Alright. So, I'm not gonna bother with chit-chat. PlushChrome isn't here right now, so... Yeah. It's really just me. Jo. So I'll get right to the disclaimer, and leave you be.

Disclaimer: We - me and PlushChrome - don't own the Marvel Universe or any characters that belong to it. All we own is the storyline that you see below, and in the last chapter... And any storyline to come. And I - Being JoAmazing, though you probably knew that) - only own the parts that I wrote. The rest of it belongs to Plushie Dearest. This is one of those things that we just co-wrote. Like Networking. Or a lot of PlushChrome's Doctor Who fics. Because, like Tony and Bruce, we're just better together.

If you like this fic, check out my other fics and/or Plushie's other fics.

Jo~ And PlushChrome, because even if she isn't with us for the moment, she's always, ALWAYS! In my heart.

(sniff)


Everything was a blur.

Tony felt completely panicked. How had this happened?! Why had he let it happen?! How could Pepper just leave?! What would he do now?! How was he supposed to live?!

He couldn't be without Pepper. He just couldn't do it. It simply hadn't happened. It couldn't have really happened. Pepper couldn't leave because he needed her. And Pepper was always there when he needed her.

It didn't make sense. He couldn't process it. Life without Pepper…

He simply couldn't do it. He couldn't even think about it.

Vaguely, Tony knew that he was supposed to act a certain way now. He was supposed to smile and laugh and blow it all off, pretend it was nothing. This had happened before, after all, and it would happen again. Pepper wasn't the first to leave. Somehow Tony always ended up alone.

He would keep whatever he had left even closer, learn from this loss, and talk to JARVIS later. He would pour himself into his next project and drive faster than usual, and in the end all that would happen was that Pepper would be just another disappointed face he recalled at three AM and another topic that was generally known to be forbidden.

So Tony, of course, got right to it.

Instead of saying that he wanted to be alone, he would tell the team to come on in. And he would smile and laugh and blow it off, pretending like it was nothing. He would mention how nice it felt to be a free man again and say that Stark Industries had needed a change in management anyway. Tony would manage to convince the team that everything was picture perfect, and eventually start to think so himself. He would then say that he wanted to leave the hospital in an uncaring, effortless way that made him wonder why he never got into acting. And hurriedly, but with fantastic and heartily convincing excuses, he would go to his workshops and tell JARVIS to lock everyone out so that he could get himself into the right mindset for the next three years of performance.

Or at least, that was how it was supposed to go.

But no one, not even Tony himself, was cooperating.

After taking a second to compose himself, Tony managed a "come in" that was far too blank than it should've been, and the team slowly and uncertainly walked into the room, after casting glances around at each other like they were trying to make sure it was okay.

Even Natasha looked uncomfortable, and they were all looking at him with so much pity that it almost made him sick.

"Hey," Tony said, his voice now too animated, and too high as well, for that matter. "How was the waiting room? All of the programs nice and… educational?"

"Er…" Clint said, shifting and looking at the wall next to Tony rather than at him directly. "Yeah. Learned a lot about… stuff."

"That's interesting," Tony said, grappling for some sort of conversation jumper. "You all pleased with the hospital food?"

"... It was nice," Thor said, frowning. "Though quite odd. Midgard has strange foods indeed."

There it was! Something! He could laugh about that!

"Actually, it's really just hospitals," Tony said. "Though… really, I suppose there are a lot of weird foods, especially in America."

Thor looked relieved. "Yes," He said with a smile. "I went to a restaurant with Jane once, and we had-"

Natasha cleared her throat and shook her head slightly at Thor.

Why would she interrupt- Oh. Thor had gone to a restaurant with Jane. Thor had Jane. Thor had Jane and he didn't have Pepper. He didn't have Pepper. Not anymore.

"Oh, that's interesting Thor," Tony said weakly. "Tell me about the food. Asgard! Talk about Asgard!"

"Asgard is lovely this time of year!" Thor said loudly, casting a panicked look at Steve, who was biting his lip nervously. "The autumn feast approaches and it is always very nice! Mother plans it herself and I always go with Lady Sif. She is a dear friend to me and has been for many moons and-"

Geez, did Thor have to have everything?! How was that fair?!

"Thor, shut up!" Clint snapped. "You have no friends that are girls right now!"

"I…" Thor hesitated, looking bewildered and lost. "I don't?"

"No!" Clint said. "No you don't! None of us do! Get it?"

Thor's eyes widened. "You are right," He said slowly. "None of us have any girl friends."

Wow. That last sentence was really just poor planning.

After a moment of horrible silence in which Thor just looked even more confused at why no one was talking, Clint spoke up again. "...You're not allowed to speak anymore," He said to Thor with a grimace.

