A/N: Well this took me longer than expected-but instead of rambling on about that, thanks for all of the lovely encouragement, and onwards we go! c:

Loki had not been on Earth long before he realized just how simple the task truly was. He was careful, but that did not mean he had to avoid the spotlight. Au contrair, Luke Eventer thought. He could hide himself in audacity. It wasn't as though the mortals even knew he existed, and that was the catch for the petty, blind cretins. They did not know yet that he existed, and they did not know yet to fear him. And oh, that would change—

But not yet.

He would make a name for himself because it suited his plans, because it would grant him access, and most of all, because he wanted to.

It had been far too long since he was entirely free to do as he wished, not under the pinning gazes of the Chitauri. They watched him, of course, in a way. They waited, impatiently.

But Loki understood the value of intelligence, both his own and that of information.

They would wait.

And he would play in the time given him.

So Loki applied himself. Social sciences he found quaint and impractical; the arts not only did not interest him, they would not help him. Science, however, science reminded him of his magic—cold, hard formulae and processes. Of course, his magic was far beyond the comprehension of any Midgardian, but it made grasping mathematics laughably easy.

Loki had always had a mind sharper even than both his knives and his tongue; he applied it now and in the course of a week, he had devoured enough mathematics to satisfy his forged identity.

For there was a certain scientific "discovery" that had attracted his attention—and the attention of those who would soon be following his every move very, very closely.

He did not believe certain important pieces would ever be shown to the public…but there was no doubting the fact that this discussion on ochtachorons could not have been unrelated.

And so Loki would make sure that he was in the proper position to appreciate this discussion, and all it brought. Most definitely all who it brought. He was aware of much more than any would give him credit for. It was time to make use of that.

This he pondered as he walked down dark streets, dressed sharply in a suit, hardly bothering to note just how late it'd gotten. There was nothing on Midgard that could threaten him, nothing that could even come close to the horrors he had already seen and experienced.

Though he supposed his appearance didn't truly give off that impression. It was then that he was introduced to the darker side of humanity.

His shoes, dark as the rest of his clothing, made little noise on the sidewalk. Loki had found this city was rarely ever quiet, but it was late enough that the shadowy sidewalks were empty.

Or nearly so.

The sound of footsteps behind him alerted Loki that he was not alone. The staccato of feet moving in time with his no matter his pace alerted him that he was being followed. Loki only had to ponder this briefly before he quite suddenly ducked into he space between two buildings, hardly an alleyway. It was convenient, the asymmetry of human-built things; such a thing would never exist upon Asgard. But Loki had perfected the art of moving without being seen on Asgard, and so it was no hardship to do so on Midgard.

If he had wished to.

But he did not.

They saw him. They fancied him scared; he could hear it in the eagerness of their quicker steps.

Of all things, Loki Liesmith was not a coward. He stopped abruptly, now shadowed by the buildings that acted as a shelter, if a whimsy one, and then he turned. There were only two of them, an insulting raiding party to be sure, and the unimpressed arch of Loki's eyebrow showed just what he thought of this mortal scum.

One of the men read it well-enough, not that Loki was truly attempting to hide his contempt—his expression shifted rapidly to anger as he lunged, fist raised.

Loki was aware of his appearance, particularly here, where all of his wide arrange of abilities was masked by the mortals' own lack of perception. He was tall, yes, but thin. In his rather tidy suit, he supposed he did look to be a perfect target.

It suited him perfectly in this. It had been some time since anyone had attacked him outright without a hint of wariness.

It made him grin, all bared teeth and viciousness.

And then he moved, side-stepping, tsk-ing absently, and he kicked the man's legs out from under him in the same fluid motion. There was only a startled noise as he crashed face-first into the ground, but Loki merely straightened and faced the other just as his frantic scramblings managed to put a knife in his hand. He waved it in what he likely considered a threatening motion, but Loki was almost offended. These children could hardly aspire to match his skills with knives, and yet they dared

Loki slid forward, smooth as glass with all of the sharp edges. He was not as proficient as his brother in close combat, it was true, even less so Tyr the ever-so-mighty. He had heard his share of comments to that effect, and they had had the opposite effect of that intended.

Loki learned to use what talents he did have, and to very vicious use. Honor was of no use to him. "Fighting fair" had even less a use than honor.

And Loki was still—had been—and Asgardian.

It was truly no contest.

