Peter paced worriedly outside of the orphanage boy’s bedrooms. He shared a worried glance with MJ, who was sitting with her head in her hands nearby.
“He’s never stayed this long, MJ.” Peter muttered under his breath, clearly stressed. “What- Do you think-”
“I don’t know Peter.” MJ responded. She raised her head out of her hands and looked at Peter.
“I-” Peter started, but he was interrupted by the door opening. The orphanage Director, Roger Harrington and Doctor Morita stepped out.
Doctor Morita was talking to the Director. “He’s still hanging in there, but he’s going to need doses more frequently. I recommend a spoonful daily, before breakfast.”
Director Harrington nodded solemnly. “Thanks for the help, Doctor.” He handed Doctor Morita a pouch full of coins, and then showed the Doctor out.
Peter and MJ went into the room. In the furthest bed lay their best friend, Ned Leeds. He was fast asleep, presumably from the medicine the Doctor gave him. Peter sat down next to Ned and took his hand. “Ned,” Peter said, his voice wavering slightly. “You gotta fight this. I know you can do it.”
MJ replaced the hot, damp cloth on Ned’s forehead with a cool one. “That’s right, loser. Peter would fall apart without you.”
“Hey!” Peter said indignantly.
MJ leveled Peter with a look.
Peter sighed, knowing it was true.
Director Harrington walked back into the room. “Peter, MJ, I know you guys want to stay with Ned but he needs to rest now.”
“How is he?” MJ inquired.
“Doc says he’s going to need daily doses of medicine. We’re barely able to cover the costs of medicine as it is.” The director sat down on the bed next to Ned’s.
“I can get another job?” said Peter. “Mr. Delmar only needs me in the evenings when he’s cleaning and closing up the shop. I could get the other kids, Abe and Jason to help with my chores!”
“I could help too,” interjected MJ. “Mrs. Daly’s been asking if I can stay longer, and work more days in her shop.”
Director Harrington sighed. “If you can convince Abe and Jason to cover your chores, go ahead.” He stood up. “You two need to take care of yourselves, no overworking alright? You’re no help to Ned if you get sick.” Director Harrington pulled them in for a side hug. “It’ll be alright, kiddos. Ned will recover. Have some faith, alright?”
MJ and Peter nodded, and held onto each other tightly. Ned had to get better. He would.
~ ~ ~
The next day, Peter was at the market looking for a job. He asked the local farmers, fishermen, barbers, even blacksmiths and butchers, but they all turned him away due to inexperience or because he wasn’t able to commit to a full time job. (Mr. Delmar was kind to Peter, almost like an uncle, and he let Peter take home half the shop’s tips to take care of Ned. Peter wasn’t going to give it up).
After getting rejected by the bookmaker (he had taken one look at Peter’s worn down clothing and turned away) Peter began to slowly walk out. He rarely got the opportunity to read anymore and he figured a few minutes wouldn’t hurt. Peter wandered into the science section, and quietly pulled The Scientific Revolution: Wave Theory of Light by Stark, Anthony off the shelf.
It was then he overheard two men across the book maker’s shop talking.
“And it’s not like Stark at all to send us on a wild goose chase?” Huffed the first man, clearly annoyed.
“Just keep looking. Tones said the book was here.” said the second man. He dressed in an army uniform, and had several medals hanging on his jacket.
“What was the name of the book?”
The army man pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “The Revolution in Science, by Rupert A. Hall.”
Peter looked up from this book, at the shelf. The Revolution in Science, by Rupert A. Hall sat right in front of him.
Peter picked up the book and made his way over to the men. “Uh, excuse me sir? I couldn’t help overhearing that you were looking for this book?”
The army man took the book and read the spine. “The Revolution in Science, by Rupert A. Hall. Huh, thanks kiddo.” He handed the book to the second man, who went to pay for it, before studying Peter. “What’s your name, son? How well can you read?”
“I’m Peter. I can read fairly well and I can get through most books, sir”
“That’s impressive, Peter. Who taught you?”
“My parents, Ben and Mary Parker, taught me the basics, sir. They were scientists.”
“The Parkers.” The army man turned to the second man, who had just returned, book in hand. “Didn’t Tones work with them a few times?”
The second man shrugged.
“I heard they died a few years ago.” The army man said, not unkindly. He waited to see Peter nod before continuing. “I’m sorry for your loss. You must be looking for work?”
