Appointments and Disappointments

May 19, 2015:

Tony comes to see Howard for an appointment. Things get aired, namely Howard's absence at the christening of the Metropolis Power Station

THINK

Characters

NPCs: Rebecca the THINK receptionist.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

He can get over bitterness and disappointment. Hell, Tony's been working on that for years. The fact that he's needed years to work on it is irrelevant; it just means he's experienced. He's all the more experienced at hiding it, which means the Tony Stark who ambles into THINK this afternoon — on time, no less, but not wearing the hated necktie — looks perfectly cool and together and with it. He's wearing sunglasses and a slick red T-shirt with, as it happens, faded gold detailing that looks an awful lot like the contours of the Iron Man helmet. Just in case no one knew who he was. Giving a nod to the receptionist, he's already heading to the elevators and tossing out a quick "He's expecting me".

*

"Uh, Mister Stark…" calls the receptionist. She stands up from behind the desk and strides towards him on silver heels. Rebecca has decided to go all-in on the retro future aesthetic of THINK. She's wearing a 60s minidress with metallic detailing and dangly star earrings. It's a bit much, but she's pretty enough to pull it off. "Mister uh…Stark isn't in his office. He's in the gym."

*

To the greeting, Tony spins on his heel and gives the receptionist a friendly smile. "Loving those earrings," he says. "They really tie the room together." Is he ignoring what she's saying? It's possible it hasn't processed, but this is Tony Stark. More likely he's in denial or not listening. Or, well. "What's he doing in the gym? He's a robot. He doesn't need to work out. He can just engineer himself better muscles. Gym's a waste of time. Where is it?"

*

Despite the fact that Rebecca works with one famous Stark, she looks a little star-struck. Or maybe that's the heavy eyeliner and mascara that makes her eyes so big. "He says it helps him think. Third floor, end of the hallway."

*

Well, the other famous Stark's biggest work was probably before she was born. Still, whether it's the makeup or the actual personality of Rebecca-at-the-front-desk, there's a twinkle in Tony's eyes when he looks at her and a slight smile. At least it's a variant on the traditional shit-eating-grin. "Third floor it is," he replies. "Sure you don't want to walk me to the door?" He winks as he steps toward the elevator doors.

*

"I can't, I have to watch the desk. And I have a call coming in from Beijing any time now. I'm the only one who speaks Mandarin around here." Rebecca says that the way someone else might roll their eyes and say 'I'm the only one who knows how to work the copier.' "It's easy to find. And I won't tell him you're coming." She gives him a little smile, then trots off back to the desk just as the phone starts ringing. She slips her headset on and starts in a rapid-fire conversation in Mandarin.
The elevator ride is fast and efficient. The third floor is mainly administrative, plus a kitchen, break rooms and a lounge with a television and a pool table. It's all quite nice. It's little perks like this that set them apart from the competition.
The gym is likewise well-appointed. That's…actually rather an understatement, considering it takes up half the floor. There's equipment, bikes, a whole weight rotation and a boxing ring. Howard is currently at the punching bag. He's working a series of combinations. The bag bounces far more than you'd expect a man his size to be able to move it, even with training.

*

"Seriously? The only one? Well, clearly Howard needs to do a little more headhunting. The only one?" Tony seems actually scandalized. Not for long, though, since the elevator door is closing behind him. He grins to himself. Rebecca's a delight. Maybe he'll poach her from Howard, but she seems to be perfect at THINK.
As he strides into the gym, hands in his pockets, he calls out to Howard when he's close enough that his voice should reach him clearly. "Shouldn't an old man like you be doing something a little lower-impact? Tai chi? I hear they do that in China before work. Dozens of old Chinese men doing slo-mo, moving their chi around, left, right… no? Maybe Jazzercise?"

*

"Can't pull off the leotard," says Howard as he swings another punch at the bag. "Is it two already? Christ, where has the day gone?" He steps away from the bag and pulls off his gloves. He's even sweating. He really is an excellent approximation of humanity. He actually looks like he needs that water that he chugs. "Starting to think I need my own building AI to keep me on-track."

