“So,” said Ellen, grinning conspiratorially at the well dressed young man across from her. “You Starks are famous for being able to live down anything, from drunken scandals to the Taco Bell incident just a couple years ago. Like water off a duck's back, isn’t it?”
“More like water off vibranium.” said Peter. “You need a bulletproof self-esteem to survive that level of stupidity.”
The studio laughed, and Ellen reflected that this was possibly the easiest segment she’d ever done--and judging by the guest it would be the most successful too. “So tell me. What was your most embarrassing moment. I have to know. What was the last thing you couldn’t live down.”
“I don’t know if I can do that.” said Peter. “It’s… horrifying.”
“Oh come on.” said Ellen. “You have to tell me now.”
Peter looked resigned. “Back when I was fifteen,” he said, “One of the classes at my school took a field trip to Stark Tower.”
“Well that can’t end well.” said Ellen.
“It gets worse Ellen. Just wait.” said Peter. “I wasn’t in the class, so I didn’t know about it until it was too late. So there I am, loafing about my own home in my pajamas covered in a rather large amount of engine grease, when suddenly I come face to face with all of my peers.”
By then, the whole studio was roaring with laughter. “What kind of pajamas?” asked Ellen, once she’d recovered a bit.
“Itty bitty little shorts.” said Peter. “It was probably the most embarrassing situation possible. And this was before anything was public--anything at all. As far as they knew, I’d never even been to Stark Tower. Honestly I don’t know who was more surprised, them or me.”
The roars of laughter got louder at Peter’s over-exaggerated horrified shiver, but what they didn’t know was that it came from a place of deep pain, because that was when Peter’s life had gotten truly awfully weird. Even weirder than Spider-man…
Peter didn’t actually notice anything on the day itself. It had been a stressful week, he was trying to get ahead before he left for Arizona, and frankly he devoted very little thought to what went on in classes and extracurriculars he was no longer attending. School was all well and good, but it wasn’t helpful in patent applications or trying to scale up his zero point manufacturing processes for industrial use, nor did it endear him to the accords council, so it wasn’t something he really thought about at this point. Mostly, his attendance still happened solely because he needed a break and wanted to hang out with Ned and MJ. And also because he needed the arts credits. Art was evil.
On the morning itself, he was taking a break. He’d worked non-stop through the night and he figured he deserved a couple hours of fun before continuing the daily grind. So, at 10:23 AM that Tuesday morning, he was entering the basement testing rooms of the Stark Tower complex. There was a lot going on there, but Mr. Stark usually had a bay or two for his larger projects, and Peter knew for a fact that there was a 1958 Ferrari GT California Spyder (not to be confused with the 1958 Porsche Spyder a level down in the parking garage) there in desperate need of a tune up and a new set of brake rotors.
It was one of Mr. Stark’s quirks that Peter appreciated. There was always a car mid-restoration. When Mr. Stark finished one, he got another. They were sort of like fidget cubes, except worth several million dollars each. It was nice though, to have something like that around for when quantum physics got too frustrating, and since Mr. Stark had shown him exactly how an engine worked he availed himself of the distraction several times.
As Peter pulled up the progress notes on the restoration and cranked up the AC/DC unaware of what was about to descend upon him, the Advanced Robotics Class of Midtown Tech was entering the building. Flash was making a fool of himself. Ned was geeking out despite having been to the tower several times, and nobody was sure what MJ was doing. She wasn’t even in the Robotics class. Despite that, nobody had argued when she got on the bus armed with a sketchbook and a rather malicious expression.
Ned knew that expression. It meant that a crisis was about to happen and MJ intended to draw it.
Suddenly, realization sprang over Ned like a cold splash of water. He suspected he knew exactly what crisis MJ was there to draw.
As the rest of the class proceeded through the security line, he drifted a bit to the side, enough not to be heard as he whispered into his conveniently FRIDAY connected phone. “Hey FRIDAY, where’s Peter?”
(Peter wiped off his grease covered hand onto his ratty red tank top. Instead of ‘If this shirt is blue you are going too fast,’ it now read ‘If this shirt is blue you are going too fas-.)
“Peter is currently in testing cubicle E” said FRIDAY.
“Oh.” said Ned. “What is he doing?” he asked.
“Currently, Peter appears to be enacting a dramatic rendition of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.”
“Oh god.” said Ned. “Does… Is our tour going there.”
(“THe’Re WAs nO HeLp fRoM yOu!” sang Peter, followed by an enthusiastic “THUNDER” and a little hop)
“Your tour will arrive in the testing bay in approximately an hour and a half. The itinerary calls for a brief presentation and a walk-through of one of the low-priority labs followed by fifteen minutes in the testing bays, after which the tour will be released into the museum and gift shop.” said FRIDAY sweetly.
