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The thing no one tells Tony about these banquets is that they’re so boring they make him want to jump out of the nearest window. That might be because he already knows that, after a few decades of going to them, but still. Emotionally, he would appreciate the warning, or at least for Peter to agree to come along with him one of these times so that there’s someone there he doesn’t mind talking to. Instead though, he’s rubbing elbows with the most boring, pretentious men in the city, and they all, unfortunately, want to talk to him.

 

Tony wouldn’t say he runs from them , exactly. His suit is silk, which is a real pain to get sweat stains out of, so it’s more of a brisk walk than anything. But after a particularly excruciating conversation, his feet carry him to the back of the room and a bit behind a curtain, where he plans to avoid attention for as long as possible, except then he looks to his left and finds—well, it seems like another man, but then Tony looks closer and finds that’s not quite the case.

 

He cuts an intimidating figure, hair perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines like everybody else—Tony’s pretty sure that’s Alexander McQueen’s latest collection, and he works the artsier vibe well—not to mention his picture-perfect posture, but much more than a glance at his face reveals that his features don’t quite fit the maturity of the rest of him. He has an unmistakable softness to him, the last vestiges of baby fat rounding the angles trying to take shape in his cheeks, and the way he’s biting his lip takes his appearance from that of a young professional to a nervous student, albeit one from some kind of pompous, private school.

 

(Tony would know.)

 

However, the most interesting part of the kid isn’t his exterior; it’s the set of homework problems set in front of him—college-level calculus. Like, junior -in-college level calculus, so it probably has a different, uglier name Tony can’t remember right now.

 

Regardless, this seems a lot more interesting than anything behind him, so he clears his throat.

 

The kid acts like he’s just fired a gun next to his ear. He hunches down, limbs flailing to shove the homework into his lap. “Shit —I mean—um—I was just taking a breather, Father, and looking over my notes, so—”

 

“Woah, there. If I’m your dad, someone’s going to have a lot of explaining to do. I was wild in the early 2000s, but not that wild.”

 

The kid stops flipping his lid, and very slowly, he cranes his neck around. The second he catches sight of Tony, his eyes blow wide. “Holy shit,” he breathes.

 

Tony waves and steps closer, taking the closest seat. “Hi to you too.”

 

“You’re Tony Stark.”

 

“In the flesh.”

 

“You are sitting next to me.”

 

“Also true.”

 

“Why —uh—sir, are you sitting next to me?”

 

“Kid?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“If you never call me sir again, I will answer that question and any others you might have.”

 

“Okay—uh—”

 

“Call me Tony.”

 

“—Tony.” The kid’s mouth is hanging open a little, but Tony gets why this might be a disorienting experience.

 

He flashes a winning smile but is careful not to let it get too big at the corners—that’s his fake smile, and he’s trying to get the kid to tolerate him, not his press persona. “There we go. Anyway, I’m sitting next to you because everyone else here is a bit of an asshat, and I’ve never seen someone do calculus at this sort of gig. What’s your name?”

 

The kid’s eyes slide off Tony and search the crowd. Tony follows the line of his gaze and finds it zeroed in on a tall, slick man with the boy’s same perfect, tawny complexion. In the back of his head, he briefly wonders if kids these days are still getting expensive skincare shoved down their throats by their mothers for the sake of public appearances, but then the kid answers him, still staring at who Tony assumes is his father: “Eugene.”

 

Huh. It’s a little stuffy for a kid in a semi-floral suit. “Got a nickname, Eugene?”

 

“No,” he says, too fast. Tony raises a brow, and he blows out a breath. “It’s not polite for respectable company,” he grumbles, clearly parroting someone else.

 

Tony rolls his eyes. “Respectable company —what is this, Buckingham Palace? I’m a billionaire, kid, not a prince. What’s the nickname?”

The kid stares, then shifts his shoulders back a little, like he’s bracing for impact. “Flash.”

 

Now that seems appropriate. “Much better,” Tony declares. “Eugene,” he mimics. “God, it’s nearly as bad as Anthony. Good for you for ducking out of that one entirely, by the way, because Gene’s not much better.”

