Tony Stark was used to the bizarre, the unusual, the unexpected. Given how often he himself was the source, it seemed only natural that he had an innate flexibility to adapt to new and unexpected situations.
Pepper too, had a fair share of contingency to her makeup, and could generally be counted on to cope with whatever can and did pop up in the course of working for an eccentric billionaire genius.
That being said, neither one of them truly had a grasp on the situation when a fully grown bull moose wandered down the garage ramp and into the workshop.
As Tony admitted later, it really wasn’t one of those things people expected, particularly in Malibu.
*** *** ***
The moose stood seven feet at the shoulder, and was covered in shaggy fur that held a piquant bouquet of moose-y sweat, green grass and sun-warmed road apples. His rack—an impressive pair by anyone’s standards—spanned a good four feet from tip to tip, and filled more of the air space in the garage than Tony liked.
Point in fact, the entire moose filled more of the garage than Tony liked. He stared, wide-eyed at the creature, hoping this was just a caffeine-induced hallucination, and yet knowing by smell and sound that the genuine article, Alces alces, was in fact, in the house.
As if to emphasize the point, the moose clopped closer, sniffing the air, big nostrils fluttering open like torpedo vents on the front of a submarine. Tony immediately backed up, dropping his laser and burning a hole in his right sneaker. He said a bad word as the scent of smoldering canvas drifted up. Dummy rolled over, CO2 at the ready, and the sound of his gears made the moose turn his massive head towards the robot.
“Dummy, stop,” Tony ordered in as loud a whisper as he dared. “Unless you want to get Bullwinkled, just stop where you are.”
Dummy did, camera swiveling to look at the moose. Scan completed, Dummy gave a worried chirrup and slowly began to back up, little dismayed clucks coming out of him. The moose twitched his tail, eyeing Dummy in return.
Tony wondered what to do. As he did, he stared at the moose, noting the broad shoulders, the long, slender legs, the gigantic presence the thing had. It dawned on Tony that a taxidermy trophy head on a wall never gave you the true, full impression of the massive bulk that had been behind it in life. Mooses, he decided, were damned big animals.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony noted Pepper, descending the stairs behind the glass wall to the garage, and he tried to catch her eye; tried to shake his head, but since she was focused on her Blackberry, it was too late. As the glass door clicked open, she stepped through, already speaking. “—Tony, you have a two o’clock appointment with Nadine Brown about thatOHMYGODAMOOSE!?”
The sound of her squeaky panic made the moose start a bit; he backed up a few steps, swinging his head towards this high-pitched potential threat, ears waggling.
Tony sidled towards her, trying to move slowly. “Yeah, it’s a moose. Don’t ask; he came down the ramp a few minutes ago. I’d like to state for the record that I’m completely open to any ideas on how to deal with this.”
“Uhhhhh . . .” Pepper stalled, eyes wide as she stared.
Tony couldn’t really blame her, and gave his PA a moment to adjust.
“Tony, what is a MOOSE doing down here? Oh God, please tell me this isn’t something . . . something kinky--!” Pepper whimpered, fingers clutching her Blackberry tightly.
“No,” he protested, matching her urgent whisper, “ Oh come on! Look, I know I’ve experimented with a lot of things, Miss Potts, but endangered American wildlife is NOT one of them!”
“O-kay, fine . . .” Pepper murmured, faint disbelief in her voice, “But . . . they’re not endangered.”
Tony paused a moment. “Really?”
“Really,” Pepper whispered back.
There was another long pause as they stood side by side, staring at the moose, who seemed content to stare back at them.
“Cite your source, Potts,” Tony shot her a sidelong glance.
“Discovery Channel documentary,” Pepper assured him, adding, “So . .what’s it doing here?”
The moose shifted his weight, and turned a little, his actions making it clear that he considered the weird things with wide eyes and hissy whispers to be pretty much non-threatening. With a stretch of his neck, he moved towards the Lamborghini, intent on sniffing it.
“Not the car, not the car . . .” Tony muttered, pain in his voice. The moose nibbled the antenna, decided it didn’t taste very good, and made his displeasure known. A sudden stream of yellow amber splashed along the concrete in a loud gush.
“He’s peeing!” Tony yelped. Pepper prudently lurched backwards, pressing up against the glass in an attempt to save her shoes. Tony danced away from the long tendrils of fluid rolling along the cement towards him. “Jesus!”
The odor was pungent, to say the least, and Tony suspected he’d be stuck with the scent of annoyed moose for several days, if not weeks.
“We can hose the floor later,” Pepper reminded him tersely. “Right now, we need to get your visitor out of here Tony. Here—” She thrust her Blackberry at him and cautiously slid along the glass wall, moving behind the cars to an open space between them and the ramp.
“Pepper--!” Tony whispered, but she cupped her hands around her mouth, took in a deep breath and---
“AhWOOOOOOO," Pepper called out loudly, her cheeks red with effort.
Tony perked up. "Do that again!" he pleaded, wondering if it was normal for a human to be aroused by moose calls. The sight of Pepper bellowing was doing strange things to him.
"It's not for YOU, it's for HIM," she chuffed, brushing her bangs away, eyes on the moose.
"Yeah, well it works for me too," Tony assured her, feeling a strange and lovely throb through his loins.
The moose flicked an ear, as if he wasn’t sure about Pepper’s accent, but that he might like to hear her call again, just to be sure.
