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Come home

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Peter slumped down in his seat, his eyes almost falling shut. For years now he had always felt tired in the morning, but at least in the past he had quickly forgotten about it once he had arrived at school. There he had spent the ten minutes before class chatting with his friends and making silly jokes. Not anymore.

The only friend he had left was Ned, and even he felt so far away. Like Peter was stuck on a lonely island surrounded by thick fog and nothing could get through, not even his best friend.

His life was just so… Exhausting. How was he supposed to act like he was fine when his stomach hurt from hunger, his head from lack of sleep and the rest of him just because? Peter was so done with everything, with the fear, the sadness and the loneliness, but there was simply no way out.

“Happy Birthday!!!”, Ned shouted from behind him, throwing his arms around Peter, who flinched and had to ball his fists together to not shove the boy away.

“Thanks,” he said through gritted teeth.

“What’s up? Did the Mitchel’s do something?”, Ned asked and sat down next to him.

“No, I’m just tired, I didn’t fight with them,” Peter told him with a forced grin. Technically, it wasn’t a lie. He didn’t have a fight with his foster family. In fact, he hadn’t fought with them in a long time. Not since he had run away a few months ago.

“Oh, that’s good! You seem to get along with them better now?”

“They don’t bother me anymore.”

Ned nodded eagerly, but still looked a bit unsure. “You would tell me if something was wrong, right? You seem… stressed lately.”

“It’s just… school and Spiderman. Just got a lot to deal with.”

“May I have your attention please!”, Mr. Harrington said after putting down his bag. It took a while, but eventually the class settled down.

“I’m sure you all remember the secret reward you have been promised for your robotics project. Well, we have a winner!”

The words did not have the effect the teacher probably hoped they would have. While a reward sounded nice, everyone knew it was probably just a bar of chocolate or a free book or something equally lame.

“Peter Parker,” Mr. Harrington said, but Peter barely bothered to lift his head off his desk. “You will spend the next week at Stark Industries!”

For a second it was very quiet, then the room erupted in yells, making Peter’s head spin.

“What?! Stark Industries?!”

“Not fair, I want to go too!”

“No one told us the reward would be so big!”

“Congratulations Peter!”

The loudest however, was Flash. “Penis Parker only won because he is a loser with no friends! Why else would he put so much effort into a school project? If we had known, I would have won!”

Peter winced. It was true of course, but still a shitty thing to say.

“Students, settle down!”, Mr. Harrison barked. “Ms. Potts requested to not tell you, in order to see what you will do on your own. Peter’s grades and other projects have been checked by SI workers and they made sure he is qualified. Mr Parker, please follow me.”

Like in a trance, Peter got up and stumbled after his teacher. This couldn’t be true. Stark Industries? A whole week?! It seemed insane. Nothing good ever happened to Peter, Parker luck took care of that.

“Aren’t you happy Peter? This is an amazing opportunity!”, Mr. Harrington told him, a hand landing on the teen’s shoulder, who tried to subtly get away.

“Of course. I’m just… overwhelmed,” Peter said honestly.

“That’s alright. I sent an email to your aunt this morning and she already gave her permission, so there is nothing holding you back!”

Peter felt like throwing up when his teacher mentioned May. After her death a year ago, he had convinced Ned to hack the school system to hide the fact he had new guardians. At the Michel’s house, invisibility had been his best survival strategy, so he made sure the school never bothered them with anything. They had even programmed an AI who could automatically answer emails whenever he had no access to a computer. His interruption of the schools communication with cps was the only reason they hadn’t dragged him back to those monsters yet.

Peter was lead to a bus where two older girls from his school were already waiting, chatting excitedly about the trip. He however, did not feel the same. Peter was absolutely terrified. What if they found out he wasn’t as smart as they thought? Would they tell the school? Would he get his scholarship taken away? What if someone found out about his living situation? Peter made sure to change his outfits often enough and showered at least once a week at Ned’s. He didn’t look like a typical homeless teen, and yet…

The bus came to a halt and Peter couldn’t help but gawk. Of course he had seen Stark Tower before, but it was still impressive. There was a steady stream of well dressed business people entering and exiting the building, making him feel a bit insecure about his washed out jeans and the hole in his left shoe.

The teens met up with a two other small groups from other schools and were lead inside. The students quickly stopped chatting in order to look around the gigantic entrance hall. There were huge screens showing off the latest Stark products and Avengers press statements. What Peter hadn’t had expected was the coffee shop with comfy looking armchairs in the corner. He had expected a Star Bucks, not something so… homey.

