A/n: After working out a good story-line, I finally decided that it was time to write my first multi-chapter Iron Man story! There's not too much to say here, other than it's obviously a work in progress, and I'm up for criticism if you give it. This story is about 95 movieverse, with little hints of the comic book verse added in for flavor here and there, and some deviations of my own.
This story takes place a few years after the end of the first film, at which point we can assume Tony and Iron Man are fairly well-known within the super hero scene, although he's apparently covered up his identity from the public.
Anyway, though I've re-written this several times, I finally decided to stick with present tense-it'll be a challenge for me, but I'm hoping it comes out right! I just ask for patience while I try to hammer the details of this present tense stuff out.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Transposition (Trans-po-SI-tion): noun. 1. A reversal or alteration of the positions or order in which things stand. 2. A placing of something in a different setting, or its recasting in a different language, style, or medium. 3. A transfer of a term from one side of an equation to another, reversing the sign.
Pepper Potts and Tony Stark have long since settled into the rhythm of the tedious car ride. She remembers almost everything from the day—or at least how it begins with that trip, right down to the engine of the sleek black SUV humming under her feet and the distant sigh in Tony's voice when he asks "how the hell close are we?" only an hour into the ride.
The two sit adjacent and unspeaking, the silence broken only by Tony's occasional sigh as he stares out into the busy city life. Pepper props herself against the leather seat with her Blackberry perched precariously on one knee, her manicured fingers typing out a very terse message to the governor—one stating that no, Tony Stark was in no way involved in the previous day's Orlando explosion (he had been, of course, but nobody needed to know that). Tony himself has lapsed into a thoughtful silence in the last hour of travel, speaking only in monosyllables or when he sees a particularly voluptuous runner on the sidewalk. In other words, as ordinary as any other five-hour trip the pair has undergone together.
Pepper sighs when the beep in her phone reminds her just how tight her schedule is. When she leans forward, though, and asks Happy just how long until they arrive, he only shrugs and says that as far as he knows, they'll get there in time for coffee and biscotti before the conference. Tony makes an interested grunt at the word "biscotti" and tunes into the conversation, Pepper rolls her eyes at the billionaire. How typical, she thinks. The ever one-track mind is always conflicted with ADD, as much as a paradox as it seems. Tony Stark can altogether be a bit of a paradox.
Then his hand is on her shoulder in a gesture that he must think is comforting, even though she has shrugged off the same hand on the same shoulder maybe a thousand times in their years as employee and employer. Similarly, now she only feels more nauseated. Pepper has never been one for long car rides, or letting Tony touch her in any way—for different reasons, one having to do with throwing up her dinner and the other having to do with her frazzled nerves in general—and so far this ride has included both. But her insistences bounce off his smirking face as always, and he continues to talk to her as if she hasn't just slapped his hand away.
Tony agrees with Happy, to which Pepper can only reply that this meeting has been reschedules not five but ten times, and that missing it again will surely end the partnership that Stark Industries has invested millions of dollars in with the Malcolm Metal company.
Tony gives a nonchalant shrug and responds, "Not to worry, Miss Potts. The worst case scenario is that we hit some traffic and I have to fly there." He pats a little too affectionately the briefcase that sits on his lap. Pepper cringes, knowing all too well just how much he'd love to show up at the meeting in his Iron Man suit.
As much as Pepper is wondering how he's managed to fit that entire hunk-of-metal contraption suit in that little briefcase, she's too worried about the meeting to ask. Instead, she cocks her head towards her boss and frowns at his handsomely complacent features.
"I don't think you understand how important this is," she states, tearing her eyes from the lock of hair that falls in just the perfect spot over his eyebrow. "They needed us to travel ten hours to talk face-to-face about the Malcolm-Stark Deal. We couldn't even fly there, their security is so sound."
"Paranoia everywhere I turn," he mutters.
Tony swings his legs towards her to get a better look at her stoic expression, one hand reaching out and patting hers where it sits on the knee unoccupied by her phone. Her mouth twitches, her leg moves away from his hand.
"We'll get there, don't worry," he assures her with a confident smile, and turns back to the tinted window to admire a group of female shoppers as they pass, arms laden with shopping bags from the surrounding towers. Pepper glances at them as well and wonders what she'd be doing right now if she hadn't been in the car for the last five hours—maybe shopping, or getting that facial she'd been waiting for. More likely finishing some overdue paperwork.
