Tony Stark was dead.
And Pepper Potts was cleaning up his mess.
She shook her head, fuzzy from lack of sleep and dehydration. That was unfair. Cruel, even. What in God’s name was she doing, resenting the man while he was lying on a fucking slab. He had tried. He always tried, and he always found a way out.
Or he had.
Until last night.
Last night, Pepper had been paralyzed for what was really only the most recent of many, many occasions, while the suit failed and her once-boss, once-boyfriend, her most constant and enduring and frustrating friend, hit the ground from a height great enough to shatter his body like he was made of glass.
Tony Stark was dead, and Pepper Potts was sobbing into the paperwork he left behind while his teammates regrouped.
She took a deep breath and sat down on the edge of the table. Right about now, regrouped was probably an awfully pretty word for “getting their asses kicked”. What details Tony had shared with her before he was called away (He had never been great at “classified”, especially not where Pepper was concerned. Whether she wanted the details or not, she heard them) made it clear the situation was dire – they were outgunned and on a time limit, and now they had lost one of their heavy hitters and grief weighed heavy and raw on them, like it did on her.
Out of the corner of her eye, Pepper saw the line of old suits in their immaculate cases, ready to grow dusty and forgotten or be turned over to SHIELD’s R&D department for dissection and duplication.
He would’ve called it sacrilege, complained for days about her handing his babies over to Fury.
But he had died, left them behind to grieve and soldier on without him.
He didn’t get a vote.
She bit her lip, and walked over to the case holding the Mark VI. He didn’t get a vote, but she could do him one last favour.
Logically, she didn’t owe it to him.
Logically, she didn’t owe him anything anymore.
All the same, in the dark of Tony Stark’s empty home, Pepper managed a thin smile – it wasn’t the craziest thing she’d ever done for him.
“You think we could convince him to wait on the world domination thing until Richards is back in town next time?”
“Clint?” Natasha didn’t even stop shooting – Christ, she hated Doombots.
Clint’s laugh was fuzzy over her earpiece, and Natasha was grateful for just a moment. There would be enough mourning when bullets stopped flying, Clint knew how to make sorrow loosen its grip on them. She even thought she saw Steve crack a smile before throwing his shield, and that… that was nothing short of a miracle.
She launched herself up and over a Doombot, ripping its head off as she went – she had just landed when she heard Steve’s strangled gasp in her ear.
It was an older model, she recognized the triangle in the centre of its chest, but that was Iron Man.
“Quick check in, anyone else seeing what I’m seeing?” The humor was gone from Clint’s voice. It wouldn’t be the first time a ghost had come to their rescue, but Tony…
“Are you seeing our dead friend trying to come to our rescue?”
“He’s doing more than trying.” Clint mumbled. He was turning the tide, offering backup the way he always had, if not as…
“Something’s wrong.” Steve mumbled, suddenly right beside Natasha.
“I noticed that.” Natasha nodded.
He landed in front of them, and the faceplate came up.
Steve’s face fell.
“I thought I could help.” Pepper looked breathless, face flushed, bangs plastered to her head.
“I knew he was acting less suicidal than usual.” Clint muttered in their ears, and Steve had to turn away.
“There’s a steep learning curve, but…”
“Yeah. Yeah, we need all the help we can get.” Steve finally managed. “Do a flyby; take out whatever you can, then report back. I don’t want you out of my sight if I can help it.”
Pepper nodded, flushing even darker at Natasha’s wink and lowering the faceplate.
“Pepper.” Steve sighed heavily.
“This isn’t like you.”
The conflict on his face was obvious – his husband’s second skin, fighting on without him.
It went unspoken just who Pepper was acting like as she took off in a streak of light, and Steve almost smiled.