"Tony, Bruce, Steve, Clint, and Pietro in the second tent," Mr. Coulson's voice drones. At the sound of his name, Bruce's head snaps up. He pushes his crooked glasses up his nose, blinking the sleep from his eyes. He shrinks behind the desk as Steve Rogers, the most popular jock at Shield High, turns around in his seat to smile at Bruce. Bruce looks away.
The hiking trip is in two days, and there is nothing that he's dreading more. The only reason why Bruce had gotten his mother to sign the permission slip allowing him to go in the first place is because it's better than staying at home with Brian Banner. He feels guilty for leaving his mother alone to deal with the wrath of his father, but he needs a break. A break that will take him far, far away from the mess that is his home.
Bruce watches as none other than Tony Stark himself lazily twirls a pen around his fingers. The genius bites his lower lip and chews before scribbling what Bruce expects to be an idea for a new invention in his notebook. He wishes he didn't, but he has a bit of an obsession with Stark. The guy's papers on nuclear warfare from freshman year are absolutely fantastic, and Bruce has seen enough of his designs to know that Tony is brilliant, astonishingly brilliant.
The only problem is that Stark is also a self-absorbed, stuck-up asshole who likes to flaunt his wealth in everything he does. It's in the clothing--the shirt alone is probably a hundred dollars, and twenty times as much as Bruce's own Goodwill sweater--the car, which is a sleek Aston Martin painted a specific red and gold; and even in the way he walks--or rather, saunters--confident and smug and expectant.
When Bruce watches Tony, sometimes he sees a flicker in the teen's face, like a mask has slipped by accident and has revealed a certain sadness underneath. He's intrigued by it--are you like me?--but he'd never have the bravery to speak to Tony Stark. He might know a lot about gamma radiation and he set the curve in AP Chemistry, freshman year, but nobody notices him. They all would rather stare and admire the strikingly handsome, rich boy with the reputation of being "experienced" in bed and the penchant for trouble.
There's a rustle around him, and Bruce pulls himself from out of his thoughts to find that everyone is loading their papers into their backpacks and binders, standing and leaving the classroom in packs. Tony Stark's voice drifts through the doorway, loud and boisterous like usual. Alone, Bruce picks up his bag and prepares to walk out the door when he feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns to see Mr. Coulson looking down at him with eyes that seem full of concern.
"Yes sir?" Bruce gulps nervously. It's not often that teachers speak to him, and he'd like to keep it that way.
"You seemed a little distracted in class today. Is there anything wrong?" Coulson asks kindly, and Bruce is suddenly glad that the English teacher will be coming with them on the trip.
He shakes his head quickly, and adjusts the strap of his bag. He wants to move the weight to his other shoulder, where there are no bruises, but he doesn't want to make Coulson even more inquiring.
"That's good," Mr. Coulson says warmly, and squeezes Bruce's uninjured shoulder. "If you have any problems, just come to me and we can talk, okay?"
"Okay, sir, yes, sir," Bruce mumbles before shuffling out of the classroom. He can feel his teacher's eyes burning into his back, and feels a wave of relief when the door finally shuts. His back hurts from yesterday, when he came home late to see his father once again drunk, but he ignores the pain and walks alone down the hall to the cafeteria. Sometimes he wishes...he wishes...he just wants to run away.
Pietro is, to say the least, чертовски обозленный, or damn pissed. As soon as the names "Tony" and "Pietro" came out in the same sentence, he felt like throwing all his books to the floor and kicking his desk over. Was Coulson serious, putting the worst guy on earth in his group? He hates Tony Stark, he hates all Starks, and he especially fucking hates Howard Stark. But family is family, and the apple can't fall far from the tree, so Tony's probably as much a dick as his dad, if not worse.
He stomps down the hall where his twin, Wanda, joins him a few seconds later. "What's wrong?" she asks him in her lilting Russian accent.
He shakes his head, blonde hair flying into his eyes. "It's Stark," he growls. "Fucking Stark, again."
"Did he do something to you? Are you okay?" Wanda, gentle as ever, wraps an arm around him. They look like an odd pair--one with dark eyes and dark hair and the other with hair dyed white-blonde and icy blue eyes, yet with similar features in the nose and the eyebrows and the pale skin.
Pietro shakes his head, nearly spits before remembering that unlike in Sokovia, schools are not dirty or impolite. "That hike," he says in his halting English, "Coulson put Stark in my tent. Of all people! Can he not see how much I hate that asshole?"
Wanda sighs. "Well, you probably won't even talk to him that much. There are three, four other people with you, right? It will be easy to avoid him."
