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carpool introductions

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Rhodey had solved yet another sudoku on his phone when he noticed that the car engine had switched off. A look outside showed him an ordinary building - maybe an office complex, or a school - in front of the grey and windy skies of Queens. He looked at his best friend in the driver’s seat.

“What are we doing here? I thought we’d just go straight to the tower.” Tony had picked him up from his physical therapy lesson. He had gotten pretty good with the leg braces so by now it was just him walking on a treadmill at a slow pace while watching Netflix.

“We’re picking my kid up from school.” Tony replied casually.

Yeah, okay. There was a good chance Rhodey might need cardiac rehab in addition to physical therapy soon. “I’m sorry?”

“Yeah, Peter. He interns for me. I have some suit designs we need to go over.” 

Rhodey stared at his friend. They’d known each other since college and yet his best friend never ceased to surprise him. “I never knew you had interns.” 

“Just the one,” Tony said lightly. “Kid’s a genius. Hence the genius school.” He nodded towards a sign next to the building’s entrance stating “Midtown School of Science and Technology”. “Still too easy for him though.”

Rhodey decided he would just take this in stride and question the specifics of how and when and especially why later, and instead focus on the who now. “What grade is he in?”

“He’s a junior now. I’ve known him since last year. All AP classes, all A’s. And considering… Well, he’s been in some difficult circumstances. But my kid’s always managed it well.” Tony frowned as if remembering something. “Mostly, anyway.” 

Rhodey had about a thousand more questions, but a couple hundred students streaming out the doors of the school interrupted his internal debate on which one to ask next.

“Here he comes. Be cool,” Tony instructed, putting his phone away.

Rhodey looked at him incredulously. “Be cool? What -”

The car door behind Rhodey opened and a bag was thrown in carelessly. A rather scrawny looking teenager followed closely behind, shutting the door. He was wearing dark jeans, battered sneakers, and a shirt with the school’s logo on it. Messy brown curls framed his forehead. Rhodey couldn’t help but think that there was a certain resemblance between him and teenage Tony - but no, surely Tony would have told him about something like that. Right?

“Hey, Mr Stark! Thanks for picking me up! They closed the subway for construction and - oh my God, is that Colonel Rhodes?” The boy froze in the middle of putting on his seatbelt and stared at the passenger seat.

Rhodey waited for Tony to introduce them, but he simply started pulling out of the parking spot. He sighed and twisted uncomfortably in his seat so he could look at Peter, offering him his hand. Obviously the boy knew more about him than he knew about the boy so he opted for a simple introduction - “It’s nice to meet you.”

Peter shook his hand, looking pretty dazed. His handshake was unexpectedly firm. “It’s - it’s nice to meet you too, Colonel Rhodes, sir. I’m Peter. Uh, Parker.”

“I heard.” Rhodey smiled. Well, teenage Tony had certainly never been this polite. “Just call me Rhodey, kid.” 

“O-okay, Rhodey.” Peter’s timid smile transformed into a grin. Rhodey decided he would definitely rub that in Clint’s face the next time he claimed Rhodey wasn’t good with kids.

“Are you kidding me?” Tony interrupted from the driver’s seat. “He’s Rhodey after two minutes and you’re still calling me 'Mr Stark'?” 

“Sorry, Mr Stark,” Peter replied seemingly innocent, but Rhodey didn’t miss the slight twinkle in his eyes. Maybe that boy was more mischievous than he let on. He was obviously very comfortable with Tony, no matter what he called him.

Tony huffed, but let it go. It seemed like he had lost that particular battle many times already. “Did you at least have lunch at school?”

“Sure,” Peter said, but averted his eyes from the rearview mirror.

“Yeah, I’ll take that as a 'no'”, Tony replied. “Friday? Order us something to the tower.” 

The console lit up in a blue hue. “Sure, boss. Any preferences, young sir?”

Rhodey was about to comment that just because he made Friday call him “young”, Tony wasn’t getting any younger, when Peter piped up from behind. “Can you order us the usual from that pizza place, Friday?”

“Of course, young sir.” 

“She meant you?” Rhodey glanced at Peter, who grinned.

“Friday likes me.” 

Tony scoffed. “You can say that. If I hadn’t installed all those monitor protocols she’d probably give you access to my entire company by now.” 

Peter grinned. “We’re working on it. Right, Friday?” 

