A/N: So, I noticed a couple people asked for me to write their reunion...this was a lot harder than the first part, I can tell you that, but I'm pretty happy with it.
Disclaimer (because I forgot it last time): Ouch. I don't own Tony Stark. Or Pepper. I don't even own Jarvis. How sad.
His eyes jerk open.
His first thought is that he's not dead, because if he were dead he wouldn't be in heaven.
His second thought is that Pepper didn't answer her phone.
"What just happened? Please tell me nobody kissed me."
Pepper spoke Tony's language – or understood it anyway. If she'd been there, she would have stepped up and yelled at him for a full twenty minutes.
So Pepper wasn't there.
Did something happen to her plane? Is she safe? Where's Loki? Did she go to the tower? Is she…alive? It's not like Tony to be this lucky. Something has to be wrong.
His team. Not really his team. More like Steve's team with him on as a "consultant", but he likes to think so. Their tension drops with his casual manner.
"We won," says Steve.
"Alright, hey! Good job guys. Let's just not come in tomorrow, let's just take a day…"
Pepper literally runs, the straps of her heels hooked in one hand, her phone in the other. She leaves her luggage in the plane and searches the ruined parking lot for Happy, hoping against hope that he'll still be there.
"Where's Tony?" She has to know. "He's not picking up." She should know, she's called him three times now.
"Did you see…? He fell out of the sky, from the… portal."
Pepper struggles to retain her composure. "Take me. Now. Please."
"Anthony Edward Stark."
"Looks like someone's in trouble," Clint's muttering, but he doesn't hear it.
Tony grins. "Hey, Pep."
"You are a complete and utter idiot!"
"Genius, Pep, genius."
"Will you stop calling me that? You flew a freaking missile into outer space Tony! You told me you couldn't go into space, you were going to do modifications on the suit but you hadn't done them yet! What was I supposed to think? What was I supposed to – you wouldn't even answer –"
She claps a hand over her mouth and ducks so he won't see her red face.
"Pep. Pepper. It's okay." He holds up his hands even though it hurts, trying a placating gesture. "We're okay."
"It is not okay!" she screams at him. "You were going to die and I didn't even answer my phone!"
If Pepper Potts were just a little less of a good person, maybe he could get away with not feeling guilty.
Unfortunately, she's not.
She's perfect, and she's always there for him.
It's not a reflex action. It takes all the courage he has to reach out his arms and hug her.
"Hey," he mouths against her hair. She's clinging to the ruined Iron Man suit, and her face is suspiciously moist. "S'okay."
"No it's not." Her skin looks pale and icy in the glow of the arc reactor, but she manages a weak smile. "I had a total meltdown in front of you and the…what did you call them? Super boy band and one girl?"
"My reputation is ruined forever."
He laughs. "See, I knew we had something in common."
She's looking over his shoulder and he turns. Thor and Steve are standing awkwardly, each wanting to be chivalrous and help the poor maiden.
Tony mentally sighs.
Thor holds out his hand for her to take so he can kiss it. He knows this because of the time he tried to do it to Natasha. It did not end well.
Pepper glances at Tony, like "What do I do now?" but he glares at Thor until he backs off. Steve just stands there, eventually muttering "You know we wouldn't spill this to the press, ma'am."
She doesn't want to leave him.
What did he ever do to deserve someone like Pepper?
Tony turns to give Fury a look – probably the only thing the Avengers plus Tony Stark have in common, best described as "Touch me and you're dead."
Behind Fury is Loki, and Tony – by instinct this time, steps in front of Pepper. "So St. Nicholas, how has watching us save the world been? Nerve-wracking? Exhausting? Vengefully happy? Come on, I know you still haven't forgiven me for that Popeye comment…"
"Mr. Stark, you're in hearing distance of Public Enemy Number One, please shut up."
"What, we have to keep up dramatic appearances even around villains? This makes," he proclaims, "no sense. My charm is all part of my…heroic persona."
"Mr. Stark, shut up. Now."
"Sure thing, Popeye."
It works. Fury's annoyed, Thor's confused and, best of all, Pepper's shaking her head at him as if resigned a lifetime of endless frustration, with dry eyes.
It's two days later and Loki's gone when she comes down to the lab one morning, her heels clicking on the stairs. She shows ID and steps in, watching Tony order Jarvis to coat the suit with something or other.
He tilts his head at her. "Pepper."
She smiles her neat, professional smile. "Mr. Stark."
"What's that?" Tony's eyes find the covered dish she's holding and narrow suspiciously.
"Your breakfast," Pepper answers, still professional. She walks over to the tiny table in the corner of the room that's not filled with science and sets it down.
Tony glances at the blue holograms around him, then at Pepper, and comes over too.
"So…ahem…Pepper, what haven't you been telling me?"
"I can't just make you an omelet because I feel like it."