“Come with me. My friend needs an assistant. I can’t promise anything but an opportunity. You’ll have to work hard, but if you take after your parents, you should be fine.”
“I… wow thank you sir!” Peter put his book The Scientific Revolution: Wave Theory of Light back on the shelf followed the army man to a carriage waiting outside the shop.
“It’s Colonel Rhodes.” The Colonel gestured to the second man who was prepping the horses to travel. “That’s Happy. He’s Tones’ carriage driver.”
“He doesn’t seem very happy, for someone named Happy.” Peter mused. Colonel Rhodes snorted in amusement, before climbing into the carriage with Peter.
~ ~ ~
Half an hour later, Peter was following Colonel Rhodes into the largest mansion - if it could even be called that - he had seen in his entire life. Peter struggled not to gape as they walked into the hall. The ceiling was twice as high as a normal house, and that was just the first floor. Fancy paintings and sculpture tastefully lined the walls. Peter was almost scared of touching anything, lest it break.
“Rhodeybear! You’re back!” Peter looked forward and saw a man quickly descend from the grand staircase towards them.
“Wait- did you mean Mr. Stark as in The physicist Stark? The Mr. Stark who is single handedly revolutionizing the field of physics and mathematics? That Mr. Stark?” Peter hissed worriedly under his voice.
Colonel Rhodes put a hand on Peter’s shoulder to reassure him. “Hey Tones! How have you been doing?”
Mr. Stark looked sad for a moment. “Uh, nevermind about that.” He spotted Peter. “Who is this? He isn’t mine, is he?” Tony joked, studying Peter. Peter felt as if he was under a microscope. He was all too aware of the large gap in social status. Peter Parker, the orphan, and Tony Stark, one of the richest men in the entire known world.
Colonel Rhodes clapped Peter on the back. “I hope not. This is Parkers’ kid, Peter. I was thinking, since Pepper returned to her brother’s you could use an assistant.”
“And you brought me a child? No, no, nope. Rhodey, you know I don’t do kids.” Mr. Stark turned away and headed down the hallway, to the kitchen.
Colonel Rhodes followed him, pulling Peter. “Tony, you know I leave for the army tomorrow. You’re going to need someone around.”
“I have Happy.”
“Happy’s only here on weekends, and an hour on weekdays.”
Mr. Stark and Colonel Rhodes stared down at each other across a table. Peter uncomfortably shifted on his feet, wishing he was anywhere else but there.
After almost a minute, Mr. Stark looked away. “Fine, only for you, Rhodeybear.”
“Thank you, Tony. I think you guys might get along. He was reading your book when I found him.”
“Oh?” Mr. Stark turned towards Peter, curious. “What did you think?”
“Um, I didn’t understand all of it - but the parts that I did I thought it was really interesting! I tried replicating some of the experiments, the one where you observe the colour spectrum in the shadow of a slit of paper with my friends but we weren’t able to get the right measurements.”
“What materials were you using?”
“Um, just some paper from my Director at the orphanage? We used a knife to make the slit, and an open window for the light source.”
Mr. Stark shook his head. “You need more sophisticated tools. The slit should be less than a tenth of a millimeter, and most knives are about 3 to 6 millimeters wide.”
Peter looked thoughtful. “Would a needle work? The tip is much smaller than a knife, but I’m not sure if it’s less than a tenth of a millimeter.”
“It’s much closer, and I suppose you might be able to get the right size.” Tony mused. You’d have to consider the type of paper and thickness as well…”
Beside Peter, Colonel Rhodes gave Mr. Stark a triumphant smile. “See? I knew it would work out.” He turned to Peter. “Can you start tomorrow?”
“Yes sir. I’m available in the morning and afternoon from Mondays to Saturdays, and I’m free all day on Sunday.”
“Sounds good.” replied Mr. Stark. He stepped forward, and shook Peter’s hand. “I look forward to working with you, Peter Parker.”
“Me too, Mr. Stark.”
~ ~ ~
The next morning, Happy arrived in the carriage at the orphanage to pick up Peter. Peter quickly got in the carriage, ignoring the amazed and suspicious glances of the other orphanage kids. In reality, the ride wasn’t too long, but the lack of conversation and Peter’s nerves make the ride seem hours long. Colonel Rhodes wasn’t too clear about Peter’s job description the day before. Peter knew he’s going to help Mr. Stark out with his work, but what exactly that entails, Peter has no idea.
