Who: Tony and Pepper What: Drinking. Memories convo. Where: Tony's Malibu pad, Marvel Door When: Somewhat recently. Warnings/Rating: PG13
She almost left after hanging up on Silver, but that would have been taking her anger out on Tony, who didn’t deserve it. Pepper didn’t particularly want to see him either, worried about what he might’ve received from her or anyone else for that matter, but there was a small silver lining in that Silver needed to take care of Ms Maheu first and, if she was lucky, that would take longer than he was anticipating. She’d long since picked herself up off the floor and she’d indulged in a shower and change of clothes as well. Pepper hadn’t been lying about doing work; there were still dozens of things that needed looking over from her absence and she had every intention of catching up with the time she was allowed by Justine. It was frustrating, to only be let through when the brunette was bored.
Pepper was sitting on the couch of his living room, her legs tucked up beneath her and the laptop perched on her thighs. She had changed into denim shorts and a white button down blouse, opting to leave her hair down to dry naturally instead of blow drying it. If she stopped working long enough, her mind would drift back to the memory she was almost positive came from Tony. She’d just rub her chest for a brief moment and get herself back on track with her work. Pepper also wanted to find General Peggy Carter, and she needed to speak with Thor about their new situation as well. All things on her to-do list, but she didn’t mind in the slightest. The more work she had, the better.
Jarvis chimed a greeting to Tony in advance of his actual appearance, and the fact that Tony was untroubled by what was essentially an anticipatory fanfare said much about his character. With an act of will, Tony had not allowed the memories to hurt him, and whenever he caught himself brooding over what he had seen he threw himself into some other project, a tactic not unlike Pepper’s. He was able to do this in his mind, just as he was able to design and build in his mind, and when Silver was through the door again, Tony pushed the man’s stormclouds to the back of his mind.
“Pizza?” he asked her when he strode into the room. He was still wearing a suit, not sure why, and it was a race to see what was coming off first, the jacket or the tie.
Pepper heard the greeting but distantly, absorbed as she was in her work. It was only when he asked about pizza of all things that she looked up from her laptop. Pizza? Really? Pepper was beginning to recognize a pattern in that she worried far more than necessary about certain things than he was. That allowed her to let go of some of the tension that had taken residence between her shoulders. “Sure,” she replied, realizing that she hadn’t eaten since crossing. “What’s with the suit?” she asked, quickly running through her mental calendar to see if he’d had anything that would’ve required wearing a suit. She didn’t think so, but then she’d missed a fair bit lately.
“Don’t know. Came through in it. Ominous.” But not so ominous that he cared, because he was yanking on the tie and scraping it over his head before it was even fully loosened. The tie was tossed carelessly to one side and Tony worked the suit jacket off so it could sail in the tie’s wake before dropping heavily on the couch next to Pepper. He smelled like he’d been in the lab--a specific electric burnt smell that was stronger than the simply magnetic tang that was the glow in the center of his chest. “Jarvis,” he told the machine, “order pizza.”
Jarvis came through the surrounding speakers to ask Pepper’s preference for toppings. He already knew Tony’s, and was obviously advanced enough to have a conversation with the pizza delivery people. “How are you?” Tony asked, almost interrupting the end of Jarvis’ question.
“Very,” she replied, deadpanned, though a smile teased the corners of her mouth as he told Jarvis to order a pizza. Pepper had wondered just what the limits were of Jarvis’ capabilities but seeing as she hadn’t yet encountered any problems, so there wasn’t much of a need to ask. The smell wasn’t too out of place, only considering it was paired with the formal attire, but she didn’t ask. “Plain is fine, Jarvis. Thank you,” she answered politely, before turning to face Tony. Her eyes dropped to his chest, where the telltale blue glow was hidden beneath the starch white of his shirt.
“I’m fine. Still adjusting to Justine, though I’m at least making a dent in my pile of things to do,” Pepper replied. “Have you been subjected to her yet?” The only communication she had with Justine was while they were sleeping, and even then it was more akin to a conversation as opposed to a sharing of memories. She had tried multiple times to convey the importance of being through the door but Justine was more curious about the performance shows on the Strip, making friends, and generally doing everything else but letting Pepper work.