The man staggered back to try to put distance between him and the man who suddenly, with that grin splitting his face, looked much less sane, but Loki kept coming, long-legged strides bringing him more than close enough to ram his elbow in the man's face, helping him down to his knees with an effortless follow-up blow to the back of his head.

He restrained himself, and he rather thought the mortal ought to be grateful. His full strength could have done much worse.

Loki allowed the mortal time to recover as he bent to scoop up the knife, testing its balance idly.

"W-who are you?" the man asked, rather heartwrenchingly predictable, Loki mused, even as blood dripped down his face.

Predictability was a bane in any situation. It was something that made his grin flatten into something less amused.

He tested the knife on his finger—dull.


He should skin these mortals for even daring to attack him, for even daring to believe themselves able to defeat him. It was his right, as Loki Liesmith, cast-out Prince of Asgard, God of Fire and Mischief alike.

The balance of the knife was off, Loki thought, and he so he compensated expertly, half-turning and sending the knife sailing with a practiced flick of his wrist.

It pinned the other man's hand to the wall which he had been using as aid to subtly stand—or had been attempting to. The man howled at that, but froze, and a satisfied smirk curved Loki's lips once again.

These men were a piece of the mortal's criminal underworld, though Loki found the title a distasteful misnomer. Loki had seen the great halls of Helheim, and nothing the mortals could ever create would reach that grandness that was the true underworld. There was something entertaining about their aspirations, it was true, but he still found such a thing bitter on his tongue.

But though an ineloquently erroneous metaphor, such a construct was not useless.

It would have been well within his rights for Loki to slaughter these pitiful creatures, both kneeling before him now, staring at him with wide eyes. Loki cast his eyes over them appraisingly, smirk cruel and cold, and his tone was as smooth and cold as the ice that had made him so despised.

"I am of a mind to be gracious," Loki said, spreading his arms to show his good will.

He admired the hope written all over their faces. So beautifully unaware. It was as if they were begging for subjugation, for safety now that they had had a taste of danger.

He straightened his suit easily, immaculate. Though frightened, they were not terrified out of their wits. Perhaps this would be worth his while indeed.

"My name," he said smoothly, "is Luke Eventer. I have a task for you."

Yes, the looks on their faces was rather heartening—they would make for excellent pawns.

Loki had once admired a spider as a child, for the entirety of an afternoon, holed up inside instead of romping about with Thor and his admiring "friends". The spider had woven its web, home and deadly trap alike, with effortless grace, and each bit of prey caught was clueless until it was much too late. Even when Thor had burst into the room, running straight through the web and destroying its entirety with his energy, the spider had survived, beginning her work once again.

It was quite the impressive task, to avoid death so easily, no matter which threads were severed, so long as one was well-prepared enough.

And with this—

One more thread created.

Loki's smirk was razor-sharp, for laid out before him was any number of paths, all so very inviting. Opportunity lay before him, behind him, around him—

Let the game begin.

Pepper could input the access code to Tony's lab without looking, and indeed she did, eyes trained on her very state of the art "phone-slash-PDF-slash-whatever the hell you need it to be", as Tony called it sometimes, when he didn't need to breathe. As CEO, she was undeniably busy (sometimes, she thought her schedule had schedules), but she was Pepper Potts.

Regardless of how busy she got, she always had time to check on Tony.

She looked up from her phone in time to duck what appeared to be a screwdriver.


Thankfully, she was rather used to such things; Tony's workshop was hardly a safe place at any time of day, but most especially when he had been working on something for days.

Like now, for instance.

The screwdriver hit the wall and bounced off mildly, hitting the ground and rolling a few inches further. She noted it absently but left it there; it wasn't her job to pick up Tony's minor messes, just his major ones.

Technically, it wasn't her job even to do that anymore, but she'd never really dream of not picking up the pieces Tony left behind. He broke things often, and he didn't fix them. He fixed other things, built new things—

Tony Stark was a genius, but he needed Pepper, and she knew it. She'd have known it even if he hadn't told her so—

(She still felt guilty, sometimes, when she dwelled, which as ridiculous considering if Tony had just told her sooner-)

But it seemed to be her role to feel guilty. She had to make up for Tony's lack of a conscience sometimes, right?

So she left the screwdriver where it was because she was definitely no longer Tony's nanny and instead she was his biographer now or something along those lines, and so Pepper Potts strolled over to where he peered very intently at a computer screen or three (so where did the screwdriver come from?).

"Tony," she said simply, looking around suspiciously.

