There was a clip of the heels moving down the metal staircase and Pepper Potts poked her head around the glass door before tapping in a code and entering. The floor was covered in wires and bits of machinery that she didn't really understand, but it looked important. She tucked her clipboard under her arm and ducked under some of the plastic tubing that strung across the walls and roof.
"Bruce?" She called again.
There was a small bang to her left and the room began to fill with smoke. Pepper waved it away absentmindedly as Bruce Banner emerged blowing a fire extinguisher in the direction of where the smoke was coming from. Once satisfied, he dropped it down and pulled off his protective goggles and pushed on his glasses.
"Pepper, sorry, I didn't…"
"I've lived with Tony Stark for ten plus years, trust me, I've seen worse," Pepper reassured him. Bruce let out a smile and yanked off his large singed protective gloves and set them to the side on top of some important piece of metal work. He ducked down underneath it and rested for a second, letting out a low breath before grabbing a bunch of wires in each hand. Pepper stepped over his legs and put her hands to her hips. "Can I ask what you are doing?"
"I'm using radiation to build a portal jumper," Bruce replied. "Using the technology that Thor left behind and what S.H.I.E.L.D has but it's proving difficult." He rolled out and gave her a grin. "Hand me that blowtorch." He said.
"That's the one,"
"Don't you need a metal headgear to…" Pepper motioned to her face. "Y'know…?"
Bruce let out a hollow laugh. "Please, it's me, what can happen?"
"Actually, don't answer that, last time someone said that to me I ended up breaking pretty much a motel room."
Pepper smiled softly. "I like that you're using 'I' when you refer to the Hulk. He's not a separate person from you and it's good that you are accepting it finally."
Bruce looked at her, holding the blowtorch a little away from his face. "Who said anything about the Other Guy?" He asked. "No, when I say I broke the motel room, I mean, me. Human me. Not Hulk me."
Pepper's lips formed a soft 'O'. Bruce slid back under the piece of construction he was doing and lit the torch, firing it at the wires and melding them together. It looked rather technical and Pepper didn't really think Bruce was an expert in such matters. She folded her arms and watched for a moment.
"Bugger," Bruce muttered, rolling back out and moving around the room. Pepper followed him, making sure not to trip up on any of the equipment. He held a small electronic device in his hand that looked like one of Tony's high-tech tablet machines and was tapping numbers into it furiously.
"Not going well?" Pepper asked as they stopped by the large computer screen.
Bruce slammed his knee against the table and then cursed again. Pepper took a step back and held her thumb over the panic button just in case, her eyes wide. Bruce hopped on his other leg for a moment.
"Top tip," He told her. "When you're angry, don't kick anything. It only makes you angrier and causes you pain."
"I'll bear that in mind," Pepper replied. "Something wrong?"
"The calibration refuses to acknowledge itself." Bruce told her, flinging his hands into the air and pointing at the screen. "It's there, and it could probably work. But it just refuses to…"
"What do you need?"
"Your boyfriend," Bruce said. "Where is he?"
"Actually, I was about to ask you that same question."
"You don't know where he is?"
"I haven't seen him in 24 hours, either he's died or he's catching up on 3 years' worth of sleep…" Bruce replied.
"He's not answering his cell phone, and he's not in his tech room building like he usually is…" Pepper told Bruce starting to feel a little panicked. "And he hasn't registered into any of the suits?"
"JARVIS?" Bruce called.
"Good evening Doctor Banner, how may I assist you?"
"Could you give me the latest time stamp when an Iron Man suit was used?"
"20th of April 2013 at approximately 2300 hours sir."
"That's when he flew off to meet Director Fury on board the Hellicarrier," Bruce told Pepper.
"I know that," Pepper replied haughtily.
"Is that all sir?"
"Er… No, JARVIS… Could you turn on all of Tony's GPS systems, everything from his car to his mobile and pinpoint to me what he last used."
"Doing it now sir."
"Also," Pepper said speaking up. "Run a scan across the Avengers Tower and Stark Mansion, see if he's there."
"And, find Darcy too."
