Chapter 1: A Rude Awakening
All characters belong to Marvel Comics. This is very late addition to the Comics Panel challenge in the its_always_been community in Live Journal. This one features a scene inspired by Prompt number 6. Also, inspired by RDJ's film, "Fur: The Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus".
By Marie Nomad
It was morning and Pepper walked into the house. She was ready and willing for another day of work and heroism. She paused when she noticed how quiet the house was. She went down to the workplace expecting him to be there in his tank top and pants working on the latest Iron Man upgrades only to see nothing. She went to his bedroom and knocked on the door. "Tony? Are you still asleep? We have a meeting."
"Pepper, don't come in here. Please," Tony pleaded. Pepper's heart pounded. What happened to him? Was he injured? Was he dying again?
"Ms. Potts, something had happened to Tony. He does not wish for anyone to enter his bedroom," JARVIS stated.
"What happened?" Pepper demanded as she pounded on the door. She struggled with the doorknob.
"Pepper, please, I'm not dying, just don't come in."
"Let me in," Pepper begged as she pound on the door until her knuckles get raw. "I want to help you."
"I'm fine... I think. Look, I've called Hank and Bruce and they are coming. Just don't come in."
"I thought we agreed no more secrets! Damn it, Tony!" Pepper felt herself started to cry. She didn't want to think that Tony didn't want her to help him in whatever happened.
After a long moment, Tony said, "JARVIS, unlock the door. Pepper, promise me that you will not freak out."
"I promise," Pepper opened the door. She was prepared for anything. She took a deep breath and walked in. The first thing she saw was hair. There was some sort of hair covered man sitting in bed. He looked like Chewbacca's long lost cousin except the obvious glow from the arc reactor. Hair covered every part of his exposed body, even his face. She could barely see his eyes and his mouth. "T-tony?" Pepper nearly collapsed into a nearby chair.
"No freaking out!" Tony reminded sharply.
"Right." Pepper took a deep breath. She was used to seeing all sorts of things ever since Tony joined the Avengers but nothing like this. "What happened?'
"I don't know. I just woke up one morning and I look like this." Tony stared at his hair covered hands. "JARVIS ran a scan on me and he said that I'm normal."
"This is not normal! Have you tried shaving it off?"
"Yeah." Tony pointed to the connecting bathroom to reveal a huge pile of discarded hair. "It all just grew back."
"I see. I will cancel all your meetings and get rid of all bottles of alcohol." Pepper went into professional assistant mode as she tried to think of ways to hide this from the company.
"Yeah." Tony just looked down. Then, he gazed at her for a long moment.
"Nothing. Nothing at all. Just leave me alone." Tony covered himself up with a blanket.
Pepper was busy rearranging everything so that Tony had a free schedule for the next few days. She didn't know how long they could hide something like this but maybe Hank and Bruce could figure out some way to help Tony. Despite the fact that Hank had multiple versions of the exact same outfit and talked to ants and Bruce literally had an explosive temper, she trusted them. They were experts in their fields and if anyone could help Tony, it would be those two.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO?" Tony screamed.
Or maybe not.
Pepper snuck to the bedroom where she listened to the conversation.
"There are no obvious mutations. We don't know what is going on," Hank Pym confessed. "I think that the medical equipment in the SHIELD headquarters could help."
"I am not going to SHIELD looking like this."
"Damn it, Tony. This is not-" Bruce's monitor beeped. "Wonderful, I am getting angry. Take deep breaths... deep breaths... don't let the Hulk show up... calm down..." Bruce breathed in and out.
"Like Bruce was saying, SHIELD has seen a lot of strange things. They won't react to your appearance."
"Not going. People will see me."
Bruce opened his eyes and looked at his monitor. "Tony... I know someone who can help. He's this guy that I went to while I was trying to find a way to control the Hulk. He's really good but unorthodox. He's also very good at keeping secrets. I will call him at once."
"Good, you do that."
"How is it going?" Pepper asked as she came in. Tony was still in bed. He covered himself up and peeked out from under the covers. She could see his dark eyes just barely there.
"Not too well, Pepper," Hank stated. "We did genetic and physical tests and other than the fact that Tony has symptoms of terminal hypertrichosis, which is strange since those usually occur at birth. And the fact that his hair grows back instantly is puzzling."
"Is there anything you can do?" Pepper pleaded.
"No, not right now but I'm not giving up," Hank vowed.
"Yes, his name is Tony Stark. Uh huh. Great." Bruce turned off his phone. "He will be here any minute."
A moment passed and the quiet was suffocating everyone.
"Do you want something to eat?" Pepper offered hoping to ease the tension in the room. "Did you eat breakfast yet?"
"Not hungry." Tony covered his head with his blanket.
Pepper didn't push the subject. Tony would eat when he wanted to. When he wanted to, he would eat a ton but he could still go for days without eating if he was busy.
"Sir, a visitor has arrived. He said that Dr. Banner had called him."
"I will bring him in," Pepper volunteered as she marched out. She hoped that this 'unorthodox' doctor could help Tony out with this problem. She went up to the front door and answered it. He was a middle aged man with gray streaks in his black hair. He was dressed in a trench coat, a gray fedora, and a gray suit. "Yes?"
"Is this the Stark residence?"
"Yes, are you the doctor Bruce called?"
He flung off his coat and bellowed, "I AM DOCTOR STRANGE! SORCERER SUPREME OF EARTH! MASTER OF THE MYSTICAL! MIGHTIEST MAGICIAN IN THE COSMOS!"
Pepper sighed as she rubbed her temples. Tony needed a doctor and ended up with Dr. Houdini. "I'm sorry, but... Tony needs a real doctor."
"My dear, I am a real doctor," Dr. Strange said, insulted.
Pepper didn't know how to answer this. This man was not what she expected. She wanted someone to help Tony and she didn't know how Tony would react to this man. Tony Stark was a man of science and this man seemed like a man of magic. "I didn't mean to insult you it's just..."
