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The Men With The Van

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Everything that Georgia was taking was ready to go by 8.35, when the rest of the world was still enjoying their Sunday lie-in. After that, she sat on the sofa, looking around at what was left of the familiar room. It was already starting to look bereft and empty, even though she'd only taken the things she couldn't bear to see Luke throw away.

The clock ticked to 8.47 and she twitched. She hoped the man would be on time. He'd sounded a bit scattered on the phone and she'd almost told him to forget it and found someone else. The price he'd quoted her had been the only thing that stopped her.

She found her eye resting on a photo of her and Luke as children. They had been forced into their best clothes and made to sit next to each other in a studio, Luke with his arm around his little sister. Georgia could barely remember it being taken. It was hard to reconcile that little boy with the adult man who couldn't stand to talk to her on the phone for five minutes. He'd insisted on emails instead, making Georgia wait days for a response after every one she sent.

Just take whatever you want from the house, he'd written. I'll get someone to come and clear it once you're done. I'm not interested in any of it – it's all just stuff. What do I need more stuff for?

Georgia couldn't understand that attitude. This wasn't just stuff, it was memories. That was the chair where their mother had sat every night, playing patience and ignoring the TV. That was the dresser that Georgia had cracked her head on the corner of when she was four. That was the vase Dad had given Mum for their 30th anniversary, which Mum had hated but kept on the mantelpiece long after his death.

9.00. Where was this bloody man? She got up and pulled aside the curtains, hoping to see him coming down the road. No such luck.

He was late. Oh god, what if he didn't come? Georgia didn't have any other way of getting this stuff back to Coventry and she was damned if she was going to leave it for Luke to sell off.

She made herself walk away from the window, pacing back through the house to make sure she knew exactly what she was taking and what she wasn't. Mum's chair, the dresser, three boxes of assorted smaller items, the small desk in the bedroom, the portrait of Uncle Herbert, a stack of photo albums...should she take the Hoover? Was it better than the one she already had?

The doorbell rang and she jumped. Oh, thank God, the man was here. She trotted back through the house and threw the door open.

“You're late,” she accused him.

He was caught for a moment with a smile on his face before it fell off in the face of her irritation. “Am I?” he asked, looking at his watch. “Oh, it's five past. I'm sorry.”

Was it really only five past? Perhaps her reaction had been a bit over the top.

“Well, come in now so we can start,” she said. “What was your name again?”

“Uh, Martin,” said the man, coming inside and pausing to wipe his feet. Georgia appreciated the sentiment but there wasn't much point now. Mum was never going to fuss over the state of her carpets again.

A wave of grief washed over her and she ruthlessly suppressed it. She didn't have time for that.

“And, um,” said Martin, glancing over his shoulder at another man who had appeared in her doorway. “This is Tony. He's going to be giving me a hand today.”

Georgia frowned. “You didn't say anything about there being two of you,” she said. “I hope you're not about to charge me extra for that. We agreed on the price already.”

“Oh yes, we did,” said Martin. “It's the same price, no changes.”

“I'm doing this pro bono,” said the other man – Tony, who turned out to be American. He gave her a wide grin, taking his sunglasses off. Why on earth was he wearing sunglasses anyway? It was very nearly winter.

“Fine,” she said. “That's- Fine.” Tony looked vaguely familiar. She frowned at him, wondering if she'd seen him before. Was he a patient at the surgery?

“Which bits did you want moving?” asked Martin.

Georgia looked around at the house again and tried to resist saying everything. She didn't have the space for it all and some of it was a bit hideous. The 70s hadn't exactly been a golden age for interior design.

“You can start with the dresser,” she said.

Martin eyed it. “Right,” he said. “Tony, do you want to take this end?”

“Sure!” said Tony, who Georgia was beginning to suspect was on drugs. There didn't seem to be any other reason for someone to be that happy about moving a dresser. “This is great, seriously. Actual manual labour! I feel like I should be wearing a wifebeater and drinking cheap beer.”

Oh yes, definitely drugs. Georgia started to worry about the safety of her furniture.

Martin paused and frowned. “Tony, have you done any manual handling training?”

Tony stared at him. “You're kidding, right?”

“Not in the slightest,” said Martin. “Do you know how many injuries are caused by incorrect lifting every year? It's extremely easy to injure your back, you know. Not to mention your ankle.”

“I got thrown into a car last week,” said Tony. “I think I'll be fine lifting a dresser.”

