The omelette isn’t completely burned which surprises Pepper. Ever since he got Peter, Tony got a lot better at cooking. Which doesn’t actually say anything, because the genius had been absolutely terrible at cooking before.
“You like it?” Tony asks, obviously trying to come off as nonchalant while literally vibrating with waiting to hear her opinion.
One side of the omelette is slightly burned and it could use a bit more salt. “Yeah,” she answers truthfully, because it’s still the best home-cooked meal she ever got from Tony. He rewards her with a bright, blinding smile that the paparazzi never get to see, and she lets her hair fall in front of her face to hide her blush.
Peter giggles happily between shoving forks full of scrambled eggs into his mouth. He’s been very excited to wake up and find both Tony and Pepper at home. He’d been even more excited when Pepper said she’s staying for breakfast.
However, the weirdly domestic moment is ruined. Because of course it is.
“Sir,” JARVIS interrupts the meal, “Mrs. Smith is at the door.”
Tony and Pepper share a quick look at the mentioning of the usual babysitter being at the front door. “Let her in,” Tony says in a slightly cold voice, and Pepper wonders if he’s going to fire her. He accepts mistakes from most of his employees, especially when it’s their first mistake. But Grace is looking after Peter, and Tony can be very cutthroat when it comes to who spends time around his son.
Grace all but runs into the kitchen and almost falls over her own feet as she comes to a stop. “I am beyond sorry,” she starts to apologize. Usually, she looks very put together and calm, but it’s the complete opposite right now. Her hair looks like a bird nested in it, her shirt is turned inside out, and the make-up on her face looks like it’s at least two days old, already smudged and barely visible anymore. Peter waves at her and puts more egg in his mouth. “My brother was in an accident and I looked after his girls, but I left my phone at the hospital by accident and it ran out of battery and I completely forgot what day it was and-“
“Hey, it’s fine, calm down,” Tony quickly says, his anger from before evaporating as he sees the distressed woman, walking over to her and grabbing her arms to steady her. “It’s fine, nothing bad happened. Take a deep breath. Please don’t have a heart attack in my kitchen. Okay?”
“Please don’t fire me,” she gets out between shallow breaths, trying to regain control of the situation but failing.
“I’m not going to fire you.” Finally, Grace can breathe again. “Was it unfortunate and had really bad timing? Duh. But it was an emergency and nothing bad happened. I hope your brother is okay.” Grace nods, thanking Tony again and again that he isn’t firing her. “Take the day off. Look after your family first, and let me know when you’re free to work again, okay? I’m back here anyway, so it’s time for some quality father-son-bonding anyway.”
“What about Pepper?” Peter asks after swallowing down another bite of his breakfast.
Tony blinks at his son. “What do you mean?”
“Does Pepper stay, too?”
“No, Pepper will go home. She has the day off, too.”
“But I want her to stay!” he yells, looking at Pepper with tears in his eyes, and she immediately wants to promise him that she will stay. But she decided a long time ago to not butt in Tony’s parenting, so she stays quiet.
Tony shakes his head. “No, Peter. It’s her day off.”
Peter doesn’t hear no very often. For one, he’s a very polite and kind kid, so it’s barely necessary to tell him no. And Tony lets him have a lot of things, either because he doesn’t see the point in not agreeing or because he just wants to spoil his son. But that’s why when Peter doesn’t get what he wants, especially from Tony, he throws a tantrum.
“No!” He yells again, kicking his feet against the table and throwing his head back. “No! I want her to stay!”
“No, I want Mommy to stay!”
Time freezes. Nobody can draw a breath, least of all Peter who is very busy screaming from the top of his lungs.
Pepper forgot about the question – well, no, that’s not true. She ignored the question, but it was still there, hiding behind the thoughts of having a home-cooked breakfast with the Starks and actively reminding herself that Tony is her boss. Of course, she still doesn’t have an answer for the question, and she feels the same panic take a hold of her that made her freeze not too long ago. But now it’s worse, because Tony is here.