She sighs, half assured by his confidence and Happy's driving but all too aware that Tony is just as capable of putting on a façade as she is when confronted with business issues. But even though Tony is as unreliable as her broken alarm clock, she realizes that he does indeed have a hidden point: they'll get there eventually, and he can fly if they really—
Happy slams on the brakes as the cars in front of him screech almost simultaneously to a halt, sending Pepper flying forward so hard against her seatbelt that she can already feel the bruise beginning to form under her white blouse. She gives a shout at the sudden halt and feels her blackberry fly off her knee and hit the seat in front of her, hears Tony give a surprised half-yelp from beside her in the back seat. More screeching, cars swerving to avoid one another, some colliding. It's a good thing Happy's a good driver, she thinks.
The noise is louder this time, coupled with the screams of the civilians outside. Happy shuts off the car, swearing. In the five seconds that follow the first boom, Tony unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs over the passenger seat to get a better look at what is going on.
"What the hell, Hap?" he exclaims. "Are you all right, or do I have to give you mouth-to-mouth?"
"No, I'm fine, but thanks for the offer."
As Happy and Tony begin to investigate the sudden occurrence, Pepper presses her hands against the window glass and peers out into unfolding chaos. It's like in the movies, she observes, where women are screaming and running, shopping bags in one hand and crying children streaming from the other, people are climbing from their cars to get a better look down the traffic-packed street. Something's happening. Something bad.
Yes, a part of her brain does register that something insane is going on just outside the safety-glass window, and yet the only thing she can think as she sits there with her mouth hanging open in horror is 'We're going to be late.'
"Tony—" Pepper tears her eyes from the people running around outside the car and turns back to Happy and Tony, who are trying to figure out what exactly has just happened.
"—Well it looks like a crash, no less than ten cars," Happy observes in a low tone, shooting his friend a sidelong glance.
"Here, open the sunroof."
Tony clambers to his feet on the passenger seat and sticks his entire top half out of the car's sunroof. Pepper after a moment realizes that she's staring and gives her head a hard shake to get her mesmerized self back on track. The gears in her well-trained mind have begun to turn at a million miles a minute, planning out everything from the direct course of action to where she can get some caffeine after it's all said a done. First task: inform the businessmen that they've hit traffic, and that they'll be just a few minutes late. Maybe after she can get Tony to suit up and fly off to the meeting on his own, just to save time, but first she knows she needs to take care of the businessmen themselves. A cold sweat that has nothing to do with the air conditioning blasting throughout the car begins to percolate on the back of her neck, unaided by the fact that her blackberry has skittered across the floor and disappeared beneath the seat.
Sighing at the indignity of it all and more than a little glad that Tony is too preoccupied to make a comment, she drops to her knees and begins to dig around for her long-lost phone. Her skirt hikes a few inches up the backs of her thighs as she thrusts her arm underneath the seat, her rear-end sticking in the air and her hand groping around in the dark. She leans forward. Ah, there it is. Tucked against the seat divider, just barely grazed with her outstretched fingertips—
A rushing sound, a loud boom that makes Pepper sit up so fast she hits her head on the underside of the seat and swears loudly. This gesture goes unnoticed by the men.
"What the hell is Venom doing in California?" Tony exclaims when he drops back down into the seat beside Happy. The two men share a dark look, broken only when Happy shrugs.
"Beats me, Boss," he replies. "Last I heard, Spider-Man beat the crap out of him in New York a week ago. Right?"
Pepper, having recovered from her unexpected jolt, eases her arm back under the seat and feels the blackberry again, just out of her reach. She takes a deep breath, exhales, crawls her fingers forward as far as they can reach. Just a little more, sweetheart…
"Yes, he did," says Tony. "And now it's my turn."
Even with her head under the seat, Pepper hears this declaration and knows exactly what it means:
No Tony, no conference, no partnership, and definitely no sanity for one redhead personal assistant.
Damn his nobility to hell. Pepper, silently cursing Tony and all his desire to make the world a better place, abandons her quest to find the phone just in time to hear the passenger door open.
