Disclaimer: Marvel owns Ironman. No profit is made, no infringement is intended.
Chaos, Kisses and Oh, Sweet Irony
The feeling of a gun barrel pressed against his pulse wasn't something Tony had ever expected to know. Dodging bullets, bombs and curses sure, from a distance and behind a suit of armor. This….this was intimate and horrible, and when his heartbeat doubled with the feel of that cold metal on his skin, he knew how quickly his life could end.
The grating laughter of the man holding the weapon clamored in his ears, barely muffled by the earplugs he still wore. But it was when Sean stopped laughing and his eyes glittered with a sick delighted anticipation that everything kicked into high gear. There was no way this lunatic was going to kill him. Not after all this. Not before he got Pepper out of here.
Between that thought and his next breath, Tony reached up with one hand, yanking his head away from the gun, ignoring the shriek of pain from his shoulder and side. He snatched the hand holding that gun and twisted. The gun went off, but the shot was wild, hitting the wall somewhere behind him. Months of mind-numbingly rigorous martial arts paid off – the wristlock was perfect. Thankfully the move was all about leverage, but even with that he didn't hold back; Tony could feel the creaking pressure he put on the man's forearm and elbow. And then with a sickening lurch, he felt the man's wrist break; the gun clattered to the floor as he screamed.
Jaw tight with nausea at what he'd just done, Tony snatched up the gun and backed up a few steps. At least for the moment, Sean wasn't a threat. He was watching him with rage and pain-filled eyes, cradling his broken wrist and panting. Tony gaze raked around the room, taking in the stunned silence from the others and shooting a glare of warning at Max. His former employee had made it to shaky feet, eyes wild and as if he might bolt at any moment. With Tony's glare pinning him, though, Max stayed put. Moving forward, Tony wasted no time putting himself between Pepper and the rest of them.
Warily, he looked at Andy. The man had stepped between him and Sean. He'd tried to warn him. But none of that changed everything that had happened before. Andy must have known some of his thoughts because his mouth twisted ruefully and he nodded shortly, almost bitterly. But he didn't move - no warning look required. Maybe it was the gun Tony was holding, maybe not. "Pepper," Tony said on a frustrated sigh, "See if Andy has any more of those cable ties."
"What the hell, Andy, are you guys buddies now? You're supposed to be working for me," Max protested, his voice frantic and frayed at the edges.
"Shut up, Max,"Tony snapped, suddenly vicious. Pepper threw him a worried look as she moved over to Andy. She knew he was angry, but the look in his eyes. They were cold, with a terrible rage swirling in them. She didn't know how much of everything they'd suffered at hands of these men would color his actions. But remembering what Sean had done to him, remembering her bruised wrists and bandaging Tony's bullet wound, she realized that yeah, Tony wasn't the only one really angry.
She only hoped he wouldn't let it control him. They still had to get out of here and they needed to call the cops. She couldn't help remembering that Tony was different now. He was willing to kill. Had killed. After everything they'd been through, she didn't know if it would matter that this wasn't life or death anymore. That morally….legally they had to call the police. To be honest, she was angry enough herself that she was almost willing to help him steady the gun before he pulled the trigger. Almost.
Trust him, Pepper.
So, tamping down her worry, she quickly searched Andy's pockets. Yay. Cable ties. She could acknowledge the little bit of vindictive glee that sparked when she found them, thinking about giving these men a taste of their own medicine. But she didn't take the time to relish it; it was short work to truss up Sean. She avoided the evil look he gave her as she did it, and ignored the way he laughed under his breath. She tightened the plastic cord as much as she could and at Tony's instruction threaded one thick tie through a nearby railing post. There was no way Sean would get free and no way he could move more than a few inches…even if he were inclined to try anything with a broken wrist. Still, it was no small relief for Pepper once she was done.
Keeping his eyes on the three of them and the gun trained on the two as-yet-untied kidnappers, Tony addressed Andy. "Is this all of you?" Pepper thought she knew the answer; they'd only ever seen the three of them, but there could be more. Mouth turned down, Andy gave a short nod. Around the surprise she felt, a great wave of relief went through her. Maybe this would be okay. Tony searched the man's face, looking for a lie, before he sighed heavily and muttered, "All right then." He paused, considering, and Pepper could almost hear the gears turning - see the calculations running in his head. Finally, his mouth a thin line of displeasure, he spit out, "Shit, Andy. I don't know if I should shoot you or buy you a drink."
