Chapter 3

The bottle of wine was empty. Tony wasn’t sure if it had paired well with the food or not – he hadn’t eaten any of it. Dinner, along with the plates and utensils, had been thrown in the trash after Pepper had left. He wasn’t interested in food. He was interested in getting shitfaced and forgetting tonight ever happened.

Luckily, his liquor cabinet held one of the finest supplies of alcohol in the country. When he had people over – for business or other things – he was prepared to offer whatever they were in the mood for. And… Tony admitted, he wanted to drink whatever he was in the mood for whenever he was in the mood for it.

“What am I in the mood for?” He perused the selection of bottles. “I have clear, amber, light brown, dark brown – can’t see through that bottle – yellow? What the hell is yellow?”

“I believe it’s a lemon liqueur you purchased in Italy in 2008, sir.” Jarvis answered.

“Lemon? Was I drunk?”


“Lemon? From Italy?” That didn’t sound very Italian like.

“Limoncello is produced primarily in Southern Italy, mainly in the Gulf of Naples region, the Sorrentine Peninsula, the coast of – “

“Enough with the Wikipedia info. Wherever it’s from, It’s not attractive, and it’ll probably make me sicker than hell.”

“Yes, sir. Might I suggest you try drinking water instead of alcohol if you’re wishing to avoid a hangover?”

“You may not.” Tony snagged an interesting silver bottle from the back. “Not unless there’s booze mixed in.”

“Of course, how silly of me.”

“What the hell is this? Are these diamonds?” He turned the bottle around, watching the light sparkle off the stones.

“Tequila Ley. Blue Agave Tequila – six years old at the time it was given to you in 2002. The bottle is platinum encrusted with diamonds.”

“The platinum I recognize – seriously – diamonds?” The bottle had a weird shape, with points sticking out on both sides. “Was someone stoned when they designed this? Maybe sampling the booze?”

“Quite possibly. “

“Someone gave me this ugly thing? Did I piss them off? Sleep with their sister?” Tony pulled the ornate stopper out and tipped the bottle up. The tequila slid down as smooth as water. “Oh… that’s nice.”

“It was a gift from a Prince Sabeeh Tawaab. A thank you for the Stark Raptors he received as part of the U.S. support package.” The AI paused. “Sadly, they did not keep his younger brother from beheading him and taking the throne.”

“Sometimes it pays to be an only child.” Another deep drink from the ugly bottle and a very familiar warmth began to curl outward from his belly. “Nobody wants my throne – hell, I can’t even give it away.”

“Prince Tawaab’s throne was originally a goatskin covered frame until oil was discovered on the tribe’s native territory. It’s doubtful his brother would have killed him for it.”

“Not true, Jarvis. People will kill for anything – you got it and they want it – slkkkkkk – ” He made a slicing motion across his throat. “This is good stuff. I should get more of it.” Tipping the bottle up, he took another drink.

“It should be, sir, it sells for one point five million dollars. Granted, the majority of the cost is the bottle. Without the diamonds, it’s a mere quarter of a million.”

“Well, it’s good stuff! I don’t even need salt and lime.” Tony took a deep breath, blinking as his vision blurred slightly. This was really good stuff, it usually took a lot more to get this effect. “Order me a case. Forget the fancy bottle, I can’t drink diamonds.“

Checking the cabinet, he searched for what he needed for Margaritas. “Jarvis? Limes and salt? Where are they?”

“Margarita salt is in the third door to your left and limes are in the kitchen pantry in a basket marked ‘limes.’”

“You’re such a smartass.” His knees were very… squishy… and Tony moved carefully toward the kitchen. “I know I didn’t make you that much of a smartass. I mean – did I?”

“You programmed me with the capacity for sarcasm and dry wit. My interpretation of your programming notes is that you wished for me to emulate the real Edward Jarvis as much as possible. You wrote that you were fond of his ‘snarky’ comments.” Jarvis paused. “Am I in error?”

“No. No, you’re right, Jarvis. You’re always right. The old man was deadly with words. God love him. I spent more time with him than I did my father, did you know that? Never mind, nobody cares.” Tony located the pantry and pulled the doors open. “Jesus, look at the stuff in here! I have Pop Tarts!”

“Those should go well with Margaritas, sir.”

“See, that’s what I mean – you know later I’ll be asking what I’m throwing up.” He pulled the pop tarts off the shelf along with the basket of limes. Do I know how to make a Margarita?” He pondered the question. “Of course I do. Crap… Iost my booze… where’s my tequila?”

