(A/N: Sorry about the wait for this chapter, lost a week to exams and a writing contest. Then just horrible writers block. Good news though, I have the next chapter written and just need to polish it up a bit. Still not completely happy with the way this chapter turned out but I figured you'd all waited more than long enough. So review and expect the next chapter in a day or two.)
Disclaimer: if I say I do own IMAA would you believe me? I thought not.
Chapter 5: System restore complete
Tony, Rhodey and Gene looked at the screen; they had come all this way only to find the cure already taken. Gene looked closely at the identification number of the cure. CF-18H-9957G, it seemed so familiar. He looked at the backpack Pepper had grabbed back at the airstrip, it couldn't be, the idea was crazy. Then again.
He walked over and quickly shifted through its contents. The canister was still there, the identification code matched. "Stark, this what you need?"
Tony grabbed the container and looked it over. "Gene, where'd you find this?"
"It was in Potts pack, remember, she thought it might be food."
Rhodey put a hand on Tonys shoulder, "is that really it?"
"I, I think it is. The identification numbers match."
Gene raised an eyebrow, "ok so what are the chances that it would just happen to be in a pack that Potts picks up?"
Tony just shook his head. "You really don't want to know."
They were interrupted by the computers beeps. Tony sat back down just as Pepper climbed out of the eggs shaped scanner. "Hey you guys, you've got to try this thing out it's so comfy! Oh do you think it has a massage mode?"
She stopped when she saw the troubled look on Tonys face. "Something wrong? Oh its bad news isn't it?"
Tony just looked at the screen in disbelief. "No, it says your perfectly health, there's nothing wrong."
"But, you said I was sick."
"Yea, my computers said you were but now."
Rhodey shrugged. "Maybe these computers just aren't working, why don't you check again?"
"It did, three times. Everything's working fine. But that means, if everything here is working then something back at the lab, but how?"
"So wait, Potts isn't sic-." Gene collapsed to the floor, standing behind him was Whiplash.
"Hello, it's been awhile." One of his whips shot out and grabbed the container from the desk.
Tony jumped to his feet but he'd set his pack down several feet away. Rhodey knew that too and tried to distract Whiplash. "What are you doing out here, Mr. Fix finally fire you?"
"No, he just sent me to pick this up." He held up the canister.
"What does he want with it? What's going on here?"
"Still haven't figured it out? Fine its fun to gloat about how foolish you all are. Mr. Fix hacked your system when the girl fried it. Then he just played around with a few lines of code to make it look like she was sick."
"But why? Doesn't he have anything better to do then mess with us?"
"Of course he does. But you see the girl isn't the one that needs this, he does. He knew you'd go to any length to save your friend. Then he sent me along to make sure you got the cure so I could steal it. You have no idea how hard that was though. Those stupid vines almost killed all of you a dozen times. Now I can finish what they started though."
He raised his hand to strike at them when he was suddenly thrown across the room by a blast from the ironman glove. Tony smirked. "Villains, they always gloat."
Whiplash got back to his feet. "That's it I'm going to enj-."
He fell to his knees, behind him stood Pepper holding an oversized fire extinguisher. She looked madder than either Tony or Rhodey had seen her before. "You set this whole thing up. Do you have ANY! IDEA! WHAT! I went through! I was almost killed! I had to sleep outside! Wolfs chased me, wolfs! And those stupid vines!"
She brought the fire extinguisher down on his head with such force that Whiplash was pushed flat on the ground. Tony cringed, that looked more painfully then the time he'd had a building fall on him. Pepper raised it to strike again but Whiplash rolled out of the way and sprang to his feet.
One of his whips shot out and plucked the extinguisher from her hands. He wasn't paying enough attention though, one of the prongs on his whip cut into its side where it had already been weakened when Pepper had bashed it into his helmet. Just as it was over his head it exploded covering him with its chemicals, the empty haul rocketed through the ceiling and off into the building somewhere.
"Pepper Rhodey run!" They did, heading for the door. Rhodey grabbed Gene as he went, tossing him over his shoulder as he went. Whiplashs shadow appeared in the cloud of chemicals and Tony fired at it sending the villain sprawling. As soon as Pepper and Rhodey were out of the lab Tony followed hitting the button to lock the door as he went sealing Whiplash inside. He knew it wouldn't hold him for long but it might slow him down long enough for them to find something to defend themselves with.
They all ran farther into the building, trying to escape outside was out of the questions because Whiplash would catch them in minutes.
The hall curved gently ahead of them and the doors were much farther apart then they had been. They stopped at every one and tried to open them hoping to duck inside and hide but all of them were locked. The sound of whips hitting metal chased them down the hall urging them on. Again and again though the doors remained shut before them.
Finally though at the apex of the curve they found a door that was already slightly ajar. Something was jamming it but the three of them all pushed on it together and it slid open enough for them to get in, and then slowly moved back into place.
The lab they were in was a large semicircle; the door was along the curved part of the wall near several stations with computers watching them through black screens. It was very dark inside, the only light coming from the floor to ceiling windows set in the opposite wall which was covered in something leaving only a few weak beams to penetrate into the murky interior.
