The vista upon waking, is far more pleasant than the view the windows provide. Of course, since he opens his eyes to Pepper, he feels like he can take just about anything else in stride.

She s sitting in a chair across the room, laptop open in front of her and lips moving too quickly for him to make out what she s saying. He s pretty sure the soft flow of her voice isn t what had roused him; it s far too comforting he decides as he closes his eyes again and allows her voice to wash over him.

For the next hour or so he rises and falls out of a light doze, always comforted by the fact that Pepper is nearby even if she s not focused on him. At least, not directly focused on his bodily person. He d lay even odds that it s SI business that has her occupied, and since it s his company, that s essentially the same as having her attention.

Of course, all teasing on his part aside, she had resigned the night before. And he can t accept. Not a full resignation as she'd given it. Not if that decision will remove her from his sphere of of

Being, his mind provides helpfully. Your sphere of being.

He waits until Pepper ends her current call. She actually takes out her BlueTooth and rubs her ear as she sighs.

Hey there, gorgeous.

Pepper glances over and though she tries to look stern, he can see her lips twitch like she s trying to hide a smile.

Mr. Stark, if you would please refrain from encumbering me with any further nicknames, I would appreciate it. She stands up and walks over to the side of the bed, brushing his hair away from his forehead as she takes a seat. " you feeling?"

Honestly? I m blaming all of this on you. If your womanly wiles hadn t lured me into bed, I wouldn t have had the time to stiffen up like this. His lopsided grin takes away the sting of his words, but there s a hoarseness to his tone that underlines the sincerity of the complaint.

"Womanly wiles?" She snorts, frowning a little as she leans forward to rest a cool palm against his forehead.

"Do you want me to turn my head and cough, too?" He brushes her hand aside.

"You're feverish," she says. "And heavy metal toxicity can leave you especially vulnerable to infection."

"And yet you wouldn't put on a mask for me when you had the sniffles." Honestly, the Florence Nightingale routine would have had a lot more meaning if it had occurred at least 24 hours previous. "Look, just bring me some Aleve and Jarvis can track down the nearest place that sells chlorophyll for human consumption. Once I'm on my feet some of the stiffness will disappear."

Her frown deepens. "I thought we agreed last night you'd stay in bed for pretty much all of today."

"I assumed you'd make exception for the Jacuzzi, Potts - it'll loosen me up and help prevent the scuzzies..." He waggles his eyebrows. "And if you're worried about me drowning...well you could always take a break and join me."

Pepper sighs. It's sigh #27, the one that means he's won this argument but she's going to remember that he had. A little huff that makes her chest bounce.

He likes sigh #27.

"I wish I could stay -"

"Then do it, Pepper. You re the CEO, remember? And entitled to the occasional break. We'll pretend we're in our own private Cipriani club." Why does he always feel like he's trying to talk her into spending time with him? "Health shakes and saunas all the way."

Her lips quirk again. "I wish I could stay," she repeats. "But I have to go into the office for a few hours. I've already set Natalie on bringing surveyors out to the Malibu house so that we can get estimate on how bad the structural damage is and how much it's going to cost to repair. This is assuming of course that you want to stick with the original blueprints." Pepper stands and walks back across the room to the table where she'd left her laptop. "I found this for you, between the cushions of the couch in your study." She hands him a clipboard sized piece of Plexiglas, a larger example of the same tech that his smart phone is based on.

"Rather than writing on walls," she advises him, "why don't you use this. It's certainly easier to transport."

He takes it, nodding. Chews on his lip a little. "Just...hold off...on the mansion completely, okay? I mean, it's not like I can't stay on the couch for a few weeks until I can think things over."

"Or, you could stay in the east wing which escaped most of the structural damage." Pepper sends a quick text to Natalie to let her know to only authorize the estimates. "However, that's hardly a concern for the moment." She closes her phone with a snap and turns her full attention back to Tony. "I really do have to go, Tony. I wanted to at least be here when you woke up before I get sucked into things at the office."

"You sure you don't want me to tag along?" He swings his legs over the edge of the bed in preparation to stand. "I mean I could just...hang out on the couch in your office or something."

"Are you sure you didn't hit your head?" Pepper runs her fingers through his hair fondly, and there's a gentle look on her face. "I've been working from the table over there since about seven this morning. Our official SI statements have been issued to us by SHIELD, along with your official statement about yesterday. Stock is up due to the major news outlets reporting that you were working in conjunction with the U.S. military to stop a terrorist attack on the city. Someone however, has to meet with the mayor and the governor about any distances SI is willing to go to in order to cover the cost of repairs. Which we will haggle over before agreeing that we will pay for no more than 40% of rebuilding costs. In the meantime, we will be looking for a suitable replacement site for the Expo's larger events." Pepper's smile is a little wistful. "I've got everything covered, Mr. Stark. All you have to do is sit back and recover."

