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Article from Popular Magazine Issue #113
Bad news romance fans!
It looks like splitsville for Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Close sources reveal that things haven't been rosy between the two lovebirds for a while now. In fact, it has been reported that Pepper hasn't been living in Stark Towers for three months! Witnesses report seeing Pepper in a sunny resort in California last week licking her wounds and soaking up some much needed sun to beat those relationship blues. Tony has been seen hitting a number of bars with a number of different blondes on his arm. Could this be the beginning of Tony's slippery slope back into his old ways? Sources say Tony checked himself into rehab 3 years ago for alcohol dependency but he has been seen out and about drinking in a lot of places recently. And by a lot we mean a lot! Neither of the pair, affectionately nicknamed by the press as 'Pepperony', have released a statement regarding the split, so this is all speculation. But a close friend of the two was quoted in saying "It's definitely over, it's a shame it really is. They were so good together. Pepper just couldn't handle sharing Tony with so many others." Could this mean that Tony has actually been doing the dirty when he was supposed to be committed to Pepper? If that's the case then Tony you have been a very naughty boy! So with the split of America's Iron Couple, which side do you fall on, Team Tony or Team Pepper? We know which we're on. Vote below!
Bruce sat at the kitchen counter with a steaming mug of decaf coffee and an as yet untouched croissant. He scanned through the various articles, marvelling at A.) The sheer number of them. And B.) The appalling inaccuracy of each and every one of them. Some things hit close enough to home to be unsettling; the careless references to Tony's struggles with alcoholism being the main contender. But some claims were just… astoundingly bad.
Bruce knew for a fact that Pepper was not in California but rather in Washington continuing her end of business as usual. And who exactly was this 'close friend' who apparently knew so much supposed to be? Tony didn't have many 'friends', and certainly none that would ever speak to any kind of reporter. Bruce could only assume this source was a nobody who'd been pictured alongside Tony at a party or gala at some point.
Normally Tony did his own press reviews, setting aside an hour each morning to scan the database he'd set up that caught and filed anything with his name on. Tony didn't trust anyone but himself with his own public image. Except for Pepper, but she was slightly out of the running at that moment. Bruce had taken it upon himself to check through the entertainment and lifestyle sections, leaving Tony with the much safer categories of broadsheet and scientific journals. Anything to do with entertainment was a minefield and he had a feeling that Tony would care a little too much and was just a little bit too fragile to deal with it right now.
As Bruce came to the online media section, he began to zone out. The majority of it was rehashed spiel and poorly photoshopped images. One photo did make him pause; it was of him and Tony from the night before. He couldn't recall which bar it had been, but Tony was leaning into Bruce, his finger pointing savagely in the air and his mouth twisted in mid rant. The caption read "Tony and friend at Los Cabos."
He remembered that night; it had been during one of Tony's more depressive mood swings when he was convinced that he didn't deserve anything and anyone and existed just to ruin other peoples' lives. Bruce hadn't realised anyone had been there to take pictures, it unsettled him to see. He wasn't used to being so in the public eye; in fact he was used to the exact opposite. He'd been hiding so long that seeing his face out there made him feel vulnerable. He had no idea how Tony coped with it daily. The picture made him uncomfortable and he quickly X'd out of the article.
Bruce looked up when Tony shuffled his way into the room. He was dressed in one of his beloved band tees with the sleeves of the undershirt rolled up to his elbows. His hair was still mussed from a fitful night's sleep and he rubbed at the bags under his eyes. He looked hung over and miserable. Without speaking, Bruce pushed his untouched croissant in Tony's direction who accepted it gratefully and began slathering it with a thick layer of apricot jam. Bruce poured Tony a freshly brewed mug of caffeinated coffee and took a sip of his own decaf.
"How's your head?"
"Terrible." Tony chewed on the croissant, testing his stomach. It didn't seem to appreciate his decision of food, and he blanched visibly, pushing the rest of the croissant aside. "My mouth tastes like dog. It literally tastes like dog. Did I eat a dog or lick one or something last night?"
Bruce glanced up at Tony, a wry smile as Tony smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth while shuddering. "Disgusting." Tony caught sight of the tablet in front of Bruce. "What's the damage?"
Bruce shrugged, he minimised the tablet's screen. "The usual."