Tony was used to people dropping their eyes to stare at his chest, but not Pepper. He also tended to use the same joke when pointing it out: “My face is up here.” He grinned a naughty grin when he said it, and it had a specific sing-song tone that he probably learned from countless women who said the exact same thing to him on more than one occasion. It made him feel like he was getting away with something.
“Justine? Not directly, but Silver lets me see almost everything. He likes her. Gets this fuzzy dad feeling about her. What I want to know is how the guy manages to find people who are likely to be assassinated at any moment. She’s got a live-in bodyguard, for God’s sake.” It was a push to see what they could learn about Justine from Pepper--at least it was for Silver. Tony was just curious.
She very nearly commented on how lucky he was that Silver knew how to play nice. “She’s ridiculous, and I get her in very small doses.” There was a silent ‘Thank god’ attached to that statement, but she would never say it out loud. “Mr McKellar,” she started, and he was very much Mr McKellar because she was still pissed at him for asking the questions no one else would ever consider asking, “seems to just be lucky. She’s not about to be assassinated by any means. She’s just the most likely to trust the wrong person and, therefore, needs the closest supervision. She and Mr Gideon became much closer after her brother left. It was only natural that he be the one to follow her.”
Pepper was grateful for the man’s appearance if only to reign Justine in a bit. As she spoke, she moved her laptop onto the couch next to her and stretched her legs out, propping them up on the table in front of her. “Hopefully, she’ll do more good for him than Felicia. She was far too hands off when she could have pushed a bit more.” Although, part of the reason for that was because Pepper had taken nearly every waking hour from Felicia and left her only a handful to deal with her family. There hadn’t been much time to check in on Silver.
Tony was amused that the little girl was getting to Pepper, who was good at her job because she could micromanage stubborn people who were exactly the type to traipse off to Vegas without warning. Tony had never had to care for another person in his entire life, unless you counted the temporary stay of the god-in-the-box. “Silver disapproves of this guy being too close in general. Some official distance thing with the person you’re protecting. He took his job seriously back when he had it.” Tony rubbed at his chin and finally hoisted himself out of his slump to visit the wet bar on the far side of the room. He patted one of her bare shins as he did so in a somewhat proprietary fashion on his way to standing and escaped before she could retaliate. “Pushed who? Silver? It would be like pushing a boulder.”
"I can't speak to the exact nature of their relationship, but he could just ask. She trusts him just as much as she trusts Mr Gideon, and all because I told her that he had you for an Alter. Thankfully, it's not likely that she'll leave given that her brother is here." The downside remained that Tony had been easier to manage - hell, being CEO was easier to manage - than Justine. As his hand touched her person, Pepper simply arched an eyebrow. "Pour me one as well?" she asked, taking the opportunity to stretch for a brief moment. "No, not pushing him exactly, but she certainly could have made more of an effort to be involved in his life. She was always afraid of being too familiar with him." Maybe that was that was the silver lining in all of this. Justine was more likely to insert herself in Silver's life and if that apartment situation worked out, it would ease Pepper's mind just a bit. "How were things with Ms Maheu?"
“Oh, they went up like a lead balloon,” Tony said, flippantly. At the wet bar, he reached down to pull out a jar of green olives from the minifridge, and then reached up for a clear bottle of vodka. “He’s trying to get her to normal, but that woman is crazy. She’s been through so much trauma she reacts to everything like it’s war. Usually with knives, screaming, breaking things. She’s nice when everything is okay, and she’s trying to go straight, but I think it’s a fucking lost cause. Not that he listened to me.” Tony didn’t have a problem talking to Pepper about this. “So he goes over there and she isn’t handling it, and Batman is there because her boyfriend couldn’t handle it either. I don’t even want to think about what either of them saw, probably horrific, but there’s the kid, you know...” He started shaking the martini and taking out glasses. “Anyway. She’s living with a couple other women who have the same problems. Personally I think that’s better for them but Silver thinks they just aggravate each other’s issues rather than supporting, and when he’s there they just shut themselves up in their rooms anyway, so he had a shouting match with Wren and then out he storms.” Tony shook his head as the clear liquid filled. “At least we know now he can lose his temper.” He made Pepper’s dirty and then started pegging olives. Obviously thinking of it, he pointed the spear of olives at Pepper. “Don’t go telling anybody about this. He’s crazy about her in his way.”
