1963-11-26 - Captains of Charity
Summary: Danny Rand and Howard Stark have a chance encounter at a bar, discuss charity projects.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
howard danny 


A holiday weekend in New York City means two things. One, that there's a certain subset of the wealthy population which has fled for warmer shores. And two, that those who remain behind have even more free time than usual…and significantly more motivation to get out and get a drink.

Danny doesn't have to worry about awkward family dinners. But then again, maybe that's exactly why she's out at the Carlton, an upper crust bar full of crystal chandeliers and the sweet sounds of piano and a band in the background. She's claimed herself a place at the bar, the high stool showing off the length of leg bared by the dark green mini dress she's wearing.

"Hey, Jim, another old-fashioned?" she asks of the bartender, raising an almost empty glass and giving the ice left in it a shake.

*

"And a scotch for me, Jim. Your choice. Amuse me." The voice is warm yet precise. The request comes with a snap of fingers and then a man — not terribly tall, not terribly broad, but managing to take up so much room nonetheless — slides up to the bar a barely-decent distance from Danny. "If you'll allow me," he says, with a wink that makes his blue eyes sparkle. "It'd give me something to be thankful for this fine weekend."

"Right away, Mr. Stark!" Jim bumps into a barback who's stopped to stare, then shoves the young man out of the way so he can get on with serving up a drink for Danny and another for Howard Stark.

*

"You and me both, then," Danny laughs, turning toward the arrival. She looks like she's had a few already, with more color in her cheeks than is entirely natural, a certain looseness in her limbs. All the same, her eyes are still sharp. Sharp enough to recognize that face and attach it to the name the bartender provides.

"Mister Stark!" she grins, surprised, as she offers over a hand. "Now there's unexpected for you. And here I thought Starks lived in their offices."

*

"Miss Rand." The slightly wicked edge fades from Howard's smile and his crow's feet deepen as his expression warms. He takes her hand in his and shakes it — his grip is strong and his hand is callussed, as though he's been doing manual labor. Another oddity. "Well, I'm genuinely thankful now. I haven't seen you since, well, I expect you wouldn't remember. You were very young. Sorry our paths haven't crossed before now but I've been out of the social scene for a while. No office for me, either, at least not one I live in. Not anymore. I'm on to new things — Stark Industries is out of my hands."

*

"Yeah, well, Tony's too, from what I hear," Danny says with a rueful smile. Howard isn't the only one with callused hands. But what in the hell would Danielle Rand be doing to get those sorts of calluses? "Please, just Danny. I only make the board call me Miss Rand. And even then, just when they're being asses about something. What sort of new things do you have going?" She half turns as the bartender returns with the drinks, setting them on the bar with a nod for the pair.

*

"The future, Danny." Howard's grin has the energy of a man half his age. He passes Danny her drink, then raises his glass to her. "Here's to the future. Every day? First day of a new year for me, without the January first hangover. Just bought a property out in Westchester to start what people like to call a think tank. But it'll be residential. Open to anyone with the brains and the skills to advance the human race. Doesn't matter where they're from or what they look like. Doesn't matter what it costs. I'm tired of watching profit and politics drive this planet — I played that game long enough, I'm too old for the cynicism you need to win it now."

*

"Well, amen to that." Danny clinks her glass lightly against his, smile crooked. "And good luck with it. I'm actually waiting on the papers to close on a property here in town," she admits, taking a sip of her drink. "Been shopping around for a few months, trying to find the right place. Jeryn's been massaging the board," she adds with a smirk. "But I think we've got it worked out. Community center, homeless shelter. Place for the people who didn't get lucky to either pick up some skills or take a little shelter, you know?"

*

"Good for you." Howard takes a sip of his scotch, then rests both arms on the bar, glass caught in the cage of his long, tanned fingers. He looks into it as though it's a scrying glass for a moment before he casts Danny a sideways look. "Hope it's not inappropriate but I think Wendell would be proud. He was given to doing the right thing long before I figured out how. You need any help with that, you let me know. I can teach machine shop with the best of them."

*

Danny's smile falters for just a moment, though it doesn't quiet disappear as she looks into her own glass. "I hope he would," she nods. "My dad was…complicated. He had a lot of things he kept to himself. Hard on himself. Sometimes I'm not sure if anyone really knew him, because he was so-" She cuts herself off, clearing her throat as she looks back.

