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Blood & Iron

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1. Genealogy

“Genealogy is the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages.”

Friday, 13th November 2015

It was a universally acknowledged fact that Friday afternoons were the favorite part of the week for most of the population but certainly for high schoolers, because it meant that the school week was over, and the well-deserved weekend was upon them. There was of course homework to do and tests and assignments to worry about during the weekend, but few ever thought about them until at least Saturday afternoon. In Peter’s previous schools he was certain his classmates rarely bothered thinking about school until Monday morning when they were forced to get up.

His high school, Midtown was different in many ways. Having attended Midtown for months now, Peter was sometimes still stunned by how dedicated everyone seemed to science and he found that very few students were uncaring about their studies in general which was a nice change. Having been labelled a nerd his whole life it felt great being just one of many, one in a whole school of them pretty much. He leaned against his locker and watched as another girl passed him with a complicated-looking model that she obviously spent many hours building.

Being a high school freshman was sadly not as different from all the soap opera-like TV dramas he had seen as he would have wished, the biggest difference seemed to be that in real life fourteen-year-olds rarely looked like they were in their thirties, but now that he was attending a STEM school he felt much more at ease than ever before in his school career. He was still an awkward fourteen-year-old with asthma and glasses having recently joined clubs such as the marching band, so he certainly was not considered someone popular and cool even in his new school, yet for the first time he found that he was not the only teenager who loved building machines from scraps he found or who was interested in Legos. It was refreshing feeling like he belonged and not being considered a complete weirdo.

While waiting for his best friend he started aimlessly scrolling first his Facebook feed, but he quickly got bored of it because most of the stuff he saw was posted by previous classmates he cared little for and instead he opened his Twitter app. He followed various famous people and fandom accounts on Twitter so of course there were more fun stuff there. What caught his eyes automatically was from his favorite Tony Stark fan account.

Stark Updates @TonyStarkUpdates 1 h

2 teens are claiming to be #PeterPotts – this time from NYC and LA. Sources say that the genetic testing will soon prove or discard the claims.

It was not exactly big news, because ever since last August when Tony Stark officially verified that he was the biological father of the missing son of Pepper Potts every other week there were some kids claiming to be related to the famous couple. Since Miss Potts became the CEO of Stark Industries and the two started dating there have been a few claims, but they certainly got much more frequent in the last year.

Every guy around fourteen who wished for a better life hoped that he was the son of a billionaire superhero and his company’s CEO, wishing for a Cinderella-like ending, Peter supposed. Yet, one of them could really turn out to be the missing kid and that thought always excited him. He was just about to check out the comments thread when he caught a glimpse of Ned. So instead he closed the app and put his mobile back in his pocket.

He couldn’t help, but beam when he saw Ned hurrying towards him on the corridor. Ned was far from athletic though so by the time he reached Peter, he was panting hard. Their lack of physical abilities was one of the many common features they bonded over from the first day of freshman year. Ned grinned when he reached Peter, and they did their recently developed bro-handshake. It was still a bit wobbly, this time Peter messing it up at one of the last steps, but they were getting better in it.

“We still need to work on this, man,” Ned said with an even wider grin obviously finding it somewhat funny how even though they were attending a STEM school they still couldn’t do a handshake without one of them messing it up. It was usually Ned, so he always seemed proud of himself when he did it well while Peter made a mistake. Peter was just happy that he found a best friend to do a secret handshake with. While he had some friends in his previous schools none were close enough for something like this.

“We have the whole night,” Peter replied enthusiastically, but then a thought occurred to him. “Okay, maybe not – let’s just focus on the Armada, it’s gonna be epic. I still can’t believe you got not only the core game but so many of the expansion packs of Wave 1 as well for your birthday. I’m so jealous right now. Can’t wait to try it out.”