"By the Eyes of Hoggoth." Dr. Strange marched towards her and Pepper held up her hand. Then, he disappeared in a puff of smoke. She turned around to see Dr. Strange walking towards the bedroom.
"How?" Pepper was stunned. There was no way that JARVIS would let this strange in any of the other entries. The doctor went up the stairs and Pepper trailed him.
"You will need to magic proof this house. I can't sense any barriers," Dr. Strange explained.
"Well... uh... slow down!" Pepper sputtered out. She followed him to Tony's bedroom. "I don't know how you did that-"
"I AM DOCTOR STRANGE! SORCERER SUPREME OF EARTH! MASTER OF THE MYSTICAL! MIGHTIEST MAGICIAN IN THE COSMOS!" Dr. Strange bellowed at the top of his lungs at the doorway.
Tony got up from his covers and stared at him. "Bruce... did you get a magician to help me?"
Dr. Strange turned over to Bruce. "Hello, Bruce. How was your quest for control of your inner beast doing?"
"Very well, thanks."
"Dr. Strange?" Hank went next to Bruce and whispered, "Are you serious about him? Tony needs a real doctor."
"I am a real doctor!"
"Uh huh. What's your full name?" Tony asked as he got out his Starkphone.
"Dr. Stephen Strange. S-T-E-P-H-E-N. Yes, it is my legal name."
Tony tapped in the name and paused. Pepper stared at his face but with all that hair covering it, it was hard to tell if he was shocked or amused. "What did it say?"
"Yup, he was a neurosurgeon about ten years ago before getting into an accident that weakened his hands and ended his career." Tony paused. "We have people working on nerve damage in our Stark Industries Medical section."
"Let's focus on your condition first." Dr. Strange waved Tony off with slightly shaking hands.
"You…Disappeared in the Himalayan for seven years," Tony went on, "before opening up a New Age shop in New York City that specializes in mystical cures."
"Well?" Dr. Strange asked. "Will you let me try to find what is wrong with you?"
Tony shrugged. "Well, you are already here and you are a real doctor."
"I have seen the depths of the nine rings of Hell. I have met abominations that would make your head explode. I have learned the recipe to the Coca Cola soda drink! I can keep a secret," Dr. Strange vowed. "Now, let me get out my bag." The doctor reached into his coat and got out a black doctor's bag. "When did this happen? What time?"
"Here are my test results." Dr. Pym said as he handed Dr. Strange some notes. "I had also done blood work as well as testing the hair for any abnormalities."
"I see. Thank you."
"Wait, where did you perform the tests? You and Bruce haven't left the bedroom since you arrived." Pepper asked.
"Oh, I used my pym particles to make portable labs. It makes things much easier for me."
"I prefer portable dimensions myself," Dr. Strange admitted as he looked through the tests. "Thank you, Dr. Pym, Dr. Banner, now I can focus on my own brand of tests. Can everyone leave this room? I do not want any interference."
Pepper glanced at Tony and he nodded. "Go ahead. JARVIS will alert you if something goes wrong."
To Be Continued...
By Marie Nomad
Pepper waited anxiously. She worked on some emails. She dusted the house. She even watched 'Real Housewives of New Jersey'. But nothing was keeping her mind off of what had happened to Tony. Bruce and Hank had gone to the Avengers Headquarters to do some tests. She didn't blame them. There was nothing any of them could do. She shivered as she thought of all that... hair covering his body. One of the things that she loved was Tony's smooth skin and how he had such chiseled looks despite his age and bad drinking habits. Now, Tony was buried in all that hair. Could he even use the Iron Man suit like he is?
"Ms. Potts, I require your assistance," Dr. Strange interrupted her train of thought.
Pepper straightened herself out and then walked towards the bedroom. "Yes?" She entered the bedroom and saw Tony out of the bed for the first time. He was dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants. Pepper fought the urge to stare at all that hair covering his hands and arms. Then, she noticed his hairy feet. "D-do you need something?" She focused on Dr. Strange.
"I need to know all the women that Mr. Stark had sex with."
Pepper stared at him. "Why? Is this some kind of STD?"
"Oh no. No. Do not worry. You see, your boyfriend is under a curse and it was made by someone that he had sex with."
Pepper's jaw dropped and she looked at Tony who just seemed to give a 'I don't get it either' look. "A curse."
"Yes, a vanity based curse is my best guess. I will need a list of all the women that Mr. Stark here had sex with in his life."
"That's a lot of women and Tony doesn't remember names."
"I stopped that a year and a half ago," Tony pointed out.
Pepper blushed when she remembered that Tony hadn't slept with anyone but her in the past one and a half years. "Yes. Anyway, I have a list of those women… in case of legal issues. JARVIS, bring up File Succubus and print it out."
"Succubus?" Tony repeated.
"A demon who takes on the form of a woman to lure men in. Appropriate," Dr. Strange said as the printer spit out paper after paper.
After a sizable stack was printed out, the printing stopped and JARVIS said, "We need more paper."
Five minutes later...
Dr. Strange stared at the huge stack of paper in his hands. "This... this will take some work. Do not worry, I will not rest until this curse is removed."
"Right. Here is my cell phone number. Please, help him," Pepper pleaded. She wasn't sure if she could trust this man with this list but he was already treating Tony. She was desperate, all she wanted was her Tony back.
"Thank you. Here is my business card." Dr. Strange whipped out a card out of nowhere and flipped it to her. "And now, I am off!" He levitated the papers up and then vanished in a cloud of smoke.
"Dr. Strange has disappeared off of the premises," JARVIS stated.
"How does he do that?" Tony had to wonder.
"Magic?" Pepper asked.
"Right now, I'm willing to believe anything." Tony sighed as he looked at his hands. "A curse... this feels like a curse."
"We will get through this. Don't worry," Pepper vowed as she crossed her arms. "You need to do something, get your mind off of this."
"Right, I'll go to my workshop. Better... get some long sleeves." Tony went into the closet and took off his t-shirt. Pepper walked off before she could see that furry chest again.
