|What: Having already made an announcement concerning Iron Man's future, Stark has to explain himself to the last person he's interested in seeing.|
Apparently Tony's rather bombastic announcement was not shared with the rest of the building. Oddly, though, JARVIS seems to have neglected to share the news with Pepper. Or maybe he was told to not say. Either way, she walks into Avenger's HQ with a tablet in hand, apparently on some errand or other.
Noticing the Iron Man armor standing nearby, she approaches briskly. "Tony, I've been wanting to talk with you about the manufacturing plant upstate. They passed their ISO 9002 certifications, but only barely. I'm thinking I might need to head up there and look around for myself... unless you'd rather."
"JARVIS where can I find a stungun around here?" Flurry is back from pizza and no less annoyed by the whole being called a cavewoman. That just sorta pissed her off. Now there is this Iron Hollow Man that is supposed to be a part of the team. Sure she's not been a member long but hey she can tell when something is messed up.
Normally, Tony doesn't stand still with his arms folded across his armored chest. Not for hours at a time, anyway. Still, for the past few months the only version of 'Iron Man' that has been seen around Stark Tower is the fully-autonomous pilot-free armor, so some of his idiosyncracies have probably started to feel a bit more normal.
At any rate, Iron Man simply stands in Low Power Mode, with little apart from his motion sensors operating as he guards the Avengers HQ against any enemies that might suddenly surface.
Unfortunately, the first person to trip his motion sensors is Miss Virginia Potts.
"Halt! State your..." Iron Man's voice is strident and hostile, as if he's preparing for a fight. But his visual sensors quickly filter her face through the facial recognition software and through the memories of one Tony Stark. Needless to say his voice changes almost immediately to something less hostile and almost... sultry?
"... why... hello Miss Potts. I'd be more than happy to assist you with... anything you might need. You know, I don't think I've told you lately just how valuable you are to me. Without you, I would operate roughly 49.67893% less efficiently..."
He uncrosses his arms, placing one against the wall as he leans in a sort of classic creeper 'blocking' pose that partially cuts Pepper off.
JARVIS, meanwhile, seems to be avoiding directly commenting on or to the new Iron Man. He does, however, answer Flurry.
"All female employees of Stark International are given stun guns and pepper spray in their initial employee packet, and are under strict orders to carry them at all times, per Virginia Potts. This has reduced HR claims against Anthony Stark by 14%."
Pepper is likely one of the few people around SI that knows not to touch Tony (or in this case, the autonomous Iron Man) without express permission, so while she flinched at the initial warning tone she doesn't back off when he changes posture to something resembling... leaning. She does take a small mental step back at the unusual choices of phrasing going on here, and visibly squares her shoulders, wondering if this is some new quirk of Tony's she's going to have to start dealing with.
"Thank you." Maybe. "Now, do I have to repeat myself about the manufacturing plant in upstate New York?"
Flurry nods, "Thank you JARVIS." She walks up to a female employee an gets her to taze her. She then goes into a training room and begins training.
One of the benefits of having no face (in the conventional sense) is that Pepper can't really tell that our All-New Iron Man is actually confused. As he pauses there, staring at the World's Most Overqualified Secretary/Least Appreciated COO, he filters through the files until he is able to come up with an appropriately Tony-esque response.
"There's no need to be so impatient. You're so much prettier when you smile. Why don't the two of us go to this... manufacturing plant in upstate New York together? We can travel in one of my internal combustion automobiles, consume alcohol during the trip and indulge in flirtatious banter while carefully preserving the line between our personal and professional lives? There is a 93% probability that you will respond in the affirmative."
Okay, what? Pepper clearly understood what was said, but why in the heck is Tony talking like that? And no, Iron Hollow Man, you're not getting a smile out of her that easily. Instead, the new AI has earned itself a suspiciously narrowed gaze.