"Not when we are in the same tent, Wanda!" Pietro snaps, before realizing how loud he's being when everyone in the hall turns to glance at him. He lowers his voice, says, "Who did you get?"
"This girl named Virginia," Wanda says, "and Natasha, and Darcy."
Pietro laughs, even though his previous mood still lingers behind his easy facade. "You have a very...tough group."
"They are cool though," Wanda replies, grinning. "Natasha has been teaching me backflips and Darcy has told me the best way to taze someone." She furrows her brow. "Whatever this tazing is."
Pietro shakes his head, amused, and guides Wanda through the crowd of student with his arm slung around her shoulders. The two weave through the mass of bodies until they reach their table in the far corner of the room, where he always sits with Steve, Bruce, Clint, Natasha, and Darcy.
"Hey, Pietro," Steve greets with a smile as the Russian sits down with his sister.
"Hello," Pietro replies, and Wanda gives everyone a warm nod. For the first few minutes, the banter is light and easy, until there's a lull in conversation and Pietro turns to see none other than Tony fucking Stark striding towards them, a lazy smirk on his face.
"I figured I'd get to know all of the people that I'm going to be sleeping in the same tent with for five days," he says as he smoothly inserts himself between Pietro and Bruce. "I'd introduce myself, but you already know who I am."
"Too well, in fact," Pietro snarks. "I know who your father is too, that bast--" Wanda elbows him hard in the ribs, effectively shutting him up. He tosses a glare at his sister, who stares back with equal firmness.
Stark raises his eyebrows, his mouth forming a little "o". "Someone's grumpy today," he comments, pulling out a sandwich and taking a huge bite. "Ah, I love jelly. Best thing in the world. Besides AC/DC, that is."
"What are you doing here?" Pietro asks, having recovered from the elbow. His mood is worsening by the second, and he curls his fingers into fists under the table. As if Wanda can sense his irritation, she covers his knuckles with her palm reassuringly and he almost relaxes for a second. Then remembers that Stark is sitting right next to him, with his thousand dollar clothing pressed against his own ragged shirtsleeve.
Stark shrugs. "I'm gonna be spending a week pressed up against you while lying on the dirt, so I've decided to check you out. See if you're good enough to sleep in the same space as me." He slings an arm easily around Pietro's shoulders.
"Leave Pietro alone," Steve interrupts all of a sudden, narrowing his eyes. Pietro feels a wave of relief that someone is coming to his rescue, even though he'd like nothing more than to simply end this right now with a nice left hook to the jaw.
"Do not touch me, Stark." The name slides from his lips like poison.
Tony shakes Pietro lightly, his arm still locked around the blonde. "C'mon, buddy, lighten up. What's your name, anyway; Pietro, right? The guy twin from Sokovia?"
At the mention of his hometown, so easily said, especially from the very person who ruined his life, Pietro feels a flash of fury so sharp that it cuts down to the bones. He stands up even though he has to twist his body awkwardly in the tiny gap between bench and table edge, towering over Stark.
Stark raises his hands in a placating gesture, a smile still on his face but a little nervous now. "Awh, come on, P, I'm totally harmless, see?"
Pietro sucks in a breath. He can feel Wanda's delicate fingers tugging the hem of his shirt, her low voice telling him to stop, to sit down, but he's too angry now. He ruined your life. He killed your parents, he destroyed your home, he took away everything you've ever known. He deserves to pay.
Now Stark stands, too. "Is someone mwad?" he taunts, purposely stepping closer to Pietro even though he's two, almost three inches shorter.
"Do not talk to me like that," Pietro snaps, glaring at the top of the billionaire son's artfully tousled hair. "You do not know what you have done to me."
"Nothing," Stark shoots back, chuckling. He crosses his arms. "What, am I annoying you because I sat between you and Brucie here?" Bruce shrinks back, looking like he wants to be anywhere but here.
"Fuck off, man," Clint says loudly, gripping the edges of the table with white fingertips. "We don't want you here."
"Is this 'Everyone Be Mad at Tony" Day?" The genius runs a hand through his hair, causing the dark curls to poof up even more. "Because hey, can't say I'm not honored. Any holiday is good enough for me. Do I get, like, coal as a gift?"
Pietro's world goes white. The next thing he knows, there are hands gripping his shirt and yanking him back, and Tony Stark is standing there with his nose bleeding and his eye and cheekbone already black. "Why do you not fight me back?" Pietro says, stepping closer. "Hm? Are you too afraid?"
Stark just stands there, a little frozen. Then he jams his hands into his pockets and walks out of the lunchroom like his feet are anchored to the ground.
