It wasn’t planned.
Tony was amazed that all of the toxins in his body hadn’t sterilized him ages ago, even before the palladium exposure. Pepper had cried, having been told years before that the cysts on her ovaries essentially rendered her infertile.
At first they debated. Tony made holographic charts, outlining the pros and cons. His con list was larger and saddled with his deeply-rooted issues with his father, substance abuse problems, and narcissistic tendencies to disregard anyone but himself. Pepper was a career woman, focused and driven. She knew there were hardly any other areas she could tackle than the top seat in Stark Industries, but she worried what the stress of a difficult pregnancy and working would do to her, or the baby, during those long nine months. She worried about the post-partum depression that had almost taken her mother’s life. She worried that some new project might take her away from their child. She worried that their child would take her away from a new project.
Their window was a very short one. On the last day the doctors had advised was a safe and legal day to carry out any terminations, Pepper sat on the floor in Stark Tower, leaning against one of the curtain windows, staring out at the millions of people weaving their lives through Manhattan. Tony found her, and stood nearby silently, watching. Waiting. Hours passed. Neither moved much during that time.
At four o’clock, Pepper turned slightly, looking at Tony. She held out her hand. He took it, and tensed to pull her to her feet, but she tugged him to sit next to her instead.
It wasn’t planned, and neither were prepared. As with everything, though, they faced it head on. Together.
Telling the others was the interesting part. Clint was deep undercover somewhere; no one outside of top S.H.I.E.L.D. officials knew where, or when he’d be back. Bruce was pleased, shyly offering his congratulations. Thor was ecstatic, raised a toast in Tony’s honor and to their ancestors, and insisted on a feast in celebration. Natasha was silent, her face and posture giving nothing away of her true feelings. Steve, on the other hand…
“Are you going to marry her?” He asked Tony, point blank.
“Steve, it’s just a piece of paper,” Pepper said, reclining slightly on the couch.
“What she said. We know how we feel, who gives a damn about anything else?” Tony agreed. He turned his attention to Natasha. “Really, Your Imperialness, you let him get away with this train of thought?”
She smiled, breaking her silence of the last hour or so. “It’s charming, really. I don’t want to break him just yet.”
“I’m surprised at you, really I am. I’d have thought you’d ruin him the first night.”
“Not necessarily. A lady never kisses and tells, but a lady also needs to know how to… take care of herself,” Natasha said, capturing the straw of her drink between her lips.
Her lover cleared his throat loudly, his cheeks flushed. “But what if something happens to you?” Steve argued, steering the conversation back to the matter at hand.
It had been months since their services as a team had been needed, several long months broken up by individual dispatches, and Tony rolled his eyes at the implications. “Things are different now. Pepper’s been the chief benefactor of my will for most of the time I’ve known her. I’d fix it to include the kid as well.”
Pepper’s eyebrows rose at this. “Really? For how long?”
“I didn’t tell you? Huh. Since… What day did you start working for me?”
“It was a Monday. You blamed the accounting accident, and letting me win an argument, on a hangover.”
“Right. So, since that Wednesday.”
“Bossy little thing, two weeks on the job, storms up to my office from the bowels of the company to yell at me about a decimal point? I got your measure real quick. You’d be fine.”
Steve cleared his throat loudly again. “And what if something happened to Pepper?”
Tony looked wounded. “You don’t trust me with a kid?”
“Both of you. If something happened to both of you. Pepper has been a target before. Or even the child might be targeted.”
Orphan Steve, still recovering from his time in the Depression-age children’s homes of Brooklyn, spoke from ages long gone. Tony sat down, bracing himself on his knees. “That’s what the will’s for, Starry-Eyed Surprise.” Steve raised an eyebrow. Tony waved him off. “Not one of my better ones, I admit. But we can set something up. Guardians, regents of my vast wealth, to rear my heir until such a time that he can take it upon himself. My dad left everything to me in his will. I would have had the same thing happen to me, if the accident had happened a few years earlier.”
“I would be most honored to raise the son of Stark, should the Man of Iron join his brethren in Valhalla,” Thor announced.
“I think we all would pitch in,” Bruce remarked, much quieter than Thor.
