Trick or Treat

Out of all the holidays of the year, Tony Stark liked Halloween best.

He always had, starting when he was very young, and first grasped the concept of Costumes + Free Candy = FUN. The freedom to be a Frankenstein monster or devil or skeleton for a night delighted him.

The freedom to be just another kid, and not Howard Stark’s son was a draw too.

Later, after his parents died, Tony clung to Halloween as his chance to enjoy the rare and precious liberty of a holiday without painful memories tied to it, the way they were to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Halloween was a night of second childhood, massive sugar intake, and, of course, fun.

Pepper, on the other hand, grew up dreading Halloween.

Halloween meant candy, yes, but it also meant carefully carved pumpkins smashed to bits, and hand me down costumes and having to share the haul of the night with a chocolate-loving parents. It meant having to keep Midnight the cat indoors, and keeping an eye out for bonfires out in the field.

It meant cleaning up TP and soap from the front lawn.

Later, after her parents died, Pepper passed out candy, but made it a point to close up early, treating it more as a duty than a pleasure.

Fortunately,  all that changed after coming to work for Tony Stark.

***   ***   *** 

“So, eight animatronics for the yard;  a hundred and seventy pounds of dry ice; all the dreary décor for the funhouse, and the standard order from Cadbury, sir?” Pepper dimpled at him.

 Tony nodded, thinking aloud. “Yep, although I want little mummies this year instead of those fanged rabbits. Those came off like leftover Easter candy that Dracula nabbed. See if the catering crew over at Talia’s can make some of the blood-colored cotton candy again. THAT was totally cool last year.”

“Right,” Pepper murmured, making another notation on her to-do list. “Invitations?”

“Something appropriately spooky. Can we do ones that play some creepy tune when they’re opened?”

“I’ll check into it.”

“Good,” Tony murmured, straddling the piano bench and looking out towards the Pacific. “Maybe Danse Macabre, or Toccata and Fugue in D minor.”

“Going with a classical motif?” Pepper looked up over the back of the sofa. Tony gave a shrug, and smiled.

“It’s how I prefer my monsters. Had a little too much blood and gore recently to want that as a party theme, you know?” His expression was slightly haunted, and not in a Halloween sort of way; Pepper felt a pang of remorse and rose from the sofa to walk over to him, clearing her throat.

“You haven’t mentioned the most important aspect yet, Tony. I await your announcement with a proper sense of dread,” she teased, leaning on the piano. He looked towards her, and the curl of his grin—sweet and boyish—was enough to make her flush a tiny bit.

“Oh that’s right. Costumes. Are you saying you’re not thrilled by my previous choices, Potts?”

Pepper bit back an answering grin, well aware that Tony Stark’s selections had always been, well, memorable was putting it mildly.

“Being Leia to your Han was interesting,” she offered, “and Jimmy was thrilled to be Lando.”

Tony made a face. “You vetoed the brass bikini. I’m still annoyed by that.”

“Life is hard sometimes. Of course there was also the time you decided I’d make a perfect Bride of Frankenstein.”

“That was only because you vetoed the Playboy Bunny, with me as Hef and Jimmy as Sammy Davis Junior,” Tony quickly shot back, “Another decision I regret bitterly.”

“No tears on my pillow over that,” Pepper told him firmly. “Better a streaked beehive wig than yet one more outfit that would have had every male at the party pinching my posterior.”

“Hey, you weren’t the one with bolts in your neck and a ten pound flattop,” Tony sulked. “All the colonel had to contend with last year was a master wrap job in toilet paper.”

Pepper snorted. “Whatever. I know you like to have the three of us matching, but whatever you choose this time, go for ease of mobility, all right?”

“I’ll consider it,” he replied vaguely. “How do you feel about going as Jane to my Tarzan?”

“Not in this lifetime,” she assured him sweetly, “And I doubt Jimmy will appreciate a gorilla costume. Try again.”

As he was about to speak, Tony’s cell phone rang; he answered it and Pepper turned her attention to the list, adding cider and cups. The tone of the one-sided conversation made her look up; Tony looked disappointed. He flipped the phone closed and let his shoulders slump a bit. “Speak of the devil. Our trio lost a triplet.”


“TDY to Bethesda for the week. Ah well, we’ll save him some bloody cotton candy  and a bottle of Clos du Mesnil I guess.”

