“It's not that I don't trust you, see.” Tony's pacing back and forth across the room, and it's like watching a slowly swinging pendulum. “It's just that I'm trying to save you the agony of, you know, being in my head.”
“Anthony,” Charles says calmly, but Tony doesn't stop pacing. He does look up from his feet and stops waving his hands around, at least. “I'm not asking you to do anything that you are uncomfortable with.”
“I'm not uncomfortable! I'm fine.” Pepper glances over at Charles, the two sharing a look that Tony can't decipher, but it doesn't bode well regardless. Tony frowns. “Are you two talking without me? Stop that, it's weird.”
Charles, thankfully, resists saying anything. Pepper is not so kind. “Yes, not uncomfortable at all. You show it so well.”
“There's a difference between being comfortable with telepathy and being obviously left out of a conversation,” Tony points out, only pouting a little.
Sighing, Pepper stands, leaning down to kiss Charles on the cheek. “Then you two can sit around and have all the conversations you want. However, I have work to do.” She stops Tony's pacing just long enough to give him a peck on the cheek as well before walking out of the room. Tony watches her go, then practically collapses in the seat she’d just vacated.
“What am I going to do with you,” Charles says fondly. Tony rolls his eyes but doesn't stop Charles from leaning over and squeezing his hand. “Perhaps this is a conversation for another time.”
“Lunch?” Tony offers, trying not to sound too hopeful. Charles smiles, mentioning something about that Italian place down the street, and Tony finds himself smiling back.
“We can't push him,” Pepper says, setting tea down in front of Charles. “He'll just retreat if you push too hard.”
“I had no intention of pushing at all,” Charles answers simply, picking up his mug. “He'll talk to us when he's ready.”
‘You better be prepared for a long wait.’ She doesn’t look perturbed when Charles glances reprovingly at her. “What? You know it’s the truth. Tony may not hold back when he wants something, but he sure as hell takes a long time to figure out what it is he actually wants.”
“I have faith he’ll come around.” He sounds so certain of it that Pepper just nods and sips her tea. She may know Tony better than anyone, but Charles had a way of understanding him that was rather surprising. Pepper was always impressed, at any rate.
“Thank goodness you’re so patient,” she says.
“I could say the same to you.”
“Long-suffering and exasperated is more like it.”
“With Tony they’re often the same thing,” Charles replies with a quiet laugh.
Pepper nods, and they settle into a comfortable silence. She can feel Charles on the edge of her consciousness, polite as always, and she lets him in without hesitation, allowing the affectionate warmth she’s feeling to spread over him. It hadn’t been easy at first, achieving this level of comfort with Charles inside her head, but now it felt as natural as if she’d been born this way. Charles’s presence wraps itself around her, and she relaxes into him, wishing that Tony was capable of doing the same.
Charles does his best not to intrude on Tony’s thoughts, he really does. The problem is that Tony is just so loud all the time. And at times like these…
He sighs and buries his face in a spare pillow, trying to block out the images. So much for getting some sleep. Closing his eyes doesn’t do a thing to stop the glimpses of skin and breathy moans. He tries to pull his thoughts away from Pepper and Tony, cut them off, but as much as Tony protest the telepathy, he certainly doesn’t have a problem projecting his thoughts. It’s gotten to the point where these occasions were more frustrating than embarrassing, and Charles resolves to have a talk with the two of them in the morning about possibly being a little mentally quieter when they have sex.
Without warning, Pepper’s thoughts catch onto his, all pulsing heat and calloused hands on smooth skin and Tony rutting into her. It hits him like the bullet to his spine, a sudden shock of surprise, but unlike the bullet this is considerably more gratifying. Charles’s head swims, empty of everything except Pepper — Pepper’s thoughts and Pepper’s feelings and Pepper’s pleasure, all focused on Tony. It’s overwhelming, and Charles clenches his teeth, fisting the bed sheets as he severs the connection.
Sighing, he wipes the sweat from his brow before draping his arm over his eyes, taking several slow, deep breaths. Yes, he definitely needs to speak with the two of them tomorrow. Apologies were in order whether they had realized his intrusion or not.
