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Twinned Orbits

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They traded Tony casually between them, passed him smoothly (or as smoothly as possible) from sphere to sphere, workspace to workspace, taking it in their turn to gently prod him to where he needed to be. JARVIS wondered, sometimes, if Tony realised they were as adept at it as they were, realised the extent of their collusion, his PA and his AI. If he was ... JARVIS doubted it would worry him.


Over time, Pepper had come to realise that there was a spectrum to JARVIS' sarcasm, varying from gently pointed, to perfunctory, to mocking, to genuinely disdainful, to a thin veil over worry or panic. The moment she found herself automatically matching him, much as she matched Tony, was the day she saw Tony smile at her, genuinely and uncomplicatedly, for the first time.


She had come to the lab a number of times, in the past few weeks. Come down to the emptiness and the silence of Tony's absence, just to stand there, her lips pressed so tightly together, her fingers wrapped white-knuckled around each other. Until, eventually, JARVIS had asked quietly: "Miss Potts. Are you alright?"

The moment where she silently, and with little grace, crumpled into tears, was perhaps the first moment in JARVIS' memory where he wished he had a body.


It was amazing how something could pervade your life, all unnoticed, Pepper thought. Standing alone in the ruined penthouse of Stark Tower, listening to the silence as Tony worked to refit all the hidden infrastructure that allowed JARVIS into their lives. Listening to the void, the absence, where there should have been a presence, and wondering at the strange, sourceless chill that shivered through her. She needed JARVIS back, she thought, needed his calm, invisible presence. As much as she needed Tony.

Yes. Amazing, how things crept up on you, and did not let go.


Life was a series of Befores and Afters, Pepper thought. She'd had a few of them, in hers. Before college. Before Tony. Before ... Before Afghanistan. And After. After Afghanistan. That one ... that one was important. At some point, After Afghanistan, her world had slowly shifted to one made of metal, the people in it to armoured, powerful, harsh. She had shifted, too. She had changed, though not yet to metal.

Maybe that's why, these days, when she crumpled to the lab floor in tears, she didn't flinch, or even blink, at the gentle, metal limbs that JARVIS so tentatively wrapped around her.