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Iron Man fic: Growing Season

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Tony rarely just walked into her office, just like he rarely just walked into any space. He strode, or he skipped, or he sauntered. Pepper had learned to read his moods long ago, not only a question of body language but how the atmosphere of the room changed. When Tony did anything like an ordinary walk into anything, it was either before something like a press conference or it was because he was tired or unhappy.

Today, Tony walked, energy levels subdued as he held up a pint of some kind of small white fruit.

"Hi," Pepper said, moving her hands away from her computer keyboard. She pulled her phone bud out of her ear. The morning had been non-stop phone conferences.

She remembered quitting. She distinctly remembered standing on a New York rooftop and telling Tony that she quit. Yet somehow, the paperwork to end her tenure as CEO of Stark Industries never got put in and somehow she never remembered to see to it that it got done.

Tony seemed to be mostly all right -- on the outside, at least. No visible cuts or bruises, no slings or bandages. After a week of Iron Man hunting a terrorist organization and their fleet of killer robots on three continents, she called that a win.

"Hi, Potts." He grinned at her, and then he didn't look tired at all. Pepper's face grew warm. "I brought you a present." Tony put the pint down on her desk.

She leaned over and inspected the fruit, poking one of them with a finger. "Tony. These are strawberries." Pepper stared at him. Okay, he was exhausted, but really, if he'd forgotten that already, after what they'd been through, she was going to --

"Yes! Yes, they are," he said, in that smug tone he always got when he thought he was being unusually clever. "They are strawberries and you are allergic to strawberries, however, note the color." He picked one up. "What's that color?"

"White," she said, wondering where he was going with this.

"White!" he fell back into a chair, put his feet up on her desk. "Scientists believe that the pigment in strawberries is the cause of the allergic reaction, and there's this grower that's developed white strawberries that are actually sweet." He tossed the berry in the air and caught it in his mouth. "Mmm, seriously, you need to try these."

Pepper sank back into her chair and sighed. "Tony, that's very thoughtful of you but white strawberries can still cause an allergic reaction. There's no certainty yet about the color being the cause."

The triumphant look on his face wiped away. She felt like she'd kicked a puppy. "Oh."

"And I have a board meeting in ten minutes, I can't risk breaking out into hives right now."

"No, you really can't."

"But it was good of you to think of it," Pepper said.

"Well, can I kiss you at least?"

"Normally, yes, except you just ate one of the strawberries."

"Oh." Tony clapped his hand to his forehead, then scrubbed his fingers through his already messy hair. "Sorry," he said. "See you for dinner?"

"Seven o'clock," Pepper said.

As he headed for the door, she got to her feet and caught up to him. "Tony." She put her palm against the side of his face, his beard rough against her skin. "It's probably okay if I do this." She kissed his forehead, then his nose, then his neck, putting her tongue against his skin. His breath stuttered for a moment.

She hugged him, and his arms tightened around her, the circle of the arc reactor in his chest pressing against hers. "I'm glad you're okay," she said softly, before she let him go.

* * *

Tony bounded in through the door of her office, holding something in his hand. "Potts!"

She held up a hand. "The year to date is down from last year," she continued with her phone call, staring at her computer screen. "I think we need to look into whether we're targeting that product to the right people. Set up a meeting with BluTech." In the corner of her eye, she noted Tony fidgeting, walking over to her bookshelves. "Great, Alice, I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Pepper ended the call, then went over to Tony. "What's that?"

"Raspberries." He held out the box. His smile faltered when she didn't immediately take it. "Whaaaat?" He said in a mock-whine.

She bit her lip. "Um. Raspberries remind me too much of strawberries. They won't make me break out in hives, I just...I lost my taste for them after one too many extremely unpleasant berry incidents."

"No more berries." He put the pint down on a little glass table. "Got it."

"Blueberries are fine," she said.

"Then I'll bring you blueberries." He caught her hand, bringing it up to his mouth, and kissed her palm.

"Did you eat any of the raspberries?" Pepper said, reminding herself she had a meeting in fifteen minutes.

"Nope. Saved 'em all for you, even though you don't want them."

"Good," she said, and then her mouth was on his. She edged Tony over, pushed his back against the door, closing it, and kept on kissing him.

A few quick smooches couldn't hurt, and it wasn't as if their relationship was a secret. It was all over the tabloids. A few kisses, then back to work.

Twelve minutes later she was lying on top of Tony on the little couch, his hands under her blouse and her tongue in his mouth and Pepper most definitely shouldn't be making those little whimpering noises three minutes before a meeting.

