It's All Fun and Games
Head pounding and throbbing miserably, Scarlett swore that she was having the worst hang over that she’d ever experienced in her life. And she’d had her share of incredibly nasty hangovers to compare it to. Exactly how much had she had to drink the night before? She couldn’t remember where she had gone or what she had done to feel this sick so it must have been quite the party.
Shifting in her bed in search of comfort, she realized at once that she wasn’t lying in her bed at all but instead on something hard, cold and uncomfortable. There was something soft draped over her body that didn’t feel anything like any blanket she’d ever touched. Had she fallen asleep on the bathroom floor again? It wouldn’t be the first time she’d waken up in front of a toilet. Had Scott finally gotten tired of dragging her drunken ass to bed after she’d spent the night getting into bar fights and drinking into the nether?
Bringing her hand up to touch her pounding forehead she felt the coarse material of a bandage against her tingling and numbed fingertips. What the hell had happened at the bar?
She’d hit her head during the explosion, not during a bar fight.
Explosion? What explosion?
Scarlett instantly sat up and snapped her eyes open when upon recalling the explosion. Heart racing with sudden adrenaline, she glanced around the unfamiliar territory and tried to imagine where she could possibly be. The room spun and made her stomach twist into knots. It was shocking to realize how blurred her vision had become from the blow to the head she’d taken during the explosion. Closing her eyes again, she mentally tried to recall the details of what had happened before the explosion that had rendered her unconscious, if that had in fact been the source of her unconsciousness at all. Her memory was foggy and the dizziness was doing her no favors.
Come on, Scarlett try to remember. You don’t have time to lie around stupefied like this. You could still be in danger.
She had been working to save Scott, that’s right. The memories of what had happened in the desert came back to her in a flood so overwhelming she was light headed. Having been trapped in the clutches of MedCo had been near torture but she’d managed to somehow break free. Something had happened to her outside of the facility but she struggled to recall.
During her escape attempt, she’d been injured. There had been some kind of chemical on her leg. She didn’t remember the chemical exactly but she recalled the horrible pain that kept her from remaining upright and properly escaping.
Opening her eyes, her vision still blurred but clearing the longer she focused, Scarlett pulled what turned out to be some kind of fire resistant blanket off of her and immediately groped for her leg. Instantly she pulled her hand back due to the pain that coursed through every nerve ending. Upon closer inspection, Scarlett realized her leg had been, presumably, cleaned and wrapped but the chemical had done substantial damage to her skin considering the amount of irritation she felt. How bad it was, she couldn’t tell, but by the throbbing pain making her tremble, she was sure it would take awhile to heal properly.
But where was she now? Who had taken care of her wounds while she slept? How the hell had she gotten out of the African desert alive at a time when things had seemed so hopeless? Closing her eyes again she tried to remember. Whoever had saved her had opted not to bring her to a hospital. Was she being held prisoner again, by a new captor, perhaps one of the owners of MedCo? She recalled seeing the metallic boots of some kind of robotic armor and once she recalled they were painted red and gold like a hot rod, she knew exactly where she was.
Carefully climbing off of the cold steel table once she was sure her leg could support her weight, Scarlett looked down to see that she still wore exactly the same clothing that she’d been wearing when she’d attempted her escape. The jeans she had on were tattered and half destroyed from acid and her shirt was a dirty, bloodied mess. Instantly reaching to touch her side as it throbbed, Scarlett tried to remember what had caused that to hurt.
Oh right, someone shot me. Rough weekend I guess.
Recoiling as the cold concrete met her feet, Scarlett was very aware that she was now barefoot.
She was in Tony Stark’s garage. At least that’s what she guessed.
There were numerous expensive looking classic cars, some half built and in various states of repair, others looking pristine and newly purchased so at first Scarlett thought it was a garage. But upon closer inspection she noticed on the other end of the room, lining the wall, were the Iron Man suits, each numbered carefully. Had he really been foolhardy enough to leave a stranger in his laboratory unguarded?
Of course not, he was just confident enough that no one could best him when it came to his computer skills. Surely the important things in his laboratory, if this was indeed his personal work space as she now suspected, were protected by high tech security encryptions that only the best of the best could get through. Was his system really as foolproof as it had been fabled to be? Scarlett was willing to find out and a little bit curious to at that.
Much to her surprise, once she’d taken a few steps forward, a gentle voice echoed around the room. Searching around for the source defensively, try as she might Scarlett couldn’t seem to find where exactly it originated from.
“Do not be alarmed, madam you are safe. I would recommend you take a seat until Mr. Stark has returned and can attend to you,” the soft male voice with a hint of a British accent was so convincingly lifelike that if Scarlett hadn’t known better she would’ve thought that someone had actually been watching her and speaking to her from another room. She’d heard rumors of the artificially intelligent system that ran the Stark household as well as various other Stark technology and was in charge of corporate locations but witnessing it firsthand was astounding.
“Where am I?” Scarlett asked, far too curious to stay seated despite how the disembodied voice had instructed her to. While she despised everything Tony Stark stood for she couldn’t deny that the man was one of the greatest minds of his generation and had achieved remarkable things. The problem with Tony was that he very much assumed he was the greatest mind of his generation when Scarlett knew a handful of people just as remarkable as he was, including herself. While she didn’t have the kind of fame and fortune Tony Stark had been blessed with and chose to stay under the radar instead of flaunting her accomplishments in the media, it didn’t make her ideas any less pertinent or her intellect any less remarkable.
“I recommend that you take a seat, miss.” The voice almost sounded concern, but Scarlett knew it was merely a simulated emotion. Even Tony Stark wasn’t arrogant enough to create robotic technology that had human emotions. Then again, if anyone were to create an I, Robot type artificially intelligent being it would most likely be Stark Industries. “The damage you sustained is quite severe. You could irritate your wounds, pull stitches and renew bleeding.” The voice responded without answering her question.
“You’ve been instructed to tell me nothing about anything until Mr. Stark arrives, haven’t you?”
“Yes, madam,” the voice responded rather politely.
“What do I call you then? Am I allowed to know that?” Scarlett slowly crept further into the laboratory, walking toward the circular desk in the center of the room where there were several darkened computer monitors, two with screensavers depicting images of the vintage cars that had been fixed up by Tony and sat across the room. The backdrops in the pictures were much different so Scarlett had a feeling there had been multiple renovations of the laboratory since the pictures were taken.
“You may call me Jarvis. Madam, I’m sorry but if you do not return to your resting place across the room I will be forced to take more severe measures.” The voice echoed around her. Scarlett poked around the desk, making sure not to actually touch anything but rather to get a feel for the layout of the room. Having time to think had become a dangerous thing, particularly within a place that provided such temptation to a woman with her skills. The more Scarlett explored, the more she could remember from what had happened in Africa and the darker her thoughts became.
Scott was dead.
Even if Erick hadn’t ordered him to be killed during their struggle and had done so only to frighten her, the building had been destroyed and brought to the ground. If he hadn’t died in the collapse it would be nothing short of a miracle. Tony Stark had surely been cleaning up the mess he’d created in South Africa when he’d traveled there in his Iron Man suit. She could only assume that the attack on the building had been perpetrated by him in an attempt to keep anyone from finding out what he’d gotten involved in. Was he really that ruthless of a monster? The cocky but lovable persona he played in front of the cameras was surely a mask for something far more sinister.
Ignoring the computer’s request to return to her seat, she instead kept prying while she had the opportunity. Tony probably wanted to question her about what she knew to see if she’d be a threat to his reputation or not. Either that or he was going to try to use her as a witness to corroborate what had happened out in the desert and vindicate him of whatever charges might someday brought on by the matter.
