A clap on the back. Familiar, solid gesture. Obadiah Stane. Father, partner, mentor. Occasional drinking buddy (Brandy, on the rocks) though he wouldn't pass on flat beer and dogs when the Miami Heat was playing.
Obadiah hadn't tried to be the dad that Howard Stark couldn't be. He had never once sought to be a replacement. How do you replace something you never had? But he'd been the one to shake Tony's hand when he graduated from MIT (dad had been in Berlin). In all the ways that mattered, Obie had filled a pair of very absentee shoes.
Was it a Greek tragedy? Maybe not. Obadiah had fallen off the sanity wagon. Spectacularly. Super villain style. Never hid his ambitions. Never known for his love of fluffy kittens or trying to save orphans. Tony had known who he was, at heart. Obadiah had spelled it out for him just in case the memo had been lost. A warmonger. A man who thrived on the suffering of others. A profiteer of destruction. And who was Tony to judge? He was the understudy. Merchant of Death. Handy title for a guy schlepping missiles. He'd never felt shame for that. Not before. Not until he saw his weapons used to open up US soldiers like cans of premium Beluga.
How could he judge Obadiah just because he hadn't had an epiphany as well? As if the visuals hadn't been enough, having shards of your handiwork buried a finger width from your heart was a solid punctuation.
Tony's thumb slid across the ridge of metal jutting from his chest. He could feel it, easily, through the heavy wool.
He wasn't a fan of the cold. Had never understood anyone who would voluntarily choose to live in a seasonal climate. Three headstones in a row. Crisp grass grew over the beds, barely a dusting of snow – the heavier stuff wasn't expected until later that evening and Tony would be well on his way back to LA by then.
A four hour flight had been plenty of time to consider the point of this trip. Four hours of remembering... everything. Sucker punch. Most apt use of ear-splitting, literally.
Quick study. Genius. Breathtaking level of humility. Thirty-four seconds. An embarrassing length of time to analyze a situation, draw a conclusion, and formulate an action. Actually hadn't managed the revelation in his own head. Hadn't believed it, at first, even when Obadiah had spilled the details himself.
The second time in very recent memory that he'd felt such an all encompassing agony split his chest. And that was before Obie had pulled out the extractor and fried a hole through his shirt.
He'd known the man had a dalliance with illegal activity. Had suspected him for, literally, keeping the war machine chugging along. Disappointment for certain but...
Had Obadiah hated him that long? Years? His whole life? Or was it an absence of emotion? Was he just... inconvenient?
He was great with equations. Scientific method every time – he owned that bitch. It was the psychology of human emotion, though, that left him scrambling. Sure, he studied it. Toyed with it. At times. If he needed something he knew what sequence of words would get him what he wanted. What tilt of his eyebrows.
He'd known just how to play Obadiah for his own gain.
Thought... he had known.
Thought he had known... him.
Questioned him, sure. Obie might have had a bald head but the shine had never blinded Tony to what the man was. What he was capable of. But that was where it fell apart, really. Because he hadn't known. Not the true, full, deep dark depth. Of hostile takeover.
Tried, once before.
Partner after that, when Obie couldn't knock Howard off the pedestal he chose to steady the base instead. True blue best-y after that. Stand-in dad even before the accident made it permanent.
And hated the orphan all that time. Hated or tolerated. Watched, certainly. Used. As long as he kept laying eggs. As long as the machine kept chugging.
Until it wasn't.
No, that wasn't right.
That wasn't right because if he was content to schmooze and make contracts and wine and dine... if he was content to live off the fat of the company... Then why...?
"When I ordered that hit on you..."
His eyes closed, fighting the memory; reliving it... Analyzing...
Like the child thinking it was his fault mommy and daddy didn't love each other anymore.
Was it his fault? Had he done something? Said something?
Stupid. And it was childish. Thinking...
It could be that simple.
It was simple.
It wasn't that the goose wasn't laying. It was that the luster was gone. More of the same. A lot of explosives. Basically. Variations on a theme. He wasn't making advancements. Bic pens. That's all they were. A hundred different colors but it all came down to fancy packaging. A thousand shapes and sizes but all they did was go boom. Beautifully... to those earning the paycheck and to those footing the bill.
Had he been deluded for so long?
And not just about Obadiah...
But about himself?
Had the old man known how long he'd wanted out of it? Long before Tony himself knew.
