I wish I could say I deserved it.

Had this been a year ago, I would have deserved it, absolutely.

The man I was then—arrogant, confident, marinated in alcohol and impervious to the word ‘no’ would have justified this death-strike in the form of the patently potent Potts patella.

Noooo doubt about it, from any of the involved parties. Would have deserved it.

But not now. I have been, for all purposes if not intent, a Good Boy. No major liquor binges, though God knows I’ve wanted them once or twice. No cheerleader/starlet/’famous for being famous’ ingénue sandwiches with a studly Stark center, thankyouverymuch and let me tell you that’s been a serious frustration.

Other vices, you ask?

Overspending? Please—that’s not a lifestyle choice, that’s genetic to the family name, and anyway, the percent going to charitable contributions is wayyyy up.

Drugs? Been there, done that, not really in the mood for memory lane sloppy seconds.

Outrageous behavior in public? I still keep a hand in, and a moon out when the occasion merits it. My cheeks have graced more than a few tabloids and I’m good at making an ass of myself, literally as well as metaphorically. Potts can vouch for that. Hell, the greater population of North America can vouch for that.

Congress certainly can.

But on the whole, I have kept the shenanigans down because I’ve been just a tad busy what with SAVING THE WORLD so getting Rochamboued was NOT in the damned game plan.

Particularly from Pepper—the woman has legs to die for, and I should know, having studied them so thoroughly I could probably sketch the schematics for them from memory. As legs go, from toes to tushie, hers are streamlined perfection. Many a business meeting or conference have I spent time fantasizing about those legs and how nicely they’d fit around my waist.

Or my shoulders.

Hey, totally male prerogative here, okay? I know Pepper would be furious if she knew what I spent my time thinking, but I’m not telling and I’m not alone; that much I know.

In any case, I’m paying for it now as I hunch over here, wishing for death to wipe away the unrelenting surge of hot, pulsing pain that saturates every Goddamn nerve in my body.

Knee to the nuts. Groin hit. Racked and wracked.


Did I ever mention that personally, I think human male anatomic design is a joke? Putting the most sensitive organs outside the body and between the legs is bad planning all around. Sure the display factor is impressive, and that counts for something, but leaving the goose eggs loitering along the underside of the Love Gargoyle is just asking for trouble. Anything we straddle, be it bikes, fences, horses or women are in a position to fold us menfolk up like rickety lawn chairs with the slightest tap.

And what Potts just gave me was NOT a tap.

I wish she’d stop babbling. I wish she’d just stop talking altogether and looking at me with those big babyblue ‘OhmyGODIjustslammedmyboss’scrotch!’ eyes and give me a moment to breathe.

Not going to fire you, Potts, but don’t touch me right now.

I wish I could breathe. MORE pain, oh yeah, lots more running from my sinuses over the top of my skill and down my spine in a nice long freight train ‘o agony, whooo, whoooo----

Been hit before of course. Once, when I was fourteen, sailing with my dad in the Bahamas a wave surge raised the gunnel as I was stepping into the catamaran. I spent the next hour lying on the floor of the boat while dad kept handing me cold beers to apply to my swollen . . . ego. One of my first instances using alcohol to deaden pain, although back then it was only the outside of the bottle and not the content.

Another time I got into a little physical altercation of one of the rent-a-thugs outside a nightclub in Paris, back in my wilder days. I’d been roughed up before, but this Silverback knew exactly how to nut bust and proceeded to demonstrate La Technique on the Stark Zamboni and Hat Trick Twins right outside Montmartre . . .

Hurting. Deep hurting. See, this is why the codpiece of the Suit is lined with three inches of gel cushioning inside a titanium casing. One protects what is of value.

Oh God, no, she did not just ask me if I’m all right. Damn it, not with those big wide baby lamb eyes!


What am I supposed to say? Has Pepper gone fucking blind? I’m about to give her Astrabella four inchers a nice half-digested Jackson Pollock treatment and she wants to know if I’m all right?

