[[Last chapter. Story over! Sorry I'm late, we got hit pretty bad with Sandy. Everyone's okay but the power was down for 6 days. I wrote this chapter by candlelight, and had to type and edit it. It's been crazy here. Thank you so much for reading guys. Don't forget that the sequel, Hollow Scars, is going to start up next Friday!]]
Comforting sleep only lasted for a mere hour or two before the nightmares started. Scarlett tossed and turned throughout the remainder of the night, riddled with bad dreams manifested by overwhelming guilt and fear of the future. Each time she woke up, she found Tony's arms still around her and considered she could find sleep. He was warm, and each time she fidgeted to try and ease up the tension building from her nightmares, he tightened his grip on her.
Eventually Scarlett gave up on the prospect of a full night's sleep and lay awake in the hotel bed thinking. Thinking alone in the dark in the middle of the night was never a good idea and considering the prior day's events. Shining in the pale blue light from his arc reactor Tony lay asleep next to her, occasionally snoring or grumbling in his sleep. What she'd done with Tony had at long last felt right but there was still the question of what came next. She felt no guilt for what she'd done with him and judging by how well he was sleeping, Scarlett guessed that Tony wasn't feeling guilty anymore either. If only it was as simple as that for her, but she knew it wasn't. Part of her knew that Tony would realize that too.
Shifting in bed again, Scarlett couldn't sit still any longer and started to slide out of it to get some fresh air but felt Tony's arms, still lightly against her stomach, suddenly strengthen their grip on him and pull her securely back against him. Covering her mouth to stifle a laugh, Scarlett shook her head and resigned to continuing to lie around in bed with Tony despite her rebellious thoughts. He crept unconsciously closer when he realized she wasn't right up against him. Once close enough, his chin brushed against her bare shoulder and gave her the chills all the way down her spine. Soon enough he was snuggled once more against her side, a smile spread across his face.
This distracted her successfully for awhile and she drifted off for a few seconds. In the darkness she saw visions of horror from her past; things that wouldn't linger long on her memory but would make her skin crawl for hours. Furrowing her brow, Scarlett tried to shake off the feeling multiple nightmares left her with, but it wasn't so simple. Glancing over at Tony she saw that he still had a smile on his face and was glad for that. Her body allowed just enough relaxation for her to stop grinding her teeth together.
Watching him sleep for twenty minutes Scarlett couldn't help but be enamored by him. She seemingly comforted him in his slumber and allowed him enough relief to finally relax. This was something Scarlett wasn't used to. She'd always caused Scott stress and had very rarely brought him comfort. Even though she had every intention of ruining his life when she'd first arrived at the Stark Mansion, somehow Scarlett had managed to make Tony genuinely happy in the end. Things couldn't have been any more backwards than she had intended them to be and she couldn't complain.
It was the first time where her lover's happiness had actually mattered to her in a relationship. Romance had never been very high on her list of priorities and suddenly it was in her top ten. Cause and effect had always been more of a soldier's agenda for her. She did the good she could for the world from the shadows and made her bed in the destruction. There had never been a chance to stop for real romance or to think about her personal future at least not until she had met Tony and had fallen for him. The thought alone that this could change her whole world scared the hell out of her.
If Scarlett stayed with Tony in Malibu she would finally be doing something for herself and not for a paycheck. The more she thought about it, the more she realized the only thing she'd ever really done for her had been to run away from home and go to college after getting early acceptance. Two decades later and she was realizing that the life filled with adventure and intrigue was less of a life and more of a mission. Even though she'd decided this thing with Tony was something she wanted, was she even capable of it?
MedCo didn't want her to live a happy life with a man of great power and intelligence and she was sure they weren't going to sit idly by and let it happen. The vile company wanted to destroy everything she cared about and held dear until they had her so alone, desperate and miserable that she would have no choice but to bend to their will in exchange for a small glimmer of happiness. The chess game they were playing was far from over and there was no chance of Scarlett escaping without sacrificing her queen.
