Disclaimers and thanks in part one.
Part Two of Two: Pool
It had been several weeks since she'd been to Tony's house and she found - after the initial, customary moment of relief that he hadn't blown it to smithereens in her absence - that she'd missed it – missed the anticipation of walking through the front door with absolutely no idea what she'd find inside: Tony in tight jeans and tighter shirts with wild hair and eyes jogging up the stairs to pull her bodily down to the workshop to show her his latest stroke of genius, Rhodey sprawled on the couch looking maligned at having been kept up all night by Tony in full manic mode, mysterious explosions, odd smells, the 'bots running amuck, music that was deafening even through floors and walls and concrete.
Her office was boring. It was quiet and predictable and professional and she didn't like it as much as she'd thought she would.
Tony's house, just like Tony himself, was never, ever boring.
Which was part of the reason she was standing in the foyer at 9 A.M. on her birthday, purse clutched in one hand, a jar of Very Expensive Greek olives in the other.
"Good morning, and happy birthday, Miss Potts," Jarvis prompted from all around her. "It's very good to see you again."
"Thank you, Jarvis," she said trying to remember when she'd stopped feeling silly speaking to the air and failing utterly. "You reminded him, didn't you?"
"On the contrary, Miss Potts, Mr. Stark remembered on his own."
She was half-convinced he was lying before she reminded herself, like she used to a hundred times a day, that Jarvis was only a computer and that every element of his personality had been gifted to him by the person she was here to see – the same person who seemed to have truly remembered her birthday.
"Where is he?"
"Mr. Stark is awaiting your arrival by the pool and wished for me to tell you that your breakfast is in the kitchen."
Pepper sniffed the air. The house smelled of cologne and the musky scent that was Tony's, the lingering smell of burned metal and soldered electronics. Pine, oddly. Coffee. Absolutely no pancakes or bacon.
"He just cannot take an order, can he?" she muttered as she slipped out of her shoes and padded into the kitchen.
"No, Miss Potts, he cannot," Jarvis said.
Five boxes of sugar cereal were lined up neatly on the counter beside a bowl, spoon, coffee mug and a note that said, in an almost indecipherable scrawl, milk in fridge, coffee in pot, superhero in pool.
She set her purse and her present on the counter, took off her suit jacket and began to make herself breakfast.
"How has he really been, Jarvis?" she asked, pouring Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms into her bowl – it was her birthday, after all – and retrieving the milk from the refrigerator.
"Curiously restrained," the computer answered, just as she trained him to. "He has refrained from alcohol for two weeks, has been sleeping and eating regularly and has utilized the cardiovascular training equipment ten out of the last thirteen days."
She poured herself coffee and bit back a sigh. "It seems that he does better when I'm not around."
"If I might disagree, Miss Potts, I believe that he believes it would please you."
Just a computer, she reminded herself. Just a computer….
That was programmed by Tony Stark.
"Thank you, Jarvis," she said.
"Certainly, Miss. And please visit more often."
She smiled to the ceiling, "Most definitely."
"Where's your bikini?" Tony asked her five minutes later as she navigated her way down to the pool, cereal and coffee in her hands and the olives tucked under her arm.
"Where are my pancakes?" she asked, most definitely not looking at how his swim trunks clung to his hips and almost certainly not worrying about how many bruises she could see mottling his chest and arms.
"You were serious about that?"
"Very. It's my birthday."
"You want me to send Happy to IHOP to get you some? Like you said, it is your birthday and the birthday girl…."
She raised her eyebrows meaningfully. It'd been a while since she'd been a girl and even longer since she'd wanted to be called one.
"The birthday person should get what they want."
"I'm fine with my cereal," she said, settling herself under an umbrella at a table; she had to move a bottle of 85 SPF suntan lotion to make room for everything she carried and, shockingly, her hand shook a little as she did so. "A little sugar-induced heart attack is fun once in a while." She took a mouthful of cereal and shuddered at the overwhelming, throat-clogging sweetness of the stuff. "How the hell do you eat this every morning?" she demanded.
"Sugar. It does a body good," he smirked – and damn it all, she found herself looking over that selfsame body and found herself agreeing with him.
Another spoonful of sugary goodness helped her refocus – right up until he chose to splash off of the float he'd been lolling on and paddle towards where she was sitting. She found herself looking at the muscles in his back because the muscles in his back were very hard not to look at.
At the edge of the pool, he leaned arms that were too well-muscled to really, truly be attractive on the concrete and asked, "Is your bikini under your suit?"
"I told you Tony, I'm not wearing a bikini." But she was looking at those arms.
A leer lit up his face making him look more devil than human. "Are we skinny dipping today, Potts?"
"No, Stark. We are sitting by the pool and talking and, at precisely noon, I'm going to start drinking dirty martinis and keep going until I forget what my job is for a while."
"Sounds like a good day."
