A/N: Yeah yeah I know, this has been done a lot. It's been done to death. But I couldn't resist doing my own version. I was having pepperony feels. Mind you I'm always having pepperony feels.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Nothing. Credit to the cover image goes to ohmylaniaison on tumblr.
'You are supposed to be half-way around the world right now'
'Why are you trying to hustle me out of here?'
'Your flight was scheduled to leave an hour and a half ago,'
'What are you trying to get rid of me for-what you got plans?'
'As a matter fact I do,'
'I don't like it when you have plans,'
'I'm allowed to have plans on my birthday,'
'It's your birthday?'
It was her birthday, and she did have plans, but she didn't go through with any of them. Instead Pepper Potts sat on the little couch in his workshop - and stared. She thought she'd have cried - she wanted to cry - but she just couldn't. It wasn't that she didn't cry - she cried freely when she felt like it, as long as there was no one around - only she was so used to being professional here that it was almost pre-programmed in her that she couldn't cry.
'Miss Potts?' JARVIS' voice broke the silence and made her jump
'Colonel Rhodes is calling,'
'Leave it,' she replied, her eyes still focused on the lonely looking Hot Rod, voice empty
'He seems insistent, ma'am,'
'I said leave it,'
Rhodey's voice. My god, when Tony got back she was going to get him to dismantle the AI just for that. When Tony got back. She'd thought it without, well, thinking about it. Except that now Tony might never come back. Her body started to shake again.
'Pepper? Pepper I know you're there. Please talk to me,'
'I'm fine, Rhodey,' her voice was calm, emotionless
'You really expect me to believe that?'
'Of course. Why wouldn't I be?'
'He's just my boss,' she cut him off
'Come on, Pepper, don't give me that shit,'
'I can't imagine what you're talking about,' she wasn't quite pulling off the innocent nonchalance
He sighed on the other end of the phone 'Forget it. Just…look after yourself, okay? I'm doing everything I can - I promise - but there's not much point in me finding him if when I finally get him home you've died of starvation or something. He'd fly straight back to Afghanistan,'
That woke her up from her daze a bit.
'And what's that supposed to mean?'
'Oh…erm, nothing,' Lie
'Rhodey?' she perked up even more. She hated it when Rhodey lied to her - of course he normally only lied about what had happened during the previous evening's drinking session - but it still pissed her off 'What are you talking about?'
'Nothing,' another lie. His voice had risen in pitch a little bit.
'James Rhodes, tell me what you're talking about,'
'It's nothing, Pepper. Look I have to go - just please be careful, okay? Look after yourself,'
And he was gone
Pepper sighed and then let her eyes drift back to the Hot Rod again.
'It's now been a week since Tony Stark went missing whilst on a weapons demonstration in Afghanistan. The military say that the search for him is still going strong, but there have been no new leads as yet. Karen is over at the Military Base in Kunar Province -Karen? How are things looking over there?'
'Mute,' Pepper couldn't bear to watch anymore. Well, more like listen to anymore - she was staring off into space again. This time the object of fixation was the piano. He didn't play it often - these days Obadiah was really the only one who did - but when he did it was the most beautiful thing. Sometimes she'd walk in in the morning, or be walking out at night, and she'd hear him playing some old tune that his fingers remembered though his conscious mind might not.
What if he never came back? If she never heard him play the piano again - or tinker with that damned Hot Rod?
What if he was dead?
It had only been a week. It might feel like it had been longer to her, but it had only been a week. He'd come back. Rhodey would find him, and he would come home again.
'Two weeks after Billionaire CEO Tony Stark disappeared into the Afghan desert and the military still have no clues as to his whereabouts, Air Force Colonel James Rhodes issued a statement to the press this morning concerning the undergoing search-'
'Pepper?' Rhodey's voice came along with the sound of the front door closing 'Pepper - you here?'
'Hmm?' she murmured absently in response, not taking her eyes off of the television
'Mute,' his voice came from right behind her 'Pepper what are you doing?'
'Hmm?' she still didn't turn
'Pepper?' he moved around the couch and knelt in front of her 'Pepper?' she turned towards him, her face blank 'Pepper, you gotta stop this,'
'Stop what?' she tried to keep her voice light, but she couldn't quite mask the shake in it.
'This. Sitting here watching news reports and praying to hear some good news - I told you I'd call you if anything happened. You need to get out of here - why don't you go to work?'
Pain flashed momentarily in her eyes 'Work? Like - my job?'
'Yeah,' he was looking up at her with gentle brown eyes - not too dissimilar to Tony's.
'You think I should do my job?'
