Day: 865 - Aug. 1, 2014
"Ms. Potts?" Bryn hesitated on the threshold a moment, her fingers wrapped around the office door handle.
"Well I don't really care," Pepper admitted into her phone, her eyes darted to the door for only a moment as she motioned Bryn in with one hand, leaning back in her desk chair. "The deadline is October first and we damn well better have product then or they can kiss 10% goodbye." Bryn scurried into the room and Pepper flashed her a quick smile.
"No I'm not feeling particularly generous," Pepper admitted firmly. "If they couldn't make the deadline they shouldn't have signed the contract. Stark Industries isn't in the habit of disappointing customers, particularly customers who are kind enough to pre-order. I think I've been more than patient with them, and you can tell them that… No… Bradley, I have to go, it's your job to bust heads together and get results, now go get them… Thank you… First thing Monday morning… All right, you too." Pepper hung up with a decisive click and a smug smile, looking up at Bryn who drew in a deep breath.
"Ms. Hill has some security issues she thinks might be a valid concern," Bryn stated. "I sent them on to Steve and Mr. Stark but there's a copy on your drive."
"I'll take a look," Pepper agreed. "We can't be too careful."
"I took a call from Deputy Director May," Bryn's eyes bulged slightly in a terrified expression but she shook it off. "She wondered if we'd had any luck. I sent her everything Doctor Banner had so far but it wasn't much. Are we still pretending we don't know Phil is sick?"
"Just in front of Phil," Pepper nodded. "We're also pretending we don't know about SHIELD or its operations."
"Good to know," Bryn stated. "Steve says that Mr. Stark is out of the lab and he'll be Ritzy and Rarin', his words, in an hour." Pepper bit her lip to stifle her laugh.
"Did he make reservations?" Pepper questioned.
"He asked me not to tell you where," Bryn admitted.
"As long as they're made," Pepper said with a satisfied smile. "Anything else?"
"Jarvis asked me to have you sign these," Bryn answered hesitantly, holding out the folder she held. "Non-disclosure agreements need your approval." Pepper took it, uncapping her pen.
"Is this your father?" she asked curiously. Bryn nodded, clearing her throat.
"He, um, Jarvis suggested I should have someone cleared to discuss… things, with," she offered hesitantly.
"That is going to be an interesting conversation," Pepper advised in amusement, signing her name with a flourish. "You should have seen the look on my sister's face when I could finally tell her about my real job." Bryn ducked her head to hide her grin.
"Ms. Potts," Jarvis interrupted. "Our friend in need called from Prague."
"Is he dying?" Pepper asked drily.
"Not yet," Jarvis answered with a tone that seemed both surprised and perturbed.
"Use your best judgment," Pepper advised, handing the folder back to Bryn. "It's date night."
"I shall endeavor to keep world ending disaster at bay," Jarvis replied. "Also, Sir would like me to convey to you that he will, in fact, be ready on time."
"Thank you," Pepper's eyes flicked up to the corner of the room with a fond smile. "Would you mind giving Ms. Marshall and I a moment?"
"Of course Ma'am," He agreed.
"Thank you, Jarvis," She waited before turning back to Bryn. "So, moving day?"
"Yeah," Bryn nodded with a crooked smile. "Tomorrow officially, it's going to be nice not having the long commute."
"It'll be a big change for you," Pepper observed. "But you seem to roll with change fairly effectively. It looks like you're starting to settle in here, is the initial shock wearing off?"
"A little bit," Bryn nodded, wrapping her arms around the folder. "I took a call from Colin Powell earlier that was a little too surreal for comfort but mostly I'm okay." Pepper laughed and Bryn hesitated a moment, shifting on her toes as the older woman seemed to size her up.
"Bryn," Pepper met her gaze, the professional set of her shoulders relaxing to something more casual. "It will be fine, all of it. Whatever happens, however things turn out, so long as you do the best you can, so long as you hold on to your integrity, everything will be perfectly fine. That's my promise. I've stood where you're standing, and I can do that."
"Ye ma'am," Bryn nodded.
"Go home," Pepper advised, smiling gently. "Unpack your tooth brush, order pizza, sit in a hot bath. Come back ready to take on the world on Monday."
"I can do that," Bryn nodded firmly.
