Disclaimer: I own my OC. Marvel owns the rest. You can tell because of the billions being generated by The Avengers is not being used to slaughter my college debt.
A/N: To the brave few who are still following me from story to story: I will get back to the wonderful worlds from which I have departed, but for the past year I've been neck-deep in a departmental honors project involving Irish mythology. Now I am graduated. And feeling rebellious. So I'll finish my other fun stuff later. But they WILL be finished. I promise.
To everyone I haven't had the privilege of meeting before - welcome to the show. Please leave a donation in the pretty little review box below.
Chapter 1: In Which Zombies Chase Humans
The way she saw it, Bea had two options: get sneaky or get snagged. No one remembered the old tunnel that linked the science building to the home ec. labs; certainly no one remembered all the little side doors from which she could emerge. She clutched her sock flail in one hand, and a knotted sock in the other. With such paltry weapons, it was a wonder she had lasted the first two days. Already the president was down, so Bea had been voted in as the new vice, which made her even more of a target than she had been before. And she was running out of fellow targets. Every meal, she learned that another ally had been turned. But she was still alive.
While she would love to chalk up her survival to her fantastic ability with her spongy armaments, she – and everyone else – knew that she survived through sneaking. She never took the same path twice to the same place, and she certainly never took the usual routes across campus. It took her half an hour to get anywhere, but the results had been impressive. She usually had cover, except for her short sprints between buildings, and she always timed her travels so that a minimum of hunters would be available to go after her. There was still an awful lot of sprinting, though. Her legs did not approve, and they had reminded her of their disapproval every morning when she flopped and flailed out of bed to the tune of her alarm. And such was the price of playing Humans Vs. Zombies.
Cautiously, Bea eased the door open and peeped out of the tunnel. Nothing. There was no movement, no noise. It seemed unlikely that the enemy still hadn't noticed this exit, but then, it was an odd time in the afternoon, and a lot of them would be stuck in classes, so maybe they were just under-manned. Ah, well, all the better for Bea. Taking a deep breath, she began bouncing on the balls of her feet, summoning the shaky adrenaline rush that heightened her senses for the mad dash.
Then she sprang from cover.
The world bounced and waved through her eyes as she rushed across the lawn. Her ears had not failed her. There was no one around. Must be off hunting by the dorms…
Just as she dodged past the road, a sleek and extremely expensive car pulled up. A slew of indelicate words blasted through Bea's mind like fireworks as a very trim and neatly dressed red(ish)-head stepped out of the vehicle. It was freaking Pepper Potts. Bea could feel the little wisps of had-been, even from a distance. Her past was very colorful. She could taste the salad Pepper had eaten opposite her boss, Stark. She could smell the toasty breath of a hair dryer. Then there were a lot of indistinct flashes and bangs which Bea assumed were delicately repressed memories of firefights. Potts was a very busy woman indeed, a very busy woman with very bad timing. She was sort of inadvertently wrecking Bea's life.
Bea felt faintly sick. This was not part of the plan. She was supposed to have fifteen more minutes. She was supposed to get to the student center, clean up, and hide her weapons before her interview. She was supposed to look professional and responsible, and what was she doing? Running amuck with a bunch of socks. The red(ish)-head was utterly unflappable, however, and simply offered Bea a pleasant smile and a nod, though Bea had the sneaking suspicion that the smile was bordering on a laughing grin.
"I'm a little early for our appointment," she said. "I hope that's alright."
"Fine." Bea's voice came out about half an octave too high, and she winced at the squeak. But her adrenaline was still going, and her embarrassment was quickly overridden by survival instincts. A quick glance in all directions assured her that she was still alone – mostly – and had not been spotted by any of her pursuers… yet. "If we could proceed to the building…?"
Miss Potts was definitely grinning now. "Of course! After you." She turned back to the car, told the other occupant that she would see him/her/it the next morning and closed the car door.
Smiling anxiously, Bea began to lead Pepper Potts across the lawn, socks at the ready. Heck – her dignity was gone and the chance for a favorable first impression had come and gone. Might as well keep her head in at least one game, right? If she blew the interview and her survival streak in one afternoon, she would curl into the fetal position and just wail pitifully into her pillow. Then there would be ice cream. Lots of ice cream. Maybe some Cheetos. No. Definitely Cheetos.
