By the time Pepper reached the kitchen, the caterers were almost completely finished. She gave the last few instructions and left them to pack-up the rest of their things. Sinking into the cushions of the over-stuffed couch, she didn't think she had ever been so glad she chose to pre-pay. "On," she commanded the television. With a grateful sigh, Pepper slipped off her shoes and tucked her feet under her. She was helping herself to a half-empty tray of cream puffs when she heard Tony.
His jacket was slung over one arm and he was tugging on his tie as he entered the den. He tossed the jacket on a nearby chair. The tie was next, as soon as he finished loosening the knot.
"At least you didn't leave your stuff in a trail behind you."
"That's because you've had me long enough to have me trained." Pepper patted an empty spot on the sofa and Tony dropped onto the seat beside her. "The caterers get done?"
"Almost," she answered, giving him one of the cream puffs. "They're the last people here though."
"Cool." Tony said, licking the filling off his fingers and getting another puff. "What's on?"
"Not sure. I've not paid much attention. How It's Made I think."
"Awesome! Maybe it will be the one about the sportscars. Ooh! Or maybe where they are making the gummy bears."
"Dare to dream."
"Aww, c'mon, Pep. This show is fascinating and you know it."
"Uh-huh," Pepper answered with a grin. "Whatever you say." With a tired sigh, she laid her head on his shoulder.
They watched television for a while, enjoying each other's presence. J.A.R.V.I.S. broke the silence. "The caterers just left the house, sir. Shall I proceed with the lock-down?"
"Yes, thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S."
Pepper raised her head off his shoulder. "Tony, why didn't you just get J.A.R.V.I.S. to find A.J. when he went missing?"
"I tried, but, it seems our little Houdini managed to get in exactly the right spot where the camera's couldn't catch him. Of course, they were concentrated mainly on the areas where the most people were. The rooms where no one was supposed to be were blocked off. I didn't think we would need them everywhere."
"It's not your fault," Pepper said, rubbing his arm. "We didn't know what was going to happen."
"Yeah." Tony shook his head. "If he can already hide from J.A.R.V.I.S. at three, we are in trouble. Where does he get this anyway?"
"Let's see. Overindulging at a party where he later starts losing his clothes and eventually ends up passing out on a cute girl. Hmm...I don't know. It sounds vaguely familiar."
"Hey now! It's not all..." Tony stopped when he saw her "Oh, please" look. "Okay, but, I'm not the only one who has been known to cut loose, even if it was just the two of us. I remember someone at a house party in Cozumel..."
"That was you."
"The yacht in the Med."
"The ski lodge in Vail?"
"That hotel in Toronto." Tony knew by Pepper's silence and the way her cheeks flushed, that one wasn't him. He also knew that if he were smug about being right, he would pay in ways that didn't involve money. "So...we have a child genetically predisposed to be a sneaky party animal?"
"No. We have a crafty toddler who is probably just too smart for his own good, a lot like someone else I know."
"A.J. is pretty smart, isn't he?" Tony said, with a hint of pride in his voice. He scrubbed a hand across his face. "I don't know if I'll make it."
"Until he's grown and out of the house?"
"Until he's five."
"You have to," Pepper said, fixing the one lock of hair that had refused to stay in place for as long as she had known him. "You're the only person with any idea of what A.J. may do next."
"Just remember, 23 of those chromosomes came from you."
"The responsible, business-like ones."
"I may be fuzzy about Toronto, but, last Thursday is still pretty clear. Definitely a little less business and more..."
"Okay. You've made your point."
"For the record, I was not complaining." Tony caught the smile she was trying to hide and knew he was safe. "J.A.R.V.I.S., bring up the camera in A.J.'s room on the screen in the den."
J.A.R.V.I.S. did as he was told. The images of robotic arms welding together pieces of metal were replaced by a sleeping three-year-old. Except for the fact he had rolled onto his side, A.J. was just as he'd been when Tony left him.
"There's my handsome boy," Pepper said softly, sliding her arm through Tony's. "When we couldn't find him, what scared you most?"
"That someone had taken him or done something to him," Tony confessed. "It's easier to deal with missile-wielding psychopaths, you know? They want stuff like power or revenge or world domination. It's these other guys who scare me. Before the suits, before Iron Man, there was Obadiah wanting to kill me over a company. Men like him...that's who I worry about the most." He gestured to the screen. "This little guy, he's far more valuable than any piece of machinery or technology could ever be. I guess I'm being too cautious..."
"It's called being a dad, Tony," Pepper said, squeezing his hand, "and you're doing great."
"What about you? What were you afraid of?"
"It scared me that...That A.J. needed me and I couldn't be there. I kept thinking, what if he was hurt or scared and I wasn't there?"
It was easy to tell she was visibly shaken. Much like he had done to their son earlier, Tony pressed a gentle kiss onto her forehead. "For years, you took care of things, managed my life to the millisecond. I thought 'She's too good for this.' When I put you in charge of S.I., I was blown away, thinking, 'It doesn't get any better than this.' But, since Junior was no more than a bump under your sweater, I have watched you and I know...this is what you were meant to do. I don't know how, but, whatever happens, you will always be there for A.J. just like you have for me."
"The same way you will always be there to protect him," Pepper countered.
"You know, we're getting pretty good at this parenting thing. A.J.'s one lucky little kid. An awesome dad and a hot mom...he's got it made!"
"Absolutely." Pepper disentangled their arms. "The clean-up crew will take care of this mess tomorrow." She gave Tony's leg a pat before standing. "Come on, Iron Dad. I say we rest while we can. The sole heir to the vast Stark fortune will be up and at 'em before we're ready."
"Sole heir, huh? Any chance he'll get a rival?"
Pepper cocked her head to the side and appeared to ponder his question. "Ask me the next time we are in Toronto."
Tony saw her wink and responded with a smile. He pushed himself off the couch. "Get the tv and lights, will ya, J?" He pulled his wife against him and they walked toward their room. "Hey, Pepper, on the way, can we..."
"Yeah. I want to make sure he's okay, too."
Ok. Thank you to Pepper Potts-Stark for the idea that Tony & Pepper give us a Pepperony moment. Now...it's finished. :D In case anyone has never seen it, How It's Made is a real show on Discovery Channel. It absolutely fascinates me. Check it out if you get the chance. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to review. The reviews are what keep me writing. When they stop, I stop. PLEASE let me know if you like it. Now...if the reviews are good...there will be more Pepperony forthcoming. Thanks, again, for all the kind words. PEPPERONY FOREVER!