Title: Crash and Burn
Word Count: 4,071
Pairings: Pepper/Happy, Pepper/Tony
Rating: PG, I guess. There are a couple of "bad words".
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Marvel and all that jazz. Please don't sue me.
Warnings: Should I warn you all that it's written in second person? Some people don't like that.
Summary: "There is no us, Tony. I waited for you to make a move and you didn't. I got tired of waiting and I moved on."
The first time it happens is at a party. You don't feel like being there in the first place, but even at a party you have to be watching over Tony to make sure he isn't getting into trouble. At one point you walk away from him because he's mercilessly flirting with this very tall and very blonde woman and you can't watch the disaster for another second. You head straight for your office because on days like this it feels like a sanctuary. You're shocked to see him sitting in your chair when you turn around.
"Rough day, Miss Potts?" He smiles up at you, and you can't help the grin that slides across your face.
"Never a dull moment when you're working for a superhero I suppose." You take a seat on the edge of your desk. "What are you doing in here, Happy?"
He shrugs his shoulders, "I guess I'm not in the mood for a party either."
"You can leave if you'd like. I can make sure everyone gets home safely." You offer.
Happy shakes his head and moves to stand in front of you. "Pepper, you're always taking care of everyone else. Who takes care of you?"
"Jarvis." You say with a chuckle. Happy smiles back at you.
He gently touches your arm and you briefly try to recall the last time someone touched you other than to shake your hand.
"How about I drive you home?" His quiet voice breaks you from your reverie.
"I can't…" He silences you with a finger over your lips.
"Tony's a grown man. He doesn't need a babysitter. You need to rest. You never even take a day off anymore. Stop doing this to yourself, Pepper. Let someone take care of you for a change."
Kissing him is an impulse. He's saying all of these wonderful things to you. He wants to take care of you. He actually cares about you. Kissing him feels like the right thing to do.
When he pulls you closer and kisses you back, you have to wonder why you haven't been doing this all along. You can't remember the last time you felt this good.
The kiss is interrupted by the sound of your BlackBerry as it rings in your pocket. You don't have to look at the caller id to know it's Tony and that he's wondering where you are.
You pull the phone out of your pocket as Happy says, "Don't answer it. Give yourself a break…"
"I can't do that." You stand up and step away from him to answer the phone. "Hello?"
"Where'd you run off to, Potts? I wanna introduce you to some people." You can hear the relief in Tony's voice and you know he really meant to say, "You ran off and I was worried sick," but he'll never admit that to you. He's become a little overprotective since Obadiah threatened your life. For a while you thought it was sweet, but now you're starting to feel a little bit smothered. You just wish he could find some other way to show he cares.
"I'll be right there." You hang up the phone and turn towards Happy. "I'm sorry. I have to go." You don't give him a chance to say anything before you're out the door.
You've found that lately it's a lot easier to run from your problems than to actually deal with them. Otherwise you'd never sleep at night knowing that Obadiah, someone you trusted and loved like a father, tried to kill you and Tony. You wouldn't be able to patch Tony up after a particularly rough mission without crying your eyes out because he almost died again. You wouldn't be able to leave the house without the blinding fear that each day could be your last because everyone is out to get Tony now and sometimes that means going through you to get to him.
So walking away from Happy when he's looking at you like he just wants to take away all your pain and make you feel like a normal woman again doesn't even faze you. You spend the rest of the night on Tony's arm, charming all the guests at his impromptu party. This is the closest you'll ever get to being Tony Stark's girlfriend, and maybe it's for the best, but it hurts a little bit more every time you go home to your empty apartment at the end of the night and you know that he's probably bedding his next conquest.
The second time it happens is during a press conference. The moment Tony's gaze shifts from your face to someone else in the room, you slip out the door and head for the limo where Happy is waiting.
You slide into the front seat with ease and he seems surprised to see you.
"I'm sorry about the other night." You say.
"It's okay. Your work is your life. Everyone knows that." It makes you angry that he says this. You don't want to be that girl; the one who eats, sleeps, and breathes her work. How did you become this person? You used to have dreams of your own. Now you're just living someone else's.
"Ask me out."
Happy gives you a puzzled look. "Excuse me?"
"On a date. Ask me out on a date." At some point you have to stop living your life for Tony Stark and start making a life of your own.
"Would you like to have dinner with me on Saturday night, Pepper?" He looks you right in the eyes and you can tell he's a little worried that you'll shoot him down even though this was your idea.