 

“Thanks,” Flash says, not sounding at all like he’s confident that’s the answer he’s supposed to give, but Tony doesn’t mind. 

 

He drums his fingers on the table. “Great—now that we’ve got introductions out of the way, you got that, or do you need some help?”

 

“That?”

 

Tony hopes they get beyond the one-word answer stage soon. He nods toward the homework the kid’s doing a shit job of concealing, given the way it’s poking out from under the tablecloth. “Calculus. Linear algebra. Whatever else you might call that—it’s all connected, and terms get blurry after a while. Doesn’t really matter what you name it if you can do the math, but you get the gist. Want me to walk you through it?”

 

Flash doesn’t move for a moment, visibly processing the offer, and then he slowly pulls his homework back out. “That’d be nice,” he says, voice small, and Tony grins.

 

//

 

“Hey, what the hell kind of school do you go to that you’re already learning this?”

 

“It’s not for school. My parents make me go to tutoring to learn this shi—stuff early.”

 

“Did you just keep yourself from swearing around me?”

 

“Not polite for respectable company.”

 

“That’s stupid as shit.”

 

Flash sighs.

 

//

 

It only takes twenty minutes or so to get through the handful of problems Flash wasn’t able to solve on his own, which is impressive in its own right. More importantly though, that’s twenty minutes Tony hasn’t had to interact with anyone else there, and he’s excited about it.

 

“Thanks for the help,” Flash says when they’re done, folding the homework into quarters and tucking it into his breast pocket alongside his surprisingly small pen, both of which are hidden by a lavender pocket square, the same color as some of the flowers on the suit. “That—uh—cleared a lot up. My tutor’s pretty cool, but he believes in, like, figuring stuff out on your own sometimes, which doesn’t work when you have zero fucking clue what you’re doing in the first place.” There’s a pause for a moment where he clearly doesn’t know what to say, and then—“You headed back to the party now?” He won’t look Tony in the eyes as he asks it, assuming that same stoic position, his arms crossing across his chest.

 

Tony frowns. “Do you want me to go back to the party? Because I’m not trying to be a nuisance here, but no. I have exactly zero desire to return to—” He waves a hand at the general masses and pulls an unflattering face. “— that.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really. You’ve been to one of these things, you’ve been to them all. There are only so many ways people can go about the same kind of ass-kissing.”

 

Flash snorts, then looks around like someone’s going to yell at him for it. When no reprimand comes, he relaxes, an ounce of slack coming into his stiff frame. “That’s fair. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be.” Tony makes a gesture to go on that Flash runs with, expression pinching with distaste. “It’s a school night. My parents say networking is as important as academics, but I paid my friend—well, acquaintance, I guess—to hack into their personal records, and both of them barely managed a C in calc in college, so you’d think they’d understand the importance of having a calc test in the morning.”

 

First of all, ouch . If Tony was one of the kid’s parents, he’d be embarrassed to show his face after that line. Second of all, what kind of acquaintance can hack into someone’s parent’s files? Tony makes a note to ask more about that later, mostly because he wants to meet them. Third of all—“Do you need help with regular calculus, too?”

 

Flash rolls his eyes, but Tony gets the impression it’s not exactly at him. “No, it’s easy. I want a good night’s sleep for it, though. This probably won’t run that late, but they’re almost definitely going to get in a fight on the drive home and will pull over to yell at each other, and it’ll be a whole thing.” His hands are waving around him, and a curl pops out of its carefully gelled style with the force of it. “Add the fact that everyone here is the worst, and you have the perfect storm for my night not going the way I want it to.”

 

Part of Tony is amused that he’s using the phrase perfect storm in casual conversation (but then again, he would’ve too, before Rhodey lovingly bullied him about it), but another part of him is busy trying to speak because it feels like he just got sucker-punched.

 

They don’t look anything alike—for one, Howard never would’ve allowed him to wear a suit that bold—but Tony can’t help but feel like he’s looking at a younger version of himself.