"Why are we paying for repairs?" Tony asks, trying not to feel left out. He gave Pepper the job to take care of this stuff, after all.

"Good will and good press. Thankfully no irreplaceable national landmarks were damaged. Besides...we were smart enough to make sure last year that terrorist attack was added to coverable damage on our insurance."

"I saved their overconfident butts, Tony grumbles before doing some lightning calculations in his head. I suggest you offer them twenty at max. That way you look generous and they think they've won when you agree to thirty." He tilts his head. "By the way, just to give you warning: expect a pissed of call today or tomorrow from Rhodey."

"Call him to make sure he's not in it before you shut it down?" Pepper's eyes twinkle. "That is what you're going to do, isn't it? Put a high-tech 'Club' on the suit?"

"Already did so actually. Had Jarvis make sure it was unoccupied before turning it into a very expensive tin can." He shrugs, "Given the Armed Forces inability to cope with it safely so far, it won't be flying for anyone until Rhodey and I have a little chat. I won't trust the thing to the military but I might lease it solely to him."

"Well, play nice this time." Pepper stands one last time, retrieving a navy blue blazer from across the room. For the first time Tony notices that Pepper is pretty casually dressed for someone going into the office. Jeans, white t-shirt. Heels, naturally but no jewelry other than the diamond studs he rarely sees her without.

"No power suit?"

"It's Saturday, I was up all night with you, and based on some of the precedents set by my predecessor, I'm overdressed." Pepper stops by the side of the bed for a quick kiss. "Stay out of too much trouble? Can I get you anything while I'm out?"

"Thai food for dinner. Command and Conquer 4. And a pony."

"You sure your stomach is up for Thai?" Pepper looks concerned.

"How much time did you spend on WebMD, Potts?"

" hour or so...?" she admits reluctantly.

"Then you'll know my taste buds are affected as well. It's got to be spicy to TASTE like anything right now."

Tony s satisfied as all of his previous requests finally registered. "Did you just say a pony?"

"Just checking to see if you're actually listening to me yet." Tony pulls Pepper down for a more thorough goodbye kiss. One that leaves her eyes a little foggy when they finally part.

" are disallowed any pets," she murmurs back. "The world does not need an iron goldfish, dog or cat."

"How about an Iron Llama?"


Tony just barely keeps himself from saying, "I want one."

"Do you want Thai from that place in Brooklyn, or will any place do?" Tony has always had his favorites and tends not to deviate from them.

"Brooklyn definitely. The bakery next door sells those obscene mini cream puffs that you like to eat for dessert." Pepper blissed out on processed sugar was a little easier to remember than strawberries. Not to mention it was sexy as hell, and he rarely forgot anything that was sexy as hell.

"As you wish, Buttercup." Pepper chucks him under the chin and leaves. Suddenly the room is just a room with a great view, with nothing else to hold him there.

Natalie comes in a few minutes later with two Aleve, a green protein shake ("It's what's available at the moment, Mr. Stark ), and a digital camera with hi-res photos of the living room walls on the memory chip.

Tony takes the meds, downloads the photos to his techboard - 'Eat your heart out, Steve Jobs.' - and takes the board and the shake into the bathroom so he can adjourn to the Jacuzzi. If he can soak some of the aches out of his body, then maybe he can walk without looking like a old man, and then Pepper won't give him a hard time.

And maybe tomorrow she'll let him go out with her.


By one-thirty after just two hours of behaving himself Tony s ready to climb the walls.

Can t is a word that s never been in his vocabulary. Won t that one he s intimately familiar with. Won t implies a decision, one made by him. Can t is a limitation set by external forces. Even the limitations forced on him by Pepper start to rub eventually.

Rationally, he knows the walls aren t closing in on him. If he wants to be fair, then he can step back from his mounting restlessness and say that he s been living under a death sentence for the last however many months. That the only thing standing between him an oblivion has been his mind and it s ability to figure a way out of this hellhole of his own making. That he d leapt before he looked and it had resulted in unforeseen consequences.

Rationally, he knows he s done this whole live by the sword/die by the sword - or shield, or prosthesis - routine before. And look at how that had turned out.

