"Whatever it is, I didn't do it."

"Relax, Stark. That's not why you're here."

Now that's a joke in and of itself, Tony thinks as he studies the vice principal in front of him. Coulson telling anybody to relax (let alone Tony, who already has his feet up on the chair next to him) is, well… Even in his own office, Coulson sits like Superintendent Fury's shoved an American flag up where the sun don't shine. Tony moves his feet up to rest on top of the desk. Coulson eyes them distastefully.

"What?" Tony says nonchalantly. He likes to be especially nonchalant around Coulson. They have a long history together, after all. "You told me to relax."

"Not that much. Feet on the floor, Stark."

Tony obliges. Slowly. Coulson thumbs through the file on his desk—Tony's, probably, judging by the heft of the thing.

"Tony Stark. Incumbent heir to Stark Industries. Robotics Club president and founder as of early this year. Enrolled in four Advanced Placement science courses—all we offer, I believe. Erstwhile Business Club president. Erstwhile kicker for the Shield Academy football team. Erstwhile member of our soccer team. Erstwhile founder and president of the"—here he pauses, as if he's about to bite into a lemon—"Tony Stark Appreciation Society."

"Yeah, yeah. Genius, future billionaire, playboy—" Coulson shoots him a look. "I get it. You write the file, I live the file. We are both intimately acquainted with the file. Let's skip the introduction and jump right to the Lifetime Achievement Award."

"Your record hardly constitutes that. Your grades are superb but attendance and participation are spotty at best. You never seem to stick with any club or activity for more than a few months at a time. You've been described by faculty as insolent—"

"—I didn't know Vice Principal counts as faculty, but I'm flattered—"

"—and incapable of taking anything seriously."

"Your point?"

Coulson closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath. "There's a student from Queens who's been offered a scholarship. Very smart boy, science whiz. We'd like to have him here. A few other schools are showing equal interest but he's offered to come by and take a tour. He wants to shadow a student." Another pause, again with the lemon face. Tony has some idea where this is going but he keeps his face blank anyway, for the fun of it. "He asked for you specifically," Coulson finally spits out wearily. "He's been following your work, apparently, and he's a fan of both you and your father."

Now Tony lets himself smile. He slowly—nonchalantly—extends his arms to rest behind his head, and his feet find their way back to Coulson's desk. "Interesting," he says airily, milking this moment for all it's worth. "And… what's in it for me?"

"What do you want?" Coulson says, but it's more like whaddayawant because his teeth are gritted so tightly. Tony sighs.

"I think the real question is, what don't I want?"

There's a long pause, then, which Tony uses to calculate his demands. A parking space, maybe. Maybe Coulson's parking space. Free coffee for the rest of his enrollment as a student—no, free coffee for the rest of his life, if he can swing it. Why not? He'd ask for a free A, but he doesn't really need one. Universal exemption from detention? A headset for Pepper? Not that she needs one—they text, you know, like humans—but the image of Pepper in a headset is one he'd like to see. Clearly Coulson wants this kid bad, or he wouldn't have asked Tony in the first place, that much is certain. The only question is how much Tony can actually get away with asking for.

He mulls a little more, and comes up with a list, but Coulson stands up before Tony has a chance to relay it.

"Nevermind," Coulson says brusquely.


"I said nevermind. Fury and Hill want this kid, sure, but nothing's worth giving you what I'm sure you have just spent the last three and a half minutes calculating."


"Out." Coulson sits back down, and Tony readjusts to his feet. This he was not expecting, though, to be honest, that's exactly why he should have expected it. Coulson's funny like that. He pauses at the door.

"If you change your mind—"

"—I'll count it as one of the signs of an impending apocalypse. I'll see you when you skip your next detention, Stark."

"I look forward to it, Big C." A jaunty salute and he's out the door. He hears Coulson on the intercom as he walks out.

"Get Parker on the phone, will you? Offer him Pym, or Richards. Banner, maybe. One of the science geeks. Tell him Stark's unavailable, tell him Stark's dead, tell him whatever, just get him here or Fury'll have my head."

Pepper's waiting for him when he gets out, which comes as a huge surprise to exactly no one. She's got about a hundred heavy textbooks in her arms and her hair's pulled back in a sensible ponytail. His face lights up when he sees her as quickly as hers pulls in tight.

"Steve is looking for you," she says as soon as he's in earshot. "I told him I'd get you to the football field. And Bruce wants a word in the lab when you're done."

"My meeting went fine, thanks. Still not expelled."

"Shocker, that," she says, dumping three textbooks into Tony's arms. "Considering your father funds half the school, I don't think anybody's worried you'll be sent away before graduation. You left your books in the Student Center."

Tony nods his thanks and promptly tosses the books down on the floor by the stairs. He'll get them later. Pepper purses her lips and looks as though she wants to say something, but clearly thinks better of it.

"So," he says, checking his watch. Football field, and then science lab. Any chance you'll get me a cup of coffee from the dining hall while I go deal with this?"

"My father works for yours, Tony," Pepper says shortly. "That's all. I am not your personal assistant."

"She says, after waiting outside of a meeting to give me my messages."

"Those weren't your—" She pinches the bridge of her nose, like she does when she's stressed or frustrated, and her long red ponytail flutters a little with the movement. "I'm doing a favor for Steve, actually. And Bruce. Honestly, Tony, I'm this close to—"

"Resigning as President of the Tony Stark Appreciation Society?"

Low blow, considering Pepper had nothing at all to do with the actual inception of the club and was merely stuck with the responsibility when Tony inexplicably got bored with being praised for an hour a week (read: got kicked out of his own appreciation society for not showing up). Clearly Pepper has not quite forgotten this, considering the look she's giving Tony now could probably slice him in half.

"Another word and I'm spending the next meeting drafting a motion to change its name to the Pepper Potts Appreciation Society."

"Ooh, I like it. Pepper Potts Appreciation. The alliteration really clinches it for me, I think." Tony pauses, considers her. "Or—"

She answers his question before he asks it. "If it's in the middle of the word, too, it's consonance."

"I knew that."

"You're lying. Let's go; Steve's been waiting for about ten minutes already, and I left him with Blake, so—"

She turns on her heel and stalks away without checking to see if he'll follow. He does, of course, grinning evilly.

"Ah, Potts. You're the best assistant ever."

She doesn't dignify that with a response.