 

“Dragging a teenager to a formal event should be considered cruel and unusual punishment,” Tony agrees, and he hopes Flash can’t see that he’s knocked his real smile a little loose, that he’s making up for the imbalance with that false, cocky cheer the public expects from him.

 

Flash, however, huffs a stilted laugh. “Lobby Congress about it.” When the sound tapers off, though, Tony notices that his eyes are on the table again. Then, he speaks again, lower. “But really, you can go back to the party if you want. I’m not going to throw a hissy fit about it.”

 

(Tony does not think about how many times he sat at a back table, wishing anyone would care about him instead of the idea of a Stark.)

 

“Quit trying to pawn me off to go talk to businessmen,” he says around the growing ache in the hollow of his throat.

 

“Isn’t that part of your job?”

 

“Only because my fiance makes me. These guys are the worst. Like, look over there.” Tony dips his head toward a man in a royal blue suit. “He’s married, but he’s been having an affair with his secretary for years.”

 

Flash’s eyes are huge, and he leans in as if to hear the secret better. “You’re kidding.”

 

Tony shakes his head. He can feel his grin getting sharper. “Look to his left. That guy’s company is fielding five different lawsuits over workplace safety violations.”

 

“Well, his tux is awful,” Flash sniffs. He’s been nursing what looks like a glass of sparkling grape juice, and he takes a sip he manages to make look judgmental. “Gucci is overdone.”

 

“Yeah?” Tony asks, probing for more of what he senses is the tip of the iceberg of that particular opinion.

 

Flash nods. “I mean, their subtler stuff is fine, but the logo prints look cheap, especially for an event like this. No one should be wearing that kind of thing unless they’re on the red carpet or social media. I mean, if your clothes have to show how loaded you are, you’re probably compensating for something.”

 

Tony’s never thought about it much except in his subconscious, but he finds himself inclined to agree. “You got an interest in fashion?” he asks.

 

Flash looks down, which Tony is starting to get is a clue that he’s saying something he’d get scolded for at other times. “Sort of. I think the politics of it—” Tony has no idea what that means, but Flash says it like it’s obvious. “—is cool, and some collections are nice, but as far as a career goes—” Flash peters out, shrugging.

 

“Not for respectable company?” Tony guesses.

 

Flash’s answering smile is thin and razor-edged, and Tony finds himself increasingly glad he decided to ignore the rest of the room as they keep talking.

 

//

 

Tony never does catch the name of that acquaintance Flash mentioned.

 

//

 

The next time Tony sees Flash is at a charity gala. That time, he’s supposed to be there as Iron Man, aka a representative of the Avengers, but that doesn’t make it better. He doesn’t mind talking to the directors of the charity because unlike some people, like the two men he’s making small talk with, he’s not a complete dick, but the same smarmy assholes as usual compose most of the crowd.

 

Thomas—who Tony hates but is the vice president of a data company—is starting to humblebrag about his kid who’s an engineer and would work like a charm in a company like yours, Mr. Stark when Tony spots a vaguely familiar silhouette on the horizon.

 

It’s not the kid he spent two hours getting to know about a month ago, but it is his father. Tony has the impression he’s not a pleasant man, but he figures he can do Flash a favor and put in a good word.

 

“Apologies, gentleman,” he cuts Thomas off mid-explanation of his son’s outstanding resume. “I have an appointment across the room.” It’s not a good reason to leave the conversation, not even a particularly polite one, but Tony doesn’t care. He makes a beeline across the room as best as he can, which means a lot of stopping for polite hellos and handshakes, but eventually, he makes it. “Mr. Thompson,” he calls when conversations die as the men surrounding Flash’s father notice Tony’s appearance, “pleasure to meet you.”

 

Unlike his son, Flash’s father doesn’t balk at his presence other than a minute widening of his eyes. Smooth, Tony notes, though that’s not necessarily a positive. Mr. Thompson extends a hand, and Tony shakes. “Mr. Stark,” he greets, shiny, white teeth flashing, “have we run into each other before?”