However, the fact that he has done all this before leaves him feeling as if the last two years haven t happened and he s that same man who d stepped off a cargo plane to Californian sunshine and Pepper s bright smile. The emotional d j vu leaves him feeling like he doesn t know himself any more, which is unsettling enough in itself. He can stand it, though. He can tell himself that it s a passing feeling and in a few days or a few weeks at most, he ll be back to his usual, confident, energetic self.

It s the sensation of being trapped trapped in a cave, trapped in his suit, trapped inside his own dying flesh that makes it really hard not to bolt. The only thing that keeps him inside the penthouse is a feeling that Pepper needs him to behave responsibly right now. And not for his own sake, but for hers. She needed to not worry about him for a few hours.

Bolting without any purpose or destination would be irresponsible and would, therefore, worry Pepper.

So for the fifth time in the last half hour, Tony turns the TV on and flips through the thousand or so stations in search of something to keep him occupied until she got back.

News, news, news, CSPAN, news

Jarvis, find out who called Pepper last year s model. If he can't build anything right now, he can at least brush up on the lost art of 'vengeance.'

"Please specify search parameters," Jarvis requests. As Tony's parameters include seven 24-hour news channels with a week's worth of backlog, that's over a thousand hours of programming. Enough to keep Jarvis occupied for a few hours at least.

He sighs and tosses the TV remote across the room. The same can t be said of him. There s jack-squat on right now, unless he wants to watch buddy cop marathons, which he doesn t because Rhodey had used up Tony s monthly quota of patience for one liners the night before.

Damnit, he mutters to himself as he shoves his body off the couch and goes to look out the windows. He s in New York City, whose reputation is for never sleeping, and he might as well be in a coma for all he s allowed to do.

He s about to say screw it and he ll make it up to Potts later, when Natalisha as he s decided to call her and Happy come into the room. They look like they re ready to flank him and he has to wonder why everyone is suddenly so good at reading his mind and why couldn t they have figured this out earlier and saved him the death-defying stupidities of the last week.

Let s face it. He s a man who loves nothing better than putting on a good show, and dying slowly and painfully in his own bed had for him ranked only slightly above dying in obscurity. The best way to go was after sex with a beautiful woman though it probably wouldn t be all that great for the woman involved, and Pepper hadn t exactly been inclined to grant him a last request anyway. Pepper, who was always watching him even if they weren t speaking. Pepper, the reason those second-best, blaze of glory plans had never quite worked out because he had never worked out how to get the glory without hurting the girl. Who d be watching.

And, if the welcoming committee at the door was indication, was still watching.

I don t need a babysitter.

Yes, Mr. Stark. Director Fury said to inform you that cleanup efforts are under way at the Flushing Meadows site. He thought you might want to know that the Hammer drones are being stored at a separate facility from the other wreckage.

Tony's forehead wrinkles and he frowns a little. "And how did he manage that. I mean aren't they technically the property of the US Military? The joint chiefs should be screaming."

The two trade looks, Natashalie shrugs. "The drones are considered too big a flop to be anything but an embarrassment at present. Granted the only thing wrong with them before they were destroyed was a software hack...but at this point no one knows that. Even if they did...they're short a man capable of fixing them."

Happy's lips curve up a little at the corners. "Speaking of which, Sir, you're invited to dinner with the Director of Homeland security."

Tony laughs, though it hurts his bruised ribs. "What happened to Hammer? He couldn't have possibly died of embarrassment, not after that missile defense fiasco back in 2000."

"Ms. Potts had him arrested," Natashalie reports. "For aiding and abetting an international fugitive. His lawyers are still trying to get him out on bail."

His chuckles increase. "Which means the best chance they have of getting those drones fixed is me." The irony of being the 'man of the hour' in this particular case very much tickles his fancy. Granted it's going to also be a royal pain in the ass. He's not all that good at saying "No" repeatedly without losing his patience.

'They've all tried threats to no avail...the only option left's to court me.'

"Yes, well, before you start making yourself presentable for your date, Directory Fury would like any information you have on what a damaged RT unit might look like." Natalie - really, the permutations of Natalie and Natasha are starting to give him a headache - gives him a much more straightforward stare than usual.

"He wants me to explain...?" A light bulb goes on over Tony's head. "Oh. Why didn't you say so?" Tony brushes past them both and heads for his bedroom for a jacket and a pair of shoes. "Hey, Rushmanoff, let Pepper know where we're headed. She'll be pissed if no one's here when she gets back."

Happy frowns. "Sir, Ms. Potts told me earlier you were on ordered bed rest until later this evening."

Tony waves a hand. "This is different...Fury saved my bacon the other day. The least I can do is answer his questions personally. How hard is it to sit in a chair and trade technobable, honestly?"