"What did I say?" Thor said with a frown.

"Just… forget it," Tony pleaded. "Can we talk about something else?"

"Tony," Bruce started with a sigh.

"I don't care what," Tony said over him. "Steve, talk about that place you visited!"

"I didn't visit any place," Steve said uncertainly.

"You didn't visit anywhere ever?!" Tony demanded. "What do you do with your time?! Nope, you know what? You can't talk now either! Clint, tell me you have more to say than… than…" He couldn't think of a good nickname for Steve. "Him!"

Clint just winced slightly and looked at him with sympathetic eyes.

"Tony," Bruce said again.

"Tasha!" Tony exclaimed. "You have some interesting spy story that you've been dying to share and I want all the juicy details!"

Natasha sighed and shifted her weight, keeping her eyes trained on the wall and her face generally emotionless.

"Tony," Bruce said, more strictly this time.

"No, I know what you're gonna say, Bruce," Tony said shortly, turning to glare at Bruce. "You're gonna tell me that this is all very hard for everybody and we had a stressful last couple of days and this is affecting me, but it's not! If you would all just stop treating me like I'm broken!"

"Maybe…" Bruce pursed his lips. "We should leave."

Not them too. Not them too! Not them too! Tony suddenly felt like he was choking. Everything was just getting to be too much!

"Okay," He said, practically gasping out the words. He was gritting his teeth so hard to keep himself together that he thought they might shatter. "Then get out!"

"No!" Bruce said, looking alarmed. "I didn't mean that, Tony."

"You and everyone else!" Tony snapped. "If you wanna leave, then go away! No one's keeping you here! I didn't want any of you around anyway, all you do is take up room in my Tower and pester me with your stupid comments!"

"Tony, no one's going anywhere," Steve said. "That's not what Bruce meant. He meant we should leave for now."

Oh. Right.

That made more sense.

Everyone was staring at him, looking both anxious and pitying and overly gentle. Like they were waiting for him to snap.

"See, you could've led with that," Tony said, his heart still racing and his breathing still too deep. "Instead of insinuating that you were leaving leaving. That was really just overwhelmingly stupid of you!"

Bruce didn't look too deterred at the insult. "Sorry, Tony, you're right," He said calmly. "I just thought you might want some alone time."

Yes. That's what I want. Get out! Right now! Just go away, I don't want to talk to anyone!

Wait, no! Please! Don't leave me here in this bleak hospital. I can't be alone! Not now, not ever! Please stay!

"Whatever, it doesn't matter," Tony said, trying to be airy. "I don't care. Do you care? Because that's what matters."

"I think… we should probably leave you to rest for a bit," Natasha said in a voice that was alarmingly gentle for her. "But we'll be back."

"Good," Tony said quickly. "Great. That's excellent. Wonderful, even. Leave."

"We can come back tomorrow," Steve said as he stood.

"I thought I told you that you couldn't talk anymore," Tony snapped. "You get listening points, Steve. Wow, I guess that's what makes you a first class superhero."

"I'm just trying to be-" Steve started, frowning just slightly. Clint hit his arm and jerked his head to the exit and Steve looked slightly ashamed and turned to leave.

The others also stood and, casting several uncertain glances at Tony, also left the room. Only Bruce was left now.

He turned to Tony seriously, a slight frown on his face. "Get some rest," He said. "You look exhausted."

"Thanks Bruce," Tony said sarcastically. "And you're just peachy yourself. Get out."

"Alright Tony," Bruce said with a sigh. "Just… It'll be okay."

"It'll be okay?!" Tony demanded, throwing his hands in the air. "It'll be okay?! You don't know anything, so why don't you just take your stupid sympathies and misguided sentimentalities and leave me ALONE?!"

Bruce looked at him for a long moment and then just smiled sadly and left as well.

Well. That went perfectly. But at least now he was alone.

Alone, of course. Like always.

Not that he still had any, but for the sake of his dignity, Tony waited until he was sure no one would come back before he fell back onto the bed and let the exhaustion and despair take him. He dreamed of Pepper and bombs and proof that Tony Stark had a heart.

He broke the glass and put the Arc Reactor in his chest, waiting for it to give him breath, but it was nothing. And he died.

Tony woke up, wishing that he was dumb enough to believe he had dreamed the breakup and his humiliating experience with the team, even while knowing that such hope was stupid.

It was all too real.


So yeah, there it is. The next chapter of this thingie here. I hope you enjoyed it. Follow, favorite, review... And then, wait and watch for updates. Plushie and I wish you the best (I'm assuming she does. Like I said before, she's not here right now).

Jo~ And also, not here except in our hearts, PlushChrome.