He told her about Afghanistan sometimes, but only in the dead of night, when all the lights were out in mansion and he was wrapped up in Pepper's arms. He had nightmares, she had always known about those, but he hadn't told her about the cause of them until they'd started sleeping together.
She held him close to her, cradled his head against her chest, kissed his hair and stroked his back. She coaxed the words from him, knowing he wanted to talk, needed to talk about what had happened in his lost three months.
He was never going to go see a psychologist, it had been hard enough to convince him to see a doctor when he had come back from a mission with a fractured skull. There were some things even Pepper couldn't fix, as much as she hated to admit it.
In the darkness and the faint light of his reactor, he told her about Yinsen, whispered the words into her skin. She could barely hear them sometimes, but never asked him to speak up. She barely said anything while he spoke in those moments, until he was either weeping or falling to sleep, when she would shush him and tell him she loved him.
What else could she say?
She knew men had been tortured worse, but this man's torture, this man's experience hurt her more than anything else she had heard about. Of all the things that told her she loved him, the pain was the biggest indicator. The worst and the best.
The sex meant nothing compared to the words he offered her in the darkness of his room. Of his heart. The sex was good, there was never any doubt about that, but this, his secrets, it was so much more beautiful.
He surprised her one night, after she collapsed back onto the bed, after he had left her panting. Had left them both panting. He had gathered her up in his arms and had asked her about the three months while he'd been in Afghanistan. About her lost months.
"What do you want me to say?" she whispered into his chest, into the blue light.
"I don't want you to say anything Pepper," he muttered, "if you don't want to."
She wanted to cry, cry into his chest, but she'd managed to keep her tears from him so far. She didn't want him to think she was anything but perfectly strong. Perfectly perfect.
So she didn't answer, curled up closer into his warmth and closed her eyes.
"I love you."
He asked again, a few weeks later, climbing into the bed behind her, pulling her into his arms again, and holding her too tightly for her to breath comfortably. But she didn't squirm or struggle out of the tight grasp, she let him hold her because he needed to.
He needed to know.
"I didn't, I did whatever I could, at first, that's all I did. Tried to find you, tried to keep the business going and-"
"And keep the hounds at bay," he cut in.
"And after that?" he asked.
"I all but moved into the mansion," she mumbled.
"You missed me." He noted it as fact.
She turned around in his arms and kissed him.
"I love you," she said, ending the conversation.
He didn't ask again.
He told her more about Afghanistan. About carrying the car battery around, seeing the stockpile of his own weapons fill the canyon. Every word hurt, but with every word she loved him more.
She didn't know if he didn't ask more about her own lost three months because he didn't think there was any more, or if because he knew not to push. Like she hadn't pushed him.
One night, she woke him up from sleep, and he almost jumped out of bed, only stopping when she grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.
"What's wrong?" he asked urgently, stroking his hand over her cheek, then down to her neck.
"O-kay," he kissed her lightly, "you woke me up for a booty call?"
She laughed softly, smiling in the blue glow and he relaxed back into the bed.
"No," she said, settling into his arms.
He sounded disappointed and she chuckled again.
"I slept in your bed," she said in a quiet voice, "when you were gone."
He didn't say anything and she tensed up again.
"I don't know why," she continued, "I just, couldn't sleep. I didn't sleep much even when I was in here."
She shrugged, and he shifted a little beneath her, kissing her temple. She relaxed again and waited for him to respond. When he didn't immediately, she spoke again.
"Why?" he asked, with a little laugh.
"I, you didn't say anything."
"I'm not sure what to say to a woman who loves me so much she felt she could only sleep in my bed while I was missing," he explained, "it's, you're so amazing Pepper."
"Did you sleep naked?" he asked. She laughed, elbowing him in the side and making him yelp.
"Hey, I just want to know how much you missed me."
"I slept in my clothes mostly."
She turned around in his arms, lying half on top of him and kissing him.
"So, booty call?"
"Stop using that phrase, please," she said, "and go back to sleep."
He groaned, his hand wandering down her back and over her backside.
"Mr. Stark," she muttered, swatting his hand away. "Go to sleep, or I will make you go to see a psychiatrist."
"You wouldn't," he said, "oh...of course you would."
"I don't need doctors Potts. I just need you."
"I love you too."
The settled down together, eyes closing and Pepper felt herself drifting off to sleep.
"What else did you sleep in, when you were in my bed?" he asked.
"Go to sleep Tony."