He grins. "Yeah, pretty much."
Pepper laughs. It feels good, so good, to laugh. Then the words burst out: "I think I love you Tony."
He just sits there, looking almost – shocked.
She puts her head in her hands. "Well, that didn't go as planned."
She bites her lip, looking up into his eyes. He's so confused. "Does the phrase 'I was going to make you an omelet and tell you' ring any bells?"
He kisses her. "Now it does."
"Pepper. I love you."
The words sound much easier to say in his head.
In the beginning, he wanted someone trustworthy.
What he received was someone ten times better than that.
Tony knows his life is a mess. He's alright with it. But dragging Pepper into that mess – even after she confirmed that was where she wanted to be – just doesn't seem right. Like the most selfish thing he's ever done in his entire life.
And in the back of his mind it's not the omelet phrase but the words "as planned" that keep ringing like alarm bells.
He doesn't want another unbroken person dying for him. He doesn't want Pepper in his arms telling him to do something with his life.
"Pepper. I love you."
The words stick in his throat.
As usual, she insists on custom. "Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"
The short pause afterwards seems like eternity.
Pepper frowns, but stays. She looks almost scared about what he might tell her.
Pepper. I love you.
He grins. "Just wanted to see what you'd do if I said that."
She smiles, relaxed; rolls her eyes.
He loves Pepper.
It's filling his lungs, transfixing, icy pain. He feels hands grabbing his shirt, pulling him back up to gasp air and try to get away but he's too weak and there are too many of them and when he tries to hold his breath he gets kneed in the stomach and feels the water rushing in instead.
"Tony! What are you doing in here?"
His vision's flickering in and out. All he can see is pain and he must be imagining strawberries, and he's too far gone to even tell himself not to panic – because he already has.
"Get out, can't you see I'm trying to give a talk?"
Can't he see that he can't breathe?
His father's tone is scolding. "Don't touch that!"
His chest rises and falls and the metal in it's burning like hell but no air comes in. He waits, desperate, to be yanked out of the water, but he's not. He's falling through it.
The voice is Pepper's: "Tony!"
Tony mentally checks himself for injuries before his eyes open.
He's on his bed. In Stark Tower.
His voice is hoarse, and he's suddenly very happy he soundproofed his room. "Jarvis?"
"It is precisely two-fourteen a.m. in Stark Tower, New York. Ms. Potts is in the fifth guest room on the first hall of the thirtieth floor, asleep. You have an appointment with Director Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. at four p.m. this evening."
"Thanks, Jarv," he mutters. "Where's Pepper?"
"As I just informed you, Sir. Ms. Potts is sleeping in the fifth guest room on the first hall of the thirtieth floor."
"Right, right. I knew that," he grumbles, pulling on his Black Sabbath T-shirt. "Whatever."
Arguments with an AI are pointless, but Tony keeps trying.
He looks around, rubbing his eyes, and is somewhat surprised to discover that he doesn't want to be here, in the bedroom that has seen so many…occupants, it doesn't always seem his.
Tony raises his eyebrows at himself and folds his arms around his shaking shoulders – prepared to deal with his mind the only way he knows how: alcohol.
Pepper wakes up from another dream about Tony dying and casts a glance at the alarm clock next to her bed – the only technology in Stark Tower that's not incredibly advanced. Three in the morning.
She takes a deep breath and breathes out slowly in a failed attempt to calm her pounding heart. Tony may be up. He comes and goes at odd hours; if he's awake he'll be in the lab.
So she decides it's more or less safe to go up to the kitchen and make a cup of tea.
It always feels more comforting when she makes it herself. In the kitchen, with her loose sweatshirt thrown over her head and her heels off.
Stepping out of the elevator, she starts to make her way over to the marble counter (mostly covered with assorted bottles) when she realizes: Tony's on the couch.
She tries to be as quiet as possible when she moves closer. There's a glass on the coffee table and an open bottle of scotch standing suspiciously next to it. Pepper grimaces and puts a hand on his arm. "Tony."
He tenses before his eyes open, then shrugs. "Nightmare?"
She nods and takes a sip of his scotch.
"Pepper, I love you."
She pauses, carefully puts down the glass, and cranes her neck so she can see the look on his face. It's sort of…terrified.
It's the video all over again. Any weakness. Her reaction is all that matters.
He grabs her hand while she frowns in confusion. Then he kisses it. "Did I do that right?"
"Copying from Thor are we?"
Tony grins. "I can't let the Asgardians get all the fangirls."
They sit in silence for a moment.
"Pepper," Tony whines.
"Rub my shoulders."
"You'll owe me," Pepper warns him.
She can hear the sarcasm. "Sure," then almost a whisper: "I don't have anyone but you."
"Well, it's a good thing you have me, then," Pepper says quietly. He nods, drifting off to sleep while she blinks the emotion out of her eyes and can't help but smile.