Authors: quigonejinn and jamaillith
Rating: heavy NC-17 for language, mentions of abuse, potential triggers, classical composers.
Summary: Andy has been Obadiah Stane's Personal Assistant for six years; he knows him better than anyone else.
Andy sleeps with his phone next to his pillow, so when it starts vibrating at three am it wakes him up right away. The last time it happened was four months ago, before Tony got kidnapped out in Afghanistan, but he remembers the routine, how this is supposed to work. The familiar spider-walk of dread that crawls up his spine and the way the phone buzzes, buzzes, buzzes against the mattress. He knows better than to pick it up. Obadiah would just ring off if he did that, and all he'd get is an earful of dead air.
For a moment, he lies there, staring into the darkness, and considers not going. Considers going back to sleep.
Considers the consequences.
Twenty five minutes later, he's letting himself into Obadiah's townhouse. He stifles a yawn with the back of his wrist as he heads across the slick dark tiles of the foyer towards the stairs. The bottle of Valium in his coat pocket bumps against his hip. He wonders whether he's brought enough Bactine.
He can hear piano music from elsewhere in the house. Brahms, maybe. Nights like this, it's usually Brahms. Something about those calm, slow notes makes Andy feel sick to his stomach.
Andy's never been further into the house than the route from the front door to the bedroom. The bedroom where, this time, there's a guy -- early twenties at the oldest -- sitting, naked, with his head hanging, on the edge of the four-poster. The Chinese silk sheets behind him are rumpled in crude arthritic creases.
The guy looks up as Andy comes in. There's a pathetically embarrassed look on his face, and he's holding a hankerchief to his nose but it's not doing much to stem the flow of blood that's splattered over his knees, the insides of his thighs.
Andy tries not to see the bruises beginning to darken around his wrists. The familiarity of his features, and the wad of money on the nightstand.
Downstairs, Brahms has become something more complex. Andy, who has worked for Obadiah Stane six years this October, recognises it immediately. It's been a long time since he's heard Obadiah play Salieri.
Andy glances up from his notes.
It's his first week in the best job he's ever landed and right now he knows he should be shitting himself with nerves -- Obadiah Stane is a legend in the walls of Stark Industries, and no amount of water-cooler gossip is enough to prepare him for a one-on-one with the man himself -- but Andy can't help the grin that tugs at the corner of his mouth because this guy, this big guy, he doesn't look like a piano player. Piano players, Andy thinks, should be long tall glasses of water with hands like pale spiders. Obadiah looks like he should spend his evenings mellowing out to bluegrass and Miles Davis, not Mozart.
Obadiah smiles at him. Pulls open a drawer in his desk and reaches in. He holds up a thin, flat book, dog-eared in the corners and the front's all faded but Andy can still read the words Prima la musica e poi la parole in flowing italic script. Obadiah flips the book onto the desk.
"As you can see," he says, "my copy's getting a little worn-out."
Andy reaches out to slide the book around, so he can read the cover and the name of the composer.
"You want me to get you another copy?"
Obadiah laughs a little.
"I knew there was a reason I hired you."
Andy owns: a lot of nice stuff for a guy who has a liberal arts degree from Davis. Six pairs of hand-tooled Italian leather shoes. Four Hermes ties and eight Ferragamos. Two bespoke suits, one Valentino tuxedo. Four years into working for Obadiah, he buys a million dollar condominium in Pacific Palisades, for which he puts down 75% in cash. "Just sold my place," he tells his realtor by way of explanation. "I need to be closer to work."
She blinks and waits a decent interval of time to pass before asking, "So what is it you do?"
"Personal assistant," he says, and while she's trying to work out the math involved, he knocks his knuckle against the countertop to check the thickness of the granite.
On closer examination, Andy can't tell whether tonight's guy is older or younger than he looked on the bed. Even with the bedside lamp on, it's not really that bright in the bedroom. For his personal spaces, Obadiah prefers lights that throw a lot of warm tones, and since this one can walk, they go into the bathroom, and Andy looks him over. The nose isn't broken; the bruises are deep, but nothing that time won't fix, and Andy gives him enough Valium to keep him happy through Tuesday, then shakes out another forty-eight hours worth and starts with the Bactine on the abrasions higher up around the neck and shoulders, which are shallow enough to heal on their own, but should be cleaned before they scab.
"Do you want to see someone about that?" Andy gestures downward, and the guy shakes his head.
