"Grah!" Various office workers cringed as a crashing sound accompanied the shout that had just resounded from the executive office in the HQ building of Stark Industries. They had become accustomed to the occasional 'entertaining' of a secretary in there but this sounded more like a fit of anger rather than the throes of passion. Another crash could be heard and one by one, the employees went back to work.
Inside of the said CEO's office, a keyboard was lodged partially through the window. Tony stared at the damage before flopping down into his chair and burying his fist into his hair, eyes sliding shut. He sighed, opened them once more, and frowned at the source of his anger. A business card. Nothing special about its printed contents: company name, address, fax number, the works. But the neatly handwritten message on the back. That was what killed him. The source of his….confusion.
'(468)426-6483 - Bruce' It read. 10 numbers and 5 letters was all it took to knock his world off its axis.
Just days ago he had defeated Hammer's army of drones and Ivan's upgraded suit and he was physically exhausted. Physical exhaustion he could deal with, especially after something as exhilarating as the recent events. It pumped him up, which was the excitement he needed to run his company instead of his suit. Things were looking up for him, returning to an almost normal state. He had been glad to be going back to his office this morning (afternoon, really, as he arrived at 1 p.m.). Until he sat at his desk which, newly freed from Pepper's modern art décor, was empty save for a computer and the card.
He had thought that things were looking up for him but the card was a tiny reminder that the last week wasn't just going to go away. As much as the dying part had bothered him, he had enjoyed the unexpected company. The company that he had forgotten in the heat of the moment when he kissed Pepper. They even had a date set, for Christ's sake.
"I'm an idiot." Tony said, letting his head fall against the surface of his desk. Now he had two people under the impression that he was theirs exclusively. One of which he had been a conquest long sought after and the other…the other was the fucking Batman.
"Ah, the truth comes out." Pepper's voice drifted from the doorway of his office. He looked up at her and attempted to smile but he was sure it came out as a grimace. She didn't notice his face, just the damaged window. "What's the matter Mr. Sta-…Tony?"
"Oh, nothing. Just not feeling so well." Tony lied as he stood from his desk, grabbing a stack of papers and slipping the card into his pocket. "I think I might just call it a day."
"Is there anything I can get you?" Pepper asked tentatively as Tony stopped in front of her. He had only been there for an hour but, given recent events, she chose not to badger him to stay on task.
"No. I just need to go home." He said stiffly. She was blocking the door, looking at him expectantly. She laid her hand on his chest, to the right of his reactor, and looked up at his face. He couldn't ignore how her petite, delicate, manicured hand felt so….foreign to him.
"Did you find that business card? It's been here for a week, but I've been too busy to bring it to you. You know, being CEO-" She began but he held up his hand abruptly, shaking his head.
"I got it. I need to go." He said and physically picked her up, setting her aside so he could exit his office. He heard her stammer something in an attempt to stop him as he continued on his way out.
Tony was glad that he had driven to work, he decided as he got into his Audi. Driving always took his mind off things. Unfortunately, he also drove extremely fast so his mindless time was cut short as he pulled into his home, which was nearly completely rebuilt from the previous damage. The construction crews had been resorting to working double time to complete it A.S.A.P. and most that was left was for Tony himself to rewire the more high-tech pieces.
"Home early today, Mister Stark?" J.A.R.V.I.S. asked as Tony entered.
"Something like that….Any personal messages?" Tony asked, tossing his jacket off and undoing his tie.
"None, sir." The curt voice replied.
"Oh." Tony nodded as he unbuttoned his shirt to allow his reactor to be exposed to the cool air. It wasn't as if he could be expecting a message, as he hadn't given Bruce the necessary information to make it possible to contact him directly. He sighed, rubbing his face with both hands. He was feeling emotionally over-taxed. Again. Ugh.
"You seem down, sir….shall I order pizza?" J.A.R.V.I.S. asked politely. Tony couldn't help but smile at the sentiment.