She listened intently as he made the drinks, filing away what little information she could glean from his tirade. Information was everything and she’d use every last bit to her advantage if necessary. “It can be helpful, yes, but when things get bad, it’s probably worse for them to be together,” she replied. Pepper hardly thought it necessary for him to tell her to keep things to herself. “He can lose his temper because he cares about her. I can recall the party they were at, Ms Maheu made quite a spectacle of herself with...Luke?” She nodded to herself, recalling the name linked with Wren’s in the news regarding the child. At least now she knew who Batman was connected to on the Las Vegas side, not that there was any crossing over between their doors. It was useful, all the same. “Have they gotten custody of the child straightened out?” She could scarcely imagine how the child must be affected by the insanity of the doors. It made her glad that she was no longer entangled in the Fulton family drama. Children complicated things. “Three olives, please.” Though she got up off the couch and made her way towards the bar, leaning against it. She was going to skirt around the issue of the shared memories for the time being.
Tony dropped the cocktail spear with its extra olives already on it into the glass. He set the glass down on the edge of the wet bar for her and then brought his own to his lips, smacking them after the first taste. “Yet another reason why the woman is a lost cause. She’s in love with someone else, for God’s sake. the man lives for pain, obviously.” Tony leaned forward on his elbows. “Legally, yeah. He stays with Luke Henry. She gets to see him, though. That’s a good thing.” Tony rubbed his face. It was all too familiar. “When she’s sane, I guess.”
“Perhaps the child will be the motivation she needs to get herself in order,” Pepper replied, taking a sip of her own martini. “As for Mr McKellar’s love life...it’ll sort itself out. Try not to let him get too injured in the process though. I’ve seen what she can do with a knife.” She sighed and took another sip before setting the glass down again. “Speaking of injuries, don’t think I haven’t forgotten about yours. You’re healing well?” She’d much rather ask because if the last time was any indication, he wasn’t going to offer up that information. Given her spotty and unreliable communication with Justine, she wasn’t going to rely on the girl for information.
Privately, Tony was not so sure about the child being an impetus for sanity. His parents hadn’t found his existence to be particularly helpful, after all. Silver did, but because he had seen Wren with the boy, and not because of his personal experiences with parenting, which had not been all that good either. “Silver’s just as good at handling injuries as me,” he said, flippantly. Better, Silver commented dryly. Tony ignored this and took a drink of his martini, eyes on Pepper. “I’m fine now. Do jumping jacks and everything.” He flexed his shoulders a little bit. The scarred skin was tight and uncomfortable, but they’d probably get used to it.
Pepper arched her eyebrow at his reply, but at least he’d said ‘handling’ and not ‘hiding’. They would’ve had a problem then. “That’s good,” she said mildly, gently swirling the liquid around in her glass. She wasn’t sure when she’d developed a taste for martinis but now they were her drink of choice. There were a few more things she wanted to talk about, namely all the damage to Stark Tower and the issue of Loki, but she wasn’t certain there was much they could do about either of those things. She took another sip of her martini and decided that the next best thing to talk about was an update on what she’d been catching up on. “I’ve been through most of what I missed and there’s nothing of note there. I have been reaching out to the few contacts I have in the military and I’ve enough favors to keep you from being blown out of the sky the next time there’s an issue. I’m not certain I could get you much more than ground support, but I’m still working on it. Hopefully I’ll have more by the time it’s necessary.”
It was Tony’s turn to lift an eyebrow. “You think I’m going to need military support?” Tony was not used to missing Rhodey’s presence, not that he had ever called for help except for that one time. Perhaps naively, Tony was used to banking on his own name, even if he didn’t really know most of the people he worked with. Instead it was names and drinks and a few tens of million. Pepper didn’t take initiative like that, and military string-pulling was not as easy as it sounded. “Don’t you have a company to run?”