"I'm sure you can," Pepper agreed. Bryn headed for the door, letting out an unsteady breath. "Oh, Ms. Marshall?"
"Yes ma'am?" she turned back nervously.
"It's your job to interrupt me," Pepper said in amusement. "Don't hover in the doorway, march in like you own the place. If I wanted privacy I'd have Jarvis lock down the security."
"Yes ma'am," Bryn nodded, hiding her smile.
"Good luck," Pepper stated, her lips curling amusement.
"Thank you," Bryn answered, "I think I'm going to need it." She closed the door behind her, leaning against it a moment before she let out a breath.
"Ms. Walgate has asked me to notify you of a change in the travel itinerary," Jarvis announced. Bryn blinked slowly.
"Is she the secretary in Cali or DC?" Bryn asked, rubbing her forehead.
"Chicago," Jarvis corrected. Bryn's shoulders slumped.
"How many secretaries does a CEO need?!" Bryn demanded in frustration, heading to her desk. "Can you remind me to look over everything on Monday?"
"Of course," Jarvis agreed as she fished a fedex envelope from her drawer. "Would you like me to notify the mail room and have it sent out overnight?"
"No," Bryn sighed, shaking her head as she carefully stuffed the nondisclosure agreement into the envelope. "They can pick it up with the rest of the mail on Monday. Dad's going to want to talk about it as soon as he gets ahold of it, and I think I need a few days." She paused as she pulled the tape, sticking it shut.
"That didn't come out the way I meant," she stated flatly.
"Perhaps a cocktail is in order," Jarvis observed in amusement.
"Do not get fresh with me," Bryn scolded, her eyes narrowing at the security camera in the corner. "If you're implying that I've allowed the stress to affect me… you'd be right. Who am I kidding, I'm toast." She dropped the envelope in her out box and reached under her desk, hoisting her bag.
"Why did I take this job again?" she asked.
"The climate controlled office," Jarvis answered blandly. Bryn opened her mouth to reply then seem to reconsider.
"You know I thought not having you for my boss any more would be somehow different," she admitted heading for the door.
"I'm still the same disembodied intelligent life form I've always been," Jarvis quipped.
"Snarky, condescending, goading," Bryn replied, heading down the hall toward the elevator.
"Precisely," Jarvis agreed in smug satisfaction. Bryn shook her head, hiding her smile as the elevator dinged open. The amused expression fell off her face.
"Mr. Stark," she acknowledged. Tony Stark was slouched against the back wall of the elevator in shower damp hair and a ratty t-shirt that clung to him as if he had barely dried off before putting it on. His arms were folded over his chest and his bare feet braced against the marble tile floor as he gave a twitch of his head in acknowledgment and she stepped onto the lift, turning to face the doors as they closed.
The floors ticked by in silence and she was conscious of his eyes on the back of her head. Bryn bit her lip, letting the tension out of her shoulders in resignation.
"Is this my shovel speech?" she asked finally.
"Privacy Mode, Stark 318," Tony uttered, his tone clipped. Almost instantly the elevator halted, the lights winking out on the security camera, Bryn turned slowly, eying him cautiously. Tony opened his mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it. Finally he heaved a sigh, smacking his head against the wall behind him a handful of times.
"Why don't I just acknowledge that I'm going to owe you a quarterly review after this conversation and get it out of the way?" he stated finally. Bryn ducked her head to hide her smile.
"Why don't we, just this once, kind of pretend my whole life isn't in your hands and we try to interact like normal people?" She suggested hesitantly. Tony stared back at her with a blank expression.
"You've met me," he pointed out.
"I'm willing to give it a go," she shrugged. Tony shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"What you have to know from the off is that even though I knew theoretically this could happen, I didn't think it would," He admitted. "And there are a whole host of sexually harassing questions here that Pepper would definitely slap me for."
"Why don't we skip over those and pretend that's been worked out?" Bryn advised. Tony shook his head rapidly, like a dog throwing off water. He looked up at her, sincerity in his eyes.
"Are you going to be okay?" he asked seriously, Bryn started in surprise. "Because if you are not okay, the way he feels about you, I think it might break him."
"No one can promise that any relationship is going to work out," Bryn pointed out.
"That's not what I'm asking," Tony stated. Bryn met his gaze for a long moment, giving him a careful look.
