See, here's the thing. Two things, actually.
One: Stark Industries has school groups come through all the time. Literally all the time. At least three times a week, sometimes more. Of course they do, they're the world's leading tech company, so that plus the fact that Pepper's always talking about snagging the up and coming bright young minds for SI rather than letting them get picked up by other companies means that there's a lot of field trips from schools from all over the country. There's a whole education program that Pepper's set up -- it goes hand in hand with the Junior Program. So there's always tour groups of wide-eyed children roaming around, being shepherded this way or that by one of the third-year interns, and Peter stopped paying attention to them ages ago.
And two -- and this is the key bit here -- thanks to Spiderman and all the duties involved with that, Peter's attendance at school this year has been.... less than stellar. So less than stellar, in fact, that his Coordinator took him aside several months ago and told him he couldn't go on any excursions or camps or extra-curricular outings until his attendance levelled back out. Which, it hasn't.
But that's fine, because on the days where he's supposed to be sitting at home being sad about missing out on field trips and Rethinking His Choices In Life, he instead either goes out patrolling or he hangs out with Tony in his lab, which is way more educational than any field trip would be anyway. All in all, the arrangement hasn't done much to encourage Peter to improve his attendance.
And, look -- what Peter's trying to say is: he didn't know that today's tour group was going to be Midtown High. He knew that there was a field trip today, which is why he didn't bother going to school and instead went straight to Stark Tower, but he didn't know where the field trip was to. It's not even his fault! He doesn't pay attention to these things! Why would he? He doesn't get to go on the trips, so why would he pay attention to discussions about them?
Ned knew where the field trip was to, but he didn't say anything because he's a traitor, and MJ knew, but she didn't say anything because she loves chaos, and look, the point is, Peter did not expect to glance up from the guts of one of Tony's prototypes and come face to face with his entire class, staring at him through the glass.
Peter doesn't even know why he looks up, exactly. He's so used to the tour groups that he barely even notices them anymore, and anyway, they're on the other side of soundproof glass, so their oohs and aahs don't even bother whoever's inside, so there should have been nothing to catch Peter's attention and make him look up. And yet.
So, ok -- backing up a little: the part of the tour where the school kids get to walk past the outside of Tony's SI lab (his basic lab; the one he uses primarily for SI stock design, the one that the RnD Team Leaders are allowed to access, and the one that Pepper successfully argued would be the most exciting and inspiring part of the tour for children and yet would pose no security threat) is universally regarded as the most exciting part of the tour, and as such, is the last stop before the kids get shuffled off to the merch store and then back onto the buses that will take them back to either their schools or, for the interstate kids, their SI-provided hotel rooms. The kids get to spend half an hour standing outside The Tony Stark's Lab with their faces pressed up against the glass, and the SI janitorial staff have "Mr Stark's lab windows" as a special stop on their daily cleaning routine.
Anyway -- the point is, Peter's been here all day, and there's a half-eaten Italian sub on the table next to him, and Harley's leaning in close on one side as they analyse the interior knee joint on the prosthetic leg they're working on, and Tony's leaning back in his chair on the other side of the desk and throwing pieces of candy up in the air, lazily trying to catch them with his mouth, and Peter notices movement on the other side of the window out the corner of his eye.
He dismisses it without even thinking about it. It's around 2 pm; that's the usual time for the parade of gawking children, and if it were anything other than a bunch of routine school kids, then FRIDAY would have warned them. Whichever school it is today that's doing the tour is in for a treat -- it's not often that Tony's actually in here. He spends most of his time in his private labs -- the ones that only a handful of people (including Peter, which never ceases to amaze him) have access to.
The private labs are where Tony spends most of his time, but every single specialist who'd gotten a look at the braces he'd made for Rhodey had frothed at the mouth over how revolutionary they were, so Mr Stark had shrugged and decided to start an official line of SI prosthetics and walking aids. The one Harley and Peter are looking over now is one of the prototypes, and Mr Stark is due to present it to the Board in a few days.
