Tony stood in front of the mirror fiddling with the cuffs of his shirt as he listened to Peter and Harley goof off behind him. He wondered how the two of them could have such levels of excitement when he personally felt like he was swallowing broken fragments of nerves, but ultimately didn’t think it would be wise to ask either of them. Giving up on his sleeves for the moment he reached up to flip the collar of his shirt up, grimacing when the material of his shirt stuck lightly to his skin due to a light layer of sweat. "Why is it so hot in here?" he murmured unthinkingly, settling the material of his tie around his neck, making sure it would sit underneath the collar once he refolded it down.
Peter bounced to his side as if the murmured words had conjured him, "Yeah, hey, how are you doing? You freaking out?” Peter asked in that mile-a-minute way of his, nearly vibrating in place beside him. Tony glanced at the teen from the corner of his eye, barely refraining from raising an eyebrow at the teens excitable manner. Before Tony could reply, Harley threw out, "Yeah, I was...I was gonna ask, you sure it's not just nerves?”
Tony’s eyebrows furrowed and he couldn’t help turning to look over his shoulder at Harley, the teen merely shrugged and waved a hand as he expanded on his question, “The heat I mean, are you sure it’s not just nerves?”
Tony shook his head while turning to face the mirror again, he reached up and started to fiddle with the material of his tie, nervous energy feeding into him thanks to the energetic teens, or that’s what he was telling himself.
"It’s definitely the nerves.” Peter laughed while bouncing away from Tony, who hoped the teen would finally put the rest of his suit on. In reply Tony grumbled, mostly to himself, "I think it's just 90 degrees in this room, can't they turn the ac on or something?” The teens laughed loudly at that, sounds of things being moved around caused Tony to glance in the mirror to make sure they were at least attempting to get ready. Which they were not, not even remotely. Tony rolled his eyes.
A few moments of blessed silence, where Tony was surprised even his own mind stayed quiet. He knew the tumultuous thoughts were coming, he knew this nervous numbness couldn’t last all day. Tony refocused on actually tying his tie instead of being distracted by the boys when Harley piped up, "Have you seen her today?"
Tony barely restrained his sigh "No,” he retorted, glancing up just in time to see Peter turn to face Tony’s back, their eyes connecting in the mirror. "You cool?” Peter asked and it almost sounded sincere, almost being the key word there. Harley looked up from his suit jacket he was fiddling with at Tony's reply, his own question coming nearly at the same time as Peter's, “A-are you good?”
Peter shifted, clearly wanting to move closer to Tony but holding himself back, “It’s gonna be an intense moment, when she-- when she walks down the aisle.” Peter chirped, sounding somewhere between really amused and partially concerned, tripping over his words.
Harley leaned back in the chair he was sitting in, still only half dressed, Tony noted. The teens lips twisted with an amused smirk, “You seem to be fumbling that tie... You sure you’re good?” Harley snarked.
Tony gave up on holding back his sigh of annoyance. “I actually think I'm executing it perfectly.” Tony snapped, trying to avoid showing the teens that he was almost done tying it out of petulance. Harleys eyebrows shot up and he leaned forward in his seat, clearly engaged in the conversation. “He’s in his head. Peter, he’s in his head!” Harley chuckled, “Are you gonna vomit?” he continued, clearly amused by the whole topic of conversation.
Tony groaned, loosening the folds of his tie so he could start over, the boys were distracting and that was the only reason he’d fucked it up. “Is this going to happen all day? Are you guys going to...” he trailed off when Peter cut in enthusiastically, “Yes! Yeah it’s going to happen all day, today’s a big day!”
Tony shook his head, lips twitching as his emotions seesawed the line somewhere between amused and irritated. He wasn’t really sure what he was supposed to feel beyond widely deprived of emotion.
“I'm so happy to have such a supportive group of friends.” Tony complained snippily, refocusing his gaze on the mirror.
“Well it’s probably like, the biggest day.” Peter continued over Tony, still with that bright playful tone. Peter turned to face Harley, a wide smile on the teens face. Tony attempted to ignore them both when Harley declared with a chuckle, tone teasing, “She just texted me she’s getting cold feet!!” Both boys erupted in laughter at that and Tony couldn’t help rolling his eyes. He knew they were joking, trying to pull him out of his head and snap at them, to react in general. If he was being annoyed then he couldn’t be overthinking the day. He appreciated it, even if he didn’t really appreciate teen humor.
Harley unfurled himself from his chair, for there really was no better way to describe how the teen went from sprawled in a chair one moment to standing in the next. In Tony’s peripherals the teen moved closer to him, reaching a hand out to lay on Tony’s shoulder as the boy asked, “You're like… you’re good though? You’re not going to like cry or--”
Tony cut him off abruptly with a sharp shrug of his shoulder to dislodge Harley’s hand. "Yes I’m fine, get your fucking hands off me.” Tony snapped, clearly annoyed now. Harley crowed with delight, turning towards Peter with his hands thrown out to the sides in a wide gesture. “Oh ho. See Peter, he’s fine!! Totally fine!”
Tony growled and with sharp, agitated movements he tightened his tie so it settled at the base of his throat, bordering on too tight. He flipped the collar of the shirt back down over the neck of the tie. “You guys are so annoying! Im fucking tired--” Tony complained, cutting himself off as he ran his hands down the tie and shirt to make sure it was straight and smooth, minimal wrinkles, before reaching out for his jacket. “You guys are just..” he restarted while pulling the jacket on and shrugging his shoulders to help it settle better. He reached for his cuff links “..an insufferable group of people.” He finished, putting each cuff-link on with more force than probably necessary.
