright. Here goes nothing.”
Peter gave him a smile, “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
He rested his left hand on top of Peter’s right hand to make sure the hand would stay still (because this is Peter he’s talking about) before moving his right hand with the brush towards Peter’s thumb, shifting his left hand down to hold the thumb in place as he carefully touched the brush to the nail and stroked it towards him.
He let a breath out he hadn’t been aware he was holding. “Okay, first stroke wasn’t bad. That’s good.”
Peter gave him a look, “you covered like, less than half the nail. You’re far from done.”
“Who’s doing your nails here? Don’t judge the one in charge.”
Peter lifted his left hand like he was showing he meant no harm, “by all means, continue.”
Tony moved the brush back onto Peter’s thumbnail, moving the polish around on there in careful strokes, trying not to get it on his skin, slowing down even more as he tried to get the edges. In under a minute, he was done and he leaned back to inspect his work.
“Hey, that’s not bad actually.”
He lifted his head at Peter’s words, “excuse me? Do you see this? No polish on your skin, all the nail covered and all you have to say is ‘not bad’? Wow. I see how it is.”
“No no! It’s good! I just didn’t expect you to actually be able to do it so well.”
“Thanks for the faith, Pete. I’m going to do your middle and little finger with the red now, might as well do all the red first.” Also because one open nail polish bottle was enough, adding another to the mix might just kill him. The smell was not improving. Was he supposed to have a well-ventilated area to do this in? On a scale of one to ten, how poisonous was this stuff actually? More research for later.
Tony continued onto the middle finger quietly as he focused, shifting his left hand to get a gentle grip on that finger next, but having done yet another successful nail he decided to break the silence as he moved onto Peter’s little one, shifting his left hand yet again. “So, what are you and your friends up to tonight?”
“Oh, we’re just going to grab dinner and watch a movie. But we don’t go out a huge amount, so I wanted to put some effort in, you know? We all kind of do when we plan on dinner. It’s mostly just fun.”
Tony hummed as he listened while finishing off the little finger. “Yeah? What movie? I’m gonna move onto the gold now, if you can really call it that. It seems more yellow to me. Anyway, keep talking.”
Peter continued on as Tony screwed the red one back in its bottle and honestly, how long would that smell take to go away anyway? The lid was on, surely it had to start disappearing. Shaking his head, he unscrewed the ‘gold’, “oh, I don’t know actually. We normally do this once a month if we can, we rotate turns to choose the movie and don’t tell the others until we get to the theatre, it’s kind of fun. Plus, that way no one can get out of it if anyone picks a bad movie. Anyway, it’s MJ’s turn to pick this month and you can never really predict what you’re going to see when she chooses. Ned and I regularly inspect all the movies showing at the theatre we go to and guess which one she’ll choose and we’ve been right I think like, once. It’s so weird. But it keeps things interesting!”
By the time he was finished talking, Tony was in the middle of his index finger and he hummed distractedly. “Well, I hope she picks well tonight. You’ll have to make sure to keep your right hand in front of your face at all times though so everyone sees the nails I did. And tell me of all the compliments!”
He finished the nail and looked up, paying more attention and noted how Peter shrugged then went, “the first bit is excessive but I can do the second. Are you done now? They look good!”
Tony looked down at Peter’s nails, thinking about how they’d look better with mini Iron Man helmets painted on but...he sighed. That wasn’t happening. He’d better not mess with them anymore. “Yeah, I just got a bit on your index finger, do you have any nail polish remover? I’ll just rub that bit off carefully.”
“Oh! Yeah, in my bag. Uh, can you maybe grab it? It’s in the open pocket, but I don’t want to mess these up before they’re dry.” He’d better not mess them up before they’re dry.
Tony eyed Peter’s bag and sighed, “Peter, if there’s anything living in there, and it bites me, I’m never talking to you again.”
Peter started indignantly, “hey! I’m clean! It’s a clean bag!”
Tony reached his hand in and immediately pulled out at least six wrappers. Huh, more than he expected. “Oh?”
“...I get hungry. But those aren’t dirty! There just wasn’t a bin nearby and I’m not about to litter.”
Tony got up, stretching his arms above his head to free up his muscles from being hunched over and walked over to put them in the bin. “Well, at least it wasn’t living. Yet.”
He sat back down and rustled through the bag some more, this time ignoring the numerous other wrappers because he didn’t want to know what else was in that pile. After a minute or so he pulled out the nail polish remover and put it on the desk, pushing the bag far away from him again. Realistically, it’s probably already too late for him if there was some disease in there but maybe he’d get lucky.
“I don’t suppose you have cotton swabs or something in that bag of yours?”
Peter shook his head, “no, I figured you’d have some if we needed it.”
“Well, I’m sure I do somewhere but I don’t know where so I’m going to try using my finger and hope for the best. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Tony was not sure it’d be fine but he’d definitely had worse ideas...which will remain in the past and unspoken.
He unscrewed the bottle and put his finger on the small opening, tipping it upside down so a small amount of the liquid fell on the tip of his finger. “Okay, I’m going to just...rub, I guess. Stay still.”
Peter nodded. “I solemnly swear my fingers will not break out in the dancing plague.”
Tony sighed, “why do I even do anything for you?”
Peter shrugged, “because you make bad decisions?”
Tony decided not to answer that and moved his finger to Peter’s index one and carefully placed it along the right side, rubbing gently against a small spot of nail polish that went over the edge, moving his left hand to hold it in place. Surprisingly, that was the only finger he messed up on. One out of five was not bad if you asked him, he decided he must have a talent for it. Luckily, it came off after a few attempts of rubbing and checking to see if it was gone. Nail polish on skin would survive the apocalypse, he swore.
“There we go, all done.” And he felt kind of sad about it. It was definitely best to stop there since Peter actually wanted to wear this out but he kind of wanted to see what else he could do. Plus, it was nice to spend time with the kid like this. As much as he loved the movie nights they sometimes had and tinkering in the lab, helping Peter with his homework or having dinner together, this felt like something closer and he liked the feeling.
Ah well, maybe another time.
“Thank you! They look really good. They’re definitely not quite the Iron Man colours but Iron Man did them so honestly? That makes them cooler than anyone else’s.” Peter smiled widely at him.
Tony waved him off, this kid was really worming his way into his heart. “Not a problem, just don’t forget to show them off to your friends.”
“Of course not, Mr. Stark! I can do that. Anyway, I thought I’d avoid too much physical work today, don’t want to ruin them before tonight. I have a bit of physics homework to do and then I thought I could work on some of the coding for my suit? Unless you have something you wanted me to do.”
Tony stared at him, “no, we’re doing negotiation as I said before.”
Peter paused for a moment before leaning forward, “oh? How about, an hour of negotiation, an hour of my own work, then I leave for dinner?”
Tony laughed, “make it an hour and a half.”
“An hour and fifteen minutes.”
“Not too bad, kid, we’ll get you there.”