Here is the last part of Faltering. Hope you've enjoyed reading it! =D

ElieNP


"Have you found something?"

Tony looked back at him. Time to drop the mask. "How long are you giving me?"

"As much as you need, I have-"

"How long is your medicine giving me? I don't care about what time you're ready to wait, I care about how long the injections can keep me from dying."

Behind the mask was a man, Fury made a note to stop forgetting said man was considered a genius purposely using a mask to hide his sharp wits.

"Several months, perhaps more."

Tony rolled his eyes. "If I start something and dye before finishing it it'll be very useful. How long can you assure me I have before dying? If you don't know say so, we'll waste less time."

A bad tempered genius. Hard to forget.

"Two months. After that, they fear the infection may get used to the medicine and assimilate it."

That seemed logical. Two months, with what he had already he might be able to, at least, prolong the delay long enough to find a real solution. There had to be one, one he was certainly brushing without ever catching.

"I do admit you gave them quite a fright. From the ground of your flat to the operating table, they thought several times they'd lost you."

"They? That doesn't include you?" Tony took an offended tone.

"I know you wouldn't give us the pleasure to stop pestering us," Fury chuckled.

"Am I some little princess-like girl?"

Fury turned his head to the door. "They've been waiting for a moment."

"So you do think I am a princess," he snorted while the man got up from his seat. "You could have chosen the king, would have sounded better."

"Be gentle with Mrs Potts," Fury merely said before opening the door.


Pepper made little protests when the Agent Coulson prevented her from bursting into the room. The nurses had just informed him the Captain had made his entry and he thought the men could use a little private discussion.

They didn't hear any shouts, nor gunshots, that was reassuring, unless one of them had died before they came, unless Tony had gone back to oblivion, unless...

"You can go in," a tall broad man interrupted Pepper's worries. "If you'd allow me, don't be too nice, he's as sharp as ever."

"Captain Fury."

"Agent Coulson. Mrs Potts."

Pepper followed the impressive man until he disappeared from her sight. "He is?"

"Captain Fury is the head of the S.H.I.E.L.D.," Coulson held the door open. "I think it's time you see him."

She nodded, but didn't go right away. Beyond this door laid Tony, a tired Tony, one who had undergone a long life-threatening operation. Though she should worry about his heart condition, she was, at the moment, more afraid for her own heart. She doubted her would support the shock. She glanced at Coulson's smiling face and finally took a step forwards. Even if her heart failed her, she shouldn't worry, the place was full of doctors after all, whatever was their speciality.

Tony could have died mere hours ago, he didn't seem away of this as he laid in the bed, frowning and beating himself to find names worthy enough for the head of the S.H.I.E.L.D. to be called.

"Tony!" she gasped at one of them, terrible really. "You own him your life!"

He merely smirked, lips closed for he feared the words which might leave his mouth right now. It was so relieving to hear her offended tone, to see her reddening cheeks, her muffled hair, her shining eyes, shine produced by tears – no, finally he didn't like that sight, no matter which was their reason to fill her gaze.

"He was in the operating room?" he exclaimed with a horrified tone.

"Tony!"

"Do you think he has any diplomas? If one exists for men looking like beasts, then yes he sure has it."

"Tony!"

"Else I don't see-"

She slapped him. She couldn't think about another way to make him shut up – to say it aloud wouldn't help, she'd learnt by experience. How could he still go on with the stupid act when he'd been so close to death?

Tony raised his head to hold her gaze. What she saw in his eyes, she wished she hadn't. She was right, the specialists would have their hands full with her if Tony kept on looking at her with such an obvious fright.

"Else I don't see which medical skills he could have," he finished his sentence in a murmur.

At that very moment, Tony Stark, albeit being a grown-up adult, looked like a terrified child. No matter how used he was to put on a mask, he was unable to keep a straight face in her presence, not when she seemed to have been as terrified as he'd been, still was.

He wasn't all bravado, he had almost died, he had almost losing everything he owned, though only a tiny part of it truly mattered. And she, Virginia Potts, belonged to this tiny part.

"I'm going to warm the specialists you'll meet them soon," Coulson whispered before discreetly leaving.

He believed they, too, could use some privacy.

If they remarked his departure, they showed nothing of it.

The moment had everything to be romantic. Two people alone in a room, one having just defying death, the other having never left their side, their eyes intensively focused on each other. Nothing else but them existed at the moment.

Pepper slowly walked to his bed, she sat on the side, careful not to touch any of the thread which were still attached to him. Tony didn't miss any of her moves. When she touched the sheets, he did his best to straighten himself a little without wincing too much. He didn't want her to worry when it was certainly not necessary.

He regretted not remembering better the feeling to be held in her arms. She was so close now, if only he could get a little more away from the pillows, he'd be able to lean against her. As tempting as was the idea, he knew his strength wasn't high enough to allow him to control his moves. Instead of leaning against her, he risked to fall off the bed.

