"You good here for a bit? I gotta swing downstairs for a few minutes, say hi to the kids.”
Peter is elbow-deep in wiring, trying to track down the source of a weird short he’d noticed on patrol last night.
“Uh huh,” he says without really listening, except - wait. “Kids?”
“Yeah, it’s a PR thing, something about transparency and rehabilitating our image. We’re giving tours of the compound to a few, very select classes of middle and high schoolers. Don’t worry about it.”
And with that, Mr. Stark is sliding a pair of sunglasses on his face and disappearing out of the lab door just as something clicks into place for Peter.
The field trip.
The surprise field trip, that Mr. Harrington had been so cagey about at Decathlon practice for the past two weeks. Peter knew they were going somewhere, and it had required some kind of special permission form that Peter had handed off to May without a second thought.
He’d assumed they were going to an amusement park to study the physics of roller coasters or something along those lines, that the permission form was just a waiver or like, had health questions on it. He realizes now it must’ve been a background check authorization, since there was no way Tony was letting people wander around even the lower levels of the compound without some serious screening first.
“Uh, FRIDAY?” Peter asks. “Is Midtown on the list of schools visiting the compound for next week?”
“Yes, a small class from Midtown School of Science and Technology is scheduled to tour the facility next Thursday.”
It’s not that Peter isn’t excited at the prospect of getting an extra day up at the compound next week, but he’s more than a little anxious about how everyone else on the Decathlon team will react. They know he still has the internship, after all. Flash will probably find some way to the spend entire ride upstate being awful about it.
Peter idly wonders if he can get away with faking sick that day, or if that would just make the teasing worse when he gets back.
He puts it out of his mind for now, preferring to focus on the suit. He manages to find the source of the short and fix the wiring, just in time for Mr. Stark to come back in and usher him out of the lab, sending him off with Happy so he can make it back to Queens in time for Sunday night dinner with May.
Peter spends the next three days alternately dreading and trying to forget about the impending field trip.
As it turns out, Peter is wrong.
Flash isn’t just awful; he’s a complete dick to Peter from the moment they get on the bus. Ned manages to deflect some of it, but nothing anyone says seems to put Flash off for more than a few minutes at most.
“Hey Penis! When we get there, I’ll take a half-caff non-fat latte.”
“I don’t take coffee orders, Flash,” Peter responds flatly.
“Oh, sorry - do they not trust you with that yet?”
Peter keeps his mouth shut. There’s nothing he can say that won’t be turned into further ammunition. No way Flash would believe that Peter worked in Tony Stark’s private lab. That Mr. Stark trusted him enough to leave him in there alone sometimes. Not all that often, and usually not for very long, but still. Alone. In Tony Stark’s private lab.
He holds onto that thought, letting the warm glow of it distract him from whatever Flash is yammering on about now.
It’s almost a relief when the bus finally pulls up to the compound. Peter isn’t actually used to coming in the front entrance like this - usually Happy would take the car around to the far side of the complex, where Tony has his private garage.
Avengers Initiative agents and agents-in-training jog past the bus, most of them clocking the school bus but not seeming particularly interested in it as they go by.
A well-dressed woman Peter is pretty sure he hasn’t seen before meets them just outside the bus, introducing herself as Abigail, and then calling out names one by one to check off her list and hand out ID badges.
Peter’s not sure what he expected, but he’s relieved when his badge looks exactly the same as everyone else’s.
“Now, before we head inside I need to go over just a few rules,” Abigail says. “One, it’s imperative that you all stay together as a group. Two, should there be any kind of emergency, please remain where you are unless instructed otherwise by a staff member or an Avenger.”
“Oh my god. Okay, is it weird if I'm kind of hoping now that there’s an emergency?” Ned mutters under his breath.
Flash raises his hand.
“Ms. Abigail? Does Peter count as a staff member?”
She frowns slightly. “I’m sorry?”
“Peter Parker,” Flash says, holding his arm up in the air so he can point directly down at Peter’s head. “You may not know him by name. He says he’s an intern here.”
