The party was one of the better ones Tony had been to recently, but the surroundings left a lot to be desired. Gotham was probably the most depressing city Tony had ever seen -- the dark, soot-stained skyscrapers with their gothic flourishes pressing claustrophobically in on one another, the low, perpetually overcast sky, the sense of desperation evident in its poorer neighborhoods, where windows were boarded up, alleys were narrow and dark, and walking down the street was like traveling back in time to the Great Depression; it all made him feel penned in, overshadowed. Give him Los Angeles's sun-drenched valley and widely-spaced, modern skyscrapers any day, or Metropolis's soaring Art Deco towers, or even Star City's steep hills and damp fog.
Worst of all, there was no room for Iron Man in Gotham -- no space amid the crowded skyline and ever-present floating police dirigibles for Old Shellhead to fly, which meant that Tony couldn't shake off the city's gloom and the tension of long business meetings by taking the armor out for a spin.
Six days in this miserable excuse for a city, and he still hadn't closed the deal with Wayne Industries. Stark Industries was still reeling from Tony's decision to shut down its weapons manufacturing, and the entire plant needed substantial re-fitting to shift those production facilities to civilian communications equipment. In the meantime, Tony needed the assistance of somebody's else's manufacturing capacity to meet production demand on SI's new line of computer products, and Wayne Industries was the only company with sufficient capacity who hadn't already made three attempts to buy SI out. The only other alternative was a partnership with Lexcorp, and with the amount of time WI lawyers were spending stalling over the contract -- no doubt hoping Tony would be stupid or impatient enough to agree to the near-criminally disadvantageous terms they wanted -- Lex Luthor was starting to look more attractive by the day. He at the very least never pretended to be anything but the shark he was, and a few extra under-the-table concessions would have gotten the whole deal wrapped up in a day, and probably on terms much more favorable to SI than the ones Wayne was offering.
Wayne. Tony drained the rest of his martini -- not dry enough -- and considered the other man, currently ensconced at a table on the far side of the room, a slim blonde at his right side and a curvy brunette at his left. The man might be a bastard across a negotiating table, but he knew how to throw a hell of a party.
Expensive champagne, even more expensive women, and just the right mix of high-power businessmen, high society Old Money, and A and B list celebrities to ensure that everyone had both someone to relax and have fun with and someone to schmooze and suck up to.
Tony had already turned down half a dozen offers of company. He wanted to talk to Wayne in private, without the other man's bevy of lawyers getting in the way -- sometimes the best negotiating was done over drinks. Tony's own best negotiating was done between the sheets, but given the way those women were draped over him, Wayne already had that department covered for the evening.
The brunette laughed at something Wayne had said, tossing her hair back over her shoulder and giving him a dazzlingly white smile. A wide bracelet of linked gold-and-diamond squares glittered at her wrist. The blonde, Tony noted, wore a diamond necklace that looked like it had come from the same jeweler.
Tony preferred sending flowers. It lessened the impression that you were buying a woman's affections.
Wayne looked up then, and saw him. He excused himself from the two women with a grin and a "what can you do?" shrug, and crossed the room towards Tony. Party-goers moved apart smoothly to let him pass, probably unconscious that they were doing so. Wayne could command a room just by walking into it, something Tony couldn't help but envy -- he had to work to turn on the charm, while Wayne exuded charisma as if it were as effortless as breathing.
"Stark," he said, still wearing the remnants of that rueful grin. "Enjoying the party?" He nodded at the empty martini glass in Tony's hand. "Let me have one of the caterers get you a fresh one of those."
"I'm good." A waiter with a tray of champagne was approaching them, edging his way through the crowd. Tony reached over as the man passed by and swapped his martini glass for a champagne flute, holding it up with a flourish. "To a profitable future, I hope."
Wayne smiled, shaking his head. "I never talk business at parties."
"How about a deal," Tony offered. "You listen to what I have to say over," he glanced at the glass in his hand, "a glass of champagne, no lawyers, no secretaries, no financial advisors, just the two of us. Then you tell me what you honestly think, and what it would take to get Wayne Industries to agree to a deal, and if it's not something I can offer you, I'll head back to LA tomorrow and you won't have to talk business to me at all."
