Title: All That Counts
Author: Shannon – shannyfish
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers do not belong to me, but Marvel Entertainment and Disney. This is for entertainment purposes only.
Summary: Pepper accompanies Tony everywhere. The weapons demonstration for the military in Afghanistan is no different. An AU to "Iron Man".
Author's Note: This is the FINAL chapter for this story! I have had MANY requests to do a sequel… I'll happily do one, but it's going to have to wait until I'm finished with the third fic for the series I'm working on!
. . .
"Letting it get to you. You know what that's called? Being alive. Best thing there is. Being alive right now is all that counts." -The Doctor ('The Doctor's Wife')
. . .
"I think you two are having a stubborn contest," Rhodey told them.
Pepper was adjusting Tony's clothes for about the third time. They'd ended up spending two extra days at Camp Joyce since Tony was declared unable to travel. With him on bed rest, she'd given in and actually rested. She was pretty sure that she'd slept through at least one of the days…
So far the medics knew about the arc reactor and had been keeping a special eye on that area in order to ensure that he wasn't catching infection, but he also had fractured his ankle (which he'd walked on for some time) and his arm. There were also the ribs…and luckily none had punctured his lung.
"Can we have a minute?" Tony asked Rhodey.
Obadiah had left the day before, feeling the need to return back to Malibu in order to make sure everything was in order at Stark Industries. Obadiah had seemed completely in shock that Tony had made it out alive. Pepper was pretty sure that both Obadiah and Rhodey thought that they were crazy and possibly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after they'd tried to explain what had happened…
Yinsen was dead.
Pepper didn't know how to grieve for his loss. Tony had told her that Yinsen's family had been killed and that everything he'd said about his family…was probably just him coping and trying to get through the day. It was hard though; Yinsen had been part of their lives for five months… He'd taken care of them and made sure that they survived… He was part of the reason that she was alive and about to get on a plane to go home…
"Yeah, sure… But this plane actually has to leave on time," Rhodey told him. "It's not on your timetable."
"I'll make sure we don't take long," Pepper told Rhodey as she looked down at her watch.
She looked up at him and frowned slightly. He looked sickly, but it was because of the bruises…they'd turned a yellowish hue. "Is there something wrong, Mr. Stark?" she asked. He had kept adjusting his tie and she'd kept fixing it. He was in a boot until they got home, they just wanted to keep things stabilized, but they'd managed to get it to fit under his pants and she'd made the shoes fit well enough.
"Pepper," he whispered as his hand came up to her cheek. He stroked it for a moment as he just stared at her. The silence was maddening, but at the same time…it was nice for them to have time alone. This was the first time they'd had any kind of 'alone time' since the morning they'd woken up together and almost kissed. "No more Mr. Stark…"
She just stared at him. "Did you hit your head? Rhodey said that you were a little shaky earlier…"
Tony frowned at her. His disapproval was obvious. "Things are going to change when we get home."
"Nothing drastic…not for at least a few days," she requested. "Obadiah's promised me at least a few days off…"
"I thought I was your boss?"
Pepper smiled. "He's going to call in a nurse… I'm sure you'll be very happy with his selection…"
"Is this nurse you?" he teased.
"Then I don't want her…or him… Knowing Obadiah, he might send me a him…"
Pepper beamed at him and swayed a bit. She had to admit, it was nice to be back in their own clothing and back to their bantering. It made things normal. "You're probably right… But we can't have you not taking your pills…or down in the workshop…or generally unsupervised…"
"Then come supervise me," Tony told her.
"I need sleep, Tony," she told him quite sternly. "I miss my bed."
"I guarantee that mine is more comfortable," Tony told her.
She eyed him for a moment. "We can't have this conversation, Tony," she said. Her voice was sad and yet serious.
"I shouldn't have kissed you," she told him, the last part a whisper. It hurt her to even think about it. They couldn't… And she'd kissed him in front of Rhodey and Obadiah. What they must think of her… And her job! She loved her job! Even if Tony could be completely impossible…she loved it.
"Don't say that…"
"I like my job," she told him.
"Why are you worrying about your job?" Tony asked her. He stared at her. "Did Obadiah say something?"
She shook her head and looked down, her hand on his tie again. "We're going home… People will talk—"
"So let them talk!"
