Author's Note: This is a big step outside of my comfort zone as I have only written Potter fanfics before and am by no means a Spiderman/Marvel expert. However, I've recently got into the genre and after reading MANY of the field trip stories and none of them going in quite the direction I wanted, I figured I'd just have to write it myself.
It sort of took on a life of its own and became way longer and slightly more angst ridden than anticipated. I hope you enjoy anyway. Happy reading...
Call It A Tribe
"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." - Jane Howard
When Peter Parker woke up, he immediately wished himself asleep again. Not so unusual for any teenage boy, let alone one who regularly stayed out until midnight fighting crime. Today, however, Peter longed for the blissful ignorance of unconsciousness. He wanted nothing more than to return to those moments a few minutes before when he had been asleep and wasn't remembering that today was the day of the Midtown School of Science and Technology field trip to Stark Towers.
With a groan Peter rolled over, removing his face from the pillow and staring up at the white ceiling above him. He laid there still for a while, trying to find either the motivation to get up or an excuse that would mean he wouldn't have to.
"Peter!" Aunt May's knocking on the door interrupted his thoughts. "You up?"
"Yeah," Peter groaned back. "I'm up."
The door opened and May poked her head between the door and the frame. Seeing Peter lying awake on his bed, May gave him a sympathetic smile. "I'm sure it will be fine, Petey. You'll have fun with your friends."
Peter looked over at her. "Mhmm."
"I've gotta go to work. I'll see you later, kiddo."
"See ya, have a good day."
"You too, Pete." May shut the door before calling through it again. "And get a move on or you'll miss the bus!"
Peter groaned again as he hauled himself out of bed, this time because of the sore stiffness of his body. He opened his wardrobe to inspect the damage in mirror on the inside of his wardrobe door and winced at the sight. The right side of his torso was a startling shade of blue consistent with the badly bruised ribs that Karen had diagnosed the night before. There were a couple of other scratches here and there from other injuries on his last patrol, but bruised and broken ribs were always the worst for Peter. Not only did they seem to take longer to heal than surface injuries, they made swinging a real pain. He supposed he would be taking a night off this evening.
Peter managed to make it to school on time, using the subway rather than his webs, and joined up with Ned, MJ and the rest of his class who were congregating at the front of school.
"You're cutting it close, Parker." MJ commented, dry as ever.
"Just trying to delay the inevitable." He responded miserably.
"You ok, man?" Ned asked in concern. "That guy got you good last night."
His 'guy in the chair' had learnt to be more discreet in discussing his Spider-life over the months, but he couldn't help but be concerned when he witnessed his friend's various scrapes and injuries on the job. MJ, who had discovered Peter's alternative identity by herself, had her eyes on the book in her hand but still seemed to listen in.
"Yeah, man, just bruised. It'll be all fixed up by tonight."
"What's up, Penis?" Flash approached with a laugh at Peter's sour expression. "Worried about having your lies exposed?"
"I haven't lied about the internship, Flash." Peter stated tiredly.
"Yeah right, Parker. As if a dweeb like you could get a Stark internship."
"Why would I lie? I'm not desperate for friends, like some people." Peter returned pointedly.
Flash's expression morphed into a scowl but before he could come back with anything, Mr Warren called Peter over.
"Um, sorry I'm late, Mr Warren. The subway was super crowded." Peter excused.
"I'm not worried about that, Peter. I wanted to talk to you about the trip today."
"I've heard some troubling rumors, Peter, about internships." He raised his eyebrow as him. "Now, I'm not going to ask you about any of this, but I want to be assured that there won't be any lies while we are on our trip today." Peter's stomach dropped. He couldn't believe that even Mr Warren was listening to Flash's crap. As Peter was unable to find any words, in defense of himself or otherwise, Mr Warren spoke again. "We don't want anything to embarrass us or the school, today, Peter. Stark Industries is a prestigious company; somewhere you might actually hope to work one day." Peter could feel his heart rate increasing. The man's patronizing was the worst part; like he pitied Peter for needed to make up stories. Not sure what he could say to convince his teacher otherwise, Peter just nodded. "Alright, get yourself on the bus, we'll be going soon."
Peter turned away dejectedly, already ready for this day to be over. He caught Ned and MJ's eye, who both looked at him in concern. He shrugged and headed to the bus as he had been directed.
He ascended one step before his Spider sense began tingling. He tensed but kept himself moving, knowing that Flash was behind him. On the second step he sensed what would happen. It was hard to force his body not to react, to go against his instinct. Instead, he allowed his ankle to be hooked out from under him and overbalanced as a hand pushed hard on his shoulder blade. He saw the top step coming up to meet his face. He had enough time to move his hands up, to catch himself and stop the fall, but pre-Spider-bite Peter wouldn't have had time, so Peter let himself fall. It wasn't a bad fall, but his face caught the top step and his lip took the impact.
"Woah! Watch your step, Parker!" Flash's voice rang out, loud and full of false concern.
Peter heard Ned and MJ rushing over. "Are you ok, Peter?"
"Jeez, man, your lip!"
Peter stood upright and brushed his fingers over his lip gently. Already it felt fat and numb and when he took his hand away there was blood on his fingertips.
"Peter," Mr Warren said exasperatedly. "You shouldn't be messing around on these steps."
Ned looked at their teacher in open-mouthed outrage. MJ looked about ready to slap the man.
"I just slipped, Mr Warren." Peter said quietly.
"We don't have time for this, let's get going."
"Mr Warren," MJ objected. "Peter's injured. Shouldn't he see the nurse?"
Peter frowned at her, the last thing he wanted was to see the nurse. They'd have to inform May and everything.
"There's a first aid kit on the bus. You'll find a cold compress in there." Mr Warren said to Peter's relief and he quickly headed onto the bus to escape the conversation.
Pepper and Happy were conspiring. Tony wasn't sure what it was, but they were definitely keeping something from him. He had spotted them having a whispered conversation a week ago and since then had caught a number of silent glances and abruptly broken apart tete-a-tetes.
This morning their behaviour was downright suspicious. Tony had caught Pepper handing Happy some paperwork before breakfast but when he called them out on it, they had both given him the brush off.
"Alright, spill." He had demanded of Pepper.
"Spill what?" She had asked innocently, her face a mask of indifference.
"What are you and Happy plotting? Is there some boring board meeting you're going to con me into attending?"
Pepper rolled her eyes. "We're not plotting anything. You don't need to know everything that goes on around here, Tony."
"It's my company!"
"Which you entrusted me to run for you, so that you don't have to attend 'boring board meetings.'" She smirked.
"Well maybe I should be attending those meetings so you and Happy don't oust me from my own tower!" He argued as she walked away from him, heading towards the elevators.
"Great," she called back before the metal doors closed. "I'll schedule those in for next week."
"I feel like that was a trick." Tony grumbled to himself as he headed down to the lab.
He had only been tinkering with his suit for a few minutes when another thought occurred to him. "FRIDAY, what's on Pepper's schedule for today?"
"Reading Pepper Potts' schedule for the 4th of March. 7.30 – Meeting with Mr Hogan." That, Tony already knew about. He carried on with the wiring in his suit while FRIDAY read out the diary monotonously. "8.00 – Breakfast with Tony, 8.30 – liaise with Clara Howell, 9.00 – Meeting with product licensing department. 10.00 – walk through of R&D Bio-science labs." Tony frowned. He didn't think Pepper usually spent much time down in the labs, but perhaps she was giving a client a tour. FRIDAY continued, "10.30 – regularly scheduled meeting with SI legal team entitled 'Tony damage control.'" Tony was only mildly offended by that. "11.00 – conference call with the Defense Department, 12.00 – business lunch with Senator Wheeler, 1.30 – School tour meet and greet, 2.00 – Planning meeting –"
"Wait, go back." Tony stopped wiring to interrupt FRIDAY's monologue.
"At 2.00 Mrs Potts –"
"No, before that one. What is she doing at 1.30?"
"Ms Potts has a school tour meet and greet."
"Since when does Pep do school tours?" Tony asked himself, though FRIDAY had not yet mastered rhetorical questions.
"This is the first school tour for which Ms Potts has attended a meet and greet session."
Tony sighed, "Yeah, I figured, thanks Fri." At least FRIDAY was attune to his sarcasm. "And who was that Clara lady?"
"Clara Howell, Boss. She is SI Director of Educational Programmes."
"AKA chief tour guide." Tony murmured. The puzzle pieces were falling into place. "FRIDAY, what schools are visiting the tower today?"
"Just one, Boss, Midtown School of Science and Technology."
The trip to Stark Tower was a short one, although made longer by the New York traffic and by Ned and MJ's badgering about Flash, who thankfully sat far enough away on the bus to not be an issue. The pair had seen what Flash did and were outraged on Peter's behalf which he was grateful for and exasperated by in equal measure.
"It's fine." He told them. His lip had stopped bleeding quickly and the ice pack helped to numb the pain and bring the swelling down. By the time they reached the tower it was already looking and feeling much better. His healing factor could take care of things like this easily, though he hoped it wouldn't heal suspiciously quickly throughout the day.