The two women had made it halfway across the green when Bea saw them – a group of about five zombies had appeared around the corner of the building to the right, and she had about two seconds before they saw her. She looked at Miss Potts. What was the proper protocol for excusing oneself from the representative of one's benefactor in the face of a rapidly approaching zombie horde?
Potts saw the zombies, frowned, then looked at Bea with a very understanding look. "I'll catch up," she said. "Go for it."
"Thanks," Bea said. Her voice was breathier than she would've liked and sounded suspiciously close to tears. But she was being stupid. No time for the sissy crap. Time to run for it.
And run she did.
The mob behind her came howling on her heels, and Bea quickly realized that, even with her head start, a couple would be able to catch up before she got through the doors. So she did what any good little survivor would do – she turned, and she threw the knotted sock. It missed by about half a mile. By that time the first zombie had reached her, and Bea had the good fortune to swing at just the right time with her sock flail and take the sucker out. The bits of had-been she picked up were fairly routine – coffee, class, more coffee, X-Box. Then she grabbed another projectile sock from her bag and tossed it at the considerably closer second zombie. This time it hit what she meant it to hit, and the second zombie was out. The remaining three were a bit slower. And bigger. There were rules about tackling (the rules being DON'T), but these were the sort of meatheads who were all about momentum and nil on finesse, or, you know, brakes. She'd be a slick spot on the lawn if they caught her.
So she hightailed it like her life depended on it – which it might have. Her vision was shaking even worse than before, and she wasn't sure if that was due to her increased speed or the giants thundering after her. They looked big enough to cause a small earthquake at running speed… Then the door was in reach. She grasped the handle, trying to reverse her momentum long enough to yank it open. It seemed to take forever, and, feeling like she was moving in slow motion, she stumbled into the building bare seconds before the trio of beefy evil could catch – or kill – her.
For a few seconds she panted for breath, hands on knees, eyes wide. Then she threw up her hands and did a touchdown dance right there in the glass entryway, in front of the zombies, Potts, and anyone still sitting in that shiny car way back across the green. And she didn't care. She was alive.
Total. Epic. Win.
Even Potts was smiling when she finally caught up. "Good job," she said. She was definitely laughing, at least on the inside, but Bea didn't care too much. She was laughing on the outside, so what did it matter?
"Ready for the interview?" Bea asked.
"If you are," said Potts.
"Totally. I mean, the adrenaline is still spiking right now, so if you asked me to jump off a building I'd probably be ready for that, too."
Pepper grinned, fishing a digital audio recorder out of her bag. "No buildings, I swear. Just publicity."
"Right, easy-peasy. Sorry for, well, you know, the socks and all."
Potts gave her a very amused look. "I'm sure you've heard about my boss."
"Socks and zombies is nothing," Potts said emphatically. "Trust me. All your clothes were on, all your friends' clothes were on, and you didn't even break anything. Seriously. No problem."
"Oh." Bea was momentarily thunder struck. Maybe she hadn't just convinced the representative of Stark Industries that she was utterly unworthy of the money the company had invested in her scholarship. Maybe there wouldn't be need for even a little ice cream this evening. Well, there was always need for a little ice cream, just not such a desperate need.
The two ladies wandered over to a nice little grouping of chairs by the window and got to work. Bea found it surprisingly fun. Not as fun as zombies, of course, but still… she'd have to frame some little sketch for Miss Potts. It was the least she could do after that little scene…
Four years earlier, Bea had battled her way through stiff competition for one of the prized Stark Industries Young Minds Scholarships. It was an impressive achievement. Not only did the program provide a full-ride through any of several prestigious (read EXPENSIVE) universities, but winners of the scholarships were generally offered jobs in some part of Stark Industries or one of its associated companies. In return, the scholarship recipients kept at least a 4.7 GPA, participated in campus life, and did some publicity crap to make Stark Industries look good. The interview fell into the last category. The 'Moving Towards the Future' gala at which the gathered information would be presented fell in as well. And Bea had to attend. She was actually a little ticked about that, because the money she'd saved for real nerf equipment got spent on a nice dress instead. Ah, well, beggars couldn't be choosers, and she'd rather have a job offer than a few more days of life in Humans Vs. Zombies, anyway. Maybe. Possibly. It would be rather responsible for a change.
