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The Marvelous Misadventures of Peter Parker and Harley Keener

Chapter Text

You see, the thing about Peter Benjamin Parker is that for someone seemingly incapable of keeping his secret identity, well, secret, he's pretty good at lying about everything else.

'Everything else,' consisting of injuries of the non- and life-threatening variety, how bad the bad guys really are (and yes, Peter, serial killing wizards are definitely above your paygrade, and where were these weirdos coming from anyway? He needed to have a talk with Strange soon), the amount of schoolwork he brushed off in favor of helping a cat down from a tree, and literally everything else Tony needed to know for the sake of his sanity (and safety because he still didn't fully trust May to not murder him in his sleep, yet) but Peter refused to tell him because he was a little shit like that and was obviously planning to come into his inheritance early by giving Tony a stress-induced heart attack.

("He kind of reminds me of you."

"Shut up, Rhodey.")

You see, the thing is, Tony is fully aware that there is a dangerously, fine line between the benevolent protectiveness that comes with suiting up a hero and taking him on as a protégé—and yeah, Tony can deal with that, it's all business when it comes down to it, really, and he excels at that—and actually caring about what happens to the kid.
It is that side of the line that scares him the most because already he feels something warm and soft curl in his chest whenever he sees Peter and it's so sickeningly sweet that Tony swears he developed a cavity the first time he felt it.

Which was just. Ugh.

(Insert full-body shudder here.)

Tony Stark tries not to get too attached, he really does.

Attachment leads to caring about people. Caring about people leads to loving them. And loving them leads to the inescapable conclusion that they will one day leave you alone and hollowed out.
And most likely trapped in a wormhole in space.
(Okay, so maybe Tony's being a little dramatic, but still. It's the truth.)

He's read all the fairytales and watched all the Disney movies about love saving the day or a passionate lip-lock somehow curing the prince of a fatal poison. (Which is completely, scientifically impossible, by the way. If anything, the kisser would probably end up contracting the poison themselves. But who's he to ruin someone's childhood?)

The moral of the story being that love wasn't a weakness, but something that empowered you, enabling mothers to lift trucks off their babies and whatnot. (Most likely trucks that he probably dropped on them while trying to "save" the world but that was neither here nor there.)
But, like all things in life, love was a double-edged sword.

Loving people made you weak because when they leave, (and trust him they always do, be it by choice or not) they take pieces of you with them.

So the plan had been to keep Peter at an arm's distance and out of harm's way, but of course nothing ever goes his way, so here he is in his workshop at four-thirty in the morning re-watching footage of Peter's latest skirmishes while reminding himself that everything he's doing is utterly and perfectly normal and in the no way has he crossed that imaginary line in his head.

(On a completely unrelated note, Tony is the king of self-denial.)

In the video, the kid talks way too much, but it's cute how much pure joy he gleans from taking down muggers and bank robbers in a skin-tight spandex suit in the middle of the day.

Weird, but cute.

The smile tugging on the corner of his mouth promptly disappears when someone gets a lucky shot in and it's only through pure luck that Peter manages to avoid being shot in the chest, dodging at the last possible second, and it skims his side instead.

Damnit, kid.

Peter stumbles but regains his footing easily enough to web up both thugs and leave post-it notes on their foreheads.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Tony massages the spot on his forehead that feels like drums are being pounded into his skull.

This kid is going to be the death of him.

He mutes the sound on the screen and moves it aside, colors flashing out of the corner of his eye as he brings up a holographic display of what may or may not have been an illegally obtained email about one Harley Keener to the Rose Hill County School Board. He reads it for what must have the eightieth time since he'd gotten the notification in the middle of a meeting.

(Enter Problem Child #2.)

...Mr. Harley Keener, despite his notable test scores, is aggressive, defiant, and utterly incapable of showing his teachers or peers respect...

...has on several occasions caused explosions in the chemistry lab and started small fires in shop class...

...dismantled the engines of several students and administrators for what he claimed to be "an investigation in human stupidity and ingenuity"...

...broke several windows with prototypes of his so-called "potato gun"...

...after multiple attempts of disciplinary action, the school believes it is in the best interest of the students for Mr. Keener to be expelled from Rose Hill High School...

Expelled.

"What the actual fuck, Keener?" Tony murmurs under his breath.

"Hey, Tony," The kid in question calls as he descends the steps into his workshop, his telltale drawl slipping through the frosted glass. Friday simultaneously closes the Spider-Man video screen and opens the screen door, letting him in.

Harley, for the most part, hasn't noticed the email, too busy tinkering with something that Tony has a sneaking suspicion once belonged to his microwave.

"Did you take my microwave apart?" He asks, turning around in his seat.

Harley continues as if he hadn't heard him. "Quick question: do you think it's possible to isolate the ionized particles of electricity using a high voltage transformer and then channel that energy into a potato?"

Tony stares. And blinks. Does it again.

"Well?" Harley insists, impatient as always.

"Nuh, uh. Me first. Did you take my microwave apart?"

"No."

"Look at me." Tony orders. "Answer again."

Harley does, baby blues glinting mischeviously even as he repeats himself, "No."

"You're an absolute menace," Tony says. "I hope you know that."

"But I'm your menace, right?" Harley's smile is pure, concentrated evil and damn it if Tony can't feel himself starting to smile back because he's weak like that and this is not the best way to start an important conversation and potential grounding.

He adopts a more serious expression, trying his hardest to look stern and disappointed but also open and understanding. (These parenting books obviously have no idea how the human face works but Tony decides he might as well give it a shot.)

Harley notices and frowns, drawing his eyebrows together in concern. "Are you having a stroke?"

What?

"What? No!"

"Oh. What's up with the face then?"

"This is what's up, Keener." He turns in his chair slightly to pull the hologram around, key points of the email already highlighted and circled in bright red.

Harley frowns, then pales considerably, his hands finally stilling on the machinery in his hands.

"Oh. That."

"What do you mean, 'Oh. That.' Harley, did you know about this?"

Harley shrugs, avoiding his gaze. "Mr. Anderson may or may not have mentioned something in passing at my last disciplinary meeting."

"Wha-? And you didn't think to tell me?" Tony splutters.

"I didn't think it mattered!" Harley replies, suddenly on the defensive.

"You're being expelled from the only high school in your town, Keener. Of course, it matters." Tony swipes the screen away so he can see Harley more clearly. "And what's with all these infractions? Kid, I knew you were a delinquent in the making but this seems a little excessive. Even for you."

Harley says nothing, his hands moving over the gadget in his hands.

"Talk to me?" He pleads.

Harley rolls his eyes, exuding the kind of world-weariness that only an angsty teenager can perfect. "You're making a big deal out of nothing. I'll just apply for college this fall. Problem solved."

Tony scoffs. "You're kidding, right? You're a seventeen-year-old high school junior with a rap sheet."

Harley points his screwdriver at him. "Hey, I'm a seventeen-year-old high school junior with a rap sheet who's a fucking genius–"

"–Language–"

"–And besides, you went to MIT when you were only sixteen. How is this any different?"

"Because I wasn't expelled, Keener. You were and according to this email," he threw a thumb over his shoulder. "You gave them plenty of ammo to do it. I mean, programming the school intercom to play 'Baby Shark' at all times of the school day. Really?"

