“Alright, Pepper. What's on the agenda today? Hit me with it.”
“You have a board meeting in an hour, followed by a press conference at Stark Industries, then dinner with Obadiah later tonight.” Pepper read from her phone as Tony wiped his mouth with a napkin. The two of them were sitting in one of the billionaire's favorite bistros, finishing up bowls of ridiculously expensive lobster bisque. Tony leaned back in his chair with a sigh. He thrummed his fingers on the arms of his chair, thinking it over for a moment.
“Hmm, sounds boring. Cancel it.” he told her, standing abruptly. He threw some money down onto the table, enough to pay for the bill while leaving a hefty tip for their waitress, and made his way to the exit, leaving Pepper hurrying to catch up.
“O-okay, which one?” she asked, her thumbs hovering over her phone, ready to type.
“All of them.” he replied nonchalantly, buttoning up his jacket as he walked. Pepper couldn't hide her frustration.
“Tony, you can't just cancel everything.”
“Sure I can. I just did.”
“This meeting was made months ago.” Pepper told him.
“Oh really, months ago? Wow, it sounds important. We should definitely cancel it then.” he smirked. “The press conference, too.”
“No! The press is already upset at you for that little comment you made last week. You can't cancel at the last minute. It'll send the wrong message.” Pepper tried to reason. Tony frowned.
“What are you talking about? What comment?” he asked innocently, making Pepper roll her eyes.
“You know exactly what comment I'm talking about.”
“I'm pretty sure I don't.”
“Yes, you do.” she insisted. Tony's eyes widened with a mock gasp of realization.
“Oh, I remember now.” he wagged a finger at her. “You're referring to when I called them a bunch of bloodthirsty leeches who are slowly draining the life from my body?”
“Yes.” Pepper nodded in exasperation. “That is exactly the comment I'm referring to.”
“Wow. They're still pissy about that?” Tony mused lightheartedly as they pushed past the restaurant's doors and stepped out onto the street. “That's the problem with people today. They're all so sensitive. Can't take a joke. Let the record show I still stand by that comment.”
Pepper looked like she was on the verge of a mental breakdown. “You know what?”
“Maybe we shouldn't have any press conferences for a while. You know, just to give the press some time to cool down.”
“I couldn't agree more.”
“I'm not surprised. And what about dinner with Obadiah?” Pepper sighed, becoming exhausted by this conversation.
“Yeah no, ixnay on that, too.” Tony huffed, slipping on a pair of sunglasses.
“And if he asks why?”
“I don't suppose nunya is an acceptable answer?”
“No, it is not.”
“How about because I said so?”
“That one's even worse.”
“Darn.” he shrugged, waving to Happy, who was waiting by the car just down the street. “In that case, make something up. You know? Just say whatever feels natural in the moment.”
“I'll just tell him you're not feeling well.” Pepper decided.
“I like it. Its easy and believable. Good call.”
Pepper struggled to hold on to her sanity as the approached the car. As soon as they were in ear shot, Happy asked, “Where to?”
“Home.” Pepper answered that same time Tony said, “The docks.”
“Lets go to the docks. My schedule is now clear for the rest of the day. Lets go out on the yacht.” Tony winked at his assistant. “We can swing by your place so you can pick up a bikini.”
“Did you really just have me clear your schedule so you can go play on your boat?” Pepper asked in disbelief. Tony held up a finger.
“No, no. Not a boat. A yacht. Very different.” he corrected.
“Its really not.” she shook her head, turning her attention to her phone. Tony looked offended by her comment.
“Yes, it is.” he tried to tell her as Happy opened the car door for them. “Yachts as bigger, cooler, and-”
“Hey! Get back here! Stop that thief!” an angry voice shouted just as a small force slammed into Tony's legs, nearly knocking him off his feet.
“Hmph!” he grunted, grabbing onto the car to keep himself steady. Annoyance clear in his voice, he growled, “Watch it!”
