[Just Stick to the Cards]
"Potts! Good morning!"
Of course. "Only technically, Mr. Stark. What do you need?"
"Maybe I just called to hear your voice."
"Oh, then let me forward you to my voicemail and you can listen to me tell you I'll get back to you at my earliest possible convenience as much as you'd like." But she was already on the move, untangling herself from the sheets and swinging her feet to the floor.
"Wait! I've, uh, got a little problem. "
Padding across her room toward the bathroom, Pepper picked up the old pair of jeans and t-shirt she had laid out the night before. "Unbelievable. Shocking."
"Is that sarcasm, Pepper? "
"Of course not, Mr. Stark. I am truly astounded that the new stabilizer system test failed. Again."
A muttered curse confirmed her guess. "So you know how you said you were going to leave me there the next time it happened? You were totally joking, right? "
Between Jarvis and the GPS she found him in under an hour. He'd managed to land near the property this time, which was preferable to another middle of the night trip to the state park to fish him out of Malibu Creek.
"He is five meters ahead, Miss Potts. "
Pepper bumped to a stop on the rough terrain and switched on the floodlights. Peering out the windshield of the oversized van Tony had refurbished specifically for this sort of retrieval, she caught sight of the gleam of his suit about thirty feet up a large tree.
"Get me down. "
"Miss Potts, I believe you will need some sort of crane to remove Mr. Stark. There are two construction companies within a twenty mile radius and-"
"No! Do you know what it would do to my rep to have anyone else see me like this? Pepper, figure it out."
Anticipating exactly that response, Pepper already had. She yanked on the steering wheel so that the van's heavily reinforced bumper was perfectly aligned with the tree trunk.
And hit the gas.
"Was that necessary?" Tony, stuck in the armor, lay on the floor in the back of the van, shoulders propped against the console between the driver and passenger seats. The new stabilizer system had overloaded, Jarvis explained, shorting out the navigation and hydraulic controls. Pepper found she far preferred having to winch the dead weight of the suit herself to doing it when Tony tried to help, either inside or out of it.
"Absolutely." Pepper picked up the thankfully-still-hot coffee sitting in the cup holder as soon as she pulled the van back on an actual paved road.
"Funny. Next time- Hey." She caught the armor's helmet turning her direction out of the corner of her eye. "You stopped for coffee? I could have been hurt! Or dying, even, and you stopped at Starbuck's?"
Inhaling the soothing aroma of the dark roast blend, Pepper said, "I would only be so lucky."
"You got me some, right?"
Pepper gripped the steering wheel so she wouldn't be tempted to reach back and dump the coffee she had indeed gotten for him over his metal head.
It was almost six in the morning by the time she backed the van down the curving drive into the garage. Dummy rolled up with the transport cart in tow as she climbed out of the van, the heavy hiking boots she'd procured after the third time she'd had to go find him hitting the floor with a dull thud. Winching Tony out of the van and onto the cart, she left him to the ministrations of Jarvis and the robots, and sank down into a chair.
"Pepper!" His voice, not the armor's synthesized version. Pepper blinked, realizing she'd dozed off. Tony was almost free, precariously balanced on one still-armored leg.
"No sleeping on the job, Potts. Get over here and help me."
She hurried to steady him, shifting to accommodate his weight as he slung an arm over her shoulders and leaned against her. "Are you going to give up on this anytime soon?"
"Of course not. The old design sucks."
"The old design works."
"I never would have taken you for an enemy of progress, Pepper." Tony yanked his leg free, almost tumbling them both to the floor. "Onward, forward, upward, that's my motto."
"Yes, and I can see how well you live by it." Once he was steady on his feet, she ducked out from under his arm to cast a quick, critical eye over him, cataloguing small bruises and abrasions. Nothing serious enough to warrant an argument over seeing a doctor. "Is there anything else you need?"
"Actually, I think I'll hit the sack."
Pepper found herself staring into his eyes as Tony cupped her face in his hands. "And speaking of," he said, "are you sleeping well? Seriously, you look terrible. Maybe you should go to bed earlier."
All Pepper managed to do was blink at him as he patted her cheek before he turned away and bounded up the stairs. She stared at the now-empty staircase for a long moment before she sat back down and bent to untie her boots.
"Yes, Miss Potts? "
Short out communications next time. File my resignation. Find me a good place to bury his body. "Please bring up Mr. Stark's morning schedule." She toed off the boots and pulled off her socks, critically examining her toes. "I doubt he'll be ready for anything before two."
At least she'd have time for a pedicure.