Thrown into a car? Was he some kind of hoodlum as well as a drug addict? He looked a bit old for that.

Martin was still frowning. “I really think I should just run through the basics with you.”

“Yeah?” said Tony. “How 'bout I go put the suit on first? Will that make you feel better about my potential back injuries?”

“Safety first,” insisted Martin.

“No,” interrupted Georgia. “The customer first. Are you really going to continue to waste my time?”

Martin glanced at her, clearly torn, but he gave in when Tony stepped forward to take his end of the dresser. “C'mon, Spitfire, or I'll just lift it without you.”

Martin made a face but took his end, and they carried it down the hall with Georgia behind them, trying not to fuss too much but unable to avoid wincing every time the edges of it came close to hitting the wall. When they got it to the van, Martin wrapped it in a couple of blankets to protect it and Georgia let herself relax. He knew what he was doing; this was his job, after all. She shouldn't worry so much.

Tony bounced on his heels. “Have I told you lately how much I love your meticulous nature?”

Georgia gave him a careful look, trying to spot the signs of drug use. His pupils, now he'd taken off his sunglasses, looked the right size. Was he really just that naturally exuberant?

He caught her looking and gave her a wink. She felt herself blush as if she'd been doing something other than making sure she wasn't trusting her mother's precious belongings to a drug addict. Well, he was an extremely good-looking man, although his attitude made it clear he knew that. Georgia tried to remind herself that she didn't like arrogant men.

“Yes, in fact,” said Martin, climbing out of the back of the van. “Last night.”

Tony's grin widened. “Oh yeah,” he said, with enough suggestiveness in his voice to make Georgia blink and have to turn away to hide her face.

They were boyfriends! Men with a van, who were also boyfriends. She struggled to readjust her world-view to include manual labourers who were gay. It was even a white van, for god's sake! Shouldn't they be leering at page three models?

“That wasn't what I meant!” she heard Martin hiss behind her. “Tone it down, Tony. Remember this is my job, and I need it.”

“No, you don't,” corrected Tony. “You're getting a salary now, remember, Captain?”

Oh god, was that some kind of sex game? Was Tony paying Martin to be his 'captain'? Georgia decided, very firmly, not to think about it.

“The chair next,” she said. It wouldn't do to let them mess about and waste her time, after all. She had things to do.

Well, no, she didn't, but they weren't to know that. She could easily be the sort of woman who had a busy and thriving social life, with no time to waste on workman's banter.

“Of course,” said Martin. “Come on, Tony.”

Tony tossed off a salute and followed Martin back into the house. Georgia looked at the open back of the van and wondered if it was safe to leave it like that, where anyone could come along and take the dresser. She decided to wait outside to keep an eye on it.

When Tony and Martin carried the chair out, they were bickering again.

“You were lifting with your back!” Martin was saying. “You have to keep it straight and bend your knees, Tony-”

“That's what she said,” said Tony with a broad wink. “Wait, hang on, didn't mean to imply I've been on any kind of sexual odyssey with anyone who isn't you recently, especially not anyone with a different gender. Give me a sec-” He paused and then repeated the wink. “That's what you said.”

“Yes, yes it is,” said Martin. “That's exactly what I said. How impressive do you think a superhero with back problems would be?”

“The Amazing Sciatica Man!” said Tony. “That would be- No, you're right, kinda lame, with all meanings of the word. Fine, fine, let me...”

They lifted the chair into the back of the van and Tony made a point of bending his knees and keeping his back ramrod straight as he did so.

Martin gave him a little nod. “Good,” he said, and climbed in after the chair. “Now, keep practising by getting those boxes while I secure this.”

“Sir, yes sir!” said Tony. He turned on his heel, gave Georgia a wide grin, and headed back inside.

Georgia was torn. She really wanted to follow Tony back inside to make sure he didn't damage anything in the throes of whatever drug-fuelled frenzy he was riding, but she was worried that it would be too obvious that she didn't trust him. The last thing she wanted was to trigger a mood swing and be faced with an angry hoodlum who was used to being thrown into cars.

Her mind was made up when Martin bent over to tie a rope around the chair and she found herself admiring his bum. Oh, that was rather nice, especially given that the jeans seemed a bit on the small side for him.

“Sexy, right?”

Georgia jumped and turned to see Tony standing next to her, holding a box and giving Martin's bum a leer.