"That'd be great." He said. Though J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn't technically a person, he considered him a friend. The AI was the only one he could talk to at any time.
"It will be here in 30 minutes, sir." J.A.R.V.I.S. said after a moment. Tony nodded and flopped down on the couch to wait. A muffled chime told him that he had a new text message and he sighed. It was probably from Pepper. He pulled his phone from his pocket and, consequently, the card fell out.
Ugh, that again. Tony thought with a frown. He considered the envelope on the screen of his phone to distract himself. He had been attempting to forget about that damn card. He knew that nothing good came from ignoring his problems but he didn't like acknowledging them (Example: Last week). The phone chimed again to remind him of its awaiting message.
"Alright, alright." Tony muttered, touching the envelope to open it. The message expanded onto the screen and he frowned. It had been from Pepper. 'Want me to bring you something to eat?' It read.
"No. Pizza's coming." He said and his words came up as text on the screen simultaneously. He hit the send button and tossed his phone aside, hoping she wouldn't reply.
"I can't believe it." He murmured, leaning back onto the cushions to think. How could he have forgotten the way that Bruce had reminded him of his latent desires? His true desires. He thought with a slight frown. He was still trying to accept what he had long since locked away. His phone chimed again with Pepper's reply.
Pepper. Pepper had been such a conquest for him….and it had been perfect timing for a just-saved-the-world kiss. He had just gone with it and now he had to make a choice. He cringed at the thought of either party's reaction to his turn down. Pepper would likely assault him emotionally, with teary eyes and exclamations of his unreliability. It'd hurt. Bruce, though….he might just snap Tony's neck with those strong hands the smaller male so admired. Tony shook his head, jumping up as the J.A.R.V.I.S. alerted him that the pizza had arrived.
Half a bottle of Scotch and a large pizza later, Tony found himself sprawled out on the floor in front of the couch. He glanced lazily up at the piece of furniture. That was where Bruce had…overwhelmed him. Undid him.
"Hey, Jarvis? You still got that recording Bruce left?" He asked.
"Yes, sir. You had it locked to avoid deletion. Shall I play it for you?" J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
"Please." The prone male nodded. There was a slight pause before the message started.
"Tony, I don't like leaving you here all of a sudden…" It began. Tony didn't realize that he had been holding his breath until he exhaled a sigh of relief at the sound of the baritone voice in the recording. "…Be good, I'll see you soon." The recording finished. Tony let his head fall back against the carpet. The tightness in his chest was unsettling. He missed Bruce.
"Play it again." He murmured, fingers curling in the fabric over his heart.
"Sir, you-" J.A.R.V.I.S. began.
"Jarvis. The recording, please." Tony repeated firmly.
"Tony, I don't like leaving you here all of a sudden but I do have…" The billionaire breathed slowly as he listened to the recording. He slid his eyes shut and imagined what kind of expressions must have crossed Bruce's face when he said these things. The slight changes in his tone were clear in Tony's ears. "…Be good, I'll see you soon." Once more, the recording finished. He hadn't been hearing words anymore, just the calm and smooth voice of Bruce Wayne, the Gotham Knight.
"Oh…" Pepper breathed, her phone falling from her slackened grip to clatter loudly across the floor. She had heard the words of the message.
"Pepper?! What are you doing here?" Tony sat up in alarm. He would have asked how much she had heard, but the slack-jawed expression told him 'enough'.
"I…I came to check up on you. You never answered my text." She mumbled, head bowed and hands clutched together in front of her.
"Pepper…." For once, Tony couldn't find something clever to say. "Listen…"
"So is that the 'Bruce' character that left you the card?" Pepper asked quietly, looking up from the floor to make eye contact.
"Y-yeah." He said, breaking the eye contact immediately to stare at the empty space to his left.
"Sounds like he…cares about you more than a business partner." She said, unable to keep the accusing tone from her voice.
"…yeah. Pepper, please. Listen." Tony slid his eyes shut in exasperation. He didn't want to lose her but what could he say to make things better? His mind was running scenarios but they didn't make it to his mouth.
