Okay, so you're probably thinking, This guy seems like a total douche. You're half right.
But seriously, I'm a completely normal teenager. A normal genius-billionaire-philanthropist-playboy teenager. Who goes to a school for government agents and superheroes in training. Every morning, I get up, trim my goatee, take a shot of Jack Daniels (which Ke$ha totally stole from me, by the way), and pick out my school clothes.
"JARVIS! MAKE ME PRETTY."
"I've already taken the liberty of fetching an outfit for you this morning, Mr. Stark."
"Did you fetch me a fetching outfit?" I step toward the large, walk-in closet and check out what JARVIS has picked out for me. He's got great taste—I programmed him that way—but I like to keep him on his toes. "Ehh. It'll do."
"Very good, sir," he drawls. I know he's an AI unit, but trust me, JARVIS can fucking drawl.
My parents are both dead so I live with this hardass named Nick Fury, who's taken it upon himself to try and whip me into shape, make me realize my potential, blah blah horseshit blah. It's fine because it gets lonely in the mansion when it's just me and JARVIS. Fury is the director of an agency called S.H.I.E.L.D. and it's all he can ever talk about. He needs to get laid something fierce. Also, he's missing an eye, which is my favorite thing to needle him about.
"Morning, Cyclops," I say, entering the kitchen. Fury is eating oatmeal, of all things. The guy wears an eye patch, carries like, eight concealed weapons, and he eats fucking Quaker Oats for breakfast.
"Don't start with me, Stark," he mutters, not looking up from his newspaper. "You're already running late for school."
"School schmool." Not a great comeback, but honestly, school is for chumps. I'm already rich and smarter than everyone else there. Or, well, maybe not smarter—but I am richer and better looking. I grab a protein shake from the fridge. "Got a lot of world-saving to do today?"
"It's classified. Oh, and don't make any plans tonight. Steve is in town and he's coming for dinner."
"What." I throw myself upon the kitchen island. Fury just rolls his eyes. Eye.
"Be nice, Tony."
"He's like, two hundred years old. And boring. Why do I have to be nice to him?"
"More like ninety," Fury says, smirking. "And because. Much like you, he's my responsibility. And he's a good influence. Just because he was frozen for over half a century doesn't mean he can't teach you some life lessons."
"Maybe he can teach me the jitterbug," I mutter under my breath.
Fury has exceptional hearing. "He was too busy fighting Nazis to dance! Remember Nazis, Stark?" he calls out. "Saving the world so your lazy ass could sit in a lab and make toaster ovens all day instead of doing your goddamn homework! What do you think about that, big mouth?"
I flip him off as I leave the kitchen. A typical morning, all in all.
Did I happen to mention that I drive a convertible? I do. It's red with gold detailing and tricked out as fuck because that's how I roll. It does double-duty as a lady magnet and a dude magnet and it's pretty much the best ride ever. I don't have a license yet because whatever, I'm Tony fucking Stark and I know how to drive. I don't need a piece of plastic with an organ donor sticker on it to tell me what I can and can't do. Also, I need my organs. All of them. Forever.
I drive up to Coulson's house, where he's standing by the curb and waiting, as always. In an impeccable dark suit, as always. Coulson's dream is to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and he takes it just a wee bit too seriously, if you ask me. We're friends because Fury made us. All things considered, I like Coulson. He comes off as rigid and serious, but he has his moments of badassery. I once saw him incapacitate someone with a pencil and a wad of bubble gum in the boys' locker room. I could not even tell you how.
"Good morning, Agent Coulson," I say, as he gets into the car. He loves being called "Agent." He gets this little gleam in his eyes every time.
"You're always late," he says. "And then you make me late."
"Phyllis, this baby goes from zero to sixty in negative three seconds. Trust me, we won't be late."
Coulson twitches. He's not as fond of "Phyllis" as a nickname.
"Just drive," he says. So I do. As fast as the car can take us. Coulson's tie flies up into his face and he sputters. "Tony, that was a stop sign back there! Not to mention an old lady in a wheelchair who's probably a blue-haired smudge on the pavement, thanks to you."
"I totally paused!"
J/k, I didn't.
After we arrive at Avengers Academy, we're barely out of the car for ten seconds before Coulson starts getting texts from his boyfriend. Clint Barton isn't a bad guy—he's the captain of the archery team and he's probably going to be the most deadly sniper ever one day, so I do my best never to piss him off. But he's pretty needy and treats Coulson like his own personal handler sometimes, always texting him and wanting to know where he is. It's like Clint can't even take a piss without telling Coulson about it.
"He can be kind of insecure," Coulson says, by way of explanation.
"Kind of an understatement. You could do a lot better, Coulson."
As if on cue, Clint comes sashaying down the pathway, showing off his tight outfit, flexing his biceps at everyone.
"Really, Barton, we're all very impressed," I say. He ignores me and looks at Coulson instead.
"Baby, why haven't you been answering my texts?"
I smother a snicker into my palm and Coulson goes slightly red in the face. "Barton, this isn't the time or place for that," he says.
Clint just frowns and folds his arms across his chest. Seriously, this guy is desperate to show off the guns. "You didn't come to the shooting range the other day. I was waiting for you."
"Well, Clint," Coulson says. Then, cool as a cucumber, he opens his messenger bag and pulls out a skinny, disheveled tie. He holds it up with the very tips of his fingers, like it's diseased. "Maybe it's because I was dismayed after finding this cheap Men's Wearhouse tie on the floor of your car."
Everyone around us oohs and aahs. I, for one, am riveted.
"That looks just like any of the fifty zillion ties in your closet," Clint says. He gets a face full of fabric.
"I do not wear polyester ties, Barton. Unlike some people I know, like Sitwell."
Clint scoffs and flicks the tie away. "Jeez. Is it that time of the month or what?" he asks, which is a bad, bad move, because Coulson can be a bad, bad man when he wants to be. A grand total of no one is surprised when Coulson gets up in Clint's face and snarls,
"I know approximately ninety-seven ways to kill a man and nearly twice as many ways to dispose of the body so do not test me."