The cost of becoming a hero, he supposed. There's always a loss. Losing his parents hadn't created him – Bruce Wayne he wasn't. He had more money, for one. And skulking rooftops had never been his style. He wasn't drawn to beacons flashing his symbol – he was the beacon.
Snow on the headstones. Building up now – tiny beads that sounded like bubbles bursting in champagne. So cold. Tony had never liked the cold. Obadiah, he thought, hadn't liked it either. Maybe this was fitting, then. If there could be anything fitting about this. If there could be something like justice about this. Revenge.
He'd never wanted revenge. Never...
Revenge took time. And he'd had no time. No time to resent. No time to think through the shock. To harden under the betrayal. Fear, yes. Anger, that too. Confusion, hurt...
He'd brought back pizza. Knew it was his favorite. Greasy, cheesy, perfect ratio of toppings. Good mushrooms rather than those soggy canned failures favored by the typical take out chain. Onions.
Why bring pizza if he wanted him dead?
Leaving him to die, easy enough to figure out. Let him die while Obie was somewhere, anywhere else. Massive coronary. Alcohol poisoning. Drowned face down in the fish tank. Any one of those would work for the press. Any one of those would be fitting. Expected... even.
Only a few people knew about the reactor running his heart.
Writing off a death was simplicity. High school math. Obie's was easy enough. Pilot error. His twin engine took a nosedive into the Pacific. Body was never recovered.
He hadn't expected all the well wishers.
Flowers. God, the flowers.
The lobby at Stark Industries had reeked of roses for weeks.
His parents hadn't been mourned so fervently.
Nobody visited the grave. Funny, about that. Obie really was buried beneath his feet even though the public believed it was an empty casket filled with satin and sand.
That didn't explain why Tony was there now.
He'd been trying to find that reason himself.
A lot of time to think.
He didn't struggle, often, with equations. This was, like, algebra.
Greedy business partner plus lucrative military contract; subtract entrepreneur genius. Simple.
Him and Obie. Both of them. Idiots.
The pellets of snow were starting to flatten out. Becoming true flakes. Colder, too. Or maybe that was just from standing so long. Staring. Calculating. He'd rewritten the math a thousand times in his head. Couldn't solve it, yet. Working on it. Still working on it.
It would make sense, eventually. Had to. His math was never wrong.
Snow started to pile up. Gathered around his feet – across the tops of his loafers. He shivered.
Never far from technology, his cell beeped, again, to remind him of his timetable. Coulson. The agent had been calling, texting, sending up smoke signals for the last two days. Time to go.
He stood, though. Letting the snow pile up. Letting the cold sink behind the wool. Into his chest.
What sort of person liked the cold?
What sort of person?
He spun the numbers again.
Maybe this time it would make sense.
It was simple. He was thinking too hard. He was in the way and Obadiah wanted control. So he waited twenty-six years, celebrated birthdays and holidays cause honestly, neither one of them had anyone else to go home to. And it wasn't like they did anything beyond getting soundly shitfaced anyhow.
Twenty-six years. What was the final straw? Or had that camel's back been broken all along?
Why kill the untested prodigy when there were all those years to milk him dry? Befriend the kid. Hate him, of course. But hide it behind back claps and late night brain storming and celebratory drinking. Disguise the jealousy by promoting the new design proposal. Cover the distain with those rare, always late in the evening – deep in their cups talks about Howard Stark and whether or not he truly cared for his offspring. Obadiah had always insisted that Howard wasn't a man great with words but instead, with deeds. Tony had always wondered which deeds said "I love you."
He'd found his answer, at least, to that one.
Pepper was in the limo. She'd been extremely patient with his need for personal time. Always had been.
He'd made her wait long enough.
Coulson could wait too. The world was stacked with super heroes, it, too, could wait.
Obadiah could wait forever.
He turned away, then, finally. His heels crunched across the layer of white. He wasn't huge on nostalgia – he left that to Pepper. He wouldn't be coming back.
There was nothing here that would give him answers. Not like he could waterboard the dead.
And he had someplace to be.
And someone to be there with.
She waited for him.
She'd been waiting for him.
He didn't look back at the stones as he slipped into the limo. Not until the door closed and the cold was sealed outside. Not until Pepper eased their fingers together.
He looked out, then. At the snow and the graves. The carved headstones with names too distant to read.
Pepper held his hand.
"Did you find what you needed?"
Equations. They all had answers. Simple math. Multiply, divide, subtract. Add.
He squeezed her fingers back. He turned from the white, looked towards her. At her. And nodded.
"Yeah. I did."