This has been done already. So many times. I should know – I've read them. So here's another one. :D

I Hate You

The place was a wreck.

Half a dozen Loki sized imprints were melded into the concrete floor and Bruce's Hulk-sized footsteps were just as large and messy. The window Tony had been thrown into didn't exist anymore – a damage that particularly didn't sit well with Tony at all: that was the window he'd programmed JARVIS to use as its (his?) primary HUD. Now how was he supposed to know the precise time and weather in Manhattan? His life had just gotten a little more inconvenient and the place was a mess.

Though, of course, if he was to be completely honest with himself, he'd seen much worse.

He grimaced and finished the rest of his drink, making sure he threw a particularly nasty look at the green-and-black suited little shit that had caused all his problems. The little shit didn't look back though – he was sitting beside Thor on the couch silently: most likely due to the fact that he was unconscious.

If it's all the same to you…I'd like to have that drink now.

Apparently Point-Break's hammer decided naptime would be more efficient. The on-edge elder brother was now twirling Mjolnr around aimlessly, as if desperate for another reason to use it. Tony had put up the suit and Hulk had hulked down and was currently in Tony's room, changing into something other than "the nude". Natasha and Clint were just a few feet away from him, working on each other's cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Steve was the only one who seemed a little lost – well, a little more lost than usual. He was aimlessly walking around the foyer, poking at all the displays and trying to figure out how half the machines in Tony's home worked.

"There are no buttons anywhere, how does anything work?" Steve had asked at one point.

The poor guy.

Tony glanced back at the spies with the first aid kit while he swirled around his glass of empty. Clint and Natasha, huh? He'd have to learn how to best exploit this arrangement before the two of them grew comfortable with the idea. Blackmail wouldn't work if neither of them were sensitive about the issue.

"Don't even think about grabbing another drink, Tony," Natasha snapped at him as she bandaged Clint's arm.

"Oh, please," Tony said back, nose in the air. "Alcoholism was last year's problem."

"And flying into space is today's," Bruce said as he walked towards the group. He had adorned a more appropriate attire: blue jeans and a Black Sabbath shirt. "You need to get checked out."

Tony waved his hand. "I'm fine."

"That's ridiculous," Steve interrupted.

"JARVIS, tell them I'm fine."

I would advise a physical examination before—

"I didn't ask your opinion, I asked you to tell them I'm fine," Tony interrupted, rolling his eyes.

"You're not getting out of this one," Natasha warned him.


"Yes, Sir," he muttered quickly. Honestly, the woman was as scary as Pepper. Almost.

Oh, God.


He looked around again at the chaos. Pepper was going to kill him. Maybe he should call her…call her back. Because he had called. And she hadn't picked up. And even though she still didn't understand how a DVD player actually worked (even though he had explained it to her so many times), the woman was as sharp as a switchblade. She was smart. And she overanalyzed anything and everything that actually meant something. Pepper would connect the dots and figure out when and why he had made that call.

Pepper was going to kill him.

It wasn't his fault. She had made him promise just hours after their first kiss. Promise me that you'll never ever, ever, hide anything like this from me again, ok? Because I can't…I won't know how to take it if someone just tells me something happened. But if I know ahead of time, it'll still be impossible, but I can figure something out, ok? I can make it work in my head. But if it just happens I won't know what to do with myself. So don't…don't hide it. Ever. Let me know and…just let me know, ok?

And he'd said, ok. He'd promised.

So this was really her fault.

Tony moaned and leaned further on the table in front of him, supporting his head with his fist. He pushed the glass away.

"Stark?" Thor's booming voice sounded worried but it was Bruce who rushed to the other side of the bar.

Tony forced himself back to reality when he felt two cool fingers at his neck. He slapped the hand away. "Go away," he muttered childishly.

"You feeling light-headed?" Bruce asked instead.

"I'm fine – I'm feeling fine," he lied.

Suddenly, he stood up. "I need to make a call."

"What, now?" Clint asked as he experimentally rolled his shoulder back. "SHIELD should be here any minute."

And so? Tony tried not to roll his eyes. "Yeah, well, this is important."


"Not, now, JARVIS – do me a favor and call Pepper's cell. I'll take it on the floor below."

"Stark," Thor said cautiously. Wow. The Big Guy – cautious? Tony didn't think he'd see the day. "It's best if we remain in the same vicinity-."

"Tony, Pepper's fine," Natasha said slowly. "SHIELD knows she's safe, she's not supposed to be in Malibu for another few hours-"

"Who's Pepper?" Steve asked.


"What?" Tony yelled at no-one in particular.