“Mmm. This changes the costume situation though.”

“Oh I think I can find something in a duet that will suit,” Tony murmured silkily.

 Pepper blinked a little, the corner of her mouth quirking up. “You say that like a threat.”

“Not a threat, more of a . . . consideration,” Tony replied, letting his fingers tap out a few notes of what Pepper realized was Chopin’s Funeral March. “Something apropos.”

Pepper leaned closer, her nose nearly touching his, and whispered gently. “No. French. Maid.”

He gave a grumbly sigh.

***   ***   *** 

The details were a joy to see come together; Pepper felt a sense of anticipation and fun rising in her as she watched the technicians set up the guillotine just inside the front security gate of the mansion several weeks later. Tony preferred to give bonus pay to his employees if they opted to help out with the charity party, and many of them did, most turning over that extra pay back to the cause itself.

They were good people, and Tony appreciated it, and them. He never pushed anyone to support his causes, but many employees did, following his example.

A delivery truck passed through the gate, and Pepper noted it bore an unusual logo on it. Curious, she met the driver, who handed her a clipboard with an invoice on it.

The invoice consisted of two copies, both on vellum, Pepper noted with surprise, and in gothic script on each looked as if it had come from a quill pen. She shot a glance at the driver, who was struggling to unload a mahogany armoire from the back of the truck. The ornate carvings on the monstrosity were startling even in the daylight; Pepper was sure she didn’t want to see the thing after dark.

“Where do you want it, lady, and please tell me you gotta elevator if you say ‘upstairs’!” the man pleaded as he struggled to balance the huge wardrobe on the dolly.

“Upstairs, and yes, we have an elevator. In fact--” Pepper reached for her com link, “Jarvis, please send the ‘bots out. They’ll be carrying an item of furniture roughly six feet tall and four feet wide, estimated weight at about six hundred pounds. Have them take it to the second floor guestroom, please.”

“Very good Miss Potts. The ‘bots have been dispatched,” came Jarvis’s smooth reply. The van driver looked skeptical, but when the ‘bots rolled up and clamped onto the armoire, lifting it with pneumatic ease, he sighed with relief.

“I heard Stark had all kinds of tech helper things,” he murmured, watching the ‘bots load the armoire onto a four-wheeled cross between a Segway and wagon.

 Pepper smiled and handed back the clipboard. “It’s a big load, and I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself. Who is Murgatroyd, by the way. I don’t recognize the company.”

“Storage company for the Hamptons,” the driver sighed, handing her an ornate key on a black velvet cord. “Old company too—I’m betting they have the Mayflower in mothballs back in their vaults. All I know is that a customer of ours arranged for that . . . thing . . . to be shipped out here pronto.”

“Does this thing say who?” Pepper studied the invoice carefully, attempting to make out the details. There was an address; something something Cemetery Ridge in Westfield, New Jersey. The driver checked his watch, and then the sun.

“Sorry ma’am, but I have to get moving. If you’ve got questions, go ahead and call the number on the invoice. Thanks for the robots, and have a good one!” he called, swinging up into the cab. Carefully, he turned the delivery truck around and headed out, leaving Pepper to wonder what, exactly, the ‘bots were placing upstairs.

She excused herself from overseeing the yard decorations for a moment and slipped into the house, moving up the stairs, curious now about the wardrobe. Pepper wasn’t sure if it was a practical joke on Tony’s part, or something legitimate. It dawned on her as she reached the landing that it could well be the Halloween costumes, and the thought stopped her short.

Both ‘bots rolled out slowly, looking as if they were tired, which was ridiculous of course. As Butterfingers passed her, Pepper held out a hand for a high-five. The ‘bot lightly tapped her palm and rolled past, leaving Pepper to look at the armoire carefully in the afternoon light.

There were bats carved into it. And smiling skeletons. Definitely smiling which was exceedingly . . . weird.  Pepper stepped closer, key in hand. For a moment, she pictured herself stepping into some sort of Goth version of Narnia; disappearing behind naphtha-scented coats into some Victorian street.

She shook her head. “Get real,” Pepper muttered to herself, and stuck the key in the lock of the armoire. The doors swung open with the appropriate eerie creak, and the beveled glass mirror on the inside of the left one reflected Pepper darkly. She made a face at herself for being spooked and turned her attention towards the contents.