She tried to work again but she couldn't. It became clear when she found herself reading the same email three times and not know it. She clicked on the console and spoke into it. "Tony, this is Pepper. I'm going to make some food. Do you want anything?"
"I don't need anything. I have food stored here."
Pepper remembered all the junk food that Tony tends to store in his workshop. He started that little habit after coming back from Afghanistan. "Twinkies are not real food."
"Why don't you come down here and make me eat real food like you usually do?"
"Because..." Pepper stumbled. She didn't want to make it sound like she couldn't stand seeing him. "I'm busy."
"Oh." Tony sounded disappointed and Pepper felt a pang of guilt in her heart. Normally, during the times when Tony get holed up in his workplace, she would barge in at least once a day to make sure that he at least get some fresh air. Now, she just didn't feel like seeing him unless necessary. What was wrong with her?
"Where is he?" Rhodey asked as he walked through the door. "Something's up. I can feel it."
"Jim, what are you doing here?" Pepper asked stunned that he showed up.
"Tony was supposed to help me with my armor upgrades but he flaked out on me. I know him. He loves tinkering with the armors. Don't say that he has some emergency, I checked with the Avengers and there are no missions."
Pepper didn't know what to do. One on hand, Tony doesn't want anyone to know about this. But, this was Rhodey and he and Tony have just as close as a relationship as she and Tony. Tony has to be the one to tell Rhodey. "Let me call him. It's not... that bad. It's... it's a little serious." Pepper winced at the understatement.
"Tony?" She tapped on the console. "Rhodey's here and wants to see you."
"No. I'm sick."
"You're dying?" Rhodey jumped as he spoke to the console.
"No, I'm not dying. I just... it's nothing personal, I just don't want anyone else to see me."
Rhodey leaned forward as he tried to look calm. "Hey, Tony, it's me, Rhodey; your best friend. I fought you and stole your armor. I saw you naked at least five times. I had to fight you while you were on that giant stuffed unicorn! Listen to me, if there's something wrong with you, I have to know. I'm your partner."
There was a heavy pause and finally Tony answered, "Okay. I'm coming up. But promise me you won't freak out about this."
"I won't." Rhodey looked nervously at Pepper. Pepper did her best to keep a poker face. She didn't know how he will react to Tony. Still, Rhodey should be able to help make sure Tony doesn't do anything crazy.
Several minutes passed and Tony walked in dressed up in a jumpsuit with goggles. Rhodey's jaw dropped. "Tony?"
"Yes, it's me. Don't ask me how this happened. I just woke up one day and I'm like this."
Rhodey was still stunned but he wasn't freaking out. "You feel okay? Other than the fur I mean."
"More or less. The doctors said that I'm fine otherwise. The only one who thinks he knows how I ended up this way is Dr. Strange. He thinks that I'm under a curse cast by someone I had sex with."
"That won't surprise me. Look, I'll help you no matter how furry you get. You would do the same for me."
"But, you will end up looking like a giant poodle with all that afro."
"No, more like giant black mop with all the dreadlocks," Rhodey joked as the two went to the lab.
Pepper waited an hour before she sneaked to the workshop. She was curious about what Tony and Rhodey are doing right now. Were they staying out of trouble? Rhodey could keep a good head around Tony but Tony has this ability of luring Rhodey into doing some crazy stuff. But, that was one of Tony's many charms. She looked through the window to see Tony and Rhodey hard at work.
Tony had various diagrams all around him. Pepper clicked on a button so that she can hear what was going on inside. "Now, the stealth mode will use a lot of power so you can't use any of your weapons or fly while in that state."
"So, I can use it if I get injured or I need to sneak into a place. Sounds good anyway."
"Yeah, what do you think about me becoming a recluse?" Tony asked as he went up to one of his cars and started to fiddle with it.
"A recluse because of my condition." Tony said as he just looked down.
"Oh come on, you... you don't look that bad. Besides, aren't those doctors looking for a cure?"
"The one who seems to make the most progress is a guy who calls himself a 'Sorcerer Supreme'. This might be permanent. Now, I can still go out as long as I wear my armor. No one has to see me. I can conduct my business online and become the next Howard Hughes."
"No! Tony, this is stupid!"
"I can just chalk the constant wearing armor thing as paranoia about my own health." Tony shrugged as he fiddled with the motor.
"I know you look... different but you can't just give up. It's not like you." Rhodey argued as Pepper watched on.
"Pepper wouldn't look at me. She hasn't even gotten near me since I became like this," Tony stared at his hair covered hand. "How can I face the world when even the woman who would go through hell for me won't touch me?"
To Be Continued...
Chapter 3: Coming clean
By Marie Nomad
Pepper's heart pounded as she raced back to the living room. She sank down to the couch. How could she be so selfish? Was she really so shallow that she would let something like extra hair get in between her and Tony? Then it dawned on her, what about Tony? He probably hated what happened to him as much as she did. Tony had always wanted to look his best. He would strut around like a peacock when people were watching. No wonder he wanted to hide.
"Mr. Stark requires your assistance," JARVIS announced, interrupting her thoughts.
"What is it?' Pepper asked as she stood up. Knowing Tony, he would be making preparations for his new life as a reclusive superhero.
"He has gotten into an accident involving a drum of oil. Physically, he is fine, but he will require help cleaning up. Colonel Rhodes offered but Mr. Stark refused."
Pepper had to smirk. While she trusts JARVIS with her life, she was still amazed about how much he seemed to try to help out with their relationship. "JARVIS, are you trying to patch things up between me and Tony?"
"Of course not. I am simply stating what might be best for Tony."
Pepper went to the downstairs bathroom where she saw Rhodey standing there with his arms crossed. "How is he?"
He just shrugged and opened the door. Pepper walked into the bathroom and saw a mountain of fur sitting in a bathtub. "Oh, Tony."
"I... I'm a mess. All this oil... I didn't mind before... just... leave me alone." Tony muttered as he just sat there.
She had never seen Tony looked so broken.