Eventually the carriage pulled to a stop outside Mr. Stark’s mansion. Peter climbed out, thanked Happy for the ride, before walking up to the door and knocking. On the first knock, the door swung open. Peter leaned in. “Uh, hello? Mr. Stark?”
Presumably Mr. Stark called out a reply, but it’s muffled. Peter cautiously entered, wiped his shoes and made his way over to where the voice came from. He ends up in the kitchen, and spots Tony putting away a half empty bottle of alcohol.
Hearing Peter come in, Tony glanced behind. “Hey kiddo.”
“Hello Mr. Stark.”
“Rhodey just left for the army yesterday, along with a good portion of my bourbon. I suppose I’ll have to replenish my stash.” Mr. Stark turned around, and studied Peter. “You’re in dire need of a wardrobe upgrade. Systemic, top to bottom, 100 point restoration. I’ll have Happy call someone for this Sunday.”
Mr. Stark spun on his heel and left the kitchen, waving for Peter to follow him. “When did your interest in science start?”
“When I was younger, before my parents passed, they used to show me their blueprints and sketches. Part of their research was working on steam trains and railways. They used to dream about travelling from one side of the country to the hour in a matter of hours. I know it was purely theoretical, and we’re decades or even centuries off from it actually happening but the idea of travelling at that speed is fascinating!”
Mr. Stark stopped in front of a closed door. He placed a hand on the door knob and then turned to Peter. “It may not be as far away as you think.” said Mr. Stark with a smile, before opening the door.
“Woah…” Peter slowly entered the room, completely in awe. The walls were covered in blueprints, sketches and calculations. Peter recognized the sketches on the wall on the left from Mr. Stark’s book on Wave theory of light. The far wall had various sketches of an engine, from multiple angles. In the center was the steam train sketch that his parents had shown him.
Tony walked over to the far wall, and took one of the sketches off the wall. “Several years ago, I worked on his version of the steam train with your parents.” He handed Peter the sketch.
“This-this is the same one they showed me. How-” Peter traces his parents signatures on the bottom right.
“I only worked on one steam train project with your parents. They had their hearts set on this project. It was like they could already see it, the finished product functioning. Sadly they passed away before we could start any of the actual buildings. Somehow it felt wrong to build it without them.” Mr. Stark gazed at the sketches, with an emotion Peter couldn’t quite pin down. “So I improved their systems, made them more efficient and worked on other projects.”
“Like your book?”
“Yes. Among other things.” Tony turned to face Peter. “How do you feel about following in your parents’ footsteps? I think it’s about time Mary and Richard’s dreams start coming true.”
“I…” tears threatened to fall from Peter’s eyes.
“You don’t have to decide now.”
“No! I’d love to work on the steam engine. I just never imagined in my wildest dreams I would be able too.”
“Well, it is going to be a lot of work. You’re going to need some formal education in physics, chemistry and engineering.”
Peter nodded eagerly. “I can do it!”
Mr. Stark laughed. “Alright, Underoos. Let’s turn you into a proper student. You’re in dire need of supplies. Textbooks, chalkboards, and wardrobe upgrade. Systemic, top to bottom, 100 point restoration. I’ll arrange something with Happy. For now, let’s see where you’re at…”
Mr. Stark and Peter spent the rest of the day pouring over textbooks together in the workshop. Mr. Stark quizzed Peter on the topics he was familiar with until he had a good idea of where Peter was, academically. Then Mr. Stark started filling in the gaps and teaching him the new material that Peter had missed. Peter lost track of time. It had been far too long since Peter had a mentor, someone who had the same passion for physics and someone who he could bounce theories and questions off.
Before he knew it, the sun was approaching the horizon, and it was time for Peter to leave for his second job with Mr. Delmar. Tony stood at the door to his mansion, and waved Peter off with a nostalgic, yet content look on his face.
Peter beamed at him, practically bouncing on his toes. For a strange moment, Peter felt the urge to hug Mr. Stark, the way he would hug MJ or Ned, or even his parents before leaving them. Peter shook off the feeling. Mr. Stark was just his employer... right? Somehow, after the day they had, ‘employer’ didn’t quite fit. Peter gave Mr. Stark one last wave before getting into the carriage with Happy.
~ ~ ~
When Peter arrived back at the orphanage later that night, Ned was waiting for him near his bunk bed.