Little did Tony Stark know, he’d invited a snake into his spider’s web and not a fly as he had hoped. While her instincts were telling her to destroy the computers and kill Tony the moment he came into the room to check on her, a tiny voice in her head told her differently. She had to be smart about this.
This was a grand opportunity.
If she killed him now, Tony would die a hero in the eyes of the people. Scarlett was reminded of the famous moment in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet was given the perfect opportunity to murder his uncle, but finds him in prayer. Not wanting to give the man a chance at eternal bliss, Hamlet resisted. Scarlett decided she would do so as well. Playing it by ear would give her the best results. If she could find a chance to worm her way into the beautifully built computer system in front of her then she could find concrete proof of what Tony had been doing with MedCo and other companies like it and what he’d done to Scott.
Exposing the horrible things he’d done throughout the years and destroying his legacy would be far more devastating than murdering him on the spot would be. If her plan failed, that’s when she’d take to physical violence. While her rage bubbled inside her like the angry sea, she would have to swallow the frustration and remind herself of how sweet vindication would taste. It wouldn’t take her more than a few days to get exactly what she wanted.
Now all she had to do was find out why Tony had brought her to his home instead of a hospital and then find a way to get into his good graces without betraying her moral compass. It didn’t mean she had to be nice to him, from what she’d heard he liked a challenge. Perhaps someone not giving him everything he wanted would be seen as intriguing rather than irritating. Maybe even having an intellectual equal would provide her with the leg up that she needed. Glancing around she saw a pile of what seemed like scrap metal on the work table next to an array of tools. There seemed to be mounds of the same scrap on the floor but they had been scorched and destroyed, as though the project Tony had been working on had been a victim to failed attempts on multiple occasions.
“So what does Jarvis stand for?” Scarlett walked around the desk and closer to the table where she’d spied the scrap metal. At face value she couldn’t tell what the scraps were supposed to be. But perhaps that was the problem. Maybe Tony wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be building either which was why it had never turned out properly.
“Just a rather very intelligent system, madam,” Scarlet imagined a smile on the robot’s voice. It’d been quiet for a few moments which had left her feeling nervous as to what actions it may possibly take since she’d disobeyed its orders several times now.
“Clever,” Scarlett scoffed, surprised that the name didn’t stand for anything that would give any clue to how the machine had been formed so efficiently. Most of the artificially intelligent creations she’d had experience with on prior occasions all had broken sounding awkward voices. This machine seemed to have child-like curiosity and thoughts of its own. How dangerous it was to create such technology. Tony must have been incredibly confident in the he’d restrictions built into the coding to have gone through with it. If it had been taken into the wrong hands, Jarvis could become incredibly dangerous.
There was a soft whirring behind her and much to her surprise a robot clamp grabbed onto her wrist and began to pull her back toward the table where she’d woken up. The robot wasn’t rough on her but was firm enough that she couldn’t pull her wrist free.
“Hey!” Scarlett tried to pull her wrist free again but found the grip of the robot quite strong and eventually relented to walking with the robot instead of tugging and causing herself more discomfort. The wounds she’d sustained were causing her too much pain to go through the trouble of twisting her wrist free and dismantling the robot. Besides that, Scarlett was sure that there would be other security measures taken if she went to such extremes.
“My apologies, madam but you were warned. Please take a seat and rest until Mr. Stark arrives,” the robot overhead spoke again in the same friendly voice. When Scarlett had tried to pull her arm free from the robot that had dragged her across the room forcefully, she’d suddenly become very aware of the bullet wound she’d sustained when she’d been shot out in the desert. What she hadn’t realized was that the bullet had both grazed her side and her arm. She hadn’t even noticed there was a wound on her arm until the robot had grabbed her.
That particular wound had been what had eventually forced her into unconsciousness. Any painkillers that had been administered for her wounds had been incredibly efficient. She couldn’t feel the wound until she’d attempted to use the arm with quite a bit of force and she found that impressive. Either that or the pain in her leg was so overwhelming that her body had chosen to spare her the pain of the other minor wounds she’d sustained.
“Fine! Fine.” Scarlett sat on the table she’d been led to and narrowed her eyes. Honestly, her body was relieved to be seated once again despite her objections. While she hadn’t realized it when she’d been walking around the room exploring, her leg was burning painfully and now aching from the pressure she’d put on it. Perhaps the painkillers weren’t as grand as she thought they were.
“Again, my apologies,” Jarvis spoke sounding truly sincere. Scarlett thought that it could just be the hint of a British accent that made the intelligent computer sound remorseful for making her having to follow rules.
“It’s fine. You’re just doing your job.” Scarlett felt a surge of anger toward Tony Stark. Not only had he kept her from going to a hospital for proper treatment, but he’d been the root cause of why she’d needed medical attention in the first place! Hands trembling with frustration and blind rage, she clenched her fists in an attempt to calm down. After all that he’d been responsible for, Tony Stark had the audacity to try and keep her confined to one of the tables in his laboratory.
While it was possible that he had no idea who she was or any of her history she thought it was a dangerous concept to keep any stranger within arm’s reach of his suits. On top of that, if he knew her reputation then he would have to know that being in his laboratory unsupervised was like bringing a hungry child into a candy store and telling them to buy whatever they want. When he kept her from looking around at his inventions and clever devices it was like telling her she couldn’t have any of the candy that had been promised.
Stewing in her own anger as she contemplated what to do while she waited to be discovered awake, Scarlett reconsidered killing Tony the moment he walked into the room before he knew what was coming. As satisfying as her murderous thoughts were, Scarlett knew that killing Tony Stark was impractical. The robot system was intelligent enough to alert the authorities the moment that she became aggressive and there were likely other defense mechanisms built into the house to keep her from escaping after doing such a thing. If there weren’t such systems then she’d be entirely shocked and a little disappointed. Announcing he was some kind of super hero on international television was practically inviting his enemies to come into his house and cause him and his loved ones harm.
Scarlett suddenly considered something she hadn’t truly thought about before. Did Tony Stark have any loved ones? She knew about his assistant, the notorious Pepper Potts, but she’d heard that their attempt at romance hadn’t worked out the way they’d both dreamt it would and after they had worked out the kinks, she had returned to being his assistant and confidant while he’d returned to his position as CEO of Stark Industries.
Then there was the driver she’d seen accompanying Tony in many of his press photos and interviews she hadn’t managed to avoid, but she wasn’t sure how close he’d been as a friend or otherwise. There was of course, his most recent partner in criminal detection, the Warmachine. Scarlett wasn’t aware of what the man’s name was who controlled the suit but she’d read in the papers that he’d gone to MIT with Tony where the two had become friends and now he was in the military.
For someone she couldn’t stand, she knew more than most did about Tony Stark. Scarlett wasn’t the type to hate anything or anyone without proper reason to. It wasn’t in Scarlett’s nature to hate something simply because others felt strongly toward it but instead she did her research so that when it came time to pass judgment, she had an informed opinion.
So before she’d decided on how she felt about Tony Stark and what he stood for, she’d learned as much as she could find about him and had then formed an opinion based on fact. And the fact was that Tony Stark was a huge douche bag. Scarlett couldn’t think of a better way to describe him. While in more recent days it seemed he was trying to redeem himself in the eyes of the public, Scarlett had seen firsthand what he’d really been doing in Africa. He was the most despicable kind of villain, hidden behind a vale of redemption and heroism.