It was at that precise moment that the elevator door that led to the foyer opened. Immediately, everyone readied themselves: SHIELD wasn't supposed to be coming through that door – not when they could fly over and come in through the most obvious entrance: the broken window. Thor stood, hammer at the ready and Steve's hand was already at his back, ready to fling his shield at the nearest evil-looking thing. Clint and Natasha were standing up, no longer lounging at the bar and Bruce was waiting behind them – ready to analyze the situation and decide if the Hulk also needed an appearance.

Everyone looked ready. But only Tony looked nervous. Nervous as hell. Especially when she walked through the doors, her orange hair still in a perfect ponytail and her stilettos carrying those long, sexy legs towards the middle of the room.

She didn't even notice the others. For a whole few seconds, there was no-one. Just her and Tony's scratched up face and disheveled hair and puppy-eyed look that let her know that he knew just how much trouble he was in.

"Shit," was all he could say for himself.

"What were you thinking?" she said, as she approached him. She seemed calm – too calm and Tony knew that was dangerous. He pivoted from where he stood to walk towards her.


"What were you thinking?"

Ah. There she was.

"Pepper," he tried to reassure her as he walked towards her. As he did, he noticed her red eyes, and just as red nose. Her ponytail didn't look so perfect up close and her eyes were wide and fiery and angry and…sad.

"What the-" and as she walked she bent down and grabbed the shoes she was wearing. She continued to walk towards him, both pairs of stilettos in her hands and a good five inches shorter. "What the hell were you thinking?" she yelled again as she threw the first shoe. Tony quickly dodged it, noting how not sexy those heels were when they were flying at him.

"Pepper, OW!" He wasn't so lucky with the second shoe – that one hit him squarely in the shoulder. Tony looked back at her, a little surprised.

"I hate you!"

She didn't mean it. He knew that. But for a moment, a tiny moment, he actually believed her. He paled. "Pepper-"

"You—you-" she sputtered, no doubt realizing she'd run out of shoes.

"Hey, I'm fine, ok?" he told her. He finally reached her and tried to take her hands. She snatched them away from him before he could even touch her and then set them by her side stiffly. A moment later, she changed her mind and smacked her first down on his shoulder. "You—you…"

"I'm fine, ok? Pepper, look at me," he held on to the fist that assaulted him and lifted her chin to face him. "I'm fine, ok? It's fine, I'm fine."

She wasn't crying. Not really – her eyes were just leaking. She was too angry to cry. Pepper tried to snatch her fist back and when she realized she wasn't strong enough, decided her left fist was just as useful. Tony caught that one too. "Pepper, shh…look at me, I need you to look at me. Come on…Pepper, look at me. Please look at me."

His voice was soft and quiet and slowly, Pepper stopped resisting. Her fists relaxed in his grip and Tony used the opportunity to slip his hand through hers. Their hands remained on his torso and Pepper's gaze managed to reach Tony's. But when she saw Tony's eyes, she suddenly remembered why she was so angry. Now, however, she lacked the same spirit. She tugged at Tony's hands shaking her head and let out a slow, agonizingly painful breath. A breath she'd been holding ever since she'd switched on the television and saw the chaos in Manhattan and watched her idiot boyfriend willingly take on a suicide mission.

"I'm here. See? I'm right here," he reminded her. He let go of both of her hands and gently took her face, wiping away her leaky tears with his thumb. "Ok?"

She shook her head, sighing. "You called, you...asshole…" she sniffed and clutched the shirt he was wearing. "You called when you were flying up into that…that thing."

"Yeah, I know. But I'm here now, ok?"

"I didn't know you called."

"It's ok."

"I was watching it – we were watching it on TV and-"

He kissed her then, quieting her just this once. She tasted like salt and she finally felt her relax – relax into him and accept that he really was fine even if everything else wasn't. When he pulled back, he saw that she was crying.

Her next words were a whisper. "You really were dying?"

He remembered hearing those words – a couple months ago when he was flying over Flushing, New York, hell bent on stopping an insane Ivan Vanko. When he was talking to Natasha-lie Rushman-off and was throwing jokes about how quickly his health had improved and that he was not dying at the moment. And then quickly realizing that Pepper had overhead the entire conversation.

Did you just say you were dying? You were going to tell me? You really were dying?

And here he was. Hearing it from her. Again. "You really were dying?"

The words broke him.

"I'm sorry-"

"What?" Pepper asked, taken aback. She wasn't used to hearing the s-word from him. And she sure as hell wasn't expecting it now.

