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 3,832
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 is the last part I have written at the moment, but there will be one more, shorter part and I know what I want to do.
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE
Maria woke up without Howard in the bed. She sometimes did. He was more cuddly than she would have expected of him, but he was also prone to getting up to work if he had a new idea in his head. She could tell when that happened because she woke up very gently nestled onto a pillow, with the blanket up to her chin and her arms laid in comfortable positions, as opposed to the mess she usually woke up in. She thought it was sweet that he took the time to tuck her in after he left but a little concerning that she never woke up. Apparently Howard Stark knew how to get out of bed without waking a girl.
She sat up and found him in a chair by the window, sketching. His hair wasn't in its strict slick from the Bryllcreem and fell over his forehead, making him look like a dashing artist, especially with the way the sun fell on him. She admired the view until he noticed her and looked over. The sun in his eyes made them look hazel instead of brown.
“Morning,” he said.
“Morning,” she replied.
She stretched her limbs out. She had previously not been aware that sex could be quite the full body workout it was with Howard. It was highly enjoyable, but his libido was impressive, and she sometimes woke up with aches in places that seemed very scandalous. Not to mention the love bites.
“What are you up to?” she asked.
He showed her the pad of paper. “Plane,” he said. “I saw one yesterday when I was meeting with General Burdeaux, and it made me mad because it was so inefficiently built. It wasn't one of mine, but it gave me ideas on how to improve what we've got. I think I can improve the wing shape a little more on the Jaeger model. I want it to be able to swoop and dive and be a tease to the enemy. Less fire, more chase.”
“I thought you scrapped Jaeger?” Maria said. “Because the government wanted more fire and less chase?”
“I said I'd place more priority on Sunburst, but I didn't scrap Jaeger,” Howard said. “Jaeger is going to be good. It's my company. I can make whatever planes I want.”
“Not if no one will buy it,” Maria said.
“Someone will buy it,” Howard said.
It was hard to imagine how Howard's 'fuck the man' attitude had resulted him having the amount of money he did, but apparently, he was doing something right.
“So, your friend is coming over today, right?” Maria asked. “Dernier?”
“Yeah, he's coming tonight,” Howard said. “Sorry to ruin our last night here, but it was the only time we could find.”
“Don't worry about it,” Maria said. “We've had plenty of time together this week.”
“Getting sick of me?” he asked. His tone was light, but she could see that little flicker of worry in his eyes.
“No,” Maria said. “But I don't mind a day to get myself together to go home again. I think I've seen all of Paris I wanted to see. If I don't come back, I won't regret not having done anything.”
“You might come back,” Howard said.
“I might,” Maria agreed. “And I'm sure I'll find something else to do if that happens. But for now, I don't mind just being quiet. Sometimes that's nice.” Howard gave her a probing look. “Honestly, Howard! If I was upset I would say I was upset. I'm not playing games.”
“Sorry,” Howard said. “I just don't want you to think I'm dumping you for a friend.”
“I don't,” Maria said. “I understand. Old friends are important. You can see me any time, but Dernier lives here.” She got out of bed. “I'm going to have a swim before breakfast. Do you want to come?”
“As much as I find your little gingham bikini enjoyable to look at, I want to finish this,” Howard said, raising his sketch pad.
“That's fine,” Maria said.
She went into the bathroom, where she'd left her swimsuit, and changed into it.
“Good morning, Miss Carrera,” Jarvis greeted her, when she came into the main living area.
“Good morning,” Maria replied. “I'm just going down to the pool.”
Jarvis nodded. “I'll hold breakfast for you, then."
“Thanks,” she said. “Would you mind looking after my dress? I made sure to hang it up, but I don't really know if it needs special care or some sort of private guard or anything.”
“I'll see that it gets home safely with you,” Jarvis promised.
“Thank you,” Maria said, again.
She saw his eyes flick downwards for a moment, which was unusual for Jarvis who was very much a gentleman and not inclined to ogle at her hips, such as they were. She looked down at herself. She had a very noticeable love bite near her navel which was not covered by her swimsuit's top or bottom pieces.
“This isn't an injury,” she said.
Jarvis nodded. “Miss Carrera, please forgive me when I say that I was never for a single moment under the impression it might be.”
The pool at the Paradis looked like Marie Antoinette should probably have taken a dip there at some point. Maria did some lengths and floated happily on her back, gazing up at the opulent, sky blue ceiling with the gold trim and pretended to be a French aristocrat.
“Hey, there she is!” Howard greeted her when she came back upstairs. “Jarvis was fussing about breakfast.”
“Sorry, I lost track of time,” Maria said.
“No, please don't apologize,” Jarvis said. “I was not fussing, merely speculating.”