"I'd love to have dinner with you. Pick me up at seven." You kiss him on impulse again. It's just a peck on the lips, but it still makes you feel good. You walk back into the press conference with a smile on your face.
Your smile fades when Tony keeps trying to meet your eyes during the rest of the press conference and you can't even bear to look at him because you feel so guilty.
The third time it happens is after your first date. This time things go a lot further than kissing. Afterwards, when you should be sated and ecstatic, all you can think about is how you've stumbled into this relationship with one of your closest friends and now you have to tell Tony. It keeps you up all night and when Happy falls asleep you have to slip out of bed and turn the faucet on in the bathroom to drown out the sound of your sobs.
Two hours later you crawl back into bed. The moment your head hits the pillow, Happy wraps his arms around you. That's how you know he's been awake and waiting for you for the past two hours. He knows what you were doing, and in the morning he won't say a word. He'll let you pretend that everything's fine and when it happens after your second and third dates he'll just wrap you up in his embrace and let you act like you're not terribly screwed up.
The first time Tony confronts you about your relationship with Happy is after he comes back from a mission at three in the morning and you patch him up without saying a word.
You wipe the blood from above his eyebrow and he asks, "How long have you been sleeping with Happy?"
"For about a month." You don't bother to ask how he found out. It's not like you went out of your way to hide it.
"Do you love him?" His voice is just a whisper and you know he's hoping that you'll say no.
It's just that you do kind of love Happy. Maybe not in the big, devastating, hurts-to-think-about-it way that you love Tony, but it's there.
"Yes." You can't lie to Tony even though you know the truth will only hurt him. He's been lied to enough.
When you look at his face, you can see the tears in his eyes. In all the time you've know Tony, he's never cried in front of you. He didn't cry when he came back from Afghanistan and he didn't cry when Obadiah betrayed him. Seeing him cry because of you feels like a thousand knives stabbing you in the heart.
"I'm happy for you." He says.
You clean his wounds and give him a dose of pain killers before you help him up to his bedroom. You turn to leave and he grabs your hand.
"Can you stay?" He asks.
You know it's a test. He's trying to figure out who you love more.
"You know I can't." You squeeze his hand and then let it go.
"He's a good man, Pepper."
This is his way of saying, 'You deserve better than me'. Knowing it's true doesn't make it hurt any less.
"I know he is. Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"
You're already headed towards the door when he answers, "That will be all, Miss Potts."
It takes everything you've got to keep moving towards the stairs when you hear him stumble around his room to pull out his "secret" stash. You hear the clinking of the glasses as he pours himself a drink and you know that you only have yourself to blame for turning Tony Stark into the man he's about to become.
The second time Tony confronts you about your relationship with Happy is during a charity event for the children's hospital. It's a terrible place for your boss to get drunk and angry with you, but you brought it on when you decided that Happy would be your date to the event. It's the first time since you started working for Tony that you've actually brought a date to one of these things. You thought it would be nice, but honestly you just feel awful because of the way Tony keeps looking at you when he thinks you're not paying attention.
At some point during the evening you head to the ladies room and Tony is right behind you.
"Are you trying to hurt me?" His voice is so broken. "What did I do to you, Pepper?"
"Tony, for once this isn't about you. Happy is my boyfriend. I'm sorry if it bothers you that I wanted to spend the evening with him." You don't think you've ever been this cold towards Tony before, but you don't want him to see that your heart is breaking too.
"What about us?" He steps closer to you and tries to take your hand, but you pull it away before he has the chance.
"There is no us, Tony. I waited for you to make a move and you didn't. I got tired of waiting and I moved on."
He steps closer to you and you don't bother resisting his kiss. All you can taste is the alcohol on his breath and the tears that are falling down your face. When he tries to deepen the kiss you know that you've got to push him away and you're amazed that you have the courage to actually do it.
"I need you to let me go. Please." You've never asked Tony to do anything for you and you can only hope that he'll comply with this one request.
"I don't know if I can."
"I need you to try."
He just nods and lets you go. You don't look back as you walk away because you know if you do you'll run right back into his arms and never leave.
The third time Tony confronts you about your relationship with Happy is the same night Happy proposes to you. You're awakened by the sound of your phone ringing and when you answer Jarvis is telling you that you need to get to the mansion right away.
You walk in on Jarvis lecturing Tony about the dangers of drinking and operating the suit. You can feel the anger flowing through every part of your body. How could Tony be so reckless?