Hence why they're in here today, in the not-private lab, quibbling over the final design.
"The joint is too bulky," Harley's saying, his mouth half-full of some kind of jam and cottage cheese monstrosity. "It needs to be smaller; it's not pretty enough."
"Excuse me?" Mr Stark says, offended, and leaning forwards so that the front legs of his chair drop back down to the ground. "Are you calling my design ugly?"
"I'm calling it chunky and inelegant," Harley says unrepentantly, and swallows the last of his mouthful. Thank goodness. Peter had seen quite enough of it.
"Chunky and-- " Mr Stark splutters, and gets to his feet. "Move, shoo," he says, gesturing at Harley and coming around the side of the table.
"Please can I do a gap year with you before college, Tony, it will be so beneficial to my career," Mr Stark gripes, attempting to elbow Harley out of the way when he doesn't move fast enough. "I'll never say mean shit about your works of technical genius if only you'll be Yoda to my Luke."
"Hey, you offered me a gap year; I didn't beg you for anything," Harley returns, grinning as he dodges the elbow aimed at him and lets Mr Stark take his place in front of the prototype. "Also, you can't claim to be Yoda unless you're gonna do the voice. It's just not right, otherwise."
"Ungrateful whelp," Tony mutters, then takes a hold of the brace and angles it so Peter can see inside it. "Peter, oh favourite intern of mine, tell this rude country bumpkin why we can't just 'make the joint prettier'."
"Because it won't have the same loadbearing capacity, or range of movement," Peter answers dutifully, and Mr Stark slings an arm around his shoulders and uses the prototype still in his other hand to point at Harley.
"This is why Peter's my favourite," he says, triumphant.
"Uh huh," Harley says with a grin. "Pete -- tell him how to fix it. Then we can both be the unfavourited one."
Mr Stark narrows his eyes and peers down at Peter, one eyebrow raised challengingly.
"Well," Peter says, trying to work out how to word his suggestion tactfully. "If you increase the surface size of the joint by a few millimetres, you could decrease its thickness whilst maintaining the loadbearing and almost all the flexibility, and without adding any discomfort to the wearer, which would give it a narrower and more streamlined look," he says, and Mr Stark stares at him through narrowed eyes for a long moment.
Then he grins and takes his arm off Peter's shoulder in order to ruffle his hair instead.
"You passed the test," Tony says, reaching across the table to fetch the bag of candy and offering it to Peter, who grins and reaches in for a handful of small sugary rocks.
"Pfft, that wasn't a test," Harley scoffs, as Tony sets the prototype down and starts making his way back around to his chair. "You just didn't think of making it thinner and you're trying to save face."
"It was too a test," Mr Stark returns, resettling into his chair and leaning it back to balance on two legs again. "It was a test of whether or not either of you would suggest improvements to something I designed. You both passed, but Peter wasn't a little shit about it, so he's the only one who gets candy."
Peter sends a wide smile at Harley, and he's aiming for innocent and guileless, but judging by the way Harley snorts and shoves at his shoulder, he doesn't think he manages it.
"Teacher's pet," Harley accuses without heat, as Peter snorts a laugh and shoves back.
"You're just jealous that he said I'm the favourite," he replies, and Harley places a hand over his heart.
"Is this sass, that I'm hearing right now? Are you sassing me? Tony, what have you been teaching this kid? Where'd the innocent little wide-eyed, Oh-Are-You-The-Senior-Intern-Sir Peter go, huh?"
"I never called you sir," Peter retorts, face twisting, and Harley points a stern finger at him.
"Don't give me that, you know damn well you would have if I hadn't heard you call Tony 'Mr Stark' and then laughed at you for three days before you ever got the chance to call me sir."
"He's right," Tony pipes up, and Peter sends him a betrayed expression. Mr Stark laughs in response to Peter's offended outrage, which is just straight up rude, if you ask Peter.