A loud but dulled thud signaled the Whiplash had finally gotten out. Tony Rhodey and Pepper all ducked under the desks praying he moved on. Pepper and Tony had unconsciously hidden under the same desk and he out his arm around her in a protective manner pulling her closer to himself.
They all listened, Whiplashes footsteps were getting louder but he didn't seem to be rushing and Tony wondered if he could track them somehow. His question was pretty much answered when two whips snaked their way in along the door frame and forced it open. "Should have kept running, now you're trapped."
Tony put the glove against the desk firing, the force of the laser sent the desk flying towards Whiplash. Then he sprang to his feet and spun around, firing a beam to break one of the windows and creating an escape for Rhodey and Pepper. As he completed his spin two whips wrapped around the desk and crushed it sending splinters in all directions. Another blast ripped through the splinters and pushed Whiplash back into the wall.
"Pepper Rhodey go, get Gene and run. I'll buy you some time."
"Forget it man, were not letting you take him on alone." Rhodey picked up one of the legs from the broken desk and held it like a club.
"He's right; if whiplash wants one of us he gets all of us." Pepper grabbed a desk lap.
"Oh how touching, luckily for me I want to kill all of you." His whips glowed red and left black burned trails on the floor as he walked towards them. One whip shot out and grabbed the desk leg from Rhodey, it smoldered where the whips held it in the air. The second whip grabbed the lamp from pepper and it hissed as its metal was melted.
The lamp though was still connected to some active source of power and metal of the whip created a short. The jolt of electricity wasn't enough to cause Whiplash any real harm or pain but it did startle him and distracted him for a moment.
It was in that moment that they struck. Not Tony Rhodey or Pepper but the vines. They rushed through the hole in the glass and wrapped themselves around Whiplashes arms and legs. The whips struck out at the vines severing them but more rushed to take their spot.
Tony and Pepper moved away from the current of veins farther into the room, Rhodey grabbed Gene and carried him towards the door. The vines were as thick and their arms now and they started to drag Whiplash toward the break in the glass. They were also getting thicker, pushing along the cracks in the window expanding it.
Thinner ones were flooding the lab branching off of the ones attacking Whiplash. Everything they touched they wrapped around and it was pulled towards the ever expanding hole. One found Peppers foot and with surprising strength started to pull her back.
Tony grabbed her arms and yank her free, the vines were not happy about that. More of them started to blindly feel around for their lost prey. Tony and Pepper climbed up on to one of the desks which gave a jerk when the vines found its legs and started to drag it along. Tony turned towards Rhodey. "Get Gene out of here, we'll catch up!"
"Uh Tony, how are we supposed to get out?" Pepper gestured to the floor which was now a mass of withering green vines.
"Like this." He grabbed her hand and jumped to the next desk. It was difficult going because the desks moved in a jittery motion as the vines tugged them along. On the third desk Pepper misjudged the distance and her feet landed on the edge of the desk. She began to fall backwards and if it hadn't been for Tonys hand she would have fallen into the vines.
He pulled her back upright and she ended up pressed against his chest but she didn't have time to enjoy it. They jumped to the next desk and then the next, but when they neared the edge of the vines they ran out of desks. They would have to clear them in one long jump, there was no point in thinking about it so each making sure they had a good hold on the others hand they jumped.
It was one of those moments where time seemed to slow down; Pepper looked down and saw the vines moving beneath them like a pit of vipers. She turned her head and saw Tonys serious look; a small smile crossed her face.
Tony and Pepper cleared the edge of the vines by an inch or so, they landed in a crouch and started running in case the vines decided to follow. They ran out the door and found Rhodey in the hall with Gene propped against the wall.
Rhodey noticed that they were still holding hands. They saw his look and followed it, quickly letting go of each other when they saw what he was looking at. Rhodey smiled at them. "So you guys ok?"
"Yea, were fine. I don't think Whiplash will be though." They all peeked back into the room; the vines had retreated through the hole. There was no sign of Whiplash or any of the furniture.
Tony stepped into the room. "You guys stay there, I'll be right back." He ignored their protest and carefully made his way to the hole he had blasted in the window. Beyond it was a huge domed room, completely covered in vines. They wove into a large sphere near the center; there was no sign of Whiplash.
He turned his attention to a computer secured to the wall, one of the few that hadn't been dragged out. He spent the next twenty minutes typing on it before returning to the hall. Gene had come around but still seemed a bit out of it.
Rhodey had already guessed what Tony had been doing. "So what did you find out?"
"Those vines were a weapon, they got out of control. Luckily whoever made them built in a failsafe. They can't multiply, just grow for a few months then die off. I sent most of the data from all the projects here to a secondary system I built awhile back so I can study them later. Those wolfs were a project too but it looks like they degraded back into normal animals when this place shut down. Listen, this place has explosives rigged throughout it. Once were away I'm going to set them off a level this place, I can't just leave it for Stane to use again."