"I can take it from here, Jarvis." You say with your eyes focused on Tony. He's already taken off the suit and you can see that nearly every inch of his skin is turning black and blue.
"Good luck, Miss Potts." Jarvis replies.
"What the hell happened to you?"
"I got into a fight with a tank…or five." He tries to move and lets out a loud groan.
"You're an idiot. You got drunk and then decided it might be fun to go kill some bad guys? What were you thinking?"
You step closer to him. "Come on, you need to take a shower." There's so much blood you can't even tell where most of it is coming from.
As you're helping him up he says, "You're getting married."
"I love him, Tony."
"More than you love me?"
"He doesn't hurt me the way you do." This isn't the answer Tony was looking for, but it's the only truthful statement you can make right now.
"I can try harder."
You shake your head, "No you can't. Your love for me will never be stronger than your need to save the world."
"My love for you is the reason I need to save the world."
What are you supposed to say to that?
Once Tony showers, you bandage him up and get him into bed. He doesn't ask you to stay this time, but you curl up next to him anyway. The next morning you're gone before he wakes up.
Happy doesn't need to ask where you've been all night because he already knows. You have to pretend not to notice the hurt in his eyes when you crawl back into bed and kiss him like nothing happened.
The first time you realize you probably shouldn't marry Happy is only a couple of days after you get engaged. You've been staring at the ring on your finger for hours and you're trying to figure out where you've seen it before.
You're about to head home for the evening when you notice a picture of Maria and Howard Stark hanging in Tony's living room. What really catches your eye is the ring that Maria's wearing and suddenly you know why yours looks so familiar.
You drop your things and rush down to Tony's workshop. You get the security code wrong two times before the door finally opens.
Tony's working on one of his cars when you spot him.
"This is your mother's ring."
He only glances at you for a second. "I know."
"Why do I have it?"
"Because it's yours. It's been yours since the day I met you. My mother would have wanted you to have it." He's stopped what he's doing but he still won't look at you.
"I can't accept this."
"Consider it a wedding gift."
"You should save it for the woman you love, Tony."
He finally looks at you. "I did."
You close the gap between the two of you and kiss him on the lips. This is the only way you can say to him, 'I wish it was from you.'
The second time you realize you probably shouldn't marry Happy is a month before the wedding. The plans have been made. The flower arrangements have been picked out. The reception hall has been reserved. Your sister has booked her flight and you've found a beautiful maid of honor dress for her.
Everything is perfect.
Except that you don't have anyone to walk you down the aisle.
Your parents are gone. This is something that you haven't let yourself think about while you've been making all of these plans. It breaks your heart to know that they won't be there to see you get married.
If your father isn't going to be there to walk you down the aisle, then there's only one other person you want to do it.
You're helping Tony prepare a speech for an award he's about to receive and suddenly you blurt out, "Will you walk me down the aisle?"
"What?" He looks confused.
"I don't have anyone else." You explain.
"You should ask Rhodey." He tries to avoid eye contact with you.
"Tony, you're my best friend."
"I don't think I'm gonna be there."
This hurts almost as much as the idea of not having your parents there.
"You're not coming to my wedding?"
He takes your hand and looks down at his mother's ring. "I can't watch you marry someone else."
"I'll ask James." You can't hide your disappointment, but you also can't ask Tony to do something that's only going to hurt him. You've hurt him enough already.
The third time you realize you probably shouldn't marry Happy is roughly twenty minutes before the wedding.
Your hair is done and your dress is on. Your bridesmaids look amazing, and you have to admit that you look pretty good as well. Everyone around you is smiling. You wish that you could be as happy for yourself as they are.
There's a knock at the door and your sister opens it to reveal Tony standing there in his tux. You're surprised to notice that he seems sober.
"Can we have a minute alone?" He asks the other women. They quickly exit the room and before you know it you're alone with him.
He nods. It takes him a minute to say anything. "God Pep, you look beautiful."
"Thanks." You can feel the blush creeping up your neck.
"I just came to say….congratulations."
"You got all dressed up in a tux just to come say congratulations?"
"I was hoping once I got here I could tell you that I want to walk you down the aisle, but…" He stops and you know it's because he's worried he's about to say something he might regret.
"But what?" You don't know why you're doing this to yourself or to him. You know what he's going to say. You don't know why you're being so cruel by making him say it.
