|Hotel La Rut #4|
|What: Steve was just wondering about Tony.|
Bethany Cabe's office is high up in Stark Tower--the place she actually works is dozens of stories below her, beneath street level. When she's in her office, it feels as though she's visiting someone else or staying in a hotel room. She's got a list of appointments today--lawyers and more--and more fires to put out than an oilfield after a war. Time to get to work. Tony's disastrous meeting with the Wakandans is going to give her grey hair. She's torn between guilt and anger and worry.
She's just having breakfast and finishing putting on her 'uniform' for this part of the job. Not her SI Security uniform or her CMS uniform. This job calls for a clingy green dress and high glossy black boots that suggest she might kick someone's ass with them. She'd like to, but there's no real opponent to fight. The enemy here is whatever's going on in Tony's head. She finishes pinning up her hair, takes stock of the effect--some of her scars show, but those usually help more than they hurt--and lets Friday know she's open for business.
Friday is a better assistant than just about anyone else available to Beth in the Tower. The AI is chattering about the latest gossip and news when she stops and squees. "I think Captain America is in the building!"
Oh, he is. Not that he's wearing the spangly outfit today -- no, it's just boring old Steve Rogers, sticking out like a sore thumb even in khakis and a t-shirt. It might help if he didn't tuck the t-shirt /in/. Such a square.
Steve's not entirely sure how he's come to be lightly knocking on Bethany Cabe's door. A very nice, excitable-sounding voice from the walls suggested it when he didn't find Tony in his own office, and it seemed a reasonable enough suggestion at the time, given it came from seemingly nowhere. So. Steve knocks, and when the door opens, he has the sense to look more than a little sheepish. "Sorry to bother you, ma'am," he frowns. "You wouldn't happen to know where Mr. Stark has hidden himself, would you?"
"Not in the building. He keeps trying to lose my people but he's not particularly good at it, especially when I have insider help tracking him. Come in, Captain." Bethany steps aside to let Steve into her office. "Is there something I can help you with? I'm not sure breaking Mr. Stark's illusion of independence is productive at this point in time." And she's already feeling guilty enough.
Bethany's office is standard Stark-glossy but there are plenty of pictures to look at on the walls and shelves. Most of them are photographs of Bethany's career from her as a skinny eighteen-year-old in braids and fatigues in a training camp in Kyrgyzstan to her with a king in the UAE to her overseeing the aftermath of a raid on a druglord's compound in Columbia. Here, of all places, there is a wedding portrait of her as a barely-grown bride in white weighed down in millions worth of diamonds and other pictures of herself with Alex at state functions over the years, leading to Alex's last official portrait on her desk in a sombre black frame. It helps to remind people who she is when she has to do business with them--especially here.
Steve's expression falls. He isn't surprised that Tony isn't here, but at the same time, it is a little disappointing. "Oh, thank you. With the way the news has been lately, I guess I'm just a little worried about him," he admits, inclining his head politely as he accepts the invitation to come inside. He lets his gaze wander the room without really thinking about it, taking it all in even as his mind is elsewhere. "I was kind of hoping I could see how he's doing for myself. The media seems..." He trails off as he turns back to Bethany, trying to find the right words. "...less reliable than it used to be."
"It's entertainment first, media second. It's not wrong that there's reason to worry about Tony. Come on in and make yourself comfortable. I have to say it's a relief to see someone else concerned for Tony--just Tony--aside from Jim and me." Bethany heads for the very high-tech kitchette tucked away at the far side of the room. There's a lounge area with couches by the window near the kitchenette and a couple chairs in front of her desk, which is covered in binders and paper reports. "Can I get you a coffee? Black?"
Steve likes Bethany already, he's decided. She's concerned about her boss and she has /normal coffee/. "That sounds great," he smiles, moving to claim one of the chairs at her desk. At least, until he notes how much Work Stuff is arranged across her desk. Hnnh. New plan: the sofa by the window. "I know Miss Potts is worried about him, too, in her own way." He pauses a moment and tries not to frown. "I suppose there /is/ something to worry about, with this many people expressing concern, isn't there?"
"I couldn't tell you exactly what's wrong." Bethany puts a mug under what looks like a tap on a narrow pedestal. When she taps the surface, something in the pedestal grinds, then the tap pours steaming coffee into the mug--the smell of fresh coffee is fantastic. "We had a run in over him trying to miss a meeting the other day. I wish I'd given in, because he showed up drunk and offended the businessmen from Wakanda." She puts a small cup and saucer under the tap and starts the machine again before bringing Steve his coffee. "I'm afraid it's partly my fault."
"That doesn't sound like Tony," Steve notes, and it's no use fighting the frown anymore. The Captain's expression is grave by the time he accepts his coffee, with a quiet thanks. "He does like to play fast and loose, but not with his work. Not like that. Why would you think you had something to do with it?" he asks curiously, his brow furrowing in concern.
"Because it was part of the reason he slept his way through a sorority house and refused to come out prior to that meeting," Bethany says, returning to get her cappuccino from the coffee maker. "I'm afraid his feelings are hurt at the moment because he found out that Jim and I started seeing one another recently. It's not something we planned to publicize, for a number of reasons. He's not taking it well, but... I shouldn't say it's our fault explicitly. It's more a catalyst, throwing light on something Tony's unhappy about."