"That was pure comedic gold. I was being funny."

"What about when you released twenty frogs from the Biology lab?"

Harley sniffs. "I was doing my part as a PETA ambassador, no more and no less."

Tony raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms. "And the schoolwide blackout?"

"That had nothing to do with me."

"Allegedly," Tony drawls. "But I distinctly remember you asking me about circuitry and wiring that week; something about wanting to test a new invention that needed a sufficient power source."

"Oh?" Harley's leaning back on the table now, aiming for nonchalant and almost succeeding. "I don't remember having that conversation."

"Really, because Friday does, should I have her play it back or–?"

"No, no, no!" Harley exclaims, eyes wide. "Fine. Yes, I admit it. I have been more...difficult lately." He looks pained to admit it.

Tony snorts. "That's one word for it."

"But what kind of teenager doesn't act out every once in a while? I'm only fulfilling the stereotypes put in place by society." Harley makes a motion as if to say, 'You didn't think of that, did you?'

"Yeah, well, society also tells us it's okay to be ourselves but I don't go out wearing socks and sandals, do I?"

"Do you want to?"

"What? Ew, don't be stupid! Of course not." Tony shakes his head. "The point is, you're not leaving school. I won't allow it."

"You can't do that," Harley says but he sounds unsure.

"Funny," Tony tilts his head. "It almost sounded like you were telling me, the head of a multi-billion dollar company and former Avenger, what I can and can't do."

Harley rolls his eyes but leans into Tony's touch when he swings an arm around his shoulders, leading him out of the room.

"You're being unnecessarily pushy right now. Metaphorically and figuratively."

"And you're being unnecessarily difficult," Tony retorts. "Why can't you be more like my intern?"

Friday closes the door behind them, lighting the way to the elevators which also opens as they approach.

"Kitchen, Fri," Tony says.

"Yes, Boss."

"You know I'm starting to think that this intern of yours is nothing but a ploy to get me to think that I have competition," Harley says, picking up the threads of the conversation.

"What competition? There's no competition." The elevator brings them to the kitchen where a steaming pizza sits, most likely delivered by Happy before he went off on his date with May.

"Really? Because I haven't seen or met this mysterious intern. How do I know he isn't a figment of your imagination? Or some kind of reverse psychology technique to get me to behave?"

"He's not," Tony insists, flipping the box open. "I've had him for almost a year now, you just haven’t bothered to come see me in ages. Peter is a real boy just like you."

Harley snorts. "Then why haven't I seen him yet?"

"He's on a school trip for the weekend. When he gets back, I'll introduce you."

"Yippee." Harley rolls his eyes and when Tony glares he adopts an innocent expression. "What?"

"Be nice, Harley."

"When am I not nice?"

"When you're being an ass, coincidentally. The two correspond worryingly well. Peter's a good kid. He doesn't need your sarcasm."

"Everyone needs a dose of Keener sarcasm. They just don't know it yet."

"I'm sure. You know, nowhere in your criminal record did they mention the reason for this." He touched the black mark underneath Harley's eye briefly, changing the subject. "Do I want to know the story?"

Harley shrugs, picking the olives off of his pizza even though he was the one to ask for them. "Lost a fight with a door frame. There isn't much to tell."

Tony hums. "How's your sister?"

"Good. She loves the boarding school she's in, made loads of friends."

"And your mom?"

Something flickers across Harley's expression, too fast for Tony to catch.

"Rehab. Again." His voice is too smooth, too casual, and Tony frowns.

Harley catches his expression and waves a hand at him. "Don't stroke out on me yet, old man, it's fine. I'm staying with my aunt and her boyfriend until she's back."

"Oh. Good." Tony clears his throat and hates himself a little because emotions have never been his strong suit and for the briefest moment, he wishes Cap was here, which, weird.

"Well, until I figure out how to get you back in school," Harley smirks sheepishly and Tony resists the urge to tousle already mused locks. "Maybe you can stay here for the week. Think your aunt would be good with that?"

"Yeah, of course." Harley nods enthusiastically.

"Great." Tony claps. "You may actually get to meet Peter."

"If he exists."

"He does."

"Maybe I'll meet Spider-Man, too."

Tony almost chokes and quickly covers it up by popping the cap on his root beer and swigging it down. "Yeah. Maybe."

"So what's Patrick like?"

"Peter." Tony corrects.

"If you say so."

"I do say so. So does his birth certificate. Because he was born, you know, like a real person." Tony snarks before getting the conversation back on track. "He's a lot like you, actually; scary smart for his age. He's more of a biochemist than anything else but he isn't lacking in any other departments either."

"I'm failing to hear the part where he's better than me and I thought replacements were supposed to be that," Harley interjects, expression curiously innocent, and this time Tony really does mess with his hair.

"For starters, he isn't as much of a little shit–"

"–My hair–!"

"And second, neither of you are replacements for the other, ok? I want you guys to be friends. Is it too much to ask for you to be civil?"

Harley levels him with a deadpan stare that reminds him so much of himself it's almost terrifying.

"Fine. Fake it if you have to. Just don't make him cry. I will not be held liable for your death if his scary friend and aunt attempt to dismember you."

"I will. Scout's Honor." Harley raises his hand and Tony pushes it back down.

"Please. You've never been a scout for a single day in your life."

"Pinky promise then?" Harley holds out the digit and grins, wiggling it.

Tony rolls his eyes but acquiesces. "You're fucking weird, kid."

"You missed me though." Harley's smile is wicked and this time Tony does smile back.

He really did.

Chapter Text

"Your bodyguard's here or whatever." MJ nods to something over Peter's shoulder and he glances back to see Happy pull into the driveway in one of Tony's less conspicuous cars (which is to say, not very conspicuous at all but at least it wasn't fire hydrant red).

"You know he's not actually my bodyguard, right?" Peter asks, rising from the steps of the school and shouldering his duffle bag.

"You know I don't actually care, right?" MJ parrots his tone before looking back down at her book. "Loser."

"Well, Peter's right." Ned agrees, the faithful friend that he i—"He's May's boyfriend, not his bodyguard."

Scratch that. Ned is the worst friend ever.

"Ugh." Peter shudders, shaking his head. "Don't say that, man. It's weird enough having to see them together. And besides, May says they haven't put a label on it yet. They're just seeing how they fit—whatever that means."

"Hmm. Obviously, she's the pants of the relationship." MJ intones dryly, a slight smile curving her lips.

"Obviously." Ned and Peter say simultaneously and they exchange grins. Their handshake is just beginning when it's interrupted by Happy honking the car horn twice.

"Gotta go!" Peter skips down, careful to stumble over the last few steps as he has taken to do to maintain a clear divide between him and his other identity. In his haste, however, he ends up actually tripping over the last step and Happy has to rush to catch him.

"Christ, kid," Happy admonishes, gripping his shoulders. "Are you trying to break your neck? Your aunt would kill me. And then Tony would resurrect me just to do it again."

"Sorry." He grins, breathless, handing his duffle over. He turns back around, "Bye, Ned! Bye, MJ! See you guys tomorrow!"

The former waves an equally enthusiastic goodbye whilst the latter only flips him off, her stony facade betrayed by the subtle warmth in her eyes.

"You coming?" Happy asks and Peter climbs into the back seat, drawing a belt over his chest while Happy clambers in and starts the engine.