She resurfaces and her eyes connect with his from where she kneels, disheveled on the floor with half of her skirt higher than the other half. He stands outside the door, his hand frozen mid-reach for the briefcase that contains his Iron Man suit. Even Happy freezes where he sits, half turned around to watch.
"Tony—" begins Pepper hesitantly, speaking as if she were approaching some dangerous animal. Her hair has come partly loose from its no-nonsense bun and hangs, straggled, in her face. Both pairs of eyes are wide, staring. "Tony, don't even think about it—"
"Stay in the car, Pepper."
Tony grabs the handle of the suitcase, turns and collides with a nearby civilian, recovers clumsily, and runs into the retreating crowd.
"Oh no you don't—Tony!" Pepper, frantic because she will not miss this appointment, not over her dead body, scrambles from her aching knees and hurdles out the door after him. She only loses her balance for a millisecond before she's stable on her four-inch heels and chasing after her boss.
"Pep, wait!" Happy begins to fumble with his seatbelt in preparation to run after her.
She doesn't look back. "Stay with the car, Happy! And find my cell phone!"
Happy looks around as if expecting to see someone he can tell to stay with the car, but of course the car is empty save for himself, and so he can do nothing more than cross his arms and pout, exasperated. Another resounding crash and accompanying screams follow from downtown. He watches Pepper and Tony disappear into the crowd and waits, heart thumping wildly in his chest.
Meanwhile, Pepper spots her quarry a few yards ahead with his head bent low against the chaos, shuffling between a man and his sobbing wife. The image, she thinks briefly, is sickening; in the woman's arms is a screaming toddler, whose head seems to be half-covered in blood that drips down his mother's forearm. Pepper, too, scurries around them, but only after pulling a handkerchief from her sleeve and pressing it hastily into the man's shoulder. She doesn't look back, nor does she see the bewildered look the man gives her before using the fabric as a blood mop for his son.
Already a part of the bold PA begins to regret this chase—her feet, mostly, which ache with every lunge over the hot, uneven pavement—but the Malcolm Deal and the faces of the businessmen in her mind's eye are enough to make her run even faster in the California heat. That, and Pepper is anything but a delicate, sit-around sidekick. In college she'd been a go-getter, and nothing much has changed in the passing years except that she is now chasing her boss around instead of chasing an A in business school. If Tony dove, she would dive in right after him, into this crowd of people smart enough to be running away from the chaos instead of into it like he was.
The sun is hot, and she feels like she's in a sauna with her form-fitting pencil skirt and long-sleeves blouse. The crime scene unfolds ever-closer before her, but only as quickly as she can run in these ridiculous shoes that were most certainly not made for this kind of abuse. And yet, even with this handicap she's still able to catch up to Tony, who hasn't checked to see if she's followed him from the car.
Pepper reaches out and makes a mad snatch for his jacket, misses, tries again. Her French-manicured fingers close on the sleeve of his suit, tugging him around so fast that his suitcase swings up into the gut of a passer-by. He'll have whiplash come morning time, but Pepper doesn't care very much at this point. She pulls him sideways into the nearest alleyway, which stands vacant except for a large dumpster and a chain-linked fence that blocks the end of the alley from the neighboring street.
"I told you to stay in the car," he says tonelessly. There is no humor in his eyes this time around, and though she won't admit it, this scares her more than the sound of Venom running rampant in the street.
"And I told you we can't miss this meeting."
"Touché, but not the point. This is more important than some suit-and-tie meeting."
Another loud crash brakes through the stifling the city air, only louder and so close that it might be over their heads. Tony looks up, but Pepper doesn't have time to follow suit before she's shoved backwards and sent cascading to the ground in a mass of waving arms and too-high heels. She catches a glimpse of sky, a flash of white as half of a bus falls seemingly from nowhere to crash down in front of the mouth of the alley, and then a whole lot of black. The crash is loud. Glass shatters, metal creaks and scrapes in a monster of a symphony before screeching to a sudden halt.
Pepper opens her eyes and sees nothing. First she wonders if she's been knocked unconscious or rendered blind—she certainly has no breath, but that's most likely from the fall, until a moment later she realizes that there's a very large amount of pressure all around her.
