No apology can be enough for the simple fact that I didn't continue with this story any sooner than now.. Lack of motivation, inspiration, time.. you name it and I've had it. So please just accept this next chapter and start reading it! Of course, reviews are more than welcome and actually quite necessary! So let me know what you think of it :)
Thirteen: No, Go
´Shh, take it easy, take it easy now." With only his eyes fluttering open, frantically looking around to search his surroundings while the rest of his body was completely still, he made a disturbing appearance. A sudden spike of his pulse had indicated he was gaining some awareness, a hopeful sign after so many days of steady beeps, unconsciousness and uncertainties. It was the moment they had hoped for, although looking at him right now she wasn't so sure anymore..
How was he going to respond to everything?
Her gentle, fragile hand caressed his face, his skin pale against the colour of her hand. His eyes were still looking around with an incredible speed and she wasn't sure if he was taking in any details or if he was just searching for something in particular.. or someone, probably.
She led him search for a while longer while she kept still by his side, the panic that was so clear on his face hurting her more and more with every second that passed. She had hoped for a surge of relief when the moment came he'd wake up, although deep down she knew it was fruitless to hope for things like that with him. Posing as an selfish arrogant man, she knew he was exactly the opposite, thinking about his friends first, himself later. Not many people could see through him like that, but he had let her by letting her into his life, and she had seen right away. He was as selfless as everyone thought him selfish and over the course of time, she had joined him with enjoying the task of keeping his image intact.
Just as a tear escaped from her eye, one of many since the last days, his gaze finally focused on her and a very faint smile appeared on his face. She replied his' with a giant smile of her own while quickly wiping the tear away.
"Hey there, babe. How are you feeling?"
"Have had better days, I guess." His voice was low and harsh of the non-use, but besides that he didn't seem to have much problems with his speech.
"You sure have." She smiled again while moving her hand up towards his hair and started to strike through it.
"I'm so glad you finally woke up." He didn't reply to that, but simply continued to stare at her, taking her in for the first time. Her eyes red-rimmed and the bags under her eyes indicated he had been out for a while, meaning she had been by his side for a while too. Again, a faint smile crossed his face.
"I bet I'm looking at least as good as you do." She genuinely laughed at that.
"I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable by looking splendid."
"You always look splendid." Startled, she met his eyes and she saw that the smile had disappeared, a sincere and concerned look now plastered on his face. She looked him in the eyes once more and couldn't help but silently cry again. His expression didn't change but simply kept staring at her. Through her.
"You shouldn't worry about me so much." Now it was her turn to startle him by suddenly cupping his face in her hands and kissing him deeply and passionately. Although he didn't respond much to her touch, he didn't struggle either and she was more than content with it. She knew she was being selfish by claiming him immediately after he had woken up, waiting just a little bit longer to tell everything else, keeping him as happy as he could be right now. She should tell him everything that had happened during his time in the unconsciousness world, but she couldn't.
Not just yet. Not just now.
Their lips parted, but she left her face lingering above his' a while longer. She took in his beautiful eyes and hair, the perfect skin lines alongside his cheeks, the beginning of a beard that had formed itself during his mental absence, the single cut than run next to his right ear.. And she couldn't help but smile.
How glad she was to see him again.
"I thought my waking up was reason to stop crying, not start again." His words broke her trail of thoughts and she created some distance between them again.
"No." He met her eyes again, the worrisome look still there. "You're not going to say sorry. Not to me." She simply nodded, carefully trying to get rid of the huge lump in her throat. She reached out to his nightstand and took the glass of water and straw from it.
"You'd like some water?" The thought of water suddenly made his throat feel like sandpaper and he quickly answered positively. While she brought the glass towards him, he tried to sit up a little straighter, finding it incredibly hard to do so.
"No!" He looked at her curiously, not knowing what she meant and he continued to try to sit up. Suddenly, two hands pushed him backwards onto the bed with way to much ease and he couldn't do anything else but oblige.
"Wha.. What is it?"
"Don't move!" All of a sudden, his scrambled brain remembered the seconds before he had blacked out and if he'd been able to, he would've hit himself on the head for his stupidity.
Why didn't he even think about why he was in this sterile white bed in the first place?
For the first time, he took a look down towards the rest of his body to take in the damage done. Of course, his body was covered with sheets and he tried to lift his arms in order to remove them. Again, two hands stopped him from moving.
"Don't move." All of the politeness had gone from her voice and he found her eyes to search for an explanation.
"Why? I want to know how I look."
"But the doctors told me it's best if you don't move." He simply just stared at her.
"Don't move? At all?"
He laid his head against the pillow again, his inner self more relaxed about what was to come than he had ever been.
"What does it matter? Isn't the damage already done?" She stared at him, speechless.