Pepper knew her boss was talking about the warning Andy had given him earlier. With that memory, other moments came back to her; moments where the kidnapper had tried to relieve some of the pain they'd been suffering. Her stomach roiled with anxiety. How were they going to deal with this guy? Sounding like it tasted bad, Tony answered her unvoiced question.
"Him too, Potts, but just his arms." He paused, his eyes moving from Andy to Max and back again. "We're not going to leave these two here."
When she'd finished, both Andy and Max had taken a familiar pose. Arms tightly bound behind them guaranteed they were no longer a threat to her or Tony … and Pepper felt the wretched fear she'd been victim to for the past days start to fade. She watched as the former weapons manufacturer stepped up to his former employee. He turned out the man's pockets and swore when he came up empty. Sean and Andy's pockets only resulted in a set of keys that Pepper recognized. Tony huffed a frustrated breath and turned to face the door leading back into the main warehouse. "Alright boys, up and at 'em." He meant to go back there, it was obvious. Pepper bit back a protest. They may have the three tied up, but hadn't Sean said someone else was coming? She and Tony needed to leave now. She found her gaze moving anxiously around the warehouse. The van was right there. Why weren't they leaving? They could find a phone and call the cops after. Sensing her growing unease, Tony's gaze sought hers. She knew it was to reassure her, but they had keys now. One of them must fit the cars here. She barely heard him say, "I just need to tie up a loose end."
Giving one final check to Sean's ties, her infuriatingly calm-seeming boss gestured with the weapon to the two other men. There must a reason. He must have a good reason. But as the two former captives, Max and Andy walked back into the warehouse, Pepper still had to hold back the urge to scream.
Tony had to grit his teeth as they walked down the endless hallway. He could see the dark opening of what appeared to be an office coming up. Based on the slight course correction Max made, it was where they were headed. Thank God. The adrenaline from their earlier effort was wearing off; every single ache and pain was coming back into sharp focus. Tony could feel the bleed of energy that came from fighting it, and ignored the horrible knowledge that he didn't have much more in him. He needed to rest.
Almost done. They were almost done.
The office was small. But this was it. A desk. A laptop. Small screens showed the remains of the cells they'd been held in and one showed what seemed to be the front of the warehouse and part of the street. Tony couldn't help the curve of a smile when he looked at his old cell and saw the shattered ruins of the door he'd blasted open. Handing the gun to Pepper, he smiled as he saw her take it and hold it on the two men. If he were them, he wouldn't chance the look in his assistant's eyes at the moment. Knowing she had it under control, he started rifling through the drawers. He knew part of the mutinous look in her eyes was for him. She didn't understand why they didn't just go. Leave these two here and get out. But he couldn't. Not yet.
He turned up a cell phone. Papers, clips, pens. Crap. Where is it? He only hoped the man hadn't already…..and then he found it, tucked into a tiny pocket in the laptop case stuffed into the back of a large file drawer. A flash drive. He heard Pepper's sharp breath of recognition and Max's sound of protest. He hadn't been sure until then. He smiled; that was all he needed to know. To be sure though, he went through the rest of the room. It came up clean. The look of defeat and growing desperation on Max's face was enough to tell him the idiot hadn't made a copy.
Picking up the cellphone, he dialed 911. The person who answered the phone was gratifyingly responsive, and wanted to keep the line open until they arrived. He passed the phone to Pepper, taking the gun back. He wanted to get back to Sean and the vehicles and a room that didn't feel like it was closing in on them. Besides, Sean may have been thoroughly tied up, but definitely not a good idea to leave someone like that unattended. And then there was the matter of the 'company'. Tony had no idea when they were supposed to show up, who they were….or how far away the cops were.
He hated that the Ironman suit was just so much scrap metal at the moment.
Ignoring the creeping fuzziness at the edges of his vision, he motioned for everyone to start moving, and headed back to the 'garage'. As the four left the room, none of them saw the grey sedan move across the monitor reflecting the front of the warehouse; the car's occupants in shades and dark suits.
