"Mr. Stark!" "Mr. Wayne! Mr. Stark!" "Just one smile!" "Mr. Wayne, over here!"
"I hate this part," Bruce said, through a million dollar smile.
"Tits and teeth, as Mom used to say," Tony answered, though his own.
"You be the tits," Bruce replied.
"Just get through this and I'll get you a drink inside," Tony answered, holding up his hands and turning as he reached the top of the stairs. "Microphone on."
The speakers flanking him crackled with static.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending," Tony said, as the crowd settled down. "When I heard the United News Associates Of America was meeting in New York, I thought it'd be a great time to hold a charity ball. Then I remembered reporters are moochers, and that idea went out the window."
Bruce's smile got a little more genuine as laughter rippled through the crowd.
"So tonight is not a fundraising gala -- we're calling it an awareness-raising gala," Tony continued. "Inside, journalists and publishers from major news outlets across the continent are meeting with representatives of the Maria Stark Foundation -- "
"And the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundation," Bruce said.
" -- to learn more about the Stark and Wayne joint Science After School venture, funding science programs for disadvantaged youth in Gotham and New York. We're hoping to expand this program across the country, and tonight is dedicated to getting the word out."
"We're pleased to be able to explain, in our own words, what Science After School means for the future of this country," Bruce added. "And we hope that everyone here tonight brings the seeds of our venture back to their own communities. The Wayne Foundation has pledged full financial support for the first new Science After School program formed after tonight's event."
"And the Stark Foundation will be matching donations to other groups as they raise money to implement them," Tony said. "Now, we just have one more concern."
"Did you get our good sides?" Bruce asked.
The crowd laughed again, paparazzi cameras flashed, and they made their dignified escape into the ballroom behind them. Once the doors had closed, Bruce exhaled and straightened his cuffs.
"About that drink," he said.
"Way ahead of you," Tony replied, as a waiter hurried up with a tray. "You still on your hilarious ginger ale kick?"
"Don't tell my secrets," Bruce said, reaching past Tony to take the drink off the tray.
"Well, if anyone gives you anything harder, bring it to me," Tony answered. "Run along now. I have to go find the California contingent. You got Gotham handled?"
"Who's taking New York?"
Tony nodded at a corner, where Jan van Dyne was smiling at a gaggle of slightly-besotted Bugle journalists (male and female; Jan could besot anyone). Nearby, Steve Rogers was earnestly chatting with a giant of a man that Tony vaguely recognized as one of the Metropolis boys.
"You good?" he asked.
"Got my patter memorized," Bruce replied. "See you at the finish line."
It was light work, compared to some of what Tony did; he liked talking to people. It was a challenge, selling a concept, and Tony had always enjoyed working out which lever to flick to make a person understand the importance of what he, Tony Stark, wanted. Once in a while he wondered if it was healthy to enjoy manipulating people this much, but to be fair, you should love the work you're suited for.
He caught up to Bruce again at the bar, and inadvertently caught up to Steve and Jan at the same time.
"Are we taking a union break?" he asked, leaning on the bar and signaling for attention. "Martini, extra dry, extra large."
"I was just getting Jan a drink," Steve said, looking slightly mortified. Tony caught Jan's eye and she winked at him.
"Well, I'm on my union break," Bruce said, on Tony's other side. "Billionaire's Local #12 is very strict about fundraising activity."
"And it's pretty hard to get a union card," Tony agreed, accepting his drink. "How are -- "
A voice cut through the low level of chatter in the room, startling and loud, and Tony broke off.
"Are you accusing me of lacking journalistic integrity?" the voice demanded.
Through the crowd, Tony spotted J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Bugle, face turning red. Steve turned around and craned his neck; Bruce had apparently already been watching the pair. Beyond Steve, Jan looked worried.
"I'm not accusing!" another voice -- oh, that was Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet. He was leaning in antagonistically. "I'm stating. You lack journalistic integrity."
"I suppose that's why the Bugle has a seventeen percent higher circulation -- "
"That's exactly why!" Perry spat back. Silence had fallen over the crowd, but the two men didn't seem to notice. "Cheap gossip sells."