Once the interview was concluded, Miss Potts shook her hand, smiled again, and walked with her towards the door.
"No offense," Bea said, "but I'm gonna let you go out to meet your ride by yourself. They'll be waiting for me, you know."
"Oh, of course." Judging by her smile, Bea thought that Potts might actually be enjoying this madness. She cast a glance at the socks and giggled – just a little, but definitely a real giggle. "I have to ask, though. Socks? Why?"
"Because I couldn't afford the good stuff," Bea said, shrugging. "So socks it is."
Outside, another shiny and obviously expensive car pulled up to the curb. Potts glanced out the glass doors. "Looks like it's time to go," she said. "Best of luck with your game! I hope you live through the week."
"I'll see you at the gala next Friday?"
Bea smiled. "Naturally. If I live long enough."
"Well, do your best then. Have a good day, Miss Doe."
"You, too, Miss Potts."
The red(ish)-head proceeded to the waiting vehicle and took off to deal with the rest of her duties.
Bea camped out in the lounge for several hours, until dinner was half over. Then she sprinted across campus in a wide zig-zag back to her dorm. Once she had showered (running from zombies makes you stink) she plunked herself down on her bed, flipped on the tv and made friends with a pint of Ben & Jerry's.
The next day, Bea checked her mail and found a package alert. When she took it up to the desk, the good folks on staff hauled out two large and fairly oddly shaped boxes. Unable to contain her curiosity, Bea pealed them open in the lounge. First was a massive, battery-powered, automatic nerf blaster. More like nerf uzi, actually. The other package held a tremendous nerf broadsword.
Included was a note that simply read: "Because no future employee of mine faces the zombie apocalypse with socks." It was signed by Tony Stark.
So that was who had been in the car. That or Miss Potts had a really boring life, the details of which she often shared with her boss. Regardless… seriously… wow.
Bea stood there, in the lounge, holding her weapons. She felt quite epic.
Then she went outside and shot some zombies.
Tony wanted to go somewhere and blow stuff up. He said as much to Pepper. Pepper then reminded him that this whole gala-shindig was to counter his self-centered and excessively violent public image. So, in a way, standing here, smiling and insulting people would enable him to blow things up later. He didn't share his logic with Pepper. She wouldn't get it, and then she'd try to make sure he was too busy being responsible later to go blow stuff up. So he just kept being his usual charming self, ticking off important people and downing a lot of champagne.
Could be worse.
Tony's current Pepper-guided public duty was to greet the kids he'd sent to school on the company's dime, kids who would hopefully be working for him in the very near future. A couple had already graduated. One or two were graduating the next day. The rest? Sometime before the next school year started in the fall, he was sure.
This whole meet-and-greet was really a good opportunity for him to tag and categorize the incoming newbs. Most of the time he could assign them to a department at the first glance. Sometimes he could actually figure out which exact slot they could fit into. The unfortunate young man before him with the obvious nerdly tendencies was destined for the deepest depths of the science department, where he'd be recognized for his brain, and his nerdiness would be hidden from the sunlight. Hopefully forever.
When the boy left, Pepper gave him a look.
"What?" he asked. "I'm behaving." It was true. He hadn't said anything to the kid about his obvious lack of a love-life – or need for better shampoo.
"Barely," said Pepper, "and only under obvious duress. You could at least pretend to be happy to meet these people."
"I am pretending," Tony argued. "I'm pretending really, really hard, Mommy." He stepped just a little behind her and rested his chin on her shoulder, summoning the best puppy eyes he could muster. "Do I get a cookie when we're done?"
Pepper rolled her eyes and moved far enough away to reclaim her personal space. Apparently the puppy eyes still needed work.
Next in the line of schmucks was a very short girl. No, not short – tiny. She wasn't leggy, or buxom, or curvy, and the top of her head just barely cleared Tony's nose. "Didn't know we were adopting a grade schooler," he said. His assistant turned a marvelous maroon, and Tony grinned, even after she elbowed him in the ribs.
The girl was undaunted. Oh, well… he'd tried to cut down on his patronly duties…
Smiling pleasantly, she stepped up and offered her hand. "Mr. Stark? It's a pleasure. Thank you for continuing the scholarship program."