"And where did you learn to call a moose anyway?" Tony asked in a low voice, sidling closer, keeping an eye on the beast.
Pepper cupped her hands around her mouth and called again."AhhhWooooooooooo!" she sang out, the tone wavering and thin and downright cute.
This got a response; the moose lifted his head and flared his nostrils.
Tony whimpered."Why the hell does that sound so---sexy?"
Pepper turned to glare at him. "Tony, stop. This is NOT going to be one of your new . . . interests. I learned back during a biology field course, and it's not something I'd ever thought I'd use. Ohh! He's moving!"
Tony, in a gesture of instinctive bravery moved in front of Pepper, shielding her with his body. The moose ambled over, and it was embarrassing how he towered over Stark.
Pepper too, but mostly Stark.
Tony looked up, defiant and wary, right as the moose started to snuffle his hair.
"I think he likes your shampoo," Pepper whispered.
"Greeeeat," Tony muttered, "between the love calls and the snuffling, think I might get lucky?"
The moose sneezed. Tony, right under the line of fire, was instantly covered with a fine, thick mist of moose snot.
Pepper burst into giggles, loud snorty giggles. The moose flicked both ears, intrigued by this new sound.
"I. Am. Covered. In. Animal. Snot," Tony whimpered. "Shit."
"You're . . . so b-b-brave," Pepper manages before breaking down completely into giggles, “but . . . not lucky.”
The moose, bored now with this cold, lichen-less, grass-less cave, turned and slowly ambled up the ramp of the garage to investigate the far more interesting lawn outside.
Tony turned his head to watch, and several tendrils of glistening mucus dripped down along his hair.
Pepper shifted behind him, and eyed the garage tables and cabinets, looking desperately for tissues. "Tony--"
"Damn it, and I liked this shirt," he sighed, pulling it off and rubbing his hair vigorously.
Pepper called up to the ceiling. "Jarvis, please alert Malibu Animal Control, and, um, please make sure they don't harm our visitor. Tony---"
"Sho-wer," he whined. "I'm all booger-covered---"
"Yeah," she agreed, feeling a rush of love and laughter deep inside. It wasn't every man who would take a face-full of moose loogies for her, Pepper knew.
"So, Tony winced, looking at the damp shirt. "Anything interesting happen to YOU today, dear?"
Pepper giggled again and took the shirt from him, holding it by the edges. "I was saved by one hell of a brave man. Go get showered, Tony, and I'll make sure the tabloids don't catch you with a moose loose on the lawn. Lord knows WHAT they'd think you were doing with it."
Tony paused, and looked towards the garage exit. "Yeah, exactly how and why was a moose down here anyway?"
This WAS the mystery, and between the urine and snot souvenirs, Tony was annoyed enough to find out. He stared at Pepper--" You didn't give him a cookie, did you?"
"That's a mouse, not a moose," she protested, half smiling. "You give the mouse a cookie. And you give a moose a muffin, according to the story."
"Well, did you?” Tony demanded
"Okay then.” Pepper wouldn’t lie. She’d pulled some practical jokes in her time, but sending a moose down wasn’t really her style. Pepper was more of the itching powder in the boxers type, Tony remembered.
"Jarvis, how did a moose get in here?" Tony asked in a deceptively quiet voice, stepping around the smelly puddles.
"He had a key, sir," came the calm reply.
"A flat," Jarvis murmured. "That activated the override."
"The vocal sensor," Tony and Pepper murmur to each other at the same time, appalled at this unexpected gap in security.
"So he just---announced himself and you LET him IN?" Tony demanded, slightly outraged.
A moose—not exactly native to Southern California, but nonetheless HERE-- just waltzed up, bellowed in the right pitch into the speaker at the gate, and as a result, had free run of the mansion.
This boggled Tony’s mind.
"Yes," Jarvis agreed. "He had no weapons and no red alert ID to compare to the foe database during my scan.”
“Therefore he was assessed as a non-threat," Tony filled in. "So you, Jarvis—one of the most complicated, fully-integrated complex artificial intelligences in the world--let a full-grown male moose wander INTO my house?"
Tony was working himself up into a full rage. Pepper was pink, going to red very quickly as she laughed at the sight of her boss glaring up at the ceiling, practically quivering with rage.
"Do you wish me to add moose to the list of those not permitted access to the estate?" Jarvis asked calmly.
"Done," Jarvis replied. "Will that be all, sir?"
"For the moment," Tony growled, and looked to Pepper, who was now wheezing, her freckles standing out against her flushed skin. "Laugh it up Potts, but I have standards.” He held up a warning finger. “Let ONE moose in, and who knows who they'll invite next time?"
"Oh yes," she gasped. "Prairie dogs. Grouse--"
"Exactly. Possums. Elk. Maybe one of them has a cousin from the zoo and we'll find a Wildebeest rummaging through the fridge one day."
Pepper nodded solemnly. "Absolutely. And no kangaroos. I'll get the repellant right away, sir."
The mood was giddy. Tinged with some serious concerns, yes, but both Tony and Pepper were aware of how much better it was to discover this loophole via wandering moose over, say, mutant ninja army, or some such other danger.
"See that you do, Potts, see that you do. That will be all," Tony muttered with shredded dignity, and stalked off to the bathroom, wincing as the mucus dripped down his bare back.
Sometimes, it was hell, being a hero.