"Darcy?" Pepper turned to look at Bruce her eyes wide. He never mentioned Darcy going missing. Now her mind jumped to the worst. Tony didn't want to be found and Bruce's attractive young lab assistant was now missing. She cleared her throat. "Darcy's missing?"
"Yeah she ran out to get me a decaf 2 hours ago." Bruce said. "Either she's forgotten or she's gone to the movies, either of which isn't very useful to me since I don't have my coffee yet."
"Great, so Tony might be dead and you're making quips about coffee!"
"Relax," Bruce told her with a smirk. "I'm certain he would do the same for me too."
"How can you stay so calm? We can't find your best friend?"
"Pepper, calm down, we'll find him. And if not, I'm sure Nick won't mind having you in the Iron Suit."
Pepper gave him a withering stare and Bruce pursed his lips waiting for the onslaught. She breathed deeply before saying very coolly; "I can see why Tony likes you. Once you get by the niceties that you pull to compensate for the other guy, you're a bit of an asshole."
Bruce smirked some more tapping away at the keyboard and watching Pepper through the corner of his eye. "I have a thick skin. It's helped me survive. Like it or lump it."
Pepper rolled her eyes and looked up at the screen. "Anything?"
"Nope." Bruce sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "JARVIS, could you extend the field to a 1000 mile radius, above and below too please."
"Certainly sir," came the reply.
"And for the record," Bruce said. "All the Avengers are assholes. Some are just better at hiding it than others."
"Steve isn't an asshole. Neither is Thor." Pepper said.
"You'd be surprised. Steve has 70 years of guilt, don't be shocked if he gets snarky with you. And Thor may be a big teddy bear, but he's not an idiot." Bruce said. He was getting a little annoyed with the non-results that were turning up. "Okay, so if he's not in a 1000 mile radius, and you can't track his biological make-up, then we have a problem. Extend to a worldwide scan using satellites and power stations. Then if that doesn't work, track his last movements."
"Can't the Arc Reactor help us?" Pepper asked.
"No," Bruce replied sourly. "Its main function is to keep Tony alive and although he loves bells and whistles on everything, he wouldn't jeopardize his health in order to have a few fancy toys. Plus, I'm sure JARVIS would have thought of that and alerted me."
"Why don't we just ask him?" Pepper said. She turned around. "JARVIS, did Tony tell you where he was going?"
"No Miss Potts, I'm afraid he did not."
"Worth a try," Bruce shrugged. "Pepper, he'll turn up. Don't panic."
"Last time he went missing he ended up with shrapnel in his chest and forced to build mass weapons against his will." Pepper said. "Don't tell me not to panic when that is all I can do."
"Okay," Bruce leaned forward. "He was last recorded going into the recreation room about 9 hours ago. Start there and we can retrace his steps."
Pepper sighed. "Okay, fine." She began to move away. "Aren't you coming?"
"I have things to do Pepper. If you don't find him, come back." He said ducking away.
"Bruce, wait," Pepper held out the clipboard to him. "I need you to sign off on your medical."
Bruce grabbed the clipboard from her, not bothering to read his report and printed his thumb on one of the boxes and scratched a signature on the line and dated it. He handed it back to Pepper before ducking under again. "That all?"
"Yeah, that's all."
Pepper shook her head and moved away, climbing up the stairs. The recreation room was on the third floor of the house and was where the avengers and anyone else who was staying in the house liked to chill out that wasn't located just to their room. To be technical, the recreation room was the third floor. But since there was a small library attached where Bruce and Steve and sometimes Natasha liked to go to, Tony dubbed it as just a room. Filled with the latest gadgets and such to keep everyone amused to their own interests it was a good place to go. Pepper jumped slightly as a small brown haired bespectacled girl bumped into her.
"Darcy!" She cried.
Darcy blinked. "Oh god, you were with Bruce, how mad is he?"
"Not as angry as he will be if he doesn't get his coffee in the next ten minutes," Pepper said.
"Where did you go?"
"I… Sort of…" Darcy pursed her lips. "I got distracted. Do you have any idea how dull it is to watch Bruce work and not be able to touch anything?"