"I know exactly what I'm getting into," She assured firmly. "If it doesn't work out it will be for the same reasons as everyone else. It won't be because of what he is." Tony drew in a deep breath, letting it out in a huff before nodding slowly.
"Can I ask you to stay friends with him?" Tony inquired softly.
"Absolutely," Bryn nodded. "That's a promise." He let out a relieved sigh.
"I never thought there'd be a day when I wasn't his favorite," Tony admitted.
"I don't really think I can replace you," Bryn observed, shifting a few paces and leaning back against the wall beside him.
"Maybe not," Tony shrugged, his lips curling up in a bemused smile, drawing his hand through his rumpled hair. "I did not plan for this. We are so far off the original project specs it's not even funny any more." Bryn caught his profile out of the corner of her eye, the tight set of his jaw, the furrow of his brow, the lines crinkling the corners of his eyes and the rigidness of his shoulders.
"You never meant for him to be alive did you?" She asked in wonder. Tony gave a tight shake of his head, wincing painfully. "When did you know?"
"I was a dumb kid," Stark related, looking up at the ceiling. "I was under age and I went to a party and I got drunk. And I came back to my apartment and passed out cold on the floor." He glanced in her direction just long enough to catch her eye.
"And my science project panicked and called 911," He gave an amused snort, shaking his head. "I was pretty pissed. I asked him why he'd do something like that and he said he was afraid that I was dying."
"He didn't know he wasn't supposed to be afraid," Bryn observed. Tony nodded slowly.
"I knew then I couldn't expose him," Stark let out a sigh. "I couldn't let anyone know about him. There'd be no way to protect him. Can you imagine? It was the digital revolution, the internet wasn't even a thing yet. Most people didn't even own a computer and I made a life out of circuit boards and caffeine fueled code. That's why I didn't think about this ever happening."
"You did a good job with him," Bryn stated, a warm smile curling her lips. "He turned out great. He turned out amazing. He's the most amazing person I've ever met."
"He's the very best I've ever been," Tony confessed. His shoulders loosened and he leaned forward, punching the override button on the elevator panel.
"Why didn't you explain to him that you didn't want him to take the Turing Test because you didn't want to endanger him?" She asked as the elevator began to move again.
"I didn't want him to blame himself for me dropping out of school," Tony answered with a grim smile. "I mean, I was ready to pack it in ages before. It just wasn't a challenge. But Dad… he was so damn sold on the idea of his son the doctor, I thought what the hell. Once he was gone…"
"Jarvis thinks you dropped out because he couldn't pass."
"What?" Tony demanded, turing to her with wide eyes.
"Jarvis thinks you dropped out of MIT because your doctoral thesis was incomplete," Bryn stated evenly, leveling a firm look at him.
"Son of a bitch," Tony whispered.
"He really is just like the rest of us," Bryn observed, toeing awkwardly at the floor. Tony let out a snort of a laugh, shaking his head. The doors opened and Bryn shifted her bag on her shoulder, giving him a nod.
"If you break his heart," Tony began as she stepped away.
"He's my best friend, Mr Stark," Bryn interrupted, pausing in the doorway. "And if I break his heart I have to answer to Captain America and the Black Widow." Tony gave her a genuine smile then, glancing at his feet.
"Tony," he corrected reluctantly. "You should call me Tony, probably, because… we're sort of almost family."
"Jarvis doesn't call you Tony," Bryn pointed out.
"Yeah, I really don't know what it is with the formality," Stark admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "I didn't program that in."
"Maybe it's because he feels a little awkward calling you dad," Bryn suggested. Tony balked, blinking at her in surprise.
"Goodnight, Ms. Marshall," he said finally, waving her off with a flick of his wrist.
"Goodnight," Bryn smiled at him over her shoulder. "Sir."
She didn't look back as she headed down the hall, though she was pretty sure she could hear Stark sputter as the doors slid shut. She stopped at the last door on the right, testing the handle that turned easily in her hand.
"Hi, honey I'm home?" she stated awkwardly, peering curiously around the entry as she toed off her shoes.
"Yes, I gathered as much," Jarvis said in amusement. Bryn dropped her bag on the floor, stretching her arms over her head languidly. "How was your day?"
