I just had this little idea a couple hours ago and it developed into this. So once again, I present to you a fic posted at 2 in the morning, written because my muse has decided she likes Iron Man fanfiction better than Matrix fanfiction, and a fic that is keeping me from getting any sleep or actually finishing a long-ish fic that I should have completed a month ago. Enjoy while I try to figure out why I have no self-control. :)
There are a lot of things Tony Stark doesn't know - little details he might not think much of. But each of them would make things just a little bit different, if he knew them.
He doesn't know the soldiers made a bet. The airman who was driving (the woman with excellent bone structure) bet the other two (the nervous kid with the camera and the older soldier with the sense of humor) that he would start hitting on her the moment he realized she was in fact a woman. He doesn't know she laughed less at his compliment and more at the thought of the small fortune she expected to receive when they returned to the air base. He doesn't know that she died thinking that she wanted to use that money to buy her niece a decent birthday present.
He doesn't know that a solid twenty percent of the women he has ever slept with thought he wasn't that great in bed. He doesn't know that just shy of ten percent more thought he was downright bad.
Yinsen told him about a man he knew in Gulmira. This man's sister, many years ago, was raped and murdered during an attack on the village, and that the man saw the fighter who murdered her. Years later, Yinsen told him, the man saw the murderer again on the outskirts of Kabul, followed him, and strangled him in a dark alley. In the morning, the man realized that revenge had changed nothing - his sister was still dead, and that still hurt. It was one of the many bits of wisdom Yinsen passed on to him. He doesn't know that the man in the story was Yinsen.
He doesn't know that his father was less than thrilled when his mother became pregnant. He doesn't know they nearly divorced when he encouraged an abortion. He doesn't know that his father almost didn't come to the hospital on the night of his birth. He doesn't know that when his mother finally convinced him to hold his son, his father began to cry tears of joy, and refused to let go until a nurse insisted that the infant needed to be fed.
He doesn't know his full social security number, only the first three digits and the last one. He doesn't know how the feel of soft skin beneath his fingers made him forget all but the first. He doesn't know how he managed to keep himself from pulling her impossibly close, running his hand against the entire length of her spine, and seeing if her lips were as soft as the rest of her skin.
He doesn't know that Obadiah Stane's obsession with power was always there. He doesn't know that the only reason Stane forced him to shape up, to start acting at least somewhat responsible back when he was 20 was so that he could become a puppet CEO at 21. He doesn't know that Stane expected him to be uninvolved, to do whatever he was told, and let Stane have most of the real power, and the real money. He doesn't know that Stane first began toying with the idea of getting rid of him at his 22nd birthday party, when he celebrated not only another year of his life, but Stark Industries' most successful year ever.
He doesn't know that Pepper Potts only took the job as his assistant for the much-needed money. He doesn't know that her plan was to quit as soon as she had saved up a good amount of money, and as soon as she could get a good recommendation out of him. He doesn't know that the paycheck was the only thing that kept her from walking out immediately, a desire that bombarded her every day for the first three weeks of her employment. He doesn't know that it took her years to understand why she didn't quit once she had the money she needed. He doesn't know that she finally figured it out when she woke up at 3:14 a.m. to Rhodey's phone call, and cried into her pillow for two hours straight.
He doesn't know the real reason why she suddenly wanted a vodka martini, very dry with at least three olives. He doesn't know it was meant to kill the paralyzing fear that gripped her when her lips were exactly three inches from his. She planned to down that martini in four gulps, and return with him to the bar shortly after, and possibly tell the bartender to just pour straight vodka into her martini glass for her second round. He doesn't know that she hoped to get very drunk very fast, and find a private, secluded corner in those crucial minutes between the wave of uninhibited courage and being too drunk to remember in the morning. As she waited for him to bring the drink, her mind was viciously battling with itself, trying to decide if it would be better to kiss him or tell him she loved him - because there wasn't enough vodka in California to get her drunk enough to do both. He doesn't know how utterly devastated she was when she finally realized that he wasn't coming back, or that she went home and still wound up getting very drunk very fast, alone in front of the TV.
But there are a few things Tony Stark does know - more profound truths that stay with him, that he would never give up.
He knows that what he is doing is right. Three months have taught him more truths than his entire lifetime. The things he witnessed a world away from home were the terrifying reality he had devoted his life to. He knows he is righting his wrongs, slowly but surely making up for the things he cannot undo. He knows that the suit is his greatest creation ever, if for no other reason than it is the only one that truly does something right. He knows those were the worst three months of his life, and the best thing that ever happened to him.
He knows he trusts Pepper Potts more than anyone he has ever met in this world, including his parents. He can tell her anything, ask her to do anything for him, and she will help him, listen, keep all of his secrets, guide him with wisdom he had so long dismissed as idealism. He knows he can put his life in her hands, because she has saved it many times, in many ways. He knows he heard her voice through the excruciating pain of having his chest cut open in a cave with nothing but old chloroform, and through the oxygen deprivation of the torture, and during too many hopeless moments, all the while keeping him grounded to the world of the living. He knows he is only alive because she didn't listen when he told her to destroy the Mark I arc reactor. He knows she keeps him grounded even now, and that if he ever lost her, he would lose himself.
He knows his father would be proud of him. Despite abandoning his father's legacy and destroying many of its creations, despite suddenly and unwaveringly following a very different path, he still has an unshakable devotion to greatness and excellence, and he still does what he believes in his heart to be right. He knows that is all his father ever truly asked of him.
He knows that she wanted to kiss him, as the cool breeze on the rooftop brushed against her bare back. He knows the look from every shy woman he has ever seduced. He knows the look only ever made his heart race and his knees turn to jelly and his body freeze once - when it was on her face, in the incredible eyes that matched her dress.
He knows he probably should've stuck to the cards. He knows Pepper was far angrier than she let on, and for more reasons than he could probably ever guess. He knows that keeping his mouth shut would have given him more privacy and more safety. But he also knows that "He's my bodyguard" was lame, and that people would have figured it out eventually - no one else could have designed that suit, and the whole world knew it.
He knows that he loves Pepper Potts with all his heart. Once she finally works up her nerve (without the help of alcohol), she comes to him, leans close, and whispers quietly into his ear. He knows that she loves him with all her heart, too. And when they finally kiss for the first time, and every single time after, he knows that this is the most profound truth he ever has, or ever will know.