"I imagine it is exceedingly so," Pepper told her. "However, Tony has got this place insured against a giant green rage monster and a Norse God, so any damage you do can't be matched to the damage the can do. I think you should be fine as far as touching the equipment goes."
"What are you still standing here for? Just because the place is insured doesn't mean I want the Hulk rampaging through the basement levels! Get that coffee to Bruce!"
"Right," Darcy said again before disappearing. Pepper sighed and walked over to the elevator, taking off her heels and massaging her feet slightly. She hit the button and waited patiently for the doors to slide open. Natasha was inside wearing her black exercise clothes and reading the front page of a Russian newspaper, with a kiwi and strawberry smoothie under her arm in a Stark Industries bottle. She had obviously been working out but seemed not to have broken a sweat, which angered Pepper slightly since when she worked out she looked like a cat that had been showered then dragged through the wilderness.
"Miss Potts," She acknowledged.
"Miss Romanov," Pepper said.
"You look troubled. Well, more so than usual. What has Stark done?"
"He's gone missing."
"You don't sound particularly panicked."
Natasha looked up, narrowing her eyes. "Stark is a dick. If he doesn't want to be found, he will make sure of it. Other than that, there would be no need to panic. If he was actually dead or missing, I'm sure Banner would have located him. I am assuming you have talked to Banner…" She looked up and raised an eyebrow.
"Well then," Natasha raised her newspaper back to her face and pursed her lips.
Pepper scanned Natasha for a moment and sighed. She liked Natasha, she was smart, funny and very good at handling the male members of the Avengers. But Pepper wasn't sure she could trust the Russian spy. She wanted to, and it made her feel guilty that she didn't, but sadly the crux of the matter remained that Natasha had been sent to spy on Tony and was simply not trustworthy.
The elevator pinged and Pepper was shaken from her thoughts. The doors slid open on the floor where Natasha's room was.
"Oh, wait," Pepper stepped forward, holding the doors open. Natasha paused and scanned Pepper for a second.
"Medical?" She asked, raising her eyebrow. Before Pepper could respond, Natasha tucked her newspaper under her armpit and put her smoothie to one side, taking the clipboard from her and giving it a quick signature and her thumbprint and handed it back to her.
"Thank you," Pepper said as Natasha grabbed her bottle from the floor. She stepped out and gave Pepper a quick nod before walking off. Pepper scratched her cheek before hitting the button for the recreation floor. She flicked open the clipboard and read some of the files before the elevator doors slid open again.
Pepper was hit by loud cussing that rang throughout the room.
"FUCKING DIE YOU MOTHER FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!"
"I AM SO FUCKING BEATING YOU UP HERE MAN! OH MY FUCKING SHIT YOU ARE LOSING SO FUCKING BADLY! WHAT'S YOUR SCORE?"
"FUCKING SHUT UP YOU ASSHOLE YOU ARE CHEATING!"
An X Box controller was thrown in Pepper's direction and she ducked. It hit the back of the wall and smashed into several pieces.
"I AM GOING TO BEAT YOU UP WITH A FUCKING NEWSPAPER YOU LITTLE SPIDER FREAK!"
"CLINT FRANCES BARTON!" Pepper shrieked.
Clint stopped mid-air and fell off the back of the sofa. Peter was laughing on the floor, looking proud of himself. Pepper fumed and switched the television off.
"Hey, we were playing that," Clint said, getting up.
"No, you were threatening Peter," Pepper corrected.
"He provoked me!"
"You're a grown man, Clint. Grow up."
"Told you," Peter said from behind Clint.
"I'll use him as target practice," Clint said, trying to get around Pepper as she folded her arms. "I swear he'll only get minor injuries."
"Is this what you've been doing all day?" Pepper asked.
"No." Peter replied hoping onto one of the many armchairs and lounging there for a moment. Peter had come to the mansion after the misfortune that befell him when his girlfriend Gwen Stacey died. Initially, Tony also asked Aunt May if she would like to join her nephew, but she declined politely but visited on weekends to make sure Peter was keeping up to date with his college work. Tony had shone to Peter, allowing him free access to his labs whenever he felt like it and pretty much whatever the kid wanted. Steve had also taken Peter under his wing, but in the sense that he was there for moral support. Peter's trauma had left a mark and though he didn't show it or talk about it or sometimes acknowledge it, it was still there. "He's being doing that all day,"
"Shut up Spider-Freak." Clint slumped back onto the sofa. "What do you want Pepper?"
