timeboundpythia: (Diamonds)
[personal profile] timeboundpythia
Title: By This Light
Author: [livejournal.com profile] timeboundpythia
Disclaimer: The Iron Man universe and its characters don’t belong to me.
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Iron Man I, II
Summary: The first time that they sleep together, they don’t sleep together.
Notes: Set directly after Iron Man II.


The first time that they sleep together, they don’t sleep together.

Trying to get him to go to the hospital to get checked over is a battle lost before she’s even finished the thought, and while Pepper’s sure that there are at least half a dozen things that they should be doing that are more pressing than just going home and letting exhaustion shut them down, it really doesn’t feel like there’s anything more important in the world right now. People, time, events; they’ll all catch up with them soon enough.

Home. Different homes. Only not tonight, she knows, because he’s sticking within a few feet of her and she doesn’t really want to put the distance there any more than he does.

So, they go home.

The ‘don’t ever end up in Tony Stark’s bed for any reason whatsoever’ directive was not implemented because she fears of her self control, or has anticipated him pushing too far one day. It was simply a clear, clean line, if only in her own head. Even in innocence, crossing into that territory had the potential to mean things that couldn’t be forgotten or undone; mean that she would, one day, when her presence made him uncomfortable, have to walk. He wouldn’t fire her. Oh no. He’d expect her to be objective and fire herself.

He’s fallen asleep (or passed out) on her (often literally) more times than she can count, and those times when there has been a bed involved, it’s been a hotel suite or some other innocuous room that doesn’t quite belong to him, even if he owns the building. Even the times when she’s had to help get him upstairs and into his own bed, she’s made sure he’s not going to suffocate himself with pillows or blankets, left a glass of water on the nightstand, tugged off his shoes and left him to it.

They both pretend that the occasions when he’s tentatively hooked a hand around her wrist and given an imploring tug, sober enough to be aware of her presence, haven’t happened.

Some of her things are in one of the guest rooms, but the ever-changing combination of shirts and suits and skirts has never, ever altered to include nightwear of any description. She’s slept in those suits on the occasions that she must, and fished a fresh outfit from the wardrobe the next morning, no matter how uncomfortable the night has been. Whether she’s been more afraid of being seen to be getting too comfortable or just determined to remind herself that she’s on duty no matter what, she isn’t sure.

Entering his bedroom, he hands her a shirt and pyjama pants from the wardrobe, both his and not some long gone conquest’s. Pepper wonders if she should find it vaguely absurd that he’s trying to put clothes on her rather than take them off, but neither of them are ready for that yet. It’s not absurd. Not really. Perhaps if it was just something physical between them demanding fulfilment, it might be easier.

She slips into the bathroom and gently closes the door behind her. The dress, she peels off and folds up, lodging it tucked beside a stack of towels, ready to retrieve if and when. Pulling the shirt over her head, she rolls up its sleeves and steps into the pyjama pants, tugging on their ties until she’s left trying to knot and secure what seems like reels of slim cotton cord just to keep them up, the fabric bunched at her hips. Laughter bubbles up and she allows herself a single note. It’s probably the least attractive she’s ever felt, and now - now - he doesn’t want to be without her. She manages a half-decent job of scrubbing her smudged and tired make-up free with one those towels, and then drifts barefoot back into the bedroom, faint hint of eyeliner mingling with shadows not painted on.

Tony’s not watching her as she emerges, but slumped on his bed in the dim light and staring wearily at a tablet, though he sets it down when she reappears. He must have changed and cleaned up while she was in the bathroom, and the tiny fraction of her that was afraid she was going to discover him there with absolutely nothing on (even if she’s seen it all before) suddenly feels even worse for having had the thought than it did in the first place.

Looking her up and down, he quirks a brow and she knows he’s trying not to laugh at her.

“Don’t,” she warns, unable to suppress her own ripple of mirth.

“Wasn’t going to say a word.”

Cautiously, she pads towards his bed, telling him, “Sure you weren’t,” under her breath. She watches her hand reach out and lift the covers, then she slips into the side of the bed that will one day become hers. Folding an arm under her head, she settles on her side, facing him, and waits as he slides from his half-slump to lie opposite her, a short stretch of clean sheets between them.

She can’t help it. She closes her eyes, not even the feeble kick of adrenaline as she notes there goes the line enough to wrench her back from that moment of relief. He’s alive. She’s alive. There’s a mess waiting for them, but it’s at least eight hours away, surely. Maybe six. Four, knowing their luck.

“Why haven’t we been doing this forever?” It’s a question and it’s not, as he searches her features, watching her with that oddly unsettled look he has when he can’t figure out something he knows he should be able to master pinching at him.

She thinks she starts to say, ’You know why,’ but it turns out that all she does is smile a tiny, faintly wry smile that says it perfectly adequately without the words to accompany it. To speak those words now - to mention those other women - feels like it would be unbearably crass, and even that seems bizarre, because isn’t he the master of--.

The rest - that she wasn’t ready to acknowledge why she was determined not to be one of those women, for him or for anyone, ever - that might come later. When she’s ready to turn that realisation into words.

“Yeah, okay,” he acknowledges in a low murmur, giving a self-deprecating twitch of his lips as he momentarily glances away, unwilling to look her in the eye as he accepts that much.

A moment’s silence passes before she can’t avoid what ridiculously feels like the easier matter to address. “You were dying.”

“And now I’m not.”

“Tony--“

“Pep, just--.” He sighs and looks away again. “Let it alone, okay? I don’t know what I was doing, you don’t know what I was thinking, so, you see, neither of really has any answers here. Maybe when I’ve been not dying a little longer, I’ll start making some sense--“

She punctuates his remark with a noise that’s neither sigh, nor note of frustrated amusement.

“Very funny.” Reaching out, Tony touches gentle fingers to her arm in a gesture that he’s surely made a thousand times before, made more intimate by their mere surroundings. “I was going to tell you,” he quietly insists.

“When it was too late.”

“Maybe.”

She levels a look at him. Blinks.

“Probably,” he admits. “Was trying not to break your heart--."

Her aforementioned heart constricts.

“--Because we both know the company’s stock price would’ve taken a nose dive...”

The sound she makes is somewhere between exhausted, exasperated laughter and a low growl.

He cracks a sharp, delighted smile, like he just can’t help himself. It fades, little by little, until he finally injects, “...You’re staying, right?” into the silence.

Does he mean with the company or tonight? Does it matter?

“I’m staying,” she tells him, without hesitation.

The last thing she hears before her body betrays her and decides that it simply can’t cope with anything else without some respite is a quiet, content murmur.

She isn’t sure if it’s him or her.

Fin
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