"What," Obadiah asks slowly, pouring the golden scotch in a contemplative trickle over the melting ice, "are you boys working on out there?"
"You know I can't tell you."
Howard's not looking at him. Head turned away, squinting off into the blinding and windswept desert distance. Ever-scruffy hair mopping about. Tie loosened against the heat.
"Howard, Howard." Obadiah sits in the chair opposite him on the little desert balcony. "This isn't about the government. It stops with me, you know that. This is about what it means once it goes public, hits the industrial sector. What it means for us."
"And what if I do tell you and you get all worked up and then it's a failure?"
"Will it be?"
Howard looks over at him for the first time. His face is wrinkled up against the sun, his eyes narrowed, barely visible--but fiercely determined. "No. We're getting everything into place. It'll work. Even if it doesn't, I'll make it work."
"Then it will. See? I just gotta know what to be ready for. Give me some idea, I'll have the infrastructure in place without anyone realizing what it's for. We can get this company going, Howard."
"Hell, Obadiah. We're barely out of university. What are we doing going about with balls this big?"
"You know how smart you are." Obadiah raises his glass; Howard nods. "It's the same with me, no? You design it, I bring it about. You build it, I support you. You can only do so much on government contract, Howard. I've got the family, I've got the connections, I've got everything ready to go."
"Yeah." Howard swallows, long and hard. "Look, if anybody there finds out I've told you--"
"They won't. I said it stops here and it will. You don't trust me, is that it?"
"No, no, I--"
"I let you marry Maria." Obadiah nods at Howard's left hand, the band of gold. "I take good care of you, you know that."
"Yeah. Yeah, you do. I'm not arguing that."
"You're just afraid. Of the government?"
"The government. And." Howard's not looking at him again. He's looking at some spot over Obadiah's shoulder. There's sweat beading on his face in the desert sun. Vultures in the distance. "And it. I mean--it's big. Bigger than you can possibly imagine. What we're making..." It's not just fear in Howard, Obadiah can tell. "It could destroy worlds."
"He who can destroy a thing controls it," Obadiah murmurs.
He can almost feel the wheels turning in Howard's mind. Not just fear.
"Let's," Howard says, with a glance over his shoulder, "go inside. Why don't we. So nobody can hear." Or see.
Obadiah puts a hand on his shoulder as they gather up drinks, walk slowly into the cool, dark, shuttered parlor.
"Nobody's here?" Howard asks, very softly.
"Not a soul but us. No hidden recorders. I'll keep it safe, Howard."
"Well. We're working on--we're making--"
"Wait," Obadiah murmurs. "Put down your drink. No, there." Howard obeys him, faint bewilderment in his eyes. Obadiah backs him against a wall and puts a hand on his cheek, kisses him, long, hard enough to redden his lips. Slowly, deliberately undoes the top four buttons of his shirt. Digs teeth into his exposed throat, savors his unsteady groan.
Then stands back and admires his work. Howard Stark, sandy hair scruffed in his face, ravished marks on lips and throat, shirt tugged open, gleaming with sweat.
He takes him by his shoulders, steers him to the chaise lounge, lays him down and puts another mark on his neck like a brand. Would brand him, if he could get away with it. Genius, property of Obadiah Stane.
"Now," he says, soft but firm, sitting beside him, hand splayed lightly over his wrist. "Tell me."