What Happens in the Riviera…Stays in the Riviera

By Elizabeth Bathory

As the smoke and debris cleared from the aftermath of the overload of the reactor, Pepper Potts climbed to the roof as fast as she could up the gateway to hell which had just moments before been a shining beacon of commerce with Colonel James Rhodes and Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. following behind her.

She screamed out Tony's name as she got to the roof but once she rounded the edge, her heart stopped and her blood ran cold as she saw the prone, lifeless body in red armor on the ground with the light from his arc reactor flickering faintly. She screamed his name as she shined the flashlight on his body for Rhodey and Coulson.

"You have to get him out of there," Pepper gasped out as she followed behind them. She knelt behind Tony and cradled his head in her lap as Rhodey and Coulson got to work stripping him of the broken armor.

"Half of this is just falling off," Rhodey said with a grunt as he pulled off the battered chest piece and one of the arms. "Please tell me he's still alive and I am not doing this for his funeral."

Pepper put her fingers to Tony's neck and found a faint pulse there. "He's alive and he's going to stay that way."

"He needs to be in a hospital." Rhodey stated as he freed one of his legs.

"He needs to be home." Pepper countered as she looked down at Tony's broken form. "You know he will not consent to being in a hospital and he would check himself out as soon as he was able. If he is at home, I can make sure he rests and gets the time he needs to recover."

Rhodey did not like the idea but he could not argue with Pepper's reasoning. "Put him in the back of my truck…and the armor." Rhodey said to Coulson as they picked up Tony and carried him down off the roof.

Pepper slid into the back after Coulson and Rhodey got Tony inside and they went back up to the roof for his armor. She had one arm draped over his chest and the other behind his head, cradling him against her as she stroked his hair providing a comfort for her more than him in the sheer fact that he was alive.

Tony moved ever so slightly in Pepper's arms, letting his head curl up against her stomach as a quiet groan of pain slipped out.

"Tony?" Pepper gasped as she tried to support him as best as she could.

"Pepper?" Tony gasped out weakly as his arm took a hold of hers. He opened his eyes only for a moment as he looked up into her face.

"I've got you. You're safe now." Pepper told him softly.

Just those few words were enough to give Tony some comfort and allowed him to fall back into the peaceful oblivion of unconsciousness as his reactor was slowly growing stronger.

"We're going to have to give some sort of explanation for this." Rhodey sighed as he put the last of the armor into the bed of his truck and watched the fire fighters douse the flames. "This is going to be the front page of the times tomorrow."

"Let us handle this," Coulson said. "We have some experience with this. We'll arrange the conference tomorrow. I'll be in touch." He added before slipping into his car and driving off.

Rhodey sighed as he slipped behind the wheel of his truck and turned it on. "How's he doing?" he asked, looking back before putting the truck into drive.

"He'll be better once we get him home," Pepper whispered as she looked down at Tony's face, lit by the brightening glow of his chest piece.

Once they were back at the mansion, Rhodey practically carried Tony up to the bedroom where he set his still form down on the bed.

"Do you need any more help with him?" Rhodey offered.

"Thank you but no. I can handle this part." Pepper stated. "Not like I haven't had to do it before." She added as she thought of how many times she dealt with him passed out from drunkenness.

Rhodey nodded. "Call me if you need anything. I highly doubt I will be getting much sleep tonight."

"I will and try to," Pepper said as she thanked him again. "We may be walking into a firestorm tomorrow."

"I think that would be easier." Rhodey interjected before leaving.

As the sounds of Rhodey's truck faded, Pepper went back up to the bedroom to start getting Tony cleaned and patched up. She grabbed a small basin with hot water and soap and a wash cloth before going back into Tony's bedroom. Setting the items she carried on his night stand, Pepper sat on the edge of his bed watching him sleep for a moment before she got to work on getting his under armor off.

