Author's notes: This story takes place in the novel-verse! ...Which basically means that if I refer to something that happened prior to the events taking place in this story and you have no slightest clue what I'm talking about, you should head to the nearest bookshop ASAP and kindly ask for the Iron Man novels penned by Peter David and Alexander Irvine. No excuses! However, taking into account the fact that it might take you some time to locate the books, I attached a mini-glossary of sorts at the end of this chapter.

Without further adieu...

Tony Stark had a plan.

Unfortunately, Tony's brilliant plan was doomed to failure without some outside assistance. And who was better to assist him than his inestimable Private Assistant?

He called Pepper.

"Tony? What do you want at this hour?" Pepper asked in a rather groggy tone of voice.

"Encouragement, emotional support and also to buy a bra." Tony said cheerfully.

"What?" Pepper's voice sounded faint. Maybe something was interfering with the signal..? Tony wished he could ask Jarvis to test it. Unable to accomplish that, Tony decided it would be only polite to speak up.

"I SAID I WANT YOU TO HELP ME BUY A BRA," Tony roared into the receiver.

There was a few seconds of a rather awkward silence, which was soon broken by the sound of the connection being closed followed by continuous beeping.

Tony blinked. Then scratched his chin thoughtfully.

Okay, in retrospective, he hadn't expressed himself clearly. More detailed explanation was in order – provided Pepper would resist the temptation to reject his call without picking up, that is. Just in case Tony decided to dial Pepper's land-line this time, hoping she still hadn't replaced her antiquated phone with a slightly more boss-proof model.

Apparently she hadn't, because she picked up after the fourth signal.

"Pepper, let me explain," Tony blurted out before Pepper managed to say a word. "You misunderstood me, the bra's not for you..."

This time Pepper slammed down the receiver so hard Tony's teeth started ringing. Tony winced, then slowly and cautiously shook his head to make sure that his eardrums hadn't burst like a dropped watermelon. So far, so good - but that was a close call.

Tony was nothing if not determined, though, so he pressed the redial button.

"Pepper," Tony started talking as soon as Pepper picked up, but she didn't let him finish.

"I sincerely hope you're calling to wish me a good weekend," Virginia Potts said in a rather vitriolic tone of voice. "Because if you say one more thing even remotely connected to female undergarments, I'll be forced to cut off your baby makers with a dull knife and then feed them to rabid dogs."

"Err, I just wanted to wish you a good weekend..?" Tony said feebly. He was determined, but he wasn't a Lemming.

"Thank you, Mr. Stark," Pepper said. Taught by experience Tony quickly removed his cell phone from the close vicinity of his ear, and the distant sound of the receiver being slammed onto the cradle told him that he managed to do so just in time.

Well, that went well, Tony mused. Time for Plan B.

Sadly, before Tony managed to implement Plan B, or, in fact, to come up with one, a loud crash coming from the general direction of the westernmost balcony spooked him into action. He charged up the stairs, tripped on the shaggy carpet, fell through the bedroom door and crashed onto the floor. The fall was painful, but the position suited Tony just fine. Stark kept fishing under the bed until his hand closed on the cool handle of the football. There, he thought, and clutched the suitcase to his chest as if it was a lifeline leading to safety.

Tony was about to suit up when he heard a familiar, if muffled, voice calling out his name.

Slightly suspicious still, Tony made his way back to the staircase and peeked down cautiously. He saw Rhodey in his War Machine suit standing in the middle of the living room and also in what was left of Tony's window and the coffee table. The destruction of his private property put Tony in a rather sour mood, so he did the only sensible thing he could think of: he threw the football down aiming for the back of Rhodey's head.

"OW!" Rhodey exclaimed as the missile hit its mark. He whipped around immediately assuming a fighting stance, the visor snapping shut, only to notice Tony stampeding down the stairs. "What was that for?"

"For vandalizing my living room, you douche!" Tony's voice went a little hysterical, but he blamed that on living in constant stress for the last three days. "I loved that coffee table! It was holo-enabled!"

"Sorry for that." The War Machine's faceplate slid open again. Rhodey had the decency to look truly apologetic, but his face turned stormy in a matter of seconds. "Perhaps it would remain in one piece if you just had the courtesy to signalize the end of the conversation before disconnecting!"

"Oh. Didn't I?"

"No, you didn't. You moaned in the receiver and then the line went deaf!"

"I didn't moan."

"You so did."

"I didn't! I might've gasped. It was a very manly gasp, I'm sure."

"It so was not."

"You are saying that just to hurt me." Tony pouted, then looked down at his loafers and shifted his weight on the balls of his feet somewhat nervously. "Sorry about the call. I just got an idea. An urgent one. It couldn't wait to be put into action."

"What idea?" Rhodey asked cautiously, as if he were afraid of the answer.

"An excellent one," Tony said and beamed at Rhodey. "Speaking of which, I'm in a bit of a tight spot, actually, and your military resourcefulness could really come in handy."

If possible, Rhodey's voice turned even more suspicious. "What is it this time?"

"You wouldn't happen to have any bras on your person, would you?" Tony asked hopefully,

Rhodey looked at him, and it was a look of a man slowly sliding into the abyss. Then he turned around slowly, as if afraid that Tony might suddenly leap and bite him in the face, and blasted out of Tony's house leaving nothing but a wispy trail of condensation behind him.

"Hey! What about the rocket launcher?" Tony yelled after him. Rhodey, by then a bright spot on the horizon, could not hear him and so he didn't answer.

Oh well, there was always a next time.

Until the next time, however, Rhodey would be left without a rocket launcher, and Tony – without a bra.

