Set just after Iron Man, the first movie. I wanted to explore the playboy Tony Stark's hesitation with a woman he clearly cares about a great deal, even if he is very project oriented, very single-minded when it comes to work. Just a short single.
He Is Iron, She Is Gold
Hours. It had taken over two hours for it to settle down at all. One little sentence… you wouldn't think it would have been that big a deal. And once the dust had settled, at least a bit, he found himself driving, just driving in the night. Driving, and thinking, and planning just what he wanted to do, what he needed to do next. All because of one little sentence.
Right, Stark. One little sentence. That's all it was.
"I am Iron Man."
He shook his head, feeling the smirk crawling across his face as he leaned against the garage wall. There was a strange joy simmering in his chest, even through the exhaustion of the last few days. Suddenly, there was so much to do. So much to be excited about.
So this is what you've been waiting for… this feeling. Maybe this is that destiny thing they're always talking about in the movies.
He took a deep breath, and whispered it aloud. "I am Iron Man." For someone who had spent his life professionally avoiding responsibility, avoiding commitments, it felt awfully good. He smiled outright, his teeth gleaming in the dim garage, and even chuckled as he tossed his keys in the air and caught them again. His feet nearly danced toward the stairs, and he couldn't remember the last time he felt so good.
And it had been so easy.
That thought, reconsidered, made him laugh ironically as he walked up the stairs into the house. Easy for him. Of course, at one point he thought Colson and Rhodey were going to flip a coin for which of them would get to have a heart attack, and as for Miss Potts -
He stopped short as he stepped into the house proper, suddenly realizing he didn't know where she was, and wondering where his personal assistant had disappeared to in the wake of his announcement. Damn. She hates it when I take her for granted… well, I hate when I do, anyway. I think she's just used to it... I hope she got home all right, though.
"Good evening, sir."
"The press conference went well?"
"Yeah, fine. Look, have you seen or heard from –"
"I understand from the newsfeed, sir, that you're a superhero now. Shall I address you any differently? Perhaps as 'super sir'?"
Tony tilted his head and stared with a slight frown, as he was wont to do when his carefully programmed home got sarcastic with him. "No, Jarvis. And I'm pretty sure I didn't program 'snarkiness' into your mainframe." He walked toward the bar and poured himself a small scotch. He mumbled under his breath. "Pretty sure, anyway."
"Of course, sir. There are some things I must have learned from you directly."
"Right. 'Must be human error'-" He stopped the banter abruptly as he looked over at the couch.
Two laptops were open, three legal pads were covered with notes, file folders and loose sheets of paper were scattered over the coffee table. Sitting on the floor, with her head resting on her arms that were crossed on that table, was one Pepper Potts. A box of tissues was nearby, as was a cold cup of coffee, and a bottle of water.
Oh. Right. It was only easy for me because she was ready to put all the pieces back together… just like always.
He spoke more softly. "Jarvis? How long has Miss Potts been here?"
"From what I calculate, sir, she arrived shortly after your announcement. She went to work immediately on the press release, or at least as much as she could with all the calls she was getting."
"All the calls?" He spoke quietly, almost nervously, afraid to move lest he disturb her.
"Yes, sir. All the usual agencies. And then there was a conference call with your lawyers."
"Ah. Lawyers." Tony sighed, and stepped closer. He glanced at the legal pad in front of her, which had a scribbled version of what was now posted on the laptop at her side. He read it quickly.
In calm, perfectly reasonable language, the press release stated that Stark Industries had been working on this for some time, that Anthony Stark was indeed the only 'Iron Man', that it was neither a weapon nor an army of robots. She had even included a veiled reference to how 'Mr. Stark wouldn't dream of putting anyone else in danger, which is why he has taken this project on himself'.
He swallowed hard.
She is so incredibly good at this… and she is just so…
Some internal voice interrupted the gentleness of his thoughts.
Knock it off, Stark. She deserves better than a playboy… especially one who just might have a death wish.
