The next morning, Tony was still in possession of the jeans. He was disappointed that Pepper hadn’t come to claim them, he’d have been happy to shuck them off for her. They were too sandy to put back on and he settled for showering and putting on clean boxers.
Going downstairs, he didn’t find her in the kitchen or in front of the fire as she usually was. A quick check showed she wasn’t outside, either. The car was gone from the garage, but he was certain she hadn’t left with Happy. He was a little worried as he went back upstairs to check the guest bedroom, it wasn’t like her to sleep later than he did.
Pepper was curled up in a tight ball in the center of the bed still asleep. He smiled, she was so cute when she was asleep. Red-blonde hair had curled around her face and fanned out over her pillow. Her lips were parted slightly and he wanted to kiss them. Wanted to turn them from pale pink to kiss swollen red. Peel that lacy top down to reveal her breasts – what color were her nipples? How would they taste?
He found himself kneeling on the edge of the bed, ready to crawl in with her. Reluctantly, he stopped himself. Pepper would probably brain him if she woke up and he was kissing her. Not that he would, but she might get the wrong impression and get mad at him. They were no doubt going to be moving even slower than they had before Sun – before he was an idiot – he didn’t want to make her mad at him and have her really slam on the brakes.
Tony settled for kissing her cheek. “Pepper, hey, wake up.”
“Tired…” She muttered. “You’re not supposed to be up yet.”
“Weird, I know, but I am.” In more ways than one, he glanced down at his cock and ordered it to go down and behave. It ignored him as it always did.
“What are you doing?” Struggling to wake up, Pepper sat up and stared at him. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He sat on the edge of the bed. “I want to set up a meeting with Sunset and show her she doesn’t hold all the cards. I’m not going to let her do this to me, Pepper. Not again.”
When Pepper nodded, he continued. “I think it’s time to go back to the world. Not today, though, maybe tomorrow. Today, I want to show you something.”
“You want to – “ She looked down at his lap and quickly back up. “Tony, that’s a pretty lame line even for you.”
“Not that. Well – “ He grinned. “Yes that, but not now. Well – “
“I get it, I get it!” She put a pillow on his lap to hide his erection. “You want to show me the Stark hot rod, the little Tony, the Iron Man two – I get it!”
“Where did you get those? I like the hot rod, haven’t heard that one.” Patting the pillow, he smiled. “I got a few more, but what I meant was something here on the grounds. A place to show you. But – “ He lifted the pillow slightly. “If you want to take a look and name him yourself – “
“No.” Pressing the pillow back down, she shook her head.
“I’ve seen it before, remember? It’s not like I don’t know what it looks like.”
“Not the same thing. We weren’t – you know – a couple. Like now. We’re a couple.” He wouldn’t say posing or pretending, in his mind they were a couple. Coupling was to follow at some point.
Pepper realized pressing down on the pillow probably wasn’t helping things and moved her hand. Tony took that as permission to toss it aside. Those big brown eyes were hard to resist and she leaned forward, putting her hand on his shoulder and kissing him softly.
She let her hand slide down his shoulder to his chest, circling the arc reactor as she did so, drawing a groan from him. From what little making out they had done before, Pepper knew the skin around it was sensitive and she scraped it gently with her fingernails before moving down his belly. His belly button was fascinating, it was not an innie but not quite an outie, either. Leave it to Tony to have a unique belly button.
Tony moaned as Pepper slid her a fingertip into and back out oh his navel. The moan turned to a gasp as her fingers slid over the silk covering his cock. There wasn’t enough air in the room suddenly and Tony found himself panting into her mouth as she teased the head of his cock through the material. When she finally closed her fingers around it, he arched up, breaking the kiss and clenching his eyes shut. “Pepper…”
“I’m sorry, but this is all you get.” Regretfully, she gave his cock a firm squeeze before pulling her hand away.
“Damn.” Tony opened his eyes and found her looking at him with desire burring hot in her eyes. This going slow thing was hard on her, too, and the thought made him feel better. A little better. His cock, however, was not forgiving either of them for some time.
“I’m going to go take a swim.” He told her. The cold Atlantic would kill off his hard-on in a heartbeat.
“Okay. I’ll make us some breakfast.” And take a cold shower. “Don’t stay out there too long.”
Sliding off the bed, he eyed her unhappily. “You’re lucky I’m not one of those type of guys who doesn’t understand the word no.”
“I wouldn’t be here if you were, Tony.”