*

"Been thinking about that. I come bearing gifts." Tony thumbs his sunglasses up to the top of his head, sliding his hands into his pockets. One comes out with what looks like a USB stick. The other is a white box with the same dimensions, roughly, as a deck of cards. Thicker, though — about an inch and a half thick. "Amazing what happens to time when you're preoccupied. Come on. Let's head upstairs."

*

Howard eyes the USB stick and the white box. His eyebrow raises. "What've you been up to? That better not be JARVIS. Jarvis uh, my Jarvis, is not really too fond of an AI who sounds kind of like him. That, and it would get kind of confusing."
Howard tosses the towel in a waiting bin, then starts for the elevator.

*

"I thought about that. And while I really do want to see Mr. Jarvis meeting my JARVIS — I mean, you didn't actually program your butler, so he's not technically yours — and while having my inside man in your systems is oh so tempting, this? Is FRIDAY." Tony waggles the USB stick in his hand as he walks to the elevator, punching the button and stepping in. "She's Irish. Very polite. She might even be nice company for that girl down at reception; her name's Rebecca, isn't it? You need to get someone working on natural language translation in here. Start looking at linguists, programmers. I knew this kid at MIT who was double-majoring so he could design AIs."

*

"That's Rebecca's specialty. She's gathering live data on client interactions and calculating analytics. She speaks twenty four languages." There's warmth in Howard's voice. He does like fostering young talent. "The last thing I wanted was someone designing a language program who never talks to people. Part of the deal for funding her research is that she'd develop the program for us here, first. And that she'd conduct her research while actually interacting with the public." Howard presses his thumb against the elevator. It scans his print (and probably samples his robo-DNA) and the elevator moves towards the penthouse.
"Irish, huh? Northern or Southern?"
The doors open on his lab/office. He starts for the bar. "What's your poison these days, anyway? Not cherry juice and club soda, I don't imagine."

*

Tony nods a little. Approvingly, too. "It figures that even your receptionist is a genius. I knew there was a reason I liked her." It's not just the short minidress, either. "And right, this means she's actually going to be getting firsthand experience with what she's going to be making." He doesn't say 'good thinking'. Lord knows Howard doesn't need the ego boost.
"Southern," he adds. "Voice is modeled after this woman I know. Knew. Well, know, but haven't known in a few years. God, she was…"
Throatclear. Striding on in as the doors open, he waves a hand. "You taught me the value of good scotches, brandies, cognacs. I'd be just as happy with a martini, though."

*

"How the hell did I teach you that? You were sixteen. I wasn't that bad of a father," says Howard with an eyeroll. He works on crafting a pair of gin martinis. "You really didn't learn from my history with women before your mother, did you? You're about the same age I was when I realized the playboy thing wasn't all it was cracked up to be." He gives the shaker a few good shakes, then pours out an even amount into a pair of stylish glasses.

*

"No, but you had a liquor cabinet and it wasn't exactly locked. I could read, even at sixteen." Even at two, for that matter. Tony sets the USB stick down on the nearest flat surface — it's clearly his, with the sleek brushed aluminum body and Stark Industries in chrome. His lips twitch at the comment, but he takes a glass with one hand and tosses the small white box at Howard with the other. "Right, no. It's about the time you threw yourself completely into trying to find an ice cube in the Arctic."

*

Howard chuckles and sips from his drink. His reflexes are quick enough to snatch the box neatly out of the air. He turns it over in one hand, then sets the drink down. "What's this?" If there's an obvious way to open it, he'll open it up. "You mean the twenty years I spent trying to find Steve? That wasn't entirely fruitless, you know. We mapped more of the sea floor than anyone ever had. The Canadian government was pretty happy to pay for that data. Especially along the border with Russia."

*

It's not too hard to open. It's oblong, smooth and plastic and metal, and where the plastic and the metal meet the box swivels open. There's a gleaming StarkWatch inside, also white and silver — no, platinum, if Howard can tell.
"Wow. Mapping the ocean bottom. I mean, that really is immensely important. I remember you telling me how immensely important it was about a thousand times. I have to agree that Steve Rogers is the best human being anyone could ever hope to be. I remember you telling me that, too." He lifts his head slightly, jerking his chin toward the watch. "Top of the line. Can interface with any devices you have. It can even keep your appointments for you and let you know when you're missing them, in case that matters."

