"Pepper?" His voiced cracked slightly.
"Tony, is that you? Are you... okay?"
"*ahem* Of course. I just finished swimming, that's all."
Tony lied, going out of his room, waving an uninterested hand at the few avengers he passed by, heading straight to his lab.
"I'll have you know that I'm personally taking care of my body now."
"Only 10 seconds into the conversation and you've already changed my impression of you."
"I have the six-pack to prove it. And my reactor is shinning even brighter."
"It's not working, Tony, but thanks for trying."
"Um... How are you?"
"Fine. Just fine."
An awkward silence forms between them as both of them are unsure what to say or even think. Finally, Pepper speaks up.
"H-how are you? Really."
"Good. Fine. Great. I've been sleeping more, can't even remember the last time I had a drink." Tony lied through his teeth, being that his situation was completely on the opposite spectrum.
"Last time in the hospital?"
"... Maybe more than a month ago. I... washed up on the shores of the city."
"No, beach party."
"Kidding. A job handed down from the boss himself."
"Still getting sent into danger, I see."
"That was awhile ago, and I'm fine, see? I haven't done anything else 'work' related since then, I swear."
"I guess you wouldn't lie about not doing work."
"You still know me so well."
"Don't get your hopes up."
"You got me. What about you? What has the Mighty Pepper been up to?"
"Low income job, parents down my neck, peace and quiet when they aren't. Not as usual as it used to be."
"Is that a good thing?" Tony questioned.
Pepper remained silent to question.
"Look, Pepper..." Tony sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"You know that, we did some things we're not proud of-"
"We? What's we Tony-"
"Me, me, me, okay me. I've done some things I'm not proud of. But I've changed. In ways you can't imagine. We can start over, Pep-"
"I don't think we can-"
"...I don't think we can, Tony. What you did, was just-"
"-I know. Unforgivable. But I'm asking you to forgive me."
"It's not that easy."
"I know it's not."
"Let's change the subject."
"Another time then?"
Tony heard her sigh loudly on the other side of the phone and decided not to push it.
Tony paused for a second, he wanted to just say no and keep on, get to the bottom of this, to get Pepper back. But maybe she needed the separation. He didn't.
"...Okay...How are you? How was the treatment?"
"...Fine, I think it's gone or almost there. There's no more pain, but I get scared when my hand sometimes glows." Pepper hesitantly explained about the EXTREMIS that Aldrich had given her.
"I can get Bruce on that. I'll bring it asap."
"Thank you, Tony."
There was a brief pause on the phone, an uncomfortable silence between them. They each had something to say to the other, both decided against it, neither ultimately having no more to say to each other.
Tony padded over to his StarkPad and flipped it on still in a silent conversation with Pepper. He linked his phone with the StarkPad and watched as the database scanned and searched for Pepper's location.
"Hello?" Pepper asked, that awkward moment when the silence has gone on for almost too long and you're not quite sure if the other person is on the line anymore.
"Hmm? Yeah, I'm still here. Listening to you breathing." Tony replied nonchalantly, tossing the StarkPad carelessly on his workbench, holding the phone to his ear, staring at the holograph projection in front of him complete the scan with a ding and show the location of Pepper.
"What was that?" Pepper questioned.
"Microwave." Tony lied again, watching as the live feed showed Pepper sitting outside a coffee shop, sipping no doubt a latte.
Tony had to admit what he was doing was indeed a bit stalkerish, But he couldn't help it. He watched her sip on her latte, the sun beaming down on her face.
Tony entered the lab having a sad crooked smile on his face.
" What are you doing right now Pep?"
"Nothing right now Tony, sipping on a latte."
"You know, we offer free lattes for that CEO position at-"
"-Can't get mad at me for trying," Tony could feel the tension growing and decided to stop while he was ahead. Then he felt the zing of a sharp pain go down his backside when he shifted.
"...Pep, I'll call you later. I gotta do something."
"Bye-" Tony had already ended the phone call and watched the image of Pepper vanish from in front of him.
Tony sighed, rubbed his goatee, then got to business.
"Always at the ready, sir." Jarvis responded.
"What happened...last night...Furthermore, where the hell were you?"
"Sir, I have recordings of last night if you wish to view them. What happened last night I'm afraid it was beyond my capabilities sir. There was...a malfunction, sir. I am currently trying to get my systems functional in your bedroom sir."
"Magical pressure sir, if that is a proper term. It seems that Mr Laufeyson's-"
"Don't call him that."
"Very well sir. As I was saying, The god of Mischief's magical pressure caused my systems to go...h-haywire. Sorry sir, it seems to effect my entire system. I am running diagnostics now sir."
"Approximately thirty minutes sir. I am sorry for the inconvenience, sir."
"Damn... is there a lot of footage from last night?" Tony asked, palms sweaty and hesitation heavy in his voice.
"Sir, there is four hours and forty-three minutes of passive recording footage."
"Four hours..." Tony didn't want to see the footage, he truly didn't, but he felt as if he needed to see it, watch it, the sick urge tosee himself cripple before his enemy in the worst way.
"...Play it. Lock the doors."
