Fandom: Iron Man/Marvel
Characters: Tony/Pepper (slight Bruce Banner, James Rhodes)
Spoilers: Basically spoilers throughout all three films, heavy on IM3 shenanigans.
Word Count: 4,818
Summary: She’s seen suits in every single incarnation and every single color, she’s touched titanium fragments and arc reactors, she knows these outfits and their components like the back of her hand. But there’s something suspiciously different about looking at a suit that she knows is coded exclusively to her.
Note: My take/perspective on the many Pepper-As-Rescue scenarios following Iron Man 3. Quite possibly the biggest labor of love where this pairing is concerned, and the longest one shot I've ever done for any fic. Immeasurable thanks to lizook12 not just for being an outstanding beta, but for reading this more times than one should probably read a fic and also for providing reassurance and support. I'm indebted to you the same way Tony is indebted to JARVIS for reminding him what he had for breakfast.
(Also, all liberties with Marvel's canon - especially where Rescue/Pepper is concerned - remain my own.)
It takes her a few weeks to figure out how to say it, how to start it (I was going to make you an omelet and tell you) and when she does, it’s over cheese and wine on their first date night since everything went to hell with Killian.
“I want a suit.”
Nevermind that she had basically told him to blow up years of hard work. Nevermind that he had actually listened. Nevermind that there’s still two that live downstairs, locked in one of the few glass coffins that had been salvaged from the mansion’s wreckage, because he couldn’t stand to throw them away.
“You’re kidding me. You’re kidding me?” When he looks up and meets her eyes, his mouth twists into the start of a frown. “You’re not kidding me.”
“Tony, I want a suit.” She levels her gaze and places her wine glass on the table, watching him visibly wince at the repeated words.
“For god’s sake, Pepper. Why?”
Because I want to fight with you. Because I’m sick of you saying that you can’t protect me when I can’t protect you. Because almost dying made me realize that there’s more to this than watching you fly off towards death on a daily basis. Because maybe you’re not the only one who was changed by New York. She doesn’t say any of it out loud but she knows that he can pinpoint the exact flow of her thoughts by the look that slides across her face.
“Not like this is your first realization of life’s precious moments,” he says finally, sitting back on the couch and okay, she’ll give him that. She’ll give him that three times over, considering all the bumps and bruises and cracks and breaks and the times she thought she would be driving to the morgue instead of the emergency room. But the difference between almost getting blown up by a stray drone and being subjected to Extremis testing was that one situation was out of her control. The other (as she had proven with a little outside help) wasn’t.
“You said my suits were a distraction.”
“And, I also said that I understood why you didn’t want to give them up.” What am I going to complain about now? “Or should I talk about how different things could have been if you hadn’t had one on hand that day?”
“The suit. Was to keep you safe.” Tony shoves emphasis onto the last word as he gets up. “Keeping you safe is my priority, it’s why I built these suits to begin with. You know that.”
“And yet you act like building another one – to keep me safe - is the biggest inconvenience of your life,” she responds pointedly with a tilt of her head. He sighs and sits back down, rubbing his hands over his legs.
“Look. I can’t protect you out there. Even if you’re in a suit. Especially if you’re in a suit.” His voice drops as he blinks rapidly against her gaze. “There are energy shields and electromagnetic generators and I can’t be responsible if something short circuits, or hell, if you need to find food flying from California to New York which by the way is a lot more mileage than I originally calculated –“
Pepper takes his head in her hands and moves one thumb along the length of his jaw.
“Tony.” She pauses, letting his eyes find hers before she continues. “Maybe…after all of this…maybe it’s time to accept that we’re better at keeping each other safe if we’re doing it together.” There’s a look hidden in her gaze that seems to match his own, sad and resigned, and when he notices he finds that he has to look away.
“Just…tell me you wouldn’t feel better if I could help get your back.”
You already do. You already have.
