Stage Left: Golly What a Day
October 18, 2016
“Boss, you have a text message from Ms. Potts.”
Tony hummed noncommittally, but Vision looked up from the holographic projection of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to frown. “It is after eleven p.m. in Los Angles. Friday, would you please remind Ms. Potts of any early morning appointments she may have, as well as the importance of adequate REM sleep?”
“Of course, Vision.”
“You are such a mother hen. Were you always like this? I don’t think Jarvis was like this.” Tony zoomed in on two blocks of riverside property he had purchased in Brooklyn. It had been completely razed in the invasion, and to make amends and give good PR, Tony had paid pre-Chitauri prices. Only moderate cleanup efforts had been made in Brooklyn so far, with the majority of construction centering in Manhattan proper. And Brooklyn was easy to ignore. And preferable. Brooklyn made Tony think of greasy pizza his cardiologist didn’t want him to eat and interpersonal relationships that even his therapist hadn’t pushed him to discuss. Vision was the one urging him to take notice. Vision with his surprising interest in architecture that had already been indulged at the upstate facility and was growing daily. If Tony hadn’t been so fascinated with the personality development of a biomechanical life form, he would have been happy to continuing ignoring the existence of Brooklyn until global warming made the conversation moot.
“Jarvis was considerably more invested in your well-being. I believe I once monitored your breathing for eighteen hours because you refused medical assistance but were in extreme danger of succumbing to alcohol poisoning.”
Those were the days. Pre-Pepper days. “That was one time, one – okay like three times max. Where’s the bike path? Didn’t you say there would be a bike path?” Vision highlighted the requested recreational facilities in green. “What’s that? A jungle gym? That’s too far from the new housing. Parents don’t like their kids to walk that far.” After the words were out of his mouth, Tony regretted them. He had been doing some reading since he and Pepper had made a decision. Fertility specialists, genetic inheiritability, trust funds, early childhood education, and common statistical dangers. None of the threat lists included arch-nemeses or alien vendettas, but they did rank car accidents and abductions. It was all weighing heavily on his mind. So heavily that re-reading Lewis’ paper was a relief until that began to give him chest palpations and he had to focus on something else before he had a panic attack. Another one. Hence the three different designs for Pepper’s Rescue suit, and rough schematics for an Arctic backup base of operations. And the economically diversified and ecologically friendly plans for Brooklyn. Eugh, Brooklyn.
Vision paused, staring at Tony thoughtfully. Tony watched through his peripheral sight and pretended not to care that he didn’t know what Vision was thinking. His expressions were often hard to read. Next time Cho creates a petri dish body, she should include eyebrows. Definitely needs eyebrows. “And more middle-income housing,” Tony said out loud. He stabbed into several modern brownstones all planned to replace buildings that had been destroyed by aliens. Each floor had been made into a single apartment. “These are ridiculously small.”
“Those are middle-income, Mr. Stark,” Vision answered smoothly. “I did extensive research on current property values, as well as pre-2014 market rates. Given simple finishes, these units are accessible to the median household income for the census tract.”
“Really?” Tony considered it for a moment. “Friday, what’s SI’s median income? Could my employees afford this?”
Friday and Vision had a brief conference before the AI announced, “Yes, Boss, although I would point out that, since Ms. Potts took over, Stark Industries pays more than the area unions or any competitor, for every job classification. Also, you now have two messages waiting for your attention from Ms. Potts.”
“Uh-huh. But could a- a- a police officer or, someone boringly normal – a kindergarten teacher, afford this?”
“Not on that salary alone, Mr. Stark.” Vision continued delicately, “I believe your personal finances may be influencing your perception of necessities.”
Fuck all. And now he was thinking about Lewis and her paper again. She had, among other less flattering things, called his skyscraper an ‘Ivory Tower’. Which was both interesting and insulting. On the one hand, it indicated that Lewis felt he was powerful and noble in an idealistic, Camelot sort of way. On the other hand, it implied he was out of touch. Not that I want to be in touch with anyone but Pepper. Frequently. Maybe someplace tropical – or snowing, with a fire and a thick rug and naked – Tony refocused. Lewis had flat out stated a need for a serious PR response if the Avengers were going to be able to break the Accords. That included swaying the general public. Tony wasn’t going to do that. He wouldn’t accept a cup of coffee from Pepper’s Personal Assistant. He sure as hell wasn’t going to shake the hands of unwashed masses in Central Park. He had no desire to drink cheap beer at a local dive bar. He certainly would never chat with his neighbors while getting the mail. He didn’t get his own mail. Tony wasn’t sure if he actually received non-fan-based mail. Did he even have a mailbox? A physical receptacle for coupons, flyers, and solicitations from the AARP? Certainly not. He wasn’t old enough for the AARP anyhow – no matter what rumors Rhodey was trying to spread.