He started gushing about everything he has read about the board game while preparing for the showdown between them as they began walking out of the school. Most of the students have already left right after the final bell rang, so there were only a few still lingering on the corridors probably waiting for friends or some club meeting though the ones happening on Friday afternoon were rarely popular. Just as Peter started on describing the video, he saw about the CR90 Corellian Corvette Expansion Pack, Ned suddenly interrupted him looking like he was about to explode from pent-up frustration.

“Dude, as much as I can’t wait to fight against you for the fate of the galaxy, you won’t believe what I’ve heard in the changing room.”

Ned had P.E. as his last class while Peter had Biology hence having to wait for his friend who was always a slow changer. Peter suspected that it might have to do with the fact that Ned didn’t want to change in front of all their classmates as he was a bit overweight and he might not be comfortable with all the attention, however he never questioned his friend instead he waited for him dutifully. They were just heading down the stairs and as much as Peter enjoyed attending Midtown, he was ready for the weekend to begin, so he gestured to Ned to tell what he heard while continuing walking.

“Sorry for interrupting, but this is like the biggest piece of news I’ve ever heard. I thought I could share it with you once we were already at my place, you know, I don’t want to be overheard and I shouldn’t really know about this, but I just have to tell it right now or I’ll explode – like literally.”

Peter thought that he had already seen Ned at his most excited state just a few days ago, when he arrived to school on his birthday with the widest grin he could sport telling Peter all about the Star Wars: Armada board game he got with a ton of expansion packs, but now Ned seemed on edge as well. His eyes were wide, and he was shaking like a leaf during a big wind.

“You know Jeff Andrews from English and Chem, right?” Ned asked suddenly and Peter automatically agreed remembering the guy they shared their classes with.

“Of course, you know him, everyone does,” Ned then added.

Peter had to agree with Ned’s comment. Jeff was easy to notice, because he obviously liked to be in the center of attention. He was a freshman just like them, but he was already popular having friends from the sophomore and junior classes as well and having joined more than one of the sport teams. He was laidback, but still smart, the casual type who didn’t seem to care about school yet still achieved good grades. Peter didn’t really know him, but had nothing against him either, because Jeff was not the bullying type. He just didn’t seem to care much about the uncool kids probably hardly noticing that he had classmates like Peter or Ned. Peter had no idea what Jeff Andrews could have said or done that excited Ned more than the best Star Wars board game ever made, but he had to admit he was curious.

“Well, I was still in the changing room when he and his friend Chaz, the big buff guy he always hangs with, came in probably to change for their practice and they passed me… and you’ll never guess what Jeff said!”

From the way Ned practically shouted and gestured with his hands erratically it had to be something huge, though Ned war right, Peter didn’t have any clue at all. Ned didn’t seem to expect him to guess either, because he continued just as enthusiastically.

“He told Chaz that he believes he is Tony Stark’s missing son and that he contacted Stark Industries and he’s doing the DNA testing today.” Peter stopped at the last step of the staircase and Ned must have noticed because he didn’t continue walking either. Peter looked at Ned blankly.

“Jeff Andrews claims he is Peter Potts?” Peter asked slowly and much more calmly than he felt.

“Yeah, how awesome is that? Imagine if he really turned out to be a Stark – and we know him! He attends our school, shares our classes. I mean Pepper Potts and Tony Stark would attend our graduation, how cool it that? Sweet, right?”

Ned started walking again practically skipping as he gushed about what having Tony Stark’s son in their class would mean. Peter didn’t want to ruin Ned’s good mood, but the first thought he had when Ned shared his news was simply ‘No way’, and the reason for that was simple.

“Ned… I’m actually not sure how to form this question without sounding rather discriminating or something, you know I want to be politically correct, but isn’t Jeff… African American?” he asked rather awkwardly.

Jeff’s skin color was only a shade or two darker than Peter’s so based on just his skin, he seemed white, but his features most certainly suggested at least some black heritage. While Peter didn’t think he ever saw Jeff’s parents he would have guessed that they were a mixed couple. Ned looked at Peter with even wider eyes if that was possible just as they reached the front gate of the school and left the building. The door closed with a bang behind them.

