Notes: WHAT. I know, four years to update is horrible. Can I offer this fic as an apology? Unbeta'd, so all mistakes are my own.
Title: Weight In Gold
Theme #9: Gold
Summary: Pepper learns the weight of gold.
Pepper can count on both hands the number of times she's thought of quitting.
And for ten years of working for Tony Stark, she figures it could have been a lot worse.
When Tony disappears, she doesn't immediately fall to her knees and cry. Instead, she blinks at Rhodey and briefly wonders if this is a prank. The seriousness in his voice tells her it's not.
It doesn't really hit her he's gone until she needs to enter his home. Pepper's pulse races and she can't ignore the tightening of her chest as she drives up the driveway and stops in front of his house.
Jarvis has CNN displayed on the large, glass windows and it's only when Tony's reported dead that Pepper falls to her knees and realizes just how much she's missed him.
He has nightmares.
Tony never told her and Pepper has never asked. But sometimes she finds him in the workshop, asleep among robotic arms and metal tools and he looks like he's in pain. His muscles twitch beneath his skin and his lips curl into a frown.
Sometimes he makes small noises. Mostly little grunts and groans, but sometimes, he screams.
Pepper hates it when he screams.
But when she gently grabs his hand and strokes his hair, his whimpers turn into comforted sighs and finally, he sleeps silently.
There was a time in Pepper's life when picking up bullet-riddled pieces of metal and cleaning wounds wasn't part of her job description.
But then again, she'd rather pick up scraps of metal than scraps of clothes and the broken hearts that went with them.
She watches him fly through the air and her stomach lurches into her throat. Worry, nervousness and—she'll never admit it to his face—a little bit of anger courses through her veins.
He'll come home hours later, the suit chipped away and broken in places, but the look of accomplishment will ease her fears. He'll talk of how he saved an entire city and in that moment, she'll gently squeeze his hand and her heart will swell with pride.
She might not tell him she's proud of him, but somehow Pepper always thinks he knows.
Tony comes home barely clinging to consciousness. Pepper removes the suit, leaving the damaged pieces strewn about the floor of Tony's workshop. Through her anger, she drags him to the old leather couch and lets out a cry as she struggles to haul him onto the cushions.
He doesn't respond when she begins cleaning the dirt and blood from his face or when she bandages the cuts on his arms, chest and back.
He doesn't respond when her resolve cracks and she's sobbing, her head resting next to his and her hand on his heart.
Later, she's woken by Tony slipping between her sheets and pressing his warm body into hers. She turns to face him, eyes tired from crying and sheer exhaustion and stares at the bruised face before her.
Gently, he brings his hand up to her face and wipes away her tears and pulls her closer.
Pepper doesn't ask questions, doesn't kick him from the bed. She doesn't protest the coarse skin of his palm gliding down her spine or the press of his lips along her collarbone. She doesn't resist the feel of his skin on hers, the warm press of his hips into hers.
She doesn't oppose when he hands her his heart and whispers her name like a prayer. And as he comes, she cradles him in her arms, the bruised and battered man trying so hard to prove he can be the man he was born to be.
Pepper never pegged Tony as a romantic.
Over the years, she's seen his brand of romance and the lust-filled stares, overtly sexual words and unfulfilled promises weren't her cup of tea. So, when he started leaving her little love notes—cute ones—in her office, her car and on her Blackberry, Pepper knew he'd changed.
And when one day over breakfast Tony nonchalantly asks her if she'd ever consider marrying him, Pepper blinks up at him before her mouth curves into a smirk. Softly, she cups his face and laughs when he turns to kiss her palm.
She nods and he grins like a little boy on Christmas day.
He still jets around the world, his clear sense of purpose unwavering. Sometimes he'll be gone for weeks at a time and come home battered and bruised. Sometimes he'll only be gone a day, come home looking better than ever and sweep Pepper into his arms.
But no matter where he goes or how long he's gone, the weight of the simple gold band on their left ring fingers anchor them in place.