A Change in Scenery
A Change in Scenery
by Drake Pendragon
Chapter 1 of the Genius Curse
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Everything (meaning AtS) that is Joss Whedon’s is Joss Whedon’s. Everything (meaning Iron Man) that is Marvel’s is Marvel’s. I just tinker like a mad scientist.
Posting: I have only posted this story to Twisting the Hellmouth, nowhere else.
I stood in the living room of Tony Stark’s Malibu….home? I’m not sure what the right term would be, besides castle. A blank white wall sat in front of me. I don’t know why it puzzled me so much, it’s not like every kazillionaire needs to cover every square inch of his….castle in artwork.
“Ms. Burkle?” JARVIS asked.
“Hmm, yeah?” I replied to the A.I., still staring at the blank wall and trying to ascertain its purpose. Other than as a wall, I mean.
“Ms. Potts shall arrive in a minute or so. Would you like me to open that window for you?” he asked.
It was a window! Oh. “Thank you, JARVIS,” I replied. The metal plating retracted to reveal the beautiful Malibu coastline and the expansive Pacific Ocean. I don’t know why I didn’t partake of this view the last time I was here. I blushed at the memory of what I was partaking in, instead.
The pneumatic door hissed open behind me and I heard the sound of high heels clicking against the tiled floor. “Ms. Burkle?” the woman asked.
“Yes?” I asked. I turned around and gave her my best friendly smile that I could. I recognized her from a picture on Tony’s dresser as Ms. Virginia “Pepper” Potts. She gestured to the wrap around couch for us to sit.
“My name is Virginia Potts, and I am here as Mr. Stark’s PA to interview you before you assume the role of research and development partner alongside Tony Stark,” Ms. Potts said.
“Alright,” I replied. I noticed some of my old Texan drawl came in my speech just then.
“Let’s start with something simple, to break the ice,” Ms. Potts said. “You’re name is Winifred Burkle and you were born August 9, 1979?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied. I spotted the teeny camera on one of the buttons of her dress. One would assume she was having JARVIS analyze my reactions to see if I was telling the truth. I don’t know why I was so nervous. Ms. Potts has been nothing if not cordial to me in the few things she had said so far. I guess it was the hint of coldness in her green eyes. She kept smoothing out her grey dress as if she was the one being interviewed. A brown lock of my own hair drifted into my vision. I pushed it back behind my ear. Apparently, my sloppy bun was too much so.
“Ms. Burkle. This is interview will seem odd at best. I’m not going to go over you’re qualifications to be Mr. Stark’s partner, since Tony wouldn’t have chosen you if he didn’t think you were qualified. Instead, this interview is going to establish whether or not I can trust you with him. Stark Industries and Tony’s side work is purely proprietary technology, so I need to determine if you are a security risk,” Ms. Potts told me.
I took a deep breath and smiled. I had nothing to hide. Well, except the five years spent in a hell dimension and all that pertaining to it and my life since. “Okay,” I responded. My voice was nervous and shaky.
“Ms. Burkle, how did you meet Tony Stark?” Ms. Potts asked me.
That was a quite simple answer. “He crashed through my wall,” I replied simply.
Ms. Potts gave me a confounded look. “He did what?” she asked.I was in my old room at the Hyperion Hotel, staring at the painted walls like I was possessed. It was almost like I could see my crazed drawings under the layers of paint. I know I could feel them at that moment. It had been two years since Angel rescued me from Pylea. Two years since I came back from Hell. Everyone had just kept moving in those two years. I never had a chance to sit back and let the crazy set back in. The gang thought I went crazy from being in Pylea, which of course, is partially true.
My real insanity is inaction. Five years with nothing to do that would keep me sane. Well, since the dust settled on the Jasmine issue, I’ve had nothing to do. I was feeling that crazy building just under the surface again. My brain needed exercise. I needed a problem to work on. I knew there was a piece of red in my nightstand. I could feel it calling to me. I could start inventing again. I had my canvas: these four walls, and if I needed it, the ceiling.
I suppressed that notion. I had successfully hid the Genius Curse from everybody from two years. Last thing I needed them to do was come home and find out that wispy Winifred Burkle was a mad scientist if left to her own means. I hid that from Gunn so well that it would break his heart if he saw me at my weakest moment. I walked over to my window and stared out at Los Angeles for some kind of sign. I laughed at that. Signs didn’t just fall out of the sky.
