Hiring a Professional

April 28, 2017:

Obadiah Stane makes Peter Parker and offer he barely has the words to accept, much less refuse.

Obadiah's office

An office in the best building in the world

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Iron Man Captain America Thor

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

HOURS AGO.

"HOFFMAN!" The roar of J. Jonah Jameson echoes throughout the newsroom, cascading across cubicles like a blast wave. It chills the new blood in the room, but those who have worked here for years have gotten used to his bituminous bluster.

If Silk were here, her Spider-Sense would have given her PTSD by now.

"Yes sir?" Hoffman was there before Jameson had really finished shouting his name, which is exactly why Hoffman still had a job.

"Find that layabout Parker and tell him to get over to Stark Tower, he has a meeting!"

NOW

The post it note was smudged by Jameson's fingerprints. Which means they were smudged by a cigar he had been chewing on all morning, but the ink was still legible.

Meeting 88th Floor, Stark Tower - Mr. Stane. Best behavior!!! The third exclamation point is absolutely brimming with barely contained literary rage, and it almost looks like he wanted to write a fourth. At least Peter would find a car waiting for him to take him to Stark Tower, though the man up front was the picture of professional silence. When he opened the door to let Peter out, it was easy to see the gun and magazines fixed to his belt, along with a radio that explained his earpiece. Why an armed guard needed to chauffeur Peter Parker in the middle of the day is anyone's guess, and Mr. Secret Service doesn't answer any questions.

If Peter is brave enough to continue on, he'd find easy directions in the lobby up to the floor that sits just above the research levels and just below the floors that Tony has set aside for his personal living space and laboratories. This particular elevator is run by JARVIS past the 80th floor, and speaks clearly as the doors open to a space that seems to take up almost the entire floor. "Welcome to the 88th floor, sir. Mr. Stane has been informed of your arrival."

Glass double doors part past the small foyer, and there is no desk for an assistant - just the long and wide room in warm, but earthy tones. On the left wall is a series of holographic displays and more mundane television screens, showing news and operational status from various resources around the world. Directly in front of them is a recessed area two steps down, which has two chairs, a couch, and a small table. To the right is a small bar with three stools, with a sliding blind that hides most of Obadiah's stock of liquor.

Past it all is an area with more natural lighting, where the back wall is made entirely of glass overlooking the city. There is a desk facing into the room, layered with a few papers, but no visible monitors or computer equipment, and pacing in front of that desk, between it and the small 'living' area in the center of the room, is the stalking from of Obadiah Stane. His jacket is off and slung over one of the chairs in front of his work station, fingers rising to rub at his temples as someone on his bluetooth speaks in his ear. He gives a wave, urging his visitor in without looking, his hand dropping and immediately going to the side as if to exclaim surprise to no one in particular, both arms suddenly dropping with a shake of his head.

"I know it violates international law, Edward, but there's a greater purpose here, man. Do you know what the Soviets would have done to them back then? It costs less than a pack of smokes to bribe most of these border guards now. I'm talking about a six man team, twenty minutes tops. I'll even give you a zero casualty guarantee. Right, we'll use sonic rounds. Look I've got a meeting now, it's really important and can't wait." At this he flashes Parker a small, grizzled smile and holds up a finger. "Just talk to your guy in Sokovia. If he can make it legal, even better."

The call ends, the light winking out on his bluetooth earpiece, and Obi reaches up to pull it away while his steely eyed gaze turns towards his new, most favorite person in the world.

Last time Peter Parker was at the Bugle while such a big hubbub was going on, Bad Things happened, and they involved him.

Today, Things Indeterminate That Still Worry Him in a Vague Sense are happening. And they involve him. Again.

He stares at that post-it stickied to his thumb and reads the instructions as the elevator doors of the Bugle close in on him.

"Maybe… it's just about taking cute pictures of his cat," he hopes, hopelessly.

*ding*

Peter Parker is exactly brave enough to continue on with the most awkward of nervous foot shuffles for a walk.

The escort had a gun. He knew even before that slight shift in the man's coat — time and experience and a Spider-Sense do wonders for that — which really hasn't done anything other than fray his nerves even further. He just takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes, and calms himself down. This is fine. This is fine. This is fine.