The darkness isn't from blindness, it's from getting a facefull of Tony Stark's suit jacket because he's apparently pushed them both out of the way of the bus and landed on top of her in the process. Pepper can feel her back crying out in pain, several new scratches lining her legs, but otherwise she feels unscathed. With a small groan, she struggles to find her hands and pushes his heaving chest up and away when she finally does. His heart is hammering beneath her splayed fingers, the shirt underneath his jacket already damp with sweat. Tony himself, she sees as her eyes make their slow way from her hand to his agape mouth to his knitted eyebrows, has suffered minimal damage from the dive.
Their eyes meet, wide. "This was not in my job description, Mr. Stark," she snaps.
"I'm sorry," he replies, with just as much venom, "next time a super villain tries to drop a bus on you, I'll just let you save yourself. Now if you'll excuse me—" He heaves himself off of her, clambers to his feet, and picks up the briefcase where it landed when he'd shoved her, "As much as I'd love to just lay on top of you all day, I have a city to save. And since this alley has been conveniently been blocked on one side and people are too busy running for their lives on the other, I can suit up…" He gives a small grunt of effort from just out of her line of sight, "right… here…"
Pepper hoists herself into a sitting position, looks around for her boss, and sees that he's already ditched his jacket on the ground. The briefcase has been opened and the parts of the suit are assembling around him in perfect order, and Pepper can't help but for a fleeting second admire how much work Tony has apparently put into streamlining the suit's travel ability. She blinks, and it seems the second she's opened her eyes Tony Stark is no longer standing before her, but Iron Man in all his hotrod red and yellow glory. Iron Man turns around to face her, sees that she's still on the ground, and extends a hand.
Pepper takes it, if begrudgingly so. "We're not done here," she reminds him calmly, but the threat in her voice is clear enough to send an unpleasant creeping sensation down his neck.
"No, we're not," Tony agrees. "As soon as we get this taken care of, I'll fly to the meeting and we'll get there on time. It's very important to me that I do this. Now come on—"
In one jerk, he pulls her forcefully to her feet and she again loses her footing for just a moment. Her hair is really ruined now, her outfit dirtied and tarnished in several places, a number of scrapes littering her legs. Iron Man takes one hand and bushes some of the gravel off her shoulder with the announcement that "it's nothing, really", then turns and faces the chain-linked fence that marks their exit.
"Miss Potts, would you like a hand?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Tony. It's not like I've never jumped a fence before."
This much is true. She brushes past him towards the chain-linked fence, grabs it with both hands, but then seems to reconsider and turns around once more. A surge of anger has flared up in the pit of her chest, and although she's not sure where it came from she sure as hell knows who it's about to hit.
"Tell me something," she says to him. "Why does it always have to be about you, Tony?"
A silence ensues. Then, with a pshh sound, the faceplate on Tony's helmet rises to reveal a genuinely confused, incredulous face. "I'm sorry, but I thought I'd heard something absurd from inside the suit I carry around in order to protect innocent people. Could you repeat that last comment?"
"You heard me; I asked why it's always about you!"
She takes a deep breath, frustrated and confused by what she's saying. The words are forming on the tip of her tongue and she can't stop them because they make so much sense, even though the rational part of her brain is screaming 'The meeting!'
"You may wear the suit and fight crime, but at the end of the day, who is it for? And even if it's not for yourself, somehow you always make it personal. Why is that, Tony? Chew on that one for a bit."
On that note, she turns her back on a very confused Tony Stark and hitches her fingers in the fence. A memory of her childhood flits across the forefront of her memory, almost like a flashback, of her hopping the fence to the town pool with one of her high school boyfriends. While this particular memory really has no other connection to the "here and now" besides the fence-hopping correlation, it couples with her anger and gives her the strength to lift herself upwards, over the fence, and down the other side. Constricting—albeit more ragged than when she'd darted from the car—skirt, heels, and all. Tony stares at her from the other side with his mouth agape, clearly impressed with her feat, even when his mind is still reeling from her accusation. She tells herself that she doesn't care.
Tony stares in this manner only until a crash and a scream snap him back to reality. Giving her the up-and-down look once more, he hops over the fence in a single suit-assisted bound and lands beside his miffed PA, who has begun to tap her designer shoes against the pavement with more than a little impatience.
"Is there anything I can do to make this go faster, Mr. Stark?" Pepper asks.
"Yeah." Tony pulls the faceplate back down over his head and snaps it into place, the mechanism making another soft fshh sound followed by a sharp click. He brushes past her and into the street without looking back. "Don't die."