“Well, I guess he does look like it, but maybe some ancestor on either side was and it has just skipped a generation or two?” Ned guessed and Peter looked at him blankly.

While of course it was a possibility, because genetics was complicated and there were always stories of twins from mixed couples looking nothing alike or some family secret coming to light after generations thanks to a grandchild looking anything but like the rest of the family, he still wouldn’t have ever guessed that Jeff was Peter Potts. From what he knew of Tony Stark he only had some Italian heritage other than American and while he didn’t know much about Pepper Potts’s family tree, with her very light skin, strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes it was hard to imagine that Jeff could inherit that from her side either.

After Tony Stark’s latest infamous press conference there have been many pictures about how Peter Potts might look as a teenager based on the age progression of the newborn baby’s pictures and the features of the known family members and none looked anything like Jeff. According to the official age progression picture provided by the authorities the boy had brown eyes much like Tony Stark’s, dark slightly curly hair, light skin and a mix of features from both sides. Many commented that the kid based on this probably looked a lot like his father at the same age.

“I guess,” he shrugged not knowing what to say.

Obviously, Ned was enthusiastic about the idea and Peter didn’t want to ruin his mood. Plus, he supposed when it came to genetics, pretty much nothing was impossible. When he was younger he once overheard two girls asking their biology teacher in a break about how eye color was inherited because they were arguing if the official family tree in a book series was possible or if one of the characters was a love child from an affair. He wasn’t sure where the question came from, because he would have just assumed that the writer didn’t know enough of eye color inheritance if he stumbled across something like that, but instead he was surprised to learn that nothing was like it seemed with DNA, the variety of not only phenotypes and genotypes but all the in-between loopholes was astonishing – it was then that he became a big fan of genetics and biology. Thanks to science the world was an endless pool of possibilities.

“In Blood & Iron it was stated that every claim would be throughout investigated. Jeff might even meet Iron Man no matter if he is the missing kid or not,” Ned continued enthusiastically. Ned lived closer to the school than Peter did so they decided previously to just walk to his apartment instead of taking public transport. As they left the school property, he was still rambling about the Netflix docuseries.

“It must be exhausting for Mr. Stark and Miss Potts – so many kids claiming that they are Peter, so they must be always hoping and then being disappointed,” Peter replied eventually thinking about how many news articles he had read in just the last year about boys his age believing they were the kidnapped heir of Stark Industries. Ned didn’t seem as sad about the idea as he was.

“I mean, yeah, sure it sucks for them, but on the other side… Come on, if you suspected you might be Peter Potts instead of Parker, don’t tell me you wouldn’t be curious to know for certain,” Ned stated and Peter had to agree that his friend had a point. “Meeting the Avengers and inheriting a multibillion-dollar company would be just one of the many perks after all. Just imagine that! Of course, anyone who is even a bit suspicious of their origins contacts the Starks.”

“We’re talking about Tony Stark though. I kind of feel that most of these guys just hope for five minutes of fame and don’t even really believe their own claim. I’m sure if there was any trace of Peter Potts, Mr. Stark would’ve found it by now,” Peter insisted, but Ned didn’t seem that convinced, which was weird because Ned was a huge fan of Tony Stark too and he always gushed about the brilliance of the tech mogul.

“I agree, but come on, any kid might overhear a conversation between his parents or find a piece of letter in the closet or something that even Tony Stark couldn’t have picked up on. The guy is a literal genius, but even he isn’t omniscient. I believe if Peter Potts was ever found it would be through his own investigation and not the Starks’ or the police’s.”

Peter supposed Ned was right, and his new best friend’s line of thought reminded him of something his Uncle Ben often told him. Still, he couldn’t imagine what life could be for the missing boy’s parents with kids popping up left and right claiming to be their son. He just wished that one day one of those boys were proven to be their son – after so many years of never giving up searching for him and looking into all these claims, Miss Potts and Mr. Stark certainly deserved their happy ending.