“Oh! I wasn't-”

“Nah, don't deny it,” said Tony. “Seriously, it's totally cool, more people should appreciate his assets properly. In fact- Hey! Martin! Your ass is getting its own fanclub!”

“What?!” said Martin, straightening so fast that he bumped his head on the ceiling of the van.

Georgia felt herself blush and tried to suppress it.

“Told you it was worth ogling,” said Tony, moving forward to put his box down on the back of the van. “Seriously, when will you learn? When the owner of a multi-billion-dollar company, who also happens to be a superhero committed to, you know, peace and justice and that kind of crap, tells you that your ass is hot, you should believe them.”

Georgia blinked. What?

Martin had gone so red that Georgia would no longer have been concerned about her own, lesser blush, even if she wasn't now trying to work out what the hell Tony was talking about. There was only one person who fitted the description he'd given, and why on earth would-

Tony beamed up at Martin with a suddenly far-too-familiar smirk and the bottom dropped out of Georgia's stomach.

“Oh,” she heard herself say.

Both Tony and Martin turned to look at her.

“Oh hey, looks like she's caught on,” said Tony.

“Tony Stark?” she asked.

He beamed and stuck his thumbs in his waistband. “In the flesh.”

“What-?” She couldn't seem to form a thought, which was ridiculous. He was just a man, after all. A man she had thought was on drugs – mind you, he still could be. Her occasional perusal of the Now magazines they kept in the waiting room had given her plenty of information about his party lifestyle.

There was nothing 'party' about moving furniture, though. What the hell was he doing in Fitton?

“Why are you a man with a van?” she heard herself ask, and then wanted to kick herself for sounding like an idiot.

“I'm not,” said Tony. “Told you – I'm here pro bono, helping out my boyfriend.”

Boyfriend? Georgia shook her head, trying to clear it. That answer raised more questions than it answered. She wanted to keep asking but it seemed extremely rude to interrogate someone about their love life just because they were a celebrity.

“Right,” she said. “Okay.”

Martin cleared his throat. “Was it just the other boxes in the hall or is there another big piece?”

“Uh, no,” said Georgia, pulling her eyes away from Tony's face to focus on what was actually happening. “No, it's- there's a desk upstairs.”

Martin nodded. “We'll need to get that next, then.” He grabbed Tony's arm. “Come on,” he said, and dragged him away. As they went inside, Georgia heard a furious whispered conversation break out.

She ignored it in favour of letting out a long breath and wondering who to text first. No, no one would believe a text. She needed a photo that she could put on Facebook. That would show all those snotty cows she'd gone to school with.

By the time Martin and Tony had got the desk downstairs, she'd managed to compose herself and was trying to work out the best way to ask for a photo. There had to be one that didn't come across as either creepy or worryingly sycophantic.

Tony and Martin had apparently finished their argument, if that was what it had been. They lifted the desk into the back of the van and Martin climbed after it to wrap it and tie it down.

Tony turned to Georgia.

“So, do you want a photo or an autograph?” he asked. “Or both, I can handle both.”

Georgia already had her phone in her hand. “Um,” she said.

“Sure, not a problem,” said Tony. “Hey, Martin, come down here and take a photo for us, will you?”

“What?” asked Martin, straightening. His eye caught on the phone in Georgia's hand. “Oh. Right.”

“And then you'll have to take one for me,” said Tony as Georgia handed her phone to Martin, trying to ignore his obvious irritation. “I totally need a photo of my first day as a man-with-a-van, and Martin definitely needs one of his last day as one.”

“It's not my last day,” said Martin, holding the phone up. Tony stepped closer to Georgia, draped his arm around her and threw his other hand up in a V-sign. Georgia did her best to not look like she'd just lost all the air in her lungs.

“Whaddaya mean?” asked Tony once the photo was taken. “Course it is. You're a real pilot now.”

“Hang on, I think that was blurry,” said Martin. Tony got back into his pose. Georgia found a smile that she hoped came across as calm and sophisticated. “I've got another two jobs booked for next week,” said Martin as he took a second photo. “It would be unprofessional to let my customers down.”

“Oh man, you're so responsible,” said Tony. “Why do I find that sexy? It shouldn't be sexy, should it? Say you're done taking photos so I can kiss you, come on, come on.”

Martin went pink and cleared his throat. “I, uh. I've finished taking photos.”

