“This is the life. I could do this forever.” Rhodey took a drink of his beer. “Nothing to do but watch the waves and the clouds. Yeah, I could do this.”
“Nothing’s stopping you. Quit the imperialistic war machine and move in.” Tony rubbed a hand down Sophia’s stomach. She was resting on his chest, looking up at the clouds.
“Imperialistic war machine? Was that a pun? Because it sucks if it was.”
The two men were relaxing on the beach of Tony’s island not far from the tent set up for the wedding. They were dressed casually in jeans and open collared shirts, and both had a cold beer, though only Rhodey was drinking. Tony was too nervous – his stomach felt sour. Adding a beer might be messy. Pepper wouldn't be happy with him yakking on her dress.
“You could be move in to the house and be the caretaker.”
“You’ve got a caretaker.” Rhodey pointed out.
“He’s staff – you’re a friend. Possibly family, if I’m forced under duress to admit it.”
Sophia shifted on his chest and Tony looked down at her. She had wiggled around until she was lying where the arc reactor was covered by his shirt. “I think she likes the RT.”
“Yeah?” Rhodey turned his head and looked over the top of his sunglasses at Sophia. She returned his stare for a moment before rolling her head back to look up at the clouds once more.
“Jarvis thinks it’s giving off a vibration or low hum or something she likes.” Tony hadn’t had time to run a specific analysis on the RT. He’d been too busy learning how to care for Sophia and helping Pepper make their wedding invitations.
“You nervous? You look nervous.”
“Nah. Apparently, we’re already married.” He grinned. “She showed me the certificate. It even has my signature on it.”
“I know. Apparently, I was there.” Rhodey chuckled. “Jarvis could have a new career as a counterfeiter.”
“I’m not nervous about the wedding – just the wedding night.” Tony confessed.
“Seriously? The man who’s bedded thousands?”
“It’s not thousands!” He protested
“You want me to do the math? Since you were seventeen, you’ve nailed every piece of available ass within a radius equal to your ego.”
“Hey, young ears here.” Tony lifted Sophia’s hands and put them over her ears.
“I don’t think we need to worry about it just yet.”
“We will, so we might as well get into the habit.”
“Out of it, you mean?”
“You’re really nervous?” Rhodey was honestly surprised that Tony would worry about anything related to sex.
“A little. Not about the sex – let’s face it, I’m fantastic in the sack.” He grinned. “But this is – real – real sex.”
“As opposed to the fake sex you’ve been having for years?” Rhodey let the ‘fantastic in the sack’ comment go by. He’d been a witness – and participant in a few threesome and moresomes – Tony’s reputation was well earned.
“You and I both know that this is the real wedding. Once Pepper and I have sex – consummate it – there’s no going back.”
“I don’t want to weird you out, man, but – “ He pointed a finger at Sophia, grinning when she reached for it, grabbing on and squeezing hard. “But you’re way the hell past going back. Going back isn’t even in the rearview mirror.”
“What if I screw it up?” Tony caressed the dark curls on his daughter’s head, marveling once again at the soft texture. “I want to do this right – they deserve the best.”
“Tony, first of all let me take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about you – well, mostly everything – and tell you you’re a good man. You’ll be all right.” He pointed at Tony’s beer bottle. “And second – don’t waste that, give it here.”
“Pepper will be pissed if you’re drunk.” He handed over the bottle.
“No, she’ll be pissed if you’re drunk. I’m the best man. So long as I hand over the rings on cue and don’t yak during the ceremony – I can get completely wasted if I want.” Rhodey looked up at something over Tony’s shoulder. “Speaking of your lovely bride to be…”
Turning, Tony saw Pepper walking toward them. She had on a simple white cotton dress. The fabric cascaded down her body and lapped around her ankles and bare feet as she moved. He couldn’t stop the smile that came straight from his heart. She was beautiful, and he intended to tell her that every day.
“There’s Mommy.” He got up, cradling Sophia against his chest as he stepped out from under the shading umbrella. “Hey there, Mommy.”
“Hey there, Daddy.” Pepper pressed a kiss to her daughter’s forehead before giving Tony a soft kiss on the lips.
“Promise me you’re not going to do that Mommy and Daddy thing all the time. That’s just weird.” Rhodey gave an exaggerated shudder.
“Says Uncle Roh-Roh.” Pepper mocked. “The judge is here, Tony. We’re ready if you are.”
