He spied Christine Everhart across the bar and headed towards her, glad the reporter had chosen to sit in the very, very, far corner of the quiet bar. He remembered more about her now, about their night together, and normally he wouldn't see so much of a woman he slept with, but she'd called and he'd agreed to meet her out of gratitude more than anything else. She hadn't piqued his interest on that first night for nothing, and he owed her for the information she'd given him.
He slid into a seat next to her, and ordered a whiskey from the waiter before turning to smile at her.
"Hi," he said.
She was wearing a little black dress and heels and he hoped she hadn't dressed up for him. Because he wasn't interested in another night with her.
"Thanks for meeting with me Tony."
"No problem," he said. "you promised it was off the record."
"And it still it. It's purely for my personal curiosity."
He raised an eyebrow at that.
"You really didn't know?" he hoped she hadn't dressed up for him she asked. "About your company dealing under the table?"
"I really didn't know."
She sat back in her chair, looking truly, completely stunned and Tony didn't know how to reply for a moment, stunned himself at her reaction.
"You're a genius Tony, everyone knows it, and you're hardly naive."
"You've never put your trust in the wrong person?" he snapped, and she flinched.
"I'm sorry," she muttered.
He shrugged and downed the whiskey.
"Why am I really here?" he asked.
"Why did you come?" she asked with a smile.
"I owe you," he said, "for the information on the weapons."
"You would've found out eventually."
He shook his head. He really didn't think he would've without someone shoving the evidence of it in his face. Genius or not. She didn't reply though, to argue or agree, and just sipped her mojito.
"So now what?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
Her forehead scrunched up, which was cute, but not enough to get him back into her bad. Or her back into his bed, the line of thinking was hurting his brain a little, He'd only eaten cold coffee sludge since breakfast.
"This is the first time I've had a drink with a woman knowing we wouldn't be having sex afterwards," he said when he opened them again, feeling no better.
"We could have sex," she said, with a grin. "We were good."
"Meh," he said, making a so-so gesture with his hand, and she glared at him, grabbing her drink and jumping to her feet.
He managed to grab her arm before he was wearing the Mojito.
"I was joking! I was joking!" He cried, quickly. "We were great."
She stared at him a little longer before she relaxed and he let go of her wrist. She sat down and he smiled at her.
"Sorry," he said, "sorry, I'm still getting used to this."
"To what?" she asked, still a little pissed.
"Spending time with a woman sober, Potts not included."
She raised an eyebrow when he picked up his glass and remembered it was empty.
"One scotch does not a drunk man make."
He ordered another anyway and she smirked.
"Rumour was you'd changed."
"And you doubt this cause I'm having a second scotch?" he asked. "I'm never going to be perfect Christine."
"Have you changed?" she asked.
"Feels like I have," he said, taking the scotch from the waiter, and taking a sip. "Feels like something's shifted."
"What happened to you out there?" she asked. Her voice was soft and honest, and he smiled. "Off the record."
"I don't think so," he said. "Just can't trust you."
"You can," she said, "but I wouldn't if I were in your shoes either."
He nodded, glad of the woman's understanding. He didn't really know what to do now, old Tony would down his scotch, order another, and flirt his way into the woman's underwear again. He was never going to be perfect, but he was better than that. So he sipped his scotch.
"How much do you know?" he asked, after a less than comfortable silence.
"Enough," she said. "Definitely more than most."
"Can't trust you if you don't give me anything."
"I don't expect you to ever trust me," she said. "From what I know, you were all that trusting to begin with."
He shrugged, and she smiled.
"Why am I really here?" he asked again.
"I wanted to see for myself," she said, "if you changed."
"You doubted it."
"Playing superhero appeals to your exhibitionist side, boosts your ego, I wanted to see if you really believed in it."
"I do," he said, "but I don't have to convince you of anything. I just need to be out there to clean up the mess my company made when I needed to. That's all there is now."
