~ ~ ~ ~
Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist... hero, friend, lover. As Pepper sat on the bathroom counter with a plastic stick that taunted her with a perfectly formed little plus-sign in its window, she was suddenly forced to wonder how Tony Stark would feel about adding "father" to the list. She managed to muster enough sense to pull out her phone and call her gynecologist for an appointment (who, blissfully, had an open cancellation that afternoon), though she remained sitting on the counter.
She ended the call, and then spoke to the room. "JARVIS?"
"Yes, Miss Potts?"
"Not a word about this test to anyone. Including Tony. Especially Tony."
"Of course, Miss Potts. You will tell Mr. Stark in person when he returns from business in London later this week."
"No, I won't." She wasn't sure why, but she felt an overwhelming need to process this on her own for the time being.
"Miss Potts, given the nearly catastrophic results of withholding information in the past, I would advise that--"
"JARVIS, you have your instructions." She slid off the counter. "Now, help me decide how to incinerate this stupid stick."
~ ~ ~ ~
Pepper sat at her desk the next morning, wondering why she'd bothered to come into the office so distracted. The previous day's appointment with her doctor had confirmed her home test.
She and Tony were adults. They were adults in a healthy, stable, adult relationship, all things considered. They had even started to toe around the idea of getting married, but never discussed kids. True, earlier in life she had always pictured herself as a mother, and a reasonably good one at that. However, when your partner is someone who routinely puts on a self-made flying suit of armor to try to save everyone else first and then himself later (if time permits), a certain level of domestic stability is sacrificed. She had accepted this life for herself, but how could she force it upon a tiny, defenseless, dependent--
Her thoughts were interrupted by an overwhelming urge to vomit, which she did into the wastebasket next to her desk. She heard the Tony-only ringtone coming from her purse for about the fourth time since she'd woken up that morning, but she just let it ring as she sipped some water and waited for the nausea to pass. Sending a silent thank you to the-powers-that-be for trash can liners, Pepper tied up the plastic bag to contain the acrid smell, then cued up her voicemail.
"Hey Pepper, it's me again. I've been trying to call you all afternoon here since the meetings ended... I just called the house, and JARVIS said that your schedule was open and that you should be in your office, but that you were... uh... ill this morning. Just wondering what's going on, since I'm guessing you weren't binge drinking at 6am, so, you know, call me back soon, okay?"
Tony was never terribly eloquent with his feelings, but she knew that was him saying he was worried sick about her, and she felt guilty for ignoring his calls. She made a mental note to tell the AI that her symptoms were also not to be discussed with Tony, and dialed.
"Hi, Tony. How's London today?"
"You hate throwing up. Why are you throwing up?"
"I'm not throwing up. I was just a little sick to my stomach when I got out of bed. I had sushi last night; it must have been off." All lies.
"So you're okay now?"
"Yes," she lied again as she started to feel another wave of nausea. "Tell me about the meetings you had today." She frantically tried to mute the phone's microphone and then unceremoniously heaved what little remained in her stomach into the wastebasket, suddenly regretting that she had already tied up the bag. When she regained her composure and looked at her phone, she realized with embarrassment that the microphone was still live. She rinsed her mouth, put the phone back to her ear, and cleared her throat.
"That sushi must have really been awful," he said, skeptically.
She sighed. "I'll be fine."
"You're sick, and nobody will be at home with you. I can be back in time to tuck you in tonight."
"Tony, don't be ridiculous. JARVIS will watch out for me. Besides, didn't you just send your jet to take Rhodey somewhere? I forbid you from flying the suit across the Atlantic just because I have a stomach bug."
"JARVIS can't hold your hair back for you."
"No, but a rubberband can."
"Much less romantic. I could find a commercial flight home."
"Would you even know how to behave on a commercial flight, Mr. Stark?"
"Low blow, Potts."
"You have work to do over there, and you only have one day left. That should be your priority right now."
"You're my priority."
"I can take care of myself. Stick to the schedule. You'll be home soon enough, and by that time there won't be any risk of me spoiling any of your Armani."
"Ms. Potts, you can spoil my Armani any--"
"I miss you, even if you're puking."
She smirked. "Bye, Tony."
After she ended the call, she sat staring at the wall for a full minute, trying to decide what to tell him when he got home.
