Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Avengers Crossover (Self-Made Hero)
Summary: The Avengers meet Xander.
Word Count: 860
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Tony’s slightly less talkative, later; when Pepper asks about Xander’s issues with alcohol, he shrugs and states blandly, “Nearly drank himself dead. I like him better alive.”
He really needs to stop it with the deadpan things no one should say, Pepper thinks, heart aching like Xander’s must have, and Tony steps forward and holds her. “I’ve gone sober for him before,” he whispers, and the fact that he has family, that he did what he could to be there for the kid in a way his own father never had…
It’s sweet and she’s pretty sure she loves him. “You’re still in trouble for not telling me about him, but…I’m pretty sure I agree with you. I like him being alive too,” she responds, and by the fond look and the affectionate kiss she’s got the feeling that she’s living up to his expectations.
“Hey, Pepper,” Tony says, and she’s hovering on the edge of drunk but surprisingly has yet to go search out a warm body for the night. “You think your beard will be salt and pepper?”
She sniggers to herself, but there’s something quiet and lost about her at the moment, and after only a few months in her employ it’s vastly disconcerting, because he’s never seen her with all of her masks removed.
“Excuse me?” He raises an eyebrow, plays along. It’s what he’s paid to do—up to a point, anyway. Also, he’s used to Tony starting conversations midsentence and expecting everyone else to be on the exact same page. He’d thought it’d been a trick to test his patience like a number of her other habits, but instead found that she does the same with everyone, from reporters to senators. She usually doesn’t realize she’s left anyone she’s addressing far behind conversationally.
“When you’re older and I’m dead,” she states bluntly, and he blanches, barely preventing the glass in his hands—picked up more for a need to fit in than a desire for alcohol—from falling and breaking all over the expensive carpet, drink and all.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” She hates the ma’am. Well, sort of. From anyone else, it earns a glare, but from him she’ll joke about ancient movies and gentlemen but she won’t throw a fit, which is usually synonymous with permission. (He’ll do things without permission anyway. Like force her to attend meetings with a hangover. He will spare some of his ancient Aunt’s remedy then, which while it makes her face twist into the most amusing expressions also makes her not feel like she wants to strangle somebody, which is generally bad for business.)
“Oh, now, probably. My liver, maybe not, but I’ve got years yet for that.” She takes another sip from the flute, staring pensive and subdued over the town. “I just…you know how I am. What I do. I can’t hope to keep it up forever. Someday,” she states solemnly, nodding in the direction of a few fireworks that appear to be dazzling appreciative guests, “I’ll be one of those. Brilliantly engineered, exploding to the awe and wonder of the nation watching, and my legacy will only last long enough for the afterimage to fade on the inside of the watchers’ eyelids.” She takes another sip, hands shocking, and it’s at this point that he realizes, My God, Tony Stark actually is human. He has sudden, breathtaking compassion for his boss that he didn’t have just a day before.
“You say that,” he responds dryly, trying to ignore the pain the thought of her lying dead anywhere is suddenly causing, “…but if you in your lab is any indication, you’re like the phoenix. How you keep surviving all those explosions you cause is nothing short of a miracle.”
There’s a breathless few moments before she’s beaming and has attached herself to him, like a limpet.
He begins to walk as she sways by his side. “Come on, Tony, let’s get you to bed.”
“Is that an innuendo?” she asks, the yawn spoiling the leer.
He shakes his head, doesn’t bother replying, summons her personal doctor to make sure she doesn’t have alcohol poisoning, and grabs one of his novels for fun as he settles beside her bed. “Too bad,” is the last thing he hears, soft and lonely, and he pretends for the longest time that he never heard her say that. It’s just easier that way.
Xander makes a startled noise at the fridge, but when he turns around he’s grinning ear to ear. “Jarvis can show you the replay,” he announces, smug, and Tony instantly pulls up a screen and watches with enthusiasm as Xander fumbles and then catches everything he’s taking out of the fridge to make a sandwich.
“If you two are done patting each other on the back,” Pepper says in the ‘trying to be stern and not smile at you’ voice, “…don’t you think maybe you should fill Rhodey in?”