It was a bittersweet thought to know that Tony Stark as a billionaire genius on the surface had everything in the entire world, yet even after saving the planet countless times as a literal superhero he was still unaware of his only son’s fate. It was the type of cautionary story that was perfect to teach children that money and power was not everything and if there was love and family there could be happiness except for the part where even his good deeds didn’t warrant him a happy ending. It was just rather depressing that life didn’t seem to be a Disney fairytale, or a Hallmark movie and the boy was still missing. Peter wondered if the boy was living a Harry Potter type of life being mistreated and hoping one day someone would come and yell at him “You’re a wizard,” or if he was just an everyday teenager much like him.

Both Peter and Ned have watched countless YouTube videos and read articles on the board game. However, neither of them started learning the precise rules, so once they were faced with the million pieces of the spaceship models after they arrived to Ned’s place and started to set up the game on floor of Ned’s room they quickly realized that they had much to still learn before they could start their galactical war. Reading the rules was never very exciting even if the prospect of playing the game was so after a bit of silence only broken by the sound of turning pages and some of the pieces being moved, they naturally drifted into another conversation. At first only about what they have read so far prompted by a section of moving the spaceships that Ned didn’t understand, but soon another topic came up.

“Imagine how many of these Tony Stark’s son could buy,” Ned pointed at one of the expansion packs with excitement shining in his dark eyes and Peter couldn’t help but grin as well at the thought.

He supposed this was exactly the reason why the whole Peter Potts story has suddenly grabbed so many people’s attention in the last year. Everyone has imagined before what it would be like to be a billionaire but so few ever accidentally acquired so much money – there were only so many people who won the lottery after all. The idea of a kid just learning that he was to inherit the majority shares of a Fortune 500 company was something out of a movie or a book and then the whole being related to a literal superhero part was not even added yet. He was certain many writers were already typing quickly thanks to being inspired by this true story.

“It’d be so weird – suddenly being a billionaire after growing up as a normal kid. You know, private jets, limousines, luxury yachts, summer homes all around the world. I guess no one would complain though,” Peter replied.

He could certainly see why so many kids decided to try their luck and put on Cinderella’s glass slipper, but he couldn’t imagine what it would be like if the shoe fit. He suspected that only a few truly believed they were Peter Potts and he guessed even they would be stunned if the test proved they were, because it would be an unimaginable change for anyone. The whole world would be watching the boy and judging while he would have to deal with the fact that his whole life was a lie. Honestly, all the billions of dollars might not be enough to compensate that though for those who feel like there was nothing to lose in their current lives it made sense to try. Peter wasn’t one of those though, he was satisfied enough with his life and he believed the same was true for Ned so for them it was nothing more than a game of ‘Imagine that…’ It was always fun to wonder.

“Dude, remember when in one of the last episodes of Blood & Iron they listed some of the stuff Tony Stark owns? It’s insane – can’t even imagine what inheriting any of that would feel like,” Ned exclaimed. Peter felt a bit awkward, because they truth was, he certainly didn’t remember and reason for that was simple.

“I actually haven’t seen the series yet. It came out just a few days after my uncle had died and I was just too caught up in grief to watch it and since then it always reminded me of him because we were planning to watch it together,” he explained. Ned’s expression softened. He put down a piece of what was to be a spaceship on rug next to him.

Netflix was fast to develop its projects and what has already been in the work as a true crime cold case docuseries suddenly didn’t only get green light but probably a lot of resources once Tony Stark’s exact connection to the missing child was revealed. It was always a well-known case because of Tony Stark’s unknown involvement in the investigation and later his financial support not to mention growing relationship with the mother, but it became probably the most infamous abduction story only after the superhero billionaire was revealed as the child’s father. Until then most of the articles and videos were just guessing what his involvement was. The fate of the baby didn’t seem to interest most of the people, they were just curious if the billionaire was involved in something shady.

