The cold, silent room is broken by a single ring. It's not just any ring. Specifically, it's a ringtone. "I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, so it hurts," the blackberry drawls smugly. "And I'm too sexy for Milan, too sexy for…" The jaunty tune abruptly cuts off.
"Pepper, Pepper, it's snowing! Actually snowing outside, can you believe it? Effing nuts! Are you looking outside? Look outside now!"
Pepper transfers the blackberry to her shoulder as she wrenches her curtains open. She squints through the light-polluted twilight. Fluffy, white flakes drift down lazily, alighting on her windowsill. No, alighting everywhere, Pepper marvels. It's actually sticking! She looks down at the street from her top-floor condo. People walking around look puzzled, disoriented. A few are pointing at the sky. Cars have slowed down. It's a miracle!
"Yeah, Tony! It's beautiful! I haven't seen this kind of snow since I lived in the Midwest!"
"Yeah it's great…you have my phone."
"No I don't," the redhead says flatly, not missing a beat despite Tony's characteristic non sequitur. She tracks a flake through the window.
"Yes, you do. Check the left front pocket in your blue sweater."
Footsteps, then: "Yes I do. The question is, why?"
"You must've taken it by accident," Tony says dismissively, twirling the car phone cord with a single finger.
"I never touch your phone."
"No, you just take it," Tony says vexingly, motioning for Happy to stop the car.
"That makes no sense. Never mind. How is it you knew exactly where it was, Tony?" she questions pointedly.
"Inference," he says impatiently. Look, I'm coming over. I need my phone."
"Tony…" she whines. After all, it's Christmas Eve.
"Pepper…" he mimics, drawing her name out dramatically, rolling his eyes to the car ceiling.
A heavy sigh. "Alright, whose number do you need?" she asks reasonably.
"That's why you need your phone, right? For the contact info?" She starts scrolling through the list: Amy, Bethany, Melanie, Yvonne, Zeanna. She frowns slightly.
"Oh, that won't be necessary, Pepper," he says pleasantly.
"Excuse me? Why," she states suspiciously, tearing her eyes from the 'grocery list' on his phone. She shoves it into her jean pocket.
"Because I'm already here." A weird clicking noise as he hangs up gives some support to his statement. Tony never hangs up on her, unless he was going to see her very, very soon.
Pepper stares dumbly at her blackberry. She tosses it in the general direction of the couch and hurries to the window. She looks out and down through the flurries. There is just enough time to see a familiar dark mop of hair being escorted by the maroon-clad doorman, Bill, into the main foyer. A black Rolls-Royce drives off. Happy, she supposes. A different ring punctures the room. Her blue eyes sweep the room for the source of the outlandish noise. Landline.
"Ms. Potts, there is a Mr. Stark here to see you. He says you have his cell phone?" Bill says, skepticism heavy in his voice. A pause. She hears mumbling in the background. Unmistakably Tony. "Mr. Stark would like to inform you that there was a reward attached to whoever found his phone. He would like to give you your reward. Graciously, yes, Mr. Stark, that is very gracious of you," Bill says unctuously, voice fading slightly as he angles the phone away from his mouth to acknowledge the billionaire.
"Great. Send him up," Pepper says dryly.
"Yes ma'am," Bill says. She can almost hear his eyebrows lifting.
Pepper cradles the phone and sinks into the couch. She heaves a deep sigh. Tony is up to something. She lifts her nimble fingers to her temples and starts to apply circular pressure. Then the door knocks. She drops her hands wearily and arduously pushes herself off the comfy couch. She stalks over and yanks the door open.
"Hey Pepper," he says amiably with a smile.
"Mr. Stark," she nods curtly, taking the phone from her pocket and shoving it to his face.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Pepper? Really?" He throws up his hands. "Handing stuff to me? So not cool." He takes a moment to look upset before looking beyond her exasperated face. "Nice place!" he says, brushing her hand and his phone out of his face and striding into the living room.