"Hey, um, are you… do you listen to a lot of Halsey?"

Stark silence.

This is absolutely totally fine Other Peter shut up already.

"Huh?" Peter wonders with only the slightest jolt (THIS IS FINE) as JARVIS peeps up in the elevator. He blinks, coughs, clears his throat, the picture of embarassed meekness. "O-oh. Uh. Thanks, -" 'Creepy Disembodied Voice Guy' "- uh… sir?"

Sure, close enough.

Technically (TECHNICALLY) speaking, this is Peter Parker's first time inside Stark Tower, and it shows as he walks past those glass doors, looking around him with the wide-eyed wonder of someone who's probably never even stepped foot in the Upper East Side, and would likely combust into flames if he tried. Hands stuffed into the pockets of his blue, hooded windbreaker, those hazel eyes take in all the holographic displays, less so for the news and moreso for all the research data scrawling across the rest, a fascinated smile flitting briefly past his lips to help calm him just a bit. Thankfully, that doesn't really last, because then he sees his reflection in the mirror, with his wrinkled clothes and messy hair and oh god do rich people get manicures? Is he could to get judged for being a day behind on clipping his nails? WHAT IF HE SEES THE DIRT UNDERNEATH THEM WHEN THEY SHAKE HANDS—

All the social anxiety in the world means he doesn't immediately notice Stane's gesturing, and when he does, he startles like someone who didn't even know the man was there. Eyes wide and coughing in a mild fit of OH MY GOD I WANNA DIE THIS IS WORSE THAN TEACHER MEETINGS IN HIGH SCHOOL, Parker clears his throat and walks inside. He tries not to listen to the things Stane's saying — really, he does — but it's hard because the man's voice sounds like a drunk angry bear and also at the end of the day Peter's pretty nosey. He does an admirable job of tilting his head with the faintest look of apology, in an 'I can come back later' kind of way…

… but then the call ends and Peter is left there.

Standing.

Staring.

The stark (HAH), abject silence of the moment where he awkwardly stares at the guy who's staring at -him- like he's that grizzled old uncle the family always loves to have around for Christmas as long as he doesn't have too much eggnog, lasts for a whole ten tense seconds. And then he blinks.

"Err — sorry, I was just — sorry, did you — do you know how big this place is because it's really — really big wow I sound like an idiot uh nevermind that sir sorry sir Mr. Jameson said you needed me for something sir I'm saying sir a lot aren't I sir."

Yep.

There's a slow crinkle to his brow, a wrinkling that intensifies with such an absurdly observable crescendo that it plays back on Peter's awkward rambling, a fuel to his bumbling fire. In the constraints of this equation, where business suits are the armor, and experience a more effective weapon than a bus swung like a baseball bat, Obadiah will seem like a giant. The world behind the grizzled man seems to shrink as Peter fumbles on, and he actually looks up and around when Peter mentions the size of the place. Obi's eyes squint just a little as he tries to decipher this new and interesting language that peppers every third word with 'sir', and then he gives a long nod.

"I think if you say sir one more time, I'm going to physically feel myself age in real time."

He smiles exactly like the uncle everyone loves to have around until he has too much eggnog, and then he turns to pat the chair in front of his desk. At least it seems he's sparing Peter the potential crisis of an introductory handshake. "Have a seat. I was going to offer you a soda or something but honestly, sounds to me like you could use a Scotch." He's already moving over to his right, to an area that's just out of view. Behind a sliding panel on the wall are a few bottles, and the sound of ice gentle placed into a glass will ring into the silence he leaves behind.

When he returns he steps right up to Peter, looming in a way that might seem right out of a nightmare, with the light of the room casting his face in dire shadows. He reaches forward to set the drink on that side of the desk, and then he moves to his side, his own drink in his other hand as he takes his seat.

"Let me tell you something about your boss. And feel free to tell him this yourself, because he could use a few more people telling him this." Obadiah leans forward a little, his expression a mixture of inherent ire and the magical quality that he has to stare someone down in just the right way to make them feel like the floor is moving beneath him.