Happy knows the talking isn't going to last long before the former boss is clambering around and possibly over bits and pieces of drones to scavenge whatever he doesn't want someone outside of SI or SHIELD to see. However, Happy's also a guy and he gets it. Sitting around has been getting on his nerves too.

"Tell me this place is inside and has AC," he asks Natalie without looking at her. He still doesn't know what to think about the woman, but Tony both seems to have some idea of what's going on and trusts her enough to take care of it.

"We even have bottled water," Natalie says, just as coolly.

"Great...I figure...ten minutes to gather my tools and then we can leave?" Tony reappears with a blazer that probably costs more than the average person makes in a month and a ratty pair of tennis shoes.

Natasha clears her throat in a clearly non-vocal 'I do not approve.' But she doesn t argue the subject. For which Tony is grateful, honestly.

Pepper he can take it from; her evil twin not so much.

Pepper. She's probably going to have seven kinds of fits over this. "Yo, Natalie. Don't tell Ms. Potts we're going until we get there." It's dishonest, but Tony just doesn't have the patience or the strength to explain himself in detail to Pepper right now. He'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission in this case.

The woman's lips purse. "Very well," she says simply.

He nods then turns and heads for tool closet/pantry. Pepper has, on more than one occasion, tried to get him to move the assorted tools into his bedroom. He always refuses, saying he'd rather throw out food than clothes if he forgets to cap the WD-40. Besides, nothing in here is really going to be ruined when he upends one of the smaller tool boxes and starts tossing in what he thinks he might need. Those explosions the night before had looked pretty damn effective, so he's honestly going to be surprised if anything has survived, but arc reactor technology is still exclusive to his company. No way is anyone getting their hands on damaged or even mostly destroyed components.

"Okay, let's roll." He wonders briefly why Happy is here instead of driving Pepper, but figures she entrusted the bodyguard with bodily keeping him in the penthouse while she flitted about town. Too bad she hasn't been the boss longer; as it is, Happy just walks slow.

"Do you want to stop anywhere for food on the way, Sir? You should eat a decent meal or two while you're over there at least."

"Uhh..." What? Hadn t he eaten only a couple of hours ago? "Pepper's bringing back Thai. I'd hate to ruin my appetite." What there is of it. "Coffee though. Let's stop and get some coffee."

"How about a smoothie. I promised Ms Potts I'd at least attempt to keep you away from alcohol and caffeine."

"Attempt being the operative word," Tony says. "Who's the boss around here? Wait, don't answer that." No one else knew about the delicate negotiating that was going to have to take place to keep Pepper as the boss.

"Just trying to make her stress a little less, Sir," Happy informs him Sahara dryly. Which meant Happy agreed with the assessment, but can t say that because they re guys. And guys let each other do stupid macho things without advising caution.

"Well, what Pepper doesn't know won't hurt her," Tony mutters, absolutely aware that it's a crappy excuse. Coffee? She's going to tell him he can't have coffee now? Like he hasn't been fine drinking coffee before today?

"Fine. Find me a Jamba Juice."

"Right away, Sir." Happy waits till he climbs in the town car s rear seat, than slams the door shut behind him.


Pepper s in the middle of meeting with the mayor of New York City, the governor of New York state, and all the Stark Industries Board members who could make it, discussing reparations and causality and if perhaps a fundraiser to repair the Expo center could be fit into the coming events at the Expo itself when her cell phone lights up like a mini-reactor and starts vibrating. As the meeting has primarily dissolved into people repeating what they d said an hour ago, she wakes the screen up and reads the text waiting for her. She d expected Tony to start texting her when he got bored, but he s lasted far longer than she would have bet money on.

The message isn t from Tony though. It s from Natalie, and it s enough to have her pushing away from the table. She excuses herself with a mutter and a certain amount of strained patience that has most people assuming that Stark Industries majority stock holder has done something new as well as leaving a few people wondering why the CEO is still answering to what amounts to one of her employees, despite the long history between them.

Pepper has to wait until she s out of the elevator and on the ground floor before she can call Natalie back.

"What do you mean he insisted on a field trip," is her first demand when the other woman answers her phone.

"Mr. Stark saw fit to go personally answer some questions regarding the Hammertech drones that were recovered by Colonel Fury. I believe his exact words on the matter were, and I quote, I owe him.

Pepper raises a brow at that. 'Since when does Tony owe anyone?'

In the distance she can hear the drone of Tony's voice as he talks to someone. The voice becomes louder and more distinct. "Is that Pepper? Ask her to stop and get me another Jamba Juice."

