A Real Iron Man: Chapter 5
Author's note: OMG. I actually finished this? Sorry for the ultra long delay. I have a bad habit of losing interest in a fic and not finishing it, but I get asked a lot if this will ever be finished, and so I just had to. For you guys! I hope you enjoy the final chapeter.
. . . . . . . .
Tony fidgeted with his tie as he stared at himself in the full-length mirror. Tonight he was taking Pepper on their first real date. Dozens, hundreds of times they'd gone out to dinner together, but not like this. He was sweating. His hands were clammy. He was nervous. Tony Stark. Nervous.
"I wasn't drunk..." He'd confessed. "Maybe a teeny bit tipsy, but that was all. My judgement was fine."
Had it been a mistake? If so, why had Pepper admitted to being sober too? To make him feel better? To make it not seem like it wasn't a big deal, when it really and truly was the biggest deal of all deals?
"Sir?" Jarvis spoke. "Are you alright? Your heart rate and body temperature are abnormal."
Tony ignored the system. Was he alright? Would things work out for him? He was so used to everything working out for him, but now…how would he handle it if the most important thing in his life slipped through his hands? The one thing money could never buy, and could not be built from nuts and bolts?
"Gotta go!" He told Jarvis.
Pepper was waiting in the living room, sitting on the sofa. She was wearing a purple dress-simple and elegant at the same time, her hair in some sort of fancy ponytail, down and draped over her shoulder in gentle waves. She smiled at him, biting her bottom lip, and he grinned back at her, almost shyly. Pepper squinted for a fleeting moment, wondering if there could actually be a shy bone in that body.
"Where's Tiny-Mite?" Tony asked, looking around.
"Sleeping," Pepper said quietly, even though the baby was nowhere in the room. "He'll probably sleep until the middle of the night.""It's a good thing we're-" Tony gestured to an imaginary son. "He and I, I mean, are both night owls."
Pepper nodded. Tony nodded too, rocking back and forth on his heels.
"It's getting late," Jarvis broke the silence. "Your reservations, sir.""Yes!" Tony snapped his fingers and closed the short distance between him and Pepper. "Heel-toe. We have reservations." He held his hand out to her.
"Right." Pepper took it and allowed him to pull her from the couch. "I'm ready."
They stared at each other for several seconds, and Jarvis said, "Twenty-three minutes remaining."
"Take care of the baby," Tony told him.
"Of course, Sir," Jarvis replied. "And I will contact you if any problems should arise."
Pepper was surprised that Tony took one of his less flashy cars. He held the door open for her, and offered her the radio instead of just blasting whatever he wanted. Pepper told the advanced stereo system that she wanted to hear Elton John.
"Elton. John. Found," the radio responded in a monotone female voice. "Please pick your song."
Pepper looked at Tony and he shrugged one shoulder.
" 'I Want Love' ", Pepper said, licking her lips. She smiled at Tony, who smiled back and reached over to take her hand in his free one.
The music started, and Tony's rough and calloused thumb brushed over the soft skin of Pepper's lightly freckled hand.
I want love, but it's impossible
A man like me, so irresponsible
A man like me is dead in places
Other men feel liberated
Tony had heard the song many times, but he found himself shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Had Elton John predicted his future? He felt like the lyrics had pinned his wings to the board and was showing everyone what was going on in his head, and even worse, in his heart.
"Tony?" Pepper pulled her hand away. "Are you alright?"
"Me? Yahsurewhywhat'sup?" Tony pretended to clear his sinuses and talk like an auctioneer at the same time.
So bring it on, I've been bruised
Don't give me love that's clean and smooth
I'm ready for the rougher stuff
No sweet romance, I've had enough
Tony knew he was ready for real love. He was ready for one woman, no matter what Pepper thought. He had been with models, actresses. Busty, blonde, full lips, and the most beautiful thing that came to mind was Pepper holding Zachary, smiling at him. Pepper rubbing her swollen belly. Pepper crying-glossy-eyed and blushing, holding onto him as she cried that she needed a place to stay because she was scared.
I want love
"There it is!" Pepper interrupted his thoughts, pointing to the restaurant just up ahead. "Ugh. It's just like old times."
"Come on!" Tony slapped her leg playfully. "This will be fun."
He refused the valet parking and did a crummy job, taking up two spaces, and Pepper couldn't help but roll her eyes and allow herself to be dragged by the hand inside. A bubbly hostess took them to their table- a small table in a corner by the window. The most anybody could see was the back of their heads. A candle burned between them, illuminating their faces and made their eyes seem bigger, more intense. Or was it their imagination?
"Wine?" Tony asked her. "Something stronger?"
"Wine is good," Pepper said.
"How about champagne?" Tony raised his eyebrows.
