box was roughly the size of a washing machine, and about the same
weight. After bringing up a dolly from the garage, Tony managed to move
the thing into the living room. He took off his coat and tossed it over
the back of the sofa, then leaned over to read the label on the package
while Pepper sighed, picked up the coat and hung it tidily in his
When she returned to the living room, Tony had already begun peeling off the strapping tape and pulling the flaps up on the box. “One thing I’ll give them credit for is secure packaging. We may need a flamethrower to get in here.”
“I’m sure it’s all a matter of discretion,” Pepper murmured, worrying about whether or not Jarvis’s house vacuum could handle Styrofoam peanuts or not.
Tony snorted. “Yes indeedy. Don’t want your Big Daddy Jericho going off during a postal inspection. I’m sure they keep records of those addresses.”
“That’s . . . perverted,” Pepper protested.
Tony paused and looked over at her, one eyebrow arching up. “We’re opening a huge box of sex toys and you’re realizing it’s perverted only now? All the more reason to get into this package to my way of thinking. You need an education, Potts.”
“Oh and you’re the doctor of depravity I guess, oh CEO of Stark Industries, Naked. Frankly, it should be Stark Naked Industries. More impact,” Pepper muttered, crossing her arms over her chest and not offering to help in the least.
“Nah, I grant you the Stark Naked is a nice play on words, but you just can’t beat SIN for an acronym. All right, let’s see what’s in the magic toy box, shall we?”
Pepper felt herself blush again as Tony leaned over into the box and began sweeping pastel packing peanuts everywhere. “Oh yeah, and here we have . . . a nice big bottle of Sex Sauce. Okay, gotta re-name this. Right now it sounds like something you’d put on Chinese food.”
“Sex Sauce?” Pepper echoed weakly, taking the bright pink bottle from Tony as if it were a live hand grenade. She stared at the label, which showed a woman’s bare stomach, and a puddle of pink goo on it. “It looks like liquid bubble gum.”
“Gives a new meaning to ‘blow me,’” Tony pointed out cheerfully. “Think Stark Industries—what would my engineers call something that looked like that?”
“Toxic?” Pepper offered, setting the bottle down. He made a face at her.
“Oh come on, Ms Frowny-Pants, try to get into this, please? I was thinking Rocket Fuel.”
“Or Ride Glide,” she retorted, earning a thumbs up from her boss.
“Atta girl! Okay, what else is in here . . . ha! The infamous five fingers of fun—” came his gleeful exclamation as he pulled out the latex glove with the vibrating pads on the tips. Experimentally he slipped it on, tugging it into place and flexing his hand. “A bit snug, but I’m sure that enhances the sensation. Come here.”
“What, you don’t want to be the first woman of Stark Industries, Naked to experience the Tickle Me Tony first hand, as it were?”
Pepper eyed the arm extended towards her with a wry expression belied by the glint of humor in her eyes. “Mr. Stark, I think I’ll pass on that privilege. I’m ticklish enough as it is.”
“And that confession was a fatal mistake, because now I’m more determined than ever to draw you into my clutches,” Tony turned his gloved hand and beckoned to her with his index finger. “Damn, this thing makes me look like the most obscene villain in history.”
“Which may or may not be the case,” Pepper told him as she glanced at the box. “You’re having waaaay too much fun with this stuff.”
“And we can have even MORE fun once you come over here. I’m not going to hurt you, promise. I’m just curious as to how this thing feels,” Tony used his most coaxing tone, batting his eyes as well. The combination was nearly impossible to resist, and Pepper gave a sigh, stepping over warily.
“I’m going to regret this . . .” came her little whimper.
“You can trust me—“ Tony told her. “Just because I have a glove with oscillating buttons with three different speeds and the inside knowledge of your personal susceptibility is no cause for alarm, really.”
“Un-huh,” Pepper muttered, squeezing her eyes tightly and stiffening up her entire body. Amused, Tony reached out his index finger and gently poked her shoulder.
She snorted. “Am I IT now?”
“Shhhh—“ Tony replied, and cupped her shoulder with his hand, letting the little vibrating tips caress her through her jacket and blouse. Pepper looked down, her mouth twitching.
“Anything?” he asked, hopefully.
She shook her head. “I’m afraid not.”
“Padding. Take the jacket off and I bet that will help.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then I’ll whine and nag until you sigh and give in.”
“The usual,” Pepper noted glumly. She peeled her suit jacket off and draped it over her arm, holding the other one out as if ready to receive a vaccination.
