Chapter 2: The Impulse Game


Sunday - February 28, 2016

Queens, NY - Jackson Ave - en route to Parker Residence

09:46 p.m.

The car ride was silent. Tony didn't like that.

Normally, when he found himself being dragged one place or another, he'd crank the radio up as loud as it could go, blaring music that drowned out everything around him, including his thoughts. He liked it. He was used to it.

He wasn't used to silence.

And yet, as the car sped down the bumpy and pothole-filled roads of Queens, there was no noise save for the dull tapping of the kid's foot against the car floor, a constant beat that filled the otherwise silent backseat.

It was honestly getting to be pretty annoying.

Tony spared the teen a small glance from the corner of his eye, the image distorted slightly with the yellow tint of the sunglasses he'd refused to take off, if only to hide the bruise he'd yet to acknowledge.

There were a lot of things he was electing to ignore right now.

Parker's kid...Peter was quiet. He hadn't said anything since they'd met up at the airport, Tony greeting the kid as soon as he'd gotten off the plane from Germany, where he'd stowed the kid away in his hotel room for the better part of the trip, truly embracing the concept of out of sight, out of mind.

But now the kid was very much in his sight, very much at the forefront of his mind, no matter how much he disliked it.

Looking at the kid, it was hard for the billionaire to connect him to the loud-mouthed, confident hero he'd seen fighting alongside him.

The boy next to him was silent, knee bouncing and posture stiff against the seats. He'd pulled his sleeves up to cover overtop his hands, where he fisted the remaining fabric in a tight grip. His head was turned towards the window so Tony couldn't get a read on his face, but if he had to guess, it assumed it wasn't calm and collected.

Tony lifted his gaze towards the front of the car, where he locked eyes with Happy in the rearview mirror. The man angled his gaze to the side, obviously just as lost with the kid as Tony felt. The billionaire gave a little shrug of his shoulders, to which Happy just rolled his eyes and stared straight ahead again. Tony scoffed, not surprised that Happy hadn't been any help. The guy was just about as proficient with children as Tony was, which was to say not at all.

Still, the silence was starting to make him itch.

He reached a hand out to touch the boy's shoulder. "Hey-"

He couldn't even get another word out before the kid was jolting back at the touch, letting out a strangled yelp as he rammed his back into the side of the door, eyes flinging over to stare at Tony like he'd shocked him. Said man reared back as well as the jump, whipping his hand away as he choked on his spit.

"Jesus, kid," he breathed, letting out a little cough as he cleared his throat, Happy throwing a quick glance over his shoulder.

"Everything okay back there?"

Tony turned to his driver before glancing back at the kid, whose cheeks were slightly redder as he fiddled with his sleeves. "S-sorry. I...I wasn't expecting...I mean I...j-just...sorry."

He blinked, cleared his throat again as he shifted in his seat.

"Yeah...we're fine."

The billionaire readjusted his glasses and gave a little shake of his head, stilling for just a moment as he squinted his eyes slightly in thought. The kid looked at him strangely before jolting as Tony finally moved again, shrugging his shoulders as he did so. "Well, now I don't remember what I was going to say. Must not have been that important. Anyway-"

He removed his glasses and gestured towards the kid with them. "I can't get a good read on you, you know."

Apparently, the teen didn't know, for he tilted his head and gazed at him with a perplexed squint. "I...I'm sorry?"

"Yeah, I'm sure you are. But like I said, you're just...weird. I don't know how else to phrase it. I mean, if I didn't know any better, I would just peg you as an ordinary kid with no connection to superhero life whatsoever. Like, the thought wouldn't even cross my mind."

Peter continued to give him confused looks. "But...isn't that a...good thing?"

Tony stared at the boy, stared at his hunched form, the way he kept pulling at the sleeves of his shirt, tugging them overtop his hands as he meddled with the fabric, eyes darting back and forth across his face like they were scanning him for a certain emotion, a specific reaction.

For some reason, it made Tony uneasy.

"I guess."

Peter blinked for a moment before turning away again, going back to staring out the window. Tony did as well, brows furrowing slightly.

What was the point of that conversation?

. . .

Right. Silence.

"So, what'd you think of Germany?"

The kid seemed startled that the man was still talking to him, twisting around slightly in his seat so he could better face him. "It was good. I=I mean, I didn't get to see...see much of it, b-but the parts I did see were cool. T-their airports are nice, at least. Well, I mean...I...I only saw the one. But it looked pretty...nice. At least, you know...before we started blowing it up and...um...I-I mean, it was...and, uh...s-sorry."

Tony squinted at him, mouth parted slightly as he cocked a brow. "You...don't have to keep apologizing, you know."

"S-sorry...?"

The man blew out a long breath as he turned back around to face forward, placing his sunglasses back onto his face. Screw it. He'd take silence over whatever this was.

Peter said nothing more, just turned back around to face the window. Tony threw him a quick glance before shaking his head, forcing himself to face forward once more. He'll be fine, he muttered to himself. After all, he had bigger problems at the moment than worrying about whether or not he'd hurt some kid's feelings.

His arm twinged in pain, almost as if reminding him that it was still there, that it hadn't gone away.

He'd taken the sling off as soon as he'd touched down in Germany again, the medical team that Pepper had dispatched for the rescue jet forcing him to wear it until he'd broken free from their annoying grasp. Not that he was ungrateful to them for plucking him from the middle of fuck-knows-where Siberia, but their constant poking and prodding hadn't done much for his already rocky temperament.

Of course, having to explain to Pepper what the hell had happened wasn't much better. Sparing her the gruesome details, much to her annoyance, Tony had brushed her off with the promise to tell her everything once they returned to New York after dropping off Spider-Man, a promise they both knew would go unfulfilled.

But at least the kid was already proving useful as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Tony reached a hand out to rub at his wrist, the shots of pain rocketing up the limb in sharp twinges. He gritted his teeth and tried to push it down, push it all down. Now was not the time, not the time to think about Siberia, or Pepper, or St-

He huffed and faced the window, driving the thought out before it could even fully metastasize in his mind.

Needing something to distract his eyes, the man stole a quick glance back over towards the teen, who hadn't moved from his position of staring out the window.

He had to admit, Peter had been a fairly big help in Germany. Granted, with how pitifully small their team had been, Tony would have been grateful to anyone for sticking around.

At least he didn't double-cross you.

Needless to say, the bar was low in terms of Tony's ideas of good teammates.

Still, the kid had more than proven himself with that fight, at least enough to prove to Tony that he was responsible enough to handle the suit. He hadn't put much thought into it if he were being honest, but how much trouble could the kid cause? He seemed nice enough, responsible, smart. What else was there to consider? Not like there was much point in Tony keeping the suit, anyway.

The drive lasted longer than Tony had anticipated, or desired. After a few sharp exchanges between him and Happy on which route was better to take while Peter sat back in the awkwardness, they finally arrived at the kid's place.

The three-story townhouse was on the corner of the busy street, dark wooden paneling combining with strong concrete shapes to create a modern feel and sharp design. Large windows adorned most of the walls while the top penthouse floor consisted of almost nothing but the glass panels. Down near the parking awning sat a row of cars.

Tony cocked a brow. He didn't remember seeing this many cars when he'd first requited the kid. Speaking of, he turned to glance over at Peter, who was staring at the house with an unreadable expression on his face. His knee hadn't stopped bouncing though.

"Company?" Tony asked.

The boy didn't turn to look at him, just kept staring past him at the dark looming house across the street. "Family." His voice was quiet, quieter than before.

"I thought it was just you and your dad."

"They're not biologically related to us. They're just some of my dad's friends. They're really close and they've been taking care of me since I was little and my dad was busy with work, so they're basically aunts and uncles at this point."

He wasn't stuttering. And there was something about the statement that seemed strange, like it was too carefully planned. Scripted.

Tony leaned back slightly in his seat. "You guys get along?"

The boy blinked and finally lowered his gaze. "I guess. As...as well as we can, all things considered. M-my friend and I usually just call them the Cons."

"And that's because-?"

"Because more than half of them are ex-convicts who spent more than ten years in maximum-security...prisons."