 

“Not exactly. I had the pleasure of meeting your son at a previous event, and I thought I’d take the chance to introduce myself.”

 

Flash’s father chuckles, even though Tony hasn’t made a joke. Even if he had, Tony’s spent years picking fake from real reactions out of a line-up of endless faces dying to impress him; he can feel how plasticky it is. “I’m glad Eugene made a good first impression. How did you two get talking?”

 

Tony thinks about Flash shoving his homework under the table. “I complimented him on his suit,” he lies. “He’s got an eye for that sort of thing, right?”

 

“It’s a passing interest,” Mr. Thompson returns the fib in turn. “He has a better head for numbers. He actually attends a STEM-focused school here in the city—Midtown School of Science and Technology, if you’ve heard of it.”

 

. . . as a matter of fact, Tony has heard of it, which makes things interesting, especially given the tidbit Flash dropped last time they met about a hacker who now sounds a lot like one Ned Leeds. However, all he says is, “It sounds familiar. Is there any chance Eugene is here tonight? I’d love to talk with him. SI recruits high school interns here and there, so I’m always interested in keeping a pulse on this generation’s brightest.”

 

It’s the right thing to say. Mr. Thompson’s eyes practically glitter. “As luck would have it, he is.”

 

“Perfect. I’ll stay around here, and you can send him my way?” he offers, getting possibly a little too much enjoyment out of subtly telling the man what to do, but Mr. Thompson just nods.

 

“He’ll be over in a few minutes,” he agrees, then slips into the crowd.

 

//

 

Tony swallows down old memories when he sees Mr. Thompson steering Flash through the gala’s floor with a hand on his shoulder, most likely gritting instructions into his ear, although that could be Tony projecting.

 

It’s funny, how ambitious fathers only have nice things to say about their kids to other people.

 

//

 

The second Mr. Thompson pretends to give the two of them a moment alone—he lingers on the outskirts of Tony’s line of sight, sipping on wine and speaking to a woman who looks like she could be Flash’s mother—Tony sighs. “Isn’t he just a delight?” he muses, which is not the most neutral thing he’s ever said but is candid, which he thinks Flash deserves.

 

“Sorry about that,” Flash says, wilting a bit. Tonight, he’s in a suit that’s nearly all black, save for the baroque, gold patterning on its lapels, and that’s easy enough for Tony to place.

 

“Kid, Versace isn’t meant for slouching. Don’t feel too bad—I’m the one who sought him out.” He clears his throat. “How’ve you been? How was that calc test?”

 

“Alright, and good.”

 

“Any homework in your breast pocket?”

 

Flash laughs, more full-throated than he did the last time Tony saw him, and takes a sip of his drink. “Nah, I figured this week’s stuff out on my own.”

 

Tony nods. “Good job.”

 

It’s meant as a quick comment. Despite how easily it comes to Tony, he’s aware, objectively, that math at that level isn’t exactly easy, but Flash chokes on a mouthful of his grape juice. Tony panics for a second, but Flash eventually coughs, waving him off. “Shit—no, I’m fine, just wasn’t expecting that.”

 

Expecting wha—

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

Tony slides his hands into the pockets of his slacks so he doesn’t ball them into fists, and he resists the urge to cut Flash’s parents a glare. 

 

(He knows how this goes, and his approval will go a lot farther than his ire, no matter how furious it makes him that the kid was taken off-guard by the tiniest possible bit of positive feedback.) 

 

“As long as you feel okay,” he says, grabbing a fabric napkin off the closest table for Flash to cough into. “Speaking of math, though, you didn’t tell me you went to Midtown.”

It’s a smooth topic change, mostly so that Tony won’t say something a little too angry to be appropriate for a kid he, technically, barely has a working relationship with. Flash accepts it easily. “I didn’t think it was relevant,” he admits.

 

Well, your dad did, Tony thinks but keeps to himself. “I have an intern that goes there—maybe you know him. Does the name Peter Parker ring a bell?”

 

A beat.