"Not while you're still wearing that suit. Do I need to give you time to go change into some proper clothes?" She just knows it. Tony's wearing some grease-stained jeans and a ratty old band t-shirt under there.
"Proper clothes? Why would... I... ever want to wear anything other than the most complete version of the Iron Man System? It hugs all of Ton... my lumps and crevices like an extremely sensitive second skin. You simply have no idea how intimate the bond between man and machine can be, you silly..."
Iron Man sounds more or less irate, and his anger only begins to subside when the appropriate sub-routine adjusts the programming's protocols. Apparently his 'Jealousy of/Identification With Stark' program has slightly less priority than his 'Miscellaneous Pepper-related Responses' program.
"... I mean... wouldn't it be more romantic if the two of us flew there together? In our respective armors. You are not authorized to enter this one."
Finally, FINALLY, the 'something's not right here' sense swats Pepper in the back of the head, and she takes another small step back, clearly suspicious. "JARVIS, where is Tony right now?" Please say here. Please say here.
"I'm sorry, Miss Potts. Tony Stark has ordered me to answer that question with 'I'm fine. Mind your own business, Pepper. Jesus Christ, you're not my mother. You know what you need? You need to get a friggin' dog."
JARVIS is, as ever, simultaneously snarky and bitchy. It's a style that future generations will probably refer to as 'snitchy.'
However, while the question doesn't get the answer that she probably hoped from JARVIS, it DOES provoke a response within Iron Man. "I'll contact him for you immediately, Pepper. You know that I'd do anything for you, right?" He reaches out one of his armored hands, running it dangerously close to her face, as if he were about to cup it with his metallic palm.
But suddenly, he stops, and drops his hand as if he were guilty. Almost as soon as he does so, the monitors in the room turn on, and the illustrious Tony Stark can be seen, apparently chilling in his penthouse with a half empty pitcher of margaritas sitting next to him. No glass though, but if the straw in the pitcher is any indication...
"God, Pepper, what do you want? I'm still suuuuper pissed at you. To be honest, I'm probably not going to forgive you until the scars on my junk go away. I mean, really, stun guns are bad enough, but did you HAVE to tell them to aim for the balls at the first sign of flirting?"
When Iron Man actually admits to that aloud and reaches as if to touch her face, Pepper manages to stand her ground and not pull back. Of course, then the bombshell drops.
She looks from the armor to Tony clearly not in this room and back. At least twice. "I think for letting me stand here and talk to your armor thinking you were in it, we're now even." The suit's slightly unusual behaviors -- namely that last gesture -- has her being more careful than she'd normally be about her phrasing. It's now occurring to her that the armor has been acting like Tony would if he weren't hiding behind his mask of assholery. Which appears to be firmly in place at the moment on the real thing.
"I wasn't even really flirting! I just invited her up to my penthouse for a few drinks! It was totally innocent!"
Tony is apparently still stuck on the fact that Pepper has for some unfathomable reason decided that he can't be trusted to be left alone with an unarmed female workforce. But, as he leans forward to take a long sip from the straw that's buried in the margarita pitcher, he seems to be moving past it.
After a couple of gulps, he sits back upright in his chair. Funnily enough, he doesn't appear to be getting even remotely tipsy, despite the vast amount of alcohol he must have consumed. Even for Tony, that's impressive. Almost too impressive...
"I'm going to correct you there, Pepper. I never told you that I was still 'inside' the armor. You just leapt to conclusions about me, the way you always do." Okay, so maybe he isn't quiiiite moving past it.
"I'm done with the armor. I'm Iron Man no more. I've finally created a fully-sentient version of Iron Man that doesn't need Tony Stark in the cockpit. He's going to go on to do bigger and better things than I ever could have inside the suit."
This triggers the eyes flicking back and for the second time. And then Pepper asks the question that maybe the others should have. "Why?" But then she follows that up promptly with another, more relevant question. "And why are we still talking over this video screen? I'm on my way up, Tony, and don't you dare lock me out." She gives the armor another look, though there's no any ire aimed at him (or Tony), and then she turns to head for the elevator.