“On the bar, sir.” Jarvis said helpfully.

“That’s right.” Tony made his way back to the bar and grabbed the bottles he needed to make Margaritas. “One for the blender – “ He tipped the bottle up and took another drink of tequila. “– one for me. This is – did you order a case of this?”

“I did, sir.”

“Add another one, this stuff is fantastic.” Carefully putting the lid on the blender – he didn’t want to waste his booze – Tony hit the button and watched the ice and liquid turn into one of his favorite drinks. He squinted at the dark specks. “Damn… I shouldn’t have thrown the limes in there. Oh well, I need more roughage.”

“Sir, perhaps you should eat something before imbibing so much alcohol.”

“I am. I’m eating Pop Tarts.” He held up the box. “Chocolate fudge – that’s one of the five food groups, right? Chocolate?”

“Sir, if I may suggest – “

“You may not if you’re going to suggest I stop drinking.” There was silence from the AI and Tony nodded. “I knew it. You’re a party pooper Jarvis.”

“You wound me, sir.”

“Go to sleep, leave me alone.” Tony plopped down on the couch with his blender of Margaritas and his Pop Tarts.

“I shall be quiet, sir, will that be sufficient?” The AI didn’t want to be in sleep mode and unable to call for help should it be needed. The statistics on drunks who died in their sleep due to aspiration of vomit and/or various accidents led him to be cautious.

“Sure, whatever. And turn on Titanic.” Tipping up the blender, he took a drink of the salty mix. “How can she say it’s not romantic? Jack and Rose love each other – he fucking dies for her! I don’t get women.”

Jarvis stayed silent as he cued the movie and projected it onto the wall in front of the couch. Accessing his list for this situation, he had DUM-E move into the elevator to wait for further instructions, locked down the security system guarding the suits, sent a message to Mr. Hogan’s phone that he might be needed, prepared a prerecorded message to send to the private ambulance service if necessary, and lowered the temperature of the living room. Combined with the lowering of body temperature from alcohol intake – the cold would make his creator sleepy much faster.

In the parlance of the day, this wasn’t Jarvis’ first rodeo.


Tony bolted awake, sitting up, then listing to one side. “No – come back – wait – “

“Are you alright, sir?” Jarvis asked softly.

“I’m – I’m – “ His head hurt and he couldn’t quite get his thoughts straight. He’d been dreaming of being left behind – left alone by someone he couldn’t see. “I’m okay. I need to make a phone call.”

“Sir, it’s three o’clock in the morning.”

“I don’t care! I need to make a call!”  Damn it, he was tired of everyone second guessing him. “You think you’re smarter than me, Jarvis? You’re not smarter than me – I made you! I’ll turn you into scrap! Shut the fuck up!”

A screen lit up in front of him, and Tony blinked, startled. He stared at the numbers for a long moment. “I –  I don’t know the number.”

There was silence.

“Jarvis? Jarvis, where are you?” Panic hit him and he scrambled up to his knees, nearly falling off the edge of the bed. “Jarvis! I didn’t mean it, Jarvis! Come back!”

“I’m here, sir.” The AI answered.

“Don’t – don’t leave – I’m sorry I hurt your feelings!”

“You didn’t hurt my feelings, sir. I don’t have feelings.”

“Don’t say that – you do – I’m sorry.” Scrubbing at his eyes, Tony sank back down on the bed. “I need the number. Please, just – I don’t know the number – “

“Which number, sir?” Jarvis brought up the contact list from his creator’s phone. “Ms. Potts – “

“No! No…” He couldn’t call Pepper, she’d kill him for calling this late. And for being drunk. And selfish. “I want – I want to talk to – “ Who the hell could he call? Everyone he knew – all three of them – were asleep. “There’s nobody. Who can I talk to, Jarvis?”

“You can talk with me, sir. What would you like to converse about?”

“I dunno.” Sighing, he curled up. The sheets were the softest money could buy – the same with the bedcovers. Too bad nobody was there to share them with him. It bothered him that it had never mattered before.

“We can talk about the moisture problem you’ve been working on.” The AI had accessed information on moisture wicking materials with surprising results. “It seems that many lingerie manufacturers have materials that –“

“I’m not lining my suit with panties.” Tony giggled. “Though that could be fun. I used to have a collection – Pepper threw them away.”

“Not with the garment, with – “

“She threw me away, too.” Tears burned his eyes. Why did he keep screwing up?” First Sunset and now –  “Sunset – call her for me.”