"You've been through worse," Pepper said as she took off her shirt and shoes and sat down behind him. She picked up a bottle of shampoo and poured a generous amount onto her hands. She took a deep breath and lathered it all over his back. His hair was soft in her hands.
"Hey!" Tony jerked up and pulled the hair over his eyes to stare at her.
"Relax, I've done this before."
"I'm a mess."
"I've cleaned you up when you were covered in vomit."
Tony blinked. "Really?"
"You don't remember?"
"No, but now I wished I had." Tony relaxed as Pepper kept on lathering. With strong fingers, she massaged his muscles and he nearly melted under her touch. "Ah... this feels... this feels nice."
Pepper smiled a little at the fact that Tony was finally feeling better about his appearance. Then she remembered that conversation in the workshop. She felt a huge stab of guilt in her heart. She had to be honest with her boyfriend. "Tony, I'm sorry about the way I reacted to this."
"It's okay. You were shocked."
"Yes, I was, but it's not an excuse." Pepper kept on washing. Tony joined in with the front part. A few times, he coughed at the suds that kept on tickling his throat. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, fine. Just... this is a lot of suds."
"Good. It means you're clean." Pepper got out the detachable shower head and started to rinse him off. She noticed all the oil and grime going down the drain. He was starting to look better and smelled so much like cucumber from the shampoo. "Now, to dry you off." Pepper grabbed a towel. She glanced at the amount of hair and wondered if she needed a bigger towel.
"Ohhh... wait, I got an idea." Tony started to shake and water just splashed everywhere.
"TONY!" Pepper screamed as she shielded herself from the waterworks. "Look at me!" she huffed as she glared at him soaking from head to toe.
"It was worth a shot," Tony said as he gave off his puppy-eyed look again. It didn't help that he looked like a giant puppy.
"If you keep this up, I might go ahead and experiment with your hair... maybe a few curls... a few braids..."
"No. No braids. No curls. I'll behave."
"Good," Pepper dried herself off and grabbed a hair dryer. "Hold still," she ordered as she started to dry and brush Tony's long hair. Tony looked behind him to see her working with great precision.
"I didn't know you are an expert at this, Ms. Potts."
"I had a business washing and grooming dogs when I was a kid."
"Even as a little girl, you were a businesswoman."
"Unlike some people, I had to work for my money," Pepper said as she fluffed Tony's hair a little.
"Did you ever have to resort to selling matchsticks?"
"Only in the winter." Pepper finished the drying and turned him around. "There, all better." She stroked his cheek.
The two stared at each other and Tony grabbed her and hugged her. "Thank you," he whispered.
"It will be okay. I promise." She held him. After a long moment, they finally let go of each other. Tony slipped into some clothes that just happened to be there. "Tony, I... I overheard you talking with Rhodey about your plans to become a recluse."
"What do you think?" Tony dared as he stared at her in the eyes.
"I think it's crazy. People are going to ask questions even if you go out as Iron Man. They will wonder why you don't show your face. You might go crazy from the isolation and start doing stuff you will regret. But I won't force you to do something that you don't want to do." Her lips twitched. "Like I haven't succeeded before. We can wait for a while."
"Good. Because, I can't be Iron Man while I'm like this."
"Well... it's Rhodey's fault."
"Pepper won't leave you. Besides, are you sure that you can use that armor with all that hair?" Rhodey asked as he pulled Tony away from the car and held his shoulders.
"Of course I can." Tony marched up to the platform. "JARVIS, armor me up!"
The AI sighed and the armor slipped on his body. The first thing Tony noticed was how much more snug the armor was. He had designed it so that he could wear clothes under it but the extra hair was adding onto the bulk. "You okay?" Rhodey asked as Tony tried to step off the platform.
"Fine." Tony said winced. The sensors along the suit could go through clothing but the hair was never something that he thought of. The incredibly long hair and beard was crowding up his helmet and made him feel claustrophobic. "May... need some calibrations." He yanked off the helmet and took a deep breath. He boosted up his repulsors to test them out only for him to flew into a drum of oil.
"Tony!" Rhodey screamed as the robots started to pull Tony out of the drum. He was covered in oil. "You okay?"
"A lot of calibration." Tony sighed as the robots and Rhodey helped pulled off the armor.
"Oh Tony," Pepper shook her head. Being Iron Man meant more to Tony than anything. It gave his life purpose, helped me focus on helping the world. She didn't like Tony risking his life but he was happy.
"I know. I can fix the armor issue. Just a matter of adapting it to my condition. I might have to call myself 'Iron Shih Tzu'."
Her perfected poker face struggled to stay in place as she pictured a humanoid Shih Zhu dressed up as Iron Man. "Iron Shih Tzu?" She snickered as she put her hand on her stomach.
Tony just watched her with an apparent amused look in his eyes. She was normally so composed but now she was giggleing. He chuckled and then he laughed. Pepper lost control and joined him completely. "I needed that." Tony confessed as they finally stopped.
"Let's do something to get your mind off of this." Pepper suggested sweetly.
"Steel stinks as a superhero!" Tony screamed. He, Pepper, and Rhodey were sitting in the living room, watching a movie. Pepper remembered seeing this movie and felt that it was just about ridiculous enough to get Tony to not think about his situation. "A mugger... seriously? I took down a whole compound and escaped from a band of terrorists when I first built the armor. This guy took down a mugger. Woo."
"Tell me about it. He's so bland... gives black superheroes a bad name," Rhodey agreed.
"Are there any other black superheroes besides you?" Pepper asked from her seat right next to Tony. She was cuddled up against his furry and incredibly warm body.
"A few. Like this prince that hung around the Avengers." Tony said.
"Black Panther. Oh, I heard of this one bulletproof guy in Harlem. I think his name is Luke Cage."
"He named himself after Nicholas Cage?"
"Don't know. But he- He can't fly?" Rhodey screamed as he watched Steel running off.
"At least Black Panther is agile like... a cat. I'm serious. He's like a ninja, only African," Tony pondered. "You know, this could be a rip off of Iron Man; a weapons designer discovering his inventions are being used for evil and so he built a suit. That's me."
