Tony was the one who'd started the whole mess, really. Obviously. Though it wasn't that much of a surprise, because Tony Stark was seventeen and completely brilliant and tended to start most of the school's messes. What could he help if he had a big-as-all-hell house that just cried to be filled up like a whore on a Sunday, a wine cellar begging to be raided, and a sound system falling into serious neglect? It wasn't like he was about to let his house go to the wayside, and it definitely wasn't his fault that some stupid drunk girl fell off the balcony and broke her leg in the pool. Seriously, was he supposed to have his eye on everyone to pass through the house irresponsibly? Well, the principal seemed to think he was, anyway.
"Tutoring?" echoed Tony incredulously from across Principal Fury's desk. Actually he was across the small office from the principal, in a swively-chair pressed against the lip of the sofa rather than the stiff-backed chair across from the principal.
"Not tutoring," corrected the frankly terrifying man, leaning forward to glare at Tony through his one good eye. Even if there was a thinly-veiled derision between the two, they also compromised on the little things. Tony showed up when called to Fury's office, and Fury allowed him to steal the receptionist's swiveling chair to sulk in. "Mentoring."
No one exactly knew how Fury had lost his eye, but it was a commonly-speculated topic across campus on almost a daily basis. There were rumors, obviously, come on, it was high school, but some of the stuff cooked up was just weird, even by the Dungeons and Dragons nerds' standards. Some said Fury was an ex-marine who became a teacher after an octopus sucked out his eyeball (one of the more believable ones), while others said that Fury had been some sort of sky pirate, and secretly had x-ray vision behind that eyepatch that could see through anything (seriously? Not even a normal pirate, a sky pirate?). Rumors were what Shield County High did best, and they spread like wildfire. Thanks to the internet, even people halfway across the country had heard of Nick Fury the sky pirate; he was something like a meme within a few weeks.
Fury slid a glossy photograph dramatically across the desk toward Tony. He had to lean forward and slide it off the edge of the desk to look at it. A boy, dark curly hair and dark eyes, skinny, short, frowning, so what? "This is Bruce Banner," Fury began with the air of a tragic storyteller.
"Is this gonna make me cry, sir?"
He shut up when Fury's exposed eye glared again. Did that thing have a neutral setting or laser or something? "Bruce just came into the city from Farmington, New Mexico, and will be starting school with us tomorrow. He's been bouncing around foster homes for nine years and needs someone to talk to, do homework with, anything to remind him there are still good people in the world. Think you can handle the job?" he asked.
Leaning back in his chair, away from Fury and the photograph of some kid he was supposed to baby around school like he was made of glass, Tony crossed his arms and scowled, "I'm not a role model. You know that, sir."
"I'm not asking you to be one, Stark."
"Then why not get Coulson to do it? He's pretty, what's the word..." he fluttered his hands through the air, "eager."
"Because Coulson is not the one who needs to learn a lesson, or two, or ten, about responsibility!" the principal snapped, and Tony clammed up the attitude again. There were only two men in the world who could actually make Tony Stark shut the hell up, and the one currently not sitting four feet away was his father. "This boy, Bruce Banner, was sent here of all places for a reason, and that isn't because the foster home was next in the rotation. He is of genius-level intellect, but the State doesn't want him taking college classes until they know he's no longer a danger to himself. He needs someone who can keep up with him, and you're the only other student in the goddamn nation who can do that."
His good eye briefly closed as he, too, leaned back in his chair before setting Tony with a softer look. "I requested he come here instead of being sent to a group home, with the promises that he could be reintegrated into society. I am not authorized to tell you what happened at his last foster home, Stark, but this brilliant, kind, seriously underestimated young man is on the verge of becoming a flight risk. We need to make sure that doesn't happen, or this school will be in serious trouble. Understood?"
Tony dug his toes into the carpet and set to swiveling infinitesimally back and forth as he glared at the principal. Whatever crackpot had come up with the concept of a chair that swivels must have been thinking of teenagers, if how conductive they were to slouching was any factor in it. And if young Tony Stark were anything but brilliant, it was a champion sloucher. Kirk Cobain would have wept if ever he had witnessed half such an impressive display of teen angst. He understood perfectly what Fury wanted from him. Fury wanted Tony to become friends with some kid who'd very likely been shanked or raped by his foster dad, learn the True Meaning of Friendship through late-night tearful confessions of his own abuse, and they would ride out of high school into the collegiate sunset holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Fat chance, old man.
"Fine," he scowled at last. "But don't expect me to be a model citizen just because I've got Little Orphan Annie under my wing."
