Tony Stark was curiously absent. Strange had not seen a trace of his presence at the compound, although he had rechecked all the labs and wandered through the other buildings beyond the main building. He hadn't ventured into any of the team's personal rooms, but his curiosity was starting to get the better of him. He went down a long hallway of unoccupied rooms, which must have been added in case of guests or additions to the team. Each suite seemed to be a pair of rooms including one living room area and a comfortable bedroom. Strange paused at the end of the hall of all the current team member's rooms when he heard people entering from the other direction.
"Do I want to know where you ducked out to at intermission?"
"It was nothing. I just stepped out to take a call from May."
Strange saw Tony and Peter Parker walking down the hallway and enter one of the rooms. Peter was clearly trying to evade Tony with no success. Stephen followed them, scoffing at the doorway labelled "Radioactive: (No Really)". Tony landed on the couch and propped his feet up, not caring about wrinkling his suit.
"Yea, and you came back smelling like a fine mist of gasoline. So, are you gonna tell me the real story or am I gonna have to turn on this TV and find out what Spider-man did for fifteen minutes tonight? Which, I have to say, I'm more curious about how you managed to get suited up, do your thing, and get back by the time the house lights went down."
Peter appeared to be judging if he could get Stark to give up and regretted that wasn't likely.
"Why is it such a big deal? I helped someone out and was back in time for the second act."
Tony just turned and stared at Peter over the back of the couch. Peter started looking more nervous the longer Tony didn't say anything. Peter finally broke.
"I did actually get a call from May checking in, but there was a car chase coming down the street. So, I zipped up on top of the marquee, left my suit, and stopped the car, then I went back."
Tony just continued to stare at him, cocking an eyebrow. Peter gulped.
"It might have been more like a controlled crash…"
Tony shook his head slightly in a 'go on' motion.
"A web-induced controlled crash due to a slight miscalculation of physics."
Tony nodded and laid back again.
"Speaking of physics, did you get your homework finished?"
"No, I got kidnapped into going to a show in New York."
There was a pause, "Touche, but also we had a deal. Why didn't you want to tell me about the car?"
"I took care of it, everyone was fine, and the NYPD got the guy."
"But you caused some damage to the car because of miscalculation."
Peter looked nervous, "Um, yes."
"So, you didn't tell me because you didn't do everything perfectly?"
"Angle-schmangle. Mistakes happen, I'd rather know so we can work on it or nip problems in the bud. Got it?"
Peter smiled nervously, "Got it."
"Alright, so back to the bigger problem. Where's your homework? I wanna check it before you head back to school tomorrow."
"Kid, we had a deal. You could go with me tonight if you finished the homework before we left. May's gonna have my head if you get a bad grade on this one. Her anger is only cute when it's directed at someone else."
"Oh, gross. stop."
"It's 12:30 in the morning."
"Yea, and you were up until 2:00 yesterday just to see if you could change the color of your webbing without changing the consistency, so the way I see it is that you still have an hour and half before you pass out."
"Or we can set a bedtime of 12:30 from here on out. Your sleep is important to me, Petey."
The lack of irony in his tone made Peter wary of trying to push the matter.
"Oh, shut up. I'll go get it."
Tony settled in as Peter disappeared to go grab his backpack.
"So which homework is this?"
"English literature," came the reply muffled by the door. Tony made a face, he preferred helping with the science homework, but English wasn't too bad. He'd found a pattern to research papers early on and additionally found a use for a well-phrased response when people treated him like some spoiled rich kid. He'd found that replying with a well-worded soliloquy or an analytic letter to the editor to anyone who implied he'd paid his way through his degrees was so much more effective.
"Which one? To Kill a Mockingbird? Lord of the Flies?"
There was a pause before Peter answered. He must be changing into pajamas.
"Um. It's Hamlet."
Tony waited until Peter opened the door.
"So, the reason there was a considerable lack of complaints by a teenager having to go see a Shakespeare play with me tonight was because he was trying to skip reading the play?"
Peter looked at Tony with cheery false confidence.
"I figured it be easier to watch it in real time than to labor through reading it and you needed back up."
"Kid, it was just schmoozing, and you should have been taking notes if that's what you were going to do."
"You asked me to come and don't worry, it's all up here!"
Peter tapped the side of his head. Tony looked at him like he was an idiot, so Peter quickly sat down and opened his laptop. Tony held back from rolling his eyes before plopping down next to Peter, who was staring at the blank page and trying to form his thoughts. At least, that's what it looked like for next ten minutes.
"You don't remember anything thematically, do you?"
"If I opened SparkNotes right now, would you pretend you didn't see it?"
"Kid, first off, I want to say that seeing the show is definitely better than trying to read it, but taking notes would have saved both of us a lot of trouble. What stood out to you?"
"There was a lot of death. Like, a lot. I mean, the whole thing starts off with a ghost. How much fake blood do you think they used?"
Tony ignored the question and gestured to the open Word document/ Peter started writing down the notes as they talked. Well, Peter talked and Tony acted like a sounding board, keeping his ideas to himself so Peter could reach conclusions on his own.