They were almost back to the cars when Tony realized Max was talking to himself, barely audible, shaking his head - nervous eyes on the floor. Exchanging glances with Andy, Tony couldn't help noticing the other man step between Max and Pepper. Grateful for Andy's assistance and pissed that Max was choosing right now to act up, Tony kept a closer eye on him; he had the distinct impression the man was unraveling right there in front of them.
They were nearly to the door to the outer room when the warble of the first police siren came through. Max froze; Andy nearly walked into him. Tony opened his mouth to prod the man when suddenly the guy turned, his eyes terrified and unfocused. He shouldered Andy to one side. For one scary moment Tony thought Max was going to attack Pepper. But he veered around her, bowling straight into Tony's injured shoulder. Taking a breath that felt like fire, Tony bit back a scream as the world went white.
Max frantically scrambled for the gun in his hand, awkward and hampered by the ties on his wrists. It didn't take much for Tony to fend him off; silently thanking Pepper for her accuracy with that stapler, Tony struck at the purple-bruised fingers of Max's hand – the man let out a screech and let go. For retribution or desperation Tony didn't know, but the bastard drove a knee up into his stomach as he barreled by. Or tried to. Tony blocked the blow but the momentum threw him off balance and by the time he looked up, all Tony saw was a heel rounding the corner at the far end of the hall.
Cursing at the empty hallway, Tony threw a look at Andy and then Pepper. No. He was done with this; he was in no condition to take off after Max. He could hear the squeak of the alarmed 911 operator faintly from the open cellphone; Pepper exchanged a glance with him and as always, seemed to follow his train of thought. She lifted the cellphone and spoke in quiet tones, updating the operator on what had happened.
He took a deep breath. They had the data files. He knew he would find Max; once they were free, once he had access to Jarvis again, there'd be literally nowhere the man could hide. End of story.
Gathering up his assistant and his former kidnapper with a shake of his head and a gesture, they headed back to where they'd left Sean. The sirens were growing louder. It was time to go home.
It was all over the news.
"Billionaire Industrialist Tony Stark and his assistant turned up this evening by contacting police, after having been missing for nearly five days. The former weapons manufacturer and his long-time employee Pepper Potts had apparently been kidnapped; police had been stymied in their search for them, due to a lack of leads.
Details on this breaking story are scant, but it appears that the two captives somehow managed to turn on their kidnappers and free themselves. Minor injuries were treated at the Anaheim Memorial Medical Center and they were released after a few hours.
Two of the kidnappers have been taken into custody, while a Mr. Max Spillman, former employee of Stark Industries remains at large. This photo from his employee file was taken two years ago, and is close to the current description given to police by Mr. Stark. If anyone has any information regarding his whereabouts or sees him, call 911. Do not approach him. He is considered armed and dangerous."
Angrily, Max snapped off the T.V. He continued tossing clothes, papers and whatever else he thought he might need into the large duffel. Opening the panel in the bottom of his dresser drawer, he pulled out the money he had left from the people who'd hired him to take Stark. He had to leave. He had to leave now. Get a fresh start. Somehow. He didn't have Stark's files anymore, but he had enough knowledge from his work at Stark Industries to be of some use. Maybe he could find a buyer for that.
The car was idling in the garage. He was in and out of his apartment in less than five minutes. When the group of police cars passed him heading toward his apartment, he couldn't help smiling.
Still smiling, he didn't notice the grey sedan that pulled in behind his car as he merged on to the expressway.
She found him standing by the window, looking out at the night sky.
Three days had passed since they'd returned, and although Tony had tried to convince her to take more time off, she had insisted on coming back to work today - anxious to move on with her life, anxious to prove that she could.
A tiny part of her regretted that now.
It had been a long day; trying to catch up with business that had been missed, now new and improved with the added bonus of a firestorm of press. As always, the media was aggressive, intrusive and their questions came with a sense of entitlement to private information that was frankly none of their damn business. But the most challenging part was that Pepper was right in the middle of it, along with Tony. She found she didn't like it, and she didn't know how he had handled it all these years.
The lights in the living room were dimmed; enough to see by but not enough to drown out the city lights beyond the wall of glass in front of her. Surprised at how dark it had gotten, she made a mental note to ask Jarvis to remind her in the future when it was quitting time.