Tony who looks like he’s the one having a heart attack now. His face is pale to the point that it looks sickly, his mouth agape, and eyes impossibly wide as he stares at his still screaming son. Pepper would like to say that she got used to read Tony, but that’s not entirely true. While she could read his body language, she was never able to figure out what was really going on in his head. After a while, she got used to it, but now it makes her so nervous, her heart beats in her throat.
Eventually, Tony breaks out of his stupor and picks his still screaming and kicking son up. Then, his eyes fly over to her and Pepper can’t not look at him. The only time she’s seen them filled with so much panic was when they got the news that Mary died. “I-“ he starts, but no more words follow. Pepper offers nothing herself. “Don’t leave.” It sounds more like a question than an order and that’s maybe because of the pleading look in his eyes.
As if Pepper is able to move. But, apparently, she is, because she can feel herself nod sharply, and then Tony carries Peter away, presumably to his bed room to calm him down. The panic inside Pepper doesn’t dissolve. She barely notices Grace leaving.
Slowly, she buries her face in her hands. Does she have to resign now? She doesn’t want to. She loves her job. And she loves Peter
and Tony. But it’s not like they can just forget this. Pepper can’t be his mommy, no matter what he means when he says that word. And Tony clearly doesn’t want her to be Peter’s mommy, if his reaction is anything to go by. That thought hurts a lot more than it should.
It takes her a few minutes and two glasses of water to stop shaking. Pepper can’t hear Peter’s screams anymore, but that doesn’t have to mean anything, seeing that pretty much every room in the mansion is sound-proofed. Telling herself that it doesn’t help if she continues to hide in the kitchen, Pepper squares her shoulders and makes her way to Peter’s room on somewhat steady legs.
The door to his room isn’t closed all the way, that’s why Pepper can hear Peter’s sobs and Tony’s attempt to calm him down. They aren’t working. Taking another breath and praying that the day won’t end with her looking for a new job because she overstepped a boundary, Pepper knocks against the door before entering. Both geniuses look at her, but while Peter’s are filled with hope, Tony still has the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights-panic all over his face.
“Hey Peter,” she says with a gentle (and hopefully not-shaky) smile, “can we talk about what just happened?”
“Stay,” Peter whines again, reaching out for her. Deciding to give in just a little bit, she walks over and sits down next to him on his bed. He immediately latches on to her, wrapping his arms around her with a surprising amount of strength, like he can keep her from leaving if he just holds on tight enough.
Tony looks visibly uncomfortable, starting to crack his knuckles.
Pepper ignores him for now, running a hand through Peter’s hair, hoping to calm him down a bit. “Peter, I’m not your mommy.” He starts to whine again, soaking her shirt with tears, and tightens his grip. “But I am your Pepper. And that means I can stay and play with you sometimes.”
Peter is so surprised by her words that he completely forgets he’s been crying. Instead, he looks up at her, eyes wide and red, but no more tears follow. “Really?”
She gives him another smile. “Of course. And I promised you we do something fun today, so we’re going to do that. Okay?”
“Okay!” he agrees, now smiling himself. He squeezes her again before he runs off to the bathroom, leaving two slightly uncomfortable adults behind.
It’s Tony who breaks the silence. “So, uh… his Pepper?”
Deciding to push her luck once more and once again hoping it won’t get her fired, she raises an eyebrow. “Jealous?”
For a second, Tony looks like he wants to say yes.
For a second, Pepper wants him to say yes.
But then, the second is over.
“Well, you have to spend at least forty hours a week with me because of the very binding contract I made you sign, why would I be jealous?” Pepper tries very hard not to snicker. “Anyway, what exactly qualifies as fun in Pepper Potts’ eyes? I always imagined you reorganize everything in your office for fun.”
“Guess you just have to find out yourself.”