Pepper rolls her eyes now as she starts after him with the typical click-click-clack of her heels mocking him all the way, but upon later reflection she'll remember that little nougat of advice with a hint of irony.
She sighs, annoyed and still very much concerned about the meeting as she follows Tony into the crowded street. It's hard for her to believe that there can still be people sitting and running around while Venom (and now, much to the joy of the people, Iron Man) are screwing around on the skyscrapers, but no matter. Instead of sitting around like a helpless sidekick while Tony gets to fly and miss his very important meeting, Pepper elects to act as the sensible civilian and get people out of the street and, namely, out of harm's way.
Stepping over what looks like half the contents of an abandoned grocery cart, Pepper makes her way to the first people she sees—a man and woman whose arguing is loud enough to grab her attention.
"Gerald, it's just one street over and I have an appointment! How long could it possibly take for these superheroes to finish fighting and let us get on with our lives?" The woman bats away a shining ringlet with one clawlike, very well-taken care of hand and blinks upward at her husband.
"Too long," the husband replies, crossing his arms against a navy polo shirt. Pepper recognizes wealth all too well when she sees it, and the accompanying snobbery goes hand-in-hand far too often for her taste, but helping is helping.
They don't notice Pepper until she speaks, and when she does they both jump enough to make Pepper herself jump.
"Knowing them, I can't see it being done for a while," she says calmly, in the same tone she reserves for sending away Tony's one night stands. "I wouldn't stick around for too long, because Venom doesn't really care who he hurts, but if you need to get to the street over, there's a fence down about fifty yards from here that leads into the other street. If you can get around the bus, you can get to your appointment."
The couple stares, Pepper looks back with only a small hint of a smirk turned in the corner of her mouth.
"Who are you?" asks the woman, turning to get a look at the disheveled Pepper. Pepper cringes at the sight of too much eyeliner and a very obvious foundation line running along the woman's jaw. She pushes aside the urge to reach up and smudge it off with her torn sleeve.
Pepper opens her mouth to respond, and indeed the word "Pepper" is halfway out of her parted lips when both of the aforementioned "supers" crash down on top of the couple's parked car, so tangled up in one another that Pepper isn't able to tell who's winning. The woman screams, her husband pulls her away so fast that they seem to vanish on the spot, but Pepper can only stand there with her own name still hanging on her lips. The sickening crunch of an Audi being destroyed ringing all around her does not bring her back to life, but Tony's amplified yell seems to do the trick.
The words only half register with the redhead, who can't get past the thought that a large piece of car just flew right past her left ear and into the solid brick wall a few feet away. Still in a state of semishock, she stumbles backwards, the heel of her shoe slides into one of the street's many uneven grooves, snaps off, and she is sent sprawling backwards—yet again, she thinks scathingly—in a very silly-looking arm-waving tumble. Pepper, her vision spinning, lands a short distance away and yelps uncharacteristically as her shoulder connects painfully with a telephone pole that is attached to the brick apartment building. One hand flies out to steady herself against the wall, the other flies to the joint in her arm.
Tony seems a million miles away at the moment, Happy and her blackberry even further than that now that she is slumping sideways against the telephone pole her shoulder has just made friends with. For a moment she's afraid that she's going to pass out—she does lose her eyesight as those little black dots dance before her eyes, growing into one splotch that covers her area of vision, but a moment later she's shaking her head and looking wildly around for any sign of her employer and who she had assumed up until now was Spider-Man's nemesis, not Tony's (or Iron Man's, which she supposes is more politically correct in this circumstance). The pain in her shoulder has already begun to splinter down her side like a seeping poison, not so much that it knocks her unconscious, but enough to keep her slumped sideways for the time being, out of sight and hopefully out of mind as well. But she's not paying any attention to her own problems, not while the chaos in the street is only beginning to wind down. Most of the people are long gone, leaving only a handful of clusters scattered throughout her blurred vision, some bickering and others trying to take advantage of the many abandoned, unguarded stores lining the street.