The teen faltered at the end of the sentence, eyes widening ever so slightly as he glanced around like he regretted saying what he'd just said. Tony turned back towards the window. "Right. Well, nice to know you have plenty of upstanding role-models to take after."

Tony counted four adults, three men, and a woman. And he didn't like the looks of any of them.

Two men sat on the top step. One was large and bulky with short brown hair and a green striped shirt. Even though he was sitting, it was obvious the man was well over six feet tall. His hands were large and calloused, his face hard and menacing. The man next to him seemed to be even taller and was almost sickeningly skinny, but the malicious smile plastered on his face was enough to warrant caution. His eyes were small and beady and his face was pale and sickly, bony fingers tapping against his knee rhythmically.

Leaning up against the door was a woman with jet-black hair that matched her jacket and stretched down to her neck, contrasting her pale complexion. Sharp blue eyes stood out, as well as the cruel smirk that adorned her lips as she chatted to the others. Her eyes fluttered between each of the men, sharp nails curling around her crossed arms.

Finally, standing by the bottom was one final man dressed in a loosely buttoned black shirt that revealed toned, dark-colored muscles underneath, a multitude of rings adorning his fingers. His face was littered with numerous scars and his eyes shifted dangerously between each of the others.

In each of their hands was a bottle of beer, matching the other empty ones that were scattered along the steps.

Safe to say, they all gave Tony uneasy vibes. Apparently, Peter too, for the kid still hadn't stopped fidgeting.

"So they seem...interesting..." Tony joked, only for Peter to shut his eyes tightly and run a shaky hand through his mop of curls. Tony glanced down at the teen, stealing one last look at the group, appropriately nicknamed the Cons before leaning forward to address his driver. "Hey, Happy. Think you can give me and the kid a second?"

The man twisted around in the seat and gave Tony an incredulous look. "You want me to leave the car?"

"Yeah. Oh, and you can go ahead and get Peter's case out of the trunk."

Peter instantly froze at that, Happy letting out a grumble as he opened up his door and stepped outside, slamming it shut with a little more force than needed. The kid didn't seem to notice, however, as his eyes stayed locked onto Tony. "I-I get...I get to keep the suit?" He whispered out.

"Well yeah. It's not like it fits me. Besides, the red and gold suit is enough already. I don't know how the public would react if I suddenly traded it in for red and blue spandex."

"I don...I-I...but you...and I-"

"What's so hard to believe about this, if I may ask?" Tony said, cutting the kid off from his stutter-fest, knowing they might have been there for a while if he'd let it play out.

Peter furrowed his brow. "Well...I mean...I understand why you gave it to me...before. You n-needed some help and...and now that it's finished...I just a-assumed that-"

Tony shook his head, holding his hand up. "Look, kid. I gave you the suit to help you. Did it come in handy in Berlin? Sure. But that's not the only reason why I gave it to you. I wasn't lying when I said I would help. Ergo, the suit."

Peter continued to stare up at him with wide eyes, the sight quickly making the billionaire uncomfortable as he shook his hands in front of himself. "Look, kid, don't make this any more awkward than it already is. Just take the suit, alright?" He muttered.

This seemed to snap Peter out of his daze as he nodded his head. "Umm...r-right. O-of...of course, Mr. Stark...T-thank...thank you." he finally stuttered out.

Tony stared at the kid before nodding his head in satisfaction.

Great. Cross that off the list.

Just then, Happy knocked on the window, both turning their heads to look at him as he heaved the case up. "Where's this going again?!" He called through the glass.

"Uhh...I'll go ahead a-and take that. You don't need t-to worry about it." Peter called, Happy nodding as he unceremoniously dropped the case back onto the floor before moving back over to the trunk.

Tony rolled his eyes at the man's antics before his eyes were slowly drawn back over to the Cons still currently chatting amongst themselves on the steps. The uneasy feeling in his gut had yet to go away. In fact, it seemed to have amplified in the few minutes he'd been talking to the kid.

He opened his mouth to speak once again, only to shut it violently, reprimanding himself instantly. There was no way he was thinking of getting involved. No way. This kid was not his problem, his alter-ego was. There was a big difference, as this car ride had proven. He had no reason to burden himself with such a task. Who was he to get involved in something like this, something that didn't involve him?

He tried to ignore the fact that Peter had yet to get out of the car, like he was stalling for some reason.

This wasn't his place, plain and simple. It wasn't his problem.

Still, as he glared out the window at the Cons, the feeling in his stomach refused to go away. There was something off about all of this. He just couldn't put his finger on it.

. . .

Well...it couldn't hurt to just check, right?

"Hey, kid?"

Peter lifted up his head and glanced over at the man, eyes wide and nervous. Tony stared at the boy for a moment, wondering whether or not he should actually go through with this before he finally let out a sigh. "Is everything..." He paused for a moment before taking a deep breath. "Is everything okay?"

He honestly didn't know what to expect. He didn't even know what he wanted to expect, what he wanted the kid to say. It was obvious whatever relationship this kid had with his..."family" was unorthodox, but that didn't necessarily mean it was...bad, did it? Maybe the kid was just the nervous type. Who really knew?

Whatever he'd been expecting Peter to say definitely isn't what he got.

The teen let out a breathy laugh as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Okay? Y-yeah...yeah, everything's fine. Actually, things are better than fine." He gave a small smile.

"T-this was...I mean it was so...cause like when...and then the stuff with the..." The kid glanced over at Tony and gave a nervous smile. "This w-was really cool, Mr. Stark. A-and I know you...you didn't have to bring me along...you didn't have to give me a new suit...so...so I just...I guess I'm trying to..." He trailed off, a grimace forming on his face before it was replaced with an exasperated look. "I'm not really the best at this in case you can't tell."

Tony couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Really? I hadn't noticed." He mused, Peter cracking a smile as he rubbed his neck, cheeks flushing red.

The teen let out a small sigh before turning back to Tony. "But really, Mr. Stark. Just... thank you...f-for...for all of this."

The billionaire stared at the kid for a moment longer before giving a small nod of his head. "Don't mention it." He said in a much softer tone of voice than he'd expected, never registering the fact that the kid had just deflected his original question.

Peter gave a nod of his own before reaching for the car handle, pushing the door open before stepping out. He grabbed hold of the case currently sitting at his feet before glancing back into the open car, giving a small hesitant wave.

For a second, Tony almost returned it.

Almost.

Closing the door behind him, Peter lifted up the case and took a small, shaky breath. Exhaling slowly, he lifted his gaze across the street, where the Cons were still laughing away at whatever inane thing they were discussing.

Tony watched with a careful eye as Peter made his way across the street, the sound of a shutting door making the man jump slightly. "You ready to go?" Happy asked, glancing over his shoulder. Tony instantly felt his stomach churn slightly as he watched one of the Cons finally take notice of the approaching Peter. "Hold up for a second, Hap." He said softly, rolling down the window to better hear what was being discussed. "Just...hold up."

The woman was the first to notice Peter's approach, pulling the beer bottle from her lips as she smirked. "Well, look who's here! It's our favorite guy." There was a slight slur to the end of her words, her smirk remaining steadfast though.

The kid said nothing as the others noticed him as well.

The man in the stripped shirt spoke next. "So, you're back from your little Stark Industries Indoctrination Camp." He leaned forward, letting his elbows rest on his knees. "Was it fun? You learn how to swindle and cheat your way to the top?"

"I think that's part of the more advanced classes," the skinny man replied with a grin as he took another swig of his drink.

Tony could see Peter's fingers drumming against the handle of the case, his head down as he refused to meet their gazes. "I'm...a little tired. I think I'll-" As the boy tried to move past, the woman latched a hand onto his wrist and yanked him back down, the teen catching himself just before he could fall down the steps. "Aw, we're just joking around. Don't be such a priss."

The larger man finished off his drink and threw the bottle to the floor, where it shattered into numerous little shards against the cement below. "So, you make any friends?"

"Friends? Come on, Flint. This is Peter we're talking about. He doesn't even know how to string two words together without wetting himself."

The skinnier man sneered. "Cut him some slack, Sandra. He's perfect patsy material. That counts for something, huh?"

She scoffed in reply. "You got a point there." She reached forward and placed her hands on either side of the boy's face. He tried to pull away, but her grip remained tight. "Look at this adorable face! Who wouldn't want to walk all over him? It's just so easy."