Pepper rolled her eyes. While she was glad that Tony was starting to get back into textbook narcissist mode, he could be so annoying. "This movie was made over ten years ago."
"Time travel. Kang's responsible for this."
"How can we prove it?" Rhodey asked. "Most people don't believe in time travel."
"I don't know but I have to call my lawyers."
"No." Pepper spoke up.
"But Pepper..." Tony whined.
"I'm serious. You will not call the lawyers about a movie made way before you decided to be Iron Man based on a theory about time travel!" Pepper argued. "It makes no sense and Steel will get free publicity."
All of a sudden, an alarm rang. "Avengers assemble!" Ever since Tony joined up with the Avengers, he got a special alarm that rings every time an Avenger needs help. It was a pretty cool alarm and it was much more better than seeing Fury's face every time he has a mission. Tony stood up and got ready to get to the workshop when he stopped and hung his head.
"I can't armor up." He realized as he stared at his hand.
"Hey, I'll go for you." Rhodey offered as he put his hand on Tony's shoulder, "My armor's here anyway."
Tony just closed his eyes and kept on staring at the floor. "JARVIS, transmit the information from the Avengers Assemble alert to the War Machine armor. Then, tell Captain America and the other Avengers that Rhodey's coming." He gazed at Rhodey. "Hank and Bruce know about my condition already so they'll support you." Tony looked to the side. "Just tell them that I can't make it and I'm sorry."
"Don't worry." Rhodey ran to the workshop and a few minutes later, War Machine flew past the windows. Tony and Pepper stood there for a long moment. Pepper took his hand in comfort and he leaned onto her shoulder. The film playing on in the background forgotten.
To Be Continued...
Chapter 4: The Road to Salem
By Marie Nomad
He flew over the city and landed on the stage. Everyone gushed and chanted 'Iron Man'. Tony bowed elegantly and then his armor vanished. The crowd gasped and Tony looked down to see himself naked and covered in a massive amount of hair. The admiring crowd screamed as they started to throw bottles and tomatoes at him. "Freak! Freak!"
"It's still me! I'm still Tony Stark! I'm still Iron Man!" Tony pleaded as he covered his face.
"I'm still Iron Man!" Tony woke up and breathed heavily. It dawned on him that it was all a dream. He had a horrible dream that he was covered in fur. He looked down to see that the huge amount of hair was still on his body. "Joy."
"Tony?" Pepper stirred beside him. "What is it?" she asked in a sleepy voice.
"Nothing, nothing at all. Go back to sleep."
Pepper collapsed back to sleep and Tony had to admire Pepper's ability to go to sleep at a drop of a hat. That was one of the things that had kept her sane through all the years of working for him. Tony gently stroked her long red hair. He wanted to make love to her so badly but he didn't know if his condition is contagious and that it would be very messy. It also didn't help that his manhood was buried in so much hair that he could barely see it.
After he woke up with the body hair, he was afraid that Pepper would run away from him. For a while, it felt like his fears were justified when Pepper just wouldn't get near him. Then, she just helped bathed him and made him feel somewhat human again. He needed her more than ever. He needed her to remind him that he was not alone.
He carefully got out of bed and into the bathroom. For a long moment, Tony stared at himself in the mirror. He still couldn't get over how different he looked. He could barely see anything that could show that he was Tony Stark. So far, his friends had been nice to him but he still felt so nervous. He wanted to just hide away in his nice private manor and not let anyone else see him. He wanted to just get drunk and forget everything but he won't do it. It would hurt Pepper and he couldn't do that again.
"Enough moping, have to try to clean up." He told himself as he picked up a razor and stared at it. He rolled his eyes as he put it to the side and then he got out a toothbrush. It took several minutes for him to figure out a way to wash himself without getting his beard messy. Finally, he slipped on his clothes and sat down in the chair. He could still remember last night.
Tony paced back and forth while Pepper just read. "Calm down, Tony. Everything will be fine."
"They never fought with Rhodey before. They don't have the same teamwork skills that they have with me. How can you be so calm about this?"
"I'm used to it. Besides, Rhodey is good as War Machine. He can fight."
"Sir, Colonel Rhodes is calling you." JARVIS interrupted.
"See? He's in trouble. Patch me though."
"Hey, Tony." Rhodey's voice was relaxed. "Captain America was awesome! Woo boy! That was fun!"
"So... everything was okay?"
"Yeah, it was fine. It was great! I'm going to hang out with them for a while. Later!"
Tony couldn't believe it. He thought that he was a vital member of the Avengers but he was disposable. He was thankful that Rhodey and his teammates are okay but he felt his stomach turned into knots.
"A dollar for your thoughts?" Pepper asked as she sat down beside him.
"Isn't that a penny?"
"Inflation and you didn't answer my question."
"I just feel... does the world need me or Iron Man? Rhodey did fine last night. He did great."
"Are you still worried about not being Iron Man anymore? You can adjust the armor."
"I don't know if I can. Ever since this happened, I feel... neutered. I don't want to stop being Iron Man. Being Iron Man is all that I'm really good at."
Pepper grabbed his beard and held it in her hands. "Listen to me, Anthony Edward Stark," For some reason, it turned him on when she used his full name. "you helped build the War Machine armor. After the Expo, you repaired it, improved it, and even gave it some Stark Weapons. The Avengers are used to fighting with an armored man. You weren't there in the battle but your presence was there. You helped them even if you are stuck here. Being Iron Man isn't about the armor. It was about your heart." She put one hand on his arc reactor. "In here, is all you need to be Iron Man."
Tony let that speech sink in. She was right. He did help out with the War Machine armor and he did give tech to the Avengers. "Ms. Potts, what would I ever do without you?"
"Get into a drunken bender and cause people to report sightings of a drunk wookie."
"You know me so well." Tony hugged her. "I love you."
"I love you too."
"Ah, such a sweet moment worthy of fairy tales." Dr. Strange said as he appeared out of nowhere.
"The hell!" Tony glared at him. "Where did you come from? JARVIS!"
