Characters: Howard Stark, Maria Carrera, Edwin Jarvis, Dernier, Falsworth, a few OCs
Warnings/Triggers: swearing, some discussion of sad things, lots of sex and innuendo (nothing explicit)
Spoilers: Nothing specific, but generalized for various backstories of the characters involved
Word Count 2,708
Summary: When the press starts to close in on Howard and Maria's new relationship, Howard whisks Maria off to Paris see if he can convince her to stick around.
Author's notes: This part is from Maria's POV.
Maria had spent a very paranoid weekend worrying someone was taking her picture or spying on her every time she left her apartment. Which made her angry, which in turn made her grumpy and stressed, so by Monday morning at 7AM, when she arrived at the airfield owned by Howard Stark, she was very much ready for a week in Paris where she could relax and try to figure out what she wanted.
She didn't know what she wanted. She'd gone into dating Howard with very little expectations. She wasn't under the delusion she was going to be the love of his life or anything special to him. She thought she'd go on a few dates, maybe, and see what it was like. She'd liked him enough to take a chance. Now she liked him even more, and she was in past where she'd ever thought she'd be. She'd had a long, very expensive, phone call with her friend Marlene back in L.A and come to the conclusion that it was worth a chance. Maybe this would be the last week she was with Howard, but if that was the case, she was going to have some fun.
The private plane was sitting out on the runway when she arrived. She'd taken a taxi, insisting she could get there herself and Jarvis didn't need to come and pick her up. She imagined he was running himself ragged already trying to get Howard ready to go. She'd only ever seen Jarvis in two states—hurried and trying to be a discreet statue in the corner.
“Oh, hey! You're here,” Howard said, bounding down the airplane steps to meet her.
“You sound surprised,” Maria said. “I told Jarvis I was coming yesterday.”
“Yeah, I know, but I thought you might change your mind,” Howard said, looking insecure for a brief moment before he put his Stark charm on again. “Glad you didn't. This is going to be fun. Have you been to Paris before?”
“No,” Maria said. “This is my first time.”
Howard looked pleased. “I'll show you all the best stuff and none of the bad stuff,” he promised.
Jarvis appeared from somewhere and scooted around to pay the taxi driver before Maria could. She turned to object, but Howard was already pulling her toward the plane.
“I can pay for my own cab,” she told Howard, looking over her shoulder as he pushed her up the stairs.
“Yep,” Howard said, dismissively. “I can pay for your cab, too. Guess we're even.”
“My bags...” Maria added.
“Jarvis'll get them,” Howard said. He put his hands a little too close to her ass than he needed to and kept her moving.
“I could have got them,” Maria said.
“You and Jarvis are even, too; it's great,” Howard said. “We're all equals.”
Maria laughed and let herself be swept up into the cabin. It was...quite a cabin. “Wow,” she said.
Howard looked around like he was looking for something particular that had caught her attention, when in fact it was the whole damn thing. The cabin was huge, with sofas, a bar area, and a dining table and chairs. There was a little chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a radio and record player in a corner. There was a slim bed along one wall near the front, and she could see a full queen bed in a room off the main one.
“This is nicer than my apartment,” Maria said. “All you need is a kitchen and you could live here.”
Howard pointed to a partition. “Across from the bathroom,” he said.
“How's the rent?” Maria joked.
“Pretty cheap,” Howard replied. “Landlord's kind of a jerk, though, I've heard. And it gets real cold at night. You'd need someone to keep you warm.”
“Huh, sounds like a rotten deal,” Maria said. “I'll just stay where I am.”
Howard gave a big grin and pulled her into the cabin properly. Maria felt a little like a peasant, which she often did with Howard. There were times when she felt like they were on equal footing and other times when she felt like a commoner gaping at the prince. She'd been on planes before, but she'd never left the country. He had his own flying apartment to go wherever he wanted.
The cockpit door opened and a young man stepped out. He was about Maria's age and looked like a hero on the cover of a romance novel; a dashing, dark man with adventurous eyes.
“Everything's groovy up here, boss,” he said. “Ready to go when you are.”
“Perfect, thanks,” Howard said. “This is Maria Carrera, she'll be your third passenger today. Ria, this is Manuel Costa, he'll be our pilot.”
Costa came forward and gave her hand a firm shake. “Pleasure, ma'am."
“Likewise,” Maria replied.
“Costa used to be a test pilot for Stark Aero,” Howard explained. “But he went and got married and his wife decided it was too dangerous for him, so he quit on us. I stole him for myself because he's a damned good pilot.”
“Thank you, sir,” Costa said.