Peter finally wrenched himself away, only to run into the only other man who hadn't spoken yet: the dark-skinned, tattooed man. He glared down at the boy, the look in his eyes much different than the others, completely sober.

"What about Stark? Did you see him?"

The teen stared up the man with a new look in his eyes and a new stiffness to his posture, like he was more on edge facing off against him. "He...he was around."

"Did you talk to him?" the man growled impatiently.

Peter lowered his gaze to stare down at the floor. "He was...really busy. I-I didn't really get the chance to-"

"Bullshit," the leaner man scoffed with a narrowed gaze. "You want us to believe he didn't make time for you, a kid he took time out of his day to personally come by and meet?" He leaned closer, a little smirk revealing yellowed teeth. "That's what your dad told us, told us Stark crawled all the way down from his little tower just to come say hi to you. You must have done something awfully interesting."

The man took a step closer. Peter took one back. "Interesting indeed. Interesting enough for you to hide it from us." Another step closer. "I don't like that. And your dad doesn't either. He said as much while you were gone. Did you know that?" He leaned down, closer to the boy's face.

Peter turned his head away, his grip on the case shaking. "I'm really tired..." His voice was little more than a whisper. The man barreled right past it.

"We talked a lot while you were gone, Peter. Talked about you bringing Stark into our house, bringing him around our business, all the while keeping silent about it, covering it up, hiding it from us, your own family." His shadow was dark and imposing, stretching overtop the boy. "Is there anything else you're trying to hide, Peter? Or was that all?"

The teen tried to take another step back, only for the man to roughly grab his arm, keeping him from retreating. "More importantly," his eyes narrowed and he pulled the boy closer." Why didn't we hear about it from you?"

They watched from the car, watched and listened.

"Tony..." Happy murmured with a soft, strained tone, face taking on an uneasy look as he watched the exchange, eyes glued to the group across the street. Tony said nothing, just kept his gaze on the kid, on the kid being surrounded by a gang of drunken adults twice his size.

He said nothing.

The woman approached Peter and the other man, leaning closer to the former. "Max, not here..." she whispered, casting a few glances down the street, most likely to watch for anyone passing by The man - Max, growled and curled his lip before roughly letting the boy go, Peter stumbling back as he whisked his arm close to his chest.

"Fine. Then you're gonna tell us about the conference. In detail

Peter ducked his head and merely shrugged his shoulders, ripping his arm out of the man's grip, their words making his fingers curl tightly around the metal handle. "I-I ... I guess...I mean...I do-don't really-"

He cleared his throat.

"Maybe w-we can talk a-about this in...in the morn-" He started as he reached towards the door, only for the leaner man to grab onto the back of his hoodie, dragging him back down the steps once again.

A small, shocked yelp escaped the teen as he stumbled against his feet before quickly righting himself. "Come on! What's the rush? We're only curious about how your little trip went." The man sneered, face leaning closer towards the kid's. Peter flinched and turned his head away, sidestepping away from the man, only for his back to run into the chest of another.

"It...it was fine, alright." He finally choked out. "There w-was... I mean it was...and there w-was...a... a lot of inventions and robotics blueprints to work with...and...a-and-"

"What's in the case?"

"...W-what?"

The dark-skinned man - Max, stepped closer, eyes narrowed as he locked gazes with the kid. "The case," he repeated, gesturing down towards the object Peter was now trying to hide slightly. "What's in it?"

Tony watched on, eyes narrowed, hand poised on the car handle, waiting for the kid to begin floundering as he tried to sputter out a lie. Though he could only blink in shock as Peter merely shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing really interesting. Just a couple of spare parts and blueprints we received to work on later," he answered softly yet convincingly.

The billionaire felt his eyes narrow as he continued to stare at the scene before him. So you can lie. Tony mused to himself. Then why don't you do it more often? He wondered, recalling just how terrible the kid had been when lying to him. How the hell could he pull a flip like that? What was with this kid?

The woman narrowed her eyes, folding his arms across his chest. "So...now what? Was this shit like a one-time thing or something, or are we supposed to expect Stark to keep showing up on our doorstep every other month?" she muttered, glaring down at the kid who was currently using the base of his palm to rub his wrist up and down.

"Actually..." Peter mumbled. "I-I don't...I don't really know. T-the details weren't t-too...specific exactly...s-so I...I don't really know when the next...um...next meeting is." He finally muttered out.

The leaner man rolled his eyes, leaning back against the step as he scoffed "Ugg...God, you're useless. You can't give us anything? They seriously didn't tell you shit?"

"They were pretty...p-pretty tight-lipped about...about everything, so...so I don't know."

"Of course you don't. What a fucking surprise."

The kid ignored their chuckles as he began to shift his weight back and forth between his feet. "Can we maybe...m-maybe go inside and talk? I don't-"

"Just spare parts, huh?"

The kid lifted his eyes up to meet Max's gaze as he leveled a hard look at the kid. "I...I'm sorry?"

The man glanced down at the case. "Just space parts?" he repeated. "That's it?"

Peter glanced down at the case for a second before giving a vigorous nod of his head.

"Kid says it's just fuckin' science shit, man," the striped-shirt guy muttered. "What about it?"

Max didn't seem inclined to let it drop so suddenly. "I'm just curious," he muttered as he stepped closer. Peter, in return, took two steps back, grip tightening around the handle. "Yeah, l-like I said. They're just parts and blueprints f-for a new project that we n-need to start working on."

"So, they give you a project to work on, but no specific time for you to return and show it off or report your progress?"

Peter glanced around, grip tightening. "Um..."

The man continued. "Also, it seems pretty sketch of Stark Industries to just let a bunch of strangers walk off with their design prints and tech, wouldn't you say?" He turned towards the others, who were giving him strange looks. He ignored them and turned back to Peter, face hardening. "Especially if they were as tight-lipped about information as you say they were."

The woman shrugged her shoulders. "I guess,"

"I know." The man didn't relent. Peter took another step back, only to find himself backed up against the pillar at the bottom of the steps. He pressed his back hard against it as Max leaned closer. "So I'll ask you again. What's in the case?"

Tony could actually hear his heart hammering against his chest, felt his hand tightening around the handle of the car.

Peter met Max's gaze for a fraction of a second before ducking around him, slipping past the others as he turned to quickly face them. "Yeah...y-yeah, sure. I just need to get the access code for the lock out of my backpack first so... Hey, actually, have you seen my...my dad anywhere c-cause I actually...have to talk to him about something. So, i-if you can just...just hold up for a sec-"

Before he could push the front door open, however, a large beefy hand was curling around his wrist, dragging him down the stairs as Max stepped between the boy and the road so Tony couldn't see exactly what was happening.

But he could see the look on Peter's face. And he could hear the words Max said next.

"I didn't say you could fucking leave."

Tony stared at the scene for a second longer before making his move.

He'd seen enough.

"Stay here," he muttered to Happy before slamming his door shut, the driver sputtering in shock at his actions.

The billionaire quickly straightened out his suit and realigned his sunglasses as he crossed the street and moved closer to the front of the townhouse.

One of the Cons must have noticed him, for them quickly tapped the dark-skinned man on the shoulder before turning towards him. Max glared down at a wide-eyed Peter for a moment longer before letting him go and whirling around. "Hey, kid," Tony called. "Just forgot. I wanted to talk to your dad about something real fast before we left." He explained, staring at Peter's shocked face.

The kid seemed frozen, baffled as to why the man was still there. "I...umm...I-I..." he stuttered. Apparently, his mouth was as frozen as his brain. However, that was not the case with the other adults.

"Well, well..." The woman chimed, a new smile adorning her face. "Tony Stark. Just what do we owe this little visit?" She asked, though her eyes gave away the annoyance her voice hide perfectly.

"Like I said, sweetheart. I just need to have a quick little chat with the kiddo's dad," he stated casually, reaching forward to wrap an arm around the kid's shoulder, effectively pulling him away from the others. He felt the boy tense up in his grip, but he didn't pull away and Tony didn't release his hold.

"If that isn't too much trouble."

The Cons exchanged glances before Max let out an irritated sigh. "Fine," he muttered darkly, motioning with his head for the others to step away from the door.