"You staying?" she asks, voice squeaking slightly. She places his cell on a side table and closes the door, scowling.
"Yeah. Sent Happy home. Christmas, you know?" He flashes a quick smile before turning around and examining her plasma TV in minute detail. "So, penthouse, huh, Potts? Not bad!" he says conversationally.
"Speaking of Christmas, Mr. Stark, don't you have a party to go to?"
He looks up, panicked. "I do? Oh no."
"No, Mr. Stark. No formal parties. I mean for fun." Her hands are on her hips. She gets a disturbing image of her mother doing the same thing to her, but pushes it away.
"What is fun?" he asks facetiously, lips quirking up. "Anyway, it's a good thing I'm here, what with the power outage." He turns back to the TV.
"There is no power outage," she states blandly through the warm glow of the overhead lamps.
"Oh." He shuts his eyes and murmurs something like a curse word when the lights flicker ominously.
"Tony, what is going on?" Pepper demands nervously.
"These electric companies are so unreliable," he defers, producing a pocketknife from his pocket and pulling out the screwdriver component.
"You are the electric company," Pepper reminds him.
Tony peeks at her from the back of the TV, of which he was deftly unscrewing. "What?"
"Yeah, yeah, remember?" Pepper is distracted, wondering what the hell Tony is doing with her plasma screen. She hopes she will be able to use it when he leaves. It's a Wonderful Life comes on at 10.
Tony shakes his head.
"We replaced the coal power plant with the full sized RT. The CEO of the coal power plant called us up and persuaded us to move him and his employees to run the new power plant. Crazy old hippie. Nice guy. You really can't remember?"
Tony gives a look of extreme concentration. Then remembrance dawns on his face. "Oh yeah. Well, I was gone for like half of that meeting. Like, completely, totally… well…you know."
"Gone," she supplies helpfully. "Oh yes, I forgot about the celebratory party after the papers were signed." She shakes her head in playful disapproval.
"Not just after. We started warming up even before the meeting began. Crazy old man," Tony says fondly. "Had a gargantuan cache of the green stuff, Potts. From Brazil. Good shit." Tony smiles vacantly before turning back to the TV.
"Ah. That's how he persuaded you so easily."
"Eh. His workers and he were just as qualified to run the RT power plant as they were the coal one," Tony says, grunting as he removes the entire back panel of the TV.
"Even so, I really do think…" Pepper is cut off by an ungodly buzzing noise. She looks at Tony, who shrugs. Then the power abruptly winks out. "Tony, I distinctly remember you saying something about the RT being completely, 100% reliable," she says timidly. "By the way, what did you just do to my TV?"
Instead of answering, the dark silhouette rustles through his jean pocket and produces a lighter, of which he immediately ignites.
"I thought you stopped smoking," Pepper accuses, distaste evident in her voice.
"Then why do you have a lighter?" she says, attempting patience.
"It's a male pocket commodity…like condoms and pocketknives," he explains.
Pepper shrugs dismissively. Then, Tony reaches into his pocket again. He comes up with a handful of tea lights.
"For heaven's sake, Tony," Pepper says, annoyed.
"What? What? Look, you never know," he says defensively. They stare at each other briefly before Tony busily lights the first candle. "And God said…let there be light!" he says theatrically.
"I'm not entirely sure that's in the right context, Tony. If you had said that when you first lit your lighter…" Pepper says reprovingly before being interrupted.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever…cheer up, will you? It's Christmas Eve, Pepper. It's not too late to be moved to the naughty list," he warns, making his way to the couch. He sits down, placing the candle on the coffee table in front of him.
"That is improbable," she smirks. "You know I'm nothing but nice."
"Oh, I beg to differ, Miss Potts." His voice is heavily laced with innuendo. "But alas! The woman doth protest!" he exclaims upon reading her vicious expression. Unconcernedly, he turns back to lighting candles.