"Why didn't you tell me that Dr. Houdini came in? Why did you let him in?"
"There is no one there, Sir."
Pepper and Tony looked at each other. "Did you see him?" Tony asked Pepper.
"I am not really here, I am astral projecting to tell you good news. I have found the one who had given you your curse! You must travel to Salem, Massachusetts and confront your curser!" Dr. Strange boomed.
Tony raised his hand and it went through the form. "Holograms."
"Fine, holograms." Dr. Strange rolled his eyes. "Anyway, meet me in Salem posthaste!"
"How can we get there!" Tony exclaimed. Dr. Strange just vanished. "Great. We can take the Stark Jet there but... how can I get through the airports without people seeing me?" Tony closed his eyes.
"We can get to the Stark Industries Hangar and we can tell the crew not to disturb you." Pepper said as she whipped out her blackberry and started to make the arrangements.
"But, people will still see me. I have to hide all this. Would people believe the fact that I'm going to a costume party?"
"Not even you are that eccentric."
"Okay, we have to find some good outfits."
"I can't believe you're going to Salem for a sports event and why are you bundled up like that?" Happy said as he drove Tony and Pepper to the Stark Industries Hangar just outside of LA.
Tony felt hot in his sports jersey, gloves, and hoodie. He quickly turned up the a/c in the limo. "You know me." He chuckled and then saw Pepper. She was dressed in a matching sports jersey with long sleeves and a ball cap. She was crossing her arms in a shivering way and so he turned down the a/c. He was nervous. He didn't want to leave the manor in his condition but he was desperate. Dr. Strange seemed so confident about finding his cure and he seemed to be capable of doing stuff that even his technology couldn't do. He wanted to learn all he could about Dr. Strange and how he kept managing to evade JARVIS' all seeing sensors.
Pepper took his hand and stared at him. He felt a little better. Pepper had been there for him. "Are you going to show Happy?" she whispered.
"I don't know."
"He would need to know."
"We'll wait until we reach the hangar. I don't want to cause an accident."
Pepper rolled her eyes and just sat back. Tony didn't blame her for feeling frustrated but he just couldn't face people looking like a yeti. He tried to think of his friends who had shape shifted. Bruce turns green but he had a different personality and he really didn't care. Janet looked like Tinkerbell but she was adorable. Logically, Happy could accept his new appearance but he just couldn't face his bodyguard.
Finally, they reached the hangar. Tony looked at Pepper and she urged him on. Sighing, he tapped on the glass between he and Happy. The glass rolled down. "Yeah, boss."
"I think I'm under a curse." Tony said as he removed his hoodie and glasses.
Happy's jaw dropped and stared at him. "Whoa... curses really exist?"
"Maybe, I'm kinda desperate."
"I'll do what I can to make sure no one sees this. Don't worry," Happy vowed.
Tony relaxed at the vow. "I appreciate it. Thank you."
"No problem, I've seen you worse than this."
Tony wondered what he meant but he didn't want to ask. He watched as Happy and Pepper teamed up and with astonishing efficiency, managed to get the crew away from the limo. If he didn't know any better, he could have sworn that they have done it many times before.
"Let's go." Pepper grabbed his hand and the two went to the jet. She closed the door and took a deep breath.
"Have you done this before, Ms. Potts?" He asked.
Pepper looked away and lied, "Once or twice."
Tony decided to not ask any more questions. He took off his hoodie and settled for a long fight.
Tony managed to get some rest through the trip. The Stark Jet has many accommodations that Tony had used over the years. It had a fully functional multipurpose bar, stripper poles, a burrito machine, a fully stocked kitchen, a hot tub made for eight people and every single game system with every possible accessory ever made. Despite all the luxuries, Tony was bored. He wasn't in the mood to do anything.
All he wanted to do was find this witch, see if this curse was real and if it was real get back to normal. "I had gotten a car with tinted windows waiting for us." Pepper announced as she and Tony wait for the crew to leave the plane so that they could leave. "It will take us about an hour to get to Salem. I called Dr. Strange, he had given me the address of the curse caster. He will wait for us there."
"Great." Tony's heart was pounding. He want Dr. Strange to be right so he could get back to normal. "Say, do you think this witch will forgive me? If this curse is real?"
"Apologizing doesn't hurt," Pepper advised. "All things considered, it could be a lot worst."
"You could have lost your lower reactor."
Tony winced as he looked down. "Oh yeah. That could be a hell of a lot worst. Anyway, if this woman turns out to be dangerous, use the card and get the Avengers here." He handed her his Avengers communicator.
Pepper accepted the communicator. "What about you?"
"I can take care of myself."
Pepper drove Tony towards Salem in silence. They were both anxious about what will happen next. For all they know, they were on some wild goose chase. But, if this witch was real, then she would be dangerous. Tony couldn't use his armor and he really didn't know anything about magic except with what he saw with Thor. Finally, Pepper pulled up to a small house in a suburban neighborhood. "This is it."
"Yeah." Tony sighed and then saw Dr. Strange standing on the sidewalk. He was dressed in a bright blue shirt with gold decorations on top, black pants, and a long cape that just stood up. "Oh great, he blends in so well." He said sarcastically.
"So says the man who flies around in a red and gold suit of armor."
"It was to protect it from sudden freezing." Tony excused as he opened the door.
"Greetings, I had been waiting for you," Dr. Strange said as he greeted the two.
"What are you wearing?" Pepper had to ask.
"It is my uniform. It shows my status as Sorcerer Supreme."
The two stared at him but decided not to say anything. Tony had seen Steve and Thor's outfits and they were a little odd themselves. "Okay... so, is this the witch's house? I was expecting something more... from The Craft not Betwitched."
"Yes, do not worry. I don't sense anything dangerous." Dr. Strange knocked on the door.
Tony tensed up as the door opened and revealed a tall pale woman wearing a sweater and jeans. There were bags under her eyes. She didn't look like a witch but a girl suffering from a very bad cold.
"Y-yes?" She asked.