“I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” Pepper replied dryly, finishing off her martini. She wasn’t going to take any chances after last time and while it wasn’t something she’d ever really had to do, Rhodey had introduced her to a few people here and there. Networking was one of her strongest areas and she’d take advantage of that if it meant having something in her back pocket. At his comment about her running a company, Pepper rolled her eyes and went back to the couch and the safety of her work. “It would be a lot easier if I was in New York,” she pointed out, glancing up at him as she pulled her laptop back onto her lap.
“You’re not going to go back to work now. It’s ten hours until the east coast opens up for business again,” Tony said, enjoying the eyeroll and pulling her empty glass back toward his. The vodka bottle hadn’t even been capped, and the ice in the shaker hadn’t even melted. Tony popped an olive into his mouth while he made more drinks. Jarvis chimed in. “The pizza has arrived sir.” Tony pointed another cocktail spear in Pepper’s direction. “As your boss, I hereby order you to relax for the rest of the night.” He moved around the bar on his way to the door to accept the pizza, and he used three fingers to draw the highest button on his shirt closed, a strange gesture of modesty that was new.
“That’s never stopped me before,” Pepper replied, but it was more half hearted than anything. It was a defense mechanism more than anything, something as comforting as a warm fire on a cold winter night. She glanced up when she heard him pouring another drink - she assumed for himself - and saw as he pointed the spear at her. “Yes, boss,” she replied, a fair bit of sarcasm in her tone. Still, she closed her laptop and set it on the table out of the way. While Tony got the pizza, Pepper went to get paper plates and napkins. She preferred to use them, even if he didn’t, so she set them next to her laptop before moving over to the bar to get the drinks he’d poured since his hands were full with the box of pizza.
He’d made a second for her, obviously, and tellingly had not put the vodka bottle or any of the condiments away. When he returned he brought the box with him to the living room sofa, settling back with familiarity under the soft lamp and looking through the glass windows at the dark shadows of the ocean below the cliff. He’d put a ridiculous amount of money into the Malibu house, and the modern white curve of the seating hugged the space facing a heatless gas fireplace (the only kind necessary in that zipcode). The house had been leveled at least once, then built up again, and Tony had been too focused on New York to pay any attention to what the architects and designers had said. So it was an exact model of what had been, as if Tony hadn’t torn it up like a child with Legos. Taking a piece out of one of the boxes and licking the grease from his fingers, he said, “Why do I detect a hint of sarcasm in that title?”
Pepper set her glass down in front of her before leaning over to set his down in front of him. She reached for the box once he’d removed his slice and took one of her own, delicately folding the slice in half and taking a bite before wiping her fingers on a napkin. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” she replied, and she likely would have been convincing if the corners of her mouth hadn’t turned up in a smile. It wasn’t often that they sat and ate together like this, so relaxed and informal, but she enjoyed it immensely. It was particularly comforting after the memories she still didn’t want to talk about. He was here, he was alive, and all of that was in the past. “You know, I’m glad you didn’t change too much during the remodel. This room has always been one of my favorites,” Pepper said thoughtfully before taking another bite of her pizza. She didn’t indulge very often, but it really was delicious.
California pizza had a tendency to be either organic or flat, and Tony liked his grease, so he was willing to settle, but it wasn’t anything like Chicago. He folded his in half, tipped it to keep anything from pouring onto his shirt, and chewed. “I know. You work in here all the time.” It was a casual observation of Pepper’s daily activity that rarely sank in far enough to become something he actually was aware of knowing. After another bite he said, “So. What’s the deal with the memories?” Like he couldn’t tell she’d been upset. Silver had been able to tell and if some moron like Silver could tell, Tony certainly could. (This was what he told himself.)