“Always, young sir.” Friday humoured him. Rhodey never knew that AI’s could sound so fond of someone, but then again, he couldn’t blame her. He’d known Peter for five minutes and already felt uncharacteristically comfortable with him in the car - not the way it usually was with him and teenagers (okay, so maybe Clint was on to something there). Peter’s whole demeanour was so open and positive that it was hard to be anything but nice to him.

“Friday!” Tony scolded halfheartedly before turning to Rhodey. “Does this count as treason?”

“As long as Peter doesn’t convince her to call you “old sir”, I think you’re good.” Rhodey met Peter’s eyes in the mirror and grinned.

Tony huffed. “Don’t give him any ideas. The kid gets into enough trouble as it is.” 

Rhodey couldn’t for the life of him imagine what sort of trouble Peter could get into. He watched as the teenager opened his backpack, seemingly looking for something and finally pulling out a textbook, a wrinkled notebook, and a pencil. He looked for a page and when he’d found it, he settled back into his seat and started scribbling.

He seemed like a nice, studious kid - Tony had called him a genius, even, and Rhodey guessed he wouldn’t just hire anyone as his intern so it must have been true. Otherwise, Peter seemed more quiet than anything - enthusiastic, sure, and maybe sarcastic too (though how much of it was Tony’s influence Rhodey couldn’t tell), but not at all troublesome. He’d have to investigate that later.

As they were driving on the highway, Rhodey noticed Tony checking the rearview mirror way more often than he normally would. After about two minutes of silence, Tony couldn’t seem to bear it any longer.

“Calc again?” 

Peter looked up from his notebook, the page now half filled with what Rhodey guessed were equations. “Uh, yeah. Just homework.” 

“Is that Davids guy still making you do derivatives?”

Rhodey was about to inquire just how involved Tony was in this kid’s life that he even knew the name of his calculus teacher while he could barely remember the names of his board members when Peter snorted.

“No. Your little, uh, speech the other day was quite effective. Sometimes he even gives me extra work now, you know, like some pointers towards college stuff.” The boy rubbed the back of his neck as if he was embarrassed about understanding college level maths. Rhodey felt like he’d missed something.

“You gave a speech?”

Tony grinned. “Let’s say I made some suggestions about alterations in his teaching plan. Possibly with an audience.” 

Peter rolled his eyes. Rhodey was inclined to do the same because even if he still didn’t know the exact circumstances, that description sounded like it had been a trademark “Tony Stark” scene. For what it was worth, Peter seemed to have it handled.

“So, Peter, what’s your favourite subject?” Rhodey decided that he might as well get to know the boy. It was evident he was going to stick around for a while.

Peter blushed slightly at being addressed, but seemed to do his best to ignore it. “Uh, probably chemistry. I’ve… gotten pretty good at it. And my teacher’s nice.” 

“But you do engineering with Tony?” Rhodey turned towards the driver’s seat again and saw Tony’s and Peter’s eyes meet in the mirror. Before he could ask anything else, they seemed to have come to a silent agreement.

“He has some other projects as well,” Tony finally replied in a deliberately light, but dismissive tone. Rhodey looked at him quizzically but Peter interrupted his train of thought.

“Uh, Friday? Could you turn on my seat-warmer?” 

“Sure thing, young sir.”

Peter settled back into his seat, carelessly throwing his notes back into his backpack - had he finished his homework already? - and taking out his phone. Rhodey noticed it was a brand new Starkphone; if he wasn’t mistaken, such a model wasn’t even on the market. It was certainly a contrast to the boy’s clothes and ripped backpack. He mentally added it to his ever-growing list of things to ask Tony about later.

“Didn’t I tell you to wear a jacket?” Rhodey thought he’d misheard his friend - a jacket? Was Tony being serious? - and turned to look at him. If there was such a thing as a fond frown, that’s how Rhodey would describe Tony’s face right then.

“I know, but -” 

“No buts,” Tony replied, pulling out of the middle lane to turn right. “It’s still winter. You could catch hypothermia, or whatever it is that kids get these days.” 

“I wouldn’t,” Peter mumbled without much gusto.

“Excuse me?” Tony asked with raised eyebrows, gaze trained on the mirror.

“I said okay,” Peter relented, rolling his eyes. “Even though you’re literally wearing a t-shirt too right now. Seems like a double standard.” He raised an eyebrow challengingly.