Peter blinked the shock out of his eyes as he cast a nervous glance at Tony before stepping forward, walking up the stairs, and wrapping a shaking hand around the door handle.

Taking a shaky breath, Peter pressed his thumb against the top of the handle, a click reverberating through the air as the locks slid apart before he pulled one of the twin doors open. The lights were already on as they walked inside.

Stepping through the short, narrow hallway, the walls opened up to reveal a spacious, designer living room, complete with twin sofas facing a large flat-screen TV mounted to the wall over a brick-work fireplace. The flooring was a deep, mahogany that matched the mantlepiece and the bar counter off to the side, a wall of liquor and booze decorating an entire section of the room. Above their heads was an ornate-looking, modern chandelier that bathed the room in a warm, yellow glow.

To the left of the front door sat a kitchenette with a similar expensive appearance, though it looked like it had never really been used before. Further down as a hallway most likely housing a couple of bedrooms. And across from the front door, down the hall that separated the living room from the kitchen, sat a pristine, polished elevator.

Peter shuffled on his feet once more as he glanced over his shoulders as the Cons, who were currently displaying various looks of annoyance, disgust, or indifference.

"Um...w-where-"

"His office," Max muttered before folding his arms over his chest.

Peter said nothing, just gave a small nod of his head. Tony narrowed his eyes at the scene but said nothing as Peter began to make his way across the first floor and over to the stairs. Slightly relieved by the fact that they all wouldn't have to cram inside the slow-moving elevator, Tony followed the shuffling kid up the stairs before they reached the second floor.

This floor was similar to the first, except the dining room and kitchen were much bigger, meaning this floor was probably used mostly for eating and cooking. Though as Tony looked around at the Cons, he severely doubted any of them were big bakers.

Upon arriving on the floor, they followed Peter down the hall, where he entered in upon another sizable room, though this one was much more ornately decorated.

The walls were still a deep, dark brown, only now they were covered in large bookshelves that stretched near to the ceiling, each filled with thick volumes of row upon row of books.

Counters situated against the walls held small statues, awards, sculptures, cigar boxes, anything and everything that could possibly scream money. On the back wall, above another fireplace similar to the last, sat a large painting surrounded by an expensive-looking frame, twin vases perched on either side of it.

Finally, in the center of the room sat a large executive's desk, matching the dark coloring of the wood paneling, a mess of papers scattered across the top. And sitting in the chair, going through said papers, was none other than Richard Parker. A pair of glasses sat perched on the tip of his nose, an irritated frown set firmly on his face as he glanced between folders.

The sound of their footsteps made Richard glare up from his papers, only for his eyebrows to raise in slight surprise at the sight that greeted him. There was no discernable expression on the man's face as he pushed his chair back and stood up, removing his glasses from his face before gently setting them down on the table.

"Peter..." He greeted coolly, the teen quickly lowering his gaze to the floor. He said nothing, not even as the woman stepped forward "Mr. Stark said he wanted to talk with you about something," she explained, her voice tight and strained.

Richard glanced at her then at Stark before a small smile set on his face. "I see you met my associates."

Tony turned a stare over at the Cons, who were currently watching the exchange with unreadable expressions. "Sort of...we haven't really had the chance to speak."

Parker gave a small nod. "Well, allow me to introduce you to them," he said as he moved over to the others.

"This is Flint Marko, head of security over at Parkstem Labs," he explained, placing a hand on the man with the striped shirt before moving over to the leaner figure standing next to him. "This here is Dr. Curt Conners, one of my top scientists and close friends." The man - Conners - fixed Tony with an unsettling grin. Now that they were closer, Tony realized that one of the hands sticking out of the man's shirt sleeve was plastic. A prosthetic.

"Over here, we have Ms. Alexandra Deel." He gestured towards the woman, who flashed Tony a dazzling smile that didn't match the look in her eyes at all. "Just call me Sandra"

"She's head of shipping and manufacturing," he explained before moving over towards the final man. "And this here is Mr. Maxwell Dillon, our financial adviser and my second in command"

Tony stepped forward and shook each and every one of their hands.

He'd definitely have to wash them later. Really, really well. With like a lot of soap.

"Please to meet all of you." He flashed them a grin, one that didn't match the unsettling feeling he was beginning to feel in the pit of his stomach.

"Max," Richard called. "You think you can take Peter and the others downstairs while I talk to Mr. Stark?"

"Uh-huh." The man called, wrapping a hand around Peter's shoulder, the teen wincing at the touch. "Besides, we still got a whole lot of catching up to do, don't we, Peter?" He called, the others smirking at the teen's pained face.

Tony watched out of the corner of his eye as Peter was all but dragged back down the stairs with the others behind him. Realizing he had more pressing matter he needed to deal with, Tony wrapped his hand around one of the chairs placed in front of the desk and pulled it out, taking a seat as Richard sat as well, shuffling his papers as he did so.

"So...what did you want to talk about?"

The billionaire usually would have instantly jumped into conversation, all of his wants and demands sitting neatly in a corner of his mind as he'd spin an intricate web of conversation and charm, weaving them through the dialogue effortlessly and seamlessly until everything he'd planned and accounted for were already at his fingertips.

This time, however, something was different.

He had no plan whatsoever. Getting out of the car had been on impulse alone, and now that those impulses were gone, he was left with...what exactly? A suspicion and no evidence? What was he supposed to do with that? What was his level of care here?

More silence. He hated it.

"So your associates..." he started, not really knowing where else to begin.

Richard leaned back in his chair, a smile working its way onto his face. "They're more like family, really. They've stuck around through all the hard times. really helped me out with Peter when he was little and I would get stuck at the office. You know how it is."

"Not really. Kids aren't really my thing."

"Of course. My mistake"

Tony chewed on his cheek, knee beginning to bounce as he glanced around the room, hoping the answer to why he felt so unnerved would be written on the walls somewhere. It wasn't.

Richard stared at him for a moment before furrowing his brow, folding his hands atop the desk. "is there...something you wished to discuss with me, Mr. Stark?"

Was there?

"No. Not really. I just wanted to see the kid off."

The man nodded. "Right. Well, speaking of such, I wanted to thank you for granting Peter this opportunity." The man let out a little chuckle as he pushed a few of the papers aside. "I hope he wasn't too much trouble."

"Nah, kid was a delight."

Why was he here?

Richard hummed. "I'm glad to hear that. I know he's a bit shy around newcomers, so I was worried when you first approached. But hopefully, this whole experience was a positive one for him."

Tony drummed his fingers against his knee. "Yeah..."

Richard waited for a moment, presumably to see if Tony had anything more to say, which he surprisingly didn't. The awkwardness was near palpable as the man cleared his throat and picked up a few papers, shuffling them around a bit. 'Well..if there isn't anything else...thank you again for everything you've done for us, Mr. Stark," he said as he stood back up from his chair.

Tony, thankful that there was at least one person with their brain still intact in this conversation, followed his lead and stood up as well. They shook hands as Tony took a step back. He needed a drink.

Several drinks, actually.

"It was no trouble at all, Mr. Parker," he smiled, antsy to leave and put the whole mess behind him.

And go where?

He faltered at the thought for a second before giving a little shake of his head and stepping around the chair. Richard gestured towards the door. "Let me show you out."

Tony lifted a hand and waved him off. "Oh, it's alright. I'll find my way."

"You're sure?"

"Positive."

He didn't wait for a response before he was pulling open the door to the office and taking a step out into the hallway. He breathed a deep sigh as he glanced around, running a hand down his face as he scoffed.

What a ridiculous stunt he'd just pulled.

He should have just had Happy pull off and drive away the second the kid was out of the car, as the plan had been.

He swallowed thickly before stuffing his hands into his pockets, glancing around at the Nancy set-up and cosy living arrangements. This was a family house. He didn't belong here, that much was obvious. Whatever was going on didn't involve him. This family was weird, sure. But as he'd said in the car, the kid himself was just as weird. Maybe that's what normal looked like around here. Who was he to judge?

He blinked back into reality and rolled his eyes, making for the stairs.

It was time to stop putting it off.

It was time to go back home.

(Why? Not like anyone's waiting for you.)