Able to calm down inside of her thoughts and talk herself down from murdering Tony Stark the moment she met him, Scarlett turned very suddenly in her spot on the table when she heard the sound of the door opening.
“Jarvis, can you bring up those schematics of the new reactor amplifier for me? I’ve got a few ideas.” Tony Stark, wearing a dark colored t-shirt over a white one and jeans, looking far less impressive without a hand tailored thousand dollar suit, walked into the room without bothering to look up from the mobile device in his hand that he was working away on. When Tony didn’t look up and approached his desk, not noticing Scarlett in the least, Jarvis spoke up.
“Sir, our guest is awake at long last.” Tony walked to his desk before looking over at the woman seated on the table since Jarvis had reminded him she existed and hadn’t brought up the schematics as he’d requested. Scarlett guessed that Jarvis hadn’t done as Tony commanded as some kind of precautionary measure since she’d been prying through Tony’s things only a few moments prior. Currently looking still worse for wear, Scarlett was still a lovely woman to say the least and Tony couldn’t help but instantly turn on the charm he was so famous for when in the presence of a lovely woman.
“Oh, is she? You should’ve called me down sooner, Jarvis.” Tony smiled pleasantly and walked toward the woman, not turning away as he spoke to his robot. “Jarvis, bring up those schematics by my desk will you? And why haven’t you offered this lovely woman a drink or something to eat? It’s been days since she’s had anything other than an IV in her arm, I’m sure she’s starved.”
“Yes sir, my apologies. Madam, would you like something to drink or eat? Our chefs are the finest in the country though I recommend you start slowly given your current condition.”
“No, thank you,” Scarlett spoke, still unsure where she should look when she was speaking to the house itself, so instead she placed her hand against the wall as if to console Jarvis and let him know she was okay. “You said days… How long have I been out of it?” She’d never considered that she’d been unconscious for more than a few hours. Perhaps that’s why the wound on her side didn’t feel nearly as severe as it had felt when first inflicted. The wound on her leg, however, was still raging with pain as though it were fresh. Itching subconsciously at the bandage over the burn on her leg, Scarlett didn’t take her gaze away from Tony. Unfortunately he was rather handsome even if she found him annoying, which explained how he’d gotten his sexual reputation.
Even in the plain looking clothes he obviously took good care of his body. His hair was carelessly pushed back and though it looked effortless it was obvious on purpose. Worst of all he had these piercing eyes that were a mixture of brown and green. It was easy to see how so many women could fall for his charms.
Scarlett knew she could use that reputation to her advantage. If he wanted to flirt with her then she’d let him flirt. It would only make things easier when she dropped the proverbial axe on his neck. If she could play her cards right then he would never see her vengeance coming.
“Did I say that? Well yes, it is true. Three days to be exact. I tried to wake you a few times and you were non-responsive… If you didn’t wake up by the end of the week I was going assume you were comatose and bring you to the hospital.” Tony approached her slowly with his hands lazily held behind his back, giving her the once over and not making much of an effort to hide that he was doing so. “You were pretty beaten up when I found you. Half dead is… actually the proper term.” Holding out his hand for the woman to shake as he got within arm’s length, he offered an alluring smile that Scarlett was sure had made other women melt and become putty in his hand. Scarlett didn’t bother returning the smile and ignored his outstretched hand. She couldn’t bring herself to fawn over this man, even if it would’ve been an act. “I’m Tony Stark.”
“Right, like you need to introduce yourself. Now you’re just being facetious,” Scarlett scoffed. Tony looked surprised but put his hand back down at his side since she’d made it clear she wasn’t going to shake it. There was something about this strange woman that left him feeling unsettled. It could be the fact that she had been inside the MedCo building he’d spent weeks trying to locate.
What was more intriguing was that she had been pursued by the MedCo security staff as though she had been held prisoner and they didn’t want her to slip from their grip. He could’ve brought her to the hospital to have her wounds treated or turned her over to the authorities in Africa as he’d done with the others he’d recovered from the collapsing building but something in the back of his mind told him that he needed to speak with this woman about what had transpired. Of the handful of people who had made it out of the chaos alive, she had been the only one trying to escape the building rather than defend it.
And what was the old saying? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
He’d spent prior weeks digging through the files of a computer owned by his father’s ex-partner, Obadiah Stane, in search of companies that had been making business deals with him to buy weapons Tony had intended to sell only to the US military via contract. It’d been a terrible blow to his ego and his father’s legacy to find out that less than savory characters around the world, mostly terrorist organizations and gangsters, had received the weapons he’d designed to protect people not harm them. One of the biggest companies he’d discovered that had received the weapons sold by Stane had been MedCo and Tony had one hell of a time tracking them down. Every time he’d thought he’d found something, they disappeared and would reappear months later somewhere else. By the time Tony caught up to them, they were gone like ghosts.
Something told him, that despite the destruction of the facility he’d located, there was still much more to this company than he’d discovered upon investigating. When he’d gone to retrieve the computer records from what remained of the circuit boards beneath the building, he’d discovered that the hard drives had been erased. Some had even been removed from their containers or destroyed completely so the information on them would be unattainable to even the cleverest programmer. In order to keep pursuing the company Tony had every intention of manipulating this young woman who owed him quite a bit as far as he was concerned.
“Ah yes, I am the man who needs no such introduction, aren’t I?” Tony smirked confidently. Scarlett cautiously got up from where she’d been seated on the table and Tony instantly urged her to sit back down, his hands on her shoulders, pulling her back to where she had been seated. “I wouldn’t move too quickly if I were you. You took quite the beating.”
“I can handle myself, thank you very much. I know my limitations.”
“I should at least change your bandages before you move around. The chemical damage to your leg was severe.” Tony touched the bandaging on her leg and Scarlett immediately grabbed his wrist to stop him from putting further pressure on the wound as it throbbed.
“Why didn’t you bring me a hospital if it’s so bad? Anyone in their right mind would see a burned woman and call the paramedics, but not you. Why am I here, Mr. Stark?” Scarlett looked suspicious of his intentions. Tony didn’t hide his surprise. He’d expected to be showered with gratitude for having saved this woman’s life not met with disdain and suspicion. Though, now that he’d considered the circumstances, it had to be confusing to wake up in someone’s laboratory in tattered clothing when she’d clearly needed medical assistance. Tony had several doctorates but not one of them was in medicine.
“Don’t worry so much. I had a doctor come by and make sure your wounds were properly treated.” Tony didn’t lose his stride. He was notorious for being clever and witty in the tensest of situations. “A pretty girl like you deserves better than treatment from some crummy civil employee in a hospital.”
“Bullshit, what am I really doing here?” Scarlett didn’t let go of Tony’s wrist despite his tugging in annoyance.
“If I tell you, would you let me take care of the festering burn on your leg?” Tony didn’t pull his hand away but pointed toward the wound with his captured hand instead.
“I’m not going to tell you until I hear you say yes.” Tony pursed his lips. “Look, if you think that you holding onto my wrist is really torture for me then you’re sorely mistaken. I can stay here all day.”
“Fine, if you’re going to act like a child about it… If you tell me then I will let you clean the wound but only because these bandages itch like hell. Seriously, are they made of wool or something?” Scarlett let go of his wrist and pointed and annoyed finger at him in a scolding manner. “If you put one finger where it doesn’t belong I’ll break it. Got it? You need to be on your best behavior.”
“Oh, so my reputation really precedes me. You’re feisty, I like that.” Tony chuckled and started back toward his desk where he dug beneath it for a moment before pulling out a first aid kit. Scarlett took this moment to observe the reactor in his chest hidden beneath his t-shirts; the one that powered the Iron Man suits. While she wasn’t sure the rest of the world was aware that it was actually seated right inside of his chest, she could see clearly that it had become a part of him.
