I hope you enjoy this. As always, the characters aren't mine, and I make no money from writing this (though wouldn't it be nifty if I could). It was just something that came to my mind.

Third rib down, on the left. If he stretched out his fingers with his hand just past his stomach, on the exhale of breath he could feel it…


"Miss Potts, that is highly inappropriate." He waited for her to laugh, or turn her head or smile. But she lay there, stunning yet utterly motionless. Tony rocked back on his heels, only slightly, an uncomfortable tick he was forever trying to suppress since he felt it looked childish. "I mean really."

"I like this swimsuit."

"But a one piece? What would the paparazzi filled helicopters that always seem to be around here saw you like this?"

She crossed her legs before speaking. "I thought you paid most of them off, and threatened to blow anything else out of the sky. At least that's what the video on YouTube shows."

"Wow, you threaten Entertainment Tonight with a missile once and look about happens. But seriously, your swimsuit."

"Like I said, I like it. It's comfortable. It's interesting how your tone of voice make it sound like I'm wearing a burlap sack, Mr. Stark." They were on the steaming concrete poolside on a hot summer's day; Pepper Potts attired in a simple navy one piece, pleasantly cut in the front and dangerously low in the back. Tony knew this without her even sitting up, of course, since he had seen her on the surveillance camera in his workshop walking outside, and decided that he needed a break. Hadn't she yapped something at him about if he didn't see the sun more often he might become an albino?

"Well, if that thing was any larger it would be a burqua."

"I'm sorry," she was still motionless, sunglass covered eyes pointed skyward," but your ability to make comments about the appropriateness of how a female dresses ended just about the time you suggested that the flight attendants on your private jet get school girl uniforms."

"It was Halloween. I was being considerate."

"It was July. And you were being a pig."


Pepper groaned internally, and let it manifest in a slight readjustment of her left arm. "Why did you come up here?"

"You said I needed to get out of the shop more. Besides, the fire extinguisher robot was giving me a dirty look."

"And I can't imagine you were engaging in any activities which would require its services and therefore make it be on alert."

"A ridiculous suggestion."

"So are you going to go swimming or not?" Pepper smiled and turned her head toward him, and Tony could feel his stomach jump a smidge of victory. "Your new heart isn't going to electrocute you when you dive in I hope."

Tony sat down on a chair next to his assistant and toed off his sandals. "Ms. Potts, I never thought you had such little faith in my abilities."

She pulled down her sunglasses. "I think that depends on what kind of abilities you are speaking of." Tony gave her a deliciously lopsided grin, and Pepper could feel herself blush all over, a fact that her swimsuit was not helping her hide. Inwardly she wished she was indeed wearing a very large concealing burlap sack. She sat up and faced him, dropping the sunglasses into her nearby bag. "Not that I was implying…or that I would know…or want to know…" Tony's smile was blinding, never mind the sun. "Didn't you want to go swimming?" Pepper sat up in her chair, letting her long legs swing between them, their toes dangerously close to touching. They stared at their nearly joined digits, hers slender and manicured his shorter and oddly dried/pruned from the neoprene under suite for his armor. The left big toe leaned out a little, and had the faintest hint of green to it. "When did you break your toe?"

He shrugged, keeping his head down yet still pulling off his shirt. "It's a toe."


"Ms. Potts, it is just a toe, not a severed limb."

"What happened?"

He shrugged, "Who knows, probably dropped something on my foot in the shop and I didn't think about it until now."

"How can you not think about it? Didn't it hurt?" Tony looked up at her face then, her slim nose angling toward hers. For a long moment he stared, eyes wide. She waited for him to say something, maybe something important this time.

"Suntan lotion. My back needs to be done. Maybe I do you, you do me." He wiggled his eyebrows in a way that could only be considered suave in a 70's porn movie.

Pepper rolled her eyes good naturedly. "Fine. Turn that way." She spun her finger, and he complied. Fishing the bottle from her bag she squirted a good amount into her hands and began to massage his shoulders and back. Tony hung his head and let out a small moan. "Oh no, don't you start to like this."

"I'm afraid that I can't fulfill that request when it appears that you may have magic fingers."

"You're incorrigible."

"On my good days."