On their arrival, Ned stopped bugging him so that he could gaze up at Stark Tower in wonder. Peter made a mental note to ask Mr Stark if he could bring Ned over for a private tour. The rest of the class weren't any better, all pressed with their noses up against the glass to get the first glimpse of the home of the Avengers. MJ was the only person except Peter who didn't seem impressed. Sat behind Ned and Peter, she continued to read her book, headphones in, as though the world and its insignificances were far outside her sphere of interest.
"Listen up, everyone." Mr Warren stood at the front of the bus to get the students' attention. "We will walk into the tower in an orderly fashion. You will need to wait quietly in the lobby while I meet with our tour guide and collect your security passes. No doubt the tour guide will have some rules to tell us which you will listen to and follow. It goes without saying that your behaviour will need to be exemplary. I expect you to be courteous and respectful to everyone in there and for God's sake don't touch anything that you're not supposed to!"
They bundled into the lobby with minimum fuss and clustered together while Mr Warren went to the Reception desk. The lobby was reasonably quiet and the group hushed their voices in respect of the professional environment, though of course they still spoke excitedly to each other about how cool everything was.
"Dude, this is literally the best day of my life." Ned gushed beside Peter.
"This is literally the worst day of my life." Peter murmured back.
"I mean, it can't be as bad as the Oscorp trip surely?" Ned countered.
Peter shrugged. "Ok, it's a close second."
"Seriously, man, how can you not think this is cool?"
"Um, because I come here like 4 times a week?" Peter reasoned, although even he could admit that being in the Stark Tower never got old, he just wasn't feeling the excitement today. He followed Ned's gaze around the lobby, taking in the vast height of the room, the high-tech security scanners, the leather seating. His eye caught something else and he froze. "Oh crap."
Nat was walking through the lobby. She was alone and dressed down. Somehow even though her face was known around the world as the Black Widow, Nat had perfected the art of going unseen. She could make herself stand out or blend in with the crowd at will. Today her casual look helped disguise her in plain sight; Peter's enhanced senses allowed him to spot her but none of the other students in their group had noticed Black Widow walking not 20 feet away from them.
Nat with her own special skills quickly caught sight of Peter in return. They made eye contact and Nat smiled kindly before she assessed his situation. Her head tilted as she took in the school group that surrounded him, obviously concluding that it would not be a good time to greet Peter. Then he saw her eyes narrow in on his face and he gulped unconsciously under her scrutiny.
He gave her a wry smile in return and Nat nodded before walking on, headed towards the private elevators. Peter breathed a sigh of relief that he had managed to pass one Avenger without issue this morning and crossed his fingers that he wouldn't run into anymore.
"Alright, quiet please!" Mr Warren had returned with a tour guide in tow. "This is Stacey, our tour guide, make sure you are listening."
"Good morning, Midtown." Stacey didn't seem that much older than them, early twenties at the most, with mousey brown hair and a peppy attitude that probably served her well in a customer service industry. Peter recognised her from being around the tower, but he didn't know the guides very well as he tended to stick to the Avengers' floors and the upper labs. "First things first, I'm going to give each of you a visitor's pass. You'll need to wear these all day and have them visible at all times. They have to be scanned as you go into the building and then to access various different rooms. Your passes are coded by our security system to only allow you to enter the rooms which will be on our tour today, so I don't recommend sneaking off anywhere else!" She said light-heartedly. "Make sure you stay with the tour at all times and when we enter the labs, please don't touch anything without checking with myself or one of our scientists first. Feel free to ask as many questions as you have, however. I know you are all budding young scientists so you should definitely make the most of the opportunity you have here today. Mr Warren, could you help me hand out the passes?"
Between them, the two adults handed out the named passes to each student. When Stacey handed Peter his, there was a flicker of recognition in her eyes, but she only handed him the pass on moved on. Peter looked down at the red-ribboned badge with great relief as he saw his was the same as everyone else's. It has his name, his school ID picture and the words VISITOR: SCHOOL TOUR in big letters just the same as Ned's. Peter had his own ID badge of course, just so security never bothered him in the lobby, but he was glad not to be using it today. It might have got Flash and Mr Warren off his back about the internship, but he'd rather keep a low profile than alert Mr Stark and all the Avengers to his presence. Not to mention his security clearance was a bit higher than the average intern.
"They got your name wrong, Penis." Flash said nastily, looking over Peter's shoulder. "Oh, and look at that, just a regular old visitor's pass for you, not an intern one."
"Oh, go cry about it in your diary, Flash." MJ sassed before Peter could say anything. He and Ned snorted in laughter and Flash sculked back to his mates.
"Ok, each of you will step into one the security booths to have your badge scanned. There is a metal detector on each one and the computer also does a facial recognition scan and a retinal scan for security purposes. This just checks that you are who you say you are. Who's going first?"
Unsurprisingly, Flash pushed his way to the front and headed to one of the booths, followed by a couple of other students as there were 4 security booths available. The booths were at least fairly private, kind of like a voting booth without a curtain. Peter was immensely grateful for this fact when he stepped inside the booth to scan his badge and FRIDAY spoke to him quietly.
"Good morning, Mr Parker. Boss was not expecting you this morning, I'll inform him that you have arrived."
"No, no, no, no, no!" Peter objected quickly in a hushed voice. "Mr Stark doesn't need to be bothered, FRIDAY, I'm just on a school trip here today. Please can we not tell anyone that I'm here?"
"Very well, Mr Parker. You appear to have a visitor's pass with low level security clearance, would you like me to upgrade your pass to your usual clearance level?
"No, that's ok, FRI –" Peter began to say.
"Peter Parker security pass upgraded."
"Right, ok, not sure why you bothered to ask…" Peter mumbled.
"Hey loser, you coming?" Peter looked up at MJ's voice and realised that he had already taken longer than everyone else had to scan their passes.
"Yeah, coming." He said leaning out of the booth before whispering a quick thank you to FRIDAY.
"You're welcome, Mr Parker. Have a good day."
"Yeah, we'll see."
"Gotcha!" Tony slammed the Midtown School itinerary down onto Pepper's desk.
Pepper gave him a stern look. "Please tell me you did not have FRIDAY end my meeting early for this?"
"I know exactly what you've been hiding!"
Pepper groaned. "Tony! You claimed this was an emergency!"
"It is an emergency! My kid is coming to the tower today and no one told me!"
"He's not coming as your kid today, he's here as part of his school on a field trip." Pepper reasoned.
"You didn't have to hide it from me." Tony sulked petulantly. "How come Happy knew?"
"Happy is head of security." She explained patiently. "Of course he knows who is visiting the tower, he has to approve the visitor passes."
"Did the kid know his school was coming here?"
Pepper could detect the mild hurt in Tony's voice, though he disguised it well. "I imagine he would have had to get permission from May to come." She said gently. "I'm sure Peter just didn't want you making a fuss. You know what he's like."
"I'm not going to make a fuss!"
Pepper's eyes narrowed. "Damn right you're not. You're going to leave the poor kid alone! No embarrassing him. He's just going to have a nice, normal day with his classmates on a regular field trip."
"Oh sure, because the CEO of Stark Industries showing up personally on the tour is completely normal and happens for every school tour of Stark Tower." Tony said pointedly.
"Well," Pepper crossed her arms defensively. "It's Peter, I had to do something a bit special for him."
"What's more special than Ironman himself coming to join their tour?" Tony held out his arms to present himself.
"That's a little too special." Pepper snarked back. "Look, Peter's super confident as Spiderman and he's comfortable around you, but he's a shy kid at school, you can't go and embarrass him in front of all his classmates."
"I'm Ironman! I'm the opposite of embarrassing, I'm cool."
"And don't tell the others either." Pepper ignored his argument. "They're just as bad as you."
"Oh really? So how come Brucie-bear is leading the R&D lab tours today?" He jabbed his finger onto the evidentiary itinerary. "Pretty sure that's not part of the standard school tour."
"Because Bruce knows how to behave himself." Pepper countered pointedly.
"He turns into the Hulk!"
"I'm sure nothing in a high school lab tour is going to trigger Bruce into his transformation."
The first part of their tour of Stark Industries was objectively the least interesting. The students, however, were still at peak excitement levels, just from being in the building, so Stacey kept the energy levels up as she whizzed them around the business floors, explaining the different departments.
"Science research isn't the only area you can work in at Stark Industries. We've got finance, advertisement, business strategy and logistics, human resources and a legal department. The company looks for innovators at every level." Stacey told them as they walked through the factory levels of prototype creation.
Once the business floors were done, they were bundled back into the elevators and taken up to floor 53 which Peter knew were R&D labs, along with floors 54, 55 and 56. He whispered as much to Ned as they exited the elevator.
"Is that where you work?" Ned whispered back.
Peter shrugged. "Mostly I work in Mr Stark's lab, but sometimes I come down here to take a look at the intern projects." He answered discreetly. "Bruce's lab is on this floor too."
