Disclaimer: Iron Man and all other associated characters, plotlines, etc. do not belong to me. They are the intellectual property of Marvel Comics and several others. I'm just playing in their multi-million dollar sandbox for a bit. (Malibu General Hospital, as far as I know, is fictional.)

Finally! Here is the end. Please enjoy.

The Pepperony 100 Challenge Theme #94: Chance


3. Angel in Waiting

Seven years. For seven years, I'd been Tony Stark's personal assistant, and after seven years of constant—if, at times, strained—servitude…I was still waiting on him. Phrases like 'come on, get up,' 'hurry, Mr. Stark,' and 'you were supposed to be out of here an hour ago' were aggravatingly well-acquainted with the space between my lips and his ears. I'd encourage Tony to move faster, and he'd blatantly ignore me. At times like those, I was lucky to even get a dismissive wave of his hand—and that only ever served to further the dwindling of my patience.

But at present, I would've given my heart for him to be able to push his luck with me. I would've ripped my brain from my skull and handed over my soul, too, just for the chance to try and light a fire under him and berate him for being so goddamned slow.

Now, I might never get those chances.

I paced the small waiting room of Malibu General Hospital, coffee that'd grown cold long ago clutched in one hand as the other hand worried with a loose strand of hair.

It had taken the hands of two unnervingly calm emergency medical technicians to separate me from Tony, and someone had helped me up the hill into a waiting ambulance. The whole thing had been surreal, and all I really remembered from the time I'd sat down next to the stretcher Tony was strapped to until the time they'd wheeled him off the ambulance and straight into surgery…was holding his hand. While one of the techs had worked away at dressing his wounds and cleaning his face a little, I took his hand gently in both of mine, holding back tears for (so I told myself) his sake. As the ambulance pulled back onto the highway, the movement rocked the vehicle so hard that I let go of Tony's hand for a moment.

His hand gripped mine tighter, and then went limp.

Disentangling my fingers from my hopelessly messy hair, I flexed my hand absently and brought my wandering mind back to the waiting room. How long had I been here? How long had it been since they'd taken him away? I wanted to ask my only company, a Hispanic family of three, but they seemed a little discomfited by my appearance. I must have been a sight, with my bloodstained suit and dirty shoes.

Not that I cared; all that mattered was Tony.

"Miss Potts?"

I jumped, taking a moment or two to realize that the immaculately clean doctor in charge of Tony's case had spoken to me. The loudest sounds in the room, up until that moment, had been my coffee's sloshing to the rhythmic clicks of my high-heeled shoes. "Yes?"

He paused, and I took that as my cue to join him—which, in my current state, meant my cue to run hurriedly toward him and accidentally slosh some stale coffee down the side of the styrofoam cup in my hand. The doctor offered a hand towel from one of his pockets, and I took it gratefully. "How is he?" I asked quietly, numbly…too afraid to inquire any further.

"Well," sighed the doctor, "he took a really bad hit to the head at some point during the crash. I believe you described his eyes to have been fluttering?" Biting my lip, I nodded, and so did he, shoving his hands into his pockets. Tony does that, I thought, tuning out some of the doctor's commentary on Tony's head injury. A lot. In fact, he probably does it just to annoy the hell out of meGod, I miss that. "He's not awake. He may be out for days."

That snapped me out of my reverie.

"But he's alive?" The words raced past my lips, leaving me breathlessly, pathetically hopeful. Alive. Tony was alive. Tony and dead just didn't fit together. Not yet, at least.

"Yes, Miss Potts. He's in stable condition. Would you like to go and sit with him?"

"Which way?" I asked. He directed me with his finger and gave me a number; I was off before he could say another word.

It didn't occur to me until I was racing down the hall he'd pointed to that I'd been uncharacteristically short with the doctor. The doctor, however, didn't matter. Tony. Tony was all that mattered.

