"Why did I agree to this again?" Peter, red Technicolor mask in hand, face dirty with sweat and blood, asks aloud to his friend in the next room over. His slim frame is still clad in his clingy, spandex, vibrantly red-and-blue webbed spider suit, and his webbing mechanisms are still strapped firmly around both of his wrists. He collapses onto Percy's bed, not caring about getting dirt all over Tony's expensive white sheets.
The team has just gotten back from a month-long mission involving rampant terrorists in the Middle East, and boy, is Peter feeling the after-effects.
He absentmindedly thumbs one of the triggers on his webbing device with a little too much force, and a ball of sticky white web splatters against the far wall of Percy's bedroom. Good to know he still has web. He thought it was gonna run out.
Gladiator-style helmet in hand, Percy emerges from the adjoining bathroom, skin freshly scrubbed clean of grime, body already free of his polished armor and looking a lot lighter as a result of it. "Because you have no friends, and I was trying to be a good person and share mine?"
He goes to his closet and kicks open the ajar door with the heel of his foot. A wave of clothing and recent schoolwork washes out the open doorway. With a nonchalant shrug, Percy tosses the helmet inside, and goes back into the bathroom. "And stop getting web on my walls!" he reprimands as he struggles back through the door, struggling to carry the bulk of his armor out of the bathroom in a single trip.
Peter drops his mask to the blue carpeting, yanks off his synthesized wall-gripper gloves, and tosses those over his shoulder as well. "I have friends," he protests lightly. Percy staggers across the room, panting, his arms laden with molded pieces of armor.
"Give me a hand?"
"You literally just told me I didn't have any friends."
Kicking a pathway through the mess on his floor for himself, Percy lugs his suit across the flood of garbage from his closet and dumps it all inside in an unsatisfying pile. Then he shoves back the junk so that the closet door can close, and leaves his floor in its buried state.
"It's true though, isn't it?"
Peter digs out a stack of clothing he keeps in Percy's room for days when he's too lazy to walk across the hall to his own room, and takes the bathroom, partially shutting the door so that he can still hear Percy. "I have friends. Like Gwen." He pulls off the sticky, sweat-soaked suit, and drops it, disgusted, onto the countertop.
"Yeah. Gwen, who's still mad at you for standing her up. And who else? That bully kid, Light or whatever, who's like your biggest fan?" Percy laughs. "Those definitely seem like friends to me."
Peter zips up his jeans, brushes his palms against the thighs with a satisfactory grin, glad to be back in clothes that don't cling to his frame with perspiration, and reaches for his t-shirt. "Yeah? Well what are your friends like? Enlighten me."
Percy is quiet for a minute. "You wouldn't know them."
"Because I've never met them." Peter redirects his attention to the ceiling. "JARVIS? Could you open the hatch?"
"Certainly, Mr. Parker," JARVIS replies pleasantly.
A mechanical slot of wall paneling slides back and up, revealing a glorified laundry chute big enough for any and all Avengers uniforms. Peter drops his ragged suit through the wide tube snaking from the bottom of the box down to a secret laundry room on the floor below, knowing that the next time he sees it, it will have been mended and washed by Tony's custom, superhero-suit-dealing laundry robots.
"My pleasure Mr. Parker."
Peter slides off his webbing devices next, tucking them neatly into his pockets, and washes his hands for a good two minutes, watching in morbid fascination as the stream of water trickling down the drain tinged with blood and mud and dried flakes of skin turns from pinkish-brown to clear. Then he strolls out of the bathroom feeling decidedly less grungy than when he went in.
And then he slips on a discarded homework assignment that was never turned in and goes tumbling to the floor.
"What the heck?" he says, bewildered. He sits up wearily, rubbing his sore and bruised head and pinning a dirty glare on the corner of the dresser that his head had hit. Dirty clothes are flying everywhere, chemistry and algebra II notes are spread across the floor, and Percy is at the center of his own personal whirlwind of under-the-bed memorabilia, digging through his closet with hands flashing like shovels. "What are you doing?"
Ignoring him pointedly, Percy continues to dig.
Eyes catching onto a flash of red, Peter remembers his mask and gloves, thrown on the floor when Percy was taking too long in the bathroom. He unearths the costume pieces and tosses them into the hatch as well. Just as he is reemerging from the bathroom, Percy cheers.
"Found it!" Victoriously, he stands, a battered shoe-box clutched tightly in his two hands. Curious, Peter drifts over to his teenage friend. Percy lifts the lid off the box and immediately recoils, a harsh sting of dust assaulting his nose. With a loud, hacked cough, Percy blows away the grime and picks up a handful of photographs. "Here." He points to the stack. "These are my friends." And with that he hands them to Peter to sift through.