"And what's that?"
Bruce was reluctant to go into details, it was all trash any way, Tony knew that. Hell, even Pepper knew it, Bruce was well aware that the only reason Tony showed any interest in the gossip was an extended means of torturing himself.
"If you don't tell me I'll pull it up myself."
"Apparently the split happened three months ago, not last week."
Tony nodded appraisingly. "Three months ago was about the time Pepper started moving her stuff out so I guess unofficially they're kind of right about that… what else?"
"Pepper's apparently in five different places at once, mostly sun bathing the heart break away."
"You're getting drunk. A lot."
Tony frowned. "Wait… is that you telling me or what they've been saying."
"Um," Bruce pushed his mug around the counter by the handle. "Both? They brought up rehab… did you go to rehab?"
"No, obviously. Or do you mean did I go to rehab five years ago? Kind of… maybe. I went for the free coffee."
That was something Bruce had not actually known about Tony. He knew he liked his drink more than he should, but that his dependency had at one point been bad enough to require professional help? It was a new revelation, Bruce felt suddenly guilty for every night that week when he'd watched Tony drink himself into a mild stupor.
"Maybe you shouldn't go out tonight."
"Or maybe you don't go out and I do what I want."
Bruce frowned, an uncomfortable beat passed and then Tony sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I'm sorry. Ok tonight we stay in, I promise. We can do science or some shit. It'll be fun."
Bruce nodded and drank his coffee. He didn't comment on the fact that he hadn't actually been given a choice on whether or not he wanted to be included in this equation. He felt it wouldn't have been productive and it wasn't exactly like he had anything else to do or anywhere else to be, not really.
Early one morning, Pepper called him. His heart lurched strangely when he saw her ID. Even though he wasn't the one that had been in a relationship with her, it kind of felt like he had been.
"Hi, Bruce." Pepper sounded tired and sad. "Did I wake you? I'm sorry."
"No, it's fine." Bruce cracked his spine, sitting up stiffly, he glanced at his clock, 9AM, perfect. He hadn't gone to bed until the early hours the night before. "Are you ok?"
"Yes, it's just…" Pepper sighed. "Tony called me last night. I think he was drunk. I don't know. He sounded messy."
"Pepper, I'm sorry."
"No, it's fine Bruce. I just thought I should let you know… I've seen all the photographs. He's not handling this well, is he?"
Bruce wasn't going to lie, but he felt reluctant to make Pepper feel any worse than she already did. "Not really, but he'll get there. How're you handling it?"
"Not well. Half the time I think I've made this huge mistake. I mean we bickered and made up all the time in the past and I keep thinking maybe I should just call him and try and sort it out, you know? But everything's different now… we were tearing each other apart, you saw us. If we want any kind of chance of surviving this and at least trying to be friends it had to stop before we ended up killing each other."
They sat in silence, Bruce wasn't certain what he could even say in response, and Pepper was caught in some kind of memory. Eventually, she gave a shaking sigh.
"He's a good person, Bruce. We both know that. But he doesn't believe it. And when someone is so adamant on something…" she laughed humourlessly. "Devil gives you fleas."
"Nothing. It was something my mother used to say all the time. About Tony actually, when I first started working for him." Another sigh and a long pause. Bruce waited, reading the cues. When Pepper spoke again he voice was quiet to the point of whispering. "I think I just got scared that I was losing sight of him. Sometimes I found myself treating him the same way he saw himself and that wasn't fair… I miss him so much Bruce, but loving him is just so difficult…"
"I understand," Bruce said. And he did, on some level. "Look, Pepper, I have to go." Talking to Pepper felt like some kind of betrayal to Tony, which may have been illogical, but there it was. Bruce felt guilty for thinking of Pepper that way, like she had become the enemy when she was obviously hurting just as badly as Tony, but she wasn't the one left behind. It wasn't Pepper's pieces that Bruce was trying to pick up. "Just focus on yourself. Tony will be ok."
"I know." Pepper's voice was gentle and warm with gratitude. "I'm glad he's got you. You're a good friend, Bruce."
"So I've been told. Look after yourself, ok Pepper?"
"You too… bye Bruce."
Bruce ended the call. In the remaining silence, he dropped back onto the bed, massaging his temples. He never told Tony about the call.