The Stark Expo had ended early thanks to Ivan Vanko. Too many buildings had been demolished or damaged, and opinion polls showed people were afraid to come back even if they got repaired. As much as it pained Tony to let it go, he now had another legacy of his father's—the clean energy arc reactor—to fill his time.
He petitioned to have the new element named 'Badassium' with atomic symbol Bm, but he encountered resistance in the scientific community. Some nuclear physicists simply had no sense of humor and others were arguing it wasn't even a new element at all, but a higher-energy allotrope of Vibranium, like diamond was a harder allotrope of carbon than graphite. He was being rather secretive about its specs and synthesizing methods. That much power could be perverted into an awful weapon, not to mention, he rather liked being ten years ahead of all the competition in the energy race.
Fury had said it would start an energy revolution that would dwarf the arms race. Tony was absolutely committed to that goal and Stark Tower would be the shining beacon declaring his triumph to the world. He'd unplug from the grid and power his skyscraper solely by arc reactor.
Indeed, it was probably the allure of the Clean Energy Project that finally convinced Pepper to stop trying to step down as Stark Industries' CEO. She'd tried to quit on the night of Vanko's rampage, and another time since then, but Tony never accepted her heat-of-the-moment resignations and after telling her about his rediscovery of his father's work, she'd been captivated. Good thing, too. She was the best CEO he could hope for and he didn't want to replace her with anyone inferior, or be stuck with the job himself.
Pepper was spending a lot of time in New York, working on Stark Tower, but Tony preferred living in his Malibu mansion. The Mark V suitcase armor had been repaired since Monaco, so he could fly out to see her any time he wanted. She had use of the company jet, so she could come home to California any time she wanted as well. It wasn't an ideal arrangement, but until the R&D floors and the penthouse were ready, he would sacrifice travel time for the comforts of home. The Mark VI still needed some work to get it back to where it was before Whiplash and the Hammeroid drones abused it. His basement garage was still the best place to accomplish that.
Tony and Pepper actually saw more of each other now than they had when they were both living in California. SI employed some of the best minds in the world, but this was a new spin on arc reactor tech and they couldn't possibly manage it without expertise from Stark himself. Tony knew this, but he avoided them anyway—partly to force them to think for themselves and partly because Pepper was so incredibly hot when she got all passionate about Stark Tower and had to play intermediary between him and the other SI geeks. He loved it when she got all flustered and he was pretty sure she knew it and played it up just to tease him.
Being bi-coastal meant they had to plan for time together and it deterred Tony from taking Pepper for granted as much as he had done in the past. That was probably a blessing in disguise, since he was still rather new to the whole steady relationship thing, but he'd never admit how much he struggled to keep the playboy party animal in check.
He did rather miss having a personal assistant, since the duplicitous 'Natalie Rushman' dropped him like a hot potato to go play spy babe for Director Eyepatch just when she was getting interesting. Still, Tony was never one to let boredom take hold. If he wasn't working on the Energy Project or out saving the world, he had fast cars and tinkering with his armor to keep him busy.
He was down in the basement, repairing the battle-damaged Mark VI, when JARVIS interrupted his thoughts.
“Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes is hovering outside your living room window, asking to speak to you.”
“Rhodey? Put him on.” Tony waited only a second for the A.I. to make the connection. “Do I need to report a peeping tom or did you bring back the War Machine?” The only other way he'd be hovering was if he was in a helicopter or a Harrier. Helicopters were not Rhodey's style and a Harrier would be blasting up all kinds of saltwater on the custom panoramic window glass he'd just installed last month, replacing the one he and Rhodey had destroyed at Tony's birthday party. Tony had half a mind to send him out there with a bottle of Windex and a squeegee if he was messing with his view.
“No, I'm out here flapping my wings. You gonna let me in or what?”
Tony hit the button to activate the iris opening into the garage. JARVIS usually did it automatically for him and he'd eventually program him to do it for Rhodey too. The War Machine glided down feet first. It, too, was still a bit battle-damaged, but some of the smaller dents had been pounded out. The added weaponry housings had been repaired completely. In all, it really didn't look that bad. Tony rather liked most of the upgrades to the Mark II.
