"Hand me the mock duck?" Tony and Pepper are sitting on the floor, backs against the pristine white couch of their living room in Avengers Tower. He hands her a white carton without looking and she digs into the garlic squid without noticing. They eat without talking, letting their weariness push them into the carpet. It is 3 am.
"Pepper, it's just -- listen, doing the suit thing almost killed me. I have so many nightmares. And when I try to fix things, I make them worse. I almost ended the world last week."
"First, Ultron was just as much Banner's fault as yours. And B of all, we agreed not to have this conversation anymore."
"No, you agreed to that, I never did."
"Well, we're still not having it."
"I know what the Iron Man technology will do to a person. I just want to--"
"What, rescue me from it?"
"I didn't say you needed rescuing. You're the one who said that."
"Oh, fuck you."
"I'm worried. I don't want that suit to come between us."
"That's rich, Tony."
"I'm serious. I don't even know where you were all night."
"I was in Cape Town."
"Please tell me you didn't go as Rescue."
"Obviously I went as Rescue. I brought a team to do infrastructure repair sprints and we couldn't possibly meet all of the action priorities without heavy lifting and propulsion."
"I thought you said you were going to do like a humanitarian relief thing. Couldn't you just do a speech? Start a foundation?"
"The last thing anyone in Cape Town needs is a rich white lady smiling for cameras. I used to try helping the world like that, Tony, and it doesn't have any positive impact in the long run. With the Rescue suit I can actually help people."
"I hate this."
"Welcome to my life since you came out of that fucking desert, Tony." They look at each other. He wants to argue, but when he opens his mouth to talk, she does that thing with her eyebrow that changes her expression from please listen to me to don't even bother because I know you know I'm right. He picks up a baby corn with his chopsticks and throws it into the fireplace.
"Tell me how to help."
"Well, I have some thoughts about deployable stabilizers for working in post-urban rubble conditions." They eventually make it onto the sofa and sleep in each other's arms for a few hours, but the morning, like all the mornings, comes too soon. They make love in the shower and then she's donning a suit while he goes to the lab to work on stabilizers.
Iron Man speeds through the air toward Mombasa. There are emergency reports consistent with rampaging cyborgs and his modeling shows that maybe, if some of the Ultron robots got through, they could have washed ashore there. There's a chime from his heads-up display and he orders it not to answer but she overrides this command like she always does.
"I have to do this, Pepper."
"Will you just wait up for two minutes? I'm behind you and I can't catch up if you're at full speed."
"No, don't keep you alive? Don't prevent this incident from spiraling out of control?"
"I put you in that suit to keep you safe." He slows down anyway. Just a little. He tells himself it's to conserve power for the fight ahead.
"And then you modified it for me."
"But you wouldn't even let me put weapon systems in it!"
"I know. And I had Banner take out the ones you tried to slip past me, too."
"Banner isn't even--"
"He's hiding from the Avengers, not from everyone."
"Pepper, will you just--"
"YES, TONY, I WILL JUST. I will just clean up the messes when super-powered resources inflict damages, and I will just hold up falling buildings instead of knocking them down, and I will just follow you into danger because maybe if you could get it through your stupid metal helmet and into your thick skull that you're not alone, maybe, just maybe, you wouldn't go wandering around with dick-extension weapons systems making things worse all the time!"
He sends the latest satellite pictures and military reports from Mombasa to her and she doesn't point out to him that she already had access to them, so obviously they've come to a nice compromise. The situation doesn't look exactly hunky-dory, but of the two cyborgs, one is already down and they have real-time tracking on the other.
"Shit, Tony, did you see the commercial air traffic?"
"Why would I look at--oh shit." It's only a small passenger jet, but it is in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time to have a total communications failure and the Kenyan air force has scrambled a fighter to take it down just in case it's somehow related to the attack in progress. "Pepper, don't even think about it."
"I've got it, Tony, we're almost there." She's descending now, because getting between an Airbus A319 and the air force deployment determined to take it down is a really great idea.
"We have to focus on finding the cyborg, Pepper. I am putting my foot down; it is preposterous for you to try to save that airplane!"
"You saved a load of plane passengers once."
"And you yelled at me for hours! You called me a reckless idiot and I don't want to say you were right, but it maybe wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done and--"
"Shut up, Tony, you were a reckless idiot. Saving airplanes is kind of in my wheelhouse. Taking down cyborgs is in yours. Go get 'em, tiger." And then she's hurtling toward the fighter jet and dammit, she's right, and the robot is out there terrorizing civilians and will do more damage if he stays to argue with her. But going down into the city while she's up there being all diplomatic and shit is hard. He pictures her in front of an armed missile and he punches the fucking robot harder than any robot has ever been punched before.
Later, in his lab, halfway through a bottle of single-malt, he realizes he punched the robot down into the ground instead of into the side of a building.
"I'm not worried about scorch marks on the Rescue suit, Tony." She's sitting on his lab bench in cut-off jeans and an a-frame shirt, and he's so relieved to have her here, safe and relaxed, that he doesn't even stop her from picking up his tools and messing with things.
"Well, excuse me for caring about the structural integrity of your primary torso element."
"Aww, after all these years, you finally figured out what integrity means!"
"Ha ha. That's very funny. See, I'm laughing at your little joke."