Peter liked working with Bruce. Mr Stark was more into engineering and coding which Peter loved, but he also had an interest in human biology which he could share with Bruce. The doctor liked to work on medical research whenever he could, finding innovative cures or medicines which would improve quality of life. Peter's favourite thing was when they combined their passions to make artificial limbs like Bucky's robotic arm and Rhodey's leg braces. Biology and engineering had to work hand in hand to create these things that would hopefully have a big impact on lots of people's lives. Since they had worked on Rhodey's leg braces together, Mr Stark had made a commitment to direct 8 billion dollars to prosthetics development at Stark Industries.
"Ok, here we have our first lab of the tour, I know this is the thing you guys have been waiting for!" Stacey brought them to the intern labs. "This is where our interns work, although you won't see many of them here currently as many of them also attend college and will be at classes at the moment." Peter caught Flash giving him a smug look and rolled his eyes. "This is where it's really important not to touch anything." Stacey reminded them all as they entered. "You'll notice that the projects aren't the same, that's because interns here at SI are encouraged to come up with their own projects and explore and experiment as much as possible. It's SI's belief that this will develop the best scientists that the world has to offer."
A hand went up from one of the other students. "So they don't just get coffee then? I thought that's all interns ever did."
Stacey laughed. "That might be the business model at other companies, but at SI we can make our own coffee, and if we can't then we can pay someone to do it for us. Interns are not a paid position, but they get to learn and develop by coming here. This way SI gets to train up and hopefully, one day, employ the best young minds. We think that's a fair trade off."
Flash shouted out next. "How do you become an intern?" Peter rubbed his temples wearily.
"There's an application process which you can find out more about on our website. Occasionally, young people are spotted by Mr Stark himself and offered place on the programme."
"But you have to be in college, right?" Flash continued. "You said the interns were at college."
Stacey frowned. "Well, most are, but there's no age restrictions. I know Mr Stark has a high school age intern, there may be some others."
Peter held his breath, but Stacey didn't say more than that. He didn't know if she had worked out where she knew him from or not, it certainly wasn't a big secret at SI that Mr Stark had a personal intern who Happy picked up from school 3 times a week.
The students were allowed to wander around the room, looking at the various projects out on display. Each intern had their own workspace, including Peter, though he didn't often use his, so his table was pretty bare compared to the others. He saw a couple of kids from his class milling around his workstation and was glad that he kept all of his important work on his table in Mr Stark's personal lab.
"Where do you work?" Ned asked quietly. Peter nodded over to his table. "So cool!" His friend said and bounded over to look at the innocuous table, dragging along an apathetic MJ.
Peter just rolled his eyes and wandered around to see what the other interns were working on. A few of the interns who were there recognised him and said hello, Peter moved on quickly so as not to draw too much attention, but he paused when Mark, an intern he knew quite well stopped him for a chat.
"Hey, Pete, what you doing here?" The interns knew Peter only ever showed up on the weekends or after school hours.
"I'm here with the school tour." Peter indicated everyone around him. "Field trip."
"Ah." Mark nodded in understanding. "Hey, since you're here, you couldn't help me with this coding could you? There's something not quite working."
"Um, sure." Peter agreed quickly looking at Mark's whiteboard of equations to get up to date on what he was working on. It seemed to be some form of robot. Peter knew that Mark was good with physics and electronics, but computer programming wasn't his strong suit. It wouldn't have been Peter's either were it not for Ned. He looked at the code already on Mark's laptop and spotted an error. "May I?" he asked before jumping in.
"Please!" Mark responded eagerly, having spent far longer than he hoped on solving this part of the project.
Peter got to work and had fixed the problem in just a few moments. He was just standing back up when Mr Warren's voice scolded from behind. "Peter, you were told not to touch anything!" He hissed.
Technically they were told to 'ask first', which Peter had, he wanted to argue, but Mark defended him first.
"Er, it's alright, Sir. I asked for Peter's help."
Mr Warren turned surprised eyes to the young intern. "You did?"
"Yeah, Peter's way better at coding then me."
"So, you know Peter."
Mark frowned in confusion. "Yeah?"
"Hm." Mr Warren pursed his lips and walked away.
"Jeez." Mark said. "What's his problem?"
Peter shrugged. "I'm starting to get the impression that he doesn't particularly like me."
"Seriously? You're like the most helpful, polite kid I know. I'd have thought you'd be every teacher's favourite pupil." Peter just shrugged again, not sure why Mr Warren was suddenly so irritated by him. "Well, thanks anyway, man. You really are much better at this stuff than me."
Peter smiled and beckoned Ned over. "I learnt everything I know about computer programming from this guy here." Ned's eyes widened in pure ecstatic delight at being praised in front of a college intern at Stark Industries. Peter continued while Ned stood there open-mouthed. "I'll have to bring him by sometime to give you a crash course in coding."
"If you can, that'd be great." Mark smiled. "You know when I'm around."
Peter nodded. "See you later." He said as they were being called back to the doors by the guide.
"Are you freaking serious?" Ned asked in utter disbelief.
"Yeah, man, I'll ask Mr Stark about bringing you round for a private tour." Peter confirmed. "I'm sure he'll let you come, he's pretty keen to quiz you on your hacking skills himself."
Ned blushed at both the praise and the reminder of his illegal hacking into Mr Stack's AI system. "You are seriously the coolest. Friend. Ever."
In the corridor, Stacey stopped them again to address the group. "Now today we have a special treat for you that most school tours don't get." She said excitedly. The rest of the students listened eagerly to what the surprise would be, but Peter's heart dropped for the tenth time that day. "We will be visiting Dr Bruce Banner's lab."
The group erupted into excited chatter. Peter picked up the word 'Hulk' a few times, especially from Flash's group of neanderthal friends. It wasn't as bad as it could be, Peter supposed. Bruce was kind and shy, understated and discreet, especially when compared to the other Avengers. Peter didn't think Bruce would go out of his way to embarrass him and the Doc would probably take Peter's lead on how much to show their friendship.
They entered Bruce's lab with nervous excitement and Peter could see instantly that the room had been changed to accommodate the tour. The various projects Bruce had been working on with the other biologists had been moved to the edge of the room and science tables and high stalls like they had in their chemistry labs back at school had been set up to give the lab a classroom feel.
The students were directed to find a space at the tables and, in awe of the man at the front of the room, the teenagers quickly found their seats in hushed silence. Bruce's eyes scanned around the room, and though Peter had forced Ned and MJ to find a table near the back, the doctor's eyes soon settled on Peter.
Bruce smiled gently and Peter gave his own reluctant smile and a nod in return. Bruce seemed to read that for what it was and made no further attempt to greet Peter openly.
"Good morning, Midtown. I'm Doctor Bruce Banner and I work here at Stark Industries in their Research and Development labs on biomedicine research. Any questions?"
Peter listened as Dr Banner answered questions on his latest research and some of his published work that the students had read about. He was pretty familiar with Bruce's work having been a big fan before becoming his friend and occasional lab partner, so Peter was only half tuned in when he felt a prickle at the back of his neck. He turned slowly in his seat to peer over his shoulder and caught the person who has been watching the back of his head.
Pepper Potts, in all her designer suit, high-heeled, Stark-pad carrying glory, had snuck into the back of the lab and was watching quietly. Catching his eye Pepper smiled and mouthed, "Hi."
"Hi." Peter mouthed back.
Pepper pointed her finger at Peter in obvious signal and then made the universal gesture for 'ok' as she mouthed the question, "You okay?"
Peter nodded and gave her a thumbs up in confirmation. Pepper smiled and turned to leave, but she paused to talk to Stacey who was watching the presentation from the back of the room. Peter saw Stacey nodding and then caught her eyes widening at whatever Pepper had said. She briefly flicked her eyes over to Peter and then back to Pepper before nodding frantically again. Then Pepper left without any of the other Midtown students being any the wiser to her presence.
"Ok, we've got a little challenge for you all now." Bruce informed them after the questions died down. "You're each going to be given the basics of a robot and you can also make use of any of these mechanical parts." Bruce gestured to an array of discarded metal cogs and robot parts. "Your task is to build a robot that has some sort of function. You'll be working in teams and you're going to have one hour to build and code your robot. Get yourself into groups of three of four and we'll bring you your basic parts. I know very little about robotics so Dr Allen here will be available to help."
Ned, MJ and Peter didn't even discuss being a team, they just were, and no one else made any moves to join them. Stacey brought them over their base parts and a Starkpad for coding and Peter went up to the front bench to look for anything else that might be of use.
As the groups got started, Peter's advanced hearing allowed him to hear what most groups were planning. Ideas varied from simple entertainment systems to things that were slightly more ambitious to complete within the time allotted. The trio looked at what they had and decided on something that might have a better use. Peter was confident that Bruce would appreciate their design.
Forty minutes into their time and Bruce, who had been circulating the room, stopped at their table.
"Hey guys." He greeted amicably, before sending Peter a warm smile. "How you doing, Pete?"