Wayne shrugged one shoulder, his smile turning slightly embarrassed. "I'm afraid Lucius Fox handles most of that kind of thing. I just sit there and look pretty and say what he tells me to."
Right. And Tony was just an ordinary businessman with a slightly unusual bodyguard. "I know the feeling," he said. "Sometime I think my executive assistant is the one who really runs my company. But she and Mr. Fox aren't here, and we are. Surely Lucius lets you out to play occasionally."
"Lucius prefers to remains as unaware of when and how I play as possible," Wayne drawled, placing the faintest stress on the word 'play.' He smirked, the expression vaguely familiar, though Tony wasn't sure from where. Tiberius? Lex? Ollie Queen? A mirror?
"I'm serious. I'd like a chance to actually talk, get to know you a little." Or more than a little. Tony ran an appreciative eye over Wayne's broad shoulders and long legs, the solid muscles -- clearly enhanced by serious time in a gym -- visible even under evening clothes. Wayne had the trick of filling out an expensive tux without looking like mob muscle, despite his stature, something some other tall, heavily muscled men Tony knew had never quite mastered. Happy never looked like anything but a hired thug, no matter how well he was dressed. Too bad Wayne already had a date or several with him tonight. "Give you a chance to find out what sort of guy you're about to get involved with."
"I make it a point to never do too much investigating into the motivations of people I get 'involved with.'" Wayne flashed him that easy smile again, the same one he'd used on the two women. It didn't reach his eyes. "It cuts down on the potential hurt feelings."
"Theirs?" Tony asked, raising his eyebrows.
"No." Wayne laughed. "Mine."
"Well, I can promise you, Mr. Wayne, that I don't want your money or your jewelry, or to be seen with you in the Gotham Times society section." Overly flirtatious, maybe, but Bruce had given him the opening, and if he had to, Tony could always pass it off as a joke. "Just twenty minutes or so of your time. And your factories' manufacturing capacity, of course."
Bruce gave Tony a slow once-over, his eyes lingering on Tony's body. "It's a deal then," he said abruptly, extending a hand. "Shall we shake on it?"
Tony took it, feeling a rush of heat go through him at the touch of Wayne's bare skin against his own. Wayne's perfectly manicured hand was larger than his, he noted. Like Cap's. Like Thor's.
The other man's grip was soft, his handshake smooth, matching the easy, charming smile, but Tony had spent years projecting his own "charmingly irreverent playboy" act, and he knew how to spot a facade when he saw one.
Wayne couldn't possibly be as harmless as he was trying to seem -- not and be the head of a company as efficiently and ruthlessly run as Wayne Industries.
Work hard, play harder had always been one of Tony's personal philosophies, and from what he'd seen so far, it looked like Wayne shared his opinion. Tony offered the man his own smile in return, not the polished expression he had learned to put on for prospective business partners and the media, but one with some heat in it, one that hopefully indicated just how little Tony was fooled by Wayne's act, and how much he'd like to see what was under that perfectly tailored evening dress.
"Is there anywhere here we can talk privately?" he asked.
Wayne smirked again, and this time the amusement and lazy heat was there in his eyes as well. "There's a room on the second floor. I'll have Alfred send up a bottle of champagne."
"It's simple, really," Tony explained. "The robots are equipped with very low level AIs, which allow them to operate on their own within a given set of parameters, but there's also a manual override which lets a human operator run them by remote control, for search and rescue operations in hazardous environments, bomb disposal, mining and blasting..." he waved a hand, and the champagne in his glass sloshed out onto his fingers. "Oops. There any champagne left?"
Wayne was leaning back in his chair, watching Tony with half-lidded eyes, a mostly-empty champagne glass dangling from his fingers. It was his second, Tony thought. Or was it his first? He tried to remember if Wayne had ever refilled his own glass any of the times he'd refilled Tony's, and couldn't. "Unfortunately, no." Wayne held up his own glass in illustration, the half-inch of flat liquid at the bottom glowing pale gold in the dim light of the study's desk lamp. "Should I ring Alfred for another bottle?"