“I’m ready.” He slid his free arm around her shoulders. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
The ceremony had been planned to be short and simple, neither of them wanting a big, over the top event. Tony and Pepper faced each other, holding hands in front of a small group of friends and family. When Pepper had started making a list, she’d realized she and Tony had very few real friends. On the one hand it was a little sad. On the other, she knew the friends they did have were friends they could trust and count on.The list had included no business associates or members of the media.
Emile Lorde, a judge from a neighboring island had agreed to officiate. She smiled as Tony and Pepper took their places in front of her. “Welcome, everyone, we’re gathered here today to celebrate the love between Virginia and Tony. We’re here not only to share in the formal commitment they make to each other, but to offer our love and support to them as they start their married life together. What better way to begin than being surrounded by the the people dearest and most important to them? Thank you for your presence here today. Virginia and Tony ask you for your blessing, encouragement, and support for their decision to join together as husband and wife.
“Friends, we are here to celebrate the most important promise two people can make to each other. Not only to be together for the rest of their lives, but to support and care for each other. To be the one person who is always there for each other, and most importantly, to love each other.” She motioned for Tony and Pepper to face each other. “Tony and Virginia have decided on traditional vows. After a most decidedly un-traditional beginning.” There was a ripple of laughter from their guests.
“Virginia, do you take Tony to be your lawfully wedded husband? To love, honor, and cherish him for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?”
“I do.” Pepper said, smiling at Tony. They’d agreed there would be no drama. No pretending to think about it or anything silly. This was serious. She wanted this to be her only wedding and funny business was not allowed.
“And do you, Tony, take Virginia to be your lawfully wedded wife? To love, honor, and cherish her for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?”
It was tempting to interrupt and say yes, but this was – hopefully – his only wedding and he wanted it to be as textbook perfect as it could be. He waited until the correct moment before answering firmly. “I do.”
“May I have rings, please.” Rhodey and Happy leaned past the couple to place the rings in her hand. “Wedding rings are a symbol that proclaim to the world ‘we are bound to each other. We have sworn to be together always. We love each other forever.’” She held them up, showing them to Tony and Pepper as well as their guests. “These rings are sacred, for after today, you are saying to the world ‘this is my husband and this is my wife’.”
Emile held out one of the rings to Pepper. “Place the ring on Tony’s hand and repeat after me. I give you this ring as a daily reminder of my love for you and my commitment to us.”
It was a simple gold band with their names and the date engraved on the inside. Neither had wanted anything flashy. “Tony, I give you this ring as a daily reminder of my love for you and my commitment to us – to our family.” Despite her desire to stick to the script, it had hit her as she said the vow that she and Tony were more hand just ‘us’ now. Sophia made them a family.
“Place the ring on Virginia’s hand and repeat after me. I give you this ring as a daily reminder of my love for you and my commitment to us.” The judge handed the other ring to Tony.
Pepper’s ring was beautiful, classic, and not ‘large enough to choke a horse’ per her suggestion. Which he’d taken as an order. “Virginia, I give you this ring as a daily reminder of my love for you and my commitment to us – “ He slid the ring on her finger and repeated the vow, following her lead as always.”– to our family.”
Judge Lorde smiled, she’d married many couples, but she wasn’t sure she’d witnessed the depth of love and commitment she was seeing now. “By the power vested in me and by the power of your love and commitment to each other, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Please kiss to seal your union.”
For a moment, they stared at each other and Pepper felt the ridiculous urge to giggle before Tony leaned in and she met him in a soft, gentle kiss. Their kiss was sweet and lingered just long enough to make Rhodey look at Happy and roll his eyes.
“Friends, I’m honored to present Tony and Virginia as husband and wife for the first time.” Judge Lorde announced. There was enthusiastic clapping from their guests.
Tony motioned for Happy to hand him his daughter. “And baby.”
“Oh, thank god.” Happy was uncomfortable holding Sophia, she was so small and his hands were too big.
“Never thought I’d see this day, buddy.” Rhodey slapped Tony on the back. “Tony Stark, hogtied and leg shackled.”
“And happier than I ever thought possible.” He smiled at Pepper. “I love you, Pepper.”
Blinking back happy tears, she traced a fingertip along his cheek. “And I love you, Tony.”
Despite what everyone expected, the cake was not hot rod red and gold, it was white and the same delicate ocean blues as the decorations, and there was absolutely no smashing cake in each other’s faces. The toasts were tasteful and no one, most especially not the groom, got falling down drunk. Their first dance was to Etta James’ ‘At Last’ and everyone agreed it wasn’t a cliche in this case.
