It was a few days after everything happened, after the attack, after the world almost ended. It was long enough that Tony seemed like he was recovering; he'd slept most of the exhaustion off, and he was already up to making jokes about how Pepper never answered her phone.
That didn't mean he was okay.
Pepper woke up in the middle of the night, six or seven days in, and Tony wasn't beside her. She found him in the den; it was bad, because he wasn't drinking, just sitting there morosely staring at the television, which wasn't on.
"Who do we need to tell?" he said, not looking at her, and she already knew who he was talking about. "I don't trust SHIELD to notify people. I don't think that's high on their list of priorities."
"He didn't have any family," she told him.
"Right, because they only take orphans," he said, his bitterness showing clearly through the humor. He snapped his fingers, sitting up. "The cellist. The cellist, she's in Portland, right? Does she hate him?" He waved his hand. "I don't care one way or the other. We can't say anything about what happened, mostly because I don't want to talk about it, but Pepper, someone has to know that he's gone."
"There was never a cellist, Tony," she said softly, her heart twisting. "It was an inside joke."
He looked at her in confusion for a moment. "Oh my god," he said, putting his hand over his eyes. "Cellists have bows."
"Yeah," she said, and somehow it hurt more than anything else had, the idea that they'd never share a joke again, never smile at each other in a way that only they understood. "Moving to Portland, he- they found a place away from headquarters, for when it was quiet-"
"It's never quiet," Tony said, laughing a little, humorlessly. "That was a waste of money." His jaw clenched. "I could have known."
"You could have told me, and I could have known," he told her.
"I couldn't have," she said, shaking her head. "Tony, he was a government agent, and Clint was in his chain of command."
"Nick Fury's not known for his love for regulations," he said snidely.
"Phil was," she told him. "It was his decision. He never came out. It's not that he didn't trust you-"
"He shouldn't have trusted me at all," he snapped. "It didn't do him any good in the end."
And there was the heart of it. She sat down next to him, slipping her arms around him and settling his head in her lap; he barely seemed to notice. "It's okay, Tony," she said, even though it wasn't, because she knew that he wasn't really listening to her words, just the sound of her voice.
"How many people do I have to add to the list, Pepper?" he asked. "How many people am I not going to save?"
"A lot," she said, because nothing but an honest answer seemed right. "But you can save a whole lot more than you lose."
"What if I lose you?" he asked.
"Tony, don't go there," she said, gentle but firm. "You're going to make yourself sick." He didn't respond, which was just as bad, because it meant he'd gone off somewhere in his head. "Let's go to bed, okay? Feeling depressed will still be here in the morning."
He laughed at that, weak but genuine, surprised more than anything else; he sat up, swinging his legs around and putting his feet on the floor, standing. "I hope it's not."
She wrapped an arm around his waist, leaning in and kissing him. "Let's get some sleep."
He put his hands on her hips. "We could also not get some sleep."
She rolled her eyes, smiling; it was so typically him, and it was so great to see it. "Come on."
"So, that's a yes, then," he said, as they walked away.
"That wasn't an anything, Tony."
"So, that's not a no, then."
"And that's why you love me."
"Of course it is."