Tony thought about it for a second, but then he shook his head, and the moment of dizziness he felt at the motion convinced him that he was right. No more champagne, or he'd have a headache tomorrow to rival the one he'd had after Titanium Man threw him through a wall.
"I'll be honest, Mr. Stark-"
"Tony," he interrupted. "Call me Tony."
"Tony, then." Wayne smiled. "And make it Bruce. I'll be honest, Tony. Your designs are brilliant, and Lucius seems pretty sure you can actually deliver what you're promising, but I have some... reservations about your company's past."
"Like what?" There was, after all, so much to choose from. SI's seventy-point drop in stock prices in the past five months. The former vice-president of the company going insane and destroying half of downtown LA. Tony being a possibly crazy trauma victim who'd spent most of last summer in a cave in Afghanistan.
"Like the fact that you've spent most of your career as an arms dealer."
Or there was that. "Trust me," Tony said, "if I could go back and change that, I would." For a second, he could see the shattered buildings of Gulmira again, the dead bodies in the streets, and he blinked suddenly hot eyes, shoved away a moment of nausea. Don't think about it, he told himself. Don't. If you can fix enough things, help enough people...
"Wayne Industries doesn't make weapons," Bruce was saying. "And the fact that this is a military contract-"
"For non-combat use," Tony pointed out quickly. He drained the last swallow of champagne from his glass and set it down on the corner of Wayne's desk. He must have misjudged the distance by a hair or so, because it fell off the edge as soon as he let go. "Damn. Sorry."
Bruce scooped the glass up off the floor in one easy motion. "Hey, it was empty anyway." He set the glass on his desk, then gave Tony a regretful little smile. "Look, Tony, you've been very convincing, but Wayne Industries doesn't-"
"Doesn't make weapons," Tony interrupted. "I know. Neither do I these days. That why I need to diversify."
"The board of directors is a little uneasy about the recent performance of your company's stock, too." Bruce was leaning forward in his chair now, elbows on his knees, earnest. He was still wearing his dinner jacket, but he'd unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, bowtie hanging undone, a teasing glimpse of bare skin visible.
Tony had shucked his own coat two glasses ago, along with his tie. It had been practically strangling him, and slightly disheveled was a better look on him anyway. "You own seventy-five percent of the stock," he reminded Bruce. This discussion was not going as well as he'd hoped, despite the attractive company and the high quality of Bruce's very dry champagne.
"Yes," Bruce acknowledged, "but like I said before, Lucius is the one who makes most of the business decisions." He stood, extending a hand to Tony. "Time we got back to the party, unless there's anything else?" the question seemed to hang there, full of some weight Tony couldn't quite decipher. Everything around him had gone slightly fuzzy, no hard edges anymore, and keeping track of the double meanings in their conversation was starting to take effort.
"That depends on what you have in mind," Tony told him, but he took Bruce's hand and let the other man pull him to his feet. Bruce had nice hands, big, warm, and rough. Like he'd always imagined Cap's would feel without the leather gloves.
He let go of Bruce's hand -- slowly, letting his fingers linger for just a second in silent invitation, then turned towards the door. Or anyway, that's what he intended to do. What actually happened was that as soon as he got to his feet, the floor lurched and dipped underneath him, his knees went rubbery, and he swayed forward into Bruce.
Bruce caught him, holding him up, and then they were staring into one another's faces from inches away.
So Tony kissed him. It seemed like the thing to do.
Bruce didn't seem surprised, which was good, because Tony was almost completely certain the other man had had this in mind when he'd invited Tony up here, but then again, social cues weren't always Tony's strong point, and also, he was probably kind of drunk right now.
Bruce opened his mouth, letting Tony's tongue in, and his grip on Tony's shoulder and waist went from a firm, steadying touch to something more sensual -- holding Tony close, instead of holding him up.