"Nononono! There's a... I have a... and... she's gone. Fuck!"
Tony practically bolts upright after she leaves the room, and his penthouse becomes a flurry of motion before he finally kills the feed to the video monitors.
Inside the penthouse, Tony looks as if he's on the edge of a panic attack. "Shit. Shit. Shitshitshitshit! JARVIS, tell Pepper that... uh... her parents are in the hospital!"
Down in the hallway, the voice of JARVIS suddenly speaks up, just before Pepper can get into the elevator.
"Miss Potts, I regret to inform you that both of your parents are in the hospital. Apparently, they've both fallen off a horse. Different horses. Not the same horse." He drones on calmly, reacting to each of Tony's panicked commands.
Pepper Potts simply waits for the elevator. "That's not going to work, JARVIS. Tony can keep trying until he's blue in the face." And She looks at the elevator doors very pointedly. If they don't open in the next thirty seconds, she will climb the stairs, and then she will actually be angry at Tony.
She glances at her watch. Fifteen, fourteen, thi... ah. She steps into the elevator and doesn't bother with trying to hit a floor button that no longer exists. "JARVIS..." There's a warning in her tone.
But it isn't JARVIS who answers Pepper. Instead, the voice of Tony Stark is carried over the elevator's system, seemingly resigned to the fact that he's going to have to let her visit. A few months ago, a visit from Pepper would have been perfectly normal, perhaps even something that would have brightened his day. But now, he just sounds kind of depressed.
"You're right, Pepper. I mean, you're usually right, so this probably doesn't come as a surprise to you. I should have had you visit before but... well..."
The elevator rockets up to the top floors so quickly that it feels virtually instantaneous. But despite the velocity, there aren't any gravitational forces. One of the lesser wonders of Stark engineering...
When the elevator stops, it almost seems as if it takes the doors longer to open than it took the elevator to ascend more than eighty floors. But open they eventually do, right in front of the penthouse of Anthony Stark, Esq.
There's a buzzing sound, and the doors whoosh open without even requiring any identification on her part. Clearly, he's at the controls (or on his phone, more likely) monitoring her every step of the way.
The lights in his penthouse are dim, and everything has been kept so neat that the place has an aura more in keeping with a mausoleum than playboy's penthouse. Over in a corner, almost as far away from the door as possible, sits Tony. He's wearing one of his overpriced suits. But this one is solid black. It looks very much like the kind of suit someone would get buried in.
Stepping into the penthouse almost cautiously at the strangely ... melancholy atmosphere, Pepper looks around and seems to lose more and more of her anger with each footstep. She's even walking more gingerly, as if her heels clicking on the floor would disturb someone or something. "Tony?" she finally says tentatively when she spots him sitting there in that black suit. This is honestly starting to really worry her.
"You know, I get compared to my father a lot." As hellos go, it's probably fairly random. But it's certainly not the most random greeting that Pepper has ever received from Tony.
Sitting alone in his chair, in his dark, funereal apartment, wearing an equally dark, equally funereal suit, Tony avoids making eye contact as she enters. Instead, he taps the screen of his Starkphone, and the doors to the penthouse close behind Pepper as she enters.
"Mostly just because we both had such sweet mustaches. But there was also that whole 'billionaire genius' thing, I guess. Anyway, it was a lot to live up to."
Setting the phone down beside him, he looks up at Pepper for the first time. He doesn't look happy to see her, nor does he look like he wants her to leave. He just looks... kind of at peace.
"But the thing people don't like talking about is that toward the end there, my father pretty much became a hermit. He locked himself away for years, just waiting to die. I always promised myself I wouldn't go out like that. And yet, here I am, locked away in my penthouse without even a single stripper to keep me company."
He cracks a half-hearted smile, albeit a morbid one. "I guess it must be genetic. Like the sweet mustache."
