Pepper had very reluctantly left with Jamie for the play date that had been scheduled. Even though she did not want to leave Emma when she did not feel well, Pepper had to admit Tony was right. For some odd reason, Emma would never calm down for Pepper no matter what she tried and dealing with a sick baby is one thing but a sick, stubborn, cranky one is another. If Tony could get her calm, it would be better for everyone.
There was a small play park just outside of Malibu where Pepper had agreed to meet Betty. Betty was from back east and only in California for a few days so Pepper had decided someplace easy to find and a place where the babies could have fun while they got to spend some time together. They had met each other first in college but had lost touch until a few years back when she was associated with a Stark Industries project on gamma radiation to increase healing time in soldiers where she had been injured. It was during her recovery time that the two women began to get close again and maintain contact through email. It was through that and instant messaging that they had found out about each other's marriages and children.
It was just after ten when Pepper caught sight of her brown haired, blue eyes friend carrying a little boy not much older than Jamie approaching with a smile. She waved to get her friend's attention.
"Betty! It's so good to see you again. We have to make these visits more regular." Pepper said as she hugged her friend. "And I am guessing that this is Eric." She added as she smiled at the little boy in Betty's arms. "He looks a lot like Bruce…especially the eyes."
"You would not believe how much I hear that, Gin. At least ten times a day." Betty replied as she returned the hug. "I am guessing that this is James from what you told me. Except for the blue eyes, he is the spitting image of Tony and probably just as much of a handful." She said with a warm laugh.
"He's actually the calmer of the two of them. Emma is more like Tony with her endless energy and stubbornness." Pepper admitted as she and Betty set the boys down on a blanket at their feet to play.
"I thought you were going to bring both of the twins," Betty inquired. "Is something wrong?"
"Emma came down with a cold this morning so I had to leave her with Tony at his insistence." Pepper replied.
"You're joking, right Ginny?" Betty gasped.
"Not at all," Pepper said with a perfectly straight face.
"You're serious? You left a baby and a sick one at that with Mister absent-minded genius who needed you for everything from making sure his company actually functioned to remembering his social security number? Are we talking about the same Anthony Stark here or did you marry someone else?" Betty exclaimed in somewhat of a shock.
"No, we're talking about the same man here," Pepper affirmed. "And when it comes to Emma, there is no one else that I would rather leave her with than Tony." She added with confidence.
"For some reason, I just can't believe that Ginny. Remember, I have met Tony before." Betty insisted.
"He's not the same man who shamelessly hit on you before," Pepper stated. "He's different now…he changed."
"How did you manage that magic feat?" Betty asked.
"I really didn't," Pepper admitted with a bit of sadness. "Being held captive for three months in Afghanistan did. He came back a different man than when he left and since we have been together he has done his level best to not let me down. Tony has been nothing short of a loving and devoted husband and one of the best fathers I have ever seen. I doubt you would even recognize him from the playboy he used to be." She stated with pride as she defended Tony.
"Wow…I am seriously surprised here. I didn't think it would be possible to tame Tony Stark." Betty admitted. "He seems almost equal to Bruce now when it comes to commitment. But, you still think he can take care of Emma on his own?"
Pepper nodded with a smile. "Emma and Tony have a bond that I can't explain. They are so much alike that they compliment each other. They have a tendency of keeping the same hours and he is the only one that she will calm down for. I have tried and it's heartbreaking when your baby screams herself hoarse no matter what you try."
"I can completely understand that, Ginny," Betty said sympathetically. "Sometimes Eric can get like that and he does unfortunately have Bruce's temper and nothing will bring him down until he wants to come down from it. Bruce has managed to try a few things that worked…like baby massage. It calms him down as well so I am all for it."
"How is Bruce doing? I haven't heard much about him from you lately." Pepper inquired.
"He has his good and bad days…luckily more good than bad as of late." Betty admitted. "He has been really focused on his work lately."
"I can totally get that one. Sometimes Tony disappears into the garage for days…focused so much on whatever he had wrapped his head around that he forgets things like food and sleep."
Betty had to laugh at that as she picked up Eric who was starting to get fussy and rocked him in her lap. "I thank the stars that Bruce isn't like that some times." She replied as she checked her watch. "Is there a place where we can get lunch around here? I have to feed Eric and I am a little bit hungry as well."
