[Just Stick to the Cards]



"Man's Best Friend(s)" by splash_the_cat


[notes]: Iron Man movieverse. Post-movie. Rocky-verse. Gen. Pepper. Tony. Rhodey. Humor. PG-13. 928 words. Posted 7/7/08
[summary]: This week, on a very special episode of "The Continuing Adventures of Rocky: Iron Dog"...
[author note]: Oh dear lord, it's become A Thing. I am so, so sorry. Okay, not really.

The complete list to date of "The Continuing Adventures of Rocky: Iron Dog" can be found here: http://splash-the-cat.livejournal.com/346435.html.


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The day she'd met him, her fifth week on the job, Jim Rhodes became Pepper's anchor. After the unfortunate incident in Greece, he'd taken her to dinner and charmed her out of quitting right that instant. Later, over ouzo and sticky honey-dipped pastries, he'd given her a crash course in Tony Stark 101, an education that served her well over the years. Rhodey was her friend, her confidante. Rhodey was the man she could always count on to stand in solidarity with her against Tony when the need arose.

Until today.

"He's being ridiculous about it, Rhodey. Talk to him, please?"

Rhodey, sprawled on the couch next to a snoring Rocky, scratched behind the dog's ears and very clearly did not meet Pepper's eyes.

"'He' is standing right here!"

Ignoring Tony, as she'd decided was her only option in this situation, Pepper sat down next to Rhodey. He'd lost the confusion that had wrinkled his forehead since he'd walked in the door right in the middle of an argument that had been escalating for weeks. Now, his expression was a study of a man caught between a rock and a hard place, but leaning toward the hard place, and Pepper realized her Hail Mary pass was about to slide right out of the receiver's hands.

"Rhodey, please." Gentle. Sweet. Just this edge of beseeching. She even laid a pleading hand just above his knee. Pepper was not above a little blatant manipulation when circumstances called for it. "This needs to be done. You know I'm right."

"Sorry, Pepper." He did sound sorry, Pepper grudgingly gave him that much. "I've got to go with Tony on this one."

"But…"

"Told you he'd be on my side, Potts." Oh, Pepper hated that smile, that smug, easy grin of a man who always gets his way. "Bros before barbaric veterinary practices."

"You'd think I'm threatening to have you neutered." Almost in sync, Rhodey crossed one leg over the other, and Tony not-very-casually inched behind the new baby grand he'd been leaning against. "Men," Pepper muttered. "He's not your bro. He's a dog. A very large, very friendly dog who has now been banned from the dog park, which he loves, I might remind you, for being just a little too friendly."

The smug smile grew even wider, and Pepper knew that if Rocky had hands, Tony would be high-five-ing him right then. "You are unbelievable."

Tony just shrugged. "Come on, Pep. He'd make adorable babies. Look at that face. Don't you want a little Rocky of your very own?"

Pepper refrained from informing Tony that she already had a Rocky of her own, because she did in fact consider Rocky hers, as much as he was Tony's. And while he was right, and Pepper did miss the smaller part of Rocky's puppy phase, she apparently did have a line in what she would do for Tony: kicking out his dog's one night stands was it. "That doesn't address the fact that he's 114 pounds of dog who's developing a worse reputation than you!"

"I'll build him his own dog park."

"That's not a solution!"

"Look, Pepper, a man and his dog share a special bond." Tony bounded down from the piano alcove. Draping himself over the back of the couch, he rubbed Rocky's belly, and Rocky, still oblivious to the conflict around him, snorfled sleepily and rolled onto his back. "He's like an extension of me. What kind of man would I be if I, you know…" He made a scissoring motion with his fingers.

Count to ten, Pepper told herself. She made it to three. "For god's sake, Tony, I am not trying to emasculate you through your dog."

"Whatever. My dog. My decision. The balls stay in his court."

******

Once Pepper decided to forgo reason, logic and integrity, and just fight dirty, it took exactly twenty-three minutes from the launch of her final salvo to her total domination of the war.

After Tony disappeared into the shop, Pepper walked Rhodey out. He hadn't said a word since he'd shot her plan all to hell, just glanced at her out of the corner of his eye every few seconds. Pepper let him stew.

At the door, he paused, "Pepper, it's not personal. You know that, right? This, it's just kind of a… a guy thing."

Rhodey looked so glum that Pepper felt a little bad at dragging him into all this in the first place. So she reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "Don't worry, Benedict Arnold. I forgive you."

"You're awfully calm about this all of a sudden."

"I've just decided it's better to not argue with Tony about it."

"Am I going to be very glad that I need to be on a plane to the other side of the country later today?"

Pepper just smiled.

Back inside, she sat down on the couch next to Rocky, scratching him under the chin until he blinked sleepily at her. "Hey you. Come on. You need to spend some quality time with Tony."

Rocky clambered off the couch when she tugged at his collar and followed her down the stairs, where she keyed into the workshop. "Go on," she said when the door hissed open. "Go find Tony."

******

Twenty-three minutes later, the intercom screamed, "HE'S HUMPING THE SUIT!"

Pepper tapped the intercom volume down to a tiny squeaking before she picked up her Blackberry and hit 2 (her speed dial for the Calabasas Veterinary Clinic). "Yes, hello, Renee. This is Pepper Potts calling to make an appointment for Rocky…"


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