End of first movie.


It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. I clung to the railing for dear life, trying to yank myself up over the edge but failing miserably.

"Pepper!" I called warily, watching Obadiah stomp toward me. He spoke. I ignored him. What he had to say could not possibly be as important as what I had to say to my assistant. "Time to hit the button!"

"You told me not to!" she shouted back. God, she picked the worst times to actually listen to me. But she sounded adorable, so I just had to forgive her.

Obadiah shot at me. I shouldn't have been too surprised—and frankly I wasn't—because apparently he hated my guts. The glass panes still intact shattered into gleaming shards, raining down on me and, I'm sure, on Pepper.

He was still talking. God, it was hard to focus when he was ranting in my ear about what a stupid kid I was, how naive, and whatever the hell else he deemed appropriate to spout at me as his 'evil villain speech.'

He shot at me again, and this time it rocked the roof so much I felt my fingers begin to slip. "Just do it!"

"You'll die!" Not only did she have a knack for picking the absolute worst times to listen to me, she picked even worse ones to ignore me.

You'll die! That just didn't register with me anymore. Frankly, I didn't give a shit if I lived or died. I didn't deserve to live, and I sure as hell didn't deserve to die mercifully or peacefully. It actually made a lot of sense that I was being betrayed by my father's partner.

But, if I could save her… if I could protect Pepper, my beautiful, darling, wonderful assistant that I didn't deserve either, from getting hurt… if she lived even one more day happy and healthy and as stunning as ever… now there was a cause worth dying for.

The jagged edges of the window frame dug into my exposed palm, tearing it up and I'm sure leaving ugly red stains all over everything, but it was easy to ignore the pain because it meant that I was still alive and distracting Obadiah and keeping his attention off of Pepper. It also meant I had yet to plunge into the gigantic arc reactor, whose ethereal blue light contrasted quite prettily with her carrot-colored hair.

But I didn't think about any of that until afterwards. Not until we… well, Pepper, really… were out of danger.

He shot at me again. God, that was getting old. But this time, I slipped. The roof shook dangerously beneath me, and I slid through the narrow opening; my bionic glove the only thing that kept me from spiraling downward into that pulsing, electrifying blue light. Even then, that still wasn't my main concern. I was still trying to convince my assistant to just push that goddamn button.

"Push it!" I screamed at her.

Finally, she did. The arc reactor began to buzz and whine, the electrical discharge beginning to creep through my suit and into my body. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to scramble up over the edge of the window just before the whole thing blew up and released an enormous pulse of blue electricity into the sky. I didn't see what happened to Obadiah, but I did hear him scream. I glanced down for just a second to look for her, and rolled away just in time to avoid getting my face melted off.

As I laid there, clinging to the metal, the electricity setting my whole body shaking with the intense voltage and scrambling any possible intelligent thought, I still saw Pepper's pretty face, shrieking my name.

As the reactor finished exploding, I could feel my body slow down… way, way down, as if time were stopping all around me. It was the strangest feeling, not painful or even uncomfortable. I let my eyelids shut and my hands release the frames around me and just relaxed.

Because as long as she's safe, I can die happy.

I can hear her. It's strange, because I'm dead. I shouldn't be hearing things. Especially… especially crying.

I try to raise my arm and rub my eyes, but it's so goddamn heavy, I just give up. I start to open my eyes, blinking a couple of times to try and refocus. And the first thing I see is my incredible assistant with tears streaking her face and little cuts in her hands.

I didn't really know what to say. There are lots of things I want to say, but none of them really seem appropriate. So I keep it simple. "Hey." I sound terrible. "God, you look awful."

Pepper coughs, but it's easy to see that she's ready to break down. "As if you look any better," she replies snidely.

Have to keep up appearances, right? Can't have her thinking that I'm just as scared as she is, that I hate this as much as she does. "Of course I do. I'm me." I grin up at her, trying to make her feel better and convince her that I truly am okay and not gonna die. Instead, it seems like it has the exact opposite effect because she looks like she's about to start weeping again.

"Crying over me already?" I say, reaching up and touching my fingers to her cheek, trying to wipe away some of those tears. "I'm gonna be okay, you know. I always am, aren't I?"

She reaches down and gently touches my forehead, and I can feel her fingertips brushing this one curl off my head that was seriously blocking my vision of her pretty face. "You are," she murmurs.

Her face is so warm beneath my hand, and I can feel her body heat seeping through my fingers, down my arm, and throughout my entire body. I smile a little wider. "Yeah, well, you should see the other guy."