“Sunset Bain?” If Jarvis could show surprise, he would have. “Are you certain you wish to call her, sir?”


“Given your past history with Ms. Bain, do you think that’s wise?”


“Perhaps you should wait until morning?”

“Yes – I mean no – you tried to trick me.” Tony shook a finger at the non-existent body of his AI. “I’ve made my mind up. Call her.”

“I don’t have her number, sir.”

It was Tony’s turn to be surprised. “Seriously? Come on.”

“I would have to illegally access databases.”

“And that’s a problem for you? Like we haven’t done that before?” He snorted. “Come on, Jarvis. Get me the number.”

Something close to a sigh came from the speakers hidden throughout the room. “Very well, sir.”

A number and an image appeared on the screen. Tony frowned. “I don’t guess anybody has a great picture on their license. Except me, I’m incapable of taking a bad – ”

A groggy voice interrupted him. “Hello? Who is this?”

“Sunset? Hey, how’s it going? I have a question I need to ask you.”

“What? Who is this? It’s after three a.m.!”

“Was I really that bad a boyfriend? I mean, you ditched me, so I did something wrong, right?” He blinked as tears welled up again. Damn it, why was he crying like a fucking baby? “What did I do wrong? ‘Cos I just don’t know. Was it because I was a kid? I didn’t know anything – why?”

“Tony?” Her voice softened. “Tony, is that you?”

“I tried – I really did. What did I need to do?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Tony. It was me.”

“No – no – you dumped me and now Pepper dumped me – so it’s me.” Tony insisted. “I’m doing it all wrong.”

“Pepper dumped you?” Her voice rose in surprise. “Are you kidding me?”

“No. She said we need – “ His voice cracked. “ – we need a break.”

“That doesn’t mean she dumped you.” Sunset said softly. “Sometimes people need to think about where a relationship is going. That doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.”

“I did. You didn’t even tell me you were – leaving me – “ Choking back tears, he went on. “You just left – I wasn’t good enough – you didn’t think – you could tell me – “

“Tony, I didn’t tell you because I was ashamed, not because you did anything wrong. It was my fault. I knew you would forgive me, but I just couldn’t face you – but not because you did anything wrong.”

“I did.” Tears were running down his cheeks, and he wiped at them angrily. “She doesn’t want to have sex with me. She said – said I’m selfish – but I’m not! Okay, I am, but – a guy’s gotta test the boundaries, right? I mean, just a kiss and then… you know?”

“I know.” She laughed. “Oh, I know.”

“If I hadn’t kissed you and kept kissing you – we might never have –  It was good between us, right? After I learned – I know I didn’t start out good, but – “

“Tony, it was always good between us, even the first time.” There was another soft laugh through the connection. “I knew you were a virgin – although, you were so cute I don’t know why some girl hadn’t already dragged you into her bed. I loved being your first – teaching you – and yes – you learned fast.”

“It was good – but she doesn’t want me – women always want me.” He hated that he was whining but he couldn’t help it. “Hell, men want me – I’m damn good – ask anybody.”

“I don’t have to. Tony – “ Her voice dropped even lower. “No one – no one – has ever made me feel as good as you did. When I – I – well… I think of you sometimes.”

“Really?” His ego bounced up a little.

“I loved you – I still do. If I hadn’t been so stupid, we – “ Her voice sounded as if she were on the verge of tears as well. “We might still be together.”

“I would have understood – you could have told me – “ He blinked, his eyelids were beginning to feel heavy. “I would have told my father – I love – loved you.”

“Oh, Tony – I wish I’d have had the strength to face you.”

“I wish – me, too.” Giving up the battle, he let his eyes close. “Me… too…”

“Maybe… maybe we could talk?”

“Sure… “ He yawned.

“Tomorrow or whenever you have time? I’ll be in the lab working on the drones.” There was a pause while she waited for him to answer. “Tony? Tony? Are you still there?”

“Mr. Stark is asleep.” Jarvis answered.

“He – who is this?”


“Jarvis? The butler?”

“I am modeled after Edwin Jarvis, however, I am not him.”

“You’re – “ There was silence, and a sound as if Sunset were clicking her tongue against her teeth. “You’re an AI, aren’t you? I read that Tony has a computer that runs his house. That’s you, isn’t it?”

“Mr. Stark is asleep.” Jarvis broke the connection.

The screen vanished. Jarvis adjusted the temperature, changed the alarm to allow his creator another forty-five minutes of sleep, and changed the settings on the coffee maker in the kitchen so it would brew the coffee stronger than normal.