Tony closed his eyes and threw himself into the kiss, the dizzy headrush of standing too quickly changing into another kind of rush. Bruce backed Tony up a couple of steps, not breaking the kiss, and Tony felt the hard edge of the desk against the back of his legs, just high enough for him to lean his weight back against it.
By the time Bruce broke the kiss, Tony was dizzy all over again, only now it was the desk keeping him upright, instead of Bruce's hands.
He opened his eyes, and found himself staring into Bruce's face -- all square jaw and chiseled angles, his eyes heavy-lidded with arousal.
Tony grinned at him. Bruce's hands were wrapped around his upper arms, his knee thrust between Tony's legs, trapping Tony against the desk. It felt good, and maybe Bruce would be more inclined to deal now. There was nothing like getting laid for making a guy willing to agree to a few contractual concessions.
Bruce had let go of his arm, was fingering the fabric of Tony's shirt with one hand -- slightly heavier than a standard dress shirt, so the light from the arc reactor wouldn't bleed through. Most people didn't notice. But then, most people didn't have their hands all over Tony.
Nice hands, too.
No, more than nice. Bruce's hands were fucking gorgeous. Perfectly manicured, yes, but it wasn't just the size that had reminded him of Cap and Thor -- Bruce's knuckles were rough with calluses and the tiny, white seams of scar tissue. The little finger on his left hand was no longer entirely straight, and calluses had toughened the skin on the sides of his hands, as well.
A boxer's hands, and a martial artist's, and, judging by those scars, one who did most of his fighting without boxing gloves.
A contradiction, those hands, just like Bruce himself - smiling, easy-going, and generous and completely uninhibited in the bedroom, at least if that kiss was anything to go by, while his company staged take-over after take-over and he brokered cut-throat business deals that rivalled Lexcorps'.
When those hands reached for the buttons on Tony's shirt, Tony didn't block them or make some excuse, as he usually would have. Bruce wanted to put on an act? Then let him see the scars, the metal, let him see what kept Tony alive. Maybe he'd get an honest response out of the man then.
Bruce undid the first button, then the next, fingers surprisingly dexterous for all the alcohol that had been consumed, but then, Tony had drunk most of that bottle of champagne, hadn't he?
When the shirt fell open, Bruce hesitated, his face blank for a moment before his eyes narrowed. For an instant, Tony was pinned by a gaze intense enough that it cut right through the soft haze around him.
Ice. Bruce had eyes like ice. Predator's eyes.
It hit Tony low in the gut, like rolling into a steep dive, pulling negative Gs, and he went from half-aroused to achingly hard.
And then Bruce's eyebrows flew up in surprise, and the intensity, the hardness, was gone. "Damn," he whistled. "That must have hurt. Do you mind if I ask what it was?"
"A Stark Industries M13800 fragmentation missile with high carbon stainless micro-flechette shrapnel." Tony stumbled a little on "microflechette," but not enough for anyone else to notice.
Another slight narrowing of Bruce's eyes, and then he grinned, running one finger slowly around the edge of the arc reactor. "I've heard of getting the number of the car that hit you, but that's really-- you had time to notice all of that while you were being shot at?"
"Of course." Why were people always surprised that he'd recognized the missile? And why wasn't Bruce touching him anymore? "I designed it." Tony reached around Bruce's hands and started unbuttoning the other man's shirt -- the buttons were small, but Tony could and had done delicate circuitry adjustments while completely smashed. His hands were always steady, no matter how shot his balance was.
"What does this do?" Bruce was still poking at the arc reactor, which was good in the sense that it meant he finally believed in the brilliance of Tony's work, but less good in that he wasn't holding still for Tony to get his clothes off him.
"It's an arc reactor," Tony explained, as he pulled Bruce's shirt out of his pants to undo the last button. "It provides power to a set of electromagnets that hold the shrapnel in place. So they don't move around and kill me," he elaborated, just to make sure Bruce actually understood. "This one's an upgrade. I built the first one from pieces I salvaged from the SI missiles they wanted me to build copies of for them."