"Bye, Phil!" I say cheerily, taking my leave. I really don't want to stick around for when Barton craps his pants in fear. That smell tends to linger in the nostrils.
"Is it ever morally sound to kill in the name of justice? Is there any truth to the old adage of an eye for an eye? Darcy will take the con position and Tony will be pro. Tony, two minutes."
Dr. Banner motions for me to get off my duff and hop to the front of the classroom. He's kind of a sad sack, that Dr. Banner. He'd clearly rather be teaching a physics class than debate, but the school administration got all freaked out after the failed experiment that turned him into the not-so-jolly green giant. Still, I'd argue that debate doesn't seem like an adequate fit for him, considering that debates often turn into heated arguments and heated arguments could mean that we all become human playthings for a large, seething, hulk-like creature. The dude's kind of a liability, is all I'm saying. And I didn't sign a waiver. Banner likes me, though, I'm pretty sure. I rule at debate. I can talk my way through anything.
"Okay, boys and girls, so here's the thing," I say, pulling up my pants by my belt loops at the podium. "Right now we are plagued with all kinds of bad guys and villains, and even aliens, for Christ's sake. And they couldn't care less about killing all of us. So we're pretty much chumps if we get on our high horses and rail against reciprocity. Anyone ever heard of my dad? Howard Stark? Super mega genius, made all sorts of weapons and whatnot? Yeah, so there was this one time when he developed this huge ray gun and I mean, people were pissed. Like, what the hell do we need that for, right? Fuck this warmonger. But then when the shit hit the fan during the Cold War, well. Who do you think was the big man on top? So, in conclusion, kill 'em all and then sort 'em out later, after a round of drinks. Am I right?"
The applause is deafening. I give a little bow and smirk at Darcy, who scowls at me.
"Dr. Banner, Tony is clearly deluded. I can't hold a debate with a crazy person."
Banner looks perturbed, but he takes a deep breath and looks around. "Well, does anyone else have a rebuttal for Tony? Or another thought? Loki?"
Loki looks up, clearly uninterested. "Yes. I can't locate my mobile device. I'll have to return to the quad before someone steals it."
"Stay seated," Banner commands. Loki huffs.
"Fine. I'll just conjure myself a new one."
"Hey, could you conjure me up a cheeseburger?" I ask as I take my seat. "I'm starving." He just grins at me.
Banner, on the other hand, turns his attention to Jane, his number one, A+ student who's so nerdy it hurts. Too bad, too; she could be really cute. But she's always going on and on about science this and astronomy that. And no one likes science more than me, but seriously, lady, give it a rest. Banner nods patiently as Jane goes on and on about advancements in science and technology and their latent effects on the American legal system until he finally interrupts and puts a stop to that because dear god in heaven, who gives a shit.
Debate over and squared away, Banner tries to shrug off his remaining annoyance at us all and get back to business. "All right, it's report card time," he says, eliciting a round of groans. "Is there a Natasha Romanoff in this class?"
I kick my feet up on the desk and raise my hand, ever the eager helper. "Word on the street is that Natasha's on a mission in Lithuania, taking down a drug cartel, Bruce. Which, on the one hand, seems like a pretty apt real-world application of the things we learn here at this fine academy but on the other hand, is also one a hell of a middle finger to the whole educational system as it currently operates. If you ask me."
"No one asked, Stark. No one ever asks. And don't call me Bruce."
Everyone looks generally unhappy about their report cards, aside from Jane, who's all smiles. I'm not worried myself—that is, until I get a load of my debate grade. And suddenly I'm not so fond of good ol' Brucie anymore.
Coulson's just as pissed when I run into him in the hall. "Banner gave me a B. S.H.I.E.L.D. is never going to accept an agent with a B on his record."
"Yeah, well, he gave me a B+. B for big bushel of bullshit because I rule at debate." I shove my report card into my bag and shake my head. "Dude clearly needs someone to go down on that big zucchini dick of his."
"I'm inclined to agree," Coulson says. He adjusts the strap of his messenger bag, a steely look in his eyes as he starts to stalk away. "I'll see you later. I need to go stab something."
"Lemme know if you need to borrow a pencil."
Is Stark Mansion not totally cramazing? It is, I know. Built on the greenbacks of Howard Stark's legacy in arms development. My dad always told me he worked for the government but mostly, I think he worked for himself. Whatever he did, it kept him away from the lavish mansion he paid to build, and it was most definitely shady. I'm guessing there are bodies buried under the floorboards in the basement. Speaking of Howard, there's this ridiculous oil painting of him in the foyer, as soon as you walk in the house. He had it commissioned a few years before he and my mom died in a car accident. It's tacky as hell but I can't bring myself to take it down. Sometimes, I like to think that dear old dad is still watching over me, judging every single thing that I do.
"Hey, dad," I greet him when I get home from school. "A+ on the mechanical engineering midterm. So suck it."
In the kitchen, I'm greeted by the obnoxious sound of big band music and I know who must be here.
"Okay, so I know the 1940s seem like yesterday to you, but haven't you learned to enjoy Katy Perry by now? Or what about Adele? You're in college; they like crybaby music in college."
Steve looks up from the hoagie he's inhaling and smirks at me. Big, broad-shouldered, lumbering Steve. It's hard to believe there was an iceberg big enough to hold the guy all those years. Fury talked him into going to college, since he never got the chance before he became the country's favorite blond and blue-eyed super-soldier. He's majoring in history. Of course.
"Sorry I'm not acclimating to pop culture as quickly as you'd like," he says. "Shouldn't you be conning your way into a strip club somewhere?"
"If I'd known tonight was going to turn into a literal production of The Iceman Cometh, I would be." Never mind that I did know. I just don't want to give Steve the satisfaction. "Why are you even here and not on campus? Go hang out with some history groupies and stop taking advantage of Fury's inexplicable kindness."
"Hey, just because I'm at college doesn't mean I have to stop hanging out with Fury."
"Actually, Kato, that's exactly what it means. He sent you there to get rid of you."