"Tell Mr. Stark that running his errands isn't in my job description anymore." Pepper hangs up, her mood wildly alternating between relief and something like panic as she flags down a taxi. He'd sounded good. Engaged, alert, aware...but then, she'd say that about his behavior for most of the last few months, which is the reason her stomach is unsettled.

Damn it. He really is going to be the death of her. Or at least he will if she can't find some sort of happy medium between blissed out and stressed out.

A taxi stops. She gets in. Instructs the driver to first go to the nearest Jamba Juice before instructing him to Fort Hamilton. She s dropped off at the main entrance where there's a man in a black suit waiting for her in a golf cart. The look of calm expectation on his face does a lot to remind her of Agent Coulson.

He looks at the Jamba Juice. Pepper doesn't say anything except how the breeze is pretty pleasant since the day has heated up. Then she sips at the (uck!) raspberry with wheatgrass smoothie.

If she chooses to run errands for Tony then it s nobody s business but her own, damnit.

Five minutes later they're pulling up in front of a nondescript warehouse. "Sorry, Ms. Potts." Happy meets her at the door. "I tried to change his mind but he was practically climbing the walls with inactivity."

Pepper's nod is wry. "I should have given him orders to write out the numbers for the RT and sketch out his latest baby's schematics for me..." Tony is, after all, unchangeably Tony. Absent alcohol and drugs, he's really no better than she is at coping with inactivity. Or so she'd told herself, over and over on the cab ride first to Jamba Juice, and then to this base, as a means to cool her simmering temper and calm her head.

The attempt lasts as long as it takes her to actually physically see Tony.

He's wearing the good jeans. Which had always clung so nicely to his ass. Which had for the most part escaped the grease trap that was the rest of his 'shop clothes' for lack of an actual shop to muck them up in. She'd loved that particular set of jeans.

Which are now covered in grease stains and scorch marks and God knew what else.

Damn man. And damn Hammertech. She was so sending Justin Hammer a fruit basket in jail or something.

He's perched up on a mountain of blackened metal that probably is destined for a scrap yard somewhere - if it's good for even that now - like he's some kind of two-legged mountain goat or German shepherd sans-lederhosen. And he's not. This morning he could barely get upright without help, and now these idiots are pressing him too hard to explain what they can't, and her idiot is grinning happily. Though, that's probably because he hasn't noticed the determined way she's stalking towards him.

Somehow she holds on to enough patience to keep from interrupting as he finishes a highly technical discussion with someone in coveralls.

"Tony." The strained, on the border of shrill tone in her voice is far too familiar after the last few months. Result of feeling one too many times that he's listening but not hearing anything she's saying. "What are you doing -"

"Digging out pirated RT bits...can't have the army trying to reverse engineer from it." He gestures to the drink in her hands. "Is that for you or for me?"

"What do you think?" she demands, more along the lines of 'What are you thinking.'

"I think you're pissed and there's no point in defending myself until you're ready to listen." Tony wipes his arm across his forehead. If he'd been attempting to keep grease and who knows what else off his face, he fails. "I'm honestly not in the mood for a dressing down from anyone who isn't my mother. Now. Is that for me or is it one of those disgusting soy milk deals that you like?"

She shoves the glass in his hand. "Wheatgrass, apple juice, blueberry and raspberry."

He takes a sip then nods his head, as if in approval. "Thanks. It was another one of these, soda or their godawful coffee."

She opens her mouth because whether he's in the mood for it or not, this doesn't look anything like taking it easy to her. Tony though, he just grabs her hand and hauls her towards the back of the room where there's a couple of card tables, some folding chairs, and three vending machines.

"Look, I'm taking a break." He sits and pulls her into a chair next to him. "You can skip the lecture on knowing my limits." He mutters under his breath about having to break her into a new habit of asking how his day's been before she starts haranguing him. There's enough bitterness is the comment that Pepper actually blinks.

'Haranguing?' Is that really how he's been reading it?

Okay maybe lately she has tended...a bit...toward the negative recently.

She sighs and fights the urge to rub her eyes, because she doesn't really need to smear her mascara around. "A break is not the same thing as bed rest. Not even remotely."

"I'm fine. Been sitting talking except the last half an hour or so. Honestly."

She studies him a minute. He sounds like he's telling the truth, but finding out that he's been lying - if at least lies of omission - to her for the last who knows how long has left her sense of trust in him sorely battered. Just knowing that is enough to leave her feeling lost. She d thought she d known him, but it turns out she s been in the dark for weeks. It s going to take time for to adjust to the like again.

And in the meantime, how the hell is best to get her point across?