A man’s grey and black pinstriped suit hung inside, along with a woman’s long, ebony velvet dress. Pepper noted there was a wig stand on a built in shelf, topped with hairpiece of long, raven-glossy locks. One of the little drawers held  a box of cigars, and the other, a collection of jet jewelry, most of it in macabre taste.

It took Pepper a few seconds to figure it all out, and when she did, she laughed softly, reaching for the dress to hold it up against herself and study her reflection in the mirror. “Oh this is going to be . . . fun.”

***   ***   *** 

Tony was in a terrific mood as he raced through the gate and up the garage ramp, the gleaming Stutz Bearcat making several of the people in the yard look up in admiration or alarm, given his speed. He angled the classic car into its space, the tires squealing from the sudden deceleration, and when he’d parked, Tony climbed out, heading for the stairs, taking them two at a time.

“Pepper? Did you get a certain delivery yet? I had a confirmation call that the truck showed up!” he yelled up the stairs, looking around the living room in search for her.  Tony skidded to a halt as Butterfingers rolled up to him, bearing a piece of beige paper.

Not paper, Tony realized with curiosity. Vellum.

The writing on it was Pepper’s neat script, but the words themselves sent a tingle down his spine as he read them aloud. “Darling—Wow. Potts never calls me ‘darling. Color me intrigued,” Tony muttered as much to the ‘bot as to himself.

 He cleared his throat. “Okay, let’s try this again: ‘Darling, your eveningwear is laid out on the bed, and I am in a delicious frisson of anticipation for tonight—“

He moaned a little. “Frisson? Anticipation? Did a thesaurus show up as well?”

Thinking it was a legitimate question, the ‘bot shook its head. Tony eyed it dryly. “Rhetorical. Big word you wouldn’t know that means I’m not actually asking a question.”

The little robot seemed to huff, and began to roll away. Tony kept reading the note. “—and all the fun we will have. Save me a tango, your Querida. Tango? Oh crap, do I even remember how to tango?”

Butterfingers gave a little squeal of contempt from the far side of the room but Tony ignored him and began to stride off towards his bedroom. Once there, he paused in the doorway to look at the suit draped over the bedspread, and a slow grin crossed his face as it brought back a sudden rush of memories.

“Tony, I think it’s high time you experienced the true joys of trains!”

Those dark-rimmed eyes, the maniacal grin, the heavy scent of Muerte Roja cigars drifting in the air.

His own nine-year old voice replying. “I know how to run toy trains, Uncle Gomez.”

“Not run them, my boy, crash them! Believe me, there’s no thrill greater than heavy locomotives bearing down on each other in a rush of steam and speed, set on an inevitable collision! It thrills the soul! It excites the senses!”

“It shakes the house,” came the squeaky comment from the bald companion. “Plaster everywhere!”

“Oh but that’s half the fun!”

“True—that and the ka-boom, I like the ka-boom!” Fester admitted.

Tony shook himself out of his reverie and began to dress. Fifteen minutes later, he took a long, critical look at himself as he turned in front of the three way mirror just off the master bathroom.

Impressive. He wouldn’t have thought the tailoring would be so perfect, especially given the rush of pulling the suit out of storage, but it fit as if it had been made for him. Tony stroked the lapels, and carefully placed a few of the cigars into his breast pocket, letting the tips of them peek out. He let the chain of the pocket watch drape, and adjusted his tie.

Nearly perfect. He might not be as tall as his uncle Gomez, nor quite as sallow, but the suit made up for a lot, and the goatee added a certain---panache. Tony winked at his reflection. “Looking devilishly handsome, old man,” he murmured to himself.

He set off in search of Pepper. Generally the third floor guest room was given over to her as a semi-permanent office/bolt hole for the times when she needed to concentrate, and Tony suspected the armoire was up there as well. He made his way up the stairs, too impatient for the elevator and arrived at the landing, slightly out of breath. The door was closed, and he knocked. “Pepper?”

The door creaked open, but nobody peeked through; Tony looked in and spotted the armoire.

Oh yes, just as he remembered it: big, dark and spooky. Grateful it was shut, he turned and saw another piece of vellum on the bed. Tony stepped in and picked it up, curious and a tad annoyed. It wasn’t like Potts to play games, while at the same time . . .

