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 3,048
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.
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE
When Maria woke up in the morning, she was half-draped across Howard, and she had her head on his chest and one of her hands over his eyes. One of his arms was trapped beneath her and the other was on her lower back, and they were balanced right on the edge of the bed. He'd told her she was an octopus when she slept: 'all limbs and prone to latching on'. She hadn't slept with many men in her life other than him, but they'd all said something similar.
She moved her hand from his eyes and raised her head to look at him. Despite the weird position, he was soundly asleep. He always looked so much younger when he was asleep. No tension in his face, no charm on his lips. Not wearing the Howard Stark armor he put on when he was awake that she hadn't quite figured out how to dent yet.
She glanced over to the clock on the nightstand. 7:10AM. That was only 1:10AM back home. Some nights she hadn't even left Stark Industries by then. She felt lost in time, like when she went from New York to L.A or the reverse and tried to get herself back on schedule. It wasn't time to be awake yet, so she put her head back down on his chest and closed her eyes.
He was awake when she roused herself again, and he was laughing at her.
“What?” she asked.
“Oh, you awake now?” Howard said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Good, I want to be sure,” he said. “Because I was having a nice little conversation with you before I realized you weren't conscious.”
Maria groaned. “Sorry,” she said. She talked in her sleep, too, and always had. “What were we talking about?”
“Clotting polymers,” Howard said. “And I thought, 'well, that's not really your typical pillow talk, but okay, I can dig it'. And you were giving me some really good ideas, and I was thinking 'I should give her some money for this'. And then you started in about bees and honey and how your microscope was sticky. That's when I figured out you weren't actually awake.”
Maria chuckled. “I do have an idea about clotting polymers."
“Yeah, well, it's viable, so you get a proposal together and I'll fund it,” Howard said. “But only work on it while you're awake. Just for safety reasons.”
“Will do,” Maria said. “Sorry about the talking.”
“No, it's cute,” Howard said. “I like it. We have lots of fun conversations.”
“That does not make me feel any better about it,” Maria said. She looked over at the clock. 8:45, now. She rose up on her knees, wiggling out of Howard's arms.
“Hey, where are you going?” Howard asked, trying to pull her back.
“I want to have clothes on before Jarvis gets here,” she said.
“Jarvis doesn't care about that,” Howard said. “He's seen it all. You can't embarrass him now. I broke him out of that years ago.”
“Well, he hasn't seen me,” Maria said. “And I care.”
“Come on, you haven't even kissed me good morning yet,” Howard objected.
Maria came back to peck him on the lips, but he had other plans and it was actually more like 8:59 when Maria finally got down to the end of the bed and started looking for her nightie. Jarvis had laid out Howard's pajamas and her nightgown on the bed, but she and Howard had been preoccupied and they'd never got into them. Her nightie was on the floor now, and she managed to grab it and get it over her head before the alarm went off. Howard really didn't seem to care. He just turned the alarm off and waited.
“Who's your meeting with this morning?” Maria asked.
“Just a guy,” Howard said, dismissively. “It'll be boring and take up most of the day, so you can see the sights if you want, or you can do some work. Whatever floats your boat.”
“Where am I going to work?” Maria asked. “How am I going to work?”
“I've got you in at École Normale Superieure,” Howard said. “It's a university. A friend of mine from the war runs the science department. You're welcome there all week. And the cold storage in the kitchen is full of your samples so you can start right where you left off at home.”
Maria hadn't known he was serious about getting her a lab here. She'd thought he was just trying to make her feel better about going and then when they got there, he'd scold her and tell her to relax and not worry about work.
“You didn't have to do that,” she said.
He shrugged. “I don't have to do a lot of things, babe,” he said. “I'm just a nice guy.”
She shot him a skeptical look that made him laugh. There was a knock on the door, the discreet tap-tap-tap of Jarvis. Maria tossed Howard's pajama bottoms to him and he rolled his eyes.
“He knows we have sex, Ria, most people do that with no clothes on,” Howard said, but he put his legs in and lifted his ass up to pull the pants on without getting out of bed. “C'min, Jarvis. We're all decent in here now.”
Jarvis opened the door and peeked in before entering. “Good morning, sir, ma'am."
“Mornin',” Maria and Howard said, together.
“I've called for room service,” he said. “Your breakfast should be here shortly. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes,” Maria and Howard said together. Maria suspected she was blushing. Howard was decidedly not. Just looking very pleased with himself. She swatted his foot and he looked even more pleased.
“How about you?” Maria asked. “Did you have a good sleep?”
“Yes, thank you,” Jarvis said. He started to pick up discarded clothes. Maria forced herself not to get up to help him. “I always find the first night away from home very difficult, though. Unfamiliar bed, I suppose.”