That annoyance quickly faded into confusion when he looked down to see a pair of wide green eyes staring back up at him. The “thief” in question was a little girl, who was no more than eight, with dark brown hair that looked like it hadn't seen a hairbrush in a few weeks and a terrified expression on her face. She held on tightly to his pants leg with one hand while the other was wrapped around a loaf of bread.
The girl was dressed in a ratty pair of shoes that might have been white at one point and an old t-shirt that was meant for a grown man but worked as a dress for her. Her baggy clothes only accentuated the fact that she was severely underweight and malnourished. Tony tilted his head to the side, carefully examining the girl. “Um, hello.”
The girl said nothing. She just stared up at him with those scared green eyes. Further down the street, a man wearing a flour covered apron came charging towards them, his furious eyes locked on the girl. She quickly jumped behind Tony's legs, trying to cower out of sight. The man finally reached them, angry words already spilling from his mouth, “There you are you little shit! You're gonna pay for that or so help me-”
He reached for the girl, grabbing her roughly by the arm and yanking her out from behind Tony. She struggled in his grasp, kicking at his legs and throwing wild punches all while managing to keep a hold of the loaf of bread. The billionaire stepped in, ripping the man's hand away. “Alright, simmer down, hot shot. What seems to be the problem here?”
“This little thief has stolen from my bakery three times this week.” he sneered, jabbing a finger at the girl who looked on the verge of tears. Tony scoffed.
“Three times? Sounds like you need to update you're security system.” he chortled, winking at the frightened girl. She gave him the smallest of smiles.
“You can laugh all you want.” the baker growled, grabbing the girl's arm once again. He shook her angrily, spit flying from his mouth with each word. “Either she pays me for what she stole or I'm calling the cops.”
“Okay, first of all, quit it with the grabbing.” Tony began, pulling the girl safely behind him into Pepper's waiting arms. “Is that how you get your kicks? Roughing up kids? You touch her again and you and I are gonna have a problem.” The man blanched, taking a precautionary step back. “Second of all, how do we know she actually stole from you?”
“She's holding a loaf of my bread in her hands!” the man shouted, earning some side eye from those passing by them.
“How do we know that's not her bread? I don't see your name on it and you know, possession is nine-tenths of the law.” The man's face turned an impressive shade of red. Seeing that this was going nowhere, Tony sighed and pulled out his wallet, fishing out a one hundred dollar bill. Folding the bill in half, he held it out to the man. “Will this cover it?”
The man thought it over for a moment before snatching the money out of Tony's hand. He pointed to the girl as he backed away. “If I see her in my shop one more time, I'm having her arrested!”
“Yeah, yeah. Get out of here, pat-a-cake.” Tony waved him off with a roll of his eyes. The man grumbled under his breath but left. Tony turned to the little girl, his eyes searching for any injuries, “You okay, kid? You hurt?”
She shook her head, holding the loaf of bread close to her chest like she was afraid he might try to take it from her. Pepper was kneeling beside her, rubbing calming circles on her back. Tony cleared his throat. “Where are your parents?”
The girl remained silent. Tony narrowed his eyes. “Really, kid? I just did you a solid and now you're gonna give me the silent treatment?”
“Tony.” Pepper interjected firmly. She pointed to the girl's neck, a concerned look in her eyes. Tony knelt in front of the girl, taking off his glasses to get a better look. A frown tugged at his lips when he saw what Pepper was pointing at. At the base of the girl's throat was a horizontal cut about three inches in length.
“What the hell?” Tony muttered under his breath, taking her chin in his hands. She stiffened under his touch but didn't move or push him away. He gently tilted her face up to get a better look at it. The cut had mostly scarred over but still looked relatively fresh. There were a few more scars on her neck, although these ones were much older. Something had happened to this girl. Something bad. “Who did this to you?”
Again the girl didn't respond. She just stared at him with with wide eyes. Tony suddenly realized that she probably couldn't speak and gave his assistant a concerned look. Pepper straightened herself, wrapping an arm around the little girl's shoulders. “Change of plans, Happy. Take us to the hospital.”
Tony didn't protest as Pepper helped the girl into the back of the car. Instead, he shot her a smirk and said, “Guess its a good thing we cleared my schedule today.”