Aaand I updated. And it didn't take a million years. Yay!
Special thanks to ElektraMackenzie, aaroniteXkryptonite, bigbangnerd, maddieclaybourne, babydake93, and Frostivy for reviewing! I really appreciate it, guys! I really hope you like this one as well. :)
Riley made a stealthy exit out of the bathroom she'd been occupying for quite some time, wanting to avoid as many people as possible.
Her previous panic attack was now officially the least of her problems.
After her breathing became somewhat regulated and the replays of the confrontation with her boss had subsided, the thoughts of Pepper's stern warning came rushing back into her head. Needless to say, the petite young woman had not been able to fight the bile rising in her throat.
Some time later Riley had finally willed herself to stop dry heaving. She slowly, reluctantly picked herself up off the floor. She did not want to deal with anyone, nor let them see the sorry state she was surely in. The young woman made her way over to a sink, wanting to rinse her mouth out and splash her face with some cold water.
The blonde glanced up at herself in the mirror, frowning. She looked much worse than she thought, with her dark circles now shining through faded makeup and the generally worn look about her very obvious. This was precisely why she hated mirrors. They were a harsh reminder of of just how unsavory reality could be. As Riley slipped her glasses off to polish the smudgy lenses, she couldn't help but glare at the haggard image in the mirror as well as the vanity in general.
"You're such a fuck up." The words were directed towards her reflection. "Such a fucking mess." She shook her head as she looked down, using the hem of her rumpled blouse to clean the glasses, and sighed in defeat.
The blonde would have left it at that, but today seemed as if it were going to be some kind of test for her. Had she paid a little more attention, she would have noticed the small crack in the mirror that got larger the angrier she got.
Riley didn't even see the crack until it was too late. By the time she slipped on her glasses and stepped away from the counter, the silence of the bathroom was interrupted by a loud shattering sound. The young woman jerked her head back toward the mirror, her face taking on a look of wide-eyed surprise at the sight in front of her. The large wall mirror had broken into what looked like thousands of pieces, littering the bathroom with the shards.
Surrounded by glittering shards and not sure of what else to do, the blonde quickly turned on her heel and fled from the safety of the bathroom, intent on putting as much distance between her and the broken mirror as possible.
She really needed to get her little "talent" in check.
Feeling his headache growing worse by the minute, Tony walked with haste toward the garage; toward his baby - his precious Audi.
Well, one of his Audis.
Oh, how he longed for the days when Pepper headed up Stark Industries as CEO, freeing him to do whatever his heart desired, when he desired it.
The genius suddenly found himself smirking at the distant memory of Monaco. That being said, as he made his way down the hall, he couldn't help but look at the door of the redhead's vacant office, smirk now falling flat.
How did things end up like this?
Tony found himself placing a hand on one of the glossy wooden doors to the office, finding little peace in the nostalgia the notion brought.
Pepper had been with him for so long. She'd practically been in this company as long as he had, from the secretary pool straight up to the top.
She had drive, fierce determination ever-present in her eyes.
He'd always loved that about Virginia Potts.
Maybe he'd just duck in for a moment...
He would not do that, however. Tony's pleasant thoughts of a past that was no more were interrupted by the door to the office opening, revealing a disheveled looking Elizabeth Andres.
Ah, the antithesis of his current thoughts, personified.
Still, Tony was surprised to see her in Pepper's office, and the look on the blonde's face made it clear that the feeling was mutual.
"Mr. Stark...I was- I was just getting some work done before I leave." She adjusted her slightly crooked glasses, actively trying to avoid eye contact with the genius. "I don't really have an office of my own and I-"
Tony opened his mouth to say something witty, but held his tongue as he looked at the blonde critically. She was a mess, to put it nicely. Wild stands of hair poked out from every direction of her once neat bun. Her clothes were not in much better condition. From what he did catch of the blonde's gaze, her blue eyes were bloodshot. The blackish-blue dark circles did not help, either.
For a brief moment, he felt a pang of genuine sympathy for the girl. She looked to be run ragged and almost painfully exhausted. Any notion he had to fire off a quip or two in teasing at his current assistant went out the window upon seeing her.
"It's fine, Ms. Andres." He said it with a sigh, hoping she'd relax a little. The lithe young woman's personality put him on edge. "I'm just headed out. Don't think I can take much more of this place...too stifling."
Well...it was honest. Work made him miserable. But work without Pepper? It was unbearable.
Riley fidgeted slightly, before finally forcing herself to speak. "I..I have your tentative schedule for next month, if you'd like to see it before I send it to you."
Tony sighed, not really caring enough to look but at the same time not wanting to cause the girl any more grief for today. "Sure." He tried to sound as enthused as possible, which wasn't very much. Not wanting to waste his time, Riley quickly grabbed her tablet off the desk and made the move to hand it to him. She could easily tell that her boss didn't care and that he was probably getting irritated with her, but she had to show him.