The eyepatch twitched slightly with Fury's heavily put-upon sigh. "I wouldn't dream of it, Stark. Now get the hell out of my office." He flicked his massive wrist and Tony left in one fluid slouching motion, dragging the swively-chair back out to the receptionist's desk from where he'd borrowed it. Then he retrieved his jacket from one of the lobby chairs and headed for the door. It had been a taxing morning, he deserved the half-day off to prepare for his extremely important mentoring duties.
"Stark!" an annoyingly authoritative voice barked from down the hallway. Great. Coulson. "Do you have a note permitting you to leave early?"
If it were possible to roll one's eyes all the way back into one's head and get a glimpse of the thought Jesus fuck you are so annoying skittering across the brain, Tony probably would have achieved it. With his face tilted up to the ceiling Tony spun a slow circle to face stupid-ass Coulson, the only kid in Shield County who took his Hall Monitor duties so seriously he may as well have come to school wearing a cape and undies on the outside of his pants. "No, Coulson, I don't. Gonna do something about it?" he retorted.
The tall weedy boy with more pimples than a pizza stomped forward with as much self-righteous authority as he could muster when seemingly in constant surprise of his own lanky limbs. "I ought to Tase you into the linoleum one of these days," he attempted to growl with a deep furrow between his bushy eyebrows.
"You're not allowed to have weapons on school grounds, Coulson. It's in the handbook, don't you have it memorized?"
"I would risk expulsion just to see you flopping like a trout, Stark."
They stared at each other for a few long moments. Usually Tony could pay off any of the other monitors to keep things hush-hush, but Coulson refused to be bribed. He was too honorable or stupid to do that. Well, there was only one thing for it, then. Time to take one for the team. Tony feinted to the left and darted away down the hall while the taller boy scrambled to catch him. What could only be described as the laughter of the truly maniacal teenager set on rebellion echoed back through the front doors at the enraged hall monitor, thick-rimmed spectacles falling lopsided on his nose as he glowered after Tony.
The house was empty, but that wasn't surprising. Obie came by, after five hours of video games, with New York pizza, though, and that was always a good surprise. "Where are they this time?" he asked with a mouthful of mozzarella cheese.
"A weapons conference in Ohio. Mom's the DD, of course," supplied Obie as though he were granting Tony a huge favor with letting him know that, once again, Mom would be taking responsibility for his drunken slob of a father. Here's to hoping he wouldn't be caught climbing out of another woman's car when it was time to go again. That had been a hellish week.
Tony switched on the stereo system and dropped onto the sofa to eat the rest of his pizza; AC/DC blasted around the room so loud that Obie flinched and glowered fondly at him. Only Obie could glower fondly. It was probably a trait of all those who ever put up with the generations of Stark men. Though, of course, if anyone would ask his father, he would snort and insist that Tony was no man, and certainly not a Stark man of any worthy calibre.
Whatever. Old news.
"Got any homework, kiddo?"
"Fuck all if I know."
He rolled his eyes. "Right, right, watch my language, whatever you say, Dad."
It was only a joke, Tony had called Obie Dad a million times before, but they both looked down at their feet for a long, quiet moment. Before anything else could be said, Tony got up and shut himself in his room until he heard Obie leave. It was his godfather's job to make sure Tony had dinner on the nights Mom and Dad were away, and he had done his job. Tony huffed a sigh against his bedroom door and asked Jarvis to shut out the lights, "But keep the music."
The housekeeper sighed over the intercom but only said, "Of course, young master," in the long-suffering dry wit that was so very Jarvis of him, before the lights in his room dimmed to a comfortable level. The music blared on.
For another few hours, Tony sat at his workbench and worked on DUMMY - his first fully-functional robot, complete with Artificial Intelligence and everything. Maybe if he did something right, got some press, a few honors from the city, Dad would stay home for a few days and actually take notice. Mostly, though, Tony wanted DUMMY for himself, a reminder that he was smarter than Dad thought, a helper with more projects, even someone to talk to if the AI was good enough. One robot would help build another robot would help develop a more advanced AI program and soon enough Tony would be king of the world. He probably wouldn't even need Dad's company, especially not if his AI became hyper-cognitive and took over the world. Then he'd have an in with the new overlord. It was gonna be awesome.
He fell asleep at four in the morning, AC/DC blasting, hunched over his workbench with DUMMY twitching under his cheek. Jarvis shut down the stereo and put a blanket over him as soon as it was safe, smoothly exchanging the robot arm with a pillow, before gently ruffling Tony's hair and turning in for the night as well. What a sweet boy. Such a pity.