"Have you seen Tony?" She asked.
"Nope," Peter replied, opening a bar of chocolate.
"He apparently was in here about 9 hours ago." Pepper said.
"We haven't been here for nine hours," Clint said, cracking open a bottle of beer. "Check our time stamps."
Pepper sighed. "So, Tony's not been here? Great."
"He's probably been here, just not when we were here," Clint shrugged.
"Is something wrong?" Peter asked.
"I can't find him," Pepper replied.
"He's missing?" Peter sat up a little straighter. Pepper pursed her lips and nodded. Peter pushed his glasses further up his nose and thought for a second. "Has JARVIS…?"
"Trust me, Bruce has ran every sort of tracking system we know of," Pepper said.
"I'm sure he'll turn up," Clint said.
"Speaking of Bruce," Pepper turned on her heel and looked at Peter. "He needs some help in the labs, you have done nothing but play the X Box all day so, since you obviously aren't doing anything important, you're going to go help him."
"But I don't want to!" Peter complained. "He gets grouchy if I do things wrong,"
"Then don't do anything wrong," Pepper said. "Sign this now, and go." She held out the clipboard to him and Peter flicked to his page sighing greatly.
"Waste of time," He muttered. "I'm fit as a fiddle,"
"You couldn't go ten laps against Natasha," Clint said.
"Is that a bet?" Peter asked as he finished signing his name.
Pepper took the clipboard away from him and pushed him out the door. "Go. Bruce. Labs. Now."
Peter let out a groan and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and slumped his way over to the elevator and disappearing from sight. Pepper sat down on the sofa and rubbed her eyes. Clint offered her a beer but she declined.
"Has he done this before?" He asked.
"Yes, and he almost died as a result."
"And that's why you're worried," Clint nodded. "He'll show up. If he had been murdered or kidnapped you would have heard by now. It's most likely he's just hiding."
"Right," Pepper said. "You and Natasha had the same idea."
"We're S.H.I.E.L.D operatives. We're meant to think alike."
Pepper leaned back and closed her eyes feeling exhausted after trying to find her AWOL boyfriend. Why did she always have to clear up after him? Or find him? Or deal with him? Why couldn't someone else do it for a change? She supposed that Bruce was pretty good in that respect, and Steve also had a good hand in it too, but the rest of the mansion didn't seem to care that much.
Clint held the beer under her nose for a second longer and she took it, putting her clipboard to one side and cracking it open. Pepper raised it to her lips, inhaled the musky scent and drank deeply. Clint took a sip, but caught her downing the entire can in one go. He stared at her with an expression that said he was both impressed and a little fearful.
"You know," He said once Pepper had crushed the can in her hand. "You and Tasha are very much alike."
"You mean more than that we've had to put up with idiots for the last ten years?" Pepper raised an eyebrow.
"Er…" Clint cleared his throat. "That and the fact that you can hold your alcohol; I've seen Tasha drink 89% vodka and still be able to take down two body-builders and make a quick quip about getting her nails done."
"Oh, well, we'll book an appointment to get a manicure," Pepper said. "You can join too Clint." She handed him her clipboard and he took it, flicking through the other Avenger's records with some interest. "We'll make a day of it."
"Thanks but I think I'm good," Clint said sarcastically raising his hands to show Pepper his nails. He signed his name and clicked the pen. "I didn't know Bruce did yoga."
Pepper snatched the clipboard from him. "You will not use that as blackmail." She told him. "Besides, what's wrong with yoga? I do yoga."
Clint scanned Pepper with a look on his face. "Maybe you should take Bruce when you get your manicure."
"Shut up Barton,"
"Ma'am." Clint gave a small two finger salute. Pepper gave a swift smirk smacking him on the arm before standing up and putting in an earpiece. Clint chortled and then became very stoic. He stared at the black television screen before turning to look up at Pepper properly. "What happens to us if Stark isn't found?"
