Note: Rated for language. And snarkiness. First thing I've done on here for years. Be nice?
5 Things that Never Happened to Tony Stark
He wakes up in the morning in a sea of pillows, and he's alone.
He can still catch perfume on the sheets, and something else entirely, but in groggily sitting up, he can tell she's been gone for awhile.
And then Pepper's here, yes, Pepper with the morning paper and scalding black coffee and she's yanking open the digital blinds and the sunlight is streaming in. "Morning," she says, busy scraping up his randomly flung items of clothing. "Your girlfriend left an hour ago. That's a first for you, isn't it?"
His hand is in his hair. "You're aware I'm naked under this sheet, right."
She ignores him. "You've got a meeting with your new contractors in an hour and a conference call with the DOD in an hour and a half. Do I need to reschedule?"
"Nope." He takes the proffered coffee. "Thanks." A deep, burning swallow. "Ow."
She smiles fondly at him. "Don't worry. You'll be over the heartbreak soon enough."
"I would hope." He puts the coffee aside, pulls the sheets around his waist, and pads across the floor to the bathroom. "Stop staring at my ass, Miss Potts."
"Stop stroking your ego, Mr. Stark." And they're even.
He's touching the surprisingly cool glow in his chest, sharp metal through his shirt, eyes open at nothing. There's still bits of pain when he moves—the purpled spread of a bruise on his right forearm, a deep speckled scab all over his left knee.
He's back there. Drowning three, four, six times, water sliding into his cold chest. The hard crack of an M-16 against his chin when he snapped at a guard, the dirt scraped into his hands as he gripped the uneven floor and spat blood. Meeting the cold stares of his captors without knowing whether or not one would put a bullet between his eyes.
Pepper's heels are coming down the stairs and when he jerks alert, tears splash into his lap. His hands are shaking a bit, adrenaline and remembering, but his heart isn't pounding like it should be. He hasn't been able to feel it for three months, though he's sure as hell tried. He can see her coming down the stairs and he says, strangled at first, "Not now."
"Scotch," she says, doing her best to look away.
"In ten," he answers, and after a moment's hesitation she rounds back up the steps. His wrist is under his nose, hand still buzzing, eyes burning slightly. "Pull yourself together." he snaps to himself, and sniffles wetly. "You've got work to do."
He wakes up alone in the middle of the night and mutters, with passion, "Fuck." He rolls to his back (sleeping on his side presses him around the metal occupying his chest) and links his hands behind his head. This is the third night in a row. It's not that he can't sleep (he can, but his dreams either consist of Afghani torture, or watching Pepper bring him coffee brilliantly naked, and each is depressing for its own reasons). It's just that ever since he's returned he's been brooding, which keeps him awake.
Fine. Fine, there's no way around it: he's lonely.
It's almost three. If he wanted, he could go out and in twenty minutes be back with a gorgeous blonde. But he doesn't have the energy to explain the arc reactor, nor the libido enough to abandon someone else at the end. There are no regrets, though, at least not for his past. It's just for things he hasn't gotten to yet, things that definitely explain the empty ache in his chest (besides the other one).
Wincing, knowing the answer, he tried, "Is Pepper still here?"
Pepper slapped him, hard, and the sharp smack of it faded as the two sat staring at one another, wide-eyed, each as surprised as the other while he held his stinging cheek. "Oh," she breathed.
"Ow!" he said, stunned. After all this—after barely defeating Stane, after being pummeled almost to pieces, scratched and bleeding and bloody and dirty, just coming around from unconsciousness and blowing up half of his own industry—she slaps him? He cried, "What the hell was that for?"
"For almost doing it again."
He tried to breathe; God, everything hurt. "Doing what, Pepper, come on—"
"You were almost killed. Again." She blinked back tears. "You great glowing oaf. And you almost made me do it to you. You could be dead, Stark."
"Well." Was he bleeding from that slap? It was possible. That blood on his fist could be coming from anywhere. "I'm not dead." He finally looked at her, and felt his—reactor? Fucking hell—practically twist in his chest. He softened his voice, moved his hand over hers on his shoulder. "I'm still here."
When he's screwing around with other women, his brain shuts off. He's moving his lips, he's using his hands and hips, and she moans, can't believe how he does this, but he's always somewhere else. Equations and the gala that night and whether he'll get up early to finish working on the Audi.
This is completely different. Suddenly, in these few seconds, he's doesn't know what the hell to do, because he's so used to not thinking about it. Here he's thinking about this so hard that he's frozen and can't move his lips forward a single inch to connect with Pepper's. They can taste each other's breath, and adrenaline churns in his stomach, but he can't move.
He's hesitated too long. The moment's gone and they both stand down. She pulls herself out of the aura of his brilliant clean scent, dizzy; he blinks and clears his throat, unused to feeling so awkward. Damned if he has to any longer.
"Pepper," he says.
She can barely look at him. "Mr. Stark."
"Oh, come back here." He leans again and finally his mouth takes hers, warm and wet and his tongue past her lips and her hands into his hair and his hands are in the small of her back and he's pulling her impossibly close. There's no distractions, no math or Afghanistan, just his arms full of Pepper, curls and heat and a strength in her grip on his arms that he should have known was there, his breathing heavy between them and—
James Rhodes actually exclaims aloud when he discovers them; they pull apart in a fluster. "What the—! You should be up there now, Tony!"
"Yeah, probably." He looks at Pepper. "Save my place?"
She's biting her lip with her grin. He looks nervous—odd on him, but enjoyable. "Yes, Mr. Stark."
"Hey, hey, none of that now. My tongue was just down your throat." He's gone.
"Charming," James grins, and follows him out. "You coming, Pepper?"
"Right." she mutters, still feeling the scratch of stubble around her lips, and follows James into the press conference on wobbly legs.