Nothing prepares Pepper for the sight of Tony lying amongst the smashed remains of the roof, the arc reactor flickering feebly in his chest. She did this to him. She pressed the button and she killed him, or almost killed him at least. At least while the weak light still remained it meant that Tony was still alive.
She runs to him.
“Tony? Tony, you need to wake up. How do I get the suit off?”
He’d told her that he was almost out of power, and that he needed to take the suit off, but that was before Obadiah had attacked him again. Time was very much the factor here, and of course Tony has designed this thing so that only he and Jarvis could remove it.
“Tony, please, you have to help me.”
Still no response and she has resorted to yanking at the chest plate with all her strength, not caring that her nails are cracking and breaking under the strain.
It takes her a moment to even realise she isn’t alone. Agent Coulson is standing there beside her, watching her efforts with his usual calm demeanour.
“Oh, Agent Coulson, you have to help me get him out of this suit.”
“Relax, Miss Potts, I have a team on the way.”
“He could be dead by then!”
She grabs hold of his hand and yanks him so that he’s crouching down beside her. “You have to have some sort of little gadget in your pocket like the one that opened the door, something that can cut him out of this thing. It’s killing him!”
Agent Coulson looks at her for a moment with the same neutral expression that he always seems to wear. She wonders if there’s anything on this planet that would cause him to panic.
“Trust me, Miss Potts, my team will be here at any moment.”
And they’re there before she can open her mouth to yell at him some more. There are four of them.Two of them crouch down beside Tony and start running their fingers over the suit while a third makes a phone call and the fourth stands guard.
She is amazed when the suit comes off in just a few moments, leaving Tony clad in the black spandex he wears underneath the metal. His chest piece glows a little brighter but is still flickering on and off.
His voice is so soft she barely hears him, but when she feels his fingers thread through hers she glances down and sees him smiling weakly up at her.
“You ok, Potts?”
“Oh my God, Tony! Yes, I’m fine but you…are you ok?”
He lifts his head slightly and looks at the arc reactor glowing in his chest.
“Well, I’m still alive.”
She squeezes his hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry; I’ll get you to a hospital. You’ll be ok, I promise.”
He shakes his head. “No hospitals.”
“They wouldn’t know how to deal with this,” he says as he gestures at the arc reactor. “Just get me home…please.”
And with that his eyes close and his head falls back. Pepper can feel the tears stinging her eyes. As she turns to Agent Coulson she finds he is already arranging a car to take Tony home. She’s glad that for a moment someone else has taken control. She’s barely holding it together at this point and if Tony dies… she doesn't let herself think about that. Tony is strong and resilient, as his time in the caves demonstrated. He’ll be ok.
“The car will be here in a few minutes,” Agent Coulson tells her and all she can do is nod. She can’t take her eyes off Tony’s face and she finds herself counting all the cuts and bruises on his face. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him looking this broken before, and it’s as though someone stabbed a knife into her gut and twisted.
She doesn’t even realise the car has arrived until Agent Coulson lays a hand on her shoulder and tells her it’s time to move Tony. She’s almost glad he’s unconscious for this, as moving him is going to cause him pain. At least this way he can’t feel it.
To their credit, the agents are incredibly gentle with him as they ease him into the car and Pepper slides in beside him, fastening Tony’s seatbelt before securing her own. She’s half inclined to tell the agents to take Tony to the hospital while he’s unable to argue with anyone about it, but as soon as the thought enters her head she’s presented with mental images of Tony’s reproachful glare and she knows she can’t do it.
“Take us home,” she tells the driver and the car pulls away into the night.
* * *
By the time they reach the house Tony is awake or at least alert enough to walk inside with Pepper supporting him on one side and Agent Coulson on the other.
“Jarvis” Tony calls weakly as soon as they’re inside. “Status report.”
For the first time Pepper notices that the arc reactor in Tony’s chest has stopped flickering and is now glowing weakly but steadily. It makes her feel a little better.
“My scans show you have three cracked ribs and forty-two minor bruises and abrasions, sir.” Jarvis replies. “The reactor is currently recharging. I recommend rest in the meantime.”
Pepper almost collapses in relief as Tony shoots her a wry grin that says ‘I told you so’, then she feels Tony sag between them as his knees give out and she is all business again.
“Come on,” she tells Agent Coulson, “his bedroom is this way.”
Between them, they mostly drag Tony to his room and Agent Coulson helps her lift Tony onto the bed, but steps back as Pepper tucks him in. Tony’s eyes open again and he smiles up at her.
“This isn’t how I imagined it would be when I got you into my bedroom.”
She can’t help but smile. “Actually, I think you’ll find it was me who got you into your bedroom.”
He manages a shrug. “A simple technicality. The important thing is that you’re here, and I’m here.”
“And Agent Coulson is here,” Pepper points out.
Tony raises his head, apparently only just realising that he and Pepper aren’t alone.
“I’ll be out of the way shortly,” Agent Coulson assures him. “I just need to talk to you for a moment Mr. Stark. Tomorrow you need to give another press conference.”
“What?!” Pepper exclaims sharply, barely believing the words that are coming out of the agent's mouth. “He can’t give a press conference tomorrow. Look at him; he can’t even walk on his own.”
“I’ll be ok in the morning,” Tony says. “Just need to recharge my batteries.”
He’s looking at Agent Coulson now, and Pepper can see some sort of understanding between them that she doesn’t quite get.
“Why does he have to do it tomorrow?” She asks.
“There are already reports coming through of the incident at Stark Industries,” Agent Coulson explains. “It’s important that Mr. Stark completely disassociates himself from the events that took place tonight, or he could be at risk from further kidnapping attempts. I’ll have a team come up with an alibi for you.”
Tony nods his head and finally Pepper understands. “I’ll contact the press and arrange something.”
“Thank you, Miss Potts. I’ll leave you two alone now.”
He slips from the room quietly and heads back out they way they came in.
Tony is looking at her again now and she can’t stop herself from brushing his hair out of his eyes. “I should let you get some rest.”
As she gets up to leave Tony reaches out and weakly grabs hold of her wrist. “I’m glad you’re ok, Pepper.”
“I’m glad you’re ok, too,” she says with a soft smile.
“Will you still be here in the morning?” He asks, suddenly looking incredibly vulnerable. It’s not a look Pepper is used to.
“I’ll be wherever you need me to be,” she assures him, stroking his hand with her free one.
He smiles and lets go of her. “See you in the morning, then.”
“Goodnight, Mr Stark.”
“Goodnight, Miss Potts.”
Tony drifts off almost immediately and as Jarvis switches off the lights in Tony’s room, Pepper stands there in the dark listening to Tony’s soft breathing. It’s the most wonderful sound in the world.
Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day, but the events of tonight have shown her that between them they can survive anything that gets thrown their way.