He brings a hand to her face and she lets herself lean into his palm, almost unconsciously (it’s something she’s come to notice since they came home from Miami, that even though their relationship has always grounded itself in touch, he’s taken to putting his hands on her skin more than usual - almost as if he needs to reassure himself that she really is cured, the proof of it her flesh consistently cool beneath his fingers.)
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“I didn’t have a choice,” he repeats, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “Afghanistan, the arc reactor. The suit became what it was because I made it that way, but I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t ask for the shrapnel. I didn’t ask to be forced into building something to save myself.”
“Neither did I,” she points out quietly, and there’s a fire in her eyes that he thinks should have died with the stabilization of Extremis, a dull, orange light in the center of her pupils that gives off the faintest aura of pain, that makes his insides ache with regret.
(He forgets that it’s something they share now, that they were both violated by forces bigger than themselves, forces that came out of the fact that once upon a time, he hadn’t thought about what it meant to have consequences.)
Tony starts building Pepper a suit the same day that Bruce arrives, making his way into the house with purpose, eyes sweeping across the new property with an approving glance before he follows the winding staircase down to the brightly lit workroom.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” His voice is low and slightly skeptical as he watches a gloved hand push a hologram to the side.
“Nope,” Tony responds curtly, fingers moving deftly across the picture suspended in midair, gadgets and features disappearing and reappearing at warped speed. Bruce remains silent, rubbing a hand over his mouth.
“So why are you doing it?”
Tony lets the question sit for a moment and then sighs, sweeps his arms wide in response.
“I’m doing it because this woman is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’ll be damned if I screw it up. And maybe she’s right.” He shrugs, looking up. “Maybe it’s time she got herself into this mess. She’s always saving my ass, anyway. Or chewing me out for the fact that she has to.”
The corners of Bruce’s mouth lift slightly in response. “It wasn’t Tony Stark that killed Aldrich Killian.”
“More importantly, it wasn’t Tony Stark who realized he was being a drunken asshole at his own birthday party.” He raises an eyebrow, matching his friend’s wry grin.
“Yeah, I think Fury told me about that one.”
Of course he did. “Did he also tell you that I pissed my suit?”
“No…no, I believe he left that part out.” Bruce pauses, then leans forward with raised eyebrows.
“You really peed in your suit?”
“Yeah, well, it has a filtration system, it’s not entirely…” He trails off as the look on his friend’s face switches from bemused to cynical. “Anyway. Not my finest moment, which says a lot.”
They both fall into silence, Bruce fidgeting slightly with the hem of his shirt while Tony turns back to his computer, a conversation lapse that’s seemingly awkward but at the same time, strangely relaxing.
“So, what now?” He finally raises his eyes. “Are you calling the others? Some secretly coded mafia war cry that extends to all corners of the earth, heroes initiative of tomorrow type thing?”
Bruce shrugs, and Tony tries to remember the last time he saw his friend so relaxed.
(It’s almost unnerving, but then again, it’s not like he hadn’t changed at all since New York.)
“Maybe. Should we?”
“How the hell should I know? You’re the goddamn expert.” When he throws up his hands, the images reappear almost instantly, casting a glow over the lower half of his face.
“All I did was kill some aliens.”
He’d be lying to say that he didn’t feel comfortable or at home building a suit again, sitting at his table surrounded by visuals and pieces of metal, encased in a bunker of glass doors complete with computers and JARVIS’ trusty motivational quips. She’s always read him better than anyone else, which is why he figures she keeps her distance from the lab and doesn’t pester him, even though he waits for the inevitable subtle slip in conversation every time she gives him a form to sign and every time she opens her mouth to ask his opinion on another policy she’s trying to implement. (How she stabilized SI so quickly after the events of Extremis he’ll never know, and every so often he likes to give himself credit for doing at least one thing right when he figured he wouldn’t live to see another board meeting.)