Circulating through the photos randomly is a large assortment of people, of all ethnicities and heights and expressions. Some pictures show Percy at a campfire, looking fourteen or even younger, talking to the people sitting next to him. There are snapshots of grim looking teenagers sitting around a Ping-Pong table, eating crackers and Cheez-wiz dejectedly. One boy with curly brown hair has a ping-pong ball in his mouth. And there are shots of Percy with his sword, or playing volleyball, or running through a forest of trees. One thing is certain: Percy has a lot of friends.
Percy points to a photograph of himself standing with two other teenagers, both younger-looking than him, both with black hair. "My cousins, Thalia and Nico," he tells Peter. "Pretty stone-faced most of the time, but I think we all know they love the cousin bonding sessions."
Thalia, the girl, is eclectic, with a studded leather jacket and piercings lining her left ear. Colorful neon band buttons pop, pinned to the collar of her coat. Freckles dot her cheeks. Black eyeliner, applied very heavily, rings her bright blue eyes. A silver circlet curls around her head like a crown.
Dressed very grimly, with a depressed looking expression on his face, is a runty boy – Nico, Peter thinks – shrouded in a heavy brown bomber jacket that looks as old as Steve. His face is pale. His eyes, similar to Thalia's in complexity, but completely different in color, are a layered dark chocolate.
"Is that a sword?" Peter blurts, then clicks his mouth shut. Of all the things he could say about the picture, Peter's attention locks onto a wicked-looking blade hanging on a scabbard from Nico's waist, metal so black it absorbs light.
"Yup," Percy comments lightly. "Nico never lets it out of his sight." He takes the pictures back and stashes them back in the box with a carefree smile.
"So where's Annabeth, the mysterious girlfriend?"
Shrugging, Percy plops the container down onto his dresser. "She doesn't like cameras. I can't get within twenty feet of her when I'm holding one. Too bad really. Maybe you would stop doubting me if I showed you proof." He reaches for the television remote lying on his bed and flips on a cartoon channel.
"Yeah, me too."
Steve sticks his head in through the doorway of Percy's room, where the Peter and Percy are both sprawled out, asleep, on a paper-covered floor. "Hey!"
Voice dripping with fatigue, Percy mumbles some along the lines of, "What?" in the direction of the doorway. "'M sleepin'."
"What did you do to your room?" Steve asks, ignoring Percy's half-formed response. He bounds over a wall of discarded clothing. "Forget that, do you still want to go to that thing at your school? It's in half an hour if you do."
"Huh?" Percy mutters into the crook of his elbow.
Steve drags Percy to his feet. "That… social or… or dance, or whatever. At Goode. Are you going? It's almost seven."
Percy's eyes shoot open, fully awake. "What do you mean it's almost seven? The social-dance is at seven thirty!"
Steve frowns. "It's actually called a social-dance?"
"Yeah, well, it's Goode. Pretty self-explanatory." Percy stumbles over to where Peter is snoozing, his head resting on a math textbook. "Pete, dude, get up! We're gonna be late for the thing!"
Percy pleads with Steve, "Help me!"
"G'way," Peter mumbles.
Steve sighs halfheartedly and picks his way across the messy room, casting a critical eye at the paper-ridden floor as he goes. He drags Peter up by his arms. "You did promise you would go," Steve reminds Peter, who cringes when his eyes hit the bright lights of the skyscrapers twinkling outside Percy's floor-to-ceiling bedroom window.
"I don' wanna," he slurs.
Percy tosses a black dress shirt at Peter. "Too bad! Now get up." Then he yanks his t-shirt off and tosses it onto the floor behind him. Fingers fumbling to put the right buttons through the right holes, he risks a worried glance at the clock. "I can't believe we fell asleep watching TV!"
Steve, who had no intention on watching them strip down, wishes them luck and leaves the room, resuming his earlier course for the gym.
"Faster!" Percy urges, checking his watch. 7:13 P.M. Crap.
"I'm going as fast as I can!"
"Well evidently as fast as you can go isn't fast enough!"
Peter loops a red tie around his neck, unknotted, and swings his suit jacket over his shoulder. "Waiting on you now."
Riptide is pulled out of Percy's jeans and shoved into his dress pants. "I'm ready," he says, snagging his own suit jacket from the foot of his bed. "Ready to par-tay?" he asks with a cheeky grin.