Tony bounded over to Martin and gave him a long kiss that made Georgia wonder if she shouldn't give them their privacy. Their privacy in the middle of the road, in front of her dead mother's house, when they were meant to be moving her furniture.

“I'll take that photo for you,” she said, “and then we can get back to work.” Oh, that had come out a little sharp. Well, never mind, neither of them really looked like they were paying attention.

“Yes, take a photo. Awesome,” said Tony, pulling a phone out of his pocket and handing it to her. “Make sure you get the van in it, yeah? Can't be men-with-a-van without the van.”

Georgia looked at the phone and experienced sudden fear. She'd never seen anything so slick and high-tech. She began to worry that if she pressed the wrong thing, it would fire missiles at her. “Um,” she said.

“Oh, don't worry, it's totally idiot proof,” said Tony. “Just hold it up, yeah, like that, and it should-”

The screen lit up, flashed the message Photo Mode Initialized and then was filled with Martin and Tony standing side-by-side, arms around each other's waists. There didn't seem to be a button to take a photo, though.

“How do I-” The phone flickered and the image minimised down to the bottom of the screen. “Oh,” she said. “It does it automatically.”

“Yeah,” said Tony. “I programmed it to know when everyone was actually smiling and had their eyes open, and to take it then. It has another mode that I mostly use with Clint, where it waits for the subject to have the most stupid facial expression possible.” He strode forward and took the phone, thumbs darting over the screen. “Oh yeah, that's good. Perfect. Hang on- there. Emailed it to you, Martin.”

“Thank you,” said Martin.

“Hey, what's the name of your company?” asked Tony, still fixated on his phone.

“Icarus Removals,” said Martin.

Tony's head came up. “Seriously?!”

Martin glared. “Yes,” he snapped.

Tony shrugged. “Hey, okay, whatever. It's not like my company has a particularly inspired name. But then, I didn't name it. Man, maybe I should rename it. Iron Man Fucking Rules Incorporated. Hammer Tech Is Shit Ltd.”

“Pepper would never let you,” said Martin.

Tony made a face. “Sad but true.” He flicked off the phone and pushed it away with a wide grin. “Okay, and we're tweeted. What's next?”

“We should get those other boxes,” said Martin, then stopped and stared at Tony. “Tweeted? What- Tony! I didn't even know you had a Twitter account!”

“I don't,” said Tony, heading back inside. “Stark Industries does though, and I know how to hack it. I only do it when I've got something really cool to show the world, like what happens when you introduce a Norse God of Thunder to Las Vegas.”

“I saw that photo,” said Georgia.

Tony shrugged. “So did most of the planet. And a few people not on the planet, although I'm not supposed to admit those guys exist. Is the kid with the pimples coming?”

Georgia looked down at the portrait of Uncle Herbert. “Uh, yes.”

Tony hefted the portrait and she flinched. “Be careful!”

“Sure thing,” he said with a smile that did nothing to reassure her and he took it out to the van. Georgia glared after him.

“I'm sorry about him,” said Martin. “He really is a lot more trustworthy than he comes across.”

“He'd have to be, really,” said Georgia.

Martin's jaw clenched. “He does run a multi-billion dollar company.”

Georgia glanced outside just as Tony hopped into the back of the van without taking any care to avoid banging the corners of the portrait. “Doesn’t he pay other people to run it for him so that he can gallivant around playing superhero?”

There was a pause. She turned back to see Martin glaring at her. “Saving this planet from alien invaders and supervillains is not playing,” he hissed. “Especially not when it nearly gets you killed! Several times!”

He picked up the nearest box and swept out with it, leaving Georgia to kick herself. How long would it take her to learn not to be rude about other people's partners to them? That was exactly why Caroline had stopped speaking to her, even though she must have known that Georgia had been right about Kevin being a bit ignorant. After all, she had been there when he asked what AD and BC meant.

“What did you say to him?” asked Tony, coming back inside for the last box. “Did you diss the CAA's regulations against carrying weaponry on planes, cause let me tell you, that is not a good idea if you want to be allowed to sleep with him, seriously.”

“Uh,” said Georgia. “No. I was-” Just being rude about you. It probably wasn't a good idea to say that - even she had enough tact to realise that. She cast around for something to say instead and came up short.

Tony blinked. “Oh,” he said. “You said something about me.” He looked over at Martin and half-shook his head. “Idiot. As if that's worth getting all puffed up about.”

