Eden in a Box
Book Two






Pepper hears footsteps coming up from the garage, and tries to hurry, but it’s not a success; the soufflé is taking a while to blend, even with the top of the line mixer here. The steps are coming closer, and she bites her lip, because a giddy part of her suspects what’s coming.

So to speak.

Tony pauses in the doorway of the kitchen, his gaze direct and solemn. “The ambassador of Sexsylvania demands a private audience with you.”

“Is that so?” she murmurs, fighting a grin. “An audience?”

“For the good of our nations,” he insists, coming in and pulling her into his arms. He smells faintly of motor oil, and although his fingers are clean, Pepper can still see a dark line under each of his nails.

“You’re pretty direct for an ambassador. Are you sure this is a diplomatic mission?”

“Oh I believe in deep and intimate relations,” Tony tells her, picking Pepper up easily and setting her ass on the low granite counter next to the mixer. She’s in a pink oversized tee-shirt and dark leggings, barefoot, hair down.

Weekend comfortable.

She shoots a glance at the soufflé and gives a little mental shrug, then turns her attention to pulling Tony’s t-shirt off over his head. “Hmmm, maybe I better see what you bring to the negotiating table, ambassador of Sexsylvania. We representatives of . . .” Pepper pauses.

“Sexico,” Tony supplies helpfully, pushing her shirt up. “Sunny, lush and sensual Sexico.”

Pepper laughs. “Sexico? Sexsylvania? Okay, what’s the greenhouse—Sexily, or the United States of Sexica?”

“Sextralia, since I had you down under in there,” Tony murmurs, “Great memory.”

“That was just last weekend,” Pepper points out, biting along his newly exposed neck and making him groan. Tony’s fingers are reaching behind her, undoing her bra, one hook at a time.

“Okay, so it’s a young memory, Madam Ambassador, but now it’s time to negotiate new ones.”

“How fickle your alliances,” Pepper groans, since Tony’s talented hands have shifted to the underside of her breasts, cupping them lightly, his warm thumbs rubbing her tightening nipples. “I should deny your visa.”

“Fine, I’ll just storm your Embassy, Snuggles. You can struggle, but you can’t evade the burning issues of the Ambassador of Sexsylvania,” Tony asserts, pressing wet kisses along her collarbone as he pulls her shirt off. Her bra is next, tossed lightly further along the counter.

Pepper wraps her legs around Tony’s hips, aware that she’s at the perfect level for this, and amused to see that he is too as she starts to undo his fly. “How long have you been planning this little coup?”

Before Tony can answer, the opening bars of “The Wild Blue Yonder” ring out, and both of them freeze.

“Shit!” Tony growls, shooting a quick look over his shoulder. “We have about twenty seconds---”

Pepper is already off the counter scooping up her clothes and slipping out the other door of the kitchen, moving quietly and quickly towards the dining room and the second stairway there. She tries not to laugh; it’s the third time in a month that Rhodey has very nearly caught them, and she knows Tony is deeply regretting giving his friend the code to the house.

Deeply.

But he can hardly change it without having to explain, or give Rhodey the new code, so for the moment Jarvis alerting them via music is what they’re relying on. Rhodey’s tune is 
Wild Blue Yonder and Hogan’s is Happy Days are Here Again.

Yes it’s silly and risky and yet it’s also . . . fun, Pepper smirks. She knows sooner or later both men are going to find out if they don’t know already; Pepper suspects Hogan already does and approves.

Rhodey though, isn’t around enough to pick up the clues, Pepper thinks, and then realizes she doesn’t have quite . . . all . . . of her outfit.

Out in the kitchen, Tony is working on a magnificent bluff. He stands at the mixer, humming, with absolutely no clue as to what’s in the bowl as Jim Rhodes strides in, looking peeved. “So what’s with not answering my calls, Tony? Do I have cooties?”

“I dunno, do you?” Tony asks, blinking at him innocently. “Been chasing girls on the playground lately?”

Rhodey chooses to ignore this, mostly because there isn’t an answer that doesn’t make him sound like a pervert or a prude, so he glances over at the bowl. “What are you making, and where the hell is your shirt?”

“You’re not wrangling an invitation to dinner and what’s the matter, can’t stand the sight of my ravishing self? A man’s home is his castle; if I want to go shirtless, I do, simple as that,” Tony shoots back loudly. He is trying to distract Rhodey because out of the corner of his eye he sees something that if found will definitely require an explanation.

Too late.

“Oh Tony---” Rhodey shakes his head sorrowfully and picks up the bra, holding it between two fingers. Tony tips his head and looks up at the ceiling.

“Oh damn, you caught me. Yep, I didn’t know how to break it to you, but I guess this is it,” he sighs, and puckers up, blowing his friend a kiss. “I’ve been experimenting with cross-dressing.”