"The boss wasn't expecting you until tomorrow." Midtown disappears from the rearview mirror as Happy takes a right on Solitude. "Someone get impaled or something?"

"Or something." Peter agrees vaguely, fighting a smile.

"You wanna try that again?" Happy asks, raising an eyebrow at him in the mirror. "Maybe with words and an actual explanation?"

"Do you actually care or do you just wanna know if there's anything you can snitch to May and Tony?" Peter raising his own eyebrow back.

"You call it snitching, I call it doing my job." Happy shakes his head. "Which means keeping you and/or your secret safe. So tell me: anything we need to worry about? Why was that Flash kid on crutches?"

Peter rolls his eyes. "Don't worry. Neither I nor Spider-Man had anything to do with that."

The trip had ended early because Flash had twisted his ankle being a pompous ass, as usual.

The idiot had been showing off at the hotel pool and had the bright idea to push Peter into the deep end from where he'd been standing with Ned and MJ. Instead, Peter's spider-sense kicked in, moving him out off Flash's reach and sending the boy tumbling into the water headfirst.

Peter wishes he could feel bad but something about watching Flash's prank backfire in his face was deeply satisfying.

"May's taking an extra shift at the shelter so it's up to the boss to watch you tonight." Happy pulls him out of his head and Peter will never get used to Happy being privy to information like that now that he's dating his aunt. Almost as much as he will never get used to May trusting Tony enough to watch him, in spite of the whole Spider-Man debacle. "You want to pass by a burger joint before I drop you off?"

"While a burger does sound great," Peter grins, feeling his stomach rumble on cue. "I'd rather I get something to eat at the mansion. You see, there's this upgrade to the suit that I want to work on and at first, I didn't know how I was going to implement it but then at that physics museum we were visiting I realized that with the right formula I could-"

"Take a breath, kid." Happy interrupts, eyes fond even as he rolls them. "It's like all of your words are racing to see which one will come out first."

Peter flushes red to his ears. "Sorry."

They finally arrive at Tony's mansion, a three-story smart house made of glass and steel that not only had Friday installed but a fully-functioning lab and garage, as well. (There are also the several empty guest rooms that Peter pretends not to know add up to the number of the original Avengers.)

Peter had liked looking at Avengers Tower back when it was the home to Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the coolest structure in Manhattan barring the Empire State Building. The idea of just existing in the same state as his idols was enough to send him into cardiac arrest as a kid.

It had been a monument to everything good in the world.

And then Germany happened and Tony sold the building. To get rid of the bad memories, Happy and Pepper had explained but sometimes...Sometimes Peter wonders if Tony sold the Tower to get rid of all the good memories too. (He knows from experience that the memories that made you smile hurt more than the ones you wished you could forget.)

And although Tony technically moved into the Compound and Peter technically has a room there larger than the apartment suite he shares with May, he still prefers the mansion on 5th Avenue.

It's closer, for one, to Midtown and Queens and May. Tony isn’t there very often but Peter likes to think that when he is he's more at peace there than at the Compound, surrounded by all the things that used to make him happy. He never really seems to mind that Peter lets himself in to do his homework or improve his webbing in the lab, or wander the halls of the mostly abandoned mansion wondering about the locked doors he could open if he wanted to but chooses not to.

He has a room there, too. (And no, something about that doesn't make Peter feel unreasonably happy. It's just a room. Obviously.)

Happy drops him off at the door and pulls out of the driveway to run some errands—something about having to buy a microwave(?)—leaving Peter to re-shoulder his duffle and let himself in.

"Good evening, Mr. Parker. How was your trip?" Friday asks as she shuts the door behind him.

"It was...eventful. Is Mr. Stark in?"

"Boss is currently taking a call in his office with Secretary Ross."

"Oh." Peter blinked. "Should I wait or...?"

"Boss has previously informed me that anyone is welcome to interrupt his conversations with the secretary. In fact, he encourages it."

"Really? Cool." Peter bounds down the hallway and skids to a stop in front of Tony's office, a see-through room with floor-length windows and several computers on a curved, wooden desk.

He finds Tony inside, pacing back and forth like a cat while he tosses a rubber ball between his hands.

He has a StarkPhone headset in his ear, nodding along to whatever Secretary Ross is saying even as he rolls his eyes and looks like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world.

"Yeah, no, I hear you loud and clear, Ross...Yes, I am taking notes...I totally am!... Yeah, and how would you know, huh?"

Peter knocks on the glass wall to signify his presence and Tony jumps a little before honing in on him. He pantomimes a heart attack before straightening up with a wink, his eyes glinting mischievously behind red-tinted glasses.

"What, I'm still listening. You were talking about that one thing, right? That thing with Clause 65?...What do you mean we stopped talking about that an hour ago?!"

Peter laughs a little and waves, used to Tony's antics.

Tony waves back, points at his phone, then mouths the words, "talk in a minute."

Peter nods and continues down the hall for the stairs, taking them two at a time for the second floor where his room resides.

He nudges his door open with his hip, throwing his duffle down on his unmade bed and kicking off his shoes. He quickly changes into a pair of Hello Kitty pajama pants (sue him—they're super comfortable) and an SI t-shirt before he leaves.

He makes his way past the living room and into the kitchen and—

—There's a kid in the kitchen.

Sitting at the island countertop with something in his hands that looks worryingly similar to a homemade detonator. Every once in a while he stops to make a note on the blueprint paper next to him but for the most part, he remains focused on the tech in his hand.

"Um," Peter says involuntarily and the kid looks up, freezing Peter in the entryway and causing him to feel very much like an intruder even though he's the one with a bedroom upstairs.

He takes in messy, dark blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a crooked grin that straddles the line between playful and mocking. There's a bruise fading underneath his right eye.

"Huh. Who would've guessed it? You're real." He says, almost to himself, and Peter blinks at the southern drawl lining his words.

"Um," Peter repeats because the English language has finally decided to take its revenge on him for butchering it and ditch him today.

"I could've sworn the old man was making you up." He shrugs then, turning back to his blueprints and tinkering like he hasn't just confused the hell out of Peter.

"I'm sorry, b-but who are you?" Peter finally manages to stutter out.

"I'm Tony's son, obviously." There's an eye-roll in that sentence that Peter decidedly does not appreciate but that problem takes a backseat to the one currently sitting in front of him.

"But...You can't be."

"Why not?"

"What?" Peter's confused.

"Why can't I be Tony's son?"

...And there are so many things Peter can say to that. Ranging from the fact that Harley's blonde hair and blue eyes are recessive traits and therefore do not make sense if Tony was his father to the fact that Mr. Stark has never mentioned him before in the history that Peter has known him.

He settles on the obvious.

"Mr. Stark doesn't have kids."

"How do you know? Does Dad tell you everything?" Harley still hasn't looked up from his blueprints and Peter's grateful for that at the moment because something inside him squeezes painfully at the thought of this random kid getting to call Tony 'Dad' and Peter mentally berates himself.

Harley finally does look up again, eyes piercing. "You're not very talkative, are you?"

"I've...Mr. Stark's never mentioned you."

"Funny, 'cause he's mentioned you. He calls you his protégé—big word, right?—but he must have forgotten about me, huh?"

