“Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.”
- Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
“I need a shower,” Pepper says, gathering together a ragged semblance of her usual poise. “And...clothing, really, much more clothing, and don't even say it.”
“I didn't say anything. I wasn't going to-”
“I know you were because I heard... oh God. I can hear your thoughts,” Pepper says, sounding utterly dismayed.
Tony can't help the apologetic smile that slips onto his face. Hi, he thinks at her.
“Oh no,” Pepper says, her hands reaching up to cup her temples, as though she can shield him out. Tony hears the echo of her words in his head, like a stone dropping down a well. No no no no.
“This is good,” he ventures.
“No, this is bad, very, very bad,” Pepper says, starting to pace. Bad, no no bad get out bad.
“Before, if I needed to, I could put my phone down and walk away. That doesn't work if you can email me with your brain.” Pepper's thoughts have devolved into a flurry of alarmed exclamation marks. “I need a firewall, or a few thousand miles of ocean between us, sometimes, or I will kill you with my bare hands.” The certainty of Pepper's statement is a little more daunting in the wake of her show of brutal force.
It's also kind of hot, in a self-destructive kind of way.
The glance Pepper shoots his way tells Tony exactly how obvious his thoughts are. “Seriously?”
“Um,” he says.
“I am too tired to deal with this right now,” Pepper says, rubbing her head like it hurts, even though Tony's pretty sure it doesn't.
“I'd fly you home, but...” Tony spreads his hands, encompassing the wreckage of shipyard and suits. Sorry.
“I know,” Pepper sighs, and her shoulders slump.
That's when they both feel the blips of SHIELD approaching by land, sea and air.
“Oh, good,” Tony says. “Even for me, drivers don't like coming to disaster zones, no matter how well I tip. Maybe we can get the Pirate King to drop us home.”
We don't have a home, he hears, and from the look in Pepper's eyes, she knows he heard it.
“New York, then. We can see the New Year in from the top of the Tower.” He nudges the schematics he'd drawn up for the apartments, the ones marked with logos for each of the Avengers. They're empty, right now, except for Bruce, but they're ready.
“Oh, God that's loud,” Pepper grits out, and ducks her head like she's taking enemy fire.
Tony realises she's not talking about the engines. SHIELD is arriving, and they've brought all their gadgets with them.
It is loud, Tony knows, but he's acclimatised to it. He remembers that raw-wound feeling, though. That deafening clamouring from all sides, from the surge of a broadcast to the nudge of a text message. Learning how to filter takes time, and it's time Pepper doesn't have. There's a slight glow emanating from beneath her skin, and she's broadcasting a litany of SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP that's almost painful.
It's instinct to reach out and touch her, to gather her in, and hold her against him. She's hot to the touch, enough that it feels like it's burning his skin, but he doesn't let go. “Listen to me, just to me,” he says, and then he does what he does best. He creates a bubble of white noise, just talks and thinks about random, complex and wildly inappropriate things with a background of rock music until she's not burning up but just shaking like a leaf in his arms, her mind gone quiet. She's desperately afraid and miserably aware of how vulnerable she is, but by the time the first SHIELD agent walks within speaking distance of them, she's not making his clothes smoulder any more.
“You guys had better live up to your acronym and have a shielded room on that floating monstrosity of yours. A quiet room, no tech, nothing but a light switch and running hot water. Capiche?”
The agent nods, and they're spirited away from the wreckage.
The room makes Tony feel like he's lost one of his senses, but it's enough for Pepper to collapse onto the cot like someone cut her strings and fall instantly and deeply asleep. Tony stays awake watching her for far longer than he probably should, but he can't help himself. He spends the time designing special shielding for the penthouse in New York. He's not planning on letting SHIELD poke and prod at Pepper any longer than necessary, and after being on the run, he really is very very tired of being away from a place of his own, that he can trust.
Morning, Tony says, and doesn't even make the obvious joke. (How did you know I was awake, you were thinking too loudly, got old pretty fast, even for Tony.)
“I think we should do everything from bed,” he mumbles instead. “Like John and Yoko. Have a press conference, with nothing but sheets.”
No, Tony. Pepper doesn't even pause from mentally poking at her day planner, moving an afternoon teleconference from two to four, shuffling a board meeting with a SHIELD contract negotiation without even so much as opening her eyes.
“Well, I know you like heels, so maybe you can leave those on.” Tony smirks, kisses the nape of her neck. She's soft, warm, and sleep-loose in his arms, he can't help but press against her.
“Mmm,” she sighs, sending reminders off to a manufacturing plant on another continent, and wow, that's hot.
“You didn't say no,” he says, letting his hips twitch a little, sliding a hand down to the point of her hip.
“Time and a place, Tony,” she says.
“We're in bed, and forgive me if I'm wrong, but you just cleared your morning schedule.”
“I thought we talked about you looking over my shoulder like that,” Pepper grumbles, but she hasn't moved away, so Tony takes it as permission to nuzzle up into her hair, press in a little closer. He feels Pepper's breathing speed up a little, actually hears the punctuation mark of her awakening arousal, and man, that will never get old.
“You're interfacing with a tablet I built specifically for you, with your brain,” Tony says, because that is totally self-explanatory. Pepper turns her head enough for him to catch her mouth in a sharp kiss, and from there, it's easy, so so easy, to guide her leg up and press inside her with one long, slow, firm roll of his hips.
