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The Wife

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She met Tony Stark when he was strutting through life with a bottle in his hand and a mouth that was too smart for its own good. There wasn’t a media in sight that didn’t showcase his handsome face, his lavish millionaire bachelor lifestyle or the trail of bodies that paved the road for him. She knew exactly what happened to the girls that were taken in by his dashing charm.

“Would you like to grab a drink in my room?”

She shook her head, and Tony-ever the improviser-swept her little sister off her feet instead, not before paying for her taxi home.

It’s the least I can do—” he had said, arms wrapped around her little sister. She tried to protest but her sister’s imploring eyes hushed her words.  She was a young little thing, barely at the cusp of adulthood. But alas-she was an adult and there was nothing that an older sister could do to stop her. Seeing her wrapped around Mr. Stark’s arm—well he did always go for the younger ones. Tony chuckled, “I’ll take care of her, I promise.”

After much inner debate on her part and glares on her sister’s part, she eventually took his generosity and went home, done with the rambunctious party scene. She may have been in her midtwenties, but the party life was way past her, unlike the millionaire that seemed to breathe out drunken chaos and destruction.

In any case, she figured it would be the last time she saw the man—and it would have been, if it wasn’t for her sister’s accident the following morning.

She died on the way to the hospital, still wearing last night’s dress and smelling like Tony’s cologne.

And in just a whisper, she was truly and utterly alone.

---

She saw him, sitting a few yards away from the rest of the funeral-goers. Separate and alone. She went up to him.

“You promised,” she whispered, glancing at the progression of black-clad people.  She didn’t want to look at his eyes.

I’m sorry.” Tony choked out, grief suffocating his voice. She silently reached over, the back of her hand tapping against his.  Forgiveness perhaps, or a silent plea. Tony hesitated before wrapping his hand around hers, fingers interlocking.  His hand was clammy but his grip was strong, as if her hand was the only thing keeping him afloat.

She couldn’t tell if it was for his benefit or her own.

---

Tony was like a tornado, she found out much later. He would come into her life abruptly, make a mess of things and leave just as quickly. He was there when she picked up extra shifts at her work to cover the funeral expenses, during lunch and at the groceries while wearing the most ridiculous disguises that did nothing to blend in. She eventually got fed up of seeing paparazzi circle the coffee corner she had recently worked at and offered him a copy of the keys to her apartment.

Tony looked bewildered, staring at the metal she thrust into his hand like it was a bear trap. “I—”

“Just shut up and come in,” she said, blowing a piece of stray hair from her forehead. “The AC’s broken and I don’t have any food so you better order pizza if you’re hungry. I’m not feeding you.”

They ordered cheeseburgers at the nearest McDonalds instead. 

He came to visit her more often after that. She was there with him when he went from a millionaire to a billionaire, when he tried Korean food for the first time, and when he was dubbed the Merchant of Death by the press.

Their relationship—friendship—whatever it was called, centered around these small meetings. It was always Tony that seeked her out first—one because she had no idea how to contact him and two…she had an inkling that Tony needed to get away sometimes. Step away from his life that she had no understanding of.

She didn’t know when it exactly happened but Tony Stark became a certain fixture in her life.

“Have you thought about doing something else?” Tony asked her one day as she placed a hamburger onto the diner counter. She usually worked the night shift and so the only customers around were an old elderly couple in one of the booths, a bleary eyed college student falling asleep on a plate of fries and a couple of bikers playing football with folded napkins. Well, and a disguised multibillionaire on the counter of course.

“Hmm?” she asked, reaching over to refill his coffee. It was the cheap burnt type that looked and tasted like motor oil. She didn’t understand why Tony liked it so much.

“Do you plan on being a waitress all your life?” Tony asked, taking a bite of the hamburger and moaning inappropriately. He stroked the bun, “I missed you, sweetie.”

“Tony,” she said exasperatingly at his antics.  “You came by yesterday.”

“If you knew what I’ve been through today then you would make juicy sweet hamburger love too. There’s a lot of restraint on my part right now. Trust me. ”

She shrugged. It wasn’t as if she knew what Tony did to run his company. Smart as she was, she wasn’t Tony Stark level of genius and she was just fine with that.

“But I see you dodging, missy,” he said, pointing a fry at her. She swiped it and popped it in her mouth. “Hey!”

She reached over to get another one but Tony wrapped his arms around his dish with a cry. “No swiping!”

She poked at his arm instead. Huh. They were much more muscular than they looked. She poked his arms more, fascinated by the solid feeling. Poke poke poke.

“Okay okay! Stop it, jeeze.” Tony pushed her fingers away, “This has to be harassment. I’m calling HR.”

“Tony I don’t work for you.”

“Why not?” he asked, somehow managing to manipulate the conversation back to his original question.  “I’ve been asking you for 5 years now and I—” he trailed off as unsettling silence hung between the two of them.

5 years was a long time to be alone.

“I don’t want to work in Stark Industries Tony,” she said gently, placing her hands over his not minding the grease on his fingers. “You know that.”

Tony was silent for a moment. “What do you want then?”

“I-“ she pulled her hands away, wanting to fidget with something. She settled for pouring Tony another cup. “I-think I want to go back to school.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling softly at the man in front of her. He was looking at her so intently, as if he was generally worried about what she wanted. She reached over and smoothed the frown lines on his forehead. To think that anyone thought Tony as a callous and thoughtless person was lost on her. Tony Stark had a heart and he wore it in his eyes.  “Stop frowning Tony. You’re almost 40 now, you gotta take care of yourself.”

His face transformed into indignation, “I’ll have you know that I am at the prime of my life, thank you! 35 is not 40.”

She laughed with him, ruffling his carefully gelled hair and swiping another fry.

5 years was a long time alone but she wasn’t alone, was she?

---

They slept together once. He had come to her apartment drunk out of his mind and she was nursing a hot chocolate doused generously with bourbon. He was wearing an Armani suit and she was wearing Sailor Moon PJs and bunny slippers. He took a long look at her and the silence stretched in between them like a rubber band before it snapped and the they were on each other, lips smashing and biting hungrily, desperately.

They didn’t bother taking off their clothes. Tony Stark took her in the middle of the living room, hard and fast. Animalistic. He whispered her name over and over again, face buried in her neck, hips moving with practiced ease. She cried against his chest, arms wrapped around his shoulders in a vice grip, trying desperately to hold on as he ravaged her.

They finished together, crying out into the darkness of the empty apartment. She passed out right on the floor, not bothering to move from her position.

When she woke up the next day, Tony was gone. The only indication that he had been there in the first place was the achy emptiness she felt between her thighs and a check for her tuition to medical school lying innocently on the countertop.

It was the anniversary of her sister’s death and for the first time in a long time, she cried.