"I..." Peter feels horribly wrong-footed, like stepping onto the next step in a staircase and finding empty air instead. He swallows and feels like his forcing bees down his throat, stingers and all.

"I am loving the outfit by the way. I wish I had the confidence to work Hello Kitty the way you do." And Harley's smile is definitely mocking now, more unkind than not.

Peter feels his face turn beet red and he can't even begin to formulate a reply because his thoughts are turning into intangible wisps of nothing as his anxiety crawls up, and Tony finally—relievingly—walks in, his call with the Secretary apparently over.

"Peter, there you are." He ruffles his hair on the way to the coffee machine. "I see you've met our resident menace."

"Kinda." Peter chokes. Harley shrugs.

"Well, to make it official." Tony swings an arm around his shoulder and nudges him forward. "Peter Benjamin Parker meet Harley James Keener."

"Pleasure," Peter says automatically, his proper upbringing kicking in as he raises a hand and Harley raised an eyebrow before returning the gesture.

"Likewise."

"Keener," Peter repeats, looking back at Tony. "So, he isn't your son?"

"My son?" Tony looks both amused and bewildered. "Who gave you that awful idea? Was it this little demon?"

"Please." Harley snorts, flipping his hair back. "You should be so lucky as to be biologically related to me."

Tony snorts. "Don't believe anything he says, Peter. He's a spawn of Satan. Little munchkin broke my microwave the first day he got here."

"Well, you broke into my garage the first time you came to my house." He spreads his hands out. "Consider this evening out the scoreboard."

"Breaking in is such a strong way to put it."

"And how would you phrase it?" Harley parsed dryly.

"Seeking shelter from a homicidal maniac in the first safe haven that happened upon me by divine intervention."

Harley shrugs. "That sounds a lot like you're just dressing up breaking and entering with fancy words."

"Yeah, well..."

The rest of Tony's words are drowned out by the buzzing in Peter's ears, steadily growing louder as he struggles to keep his anxiety in check.

Breathe. He needs to breathe.

—Except it's getting a lot harder to do that and who the hell was this kid?

"—ight, Peter?" Tony asks, startling him and he blinks a couple of times to recalibrate himself.

"I...What?" He asks.

"You're not a very good listener, either." Harley hums, head tilted to the side. "I'm curious. How do you function in human society?"

"Harley," Tony's voice was chiding. "Lay off a little. He hasn't built a tolerance for you yet."

"Said like I'm a disease."

"An infectious one." Tony corrects.

Harley rolls his eyes but seems to understand, despite Peter’s initial thoughts of him being a complete and utter ass. He leans back in his chair with a teasing grin and wandering eyes, tapping out a rhythm with his pencil.

“Sorry, sorry. I just get carried away some times. Especially when I’m nervous.” 

Nervous? Peter wants to laugh.

Harley looked nothing of the sort—all blonde hair, blue-eyed perfection with a sharp, sugar-sweet smile that confuses the hell out of him because how was that even possible?

No, it was Peter who was nervous and anxious and angry and about five seconds from a panic attack. Nervousness was nothing compared to the whirling thoughts threatening to drown him at the moment.

“Anyway,” Mr. Stark interrupts before Harley or Peter can say anything—although, Peter doubts he can still say anything. “Harley’s staying for the week while I work something out for him back home. Maybe the two of you can work together in the labs? Cook up something cool but. You know. Not radioactive."

"But things are more fun when they glow green." Harley pouts and Peter's almost tempted to laugh.

"That's...actually not true," Peter says, and what do you know, he is still capable of human interaction. "In reality, the alpha and/or beta particles from the radioactive material—i.e. radium, promethium, or tritium—strike molecules of a phosphor, typically zinc sulfide, which then emits green."

Harley looks vaguely impressed which Peter couldn't care less about, his attention already turning towards Tony who nods his approval.

"Told you he was smart." His mentor leans back against a wall, cradling his cup.

Peter feels his face glow.

Harley shrugs. "Maybe, but which one of us is wearing Hello Kitty?"

Tony blinks a couple of times then looks at Peter appraisingly.

Peter has only just met Harley James Keener — and he's already having trouble deciding which of their heads he wants to slam into a wall.





“It was nice to meeting you, Peter.” Harley's smile is something half-formed and Peter really cannot with this guy. "But I've got to go to sleep before I pass out. Jet lag and all that."

He smiles tightly while Mr. Stark crows, "Don't let the bed bugs bite."

Harley rolls his eyes and disappears into the living room, his footsteps carrying him up the stairs.

“So, kid,” Mr. Stark turns to him, his eyes bright and excited. “What did you think?” 

“He’s...” Arrogant, cocky, mean, ruining my life by existing. “Nice.” 

He must have not done a good job of lying though because Mr. Stark suddenly ducks his head to peer beneath Peter's fringe, his expression going through a million different emotions before his eyes go soft and concerned.

"You okay, kid?"

"What? Yeah. I'm great." Peter forces a smile that tastes like plastic and Tony raises an eyebrow in response.

"You know you can talk to me, Pete."

Peter hesitates. "...Of course, I do."

Tony sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "Harley's a bit much, I'll admit, but he's a good kid. He just takes some time getting used to and if you hate him completely by the end of this week, well, it's not like you're going to be seeing him again anytime soon."

Peter's smile goes a little more genuine at that, remembering that Harley was from a completely different state and therefore, not any real competition. Not that he thought he was, to begin with.

"Yeah, you're right." He gives a little chuckle. "I mean, it's not like I'm going to school with him."

"Yeah, that would be...That would crazy." Tony's gaze is far away, gears turning behind his eyes, and Peter waves a hand in front of him. "Huh."

"Are you okay, Mr. Stark?" He asks.

"Wha—? I'm fine. Sorry, just thinking about something."

"What did Secretary Ross want?" Peter asks, changing the subject.

"Nothing he's gonna get." Tony deflects, moving into the living room with his hand on Peter's shoulder. "Now c'mon. Let's get the Empire Strikes Back playing. Fri?"

"On it, Boss."

Peter settles next to him on the couch, fatigue catching up to him even as the title screen begins to roll. Before his eyes shut completely, he thinks he hears Mr. Stark murmur.

"For the record, kid: I think you look pretty good in Hello Kitty pajamas."

Chapter Text

Harley's one week stay with Tony (or, as he likes to call it, the Tony Stark Experience) goes a little something like this for the most part:

9:00 AM — After a night of half-dreams and vague nightmares, Harley manages to rouse himself awake (said as if Friday hadn't disabled his snooze button after he hit for the seventh time, the traitor). He makes his way downstairs around the same time Tony is coming out of his lab from the elevator. (Harley's usually pretty good at determining whether Tony spent the night there or just decided to get an early start that morning. The former happens more worryingly often than not.)

9:15 AM — Tony drinks the coffee leftover from his last trip to the kitchen (which, gross, by the way—that thing could be anywhere from an hour to eight hours old) and Harley eats whatever he finds in the fridge, usually the donuts Happy leaves behind before disappearing off to run errands and the like.

("I'm going to have a talk with Happy soon," Tony eyes the extravagantly dressed donut in Harley's hand with disgust. "That can not be healthy."

"I doubt the dying remains of a cheeseburger with day-old coffee is any better."

"Blasphemy.")