Curiosity struck her and she nearly asked why the hell he had a reactor in his chest but instead she kept her distance. He’d want something in return for that information since this had clearly turned into a game of bartering and Scarlett had very little to offer in this position and she didn’t want Tony to know he had anything she needed. If she was going to play this game with him, she needed to keep her cards face down for as long as possible. She knew that the reactor in his chest was there because of a well publicized incident where he was held captive, but the details were hidden from the public.
“Of course you do. Though from what I hear, you’re not very picky.” Scarlett sighed heavily, starting to unravel the bandages around her leg without his help.
“You know me pretty well it seems, but I don’t know anything about you. I tried searching through the records of aspiring models in that area, quite taxing work I might add, and found not a single woman that looked anything like you. Granted, I was confused to find out how much prettier you were than any of the models I searched through, despite how… wide the search became. So what’s your name?” Scarlett shook her head as she listened to Tony’s poor attempt at flattery.
“I thought you were going to tell me how I ended up here?” Ignoring his question outright, Scarlett was determined to get answers. If she gave him her name, he’d look her up and find out more about her. And while she was sure that eventually she would have to confess her full name, she figured there was no harm in making him work for it either.
“Only a face and no name? Come on, what am I supposed to call you if you don’t tell me?” Tony walked back to the table Scarlett remained seated on and opened the first aid kit he’d retrieved, pulling out an unlabeled bottle of clear liquid. Looking at him skeptically, Scarlett continued to deny him an answer. Swatting her hand away from the bandage she was unraveling, Tony finished pulling it away from the wound, examining the sore and bloodied area on her leg where she’d been splashed with chemicals in the MedCo building’s explosion.
“You touch nothing until you give me an explanation. That was the deal.” Scarlett threatened, though her leverage had disappeared entirely. Her leg was quivering in aching pain when it was exposed to the air of Tony’s laboratory.
“Wow, you’re stubborn. Did Pepper come down here to talk to you before I got here? She was just as mad as you are that I was hiding some woman down here. Probably jealous... I mean look at you. Pepper’s pretty but… man.” Tony scoffed.
“She only woke up moments prior to your return, sir. Miss Potts hasn’t been downstairs since this morning,” Jarvis spoke overhead once again.
“Thanks Jarvis, I was kidding but… thanks. You think he’d be able to tell when I’m being sarcastic by now. Anyway, when I found you in the desert one of those security goons had a gun pointed at you. I had every intention of bringing you to the hospital and letting them take care of your gunshot wound but I couldn’t help but notice that your leg was severely burned and only getting worse. My guess was that the medical staff in the nearest hospital in South Africa would take at least twenty four hours to find out what you’d been splashed with. I knew I could get you here in a few hours using my suit and well… Let’s just say I’ve had my share of chemical burns in the past and could easily get my hands on something to neutralize the chemical on your flesh.” Scarlett seemed to consider this but could also feel how badly the wound was aching and the story seemed to contradict itself.
“If you neutralized the chemical then why the hell does it still hurt this badly?” Scarlett winced when Tony dabbed a wet cloth on the wound and instantly she moved away from the cloth to prevent further pain.
“Sit still,” Tony whined and scooted closer so he could wipe at the wound again. He’d been taking care of her for three days steadily. Even though he had known very little about her, he’d grown attached to her in his own weird way. Scarlett pouted and turned her gaze away so she didn’t have to look at what was being done to the wound. “Unfortunately before I could get to the wound, the chemical seeped down into your muscle tissue so you’re going to experience discomfort until it’s out of your system entirely. Lucky for you I’ve got all the pills you need.” Tony grabbed her left hand and urged it onto his shoulder. Scarlett looked surprised by this seemingly kind gesture. “Here, you can squeeze if you need to. I can tell it hurts.”
“No thanks,” Scarlett said after a moment of hesitation. Clearly this was some ploy to make him see more charming. Tony Stark was the master of women, she knew that, but if she used it to her advantage she could make him feel as used and pathetic as the women he regularly destroyed in his wake and get her proof of guilt in the same breath. This would be killing two birds with one stone, essentially. That was if she could keep herself from thinking he was charming. Having reminded herself of her purpose, the charm seemed more manipulative than anything at the moment.
He would regret inviting this woman into his home.
Pulling her hand away from his shoulder, she put it down on the table next to her and clenched her fist instead to combat the pain she was feeling in her leg while Tony cleaned the wound there and applied the solution in the unlabeled bottle. Her muscles twitched in discomfort.
“That’s a shame. It’s been awhile since I’ve had claw marks on my back from something other than a fight.” Tony was smiling without looking at her, but he could feel her annoyance practically radiating off of her. If nothing else, it certainly was fun to give her a hard time and have the resistance returned in kind. Usually women turned into giggling messes around him, so he enjoyed the chase. “In a few days you’ll be healed up and will be able to leave on your own accord, so don’t stress out too badly about it.” Grabbing the gauze from the first aid kit, he nodded to the table. “Could you put your leg up here?”
Scarlett sighed heavily and did as she was asked, waiting for more sexual jokes to follow suit. “Are you going to keep me confined to your table the entire time? Because I’m pretty sure this is tantamount to kidnapping.”
“Are you going to tell me your name?” Tony seemed to be bartering, even though he knew he couldn’t keep her captive.
“Well then you can stay in the lab. It’s a shame because this is a really beautiful mansion and so few outsiders really get a good peek in here outside of that one episode of Cribs.” Tony smirked, wrapping the wound on her leg tightly. “You know, this is the first time…”
“You’ve been between a woman’s legs with all your clothes on? Come on Stark, you’re predictable.” Scarlett leaned heavily on her arm as Tony stopped wrapping her leg entirely to look at her in shock.
“Oh, come on! That was clever.” Tony laughed, surprised that she’d known exactly what he was going to say. “I think you liked it… even just a little.”
“Can you please just finish wrapping my leg without anymore sexual innuendos? I get it, you’ve got a reputation to keep up with, but come on. You’ve proved your point, we can move on from that now I think. I promise, if anyone asks I’ll tell them that you came on strong, alright?” Cleaning the wound had drained most of the energy that Scarlett had regained while she’d been unconscious. She’d been in worse pain before, what made this so different?
“Fine, but after I’m done wrapping your leg all bets are off.” Tony chuckled, then cleared his throat and put on his best serious face. “Could you at least tell me what it is you do? Since I can’t hit on you for a few minutes, small talk seems like the only alternative.”
“I’d have to kill you if I did,” Scarlett responded easily. Tony couldn’t tell if she was serious or if she was joking with him. Part of him was convinced that he’d bitten off more than he could chew with this woman who had seemed so innocent when he’d picked her up in the desert and made the decision to save her life. This wasn’t what he’d been envisioning would happen when she woke up. Though, he’d come up with this half baked scenario where she threw herself at him, eternally grateful for him having saved her life. Then he wondered when it was that all of his rescue scenarios degraded into pornography. Probably because it was more interesting than reality.
There was no one more easily bored than Tony Stark.
“Can you tell me anything about yourself without getting defensive? Or am I just going to have to make up my own stories about you. I can do that you know.”
“I could tell you.”
“Will you?” Tony finished wrapping the wound, cleaned up the first aid kit and disposed of the filthy wrappings that had been pulled off of her leg. He was only mildly frustrated that this woman kept giving him the run around. More than anything, he was intrigued by her. There had never been a person in his life, short of Pepper, that had given him such a hard time, and even then Pepper was pretty easy to ignore and manipulate this far into their friendship. When it came down to it, Pepper worked for Tony and she had to ultimately do what he wanted her to do.
