On top of being a genius Tony Stark had an eidetic memory. He noticed and remembered everything. Some would see it as a curse but Tony had learned how to hone it, how to use it and appreciate it. It especially came in handy when the sound of falling debris and the smell of burning buildings and charred flesh pervaded his senses; because that meant instead he could imagine the smell of Pepper's hair and the feel of her soft skin beneath his fingertips and know that what he felt in his mind, the tingle in his fingertips and the warmth in his belly, was accurate.
Much like his math, that feeling was never wrong.
Not many people knew it about him, but he supposed if they did, they wouldn't really be surprised. It helped him visualize his creations and it had more than helped him in creating JARVIS. It had helped him create a platform on which JARVIS could learn and grow and thrive on his own, within the confines of his artificial world. It had helped him give JARVIS a basis for his perception of the world, which in turn, helped the computer to look after him far better than he'd ever imagined; sometimes with a sarcastic wit Tony wasn't entirely sure he'd made part of the initial program; nor his penchant for siding with Pepper in serious and not so serious situations.
Tony's eidetic memory never let up, of course, so when he called the rest of the team out on small instances of change it never failed to conjure eye-rolls and irritated huffs of displeasure. And being a man who lacked any sort of social filter – when Pepper wasn't in the room – calling Clint and Natasha out on how they were sitting closer together on the Friday than they had the previous Saturday, likely wasn't the best thing to do when he knew the woman in question could probably kill him in his sleep and never even jostle Pepper. But Tony never realized real-time things like that, until the words were out of his mouth.
He was a good man though, with a heart of gold and Pepper knew that, for sure; even if the others were somewhat dubious. His vocal outbursts that called everyone to the attention of something they'd have rather kept private were always meant with the best of intentions. It was just that Tony hadn't ever believed in keeping secrets and didn't really see the point in hiding things from your friends that made you happy. And she knew Tony's deep-rooted reasons for dragging truths out of people; he didn't want anyone to suffer the way he had in thinking his father hadn't ever cared for him.
She supposed they had to have some idea of his true character though, considering he'd opened his home to them all, given them enough space to house an entire, sweaty, football team – each; free of charge. And they'd accepted the gift with varying degrees of appreciation and/or reluctance.
They showed their appreciation in subtle ways and Pepper thought it was sweet, their unofficial call to a team breakfast every morning at seven o'clock in Tony's kitchen. Tony's social ineptitude, though, put a hamper on things most mornings.
He was a morning person, sometimes waking up as the Malibu sun was still clawing its way across the North Atlantic. But that didn't mean he liked to be in the presence of anyone but Pepper, JARVIS, Dummy and Butterfingers, before noon. He liked Coffee, Chlorophyll and Pop-Tarts for breakfast, because he wasn't really capable of making much else. So the big early morning fry-ups were rather foreign to him.
Pepper loved it though and Tony endured it, mostly for her sake. They'd even reached the point where she was comfortable wandering out of the bedroom wearing just Tony's dress-shirt, a pair of Daisy-dukes and the warmest socks in Tony's closet; her hair still a mess. For months he'd watched her make herself immaculate before setting foot outside their ensuite and facing his team. Now, he was hard-pressed to make her put her pants on, before she stumbled into the kitchen on auto-pilot and shrieked at JARVIS when the coffee-pot hadn't been automatically turned on.
To say they were all friends was an understatement. They were family.
He didn't like it when Pepper wasn't around though. He'd come to greatly respect his team mates and he enjoyed Bruce's company as much as he'd expected he would. He'd even reached a place of mutual respect between himself and Steve; something he hadn't really expected when the man had been so dead-set against respecting him for the better part of their first handful of interactions. Likening it to a pissing contest, Tony could imagine but Steve would have never admitted to that. He liked having them all around and he would admit; talking to actual people day-in and day-out was far better for his social skills than bad-mouthing Butterfingers and pissing off JARVIS.
But Pepper being on a three week business trip made his palms itch. And the entire team knew it the day she was supposed to be returning. Tony was on edge.