Pepper feels her face flushing. Abruptly, she turns around. "Eggnog, Mr. Stark?"
"Some storm, huh?" she says casually, fishing out two glasses from the kitchen cabinet.
"What?" he says distractedly, looking up. He places the fifth lit candle down. "Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's weird, huh?"
"You know, in the fifteen years I've lived in L.A., and even back when I was living in Wyoming, I have never seen snowfall this severe," she says carefully.
"Severe?" Tony looks out the window. The sprinkle of flurries that had been gently floating down not five minutes ago had been replaced by pancake-sized crystals that were being pitched from the sky at an alarmingly rapid pace. He could no longer see the buildings across the street. Pure, white void filled the window, save for the few crystals falling closest to the window. Tony swallows nervously. "Oh that? Yeah. It's a cyclical weather pattern. Happens every twenty…four years," Tony says quickly.
"No kidding," Pepper says mildly, placing his eggnog on the coffee table.
Tony gives a nod of thanks. "Oh, yeah. You don't know?" He glances sidelong at Pepper, who now sits beside him. Pepper shakes her head and sips her drink. He finishes lighting the last candle, setting it and his lighter down with finality before turning to her. "Well, it's kind of like Halley's Comet. When it comes, it's very…special." Tony looks at her meaningfully.
Were they having a moment? Pepper wonders fleetingly. Then, she snorts.
"What?" Tony says self-consciously, reaching for his glass.
"That's what she said," she says, with all propriety and dignity.
"Who says?" Tony is thrown off by her tone.
"It's a joke," she says, slightly embarrassed.
"I know...it's just," he looks at her wonderingly and takes a gulp. "You know, you should loosen up more often. Take your hair down."
"No," she balks, all traces of amusement gone.
"Come on," he whines pleadingly. "Please?"
Pepper stares at him unyieldingly.
"Look, I'll do the same," he jokes, running a hand through his think hair. "See? Your turn."
"Fine," she says, resigned. She sets her eggnog down. She reaches behind her head with both hands, noting with a strange thrill how Tony's eyes track her movements. As if she were…a plasma TV, or something. She maintains eye contact with Tony as she deliberately loosens the tight bun and completely removes the hair tie. Tony's jaw slackens slightly and he takes a drink to cover it up. Pepper looks down, massages her scalp and shakes her hair out, which flashes an eerie shade of crimson-red in the candlelight. She looks back at Tony, who is staring.
"What?" she questions self-consciously.
"What? Nothing." He clears his throat and looks away at the window. His eyes bulge. To his horror, not only had the snowflakes continued to fall, but have exponentially gotten bigger (now, roughly the size of a car tire) and are now sporting some kind of strange, violet tint not found in nature. He turns back to Pepper, trying to distract her from the calamity outside. "You look, um, nice, with your hair down. Much better."
"Your turn," she whispers. Apparently, she was paying the snow outside no mind, thank god. She takes a slow gulp of eggnog. She doesn't know what is happening between her and Tony, but she thinks she likes it. In this moment, anyway. She sets her glass down.
"What do you mean…ah," he says hoarsely, body becoming stock-still as Pepper slowly loosens his tie.
"Much better," she says quietly.
Tony blinks and maintains eye contact as he deliberately takes a large drink of eggnog. Pepper watches his Adam's apple bob once, three times. Her eyes find his again as he removes the cup from his lips. He sets the glass down, breaking eye contact and staring intently at it.
"Tony," she starts. "Look, I'm sorry. It's just…it's Christmas Eve and I'm not used to being alone, okay? It's totally fine, though. It's alright. I can manage, but I'll need you to leave," she says frankly.
The man in question squeezes his eyes shut. Three heartbeats pass. He runs both hands over his closed eyes.
"Tony?" she probes, reaching out to touch his shoulder. "Tony, is everything okay?"