She'd thought maybe an explosion would've chucked the tool at the wall (and her), but it looked as though everything was far too intact—

Except for a rather guilty looking robot hand, drooping under her stare.

…Pepper pinched the bridge of her nose, leaving that mystery to be solved for another day (she could imagine it now—"Tony, why did you build a robot that throws around your tools?"

And he would respond with something half-hearted like "I know, it's genius" while he worked on something else.

Oh god, even in her subconscious Tony Stark ignored her too often for comfort.).

"Tony," she said again, and this time Tony heard her, looking up from the screen and blinking at her and it was always as if he was resurfacing from a dream, the way he looked at her when she interrupted his train of thought. Sometimes she wondered what it was he thought of when he was there, wherever he went when he created those fantastic and marvelous inventions of his.

Most of the time, she didn't want to know, because she got to see the harried and haggard looks that came after he'd created and created and was left only with the exhaustion.

Pepper was a sensible woman. She had her hands full with taking care of a genius; there was no need to desire to be a genius herself. Still, something possessed her this time, now that she had Tony's attention, to lean over, curious.

"What are you working on now?"

The 'that doesn't look like your work on clean energy' went unsaid. Attempting to micromanage Tony's work and inventing would be buying oneself a one way trip to insanity.

Not hearing any censorship in her voice, Tony offered up some information, fingers tapping on the desk. "There's something that came up last night. I'm trying to figure it out, diagnose it."

Trace it. Discover it.

Pepper was eyeing him oddly, the look on her face akin to a faint puzzled curiosity.

"What about the screwdriver?" she asked, as if out of the blue.

Tony blinked, for once honestly baffled. "What screwdriver—"

But Pepper just nodded decisively, as if something had been confirmed for her, and glanced at her organized tablet and continued.

"And the board meeting you've got in two hours? What about that?"

Oh, that was the Work Tone. That was the tone that said that this was not to be messed with, not to be dismissed, not to be ignored.

So, of course, Tony had to disappoint.

"Yeah…about that—"

Tony was quick to continue, seeing Pepper open her mouth in what had to be outrage. "I have a math convention to attend. Very hip, very…square. That was awful, ignore that. Anyway, cubes are huge these days, you know. Very important in the clean energy business."

And it was nonsense, but Tony's mind cast back to that notebook of his father's regardless, and cubes, cubes, cubes, his father had mentioned a cube somewhere in there, { (x1, x2, x3, x4) ∈ ℝ4: -1 ≤ xi ≤ 1 }

Pepper was staring at him with a vaguely reproachful expression, and somehow, he felt bad for messing up her carefully laid plans. It really, really wasn't fair how she could make him feel bad for minor little things, like not eating for instance.

Or like messing up her schedule.

So he stepped forward, resting his hands gently on her shoulders, and looked her in the eye. He had no idea what the hell their relationship was right now if he was quite frank with himself—

But what he did know was that he could always trust Pepper.

And this, this was important.

"Someone tried to hack into my personal server last night," Tony said simply, watching her gaze shift from surprise to some protectiveness and concern, watched the questions form on the tip of her tongue even as she waited for him to continue.

Good old Pepper. She was so reliable it was almost unreal—and he was so glad she was real.

"I stopped them before they got anywhere, of course. But…they were good, Pep." He shrugged, as if in explanation.

If there was one thing Tony couldn't be contested on, it was his own creations. If he said someone was good after trying something like that, that meant they were a threat.

Minor, of course. They simply couldn't compete with Tony himself.

But a threat nonetheless, and underestimated threats had a habit of coming back to bite them both in the ass.

"What does this math convention have to do with it?" Pepper asked, reproach fading into honest curiosity, as it always did when Tony was serious with her. At that, Tony let go, shifting as if to turn away slightly before looking back at her.

It was strange to confide even in Pepper, even now, of his ideas and thoughts running a mile a minute and plans, but he kept telling himself he'd give it an honest effort, and he would.

"It's just a hunch, but I think the two are connected," Tony said, tone a little begrudging despite himself. Doing things based off of hunches was really, really not his style, but his mind flashed back to Hawkeye and the Avengers initiative and "youngest math professor" (where had that come from?) and Howard Stark's notes on a cube and he knew it was more than just a "hunch".

So he plowed on valiantly regardless. "I know, I know. That's not very scientific, but trust me on this one, alright?"