"Oh, crap," she said, disentangling herself. "Meeting. Sorry, sorry." She scrambled to her feet and tucked her shirt in, then went to get her suit jacket where it was slung over a chair.

Tony remained sprawled on the couch, watching her. "You're sexy when you're all stressed and rumpled and trying to be professional. Actually, you're sexy all the time. It's very distracting, Pepper."

She paused to arch an eyebrow at him. "I'm distracting?"

He folded his arms behind his head. She felt his gaze following her, hot between her shoulder blades, as she walked out of the room.

* * *

He brought her avocadoes next, sauntering into her office with a small box of them.

"What happened to blueberries?" Pepper asked, sighing.

"Uh. Forgot about the blueberries thing." His mouth twisted in a self-deprecating, lopsided smile.

"People who are allergic to strawberries are very often allergic to avocadoes."

"Crap," he said, looking forlorn.

"Close the door, Tony," she said.

They made out for five minutes with Tony sitting in her office chair and Pepper straddling him. Both of them managed to keep all their buttons buttoned and zippers zipped, but it was a close thing.

"See you tonight?" He said, standing at her office door looking almost prim.

She smoothed down her hair and nodded.

* * *

He brought her blueberries, strolling into her office.

They were delicious, ripe and sweet. She was about to suggest that she take an extra long lunch when the pens on Pepper's glass desk started to vibrate. The building shook and all the alarms went off.

"That can't be good," Pepper said, as Tony pushed her into an interior corner, tugging her into a crouch with him. He tucked her head down against his chest.

She heard the thud, heard the crunch of crushed glass, and Tony's arms tightened around her even as she felt him flinch, muscles tensing. Pepper managed to raised her head enough to see one of her bookshelves had fallen over, smashing the glass table as it went. She glanced at her desk let out a small shriek, muffled against Tony's sleeve, as her computer monitor tipped, slid across the smooth surface, and fell the floor. The slender casing and screen cracked.

The shaking stopped. Their breathing sounded loud in her ears even with the klaxons going. She started to get up but Tony gripped her wrist hard, keeping her down. "Wait a minute," he said. "Pepper, just...stay here."

People were calling out, checking to see that everyone was okay. There were sirens in the distance. Tony's pulse was going fast enough she saw it, jumping under the skin of his neck -- her own heart was going just as quick.

"Gotta go," he said, and kissed her forehead and was gone.

Even if she was used to them, earthquakes rattled her. But not enough to quell the little twist of anxiety in her stomach she always got when Tony went off to do what he did.

* * *

Tony swaggered into her office carrying a crate with a newspaper lying on top. He put the crate on the table and flopped onto the couch. "Check it out, Pepper." He opened the newspaper, holding it up for her to see.

IRON MAN PREVENTS COLLAPSE OF THREE BUILDINGS, SAVES HUNDREDS OF LIVES

"That's very nice, Tony." Pepper sat down next to him, trying to keep her tone neutral and even gently mocking. His ego was big enough already -- but she felt a warm jolt of pride go through her. The way he grinned, she knew she hadn't quite been able to keep it out of her voice.

She leaned back into the softness of the couch, kicked off her shoes, and put her bare feet up on the table. The last couple of days had been nerve-wracking, checking on all the Stark facilities to make sure everyone was okay, collecting damage reports. There were no injuries -- all Stark buildings were engineered to be earthquake proof, but two major projects had been affected due to a weakness in the structure of the facility housing them. However, nothing that would stop work for more than a day. No deaths had been reported as a result of the quake, although the news had tallied about 30 reported injuries.

Tony picked up a Satsuma mandarin, leaves attached, turning it over in his fingers. "I was going to bring you Cara Cara oranges, but then I read about how some people think they taste like strawberries, so I didn't."

Pepper couldn't think of anything to say to that.

Tony spread a napkin out on the table, and then his fingers went to work deftly peeling the Satsuma. He looked as tired as he had a few days ago. In addition to the buildings he'd saved, Iron Man had been flying all around the area, looking for trouble spots or anyone who needed help. He'd pulled a father and his small child free who'd gotten trapped in their car, and Tony had a scratch on his hand from rescuing an irate cat.

He held a slice of orange up towards her face. She opened her mouth and let him put it on her tongue.

They ate orange slices, their fingers growing sticky with juice and smelling of rind. When she kissed him, his mouth tasted like oranges. She sighed happily, his hand lazily massaging at the base of her back.

"Thank you for the oranges," she said, leaning her head on Tony's shoulder.

"Any time, Potts," he said, leaning right back.