"Hey, Dr Banner. I'm alright. This is Ned and MJ." He introduced.
"Ah, the famous Ned and MJ." Bruce reached out his hand to shake each of theirs in greeting. "I've heard a lot about you guys."
"Oh my god. Dr Bruce Banner knows who I am." Ned squeaked.
"Dude." Peter admonished. "Be cool."
"Sorry." Ned apologised to Bruce. "It's just that your picture is on the wall in our biology classroom and your work on gamma radiation was revolutionary and, you know, you're the Hulk."
"Dude." Peter rolled his eyes. "Sorry, Dr Banner."
"That's ok, and Peter, I've told you a million times to call me Bruce. I didn't realise Gamma radiation scientists had such a fanbase amongst teenage boys." He joked.
"Just these two nerds." MJ supplied.
"Hey!" Said nerds objected half-heartedly.
Bruce chuckled. "Ok, why don't you tell me what you're working on."
"Well, amongst the stuff I found this." Peter pointed to a part of their machine.
"A heart rate monitor." Bruce recognised.
"Yeah. It wasn't working, but MJ managed to fix up the internal wiring, and then we plugged it into the robot."
"So what's the plan?" Bruce asked.
"It's going to be a medical alert robot, like a medical assistance dog that can detect physiological changes in the body to alert when someone might be about to have a seizure or something."
Bruce nodded thoughtfully. "Well that could have some great practical uses. What would it do once it has detected such changes?"
"It can automatically call a given emergency contact or 911 if needed. It will also make an announcement to anyone near by on how they can assist that person. If it's something like narcolepsy, it might just be how to ensure they are safe, rather than calling for medical assistance." MJ explained.
"Well, I'm impressed." Dr Banner said. "I can really see how this could support independent living for someone with a long-term condition."
Peter and Ned both grinned and MJ looked reasonably satisfied. "Thanks Dr Bruce." Peter said.
Bruce laughed. "Well that's closer to just 'Bruce', I guess."
When their time was up, Bruce called out to the class and asked each of them to bring their creations up to the front. Carefully, Peter cradled their small robot in his hands and headed to the front. The room was busy as the various groups began packing up their stations while one member from each table did just as Peter was. He weaved through the table and was almost at the front when he felt the tell-tale tingle up his spine. He sighed, already knowing what would happen before the impact hit. He deliberately ensured that his hands wouldn't stick to the robot and relaxed his muscles, so he was ready to all his body to fall when Flash barged into him. Peter allowed the robot in his hands to fall and was at least able to catch himself, but the robot crashed heavily to the floor, smashing into pieces that scattered around the lab as they slid from the impact.
The room went silent. Every pair of eyes turned to Peter upon the loud noise and then every pair of eyes saw the fractured remains of an irreparable robot on the floor.
Peter looked up and found Bruce's eyes first. The scientist's gaze was serious, his jaw clenched, and Peter knew immediately that he had seen what had happened, had seen what Flash had done. Worst of all, Peter could detect the slightest tinge to the colour of Bruce's skin.
"I'm okay." Peter said quickly, looking only at Bruce's sickly expression. "I'm okay, I'm okay, I swear, it's fine."
"Yes, I can see that you are ok, Mr Parker." Mr Warren said frustratedly. "But you have just dropped a lot of expensive equipment."
Peter didn't even look at Mr Warren, he kept his eyes on Bruce and took deep deliberate breaths which he hoped the scientist would copy.
"Um, that's really fine." Dr Allen appeased Mr Warren. "Most of that stuff was just left-over rubbish that would have been thrown out or recycled anyway."
Peter saw Bruce inhale deeply, saw his shoulders drop as he exhaled. The colour began to recede. Bruce had good control of the other guy these days. Bruce was a pretty mellow guy in general, it had just taken time for the Hulk to reach its own zen-like state.
"Are you sure you're ok, Peter?"
"I swear I'm absolutely fine. I just tripped and lost my balance a bit."
Bruce's eyes narrowed but it was Mr Warren who spoke. "That's the second time today, Peter. You need to be more careful and stop messing around."
Peter caught Bruce about to say something and jumped in first. "Yeah, sorry, Sir. I didn't see Flash coming the other way, I'll look where I'm going next time."
As the doctors looked over the remaining robots, Peter went back to a dejected Ned and MJ and looked at his watch. He sighed. How was it only 12.10?
Tony was still sulking in his lab an hour later. Pepper had banned him not only from going to see Peter but even from checking in on the tour through FRIDAY's security footage. The fact that FRIDAY was listening to Pepper and not him and refusing to show him any of her footage was an even greater source of irritation.
"What's got your iron panties in a twist?" Nat asked when she walked in as he was swearing at a particularly stubborn electrical problem.
"Nothing." Tony grumbled.
"I thought you'd be happy given that Spiderbaby is in the tower."
Tony's head shot up with an incredulous look. "Pepper told you about the field trip as well?!"
Nat frowned. "No, I just saw the kid in the lobby this morning."
"Oh." Tony deflated, explaining. "Pepper didn't tell me about the kid's field trip here. She says that I'm not allowed to go and bother him."
Nat nodded slowly. "So, you haven't seen him at all this morning?"
"Nope." Tony went to take a sip of his ever-present coffee but stopped as he caught the look in her eye. "Why?"
"I'm guessing you haven't seen the busted lip the kid is sporting then. Looks pretty fresh."
Busted lip? Tony didn't remember seeing that on his nightly injury breakdown from the kid's suit AI.
"FRIDAY, wake up Karen, for me."
"Connecting to Karen."
"Good morning, Mr Stark." Peter's AI came through FRIDAY's sound system. "How can I assist you this morning?"
"Karen, when was the last time Peter was out on patrol?"
"Peter wore his suit from 9pm until 12am, last night, Mr Stark. He patrolled mainly in the Queens area."
"And what injuries did he get?"
"A small knife wound to his right bicep, a minor graze from a passing bullet and bruised ribs from a baseball bat."
Tony winced at the substantial injuries. "No blows to the face at all? A split lip?"
"Peter did not sustain any injuries to his face during last night's patrol." Karen confirmed.
Tony shared a grim look with Nat. "Alright, that's all. Thanks, Karen."
"Happy to help, Mr Stark. Have a wonderful day."
Nat's nose scrunched up distastefully. "God, his AI is as peppy as he is."
"FRIDAY, what time is Peter's school scheduled to have lunch?"
"Midtown School of Science and Technology will be taking lunch at 12.30 in the visitor cafeteria."
"I thought Pepper banned you from seeing him?" Nat smirked.
"Yeah, that was before someone messed with my kid's face." Tony said darkly.
"And what exactly are going to do? Jump the kid at lunch?"
Tony grinned mischievously. "You think Birdbrain 1 would be up for a little espionage?"
"Probably more likely if you don't call him Birdbrain 1."
"Better than Birdbrain 2, surely? I could always offer Sam a promotion."
Stacey led the group to the visitors' cafeteria for lunch. "You can each buy lunch up to the cost of $20. Beyond this you will need to pay for yourself, although $20 should cover anything you'd want to get on the menu."
Peter chose the mac 'n' cheese. Tony swore blind that it was the best meal in the tower cafeterias, and it would also satisfy Peter's over-eager metabolism.
"Oh my god." Ned exclaimed as he swallowed down a massive bite of cheeseburger. "This place is so cool. Even the food is excellent."
"How're you holding up there, Parker?" MJ looked at him with something close to sympathy, if sympathy was a thing that MJ did.
"Worst day ever." Peter groaned.
"What d'you think they've got planned for this afternoon?" Ned asked enthusiastically.
Peter shrugged. "Imprisonment? Manual labour? Torture?"
Ned's enthusiasm wasn't dampened. "There's an Avengers exhibition here, right?"
"Hey, I saw that there's a 1st generation Pokemon LEGO collection coming out." Peter decided to change the subject and Ned's excited ramblings about which set they should get first, based on a careful algorithm which compared difficulty to assemble and how difficult it may be to obtain, managed to lift Peter's mood somewhat.
Before lunch had finished up, Peter headed to the restroom. He left the cafeteria and headed into the corridor. He knew the building well and Stacey had given them directions before she left to have her own lunch break.
"Hey, Penis! Where're you going?"
"Where do you think Einstein?" Peter threw back at Flash, continuing on his course.
"Trying to find Stark so you can beg for an internship?"
"I already have an internship."
"Yeah right, Penis, no one knows you here. You're just a no one."
"A no one that you appear to be following to the bathroom." Peter commented idly.
"Shut up, Parker." Flash said crossly.
"You're the one talking to me."
"Why don't you just admit that you made the whole thing up? Everyone knows you're a loser, Parker, they won't be surprised."
Peter stopped walking and turned to face Flash tiredly. "Let it go, Flash."
"You're such a liar, Parker. As if you could ever get an internship and Stark Industries."
"For God's sake Flash, will you just shut up about the stupid fucking internship!" Peter snapped in sheer frustration.
