Five Times…

By: InitialA

Disclaimer: I own none of the things in Marvel's universe. None of them. Not even Loki's silly hat.

Rain came down in torrents on the curtain walls; the thunderstorm that had brought Thor to New York had decided to stay. Pepper was curled on the couch in her pajamas and a sheer green kimono, a glass of wine in one hand, watching the lightning dance across the sky.

It was quiet in the tower, for once. Tony was gone, so there was a lack of the usual background noise of explosions and panicked yelling coming from the lab. Clint and Natasha were doing work for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Istanbul—not that she knew anything about that, no sir. Jane and Thor had vanished, predictably enough. She wasn't sure where Steve had disappeared to, but earlier Darcy had been eyeing him with a predator's stare and a stack of her favorite DVDs in hand. Doubtless there was some sort of cultural initiation going on.

She glanced at the clock, wondering if the storm would delay Tony getting home, just as Bruce walked through the living area. He was wiping his hands on a dirty cloth, muttering something to himself. "Hello, Bruce," Pepper said, taking a sip of wine.

He started. He took a moment to breathe—settling his nerves, she thought—before saying,, "Oh, Pepper. I thought… I thought you'd be with Tony. He said… He said he was going down to the DC site, I thought you'd, ah, you'd want to be there."

"Nope. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes I can let Tony run around off-leash. He doesn't even pee on the neighbor's bushes," she said, smiling.

Bruce chuckled. "Do you want to join me?" Pepper asked, patting the empty section of the couch.

"I was going to… well, I mean, I wanted to grab something…"

"By all means. I'm not going anywhere."

He disappeared into the kitchen and reemerged a few minutes later with a mug of tea and a sandwich. "I'd join you," he gestured to the bottle of wine with the sandwich plate, "but I find that alcohol… we don't mix well anymore. Things tend to happen."

Pepper arched an eyebrow at him over her glass as she took another sip. He sat down. "I'm pretty good at handling… things that don't mix well with alcohol," she said.

There was his signature flash of a smirk. "Yeah, well… this might be a bit more than you're used to."

They chatted for a bit while he ate, talking about his research and what plans Tony had to incorporate it into technology for mass consumption. Pepper was amused to see Bruce taken aback when she asked specific questions. Astute financial executive of Stark Industries—and part-time superhero-wrangler—she might be, but she'd spent almost a decade before cleaning up Tony's schematics and finding this book or that on engineering and chemistry for him. She'd picked up a thing or two over the years.

The lights flickered after a particularly bright lightning streak. "I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means…" Bruce muttered.


"Well, y'know, the god of thunder is in residence… with his lover…"

Pepper almost spat out her wine. Bruce was smiling. "Point Break's pretty easy-going, but I think even he would get a bit upset about that," Tony's voice rang out clearly.

She smiled, and Bruce turned as Tony strode through the door. His hands were in his pockets, and he wore a look that would make the smuggest of all cats jealous. "Very chivalrous, these Asgardians, we should strive to be more like them," Tony said.

"And don't you look like the cat that got the canary," Pepper said, going to give him a kiss.

"I never liked Tweety Bird," he replied.

"Reminds you too much of yourself?" Bruce asked.

"I preferred the coyote, real smart guy."

"How was D.C.?" Pepper asked, gently steering the conversation to a more productive route. "I thought the storm might delay you."

"Me? Nah. D.C. was great. Really great, actually, it's a much better town when I'm not fighting with the DOD about whether or not they own my ass or if I own my ass."

Bruce stirred his tea. "I know that fight…"

Tony snapped his fingers. "Oh, gosh, I almost forgot. Picked you up a little souvenir while I was down there, big guy. Hang on."

He left momentarily, talking the whole time. "Now, I don't know if it'll fit you, but I saw this little number in a shop in Alexandria, and I thought 'Wow, Bruce would really love this.' If you don't like it, I'm sure they'll let us exchange it, no problem…"

He came back in, leading a tall brunette. "Oh, be quiet, Mr. Stark," she said. She looked hesitant, hopeful. "Hi, Bruce."

He didn't say anything, he only stared in disbelief. He was frozen in place, mouth hanging open slightly. Pepper was almost certain he was about to spill his tea all over the (extremely white and clean) carpet, when he set it on the table. "Betty…"

They rushed to one another, and held each other tightly, as if they were afraid the other would vanish if they dared to let go. Tony put his arm around Pepper. She leaned into him. "I don't understand… just… how? And your father…" Bruce was saying softly.

"Mr. Stark just dropped in on me the other day. Almost literally," she told him, just as quietly. "He made me an offer… and I couldn't refuse it. And my father be damned, I'm not a teenager anymore. He can't sit around on the front porch, guarding me, scaring people off with his four stars just because he doesn't like them. We'll make it work, Bruce."

He hugged her tighter. Over her shoulder, he looked at Tony and mouthed "Thank you". Tony nodded slightly, smiling briefly. Pepper led him out of the room, leaving Bruce and Betty alone. "You incorrigible old romantic," she teased.

"Hey, watch it there. I have a reputation to protect."

Pepper rolled her eyes as the arm around her pulled her in closer. On their way to their room, they passed the den, where Darcy was throwing popcorn at The Rocky Horror Picture Show and talking back at it gleefully. Steve sounded frustrated and confused, and kept trying to ask questions. "No, no, no, you're supposed to throw toast here, but popcorn's easier to clean up—" They heard her say before rounding the corner and out of earshot. Pepper snorted, trying not to laugh too loudly. Tony was grinning.

As they got ready for bed, Tony filled the silence with chatter about whatever came to mind. Pepper half-listened, used to filtering him for the important bits she needed to remember; he needed to talk, to get things out of his mind so he could sleep. Some people had a daily journal, Tony Stark talked until his teeth fell out. She was very used to it by now. She'd throw in an "mm-hmm" occasionally to let him know she was still paying attention—kind of—when he asked a question that didn't filter through. "What was that?"

"Italy. Tomorrow. You and me, no ragtag superhero team to babysit, nothing pressing going on in the company. Let's just go. I want some authentic Italian."

Pepper mentally listed out the things she knew Tony had been working on. "I thought you and Bruce were working on the stabilizers for the hydro-powered—"

"He'll be fine. Jane knows what we're working on," he said, hopping into bed with her.

"You never let other people work on your projects," Pepper said, slightly astonished.

"And Betty mentioned on the trip that she wanted to see how well he's been holding up, and if there's been any changes with the other guy."

"Oh, you are an incorrigible old romantic."

"It's for science! And Bruce's health!"

"You wanted to bring her here so you'd feel less guilty about spending time with me."

"Yeah, well, maybe a bit of that too."

He ordered JARVIS to dim the lights as she tucked herself in against him. "So, Italy?" Tony asked.

"Maybe. Let me look at the office first," she said.

"I might be able to work something out. I'm pretty familiar with your boss."

She chuckled. "Funny, I'm pretty familiar with him too," she said, and went in for the kiss.

((The end. Thanks everyone for all your lovely reviews and favorites and kudos and alerts and everything else, you made this more fun! (it was pretty fun either way, I made myself laugh a few times)))