Surprise, surprise. Another Pepperony short story. I really like writing these… .
Anyway, Tony and Pepper and Happy and everyone else belong to Marvel.
No reply. A grease-stained finger tapped the button for the house comm. It should have been working just fine.
A frown formed on Tony Stark's face, his carefully trimmed moustache tilting downward with the movement of his lips. It wasn't terribly unusual for him to be awake and working by the time his personal assistant came to his house every morning. Granted, by being awake at seven in the morning, it meant that he couldn't sleep after a one-night fling, and he'd been in the garage all night. Lately, such escapades were severely lacking (he didn't have as much time on his hands to pick up women, what with his recently received superhero duties) so this time it was letting himself get wrapped up in reworking one of his hot rod's engines through the night, all sex and heroism aside.
His personal garage was one of the few places he still felt at home. However, with a distinct lack of windows, it was often hard to tell how long he'd been working on any project, and he'd seen to it that Jarvis stopped alerting him to the time every hour. It was distracting, especially when the work he was doing was very delicate.
Leaning back against the car, he let a puff of air escape his lips and he glanced towards the vacant staircase that led to the main part of the house. He half expected to see Pepper's Stiletto heels precede the rest of the smartly dressed woman's entrance into the garage, her main reason for venturing in being to berate him for not having yet slept. And then of course, the list would go on. Contracts to sign, a reminder that he was supposed to be meeting someone not-quite-as-important as Tony himself, lunch with the head of a charity he'd unknowingly donated to… Things like that.
"Jarvis?" Tony asked, knowing that the system would always answer.
"Yes sir?" Jarvis' expected voice sounded, almost sounding bored.
"Where's Pepper?" There was a pause that Tony didn't much care for at all. He checked his watch – an old Rolex, its face hardly readable due to the good amount of grime it'd obtained from the work Tony had been doing. It was one of his junk-watches, bought for less than ten grand. With the end of his thumb, he rubbed away enough of the grease to catch where the hour hand was. It was after eight o'clock, and Pepper was never late. "Jarvis?"
"It seems that she left a message on your answering machine. Shall I play it for you?"
Tony ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath, turning the wrench he had in his hand over a few times. There were very few things that would keep Pepper from her job, and such a short list left his mind to wander into unwanted territory. Had she up and quit on him? Or maybe she wrecked her car on the way over? But the fact that she'd left a message was enough to set that strange fear that had suddenly reared in his chest at ease. "Yes, Jarvis. Play it for me. That is, if you've got nothing better to do."
The AI didn't dignify that statement with a response, and instead Pepper's voice came over the system. "Not surprising I got the machine, since I'm not there to answer your phone," She started, her voice slightly lower and rather raspy, though with a note of amusement. "Anyway, Mr. Stark, I won't be coming in today." At this, that frown Tony was sporting deepened, and he opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by Pepper's continuing her message. "I know. You won't really know what to do without me." That brought about a certain smile Tony reserved for his PA. She knew him far too well. "Don't worry, I've delegated to other S.I. employees what needs to be done for the day business-wise, and you'll just have to order out all by yourself for dinner tonight. I take that back. Jarvis can help you with that. I uploaded all of your favorite restaurants' phone numbers." She took a deep breath here, sighed, and obviously tried to bite back a cough, "And please, Mr. Stark, don't try calling me today. For anything. I need rest so that I can be back tomorrow morning, bright and early as always. Have a good day, Tony." There was the recorded sound of a landline connection being cut, and then silence.
"It appears that she won't be coming in today," Jarvis said in a mock-helpful tone.
Tony raised his eyebrows, "No? Really? I wouldn't have gathered that. What would I do without you, Jarvis?"
"Live in your garage and forget to eat or sleep on Miss Potts' days off, sir."
"Right." Tony quipped, tossing his wrench at his toolbox and pushing himself fully upright. "Well, that's enough work for now. Jarvis, I'm going out."
"You might want to consider a shower first, sir. No one likes their favorite CEO covered in grime."
"Oh, you'd be surprised, Jarvis," came Tony's reply, a mischievous sort of smirk on his face, his eyes focused on nothing in particular. It was obvious he was reliving a memory that had no need to be spoken aloud in polite company.
