“Howard—dad—please just let me stay home!”
“Enough. You’re going. Now get in the car.”
Tony pulls at the strings of his ripped jeans, head rocking against the window as the car drove over bumps. Highway to Hell drifted from his earbuds almost ironically. The next three months of his life was going to be his own living hell, no matter how much Aunt Peggy promised he’d have fun and ‘make real friendships’. As if Tony needed anyone other than Rhodey and Pepper. Their friendships kept him from kicking the bucket and he was sure no pathetic snot-nosed Boy Scout could hold a candle to them.
Howard doesn’t bother in trying to avoid the ragged parts of the road, probably because from what Tony could see, the whole road was barely even paved over. The tall buildings and bustling Boston streets were replaced by trees and, well, trees.
“Watch it!” Tony hisses after his father (purposely, he knew it) hits a particularly deep pothole and his head whacks against the reinforced glass.
Grounding his teeth, Howard sends him a vicious smile from the rear view mirror. Jarvis gives the teen a concerned look from the same mirror, a stark (hah) contrast from his boss and friend.
Tony, with a sigh, slumps back in his seat and closed his eyes. Hopefully everyone would just leave him alone and let him be.
“Why couldn’t Mama come?” Tony asks Jarvis after a few more minutes of silence other than tires over gravel.
Jarvis twists back in his seat to face Tony. “Maria—“ he frowns. “Your father didn’t want her making a scene. She doesn’t want you away from home almost as much as you.”
Well at least his Mama cares. Not that Howard doesn’t care, but the man is definitely not going to get a Father Of The Year Award anytime soon. Children are harder than they seem and Tony doesn’t blame his father for not knowing how to take care of him. They argue (admittedly way more than normal people) but they have their nice moments. Like when Howard brought Tony out on a boat last year and they actually fished and swam for the whole day. Sure, the boat was relatively fancy and they went to a private island, but Jarvis packed them subs and soda and Howard taught him how to fish and it was...nice. One of his best memories.
Tony loves Howard but he doesn’t LIKE him most of the time.
“Yeah, well,” Tony sighs again. “It would’ve been nice if she could have come.”
Howard’s grip tightens around the wheel with a slight creak of the leather. “It would’ve also been nice if you shut up and just got in the car instead of throwing a tantrum.” He remarks.
The teen rolls his eyes. “Are we playing this game? Because it would’ve been nice if I didn’t have to go to the tick-infested middle of nowhere in the first place, but we all don’t get what we want.” He snaps.
Jarvis is quick to intervene before it escalates. “We’re here.” He says with a smile.
The trees parted to reveal a clearing in the woods and a large cabin that read the number one above the door. Tony scowls, ripping out his earbuds and stuffing them into his hoodie pocket as Howard and Jarvis got out. He doesn’t get out, instead waiting for either Howard or Jarvis to open the door. Mainly to be difficult. And soon enough, Howard swings open the Audi door and roughly-but-not-painfully pulls Tony out by the collar of his MIT sweatshirt.
His stuff was already thrown in the dirt and Jarvis closes the trunk. His pillow and blanket lay in a black trash bag next to his black trunk. Tony isn’t upset about only having one trunk, honestly. It’s just the fact that he didn’t have the choice to have more than one bag that really upset him. Apparently every camper (ugh) was allowed to bring one duffel bag/trunk, a trash bag, and a shower bag.
Howard brings Tony close. “Behave while we check you in.” He says sternly. “Stay. Here.” Then he walks towards the cabin.
“We will be right back, young Anthony.” Jarvis smiles kindly.
“Yeah, okay.” Tony mutters once the butler is gone in an attempt to catch up to Howard.
Kids around Tony’s age hurry past, barely acknowledging the Audi he was leaning against. Well, all but one kid. A tall blond who looked like the Perfect Poster Boy was sitting on the wooden railings connected to the large cabin had his brows furrowed and was staring over at Tony in confusion.
Tony waves with a mocking smile and faux excitement and the teenager looks away with a frown. Smirking slightly, the genius (what? He was a genius) taps away on his phone. There were only two WiFi signals. Luckily internet was one of the easier things to hack into. That doesn’t stop the smirk from turning into a scowl at the loss of easy communication with his friends.