"You stay here," Pepper said. "The house goes to me in that unlikely event and all Avenger co-ordinates pass into my hands."
"Will you don the suit?"
Pepper shook her head. "I don't think I could." With that she turned away and walked from Clint. The agent picked up the discarded X Box controller before switching on the TV and leaning back into the sofa. Pressing the earpiece Pepper called Bruce. "Anything?"
"Bruce?" Pepper stopped mid-step her hand resting on the door handle. Clint glanced around semi-interested in what was going on, but since he couldn't hear the other half of the conversation he began to make up what they could have been saying to amuse himself. Pepper pointed at the door telling him either to leave or to zip it, using her free hand to mime the actions. Clint climbed up on the back of the sofa and began to strike poses, imitating all of the Avengers before accidently mistaking how much balance he had when he imitated Peter and fell to the ground again. Pepper sighed and turned.
"S'okay!" Peter's voice rang out in reply. "Just a small snafoo with one of the systems"
"I told you it wouldn't work!" Darcy's voice this time and it sounded like she was pissed off with Bruce on an epic proportion.
"Well you don't have a degree in radiation physics do you?" Bruce snapped, equally annoyed. "Just get it cleared up while I deal with this,"
Pepper sighed. "Bruce!"
"Tony, have you found him?" Pepper barked. There was a slight clanking of equipment and something dropped to the floor.
"That was not my fault," Peter said.
"JARVIS is doing his best," Bruce said trying to keep a steady tone of voice. "But so far we haven't found any sign of him."
"So we have no idea where he is?"
"Pepper, if he doesn't reappear in the next 24 hours we can start to properly worry."
"Well I'm worried now!" Pepper replied.
"Peppy," This time Darcy was speaking. "We'll find him. How is the hunt going at the moment?"
"Not good," Pepper replied, opening the door to the library. Steve was sitting at one of the long tables with a sketchbook in his hands and playing with the shading of a drawing. He glanced up and saw her, giving a slight nod. "Look, I'll check-up later. Just call me if there's any news. Also, Darcy?"
"Put Bruce to bed, he's been up for a solid 58 hours, that's what's making him cranky. Peter and you can stay in the labs, clear up and keep an eye on JARVIS as he tries to find Tony."
"Will do Ma'am."
"Remember, any news, call me." She clicked the earpiece off and sighed running her hand over her face and extending it to her hair. She felt physically exhausted and wanted to go sleep or snuggle up on the sofa and watch a cheesy rom-com. But sadly the day wasn't over yet. And Tony hadn't been found.
"Rough day?" Steve asked, turning down the small radio he had with him and tapping his pencil against the edge of his work pad.
"Could say that," Pepper replied. "You haven't seen Tony have you?"
"Stark?" Steve pursed his lips thinking for a moment. "Not since yesterday. Why?"
"I can't find him," Pepper said. "Like at all, he's fallen off the grid. Bruce is cranky, the agents are unhelpful and Peter and Darcy don't even bother unless they are told to do something." She flicked the clipboard across the table and rubbed her eyes. "I need you to sign off on some medical papers."
"Well, in that case, maybe the reason is he doesn't want to be found?" Steve tried, picking up the clipboard and flicking through it, reading his report carefully. "Stark's a genius. Smarter than anyone I know. Perhaps not his father, but still, pretty up there. Howard was like that too. If he didn't want to be found, then he wasn't."
Pepper wasn't exactly assured by Steve's remarks, but she let the matter drop. "Were Clint and Peter being too noisy?" She asked, pointing towards the door that she had just come through.
Steve cleared his throat. "It would have been better if Barton didn't swear so much," He said.
"Shall I ask him to tone down the cussing?" Pepper asked.
"No, it's…" Steve smiled. "I heard worse back in the forties, believe me. Soldiers aren't exactly known for their extensive vocabulary. Just not sure I like it being used in front of Peter."
"I can make a note for it to be raised next time Stark- I mean Tony – has a house meeting." Pepper said.
"Is there a chance it will be resolved?" Steve asked.
"In the long run, no."
