Chapter 1: » Father Gave Me A Name «
Is it better to be respected or to be feared? I ask myself: why not both?
- Mister Stark, Weapons Manufacturer
The cafeteria was as always filled to the brim with all his workers this time around. With the blazing sun finally setting and the cold slowly creeping in under the door it’s the part of the day Tony looks forward to most and dreads in equal parts. Because every day when men and woman eat their share of the food, he get’s the report of what happened that day, or that week, or that month – depending on who talks to him.
Pepper is one of the few that report daily to him. She tells him how much they sold today, what they bought, how many caps and other valuables they got in exchange for their goods. She also told him who died that day if any and who she hired for what task. Pepper seems to have these things under control and she can even predict when someone is most likely to be back from whatever task he or she sent them off to.
Old Man Jarvis only has one bigger task to report and he does it with an efficiency that speaks of boredom. He manages his home and his clothes and by extent also his food and water. He keeps stock on the consumables and warns when something is running low and they need to trade for it.
But every now and then he has someone odd waiting to tell him something. Most of the time they’re beggars. For food, for water, for shelter, for weapons, for work. Most of the time he has to send them away.
He feels bad about it at night but he is no charity. He made his fortune himself and he doesn’t owe anyone one cap of it. If there is no work to do, if they have no money - or children they beg for instead of themselves - he will most likely not give them anything.
Today it was thankfully just Pepper, Old Man Jarvis and three of his workers of which two are merchants. The third is one of his mechanics and looks guilty waiting his turn to speak, so he most likely broke something that was either expensive, hard to get or from pre-war time. Or all of the above. He hopes for the poor guys sake (and his headache) that it was none of the above.
“We had of course anticipated getting some of our caravans robbed, as you may remember.” Pepper was currently saying. “Which is why we sent six small caravans instead of one.” He indeed remembered her saying something about this. Something about a waste of bramin.
“We just received a message from New Vegas, one of our caravans safely made it to the Red’s. One. They already sent us a letter that if they don’t receive the missing cargo they will not give us the spare parts we need. I cannot believe that out of six caravans on separate trail all but one has been raided. This has to be a set-up.”
It was indeed a worrying number of weapons and ammo lost. And on top of it all the Red’s are demanding they hold their end of the deal. And he really needed those scraps of metal they traded for with the Red’s.
“We got word on any of the other five caravans? Any survivors?”
Pepper shaked her head no, looking worried. “None. Or they haven’t reached a radio station yet to contact us.”
She was chewing on her nails again, she always did when she got stressed. He held out a package of sugar bombs. She didn’t notice his intentions for once and simply saw it as him sharing his food and ate one, chewing on that instead and leaving her poor fingernails alone for now.
“They could have just gotten off track, or chose a longer route for some reason. We can’t wait that long. The Red’s demand their goods or they’re not sending us our purchase either. We will just have to send out more caravans to meet their schedule.”
“Not acceptable.” He says and he can see Pepper’s chin go up to defend their monthly trade with the Red’s they have had for one and a half year now. “I’m not saying they don’t deserve every single bullet they bought, but we lost 83 percent of the whole caravans and I can not stand for that. Send out some men to scout each of the routes to look for the lost caravans. And put the still needed goods in one caravan. Double the security. No, three times as many guards and try to hire two soldiers from the NCR. We need to let them know we’re still here and willing to work with them. Hopefully they finally realized that being stationed so far east makes it easier to just buy my goods than wait month for supplies their stock just doesn’t have. Oh, and send Widow with them.”
The frown makes her face look all ugly. “You think she could talk Raiders out of attacking the caravan?” She asks and completely ignores his one hundred and seventieth try to make nice with the local station of NCR soldiers. Since they’re closer to
“I think that she will fear them into leaving the caravan alone. She had been quite famous, you remember don’t you?”