However, Jarvis had been right. Once he'd made his way upstairs, a quick glance in the mirror helped him decide a shower might do him well. He was covered up to his elbows in grease, and there was a streak of it across his cheek as well. That, and he smelled like oil, and… well, he'd been doing quite a bit of hard work in that garage, and a little deodorant wasn't going to cover that.
He made his way up to his bedroom, and after a quick shower, a little cologne, and the usual donning of custom tailored slacks and shirt, he was ready to head out. He paused briefly to give himself a once-over in the mirror, flashed a brilliant smile, and decided that he looked great.
Then again, Tony Stark always looked great.
As always, Happy was ready and willing to take him wherever he needed to go, but with a wave of his hand, Tony declined. "I think I'll take the Audi today, Hap."
"Which one, sir?" Happy asked, looking slightly crestfallen that he yet again was probably going to get the day off. Of course, Tony always made sure he got paid for the work he would have done, but he sometimes felt a bit like a heel when he wasn't even allowed to do the job he'd been hired for. Then again, he always looked slightly upset about something. After all, that's why they called him 'Happy.'
"Uh, the one that's not in the shop," Tony said lightly. "And you can take the day off. I'm going to be gone most of the day, so there's nothing really for you to do here." He fished in his pocket for his wallet and pulled out a few large bills, handing them over to his bodyguard and chauffeur. "Why not drop by a casino? See how lucky you are today." He flashed a smile, forced the bills into Happy's hand, and made his way to his own car.
Soon, a purring engine and the heavy beat of Tony's favorite rock song accompanied the man as he drove down the road, fingers tapping lightly on the steering wheel, dark eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. It was quite obvious he had a destination in mind, and was in a hurry to get there. His engine revved impatiently at stop lights, and he wove through traffic as if it was a race to get to where he intended to go.
Pepper Potts, on the other hand, had no intention of doing anything other than lying in her bed in her pajamas and forcing three kinds of cold and cough medications into her system to flush out the pesky virus she'd caught. Her television was on, but the woman was hardly paying attention. For one, there was never anything good on at that time of day, and two, despite her best efforts, she couldn't keep herself too far from her work. On the bedside table next to a large mug of herbal tea, there sat her laptop, numerous windows open, all having to do with Stark Industries.
Most of them, anyhow. It had been a while since she'd had time to do anything for herself, and a few hours earlier, she'd seen an infomercial and had been inclined to investigate the product. A silly endeavor, but at four in the morning, when her head was so stuffed up that she couldn't sleep, the television was the only company she had. Maybe it was the cold medication, or the sheer tackiness of the advertised product, but she wanted it. Sometimes being around so much money made her want something mediocre.
Either way, she felt restless, and until the second dose of the stuff she'd taken kicked in, the poor woman was stuck leaning against the back of her bed, watching poorly written television. What she wouldn't have given for a warm bowl of soup, or maybe someone to tell her she'd feel better… Pepper pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them, exhaling a puff of air that teased her messy hair. No use putting it up when she wasn't going anywhere.
The last time she'd been sick enough to stay home from work or school was back when she lived with her parents. She might have been in high school, but that didn't stop her father from giving her a big hug and a bigger bowl of chicken noodle soup – Campbell's canned soup, of course – and an assurance that with a little tender love and care, 'My little Virginia will be right as rain.' It surprised her that she missed it so much. "Oh well…" Pepper murmured into her knees and let herself slide down beneath her sheets, adjusting her pillow to try and get some sleep. Thank goodness for Nyquil.
"Uhnnngh." Pepper wasn't sure how long she'd been asleep, but from the pounding in her head and the obvious daylight still trying to sneak in between the slats in her blinds meant that she hadn't slept long enough.
It took her a moment to realize why she woke up in the first place. Sleep-blurred eyes searched the room, and it wasn't until four solid knocks on her door sounded did she realize that noise was the evil little culprit. Pepper's head pounded in time, and she tugged her pillow over her head, wriggled underneath her sheets, and ignored it.
