Flies and Honey
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Pepper finds out that Tony has taken off to Russia in order to investigate. She is not pleased by this turn of events.

June 27, 2013

Tony's Mansion/Somewhere over Russia

"I'm me. I do things like mix scotch with coffee and fly to Russia at four in the morning. In my defense, they always seem like really good ideas at the time."

With a limping pace across the floor of Tony's palatial Californian home, Pepper presses autodial and puts the phone up against her ear just as it starts to ring. The other arm is crossed across her stomach and a distinct frown is creasing her face. "Don't think you're getting out of this easy, either, JARVIS." The red head looks up at the ceiling as she chastises.

"I would never assume, Ms. Potts. But might I offer a thought…"

Russia's pretty far away and it was still godawfully early when Tony left. He opted to put the suit on autopilot and take a snooze.

"Ohno," he gasps, his eyes flying open when a ringing sound fills his helmet. Loud. Unfairly, inhumanely loud. It's an alarm. Collision? Radar lock? No…

As soon as he realizes he's nearly peed the suit over the damn telephone, Tony allows himself a two-second shriek. Then he takes a deep breath, clears his throat, and calmly answers the call. "Hi, honey. I made you breakfast. Did you see? Look at the toaster."

And it's true. There are strawberry pop-tarts in the toaster that were clearly burned some time ago. There's also a sheet torn out of a legal pad with a heart drawn on it and crudely shaded with a drafting pencil.

"No JARVIS, I would not like a thought unless it is an apology in limerick form as to how you could let him do this. We talked about thi—Tony." And the fact that Pepper has had a long conversation about Tony's mental state and the reasons why he should not galavanting off with JARVIS might worry some people, but at times she feels as if the automated system is the only person who understands the frustrations dealing with Tony Stark. "Hi. Yes, I did. Thanks, the breakfast was very thoughtful. It's why I was calling. To thank you." That does not seem to be the case from her tone of voice. "But, also, funny thing, JARVIS just informed me that you've gone to Russia. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we just get back from Russia? And during that time didn't you evacuate a bomb that almost killed you? Also, wasn't that just two days ago and you promised me you were going to rest and let yourself heal up? JARVIS, tell me, has Tony's ribs healed from our past endeavor?" If anyone can glare at a disembodied voice, it is Pepper. And boy is she doing that.

"Shall I also discuss King Anthony's physical state of being in a variation of poetry, Mistress?"

Inside the lighted console of the Mark VI's helmet, the voice sounds for Tony alone: "I don't mean to intercede, sir, but might I offer a thought…"

"Mute audio. Fine, have your thought, JARVIS. But make it fast, and make sure she can't hear you," Tony replies. "You know I don't like it when you two gang up on me."

Now that he's thoroughly awake, he disengages the autopilot and takes over manual control of his armor before he continues. "Resume audio. King Anthony feels fine. He feels great. He's rested. And his ribs are fine. Even if they weren't, the suit has ribs. So everything is okay. Enjoy your breakfast. I'll be back in… uh… a while."

Pepper rolls her eyes when JARVIS calls Tony 'King Anthony'. However, she's grown mostly used to all the different names he has forced his system to call him over the years. And she still has to remind him to stop getting JARVIS to call her Mistress. "No, that's fine JARVIS, no need for poetry. Just the facts, please, and spare no detail." She ignores the accusation that the two of them are ganging up on him.

"You are not fine, Tony. You stay up all night, you push yourself too hard and then you fly off to Russia in the middle of the night without telling me." It's impossible not to hear the worry in her voice tinging the anger. With a wince, she sits down on the couch by the windows and puts her forehead in her hands. "Also, I can't enjoy the breakfast because I'm allergic to strawberries. Remember that birthday party a few years ago when there was some strawberries in the eclairs and I had to be rushed to the hospital?"

In the suit: "I thought, sir, you might want to consider ceasing mention of the dried dose of allergens you burnt for Ms. Potts this morning."