10:00 AM — Harley's hair is still damp from his shower when they retire into the garage after breakfast. There, Tony draws up blueprints for Iron Man upgrades and Harley admires the absolutely gorgeous engines of Tony's numerous cars and begs to take one out for a spin. The results are usually disappointing but Harley likes to think he's wearing him down.

("No." Tony's not even looking at him this time.

"I haven't even asked yet!"

"I can feel you looking at her—Stop it."

"C'mon! I'll give you-" He scrambles for something, anything. "I'll give you the blueprints to my potato gun!"

"It's cute that you think I need the blueprints to anything."

"But–" Harley's about to get on his knees.

"Give it up, Keener. There's nothing you currently have that I want."

Silence.

"...What about my firstborn child?")


11:45 AM — Lunch happens when Pepper arrives, usually to scold Tony for working so hard and being a bad example before convincing them to eat the food she brought.

("Pepper, my love, have I ever told you that you are the celestial body of which my world revolves?"

A tired sigh and Pepper Potts really is a goddess among men when it comes to self-control because she simply rolls her eyes and pushes some papers in Tony's direction.

"Eat your salad, Tony.")

1:00–5:00 PM — Sometimes, Harley spends hours with Tony and they lose themselves in the workshop, their ideas feeding off of one another until somehow they've managed to prototype a robot that simply exists to tie people's laces together. Other times (most times), Tony is drawn into "Avengers business" as he puts it. Also known as "keep-your-ass-out-of-my-office-Keener" time. When that happens, Harley wanders the halls of the mansion, talking with Friday and studying the numerous pictures of Peter Parker hidden in plain sight all over the house. He wonders how he didn't notice them before.

("How did they meet?" He asks today, looking over one with Tony and Peter standing at what looks to be a science fair of some sort.

Peter has a blue ribbon on his display.

"Boss stumbled upon Mr. Parker's work by accident and grew quite interested in him. He tracked him down and offered him an internship at SI." Friday replies.

"Huh.")

7:00–11:00 PM — Their evenings are usually laden with bad jokes and snarky remarks until it's time to sleep and Harley does so more peacefully than he has in a long time. (It helps to not have drunken yelling and brawls outside. Or inside.)

Overall, it's...nice. Really nice.

Harley doesn't want to leave.



*~*


For someone branded as being unpredictable and volatile, Tony sticks to a pretty strict schedule, especially when coffee is involved and the pot that Harley made about thirty minutes ago is still steaming when the inventor emerges from his lab at seven PM on the dot with sleeves rolled up and welding goggles in his hair.

"Welcome to the land of the living," Harley greets around a mouth full of pizza, and Tony simply throws something in his direction.

"What's this?" Harley asks, studying the brochure Tony has just tossed onto the counter on his dash for the coffee machine. It's a routine by this point and if it were anyone else, Harley would seriously consider tripping them.

Cap, maybe. He'd like that. Tony would too, maybe.

Tony doesn't answer, just grunts and waves a hand in his general direction.

Rolling his eyes, he scans the front page: Midtown School of Science and Technology, it reads.

"What is this?" Harley asks again when Tony seems more awake.

"A high school." Tony shrugs.

"Well, no shit. Why'd you give it to me?"

"Give it a gander and let me know what you think. It's a good school—one of the best in the nation. The kids there are as smart as you. Maybe smarter.

"Doubtful." But Harley's attention has been peaked, flipping through the pages and reading the programs available.

"You like it?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Good. You're going tomorrow."

Harley nearly does a spit take. "I'm sorry, I think I don't think I heard you. Run that by me again?"

Tony rolls his eyes. "Drama queen. I'm sending you to Midtown, kid."

"Wha—? Why?!"

"Because it'll be a good experience. Healthy and enriching and all that."

Harley levels him an unimpressed look.

"Fine. I had a talk with the district superintendent of the bumfuck-of-nowhere, Tennessee and lucky for you, she's of the belief that all kids deserve a chance to succeed, no matter what their issues. Unlucky for you, your principal has her damn near convinced you're an agent of Hydra who kills puppies in his free time."

Harley winces. "That bad?"

"Worse." Tony deadpans. "So I made a deal with her: go one full day in any high school as a good, little student and you're back in Rose Hill High."

"Really? Just like that?"

"Just like that."

Harley looks back down and wonders why the school symbol looks so familiar and then remembers finding a sweatshirt on top of the dryer.

"Wait—isn't this Peter's school?"

"Yeah. So what?"

"Peter hates me." He says it like it's a fact because it kind of is.

Tony doesn't agree.

"Peter is incapable of feeling or conveying any negative emotion, whatsoever," Tony says, rolling his eyes. "Therefore, he doesn't hate you."

"We haven't seen him all week." Harley points out.

"He has school."

"Happy said he usually visits every day."

"Happy's a liar."

"And yet you're the one I don't believe."

Tony sighs. "Fine, he isn't...overly fond of you, but you can hardly blame him. He's a delicate flower and you have the personality of a steamboat."

"That is strangely not the weirdest thing I've been compared too." Harley throws the pamphlet back down.

"I'll bet," Tony says dryly. "Give him some time. He'll come around."

What if I don't want him to? Harley doesn't ask. What if I want us to stay like this?

"We haven't talked about that night, have we?" Tony is trying too hard to be casual now, remaining slouched against the counters and tapping his fingernails against his mug.

"Do we have to?" Harley damn near whines. He feels like a child being scolded for not sharing his toys.

"Unfortunately, yes. What was all that—the snide remarks, the backhanded compliments? You're better than that."

"I thought we'd established I was a little shit." Harley picks at the fraying edge of his t-shirt.

"Yeah, but you were kind of out of line there." Tony's eyes narrow in concern and Harley notices for the first time the dark circles underneath them."You doing okay?"

Harley feels a little bad for lying but not enough to stop himself. "Fine. I just...you know...was nervous. You know how I get when I'm nervous. My brain to mouth filter stops working and I can't stop."

Tony grimaces."So, this is you with the filter? Yikes, kid."

"People in glass houses." Harley reminds him.

"I'm a billionaire—I can afford not to have a filter. And a glass house. And besides, that's what Pepper and Rhodey are for."

"Damage control?" Harley feigns innocence, and Tony steals the half-eaten pizza off his plate in retaliation.

"Hey!"

"Sorry, I have a rule about feeding know-it-alls."

Harley rolls his eyes and grabs another slice from the box while Tony settles back on the counter. The atmosphere has changed a little, more relaxed than before.

"Just...try and makeup with him, ok? You know I don't usually endorse this kumbaya hand-holding stuff, but I think you and Peter would get along great if you give each other a chance."

Harley nods reluctantly. "I'll try."

"Thank you." Tony sounds more sincere than Harley has heard him in a while and Harley performs a quick double-take.

The mechanic looks tired.

Unfortunately for Tony, Harley keeping his ass out of the office doesn't entail not listening in from his room on his modified StarkPad. Today's conversation with the Secretary had dissolved into a screaming match.

"What did Ross want this time?" He asks.

"Secretary Ross. Show some respect, kid."

"Do you?"

"Touché." Tony shakes his head. "Nothing that concerns you."

"Then what's the harm in me knowing about it?"

Tony scoffs. "None, really, but I can't be sharing government secrets with expelled high school delinquents, now can I?"

Harley points his pizza at him. "Low blow, Stark."