"'Stupid fucking internship.'" A deep and painfully familiar voice repeated Peter's words from behind him. "That wouldn't be a stupid fucking Stark internship now would it?"
Peter whipped around, quicker than he probably should have done given Flash was still there. "Mr Stark – I - I –"
Flash cackled in his ear behind him. "Busted."
Peter ignored him, keeping his eyes on Tony's face. His expression was calm and his tone light-hearted, but Peter could see the tension in his jaw, could detect the seriousness of his gaze, even behind his trademark tinted glasses.
"Kid! Fancy seeing you here."
"Um, hey, Mr Stark." Peter couldn't stop the slightly high-pitched tone of his voice. "Yeah, turns out we've got a field trip here today."
"So I heard." Tony said flatly, causing Peter to gulp.
Behind him, Peter could hear the quiet opening and closing of Flash's mouth as he witnessed the Tony Stark chatting to Peter Parker as though he knew him.
"So, you planning on quitting your internship? That's ok, I won't take it personally, although if you go to Oscorp, I will have to sue."
"No - no, Sir, no plans to leave Stark Industries, Sir." Peter rambled. "This is the best internship ever, I could never quit, Sir."
Tony winced at the repeated honorific. "Glad to hear it, kid."
"Pen – Parker has an internship here?" Flash interrupted their awkward stand-off with evident disbelief.
"Peter is my personal intern." Mr Stark stressed, not taking his eyes of Peter, though he was clearly answering Flash's question. "Who's your friend, Pete?"
Peter didn't have chance to answer as Flash was immediately stepping forward to introduce himself. "I'm Flash Thompson, Sir. I'm a big fan, I would totally love to work here. You are so cool."
"Yeah, sure." Tony drawled. "Well, Flash, I hope you don't mind but I'm going to need a little chat with my personal intern here. There's some equations that I just can't seem to crack and I know this little genius will be able to solve it for me." Tony didn't wait for Flash's stuttering reply, he clamped a hand down on Peter's shoulder and led him away down the corridor.
"Er, Mr Stark, I don't think I'm supposed to leave the tour." Peter said meekly.
"I'm sure you'll think of an excuse." Tony stopped as they rounded a corner, out of sight and earshot of Flash who by this point had already wandered, starstruck, back to the cafeteria. "That kid a friend of yours?"
"He's on the Decathlon team." Peter said causing Tony to frown at the obvious non-answer to his question.
They were facing each other again, although this time Mr Stark was much closer, his arms crossed and his media persona dropped. He removed his glasses so Peter could see straight into his assessing eyes. Peter tried not to squirm.
"You didn't tell me your school was having a trip here."
Peter rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "Yeah, no, well, I didn't think I'd see you on the trip at all. School tours are a bit below your pay grade, right?"
"Correct. Although, for the record, Kid, if you're within a 1 mile radius of my house, I expect you to at least drop in to say hi."
That caused a small and genuine smile to grace Peter's face as he appreciated Tony's genuine warmth. "Yes, sir, Mr Stark."
"Hey," Tony objected. "No more 'sir'. Mr Stark is bad enough, but we agreed that you wouldn't call me 'sir'."
"Right, sorry, Si-, Mr Stark."
Tony rolled his eyes before becoming serious once more. He reached forward and took Peter's chin gently between his thumb and forefinger, turning his head to examine his split lip. "What happened to your face, Underoos?"
"Oh, you know, professional hazard. There was this mugger, well a group of muggers actually."
"Oh, a group of muggers?" Tony raised a surprised eyebrow.
"Yeah, you know, how muggers work in groups now, they were after this lady's purse and I like webbed the first guy," he mimed his story enthusiastically. "And then the second guy and the third guy came at me together, so I like got the first one in the jaw, like POW, and then I swept the other one of his feet with my leg, like WHOOSH, but then this fourth guy was behind me and I like – WHAM, but I guess his elbow kinda caught my mouth, and that was like Ow, but then I webbed them all and I gave the lady her purse back and it was all good." Peter caught his breath as he looked hopefully at Mr Stark.
"So this happened on patrol last night?"
"Yeah," Peter couldn't control the tell-tale squeakiness of his voice. "Just last –"
"Karen, says you didn't get any facial injuries on patrol last night." Tony interrupted before Peter could double down on his lie.
Peter stopped and gaped, his mouth as open as Flash's had been as he quickly rethought his excuse.
"Well, no maybe it wasn't last night –"
"Stop lying." Tony commanded. "Tell me who busted your face."
"No-one!" Peter took a defensive step back. "I just tripped okay. I didn't want to tell you because it's embarrassing, but I fell over."
"You tripped." Stark repeated with obvious contempt.
"Yeah, so?" The kid set his jaw stubbornly.
"What, was someone washing you out of a bathtub? I've never seen a spider trip before."
It was a ludicrous excuse, Peter had better balance and agility than an Olympic gymnast, but Mr Stark had already undone his credible excuse so this was all he had left and Peter was fully prepared to commit.
"Well I'm not actually a spider." Peter said quietly, vaguely conscious of who else might be wandering around this floor. "I was getting on the coach and the steps were wet and I wasn't paying attention so I slipped and hit my face on the steps above." Tony didn't look convinced. Peter huffed. "That's what happened. You can ask Ned if you don't believe me."
"Sure, I'll do that." Tony agreed.
Peter sighed. Ned would back him up; he wouldn't even need to lie, since Peter did technically split his lip on the coach steps.
"I should really get back to the cafeteria, Mr Stark. My teacher is going to be wondering where I am." And will be super pissed, Peter added in his head.
"Sure, Kid." Tony agreed, patting him on the shoulder as they turned back towards the lunch hall. "Well, enjoy the rest of the tour. I'll see you later, Kid."
"Yeah, er, sure. See you later, Mr Stark." Peter headed back to his school group with a tight knot in his stomach, unsure whether 'later' meant when he returned after school for his internship or before then. Either way, Peter knew that the conversation about his lip wasn't over, however insignificant an injury it might be.
"Peter!" Mr Warren's undoubtedly cross voice was heard across the visitors' cafeteria as soon as Peter walked back in. "Where the hell have you been?" He asked sternly once he was closer.
"I was just at the restroom, Sir."
Mr Warren sighed. "Peter, we've already had a conversation about lying today. Flash was just at the restroom and said you weren't down there."
Peter glanced at Flash who was smirking in satisfaction. Apparently proof of Peter's internship at SI wasn't enough to stop Flash being an asshole.
"Yeah, I was at the toilets, but I got a bit lost coming back to the cafeteria. This place is a bit of a maze." It didn't fit with his claim to be an intern here, but Mr Warren didn't believe that anyway, and saying that he had been caught up in a conversation with Tony Stark himself didn't seem very plausible, even if it was the truth.
Mr Warren shook his head in obvious disappointment. "Make sure you stay with the group for the rest of the day, Peter. No more wandering off."
"Yes, Sir." Peter agreed easily and quickly moved over to his table with Ned and MJ.
"Where were you, man?" Ned asked in a hissed whisper.
"Mr Stark found me." Peter whispered back. "Hey, if he asks you about my lip, just tell him I fell up the steps on the coach."
Ned's eyes widened comically. "I can't lie to Tony Stark!"
"You don't need to lie, I did fall up the steps."
MJ snorted. "Tony Stark is a literal, Mensa certified, genius. Do you really expect him to fall for that BS?"
"He'll have to if you guys back me up." Peter argued, turning back to Ned. "Just tell him you saw me trip on the steps. That's what happened."
"Yeah, but you only fell on the steps because Flash pushed you, and you would have been able to catch yourself with your spider reflexes." Ned's voice went back down to a complete whisper.
"Look, just tell him the truth but not the whole truth." Peter pleaded. "Can you do that for me?"
Ned sighed. "Of course, man, you can count on me. I'm your guy in the chair."
Not long after, Mr Warren and the tour guide Stacey were calling everyone over to the doors for the next part of the tour. "Make sure you pick up all your rubbish!" Mr Warren called out. "Remember that you are representing the school and we are very fortunate to be given this opportunity."
"Okay, everyone ready?" Stacey looked around and Mr Warren confirmed that the whole group was present after a quick headcount. "Great, follow me, we will head to the elevators again and we'll be going down to floor 3. This is where the press room is."
The students immediately burst into excited conversation over the prospect of seeing a room which they had often seen on TV press conferences. The group split into two groups which crammed into an elevator each and descended to the third floor. They were walked down the wide corridor where Tony Stark had once offered Peter the opportunity to become an Avenger and stopped outside the double doors of the press room.
"This is the room where all press conferences are held. Stark Industries use this room to announce big changes in company direction, new releases in technology and Mr Stark also uses it to announce Avengers news. Most famously, this is the place where Tony Stark announced that he was Ironman." Stacey paused for the excited whisperings to die down. "Today we even have another special treat for you…" Peter's heart stopped in fear of Tony making another appearance. Stacey opened the doors to reveal someone on the stage at the front of the room. "Ms Potts CEO of Stark Industries has offered to hold a question and answer session for you!"
