Set during Iron Man 2, slightly AU, and characters may be OOC. If you like Pepper and Tony together I hope you'll enjoy this story!

Reviews always bring a smile to the author's lips ^_-

Elie


Faltering

Pain suddenly shot through his chest, forcing him to lean on the nearest wall... or falling on the floor. Where the hell had gone the wall? There should have been one there... before he'd taken it out on it.

"Fuck," he squeaked. Wait a minute... No. Tony Stark hadn't just squeaked, he couldn't, he... he had squeaked as sure as he was an ass, and tears were flooding his cheeks, the streaks expressing what he didn't allow himself to. His pain. His fright, not to die, but to do so alone, without her by his side.

He squeezed his eyes shut. He shouldn't be thinking that way. He had no right to want her by his side. He had no right to make her live such an experience, to lose someone dear to your heart. Because he was important to her, wasn't he? In a way or another he knew he was, even being a mere friend satisfied him. As long as he had a little place in her heart, he'd be pleased.

Yet, he wasn't.

He wanted more, far more than just a little place, he wanted it all and whole. He craved for her heart, soul and body. He wished she could be his. Yes, he wished, dreamed, and could only cry in frustration for it would obviously never happen.

He turned on his side, curling up with his arms across his chest, across the damned item which was proof of him dying. He was dying, he'd be dead soon... He was giving up too, on his life, on his dream – her, on the people who believed in him – there might be some of them somewhere.

He was also giving up on Iron man. Or had Iron man given up on him? On this lame man clutching his chest, crying like a little kid? No, he wasn't crying like a child, for a child would dare be true to themselves. He, on the contrary, wasn't brave enough to do so. The tears were there on their own, not thanks to his honesty.

He was a coward.

Gritting his teeth he tried to get up. Tony Stark wasn't a coward.

Freeing his chest first, he put his hands on the floor. He'd stand progressively. He bent his knees, switching his weight from his arms to his legs, taking a deep breath, another one, now was the time to raise his head, time to see... and to throw up all over the floor.

"Great," he snickered from now on drenched in sweat and something else he wouldn't name.

Drenched, shivering, suffering. Should he tell Jarvis to get the bin and put him inside? He was no more than rubbish. "Jarvis?"

No response. Had he disconnected it before taking it out? He couldn't remember, but he doubted than even he, a great fool, would have done such a stupid thing. He never disconnected Jarvis, his life insurance somehow.

"Jarvis?" he tried again.

As the name left his mouth he suddenly realised what was wrong. His lips were moving, but no noise was made. Jarvis couldn't answer a request he didn't hear. And he couldn't hear something which wasn't voiced.

Tony's eyes widened a little. Had his vocal chords been damaged? When? And how? He frowned. He was dying of a heart disease, nothing related to the rest of his organism. Of course his whole being would suffer from its core being attacked, but that wasn't quite enough to explain this sudden new symptom.

A shock might be the cause of such a silent Tony Stark. 'Pepper would be delighted,' he bitterly thought.

Time was the healer of many things. Tony hoped it'd do something about his voice, quickly, because he had no wish to fall back into the liquid now recovering the floor. He'd keep himself up until he found back his voice, successfully holding himself away from the tangible expression of his decline.

"Jarvis," the word left his mouth, still no noise reached his ears. "Jarvis," he stubbornly repeated, feeling his strength dangerously diminishing.

Tony Stark had always liked things to go fast, however, for once, things were going far too quickly for his liking.

"Jarvis... Jarvis... Jarvis..." What the hell! Didn't the damned thing have ultra-sensitive captors? Yes, it did indeed, but they weren't so efficient as to catch up silent pleas. He'd have to work on that. Of course, he'd see to that later, to this problem and to many others because he'd not let his life end in a puddle of some disgusting liquid, even if said-thing had been coming from him.

"Jarvis... Jarvis..."

Eyes shut, teeth clenched, he wouldn't stop believing in himself, not now. Tony Stark was an infamous proud, over-confident and pedantic man. He'd not allow his reputation to fail him. He'd not allow himself to give up to death, nor to anything else.

"Jarvis... Jarvis... Fuck off..."

Tony Stark could falter sometimes – presently obviously – but never ever would he definitely give up on his life. As for Iron Man, who would save the world if he wasn't there any more? Robin Hood? Green Brain? Without him they wouldn't make it – his life being on the edge he could brag more than usual, couldn't he? A smirk painfully stretched up his lips. It was good to still be able to have foolish thoughts, even in such a pitiful condition.

