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Tony was concerned again. Not so much for Anna anymore, but himself. He was concerned that he wasn't in very good shape. His mirror always showed that there wasn't an inch of flab on him, but this little girl was quite literally running circles around him. After growing tired of bouncing, she'd wanted to go outside. Briefly considering getting a leash for the girl, Tony decided that it would be difficult to lose her on the beach so there was no worry.

They'd walked – well, she'd skipped – down the private road from his house down to the beach. Although he gave her several repeated warnings not to get wet, Anna, upon touching the sand, took off like a shot for the water.

Tony hadn't been surprised.

At least she'd taken of the little jacket of her suit. The rest of her clothes were going to have to be dry-cleaned though. He'd stayed close enough to the water that it'd take little time to jump in and save her, and far enough away that she couldn't reach him when she kicked water at him.

Eventually, Anna became bored with the water and instead started looking for seashells and the like along the shoreline, flitting about like a hummingbird and giggling insanely. She moved too often to really find a lot of things, but Tony walked after her at a slower pace and picked up a few for her. Each time, she'd come over and look before dashing off to find more than him.

Her youthful joy and enthusiasm were exhausting, and he was considered immature beyond his years. Apparently, he was at least older than eight.

And now she was running circles around him as he sat in the middle of the trench she'd dug with her shoes.

If this was normal child behavior, there was no way he was having any of his own.

Anna went behind him and jumped on his back, wrapping her arms around his neck and squeezing.

"Let's play somethin' else!" Anna demanded.

Tony gagged as he pried her arms from around his throat while she giggled.

"Okay," he coughed. "What do you wanna play?"

"I wanna play boxing in the big square thing!"

"You mean the ring?" he asked as he stood, hefting her more securely onto his back.

"No," she angled her head so she could frown at him, "it's a square. Not a circle."

"Yeah, but it's called a ring."

"That's stupid," Anna said, leaning back from him and kicking her heels into his spleen and liver. "Let's just play with it."

"No kicking! I'm not a horse."


Despite the bruise he was sure she'd just given him, Tony laughed.


Once they made it to the house, Tony sent Anna to go dry off while he retrieved Anna's bags from where they'd been dropped in the living room since the previous day and took them up to her room. He found her on the floor, curled into the tiniest ball imaginable with the towel wrapped over her.

"Finally," he whispered.

Just as he was about to back out of the room, it occurred to him that this might not be like one of his drunken binges. Just because people usually left him where he passed out after he had too much of what he loved, it probably didn't apply to children.

He knelt down and poked her, and she squirmed away.

"Anna. Oh, Anna. Wake up, muffin. You can't sleep in wet clothes."

"'M tired," she argued.

"I know you are, but you'll get sick. You don't want that, do you?"

"G' away."

"Come on," he insistently peeled the firmly clutched towel off of her, "I'll run you a warm bath, and then you can put on your nice PJs, and I won't bother you anymore."

She rolled onto her belly and scooted halfway under the bed. Tony rolled his eyes.

"Anna. Anna. Anna…Anna Anna bo banna, banana fanna fo fanna, me my mo manna!"


For a little girl, she made quite a show of disgust as she squirmed out from under the bed, shot Tony the dirtiest look he'd seen since he accidentally set Rhodey up with a transvestite, then proceeded to stomp impressively into the bathroom.

Tony grinned.

He won.

Feeling completely smug and absolutely pleased with himself, Tony set her bags by the bathroom door.

"Your clothes are outside, honey."

Anna said something, and he thought have been 'screw you', but he decided to let that go. She was just a sore loser. Shrugging it off, he walked out of the blue room.

"J.A.R.V.I.S, I'm going down to the lab. If Anna needs anything, see that she gets it, but don't you dare unlock any of the outside doors for her. Field all of my calls and have a pizza delivered in two hours."

"Of course, sir. The usual?"

"Surprise me."

"Very well, sir."

As Tony walked down the corridor, he unbuttoned his sandy and damp shirt, intending to put on his greasiest, most abused pair of overalls. His lab/garage/place-where-things-blew-up room was not safe for his Armani shirts.

Yes, indeed. His lab/garage/place-where-things-blew-up room was a good place to be right now. Just him and his machines and his work. He could lose hours down there, concentrating on one project or another. The great thing about it was that it took too much of his attention to think about any thing else; he didn't really want to do that right now.

A few months ago, he'd have different methods for dealing with this same dilemma, but he was trying to change that. And if he didn't, he had no doubt Rhodey would kick his teeth down his throat for going back on his word, and Pepper would cheer him on.

He was so lucky to have such caring friends.

It was when he was halfway down the staircase and pulling off the red shirt that he glanced up and saw Pepper standing in front of the couch and table, staring back at him expectantly. She'd changed clothes, and purple really did look good on her. He looked down quickly and saw that she was still wearing a pair of stilettos that did nice things for her legs.

He met her eyes and smiled as if he'd not just checked her out.

"Did we have a date?"

A flash of something went across her face and was gone.

"No, but there are a few things that need to be cleared in order for business to continue as normal tomorrow."

She held out a sizable stack of papers in one hand and a neat ball-point pen in the other.

"Sure, Pep. Gimme a minute."

"Tony –"

"Just a minute!"

He rushed back up the stairs while trying to look like he wasn't in a hurry. As he passed Anna's room, he heard water running and asked,

"Why didn't you tell me Pepper was here?"

"I believe you said," the A.I's voice cut away to be replaced by Tony's own, "'Surprise me'. Did I misunderstand?"

"J.A.R.V.I.S, you're a jerk."

His bedroom had a great view of the beach, but he ignored it entirely for the sight that he made in his mirror. His Armani shirt flopped damply in his hands, sand dusted his hair and white T-shirt, mud was ground into his pants, and he had no idea where he'd left his shoes.

"Yeah, I'm gonna need more than a minute."


A/N: is it just me or does anyone else have problems absorbing school information at the beginning of the semesters?

I have seen Pepper/Tony called Pepperony. I can't call it that because it's silly and makes me hungry. Even so, next segment of B's and D's will feature that (I think) prominently. This is subject to change though. I mean, it's me.