“Probably not.” Scarlett couldn’t help but be amused by how frustrated he’d become with her lack of responses. Tony exhaled deeply and walked over to his desk to put away the first aid kit. Scarlett made another attempt to get off of the table, only to be met by the robot that had dragged her back to the table in the first place.
“Dum-E, lay off.” Tony waved his hand toward the robot that made a sad sort of sound with his hydraulics before rolling away from Scarlett. Walking over to the work table across the room where Scarlett had noticed the scrap metal earlier, Tony looked at the holographic schematics that had been pulled up by Jarvis nearby. Scarlett slowly limped over to where Tony was working but kept her distance, mostly to observe the schematics and not the way he worked, though she was admittedly curious. Tony wasn’t some puffed up billionaire with no skills to speak of; he was a genius.
It appeared as though he was building a power amplifier. The arc reactor was already an immense source of power, not to mention with the addition of the element that Tony’s father had been credited with discovering and that Tony had been credited with creating long after his death sometime in the previous year, it had become a force unmatched. Why would he be looking to amplify something so immense? She doubted it was for unsavory means, since he wouldn’t be doing it in front of her if that were the case. It’d be too great a risk to his reputation.
“What are you building?” Scarlett couldn’t help but ask. While she knew it was an amplifier, she wanted details.
“What’s your name?” Tony asked without looking back at her over his shoulder. He turned the schematic around in the air and spoke to his system, flicking at part of the hologram. “Get rid of sector 4B, it’s not working out.” Obviously frustrated by what was in front of him, Scarlett wondered if she could help. Perhaps if she could prove useful to Tony, he’d keep her around to work on whatever project this was, at least until she could find the opportunity to strike and take him down.
“I already told you that my name is off limits.” Scarlett walked closer and looked at the schematic. Tony observed the woman looking it over curiously and saw recognition in her eyes.
“You know what this is?” Tony touched the edges of the hologram and spread his arms so the schematic extended large enough for Scarlett to see it without having to peer over his shoulder, not that he would’ve objected to that, but he was sure she didn’t want any more reasons to be that close to him.
“It’s a power amplifier for the arc reactor,” Scarlett spoke as though it were obvious. Tony turned around to face her and looked at her with one eyebrow raised high.
“Beautiful and smart? Are you one of those high tech Japanese cyborgs or something? I knew they were doing well in that area of robotics but you are absolutely remarkable… I still stand by the fact that you’re some spy undercover as a beautiful model or something… Almost like a Bond girl.” Tony’s lips curled into a smile. What had started out as a comment on her intelligence had ended in some a ridiculous fantasy. Scarlett rolled her eyes.
“I’ve dabbled as a mechanical engineer and a physicist. Happy now? I’d prefer to be called a jack of all trades, just as you are though. I’ve spent enough years trying just about everything that I can adapt to my situation. You learned something about me, so stop trying to flatter me.” Scarlett folded her arms over her chest and ignored Tony’s gaze which seemed now to be of admiration more than anything else.
“An engineer? Sorry lady but engineers do not look like you. Engineers look like… little… geeky guys who ate too many Cheetos…”
“You’re an engineer.”
“Okay, so you’ve got me there. I am a knock out, a ten actually.”
Looking over the schematics Scarlett shook her head and changed the subject. “Why are you building an amplifier for something that’s already so… massive?”
“Massive? I like that.” Tony tapped his knuckle against the glowing reactor in his chest and sighed. “You told me something about you, you do realize that right? And you haven’t tried to kill me yet.”
“I think I said that already. But yes, I understood your little hologram here so I figured you’d deduce that I had some kind of mechanical or electrical background anyway. Just so you know, it won’t lead you to any monumental discoveries about who I am. Good luck.”
“You are worlds smarter than you’re letting me believe,” Tony said outright. “I’ve already figured that out. Don’t think I’m underestimating you. I know what was going on in that building, at least to an extent. If they were holding you captive then you must be an incredibly important person. They aren’t the type of corporation that makes a business of kidnapping beautiful women just for the hell of it. That’s more thug territory. These guys were calculating.”
“What makes you think they were holding me captive? Maybe I worked there.” Scarlett shrugged, unwilling to reveal anything further. At first Tony didn’t respond and when he did, Scarlett froze.
“You have a contract to fulfill,” Tony whispered to her knowingly, his eyes dancing with amusement. He’d managed to decipher that much of what had been said to her, but couldn’t hear what had followed, which had likely been her name, because of the explosions that had destroyed the building only seconds after. Scarlett didn’t respond and realized that he’d known plenty more about her than he had initially let on.
They were dancing together.
Tony was trying to get information from her, while she did the same in turn. Though Scarlett couldn’t figure out which one of them had taken the lead yet. This didn’t change anything. He was still prying for her name which meant what he knew was speculation at best.
When Scarlett didn’t respond, Tony gave her some time to mull over what he’d said and decided there was little to no reason why he couldn’t answer her earlier question.
“I’ve been dabbling in energy research for a few years now, ever since Stark Industries stopped mass manufacturing weapons which I’m sure you already know about. Are you sure you aren’t one of those girls with a Tony Stark fixation? You seem to know an awful lot about me for someone who is treating me with such disdain.”
“You just assume that all women must be blown away by your existence, don’t you? I just told you that I’m an engineer and in the engineering world, whether I like it or not, you are king. What you don’t realize is there are a dozen engineers far more brilliant than you who don’t feel the need to be a constant public spectacle. I know your work because it is part of my job to know exactly what is going on in the world of engineering and mechanics.”
“That’s not true, I know there are plenty of people with intelligence equal to mine buried throughout the world without the financial means to make themselves known. That’s why I started the Stark Expo back up last year. We provide funding to those with credentials and good ideas then invite them to come and present their inventions to a crowd they would, under no other circumstances, have access to.” Tony seemed to want to make it clear to this woman that Stark Industries was no longer the money hungry empire it had once been.
“Yeah, that really ended well for everyone, didn’t it?” Scarlett scoffed and continued looking at the schematic. “You were saying something before you started hoping I was secretly one of your little fan girls… so are you going to continue or am I going to have to guess what it was?”
“I’ll get you to like me, you know.”
“Keep dreaming, Stark.”
“Can do and actually am… and have been, so you’re a little late with the suggestion.” Turning back to his schematic he gestured toward the scrap on the table in front of him. “I’ve been working on a way to transition the power from the arc reactor, which is immense as you mentioned, to household energy. So far, everything I’ve done in an attempt to use this element for anything other than the reactor in my chest and others similar to it, has shorted out or blown up. I thought at first that it needed to be amplified but after I’ve tried several prototypes I’m thinking I need to take a different approach.”
“You think?” Scarlett stood next to him at the table and put her hands on either side of the schematic, flipping it around. Tony looked scandalized that Jarvis allowed her to move his holograph and pouted.
“Sir, would you prefer I did not allow her to control me?”
“Yeah, no touching. That’s mine. You haven’t even told me your name and you already expect to play with my robot? Sorry, but I think that’s more of a third date thing for engineers such as us.” Tony pulled the schematic away from her reach, though it had already stopped responding to Scarlett’s touch.
“My apologies, sir.”
“It’s fine Jarvis, she’s really pretty. I understand you wanting her to like you.” Scarlett rolled her eyes and spoke, ignoring what had just happened in front of her.
