7. In Recovery

A week later, Tony fails to show up at an appointment he wasn't even interested in, then yells at me because he missed it. He's even more fractious than usual lately, which is saying something. I point out that I not only set his alarm clock and asked JARVIS to remind him, I laid out a suit for him to wear. I ask, archly, if he's going to need me to start dressing him in the mornings. Instead of making his usual vulgar comment, he just shrugs and asks me to reschedule, then mumbles something about recalibrating his flight stabilizers and disappears down the stairs. We don't speak for the rest of the day.

Two weeks later, Happy picks me up after work (in his own car, for once) and takes me to a ball game. I wear my favourite jeans, which haven't seen the light of day in months. Even in the late-afternoon sun, I manage to get a little burnt, particularly the bridge of my nose. Happy is so scandalized about my not owning a ball cap that he actually buys me one while he's getting each of us a hot dog and a beer. During the seventh inning stretch, he stretches his arm, dropping it around the back of my seat. He's a traditionalist, apparently.

Later that evening, when he tries to kiss me goodnight, he's momentarily thwarted by the stiff brim of my newly-acquired, MLB-sanctioned headgear. We do get it right, eventually, and… it's not bad.

Three weeks later, JARVIS tells me that Mr. Stark is down in the workshop, but that he's asked me to attend to something in the bedroom. "Something" turns out to be a nude, deeply tanned brunette of Amazonian proportions, sprawled face-down across his bed. She has a tramp stamp. She snores. Even from this angle, I can tell her breasts are fake. The entire room reeks of booze and sweat and cigarette smoke. I peel her panties off the tile floor with a plastic bag over my hand.

It's been a while, but the girl who answers the phone at the one-hour dry cleaner's still remembers my voice. She tells me, sympathetically, that it sounds like I'm getting a cold.

A month later, at the end of a very long day, Tony and I climb into the back of the Bentley. Our plan for the evening involves participating in an overseas teleconference during the drive back to the house, where we will complete the monthly review of Tony's expenses, hopefully without incident. He's fully recuperated from his disastrous little experiment; just the other day, he was pulling people out of a mudslide in Peru, and was home in time for breakfast.

Our friendship is in recovery, too—we're not quite as playful or as intimate as we were, but we've allowed the events of that night to settle, and gradually become layered over by routine.

While Tony pours himself a drink and reviews the talking points I've just handed him, I'm leaning over the seat, relaying some instructions to Happy. We've been on two more dates at this point—the best we could manage with our opposing and increasingly hectic schedules. Things between us are easy, pleasant, comfortable. Safe.

Completely absorbed in what I'm saying, I absently touch Happy's shoulder. I don't even realize I'm doing it until he reaches up and brushes my fingers with his. He smiles at me, and is clearly puzzled when I don't smile back. When I freeze, feeling myself flush—that all-too-familiar sensation of being under a very hot spotlight.

Beside me, a glass of scotch spontaneously fractures in Tony's hand.

He plays it off—kidding about not knowing his own strength since he started hitting the weights; shotgunning the whiskey, and pitching the cracked glass out the open window before it shatters entirely—but a small muscle in his jaw is steadily ticking. He refuses to meet my eyes.

The timing of the two events could be purely coincidental.

But I doubt it.