Xander grins a grin that Rhodey is infinitely familiar with. It haunts his nightmares, mostly because he’s reminded that he’s going to have to deal with the fallout however fun having a friend like Tony is. “Pep, honey, that implies that we’ll ever stop.”
Rhodes makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. “Tony. Tell me you didn’t clone yourself.”
“I didn’t clone myself,” Tony says promptly, but looking at the two of them and the way they’re acting… “I didn’t,” he repeats, with added emphasis, and now Rhodey’s feeling the stirrings of anger.
“Magic,” the younger Tony explains carefully, fetching a blanket for him. Apparently he’s worried about shock, which is a realistic and unusually aware thing for him to be worried about. “I’m not entirely Tony. He was good enough to fill you in on Lokester, right?”
Tony snorts into his coffee but nods. Rhodey nods too.
“I’m actually a guy with my own life. I’ve just got Tony’s, too. And I figured out how to visit Tony in an alternate universe and give him advice to try to make his life better even though he ignores it because I’m just awesome like that.” It’s a show. Knight (which might not be a pseudonym Jarvis found to protect the guy after all) is exaggerating his own ego, just for the sake of this. Which is convincing, and it’s not the only thing.
Alright, if he’s forced to be honest—if anyone can figure out how to travel dimensions, it’s Tony. Which is worrying, but it also makes him proud in a weird way.
He sighs. “And now I’ve got two of you on my hands.”
Pepper glances at the two, eyebrows raised. “He’s taking this better than I did.”
It takes Pepper a minute to realize that the two are playing a drinking game. Without the drinking. Instead, they appear to be eating a child’s dream version of an Easter basket in the middle of summer.
“The army, specifically a General Ross,” Tony says, and reaches over to grab a candy bar.
“Unfortunately…no.” Xander lets his fingers run over a few choices of candy before selecting one. “The whole Initiative Project, remember? Particularly the part about getting kidnapped? And the Frankenstein’s monster?”
Tony’s face makes the expression she’s become familiar with, the one that says ‘that’s awful but I’m going to try to pretend it isn’t to make my brother feel better’. It morphs into a thinking one. “The government?” He grabs a handful of M&Ms, looking hopeful.
“Again, no. I’m still not sure what they’ve done with Marcie, and they’ve been probing. Not like they can get through, I’ve got a seed AI, myself, and Willow, she of the ‘I’m going to break into the Pentagon again because I’m bored’…not that that’s weird, but. Still. I do not trust them.” Xander squints then follows Tony’s lead.
“What are you doing?” she asks, when it becomes apparent that the two aren’t going to notice her.
“Oh, hey, we’re playing ‘Whose Life is Worse’ with candy and then tinkering on the sugar high ‘till we drop,” Xander says, cheerful, and Pepper’s heart drops.
“I feel like I should step in.” This probably isn’t helping them. Or maybe it’s serving like a psychiatry consultation that Tony never goes to as recommended. It’s hard to tell.
Tony shrugs and pats the floor, grinning. “You can at least sit with us. Unless you’re busy, in which case, carry on.”
She sighs, reluctant to leave the two, but then her work phone rings and she has to answer it, given that Tony hasn’t. She waves, and the two wave back, looking casual and unhurt.
( In Pepper's case, though, they tend to be people hurting. )
( what, you think Xander doesn't wander off and try to get therapy sessions from random people? )
( Who's she kidding? It's Tony; it's anything but simple. )
( don't let me go )
The way to get her to actually work, she discovers, is to just let it happen and not comment on it (more than firm reminders), or to outright offer her some sort of bribe if she’ll actually get her homework done. Brownies are surprisingly effective.
Tony, Pepper decides something like three months into his so-called promotion, is something like a magic eight ball. You never know what result you’re going to get out of her. Sometimes, she can be utterly charming, well-behaved even. That’s the point at which close acquaintances, like Rhodey, will start to look for signs of plotting.
There’s the part where she turns into an obstinate contrarian. Doesn’t matter what someone says when she’s in that kind of mood, she will go out of her way just to prove them wrong. Pepper suspects it’s something to do with her dad, but out of respect (since she hadn’t actually prodded about the elder Potts despite all signs and inclinations to the contrary) he doesn’t ask.