*

A very expensive passive-aggressive gift. That's…Tony to a t, isn't it? Howard eyes the gift. It takes him a moment to piece it all together. The commentary helps. He pushes his tongue against his cheek, then lifts his eyebrows and gives his son a Look. "Something on your mind, son?"

*

"Always." Quips are also Tony to a T. Especially snappy ones. "There's a hundred things going on in my mind at any given time, but I usually have a pretty easy time prioritizing the important ones. I know it wasn't important to you," he goes on, "to be at an event I was running. Just because you were invited and all. Seat on the stage, maybe even a little speech. The mayor of Metropolis was kind of wondering where you were, so I got to make your apologies. Something really indistinctly important came up. Maybe you wanted to make sure your maps of the ocean floor were accurate; I get that."

*

Howard looks down at the electronic gizmo, then sets it aside. He leans on the counter and gives Tony another one of those looks. "This is about your…ribbon cutting? That I didn't show up for politics, handshaking and photos with the press? Come on, Tony. How many of those have you skipped out on? Besides, you didn't need me there edging in on your spotlight or turning the whole thing to…" he motions vaguely to himself, "…what I am, or what I'm building here. It was your day. So I left you to it."

*

"You were part of that project," Tony counters. "You were working with me on that. In fact, I'd say you were instrumental. If you're trying to pitch THINK to an audience of people who are interested in tech, it was a golden opportunity. And seriously? You don't get why it would be important to me that you were there for the end of the first actual major project we collaborated on? You never saw anything I did. Nothing impressed you when I was breaking records when you were alive; Christ, I shouldn't be surprised that your programming didn't change. Keep the watch. It's an actual gift. It's useful."
He drains the martini in one draught, not quite slamming the glass down on the bar. "And another thing. Do you really think you can steal my spotlight even if you try?"

*

"I wouldn't use an event like that to pitch my own projects. That's the point. The narrative at that event was Stark Industries' good deed for the people of Metropolis. It needed to stay on-message, and there was no way that was going to happen if I showed up." Howard has always been all about communications, strategy, image and message. Control the narrative. Keep the press focused on what you want them to focus on. That's what PR events are all about.
"I think your robot father back from the grave might steal some of your attention, yes. And if you take that as an assault on your ego, maybe you need to build a brighter robot suit. Maybe something with disco mirrors in it this time."

*

"Who are you to decide what that message was supposed to be? Stark Industries doesn't need the publicity. It really doesn't. The narrative at that event was what it was because it couldn't be 'Two generations of Starks bring past and present together for a bright future', because half the damn stage was empty. I shared the stage with a couple of kid heroes from Metropolis because I didn't want the whole event to be just about me. I shared the spotlight with them so that this wasn't a Stark victory — it was a Metropolis one. God knows they need it."
To the latter comment, Tony snorts and rolls his eyes. "That's the best you can do, Dad? Come on. I need some actual 'son, I'm very disappointed in you'. Come on. Just one, for old time's sake."

*

"You're never too big to need a press strategy, Tony." But Howard leaves that part of the argument alone. It's not really what this is about, and he knows it.
He pauses a moment and rubs his temple. "Look, I had no idea that this meant so much to you. Hell, I was wondering if you'd even show up for the damned thing. I've read about you and these kinds of things. I spent the first three weeks sitting in that SHIELD lab reading about what you've been up to."
He pauses and takes a deep breath. "Look. Just because I didn't show up to watch you push a button and unleash fireworks doesn't mean I'm not proud of what you've accomplished. I thought you would have figured that out by now. Me not showing up at your science fair when you were twelve was one thing, but you're a grown man. You haven't needed my approval for anything. Not for a very long time."

*

"Didn't press the button, Dad. Were you listening? I gave that duty to a couple of Metropolis heroes because it wasn't supposed to be about me." Tony emphasizes those last words with the blade of one hand smacking into the palm of the other.
"Working with you was one of the dreams I had when I was a kid. Finding a project we would both enjoy, that would stretch both of us. This could have been that project. When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be able to stand next to you on a stage so we could share that respect."
"But you're right," Tony finishes, spreading his hands and stepping backward toward the elevators. "I don't need that. I don't need your approval. I would have liked your respect, but you did always tell me not to bother with things you can't realistically get."

