“Why am I here, again?”
“For the same reason as the last twenty times you asked.” Pepper sighed. “Because you’re the face of Stark Industries.”
“But you’re the CEO.”
“Not for much longer. I resigned, remember?”
“And I didn’t accept, remember?” Tony shot back.
“Tony, please.” A headache was already starting along with the urge to smackTony on the back of the head. Let’s not have this argument right now. We’ve got the meeting with Hammer’s board of directors to try to work out the details of the takeover. Crap, now you’ve got me saying it! Acquisition of Hammer Industries. Acquisition! Acquisition! Acquisition!” She threw up her hands in frustration. “I’m going to start fining people for calling it anything else.”
“What details? We were awarded Hammer Industries to cover the Expo damages. Done deal.” Tony slowed the car as they approached the gate to Hammer’s Long Beach headquarters. “Hammer’s in jail, his company is ours, we’re draining it to pay the damages and the lawsuits – what else is there to work out?”
“For one thing, there are production contracts that have to be honored, and we have no idea what type of cash flow the company has or the loans and debts on the books. This could end up costing SI money instead of covering the Expo costs.”
“I don’t think so. If all else fails, we just sell everything. Put it on eBay.” Tony slid the window down and waved at the guard. The man waved back and opened the gate for the car to pull through. “See there, they already know who’s in charge.”
“You just made my point for me, thank you.” She smirked. “They wouldn’t have done that for me. I’d have sat here while he checked my ID and made calls. You – Tony Stark – are who people think of when they think of Stark Industries.”
“That’s fine, just so long as they know you’re the CEO and I’m just the face – the pretty face.” He winked at her.
Pepper resisted the urge to smack him, as well as the urge to kiss him. She was always torn these days on which urge to follow. Sighing, she settled for reaching out to stroke a finger along the line of his beard.
As her finger neared his mouth, he turned his head and captured the tip of her finger, nipping it lightly.
“Behave.” She chided as she pulled her hand away. “There’ll be photographers here.”
“So? We’re allowed now – everyone knows we’re an item.” Tony grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “We’re on all the magazine covers. Hot – sexy – ”
“Don’t you dare say it.” Pepper warned.
“Pepperony.” He drawled it out like it was a dirty word.
“I hate that.” She sighed again.
Unofficially – at least to the rest of the world – Tony and Pepper had been a couple since their kiss on the rooftop with the Expo burning not so romantically in the background. Both had agreed to keep their new relationship under wraps until they’d figured it out for themselves, and until the inevitable fallout from the Expo and Hammer’s drone attack was sorted out. The latter had taken two months, the former they were still working on.
Officially, at least to the rest of the world – Tony and Pepper been a couple since the night they’d attended last month’s Queen Charity Gala together. The press had fallen in love with the new couple and immediately dubbed them Pepperony.
“Would you prefer Topper?” Tony liked that one better, if he’d had any choice as to how the press smashed their names together. Sadly, he didn’t.
“Food group or sex position? Some choice.”
Tony shrugged. “I love food and sex. What’s not to like? Just so long as everyone knows we’re having it together. Food and sex.”
Pepper smiled and patted his leg, giving his thigh an affectionate squeeze. “Everyone knows.”
At the Gala, Tony had made it clear his and Pepper’s relationship had changed from PA/boss to CEO/largest stockholder to boyfriend/girlfriend. He’d kept his hand either on the small of Pepper’s back, at her waist, or holding hers during the entire event. When she’d gone to the ladies’ room, he’d even waited outside holding her shawl.
As they neared the main Hammer Inc. building, Pepper settled back into her business mindset and checked the schedule on her phone one last time. “Tony, when we’re finished here today, we have to sit down and talk seriously about finding another CEO. I can’t continue to do this. Running two companies is wearing me out.”
“We’ll talk, but not about you stepping down.” Pulling the car into the spot marked ‘reserved for Justin Hammer, CEO’, Tony shut the engine off. “We’ll figure this out, get you some help or something, but I am not taking the job back. It’s just not what I do – I create things, someone else deals with the board and money and all of that. I can’t do it. Obie did it for me.”