Now after being revealed as the Stark fortune’s sole heir suddenly everyone was on the lookout to find Peter Potts. So, on the first anniversary of the announcement which was the fourteenth anniversary of the baby having been kidnapped an eight episode-long documentary was released and since then it had been certainly the most watched true crime series. By now it wasn’t just American teens who insisted on being the victims of the kidnapping, but there were kids all around the globe who believed they were taken from a hospital in San Francisco out of the cot labelled as ‘Peter Potts’. There were just too many fourteen-year-old boys in the world to check all of them...

“I’m sorry man, I didn’t know. In the usual Netflix style it’s for those as well who have hardly ever heard about the case, so I don’t think you’ve missed much, though you probably should binge it once, because it’s a pretty good summary of everything that has happened in the last fourteen years plus has some sweet theories that we must discuss,” Ned stated with what was obviously pity in his voice. Peter was used to recognizing it after all he grew up with dead parents, and now he lost his last biological parent figure, his uncle. However, while he was thankful for others realizing what pain it was, sometimes he wished he wasn’t constantly pitied.

As a big fan of not only Iron Man, but Tony Stark as well Peter had been following the developments of the case for as long as he could remember, so he supposed Ned was right, he didn’t believe the Netflix docuseries provided much new information, but now he felt ready to watch it. His uncle’s death on most days still felt like a fresh wound, but slowly it was getting better. It didn’t feel like a betrayal to watch it without him anymore as it felt those first days.

***

Saturday, 14th November 2015

Aunt May had the day off so Peter left the Leeds’s apartment not long after breakfast as he had promised his aunt that they would spend the day together just hanging out because ever since his uncle’s death his aunt has been working much more shifts, so they didn’t get to have much time together. When he arrived home, he found his aunt in the kitchen working on what he supposed was the planned lunch but based on the deadly look she gave the stove he had a feeling they would once again end up with takeaway. Not that he minded, because while he loved his aunt, her cooking was rarely to his taste and they always had great time eating something Asian with chopsticks out of boxes while watching some random funny show on TV.

However, ever since his uncle’s death May has been insisting on cooking their meals. She said she read about the importance of home cooking in some life magazine. She insisted that according to the article it was better for both the health and soul, but Peter suspected that the truth was that she was worried about the money. Buying the ingredients cost less than getting prepared dishes, so she has been spending much of her free time in the kitchen for the last few months, but often the result was not what she had planned. May’s frustration seemed to have melted away just by his arrival. She hugged him, hardly letting him go afterwards.

“So, tell me all about your great galactical wars, but try to use a language I might even understand without researching all the Star Wars universe,” she joked. Peter enthusiastically started detailing the game they played.

“Okay-okay, so who won then?” May asked with confusion and Peter started laughing having been talking about the exact topic for the last ten minutes. Then again, he supposed he might have got carried away even though she warned him about it and got into a bit too many details losing his aunt who, while always happy to watch the movies with him, was certainly not a big Star Wars expert.

“Once Ned and twice I did – we switched roles that’s why you got confused. It was epic though, probably the best game I’ve ever played,” he said enthusiastically.

“I have an idea for our movie afternoon, but it’s actually a series,” he changed the topic thinking that May had enough of the Armada, just as she opened the stove carefully after congratulating him on his success at the game. He couldn’t catch a glimpse of what she was baking but the smell was surprisingly good so she might have prepared something edible just now. He supposed that the months she has spent reading cookbooks might have some results after all.

“Something sci-fi then, I suppose. Should I be prepared for even more epic galactical fights I hardly understand?” she asked turning around with a teasing smile. She put down the dish she got out of the stove on to the counter and now Peter could see that it was a fried chicken. It looked surprisingly good and even though he had breakfast not long ago, his mouth watered.

“Nope, I got the idea from Ned, yes, but not from the game. He heard one of our classmates saying that he was to be tested to see if he was Peter Potts, so we started talking about the Potts kidnapping. I thought we could watch the Netflix series about it.” His aunt just rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

“Haven’t you seen like a billion videos already and even read a book about the case?” she asked, and he shrugged, because she already knew he did. She knew perfectly well how interested he was about anything that had Tony Stark involved. Still, from what he had heard about the show it was pretty good for a true crime docuseries.

