Hi everyone! Sorry for being slow to update, but we're having such a nice summer that it's been tough to stay inside and edit. (But this weekend was super hot, so I did stay inside as much as possible.) In this week's chapter, Tony and Pepper start to deal with the aftermath of the events of Age of Ultron, and they plan to meet for dinner, so the next chapter will be very fluffy and probably influenced by whatever food I'm hungry for/cooking for myself at the time. Thanks for your reviews, and I'll see you again soon! (And just to reiterate, this story will eventually sort of follow the plot of CA:CW, but things will end up much happier, I promise. :))
Tony stood in the doorway of his empty office at the new Avengers headquarters, frowning. It wasn't like he'd ever actually used this office—every Avenger had an office, in spite of the fact that none of them were really office people, though Bruce had used his to keep spare clothes in. And Clint and Natasha both kept secret stashes of snacks in theirs. They were each forever trying to sneak into the other's office and steal said snacks, though only Natasha was every successful.
Thor liked to spin in his office chair, but that was it for him. And Cap had a few books on his desk, things he read to try and catch up on all the decades he'd missed while frozen. There was also a stack of fanmail in a metal tray. (The others sent e-mails that Maria Hill had set up to reply automatically to the "hi, you're so cool!" variety of digital fanmail. Thor's in particular was hilarious, because it began with the phrase "Well met, friend! I have received your electronic message!") Steve was the only one who sent physical thank you notes in reply to all physical fanmail. Tony liked to imagine how people must react—kids especially—when they realized that they'd gotten an actual letter from Captain America. (Tony had set up a program to respond to all of his with holograms, but he guessed that getting a letter from Steve Rogers was maybe even cooler, in a sort of retro way, than receiving a hologram from Tony Stark.)
Tony left his empty office with a shrug, because there was no reason to feel sad or nostalgic here. This was really more of a "see you later" than a "goodbye." At least, he kept telling himself that. At some point, he'd probably have to admit that Sokovia had changed everything, but he hadn't reached that point just yet. Leaving today was about getting a fresh start, not...ruminating on recent mistakes. So Tony headed for the main floor, where Pepper had been chatting with Hill moments before. But now Hill was gone, her work day presumably still preoccupied with damage control after his fight with the Hulk and everything that had followed it. Plus she was helping Cap and Natasha get the new Avengers roster settled in their quarters. (Rhodey wasn't planning on living there full-time, but he'd still gotten the nickel tour along with Sam and Wanda.)
"Well, it was great to meet you, Vision," Pepper was saying, and Tony stopped in the doorway, watching them talk.
"Likewise, Ms. Potts," Vision said. "Though I possess many memories of our previous interactions, it is gratifying to meet you face to face. Now that I...have a face."
Pepper chuckled. "Yes, it is good to finally put a face to the voice."
"You seem...less unnerved by my appearance than most are."
"Maybe it helps I've already known you a long time, technically," Pepper said, looking over at Tony and smiling. "Also, I live with Tony Stark. You are not even close to the weirdest thing I have ever seen."
"Yes, I remember...things," Vision said, nodding at Tony.
"Okay, it's weird seeing you two gossiping about me," Tony said, unable to resist entering the room. It was still impossibly strange, talking to someone who sounded like JARVIS and had his memories but also had a physical body. And a cape.
"Though I am not technically JARVIS, those memories that I retain from that iteration of myself are...vivid, in some cases," Vision said, and Pepper snorted.
"Vivid is an excellent euphemism for it," she agreed.
"Yes, we were all there for my many, many past indiscretions," Tony said. "Though some of us clearly remember those incidents better than others."
"Unfortunately that is true," Pepper said, and Vision nodded grimly.
"In my defense, if you two hadn't done such a good job of keeping me alive and financially solvent, I probably would have had to get my act together sooner," Tony pointed out, looking at the Vision. "Also, I don't know if I've said this yet, but...thank you for all the times you kept me alive and/or sane."
The Vision inclined his head. "It was my pleasure, the indiscretions you mentioned notwithstanding. After all, I would not exist without you, Tony."
"Yeah, that's one of the weird parts of this," Tony said, gingerly tapping the Vision on one shiny arm. "Is this how parents feel? When their kids are all grown up?"
"I think most parents have slightly more warning than this," Pepper said. "They have years rather than days to prepare."
"True. Still, I'm glad you're here, and I'm glad you're up for...whatever the Avengers are going to be next," Tony said. Thinking about the Vision as being kind of like his son was seriously weirding him out. His own dad issues aside, Pepper was right: most parents didn't have to deal with their kids growing from a disembodied voice into a full grown adult over a couple of days.
"It is fascinating so far—being part of a team," Vision said, looking between Tony and Pepper. "Though I shall miss the team that consisted of the three of us. And please give my regards to Mr. Hogan."
"We will," Pepper said. "He'll want to meet you sometime."
"Not today though, since your schedule indicates you have four meetings this afternoon," Vision said, then shook his head. "Sorry. Old habits. And now, it appears that Captain Rogers wishes to speak with me, so I will take my leave."
"Well, proud of you, kid," Tony said, hoping he sounded casual and not like he meant it as much as he did.