An hour later, Pepper had finally gotten Tony all cleaned up as best that she could, patched up his wounds and tucked him into bed all with only minimal disturbance to him. After dumping out the water that was tinted with blood and grime, Pepper went back to Tony's bedroom one more time to check on him before she stole away in one of the guest rooms for the night. He had curled up on his side with the blankets pulled up to his ears but he was sleeping and sleeping peacefully at that. Pepper placed a soft kiss on his temple and whispered 'Good night' before she turned in herself.

By the time the sun had risen and Pepper was fully awake again, her Blackberry was buzzing with several voicemails – some from Coulson, some from Board members and one from Rhodey. Not even wanting to look at the morning headlines, Pepper noted that Coulson had everything all set up and they needed a press conference today to minimize the damage. She told him that she could have something set up by three. In truth, she could have it done much earlier but she wanted to give Tony as much time to recover as possible. The Board members she gracefully dodged to get them out of the way until the "official" story was out. Then, she finally called back Rhodey.

She dialed and the phone barely rang once. "You called?"

"How's he doing?" Rhodey asked with genuine concern for his best friend.

"He's sleeping and I want him to stay that way for as long as possible."

Rhodey knew there was more to this. "Seriously…how is he?"

"His reactor is getting brighter as each hour he rests passes." Pepper stated. "Tony told me that his reactor recharges when he doesn't have to use its full capacity. Now, since that is the only one he has because the other was destroyed with Obadiah, I want him to take it easy."

"Can he build a new one?"

"Once he is back to full working order, I don't doubt it. I just hope he doesn't make me put it in again."

"So when's the press conference?" Rhodey asked.

"I set it for three to give Tony as much time away from the flash bulbs as possible." Pepper replied.

"Will he be ready by then?"

"I'll wake him up in plenty of time so everyone will be pleased with the "official" version of what happened."

"So I guess Coulson already got a hold of you?"

"Before sunrise there were several messages from him." Pepper sighed. Coulson was nothing if not thorough.

"This will blow over like everything else does." Rhodey stated. "This is Tony and Tony's antics usually go away once someone finds something else to gawk at."

"I hope you're right this time." Pepper stated. "I'll talk to you later on." She said as she hung up the phone.

It was shortly before two o'clock when Pepper ventured up the stairs to wake Tony for the press conference. She loathed doing it since he was getting the much needed rest he missed so often but damage control needed to be done.

Pepper slowly opened the door to the darkened room to the sound of Tony snoring. He had hardly moved since she put him to bed more than twelve hours earlier. Pepper walked softly along the carpeted floor and gently put her hand on his shoulder to wake him.

"Mr. Stark…Tony…you need to wake up now." Pepper said sweetly as she let the weight of her hand bring him around.

Tony stirred slowly under Pepper's touch. He rolled over on his back and the bruises on his face stood out as a very dark and noticeable reminder of what happened. His eyes struggled open and he smiled weakly when he saw Pepper looking down at him.

"Hi," he said through a yawn. "Is it time for breakfast?"

"More like a late lunch," Pepper replied. "You need to start getting ready."

"Ready for what?" Tony asked as he stretched and winced against the pain he was in as he sat up in bed.

"A press conference to clear up what happened last night. Your statement has been prepared already." Pepper said as she started to scan through Tony's closet for a suit to wear.

"What? You don't trust me to come up with this on the fly?" Tony asked as he swung his legs out from under his warm blankets.

"Not after what happened last time," Pepper sighed as she shoved his clothes and an espresso into his hands. "Shower…now. We need to leave in about thirty."

Tony groaned as he got out of bed and trudged into the bathroom, showing how much he did not want to do this.

Just after three, Tony was sitting in his office while Pepper skillfully hid the bruises and scrapes on his face while he read over the newspaper.

"Iron Man." That's kind of catchy. It's got a nice ring to it. But it's not technically accurate. The suit's a gold titanium alloy. It's kind of evocative imagery anyway." Tony said to himself as Pepper pulled one of the bandages off his nose.