Turning to rest her lips against Tony's forehead she stared past him in thought. How would she break it to him that this peace wouldn't last? Tony was like her in many ways and one of them was that he was a problem solver. When it came to other people's problems he could fix them easily. When it came to his problems he seemed to ignore them until they built up.
If Scarlett told Tony what was on her mind and just how bad things had gotten he'd get involved in an instant and put himself in danger. As selfish a man as he appeared to be it was truly a clever guise. Scarlett knew that he'd do everything within his power to protect her and fight alongside her. But Tony didn't know the severity of what he was getting into and Scarlett wanted to spare him fighting the kinds of battles she'd been involved in. Sure, Tony had been waste deep in scum for a good chunk of his life but it was different than the kind of scum Scarlett had been a part of.
Tony had been playing children's games for years by messing around with money, alcohol, women and weapons but it was a far cry from the blood on Scarlett's hands. When he turned into the Iron Man he'd gotten more of a glimpse of the kind of world that Scarlett lived in. It occurred to her then that she was exactly like the villains that challenged him. If she'd done a single thing differently she was sure that instead of falling in love with him, she'd be pitted against Tony in battle. It was mere chance that she'd gotten a chance to know him.
It was scary to consider but even with their history as it was, Scarlett had started off as an enemy, not as a lover. He'd repulsed her in reputation and while his charm had made the idea of being with him easier, it was ultimately the good man hidden underneath the sarcasm and reputation that had won her over.
It was odd to imagine, but Scarlett couldn't imagine her life going any other way. This thought shook her to the core. Somehow, she was sure that no matter what path life had led her down she'd either end up with Tony or dead. It felt odd to have this sort of certainty, but she had it nonetheless. Turning to look back at Tony again, she brushed her fingers over his arm that still held her. He smiled and grunted again in his slumber but didn't shy away from her touch. Would it be so bad to have what she wanted? Maybe she could do both.
If she wanted to stop MedCo, and she did, she would have to return to her old life even if it was just for a short while. Tony had been right about many things the night before when they'd talked and unfortunately about a few things when they'd been fighting. One of the things that had stuck with her in particular was that her illegal behavior would have to be put to an end in order for her to a part of his life. Tony lived a very public life, after all.
Keeping up with her old habits while being romantically involved with a man whose personal affairs were written up in international gossip columns everyday would very quickly land Scarlett in prison and cause Tony unnecessary headaches. Her entire life had to change in order to be a part of Tony's.
Blank thoughts followed for a short while followed by a flood of fear and terror of whether or not she was capable of such a life or such normalcy. What if she couldn't turn over a new leaf? What if it changed who she was? What would she do if she didn't take dangerous jobs?
Tony shifted in bed next to Scarlett again startling her and breaking her train of thought. He shifted away from her with his back to her. Somehow this cleared her mind from the crippling doubt and fear it had become muddled with. Rolling onto her side and propping her head up with her hand, she watched Tony sleep and found a smile once more on her face.
She could do it.
She would at the very least, try.
But there were things she couldn't leave unfinished and she knew her hands would have to be more than dirty to finish them. Her situation with Tony had, at long last, been resolved but there were still at least a thousand loose ends dangling just outside the front door. If she didn't tie the ones she could off now then someday they'd come for her and tangle not only her up in them but Tony too.
Scarlett was sure she'd be included in her fair share of the many plots Iron Man would someday have to unravel, but it was different. Tony was using the Iron Man suit to protect people, not to pick fights. Scarlett's battles were her own and it was high time she took responsibility for the destruction she'd left in her wake over the years. Knowing what she had to do, even if it wasn't what she wanted, Scarlett slowly crept out of bed now that she was free from Tony's arms.
Once she was sure she hadn't disturbed Tony while moving and that he remained fast asleep in the hotel bed she retrieved her clothes and tiptoed into the bathroom. Showering and partially hoping the noise would wake Tony up and foil her plans, Scarlett very slowly started to get ready to leave California. When she was clean and dressed, she walked into the adjoining room. Having found a first aid kit with minimal dressings underneath the sink, Scarlett wrapped her bloody feet and sat with her head in her hands for ten minutes while she waited for her scarred feet to stop throbbing. Afterward she searched around the room and found a pen and a pad of paper in the cabinet of a desk on the far end of the room. Getting comfortable once again on the couch, Scarlett wrote her note and then folded up the paper then sealed it with a kiss.