“Peter! How did it go? I can’t believe you actually got to work with the Mr. Stark! This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me!” exclaimed Ned. He was sitting at the corner of the bed next to Peter’s. His eyes were a little red and there was a faint glimmer of sweat on his forehead, but his eyes were focused. It was the best Peter had seen him in a few days.
“It was amazing Ned!” replied Peter with equal enthusiasm. He kicked off his shoes and stood on his bed, bouncing lightly. “He showed me his workshop - you won’t believe it. He has so many projects! He’s done so much more on the Wave Theory of Light! And remember that project that I told you that my parents were working on? The steam train idea? It turns out he was working on it with my parents!”
“Dude that is so amazing! I-”
Hearing the commotion, Director Harrington walked into the room.“Hey! Kids, it's night time! Settle down. Peter, get off your bed and go wash up. Ned, you need to get some rest.”
“But Peter just got back -”
“I wanna talk to Ned -”
Director Harrington held up his hand, and they fell silent. “I know you’re excited to see each other and talk about Peter’s job. Believe me, I know. But the youngest kids are already asleep, and the rest are getting ready for bed.”
Peter looked around, and saw the younger kids already curled up under their blankets. Reluctantly they nodded, and Director Harrington left.
Peter got down from his bed, as Ned got up. They shared a warm hug, and Peter gently rested his head on the side of Ned’s. He could feel Ned’s heartbeat faintly, and something in him, a weight that had been following him around marginally relaxed. Ned was okay. Everything was going to be okay.
“I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, okay? Mr. Stark’s really amazing.” Peter whispered to Ned as he pulled away.
“I can’t wait! Good night Peter.” Ned whispered back.
“Good night Ned.”
Ned walked back to his bunk, and Peter quietly grabbed his pajamas and tiptoed out of the room to clean up before sleep.
~ ~ ~
The rest of the week passed similarly. Peter wakes up before sunrise, quickly eats and does as many of his chores around the orphanage as he can before Happy arrives. Then, he goes to study with Mr. Stark and work on the steam train plans for the rest of the day. Just before supper, Peter goes to Mr. Delmar’s to help serve food and clean up. Afterward, he walks back to the orphanage in the night, manages to tell MJ and Ned a few quiet, exhausted yet ecstatic words about his time with Mr. Stark before Director Harrington sends them to bed. Every night, Peter falls asleep before his head hits the pillow.
~ ~ ~
On Sunday, Peter woke up at the crack of dawn. He quickly ate, did his morning chores, waved MJ off as usual (with the promise of telling her everything when he got back) and jumped into the carriage with Happy.
Unlike usual, when Peter reached the mansion, Mr. Stark was impatiently waiting at the door.
Peter jumped out of the carriage, excitement shining on his face. “Good morning Mr. Stark! I can’t wait to get started again!”
“Uh uh. Not in those clothes, you’re not. You got a pass these past few days, but today if you’re going to be a scholar, you need to look the part and have the right materials, Underoos.”
Peter stopped in his tracks. “Um…”
Without missing a beat, Mr. Stark draped an arm over Peter’s shoulders and directed him back into the carriage. “We’re going shopping.”
“Shopping?” echoed Peter, a little bewildered.
~ ~ ~
Half an hour later, Mr. Stark, Peter and Happy were standing in a tailor’s shop. The tailor took a few measurements, and then handed Peter a dress shirt and pants, before directing him to a room at the back of the shop “Go try these on. They should be a close fit.”
Peter looked at the clothes. It wasn’t the same quality suits that Mr. Stark normally wore, but it was far above Peter’s regular clothes.
“Mr. Stark I couldn’t-”
Mr. Stark shook his head. “Uh uh. If you think I’m going to tinker around with my inventions and current research in those, you are mistaken, Underoos. Now try them on, let's see.”
Peter walked into the back room and gulped nervously. He could pay for half a month’s worth of medicine with the dress shirt alone. Peter carefully put the dress shirt and pants on. Just as the tailor predicted, the pants and shirt fit nearly perfectly.
Outside, Mr. Stark was arguing, or maybe bantering with Happy, but the moment the door opened they both fell silent.
Happy huffed, turned to Mr. Stark and said, “I told you, he could’ve been your twin.” Mr. Stark muttered something back to Happy, who then left.
Mr. Stark turned to Peter before nodding. “Much better.”