 “Sweet dreams, sir.” Jarvis said softly. “I will always be here.”



Pepper put on a confident smile as the limo pulled up into her driveway. She’d spent a sleepless night, going over and over what she’d said to Tony and wishing she could take it back. Especially the part about taking a break.

She didn’t want a break, she wanted – she didn’t know what she wanted exactly, but Pepper knew she didn’t want to lose him. A relationship with Tony was like navigating through a minefield. On a unicycle.  But she’d always had good balance.

She’d been unfair to him, he had been trying to behave and for Tony that was saying something. Of course he was going to push – he was a man after all, and that’s what they did. Every boyfriend she’d ever had had pushed at every opportunity. If they got a hug, they wanted a kiss. If they got a kiss, they wanted a feel. And if they got a feel – then they wanted it all.

Sliding into the backseat, she closed the door firmly. “Good morning, Tony.”

Huddled into his corner of the backseat, Tony grunted.

“Listen, about last night – “

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Tony, I said some things – “ Pepper leaned closer to him, intending to give him a kiss. She noticed for the first time, the pallor of his skin and the dark sunglasses he was wearing.

Tony nearly always wore sunglasses of some kind. It depended on his mood as to how visible his eyes were. The black Gucci wraparounds were the darkest pair he owned. The ones he wore when he had a hangover. The ones he was wearing now.

She sat back. “Do you have a hangover?”

He didn’t answer. Pepper knew him well enough to know that he did. “I’m trying to sleep over here, Potts.”

“Tony! How could you?”

“It was pretty easy, open bottle, pour, drink. Repeat pass out.” He had a weird memory of being on the phone in the middle of the night. If it was one of those 900 numbers, Pepper would freak over the bill. No she wouldn’t. She wasn’t his PA anymore. He sighed.

“How could you do this? These meetings are important!” How could he not understand? Pepper had the urge to bash him on the head with her briefcase. “They’re expecting you to show up and sound like you know what’s going on! And you’re hungover!”

“I know.” He cringed. “Can you stop yelling?”


Tony cringed back into the soft leather again, covering his head with his hands.“Relax, they won’t know. Nobody ever knows – nobody but you.” Just let me sleep on the way over and keep the coffee coming, I’ll be fine.

“And what if they ask you about the departments we’re closing? Or the executives we’re firing? What are you going to say?”

“To ask you. I don’t know a damn thing about any of that, anyway, and I don’t care. If you ever get to the projects they’re working on – then I’ll have some input.” Tony glared at her, but it made his eyes hurt and he closed them. “I’ve had a tough morning, leave me alone.”

“A tough morning?” She’d gotten up early, after hardly any sleep, just to choose an outfit that he’d like. Red blouse, black skirt, back killing heels – all for this heel! “What did you do? Pour your own coffee?”

“I did, as a matter of fact. And – I picked out my own clothes. Do you know how much work that is?” He’d never realized he had so many damn clothes before – and there was no organization that he could see. “I finally had to have Jarvis help me. I’ve got to get a new PA.”

“That’s your biggest concern. Really?” She turned and faced the back of the seat in front of her. “I’m trying to run two multi-billion dollar international companies and you’re worrying about matching your socks to your shirt.”

“Not my shirt – my tie. And I have a thousand freaking ties!” The outburst made Tony’s head feel like it was going to burst as well and he moaned. “I told you – get some help. Hire someone to figure out which execs are the best ones – hell, take them from SI. We’ve got plenty of young people ready to prove themselves. They sure as hell can’t do any worse than Hammer did.”

“Say what you want about Hammer – “ She held a hand up to stop him as he started to do just that. “His father gave him a company with less than a five million in assets and he made billions in less than twenty years.”

“His father made good gun sights – Hammer made lousy weapons. I guess deceit pays. Is that what you’re saying?”

“It works for you.”

“What?” Tony risked a look over the top of his sunglasses. “When have I ever been deceitful?”

“How about with every breath you take.”

“That’s not fair – and it’s not true. Give me one instance.”

“You said you were going to cut back on your drinking. And look at you – “ She shot him an angry look. “You’re a mess.”

“I did cut back. I haven’t had more than one or two drinks a day in months. Not since my birthday party that I’m not allowed to talk about.”

“And you drank how much last night?”

“I don’t know exactly. A lot, but divide it out by the time I started cutting back and it’s still less than I used to drink.” He cut Pepper off when she tried to interrupt. “Don’t argue math with me, you’ll lose and you know it.”

“Fine. You were less drunk than you would have been six months ago. Big deal.” She huffed out a sigh.