He jogged out to the van and handed his box up to Martin. Georgia watched as he leaned in and said something to him, then pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.

They look serious, she thought. She didn't think Tony Stark did serious. She wondered if anyone else knew that Tony Stark did serious and realised that she might have access to something no one else knew about.

She pulled out her phone and searched the internet for Tony Stark news. It was with some disappointment that she saw a whole host of headlines about his new boyfriend, some accompanied by photos of him and Martin. Martin looked very ill-at-ease in a dinner jacket and bow-tie. Georgia thought he looked better in jeans and a t-shirt, particularly given that both were a little too tight on him.

“Is that everything?” asked Martin from the doorway.

Georgia tucked her phone away quickly, hoping he hadn't seen what she was looking at. “Ah, yes,” she said. “Do you know where we're going with it?”

“I've got the address in the van,” said Martin.

Georgia nodded. “I'll follow you in my car.”

She took one last look around at the house before she left. This was it – next time she saw it would be after it had been cleared of everything that made it more than a building. Saying goodbye to her mother's home brought up a wave of grief, as if she was saying goodbye to her mother all over again. She allowed herself a moment to breath through it before remorselessly shoving it back down. No time for that.

She locked the door behind her with a sense of finality. Martin was in the back of his van, apparently still making sure that all her belongings were properly secured, while Tony stood watching, occasionally giving unhelpful suggestions.

“You should totally put it all in alphabetical order,” he said. “Or just, you know, keep bending over so that I can stare at your ass.”

Georgia glanced at her watch just as her phone started ringing. She pulled it out to see the last person's name she was expecting on the caller ID.

“Luke?” she answered.

“Are you done at Mum's yet?” he said without bothering with a greeting.

“The van's packed, I'm just leaving now.”

“Right,” he said. “You didn't take Dad's medals, did you?”

Georgia was completely thrown. “What?”

“Dad's medals,” repeated Luke impatiently. “I want them.”

Georgia felt anger rise up. “What? Luke, I sent you an email two weeks ago that said his medals were the only things I definitely wanted and that you could have what you wanted of the rest, and you said you didn't want any of it!”

“Well, of course I wanted the medals,” said Luke. “You knew that.”

“How the hell did I know that? You said you weren't interested in any of it because it was 'just stuff'!” said Georgia, hearing her voice go high-pitched with anger but powerless to stop it. “Besides which, you've never had any interest in them! I was the one who did the school project on them.”

Luke made a dismissive noise. “When you were twelve. Don't be silly, Georgie, of course I'll get the medals. I am the son, after all. War medals are hardly a girl thing. And I've got my boys to consider – they should know their grandfather was a hero.”

Georgia felt all maturity fall away from her. “If you cared that the boys knew their grandparents, you'd have taken them to visit more than twice a year,” she hissed. “Those medals are mine. You can't have them.”

“You selfish cow! How much other stuff have you taken? This is the only thing I want, and-”

“No!” she interrupted. “It's the only thing I want! You could have any of the rest if you were interested, or not just going to immediately flog it. You've never cared about his medals!”

“What kind of a bitch steals an inheritance like that from children?” asked Luke.

“Oh, fuck off,” said Georgia, and hung up.

She took a moment to take deep breaths and became aware that Tony and Martin were both watching her. She glared at them. “Are you ready to go, or do we have to stay here forever?”

Martin coughed. “All ready,” he said, shutting the doors of his van. “We'll see you at your flat, right?”

“Yes, that's how this works,” she said, and turned to get into her car, where she could get some privacy.

She spent the first ten minutes of the drive fuming. How dare Luke pull the 'I provided grandchildren' card? As if she were less important because she hadn't procreated. It wasn't as if she wouldn't leave the medals to his kids anyway, if she didn't have her own. She wasn't the git who didn't value family except in terms of what it could do for him.

She spent the next ten minutes slowly calming down and repeating to herself that it didn't matter what Luke said. He didn't have any way to get the medals off her, especially as they were already at home, on her mantelpiece. She'd taken them when she'd first gone to Mum's house after she died, after she'd done all the little necessary things like clearing out the fridge and emptying the bins. Luke didn't bother doing any of that, did he? Oh no, he was far too busy and important to be any actual help.

Ten minutes after that, she realised that she'd probably been a bit rude to Martin. She'd have to try and be nicer at her flat, or she was going to come across as a complete bitch in front of Tony Stark.

