New York State of Mind
By Elizabeth Bathory
It hadn't even been a week since the 'I am Iron Man' admission and Stane's funeral when the summons from the Board of Directors had come in…a summons Tony Stark could not ignore this time. He had dodged them before and never felt the backlash until Obadiah had stabbed him in the back while smiling to his face. In the months after his return from captivity, Tony had painted the target on his back and now had to face the firing squad head on to get it off.
It was a six hour flight from Los Angeles to New York, a flight that was conducted for the most part in silence. Pepper Potts watched one man get on the plane in Los Angeles because she knew the routine well and she knew another man would get off that plane in New York. As the plane took off, Tony immersed himself in video games like Tetris, Puzzlemaster and Brain Age to keep his mind sharp and to allow himself a lasts bit of relaxation before he had to lock himself away again to face down nine people who were the bain of his existence.
As the flight progressed eastward, Pepper saw the mask of darkness starting to form that she used to know very well before he was taken. Before Afghanistan, when Tony had his game on, he was dangerous and terrifying. People had often referred to him as a tiger shark – always on the move, deadly smart and will kill anything that gets in his way. This really only slipped out in New York in the sea of other predators where he was one of those famed captains of industry – men with one syllabled last names that struck fear into subordinates and competitors just at their mention.
California was Tony's playground and Pepper knew that. His mood was lighter there. He would tease her, play off of her and enjoy life. He may have been born in New York but his heart lived in Malibu.
Somewhere over Chicago, the mask was almost complete. Tony put down his games and ducked into the bathroom in the back of the plane to change. T-shirt and jeans went away and a suit of armor of black Italian silk suit replaced it. Black was New York's color and always sent a chill down Pepper's spine when she saw him in this mode. This meant you did not mess with him or you would face his wrath.
Tony sat back down in his chair and Pepper went to work covering the fading bruises and healing cuts from the battle he had with Obadiah on the roof. As Pepper worked, she saw the distant look in her boss' eyes and saw his mind working. He was going through what he wanted to say in his mind. How do you address all that had happened without people completely going against you?
When the flight landed in New York, Pepper was one step behind Tony as his assistant was supposed to be. He slipped into a black stretch limo with tinted windows and Pepper slid beside him. She could feel a temporary shell of ice around him as he steeled himself for what he was going to face. He was never like this at home and she felt deep down that the man she had grown to love even more in the past few months would return to her when he was done.
Pepper silently put her hand over Tony's as he ordered the driver to go with a distinct harshness in his voice. It surprised her when he placed his other hand over hers, rubbing it gently with his thumb. Tony did not have to say it but he needed her strength to get through this and just a simple touch of the hand was giving him courage he needed.
The car pulled up in front of Stark Industries New York headquarters and parked where everyone could see who was coming in. Before the driver opened the door for him, Tony took a deep cleansing breath and fixed his game face. As the door opened, Tony had disappeared. Anthony Stark, CEO of Stark Industries International stepped out and strode into that building.
The doors opened and you could hear people's breath catch as they almost snapped to attention as Tony walked by them at a New York pace. As Tony and Pepper exited the elevator, Tony snapped his fingers back to her and Pepper slipped the folder he had prepared into his hand without question. Inside was a list of alternative projects besides for things that explode which could be equally as profitable without the body count. At the door, Tony paused once more before opening the lion's den.
Out of a modicum of respect alone, the board members stood when Tony entered. All of them looked like they already had a noose tied and ready to hang him…until Tony spoke.
"You may have called me here but this is my time now. Sit down and pay attention. Save your questions until the end because if I am interrupted I guarantee your ass will be out on the street before I finish." Tony ground out with a cold fury as he set the folder on the table.
"Over the past few months, the members of this Board were either willingly or forced into going into a conspiracy against me. While I admit some of my decisions were abrupt, they were not spontaneous. This company's only legacy will not be a body count. It is my name on everything we create and I will not have my name covered in the blood of those who did not deserve to die. I have not nor have I ever lost any control over my mind, even in captivity. For anyone to say otherwise would be a challenge to me and it would be one you would lose."
Tony flipped open the folder he had brought in and distributed an individual portfolio to each member of the Board sitting around the table.
"Inside each of these is a listing of every single item that this company makes or will make in the future that are able to turn just as much profit as an arsenal. The time may come at some point in time where the weapons division may reopen but until then or success will be based on what is in that folder and your support of it. The motto of this company has always been 'Tomorrow Today' and I believe that. Weapons that murder innocents are the past. What is in front of you is the future."
The board members looked through the folders and saw a 150 page manuscript of single spaced listings of every product made at Stark Industries and an itemized report detailing a profit margin that was equivalent to what it had been before.
"What really happened to Mr. Stane?" one board member asked.
"Mr. Stane is dead and he died tragically so let that be." Tony stated emotionlessly. "And speaking of that, Mr. Stane filed an injunction against me but the results of the vote were never released. Explain."
"The results were never released because a decision was never made." Another board member explained. "But I believe after today, a decision will not be necessary at all."
Tony did not show it outwardly but Pepper could see it in the slightest change in his body language. Tony was happy about this decision. He finished answering the Board's questions and then walked out. The mask started to crack as soon as he left the board room but not completely. Once he was back in the limo and it was moving, the ice was melting away.
Tony quickly took off his jacket and undid his tie, throwing them on the seat next to Pepper. He had his shirt unbuttoned as he rummaged through one of his bags, leaving Pepper curious as to what he was doing.
"Tony, what are you doing?"
"We're going out. I need to clear my head." Tony responded as he pulled out a black tailored shirt with white pinstripes and a printed t-shirt.
"Where are we going?" Pepper asked cautiously.