He was up before the dawn, though that wasn't so much a surprise as the fact he had breakfast started when the rest of them slowly started to arrive. Cautious though, to save himself some ridicule, he simply started to gather all of the ingredients on the counter-top and lined up the coffee mugs in order of who would kill him the fastest if they didn't get their coffee first. Naturally, Natasha's was always first, after Pepper.
Natasha could kill him with a resting heart-rate, but Pepper could deny him sex. It was a no-brainer for Tony.
Bruce staggered up to a kitchen stool first, followed by Clint and Natasha, each of them with their hands out-stretched in search of their coffee and not offering more than a grunt of appreciation – and seriously, they said he lacked social graces? – it was one of the rare mornings that Thor was with them, wandering through in his striped pyjama bottoms, shirtless but holding a t-shirt in his hand, scrubbing at his face as Steve followed him in; showered, dressed and far too peppy for Tony if he'd been in one of his usual morning slumps.
As the case would be, he wasn't. And to their great amusement, slowly, they all started to realize something increasingly more prevalent the more they woke up; Tony was wired. They could all see it. He was smiling, bouncing around Bruce as he dragged himself from his stool and started cracking eggs in a fry-pan. He was muttering science-y things that only Bruce could understand, so they were all rather thankful it was their local jolly-green giant that was copping the majority of Tony's, five-year-old-on-a-sugar-rush, excitement.
Clint and Natasha smirked silently to themselves, knowing full-well the reason for Tony's behaviour.
Pepper had been out of the country for next to three weeks, attending all sorts of business lectures, assemblies, functions and soirees the CEO of Stark Industries was required to attend throughout Europe and Tony would have been with her, had one of Asgard's great and powerful enemies not decided, once again, to use earth as a sort of Van Diemen's Land for depraved war-criminals; forgetting, all too mightily, that the earth had learned to bite back and didn't want them dropping off their worst of the worst, however unintentionally, on their doorstep.
Thor chuckled when Tony, in his excitement, snagged a piece of bacon from the pan and shrieked as it burned his finger, ostensibly launching it into the air in the demi-god's general direction. The others just stared when the blonde snagged it with one hand in mid-air and stuffed it into his mouth. Tony scowled.
Ironically, Tony's foot in mouth problem clammed itself up when Pepper was involved. Or perhaps not so ironically, if he considered how much she had berated him over the years, for that very embarrassing character trait. He'd learned that Pepper's business was her business and if she wanted to share, she would do so privately.
Which was why, when Pepper appeared in the doorway, looking tired but immaculate, Tony hesitated.
He was excited to be sure, and he'd practically bounced across the foyer in her direction before he'd realized something was different and slowed his pace. Tony Stark had an eidetic memory. He noticed everything. And when you've spent as much time as Tony had, tracking every dip and curve of a woman's body – coupling that with said eidetic memory – you tend to notice when something is off.
He reached out to her, sighing happily as she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and his arms went around her waist, dragging her to him in a slow, deliberate embrace. He could feel her lips at the curve of his neck and in turn, he pressed a kiss to her temple; leaning away from her to meet her eyes. "Missed you." He breathed and she smiled, reciprocating the sentiment, and she didn't even need to speak.
They hadn't completely forgotten they weren't alone, but the team had learned to give them these quiet moments before all the fuss started. Pepper pressed her lips to Tony's; not one for public displays of affection but comfortable enough in their current surroundings and having been deprived of it long enough, that she was willing to make an exception. Tony delighted in it. He hugged her tighter, nearly lifting her feet off the floor as he pulled her closer.
"Have you behaved yourself?" She smirked as they parted and Tony produced a mock-wounded pout. Pepper just laughed, dragging him over to the kitchen counter by the hand and greeting everyone in turn.
Immediately, Tony realized that they'd seen it too. Pepper looked different. He'd always thought she was beautiful, but something about her was making her glow. Her hair had more body to it and it was an even brighter shade of ginger – he could put that down to a trip to the salon before she left Paris though, if he thought about that long enough – what didn't fit was that her eyes were also brighter; her lips more full.
Tony stood to the side as she crossed her arms and rested her elbows on the counter, laughing as Steve recounted Tony's most recent bout of self-preserving escapades in the face of mortal danger. He could see very clearly that Pepper's appearance had altered; just in subtle ways. That was until he looked down at her chest, then back up at his team and realized even Natasha was staring. And as far as he knew, that particular Russian spy didn't swing in Pepper's general direction – often.