The bathroom door is only halfway closed, so they can both hear the piano. Still Salieri.
Andy knows: the personal telephone numbers of three doctors (two on the West coast, one in New York) who will set broken bones at two o'clock in the morning without asking any questions, provided their services are properly reimbursed. When, not thinking, he tells Pepper this two weeks into her new job, offers to give her the details, she blinks at him.
"Yeah," he says, trying not to let Pepper see that his hand has started shaking, "you know, just in case Tony falls off the bed. Or something."
With hesitant fingers, she takes the piece of paper. Looks down at it.
The first time Andy meets Pepper Potts, he thinks thank god, someone who will understand.
She puts out her hand; he takes it. She's gorgeous in four-inch heels and a white ruffled blouse that shows up the freckles dusted along her collarbones. She's young and sweet and she smiles indulgently when he says "welcome to the madhouse". She tells him how, when they were introduced, Tony didn't raise his eyes above her chest for ten minutes, and how she thinks he's a complete jackass but she's been waiting for this opportunity for years and she's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if the horse in question did ask her whether she had a modelling background (and whether she'd like one) during the initial interview.
Andy laughs and spoons sugar into his coffee. In that moment he knows that the worst thing she'll have to pick up off the floor is a pair of lacy underpants, and he realises that Pepper Potts will never understand.
When he came back from Europe, Tony moved the heart of Stark Industries to Los Angeles, but the Board still meets in New York, so they keep very nice offices in midtown Manhattan. Obadiah flies out once, sometimes twice, a week; Andy follows, and this time, Tony is there because it's the big quarterly meeting with all the department heads. In between the half hour break between Accounting and Lobbying, Andy walks into the conference room to give Obadiah the stack of updated, re-done agendas that Lobbying sent over that morning. He also has coffee for both of them and a mid-morning snack of coffee and fruit and real New York bagels because neither of them ate breakfast on the redder-than-red-eye plane over. Obadiah was too busy; Tony was dead asleep.
"Andy, I love you," Tony says and lunges across the table. "Are these H&H bagels? If they are, I'm going to hire you away from Obadiah. He doesn't deserve you."
Obadiah looks up, smiling a little, and Andy hands him the re-done agendas. Obadiah looks at them, then up at Andy. He's still smiling at the corners of his mouth, and Andy breathes out. "Any changes I should know about?"
Andy shakes his head. "Mostly formatting, but they did move what they're doing with Senator Mitchell down two spots, to second-from-the-end. Which means -- "
"Yeah, it means the shit hit the fan last night." Tony looks up from trying to decide whether he wants an egg or poppyseed bagel, and Obadiah turns in the chair to address him. "They were having dinner with him at the Palm. Our tab, of course, and we've been giving him the good stuff, but Mitchell probably still pressed them to promise that we'd send an exploratory committee for the plant to build the F-22's down to Lexington."
"Judy picked up the phone this morning when I called to confirm that I'd received them," Andy says. "So she's not traveling with the Director. They're probably just getting off the train. Do you want me to try and reach them? Or Mitchell?"
"No, let them stew. I'll smoothe things over with Mitch later, but when you go back outside, tell the receptionist to keep those sons of bitches waiting. They can wait until they're good and pissing their pants with fear." Obadiah puts his glasses back on and goes back to the draft 10-Q's, and Tony goes back to the bagels. He decides on egg, which Andy files away for future reference, and then, Tony looks up again. Apparently, he's devoted some thought to what he's about to say.
"I'm serious," Tony says. He isn't very well-shaved on the left side of his face, and the tie doesn't really work with his jacket. "What does Obadiah pay you? I'll double it."
Obadiah doesn't bother to look up over his reading glasses. "Get your own personal assistant, Tony. You can't have mine."
In the Prada bag that goes with Andy on every overnight trip he takes with Obadiah, Andy carries: copies of the latest Stark Industries 10K and 10Q, that day's Financial Times puzzle. Two spare Mont Blanc pens of the model that Obadiah likes, a sewing kit with needle and thread and spare buttons for the Gieves & Hawkes jacket that has a habit of losing them, but of which Obadiah remains very fond. Spare batteries for Obadiah's gadgets. A copy of the injunction. Tailor-grade scissors, professional makeup in a variety of skin tones, and $5000 in fifties and hundreds, rubber banded into a roll as big around as a baby's fist.