Even though the room was dark and she was walking over carpet, Pepper knew he was aware of her. Unless he was down in the workshop, thoroughly absorbed in his most recent project, it was rare that she could sneak up on him. Sometimes she thought he had a direct line into Jarvis and all of his sensors. But he didn't say anything so she took his silence as an invitation.
Stepping up beside him, she was a bit surprised when he didn't look at her. "Tony?" He did turn then, wincing a bit. She could see the slight bulk of the bandage beneath his shirt and guessed he'd pulled at the injury. Or maybe it was the other hurt – it turned out to be a bone-deep bruise on his hip, nothing that wouldn't heal with some TLC and physical therapy. It was a good thing; she thought overall they'd made it out better than anyone could have hoped. Now if she could stop from thinking about it every time she stopped moving, thinking, or talking. If she could stop having nightmares about it, too, well. That would be peachy.
He smiled. "Hey, Potts." His gaze returned to the window and the darkened horizon, filled with lights; the flickering, tinted nightlife of California. "Had enough already?"
She rolled her eyes. "You know, you might field some of the calls."
He snorted. "Do you really want to me talking to the press?"
Nightmarish visions of the damage control she'd need to do flashed alarmingly…so vividly she almost heard a nasally robotic voice accompanying them: Danger, Will Robinson, danger!
"On second thought, never mind."
He nodded, glancing over at her with eyes full of mischief and maybe a little relief. "Gotcha," he winked. "Okay, boss."
Sighing, she let it go. "After the day I've had, you're buying dinner." Looking down, she checked the pockets of her jacket. Where did I put those keys?
"What are you hungry for?" His voice was suddenly a lot closer, and the gentle mockery had softened to something that shivered up her spine. Startled, she looked up and found he was near enough to feel his breath ghost against her cheek. And he was looking at her with dark, dark eyes that made her knees feel shaky and made her breath hitch.
"Tony, what…" He shifted forward into her space, the warmth of his body very close and very real, and Pepper couldn't help her indrawn breath when one hand came to rest on her hip - while the other reached up to tangle in the hair she'd let down at the end of the day. And then his mouth was covering hers and she forgot completely how starved she'd been just a moment ago.
She hadn't known if the fleeting kisses they'd shared in that warehouse were real or a symptom of the tension laden situation. In the bright cold light of freedom, she'd explained them away…ignoring the tight feeling in her chest at the thought that a kiss likely didn't carry the same weight for her admittedly promiscuous boss as it did for her.
That maybe, just maybe, in the big picture they meant nothing to him - and for the sake of their working relationship she should just forget it had happened.
But this. This she couldn't explain away. His mouth on hers was gentle and questioning, almost as if he were worried how she'd react. Her heart was pounding and she could smell his cologne, familiar and wonderful. When she tilted her head to deepen the contact, he made a sound - something like a moan and his fingers tightened in the cloth at her hip. He pulled her closer, close enough for her to brush up against him. It drew a soft sound from her lips that turned into a gasp when his mouth and tongue moved down to her jaw and lower, tasting the mad beat of her pulse before his lips moved to cover hers again. Something dark and delicious was coiling low in her stomach and Pepper didn't want it to stop.
This wasn't something shallow or the situation. This was years of caring, soft looks and passing touches. Years of flirting and playing at the edge of something more.This….this felt real and perfect and right. And when he finally pulled away his eyes were hooded, his breathing had quickened and amazingly, he looked as completely and utterly undone by this as Pepper felt.
He closed his eyes then, taking a deep breath. Pepper couldn't help the tiny stab of fear that he was about to pull away from her, about to sweep this moment under the rug – as they had done for so many moments. But his arms wrapped around her, pulling her head in close. She felt him inhale, his face buried in her hair - and her head was against his chest, feeling the heat of him and breathing in his scent. She listened to the soft hum of the arc generator and beneath it, the pounding of his heart. When his lips brushed the soft shell of her ear…making her shiver, she glanced up and he murmured, "so…how about we have dinner delivered?"
Her smile was answer enough.
They found Spillman's car abandoned, on the side of the freeway. Barely disturbed and with the driver's door open… the key was in the ignition. What looked like a single bullet hole punctured the leather of the front seat. No blood or obvious signs of a struggle. Tony knew the look on Pepper's face after she'd gotten the news - she didn't want to relay the information. She knew what it meant. But then she didn't have to. Jarvis had already told him.
