Chapter Five

Pepper and May went to the floor that the tour was currently exploring, accompanied by Happy and Rhodey. They quickly saw the teacher who was currently leaning over an unimpressed MJ and a obviously nervous Ned.

As the four walked closer to the confrontation, the students began to recognize War Machine/Iron Patriot and THE Pepper Potts-Stark, falling silent and parting before the group of adults. This allowed Mr. Richard's verbal attack on the two students to be clearly heard.

"You people think you're entitled to do whatever you want. You're a drain on society and should've never been brought back."

"You obviously never lost anyone in the Snap, Mr. Richards, or you wouldn't spew such garbage. I would expect better from a teacher."

"Mind your own business, bitch," Richards snapped. "You slept your way into your position. Everyone knows how much a man whore Stark was. He would've dumped you for the next skirt before much longer, only he died before he could. Left you in the cat seat."

There was a collective gasp from everyone, Happy stepping forward before Rhodey stopped him by flinging his arm across his chest.

Pepper lifted one eyebrow. "You are quite a vulgar piece of crap to be working in a STEM school. Are you always this disgusting toward women, or is it just me who brings out your hatred?"

"It's pretty much anyone and everyone, Mrs. Stark. Richards hates women, the Returned, blacks, gays, people smarter than he is, Asians, the poor, the rich, people who don't agree with him. You name a group; he probably hates them. Or maybe it would be better to say that he resents them." MJ never let her eyes stray from Richards, believing he had the potential to be dangerous.

"I see. Thank you, Michelle." Pepper stepped forward. "Jorge, wasn't there another group from Midtown currently touring?"

"Yes, ma'am. They're with Angela."

"Call her, Friday, and have the group met us here. I believe there is a teacher with them as well. Is that correct, Ned?"

"Uh, yes, Mrs. Stark. Ms. Warren is our Physics teacher. She's very nice."

"Perfect. I'm certain that we can manage this group until she arrives. You, however, Mr. Richards, will be leaving my Tower. I will be calling Principal Morita to make him aware of your actions and attitude."

"Who's gonna believe a bunch of kids, particularly Returned kids, over a teacher?"

"Friday, please send the raw footage of Mr. Richards' actions and commentary throughout his time in my Tower to Principal Morita. Let him know that Peter Parker will not be returning to class today. Depending on how this situation is handled, he may not be returning at all. In fact, May, if you would call their parents, I think MJ and Ned should remain here are well. They will be a great support for Peter. If that is okay with the two of you?"

"Yes, ma'am." Ned swallowed, shocked.

"That would be acceptable, Mrs. Stark," MJ said.

Pepper saw two security men step into the hallway. "Happy, I think it is past time for Mr. Richards to leave. He is to be put on permanent trespass."

"My pleasure. Ed, Christian, make sure that Richards doesn't get lost on his way to the exit."

"You fucking bitch!" Richards lunged for Pepper only to find himself flat on his face when he was brought down by a timely sweep of MJ's left leg. The two guards quickly jumped on him before he tried to get to his feet.

"Well done, Ms. Jones." Happy looked at the girl who stood out of the way while Richards was hustled into custody of the security staff in anticipation of the police being called.

"Spider-Man taught that to me."

"Did he now?" Pepper asked, intrigued.

"Yes, ma'am. I walk home after AcaDec meetings. He was worried when the time changes and it is dark early."

The other group arrived, Ms. Warren was apprised of the situation and was willing to take charge of the group as chaperone, added by both Angela and Jorge.

"I think we're almost done seeing everything important, Mrs. Stark. The class was to leave in about thirty minutes or so," Angela said after conferring with Jorge.

"It is lunchtime. Take them up to the cafeteria on the 40th floor, it has the best selection. Everything is on me. I'll let the vendors know." Pepper smiled at the group of confused teens. "Thank you for visiting us. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Come along, Ned, MJ. Don't worry, you won't be missing out on lunch. We'll all be eating with Peter."


Mr. Richards' arrest for attempted assault on Pepper Potts-Stark was enough to see him fired from his teaching position at Midtown. Principal Morita apologized profusely to her, explaining while he knew that Richards held anti-Returned beliefs, the now former teacher had not gone so far as to make it obvious to either him or the school board. Pepper, with the assistance of her Human Resources division, came up with a presentation for schools in New York about prejudice and discrimination, although no one had high hopes for it changing anyone's minds.

Peter didn't want to leave Midtown. "I'm on my last year in high school. I want the three of us to graduate together," he said, waving at Ned and MJ during dinner with May and Pepper at the Tower a month after the field trip.

Pepper nodded. "I understand, but if you change your mind before then, let me know."

"Honestly, Pepper, I don't think I'm ready for college yet. I'm still working my way through all the crap of everything that's happened, both before and after becoming Spider-Man."

"I'm not asking for specifics, but things are going well with Sam?"

"Yeah. He gets all of it. And he was there for the whole dusted and returned thing which is even more helpful." He hesitated, then jumped in with the one secret he had kept from everyone. "And Sam told me that I'm not the only person who remembers being in the Soul Stone."

"What? What do you mean you remember being there?" Pepper and May erupted, both grabbing at him.

"You never said that, Peter!" May cried.

"I thought it was just something my mind was making up since it is clearer in my nightmares than when I'm awake. Looks like it might be something only those of us who are enhanced or having super-healing remember."

"Such as who?"

"Bucky and Wanda. Shuri said that, although he won't talk about it, T'Challa remembers being dragged into the stone. Wanda only has a couple of flashes. Doctor Strange refused to talk to either Sam or me. Tony's right, he's such a jerk. Although I love Capey, his cape. Bucky and I remember the most. We've talked about it. Sam thinks it is because we both heal the fastest and that our bodies, even though they were dusted away, were still trying to fix things."

"Oh, Peter." May was distraught.

"It's not a bad thing, May. Knowing that it isn't my imagination or a hallucination has helped a lot."

Pepper thought about that. "So, if Steve had been part of those who disappeared he would've remembered his time there?"

"That's what Sam, Bucky, and I believe. But it isn't like we remember everything there, it is just flashes of golden surroundings. Best guess, since there is no safe way to test it, is that when our metabolisms tried to put us back together, that is when our consciousness was most alert."

"What are you doing to alleviate the nightmares and panic attacks?" MJ asked.

"Since Dr. Cho isn't with us and nobody trusts the SHIELD doctors, medication is out of the question. Bucky and I are learning to meditate from Dr. Banner, which helps more than either of us expected. Bucky likes the green tea more than I do, but the aromatherapy is too much for either of us. We're doing yoga, too."

"Oh," Pepper was surprised and pleased. "I used to do yoga, but I haven't done any in ages. Is it just the two of you or are you in a class?"

"One of Sam's vets from the VA is holding classes there. Anyone can actually join, although Bucky really does qualify. You and May should come with us. It's fun. Even more fun to listen to Sam bitch because Bucky is better at it than he is."

"I might just do that. Text me times and dates."

"So, you're good, Pete?" Ned asked as he cleared the table of the dirty dishes, looking forward to the dessert picked up at the bakery just two blocks away from Stark Tower.

"Getting there. I'll always have problems, but Sam is helping me learn to deal with them and cut them off before they get really bad. PTSD never goes away. But it can be controlled, it can be mitigated. I've only had one panic attack since the field trip, but thanks to what I've learned, it was mild and I got myself out of it."

"Good. Just remember you have a large support system, sweetie, not only with us, but with your Uncles Rhodey and Happy." May had been tickled to hear Peter call the two men his uncles, although Happy acted all grumpy when it happened. "We all larb you."

"And I larb you all back."

~ March 2020