Peter carefully removed the makeup, wincing at points from having to stay in the bathroom for so long. Once he was finished and his face was clean, his stomach rumbled loudly. As if his stomach had waited until he had nothing to do to remind him that he had to sit in pain for hours. He hadn’t eaten since Tuesday afternoon, and his body was reminding him of it.
His stomach cramped painfully, it hurt so much that Peter had to stop where he stood and doubled over. He clutched his abdomen and waited for the pain to pass. It was something he had gotten used to, and by now he knew exactly how long to wait for the pain to dissipate. It usually only lasted a couple of minutes. He was grateful when he was able to stand again, straightening his body out and wiping the sweat away that had gathered on his forehead.
He picked his backpack up from the floor where he’d dumped it, swinging it onto his back and making sure both of the straps were on his shoulders. Pulling up the hood on his coat, he descended the stairs of the dilapidated house and made his way out the front door.
He knew the streets well, and what alleyways to go into that connected to the back of the right shops. The dumpsters were a saving grace, both for bits of technology and scraps of thrown away food. He used to be squeamish over the fact that he was eating food out of a bin filled with rotting and mouldy rubbish, but that stopped around the same time he realised that it was his only option, and if he didn’t he wouldn’t survive.
He went into the alleyway connected to the back of the fancy Italian restaurant that was just at the edge of the centre of Forest Hills. He always loved how they would sometimes throw things away already stored in containers, he didn’t know why they did, but he was just happy to eat the spaghetti and meatballs. Usually it was cold, but sometimes he was lucky enough to get there right when they threw out the hot food. He didn’t mind much, he was just glad to get the rumbling in his stomach to stop. The bin was full when he got there, a couple of containers filled with spaghetti and meatballs sat at the top, and some other dishes he didn’t know the name of underneath. He took a couple of the containers and stuffed them into his backpack, making sure it was as full as it could take. He didn’t bother going to the next alleyway, it was never a good idea to get too much food. Otherwise the food wouldn’t be safe to eat, he figured that out the hard way. After he got food poisoning and was stuck on the broken mattress for almost four days. It was not something he wanted to repeat, especially when he knew if it happened again he probably wouldn’t survive it.
Peter could tell from the sun that it was already midday when he made it back; he didn’t hesitate to start eating some of the containers. They filled him up just enough to keep his stomach satisfied, but he longed for more. He couldn’t have more though, and he knew it. Once he was finished, he stored the rest of the containers next to his makeshift heater to keep them warm. The minute he saw the heater though, the feeling of coldness swept over him like a storm. He was suddenly aware of how numb his fingers felt and how painfully cold he felt. He turned the heater on straight away, and basked in the warmth it emitted. He didn’t realise how tired he was until his eyes started to fall shut, his body slumping in the direction of the mattress. He didn’t fight it, letting his eyes slide shut and his body fall. He had just enough awareness to pull the threadbare blanket around himself.
When he woke up, he knew immediately that it was the next day, with the sun shining in through the broken window. He smiled at the thought of what might happen. With the excitement filling him up, he changed his clothes as fast as he could.
He put the makeup on next, smiling warmly at how normal he looked. He no longer looked seconds from dying. The thought of whether it would fool Tony Stark popped up, worry settling heavy in the pit of his stomach. Realising now he had to test it out, see if it would fool anyone else. Making a decision, he kicked his threadbare coat away and ran for the door. He headed straight for the library, checking his clothes looked alright on the way. He slid through the door and made sure that when he passed the librarian that his face was fully in view. He smiled kindly and watched her expression for any tell that she might have seen past the makeup. He couldn’t see anything, and she smiled back just as warmly. He carried on past her and towards the computers, sitting himself at the same one he usually sat at. He checked the time and saw that it said 10:00 in the morning. He was only 7 and a half hours away from getting to compete to win an internship. Peter didn’t have the slightest clue as to whether he might win or not, he was probably nowhere near as smart as some of the other kids out there. But it didn’t stop him from trying; at this point he would be willing to do anything to win.
He passed the time by playing Pac man on the computer, he was sufficiently good at it by now. He came here and played it when it was too cold to stay in the house, which was very often. He even played it when the hunger was so strong that he needed something to distract him from the pain. It only helped so much, but it was enough to make it bearable. He continued to play it, winning multiple times, and getting the highest score on leaderboard. That was until he checked the time, and he realised it was already 2:50, he would have to leave soon if he was going to make it. He shut the computer down, saying goodbye to the yellow Pac man blinking on the screen.
He didn’t pull his hood up when he passed the librarian, instead smiling kindly at her and embracing the happiness he felt at finally having someone smile at him. He walked fast back to the house, rushing in and scooping up his backpack. He didn’t bother wasting time, just started his journey to Stark tower.
He was tired by the time he got there, the muscles in his legs aching and reminding him of the fact that he wasn’t eating enough to be doing this amount of exercise. There was a bustle of people outside, people pushing against each other to get inside. He stayed back until it died down, finally squeezing his way in through the doors. There were many people milling about, lots of kids and their parents standing by the front desks. He kept his distance, instead sneaking his way towards the front desk that was not currently occupied.
The lady was kind looking, and he didn’t hesitate to smile warmly at her. “Hi Miss, I’m here for the testing. Do you know what I have to do now?”
Smiling kindly she replied, “You just have to tell me your name and I can sign you in. “
“Oh, my name is Peter, Peter Parker.” He blushed slightly at having forgotten that they would need to know his name.
She typed at the keyboard for a moment before she looked at him again, she pointed towards the elevator, “Someone is just coming down now to take you up there for the testing. If you go wait by the elevator and tell them your name, they’ll take you up there.”