“Woah, woah, woah there! Turn that frown, upside down!” Someone says in an obnoxious fake-happy tone, probably trying to imitate an announcer.
Once he pocketed his phone with a plan in mind, Tony glances up. A different blond teen is standing there, grinning. A long almost-healed scratch is on his cheek which looked like it must hurt, but that doesn’t deter him from splitting his face in a painfully large smile. He’s a couple inches taller than Tony and has dark cargo pants with a light grey SHIELD shirt on. SHIELD is this summer camp in the middle of Maine which Tony is being forced to attend, even though he is already in college and most of the campers (ugh) are in high school.
“Fuck off.” Tony smiles right back.
The taller teen just laughs, throwing his head back and holding his chest. “I like you! I’m Clint. Welcome to SHIELD summer camp, where children become spies!” He sticks out his hand.
Spies? Was this kid joking? Tony eyes the hand like it was disease ridden. Which it probably is. Tony isn’t smiling anymore.
“Well.” Clint drops his hand. “Okay.” He seems a little more reserved now. Calmer.
“Sorry about the wait.” Jarvis suddenly appears at Tony’s side. “Your father is still talking to the owner of SHIELD, Nick Fury.” He glances at Clint. “Who’s your friend?” He asks.
Tony is about to reply about how this kid is not his friend, but suddenly the other teen was filled with energy again. “I’m Clint Barton!” Clint sticks out his hand again.
Jarvis shakes it. “I’m Edwin Jarvis. Did Anthony introduce himself?” He gives Tony a knowing look.
“Anthony? That’s a cool name. My full one is Clinton.” Tony feels like rolling his eyes.
With years of practice, Jarvis recognizes the signs of Tony not being interested in being there or having a conversation with Clint, and gently says. “He prefers Tony. And it was wonderful talking to you Clint, but we must get Anthony situated into his cabin.” The man says politely. “Hopefully you two will meet again.”
Clint nods in understanding, calm again. The changes from calm to frantic make Tony dizzy. “Yeah! I’ll see you soon, Tony.” He calls before sprinting, literally sprinting, away and down a trail that led behind the cabin.
Tony groans, rubbing his face. “Is everyone here like that?” He asks aloud. “He’s a weirdo!” He says that like people don’t call him a freak and weirdo and fag and everything in between.
Jarvis hands him a brochure and a packet, chuckling. “He was quite the character, but that’s no way to speak about people you haven’t sat down and gotten to know better.” The greying man dusts his hands off and tucks them behind his back, looking at Tony expectantly. “Go on, read it.”
“I’d rather drown myself than deal with anymore people like Clint.” He opens the brochure. “Oh look! There’s a lake! Perfect for killing myself.” He gives Jarvis a deadpan look, but the butler keeps smiling.
Below the picture of the lake (lake Morgan) there is a short list of activities.
2. Water skiing
The next page is a picture of a cabin and read ‘Cabins are separated into groups of twelve’. Tony scowls and looks up at Jarvis. “Eleven other people, Jarvis? I’d rather sleep outside!” He doesn’t bother reading the other lists of daytime and nighttime activities.
“The most you’ll be doing in that cabin is sleeping.” Howard says as he walks over. “Plenty of room to sleep and put your bags. Speaking of, let’s go.”
Tony reluctantly gathers his stuff, not in the mood to pick a fight. Jarvis gives him a tight hug, and Tony can’t help but bury his head in one of his favorite people’s shoulder, taking one last deep breath of cedar and lavender. After a long moment Howard puts a heavy hand on the teens shoulder, gently pulling him away. Tony misses the warmth almost immediately.
“I’ll call!” Tony says to Jarvis, giving the man a sad smile.
“I know.” Jarvis nods, reciprocating his smile.
Howard nods back and they start walking down the trail. Tony shrugs off his father’s hand in a act of defiance, not noticing the hurt look in Howard’s eyes as he takes his hand away.
It smells like dirt and trees and Tony isn’t sure if he likes it.Yes, he likes outside. One of his favorite childhood places is the garden at Stark Manor and the woods just through the gate. He used to spend hours outside, sketching flowers and plants to the best of his ability, and then later looking them up in the library so he could identify the plants correctly for later. He drew them everywhere he went, even on vacation. Soon he needed another book, and another, and Jarvis did the honor of picking them out. Tony’s Mama even promised to make it an actual book once Tony fills the third sketch book. Hopefully he can finish it by the time he graduates, considering this one he just got a couple months ago.