She was going to make sure he was aware of his appointments from now on if it killed her.
Riley didn't think she could handle another lecture from a severely angry Pepper, ever.
Call him eccentric or even obsessive compulsive, but Tony really didn't like being handed things. It wasn't so much the fear of germs that caused the odd social tic (though they were a factor in a lot of cases), he just did not like being literally handed more responsibility. In addition, he'd been handed things all of his life, and slightly resented it to date. Still, the super hero grit his teeth this once, taking the tablet out of the blonde's hands with the intent to skim it as quickly as possible and leave. Everything would just end up in JARVIS' system, anyway.
However, something else caught his eye. As Riley began to retract her hands and clasp them together, Tony could not help but notice her palms. They were riddled with very thin, white scars that were almost too fine to be visible. With Riley's tan skin, though, he was able to see the faint little lines decently enough once he started looking for them. There were so many, Tony felt compelled to ask about them.
...And he wasn't very subtle about doing so, either.
"What's with your hands?" So much for not trying to corner the timid woman.
It got Riley's attention, however. Her head snapped up, eyes wide and staring at her boss. The young assistant tried to play the reaction down, albeit badly.
"I uh...I'm sorry, what?"
Tony looked back at her, eyebrow raised at her abnormal reaction. He casually scrolled through the pictures and notes on the tablet while he waited for an answer, trying in vain to see if there was something that would give him some insight to this woman. "Those little white marks on your hands. How'd you get them?"
Riley tried to play down the question, but in all actuality, her mind was racing to try and find a believable lie. She tightly clasped her hands together in the process in an attempt to hide the marks. Out of sight, out of mind, after all.
"I...I work in Dr. Reichmann's lab a lot, sir. Accidents happen. I'm clumsy and I tend to drop things quite often..." There was more truth to that statement than she'd like to admit.
Did she really think he was that stupid? Tony knew Reichmann made all of his staff wear insulated gloves in the lab. He'd seen it first hand. But, he decided to ignore for now it in favor of expanding on the more interesting information in that statement. "Again with the formalities." He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms after setting the tablet down. "You said you worked for Dr. Reichmann? I thought you were from the secretary pool." Tony paused, mid-thought. "Actually, I was pretty sure that was where Pepper had gotten you from." He was genuinely surprised at the little factoid. His assistant really didn't look like the type for research and development. It was another 'dumb blonde' stereotype, true, but he really couldn't help it.
Riley shook her head. "Oh, no sir,-"
"Tony. Just Tony, please." He really couldn't take all the 'sir' and 'Mr.' titles anymore.
The blonde's cheeks flushed and she looked toward the floor. "Er...no, Tony," She said the name slowly and carefully. It felt wrong addressing a superior so casually. "Ms. Potts procured me from R&D. I'm sure she wishes she had gotten me from the pool, though."
Now he was really interested. "Why do you say that?"
Riley bit her lip, not really wanting to say anything about her earlier meeting with Pepper or why the redhead was so upset. "Oh, I just think it would have saved her time. Less having to check up on me, or tell me that I'm not up to par with what she expects from me."
"What she expects" He used air quotes with the last word, finding the wording a little ridiculous. "in regards to...?"
Riley bit her lip, really wishing she'd kept her mouth shut. "In regards to making sure you show up to appointments and what needs to change with me."
To Tony, that was a huge twist in the story. He'd been so sure Pepper and the young woman in front of him were a lot closer than what they were in reality. At the very least, he thought Pepper treated the blonde as an equal, not as an extension of herself. He frowned at how positively awkward and uncomfortable the blonde looked, standing there with her gaze down and her shoulders shrugged. "Is that why Pepper was here today?"
Riley nodded slowly. "Y-yes. I feel really bad about it. She should be planning her wedding," Tony glared at the mention of 'wedding'. "not dealing with me and my shortcomings. I offered to find a replacement for you and return to R&D, but she didn't want to be bothered with the paperwork."
So that's what the redhead had been angry about earlier. Tony had been curious, but her voice was too muffled to make anything out. He'd heard her getting upset in her office earlier when he went to stop in, but since there was no yelling back, he'd assumed it had to do with planning for her...special day.
He couldn't say that word.
His former lover had left without so much as a 'hello' to the genius, which had royally pissed him off. That anger got taken out on Riley in the elevator. Now, knowing that Pepper had went off on Ms. Andres beforehand over him and business did not sit well with the CEO, at all. It wasn't like the blonde didn't try, and deep down, Tony knew that. What bothered him even more was the blonde's suggestion at a replacement. The lack of fight in her was almost disturbing to Tony. He had no real attachment to the blonde, that was true, but another replacement would just serve to make him more irritable. Besides, she hadn't done anything to warrant a replacement to begin with.
