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[ dust and dirt and bones ]
by kHo

Happy is a talker. He´s always been a talker, it´s one of Tony´s favorite things about him. From Day 1, he was talking to Tony like he´d known him his whole life.

“With all due respect sir,’ he´d said the first time behind the wheel, “but this car is badass, why the hell are you paying me to drive you in it instead of driving it yourself?’ Tony spent their first drive together in the passenger seat instead of in the back, changing channels on the radio station and shouting out challenges to a driver that not only drove well, but really, really fast, and had excellent taste in music.

Happy knows sports, which isn´t a surprise since he was a former boxer himself, and he knows movies and politics and the latest tabloid gossip. He´s a veritable font of knowledge, mostly useless, always entertaining, and Tony liked to drain him of it every chance he got. Happy Hogan had been hired as a general driver for Stark Industries and by his fourth month there he was exclusively driving Tony, be it in a limo to a fundraiser or in a ´71 GTO, drag racing Tony to see who could take the turns tighter in the Hollywood Hills.

Weeks after Tony outted himself as Iron Man, weeks after his life went even more supernova than he´d known was even possible, he has Happy drive him around the hills at a nice leisurely pace, classical music nearly drowned out as the wind whips through the open-top T-Bird.

At 5:03pm, Tony asks Happy to drive him to the cemetery, and Happy just nods his head and turns the car around, never saying one word. His second favorite thing about Happy is that he´s the kind of guy that knows when to shut the fuck up and let the silence reign.

When they arrive Tony gets out of the car and leans over to look at him. “I´ll just be a minute,’ he says, and Happy props his feet up over the side of the car, takes out a newspaper, and grunts at him. Tony smiles because he knows that means take your time, and he´s got a feeling it´s going to be more than just a minute, and it means that Happy´s got that very same feeling.

Sometimes he thinks no one understands him better than Happy. Times like this, he knows it.

He doesn´t come here often, but he knows exactly where their graves are. He first stops in front of his mother´s grave, traces his fingers over the dates, over her name. Places a rock on the top of her grave that´s worn smooth and charcoal grey, a little swirl of white outlining the imperfections. He´d found it over a year ago and kept it in his pocket every day, thinking maybe. Maybe tomorrow he´d come here and give it to her.

His excuse is that he doesn´t have the time, but he´s not self-deluded enough to buy his own press anymore. He has the time, of course he has the time. Who he is? Hell, he could stop time if he wanted to. It´s not time, it´s the fact that he hates this place. Hates that he has to see them here. Hates that they´re not even here, that there´s nothing but bones down there.

On the anniversary of their death he´d like to say he visits them, but he doesn´t. On that day, every year, he gets drunk enough to go blind and tries to figure out how many blonde´s it takes to make him forget why he got drunk in the first place. It´s no way to honor their memory and he knows it, but this is who he is. His consolation is that they knew it too.

He says to the gravestone, hand resting atop it next to the stone, “I love you, Ma,’ and then he moves on. She isn´t the one he came to see today.

Crouching before his father´s grave he finds himself, for possibly the first time in his life, at an absolute loss of words. He didn´t bring anything for his father, he´d never picked up a stone for him, never thought to bring a bottle of Scotch. He hadn´t known he was coming until he´d turned to Happy, saying ´It´s beautiful out here, don´t you think? I think so. It´s even prettier from the sky. I´ll have to build a bitch seat for my suit, take you up some time. Also, could we just… possibly swing by the cemetery on the way home?´

“Well, Pop, you always said to just get right to the punch, right? So here it goes.’ He takes a deep breath and decides to just let the words take him where they do. “I killed your best friend. I hope that´s okay with you. I mean, after all, he tried to kill me first. Twice.’

At the best of times his father had been a kindred spirit, someone that understood the wonder of knowledge as well as he did, that understood math and science like he did, like most people understood breathing, that enjoyed a fast car maybe as much as he did women.

At the worst of times, his father was a constant thorn in his side, saying he wasn´t good enough, wasn´t living up to his potential, was wasting his life away with the partying and the drugs and the drink.

Tony was eighteen. It wasn´t untrue.

“You know, I always thought of the two of you as my father. Not him instead of you, not you instead of him, but the two of you, together. Where you failed, he filled in. You were a team, an ionic bond. Inseparable. When you died, when you both died, I...’

He pauses to catch his breath, and to will the god damned lump forming in his throat away because Tony Stark does not cry, not at a cemetery, not while talking to a pile of dust and dirt and bones.