Misunderstanding is a nasty thing, Tony mused. It wasn't like he wanted to throw an orgy - and if he did, the presence of bras would be rather... unnecessary. He merely wanted to demonstrate his remorse in a manner vivid enough to placate Jarvis. And was there a better way of apologizing for a surprise sex change than donning drag? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and manly pride for manly pride.

It was bound to make Jarvis show up – if only to laugh himself hoarse at Tony's expense. It was genius. Sheer genius.

Also, utterly horrible, ridiculous, demeaning, and just plain wrong.

What was new?

What was problematic was the fact that Tony could hardly go shopping at Victoria's Secret for female undies. It just wasn't on. The press would have a field day. There would be riots.

...As usual.

There was another option - which was slightly less risky, if by "slightly" one meant "not much at all".

Tony could always borrow Pepper's.

Pepper had left a small collection in her guest room at Tony's residence. In theory, the clothes were meant to be used on those infrequent occasions where Pepper stayed the night to threaten her boss with bodily damage and eternal damnation until he buckled in and finished the paperwork on time. More or less.

In practice, they came in handy quite often - Pepper's outfits had a tendency to be damaged by zombie ninjas, grumpy aliens, grope-happy tentacles or some other misbegotten monstrosities that had crawled out of obscurity to make Iron Man's life miserable.

And it looked like they would come in handy again.

The Van Dyke beard was the first to go.

Tony blinked at his reflection in the mirror. Staring back at him was a face he nearly did not recognize. With no beard his face looked younger and... more vulnerable, somehow. Tony looked away.

He busied himself with browsing through Pepper's stuff. He picked out things that looked useful – a small jar blended face powder and a set of brushes, an eye shadow palette, a few tubes of lip gloss. Tony also found a box of tampons and sort of poked at it until it fell off the table and rolled under the bed.

Then he turned on his laptop and googled makeup tutorial.

Two hours passed.

Then another half.

When Tony finally ready to inspect the results of his makeover in the mirror, he felt a different person. He transcended human emotions. There was no monster, no villain that could scare him. Victor Von Doom could stagger into his bedroom and Tony could throttle him with Pepper's pantyhose.

He was still mildly afraid to look in the mirror, but he forced himself to do it anyway.

Not bad, he thought. More like dreadful. A misbegotten love child of Morticia Addams and Velma Dinkley.

Tony blamed the tutorials. The annoyingly cheerful Youtube lady claimed that a tasteful application of gray and black eyeshadow would make hazel eyes pop. More like pop out, Tony thought gloomily, but he was beyond caring at that point. He was happy enough he managed not to poke his eyes out with the eyeliner.

There was little Tony could do about his hair, so he just rubbed some styling mousse into it and let it air dry. Then he tied a blue neckerchief around his head like a headband. It was silky and slippery and difficult as hell to tie into a knot, but the only other neckerchief he had found was periwinkle, and the idea of the headband not matching his dress was insupportable. The blue dress itself looked on Tony like a sartorial nightmare came alive - too tight on his shoulders, too loose in the waist area and just plain wrong below it. There was no way to make it presentable without a patient tailor's assistance, so Tony just tied a sweater around his hips. It made him feel somewhat frumpish, but he was not aiming to win the Miss America pageant, so he deemed the results satisfactory.

The game was on.



A glossary of novel-verse terms appearing in this chapter and / or the next one

a football - the suitcase armor. In the novel both Mark V and Mark VI can be compacted into this form.
RT / the chestpiece - the mini-arc reactor. "RT" stands for "reactor technology".
a scramjet - a plane capable on flying at extremely high altitudes. Invented by Elon Musk, the owner of the SpaceX corporation.
Vibranium - a new element invented by Tony, thanks to Howard Stark's hint and Jarvis's help. Initially Tony wanted Jarvis to name the new element ("his greatest invention ever"), but after Jarvis refused to accept the honor, Tony combined the names of the two substances that, according to Jarvis, share some of the properties of the new element - Vibernum and uranium.
a Tech-Ball - one of Tony's inventions. Originally, a small spheric shape made of substance that can change the properties of its matter at command. It's capable of changing shapes (for example, forming a glove around somebody's hand) and is highly resistant to heat, plasma, etc..

Not-so-random trivia: The novelverse Jarvis is significantly different from his movie counterpart. Jarvis, initially a polite and charming Artificial Intelligence "built to please" (in Tony's words) quickly evolves from "it" to "he" in Tony's mind. The AI turns into a deadpan snarker with a very short fuse and unholy love for litotes and black humor. He becomes creative and autonomous - by the end of the first novel he rarely needs instructions from Tony, and sometimes goes against his wishes. Jarvis is the one who created the second RT by reverse-engineering Tony's RT made in Afghanistan. Tony also credits Jarvis as the co-creator of Iron Man Mark IV, a miniature supercomputer able to handle Jarvis's portable subroutine, and other inventions. Jarvis is an excellent pilot and a proficient hacker - he was the one who created a new kernel for the War Machine, restoring its control back to Rhodey. He can take the control over the Iron man armor away from Tony and has done it twice so far.

The novel-verse Tony differs from the RDJ!Tony as well. He's more alienated, more dedicated to science and, in contrast with RDJ!Tony, learns from his mistakes. He's not as much of a party man as his movie counterpart - for novel!Tony alcohol and parties are a way of escaping from situations he cannot cope with. He's at his happiest in his workshop, and he mentions it is the only place in the world where he feels completely safe. He's quite attached to Jarvis and treats him like a real person; even during a short period when Tony has doubts just how much of a sentient being Jarvis truly is. At the end of the second novel, Tony acknowledges that he can no longer predict Jarvis's actions, and that Jarvis was the only one who stood by his side when other people left him. That said, Tony can be quite careless and his random bouts of foolhardiness never fail to irk Jarvis into putting him into his place quite quickly.