"I saved 103 people today, you know. It would have been another Triangle Shirtwaist up in there."
"Tony, your knowledge of this city's history really sucks sometimes."
"Shit." She's looking at her phone, which has been making distressed noises all evening from her back pocket. "I guess there was a board meeting today."
"Yeah." She pulls the battery and shoves the pieces away from her. "I'll do damage control in the morning."
"You know, I like you in nice safe boardrooms, Pep. I like when you're tearing out corporate throats instead of flying into burning deathtraps." He slides his hands up her arms--and damn, she is getting some serious muscle tone these days--and over her shoulders to work on her traps. "I like when you wear powersuits. Like that little purple Burberry thing?"
Pepper moans appreciatively and turns her legs toward him. "If you mean the black-and-purple checked wool skirt, it is Calvin Klein, and that's a shopping suit, not a work suit."
"What's the difference?"
She is collapsing against him inch-by-inch. Her chin finally rests on his shoulder and the angle is too awkward to keep rubbing her neck muscles, so he slides his hands down and starts tugging on the hem of her shirt. "The skirt is shorter than I like for the office. I only wear it when I want you staring at my ass. Or when I want the tailor to have his assistant go out for gelato so he and I can be alone together."
"You are so not cheating on me with the tailor. His haircut is awful." The beautiful expanse of her upper back--which is also filling out with muscle--is distracting him from feeling jealous. She pulls away and starts unbuttoning her shorts, so he hurries to catch up in the whole nudity situation.
"No, I'm not cheating on you with the tailor. But if you wanted to do another threesome like the thing in Belize, he'd probably be up for it."
"Now you're talking."
"Shut up and kiss me, Stark."
Tony pushes his pants and shorts down. He puts his hands on the lab bench on either side of her and leans close. He puts his mouth next to her neck and blows on it, then moves up to her earlobe, which he menaces but does not nibble. Pepper puts her hands on top of his and slides her hips closer. When she says his name it comes out as a groan. He continues to deny her, even though his erection is aching. He moves toward her perfect lips, his own mouth half a millimeter from her cheekbone, and he doesn't see the kick coming, just feels her foot in his abs and he's suddenly eight feet away and flat on his back. He wonders how it is possible for his cock to be even harder.
"Tony. I just want you to know, when I straddle you and make love to you, that I am not fragile. I haven't been breakable for months now."
"Sweet lord in heaven, you do not feel fragile wrapped around me like that." She already has him right up to the edge and then oh god she starts doing that thing to his nipples. He wants to scream.
"Tell me you admire my physical prowess, Tony, tell me how hot it is."
"God, Pepper, yes, Pepper, you're hot any time you do anything, just--please--" His fingers dig into her hips and it feels like she's breaking him one molecule at a time. She's panting and grinding into him and with each screaming breath that comes out of her she milks his cock and tightens down on his nipples and he gives up and erupts and it's the best orgasm he's ever felt. She lets go of his nipples and throws her arms back and he swears he feels the floor cracking under him with her final thrust. Pepper's head snaps back and her orgasm roars out of her like fire. No, wait, it actually is fire. Pepper is breathing fire.
He lies there panting for a minute. "So... that's new."
"See, Tony, you don't have to worry about me going into burning buildings." She's headed for the wet bar. Tony wonders how she can just walk around after sex like that and whether he will be able to lift his head off the floor by the time she pours drinks.
"You could really use that trick in the board room, though."
"Ugh, don't remind me about the board. Tequila?"
"As long as I don't have to move yet."
"Tony, how did you do it?"
"How did you manage the whole work-life balance thing?" She drops gracefully to a cross-legged position next to him, tequila in one hand and a handful of lime slices in the other.
For that, he manages to sit up. He takes two shots before answering thoughtfully: "Um. The what?"
"You know, a balance between being in the suit and running the company." She glares at the lime she's just bitten and spits out a seed. "Why are you laughing?"
"Because I didn't manage it. I made you be CEO, remember?"
A month later, Pepper zooms in for a landing and Tony is waiting with open arms. "Honey, what did you do to the left knee?"
"It was an earthquake. There were rocks falling."
"Did everyone die?"
"No, you ass, I saved them. But yeah, I took a little damage. Give me a minute to change into something more comfortable." She tosses the helmet at him, which he catches and sets down gently. He never used to treat the equipment so carefully.
"Stay in the suit," Tony suggests with a wink.
"I mean, I was hoping to have sex, but I guess I can stay in the suit."
"Pepper, I built it. Do you really think there isn't a... back-door protocol?"
"I will crush you."
"Woah!" A third voice breaks in, stepping off the elevator. "See, I did not need to know about your weird kinks. Is knowing about your weird kinks like a CEO thing? Because I did not sign on for that."
"Darcy!" Pepper's face lights up--not, like, on fire, she's just happy. "How's the job?"
"No, Darcy, you should go, we're having a moment." Tony turns back to Pepper. "You don't care about the job, that's why you made her take it. We were having a moment."
"We were having twelve percent of a moment."
"Are you ever going to let that go?" But it's too late: most of the Rescue suit is already off and Darcy has an armful of files. Tony sits on the floor and starts starts examining Rescue's left knee joint so he can design a stronger one.