This makes Rhodey arch an eyebrow; he dangles the bra on one finger now and stares at Tony. “Really. Because this is a B cup, Stark, and from where I’m standing, you’re not going to be running over anytime soon, even with that arc. Cut the BS.”

“I’ve already got a closet-full of nice tailored skirts, although shaving my legs is a bitch let me tell you—“

“—Tony, no. You can’t do this, okay? It used to be fine back in the day when you didn’t have, you know, priorities, and obligations, and people you gave a damn about—“

“—Oh give me a break, platypus. It’s not mine, but it’s not what you think—“

“—Oh I don’t have to think; I have the evidence, and Christ, you’re breaking her heart, you know. It’s not like you could miss it, Tony, you have any idea how Pepper feels about you? About how she’d react at finding a strange bra in your damned kitchen?

“Actually---”

“I thought you’d changed,” Rhodey charges on, in full lecture mode now. “I thought you’d grown up, man.”

“Laying it on a little thick you know,” Tony grumbles, flicking the mixer off. “I wasn’t aware you were the boss of me.”

“Yeah, well—” comes the grumble, “Clearly you aren’t either.”

“Oh now that’s harsh,” Tony shoots back with genuine anger, his voice low. “Especially since you’re fondling my girlfriend’s bra even as we speak.”

Rhodey flinches a little; possibly because he may very well have been, unconsciously. A voice comes from behind both men, and they turn; Tony with a smirk, Rhodey with alarm. He moves to shove his hands behind his back, and flashes a bright, artificial smile at Pepper.

“Jim, it’s good to see you,” she tells him, bright-eyed with mischief just under the edge of her smirk. Tony can tell she’s heard everything, and he’s content to let her take the lead on this.

Tony has learned that letting Pepper take the lead is very, very, good at times. Therefore his smirk widens into a grin and he watches.

Rhodey freezes, aware that he should give her a hug in greeting, but with the bra still behind his 
back . . . Pepper comes to him and hugs him. He stiffens a little until she pulls back and smiles.

“Did you bring a present?” she asks sweetly, never letting her gaze off his face. Rhodey blushes, shifting his feet, shooting a panicked little look Tony’s way. Tony simply smiles.

“Come on--” Pepper encourages him, holding out a palm, and reluctantly, very reluctantly, Rhodey brings out his hand from behind his back. The silky bra dangles on either side of his grip, a pale pink with lace along the straps.

All three of them look at it.

Pepper shoots a serene gaze at Tony. “I thought we talked about this habit of borrowing my clothes, Tony. If you really plan to keep dressing up we can get you your own things. We’ll just charge them to my account and nobody else has to know.”

Tony lifts his nose a little and coyly bats his eyes. “I just wanted to feel pretty today.”

“Ah---” completely at a loss now, Rhodey blinks, backpedaling a tiny bit. “I don’t think I really want to know--”

“Yes, that’s fine, but you’re a winter and I’m a fall,” Pepper chides him softly. “Even Jim can see that.”

“I see nothing,” he blurts. “Not a thing!”

“I thought you were a pilot; isn’t eyesight sort of required for that?” Tony asks sweetly. “Not a big market for blind pilots, last I checked.”

“I’m not blind; I’m deliberately choosing not to comment on your new . . . lifestyle,” Rhodey snaps, and after spotting the matching smirks, he rolls his eyes. “Oh shit, you two are pulling my damned leg. Damn it, I should have expected this from you, Stark, but Pepper---” He chides through a twisted grin. “That’s not nice, Ms. Potts.”

“But it was funny,” she manages, before giggling a bit. “Think about it—there’s no way Tony could cross-dress with a goatee.”

“How little you know,” he tells her with a knowing grin. “I happen to understand Jim actually likes his ladies with something extra--”

“Tony--” Rhodey scowls, ready to launch into yet another defense of the Spring Break That Will Live In Infamy when Pepper moves to the mixer and cocks the beaters, letting them drip for a moment before pulling them out to set in the sink. She deftly pours the mixture into the greased ramekin, her concentration on making sure it flows evenly. As she finishes, Pepper realizes the kitchen is quiet; both men are watching her, and she blushes.

“What?”

“You’re . . . cooking,” Rhodey observes uncertainly.

Tony, who has been playing with the bra up to this point, nods. “Cheese soufflé. I got to help, but I’m not licking the bowl.”

“Salmonella: not a fun after dinner treat,” Pepper agrees, carefully lifting the pan and setting it into the oven. She puts a glass dish of water on the rack under it and carefully closes the door only to face dawning comprehension in Jim Rhode’s expression.