Bruce's shirt finally fell open, revealing the carefully sculpted musculature Tony had known would be there, every bit as solid and inviting as he'd expected. What he hadn't expected were the rainbow of bruises across Bruce's ribs -- splotches of blue, green, and brown, and one or two patches of deep purple.
"So are you in some kind of billionaire fight club, or what?"
"Martial arts practice. It helps me stay in shape." Bruce shrugged one shoulder, then grinned, dismissing broth his bruises and the arc reactor completely, and said, "So, where were we?"
Coming up with a clever comeback was a little beyond Tony at the moment, given the way Bruce was now reaching inside his pants --when had they come undone? -- and wrapping his fingers around him.
Tony moaned into Bruce's mouth, held up only by the desk behind him. His skin felt hot, burning under Bruce's touch, and still, those hands were maddeningly gentle. All of that massive strength was leashed, tightly under control, but just the thought of what Bruce might be able to do to him if he lost a little of that control...
Bruce tightened his grip, and Tony was gone, white starbursts flashing in his vision, and his fingers tightening convulsively on Bruce's ribs.
Bruce made a low, moaning sound, and Tony, sagging limply back against the desk and blinking the patches of light out of his vision, realized that he'd just dug his fingers right into the bruises on the other man's ribs.
"Sorry," he mumbled, trying to gather his muscles into working order again.
Bruce shook his head slightly, his eyes glazed, and Tony realized that he was still hard and erect, and that the sound he'd just made hadn't been out of pain.
"You like it rough, huh?" Tony pushed away from the desk, Bruce backing up a step to let him, and dropped to his knees. He wobbled for a second, the change in altitude making the floor tilt again, steadied himself with one hand against the floor, and reached for the fastenings at the front of Bruce's tuxedo pants.
Tony was trapped again, balance unsteady and Bruce's hands holding him in place. He used his teeth, something he didn't normally do, and more force than he'd initially planned on, and Bruce groaned sharply through his teeth and dug his fingers into Tony's hair. It hurt, just a little, and Tony felt himself responding again, making low, needy sounds in the back of his throat.
Bruce wasn't the only one who liked it rough.
"So," Tony said sometime later, one arm over Bruce's shoulders as Bruce walked him to his car, "does this mean you'll make my all-terrain mining and bomb-defusing robots?" Enunciating took actual effort. So did walking without tripping. His feet didn't want to do what his brain told them to. Tony smiled at the thought, stumbling as Bruce steered him over the curb to where Happy and the Maserati waited. Now the rest of his body matched his heart, not working the way it was supposed to.
"Are you kidding?" Bruce's big, brawler's hand was flat over the center of Tony's chest. "Now that I've seen this? We'll sign the papers in the morn-" he broke off, giving Tony that narrow-eyed evaluative look again, "we'll sign them tomorrow afternoon," he finished. "There are a few points in the contract to go over, but-"
"Told you I was a genius," Tony interrupted, grinning at Bruce. "You'll like the robots. They're cute. An' I'm not signing any of the patents over, so you can stop trying. My terms, or I go to Lex."
Bruce blinked, the surprised expression again -- his real emotions were all in his eyes, Tony had realized, in the way they widened or narrowed. "I'd love to give you a good deal, Tony, but Lucius is the one who decides these things."
"No, he's not." Lying bastard, Tony thought, without any real rancor. "My terms. I'm not giving you the rights to my babies just because I'm drunk, no matter how many perks you offer me." He gave Bruce another grin to take the sting out of his words. Contract secured, and the sex on top of the alcohol had relaxed him so thoroughly that all his muscles felt unstrung.
He couldn't see Yinsen's face in his head anymore, couldn't, in this hazy, contented state, make himself care about anything enough to be tense, the habit of months -- stay alert, stay on guard, if they figure out what you're doing, they'll kill you -- blotted out for the evening by martinis, champagne, and Bruce's touch.
No nightmares tonight. He owed Bruce one, lying bastard or not.