He stood in his living room, watching her sleep, and remembered that night that they danced. How he had convinced himself that he was just joking with her, as he so often did, knowing in his heart that she wanted no part of being another one of his conquests… but she had looked so beautiful, and he found he was beginning to realize just how important she was to him–
Don't be selfish, Stark. She deserves better!
And so that night, when she had leaned closer, her eyes closing - he froze. He knew, at that fearful instant just how strongly he felt about her, and was absolutely petrified.
It took every bit of his strength not to take her in his arms, kiss her senseless, and sweep her away into the night... but he didn't. No. Instead, he walked away to get her a drink. He walked away. It haunted him more than once when he lay down to sleep at night. What if he had done something differently?...
Between the two of them, no more had been said about it until she was helping him get ready for the fateful press conference this afternoon. He began teasing about 'what ifs', and how his girlfriend would be so conflicted but crazy about him if she knew he was Iron Man… and then he turned and looked into her eyes, and the feelings had nearly pushed him over the edge once more. Lucky for him that she took it all as a joke, making fun of him for leaving her there...
You can't live without her. You don't want to live without her. Don't push her away by making her feel like one of your cheap interludes.
He closed the computers on the coffee table and touched her hair gently. With an abrupt inward sigh she lifted her head. She blinked a few times before she could focus on him. "Mr. Stark?" Then she looked at the phone that had been hidden under her arms. "Oh, no –" She was reaching for it, but he got there first, lifting it away. "I have to return a call. Oh, good Lord, I think I may have fallen asleep on someone… oh, no…" She reached out for it, but he shook his head.
"No. You need to sleep. We can finish this up in the morning."
"No, no, Mr. Stark, you don't understand."
"I do understand. You've clearly been working like a dog for the four hours I've been wandering around making plans and feeling wonderful. I'm sorry." She frowned at him, but his deep eyes grew solemn, almost sad. "You deserve better."
For a long moment they stared into each other. Then he looked down at the table again, too vulnerable to go there. "Did you eat?"
She frowned, blinking, as she stood up. "Um, no, I don't think so… Jarvis made me coffee… oh…" she sat down abruptly on the couch, a bit dizzy. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still tired. I should go."
"No. Here." He shifted pillows so she was at least partially stretched out on the couch. "You wait here. I'll make you something."
Pepper smiled in spite of her exhaustion, her voice sleepy. "To eat? Make me something? You?"
"Hey. I make a mean omelet." They smiled at each other in safer, more friendly tones, and he pulled a blanket over her. "Just wait here."
"Okay…." Her voice trailed off, and he had a feeling that she was already asleep again. Tucking the blanket around her gently, he leaned over to kiss her forehead, so lightly that she didn't stir.
"Thanks, Pepper. For everything."
"Mmm…" she didn't open her eyes, but reached out and took his hand. "G'night, Tony. An… 'm so glad… you're okay."
He blinked. "Oh…?"
"Mmhmm. No mor' ni'mares… can fin'ly sleep again."
Tony frowned at himself as he spoke again, softly. "You had nightmares while I was gone?"
"Mmhmm." She shifted a bit.
"I'm sorry." He blinked hard, his eyes shining. "And it's okay that I'm Iron Man? You're okay with it?"
She took a deep breath and sighed sleepily. "Y'r happy. S'good." A tiny frown furrowed her brow. "Y'r good person, Tony…"
He stared at her delicate hand still clasping his, and swallowed hard. Looking around desperately, he finally shrugged, then sat down on the couch, her head nearly in his lap. She unconsciously enveloped his hand in both of hers, and snuggled it down against her cheek with a little smile. "Hmhmm."
Shifting to sit just a bit closer, he delicately moved a couple of errant strands of hair off of her forehead. He swallowed, and whispered softly enough that she didn't stir. "You are so amazing…" Then he took a deep breath, leaned back into the cushions, and closed his eyes.
Some things in life were more precious than gold; too precious to risk losing.
She was one of them.
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