The next time Pepper woke up, it wasn't because of some irritating knocking, or because her medication had worn off. For whatever reason, her brain brought her back to consciousness because she felt like someone was watching her. Very slowly, she opened her eyes and peeked out from beneath her pillow. From her view, all she could see was a belt buckle and the end of a burgundy colored shirt.
It was enough to startle her upright, and nearly make her tumble out of her bed, her limbs tangled in her sheets. She gave a cry as she tumbled sideways, but the intruder caught her wrist, saving her at the last moment. "Wow, Pepper. I've had a few women fall over at the mere sight of me, but I thought you were immune to my charms." He offered her his distinctive smirk.
Pepper wrenched her hand out of his grip and put it against her head. It took her a moment to gather herself, and as soon as she did, Tony was given a face full of pillow. "What are you DOING here?!" the redhead hissed, hands working to at least make her hair stop resembling an angry red spider.
"You said I shouldn't call you, so I thought I'd stop by… When you didn't answer when I knocked, I thought I'd just pop in real fast, see how you were doing, and then leave. I didn't think you'd be sleeping in so late." He glanced at his watch. "One o'clock, Pep? Tsk tsk."
Okay, so he had intended on just dropping by, but when he spotted the woman sleeping so peacefully, he couldn't help himself. He had quietly ventured into her room – the area as crisp and clean as the woman herself – and found himself staring at her sleeping figure. Her shock of red hair flowed out from her pillow, and her arm had been draped over the side of the bed. There was something gripping about seeing Pepper so… relaxed. In fact, he'd never seen her even close to relaxation.
Tony hadn't expected her to wake up how she did, nor to be caught watching her. Something like that wasn't exactly outlined in the employee handbook. But, his quick wit and smart mouth explained his being there well enough. "Either way, you sounded pretty bad on the phone."
Pepper sighed and let herself relax a bit. To be honest, she was surprised that Tony even knew where she lived, much less- "How'd you get in here?" She narrowed her eyes at him, lips pursed into an accusing pout.
"You told me once where you hid your spare key," he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little silver key. "I distinctly remember you saying, 'Of course, Mr. Stark. If you ever have to save me from a horrible demise, I keep my spare key in a little box behind the bushes.' Thinking back on it, I think that was part of a much larger reply to a comment I'd made about being Iron Man, but you probably shouldn't have told me where the key was." Tony raised an eyebrow, "I came to save you, Miss Potts."
For a moment, Pepper felt her cheeks burning more than her slight fever would merit. Damn you, Tony Stark. Even after years of working for the man, she still didn't have him completely figured out. He could be snarky, rude, and full of himself, but still come home with a new woman every night. On the flip side, he was incredibly intelligent – brilliant, even, and could hole himself up in his garage for days on end if she let him, working to better the world. And then there was this side of him.
This was an aspect of the man's personality that she had only seen as of late. It started right after he'd come back from Afghanistan. And it really showed that night at the charity benefit. She'd worn that stupid dress, and she and her boss had danced. Since then, pieces of the man she hadn't known existed kept cropping up. Between those smarmy comments, he'd drop something that would make her really smile. For brief little moments, he proved to her that he could be genuine. And every time, it startled her into losing face. This time was no exception.
"Well, Mr. Stark," She said, clearing her throat. The woman was having trouble not staring at look he was giving her. Of all the people to show up at her house to make sure she was okay, it had been her boss? And on top of that, he looked genuinely worried. "Thanks for your concern, but don't you have something more important to be doing?"
Her blush deepened. "Um…" Pepper coughed and tugged at the sleeve of her too-large t-shirt. Great. He had her speechless.
But Pepper wasn't the only one that was growing uncomfortable. For all the intelligence and brains he knew he had, he also knew that he was very close to screwing something up. Yep. Gone too far this time, Stark. The poor woman's sick, and you break into her house, after she'd said, in so many words, to leave her alone. Think of something fast. You're good at that, right?
"What on earth are you watching?" He broke his gaze with Pepper and nodded towards the television, which had been left on from earlier that morning.
She was grateful for the change of subject. "Um, it looks like Days of Our Lives. I fell asleep with the T.V. on, I guess."