The universe has always mocked me. That night, my sign did fall out of the sky. I watched a red and gold figure plummet towards the ground. It seemed to be flailing about quite a lot. That is to be expected of course, human’s always try to fly when they can’t. Energy blasted from the figure’s feet and hand and rocketed upwards again. He reached around the height of the Hyperion with the thrusters on both his hands and one foot went out. He flipped around until the other three activated again.
That was my only warning to get away from the window. I dove onto my bed and rolled off onto the ground on the other side. The figure in red and gold armor broke through my wall and crashed to the ground.
His golden face plate held two rectangular slits (which would give the appearance of eye holes, but by the fact that there was teal light coming from them, it was for show. The helmet must have a heads-up-display on the inside to show what is in front of the wearer.) It disengaged with a pneumatic hiss and slid upwards.
I cautiously moved over to the figure and saw a handsome man with a pirate style mustache and goatee. His blue eyes were unfocused and drifted around the room. They finally settled on me and knelt down next to him. “Maybe you should make sure your engines fire consistently before you try to fly,” I told him.
“Right. It’s only a wiring issue,” the man said. He sat up slowly and looked around.
“Try segregating your wires more. It eliminates the energy bleed between lines,” I said.
“That’s exactly what I was going to do,” he said. He looked at me curiously. “But how did you know that?”
“Elementary electrical engineering,” I replied.
“That’s the reasoning behind insulated wiring. How did you know that was my issue?” he asked.
“You’re engines restarted every time you hit them, but that also shut them off a few times,” I said.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Fred, what’s yours?” I asked.
“Tony,” he said. He extended his armored hand to me, which I took and shook. Took and Shook, that rhymes. Tony’s right foot shot off an energy pulse that caught my carpet on fire. I pulled away from his hand like it was poisonous.
“Turn your suit off, for crying out loud! I don’t want you blasting me with those things!” I exclaimed. I grabbed the blanket off my bed and beat out the fire with it.
“If I turn it off, then I have no mechanical advantage and I have to move the suit myself,” Tony explained.
I rolled my eyes at him and let out a derisive sound. “I figured as much. But I’d prefer you with mobility issues than me with melted bones,” I replied.
“I’d prefer the ability to move,” Tony said. I scoffed.
“I’m so glad you care about the state of matter my bones are in,” I said dryly. “Can’t you just turn off the thrusters?”
“Not without tools,” Tony said.
I glanced at his hands and feet. I had the appropriate tools to access his tech in the basement. “I got a small lab in the basement of this building. Can you walk down there without blowing up said building?” I asked.
“I think so,” Tony said. The thruster on his foot fired again. I grabbed the blanket and put out another fire.
“Stand up, then deactivate your suit, now. I don’t care how long it takes you to walk down there,” I demanded.
Tony stood up and gave me a lopsided smirk. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. He took off his helmet and powered down his suit.
“This way,” I told him, walking to my door.
“I was in my room in the renovated hotel I lived in, just staring out the window when a red and gold guy flailed through the air and took out my wall. His foot repulsor proceeded to set my carpet on fire, twice,” I explained.
Ms. Potts shook her head. “Next question: Ms. Burkle, why did Tony choose you to be his partner? I’d like to point out he’s never had one before; not even a lab assistant,” Ms. Potts said.
I shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe it’s because I guessed his favorite type of coffee?” I asked. I didn’t know why he wanted me to be his partner.
Ms. Potts sighed and ran her hand over tightly pulled back red hair. “That would be my job, not a partner in research & development. So, let me rephrase the question: what did you do to show that you are competent to work with him?” Ms. Potts asked.Tony was sitting on my table in a tight, blue and black jumpsuit next to his deconstructed ‘Iron Man’ suit. He was studying the wiring in the right leg that kept catching my floor on fire. “You sure you don’t want another set of eyes on that?” I asked.
“No, I’m quite sure that this is beyond simple college level education,” Tony said. I glowered at him.
I picked up the glove and popped the seal on it. It was more than a wiring issue, he had an amplification issue. The crystal lens that fed into the repulsor array wasn’t secured proper. “I’m surprised you didn’t blow yourself up,” I commented.
Tony looked up at me with a look of shock, horror, and a little more shock. “Don’t touch that,” he said.
