Red

Hot Rod Red...Gold Paint not Included

It was just after sunrise when Tony Stark skidded into his garage after a particularly draining mission to the Middle East. As his armor was removed and he winced as each piece came off, Tony wondered why they always had to try to hit him with RPGs. Nothing could blow him up but they still as hell left painful bruises.

As the last bit of armor was taken off by for once well behaving robots, Tony weighed his options as to what to do next. It was early in the morning so if he tried to go to bed, Pepper would surely be waking him up in about three hours. Sleep sounded so good at the moment but in a much longer duration. Instead, he opted for his pool. For a man who faced unspeakable acts in a desert cave that involved nearly drowning him, his pool was still a place he liked above many others. He could relax there and maybe not be noticed too much. So Tony stripped off the under armor, pulled on his swimsuit, grabbed his MP3 player and headed outside to his pool.

Once on the deck, Tony set down his music and jumped in. After being in the desert for so long, the water was still the best thing to clear out his head of all the sand. Tony did a few laps first to burn off the last of the adrenaline that was powering him. Once his body was about to quit on him, he pulled a raft into the water, jumped up on to it on his stomach as to not aggravate the bruising on his back, stuck his earphones in his ears and put the player in a waterproof shell in the cup holder, pushed play and floated around until his batteries died.

Pepper arrived at eight in the morning as usual to an unusually quiet house. She was starting to grow accustomed to hearing heavy metal or hard rock pumping up from the garage early in the morning when Tony couldn't sleep. Getting used to it did not mean that she liked it when Tony pulled all nighters. She was about to check his bedroom when she remembered a text message she had received the night before – Gone hunting – see ya later. Pepper quickly assumed why the house was so quiet – Tony had not come back yet. So instead of worrying herself sick, as she did sometimes, Pepper just got down to business as usual. She knew by now that Jarvis could reach Tony at any time if she got too worried.

At two in the afternoon, Tony's batteries finally died and he slowly dragged his tired body inside from his pool to an empty house.

"Jarvis? Where's Pepper?" he asked as he put the MP3 player into the charger.

"Ms. Potts stated that she had to go to your office to drop off an exchange a few items of importance. She expressed that she will return within an hour's time, sir."

"Cool. I'll be in the shower. Let Pepper know when she gets in."

"I always do, sir."

Tony drudged upstairs to his master bathroom and stepped under the hot water. For once, he was glad he was home alone because when the hot water hit his back, the scream he let out would have been embarrassing.

Pepper returned around three as she had told Jarvis with another long list of things to do to keep her boss out of trouble.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Potts."

"Hello Jarvis."

"Mr. Stark informed me that he would be in need of your assistance when you returned."

"When did he get back?"

"At 6:17 this morning."

"He's been here all day?"

"Yes, in the pool."

"Where is he, Jarvis?"

"In his bedroom."

Pepper quickly ascended the stairs to Tony's bedroom. She tentatively opened the door, not knowing what to expect. When the door was eased open enough, she could see a shivering Tony lying face down on his bed wearing only a pair of gym shorts slung low around his hips with a distinct line separating undamaged skin and the vibrant red and really badly burned alternative with dark bruises marring his back and arms further. Pepper really didn't mean to and she felt bad about it but she started laughing.

"What is so damn funny?" Tony growled as he shot Pepper a dark glare.

"I am just seeing the shoe on the other foot," Pepper said through giggles. "I think this is a sign that you have been spending too much time in your workshop."

"I am glad you find my agony amusing."

"You do it to me."

"That's different," Tony started to say but paused. "Okay, point taken. I apologize. Now can you help me out here?"

"What would you like me to do for you?"

"You're the expert on sunburns here. What about that green stuff you always use?"

"Aloe?" Pepper asked even though she already knew the answer. She walked about closer and felt the heat radiating off of Tony's back and knew aloe would not work alone. "I am going to do one other thing first. You just lie there for now."

"Where am I going to go to?" Tony snapped.

Pepper came back a minute or two later with several luke warm wet wash cloths. She started to gently lay them on Tony's back to draw out the heat.

As the first one hit, Tony flinched hard which elicited another scream of pain.

"That hurts!" Go easy on me."

"This will help to drawn out the heat."

"Watch it with them. They're dripping."

"It's just water."