"Ugh, whatever, if I had any respect for you at the beginning -- which I absolutely did not -- it was cured by that time I saw you drink motor oil instead of coffee," Peter tells Harley, haughty.
"The bottles were sitting next to each other!" Harley cries, in the exasperated tone of someone who's had this argument at least six times.
"Yeah, ok, fair point," Peter concedes, faux-sincerely. "Because a bottle of iced coffee and a bottle of motor oil are so similarly shaped."
Tony snorts, and Harley scowls.
"I liked you better when you thought I was a role model," Harley grouches, and Peter grins.
"I'm glad you disabused him of that notion as quickly as you did," Mr Stark says. "Can't imagine the havoc you would have wrought with a starry-eyed impressionable little duckling trailing after you."
"You mean like he trails after you?" Harley chirps, cheeky.
"Hey," Peter protests, and throws a nearby screw at Harley, who dodges it easily.
"I happen to be a very good mother duck," Tony says, haughty. "You, on the other hand, would corrupt his pure little soul."
And Peter's planning to respond to that -- with what, he's not entirely sure, but he opens his mouth to say some kind of snarky quip -- but it's at that point that something out the corner of his eye catches his attention, and he turns automatically to look.
On the other side of the glass -- the school children side of the glass -- is Ned. Who is waving wildly at Peter. And who is surrounded by Peter's other schoolmates. What the--?
Peter stares, slack jawed, for a long moment. Most of his classmates stare back, equally slack jawed. All except for MJ (who is watching on with an expression that, to a casual observer, would appear to be bored, but to someone who knows her well is dripping with gleeful amusement) and Ned, who starts waving even more insistently now that Peter's looking.
Peter, mostly on autopilot, raises his hand absently and waves back.
"Why are we waving at the invaders," Mr Stark asks from behind Peter, his voice flat and irritated. He's not a huge fan of the field trips.
"What are they even doing?" Harley asks, peering at them all. "They're being weird. School groups usually go apeshit when Tony's in here -- why are they being... like that?"
"That" being a descriptor for "staring in utter shock, eyes darting from Peter to Mr Stark and back again." Heck, even Mr Harris is staring like someone's just slapped him in the face with a wet glove.
"Except for the waving one," Mr Stark says, meaning Ned. "He looks like he's going apeshit enough for all of them."
It's true. When Peter waved back at Ned, Ned's excitement levels somehow managed to increase even further. How, Peter's not sure, because he was already literally vibrating in place with excitement. Now, Ned's literally hopping from foot to foot. His enthusiastic waving has only gotten more enthusiastic.
"Uh," Peter says, because he should probably explain. Right? Right. "Thats. My class. They're -- that's my school. They're my classmates."
Mr Stark and Harley blink at Peter, and then at the crowd of stunned-mullet children (and their one teacher).
Harley bursts out laughing.
"Wait, wait," he laughs. "The field trip they were going on today was to here?"
"I, uh," Peter says, and he can't look away from his classmates. Abe looks like he's frozen in place with surprise. Cindy looks like she might never get her slack jaw to close again. Flash looks like he's about to combust.
"I guess?" Peter finishes, because, well. That sure is what the evidence is suggesting, isn't it? His schoolmates had a field trip today. And now, here his schoolmates are. At Peter's place of work. Outside the display windows, gawking in disbelief at their classmate, who is standing in Tony Stark's lab.
"You didn't know?" Harley asks, and then cackles with amusement.
"It's not my fault!" Peter defends, finally looking away from his classmates to glare, indignant, at Harley, who's folded in half so he's leaning on the table to support himself as he cackles with abandon. "I don't get to go on field trips anymore! I tune out whenever they talk about them! I didn't know they were coming here!"