“Just hold on,” I said. I picked up a tool and fused the crystal lens in place. I grabbed the insulators that I had set out and segregated the wiring. “Done.”
I tossed the glove to Tony and he inspected it. “What did you do to the amplification lens?” he asked.
“I secured it,” I replied.
“That’s it?” he asked.
“Well, I had a few other ideas, but you were all needy,” I said.
Tony put the glove down next to him. “Like what?”
“Adding another layer of crystal, doubling the distribution channels, shielding the exit port, and adding a thin glove of de-ionized gel to prevent backlash,” I listed off the top of my head.
“Impressive. I retract my statement of college level education,” Tony said. He tossed me the glove again. “Get to work.”
“You’re joking, right? I can design that for you, but I don’t have the means to do that here. The most I can do for you is making it so you can safely fly home,” I said.
“I could tell by the level of equipment in your lab. Get drafting,” Tony said.
I made a derisive noise. “You’re telling me you couldn’t figure this one out yourself?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t be asking you to design it for me if I could do it myself,” Tony replied.
“Alright then,” I said. I grabbed a pad of paper off my desk and started sketching.
“I guess it was when I designed improvements to his gauntlet design and he admitted he couldn’t figure them out himself,” I told Ms. Potts.
“That’s ridiculous, Tony never admits to anything like that,” Ms. Potts replied.
“I swear that’s what he told me, Ms. Potts,” I said.
“Moving on, I have here in your file that you were offered a position at a law firm called Wolfram & Hart as the head of their physical sciences division. It also says that your former employer is the current CEO; three of your former colleagues hold positions of importance. Why didn’t you take that job?” Ms. Potts asked.
“Mr. Stark offered me the job before Angel did. 67 minutes earlier, in fact,” I said.
“And how did Tony offer you this position?”
“Uh, verbally?” I offered, not knowing exactly what she meant by that.
“How did the offer come up?”Tony looked over the sketches I handed him. His eyebrows weren’t coming down from his hairline. “I’m prepared to pay you handsomely for these,” he said.
My nose crinkled up in disapproval. “What if I don’t want your money?” I asked.
“Then, I don’t know. I have two offers for you: Dinner with me or employment as my R&D partner,” Tony said.
It was my turn for my eyebrows to rise. I cocked my head to the side in confusion. “So, either its dinner with you that I’m assuming would end up in a nice bed and then we part ways or I become your lab partner,” I clarified.
“Well, yes. Those are my offers if payment isn’t acceptable,” Tony said.
Part of me was greedy. I was kinda hoping for the dinner and the job, but I wasn’t going to mention it. “I’ll take the job,” I said. I really didn’t have anything here anymore. Everything was full of bad memories.
“Great. Shall we celebrate by going out to dinner?”
I could help the smile that came to my lips. “Okay,” I said with a slight giggle to my voice. I couldn’t help it, he was damn charming.
“I’ll just fly home, now that we fixed my suit, and drive back here to pick you up. It should only take an hour.”
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Malibu,” Tony replied.
“Not too far away at all,” I said.
“He offered me payment for the designs, but I didn’t want his money. So, he offered me a veiled one-night-stand or a job as his partner,” I said.
“I’m surprised you didn’t take the one-night-stand,” Ms. Potts commented under her breath.
“It was tempting,” I admitted.
“I’m sure, Ms. Burkle. Though, I did happen to notice that Jarvis greeted you when you entered the house today. Have you been here before?” Ms. Potts asked.
I felt the hot blush rush to my cheeks. “We, Tony and I, had a celebratory dinner after I accepted the job. I believe we had too much to drink,” I cautiously said.
“Of course. I haven’t found a woman able to resist him, Winifred,” Ms. Potts said.
I stayed silent after that. I realized that Ms. Potts essentially told me that she had been to bed with him too. “I’m not a bad guy, Ms. Potts,” I said meekly.
“Please, call me Pepper,” Ms. Potts said. “I believe that you’ll to fine around here if you can accept Tony’s level of crazy.”
“I’m more worried about him accepting mine,” I admitted.
“He’ll ignore it and keep working. But if you want someone to talk to, you can always talk to me when I’m not
running around, cleaning up his messes,” Pepper said.
“Thanks,” I replied.
“Come on, let’s get you situated,” Pepper said. We stood up and walked out of the room towards the lab, my new work space.
End Chapter 1