“Um, is this really okay?” Peter looked up at Tony hesitantly. “I mean…”
Mr. Stark waved the question away. “I told you yesterday, Underoos. 100 point restoration. We’ll make a scholar of you yet.” Mr. Stark turned to the tailor. “We’ll order 3 pairs of dress shirts and pants, in addition to these.”
“Three pairs?!” Peter’s incredulous tone echoed around the shop.
Mr. Stark turned around, heading after Happy. “Come on, kiddo. We have a couple more stops.”
Peter dutifully followed Mr. Stark out, into another shop.
~ ~ ~
By the end of the morning, Peter had gotten a pair of new clothes, a new pencil case, box of pencils, a box of chalk, a few slates and a school bag. They were about to leave, when a salesman stepped in front of Mr. Stark.
“Hello good sir! Might I interest you and your son in some fashionable hats?”
“S-son?” Peter squeaked, turning red. Distantly, he heard Mr. Stark chuckle in amusement.
The salesman picked a curved, pencil grey hat and placed it on Peter’s head. It fell down, covering his eyes.
“Hmm, perhaps something smaller.” In a flash, the salesman took the hat off Peter’s head, and grabbed a slightly smaller black hat with a ribbon around it.
Peter ducked out of the way before the salesman could put it on his head. “I-I really don’t think -” Stuttered Peter, clearly flustered by the misinterpretation.
Suddenly, Peter felt a hand on his back, nudging him forward. Peter’s head snapped to Mr. Stark. “My son and I think that’s a wonderful idea.” said Tony, grinning ear to ear.
Peter turned beet red.
“Let’s try the small black newport hat, at the back.” Suggested Mr. Stark.
“A wonderful choice sir!” The salesman handed the hat to Mr. Stark, who gently placed it on Peter’s head. The salesman held up a mirror for Peter to see.
Peter stared at himself. The newport hat complimented his dress shirt well. He looked… different, but in a good way. Smart, more sophisticated, perhaps. Peter stood up straighter, and turned his head to the side, almost mesmerised. A small bit of his curly brown hair poked out from under his hat. Peter tucked it back in, and looked at Mr. Stark. “I like it.”
Mr. Stark agreed. “It suits you.” He turned to the salesman. “We’ll get it.”
A few minutes later, Mr. Stark and Peter were walking back to the carriage where Happy was waiting with his new newport hat. Peter climbed into the carriage after Mr. Stark, took off his hat and stared at it contemplatively.
The carriage started moving. Mr. Stark nudged Peter gently with his elbow. “You’re kinda quiet, Underoos. Everything okay?”
“I hope I didn’t bother you with the ‘my son’ comment?” Mr. Stark said it jokingly, but Peter could tell it was a genuine question.
“No no, it’s - that was fine. It just surprised me.” Peter looked up at Mr. Stark and gave him a smile.
“So what’s up then? If the last day is anything to go by, normally you’d be chatting away.”
Peter shrugged. “It’s just a lot.” He held up the hat and his bag, full of school supplies. “This used to be my life, before my parents… Before the orphanage. It’s just bringing back memories, I guess.”
The carriage wheel went over a rock, and Mr. Stark grabbed Peter’s shoulder to steady him. For the longest moment, they were silent, before Mr. Stark spoke up. “I get it, you know? I lost my parents too. Granted, I was older and the situation was drastically different…” Mr. Stark cleared his throat. “My mom, she was a pianist. She had this way of playing, that was so graceful, so… warm. We were never good at communicating, except when we were playing on the piano. It was like the music would speak for us, in our special language.”
“After she passed, I couldn’t barely look at the piano. I boarded up the room, and nearly threw the key away. It wasn’t until about three years ago that Pepper, my uh, friend convinced me to open the room. I thought it was a bad idea. I thought all that hurt would come flooding back. And some of it did, but along with it…”
Peter nodded in understanding. “Yea. It’s like you got a small piece of them back.”
“Yea, something like that.”
The carriage came to a stop abruptly, ending the moment. Peter stuck his head out the side, and realized that they’re already back at the mansion. Mr. Stark and Peter climbed out and headed inside.
“How about some lunch?” suggested Mr. Stark. Peter agrees, and then turns red when his stomach growls audibly. Mr. Stark laughed not unkindly, ruffleed Peter’s hair and then went to the kitchen. Peter followed him, still red, but smiling.