'Fussing' Howard mouthed to Maria, making her laugh.
They ate out on the balcony, which had a gorgeous view. Whatever happened, Maria was not going to regret the trip to Paris. It was beyond what she could have imagined. She knew that Howard was trying to show her that this could be her life if she decided to stay. She didn't think she'd mind it, though she might make a few adjustments. She still felt uncertain, though. There was that Howard Stark armor that she'd hadn't cracked and wasn't sure if she could. And as much as he was fun, and charming, and good in bed, and treated her like a princess, and, most importantly, respected her, she couldn't put herself in the public spotlight for a man who she still didn't feel she knew very well. After this long, shouldn't you know something about a man, beyond knowing him in the biblical sense?
“What are you drawing now?” she asked. He was moving in more of a doodle, less purposeful fashion.
He flipped his book to show her. A bunch of variations on 'Stark Industries' was drawn all over the page.
“Is that like when girls doodle their crushes names in their notebooks?” Maria asked. “Howard + Stark Industries forever?”
“Yeah, exactly,” Howard said, deadpan. “We're going to run away together and have little chain store babies.”
“You're probably very well-suited,” Maria said. “I wish you well.”
Howard grinned. “I'm trying to redesign the logo,” he explained.
“What's wrong with the current one?” Maria asked.
“Too old,” Howard said. “PR thinks we need something more mod and less art deco to attract the current generation. We don't want to be fusty.”
“You're not,” Maria said. “You're right on the pulse of innovation.”
“And the logo should show that,” Howard said. “So, I'm working on it.”
“Who designed the old one?” Maria asked.
“Me,” Howard said. “In about an hour, before a big pitch meeting when I started out. I thought it might make me look like I had the big company I was pretending to have, instead of the one I did have, which was me in a fourth-floor walk-up with the bathtub in the kitchen and only one lightbulb that I carried from room to room with me. I ran it down to a printer and got it put on letterhead.”
“Did it work?” Maria asked.
“And how,” Howard said. “I'm kind of fond of it for that reason, but you have to move with the times. No one can accuse me of putting sentimentality over business sense.”
Maria believed that. She didn't think he put sentimentality over much, actually. “I like that one,” she said, pointing to a design in the corner. “I think it looks like it's on the move. It's going forward. I like the swish on it.”
Howard flipped his book back to look at it. “Huh,” he said. “That's my favorite, too. You just helped me figure out why. We'll see what PR has to say.”
“And then you'll do what you want?” Maria said.
“And then I'll do what I want,” Howard agreed.
They spent the day lounging comfortably, working in the library and office. Howard had the French yé-yé music on the radio going on all day, which meant there were unexpected dance breaks in between the reports and reading over of results. Maria wanted to have something to show for her week in Paris. She'd done some good work at ENS and was trying to collate her data into something useful.
Howard started to get ready for his company around five, though he dressed down instead of up. More casual than she normally saw him; Dernier must be a very good friend.
The phone rang at 6PM with a request from a guest of Howard Stark to come up to the apartment, which was granted. Howard had a little bounce to his step as he waited. Jarvis stood nearby, but Howard answered it himself, and there was a loud, joyful exchange of hellos and how are yous in two languages, falling over each other and mixing together mid-sentence.
A man of about Howard's age, presumably Dernier, came into the room and gave Jarvis a cheerful handshake hello and a jubilant clap on the back. Jarvis smiled and welcomed him. Howard made to close the door but was stopped.
“Really, Stark, I've come all this way and you're going to slam the door in my face?” a British voice asked. “Have Yankee manners not improved?”
Howard looked baffled and opened the door again, then his face lit up, and he threw his arms around a smiling man waiting there.
“What the hell are you doing here?!” Howard said. “I didn't invite you.”
“Yes, and I was crushed,” the man said. “Passing right by my door and not even leaving a calling card? Dernier here had to notify me himself.”
“It's not exactly a trip down the road,” Howard said.
“It's hardly a lengthy trek either,” the British man said. “A few hours by boat and train and excellent company at the end of it. Quite worth the fare.”
“I forget how close everything is over here,” Howard said. “A few hours by train in America and you're still in the same state, not across a continent. It's good to see you! How's Lady Falsworth and the little Falsworths?”
“All in fine fettle, thank you,” the man said. “Jeanette sends her love, but she couldn't come with me, I'm afraid. There's the good Jarvis, how are you, sir?”
“I'm very well, thank you,” Jarvis said. “How lovely of you to come, Lord Falsworth. I'll take your jacket if you'd like.”
Maria had been watching from afar, but Howard waved her over.