"What's a Kato?" Steve asks. He follows after me as I head into the living room with a bag of Chex Mix and park myself on the couch. Of course, he plops down right next to me, easy as you please, without even asking if it's okay. Since when did Stark Mansion become the Home for Abandoned Aryan Boys? I turn on the TV but not fast enough to escape that puppy-dog look that Steve probably invented back at the founding of Jamestown, or maybe while he was hiding from the Spanish Inquisition. "I like it here. It reminds me of your dad. Of the past."
"Yeah, well. The past and my dad are both dead, so long live the Cartoon Network." Steve reaches over at that moment and swipes the remote from me, turning to CNN. "Hey! Do you even know how to use that thing? It's not a toy or a kitchen utensil, okay?"
"You know, in some parts of the world—maybe not your booze-soaked laboratory—but in some parts, people actually like to be informed about what's going on in the world."
I roll my head back onto the cushion and look at Steve through half-lidded eyes. "Because I so need lessons from a senior citizen on how to be cool. Tell me, Captain: Are you wearing your leopard print or neon orange Depends today?"
He arches a brow. "I don't know what those are. But no. I'm not."
I think it's safe to say I've won this round.
"DINNER'S READY!" Fury shouts from the dining room. "GET YOUR PRIVILEGED WHITE-BOY ASSES IN HERE."
We do as the man says. There's a delicious looking dinner laid out, courtesy of JARVIS. Steve, polite guy that he is, thanks JARVIS for the meal, which is totally uncool. I don't want my AI unit that I built with my bare hands to like Steve more than he likes me. JARVIS is my baby and a one-of-a-kind system. I designed the prototype way back at the tender age of thirteen and stupidly gave it the name TRISHA—short for "Tony's Ridiculously Intelligent Super Hot Assistant," if you were wondering—along with a voice overlay that resembled a phone sex operator. I say "stupidly" because every time the system talked to me, I got an instantaneous and massive hard-on. Puberty's a bitch. It took two months of stubborn and furious masturbating before I realized it was bound to be an ongoing problem. Et voila, JARVIS was born. And he's great, but he's always been a pushover for other people's compliments, namely Steve's. I should program that out of him.
Watching Fury and Steve together has always turned my stomach. They shake hands and then it's all, Good to see you, sir, an honor as always, sir, someone shoot me in the face with one of Clint's arrows, please, dear god.
"Steve, you still growing from that serum? You look even bigger than you did last time I saw you. Tony, doesn't he look bigger?"
"Probably not where it counts," I answer helpfully. Steve scowls at me. It's kind of great.
"Not everyone's as obsessed with their own dick as you, Stark," Fury says. Goddamn cyclops. "Anyhow, where's your report card? I'd like to see if you've been doing any thinking with your other head lately."
I shrug and grab a piece of chicken and a roll. "It's in the works."
"Yeah, you know, it's sort of a work in progress. These teachers, man, they need all the help they can get. So we're gonna talk it out. Real talk. It'll be great, trust me."
Fury's phone rings and he gets up to take the call in another room. "Whatever."
"Honestly, Tony," Steve says. He takes two giant pieces of chicken and starts tearing into them, as if he wasn't just eating a sandwich the size of Montana about five minutes ago. "I think all those morning whiskey shots have rotted your brain. A student can't 'talk out' a grade with a teacher. A grade is a grade, based solely on academic merit."
"That's all very admirable, Captain Eagle Scout, but this is the 21st century." Speaking of whiskey, I remember I have a flask in my jacket pocket, so I dig it out and pour a little happiness into my soda. "And trust me, Rogers. This ain't my first rodeo."
I offer Steve the flask, feeling generous. He sniffs at it, cringes, and shakes his head. Sweet, more for me.
JARVIS forges a doctor's note that I hand off to my P.E. teacher, Coach Hill, which says that I shouldn't exert myself physically, due to the arc reactor. In fact, I shouldn't even be going to gym class because the reactor is still in beta. Hill verbally rips me a new one for not giving it to her sooner, but she can't really argue with it. C instantly raised to an B+. It's not a perfect grade but it's plausible and spares me from class participation. I'd rather shove a beehive down my pants than submit myself to a game of dodgeball.
Then I tell Ms. Potts I'll interview a Forbes 500 CEO in order to get a better perspective on contemporary business practices. She's skeptical, but she buys it, thanks to an extra helping of the Stark charm. Hopefully she enjoys fictional interviews.
Banner, though? Banner totally doesn't take the bait. He calls me a "johnny come lately," whatever the hell that means, tells me to get lost, and slams his office door in my face. I think he might even be a tad on the green side by the time he throws me out of there. I'm feeling a little green myself, my head about to explode from frustration, so I decide to go the only place I can really go when I'm feeling down.
A half-hour later, I'm face down in a pile of scrap metal, welding to my heart's content in the comfort of my basement lab. Don't worry; I'm wearing a mask. Can't mess with this pretty face. Coulson stands behind me, sipping a Sunny D. His head is tilted in that I'm totally analyzing you right now way that always gives me the creeps.
"What's wrong? You seem a little more high-strung than usual, and that's saying a lot."
"It's that goddamn Banner. I tried to get him to listen to reason—"
"With what, your checkbook?"
"I do have some moral standards, you know. Not many, but some." I stand up and push back the mask, just so I can frown at Coulson. "With my excellent powers of persuasion, thank you very much."
Coulson smirks at me, his straw still between his lips. "Which you clearly don't have, considering your B+ in debate."
"According to Banner."
"Banner, yes. A miserable man who wishes he could turn back the clock, so he'd still be teaching science classes and not risk turning into a monster every time someone forgets his homework. But he can't, and he's our high-strung debate teacher instead, so get over it."
"He needs to get laid, then he'd be happy," I mutter. I'm about to go back to the welding when suddenly, it hits me. Divine inspiration. "Phil. Oh my god."
Coulson narrows his eyes at me. "Oh, no. Tony, no."
But we both know it's too late. I already have a plan.
