“I like Canada,” Peter declared, watching the trees roll by through the windshield. “Imagine how this drive would look in the fall.”
“I’ll take you in October,” Tony grinned. “You’re right, it’s... something else.”
“Canada’s like, really cool.”
“It’s like the United States bud.”
“But it’s not, it just feels different Mr.Stark. Oh! What’s that?”
Tony smiled to himself as Peter stuck his nose against the window to get a look at the passing group of mountain goats. “Mountain goats, Pete.”
Peter was a kid who’d only ever seen New York, Washington, and the drive in between, so Tony was understanding of his excitement.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and see a bear,” he said, feigning casualness, “they’re out of hibernation now.”
Tony pretended not to see Peter’s eyes light up at the mere suggestion of more wildlife. “Really?! They get that close to the highway?”
“Sometimes,” the inventor replied.
“That’s awesome.” The boy shifted himself in his seat, fidgeting with the air conditioning. “Thanks for bringing me, Mr.Stark. I really appreciate it.”
Tony glanced at the kid from the corner of his eye and found a rather inconvenient lump had lodged in his throat. “Yeah well,” he choked out, “I missed my kid - catching up on lost time and all.”
The teen’s mouth quirked in a mixture of sadness and warmth as he wordlessly nodded. There’d been a time of dust and debris and death and devastation, but Tony got him back, and they were okay now.
“How long before we actually have to do the work we’re here for?”
Tony laughed, Peter almost sounded like Pepper when he said things like that. “Three days kiddo, and then I have to make a stop at BCIT and UBC for their engineering programs’ clean energy sector kick off.”
“You funded two universities?” Peter held nothing less than awe in his voice, not for the billionaire’s wealth but for his generosity.
“Not just me,” Tony replied, “there’s a few other donors too.”
“Yeah but not like Tony Stark.”
“Not like Tony Stark,” the mechanic agreed. “As for you, my young padawan, you aren’t working this weekend, you’re just here for the ride.”
“Would you care if I jumped ship and decided to study at one of these universities?”
“Already that attached to Canada, Pete?” Tony laughed. “No, I wouldn’t care. Wherever you want to go is lucky to have you, and your university fees are on me, so it makes no difference.”
“Cause I like Vancouver.”
“We’re on Vancouver Island right now, not the city Vancouver.”
The teenager groaned, “what’s the point of that? Making them two different things.”
“Ask the white dudes who named it, I don’t know.” Peter snorted, resuming his position of pressing against the window. “You can go to sleep if you want, we’re about an hour from the cabin.”
He said this mostly for show, recognizing how Peter was already relaxing into the sweet embrace of Morpheus.
Peter’s eyes sluggishly blinked open just as the car rumbled to a stop. “We’re h’re?” He mumbled sleepily, pulling himself up from his place against the seatbelt.
“We’re here,” Tony confirmed, opening his door and stepping into the afternoon sun.
Peter followed, sighing and pushing the car door open. He had just pulled himself out of the car when he stopped dead in his tracks and closed his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Tony asked, worry tinging his voice.
“Nothing,” Peter whispered, a smile beginning to pull his mouth up, “it’s quiet.”
Tony smiled back at him and started unloading their duffel bags. “It’s nice?”
Peter had yet to open his eyes. “So nice,” he murmured. The teen opened his eyes, taking in the surroundings properly. “This place is... it’s stunning, Mr.Stark.”
Tony smiled. “I thought you’d like it.”
Peter could see the lake from where they stood, but it was through the sprinkling of trees that grew high enough that Peter thought he could see them brush the blue of the sky. The water sparkled like crystal, stark and clear against the browning forest floor that shifted and crinkled as he shifted. Everything smelt of cedar and moss. The cabin was up the drive, wooden and big enough to be comfortable and small enough to be cozy.
It was perfect.
Sun filtered through the branches and lit the space in patches, and a breeze took the heat with it, leaving only cool contentedness; it such a surreal and idyllic scene that Peter almost wanted to blink to clear the dream away.
“I...” But there were no words for what Peter was feeling at that moment; peace, maybe, peace and quiet. “I really like it, Mr.Stark,” the boy finally whispered, tears prickling at his eyes.
“Oh- oh no, Peter... don’t cry. Why are you crying?” Tony dropped the bag and gathered the boy into his arms. “Hey, you’re okay… what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Peter sobbed, “I’m fine.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle at the response. “You don’t sound fine, Underoos."
“I’m just really happy,” Peter continued to cry.
“Alright,” Tony grinned, pulling the teenager’s head closer to his heart. “As long as you’re happy.”
“Mr.Stark, why couldn’t we swim until literally midnight?”
“You’ll see kid; don’t doubt me!”
“I have to doubt you, or else Ms.Potts would be mad at us - you - way more often than she is.”
Peter stuck his tongue out cheekily at the billionaire’s own snarky expression, mimicking him as he slipped the beach towel into the bag.
“I’m just saying,” the teenager continued, “we can’t even see anything without the light and it’s going to be cold as fuck out there.”
“First off, I’d say language but I don’t want to sound too much like Cap. Secondly, it was sunny and hot all day, it won’t be that bad, and trust me it will be worth it.”