"King Anthony exhibits multiple abdominal contusions, a subluxed rib, and superficial injuries over 40% of the skin's surface. Current BrAC of 0.04. It took 2.75 minutes longer to rise this morning and all attempts to bring fingers into toes' proximity failed. Since entering the Mark VI, I have been monitoring for shortness of breath, increasing chest pain, pain in the abdomen or shoulder, and coughing or fever. Superficial injuries include a minor abrasion on the forehead, contusions to the clavicle and right bicep —"

"That'll be all, JARVIS," Tony cuts off his AI companion. "Now Pepper, honey. I remember the time you kicked me out of what used to be my office because I brought you strawberries. Of course I remember that party. Great night."

He coughs and sends a jamming signal out that should keep him concealed from conventional detection measures and the occasional anti-aircraft battery as he enters Russian airspace. "I mean, except for the anaphylactic shock. That could happen to anybody, though. But I started making Happy carry those pen-things. The ones I thought I invented, but already existed? So I'm thoughtful, and I… have other desirable attributes."

"Thank you JARVIS." Pepper graces him with a hint of a smile, assuming the AI has some form of eyes to watch over the security of the house. "Tony, this isn't about the strawberries." And it truly isn't. While she was annoyed at his thoughtlessness, she knows he doesn't do it to harm or or out of malice. "I'm worried about you and you're pushing yourself too hard. I thought you said you were going to take care of yourself. This is not taking care of yourself." The anger melts into worry, though the edge is still in her voice.

Tony takes in a deeper, slower breath, holds it for a moment, and lets it out slowly. His lighthearted tone has evaporated when he finally responds. "I have to do this, Pepper. Something stinks. The weapon that almost killed us? That was seriously dangerous tech. Even I don't know how many people it could've hurt. Whoever made it is still out there, and they could be making more. I have to find them and stop them."

The fact that there's a weapon tech out there that Tony doesn't understand is one that sobers Pepper. She was already worried, but this ratchets up the feeling even more. "I know," she says softly. "Just…please stop pretending that everything is okay. Not with me. I can't stand it." Especially when those gestures include hospital inducing breakfasts. There's a pause on her end of the line and she takes a deep breath. She can't stop Tony or Iron Man, she knows that. All she can do now is help. "Do you want me to talk to Phil? That party involved SHIELD in some way - they had to have known something was going to happen. He might be willing to talk to me. Anyway, I have to ask him about the cellist he's been seeing."

"Phil?" A few heartbeats pass before Tony connects the dots. "You mean Coulson? You know, that's not a bad idea. He's always had a soft spot for you."

He pauses again, clears his throat, and forges on somewhat awkwardly. "I'm sorry, Pepper. I know the Iron Man thing worries you enough already. I didn't want to make it worse."

"Yes, Agent Coulson. His first name is Phil." Pepper almost graces the conversation with a smile. Almost. "We have a lot in common." Tony may find that laughable, but it's quite true. They're both married to their jobs and are quite serious about it. Also, their bosses are also attempting to fight evil and keep the world safe. "I'll give him a call, then." Her tone is business-like until the apology. "I know, Tony. But, so you know, leaving in the middle of the night makes it worse."

"You're aware that this is my first relationship that's lasted longer than three weeks, right?" Tony's smiling, but that doesn't mean he isn't telling the truth. He banks toward the ground and cuts his speed as he starts to approach his destination. "This is new to me. Also, I'm me. I do things like mix scotch with coffee and fly to Russia at four in the morning. In my defense, they always seem like really good ideas at the time."

"I can vouch for that, Mistress. He ignored my warnings quite enthusiastically."

"Yes, thank you, JARVIS, I'm always sure he ignored your warnings." For Tony doesn't listen to anyone but himself. Despite the fact that she wants to yell at him and berate him, that's not her style. She knows how he works and is patient. Instead, she quips, "Wait, you had a relationship that three weeks?" There's a bit of strain there, but she's obviously trying. "I just want you to think that what I think can be a good idea at the time, Tony. That my worry about your well being is a good idea. I know you're trying to save the world, but I just want to make sure I'm a part of that. And I need to know that the world, once it's saved, has you in it. You know?"

"You're adorable when you're worrying about me. Eh. Maybe I have been pushing myself a little too hard," Tony concedes.