Finally, softly, "What would you want me to be doing while recovering from heavy metal poisoning, Tony?" Because even if she can t count on him to tell her the truth, she s pretty sure she can count on him to look after her best interests.

In Stark-world, that means a confiscation of her phone and schedule book at the very least.

Silence reigns as he studies the tabletop. Then, "You don't fight fair." Equally softly.

A smile curls one side of her mouth as she squeezes his hand a moment. "Yeah? Can't imagine who taught me."

"I was going nuts, Potts...the men in white coats were gonna have to come and cart me off."

"The only men in white coats you deal with are lab techs." Pepper sighs again and resists the urge to lean her head against his shoulder. "I wish someone would come cart you off. Then I might get some honest answers about your general state of health."

"Would it help if I asked Fury to lend one of his goon MDs to look me over? Because I will."

Pepper raises a brow. "You're offering to see a doctor voluntarily?"

He shrugs. Yeah, he gets it. There's a huge breach of trust running right down the middle of their relationship right now, and since Pepper just found out about it, she's pissed. Maybe not even with him, totally, just reactionary pissed. If someone said "boo" to her right now, that would be her first reaction.

So she's pissed, and they have a breach of trust, and he's not dying anymore. And Pepper who just found out about all of this is still stuck on "Tony's dying" and hasn't moved on like he has.

"I want you to be in like with me again," he finally says as an answer. Really, he s willing to settle for like at the moment. And if getting poked and prodded is what it's going to take so she'll start being the sweet kind of worried instead of the angry harpy kind, then he'll let himself be poked and prodded this once. Besides, its not as if SHEILD hadn't sort of treated him medically one time already.

"Can we just..." She sighs. "Is there anything here that can't wait until tomorrow?" she finally answers. "This conversation is not being improved by the fact that I'm starving..."

Tony hands over the smoothie and half eaten bag of chips he'd pulled from the machine almost automatically.

"You were going to pick up Thai," he reminds her as she accepts the bag of chips with a small laugh.

"And go by a pharmacy," she agrees. "Then someone derailed my plans. Oh well, at least the Thai place delivers." She crunches down on one cheddar and sour cream Ruffle with a very innocent look.

"There's a Walgreens outside the main gate," he informs her somberly.

She snorts. Tony Stark, her man with a plan. After climbing around in here for however long she wonders if he'll even manage to stay awake long enough to make a move on her. After being furious with him for running around with his precarious health, she wonders if she's ready to do more than flirt.

He sighs a little. "We should probably stop there...I'm almost out of 'death by green.'"

"Is the chlorophyll really that awful?"

"Nah...just sick to death of drinking it day in and day out for over 18 weeks. Once I don't have to anymore I'm gonna smash the blender ceremonially."

She just manages not to flinch at his timeline. Over three months. He s known about the poisoning for over three months. "And what? Send someone out to Jamba Juice three times a day so you can get shakes?" Pepper gives in and rests her head against the ball of his shoulder because she s just so damn weary of resisting everything. Allowing him to be her headrest is a minor infraction compared to some of what she wants to do. "If we go home now, I can get in a bit of a nap before dinner."

His hand strokes through her hair. "Why do I get the feeling I'm not the one who really should have said 'fuck it' and just stayed in bed this morning?"

"Yes, but someone made me the responsible one in this partnership. Besides, if I'd slept instead of getting up every time you did last night, I'd be fine."

He frowns a little at that. "Sounds like I better move out to the living room couch then, for tonight at least. You're not going to do either of us any good if you drive yourself to the point of collapse, Pep."

Pepper's bright peal of laughter actually stops work as it echoes through the warehouse. She doesn't notice though, just hangs on Tony's shoulder, allowing her stress to seep out of her as she laughs and laughs. The irony of the statement coming from him is just too much.

"Ha-ha. Look at the hypocrite," Tony, getting the joke, replies sardonically.

She shakes her head against his chest, trying to bring herself back under control. It's's been a long day, she has no idea what's doing - either personally or professionally - and she's in love with a man whose entire life is going to be a series of life-threatening events.

God, if that was really going to be a deal breaker for her, then she should have walked the first time she'd threatened to quit.

Tony's arms settle around her comfortably. "Hey be careful," he whispers teasingly. "I kind of like this shirt."

"And I liked the pants before you went and ruined them."

"You liked my pants?" Tony raises an eyebrow.

"I like the way they fit," she admits.

"Tell me more..." His eyes are twinkling.

"Take me home," she counters. The quickness of his response surprises her. And she s not talking about how quickly he stands and pulls her to her feet, taking a position just a little behind her as they walk towards the exit.

Do I get to vote on what happens when we get there? he asks in her ear as they collect Natalie and Happy.