“Your wife doesn't mind you jetsetting off all the time?” Maria asked.
“Think she likes the break to be honest,” Costa said. “And since I've got my mother-in-law living in my attic, I do too.” He made a horrified face, and Maria laughed, even though she shouldn't have.
Jarvis came up the steps, carrying a bag in each hand. “Is there one of these you'd like as carry-on, ma'am?”
“No, I have everything in my handbag, thank you,” Maria said.
“Is that all you brought?” Howard asked. “For the whole week?”
“Yes,” Maria said. “There's two suitcases there, Howard. I left room for souvenirs in one, but the other one is full. It's only a week, how many bags do you have?”
“I dunno...five?” Howard said.
“Six,” Jarvis corrected, under his breath.
“Well, two is enough for me,” Maria said.
Howard shrugged in a 'your funeral' way, and Jarvis went to stow Maria's luggage.
“You said I was the third passenger, does that mean Jarvis is coming with us?” Maria asked.
“Yeah,” Howard said. “Don't worry, though, he doesn't bother anyone. He has separate quarters at the apartment and everything.”
“I'm not upset,” Maria assured him. “I like Jarvis.”
“Good,” Howard said. He leaned in, as though sharing a secret. “I think he likes you, too.”
Maria felt like that was a real compliment. She imagined Jarvis had seen a lot of women. She tried not to imagine too hard, though. It was a little depressing, and she had no desire to find out what number she might be in Howard's playbook. She'd made up her mind when she started seeing him that she was going to do her best to let previous liaisons stay in the past. She'd also made it very clear that she didn't want to be one of many while she was dating Howard. So far, he'd complied with that rule, which was probably the biggest surprise about him she'd encountered.
Once Jarvis had the bags stowed, he came back into the cabin and sat in one of the chairs. Costa came back in from a check of the plane and raised the stairs, locking them into place, then disappeared into the cockpit.
Howard showed Maria to a seat and made sure she was strapped in properly.
“Do you have to put your head quite that close to my chest, Mr. Stark?” Maria asked.
“Yes, Carrera, safety first,” Howard said, with a grin. He planted a kiss on her lips while he was there. Then he sat down beside her and put his own seatbelt on and hit a button to tell Costa they were ready for take-off.
Maria's hands gripped the arms of her chair tightly as they began to taxi. Howard managed to pry the one closest to him off and took it, rubbing his thumb over her palm.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said.
“I know,” she said.
“You're worried, though,” he said.
“Yes,” Maria said.
“Jarvis is the best worrier I know and look at him,” Howard said, nodding to where Jarvis was apparently very concerned with the buttons of his vest, judging from the disapproving frown on his face. “Cool as ice. If he's not worried, you don't have to be.”
Jarvis looked up and seemed to realize he was being spoken about, as his eyes darted to the side and then down to his vest buttons, which he covered with his hand as though he thought they were talking about them. This made both Maria and Howard laugh, and Jarvis look more concerned. By the time the plane leveled out, Maria was feeling less nervous about the whole thing.
“Welcome aboard Stark Airways, this is your captain speaking,” Costa's voice came over the radio into the cabin. “Today is a balmy Monday in May. We have excellent weather for flying, and our trip should be about eight hours long. Please feel free to remove your safety belts and move about the cabin. Have a great flight!”
Jarvis and Howard both removed their belts.
“He gets more dramatic each trip,” Howard told Jarvis.
“Yes, sir, isn't it tiring how some people feel the need to be dramatic about everything?” Jarvis replied.
Howard grinned, good-naturedly. “You're not dramatic at all, Jarvis, don't talk yourself down."
“Thank you for your kind words, sir,” Jarvis replied, equally good-natured.
Maria smiled. Howard leaned over to her. “You okay now?”
“Yes, I'm fine,” she said. “I hate take-offs. I'm fine once I get in the air. I'm stuck here now. Whenever I take-off I just have this horrible feeling that I can't change my mind now, even if I don't want to change my mind.”
“Huh, I always like take-offs,” Howard said. “It's landings that are the hard part. You have to aim for those.” He gave a wink and stood up. “You can take your belt off, babe. Walk around, enjoy yourself.”
“Don't call me babe,” Maria said, futilely. She suspected that the more she protested against it, the more Howard was going to call her that.
She took her seat belt off and stood, then didn't know what to do with herself. She moved over to one of the couches instead and sat down there. Howard seemed to be waiting for her to decide where to sit, as he plunked down next to her and put his arm over her shoulders, stretching out his legs to the coffee table. She leaned her head into him and tucked her legs beneath her.
