Characters: Tony Stark, Pepper Potts
Notes: PG13, Iron Man, Tony/Pepper, thanks to ninjababe for the beta. A stand alone story from a possible future.
Summary: Hindsight isn't always just 20/20, it can also break your heart.
Tony Stark hates those four words. Four words he wishes he could take back. Four words that stole his future. When he’d said them, he didn’t know that he would be giving up a life he hadn’t known could be his. A man who could have had everything. He knew now; now that it was too late.
The man Tony faced – he’d said to call him ‘Gabriel’ – held all the cards. And he knew it. Pepper, slumped in a chair next to her captor, was alive, but barely conscious. Looking at her, Tony can’t remember how to breathe. Fear and rage battle for supremacy. He remembers the last time he’d felt like this – waking up in a cave in Afghanistan.
‘Gabriel’ glances over at Pepper. “Don’t look so worried, Mr. Stark. I assure you that she will make a full recovery.”
“You didn’t have to hurt her!” He felt cold inside. So very cold.
“It was important you know that I’m serious.”
“You murdered her assistant! You don’t think that was serious enough for me?”
“Miss Potts needed to know too,” he explains with a small shrug.
When he got the call, the call that Pepper was missing, that Monica Deaver was dead, a shot through the head, her body lying next to Pepper’s car. When he’d got that call, he’d known this was the price. It always had been. He just hadn’t known then; that morning at the press conference. ‘Stick to the cards, Mr. Stark.’
“And now, you will give me everything I want, Mr. Stark.” He laughs. “See how much easier it is? No tiresome negotiations or heroics. You simply give me what I want so I will give you what you want.”
Tony looks at Pepper again. He knows what she’d tell him. Don’t do it, Tony. Don’t. But he’s not that strong. She would know that too. He reaches into his jacket pocket, withdrawing the drive that has everything ‘Gabriel’ wants contained on it. The other man steps forward, his face taut with anticipation.
He hasn’t told anyone what he’s doing. He couldn’t risk them trying to stop him, trying to come up with a plan that could get Pepper killed. He holds out the drive. That’s when all hell breaks loose: alarms, the sound of running feet and yelling, gunshots.
“That was very stupid, Mr. Stark,” he says as he points a gun back at Pepper.
“No! I kept my part of the bargain, I came alone, I didn’t tell anyone!” He’s pleading, he’s begging. This can’t be happening!
“Then they get to see I’m serious as well,” he replies almost sympathetically, his finger on the trigger. But before he can carry through with his threat, Pepper slams into him, knocking him down, the gun he held flying across the floor, SHIELD agents pouring into the room.
She’s given up a part of herself for him, because of him, irrevocably. He knows that as surely as he knows the sun will rise in the east. All because of four words he can never take back. And now it’s his turn; his turn to suffer the consequences of those words, of that morning.
‘Gabriel’ is on his feet now, looking for an escape route. In the confusion, Tony loses sight of Pepper. Then she’s there, holding the gun, pointing it at Gabriel. He says something that Tony can’t hear, but he does hear Pepper’s reply just before she pulls the trigger, “I can be serious too.”
Agent Coulson is the one who takes the gun from her hand, gently, carefully, putting an arm around her shoulder, turning her away from the man she’d killed, leading her to Tony.
They just look at each other for some unmeasured space of time, before Tony has her in his arms, holding Pepper so tightly that she has to remind him she needs to breathe. He loosens his embrace, but can’t let her go. Not yet.
He puts it all in a letter, a letter he gives to Happy to deliver to her house. All the access codes have been changed; his new security team under strict instructions to not let Pepper Potts anywhere near him or Stark Industries. Tony will never see Pepper again. He owes her that much for what he’s cost her. He will give up the woman he loves so he won’t have to stand at her grave. That is the price for those four words, those four words that he hates.
‘I am Iron Man’