“A year ago – almost.”

“Wow, how deprived you’ve been.”

“Yeah, considering part of that was in a cave in the hind end of the world getting used to having a magnet in my chest that was wired up to a car battery I had to lug around with me. I think I’m due some catching up.” If this was part of being in a relationship, Tony could understand why he’d avoided it all these years.

“I’m sorry, didn’t you get enough pity for that already?” As soon as the words left her mouth, Pepper wanted them back. She clapped her hand over her mouth.

Tony stared at her in shock. Only a small handful people knew about the arc reactor in his chest – and only three people had ever seen the primitive one he’d come back with – he’d never asked for pity. He’d never wanted anything but for it to be invisible.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered after a moment. “Oh, my God,I don’t even know why I said that – I didn’t mean it. Tony – I’m sorry – I’m so sorry – “

“Forget it.” He turned away and rested his head against the padded leather next to the window. “Just – I’m going to get a nap in, okay?”

“I’ll wake you when we’re there.”

The rest of the ride was in silence. Pepper turned her face to the window and did her best to cry quietly. Tony kept his eyes closed and pretended not to hear.


“We’ve decided the MDK-1 project is going to be shut down. It’s doesn’t follow SI protocols for funding and it’s potentially an offensive weapon.” Pepper checked the project off her list. Before she could move onto the next item, she was interrupted by Hoyt. As the former COO, he was the most vocal – and the biggest pain in her ass.

“What are these SI protocols? Hammer Industries has stringent protocols of our own!” He slapped his hand on the table.

“We do and they’ve worked well for us!” Echoed Dwyer. He was CFO and quick to second anything Hoyt said. “How is this an offensive weapon? By what stretch of the imagination can it  go from defensive to offensive?”

“SI protocols are that it has to be efficient, effective, and do only what it’s designed to do.” She arched an eyebrow. “Pretty simple. If it doesn’t meet all three – we don’t fund it. As for the laser equipped drones – come on, a child can see what you intended with this thing.”

“It’s for topography and geography purposes alone. The laser will give an accurate picture of the terrain.” Hoyt told her.

“Right. And – if you jack up the laser – allow you to blow things up.” She shook her head. “We don’t make those things anymore. Get a camera.”

“Mr. Stark, tell her she’s wrong.” Hoyt held a hand up to silence Pepper. “You’re the one we should be talking to. She doesn’t understand.”

Tony had been ignoring the meeting. His head hurt, his mouth tasted like the floor of a cathouse – and not the fun kind with half-naked women – and his stomach was churning up the last bits of Pop Tart it’d missed when he was yakking this morning. This was Pepper’s show, not his.

“Ms. Potts is right. Let’s move on.” He picked up his coffee cup and took a sip of coffee. It was strong and brutal. Another gallon or two and he’d be fit for polite society again.

“That’s it?” Hoyt gaped. “You’re Tony Stark!”

“Thank you for clearing that up for me.” He didn’t like Hoyt. Pepper probably had him on the list to fire. If he wasn’t, he would be soon. Him and his butt muncher friend. “Pepper, hi, I’m Tony Stark.” Her eyes narrowed and Tony knew he’d stepped in it again somehow.

“I know you’re letting her conduct the meeting, but enough is enough.” Dwyer shot her an evil look. “She doesn’t understand the industry like you do.”

“She understands it perfectly.” He set the cup down. “She knows that someone like me could take your little mapping drone and turn it into a weapon in about five minutes. Maybe less.”

Standing, Tony stretched. “As for the weapons industry. We’re no longer a part of it. We make defensive items only – items that a mad genius like me can’t turn into weapons. Speaking of mad geniuses like me, I need a break.” He walked out of the room, not waiting for anyone to agree.


“Oh, my God, my head hurts…” Cupping his hands under the running water, Tony lifted a handful to his face. He considered dunking his head under the faucet, but he couldn’t go back to the meeting like that. So far, he was confident the board members didn’t realize he was hung over and just thought he was ignoring them.

The bathroom door flew open and slammed against the wall. He cringed away from the sound, holding his hands to his head. “God damn it!”

“What are you doing?” Pepper demanded.

“I’m trying to keep my brains from exploding all over the floor.” Leaning on the sink, Tony cupped up more cold water to splash on his face.

“You’re undermining my authority.”

“What?” He picked up a towel. It was wonderfully fluffy and soft, except for the ostentatious embroidered ‘H’ that scratched his cheek. “Ow, damn! Why did he put his initials all over everything? Was he afraid he’d forget who he was between the desk and the john?”

