He couldn't really avoid the front page of the tabloid that Jarvis had, so very kindly, displayed for him, blown up to ridiculous proportions. More to the point, he couldn't avoid looking at the picture of him and the tall, undeniably attractive, red dressed brunette plastered all over the front page of said tabloid. Tony groaned. He sort of remembered talking to… Marcia? Maria? Umm… Betty? Well, whatever her name was, she'd just been someone he'd talked to at the previous nights'… thing. Whatever charity that event had been for.
And now? Now he was apparently cheating on Pepper, which was completely ridiculous, because he’d never do that to Pepper. She was Pepper, for God's sakes and you did not do things like that to Pepper and get away with it.
Besides, did everyone really think he couldn't help himself whenever a beautiful woman was close?
That was all completely aside from the fact that no one seemed to have caught on to the fact that he and Pepper had broken up months ago. There was no one to cheat on, since he wasn't dating anyone.
"Jarvis, buddy, why do I need to see this?"
"Sir, in your last conversation with Miss Potts, she expressed the wish that if she is to be cheated on, you should attempt to make sure it is with someone that doesn't make her look bad. I believe she would not meet up with the requirements set by Miss Potts."
Too bad buying up all the tabloids wouldn't help; they'd just whine at him about the freedom of press and be annoying. It wasn't worth the bother.
"I don't think she was being serious. We broke up," Tony said, gesturing with the… soldering iron in his hand. Why was he…? He looked at the workbench in front of him, oh, yeah that's right. "Pepper was there, I'm pretty sure she knows about it. Besides, it's not like she gave me a list."
"Indeed, sir," Jarvis said, his voice drier than the dessert. And Tony knew all about how dry those were. "Also, sir, you're still wearing the tuxedo from last night’s event, which I might add, is now stained and burned beyond repair."
"It's not like I was going to use it again, anyway." Tony dismissed the issue. "And since you're just burning to tell me, what's the time now?"
"It's three in the afternoon sir. You haven't slept in thirty-one hours," Jarvis pronounced, sounding to Tony's ears far too smug about it. "You have a meeting with Agent Coulson in forty-five minutes."
That made Tony pause for a moment. He couldn't actually figure out a reason why he'd have a meeting with Agent not-so-dead-after-all-Coulson, who did, after all, have his own team to contend with these days. If Tony felt ever so slightly betrayed by that, it wasn't something he was ever going to mention to the man.
"Because, sir, you don't like Agent Sitwell."
So, S.H.I.E.L.D was catering to the billionaire again, which meant they either wanted his money or his tech for something and they thought Coulson was the best bet for talking him into something or other. Tony loved being loved.
He pushed away from the workbench. "Well, I should probably go change then. I wouldn't want Agent to think I didn't care."
"Very well, sir. Might I also suggest a quick shower?"
"I'm not five years old Jarvis, I can manage to clean myself up without your supervision," he said as he headed out of the workshop.
"Whatever you say, sir. In the meantime, shall I make you a list?"
Tony waved a hand at the air, not exactly sure what Jarvis was talking about this time, maybe there was actually something specific he was about to go talk to Coulson about. "Sure, you do that."
The meeting with Coulson had ended up being about the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D wasn't too thrilled about Tony's idea of trying to convince all of the Avengers to move into the newly repaired Stark Tower (he was all set to change it to the Avengers Tower, just as soon as everyone agreed). The convincing was still an ongoing project really, Bruce was the only one who'd moved in so far, mostly because he had no place else to go. It's not like Tony didn't realise it was a potentially disastrous idea, but it was his idea and he was sticking with it. Besides, he doubted S.H.I.E.L.D was worried about potential roommate issues, more like Fury was worried S.H.I.E.L.D would lose even the little control over the Avengers that they had now, which in Tony's book wasn't a bad thing.
Of course, the meeting had ended up being pointless. Tony wasn't about to change his mind now – not when he'd almost sold Steve on the idea, the man was just reluctant to give up his apartment in the Bronx – and Coulson post-death had totally, secretly, liked the idea. So they'd made a show out of it, and now Coulson could report back to S.H.I.E.L.D about how unreasonable Tony was and go back to his own team.
It was afterwards when Tony was about ready to crash into bed – literally, he was in his boxers, and about to fall into bed – that Jarvis decided to pick up where they'd, apparently, left of earlier.
"I believe I have compiled a satisfactory list of candidates, sir."
Ignoring the voice for a moment, Tony fell down into bed and pulled the blanket over himself. He closed his eyes and asked: "Candidates for what?"
"Of people who would meet Miss Potts' requirements of "not making her look bad,"" Jarvis said, like that was actually something Tony had asked him to do.
Tony wondered if he didn't open his eyes, if he could just pretend this was a dream. In fact, he was betting this was a dream, because otherwise this was a thing that had just happened. "Jarvis," he said slowly. "I don't need a list of people I can sleep with."