"Not low enough apparently. Friday caught you trying to apply to MIT."

"Really, Friday? You're spying on me now?" Harley feels extremely disgruntled—he thought they were friends.

"Sorry, Mr. Keener. But I monitor all the screens in the house." Friday at least has the decency to sound remorseful and Harley's already on his way to forgiving her.

"You know, I think that's illegal."

"Is it?" Tony raises an eyebrow. "Show me where I should give a shit."

"What if I was watching porn?" Harley challenges. "Would you tell Mr. Stark then?"

"Don't answer that, Friday. He's trying to change the subject."

"Pot meet kettle." Harley snips, taking the opportunity to direct the conversation. "What did Secretary Ross want? He's been bothering you all week. Does he usually breathe down your neck like this?"

"No, he prefers to keep his distance because I am, and I quote, capable of driving Gandhi to commit murder."

"He compared himself to Gandhi? Man must be full of himself."

"Like you wouldn't believe. And to answer your other question, we're having some slight... disagreements with the accords. He wants something he can't have in exchange for some changes."

"Like what?"

"Classified."

"I didn't care anyway." Harley tries and probably fails to look unaffected.

"Sure, you didn't." Tony hops down from the counter and nods over at the door. "C'mon. Let's go set something on fire so Dum-E will have something to do for the night."

It's Tony's way of apologizing and making up to him for a number of things probably (making him go to school, not hanging out with him earlier, etc.) and Harley accepts the offer with open arms.

"Ok." Harley grins, jumping up.

He really, really doesn't want to leave.

*~*

The next morning is a struggle.

Sleeping and waking up whenever he wanted had taken its toll on Harley; waking up at 7:15 in the morning is nothing short of torture and he immediately regrets agreeing to go to school.

He burrows himself underneath his covers and attempts to hibernate.

"Rise and shine, kid!" Tony's voice is disgustingly chipper and Harley only groans.

"I change my mind. I want to be a high school delinquent."

"Aw. You think you have a choice. Now wake up before I have Friday turn the sprinklers on."

"Arghh!" Harley rolls across his bed until he falls in a tangle of covers and bed sheets on the floor. As he tugs his limbs free, he casts a glance across his empty room.

"Tony?" He calls, confused.

"Yes?" His voice comes from the ceiling and Harley relaxes a little knowing that he isn't going completely crazy waking up this early.

"Nothing." He shakes his head as he stretches. "Promise not to give me hypothermia if I go take a shower?"

The ceiling is worryingly silent.

"Friday?"

"I'll try my best to stop him, Mr. Keener."

"Great." He drags himself into the bathroom.

A cool shower wakes him up further (courtesy of Friday and Harley suspects Tony, by proxy) and he spends five minutes after combing through his hair until he achieves the 'artfully tousled' look he has all but trademarked by now.

He leans closer to the mirror when brushing his teeth, taking in the faded bruise under his eye. He's more than relieved that Tony wasn't more suspicious when he arrived—that he didn't ask questions that Harley would rather not answer.

Another day or so and it would be all cleared up. Harley could forget it even happened. (He has a feeling they already have.)

He pulls on a pair of dark jeans and a clean, white t-shirt from his duffle bag before grabbing a dark brown leather jacket off the dresser—it smells of rose perfume, pine needles, and another smell he had yet to recognize and still isn't sure he wants to.

("I don't want anything that belonged to him." He had spat venomously when he discovered where it was from.

His mother's smile was sad, blue eyes pale. "He always planned on giving you this, believe it or not. It's your choice."

In the end, he took it anyway.)

He nearly trips and breaks his neck attempting to pull on his boots and go down the stairs at the same time. He survives—thankfully(?)—and makes a beeline for the kitchen and–

–Peter is there.

Sitting at the marble island with a bowl of Fruit Loops and dressed in a sweater vest and blue jeans, his hair looking for all the world like someone had run their hands through it then just gave up in despair.

He looks surprised by Harley's presence but not necessarily startled.

"Um. Hi."

"When did you get here?" Harley asks.

"Um...ten minutes ago?" He shifts in his stool, uncomfortable. "Mr. Stark said he needed to see me before I went to school."

Harley narrows his eyes. "You don't know why?"

"Um, no?" Peter frowns.

Tony hadn't told him yet, then. Harley feels happy about that, for some reason.

"Do you always answer questions with another question, Parker?" He offers instead, trying to keep the smile off his face as he moves fully into the kitchen.

"No?" Harley raises an eyebrow and Peter flushes, bright pink splotches making themselves known across his face. "No!"

"Right." He opens up the fridge, frowning at the distinct lack of donuts. Maybe Tony had meant what he said about getting Happy to stop indulging him.

He sighs heavily. Of course Tony decides to be a responsible adult the day he needs his sugar fix the most.

"Cereal?" Peter offers when he closes the door.

"I'm good, thanks." Then remembering his promise to Tony, he adds less snippily, "I'm more of a donut guy myself but Tony has taken it upon himself to regulate my sugar intake all of a sudden. Quite annoying."

"Oh, um. I think there are pop tarts somewhere? I remember stashing them somewhere the last time Pepper got me some."

"I thought Tony hated those things." Harley decides not to point out the question thing again.

"Hence, why I had to have them stashed," Peter says and for the first time since meeting him, Harley thinks he sees something like a glint of mischief in Peter's puppy brown eyes.

The dichotomy is jarring. But interesting too.

Or at least it is until Harley reads more into Peter's statement and realizes that there was no way Tony would not have known about the pop tarts; that Pepper, while the sweetest woman in the world, had enough free time to buy breakfast pastries; that Tony most likely asked Pepper to deliver them to Peter while pretending like he had nothing to do with the unexpected gift.

Suddenly, Harley doesn't want to be in the kitchen anymore.

"Where are they again?" He asks, turning away.

"Um," the uncertainty is back in Peter's voice, clearly sensing the wall Harley has already put back up. "Top left pantry, I think?"

"Thanks." He's already reaching for it.

The ensuing silence is awkward and tense, the clink of Peter's spoon against his bowl deafening. And Harley...Harley feels ridiculously petty for letting something as stupid as pop tarts ruin what might've been the conversation that reassured Peter he wasn't a complete ass.

He might as well have written it across his forehead in red sharpie.

Tony decides to walk in then, wearing a megawatt smile and yoga pants for some weird reason, and Harley kind of wants to strangle him for...lots of reasons, actually. The first being not warning him about Peter.

"How was the shower? You awake now?" He asks Harley on his way to the coffee pot and he flips him off in response, enjoying Peter's scandalized gasp.

Tony only laughs, pouring a steaming cup. "And how are my young prodigies this fine morning?"

"Good." Peter chirps and his face transforms in Tony's presence, open and smiling and shy.

"Barely alive." Harley drones.

Tony ignores him in favor of leaning on the island in front of Peter. "Good news, kid: I'm getting you a new chauffeur."

"Really?"

"Kind of. The catch is that it's Harley, it's only for one day, and he's attending Midtown with you."

Peter's mouth opens and closes like a fish suddenly punted out of water.

"Cool, right?" Harley asks dryly.

Peter smiles weakly. "Yeah. Cool."

"Good." Tony hands him a backpack Harley didn't notice before. "Promise to look out for each other?"