'It might help, just try to live your life like normal,' he'd clearly missed the warning in her voice
'Rhodey, my job, my life is organising his life. So I'll be happy to live my life like normal just as soon as you bring my life back home!' it was the first time since he'd been gone that she'd even shouted, though it didn't feel as good as she thought it might have. She also noticed absently that she'd actually referred to Tony as her life, not that it wasn't true; she just didn't really like to admit to it. Rhodey looked a little surprised, but he was nodding
'Okay,' he stood up 'Okay, I'll make a deal with you - you go back to work, help Obadiah to handle things with the company, and I'll go find him and bring him back for you - deal?'
She gave an almost imperceptible nod.
'Okay, you promise you'll go into work tomorrow?'
She sighed 'Yes, Rhodey,'
'Good, I'll call you if anything happens,' he gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder then headed for the door 'You promise?' he called
'Yep,' she called back just before she heard the front door shut.
Then she turned the volume back on on the TV and let her eyes glaze over again.
'Three weeks later, the search for Tony Stark continues but with no ransom demand, no proof of life and no evidence that he has even indeed been kidnapped, questions are surfacing as to what shape the CEO of Stark Industries will be found in…and if he will even be found at all,'
A patent black Jimmy Choo hit the television.
'You could have just muted it ma'am,'
'Oh don't start with me, JARVIS, I still have another shoe,' Pepper snapped
'I fail to see how that would help, ma'am. Where would you throw it - the ceiling?'
'Oh, shut up,' why had Tony had to program the AI to be so damn clever.
It had been three weeks, three very long weeks. She was trying to stay positive - but the news reports were right - there had been nothing. Not even the smallest hint that he was alive and well, and certainly no indication that he'd ever be coming home again.
'A month has now passed since the disappearance of Tony Stark, and questions are being asked as to how much longer the search for him should go on. With no sign that the man in question is alive, many are saying that it is a waste of the military's time and resources to continue the search. A military spokesperson confirmed that if no evidence turns up soon, then they will be giving up on their attempts to find him,'
'Rhodey this better be bullshit!'
'Pepper? Where are you?' he sounded tired, and strained, but she didn't really care at that moment
'I'm at SI. Seriously, Rhodey, what is this crap about giving up?'
'You're at work?'
'Yes,' she replied through clenched teeth
'Then we shouldn't be having this conversation now,'
'No, we are having this conversation. You tell me just what in the hell is going on out there!'
'Pepper, I can't talk about this now,'
'Goddammit Rhodes!' she was shouting now. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to break down. But she was at work, she didn't cry at work.
'Look, Pepper, it's fairly standard. There've been no leads, no nothing. We don't know that he's even alive-'
'Which doesn't mean that he isn't it just means we have no proof that he is. Look, I'm doing what I can - I'll carry on searching on my own if I have to - but this isn't the military's main job, and you can't expect them to search forever,'
'I can expect them to search for longer,'
'No you can't, it's not standard procedure. I promise that I won't stop looking, okay? But they have to. Just calm down,'
'You promise?' she felt the anger drain out of her voice
'I promise, I won't stop looking until I find him,'
There was a pause while she tried to get her breathing back to normal, then she flopped down into her desk chair
'Yes, Pepper?' he sounded even more tired than he had at the beginning of the conversation
'It's been five weeks since Tony was taken from us, and whilst we are all still hoping for his safe return, we as a company do need to face the possibility that he's not coming home. Since he has no stated heir, for the moment I have been obliged to undertake Tony's duties as CEO and I'm happy to say that despite this tragedy we are facing, the company is still going strong,'
Obadiah was droning - on and on and on.
He did that, Pepper had noticed, an awful lot. She'd never really liked him. Never liked the way he talked to Tony - like a naughty little kid - and yes, she talked to Tony like that as well sometimes, but she liked to think that she didn't sound so goddamn patronising when she did it. Besides, when she did it it was only ever out of lo - fondness - for him, and watching him closely Pepper sometimes wondered if Obadiah really cared about Tony at all.
Of course he was also hugely misogynistic. Some people thought that Tony was a misogynist, but despite his love of beautiful women and his apparent ambition to sleep with as many as he could, as long as it was well deserved then Tony would respect a woman just as easily as any man. He respected her. And that had been obvious very early on in their relationship. Obadiah, on the other hand, saw her more as a piece of furniture that could be sent on errands - kind of like one of Tony's robots. He disregarded pretty much anything she said, and kept her busy with the smallest most menial tasks he could find.