“And this one says, You mad, impetuous man! Look for me when the sun has set and the pumpkins are lit. I DO hope you’ll frighten me.”

Tony let the paper flutter to the spread again, his pulse quicker now, but his smile amused. “Oh damn. If I’d known, Potts, that all it took to put you in the mood was a creepy wardrobe with my relative’s clothes in them, I’d have done this AGES ago.”

Jarvis interrupted his musings with a soft chime, and spoke up. “The party is about to begin, sir, and your presence is requested at the front gate.”

“Okay. Hey, how do I look?” he asked impulsively, turning around. There was a moment of silence from Jarvis, and then—

“Judging by the aesthetics in my programming, and compensating, heavily I might add, for your . . . unique sense of dress and humor, very . . .  apropos for the evening, sir.”

“Updated your tact filter, didn’t you?” Tony accused, but good-naturedly.


Out along the front lawn, the normally staid landscape now held bare trees, piles of leaves for jumping in, a full cemetery and  a juice bar complete with carved ice skulls filled with red punch. The Haunted House tour, which led around the perimeter through various scenarios included a walk-through mausoleum and a rubber spider filled ball pit. This year’s addition included a huge pumpkin bounce house, and a Ferris wheel done in orange lights.

Spooky music filled the air, and Tony shot a glance of delight towards Happy, who was helping to wheel in a few costumed children in their chairs. Several others were already scattering through the area, laughing and chattering excitedly.

“Looks like a good turnout,” Tony nodded  back towards the bus.

“Yep,” Happy nodded back. He glanced at Tony’s costume and his grin widened. “Damn, you look just like him.”

“Family good looks.”

“Better than resembling Fester, I guess,” Happy pointed out, and Tony winced a little, pulling out a cigar from his breast pocket. It was already lit, and Happy blinked for a moment as Tony puffed on it nonchalantly. “How did you--?”

“That would be telling,” Tony murmured, and sauntered off towards the juice bar. He didn’t have the nerve to admit to Happy that he had no clue how it worked; it just did. Things his aunt and uncle had always did for some reason, and he hoped Pepper was brave enough to understand that.

***   ***   ***

Pepper checked herself one last time in the armoire mirror and gave a delighted sigh. She wasn’t one for the Goth look; despite a natural tendency towards pale skin and slenderness, she preferred more color, but for tonight, this was pretty impressive.

The wig was a marvel, she decided; light and cool, clearly made of real hair, and scented with something that made her think of sweet October leaves. The dark, glossy locks hung past her waist, and Pepper let them drape over her shoulders as she slid the big onyx ring onto her finger. Immediately a sense of impishness rose in her, and she practiced a slow, mysterious smile for her reflection. “Yes, quite perfect.”

“Quite,” came an answering murmur. Pepper’s eyes widened a bit, and she glanced around, still alone in the bedroom.

She cleared her throat and smiled again, taking a moment to wink at her reflection. The reflection winked back, and belatedly Pepper realized it was with the other eye.

The woman’s voice, low and sweet, came out again. “Quite the belle of the ball tonight, Cherie. I think young Anthony will be thrilled.”

Pepper blinked, well aware that although the voice was vaguely familiar, it wasn’t . . . hers. “Um, yeah.”

“Young love, so sweet,” the voice chirped. “And on the most romantic night of the year as well. A word of advice; make him yours. We women have a thousand little ways to do that.”

The voice trailed away, and Pepper took a deep breath. This was a mistake, since the tightness of the dress made it nearly impossible. She gurgled instead, and laughed at herself, smoothing the material on her hips in a slow stroke.

“Tonight,” she murmured to herself, and the renewed sense of impishness made her smirk. Moving in tiny steps, she made her way out to the elevator, and rode down to the ground floor level, then stepped out to survey the scene.

The front lawns were packed with happy kids and macabre decorations. Pepper let her gaze wander, and in a flash of perfect synchronous delight, spotted Tony at the same moment he spotted her.

For a few seconds, she lost focus on anything else in the warm October night. Tony looked . . . amazing.

Pepper had always liked the way he wore a suit, and while she knew he would tonight, for some reason, it had added appeal. Without thinking, she held an arm out to him; Tony literally ran over to her, dodging absently around a child or two to reach her side. The moment his hands touched hers, an eerie green flash sparkled out from the point of contact, and both Pepper and Tony sucked in a startled breath.