He pushed past the thought and kept walking...only to falter as he heard the sound of laughing from downstairs, loud and boisterous. Not a moment later, a figure was rushing up the stairs, head down and clothes ruffled.

Peter almost didn't even see him, he was too busy focusing on climbing the stairs. But when he finally did raise his face, their eyes met for just a moment.

The boy's cheek was red, chest heaving and shoulders shaking as he stared back at Tony. His eyes were glazed over with an emotion the man couldn't place, but the way his lip trembled ever so slightly didn't leave much up the imagination. Peter stared at him for another second before he was squeezing his eyes shut tightly, ducking his head as he used his shoulder to push past the man and race up the stairs to the third floor, disappearing from sight before Tony could so much as utter out a single word.

Tony gazed after him in silence, listening to nothing but the sound of a TV playing downstairs and the beating of his own heart, the same sound he'd heard in the car as he'd watched the kid get surrounded.

Something about this was...wrong. Something that was connected to the strange heaviness he'd felt the second he'd stepped foot in the house. Something that made his skin crawl whenever Richard so much as looked at him.

He turned his head to gaze down at the stairs that led to the first floor, the stairs that led him out. They were so close, so tantalizingly close. Just a few feet away from him, a few feet away from the car that was ready and waiting to drive him away, away towards the Tower, the big, huge...empty Tower.

Keep walking. Keep walking. Keep walking.

("If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose.")

He had a choice. He had a choice right now, and he knew what the right decision was. Just like he knew then.

Keep walking. It's not your problem. Keep walking.

("If I see a situation going south, I can't ignore it.")

Tony wasn't like him, not even close. He would come in guns blazing, rationale aside, reasoning aside, nothing but stubborn arrogance and stupidity-fueled violence. He would make things worse as he always did, as he loved to do. Tony wouldn't.

Steve would get involved. And Tony wasn't like him. He wasn't.

Just leave. Stairs are right there. Leave and don't come back...just like the others. Just like him.

Tony finally turned away from the stairs, lifted his head to gaze back to where Peter had disappeared to. His arm burned, he could feel it eating away at him.

("This isn't gonna change what happened.")

. . .

. . .

. . .

No...it wouldn't.

The office door closed behind him as Tony reentered the room. "I want Peter to come intern for me at Stark Industries."

But he did it anyway.

"What?" Richard looked up from his papers, seemingly surprised that Tony hadn't left as he said he would. He blinked his eyes quickly in shock before clearing his throat. "Um...could you repeat that?"

"I want to offer Peter a full internship at Stark Industries. No strings attached. No payments necessary. No sign-ups required," he explained before he could think better of it, before his brain could fully process what was coming out of his mouth. "Every other weekday after school, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3 pm to 8 pm. I'd have one of my drivers pick him up and drop him off so transportation wouldn't be a problem."

His heart was beginning to pound again. He could hear the blood in his ears, hear it pulsing against his skull. The pain in his arm was dulled by the sheer adrenaline now beginning to work its way through his system.

No going back now.

Richard stared Tony down for a moment, eyes hardening as he lowered his gaze, scanning the papers still scattered around the table. Reaching down, he gathered the paper together before neatly shuffling them into a pile. Tony watched the man work, neither saying anything. More silence. Tony swallowed his nerves.

Finally, after a moment, Richard stared back up at Tony, cold eyes burrowing into the man's gaze. "Tell me, Stark..." he said, eerily calm. "Just what about my son has you so intrigued, huh?" He placed his elbows on the table, folding his hands in front of his face. "Why him?" he murmured darkly.

Tony narrowed his eyes slightly at the shift in tone. Richard was now staring at the man with a suspicious glint in his eyes. The only explanation Tony could surmise for it was that the man suspected he was simply trying to unlock secrets about Parkstem Labs through Peter. After all, the Cons had been right before in saying that Parkstem was a major competitor for him alongside Oscorp.

However, he couldn't care less about uncovering their secrets.

Tony leaned closer, matching Richard's hard stare. "I was keeping an eye on Peter throughout the convention. From the record I was able to pull on him as well as his application into the Foundation, he was an intriguing case," he explained. "As I observed him, I noticed he seemed to be much farther along in terms of intelligence compared to the other students at the meet. And I'm talking college undergrads. People that should be years ahead of him looked like they were partaking in a second-grade science fair compared to him." He waved his hand through the air. "With this internship, he'd be allowed to shadow some of the scientists and professionals at the company as well as learn about the robotics and invention processes involved," he explained. "A process that you undoubtedly use every day in your own company."

Richard listened with narrowed eyes as Tony continued. "However, at the convention, I also noticed that Peter seemed to be very...anxious and nervous. He didn't talk much to anybody else. Seemed more content to stick to himself."

Parker gave a little nod, pursing his lips slightly. "As I said before, he's had some issues with that in the past." He twisted his chair around so that he was now facing the wall of books. His hands remained folded in his lap. "He concerns me sometimes, Stark. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with a little obedience, but he's just so..." he shook his head, eyes narrowing. "...weak. So small."

He sighed, ran a hand through his hair. The speckling pattern splashed across his cheek was well-hidden in the dim light of the office. "He worries me. As a father...he worries me." He pushed himself out of his chair and walked over to the shelf, realigning a few books that had shifted out of place. Tony watched him as he moved.

"The world's been changing, Mr. Stark. Changing in ways nobody could have predicted, ways nobody expected." Tony said nothing, just watched as the man turned to gaze back at him, eyes sharp and unsettling. "I fear...I fear he won't be able to handle it, at least not on the road he's currently taking."

The billionaire leaned forward in his seat. "I can help with that."

Richard narrowed his eyes and turned to fully face him. "Can you now?"

"I think so. Put him in an environment he can excel in. Give him the confidence he's been lacking. It could work."

"And you think you could provide that sort of environment?"

Tony took a breath, let it ous slowly. "At least let me try."

Richard watched him for a moment, seemed to scan him up and down. Tony resisted the strange, overwhelming urge to fidget under the man's gaze. Finally, when he spoke once more, his voice was low and dangerous, hinting an edge of aggression. "Stark. I won't tolerate games. Especially not with my boy. If you have an issue with my company, you bring it up with me, but you leave my son out of it. I won't have him become a pawn for you to use, you understand me?"

Tony didn't release the man's gaze. "Perfectly. But this isn't about our companies. This is about him. And I want to help him."

Richard didn't move. "Why?"

. . .

. . .

("This isn't gonna change what happened.")

"...because I can."

Richard gave a small nod of his head before lowering his gaze back down to the papers below, his brows furrowed in thought. Tony watched on, anticipation and a flutter of nervousness stirring in his gut. He could only hope this worked, hoped it didn't backfire and get the kid in some sort of trouble. Lord knew he didn't need that on his conscience.

But finally, after a moment, Richard's hard gaze seemed to soften slightly as he gave a small nod of his head. Lifting his gaze, he met Tony's eyes. "Stark, if you think this little...program of yours can help my son, then so be it." He uttered softly, an almost unsettling smile setting on his face.

Tony felt his stomach churn once again as he began to feel the same vibes he'd gotten from the Cons, but quickly pushed it down as the two men rose up from their seats and shook hands. Richard cast a small glance towards the door. "I should probably go and tell Peter," he muttered none too kindly.

Before his brain could catch up to his body, he was jumping in front of the man, holding his hands up with a shrug of his shoulders. "Don't worry, I'll go and tell him." He said, the words falling out before he could stop them.

You are just on a roll, aren't you? He grumbled to himself as Richard nodded his head, motioning towards the stairs. Tony bit back a sigh as he seriously began to consider getting a CAT scan when he got back to the Tower, trudging up the stair to the top penthouse floor.

Something about the floor seemed much different in the dark than it had when he'd first seen it. It felt much...colder. Quickly remembering which hall the kid's room was in, Tony counted the doors until he came to the last one.

He paused at Peter's door, biting the inside of his cheek in hesitation as he wondered whether he should just send Richard up instead. But after remembering the look on Peter's face as well as the annoyance in Richard's, Tony let out a small sigh and gently tapped his knuckle against the door.

After a few moments passed of silence in which Tony began to feel his old-self bubbling back up to the surface as his patience wore thin, the man called.