*

"Christ, Tony. How was I supposed to know any of that?" Howard tosses up a hand and lets it fall. "I got an invite through your assistant and directions on where to go. You can understand why I didn't get 'pivotal moment in our relationship' from an itinerary and a pass delivered by your employee."
Howard works his jaw to the side and levels his gaze on his son. "I would have gone if I had any idea that this meant anything to you at all. Maybe I should have known. But I didn't. So be angry at me for not reading the signs, not for purposefully slighting you."

*

"Or for just not wanting to be there. Or bothering to ask me. I thought you'd want to be there, you know? If you didn't know whether I was going to be there, you could have asked. I made… all this stuff for you. Okay. Not just for you. You were dead and I was still around and I never actually got — it's not a question of it being…"
Tony's shoulders slump. "Just. Forget it," he says, waving a hand. "It was a thing, it's over and done with. Show up to whatever you think is important. It's not about the purposeful slight, Dad. Use that brain of yours and see if you can figure out what it really is about."
With that, he turns properly and jabs the button for the elevator.

*

"Or you could just talk to me, Tony. This business of you trying to tell me something without actually telling me is clearly not working." There's a note of wry sarcasm in Howard's voice. "You could have just said, 'Dad, I really want you to come because we worked on this together.' And I would have been there. But you made me guess. And I guessed wrong. Because I always get it wrong. Have you not noticed a pattern?" Self-effacing, that.

*

Tony hesitates. He turns around, his eyes bright and weary, his features set hard into rough lines and planes.
"I said," Tony replies. Something about his posture is very much that of Tony at sixteen — sullen, recalcitrant, but still a ball of rolling energy. "I want to work on great things with you. I want to be a team. I want you to be proud of what I do — of what we do together."

*

"Kiddo, I am proud of you. The company's worth more than ever. You're at the forefront of innovation. You've hired the right people. I don't…like that you run around in that suit, but I'm starting to understand why you do," Howard wobbles his head back and forth. "…I'm trying to understand it. Having Peggy around again reminded me of what the heroic impulse is like. I forgot how much she just rushes into things when she feels she can make a difference. I guess you do that, too. But I still don't have to like it because I'm your father and I don't like people shooting at you, no matter how doubly reinforced your armor plating is." He cracks a smile, but it's one that's aware that no joke is going to diffuse the situation.
"You know, we can try the team thing, but we're going to butt heads. A lot. The Metropolis project worked because I was over here," he motions, "…and you were over here," he motions to a different spot, much further away. "If you imagine us working back to back in a lab and trading innovations, you might have to shop around for a new father. 'Cause kid, you and I are like two positively charged magnets. We're a lot alike but we push against each other with all we've got."

*

The joke doesn't exactly fix things, but it does coax a slight smile out of Tony. Gentle, almost not there, but present. His mother was the one who always got the laughs out of him.
"I get that," he admits. "But I think if we could just — I get that on one side, but I don't want everything to be emails and intermediaries. Working with each other twenty hours a day will get one of us killed, and I only have the one body. But we're alike enough that I think the two of us brainstorming could come up with amazing stuff."

*

"Well, why don't you take a lab here?" Howard asks as he extends his arms. "The whole point of THINK is innovation through collaboration. You might benefit from getting out of the building with your name on it. I know it helped me. Why do you think I helped found SHIELD?" Other than the uh, Hydra threat and all.

*

"I'll think about that." Tony hitches his shoulders and adds: "Really keep the watch. I actually got that for you before you pissed me off, so consider it, you know, a decent gift." The elevator dings behind him, but he ignores it. Raking a hand through his hair, he clears his throat: "We didn't have a meeting for this. We scheduled a meeting to talk about our partnership, so… let's talk. I've been thinking about the specifics, and I have some ideas that should be mutually beneficial."
And just like that, either Tony's putting his ego aside or he's over it. The Stark boys both lock things away. They just do it in different ways and with different parts of themselves.

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