When the name Pepper Potts appeared on the caller ID of his cellphone, two thoughts occurred to him. Tony Stark was dead. Or Tony Stark had fallen off the wagon.
Considering the past few months of war between heroes and the number of losses that had already accumulated, including Captain America, Henry Hellrung would not have been surprised by either. The phone call he received was, however, a surprise.
"What do you mean he wants a meeting?" Henry laughed. "Why doesn't he just call me himself?"
Pepper snorted. "He wants this to be official. Apparently it's important. I don't have an answer for you, but he wants to meet with you. He said wear a suit and he'll see you at the Tower."
Tony Stark stood behind the large desk, his back to the door staring out at the view from his tower.
If Henry didn't know Tony he might have been intimidated. But Henry knew Tony too well, so when he entered the room he did nothing but look around the office before taking a seat in a chair across from the desk. He waited for Tony to turn. He didn't turn.
"Being a super-hero is a great responsibility, Henry," he said without warning.
"Say what now?" Henry sat up in the chair a bit.
Tony turned and smirked a bit. Henry knew that smirk. Tony was up to something and it may or may not be a good something. It was the kind of smirk from back when they were both drunks, the kind of smirk that played on his lips just before he recruited Henry for a night of debauchery.
"I think you'd handle the responsibility well."
Tony finally took his seat, staring down Henry with his eyes narrowed, looking over every inch of the other man.
"You don't say..."
Henry watched Tony sit up straight in the chair then rest his hands on the desk. He seemed to consider his words carefully before meeting Henry's eyes directly. He was in business mode; Henry rarely saw Tony in business mode. Henry swallowed, trying to decide if he felt more like he was being fired or like he was a kind in the principal's office about to be told he was being expelled. His thoughts were interrupted by Tony clearing his throat.
"Part of the 50 State Initiative program is having a team of heroes in each state. I'm in charge of California. I'm hand selecting the team." Tony explained, carefully. "I want you to head that team."
Henry laughed. He hadn't meant to but he out right laughed.
"I don't have super-powers, Tony. I'm not Iron Man, I just played him on TV."
Tony leaned back in the chair. Henry couldn't tell if the other man had been amused or not. Extremis made him difficult to read, even if Henry had made a career out of studying Stark's every eccentricity, literally.
"You're not kidding are you?" Henry reasoned after some thought.
"No. I'm not." Tony finally smiled. "I can think of no better leader than you, Hank."
Henry made a face. "Do--why?"
The smile faded quickly and for a moment he found himself regretting the question. Tony sat up again, waving his hand a bit. There was the tell-tale signs of concealing real feelings behind a thick curtain of indifference. All the world's a stage and Tony Stark seems to be quite the talented actor. After a moment, Tony looked at him again.
"You're good at it. You're the guy who made sobriety "rad", remember?" Tony sobered a bit after the comment. "You're a natural leader. You inspire people every day, people who know you and people who don't... with AA, with your public rise and fall and redemption. Consider this just another step in regaining your footing. If you accept, that is."
Henry felt the blush in his cheeks and tilted his head forward a bit, rubbing the nape of his neck.
"You're still forgetting one thing, Tony. I don't have super-powers. I'm just a normal guy."
Tony laughed. "We can change that. Or are you forgetting who you're talking to."
Henry laughed despite himself. He looked Tony over and sighed knowing that he had two options. He could turn Tony down and likely watch the man pout about it, in his own subtle way, or he could give in and just say yes. What was the worst that could happen? Well, a lot of worse things could happen, actually. Then again, he'd attempted to learn a thing or two while playing the golden avenger for so many years.
"So... what do you say? Want to lead a super-hero team in California?"
Henry gave a shrug and a wink. "Why not? It's not like I'm acting."
Tony grinned. "Welcome to The Order, Henry."