"So that's what you call them. Funny." Her hand moved lower, rubbing small circles on his spine out. At first he kept his back straight, but as the lotioning continued Pepper watched her boss' back hunch little by little over. It made her smile to see him like this, a bit exposed a bit relaxed. So different. When he was out in public he stood extremely straight. What had that magazine article said a while back? 'He walks like a man either pulled up by wires from heaven, or with something large and uncomfortable trapped up…'

And depending on the day, she supposed that they were right. For what they saw of him at least. But when it was late at night and Tony was around the house in a tee-shirt and track pants that frayed at the bottom, oblivious to the world beyond his brain, that was how he truly moved. He had a tendency to shuffle, when deep in thought, and glide or leap after an idea struck. It was pointless to have furniture that was low level, he ran into it, and it made him feel clumsy and uncomfortable. And he picked at the hem of his shirt whenever there was something that he couldn't figure out, flipping the bottom edge and letting his thumb drift.

But what made Pepper linger and return, even if she hated admitting it to herself, was the fact that he never felt the need to hide these behaviors from her. She was the only one who saw him this way.

Pepper was so lost in thought; she almost missed it the first time, so her fingers had to backtrack. Down his side, nearly on the front of his body was a scar. It was small, maybe an inch or so long. But it was deep and fully healed, and from the little Pepper understood of medicine, had probably been pretty painful. They were having a peaceful moment, a rarity as of late, but her curiosity got the better of her. "What's this?"

Tony's head was down. "Huh?"

"This." She traced it tenderly. "This scar."

His back straightened suddenly, but he kept his voice oddly noncommittal. "What scar?"

"On your side here. I can't believe I didn't see it when I exchanged your…" A hand closed over hers. "Didn't you notice it?"


"Really? Because it seems pretty nasty."

The strong fingers over her own began to try to pry her digits away. "It's nothing Ms. Potts."

She tried tracing the length of it. "How do you know it's nothing if you haven't seen it?"

Tony cruelly shoved her kind fingers away. "Don't."

"Don't what?"

He jumped to his feet. "That will be all, Ms. Potts."

She studied him then. One hand was on his chest, almost touching the glowing metal implanted there. The other was dangling near his side, twitching, which he quickly ran through his hair. He needed a haircut, she realized, and there were garish bags under his eyes. How could she have not noticed these things? "Tony…"

"Good afternoon, Ms. Potts," he said quietly, putting a cold emphasis on the formality of her name, then turned and walked into the house. On most afternoons she would have followed him, caught an elbow, tried to make him talk. A joke even. But this was not the first time in the last few months that she saw him walk away suddenly, and as she lay back into the chair in the blazing hot sun, Pepper Potts began to think seriously about how often she had seen her boss this way, and tried unsuccessfully to convince herself that it didn't break her heart to have him shut her out like this.


He'd discovered it not long after returning home. Scrubbing himself in the shower, he'd felt it, an abnormality. Third rib down, on the left. If he stretched out his fingers with his hand just past his stomach, on the exhale of breath he could feel it. Tony had immediately jumped from the stream of water and examined himself in the mirror, blinking and staring at the jagged wound on his side. Turning this way and that he discovered another, similar but smaller scar near his hip, and a third on his thigh.

As Tony showered the suntan lotion off his back that afternoon, one hand traced the scar on his side, the other bracing against the cool tile. He thought of Yinsen, as he often did since finding his other scars, holding up a small glass vial containing shards that glittered. They'd never had time to talk about his other injuries from the attack, and the rational part of Tony's brain told him that of course it would be unlikely that the shard in his heart had been the only place he'd been hit. He'd simply been in too close proximity to the bomb to not have sustained additional damage.

He'd even come up with a story for when Pepper discovered the scars, as he was sure she undoubtedly would. First there would be a short emphasis on how yes it had hurt, and blah blah blah, but then he would quickly throw in a joke about how the mars on his body served as inspiration to improve the armor. Maybe even a quip about how she could rub some of that scar reducing cream on him if she wanted.

That was the plan. Tony hit the wall in frustration. Some plan. He should have known better. Because as much as he hated to admit it, the blah blah blah part of the story was getting harder and harder to ignore. Reinforcing the armor was the easy part.

He stared at the water collecting around his broken toe, wincing a little as he forced it to move. Wouldn't it have been easier to just tell her the truth? That he had fallen asleep in the workshop, and awoken from a dream so terrifying that he sprung from being hunched over a desk and ran. That he had for an instant been so blind with terror that he didn't see the metal tool box on the ground and tripped.

That he'd lay on the floor where he'd fallen for hours with a hand over the glowing metal plate in his chest.

That he didn't sleep well.

No, there was no need to inform Ms. Potts of those things, though a nagging part of his brain told maybe he should.

What do you think? I will continue this only if you guys want to read more, so please leave a note.