"Wow," Percy says. "This is ironic."
"–stupid," Peter says at the same time. "Wait, what?"
Percy shrugs it off with a smile and a "Never mind,", waving a hand to gesture around them.
The auditorium of Goode High School is draped in white cloths, most likely bed sheets, and golden ribbons. Grecian style columns line the perimeter of the room. In the middle of the room is a pedestal with an altar. The punch bowl is made from a basin of hammered fake bronze, meant to look like a sacrificial fire pit.
"I don't get it."
Peter sighs and shoves his hands into the pockets of his fancy dress pants. A slip of paper brushes his fingertips, smooth and cool: his ticket for Goode High's winter social-dance. A perfectly good waste of eight dollars. "Why did you want to come to this? Your girlfriend's not here."
Dressed in a long blue gown, the hem pooling on the floor around her, a girl across the room waves madly to Percy. "Over here!"
Percy takes up long strides and Peter jogs to catch up. "So you can meet some of my friends," he reminds Peter with a sideways smile. "That's Merry. She's a bit of a fashion nut."
"Good to know," Peter remarks, trying to remain cool and removed, even as his hands nervously fist the fabric of his pockets inside his pants.
Merry runs to meet Percy, pulling him in for a quick hug, then backs up and gives him a once-over. "Dark colors, tie that brings out your eyes, shiny shoes," she muses, finger tapping her chin. "I approve!"
"Thanks," Percy quips lightly. "This is Peter."
Merry looks nice enough, not really anything stunning. She has nice hair, Peter supposes, and her teeth are white. Nothing really leaves an impression though. "Nice to meet you," he says.
"Oh you too! When Percy told us – " Merry gestures at herself and then the small group of people lounging at the table behind her, " – he was bringing his friend, we were all so excited. I'm Merry Carbuncle!" She then grabs Peter's arm and pulls him over to the table.
"Slow down Merry." Percy comments as he takes an empty seat. But there's a smug smile on his face, and Peter shoots him a glare when no one's looking.
"This is Carl! And that's Aaron, and over here is Jenny, and that's Anna, and this is Claire and this is Tom." Merry points out the members of the posse with a manicured finger. She says to them, "See, Peter wears a good tie. Red is totally Pete's color. Why can't you boys ever wear a color that complements you?"
And then she laughs, and grabs the boy Peter thinks might be Tom, but could also be Carl, and pulls him to his feet. "Let's dance!" They're gone before anyone can say goodbye.
Jenny tries anyways. "Bye!"
Peter glances around awkwardly, unsure whether he should look at the people he's supposedly 'with', or if that's considered creepy. Should he sit down? Excuse himself? Grab Percy by the ear and demand to know why he insisted on bringing Peter here?
"Loosen up Pete," Percy tells him. "Want something to drink? I'm doing a punch run, guys. Anybody want one?" The girls both ask for a cup. The one guy Peter is pretty sure is Carl requests a bottle of water. "Okay then! Back in a second." He starts off into the crowd, then remembers something and calls over his shoulder, "And socialize, for gosh sakes Peter."
Peter wants to reply back with a snappy quip, the way he does back in Stark tower, when the boys are hanging out in the lounge, playing video games with Clint and Steve and Thor, where Natasha and Bruce are watching over the tops of their books. Where Tony is tossing around a blowtorch and 'accidentally' setting things on fire, just to spite Percy.
But he's not comfortable here, with people he doesn't know, who might think being cheeky is rude, or could be silently judging him. He's an alien, hovering above this unknown planet, unsure of how this species will act and react and think.
So he stays quiet. But he does hesitantly lower himself into Percy's empty chair as a form of revenge.
"Where are you from Peter?" Jenny, whose bright blonde hair hurts his eyes, asks innocently.
"Uh… New York," he says, not quite sure just what she means.
She laughs. "No silly. Which school?"
"Midtown." Peter realizes a second too late that any student from Midtown High is a foe here at Goode. He's heard Flash talking about pounding their basketball team enough times. But the damage is already done.
"You're kidding, right?" Carl comments very suddenly, voice low and threatening. "You gotta be insane to come walking in here with Percy Jackson, head of the swim team, announcing you're from Midtown like you're some kinda cool kid," he leans forward, elbows on the table. "You wanna know what we do to Midtown geeks who come in here to spy on us?"
Peter begins to sweat through his suit. Figures that he can fight crime in a onesie, but the second some teenage thug starts giving him the evil eye, he's scared as hell. "Hey man, chill. I'm not spying on you. I'm Percy's friend. He invited me."