Ned was very afraid. “Can we skip that part.” he asked.
“No” said FRIDAY. “I’m afraid that action is prevented under the ‘bathtub photos’ protocol.”
“What’s the ‘bathtub photos’ protocol?” asked Ned.
“The only permissible action in the case of Peter embarrassing himself is to save photos. Interference is not allowed except in cases of actual danger or distress.”
Ned was briefly afraid. Then mortified for Peter’s sake. Then he got over himself. It would be painful for Peter, but proof of his internship would probably streamline his school life by a lot. And besides… “Can I have the photos?” he asked.
“Certainly.” said FRIDAY. “Would you like your classmate’s reactions as well?”
Ned nodded, in awe of FRIDAY’s awesomeness. “FRIDAY,” he said, “If you had a real body I would totally ask you to prom right now.”
“I’m certain the evening would be enjoyable.” said FRIDAY. “However, I wouldn’t want Ms. Brant to miss out.”
Ned blushed. “I told you that in confidence.”
Meanwhile, lured by the irresistible twin sirens of Vintage Cars and Slacking Off Work, Mr. Stark wandered in, and joined in conference with Peter over the engine block. As it turned out, the Ferrari was going to need a lot more work than they’d originally thought. They’d need to get in some parts they didn’t already have before continuing much further with the engine. It was decided that Peter would finish up there while Mr. Stark rolled under and looked at the brake lines. They were a mess.
FRIDAY was also being uniquely unhelpful to everyone. Ned (he’d succumbed to the temptation of old habits quickly and gone to notify Peter of his impending doom) couldn’t get a text out. The files on Flash’s phone had become mysteriously corrupted--none of his illicit photos or videos would make it out of the building. And as for Peter and Mr. Stark? Their ‘work’ had slowed down into something that involved minor poking around (Peter) or lying on the creeper doing nearly nothing (Mr. Stark). FRIDAY was quite proud of her role in causing the situation. Hopefully she could arrange for a meeting between those groups.
The other person FRIDAY was being unhelpful to was Ms. Potts. Pepper didn’t blame her though, since she was well aware of Tony’s slacking abilities. Since the man was supposed to be dealing with actual work he would obviously be squirreled away somewhere with Peter tinkering, and FRIDAY was basically incapable of snitching on her creator or surrogate brother, which meant that Pepper would need to find them the old fashioned way. She’d start with his personal labs and then check the part of the basement that bore a shocking resemblance to an auto-shop. If she didn’t find him either of those places, she might have to do something drastic, like ask for Peter’s help the next couple of days. Putting Peter somewhere was an almost guaranteed method of getting Tony to show up there, and Pepper wasn’t above using that fact for the good of the company. (Tony’s board meeting attendance had skyrocketed as soon as Pepper asked Peter to shadow her. It was genius.)
Meanwhile, on the tour, Ned was actually managing to act cool around an actual data scientist. This was because the part of his mind generally dedicated to awed fanboyishness was currently occupied with contemplating the impending peterpocalypse. It was going to be a disaster of epic proportions.
“Five bucks says he freaks out so bad he briefly forgets how to human.” came a voice from right beside Ned’s ear.
Ned jumped, before realizing it was just MJ. “No bet.” he said. “He forgets how to human when the toaster pops. No way will he survive us being here without glitching out like a Bethesda game.”
“What are you idiots talking about.” said Flash, butting in where he wasn’t wanted. Clearly he’d been listening the whole time. Ned reminded himself about situational awareness for the forty-fifth time just that day..
“Taking bets on Peter’s reaction when he finds out about this field trip.” said MJ, cleverly giving away nothing while telling the absolute truth. Ned had to admire that skill, even if it didn’t mitigate the coming trainwreck.
“Five bucks says he throws a tantrum like a little baby when he finds out the jigs up about his fake internship.” said Flash. “They told us at the very beginning that all the interns are college aged.”
MJ rolled her eyes. “Five bucks says you’re the one throwing the tantrum.”
Flash smirked. “Done.” he said. “Whoever whines loses.”
“All right!” said the peppy tour guide. “The next part of the tour will be the testing rooms. These are where we test the prototypes we machine in-house, as well as build larger models or troubleshoot larger processes. They were originally part of the Avengers section, and are even Hulk-proof! I know it’s going to be cool, but you have to remember the NDA’s. No photos or videos, and if you accidentally see a company secret, don’t tell anybody.”
The whole class nodded. This was the part they were most excited about. They might have been surrounded by science the entire tour, but that would be where the science that went boom went.