When she got to her flat, Martin and Tony were already there. Tony had opened the bonnet of the van and was doing something inside while Martin hovered behind him, looking worried.

Georgia told herself firmly that she was going to be polite and friendly, and went over.

“Is there a problem?”

“There are several,” said Tony. “Seriously, it’s a miracle this engine is working. That, or some really hardcore maintenance. Spitfire, really, it's insane how much your conscientiousness turns me on.”

Martin went faintly pink. “There's a grinding noise he wants to fix,” he said, obviously trying to pretend Tony hadn't said the last sentence. “I'll start bringing your stuff in while he does.”

Georgia glanced at the engine, but she knew nothing about mechanics. “Why don't you just get him to buy you a new van?” she asked. “Surely that's the point of having a billionaire boyfriend?”

There was a sudden chilly silence. Martin turned a glare on her. “Actually,” he spat out, “the point of dating Tony is that I'm dating Tony. Money has nothing to do with it.”

Oh God, she'd put her foot in it. So much for being polite and friendly. “Well, of course,” she said, desperately searching for a way to undo her mistake. “I didn't mean that was the point of the boyfriend bit, but of the billionaire bit. Uh, I mean-” How could she phrase it?

Tony let out a sigh and straightened to give her a resigned look. “Yeah, good luck convincing him that I should be allowed to spend money on him.”

Martin's jaw tightened. “You don't exactly need to convince me,” he said. “You can always go behind my back and convince my boss instead.”

The tension amped up another few notches and Georgia was reminded how much she hated being part of other people's domestic disputes.

She forced herself to start talking, hoping that she'd be able to move the conversation on enough to avoid being party to a row right now.

“If I had a rich boyfriend, I'd happily take his presents,” she said. “It's not as if you get many bonuses in life. You might as well enjoy getting a few extra nice things, while also having someone you care about. My mother once told me that sex was just the icing on the cake of being in love. It's still cake without it, it's just a bit dull after a while. I suppose, then, expensive presents would be like-” she paused, wondering if the metaphor was too silly, but pushed on anyway, “-like putting cherries on top, or something. Most cakes are perfectly nice without them, but when you get them it's a delicious extra treat.”

Martin was staring at her. Georgia wondered if her metaphor had made him crave cake as much as she now was. She could get away with buying some today, couldn't she? No one would expect her to stick to the diet while clearing her dead mother's house, that would just be cruel.

“Not how I'd've put it, but I agree with the sentiment,” said Tony. “I mean, I'd have probably gone with a tech metaphor – the paintjob on my suit, maybe. It's not essential to making it so damn cool, but it certainly adds an extra element of class. And it would be kinda silly not to have painted it when it was so easy to do. Or- oh! No, I know what metaphor I'd use. Freckles. Cause you're damn sexy without them, but with them-”

“Tony!” hissed Martin, going bright red.

“Or the blushes,” said Tony. “Every time one of those comes along it's definitely like an expensive gift. The best kind.”

Martin tried to glare at him but even Georgia could see that it wasn't very effective when he was still blushing. Well, at least the argument had been derailed.

“I'll open up my flat, if you want to start bringing things in,” she said.

“Right, of course,” said Martin, shaking himself and heading to the back of the van. “Come on, Tony, we'll start with the dresser.”

“I'm on the first floor,” said Georgia. “Don't bang it against the wall as you come up the stairs.”

She unlocked the building door and propped it open with a brick, then went up to open her flat. It was only when she was halfway up the stairs that she realised that had probably been a bit brusque. Apparently, she was doomed to have Tony Stark think she was rude. Maybe she should just give up now.

They carried everything up for her while she hovered over them, making sure it all got put in the right place. She wasn't going to be able to move the dresser on her own if she realised it was in the wrong place tomorrow, after all.

When everything was in place, she stood for a moment, looking at it critically. Her flat looked much smaller now it had so much more furniture in it. Maybe it was time to admit that she never used the sewing machine taking up the corner of the room and take it to a charity shop.

“Right,” she said, turning back to where Tony and Martin were watching her, clearly waiting to be told if she needed it all moved again. “I think that will do.”

Relief sagged Martin's shoulders.

“Awesome,” said Tony, rubbing his hands together. “What next?”

What next? Georgia panicked. Was there something that she'd missed? From the distant reaches of the past, she heard her mother's voice.