He downed his scotch.
"That, and a good whiskey."
She smirked and he stood up, dropping a few notes onto the table to cover their drinks.
"It was a pleasure," he said. "Night."
By time she could catch up and wish him a goodnight in return, he was out of the bar.
She sent him a gift the next day.
Normally he sent the gifts, he rarely received presents from women other than Pepper, and he didn't quite know what to do with the rather large box for a moment.
Until his brain reminded him to open it.
Inside was a box of cigars and a large file. A note attached to the cigars that simply read "you shouldn't drink and fly."
He laughed out loud to that, and thought it was Pepper at first because that was something she had moaned about before now. He took one out to smell. He wasn't really a smoker, it was Stane's thing, his fathers habit, but he enjoyed the odd cigar from time to time. A cigarette too at a party. He put them aside and opened up the thick file and realised who it was from. There was no other note, no explanation, but as he flicked through the bits of papers and pictures he understood.
It was everything Christine Everhart had on Stark Industries. On him, on Stane, everything. He assumed they were copies, that Christine had her own originals still, but he didn't care. He only cared that he had a copy, of everything it seemed, she'd sent him everything.
He crossed his legs, and spent the morning going through the file, inspecting every photo, every shred of evidence she had accumulated about his business. All the invoices, transcripts of phone calls, lots of photos of Stane and himself.
He didn't know where the hell she'd gotten it all from.
He was damn impressed and grateful.
"I owe you again," Tony said, sitting down next to Christine. Different bar, same drinks. He placed her mojito down in front of her and took a sip of his scotch.
"Not at all Tony. I figured I owed it to you," she said.
Blue dress today, matching the drink, and her eyes, and now he was looking at her, really looking, as they spoke, he realised she was really quite pretty.
He didn't always take the time to look properly. Not at their faces. He was a breast man.
"You have so much, I didn't-" he paused. "How long have you been working on me, er, my company?"
"A few years," she said. "On and off. I took over from an old reporter at a newspaper when he retired. Keep investigating when I got the job at Vanity Fair."
"I had wondered about the older stuff."
"I'm sure, when I'm old and retire, there'll be another young reporter willing to continue the investigation into Stark Industries."
"What is there to investigate now?" he asked.
"Well, now there is this amazing story about how the CEO is a superhero. You must've heard about that," she said grinning.
He laughed, this woman was making him laugh, for reasons other than falling off the bed making out. It surprised him a little, because he really hadn't see her as anything but an annoyance, or a lay, until the moment he was sitting in the last bar with her.
It was nice.
He had changed.
They talked for a little longer, about the previous reporter who investigating anything and everything about Stark Industries, and often was at odds with his father Howard Stark. They talked a little about her job, he learned a little about her beyond her cup size, had a little fun with it all. After three scotches, he was feeling it, ever so slightly, but Pepper and Christine had both pointed out he shouldn't drink and fly and he didn't want to, even if he wanted another scotch, another several scotches. He stood up. He could have another at home, but it did him no good to even get tipsy in front of a reporter. On or off the record.
"It was nice seeing you again," he said, nice and polite. He did polite more often. He found he liked polite.
"You're leaving?" she said, "I thought we could have another drink, go back to mine this time," she said, standing too, and moving next to him, close to him. "I didn't enjoy your assistants company last time."
Tony had to smile at that, but he took a step away.
"No thanks," he told her.
He really didn't know what her agenda was, if she had one, and he couldn't trust that she didn't. Was it just sex or information? He really didn't care. All he knew was that he had changed in the past six months.
His dad, both his parents, Pepper, whoever, people would be proud of him. He was certainly proud of himself, and really feeling it for the first time since he donned the suit and started his 'mission'.
"Goodnight Christine," he said, dropping some money onto the table before moving out of reach, as she went to take his hand.
"If you change your mind, you know where I am," she called after him.
Tony was pretty sure he wasn't going to change him mind.