The sex, as it has been every time since, is short and almost mind-breakingly intense. It's quite literally a feedback-loop of emotion and sensation, and there is nothing not-awesome about it. Once they developed a bit of stamina and stopped coming in two seconds flat, Tony had decided that there really wasn't much in the world worth leaving bed for. Pepper, unfortunately, still feels otherwise, but she's always been more long-sighted than him about things like actually doing what we're paid for and I have to run a company, Tony, God, oh, fine, just one, two more then if you don't stop doing that I will actually tie you to this bed in a non-sexy way.
Tony refuses to believe there's a non-sexy way.
They're still dizzy with orgasm, still panting, Tony's dick still twitching inside her and he can feel her feel that, God, when he remembers something.
“Hey, I'm going to pick up the bots today,” he mumbles, fuzzy with afterglow.
“That's why I cleared my morning,” Pepper replies.
“No it's not.”
“It was,” Pepper argues.
Was not. Tony twitches his hips, and they both cry out. They're over-sensitive, but he can feel his cock slide in the slick of come inside her, and it's so hot he wants to take her again even if he's physically incapable.
“Was,” Pepper gasps, but he can feel the flutter of her clenching around him.
“If I say you win, will you let me eat you out, right now?” he asks breathlessly, letting his hips shift again, even though it almost hurts.
“Yes,” Pepper growls, and then it echoes in his head, yes yes please yes, long after she's wordless and reduced to tiny whimpers and quivering thighs, her fingers tangled in his hair, pinning his head in place.
“Hey kids, these are your new digs, check 'em out,” Tony says. The tailgate lowers and the bots coast down it eagerly, like children zooming down a slide.
“Welcome home, sir,” JARVIS says aloud. In the code underneath, Tony can hear him welcoming, berating and bemoaning the bots in turns.
SIR WHERE IS BLENDER? WHERE WILL DUM-ME MAKE SM00THIES? WHERE IS CHARGING STATION? WHERE IS SIR PEP? IS SIR PEP OPERATIONAL? IS SIR PEP IN STORAGE?
“Your new blender's there, try not to break it immediately,” Tony replied, pointing to the kitchenette. “Your charging station will go over there, I haven't unpacked it yet. And Pepper's upstairs. She's fine.”
Actually, I'm here.
Tony and all three bots swivel to face her in synch, to stare straight at Pepper where she's standing inside the workshop door.
“Well, that's creepy,” she says aloud, without dropping her smile. I heard you arrive, she adds, and Tony feels an echo of the garage door opening, of JARVIS recognising him and letting the car through to the inner workshop.
SIR PEP HAS HAD AN UPGRADE, Dummy announces.
“Brace yourself,” Tony says.
Hello Dummy, Pepper says, and suddenly, she's surrounded by all three bots, peering in closely at her and all talking at once in code full of warmth and curiosity. JARVIS scolds them in the background, lecturing all three about manners while Pepper tries to answer them and pay them all equal attention.
“Sorry, they're all way over-excited. Dummy and You haven't stopped chattering since we picked Butterfingers up from L.A.,” Tony explains. Dummy and You had suffered little damage apart from minor salt-water corrosion, and had gone straight into storage in California after salvage. Butterfingers, however, sustained major crush damage to his chassis. Tony had had him shipped to the L.A. R&D workshop, where they had the right tools and hoists and welding equipment to get him straightened out again. He'd been offline until the repairs were complete, and Tony had overseen his rebooting personally.
“That reminds me, Pep, major bonuses for the greasemonkeys in the L.A. workshop, they did pretty much everything but pimp Butterfingers' ride, and I only said no to that because then these other knuckle-heads would want holographic paint-jobs, too.”
“And you have to be the shiniest thing,” Pepper says, and she's got tears standing in her eyes. “Tony, they're people. They're actual people, with...with gears.”
She's petting Dummy and Butterfingers, one with each hand, and You is resting his claw on her shoulder like a dog sadly waiting his turn for affection. It hurts somewhere in Tony's throat, sharp, and his words come out a little rough because of it. “And this girl in the Cally storage warehouse, Lucy, she actually followed the fucking instructions, can you believe it? She's been there, every damn day, on her lunch break, even, cleaning that god-awful grease off them and reading them news articles, and telling them the whole, 'Daddy loves you, he's coming to get you soon' schtick. We need to give her a raise, or a promotion, or buy her a condo, or something,”
Tony's face is wet, but that's okay, because Pepper's breath is coming in soft little gasps, and Tony can feel this aura of affection flowing between him and her and the bots and JARVIS and it's overwhelming his sense of embarrassment at so openly crying about being loved.
“You're not going to buy her a condo, Tony,” Pepper says.
“Not even a little one?”
No, Tony, Pepper says, and switches to scratching You above his claw joints. You produces a string of code that reminds Tony strongly of a purring cat. Tony nudges through the milling bots and rests his head on Pepper's shoulder, sighing raggedly when her fingers slide up into the hair at the base of his skull, rubbing small circles there.
“I'm wiping out her student loans, then, and you can't stop me,” Tony murmurs.
“Fine,” Pepper says, her cheek resting against the side of his head.
Good, because I've already done it, Tony confesses, shamelessly.
I know, Pepper replies, warm and bright in his mind.
SIR HAS NOT HAD FOOD IN 4.5 HOURS. SIR NEEDS CHARGING. DUM-ME WILL MAKE SM00THIES. WHAT KIND OF SM00THIES DO SIR AND SIR PEP WANT? DUM-ME CAN MAKE MANY FLAVOURS OF SM00THIES, BETTER SM00THIES THAN Y00, BETTER SM00THIES THAN BUTT-FINGERS, Dummy says, whizzing over to the new kitchenette.
Make whatever you like, go wild, Tony says.
The resulting mixture is completely undrinkable, but Tony is so happy, he doesn't care at all.