“This is Dr. Maria Carrera,” he said. “She's a friend of mine. Maria, this is James Montgomery Falsworth, who is a fancy-pants peer of the British realm, and Jacques Dernier, who is the only Frenchie who did a damned thing during the war. They're both former Howling Commandos.”
“I object,” Dernier said. “I am still a Howling Commando.”
“Yes, quite,” Falsworth said. “One might retire, but one never loses one's title, thank you. It's a lifetime membership. It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr Carrera.” He gave Maria a smile and shook her hand.
“Enchanté,” Dernier added, giving her hand a roguish kiss. “I did not know you had a lady with you, Howard. I would have brought Anouk. I didn't want her to be the only woman here.”
“I'm not going to be joining you,” Maria said. “I don't want to get in the way.”
“Nonsense,” Falsworth said. “I'm sure we'd love the company.”
Maria demurred and let them get on with their visit. It was important to Howard, and she had a feeling he'd be trying to include her too much if she was there. She went into the library, but she could hear the bursts of laughter and raucous talk. She hadn't heard Howard laugh like that before. Really unguarded and genuine.
She could hear some of the conversation, which mostly revolved around old times. There was a lot of talk of 'Steve' and 'the Captain', who presumably was Captain America. Howard had known him during the war. He had a picture of himself and Captain America in the billiard room, near the one of him and Peggy.
“Was he as nice as he seemed?” Maria had asked. “No, don't tell me, I don't want to know if he wasn't.”
“Everything they said about him was wrong. He was ten times better than that,” Howard said. “He was the only person I've ever met who was an actual hero. He made everyone who knew him better. We lost a lot of good people during the war, but Steve was the best.”
His whole face had changed, and he'd been more sincere than she'd thought she'd ever seen him be before or since.
Jarvis came in around eight to ask her if she'd like to join the men for dinner or eat on her own. Maria decided to join them and didn't seem to be intruding, as they all brought her into the conversation. Falsworth and Dernier quickly dove into what Maria imagined was every story they had to embarrass Howard, who took it on the chin but with a little glitter in his eye that Maria knew meant he would be paying them back for it at some point.
“And then there was that time we found him sleeping with a rocket launcher,” Falsworth said. “And I don't mean arming himself, he was sleeping with it as though it were a pillow.”
“Yes, like, euhh....comme les crevettes,” Dernier said, making a hugging gesture. “What's that in English?”
“Like shrimp?” Falsworth said. “I'm not sure, old boy. Oh! Spooning, I think. Yes, that was precisely what he was doing with it. He was spooning that rocket launcher like a lover.”
Howard glowered at them. “Okay, let's clarify that, first of all, it wasn't loaded, second of all, I had been up for four days by that point and it looked real comfy, and thirdly, it was British-made, so even if it'd been loaded, it wouldn't have done anything.”
“I beg your pardon?” Falsworth said.
“That thing couldn't hit an elephant directly in front of it!” Howard said. “I swear I once saw it turn away from the target as it approached it. It was a glorified throw pillow, and that's what I used it for.”
“So, what did you do?” Maria asked. “When you found him like that?”
“We did what all gentlemen would do,” Falsworth said. “We got him a blanket, and the Captain stopped Dum-Dum from shaving his mustache off in his sleep. It was hardly the first time we found him asleep somewhere odd.”
“And at the least, he had his pants on at the time,” Dernier said. “Not always the case, hein?”
“The number of times we found Stark without his trousers was to the point that seeing him with them on warranted comment,” Falsworth said.
“I got better about that after a while,” Howard said. “Peggy made me start to buy rounds at the pub every time she had to see my underwear and even I couldn't afford that.”
This launched Dernier and Falsworth into many tales of Howard's pantslessness, and Maria's stomach started to ache from laughing so hard. There were other tales of adventure and daring deeds, though some of them she had the impression she was getting an edited version of, as they abruptly veered off course and she sometimes didn't get a proper ending to them. She wound up sitting there for the rest of the evening, in the comfortable chairs in the dining room built for twenty, and having a very good time.
The party came to a close around 2AM when both Dernier and Falsworth insisted they had to be going. They didn't want to stay overnight but thanked Howard for offering.
“We'll be in America in July, for the Commandos reunion,” Falsworth said. “It will be around the Captain's birthday, I believe. July 4th.” He gave a little smirk. “That's some sort of holiday for you lot, as well, isn't it? Some sort of celebration of the destruction of tea?”
“Something like that,” Howard said. “Just a small thing, we don't get excited about it.”
“Captain America wasn't really born on the Fourth of July?” Maria asked. “That must have been PR.”
“Nope, July 4th, 1918,” Howard said. “On his birth certificate, I swear. He was born for the job, Ria. I told you.”