The woman who had welcomed them lead the group in a conference room close to the entrance door, where a grumpy looking man in a suit was waiting.

“My name is Mr. Hogan, I am the boss of security here. Most places have a three strikes policy, we however, do not. It’s one strike, and you’re out. Step out of line and there will be consequences. If you are lucky, you will get kicked out. If not, there will be legal consequences. Do you understand?”

The scared students just stared at him, which seemed to make him even angrier. “I said: DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”

The question was followed by a chorus of hurried ‘Yes sir’s.

Mr. Hogan glared at them and then went over the rules. Most of it was pretty simple. Don’t go anywhere where you are not supposed to be, don’t take pictures, don’t touch anything… He went on and on for what felt like hours.

“I’ll take you up to the intern labs now,” he growled when he was done. “You better listen to the interns and lab heads!”

The group was given white visitor badges and then lead to the elevators. Peter could hear quite a few gasps when the doors opened. The labs were spacious and modern, yet chaotic. College aged kids were either bend over their tables, not even noticing them, or hurriedly running around and yelling questions at each other.

A blond girl stepped forward and smiled at them. “Hi guys, my name is Clair. I’ll give you a tour now, and then you can wander around to look at anything you like. Please don’t ask questions or disrupt people if they seem busy, otherwise it’s totally alright. Tomorrow you’ll be given your own projects.”

After the tour, Peter stepped up to a guy who was working on something that looked like a small Roomba. He studied the guy carefully. He was nodding along to the music and had checked his phone to answer a text twice now. That probably meant he was not too busy, right?”

“E-Excuse me, sir?”, Peter asked carefully and gave the guy a small wave.

“Huh? Oh, hello there! You must be one of the kids from that contest, right? Listen dude, please don’t call me sir, that makes me feel so old. My name is Paul.”

“Hey Paul, I’m Peter,” the teen answered, glad he didn’t get yelled at. “I was just wondering what you are working on?”

“Oh, so this is something we might be able to use in the tower. It’s for mice hunting.”

Peter tilted his head to the side in complete confusion. “There are mice in Stark tower?”

Paul laughed. “Only in the biology labs. Dr. Banner is trying to get the problem under control, but those people are all crazy!”

“Wow… have you ever worked with Mr. Stark or Dr. Banner before?”

“Nah,” Paul chuckled. “Those guys never come down here.”

“Makes sense,” Peter nodded, then he noticed something. “Hey, why didn’t you connect that wire?”

Paul looked at the device he was still holding, then at Peter and back at the device. “Because I forgot? Thanks for pointing it out!”

Peter smiled and handed him the tool to get the job done. Again Paul stared at him. “How did you know what I needed?”

The teen just shrugged. “Lucky guess?” In truth, he had used tools like this for his web shooters many times, but he didn’t want to raise any suspicions.

“Right...”, Paul said slowly. “Have a seat, maybe you can make some more guesses and help me.”

……

The first day at SI had gone great. No one had bothered to check in with his guardians and thanks to Paul, he managed to stay in the lab all day without anyone noticing. The others had gone to the food court, but Peter couldn’t afford that. While it was allowed to borrow money on the first day because none of them had been prepared for the trip, if Peter bought anything there he wouldn’t be able to eat for the rest of the month, maybe longer.

It was summer now, but once fall came, Peter would have to spend money on a jacket or a sleeping bag. He had considered investing in some very cheap make up. A bit of contouring might hide the fact he was just 15 when he went to homeless shelters. He couldn’t risk anyone calling the cops on him.

Peter almost swung into a building when his phone distracted him again. Ned had texted him about a million times after school, begging him to come over and tell him about the internship. Near an alley next to his best friend’s house, Peter spotted something that made his stomach turn.

He landed next to the trash bin and picked up the still half full cup of coffee, before sneaking into the alley. Instead of putting on the clothes he had worn earlier, Peter opened his backpack and dug around for the dirtiest clothes he owned.

When he noticed the lipstick stain on the paper cup, Peter almost didn’t do it, but he needed a new outfit for tomorrow. He winced when the cold liquid hit his chest and ran down over the rest of his body. He knew it would soon be gone, but it was still disgusting.

“Oh man, what happened to you?”, Ned asked when he opened the door.

“Bumped into a guy who spilled coffee all over me.”

“Again?!”, Ned exclaimed. “I still can’t believe Spiderman is this clumsy!”

Peter gave him a sad smile and a shrug, too tired to defend his lie more.

“Alright man, just go ahead and take a shower, I’ll put your clothes in the washing machine.”

“Thanks Ned, you are a good friend.”