“Oh God. This is . . . it. The domestication of Anthony Stark. Snowflakes are falling in Hades now, right?”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” Tony complains as he holds the bra up to his own chest. Both Pepper and Rhodey stare at him, and he coughs, tucking the bra into his jeans pocket. “Seriously.”

“It’s too much to take in all at once,” the other man complains, wandering out to the living room, slightly dazed. “I mean honestly, Pepper, of all people I’ve ever imagined you choosing—Tony wasn’t actually on the list!


“Hey!” comes another protest, but Pepper is smirking, following Rhodey out to sit next to him on the sofa, tucking her feet under her. He definitely looks stunned.

“So who was on the list?” she asks, curiously.

Rhodey rolls his eyes. “Oh Brad Pitt or Ben Affleck maybe--”

“Yeah, well exactly why wasn’t I on the list? Pepper’s known me longer than anyone you could come up with,” Tony asks, his tone more serious now as he sits on the other side of Rhodey, looking hurt.

“Because Pepper has common sense,” Rhodey blurts. “She’s not the typical vapid sex bunny you usually boff--” Turning to Pepper he coughed lightly. “You’ve got brains, and class, and the ability to tell left from right.”

Pepper says nothing, her expression clear that she isn’t sure whether to laugh or not. Tony scowls again. “That’s all in the past, platypus. My little MIA sojourn de-bimboed me, among other things.”

Rhodey considers this and nods, his expression both contrite and doubtful. “Yeah, but still—have you two really thought about this?”

“We had Jarvis plan it out,” Pepper confesses.

Rhodey looks up towards the ceiling, eyes wide. “No shit?”

“We are shitless,” Jarvis assures him.

Tony laughs, and even Pepper can’t help giggling as they sit on either side of a stunned Rhodey, bookends to support him as he runs a hand over his face.

“How? . . . when?” he demands after a while, eyes bright, but mouth still twisted. Pepper tells him, moving over the facts while Tony fills in the details, and the easy tandem of their narrative shows more than anything else how synchronized they truly are at this point.

Jim Rhodes listens, and after a while, looks from one to the other, sighing. “Okay.”

“Not quite the blessing we were going for, but we’ll take it,” Tony mumbles as he slouches on the end of the sofa.

Rhodey shoots him a sidelong look, dry and yet affectionate. “Tony, look at this from my perspective, okay? Pepper’s been good to you, and for you for years, and you didn’t exactly go out of your way to woo her.”

“He wasn’t supposed to; Tony Stark was my employer,” Pepper interjects firmly. “And now . . . he’s not.”

“He’s . . . not.”

“Nope,” Tony sighed. “Apparently when I was off spelunking with terrorists, the board restructured Pepper’s contract so that she’s technically employed by both of us. Therefore, I can’t fire her without their approval, and they can’t take her away from me without my say so.”

“Gives me some latitude; allows me to tell a certain someone that he’s not quite as omnipotent as he thinks he is,” Pepper nodded sagely. “A system of checks and balances.”

“The board and I have joint custody,” Tony corrects with a wry grin. “Although given the security clearances and inside corporate information Pepper holds, I’d say she’s got both of us by the fuzz.”

Pepper’s face scrunches a bit at this accurate, but crude assessment. Rhodey laughs, finally relaxing, glancing from one to the other. “Okay, so there’s some equilibrium here. That’s good. That’s . . . workable.”

“Workable,” Tony repeats softly. “But not for public consumption at the moment.”

“Yeah, I can understand that too,” Rhodey nods. “At least, for now. Damn, this is . . . weird.”

“Okay, I need you to stop that,” Pepper insists, softly but seriously. “It’s been difficult enough to keep things under wraps, and we talked long and hard about telling you, so please don’t make me regret the decision, all right?”

“No, I’m glad you told me. And . . . yeah, I’m glad it’s you,” Rhodey smiles at her, direct and supportive. “If there’s anyone in this world who can see Tony Stark for what he is and still love 
him . . .”

“Okay, I guess I deserved that one,” Tony sighs. “but what about me? Don’t I get any credit here? Being mature, accepting responsibility, putting the toilet seat down?”

“Jarvis puts the seat down by remote,” Pepper replies, dryly. “But you get points for programming it in.”

Rhodey shakes his head, smirking. “Glad to see a relationship hasn’t changed either of you by too much.”

*** *** ***


After a good dinner of soufflé, salad and Della Rosa wine, after Rhodey says his goodbyes and hugs both of them hard before heading out, Pepper does the dishes.

She likes to do dishes; it’s an easy chore, especially in a house as automated at Tony’s, and it doesn’t take her long. Once the last one is loaded and she dries her hands, Pepper makes her way down to the mud room—or more accurately the sand room, since this is Malibu—and picks up the reed basket from the hook there.

Pepper fights a happy shiver, and heads out to the greenhouse.



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