There’s those times that she turns into an utter showboat. It’s probably inevitable, since the only other way to deal with that much media all the time is losing your mind. Despite the fact that he’s certain she’s a nymphomaniac, he suspects that a lot of it is just keeping up appearances, since he’s known her to get bored in the middle and wander out with an idea that just had to get done right there and then.
Generally when she’s feeling the most at ease, she’ll throw on comfortable clothes (like sweat pants and a t-shirt) and get covered in oil as she works on something or another. There’s a moment that Pepper was very, very grateful for Jarvis, because he saw a completely honest, completely happy grin on her face as she surfaced from tinkering on one of the cars to talk to him, and it helps remind him that his boss is human somewhere under there, which is nice motivation for all the times she either seems like a robot or the most annoying person on Earth. She likes lounging around like that, but it’s a little telling that very few people have seen her in the full outfit. Sometimes she’ll wear t-shirts outside, but she always combines that with jeans so tight he wonders how she breathes.
“I’m in the mood for hedgehog” means Tony wants Sonic.
Pepper was shocked and a bit scandalized the first time he heard it, which pretty much is accurate for everything he had to get used to working for the Anthonia Stark.
The phrase serves two purposes, he suspects. First, he thinks that it’s put exactly the way it is precisely in order to get the reaction it does—shocked, scandalized, disgusted.
Secondly, when Tony gets frustrated with her latest project and wants to take the edge off—assuming she doesn’t skip straight to the bottle or sleeping with the latest person to catch her eye—she breaks out her admittedly impressive collection of video games. More than once Pepper’s actually fallen asleep to her swearing good-naturedly at the screen and absently eating a piece or three of utterly cold pizza. It’s gotten easy to tune out. Background noise. Comforting, even.
Unfortunately, one of Pepper’s most oft-used words is ‘no’.
Like now, for instance.
“Did you see that?” Tony asks, grinning.
She’d prefer to vary it a little, but Stark in general likes to make her life difficult.
“No, you cannot hire the man. He already has a contract, and we’re not making an army or testing weapons anymore. Besides, I looked up his history.”
Tony spins his chair to face her, grinning with delight. “You know me so well.”
“Mr. Jordan’s status as a test pilot for Ferris Aircraft, in decline due to its previous rivalry with Stark Industries, has some familial component.”
“Damn.” Tony frowns briefly before shrugging. “Guess I’ll have to get creative.”
Due to the reactor in his chest, Tony spends a good deal of his life half-naked. To the point he doesn’t even notice he’s shirtless half the time. It’s kinda distracting. Which means she has to babble more to cover it up.
Tony’s been quiet. Rhodey knows that’s a bad sign, especially since he’s only halfheartedly tinkering with those stupid AIM things again. He must be still upset about his fight with Whitney. That he’d refused to tell them about. Pepper had been triumphant until about an hour after school had ended, at which point she’d gotten worried about mopey Tony.
“Would you guys still be friends with me if I wasn’t rich?” he asks abruptly, derailing Rhodey and Pepper’s cautious conversation.
Rhodey frowns. “Look, man, if this is about Stane, don’t worry. You’ll inherit the company in a year, and until then we’ll help you deal with anything that comes your way. That’s what friends do.”
“Yeah! Besides, taking down evil supervillains and CEOs is super cool! I just wish I could get more of the action sometimes.” Pepper’s eyes light up. “You know what, Tony, you could make me a jet pack! With lasers! Not that I don’t want a SHIELD-issued jetpack, because hello, SHIELD, but a lady can never have enough jetpacks!”
At least that gets Tony to smile. It’s a weak, scared smile, like he’s really worried about something, but it’s still a smile and that’s more than Rhodey’s achieved.
Rhodey smiles and forgives him for being annoying earlier. “T, seriously, what’s this about?”
He bites his lip and refuses to look up. “Nothing. It’s fine. Just a stupid question.”
Rhodey comes over and lays a comforting hand on Tony’s arm. Who now looks like he’s going to throw up. “The simple answer, Tony, is yes. The more complicated answer is that you wouldn’t be my rich, genius, eccentric, absent-minded-slash-sometimes-clueless, occasionally annoying friend if you weren’t, and that’s the guy who’s my best friend.”