"I think his haircut is stupid."

A beat.

"And before you think it's jealousy about my own situation," He gestures to his hairless dome. "just remember, this is man who insisted I give him two boxes of Cubans for the trouble of our conversation. Traded you like a horse. He deserves every bit of scorn we can muster. Hey - do you own a tux-" He stops talking as he finally takes stock of exactly how Peter is dressed, from the many wrinkles in his clothes, all the way down to…

Yes, he is staring at his hands. At his fingernails.

"Right." A hand comes up and he scratches at his beard for a moment. "Jarvis? Can you set an appointment at Major's for Parker, here. He's going to need a tuxedo." The accented voice of the building's assistant comes on immediately after the request. "As you wish, sir."

"Don't worry, we'll cover all the expenses. What's your going rate for an all night party? Two, three thousand?"

Every bit of the way he looks and sounds makes him seem very serious with his assumption of Peter's freelance rate, obviously used to working with.. well. Other people. You know, what's the word?

Professionals.

'I think if you say sir one more time, I'm going to physically feel myself age in real time.'

"Err. Right. Sorry, s—"



"… not… sir."

It's really the best he's got right now.

Shoulders just a bit rigid in a (failed) effort to make himself look more professional than he is, Peter's smile is as modest as it is awkward as he notices that hand patting the chair. "That's — a chair," he helpfully states, and then realizes he hasn't really said even remotely what he wanted to say as the meaning of the gesture actually catches up to him. "… a chair that I should be sitting in. Right. Sorry. I — right. … Sorry." And this is the battle cry that takes him towards that chair, only pausing to blink those hazel eyes in confusion when Stane makes his declaration and starts moving over to a — selection of drinks? Behind some sort of secret sliding compartment thing that all the rich people have in the movies??

THAT'S SO COOL no wait he said drinks -get your head in the game Peter-

"Ah — uh, wait," not sir stop right now Peter Parker, "- Mister Stane, I… y'know. Don't drink." His expression etches with apology, just before Stane is -RIGHT THERE-. Even as Obadiah puts that drink in front of him. "S-sorry. Yeah. It's just. Y'know. Eighteen. And y'know I — like — I think my Aunt would hunt me down and crucify me."

A beat.

"B-but not actually if you're like a religious person or something and that was offensive and… I… wow, I'm talking a lot."

Uncomfortable silence, gratefully, reigns once more on Peter's end as Obi settles in and confides that little parcel of truth about J. Jonah Jameson. He blinks. Leans in as Obadiah does, brows lifting upwards a fraction of an inch at that stare. The man speaks.

And silence once again reigns, before Peter Parker —

— Peter Parker laughs.

It's a short and friendly thing, but genuinely humored like someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. He even snorts, wryly, shaking his head as he does. "It's like a flat top, weren't those — didn't those go out of style with 80s hiphop or something? I mean — uhh — he's a great boss really he's — he's…" Loud and angry and works him to death and throws cigars in his face. "… yeah, uh. He's… good. Good — good guy."

"Iiii'm probably not gonna tell him that."

But the conversation's already moving on at speeds which poor Peter Parker seems to be having a hard time keeping up with. Like so: "A tuxedo? Uh, no, I know a place that rents one to me for cheap, I, uh — it's got… it's a couple sizes too big — what's a Majors? I — oh, no, Mr. Stane, that's fine, like I said, I got a guy, and I — oh wow, that dude's name is really Jarvis?"

Three. Seconds. Pass.

"Wait. Party?"

This is where Peter Parker stares blankly for all of five whole seconds before he actually kind of puts two and two together, sort of, kind of, maybe, and instantly his eyes widen with (kind of) realization. "—Oh! Uh." His going rate? What's his going rate?? HE DOESN'T HAVE A GOING RATE THAT'S FOR —

"Three thousand yeah that sounds like it's right."

— PROFESSIONALS.

"… 2.5 thousand, maybe."

Did he just negotiate down against himself? He's a terrible business person. Shut up.