She watched him walk out of the room, happy despite the frustrating ache between her legs. Tony had turned the corner. He’d be okay – and if her plan worked out like she wanted – they’d all be okay.
When she was certain he was outside, Pepper rummaged through last night’s discarded clothes for her phone. Ignoring the note that she’d missed numerous calls, texts and emails, she connected to the internet, cursing how slow the connection was – god knew how far away the nearest cell tower was – and scrolled down the list of favorites looking for the gossip folder.
The page opened slower than she could ever remember it taking since dial-up. “Come on… come on… yes!” She did a little victory dance when it finally loaded the images.
A picture of the two of them taken at the clambake was at the top of the page. She was leaning back in Tony’s arms, lying against his chest, and his chin was resting on her shoulder. The headline underneath declared “Tony and Pepper play beach blanket bingo at local party! Pepperony is back!” She hated “Pepperony” but at this moment she’d gladly kiss the person who made up the nickname.
The same picture with similar headlines was at TMZ, E! Online, and even Yahoo. Pepper sent Happy a quick “thank you” text. Take that, Sunset Bain! She headed downstairs, dancing her way down and singing “neener neener neener” all the way to the bottom.
Her phone chimed at her and stopping, she read Happy’s reply. “Check out People.” She clicked the link he’d sent. “Oh… my… God…” Another victory jig around the living room nearly made her drop her phone.
People had the same picture as the other sites had had, plus two more. She – as an “anonymous friend” of Tony’s – had promised exclusive pictures for a hefty fee. Which she would donate to charity with absolutely no guilty feelings at all.
The first picture was a perfect shot of the moment when she’d leaned back to gaze up at the fireworks and caught Tony looking at her. Their gazes were locked in what could only be described as lovingly – and was described exactly that way under the photo.
The second picture had captured the moment when he’d dipped his head down to kiss her. Her hand was curved up around his cheek and jaw and the other was covering the hand he had resting on her stomach. Fireworks were visible in the sky behind them, she couldn’t have asked for a better shot. Perfect!
Pepper sent a text back to Happy thanking him again. “I owe you!” Hearing the front door open, she bolted back upstairs to hide her phone.
Tony was in the kitchen when Pepper came downstairs. He was making something, mostly a mess, on the kitchen counter. “Tony, what are you doing? I’ll make us some eggs and bacon.”
“Go ahead. I’m making lunch.” He continued to pile lunch meat onto the sandwiches he was making. “We can take the leftover pizza, if you want.”
“I thought you and Happy ate it all.” Opening the refrigerator, she took out the carton of eggs and package of bacon.
“Nope, still a few pieces.”
“Weren’t you going to take a swim?”
“Turns out a wade was enough.” Tony shivered. He’d gotten as far as his shins in the cold surf and had thought his entire body was ready to shut down.
She laughed as she broke eggs into a skillet. The laugh turned to a shriek as he slapped her ass.
“It’s not fair, you know.”
“What’s not fair? That I didn’t need to wade out there with you?”
“Your hair’s wet, Potts. You took a cold shower.” He smirked at her. “No, you got a feel and I didn’t. Not fair. Not at all. I think that violates the Geneva Convention.”
“You’re not a POW, Tony.”
“You’re keeping me here with no clothes, transportation, or booze. I think the Red Cross would disagree with you.”
“Oh, please. You’ve been a prisoner, so I know you know the difference.”
“You got to feel me up and I got nothing.” He shook his head. “Zip. Nada. Bupkis.”
“You groped my boob in the car. That’s a feel.”
“Over your hoodie and a shirt. Hardly the same.”
“Okay.” Turning around she pulled her shirt up. “Fine. One free feel.”
Tony’s eyes goggled at the sight. Pepper had on a thin cotton sports bra. He could almost see her nipples through the material. White cotton had never looked so good.
“Well?” It was all she could do not to laugh in his face. He looked like he’d found the lost Ark. “I’m not standing here all day. Touch or don’t touch – make up your mind.”
“Touch! Touching – “ Tony pressed his tongue to his upper lip in concentration and gently covered her breasts with his hands. They were a perfect fit. He could walk around with her and be her bra for the rest of her life. Squeezing gently, he thumbed the nipples and then looked up at her. “I like them.” He said seriously.
“They like you, too.” Leaning forward, Pepper kissed him.
He heaved a sigh as she pulled her shirt back down. “I need another wade in – you know – I’ll be back.”