Tony watched. And cringed as he saw his head smash into the bedpost, touching his scalp where the gash should have been. And shivered as his arc was carelessly ripped out of his chest. He saw a flash of green in the dark , he himself begging for his arc which was glowing brightly in Loki's hand. With that Tony sat up a bit more, a bit more rigid.
"Jarvis rewind it to the green flash and enhance the video." tony sid observant but sick to his stomach. The video cleared, Jarvis adding more light to the video, making it significantly brighter. Slow motion play by play showed the swirl of misty green formed in his palm quickly wash over Tony as he was dragged up by his scalp, blood staining the wall. Tony watched until he heard himself actually scream and faint under Loki, where he saw himself jolt awake by Loki's unrelenting force only to faint back again. Then he heard himself moan. He moaned. Tony broke and gagged and retched in to a nearby scrap bucket.
After the final phase of dry heaving, he sat back pale and clammy as his screams still echoed.
"Jarvis... Delete it...except the green flash. I never want to see it again."
He wanted to take his latest suit, Out and find Loki. He wanted to...kill him. So bad. He just-
"Jarvis, are all of my suits charged?"
"All of them, except your most recent one, is in mint condition."
"If anyone asks why I left, tell them I decided to go home and check on the renovations."
A growing anger building up inside Tony as he made his way across his lab towards the door. A strong and merciless one as Tony face didn't move an inch to show it.
"Sir might I advise you not to do whatever you are planning sir. I worry for you greatly." Jarvis said, for once in a non sarcastic tone.
It made Tony halter in his thoughts.
"Y'know what Jarv? For once, you're right. I'm going to do something productive... I'm going to build a jet... A jet I can fly right into Loki head."
"Sir, I don't advise that either..."
"Too late. Start up lab #2. We're dusting her off."
Tony needed to do something. Build. And tinkering with cars just wasn't gonna cut it.
Bruce started to look for Tony after three and a half days without his rather annoying appearance. He went down it the lab but he wasn't there. After the worry started to eat at him, he asked Jarvis.
"I believe that Mr. Stark is in the bunker Dr. Banner."
"We have a bunker?"
"Yes sir, it appears he is building a jet.
"How do I get to this bunker?"
"Get into the elevator in the west wing and press the button called 0.1"
Bruce looked in amazement at the huge aircraft dock that was under the Avengers Tower.
Did anyone else know about this!? Did SHIELD? Probably not.
Bruce winced as he hesitated to cover his ears. If he thought Tony's lab was loud, then the bunker was an echoing bottled mess of classic rock.
Bruce searched the bunker, looking at a deformed version of Tony's "Juggernaut" suit on the floor. Bruce walked on until he hear massive clanging and fizzing from a blow torch and he found Tony. He was beneath the belly of a quinjet, melding steel together.
"Tony?" Bruce yelled but of course Tony couldn't hear him.
He was wearing a wife beater that raised above his navel as he worked. It was stained with black oil, smears of rust.
What was more astounding was that the entire and the workbench only a few feet away was littered with brandy and scotch bottles, some shattered on the floor the alcohol on the floor, an absolute mess.
"Tony... To-" Bruce paused as his scientific eyes caught something on Tony's skin. They were on his skin. Ugly and yellow and purple. Then he realized it was his skin.
He watched in horror as Tony worked unbeknownst of Bruce's stare, his head deep within the belly of the jet.
Bruce watched how he saw the bruises go lower than just his belted pants, and how they seem to fit a hand if one were to press their up against it.
How did Tony get those? Surely not from battle, his suit would have prevented it. Unless...
"Jarvis turn off the music." Bruce said, and Jarvis obeyed.
"~I've got big balls! Oh, I got big balls!~ Wait... who turned off the music? Jarvis!" Tony sung after the song had been cut off abruptly.
"Bruce? How'd you get down here?"
"Elevator, and Tony, we need to talk... About those bruises."
Tony looked down at his stomach that was exposed, and roughly yanked his shirt down to hide it.
"Look, what I do in my basement during my free time has nothin' to do with you." Tony said, waving the blow torch in Bruce's direction. his eyes red from the booze and tired.
"That's real funny, Tony, but I can tell when you're trying to play something off and hide the truth." As concerned as he sounded, Bruce was completely ignored as Tony turned back around to continue his blow torching.
"Tony." Bruce said with irritation. No response, just the constant fizzle noise.
"What!? Are you getting angry on me? Because I sure am. Hell, I'd turn big and green right now if a guy trespasses into my house, stops my music, and then tries to ram his foot into my business!" Tony rambled with anger, snapping back and glaring at Bruce. Bruce wasn't angry, but sad, Tony's blunt words stabbing him right in the heart.
A moment of cold silence fell between both men, Tony stopping his work to regret his actions.
"Jarvis!" He called out.
"... Tell the tresspasser... I'm sorry." Jarvis talk a brief pause to the awkward request.
"Mr. Banner, Mr. Stark wants to give you his deepest-"
"Its okay, Jarvis, I understand." Bruce politely cut him off.
"Tony, what are you? 10 years old? We're adults, just say it to me."
Tony remained silent, only a bitter look on his face.
"Or better yet..." Bruce walks closer to Tony, reaching his side.
"Just talk to me."
Tony looked down at Bruce, contemplating whether he should tell the truth...the whole truth.