"Of course," Pepper said as she picked up Jamie and his toys. "I know a great little café. I sometimes can order lunch from there when I can convince Tony that cheeseburgers and pizza are not the only foods on Earth. By luck, I found that he loved their eggplant and in my book and trying to get any veggie into him is a success."
It was a short walk to the café that Pepper had mentioned to Betty and the waitress sat them right near the front window with the best views of the ocean and boardwalks.
As the two women were looking over the menus and keeping their little boys occupied at the same time, Pepper swore she saw something she knew she wasn't going to like out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head just enough to get a decent look and then, with Jamie on her lap, twisted in her chair so her back was to the ever offending and never wanted paparazzo.
With Jamie safely hidden on her lap, Pepper smoothly pulled out her Blackberry and hit the speed dial number two which was a direct line to Tony's bodyguard, Happy Hogan.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Happy, but I am out with a friend and Jamie and there is one of the unwanted across the street from where we are having lunch and you know what they want a picture of." Pepper spoke into the phone evenly even though she was really getting pissed off at the damned photographers. "Oh, the usual will be fine and remind them that I can have the full team of 1000 dollar an hour Stark Industries lawyers with a monster of a law suit all over them in a matter of seconds. For good measure, I'll even get that shark that Tony personally picked out to let them put the nail in the coffin of his former career. Thank you, Happy." She said with a small smirk as she and Betty watched a black Rolls pull up.
Harold "Happy" Hogan stepped out right in front of the offending lowlife, divested the animal of his camera's memory card and then made him a nice home in the bush he was trying to hide in. When he was finished, he gave Pepper a small smile, got back in the car and parked it around the corner if he was needed again.
Feeling much better, Pepper waved the waitress over politely. "Is it possible we can get another table? The sun is too much for my son."
Betty watched the whole scene unfold in awe and she wasn't the only one. She swore that she heard a few applause for how Pepper handled that. "Does that happen to you often?" she asked when they were reseated.
"More often to Tony rather than me," Pepper admitted. "But since we have tried to be so careful to keep the twins out of the camera's eye, it's like a bounty hunt to see who can get a photo of them. It's all rather disgusting. What is worse is the garbage they publish. None of it is true and because of it, Tony owns a few magazines now as a result of some pretty big law suits."
"That makes me glad I married just a boring old scientist. All we have to worry about is where the grant money is coming from and how long it will stay."
After lunch, Pepper and Betty took the opportunity to head back to the hotel that Betty was staying at so Jamie and Eric could play together a bit more and get a nap in if that was at all possible. While the boys slept and played, their mothers got to spend hours reminiscing about the days before their lives had gotten so involved. College was such an easy time of life. They had gotten so deep reminiscing that it was a shock to Pepper when she noticed the sun was setting.
"Tony's going to wonder what happened to me," Pepper exclaimed as she gathered up Jamie's things and her very tired little boy.
"He probably didn't even notice the time if he had as good of a time as you said he could." Betty said with an understanding laugh. "It really was great spending time with you today. We have to do this again."
"And not years from now," Pepper said as she hugged Betty good bye. "Maybe next time, you'll get to meet Emma. Say hi to Bruce for me."
"And the same to Tony. Make sure he behaves himself."
"I always have and always do," Pepper said with a laugh as she left the hotel to head back to the mansion.
It was much darker out by the time Pepper got home. She had Jarvis open the door for her and Jamie and she was taken back when she walked into a darkened house and Jarvis did not turn up the lights. She was about to ask Jarvis what was wrong when she noticed the reason on the couch.
From the dim lights alone, Pepper saw Tony sound asleep on the couch with Emma tucked against him with her head on his shoulder. Pepper walked over and pulled the blanket Tony had draped over his legs up a little further so it covered both of them and kissed his forehead softly before heading upstairs to put Jamie to bed.
As she climbed the steps and looked back at her sleeping husband and daughter and wondered how Tony got Emma to sleep so peacefully. "Looks like Emma and Daddy tired each other out while we had fun." Pepper whispered to Jamie as she ascended. "How they did it I guess I'll never know unless Jarvis gives me a hint."
"I am not allowed to do that, madam." Jarvis interjected in a timely matter.
"I know Jarvis. I was just curious." That was one mystery she needed to solve – Tony's trick to get Emma to sleep.