Bethany sinks down to sit on the couch with Steve, her posture is very correct and ladylike. "Tony's a very isolated person, I'm not sure he knows how to have friends. He called the company his 'ball and chain'. It's a dangerous thing for a person not to have a center, to be defined by their role as it relates to others and nothing more. The more I think about it, the more worried I get, but I know from experience that there's only so much I can do to save a man from himself."
"He's a good guy," Steve says slowly, his face still etched with unhappiness and concern. "But in some ways... maybe a /lot/ of ways... he's still got some growing up to do. This isn't on you or Jim," he adds, giving Bethany a very serious look. "So don't let yourselves start thinkin' it is. The heart's not something we can control, no matter how much we might like to think so. Even if he doesn't always act like it, Tony is a grown-up, and he is fully capable of making his own stupid mistakes without any help from the people around him." Case in point.
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers and frowns, thinking. "He really needs... friends. People he can just be himself with, without any strings -- or balls and chains -- attached. I don't know if he's ever had a chance to really just feel like a normal person, and not someone with a spotlight in his face and all of the world's eyes on him." Steve knows a little bit of what that can be like, and he's got the sketches of dancing monkeys with the stars and stripes on their chest to prove it. "I need to find him. Call him, or something."
"I think Tony's mostly a grownup," Bethany says wearily. "And I say that with great affection. He does need to grow up. As much as he's hurting right now, he's not unique. I come from a world of wealthy, neglected kids. I saw my parents on alternate weekends and two weeks vacation from the time I was born to my seventh year and then a week at holidays and two weeks in the summer until the time they died--provided something else didn't come up. So, I think I understand Tony's world better than he knows. Of course, he can hardly remember my name a lot of the time so I don't expect him to remember that we have anything in common." Bethany manages not to roll her eyes.
"I think you're right on about what he needs. If I didn't have Ling--" she gestures at a picture of a very young Bethany with a cheerful-looking Asian woman, both of them in full field gear and heavily armed. "--I wouldn't know who I am at all. Tony needs someone like that. You and Jim and whatever few other friends Tony has are at a disadvantage because I wasn't even eighteen when Ling got her hands on me: just married, just orphaned. I was easy. Tony's had years to harden up. I'll do what I can to get you in touch with him, though. He might not be happy to see you at all--I don't plan to let him push me away, or Jim, no matter how terribly he behaves. I hope you feel the same."
"I can be a pretty stubborn guy when I want to be," Steve promises, finally letting a smile crack through. "I'll do what I can. And if he says anything stupid, I won't even take it personally. If he's showing up drunk to business meetings, he's clearly saying and doing a lot of things he'll be regretting later, so there's no sense adding to that if I don't have to."
"Tony's very good at being hurtful, so watch yourself." Bethany puts her cappuccino down half-finished and goes to check something on one of her tablets. "And he's also trying very hard to pretend that he regrets nothing--I'm afraid he'll push himself into a corner in the attempt. If someone tries hard enough, long enough, to make like they don't care, it can be hard for them to come back. The drinking worries me, so much. And the endless women, using them as a way to drown out the world, to have some control of something, to get some moment of affection that goes bitter as soon as it's over. I'm all too familiar with that pattern. I watched Alex ruin himself in spite of everything I did to help but he was already on a downward spiral when I married him, I was just too young to understand it." She stares at the picture of her husband and then blinks, shakes her head. "I don't want to see the same thing happen to Tony, and not just because it would break Jim's heart."
Steve reaches over to lay a light, supportive hand on Bethany's shoulder. "It won't," he says simply. Maybe it's just because it's Captain America saying it, but there's a weight to the words, a certainty. Like someone is stating a fact. The sky is blue. Fire is hot. That will not happen to Tony. "Interventions aren't pretty for anyone involved, but he might be hitting the point where he needs one. I'll see if I can get through to him first, but... if we need to, then you, Jim, Pepper, Obadiah... we're gonna need to sit him down and do the hard thing. It's hard to save a drowning man who doesn't realize he's submerged, but it can be done. It just takes patience, compassion, and a whole lot of stubborn." He offers her a smile. "I think the five of us have got those attributes covered, don't you?"
"I'm sure we do." Bethany gives Steve a smile. She just has to stop worrying about what she did wrong last time. "I think you boys are better suited to keeping Tony company and trying to get him back in line than I am, though. Especially you. The rest of us are Tony's employees. We may care about him, but he's going to be very conscious of the difference there. I don't need Tony's money. Jim doesn't need Tony's money. I own a castle, a villa, yachts, horses... it's not as though we'll ever want for anything. But right now, he's still our boss. And he can leverage that to keep us away, to convince himself that we're not thinking of him alone. But you? You defy the arguments."
"I suppose that's true. I have some places I can turn if I can't do it on my own and I need people he can't fire," Steve admits, casting a glance out the window over his coffee. Not that he expects having someone like Nick Fury show up would be precisely /helpful/, necessarily... but it's good to remember that there are options to consider, if he has to. "We'll work it out."
"Well, like I say to my agents, it's what we do. We solve problems, mend what's broken, stop disasters before they start, take the hits so no one else has to, because that's the part we volunteered to play. If we can't do it for one of our own, we have to think hard about how good we are at this business. I have some of my best people on it as of yesteday." Bethany waggles her tablet at Steve. "Let's work out a way for you and Tony to cross paths, one way or another."