Sometimes Tony just wants to get away from the Avengers and be himself without feeling any pressure to either live up to their demands, or down to their expectations. Sometimes he just wants to be lost in a crowd of people too caught up in their own pleasure to recognize him, or to care who he is, if they do recognize him.
Also, sometimes Tony just wants to get blind drunk and dance with strangers. Jarvis obligingly offers details of various events. Tony settles on an event at the Sullivan Room mostly because they are going to have Beacon in the Dark UV body painters 'turning you all into glowing deco' and hey, he's got black clothes to be painted by pSyncUs and his own damn GITD goes with him everywhere, so he should be the life of the party. Right? For once he'll fit in.
And psytrance music sounds cool. Tony's mostly into the classics, like Black Sabbath, but hey, expanded horizons is always a good thing. And maybe there'll be someone to hook up with for the night. But not someone with red hair. Tony doesn't want to think about Pepper. He disappointed her again, by being himself, but he doesn't know how to be anyone else, doesn't want to be anyone else. So he's going to go to this club and have a fine time and damn them all for expecting him to be better, to be perfect. To be a hero. He's not. He never was.
Tony enters the club and immediately relaxes. It's dark, with huge stars and pop art shapes glowing in fluorescent colors dangling from the high ceiling. The people move in the not really random swirls of chaos patterns below, black shapes picked out by glowing purple where they have white clothing, other colors where they have naked flesh painted, or black clothes painted. It's hard to tell the shirtless painted folk from the painted shirt folk. The bass rhythms sync pleasantly with the pulsing of his arc reactor. He peels off his shirt and has his chest painted in blue tiger stripes all centering on the reactor. The painter is smoking something that doesn't smell like tobacco. People are drinking and in corners they're making out, and probably doing other drugs besides weed. No one here gives a shit who he is.
He pays the painter and wanders onto the dance floor. He feels as if he's underwater surrounded by tropical fish, and he's one of them, for once, a fish in his element, no better or worse than them. Older than most of them, but probably not wiser. So he drinks whatever he's offered, and dances with any warm body willing to put their hands on him, their lips against his, sharing breath scented with strange things with him. The rhythm is in his mind, soothing, covering all the jagged edges of random ideas, dreams, ambitions, that crowd his mind all the time. His body is moving and he's not thinking, not worrying. He's fairly sure he's mostly having a contact high, but even if someone's slipped him a roofie, he's not worried about it. Not worried about anything. He's Tony Stark. He's Iron Man. He's goddamn invulnerable. Nothing hurts him. No one hurts him. He doesn't need anyone.
He finds himself out in an alley, with a woman pressed against him, kissing him. She's young but definitely mature, and her hair is a snow-white teased mass that glitters under his hands. It's unreal. He wonders if she's a Goth, but she doesn't seem quite like that, judging by her lack of makeup and jewelry. She's wearing a long black dress with far too much material. It bunches under his hands, gets in his way. "You're pretty," she says.
Tony grins. "You're drunk." He runs his hands through her hair. The strands crackle and lift, which is interesting. He hadn't noticed any static electricity in the club, or anywhere, really. He's thinking about humidity and electrons. "You'll be sober in the morning, and I'll be ugly."
She laughs and traces patterns around the arc reactor. "Maybe. And maybe I like ugly things. Maybe I think they're special. Maybe I think they're magic."
His chest is tingling and there are blue sparks between her fingers and his skin. This is interesting. He wonders if it's really happening. And then she kisses him again and her breath tastes different, like sulfur and ozone and even has a hint of butyl mercaptan. He gags and tries to pull away, but she's strong and his muscles aren't working and he's sliding sideways against the wall and down to the ground and oh, fuck, it hurts.
"Oh. You're still pretty. Well, never mind. I like you anyway." She leans down and picks him up. Her face is huge, and her eyes are green, so green, glowing like fungus in a cave in Afghanistan. He screams and bites her nose. She shouts and throws him. He hits against the wall, and is stunned for a moment, and then he sees her shoes, pointy black shoes, coming at him. He rolls and there's a hole and he falls into it and lies there, panting as she screams and kicks the wall.
"DAMN IT! Now I have to go find another familiar!"
He lies there for a long time after the sound of her footsteps fades away. He puts his hands to his head... but... they're not hands. He looks in horror at neat little white paws, with long, slender toes and clean sharp nails at the ends. Oh, God, I hope I'm drunk. Really, really drunk. He curls his tail around himself and hopes to either wake up or pass out.