He needed to drop the subject for now, before he got angry over the entire situation again. The absolute last thing Tony wanted right now was another elevator incident. He needed to get out of there as soon as possible, but he intended to find out more about the strange young woman.
"Do you need a ride home?" The question was out of the blue, but Tony really wouldn't have minded taking her home.
Riley's cheeks tinged pink. "Oh, no, thank you." It would have saved her cab fare, as she didn't own a car, but to her it was imposing and Dr. Reichmann needed her in the lab tonight. Plus, being in a confined space with Tony Stark again was not something she wanted to repeat so soon. "I'm actually going to be here for awhile and I'd hate to hold you up. I really appreciate it, though."
Tony was completely thrown off by the turn down, and would have probably done a spit take had he been drinking, but managed to smooth it over. He simply turned around and left, looking back at the blonde over his shoulder. "Alright, then. I'll see you around. Maybe next time."
Was he that repulsive?
"Y-yeah. Have a good afternoon...T-Tony." His name felt forced, but he grinned regardless.
Maybe he'd get through to her, one day.
Sighing in frustration, Tony tossed the wrench out from under the classic hot rod he'd continuously put off any sort of maintenance on. Rolling out from under the car on his creeper in (temporary) defeat, the genius grabbed an oil rag and stood, intending on making a drink for himself.
Yes, that seemed to be the quick fix for everything as of late. Still, it didn't help to answer any of the questions Ms. Andres had brought up in his mind earlier that day.
"Pepper had no right to lay into Ms. Andres." He muttered to himself, looking for a clean glass. That whole situation still bothered him. "It wasn't her fault I was late to that meeting."
"Sir, I believe you didn't show up at all." Of course, JARVIS would throw in his two cents. Tony was beginning to regret that last upgrade to allow the AI to be more free-thinking.
The genius rolled his eyes. "There's a difference between no-showing and being...what...four hours behind schedule?"
Okay, it was worse than he'd thought.
"It was the first item on your schedule for that day, sir." The reply was cool and even, as always. He could have sworn there was a minute amount of sarcasm in there, though.
Not wanting to admit any wrongdoing, Tony let out an audible huff. "You're supposed to be on my side." He poured his whiskey, taking comfort in the way the amber liquid trickled against the ice. "But that's not the point. Ms. Andres had nothing to do with this, in any way. Putting blame on her isn't fair."
"I'm sure Ms. Potts had the best interest of both you and the company in mind."
And that was all that it took to set Tony off.
"Pepper hasn't even set foot in this place in almost two months before today, let alone talk to me on a personal, friendly level. It's really not her fucking place anymore, I'd think." Tony's voice was positively dripping with sarcasm before he tossed the drink back and slammed the glass on the counter. The fact of the matter was that Pepper's tendency to think she was the puppeteer pulling all the strings, including his, was beginning to irk him to no end, especially when she wasn't even here...
He ran his free hand over his face in frustration; in pent up anger.
"My company, my payroll, my assistant." He paused, catching his breath and realizing how much of petulant child he really did sound like. "Anyway..." It was more than time to change the subject and take his mind off of everything. "You have a profile on Ms. Andres ready?"
"Indeed, sir. But I must ask, do you think this is morally sound?"
The AI definitely had a point, JARVIS always did, but curiosity still had gotten the better of Tony. Ms. Andres, as a whole, was ultimately nothing special to him. She was a cute face that was forgettable among a sea of beautiful ones, but there was just something about the entire persona she was hiding and the little bit of mystery it put around her (for him, anyway). The fact that she hadn't flung herself at him, especially knowing he was single, had thrown him off of his game. On top of that, the second fact that she was very likely afraid of him, or at least who he was, bothered him more than he'd like to admit.
There was also the small possibility that her entire persona was an elaborate act, all in the name of 'good' journalism. Tony still hadn't completely dismissed that notion, either.
Regardless, it would not be inaacurate to say that her personality didn't irk him from time to time as well. While it piqued his interest, definitely, there was no place for the meek and mild in his world or the real world. Ms. Andres had little chance of ever succeeding with how easy she was to walk over. Didn't she know that?
"Before I open the file, sir, I must warn you that-"
"Yeah, yeah invasion of privacy and all that... but if she's going to be my assistant, I have a right to know something about her. She's certainly not going to open up...not to me at least. I'm pretty sure I've already botched that."
"But sir, that's not the problem."
Tony sighed. "Just open it."
Even though he spoke with a tone of heavily feigned exasperation, Tony knew his excuse for prying was half-hearted and mostly bullshit. Had it been almost anyone else, he'd have had no problem being so...invasive.