Tony snorted. “Yeah, that’s SO romantic, Potts—I can tell you’re really in the mood.”
“I didn’t say I was going to be a willing guinea pig.”
“Perks of being the boss,” he gloated and cupped her shoulder again. This time she quivered, nostrils flaring for a second. Encouraged, Tony let his gloved hand slide across her shoulder blade and along her spine.
Pepper yodeled. At least, it sounded a bit like a yodel, running from a low burble all the way up to a Minnie Mouse squeak. Fascinated, Tony moved closer and let his buzzing fingertips move down her flank.
The yodel shifted into a series of bubbly gasps, and when his hand circled a firm buttock, Pepper huffily tottered out of reach, gasping for breath.
“Experiment OVER,” she announced, looking flushed and indignant, little tendrils of hair escaping from her bun.
Tony grinned, pleased. He looked at the glove, flexing his fingers and purring. “Oh yeah, this shows a lot of promise. We’ll keep this one.”
“Fine. Just keep it—“ she gestured, “Over there. And to yourself.”
“Oh now who’s making perverted statements?”
She rolled her eyes at him, and Tony peeled off the glove, setting it aside.
Digging deeper into the box, he pulled out a little silk bag and examined it. Pepper had found the invoice and was looking it over, making a moue at some of the names.
“What’s this---ooohhh, nice. The bondage thingies.”
“Consensual Confinement Restraints,” Pepper corrected him as she read the name off the list. “Four lengths of Velcro-ended silk ties with a gag and or blindfold included.”
“Just what everyone needs for a weekend getaway. Or maybe not a getaway exactly, since that would defeat the point, ever been tied up, Pepper?” This last came out in a rush; Tony was pretending to examine the kit closely, keeping her in the corner of his eye.
She hesitated a fraction of a moment too long. “You mean for erotic purposes?”
“Ah, yeah. There are other kinds?” Tony asked, startled for a moment.
She smirked. “Well I and my friends once tied ourselves to a tree in front of city hall to protest the closing of a park in my home town.”
Tony blinked, trying to picture it. “Okay, I guess that counts, but that’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” she replied. “But anything else falls under the ‘none of your damned business’ clause.”
“That translates to ‘no’ in the Pepper Potts lexicon then,” Tony told her smugly. “You could have just said so.”
“Yes, well not everyone is driven to kink, like—“ she hesitated.
Tony looked over at her, his expression fleetingly serious. “—me. Sue me. I like certain things, and I don’t think I’m the only man on the planet who likes women to wear high heels to bed. That’s not kinky, that’s just a . . . red-blooded, healthy masculine fetish.”
“Riiiight,” Pepper scoffed, but her cheeks were pink and her eyes bright. “I’m just not interested in being tied up,” she murmured in a voice almost too low to be heard. “It just seems . . . dangerous and sort of silly.”
“Pepper, Pepper, Pepper. ALL sex is dangerous and sort of silly when you get right down to it,” Tony replied, undoing the package and pulling out the ties. He looked as if he were doing a magic trick and Pepper smiled against her will.
Her small smirk encouraged him, and Tony laid the brightly colored silk strips along his arm, smoothing them down with one hand. “Besides, there are two sides to the whole thing anyway; the tie-er and the tie-ee. It’s a little easier to be the tie-er . . . or so I’ve heard.”
“Oh really?” came her little reply. “And you heard this where exactly?” Pepper shot Tony a skeptical look as she crossed her arms over her chest.
Tony tried for a lofty glance that didn’t quite work. He gave a careless little shrug instead, and fished out the blindfold, fingering it gently.
“Oh long and meaningful discussions here and there, but I think you’re really missing my point Potts, which is that something like this is not only a consensual deal, but also one with more than one role. Yin and Yang so to speak. Something that Stark Industries, Naked should fully endorse in the name of inclusive marketing.”
“Oh I get it, Mr. Stark,” Pepper replied in a slightly shaky voice. “You and Major Rhodes probably got drunk at some party or bar and had a raunchy discussion or two where somewhere down the line you mentioned bondage. I don’t think that qualifies as an informed discussion on the matter.”
Tony watched her quietly for a long moment, his cheeks slightly red, his dark eyes wide as he waited for her to finish. Quietly he came closer, holding her gaze as he did so.
“Actually, that wasn’t a topic I’ve shared with him, not that we haven’t discussed a few predilections or two. Most men,” Tony sighed, “Tend to be slightly kinky anyway.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” came the dry retort and a glance at the box.
That brought an answering rakish grin; Tony ran a hand through his hair. “If you didn’t want to be the tie-ee you could always be the tie-er. I’m oh so willing to be your first, Ms. Potts.”