"Sorry, probably don't need to psychoanalyze my dad here, right?" she smiles crookedly. "But thanks. I appreciate that." The smile spreads at his last into a grin. "Machine shop taught by Howard Stark. Damn, that's saying something. I'm kind of hoping I can find contractors for the construction who'll train the locals, honestly," she admits. "Put the place to work even before it's open."

*

"If you want, we can psychoanalyze my father when you're done." Howard chuckles, then winks at Danny. "That's all the thing these days, isn't it? Therapists. Work is my therapy, thanks." He snorts softly. "I saw one once, just between us. Told me to stop drinking. Good advice." He wiggles his glass at Danny, drains it, then sets it down with a clunk. "Hit me again, Jim!"

"Sounds like you have it all in order, Danny." Howard nods at the bartender when his glass is refilled. "Any reason for this little endeavor?"

*

"I'm more of a meditation sort of girl." Danny takes a drink, a glimmer of amusement in her eyes. "Problems you go to therapy for are the things you can't face in yourself. Be a better fix if you find it yourself than if you wait for someone else to tell you what it is."

His second question, though, takes another moment of thought as she sets her drink down, tracing the orange rind along the rim of her glass. "Just life, you know?" she finally says, looking back up. "A homeless vet I ran into who couldn't find work. A couple of kids doing their best to keep their neighborhood safe. Some things can be fixed by a guy in a fancy suit of armor. But you want things to change for good, you have to start to the bottom, work your way up. Fix the root of the problem, not the symptoms."

*

"Couldn't agree more. Some people don't want that, though. You want to watch yourself — lot of people are invested in the misery of the poor. Not that you can't take care of yourself," Howard adds hastily, raising the hand that doesn't have a drink in it. "But it can be a grind. You run into trouble, you give me a call." He reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket and comes out with a card. Howard Stark, Director, Ananke Institute. "Old man like me likes to be good for something."

*

Danny grins, popping open the clutch under her elbow to exchange a card of her own before tucking his away. "I'll keep it in mind," she nods. "But I've made a few friends in the area, too. Turns out the nice thing about mutants and the like is they happen just as often among the poor as they do among the rich. And a lot are already raised to take care of the people around them."

*

"We lost that on the way up, people like me — community. Good for you for grabbing it with both hands. Gives me more hope for the future." Howard tucks Danny's card away, then tosses back his second scotch. When he turns to her in the same movement that he flicks his glass away from him — it slides to stop just a fraction of an inch from going off the bar — he gives her an impish smile. "Enough business. That dance floor looks a little bare. Join me for a spin?"

Howard stands to shrug out of his jacket before draping it over a passing waitress' arm. The jacket is supple black leather, very nice but far too casual for a bar like this, like his soft cashmere sweater and tailored blue jeans. Doesn't matter. He's Howard Stark. The name is a pass to anywhere. Divested of the jacket, he offers Danny his hand.

*

Danny arches a brow, smile curving with amusement. "Oh, hell, why not?" she laughs after a moment, slipping down from the stool with surprising grace, given the short skirt and the high heels involved in the process. "Careful, though," she says as she takes his hand and starts to walk toward the dance floor, not waiting for him to lead the way. "You go dancing with me, you're going to end up with a reputation."

It's probably been a long time since the shoe was on that foot.

*

"Careful," Howard says, spinning her to face him, other hand falling to an appropriate point at the small of her back, "never got me anywhere, Danny. Don't think there's anything you could do to my reputation that I wouldn't enjoy the hell out of." Yes, there's the scoundrel surfacing — that wicked smile and the wink and the way he pulls her just a little closer than is decent for a place like this. "But you go ahead and give it your best shot, young lady."

*

Danny throws her head back with a laugh, falling into the steps of the dance. It's not that she's a great dancer - when it comes to technique, she really doesn't know anything more than anyone else. Probably less. On the other hand, she seems to have a sixth sense for following a lead, and coordination and dexterity are on her side. Not to mention, she's just not the least bit shy about any of it.

"So what's the first world problem you're going to solve at your new place?" she asks as she comes out of a turn, completely ignoring the looks from the tables and the bar. The nation is still reeling from the loss of the president. But here's an unlikely pair who are still enjoying themselves.