His eyelids snap open and he abruptly turns around with a mien of passionate determination. He does what he came to do all along. He kisses her. Pepper barely has time to react when an ungodly, earth-shattering boom erupts from outside and shakes the building, windows rattling. Pepper inhales her spit. Galvanized, they hurriedly break apart, jumping up, nearly upsetting the coffee table.
"What the hell was that!" Pepper chokes over the wail of hundreds of car alarms below and the concurring rumbles from above.
"Oh no," Tony murmurs. "Oh no, oh no, oh shit, shit, shit." Tony is frantically digging through his pockets- all of them, including his jacket pockets, and throwing their contents onto the coffee table.
"What are you doing, Tony?" Pepper wails. "This is no time to find your car keys and leave!" she warbles hysterically.
"Pepper, that doesn't make sense." Tony continues to dig through his pockets: a bottle opener, keys, some receipts, a condom, a handkerchief, some change, his wallet, a pocketknife, a high-tech looking device as big as her blackberry. "Ah." Tony snatches it up and starts power-walking towards the door, flipping the screen of the thing open on the way.
"Where are you going?" Pepper shouts, hair flying. She sneaks a glance outside. Her eyes widen as she observes the scene. The 'snowflakes', as big as trashcan lids and in violent shades of red, violet, and neon green, are pelting towards the ground in earth-shattering waves. The pretty crystalline design she had always admired in the small flakes back home (no, not small, normal sized) were magnified by about ten thousand times, mutating the pretty snowflakes into Frisbees of death. She runs after Tony, barely making it to the front door when the building shudders again. Glasses shatter in the kitchen, picture frames are flung from the wall. Her plasma TV…Pepper sadly shakes her head. No It's a Wonderful Life for her. Tony pats her cheek in what he supposes to be in a comforting way and then yanks the door open, stepping into the small foyer.
He looks around in the dark briefly. "Stairs!" he shouts to her, flinging open the door labeled 'Emergency Door: Do Not Open' and dashing inside.
Great, Pepper thinks as the emergency alarm howls into her ear. She bangs the swinging door open after him and notes, to her dismay, he had taken the stairs up instead of down. The roof. She scrambles up the stairs after him in her bare feet, Pepper unhappily realizes, and shoves the final door open. And screams.
She tries to configure the surreal chaos she is witnessing through the angry wind stinging every inch of her body like small electric sparks. She squints up. Evil, inky-black clouds are circling in a lazy vortex while arbitrarily spewing out fantastically-colored lightning bolts in blindingly lethal cracks and sharp disks of multi-colored ice that would be considered 'snow' in another world. She jumps back instinctually as a 'snowflake' buries itself into the cement where she was standing just milliseconds before. The center of the vortex is pulsating (pulsating!) ghastly shades of electric blue and humming in some sort of alien language that can barely be heard between violent, intermittent bouts of thunder and the general din on the street. The sound waves from the thunder cause Pepper to stagger further backwards into the stairwell, hair lashing her face. She strains her eyes for signs of that man. Tony is huddled under a small concrete recess while simultaneously taking worried peeks at the malignant spiral and typing frantically on the remote device, its antennae fully extended. Pepper sprints over to him, doubled over, dodging snowflakes both lodged on the roof and falling. Tony hastily moves over to give her room.
"What is that?" she questions loudly, fighting back hysteria as the concrete structure makes a sharp cracking noise with each snowflake that hits it.
"A hydro-electric consolidated nebula compressor," he says without looking up, flinching as another bout of thunder wrecks the sky.
"Is that another male pocket commodity?" she snaps sardonically, cowering and clinging to his shoulder.
Tony clears his throat loudly and continues to type in pure code.
"Oh yes, of course. I'm sorry, Mr. Stark. I should step aside and let you try to reverse the War of the fucking Worlds you set upon us on Christmas Eve," she snarls.
"Listen, Pepper. I know you might be a little upset by all of this," he starts, looking up briefly.
"What the hell were you thinking, Tony? What the fuck is this? Why?" she moans dramatically, forehead now embedded on his shoulder.