But—back to the point—this outside smells different. It has the distinct smell of food mixed with teenagers. Tony would rather the smell of his garden.
“So are there like visitation days?” Tony asks, breaking the silence as they walk down another trail labeled ‘Cabins 1-20’
“Yes, Tony.” Howard sighs good-naturally, though it might sound annoyed to outsiders. He isn’t completely and utterly pissed yet.
That makes Tony grin and continue. “‘cause even prisons have visitation days. Though, they have running water. Does this place have running water?”
“Yes, It has running water, Tony,” Howard pinches the bridge of his nose. “Would you shut up and quit comparing this place to prison? You’ll have fun, whether you want to or not. If Peggy says it’s fun, it’s fun.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Whatever. Aunt Pegs also said having a kid would be fun too, how’s that working out for you? I know you wanted Mama got an abortion instead of an annoying brat like me running around.” The last part slips out involuntarily.
Howard’s head snaps to look at Tony. “What? I never sa—“ He sounds shocked and offended and hurt and Tony knows he pushed a little too far.
“Hey! You must be Mr. Stark and Tony!” A cheery voice interrupts Howard. It belongs to a brown haired young woman with a gentle but wide smile. “I’m Jane Foster. I wanted to introduce myself before your cabin counselor—ridiculous name, I know—Carol gather’s the boys back to your cabin.”
Howard’s face turns from hurt to a business smile in less than a second. “Hello, Ms Foster.” He shakes her hand firmly.
“Yeah,” Tony huffs, “hello Ms Foster.” his mood has sunk from crappy to shitty. On a scale to playing piano in Italy to Jarvis is too sick to get out of bed, of course.
Jane Foster laughs a little at Tony’s attitude. “Hello! I actually don’t have time to talk, sadly, but I’m supposed to tell you that you’re allowed to stay in your cabin until dinner, considering you came a little late.” She says to Tony.
Tony checks his watch, 5:41. “Is dinner at six?” He asks, and Jane nods.
“Yup! Okay I gotta go! I hope you settle in well.” Then she waves and runs off.
They enter cabin number 6 and Tony sighs a little. He likes the number eight better than six. Or three. Three is good, too.
Only one bed is open. It’s the farthest from the door on the left, on the bottom. All six bunk beds are across from each other, three on each side. There is a door directly diagonal from where they came in, most likely leading to a bathroom.
He sits down and Howard begins opening the bag with his pillow and blanket and sheets without the teen even asking. Silently, they dress his bed with baby blue sheets and cover it in a dark grey comforter and put his pillows into place. The other beds seem to have the same things as he does, variations of colors and items. Tony unpacks his shoes and sets them into the short shelf at the end of the bed, glad his bunk mate only used three of the six shelves. He pushes his black trunk under the bed, across from a deep purple one.
After he deems everything alright, he plops down on the bed, laying next to Howard, who sat there somewhat awkwardly.
“The cabin is nicer than I thought.” Howard remarks, looking over the clean wooden bed frames connected to the walls and the absence of bugs.
Tony hums. “Yeah. I still don’t like the amount of kids, though.”
The older man shrugs a little, but doesn’t say anything else about that topic. Instead, he says “I’m...sorry, Tony.” In a quiet tone, after a long moment.
“Me too.” Tony replies, closing his eyes and taking a breath. “...me too.”
“Your mother always told me that you have just as sharp tongue as me. That when we fight, one, or both, of us is bound to end up hurt.” Howard laughs a little. “God, she was right. She always is. I should listen to her more often.”
“Yeah, I should too.” Tony agrees, watching Howard get up slowly. He adjusts his position to see his father better.
“I have to get going, Ed is still in the car.” Howard pats Tony’s leg. “Uh, i’ll call you. Once you get access to the internet.” His father gives him a knowing look. “See you soon.”
After Howard leaves, Tony sighs deeply and covers his face with both of his hands. Heat pricks behind his eyes but now is not the time to cry. Eleven other teenaged boys would be storming in here any moment.