But...with how intensely shy and introverted this girl was, Tony would be lying if he said he didn't feel a little guilty about the whole situation. He wasn't even totally sure the girl's name was Riley, too distracted by Pepper that first day to even care, and continued to refer to the blonde by her surname.
...On that note, no wonder the blonde seemed to actively avoid any type of real conversation with him, among other reasons.
Tony shook the thought. He hadn't been that terrible to her, had he?
He wasn't even going to go there.
He walked over to the holographic display JARVIS was emitting, taking his time looking it over while sipping on his drink. A look at her full name caused a small smile to grace his lips.
"Elizabeth...Lizzy. I like it. It suits her." He was rambling. His guess about her name being Riley was correct, but it didn't suit her. Too boyish and modern. Elizabeth was much more fitting, given that Ms. Andres gave off the very opposite vibes of the former descriptors.
Elizabeth had been his mother's middle name as well.
As he continued on, the more information that passed his eyes, the higher his brows rose in surprise. He would've never pegged her to be quite so young and working in such a prestigious lab in R&D. She was almost twelve years his junior. However, it wasn't that she looked older than twenty-five (she could have actually passed for a little younger in his eyes), but there was just no life to the girl. Tony also found her education impressive. Very impressive. But that begged the question: why didn't she ever flaunt it? She'd just let him assume she was a ditzy, lowly little secretary from the pool for the longest time. He was pretty sure he'd even made teased her about her intelligence a few times.
Okay, much more than just a few times.
...And with that, Tony realized his thoughts were probably making his case with this girl worse. They weren't helping, to say the least.
He finally shook his head, coming out of his musings over the new information. "What else have you got?"
When there was no response from the AI, Tony cleared his throat. "JARVIS? Come on already."
"That is all of the public records available for Elizabeth Andres, sir. All other records are sealed."
Tony's nose wrinkled. Something was incredibly off with her, that was obvious, but he was sure it was worse than he'd previously thought now. What normal, healthy female had a need to do that?
"That was what I was trying warn you about, sir. That is all I can legally acquire at the moment without further permission from you to conduct my own investigation or legal approval. Ms. Andres had her personal records sealed after she was no longer a ward of the state of North Carolina."
...And the mystery just became even more complex. And he found himself wanting to be Sherlock Holmes the further he got into it.
"Foster parents?" He crossed his arms and began chewing his bottom lip in thought.
"No, sir. Her eighteenth birthday passed and she entered university."
Tony sucked in a breath, nodding in slow acceptance of the information and trying to ignore the guilt creeping into his bones. "But...she has to have someone, right?"
"She has no family contact on any record for Stark Industries."
Things were starting to make more sense quickly, but there were still unexplainable holes in this woman's story that Tony found himself wanting to fill. However, now was not the time nor place. If he truly wanted to find out what made Elizabeth tick, then he'd need a damn good plan.
She'd be his little side project.
But, now was not the time.
Curiosity killed Tony Stark, but the Mark VII needed a test run.
Riley dropped her keys onto the table by the front door of her apartment with a loud thunk, releasing a heavy sigh. She was finally home, at long last. Her seemingly endless day had finally come to a close.
The blonde flipped on the light switch, and glanced around the small living room in the equally small apartment out of habit to see if things were in order. White walls and hardwood floors did not add any warmth to the place. Combined with the lack of pictures and personal touches, the entire place seemed incredibly sterile. However, the one thing that stood out in the apartment was the large vase of blue dendrobium on the table in front of the couch. Riley did not own a television, preferring to read more than anything, so the flowers served as a relaxing focal point to the young woman.
It didn't matter how the place looked, though. Her apartment was a stable roof over her head, and it was home.
And that's all that really mattered.
The blonde made her way over to one of the arm chairs in the living room, easing herself down against the plush material. After slowly removing her flats from of her sore feet with a loud hiss, Riley carefully leaned back against the chair, mindful of her aching back. She looked up through the skylights in her apartment, taking comfort in the stars above.
Riley had always loved watching the stars, ever since she was a small child. The twinkling lights provided comfort; a warm embrace that she hadn't had from any person in this world.
The young woman actually smiled when a highly visible shooting star flew by, admiring the flashes of red and gold in the brief seconds she could see it. It was odd for a shooting star to be so close and so vibrant, but she was still entranced by it.
On a whim, Riley closed her eyes, only wishing to one day find her place in the world.
If she only knew.
I know Tony's mother's middle name is 'Collins' in the comics, but I couldn't resist a little tweaking. So sue me. DX
I'm working on Amy's grand entrance now. I hope you guys read and review, I'd love to hear from you! Reviews keep me going! *Reviews also let me know if you all want to see more, and will make me update quicker*
P.S. I've been asked this a few times, so I'll restate it here. All three of my OC stories are linked, even if it doesn't seem like it right now. They will be. So if you like my OC's, be sure to check them all out!