For awhile it seems almost normal, building a suit for his suddenly-obsessed-with-wanting-to-be-a-s
“You know, I’m wondering if we can put in some high heels. Maybe they can double as electronic packs.” Pepper looks up, the resulting glare a mixture of impending danger and calm yet calculated rage.
“What, are you mad at me?”
“Tony. If I step into that suit and there are high heels, I swear to god I’m going to kill you in your sleep.”
“Could be a killer secret weapon. I heard Prada – is that what you call them? Yeah, I heard they’re all the rage now.”
(For half a second, he contemplates responding with the fact that Natasha had no problem fending off bad guys in three-inch heels and leather pants but he’s learned a few things about keeping his mouth shut over the years.)
The first time he puts her in a suit (more for her benefit than for his) is something of a disaster, though; he would later defend while holding ice to her eye, that wasn’t entirely his fault. He was using one of his old Marks that he had salvaged, claiming he didn’t care about bangs and bruises (I’m a mechanic, I fix things and I’ll fix him), recoding it so that it would service her needs for a few hours. Pepper, meanwhile, had tried not to let it bother her because wearing his armor for sudden protection in a time of crisis was one thing – and wearing the skin of his other life willingly was another.
He had somehow overestimated the amount of the recode and when he moved his hands, had sent her flying across the room, repulsor rays streaming from her palms as she bounced back and forth and up and down, attempting to get her bearings. The AI was just as confused, which meant that calls to JARVIS were no help, and in an effort to stay out of harm’s way Tony had jumped from the chair, careening towards the floor and directly into the spot where the new coffee table had been delivered. Just when he was sure that he was going to end up with a face full of glass and ten thousand stitches, she was underneath him, her body breaking his fall. He remembers hearing the sickening crunch of armor, feeling her sag underneath his weight, his arms grasping the curve of her stomach as she hunched forward, sheltering him from the splinters of glass that rained down around them.
“I got you.”
(Tony had decided that was the last time she was getting into a suit without training, even if it meant that he was going to have to listen to a lecture about trust for the next ten years.)
“I got you first.”
It’s more than a month before there’s a first prototype, much less a prototype with enough bells and whistles to be functional outside of the house. But since he hasn’t let her see any progress, and since she’s (for the most part) been laidback about it, he takes her downstairs after dinner as a date night surprise.
That’s the first thing Pepper thinks when she steps into the room, her eyes coming to rest on the model. It’s slimmer than what she’s used to, the markings on the chest plate slightly more pronounced (she’d use the word “girly” but knows Tony would hate that she called him on making his suit so feminine), the fingers more delicately constructed in a way that would probably go unnoticed by someone who hasn’t spent what feels like half a lifetime in their presence. Something twists inside of her stomach, and she tries to stop the smile she feels spreading onto her face.
Pepper Potts has seen hundreds of suits, from the first one Tony dreamed up after coming back from Afghanistan, to Mark number god knows what that she used to help take down Killian on the tanker. She’s seen suits in every single incarnation and every single color, she’s touched titanium fragments and arc reactors, she knows these outfits and their components like the back of her hand. But there’s something suspiciously different about looking at a suit that she knows is coded exclusively to her.
Her gaze discreetly finds the floor and he crosses his chest in response, holding up his hands.
“No heels. Swear on JARVIS.” Pepper narrows her eyes.
“I don’t trust you.”
“That’s rude.” He runs his hands over her shoulders, down her arms, fingers pressing into her biceps as the AI clicks to life.
As always, sir, happy to talk you out of irrational decisions that may result in imminent death. Tony ignores the voice as he searches her face, hands still tight around her body.
“Sure you wanna do this?”
Pepper nods slowly and he holds her gaze for a second longer than necessary before reaching up to hook the Bluetooth around her ear, letting his hand graze against the curve of her skin. Stepping back, he hoists himself onto the desk of his workstation.
“JARVIS! Initiate Rescue.”
As you wish, sir. The gears of the suit start to clink, locking into place around her legs and Pepper raises an eyebrow.
