“Jarvis,” Pepper says. “Are you sure he didn't put you up to this, this isn't some kind of joke?”
“Quite sure, Ms. Potts.”
She frowns and taps her foot. “He'd better not be, I have to have these signed off on, the Board is already rumbling and he promised me these a week ago.”
“Master Stark is indeed in the sun room,” Jarvis says, a little more stiffly this time, and Pepper sighs, inclining her head in a tacit apology.
“I believe you,” Pepper says, because really, it's Jarvis, of course she does. “It just doesn't make sense.”
It really doesn't. Tony spends his days in the workshop, the kitchen, and whichever bedroom he finds himself in that night. Sometimes Steve pulls him into the gym, and movie nights are sacrosanct, but the other rooms in the Tower might as well not exist, for all that Tony makes use of them; they're for the rest of the group. Pepper can't recall having ever seen Tony in the sun room, though every so often she runs into Bruce there.
“I am inclined to agree,” says Jarvis. “And yet I think in this case it is understandable.”
The elevator opens. Everything is quiet around her, the only sound her heels clicking against the floor of the hall. She can see the door from here, open just enough to let some sunlight through. What's in there that Jarvis isn't just as surprised as she is? She resettles the folders in her arm and goes to see.
From the door Pepper can see nothing but the long curved sectional and the sky flooding in through the southern wall. There's no sound, no voices raised in greeting or bodies moving or television, nothing to indicate Tony's presence at all, other than Jarvis' insistence and the open door.
Maybe this is.... a surprise? A plot? She moves forward. With Tony it could be almost anything; there's nearly nothing left that could surprise her. At least as she moves into the room she catches faint whiffs of his scent, unusually stress-free, even settled, and she thinks also traces of another, though she can't quite tell which.
As soon as Pepper makes it to the couch she stops. Her shoulders drop, her lips curving without conscious input. This isn't something she'd thought or hoped to see.
The floor of the sun room might be hardwood, but the rug in front of the sectional is easily thick and soft enough for the two curled there. Tony – no, Kitten – is sprawled on his back, legs twisted over, and Natka has draped herself over his chest, almost completely hiding the glow of the reactor. They're napping, Pepper thinks, because Kitten is never this still when awake, preferring pouncing and play and all manner of mischief, but now he only sighs and continues to sleep, eyes shut fast.
That he's so comfortable as to sleep like this, in Natka's company, and not wake when someone enters the room... it sets an aching thing in her chest.
Her heels must have made some noise, or perhaps she's only breathing too loudly; whichever it is, Natka cracks one green eye and fixes her with it.
“Hey,” Pepper murmurs. “How's my lovely one doing? Keeping Kitten in line?”
Natka's tail twitches and she gives one slow blink. Pepper's smile spreads helplessly over her face, and she offers her hand. Natka stares at it for a moment before turning her head away. An ostentatious yawn, a long stretch, and she settles herself curled more tightly about Kitten.
Kitten makes a small rumbling noise and moves in his sleep; Natka kneads his ribs a moment and rubs her face against his. There's something trying to crawl up Pepper's throat, and she thinks it might be an impossible happy sound of her own.
She stands there a moment longer just to look at them. The afternoon sun spills over them in gold and white, pulling purple highlights from Kitten's fur and shimmering over Natka's calico, and given the time of day it should continue to do so for at least the next three hours.
Pepper can give them that much. It isn't like she's a stranger to forging Tony's signature, after all.
She backs out of the room, unwilling to look away until she has to, and closes the door carefully behind her. Closing her eyes, she leans against it. “Jarvis.”
“Yes, Ms. Potts?”
“Would you copy some of the stills from the security footage to my files, please? Use your own judgment.”
“Of course,” Jarvis says. “If I may suggest, it would be a simple matter to print one for your office.”
“An excellent suggestion,” she says, “thank you. Let the others know to keep away?”
“I have already done so,” Jarvis says, his voice warm and intimate, calculated to let Pepper know that she's the only one he would have allowed up here to see the two curled up in the sunlight. They're allies in this, the two of them, Pepper thinks, in this thing that even the rest of their hive doesn't quite understand, and that, too, makes her smile, because she couldn't ask for a better one than Jarvis.
Pepper takes a moment more before opening her eyes and striding back down the hall. The Board will wait, but not patiently, and it's Pepper who will wrangle them and rule them and run interference on her family's behalf, while Kitten and Natka curl up in the sunshine and sleep.