"I'm sorry…" His voice hitched as he said it again. And God, is he sorry. "I keep doing this to you, I can't keep doing this to you-"

Pepper immediately recognized that voice. It was a voice she was sure did most of the talking in his head: a voice that rambled and tried to fix everything through rationalization until it reached a conclusion he was so sure was right. It was a voice that tried to remove him from the equation so he could figure out what worked best for everyone else – for her – even if it meant his situation would go to shit.

But he'd take it. He'd have to. Because he's fucking Iron Man.

"Pepper, I can't keep doing this to you – maybe…"

Pepper heard the rest of the sentence, the rest of the sentence he couldn't bring himself to say. That she never wanted to hear him say.

"No," Pepper said, taking his hands into hers. "I told you to tell me. Don't you ever not tell me. I made you promise, remember? That if we were going to work, you'd have to tell me, right?"

He laughed lightly at that. "Yeah, I remember."

"And I didn't pick up. You called and you could have…it could have been…Tony, I'm so sorry."

They could go back and forth with this all day. I'm sorry I flew up into that portal and made you panic for so many hours about my wellbeing. I'm sorry I didn't pick up the phone during that single moment when all you wanted to hear was my voice. I'm sorry for being selfish and calling you at all. I'm sorry for expecting you to call me and tell me you're in trouble during moments like this. I'm sorry for forcing myself to not think about you during that moment – for forcing myself to not think about how you would have to deal with my death and the funeral and the paperwork and for only thinking about what I had to do as Iron Man. I'm sorry for hating Iron Man and loving Tony.

I'm sorry for having to be Iron Man at all.

"Don't be sorry," he told her instead. "Don't ever be sorry. Ever. Just…I'm here. And you're here. And it's fine. Right? It's fine."

She nodded. "You're fine." She pulled back but kept her right hand in his and wiped away the rest of her tears with her left. "I mean…you're fine, right? Did JARVIS say you're fine? JARVIS should've let me know if something was wrong-"

"Are you keeping tabs on me?"

"It's part of the job description," she said with a smile. "Keeping tabs on the face of Stark Industries."

"So you don't do it simply because you love me?"

Pepper raised an eyebrow and despite her red eyes and messy hair, she still managed to look intimidating. "Don't test me, Tony. I haven't even decided if I hate you or not. You're going to have to make this one up – starting with the floor…" She motioned towards the many indentations in front of her and Tony looked back, eyeing them all with disdain.

"What happened here?" she asked.


"And where's everybody? Weren't there people here earlier?" She covered her face with both of her hands. "Oh, God…they probably think I'm crazy."

"I think you're crazy."

"You're crazy," came the quick retort. But it didn't come from Pepper. It was Clint and he was walking out of one of the rooms down the hall with Thor, Steve, Natasha, and Bruce on his heels. He had this stupid grin on his face that let Tony know he was not living this one down.

"JARVIS let us know when the coast was clear," Natasha explained.

"Don't you make a great first impression," Tony teased before kissing Pepper's forehead.

"I still hate you," she reminded him.

"Fair enough."

Clint looked like a kid in a candy store and Tony could practically see his thoughts bubbling around his head. So many blackmail opportunities…

"And this is your…" Steve prompted hesitantly. The guy looked like a deer in the headlights.

Tony looked down at Pepper – actually looking down at her now that her heels were on the other side of the room – and smiled sheepishly. He hadn't the faintest idea what she was doing here – with him of all people. But she was here, and he was going to count that as a blessing. "This…is my full-time handler and girlfriend, Pepper Potts."

Everything seemed rushed after that. Pleasantries were exchanged and later, Tony isn't going to hear the end of how embarrassing it was to meet everyone with her nose as red as a cherry and her voice still cracking from hours of crying. She will, however, remind Tony of how gentleman-y Thor was and that he had kissed her hand in greeting. And she'll remember the question Clint had asked when he had pointed at her stilettos on the floor: So did you clock him one?

The group's ride arrived minutes afterwards. Thor carried a still unconscious green-and-black little shit into the back of the aircraft and the rest of the team followed behind him.

"You ok?" Tony asked as the rest loaded up.

"I don't…hate you," she admitted.

Tony laughed. "That's a relief."

"Don't let it get to your head," she warned swiftly. "You just go, and get debriefed, and get back here and fix this mess."

"Stark – wheels up," Natasha yelled from the aircraft.

"All 12% of it," she reminded him.

He kissed her then. "Whatever you say. Will that be all, Ms. Potts?"

"Yes," Pepper said with a sigh. "For now. That will be all, Mr. Stark."

Hooray! The end. Review, please! Let me know what you think! 3 :)

And Happy New Year!