“Yeah, and look how well that turned out.” She huffed. “He tried to kill you, twice. Or three times, depending on how you want to count it.”
“Not now.” He opened the car door and got out.
“Not now. Never now. Never ever.” She muttered. He opened her door and she stepped out, automatically checking to make sure Tony’s tie was straight and that his hair was neatly combed. You’re not his assistant anymore, Potts, knock it off. You can never go back again.
Pepper wanted to go back, to step down as CEO and Tony was fighting her tooth and nail. Unfortunately, he had the SI board on his side. Despite what the news pundits had said in the beginning, she was a good CEO – no, Pepper admitted to herself – a damned good CEO and she loved the job. It would be perfect, except she was overwhelmed running not one, but two companies, overseeing the clean up from the Expo, and being in a relationship with Tony. It was a toss up as to which was more exhausting.
“We need to get that changed.” Tony stepped up on the concrete curb bearing Hammer’s name. “No jailbirds around here.”
“Should I remind you of your stays in the LA County Jail?”
“Public nudity and intoxication are hardly the same as attempted murder and treason.” Tony put a hand to the small of Pepper’s back and guided her toward the entrance.
Her witty comeback would have to wait. Hoyt, the temporary head of Hammer Industries stepped out to greet them. There were indeed a small handful of handpicked photographers to record the event and Pepper plastered on her professional smile. Self doubt would have to wait.
Boring. Boring. Boring. Boring to infinity times infinity boring. Tony held back a sigh. Years of practice enabled him to keep a professionally interested look on his face and his sighs of boredom bottled up.
While Pepper and the other SI board members with them on the tour of Hammer’s facilities seemed genuinely interested in what they were seeing, Tony was not. He’d been whisked past the only part of the facility that did interest him, robotics research, and found himself trapped in a boardroom discussing money. Money was boring. Okay, having money was great, talking about it was not.
“In keeping with Stark Industries new stand on weapons manufacture, we will be shutting down any type of offensive weapons research or manufacturing.” Pepper tapped a fingernail on the report she’d brought with her. “We will be transforming all departments into either production of defensive items or private sector products.”
“We have contracts with the Pentagon and private security firms that we must honor.” Hoyt shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t think you understand, Ms. Potts.”
“I do understand.” She said sweetly. “Completely.”
Tony bit the inside of his mouth to keep the smile off his face. He knew that tone. Knew it meant bad, bad things.
“Mr. Stark, we need your input.” Dyer spoke up.
“My input?” He arched an eyebrow. Beside him, he felt Pepper stiffen. She might be saying that she wanted him to take back the position, but she was clearly territorial about it. “Ms. Potts is the boss. She’s following the mandate – the new mission statement – that I put in place when I returned from Afghanistan.”
“You can’t be serious about ending weapons manufacturing!” Hoyt said angrily.
“I can. I am. Stark Industries has ceased weapons research and production.” Tony allowed a small smile to curl his lips. “Let’s move on. I believe Ms. Potts was about to discuss which contracts that we will and will not be honoring. I for one am breathless in anticipation.”
“Thank you.” Pepper nudged his shin with one of her heels. It was more than a love tap and less than a kick. She appreciated his support but didn’t like how he appeared to guide the meeting to the next point. “The contracts with the Pentagon will be honored in the same way that SI is honoring the contracts we had in place at the time we implemented our new mission statement.”
There was a nearly audible sigh from the members of the Hammer board. Billions of dollars were tied up in those contracts. That the least of their worries would be in being sued if they failed to deliver went without saying and to Tony’s relief, no one said it.
“However – “ Pepper continued. “ – there will be no new weapons contracts.”
And... there’s the smackdown. Tony nodded slightly, showing his agreement with her statement.
Before the shocked board members could recover, Pepper went for the death blow. “As for the contracts with the private security firms – those will be reviewed by Legal before we continue any work. Many private security firms are – let’s be honest here – “ She smiled, showing her teeth. “ – mercenary operations working outside the limitations placed on our military forces or they’re fronts for terrorist organizations. Any contracts with those types of organizations will not be honored.”