“There, see?” Tony clapped Steve on the shoulder. “It’s all worked out. We’re not leaving anyone penniless and out on the streets. I’ve already collected all you strays, why go back on it?”
Steve was staring at the carpet. “It’s just… It doesn’t seem entirely decent.”
Pepper took his hand. “Families are different now. Married, unmarried, single parents, same-sex parents; as long as everyone is loved and healthy, it doesn’t matter.”
“We had that too, you know,” Steve glanced up at her. “It’s not all that different now; we just didn’t talk about it back then. And if it was talked about, it was with some scorn. And my parents… well, Ma raised me by herself. I can’t judge you on that, she did alright. But the other women on our block, I remember them talking about her. I just don’t want you to face the same.”
Pepper smiled. “It’s sweet of you, Steve, no one’s denying that. I’m afforded a little more protection from that kind of talk.”
“Right!” Tony clapped his hands. “I’m starving, and I think Thunderbird over here has called for a feast. Who’s up for what?”
Thus began the nightly ritual of arguing over what to have for dinner—with the pleasant change of everyone winning, and a feast was had by all.
Natasha was taking it easy on Pepper in their weekly self-defense lessons. After the second kidnapping attempt, Pepper had sought out the other woman’s help. “You won’t be able to continue for long,” the Russian stated as Pepper threw up a block to her punch.
“As long as you aren’t flipping me around or punching me in the stomach, we can take it easy. I read that some low-key aerobics were good for me,” Pepper replied.
Natasha said nothing more for the rest of their hour together, until they completed their cool-down stretches. “You’re really going to do this?”
Pepper took a long drink from her water bottle. She leaned back on her elbows, staring at the skylights. “Yeah… yeah, we’re going to do this.”
“You never considered…?”
“We did. I did. For a lot of reasons. Tony didn’t want to give it up for adoption. He had a lengthy speech about the genetics of intelligence and what if the child wanted to find his biological parents and saw us and what he would see as his biological birthright as heir to Stark Industries… There was a lot. I was uncomfortable with the idea as well, for other reasons.”
“And the other option?”
“We’re past that window.”
“But you considered it.”
Pepper met Natasha’s eyes. The other woman had an uncharacteristically hungry look about her that surprised Pepper. “You’ve had an abortion,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
Natasha’s jaw set, but she nodded. “It was a long time ago.”
“And you regret it?”
She tucked a leg up to her chest, hugging it. “No. Not always. But there are days that I wonder. I don’t think there’s anything I would have done differently, but if the circumstances had been different… I do wonder. I don’t know if there are many women who don’t wonder what might have been.”
Pepper slid over on the floor. She didn’t dare touch the assassin, but hoped her presence would be a form of comfort anyway. “I think it’s human nature to wonder ‘what if’s.”
Natasha smiled briefly. Pepper sighed. “There’s Tony. Worse daddy issues than any of the women he’s slept with in the past, a narcotics history that likely lined some drug lord’s pockets for the next century, selfish, rude, overbearing, sarcastic, absent-minded, absent, driven to insanity by his work. For some reason I love that man, but he’s an asshole. And there’s me. Career-oriented and working seventy hours a week or more. Meddling to the point where a middle manager would be irritated. A hand in every project. A mother who almost committed suicide from post-partum depression. The prospect of a difficult pregnancy thanks to my polycystic ovarian syndrome.
“Really, there was a long list of reasons why we should have done it. A lot of good reasons. But in the end… It wasn’t some magical connection I felt, no sudden overwhelming power of motherly love. It was just a decision I didn’t think fit. It won’t be easy, it’s not going to be fun all the time, it’s going to make my hair grayer than it’s becoming, but… It’s Tony. And it’s me. We don’t back down from a challenge, even when it’s each other.”
Natasha pushed her gently. “Sap.”
They decided not to find out the sex of the baby.
After she passed month six, Pepper looked ready to give birth any day now. Bruce, the closest of any of them to a doctor of medicine, was perplexed. “You’re sure of the conception date,” he said, biting the end of the arm on his glasses.
“Sure enough that I shouldn’t be nine months pregnant,” she replied agitatedly.