No I am not ‘all right.’ I’m in knee-to-nut agony here, Potts, baby, and while I’m not generally a man to hold grudges against my near and dear, you are pushing it by hovering.


That will get her moving . . . yes, there she goes, bless her sweet little heinie. None in the mini-fridge, so out the door with you Pep, that’s right, give me some privacy . . .

O-kay, lunch lost, I’ll get someone in building maintenance to hose out that bottom drawer later. God, I don’t know what’s throbbing more, my balls or my temples.

Luckily there’s a little water left in the sports bottle to rinse my mouth.

For those of you unfamiliar with the after-hurt, it’s like having a hangover in your crotch. A hangover that no drugs are going to touch, ever. Women can bitch and moan all they want about having a baby; at least there’s a nifty door-prize at the end. Here, it’s just torture, abating by degrees.

Curling over, breathing deep. I might be able to straighten up in, oh, say . . . an hour.

I can taste blood, because I’ve been chewing the inside of my lip, and it’s starting to leak out now. Gotta clean that up before Pepper---

Look up and right on cue: big, worried Bambi orbs.

Yep, she’s back, and still skittering around like she thinks I’m going to bite her.

Now--how to take the ice and apply it suavely?


Good girl. At least she can still take directions; although given Pepper’s aim and accuracy I’m betting she could put the Ten Rings out of commission all by herself. Forget armored Suits and rockets, I could just launch this woman’s knee and have them down for the count and then some.

Wonder if I could design a Potts patella rocket . . . .

Shit. Being numb would be great. Getting numb hurts. Lots. And it sucks to have an audience because I’d really, really like to singe the air with a whole lotta four-letter words, but Pepper would take it personally, and I canNOT take the quivering lip thing from her.

Not on top of crushed cojones.

I close my eyes and let the apologies roll on over me. It’s just noise right now, although I know Potts means every trembling word of it. Of course she does—she’s Potts: Miss Sincerity, eight years running. She didn’t mean to ram me in the nuts, although I’m sure she’s fantasized about doing it on a daily basis.

Hell, hourly on some of my wilder days.

Revenge daydreams aside, though, the woman wouldn’t hurt my fly.

Get it? Heh, humor. It’s supposed to help.

Humor is overrated. I need a few Motrin, washed down with say, a dose of heroin right now.

Oh, she just found my little surprise package in the bottom drawer. Sorry, Pepper, I hope those files weren’t important----

Ah. Confidential personnel files. Single copies.

Yeah, I’m batting a thousand right at the moment. Maybe the best thing would be to—

No! No doctor, Pepper. He’s not going to tell me anything I don’t already know, and there’s nothing he’d do that I’m not already doing. Ice, rest, time. This is me shaking my head, Miss Potts, so put down the phone and just . . . leave me alone for a bit. Allow me to recover my mangled dignity and at least pretend you understand.

And if you go down the hall far enough, I won’t hear your giggles, I promise.

You’re trying not to laugh; it’s okay. I’m not taking it personally, believe me. Guy gets slammed in the bojangles, everyone yucks it up except him. Nature of humanity. I’ve laughed at Platypus, he’s laughed at me, we’ve both done our share of wincing and snickering through Jackass . . . day in the life, Potts.

Can’t keep it in forever . . . . She’s getting an interesting shade of magenta there . . . . starting to splutter like a duckling in a blender---

Annnnd she loses it. I lied. I can hear her in the hallway, snorting and trying to smother it while I hunch over here and count the throbs.

Laugh it up, Pepper. Seriously; I’m almost laughing myself. Did you know you snort like a wombat when you’re fighting the giggles?

Okay I made that up. I have no idea if a wombat snorts or not.

I think I’m going to just stay here with my ice pack until it’s time to go home and Happy can help get me into the limo. I’m pretty sure the Golden Globes will be nicely anesthetized by then, and I’ll try to sleep, praying that there is no mission before morning.

And forgive me if for the next few days, I put a little more space between us, Miss Potts? It’s nothing personal, really. I’ve always respected you, totally, and now---


I respect certain parts of you so much more.



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