Rhodey waited until the last possible moment to cut the thrusters, so he only had an inch or two to drop, making no more sound than someone setting down a highball on a bar. Tony expected nothing less from the Air Force's finest. He gave his friend a nod in greeting. “Nice landing.”
The faceplate opened. “Thanks. I try.”
“So, did you finally get your car fixed, or did you come to make more excuses?”
“I already said I was sorry.”
“So you admit it's mine?”
Rhodey took deliberate strides directly to the gantry platform Tony had used for the earlier models. It only briefly surprised Tony he knew where to stand, but he would have to have known to get the armor on in the first place. Metal plates in the floor slid open and mechanical arms reached out automatically and began disassembling the War Machine. “I brought it back, just like I promised.”
Tony happened to know his friend had tried to do this sooner, but the Air Force brass wouldn't let him. How hard was it for him to restrain himself from mentioning just how close he had come to ending his career over this? Tony decided to honor his restraint by not pushing him to admit it. “Yes you did. Hey, I forgot to ask, what did you think?”
His friend stepped off the platform, now wearing only a pale yellow polo and khaki slacks. “You want my professional opinion?”
“You're a military aviator, right? Who better to judge an armed flying suit?”
“I thought you testified under oath that it was a prosthesis?”
Tony smirked. “Fine. Flying prosthesis. Your assessment as a pilot then.”
Rhodey looked at him and grinned. “Two words: It rocks.”
Tony noted the grin, but he looked down at the Mark VI, feigning disinterest in the conversation. “So you wouldn't be averse to the idea of using it again?”
Both hands shot up in surrender. “I'm not gonna steal from you, Tony.”
“No, I meant authorized use—after I get all that Hammer crap off it, of course.” He gestured toward the War Machine pieces with a wrench.
Brown eyes grew wide and Rhodey leaned in to use his hush-hush voice. “You serious?”
“We did work well together, didn't we?”
“After you got control returned to me, hell, yeah. We kicked ass.”
“Good. The military can't have it, but the Secretary of Defense accepted my proposal to give access to you, and you alone.”
“You're giving it to me?”
“Access. Still technically property of Stark Industries, but I decided you're right. I don't want to be the lone gunslinger. I want someone I can trust to have my back. Better you than anyone Senator Stern might prick—er, pick.”
Rhodey chuckled, but the joke wasn't funny enough to distract him completely. Tony saw understanding dawn in his eyes as to why he'd finally been allowed to return the suit. Tony hated the fact some fat cats in the Pentagon cared less about a colonel's career and honor than they had about a piece of hardware, but he cared. This compromise ensured that Rhodey and no one else would ever be using it. Having the Hammer drones after him was bad enough, but he never wanted to see his own creation on his six and the operator telling him he had missile-lock.
“I told them I was encoding it to your DNA and if anyone else gets inside, they'll be ejected Robocop-style.”
“You want my DNA?” He held out his hand as if offering a sample right there.
Tony shrugged. “Eventually, when I actually have the technology to back up the bluff.”
Now Rhodey really laughed.
“Don't rat me out. It protects both of us. And I do intend to add it when I get the chance, just some other things ahead of that on my priority list.” He gestured with his wrench again, waving it over the Mark VI wreckage.
“No, I like the bluff,” Rhodey said. “So I really get to use it again?”
Tony nodded. “You have to keep it here or on base, if they can prove to your satisfaction their locker is secure enough. If you break anything, you fix it personally or bring it back to me. No calling any of my old competitors to come snooping inside my designs, getting ideas of their own, or looking for ways to commandeer it.”
“Fair enough. I did remove the reactor before Hammer came in on the project.”
“Probably the smartest thing you did. He'd have taken it back to Vanko and we'd still be fighting those drones.”
“So how long before she's fixed?”
“She? War Machine is a she?”
“No, the armor is a she—a sweet hottie who wants nothing better than to wrap herself around my every body part and hug me tight. I am War Machine.”
Tony couldn't suppress a smile.“Exactly what I'd want my sidekick to say. Thanks for bringing her back, buddy.”
“Thanks for coding her to me, real or not. The threat's enough.”
Yep, that's what I figured too.