"Village Underground," Tony answered quickly as he stripped off his dress shirt and pulled the t-shirt on over his head and then slipped the tailored shirt over it, leaving it unbuttoned.
Pepper saw what was coming out, something she had heard about from Rhodey but never actually seen since back in the days when Tony went clubbing she did not work 48 hour days. "Tony, I am not exactly sure about this…"
"Pepper," Tony interjected as he shushed her lips. "I don't just want you with me but I need you there. I can't force you on this one but I'll give you this choice. Either come with me, let your hair down and have a little fun with me knowing what I am getting myself into or deal with the aftermath tomorrow of who the hell knows what trouble I can get into. Please Pepper…come with me."
Pepper was clearly hesitant in accepting Tony's invitation. She remembered what happened the last time they danced together and this was clearly different. "Tony…I'm not sure about this. What if a photographer sees?"
"A paparazzo here is very unlikely since it is not exactly a celebrity hang out," Tony stated. "There is no VIP area and most celebrities want that special attention. No one will see us. I spent most of the early nineties cruising through the clubs of L.A. without being noticed unless I got really drunk and really stupid. I want you there to keep me from doing both of those things and so I don't have to be alone."
Pepper reluctantly agreed to go under those terms. "As long as you promise me that it is just this," she added in.
"Pepper, you already know I can't promise that." Tony stated honestly. "You damn well what I want."
"Then what would you call what we are about to do?"
"Two friends going out to celebrate the biggest grand slam I have had with the Board in about a decade." Tony said as he eyed what Pepper was wearing. "You're going to have to change though. Even though I think what you're wearing is damn sexy, others will say uptight."
"I am not changing in front of you, Tony." Pepper protested.
"You won't have to, despite how much I would enjoy that," Tony replied as he pulled his dress shirt back out of his bag. "Take off your jacket and put this on, knotting it instead of buttoning it." He instructed as he bit his tongue about shortening her skirt as well, knowing she may slap him for that one.
Pepper unbuttoned the jacket she was wearing to reveal a sleeveless, tight black dress underneath, which cause a spark of desire in Tony's eyes as she slipped his shirt on and knotted it. The scent of his cologne quickly hit her nose and she had to keep the more erotic side of her brain from taking over.
Tony smiled as he looked at his work appreciatively before he stepped out of the limo and offered his hand to Pepper to help her out. He told the driver to pick them back up at one and stay out of sight until then before walking up to the door and slipping the bouncer the cover charges and a little extra on the side without even breaking his stride.
Once inside, the sound of the pumping bass from extremely danceable music was almost hypnotic. Tony found a table for Pepper as he went up to the bar. He came back a few minutes later with two Smirnoffs. He gave Pepper the green apple while he took the black ice.
"I thought you didn't want to get drunk," Pepper brought up as she sipped her drink.
"I can't get drunk off of these. These things are candy to me." Tony said as he took Pepper's hand and led her out to the dance floor. "And they're more portable than hard liquor. I am a man of many talents but even I can't deal with this much of a dance vibe without spilling my drink."
As the music changed, Tony gave Pepper the 'come here' gesture with his finger as he started dancing pretty smoothly, without spilling a drop to his credit.
Pepper had to admit that Tony could dance and she felt a little less nervous since he proved he wasn't going to embarrass her with a lack of dance ability. Maybe this was a little less nerve wracking than the Fireman's benefit. There was a certain degree of closeness required without the formality and watching this side of Tony was strangely appealing. All the masks were gone, like she knew him best, and he was in his second element.
By the time one had come around, the club had not died down but Tony was losing steam. He would not admit or show it much but Pepper could see it clearly. She reminded him of the time and without saying a word, he took her hand once more and they walked outside and slipped into the waiting limo.
"Head back to the airport," Tony commanded as the driver took off.
"You do realize what time it is, don't you?" Pepper asked.
"Very much so but we'll be going backwards so by the time we get back to California it won't be that bad," Tony said as he leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.
Returning to JFK was nearly as silent of an affair as it was leaving it but this time was because Tony was nodding off as the adrenaline that had been surging through his bloodstream all day had finally died off. Once on his jet, he stretched out on the couch in the back and fell asleep for the flight back. Pepper took pity on him and covered him with a blanket before settling into one of the chairs for a nap herself.
The sun was just beginning to change the sky from black to pink when they landed in Los Angeles. Happy was waiting on the tarmac at the Stark Industries runway to take Tony and Pepper back to Tony's mansion. Tony had managed to stay awake for the short ride back to his house but not long after walking in the door he had buried himself under the blankets of his bed with orders to Jarvis not to be disturbed.
Pepper on the other hand could not just crash. Her actual work day began before seven so she was used to early mornings with little sleep. She turned on the financial report on CNN and started filing through emails.
"News from New York today, Stark Industries has had an upswing in its stock prices gaining nearly thirty points so far today."
Pepper's attention was instantly on the TV.
"Apparently, the Board of Directors has reestablished their confidence in their CEO, Tony Stark, after an injunction had been previously filed by the late CFO Obadiah Stane. Reports state that the Board members were torn on a decision until Tony Stark addressed them personally yesterday and reaffirmed why he was in the position he was in. A representative released a statement saying that Stark Industries will stay on the top of the field in technological development as it always has been and the rebound will be better than ever. My recommendation based on this, buy Stark Industries stock now before it becomes unreachable because this one is hot."
Pepper smiled as she changed the channel. "Jarvis?"
"Yes, Ms. Potts?"
"Did you by any chance record that for Mr. Stark?"
"Of course I did. I took the liberty of saving it once it appeared to be good news."
"Thank you Jarvis." Pepper replied happily. Tony Stark defied everyone again and proved why he is Iron Man in more ways than one.