If she wasn’t going to be allowed to work at Stark Tower, Pepper absolutely preferred his living room. Her apartment was a close second, but for as much as she loved working, she tried to keep it to a minimum at home. It was her feeble attempt at keeping something for herself, but she always kept her phone by her side just in case. “It’s the windows, I think,” she explained with a shrug, taking another bite herself before setting down the plate on her lap in favor of reaching for the martini glass. She barely got the glass to her lips when he asked about the memories and she froze for the briefest of moments. Pepper took a rather generous sip as she thought of what to say. “What about them?” she chose to go with. “I got three of them, though the first was meant for Justine. You?”
“Meant for Justine,” Tony echoed. “I am not sure they were meant for specific people... We got a lot more than three, but not all of them made sense.” He actually tossed a piece of pizza crust back in the box and sucked on his fingers while he thought about that. It was possible that the memories were aimed, but by what and whom would be his immediate follow-up questions. Silver suggested that perhaps the memories were drawn to people who would most understand, but that didn’t necessarily explain all of them, but there was no hard evidence either way. There wasn’t hard evidence for anything, because the monitoring had revealed nothing out of the ordinary, not even a heart palpitation. The event seemed to be only emotional, and had left no other traces.
Pepper just shrugged. “It was of her with her brother when they were much younger,” she reasoned. “The memory I received from General Carter was surprising, but not unwelcome. I intend to reach out to her once I’ve caught up a bit more.” She took another bite of her pizza, now half finished, and wiped her fingers again. “How many more than three?” Pepper asked, concerned about the nature of some of the memories he might have received. “And how so?” She took another bite waiting for him to reply.
Tony picked up his glass and took an even deeper drink than he did, like a fish in water. “I got one of hers as well. We got... five or six more.” It was a very short hesitation, but it revealed that Tony was downplaying the number and the type of memories they’d had. “Now that you mention it I guess most of them were related to either me or him in some way or another.” Some of that is confidential, Tony. Don’t get too descriptive. Tony made a little disdainful sound through his nose, but he also agreed. Silver kept his secrets, after all.
“One of Justine’s?” She needed to clarify, possibly betraying some of the worry she had about what memories he could have gotten from here. There were quite a few that she didn’t want him to have gotten, but the unfortunate part was that she wouldn’t know until she asked and she didn’t want to ask for fear he might dig a little deeper. If that really had been his memory, and she was fairly certain that it was because she remembered the voices from the video on his computer, then she certainly wasn’t going to bring it up. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it when he’d come home and she had just been glad that he came back alive that she didn’t push terribly hard. Whatever had happened, however bad it was, she wouldn’t make him think about it again.
“Anything worth mentioning?” Pepper asked as she drank from her martini glass. It was an out if he didn’t want to mention anything, but it also kept the attention on him instead of on her and the one memory she left out.
Tony’s glass was empty, but he didn’t get up to get a refill, and he didn’t offer to do the same for hers. Instead he held the glass in five fingers and tipped it back and forth so that the olive scraped around the inside of the conical curve. He watched her face, not accusingly, but rather with a faintly reassuring smile that was very Tony. “No, not Justine’s. Yours, with Felicia.” He felt the same about the memory, and calling it up caused a certain tension between himself and Silver, so he really didn’t want to discuss it more. “There were other things. Battles, funerals. Thor, Banner.” Tony shrugged a shoulder as if to say no big deal.
Those three simple words - ‘Yours, with Felicia’ - was enough to make her pause before draining her glass. It could’ve been anything, but there was very little that happened between the two of them that was anything worth mentioning except for the accident. But if it had been the accident, one of them would have said something, right? There wasn’t any way Silver would’ve called, concerned about her if he’d gotten that memory. Unless he had been trying to reach Justine. She wanted another martini. His glass was empty, so she held her hand out, silently asking if he wanted a refill as he went on about the others. “That doesn’t sound too bad,” Pepper replied cautiously, watching for his reaction closely. Was it really not a big deal or was he just saying that?