*

"Personally, I'm working on sea launch platforms." Howard keeps up with Danny easily enough — dancing like this is second-nature after all these years. His hand is warm on her back but he doesn't draw her any closer while they talk. His expression is animated, his eyes bright, as he talks. He did say no more work talk but this isn't work, not for him. This is love. "I want mobile rocket platforms on the equator, improve the efficiency of getting out of atmosphere. AI will be looking at geothermal energy, drought-resistant crops, desalination, and arcology design — sealed environments to allow humans to live in otherwise uninhabitable environments. Still doing the numbers on the potential for asteroid mining but I'll get there eventually. Why tear up our Mother Earth when we can mine the scraps between the stars?"

*

Inspiration is a beautiful thing. Danny spent her childhood in New York, but she grew up in a mystical city of myth and magic. She earned her adulthood fighting a dragon bare-handed. When it comes to appreciating the ineffable things that give life real meaning, she has a greater appreciation than most. So when Howard waxes eloquent about his plans, she listens attentively, smile unwavering.

"Seems like a big plan. But worth it. The world's lost a lot of…the connections between things, you know? That sense of community, sure, that's part of it. But it's more than that. It's the realization that everything's connected. So what's all this alien news mean for those plans? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing if you ended up with someone else's tech to work off of?"

*

"Bad? Are you kidding?" Howard grins like a little kid, then spins Danny through a few quick steps that certainly weren't in any dance class — just for fun. "Never passed up a chance to learn in my life. To get my hands on some of that, to work out what lets them go far enough and fast enough to reach us? There's things I can't even start to know because I'm stuck here with my feet on Earth — not that I'm complaining, given the company."

*

Danny follows along with the steps like she's reading his mind, even adding in her own little lift with an expertly-balanced pressure on his shoulders that makes it seem like she weighs nothing at all. "I dunno, I can see where it might take a little bit of the joy of discovery out of it," she grins. "True invention. But yeah, I can see the benefits. Not having to go through a million trials just to gain yourself an inch. I'd bet there's a whole lot of…different in it. Just the differences between people here on this planet? Imagine a place so different you can't imagine it, then what that means about how things work for them."

*

"Exactly. I can do brilliant work but I'm only human. I could get us to the stars, Danny, I really think I could," Howard says, guiding her across the dancefloor as they talk. They have it almost all to themselves now. If Howard's aware that people are watching them, he doesn't show a flicker of self-consciousness. Why shouldn't people watch? He's Howard Stark, she's Danny Rand — two living, breathing, beautiful scandal generators colliding, gracefully, right out in public.

"But how much more efficient would it be if I understood what they did? We don't even know everything there is to know about physics. We could learn so much." Howard's enthusiasm isn't tempered by pragmatism any more than it was when he was a boy. "There's a threat, there's always a threat. If it's not us, it's them. But that shouldn't stop us from learning."

*

"Honestly? Seems to me like anyone advanced enough to show up now is advanced enough to have been around for a while," Danny points out. "I mean, look at the Loki guy. He's from Norse mythology. Those guys were around a thousand years ago, at least. So the question, then, is why now? What's going on out there, what's going on in the big picture, that they suddenly decided we should know they were out there for real?"

*

"Critical mass?" Howard laughs at that, then continues. "Seriously, though. They have to have their own politics. Maybe they just realized how many of them were here, what the other guys were up to, and decided they needed to get out in front of the narrative. Maybe we're getting to where we'd have worked it out anyway and they want the story told on their own terms. I have my worries, have my theories. Anyone asks me, I've never turned away my country, I'm not gonna turn away my planet.

Howard leans in a little closer, murmurs conspiratorially. "Why? Do you know something?" When he smiles at her next, he's a little more serious. "Are you worried?"

*

"Not worried, no," Danny shakes her head, though she does hesitate for a second, considering the question a little more closely. "Not exactly worried. I just get the feeling there's a bigger picture, you know? The world's full of hidden places. Most of them? Because someone decided humanity couldn't handle the knowledge or the power. I mean, that's the oldest story in the book, right?"

*

"Yes. Yes, it is." Howard's humor fades and he looks, maybe for the first time, like a man his age — and a man with the weight of all the things he knows and can't tell. He slows his steps as the music shifts to something more decorous and he pulls Danny in a little closer. It's not flirtatious, it's almost as though he's offering — or seeking — comfort. His blue eyes are still locked on Danny's but, briefly, he looks through her to something he's remembering, and then he refocuses. "There is a bigger picture and that's only the corner of a larger scene. What're you thinking?"