The thing about Banner is that most people are scared shitless of him. Well, people who aren't his students, that is. None of the other faculty members ever talk to him because they're afraid he's going to hulk out and beat them all to death with their own desks. Though, honestly, I don't think any of them talked to him even before his accident. It would be a sad story if I cared. We need to set him up, big time, but none of the female faculty in this school seems available or interested. There's Coach Hill but she's a little scary, even for a rage monster. I imagine she must be aggressive in the bedroom, which could spike Banner's blood pressure, with Hulk-y results. I can't have that sort of thing weighing on my conscience.
The only other person I can think of is Ms. Potts. There's nothing wrong with Potts, per say—she could be kind of a babe if she threw away her glasses and trimmed a few inches off that skirt of hers. And I bet she could use a good roll in the hay.
So, the next day, I leave a note in her mailbox that says, "You, me, Bonertown," with a rose and a condom taped to the stem. Coulson gives me the most withering look he's ever given anyone, and for a moment, I think I'm going to turn to ashes.
"What? It's romantic."
"It's the opposite of romantic," he says. "Give me that." He rips the condom off the rose and throws in the trashcan, and I quickly retrieve it. Waste not, want not. When I glance back at him, he's scribbling a new note, which looks like...a poem? I swipe it from him when he's done.
"Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands," I read aloud when I get to the end. Needless to say, I'm stunned. Phil Coulson clearly has inner depths, the likes of which I never imagined. "Where the hell did you get this from?"
He goes a little red in the face. "It's Cummings. It's famous. Don't blame me if you never pay attention in English."
"Why would I do something like that?"
We stick around in the hallway like creepers, peering into the faculty lounge, until Potts shows up and gets a gander at the rose and the note. The look on her face tells a story, namely that it's getting a little misty under that too-long skirt of hers. Coulson looks almost proud of himself, until I elbow him in the side.
"Nice one, Agent Coulson."
"Better than yours," he says. I don't deny it.
Later, when I find myself in Banner's class again, he's announcing class tardies and getting more pissed off by the second. I don't know why they even make him do this. It's a crime scene waiting to happen. Jane Foster is the only one with a perfect record, and Loki, asshole that he is, yells "Speeeeeeech!" Jane clearly doesn't get the joke, and she stands up and goes to the podium. It's almost heartbreaking to watch. Yet also astounding. Like a train wreck.
"Well, I didn't have anything prepared, but...I guess I'd like to thank my dad for always driving me to school? And the company that makes my alarm clock. Well, alarm clocks. I have three, just in case."
Loki falls forward onto his desk and snickers into his arm. I wish I had a bucket of popcorn, personally.
"All right, Jane, that's enough," Banner says, shooing her away. "Back to your desk. Maybe later I'll teach you the concept of sarcasm. Next up, Tony Stark. Two tardies."
"I object!" I yell, smacking my desk.
"Well, this isn't a courtroom, Mr. Stark. And you can't object, considering that one was just last Monday."
"Dr. Banner, I'm a latchkey child. My parents are dead. I had to walk to school in the rain that day." Not true, I took the convertible, and it was gloriously sunny that day. "All alone." Coulson was with me, and we jammed to the Beastie Boys. It was pretty great. "You should be glad that I managed to make it to school at all." Because I would much rather have stayed in, played Mario Kart, and eaten my weight in Eggo waffles.
Banner sighs heavily, his mouth twitching. He might be more amused than angry, I'm not sure. "All right. I suppose I can let that one slide."
"That is too awesome, Dr. Banner. Thank you. Man, Potts was so right about you."
"Potts?" he says. "As in, Ms. Potts the business teacher?"
"Yeah, her. We were shooting the shit the other day and she was all, 'Man, everyone here is SO DUMB, except for Dr. Banner. They should really let him teach science again. He sure is the cat's pajamas. Not bad to look at, either.' She really nailed it."
Okay, so maybe I go a little overboard. But it's all good, because by the time I glance at Banner again, I'm pretty sure he's already halfway to Bonertown.
"Stark, what the fuck?"
Ah, the siren song of Nick Fury. I peek into the open doorway of his office (technically my office, since I'm nice enough to let him live here and pretend to be my guardian, but whatever) and wrinkle my nose. "What the fuck what?"
"Why in god's name are you getting driving violations? Of all the stupid, cockamamie things."
I shrug and lean against the wall. "It's not my fault the cops have it out for me."
"Considering you don't even have a license, you should be glad they haven't hauled your pasty ass to jail." He flicks the ticket at me and grunts, looking at me with that one judgy eyeball. "From now on, take Steve with you when you go driving."
"Steve? Does Steve even have a license of his own?"
"He used to." Fury adds, a moment later, "In the 1940s."
"Oh, great. So your idea of an experienced driver is someone who knows his way best around a horse and buggy."
"Yeah, horse and buggy. In the 1940s. You sure you're not failing that industrial history class of yours?" Fury smirks and returns his attention to his paperwork. "Look, if you don't take him with you when you go driving from now on, I'm putting the convertible on permanent lockdown and that's that. Now get the hell out of here."
After that, I suppose I'm dismissed from Fury's sight, which would be annoying if I didn't already want to leave so badly. I do need to pick up some supplies, though, so I go and find Steve, who's in the gym as usual, beating the living crap out of a punching bag. Luckily for me, Steve has nothing better to do, so he can take up space in my car all afternoon and bore me to tears. I make my way down the stairs two at a time, making sure I'm loud enough to distract him.
"How's it going, Rogers? Trying to grow a new layer of muscles?"
"Just passing the time," he says. He's sweaty as hell, but even his sweat is perfect. He's actually, like, glistening. It's so obnoxious. "You want something, don't you?"
I try to look as innocent as possible. "Why would you say that?"
"Because you would never willingly come down here and talk to me unless you needed something."
"You, my bulgy friend, are very perceptive," I say. I poke his bicep and he frowns. "I need you to sit in my car next to me while I drive over to Lowe's. Not so much because I value your company, but because Fury threatened to take my car away if I don't bring you along with me. Despite the fact that you haven't driven a car in eons, you are somehow the more experienced one behind the wheel, in his mind."