"Do you regret it? …I mean the kiss? The kisses? Our moments together when Yinsen wasn't yelling at us to come to breakfast?"
"No…" she whispered.
"So, don't do this… Don't push me out…" he told her. He lifted her chin with his finger and stared into her blue eyes. "When in all of the years that you've known me have you seen me like this?"
"This bruised?" she teased.
He grinned. "You know what I mean…"
"You've never been sober…" she whispered. "I like it, by the way…" In all the years she'd worked for him, he'd never been sober. Captivity might have been forced rehab, but it did other things…it changed him in other ways. It changed them.
"What are you worried about? What are you really worried about?" he asked her.
It was a loaded question. There were so many things she was worried about. Where did she start? Did he really want to hear it all? "Too many things to tell you about before we have to get onto that plane," she told him. It was back to schedules. It was back to how things used to be. She needed to make sure he got on that plane on time…not on Tony schedule. It was one thing if it was one of theirs… This one wasn't.
"You've avoiding the question."
"I'm not leaving until you answer…"
Pepper sighed. Tony really hadn't changed that much. Sometimes he was like a three year old having a tantrum. "Rhodey—"
"Rhodey knows better than to expect me to be on time," Tony told her. "Let's not have his standards set too high…messes it up for me when I decide that I'm too busy to meet him at noon and reschedule without telling him until three."
Pepper frowned at him. "You're impossible."
"I know," Tony told her. "I'm thinking that's why you stay."
"I tell you and then we can go?" Pepper asked, trying to make sure she understood fully.
Biting her lip, she looked back over her shoulder to see if Rhodey was coming back yet and then looked down at her watch.
"Are you really worried about what Rhodey might think?" he asked.
She turned back to Tony and could tell that he was a bit hurt to think that. She tilted her head and frowned deeply. "We have to go back to the lives we lived before… So, I do have to think about how it's going to look to Rhodey…to Obadiah…to Happy—"
"Really? You're bringing Happy into this?"
She frowned deeper at him. "To my coworkers at Stark Industries…to the media…"
"You do realize that you're the one who kissed me in front of Obadiah and Rhodey?" Tony asked.
Pepper frowned. He was right, of course…but she was hoping that he wouldn't bring it up. "I know," she whispered. "But that's not the same… I can't… I can't be one of those girls, Tony…"
"You don't want to be associated with my other relationships?"
"They were all one nightstands, Tony," Pepper told him as if he was insane for calling them relationships, because he was. She shook her head. "I took care of escorting them out of the house every morning… Don't you think I'd think about that? To think about my reputation?"
"They don't understand!" Tony practically shouted at her.
She just stopped and stared at him.
It was as if she'd hit a brick wall.
He was exactly right.
No one else understood.
Only they did.
"You're right," she finally said quietly after a few minutes.
"I think that's the first time you've ever said that to me," Tony told her a moment later.
Pepper smiled at him. "Don't expect to hear it again anytime soon."
"Don't push me away, Pepper," Tony told her. "We both went through hell together… And maybe it's all my fault—"
"It's not your fault," she said quickly.
He stared at her. "If I hadn't made you come—"
"Stop!" she shouted at him and reached out to place a finger on his lips. Tears were running down her face. Her mind kept flashing back to the cave. To all of those moments they had. She didn't regret them. She couldn't. Tony was one of the reasons why she'd survived that hell. She wasn't going to deny it. "You can't do that… You can't go through 'what ifs'… I was here with you… We're both alive. That's all that counts…"
It was all that counted.
They were alive.
They could go home.
Yinsen lost his life.
Probably Raza and Rhosad.
All of the soldiers in the humvee convoy when they were attacked that died…
Not everyone lived.
They were the lucky ones…
No matter how much they'd suffered…
They were the lucky ones…
They couldn't forget that.
"Pepper, I don't want to lose you," he whispered and tears fell from his eyes as well. He pulled her to him and rested his forehead against hers. Their tears mingled and he sighed. He kissed her forehead. "Don't make us go back to how things were…" He pulled back enough so that he could stare into her face. "I don't want that… And I need you… I need you, Pepper… More than I've needed anyone else in my life…"
"You're just noticing that?" she asked with a small laugh as tears continued to fall. He laughed too. "For a genius, sometimes you're really slow…do you know that?"