Pepper definitely looked different. It was in the way she walked, it was in the colour of her hair, the light in her eyes. He'd even felt it in their embrace, but he'd struggled to put his finger on it until he really studied her. It was then that he realized he knew the dress she was wearing; he knew it quite well. It had been draped over the foot of their bed several times, but he also recognized it from the office. It was her no-nonsense, serious business-woman with a classy streak a mile wide, dress. It knee-length, had sleek lines, was silver-grey with a pencil-thin black belt that sat high on her waist. He loved it. He liked to call it her 'Pepper Dress' because he felt it encapsulated so much of what made her so very Pepper.
She'd worn it the day she'd left and his aforementioned eidetic memory screamed at him that when she had left, three weeks ago, it had fit differently.
Tony's heart practically leapt into his throat when the realization came crashing in on him. He thought he was going to stop breathing; he thought that he was going to collapse. His vision blurred and his head felt fuzzy and he had to fight to remain standing; gripping the counter-top with white knuckles as he looked Pepper up and down again.
She hadn't gained weight, per sae. But her curves were suddenly more pronounced than they were before and Tony knew that if he didn't drag her somewhere private very soon, something was going to come out of his mouth that they were both going to seriously regret.
"Ah," He choked the word out. "Pep." His voice sounded hoarse and strangled and Pepper looked up at him with concern; her nose crinkled in the cute way that he liked. "Can I-" He swallowed. "Can I talk to you for a sec." He grabbed her hand, dragging her from the kitchen before she could even reply. She'd barely managed to grab a sliver of bacon off the plate Bruce had been handing to Natasha, before she had to stagger after him in her six-inch heels.
Everyone left behind looked at each other in confusion and Tony was sure that some of them knew exactly what was going on; whereas he was fairly certain Clint was just hoping to get the bacon Tony had abandoned in favour of talking to Pepper.
Tony dragged her into the bedroom and Pepper frowned, watching him close the door behind her and immediately start to pace. He didn't really know where to start. He wasn't sure if he should lead with his assumptions or tip-toe his way around it on the very real possibility that he was wrong. He didn't want to accuse her of something and then find out later that she simply loved to eat fried chicken on four hour stop-overs. And Pepper did like donuts, he paused in his pacing as he realized that maybe she ate more donuts when he wasn't around, as opposed to when he was there to inhale them all before she could lick the icing off her fingers and reach for her second.
"Tony, you're worrying me."
He spun around, meeting her eyes and realizing, rather suddenly, that he probably really was worrying her; considering he'd really given no explanation for their sudden disappearance or his almost frantic pacing. But his nerves were shot and he needed to know the truth before he lost his mind.
"Sorry," He muttered, scratching the back of his neck and moving back to stand in front of her. Pepper hadn't left the doorway, even after he'd closed it behind her and Tony realized that maybe his reaction had come off a little panicked. On the contrary, he was again, as wired as he had been when he'd woken up that morning. So excited that she was coming home he thought he was going to faint before breakfast. "I just," He breathed out deeply, reaching for her hands and holding them securely in his own.
He caught himself getting distracted by how petite they were resting in his calloused palms and would have gone off on a tangent in his head about how he wished the rings on her right hand, were really on her left, but Pepper cleared her throat. He looked up at her, rather sheepishly.
"Sorry..." He smiled. "Again."
"You seem nervous, Tony." She reached up and pressed her palm to his cheek, feeling the roughness of his beard against her palm. "What's wrong?"
"Are you pregnant?" He blurted out and Pepper's eyes widened to the width of saucers.
"What?" She gasped and Tony laughed almost hysterically as he scrambled for explanation.
"It's just, when you came in, you looked different and you know me, don't forget a thing," He started to pace again. "And I watched you and I can see that you look a bit different and you know," He gestured up and down her body. "If it's just that you had a few too many convenient meals on your trip, that's cool, but I somehow don't think it's that, but if it is, that's fine. I just don't think that-"
"Tony." Pepper cut him off calmly and Tony froze, his only movement being the blinking of his eyes and the only sound being the frantic thumping of his heart.