Instead of handing his glass over, Tony stood up and took her outstretched glass before she could protest. It was likely that if it was anything other than the accident, Tony would have been more specific, but he didn’t realize that. Silver did, but he didn’t say a damn thing, and in fact withdrew somewhat from the conversation. Tony barely noticed. He wasn’t even buzzing yet and he was planning on solid drunk before the hour was out. Behind the bar he started mixing again, but this time he took out some sweeter vodkas just to change things up. The next martini was pink and had a maraschino in it. Tony had the same, ignoring alcohol sexism with the same willful ignorance he had for anything he didn’t like. “Just knocked us down. No physical effects.” He was just saying it. “Which of mine did you see?” The phrasing of the question was deliberate. He held out the glass.
She was too caught up in her own worry to realize that he probably would have handled any other memory of hers differently. Pepper arched an eyebrow at his retreating back when he simply took her glass and then shrugged. If he wanted to mix the drinks, that was fine with her and she took a seat once more, finishing off the last of her pizza as she watched him. He tended to make his drinks on the strong side but that was what she wanted so it was just as well. “That’s good,” she said of the lack of physical effects. She couldn’t imagine either Tony or Silver crying as a result of the memories they saw, but he’d always been good at getting up when he was knocked down. The pink martini was taken and tasted before she replied, “I didn’t really see much of anything.” It was true, she’d felt more than seen and the answer skirted the larger issue at hand. Pepper took the maraschino cherry from her drink and neatly bit it off the stem, which she placed on her plate.
Tony held onto the glass in his right hand, watching her taste hers. He had a very slight smile on his face, an easy smile, and after he tracked the path of the cherry stem, he took a drink and sat down. He chose the other side of the sofa this time, the one nearest the bar. “Come on, Pepper.” It was obvious to him that she was upset, as if she’d been wearing a sign. He was patient about it in his way, frank, and took a second piece of pizza as he waited for a real answer.
Her eyes narrowed for a very brief moment, annoyed at him for prodding when she very clearly didn’t want to talk about it, but she realized resistance was futile. He would continue to poke and prod until he got answers and considering she’d already told Silver about it, she was sure Tony had some idea. Pepper sighed and downed the contents of her glass before answering more honestly this time. She could still remember every detail of the memory more sharply than the other two and she recalled it now, staring at the empty glass in her hands. “I felt all of it. The pain in my- your chest was so intense and breathing was such a struggle. There were people, voices. I realized they sounded like the men who sent the ransom video to Obadiah afterward.” Pepper spoke softly, sounding every bit as distant as her mind was currently. “I had no idea. I wanted to die, it was so painful. I don’t-” Her voice caught for a moment, but she pushed back the well of emotion, burying it as best she could before managing a smile in his direction. “I don’t know how you survived that, but...I’m glad you did.” By the time she murmured the last few words, she was looking at her glass again.
A couple seconds into the explanation, Tony’s smile fell away. A couple seconds more, and he had put down the pizza. By the end of it his hands were empty, and his fingers were interlaced loosely between his knees as he watched her face. It was so rare for him to look entirely serious. The lines around his eyes, so often creased into laughter, were deep and gray, and his eyes shadowed with years he had and hadn’t lived. The little boy that made toys was not there, or at last buried deep. “I’m sorry you saw that.” Saw was such a small word. Even Silver was horrified. “I hope it... didn’t last long?” He didn’t know what to do with the mustered smile, only looked at it and then at her eyes again.
There was a small part of Pepper that was glad she’d gotten a memory that helped her piece together what he’d been through over there. Even her worst nightmare had been nothing compared to what he’d actually been through. She hadn’t wanted to burden him with this, just like she hadn’t wanted to burden him with what it had been like for her when he had been held captive. It paled in comparison to what he’d actually been through. “No, it didn’t last long,” she echoed, but she couldn’t be sure. It had felt like hours during the length of the memory, but it could have been only minutes of real time. Pepper shrugged and looked back up at him, only to find him looking at her rather intently. There was sadness there in her bright blue eyes, but she tried in vain to hide it. She wanted to reassure him, to tell him that it wasn’t his fault or that it hadn’t been unbearable, but she couldn’t find the right words. Instead, she pushed herself up off the couch and went for the bottle of vodka, grabbing two shot glasses as well. “Want one?” she asked, already pouring herself one.