“I was actually tempted to smash the cake in your face.” Pepper confessed.
Tony laughed. “I thought I saw a naughty gleam in your eye.”
They were holding hands, walking along the beach. It was a beautiful night and the lagoon they were spending the night was a short walk. The reception continued on without them, their friends continuing to celebrate, unaware the bride and groom had slipped away.
“I’m a little nervous.”
“Tony, Sophia’s fine. She’s got Jarvis, Rhodey, Happy, and two SHIELD agents watching her. Three if you count Peggy.”
“I meant about us. Tonight. You know.” When she gave him a questioning look, Tony confessed. “Sex. Well, not actually about the sex. We’ve had that and it was very good so more will be even better. But this is real sex as in really married. As in this is married sex.”
“We’ve been sleeping together for awhile now.” She pointed out.
“This is different. I don’t want to screw this up. I’m looking at a life I never thought I’d have. I don’t want to throw it away.”
“I won’t let you. That’s why we’re a team. I’m here for you.”
“You always have been, Pep.”
“Which means you really owe me a lot of bonuses. Look at the overtime I’ve put in.”
“I gave you my company, I’d call that a bonus.”
“After you tried to blow up the Expo.” She protested.
“That was before.”
“Was it before?” Everything about the Expo had blurred together. It was possible she’d repressed parts of it.
“It was.” Tony told her. “See, I’m here to keep you honest.”
“I thought you were here for the great sex.”
“That, too, since we’re being honest.”
Pepper laughed. Modesty was never going to be Tony’s strong suit.
“You know, you’re the only person to ever get through something I’ve built. Stark Tech had no defense against you. After her, I locked my heart up, Pepper. What was left of it. Put a big ass wall around it with a lid on top. locked it up and tossed the keys.”
There was no question who he was talking about. Pepper let him talk, it was rare for him to be completely open about his fears and insecurities, even with her.
“Then I screwed whatever was offered. I didn’t try to have a relationship with anyone. I avoided it – worked hard to avoid having any connection to anyone beyond sex. Mom would say ‘don’t be like your Dad’ and I’d say why not, he got you, didnt he?’
One night or maybe two and I was done. If I thought ‘hey, I kinda like this person, maybe another day or two would be fun or maybe we can have another date next week’ – I’d leave. I wasn’t taking any chances. and it was easier to have someone else get rid of them if I’d brought them home. ‘Cos I might cave and say stay.”
And you didn’t want to deal with tears and fits. Pepper thought.
“And I didn’t want to deal with tears and fits, or them saying I promised them something.”
Which you never did.
“Which I never did. Which meant someone else had to deal with the drama. You had to deal with it. I’m sorry.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “You were the big guns at the gate.”
“Big guns?” She looked down at her chest.
“Not like that! I knew you’d protect me. I’m sorry I had you deal with all of that – all of it – all of everything.”
And there was a lot of everything. “It’s okay, I get it now. Actually, I got it… I don’t know exactly when… a while after we were together. Together as in the boss and PA sense.” She added.”Not like now where we’re together together.”
“Pep, we’ve been together together since you ambushed me in the elevator over the spreadsheet error.”
“I wouldn’t say I ambushed you.”
“I would.” The memory of Pepper forcing her way onto the elevator, waving a piece of paper in his face made him smile. “Right then your Pepper virus went into work on my defenses.”
“Pepper virus? That sounds… gross, Tony.”
“It’s not gross! it’s a cute virus!” He grinned at her. “It has freckles, that’s where the real power is - in the freckles.”
“You caught me.” Pepper held her hands up in mock surrender. “You’ve figured out my evil plan. I deliberately used my freckles against you.”
“I knew it! And the heels – I know you were using those way too tall heels against me”
“They’re not too tall. They’re not out of dress code.” They absolutely were but she didn’t care.
“They totally are! Would you like to see the page in the employee handbook?”
That made her laugh. “Like you could find the employee handbook, let alone the right page.”
“Please, you underestimate me. I looked it right after those first weird red bottomed heels of yours click-clacked into my workshop.”
Pepper remembered those first Louboutins she’d bought after her expenses check had been deposited into her bank account. The personal assistant to Tony Stark might buy off the rack, but it had to be an expensive rack. She’d loved those shoes so much she’d been tempted to sleep in them. “Mr. Louboutin would be insulted, by the way, and you really mean Jarvis looked the page up for you.”
“Whatever.” He shrugged.
“And read it to you.”
“Same thing as reading it myself. I created Jarvis, ergo, when he does something it’s the same as if I did it.”