Surprising no one, Pepper and Charles are already in the kitchen eating breakfast when Tony drags himself out of bed and towards the coffee machine. He gets through half a cup before he realizes neither of them have spoken since he entered the kitchen.
Pepper pats the seat next to her, and Tony sits down without comment. “Charles was just commenting that we might want to keep it down when we have sex.” Tony blinks owlishly at her, uncomprehending. “You know. Up here.” She taps her temple.
“Oh. Oh! Huh.” He turns to observe Charles, who has a faint blush over the bridge of his nose but otherwise looks completely composed. Tony gives him a toothy grin. “You’re free to join us anytime, you know. If you’re interested.”
“Tony!” Pepper chides at the same time that Charles says quietly,
“Anthony, we’ve discussed this before, I wouldn’t feel comfortable intruding on your time with Virginia…”
“You apparently didn’t mind last night,” Tony interrupts with a leer.
Pepper pointedly clears her throat. Tony ignores her. “That was an accident,” she adds, clearly realizing subtle isn’t going to work with him. “He already apologized.”
“Look, Chuck, you know we don’t care if you hear us fucking, audibly or mentally or whatever,” Tony explains, also ignoring Pepper’s exasperated sigh. “I’m not exactly performance shy.”
If Tony’s not mistaken, Charles looks like he’s trying not to laugh as he answers, “It wasn’t just that, exactly. It seems Pepper was, ah, reaching out to me, and we connected for a few moments during her climax.”
Tony’s eyes go wide, processing this, and he swivels in his chair to stare at Pepper. “You did not.”
Pepper’s expression, for the most part, is equally part defensive and part coy. “Not on purpose.”
Turning back to Charles, Tony takes a deep breath and drains the last of his coffee before continuing. “So I technically made you orgasm last night too.”
“You — ” Charles frowns thoughtfully. “I suppose?”
Grinning, Tony just gets up to get more coffee. Pepper sighs again and reaches across the table to touch Charles’s hand gently. “Don’t worry about it, okay? These things happen.”
“Still, it was incredibly rude of me. It wouldn’t do to not apologize.”
Pepper knows not to protest any further, instead smiling sweetly and sipping at her own coffee. “I hope you enjoyed it, at least?”
Tony chuckles, sitting back down at the table with a fresh cup of coffee and three chocolate chip muffins on a plate as Charles smiles back at Pepper. He’s already got a mouthful of food when he adds, “I’ve been told I’m kind of fantastic in bed. Not to brag or anything.”
“I’m sure your skills are exemplary, Anthony,” Charles replies, amused. He glances meaningfully at the plate of muffins. “I hope those are for all of us.”
“Nope, all mine. Get your own.”
“I’ll get you one, Charles,” Pepper says, and while she’s across the kitchen Tony leans forward and whispers theatrically,
“But seriously. Good?”
Charles grins and taps Tony’s plate. “Just eat your breakfast.”
Tony pouts the rest of the morning.
“This is the worst movie.”
Pepper snorts and curls tighter around Tony’s arm, snuggling closer to him. “You’re just saying that because there are no explosions.”
“No,” Tony mutters in a tone that clearly conveys the opposite.
From his angle in the doorway, Charles can’t see Pepper roll her eyes, but he can imagine her doing so. Pepper and Tony don’t seem to notice that he’s there, too wrapped up in the movie and each other, and he watches them for a moment, observing their behavior before deciding it would be best not to disrupt their time together.
Escaping unnoticed is a little harder than he’d expected, however.
“Charles, we know you’re there,” Pepper calls, her gaze not leaving the screen.
Tony looks over his shoulder, as if surprised to see him there. “What’re you doing lurking around? Come on, the movie’s only, like, twenty minutes in.”
Charles stops trying to back his wheelchair out of the living room, reversing direction to go join them on the couch. Tony holds out an arm to help Charles maneuver from the chair to the couch, knowing that offers of any further assistance would be waved away. With Charles tucked against his other side, Tony leans back, arms around both Charles and Pepper’s shoulders.
The movie isn’t as bad as Tony had made it out to be, though Charles thinks he enjoyed it much more than Tony had. Pepper, despite her protests, had fallen asleep right before the end, and was still asleep after the movie had ended.