Though what she hated most was the way he stared at her. He didn't even try to hide when he was talking to her chest not her face, and whenever she actually met his gaze there was a kind of hungry menace in it, and sometimes there was something in his eyes that bordered almost on insanity. In fact, when she thought about it, she was beginning to feel more and more uncomfortable around Obadiah Stane.
'Six weeks on and the search for Stark has been officially called off. In a statement issued just this morning the military have said that with no indication that Stark is even in fact alive, there seems little point in continuing the mission. It seems now as if the disappearance of the weapons manufacturer will remain forever a mystery,'
This time it was a Louboutin that hit the television.
'Seven weeks after he disappeared without trace into the desert, Tony Stark has been officially declared as deceased. His mentor and acting CEO of Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane, issued a statement this morning expressing his and the companies grief and regret over the situation,'
Pepper's laptop collided with the screen.
'Two months, Miss Potts, it's time. I know this isn't the outcome we were hoping for but there's nothing else to be done. I really do believe that you're the best person for the job - and you wouldn't want to let him down would you? Dishonour his memory?'
She'd nearly thrown something at Obadiah's head.
Arrange a memorial service? Like that was going to happen. Why would anyone want to arrange a memorial service for someone who wasn't dead? -and he wasn't. She refused to believe it. And she would continue to refuse until someone showed her his corpse.
'Miss Potts?' JARVIS interrupted her thoughts
'What is it JARVIS?'
'Mr Stane is calling again,'
'He wants to know how the plans for the service are progressing,'
'I said ignore it JARVIS,' she was speaking through her teeth again, rubbing at her temple with a hand to try and dispel the headache accompanying her work
'Ignore it, JARVIS,'
'Nine weeks ago, we were struck by a terrible tragedy when Tony was ripped away from us. We all hoped and prayed that he would be returned safely, but alas our prayers went unanswered and he has been robbed from us. Moving on from here will be difficult, but together I feel we will manage to continue the work that both he and his father put their lives into,'
She wanted to throw up.
Partly because Obadiah's speech was so ridiculously cheesy, but mainly it was because she couldn't really believe she was standing here - at Tony Stark's memorial service. She felt like she was going mad.
When Obadiah finally finished everyone sang a hymn, though what the point of that was she didn't know - Tony didn't…hadn't…believed in God, and even if he was wrong and a higher power did in fact exist - he was already dead. Hymn and prayer wouldn't do him any good.
Tony was dead.
How could he be dead?
At the end of the service people came up to her, patting her back and clasping her hands in theirs, offering their deepest apologies for her loss. She was sure she heard some of them whispering about her
'Poor girl, you can see the toll this has taken on her,'
'Shame, really, she used to be so competent and energetic - look at her now - she's empty,'
She felt empty. She felt as if her world was falling apart. She felt like someone had put a huge weight on her chest and it was crushing her, crushing all the emotion out of her. She couldn't breathe. Mind you, with Tony gone, she didn't really want to.
'Ten weeks later and Tony Stark's disappearance is now practically old news and a memorial service was held for the billionaire last week after he was officially declared as dead. Now questions are being asked as to why this happened in the first place - and how it could have been prevented,'
Pepper was back to staring again - eyes cold and empty, staring in the direction of the TV but not focusing on anything. She hadn't been into work all week - hadn't left the mansion in fact.
No one disturbed her.
Not even Rhodey.
He'd come home for the memorial service as he'd been expected to, but had flown back out almost straight afterwards to continue his personal search.
He hadn't called.
Not even once.
She guessed he didn't want to make her feel any worse by ringing with no good news - or any news at all - but then again she didn't see what else bad news could do to her.
She was already empty.
'In business news Hammer Industries has announced its plans for a whole new range of weapons designed specifically just for Marines and they'll be more on that in half an hour, but for now we're going over to Haley with weather,'
She couldn't believe her ears.
Had they…had they really said nothing? Nothing.
Tony was gone, dead, and they'd just stopped reporting.
How could they do that? How could they just carry on as if everything was fine? Everything was not fine.
How could anything be fine without him?
'Coming up later this morning - what's really living inside your walls? But for now we're going to Daniel with sports - let's talk about that game last night, Daniel, it was a real nail biter, huh?'
3 months. 12 weeks. 91 days. 2184 hours. 131040 minutes. 7862400 seconds. 460 cups of coffee. 644 pieces of paperwork. 753 phone calls. 811 emails.
Whichever way she looked at it - he was still gone - for good. Even she had to admit it. 3 months was too long. How could he possibly still be alive? They'd had a memorial service, they'd said their goodbyes, maybe she should move on like everyone was telling her to. It was the sensible, logical, practical option and if Pepper Potts was known for anything it was for being practical.