She smiled and gave him another quick kiss.. A sudden, strange smell made her frown. “What is – oh, no! The eggs!”
Running to the stove, she shut the burner off, waving away smoke and the smell of burned eggs. She carried it to the sink and scraped it down the disposal.
“No eggs for breakfast?” Tony shut the burner off under the bacon before it could join the eggs in a fate worse than death. “I saved your bacon.”
“Sorry, I got distracted.” That was true. She grabbed Tony and turned him around, pulling him into a hug.
“Oh, nice…” He hugged her to him. “It was a metaphorical saving of your bacon – well, sort of literal I guess – “
“Shut up, Tony.” She pressed her lips to his in a voracious kiss. Tangling her fingers in his hair, she held his face to hers and she pressed her tongue into his mouth.
For a moment, Tony was surprised and passive under her unexpected assault, then the testosterone in his genes kicked his body in gear. Pushing her against the counter, he returned the kiss, one hand coming up to cup the back of her head and hold her as he sucked her tongue for a moment before sliding his own tongue into her mouth.
He used his knee to move her legs apart and settled himself between them, rubbing his hardening cock against her mound. His free hand pulled her leg up around his hip while his mouth continued to dominate hers in a desperate kiss.
“Need you, Pepper – “ He gasped against her lips as they broke for air. “I need you – “
“I need you, too – “ Pepper turned her face away as he came back in for another kiss. It was good, felt fantastic, but it had to stop. It was too soon for them to do this. His lips landed on her jaw and quickly worked up to her ear. “Tony – “
“I know – ‘s good – “ Tony dropped his hand down to the waistband of her shorts and quickly tugged them down. “God, I hope you packed condoms – “
The RT was digging into her breasts, it wasn’t painful but it was an odd sensation and it helped bring her thoughts back to somewhere closer to normal from ‘fuck me’. “We can’t do this – “ She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed. It was like trying to move a wall.
“I know – you got that damn swim suit on – “ He grunted against her throat. “Fucking one piece!” He couldn’t find where it tied or hooked or whatever it did at the top. His cock was going to embarrass him in a few moments if he didn’t get it into her pussy.
She was pushing him away and the small part of his brain that was still functioning decided Pepper was going to take the offending swim suit off. Stepping back, he licked his lips and watched her hands go down past her waist – and nearly howled in frustration as she pulled her shorts back up.
“What the hell? Pepper?” Tony’s eyes were hot, liquid with lust and anger as he caught her wrists. “What are you doing?”
“We can’t do this – it’s too soon – “ His grip on her wrist tightened and she winced. “Tony, that hurts.”
Looking down, Tony saw his hands locked around Pepper’s wrists. Her skin was pale next to his, except for the redness outlining his grip. He dropped her wrists as if they burned him. He backed away and leaned against the wall. “I’m sorry, Pepper, I didn’t mean to do that.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not.” He was panting, trying to catch his breath. “I have better control than that – I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Pepper caught her own breath and rubbed at her wrists. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re vulnerable and I’m not helping by giving you mixed signals. I didn’t mean to do that. I’m not a tease, Tony, I’m not. I’m just – ”
“No, don’t.” Shaking his head, he drew in a deep breath and blew it out. “There’s no excuse for how I acted and it is not your fault. I’m going upstairs for a very quick, very cold shower as punishment. Pack the sandwiches, we’ll leave in a few minutes.”
As he walked past her, Pepper caught his hand and when Tony stopped, she turned his face to her and kissed him softly. “Please don’t be mad – “
“Pepper, I’m not mad – not at you anyway. ” He kissed her back, just as softly. “I shouldn’t act like all I want is sex. I just don’t know – what else do couples do between meeting and sex? I’m short on experience here, Potts.”
“I know, and I’m not being the best teacher right now.”
“That’s not true. I’m just a rotten student.” He grinned. “Ask any of my teachers, they’ll tell you I’m a complete pain in the ass.”
Pepper stroked a hand over his face, trailing her fingers along his cheekbone and the line of his beard. “You’re not, don’t say that. We still have a chance, Tony. I don’t want to risk it. I want that chance.”
“Me, too.” He met her gaze for a long moment. “Me, too. More than anything.”
Pepper watched Tony leave the room, wishing she was brave enough to follow him. After a few moments she began wrapping the sandwiches, doing her best to ignore the sexual thrumming inside her body.
The sandwiches were wrapped and she was putting them into a backpack with chips and a few bottles of water by the time Tony came back from his shower. She smiled at him. “Almost ready, I added the bacon to the sandwiches.”