It's just good manners to offer tradesmen tea, even if it does end with muddy boots in your kitchen.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

They both looked taken aback. Oh, maybe the manners of a 1950s housewife were no longer relevant.

“You got coffee?” asked Tony. “I've never really been British enough for tea, sorry.”

Oh god, now they were trapped into awkward conversation for the time it took to make and drink coffee. What had she done?

“Of course,” she said, plastering on a smile. She looked at Martin. “Tea or coffee?”

“Coffee, please,” he said.

She kept her smile on and headed into the kitchen, resisting the urge to bang her head against the wall. Giving Martin his cheque, that was what should have come next. She was an idiot.

Through the hatch, she could hear them talking as she put the kettle on and wondered if she had enough milk for three cups of coffee.

“So, you going to let me replace your starter motor?” asked Tony.

Did they even take milk? Maybe she should just put some in a jug and take it out with her.

“It doesn't need replacing,” said Martin. “It just needs a clean.”

She'd need a tray if she did that. And the nice mugs – she couldn't serve Tony Stark coffee in a mug that said 'If Only Men Were As Satisfying As Chocolate'.

Tony snorted with amusement. “And how many times have you cleaned it in the last few years? The gears are getting worn, Spitfire. You need a new one.”

Sugar. Did she even have sugar? Oh god, and a sugar bowl.

Martin let out a sigh. “Well, fine. I can do it myself, though.”

Oh, she could put the sugar in the ugly bowl she'd been given when she left her last job. Excellent, a use for it at last.

“Oh, come on, let me,” said Tony. “I've never gotten to play with a Transit before. Please, please, pretty please, come on-”

Martin gave in just as the kettle boiled. “Oh, fine. I'll pay for it, though. I can afford it now.”

Georgia poured the water, wishing she had something a bit classier than Nescafe instant.

“You don't have your first pay cheque yet,” said Tony.

Georgia looked at the tray, frowning. Something was missing.

“Tony,” said Martin with exasperation.

Biscuits! If she took this tray out without a plate of biscuits, the shame of it would make her mother rise from the dead to haunt her.

“Oh, fine,” said Tony. “Eat your cherry-less cake, why don't you? See if I care. At least there's plenty of icing, right?”

Georgia had the tray all ready to carry through before either of them spoke again.

“It was my Dad's,” said Martin in a quiet, confessing tone of voice. Georgia froze in place. That was not the tone of voice you should interrupt. “He trusted me to look after it, when he knew that Simon wouldn't. If it needs new parts, I want to pay for them.”

“Ah, okay,” said Tony. “I can totally get behind that.”

There was silence and Georgia hovered awkwardly with the tray, wondering if she could go back out now.

“That said,” said Martin, very slowly, “if you wanted to buy me some other form of, um, cherry, then- well. What you said this morning about getting a new bed when I get a new place to live had some merit. If you wanted to.”

“Oh, hell yes,” said Tony. “Of course I want to. We need something giant, with a mattress that's like sleeping on kittens. I'll get us something perfect, just you wait – oh, I wonder if they make adult-sized aeroplane beds?”

Martin laughed and Georgia decided it was time for her to take the bloody coffee in already.

“Yeah, that would be- Oh, you're serious.”

“Look, look,” Tony said as she came in, holding his phone up to show Martin something. “This guy turned his whole bedroom into a cockpit.”

Martin blinked, and then stared at the phone. “Oh, wow,” he said reverently, taking the phone from Tony. “That's incredible.”

“On second thoughts, maybe not the best idea,” said Tony. “I want you to be 100% concentrated on me in the bedroom, not distracted by your first true love.”

“Look how accurate the instrument panel is,” breathed Martin.

“Ah man, too late,” said Tony, glancing up at Georgia with a rueful smile. “He'll be gone for a while now.”

Georgia wasn't sure what to say to that. “Milk?” she offered.

“Oh no,” said Tony, looking at the tray. “Coffee should be black as sin and twice as strong. Ooh, cookies.” He took a biscuit and a mug of coffee.

“I'll have a dash of milk, please,” said Martin, pulling his attention away from the phone with obvious reluctance.

“Is that what we're going for, then?” asked Tony, taking the phone back. “All aboard the Boeing 74Sleep? Or wait, no, given what we'll be doing, maybe it's a Sex-na. A Sex-na Skymaster, baby, cause you're the master of my sky.” He waggled his eyebrows.

Martin went pink. “Tony!” he hissed.

