Title: Seeking Normal
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Iron Man (movieverse)
Rating: T, this part, I think.
Length: Short story (this part, about 1200 words; 3700 overall)
Disclaimer: Marvel owns, just playing, so not mine and no way am I making money from this.
Feedback: Concrit adored! If you see something that can be improved upon, please let me know, even if it's only a typo.
Written for: My own sadistic pleasure, if you can call it that-sparked by a discussion here that sent my brain spiraling out of control. pensive1, sunnyd_lite, and quite a few others on my flist and elsewhere aided and abetted me through it.
Warnings: None for this part, other than standard angst, trauma, and Hurt with very little Comfort.
Summary: Tony tries for normalcy again, two weeks after getting home from Afghanistan. It...doesn't work. At all. This scene takes off from the midpoint of the first part, Pepper's POV. She gets a call...

The ringing phone jerks me out of a sound sleep. I look at the clock and moan; only one person would be calling me at this hour. "Tony, what-" I start muzzily.

"Miss Potts, you'd better come." That's not the voice I expected, and suddenly I'm wide awake.

"Jarvis? What's wrong?" An icy tendril of fear coils up in my stomach.

I could swear that the AI hesitates. "He is fastened to the bed and, from my readings of his vital signs, in a very agitated state."

"Fastened to the..." Two weeks, I think. That didn't take long. "I'm on my way."

I throw my slacks and a blouse on and grab the first pair of shoes that comes to hand, the black Manolos with the four-inch heels and the open sides. Jarvis sounds uncharacteristically disturbed, and I break several traffic laws on my way to Tony's house.

I've uncuffed him from the bed before, of course. Usually he has cheeky commentary and a cheekier grin, and he has the grace to send me a bouquet of daisies or a box of See's chocolate or something for putting up with that afterwards. I don't make any remarks, because it's not my place, and we don't discuss his...proclivities.

This time...

I stop short in the doorway of the bedroom he reserves for activities like this, and my hand goes involuntarily to my mouth. No wonder Jarvis was concerned. Tony's wrists are handcuffed to the headboard, his ankles are tied with...are those silk ropes? Whatever they are, he's tied to the footboard with them, and he's gagged and blindfolded and covered in scrapes and red welts. He's been bleeding, although it's mostly dried. I hate it when he uses the damn vampire gloves.

This is nothing new.

What's new is the fact that he's sweating and shaking and breathing way faster than can possibly be good for him. The glow of the arc reactor throws everything into harsh relief, and I don't need Jarvis to turn the lights up because I can see all I need to. More than I want to.

My professionalism wars with my concern. I want nothing more than to gather him in my arms and kiss his hair and tell him it's going to be all right, even though that would clearly be a gigantic lie and I'm a terrible liar. But we've never had that sort of relationship-I hadn't even hugged him, for Heaven's sake, when he'd come back from Afghanistan.

So I sit on the edge of the bed and gently remove the gag and the blindfold, and his eyes are wide and terrified and my heart cracks out of my chest to see him this way. "Where are the keys?" I ask, but he's not up to talking yet, so I untie the ropes from his ankles. He half-rolls onto his side and curls around himself as much as he can. "Jarvis?"

"Top drawer," Jarvis says promptly, and I find them right there and unlock the cuffs. Tony pulls his arms into his chest and closes his eyes, and his breathing gradually eases but is far from normal. My breathing isn't normal either, and there's an uncomfortable tremor in the core of my chest.

My hand reaches out, seemingly of its own accord, for his hair, but I pull it back. "Shh," I say, and he hunches in tighter on himself and covers his head, as if someone just kicked him. I flinch, myself, and make a noise in my throat, but I have to get him up before we both fall apart. Before he falls apart more. "Come on, Tony, let's get you out of here and into your own bed."

It's a couple of tries before he visibly pulls himself together enough to get up. He's completely naked-who knows where his clothes are-and I carefully keep my eyes above chest level. I take him by the elbow with two fingers and lead him to the room he sleeps in, the room no one else is allowed to enter without express permission, and pull the covers back to let him collapse onto the sheets. Tucking the blanket around his shoulders and (again) refraining from stroking his hair before turning to go, I say, "Will that be all, Mr.-"

He doesn't let me finish. "Stay." His voice is raspy, exhausted. I wonder what he's just been through and decide I don't want to know the particulars.

I stop and look at him, and he squeezes his eyes shut. I'm trying to be reasonable, and failing, because I don't actually want to leave him like this, but don't feel it's my place to stay. "Tony, it's one thirty in the-"

"Please." And that's a word that never, ever comes out of his mouth, and it lets me know just how far off the end of his rope he's fallen tonight. Maybe he brought this on himself, and maybe it's one more insane mess I'm cleaning up after, but I'm damned if I can just abandon him here-his expression is equal parts lost, bewildered, and wrecked, and I can feel it mirrored on my own face...which, thankfully, is in shadow, so he wouldn't see it even if his eyes were open.

So I sigh to cover my own devastation and drag the chair up beside the bed. I take my shoes off, drop them on the floor, and tuck my feet under me, and, once again, don't stroke his hair and don't kiss him better and don't hug him, because that's not the kind of relationship we have. I settle for "Go to sleep, Tony."

He doesn't say anything more, and eventually his breathing approaches normal, and I can tell he's finally dropped off, so my breathing can go back to normal too. I sit with him awhile, long enough to figure he's down for the count, and then pick my shoes up and head home.

But before I do, I put my hand on his hair, very softly, and blow a shaky breath out. "Oh, Tony."


I pull into the driveway the next morning at seven to find a pile of burnt embers off to one side of it, still smoldering. I recognize the outlines of the bedside table from his "fun room," and my lips tighten.

But there's a huge bouquet of three dozen long-stemmed blue roses and a pair of Louboutins from next season and the biggest box of Godiva chocolate I've ever seen on the table I work from in the living room.

And when I take him his espresso at eight thirty and give him his first stack of papers to sign, neither of us says a word.


A/N: If you want to read about what happened to Tony to precipitate this, that chapter is in my "agilebrit" LJ-click on the profile, the "tags" link, and then the "badwrong fic" link. That part of the story is rated a Hard MA for several very good reasons. Use discretion, please.