“Whatever.” She mimicked his shrug.
“I am the one who updated the rule.”
“What?” She stopped and turned to look at him.
“The rule about the heels. I updated it from the dark ages of the 80’s. Me personally with my own two hands.”
“When?” It was both mind boggling and a little frightening that Tony had been tweaking the dress code.
“The next day. Potts, did you not notice?” He tugged on her hand to get her moving again.
“I never checked.” She admitted. “Who reads the handbook more than the one time you’re required to when you’re hired? You didn’t make any other changes, did you?”
“No, and you’re the CEO – you didn’t notice the dress code was updated? I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!” He placed a hand over his chest. “And you never checked once while you were my PA?”
“Going over the handbook wasn’t in my job description.” Neither was most of the things she’d done as Tony’s PA.
“You never checked because you knew nobody was going to tell Mr. Stark’s PA that her heels were too high.”
“True.” She smiled and it was a smug one and she didn’t care. Nobody said anything because nobody thought she’d last anyway and when she did nobody asked because they assumed Tony approved or he’d say something to her. “It was a perfect win-win. Being your PA was like having a circle of protection.”
“You’re hot when you say things like that.”
“So I’m not hot any other time?” She gave him a hip bump, sending him a few steps into the surf rolling up onto the beach. The move backfired when he pulled her along with him into the cool water.
“You’re hot all the time, Pepper, just extra hot when you’re talking gamer speak. I’m not sure I can handle it.”
Leaning close, she whispered in his ear. “Do you need to make a constitution check?”
“Now I really want to have sex with you.”
“Well, I hope so, it’s our honeymoon. I have certain expectations.”
“I will endeavour to meet those expectations.”
They walked along in silence for a few moments, letting the surf roll up over their feet and back out again before Tony spoke up again. “I wondered how she got back in. Then I realized, she was already inside.” He made a face. “Who knew? Like a Trojan horse just waiting to go off. I thought I had her locked out and all this time I was carrying her around with me.”
“She’s gone.” Pepper gave him a soft kiss. “The Pepper virus kicked her out. I’m sorry she got past my big guns.”
“Not your fault. I moved you where you didn’t see her coming in.”
“Wait, I thought she was already inside.”
“Let’s not quibble about details. She’s gone and this time she’s really gone.” Tony smiled as he said it and then laughed. “Jesus, Pepper, I’ve been locked inside with her all this time. I’m free.” He picked her up, turning in circles in the sand. “I’m free!”
Clutching at his shoulders for balance, she laughed. “Tony! A trip to the ER is not what I want to remember about our wedding night!”
Tony set her back on her feet, and wrapped an arm around her waist, holding her against him as they walked onto the bridge leading to the small bungalow perched out over the water. “See there, I had a heart all along.”
“I knew that.”
“Sure, that’s why you gave me the limited edition ‘Proof that Tony Stark has a heart’ gift box.”
Grimacing, Pepper remembered how she waffled about actually giving it to him before deciding he’d appreciate the joke. “I didn’t mean it like that. “
“No, it’s okay, because the glowing prize inside saved my life.”
“It did, thank God.” If she’d decided to keep it instead of giving it to Tony, he’d be dead now. They’d probably both be dead.
“So… I guess you saved me by giving me back my heart.”
“Which you already had? Tony, you’re mixing me up.”
“Again with the details. Pepper, you can truthfully say you’ve held my heart in your hands. how many wives can say that?”
“I have not! That was the RT, not your heart.”
“Not so much.”
“You literally had your hand inside my chest.”
She shuddered. “A memory i’m still trying to repress, thank you very much.”
“I didn’t trust anyone else to do it.”
“I know. I was honored. Grossed out, but honored. I still am.”
“So now…” Tony opened the door to the bungalow. “You have my heart figuratively in your hands.”
“You’ve had my heart in your hands for a long time, Tony.”
“I wish I’d realized it sooner, Pep. We could have been here sooner.” He held his arms out.
Pepper looked at him, at the doorway, and back again. “You really want to do this?”
“Call me old fashioned, Potts, the bride is supposed to be carried across the threshold.”
“I’d call you many things - “ She laughed as he picked her up. “Old fashioned is not on the list.”
Tony carried her inside and set her back on her feet. “I think that went pretty well.”
“It did.” She leaned against him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Will there be anything else, Mr. Stark?”
“Oh....” He smiled and kissed her softly. “There will be a great many more things, Mrs. Stark.”
Reaching past him, she shut the door. “Then we better get started.”