“Rescue? Really? Not Mark 110?”
Tony shrugs. “Thought it was catchy.”
“It implies that I need to be saved.”
“No, it implies that you will do the saving. I’m good like that. Now, hold still. I need to figure out why the repulsors aren’t calibrating.”
Pepper shifts as the armor closes over her. She expects to feel overly claustrophobic but the suit is roomier than she realizes, or maybe he’s just built it that way (to be honest, everything happened so fast that day in the mansion, it was hard to remember what being encased really felt like and the only thing she truly remembers is being absolutely terrified that this was the time she was going to lose Tony forever.)
Retinal scan complete. Subject verified.
Almost immediately, the HUD comes to life, illuminating the world in gridlocked colors of blue, green and red. She adjusts her eyes while JARVIS’ voice fills her ears.
Oh hello, Miss Potts. Welcome to Rescue.
“Well?” Tony crosses his arms as the faceplate snaps up, revealing her grin. Moving her arms back and forth, she bends at the knees, her body attempting to break in the new surroundings while her mind works to process the situation.
“You’re right.” Her eyes squint upwards. “It is a little pinchy in the gooeybag.”
It works. That’s what Tony tells Fury, who tells Coulson, who tells Bruce, who has to tell both of them he already knew, which leads to a long phone conversation that Pepper can hear from across the house despite the fact Tony opted for no speakerphone this time around.
“Told you it would have to go by Fury.” She looks up as he drops onto the bed, trying to hide a smile against the patented scowl she sees appearing over his face.
“I never told you not to tell him you were building one, I just said you didn’t need to tell him that you were thinking of building one.” She threads a hand through his hair, fingers skipping across his scalp while he continues to mutter to himself. “Besides, I think saving the world a few times over while proving your self absorbed ego can play nice with others earns you a little leverage.”
Tony shifts, his eyes narrowing. “Is that – did I teach you that line, or have you progressed to a naturally sarcastic flirt during the course of our relationship when I wasn’t looking?”
Pepper ignores the comment, letting her head fall into the space between his neck and his shoulder.
“Imagine what Rhodey will say.”
Tony purses his lips. “I suspect he’ll be pissed, which will then turn into anger, which will then turn into him being even more angry that we ran out of coffee this morning.”
Tony’s assessment of his best friend isn’t entirely far off, as Rhodey is indeed pissed that he’s been left out of the loop where Pepper’s suit is concerned, even when he’s assured that, for now, there’s no immediate plan to put her in the air.
“Look, you should see what she did to the coffee table,” Tony says with a mouth full of toast after ushering his friend inside. “Trust me. We’ve got a long way to go before I’m shoving her out of a plane.”
“Really?” Rhodey looks unconvinced. “Because the girl’s a fast learner. And you’re her primary example.”
(He considers that statement for a moment, just long enough for Rhodey to complain that he’s sick of the house never being stocked with enough coffee.)
“So aside from flight stabilization, how much of this is complete?”
“Once JARVIS finishes running updated diagnostics, about 70%.” They’re standing in the lab staring at the suit, which is propped up neatly in a glass case of its own. “Some of the…uh…electromagnets are still unstable, power needs to be charged, and there are smaller modifications that need tweaking. It’s a slow process.” He moves towards the table and when he turns, his friend is staring at him with an expression as familiar as the one he wore on the day he became aware of the palladium’s neutron damage.
“Come on, out with it. I don’t have all day,” he says finally as Rhodey’s face moves from contemplative to embarrassed. He brings a hand to his mouth.
“Listen, man. I trust you, you know that. Okay? But this isn’t you or me going off to some war zone in the Middle East or saving a kid from a fire in Harlem. It’s Pepper. I’ve been around the block with this, and it ain’t pretty.”