“We’re doomed.” muttered Ned.
Four minutes later, the class was set free to walk through the observation corridor above the testing rooms. Within two minutes, they were congregated all together around the window to one of the least impressive projects--a completely normal car. That wasn’t what they were looking at though.
“Is that…” said one girl.
“Peter Parker.” whispered someone else.
Flash made a Noise. It bore a shocking similarity to the sort of noise one would make when kicked in the nuts. MJ started drawing.
“Oh my god.” said another girl. “He’s like… shredded.”
“I mean, he was cute, in an awkward way,” said girl 1 (Ned really needed to learn the names of his classmates) “But now he’s…”
“Yum.” said the other girl. The sentiment seemed to be accepted by most of the class, even the straight males.
“Short shorts work on him.”
“Okay but you’re ignoring the important part. He’s here, at Stark Industries guys. That whole internship thing isn’t a fake. Do you have any idea how wild that is?”
“He’s like a genius Abe. We all half expected the internship to be real. Suddenly developing a six pack is way more impressive.”
“Do you think he actually knows Spider-man?”
“Fuck that, do you think he knows Iron Man.”
“No way. Interns are small fry. Even if he met him it would be more of a handshake-and-move-on thing than actually knowing the dude.”
“I don’t know. He did say he knows Spider-man, and we know Spider-man knows Iron Man. That’s like… way closer of a connection than most of us have.”
Suddenly a commotion on the side of the room stopped all of the panicking, conversation, and admiration of Peter’s gorgeous ass as he leaned over the gorgeous car. (Ned was secure enough in himself to realize that Peter’s butt was an absolute work of art.) Pepper Potts had arrived on scene, and they could tell she was angry, even through the soundproof glass and large space.
Actually, Pepper was more than angry. She was furious. Steaming. Utterly livid. Her absolute idiot of an ex-boyfriend was cheating out on work (again), and yet she wouldn’t even get to yell at him properly because she’d been telling him to a) take more time for himself, and b) connect more with those who loved him for ages now, so he had an absolutely stellar excuse. Making her job even more difficult was Actual Puppy Dog Peter Parker’s huge doe eyes lighting up in utter delight upon seeing her.
“Hi Pepper!” he said, “What are you doing down here?”
Pepper melted like a Popsicle on a hot day. “Hi Peter, I’m just looking for Tony. I’ve got a couple things for him that are pretty urgent.”
“Anything I can help with?” asked Peter.
“I’m afraid not.” said Pepper.
“And besides.” said Tony, emerging from under the Ferrari like some kind of mythic car god emerging from the deeps. “You’re on light duty until Arizona. Science Fairs are a big deal cucciolo.”
Peter snorted. “Like I’m capable of doing my presentation anything but perfectly. You drilled me way too many times for that Mr. Stark.”
“Practice makes perfect.” said Tony.
Pepper smiled angelically down at Tony who was still lying on the creeper. “Why don’t you be a good example then and come review the release presentation for the new watch model then? That one certainly deserves perfection.”
Tony sighed, and even while moping dramatically Pepper thought he looked the happiest he’d been in a long while. (She had a suspicion it had to do with proximity to one Peter Parker)
“Fine.” he said, rolling to his feet to the accompaniment of several rather painful sounding back cracks. “Why don’t you finish up in here and then come upstairs?” he said to Peter. “I can show you how a press release works.”
“Shower first though.” said Pepper. “Both of you. The next person who gets motor oil on my office furniture gets to do my taxes. And let me tell you, I’ve made a lot of poorly documented charitable donations this year.”
“Yes ma’am” said Peter earnestly. Tony rolled his eyes.
“I’m giving you time to escape cucciolo. Do it while you can.” he said, ruffling Peter’s fluffy curls with his filthy hand.
“Hey!” said Peter.
“Get to a good stopping point Peter, and don’t rush.” said Pepper. “It will be a while before we get to the good part.” Then she herded Tony out of the room, and pretended not to notice him mouthing ‘save me’ over his shoulder at Peter.
None of them noticed their shocked observers during that interaction. Peter didn’t even notice afterwards for several minutes. In fact, he didn’t notice until he’d closed the hood and turned to leave. He’d noticed someone watching for a while but hadn’t paid attention. When things were boring in between tests, people admired the car. It happened. Still, they’d been watching for a while, and at the end he glanced up to see who it was, only to make eye contact with twenty-four pairs of familiar eyes.
“I’m sorry.” whispered Ned. MJ, long finished with the Flash drawing, started up again--this time with the subject of Peter.
Peter, meanwhile, put a large hand-print shaped dent into the edge of one of the worktables and briefly forgot how to walk.