[Just Stick to the Cards]
Little green men? He wrote along the edge of an already-full napkin. He hated to admit defeat, but even Jarvis was baffled by the device.
"It's unlike any technology in any data repository I can access," Jarvis had reported after first scanning it. "Even the molecular composition of the metal is, dare I say, not of this earth." The sleek, organic-looking piece of metal that fit cupped in his palm was not what he'd expected to find safeguarded in the heavily-armed compound he'd thought was the domain of some arms dealer trafficking Starktech.
"If you don't stop tinkering with that thing," Pepper had said that morning, chivvying him out the workshop and away from the device he'd been closeted with for three days, "you're going to make me crazy. Let Jarvis run more diagnostics. You go…" Her mouth twisted in an ironic moue, and her eyes danced with amusement, no doubt at having to actually tell Tony to "have some fun or something."
The club opening she mentioned sounded like a good idea; loud music precluded conversation, booze would be plentiful, and the women… maybe Pepper was right - too much work made Tony a dull boy.
Of course, once at the club, he was bored out of his mind. This used to be right up his alley, but tonight the lights and the clothes and the alcohol were little more than a garish smear across his senses. He said some hellos, downed a few drinks, danced with an incredibly vapid girl, and groused that the whole superhero growing-a-conscience thing was really fucking inconvenient sometimes.
He was about ready to bail when he spied the brunette at the bar: an artfully-tousled mass of dark hair, features that bordered on too sharp, but fit her face perfectly. She watched the writhing mass of bodies on the dance floor with an edge of predatory intensity. But it wasn't just that - she wasn't just watching the crowd, she was casing it.
Obviously, someone needed to keep an eye on her.
He sidled up alongside her barstool. Her soap or perfume smelled of some exotic spice as he leaned in close to be heard over the deep bass rumble of the music. "So, you come here often?"
The calculating look that had grabbed his attention vanished when she turned to him, her face now open and guileless, like someone had flipped a switch from evil to innocent. "First time," she said. A slight accent, nothing he could place. "But I think we have that in common," she gestured at the club's opening celebration banner over the bar. "Excellent opening line, however."
Tony shrugged one shoulder, offering her a slow, sly smile. "I'm a little out of practice."
Her answering grin was all bright teeth and glee. "I can hardly believe that, given your reputation."
"You know who I am."
She tossed her hair, leaning back and tightening her shoulders, which nicely emphasized the deeply cut neckline of her dress. It was a casual enough gesture, but Tony would bet good money this woman didn't do anything casually. "I've seen you on the television. In the shiny metal suit."
It wasn't just the accent he couldn't place - there was something about the cadence of her speech, too. "It's very shiny. Gold titanium alloy."
"Mmm, gold. I like gold very much."
"You have me at a disadvantage."
"I know." Again, that wide, bright cat-that-ate-the-canary grin. "Vala." She held out her hand and he grasped it, pulling it up to his lips: elaborately manicured nails, some sort of scented hand lotion or perfume, an expensive ring and bracelet, and enough calluses to break the illusion of indolence the other items attempted to cast.
"So, Vala, would you like to dance?"
"We could," she said, "or we could avoid all the pleasant but ultimately wasteful preliminaries" - she reached out, trailing the tips of her fingers across his cheek to his mouth, then dragging the pad of her thumb along his bottom lip - "and just have sex."
He was hard as a rock the second the words left that lush mouth of hers, and "Let's blow this joint," left his before his brain had really even processed whether or not the unexpected turn of events was a good idea.
"Really?" she said. "That seems a bit excess- Oh, you mean as in leave the building, not explode it."
Tony wasn't entirely sure that she didn't sound just a little disappointed. But then she had one hand curled into the crook of his elbow and the other trailed down his chest as she tucked herself in close against his side, coming to rest at his belt, index finger curled over the top of the buckle and shit, good idea, bad idea, whatever. It'd been a damn long time since he'd gotten laid.
She filled the drive back to his place with surprisingly knowledgeable praise for the sleek lines and speed of the Audi as her hand settled on his knee and inched up his thigh. When her fingers hit the seam of his crotch, right below the zipper, he (most emphatically did not) squeaked, "You know a lot about cars."
"I have a friend who likes them. A bit too much, if you ask me. Beautiful woman. Blonde, which you men here like so much, lovely legs… But, if she's not at work playing with a computer or some device, she's at home working on her cars. The woman spends more time with her vehicles and her experiments than she does real people." In a conspiratorial whisper, Vala added "She really needs to have sex more. I've tried to help, but the last time… well, she didn't speak to me for a week."
By this point old Tony was fully in charge, because it struck him as an excellent idea to suggest, "Maybe you should call her."
"I really don't like to share. But maybe I'll give you her number for later."
Tomorrow Tony was going to buy Pepper the biggest bouquet of flowers ever.
