Tony woke up surrounded by beautiful people. On his right side, Bruce slept curled up against him, and on his left side, Pepper, small white hand lying on top of his chest as if she were covering his heart. The bond between all of them sang with sleepy contentment, and Tony basked in it like it was the warm sun coming in through the windows and he was a cat.
He pictured himself as a cat, a gray tabby probably, curled up and purring. The cat in his head acquired little bits of red and gold armour on its legs, then body, and finally shut a tiny visor. “I am IronCat,” the cat that was himself announced to the world.
“You’re a cat?” Pepper said, sitting up, more awake than he’d realised.
Tony gave a little mental shriek. “Not a cat! Not a cat! You didn’t see that!”
“Who’s not a cat?” Bruce asked, stirring a little and snuggling closer to Tony. “You’re definitely a cat, look at the way you’ve sprawled all over the bed.”
Tony considered for a moment.
“Okay,” he said finally. “I’m a cat.” He paused, and gave a sudden victorious smile. “Make me purr, bitches.”
When he received simultaneous (gentle) swats to his shoulders from both his bondmates, he bore it manfully.
Tony took the phone out of Pepper’s hand.
“Today is a holiday, Pepper. That means you are not allowed to work.”
Pepper snatched it back. “It means you’re not allowed to work either, but you’ll have that suit on in sixty seconds if someone needs you to. So I’m going to take this call, because someone needs me to.”
Tony raised his hands in surrender and backed off, as Pepper returned to her conversation. “So the backups from yesterday aren’t working either? If you go back to the 28th, are those okay? How about before Christmas?”
Bruce was in the kitchen. Tony could smell bacon and coffee from two rooms away. He put down his copy of The Hobbit (a Christmas gift from Pepper) and made his way into the kitchen. Toast popped up from the toaster just as he entered, and Bruce grabbed it quickly, buttering it.
“Betty’s coming over for a visit later today,” Bruce said as Tony poked at the frying bacon with a spatula, willing it to be done faster.
Tony tried to remember what he’d seen of Bruce’s memories that night three months ago, when the bond between the three of them had come into being due to nothing more dramatic than a quiet evening together and Tony talking about his feelings (for once).
“Oh, Betty,” he said, realising. “Betty. Okay.”
“She happens to be nearby over Christmas visiting friends, and wanted to see why I’ve been so happy,” Bruce said, pouring orange juice into three glasses. “Not that this has anything to do with you - hey, stop poking the bacon, give it a chance to cook, yeah?” Bruce put an arm around Tony and steered him away from the stove. Tony flailed a bit but allowed himself to be led away, taking the opportunity to grope Bruce soundly.
“Go get Pepper,” Bruce said, trying for irritation but just sounding fond. “Breakfast’s nearly ready.”
Pepper was just ending her call when Tony came back into the living room. She set her cell phone down on the coffee table and Tony put his arms out for her. “All okay?” he asked.
Pepper nodded against his chest. “All okay.” They hugged in silence for a moment, and Tony caught glimpses of what had happened through their bond, an attempt to hack Stark Industries’ mainframe meaning that a crucial backup didn’t run when it should have, but fortunately the backup just before that had been fine. The IT security team were now busy tracking down the hacker.
After breakfast, Tony went back to Middle-earth on the sofa in the living room. Bruce joined him with a copy of Don Quixote, and Pepper went swimming.
Tony was reciting a riddle under his breath in an attempt to figure it out before Bilbo when Pepper came back in, heading straight for the shower. “…Slays king, ruins town, beats high mountain down.”
Bruce glanced over. “Time,” he said casually.
“Time for wha - oh, the answer is time, of course, you spoiler of books,” Tony said, sliding over toward Bruce, yanking his book away, and stealing a kiss. Bruce responded in kind and they lay together on the sofa trading kisses for a few minutes. The bond between them was warm with sleepy holiday contentment, but there was a sense of expectation lingering in the air that made it impossible for Tony to just curl up with Bruce and spend the entire afternoon reading on the sofa.
After a while, he gave Bruce back his book, laid his own book down on the sofa and wandered off downstairs in search of something to do.
“JARVIS,” he said, entering his workshop. “How are you getting on with the repairs on Suit A4? Is it ready for a test flight yet?”
“The repairs are nearly done, sir,” JARVIS replied. “But Pepper has instructed me to tell you that today you are not allowed to make any flights outside of dire emergency. Certainly no test flights.”
“Okay,” Tony said, a touch irritated, but accepting it. “What has Pepper not forbidden?”
JARVIS thought for a moment. “The category of what Pepper has not forbidden you to do is a very large one, sir, but I am confident that many of those things are neither advisable nor physically possible.”
Tony sighed. “How about work on the designs for Suit A9?”
“Perfectly acceptable, sir. I have them here for review.” JARVIS flashed up the suit design on the nearest monitors,.txtluding the hologram workspace, and Tony started rearranging all the bits of it to put them back together in a smaller containment package.
As time always seemed to inside his workshop, the hours slipped away. He could feel Bruce contentedly reading in the living room and Pepper napping in the bedroom for a while, then even they were shut out as he gave himself over to the problem of fitting the Iron Man suit inside the smallest possible space from which it could deploy quickly.
The doorbell rang, startling Tony out of his concentration. Upstairs he could feel Bruce and Pepper in the kitchen and he could just catch the edge of something that smelled extremely nice. He instructed JARVIS to save everything and ran up the stairs.
Bruce was at the door greeting Betty, Pepper standing in the open kitchen door. She cast a quick glance at Tony, and he didn’t need their bond to know it meant: behave yourself. Tony could feel Bruce’s excitement and nervousness, and he carefully moved forward, a little worried that it might be getting a bit too much.
Then Bruce ushered Betty in, and Tony’s heart stopped. Or at least, it felt as if it did, for a second. Betty was lovely, dark eyes and dark hair, a softness and gentleness in her manner. Tony was dimly aware that he was staring, and that Pepper had moved forward to take Betty’s hand, and also appeared to be staring, just a little.
There was a tension and an excitement thrumming through their bond now that wasn’t just Bruce. It was Pepper, and it was himself. It was as if all three of them were whispering together under their breath that she was the one, she was the one.
“Welcome, Betty,” Tony found himself saying, hand outstretched. Pepper was somehow still holding Betty’s other hand, and Bruce’s hand was on her shoulder.
When she touched Tony it was like the circuit closed and all the lights came on. The bond between the three of them had been strong and beautiful, but between the four of them it was.txtandescent, glowing almost visibly in the space between their bodies.
“Hello,” she said inside their minds. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
Tony woke up surrounded by beautiful people. On his left side, Bruce lay with his hand resting on Tony’s chest as if he were covering his heart. On his right side, Betty snuggled against him with Pepper behind her, an arm thrown around her waist.
“I’m a cat,” he thought. “Oh, I am so definitely a cat.” He stroked a hand over Betty’s hair and could barely resist the urge to purr. Instead, he snuggled as deeply as he could into the covers and went back to sleep.