"Who gave you permission to drink my whiskey?"
"No one. Which is why I brought my own." I glanced over at Tony who had stepped onto the porch as stealthily as possible and if I had been an ord I, admittedly, would never have heard him, but my bonus gifts had been as good as advertised and my hearing had been enhanced along with everything else.
Kind of me to let him have his moment though.
"Care for a nip?"
"Don't mind if I do." He dragged the chair to my left across from me and sat down with a nonchalance I knew to be patently fake. He turned to look over the yard where the girls played.
I reached over to the table and picked up the highball glass. I added two ice cubes then poured a generous amount of the whiskey over them. I gave it a swirl and then held the drink out for him to take. He stared at it for a long moment - I well remembered his aversion to being handed things - then took it from me.
The fact that extra glasses had been set out today, which I had made note of when I'd sat down, hadn't seemed to be of great import at the time. I glanced over at Pepper who had a tiny smile gracing her lips. Clearly, she had been aware that he might actually deign to grace us with his presence on this particular occasion.
I had, of course, seen him around on my other visits, but aside from a start of surprise the first time he'd seen me here, he'd never spoken a word and always made himself scarce for the duration. I had no clue why this visit should have been any different and yet here he sat, watching me as he sipped the drink I'd poured for him.
"This is... rather good. Did you raid one of your parents' liquor cabinets?"
I snorted. Not that I couldn't have, from any of a dozen well-stocked locations. In fact, the wine Pepper drank had come from one of the cellars they, and now I, owned. "Actually got it in barter." I held up the bottle for him to see the label.
"You got a Pappy 23 in trade." His eyebrows went up. "Who'd you have to kill?"
I shook my head trying not to grin. Didn't want him thinking I found myself unmitigatedly grateful he'd decided to talk to me. I'd actually missed the annoying man. We'd never been close, but working with him on the Battle Library had given me a greater understanding for the man as opposed to the iconic figure that the majority of the world had been permitted to see, enough to consider him a friend. The break between him and Steve unavoidably causing one between us as well. "Protection detail. And some intel. Nothing much really. I got the better part of the deal, I promise."
"I'll take your word for it." He took another taste of the bourbon, eyes closing for a moment in obvious enjoyment.
Pepper snickered softly, a smile on her face. She sipped her wine and held her tongue, realizing that Tony and I needed to sort out our current relationship without her opinions or interference. I didn't know that she wanted us to be friends, but if I continued to come here it made sense that we at least be civil with one another. A non-issue for me, but Tony wore his resentment like a heavy cloak.
Today, at least, he seemed to have left it at the cleaners.
I took a long swallow of my own drink uncertain where to begin or what exactly to say.
Luckily he did.
"Hear tell you went down hard, during the Battle of Wakanda."
He might not have been there, given he'd been off fighting Thanos on his homeworld of Titan, but I suspected Tony had, once he'd recovered from his ordeal, taken the time to learn in detail exactly how badly we'd failed. I shrugged. "That would be a mild description." I twisted in my seat to show him the scar on the side of my head.
He sucked in a breath, eyes widening for an instant. "How'd you manage that?"
"Alien energy blast. Helmet took the brunt of it but..." I trailed off and ran my fingers along the scar. The damn thing still hurt after all these years. "Then I had to kill one of those Outriders with a knife and then-"
"Then we lost."
"I suppose we did." I gazed past Tony towards the children who worked together building a castle from whatever toys they had at hand, which included a veritable mountain of oversized legos. Perfect for small not fully coordinated hands. Sara had spent the last two days drawing the massive building in anticipation of today's playdate. She had inherited that talent from her father; her three-year-old efforts far beyond those of her age group.
"Gained a bit too." I waited to see if he would take the opening or just permit the opportunity to pass. I expected the latter so failed to be surprised when he changed the subject entirely.
"So hear tell you've dragged my wife into this project of yours."
"Hey, I volunteered," Pepper argued.
"That's even worse. Now you're not even getting paid."
Pepper snorted and sipped her wine.
"She's assisting with some international organizational issues. She crunches some numbers for me, nothing more."
"Some damn big numbers," Pepper muttered making me smirk and glance over at her. She knew exactly how much I appreciated her assistance. She'd run Stark Industries for years, even after the Snap she had international contacts and information that turned out to be a great use to me. I'd asked, and she had agreed.
He waved at hand at both of us. "You've been having fuel issues, right?"
My eyes narrowed for an instant, wondering if I'd been the only one doing stalking the last couple of years. "We're managing. Gasoline is at a premium so we're converting engines to electric and solar as fast as possible."
"Same with your buildings, right? Wind, solar, tidal where you can manage."
I nodded slowly trying to figure out where he tried to steer me with this line of questioning.
"You have several buildings entirely self-sufficient. From food to power. Low power, but off the grid. Yet with full tech. Ares is handling the systems, yes?"
"A spin-off of him. It didn't require the full interface. We're still somewhat reliant on sewer and water, but electricity was pretty easy."
He leaned forward staring at me intently for several long minutes, knowing damn well that my skill at building interactive computer programs came from him so my being able to spin off an existing version would be no trouble for me. "And where did you get the designs for the engines? I'm reasonably certain that is outside of your normal skillset."