“Fine,” Peter huffed, letting out an exaggerated sigh as he hauled the beach bag over his shoulder. “You should at least have to hold a bag,” he grumbled, “this is your idea.”
Tony pointed at himself. “Heart condition.” And then at Peter. “Enhanced. You do the math, genius.”
“‘You do the math genius’” the boy mocked, ducking a swat to the head.
“God,” Tony huffed without any real malice, “teenagers…”
With an exaggerated flourish he was out of the cabin and into the crisp night air, Peter rolling his eyes and following behind obediently. The pair walked the short trail to the lake, Peter’s flashlight lighting the way when Mr.Stark’s “dinosaur” torch flickered away and died halfway through.
They stopped a few metres away from the shore of the lake, where the water was gently dipping onto the sand and away again. Peter wasn’t exactly certain but he was fairly sure that finding a sandy lake was a rarity this far west in Canada.
“Okay,” he said expectantly, “now’s the time where you give me the explanation for why we’re here this late.”
“Do you know what a phosphorescent organism is?” Tony casually asked him instead. Peter blinked once at the sudden diversion and/or subject change.
“Yeah? The things that make light on their own? Right?”
“Yuppers, Underoos.” Peter watched, still confused, as Tony shed his shirt and began to make his way to the probably freezing lake water.
“And that has to do with this how?”
“Come here.” Tony held out his hand, already submerged up to his calf in the water. “It’s not cold, I promise; we’ll roast marshmallows in the cabin afterwards.”
Reluctantly, Peter did as he was told, wading into the not-unpleasantly cold lake till he was as far out as Tony was.
“Well, in this lake, there’s phosphorescent organisms,” Tony finally explained, a grin creeping up his face as Peter suddenly had a renewed excitement for their little voyage. “You can’t see them except in the dark, and you don’t feel them, but they only light up with movement.”
To demonstrate he shook his foot in the water, delighting in the way Peter’s face lit up as the little lights appeared.
“That’s… that’s so cool,” Peter breathed, glancing away from the water and back at his mentor, “and it’s safe?”
“I wouldn’t bring you if it wasn’t. Want to swim?” Peter nodded his head almost immediately, breaking out of his amazed stupor to smile mischievously and suddenly launch himself into the water, with an arm around Mr.Stark. “Brat!” Tony spat, laughing, when they resurfaced. “That’s one way to get used to the water I guess.”
But Peter was already paddling out into deeper waters, avidly watching his limbs as he did so.
With every twitch or kick the sparks would jump into existence, that’s what they looked like, the sparks that fly off of sparklers at New Years’ and birthday parties. They’d last just a second, and then they’d be gone. As Peter tread the water they flashed into existence moving with the motion of his kick.
The unbridled awe in his eyes made the entire trip worth it.
“It’s like galaxies crawling up my leg,” he exclaimed, looking at Tony with all this childlike wonder that was stored in everyone’s soul for exactly times like this. “This is- I mean- wow.”
“I know what you mean, kiddo.” Tony flipped onto his back and began to float, looking at the real stars instead of the ones flickering below them. “When I was a little younger than you my caretaker, Jarvis, took me on a road trip out here; the cabin is in his name. It kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Pete whispered, floating beside him suddenly. “It really does. Small things, ya know? There’s still small little pockets of beauty out here.”
Tony glanced at him out of his peripherals, ruffling his hair as best he could while still floating. “I don’t need the lake to remind me of that, Pete, but yeah - you’re right.”
They stayed in the water for about an hour, Tony content to float as Peter dove and spun and flipped in the water, experimenting with the little lights.
By one Tony called the both of them in, concerned about Peter’s body temperature.
The teenager, of course, insisted he was fine, but his violent shivering when he wrapped himself in his towel said otherwise.
Tony fussed over him like a dad until he was bundled in about three blankets and sat next to the fire. Out of his little cocoon of fleece a marshmallow poker was roasting a marshmallow in the fire.
“Move over, Underoos,” Tony grunted, sitting next to the kid with a plop. His hair was still wet and the chill had clung to his skin, but Peter couldn’t thermoregulate the way he could; he’d gladly get sick before taking a blanket from him.
“You’re cold too though, Mr.Stark,” Peter grumbled, like he could read his mind.
“I’ll manage; keep your blankets on bud. The fire’s warm.” But Peter continued to grumble, sleepier now, Tony realized. The boy shifted closer and closer to his mentor, till he was leaning his head against his shoulder. “Hi, Pete,” Tony whispered, wiping away a stray curl.
“Hi,” he mumbled, grinning languidly.
“Comfy?” Peter shook his head. “No? What do we have to do to change that?”
Peter shrugged off one shoulder of his many blankets and slipped it around Tony, pushing his head into the crook of his neck. Tony’s instinctively wrapped an arm around his shoulder.
“Tha’s better,” the sleepy teen mumbled, burrowing further into the embrace.
“That’s good,” Tony hummed, pulling him in closer and resting his chin against his curls. “Take your marshmallow out now, that’s it. Look, perfectly golden.”