Pepper cocked her head slightly. "Am I going to find a ring in the bottom of the glass, Mr. Stark?"
"No, of course not. I'd make you dig through your pasta for that," Tony replied, sounding a bit more like the Tony before everything.
The thought seemed to strike them both at the same time.
Neither of them had been drunk. The candle flickered, as if they heavy air was literal and not figurative.
"Pepper, I have to ask you something, " Tony said. "The other day-"
"Hello there!" A waiter approached their table. "How are you two?"
"We're wonderful, thank you," Pepper said.
"Yah, wonderful," Tony said, a little less enthusiastic.
"Are we celebrating something tonight?" The waiter asked, looking between them, grinning like a Jack O' Lantern.
At the same time Pepper said, "No" and Tony said, "Yes'. The waiter's brows furrowed and his smile wilted on one side. He took their drink orders and quickly left incase things got awkward.
"Pepper." Tony tried again, leaning over as far as he could without his tie catching on fire. "You said-"
"You said-" Pepper countered, shrinking back.
"We both said." Tony rolled his eyes. At the same time they said, "Why did you-"
"You go first," Pepper offered.
"I told you before," He said. "I had already had these feelings churning, you know? I was curious I guess. I just couldn't stop myself, but I was too chicken to be honest so I pretended I was drunk."
"Wow." Pepper let out a flat chuckle. "It's so weird."
"Weird?" Tony's brows furrowed.
Pepper smiled at him. "We actually have something in common."
Tony smiled too, and got up. Pepper watched with curiosity as he moved around the little table and took her face in his hands.
"Tony!" She laughed, but it was cut short when he kissed her.
"I love you," Tony said, and then kissed her again.
Pepper knew he meant it this time. He had said it enough, but the new baby, the new something of a relationship, she figured, had his head in the clouds. For years, she had watched women around him, and him around women, and her heart had hurt.
"I…" she pulled herself away, and stared into his eyes. "love you."
Dinner seemed more enjoyable after that, more relaxed, and more familiar. Pepper dabbed at the corner of Tony's mouth with her napkin. Tony sampled her food and fed her bites of his dessert. They held hands back to the car, and in the car, and all the way to the front door. Jarvis gave them a report of baby Zachary-still sleeping.
"Let's go look at him," Tony said, nodding his head in the direction of the nursery.
Zachary stirred slightly, and Pepper picked him up, murmuring soft words to him. Tony squished himself up against her, peering down at the tiny creature that he loved.
"He's wet," Pepper said. "It's like holding a little sponge."
"I'll change him," Tony offered, taking him into his own arms. "And I promise I'll do it myself, even though there's nothing wrong with the diaper-changing droid."
Pepper laughed. "Tony!"
"Promise!" Tony called over his shoulder, walking out of the nursery.
"Diapers are in here!" Pepper called back.
Tony came back in, smiling sheepishly. "Right."
After, they sat on the couch, baby Zachary's head on one of Tony's shoulders, and Pepper's on the other. The stereo played softly and a hologram of a roaring fireplace glowed in the darkness, making comforting crackling sounds.
"So this is it," Tony said softly. "Right?"
"This is what?" Pepper yawned.
"The moment you say yes when I ask you to marry me," Tony said. "Yah?"
Pepper chuckled. "You're so persistent."
"You forgot talented, macho, and good-looking," Tony told her. "Are you ready for bed?"
"Zachary's asleep?" Pepper raised her head, touching the baby's back.
"For a few more hours, yah," he said. "I'll go lay him down."
"Let me give him a kiss first," she said, taking the baby. "Goodnight, Sweetheart."
Tony left, and Pepper yawned again. She went to the bedroom and changed into her nightclothes and then to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. Tony entered shortly and did the same, stripping down to his boxers. They climbed into bed together and Tony said, "Lights."
The lights went out, and Pepper snuggled close to Tony. Her breathing was slow and soft, and she smelled of perfume and baby powder and her own unique scent. How had he ever slept without her right next to him? He kissed the top of her head, and then something dawned on him. He and Pepper had not slept together since that night. They slept together every night, but for nearly a year, Pepper had only laid next to him, not with him. And he was happy. He had been happy. He was happy just to have her beside him. Just to know that she felt safe being in his arms while she slept. He kissed her again, and she stirred.
"Tony?" She murmured.
"Sorry." He kissed her again. "Didn't mean to wake you."
"Mmhmm." She drifted away again.
"Pepper?" He whispered.
She said nothing.
"I really and truly love you." He closed his eyes and ran his fingers over the warm, blue light in his chest. "I really, really love you."
He had just started to drift off to sleep himself when Jarvis sounded. "The baby is awake."
Tony got out of bed and went to the nursery, where small fists flailed through the bars of the crib. Tony picked him up and he settled down.