She doesn’t answer the question but they both know the answer to that. Black Widow’s past is a taboo that Pepper enforced but he likes to scrape the edges of once a month. It’s not as if no one knows just who she is anyway, silencing it into secrecy just cannot happen. At least not with this generation. Their children might grow up never knowing who that elderly woman is, if she lives that long. With the mission she had set herself that’s very unlikely.
“Anything else?” he asks and dares to wish for a firm no. He’s not that lucky of course, they’re not even done eating and Pepper usually takes up most of the cafeteria time herself.
“The caravan from Fallen York finally arrived savely this morning. But we’re missing two gun prototypes and three boxes of special ammo for them, also a whole lot of medicine, mostly Med-X and RadAway and one full medical kit. We are also missing seven boxes of cherry bombs.”
“What does the caravan leader say how he lost them?”
“Apparently they were attacked and one of the Bramin panicked and the wheel broke, throwing half the contents on the ground. They put everything on the last remaining wagon and exchanged the Bramin daily so they could rest equally. He says he must have overlooked them in some ditch, or some quick hands got to them before they fled which I think is more likely.”
“Two of the guards, which I think is where the medikit went.”
“Okay. They all get a cut on their payment to make up for the missing stuff, but don’t be inhumane. Did they say who attacked them?”
“Raiders.” She says with a tone that heavily implies that she has had enough of them attacking their caravans. He silently agrees with her but there’s nothing he can do right now. He’s already working on something, though. Something that will make it easier to keep track of all his caravans and their status. It’s just not ready, yet. He needs more time.
“That all?” He asks her, to be sure. She nods and stands up, letting Old Man Jarvis speak next while she gets herself a platter full of food.
“There is nothing much to tell today, Master Anthony.” He says and his eyes crinkle a little with his small smile. That most likely means that the children have stolen chips or sugar bombs again and he’s too kind to rat them out.
“I have added todays meal to the list, but we’re not critical with any food. The corn is few as always, maybe you should think about adding more farms if you want to keep your many trips through the country.”
He had indeed travelled lots with his helicopter. He will need to either cut his trips, or add more corn farms just for making fuel. That way they could eat popcorn again, or trade with the NCR. He heard their boss liked his helicopter, too. He must also be running out of fuel.
“I will think about it.” He promises. When nothing else was added, he turned to the three other people waiting their turn and picked the first one, closet to him.
“You. What do you want? And make it quick.”
He had picked one of the merchants first who thankfully didn’t beat around the bush. His friends wife had been killed a few weeks ago and now he is in desperate need of a job. He would add two Bramin with Wagon to Tony’s Caravans and he sends the man to Pepper to write up a contract for his friend that he just needs to sign.
The second merchant wanted the exact opposite – to be let out of his contract. He told him that he either worked the full month, or he lost the days he had already worked, there will be no refund for them. He send him also to Pepper.
The third one he had been curious about since sitting down. A very anxious looking mechanic.
“And what’s weighting on your heart?” He asks in a dry tone.
The man visibly gathers his courage to confess something. But he surprises Tony. Instead of the anticipated “I broke something” what the man actually says is “I heard someone talking to me while I was working at the machines a few days ago.”
His tone of voice is hushed, as if he’s telling a secret. He has wide terrified eyes. “But there was no one there.”
“Did you perhaps-“ Tony starts but the man vigorously shakes his head. He hunches in on himself then and suddenly the strong compact man looks very weak. “I heard him again. This morning. He said that I will be reborn. But I didn’t die. And there was no man. And – Mister Stark, Sir. I want a gun. Next time the voice comes, I will shoot it.”
This was getting out of hand really fast. He needed to get control over the situation. This man was obviously going crazy.
“Careful there, buddy. Where did you hear this voice?”
“D7. I worked at D7, repairing the busted terminals there. I was done with two when I heard the voice. And today I was on my fifth.”
Five terminals in three days? This guy was obviously very talented. It was sad the good guys always got crazy first.
“They said D7 was haunted.” The man continued, his eyes fixed on Tony himself. “I didn’t believe them. Now I do. I’ve heard it myself.”