Vala had his jacket and shirt off before they were out of the foyer; his tie now hung around her neck. The reactor's glow scattered off the glitter dusted on her cheeks, and she'd accepted his scrambled-for explanation of, "Uh, pacemaker," with a quirk of her brow and a one-shoulder shrug.
On the stairs, trying to keep his footing as her fingers nimbly undid his belt and pulled it free with a loud snap, he said, "You're very-"
"Yes." Her grin was infectious. "I am." She hooked her fingertips over the waistband of his boxer briefs as she stretched up onto her toes to capture his mouth. He kept it slow, restrained, until with a growl of impatience she nipped hard at his lower lip. Laughing against her mouth, he let her in. Wet, soft, just enough tongue to tease.
Awkwardly hopping up the last two steps while he tried to stay in contact with said tongue, Tony grabbed the tie, tugging her into the bedroom and onto him as he collapsed back onto the bed. She settled her weight across his hips, her skirt riding up to cling around hers. When she rocked down against his dick, he said, "Not that I'm complaining or anything, but I think this would be a lot more fun with less clothing."
"Right!" She began to unbutton her blouse. Tony took advantage of her preoccupation with the tiny buttons and helpfully slid his hand up her along her back to unclasp her bra.
"Naughty boy," she said as the shirt came free; she flung it away, and the bra followed suit. "Didn't anyone teach you that a gentleman should keep his hands to himself?"
He cupped his hands around her breasts, pleased at the shiver that ran through her. "Didn't anyone tell you I'm not a gentleman?"
"An excellent point." She gave a pleased hum as he pinched her nipple, gently at first, but with more pressure as her sigh deepened into a moan. "I have to say that your attitude is quite refreshing. The people on this planet are so uptight about sex."
"Yeah, not much with the uptight here."
He watched her tongue slide along her bottom lip. She rummaged in the purse she'd dropped on the corner of the bed and triumphantly pulled out a pair of handcuffs. "Just how so?" She rattled the cuffs.
Between months of celibacy and the urgings of his dick to just get on with it already, Tony squashed the unease that shivered up his spine at the thought of being restrained. He took a deep breath and stretched his hands above his head. "You know," he said, "I am a very bad boy."
"My favorite kind."
He caught her nipple in his mouth and she leaned forward to secure him to the headboard. The metal cuffs were chilly against his wrists, and the click of them locking echoed loudly.
She kissed him as she eased back, slow and languorous, leaving Tony so hard it almost hurt when she settled her weight back on his hips, grinding the zipper of his pants against his dick. "Now, what exactly shall I-"
A sharp trill cut her off, and that lovely mouth twisted in a frown. "Oh bother," Vala huffed out in a sharp breath. Leaning over the side of the bed to fish through their discarded clothing, she came up with a cell phone and crawled back on top of him as she flipped it open. "I'm a bit preoccupied here." Her hand rested low on his belly, toying with the button on his fly. Tony groaned as she dragged her thumb down the length of his dick, but the pleasant pool of heat in the pit of his stomach evaporated when she said:
"Please, Daniel. Of course everything is under control. I have Mr. Stark right where I want him."
Tony stared up at the wide, gorgeous grin that probably should have worried him right from the start. Fuck. "Jarvis!"
Vala shook her head and with her other hand pressed the button on a small oval device Tony hadn't even seen her retrieve. The constant low hum of electricity vanished; everything went dark, leaving only the moonlight through the windows and the glow of the arc reactor to illuminate his plight.
Vala covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "Your little computer program is - Yes, I know we're on a time tabl- No- It's- Daniel. Oh, fine. Tell Sam she can start scanning." Vala flipped the phone shut and patted Tony on the stomach before shimmying backward to clamber off of him. "Sorry, darling. It's been so much fun, but duty calls."
Tony yanked at the cuffs. They clinked cheerfully against the metal headboard. "Who the hell are you?"
"Despite appearances to the contrary, I am one of the good guys." Vala shrugged into Tony's shirt when she apparently couldn't find hers. "Well, mostly. I do work for the good guys. And you have something the good guys need."
The armor? What would they need - "You want the device I found."
Vala clapped her hands. "Very good!"
"What is it?"
"Oh, it's just a very important piece of an alien device that we need to save your planet." She untangled her skirt, tugging it back into place around her hips. "Otherwise this would have been purely a very enjoyable social call." When she looked up and caught him staring, she asked, "What?"
"I'm surprised you actually told me."
"Oh, that." Yet another device appeared in her hand. "That's because all you'll remember of this evening is a pleasant blur and a frustrating case of blue gonads." She leaned over him and pressed her lips to his. "I promise that someday I'll pick up where I left off."
She pointed the device at him and Tony blinked twice into the bright light that strobed from it, until everything faded away.