“You need a power converter, Stark not an amplifier. The element you’re using is unlike anything else in existence. If you want to use this power on a massive scale you need something to tone down the power not boost it up. When you amplify a sound that’s already loud and too harsh on the ears, you’re only going to get something louder and more obnoxious. I’d think of all people you’d realize that. Or maybe that’s part of your problem.”
“I don’t have a problem, what makes you think I have a problem? You know for a stranger in my house who hasn’t even told me her name you sure are making a ridiculous amount of assumptions.” Scarlett ignored Tony’s objections and spoke over him instead of giving him the chance to distract her from the point she was making. She wondered how he ever got anything done and guessed this was why he likely worked alone.
“If you build a converter that will drain the power from your arc reactor equipped with the element, you can send it through different cycles in order to dampen the power to a more reasonable level in order for it to be used more efficiently. Not to mention it would be more costly to convert every electronic device in the country to become compatible with a new kind of current. You’re better off converting the odd element to something more commonly used.” Scarlett rolled her eyes as though the answer was obvious and Tony was an idiot for missing it.
Silent for the first time since they’d met, Tony folded an arm over his chest and propped his elbow against it, resting the other hand on his face and rubbing his hand over his immaculately manicured goatee that had become practically his trademark over the last few years. His shaggy hair had the appearance of someone who had just gotten out of bed and his brown eyes were akin to honey while they focused on the schematic in front of him. Rubbing his fingers against the finely trimmed scruff, he covered his mouth before unfolding his arms and pushing his hair back, flipping around the schematic. Without another word he made changes.
Scarlett watched him work and admitted internally that it was fascinating to see his methods. Plus, seeing him quiet since the first time he’d walked into the room was interesting as well. This gave Scarlett time to observe more about the man behind the legend. His fingers looked rough and callused, like he did a lot of work by hand. She wondered if it was from battles as his new super hero persona, Iron Man, or if it was from doing work in his lab on the exquisite cars he had stationed behind his desk or maybe some other project, much like his Iron Man suit.
After a few moments, Scarlett realized Tony had pretty much forgotten she existed while he worked and realized exactly what he was doing with his project. He was mumbling about how to change the current, building up a model over the old amplifier after having removed many of the crucial elements, via hologram.
“No, no, come on, aren’t you supposed to be a genius or something?” Scarlett nudged Tony’s shoulder and urged him out of the way then went to touch the schematic he’d been building up and when it didn’t respond she gave Tony a look that clearly told him how frustrating it was that he wasn’t letting her help. He looked at her for a moment defiantly before deflating and nodding toward the schematic.
“Go ahead, Jarvis, let her touch you.” A smirk played on Tony’s lips as he spoke and he held his hand in front of hers to block her from touching the schematic as his artificially intelligent computer system complied. “You owe me dinner though.”
“If anything, I’d say you owe me dinner.” Scarlett pulled the schematic beneath his arm that was blocking her and turned to face away from him, limping on her pained leg.
“Well that’s what I meant, actually. I said you owe me dinner, not that you are going to pay for my dinner.”
“Stark, focus.” Scarlett waved her hand at him in annoyance then started to make adjustments to the schematics in front of her, finding it harder to adjust to the holographic computer system than she had expected. “I need a coil…” Scarlett looked at the schematic and rearranged the items that Tony had put together.
Watching over her shoulder, Tony was far more curious about her skills than he let on. What had this woman been building for MedCo? Why was she helping him out now when she clearly held some kind of disdain for him? Though, if she was a successful engineer he knew how it could affect her opinion of him. He had found over the years that they seemed to go either way, engineers and scientists. Either they admired him and his work or they resented him for the way he abused his popularity. Tony didn’t think of it as abusing his popularity at all. If people were going to invest so much time into watching him and cataloguing his actions then he should at least have some fun and make it interesting.
Really, he figured even without the popularity and publicity he’d do the same things regardless. Paying more attention to the woman in front of him working on his schematics, he reached around her to pull the converter closer to him. Scarlett immediately shoved his arms away from her sides and narrowed her eyes at him.
“I don’t have cooties. I washed my hands before I came in here, I swear.” Tony ignored her objections and looked at the schematic again. “Alright. Now just fabrication.”
“I can’t guarantee that it’s going to work, Stark. I have never dealt with the power that’s in your arc reactor before and shut your mouth right now before you crack some dirty joke because you are so not clever.” Scarlett didn’t bother looking away from the schematic, despite the fact that Tony had indeed been opening his mouth to crack another joke.
Smiling a bit at the excitement this new woman was bringing to his lab, Tony shoved his hands in his pockets and spoke to his computer as he walked back to his desk. He snapped his fingers, removing his hand from his pockets as quickly as he had shoved them in there. His snapping had brought the computer screens to life, along with a whole different set of holographic controls surrounding the circular desk.
Scarlett leaned against the table where she’d found the converter half built to begin with, closing her eyes for a moment and swallowing the discomfort and pain she felt in her leg. Looking down at her tattered jeans, she realized just how drastic the damage that to her clothing had been. It wasn’t like she was walking around half naked, but it definitely looked like she had just walked out of an explosion. Not to mention, it’d been ages since she’d had a proper shower, food, or any sort of normalcy to her life. Tony had offered her the chance to get something to eat several times, but it felt like such a petty thing to think about considering her circumstances.
Get it together Scarlett, you don’t have time to dwell. Touching the tattered denim of her jeans, she sighed heavily and only became aware of Tony staring at her after he’d been doing so for a few minutes.
“You look like you’re thinking about something important. Maybe what happened in the desert? You want to spill your guts yet?”
“I was just thinking about how ridiculous I look in these clothes.” Scarlett shrugged her shoulders, but the bite to her words had temporarily dissipated. Tony typed away on his computer and started placing orders for the titanium alloy he’d need to construct the power converter to contain the arc reactor. Soon enough he’d be able to build and test Scarlett’s idea and see what changes he’d need to make.
“Yeah, you look like you’ve had a really tough run…,” Tony drifted off, half expecting her to fill in the blank of her name.
“Cut it out.” Scarlett rolled her eyes and walked over to the computer desk, leaning over it to look at his computer screen. To her surprise, he didn’t try to turn off the screen or become possessive the way he’d done with Jarvis’ schematics. “You know, I’ve never been hands on with any of these things before so I could very well be wrong with some of my calculations. I mean, the math is right, but I don’t know what kind of power I’m dealing with other than that it must be pretty considerable to power those suits over there.”
“Yeah I’m considerably powerful and would be happy to show you just how powerful if you’d tell me your name. Now, you had wanted to get changed? Jarvis, Jarvis get me Pepper. Send her down here right away.” Once again, Tony didn’t bother looking anywhere but at Scarlett. He tugged the side of her shirt up to glance at the wound there. Scarlett grabbed his wrist and twisted it back very suddenly, almost instinctively.
“Ow, ouch, hey… hey now…” Tony grabbed her wrist with his other hand and twisted his arm free from her grip. “You have pretty adept reflexes for an engineer.”
“Yeah, because you’re the only engineer who knows how to protect themselves.” Scarlett stepped away from him and leaned against the table once again.
“I think that what you were up to with that company down there is way more important than you’re letting on and I think that you have a lot of secrets that you’re worried I’ll find out about, miss no name.”
“Oh, I’m not worried. You can’t think about me for more than twenty seconds without being stopped by your libido, so good luck Stark.” Scarlett smiled half heartedly.
“You know, you could be a little grateful to me for saving your life.”
“Saving my life? Hmm? You think that you’re the reason I got out of there?”