"Jarvis, a bottle please," Tony said. To Zachary, he said more softly, "I know. I know it's hard being in such a confusing family. One where your dad loves your mom more than classic cars and alcohol and nuclear fission, and she won't say yes to a marriage proposal."
Zachary gurgled softly. A bottle was brought from the ceiling by a robotic appendage and Tony sat in the rocking chair in the corner and began to feed the baby.
"One day, you're going to fall in love, "Tony told him. "Listen to me, son, okay? You're going to fall in love, and your brain's going to go-" he made a soft explosion sound. "It's a mess, but it's the best feeling in the world."
Zachary only blinked slowly, formula dribbling down his chin. Tony dabbed it away and leaned his head back against the thin padding of the chair.
"I love you, Zach," he said. "And your mom, so much."
He felt himself becoming hazy, and Zachary grunted angrily, waking him up. The bottle was empty. Tony opened his eyes and maneuvered him into a position to burp him. Pepper stood in the doorway, smiling. She leaned her head on the doorframe.
"Told you he'd wake up in the middle of the night," Tony said, patting him until he emitted a loud burp. "Good one, Kid."
He put him back in the crib, and stroked some of his dark hair. Pepper was still watching him wordlessly, but her eyes seemed to be in deep concentration. Tony grinned at her as he walked to the door, and his fingers brushed her arm.
"Ask me again," Pepper said.
"Ask you-" Tony yawned, and then his eyes widened. "Huh?"
Pepper took her hands in his, and laced their fingers together. "Ask me again."
"I thought you wanted me to surprise you," Tony said. "To make it special."
"You've surprised me, Tony Stark," she said, moving her face closer. "And you've made it special. You did something for me." She bit her bottom lip and blinked furiously. "You did something for me just because…and then you…"
she lost the battle to tears and her cheeks flushed as her face turned wet.
"I think those are my lines," Tony grinned, pulling her against him. He slid down to the floor, on his knees, and propped himself up on just one.
Pepper laughed a little, wiping at her eyes with one hand, and covered her mouth with the other. Tony held out his own hand for hers, and she gave him one, revealing a big, shaky smile.
"Virginia Pepper Potts," he spoke. "Will you marry me? Will you make me a real Iron Man?"
Pepper nodded, laughing and crying all over again, and Tony stood back up, kissing her face. Zachary stirred slightly from his crib, and Pepper moved to get him this time. He stared at her with his big brown eyes, and cooed softly.
"He's happy about it," Tony said, shrugging.
. . . . . . .
"Happy birthday, dear Zachary," Tony and Pepper sang as Pepper attached a cone-shaped birthday hat to the baby's head. "Happy birthday to you."
The one-year old grinned, showing a few scattered teeth as Tony used something much more complicated than a match to light the single candle on the confection. Zachary clapped his little hands when the singing ended and exclaimed, "DAH!"
"Yah, sure, go for it," his father told him. "Make a wish."
"Dah." Zachary looked at him, patting his face.
"Okay, I'll make a wish." Tony leaned down. "Want me to blow it out too?"
"Okay, Mommy will blow it out." He looked at Pepper.
Pepper blew the flame out, and Tony took Zachary's little hands in his and clapped them together. "Let's eat cake," he said.
Pepper proceeded to cut the cake, and as she did so, she said, "I'm glad you're okay with us having a small, private party."
"Seems okay," Tony said. "I like big parties, but Zachary's a little young for gaming tables, huh?"
Pepper chuckled and licked frosting from her fingers. She then put some on her husband's nose. Tony went cross-eyed trying to see it, and Pepper laughed even harder. Zachary laughed too, followed by a series of loud, demanding sounds.
"Stark charm," Tony said-one of his favorite sayings anytime his son did something like that.
"Mmhmm." Pepper set some cake in front of him. "Look at Zachie's cake! That looks yummy!"
"Mah!" Zachary grinned at her, slamming his fist into the cake.
"Oh…" Pepper frowned. "He's going to get cake all over his new shirt."
Tony looked at the shirt. The shirt he'd gotten for him. A simple collar shirt. Nothing flashy or show-offish. Of course, he did have clothes like this, but Tony could now compromise. He fixed himself a slice of cake and offered a bite to Pepper. She opened her mouth and accepted it, and then kissed the frosting off his nose.
"Can you believe that this day last year I was hysterical in the hospital?" Pepper said, shaking her head. She blushed. "And you told me…"
"I love you?" Tony asked. "Yah, and I still do, I think."
"You think?" Pepper's brows furrowed, but she was smiling.
"Let me see." Tony kissed her, and Pepper kissed him back, pulling him closer by the back of his head. When she released him, she was smiling again.
Tony smiled back. "Yup. Still do."