“Darling—“ Pepper murmured, and lifted her fingers to stroke his cheek. For a moment Tony blinked, and then he took her hand and fervently kissed it.

“Querida,” he breathed back, his smile genuine. “My dark angel.”

Pepper demurely smiled, and leaned closer to him, closer, closer---

At the same moment, they paused and looked down; a small Darth Vader was staring up at them, squirming. “I have to pee.”

Tony’s mouth twitched; he pointed towards a pavilion tent that abutted the house. Darth hopped away.

“Where were we?” Tony turned back to Pepper, a gleam in his eye.

She drew in a breath and gave a low chuckle. “You look terrific as Gomez, and the costume selections—wonderful.”

“Yeah, I’m sort of surprised. I didn’t think the thing would fit. My uncle was a lot taller.”

Pepper blinked. “Your uncle?”

“Okay, well technically he wasn’t my uncle, he was our neighbor back in New Jersey, but I was over at their place enough of the time that they sort of adopted me,” Tony replied, smoothing down the lapels of the suit.

Pepper stared. “You mean . . . they—the Addams—were real?

Tony gave her an amused look. “Well Duh. Of course they were.”

Before either of them can say anything more, an excited woman with a camera scurried up, her smile huge. “Oh I HAVE to get a picture of the two of you! Wow, you look GREAT!”

The bright flash caught them both off-guard. When the woman moved off, Pepper was still blinking, and Tony took her hand, helping her step forward.

“Real?” she asked again, wonderingly.

Tony laughed. “Oh yeah. You don’t think the geniuses at ABC-TV could have come up with a concept like that on their own, do you?”

“Um, well, yes, actually,” Pepper murmured, her fingers tightening on his. They made their way along the path towards the cotton candy machine, and gallantly Tony collected a cone of it to hand to her.

Pepper pulled a bit off and held it out to him; the warmth of his lips on her fingertips tingled.

“Oh they were real, all right. A distant cousin of the family, Charles, used them as the basis for his cartoons and the rest is history. They took the whole TV show in stride; donated the proceeds to cancer research in fact. That’s one of the reasons I thought of them for tonight,” Tony said around the sugary mouthful.

“Fascinating,” Pepper smiled. She fed him more cotton candy, and with each bit, his tongue grew a little bolder, licking her fingers in quick, hot strokes. She shivered.

Tony laughed, low. “You look incredible. I’m not used to you as a brunette, but for some reason tonight . . . “ he trailed off and made a suggestive growl at her the sound purring in his throat. Pepper smirked back, and again, everything else faded away for a long moment.

“This is . . . weird,” Pepper murmured in a throaty voice. “Nice, but weird.”

“Or maybe weird, but nice,” Tony countered gently. “Either way, I’m seriously liking this. You look . . . incendiary.”

Sudden whiffs of  grey smoke rose from Pepper’s shoulders, and she gave a startled look at her right one. Tony waved a hand to dissipate the trails, and grinned. “Damn, this is so cool!”

Pepper dimpled.

***   ***   ***

By eight-thirty, the last of the children were herded back onto the bus, ready to be launched into trick or treating through the hospital, and the second wave of party guests had begun to arrive. These were the parents, employees and sponsors; a more adult crowd despite the costumes and chatter. Tony took up his hosting duties, greeting people and making sure things were running smoothly throughout the place. Normally checking such things was Pepper’s job, but for this particular holiday, Tony much preferred to do it himself.

He looked for Pepper among the guests, but didn’t spot her as he wandered around his eerie estate, taking in the ghoulish décor with a sense of satisfaction. As he made his way to the popcorn wagon, he noted no one was there; disappointed he looked around. “Anyone manning this thing?”

From a small carved box sitting on the counter, a hand—big and graceful-- emerged and waved.

Tony blinked for a moment, then extended his own for a quick shake, grinning. “A Thing is manning this thing, I presume?”

Think held up three fingers.

“Ah, Thing the third!” Tony deduced.

The hand made a quick thumbs up, then pointed at the popcorn.

Tony nodded. “Yeah, I wanted a bag, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Thing waved nonchalantly, and proceeded to scurry into the popcorn chamber and happily scoop fluffy hot popcorn into a black and orange bag, then dragged it out and presented it to Tony. He took it and munched a few kernels. “Perfect! So, glad to meet you—I’ve always liked your fore-arm, I guess.”