“You were a bloodied mess in the desert sands. I saved you, out of the kindness of my heart I might add.”
“Right, your reactor you mean? You can fool the public with that chest piece but I know what’s going on in there. I don’t know the whole story, but what you’ve got in there Tony? That’s not a heart.” Scarlett’s lip curled in aggravation. She didn’t mean it, even in all her anger, she didn’t mean the harsh things she’d said. Whatever had caused Tony to need an arc reactor within his chest had to be terrible.
“I could bring you to the hospital still. Or to the police, you know whatever you were doing out there I’m sure it was highly illegal.”
“In Africa. Even if it was illegal, it was in Africa and the United States has very little jurisdiction in those parts of the world even if you could find proper legal proof, Stark, which you can’t. You know what’s illegal? Holding a woman prisoner in your basement and trying to keep her confined to a table when she’s been seriously injured.”
“I was helping you, not keeping you prisoner. I was hoping you’d be grateful I saved you and would help me figure out what happened to you!”
“Well, that’s what you get for making assumptions, you ass.”
“I know what the little poem for that is, but, no… I think your wounds are making you a little testy, whatever your name is. Maybe you should lie down and consider where you are. Do you know how many people get to see what you’ve seen down here?”
“Oh, so I should feel privileged to be here, is that it? You’re just mad that I’m not drooling all over myself to be in your presence. Sorry, Stark but you’d be surprised just how many women don’t think you’re God’s gift to them.”
“My name is Tony, why do you keep calling me that?”
“I’m not some school girl who is in the presence of her biggest idol and I am not quivering because you gave me a compliment so get over it and act like a big boy.” Scarlett ignored his petty question. Why did it matter that she wasn’t calling him Tony? For some reason, calling him Tony seemed like letting him win.
“Usually having a woman throw stuff in my face like this is a huge turn off, but I have to tell you I’m a little turned on right now.” Tony didn’t seem to be taking any of what was happening seriously. Scarlett threw her hands up in aggravation but before she could continue on she realized that the glass door on the other side of the room that led to a staircase, and presumably the rest of Tony’s Malibu mansion, had been opened and had been swinging there in that manner for a few moments.
The familiar Pepper Potts, dressed in a professional but beautifully feminine suit that hugged her tall frame stepped inside. Her red hair was pulled out of her face into a loose bun and adorable freckles were scattered about her skin.
“You called, Tony?” Pepper glanced curiously over at the woman who had been just fighting with Tony about practically nothing at all. She’d heard the argument across the room and had decided not to interrupt until she’d been noticed. Amusement was dancing in her eyes.
“Oh, don’t look so happy.” Tony turned to face his assistant and then looked back at Scarlett. “She has just been waiting for the day that some woman would tell me that. Well, look how many years it took Pepper. Plus, I’m convinced she likes me. Secretly.”
“Really? From what I’ve heard, I think she’s made it pretty clear just what she thinks of you, Tony. You do realize she could sue you for what you’re doing right? Actually, she could probably press criminal charges.”
“Oh she wouldn’t. Why do you always think women are going to sue me? Have you seen me? I’m pretty fantastic,” Tony scoffed and walked back to his desk, refusing to be tag teamed by the two lovely women, at least in this particular way. He gladly let his mind linger on that mental image.
“What is it you called me down here for Tony? Jarvis said it was important.”
Tony opened his mouth to respond but Scarlett limped past him and spoke over him.
“I’m clearly indisposed in this outfit. I needed something else to wear, preferably something clean.” Scarlett looked hopeful. “I’m guessing that is the reason he called you down here. I would hate to be an inconvenience to you. I have no qualms with you.”
“Well I was about to say that, before you interrupted. You’re lucky I like a woman that takes charge.” Tony pointed an accusing finger at her then spun in his chair and turned to address his assistant again. “You’ve still got some extra clothes here just in case for last minute appointments and business dinners and such right? Could you get her something comfortable to wear? You’re similar height… though she’s… well she’s got these hips and well… this hourglass thing going on…”
“Tony, you’re drooling.” Pepper rolled her eyes and looked back to Scarlett, deciding talking to her boss would only mean more sexual innuendos about the woman in front of her who looked worse for wear and in need of some comfort. “I think I have a black dress you can wear and it’ll at least get you out of those nasty clothes. If you give me your measurements I can have Jarvis send out for some clothing for you. I can have him deliver the catalogues to you so you can choose what you would like,” Pepper offered.
“Hey, that’s my money you’re spending. You know I’ll have to approve each purchase.”
“I have my own money. I can give you some of that when I get the chance, because there is no chance in hell that I’m going to let Stark make clothing decisions for me.”
“She’s my assistant, I tell her what to do, not you.” Pepper threw Tony a look that shut him up, but only after he’d realized what he’d said and how it annoyed her. “Look, get her that dress and we’ll figure it out from there.”
“You should probably let her shower and get cleaned up too Tony. It’s inhumane to keep someone like this after what she’s been through.” Pepper looked at Tony disapprovingly before addressing Scarlett again. “I’ll go get you that dress and I’ll work on Tony letting you use the guest room shower.”
“Thank you, Miss Potts.”
“You can call me Pepper.” The redhead smiled before walking out of the room, fiddling with something on her phone, a device that Tony had clearly built for her since it was like nothing Scarlett had ever seen before in her life.
“You know, I’m not mad by the way.”
“You said before that I was just mad because you were turning me down. I’m not mad. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in years.” Before Scarlett could respond with something witty, Pepper had returned, holding a bundle of black cloth that Scarlett could only assume was the dress she’d promised.
“Here you are, and don’t worry about paying me back. It’s really something I only wear in emergencies and I was looking for an excuse to buy a new little black dress anyway.” Pepper smiled cordially, apparently incredibly happy to have a woman in the house who wasn’t nervous to stand up to the great Tony Stark or fall prey to his charms.
“Thank you so much, Pepper.” Scarlett smiled then turned toward Tony. “Now unless you’re going to let me go upstairs and change, I suggest that you leave so I can do so in peace. I’ve already had enough jokes about my sexuality to last me a lifetime. Besides if you make a crack about insisting to have to change my clothes too, then I’m going to break your hand this time when it gets close to me.” Tony narrowed his eyes at Pepper when she laughed and bit her lip to stifle it.
“I could help you since you brought it up. I’ve been told I’m good with my hands.” Tony looked down at his hands and then made a face as he considered her proposal. “Though, a broken hand sounds really counterproductive. But, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Tony got out of his chair and started toward his door to leave the girls in peace.
“Don’t be a voyeur either. I know what your little system here is capable of and even though there are no cameras visible to the naked eye, I’m sure they’re here.”
“She’s right Tony. You should have Jarvis lock you out of the cameras, just for now.” Pepper agreed, clearly trying to help her friend and boss avoid a sexual harassment lawsuit or a broken bone.
“Jeez, you two are no fun at all. These women taking over my house, I always thought if this happened I’d be happy…” Tony continued to complain as he headed out of the room and up the stairs presumably to do something else while Scarlett got changed.
“He’s always like that?”
“Yeah, even in his worst moments,” Pepper smiled kindly. “You get used to it. He’s a pretty good guy, he just can’t help himself.”
“I thought it was an act for the cameras to tell you the truth.” Scarlett grimaced, lifting her tank top so she could look at the gauze on her side and evaluate how hard it was going to be to get changed.
“Nope, that’s just Tony. But you have to see past that to get to the real guy. Just… don’t break his hand. Please?”