 

Flash’s grip on his glass is suddenly much more intense, and Tony feels as though he might’ve misstepped. “I know him,” he says, tone turned very, very measured.

 

Interesting.

 

“Same classes?” Tony prods. He didn’t know Peter had someone in his life that feels this way about him—clenched fingers, gritted teeth—but he’s intrigued.

 

“A few. We’re on the Academic Decathlon team together.”

 

“And?”

 

“And what?” Flash’s eyes dart to him. They’re about the same height, but Tony feels as though he’s being sized up, from the way Flash is analyzing his face.

 

He cracks a smile and hopes it conveys that he can be trusted. “I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t seem super enthused to hear his name. Got a reason for that?”

 

“No offense, but I don’t want to waste my time with a literal superhero talking about Peter Parker.” He spits his name out like a bad bite of food.

 

“Alright, then. We don’t have to.”

 

But Tony lets the silence hang for one, two, three seconds, and—

 

“He’s just annoying, alright?” Bingo. Tony doesn’t even have to say anything for him to keep talking. “Sorry if you’re close or whatever, but he flakes all the time, on everything and everybody, and people still act like he’s the shit. If I pulled half the stuff he does, I’d get chewed out until the end of time, but no, he’s fine to do whatever he wants, I guess. He’s a literal genius, too. Everyone else has to work their ass off to get to his level, and he doesn’t even care how smart he is. He could get into any college he wanted if he applied himself, but no, he just wanders around like he’s too good to deal with any of it, and it pisses me off.” He’s practically growling as he finishes, some of his juice sliding down the side of his glass from it sloshing around with his gestures.

 

Tony, placatingly, nods. “I can see that.”

It’s not exactly a lie. If he puts himself in a high schooler’s shoes, he can see how Peter would be irritating. He cares a lot about the kid—it’s hard not to, with the amount of heart packed into his surprisingly small frame—but he’s dense as a rock about some things, including, he assumes, how his peers see him.

 

Flash cuts him a look. “No you don’t,” he grouses, and Tony blinks. He thought he was doing a pretty good job lying, or at least playing nice with the irritated teenager in front of him.

 

“I—”

 

Flash lifts his chin along with his brows as if to say really? It’s surprisingly effective, and Tony sighs. “I see where you’re coming from, honestly, but I really think he’s just oblivious.”

 

Flash scoffs. “That’s the whole problem! It’s—” His mouth screws up for a second, searching for the right word. “—it’s wasted potential, alright. Like, metaphorically, he’s not looking any farther than two feet in front of him. If he did, he could get his act together, but he’s not, so he’s just unreliable and obnoxious.”

 

“You really care about public image, huh?”

 

Flash sighs, then looks at him with more sternness than a kid his age should be able to muster. “If you look and act the part for wherever you are, you get ahead. It’s simple, and he doesn’t seem to get it.”

 

As he speaks, Flash pulls his jacket down to smooth out a wrinkle in its surface and wipes away a dot of sweat on his temple, and something comes together for Tony all at once. Flash’s thing with fashion—his own and his critiques of others—really does have less to do with aesthetics and more with politics, as Flash put it. He likes working the room, and that means dressing like someone deserving of respect. While he’s busy fuming and sipping his drink more angrily than Tony previously thought possible, Tony studies the stiff lines of him, the way he surveys the crowd when he’s not meeting Tony’s eyes, keeping tabs on what’s important to him. The kid’s knowledge of social dynamics is, as far as Tony can tell, spot-on, down to the hierarchy of his own home.

 

He has the charm his parents want, and yet no interest in how they want him to use it, which is both painfully familiar to Tony and a damn shame that his parents have boxed him in so tightly.

 

Now, Tony has two choices. He could waste time feeling sad about that, or he could do something, and frankly, Tony’s always been a man of action.

 

(Especially when it might keep this kid from the pitfalls he dealt with at his age.)

 

“Hey, kid, have you ever considered a career in public relations?”

 

“What?”