There was a burst of angry protests from the board members. Billions of dollars were slipping through their fingertips. Private jets, European vacations, houses on the coasts, long-legged mistresses – it was all vanishing before their eyes.
“Mr. Stark! You can’t agree with this! Tell her this isn’t how we do business!” Hoyt demanded.
Tony ignored the man, focusing instead on brushing his leg against Pepper’s under the table. Hurry up and we can go play footsie in Hammer’s office. He thought at her. She didn’t so much as glance his way. One of these days he had to develop telepathic communication.
“There will be no discussion on this point.” She tapped her fingers tips on the table and waited for quiet. “Moving on.”
The next item on the agenda was which sections of the company would be shutdown during the realignment. They were discussing people and projects, not hardware, and Tony let his attention wander to an issue he’d been having with the suit’s coolant system. He was tired of swimming in sweat.
A name caught his attention, snapping him out of the idea for a moisture wicking liner. “Who? What was that – the last thing you said?”
Pepper and the board members seated around the table looked at him. One of them scanned back through his notes. “Ms. Bain. She’s the head engineer on the drone project. I recommended keeping her project going, even with – “
“Bain?” He wasn’t sure he’d heard right. Couldn’t have heard right.
“Uh, yes, uh – “ The man fumbled through his notes looking for her company profile. “Ms. Bain graduated MIT, 1990. Engineering and – “
“That’s fine, that’s – “ Tony cleared his throat and stood up. “I need to take a few minutes.”
There was a chorus of “Of course, Mr. Stark, Certainly, Mr. Stark” from everyone but Pepper. She’d seen his face pale, and noticed a tremor in Tony’s voice that she’d heard only a very few times during her years with him, and it was not a good sign.
“It’s been a long morning, why don’t we all take a break? I’ll show Mr. Stark the CEO’s office.” Pepper stood and tucked her hand into the crook of Tony’s elbow. Normally, they didn’t touch – publicly – during business hours, but let Hammer’s board think what they wanted, something was wrong and she wasn’t risking Tony wandering around lost in Hammer’s gaudy office building.
“What’s wrong?” She asked quietly as they left the boardroom.
“Nothing, I just feel… queasy all of a sudden.” He patted her hand, kept his fingers wrapped over hers as she walked him to an office down the hallway. It wasn’t completely a lie, he did feel ill.
“I told you not to have that burrito for breakfast.” Closing the door behind them, Pepper led him to a couch and after he sat down, she went to what she hoped was a bathroom. There were several doors in the office and knowing Hammer… she wasn’t sure what she’d find.
Tony sank down on the leather couch and covered his face with his hands. Sunset. After all these years. He’d hoped she was in some faraway country where he’d never see her again. And she was right here under his nose working for his worst enemy.
“Tony? Tony, are you all right?”
He opened his eyes to find Pepper kneeling in front of him, her eyes concerned. “Don’t frown, you’ll get lines.” He joked.
“Here.” She put the washcloth she’d wet with cold water over his eyes. “Lay back.”
Stretching out on the obscenely soft couch, he let her loosen his tie and stroke his cheek. He needed comfort, wanted Pepper to make him feel better, but wasn’t sure how to ask for it. He’d kept his heart locked away for so long, he didn’t know how to set it free.
“I’m fine, Pepper.” He reached up and took her hand, bringing it to his lips. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have gotten breakfast from a taco truck. At least not one that had ‘guaranteed hottest salsa in LA’ on the side.”
“It’s your heart that’s made of iron, not your stomach.” She joked.
“Pepper – “ He pulled the washcloth away so he could meet her eyes. “It’s not.”
There was such sadness in the coffee eyes and Pepper wished she could take back her joke. “I didn’t mean it, Tony. I was only kidding.” Leaning down, she brushed her lips over his. Personal touching and kissing were off limits during business, but she’d already broken the rule once today, and he looked so pitiful, one kiss wouldn’t hurt.