Tony felt, somehow, that Pepper’s experience had been his fault. He knew it wasn’t, intellectually, but it still felt that way, because he didn’t want to be the one that put that look on her face. It was almost a relief when she got up to take it out of his sight, and he only glanced up again at her question, obviously not aware of what she was referring to until she held up the shot glass. “Oh yeah. Just bring the bottle over.” He had lost his appetite somewhat, so he lifted a hand to rotate the lid of the box aside. He watched her for a little while longer, then he said, “How long did... I mean. Did you see anyone?” He wanted to know how much of the cave she had seen, if any, and how much he needed to explain.
She grabbed the bottle by the neck and a shot glass for him in one hand and her shot in the other before heading back to the couch, this time shuffling past him and sitting within arms reach of him. His shot was poured after she’d set everything down and she handed it to him wordlessly. A subtle ‘cheers’ motion followed, and then she knocked it back effortlessly. “There was...a voice? I’m not sure if I saw anyone or not. I wasn’t really paying attention to that,” Pepper replied, pouring another round. “It’s fine, honestly. I’ll be fine.” She paused, considering how to best change the topic at hand. Considering the bottle was mostly full, Pepper decided why not. They were already talking about things she didn’t want to talk about. “What did you get from me?”
Tony mirrored her effort with the shot and made a face. Even the best vodka wasn’t great straight in the glass, and he preferred something with a smooth mossy taste worth a few thousand. Yet instead of getting up, he stayed just where he was and put the shot over by the bottle for a refill. “Just a voice?” Tony asked, looking back at her, that serious expression still firmly in place. “One voice or many? Was there water?” Tony fucking hoped not. He didn’t want to be the one to torture Pepper, and that was how he thought of it. He pushed back in his seat and dropped his shoulders, somewhat dejectedly. “From you... The crash.”
“Just one and there wasn’t any water,” she replied, pouring them both another round. Pepper handed him his shot and the look she gave him said she’d really prefer it if he just dropped it. When he admitted what memory he’d gotten from her, Pepper wasn’t entirely surprised. She sighed and settled back against the couch, recalling that night for herself. The accident had been her fault, she knew, but now he knew it too, and so did Silver. “Well,” she started, but she paused to take her shot, wincing only slightly as the liquid slid down her throat. The glass went on the table before she leaned back again, forgetting her usually perfect posture. “I’ll be more careful this time.”
Silver said one thing, but Tony said another, and Tony was the one who was in charge here. There was a very short conflict, but Tony won because Silver’s anger was never very deep nor very long. It was still an accident, and Silver knew that Felicia was still dead. “I hope you’re not beating yourself up for it,” Tony said, giving her a look that said he had known that she was. He took the other shot, drank it without comment. He was finally starting to feel it, enough in the short time that even he would feel it, and shut his eyes. “We should just stay in the same place,” he said, not thinking too much about it. “Could be New York and could be here, but should be the same place.”
As with everything, Pepper handled her alcohol without much fuss. Considering the two martinis and now two shots, she was feeling quite nice despite the topic of conversation. The accident had been entirely her fault and there was nothing he could say or do to change that simple fact, just like he couldn’t change the fact that she’d seen some of what had happened during his captivity. “Not too much,” she replied and it was true for the most part. When he suggested they stay in the same place, she turned her whole body, tucking one of her legs up, to face him, leaning against the back of the couch. “We can’t be together all the time. You have important work to do. You can’t limit yourself to somewhere I am.” Pepper considered it for another moment. “Besides, Loki will go after your work. If I’m there, I’d just be a distraction.”
“No,” Tony said, fully drunk enough by now to be conversational, though it didn’t necessarily mean he was feeling nice. Tony tended to party when he wanted to completely erase any real sense of personality, and this kind of straight vodka-drinking (combined with the company) meant he could actually be serious for longer than thirty seconds at a time. “I don’t know that he will go after my work. He might go after me. If he really wanted to go after me... then he’d go after you.” Tony abruptly jumped up to his feet. “I’m not drinking any more of this shit. You know that I have some forty-year in here somewhere?”