Steve shrugs and wipes himself down with a towel. "I'm sure he's right. Yeah, I could go for a drive. Let's go."
And, shock of the century, Steve is unbearable once we're in the car. A total backseat driver. He keeps distracting me, ranting and raving about pesky crap like traffic lights and signs. As if any of those things are of my concern.
"Maybe I haven't driven in a while, but I'm pretty sure they still put those speed limits signs up for a reason, Tony."
"You know, you are really messing with my concentration, here. How am I supposed to pay attention to the road if you want me to look at all these signs? You realize how ridiculous you sound right now."
"Just slow down, okay? Try to give at least one less pedestrian a heart attack today. For me?"
"Hmmm." I give Steve the side-eye for that one but I can't help but smile. I will try. For him. But I'm not going to tell him that. "Let's talk about something else," I say instead. "How are the Tree Huggers Anonymous meetings going?"
Steve brightens when I mention his favorite extracurricular activity. When he first arrived on campus, he got pressured from all sides to join a politically affiliated group, but it wouldn't have been a good idea. Captain America can't just go around pledging his allegiance to one political party in a two-party system. The other party would never hear the end of it, and the whole country would probably erupt in civil war. So, instead of joining the Young Republicans or Young Democrats, Steve got involved with some environmentalist group instead, figuring that no one party could argue with cleaning the oceans and combating global warming. (I've urged him never to watch C-SPAN. His head might explode.)
"It's great! Though it's dismaying to learn just how badly we've wasted our natural resources over the past century."
"Well, it's not exactly a 'we' situation. You were busy hanging out in the tundra. Not your fault."
"It's all of our faults," Steve says sadly. I know I'm not going to cheer him up on this one. This is a guy who cried the first time he watched An Inconvenient Truth. And, yes, I said the first time.
I drum my fingers against the steering wheel. "Yeah, well, don't get your hopes up, big guy. I know everyone loves you and all, but I don't think a PSA from Captain America on how we're hurting Mother Earth is going to change anyone's ways." Steve looks at me with a confused furrow of his brow, and I know he's dying to ask me what a PSA is.
"People have more good in them than you think, Tony. Not everyone is one-hundred percent selfish all of the time. Except maybe you, I suppose."
"OH!" I shout. I clutch my chest with one hand and feel the steady hum of the arc reactor. "You wound me! Captain Lunkhead thinks I'm selfish! Well, I am just going to take my toys and go home. Good day to you, sir."
"Keep both hands on the wheel," Steve says. Then he gives me a strange look—one that I've noticed he always wears when someone calls attention to the reactor. I don't know what he's thinking when he makes that face or what it means, but it's always made me vaguely uncomfortable. It goes away quickly, though, and then he looks at me with a renewed sense of disgust, which is more like it. "Honestly, Stark. I've never seen you do a selfless thing for another person, ever. And if you did, I think I might drop dead from shock."
"Oh, Stevie. That'd be reason enough for me." I pause and then look at him over my sunglasses. "What I'm saying, by the way, is that I want you to drop dead. Or, I mean, you could, and that'd be swell. In case you didn't get that."
"No, I got it," Steve grumbles.
"You sure? You got it? I just wanna make sure we're on the same page here."
I don't think anyone but me knows just how murderous Captain America can look, with the right motivation. Let me tell you, it's quite a sight to behold.
You're probably wondering about the arc reactor, now that I've mentioned it. I've never told Steve the story behind it, but he could totally sit down and Google it if he wanted to—if he knew how.
It's not a big deal. Basically, when a filthy rich couple suddenly dies and leave behind an only child who is the heir to all of that couple's money, people are going to get ideas. Bad guy people. And I was maybe sorta involved in a hostage situation that ended in a police shootout and some well-placed shrapnel in my chest, right next to my heart. And Fury maybe sorta lives with me now because he and the other folks at S.H.I.E.L.D. took it upon themselves to decide that I needed someone to watch over me.
Which I don't. Not really.
But after an experience like that, you can imagine how difficult it can be, sleeping at night in a big house, all alone. So I don't mind if Fury stays. And I don't even mind when Steve hangs out, as brutal as he is. I like when there's activity in the mansion. And I like hearing other people's voices beside my own. JARVIS isn't a bad conversationalist—again, I programmed him that way—but let's face it; he doesn't count.
Anyway, the reactor keeps me alive, keeps the shrapnel from piercing my heart. I designed it myself, which I think proved to S.H.I.E.L.D. once and for all that hey, yeah, I am as smart as my dad. Thanks, guys. Most of the time, I forget it's even there, like a tattoo or a piercing. And hey, the chicks dig it. It seems to make Steve antsy, though. If only it would keep him away permanently.
What's really annoying, even more than his stupid face, is that I can't stop thinking about what he said in the car, even after a whole day.
"Phil, would you call me selfish?" I ask Coulson at lunch. His expression is placid as he says,
"Yes. Quite. Why do you ask?"
"Because Steve is up my asshole about how I don't care enough about other people."
He rolls his eyes. "No one will ever care about other people as much as Steve. He's Captain America. It's written into his job description."
Just then, I spot Banner walking toward our lunch table and I grab my bag, pulling out the secret weapon I brought with me today.
"Dr. Banner! Fancy seeing you here, in our fine cafeteria," I say. Banner exhales, already perturbed.
"I do work here, you know."
"That's what they tell me. Listen, my eyes were bigger than my stomach this morning and I brought this giant hoagie that I had in the fridge. There's seriously no way I'm going to be able to cram this down my gullet, so...why don't you take it?"
Banner's eyes bug out a bit, which is totally warranted. It's one of Steve's hoagies that I swiped from the fridge and therefore, it is ginormous. I would really love to know what the hell the guy was eating back in the '40s, because there's no way we had approached this portion size as a society yet.
"I couldn't," he says, squinting at me. "And not just because I feel awkward, taking a student's food, but also because it might very well be bigger than me."