After she was finished with her task, Scarlett walked back into the bedroom and placed the folded letter on the nightstand next to where Tony slept. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Scarlett took to watching Tony sleep. She remained on the bed for a few more agonizing minutes before she started to tug the blankets up and over his body to keep him warm and cozy.
Leaning over him as he shifted but remained at rest, Scarlett felt unusually solemn to know this might be the last time she saw him for a long time. Pressing her lips softly to his forehead she gave Tony a soft kiss before standing up straight.
"I'm so sorry, Tony." Scarlett turned away from the man who had changed her life in a month's time and walked out of the room without turning to look back. She would pay the bill for the hotel room and then run her errands for the day. There were a hundred things she needed to do before she could start her journey. She kept repeating in her mind that the sooner she got this done, the sooner she could return to Tony.
Tony stirred only when the light of the day shone through the balcony window and nearly blinded him. He'd slept so fitfully through the night that he honestly didn't want to wake up. This was peculiar for Tony, considering his racing and easily distracted thoughts kept him awake most nights and urged him into productivity and often into exhaustion. This time it had been the work of his heart that had rendered him into exhaustion but also the same heart that had allowed him to get the rest he so desperately required, especially since he hadn't slept nearly at all the night before while he'd been stricken with guilt. The room felt warm and inviting and the bed was comfortable and smelled like Scarlett. It would be much harder to wake up each morning when the temptation next to him was irresistible.
But once Tony had managed to fully wake up he knew he was once again alone. His heart took a dive in his chest. He'd worked tremendously hard to get Scarlett back and for what? To have her leave again when he'd finally found some well needed rest? Tony didn't need to check the rest of the hotel room to know she was long gone. While Scarlett was nowhere to be found there was no cold feeling of deception hanging in the air around him and no nagging fear that she had manipulated him like the last time. In fact, the room was filled with the exact opposite. There was a warm and comforting feeling lingering all around Tony. Though she was gone, it felt different. There was no crippling doubt or worry as there had been before.
Rolling onto his back, Tony brushed his hand over his face and tried to wipe away the groggy curtain of sleep that hung over him like a fog. Staring at the ceiling, Tony felt lost and had a thousand new questions on his mind.
Slowly sitting up, he decided that he would first and foremost contact Pepper and update her on the situation. Considering he'd never gotten back to her the night before, he was surprised that she hadn't left him a thousand annoying messages on his cell phone. Then he would try to find Scarlett again, no matter how long it took him or how daunting the task seemed. He'd been asleep for long enough that she was likely on a flight out of the country by now. Toes numbed from the night before Tony swung his legs over the side of the bed and stretched his sore muscles.
That was when a folded up piece of paper on the nightstand caught his eye. On the front his name was written in unfamiliar handwriting. It occurred to him that he'd never seen Scarlett write before, so there was no way he'd be familiar with it. The way she wrote his name was pretty and, for lack of a better word, girly. Unfolding it, Tony was surprised by the length of the note inside. He'd been half expecting a simple one line apology or sarcastic dig. Rubbing his hand over his mouth and chin he started to read.
You have no idea how much I didn't want to leave bed this morning.
Tony wondered just how long he had been sleep alone. It had felt to him like she had been there the whole time right next to him. It was odd but he couldn't help but think that maybe some ethereal part of Scarlett had stayed with him until he had at least woken up and found her letter.
I'm sorry, Tony.
I can't even specify for what anymore, but I'm sure there's too long a list to fit on this note. Just know that I'm really sorry.
Do you remember when you spoke to me about your dilemma of conscience with creating a new power source and making it readily available to everyone, including your potential future enemies and to those who would do harm with such power? It got me thinking about the burden of responsibility for people like me and you. I try not to think about those things most of the time because the good usually always outweighs the bad. But maybe I was just kidding myself until I met you.