After a while he sighs, a squeaky sound in his own ears, and edges out of the hole. The alley looks enormous. And he's so fuckin' tiny. But he's still Tony Stark, and he's not going to cower in a damn rat hole. He walks out slowly, getting the hang of coordinating two sets of legs and keeping his tail from dragging in the muck. He may be a rat, but he's not a dirty rat. To make matters worse, his vision is different. Anything more than a few feet away is blurry, and his depth perception is shot to hell. Well, it's not as if he's going to be driving, is it? He sticks close to the wall, it feels safer. When he gets closer to the street he tilts his head up to check the traffic light. Great. He can't see red. Fine, wonderful. He climbs a pole and hits the pedestrian crosswalk button with his nose. OW.
Traffic stops and he runs across the road before someone can decide to ignore the light, and turns him into road kill.
It takes hours, and his feet are killing him by the time he reaches Stark Tower. Two cats, an owl (and WHY do they allow owls in New York City, damn Central Park), several disgustingly large and shaggy black rats, and a stray dog have all had a go at him and he is FUCKING fed up. He sits in a shadow near the main door. He's going to get in, get to his computer, figure something out. As soon as SOMEONE opens the damn door. He's so tired. He pulls his tail tight and closes his eyes, just for a moment.
"Hey there little fellow!"
Tony squeaks in alarm as a hand snatches him up, holding him by the neck so he can't bite, can't squirm loose. He's panicking, when he suddenly realizes that the voice is familiar. "BRUCE!" well, he thinks he's saying Bruce, but what comes out is "SQUEAK"!
"You're a cute little fellow. What are you doing out here? Your wild relatives will eat you for breakfast." Bruce moves his other hand to hold Tony from underneath, letting his feet support him. "Don't bite me."
Tony sniffs and shifts uneasily, but stays still, except for the twitching of his whiskers. "Fine, think I'm a pet, just, please, please, bring me inside."
Bruce rubs the back of Tony's neck. "I should turn you in at the animal shelter. I'm sure someone would give you a good home."
Tony's nose twitches. He can smell that Bruce doesn't really believe that. Tony's pride has already taken a beating tonight, so it doesn't hurt too much for him to sit up and fold his paws under in a begging pose and widen his eyes as much as possible. And no, his eyes are not beady. For a rat, he has quite large and handsome eyes --and yes, he did stop to check himself out in a shop window mirror. He's sleek, glossy black with snow-white legs and belly, and has white fur where his eyebrows and beard used to be. He's a fucking GORGEOUS rat, not the kind you dump at the pound.
Bruce laughs. "Well, I can't have a dog, but I don't see why anyone would mind if I keep you." He puts Tony on his ground and lays his open hand near. "Your choice, Mr. Rat."
Tony climbs back onto Bruce's hand. "I will never make fun of your softheartedness again, Bruce. Probably."
And then of course, Bruce spoils it once they reach his room by making a cage out of an old-fashioned computer casing and sticking Tony inside along with a few baby carrots, half a slice of bread, a spoonful of yogurt on a jar lid and a small bowl of water. Tony is insulted. And eats it all. Well, it's been a long night. After a while he gives up gnawing on the plastic casing and curls up with his tail over his nose and dozes off. He hates magic.
Bruce goes out the next morning and comes back with a large wire cage which Tony thinks is a definite improvement over his previous quarters. Mostly because the door is a simple latch, not like the heavy piece of metal grating Bruce had put over the opening on the computer case. If he can just have five minutes alone, he can get out of here. It's getting the five minutes that's difficult. If he had any idea that these big, bad, brave Avengers were such suckers for small animals he could have mocked them with baskets full of kittens.
Still, it's rather nice having Captain America hand-feeding him something Bruce calls 'Regal Rat'. Captain America's hands are large enough for Tony to comfortably sit on, but they're very gentle when they rub his ears and along his back. He really isn't terribly surprised that Cap and Bruce are such softies, but when Clint sneaks in to try to get Tony to jump through a little hoop... now that is a surprise. He goes along with it, because, hey, he's bored. Thor arrives with of all things, a miniature bed made out of soft leather and stuffed with cotton. He mutters something about helping Loki take care of his pets and he talks to Tony for a long time about Loki while letting him climb all over Thor. And then Natasha appears just when he's alone and contemplating making a break for it. She picks him up and whispers things that maybe were in Russian and then she puts him on her shoulder, with her hand hovering in case he was feeling suicidal. Which, no. He sniffs her hair, it smells nice. Then he moves along her shoulder and looks down her bosom. He'll probably never get another chance at that. She laughs and strokes his back and gives him a shelled Brazil nut before putting him back in the cage.