"I AM DOCTOR STRANGE! SORCERER SUPREME OF EARTH! MASTER OF THE MYSTICAL! MIGHTIEST MAGICIAN IN THE COSMOS!"
The girl gasped and Tony put his foot forward to keep her from shutting the door. Instead, the girl bowed down on one knee and looked down. "Great Sorcerer Supreme! I am Wanda Maxwell of the Hallwells Coven. What brings you to my home?"
"This guy thinks that you put a curse on me."
The girl just stared at him. "Who are you?"
"Tony Stark," Tony said as he lifted his jersey and his long shirt to reveal his hairy belly and his arc reactor.
"Oh my Goddess! It really worked!" Wanda 's body shook and her eyes fluttered. "I... I..." She collapsed and Dr. Strange caught her.
"This is worse than I feared. Wanda, wake up." Dr. Strange reached into his cape and got out a wet rag. He dampened her forehead. "Do not worry, I am a medical doctor."
"I'm sorry. I've been feeling sick ever since yesterday."
Dr. Strange took her pulse and examined her face. "I knew it, the curse had drained her life force and made her ill. We must remove this spell now."
"I thought that could be it." Wanda stood up and gestured inside. "I'll show you the spell book I used. Mr. Stark, I'm sorry about doing this. I swear, I didn't know it would be this bad."
"Right, and you thought that a curse would be benign. It's okay. As long as you help me remove this spell, I'm fine," Tony scoffed. In reality, he wasn't mad at the girl. She was remorseful about what happened and she wasn't trying to stop them.
Wanda picked up a book from what looked like an altar. It was old with browned pages and a scary skull on the front. "I got this from ebay and it looked authentic."
"Wonderful! I am sick and tired of all these novice spell casters getting spell books from ebay! It causes nothing but chaos." Dr. Strange took the book and flipped to the bookmark. "Ah, the vanity curse..."
"Does it say how to remove it?" Tony asked hopefully.
"This is like most curses of old. According to this, you will suffer from this curse and Wanda will remain sick until you die."
To Be Continued...
Chapter 5: The Death of Tony Stark
By Marie Nomad
"Die? I thought you said this... this spell has a time set!" Pepper screeched at the top of her lungs.
"It does. Thankfully, there is a difference between dead and really dead. There is a very fine line but... it can be straddled."
Tony's mind worked as he tried to figure out the meaning to the doctor's words. He remembered that the medical wing of Stark Industries had been experimenting with artificial hibernation which involved people being frozen until they could be cured. Theoretically, their bodies stopped working until they would wake up. It dawned on him, "You're going to kill me. You will bring me back but first you will kill me."
"If your life force stopped, the curse think that it is no longer needed and end. We must do that if we want Wanda to get well."
"That's dangerous!" Pepper argued. "Tony's magnet is a huge unknown. Anything could happen; he could die and not come back. There must be another way. This is magic! Can't you just... magic this away?"
"Unfortunately, like the laws of nature, the laws of magic must be followed. This book created a curse in exchange for Wanda's life force. That is how the book was able to do real magic. We could have Wanda be put through clinical death but she is ill. Her body may not be able to handle a resurrection attempt."
Tony glanced at Wanda who was sitting on the couch looking guilty. He wanted to get better and there was no way that he could kill an innocent woman to get rid of a curse. "We have to do this." He looked over at Wanda and Pepper saw his look and sighed.
"Fine, but we have to get prepared."
"Sounds like that we have to do a clinical death through hypothermia. Your organs will slow down and stop while being preserved by the cold. The death doesn't have to be long, just a minute should do it. I have the equipment needed for this in my portable labs. I can be there right away. I'm taking Janet with me. She's my assistant and I need as much help as I can for this procedure." Dr. Pym said over the Avengers communicator.
Tony fought the urge to refuse. Finally, he decided that he had to put what was left of his pride away. "Okay, fine, you can bring her along. As long as she doesn't freak out about my appearance."
"She won't, trust me." Hank chuckled as he smiled slightly. "I still don't know if this is the best solution. Your arc rector would be damaged from this."
"I know I know. Pepper's worried too. Just come here."
"I'll be there in an hour."
"See you." Tony turned off the communicator and turned to the others. "He'll be here soon."
"Good. I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused," Wanda apologized again as she tried to get up only to get pale and she slumped down.
"Relax, my dear," Dr. Strange put his hand over her forehead. "We will fix this problem but in the meantime, try to remain calm."
"Yes, Sorcerer Supreme." Wanda closed her eyes.
Tony just stared at her. He knew that he had sex with her and left her like most of the women he had fun with in the past. How could a girl that seemed so innocent curse him for something he did several years ago? " Why did you curse me? Other than the obvious reason."
Wanda looked down, hurt. Pepper glared at him and Tony found the window to be fascinating. "It's not about that." Wanda whispered. "Yes, I was hurt when you left me alone in that bedroom but it wasn't like I was expecting more. You had a reputation and I understood that. It was fun and I regret it but that wasn't it at all."
"It's what you did to her." Wanda looked at Pepper. "She has been by your side for ten years. She has done who knows what for you and how do you repay her? You made her your CEO. Humiliated her at that party to make everyone think that you promoted her just because she has a hot rack. After the Expo, where she risked her life without any protection just to evacuate that place, you swooped in, hogged all the glory, and demoted her back to being your secretary! What you did to me, I'm okay with it. You didn't know me from Eve. But Pepper Potts was your loyal assistant! I wouldn't have it. That's when I found the curse and decided to just go ahead and make you feel like a dog!"
Tony had no idea that his actions had that effect. He didn't promote Pepper because he wanted to humiliate her but because he trusted her. He really hadn't thought of how those actions looked to others.
"It's not like that," Pepper defended. "Tony made some mistakes-"
"He blew up his house!"
"He was making things right."
"How?" Wanda moaned, "Did he give you a nice shiny car? Give you oodles of money? Batted his big brown eyes and plead forgiveness?"
"Well-" Pepper sputtered. She didn't want to give away the fact that she and Tony are dating. She also didn't want to give away the fact that he did give her a very nice car and lots of money.