“You must come too, to the reunion,” Dernier said to Howard.
“Not my scene,” Howard said. “I'm not a Commando. I was just the equipment manager.”
“Nonsense,” Falsworth said. “We'd love to have you. At least drop in.”
“We'll see,” Howard said.
He gave Falsworth a good handshake, and Dernier gave him a merry kiss on both cheeks. Howard smiled after them. He was a little tipsy from the amount of alcohol he'd consumed, but he was happy and relaxed, and Maria could picture him when he was younger. She sometimes saw those little glimpses, and she wished she'd known him then, but then she wasn't sure if she would have cared much for the young man with all the money in the world who lost his pants at the drop of a hat and blew himself up on a regular basis. She liked the maturity (such as it was) that he carried on him now. She just wished he had less of the armor.
“I'll get him to bed, it's fine,” she told Jarvis, as Howard wandered away. “It's late, you go on. You have to get us out of here in the morning.”
“Indeed!” Jarvis said, with a look of anticipated horror on his face. “I hope you've enjoyed your week here, Miss Carrera.”
“I have,” Maria said.
“Are things any more clear?” Jarvis wondered.
“I don't know,” Maria said.
Jarvis nodded and didn't press. “Good night, Miss Carrera."
“Good night, Jarvis.”
Maria went after Howard, who'd gone to put on the radio. She turned it off again and got him moving toward bed.
“I want to dance with you,” Howard complained, half-heartedly.
“We have to get up early tomorrow,” Maria said.
“Spoilsport,” Howard said.
He sat down on the bed and took his shoes off, but didn't go any further in undressing. She decided to go first, and he watched her with appreciative eyes.
“Did you have a good time?” she asked.
“Yeah!” Howard said. “It's always good to see the old gang. You should have joined us earlier, we wouldn't have minded.”
“You deserved a chance to catch up without me there,” Maria said. “But I had a good time, too.”
“Good,” Howard said, with satisfaction. “I'm glad you got to meet them. S'too bad you never got to meet Steve. You'd have liked him. He'd have liked you.”
Maria was aware that she'd just been paid a very high compliment and smiled as she took her pantyhose off. “I don't know, I think I'd be very intimidated by him."
“No,” Howard said, with a shake of his head. “He was nice. He made everyone feel at ease. He wasn't a jerk.” He looked thoughtful. “He'd be 47 this year. Sometimes I think about that, about how old he'd be or what he'd be doing. If he'd have married Peggy, or still be in the army, or had kids.”
Maria paused with her hands on her bra hooks because there was the tiniest, barest little crack in the armor, and she wondered if she could pry it open a little more.
“My brother was killed in Korea,” she said, feeling like she should answer with something personal in kind as a quid pro quo. “I do that with him sometimes, too. I think you do, when people die too young.”
Howard's eyes flicked out of reverie and over to her, his face sympathetic. “Did you tell me that before and I've forgotten?” he asked. “I know you have a sister, but I don't remember you talking about a brother before.”
“No,” Maria said. “I don't I think have.”
Howard looked relieved that he hadn't forgotten. “What was his name?”
“Danny,” Maria said. “He was the oldest.”
“How old was he?” Howard asked. “When he died?”
“21,” Maria said.
Howard winced. “Fuck,” he said. “I'm sorry, Ria.”
“Thank you,” Maria said. She'd never known how to respond to something like 'I'm sorry for your loss'. 'It's okay' wasn't true, and she never talked about Danny with the intention of making people feel bad about it. “He died just before exams. I aced them because I studied so hard that year. I just--”
“Needed the distraction,” Howard said, with a nod. “You work so you don't think.”
“That's it,” Maria said. “He'd be thirty-four this year. And it's sort of like having a hangnail. You go along fine, and then it gets snagged on something, and it hurts and you remember.”
Howard for a moment looked so sad that Maria wondered if she'd cracked the armor too badly and should try to patch it up again. “Sounds about right,” he said. “I...I looked for Steve, after he crashed. But I never found him. I always feel bad that I never brought him home.”
“The Arctic is a big place, Howard,” Maria said. “You couldn't look forever.”
“I just felt like he would have looked for me,” Howard said. “He wouldn't have given up.”
Maria's heart twisted for him. “You can't blame yourself,” she said. “It's not your fault.”
Howard shrugged. “I know,” he said. “But he was a good guy and...” He shook his head. “I miss him sometimes. That's my hangnail”
Maria came over and put her arms around him, and he put his head on her chest for a moment, then looked up and smiled, and the armor was back, but she'd seen inside for a few moments, at least. Enough to know that Howard Stark did, in fact, have a heart. One that might have been broken long before she got to him.