“Calm down.” Tony finally snapped and the guy startled hard enough to knock over his bottle full of Sunset Sarsparilla, sloshing the sticky liquid over the whole table. “I will look at your ghost, take a gulp.”
He offers the guy one of his Whiskeys, the clear fluid filling up nearly an entire glass. The alcohol should let the man settle. After he watched him drink the whole contents of the glass he sends him to bed early so he doesn’t have to watch him twitch for the rest of the night.
“Go sleep, rest and be ready to work at C3 tomorrow. I want to see you working on a terminal myself, your solve rate is quite impressive.”
“He told me he heard a ghost in D7.” He tells Pepper hours later when both of them are on the bed and Happy makes one last round of the ground, to make sure everything is locked and secure and no one deserted his place in security watch.
“Who heard a ghost?” He feels Pepper shift against his back, her arms coming around him in a hug. He can feel her cheek pressed between his shoulder blades even through his clothing. The lingerie she found in one of the deserted houses fits her perfectly, but it’s not his to ogle or touch so he doesn’t turn around and hug her properly.
“The mechanic today. The one that looked ready to vibrate off the table, remember?”
He can see Pepper’s fingernails where she laced her hands together above his stomach. He thinks they would look prettier with some dash of color, some sort of protection that helps her stop the chewing and makes the abused fingers look nice again. She would love red, he thinks.
“He’s gone crazy and can hear the Atoms now?”
“No, apparently it was a ghost and he told him he would be reborn.” Which sounds not exactly appealing, all things in this world considered. He likes those religions better where they promise you milk and honey. Milk he knows even if it’s not very tasty, but he has no idea what honey is besides an old nickname barely anyone uses anymore. Maybe they promise Milk and Women. He could get behind that.
“I will send him with the next Caravan to the Red’s. Let him get some help by the New Vegas doctor there.”
“No, he’s needed here. He repaired five terminals in two days. Five, Pepper.”
“Tony. There is no rush. I know we just arrived and you want into every single terminal as quick as possible, but. He can take a few weeks to get better again. If he’s as good as you say he’s no use to you with a meltdown in the middle of a repair.”
It’s true of course. Good workers are rare if he doesn’t teach them personally beforehand. He can’t afford a light to go out beyond repair simply because he overloaded it.
He can’t continue thinking about it because the door opens suddenly. Happy doesn’t look like the relaxed husband coming to his wife and his bed (and their clingy friend who takes up their time) but like-
He does look slightly startled but Tony has the suspicion he opened the door looking that way. Tony looking for comfort with Pepper at the end of the day is something he should be used to by now. Half the time it’s him hugging anyway. Happy had always been sort of hug-friendly even as kids. Especially as kids.
“What is it?” Pepper asks concerned and uses his arm as leverage to sit up properly a second later.
He sees Happy - this big man - wring his hands anxiously, looking at Pepper for guidance but only finding confusion Tony can feel in his own face. Finally he seems to steel himself, legs apart, shoulders low, back straight and he says “Justin is here.”
At first it doesn’t register. He wants to ask “what Justin” before it clicks horribly into place.
“What does he want?” he snaps, swinging his legs over the bed and sitting straight.
“He wouldn’t say. I let him wait in front of the gates with a few sharpshooter aimed at his face.” This is why he likes Happy, always knows what Tony would want in any situation. It might be the effects of long-time exposure to him. If it is he has to keep doing it.
But it’s night and the outside is cold and dark and whatever Justin wants he doesn’t feel like giving it. He feel like making him beg for it.
“Let him in, then. Put him in a tiny room with no chair and lock the door. Let him sweat for a few hours. I’m going to clean up.”
“Is this wise? Doesn’t he work for your father? He could have a message for you. Or information.”
“Did he come with an escort? No? I couldn’t care less if he works for my old man or not or what he has to say. He’s not on official business here and I don’t think Dad even realized I’m gone.”
