PlushChrome's Author's note: Hey everybody! Another co-written story between me (PlushChrome) and my sister (JoAmazing). Pretty much, this story is going to be a domestic Avengers story, with all of the Avengers already living in the tower. While I am an ardent shipper of Pepperony, I truly think Pepper has it within her to leave Tony, while Tony has it within himself to let her go. So that's what we tried to portray in this chapter. They both said things they will regret, and neither of them are happy with the choice, but that's life, and this story is going to be the rest of the team helping Tony deal with it.

JoAmazing's Author's note: Mostly Bruce. Because we all (all meaning, as always, me and Plushie) really like Bruce, especially when he's being all buddies with Tony and cool. So.. Yeah. Thought I'd put in my two cents.


When Tony woke up in the hospital, he could tell right off that this time had been a real ordeal. Not simply because it felt like it had been an ordeal, or because he remembered it being quite an ordeal, but because the look of deep thought on Steve Rogers face as he stood against the wall and looked out the window testified to how much of an ordeal it had to have been.

The fight had started out like any other; a radioactive psychopath with an obsession with the Avengers and a real god-complex had decided to push his boundaries and try to establish a dictatorship of sorts. The Avengers had responded to his army of (what else) flying robots that shot lasers, and all seemed to be going pretty well.

Until JARVIS informed Tony of the bomb. In the Veterans hospital. Going to go off any second.

"Cap, got a sitch," he had said, veering away from the battle and zooming to the hospital.

"You've got a what!?" Cap had exclaimed, bewildered.

"A situation," Clint had explained. "What's up?"

"Bomb in the vets hospital," Tony said. "On my way now."

"When's it due?" Romanoff had questioned.

"Don't know," Tony had answered. "Any second?"

He had reached the hospital and had wasted no time in bursting through a basement window (he may or may not have taken a bit of the wall along with it) and had located the bomb near the furnace. It was a sophisticated bit of technology. Nothing he couldn't handle, please. He had learned how to defuse bombs of this nature at like, age ten. But in the split second between his landing and his reaching for it, he saw the countdown click from 2 to 1, and he knew he had simply no time to either move the bomb or defuse it.

And so, thinking of Captain America as he did it, he did the only thing he could do to protect the people in the hospital. Grabbing the bomb, he hugged it to his chest and curled over it protectively, knowing the suit would take most of the damage. Then he remembered fire, and then darkness. Apparently, the suit hadn't been able to protect him as well.

"Did anyone die?" He asked, as a way of getting Steve's attention. It worked; Steve gasped and turned around, before giving a sigh of relief. "No," he said. "But we came really close."

Tony rolled his eyes, knowing Steve was referring to him. "What's the damage this time?" he asked. "I don't feel in any pain. I assume it's the medication?"

Steve nodded. "They had to numb you up pretty good," he said. "The suit took most of the damage, but it was destroyed. Burned you up pretty bad."

Tony thought this over. "That's not too bad," he said. "At least I didn't lose a limb or anything. Yet."

Steve frowned for a second, then opened his mouth.

"Don't say it," Tony said. "I've heard it all before. Be careful, stop being so reckless, take care of yourself. Steve, there was nothing else that I could have done, it was either that or let your buddies get the brunt of it, and I wasn't about to let that happen-"

"Tony, I wasn't going to tell you that you shouldn't have done it," Steve interrupted.

"...Oh," Tony said. "Um, well then, go ahead, I guess."

Steve sighed again, and looked back out the window. "What you did was very brave," he said. "I'm proud to call you a member of my team."

Well. There you have it.

"Uh, thanks," Tony said awkwardly, feeling his ears turn red. "So, where is everybody?"

"They're around," Steve said, sounding a bit embarrassed himself. "Do you want me to...?"

Tony had nodded almost before Steve even said it. "Yeah, go get everybody," He said. He just wanted Steve to leave. He had to collect himself.

Steve seemed to understand. He didn't seem to like it, but oh well. He nodded and left the room, and Tony sighed in relief, suddenly feeling more comfortable. He wasn't alone for very long before Pepper stepped into the room.

He smiled. "Hey, Pep," he said. Then he noticed the look on her face. It was the same look she'd had the last time he had woken up in the hospital. And the time before that. In fact, it was a look he'd seen on her face very often as of late, sometimes even when he just came home late or with a minor injury.

He huffed slightly. "Look, I'm sorry," he started right off. "I had no choice."

"I know," Pepper said quietly.

The silence didn't sit right with Tony. "...It was a veterans hospital," he mentioned.

Pepper nodded. "So they told me."

More silence. How he hated silence. "There was no time to get rid of it," he protested against that silence. "This was the only way."

"I believe you," Pepper said.

"Then what's the problem?" Tony demanded.

"The problem, it's…" Pepper started. "I just- Tony, this is a very bad habit!"

"A bad habit?" Tony repeated. "You mean saving the lives of thousands of people, making the world a better place?"

"Tony…"

"No, you're right," Tony said. "I mean, you've only been telling me from day one that I should use my strength for good. Maybe I ought to step back for awhile. Let the others have a chance to catch up."