“Don’t worry, it’s an empty threat.” Scarlett scoffed, though she had much worse prepared in her mind than a broken hand for the man who had done such wrong to her and the only person she could consider family, even if he had only been a boyfriend by obligation. It didn’t mean Scarlett didn’t have feelings for Scott; they were just mostly of guilt and now revenge.
“Are you alright? I could help you if you need it. Despite Tony being a jerk about it, you probably do need some help getting changed. You look world’s better than when he brought you here though, I will say that.” Pepper offered kindly. This was, remarkably, the first woman that she hadn’t had to throw out of the house after Tony had their way with them like a used tissue.
“Thanks Pepper, but I’ve got this.” Scarlett smiled a little, trying to keep pleasant with the woman there. She had no problems with Pepper Potts, just Tony Stark, so there was no reason to be rude to her.
“What’s your name by the way?” Pepper chuckled, but it wasn’t in the prying way that Tony had asked. Scarlett knew that if she told the woman her full name then Tony would find out as well. Though, she didn’t think it would change much of anything at all. The only reason she hadn’t told Tony her name was because she’d wanted to give him a hard time.
“Scarlett Damien.” Scarlett held her hand out for Pepper to shake, which she took and shook firmly.
“You seem to know me already, but it’s nice to meet you Scarlett Damien, I’m Pepper Potts. And what Tony said was true. I’ve been waiting for a woman to tell him just what an ass he can be for years,” Pepper laughed. “Don’t be too hard on him though. I swear he really is a good guy.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be just hard enough.” Scarlett shrugged. The web of lies in her mind had already become incredibly intricate.
“I’ll leave you be then. I’m going to see if Tony will let me prepare the guest room for you to use. You can’t sleep down here! Besides, I doubt he’ll want you down here with all of his cars and suits once he really thinks about it.” Pepper laughed, heading toward the door.
“Maybe he wants to keep me on display too, hmm? A trophy for doing a supposed good deed, right?” Scarlett chuckled.
“He would.” Pepper shook her head. “I’ll leave you in privacy to change.”
“Thank you.” Scarlett turned her back on the woman and began the tedious process of removing the clothing that had practically stuck to her during the various explosions and dangerous situations she’d been trapped in for the last few months. There were stones sinking in the pit of her stomach, guilt, fear, nerves, and a thousand other emotions she was unsure of.
She thought Tony Stark had been the reason that Scott had been murdered, but had he really been? Wasn’t it her fault that he’d been dragged into the process to begin with? With these things swimming around in her head, Scarlett continued on the process of getting changed into the clean black dress and while it wasn’t exactly what she’d choose to wear on her own, it was better than tattered jeans and a bloodied tank top.
Pepper walked up the stairs to find Tony standing at the top of them, tapping his foot impatiently and staring at the screen of his phone. Curious as to what he was doing, but knowing Tony wouldn’t let her get a glance of it that easily, Pepper eased herself into conversation with her boss and one of her closest friends.
“You do realize you can’t keep her prisoner down there, right?”
“She’s too dangerous to keep down there.”
“What were you thinking Tony? Why didn’t you just drop her off at the hospital and tell them how to take care of her?” Pepper furrowed her brow in thought. While she was growing rather fond of the woman, it was hard to keep strangers in the house, particularly with the super hero persona that Tony had taken on ever since his return from captivity. There was no way to know what Scarlett’s motives were and she seemed to be incredibly sure of her ability to keep Tony at bay, even if it came to using force. While Pepper had found that amusing at first, now it worried her that the woman had some experience using such force on others.
“I went to Africa searching for another one of the companies that Obadiah had been working with… It’s one of the only companies that I haven’t been able to track down. I also haven’t been able to discover where all those weapon shipments went or what they were used for. I finally found one of their facilities and when I went down there they instantly went on the offensive. They were waiting for me, Pepper.”
“What does this woman have to do with that?”
“She’s one of the only people I found alive in the wreckage. I think they were holding her prisoner there to build something for them. Now that I’m not supplying them with my weapons, where do you think they’re going to get their arsenal from? Steady shipments for God… how many years was Obadiah doing this behind my back? Behind dad’s? And now they have nothing.” Tony leaned against the wall near the stairway, tapping at the screen and zooming in on something.
“So you think that she was building weapons for them?” Pepper seemed instantly alarmed and glanced downstairs, wondering if Scarlett could hear their conversation.
“Against her will. When I found her, there was a guard from the company holding a gun pointed at her and threatening her to complete a contract of some kind. Not to mention there was a series of explosions that I had not been the source of when things got gritty down there.”
“You think she was the source of those explosions?”
“I can’t know that without learning more about her. And I can’t know more about her if she’s in some hospital.”
“So you’re going to just keep her trapped down there until she gives you some information? And what if she never does? You can’t keep her there forever, particularly if she’s as dangerous as you seem to think she is.”
“I think she’s mad enough at this company to tell me something useful. If I can track them down them I can find my weapons and get rid of them. Not to mention bring these people to some kind of justice.” Tony scowled. It wasn’t often that Tony was completely serious, and even then he was usually still joking just a little bit or doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing. Pepper didn’t like it when Tony was serious.
“And what if you’re wrong about her, Tony?”
“I’m Iron Man. What do you think she’s going to do to me, huh?”
“Well, at the very least you can’t keep her prisoner in the lab. Let me fix up the guest room for her, please? So she can be taken care of. A little kindness can sometimes go a long way, Tony.”
“I know Pepper. Just… go ahead, do it. I don’t care. Set it up, I’ll let her stay, but make sure that Jarvis has the parameters set and doesn’t let her in any rooms other than the bathroom, her room and wherever I lead her. She… She told you her name didn’t she?”
“Yeah, Scarlett Damien. Didn’t she tell you?”
“Good,” Tony chuckled. “She was so stubborn about it, she wouldn’t tell me no matter how many times I asked.”
“Maybe she has something to hide.”
“Oh, she has much more to hide than you and I could ever possibly guess. This woman has plenty… of unraveling to do. And I mean that in as many ways as you can imagine.”
“Tony, don’t get in over your head with this woman.” Pepper had grown used to ignoring sexual innuendos.
“Pepper, I’m always in over my head. It’s what I do.” Tony smirked and then turned the screen of his phone to her. “What do you think? Is that… Victoria’s Secret… page twenty there of the spring catalogue? Hmm.” Tony showed the video feed from his lab of Scarlett getting changed downstairs.
“Tony! You can’t do that to her!” Pepper reached for his phone but he swung it out of her reach before she could.
“Smart girl though, didn’t get completely naked at least. She knew I was going to watch her, relax,” Tony laughed. Pepper knew he’d been too serious for his own good when really he’d just been concentrating on the video feed on his phone.
“You do realize that kidnapping is illegal right, Tony? You can’t just keep her a prisoner here! Particularly if you’re going to spy on her because that’s illegal too.”
“I know that Pepper, thanks for the reminder. God you sound like my lawyer sometimes.”
“I could get your lawyer to remind you if you like.”
“That won’t be necessary. She’s going to do some work for me.” Pepper watched her boss contemplate something far more complicated than he was actually going to share with her and then heaved a sigh and gave up.
“I’ll go set up the guest room.”
“Thanks, and order her those extra clothes. I want her to feel like she’s not actually being kidnapped, you know.”
“How very generous of you.” Pepper rolled her eyes as she walked away, pulling her own phone back out of her jacket pocket, making notes and preparations.
Tony glanced down at the video feed on his phone once again, watching the lovely woman getting dressed into the slimming black gown that Pepper had loaned her. This woman had ice cold blue eyes and he was going to break through the wall he saw behind them and find out what she was hiding.