He could tell he was swaying her with that argument, weak as it was, because Pepper did trust him, against all odds, despite Tony himself. Yes, he was a very lucky man, that was for sure. Things like this just reminded him—he'd be more than a little lost without Pepper.

But he still didn't say that there was more than just a hunch guiding him onwards. He didn't say that he knew there would be answers there, he knew it. He trusted Pepper with his life, but there were some things that should, nonetheless, remain secret.

In an attempt at levity, Tony added quickly, "Besides, this is me we're talking about here. When have I ever been wrong?"

Pepper opened her mouth—he winced, because honestly, Pepper, it was a joke—and said, "Don't answer that. My point is, I'm definitely onto something here."

Pepper observed him for a moment, having been rather too quiet this entire time, he thought uncomfortably, but then she said, "You're sure?"

He nodded—and she continued, "I'm coming with you then."

Tony froze, his mind already working at a mile a minute. It was just a convention—right?

So why did his heart rate speed up just at the thought of Pepper accompanying him?

If he was honest with himself (something he tended to avoid), Tony knew it was because he knew something was going to happen there, and the thought of losing Pepper was—

Well, his mind shied away from it, to put it lightly. But Pepper's expression was firm, unyielding, and Tony was quickly realizing that in some things, Pepper was just as formidable as the day she had walked out of his office (her office) leaving him to think over his impending death on his own.

Pepper was a force to be reckoned with, and purposefully leaving Pepper out of something she thought concerned her would only come back to bite him. And if, as he suspected, SHIELD would be infiltrating the entire thing, it had to be safe.

It had to be, and he still didn't want her to go, but his traitorous mouth said, "If you aren't busy with a million other things, sure, why not? You'd be better company than half of those wannabe scientists."

For a moment, Tony thought he'd hit on something, with the way Pepper's lips pursed. But then she smiled (and most anything was worth it when she smiled, it really was, sappy as that sounded even in his head) and shook her head.

"I'll clear my schedule—"

"Pepper—" Tony attempted to interrupt, rather unsuccessfully.

"Tony," Pepper said over him, closing her eyes for a brief moment to gather herself. When she opened them, her expression was firm. "If this is as important as you think it is, then it's fine."

She nodded, satisfied, at the look on his face and turned to go.

She turned back with the timing of an actor, speaking over her shoulder. "Oh—I wouldn't be a very good biographer if I wasn't there to see what happens."

And then she left, fingers returning to the touchscreen of her tech, already working to revise her schedule.

Tony watched her leave for a moment. And then he shook his head, sigh almost amused.

"What have I done to deserve this?"

His expression was plaintive, but there was gratitude in his tone. And when JARVIS answered primly, "I don't know, sir," Tony didn't correct him.

He just let his lips quirk up in some amusement briefly, shaking his head. "Me neither, Jarvis. Me neither."

The convention was everything Tony had expected it to be when he first discovered it—it was boring. It was filled to the brim with mathematicians who thought highly of themselves simply because they could do with math what Tony had been able to do when he'd graduated. He'd been at least twenty years younger than the youngest person here.

Their haughtiness was annoying at worst, but what truly bothered him about people like this was the lack of imagination. To them, math was rules and laws. They searched for new ways to define it, new ways to pin it down.

To Tony, math was a tool to create, and a necessary one. In a world of screws, math acted as his screwdriver, but that did not mean it was not malleable, not able to be tweaked. He could always find new ways to bend math to his will, just as he managed to meld all he needed.

Not a single person here had ever thought to create something with math.

What a waste.

Tony mingled, vaguely. He honestly didn't have much of an interest in it, and despite his worries and insistence that Pepper stay close to him, she mingled much better than him not far away.

He was even beginning to relax, which was no good at all, because that meant he was letting his guard down. But there was nothing here.

Tony couldn't even spy the SHIELD agents he'd been expecting, surreptitiously glancing over the rims of the sunglasses he refused to take off, even in as academic and fancy a place as this.

No SHIELD. No Hawkeye. No clues. No cubes.

That sounded an awful lot like a dead end—but Tony Stark couldn't expect so easily that an educated guess of his could be wrong. It went against everything he knew to be right, and everything he was willing to accept.

Because he wasn't used to being wrong.

Pepper, the dependable, wonderful Pepper, had already sat through two hours of math, and complicated math, but she merely smiled serenely at those who came to inquire about her presence and try to stun her with their ever-so-impressive wit. Those sorts of people Pepper didn't need help to fend off. Those sorts of people might need someone to save them from her.

