Peter stops just outside the gates of Midtown Science like there’s a sniper rifle viewfinder trained on him. Then he sees Tony standing there, propped against the sleek and decidedly unsubtle car he pulled up in, and his jaw partially unhinges itself from his face.
Tony cocks his head at him. “Get in the car before people start rolling to a stop in front of you, your eyes look like traffic lights.”
“M-Mr. Stark, hi, wow,” says Peter, doing a predictably poor job of collecting himself as he hikes his backpack further up onto his shoulders and walks over to the car. He inexplicably fiddles with the zipper of his jacket, pulling it all the way up to his neck. “Um, okay, where are we going?”
“Chuck E. Cheese,” says Tony, opening the door for him.
“Hey, don’t knock Chuck E. Cheese,” says Peter, getting into the backseat, looking nervously behind his shoulder at his classmates as they start to funnel out. “The Ske-Ball machine on the one in Queens is rigged, you can get tickets for days — ”
“I’m going to do you a solid, kid, and pretend I didn’t hear any of that.”
“Yup, thanks,” says Peter, gazing out at his campus through the tinted windows as the car drives away. He turns back to Tony abruptly, his eyes bright and earnest. “Is there some kind of mission? I’ve got my suit and my passport in my backpack — ”
“Easy, kid. We’re just going upstate.”
Tony wonders for a moment if there’s a gentler, more “kid who hangs on your every word”-appropriate way to put it, but instead he cuts right to the chase: “Look, I promise I’m not trying to cramp your style or anything. But you’re terrible at hand-to-hand combat.”
“What?” Peter’s face is immediately redder than an emergency flare. “But — I mean, I’m fine out on the — ”
“Oh, are you? I’m guessing the bruises up and down your ribs from last night beg to differ.”
Peter creases his lips. “Baby monitor,” he mutters, looking out the window again.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s skip past the part where you slam the metaphorical bedroom door and say I’m ruining your life and cut to the chase — you may have super spider strength, but it’s useless if you don’t know how to use it. You’re going to have weekly hand-to-hand combat sessions with Natasha at the tower, starting now.”
“Wait, wait — like, Black Widow Natasha?” Peter blurts, all traces of offense gone as soon as they came. “Are you shitting me?”
“Language,” says Tony, immediately wincing because dear Jesus, he hates admitting to himself how much Cap has rubbed off on him. Still, it’s not his fault that a swear word coming out of Peter Parker’s baby face is about as jarring as watching a bird juggle.
“Sorry, sorry,” says Peter. “Wow. She doesn’t mind?”
“If she did, we’d know. Trust me.”
There’s a beat. “Oh my god,” says Peter gravely. “She’s going to kick my ass. She’s going to murder me.”
Tony crosses one of his legs over the other. “Yeah, well. At least you won’t have to worry about the SATs.”
Forty minutes and approximately one hundred questions later, Peter is at the compound and learning the basics from a surprisingly patient Natasha. Tony hasn’t exactly come right out and told her that the punk kid and the Spider-Man that was fighting with them in Germany are one in the same, but only because he figures he doesn’t have to — even if the kid’s voice weren’t painfully distinctive (so much for interrogation mode), Natasha is way too observant to be fooled.
“Not bad,” says Natasha, when Peter actually manages to avoid a blow.
“Thanks,” says Peter chipperly, even though he is nursing Natasha’s recent uppercut to his jaw.
Tony’s not really committed to watching, only looking up from his screen every now and then, but even from here he can tell the kid is sweating profusely.
“Wanna take off that jacket, maybe?” asks Natasha, beating Tony to the punch.
Peter shakes his head almost violently. “N-nope, I’m good.”
Natasha shrugs. “If you’re sure.”
Tony leaves to take a call, and by the time he comes back Peter and Natasha are still at it — and the kid is still in his jacket, sweating so much that his entire face looks like someone lit his brain on fire inside of his skull.
“Kid,” yells Tony. “Just take off the jacket.”
Natasha and Peter answer at the same time, Peter saying, “I’m good!” and Natasha wryly echoing, “He’s good.”
Tony scowls. He clearly isn’t. Why on earth would Peter insist on wearing that ridiculous jacket for all two hours of —
Oh. Oh. Tony doesn’t know why he didn’t think of it earlier; the kid obviously got into some kind of scrape, and is trying to hide it from Tony again.
“Pause,” says Tony, raising a hand up.
Natasha pulls her punch back, and Peter teeters a bit on his feet, not quite as prepared to come to a full stop as Natasha was. Tony walks across the room to the two of them and crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“Jig’s up, kid. Take off the jacket.”
Peter’s expression is so pained that it looks more like a kicked puppy on the side of the road than an Avenger-in-training. “Um, no thanks,” he bleats.
“Wrong answer,” says Tony. He nods at the zipper. “Off.”
“I’m fine,” says Peter, pleadingly. “Um — if anything, it’s cold in here — ”
“Don’t test me, kid. Take it off.”
Peter doesn’t move for a moment, but Tony knows it will only take a few seconds for the kid to shrink under his gaze. Sure enough, slowly, excruciatingly, Peter’s hand lifts to the zipper of his jacket. He pauses for a moment, his face more miserable than Tony has ever seen it in all the months of knowing him, and unzips the jacket.
At first Tony is so focused on looking for whatever ridiculous bodily injury the kid is trying to hide that he doesn’t even notice the real source of embarrassment; it isn’t until Natasha turns away and tries to hold back a snicker that Tony goes off the offensive.
“It was a birthday present,” says Peter miserably. “Also — I just — it was my turn to do laundry, and I haven’t done it yet — ”
“Oh, dear God.”
Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t —
Emblazoned on the now painfully sweaty cotton t-shirt on Peter’s torso is an image of the Iron Man logo, accompanied with the words, “KEEP CALM AND IRON ON.”
Tony tries to hold in a wheeze, and even charitably considers, for a half a beat, turning the other cheek and letting the kid off the hook. But he can’t keep it up — he takes one look at Natasha, who is practically holding her breath trying not to laugh, and within a second the two of them burst into merciless cackles as Peter covers his face with his hands and all but melts into the floor.
“Kill me,” says Peter to Natasha. “I know you can. Just do it — ”
“Aw, come on, kid,” says Tony, slapping him on the back so hard that he stumbles a bit despite all of his uncanny, radioactive insect-induced strength. “Don’t sweat it.”
This, of course, only makes Natasha laugh harder, because the kid is so caked in his own sweat from keeping the shirt under wraps that he looks like someone just dragged him out of a lake.
“I’ll never live this down,” Peter mutters under his breath.
“No, you won’t,” Tony agrees, the smile still curled across his face. “Now please go get some water before you pass out.”
Peter obliges, murmuring to himself under his breath as he goes.
“And hey, kid,” Natasha calls. “If you forget what I taught you in training, just remember to keep calm and iron on!”
Peter stops short and turns to her. “Betrayed by my fellow spider,” he deadpans, before he picks back up again and walks away.
“Too harsh?” asks Natasha, her eyes glinting, as soon as Peter is out of sight.
Tony shrugs. “Eh. A little hazing is healthy. Prep the kid for college and all.”
“Exactly how old is he?”
“The approximate age of someone who unironically owns a ‘Keep Calm And Iron On’ shirt.”
“... Fair enough.”