Tony clenches his jaw, watching her close the distance on her side of the plexiglass. He’s in clean jeans, but it’s the same singed hoodie he wore on the tanker, and the lines of his goatee have blurred into grizzled stubble. He is Not Fine, and that’s underlined by his straight balanced posture, as if he were wearing a three piece suit in front of thousands.
Balanced and braced. He looks like an old dog who’s found himself at the pound, squared up to meet the challenge of being left behind.
Pepper lets go of the IV pole and lays her palm against the wall of the quarantine chamber. She can’t imagine how sore he must be. The one upside of Extremis is the frankly ridiculous healing, even as the constant infusions wrest it from her body, loosen it and spill it out of her kidneys and pores and glands. She’s been pouring sweat since they started the line in her arm.
“This makes no sense, it’s a highly complex nanogenetic compound, it’s not sexually transmitted, and if it were, that horse is already out of the barn–”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” Pepper is gratified to have derailed him, because the last thing she needs to deal with right now is Tony in a full strop. “Besides, it’s only for ten days, maybe less if I test clear for forty-eight hours straight.”
It’s nothing. It’s everything. They’d both seen her die, eyes locked as she fell into flame.
Each of them had fought on, had come through and come together on the other side. It’s what they do. But they’d both been rattled, to the point where Rhodey stepped in and dialed Romanoff on his own recognizance, bringing SHIELD in for clean-up because he was the only functional adult left standing.
“You’ll be fine.” She meant that to come out as conversation, reassurance. Instead it’s a whispered hope.
He checks his surroundings and darts to the outer airlock door, slipping inside with an exaggerated stealth that only draws attention.
He pauses at the second door, not even looking at the Tyvek suits or the scrub shower. His voice is muffled now, coming through the plexiglass and not through a speaker.
If he comes in they’ll hook him up just like her, flush him for days until his system is clean, ensure that she hasn’t contaminated him while she’s shedding this biological thermite out of every pore.
“It’s worth it. Let me in. I won’t drive you crazy.”
Pepper holds the handle of the door, to keep it from turning. “Only two of those statements are correct.”
He’s pressed against the door, chest and nose, his breath fogging it when he says, “How is that different from any other time?”
His hands look like when he came back from the cave, infected workshop scrapes and bloody cracks at the sides of his thumbnails from tearing at machinery in air gone sere from winter and raging fire. They took forever to heal, those bloody grooves, even longer than the socket in his chest, pulling back open every time he used his hands for months after.
Pepper feels her hand open the door before she makes a conscious decision, swearing at herself as she pulls him into the chamber and into her arms.
The kiss he lays on her forehead is a long press and several deep breaths, and it feels like she’s rescued him yet again. He pulls back and smacks his lips. “Oh, that’s not your usual brand.”