[Just Stick to the Cards]
A brilliant sunrise over the vibrant waters of the Mediterranean hijacked the screen. She stabbed the escape key to quit out of whatever it was Tony had imbedded in the email and got back to the message itself, which was simply: Do you really have so little faith in me, Potts?
It was 9:15 p.m., the taskbar reminded her, making it a fifteen hours day so far, and she had at least an hour's work left.
She did not reply: "I hate you."
She did not reply: "Asshole."
She did reply: Atmosphère at Galerie du Park Palace, avenue de la Costa. Size 9. Better than a postcard, and attached a picture of the Jimmy Choos she'd been eyeing last week.
The text blipped away, replaced by a stretch of beach, the pale sand brilliant against the blue of the surf. In the foreground of the picture, her god-damned Jimmy Choo Glosses sat on a towel.
She did not reply: "They're lovely."
She did not reply: "Thank you, Tony."
She did reply: Asshole, and jammed her thumb against the send button so hard the Blackberry's casing squeaked.
"You going somewhere, Pepper?" He flashed her a lopsided grin; the entire right side of his face was a sickening mess of black and purple and red, his right eye still swollen shut.
"No, you are. You," she poked him in the chest, her neatly manicured nail thunking against the reactor, "are going to Monte Carlo. I've booked you a suite at Le Meridien Beach Plaza for the next two weeks."
"While that sounds like fun, I-"
"This is not about fun, Tony. This is about rest, which you desperately need. You will check in with the hotel doctor on arrival, and every day at eleven in the morning, sharp. If he tells me you're not taking care of yourself, your stay will be extended."
When she paused for breath, Tony started with the excuses. "Pepper, I can't just jet off like this. I've got responsibilities to SHIELD, to-"
A year ago Pepper would never have believed those words coming out of Tony Stark's mouth. Now she wanted to tape his mouth shut. "Your doctor," and she thunked her finger against the reactor again, "made it very clear to me that you are not to even think about getting back in the armor for at least three weeks, minimum. I made it very clear to Fury that your responsibilities to your health take top priority."
Tony grabbed her fingers as she poked him one more time. "Are you sure I'm the one who needs the break, Potts?"
She did not: punch him, nail him in the shin with the very pointy toe of her Blahniks or brain him with the larger of the two bags at her feet.
She did yank her hand free and open the limo's door. "You can get in there, or you can ride to the air strip in the trunk."
Tony's said: This wouldn't have happened if you were here.
"This" was a picture of his sun-burned big toe.
Pepper snorted a laugh around a mouthful of cold pesto linguine and sent back: There's sunblock in your toiletries bag. I'm sure you can find someone with a hairy toe fetish to help apply it.
"I'll tell you what's wrong. 'Hairy toe fetish'? Seriously, Pepper, I wonder about you sometimes."
"The feeling is mutual." Settling the earpiece properly into place, Pepper snuggled back into her pillow. "What do you want, Tony?"
"Of course you're bored. In Monte -" she muffled a jaw-splitting yawn into 800 count Egyptian cotton, "Carlo. Where there's absolutely nothing to do."
"Sarcasm is incredibly unprofessional, Pepper."
"Whatever." Sleep tugged her away from the conversation, and she really wanted to follow it. "Go see the Oceanographic Museum. I've heard it's wonderful. There's an aquarium in the basement. With sea urchins."
"Are you stoned, Potts?"
"I'm tired, Tony."
"No wonder, Pepper. It's like four in the morning for you. What are you still doing awake?"
She did not reply: "I hate you."
She did not reply: "Jackass."
Instead, she said, "I think my new Jimmy Choos are getting lonely. Maybe you should go get them a pair of friends," before she hung up on him.
They've been talking, and they want to try a threesome with some Giuseppe Zanottis. You keep some slutty sartorial company, Potts.
The little paperclip attachment icon blinked at her, as if daring her to click it. She tapped a fingernail against the mouse in an escalating staccato before finally hitting the button hard enough to open the file. Lying on the rumpled sheets of Tony's hotel bed were the Jimmy Choos, artfully tangled in an air of post-coital debauchery with a pair of Miu Miu wedge slingbacks.
After getting the earpiece on, Pepper opened one eye to the clock: 4:15 a.m. "If it's not 'I'm so sorry for waking you up, Pepper, whatever was I thinking?' it can wait until after nine in the morning. No, make that ten. Or even better, don't call me at all. Ever."
Tony was already off and running right over her. "No really, listen to this. Did you know that back in the 1800s scientists discovered that sperm played an important role in sexual reproduction using sea urchins? Which is kind of hilarious since the only part of them you can eat are the gonads. Which are considered an aphrodisiac in Japan. By the way, how was lunch the other day?"
"Oh God." Pepper kicked free of the sheets and comforter, though it wasn't as if she could actually escape. "Fine. You win. You can come home."
"Pepper, it's barely been a week. You miss me that much? I'm touched. Oh, hey, did you also know that sea urchins-"
She didn't even bother to disconnect the call; she just dropped the earpiece on her nightstand and pulled her pillow over her head.
"Oh look," she said as he bounced to a stop, well inside her personal space. The bruising that mottled his cheek and jaw had faded enough to look merely unpleasant. "You brought me souvenirs. How thoughtful."
He handed the bags over with a flourish. "Admit it. You missed me."
She did not reply: "Idiot."
She did not reply: "Of course I missed you."
Pepper let the handles of the bags slide from her fingers down into the crook of her elbow as she pulled out her Blackberry. "You have a meeting in an hour with Colonel Fury to discuss the Avengers initiative. Since you were so concerned about it, I made sure it will take the rest of the day."
"That is harsh, Potts. Harsh. See if I send you as much as a postcard next time." Tony grinned, that open, easy oh-so-Tony smile she hadn't seen in far too long, and Pepper resisted the urge to reach up and trace the curve of his mouth with her thumb.
Much better than a postcard.