He feels Peppers hand on his back warm and comforting. But he knows what that means, it’s the non-verbal way of her saying “Don’t be so harsh on him, Tony” – they both know it. Which is why he shrugs her off, before standing up and walking to his room.
He needs to prepare himself.
Shaving himself had always been something he enjoyed. Women loved it when a guy didn’t let his beard grow untamed in the wasteland. At least the ones he’d brought to bed with him said so.
The shape of it had been from the employee I.D. of the real Dr. Stark that had worked at Stark Industries and whose Name he had taken for himself when he claimed that factory building.
He felt like putting on a different self everytime he shaved. Someone collected, cool. Efficient. Ruthless. Stark.
A whole person between him and the world he can take cover behind.
Shaving is the first part of becoming Mister Stark. The second part is putting on the clothes he found in the closet. A suit that may have been black once but is now a sunbleached grey. Dark sunglasses with big lenses that cover his eyes and half of his face.
They looked ridiculous once but by now everybody has grown used to them. His expressions are far more difficult to read when he wears them.
And lastly he toes off his dirt covered work shoes and puts on shiny black leather shoes that he found in a sealed off box. He keeps them in the same box whenever he’s not wearing or cleaning them just so they do not lose their shine.
Suited up he looks at his reflection in the mirror one last time. Mister Stark looks back at him, a frown on his face.
“Mister Stark?” someone says close to him and he startles hard enough for the sunglasses to get unhinged and slide down his nose.
The corn farmer - that also takes care of the bramin - takes a few steps back, clearly ashamed. “Your visitor demands that you see him. I feared he would start throwing furniture at the door.”
He could see him, too. Stoic expression, arms crossed and nose high demanding that Tony come down and care to his needs.
Well, sucks to be him.
“All right. I’ll be right with him. But first I am in need of some sugar bombs.”
And it just happens that the cafeteria with the kitchen where they store them is in the complete opposite direction of the room Justin is currently locked in.
He can’t avoid him for much longer. But at least he will have snacks when he faces him.
Pepper and Happy both wait in the hallway for him most likely because they want to accompany him into the room.
“You wait outside.” He tells Pepper. Of course that won’t stop the clack-clack of her shoes following him. He hadn’t thought to get away with it on the first try.
“Please wait outside.” He says once more. But still there are two pair of shoes following him. Happy is armed, is his bodyguard, trusted around him when he feels unstable. Pepper makes him feel unstable.
He turns around and grabs for her hands and looks at her. Her expression is fierce and he loves her in that instant, really every moment, he does. She is like the bigger sister he felt he needs to protect but who protects herself and him too instead.
“I need you to stay outside and do not give Justin ground to attack you, or me.” Or Happy he doesn’t add but once more they understand each other without words. Even when he’s wearing every layer of the Mister Stark persona he could find.
She looks down clearly unhappy but nods and he gives her a kiss on the forehead. A chaste fleeting thing and it’s okay, Happy is nodding as if in thanks and then they keep on walking down to the tiny room they made Justin wait in.
The room is really dusty and dark and doesn’t do the rest of this building any justice.
Justin by comparison looks remarkably clean and polished, as if he hadn’t walked miles through dirt and dust to finally find him after leaving the brotherhoods shelter.
“Tony!” He greets with that false cheer and the fake grin. “And Happy again! It’s good to see you.” He looks like he always did even when they were kids. Not trustworthy.
“Justin.” He says and feels Happy shift into position behind him. Blocking the door and keeping an eye on everything in the room that moves.
Apparently feeling that he can’t win them both over with his charm he changes tactics, casually leaning back against the wall and crossing his legs. “This is a very nice building. Did you make it yourself?”
“Out of the bones of my many enemies. What do you want, Justin? Don’t tell me you walked all the way just to talk with me.”
“Of course I didn’t.” He says and Tony didn’t even know he could still feel like strangling the guy, years later. “After all you’re still just a pipsqueak. One must be very low to look up to you.”