"Ho – ly – shit." Peter turned to MJ who had spoken next to him and was surprised to see that his usually stoic and unflappable friend was openly awestruck by Pepper Potts, GQ's businesswoman of the year, Forbes' 21st most influential woman in the world.
Peter made a mental note to invite MJ to the tower for dinner with Tony and Pepper. Tony and MJ had only had a few brief meetings since MJ worked out that Peter was Spiderman, and the pair each seemed to hold a grudging respect for the other. MJ was clearly a big fan of Pepper, however.
"Go on in and take a seat." Stacey urged them.
Peter would have been happy to sit as far back as he could and keep out of Pepper's line of site. Things just seemed to be better if he kept his two worlds separate. There was the school kid, decathlete, general social loser Peter Parker and there was the Stark intern, friend of the Avengers, secretly Spiderman Peter Parker. He headed towards the back of the seats, but he was soon dragged in the direction of the stage by MJ's hand around his wrist and a whispered, "Hell no, Parker." They ended up only three rows back from the front and Peter had to make do with sitting at the end of the row near the wall and keeping slouched in his seat. Apparently this didn't make him as invisible as he had hoped as Pepper soon caught his eye with a gentle smile.
Peter relaxed a bit; he knew Pepper wouldn't do anything to embarrass him. She was way too nice and far more emotionally literate than Mr Stark.
"Good afternoon, Midtown. It's a pleasure to have you here with us at Stark Industries today. For anyone that doesn't know me, I'm Virginia Potts, better known as Pepper and I am CEO of Stark Industries. I know Stacey's got a few more things to show you, but for now I thought I'd make myself available to answer any questions you might have. Who wants to kick things off?"
Hands across the room shot up in the air, including Ned and MJ. In fact, as Peter looked around he could see that he was one of only a handful of student who didn't seem to have a question.
"Do the Avengers actually live in the tower? Do you see them walking around and stuff?"
"The Avengers have their own residential floors and also a communal floor for socializing, though of course access to these floors is strictly limited. Some of the Avengers also choose to live with their own families and only visit the tower. Most of the Avengers are very busy with other commitments so we don't see them frequently around the lower floors, but of course Mr Stark and Dr Banner, who you met earlier today, work in the labs so are seen much more frequently. "
"When will the next Starkphone be released?"
"Well, that is privileged information, but you should look out for an announcement around June time. I think you'll be impressed with what we've developed." Pepper gave them a knowing look. "Yes, over there." She pointed in Peter's direction.
"My question is three-fold." MJ said with pure confidence. "What challenges have you faced being a woman in business? How have you overcome these barriers and what would be your advice for other young women entering the business profession?"
"That's an excellent question." Peter could see how impressed Pepper was as she answered. He half listened to the response, but he was distracted by the Spidey-tingle down his spine. He looked around but Flash was staring in awe up at Pepper and he couldn't see anyone else around. Nonetheless, something gave him the sensation of being watched.
The Q&A lasted another 20 minutes before Pepper wrapped things up. "Many people will tell you that you need to be the most intelligent or the most confident, maybe that you need to have the right contacts to be successful. In fact, the two most important characteristics that you will need as you graduate and move on in your lives are resilience and integrity." She gave them all a piercing look with her sharp blue eyes. "That's it everyone, I hope you enjoy the rest of your tour."
Mr Warren stood up. "Can we all give Ms Potts a big thank you for giving up her valuable time?"
The class clapped dutifully and spoken 'thank you's came from around the group.
"Ok, let's head out to the last part of your tour today, the Avenger's exhibition!" Stacey announced.
The class was herded out of the room again and Flash happened to be sidled up against Peter. He got close to him so he could speak lowly in Peter's ear. "It doesn't matter that you actually have an internship here, 'cause no one actually believes you do. Even Mr Warren thinks you're a liar. You probably only got the internship because they felt sorry for you for being a pathetic little orphan."
"How's the Spiderbaby?" Nat asked Clint when he returned to the Avengers' communal lounge, not even looking up from her book.
The silence that met her however, caused her to look up sharply and then frown at Clint's unhappy expression. "What's wrong? Did you find out how Peter got hurt?"
"I think so." Clint nodded. "But I think we should get Cap involved before we tell Tony."
"Because Tony's going to lose his shit when he hears what this brat said to his kid."
"Woah!" Ned exclaimed when they saw all the cases of Avengers memorabilia. There were old suits, weapons or replicas of them, and even pieces of broken alien technology from previous battles. They headed to the Captain America display first and looked at his old army uniform and then his original suit.
"They've got his original shields." Peter noted excitedly. "Did you know that his second shield was gifted to him by FDR?"
"So cool." Ned agreed. "Hey, look at all the different Ironman suits they've got."
"Jeez, they're all so busted up." Peter noted the scorch marks, dents and scratches on each of the disabled suits.
"I guess he only started from scratch again each time his current one was destroyed in battle."
"Makes sense." Peter nodded before lowering his voice so only Ned and MJ, who was following them around with apparent disinterest, could hear. "But he's got loads of spares now and ones with different specialties, so if one gets broken, he's got another ready to go."
MJ only seemed to be impressed with the one cabinet dedicated to the Black Widow. It held simply a mannequin wearing a replica of her suit and the plaque below had minimal information. Peter supposed that Nat had requested it to be as vague as possible.
"Black Widow is such a badass." MJ said with evident awe.
"Well sure," Peter responded. "Black Widow is pretty tough but Spiderman…"
MJ raised an eyebrow, waiting Peter out until he finished the sentence.
"Yeah, ok, clearly not as cool as Black Widow."
MJ shrugged and gave him a knowing smirk. "Maybe a close second."
"Dude!" Ned hit Peter's arm repeatedly as he stood in a slight stupor over MJ's sort-of compliment.
"Dude, there's a Spiderman exhibit!"
Ned pointed and Peter followed the line to a display cabinet on the far side of the large room. He wandered over open-mouthed.
"What the hell?" He murmured to himself.
Peter stared into the first cabinet. The mannequin inside proudly wore his first ever Spidersuit. "How the hell did they even get that?" The plaque said that it was the real thing, not a replica, but Peter could have sworn that it was still in a box in his bedroom closet.
"Thank God Tony Stark gave y-, gave Spiderman a suit upgrade." Ned said.
"Yeah, that onesie is embarrassing." MJ teased.
"Hey!" Peter protested. "Maybe – Spiderman – didn't have access to a lot of resources back then, and maybe sewing isn't Spiderman's strong suit."
"Well this certainly isn't a 'strong suit.' Is that a bullet hole?" MJ peered closely at a small hole in the left-hand shoulder.
"Just a small one, I think." Peter grinned. "Spiderman's looking a bit more tough now, huh?"
"A bit more idiotic, maybe." MJ countered quickly. "Seriously, who goes up against a gunman in a tracksuit?"
"The friendly neighbourhood Spiderman." Peter answered simply, with what he hoped was an endearing look.
"They've even got some of your webs." Ned commented, peering down into a smaller glass container, where carefully directed lights made the webs glow.
"I didn't know they had all this here." Peter said quietly. "Spiderman isn't even an Avenger, technically."
"Hey Loser," MJ said. "Read the sign."
Peter looked at the display sign where MJ was jabbing her finger.
'Although not officially part of the Avengers team, Spiderman has been known to fight alongside the team for larger threats where his expert assistance has proven to be integral in saving human lives. For this reason, he is considered an honorary Avenger.
Spiderman is best known for fighting crime within the Queens borough of New York City and passionately believes in his duty to defend those who are unable to do so themselves. His unfailing dedication to defending the neighbourhood and his commitment to preserving life, makes Spiderman one of the most loved superheroes in the world, though his true identity remains a closely guarded secret.
"Spiderman is the kind of person who doesn't need a suit to be a hero." – Tony Stark, 18th July 2017.'
In the end, Nat and Clint had decided to collect Bruce as well as Steve before heading up to speak to Tony about what each of them had witnessed. He looked wary as he saw them all walk onto his floor.
"What's wrong? I miss an Avengers' Assemble alert? I told you, Cap, telegrams aren't the quickest method of communication anymore." The others remained serious. "Hm, tough crowd. Alright what's up?" He looked at Clint. "Do I need to go and check on the kid again?"
Clint had used FRIDAY to alert Tony at lunchtime that Peter seemed a bit distressed and could do with someone checking in. Tony would pretend that he didn't immediately drop everything to go and see his kid.
"Tony, we want to talk to you about some of the things Bruce and Clint have seen today, but you need to stay calm." Nat said gently.
"Stay calm? I think you're confusing me with Brucie-Bear over there. No big green monsters lurking inside this guy. I'm very calm, I do yoga, I meditate. I'm practically the Dalai Lama compared to some of you folks."
The other Avengers exchanged glances and Steve gave Clint the nod.
"From what I've seen there's another kid that likes to bug Peter – a lot." Hawkeye said.
"Flash." Tony interrupted.
"Yeah." Clint frowned. "Has Peter complained about him before?"