Tony reached up, tangling his fingers in her hair and pulling her down to him, kissing her desperately. He felt her tense, her hands coming up to press against his chest, and he gentled the kiss, teasing his tongue along hers before pulling away.
“Tony, are you sure you’re okay? We can reschedule the meeting – “
“No, no, let’s get it over with.” He smiled up at her and stroked a finger over her lips. Her pale pink lipstick was smeared slightly from the force of the kiss. “Tell them I have a hangover, they’ll understand that. I’ll be back in there in a few minutes.”
Pepper sighed and placed the washcloth back over his eyes, stroking the dark hair back from his forehead. “Just rest. I’ll be back to check on you as soon as I can.”
He heard her get up and walk toward the door. “Pepper.”
“Better check your lipstick.”
“What? Damn – Tony!”
He chuckled as he heard her heels click-clack hurriedly on the bathroom tile. After a few moments, the door to the office opened and closed.
Left in the dark and the silence, Tony couldn’t keep his thoughts from going back to Sunset. To MIT and that damned Intro to Anthropology class he’d met her in.
Tony felt stupid. He didn’t like it. He never felt stupid. Except around girls, but that was pretty normal for a sixteen year old boy. Or so he’d been told, since he was not a normal sixteen year old boy. It was not normal , however, for a certifiable genius who was wrapping up the final semesters of his second degree at MI- fucking -T to sit in a classroom and feel stupid.
He’d needed a Humanities credit for his second degree, somehow he’d never gotten around to it. Music, theater, and social sciences – none of those had ever interested him, but he’d already taken the classes he considered closest to true science, and the rest conflicted with his robotics and computer classes.
One of his robotics classmates had suggested Intro to Anthropology as an easy A. Lots of outside class time on projects and a handful of papers. Sounded easy enough. Except, he’d forgotten this was the same classmate who had been pissed at losing the annual robotics competition to DUM-E last year. And this was MIT where there was no such thing as an easy A.
The reading material had been no big deal, Tony had it scanned, condensed, and transcribed by lunch. No exactly the use the CIA had intended for the program, but it was his program and if they didn’t want him using it whenever he wanted, they should have found and locked the back door. It was totally on them.
It wasn’t the papers, either. Unlike a lot of Math geeks, Tony was not English impaired. He could sneeze out a ten page paper on virtually any subject. His mother said he’d inherited her bullshit quotient and he loved her for it.
No, it was the final research assignment the prick of a professor had just sprung on the class. “With a partner, research and present your findings on an approved subject.” Could he be any more vague? What the hell was an approved subject? This was Anthropology, for God’s sake, wasn’t everything approved?
Tony was out of his element, alone in a classroom of weirdoes who wanted to study people – who thought that the past was the key to the future or some crap. Unless they were building a time machine to find out, he wasn’t interested. None of them wanted to pair up with the engineering geek – and he didn’t want to pair up with any of them.
Except… Tony slid a glance down the row at Sunset Bain. He definitely wanted to pair up with that. His nightly jerk off sessions were including her more and more often and just thinking about what it’d be like to pair up with her – in the non class work sense – made his dick hard.
She was gorgeous, tall, and tanned despite Boston’s climate. Older than he was, but wasn’t everybody here? Curves that her jeans and sweaters loved to hug almost as much as he did – as he wanted to – and light blue eyes like LEDs. Which were looking his way as she said something.
Tony blinked. “What?” Oh, my God, she was moving to sit across from him!
“I asked if you’d like to pair up.”
“Me?” He nearly looked over his shoulder until he remembered he was sitting in the last row. “Me? Really?”
“Yes, really.” She laughed. “We’re the odd ones out in here – engineers versus scientists.”
“You’re an engineer? I don’t remember seeing you in any of my classes.” And he would have noticed this goddess.
“I don’t think we’ve had any classes together. You’ve already earned your Engineering degree, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, I’m working on Robotics and Computers now.” He tried to sound cool, like earning two degrees at MIT was nothing special.
“I’m just finishing up my degree in – “
“Mr. Stark. Ms. Bains.”
Tony jumped at the sound of the professor’s voice. “Yes, sir?”