"Then don't bother,"
Pepper sighed and sat down on one of the empty chairs. "I am so tired of running around this house like a nanny for superheroes." She said.
"Then don't do it," Steve said. Pepper looked at him as if he had lost his mind and he rolled his eyes. "I mean, you don't need to."
"The house would descend into chaos if I did," Pepper said.
"Then they'd realise the amount of work you do and maybe they'd pull their weight around a little more," Steve shrugged. "Pepper, if you had the same condition as Banner you'd be the Hulk twenty-four/seven with the amount of stress you put yourself through. Stark is bad enough as it is. So, cut yourself a little slack."
Pepper let out a deep breath. "Maybe you're right." She sighed.
"What? No! What are you talking about? Work woman!" Steve said glancing up. Pepper stared at him utterly confused before his face broke into a gentle smile. "Just messing with you Ma'am, my sincerest apologies,"
"Well, at least you say you're sorry," Pepper said standing up. "If he turns up could you… Call me?"
Steve nodded in response. She sighed, picking up the clipboard and flicking through the files. "You know, whenever I wanted to hide especially from my father when he got drunk, I would sit in the garage and play with the tools in the tool box. Maybe Stark is tinkering with his suits,"
Pepper pursed her lips. "Perhaps, but he would have shown up on the scans of the house."
"Maybe Stark safety-proofed the room, not only from being found when he didn't want to be found but to safeguard the Iron Suits in case something happened…" Steve said absentmindedly as he began to sketch again.
Pepper jumped up and pressed her finger to her ear. "Darcy?"
"She's getting me a cup of tea." Bruce's voice rang out. "What's up?"
"I thought I told her to put you to bed." Pepper snapped.
"Oh she is. She's also collecting my night clothes and slippers. I asked her if I could have five more minutes, I think I've figured it out. The problem was-"
"Bruce, honey, I don't really care," Pepper said. "When you did a sweep of the house, did the garage turn up on the scan?"
There was a rolling of a chair across the floor and some tapping against a keyboard. Pepper could literally hear Bruce's thoughts. "It's not on the scan of the house," He said after a moment. More tapping on the keyboard. "Why isn't it there?"
"Forget why, I think I've found him," Pepper said.
"Wait he's in the garage?"
Pepper nodded goodbye to Steve before taking off her shoes and tucking them under her arm. With fury, she walked out of the library, past Clint who was playing his X Box game and out to the elevator. She hit the button and kept her finger on it, ignoring if it was travelling to other floors at all until she hit the ground floor. She stepped out with a look of pure rage on her face. Her entire body language said 'DO NOT MESS WITH'. Tony was going to get a slap. A punch, maybe even a kick and some hot coffee poured over his head. Pepper had been worried sick about him, worried that he'd been kidnapped or killed or something worse. She pestered everyone in the mansion until they were sick of her and he couldn't be bothered to leave her a message? Not even a phone call or a text, but a stupid post-it note on the fridge would have sufficed.
Pepper pulled on her shoes so that she would be taller than Tony when she confronted him. She hit the door to the garage and began to walk down the metal staircase. When she reached the door she hit the code and it buzzed for a moment. Then, curiously the recognition scan asked for a thumb print. Confused, Pepper pressed her thumb against the pad and it clicked open.
"ATHONY EDWARD STARK!" She bellowed.
Tony was dozing slightly in one of the old open top Bentley's. He jumped when he heard her voice and sloshed something down his front causing him to curse loudly. He patted himself down and glanced over.
"Pepper…" He frowned.
"Want to tell me why you put this room off the structure map?" Pepper asked marching towards him. "Or why you haven't checked in with JARVIS or the other Avengers in the last 24 hours. Why you have been avoiding Bruce in the labs? Why you didn't even tell me this is where you'd be hiding?"
Tony looked away, ashamed. Pepper grabbed his shoulder and forced him to look at her and then saw that his eyes were glazed over. What he had been holding in his hand was a bottle of Jack Daniels which was less than half full. He had been drinking, and from the looks of it, he had been drinking a lot.
"Oh what have you done?" Pepper sighed, prying the bottle from his hand.
"I'm fine," Tony said. "I'm fine. Seriously."