Pepper presses one hand against her still-spinning head and takes a good look around. As far as she can tell, Tony isn't getting much closer to ending this… whatever it is. Pepper's head hurts too much to give it—the situation, that is—a proper name, and even if she did she knows it wouldn't matter. The meeting will be starting shortly, and there will be a very noticeably empty seat at the business negotiations table—
The next few seconds of Pepper Potts's life pass so quickly that she remembers them in fragments, little pieces of a bigger puzzle that she can't seem to put together. There is a rush of laughter as the webslinger flies twenty feet over her head and grabs onto the telephone pole that she's using as a crutch, a loud crunching noise, she herself scrambling sideways. Half of her—the rational half, which suits her unwilling body little good—realizes that in his escape, Venom has dislodged the telephone pole and half of the building too. The other half is overcome with a buzzing noise all at once as a rush of gold and red flies past her vision, a mere second (too late) after Pepper hits the ground. Her head smacks once against the sidewalk, she opens her mouth but cannot scream or shout because she cannot even breathe under the weight of undeniably broken ribs and only God knows what else. While short-lived, the pain that erupts from her waist and crawls up her chest is the most excruciating she had ever known, more than she'd ever care to know or remember. And yet as soon as the pain floods her body, it's ebbing away again and leaving a trail of more mild, stiff pain in its wake—a symptom, Pepper comes to realize, that she probably won't be sticking around much longer.
Pepper hears her name, amplified and ringing through all of Tony's armor but as concrete as the ground she's sprawled across. Then it sounds again, more muffled, like her head has been submerged under water. Something trickles from her ear and down the nape of her neck. Hardly conscious, Pepper makes a vain attempt at freeing herself from what feels like ten thousand pounds of brick and telephone pole, yet even her most ferocious attempts barely cause a twitch in her arms and legs, and it is at this moment that she realizes she is going to die here out in the middle of some big city she can't name, a casualty of a fight she never wanted to occur in the first place.
Either her vision or her mind (she can't tell which is which anymore, can't even think a coherent thought) crawls in and out of the fuzzy ground between death and consciousness. The pain has subsided into nothing but a welcome feeling of numbness and incredible weight. A flash of color flits across her vision in a blur, and when Pepper concentrates her hardest she realizes that Tony has abandoned the fight and is kneeling over her, the faceplate on his helmet absent so that he can get a better look at her. She wishes she could make out his features, the expression on his face. Is it sad? Angry? All she can see is the in-and-out blur that makes up the very basics of Tony Stark's face, hovering above her own.
"Pepper, hang on—"
And that sounds just as far away as the rest of the world to Pepper Potts, who can no more hear him say that help is just three minutes away than she can feel his sweaty hand gripping her cold one, or see his eyes widen in horror as he takes in everything about her from the way her hips are twisted at an awkward angle to the splotch of red that is blossoming across her blouse.
The final thoughts that flit across the forefront of Pepper's mind are brief and yet so clear that she feels she can reach out and snatch them from the air if she only tries hard enough. There is her at one of many benefit dinners, standing in a backless dress with her elbows propped carelessly on the ledge of the balcony, a frustrated tear slipping down her cheek. There is her on her knees in the SUV, one arm stuck under the seat in search of her phone and her skirt inching up her legs. There is a room full of angry-looking businessmen and her, all alone in her torn blouse and skirt and flyaway hair, everyone staring as she holds her hands up in defense and says, "It's not my fault I'm late, he died on the way here because he had to go jump into a fight." Then there is a looming darkness, bearing ever-closer to where she lays amidst the chaos, and she welcomes it with figuratively open arms so long as this last thought is not real outside her spinning imagination.
To Pepper, there is nothing but the fading sensation of numbness, the distant sound of sirens, Tony's face blurring back into a mass of moving color and sound.
Pepper closes her eyes, and then there is nothing.
A/n: So there you have it, the introduction to what I hope is a fairly successful story! I've got a lot of ideas for this one, but I also must warn you: I'm not much of a believer in "instant gratification". In other words, I believe that characters have to suffer before they can get what they want, so there will be plenty more interesting obstacles for dear Pepper and Tony before they go anywhere.
That being said, I encourage you to give me any tips or ideas that can improve my writing as a whole. I already know where the story is going and how to get there, so I'm really seeking more to improve my writing (although I definitely will listen to any and all ideas offered!). So if something strikes you as wrong (except Tony's eye-color, damn it! Haha) in the prose itself, let me know and I'll do my best to correct it.
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you're looking forward to reading as much as I'm looking forward to writing!