"Five hundred on Jameson," Bruce said in an undertone.
"Double or nothing on White," Tony answered.
"What are you betting on?" Steve asked.
"Wait for it," Tony said, as Jameson's voice rose another notch.
"I report the facts, and the fact is -- "
"Hogwash!" Perry interrupted. "Why, if I could get hold of that Spider-man, I'd tell him to move to Metropolis! We appreciate superheroes there! Ask Superman."
"You'd sing a different tune once you got him," Jameson replied.
"We should stop them," Steve said, but he didn't move. He looked fascinated, like a man watching a wrecking ball approach a building.
"Good luck trying," Jan replied.
"I guess you would be chummy with Superman, given the pro-super propaganda the Planet spews," Jameson said.
It happened in the kind of glorious slow-motion that's only fun when someone else is getting whaled on. With a bellow of rage, Perry White swung his fist around, muscles shifting and tightening under his tuxedo shirt, and planted a beautiful haymaker on Jameson's chin. Jameson did an almost graceful pirouette and went down like a sack of bricks.
Tony leaned back on the bar with Bruce as superheroes converged from all sides. Steve went to kneel by Jameson, helping him up on one side with Jan on the other, while Carol Danvers, in a magnificent red designer gown, grabbed White in a half-nelson and dragged him off, Thor following them. Natasha stepped into the void and began calming people down, which mostly meant smiling menacingly at them.
Steve returned to the bar with Jameson, settling him on one of the stools and signalling the bartender for a bag of ice.
"Are you all right, sir?" he asked. Bruce, face turned away from Jameson and therefore towards Tony, rolled his eyes.
"Of all the god-blasted things to do," Jameson roared. "We invite him into our house and -- " he broke off with a yelp as Steve pressed the ice to his face. From the look of things, Steve was pressing slightly harder than necessary. Tony gave him a thumbs-up.
Bruce reached into his inside pocket, drawing out a slim wallet. "Do you take Visa, Tony?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Tony replied, scanning the card with his StarkPhone.
"Well worth the grand," Bruce replied, as the young giant from Metropolis barged up.
"Mr. Jameson!" he said. "I've just heard. Let me apologize on behalf of the Daily Planet."
Jameson looked at him, startled, and then glanced sidelong at Tony. "Is this one for real?" he asked.
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Mr. Jameson, I'd like to introduce Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. He's from Kansas originally, so our best guess is that he was born this way."
"Funny," Kent said to Bruce, without much real anger in his voice.
"Son, let me tell you something," Jameson said, as Steve eased the ice off his cheek and placed the bag in his hand. "Perry White and I are both older than we deserve and we didn't get where we are in the world today by being nice boys. I know it's not how things are done anymore, but back in the heyday of the news business, if someone didn't get in at least one punch, well, we'd think it wasn't a real party. So don't fret yourself over two old men who don't know any better giving people something interesting to talk about tomorrow."
"Oh," Kent said, looking crestfallen.
"Come on, Clark," Bruce said, pushing off the bar and taking him by the arm. "Let's go find Perry and pour some coffee down his throat."
"There's something odd about Kent," Steve said, as they left. "Can't quite put my finger on it."
"I'd think you'd like him," Tony replied.
"Oh, I do. He's a stand up fella. It's probably nothing," Steve said with a shrug. "Mr. Jameson, how's your jaw?"
"Fine," Jameson said, as the bartender handed him a scotch. "I hope Parker got a good shot of that punch. Gold front-page material," he added, sliding off the stool. "Scuse me, gentlemen, I have some photos to hunt down."
Steve turned to Tony as he left. "You know, I've done my fair share of public relations," he said thoughtfully, "But I don't think I'll ever understand newsmen."
"Welcome to the club," Tony answered. "Let's blow this joint."
"Well, I just won a thousand bucks off Wayne, that'll pay for a few hamburgers. You want a malted?"
"Sure. It was very wrong to bet on Mr. White and Mr. Jameson fighting," Steve added, like he just couldn't resist.
"Absolutely," Tony agreed. "I'll send flowers. Come on."