"Promise," Peter says immediately, rising from his stool, and Harley wonders if Tony's aware of the way he melts around the kid, dark brown eyes going soft and gooey when he ruffles his hair.

Something inside Harley clenches painfully.

"Harley?"

"I'll try my best." He says around a mouthful of pop tart.

Tony grimaces. "That's all I can ask with you."

"And yet I still give perfection."

Tony rolls his eyes but tosses him a set of keys.

"Wha—? Really?!" Harley nearly chokes in his excitement.

"I said chauffeur, didn't I? Happy's running an errand for me and this one"—Peter turns pink again—"should never be allowed behind the driver's wheel."

Harley grins.

"Bring my baby home in one piece, okay?" And then almost like an afterthought. "Stay safe, too."

"Shouldn't that be flipped?" Peter asks.

"No, the level of importance was addressed." Tony winks on his way out.

Awkward silence falls like a shroud once he leaves as if Tony's presence was the only thing keeping it at bay.

"Alright then," Harley rocks back once on his heels. "Shall we?"



*~*



Midtown is nice. Way nicer than Rose Hill High School and Harley admires it a bit as he pulls into the student parking lot.

The kids don't look like Einsteins and Curies anymore than they look like regular, if not slightly preppy, teenagers, but they're obviously talented to have gotten in. He sees more than a few drones hovering about and he itches to take one apart and see what makes it work and how he can make it better.

"I can show you to Mr. Morita's office," Peter says after untangling himself from his seatbelt and it's a wonder the kid hadn't strangled himself in the process. Harley nods and locks the doors with a chirp.

People peer curiously at him as he walks the halls, whispers and giggles trailing behind him and he smiles a little at the attention. It feels good to be noticed.

He gets the impression that Peter feels the exact opposite, though, the tip of his ears reddening as he speeds up a bit.

Harley rolls his eyes but picks up the pace.

Inside the office, Mr. Morita eyes him warily but hands him a cream-yellow schedule.

"I hope I hear nothing but good things, Mr. Keener."

Harley smiles winningly. "Of course, sir."

Outside, Peter reads over his schedule and his face drops.

"...You have all the same classes as me."

Harley snorts and snatches the paper back. "Do you mind toning it down a bit, Parker. No need to show everyone how excited you are."

"I–" Peter has the decency to look ashamed. "Sorry."

"Whatever." Harley adjusts his grip on his backpack. "First class?"

"Um, math. Calculus, to be specific. C'mon, I'll show you."

The class starts and Harley settles into his role easily. He lines his words with just the right amount of Tennesseean drawl to come off as charming when introducing himself, causing several cheeks to flare pink—Peter rolls his eyes hard—and then proceeds to gut out his personality until he's nearly as boring and perfect as well...Peter.

He raises his hand first, smiles politely when called upon, and makes the valiant effort to keep his snarky comments at bay (and really he deserves a godamn metal for that because at this point the sarcasm he's keeping under lock and key is starting to eat at his stomach lining.)

He gives not only one possible output value for the vector-value function on the board as asked, but lists all possible output values for that function just for the sake of seeing awe blossom across the faces of the other kids and teacher, even as Peter's own face darkens.

Peter's called upon once and startles so bad that he manages to recite the function backward, resulting in a lool of concern from the teacher and delightful guffaws from a couple of students.

Harley only raises an eyebrow and Peter avoids his gaze, sinking into his seat.

The next class is a blur but goes about the same way. Harley is virtually perfect. Peter looks more and more irritated by his presence.

It's a win-win situation, really.

During one of the more extended breaks between classes, Harley leans next to Peter's locker while the latter digs some things out for their next class.

"So, how am I doing?" Harley asks to make small talk. "Am I an angel?"

Petet snorts, his face hidden by the locker door. "Most definitely not, but you got the teachers and everyone else fooled so..."

Harley feels his grin widen. "You sound jealous, Parker."

Peter's head pops into view, face contorted in denial. "I am not! That's stupid. Why would I be–?"

He's abruptly cut off when a boy in crutches striding by suddenly shoulder checks him into the locker.

Harley blinks in surprise and straightens up, "Wha–?"

"Watch where you're going!" The kid snaps, drawing a few gazes their way. "First the field trip, now this. It's like you're out to get me."

"That's not what happened and you ran into me," Peter mutters mutinously but the kid is already ignoring him in favor of facing Harley.

"You're the new kid, right? Harley Kendrick?" He looks him up and down from head to toe appraisingly.

"Keener." Harley corrects absently, eyeing the way Peter's shoulders have suddenly stiffened.

"Well, Keener, don't know if you know this, but I'm the most popular guy here." He grins.

"Are you?"

He doesn't seem to catch the sarcasm or disbelief which is unfortunate because Harley's laying it on thick.

"Yeah, and you are way too cool to be hanging around someone like Penis." He says—declares really in that 'my word is law' kind of way.

"Penis?" He repeats. He feels like he's a step behind in this strange conversation.

"Parker, duh." He nods at Peter whose knuckles have turned white around his backpack strap.

Harley raises an unimpressed eyebrow. "And you are?"

"Flash Thompson, at your service." The kid does some elaborate gesture with his hand that's probably supposed to look cool but instead makes him nearly fall over from imbalance.

Peter actually reaches over to steady him but throws his hands up in surrender when Flash glares at him.

"Figured I’d warn you now that unless you want to sink your reputation on the first day, you’re already making the wrong sort of friends."

Flash goes so far as to actually point at Peter, and their little exchange is starting to draw a small crowd.

Peter sees this and winces, "Could we not today, Flash? Don't you have somewhere to be?"

Flash doesn't even look at him. "Well, Keener?"

Harley looks at Peter, waits for him to do anything—say anything—but nothing happens. He looks back at Flash. The kid is maybe two inches taller than Peter, two and a half at the most, but hardly threatening. He's wearing a blazer, for goodness sakes. He's on crutches, too.

But Peter doesn't move or say anything else, content to stand still and take the brunt of Flash's insults like not moving would make Flash forget he was there.

That isn't the case, of course.

"Tell him, Penis, how pathetic you are." Flash goads. There are a couple of chuckles from his goons (said as if there are multiple—there are only two) but everyone else seems content to just watch the action unfold, and no, no, no, nope. This is not happening.

Don't get him wrong. Harley is perfectly aware that he isn't exactly a saint. Hence why he was in Midtown to begin with and not his own school.

He knows that he can be a sarcastic, little shit when he wants with enough vitriol in his tone to melt several sheets of metal but he has drawn a line. A crooked, sprawling line that makes no sense at times, but a line nonetheless.

Harley James Keener is not a bully, and unfortunately for the likes of Flash, he takes pleasure in stripping their dignity away piece by piece until they become aware of how insignificant they are to the grand social order that is high school.

Harley sighs. Time to be the hero. (Or anti-hero depending how he looks at it.)

"Flash?" He repeats before Peter can turn any redder and a teacher starts to think he's going into anaphylactic shock. "Really?"

Flash looks caught off guard. "What?"

"Is that your honest-to-God birth name? Because if so, I might need to call CPS before I go back to Tennessee."

"Wha–? Why?!"

"I mean, that has to count as child abuse, right? Naming your kid that. You're basically dooming them to a life spent in alleyways selling used phones out of a trench coat with multiple pockets."

