Tony slammed the front door and tossed his keys on the table.
“Fucking Fury,” he muttered, running his hands through his hair and then pulling on it. “Fucking superheroes.”
For the hundredth time he wished he was back in California, at home with his suits and workshop and beach and cars. And Pepper, dammit, Pepper.
He found himself moving toward the den (Pepper called it The Den of Iniquity because of the booze, cigars, and adult viewing and reading that were consumed there) and activating one of the comm screens.
“Pepper Potts,” he said once it was live, and the system checked her cell phone (voicemail), her home phone (answering machine), and the phone in her office at SI (night switchboard). He looked at the chron: six a.m. in Malibu. Might as well try the last option.
Feeling oddly nervous, Tony waited while the phone rang a few times. Then it was picked up and a sleepy voice said, “Tony. Everything okay?”
Instantly he felt himself relax, not completely, but enough to talk without ranting.
“Everything’s fine, honey,” he said. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”
“That’s a nice way to wake up,” she said and yawned.
“Would you mind switching on the comm screen?” Tony asked. He’d learned pretty damn quick that he’d better ask before having the system connect the cam. Pepper said it was too creepy that he could peek in on her without her knowing. Not that he’d done it that often…Anyway.
His screen opened a window and there she was in all her glory, lying on her stomach with her chin on her hands, morning sunlight filtering in through the window, making the rosy color of her hair even warmer. Tousled hair and rumpled sheets, his sheets, on his bed. Their bed.
“Good morning, sunshine,” he said. “Sleeping in?”
“Trying to. My boyfriend isn’t here so I have the bed to myself.”
“Well, your boyfriend will be coming back today, so you’d better hide the cigars and poker chips,” said Tony, having made up his mind as soon as he’d heard her speak.
“Oh, dear. There goes the male stripper party I was planning for tonight,” she chuckled. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean? Nothing’s going on.” Trying to sound casual, he tacked on, “They don’t need me right now. Not for anything I have to be here for.”
As usual, Pepper picked up on his tone.
“Nothing ‘happened’,” Tony echoed, making air quotes with his fingers. “That’s the whole point. Nobody’s trying to blow anybody up, or suck all the humans off the planet, or kidnap our women, or steal our precious metals.”
“So you’re bored, is that it?” She didn’t sound accusatory, just curious.
“No, not really.” Tony ran his hands through his hair again and sighed. “It’s this consultant thing.”
Pepper’s expression went from puzzled to sympathetic. “Go on.”
“I got a call from Coulson, about – something I can’t even tell you about. They wanted me to go talk to somebody, discourage him from taking a course of action. Fucking head games.”
“So did you?”
“I did. And it worked, and Fury gave me a pat on the head and a doggy treat and told me to run along.”
“That sucks.” Pepper knew exactly how he felt about being at SHIELD’s beck and call. Especially when it didn’t involve the suit and, as Tony expressed it, “blowing up shit”.
“You’re not giving up the Avengers project, are you,” she said, not asking, but verifying.
“No, of course not. They’ll need all the help they can get when bad guys show up. And the tech is completely nerdgasmic. I showed Thor how to work the emergency pod release on the helicarriers and he spent the afternoon practicing. It drove the ops guys nuts.”
He was laughing now and Pepper grinned.
“I need to come home,” he said as the laughter faded.
“You are home, Tony.”
Sure, he’d grown up in New York originally, in the shadow of the Expo and his father’s mansion. But he knew now exactly where he belonged, and it wasn’t on the East Coast. He shook his head.
“Wherever you are is my home, Potts,” he said. After all these years her last name was still an endearment rather than a formality, and she smiled fondly at him.
There was a pause, the stars aligned, Tony experienced a rare moment of absolute certainty.
“Potts,” he asked quietly, “will you marry me?”
Her eyes drank in his image for almost a full minute. He tried not to fidget.
“Yes,” she said finally. “Yes, I will.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he told her. He’d break his previous speed record if possible.
Pepper’s expression was sultry.
“I’ll be right here,” she whispered.