“This is why I never let her pick the movie,” Tony grumbles, but he’s gently stroking Pepper’s hair, so Charles assumes he’s not actually annoyed in any way.
“Really? I would have guessed it was your need to have everything done your way,” Charles remarks lightly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Ouch, right in the heart.” Tony sighs, head resting back against the cushions so he’s staring at the ceiling. “Suppose I should get her to bed.”
“Unless you want to leave her on the couch, which I doubt she’d like.”
“No, I learned my lesson there.” With a groan, Tony retracts his arms from around Pepper and Charles, rubbing at sore shoulders.
“Sorry,” Charles says almost automatically, and Tony stares quizzically at him. “What?”
“You know, for a guy so intent on making some sort of big emotional connection via psychic voodoo, you don’t seem too excited about getting close to the two of us.”
“It’s not ‘psychic voodoo,’ please. And I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tony snorts, the action making the light of the arc reactor flicker as the blanket draped over him and Pepper shifts. “Never wanting to ‘intrude’ on my time alone with Pepper, apologizing for stuff we want to do with you — doesn’t exactly scream interest in us.”
Charles keeps his expression relaxed under Tony’s scrutiny. “I assure you, I most certainly wish to be here. You would know very clearly if I felt otherwise.”
“Then why don’t you kiss me. Or Pepper.”
“I have — ”
“You let us initiate them, sure. But I don’t think you’ve ever started one yourself.”
Charles hesitates, thinking. Surely Tony was mistaken, there had to have been times… His silence is apparently confirmation enough, however, and Tony shakes his head.
“Look, it’s no big deal. I get that this is weird for most people, so if you want to back out, that’s fine.”
“What are you…” Charles frowns, realization dawning on him. “Are you trying to break up with me?”
“No! Well, yes, if that’s what you want. Can’t say I prefer it, but — ”
“Anthony, honestly,” Charles interrupts, expression fond but a little exasperated. “I don’t want to do anything of the sort.”
“Oh. That’s. I mean. Are you sure?”
“Very.” He reaches up, hand cupping the back of Tony’s neck, and guides him forward to press a soft kiss against Tony’s lips.
Tony rests his forehead against Charles’s, eyes closed. “You just did that to prove a point.”
“Are you complaining?”
“…No.” At Tony’s side, Pepper stirs, and Charles releases his neck so he can sit up.
“Best get going before she wakes up,” Charles says with a smile.
Tony helps Charles back into his chair before carefully scooping up Pepper to carry her to their bedroom. Charles watches them leave, looking thoughtful.
Charles kisses Pepper in the kitchen before she heads off to work the next morning. She’s flustered for a moment, but it’s a pleasant sort of surprise, and she kisses him back with gusto.
Tony grins at Charles while Pepper tries to compose herself as she exits the room.
“It’s a form of emotional intimacy to him, Tony. He probably thinks you don’t want to connect with him on that level.”
“He’s not a Vulcan, Pep! We don’t need to have any sort of mind meld to…to be intimate or whatever.”
“Right, and your reluctance to even say the word ‘intimate’ has nothing to do with it.”
“I am plenty intimate, thank you.”
“I’m not just talking about physical intimacy.”
“Neither am I.”
They stare at each other for a solid thirty seconds, both of them refusing to back down. It’s a little hard for Tony, considering Pepper isn’t wearing a shirt at the moment.
“If you just tried once, maybe…”
“I’ve told you, I don’t want anyone in my head, even Charles. Especially Charles.”
Pepper finally breaks away from their staring match, her hands clasped in her lap. “I know you think it helps to keep everyone out, but it really doesn’t, Tony.”
“I’m not doing it for me! Well, okay, I’m partially doing it for me. But I’m serious when I say I don’t want to put Charles through that. The fact that I’m stuck in my own head is bad enough. Charles doesn’t need to suffer too.”
“You don’t think Charles understands that? He’s already suffered too.” Her voice is quiet, but Tony would never mistake the tone for softness. “He just wants to help.”
“Then he can help by keeping out,” Tony mutters petulantly.