"Take it!" I insist, nudging it toward him. "It's just going to go to waste otherwise. And don't think I don't hear your stomach rumbling in class every day. We wouldn't want you to waste away."
Coulson leans over and smiles. "Maybe you and Ms. Potts can share it. She loves sandwiches." He sounds so sure of himself and Banner and I both shoot him the same weirded-out look. He fidgets slightly under our stares. "What? It's basic intel."
"Well, sure then. Maybe. Thanks, I guess."
Banner hesitates and then takes the hoagie. Coulson and I fist bump under the table.
"I think we should have given Potts that condom after all," I say.
"Not in a million years would that ever be a good idea," Coulson replies.
Still, though, when we get a gander at Banner and Potts sitting on a bench later on, sharing that hoagie, I'm feeling like the train to Bonertown is well on its way out of the station. We hide behind a hedge and Coulson pulls out a pair of mini binoculars that he always carries on him—for more "intel," I guess. He assesses the situation and hums.
"Lots of hair touching on Potts' part," he reports. "And collarbone touching. Banner is laughing. Legs crossed toward each other—that's an unequivocal sex invite."
"And how would you know that?"
Coulson folds up the binoculars and puts them away. "It's my job to know."
"You don't have a job."
"Either way. Mission accomplished."
"We fucking rule," I say, grinning. I feel good, I really do. And not just because my debate grade is going to skyrocket as soon as Banner gives Potts a deep dicking, but because I did something good. Something selfless, to help other people. Two miserable, lonely people, who are going to have really bizarre Hulk sex with each other. Hell, I'd watch that sex tape.
Needless to say, Coulson and I become the school heroes. Our plan pays off in spades, and almost immediately. Banner is a fucking delight and Potts starts putting happy face stickers on our assignments and drifting off in the middle of class, likely thinking about that big zucchini cock. My report card, too, experiences a total rewrite. In fact, when I deposit it on Fury's desk, he looks so pleasantly surprised that I'm worried he's going to try and hug me.
"How in the hell did you get Banner to give you an A?"
"I can be very persuasive," I say.
Fury pushes the report card back at me. "You know what? Don't tell me. I don't wanna know. Unless you murdered someone."
I splay my hands for him. "No blood, see?" Fury's glare is withering.
"You know as well as I do that you'd be goddamn tidy about it."
"I'll take that to mean you're proud of me. I hereby accept your accolade and would like to note, for the record, that I deserve every bit of it."
"Okay, Stark," he says, nodding. There's the faintest trace of a smile on his face. "Take it that way, if you like."
Huh. Real praise from Fury? Don't mind if I do. That shit is rarer than Halley's Comet. I wonder what Steve would have to say about that. Not that I care. But still, I bet he'd look particularly constipated, if he heard.
"JARVIS," I say, after I get back to my lab. "Did you record that exchange?"
"Yes, sir." I nod and pour myself a drink. A small one.
"Transfer that footage into my personal file. And delete it off the main server."
On second thought, I'll keep that moment for myself.
Doing good deeds isn't so bad, I decide. I could probably do a few more before I put myself at risk of turning into a total goober like Steve. I'm still feeling pretty good about myself by the time I go to school the next day. Even gym class doesn't seem as bad as it normally does. Hill is trying to get us to play volleyball, the most asinine sport of all. I can't risk hurting my wrists when I have so much important work to do in the lab. I stand against the wall with Coulson and we both try to look as busy as possible on our smartphones. He's probably texting Clint. Either that or plotting something intricate and top secret. I never know with him.
"STARK!" Hill yells. "Get your behind over here and serve the goddamn ball!"
"Coach Hill, the reactor, remember? Very delicate. Plus, this isn't exactly a decent application of my skills. I'm more of a spectator when it comes to sports than a participant. I'm a lover, not a fighter. And if the fight in question involves volleyball, so be it."
Hill's hands move to her hips as she barks at me. "It's just one serve, Stark. If you don't get over here and 'apply your skills' to this ball, you're getting an F for the day."
"Go on, Tony," Darcy calls, smirking at me. "Apply your ball skills."
"Thanks, but I have enough balls coming toward me on a regular basis," I say, deflecting the comment easily. Most everyone laughs and Darcy flips me off. Coulson just shakes his head as if I've sorely disappointed him with my terrible jokes. Nothing out of the ordinary.
And then, all at once, everyone goes quiet. At first I think it's because the principal is here, but then I see that he's leading this bewildered dude through the gymnasium, and that's the real attraction here. The guy looks as though he tripped and fell out of a bus heading to a sci-fi convention somewhere. He's tall and broad, almost as big as Steve, with long, flowing blond hair and a...metal chest plate? Not to mention a helmet. With wings on it. He's also holding onto an over-sized hammer, dragging it around like a security blanket. He looks toward the class, clearly nervous, and we all stare back at him, this random sideshow freak who wandered into our lives.
Guys, it's kind of beautiful.
"New student, Coach Hill. Class, this is Thor Odinson. Make him feel welcome."
"What in the ever-loving hell," Coulson murmurs.
"I know," I whisper back. "This is my new favorite day ever."
Hill looks Thor up and down and scoffs. "You'll sit today out, Thor. You certainly can't play volleyball in those clothes."
"He could pillage Scandinavia in those clothes," Darcy teases.
"Idea," I say to Coulson, while everyone else is still giggling. "We need to adopt him."
"Are you kidding me? He looks like he just got released from the insane asylum. My stock would plummet. More so than it already has from hanging out with you."
"You wound me, Phil, you really do. Hey, you, c'mere!" I stage whisper to the big guy. He still looks spooked but I see some relief in his eyes, now that someone is actually talking to him. He walks over and when I extend my hand for a shake, he smiles widely and takes it. Damn, the guy's grip is strong. I can feel my bones crunching together. "Thor, buddy, good to meet you," I say, between clenched teeth. Coulson just looks between us with a resigned expression.
"I am grateful for this gracious welcome," Thor booms. His voice echoes off the walls of the gymnasium and most of the other kids turn around in alarm. Some of them start laughing again. Somehow, I manage not to cringe.