I forced myself to hold back the grin or snarky commentary. I'd learned a lot when the Expendables had gone their own way, but he was correct; designing an electric engine had not been within my range of knowledge. "I may or may not have gained access to some cutting edge patents that had been quashed by the motor industry."
He sat back with a grin. "Made some improvements to the models I imagine."
I didn't argue the point. I learned insanely quickly, so it hadn't been all that challenging to fix the few flaws I had discovered along the way. Tony had a purpose behind this conversation one that I couldn't quite see the point of.
"That must have put a serious dent in your... resources."
I'd caught the pause while he searched for the right word. Probably concerned I'd be offended if he called me out as rich. I personally had never flaunted my wealth even as I used contacts and resources that monetary advantage gave me access to. My dad may have inherited the family fortune, but he hadn't just sat on it. He'd worked hard during his younger years to make certain that money would grow and I had continued that when my turn at the head of the table had come early.
"For the first year or so yeah. I started seeing returns during year two."
His eyes narrowed as he leaned forward. "So you are selling the tech."
I shook my head. "Long term leases with included maintenance programs. Sadly my factory production is still relatively low compared to potential pre-Snap output, so there are waiting lists, but the return on the investment has been more human targeted than monetary from the get-go so..."
Giving people, people so lost by this great tragedy, a purpose, maybe even a tiny bit of hope had been my goal more than anything else. I put in serious effort to make certain every employee could be as happy as feasible.
He sat back in his seat, downed a swallow of the whiskey, and gave me a sly smile. "Perfect."
I simply cocked an eyebrow at him. If I asked he would get all petulant and pout. Given it was a lovely day, with the ever-so-lovely company I decided to be patient and wait him out.
Pepper, however, not so much.
"Just tell her, for heaven's sake. We do have work to do."
I damn near did a spit take as I had chosen just that moment to raise my glass to my lips.
As predicted he pouted.
He whined, "Pepper." Who cut him no slack at all and just leveled a heavy gaze that bordered on glare at him.
I snickered. "Yeah, Pepper, there you go ruining all that planned build-up to his moment in the sun." I leaned over to stage whisper to her, "He wanted to make certain I'd be impressed."
Tony huffed out an exasperated breath as Pepper laughed softly, clearly not surprised that I'd caught on to Tony's machinations. "You didn't use to have enough patience to wait me out."
"I had an excellent reason to learn some." I glanced over at our daughters. "So did you."
We watched the girls for several minutes in silence. Tony had never asked who the father might be and I hadn't told, though I suspected he'd figured it out. I'd already taught her to be cautious with her strength, but I couldn't hide the intelligence or the coordination that exceeded the norm.
Finally, he turned back to me. "I want to give you the arc reactor tech."
My eyebrows shot up.
"The diagrams anyway. You'll have to figure out where to manufacture them."
"Didn't you create a new element to power them?" I asked in a voice that somehow sounded calm even though I was gibbering on the inside.
"I did and I'll teach you how too."
While I wanted to goggle and gush in appreciation of his trust in me a frisson of suspicion skittered down my spine into my gut. "Why me?"
He frowned slightly as if upset I hadn't gone straight to the gushing and goggling. "Why not you?" he countered with.
Oh, I had about a million reasons why not me that ranged from his dislike of me from day one to smarter minds out there, especially those in the actual field. I simply cocked my head slightly and made it eminently clear I would be waiting him out on this one.
"Tony, for heaven's sake," Pepper prompted, with a hint of exasperation in her voice.
I tried to ignore the fact that her words meant she'd known he had been planning to do this.
"I told you I would teach you everything, remember?"
As if I could avoid doing so. I gave him a cautious nod. "Well, yeah, but I kind of assume-"
He wagged a finger at me. "Do not use that word."
Both Pepper and I snickered.
"Fine then. presumed you were longer interested due to the whole..." I waved a hand vaguely about instead of stating the obvious. From his perspective, I'd chosen a side and it had not been his. Though, in truth, I hadn't run to join Steve and company either. Me and mine had made our own way after the events that had led to the break up of the Avengers. I could see by the sour look on his face that today would not be the day to bring that particular hot potato out to gingerly toss about in an effort to not be burned.
It needed to cool more, potentially for years.
He took a moment to let the memory pass before speaking. "I know you'll do good with the technology, not just sell it to the highest bidder and… and you'll remember. Maybe be the one to teach the next generation." He didn't turn to look at the kids, but the implication of his words came easily clear.
One way or another he didn't expect to be able to teach Morgan himself. I spent long seconds searching for words in response that might just convince him that he'd outlive us all and be there for his daughter until she took on the world for herself, but instead, I said, "Thank you."
He was trusting me not only with the power of his arc reactor, but to see to it his daughter would be able to one day follow in his footsteps if she so chose.
Much as I intended to do with mine.
He downed the rest of his drink, slapped his hands onto his thighs then stood. "Good. I'll grant Ares access to FRIDAY and we'll sort it from there."
I gazed up at him, at the jovial demeanor that acted as a facade to cover the true emotions underneath. "I'll do my best, Tony."
He gave me a quick nod and strolled away, hands tucked into his front pockets. "You always do."