*

There's something about Danny that's different. Actually, there are several things about Danny that are different, but one of them is a general sense of calm around her. Of balance. Despite her reputation as a wild card, she seems to be in complete control of herself. "Thinking about my dad," she answers Howard. "Thinking maybe the idea that there are things that…some people can't handle isn't entirely wrong. Tell a man something is almost within his reach, make him believe he can have it, and he'll risk everything to get to it. Even if it's not something he's meant to have."

*

"Couldn't agree more," Howard says, and he seems a bit sad about something, then he gives Danny a smile. "What makes us great is that we reach, we always reach, but there are things we shouldn't have. Things we're not ready for — worst thing for a guy like me is most of the time, I don't know until I get there and then I've got my hands full. There's a lot of those things out there, Danny. There were even before the little green men showed up. You have something specific in mind? Or just…thinking?" He's taking her seriously, eyes on her face, which is more than might be expected from some men.

*

Danny considers him for a long moment, feet absently sliding across the floor to the music. "You know all those years the world thought I was dead?" she finally says. "Turns out, there are places in the Himalayas like that. Places where there are things, and knowledge, and all that where people aren't really…It's where my dad grew up, too. Before he came here to New York. He left because he was afraid to reach out and take it. And he went back because not having tried was driving him mad. So the truth is, I don't know what's worse. Knowing something's there and not being able to have it…or actually getting it." Like she did.

*

"Depends on the person." Howard slowly guides her through a graceful turn but he does abandon protocol to pull the hand she has in his closer to him, shifting his grip so that the back of her hand is pressed to the soft fabric of his sweater over his chest and his palm is warm against hers. His heartbeat is a steady, slow thump under Danny's hand. "For some men, it's the knowing. For me, it's getting it. I'd rather regret my personal failures — in case you wondered why I drink — than regret the consequences, which are rarely confined to just me. I learned that the hard way," he adds gently. "You?"

*

Danny is quiet, drawing a slow breath that matches that flow of energy, the slow beat of his heart. Her hand is warm in a way that's just a little bit more than just temperature. "I spent a long time with something to prove," she says slowly. "And then I proved it. And once I had, I left. I think…I think because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do after that. And the thing is, I wonder if I should have done that. If leaving was the right choice. And I don't think it can be if I don't make what I do here count."

*

"Well, if the opinion of a man who's extremely biased at the moment matters at all, I think you made the right choice, Danny," Howard says, with just a little humorous twinkle in his eyes. "Right here and now, anything you can do matters, and I think you can probably do more than almost anyone I know. I know that feeling. It's not the kind of thing I'm supposed to admit to, being a man and all — at least not while I'm this sober — but those questions keep me up at night. Should I hold on to the things I've created, the mountains I've climbed? Should I have stopped some things I thought were going too far? Should I have stopped sooner?" Howard nods to the band to keep going in the same slow, easy time as they pass the little bandstand.

"I will tell you a secret, though. Benefit of all my hair going grey is I get the inside scoop on some things." Howard leans in to whisper in Danny's ear. "You're gonna be great, Danny." When he pulls back again, he smiles at her. "You can take that to the bank."

*

Danny looks back up at him with a small smile, the hand at his shoulder squeezing gratefully. "Thanks, Mister Stark," she says. "I'm gonna do my damnedest, that's for sure. The alien thing, that's a little bit past me, you know?" she laughs low, glancing out over the floor again. "But if any of them show up looking for trouble, then I'm going to be standing in their way, too. If they show up looking to share tech, then I'll give them your number," she winks.

*

"I'd appreciate that," Howard says with a wink. "I'd appreciate it more if you used it, though. This town could always use something to talk about and I'm always happy to listen to your plans. Tell me you'll come see the place when I have all the kinks worked out? I'd love to show you around." He shifts pace and grip to let her step away and spin as the music changes to something light and floating.

*

"Why, Mister Stark, are you flirting with me?" Danny teases, grin flashing as she steps back to keep up with the dance. "I have to say, you're actually better at it than the average socialite. But I'm in," she agrees. "I'm always up for taking a look at shiny new toys. Added side benefit, I can tell the board I'm looking at investment opportunities and they can be under the impression I'm not actually just screwing around with ways to spend the money."