“My mother always says you never figure out how to sleep in a hotel bed until it's time to go home again,” Maria said.
“I never have any problems sleeping anywhere,” Howard announced.
“I've heard that about you,” Maria said.
Howard just grinned.
“What would you like to wear today, sir?” Jarvis asked.
Howard swatted an uncaring hand. “Whatever,” he said. “Make me look trustworthy and decent.”
“I'll try, sir,” Jarvis said, dryly. He turned to Maria. “Would you like me to choose something for you, ma'am?”
“No, thank you, Mr. Jarvis,” Maria said. “I appreciate it, but I prefer to pick out my own clothes.”
“Of course,” Jarvis said, not looking offended. Apparently, it was okay for her to dress herself.
Maria was intrigued by the little dance Howard and Jarvis did in the mornings. She'd seen it a few times now, and she found it fascinating how Jarvis knew what Howard wanted before he asked for it, and how Howard talked to him like he knew what he wanted would be done. Not in a disrespectful way or a cruel way. Almost the opposite, like Howard had complete faith that he could tell Jarvis something and Jarvis would do it and not need to be told again. Maria supposed, after a quarter century knowing each other, you were bound to get in synch like that, but it was still amazing. And a little bit sweet, really.
“See when I can get in with Jolliet, but don't make it before I've seen Beaulieu, because Jolliet won't take any deal I've offered unless Beaulieu has signed on, and if I can't get Beaulieu on board, we're screwed anyway,” Howard said, as Jarvis hurried through the room, picking out clothing for him. “If I'm lucky, I can get Jolliet to outbid on Beaulieu, and then get Beaulieu to outbid on Jolliet, and we'll see who wants me more.”
“Yes, sir,” Jarvis said. “What sort of meeting should I arrange?”
“Lunch,” Howard said. “Try to get us a private table at Le Belvédère. I'll wine and dine him.”
“Very good, sir,” Jarvis said.
“And give Dernier a call, see if he wants to meet up while I'm here,” Howard added. “Any time I'm free, wherever he wants. I can come to him if it's easier.”
“Yes, sir,” Jarvis said.
Maria ate a disgustingly good breakfast and watched as Howard was made to look like the debonaire businessman he was, or at least projected himself to be. By the time he popped over to the bed to kiss her goodbye, he smelled like Vetiver, Bryllcreem, and aftershave, in a robust, manly, spicy way that had always made her want to smell him. For some reason, when you added in the machine oil after he'd been constructing something, it was just pure heaven.
“I don't know when I'll be back, but we'll definitely do something fun tonight,” he said. “Go out or something, whatever you want. If you want to do anything while I'm gone, Melendez will take you. Don't be a jerk to him; he's going to want to look after you. That's his job.”
Maria nodded. “Yes, sir."
“If you go to ENS, just ask for De Leon, he's my guy there,” Howard said. “He knows to expect you.”
“Okay,” Maria said.
He kissed her lips a few times, and once on her head and then turned on his business face, which was always about four or five degrees colder than the one he looked at her with, and left.
Maria showered and dressed and decided on what she'd like to do for the day. The library had an up-to-date guidebook to Paris attractions, and she looked through to see what was available. She didn't know if Howard would want to play tourist, but if he didn't, she'd go on her own. She may never be in Paris again, and she was going to the Louvre, whether he wanted to or not.
For now, she decided to do some work. All her samples were safe in the cold storage unit, and she moved them into the patented Stark Industries Temperature Regulated Container (colloquially called a 'picnic basket'). Howard said the TRC had been invented to keep explosives sensitive to temperature fluctuations safe, but it had come into common use in medicine, as a lot of his inventions did. Maria thought it would be good for storing organs for transplants if they ever figured out how to do them safely. She'd like to work on immunosuppressants for that. One thing at a time, though. She wanted to get this anti-coagulant done first. If they got men into space, she didn't want them throwing clots.
Melendez drove her to the university and stuck by her as she entered in search of the Science department and De Leon. Her French was very bad, but 'science' was the same as in English, more or less, and she found the right place eventually. De Leon was about sixty, very French and charming, and welcomed her with open arms. She was shown to a state of the art lab and assured she could use whatever she needed in there.
Working in someone else's lab was like working in someone else's kitchen--you didn't know where anything was. Once Maria got the layout down, she was off to the races and absorbed into her work, so that she forgot she wasn't at home until a student would come in and try to talk to her. She had an odd ecounter with an angry young man who gave her a pamphlet to read.
"Are you a communist?" he demanded, first in French and then switching to English when she explained she didn't understand.
"No," she said, quickly.
"Why not?" he demanded.
Maria decided it wasn't the time to get into how she thought that communism wasn't necessarily a terrible idea, but, as a political theory, she didn't feel it held water in the long term.