Rhodey put a hand on Tonys shoulder. "Alright then, let's go so we can blow this place up and head home."
It took a little while but they finally found three ATVs, Gene who was completely alert by now gave them all a quick once over. "Looks like all three will work fine, Potts looks like you'll be sharing with Stark."
"Last one to the airstrip buys lunch when we get back." Rhodey and gene jumped on their and speed off before tony or pepper could say anything. Tony ran a hand through his hair. "Guess we better get going too."
He climbed on the last ATV and pepper got on behind him, wrapping her arms around his stomach. Tony started it and they drove after Rhodey and gene. The hanger with the ATV's were in was connected to the main road by a long tunnel. As soon as they were out in the open the wind whipped at peppers face and she pressed it into Tonys back.
It was an incredible comforting feeling having him close to her like that and she had to fight off sleep. Not the she would have minded much.
Gene and Rhodey had stopped after the second bridge to let Tony and Pepper catch up. They stopped along side of them and they all looked back at the building, all but invisible against the rocks. Tony pulled a small device from his pocket and punched in a code.
It was surprisingly quiet, the only sign that anything had happened was a cloud of dust that blew out of the lower floor, finding any crack and shooting out with a low whistle. When the dust settled the building was gone except for a few protruding structures.
Rhodey broke the silence. "Guess that's that, now like I said last one down buys lunch!" They all took off down the dirt road. Pepper absently thought that guys had some weird contests but she was to content right then to really care.
"Oh come on guys, you don't really expect me to buy lunch do you? I mean you two are the rich ones."
Gene and Tony traded smirks. "Well it was your bet Rhodey, but I'm sure we can work something out."
Neither one really planned to make Rhodey buy them all lunch but they were going to get some amusement out of it. The ride down to the landing strip had taken just over an hour and they were all climbing on board the plane. Peppers eyes were still half closed since she had fallen asleep leaning against Tonys back.
They spent most of the flight home sleeping, catching up on what they had missed while fighting their way up the mountain. Part way through the flight Pepper woke up and saw Tony sleeping a few feet away. She didn't know why but she took off her jacket and laid it on him, then curled up in the set next to him.
When they had landed Gene said he needed to catch up on some work for his father business and left them almost instantly. Tony Pepper and Rhodey went to the lab to check on the armor and so Tony could make sure that Mr. Fix hadn't left anything else in the system.
The first thing Tony checked was that the armor system had finished loading without any problems, it had and a few hours' worth of digging guarantied there were no more surprises lingering in the system. Pepper was sitting on one of the tables as he finished the last few details. "Listen Tony, I'm sorry about all this. If I hadn't damaged the computer in the first place Mr. fix wouldn't have gotten in and you wouldn't have thought I was sick and we wouldn't have had to go to that stupid lab and and."
"Whoa Pepper, calm down and breathe. It wasn't your fault. Mr. Fix damaged it when he tried to hack into it. Whiplash was just trying to hurt you by making you blame yourself."
"So, none of it was my fault?"
"I should have hit him harder."
"You know that was seriously amazing. You sent Whiplash to the ground; even with the armor I had trouble doing that."
"Can you imagine what I'd be able to do with my own suit? Oh you have totally got to make me one please please please!"
"Uh, we'll see." Tony had to admit the thought of Pepper with her own armor scared him.
When Pepper walked into through the front door she found her dad in the living room. She ran over and tackled him in a hug. "Dad, when did you get home? How was your mission, did you bring me anything can I go next time."
Mr. Potts pried her off of him. "I just got home an hour ago, it was fine, no I didn't and no you can't."
Pepper frowned; she'd really thought she'd get her dad to agree to let her go on his next mission that time. Her father sighed, used to his daughters tricks. "So how was your trip? How'd the debate go?"
"Huh? Oh that, it was ok but kind of boring. I don't think I'll go again."
"Shame, you really do have a talent for it. By the way nice jacket, where'd you get it?"
"Oh this, Tony got it for me awhile back, what do you think?"
"It suits you." It was true but his fatherly instincts weren't sure about Tony giving his daughter gifts, even just a jacket. He resolved to look into Tony a bit more and keep an eye on him from then on.
A large slab of ruble shifted and Whiplash crawled out of the gap. He limped away from the remains of the lab; his armor had all but collapsed in on itself. "I have the cure sir."
A broken voice came back to him. "Finally, I'm not pleased at how long you took. I'm sending a pick up for you. Did you finish them off?"
He looked back at the building, "Not exactly."
It was well after midnight when Pepper finally crashed on her bed. She was completely exhausted but after an hour of tossing and turning she still couldn't get to sleep. Finally she got up and went to her closet, she'd hung the jacket up earlier but now she took it down and went back to bed. Within minutes she was asleep holding it.
(A/N: hope you liked it, oh yea and the title of the last chapter wasn't a mistake. It was my attempt at a joke, 'can't not' was a play on that they couldn't find the cure but they had it the whole time. Yes yes bad joke I know. Review and see you all next time.)