"Revenge was definitely a big part. Especially in regard to fathers and sons. Was Hamlet actually insane? I couldn't figure that part out."
"He pretends to be insane for that bit where he's trying to trick Claudius, but then again, he's also seeing the ghost of his father, so it's a topic of debate."
"So, what I'm hearing is that's a good topic for a paper?"
"As long as you can reach your word limit and make a compelling analysis, then sure."
Peter typed out a basic outline while Tony played on his phone. He put a parental notice on SparkNotes just in case. It was late at night, but considering they had just seen the show, Tony didn't think it was too harsh on him.
"How do you know this play so well?"
"Because when I wrote about it in high school, I got called out by my teacher for coming to the wrong conclusions."
"Write the paper and I'll tell you, but suffice to say, my need to prove I was right sent me into a deep Shakespearian spiral for two weeks."
"That's a cheap trick to get me to write, isn't it?"
"No, I want you to come up with your own ideas before you consider my thoughts or anyone else's."
Peter sighed and went back to typing.
"Not to mention, if you used my ideas and get a low grade, you'll blame me."
Peter rolled his eyes, but otherwise didn't give Tony any other reaction. Peter kept typing up his analysis, referring to his hard copy of the play for quotes. Every now and then, he'd ask Tony for an opinion. Tony shifted between providing information based on the points in the plot and playing a little bit of the devil's advocate when it came to testing Peter's own theories.
"To a certain degree, you have to approach analyzing Hamlet as if you were an actor trying to play him honestly. Like, think of how you would react if your Aunt May married one of your street weirdos, but didn't know they were your nemesis or if you killed your girlfriend's father by complete accident."
Peter's eyes got wide and Tony knew he'd hit a chord as the spider kid began typing without pausing. He knew Peter had some traumatic stuff he was dealing with, so he didn't want to make any real life parallels, but he figured that was the kind of stuff that Peter might have cooked up in his own brain in terms of superhero worries. Tony started to feel himself nodding off, so he got up and headed to the door. Peter looked up anxiously.
"Just heading to the kitchen for some hot chocolate, want some?"
Peter nodded sleepily; Tony recognized the same determination to stay awake and finish that he would get in his shop. He decided on the way down the hall that Peter was getting as many marshmallows as he could fit in the mug before they started falling off. He turned into the kitchen to find Clint sitting there working on the latest mission report and eating a bowl of frosted mini Wheaties. He grabbed a mug off the shelf over the sink and one mug cover in the 'Itsy-Bitsy Spider' lyrics.
"You guys still working on upgrades? It's nearly 2:00."
"Did the show run late?"
"No, as it turns out that's what his book report that's due tomorrow is on."
"Ah, the old leaving-it-for-the-last-minute-so-you-don't-have-to read-a-play method," Clint chuckled, "My oldest is just starting book reports and it's a doozy just getting him to read the little easy readers."
"Yea, I mean, at least I know the plays pretty well and he's a bright kid, so it hasn't been like pulling teeth."
Tony willed the hot water to boil faster, as much as he liked Clint, it was odd to be talking to the assassin about book reports.
"What topic did he go with?"
Tony internally questioned why he didn't have a hot water tap in this kitchen.
"Um, he settled on analyzing Hamlet's madness. Y'know, how much he was faking versus actually going crazy."
"That's a pretty detailed topic, good on him."
"Yea, I had him think about it in terms of how he would feel in Hamlet's shoes. He took to it really quick."
"With as much as he talks to himself and Karen, I'm not surprised he'd take to a character that monologues all over the place."
Finally, the water was ready, and Tony mixed in the instant cocoa. He started hunting down the marshmallows.
"I tried not to draw too many comparisons, just because he's already been through a lot. Didn't want to dig up anything distressing this late at night."
"Marshmallows are next to the fridge, Bruce tried to hide them from Thor. I'm sure Peter appreciates you staying up with him, I doubt May has that kind of time with work."
Tony whacked his head on the cabinet door, trying to get to the marshmallows.
"She said as much; Pepper and I took her out to lunch to figure this whole situation out with him being Spider-man and also being a teenager."
"More like a mutual 'let's figure this out' but Pepper spearheaded actually making it happen. Basically, I had to agree to be a mature responsible adult."
Tony put a handful of marshmallows in his mug and dumped a heap of the sweets onto Peter's mug. Clint watched him amusedly.
"You going to let him sleep anytime soon?"
"He got on a train of thought and was typing the conclusion when I left. I figure I'll do a quick edit and send him to bed."
Tony picked up both mugs, slightly regretting the tower of sugar.
"Make sure you get some sleep too."
"Kinda got my hands full, Barton."
"What's your opinion of a team vacation?"
Tony looked thoughtful, "Not a bad idea. I was worried you were going to say something like Disney World or a cruise ship."
Clint gave Tony a grin of masochistic glee, "Could you imagine Thor?"
"Can you imagine Bruce? Let's stick to the middle of nowhere."
