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a camel through a needle

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Tony doesn't usually go to interviewers, letting them come to him when he even deigns to give interviews at all, but these fucking people, they will not stop calling until Tony gives them a studio interview. They go to Pepper's PA first, and she sends them to Pepper's charity, and they kick them to Tony's PR department, and Tony's PR department launches them at Tony's PA, and Tony's PA throws his hands up and threatens to quit until Pepper finally just puts it in Tony's calendar.

Tony needs a new PA. This one really just doesn't have the testicular fortitude for this job.

Tony makes it to the interview about an hour late, which is fairly early when you run on Stark time. As he makes his way up to the studio, complaining all the while, Pepper goes around the corner for a cup of coffee and some breakfast. It won't do to have them see her with Tony, not if she doesn't want to get sucked into the gravitational pull of his interview; gone are the days when it was because of her profession, but newly arrived are the days when she's become a public figure herself, for reasons other than being Tony Stark's girlfriend.

Her charity is doing well, better than projected, though she and Tony are both ignoring the amount of money he pumps into it every month. Turns out people are more interested in helping the needs of sex workers when there's a pretty, respectable face championing them, someone who- in their opinion- has proven that fallen women are in fact redeemable.

Pepper's not above taking money from people she wants to punch in the mouth.

Breakfast finished, she heads up to where the interview is going on, slipping quietly into the studio. They've gotten to the part where they're talking about the skyscraper that Tony's building. The interviewer is asking a bunch of questions about the arc reactor that clearly indicate that he has no real idea what an arc reactor is or what it does; this is not unusual. Tony is giving them the usual answers, followed by subtle and not so subtle slights at the interviewer's intelligence and reading comprehension.

The interviewer finally sits back, flipping through his notes, looking for the next topic. He finds what he's looking for and leans in again. "Now, I just have to ask what everybody's asking-"

"Do you really?" Tony says; the look on his face says he knows what's coming and doesn't like it. "Didn't you just say that everybody already asked it?"

The interviewer laughs. So that's how it is; he's the type who can't read Tony, doesn't understand how there's a thin separation between mordant and angry. "Mister Stark, your partner Pepper Potts-"

"She's amazing, she really is, but I gotta tell you, she's terrible with arc reactors," Tony cuts in.

"As a former prostitute-"

"Sex worker," Tony corrects, seemingly off-handedly. "We're calling them sex workers now. I got a memo about it."

"How does that affect your relationship?" the interviewer asks, sounding proud of himself for asking the same hard-hitting- where 'hard-hitting' means 'asshole'- question as everyone else. "What's your take?"

"I used to pay her for sex, and that was illegal," Tony says, sitting back, in the flippant tone that he uses when he's about to go off. "Now I just pay all of her bills and let her live with me rent-free, and for some reason I seem to be entitled to all the sex I want. Funny how that works."

That's Pepper's cue to step in, because the last thing Tony needs is to snap on a reporter. Biting sarcasm and killer soundbites, those are what they interview Tony for in the first place, but this guy's dancing on the line between that and a good solid 'fuck you, you don't know me' right now. Besides, this is the ultimate distraction: an interview with Tony is a story, but an interview with both of them is a victory.

"How's it going, honey?" Pepper asks, putting her hand on Tony's shoulder, the pet name a signal that he needs to watch himself.

"Right on time, babe," Tony says. She lets him pull her into his lap, sitting sideways and putting her arms around his neck. "Fringe benefit of paying her bills, I get interview cuddles. What was your next question?"

Pepper's gambit works perfectly. The interviewer is so gobsmacked by his good fortune that he forgets what he's doing and proceeds to lob softballs for half an hour before leaving. Pepper stands, giving Tony a hand up. "Am I allowed to send out a press release that just says 'Fuck you' a bunch of times?" Tony asks.

"Not after the last time," she tells him. "Meet you downstairs?"

He kisses her. "Ten minutes or I leave without you."

She smiles at him "You should be more worried about Happy leaving you than me."

"I wish you were wrong," he says. "Ten minutes."

Pepper is downstairs in eight, and Tony is already in the car, eating something in between sips of coffee that is no doubt doctored. "What are you eating that's bright purple?" Pepper asks, frowning.

"King cake," he says, through a mouthful of pastry. "Had it flown in from Louisiana. Want a bite?" He carves off a piece, spearing it with his fork. "Take a bite. It's Mardi Gras."

Pepper shakes her head. "I'm fine."

"Just a little bite, come on," Tony cajoles, holding it out to her. "I promise I didn't get the strawberry one."

Sometimes Tony still gets his own way, even if it involves eating strange baked goods. She lets him feed it to her; it's very sweet, slightly crunchy from all the sugar. "It's good."

"What did I tell you?" he says triumphantly. He takes another bite and then sets the plate down, looking at her contemplatively for a long while. "Do you miss it?" he asks. "I want to get our stories straight."

"Do you?" she challenges.

"I miss getting a blowjob whenever I want one," Tony says. He smiles hopefully. "Can I have a blowjob now?"

She gives him an unamused look. "No, Tony."

"No, you don't miss it, or no, I can't have a blowjob?" Tony asks.

"I don't regret it," she says.

"You don't regret that I can't-"

"Save it, Tony."

"I like having you around," he says, which is about the most profound profession of love she can expect from Tony when he's not actively dying. "My bank account likes it better this way."

"You have no idea how much money is in any of your bank accounts," Pepper says. "I don't think you even know how many bank accounts you have."

Tony thinks. "Seventeen."

"Where did you get that number from?" she asks.

"One of them ends in seventeen," he says. "It seemed significant."

Pepper rolls her eyes, leaning over to kiss him. He tastes like bourbon and sugar and coffee, just right; she puts her hand on the back of his neck to pull him close, her fingers brushing the short, soft hair there. They break away from each other when the car starts moving, slightly startled by the pull into traffic.

He doesn't notice that she's grabbed his king cake away from him until they've parted. "Hey," he says, trying to take it back.

"You shouldn't have given it to me," she says, holding it out of his reach. "I like it now."

"At least share," Tony says, looking put out. "I shared with you."

"In a minute," she says, eating a piece and licking the icing off the fork.

Tony narrows his eyes. "Now that was because I asked for a blowjob."

Pepper smiles and takes another bite.