"Mr. Stane, what's this — what's this about, if I can — Mr. Jameson didn't really tell me … anything, he didn't tell me anything." That checks out, really. "Is this for an event, or something? A party? … Why do you want me?"

He's really, really, REALLY good at selling the Parker brand.

As Peter does this thing where he speaks in all the wrong ways, Obadiah Stane begins to wonder something as he opens a drawer on his desk. He wonders if Peter Parker is special. Maybe he has abilities. Really, this can't be a natural thing, this ability he has to implode every time his mouth opens. It shows in his face, the way the boy can't string together anything other than that laugh as an APPROPRIATE response to what's going on in front of him. The moment lingers on past his final question, and as he pulls a checkbook out and sets it down in front of him. It almost looks like it should have some dust on it.

"Jameson isn't all that useful, is he? But that's alright, I didn't tell him much. I've seen your work in the Bugle and you have a knack for framing the heroes we've come to know and love as human beings. That's exactly what I need. A few weeks from now, we're throwing a charity gala… and you have to keep this part secret. It's part of your fee. It's going to be the pre-opening event of the new Stark Expo. We're going to raise millions for the children's hospital and a few other charities, and you're going to make that happen by taking pictures of Tony and Steve Rogers and Thor with a whole lot of very rich and well to do people. So I need a steady hand for this. A cool operator."

He reaches up to scratch at his face just beside his nose, and takes up a pen as he leans and squints down at the paper in front of him. He looks like he's about to start writing, to and then his eyes tick up, settling on Peter with a scrutiny that cuts to the core.

"I've been thinking this whole time about who you remind me of. I kept thinking, here's a kid who trips over his own feet. But with his words. You should have seen Tony the first time he spoke to Hank Pym. He was just out of college. One of the most confident kids I'd ever seen in any social situation - right until that moment. Right until he met a guy who had become a hero to him." He begins writing then, shaking his head with a little smile as he remembers that day, so long ago. Before time consumed them all.

"Yes indeed, you remind me of Tony Stark." He rips the check off of the book and slides it across the paper across the table. " The six thousand dollars on it is part of a bonus, to ensure the bit of secrecy about the return of the Stark Expo.

"Well? How about it? Have any other demands or eccentricities I should know about before I throw you to the wolves?" The wolves being the top forty or fifty richest people in the world, and some of the most powerful heroes Peter will ever get to meet in his life. At least a few of them are already friends, right?

So.

This was what Peter Parker thought was going to happen: he'd walk in here, Obadiah would ask him for all his pictures of Spider-Man, say something vaguely ominous about probably knowing one of the secret identities of his super-associates, and then make some vaguely sinister mention of his friends and/or family.

That or he'd just tell Peter nabbing old StarkTech from dumpsters is against some incredibly obscure Stark Industries terms of service and then have a roaming gang of Iron Men beat him with billy clubs or something equally embarrassing and painful.

But that's not what happens here. What happens here is something that… is actually… good? Is this good? Peter's not too sure, exactly, and that uncertainty, though it never reaches his expression, that forges the bulk of his mixed feelings on what should expressly and objectively be good news.

Just a tribute to how terrible his luck has been the last few months. At the very least he can trust that Tony Stark didn't go blabbing his secret identity to anyone.

… Probably.

Which all is to say, Peter just kind of stares at Obadiah Stane, dumbfounded, as he explains himself, explains why he wants Parker at this event, explains what it -is- and how there's going to be -Avengers- there and how RICH PEOPLE are going to be there (honestly that part just makes him feel uncomfortable) and how he thinks Peter's a COOL OPERATOR—

"Oh. Um. Okay."

"But why me?"

Really, Peter? Come on now.

The young man awkwardly and abashedly rubs at the back of his neck, shaggy brown hair rustling as he shakes his head. "Err — I mean — I get it, that's — I don't really think I'm anything that special really, and it's not like… like the Bugle treats my pictures as like… shining beacons of heroic goodness or whatever." His voice is an awkward mumble, his general demeanor that of… well, a kid. A nervous, awkward, and more than a little excited kid who just got presented an opportunity so big he can't even wrap his head around it.