Abigail sidesteps the interruption neatly. “As I was saying, in the event of an emergency, please follow the instructions of your teacher, and the adult members of the staff.”
Flash thanks her for the clarification, all politeness, then snickers the moment her back is turned, slapping Peter’s shoulder.
“Does anyone here even know your name, Penis?”
“Shut up, Flash,” Ned says.
Peter tugs on Ned’s backpack. “Let’s just go, we’re falling behind the group.”
As soon as Peter and Ned have put a little distance between themselves and Flash, Ned is whispering, “You should seriously just tell everyone. Think about it, Flash would never be able to say stuff like that, ever again. Plus then I’d probably be cool by association. If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for me, Peter.”
“No, dude. You know I can’t.”
Ned sighs. “I know. It just sucks.”
Some of the tour is kind of boring, honestly - Peter can see what Mr. Stark meant about the whole thing being a PR stunt.
Abigail goes through a brief (and from what Peter can tell, extremely edited) history of the formation of the Avengers Initiative, as they stand in a loose group off to one side of the lobby. She glosses over the dissolution of SHIELD, and likens the Sokovia Accords to the formation of the UN, which makes Peter snort. He’s not exactly a history buff, but he’s still pretty sure that comparison is a bit of a stretch, considering.
They get to walk through some of the other training areas, where they get a rundown of the typical training an agent goes through.
It occurs to Peter there might be a secondary agenda here, that they might be using the tours as a way to lay the groundwork for recruitment later on.
That leg of the tour brings them up to the cafeteria, where they stop for lunch. Peter is surprised to catch MJ flipping through one of the recruitment brochures, at least until notices she’s busy making some pretty extensive edits to the text and adding her own captions to the photos.
A couple of agents join their group for lunch, asking questions about what the kids are studying, and answering a few select questions about their own work.
After lunch they get to see what’s clearly meant to be the highlight of the tour - one of the smaller airplane hangars has cordoned off and turned into an Avengers exhibit, complete with costumes, gadgets, and a decommissioned Quinjet on display.
Peter should be used to it by now, given that he’s actually met both Captain America and War Machine in person, but he can’t help geeking out just as hard as everyone else does over the displays.
Well, possibly not as hard as Ned.
“Oh my god, I’m so happy right now I can’t feel my face. Peter, can you feel my face?”
“I’m not feeling your face, Ned.”
“Those are Captain America’s boots. He kicked actual Nazis in the face with those boots.”
“I don’t think those are the actual boots he wore in the 40s.”
They’ve also got the mark 4 Iron Man armor in a glass display case, and Peter leans in as close as he can get, close enough to see the scorch marks from Anton Vanko’s electrified whips. They’ve also got Rhodey’s old Iron Patriot armor, and a beat up stealth suit of Cap’s, from his SHIELD days.
The thing that makes Peter’s heart stop though is right near the end of the exhibit.
There’s a Spider-Man display.
He can tell the second Ned sees it too, because Ned grabs his arm and squeezes, hard.
“Dude,” Ned says, awed.
It’s just a pedestal with Peter’s first Stark-tech suit displayed on a mannequin, complete with mask and his old web shooters, but still. A Spider-Man display, standing right next to Iron Man and Captain America. Peter feels a little bit dizzy just thinking about it.
He has to swallow a few times, reminding himself that he can’t freak out right now, not in front of all his classmates.
“Huh. He’s kinda short.”
Peter whips around to see MJ standing a few feet behind them, looking over the Spidey suit display. She must notice the expression on Peter’s face, because she shrugs.
“It’s not a value judgement, just an observation,” she says. “I think it’s kind of cool, actually. We’re socialized practically from birth to associate height with masculinity, and to think of tall people as good leaders, both of which are bullshit.”
Peter doesn’t quite know what to say to that, and apparently neither does Ned.
“Right...” Ned says, uncertainly.
