Pepper got a call from Tony's accounts manager, for the first time in... months, she realized. Over a year.
When she first started out as Tony's personal assistant, she'd get a call every other week. They started out polite and professional ("Accounts calling, just wanted to confirm, Ms. Potts, that Mr. Stark did in fact purchase the following items last evening: a Monet, a live exotic snake, a taxidermied exotic snake, and ten thousand dollars in emerald-studded platinum jewelry."), as did her responses ("Well, the Monet was on my behalf, and I can no longer account for the live snake, but yes, I can confirm that he purchased all of the above.").
As the years went on, and Accounts became people with names and faces and fun stories at holiday parties, things became informal on both ends ("Hey Pepper, it's Janice. Did he really just buy - ?" "A 22 carat gold-plated Porsche? Yes, though I have no idea what he intends to do with it." "Well, if he gets bored of it, I know I wouldn't mind taking it off his hands.").
But she stopped hearing from Janice regularly after becoming CEO. Not because she wasn't the person to contact anymore, but because Tony's purchases had stopped being so outlandish. He made his outlandish things, these days.
So what could Janice be calling about now?
"Ms. Potts?" Pepper frowned; that wasn't Janice's voice. "I'm Estefanía Rodriguez, junior accounts manager? Janice Paul is on vacation, and this purchase came up for..." She hesitated, and Pepper recognized that pause as one of someone almost embarrassed to say something out loud. It happened a lot around Tony, for one reason or another.
Pepper smiled. "Believe me, Estefanía, whatever it is he's bought, I've heard worse."
"...fifty thousand dollars in home decor?"
She blinked. Twice. "I'm sorry, he bought fifty thousand dollars of what?"
One advantage of living upstairs of your offices, Pepper had found, was that it was pretty easy to go home and check up on the - on her - on Tony, without that twist in her stomach that came from avoiding meetings and obligations that she really didn't enjoy. She would be back downstairs to hear from the board in fifteen minutes, max, and really: home decor? This had to take priority.
JARVIS directed Pepper not to Tony's labs, or the residential floor he liked, but to one of the floors just below that he'd set aside for... oh.
She found him in the middle of moderately organized chaos, directing movers who were hopefully being highly compensated to arrange chairs, tables, shelves - all kinds of things. Someone was rolling out a soft-looking carpeting across one room; present for reasons Pepper couldn't understand, Dummy and Butterfingers held up two sets of curtains to a window for Tony to compare.
Five months ago, this room hadn't had curtain-sized windows. Four months ago, it hadn't had windows, just shattered outlines in the wall, thanks to a pair of brothers having a fight on a godly scale. Pepper hadn't realized the basic rebuilding of these floors was complete, let alone complete long enough for Tony to move on to interior decorating.
And his idea of interior decorating was... concerning. It was bright, crowded, and a little random in a way meant to draw the eye, maybe, or to be eclectic. Or possibly for no reason at all but that Tony had felt like it.
The green and purple color scheme made it clear who the floor was supposed to be for, but that just made Pepper more concerned. She'd hardly known Bruce Banner long, but he struck her as a man who liked order in his living spaces, and simplicity - and not just because simple things were easier to replace should things happen.
She was concerned for other reasons, too - this was excessive, but it wasn't fifty thousand dollars of excessive. She didn't want to imagine what the other floors looked like.
"Tony," she said. The movers stopped where they stood, and Tony spun around, eyes wide.
"Pepper!" He blinked, trying for innocent and missing it by a mile. "Hi, hey Pep! What - what are you doing here, isn't it - I'm, I'll admit I'm not entirely sure what time it is, but I am fairly certain it is still work hours for those of you who structure your lives around such things."
"First off: out," she told the movers, who fled. "Secondly, I'm here because Accounts called me - "
Tony snapped his fingers. "And how is... uh, why am I picturing beehive hair? Does Accounts have beehive hair?"
"Janice is on vacation," she added before Tony could try to redirect further. ("Right, the yeoman," he said; Pepper ignored him.) "They called me to ask me if you had really bought fifty thousand dollars worth of home decorating supplies."
"Fifty thousand?" Tony wondered. "Was it really - "
"And I had to tell Estefanía 'Well, gee, I don't know! I don't see why he would, since all of his houses and apartments are fully furnished, and he has no reason to buy such things for anyone but himself, but I doubt his card's been stolen, so I'll go check.'"
Tony visibly stopped himself from voicing protest, instead pointing an accusing finger at her. "There is no way you said, 'Well, gee'."
"I was paraphrasing, Tony!" Rubbing a hand across her forehead, Pepper waved off whatever Tony was about to say next. "It's not like I don't get it, Tony. I get it. But this?" She spread her arms wide, encompassing the big open floor plan that had looked so promising in hologram form, crowded up with meaningless things. "Does this really seem like what he would want? Do any of them?"
Tony wilted. "I..."
"I just... what were you thinking, Tony?"
"I don't know. Really, I don't know." He averted his eyes, shrugging. "Maybe... if I made their floors look terrible, they'd have to come change things around? And then I could say, 'Hey, since you've already fixed up the place to your liking, you might as well stay in it.' And then they'd... be here." He looked up at her, expression lost. "I haven't wanted people around like this... basically ever. You, Rhodey, that's about it up to now. I - I'm kinda flying blind here, Pepper."
Pepper bit down on her first two impulses, pulling Tony into a hug. "Bruce is here," she reminded him. "He seems content with the guest room, doesn't he?"
"He'd be content with a sheet under a lean-to," Tony muttered into her shoulder.
"My point is, he's not going to stay or leave because of what you do to the walls. Neither is anyone else." Pepper looked up at that shade of green, grimaced, and cautiously added, "Though... you might want to - "
"Change the walls?" Tony snorted a laugh. "Yeah, I was counting on that being a no-go."
Pepper smiled to herself, squeezing Tony tight before pulling back. "They'll come or they won't, on their own terms," she told him. "You can't force their hand."
He looked like he wanted badly to take that as a challenge. Pepper stared him down and he laughed again, nodding. "Alright, alright, I give. You heard the lady," he snapped at his robots, "drop the curtains." Cloth fell to the floor, accompanied by confused whirring.