"How could you even stay with him in the first place?"
"Child, please do not exhaust yourself." Dr. Strange ordered. Wanda stared at him. "It does not matter what Tony had done in the past. Right now, focus on staying well. Stress will not help you."
"Okay." Wanda laid down on the couch and closed her eyes.
Tony took Pepper's hand and gently led her to another room. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to make sure everything was okay with her. He might know a lot about robots and how to charm a person but he was still an amateur when it come to knowing how others feel. "I'm sorry."
"Tony, it's okay. Really, she didn't know any better. You were dying."
"But, it still didn't make it okay," Tony confessed as he held her hand. He was scared. He didn't want to die but he had no choice. He wanted to stay with her, be with her, be her knight rather than her beast. "You mean everything to me. What could I do to make things right?"
"When you go through that hypothermia, I want you to come back to me. That's it. Just come back to me."
Tony smiled slightly. "I will do that, Miss Potts. Don't worry, everything will be fine." They tenderly kissed. Unseen by the both of them, Wanda peeked in and sighed.
Janet Van Dyne was an odd woman. She was a superhero who can shrink down to fairy sized and still scare people at times. Tony knew Janet from the charity parties that he frequented and had tried to woo her but failed. He stopped after she managed to handcuff him to a pipe in his underwear. He was still wasn't sure how she did that. It probably was involved with booze. They worked past the awkwardness when they had to fight together.
Despite the fact that they were friends, there were times when Janet just surprised him.
"You're so cute!" Janet gushed as she jumped up and ran her hands through Tony's beard. "And so soft. Is that cucumber?"
"Janet please..." Tony pulled away awkwardly.
"I can't help it... you're so fluffy..." Janet started to braid Tony's long hair. "I wish I could keep my hair long but then it gets in the way."
"Janet, I need your help in setting up the equipment," Dr. Pym said as he grew to a larger size to move the furniture out of the way.
"Right. Right." Janet sighed as she helped him start setting up the equipment.
Hank looked at the electrodes connected to the sensors and then at Tony. "The excess amount of hair will interfere with the electrodes. I am going to have do something drastic." He reached into his bag and got out a syringe. "I created special nanomachines that will track your life signs."
"I hate shots," Tony muttered as he held out his arm.
Hank carefully searched Tony's skin for a good place. "You're about to be put into temporary clinical death and you're complaining about shots?"
"I always hate shots." Tony winced as Hank injected him.
Hank got out a device and held it up at him. The device beeped and showed various images. "Everything looks good."
"Will this stay in my body? I have enough gizmos in my body already."
"Don't worry, they will cycle out of your body though your digestive system in twenty-four hours."
Tony stared at the long device. It was a huge glass tube connected to wires and a massive computer consule at the front. "So, I am going to die. Actual death. But I will come back." Tony felt nervous, he was going to die and he wasn't sure if he will come back. He closed his eyes and steeled himself. He had to do this to get back to normal. "Strange, if this doesn't work and I die permanently, I am going to sue you for everything you have," Tony warned as he lay down into the tube.
"I had been threatened with worst," Dr. Strange said as he smirked. "May the Vishanti guide you and protect you."
"I want you to relax and breathe in the gasses. I want to sedate you before the hypothermia," Hank said from an intercom. "Count to ten."
"Got it." Tony looked at Pepper and whispered, "One, two, three, four...five...siiiix..." His eyes got heavy and he closed his eyes.
Tony felt himself floating with no substance, no body. He could see the stars above him and the earth blow him. Before his eyes, he could see the past flew by him. The colors looked brighter, air around him, cooler, and all his senses amplified to the point of near overwhelming him. It was peaceful, calm, and he felt like he was one with everything. All of a sudden, his heart hurt and he screamed.
Tony opened his eyes to find himself back in the tube. "Ohhh..." He looked at his hand, his nice not so hairy hand. "I'm back." He gazed at Pepper weakly. "Hi." He struggled to get up only for Hank to put his hand on his chest.
"Take it easy. We nearly lost you for a second," Hank said as he checked Tony's vitals. "How do you feel?"
"Like I died." Tony felt his face and it felt hair free except for his goatee and short brown hair.
"You're making bad jokes, you're definitely getting better." Pepper took his hand. She wiped her eyes with her other hand. What was it about her and crying when he ended up okay?
"I had a weird near death experience. I was one with the world in a very weird way.."
"That is normal," Dr. Strange confirmed as he double check Tony's vitals. "Although, most others would speak with dead relatives."
"How's Wanda?" Tony asked as he looked around.
"I'm better, thank you." Wanda raised her hand. Her skin was more full of life and her face just seemed fuller, healthier. Tony sighed in relief. That girl might have cursed him but she didn't deserve to get sick.
"This book will be locked away in my forbidden archives," Dr. Strange said as he put the book away in his cloak. "Something this dangerous must not remain in amateur hands. The book itself is needed to cast the spells, without it, the spells are merely fancy poems."
"Thank you, Sorcerer Supreme." Wanda bowed her head.
"Yeah." He owed the doctor for helping getting him back to normal. "Say, doctor, Stark Industries have been working with medical advances involving nerve damage. If we find anything that could fully heal your hands... can I call you?"
Dr. Strange's face lit up. "Of course! I may be a Sorcerer Supreme but I do stay up to date on technology."
Pepper and Tony sat on the plane exhausted. "What a day," Pepper muttered as she got out her blackberry to reschedule all the appointments back.
"What about me? I died today. Seriously, I never thought I would be so happy to lose so much hair."
"I know. Are you going to put up the runes that Dr. Strange suggested?"
"Maybe, it wouldn't hurt at least." Tony shrugged. "It could give the mansion some personality, besides JARVIS."
Pepper's head spun. "You know, just when we have to worry about terrorists, murderers, nut jobs who wear costumes and pretend to be gods and stalkers, now we have to worry about curses!"
"That's what you get when you work for me." Tony wrapped his arm around her waist. "Any regrets?"