His short growth didn’t bother him this much anymore. He had been the “little Tony” in the brotherhood, always getting picked on with “you must be this big” jokes. He found his ways of dealing. He could crawl into ventilation shafts, into bigger machines. It was not a disadvantage in the wasteland being small. The bigger you are the brighter a target, after all.
He has to admit some people do not take him seriously. Or did. He proved them wrong. Horribly wrong.
“I came here to offer you a deal authorized by Stane. He admires you for what you’ve build yourself with that fake name of yours. God knows why. He wants to trade. I have the documents with me you just need to sign. He even wrote Mr. Stark in the papers. Isn’t that nice of him? He fully supports you betraying your poor dad this way.”
Said papers are held up in display from where Justin had straightened up and paced through the room.
“Just so you know I did not forgive you.”
That is such a weird thing for him to say Tony’s left blinking in confusion. “Forgive me what? That I left? Just so you know I didn’t need anyone’s approval for making my own damn choices. Least of all yours.”
“Don’t pretend, this is not about you leaving. I meant you not coming back for the funeral. I knew you were self-obsessed but this?”
He feels all the blood leave his face, or at least he imagines it when he feels cold all over. “Funeral? Whose funeral?”
Don’t let it be Rhodey. He couldn’t forgive himself knowing he left his friend to die and then didn’t even watch him be cremated.
Justin merely raises an eyebrow at him, not believing him apparently. “Your father’s of course, don’t pretend-“
He gasps for air but nothing fills his lungs. Looking back over his shoulder he seeks Happy’s eyes but they look as shocked as his.
Not giving him a minute to breathe Justin just keeps on talking, things finally clicking into place for him.
“You didn’t know? Oh Tony, I’m so sorry for your loss. No one told you?” He mutely shakes his head, refusing to show gratitude for the obvious sarcasm. It’s not like he’s sad he had fled. He’s not. The hot raw feeling in his throat is just because he’s angry. And he has to blink more often because of the dust in this rarely used room. That’s all.
But Justin doesn’t shut up. Once you’ve encouraged him to talk he won’t stop. But that’s okay for now, the guy will babble something interesting sooner or later when he’s done trying to provoke him. “So that’s why you weren’t there for the burial, we all just assumed you were being an ass and pissing on your father’s grave like you pissed on his name.”
He sees it coming and steels himself.
“Isn’t that right, Mister Stark?”
The guilt or shame never comes. Instead Tony feels oddly proud. It’s a drop of water on a hot stone, but the steam rising encourages him.
“Are you done now, Justin? Can you finally tell me why you’re here, what Stane wants or do I need to listen to you try to hurt me for an hour more? If that’s the case, please tell me in advance. I’ll get me a chair.”
He doesn’t wait for an answer, just walks up to Justin and takes the papers out of his hand.
The logo in the top corner is not something he recognizes from before. Maybe Stane had a new one designed. After he took over.
He ignores the way his stomach flops with dread and tries to concentrate on the actual trade offer.
The first paper is a letter addressed to him – to Mr. Stark – saying that he can suggest changes in the contact as he sees fit. That makes him frown because since when does Stane change things willingly to his disadvantage?
He flips through the seven pages, scanning them for anything that stands out as him being unfairly repaid. He doesn’t see anything at first glance but that doesn’t mean a thing.
“As you can see, it’s a very generous offer.” Justin says and walks over to him, raising his hand and laying it on his shoulder. Tony can feel him push down slightly and not because he’s resting his weight and he feels angry all over again.
“Shut up and let me read this properly or you can leave and take them with you.” He holds the papers out as if daring him to take them and walk out.
They stare at each other and Tony is grateful for his sunglasses because Justin’s eyes seem unfocused trying to find his gaze behind them before he gives up with a dramatic sigh and walks back over to the wall to lean against, leaving Tony to read the term and conditions in peace.