“Since the two of you have apparently teamed up, have you settled on your topic?”
“Topic? Uh…” Jesus, they were just talking about pairing up and this bozo wanted a topic? Besides how to hide a boner from your science partner, Tony didn’t have one. A topic. He definitely had a boner.
“We’re debating on the effects of civilization on civilization. Do advances indicate that we’re civilized or are they merely make us more efficient savages?” Sunset replied smoothly. “We’ll have it decided before the deadline.”
“See that you do.” He frowned at Tony. “And no more papers comparing frat parties to primitive man’s ritualistic celebrations.”
“Yes, sir.” He breathed a sigh of relief as the man turned away. Dickhead.
“You wrote a paper comparing frat parties to ritualistic celebrations?” She asked, her eyebrows arching in surprise.
“Well… I was at a bonfire, there was beer, dancing, sex… seemed like it could have been a million years ago.” Tony shrugged. He’d written it a couple of hours before class, as he usually did, and it had been absolutely inspired by the frat party he’d been at the night before. “I don’t know what his problem is, he gave me an A. A minus, actually, the dick.”
“I’d like to read it.”
“Really?” He pulled back to look at her as if the new angle might change what she’d said.
“Really. I have a theory that we’re more civilized than our caveman ancestors in name only. And besides – “ Sunset leaned closer. “I can’t let him pick on my secret admirer.
His face grew hot. “I was just – you knew that was me?”
“Who else in this room is going to leave me a typed set of notes from a class I missed?” Her blue eyes twinkled. “The best I could hope for was a barely legible scribble from these guys.”
“I didn’t – uh – want you to get behind or anything.” He hadn’t actually typed the notes, he didn’t take notes. He recorded them and had the computer transcribe them for him. Not that they weren’t permanently embedded in his memory anyway.
“The card was cute.”
“Really?” Tony kicked himself mentally. He sounded like a moron. “I wasn’t sure if you’d like it or think you had a stalker.”
“It was cute.” She repeated.
“Mr. Stark. Ms. Bain” The professor shut the lights off. “Class is over. Get out.”
“Yes, sir.” What a dick. Tony got to his feet, keeping his books slung casually in front of his crotch. He hated being sixteen, surely twenty year old guys didn’t have this problem.
“If you’ve got time, we could go to the coffee shop in the library and hash out a real topic.” Sunset slung her book bag over her shoulder.
“Yeah, sure, I’ve got time. My next class isn’t until two.” He’d planned on heading to the lab and working on DUM-E, the ‘bot was having a problem adjusting to his new voice command interface, but he could work on that anytime.
At the coffee shop, Tony and Sunset had settled on a topic for their project, set up future dates to work on it, discussed the advances in nano technology and Tony had relaxed enough to talk to her without sounding like the village idiot.
Their project was finished and rewarded with an A and the semester ended. Time at the coffee shop evolved into time at his dorm room and her apartment. DUM-E and Tony’s other projects gathered dust while he spent time with Sunset.
After two weeks, he finally worked up the nerve to kiss her. She was five years older than he was and their age difference was intimidating. Tony waited for just the right moment and pressed his lips to hers as Sunset turned to look at him from a page she’d been reading. It wasn’t the best kiss of all time, but she didn’t pull away or tell him to stop.
Kissing had led to sex and Tony wasn’t sure exactly what he was supposed to do. He’d watched porn and looked at dirty magazines, but this was the real deal. Sunset had been patient and understanding, kidding him that sixteen year old geniuses were not expected to be sex gods. Kissing away his fears, Sunset taught him what he needed to know to please them both.
Tony sighed and sat up, throwing the wet cloth aside. He wished he could build a time machine and go back to warn his younger self to get away from Sunset as fast as he could.
“Run, don’t walk, to the nearest safe place and lock yourself in.” He smiled, but it was bitter. The cocky young shit wouldn’t listen to him. He thought he knew it all. Just like now.
Sunset had been patient, so patient, in more ways than one. After all, she wasn’t just screwing him, she was setting him up so she could screw his father’s company. Using him to get the security codes to steal the new Stark drone prototypes. Security codes he’d inadvertently shown her trying to impress her with his new designs on the SI servers.