It was a typically outrageous Tony Stark offer, and Pepper started to laugh, but the sight of his shyly sincere expression cut her off short and she blinked.
They stared at each other for a long moment, the mood shifting from silly to serious in the quiet.
“I can’t do that, Tony!” Pepper finally blurted. “It’s crazy! It would be wrong, and dangerous and after all that you’ve already been through . . .”
“Different situation,” he bluffed a bit. “Besides, this would be with the full understanding that you’d let me go if I wanted it. Considering the excellent care you always take of me, I have complete confidence in you, Pepper.”
She made a very slight spluttering noise. “That’s totally different! Picking up your dry-cleaning and making sure you have cheeseburgers is not in the same league as . . . this.”
“True, but if I trust you to dress and feed me, then this is sort of the next logical step.”
Pepper bit her lips as Tony took one of the ties and fashioned it into an elaborate bow, then placed it at his temple and batted his eyes coquettishly. She stepped over and took it from him, smoothing it out again, her fingers stroking the silk very slowly.
“But the absolute BEST thing about it? You’d have me at your mercy,” Tony reminded her in a little whisper. “Think of it—totally in your power for once.”
“Okay, that’s tempting,” Pepper admitted softly.
Tony pointed a finger at her. “No feeding me lima beans.”
“Oh darn, and that was third on my list,” she told him, deftly shaping one end of the closest tie into a hangman’s noose. Tony eyed it warily.
“Yep. You’d be so tired and compliant by then that Lima beans would actually taste good.”
“Now I’m . . . a little worried.”
And Pepper smiled once more.
The subject didn’t come up again until the weekend; Pepper had managed the schedule so efficiently that both she and her boss found themselves with nothing officially on the agenda after four in the afternoon on Saturday. During the jet flight back from the Cal Tech expo, Tony noted the situation with something akin to glee; he shifted closer to Pepper on the plush upholstery of the Lear and gave her his most winning smile.
“It looks as if we’re between engagements, Ms. Potts. Are you free to spend some . . . quality . . . time with me?”
Pepper murmured an absent agreement, her attention focused on a particularly difficult email. When she finally straightened out the Chinese translation and looked up, Tony Stark had already stretched out and laid his head in her lap, his expression slightly blissful.
“I’d say ‘be gentle’ but that’s sort of cliché, and in truth, I might like it rough, although I have trouble picturing you vicious—it’s like trying to imagine Cinderella with a whip.”
“I’m not Cinderella—unless you’re talking about the beginning of the story where she’s doing everything for the cruel stepmother. That Cinderella I can totally relate to,” Pepper murmured dryly.
Tony snorted. “So you’re implying that I’m some sort of wicked step-mother, is that it? Well I occasionally deserve the wicked part, and I’ve been called a mother quite a few times in my life, but as for the rest of it—“
“As for the rest of it you’re off the hook,” came Pepper’s reassurance. “I hope you’ll return the favor?”
“Live a little,” Tony murmured, his eyes still closed. “Besides, admit it; you’re intrigued. You’d love the opportunity to have me helpless and in your power. I know you would.”
“It would go a long way in making up for years of abuse on your part,” she agreed, stroking his hair. “Especially the whole harem girl costume last Halloween.”
“Damn, you would have looked so hot,” Tony sighed. “My ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ fantasy come to life.”
“Dream ON,” Pepper growled softly. “I’m not going to call you ‘master.’ Not now, not ever.”
“Ah, but I can call you ‘mistress,” Tony purred back. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it.”
Pepper said nothing for a moment, then gave a deep sigh. “You really want this, Tony?”
“Yes,” he told her in a low, slow voice as he finally opened his eyes. “I do. I don’t have the first clue how it all works, but there isn’t another person on the planet I trust more than you, Pepper.”
“What if it doesn’t . . . do anything for us?” she murmured. “I mean, you’ve done some interesting things in your life I’m sure, but my tastes have always been pretty ordinary, you know.”
“Oh I don’t know about that,” he shot back, eyes twinkling. “As I recall you were the one who got creative with the Cool Whip, and *you* were the one who invented backseat night down in the garage.”
Pepper blushed; a charming sight at any time but particularly sweet in the faint afternoon light streaming in from the jet windows. “Those weren’t kinky—they were . . . creative.”
“It’s not the same,” Pepper commented again, but softly. “This is the feather versus the whole chicken analogy, Tony.”
He batted his eyes up at her. “Then let’s have chicken tonight."