Carl cracks his knuckles. "And I guess it's just a coincidence that I, another of Percy's friends, am on the basketball team, right? What's Midtown high's captain's name again? Oh yeah. Flash? Or Eugene? What does he prefer? They both sound stupid."
"Oh, please. Lay off him, Carl, you're a bigger drama queen than Merry. He's not on the basketball team, are you Peter?" Claire says. She rolls her eyes at the boy.
Peter shakes his head nervously.
"Don't care," Carl remarks. "All Midtown High kids are either freaks or geeks." He goes to stand, no doubt with the intent to pound Peter, only to find his movements halted by a strong hand on his shoulder.
"Don't," Percy warns, eyes steely.
Carl snorts, deeply. "Come off it Jackson. This is who you're hanging around with in your spare time? A Midtown High geek?"
"He's my friend."
"Well so are we."
"Not if this is how you're choosing to treat my other friends." Percy gives the girls their cups of punch, which they set on the table and push away, caught up in watching Percy glare down Carl. "Here's your water." He roughly thrusts the bottle into the offender's chest. He begins to say more, but his Stark phone beeps in his back pocket. He fishes it out, reads over the text quickly, and smiles a little.
"Get your stuff Pete," Percy says.
"I didn't bring any stuff."
"Well then let's go. Thalia and Nico are in town, at that burger shop near the tower. They wanna know if I can meet them for dinner. Apparently this is the only time the three of us will be able to see each other at the same time in another couple of months."
Peter shrugs offhandedly. "Go ahead. I'll go back and play a round of Call of Duty with Clint or something. He's been demanding a rematch."
"Nope," Percy says, his gaze sweeping over the table with a meanness in it Peter didn't know he had. Peter glances at them too, only to see them hopelessly confused by their conversation. (Thalia and Nico? Tower? Clint?) "You're coming. They won't judge you by which high school you go to." He turns to go. Peter won't say he's relieved when he follows Percy out the front doors of Goode High School without so much as a backwards glance at Carl.
Peter had been pretty nervous about interrupting Percy's time with his cousins, who he knew Percy didn't get to see often. And then he was downright stunned when Percy had run up to his cousins' booth in the burger joint, gathered the both of them up in a quick hug, then pulled back and announced to them, "This is Peter. He's Spiderman."
Peter, who was pretty ticked that Percy was throwing around superhero names in such a public place, looked around to be sure no one else had heard before walking closer, prepared to give Percy a piece of his mind.
Percy had been quick to add, "Relax. They're like me." Which had only made Thalia and Nico mad, who were snickering at the thought of a spandex-clad figure swinging around New York, until Percy sat them all down and explained that Peter knew about Percy's weird powers, and Thalia and Nico already knew he was on the Avengers. And then they ordered burgers, as though they hadn't just had a ten-minute conversation all about their wickedly cool super powers.
"So he just… like, decided he was going to beat you up? Right there in the middle of a crowd of kids in ball gowns and monkey suits or whatever? Like, even though there were teachers around? Just because you're from a rival school?" Thalia, her mouth full, takes another large bite out of her cheeseburger with a thoughtful, musing expression. "Wow, what an idiot." Nico inclines his head ever-so-slightly in agreement.
Peter decides he likes Thalia and Nico a lot more than he likes Percy's high school friends.
"Did it ever occur to him that perhaps you were… simply there because Percy invited you to be there?" Nico asks lightly, taking a fry between his thumb and fore finger, holding it up to inspect it before putting it into his mouth.
"Not really. He wasn't very smart. No offense, Percy, but you didn't pick a very clever friend in Carl." Peter slurps his soda self-righteously to prove his point.
"Thanks." Percy eats another onion ring from the waxed paper tray in the middle of the table. "But seriously dude, I never would have made you go if I thought they were gonna be jerks to you. Sorry."
"Nah. The look on Carl's face when you glared at him totally made up for it. I thought he was going to wet himself."
"We are talking about the Carl who hit on me when I came to talk to you at lunch one day, right?" Thalia asks.
"That's him," Percy agrees, shoving some more of his burger into his mouth.
"Yup," Nico amends.
A comfortable silence settles over the table as they eat, broken only by Percy's starved moans as he shoves burger in his face, or by somebody sucking down their soda. Peter takes the opportunity to study Percy's cousins more closely.
Thalia, like he saw in the photograph, is slender and short compared to her two cousins, who are both taller than her. Her eyes, an electric blue in color, exactly like a clear summer's day sky, pop against her heavy black eye make-up. Peter counts three piercings in her right ear, and seven in her left, all of them either dainty silver hoops or black studs, plus one wicked looking authentic white bone earring dangling from her right earlobe.
