Keys tingling, heels knocking, purse flopping, steps getting faster and faster. Tony didn't even need to hear the deathly worried and desperate voice, he could recognize these steps anywhere. He slowly opened his eyes as he sipped from his scotch once more, then just let the half-empty glass hang in the captivity of his fingers.
He knew he was in trouble, and his true self would've tried to find any loophole to escape this situation, but this fatigue that took over his whole body set his mind to defense mode. He wasn't the one to argue now. And honestly, he'd never felt this exhausted before in his complete existence, which surprised him pretty much, but he didn't have the strength to avoid it.
He didn't need to say anything: his red haired guardian angel found her way to the bedroom in no time, and when their eyes met for a tired, split second, she let out a sharp, high-pitched breath and turned around, showing her back to her boss, rising her hand to cover her mouth.
"Oh my God."
Tony had to remind himself that he still wasn't the one to argue. He wasn't the one to ask questions, to shout, to cry, or have some sort of panic attack right now. The sounds she made - unwittingly or not -, the shake of her shoulders gave it away within a second.
He wasn't able to watch it silently and helplessly for much longer. He slowly put his glass on the table right next to the sofa and stood up, letting out a painful but barely hearable groan. He was searching for the right words in his head, but before he could've said anything, she turned around with the speed of a thunder and glared at him. He wasn't far enough to not see the redness of her eyes, her trembling lips and the tears streaming down her face - he just stopped after a few more steps, keeping a safe distance from her.
"What the hell were you thinking?" she asked, her voice breaking by the end of the question. It held more pain than what he ever felt in his life. It was terrible to hear. "Answer me, Tony!"
"Pepper, please... Try to calm down and understand the situation," he raised his hands to his chest, holding them up in front of him, hoping it would protect him. Oh, how wrong he was.
"Understand?" The sharp and sarcastic laughter she made had given Tony chills, and it wasn't the best kind of feeling in the world. Pepper slowly approached him, with the sneer growing on her face. "How exactly?"
"I had to do this, Pepper. I had to save New York, I had to save the world," he answered immediately, not being sure what's gonna happen after. "The government just threw an atomic-bomb on Manhattan, and I was the only one who could do this. I couldn't just... let it happen and then... Good night Vienna."
"I'm not talking about that you moron!" She was shouting right now, but it wasn't the fact that surprised Tony, more likely the content of what she was saying. "I'm talking about this!"
She took her cell phone out of her pocket and pushed it into his face - her tears still rolling, her always delicate, soft hands now shaking.
The screen showed his smiling face, and the text under that said: 1 missed call.
"You were phoning me before your death but you wasn't able to tell me what the hell was going on earlier? You are a damned bastard, Tony Stark!"
She threw her phone onto the sofa, and then covered her mouth with her hand again, putting her other arm on her hip, trying to hold back the sobs that took over her again. She wasn't able to talk anymore, so she just lowered her head and tried to collect herself.
He understood now. It wasn't about him driving the missile into outer space and saving the human race. It wasn't about him sacrificing himself. It was about the method. That made sense of course. How could he believe she was angry for Tony being a hero? It would've been ridiculous.
He didn't know what to say. Again. He always had something to say, he was the greatest stand-up comedist in the world, but now... He was speechless. He just watched the love of his life crying out her heart right in front of him, and cursed himself for not being able to comfort her with anything. The great womanizer had been caught off-guard.
"I'm just curious what were you thinking while you were... doing whatever you've been doing," she looked up again, wiping her tears away. New ones came instead. "What did you want to say? That you wasn't going to make it home? Or that I should record Two and a Half Men because you might be just late tonight?"
"Peps..." He was sure he had something in mind, but then again, their eyes met and he forgot it, anything it was that he wanted to say. He just took a deep breath, and shook his head slowly. "I'm so sorry."
"You wanted to leave me... With this,"she gestured towards her phone on the couch, and wiped her eyes a bit more harshly, so her mascara was totally smudged. She was sure it looked terrible now, but she didn't care, and Tony still thought she looked beautiful. Even in this condition. "With a missed call from you. And I wouldn't have died because of that or out of sadness... Only because of the fact that I've never told you how much I've loved you."
Now, it was the point where he felt really confused. His only excuse could've been his weariness, but it didn't cover everything.
These were tears of relief. She wasn't angry anymore, nor disappointed or afraid as he assumed. She was happy.
"I tried to reach you since then... I called you for an hour in every minute but you didn't answer your phone. I couldn't reach JARVIS either," she continued, looking straight into his eyes without a blink. Now that she said it out loud, that she confessed, she seemed calmer, but she was still trembling and her voice broke for a few times. "I truly thought you were dead, Tony. I thought you wouldn't be home right until I saw you sitting on your little sofa... Drinking, like you always do, and -"
"Pepper," he cut her off, slowly reaching for her face with both of his hands. He gently stroked her cheeks, and soon her eyes were closed, waiting for him to go further. To make sure he was alive, to prove it. Because it was still so hard to believe. "I'm not going anywhere."
Only a few seconds passed until he closed the distance between them and planted a soft kiss on her lips. She inhaled his scent, slowly putting her hands on his chest, pulling him closer. She didn't know when did he start to become this important for her, but she didn't care about that right now - she loved him with every inch of her heart, and she didn't want to let him go. Ever again.
It started out as a gentle, long kiss but it slowly got more passionate and insistent. He could feel her affection, her fear of losing him, and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her still in his embrace. Their lips moved in perfect consonance, and even his gentle touches on her bare skin around her waist felt like well placed kisses. She loved this, she missed this, and she missed him. She could feel the difference in their relationship, even if they were seperated for only two days or so. It was long enough for changes to happen. 5 seconds would've been long enough.
It was physically impossible for them to be any closer to each other, and even when she pulled her head back carefully and looked deeply into his eyes with infinite passion and love in her own, there wasn't any empty space between their bodies.
"I gave you only 12% of my anger, I hope you know that, Mr Stark," she said already on a stable voice, and the old smirk reappeared on his face again, almost making her heart jump out of her chest.
"Then, if we always end up in this position, I'm more than excited to hear the remaining 88%, Ms Potts."
Yes. It definitely wasn't the same, and yet, it still was.
Only their relationship could be this impossible.