"Kid? You in here?"

Silence.

Furrowing his brow, the man glanced down at the door handle before giving a roll of his eyes. "How the hell did I end up here?" he muttered as he turned the handle and pushed the door open slowly. The hinges gave a soft creak as the door slowly swung open, the darkness of the room hitting Tony hard as his eyes fought to adjust to the lack of lighting.

The room was as he remembered it. The teen's bed right in front of the door, corners tight enough to pass military inspection, a bathroom right across from the head of it, a desk further back, and a bookshelf with row after row of thick science textbooks pressed against the back wall. But it wasn't what was in the room that made Tony's face pinch in unease, it was what wasn't in the room.

There was nothing adorning the walls, no decorations, posters, signs. There weren't any gaming consoles or clothes strewn about all over the place. It looked like nobody lived in this room, it was so...empty.

How had he not noticed it before?

Tony blew out a breath and tried to push the thought from his head, eyes catching on the glass doors on the far end of the room, seemingly leading out to a balcony.

As his eyes adjusted, Tony made out a figure standing against the railing, seemingly unmoving as they stood leaning against the barrier, their back to him. But the mess of brown hair and the familiar oversized jacket were big enough clues.

It was impossible for him to see the boy's face, but the sunken, tired posture he stood with and the way he did nothing but stare out over the view told Tony all he needed to know. The billionaire let out a small breath and grasped the metal handle of the door, sliding it open.

Peter jolted violently at the noise, whipping around and pressing his back into the railing behind him as tried to locate the source of the noise, only to pause as he caught sight of who exactly was at his door.

"M-Mr. Stark?" He whispered softly, voice hiding none of his disbelief.

"Hey kid," Tony called casually as he stepped out onto the floor. The wind gently brushed past his face as he made his way over. Peter watched him with wide eyes for a moment, mouth agape as the man strolled up to stand next to him. Tony didn't look over at him, instead choosing to take in the view.

The townhouse rested on a large hill, elevating the view substantially till Tony could basically stare out above some of the surrounding buildings. From a distance, the bright lights of Town Square could be seen glowing brightly in the night sky, illuminating the waters of the East River in bright washes of red, yellow, and green. The moon hung in the sky above the buildings, shining brightly as it seemed to compete with the lights of the city. As usual, the sky held no stars. With all the bright lights and shining flashes, the chances of ever even noticing the faint pinpricks of white in the sky were slim to none.

He noticed Peter steadily watching him from the corner of his eye, the boy warily approaching to lean over the balcony as well. Tony could hear him shuffling back and forth on his feet, fingers tapping nervously against the railing.

He kept his gaze elevated to the sky. "Light pollution's a bitch, huh?"

The boy glanced away, seemingly unsure of something before letting out a little breath. He didn't turn to face Tony, but his eyes would occasionally dart over in his direction. "W-what?"

Tony rested one elbow against the railing, using his other arm to gesture up towards the sky. "No stars."

Peter followed his movements, looking up at the sky above their heads. He said nothing for a moment before a small smile worked its way onto his lips, faint and hesitant, but present. "I...I used to have these...stick-on glow in the dark stars on...on my ceiling. That...that was always good enough for me."

Tony hummed, but didn't say anything in response. He kept his gaze focused on the scenery, on the lights shining before his eyes.

"Um...M-Mr. Stark?"

"What's up?"

Peter glanced down at his hands, pulling at his long sleeves once more to cover his hands. Tony noticed he liked to do that a lot. "N-not that I-I'm...complaining or...or anything, but...b-but...umm...I-I don't ...I m-mean...wh-"

"Why am I here, exactly?" Tony asked, realizing the kid couldn't seem to choke out the last few words. Peter glanced up for a second before giving a nod of his head. Tony gazed back out at the view as he shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, you know, just chatting with your Dad about a few things here and there. Nothing too interesting."

"...Oh, and I also got you an actual internship at Stark Industries if that's of any interest."

Peter's eyes grew twice as wide as he whipped around. "You what?!" he nearly shouted before letting out a little scoff, blinking his eyes rapidly as his jaw dropped. "B-but...but I thought y-you said we...we were just g-gonna use that as a cover."

Tony shrugged once more. "Yeah, well, I changed my mind kid. You're gonna wanna get used to that, by the way. It's a pretty common occurrence."

Peter said nothing, just continued to flouder next to him, stuttering on words that refused to turn into anything more than garble. Tony let out a little chuckle at the display, throwing the kid a humored look. "take your time here. I do have that effect on people."

The teen lifted his gaze to stare at him at that, letting out a little breath as he switched his gaze towards the floor, rubbing a hand against his neck as he smiled. "I mean...this is...t-this is insane! It's...there's no other way to put it...I just...this is amazing!"

Tony smiled. It surprised him, and not because it was there...but because it was real, if only slightly

The kid grinned, letting out a chuckle as he turned to glance back out over the balcony. However, after a moment, the boy's smile slipped, his gaze lowering to the ground in thought. He swallowed, brow furrowing slightly. "H-how did...m-my father take it?" He asked quietly, a different tone of voice entering the words.

Tony glanced over at him before waving his hand in the air dismissively. "Ah...he was a little hesitant at first, but I was able to convince him to go along with it." He explained, Peter blinking up at him in surprise. "Huh..." He murmured softly.

"What?"

"N-no, nothing. I-it's...it's just that...well, it's not the easiest th-thing in the world to convince my...my dad, you know?"

Tony pressed his tongue to the inside of his cheek as he glanced over at Peter before turning away. "Yep...I kind of got that vibe from him." He muttered.

Before he could delve any farther into his suspicions of the boy's father, he whipped around and clapped his hands together. Peter didn't turn to look at him. "But, enough of that. Now, this internship will be every other day after school from three to eight. Now, judging from how long an average drive from the tower to here will take, that should leave you with about a two-hour window for patrolling and whatever other nonsense teenagers like you get up to in your free time."

The kid still hadn't responded. Maybe he was just soaking it all in.

Now we'll probably meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but if I decide I like having you around, I might just let you hang a little more." The man paused to twirl his hand in the air. "I'll just make something up about you having 'big projects to finish' or some bullshit like that. You'll probably have some stuff to help with and I already know Pepper's gonna have some work lined up for you, but you'll probably have time to finish up your homework sprinkled in there as well. Plus, if you get on my good side, " He explained, pointing a finger towards the kid. "I might even help you out with improvements to your suit. I'm thinking we start with-"

"Did he put you up to this?"

Tony paused in his rambling at not just the sound of Peter's question, but the tone of voice he'd used. It sounded strange, teetering on the edge of suspicion.

"What?"

Peter narrowed his eyes and finally lifted his head to look at him. His gaze was hard and pointed. "My dad. Did he put you up to this? Are you two working together? Is that what this is?"

Tony blinked and scrunched up his face at the sudden hostility dripping from the kid's words. "What are you talking about? Of course he didn't."

The kid scoffed slightly and turned away. "What? I'm just supposed to believe you're doing this out of the kindness of your heart? Why...I don't..." Peter bit back whatever it was he was going to say as he shut his eyes, shoulders slumping slightly as he rested his elbows on the railing. "Look...it's not...it's not that I'm...ungrateful, alright? You helped me, g-gave me the new suit and I'm so...thankful for all of it."

He trailed off. Tony furrowed his brow and took a small step closer. This kid was so unpredictable it was making his head spin.

"I...I just don't understand why you're...why you're offering this to me if you're not working with my dad. I mean...y-you said we would just use the internship as...as a cover. That it wasn't real, so...so what made you change your mind?" The boy stared up at him, wide brown eyes gleaming in the light from the city beyond. "Why are you doing this? I...I don't understand."

. . .

Neither do I.

Tony opened his mouth, only for no words to come out. He sucked in a breath, closing his mouth again as he cast his eyes away, furrowing his brows as he fought over how to handle this. But it was difficult when not even he knew his real motivations behind his decision. Impulse. Impulse alone was the answer here. So what would happen when the adrenaline finally decided to leave his body?

Where would they end up then?

The man decided on staring out over the water in a similar manner to Peter, who had gone back to leaning against the railing when Tony had remained silent. Neither of them really turned to face one another, not even as Tony began to speak.