“I think I would have wound up much differently, if I hadn´t had him. Reigning me in, hounding me, pushing me to do better, to be better. This is what your father wanted, he´d tell me. He wanted you to own this company, run it better than even he did. Show him up.’

It had taken three years. Three years for Obadiah to get Tony to give up the drugs if not the drink and come run the business. Three years to get Tony to stop running around doing everything to forget that he had responsibilities and an empty house that he still hadn´t decided what to do with.

´Tony,´ he´d said, hands on Tony´s shoulders and staring into red rimmed and bloodshot eyes, blinds closed because hangovers from coke and whiskey make even the slightest light feel like it´s going to make your head explode. ´Tony, you´re better than this.´

Tony hadn´t believed him, but God. He´d wanted to.

“You know, sometimes I wished he was my father. Did you know that? You must have. I wonder if that hurt you. It must have. He was just… he was more understanding than you were. It seemed like… but that was just an act wasn´t it? Or maybe it´s just easier to forgive someone that you´re not related to.’

He reaches out and grabs a clump of dirt, letting it sift through his fingers. “You knew I loved you though, right? I mean, you were a hardass, but you were my father.’

“The thing is,’ he says, sitting down in the dirt and the dust, knowing that Pepper is going to be wondering where the grass stains have come from. He smiles a little at that, because he knows what she´ll assume. “The thing is that, even when I hated you, I admired the hell out of you. You were a hero. You protected us, a whole country. You used your company to make our country the strongest, the best, the brightest, the toughest. I fucking worshiped you for that. You and Obie were my heroes.’

“I made my suit red for you,’ he whispers. “Your favorite car. I´m still trying to finish it for you. I thought I´d finally make you proud, wearing that suit, taking up where you left off if just a little bit more personally.’

“He hired them to kill me, Pop,’ he says to the name on the gravestone, picturing hazel eyes in it´s place. “He hired fucking terrorists to kill me. This man… this man that I fucking worshipped. That I thought I knew. He hired those fucking cowards to kill me, and three soldiers died for it. For me.’

He looks away. “I should have died. I should have died when the humvee was attacked. I should have died from the shrapnel. I should have died in that cave, and instead, Yensin… Instead, the man that saved my life-- this genius that hooked me up to a god damned car battery-- died, to save me.’

“Fuck,’ he says, closing his eyes, reaching up to swipe at his face, scrub at his eyes. “This isn´t why I came here. I don´t even know why I came here.’

“No, that´s not true,’ he says, leaning forward and taking hold of the gravestone, like Obadiah had done to him twenty years ago, trying to shake sense into him. “Because I didn´t know Obie was this kind of man. I didn´t know he was the kind of man that could do this. That could kill his best friend´s son. That could double deal to the enemy. “

“And the fact that I didn´t know this, Pop, the fact that I didn´t know he was that kind of man, it´s really fucking me up,’ he says, and a single, lone tear finds its way down his cheek and he doesn´t even notice it. “Because if I didn´t know this about him, then I don´t know… I don´t, I really, I have no clue if… were you?’

“And that just makes me the most awful, horrible, ungrateful son in the history of the world,’ he says, letting his fingers graze over the stone in front of him, vision hazy and blurred, chest heaving on sobs that he won´t let come. “I hate him for that.’

“I was angry at him, angry, livid, furious, hurt, betrayed… that he was double dealing, that he stabbed me in the back. It destroyed me, that he contracted my would-be assassins. But this. For making me doubt you,’ he says, not closing his eyes, because if he does he´ll see his father´s betrayed face. “For making me doubt you, I hate him.’

Standing he absently brushes the dirt from his pants, reaching down when he sees a stray pebble sitting at the bottom of his father´s gravestone. Putting it on top he lets his hand rest there and pretends that it´s his father´s shoulder for one moment.

“I´m sorry, Pop,’ he says, smiling softly. “I hope you knew I loved you. Still do.’

Happy looks at him when he arrives at the car and starts the engine before Tony´s even in the car. “All good,’ he asks, casting him a sidelong glance.

“Always is,’ Tony says, reaching over and smacking Happy´s leg. “Drive, driver man.’

“There was this woman just now, came over to borrow a lighter but I think it was just to check out the car,’ Happy says, turning onto the main road, grin lighting up his face. “Shoulda seen the stems on her, sir. She was definitely your type.’

If Tony has a third favorite thing about Happy Hogan, it´s that he knows when to start talking again.

All feedback much appreciated!
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