“Ms. Abigail, is Spider-Man considered an Avenger?” And that’s Flash, of course, who is practically salivating over the Spidey suit display in a way that makes Peter vaguely uncomfortable.
“That’s an interesting question! Technically, only heroes who have signed the Accords can be officially recognized as Avengers.”
“So why hasn’t Spider-Man signed?” Betty pipes up.
Abigail grins. “Well, you’d have to ask him that yourself.”
Peter stands frozen in place, half convinced that everyone is going to turn around and stare directly at him, but of course they don’t.
“Wait, so even the Avengers Initiative doesn’t know who Spider-Man is? How is that possible?”
Peter is too busy trying to calm the panicked thudding of his own heartbeat to notice who asked that.
“It’s a mystery,” Abigail responds, launching into a discussion of the ethics of superhero secret identities that Peter should probably be paying more attention to, but can’t.
The other students spend several minutes after that peppering her with questions about which Avengers she’s met and which she hasn’t - Captain America is a no, but War Machine is a yes, and Iron Man is also a yes.
Spider-Man is a no, not that that one is news to Peter, obviously.
“Alright guys, listen up,” Mr. Harrington says. “We’ve got another 45 minutes here before we need to head back to the bus, so if you’ve got any more questions for Abigail, now’s the time to ask. We’ll meet up right over by those double doors at 2:30. Got it?”
The class murmurs their assent and starts to split up to wander around the displays some more. Peter breathes a sigh of relief. Almost done. And maybe Flash will be so distracted by his Spider-Man fanboying that he’ll forget Peter even exists for the trip back.
Except when has Peter ever been that lucky? Because it turns out Mr. Harrington isn’t done talking.
“Oh, Peter! I meant to ask earlier if there was anything you wanted to talk about, or anything you could show us, while we’re here?”
This time everyone does turn around to stare at Peter.
“Yeah, Peter. Tell us all about your internship with Tony Stark,” Flash chimes in, goading.
“Uh,” Peter stammers. “I don’t, um, really know what I’m allowed to talk about.”
“What, is how Captain America likes his copies collated top secret information or something?”
“It is, actually.” There’s a gasp from the class as everyone turns back around, because that’s unmistakably Mr. Stark’s voice. “Turns out Cap’s a real stickler for paperwork. Hey, Pete. How’s the tour going?”
“Yeah? How about everyone else, you guys having a good time today?”
There’s a chorus of enthusiastic agreement.
“Good! Great.” Mr. Stark turns to Mr. Harrington, “Is it cool I borrow Peter for a few minutes? Spider-Man and I wanted to talk to him about something.”
Peter nearly chokes at that last part.
Mr. Harrington nods his assent, seemingly a little dumbstruck. Mr. Stark walks over and loops an arm around Peter’s shoulders, guiding him away from the group. As soon as they’re a safe distance away, Mr. Stark glances back over his shoulder.
“Okay, how long has that kid been a jerk?”
“His whole life,” Peter says without thinking, but then relents. “He’s not a jerk all the time, just to me, really. Wait, how did you know he was being a jerk?”
Tony shoots him a look, then glances up towards one of the surveillance cameras. Right. FRIDAY was probably monitoring the tour from the moment they arrived.
“And you put up with it because…?” Tony asks.
Peter shrugs. They’ve made it into a back hallway by now, and Mr. Stark lays his hand on the scanner to access the elevator that’ll take them to the upper levels.
“What am I supposed to do, punch him in the face?”
“Sure, why not?”
Peter has to look at Mr. Stark for a few seconds before he realizes that the man is actually serious.
“I can’t just punch him in the face!” he exclaims as they board the elevator. “For one, I’m supposed to be a wimp. Two, I’d definitely get in trouble and my Aunt would ground me for like, five years, so I wouldn’t be able to patrol.”
“Aww, c’mon, your Aunt knows you’re Spider-Man. She’d understand.”
“Yeah, but that’s why I’d be grounded. I can’t go around punching people just because I’m angry, not when I could really hurt someone like that.”