Mr. Stark and Peter resumed working in the workshop. It’s equally as studious as the day before, except there’s an air of familiarity that wasn’t there before. Just like yesterday, Peter’s attention was consumed by his excitement to learn, and he doesn’t notice the time fly by, until it's approaching sunset. Mr. Stark asked Peter if he had to leave, but it’s Peter’s day off from Mr. Delmar, so he says no. Mr. Stark turns on a few oil lamps and they continue working into the night.
~ ~ ~
Eventually Mr. Stark straightens up and stretches. There’s a few quiet cracks, at which Peter snorted, before looking outside, noticing that it’s already dark and the stars are out.”
“I should probably get back soon.”
(Tony follows Peter’s line of sight until he’s looking outside at the night sky with Peter. Tony looks back at Peter. His face is peaceful, slightly sleepy, and in the dim lighting Tony can see part of the night sky reflected in Peter’s eyes. He feels a surge of protectiveness, and affection..? Tony shakes the feeling off, and an idea suddenly comes to him.)
Peter followed Mr. Stark upstairs, and watched curiously as he pulled a large cloth off… a telescope. “Woah… can I, Mr. Stark?”
Mr. Stark arranged the telescope, and fiddled with the knobs for a moment before stepping away and looking at Peter. “Go ahead, kid.”
Peter steps closer to the telescope and peered inside.“Woah…” Peter turned to Mr. Stark. “This is amazing Mr. Stark!” Peter peered back into the telescope, still in awe of the beautiful sight. He felt Mr. Stark lay his arm across Peter’s shoulders. The warmth of his arm was nice in the cold night.
(Peter stared up at him with complete awe and eagerness. That feeling from earlier comes back, ten fold. It tells him to protect Peter, to keep him safe, warm and happy. It compels Tony to step closer and lay his arm over Peter’s shoulders. He feels Peter lean slightly into the half side hug and -
He loves Peter.
Tony loves Peter, as if he were his own son. The revelation rocks his world. When did this happen? Why now? What is he supposed to do?)
Unknown to Mr. Stark’s world shattering revelation, Peter shivered and sniffed in the cold air, before straightening up and fully leaning into Mr. Stark’s side. “‘ts cold.”
“Yea.” Mr. Stark exhaled. “Let’s get you home, Underoos.”
Peter nodded, and allowed Mr. Stark to lead him back inside and wrap one of his coats around Peter. He called for Happy, who came with the carriage. This time, before Peter gets in the carriage, Mr. Stark wraps him a hug, before entering the carriage with Peter. Sleepy and cold, Peter pulls Mr. Stark’s coat around himself tightly. The last thing he remembers was resting his head on Mr. Stark’s shoulder, the sensation of an arm wrapping around him keeping him warm and falling asleep.
~ ~ ~
When Peter woke up the next day, he felt awful. His head throbbed, this throat felt like sandpaper and he felt like he was freezing. Peter cracked an eye open, and painful bright light sears through his brain. Peter cries out in pain and shuts his eyes.
Hearing Peter, Director Harrington walked over. “Hey Peter, it's time to get up.” When Peter didn’t move, Director Harrington frowned. (It was uncharacteristic of Peter not to be awake by now). He laid a hand over Peter’s head, and sweared under his breath when he felt Peter’s boiling forehead.
“What’s wrong with him?” MJ worriedly inquires from behind the Director. He quickly turned around and saw her and Ned.
“He’s sick. I think it's just because he’s been pushing himself so hard this past week. Honestly, I was expecting this to happen days ago.” Director Harrington stood up. “He’ll be alright. He just needs rest. I’ll send a message to Mr. Stark telling him Peter won’t be able to attend for a few days.”
MJ nods. She knows what she has to do.
~ ~ ~
After MJ’s shift finished, she made her way to Mr. Stark’s mansion. Steeling her nerves, she firmly knocked on the door and waited. One minute, two minutes… just when MJ thought was wouldn’t get an answer, Mr. Stark opened the door.
He frowned. “Do I know you?”
“I’m here about Peter.”
“Come in.” Mr. Stark stepped out of the way, welcoming MJ inside. “Is he okay?”
MJ looked around the mansion. Part of her admires it; everything looked so elegant. Part of her critiqued it, wondering how it was built, and how the Stark family inherited their fortune.