“Rhodey, if you start trying to tell me that you know my girlfriend better than I do, I swear to God –“
“Wasn’t gonna,” his friend interrupts slowly, moving closer. “Just wanna make sure you’re cool about this. Deciding to give her a suit, putting her into battle…the whole thing. If it’s a good idea.”
Tony wants to respond with the same words he used when Bruce asked the question two months ago, wants to tell him how he doesn’t like to think about it because the worry of what she’ll experience by being brought into this is sometimes worse than his previous nightmares. But instead, he thinks better of it.
“It’s Pepper.” He lifts his eyes. “You trust me and I don’t trust myself, but her? I trust her with my life.”
He’ll never consider himself nostalgic or sentimental, but there are a few things that Tony Stark knows he’ll never forget, judging by the lump he gets in his throat when he thinks about them for too long. Afghanistan is one, because who can ever forget what it feels like to wake up and learn that there are shards of metal inside your chest? Seeing Pepper at the charity event is another, even if she’ll never believe it wasn’t the first moment he was rendered speechless by her presence (“just the first moment I temporarily lost my cool,” he likes to defend.) And realizing he had built something that was not only functional but that could actually fly, well, that’s up there, too. It’s that particular memory that pulls at something inside of his body as he watches her step into the suit, one eye on the computers currently running haywire with lines and graphs measuring power levels and vital statistics.
He wanted to be out with her during her first time – he thought it would be safer – but much to his frustration, she had managed to talk him down the night before.
“I want you on the ground, if that’s okay.” The conversation had come almost out of nowhere as they hadn’t entirely discussed Rescue being ready for flight, though he’s not surprised she’s figured out what he hadn’t been telling her about the process of building the suit.
“Not okay.” Tony had sat up abruptly. “Not okay with that. What if something happens?”
“If something happens, I’ll have you and JARVIS to tell me what to do, because getting distracted while killing bad guys won’t be entirely helpful.” She had chosen to ignore the way his shoulders flinched ever so slightly as the words left her mouth.
“Honey, you gotta ease up on this saving thing. It doesn’t flatter you.”
“Are you saying that you like me better as the damsel in distress?”
(Sensing his argument lost, he had chosen to end the debate by muttering something about a really tight sports bra, before steering the conversation into something that was entirely nonverbal and that she couldn’t really find a way to complain about.)
All systems are currently online and ready, sir.
“Excellent timing, JARVIS.” Tony drags his eyes back to the computer screen, watching the helmet lock into place with a small smile. “Pepper, can you hear me?”
“I can hear you.” Her voice is magnified in the space of his earpiece and as he brings his hands together, he thinks this role reversal might be the strangest thing he’s ever encountered, notwithstanding the first time he fought alongside Rhodey as War Machine.
“Okay, take her up. Be gentle. It’s her first time.”
I highly doubt that, sir, comes the snide response of his AI as Pepper shoots upward, disappearing into the sky.
He should have predicted it, but it’s hard to get used to being on the other end and even harder when trying to manage his directions with someone who (he hates admitting) is slightly more knowledgeable. More than once, Pepper loses it and has to shut both of them up when they can’t stop arguing about what the best flight path is and what aspects of the suit she should and shouldn’t avoid, as they haven’t been entirely tested yet. Tony’s sure that the result is going to be her crash landing in the middle of a cow field or worse, the middle of the ocean (just his luck that the suit wasn’t yet powered to withstand water submersion.) In the end, it’s not as much of a disaster as he anticipates but he still finds himself nervous and edgy until she manages to land herself back in the lab, relatively unharmed save for a few nicks in the armor where she miscalculated the range of a turn while trying to squeeze by buildings.
“I don’t know whether to thank you or kill you,” are her first words when she finally gets the helmet removed, faceplate snapping up to reveal an exasperated glare. He clenches his jaw.
“Look, it wasn’t my fault JARVIS didn’t warn you about the truck, and thankfully, you had enough sense to slow down enough to avoid it.”