“I haven’t seen this one,” he pointed it out and she chuckled.

“True, which is surprising as it’s about Tony Stark,” then she paused. She pressed her lips together. “Ah, I remember. You were to watch it with Ben.”

May looked pensive for a moment leaning against the counter playing with the hem of the ‘Best Cook in Town’ apron she was wearing that Peter’s uncle bought for her as a joke for Christmas last year. The Uncle Ben-shaped hole in their lives at times like this was so obvious that Peter often wondered how they could just continue with their days without him. It felt like missing some essential organ. There were times when even breathing didn’t seem to come automatically anymore, but then other times life went on without a hitch. Grief was disorientating coming in waves but always there as a keynote.

“I miss him so much, May,” he muttered and felt traitorous tears escaping his eyes. He angrily wiped them off which was a complicated task thanks to his glasses. He had to take them off to be able to get rid of all the salty tears. He nearly missed his aunt’s echoed sentiment. He closed the space between them and this time he initiated the hug.

“Talking yesterday with Ned about the Potts-Stark case reminded me of what Uncle Ben always said, how the world would be a better place with less crimes, discrimination and lies if only we were all a bit more interested in our history and took the time to get to know our families,” Peter said after a moment of peaceful silence after he let go of his aunt and copied her leaning against the counter as well facing the living-room. The prepared chicken was right next to him and up this close it seemed to be a bit too well-fried, but it still seemed edible.

“He always insisted that everyone would be humbler if they understood where they came from,” she remembered with a soft smile. “I just joked that I married an old man because I never met anyone else under fifty interested in genealogy.” Peter nodded thoughtfully.

“I never quite understood what he meant you know, but yesterday Ned told me that he believes that Peter Potts will be found through his own research into his past and family, not by the police investigation or even by Tony Stark. It got me thinking that Uncle Ben might have been right, so I decided to continue his research into our family history and to do that GenomicsDNA test that you’ve order for him…” But which he could never do because he had died before the package arrived, was left unsaid hanging in the air. His aunt smiled tearfully at him and ran her hand through his hair messing up his curls even more.

Peter could hardly sleep at the apartment of the Leeds family last night, because after the rush of the galactical battles he was too excited to fall asleep. He had trouble tuning down his thoughts. First, he came up with possible tactics to win the next games, but after a while all he could think about was his conversation with Ned about the baby abduction and how it reminded him of what his uncle always said. Uncle Ben’s words haunted him for the rest of the night hence coming up with the idea of following in his footsteps. He didn’t think that his research would result in anything life-changing or even useful, but his uncle believed that it might give him a better perspective on life and make him appreciate it more, so he was ready to dive right into it just to make his uncle proud.

“That’s great Peter, I’m sure Ben would love that. He always hoped that you’d one day get interested in his research, he wanted it to be a ‘guy thing’ between you too that I just couldn’t understand.” Peter beamed at her for praising his plan.

“He should be here now and be enthusiastic about telling me all about his fourth cousins and whatnot,” he said with a sigh thinking about how unfair the world was that it took away his uncle after robbing him of his parents as well. He supposed maybe finding some long-lost cousins might even be fun, because currently his family was tiny – all he had left was his aunt. Of course, Aunt May had some relatives that he supposed considered him one as well, because they knew she cared about him, but he still lacked many family members.

“He is here with us always, you know, because our memories of him influence every decision we make. He’d be so proud that you want to get into genealogy just because he loved it, but you know that you don’t need to like it just because he did. Let me tell you, he certainly approves of you already,” she said with a soft smile, her eyes lighting up giving her an even more youthful appearance. He had Aunt May and while he would have loved to have more relatives and have his uncle back at that moment, he knew that was all he needed. He was loved.