In the Eye of Others
AN: This is my first Iron Man fic, so be kind It is in the movie verse, so I am sorry for any of the comic book fans, I don't know any of those story lines. I have loved the character of Happy Hogan throughout the two movies, and I thought it would be fun to get his take on our two favorite characters relationship. This will generally follow the plot line of the movies.
As always, I don't own anything, I only like to borrow for a bit
I trotted down the steps of the plane after depositing Tony's bags onboard. As I reached the bottom, the stewardesses, ah that is flight attendants were preparing to board. I looked back at the still open door with a wry smile. That lucky bastard. I could only imagine what sort of shenanigans were about to unfold on that plane. Thankfully Rhodey would be there to at least keep things slightly under control.
I decide to leave the Rolls at the field and drive the Audi back to the house. Hey, being Tony Stark's driver had some perks.
I arrived back just in time to catch the game. While things were assuredly less exciting with Tony out of town, I did enjoy the bit of down time. I still had to drive Pepper around, but that was a joy compared to her relatively demanding counterpart. So I settled in for the afternoon to watch the game, looking forward to a relaxing week.
The next two days were relatively uneventful. I shuttled Pepper around for errands and meetings, the usual stuff. Pepper Potts was a very interesting woman. Tough as nails, yet she didn't have an unkind bone in her body. I'm not really sure how she has put up with Tony all these years.
Tony and I, eh, we're guys. We share similar hobbies, women and cars. Well, to be fair, Tony's hobbies are women and cars, mine just tend to be cars and women, well, I ogle from a far. Tony and Pepper have always shared an interesting relationship. There is definitely an attraction there, on both sides, whether they would want to admit it or not. There is this spark that flames between them when they have one of their snarky conversations. She has never put up with his crap, and personally, I think it turns him on. There have not been many people that have said no to Tony Stark for anything. But somehow Pepper has mastered it, although she is probably just about the only woman that really truly cares about Tony.
Then on the flip side of that coin there is Tony. There are times when the mansion door practically revolves as one woman comes in and one goes out. He could really care less about these women; they are around for a purpose, entertainment. And due to his fame and fortune, they are never in short supply. But he has never been that way with Pepper. Sure he throws around sexual innuendo with her like other people say hello, but he truly respects her and her opinion. If it weren't for Pepper, I'm not sure what might have become of Tony Stark or Stark Industries in the last 10 years.
Pepper works from the office in Tony's house a lot, including when he isn't here. So we generally will hang out while she works and I raid the fridge. Today we were having lunch together to break up the monotony of a Tonyless day.
We were in the midst of the meal, laughing about something or other, when Pepper's cell phone started to play the Air Force fight song signaling a call from Rhodey. Which was slightly unexpected since he was with Tony.
Pepper picked up the phone and answered, "Hey Jim. What's up? Isn't it like the middle of the night over there? Just tell Tony I will not wire him bail money," a bright smile on her face.
Rhodey began to speak. The smile and any traces of happiness slid from her face, as tears began to gather in her eyes. The former sparkling blue turning darker with the weight of unshed tears.
"What do you mean missing? What kind of ambush? I don't understand, how do you not know if he is alive. What –", abruptly she stopped as Rhodey continued.
"Ok Jim I'll stay close to the phone. Oh and Jim, please find him," she pleaded, ending on a sob.
The call disconnected and her hand dropped to her side, as if the weight of the phone had become unbearable. She lifted her face to me, causing the tears to spill down her cheeks, leaving indelible trails in her makeup.
"He's missing," she sobbed. Each word she attempted appeared to take Herculean effort , as the sobs threatened to over take her. "His envoy was ambushed. They don't know where he is. They don't know anything Happy. Not even if he is alive. Everyone else in his Humvee was killed."
I was stunned, in shock, insert any cliché here. This couldn't be happening. I was having trouble processing what I had just heard. Tony could possibly be dead.
I shook myself out of my stupor just in time to watch Pepper crumple to the floor. Her entire body shook with great heart wrenching sobs. I joined her there on the ground. Taking hold of her shoulders, I brought her head to my chest and cradled it there.
Through my own tears I managed to try and calm her. "Shhh It's ok Pepper, shhh."
She lifted her head and looked at me, "No Happy it's not, it might never be ok again."
We stayed that way on the floor for what felt like an eternity. All thoughts of the outside world had been forgotten as we sat and wept together.
Reluctantly, she lifted her head and I saw the anguish there in her red swollen eyes. She loved Tony, there could be no doubt. I had always thought she had feelings for him, but now, I was sure. It was written there for anyone to see. The sad part was that it was more than likely that Tony returned her feelings. These two had just never gotten their act together. Now there was a very real possibility that they never would.
But now wasn't the time for those thoughts. I needed to concentrate on getting Pepper what she needed, and right now she apparently needed to be held. She continued crying until eventually she had no more tears to shed. Tthe sniffling stopped and her breathing calmed. She had thankfully fallen asleep.
I placed her in Tony's bed that night, assuming that it would give her comfort to be close to his things. After checking on her a few times I finally allowed myself to sit down and contemplate this loss. Our hodgepodge, dysfunctional little family was in disarray, and I wasn't sure there was anything to be done to fix it.