"You know...your dad reminds me a lot of mine. He was never really good at the whole 'supporting your kids' thing. He never really knew how to...handle me." He didn't know what he was saying at this point. Just anything to fill the silence.

"I never really felt like I could talk to him, you know? I just thought that whatever I did wasn't good enough for him. That every word that came out of my mouth was another reminder to him that I wasn't what he wanted. Granted I didn't really help my case by going to a ton of college parties, getting wasted a bunch of times, and partying with whatever girl crossed my path but-"

He glanced down at Peter, the boy blinking up at him with those wide eyes of him.

"I don't know where I'm going with this. I think I had a point."

"If you did, then...I don't get it."

The man sighed, running a hand over his face. "I am so not cut out for this," he muttered to himself before he turned around, leaning his back up against the railing of the balcony, folding his arms over his chest. Peter followed him with his eyes.

"Listen, kid. It's true that this is...unorthodox for me to be offering this. And it's also true that there are plenty of other people I could offer this to." He started, watching as the kid lowered his gaze back down to the ground. "But, I chose you for a reason, Pete." He explained, the nickname popping out before he could even think about it. "I think you got a lot of potential kid. Hell, it's obvious just by the way you were able to make those web-shooters just by scraps you found in the frikkin dumpster," he scoffed, a small smile forming on his face.

"And hey, I get it that you're a bit unsure of this. Hell, I'm a little unsure myself..." He paused and unfolded his arms, slipping his hands into his pockets as he leaned back against the railing.

"But I need you to understand this, kid. You do deserve all of this. I don't know about you, but I haven't come across any other kids swinging around the city with basically no proper equipment whatsoever helping people just to help them, just because they can." He explained, Peter glancing away as a slight red tint began to fade onto his face.

"You're a good kid, Peter," Tony said softly. "That's why I'm offering this internship to you. Plus, you know, Spider-Man kind of, is my responsibility considering I just armed him with a multi-billion dollar suit, you know? Would be kinda reckless to just let you go off all willy-nilly without any sort of supervision."

Peter slowly lifted up his gaze, blinking up at the man once more as Tony pulled away. "So what do you say, kid?" He asked, a smug smile forming on his face. "You wanna join me over on the dark side, or would you rather stay here and work at boring, old Parkstem Labs?"

Peter let out a small laugh. "They're not that bad, you know," he murmured softly, a smile forming on his face.

Tony turned a serious look towards him. "Alright, if you're gonna be working for me, you're no longer able to give any sorts of praise, adoration, or compliments to that place, got it? Nothing except seething remarks or hate letters, alright?" He said, Peter letting out a full-blown laugh at that, the man chuckling next to him as they walked back through the glass doors and into the teen's dark room. He liked the kid's laugh. It sounded right.

Walking back out towards the common rooms, Tony noticed Peter's demeanor instantly shift back to quiet and reserved as they made their way down the stairs and back down to the first floor, where the others were congregating. "Well, it's a done deal," Tony called, the others glancing up at the pair as they made their way down the stairs.

Richard gave a small nod of his head as the pair reached them, the Cons letting out small huffs behind him. "Very well. And you said transportation would not be an issue?"

Tony nodded. "Yeah, I'll have a driver pick him up and drop him off," he explained as the large group began to make their way over to the door.

"Then I see no problems. As long as this doesn't interfere with his schoolwork," Richard murmured, stealing a glance down at Peter, who was now standing at his side, his fingers twitching nervously.

"I doubt that'll be much of an issue," Tony smirked as he began to make his way outside.

"Well, it was a...pleasure meeting all of you." The man called as he gazed at the Cons, who seemed to be trying not to roll their eyes.

However, before Tony could begin his descent down the stairs, he heard someone call out his name. Turning back, he watched as Peter quickly stepped outside as well, rushing up to meet the man. "Hang on a second..." He called as he stared up at the man, large brown eyes once again staring up at the man, but this time, there was something different about them. They didn't seem as desperate, as searching. Instead, they seemed almost...bright.

"Before you leave, I just wanted to say thank you," Peter said softly. "For everything."

Tony stared back at those large brown eyes, seemingly lost in them for a moment as they stared at him in awe before he blinked back into reality, a smile forming on his face. "No problem, kid. See you tomorrow," He said with a wink as he began to make his way down the stairs, the smile lingering on his face as he turned back around and noticed Peter giving him a little wave.

This time, he couldn't resist the urge to return it.

Tony reached the car and silently stepped inside. "Well, you took your sweet time, didn't you?" Happy muttered as he cast a small glare behind him. "You know I'm only doing this as a favor, right? I'm not your driver anymore. I have a very serious job now-"

Tony knew Happy was talking, but as usual, he wasn't really listening. Instead, his eyes were trained on the kid currently standing on the front step of his house, gazing at the car with wide eyes before a large hand was placed on his shoulder, jerking him back to attention. Peter glanced up nervously at his father and the awaiting Cons, casting one last glance at the car before ducking back into the house, the door slamming shut behind him.

Tony furrowed his brow before leaning back in his seat, a tired sigh tearing its way through his lips. Only now did he realize how exhausted he actually was. Though he shouldn't have been surprised. It hadn't exactly been an easy weekend for him.

After a moment, he realized the car was moving. Happy must have realized the man wasn't listening and had decided to just drive back to the Tower. Tony let out a small moan and rested his head back.

"You good?" Happy called from the front, his earlier agitation dissipating as he took in how bedraggled his friend looked.

"Yep. Yep, I am...stellar." Tony muttered softly as he shut his eyes. The man desperately wished that were true. He wished he really was alright and that it had just been another long weekend (partying with his friends, staying up watching movies with them, arguing about trivial things). He wished everything was fine and that he could look forward to coming back home and relaxing. He wished...

He wished for a lot of things that just weren't going to come true anytime soon.

Tony winced as he shifted in his seat, his arm letting out a small shout of protest at the movement. He wrapped a hand around his wrist, flexing and unflexing his fingers as he felt his arm groaning in protest. At least with the kid distracting him, his mind has been elsewhere. But now that he was alone, there wasn't much for him to think about other than-

No, Nope! He was not going there. Tony knew if he even began to think about St- about... what happened, he would lose it. And he did not want to have a breakdown in the car. Just breath... Tony muttered to himself as he shut his eyes once more, concentrating instead on taking deep breaths and slowly letting them out. He repeated the mantra in his head throughout the car ride, shutting out every and all outside noise.

This time, he embraced the suffocating air the silence brought.

He never saw the way Happy glanced at him through the rearview window, concern evident in his usually cold eyes.


Sunday - February 28, 2016

Stark Tower - Lower Level Sub-Garage

10:54 p.m.

"Tony?"

The man's eyes snapped open as his name was called. He let out a small groan as he sat up, rubbing his sore neck as he glanced over at Happy, the man staring at him from the front seat. After a moment, Tony realized they were in the Tower's garage. How long had they been there?

"You sure you're alright?" The man asked.

Tony slipped a smile onto his face. "Careful, Happy. Keep acting like that, and I might actually suspect that you're worried about little ol' me."

Happy rolled his eyes and turned back around in his seat. "Yeah, I know. I must be insane," he muttered, but he couldn't help the nervous frown that fell onto his face as Tony exited the car. Though he knew it was pointless to ask the man again if he was alright.

Tony was silent as he entered the Tower elevator, felt the doors shut and floors begin to move after another second. It took him a moment to realize he'd told FRIDAY to take him up to the labs, a response that had fallen from his lips automatically, a conditioned response. The man let out a tired groan as he rubbed his face, his head pounding painfully.

"Sir, might I suggest you go and get some rest instead of working in the labs tonight?" The automated voice called from above.

"I'm fine, FRIDAY," Tony called as the elevator doors opened. "And no, I don't want to hear your list of reasons as to why I am not fine." He said quickly after a second thought, the voice falling silent as he entered the lab.

The lab, with its messy tables and clicking, hissing robots roaming the floors and the multitude of miscellaneous projects laying in heaps all over the place usually brought him a sense of peace in the chaos. Because it was his chaos.

(Chaos. All you bring is chaos.)