“Have you seen anyone since you found out?”
“Not since…” Pepper hesitated. Only Tony and Natasha knew about the abortion debate. “Not since the end of the first trimester.”
“I see.” If he took anything from her hesitation, he didn’t mention it. That was the nice thing about Bruce. He offered no judgments against anyone unless they truly deserved it. “Did you have an ultrasound done?”
“Yes, but I didn’t see it.”
He pondered it for a few more minutes. “Well… Either something’s very, very wrong, which I’m sure you would have noticed by now, or you’ve got more than one of those in there.”
Bruce put his glasses back on. “Pepper, you’re slim, but not that slim. You’re either growing a tumor or you’re growing two babies. I’m surprised you didn’t go to an OB before this.”
She looked down. She’d known better, of course, just like most modern women. But between brief sit-downs that turned into four hour naps, and trying to run a Fortune 500 company, the weeks had slipped by. “I’ll go as soon as I can.”
“Pepper I know how you are, but please consider pushing your work onto someone else for a while. If something’s not already wrong, it’s going to be,” Bruce said gently.
It was twins.
Thankfully it was mild, at most, and Pepper was put on a low sodium diet. She wasn’t ordered on bed rest just yet, but she was advised to take on a much lesser role in the company, and a weekly appointment.
Pepper swore and shouted for most of the way home. Tony listened, amusement clearly written on his face. After a full ten minute tirade, she sat back in the seat with a sigh, and grabbed a bottle of water. “You good?” He asked while she downed almost the entire thing.
“No. Six major projects under way and I can’t look at one of them until November. And four of them will be done by then.”
“I’ll step in as acting CEO until you’re allowed to work full time again. I’m already president, the board isn’t going to exactly stop me from running a company with my name plastered on all the pens and memo sheets.”
“And you’ll keep me updated?”
“Until I’m blue in the face from talking.”
“And coming from you, that’s a lot of talking…” she muttered, staring out the window darkly.
She suddenly felt hot tears stinging in her eyes. She wiped at them furiously. “Hey. Hey, what’s that about?” Tony’s entire person changed, and he reached over to hold her. She knew it bothered him when she cried.
“I don’t know. It’s all these stupid… hormones. I’m just…”
She leaned into his embrace. “I hate this.” She could feel him tense against her. “No… I don’t regret it, Tony. I’m just… I don’t… Why am I more worried about my job, than I am about my safety, and the babies?”
“You aren’t asking the right person.”
“Not a good answer right now, Tony.”
“Well, how am I supposed to know? Maybe you like… have some mystical woman power that knows the kids will be fine and you’ll be fine, so you can prioritize something else,” Tony said.
“Maybe it means I’m not going to be a good mother.”
“And maybe there’s that.”
“It’s a possibility. One we hope won’t happen. But hey, I had one good parent and one bad parent, and I turned out… human. Ish.”
Pepper cried the rest of the way home, not soothed in the least by Tony’s brash words. She knew he was trying to ground her in reality, but sometimes she preferred pretty lies to make her feel better at night.
She was put on bed rest a month later. The doctors weren’t sure she’d make it to nine months—eight was rare with multiples, so to be safe, Pepper was confined to the bedroom. It was a nice bedroom with an enormous bed that Tony occupied at least seventy percent of every night, and a friendly AI that was able to summon anyone to bring her what she needed or just to chat, and a television with hundreds of channels and nothing to watch.
She was bored after five hours.
After a week, she’d read seven novels that she’d been meaning to get to for the last twelve years. After two weeks, she’d watched more Lifetime movies than she’d ever cared to and cried during every one. She’d finally learned how to knit, and had produced a scarf and a half—very useful in New York City on the cusp of July. She’d planned Steve’s upcoming birthday party, and helped Tony organize a backlog of old Stark Industry files dating back to 1983.
She slept occasionally.
On July 14, Pepper and Tony were parents.
They came home after three days to the shambles that was the tower’s living space. Even Thor isn’t able to tell anyone what happened after he initiated a drinking celebration. Tony suspected he’d found the hard liquor, instead of the beer they usually kept on hand for the Asgardian.