Vision was asking Friday about teaching qualifications and base pay, but Tony only listened with half an ear as he twisted and turned the hologram, examining partially-finished designs and schematics for buildings that were still condemned or waiting for foreclosure auction. Sam Wilson – the nosey-noserton – would chat with his neighbors. Natasha might too – if only so that she could know every detail about their lives, potential security risks, and utility. Clint would drink at a dive bar. He’d love an occasional game of darts after he had imbibed enough to make things sporting. And his kids…well, Tony wasn’t completely certain – and he would never, ever suggest so to Mrs. B, hell of an arm on that woman, but the little hawks would probably do well in a regular school. They seemed to like people, and most children wanted friends, right? Tony even vaguely recalled a time when he had wished for a companion under the age of forty and not hired to be with him. If an apartment – or better, a house – was designed right…with a good neighborhood mix and a decent school that would submit to security scrutiny…
As for shaking hands, he also knew someone who loved little kids holding out sharpies and veterans sharing stories. Captain Virtue, for all his complaining about the USO tour and TV interviews, liked people. He actually wanted to be a normal guy who jogged in the park and grilled or picnicked or whatever. Potlucks, Tony reminded himself, I’m sure that’s a thing.
He wandered away from the table and began absentmindedly drawing a new schematic. He’d been thinking about improving StarkWear for a while. The glasses worked well for him -more of a style choice than because he needed reading glasses – because he didn’t Rhodey – but a compressed version could have other applications. Too expensive for open market and the fit will need to be…
Tony began a materials list with one hand while he flipped through Pepper’s messages with the other.
12 min ago. DL had a run-in with LAFD. SI picked up tab. Released from hospital, but try to be patient.
Tony’s pulse kicked up a few notches into painful territory. He hadn’t considered that Lewis might be hurt. The Antique Hero had rescued her – she had looked fine on the videos Friday had found. If anything happened to her – Tony’s breath sped up and he had to work to keep it deep enough to prevent hyperventilation. He needed her alive and mobile and thinking politically and preferably not horrifically scarred, I have to look at her after all, at least until after the Accords were fixed. Fixed as in lit on fire, ash ground into dust, and dumped into the harbor, fixed.
8 min ago. DL charm lost on S.
If Lewis had any sort of game she probably had Captain Pantyhose eating out of her hand. Or running to a monastery. The man had literal blue balls for seven decades and the best he had done with looks, muscles, and hero worship from every woman in America was collect a staggering amount of fan mail. It was still coming in at the tower. The Golden Boy got more perfumed letters and panty-stuffed envelopes than Tony. Or so the mail room gossip went. It wasn’t like Tony cared. At all. He had Pepper. And He couldn’t do anything about it anyhow. He was a fugitive, and while the ladies might be ready and willing, the Man from Brooklyn was too uptight to leave a woman hanging. If He had a girlfriend, He’d be so damn faithful the adoring letters and ‘I heart Cap’ signs taped to bridges wouldn’t even hit his radar. He’d probably stop jumping out of planes without parachutes at the first sign of commitment. And if she went to third base with him, Tony sniggered to himself, after the thirty-third date, Mr. Responsibility would probably buy her a house.
2 min ago. Hosting DL’s sister until housing arrangements made. Trial run for 3.0.
Fuck all. Tony broke out in a cold sweat. Sure, he had agreed on their joint project. Theoretically, it was sound. Eighty-five percent sound. But he had also anticipated months, maybe a year of tests and exams and practice. He had really been looking forward to the practice. He didn’t think practice should involve an actual kid, just the process for making one. It was easier, and better for his blood pressure, to ignore that and focus on something else. He typed quickly.
Faux-scientist is charming? No surprise S didn’t catch on.
The response was immediate.
Very charming. Sure you’ve already seen photos too.
Too bad. DL gets the position.
Tony hadn’t gotten past the first letter in his response when her next message came in.
Get your mind out of the gutter.
DL uniquely qualified to deal with classified.
Tony had to admit that was true. There were plenty of women who would jump – buck naked – into dating a superhero. Even an outlawed one. Not so many were also prepared to deal with life- or world-threatening crises. Lewis’ history showed she could handle herself even if a dinner date turned into a terrorist attack – domestic ,foreign, or extra-terrestrial. He pulled up the file Friday had created on her, including some photos from social media sites. She also had more than a handful of charm. More than two handfuls.
You want him to catch on?