Tony wasn't feeling particularly generous, however, so he turned his attention away from Pepper offering the sort of smile that implied she was really not pleased at one of the more haughty gentlemen present just in time to catch a flash of black and purple.

He arched an eyebrow, strolling easily through the crowd, projecting a sense of "don't mess with me" in his stride and expression, enough that he wasn't stopped as he made his way to one of the walls. There, he leaned against the wall, to any first glance utterly relaxed and just judging the milling people before him.

And then Tony slid his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose slightly and looked up as subtly as he could.

He spared a brief thought for how he should have invested in some of those mirror glasses, like the spies had, and maybe Natasha had them—and a slightly longer thought on how he could improve something like that to actual work in situations like this—and then his eyes caught the purple and black he'd noticed before.

Hawkeye cut a decent figure in a suit, Tony noted absently. Black suit, purple tie, but most people didn't hang out in the rafters that Tony was rather certain hadn't existed there the last time he'd made an appearance in this building.

SHIELD had installed a high place just for their very own sharp-eyed hawk.


He shifted his gaze then, examining the rest of the rafters, noting the agents there. There weren't many; those who were there looked to be weaponless. Even more interesting. This was a reconnaissance mission, then.

From just that, Tony could derive that this mission was supposed to be stealthy. It was meant as an observation, so whatever they were observing wasn't all too dangerous.

At least, SHIELD didn't think it was too dangerous, but Tony thought of a hacker sliding through his carefully constructed defenses like a hot knife through butter and found he wasn't quite so certain about that.

But this little math discussion on regular octachorons was important enough for SHIELD to send one of its top agents. That Hawkeye was here said quite a lot as well—

"I don't suppose there are a great many cubes in the ceiling?"

The voice that interrupted Tony's thoughts was smooth and cool, calm as it cut through the chatter of the room without drawing attention to them. It was, in short, the voice of a poised actor, one used to using his voice for a purpose, and not just because he had a tongue, like so many people tended to do.

Tony was familiar with using the voice as a tool. He'd been in the spotlight since he was born, and he knew very well how to pitch his voice just right, how to attract an audience, how to draw a crowd.

But as Tony found himself turning automatically to see who it was who had such a clever voice (and, of course, who had found him out, but Tony was very good at wriggling out of tight situations).

He met green eyes, a tall, lithe figure and a sharp flash of teeth that could have been considered a grin. Young, to be at a place like this—that was the first thing Tony noted, after gauging his first reactions to the other's appearance. Sharp suit, no tie, but a green scarf…


That struck some part of Tony's mind, a memory that he thought he should rather remember, and it wasn't just that a scarf was a pretty outlandish thing to wear in California with a full suit at a time like this, and it was clearly just a fashion statement, but it was a pretty damn weird one.

Not that it looked bad on the man. No, Tony had to admit that the rather tall man standing before him did not look bad at all in that suit and scarf combo. In fact, he didn't look like he'd ever looked bad a single day of his life.

In Tony's brief evaluation, anyway.

In the next instant, the man's words were sinking in and Tony allowed the sunglasses to slide down the bridge of his nose again so he could peer at him over the top of them.

It was just for added effect, really.

"No, not really. The math's not all that interesting here. I've heard it all before, anyway, and math doesn't change much. I mean, a square's a square, except when it's a rectangle, and cube's are cubes, even in four dimensions. Not that exciting." Tony took a breath, noting that oddly enough, it didn't look like he'd lost the man in his rambling. Odd. "I was just admiring the architecture. I like what they've done to the place since the last time I was here."

Rafters for spying hawks with bows. That was quite the modern décor statement.

The black-haired man hummed beside him, looking up at the rafters with an almost bored expression.

There was a flicker of his eyes that let Tony know that he'd seen Hawkeye.

The side-eyed glance the other gave Tony a moment later let him know that he wanted him to know that he'd seen the SHIELD agent, and now Tony was curious, even as a chill ran down his spine. He was familiar with the feeling—feeling like his stomach had dropped out from under him and cold water dripped down his spine. It was the feeling of a dangerous situation, possibly even a fatal one, and Tony, as was his habit, dove right in.

"It is not particularly subtle," came the response, but now those green eyes were focused entirely on Tony instead of the rafters. "I am not entirely certain I like it."

It felt like he was gauging Tony, trying to get a read on him. So Tony decided to be as infuriatingly Tony as he could be, shrugging noncommittally. "Sometimes you have to be blunt to make an impact," he said, and it was obvious they weren't talking about what wasn't even truly part of the decoration anymore.