"The last thing you need is an ego-rub, Tony."

"I thought you preferred to refer to it as my 'pride.

"If you're not careful, I'm going to refer to it as your brain."

Tony snorts. "If it is, Potts, I haven't been able to use it much lately."

"I'm sure you've been brainstorming on your own."

"Umm...occasionally. Haven't had much drive to be...thoughtful...recently."

As they leave the building, Pepper twists her head around and whispers into his ear, "Maybe you should think about me tonight."

He shivers just a little. Then leans in to whisper back, "I will. Believe me."

"Good," she volleys back, just the tiniest bit smugly.

"Get a roof!" Until he suddenly appeared behind them, Pepper hadn't realized Rhodey was on the base. Though it figured, considered he was the current military liaison to Hammertech, and therefore responsible for drafting a report about what happened the night before.

"If I ignore him and you ignore him, maybe he's not really there," Tony whispers into Pepper's ear. There are of course, other means of driving Rhodey off, but he doesn't think Pepper's up for PDAs yet.

"So...wanna explain the 7 foot tall metal statue that might as well be an idol to the god of war that's now gracing my spare bedroom, Tony?" Rhodes voice is mostly bemused, which Pepper supposes is a good thing.

Tony looks to Pepper. "He's never had any appreciation for modern art, has he?"

"Or performance art for that matter," Rhodey shoots back, noting the way Tony's arm is draped comfortable around Pepper's waist.

"Your loss," Tony responds. "So Pep...shall we share our Thai food with Rhodey, do you think?"

"I don't know...while I nap do the two of you promise to play nicely?"

"Nap?" In his experience, Pepper Potts does not take naps. As far as Rhodey's concerned, this is a sign of the coming apocalypse.

"Yeah, I kept her up all night." Tony grins until Pepper nudges him quite deliberately in the ribs. "Fine, I couldn't sleep and my sheer engineering genius woke her up repeatedly. And that wasn't a metaphor for anything."

Rhodey looks at her with a grin. "One word, Pepper: sedative." Tony makes a protesting sound, and Rhodey bumps shoulders with him. "Hey it could be worse at least I didn't tell her about your weird Enya induced narcolepsy thing."

"Until now," Tony grouses as he rubs his shoulder. "Ow, by the way. Why aren't you as sore as I am?"

"Enya?" Pepper asks, unable to not.

"Try it sometime after 8 pm. He drops like a stone. I think his mom may have subliminally brainwashed him or something."

Tony opens the door to the town car for Pepper, allowing her to climb in first. Which, incidentally, is another first for their relationship. "You joining us, or are you going to chew me out over the phone for the crackdown later?" he asks the colonel.

"My evening s free. I'd rather curse your lineage in person."

"Lovely. Just remember to keep it down because Pepper will be 'napping.'" Tony places special emphasis on the word. He kind of likes the thought that he's worn her out without trying. When he doesn't feel bad that she's worn out on his behalf, that is.

His feelings on the subject are complicated.

He climbs in then, allowing Happy to close the door for him, Pepper and Rhodey. Though Rhodey, notably, decides to ride up front with Happy. Whether for space or to dig for intelligence Tony doesn't know.

"You should stop baiting him," Pepper murmurs as she kicks off her shoes for the ride back to the penthouse.

"He wouldn't know how to deal with me if I did." Nearly 20 years of friendship and one hell of a pounding has done very little to alter his bond with Rhodey. He slips an arm around her waist and tugs gently; Pepper slides into the curve of his side willingly.

"You are covered in grease," she points out, though really it's just his jeans and the front of his t-shirt that have suffered. The side she's pressed up against appears to be relatively clean. "You're honestly telling me you'd only been pulling things apart for half an hour."

"What? You doubt my manual agility?" Tony's eyes twinkle at her merrily.

"You're really dirty," she repeats. "And not in a good way. It usually takes you awhile to work up to this state."

"Okay...maybe I was working closer to a hour," he reluctantly concedes. "But believe me, it didn't feel like it."

"Of course it doesn't. Time always flies when you're having fun."

Tony wants to tell her that times also flies when you're running out of it, but that would be something of a mood crusher, and he kinda wants her to be thinking about him during her nap too.

Pepper, oblivious to his thoughts, sighs deeply. "You're going to be back out there tomorrow, aren't you?"

"Pep, no one else is qualified to know what needs to be pulled. Though I suppose I could try showing Rhodey."

'Yeah,' she thinks. 'And that would last for maybe half the day. And then he'll be back down there.' Rather than fight him over this, perhaps she should offer a compromise before it becomes an issue.