He waited impatiently for Pepper’s response. Tony needed Lewis in New York to fix things. If things were fixed, Captain Oblivious would also end up in New York – Brooklyn, probably.
DL is my friend. I want her to have what she wants.
So Lewis was interested. Enough to share that information with Pepper. Tony leaned back against a workbench and watched Vision adding data to his holographic map. Tony had fucked up with the Avengers. He needed Him to come back. To stay. To make certain He stayed even if Tony fucked up again. What Tony needed was to make New York more enticing. And for Captain Perfect Union and the One-Armed Man Brigade not to be arrested when they returned. Obviously. Tony smoothed his beard and nodded to himself. Getting former Avengers off the most wanted list and back on the active roster was going to be Lewis’ job. Tony just needed a plan to keep things that way. Good thing he was a genius. He thought so far ahead, sometimes he even amazed himself.
Tony pulled up the footage from the fire and gang shootout again. The Captain had handed Darcy over to a civilian and then – He leaned in and brushed back her hair. If he had been a lessor man, Tony would have fallen over. The move was so smooth it was damn near silk. The Murder Marionette must have been teaching his old pal some skills.
Tony ignored that comment. He was sure that once Pepper could see the full beauty of his plan she would agree. Until then – plausible deniability.
V says you need more sleep. Sweet dreams Pep. The smile on his face felt uncomfortably genuine.
Stop. Tony. STAY OUT OF IT.
Love you. He closed the message program and turned back to his notes on optical displays, mind buzzing.
“Friday, before Vision heads back upstate, work with him to draft a message to legal. Everything for sale between what we own on the river all the way to Park Slope. I want to buy it. And see if there is anything in Queens that catches your eye. Maybe three or four square blocks. You decide, Vision. Oh, and that hotel that is still rebuilding on Central Park West.”
“May I inquire,” Vision paused, and Tony looked up for a moment. He couldn’t tell if the guy was concerned or confused. Definitely needs eyebrows. “Mr. Stark, why the additional properties?”
“Never liked Trump,” Tony answered, his smile still in place and feeling distinctly, weirdly good. “Can’t pass up an opportunity to stick a fork in his eye. Or my hand in his wallet, in this case.” He wandered back over to Vision’s side. “These two,” he said pointing at a couple of pre-war Brownstones that were structurally undamaged. “Friday, I’d like to approve the plans personally. And make the rehab a priority.”
“Yes, Boss. And Secretary Ross is still on hold for you.”
“He hasn’t hung up yet?” Tony blinked and glanced at his watch. “He called an hour ago.”
“Two, Mr. Stark,” Friday politely corrected him.
Vision sounded far more disapproving, “You’ve kept the Secretary of Defense waiting for two hours?”
“He’ll call back.” Tony huffed in irritation. “Unfortunately.”
“Friday?” Vision finally turned to the AI for more information when Tony refused to expound.
“Secretary Ross has requested assistance from the Avengers regarding an incursion at a joint military facility in the South Pacific. The exact location has not been disclosed by the Secretary, as the Boss puts him on hold before he can bring up details.”
“Clearly, my opinion of his piss poor ability to defend his own property will fall on deaf ears, so why should I listen to him? The last three operation requests we sent him were ignored, and I doubt he even reads the humanitarian requests.”
“SI has provided much needed assistance when we have been unable to step in. Mrs. Barton’s work in pH treatment for iron chlorosis is already showing promise in Bangui.” Vision’s attempt to soothe Tony did not work.
“And it wouldn’t have been necessary if the Council had approved us to act! We’re sitting on our hands here, but I at least won’t let Ross dictate when we leave home – it sure as hell won’t be to rescue some pork-barrel installation in an international gray area. Asshole can take care of his own stupid shit.” Tony could hear Natasha’s voice in his head, maturity like that will obviously provide results. Tony told mental Natasha to fuck off.
“It is unfortunate that so many opportunities to prevent suffering are ignored. So much research and reconnaissance goes to waste.”
“Waste?” Tony smirked. “You know SI’s position on waste. I’m all about the three R’s.”
“Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle?” Vision sounded skeptical. Rightfully so, so Tony didn’t let it bother him.
“Reveal, Rebel, and Revenge. Friday? Go ahead and File 13 everything we have on Ross’s latest fuckup. And my request to act on that Malaysia issue.”
“Sure thing, Boss.”
“Is that not a euphemism for trash?”
“Vision, Vision, my dear boy,” Tony tucked his hands in his pockets and grinned over the glowing blue map of Brooklyn. “That would be wasteful, don’t you think?”
Eight thousand miles away, Natasha’s phone began to vibrate.