There was that appraising glance again, but this time it was accompanied with a faintly amused smirk.

"No, I don't suppose subtlety always works," came the musing response, the man shifting to hold out his hand. "My name is Luke Eventer. A pleasure, Mr. Tony Stark."

Luke Eventer. That last name sounded French—but Tony had bigger things to worry about than the etymology of Luke's name. He knew his name.

Admittedly, that wasn't unusual at all; it was almost more unusual when someone didn't know Tony Stark's name. But said in such a cool, unemotional way such as that, after that provocation, now that was odd, and Tony wanted to know just what this Luke Eventer was playing at.

(Scarves and chilly words. There was something he wasn't remembering and it was driving him crazy.)

"Do I know you?" Tony asked, rather politely for him, Pepper could be proud, while his mind raced furiously. What was it, what was it—his mind was bringing to the forefront "newspaper", but that was ridiculous, Tony didn't read newspapers.

"No, Mr. Stark, you do not." A flicker of a smirk again, and Luke's eyes left his to scan the gathering of people. "Though I rather imagine that shall change soon."

Tony narrowed his eyes despite himself, because that sounded an awful lot like an order, and he was known to not really be fond of those. If this snobby mathematician thought he could order him around—

(Mathematician. Of course he was a mathematician. He wouldn't be here if he wasn't but for some reason that set off warning bells in his mind.)

And then Luke grinned, a full-on bearing of his teeth, and continued before Tony could say a word, "It's an interesting concept, isn't it? Cubic prisms, octachorons…a tesseract. You ought to collect your lady friend before she finds herself into a spot of trouble."

The change in topic would have given him whiplash if his brain didn't work as quickly as it did. Thankfully, Tony only needed a very brief moment to catch up and make the connection, though that was all the time Luke needed to turn and begin to walk away, posture neat and pace unhurried and unconcerned.

Tony could have gone after him.

You ought to collect your lady friend.

Really, it wasn't even a contest. Tony turned abruptly, scanning the remaining people (there were few now, as it was getting rather late) to find the familiar red hair of Pepper. She seemed fine, but he was still quick to stroll over there, interrupting her conversation with a hand on her shoulder and ignoring the look she shot him.

Noting his seriousness quickly, Pepper excused herself from her conversation and turned to face Tony, meeting his eyes, or trying to. It was a difficult task, as Tony's eyes were rather busily darting around the room trying to find Luke, trying to understand where the threat was coming from, and where had Hawkeye gone and to hell with this entire thing—

But he didn't waste any time in beginning to guide her out of the building, shaking his head at her questioning "Tony?".

"It's time for us to go," he said simply, expression tightening. He'd put Pepper into danger again, and what kind of genius was he, this really, really, really hadn't been a good idea. Sure, he hadn't found any sign of a threat yet, but that didn't mean a single thing.

The certainty in Luke's voice was hard to shake off, and the mirth in those green eyes made Tony want to wipe that smug expression clear off his face.

Confused as she was, Pepper didn't protest when Tony near-dragged her out of the building and onto the sidewalk, the billionaire freezing quite suddenly as he looked around the street.

He finally glanced back at her then, expression befuddled. "Where's Happy?"

Pepper took in the look on his face, the plaintive question and their hasty exit and carefully straightened her clothing. "He should be here. We are later than we said we would be, after all. Let me just give him a call—"

She had just pulled out her cellphone when the familiar car pulled up, and Tony rolled his eyes in exasperation that he rarely showed for the people who worked under him (but he really couldn't be blamed for it now, not when it was so important, and he felt like something was closing in on them), but he didn't bother to wait for Happy to get out to let them in.

He opened the door, urging Pepper in first. He glanced around quickly, and he almost fancied he caught sight of a smirk and a flash of green and black.

A second look and it was gone, and Tony frowned but got into the car, closing the door with a huff.

"Happy—" he started, but he was never quite given the chance to finish his thought, whether it was a reproach or simply an order to take them home, as the driver turned to look at them and it was definitely not Happy. The grin directed at them told of their new driver's delight in their confusion.

And then he took off, locking the doors with the press of a button and trapping the two of them rather effectively with the simple speed of the car hurtling down the city road, taking no heed of the people driving around them.

Tony exchanged a glance with Pepper, his once-assistant wide-eyed but remarkably calm, and he just breathed out a slow, solemn, "Well shit."