"Sir, considering some of the people, I believe "date" would perhaps be more appropriate," Jarvis corrected him, in a distinctly disapproving tone of voice.
Tony took a sip of his coffee as he stared down at the list of names on his StarkPad, wondering if four in the morning was either too late or too early for a drink. So he kept slightly irregular hours, he'd gone to sleep at six, it wasn't like he was going to sleep all the way to morning – or morning for regular people anyway, he supposed this was morning for some.
Screw it. He put down the StarkPad momentarily and reached for the bottle of very nice single-malt. There wasn't anyone to disapprove, he thought as he poured himself a drink. Much, much better than coffee.
He picked up the StarkPad again. So, there was a list. An actual list with names of people whom his very advanced AI had decided were appropriate for him to start dating, or that his very advanced AI thought Pepper would think was appropriate for him to start dating, he was still a bit fuzzy on that part.
He would definitely need to take a look at Jarvis' code.
"Tell me again, what was the order?" Because this was the morbidly fascinating part.
"They're all the people you have shown to be potentially interested in, that Miss Potts would not mind seeing herself "being dumped for" as far as the tabloids are concerned, sir."
"Why is Loki on the list?" Granted, he was the last one on there, but still. And how exactly had Jarvis decided who Tony was or wasn't interested in?
"Ah, Miss Potts thought that in that case she could at least claim that you had been mind controlled, sir. And you did seem to have quite the rapport with Loki, in the brief time that you spent with him."
Tony wasn't exactly sure which part of that he should address. He threw back the whiskey still left in the tumbler, and poured himself another, deciding that in this case it was better to just move on.
"And Agent?" Who had apparently gotten ranked number three in the list of acceptable people Tony Stark might want to sleep with.
"Miss Potts likes Agent Coulson," Jarvis stated as if that was all the explanation needed.
"And that leaves Rhodey and all of the Avengers!" The StarkPad clattered against the table where he'd dropped it. That did put the whole rooming with the Avengers idea into a slightly different light. "I don't want to sleep with Rhodey," he muttered.
"In that case, I shall remove Colonel Rhodes from the list, sir. I had thought that perhaps there was a possibility to build on the already close bond between yourself and Colonel Rhodes."
Tony's head thunked against the table, in a way that sounded rather satisfying in the moment, but would have him regretting the move a few seconds later.
"Shall I take it that you have no objections about the rest of the list then, sir?"
"Jarvis," Tony said into the table. "I don't want to talk about this. I don't want to think about this. In fact I'm going to pretend that this never happened."
"As you say sir."
He needed another drink.
"Tony," Bruce said, looking away from the holographic display in front of him as Tony walked into the lab.
"You wanted me big guy," Tony answered with a grin, spreading his arms out slightly.
"Take a look at this, will you." Bruce nodded at the display, backing away slightly.
Tony moved to stand in front of the display, flicking through the information with practiced ease. "Biochemistry isn't exactly my strong suit," he admitted, as if Bruce didn't know he could out think Tony in more than one field.
Really, Tony didn't blame Jarvis for putting Bruce in as number one on that list of his. He'd be the first to admit he had a hard-on for Bruce's brain.
"Well, there's no one else around to ask," Bruce said, giving Tony that small half smile of his.
"Do you want some? Biochemists? Biologists? Scientists of any kind? I can get them for you, you know."
Bruce gave him a slightly bewildered look, like he didn't quite know how he was supposed to answer. Tony got that look from him a lot, probably because Tony would give Bruce pretty much anything he asked for – a lab, scientists, a basket of puppies. Bruce just never asked, and always seemed a bit lost when Tony offered, like he kept forgetting that whole Tony being a billionaire thing.
"Ah, no, I'm okay," Bruce told him. "Maybe later?" he added tentatively, like maybe his first answer hadn't been enough.
"If there's anything else you need for this," Tony said nodding at the display, "you can just tell Jarvis." And Tony wasn't going to say anything about what he thought about another attempt at a cure.
Maybe a basket of kittens? Everyone liked kittens.
Damn Jarvis and his list anyway.
When he was out of the lab, Tony leaned against the wall and pulled out the StarkPad. He shut his eyes for a moment, resting his head against the wall. When he opened his eyes again he quietly, but resolutely removed Bruce's name from the list.
Jarvis remained thankfully quiet.
In the end Tony thought it might have been telling Steve about his meeting with Coulson earlier in the week that finally convinced the man that moving the Avengers into Stark Tower would be a good idea. Steve hadn't forgotten Fury's lie about Coulson either.
It was at the point where Steve was insisting on making rules, and setting schedules and trying to organise things that Tony started to regret the idea just a little bit.