"Inside voice might be your best bet when we're in the gym," I say. Thor looks confused but he smiles and nods.
"Nice armor," Coulson says, taking a more thorough look at Thor's outfit. "You're into cosplay, I gather?"
"I am not familiar with this sort of play. It is not common in my home realm of Asgard."
"Is that in upstate New York?" I ask, glancing at Coulson. He pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Let's just go to lunch."
Thor lifts his hammer, obviously loving that idea. "YES! Let us leave this place to feast on succulent, wild game!"
"I'm pretty sure today is Taco Tuesday," Coulson says flatly.
"Tell me more of this 'taco' and how it has earned itself an entire day! I wish to know!"
Coulson could not hate me more right now if he tried. There's a stabby look in his eyes as Thor flings his arm around Coulson's shoulders and leads him out of the gym. He looks back at me and mouths I hate you, dickwad and that puts a little extra skip in my step. Making friends is ever so much fun.
We decide to show Thor the ropes here at Avengers Academy. Or, well, I decide. Coulson just comes along.
"That's the Fantastic Four," I say, pointing to the group sitting under a nearby tree. "That's what they call themselves. More like the Fail-tastic Four. They live in a complete fantasyland, so don't even bother with them. And those freaks over there are the X-Men. They're mutants and they have this wicked dumb rivalry with another group of mutants, but the leaders seem to be totally in love with each other? It's all very Sharks vs. Jets."
"I would enjoy such entertainment as a battle between a shark and a jet," Thor says.
"Wouldn't we all! Oh, and there's Loki in the green blazer, and some of the other popular guys. Us excluded, of course." Thor seems to get a little distracted when he looks over at Loki, so I nudge his side and motion to Clint. "And hey, there's Coulson's boyfriend."
"Tony," Coulson says warningly. He gets a little freaked out when I talk about his relationship with Clint in front of other people, but it's hardly a secret. Also, most of the people at this school are totally fine with it, and Thor seems to be no exception. He claps Coulson on the back with a force that sends him stumbling.
"He looks to be a fine warrior of hearty stock. I approve, son of Coul!"
"Great, because I was seeking your approval, clearly," Coulson says, straightening his tie.
"And which one is your mate, Tony Stark?"
"My mate? I'm a Stark, buddy. We don't take mates. We wander around the shop and take our time, sampling the goods."
"Tony isn't much for commitment," Coulson says dryly. I shrug and run my fingers over my goatee.
"What can I say? I like to keep my options open. I'm pro-choice, in more ways than one."
Coulson's about to verbally bitchslap me for that one, I can tell. But just then, Clint comes sauntering over in what has to be a tank top he picked up from the juniors' section at Kohl's, and steps up to Coulson. Aaaaand it's on.
"Baby, lend me five dollars."
"Barton, I have repeatedly asked you not to call me that."
Clint rolls his eyes, exasperated. "Excuse me, Ms. Coulson."
The words are barely out of Clint's mouth when Coulson grabs him by the hair, spins him around, and puts him in a chokehold. These two are kinky with a capital K. Damn.
"Try that one more time, Barton," Coulson says coolly, totally unfazed by all the whining and coughing and twitching his boyfriend is doing.
"Mr. Coulson!" he sputters. "Agent C-Coulson!"
Coulson lets him go. "You need to work on your reaction time, Barton."
A beat passes before they simultaneously draw weapons on each other—Barton, his trusty bow and arrow, and Coulson, his stun gun that his dad is letting him carry around until he's old enough to get a gun license.
"This is how they flirt," I whisper to Thor.
"I am impressed by your courtship rituals," he says. "I wish to learn more. But first, I must procure several more tacos."
"Go get 'em, buddy."
Thor takes off and when I look back at Clint and Coulson, they're making out like animals, right in the middle of the student pathway, weapons tossed to the side. Everyone just walks around them, easy as you please, like they're not even there. I told you guys they were dramatic.
"Hey, Phil," I say, pulling out the straw from my soda. "Do you think you could kill someone with this? Just this?"
Coulson considers the plastic and tilts his head back and forth. "I could probably come up with something in a pinch."
"I have the utmost faith in you."
I'm two bites into my sandwich when Thor comes bounding over, cafeteria tray in hand. There's so much food piled on, I'm surprised the tray doesn't buckle under its weight.
"I have made the acquaintance of a young woman with boundless spirit!" he declares.
"No kidding," Coulson says, raising an eyebrow.
"Boundless spirit?" I repeat. "I hope that's code for hot."
"Her beauty is immeasurable as well." Thor looks around and points toward the grass. "There she is!" he booms. He's so loud that the girl in question turns and waves sheepishly. The guy is as discrete as a Mack truck.
Bummer of all bummers, it's Jane Foster. Coulson and I look at each other and the disappointment is palpable.
"Thor, how old are you?" I ask.
"I ceased keeping count after three thousand years of age. However, for the purposes of this realm, I am sixteen and a half."
I tap my chin with my forefinger and decide to ignore the obvious. "Well, I just turned seventeen, so let me give you some advice as a pseudo-elder. It's one thing to take an interest in science and math—this is a school for overachievers, after all—but you've gotta have some style while you do it or you're never gonna survive out there in the big leagues."
"She's a dud," Coulson clarifies. He shrugs at Thor. "Keeps to herself, doesn't get out much. Not worth your time."
Thor frowns at us, still looking at Jane as she sits under a tree and writes furiously in that thick journal of hers. "Perhaps she is in need of a friend."
"Trust me, big guy. She doesn't want any friends and that much is clear. You'd only be keeping her from hours and hours of sitting in the library, collecting dust. And people would judge." My eyes roam over the chest plate and cape one more time. "Though it may be a bit too late for that."
"Who DARES to judge me?" Thor bangs his fist on the table, making all the trays and drinks jump. "Bring him to me at once so I may confront him, face to face!" Coulson's tater tots spill from his plate and he looks at them mournfully, the saddest little soldier.