When I left your house yesterday in anger and upset after you said those dreadful things to me I tried to distract myself from the heartache and had some time to really think about the last six months of my life. I say six months because that's when things started to really change. If I reflected on everything before that, I don't think I'd ever make amends. There are things I've done in this world that I need to be held accountable for before I get to live a happy life.
I created those drones for MedCo in an attempt to save my life and Scott's at the same time but by doing so I unwittingly created a weapon of untold power and essentially handed it over to a company that intends to do nothing but horrible things with it. I thought if I gave them multiple defenses it would delay having to create offensive systems. But now I know just giving them a reliable response mechanism was damaging enough and all I accomplished was making them harder to destroy while some weapons expert can just slap a few guns on them. It's unfinished but still dangerous. MedCo has come after me a dozen times now and I've realized they're not going to stop.
You may not understand even after seeing it but the technology I used to try and avoid creating a weapon could've created a more powerful one that I had foreseen. It could, in the right minds, someday rival your titanium alloy battle suits. In the wrong hands, where it is now, it could cause unspeakable horrors even at half potential.
I caused this.
Even though I didn't mean to do so, I have to accept the fact that in my survival attempt I built something terrible and no matter what I want, MedCo has made it clear that they won't let me rest until I've done what they want. So I'm leaving to do the only thing I can think to do. I won't put your life in danger anymore or the lives of your friends.
I think I told you that day that you would need to do what you thought was the best course of action, so I'm taking my own advice even if it breaks my heart. When you explained to me the good you wanted to take out of a bad experience it really got to me. You wanted to redeem yourself even if it was only a small percentage in comparison to the bad things. I know what good I have to do now to turn things around, Tony, and that involves me being bad for just a little bit longer.
I'll stop MedCo if it's the last thing I do. They won't hunt me down any longer. I'll make them pay for what they've done. After that I'll find Scott but not to be with him. I don't want him to wonder if he caused my death the way I thought I caused his. We may have clashed in the past but he deserves closure so he can move on free of guilt. I felt terrible thinking I caused his death and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone.
When that's all said and done I'll return to you, if you still want me by then. I'll understand if you don't but I won't give up that easily either. I think the saddest thing about writing this note to you is that I never got to say what I realized on the train to you in person and mostly out of spite.
I love you, Tony Stark.
There was no signature at the end of the letter, just the last line as a declaration of love and that struck Tony the hardest. Scarlett had returned his sentiment the night before but indirectly and now he had the proof in writing. Turning the paper over in his hand though he knew there was nothing else written on it, Tony felt disheartened and confused. He didn't want her to leave.
Pressing the paper to his lips, he kissed the last words and then folded it up again so he could keep it. Tony had many women write him love letters over the years but this was the only one that had ever meant more than bragging rights.
Setting it back down on the nightstand temporarily, Tony got up and slowly found his discarded clothing and started to get dressed. He respected what Scarlett wanted to do but what he didn't understand was why she thought she had to do it alone. MedCo wanted her and she'd be walking right into the mouth of the lion if she went after them on her own. If she had just stayed with him he could have protected her and helped her take the company down without throwing her in harm's way. But he knew Scarlett wouldn't have wanted that. She was, after all, his female James Bond.
Starting to reassemble the complex Iron Man armor, Tony weighed his options. By the time he had reassembled the suit he'd come to a conclusion. He'd pocketed the note she'd written and checked the room to make sure Scarlett hadn't left anything else behind then started onto the balcony.
"Jarvis?" Tony watched Los Angeles come to life below, finding it hard to believe that only a few hours ago he'd made love to Scarlett and convinced her to stay in his arms only to have her leave in the morning while he slept.
"Did you make up with Miss Damien, sir?" The robot clearly cared about the answer to this particular question above all else.
"Good morning to you too Jarvis." When the robot didn't respond, he continued. "She loves me." Tony smiled, despite the situation at hand. He stood staring out at the city, hesitant to leave.
"Very good. Though I must ask. If that's the case then where is she? My sensors do not detect her."