Tony wondered how Sunset had really felt when they were making love that first time. Had she closed her eyes and thought of someone else while she endured the fumbling, clueless boy on top of her? The memory of his cock sliding off her opening again and again, the frustration of not being able to push himself inside her until she helped him made the heat crawl up the back of his neck now just as it had then. Tony Stark not able to get his cock inside a pussy? Who would have known?
“Damn it!” His cock had begun to ache, hardening slightly at the memory of that first time. Clumsy or not, it had been fantastic. He could still feel the heat of Sunset’s body wrapped around his, the slip and slide of that first fuck. He’d screwed hundreds of women since then, and the memory of that first time just would not go away. “Damn it, am I never going to forget it?”
Hammer had to have some booze around here somewhere. Tony searched the opulent office looking for something resembling a bar. The place was over the top in self indulgence, even by his standards. SI offices looked professional – successful, but always professional. Hammer’s office looked like it was designed by a pimp.
He finally found the bar hidden behind a sliding door in the wall. There was Scotch, not his brand but expensive enough to be good, and an empty ice bucket. Oh well, Scotch didn’t always need rocks.
Tony kicked back the first shot, apologizing to his Scots ancestors who were no doubt cringing at his abuse of the fine liquor. If he had Scots ancestors, he had no idea. The second, he sipped. Waiting for the warm curl of numbness low in his belly. Pepper would be pissed, but he’d deal with that later.
The door opened and he spun around. Fuck! “Pepper, do you have ESP? I swear – “
It wasn’t Pepper who stood inside the door. The woman was older, but no less beautiful. Brown hair pulled back in a professional style and a lab coat hiding her curves. But Tony would have known her anywhere. Sunset.
“What – what do you want?” He stared at her.
“I heard you were in the building and I wanted to apologize.”
“Apologize? For what? For stealing my Father’s work or for fucking me over?” Tossing back the glass of Scotch, Tony poured another. “Or just for fucking me? Sorry you got me when I was an amateur.”
“Tony, I know you don’t understand.” Sunset closed the door behind her. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”
Suddenly, he was angry, not just at her, but at himself. Because he cared. Because he cared that her voice trembled, that she looked sad – that a part of him still loved her.
“Tony – “ Sunset walked toward him, her hand out. “Please let me – “
“You’ve apologized, now get out.” He snarled.
“Tony – “
“Get the fuck out!”
After a moment, she turned and left the office, the door closing quietly behind her.
“Sunset?” Tony waited until her eyes opened, until she was looking at him. He wanted her to see how serious he was. “I love you.”
“Oh, Tony.” She reached up to stroke his face. “You don’t have to say that.”
“I’m not – I mean, I know.” He shifted slightly, their bodies were still connected, with him still inside of her. They’d just finished making love, and he wanted to tell her how he felt. He wanted to tell the whole world that he was in love with Sunset Bain. “I love you, I really do.”
“Tony…” Sunset bit her lip. “I love you, too. I haven’t wanted to say it, because I didn’t want to scare you away.”
“Not me.” He smiled down at her. “You can’t scare me away.” Leaning down to kiss her, he felt his cock harden again. “Not only can you not scare me when you say you love me – you’re turning me on.”
“That’s because you’re a horny boy!” Giggling, she rolled them over so that she was on top.
“Hey, come home with me this weekend, meet my parents.”
She shook her head. “No, not yet.”
“Why? They’ll love you.”
“Sure, they’ll love a twenty-one year old woman screwing their sixteen year old son.” She slid off of him to sit on the side of the bed. “Tony, you realize that what we’re doing may be illegal?”
“No, it’s not. Is it? No.” He wasn’t sure if that was true, and it really didn’t matter. “My parents are cool, well, Mom is anyway. She’s younger than my dad – thirty years almost – so five isn’t a big deal. And I’m not exactly a normal teenage boy.”
He sat up next to her. “Come on. They’ll love you, I promise.”
She shook her head. “Let’s wait. I’m… just really nervous about it, okay?”