"I caught him with Pete earlier. It didn't look friendly."
"I've heard him calling Peter names, mocking him and such. He hassles him about the internship here although from what I've seen, Pete stands up for himself most of the time."
"Most of the time?"
"I saw something earlier." Bruce added. "This Flash kid barged into Pete on purpose. Made him fall and smash the robot they'd been working on. From what I saw, I think Peter knew it was going to happen, but didn't do anything so nobody would suspect his abilities."
Nat watched Tony's jaw clench. "Was Peter ok?"
"I think so." Bruce said. "He seemed more worried about my reaction."
Tony nodded slowly. "Sounds like the kid." He looked at Clint thoughtfully. "You said he called Peter names. What name exactly?"
"Stupid high school stuff – 'Penis Parker' is a favourite."
"Imaginative." Tony commented dryly. "But?" He prompted, sensing Clint had something else to share.
Clint hesitated. "There was something else he said that Pete didn't seem to brush off the same way – understandably."
"Spit it out, Birdbrain."
"He called Pete a 'pathetic little orphan'."
The room went quiet and the Avengers gathered waited with baited breath for Tony to explode. Instead, he said, "Right." And he began to walk away.
"Tony, where are you going?" Steve asked sternly.
"Time to suit up, boys."
"Tony, no." Steve objected. "You can't use the Ironman suit to terrify some teenage boy."
"Why the hell not? Dealing with bullies is exactly what the Iron suit was made for."
"You can't just go barging in there. Peter would hate that." Nat reasoned. "The school is in the exhibition room now. How about we go down there and observe what's going on. If we need to step in, we can do, we'll have Steve with us for extra muscle, so, no suit required."
"Fine, let's go." Tony agreed. "Wouldn't need my suit to deal with this punk anyway."
Bruce waited upstairs, but Clint, Nat and Steve went with Tony down to the Avengers Exhibition. Clint found his way into the vents to observe from again and the rest stood round corners, from where they could see the kids without being seen. Nat stood with Tony as they watched and listened, a reassuring hand on his arm.
Tony could see Peter surrounded by his usual partners in crime and a couple of other kids. They were talking animatedly, Ned in particular, and as Tony tuned in to their conversation, he could hear them debating their favourite heroes.
"Come on, Captain America was the OG superhero." One of them said. "He's got super strength and a vibranium shield."
"But Captain America is nothing against the Hulk. The Hulk can destroy anything in its path."
"Being able to smash stuff up, doesn't make you the best hero." Another teen argued. "What about Spiderman? He's got the cool webs and he does flips and swings off of buildings. Plus, he's like our local hero." Tony enjoyed seeing Peter blush under the praise.
"That's true." Someone agreed. "Spiderman stopped my aunt from being mugged once."
"What do you think, Peter? Who's your favourite?"
Tony looked at Peter curiously, wondering what the kid would say. He knew Pete had always been a die-hard Cap fan, but he and Bruce seemed to get on pretty well these days.
"Er, I don't know. They're all great, I don't think I can choose a favourite." Peter said awkwardly.
Tony smirked; it was such a Peter thing to do to stay neutral.
"Come on, Peter, you must like one of them the best." One of the teens pushed.
"Well, I suppose, if I had to pick just one, then I'd say Ironman."
Tony's chest was suddenly, inexplicably, aching quite badly. Nat squeezed his arm.
"Really? Ironman?" Someone in the group objected. "He doesn't even have any powers."
"But that's what makes him the best." Peter was suddenly more animated as he defended his choice. "He doesn't have any powers, beyond his intelligence and I guess he's a billionaire, which helps. The fact that he has created his own suit which can fly and blow stuff up and – I bet it does loads of other cool stuff too, that makes him even more awesome than the rest. He's just an ordinary guy, but he's chosen to do something extraordinary."
Tony's throat was sort of clogged.
"Yep, that's definitely your kid." Nat whispered.
Tony cleared his throat. "He has excellent taste."
MJ was disagreeing. "Yeah, sure, Tony Stark's a hero, whatever. Black Widow, on the other hand, is a total BAMF."
"Bamf?" Tony looked at Nat for explanation and the spy gave him a smug grin.
"Bad-ass mother –"
"Got it." Tony interrupted. "Remind me never to introduce you to MJ, the world is a scary enough place already."
Peter was beginning to extract himself from the group. "I'm going to go and look at the Hulk exhibition, I wanna see what it says about his Gamma radiation research." He told Ned.
His best friend nodded, "Cool, man, I'll come over in a bit."
Tony tracked Peter across the room. He came to a stop in front of Bruce's display cabinet and appeared to be reading the information signs, though Tony could only see the back of his head now Peter faced away from them.
"Tony." Nat gained his attention and nodded in the direction of another teenage boy who was walking over to where Peter stood.
"That's him." Tony said, recognizing Flash from when he'd seen him earlier. He watched closely as the boy approached Peter, wishing he could see his kid's expression.
Flash said something to Peter, but Tony and Nat were too far away to hear what was said. Tony could see the tense stance Peter held, however.
A second later, Flash moved, quicker than Tony would ever have expected. They were all the way across the room, too far away to intervene. The only person who could have stopped it was Peter himself, but he didn't. He stood still and allowed Flash to jab his fist hard into Peter's side.
Tony and Nat were already moving, storming across the large room, as Peter doubled over and clutched his side. Cap was quickest from his hiding spot, having been stood closest to Peter at the time and Tony watched with relief as Steve pushed Flash away from his kid. He noticed Clint next, who must have dropped out of the ceiling vents somewhere and also positioned himself between the two teens.
Happy that the miscreant was being taken care of, Tony went straight to Peter, ignoring the many eyes of the somewhat stunned teenage group who had only second ago been looking at Avengers memorabilia and were now presented with the genuine articles.
"Kid." Tony rested a hand on his back. "Kid, are you ok?"
Peter shot back upright, sheer panic evident on his face as he suddenly realised what was happening.
"Mr Stark! Wha- What are you doing here?"
"I live here, Kid." Tony quipped back, though it lacked its usual comic delivery. "Peter, are you ok?" He asked again. "Here, let me see your side."
If anything, that only seemed to panic Peter further. He gripped onto the bottom of his science pun t-shirt (Never trust an atom…they make up everything) as though Tony might rip it off him. "No! No, Mr Stark, I can't." His voice lowered to barely above a whisper. "My ribs are just bruised from patrol."
Tony sighed, remembering Karen's earlier injury report. That explained why he had reacted so much to Flash's punch, even a weak jab to already bruised ribs would hurt like hell. "Alright, Kid, we can check that out later."
"No, Mr Stark, really –"
However Peter was going to try and wriggle out of that future check up was lost as the kid's teacher finally decided to show up, apparently only just realizing that there was a significant commotion amongst his students.
"What's going on here? What's happened?" Mr Warren looked at the sudden number of genuine superheroes around him. He might have been more excited were their expressions not so hostile.
Captain answered the man with authority, "Sir, one of your pupils has physically assaulted another student."
"Oh God." Peter moaned.
Warren looked between Flash and Peter before his eyes settled on Tony with absolute horror. "Mr Stark, I am so sorry for this disruption. I assure you that these boys will be dealt with for fighting." He turned a stern look on Peter and Flash. "Boys, I can't believe you would let me down like this, you've embarrassed yourselves and our school."
"Excuse me?" Tony asked dangerously.
"Mr Stark, it's ok." Peter said quickly.
"I think you misunderstood me, Sir." Steve addressed Warren again. "They were not fighting. I witnessed the whole thing and Peter didn't do anything. This boy," Peter realised then that Steve had kept a firm hand on Flash's shoulder throughout the entire conversation. "Walked up to Peter, used some very rude language and then, entirely unprovoked, punched Peter in the ribs."
Warren floundered. "Well, I suppose that changes things. Rest assured I'll being having a word with Flash when we return to school."
"You'll be having a word with him?" Tony quoted incredulously, ignoring Peter's whine behind him.
"That boy has been bullying another student, and your response is that you will 'have a word with him'?" Tony sneered.
"Woah, Mr Stark, I'm not bullied." Peter objected.
Tony gave him a look. "The adults are talking." He looked back at Warren, ignoring Peter's kicked puppy face. "How has this not been addressed already? Teachers are supposed to know what is going on in their school. We've only been with them for one day and it is obvious what has been going on."
"No, Mr Stark, please. Flash isn't hurting me or anything." Peter denied.
"Pete, I just saw him."
"Well ok, that's the only time."
"Alright, Kid, shall we talk about that split lip again?" Tony challenged.
"I told you –"
"Ned," Tony interrupted, turning to look at the wide-eyed friend of his kid. "How did Peter cut his mouth?"
"Er, um, I, er, Mr Stark, well," Ned floundered. "He hit it on the um top step of the stairs in the bus."
Tony nodded thoughtfully. "And how exactly did that happen, Ned?"
"Er, um, well…" He looked in panic at Peter, who appeared to be trying to communicate back at his friend through some form of telepathy, judging by the alarmed and intent expression on his face.