Tony left before Barton could come up with anymore bad ideas. He managed the walk back down the hallway and turned the corner to find Peter passed out on the arm of the couch, his laptop laying open in front of him. Tony looked from the boy to the hot chocolate he was holding and sighed. He placed his cup on the table to the right of where he'd been sitting before and set down Peter's on the opposite end, out of arm's reach in case he woke up suddenly.
Tony sat on the couch and picked up the laptop. He sipped his hot chocolate, proofreading slowly and making small adjustments. All the analysis was strong, so all Tony was fixing was some spelling and grammar errors. He made a note to give Peter a crash course on commas. He made sure the format and word count matched the report requirements before saving the file and closing the laptop. The nearly quiet sound woke Peter, who drowsily sat up and instinctively looked at the time. He jumped when he noticed Tony and that he'd fallen asleep on the couch.
Tony whispered gently, "Relax, Pete, I proofed your paper and it's ready to go. You should probably crawl in bed and get a couple more hours of sleep."
Peter nodded and noticed the mug of marshmallows. He scoffed and picked it up, sleepily picking up one at a time and eating it. Tony watched the young man, whose hair was sticking up and reclining on the cushions. Peter began to speak, his voice slightly scratchy from sleeping.
"Is there any hot chocolate under this?"
Tony threw a small pillow at him and he caught it instinctively. Setting the pillow down, he took a marshmallow and tossed it in his mouth. He did this a couple times; Tony was bemused by this application of his spider instincts. Peter picked up a couple and looked at Tony cheekily.
"Really? We're going do this?"
"I'll honestly be impressed if you manage to catch one."
"Do I need to list all of the ways I am exceptionally coordinated? What part of 'I am Iron Man' do you not comprehend?"
Peter didn't answer but chucked the marshmallow at Tony, who barely had time to catch it. Tony cheered the personal victory and it became an impromptu game. They went back-and-forth, especially after Peter threw an entire handful at his mentor at once, giving Tony ammo of his own. Tony finally threw in the towel when he tossed one up in the air and Peter caught it by jumping up to stick onto the roof.
"Alright, I'll say you won this time, but you really have to get some sleep."
Peter nodded and scurried along the roof into his room. Tony rolled his eyes and followed him in to put the laptop back in Peter's backpack. Peter dropped from the roof onto his bed and set his alarm. Tony put the backpack on the chair near the door, so it wouldn't get left behind. Despite all the sugar, Peter was already yawning as he pulled the blankets up around him. His high metabolism working in his favor in this case.
"I, uh, I don't know if I'll be up to see you off tomorrow, so I'll see you over the weekend probably."
"Yea, I think May wanted to see this place, if you don't mind if she visits too," he said hazily.
"Oh, yea, that'd be great. We can introduce her to everyone. Maybe get Thor to bake something."
Peter laughed, "They have about the same cooking styles."
"I mean, if you consider inedible a 'style'."
They both chuckled before Peter seemed to finally settle in.
"Good night, Pete, have a good day at school tomorrow."
"Good… hey, wait, you never told me what happened with your teacher."
"Can it wait? I really don't want May here on the weekend yelling at me for keeping you up."
"Okay, but I'm gonna remind you. Good night, Tony."
Peter turned out his lamp and for a split second, Tony's silhouette was visible in the doorway before he left. Strange followed Tony as he picked up some of the marshmallows that had scattered around the room and dumped them in the trash. Tony took the mugs down the kitchen, now devoid of archers. As he washed, dried, and returned the mugs to their shelves, Strange noticed that the genius looked exhausted now that no one else was around. He caught a heartfelt grin cross the man's face as he remembered to put the bag of marshmallows back in the cabinet where Bruce had hidden them.
Tony let out a verbal stream of reminders to the computer system as he doodled Yorick's skull from Hamlet on the dry erase board. He finally put down the marker and left the kitchen, where Strange watched him walk down to his room just past Peter's door. While Strange knew that there was more to Stark than met the eye, it was humbling to see him be so human firsthand. It was easy to see how good people like Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, and Peter would take to Tony so closely despite his public persona, if this was the kind of person he was in private. Strange was tempted to stay through the night to see if Stark would finish his story about why he studied Shakespeare to Peter before he left, but the wizard was starting to feel drained from using his powers for such an extended period.
He returned to his presence in the New York sanctum, with everything unchanged around him aside from the time of day. His back ached slightly from having sat in a meditation pose all day, but he knew it would feel better after some rest. He got some food to eat and conjured his own hot chocolate to stifle the craving. He contemplated the people he'd studied that day while he ate. While he felt a little silly to admit it to himself, he was somewhat surprised that each of them, regardless of their power or origins, were all fairly warm and friendly people. It was refreshing to see them away from the heat of battle and the stresses that come with carrying the world on their shoulders. He was infinitely more comfortable with the idea of joining them in future endeavors and getting to know each of the one-on-one. Perhaps he'd even join them one day and could see what it was like to be an Avenger from the inside.
Tony & Peter (and Clint)
Dedicated to my mentor.
Inspired by conversations with my mentor.