"I'm American," was her truncated version.
He thrust another pamphlet at her, as if having two would convince her better than one, and left. Maria quickly disposed of both manifestos. Howard would flip his lid if he caught sight of them. There were many areas in which lively debate could be had with him. Russia and communism did not fall into those areas. It was like talking to a wall. Maria blamed it on the generation gap, which rarely made much difference, but sometimes made a huge one.
She also met a pleasant young man, Pierre, who did not share his political beliefs with her and didn't speak much English, but spoke Italian, so he and Maria managed to communicate well enough by throwing together their three languages. He was interested in her work and had some good suggestions which sent her on a new path that looked promising.
And there was a girl named Hélène, who was thrilled to practice her English. Maria made friends her with quickly. She was the kind of person you'd felt you'd known for ages when you had only known her for minutes.
Melendez sat on a stool and read a book, his eyes popping up every once in a while to monitor the room. Maria felt bad for making him sit there, but she reminded herself that was his job and he was being paid for it. And he came in rather handy when some French Frat Boys came in and started ogling her and Hélène and making sly sounding comments in French to one another. Both Hélène and Maria were used to such things and ignored them, but after one too many made up excuses to squeeze by or reach past them in order to 'accidentally' grope, Melendez was on his feet and had one of them by the wrist.
“Ne touche pas les femmes,” he said, firmly.
And none of them touched les femmes again.
“I hope that won't make things worse for you,” Maria said to Hélène. “I know sometimes it's best to not engage them at all.”
Hélène shrugged. “It is only something to bear,” she said. “I hope when I go from school to work it will be better. More mature, yes?”
Maria thought back to her first job out of school, where her boss only ever called her 'sweetheart', and had her getting coffee instead of running the tests she'd been hired for, and had a tendency to drop things so he could look up her skirt. Then she thought of her job at Stark Industries, where no one hiring her had asked if she was planning on having kids or if she'd leave once she was married, and the only thing they wanted to know was if she'd be willing to go to New York for special projects if asked. Despite Howard's reputation as a giant asshole and womanizer--one, Maria admitted, was mostly justified--she'd never felt like he didn't respect her, or that he was going to ask if she was on her period any time she disagreed with him. The only time he didn't listen when she had something to say was when he was too excited about what she was saying to let her finish. She had the respect of most of her peers at Stark Industries. Her being a woman made very little difference there.
“A little more mature,” Maria agreed. “If you find the right job.”
Howard came into the lab in the early afternoon. Maria hadn't realized she'd been working that long and hadn't stopped for lunch. She felt bad for Melendez, who was three-quarters of the way through his book and probably hungry.
“Gosh, what time is it?” Maria asked, glancing down at her watch.
Howard looked at his. “Two-ish,” he said. “You should probably adjust for local time, or you're going to be screwy.”
“I don't want to adjust,” Maria said. “I have a very important pill that needs to be taken at the same time every day and my body doesn't care which time zone we're in.”
“Oh,” Howard said. “Yeah, okay, no, you keep that watch in New York. I'll be your Paris watch. Look, I have lots of dials. Have you eaten?”
“No,” Maria said. “I forgot.”
“Good!” Howard said. “I mean, not good that you forgot, but good that you haven't eaten...? Nope, that's not any better. I want to take you somewhere, though, so I'm happy to do that. There's a place nearby that makes the best Croque-Monsieurs.”
Howard's enthusiasm for feeding her was very endearing. He took great pride in finding her the best of everything. Even before they started dating, when they were just friends at work, he used to cart in food for her if she stayed late. The first night she'd done it, he'd spent at least ten minutes lecturing her about cheese and fondue. She knew he hadn't had a lot of money as a kid and wondered if food had been tight, too, and that's why he was so passionate about it now.
“Sounds good,” she said. “Let me clean up here.”
“I'll help,” he said.
“How did your meeting go?” she asked, as they worked. He was no help, but he was trying, so she just worked around him.
“Fine,” he said, once again dismissive. “Got what I wanted. Boring, though. You don't want to hear about it. What do you want to do after lunch? I have the rest of the day free.”
“I want to go to the Louvre,” Maria said.
She'd expected his nose to wrinkle and for him to say that he'd been there a million times and it wasn't worth it and they should go to some tiny little gallery in some backstreet that his friend from the war owned.
“All right,” he said.
“You don't mind?” she asked. “I can go on my own.”
“No, I love art,” Howard said. “Well, I like owning art. That's the same thing, right?”
“No,” Maria said. “And please don't try to buy the Mona Lisa.”
“Nah,” Howard said. “It's really small, you know. And besides, they won't let me have it. I've already tried, twice.”