~ ~ ~ ~
It turned out that "what to tell him" was "nothing." Pepper had silently prayed to every deity she'd ever heard of (except Loki) that she wouldn't have any nausea around Tony, and it had apparently worked. She actually felt great when he arrived late the next night, and was relieved that he seemed to have accepted the sushi story. The morning (and afternoon, and evening) sickness somehow managed only to emerge when Tony was deep asleep, or when she was alone in her office (she had taken to keeping a stash of extra bags near the wastebasket). But suddenly over three weeks had passed since Tony came home, and Pepper still hadn't spoken to anyone about her pregnancy besides her doctor and JARVIS. Tony, being rather well-versed in her anatomy, would start noticing changes sooner than later.
Pepper couldn't quite figure out her reticence, herself. Was she still in denial? Was she afraid, and if so, of what? That Tony would be upset? That he'd take off? She sat on the couch and stared, unfocused, at her half-eaten plate of dinner on the coffee table.
"Do you want a glass?"
"Earth to Pepper." He waved a bottle of wine in front of her and she looked up. "Do you want a glass?"
"Oh, no thank you."
"Hm." He cocked his head and sat down. "Not surprised."
She felt a slight panic. "What do you mean?"
"You haven't had a drop since I've been back from London. I notice these things, Potts. Why have you sworn off? Are you sure 'bad sushi' wasn't code for 'bad tequila bender?' "
"First off, no, I was not drunk or hung over. Second, 'bad tequila bender' is redundant, since 'bad' is the only kind of tequila bender."
"Touché." He tipped the bottle in her direction.
"Third, I'm pregnant." She really had not intended to just come right out and say it, and so she imagined she looked almost as shocked as he did. Almost.
He blinked at her. "Come again?"
"I think that's what got me into this situation." Deflecting a real, serious conversation with innuendo: she had learned from the master.
"That's what got you...?" He looked completely bewildered as he set the bottle down on the table. "Pepper, I think this is definitely an 'us' situation."
That was apparently all the reassurance she needed to let her walls down. Her face crumpled, and she buried her face in her hands.
"Hey, whoa, nonono," Tony babbled as he peeled her hands from her face and held them in her lap, trying to make eye contact. "We're supposed to be happy, right?" That triggered full-on sobbing. "Wait, is there something I don't know about you and Happy?"
She took a long sniff between hitching breaths. "You know there's no one but you."
"And you know I was kidding about Happy. How long have you been bottling this?"
"Since you were in London. I... wondered, though, before that. I was... two weeks late when you left."
He looked stricken. "That trip was almost a month ago. I thought we agreed to no more health-related secrets after the whole palladium... thing."
"I'm sorry. I was scared." She knew that it sounded lame. And she knew that JARVIS was probably feeling about as smug as an AI system could.
"Scared like 'Holy shit, I'm growing a person' scared, or scared that I would flake out on you?"
"Pepper. Be honest."
She sighed, starting to get her breathing under control. "It's bad enough for Iron Man to have to look after a girlfriend, let alone an illegitimate ch--"
" 'Illegitimate?' Jesus, Pepper. What is this, 1950? I'm in this for the long haul, whether there's a piece of paper legally binding us or not."
"But how long is 'the long haul' when Daddy is a superhero? You wrangle nuclear warheads into outer space and chase down bad guys with assassins and mutants, at least when you bother to call for backup. And, that's just on your free time. During business hours, people know who you are and what you are, and you were already a celebrity before that. You might as well have a bull's eye on every side of your head, and I'm terrified about about bringing a baby into--Tony, are you listening?"
He had a slightly stupid look on his face. "I, um... you lost me a little bit after 'Daddy.' "
She tried to be mad, but couldn't. She started laughing hysterically instead.
Tony really looked concerned, then. "Please tell me this is hormones. I'd really like for our progeny to be able to count on your sanity, since mine has historically been debatable."
She managed to calm herself down, and stared at their hands in her lap. "Tony, let's be serious. Your--our--life is dangerous. A baby is a bad idea. The worst idea."
He hesitated. "Are you considering, you know, not going through with--"
She shook her head. "I did think about it, but no."
He brought a hand up to cradle her face and wiped some stray tears away with his thumb. "Well, we've managed some really extraordinarily bad ideas before, so we'll figure it out... later. Let's just... be for a minute, okay? I mean, holy shit, Pepper, you're growing a person."
She gave him a watery smile, and he kissed her softly. She curled into his side as one of his hands settled protectively over her abdomen--an unspoken promise that he would try his best, for both of them.
"You deserve way more than twelve percent of the credit for this one."
She laughed, just a little. "Thanks, Tony."
~ ~ ~ ~