Disclaimer: Iron Man and all other associated characters, plotlines, etc. do not belong to me. They are the intellectual property of Marvel Comics and several others. I'm just playing in their multi-million dollar sandbox for a bit.

Right, so, Tony started whispering to me today in Government class. This one was urgent, apparently.

(The first Iron Man one-shot I wrote had Tony and Pepper boarding his yacht after the epic final press conference in the movie, but reading it is not required to enjoy this fic.)

That said. Enjoy. This is:

The Pepperony 100 Challenge Theme #31: Joke


It was too priceless to pass up.

Granted, it had been a long couple of days. Obadiah completely lost it, Pepper had to explode the arc reactor to stop him, and I threw everyone for a real loop by admitting to the press that I was Iron Man. Pepper and I were both tired, of course. Shaken. I seriously doubt if either of us had had more than four hours of sleep combined. Still, Pepper took me up on going out on the yacht.

That being said, I've never been fond of restraining myself from having fun. Never. And when Potts fell asleep, oh-so-angelically stretched out on a deck chair?...well. I—

Alright, alright. So I got ahead of myself. My first impulse honestly wasn't to aggravate the hell out of Pepper, despite her undoubted certainty in clinging to the contrary.

Earlier, she said, "I think I'll go sit on the deck for a while."

"Alright," I said. I let her go. Sometimes, I just had to be alone at the wheel of something. Anything. In control. So logically, I found myself at the wheel of my yacht shortly after getting aboard. I stayed at the wheel for a while, assuming Pepper would come back in the cabin when she got tired of the glaring sun.

Obadiah. I should've seen it. Seriously. Those buddy-buddy, "I'm your friend here" lines of his? Not the makings of an Oscar-worthy performance. Damn. How the hell had I let that bullshit slip by?

And that slithering son of a bitch tried to kill Pepper. Forget me, forget Los Angeles, forget the whole western seaboard. Pepper. I think my reaction to her recounting of his first moments in his gigantic knockoff of the Mark I scared her. That anger, combined with the flaming rage I vaguely recalled feeling at seeing him point his guns at her, made me growl something so colorful that Agent Coulson's ears turned red.

Oh well. Obadiah found out where liars go. That's all that really matters, now, I thought, unaware that I was choking the shit out of the wheel until my fingers began to burn in screaming protest. Dead! they seemed to remind me. He's dead!

"Right, right!" I said aloud, letting the wheel go for a moment like it'd gasp for the air I'd so mercilessly denied it.

Dead. Right.

My thoughts drifted lazily somewhere out on the calm, shimmering Pacific after that, not really focusing on any one person or thing. I heard voices now and then, screeching metal; my subconscious running over last night, I guessed. I didn't pay the grainy, helmet-filtered images flashing through my mind's eye now and then like a choppy, poorly put-together home video much attention. I tuned back in to the action now and then when a miniature, earth-bound Pepper came in and out of the frames, but otherwise the explosion-riddled flick played on without much of an audience.

Pepper. About the fifth or sixth time those strawberry blond locks drifted speedily through my thoughts, I glanced at my watch. How long had she been outside? Half an hour? An hour? I hadn't really paid attention to time today. Not paying a lot of things attention, I thought, wandering outside into the sun. Food. Water. Time.

"What, Potts, did you literally jump s…" I stopped short. Pepper, her hands folded beneath her cheek, was lying on her side on a deck chair. Her eyes were closed, her breathing even.

She was asleep.

God, she's beautiful, I caught my cheap movie screen of a brain musing as I stood over her. Her little nose. Her freckles. Her hair. Why had I never seen this? It was plain. Right there. Pepper put up with me, interacted with me face-to-face on a pretty much day-to-day basis, and I had never managed to see what a stunner she was.

I've heard it said before that men liked to date brainless women and marry women who had heads on their shoulders. Never put much store in that, really. I saw a woman, I made my move, I let her down gently afterward and repeated the process like it was right after the instructions that said 'lather, rinse, repeat' on the back of the shampoo bottle.

At least, I used to.

For a moment, I fancied myself—smoothly, of course—asking Pepper to dinner. Dancing. Walking. That lovely blush of hers coming over those cheeks every time she accepted a date, laughed at the not always intelligent jokes I tended to make.

And then, I got real fuzzy. I imagined (a nice, square box in my pocket) myself getting down on one knee after only a few dates and asking her to be mine for the rest of our lives. Hell, I even knelt next to her right then. Brushed her hair out of her face. I could wake up to this every morning. I envied the man—if, of course, he wasn't me—who would wake up to this every morning. As a matter of fact, I loathed him.

In that moment, at least, I knew I'd sell my goddamn soul for Pepper Potts to become Mrs. Tony Stark.

But then, then, a second impulse kicked in. I wasn't exactly living if I wasn't coming up with ways to get a glare or a reddening of the cheeks out of my lovely assistant. Biting back a snicker, I realized I might just find out what death by stilettos really felt like.

Oh well. Aggravating Pepper was worth more than my existence; it was just in my programming. So sue me.

Lowering my voice to that groggy, just woke-up tone Potts had heard quite a few times in her yanking me out of bed for some meeting or other, I said in her ear, "Honey, wake up, the baby's crying."

"What! What?" Oh, priceless. She sat straight up and looked around frantically, like she truly believed a nonexistent child of hers was crying. When she realized it wasn't true and saw me kneeling on the deck next to her chair, she stared at me for a heartbeat.

Uh-oh, I thought. I saw the newspaper articles now. 'Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark was found dead on his own yacht yesterday, the apparent victim of multiple stab wounds made by the heel of a woman's shoe. Police suspect the murderer's foot is a women's size nine.'

"You!" Pepper huffed, narrowing her eyes.

"Me," I grinned back at her with a shrug.

Pepper took the pillow from behind her head and began to mercilessly beat me with it. "Hey!" I laughed between blows. "Hey!"

I caught sight of a grin pulling at the corners of her lips. The distraction made her suddenly lose balance and fall forward onto me. Not missing a beat (no pun intended), Pepper pinned me with her knees so that I couldn't go anywhere, still slugging away like a mad woman. "If you." Pow. "Ever." Pow. "Do that again!"

"So what—" Pow. I chuckled. "—if I do?"

She got in one last good hit before I jerked the pillow from her hand and threw it aside. There was a splash, but I didn't take the time to mourn the loss of the meager sack of feathers and silk. Quickly, I grabbed each of Pepper's slender wrists. "What?" I asked her playfully. "Can't take a joke?"

Her jaw opened and closed. Perfect, I thought. "You…I…you—" I shut her up with a sound kiss, the one I hadn't given her that night on the roof when—as she'd pointed out earlier today—I'd left her standing there.

She didn't protest.

Well. That was fun! Mine and Tony's conversations just get more and more interesting. Reviews are appreciated.—MJ-Skywalker