His stomach rolled at the sight of it all, the sight of mounds of mounds of work that he suddenly had no energy for. Not even Dum-E, as he accidentally scattered a few papers across the floor, could elicit any sort of scolding from his creator as Tony aimlessly walked past it without so much as a glance.

He could feel his feet moving, felt his body floating through the aisles, like in a dream, like he wasn't even there. But there had to be something. This was the thought that ran through his head as he scanned over the different projects half-finished on the tables. There had to be something that could make it better. Something that could take it away, take away the thoughts threatening to drown him. Something that could stall him from going back up to the penthouse, that horribly quiet floor.

He walked, and he walked, and he finally stopped walking when his eyes caught sight of it.

The Iron Man armor he'd taken to Siberia looked even worse than he remembered it.

The number of gashes and dents seemed to numerous to count, stripping off huge chunks of paint. Loose circuits and bare wires could be seen poking out of the plating, and a large, open maw sat in the very center of the suit.

Tony felt his heartbeat quicken, felt his breathing hitch and his fingers curl. He swallowed thickly and turned his head away from the sight, only to feel the remnants of his jackrabbit heart plummet right down to his shoes.

Cap's shield sat dormant underneath one of the work tables, silent and still on the surface.

He thought he'd stored it away somewhere. He thought he'd gotten rid of it.

Tony felt his lips part slightly, felt himself take a step back and vaguely noticed the sound of crunching underneath his feet. He exhaled a sharp gasp of breath and watched a plume of frost swirl before his face. He blinked in shock at the sight, only to suddenly feel the bone-chilling cold beginning to wrap around him. Another step back, another sound of crunching. Snow. It was snow. Why was there snow under his feet?

Right. It was snowing. Of course it was. Siberia was cold.

And now so was he. So was everything. So much so that he could barely even feel his body anymore, feel his arms, his legs, the tips of his fingers. He couldn't feel any of it. Because it was so cold? No. Because they were metal. He stared down at his arms and saw the metal plates melting out of his skin, fusing to his bones as circuits began to loop around his muscles. He could hear gears shifting inside of him, oil pooling heavy in his gut, smoke burning against his lungs as they turned to steel.

The suit - no, he was blaring loudly in his ears, warning signals flashing before his eyes. There was a hand digging into his chest. Obie, no Barnes. No, it was Steve. He could see him. He could see the blue of his eyes behind the HUD screen now embedded into his own retinas. He could see the hate pouring from the soldier's gaze, felt it frying his circuits and supercharging the metal of his chest plate. He reached out, grasped onto the soldier's wrist, tried to pry him off as he frantically scanned around, looking for something, anything, anyone who could help.

But nobody could. Nobody would. Rhodey was too busy falling from the sky. Pepper had learned better, had disappeared for her own good. And his team...his team stood off to the sides, watching and waiting in silence.

He shut his eyes and felt everything grinding to a sudden, violent halt as the world tipped on its side and rushed towards him, rushed towards his face, a shield gleaming in his eyes, poised to strike, slicing down like a final execution.

Tony snapped his eyes open with a sharp gasp and a sputtering choke of air. He felt his chest heaving as he lifted a hand to fist at the front of his shirt, which he could feel was now damp with sweat. His eyes wildly whipped around the room, searched the air for flecks of snow, searched the walls for signs of his teammates, felt at his chest for any life-ending wounds.

Nothing. He was alone. And he was on the floor for some reason, back pressed against the wall.

"-unday, February 28, 2016. You are currently in Stark Tower, in private lab 1A. There is no threat. It is Sunday, February 28, 2016. You are currently in Stark Tower, in private lab 1A. There is no threat. It is Sunday-"

He cast a small glance towards the ceiling. FRIDAY's soothing voice echoed softly around him, a grounding noise in the otherwise deathly silent room. He listened for a moment, listened as he let his heart settle and the feeling of the floor differ from the snow-covered concrete of that prison in Siberia.

He wasn't in Siberia. Not anymore. He was in the Tower. He was alone in the Tower.

The thought wasn't as comforting as he'd hoped it would be.

FRIDAY kept speaking. Tony knew he should stop her, cease her protocols for his panic attacks, but he didn't want to. He wanted to keep listening to her voice, wanted to pretend for just a little longer. Pretend that he wasn't alone. Pretend that everything wasn't falling apart around him. Pretend that his friends hadn't abandoned him, hadn't given up on him. Pretend that there was still something to fight for.

But even he had his limits. And not even he could lie that well. Not even to himself.

So he finally silenced her with a simple, soft "mute", leaving him to sit in the silence once more. His back pressed against the wall as he stared out at the mess of a lab before him. He didn't make a move to get up, didn't wipe at the sweat covering his face, nor at the drop that slid down his cheek as a bead of sweat got into his eye.

He just sat there in the silence and let the thick black wave of grief wash over him in a steady stream of weight, pooling heavy around his limbs, his head, his heart.

It wasn't the first family he'd grieved. But he was more than certain that it would be the last.

What else could you expect from Tony Stark: the man with everything...and nothing?


Wow...only two chapters in and we're already brewing a lovely concoction of angst and sorrow...I LOVE IT! Hehehehe...

Anyway, kudos to all of you who understood the significance of the Cons' names. BTW, important note, any and all character personalities associated with the real Spider-Man characters I based their names off of are to be discarded. I didn't actually use their names to add their characters into the story, I just thought it would be a cool element to have these characters be INSPIRED and BASED off of those canon Spider-Man characters, alright.

All you gotta know is that the only thing I took from those canon characters are their names (and maybe their physical descriptions). Their storylines and backstory are not relevant.

That might be a little confusing to some, so if you have any questions, don't hesitate to PM me!

IMPORTANT NOTE: ANY AND ALL PEOPLE WHO ASK ME TO SHIP PETER AND TONY TOGETHER WILL INSTANTLY BE IGNORED! Sorry, it's just not my thing. ANOTHER KEY NOTE: any and all pairings I do will be incredibly minor. I am not into the heavily sexual shit and stuff like that. My rendition of a couple if basically just a little cuddling and hugging and the occasional kiss if I'm feeling scandalous XD

Leave your thoughts down in the comments, please. I've never really done a pairing like that before, so I am honestly excited and kind of want to try it out so...

Anywhooo...thanks to these people for favoriting and/or following: Legitimate Pipsqueak (WOOO! I LOVE THIS GUY!), YuzukiKuchiki, hrey573456, repliedgrunt14, theorbess540, Blik46, Celeste621, Dreamer-Of-The-Omniverse, FlamingPhoenix112, Moonstone1000, ptbaym10, 5862-sembonzakura, Onlyinitforthestories2, TinyShadowCat, lil'fernie, milla11, Ammy of Asgard, BeingMuggie, Blaney, The One Who Holds On, lion-xx, GeekyChameleon, Andipandi5, Emnic1, Nindragon, seldabwsmsk, IntrovertMess, Erika266, Phoenixhp5, layla-kyoyama, NlueHeart007, Toni42, YouBetterCryKed

Reviews:

claudeclouds: That's my goal: to write a story nobody has written yet. Really hope you enjoy it. Thanks for commenting bro! Sunshine for you!

Phoenixhp5: Gracias, mi amigo! To be honest, that's one of the things I'm most excited for too. One of my favorite things about writing is creating new and exciting relationships between characters. SO, I hope you enjoy what I do with Tony and Peter.

Legitimate Pipsqueak: What the FUCK are you doing here?! Why are you so frikkin awesome? You always seem to be around all of my fics. AND you were the first person to follow and favorite?! Jesus Christ, I LEGIT LOVE YOU, man! (woman? Whatever, IDK, you be you). I am actually stoked you're here. It always feels great to have a longtime fan around. Extra sunshine for you, my friend. I hope I make this fic interesting for you! :D

BlueHeart007: Loving you! Thanks for reading! Sunshine for you!

Toni42: I know right. BTW: would just like to remind everyone that this is NOT symbolism for my relationship with my padre. For the most part that dork's pretty chill...most of the time. Anyway, hope you enjoy reading more. Sunshine for you!

Nindragon: Aww! Thank you so much. You're an awesome reader...well at least, you have good taste in reading material XD

Emnic1: Gracias! Super excited to continue.

Andipandi5: No, you're amazing!