After the argument that followed, he regretted it quite a bit more. At least Steve would take care of convincing the rest of them, so Tony wouldn't have to.
Tony was happy to remove Steve from the list – he liked Steve, it was just that he and Steve got along a lot better from a bit of a distance, besides, he thought, there might always be Howard's ghost hovering somewhere between them. At least he'd be done with the damned list soon enough, and then he could actually stop thinking about it.
Clint and Natasha were easy enough, Tony realised the moment the two moved in. They were pretty much a package deal – and he still didn't know whether there was anything sexual about it or not, if that even mattered – and that was just too much crazy assassin for even him to deal with.
He was grinning when he eliminated two names from the stupid list. That meant he only had three names left before he was finally done with this, and only one of those was even worth a thought.
By the time Thor finally got back from Asgard, all of the other Avengers were living in the newly named Avengers Tower, and Tony had – thankfully – forgotten all about Jarvis' absolutely ridiculous little list.
(He'd also, among other things, made a bunch of new arrows for Clint, argued with Steve about his drinking habits, updated Steve's armour, summarily refused to participate in "team breakfast", made some more arrows for Clint, updated the Tower's security twice in order to keep S.H.I.E.L.D out of their systems and had two meetings with Pepper.)
It seemed natural for Thor to move in with the rest of them, and the Asgardian himself found nothing strange in it. Though he did remember to thank Tony for the courtesy.
By the time Tony suddenly remembered the list again, he'd been housing the Avenger's for a good five months. And he'd been relegated to drinking in his workshop, since Steve's disapproval was not something he felt like dealing with most of the time. Not that it was that much of a bother, since he spent more time in the workshop than elsewhere anyway. Since Thor knew how to appreciate a good beer, and was more than aware that the best ones were to be found with Tony, it wasn't too surprising that the two of them occasionally ended up drinking together.
"My friend," Thor said, taking another swig from the bottle of beer in his hand, breaking the long silence that had followed a mostly awkward attempt at a discussion about recent, or not so recent, break-ups – at least Tony thought that was what it had been – and the mutual realisation that they weren't drunk enough for that conversation. "Do you enjoy the company of men?"
Tony's beer halted halfway to his own mouth, as he blinked once, very slowly and replayed Thor's words in his mind, trying to figure out if there was some cultural differences at play here, or if Thor had just asked him what he thought he had. Tony might have had a few too many beers to be sure, drinking with an Asgardian would do that to you.
"Ah," Thor said with a knowing nod, "that was too straightforward. I apologise. But some things are very different on Midgard, and I did not want to presume."
Tony blinked again. He still wasn't completely sure about this conversation. "Different?" he asked and finally managed to move his beer to his lips.
"In Asgard I would not need to ask, to clarify your intentions." Thor smiled disarmingly and only very slightly drunkenly. Damn that Asgardian tolerance for alcohol.
And hold on a minute. His intentions? As in Tony's intentions.
"Believe me, I don't have intentions," Tony said very precisely, proud of the fact that he slurred only slightly. How many beers had they had, anyway? "I have the opposite of intentions."
Thor's smile faltered. And Tony was fast to add: "It's not you, it's…" he waved a hand, still holding a beer. "Stupid list," he muttered. Thor looked like a very big, very sad golden retriever. "Believe me I'd be all over that like a monkey on a cupcake if it wasn't for…" Tony started, only to realise he didn't really know where that sentence was going. "Well, you know," he waved his now mostly empty bottle, "everything," he finished and drained the last of the beer.
Thor nodded, the expression on his face stuck somewhere between confused and disappointed. "I understand."
"Aw, fuck," Tony muttered, letting go of the now empty bottle, and instead grabbing a handful of Thor's shirt. He realised after a second or two of absolutely nothing happening, that trying to pull at him wouldn't do anything, and then half fell against Thor, pressing his lips to Thor's in a very sloppy kiss.
He was probably going to regret this later.
Pepper sighed as she wondered if she could just skip answering Tony for once. It had been a long day, and Tony had probably forgotten about the fact that she was on a business trip, and that there was a significant time difference. Meaning that she had been sleeping. Of course, ignoring Tony never really worked for long.
"Tony?" she said into her Stark phone. "If you're not dying, then please call me when I'm not sleeping."
"Right, you're in Tokyo." Tony sounded very much like he'd just realised that. "Sorry. Just don't hang up on me yet," he said in a rush.
The silence stretched out. "Tony?" she asked again, she'd try eloquence when she was actually awake.
"Do you mind if I take Thor out? On a date."
Pepper found herself smiling. Maybe not who she'd imagined it'd be, but it was about time regardless. Though she had to wonder why Tony had actually called and asked her, that wasn't quite like him. "It's none of my business Tony. And now I'm going back to sleep," she said and resolutely hung up on him.
She'd have to find out all about it later. Maybe she'd ask Jarvis.