"Tony? Tony, wake up!"
Head pounding, he squinted into the bright morning sun that streamed in the windows, and Pepper's glare.
"When I said get out for the evening I didn't mean drink yourself into a stupor. How did you get home? Please tell me you didn't drive."
Tony laid there, letting Pepper's recriminations wash over him. "Um, I don't remember." It wasn't exactly true. The woman, that he remembered. In bits and pieces, not enough to put together a clear picture, but her dark hair tangled in his fingers, that he recalled. And her mouth, wide and lush and hungry against his.
Pepper held up a lacy bra. "I take it you had a good time."
"I think so. Maybe?"
Pepper's gentle, mocking, "Tsk" boomed like a tympani in his head when he tried to sit up, so he slid back against the pillows. Something, something there… "Jarvis, what happened last night?"
"At 10:12 p.m. you and your guest arrived. At 10:35 p.m. your guest received a phone call and left. Do you require a detailed description of what happened in between?"
"Okay, I'm leaving," Pepper said when Tony announced, "Yes."
Tony and his guest's entrance the previous night came to life in the bay window, the image fuzzy with some kind of interference. Tony searched for any recognition, but nothing crystallized - only muted flashes of familiarity came through. The recording flickered out right before things got good, and picked back up with the woman, fully dressed (in his shirt, even) and speaking into her phone, standing next to the bed. She flipped it shut, kissed him, and sauntered out. "Switch to the external feeds, and what's up with the interference and that break in the recording?"
"I only have security footage from inside the house. There were a series of small power surges followed by an outage at 10:22 p.m. and the backup systems did not activate immediately. I'm afraid some of the sectors were corrupted and are unrecoverable."
"And you didn't think that was worth telling me about?"
"You were quite deeply asleep, sir, and there was no sign of immediate danger to activate my protocols to bring in further security."
"Right. What was she saying on the phone?"
A sweet, sure laugh echoed around him. "Of course, Daniel. I'm leaving right now." Tony watched his own slow measured breaths as she leaned down to kiss his cheek and tuck the blanket around his shoulders. "I do promise a purely social call, next time," she whispered in his ear before traipsing out of the room. The footage shifted with her down the stairs and out the door before it faded out, replaced by the bright blue of the Pacific.
Tony stared up at the ceiling, fingers drumming against the reactor casing. None of this was adding up. He was missing a variable. Missing-
Son of a bitch.
The mysterious device was where he'd left it. He picked it up, tested its heft, scrubbed the pad of this thumb against the cool metal that he couldn't yet identify. Tony set it on the imager. "Jarvis, scan it."
Jarvis sounded surprised. "It is not the same object. This is a fabrication."
"Tony?" Pepper stood in the doorway, watching him with a puzzled expression.
"It's a fake. I've been played. Somebody broke in here last night and stole the original."
"Broke in? You have a state of the art security system. How could-" Realization flooded her face. "Oh. Well. That's awkward."
"Me going out was your idea, remember?"
The accusation rolled right off her. "Bringing back company wasn't. You should cal4l S.H.I.E.L.D."
"Yeah, no." He picked up the fake artifact and bounced it in his hand. "I have no intention of explaining this mess to Fury. I have some pride left."
"What are you going to do?"
"Jarvis, run the clearest image we have of the woman through every facial recognition database you can hack into."
THREE MONTHS LATER
The representatives NORAD sent to ostensibly discuss incorporating SI tracking interfaces into some of their satellites were too motley a bunch to really be from NORAD: Two Air Force full bird colonels, a civilian social scientist of some sort, a big guy who did a pretty good impersonation of a zen master and a stunning brunette in a short skirt working over a lollipop with gleeful zeal and a sparkle in her eye.
Something about the brunette tugged hard at the back of his brain, but Colonel Carter was already off and running, and a few minutes later he wasn't thinking anything beyond trans-galactic stable wormholes and possible alien invasion and joint task forces between SHIELD and her unit, Stargate Command, under the umbrella of Homeworld Security.
Finally convinced that this wasn't some elaborate practical joke Fury was playing on him, Tony called for an adjournment to process the last two hours of information he'd been inundated with.
The brunette, Vala Mal Doran, followed him out of the room.
"It is a bit much all at once, isn't it?" She parked herself on the bench next to him. "Still, for all your literature about little green men and grand space battles, you humans seem quite surprised by the reality."
"'You humans'? You don't look much like a little green man." Tony looked her over, slow and sultry. "Are you hiding tentacles somewhere?"
"I was going to say you should know, but I'd forgotten that we didn't quite get that far."
Then it clicked. That grin - it was the same one that had graced the security camera image. "You..."
"Yes. Me." She scooched right up against him, hand settling high up on this thigh. "I believe, Mr. Stark," she said, "that we have some unfinished business to settle."