“I'm also wearing a suit jacket,” Tony pointed out before sighing. “I’m serious, kid. Your aunt will find brutal ways to end my life.” 

Ah, so there was an aunt? Did Tony know her well? If Rhodey was being honest, this entire car ride seemed like something out of a different dimension. Tony was definitely this kid’s dad, if biologically or not was another question.

“She wouldn’t even know! And you know how, uh, good my immune system is,” Peter complained with a glance at Rhodey. He still had the feeling that a part of this conversation went over his head.

“Pete, I don’t want to see you without a jacket again until at least the end of April, understood?” Tony fixed his eyes on the mirror. If this car hadn’t technically been self-driving (Tony did most of the steering just for show), Rhodey would have been worried about their safety considering the amount of time Tony looked into the rearview mirror instead of on the road.

“Okay, I’ll make sure you won’t see,” Peter replied cheekily, obviously suppressing a grin.

Tony raised a brow. “I’ll sic Friday on you.” 

“We’re besties now.” 

Tony smirked. “Fine. Pepper then.” 

Peter blanched, then sighed in defeat and slumped back in his seat. “Fine. You win. Jacket it is.” 

Rhodey couldn’t hold back any longer. “So Pepper is in on this too?” 

He was met with two identical looks of confusion. If he didn’t know any better… But no, Tony would’ve said something by now.

“In on what?” 

“This parenting thing.” Rhodey turned to his best friend and clapped him on the shoulder lightly. “It suits you.”

Tony turned around so abruptly that without Friday, they surely would have crashed by now. Rhodey heard Peter snort from the back of the car while Tony spluttered. “I- What?” 

Rhodey rolled his eyes. Leave it to Tony to deny he had a kid even when said kid was sitting in the backseat. “You’ve referred to him as 'my kid' repeatedly,” Rhodey pointed out.

“I have not -” - “Friday?” Rhodey interrupted, gesturing towards the console.

“Colonel Rhodes is correct, sir.”

Rhodey gestured with a certain grade of finality as if to say I told you so. Because he did tell him so. “Never thought I’d see the day where you become a father figure to someone. It suits you, though.” 

Peter casually leaned back against the seat, twirling his phone with astounding speed. “More like a bother figure.” 

A beat of silence. Then - “Oh my God,” Rhodey said gleefully. Peter grinned. Yeah, they’d definitely have to become friends now.

Tony turned around to face Peter, apparently now deciding to take advantage of the car’s self-driving features. “Excuse me, mister? Am I bothering you?” 

Peter shrugged. “I mean, sometimes. It’s just that Rhodey set that joke up perfectly. And if I get the opportunity to quote the greatest TV show of all time, I’m gonna take it.” 

Tony grabbed the steering wheel again, breathing deeply to calm himself down. He looked at the car console for clarification. “Friday?”

“It seems that young sir is referencing a comedic crime TV series called Brooklyn Nine-Nine which recently started its sixth season, sir.” 

Rhodey was met with a disbelieving glance. “Rhodey, you watch that stuff?” 

He shrugged. “I have a lot of time while I’m practising walking in PT.” He offered Peter his hand for a high-five. Peter obliged, twisting in his seat so he could reach Rhodey’s hand in the front of the car.

“I see. You two have formed an alliance. First, my own AI turns on me, and now my best friend has corrupted my -” Tony halted. Peter raised his eyebrows while Rhodey could barely contain his laughter.

“- my intern,” Tony stressed, pointedly looking at the road in front of him.

“Ouch, I’m hurt.” Peter said in a bored tone.

“And anyway, we’re here now,” Tony said as he pulled up to the garage of Stark Tower, the entrance opening automatically when he approached. Peter unfastened his seat belt and gathered his backpack in his arms.

“Should I just go to the lab and wait for you?” Peter asked, blowing a curl out of his face.

“Lunch first. You’re still growing.” 

Rhodey coughed, deliberately failing at masking the words “father figure”. Peter grinned at him and opened the door of the car, stepping outside.

“Okay, dad. See you.” Peter waved and threw the door shut, barely missing how Tony almost choked on air at his words. Rhodey looked at him expectantly.

“Anything to say in your defence, Tony?” 

Tony looked at him, seemingly in an internal debate with himself. In the end, he just sighed, resigning himself to his fate. “Just shut up.” 

Rhodey grinned. He couldn’t help himself. “Okay, dad.” 

Rhodey!”