"Flash pushed him." Another voice suddenly spoke up, firm and decisive. "Flash pushed him on the steps and pulled his leg so Peter would have to fall over. That's how he hit his face."
All eyes turned to MJ, who showed no emotion at having swiftly dismantled Peter's cover story.
"Well?" Tony turned back to Warren angrily. "Why have you not addressed this before?"
"P-Peter's never reported any bullying."
Which, Tony admitted, wasn't a terrible point. He glanced over a Peter who was avoiding eye contact. Yeah, that was a conversation that needed having.
"Maybe we should have this conversation somewhere more private." Nat said quietly, looking pointedly at the entire school class of teenagers who were watching the drama unfold.
Tony nodded his agreement and looked at Peter. "We're going upstairs, I'll have Bruce look you over."
His tone left no room for argument and Peter answered with a meek, "Ok."
Warren spluttered, however. "Mr Stark, I can't let you take a student unsupervised."
"Peter is my personal intern. That means he is an employee of Stark Industries and I have a duty of care to ensure his well-being." Tony informed the man coldly. "And if that were not enough, if you knew anything about your students you would know that I am one of Peter's listed guardians."
"Peter has an internship?" Warren gawked.
"Okay, we're done here," Tony announced. "There's only so much stupidity I can take in a day. Let's go, Kid."
Bruce was waiting for them when they got up to the Avengers' communal floor. Peter guessed that he had been alerted by FRIDAY to be ready as the doctor had a medical bag with him.
"Hey Dr Bruce." Peter greeted.
"Dr Bruce?" Tony raised an eyebrow at the name, but the rest ignored him.
"Hey, Pete." Bruce returned.
"Sorry, they called you up here, I don't actually need a doctor or anything."
Tony was ready to argue with the kid again, but Bruce stopped him with a look and spoke gently to Peter instead. "No doubt, with your healing factor. No harm in taking a look though, eh? I'd love to get a timeline on how your healing works."
Peter sighed, "Yeah, ok." He began taking his shirt off and Nat, Clint and Steve moved away to give them some privacy.
"Love the shirt by the way." Bruce commented.
Peter grinned. "I get them off this great site. I'll send you a link."
As Peter revealed his bruised side, Tony had to tell himself that this was a normal part of what the kid did on patrols. He couldn't stop the kid from being Spiderman. Nonetheless, the sight of the purple mottled skin made Tony grind his teeth in anxiety.
Bruce stepped forward with his medical gloves on and began feeling the bruised area gently. "This looks pretty bad, Pete. How much pain are you in?"
Peter was grimacing as he was examined. "Before or after you started prodding me?"
"Sorry." Bruce smiled. "Seriously though, how did this happen? Looks like you did twelve rounds with a crowbar."
"Baseball bat actually."
"Well you're lucky none of your ribs broke." Bruce said, handing him back his shirt. "It should be healed in a day or so. I bet it hurts like a bitch."
"It's just sore. Not too bad." Peter shrugged.
"Apart from when he allows punk ass kids to punch him in said bruised ribs." Tony admonished.
"Ah." Bruce said in understanding. "That's not advisable."
"No shit." Clint quipped as the other Avengers rejoined them.
"I didn't ask for it to happen." Peter said defensively.
"You're Spiderman." Clint stated obviously. "You can hold your own in a fight against the Hulk for Christ's sake, no way you can't fend off that asshole."
"Yeah, but I wasn't Spiderman before, I couldn't suddenly smack him down in a fight."
"I know you want to protect your identity, and you're right to be cautious with your strength around unenhanced people," Cap said. "But you're allowed to defend yourself, Pete."
"But it's not even that bad! I heal fast. There's not much you can do to hurt Spiderman!" Peter argued.
"Even Spiderman doesn't have to put up with that." Steve countered gently.
"Better Spiderman than somebody else!"
The room went quiet.
Peter regretted speaking immediately, knowing the others wouldn't agree with his reasoning.
Tony broke the silence. "Guys could you all give us a minute. Peter and I are gonna talk some more." He looked at Peter seriously, though the kid avoided his gaze. "In fact, we'll go to the lab." He said easily. "Let's go, kid." Tony lifted his arm in invitation and Peter stepped up to his side so Tony could put the arm around his shoulders as they headed to their private lab.
By the time they walked through the automatic doors, Peter's nervous energy was makings his hands twitch. Tony kept his arm around Peter's shoulder as he guided them over to their shared workbench, only releasing his gentle hold when Peter was sat on his usual wooden stool, at which point Peter's jitters manifested as his knee bobbing up and down rapidly.
Tony sat next to him and pulled over a circuit board he had been working on. He picked up a screwdriver and got to work as he began talking casually. "You know, I'm not brilliant at emotions. You may have noticed that I don't do well at talking about my feelings."
Peter huffed a laugh at Tony's obvious statement. "Yeah, I noticed."
Tony smiled, glad he had caused Peter to relax a little. "Well I've found that it is sometimes easier to talk when you've got something else to focus on. I like to have something to tinker with, keeps my hands busy." He looked pointedly at Peter's own half-finished project on the worktop, a robot friend for U and DUM-E. "You wanna give it a try?"
Peter shrugged and pulled the robot over, quickly recovering his rhythm from when he was last working on the project.
Tony gave Peter a few minutes to get settled into his work, waiting until the tell-tale shaking of his leg had stopped, indicating that Peter was feeling more comfortable.
"So, what you said back there –"
"I didn't mean it like it sounded." Peter stopped him, not taking his eyes off the robot.
"Okay, so what did you mean?"
Peter squinted his eyes as he peered closely at a fiddly piece of wiring. "Just, you know, that Spiderman obviously has better protections and defences than other people."
Tony nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Okay, but you're not using Spiderman's defences. You're allowing that idiot to hurt you."
"Well, no." Peter acknowledged. "But I can heal faster than other people."
"You hurt just the same as anyone else, Pete. And I'm not just talking physically. The stuff that kid said to you…You shouldn't have to hear that everyday when you're just trying to get through school."
"It's not that bad!" Peter denied once more. "He shoves me a bit and knocks me about, but it's not like I was being beaten up every day. And the teasing doesn't bother me. I know Flash is an idiot, most of what he says isn't even true. And I've got good friends, I've got Ned and MJ and they back me up. If he wasn't hassling me, he could go after someone really vulnerable."
Tony stopped wiring. He swiveled on his stool until his body was facing Peter's fully. He put his hand gently on top of Peter's wrist until the kid stopped working too.
"You deserve to be safe and happy too, Pete. Protecting other people is honorable, but it can't come at the expense of you. You are just as important as the people you protect."
"Yeah, ok." Peter was agreeing, but Tony could tell that he wasn't convinced.
"And just to be clear, Pete, you are very important to me. You might be ok with someone treating you like that, but I am not ok with anyone taunting and hurting my kid."
Peter blushed and glanced up at Tony's face, immediately seeing the sincerity there. The kid smiled. "Yeah, ok, good point, well made, Mr Stark." He accepted. "I won't let Flash hurt me anymore."
"That's good, Kid, but I'm not leaving it down to you. We're going to be talking to the school tomorrow."
Peter's eyes widened. "Mr Stark, I don't think –"
"Nope, no way, Kid. We've got a lot of options for how to handle this. We could go all Avengers on his ass, ring his parents, I could ruin his future prospects by phoning every college in the country to blacklist him, hell, I'll even pay for therapy for the kid if you'd rather go the forgiving route. But we are not going to allow this to continue, Pete, that is not an option. Capiche?"
"Yeah, capiche." Peter agreed and even though he really didn't think they needed to go to the school, Peter couldn't help but feel a warmth within his chest from the way Tony so obviously cared about him. For a few minutes they both went back to their projects. Peter didn't look up from his work as he spoke quietly. "Hey, Mr Stark?"
"Um, Mr Stark, shouldn't I be getting back to my school group? They must be getting ready to go by now."
Tony only shook his head. "FRIDAY, inform Mr –" He looked at Peter expectantly.
"Mr Warren." Peter supplied.
"Mr Warren, that Peter will be remaining at the tower instead of returning to school and then coming back here for his internship. You can remind Mr Warren that I am one of Peter's listed guardians if there is any issue." Tony said pointedly. "And while you're at it, FRIDAY, tell Mr Warren that myself and May Parker will be coming to the school at 9.00 am tomorrow for a meeting with him and the Principal."
"Relaying your message now, Boss."
He turned back to the kid who was staring at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.
"What?" Tony asked. "I already said we were going to talk to the school about this."
"With Aunt May?!"
Tony laughed at Peter's horrified expression. "We're not keeping this from May, kid, she has to know what's been going on. Although it does make me feel the teeniest bit sorry for that Flash kid. You thought he was in danger when the Avengers found out." He grinned. "Poor kid's going to wish he was facing the Hulk when Aunt Hottie gets ahold of him!"
AN: Thanks for reading. Now I can concentrate on the story I was supposed to be working on the last two weeks!