"Just let me have a look."
"No, you can't.." He rolled his eyes.
"Pepper, I'm not stupid. I know I'm paralyzed, and I don't give a shit. I just want to look."
With that, he again started to lift his arms to continue his task where he had left off before his girlfriend's interruption. A firm hand pushed him back and remained on his chest leaving him unable to move at all. Again he looked at her, deep down amazed about the strength she had in her.
"I'm telling you, you're not moving and you'll not move until I tell you the whole story." Their eyes met and when she saw absolutely no emotion reflected in his eyes, her heart broke right then and there. This time when he spoke up, she let him talk.
"I already know the whole story. I'm paralyzed, I'll never be able to move my legs again, but I should be grateful that I'm still alive, right? Grateful that I've been saved and I've woken up, that I could start living my life again although now with an extra handicap besides my social incapability everyone always seems to have so much trouble with. Well, I'm sorry Pepper, but I'm not grateful. I'm not grateful one bit. And you know perfectly why I'm not. I went on a mission to save a friend, my only friend, and ended up killing him instead. And not just killing him, no, killing him even more painfully than his worst enemy had planned to. I made him save my life instead, jumping on top of me while a whole temple of stone and glass was about to fall on top of us. And I couldn't do shit about it, and now I'm alive and he's dead. I'm crippled but alive, and my only friend is dead. Hooray."
During his speech, Pepper had retreated back to her post of the last days, her arms and legs crossed, her face as far away from the bed as the chair back allowed her too. When he was finally done, she didn't move, didn't look at him but gave a simple but clear answer.
"Pepper, you don't have to lie to me, you know I can handle the truth, I.."
"Whatever, keep on going, but if you don't mind, I'll go see my legs now if that's alright."
"NO!" The extra force that came along with the two-letter word finally got his attention.
"Tony… let's do this the fair way. I let you talk, now you let me talk, alright?" He didn't immediately reply, but after a couple of seconds of considering, he finally laid back down and answered with his silence.
"Okay, now I'll tell you my version. And you may or may not believe it, but if it matters to you at all, I swear I'm telling the truth as I know it."
Again, no reply.
"Yes, you're paralyzed. B.." Her confirmation made him start anew with his attempt to sit up straight and remove the sheets from his body.
"Don't be such a child, Tony. You just agreed to let me finish." After another couple of seconds of deadly silence, he acknowledged she was right and stopped moving. Pepper sighed before continuing.
"So, as I was telling you, you're paralyzed. But there's a big chance you're not permanently paralyzed. When..", Pepper swallowed before she found her voice again, "when you were found under the temple by the others, you didn't have much rubbish on you like stones and glass but just like you said, you were… covered from that. The only thing that happened is that the collision with you and your… cover… made you hit your back hard on the ground with your suit. So the doctors started making scans and all and found out that your spinal column wasn't broken or moved but just bruised. You've got a bruised back, Tony, and the swelling around the bruises paralyze your spinal cord. But if the bruising disappears again when you're recovered a bit more.. than you could walk again. Could walk, so no promises, but with intense therapy you could walk again.."
A deadly silence followed and Pepper had to look at him to find out how he'd taken the news she just told him. She was almost too scared to look and she had every right to be, because his face was as stoic as it was before. No movement, no emotion crossed his face, not even a blink of his eyes betrayed anything that was going on in his head right now. After a minute of waiting for his answer, she couldn't handle the silence anymore and started to provoke a response.
"Tony, sweety.. please say something."
"Isn't it good news, Tony? You can get your legs back.. you can start driving ridiculous expensive cars again, fly around in your suit, jog, walk.. isn't that great?"
Still no reply.
Pepper moved her body and hand and closed the distance between them again. She gentle laid her hand on his', just like she had done when he'd woken up, and he finally responded.
He shoved his hand away which made her startle and move back. The gesture felt like a dagger was being shoved through her heart and she couldn't help but start to cry again.
"Tony, please.. don't do this. Don't shut me out like everyone else.." Finally, his silence was broken by a sigh and she found the courage to look at him again. The horrible glare finally broke her.
"I don't care if I can ever walk again! I don't give a shit! The only good thing about it is that I can now walk to hell instead of roll myself. Can't you just simply understand? I don't care, because I KILLED HIM!"
Two pairs of eyes suddenly turned towards the only door of the room which was now partially opened. Neither one of them had taken notion of the man that stood in the doorway, his body leaned against the doorpost while his arms were crossed.
He remained at his post while he let the news sink in with the two people in the room while his eyes focused on the pale, fragile guy in the bed. His patience finally won when that man stumbled out the only word he could find.
"Do you want me to repeat it?"
Without moving, Steve Rogers made himself very clear and said:
"Tony Stark, you did not kill Bruce Banner."