Maybe, I thought, the doctor had been playing some cruel joke Tony'd asked him to play. Maybe when I opened the door, Tony would be sitting up, ready to point and laugh at my fearful expression. Potts, he would grin, you really thought I was out of it? Really? Yes. He would grin that grin, and I would smack him over his undoubtedly sore head until he had a reason to be unconscious. The police would understand. Injured or not, Tony had it coming to him if he wanted to pull that kind of prank on me.

I took a deep breath when I reached the room. I could see him through the blinds of the windows, and the sight tightened an invisible steel hand around my heart. I'd heard about this from some women at work, seeing a loved one hooked up to a machine…but I'd never dreamt that it could happen to me.

A long moment passed before I decided to step inside. Tony hadn't moved, hadn't given any sign of being conscious. Could I handle sitting next to him?

…yes. Yes, I could. I was all he had. I had to handle it.

I opened the door, breathing in with resolve, and closed the door softly behind me. Though he had to have been in some degree of pain, Tony looked almost peaceful. I didn't want to wake him. Instead, I sat down and took his tube-free right hand…and said nothing at all.

Beep. Beep. Beep. That was the sound of Tony's heart rate. Beep. Beep. Beep. I listened to the noise for a while, waiting to detect the slightest change in pitch or speed. Beep. Beep. Beep. I cherished every beep, every single, jarring beep. Each one meant that I still had my chance to get Tony—my Tony—back. Each little blip signaled that Tony was alive.

It was to this comforting noise that, little by little, I drifted to sleep.

I woke up to someone calling my name and rubbing my hand tenderly. It was a soft, gentle sound, the voice…and if I didn't know better, I'd have said it was loving, too.

Hell, maybe it was.

"Potts? Po-otts. C'mon, kiddo. Wake up." Only one man had ever consistently called me that and gotten away with it. My eyes flew open hopefully.

When my vision cleared, Tony Stark was smiling down at me warmly. "Morning, sleeping beauty," he said, advancing my hair's already hopeless, unkempt state by quickly rubbing his hand back and forth over my head. "That can't be comfortable."

I sat up slowly, too shocked to open my mouth in the yawn that was desperately tugging at my jaw. I had fallen asleep bent over the bed; as a result, my neck and shoulders were incredibly stiff. This didn't matter, either. "You're awake."

"Surprise," he grinned back at me. He stared at me for a moment, and then looked off into space. "You know, I had the funniest…dream. After it happened." Tony glanced over at me; unable to overcome my stunned state, I didn't say anything. "God…or whoever the hell's pulling the strings up there—" He paused to throw an explanatory look to the ceiling. "—had you talking to me. Holding me. I think I was dead, and you were supposed to be his angel…which makes sense." I blushed. "And you know…" With a wince of pain as he did it, he turned toward me and took both of my hands with his. "I realized something. You are an angel."

I choked. "W-what?" I laughed mirthlessly, surprised at the absurdity of the statement. Me? An angel?

"Yeah. You're an angel," Tony replied. "You put up with me. They couldn't pay anyone enough to do that, I know." It had to be the pain medication. That was what was making him loopy…but that didn't keep me from smiling with him. "You're still here…after all these years…" His thumb brushed little circles on the back of my hand. "And God, you're gorgeous," he whispered. Tears welled in my eyes as he looked at me intensely. "I just can't figure it out. Why do you stick around me?"

"I…" Should I tell him? Had my epiphany, my sudden notion of love, come only because of the wreck? Was it a flight of fancy?

He was still gazing at me. I couldn't look away. Wow, what a gaze, I thought. My hands shook.

Oh, just say it, some other voice snapped.

"I love you."

There, I thought back. I said it. ...damn, I said it. Why the hell—why the hell did I say that? Stupid, stupid, stup—

"You do," he murmured. Strangely, it wasn't a question; it was a statement.

"I do," the quirky voice made me answer him.

Smiling that smile I could never resist, Tony let one of my hands go and laid back on the hospital bed with a quiet laugh. "So he does give second chances."

Yes, I thought with a relieved smile, a tear escaping my eye. Yes, he does.

That took a ridiculously long amount of time. Reviews are appreciated!—MJ-Skywalker