 

//

 

The third time Tony runs into Flash Thompson at an event he doesn’t want to be at, Stark Industries is hosting. Arguably, this should mean that Tony’s more present than usual, but he, in his middle age, has become something of a creature of habit. He likes the same coffee (that he has imported from Thailand) every morning, he likes to tinker in his lab at the same time every night (from 7:00 to 10:00 PM), and he likes to pull the same disappearing act he always has at formal events. This time, however, he has the kid with him—the superpowered one, not the vaguely snobby but nonetheless endearing one he’s found more recently.

 

Because it’s an SI conference, Tony can excuse inviting Peter as interning experience, never mind how loudly Peter protests that the internship is fake, anyway, so he shouldn’t have to do this. It helps that May wants pictures of him and Tony to scrapbook, so she makes him go.

 

(“No alcohol for him” she’d still whispered into Tony’s ear as he and Peter headed out the door, an unspoken but no less frightening threat than the ones she screamed at him after Homecoming.)

 

At any rate, that means Peter’s being dragged along with him when he leaves in search of a nice wall to stand on or table to crawl under—he’s not picky. The event is SI’s annual growth conference, where they mostly brag about their milestones from the last year and plans for the next, which means it’s more open to the public than a seminar or a shareholder meeting—SI wants the public to see tonight’s happenings, so it shouldn’t be surprising, honestly, that Tony literally runs into Flash Thompson.

 

He has yet to figure out why Flash’s father keeps getting invited to these things, let alone how he has the extra tickets to bring his wife and child, but since that’s below his pay grade, he doesn’t especially care. It’s not like it matters when Flash spins around in response to the pressure at his back, sees Peter, and immediately twists his lips into a sneer. “You’ve got to be shitting me,” he deadpans, less composed than Tony’s ever seen him.

 

Peter, standing to Tony’s side, has approximately the same reaction, face twisting with disgust. “What are you doing here?”

 

“Listening to the conference, obviously. What are you doing here?”

 

“I have the Stark Internship. Remember that, or were you too busy having your date with Black Widow?”

 

Tony is lost, but it doesn’t matter because Flash is occupied rolling his eyes, his careful words and mannerisms from previous run-ins long gone. “It’s not my fault I didn’t think you could show up consistently enough to maintain an internship at a Fortune 500, loser.”

 

“I’m the loser? You’re the one—”

 

“Hey!” Tony cuts in, placing hands on both of their shoulders. “What if we both calmed down?” Both of their mouths click shut, but there’s no quieting the intensity of the glares they send each other, prickling with animosity. Tony knew Flash didn’t like Peter, but he had no idea Peter was this against Flash, too, which means he’s a little taken aback by how quickly the tension between the two of them ratcheted up in literal seconds. “Flash, meet Peter. Peter, meet Flash. Flash, it’s good to see you. Peter, it’s great to see you making friends. May I remind both of you that we’re in public, and I like it when Pepper doesn’t kill me?”

 

The boys glare harder, and Flash is the one to break the standoff, shaking his head a little and smoothing a hand over his hairdo. Tonight, he’s in a deep emerald suit that’s undeniably polished but nondescript enough that Tony can’t tell the brand. “Of course,” he says woodenly, then finally looks at Tony, who’s not accustomed to it taking this long to get acknowledged. “Peter, you don’t look as pasty as usual in that shade of blue. Good to see you, Tony.”

 

“Tony?” Peter hisses, incredulous and apparently ignoring the dig at himself.

 

“What do you call him, then?”

 

“Mr. Stark— duh.”

 

“Well, he told me to call him Tony.”

 

“He told me to call him that too! Doesn’t mean I listened!”

 

“See, this is why I didn’t believe you about the Stark Inte—”

 

Tony never sees the knife coming.

 

One moment, his eyes are pinballing back and forth between Flash and Peter, and the next, there’s a blade half an inch from his chest, kept there by Peter’s hand wrapped around a waiter’s wrist. His eyes are narrowed in concentration, and the waiter—or, well, what was supposed to be a waiter but is now better classified as a failure of an assassin—strains futilely against Peter’s iron grip.