In addition to healing up, handling necessary business for Stark Industries and (of course) security upgrades, it took Tony a month and a half to find out where they'd taken his former employee. It was pretty ironic really – Ironman was saving Max from the very fate he'd intended for Tony.
Once he'd found the bad guys, it didn't take long to fly out and destroy the illegal research facility and take Max into custody. He found his erstwhile kidnapper in the dirty lab, exhausted, unwashed and mentally unhinged. Yeah. Definitely unhinged. Disconcertingly, after he'd blasted through the door….after the dust settled and Ironman had a grip around Max's arm pulling him to safety – the disheveled redhead started laughing. It was quiet and desperate and Tony could feel bitter disgust rise at the sound. He briefly considered dropping the man in the ocean as he flew by…things would be so much simpler that way. But in the end he decided it would be more gratifying to see the man rot in jail. For a long, long, time. Unlike Andy, Max wouldn't have the benefit of Stark Industries' legal team representing him. In fact, Max and his public attorney would be facing said legal team.
So, resisting the urge to simply crush the life out of the man in an iron gauntleted grip, he handed Max over to authorities. But the manic chuckling and crazed expression told him that Max hadn't held up well as a captive. Though Max had obviously had some short-circuiting going on before he'd been taken, in the end it seemed Ironman showing up to rescue him only helped complete the guy's spiral into madness.
Yeah. Tony wasn't sure how he felt about that. But at least Max wasn't out somewhere plotting a sinister revenge or worse, sharing secrets that weren't his with even scarier bad guys.
When Tony got back to the mansion, Pepper was waiting. It surprised him a little, because before all this she'd always been suspiciously absent until he'd changed and cleaned up (and depending on how rough the mission had been, it sometimes took a good while after that). But things were different now between them … and this had been his first trip out in the suit since that fateful fall-from-the-sky-without-power almost two months ago.
Hm. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that she'd be there to greet him.
She was wearing a deceptively modest outfit that highlighted her curves in all the right places, and as the HUD gave way to an unfettered view of her Tony couldn't help his smile. He caught the pinch of concern at the corners of her eyes, but saw it quickly fade behind a sweet smile as she stepped up to him. "So…success?"
"Yep. Villian apprehended, crisis officially averted."
"Mmm. That's good." She closed the gap between them, running her hands down his arms, still avoiding the mostly healed shoulder. He knew her hands on him was another way she could be sure he was okay. He couldn't find it in himself to be insulted by it, distracted as he was by the soft caress of her breath against his neck. He could smell the light scent of the perfume he'd given her and decided that she was still too far away. Putting his hands on her hips, he slipped them around to the small of her back. She smiled as he tugged her in close.
It was pretty obvious by now that his life would never be simple.
And being with him would put Pepper in danger. But he'd be damned if he let anyone hurt her, and Pepper knew the risks better than anyone. If Pepper – brilliant, logical, beautiful Pepper chose to be with him - after all they'd been through and all he'd asked her to do, well, Tony didn't have the right to tell her she couldn't be (even if he wanted to).
Thinking back on the past two months, it occurred to him that if it hadn't been for Max and his plans, he and Pepper might have never been. But then, thinking back on all of the time he'd known her…no. Max had nothing to do with this.
As he leaned down to kiss her, Tony pushed those thoughts away. What mattered now was that they were together…and what mattered right now was the feeling of her lips on his.
But there was something else he needed to ask of her. He pulled away, breath a bit unsteady.
"Reschedule my afternoon appointments, would you? I have some …. pressing matters to attend to."
She smiled, slow and sexy, and he felt his heart-rate double.
"Certainly, Mr. Stark."
End note: Well, it's finally done and I'm so so sorry it's taken so long! Thanks to everyone who has followed this story! Also, you may have suspected but I'd like to confirm - reviews are like chocolate…deliciously addicting and the single greatest source of joy on this tiny little planet of ours. I'm pretty sure. That's how I feel about them anyway, so a most sincerely thank you to everyone who has taken the time. :) I hope you've enjoyed these last few chapters and would love to hear what you think. With warm regards and much aloha… ~Dulce