Thing skittered up Tony’s arm and patted his shoulder in a reassuring gesture; oddly moved, Tony smiled again. “Your grandfather was incredible. Uncle Gomez always said you Things were what held everything together.”

Clearly embarrassed by the praise, Thing trailed a modest finger along the booth. Tony cleared his throat. “So . . .  going out on a limb here--listen, if you’re not in a rush to anywhere after the party, and if you’d like to get in touch with into some real challenges, I could use an extra hand down in my workshop.”

Thing bounced up excitedly and gave an ‘okay’ sign, making Tony grin again. He held up his own palm to receive a high-five from Thing, and then pointed at him playfully. “Listen, I’ll hold you to it, so to speak; all the manual labor you could ever want, and flexible hours; health benefits, you name it. We’ll let our fingers do the walking through whatever contract you want, ‘kay?”

The disembodied hand waggled fingers and did a little two-fingered jig on the booth counter, and Tony walked away, feeling tickled, although not literally.

It would be nice to have an extra hand, he mused. And now—I have one.

With this thought in mind, Tony headed for the mansion, pausing only to munch a few more handfuls of popcorn along the way. He trotted up the stairs and moved into the living room, delighted to see that Jarvis had put an appropriately gloomy ambience in the lighting, and the soft music was in an eerie minor key.

People clustered here and there, chatting and enjoying the party food; Butterfingers and Dummy, both wearing sheets with no eyeholes, were rolling around with trays of shrimp puffs and asparagus tips wrapped with ham, the food in some interesting colors. Tony nodded to cowboys and ballerinas, to cavemen and gangsters and wizards, passing out cigars to all of them.

He looked again for Pepper, feeling mildly anxious now; it was as if being away from her for too long was unsettling. When he finally spotted her in the corner of the living room, sitting gracefully in the fan chair—When did I get a fan chair? he wondered, Tony darted over and gazed at her adoringly.

And she was adorable, from her cool, mysterious gaze to her long lovely fingers busily clipping heads from roses. Pepper offered the stems to guests stopping by; everyone loved the gag.

Impulsively, Tony reached for one hand and took it, kissing her fingertips. “Querida!”

“Darrrrrling,” Pepper cooed back. “J'étais seul sans tu.”

Tony felt a surge of heat rising through him. “That’s French,” he growled, and kissed his way up Pepper’s arm.

She didn’t stop him; merely smiled into his face when he reached hers. Tony swallowed hard, delighted to breathe in the scent of her perfume, to gaze into her beguiling eyes. “That seriously does things to me,” he confessed. “And I’m not normally a Francophile.”

“I don’t even speak it,” Pepper confessed, sounding both amused and perplexed. “I . . . need a vodka martini.”

“Lots of ice, lots of olives,” Tony murmured, blinking. “I . . . think I need one too.”

“Hurry darling,” Pepper cooed.

***   ***   ***  

It was an outstanding party, Pepper had to admit. Tony had long been known to throw excellent ones, especially those with holiday themes, and this year there seemed to be an added touch of sweet lunacy to everything. She moved from room to room in small, quick steps hampered a bit by the tight black dress and wig she wore, and exchanged greetings with all sorts of costumed partiers, toasting them with her martini in its crystal glass with cobweb etchings.

The oddest thing about all of it, she realized, was how natural and easy it felt to act as . . . hostess. At previous parties she’d filled the role to a limited degree, but tonight she took Tony’s arm  and chattered and moved with him in a synchronicity that both delighted and alarmed her.

And Tony seemed caught up in the same mesmeric balance, beaming at her, even going so far as to murmur endearments as they toured the party. She usually didn’t care for cigars, but the mild scent of the ones he smoked for the night merely complemented the scheme of things.

Pepper wondered if she was quite sane or not.

“Tango, darling?” Tony broke into her thoughts. She smiled at him as the first violins began to play—We hired a quartet?- and let herself be led out into the middle of the living room. Pepper knew she should be terrified; she could barely waltz, and had never in her life learned anything more complicated than the box step, much less the tango.

And yet, with Tony leading her, spinning her, dipping her, Pepper gracefully sailed through the dance, never missing a step. The exhilaration of it made her blush, and when Tony gracefully dipped her, she stared up into his eyes and saw more than amusement and a hint of confusion this time.