Pepper keeps approaching, shaking her head a little at his presuming this odd behavior would be genetic. "I don't believe that, Tony. This..." she gestures vaguely to the room they're in. "This isn't genetic."
She finally stops and sits gingerly on the chair nearest Tony. "What's going on with you lately?" If this is something that needs some kind of medical professional to snap him out of his funk, she can do that. If he just needs Rhodey and Happy and her to circle the wagons, she can do that too. Others would likely also be very willing to help. But of course it all hinges on whether or not Tony will ASK for the help. Accepting is irrelevant until he asks.
"Well... I mean... PART of it might be genetic. The waiting in the dark and eating chocolate bars thing, that is. But what do I know? Genetics are more Pym's bag."
Normally, Tony has a habit of leaning away just slightly, almost imperceptibly, whenever Pepper gets too close for his comfort. Not simply because of his avoidance of 'non-romantic' physical contact, but almost as if he gets a bit nervous when he's around her. But now, he makes no sign whatsoever. It's almost as if he's having a hard time registering that she's even here.
"But you're right, the main problem doesn't have anything to do with genes. It might make me feel better if I could somehow blame it on my father, but it's got nothing to do with him. This is all me. I played around with gods and got punished for my hubris. I... well... maybe I should just show you. I hope you haven't eaten recently."
Slowly, as if he's a bit reluctant to do it, Tony begins to loosen his tie. Sitting next to Pepper, it probably isn't quite obvious what's going on from her angle as he throws the tie away and begins unbuttoning his shirt.
"Don't get excited, you. I promise this isn't going to play out the way you've always fantasized it."
"Oh, kind of like making me stick my hand into your chest again?" If Pepper is trying for a bit of lightness, she might have just failed spectacularly. "I think after that, I can probably handle just about anything." She IS kind of imagining the worst now, though. And with Pepper's imagination, the worst doesn't get much worse than having watched Tony DISINTEGRATED by that Darkseid person. As long as it isn't that...
Once he's unbuttoned his shirt, Tony stands up and turns to face the woman who's found ways to save him more than once. But it's clear from his expression that he's not expecting a repeat of a miracle this time.
"I don't think you're ever going to be able to stick your hand in my chest again. Because, as you can see, I don't really have a chest anymore."
Ever since the accident that set him on the path to becoming Iron Man, Tony has had a hole in the middle of his chest that's been filled with his trademarked Arc Reactor. But now the reactor appears to have splint into multiple pieces, like living cells, and then melted all the way down his chest as if it were in a Salvador Dali painting. From just below his collar bones, all the way down to his waistband (and presumably below), his chest, possibly his entire torso, has been replaced by twisted, organic-looking metal and pulsating red reactor nodes. Now that he's stopped talking, some faint noises can be heard emanating from his chest as the metal pulses and writhes.
"So.... remember that one time I hung out with Darkseid?"
Pepper can only stare for the first several seconds, as her brain tries to make sense of what she's seeing. It just ... can't. "H..how can I forget that?" Last she knew, the arc reactor that Superman returned to her -- still in its socket that belonged in Tony's chest -- was stored away in the deepest vault that JARVIS has control of. But this... this is far, far worse. Unimaginably worse.
"Well, turns out that Darkseid had some kind of plan. And apparently it involved turning my chest into a chrome pizza. I've tried everything I can to find a cure, to make it stop. But I can't even figure out what he was even trying to accomplish. It's just like...taking over everything. It's all wrapped around my heart, and it's so enmeshed in my lungs that I can literally taste metal when I breath."
Tony starts re-buttoning his shirt, well aware of the horrific effect it's most likely producing on Pepper. He even turns away, as if suddenly modest, though it took a body horror plot to invoke that response from him.
"I can't cure it, and if I try to yank it out well... it'd leave a crater in my chest so big you could base a Monty Python sketch on it. There'd be nothing left. I just can't stop it, and I don't know what's going to happen when it's finished. So I've come to a decision."