And she shuts the damn door. Tony gets out of the cage immediately, but he can't fit under the door. Great. Bruce doesn't have a computer in his room. Tony morosely investigates and the only thing he finds that's any use at all is a keychain Rubik's cube. It's not easy, but he twists it until there's a 'T' on one side and an 'S' on another, and then he puts the cube inside his cage on top of the gourmet salt and mineral block that Bruce got for him. Bruce comes back and sees the cube. Tony sits up and puts a paw on it, posing dramatically.
"Well, how did that get in there? You don't want to chew on that, plastic's bad for you." Bruce takes the cube and gives Tony a piece of flavored balsa wood. Tony curses, and Bruce laughs at his squeaks.
The next day Bruce hulks out and leaves the door open. Tony takes advantage of his opportunity to scamper out of the room, but when he climbs up the power cord to get to the computer, he unplugs it. And he can't open any of the laptops. And all the phones are shut in drawers too heavy for him to open. Tony sulks under his desk until the cleaning staff come in and their chemicals make him sneeze. Then he's chased around the place with brooms and mops until he dives into Clint's quiver to hide. It smells like wood and birds and leather. Rather comforting, actually. He dozes off again.
Bruce is back to himself in the morning, but except for a brief moment of guilty wondering if he's squashed Blacky when he hulked out (Tony can't believe he chose such an unimaginative name) no one is concerned about a missing rat, because they've finally noticed that they're also missing one Tony Stark. And really, they didn't even notice. Pepper is here and demands they produce him because he's not answering his phone. She must need him for some baby-kissing board meeting or press conference or other. Can't be for signing anything, Pepper can sign his name better than he does, she only lets him sign things in order to make him feel useful. And since she's mad at him, she's doing all the signing herself.
Tony's listening to her getting louder and more shrill and now, she's shouting at Captain America for losing Tony. He would have paid good money to see that. He would climb out of the quiver to look, but he can't focus that far away.
"Go out there and FIND HIM! ALL OF YOU!"
Tony winces and then he squeaks when the quiver gets picked up. "What the hell?" Clint says and pulls out all the arrows. Tony comes with them, clinging to feathers and squeaking indignantly.
"Blacky," Bruce says at the same moment Pepper says "Tony!" Clint is wildly shaking the arrows, trying to knock Tony off, but that makes him pause a moment. Tony leaps off and heads for Pepper, because hey, it's Pepper even when she doesn't like him.
"Tony, what have you done now!" Pepper picks him up and brings him close enough to her face that he can see she's crying.
"I'm sorry, Pepper. Please. Don't cry. You'll... get my fur wet." Tony is never very good at talking to Pepper, so squeaking unintelligibly probably isn't any worse.
"That can't be Mr. Stark," Captain America says. "It's too well-behaved, for one thing."
Tony squeaks indignantly as he manages to fold down most of the 'fingers' on his right paw to give the Captain the bird.
Bruce blinks and then he shrugs. "Well, obviously it's not a gamma ray induced mutation."
"This is not Loki's doing," Thor says. "I would recognize my brother's magic."
Pepper says, "I suppose Tony found another magician to annoy. Do you know how to get turned back to normal, Tony?"
Tony's neck isn't built for shaking but he can still shrug.
"Well, we'll try the old standby." And then Pepper kisses him. And nothing happens. Pepper sighs. "Come on, we'll have to find Doctor Strange."
Tony squeaks affirmatively, and licks his whiskers. Pepper's kiss still smells good.
Doctor Strange doesn't notice at first that Tony's a rat. But then, he's Strange. He makes Tony drink something that tastes absolutely awful, and then he does a few flashy hand gestures and makes up some words to shout and look dramatic. And poof, Tony is himself again, shirtless, and with blue tiger stripes around his arc reactor. He accepts Tony's Visa card and goes off to run it through his machine after getting Tony's insurance information. (After all, he's a doctor.)
"Right," Pepper says briskly, "Board meeting tomorrow at nine a.m." She gives Tony a look. "Don't make me track you down again." She turns to leave.
She stops with her back to him. "What is it, Tony?"
"How did you know it was me?" He walks up close to her.
"And why did you kiss me? I thought... that was... you know, only true love is supposed to break spells."
Pepper turns and she's crying again, but this time silently. "Sometimes true love isn't enough."
Tony touches her cheek. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was a rat, Pepper."
Pepper laughs and chokes on it, and then she puts her arms around him.
This entry was originally posted at http://feng-shui-house.dreamwidth.org/12