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Four, I'm drunk, not blind. Please don't insult my intelligence." Tony said. Pepper looked sheepishly at her fingers before shaking her head. Tony pulled himself over to the car door and stumbled out as she grabbed him from under the arm and hauled him up.
"Is this what you've been doing for the last 24 hours?" Pepper asked leading him to a chair and sitting him down.
"No, I outlined the plans for a Smash Therapy room for Bruce." Tony said. "And converted plans for the basement into a medical bay. Then I started drinking." Pepper kneeled in front of him and Tony let out a sigh. "This place isn't on the system because I don't want it to be."
Pepper merely stared at him.
"I asked JARVIS to erase it from the blueprints." Tony sighed. "That and I disabled all records of my biological vitals from the system allowing myself to be able to go anywhere in the house without being detected."
"It's complicated. A number of reasons, the main being, it's a place where I can get away from it all. Oh and keep the suits safe."
"And drink?" Pepper gave him a withering look.
Tony flashed a weary smile. "And drink. Yeah."
"Tony, you've got to tell me if you're still having nightmares," Pepper said.
Tony fell silent before getting up and taking the bottle from her. Pepper watched her boyfriend move away and looked back at his empty seat.
"Did you need me for something?" He asked.
"Yeah, medical records," Pepper said getting to her feet and holding out her clipboard. "The scan came back on your heart. I think you're in the clear to getting the shrapnel removed. But the blood toxicity from when you used the palladium core infected some of the marrow in your bones and the doctors are a bit worried about that."
Tony took the clipboard from her. "Ech, Doctors, what do they know?" He paused. "Don't tell Bruce I said that," He printed out his name in typical Tony fashion and handed it back to her.
"Pepper," Tony turned sharply on his heel and rested his hands on her shoulders.
"Where are the suits?"
"Hidden," Tony said. He tapped his foot three times and the floor divided apart and opened to show a hidden room underneath with the armoury inside. Tony smiled slightly, holding Pepper's waist so she wouldn't trip and fall. "Only opens to my footprint and my weight and hidden under 3 tonnes of concrete."
"Desperate measures," Pepper said in hushed tones.
"Yeah, just a bit," Tony replied, taking the bottle from her as the floor closed itself.
"Look, I'm not asking you to give up your secret little hideout." Pepper said following him back to the Bentley. "I'm not, people need their own space. And with you basically being hooked up to a machine all the time, I can see how you need it more than most."
"What are you saying Pepper?" Tony turned to her raising an eyebrow.
"Just, tell me next time,"
Tony pursed his lips and nodded.
"Just… I just need a few more hours on my own."
Pepper stared at him with sad eyes and nodded. He let her take the bottle from him and watched her as she descended the stairs out of sight. Tony looked over and leaned back.
"JARVIS! I thought I told you to keep Pepper away from here," He said.
The blue visual images flashed in front of him showing Tony what the security cameras were seeing around mansion.
"Apologies, Sir, but she did not find out from me. Miss Potts is much more intelligent than you give her credit for."
"I know," Tony admitted, rubbing his eyes and looking up at the images of his friends – perhaps colleagues would be a better term for what he saw them as - that were now surrounding him He smiled as he saw Bruce arguing with Darcy over the pyjama's that she had brought him, Peter laughing manically in the background. He could see that Clint had given up trying to finish his game and had wandered through to the library to sit with Steve, the both of them drinking beer and speaking about something non-consequential.
Jane was in the kitchen helping Thor prepare some food. Thor always looked slightly out of place in civilian clothes. And Natasha was sitting on her favourite chair in her room, a book open and her legs curled underneath her and utterly absorbed. Each of them had something that they did to relax, but nothing that destroyed their liver. Well, Bruce's experiments with radiation probably didn't do much good to his health, but then again, Tony had to take the fact in that he had a giant immortal and indestructible jolly green giant hiding in his cells so it didn't really count.
Everyone had something.
Tony had nothing but his suits and his drink.
With that thought, he dove under the dashboard of the car and pulled out another bottle of Jack Daniels and cracked it open.
"Sir, are you okay?"
"No, JARVIS, I don't think I am." He muttered.