Having finished closing up his shirt, Tony turns back around. There's barely any emotion left on his face, as he's clearly spent all that he had over the last few months when he was trying to cure this ailment on his own.
"I've built one last armor. Possibly my best yet. I'm going to suit up, and blast myself into space. Then, a few days from now, I'm going to burn up inside the Sun. That ought to take care of it."
Pepper Potts starts shaking her head when Tony says he can't cure it, to the point that by the time he's mentioning burning up in the sun, she's had to put her hands on the sides of her head to stop herself. "No. I won't just accept that. There has to be a way to undo this. Maybe Thor's homeworld can help? Or, or Richards? What about...?" Her eyes flick around to various parts of the room as she visibly scours her memory to try and figure out something that can be do... wait.
"What about... what about twelve?" She never really understood what he meant by that, but it was one of the few things he specifically asked about when he was finally back from that entire ordeal, including the catatonia aftermath.
"God, I hate doing this. You get that, right? I was hoping I could find a way to fix it myself, and then I'd never have to worry you. I never wanted you to find out."
As usual, his intentions seem to have mostly been good. But that doesn't change the fact that he waited waaaay too long to tell the person that he allegedly trusted more than anyone else. And now he doesn't even have enough time left to apologize.
"No disrespect to the great Mister Fantastic or our favorite Asgardian, but this is way outside of both of their fields. Hell, Thor would probably just say that flying into the Sun is 'a death befitting a warrior.'" Tony can't help but chuckle, as he does his best to mimic the Thunder God's pompous mode of prattling. "If I can't figure out a way to fix this, then nobody on Earth is qualified to even try." A bit of his old ego slowly creeps back into his voice. But since he's looking at death (for realsies this time, we promise), perhaps we'll cut him a bit of slack for being a bit prideful at the end.
He looks as if he's made up his mind, but when he looks back at Pepper he suddenly wavers. "I mean.... I guess if it'll make you feel better, I can make a few phone calls. But I need you to be realistic about this, okay? And more importantly, I need you to promise to take care of all of my shit when I'm gone. Stark International, SHIELD, the Avengers, my cars, all of it. I want you to take care of all of it. And maybe open up a Tony Stark museum. And get someone good to play me in the movie they make about me. Don't let them do to me what they did to Jobs!"
Tony suddenly looks very serious, his eyes practically casting daggers at the mere thought of Ashton Kutcher playing him in his biopic.
"You're not doing this //tomorrow// are you?" Because she will NOT be happy if that's the case. And probably worse for Tony, the last time he died, //Natasha// was the one that kept Pepper from falling apart. If he goes and ruins all of //her// hard work...
"Why didn't you say something sooner, Tony?" She's really really trying to keep it together here, and she's pretty sure she's failing spectacularly.
"Nonono.... of course not. The Earth's in the wrong spot right now, I'd have to fly around Venus. That'd burn up all of my fuel and I'd die of freezing and/or starvation."
These probably aren't particularly compelling reasons for delaying his flight, and they're pretty clearly not even true. But at least he's making an attempt to be accommodating, though her reaction let's him know he's not really doing the best job of allaying her fears right now.
"And... you know... don't want to rush it. Maybe Reed will save the day? Actually, he probably will, that smug bastard, just so he can have something to casually gloat about the next time I invite him to one of my yacht orgies."
Taking a few steps away, Tony suddenly stretches and lets out an exaggerated yawn. "In fact, you should go give him a call while I get some rest. Got to keep up my strength if I'm going to fight off this Apokoliptian Leprosy, right?"
Pepper Potts stares at Tony for a few seconds longer then blinks a few times quickly and pushes to her feet in an attempt at being brisk but looking more twitchy. "Right. I'll go call Richards, and, um... some other people." She fidgets with her tablet for a moment. "Okay. Let me know when you wake up. I'll be in my office." Doesn't matter the hour. She'll be there.