"They've been gone a while." Steve noted, looking over his shoulder at the closed bedroom door.
"They've got a lot to catch up on." Natasha shrugged, muttering around a piece of bacon.
"Yeah, I suppose you're right."
They all went back to eating their breakfast. Bruce had turned off the Range after cooking enough bacon to feed a small army. And ironically, you probably could refer to the small team gathered around the counter, munching on bacon rashers and guzzling down coffee, as a small army. Small being the operative word and miss-matched probably even more apt. But they worked. They fit together more like a family than a team, because most of the time they were arguing about something – mostly Tony – either for or against the man. But they worked.
They carried on eating in silence, because they'd all reached the point in their respective friendships, or the group as a whole, that they were comfortable with the silence. Natasha elbowed Clint in the ribs just enough to let him know he'd started eating too loudly and he made a puppy-dog face at her, bacon hanging out the side of his mouth as he gestured over to Thor, who was shovelling food down with about as much grace as a pig in a trough. She just shrugged.
They all jumped clean out of their skin though; when a loud, excited voice shrieked a massive "WOOHOO!" That could have turned Banner green, had he not been on his guard. As one entity, the five turned around in their chairs to face the source of the shout, seeing nothing but the closed wooden door and a vast chasm of confusion. And the room fell into silence once again.
"Wonder what that's about." Clint muttered.
"No idea." Bruce answered.
They all turned back around and Clint grabbed the plate that had been set aside for Tony and tipped the remainder of food, onto his own plate. Natasha just shook her head.
"How long?" Tony grabbed Pepper's waist, pulling her close to him and kissing her lips soundly before she could even answer. She laughed, pushing at his shoulders half-heartedly, letting him press their lower bodies together; rocking them from side to side as he grinned.
"I've known a few days. I wanted to get back before I told you." She giggled as Tony dropped down to his knees and pressed his ear to her not-quite-flat stomach. "But the Doctor said that I'm about fourteen weeks along."
He looked up into her eyes from where he was, kneeling on the floor before her. He rested his chin on her stomach, grinning from ear to ear. When she'd found out, she knew he'd be far from disappointed. But she had to admit, the level of excitement that the news had elicited from him, made her whole body tingle and made another bout of giggles, bubble up in her throat.
"You look amazing." He breathed and Pepper rested her hands on his shoulders, watching him press his ear back against her stomach; feeling the firm grasp of his broad hands on her waist. "When can we tell the guys?"
"Whenever you'd like, I suppose." She laughed. "I'm just glad you're excited."
"Excited? Pep, of course I'm excited!" He kissed the fabric that separated his lips and her belly-button. "Hey, you in there," He spoke directly to her belly, poking her gently. "I'm Tony Stark, I'm your Dad. And let me just tell you, little Stark; I'm going to be the best damned Dad you could ever ask for, that's a promise." Pepper laughed, running her hands through his hair as she listened to him wax-poetic to their unborn child.
She knew that they'd have to leave the bedroom eventually and Tony was going to be too excited to keep his big mouth shut, so she simply smiled. She accepted the fact that by the end of the day, all of their friends were going to know and by the end of the week, Tony was likely to have already captained several press conferences concerning the very notion.
It was only then, as she felt the warmth of Tony's breath through the fabric of her dress that it really started to sink in to her. She'd known for a few days but it wasn't completely real until she'd jumped at Tony's excited shriek and felt his broad, strong hand pressed to her abdomen. "Marry me." Tony jumped to his feet and Pepper blinked.
"Marry me," He grinned. "Be my wife."
"Tony." She breathed.
"Come on, Pep."
"Tony we don't have to." She laughed.
"No, I know, but I want to, come on."
Pepper laughed at his enthusiasm, patting his chest. "I think we've had enough excitement for one day." Tony nodded, happy to leave it at that even though he knew it wasn't really an answer and she wasn't likely to give him one at the moment. He'd known for quite some time that he wanted to marry Pepper and perhaps it wasn't the best time to ask. But he was too excited to be bothered with pushing. Pepper would marry him when she was ready and take him more seriously when he wasn't hyped up and excited. So he stuffed the thought in his back-pocket for later.
A baby was enough for them anyway; for now.