“Peter’s sick. He’s been overworking himself, with everything he needs to do at the orphanage, with you and Mr. Delmar.” MJ explains. “He’s been going to sleep really late, and forcing himself to wake up before sunrise, and he’s on his feet pretty much the entire day.”
In a single moment, it looked as if Mr. Stark aged years. The wrinkles in his face stood out, and he looked worried. Extremely worried. MJ knew that Peter was attached to Mr. Stark (what science nerd wouldn’t be), but she didn’t expect that Mr. Stark would reciprocate the sentiment equally.
Mr. Stark took a moment, but eventually he composed himself. “Thank you for telling me. Are you headed back to the orphanage?”
“I’ll give you a ride back.” Mr. Stark left to call Happy, completely missing MJ’s surprised expression.
Mr. Stark comes back a few minutes later, with his coat. “I’ll head back with you. It seems like I need to have a few words with Peter, about responsibility.”
MJ would’ve been worried, if Mr. Stark hadn't sounded so… parental. Not for the first time, MJ wondered what exactly had they done, for Peter and Mr. Stark to feel so strongly for the other in such a short time. Instead, she just nodded.
“Why is he overworking himself?”
MJ’s mouth went dry, and she looked away at her feet. So Peter hadn’t told Mr. Stark then. “Our friend, Ned - he’s sick. Like really sick.” She quickly glanced at Mr. Stark. He looked contemplative. “Director Harrington is doing what he can, but the doctor visits and the medicine - it's really expensive. Peter and I are paying for most of it.”
Although Mr. Stark didn’t say anything, MJ can practically hear him understanding. Peter always puts the needs of his loved ones above himself, and they both know it.
Happy arrived with the carriage in front. They climbed in and headed for the orphanage.
~ ~ ~
Peter’s awareness came back, and he felt the bed sink down on his left. At the edge of unconsciousness and in pain, Peter whimpers unintelligibly and tries to stick his head under the blanket.
Suddenly, there was a hand softly brushing through his hair and rubbing at his scap. His headache began to ease up for the first time, and Peter cracked his eyes open. There was a blurry figure that looked awfully familiar sitting on his bed.
“Hey Underoos. How are you feeling?” Mr. Stark asked softly.
Peter closed his eyes, and tilted his head towards Mr. Stark’s hand, silently asking for him to continue.
Above him, Peter heard Mr. Stark chuckled. “Peter, it's dinner time. You need to eat.”
With a groan Peter opened his eyes again, this time fully. It takes a moment, but his vision focuses. Mr. Stark helped Peter sit up, and then held out a bowl of soup with a spoon. Peter held his palms flat against the bowl, and let the steam rise against his face, trying to absorb the heat.
‘Kiddo, you’re supposed to eat it.”
Peter grumbled, but picked up the spoon and began slowly eating.
Mr. Stark waited for Peter to finish half of his soup before speaking up, his tone gentle. “Peter, you were seriously overworking yourself.”
Peter swallowed his soup, and then responded, “Ned needs the money. He’s-”
“- sick, I know. MJ told me.” The surprise must’ve shown on his face because Mr. Stark elaborated. “She came to see me earlier today, to tell me that you were working yourself sick trying to pay for Ned’s medicine.”
Peter opened his mouth to defend his actions, but Mr. Stark interrupted him. “Underoos, why didn’t you tell me?” He chided, gently. “I would’ve helped you.”
“I - really?” Peter looked at Mr. Stark in hope.
Tony nodded. “Anything, Peter.”
Peter put the soup aside, leaned over and hugged Mr. Stark tightly. “Thank you so much, Mr. Stark. You have no idea - it means so much to me.”
“Anything, Peter. Although you have to concentrate on getting better, and taking care of yourself. I don’t want to hear that you're sick and refined to bed for days, geez. I nearly got a heart attack when I received the message this morning.”
Peter laughs weakly. Mr. Stark handed him back the soup, and sat with Peter as he finished it. When Peter’s done, Mr. Stark takes the bowl, and helps Peter crawl back under the covers. Peter rolled onto his side, facing Mr. Stark, and silently asking.
Above him, Peter heard Mr. Stark huff, in amusement. A moment later he felt Mr. Stark’s hand softly brush through his hair and rub at his scalp. Peter falls asleep to the sensation.
(When he’s sure Peter’s asleep, Tony leans over Peter, presses a kiss to his forehead and whispers “I love you.”)