Three weeks into the job of a lifetime, a guy from Accounting stops by Andy's desk to drop off some files for Obadiah to look over.
"Hey, you ever hear about what happened to his other PA? The guy before you, I mean?"
Andy, flipping through the sheaf of figures and graphs, looks up.
"Something about retirement? Hawaii or something?"
The guy from Accounting grins.
"Bahamas. Full pay. I think he must've gotten one of those urges, you know, to just kind of drop out of the world and," he curls his fingers in air quotes, "'find himself', 'cause we haven't heard a peep from him since. Not even a postcard." He looks off, his gaze resting on the doors of Obadiah's office but his mind elsewhere, somewhere with blue water and sand so white it hurts the eyes. "Forty years old. Lucky bastard."
Later, when Andy knows better, he remembers the conversation and thinks yeah, lucky bastard. Lucky, lucky bastard.
Four years into working for Obadiah, Andy wakes up one night in his bathroom. He doesn't remember how he got there, nor does he remember getting up and going there, and his first thought on waking inside the shower isn't "Oh Christ, how did I get here?" Instead, it's terror that he doesn't have his phone next to him, so he won't know if Obadiah needs him at 3AM in the morning. He mentions the general feelings of the episode -- anxiety, stress, not worth the money -- to his sister while on the phone with her. She suggests that he find another job and mentions a developer in Arizona that her husband has done a couple deals with. He's looking for a good personal assistant, and it would mean a significant pay cut, at least by half, but she doesn't like hearing Andy so unhappy.
"I know you're loyal to him, but promise me you'll take this address and think about it. Promise me. You don't sound happy."
Andy does a lot of soul-searching for a week, then sends his resume and a cover letter.
Two days later, before he's heard back from the developer, Andy comes into work and finds a photocopy of the resume and cover letter, neatly stapled, lying on his chair.
Over the years, Andy has gotten Obadiah a couple copies of Salieri's Prima la musica e poi la parole. One for the place in Brentwood. One for the Four Seasons in New York to keep on hand because Obadiah books into one of the suites with a baby grand if he's going to be there for more than a few days.
At Tony's place in Malibu, Obadiah keeps the piano concertos.
"Andy, my boy, you should have told me you were unhappy. " Obadiah leans forward and rests his elbows on the desk. "Is it the money? More vacation? I know you work hard for me."
Obadiah is wearing the black ring today. Yellow gold, onyx, one point two five carat VVS1 diamond. Andy remembers being there when Obadiah picked it out at Van Cleef & Arpels. It clinks against the table when Obadiah reaches underneath the desk. He's only opening a drawer, but Andy jumps in his seat, and Obadiah smiles, just a little, so slightly that if Andy hadn't been working for Obadiah for four years, he would have missed it entirely.
They're in Obadiah's Los Angeles office.
"Here, Andy," Obadiah says, and then he puts about ten pages, densely printed stapled together, on the desk. Not exactly Prima la musica e poi la parole this time. "This is an employment contract. You'll find that the terms are comfortable. There's only a slight increase in salary, but you'll find the bonus structure to your advantage. Sign it, and you'll retire, comfortably, at -- how old are you?"
Andy swallows. "Thirty-five." He's never wanted to call anybody Mister so badly before.
"So you started working for me when you were thirty-one. With this, you'll retire comfortably at the age of forty-one. Ten years. No hard feelings, Andy. You should sign it."
Obadiah has plenty of girlfriends. They're usually older, close to his age, and always professional women who have better things to do than fasten themselves to a single man, no matter how successful or charming or well-placed on the Forbes' Richest Men in America listing. And for as long as the relationships last, Obadiah seems to keep them happy in bed -- and other places, too. Obadiah once dated a certain journalist, and on one memorable occasion, Andy escorted her, digital voice recorder and professional suit and pearls and heels, into Obadiah's New York office, then escorted her out, forty-five minutes later, slightly disheveled, without her pearl bracelet, but looking like the cat who ate a canary in cream and caviar.