"We could spend a few hours down there tomorrow afternoon," she offers slowly. This provides for time to sleep late in the morning, and provides her company while he's there. Hopefully he'll be more tempted to take breaks if she's waiting there with him. Besides, she'll be working and she might as well work at the same time he is, otherwise she'll drive him nuts and make him more inclined to find occupation of his own.

Tony nods his head. "I can live with that. I probably only have about another half day s work left anyway gutting those damn drones out. Some of Vanko's modifications got -" He makes a motion like gears turning in his head.

She's uncertain if he means crazy or crazy-advanced. Not that it matters, since the drones for the most part have been blown into unrecognizable rubble.

Tony yawns suddenly. "You know, maybe I should traumatize Rhodey by ditching him and joining you for that nap."

"Do you really think he's a man who's going to be put off because you're tired? I think you're just going to have to settle for calling it an early night."

His hand runs feather light up the arch of her neck. "I could definitely live with that."

"To sleep," she emphasizes.

"Spoil sport," he banters back idly. "Don't worry...speed seduction's not really my thing."

She snorts. "Anymore."

"I was never the one doing the seducing. Well not really." He shrugs, "To be truthful I missed the slow dance occasionally."

She's not going to go any farther into that with him. Not now. Because from the outside looking in, he'd certainly looked seductive on more than one occasion. Now, whether anyone ever resisted long enough to allow him to put intent into action? That she'd be willing to accept.

"If it makes you feel any better, I'm going to make you work your ass off."

Tony snorts. "And this is new how, exactly?"

"Well, I just want to do everything I can to help you be...satisfied."

He gulps. "Pepper if you want me to be good, you've got to stop feeding these lines to me."

"Why? I've yet to hear anyone claim you're ever anything but good."

Tony's brows raise. "Really? Do tell."

"We've already determined I'm not stroking your ego tonight, Stark."

"Or salving my pride, or providing mental stimulation. You're such a puritan, Pepper." He can feel her shoulders quiver as she laughs quietly.

"Do you ever give up?"

"Not when there's a tempting challenge in front of me."

"Mmmm..." Pepper stretches, like she's going to come in for a kiss, but then there's the sharp sound of knuckles on the divider. Rhodes has clearly been keeping an eye on them.

"Maybe he thinks I have brain damage and that you're taking advantage of my helpless state," Pepper says after she kisses Tony's cheek somewhat defiantly.

"More likely he's got some 'if I ain't got a life than you ain't getting one' envy."

The car pulls to a stop in front of their building. Tony gets out first so that he can offer a hand to Pepper...and so he can hide the moan that straightening out causes.

"You two aren't nearly as attractive as you think you are," Rhodey mentions once they're closed into the elevator without an audience.

"Bullshit," Tony fires back. "We are sex god seals with grapes."

"Hey, if you're going to admit that, more power to you. Most men would try to bluff their way out of that. Overcompensate. Drive fast sports cars, that sort of thing -"

Rhodey grunts as Tony balls up his fist and punches him good naturedly.

"There is a lady present," he informs Rhodes.

"Two actually, judging by the way that you hit."

Pepper rolls here eyes. "And on that note...I'm going to lay down awhile. Tony, please do your best to not let this dissolve into actually pulling out tape measures."

"Is this a bad time to mention the size of my measuring tape?" This time it's Tony who grunts as Pepper hits his chest. "Hey, sweetie pie? Can I get some clean clothes?" he calls as she shuts the bedroom door behind her.

"You are pushing it," Rhodey informs him a moment before the door opens a crack and a clean pair of jeans and a new shirt land on the floor. The door closes again.

Tony pounds on the door. "I need boxers too, Honeypot..."

The door opens a second time. From where Rhodes is standing, it looks like Pepper hauls Tony down by the front of his shirt. Her voice murmurs something in that ominous cadence women get when their words are actually pretty pleasant. The kind of tone that makes a man take a minute before he realizes he s been threatened.

When Tony turns away and the door closes for a last time, he actually looks somewhat abashed. Though, maybe that's just because the boxers he's got in one hand are covered in tiny pink hearts.

"Pepper says pet names belong in the bedroom," he announces. "Though, I use them at my own risk."

"TMI, Stark."

"What else is new. Excuse me for a moment." Tony actually takes his clothes into one of the bathrooms off the hall to change instead of dropping trou where he is.

It's enough to make Rhodey raises an eyebrow for a moment. Since when is Tony modest?

Since never.

Though come to think of it...his mind slides back to an earlier conversation. He frowns. The first thing he and Tony are covering this afternoon are the words 'no longer dying.'