"I have someone to remind me of that," he said as he reached up to brush a stray strand out of her face. "What do you say, Pepper?"
"I'm confused about what I'm agreeing to," she told him honestly. Did he just want her to go back as his 'girlfriend'. That seemed like such an odd word for her relationship with Tony… Did he want her back still as his assistant? How were things going to be different?
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about… I don't want Stark weapons in the hands of terrorists… They shouldn't be firing on our troops… I want to find out why and how they have them…" Tony told her. "I want the company to go in a different direction…"
"I know it sounds crazy…but I have an idea, Pepper… If you'll just trust me…"
"You know I do."
Tony stared at her for a minute. "Rhodey's going to freak out…"
"Rhodey?" Pepper asked. "You're worried about Rhodey? What about Obadiah and the board?"
Tony shrugged. "They can deal with it."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"Stark Industries is to stop all productions of weapons until we find out what's going on… Until we find out how Raza and his men got that cache of weapons… They were supposed to go to our men…" Tony told her.
"You have to tell them something else," Pepper tried to tell him. "Obadiah is going to want something equally as beneficial to the company to show the board if you really expect them to halt all production."
"I know," Tony told her. "I'm thinking about it."
He grinned. "I always do…"
She rolled her eyes and then heard Rhodey yelling behind them. She turned for a moment and frowned. She looked down at her watch. Tony had kept her longer than she'd expected. Pepper turned to say something to Tony when she found his lips against hers. It pulled the breath from her body and she found herself sinking into the kiss and his embrace. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around him. She wondered if he was trying to further convince her… If he was, this was convincing…
"You two can do that at home!" Rhodey yelled.
Pepper felt blush rising in her cheeks and looked down once they parted. "Oh God…" she whispered.
"He's on the plane ride home… How long is the flight?"
"This is what he's going to be talking about the whole ride home."
Tony shrugged and then pulled her to him again and initiated another kiss. This time it was deeper and with far more feeling. Pepper felt like she was tingling all over and knew that this was just going to make the plane ride longer… When they parted, she felt like she needed to catch her breath again.
"I had to give him something to really talk about," Tony told her.
Pepper smiled and shook her head.
"Pep," he said as he pulled her close and pressed a kiss to her head. "Don't break my heart…"
She tapped where she knew the arc reactor was in his chest. "I think someone already beat me to it…" she teased. He grinned in response. Pepper leaned in and kissed his temple before whispering into his ear. "Don't break my heart, Mr. Stark…" She took a moment to fix his tie and jacket.
"I wouldn't dream of it, Ms. Potts," he told her with a smile and then held his arm out for her. She took it and he started to escort her to where a very irritated looking Rhodey was standing. "Let's go, Rhodey!"
"Are you sure?" Rhodey asked as he walked alongside of them.
"I think I left JARVIS on, so you know…I should go home and tend to that…"
"You sure? Because I might be able to get you two a room," Rhodey said.
"I have one of those…in Malibu," Tony countered. "I'm sure the bed is comfier than one you could find here… Maybe that should be the next Stark contribution to the military…"
Pepper just sighed and covered her face as they went back and forth. No one watching would realize how badly hurt Tony was… But this was how she knew he really was okay deep down… The banter… If there was banter, then he was okay…really okay…
"You know I'm not letting this go…"
"You're making Pepper blush…"
"She should have thought about that before getting mixed up with you," Rhodey told him. Rhodey turned in her direction, she could see between her fingers. "You're too good for him, Pepper. You deserve better than Tony…"
"Probably," Pepper mumbled as she let her hand fall back to her side.
"I'm hurt," Tony teased.
Pepper grinned at him. "You shouldn't be…"
"He is right, though," Tony told her. "You are too good for me."
. . .
End Author's Note: Besides knowing that I already am planning on doing a sequel… I just wanted to thank everyone who has reviewed or PMed me about this fic! I really appreciate it! It helps me to know that I'm writing the characters correctly and the story! Sometimes you guys also inspire me to write things a certain way!
If you haven't already checked it out, please check out my new blog: I'll most likely have any information on stories that are on my list to write…and you may be able to see how long you'll have to wait for those stories… There's already commentary for all of the other stories I've written that are up… I started doing it for this fic, but haven't finished it yet… It'll be up probably this weekend…