Except, she didn't want to be practical. She wanted to be ridiculous and optimistic and deluded, because frankly the opposite - and the things it would mean she was accepting - was too painful. She didn't want to accept that he was dead and never coming home. She didn't want to accept that he had been lost somewhere in the desert and died of starvation or exposure. She didn't want to accept that he'd been kidnapped and tortured and died at the hand of his evil faceless captors. She didn't want to, but deep down she knew it was pointless. Tony was gone, and he wasn't coming back.
'Violent storms have been terrorising the country as the southern states buckle up for another level two hurricane heading their way. In other news, police have arrested a man in Manhattan on suspicion of trying to smuggle and release wild cats into Central Park. Karen has the story,'
3 months. 12 weeks. 92 days. 2208 hours. 132480 minutes. 7948800 seconds. 464 cups of coffee. 654 pieces of paperwork. 760 phone calls. 822 emails.
It was no good, she couldn't concentrate. Every second felt like a year in itself. Every cup of coffee was too small, every email too long. She tapped her pen against her leg as she typed - well, tried to type - she wasn't making a very good job of it. She wasn't making a very good job of anything. It had been too long, too long since she'd seen him - his smug grin, his well-muscled arms, his dark hair all mussed up by his oily hands - too long since she'd simply been in his presence and she was close, so close, to simply giving up altogether.
That was when her phone started ringing and, like usual, she was about to reject the call. Until she saw the caller ID flashing 'Rhodey' and answered with a shaky sigh
'I'm eating, I'm sleeping and I'm working, Rhodey, I'm also busy, tired and irritated so talk quickly or leave me alone,'
'Why wouldn't you be eating or sleeping?' she froze
That wasn't Rhodey.
'T-Tony?' her voice was barely audible
'Yeah, it's me,' he sounded tired, but strangely happy
'You're…alive?' it was a stupid question - since she was talking to him - but at this point she wouldn't have put hallucinations past her mind. Brains could be cruel like that.
'Cool, huh?' he asked in an almost childish way that had her wanting to slap him, it was a truly glorious feeling.
'How are you alive?' she breathed, sliding slowly out of her chair onto the floor - her knees brought up tightly in front of her - she felt more grounded that way.
'I'm not a genius for nothing you know, Pepper. Add that to a whole shit load of good luck and there's your answer,'
She didn't respond, she was too preoccupied listening to the sound of his voice and after he'd stopped, his breathing - all those subtle nuances that were so wonderfully Tony
'Pepper? Hey, Pep, you there?'
God, it was a beautiful sound.
'Hmm?' she hummed in response
'You alright over there?' he asked, and she could hear the smile in his tired voice
'Sure,' she whispered, frightened to raise her voice again, as if it might scare him away. Absently she noted that this whole thing was making her act quite ridiculously - she didn't really care.
'So why wouldn't you be eating or sleeping?' he asked again and it was enough to shake her from the haze
'No reason,' she replied quickly 'Just this stupid report that needs to be done by tomorrow and I haven't even nearly finished. Rhodey's been on my tail about it for weeks,' it wasn't the best lie she'd ever come up with, but it was functional.
'The great Pepper Potts about to miss a deadline, tell me - has everything fallen apart whilst I've been away?' he joked and she laughed, though it was a little strained.
Good God, he had no idea.
'Three months later - and Tony Stark's been found. Against all odds the billionaire CEO was found by Air Force Colonel James Rhodes after somehow managing to escape his captors. The military will not go into detail on what exactly happened,'
She could see it - the plane - it was so close now, so very close. It was difficult to stand there looking proper and prim and professional when all she really wanted to do was break down. There were tears in her eyes as the plane landed-the first tears she'd shed since before he'd disappeared. The ever-professional Pepper Potts had not allowed herself to cry even when her world had been falling apart - in fact it was more like she hadn't been able to. But now, as the plane opened and she saw him - looking tired and battered with his arm in a sling - she couldn't stop the tears from falling.
She didn't care what happened, she wasn't ashamed of the fact that as soon as she got home that night she'd break down - properly - and sob into her pillow. All she really cared about was the man, her boss, her life, standing before her back from the dead.
Tony was home and all the pain, the emptiness, the sorrow, the dread - every awful thing she'd felt since he'd been gone - had vanished, replaced only by the warm feeling of love and hope and belonging as she finally found herself standing at his side again.
'Your eyes are red-shed a few tears for your long lost boss?'
'Tears of joy, I hate job hunting,'
Hope you enjoyed it. Please let me know what you thought :)
There's a sequel to this, but since it's AU of the films I decided to separate them out so that this could be read as a stand alone that fits into the film canon.