"But all I wanna do is ask you not to marry him." He admits.
"I have to." This is not what you wanted to say. You wanted to say that you wouldn't. You wanted to say that you love Tony and you'll walk out of this room right now and tell Happy it's over.
It's too late for all of that now. You've had plenty of chances to end this relationship before it got this far and now there's nothing you can do.
"You don't have to marry him if it's not what you want." Tony looks so hopeful. It's killing you.
"I can't do that to him." Why are you fighting this?
"Pepper, you're only going to hurt him more if you marry him." He steps closer to you and takes your hands in his. "Please don't do this."
James walks in before you have a chance to answer.
"Pepper, they're almost ready to start." You can't look away from Tony to acknowledge James.
"Oh God Tony, what am I gonna do?" You can feel the panic taking over your body. Your hands are shaking and you have to remind yourself to keep breathing.
"Do you wanna marry him, Pep?"
"No." Suddenly you're sobbing and Tony's holding you and you can't believe you let it go this far. There's a man waiting outside for you to become his wife and you never really intended to marry him. Why didn't you do something about this sooner? Your family and friends are expecting you to walk down the aisle any minute now. Everyone you know is waiting for you and all you can do is weep in the arms of the man you should be marrying today.
"What the hell is going on?" You can hear James ask, but you can't catch your breath long enough to answer.
"Just go, Rhodey." Tony says. You hear the door slam behind James and it makes you jump.
When you finally stop crying you move out of Tony's embrace. "I have to go to tell him."
"Are you gonna be okay?"
You shake your head. "No."
"Don't apologize. This is my fault. I shouldn't have let this happen."
You interrupt him before he can say anything else, "Can you leave? I can't do this to him while you're here."
"I'll be waiting for you at the mansion if you need me."
You pace around the room for another ten minutes before you finally make yourself leave. You walk down the corridor in the church and you can hear the music playing softly when you open the doors to the room where everyone is waiting for you. It's hard to ignore them as you make your way towards Happy. The walk feels like it takes an eternity.
He's holding out a hand for you when you finally make it to the altar.
"What's wrong?" He asks even though he already knows.
"We can't do this." You whisper. You really don't want everyone to hear as you dump your fiancée at the altar.
"I've been waiting for you to say that for a while now."
He smiles at you anyway. "Don't be. I could have put a stop to this a long time ago. I was just hoping you wouldn't realize how much you love him. But that's ridiculous because you've always known, haven't you?"
All you can do is nod.
"I'm sorry that I kept you from being with him."
"Why aren't you angry with me?" You're actually upset that he isn't yelling at you. How can he be handling this so well? You feel like you're going to burst into tears again.
"You can't choose who you love, Pepper."
"If I could, I'd have chosen you."
"That's good enough for me."
"What are we going to do about them?" You ask as you gesture towards the crowd behind you.
Happy peers over your shoulder and then back at you. "Go. I'll take care of this."
"Don't you think we should do it together?"
"I think that you've been through enough for one day."
You lean forward and give him a kiss on the cheek. "Happy…"
"You don't have to say anything, Pepper."
You muster up a smile for him and then you're rushing out the door as fast as your feet will take you.
You don't let yourself cry until you reach the limo that was supposed to be taking you and your new husband to the reception. Once you're safely inside the tears start flowing down your face again. You're not crying because you're sad, or even because your relationship failed and everyone you know was there to watch it unravel. You're just crying because you feel so relieved that it's over. Now you can finally stop lying to Happy, to Tony, and to yourself.
Once your sobs have subsided you tell the driver, "Take me to Mr. Stark's, please."
The second time you walk down the aisle goes a lot better than the first.
This time you're getting married to the man you love and no one's getting hurt. This time you think you might be happier for yourself than everyone in the room combined.
This time, it's perfect.
You know that being Mrs. Stark won't be easy. There will be plenty of sleepless nights when you'll pace around the mansion for hours and hours waiting for him to return home from a mission. There will be countless people who will try to tear the two of you apart. There will be days when you'll wish you didn't still work for him, because if he was hard to handle before you can only imagine what he'll be like now that you're married. There will be days when he'll drive you crazy and you'll wonder what the hell you got yourself into when you decided to be his wife.
It won't be easy, but it'll be worth it. Living without him is so much worse than anything the two of you could ever face together.
Marrying Tony doesn't make you feel like you're running away from something. Actually, it makes you feel like you're running towards something for a change.