"There is no need for that kind of language, Potts," he chastises gently as he continues to type in the last bit of code.
Pepper says nothing. She lifts her forehead to treat him to a dark look before thumping her forehead back more securely.
She continues to say nothing until the cement recess stops cracking, as well as the thunder, the lightning, the weird unearthly humming, the Category 2 winds, the electric stings, the blackout. She lifts her head up from his shoulder tremulously. Cautiously, she peeks out. The Frisbees are gone. The clouds have dispersed, revealing a large, disk-shaped UFO where the vortex once was. Tony presses a button and it flies away, leaving behind a blue afterimage. Tony crawls out of the shelter, clambering to his feet. He offers a hand which Pepper accepts, and she stands beside him. They are silent as the emergency alarm continues to bleat frantically and car alarms echo around the street.
"Explain," she says finally, hugging her body as chills wrack her body.
"Look, I just wanted you to experience a white Christmas. That's all."
"Well, you certainly got your wish, Tony," she says angrily. She cautiously looks over the roof. Amazingly, the buildings are still standing, and none of the windows have been broken. The snow must have fallen stick-straight down, thank god. However, the same cannot be said for all the cars on the street, which have been catastrophically mauled. Or the streetlights, or the trees, or the street itself. Or the sidewalk, or…Pepper stops. She looks at him. "It wasn't even white at one point. How messed up is that?" she questions stonily.
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
Pepper fixes him a vile glare.
"I guess so. Pepper, please. That is way beside the point."
Pepper just looks at him.
"Look, I didn't think that this would happen. Everything went swimmingly in the lab…" Tony says pleadingly.
"The lab," she says monotonously.
Tony looks at his shoes.
"The lab. You think a lab is a great substitution for a city? You could have killed people! You amaze me, Tony, you really do." She pinches the bridge of her nose and squeezes her eyes shut.
"Look, I messed up. But, I will pay for everything. I will fix this," he says confidently. "It was only local, Pepper. Only the area within a two hundred meter radius was affected," he says soothingly.
Pepper sighs. She looks out over the wreckage. After a minute of silence, she speaks.
"I'm not saying I overreacted, because I didn't. However, knowing you, it could have been worse." She turns and gives a shaky smile to Tony, who cautiously gives one back. "Thank you, Tony."
Tony looks startled. "For what?"
"For trying to give me a white Christmas. I miss those."
Tony looks away and back. "Your welcome, Miss Potts," he says, half-smiling, chuffed. He looks back at the wreckage, sticks his hands in his pockets, and shakes his head.
"And also, thanks for coming over."
Tony gives a half-turn towards Pepper. "Listen, about that kiss…"
Pepper takes a step towards Tony. "What about it?"
He fully turns around to look at her. She is inches away but he can't mess this up. He grasps her upper arms and steps back, holding her at arm's length. "When you said you didn't like to be alone on Christmas…look. I, um, I didn't mean…I mean, look. I wasn't just taking advantage of you. I wasn't taking advantage of you, unless you see it that way. In that case, I really didn't mean… " he struggles to articulate.
"I know, Tony." She gives him a warm smile.
"Totally cool. However, about my TV. That's a different story."
Tony laughs, pulling her to him. "I can fix it," he says.
He puts a hand on her cheek, a hand on her waist. She gently cradles a hand behind his neck. Tony obliges, and kisses her again.
They are interrupted by a cold spot of white on Pepper's nose. They break apart, looking at each other. Another spot, this time on Tony's shoulder. They look up.
"Tony, enough," she says sternly.
"Pepper, it's not me."
They look at each other, then up. The clouds are still overcast, but in a benevolent grayish color. No vortex. Pepper laughs, and then shivers. She kisses him again, full of promise. "Let's go back inside." She offers him her hand.
Tony takes it and follows without a word, staring wonderingly at the falling snow.
"Merry Christmas, Tony."
"Merry Christmas, Pepper."