Tony snagged a martini from a passing server and smiled back, ignoring the hand. "I was just telling Pepper here that I didn't know my company paid kindergarten fees for the under-funded. Guess it's all about a good foundation, though, right?"
The girl raised an eyebrow and continued to smile. Tony realized how pale she was. And how brown. Brown hair, brown eyes, even a brown dress. The color worked for the kid. It was just a lot of, well, brown. The only contrast was the bronze pocket watch she had strung around her neck, ticking away the seconds and exactly on time. Practical.
"I thought you would be more original, Mr. Stark," said the molasses munchkin. "Short jokes? Really? Oh! Thanks for the nerf gear, by the way." She made a mocking little Eastern-style bow. "I stunned many zombies."
Tony froze. Blinked. "You're that kid? Sock girl?"
Well, on to more important matters than height disparities, then. "Did you win?"
The girl nodded. "Yes, actually. We kept the new president alive for the rest of the week, and I never got tagged. Of course, once I had that gun and broadsword you sent, I think a few zombies wet themselves when they saw me."
Important matters dealt with and company (personal) pride maintained, Tony moved back to his previous mode of conversation. "Really? Cause, you know, even fully armed, I don't think you'd strike a very imposing figure."
"Well, people seem awfully impressed despite your stature when you're in the Iron Man suit," said Sock girl.
Pepper snorted and choked on her drink. Tony didn't deign to help her.
"Besides," Sock girl continued, "my diminutive dimensions just make big guns look even bigger. A handgun looks like a bazooka when I hold it. Seriously. It's a gift."
Smirking, Tony took a sip of his martini, trying to figure out where Sock girl would fit in his corporation.
"So, what did you study with all my money?" he asked. Pepper's elbow jabbed between his ribs again. At this rate he was gonna get a heck of a bruise there.
Sock girl seemed to get him, though. Her smile was becoming less polite and more mischievous. Tony always did think that he brought out the best in people.
"Majored in graphic design. Minored in art and advertising."
Having finally recovered from her near death experience, Pepper managed to say, "Her portfolio is on display over there with all the other student work if you're interested, Mr. Stark."
"I know that." He looked back to Sock girl. "I knew that."
"Never thought otherwise," said Sock girl.
Pepper gave Tony a very knowing look. Tony always hated those looks. It meant that Pepper was going to subtly deliver a kidney-shot of sheer intelligence, leaving Tony's ego bleeding on the floor. His poor little ego. It was so delicate. What had it ever done to her? Deaf to Tony's inner monologue, Pepper continued. "And each display has its respective student's name posted over it in flashy bright lights, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding hers, should you, Mr. Stark?"
Tony stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked quickly between the two women. "Um, no, sure, of course not." He leaned towards Sock girl and demanded in a stage whisper, "What's your name again, sweetheart? Didn't catch it the first time."
"There was no first time." Sock girl offered her hand again. This time, Tony shook it. "Bea Doe. And, before you ask, no, my parents didn't love me."
"Aww," Tony drawled, already looking towards the infamous displays, "I'm sure they meant well."
Discretely, Pepper cleared her throat, but Tony had already jumped into the minefield.
"I was put up for adoption when I was two months old. So, pretty sure, actually."
Then Tony's eyes lit up. "Oohhhhh… I get it. Doe as in Jane."
"That was my legal name until I turned eighteen," Bea said, wincing. "Bad as it is, Bea seemed better."
"Certainly more original."
"Not that you'd know anything about that, Mr. Stark."
Once more, Tony turned to Pepper. "I want one," he whined, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at little Bea Doe.
Bea laughed and began stepping away. "Well, it's been fun, but I think there are other people waiting to meet you, Mr. Stark, so…"
"Yeah, sure. Fun meeting you, too," Tony said. He couldn't help but admire the view as she walked away, and for once he was not ogling a girl's assets as he gawked. It was the shoes. Knee high white Converse. Custom painted in colorful doodles and designs. Probably done by hand. "I want shoes like that," he told Pepper.
"I don't think you could pull them off," she said. "Not original enough."
"Whatever," Tony said, swaggering in a leisurely way towards the displays. "So where are we putting her, because we're definitely keeping that. I want it. She plays with nerf guns. She made you snort. And she has awesome shoes. I still want a pair, by the way, and I am totally original enough to pull them off."