"No one is surprised, Mr. Stark." Jarvis started scans for Scarlett all of which came up empty handed in the nearby vicinities.
"She said she missed you last night." Tony chimed in, watching the complex processes stop entirely at his words.
"Did she?" Jarvis sounded pleased by the thought of the brunette bombshell having thought of him.
"Who's the one that's head over heels now, hmm?" Tony smirked then triggered the thrusters on his suit once it had finished the booting process. "Contact the hotel and pay for the room for me, Jarvis. Apologize for not checking out the old fashioned way but I just don't have the time." Tony left the balcony after hesitating to leave the last place that he'd seen Scarlett. He turned around to look back at the room, wishing he could somehow trap the memories from the night before but knew such a thing wasn't feasible.
"The hotel room has already been paid for by someone who fits Miss Damien's description." Jarvis informed his creator after having been given a few minutes to perform the task in question. Tony smiled fondly and couldn't recall a prior occasion on which he'd taken a woman out and she'd footed the bill without even asking for him to do so. Women always assumed that he'd pay for everything given how deep his pockets went.
"Great. In that case, call Pepper for me." Instead of responding, Jarvis patched through to Pepper's cell phone which rang three times before she picked it up.
"Tony, where are you?" Pepper didn't seem worried but looked exhausted on the video screen on his suit. He guessed she hadn't gotten much sleep the night before.
"Los Angeles. I'm coming home."
"LA? Well, that's a relief I suppose. What happened last night? Did you find Scarlett?" Pepper sounded worried that he perhaps hadn't, despite how she felt about Scarlett.
"Before I answer that question I need you to do something important for me." Tony chose his words wisely and received a sigh from Pepper on the other end.
"What is it now?" Pepper sounded disapproving and was shuffling around a huge stack of papers that had been scattered on the table in front of her.
"I need you to clear my schedule."
"For how long?" Pepper hesitated. Tony guessed this was because clearing his schedule was not an easy feat.
"Tony! What about New York? You can't put these things off just because you feel like it!"
"I got the approval to break ground already and for the testing out of town. I need you to send me the plans I was putting together over the past few months. I have some changes I'd like to make. I've been thinking about it for a couple weeks, but I want to go through with them now. I'd scrapped them a few times but… now I'm sure."
"They're already finalized! I've sent them to the architect who has started hiring construction crews." Pepper continued to object but Tony interrupted her before she could continue.
"Then let me talk to the damn architect directly and I'll sort it out. I came up with a few important things I need to add to the place. It's not like they can't change it. It's going to take months to finish anyway." Tony didn't budge on the matter, despite the sounds of annoyance and the face Pepper was making on the other end of the line.
"Fine, but I can't clear your calendar, Tony. You're the CEO of a company. You're Iron Man! The idea of even trying to clear your schedule is ludicrous." Pepper grunted, sounding completely flustered by his request. "I might be able to turn some of them into digital conferences but that's the best I can do. What could be important enough for you to clear your entire schedule?"
"Scarlett went after MedCo by herself." Tony made it clear with his voice that he wasn't joking around and wouldn't be swayed on the matter. Pepper stayed quiet, having been made partially aware of the company he'd been hunting and their devious motives. She'd done her best to stay out of his Iron Man business. It was too dangerous and the less she knew about what he did in that suit the better for her health. "I can't let her go alone, no after seeing what they're capable of. Get my jet ready for international travel. I'll be home in an hour or so. I have to go after her and make things right."
"Alright," Pepper relented with a shake of her head. "I hope you know what you're doing, Tony."
"I do. I love her and I'm not going to let her go." Tony didn't wait for Pepper to respond before he disconnected the call. The last thing he wanted to hear was some crack about how he'd become a hopeless romantic.
Scarlett had been wrong about one thing in her letter. The fight against MedCo wasn't hers to fight alone. Stane had been selling them weapons under the table for years in exchange for shortcuts in biological warfare. The fight against MedCo was as much Tony's as it was Scarlett's.
Besides, Tony was in love and now that he knew she loved him enough to chase down her demons he wasn't going to let her go it alone.
"Jarvis, we're going to Africa."