That earns a brilliant, relieved smile, and Pepper chimes in.
“Grr, Rhodey, you stole the best lines! But yeah, Tony, you’re delusional if you think we wouldn’t be friends with you; I mean, it’s nice, especially if you’re feeling like being generous, but you’re Tony and you can be an idiot and selfish sometimes but you’re also a superhero and a really good friend; I mean, you could be nicer and listen to me more but you don’t just tell me to shut up or that I’m crazy or that no one could be friends with me because I’m too annoying, so I suppose I can forgive—“
By this point, Tony is beaming. Whatever had been eating at him is gone. “I’m glad you’re my friends, too.” He pauses. “If Whitney ever stops acting weird, I’d like it if you’d give her a chance.”
Rhodey glances at Pepper. “Are you okay with that?” he asks quietly, quietly enough that Tony doesn’t hear.
“Oh, there’s no chance of her changing the way she acts,” the redhead replies, smiling too, but she nods at Tony, who certainly looks happy enough.
It is such a relief to see Tony’s eyes open. Brain damage is a worry, which would kill him with his personality, but at least he’s alive.
He blinks, lost and confused. If he were a computer he’d still be rebooting. Then he looks over to see her.
Pepper smiles and opens her mouth to welcome him, but Tony’s face doesn’t look relieved. His expression is more…panicked. “Where’s Rhodey?” It barely comes out intelligible, like he can’t even wait for the words to be released.
“He’s in surgery; he’ll be—” she begins, but Tony interrupts.
“Dead,” he says quietly, with certainty. He’s on his feet already, pulling the IVs out of his arms, and striding out of the room before she can so much as lodge a protest. “That thing in his chest; I made it to save his life. Medical technology hasn’t caught up yet. If they operate on him, they’ll kill him.”
“Operating Room 2,” she says, with just as much urgency—Rhodey is a friend and a good man and also one of her only allies to deal with babysitting Tony. It’s fairly easy to catch up with the man. She’s been doing it for years.
Pepper sighs and glances at the ceiling.
“If I may, sir,” Jarvis cuts in, and he’s almost been employed long enough to not jump at that.
“You think you could explain Stark’s temper tantrum to me?” he asks.
“I can definitely try.” There’s a pause, then, “You listed the name on the document as Toni.”
“…That’s her name,” Pepper says, confused, and then a hologram appears in front of him and he definitely jumps.
The word reads Toni. Red crosses the ‘i’ out and it gets replaced with a ‘y’. “I realize that it’s ‘Antonia Stark’, but she always prefers the nickname to be spelled with a y. Please do not ask me to explain any further than that because I can’t.”
“Well, you know, okay, that’s somewhere to start. Thank you, Jarvis.” It’s odd, but he’s dealt with stranger.
“So, why the shopping trip?” Pepper asks directly. That earns her ducking around the corner to stare at the redhead.
He looks slightly embarrassed. “You don’t have to say if you don’t want to.”
“Dr. Christopher Palmer asked me on a date again,” she answers finally. There’s no reason to have Pepper at odds with her, and given the threat of Mordo, she can use all the reliable (or semi-reliable, in the case of Stark) allies she can get.
“I thought you were a cute couple,” he responds instantly, then expands, “…when we met at the Gala.”
“I’m reliably informed that I was, and still am to a lesser degree, an asshole.” Her words are more bitter than she expects. It’s probably guilt.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” Pepper responds under his breath. Then he adds, stronger and more reassuring, “You both were charming, too, though. It’s the idea that you’re both capable of honesty, sometimes. When you’re motivated. You do care, when you’re given enough incentive.”
“That’s quite the compliment. Comparing me to Antonia Stark. I’m overwhelmed.” Her voice is dry, near-emotionless, but to her surprise she’s not lying. Pepper’s honest words do boost her ego, just a little.
“If the shoe fits…” he shrugs. “Speaking of which, how are you for footwear?”
“Does such a thing exist as dress boots? I’ve grown rather fond of them.” Plus, should another dimension attack or whatever else might lie in store…happen while on the date, it’s nice to be ready for it.
Pepper’s eyes light up and he drags Dr. Strange to another aisle.