"Well, there's an open position in advertising and design, but it's really involved, and though she's pretty well qualified, she doesn't really have a lot of prior experience…"
"You still like her, though, don't you?"
"Well – yes. I mean, she's good with publicity. She knows her stuff, and she makes us look good, too."
"Good. Give her the spot."
There was a hand suddenly clutching his fancy suit, and when he looked down, he found Pepper looking at him very seriously. "I'm alright with it, really, but you've got to realize that she'll be in charge of all art and design in our advertising, packaging…"
"Cool." Tony carefully removed Pepper's hand and started forward again. "Did we order any hor'derves for this party?"
Across the room, he could just barely see his tiny employee-to-be threading her way through the crowd towards a heavily loaded buffet. Poor little twig needed to stuff some rolls down the front of her dress in his opinion…
And then she was gone.
One second he clearly saw her dodging between two ridiculously tall business men, and the next she was simply not there. Not where he had just seen her. Not where she was before. Nowhere. He could feel the frown settling down on his face, but he kept his course and tugged Pepper along with him. Maybe he had just missed her. Maybe she was standing behind that group of… No. Not there, either.
Discretely, Tony strode over to a nearby corner and called up Jarvis. "Jarvis? Can you locate one Bea Doe in this room?"
"I'm afraid Bea Doe is not in the immediate vicinity, sir," Jarvis replied calmly. "I am scanning nearby areas. Please hold for a moment."
Tony wanted to snort at the fact that his own machine had just put him on hold, but Pepper was still beside him, looking very confused. "Tony? What is it? Did something happen?"
Though he trusted his tech with his life – every second – he couldn't quite believe that Bea Doe had just literally popped out of existence, so he kept his eyes trained on the crowd, looking for her. "Maybe. Not sure yet."
"Sir?" Jarvis asked.
"What's the report, buddy?" Tony asked.
"Miss Bea is down the north hallway. Present floor. Second room on the left. She appears to be in some distress. May I be of further assistance, sir?"
"No, that'll be all, Jarvis." Tony disengaged himself from his assistant. He gave her an apologetic look and said, "There's something I have to check out."
"I'm not deaf, Tony," said Pepper. "If Bea's hurt then I want to help, too. I'm coming with you."
Knowing better than to start an argument with Pepper, Tony shrugged and headed off to follow Jarvis's directions, leaving Pepper to trail in a flighty nervous manner at his heels. It wasn't that he didn't want her with him, but he wasn't sure what he'd be walking into, and if this turned dangerous then he was worried that Pepper would get in the way, and he meant that in the most dangerous sense. Stopping Pepper was like stopping a train, though – it took a lot of effort and usually a lot of time. He didn't have time. So he let the train come along.
It didn't take them long to reach the room Jarvis had claimed held Miss Doe. Ever cautious, Tony stepped in first. He felt mixed waves of relief and concern crash through him when he found Bea, and only Bea, crumpled on the floor. Pepper shoved past him and dropped to her knees, brushing hair out of the girl's face and checking her pulse. A pool of vomit was lying a foot away from her head, and her ridiculously pale skin had gone a few shades lighter.
"Sorry," she mumbled. Pepper immediately tried to shush her, but Bea was already starting to sit up, looking dazed, disoriented and a little green. "Friends always said I had one white blood cell. Nothing ever snuck up on me that fast before, though." She tried to laugh everything off, lifting a shaky hand to wipe her mouth. But Tony wasn't having it. Something had unsettled her. Something had teleported her from one room to another instantaneously, and dang it if he wasn't going to… He noticed the pocket watch that was still dangling from Bea's neck. Whipping out his cell phone, he compared the two times. The perfectly timed clock was now two and a half minutes fast.
"You didn't teleport," he murmured.
"You didn't teleport," he said, louder. He held up the two time keepers. "You stopped time."
A/N: I respond to all reviews, so start dropping 'em! Also, I have no official plans to ship the OC with anyone. I'm considering another OC, or maybe a quasi-Loki ship (I'll let you figure out the 'quasi'). Input? Ideas? Flames will be used to light the incense burner my brother gave for graduation, thankyaverrymuch.
Next Chapter: In Which Coulson Eats Coffeecake