Simple






I love you, Pepper.

Tony says it often. Pepper wonders if she’ll ever get used to it, but she hasn’t yet. Every time he says it, she feels the pang within her, rising up to meet those words, making her answer them back to him.

I love you too, Tony.

He says it when he sees her in the morning, and sometimes, looking up from his worktable, or when they’re in the car by themselves and most often late at night. Sometimes it slips so easily from him that it seems no more than a fleeting thought; a leftover jump of synapses, vocalized.

A reflex, Pepper despairs. As light and easy as his That will be all, Miss Potts used to be.

But sometimes; lately more often, he looks up when he says it, dark eyes locking with hers. Watching for a few seconds before he returns to whatever is going on in his head these days.

And Pepper knows it means something.

***


Still.

Tony is never still, not when he’s awake. Humming, fingers tapping, busily bent over little pieces of wire or over an old keyboard. He moves in his workshop from one thing to another, hands long familiar with the work, moving instinctively to do small jobs they’ve done for years. Pepper used to tease him that he could change the oil in his cars, or repair Dummy in his sleep.

She keeps lots of new filters and quart bottles in stock now. Dummy rolls patiently to have his lifting arm replaced again.

And again.

***


He’s eating better this year. Pepper shares most breakfasts with him, and while Tony still balks at eggs, he’s gotten to like oatmeal, and loves French toast. He tells her again about how his mother used to put vanilla in the batter. Pepper nods; vanilla is good.

I love you, Pepper.

I love you too, Tony.

***


Tony sits in on the meetings, listening, or at least looking like he’s listening. Pepper is amused at how she can see the restlessness in his hands, in the bounce in his feet. He really is like a child; trying to be good, waiting for the boring parts to be over so he can get back to having fun.

He signs his name on the papers she puts in front of him, and tells her that her shoes look pretty.

Pepper redirects his attention, and works with her BlackBerry while Tony works on equations, his stubby pencil racing over the paper, the eraser still new, and unused. Humming, he fills up the page, and she knows everything on it is accurate, down to the last cosign, minus sign and decimal.

Tony has always been able to do the math in his head, but he likes to show off his numbers to her.

***


Jim stops by every week, and takes him off her hands for the afternoon. Pepper’s grateful, and tries to run all the errands that have piled up during that time. Even with the best of organization, it’s not easy though, and there’s the added complication of guilt gnawing away at her for feeling so relieved to be out with people who aren’t Tony Stark.

People who don’t look at her with soft brown eyes and so much behind them, wounded and sweet. Unreachable.

I love you, Pepper.

I love you too, Tony.

***


And after the sun has set, after dinner and a movie, she makes him shower. When he’s still a little damp but warm and they’re under the covers, she lets him slide his arms around her, his breath along her cheek, heating her ear.

Tony has always had good hands; hands that know her so well. Pepper doesn’t think of this part as right or wrong; it just is. Tony going on instinct and something more. Something she needs in order to keep going through tomorrow and then next day and the next.

She slides her hands to cup his head, fingers touching the tiny scar hidden in his hairline; the one that made him what he is today.

His mouth finds hers; his body moves with hers.

I love you, Pepper.

I love you too, Tony.




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