"Listen to what? More nonsense and empty promises?" Pepper asked angrily, but her demeanor changed, voice wavering now. "Is it your goal to break me, Tony?"
"I'm sorry." He whispered. Tony wanted to say 'No! I'd never.' but regardless of his intentions he realized that he would never be able to be stable enough for her. "You deserve better."
"That's what you said before you kissed me! I can't even tell with you anymore." She felt tears threatening to spill from here eyes and rubbed her face vigorously. "I…I'm leaving. I need time to think." She said suddenly, turning to head for the door.
"What about…us?" Tony picked up her phone and followed her anxiously to the door. She already had the door open when he caught her wrist. "Please!" He was practically begging, desperation in his voice.
"All I've ever done is take care of you. Sounds like he's willing to do that." She said bitterly, grabbing her phone from him and walking out the open door. "I hope he knows how much of a pain you are." She called as she got into her car and peeled out of the drive.
Bruce's blue eyes were narrowed as he scanned the material being displayed on the computer in the Bat Cave. It had come up as a topic alert while he was suiting up for the night and he sat with only his cowl missing to read it. What could be enough to delay his patrols? A new Arkham report? A ransom note? No.
The most recent spread from Vanity Fair titled: The Knight Finds His Damsel: Could She Be the One? was taking up the screen. There were even pictures.
"She could be the one with a Batarang down her throat." He growled. It was an empty threat, of course. He knew who was to blame and was….upset, to say the least. Although he was glad that Tony had found the cure (of course it only took that single genius mind a week to do more than Bruce's entire R&D department had accomplished), he was upset. He had confided in this man his most personal secret and what does he get? A one-night stand? Technically, it had been the second occasion. That had to count for something, right?
Before Bruce could feel terribly pathetic for thinking that, his phone vibrated audibly from the table it was sitting on across the room. He sighed, stalking over to pick it up to see who it was. '(237)476-6626 Unknown' the screen read. He was too courteous to ignore it, in the off chance that it was someone who needed him.
"Wayne." He said simply, keeping his tone neutral.
"Bruce?" Blue eyes widened in surprise then narrowed immediately. How wonderful.
"Yeah. What do you want?" Bruce asked, not bothering to keep the annoyance from his voice.
"…I." He heard Tony falter. "I want to…see you." The rawness of the tone made Bruce frown. Something must be up.
"What about your 'Damsel'?" The younger male asked flatly.
"So you saw the article." He could tell Tony was frowning by his tone.
"Yeah. I did." Bruce said shortly.
"…I'm sorry. I know I don't deserve much more than a punch in the face." Tony mumbled after a moment. The younger male sighed. As much as he wanted to be mad, the need in the other's voice was too much to ignore.
"True but that's just your personality." He agreed. "You want to see me, huh? I don't want to get in the middle of any-"
"There is nothing to get in the middle of." Tony said flatly.
"…Oh. She knows, then?" Bruce asked, mildly surprised.
"Yeah. She's, uh….she's not too happy." Tony admitted.
"How about you? You don't sound very happy, either." The younger pointed out.
"I've been….thinking. Finally. About that night. And…." He could tell that Tony hadn't rehearsed this.
"And her, too, I assume." Bruce glanced back at the computer and frowned. There was a notification. He walked back over to the console to read it. 'The Russian. The abandoned projects. 6 associates. 11 p.m.' It read.
"Yeah." He barely heard Tony's response as he pulled on his cowl, sitting his phone aside.
"And?" He said, after activating his communicator. He only had 45 minutes to work out and implement a strategy.
"Can I please just see you? You can interrogate me. Hit me. Whatever you want." Tony pleaded.
"Fine." Bruce said as he shut down the lights of the Cave. He climbed into the Batmobile and started the engine. "I've got a situation to handle, though, so I'll have to call you back"
"Be careful." Tony said after a moment. The sincerity in his voice was striking.
"…yeah." Bruce agreed.