The throbbing in his face has faded to a dull ache, something that Tony finds easy to ignore. He's used to the pain--although, Howard rarely ever whacks him anymore because he's too busy paying no attention whatsoever to his only son. As a result, Tony's pain tolerance has improved immensely over the years, along with his ability to talk about anything in sight if only to keep himself company.
"What happened?" As soon as Tony enters the office, Mrs. Rogers, who works from noon to five o'clock as the school nurse, stands up immediately from her desk. If only her son was as nice, Tony thinks irritably.
"Got into a fight. No biggie," Tony says, shrugging. Besides Mr. Yinsen, Mrs. Rogers is the only staff member who actually likes him. Or, at least, acts like she does. Coulson is okay to him, but the only reason why is because the man is indifferent instead of yelling at Tony all the time. He still isn't sure if Coulson hates him or not.
"Where's the other boy, then?" Sarah Rogers smiles fondly over her shoulder as she fills a bag with ice from the freezer. As much as Tony knows she disapproves of his antics, he likes to think that she almost loves him as a son. Even though that'll never happen, it's a nice thought. "I figured you'd have put up a pretty good fight, hm?"
"I didn't fight back," Tony says quietly after a beat of silence. "It...I didn't feel like...the violence today." His sentence comes out nonsensible and awkward, but Sarah gets him anyway. She looks at him with a tender kindness that makes Tony wish that she would adopt him, or something. She works the night shift at the local hospital, so she's seen him come in enough times with broken bones and bruises and burns that he guesses Sarah's put two and two together by now. But dear ol' Dad is a wealthy man, and Sarah knows just as well as he does that if she spoke up, she'd probably lose her job.
It doesn't matter anyway, Tony reminds himself. Other kids have it much worse. At least I've got money. Like, take Bruce Banner, the kid with the curly hair and constant twitching and, occasionally, severe anger issues. He's ninety nine point nine nine nine perfect sure that Banner gets beaten black and blue on a daily basis, but he's never seen any proof. It's not hard to tell, though. Plus, all those Goodwill shirts must feel like crap compared to Tony's soft leather and cotton. If it wasn't for Bruce's violent flinch when Pietro slammed his fist into Tony's face, he wouldn't have regretted taunting the Russian kid at all. Even though he knows that the guy won't get away with that so easily.
"Just hold that ice to your cheekbone and eye," Mrs. Rogers instructs. She studies his face critically. "Your nose has stopped bleeding, but if it starts up again, tilt your head back and hold a tissue to it and you should be fine. Any pain, any pain at all, and you come to me, Tony, okay? Don't act like a tough guy to impress everyone. If you're injured, you need to tell me so I can help you."
"Thanks, Mrs. Rogers," Tony mumbles as he presses the ice to his cheek.
"Call me Sarah, Tony, dear," Sarah says, smiling at him. There's a tinge of an unknown emotion in her eyes--sadness, maybe, but why would she be sad? Maybe it's because she's finally tired of all of Tony's constant stupidity--as he exits the office.
Tony's walking down the hall when he sees a dark figure turning the corner at a breakneck speed. "Hey, Tones, you alright? I saw what happened," Rhodey says in a rush, clapping his best friend on the back.
"Yeah, doesn't even hurt," Tony mutters. "'m fine, Rhodey, you don't have to worry about me."
"If I don't worry about you, who will?" Rhodey cocks a half-smile. "Besides Pepper, of course, but she's the mom. I can be the dad. But if you say so, man." He looks at Tony closely. "You've got a real bruiser right there. That Russian kid with the white hair, he's the one who socked you, right? I'm gonna pummel him into the dirt after school. But, Tones...why didn't you fight back? I figured you would." He laughs, wraps his arm around the shorter teen.
"I dunno." Tony sighs and tosses the ice bag into the air. Rhodey snatches it mid-fall and grins before handing it back. "I just...didn't feel like it. Too much fighting and violence and stuff."
Rhodey winces. "Yeah. You sure you okay though?"
"I'm good, I'm good. Stop worrying, Dad," Tony snarks, jostling Rhodey in the shoulder.
Rhodey rolls his eyes. "Shut up with that, Tones. If I ever had a kid with Pepper, we'd have a much better looking baby. My eyes, her hair...yeah, that'd be such a cute kid."
Tony laughs, and it's easy to forget about the events of today for a second, walking down the hallway casually with Rhodey. But inside, he hates Pietro. Why does everyone think he's done something wrong, even before they know him? Why is Tony always the bad guy, why is Tony always the one who gets slugged in the eye and the face and the nose just for opening his mouth?
He closes his eyes, leaning his head against Rhodey's shoulder. The ice pack has numbed his skin to the point where he can barely feel his face, so he drops the bag into a nearby trashcan and doesn't stop.