He nodded obediently, and waved goodbye. He walked over to the elevator, instead of perching himself on one of the seats in between the two elevators, he stood diligently a little bit away from the doors of the elevator. He watched the numbers above the left hand side elevator go down, before a ping sounded and the doors slid open. He caught a glimpse of strawberry blonde hair, and a heartwarmingly kind smile, before his brain stopped working and he could stand starstruck.
He stuttered mindlessly, eyes staring dazedly up at the high heeled woman in front of him. “Y-your M-miss Potts.”
She nodded in agreement, chuckling slightly at his shocked face. “That would be me, would you like to tell me your name so we can get you to the right floor?”
She cocked a neatly styled eyebrow in question.
“Uh y-yes, m-my name’s P-peter, Peter Parker.” He smiled nervously, and watched as she pulled up the clipboard that she’d been holding. She stared at the piece of paper attached to it for a few seconds before nodding her head and looking back up at him.
“You’re on floor 25, Mr. Stark’s personal floor. You’re lucky, only a quarter of our applicants are allowed up there.” She smiled before gesturing at him with a manicured hand to get into the elevator. He stared dumbly at her for a few seconds before his brain kicked into gear, and he stumbled into the elevator car.
He looked up at her with wide nervous eyes, “M-miss Potts m-may I ask how many applicants there are?”
“Of course Peter, there are about 200 applicants so far. We have a limit to the number of children that can apply, we can’t have over a million students turning up to take part. You were actually the first person to apply that we accepted.” her smile was warm and her eyes crinkled at the corners with how large her smile had become. She placed a gentle hand on his back between his shoulders, and when the doors to the elevator pinged open she nudged him out. He only had a few seconds to admire how spacious and expensive everything looked, before his eyes were drawn to the smartly dressed man standing at the forefront of the room. It was Tony Stark. Peter’s eyes caught sight of the man standing beside him, his face looked grumpy and his posture radiated boredom. Peter could only guess that this was Tony Stark’s bodyguard. He’d seen him multiple times on the news, and in paparazzi photos. He was always trying to push Tony out of the way.
His eyes were immediately drawn back to the fact that Tony Stark was standing in front of him. And that there were no other people in the room, besides himself Pepper Potts, Tony Stark and his bodyguard. He leant towards Pepper, and whispered “Am I the first one here?”
“Yes Peter, although you must know that you don’t have to complete as many rounds of testing as the other applicants do. We divided the applicants into sections, depending on how smart they are. This floor contains the smartest of our applicants. The other 49 applicants will be arriving soon, Mr. Stark will explain once they arrive. You may go and talk to him if you’d like.”
Peter could only gape up at the man once Pepper had pushed him forward. Tony just stared down at him, one of his signature smirks plastered across his face. He still had his sunglasses on, and he was wearing one of his infamous cat t-shirts, this one proclaiming “Me-Wow”. Peter would have to concur with that. “H-Hi Mr. Stark Sir, i-i’m Peter, I’ve read all of your papers on anti electron collision, and on how you made your arc reactor. I even did my end of term essay on you for physics.”
“Hi kid, it’s nice to know you like physics as much as I do. Did you actually understand them, my papers I mean.” he looked a little shocked and disbelieving, like it was somehow impossible for a high school kid to be able to read his papers and understand them.
Peter nodded vigorously, “I’ve read all of your papers, even the ones you published when you went to college. I sometimes make notes and stuff, but you probably wouldn’t want to read them. I’m sorry for annoying you Mr. Stark.” When he stopped talking, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d disappointed the man, like he was inconveniencing the man. After all, what kind of celebrity, genius, billionaire would want to talk to poor old orphan Peter. Flash must’ve been right all along.
His self pity didn’t last for long, Tony moving forward to place a hand on his bony shoulder and whip of his sunglasses. “You haven’t annoyed me kid, I’m just surprised you could understand them is all. Not even highly educated scientists that have multiple PHDs can sometimes understand my papers, you must be one smart cookie kid. Your parents are probably so proud of you, unlike mine.”
The happiness and hopefulness that was filling his face suddenly disappeared at the mention of his parents. Grief settled heavy and ugly in the bottom of his stomach. “I guess they would be…. If they were still alive. They died when I was 4. But I know my Aunt and Uncle are proud of me.” he tried to force a smile, but it was inconceivably difficult, especially when all he could remember was everything he’d lost.
He could see when sympathy and empathy washed over Tony’s face, his eyes turning down at the corners, as the hand that had settled on his shoulder moved gently. “I’m sorry kid, I know what it’s like to lose your parents, not as young as you did but I still get it. Things will get better though, you still have people that love you. Just like I do, I’ve got my fiance Pepper, my best friend Rhodey and Happy my bodyguard who’s secretly my best friend too.”
Tony didn’t know how wrong he was.
When the kid had migrated over to the side of the room to wait, and some more of the starstruck kids and shuffled in. Tony turned to Happy. “Did you see that kid?”
“Yeah. What about him?”
“Isn’t he just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, he’s got such cute chubby little cheeks. I just wanna hug him forever, why do they let baby’s into these sorts of things.”
Happy didn’t seem to agree with him, he just grumbled and pulled his phone out. Obviously deeming little kids to not be that much of a threat. Tony ignored him, instead choosing to glance over to where the kid was scuffing his shoes across the floor. He still looked cute even then, and Tony couldn’t help the warm feeling that bubbled up in his chest and the sudden feeling to protect this child. Tony couldn’t help but wonder when he had started to turn all gooey inside.