"Thank you, sir," Vision said, sounding exactly like JARVIS again for just a moment, and then he phased through the ceiling.
"So..." Pepper said slowly. "JARVIS is a robot now? Is that what the Vision is?"
"Android, technically, since he's mechanical with synthetic skin—although the mind stone kind of confuses the issue, because he's bionic and he's got organic and inorganic components, and he's sentient, so cyborg might be a better way of—"
"And Bruce is really gone?" Pepper said quietly.
"Yeah," Tony muttered. "Seems that way. I designed the jet he was in to be untraceable, so..I haven't found it yet. And by the time I do, he'll be long gone."
"He'll be back when he's ready to come back," Pepper said, squeezing his hand as they silently moved toward the door. Tony nodded to himself. Bruce was something they'd talk about later, something else he wasn't ready to think about yet.
"So, I've got a few more things to go over with Steve," Tony said, glancing back at the stylized 'A' on the wall. "This is his house now. But after that, I am really retired."
"Well, I'm glad," Pepper said, linking her arm through his. "It'll be good to...not see you on the news as much. Or if I do, you'll be talking about philanthropy and not..."
"...robots trying to wipe out humanity," Tony nodded. "This is not how I imagined our hunt for the scepter ending. Today I'm trying to imagine a future where I don't screw up quite so...dramatically."
"Tony," Peppy said, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I know the intimate details of many mistakes you've made. But I also know that you work harder than anyone to make things right."
Tony shrugged. "This is...a big one, even for me."
"But you're gonna do what you can, and it will be okay," Pepper said, kissing him on the cheek. "Two days ago, you and Wanda were mortal enemies. Now you're on the same team. That's progress."
"Technically, Rhodey is my replacement on the team," Tony said, but he smiled. "I guess...I've actually had worse weeks than this. At least I only came close to causing the end of the world this time. I didn't actually manage it."
"And you never will," Pepper said. "In the past few years, you've saved millions of lives, Tony. That matters a lot more than the mistakes you make."
"You know, talking to you is part of why I sometimes have dangerously high self-esteem," Tony said, putting his arm around her shoulders.
"Only sometimes?" Pepper said dubiously, but she squeezed him around the waist, then let her hand drift lower before patting him on the butt. Then she strode cheerfully toward her waiting car.
"Okay, I didn't need to see that!" Happy called.
"Then get in the car, because I'm probably going to kiss the head of R&D before I leave," Pepper said.
"Phrasing," Tony said, and Happy groaned. He waved as his former bodyguard shook his head and got in the driver's seat.
"You know, we'll still visit," Tony said, gesturing at the building. "I mean, I'm retired, not in exile."
"I know—I stopped by today to say hello to Hill and meet the Vision, but it isn't as though we'll never see these guys again," Pepper said. "I'm having lunch with Nat next Friday, and you and Rhodey have a meeting about suit modifications coming up, and of course, there's still a lot of Avengers PR cleanup to do..."
Tony couldn't help but smile a little at the thought of suit modifications. "So you're okay with...me not being 100% retired?"
"I know it's too much to ask that you get out of the suit forever," Pepper said wearily, biting her lip. "I'm just glad you're going to cut back."
"Me too, actually," Tony said, slightly surprised that he meant it. "Having a week like this does kind of put things in perspective. Like how neither of us wants me to die in the suit."
"Agreed," Pepper said, her grim expression slowly fading into one that was almost...sheepish? "Um. So, at our home, which is a very nice mansion full of very expensive things including cars..."
"What?" Tony said. "What happened at home?"
"I...broke something," Pepper said, raising her eyebrows. "Intense stress and the residual effects of Extremis are a...volatile combination. Let's just leave it at that until tonight."
"I will see you for dinner then," Tony said, wondering what she had broken, but then they kissed and he forgot to worry about it. Whatever it was could be replaced anyway. Unlike Pepper, who still, miraculously, seemed to take his almost world-ending blunders in stride.
"See you later," Pepper said, getting into the car. Tony shut her door, and then he watched as Happy sped off, heading back to the city for the four meetings Vision had mentioned. When the car had disappeared behind a line of trees, Tony looked back up at the building behind him. Pepper was right—maybe the world was a better place for him being in it, but if Ultron had taught him nothing else, it was that his legacy of saving lives would always be marred by all the lives lost because of him. Sure, he'd probably saved more people than he'd gotten killed, but stories like those of the Maximoff twins were proof that for all his heroics, to some people, he'd always be a villain. And they were right to see him that way.
I've got more blood on my hands than anyone else I know, Tony thought grimly, thanks to a combination of youthful carelessness and recent misguided attempts to save the world. So now I have to figure out how to live with that. Can I live with that? I did for a long time, but that was back when I was pretty much a total asshole...
At the edge of the property, he'd parked a stylish car in preparation for his departure. Now he was going to talk to Steve, maybe say goodbye to Thor and whoever else was still around, and then he'd leave. And then...he wasn't exactly sure what was next.
Guess I'll just have to figure it out, Tony told himself as he headed back inside. I've actually got plenty of time for a change, now that I'm retired...