"I hate jet lag," Pepper muttered, tossing her laptop bag almost carelessly onto the couch right before she flopped down beside it and rubbed her temples. "It gives me a headache. Literally."
Tony shot her an amused look. "Funny to hear you complaining about something like that, Potts."
"Yes, usually you beat me to it," she responded neatly, leaning back and closing her eyes. "I think that's a testament to just how much I do hate jet lag. I still have no idea what time zone we're in."
"We're home, so it's Pacific," Tony offered facetiously. She opened her eyes long enough to give him a Look, but her fatigue reduced its strength, and he chuckled softly in response, sitting down next to her.
"You know what I mean," she accused. "I have no idea what time zone I'm aligned in. You'd think it'd be Eastern, but no, I really have no idea. I'm just tired, very tired."
"It wasn't that long of a flight," he pointed out, aggravatingly reasonable. She gave him another Look, this one a bit more potent. "What? It wasn't." His voice was a bit injured now, but she wasn't quite in the mood to be repentant. Just tired.
Tony was considering her as she closed her eyes again. The gears in his head were working; she would have recognized that look if she was watching him. "You're having a bath," he announced. She cracked open her eyes questioningly. "No, no arguments, it's decided, you're having a bubble bath with candles and that foamy lavender essential oil stuff and I'll get it all started, I'll handle everything, I'll even bring you tea. No wine, I don't think you need any wine tonight. No arguments, Ms. Potts, you need it."
She gave him a tired smile. "I don't argue when you're right, Mr. Stark."
"You don't?" He raised a brow. "Not ever?"
A soft laugh; exactly what he'd intended. "Okay, usually I don't. Honestly, this sounds like an absolutely wonderful idea, and I am very grateful you thought of it."
She noticed that slight swell of pride. "Hey, what can I say, I have great ideas."
Another soft laugh, more of a throaty chuckle this time. "Sometimes, Mr. Stark."
He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "I'll get it started. Wait here."
"Wasn't planning on moving until I had to," she murmured, and as he rose from the couch, Tony decided he'd better hurry; it sounded like she was likely to fall asleep while he was away.
She didn't fall asleep, but she did drowse, and offered only a few mumbles of objection when he picked her up off the couch to carry her to the bathroom. "Faster this way," he pointed out over her murmurs. She had to agree; damn him for having logic on his side.
He deposited her on the bed first, and as she gave him one of those looks of mixed exasperation and adoration, he started taking off her shoes, lingering a bit over the task – but not too long, not like that, as much as she was sure he'd like to. He then moved upward, slowly and carefully removing her clothing, and when she gave him a faintly suspicious glance, he grinned boyishly at her. "This is for my own benefit," he admitted. "What, you think I'd pass up a chance to undress my wife? Never."
"Mmm, if you did, I'd think you're losing your touch, Mr. Stark," she murmured drowsily, assisting him with the removal of her blouse. Her bra needed no assistance from her; Tony Stark was quite accomplished at that.
He insisted on carrying her into the bathroom too, this time admitting it was mostly because he wanted to hold her, though he set her down carefully outside the tub first. "Check the temperature," he said, gesturing at the display, green digital numbers indicating 103º. "I know you like it hot, but I want to be sure it's okay with you instead of just dropping you in." He finished with a cheeky grin.
"You wouldn't drop me in," she accused as she bent down to test the water, her hand disappearing through a thick layer of lavender-scented bubbles before finding the actual liquid. She swirled her fingers through the water, then stood back up. "Feels just right, Mr. Stark. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Ms. Potts," he said, his eager grin reminding her yet again of a puppy, that cheery "I did a good thing" expression that never failed to make her smile. He then helped her slip into the water, slowly and carefully. "Any jets?"
"Mmm, no, just the water for now, thank you." Tony had indeed lit a few tea lights around the edges of the bathtub, and Pepper was mindful of the candle flames as she lowered herself in, quickly disappearing beneath the bubbles. "Maybe not so much bubble bath next time, Tony," she observed with a smile. "A little goes a long way."