"What are you staring at, Spider dork?" she asks, noticing his eyes on her.
"Your hair," he blurts, eyes drifting up to her head. He doesn't recall it looking like that in the picture Percy showed him.
She pats it lightly. "Yeah? You like it? I got it done a day ago, in that weird barbershop place downtown." Her hair, which had been simply spiky and pitch black in the picture, is styled into a fashionable soft hawk haircut, with the sides of her head done in a close shave and the top a fringe of ebony hair tousled forward. A chunk of her bangs has been dyed brilliant streaks of electric blue and glimmering silver. It's something Peter thought he would only ever see on television.
Percy looks up from his burger long enough to notice the change in her appearance. "Thalia! You got a haircut!"
"Thanks, I noticed."
"Anytime," Percy agrees, and shoves a handful of fries into his mouth.
Nico looks up from his hamburger, expression somewhat glazed over while still managing to look slightly interested. "I got a haircut, too, Percy. Didn't you notice?" This is of course a lie, Nico's dark hair looks just as untamed as it did in the photograph, but still Percy spends five minutes studying his younger cousin's head before saying decisively, "No you didn't," and taking another bite of his burger.
Nico sighs and goes back to his dinner.
Percy's younger boy cousin looks a lot more subdued, although just as black, with his dark hair streaked only with natural gold highlights. He's wearing his bomber's jacket, the one Peter noticed in the photograph, but his sword and sheath are missing. Probably for the best, considering they're in a public place in the middle of New York City.
With a loud chomping noise, Percy finishes his dinner and glances at his watch. "Whoa, ten already?" he says, eyes wide. Peter shoots him a sideways glance and drinks the last few gulps of his cola. "Come on Pete, we'd better go. Supper daddy Steve said curfew is in thirty minutes."
Thalia makes sure Peter has her number, "just in case that fucker Carl is giving him trouble", and he needs someone to "teach him a little lesson", even though Peter suspects she just wants to beat him up. She waves them off with a drowsy goodbye, the food in her stomach slowly lulling her to sleep. Nico promises Percy to get her back to camp safe, wherever and whatever camp is (Peter doesn't ask) and then tells Peter it was nice to meet him. Peter figures Nico isn't one for sentiments, so he's only saying this stuff to please Percy, who is beaming at them all with a big goofy smile.
Then, Percy and Peter walk out of the burger joint together, and jog across the street to the looming Stark towers' glass doors.
"So?" Percy asks. "What did you think?"
"Of your school friends or of your cousins?"
They punch Peter's security code into the keypad outside the doors, and push into the dark lobby. JARVIS has the elevator open and waiting for them.
Peter presses the button for the Avengers lounge. "Well, your school friends were either airheads, jerks, or pretty much silent the entire time I was there."
Percy nods. "Sounds like them. Continue."
"And Thalia and Nico were… Actually a lot of fun."
Percy paints a smug grin across his lips.
"What?" Peter asks.
"No seriously, what is it?"
Percy fixes his gaze on the elevator wall. "They just… Don't take to too many people. And they can be kind of violent if someone rubs them the wrong way. It's a side effect of us getting into too many arguments that escalate in fights."
"You mean they might have tried to beat me up?"
"It was a possibility." Percy shrugs nonchalantly. "But hey! They liked you! Kudos to you."
The elevator begins to slow down. JARVIS' voice comes over the speakers. "Sirs, I feel the need to warn you–" Then, doors slide open with a pleasant chime. The whole of the team waits in the lounge, reading or watching television on Tony's massive flat screen T.V., as though they aren't trying to pretend they're not waiting for Peter and Percy to walk right down that hallway.
"So…," the billionaire drawls out, mug cradled in both hands, nursing a spiked mug of coffee. "How was the date?"
a/n: so this part of a huge universe I have planned called The Superheroes in Stark Tower, the details for which can be found on my profile. I have just finished the full extent of my planning as of an hour ago. This universe includes a timeline that begins in 2012 and stretches to the present. Also, I have a plan for eighteen different stories that will eventually make up this universe, six of which have already been written, and one of which has already been written and is now being rewritten. Like I said, details are on my profile, go check that out.
Also important to note, if anyone has any ideas for prompts (MCU canon, PJatO canon, nothing to do with HoO because that doesn't exist here, then PM me your thoughts. I'm bad about replying but I do check my email religiously.) Thanks J!