“Oh, please,” said Tony. “Georgia's a woman of the world, she knows what happens when an international playboy and his sexy boyfriend get into bed together.”

Georgia cleared her throat awkwardly. She didn't know precisely but she could guess and, what was more disconcerting, she could also imagine it rather more vividly than she'd expected.

“It's fine,” she managed.

“Anyway,” said Martin, “we can't have a bed like that. It would encourage bad flying habits. What would happen if I fell asleep while in control of Gerti, just because I was used to an instrument panel meaning it was time for bed?”

“I think it would be more likely that you'd stay awake all night at home, watching the dials, but I take your point,” said Tony. “We'll go with something a bit less complicated.”

“I need to actually get a new place first,” pointed out Martin. “I do have a lease I need to wait to end, you know.”

Tony snorted as if he'd never heard anything more ridiculous, but Georgia sympathised. “I was stuck in a flat with rising damp and neighbours who played the bongos at midnight for six months once because of a lease,” she said.

“This one isn't quite that bad,” said Martin, doubtfully.

Tony snorted. “Yeah, it is.”

Martin rolled his eyes. “You think anywhere that doesn't come with a penthouse balcony is a dump. You realise I still won't be able to get somewhere up to your usual standards, even with the, um.” He glanced at Georgia. “The pay rise,” he finished.

“I know, I know,” said Tony. “That's cool, not interested in having all the bells and whistles. Just want a bathroom that doesn't smell like drunk student.”

“God, me too,” said Martin fervently.

“Then you'll have one,” said Tony, raising his coffee as if in a toast. “Only the best for my boyfriend, right?”

Martin managed a weak smile. “I suppose.”

It wasn't long before they left. Tony seemed able to down hot coffee as if it was water and Martin wasn't far behind him. Georgia wasn't even halfway through hers before they'd finished, and she could finally give Martin his cheque and usher them towards the door. As excellent as it was going to be to brag about having had Tony Stark around for coffee, the reality was mainly just awkward.

“Thank you so much for your help,” she said, once her flat door was open and they were heading through it.

“You're welcome,” said Martin.

“Totally not a problem,” added Tony. “Can't remember the last time I had so much fun moving things around. Oh, wait, maybe the time I smashed up my house to put in a particle accelerator, but I was a bit amped up when I did that. And very hungover, seriously, never do home renovation when you're hungover.”

“Noted,” said Georgia. “Um. Thanks for your help.” Shit, she'd already said that. “And the photo. Bye now!”

“Bye,” said Martin, and he and Tony finally left.

Georgia shut the door behind them then leaned on it weakly. Well, that had been...unexpected.


Two weeks later, Georgia came home from a stressful day at work to find an email from Luke that said he'd spoken to a lawyer, and would be taking her to court over the medals. She gave up on everything in favour of slumping into Mum's chair with a glass of wine, wishing Mum was still around to give Georgia well-meaning but not particularly helpful advice.

There was a knock on the door. Georgia wondered gloomily if it was a bailiff, sent over by Luke to repossess everything Mum had ever touched.

When she opened the door, it was a delivery man.

“Georgia White?” he asked.

“Uh, yes?” she asked.

“Sign here,” he said, holding out an electronic device. She scrawled a rather terrible version of her name on the screen.

He handed her two parcels.

“I'm not expecting anything,” she said, rather dumbly.

“Then it's a nice surprise, yeah?” he said, and left.

She kicked the door shut behind her with a foot and took the parcels into the sitting room to set down on her new desk. The smaller one was balanced on top, so she opened it first.

It was a wooden case that looked oddly familiar. When she opened it, it looked even more familiar, and she had to glance over at the mantelpiece to make sure Dad's medals were still there. Why had someone sent her copies of them?

She opened the bigger parcel to find a large cake, studded with cherries, and a card with a cartoon of Iron Man on the front.


I'm being allowed a lot more cherries on my cake these days,
so I thought you might like some too. Thanks for sharing your crazy
metaphor with us.


P.S. Had these replicas made up for you. Apparently only an
expert would be able to tell that they aren't the real thing. Think your
brother is an expert?

Georgia's eyes widened and she looked again from the medals in front of her to the ones on the mantelpiece. Luke was most definitely not an expert, and once he thought he'd got one over her, it was unlikely he'd even look at them again.

She smiled and pulled a cherry off the cake to pop in her mouth.