"… I mean, usually you see my name under pictures with headlines reading 'MASKED MENACE HATES CANDY — EATS BABIES' or something." He even helpfully inserts quote marks here. "But if you um — really want me there, like, with money and stuff, I — uh, y'know…"

He's stammering his way to a 'YES OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING' when Obadiah brings up Tony Stark. Peter blinks; the science nerd in him, of course it's the science nerd in him, can't help but look both surprised and pleased as punch to hear himself compared to — "Tony Stark? Seriously? I mean — wow. That's just… wow." He scratches the side of his head, scooting a bit more upright in his seat as if to put forth a more presentable image. It largely fails. "But like you know I — my computer I built out of parts that" i found in a dumpster that smelled like old cheese and cat orgies "… are like ten years old. I'm not — y'know — I'm pretty… ordinary."

Really.

But that seems to have been the magic word for him — whatever Peter's misgivings might have been, really, there's a big, dumb grin on his face the second that Obadiah slides that check across the table… and it is of course immediately replaced by wide-eyed surprise at what he says next. "Six — six thousand? Like six one thousands six thousand?? Oh — wow, that's… wow. Mister Stane that's really — that's too much-" no it's not Peter this company is worth like more money than actually exists in the entire planet of Earth "-I mean… thank you. Yeah. Yeah — of course. Lips are sealed. I — I don't have to like, sign anything, do I, or is this a verbal… contract, or whatever?"

Business. Good at it. Him.

"I — I mean, I use film, I don't use a digital camera, that's the only thing I can think of — I hope that's not a problem, I just, I mean, the quality, and the-" he pauses before he can start to rant about film cameras to a man who probably has a private Millenium Falcon he can crash into the moon whenever he feels like, "-it's just what I'm comfortable with. I, uh."

Throw him to the wolves. With a smile on his lips.

"Thank you, sir. Very, very really very much."

"Look."

Obadiah rises then, moving around the desk and towards Peter long after his rambling catastrophe of self doubt, surprise, and finally agreement. The old desk doesn't so much as creak when Stane half leans, half sits on the very edge of it. It's the kind of move that implies an intimacy that isn't there, that being close to Peter wouldn't upset him in the least, when very clearly just being in the room with Peter has him almost falling to pieces. But Obadiah Stane knows how to make someone feel like they're family in an instant, and is perhaps the least off putting man in the world.

Well, now that he's handed Peter a check and told him he reminds him of one of the smartest and most powerful men in the world, anyway.

"A long time ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, someone took a chance on me. Gave me my start. I try not to forget those things when I look around and see special people - people who show real talent. People who care about what they're doing. I'm not as much a gambler as that person was, so just between you and I? Jameson uses Starkware on the server where all of your work gets uploaded for production. I watch your boss throw away a hundred times more than he ever uses, and I get to see what he couldn't care twice about. All of the candids of people thanking their heroes. The one with that Spider-Thing, or whatever he is. I saw a girl go from terror to elation in two snaps of a shudder."

He pauses to let it sink in, so that Peter knows how earnest he is in his appreciation of his art. And hopefully to let that bit about spying on Jameson slide past his mind too. It's important to know how flexible someone's morals are, after all. Framing Peter's personal menace as victim of a minor crime that gave him an advantage is, of course, the very first move on his board.

When Pete mentions the 'contract', he laughs a little and waves a hand between them.

"No need for anything formal. You say you'll be there, and I'll believe you. I'll send a car and everything. Just know you'll be doing a lot of good, in your own way. When these photos inevitable get to the people who are standing next to their heroes, I'll send along something asking them to make an additional donation to the Children's Fund. I expect we could rake in another five or six million in donations. And that will be all you… IF you do your job."

It is here that his hand extends, the only 'signature' that Obadiah expects, it seems.

There's wiggle room for everything. Boundaries you can test without setting off too many alarms. For example…

When Obadiah gets all up in Peter's personal space, Peter just kind of freezes up like he were about to play possum, possibly indicative of someone who values their personal space — but also maybe just of someone awkward around strangers. Rich and powerful strangers. Who knows his (scientific) hero.

But he at least doesn't inch away, so maybe that says something to.