 

A good ten seconds pass before anyone screams, and Tony sighs once others start following suit.

 

This would’ve been the third year in a row without any sort of violence at this conference, but here they are, with people descending into hysterics around them and Tony going to have to talk to the police later. It’s inconvenient all around, really, but in the pause Tony takes to pinch the bridge of his nose and make a mental reminder to put a spa day in his schedule soon, Flash, of all people, jumps into action.

 

“Stand back!” he barks, spine straight, marching a determined line between Tony, Peter, the assassin, and the rest of the room. “You,” he points to a woman standing nearby, “call 911. If you don’t want to speak to the operator, give the phone to me. Where’s the nearest security guard? Someone flag them down! Come on, you can’t expect him to hold this guy forever,” he snaps, despite that Peter seems to be very in control of the situation. He’s pressing the assassin-in-waiter’s-clothing to the floor inch by inch, twisting his wrist in a way that makes him wince and drop the knife, which clatters to the ground. Flash keeps yelling. “If you’re not helping, move to the exit! Go!”

 

People stare at him for a moment, maybe processing the teenager standing concerningly close to the scene of an attempted murder, maybe startled by the authority in the orders he barks, maybe just admiring his outfit choice, but then they start to do as he says.

 

Flash watches them go, arms crossed and eyes stormy, as if daring anyone to ask who put him in charge, and Tony takes the time to think that he wears authority well.

 

On the floor, the guy who had the knife starts growling something aggressive, or at the very least, unkind, but Tony doesn’t care enough to listen. He looks down at his shirt—unharmed, thankfully—and then he processes that two teenagers just dealt with an attempt on his life. Two teenagers who hate each other just dealt with an attempt on his life, and Tony knows he’s too desensitized to assassination attempts because all he feels is proud, even when they start to argue about who’s going to talk to 911 when the lady hands Flash her phone.

 

“Give it to me,” Peter snaps.

 

“You’re not taking the call. You’re literally holding the guy in place; you don’t even have a free hand.”

 

“You could put it on speaker!”

 

“I’m not putting 911 on speaker!”

 

“I’ll put you on speaker.”

 

Tony grins.

 

//

 

It takes a little bit for security to take the assailant away, what with the way he twists and screams about coming back to finish the job someday, but they manage, and that leaves Peter, Flash, Tony, and Pepper standing in a now-empty banquet hall while they wait for the cops to find them.

 

“We should go downstairs to meet them,” Pepper suggests, after kissing Tony’s cheek and checking him over for injuries herself.

 

“We should,” Tony agrees, and then they don’t because he’s not the only one who’s gotten used to a little bit of danger in his day-to-day. In the meantime, he looks at Peter and Flash, who piped down with Pepper’s arrival but are still fighting with each other under their breath, and clears his throat.

 

They quiet long enough to look at him, and Tony smiles, rocking back a little on his heels. “You know, the two of you make a pretty good team.”

 

“No, we don’t,” they say at the same time.

 

Tony gives the two of them a disbelieving stare. “Your practice handling assassination attempts together is what made that go smoothly, then?” They both scowl at him. Flash’s phone buzzes—his parents, probably—but he doesn’t move to look at it. 

 

“It was a fluke,” Flash insists.

 

“Definitely,” Peter agrees.

 

(They’re in the same position, arms crossed, brows knitted, and Tony doesn’t think they know it.)

 

“Whatever you say,” Tony hums, “but even with Flash working for my news team, it’s going to be pretty hard for you guys to promote Stark Internships together if you don’t learn to get along.”

 

It’s only a natural conclusion to these things. It’s not every day Tony finds a kid who can successfully command a room of pretentious adults, and it’s definitely not every day that said kid’s parents give his actual interests some credit. If he has to say the internship is for STEM-related purposes, that’s fine, but Tony has to agree with Flash: he hates wasted potential.

 

It takes a few seconds for that news to sink in, and when the two boys explode into a united front of noise, decidedly aimed at him, all Tony can do is laugh.