“They keep expecting you to overrule my decisions.” Pepper pulled the towel away from his face.

“And I don’t. I back you every time – and I’ll keep doing it. I wish they’d just leave me alone. I don’t want to be here.” Tony pushed past her on his way out of the bathroom. It was tempting to stop and press his body against hers. A few days ago, he’d have done just that, and gotten a kiss in return. Only now she was backed up against the door as if he was a flesh eating monster.

Fuck you. I can get what I want from someone else without the bullshit. Striding across Hammer’s office, he went in search of something to kill his hangover. Rummaging through the massive desk, he found a bottle of aspirin.  It’d eat up his stomach, but at least it’d kill his headache. Or him, if he was really lucky.

“That’s obvious. You’re sitting there staring off into space the whole time.”

“You took away my comics.” He’d tried to sneak in volume one of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow collection tucked inside his copy of the agenda on the first day. She’d spotted it and threw it in a shredder. “I’m bored. This is why I hated the job. When you get to the interesting stuff, wake me up.”

“I need your input on everything! SI is still your company – you’re the biggest stockholder and the face – “

“I swear to God if you say ‘the face of Stark Industries’ one more time, I’ll –” He threw the aspirin bottle at the wall. It shattered and aspirins spun off in every direction. “I’m sick and tired of it!”

“Tony – “ Pepper backed up a step. She’d never seen Tony like this. Upset, pissed off, mad – but never violently angry.

“Did it occur to you that you’re confusing them, Pepper? You’re the CEO – but you drag me here with you!” Tony opened the bar, looking for a bottle. Any bottle. Time for a little hair of the dog. “They don’t know who the hell’s in charge!”

“They know who’s in charge. I’m the CEO, but you’re the next – “

“Don’t – “ He pointed a finger at her. “Don’t put me in that position! I’ll go back in there and embarrass the hell out of you.”

“That’s what I normally get from you, I’m used to it.” She said bitterly.

“Just go in there and tell them what’s going to happen. Stop beating around the bush – you’re the CEO – fucking tell them! Tell them! Quit saying ‘we’ – say ‘I’ – let them know you’re the one making the decisions!” He jabbed his finger on the countertop for emphasis. “When I’m in there, they don’t know who the hell to listen to – they look at me and think I’m in charge. That’s what’s undermining your position – why do you want to do that to yourself?”

“I don’t want to do that – I don’t – I don’t want the damn position anymore!” Pepper’s dream of being CEO  had turned into a nightmare. She wasn’t making the big decisions – she was making all the decisions and there were just too many.

“Too bad. You’ve got it.” He gave up looking for a bottle and headed for the door. “Now do something with it.”


“Tony! Tony, wait!”

For a moment, he thought Pepper had followed him before he recognized the voice. Tony turned to see Sunset hurrying toward him. “Ms. Potts is handling the meetings, I’m just the pretty face.”

“I wanted to thank you for the ride yesterday. You were right, it was the starter and it should be out of the shop in the morning.”

“Oh, no problem. Glad that was all.” He started to walk away and then turned back. “I spoke to Pepper last night about paying everyone while Hammer is closed down. We’re going to  go ahead and do that.”

“Oh, Tony! Thank you! I knew we could count on you!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him.

He stiffened and she pulled away. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No, it’s okay.” It had felt good – too good – to have her close to him. He’d nearly forgotten the scent of her perfume – it’d taken him back to the times they’d spent curled up together studying. Tony shook his head, trying to clear the memories. That was then – this was now. “Don’t worry about it. Just glad to have helped.”

“Last night – “

“Last night?” He frowned at the look on her face. “What about it?”

“You called?” The coffee eyes were blank for a moment. Then they lit up and Tony suddenly looked embarrassed. “You don’t remember?”

“I’m sorry. No. Did I call?” There were bits and pieces of conversation floating thru his mind – he didn’t know which were real and which were a dream.

“You were just a little drunk.Maybe a lot.” When he grinned and ducked his head, Sunset laughed softly. “I’m just glad you called. It sounded like you needed someone.”

“I did. But – “ He looked back up into those bright blue eyes. “I shouldn’t have called you.  You’re – we’re not – we’re not anything.”

“I know.”

They stood in awkward silence for a moment before Sunset lifted a hand to touch his shoulder. “You really did a great thing for everybody. Thanks again, Tony.” She smiled before turning and walking away.

“Yeah, I’m the big fucking hero.” He sighed.


Chapter 4