Pepper delicately brushed a lock aside, then her fingers continued their way to the side of his head, brushing through his hair, to the back of neck, always with the same delicacy. Their eyes never turned away. Her other hand raised to his chest where the treacherous device lied in. Aware of it or not, they were progressively leaning towards each other, noses almost touching, he could smell her perfume, feel her breath on his face – intoxicating. A bit more, a tiny bit more and they would be...

"You have something on your cheek."

Pepper blinked.

"It looks like chocolate."

Her eyes widened.

"Do I try to wipe it off?"

It'd have been their romantic moment, if Tony Stark hadn't been Tony Stark.

"Pawns off," she growled. Could he be more stupid? Could he be that stupid so as not to read the mood?

"It'll be faster."

She glared at him, he flashed her a bright smile. False. Again he was wearing a mask, that could only mean one thing.

"What are you afraid of Tony?" her voice was barely above a murmur.

She started caressing his cheek. "Why do you keep holding me away?"

He finally averted his eyes. She gently, yet firmly, cupped his face between her hands to make him look back at her.

"I'm tired of waiting, guessing, not knowing. I want to help you. I want to be there for you, but how can I do it when you don't tell me anything?"

Tony tried to get away from her hold. She merely tightened it.

"You can't keep me away forever, nor can you avoid this matter forever. Tony, do I mean so little to you?"

Nasty blow. He tensed. How could she say she meant nothing to him when... when she didn't know anything about his feelings. He sighed. Of course she'd react thus. No word no acknowledgement. Logical.

Pepper wouldn't take any more steps, it was his turn to take the lead. Which way did he want them to go? Together, it was obvious for she had no intention of leaving him alone, and she knew he wouldn't be able to send her that far away, he'd soon become lost without her. Nevertheless, there were several ways to be together, as employer and employee, as friends or as...

"You still have that streak of chocolate on your face."

She was going to kill him herself. "Tony!" she cried. He smirked. That was how it'd always been between them.

"There is nothing funny," she berated him.

His features abruptly turned serious. She was right. That was how things used to be, before. That was how he liked them to be – not really in fact. Would he take the risk to change that?

"You've almost died." Great Tony, great, the tears were backs in her eyes. No need for the arc to destroy his heart, his shame would be better, faster and much, much more painful to kill him.

"I-"

"Are you planning to lie? Or to avoid telling the truth? Because in that case I prefer you stay silent," her voice held a sharp edge.

As courageous and patient as Virginia Potts was, right now her exhaustion was so high that she could confidently tell she wouldn't last long at this little game.

"I-"

"Tony," she glared at him. She knew him all too well to think he'd straight for the truth after the first threats.

He lowered his eyes in shame. There was no one in this world who could read through his act, who knew his habits, who would – almost – always predict his future moves, no one but her, Pepper Potts, who, in spite of the way he made her life something close to hell, seemed still willing to remain by his side.

"And to say I am supposed to be the foolishest," he shakily breathed.

"You are," she acquiesced with a tiny smile. "Because I'm not up to your level yet."

He sighed. "I don't want to say what I want to say."

She mimicked him. "And I don't want to hear that you don't want to say what you want to say, because I truly want to know what you want to say."

He raised an eyebrow, so did she. He held out his hand, she took it immediately, clutching it between both of hers.

"But if I am honest you will-"

She slightly dug her nails in his skin, frowning. "Tony."

"But-"

"Tony."

"I know-"

"Tony."

Fortunately, she hadn't been bruising his hand more and more, as it was usually happening when your frustration grew.

Her tone was adamant. She wouldn't have anything but the truth, no matter how hard it was for him to tell it. She wouldn't back away from this challenge, the mask, for once, would totally crumble.

"Tony," she repeated a bit, dared he say it, tenderly. "I want to know. I need to know."

So she could also do the tearful dog eyes.

He was done for. He swapped the way their fingers were entwined, embracing her hands in the protection of his, then mentioned for her to come closer. Their noses were, once again, almost brushing.

"I'll tell you the truth, but I want you to promise one thing."

His tone matched his eyes and features. No playfulness. No intention to hide. No mask. Tony Stark was finally determined to truly confide in her.

"Tony I-"

"One thing," he cut her off firmly.

Pepper nodded.

"I want you to," he deeply inhaled, "I don't want you to take any immediate decision. I want you to take all the time you need to think about it, about what I'm going to say. I want you to promise me your choice will be a thorough one."

"I promise," she whispered.

"Pepper," he leant in, "what I really want to tell you," his lips brushed her cheek, "what I want you to think about, to consider," he buried his nose in her neck, "Pepper?"

Her eyes fluttered open, when had she closed them?

"Yes," she murmured.

He moved to meet her gaze. She needed to see he was serious. His words would be no joke, no mistake, no result of the drugs in his organism.

His words would be the naked truth. True to their core. No hidden meanings. It was terrifying.

"I want you to be with me, to stay by my side, not for Iron Man, not for Tony Stark or his stupid company, I want you to stay by Tony's side, and only his."

Silence. Tears. Lips tenderly dancing together. An embrace. Eyes fluttering open. Smiles gracing relieved faces. No mask, only the naked truth.

"You haven't thought at all. And there is still chocolate on your face."

"Oh, for Heaven's sake, shut up Tony!"

The End