“Good call. I’ll meet you outside.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
A moment later Pepper’s eyes widened as she heard the sound of an engine being started. Panicked, she bolted out the back door. “Tony!” Had he done what he’d threatened the night before and built an ultra light out of the lawnmower? “Tony!”
Outside, she found him sitting astride a small motorcycle, a huge grin on his face. Dropping the backpack with their lunch, she demanded. “Where did you find that?”
“In the shed.” He cut the engine off. “It was in pieces. Dad never got around to fixing it, and… well… I never did either. Never had a reason.”
The shed. Pepper looked across the lawn to the building. It hadn’t occurred to her that the pieces of a dusty old motorcycles were something Tony could get working again. Stupid! The shed is gold mine compared to that damned cave! “How long have you been working on this?”
“Yesterday. When I said I was going to take a shower and a nap, remember? I couldn’t sleep and then I remembered this was out here. So I fixed it.” Tony couldn’t help smiling at the stunned look on his face.
“Pepper, no offense, I know you worked hard to keep me here, but I could have hacked your phone once I knew you had it or put together a modem from the junk in the basement and hooked it up to the internet line that you didn’t know about. Or – “ He shrugged. “ – just walked down the damn beach.”
Clearly it was a blow to her ego, judging from the look on her face. Getting off the bike, he went to her. “But I didn’t. I didn’t because – well, because I couldn’t do that to you.”
Pepper shook off the shock of realizing her plan worked only because Tony went along with it.“Tony, I didn’t do this for me. I did this because I care about you – I don’t want you to end up in a bottle or worse. You’re better than that. I didn’t – “ She met his eyes squarely. “I didn’t want her to win. I don’t want her to win.”
“She won’t.” He pulled her into a fierce hug. “Not with you on my side.”
She returned the hug, turning her head so her lips brushed across his. “We’re going to kick her ass.”
“Yes, we are!” Laughing, he picked Pepper up and did a quick turn, letting her slide down his body as he set her back on her feet. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow we kick her ass. Today I want to show you something. Let’s go for a ride.”
Pepper picked up the discarded backpack, swung onto the bike behind him, and wrapped her arms around his waist. Tony had put on the jeans he’d worn the night before, probably a good idea while riding a motorcycle, and she hooked her fingers through the belt loops.
He started the bike and headed out of the yard. Once on the beach, he twisted the throttle and they sped down the sand at top speed. Pepper laughed and held on tight, resting her cheek against his shoulder.
When the land began to narrow until she could see ocean on both sides of them, Tony slowed the bike and maneuvered it up onto the rolling dunes. There was a faint, overgrown path and he guided them along it carefully.
After several minutes, the path led them out of the dunes and out onto a small beach with the water curving around it. Pepper gasped. There was nothing but ocean ahead of them. “Where are we?”
“Still on Long Island. Though I think you can see Connecticut if you look that way.” He pointed across the water. “One reason my dad bought this place was because he ended up with the end of this piece of the island. Nobody ever developed out here, so it was the perfect place for us to shoot off rockets and blow stuff up.”
There was a fond smile on his face. “We would set off fireworks out here, too. On that dock.” He pointed to a small dock jutting out into the water. It was sagging, clearly neglected. “Not the big, official SI Fourth of July party. Small stuff. Just me and him and Mom.”
“That sounds like fun, Tony.” She said softly. He didn’t share many of his memories of his parents. They were like sacred ground to him. Pepper smiled at the image of the three of them sitting on the beach as a family.
“It was.” He sighed. “I haven’t been here in a long time. Mom used to love to come sit out here. She’d sketch or paint, and I’d sit next to her and draw.”
“You’d draw the ocean?” Maria Stark had been a talented amateur artist, but this was the first Pepper had heard of Tony having any artistic ambitions.
“No.” He burst out laughing. “Planes, robots, bombs, circuit boards – come on, Potts, you know me better than that.”
She did, no doubt Tony’s first pictures stuck on the refrigerator door had probably been designs for a super computer or a robot. The image of a robot schematic being held up by letter magnets made her smile.
They sat down on the sand and Pepper leaned back against Tony’s chest, letting him wrap his arms around her. “I like it here, Tony.”
“Me, too.” He sighed and rested his cheek against hers.
“Let’s come back.”
“We will, Pep.” Hugging her, Tony brushed a kiss across her cheek. “All three of us.”