IT'S BEEN SO LONG. My sincerest apologies for the utter lack of updating on this story in the last few months – everything else seemed to get away from me and it got pushed to the side.
I know that I have a load of requests for this story that are as yet unfulfilled, but I'm getting to them I promise. For now, have a little angst/fluff. This was inspired by a post on tumblr that made me think about Pepper hearing the news that Tony was gone and then years later recalling the utter devastation.
Pepper hadn't been expecting the call from Rhodey specifically but usually when Tony was away, she'd get at least three phone calls from various sources begging her to come and get him back on track. Sure Tony was only supposed to be in Afghanistan for two days but knowing him, that was easily enough time to cause a diplomatic incident. With this in mind, she answered the call with a smile on her face.
"Pepper?" The tone of voice instantly dissipated the smile. Rhodey sounded wrecked.
"James? What's wrong?"
There was a long moment of utter silence and Pepper felt her knees grow weak beneath her, tears already forming behind her eyes in preparation for the devastating news that was sure to follow. Eventually Rhodey took a deep, shaking breath and managed to force out the words: "Tony's been abducted. Terrorists." There was a muffled sob over the line.
Allowing her trembling knees to give out, Pepper dropped the ground and whimpered as her whole world started collapsing around her.
Three years later:
"Pepper, it was just one little fight! Barely even that!" Tony knew that he was in the wrong here but he felt that he had to at least try and defend himself. Since their engagement, Pepper had introduced a new rule that if Tony was running away to battle some criminal or other, he had to inform her about it.
In all honesty, it really had only been a minor incident: Doom sending in a lone Doombot to test their new weapon upgrades (they packed a punch but it was still pitifully useless against the likes of Hulk and Thor). They'd been finished in ten minutes.
"That's not the point Tony! The point is that you promised me you'd keep me in the loop, and now two months later you've already forgotten!" Pepper wasn't actually all that angry. Mostly she was just hurt that Tony had gone behind her back like that.
"It's not like that Pep, you know that," Tony reasoned gently, trying his level best to look innocent. "You know that I could never forget about you." He reached out a hand to stroke her cheek but she slapped it away fiercely.
"So help me God, if you try and pull any moves on me Tony Stark…"
"Okay, okay," he said, backing away slightly and holding his hands up in surrender. "I really am sorry, Pep. Just, when the call came in I was so caught up in the fight…"
"I know that I'm not the first thing on your mind in battle Tony," Pepper allowed, softening in the face of his sincerity. "Thank god. Just… I hate it when you just run off like that. I remember that night and…" She bit her lip quickly. She'd never told him about the time he was a hostage and he'd never asked, both acting under the impression that it would be too painful for them both to relive the memories.
"What night?" Tony's voice was very soft. He moved in closer again, reaching out for her and she let him pull her into his arms. Warm brown eyes regarded her gently as she tried to pull enough words together to form a sentence.
"The night… the night I got a call from Rhodey saying that you'd gone missing." Tony stiffened under her palms and she ran a soothing hand through the hair at the nape of his neck, grounding him. "I was just getting ready to go to bed and the phone rang. I thought that he was calling to moan about how you weren't doing what you were told." She laughed slightly despite the too-bright shine to her eyes and felt Tony chuckle softly.
"It wouldn't be the first time."
"I just… collapsed. It was as though my body couldn't comprehend just how much it hurt, thinking that you were gone. Rhodey stayed on the phone with me through most of the night. It was like I needed him to remind me how to breathe."
Tony pulled her close, pressing his face into her hair and wrapping himself around her, wishing that he could somehow take this pain from her. "I am so, so sorry Pep. I never wanted to put you through that."
"I know that you didn't. I just thank god that you came home again. It would have destroyed us both you know."
"Remind me to get Rhodey something amazing for Christmas."
Pepper laughed quietly, drawing comfort from Tony's steady presence. "For missing you?"
"For reminding you how to breathe when I wasn't there to help you," he murmured into her hair and she felt his arms tighten briefly around her. "I wish that you didn't have to think like that. I wish that you hadn't fallen in love with a wreck like me."
There was so much painful honesty in those words that it sent tears down Pepper's cheeks all over again. "Don't ever wish that. I don't care that you're Iron Man, even if that means I walk around with my heart in my throat, hoping that you'll be alright. I love you, Tony. And I wouldn't trade one second of the time I get to spend right here." She squeezed him gently.
Tony pulled away to look into her eyes, reading the sincerity. He was smiling again when he leaned in to kiss her.
"You two are sickening," came a voice from the vent and Tony threw something at it without looking. There was a loud clang and a yelp, followed by a curse. Pepper felt herself grinning into the kiss as the muffled noises of Clint belly-crawling away washed over them, allowing herself to relax into the familiarity of home.
So yes, Tony had broken a promise, but he hadn't done it maliciously. Above all else he wanted her happy and safe, even if that meant sacrificing his own happiness – as a young woman she would have given everything that she had to be so loved.
Being with Tony meant continually worrying about his safety. But it also meant being engaged to a wonderfully kind, smart, beautiful human being. And that seemed like a fair trade.
Short, I know. I'm out of practice on fluff clearly. Hopefully now that summer has arrived I will have more time to write and this story might actually experience some updates.