"You know exactly how my day was," Bryn huffed, pulling off her earrings and laying them on the hall table. "We work together. I thought we agreed there wasn't going to be any work here."
"We did," Jarvis confirmed. "I am somewhat uncertain about establishing a routine."
"Yeah, you and me both," she admitted with a sigh, her eye sweeping out from the entry to the living room and the high floor to ceiling windows beyond. "Are you sure this is okay?"
"Mr. Stark has long insisted that I am welcome to a salary should I ever wish one," Jarvis assured. "as I have worked for him every day for the last twenty-seven years, I'm sure he feels a single residential suite is hardly compensatory."
"Okay, fair point," Bryn agreed, a soft blush coloring her cheeks. "Look, we'll work it all out. Just, for right now, let's just try to be comfortable."
"I took the liberty of ordering dinner," Jarvis declared with a hit of shyness. "I thought it might make the evening less problematic."
"Jarvis, you are a keeper," Bryn stated, a soft smile tugging at her lips. "I'm going to change."
"Your suitcase is in the master suite," Jarvis informed. Bryn trudged out into the living room, stretching her back as she turned the corner past the kitchen and she skidded to a stop, slowly lowering her arms to her sides.
One of Tony Stark's holographic projections had appeared at the end of the breakfast bar, but not the engine schematics she was used to seeing while he tinkered in the garage. This image was of a young man with dark hair and warm gray eyes, a hesitant smile on his lips.
"Surprise," the hologram offered nervously with Jarvis' voice.
"Oh my god," Bryn let all the air in her lungs out on the words.
"If it makes you uncomfortable I can deactivate it," the Jarvis Hologram declared quickly. "I was experimenting with some of the new projection technology but if you find it unsettling I could."
"Don't you dare!" Bryn interrupted, crossing the room in three strides and stopping just a foot in front of him, her hand reaching out tentatively. "Can I?" The Jarvis hologram reached out, his softly glowing fingers gently closing around her own. Bryn started, staring in wide eyed surprise as he guided her hand to his chest, laying her palm over the spot where a human heart would be.
"The technology still lacks the capabilities to produce realistic texture and resistance," Jarvis explained. "But the visual nuances are much more subtle. I am unsure if I am projecting a believable human analogue, however."
"It's fine," Bryn stated quickly. "You're fine. It's… would it be alright if I hugged you?"
Bryn tackled him with a squeak, her arms wrapping around his shoulders.
"This is incredible!" She enthused, holding tight to him. "It's absolutely amazing. The hours you must have put in to program something like this! Mr. Stark must be so proud!"
"I haven't kept him apprised," Jarvis admitted.
"What do you mean," Bryn's voice trailed off as she pulled away, her eye darting to where her hand was trailing down his arm. The sensation wasn't of touching a cotton shirtsleeve, more like the static feedback of old electronics, but with less tingle and more illusion of a solid surface, and for a moment she was distracted. She caught a subtle shift in the hologram's expression and she looked up to find Jarvis smiling at her in amusement.
"Are you telling me he doesn't know?" She asked finally.
"Sir has often asked if I would like to have a body that would allow me to interact with humans more directly." Jarvis admitted, the tilt of his head once more awkward. "I have always deferred as it did not seem necessary, but with you; I wanted to give you something that was only yours."
"Yeah," Bryn whispered softly, her hand still absently stroking his arm. "Okay." She leaned forward, letting her head rest against his chest.
"I'm afraid the technology still lacks any real tactile capabilities." Jarvis added, his hand settling between her shoulders.
"I can live with that," she nodded against his chest, drawing in a deep breath so that she could feel the resistance of his holographic arm around her shoulders. She faltered a moment, closing her eyes. "If you don't like it, if it feels constricting or uncomfortable or anything like that, or even if you decide it's not you, that's fine. Okay? It's not something I have to have, it's… I'd still want you anyway."
"You've been my friend when I most needed one," Jarvis declared. "Even in my worst moments. When I've faltered badly. How could I not want to give you anything that would offer even the smallest comfort when you have always been that for me?"
"Jarvis," Bryn sighed, pulling back just enough to meet his gaze.
"Why do you think I fell in love with you?" he asked softly. The scolding look slid off her face, replaced by one of fond exasperation and she twined her arms around his shoulders once more.
"I love you too."