Or, perhaps, there's the way Peter seems to relax just a bit when Obadiah explains himself, and makes that little joke at his expense, an awkwardly lopsided smile sliding comfortable into place as he speaks…

… or the way he seems to catch that sly, off-handed mention of Starkware like it's a secret to be shared between comrades commiserating in J. Jonah Jameson's despicable JJJ-ness. His lips purse, faintly.

"Starkware's gotta have some useful terms of service, huh?" he jokes, in that awkward, meek way of his, but that line is toed. Good to know, perhaps. But toed as it is, perhaps the irony is…

… Peter Parker, complicated relationship that he has with Tony Stark, puts the blame for that questionable software feature squarely in the hands of the man whose name is on the building.

"I think Spider-Thing is one of the ones Mr. Jameson wanted to call him," Parker continues on wryly, offering a faint smile, trying not to think of how damn close this guy is right now because he's paying him -six thousand dollars- (that this is a mind-boggling amount to Parker is probably sad in and out itself). "But… err. Thanks. Really, I mean — really, thank you. For the opportunity to uh — prove myself. This is kinda like… the first time I've been asked to do something like this, y'know?"

Be he ever so humble. He'd be torn apart in a boardroom. Probably.

So, that goofy, pleased-as-punch smile reasserts itself as Peter slowly stands up. No contract? Great. No contract. Because then he'd have to read a contract, and who wants to do that? Not a kid who just wants to fiddle on his smartphone (for superhero use (that he only got like a month ago (shut up))). He stretches out to a stand, modestly rubbing the back of his head with his free hand. "Wow, uh — no pressure, huh?" he manages with an awkward chuckle before he clasps his hand with Obadiah's. Awkward, perhaps, a bit stiff, but his grip is still firm.

Just like his uncle taught him.

"Thanks for the opportunity. I won't let you down, sir."

"Erk. I mean. Whatever the opposite of sir is. That's you."

His uncle, however, did not teach him any of that.

Well, it's Obadiah's turn to laugh a little, a chuckle that's most hardy, and when he releases Peter's hand he moves from the desk to grab his jacket from the other chair, pulling it on with a quick flourish. He's already moving to usher Peter back across the room, but he doesn't rush him. In fact, he stops at one point to stare at one of the monitors on the wall, when looks to his watch.

"Oh the terms of service are how we continue so much of the work we do here. Not to long ago, I was part of the problem, and no we're trying to be part of the solution. Rules get bent a little bit. Sometimes I might see a story breaking a little early, and it might save lives." The vague allusion to what he does here can be confirmed on the screens with a few scrutinizing glances, along with what he says next.

"All this mess wouldn't be possible without a little technology on our side. There's a lot of bad operators out there, Pete. A lot of people who want to see the world remain exactly as it is, and operate in the shadows. Tony and I are working to change that. He has the suits, and I've got the information. Well, that and a few dozen teams around the world. But they'd all be useless if we didn't take every advantage. All for the greater good. I guess you can think of me as a vigilante like all the rest." He shakes his head after a bit, and realizes he was talking just to talk. Because that's what you do when you're old and spend most of your day up here, working on serious things.

This has been a refreshing distraction.

"Just remember, as far as I'm concerned, it's an opportunity earned. You do a good job at the party and we'll see about arranging a retainer. I can always use someone with a keen eye, given the work we do." He stops, and snaps his fingers as he gets ahead of himself a little. "You know what would be a great idea?" He squares with Peter now, just as he opens the glass door that will let Peter get to the elevator.

"A tour. Jarvis will text you the information, you can ring up Hikari, one of Tony's assistants. She's got an excellent eye for detail too. Nice young lady. I'm sure you two will become fast friends, as long as you don't have any trouble talking in complete sentences to attractive, single young ladies."

Yeah, so Obadiah's just messing with him a little bit now. It's good to have hobbies.

As Peter leaves, and disappears into the elevator, Obadiah turns to shout at Jarvis. "Hey Jarvis? Can you put that music back on you were playing before Edward called me?"

Moment's later, Halsey's 'Gasoline' fills the room.

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