"I just want to stop getting calls from SHIELD letting me know that you're in critical care!" Pepper said agitatedly. "You were in a coma, Tony. For four days!"

"I was in a coma?" Tony wondered aloud, distracted. "Huh. Steve only mentioned the burns…"

"Oh, he only mentioned the burns?" Pepper said sarcastically, raising her eyebrows. "You mean the first degree burns covering sixty percent of your body, and the parts of your suit that had to be surgically removed because they'd melted into your skin? You act like this is just another day at the office, Tony!"

"What, do you want me to freak out over every little scratch!?" Tony demanded. "Look, I do what I have to do to protect the innocent. You're acting like that's a bad thing."

"It's not a bad thing, Tony," Pepper said. "It's just, I can't handle watching you kill yourself like this!"

"I'm not trying to kill myself," Tony said, feeling frustrated. They were going through the motions, he and Pepper had had this same argument over and over again recently. She just didn't seem to get that he really was trying.

"Well, if it's not suicide, why is it always you?" Pepper snapped. "Tony, what are you trying to prove!? I mean, you've always been one for fast cars and you've never really cared about your alcohol intake, but it's been getting worse! Ever since Afghanistan-"

"Pepper, don't," Tony interrupted. He knew what she would say next, she'd said it all before. Ever since Afghanistan, he'd been "careless," she would say. First with Obie on the roof, then with the palladium poisoning, then again with not only the rotary of the helicarrier, but with the nuke and the space portal. She had been extremely forgiving each time, but as time went by, the risk of him being injured on the job rose as well. There had been several more incidents as of late, and the relationship between Tony and Pepper had become more and more strained with each incident.

Pepper huffed in anger. "So now I can't even talk to you about it!?" She demanded. "Tony, let me talk! We never talk!"

"That's always what we do!" Tony snapped. "Every time I get hurt, you have to come and chew me out for trying to kill myself! It's not conducive to a healing atmosphere."

"A healing atmosphere!?" Pepper cried. "Tony, do you have any idea of what I go through on a daily basis!? I'm practically running SI without you, I'm doing all the work of a CEO and your personal assistant, I'm always watching you almost die on the television every other day, and then sitting by your bedside while you recover, all while managing the press from my phone! I can't live like this anymore!"

"Fine," Tony said. "You want a vacation? We'll go to Paris or something, and you can buy a dress and eat fancy food and not have to worry about me saving the planet. I'll turn off my Avengers status for a week and leave the villains to it."

"I could do without your sarcasm," Pepper said icily. "I don't just need a vacation, Tony. We don't just need a vacation. I just can't deal with this anymore. I need a break. A real, actual, break."

Tony hesitated for a moment, trying to understand what she was getting at. "... You mean like… Break up?" He asked. "Like, that sort of break?"

"If that's what it takes," Pepper said, pursing her lips.

No! Never! No!

"Fine," he snapped. "I don't need all your negativity anyway."

"Oh-ho, you don't need my negativity!?" Pepper laughed, raising her eyebrows. "You mean, you don't need me?"

No, Pepper, I need you! I need you more than I could ever say!

"Well, what exactly have you been doing for me lately?" Tony snarked. "Because, if you're running my company, then why exactly am I always having to attend business meetings and board meetings and do everything myself? Oh and all that cool stuff you build, Pepper, I can't forget about all that. Wow, you practically run the place. I mean, my tech, could like, never hold the company that I worked hard on for all those years together. You, obviously, are the focal point of like… the entire universe."

Pepper blinked back a few tears, and Tony immediately felt guilty. He'd have to remember to cut his tongue out later.

"I work hard," she said, hurt. "I work so hard, Tony. Do you really think I don't!?"

No, you work too hard! You need to relax, you need to have some fun, you work too hard!

"Do you think I just laze around with the Avengers for fun?" He shot back. "You're trying to tell me that you can't handle having me get hurt, well you know what? That's part of me protecting people from crazy murderers. You think that's me just out for a good time? I'm protecting thousands of people, Pep. I think I would be able to handle protecting myself and my company."

"So you don't need me then?" Pepper snapped, now angry. "You couldn't take care of yourself for two days, Tony!"

You're right, I can't protect myself, I need someone to hope for me when I have none…

"You want to test that?"

That was the wrong thing to say, he knew it. But it had come out.

Pepper pursed her lips and stood straight as a rod. A few more tears welled up in her eyes and she nodded, quickly brushing them back with the back of her hand. "Alright," she said quietly, turning and walking to the door. "I see how it is. I quit. You can hire a new assistant."

Stop her! Don't let her go away!

He opened his mouth. Nothing came out.

Pepper turned at the door. "Goodbye, Tony," she said. Then she was gone.

Tony was stunned. He wasn't sure how things had gone south so fast, he wasn't even quite sure what had just happened. Through the open door, he could see some of the other Avengers standing in stunned silence as well. He wasn't sure how much they had seen, but he could surmise they knew the jist of it.

The jist of it. Everything came crashing down around him so fast he struggled for breath. Pepper had left him. He had told her that he was better off without her, and now she was gone.

Gone.

He laid back down and closed his eyes, stubbornly refusing to even think about the others at all. Nothing else mattered. Pepper was gone.