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The next day, a furious General is screaming in Rhodey's face about stolen property, a house reduced to rubble so thoroughly nothing usable is left, and the missing VTRB, and threatening him with a court-martial – and Rhodey coolly denies anything to do with it.

A week later, they can prove nothing, but they are still waving threats in Rhodey's face should their suspicions about his involvement be proven true. He answers with threats of his own: He threatens to leak to the public that they were trying to steal from Tony's house without a government order, that Justin Hammer was aiding and abetting a known terrorist, and the truth behind their cover-story.

It is a high-price gamble, and Rhodey knows that he really cannot do damage to the brass, but he can destroy their credibility on his way down, and that is enough to make them leave him alone in the end.

He finds that with enough money (and he's inherited more than enough to do this for several lifetimes) even something as noticeable as the Mark II can be hidden, and the fact that he's trampling on the authority of the military and government strangely does not bother him. He finally knows what he needs to do, and to quote Tony, in one of those rare unguarded moments that Pepper has since shared with him: he knows in his heart it's right.

His heart still aches when he thinks of Tony, and he admits silently: "You were right, Tony. I know that now…. I wish I'd trusted you more when I could have made you happy… but it is too late."

A month later, he resigns his commission in the military, finding that being an anonymous superhero is a full-time responsibility.

The same day, Pepper, as CEO of Stark Industries is having a press conference, and when one reporter asks if now that Tony Stark is dead, SI will resume weapons manufacturing, she shoots him down with such brutally unrepentant swift authority, it rivals Tony Stark's announcement to the world that he was closing SI's weapons-manufacturing division.

When Pepper and Rhodey meet for dinner, finding in each other's company some solace from the loss they share, Rhodey cannot help but look at them now – at where they are and who they are – and wonder if perhaps for as long as they live, Tony Stark never will be truly gone, because it seems like a piece of him has stayed with each of them.

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A/N:

1) I love happy endings (especially with Tony and Pepper together), but this is what happens when you listen to Breaking Benjamin's Anthem of the Angels for too long, after re-watching Iron Man 2.

2) For anyone who wonders, according to the book, when Tony makes his new element it was a pretty close call - since when Tony has JARVIS take over all the SI computers (that does happen in the book), he figures Pepper will be pissed, but by the time she comes over to yell at him, if his experiment does not work, she will be having to make funeral arangements instead.

So I figure if anything had slowed him down, it would have been too late for him.

In my opinion, Natasha had absolutely excellent timing, more than once, but today I found myself wondering what could have happened if she did not barge into the office when she did.

3) I know I should be updating my other stories, but I just had to write this down. I should have updates for the others by tomorrow.

4) A bit of shameless self-promotion (well, not really) If anyone out there thinks, like me, that Tony is an incredibly complex character who is misunderstood a lot (or just likes alot of angsty introspection with an happy ending when I finish it) you should check out my fic: "Stark Realizations". Yes, the name is after Tony Stark.

It's on the Thor movie archive because it's about Loki's emotional growth from observing Tony struggle through life, but it's really Tony's story through and through. Easiest to just find it via my profile.