"I'll keep that in mind," he grinned. "I'll leave you alone to relax."
"You don't have to go," she said, surprised at the slight plaintiveness in her voice. He hesitated at the doorway, then shook his head.
"Yes, I do. I need to get out of these clothes, I need to get our bags moved out of the way, and oh yeah, I need to cover the bed with rose petals for you when you're done with your bath."
She rolled her eyes. Yet she could definitely see him doing that, so she couldn't let it go without comment. "That won't be necessary, Mr. Stark."
"Where would you get rose petals at this time of day, anyway?" she asked, trying to appeal to logic, or at least the twisted Tony version of logic.
He looked pained. "Ms. Potts, I'm a billionaire. If I can't get rose petals for my wife at 7 in the evening on a Sunday night, what good is all that money?" She raised her brows, lifting a hand out of the warm water to gesture around her, foam clinging to her arm and dripping down like lazy snow. He laughed. "Point taken, Ms. Potts. Fine, no rose petals this time. But," he paused, his expression shifting again. "If you want me to come back, I will, as soon as I get out of this and into something more comfortable."
She smirked. "Is something more comfortable going to be your birthday suit, Mr. Stark?"
He matched her smirk. "It just might, Ms. Potts."
She rolled her eyes again. "Behave, Tony."
"I am behaving." He looked injured now.
"Right. Go do what you need to do, then get back here and make sure I don't fall asleep in here. Though if I do drown, at least I'll go out with the scent of lavender," she observed with amusement.
"Jarvis won't let you drown, will you, Jarvis?"
"Of course not, sir."
It was easy to forget about the omnipresent AI, but Pepper also didn't feel any sense of intrusion when he suddenly spoke. She took it as a sign of just how used to him she'd gotten after moving in with Tony. Not that she hadn't been before, but it was different when you were going about your daily business – like bathing – and you were technically in his disembodied presence. "Thank you, Jarvis," she said in a warmly amused voice.
"Of course, madam," came the diffident reply.
She smiled. "Okay, Tony, you heard Jarvis. The sooner you go, the sooner you can come back."
"You have a point," he said, bending down to kiss her forehead before he left. "Be right back."
"Don't take too long," she called as he disappeared out the door, shutting it behind him – he knew she liked to keep the hot air trapped in the room so that stepping out of the bath didn't chill her. It was the little things like that, the little changes, the little courtesies, all the ways he thought about her and proved it; she fell in love with him all over again with each one.
Pepper then focused on relaxing. It wasn't hard to do, surrounded with lavender scented bubble bath, hot water (she really liked her bath water hot), and the flicker of tea lights that were all but lost in the ambient lighting of the room. "Jarvis? Dim the lights to about 40%, please," she asked, and the room slowly darkened. Much better, she decided; she could actually appreciate the candles now, but it wasn't so dark that she was on the verge of falling asleep. She rested her head back and closed her eyes, trusting that Jarvis would be able to tell between resting her eyes and actually dropping off. Somehow. She honestly wasn't sure what his limitations were, but it seemed that he would certainly be capable of this. She found her sore muscles relaxing while time flowed indeterminably, and she wished idly that she'd thought to have some music playing. Then again, this had all been Tony's idea; it wasn't like she'd had any time to prepare for anything. Next time, she decided, before her thoughts drifted again, from consideration of Jarvis' capabilities onward to other topics. The meeting they'd just attended in New York; the upcoming appointments; where she wanted to go for lunch with Tony this Wednesday; how he'd gazed at her last night in the afterglow in the five star hotel room that was still not as luxurious as their home. She lingered on that thought a bit longer than the rest.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed before Tony returned, but it didn't seem like it had been too much. She noted the glow of the arc reactor first as she turned her head toward the opening door; he was shirtless, and in fact seemed to be wearing only boxers. Well, that was almost naked, a tired and easily-amused part of her brain pointed out with a giggle, and she stifled it before it could escape. Instead, she greeted him. "Welcome back." Vaguely she was aware that he had promised her tea earlier but had apparently forgotten; she found she didn't care anymore.