"Here's your alibi." Coulson said as he handed Tony the cards with his statement on it.

"Ok…" Tony said as he skimmed them over.

"You were on your yacht. We have port papers that put you in Avalon all night and sworn statements from fifty of your guests." Coulson interjected calmly.

"See, I was thinking it was just Pepper and me on the island," Tony said as Pepper pulled off another bandage just a bit harder than the first to show her displeasure with that statement.

"That's what happened. Read it word for word." Coulson reiterated.

Tony skimmed the cards again. "There's nothing about Stane in here."

"It's being handled." Coulson said smoothly, as if he prepared for anything. "He's on vacation…small aircraft have such poor safety records."

"What about the whole cover story that it's a body guard? That's a little flimsy, don't you think?" Tony questioned.

"This isn't my first rodeo, Mr. Stark." Coulson said. "Just stick to the official statement and soon all of this will be behind you." He said as he turned to leave.

As Agent Coulson was about to leave, Pepper stopped him.

"Agent Couslon, I just wanted to say thank you very much for all of your help." She said with a smile.

"That's what we do. You'll be hearing from us."

"From the Strategic Homeland...

Coulson interrupted her. "Just call us S.H.I.E.L.D."

Pepper picked up Tony's jacket and started to help him into it as he looked over the cards one last time.

"You know…it's actually not that bad. Even I don't think I'm Iron Man." Tony said as he slipped his jacket on.

"You're not Iron Man." Pepper reminded him.

"If I were Iron Man, I'd have this girlfriend who knew my true identity. She'd be a wreck; she'd always be worrying I was going to die, yet so proud of the man I've become; she'd be wildly conflicted, which would only make her more crazy about me." Tony said as he turned around to look at Pepper. "Tell me you never think about that night."

"What night? Oh, are you talking about the night where we danced and went up to the roof, and you went downstairs to get me a drink and you left me there, by myself?" Pepper asked evenly as she fixed his handkerchief in his pocket.

"Uh-huh." Tony said rather dumbly as he got the taste of his foot in his mouth."

"Thought so." Pepper said with a small smirk as she fixed his tie. "Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"

"Yes, that will be all, Miss. Potts." Tony said quickly as he headed out to the podium.

"Mr. Stark will now read a prepared statement and he will not be taking any questions," Rhodey said as he stepped aside when he saw Tony come in.

Tony stepped behind the podium and almost seemed nervous. "It's been a while since I have been in front of all of you so I'm going to stick to the cards this time." Tony joked as he pulled out the cards. "There's been speculations that I was involved in the events that occurred on the freeway and the rooftop... "

Christine Everheart quickly interrupted. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stark, but do you honestly expect us to believe that that was a bodyguard in a suit that conveniently appeared, despite the fact that..."

Tony quickly cut her off. "I know that it's confusing. It is one thing to question the official story, and another thing entirely to make wild accusations, on insinuating that I'm a superhero."

Christine now cut him off. "I never said you were a superhero."

"Didn't?" Tony questioned, realizing what he just did and needed to recover from.

"Mmm-mmm." Everheart nodded.

"Well, good, because that would be outlandish and, uh, fantastic." Tony exclaimed as he was trying to cover his tracks. "I'm just not the hero type. Clearly. With this laundry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made, largely public."

Rhodey saw where this was going and needed to stop a potential train wreck in progress. He leans in and whispers to Tony, "Just stick to the cards, man."

Tony nods. "Yeah, okay." He says as he holds up his notes and pauses, and then puts them down. "The truth is... I am Iron Man."

With those seven words, the press core went nuts as cameras flashed and reporters shouted questions left and right.

Pepper cringed as those words left Tony's mouth. Why couldn't he listen to direction for just once? Just then, Pepper's Blackberry started to vibrate and glow.

"You have 346 new messages." The screen read.

Pepper sighed in disgust as she looked up at Tony. He was going to pay for this.