"What's this?" Tony had his eyes fixed on Pepper's laptop. "If you're sick, Pep, you shouldn't be working…" He reached over to snatch the laptop, but Pepper was faster. This time her hand grabbed his wrist and she held it back. Tony looked momentarily bewildered.
With her other hand, Pepper found the remote and turned the television off. "If you weren't my boss," She put emphasis on the last word, and it was only then that Tony realized he was leaning halfway over her to get to the laptop. He quickly righted himself and cleared his throat. Pepper continued, "I'd say you've got no right to tell me what I can and can't do." Ah hah. She was getting her rhythm back. "But since you are, the best I can do is ask you to leave my house."
Tony plucked his hand from Pepper's own, recovering fairly quickly. "Well, I think I can do that. On one condition."
Pepper looked up at him, debating whether to humor him, or stick to what she'd said and force him out. A short deliberation ran through her brain, and in the end, she was simply too exhausted to fight against him. "Okay… What's that, sir?"
Ouch. Sir? He was just trying to help… In his own special Tony Stark way. Nevertheless, he gave her that loving smirk of his and raised his eyebrows, "You let me do something for YOU. I don't know how many times you've had me in bed," His smirk flickered into a self-amused smile.
"Do I want you to finish that sentence?"
"I'm trying here, Pep… Let me finish."
She laughed – actually laughed. He was just like a kid sometimes. "I'll give you that one. How about trying better word choice this time?"
"Fair enough," Tony pouted, but continued. "You've patched me up too many times… Covered my ass for my many mistakes, and all I do is ask more of you. Well, guess what? It's my turn to help you." The man crossed his arms over his chest, momentarily bringing into sharp relief the arc reactor embedded in his chest. It glowed faintly through the dark fabric, but he hardly noticed. He was too intently focused on Pepper's flushed face, his eyes trailing over those freckles. He loved those little freckles.
Pepper found herself gazing momentarily at the device that kept Tony's heart beating. He really was trying, wasn't he? It was funny. Usually he was so very sure of himself, and when he wasn't, he sure as hell knew how to act like it. But the man standing next to her bed, arms crossed, face pulled into a hopeful pout, was as awkward as a little boy asking his first girl to the school dance. If he was willing to shed that tough act he put on, then she was willing to humor him. "Alright, Tony… I'll give you that."
His face immediately lit up and that smile he kept on reserve for the woman sitting in that bed appeared. "Good." He paused. The space of time where he didn't talk grew, but his smile never faded. "You're going to have to help me on this one, Potts."
"I thought you were supposed to be helping me?" She raised an eyebrow, but quickly changed her tone when she saw Tony's face darken. "Alright, Mr. Stark. You might know how to fix machines, but people are a little different." Pepper cleared her throat and rearranged her bed so that she was sitting up. "First, I'll need my pillow. I think your face had it last?" There was a light in her eyes that hadn't been there before. If she didn't know better, she might have admitted to feeling a bit better.
Tony plucked said item from the floor, made a show of fluffing it, and handed it to his assistant. "Here you are, Miss Potts. Good as new."
"Perfect." Pepper used it as a cushion for her back and after fixing her sheets, she placed her hands lightly in her lap. "Now, Mr. Stark, I require some more tea and a great big bowl of chicken noodle soup."
"You got it," Tony said, mimicking her overly professional tone. He then left the room to search for Pepper's kitchen.
As soon as he was gone, Pepper leaned back and took a deep breath. She wasn't sure whether to laugh at the little exchange that had happened, or wonder about Tony's real intentions for visiting. She decided that she was too tired and too sick to think too hard about it, so instead she laughed, ran a hand through her hair, and found she couldn't get that smile off her face. Quite suddenly, it wasn't so bad that she was sick, or that she was sure that Tony had no idea how to properly prepare a can of condensed soup. But that was okay.
It was okay because the only person she had realized that she needed someone, and he'd come, despite her efforts to keep him away. He showed up, unsure of what to do or how to do it, but was willing to try. Despite it being murder on the man's expansive ego, he was willing to do something for her that he wasn't sure he could do. And Tony Stark never admitted he couldn't do something.
Pepper wasn't sure if she'd ever figure out that man. Neither did she want to. Sometimes the little surprises turned out to be the best ones.