"Jarvis..." His eyes widened. A sound! He was certain a sound had just reached his ears, finally! "Jarvis!... Jarvis!..."

He tried harder. How could he have even imagined himself dead? He was too young to die, too handsome and clever! He'd find a way to survive. He'd certainly missed something. There had to be a way. Wait, no, he wouldn't survive, he'd live!

"Jarvis!"

"Tony!"

His eyes shot open. This shriek definitely didn't belong to Jarvis.

"Tony! Oh my gosh! What's happening?"

He winced, fearing she might have gotten everything wrong. It might have been preferable – for once - but the substance surrounding him wasn't due to any alcohol he'd have lost himself in. Tony Stark wasn't drunk, only fighting death.

"Jarvis!" Pepper called.

Tony's blood turned to ice when no response was heard. So he'd really been stupid enough to disconnect his life insurance. He clenched his jaw. He remembered now, he'd disconnected Jarvis in order to give him a more powerful power supply, said-thing which he'd never been able to reach thanks to his rotten heart.

"Tony? Tony don't you dare leave me." He'd have loved to tell her he wasn't going anywhere but he both doubted that she'd appreciate the joke and that the words would even leave his mouth, the sentence was far too long. "I'm calling an ambulance. It's all right. It'll be all right."

He knew the words were meant to reassure him as much as to reassure herself. Appreciating the effort she was making not to give in to panic, he flashed her a small smile. Then regretted such foolishness, now wasn't the time to lose his concentration! Too focused on her pale face, not enough on the way his muscles were uncontrollably shaking, he could only curse himself for his lack of attention as he started falling forwards.

'Here I go vile liquid.' He squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath.

"Tony!" Two arms abruptly snaked around him.

Tony wasn't drunk, the thought struck Pepper hard as she gathered the strength to take him away from the brownish puddle. Had he given in to his old demons, Tony'd have never stayed around the horrid thing. He'd have, at least, staggered from clean spot to clean spot until she came to order him to the bathroom.

But if he wasn't drunk, what was he?

The ambulance would soon be there, hopefully.

Tony nodded at her words. So she had voiced them aloud, she hadn't paid attention busy as she was to get him to lean on a wall – she was certain there'd been more of them last time she'd been in his den. When she finally found one, she successfully had him leant against it for several seconds before he started falling forwards again, unable to hold himself up.

She didn't hesitate to cradle him to her chest. She wanted him to be comfortable, as much as he could be in such a situation. Tony was trembling in her arms, his sweat crossing his clothes to drench hers as well. Pepper couldn't care less.

"Tony? Tony, I'm here. I won't leave. I'm here."

In spite of her sobs, determination was clear in her voice. She wasn't talking about this very moment only, but about whatever had been plaguing him. Whatever the thing was, as dangerous, as horrid as it might be, she'd stubbornly stay by his side.

"You're not going to get rid of me so easily."

As if to answer, Tony suddenly grabbed her arms. The strength he had left wasn't enough to let him speak, yet it wasn't small enough to have him lose his will to fight. Beside, if she was by his side, willingly with him, death could go back to whatever dark hole it'd been coming from! He wouldn't give a shit about it. He wouldn't follow it! How could he have even thought about giving up? It still amazed him. How could he have been so weak as to stop having faith in her?

Though closer to death than ever, he refused to think fate had decided it was his time. Even the enormous red alien with hundreds – all right perhaps not so numerous – tendrils he'd fought last week hadn't been able to put an end to his infamous life of a show-off.

Tony had to keep faith in himself, and, above all, in Pepper. That he'd failed her didn't mean she'd fail him.

He knew she wouldn't. The frantic rhythm of her heart was telling him the same story.

"Pepper," he hoarsely croaked.

Her embrace tightened around him. "Yes Tony?"

"Pepper," he repeated, loving the sweet melody her name was to his ears.

That was it, the moment to make a choice. The terrible and selfish choice about her place in his life. He could still push her away, using his last strengths to lie, to put back a strong face on. Or else...

"Pepper."

"Tony," her sobs were still present.

Or else he could finally ask for her to help him.

"Please," she tensed against him, surprised by the unusual tone, "please, don't let me die now."

She had just the time to catch the fierce glimpse in his eyes before he lost all consciousness. She clutched him to her breast.

Tony Stark had just entrusted her with his life.

She swore she wouldn't fail him.

To Be Continued


AN: Finally there will be more than one chapter. Hope you will enjoy what comes next =)

ElieN.P.