There was a ripple of shock and then a couple of giggles.

"I–No!" Flash's face was splotchy.

"No, that isn't your real name or no to everything else?" Harley inquires innocently.

"To everything!" He was fuming. "What's your deal, man? I was just offering you a chance to hang out with me."

"And I would have been okay with that if you didn't go all Draco Malfoy on me and warn me to stay away from mudbloods." Harley smiles with his teeth. "I'm pretty good at figuring out who I want to hang out with on my own, but thanks."

Several people laugh now and even Goon #1 chuckles before Goon #2 punches him in the arm with a scowl.

“I thought you could use some help fitting in. I can see that I was wrong.” Flash takes a step forward into Harley’s space menacingly, or as menacingly as one can while on crutches and wearing a blazer. “Go ahead and make friends with losers. Have fun with that.”

"Pretty sure it’s gonna work out fine, Splash," Harley says. "I'm not exactly sticking around."

"It's Flash," Flash snaps.

"Not really an improvement, bud." Harley's already stepping around him, praying that Peter takes the hint and follows him because he has no idea where his next class is and it would be embarrassing to turn back because he was going the wrong way.

Someone soon appears in his peripheral but it's not Peter. Instead, it's the kid that Peter had sat with last class, his face split open by a smile that seemed to vibrate alongside his body.

"Dude," the kid breathes, gaping. "That was the coolest thing I've ever freaking seen!"

"Why, thank you...whoever you are."

"Ned," he supplies. "Ned Leeds."

"Thank you, Ned Leeds." He shrugs like it was nothing. "Really it was no big deal."

"You're kidding me, right?" Ned shakes his head almost frantically. "That was awesome! Wasn't that awesome, Peter?"

Harley hadn't even seen him walk up.

"Yeah," Peter agrees slowly, face unreadable. "That was pretty cool of you, Harley."

"What can I say? Saving weaklings in my free time is my civil duty. I'm also Spider-Man, too." Harley makes little finger guns.

"You're no–" Ned cuts off with a weird squeaking noise and Harley looks in askance.

"Weakling?" Peter's eyes have narrowed. "I can take care of myself."

"Can you? Because Flash isn't exactly a threat and I had to handle him for you." Harley states.

"I—"

"Peter, that was amazing." Ned repeats, rubbing his now red arm, and Harley decides he likes him.

"Yeah, Peter," He throws an arm around Ned's shoulder. "Amazing."

Peter glowers.

*~*

By lunchtime, the cafeteria is buzzing about the mysterious new kid from Tennessee and several people scoot over to make room at their tables when he walks by.

He sets his tray down at Peter and Ned's little corner instead.

"You do realize that you can sit anywhere, right?" Peter asks as he settles. "You've literally become the most popular guy here in a day."

"I'm well aware of my charm and wit." He winks at Ned who chokes on his milk trying to hold back his laugh. "But thanks for reminding me."

Peter ignores that. "But you're still sitting here with us. Why?"

Harley shrugs. "Tony told me to watch out for you."

Peter frowns. "I don't need a babysitter."

"Tony seems to think you do though." He peels a pickle off of his sandwich to eat. "Take it up with him, not me."

Harley launches into a conversation with Ned who just seems happy to have another person to debate Star Wars logistics with.

"C'mon," Ned groans. "You can't tell me you believe that the force is because little aliens live in your cells."

"Why is that so impossible?" Harley steals one of his ketchup packets. "Remind me how many times New York has almost been leveled by little, green people?"

"Not true! The Centauri were centipede-things, no–"

"Hey, Ned, where's MJ?" Peter asks suddenly.

Ned blinks, no doubt confused by the sudden change in topic. "Uh, library? I think? Something about educating the librarian on banned books."

"I think I'll go see her." Peter stands up before either of them can say anything. "Do you think you can show Harley to his next class? Thanks, Ned."

"He really doesn't like me," Harley observes aloud once he's left and Ned makes a strange sound that he thinks is supposed to be a laugh.

"What? Nooooo."

Harley raises his eyebrow.

Ned deflates. "Fine. Maybe. Honestly, I haven't seen him actively dislike anyone in awhile. Not even Flash."

"Wow. Thanks. You're making me feel so good about myself, Leeds." Harley scowls.

"Your welcome." Ned grins. "But really, Peter's a softie. If you really care, just give him a little something to latch onto and he'll meet you the rest of the way."

"I'm not very good at giving people...something," Harley says slowly. They aren't in the habit of giving things back, is what he doesn't say.

"It doesn't have to be much." Ned shrugs. "Just something."



*~*

Give him a little something.

"I'm not a nice person."

Probably not the best conversation starter but the car's been uncomfortably quiet for a while now and Harley's a little desperate to find some common ground between him and Peter if only for the sake of making Tony smile when he tells him later that night.

Peter blinks owlishly, pulling an earbud out. "Um...I've noticed?"

"Good." Harley squeezes the steering wheel, relaxes his hands, repeats. "Because I don't want you thinking there's a nicer side to me—there's really not. What you see is what you get. No returns, no refunds."

Peter is actively looking at him like he's crazy now and Harley takes that as a good sign. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because this is a normal thing with me. I say stuff and people feel bad and I don't want you thinking that me acting like this is your fault or something equally stupid." He shrugs. "You seem the type. No offense."

"You weren't kidding, huh?" Peter says almost to himself.

"And," Harley continues as if he hadn't heard him. "I promised Tony I'd make you not hate me by the end of the day."

"Ah."

He racks his brain for something not dripping in acid or sarcasm. "It’s not exactly...intentional, at least not all of it, but it's hard to reel it in sometimes. I get...prickly."

"Like a pufferfish." Peter supplies.

He nods. "Yes, exactly, like a–" his brain catches up. "–Wait, what?"

"You know, the fish who blows up?"

"The...poisonous ones?" Harley ventures.

"Tetrodotoxin," Peter confirms. "It's more potent than arsenic and cyanide actually which is crazy when you think about it because..."

Harley stares until Peter trails off. "Sorry. I'm rambling."

"Oh, was that what that was? And here I thought I was having a stroke." He switches lanes without there really being enough time to switch lanes and narrowly avoids a three-car pileup.

They roll to a stop under the red light. "I just want you to know that I don't not like you," Harley says as his concluding statement.

Give him a little something.

"I don't not like you either," Peter says after a brief silence and hey, progress.

"Not that it matters, anyway. I'm leaving tomorrow. So, you don't have to worry about me anymore." He drums his fingers against his leg.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Peter open his mouth then hesitate, chewing his bottom lip instead.

"Something you want to share with the class, Parker?"

That gives him the push he needs. "There's this Italian diner that May and I used to eat at when I was younger. Their food is okay but my uncle used to say you haven't really experienced New York until you ate gelato there.

"Your point?"

"Let's go there. Before you leave."

"Like, today?" Harley asks.

"Unless you have other plans." Peter looks deeply skeptical of this and Harley doesn't know if he should be offended.

He stares long and hard until Peter is pink and squirming and the silence itself is a physical thing.

Give him a little something.

"Or not," he mumbles, looking away. "You could always drop me off ho–"

"I'm in." He interrupts.

Peter blinks in surprise. "Really?"

"Yeah." He floors the gas pedal when the lights turn green. "Let's go."