The next day saw the return of Pepper Potts, in charge and all business. She appeared to have a new mission. To keep things as normal as possible, as if Tony could walk through the door at any moment. She answered emails, set up and cancelled appointments, replied to RSVP's. Anything that was within her usual days work.
I watched as the first day turned into the first week. That is when the cracks in the armor first started to appear. The updates from Rhodey were especially hard on her. He had remained in Afghanistan to help the coordinate the search, and had promised to bring Tony home. A promise he should never have made since the longer Tony was missing, the more likely he would never be coming home.
Today's call was no different than the rest. There was no new information. And though he never said it, you could tell his original optimism at being able to find Tony alive was beginning to wane. After the call Pepper excused herself. As on all the other days I could hear her weeping softly in the next room. I am not ashamed to admit that I few times I had wept with her.
The weeks turned into months and Stark Industries continued to thrive under the watchful eyes of Obadiah Staine. Pepper was working with him to fulfill Tony's duties. It had now been three months since he disappeared, and it was becoming likely that he never would return. There were rumblings of a search for a new CEO.
I came in one day to talk to Pepper about it, and that is when I caught her. She was in the midst of an on-line job search.
"What are you doing?" I asked incredulously.
With a reluctant sigh she replied,"Happy, it's been three months. I think we need to start accepting that things likely aren't going to end the way we want it to. We need to start thinking about the next step."
"How can you say that Pepper? How can you give up on him so easily? I thought he was more to you than just a paycheck?" I spat at her, the anger rising like bile in my throat.
She stood abruptly, spilling the work in her lap, and returned fire. "Give up?" she asked, her voice low and furious as she rounded on me. "How dare you say that to me. How dare you accuse me of not caring? I have cried every day for the last three months for that man, willing him to be alive to come back to us. So don't you dare say that I don't care about him when I lo-"
She ended the sentence abruptly, her hand flying to her mouth as if to grasp that last syllable to keep it from escaping. Though she didn't finish the word, the meaning was clear. That fragment of a word remained in the air between us, seeming to echo off the walls around us. While I already knew, it appeared that this may have been the first time Pepper had lent a voice to this emotion.
Tears slipped from her eyes.
"I'm so sorry Pepper. I'm sorry, I should've never-"
"It's ok Happy," she interrupted. "I know that you are hurting just as much as I am. I sometimes forget that in the face of my own pain," she said reaching for my hand.
"You guys are all I've got," she said with a watery smile. "I am so grateful every day that you have been here to help me through it."
We stood there for a few silent moments, gathering strength from each other. I returned her smile with one of my own. In that moment I knew that even if Tony didn't return, she would be ok. Though, if he were here I would likely smack him on the head for being such a dimwitted genius. He had this wonderful woman in front of him, who he clearly adored, and he had never done anything about it.
She turned away from me. As I walked towards the window I began to see the obstacle in their path. It was Tony. He was scared. Scared of losing Pepper. Being with her in their current relationship, as employer and employee, in his mind was better than not having her at all. Quite frankly, I'm not sure that he would truly know that what he feels for her is love, given his past. He has locked away his heart for so many years that I don't think he recognizes the emotion. His endless string of women keep him occupied so that he doesn't have time to feel lonely.
The times that I see the real Tony Stark are when he is with Pepper. His quirky and misguided flirting, while awkward and difficult to watch, appears to work on the lady in question, when she wants it to. Over the years she has been able to build a resistance to his carefully constructed playboy façade.
My musings are interrupted by the shrill sound of the Air Force fight song, I was really starting to hate that song. It was time for the weekly update.
"Hi Jim," she says into the speaker cheerfully, bellying her tear stained cheeks and red rimmed eyes. "Anything new this week?"
"Pepper?" the low and gravelly, unmistakable voice of Tony Stark answered.
"OH MY GOD! TONY!" she yelled. "Is that you Tony?" The tears started anew, freely falling from her eyes. Eyes that were now shining and bright. A sight I had not seen for three months.
"It's me Pep."
"Welcome back to civilization!" I burst out.
"Happy, good to hear you my friend. You been taking good care of Pepper? Making sure she isn't slacking off while I am away?" he snarked.
Some things didn't change. "Sure thing Boss." I return, the quiver in my voice giving away the emotions bubbling just beneath the surface.
"Good, I expect that things were accomplished during my vacation," he says.
"Oh Tony, it is….I am….I don't.." Pepper stuttered between sobs.
"I know Pep, I'm glad to hear your voice too," he comforts her in a rare moment of seriousness.
A moment of silence passes and we just revel in hearing the sound of his breathing through the speaker.
"I'll be returning in two days. Something about having to be checked in Germany or some such nonsense. So Happy, be at the airfield to pick me up, and try not to be late. And Pepper get ready to get back to work."
A slow smile spreads across her face, "Will that be all Mr. Stark?"
"That will be all Ms. Potts," he replied, the smile evident in his voice.
The line went dead then, and Pepper just stood there. She was trembling with tears still rolling down her cheeks. I was beginning to think that this was one well hydrated woman.
Slowly she turned to me, and then launched herself at me, enveloping me in a hug so strong that I surely would have thought it beyond the capabilities of her slight frame.
"He's ok Happy! He's ok!" She repeated it like a mantra into my shoulder.
"I know. He's coming home." I replied with my first genuine smile in a very long time.