“Have you had breakfast, Miss Carrera?” Jarvis asked.
“No,” Maria said. “I didn't get a chance.” She'd left her packing to the last minute and spent the time she should have been eating putting clothes into her suitcases and taking them out again and putting them back in.
“Shall I make you something?” Jarvis said.
“Have him make you an omelet. Jarvis makes the best omelets,” Howard said.
“No, I'm fine, thank you,” Maria said. “You don't have to go to any trouble.”
“I don't mind at all, ma'am,” Jarvis said. “Please, I'd like to.”
Maria reluctantly agreed to let him do it, and he went off to the kitchen area.
“You shouldn't be so hard on him,” Howard said.
“What do you mean?” Maria said.
“Not letting him do things for you,” Howard said. “You're being rude.”
“I am not!” Maria said. “He shouldn't be doing things for me that I can do myself. It's awkward.”
“That's his job, Ria,” Howard said. “I pay him a good salary to do it. He's not a slave; he's an employee. What you're saying is the same as if I didn't let you run any lab tests because making you do work I could do myself was awkward.”
Maria wound herself up to argue that it wasn't the same at all but realized it actually was. “I didn't think of it like that,” she admitted.
Howard nodded. “You'll get used to it,” he said.
Maria doubted she would, but she had to admit that when Jarvis served an omelet to her at the little table there, it was a damned good omelet. She could get used to that, at least.
“Hey boss, is it okay if I take a break?” Costa's voice asked over the radio.
They were about three hours into the flight, and Maria was dozing on one of the couches with her head on Howard's lap. She hadn't slept very well the night before, or the night before that, even, or possibly the night before that, and she was tired. He had his briefcase open next to him and was reading reports while playing with her hair, which was making her even sleepier.
“Yeah, go for it,” Howard said.
“Would you like me to take over?” Jarvis asked.
“No, I'd like to get my head out of these numbers for a bit,” Howard said. “You'll have to move though, Sleeping Beauty.”
“I'm not sleeping,” Maria mumbled. She lifted her head enough for him to get up and put a pillow under there instead. He went into the cockpit, and Costa came out and went into the bathroom. Maria tried to get herself awake again. “You know how to fly as well, Mr. Jarvis?”
He nodded. “Not nearly as well as Mr. Stark, but I can handle most private aircraft."
“Did you learn during the war?” Maria asked. “Were you in the RAF?”
“No,” Jarvis said. “I was—I was in the army.”
He looked uncomfortable, pulling at his ear, so Maria moved away from that subject. A lot of men didn't like to talk about the war. Not Howard. He liked to talk a lot about it.
“Did you learn for fun, then?” Maria asked.
“Mr. Stark taught me,” Jarvis said. “He thought it would be useful for me to know how, and indeed it has been.”
“Do you like it?” Maria asked.
“Yes,” Jarvis said. “Well, no. Not particularly. I don't mind it, but there are other things I enjoy more.”
“Do you like to travel?” Maria said. “You must get to, a lot.”
“Yes,” Jarvis said, with a little more enthusiasm. “I prefer to be home, to be honest, but it's nice to see the world every once in a while. So long as it's not too long. I miss Mrs. Jarvis too much.” Maria smiled at the sweet look on his face. “I hope you don't think me impertinent, Miss Carrera, but I'm very glad you decided to come along. Mr. Stark was very pleased.”
Maria thought that was the least impertinent thing a person could say. “I'm not sure...” she said. She stopped because she didn't know if she should be talking to Jarvis about this. He had a nice face, though. He felt safe to tell things to. “I'm not sure if it was the right thing to do. I don't know what I want, and I don't want him to think it's all going to be okay if it's not.”
Jarvis nodded. “I think he has reasonable expectations,” he said. “Or, at least, I have attempted to instill those into him. Mr. Stark tends to think big--both to his credit and detriment.”
Maria gave a little laugh. “Yes, I have noticed that."
“All I would ask,” Jarvis said, giving her a very gentle smile. “Is that you be kind with his heart. He doesn't offer it very often. Be gentle with him.”
This was the first time Maria had ever been cautioned about breaking Howard's heart. She'd only ever been warned about keeping hers safe. Everyone else had given her the impression that Howard Stark had no heart to be broken.
“Hey, Carrera, come here,” Howard's voice came over the radio into the cabin. “I'm being impressive up here all by myself. If you're good, I'll let you fly the plane.”
Maria and Jarvis exchanged amused looks with one another. Maria sat up and straightened her dress out.
“I'll do my best, Mr. Jarvis,” she promised him. “I don't want to break his heart. I know that much at least.”