Now only inches off the ground, he cuts his thrusters and makes an initial landing a mile out from the site. "There's so much to do," he says. He's somber. Solemn. It's a rare moment. "There's so many places to be. Dictators, tech geniuses, gamma radiation. It's one mess after another and there's only one of me to clean them all up."

There's a sigh and a long pause before Pepper finally answers, "Then maybe you should let other people help you." Because while Pepper has accepted the fact that Tony and Iron Man are the same man that she loves, that does not mean she will sit silently by while he continually puts himself in danger to kill himself. If she thinks he is pushing himself beyond what is humanely possible, she will bring him to task. "I know you will do what you can to save all those places, but you can't do it alone. Let me help you."

"No, you don't get it." Tony lets out a puff of air and shakes his head, even though there's no one there to see him. Now he's the one who's irritated. "You don't, do you? This isn't just me showing off. And it's not just me saving the world, either. Any one of these bad guys could decide to come looking for me some day. When they do, they'll probably come after you. Which means you… You need a suit. That's it. I can build you a suit. Not so you can be Iron Girl. Just for emergencies."

"I never said this was you showing off." Pepper knows better. "Before Iron Man was the show off. This is different. You're actually trying now." Having worked with Tony all these years, she knows the difference. "I'm not Iron Girl, Tony. I'm just Pepper. I like the world just fine, but what I care most about is making sure you come back alive." She sighs and shakes her head. "If that means training in a metal suit, then I'll do it. But, that's not the point I'm tying to make."

"Pepper, all my plans start with the words 'Don't die.' It's pretty much my motto." Tony leans against an abandoned building and groans. "If you were a car, I would've fixed you by now. I don't know how to fix this. I can't stop being Iron Man. It's a part of who I am. Sometimes that means going out when my ribs hurt. I'll be fine."

There's a long pause. One that Pepper doesn't really want to guilt trip Tony into. But, she can't help it. Her words are soft when she says, "Until the time that you're not." She brushes back tears that she knows that Tony can't see; she wouldn't want him to. "It's not the Tony versus Iron Man thing. It's the pushing me away because you don't think I can handle it. That's what I can't stand. I stood by you when it was a different girl every night and you made weapons of mass destruction. I helped you when I thought you were in too deep with Obadiah. But, now that you want to clean up your act, you fly off to Russia without a word and tell me not to worry. This is more than just a motto. Stop treating me like I'm something you can fix. I'm not trying to fix you and I'm not trying to fix Iron Man. I just…I want to make sure there's something for me to come home to."

"Me too. That's why I keep doing this." Tony lets out an audible sigh. "I used to think I wasn't afraid of anything. I was wrong. The idea of losing you, of something happening to you? I can't even think about it. It makes me feel sick."

And it does. He leans forward slightly and pulls in another slow, low breath, then lets it out before he continues. "I'll keep you in the loop, okay? I will. Just let me finish this one thing, I'll come home, and we'll talk about this. Scout's honor."

"That's how I feel about the idea of losing you, too." Pepper brushes her hair back from her face. He's the one that continually and intentionally puts himself in danger. If anything is going to happen, it would be to him. "Just…be careful, Tony. I'll see you when you get home."

"This is just a milk run, anyway," Tony promises. "I'll be back before you know it. King Anthony, over and out."

Once he's signed off, he stretches and steps out of his shadowy corner. "Okay," he mutters to himself. "Let's go hunt bombs, spies, and bad guys."

Pepper's left to the grand silence of the massive house; its generous space seeming more lonely than ever… when she's not quite alone.

"If I might add one more thing, Mistress…"

With a sigh, Pepper cradles the phone in her lap and leans back against the cushions of the couch. Her foot aches and she's worried. Also, she has to go find some food that won't kill her if she eats is. She shuts her eyes, but replies, "Of course, JARVIS."

"My programming makes me obey
Whatever the master-user might say
I complied a list
Of why you'd be pissed
But he'd already passed the Ukraine."

The poem is just enough to pull a soft laugh from Pepper. "Thank you, JARVIS."

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