Author's Note: Technically, this is an AU of the movie-verse that takes place some years after the events of the first half of the first movie, with one key difference: Pepper and Tony don't know each other until the beginning of this story. I also wanted to incorporate elements of the early comics, the ones much darker than the 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline. If you have a chance, I strongly recommend picking up Iron Man v.1 ~#160 - ~#200. My only complaint about that arc was that Pepper wasn't in it so I wondered what it would be like if she was around then. Enjoy and please review!
Heroes & Demons
By: Silver Spider
'Shit' did not even begin to describe the situation Virginia "Pepper" Potts was in. It was only seven in the morning, but already what was supposed to be one of the most important days of her life was going wrong at every possible turn. She was supposed to be on her way to her eight o'clock interview at Stark Industries, not standing over her smoking '01 Toyota Tercel in some shady New York side street because she could not yet afford a better car and because in its infinite wisdom, the GPS decided this was the shortest way to Stark Tower.
After a few deceptively warm days, the temperature was finally remembering was early November. Somewhere in the distance thunder rumbled, hinting that the 'partially cloudy' was about to turn into 'absolute certainty of thunderstorms'. She'd suspected as much when she left her apartment but hoped she would be inside when the storm hit so that her crème colored suit and skirt would remain in its dry cleaned condition until her interview was over. Now it looked like even that was not going to happen.
And her cell phone battery was flashing the final remaining bar.
And her feet were killing her.
Honestly, her birthday should have been postponed to some other day, when the universe had not decided to hate her quite this much.
Not wanting to waste the remainder of the cell battery in case someone from Stark called, she locked the car and began walking to find the nearest payphone to call towing, all the while trying not to think about just how many were still in service in this day and age and if she had any change even if she found one. Her mind was running at a thousand miles a minute, and she was so distracted that nearly walked straight into someone.
The man grabbed her wrist, but she reflexively twisted away, almost ready to run. It took her a second to regain her bearings and realize that he'd stopped her from falling. She brushed at her skirt and glanced up at the man through her lashes. Mid-height, on the thinner side, but that was hardly surprising since his tattered brown coat and unwashed appearance spoke of a harsh life. His beard was not long, but shaggy, hair wavy and jet-black with a light peppering of gray, but it was hard to guess his real age. The streets tended to speed up that process.
"Need a hand?" he extended his, and she did her best not to look too taken aback by the dirt that outlined the crevices on his callused hand.
"I'm fine," she began to straighten. "Tha…" The words caught in her throat, and this time Pepper could not help but stare.
His chest was glowing. That was the only word for it. Through the old dusty gray shirt, she could see… something. A circle about two or three inches in diameter directly in the center of his chest that was emanating a very obvious white light as if he had a flashlight sticking out of his body cavity.
He must have caught her staring because the man glared and pointedly buttoned up the coat, hiding most of the glow.
"Sorry," Pepper apologized. "I'm sorry. I'm in a hurry."
"Not in that thing," he nodded in the direction of her car a few yards away then reached into an inside pocket and pulled out a flask of something whose vile smell immediately overpowered his very ripe one as soon as the cap was untwisted.
"But," he took a swig from the flask and grinned, "you're lucky you ran into me."
"Really," Pepper said flatly.
"Really," the homeless man affirmed. "'Cause I just woke up, so I'm relatively sober."
"Good for you," she did not mean to snap, but the it was shaping up to be a terrible day and the last thing Pepper wanted to deal with was some homeless person of whose sobriety and mental state she was far from certain about, no matter what he claimed.
"Actually, it's very good for you. Means I can have a look at your car. Get it running again." Pepper gave him a skeptical look, and he shrugged. "I was a... a mechanic. In another life."
She was about to tell him 'no, thank you' and that she would call for a tow truck, but then she thought about her options. There were not many. Not if she wanted to make it to S.I. on time and remain in a presentable enough shape not to get laughed out the door. If he could get the car back on the road, her day might yet be salvaged. If not… she was no worse off. Pepper eyed the stranger again, finally sighing in defeat.
"Yeah, sure. That would be helpful. Thank you," she started back toward the car.
The man popped the hood and propped it up, waving his hand across the space to clear the copious amounts of smoke spewing from inside. When he could see more clearly, he bent over and simply studied the inside. Pepper hovered at the driver's side, trying not to look too impatient. A few moments later he must have found something because his hands went to work on some part of the internal machinery she could not begin to name.
"Where're you headed?" he asked casually, never taking his hands or his eyes from the car.
"Interview," she replied courtly, not in the habit of freely sharing personal information.
"Looks important," he commented, waving an already-grease stained hand at her outfit. "Big company?"
He stopped for a second, straightened and took another drink from the flask, an unreadable look passing over his features, then went back to the car. "Don't recommend 'em."
"Why?" she crossed her arms, reflexively defensive.
He did not answer, instead reaching deep inside and twisting something. A few more motions, and within minutes the engine roared back to life, this time with a minimal amount of fumes. When the hood slammed shut, it even passed for a semi-decent car again. On the outside, at least.
Pepper was impressed.
"That should get you to and from the Tower," the man informed her, "but this thing's not gonna last long. Might wanna invest in a new one."
"As soon as I get the job," she grinned. "Thanks. Really. You might have just saved my career."
She reached into her purse and pulled out a twenty, extending it to him. The man raised a single brow.
"Do you know why no one ever gives money to the homeless?" he asked. " 'Cause everyone knows that they're just gonna snort, shoot up, or drink it all. In my case it's the last one. You really wanna waste your money on that?"
Pepper was startled by his blunt honesty but quickly regained her composure.
"I'd offer to physically buy you breakfast," she said, "but I'm already running late. This is the best I can do. Please take it."
He whipped his grease stained hands on his coat and gingerly took the bill. "Who am I to argue with a pretty lady? Good luck on that interview."
"With the company you don't think much of?" she was already unlocking the car.
He simply shrugged again. "What do I know about high-class people like that?"