*

"I'm no fool. Of course I am. I'm not an average anything, either," Howard says easily, laughing — more at himself than anything else. "It's part of my charm. And I'd love to see your work as well. What I have planned for the future isn't just about technology. It's about people. How they live, how they learn, what they need. People like you and I, we can always make more money, the system is made for our kind. What we can't just make is hope. And I think both of us are in that business now, if I'm not mistaken. If there's anything the world needs more of, it's hope."

*

"I like the way you think." Danny moves through a turn, spinning before her hand returns to his shoulder. "I have a feeling my work's not going to be too interesting for a while, except maybe for those Stark mechanic classes. But I want it to be a place where people can feel safe. Where they can be safe. Where all the shitty parts of the world can go away for a little bit, give people the room they need to remember what's important in life. Where people can learn how to defend themselves. Where kids can play and be safe. Where folks with nowhere to go can learn a skill so they can feed their kids. Where they can get a meal when they can't."

*

"I think you and I will find a good many ways to work together," Howard says. He winks at her but he's a little more thoughtful than flirtatious. "I like the way you think. The Maria Stark Foundation does a good many things of that sort — I haven't paid it as much mind as I should, but I've intended to change that since I've returned. I'm moving the offices into the main building of AI. It's going to be an expensive endeavor you've got there, Danny. Maria would kick me if I didn't let her help you out somehow. People always wrote her work off as a silly little hobby, a make-work project to keep the wife of a rich man entertained, but her work mattered more to people's day-to-day lives, in ways they understood, than mine ever did. You know, if I'd quit drinking, I'd have walked right past this bar. Shows how much that therapist knew, right?"

*

Danny laughs, eyes sparkling. "Right, well, don't let me be the one to make you give up on drinking," she grins, still following along with his steps. "But I'd appreciate the help, absolutely. Once we know we've got the contracts signed on the building, I'll go public with it. Put the word out to the press, put the word out to the community. And then there'll be the fundraising, which will almost certainly involve a party. I'd be bad at the whole…eccentric heiress thing if I didn't throw a hell of a party, right?"

*

"Say the word and I'll be there — on my best behaviour," Howard promises, taking a noble posture as he carefully twirls Danny toward the edge of the dance floor, back toward the bar. They should let the plebes have a turn. "If you want me on my best behaviour, that is," he adds. "You may, of course, have me any way you want me. I am, after all, a gentleman."

*

"Best behavior's usually pretty boring," Danny winks as she makes her way back to the bar, reclaiming her glass to take a sip. "Maybe just…mildly scandalous behavior. Keeps the press from getting bored. A little bit of scandal keeps eyes on the place. Eyes can be useful." Another drink and she looks over, smile sly. "Think I'm going to make the place all sorts of unsegregated, even."

*

"Of course. That's the future right there." Howard beckons as he approaches the bar and, by the time he gets there, another drink awaits him. He drains half of it on the first sip, such as it is. "Not everyone knows it yet, but I'm not surprised you do. Might as well start folks getting used to it. I worked with all sorts over the years and, let me tell you, only thing that matters is character and the only way you can tell character is by actions. You'll get shit for it but you have the money to tell them they can stick their shit right back where it came from."

*

"Funny story," Danny smirks. "Growing up a little white girl in the Himalayas? Kind of got plenty of the 'you don't belong here' myself. I didn't much like it, so I don't think it's the sort of thing I want to go pushing on anyone else. I was lucky, there was someone who insisted I should be allowed to fight for my chance. People here deserve the same thing."

*

"Ever since I was a young man, I've heard other men talk about the dangers of letting women into the workplace, letting them fight, letting them lead. And you know what? Sometimes, it's because they're bastards or just plain fools. But other times, it's because they're terrified." Howard tosses back the last of his scotch, then gestures for the bartender to hand him his coat. "And you, Miss Rand, are exact what they fear." He winks at Danny as he shrugs into his coat. "It's a beautiful sight. Never change, never back down. And call me."

*

Danny laughs, raising her glass in a salute. "Thank you, Mister Stark. Striking fear into the hearts of men is my goal in life." She sets a hand over her heart, bowing her head dramatically. "And you get the first call when things are underway. I'll come and see your new toy box then."

*

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