“Sure. Whatever you want.” Tony leaned in to kiss her. “Make love to me again?”
Months flew by, Sunset’s graduation came and went, and she still balked at his parents finding out about them. Tony didn’t understand the problem. His father would be happy he’d gotten laid, fathers were like that, and his mother was cool, the age difference wouldn’t bother her. Hopefully.
He’d made up his mind that during the intersession, Sunset was going to meet his parents. They’d go out to Long Island and spend New Year’s with them. Sunset’s internship at Wayne Industries had turned into a full time job, but she had to have vacation time she could take.
The vacation was all perfectly planned in his mind as Tony skipped up the steps of her apartment building. He frowned at the peeling paint. Sunset was moving out of this dump and into his dorm, no matter what she said about making her own way. The future wife of Tony Stark was not living in this rat hole any longer.
He knocked at her door and it swung open slightly. “Sunset! Hey, it’s Tony! You left your door open! Are you inviting a rapist in? Can I play the part?”
Pushing it open, he went inside. “Sunset? Where – “ He stopped. The room was empty.
“What the hell?” He rushed through the small apartment. Her clothes were gone, her engineering portfolio – all of it was gone.
“Hey, you looking to rent the place?”
Tony spun at the voice to find the super standing in the doorway. “Where’s Sunset? I mean Miss Bain.”
“She left. Moved out last night.”
“But – but – she didn’t say – “
“Said she had some big job lined up and had to move.” The man shrugged. “Gave most of her stuff away, said she wouldn’t need it.”
“I don’t understand.” Tony’s knees felt weak and his stomach lurched as if he were going to throw up. “I don’t understand.”
“Sorry, son.” The Super patted his shoulder. “My first wife did the same thing to me. Women, you just can’t trust ‘em.”
“Ain't that the truth?” Tony kicked back another glass of Scotch.
He remembered calling his mother seeking sympathy. Instead, he’d learned of the thefts of SI’s newest drone prototypes. The security system had been accessed with his security code. Codes that had been traced back to Sunset’s computer.
Sunset was declared a “person of interest” but charges were never filed. There was no proof that she’d been in on the theft and Tony’s fingerprints were all over her computer. Wayne Industries was likewise cleared of charges when two of their engineers were found in possession of the designs while trying to sell them on the black market.
His mother had been sympathetic, cradling her only child as he cried out his broken heart. His father had stood over them and said how disappointed he was, and that hurt Tony more than anything else his father might have said or done.
“I’m so disappointed in you, Tony.”
When he’d gotten on his feet again, Tony had locked the pieces of his broken heart away and never let near it again. Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, not going to happen.
And then there was Pepper.
He set the glass down. This wouldn’t make Pepper happy. Getting three sheets to the wind while he was at Hammer Industries would make for bad press. Her job was hard enough without him making it harder.
“Sorry, Pepper.” In the bathroom, he rinsed out his mouth and straightened his tie. He’d head home, have Happy pick Pepper up, and be stone cold sober by the time she got there. They were having dinner out tonight, and he didn’t want anything to spoil their date. Their public dates were scrutinized enough without adding a hangover to the mix.
“Jarvis, tell Pepper I’m going home to lie down, and have Happy bring the limo over to pick her up.”
There was no response. Damn it. Of course Hammer’s offices weren’t wired for Jarvis. He pulled his phone out. “Jarvis, you with me?”
“Yes, sir.” The AI responded.
“Tell Pepper that I’m going home to lie down.”
“Yes, sir. Will there be anything else?”
“Get to work on that damn time machine.”
“I’d be happy to, sir, let me set aside my plans for global domination, and I’ll get right on it.”
“Smart ass.” Sighing, Tony closed his phone. “That’s the last time you get to pick the movies for movie night.”
Author's note: In the Iron Man comics, Sunset seduced 16 year old Tony Stark while they were both students at MIT. She was several years older than he was and took advantage of his naivety to steal from SI. She used the designs to get rich and opened her own company, Baintronics. In her alter ego Madame Menace she sold hi-tech weapons to criminals.