“If you say so, Tony. Just think about it, okay? Charles is trying to make changes for us. The least you could do is do the same for him.” Pepper exhales loudly and flops back onto the array of pillows decorating their bed.
“Er, are we still…?”
“You’ve already worn me out. Just go to sleep.”
Tony groans into a pillow. It had gotten to the point where he was practically cockblocking himself, and that was not cool at all. He had to do something, fast.
“Pepper! Pep, I already signed these, I don’t know why they’re back on my desk…”
Tony comes to a halt in the doorway, posture tense and uncertain. He feels like he’s intruding on something private, but he’s not exactly sure what. There’s a record playing on Howard’s old turntable that Tony had meant to throw out but never got around to doing so. In the middle of the room, Pepper has her arms around some invisible partner, swaying to the music while Charles watches with a smile on his face.
After a few more elegant turns, she stops, nodding at Tony. “I’m sorry, what’s wrong?”
“These forms,” Tony repeats weakly after a moment, holding up the offending sheets. “I already signed them.”
“Oh damn, that means I gave you the wrong ones.” Pepper comes over and takes the papers from him, Charles stilling the record player.
“What are you doing?” It’s probably the most succinct way he can figure out how to ask what the hell was going on.
“Virginia and I were just dancing,” Charles tells him, still smiling, but Tony thinks he can hear the twinge of sadness that underlies the words.
“Tony, keep Charles company for a moment, I’ll be right back.” Without waiting for an answer, Pepper’s out the door, the clack of her heels on the floor marking her as a woman on a mission.
Tony clears his throat, hands clasped behind his back. “Dancing, huh?”
“Up here, of course,” Charles clarifies, gesturing at his temple.
“I assumed.” Tony smirks, but the grin falls from his face as he asks, “Does it feel real?”
“I can make it feel very real.”
“That’s not an answer.”
Tony doesn’t turn his gaze away from Charles’s stare even though he’d like to. “Not really.”
“Better than nothing?” Tony ventures, and Charles nods.
It doesn’t take long for Tony to steel himself and hold out a hand. “Dance with me?”
“That would require permission that you haven’t given me,” Charles says wryly, hands folded neatly in his lap.
Tony waves his outstretched hand. “This is the permission.” Charles doesn’t react, so Tony pushes forward. “I’m not making any promises, but I think I can handle a quick waltz.”
“It’s the foxtrot, actually,” Charles replies, but he’s smiling warmly again. “Close your eyes.”
Tony does just that, taking in the silence of the room save for the sound of Charles starting up the record player. Then there’s the touch of a hand against his, and Tony opens his eyes to see Charles standing in front of him, the same amused smile gracing his lips.
Tony reaches out his other hand, touching Charles’s face with inquisitive fingers. “Wow, you’re good at this.”
“So I’ve been told,” Charles answers, the sound coming only from the man in front of him, even though he knows Charles is in actuality sitting by the record player.
“You know, you could probably have sex like this,” Tony suggests, smiling at the genuine laugh that gets out of Charles.
“I thought we were taking it slow.”
“Telepathy sex is taking it slow,” Tony retorts, already running through possible scenarios in his head and calculating how to factor Pepper into the plans.
Charles just shakes his head and tugs Tony closer, slipping an arm around his waist. “I can see what you’re thinking, you know.”
“Oh no, now you know what a horrible deviant I am,” Tony exclaims in mock horror, eyes wide with dismay. “Just dance with me, dammit.”
Charles does just that.
“Okay, I found the right forms, Tony — ”
Pepper quiets instantly upon entering the room. Tony doesn’t notice her entrance, clearly too caught up in his dance, but Charles — the actual Charles — opens his eyes and smiles at her. She goes over to sit beside him, the file folder in her hand forgotten as she sets it on an empty chair.
Taking hold of one of his hands, she murmurs, “You two seem to be enjoying yourselves.”
“He’s an excellent dancer,” Charles says quietly. Pepper lifts his hand, pressing kisses to his knuckles. It must distract Charles enough that his concentration wavers, because Tony glances over at the two of them, a questioning look in his eyes.
“I think this counts as progress,” she tells them, and for once nobody protests.