"Sorry, this is just -- " Harley wheezes, wiping his eyes with one hand. "This is too funny -- do you think this counts as you going on the trip after all? Is this an unauthorised field trip attendance for you? Will this go on your disciplinary record? You'll try to get into college and your school will be like Just so you know, he goes to school events even when he's not meant to--"
Harley continues, but Peter's distracted by Mr Stark, who suddenly starts walking over towards the door that, to Peter's knowledge, hasn't been opened since Pepper's "let's start doing school tours" idea kicked off. The one that leads from the lab to the viewing landing.
"Hey -- no -- Mr Stark -- don't--" Peter says, darting forwards to try and intercept the man, because whatever it is that he's planning, Peter knows he isn't gonna like it.
"Relax, kid, I'm just gonna have a chat with your teacher," Tony says, weaving around Peter, who could stop him, but who probably shouldn't, given that there are, like, thirty witnesses.
Tony makes it to the door, and Peter braces himself for whatever's about to happen.
The class, for their part, looks fit to explode with disbelieving excitement at the fact that Tony's coming over, and as he opens the door and sticks his head out, there's more than one gasp of shocked delight. Betty looks like she's about to faint.
Mr Stark doesn't even look at the kids, but pins his gaze on the sole accompanying teacher
"Yeah, hi, are you the teacher who bans kids from school trips 'cause of shitty attendance or whatever?" Tony asks, mincing exactly zero words, and Peter would like to find a nice soft hole in the earth that he can crawl into and die in.
"Uh, n... no," Harris says, startled and floundering. "That's the. Uh. Year-level coordinator, who decides those things."
"Sure, whatever," Tony says, waving a dismissive hand. "Can you tell them to keep it up? Every time you lot go on a field trip that he's banned from, I get an extra set of hands in my lab. It's great and I want it to continue."
"Um," Harris says. "I'll. Pass it on?"
"Great, good," Tony says, and goes to withdraw, but then appears to notice the horde of teenagers staring at him with shock and awe. "Hi kids," he adds, because of course he does. "Some life advice for you all. Don't do drugs, do do science, and if anyone ever tells you to duck, duck."
And with that, he pulls the door closed again.
"Don't do drugs, do do science?" Harley asks, amused and disbelieving. "That's the best life advice you could give them?"
"It's good advice!" Mr Stark defends, slinging an arm around Peter's shoulders and turning him around so his back is to the viewing glass, before he walks them back over to the workstation. "Drugs impede science. Who knows how much more shit I could have invented as a young adult if I hadn't spent two thirds of my twenties high or drunk."
"Remind me who it was who thought it was a good idea to let you be in charge of two impressionable teenagers?" Harley asks, as Mr Stark deposits Peter into a desk chair and hands him a prosthetic and a screwdriver.
"Literally no one," Tony says, and then hands Peter a part -- a smaller circular joint, by the look of it. "And yet, here we are. Pete, here's a piece I prepared earlier. See if you can't rework the brace to fit this piece instead."
Harley, on the other side of the table, nods in a way that would be sage were it not for his entertained grin.
"Gotta make sure anything that comes out of this lab is pretty, after all," he says, and Peter, glad to have something to focus on that's not his gawking classmates, gratefully gets to work on the prototype.
"Hey, wait," Mr Stark says, in the tone of someone who's just had a realisation. "Do you think I could ask that teacher guy to expel you, instead of just making sure you don't go on excursions?" he asks, and Peter squawks and snaps his gaze up from the prototype.
Harley and Mr Stark dissolve into laughter in response to whatever expression is on Peter's face.
"I'm kidding, geez," Tony says, and Peter's shoulder's sag in relief.
"Although..." Harley says, thoughtfully.
"Hmm, you're right," Mr Stark says, in response to Harley's unvoiced line of thought.
"You two are not getting me expelled just so you have more help in the lab," Peter says, stern, and Tony pulls a "you took my toy away from me" face while Harley sighs sadly.
"Spoilsport," Mr Stark says.