"But I have to sleep here. This isn't a water bed, Pepper." Tony growled.

Pepper was not going to deal with his crankiness that usually happened when he didn't have enough sleep or when he didn't feel well. "Let those sit for a bit and I'll put aloe on your back in a few," she said flatly before heading downstairs to an unexpected surprise…James Rhodes.

"How is he, Pepper?" Rhodey asked.

"Aside for the sunburn, just a few bruises," Pepper said with a smile. "When did you get here?"

"Jarvis let me in a few minutes ago. I saw what he dealt with from Edwards and I wanted to check on him." Rhodey explained. "Is he up for visitors?"

"You're welcome to risk it," Pepper said as she set a bottle of Gatorade with a twisted straw in it in Rhodey's hand. "When you go up, please take this up to him. He's probably dehydrated."

Rhodey laughed a bit at the eight shaped straw but did not question it. Pepper most likely had her reasons. "I'll take my chances," he said with a smile as he ascended the stairs.

When Rhodey got upstairs, he first thought that Tony was asleep since his eyes were closed but they opened up as soon as he got further in.

"Pepper sent this up for you with orders to drink it like a good boy," Rhodey joked as he shoved the bottle into Tony's left hand.

Tony took a long swig from the straw which did make him smile a bit. "I wasn't expecting you today."

"I saw you being used as target practice and wanted to make sure you still had everything attached," Rhodey said as he flipped the wet cloths on Tony's back. "Why don't you ever ask for back up?"

"Sometimes there isn't time," Tony replied, flinching as Rhodey touched his abused back.

"Well, next time, drop me a line and I'll make that call. I do not want to have to bring you back to Pepper in a box," Rhodey told him. "So I thought you didn't burn like this?"

"I normally don't. I was only in my pool for about eight hours."

"Aren't you always the one who reminds Pepper to put on sunscreen, basement dweller?"

"I was tired and my logic hadn't kicked in yet."

"In that case, how about not giving Pepper such a hard time right now? She is trying to help your sorry ass and I heard you bite her head off," Rhodey told him. "That woman deserves a medal for putting up with you sometimes."

"I'll try." Tony replied quietly.

"Good. I am holding to you that or on Saturday, I am seriously going to kick your ass on and off the court."

"You wouldn't."

"Don't test me, Tony," Rhodey laughed as he said goodbye and headed back downstairs. "He should be a lot better now," he told Pepper with a smile before leaving.

"Thanks, you'll have to let me in on your methods sometime," Pepper told Rhodey as she closed the door behind him.

Another hour went by before Pepper realized that she hadn't put aloe on Tony's back yet. It took Jarvis interrupting her quiet working time to jog her memory.

"Ms. Potts? Mr. Stark is sound asleep if you would like to take advantage of him being quiet to put aloe on his back."

"Thank you for the reminder, Jarvis."

Pepper climbed the stairs again back up to Tony's now darkened bedroom. She sat down on the edge of the bed next to him and, as gently as she could, worked the aloe into his burned skin from his shoulders to his waist. Luckily for her, Tony stayed asleep the entire time. She repeated this two more times for him before she left for the night at eleven, watching the tension melt away and tony get visibly more relaxed and sleeping just a little easier.

The next morning, just after Pepper arrived, Tony was padding down the stairs in the same gym shorts he was wearing, yawning and rubbing his eyes sleepily.

"Good morning, Tony," Pepper said with a smile as she placed his coffee mug into his hands.

"Thanks and I am sorry about being an ass yesterday," Tony said as he sipped his coffee, letting the caffeine jolt his brain awake, and eased himself onto the couch.

"I am used to it. You are always cranky when you don't feel well," Pepper responded. "I just never knew you had such distinct tan lines."

"Tan lines?" Tony questioned until he looked down and saw the lighter skin at his waist and below his shorts to the top of his knees. "Those are your fault, you know."

"How are those my fault?"

"You yell at me if I am out by MY pool with nothing on."

"I yell at you because paparazzi have long lenses and I doubt you want all your 'assets' on the front of the Enquirer."

"So you want me to save them all for you?"

"Only if you're a good boy."

"I can be very good," Tony said with a smirk. "If you'll allow me to demonstrate."

"Maybe when you can move again."

Tony smiled. "I am holding you to that one. That's incentive for me to heal quicker."