She cast him a baleful gaze. "You'll be drinking water."
"Two weeks," she said, smiling beatifically.
"Jarvis has a big mouth."
"He doesn't actually have a mouth, Tony," she noted, shoveling another spoonful of cereal into her mouth. It was starting to grow on her.
Then he pressed up and out of the water and she couldn't not look at his body, even though she knew he was going to see her eyes skim over the skin and muscle and, oh God, why hadn't he given her a fan for her birthday?
He noticed her notice and his eyes darkened as he prowled, honest to God prowled, towards her.
She swallowed heavily and verbally feinted. "This suit is a Dolce and Gabbana and it cost way more than those olives. If you get one drop of water on it you'll be buying me one in every color."
"Yet another reason to try my skinny-dipping idea," he said, giving her a wide-berth anyway and settling down across the suddenly way-too-small table from her.
She sighed and focused on the water and the sunlight that dappled it, sipping her coffee.
"So, how was the office?" he asked in a sing-song voice as he picked up the jar of olives and studied it. "They do look good, don't they?"
"Yes, and the office was…" - stuffy, she thought, boring, empty, too quiet, too clean, too free of talking computers and robots with personalities and you - "Fine. You should come visit once in a while, seeing as how your name is still on the building."
He shrugged and tipped the jar to its side and set it spinning. "I'd come to visit you, that's about it." The jar stopped turning and he frowned at it, spun it again. "And I like it better when you visit me here."
"Guess you shouldn't have made me CEO, then."
He flicked his wrist and the jar spun into a blur of green and silver and red once more; he grinned at her, "But you're so good at it, Potts. Far better than I ever was or ever could be. And I appreciate you. Really and truly." He cleared his throat and shifted and brought bright eyes up to hers. "You sure you don't want a martini now?"
She dropped her eyes to watch the blurred jar as it slowed again; he started it moving again as soon as it stopped. "Why now?" she blurted out, her head coming up sharply, before she could bite it back.
He was looking at her, a slight smile playing at the edges of his mouth. "I know it's not noon yet, but you weren't really serious about th…."
"Why. Now?" she asked again, holding his gaze evenly, "After a decade and a half, why now?"
He looked startled for a moment, then regained his usual cocky composure; he smiled slowly – and sensuously, she couldn't help but notice – and queried, "Why not now, Potts?"
As she tried to decide how she was going to respond to him, the whirring of the jar stopped. His eyes dropped to it and he smiled widely. Her eyes followed his. The lid of the jar was pointed straight at her.
"Tony," she said warningly.
He shrugged. "Rules are rules. That's how the game is played."
"There is no game. I didn't agree to a game," she protested. "It's my birthday! The birthday person gets to choose the games!"
"But tradition – and the immutable laws of spin the bottle - dictates that the birthday person gets a kiss," he said leaning over the table with determination in his eyes and purpose on his face.
She took a deep breath, finally decided – even though she had really decided months before, when he was returned to her out of a cave and the desert – and let her eyes slip closed.
But there was no kiss, just his breath – laced with coffee and sugar cereal - caressing her lips as he said, "This is why now, Virginia. Because you'll let me." And then his lips met hers.
Part of her was firmly in the moment, feeling every crease and indentation of his mouth on hers; another part – one that was gaining ground – was saying Tony! You're kissing Tony! Your boss! Your employee! Boss! Employee! Boss! Employee! Boss! Employee! like she was in a crappy remake of Chinatown.
She blinked and realized that, in fact, Tony was no longer kissing her – he had leaned back and was staring at her with confusion and worry and no small measure of hurt in his brown eyes. The hurt surprised her – calmed her.
"I know it's been months since I did anything like that…."
She raised her eyebrows.
"It's been since before Afghanistan and you know it," he said – which she did, but had kind of wanted to hear him say anyway – "but I was known for it, Potts – famous for it – well, that and other things – and you drift away while I'm doing some of my finest work ever?"
"That was your finest work?" she asked, more than a little touched.
"You couldn't tell?" he demanded. "Good Lord, Pepper."
"It was very good work," she assured him. "It just took a little getting used to."
He frowned. "My kisses take getting used to?"
"Kissing you," she clarified.
His eyes lit. "And?"
She took a deep breath and stared back at him evenly, the last of the panic rapidly dissipating in the wake of the light shining in his eyes. "I could get used to it."
"Excellent," he breathed, leaning towards her again.
"But I want to make it very clear that I'm not having sex with you today." A second after the words were out of her mouth she realized that that she had just implied that she would be having sex with him at some undetermined date in the future. A second after that realization hit she decided she was just fine with it.
Tomorrow?" he asked cheerily.
"Tony," she said, trying for exasperated but sounding pretty damn cheery herself; she closed the distance between their lips and thought briefly that this was what it felt like to be a particle in a supercollider – then that was gone and her only thoughts were of Tony Tony Tony and, unsurprisingly, olives.