The worst was a girl. Andy usually finds a boy at the end of his 3AM phone calls, but the worst, the absolute worst was a girl. Andy arrived with piano music in full swing -- he still doesn't know what room the piano is in or if it's even a real piano -- and when he got to the bathroom, he thought there had been a mistake of some kind. Yes, the sheets were mussed. Yes, the bedside lamps were on, but Andy didn't see anybody on top of the bed. There was a length of rope lying on one of the pillows, but it had been neatly cut with two knots still in it, and Andy couldn't figure out why he had been called until he heard a noise from under the bed. He braced himself and looked; he found a girl. The usual age, the usual build, but somewhat unusual looks, but there wasn't a mark on her except for some abrasion burns around the wrist and a hand-shaped bruise where her neck joined her shoulder. Mild stuff, all things considered. It took Andy forty-five minutes to coax her out from under the bed, and another twenty to get her to talk to him.
She didn't want money. She just wanted to go home, so Andy put her on the first flight back to Chicago, then bought himself $5,000 cufflinks at Bulgari on Rodeo Drive. Andy has a sister in Seattle, but he didn't want to think about seeing anything of Miranda in the girl's face.
"He kept putting his hand over my mouth, my nose, and I couldn't -- he would tell me to breathe, but -- " She hadn't been able to finish a single sentence, but Andy saw, on the bedside table, Obadiah's gold-rimmed reading glasses.
Obadiah used the glasses when he wanted to look at something for a long time.
Fifteen days later, Tony Stark went missing in Afghanistan. Obadiah had played Salieri then, too.
Andy comforts himself by telling himself that he hasn't come anywhere close to having to take care of a body or leave somebody on the curb outside a hospital. Not even close. He just does what Obadiah needs him do. Knows what Obadiah needs him to know.
Anything and everything Mr. Stark requires.
That's how Pepper puts it.
The usual age, the usual build, somewhat unusual looks. Obadiah tended towards dark hair and dark eyes, and the girl under the bed had dark eyes, but her hair somewhere between blond and red.
A day or two earlier, they were in New York. Another quarterly meeting. Andy came in just as Tony was leaving to make a phone call; Tony didn't hold the door, let it swing almost shut behind him, so Andy opened the door and found Obadiah bent over where Pepper's neck and shoulder ran together. Pepper was grinning and blushing, and Andy suddenly felt cold.
"Looks like the stuff you picked was a hit, Andy," Obadiah says and leans back. His arm stays on the couch behind Pepper's shoulders, though. Pepper doesn't seem to notice, but blushes harder and laughs and scoots away from Obadiah. That day, she's wearing a black shirt and black skirt that comes down just below the knees. Strappy black heels.
All that afternoon, there are meetings. All that afternoon, Andy runs errands, and Pepper stays in the conference room.
It's not just Tony.
Obadiah Stane's grip is firm and sure, just the slightest bit too tight.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Stane."
Obadiah transfers his grip from Andy's hand to Andy's shoulder. He looks him right in the eye, smiling.
"Andy," he says, "call me Obadiah." He grins a little wider, then releases him, laughing.
Obadiah poses for a couple of pictures at the top of the steps. There are flashbulbs, and he keeps his arm around Tony. After that, he comes down the steps quickly, face hard and set. Andy doesn't know what they talked about, but he's waiting for Obadiah at the bottom.
The scarf is white and flutters in Obadiah's hands.
At the company wake, Andy drinks whiskey, neat, until his tongue burns and the room lurches every time he turns his head. The few friends he still has put their hands on his shoulders and tell them how sorry they are, how they saw that he and Obadiah were close. Andy toasts them with his glass, ice clicking against the sides, and tells them they don't know the half of it.
There's music playing, softly, underneath the buzz of conversation. Classical piano. Andy thinks thank God it's not Brahms, and then he has to excuse himself to go and stand outside in the cold night air, willing himself not to vomit.
Later, when the official speeches have been made (the chairman of the Board of Directors repeats the words a great shock to us all three times; Tony Stark doesn't show up), and they've all sat through a hastily assembled montage of Obadiah Stane: The Man Who Moved Mountains (Andy managed to last until the picture of Obadiah at fifteen, cradling a puppy lovingly in his arms, and then he had to close his eyes), Pepper appears next to him at the bar.
"He's gone," he says, looking down at the tumbler in his hands. "He's really fucking gone."
"I know, Andy." He turns to face her, and her eyes are clear and dry and she's looking at him like she's trying to work something out. Whatever it is, she doesn't see it in his expression, or maybe she does, because she opens her arms and he leans into them, hugging her clumsily around the waist whilst she rubs his back and tells him that she knows, she knows.
Turns out, it's easy to mistake happiness for grief. The tears that roll down his cheeks feel the same, either way.