"Thanks. I missed you terribly." He crouched beside her, and she slid a hand out of the water and suds to rest on his.
"I missed you too, even if you weren't gone that long," she said, judiciously avoiding the fact that she really wasn't sure how long it had been.
"Long enough. You know I don't like being away from you."
She smiled. "Funny, you do seem to manage."
"Managing isn't being completely fine with it, you know that." He bent his head to kiss her wet hand, and she smiled before withdrawing it back into the tub.
"I know. Still." She was too tired and too relaxed to come up with much more, and she knew he noted this.
"You should finish up soon, you're going to fall asleep and then Jarvis will have to wake you up and you'll be cranky instead of relaxed, you're supposed to be relaxed from the bath."
"Mmm, you have a point, Mr. Stark," she murmured. It hadn't been a very long bath, but it had relaxed her, and that headache that had been plaguing her had disappeared completely sometime since she'd climbed in. It was probably best not to press her luck. She leaned forward and lifted her arms to the sides.
"Here, let me help," and Tony was assisting her up. Not moments after she stood and stepped out of the tub, water dripping down her body in rivulets illuminated by flickering candlelight, he had turned to her with a big fluffy towel. It was warm, which drew out a delighted murmur from her. "Only the best for my wife," he responded, smiling and supplying another for her hair. Once most of the water was removed, he stripped off the towel and replaced it with a robe, and picked her up a third time. She didn't even start to protest this time; the hot water had robbed her of any strength except what kept her standing, so she definitely didn't mind being carried to the bed and being laid carefully on it. No rose petals, she noted, but she was sure Tony had really wanted to get them. He'll probably do it next time.
"There," he murmured as he kissed her forehead again, a gesture she'd felt a lot of tonight, and was starting to gladly anticipate. "Don't you feel better?"
"A lot, thank you," she answered, her own voice quiet and throaty. "That was just what I needed, Tony."
"You're welcome, Pepper." He had that half-smile that sometimes infuriated her and sometimes endeared her and sometimes did both in varying mixtures, but this time it was entirely endearing.
"And what about you?" she asked, suddenly realizing that she should have been the one making sure that Mr. Stark was relaxed and rested after his cross-country flight. She hadn't stopped being his assistant when she married him, though it had most certainly changed their relationship dynamic in very interesting ways.
"Shh," and he kissed her, effectively silencing her. "I'm taking care of you now. I can do that, I'm your husband, in fact, I think there's something in our marriage contract that says I have to."
She laughed, soft but rich in the dim bedroom light. "I'm fairly sure there isn't, but that would have been a good idea."
"Well, I don't know, I'm not going to check, I'll have to operate as if it is." He kissed her again, a longer, lingering kiss that didn't quite go too far, but it was a close thing; it was always a close thing with them, but her tiredness was too large an obstacle to overcome. He started to pull the blankets over her and she stirred.
"Mmm, I can't sleep like this, my hair will be a disaster if I sleep with a towel on it," she objected quietly.
"Then you'll shower in the morning like I know you plan to do anyway and it'll be fine," he informed her with another too-right dose of Tony logic. "Sleep, Pepper. You need it."
She sighed softly and closed her eyes. "Stay with me?" she asked, that plaintive note creeping back into her voice. Of course he would have come to bed with her – eventually. But he usually couldn't resist using a bit of spare time to tinker with the armor in the shop, and Pepper wanted him with her now, not eventually.
He put her sleepy concerns to rest. "Of course." One more kiss, and then she felt him slide under the blankets beside her. "Jarvis, lights out," he directed, and now the only light was the familiar and reassuring glow of his reactor. She smiled and turned toward him, that steady blue glow the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes and drifted off to a very relaxed sleep.