Pepper looked at him curiously, not really understanding the ‘no’ until he continued. His honesty and seriousness surprised her, but not nearly as much as what he said. It was her turn to shake her head, recalling the conversation she had with the Asgardian. “I’m only a servant. A well trained dog that comes when called I think was the comparison he used,” she replied with a shrug. “I’m not worth going after.” She watched as he got up and turned to follow his movements. “I’m not surprised. You have just about everything behind that bar.”
Tony decided not to clarify. If it became clear that to him Pepper was more than a servant, they would have trouble from Loki, and it was obvious that he was thorough when he wanted to be. Tony didn’t want to point out that Loki’s understanding of Pepper as only hired help wouldn’t last long if the god spent any time watching him, or if he looked at their patterns over the past however many years. Tony didn’t argue. Instead he decided to get really drunk, and at least the two of them could do it together, even if it was for entirely different reasons.
She waited for him to say something, anything, but it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen. Pepper wasn’t even sure how to respond to his silence. Loki was a problem and there were a number of reasons why she might be a target, but it didn’t change the fact that unless Loki figured out that her Alter was Thor’s Alter’s sister and looked after by Captain Roger’s Alter, she would continue to be barely a blip on the Asgardian’s radar. At least she’d managed to impress upon Justine the importance of keeping her a secret. There wasn’t much else she could do, other than continue her work for Stark Industries and stay out of the way. Maybe it was time to take a page out of his book and enjoy an excessive - to her - amount of alcohol. Pepper padded over to the bar and took a seat on one of the swivel chairs there, waiting for him to pour her a drink.
He did, pushing over a tumbler with a finger of whiskey and no ice. “Doesn’t get much smoother than that,” he said, the vodka smoothing out the vowels and leaving them there in the air between them. He poured himself a tumbler too, but with twice as much alcohol in it. He didn’t want to continue the discussion about Loki, and he didn’t want to talk about the damn memories, either. It was obvious, to him, at least, that he needed to keep his distance from Pepper in every way that could be significantly noticed. It was disappointing, but so far he hadn’t been good at making it more than it was anyway. Tony rubbed his hand down his face and took a deep drink of fifty dollars in whiskey.
She picked up the glass and swirled the amber liquid around for a moment before taking a sip. Whiskey wasn’t her first choice and it had been a while since she’d had it, but if it was a top shelf bottle, she wasn’t going to turn it down. “What’s wrong?” Pepper asked, her concern evident in her tone as she watched him rub his face. “You don’t...” she trailed off, trying to find the right way to phrase it. He looked like he had when he asked her to go find Obadiah’s hidden files, like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders and only he could fix it. “You’re not alone here,” she said and, without thinking, reached for his hand just to give him that physical reassurance. “You don’t have to handle everything.”
Tony moved away, a slight step to one side that took his hand out of her reach. “I know. You’re handling everything.” He said it lightly, and gave her one of his cheerful little boy smiles, but it wasn’t down deep, and nothing near as authentic as the bleak expression he had worn on the couch. “And you’re right, I guess you can’t do it when you’re hanging around me all the time. We should do what we did before, divide the business and the personal. Just find me someone that’s not a spy, this time?”
Pepper frowned when he moved away, pulling her hand back to wrap around the glass. She wasn't handling everything, but she was handling the business. He was right though, and she'd drawn that conclusion before, on her birthday most recently. It was comforting, in a self deprecating way, to know that she could fail. She was the practical one, always looking before leaping and getting the information necessary to keep things running smoothly. He could take her assistant, at least for the interim, and she would do her job, just like she always did. If she was a weakness, a liability, then he wouldn't be able to do what he needed to do. That was unacceptable. Pepper drained her glass, biting back a cough, and slid off her stool. "I'll be out by morning," she said, grabbing only her phone before turning to head to the bedroom she'd claimed all those months ago. She didn't turn to look at him until she got to the edge of the carpet. "You'll have someone by noon tomorrow. Good night, Mr Stark."