Pepper saw heat, pure and simple.

That should have alarmed her but instead she sighed with pleasure, and whispered, “Embrassez-moi, Tony darling--”

And he did. Pulling her up until they were nose to nose, Tony tipped his face slightly and pressed his lips to hers in a lovely shock of soft, hungry mouths. Applause broke out, along with a few cheers.

The kiss went on.

And on.

And on.

Guests began to wander away. The music started up again.

Finally the nagging need to breathe won out—barely--and Pepper pulled back with a huge gasp.

Tony looked as if he could have lasted at least a minute longer, and licked his lips. “We need to dance much more often,” he blurted out. “Oh yeah, like, every day. I didn’t know you could tango. I didn’t know I could tango. We need—”

“—Air,” Pepper told him firmly. “Right now.”

They made their way out to the balcony overlooking the Pacific, and the cool night felt good after the heat and the crowd in the house.

Pepper gripped the low wall and looked up at the full moon. Tony stood just behind her, close enough to be up against her spine. She knew she should make him back away, and yet she didn’t want to. He felt good there; right. Comforting and sensual and as if he should be there.

“This is,” Pepper began in a low voice. “Really . . . confusing.”

“Mmm?” Tony asked. He had his nose near the crown of her wig, and his hands were on her shoulders now. “I’m not confused. I’m a whole lot of things right now, but confused isn’t one of them.”

“Tony!” In frustration she turned, and that was dangerous because now she was caught between the low wall and Tony in the moonlight.

He looked up to the sky. “Full moon on Halloween. We’re right next to the largest body of water on the planet, caught in the syzygy. And you’re beautiful, Pepper. Irresistible forces at work here.”

“This is . . .” she tried again, trailing off. Any number of adjectives had come to mind: ‘insane’; ‘crazy’, ‘impossible’ being among the top contenders, but when Tony lowered his gaze from the sky back down to look directly at her, none of them fit anymore.

The word that did spring from her lips was, “ . . . romantic.”

“Yes,” Tony agreed, not at all discomfited. “Lover’s lunacy.”

“What?” Pepper murmured, her arms sliding up along his, pulling him closer. Tony reached for her slender waist in a natural, tender way.

“Just a chemical, biological, physical, spiritual and emotional magnetism between us. Every atom of me wants to be connected to every atom of you. Meaning of life stuff,” he replied breathlessly. “Going to kiss you again---”

“Un hunh,” was all Pepper could manage before yanking Tony to her and deftly locking mouths with him again. Under the light of the moon this kiss glowed, and Pepper gave up trying to make any logical sense of it all. She had Tony in her arms and judging from the enthusiasm of his lips, tongue and moans, it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Which was fine by her, Pepper decided, and that was her last coherent thought for a while.

***   ***   ***

By the time the last party guest was ushered home by Happy in the last of the courtesy limos, the sun still hadn’t come through the clouds, and the skies were a gunmetal gray. There was a scent of rain in the air, and the long Malibu coastline, normally sunny and bright into November was now gloomy.

“What a glorious morning,” Tony murmured, looking over Pepper’s bare shoulder towards the green-gray ocean. He kissed her pale skin, letting his mustache tickle it.

“Absolutely divine,” Pepper replied sleepily, pulling the black satin sheet around herself. “Looks like we’ll be forced to stay indoors and entertain ourselves.”

“I can think of a diversion or two,” he murmured against her skin, “Cara mia.”

She rolled towards him, and looked up into his face, her own caught between a smile and a chide. “Hey. Party’s over, and the Addams are back in the armoire.”

“Is that your way of saying I need other terms of endearment?” He leaned over her to nuzzle the sweet slope of her breasts, visible and tempting.

Pepper dimpled. “Yes. I want my own pet names, Tony.”

“Okay,” he agreed in a slightly distracted tone as he tugged on the sheet. “I’m thinking bed goddess; queen of my heart; She Who Completely Owns My Sorry Ass---”

She laughed. “I should get that last on my business cards—”

“—or how about my lovely lunatic?” he purred, nibbling her neck. Pepper squeaked a little, and for a while there was no more discussion of names since they were far too busy to talk.

Out in the kitchen, Thing was already pouring the espresso, and buttering the toast; breakfast in bed was going to be such a nice surprise.


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