Ice and Fire: Good Intentions
Tony woke with a sharp jolt of pain in his chest. He shoved a fist against the scar tissue and stifled the automatic groan in an effort not to wake Pepper.
The pain was constant now, a continual reminder that his chest cavity had been broken apart, rearranged, and glued back together one too many times. The last battle he’d fought with the Avengers had proven to be more than his body could handle. A discreet visit to his surgeon (translation: behind Pepper’s back) revealed dozens of stress fractures in his rebuilt sternum.
He panted, willing the agony to subside. His hope of not waking Pepper was dashed when she stirred.
He couldn’t answer her yet, and that was enough to bring her fully awake. She leaned in, peering at his face. “Heart attack, panic attack, or something else?”
Tony shifted his hand to indicate three fingers, holding on to her gaze like a lifeline. And maybe it was, because Pepper was his rock.
He shook his head, half-hoping she would figure it out and half-hoping she wouldn’t. He hated explaining because even if he got the facts right, he rarely did with the people thing and usually fucked over those he loved.
Pepper sat back on her heels, considering, as she picked at her nail. “Does this have anything to do with your visit to Dr. Shona?”
God, he loved that about her. She never let him get away with his crap. Unless it suited her purposes, of course. He answered her glower with a tiny nod. He wondered if she would spill the beans to Darcy.
“And Dr. Shona told you that flying in the Iron Man suit causes too many pressure changes on your chest cavity, and you really need to give it up.”
Another tiny nod, knowing that if Darcy got wind of this, Cap would know about five seconds after that and Tony would be grounded for good.
Pepper shook her head. “Which you won’t do, because your suit is your favorite thing in the world.”
Tony scowled as he took a breath that was slightly deeper than the one before it. And then another one.
“So what are you going to do, Mr. Stark?”
He swallowed as the pain began to ease, though not enough for him to talk yet.
Pepper narrowed her eyes. “Does that have anything to do with the meeting you have with Dr. Strange this afternoon?”
With a wince, Tony gave her a third little nod. He reached for the pillow he kept handy and crammed it against his chest so that he could roll to his side and sit up.
“Let me guess, it means putting the arc reactor back in.”
Pepper pursed her lips-- her version of a pout and he wished he could lean over to kiss it, but it still hurt to breathe, so maybe he’d just sit here and do that instead.
He laid a hand on hers, needing to hold it. To hold on. To her. He really needed not to fuck this one up. The truth was that a new arc reactor just might give his body enough support to make it another decade or two. Without it, he wouldn’t get to see his non-existent grandkids.
The next inhale didn’t hurt quite as bad, and he found he could talk. “Is that a terrible thing? To put it back?” he got out in a gravelly voice that didn’t sound like him at all.
Pepper quirked her lips in understanding. And she did understand; he could see it all in her eyes. There was apprehension, yes, but there was relief too. She lifted his hand, brushing a kiss across the knuckles. “I’ve always slept better with a night light.”
A laugh caught in this throat. No wonder he loved her.