Actually, sir, that was your fault, and if you had let me relay my initial calculations to Miss Potts there would have been more than enough time to make the drop across without the threat of –
“Okay all things considered, I think I did pretty good,” Tony interrupts loudly, ignoring her eye roll. He holds her at arm’s length. “Seriously. For your first time, you did great out there. Avengers type material, even.”
“Oh, really?” She raises an eyebrow. “Are you the standard model for all superheroes now?”
“What, you didn’t get the memo?” He steps back as she disentangles herself, rubbing her elbow where part of the skin has been scrubbed an angry shade of red.
“JARVIS, how are we doing, where are we with the results on Potts’ suit?”
Rendering now, sir. I’ve just finished downloading the collected data from the flight course, excluding near collisions, and your results should be online and available for review in twenty minutes. Will there be anything else?
“For tonight, no.” Tony straightens up. “File it under ‘teampep’ on the projects server and we’re done here.” He eyes the rapid dispensing of multicolored files across the screen before it dips into blackness.
“Yeah, okay. This is weird.”
Pepper frowns. “What?”
“You, in a suit. Me, building it.” His eyes travel up and down her body and despite the speed of their movement; she doesn’t miss the worry that clouds his features. “Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?”
“If I say yes, does that mean you’ll never ask me again?”
“Well, no.” Tony puts his hands on her shoulders, letting his fingers run up and down the curve of her arm. “Because it’s me, so I’m sure I’ll forget in about an hour and ask you again anyway. Also, well, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I tend to be a little overprotective about my girlfriends, especially if they’re CEOs of my company. And especially if they’re in the running to become future superhero sidekicks.”
He doesn’t miss the smirk that ghosts across her face as she leans forward, one hand tangling in his hair.
“Sidekick, huh? I thought Iron Man didn’t have a sidekick.”
“Yeah, well, you know, Rhodey’s a bit of a pain, always wants to be included, had to kind of placate him for awhile. We might be able to make another exception.” He looks up, meeting her eyes, a matching smirk hidden in his pupils. “Besides, Rescue sounds a hell of a lot nicer than Iron Patriot. Or War Machine. And we’ll have to make it official, anyway. They’ll want statements. Tests. The works. I still need to figure out how to get the repulsors to fire correctly. I should probably –“ He trails off when one hand circles his neck.
“You know, I kind of like Rescue.” Against his chest, her voice is barely audible. “I think it could grow on me.”
Tony looks up, the workroom light casting a shadow onto the floor where the suit lies stationary. Closing his eyes, he brings his head down towards her face.
She concedes to letting him join her the next time the suit is ready for another test flight and they have JARVIS navigate them from California to New York mostly for the hell of it, while he pretends that flying through the air doesn’t always mean saving people and she pretends that it doesn’t always mean being put in a life or death situation. He calls her out on her bad turning radius, uses video calling just to see how she’ll react to seeing his face pop up randomly inside the HUD, navigates her to the top of the Empire State Building at night while claiming all the restaurants in New York are overbooked.
“Did I ever tell you that you really knocked that public awareness campaign out of the park last week? I mean, the red and gold are doing wonders for this old thing.” He gestures to the prongs of the tower as she laughs, calls him self-absorbed, tells him to save his gloating for the next mission.
The next mission. Three words that are somehow thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time, so he chooses not to think about it and kisses her instead, lets her hold him while both helmets lie forgotten somewhere by their feet.
It’s another month before Fury calls again, wanting official paperwork and diagnostics and confirmation on a laundry list of qualification requirements that even JARVIS finds extensive.
(Tony has to remind his AI that there was an extensive check-up on him when it came to qualifications and requirements, he was just too busy dying to notice that a far too attractive personal assistant was the cause of it.)
And when the question is posed during a pause in conversation, Fury’s tone sounds like it’s hinging somewhere between dubious and amused.
"Her name is Rescue?”
Tony looks across the couch, catches the small grin, offers back a half smile of his own.
“Yeah. Her name is Rescue.”