"Five second rule," I remind him. Then I give Thor the most placating smile I can muster. "Never mind, buddy. You know what? Phil and I are going to help you out in the style department. You in?"
"I only wear suits," Coulson says. "And I don't think any of them are big enough for him."
"There's always the mall. We'll figure something out. What do you say, Odinson, you in?"
Thor looks skeptical for a moment, but then he nods and gives us the brightest, bubbliest smile I've ever seen. "I wish to acclimate well to your world, and thus, I accept your generous offer. Tony Stark and Son of Coul, I will return to Asgard one day and tell tales of your friendship and kindness. We will hold feasts in your honor and make great merriment!"
"Sounds awesome," I say. "Can I come?"
Thor laughs and eats half of a cheeseburger in one bite. "No."
The makeover actually goes pretty well. There's one uncomfortable moment where I approach Thor with a razor and he smacks me halfway across the room. The guy is clearly attached to his facial hair, which I totally understand. It look a long time to get my goatee to its current state of glory. Thor finally agrees to a trim, so we leave him with a bit of scruff and keep the long hair, since it suits him. The armor, though, is another story. Considering that Coulson only wears suits, he and JARVIS find some pretty snappy outfits for Thor to wear. I advocate for lots of tight T-shirts that show off the amazing 48-pack he's got going on under that chest plate, but I'm overruled in favor of tasteful button-downs and slim-fitting dark jeans.
By the time we're done, Thor Odinson is a first-class, bona fide studmuffin. He can't stop admiring himself in the mirror, which is good, because it gives me ample time to ogle him while he's distracted. Coulson smacks me on the back of the head when I stare too long and Thor laughs, spotting it in the mirror. We've learned that he finds light violence hilarious.
After we're done, Coulson goes home to either boink Barton or iron his ties, I don't know, and I invite Thor down to my lab. I give him a gander at the suit I'm making—the one that's going to self-propel and allow me to do loop-de-loops over Long Island.
"You wish to fly?" Thor asks. He runs his fingers over the red metal and frowns. "This science seems unnatural."
"You'd prefer I grew wings?"
"Perhaps humans were not meant to have such powers."
"Oh, come on, Thor," I scoff, twirling a wrench between my fingers. "Don't get preachy on me. I'm just tooling around down here for fun. They used to say we'd all fly to school with jet packs by now. And mine hasn't arrived in the mail yet, so why shouldn't I make one of my own?"
Thor furrows his brow. "Perhaps it would be useful for a greater purpose. Something that could aid humankind."
"Do what for the who now?" Somehow I didn't see it coming that Thor would be a cockeyed optimist. Maybe it comes with the territory when you're a three-thousand-year-old Norse god who spends his days eating wild boar legs, or so he's told me. There's also still the possibility that he's crazy, in which case, crazy probably goes hand in hand with happy. Not me, though. I'm the most jaded guy under twenty I know. I've learned to take pride in it. "I'm a teenaged genius billionaire playboy, not a philanthropist."
"Perhaps you should be," Thor says, and I roll my eyes.
"You remind me of this other top-heavy, mankind-loving freak of nature I know."
Just then, Steve makes an entrance, giant hoagie in hand. "My ears are burning," he says. He gets Thor's attention immediately, but I'm not sure if it's Steve or the sandwich that has him curious.
"Hello, golden boy. Thor, this is Steve, a.k.a. Captain America. Who I specifically told never to come wandering down into my laboratory without an express invitation."
"You tell me lots of things." Steve nods to Thor, swallows his mouthful, and smiles. "Pleasure to meet you, Thor."
"Indeed. May I inquire as to the origins of your sandwich?" Okay, so it was the sandwich.
Steve motions upstairs. "Kitchen fridge. There's a whole bunch of 'em. Just stocked up. Help yourself."
"Thank you, friend," Thor says. He slaps Steve hard on the back and then bounds up the stairs.
"That kind of hurt." Steve looks at me yet again, bewildered. "New school chum?"
"First of all, you'd better be charging those monstrosities you call sandwiches to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s expense account and not Stark Industries. And secondly, yes. He's a lost soul who thinks he's a Norse god and he needed a severe push in the direction of the 21st century. Kind of like someone else I know." I sit on my workbench and give him a smug smile. "Impressed?"
"That you've somehow convinced this poor, clueless lug that you're some kind of role model? Yes, extremely."
Steve sits down next to me, plate and all, and I swat his arm. "If you get mayo on my tools, I will find a way to fold you in half and stick you back in the freezer where you belong, Captain Cold Sore. And I am helping Thor out big time, okay? This is my selfless act! Without me, he'd still be wandering around the academy, dragging his lucky hammer behind him, looking like he just got off the shuttle bus from DragonCon."
"I don't know what that is, but what I do know is that there's no way this is a selfless act, Tony. You can call it that, but you're treating that guy like another one of your lab experiments, not helping him. You're only doing it for personal gain, just like everything else."
"You would like that, wouldn't you, Cap? If I never changed a bit? You probably cling to stuff like that, seeing as how everything you used to know is nothing but a bunch of relics now."
It's hitting below the belt, I know. But I can't help it with Steve; the guy just rubs me in all the wrong ways. I prefer people who rub me the right way. In fact, that's pretty much my life philosophy. He gives me a look that veers between furious and butt-hurt, mostly the latter. It occurs to me that I should probably apologize but then Thor comes back downstairs, hoagie in hand, and the moment passes. I go back to my tools and turn away from Steve.
"Thank you for the sandwich, Captain," Thor says. "I am most grateful. You will stay and dine with us?"
"Actually, I was just leaving. But you're welcome. And call me Steve."
With that, Steve picks up his plate and slinks off, good riddance. Thor takes his place beside me and happily goes to town on his hoagie, oblivious to all the previous tension in the room.
"Okay, I give up," I say. I dig into my pocket for my phone and open up Instagram. "This is too good not to document. Smile."
And Thor does, with a mouth full of half-chewed turkey and roast beef, his lips smeared with mayo. I really hope this photo goes viral.