“Oh. Well yeah, I wasn’t suggesting you knock the kid into next Tuesday, just a little warning shot. Get him to back off.”
“Three,” Peter continues, electing to ignore Mr. Stark’s interjection, “even if I did that he’d just go bully someone else. And someone else might not be able to take it the way I can.”
Mr. Stark is silent for what feels like a full minute after that.
He squeezes Peter’s shoulder. “You’re little bit too good sometimes, you know that, kid?”
Peter doesn’t really know what to say to that, so he stays quiet until they get up to the lab, which is dark when they arrive. The lights come on as they walk in.
“Wait, did you actually have something you needed to talk to me about, or did you just want to make Flash look dumb?”
“I can’t do both?”
Peter rolls his eyes.
“Anyway, wanted to have you try on the new web shooters, see if they fit okay.”
They spend a while messing around with the prototype wristbands, but eventually Peter has to take them off and remind Mr. Stark he has to meet his class back downstairs.
“Or you could stay. I’ll get Happy to drive you back later.”
Peter hesitates. “I don’t think Mr. Harrington is allowed to just leave kids behind like that.”
“I’ll tell him it’s internship related, problem solved.”
“Thanks, Mr. Stark, but that’s okay.” Not that Peter wouldn’t like to stay, but he already feels singled out enough from the rest of the class.
Besides, he kind of wants to see how Flash is going to act on the bus ride back. If he’s going to harass Peter about the trip today, Peter would rather he get it all out on the bus today, rather than in the middle of class tomorrow.
“Alright, fine. I’ll see you Saturday?” Mr. Stark asks.
Peter grabs his backpack and heads back downstairs, getting to the double doors only a few minutes after 2:30.
“Ah, there you are Peter.” Mr. Harrington sounds relieved, which makes Peter glad he decided not to stay. He’s pretty sure Mr. Harrington would’ve been in a tough spot explaining how he lost Peter on a field trip, again.
Flash is looking at him funny, but he doesn’t say anything, for which Peter is grateful.
Ned is also looking at him funny, and pulls Peter aside as soon as the group starts heading back to the bus. “Dude, tell me everything.”
“It was just regular internship stuff,” Peter says, shooting Ned a look that he hopes conveys, not now.
“Yeah but it’s Tony Stark internship stuff. Flash was so mad after you left, by the way. I think he’s jealous. It was awesome.”
Peter expects the bus ride back to be silent, now that Flash has been (temporarily) knocked off his game. But instead, Peter finds himself practically surrounded, everyone trying to ask questions - most of which Peter can’t quite answer. At least not 100% honestly.
“How did you meet Tony Stark, anyway?”
“Well, I had applied for his internship program, and - ”
“So if no one knows who Spider-Man is, does he just always wear his mask when he’s at the compound?”
“Um, I only met him twice, really, and he was wearing the mask then, so I guess - ”
“What kind of stuff does Stark have you working on?”
“I’m not really allowed to talk about - ”
“How many other interns are there?”
“Technically I think I’m the only one - ” Peter looks over at Ned, helplessly.
He’s used to attracting attention as Spider-Man, it would be insane to swing around Queens in blue and red spandex without expecting at least some people to notice. But that was with the mask safely in place. He isn’t used to getting this sort of attention as himself, just plain old Peter Parker.
Ned just shrugs and gives him an encouraging thumbs up.
It’s not until they’re back at Midtown, getting off the bus, that Flash pulls him aside.
“Was Spider-Man really there at the compound today, or was Stark just messing with everyone?” he asks in an undertone.
It takes every ounce of Peter’s self control to keep a straight face.
“Yeah, he was there. He was busy testing out some suit upgrades upstairs, though. Sucks that you guys didn’t get to meet him, but maybe you’ll run into him someday, you know, just around the city.”
Flash’s face twists into a frown.
“Shut up, Penis. I bet he wasn’t even there.”
Peter thinks Flash probably expected a different reaction to his sniping, but this time, all Peter can do is grin.