Harley laughed while he reached out to grab his own tie, clearly recognizing he should finish getting dressed himself. “Just chill out, and try to have fun.” The teen jested. Peter, whom had barely managed to get half dressed at this point gave Harley a look torn between amusement and worry. “He’s totally freaking out.” Peter pointed out, while he quickly fumbled through buttoning the rest of his shirt and tucking it in at the same time. Harley continued to laugh, opening his mouth to respond when Tony whipped around to face them, putting his hands on his hips in a move he knew they made fun of him for because ‘It made him look like a mom’ but he couldn't help but imploy anytime he was near them.
“Clearly he-” Harley had started, but stopped when Tony spun around, suddenly torn between even more amusement and wanting to shrink back like a small child.
Peter opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to help but recoil when suddenly faced with Tony’s disapproving scowl, swallowing nervously the teen barreled on “It is a big day.” He pointed out as if this was honestly something Tony wasn’t already aware of.
“Can you guys please just tie your fucking ties and be adults so we can get there on time?” Tony snapped, turning his glare from one teen to the next. At their meek, yet still very amused nods, he huffed. “So we can leave please? Thank you. Appreciate it.”
Tony turned back to the mirror, looking himself over for a moment. He needed to make sure he looked good, looked as put together as he would any other day, not a hair could be out of place, this had to go well. He stared at his reflection, afraid to meet his own gaze as he ignored the continued jokes and laughter of the two teens behind him as they scrambled to get ready.
On second thought, Tony wasn’t sure he could do this. Harley’s joke about Pepper getting cold feet suddenly flitted through his brain and he wanted to choke on a laugh that he was getting cold feet. He lightly leaned his head against the window, gaze flickering to the two boys who sat further up in the limo, still bickering and laughing with each other. They had tried to include Tony at first, but after a few minutes of him ignoring them they had given up and left him to his own devices. Which ultimately just meant he was contemplating everything.
This wedding, this moment, this was probably the most important thing he was ever going to do. This was going to be one of the most important moments of his life and he couldn’t figure out how to turn his emotions off for one fucking second so he could be present for it. He sighed and closed his eyes, pressing his forehead harder against the window just to feel the coolness against his skin.
The closer they got to the venue the harder his emotions were to ignore. A tight bundle of nerves pressed into the very center of his chest. It felt like a weight sat behind his arc reactor, heavy and solid. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, when every step closer to this moment just brought back this confusing twist of emotions. He knew others probably didn’t get it, didn’t understand. Hell, most people probably assumed he’d moved on and let go.
He hadn’t though, she was too important to him. He had never meant to let her get away and yet, distracted by the busyness of life, he’d forgotten to watch the time. He expected her to wait. Wait on him, wait on them, wait on their future.
He was always asking her to wait and he wasn’t sure when exactly she had figured that out and removed herself from the picture. In light of that, he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t realized and moved on too.
Yet even now, he couldn’t help but wonder. He couldn’t help but look back at all that they were, imagine all that they could have been. He couldn't help but ask himself those what ifs.
What if there had been a different choice?
What if she hadn’t picked that fight?
What if she hadn’t made him choose something so impossible?
What if he had done what she wanted? Would he have? Could he have?
He is Iron Man, and Iron Man is him.
He didn’t ask to be apart of the hero gig, it was a role thrust upon him by the hands of fate. He however, had never turned it away either; had never fancied to find another path. He knew it made her uncomfortable, the idea of him going out to fight such dangerous battles. He had known even then that their time was limited yet still he pushed. Still he waited with bated breath. Waited for her anger; waited for her fear to eclipse all rational; waited for her to make that last ultimatum.
Which just brought him back to the beginning of the end, had there been another choice would he have made it if he could?
Tony exhaled softly before pushing away from the window to lean back in his seat. Opening his eyes again he flicked a glance at the boys jostling each other at the front of the limousine before he glanced down at his hands. In his fingers he held a small quaint silver band that was simplistic in all the same ways it was intricate. He rolled it back and forth so he could watch the way the sunlight glinted off the rare metal.
On a day such as this one, he couldn’t help but ask those what ifs. Ask if there had been difference choices. He couldn’t help but wonder at what point did he step off the path of them together and if there had ever been a moment he could have stepped back onto it. He stared, unseeing, at the small piece of silver, as memories of them together--watching tv, sipping wine, pretending they weren’t working from home--flickered across his mind. Memories of them bickering over the most mundane things. All of it swirled across his unseeing gaze, every moment up until the most pivotal one.
I can’t keep doing this Tony, I can’t keep wondering if you’re going to come back.
Tony closed his hand around the ring, effectively cutting it off from his sight. He glanced back to the passing scenery although he didn’t really take any more in than he had before. He knew she had made him choose. She made him choose between being a superhero and being with her, but truly had he given her any other choice? He remembered their fight, intense and long-winded with twisting words as to mask their feelings just the same as any of their other fights. This time though, this time they had broken up. They were over.
They had been such a great couple, so many people had said so. Their future had been so full of life, rife with possibilities now unexplored, never to be brought into existence, and in one single moment, his unwillingness to let go, and her unwillingness to see a different path had caused them to make choices neither of them wanted to make.
He wonders, even now, if he should have walked away from the hero gig before he lost her. He asks himself this question anytime he is brought back to reality enough to realize she is gone. He wonders, questions, agonizes over the idea, yet he doesn’t believe that it would have worked. He doesn’t believe he would have been capable of ignoring an Avengers call.
Tony lifted his hand and tapped his fist against his forehead a couple times, his soul feeling heavier than it ever had. With all these thoughts swirling so viciously through his mind it didn't surprise him that the heaviest feeling weighing down on him was his sadness over the whole thing. He knew in the depths of his heart that he couldn’t be mad at her for walking away.
Tony had always been good at putting Pepper second and honestly, looking back, he wasn’t surprised she left. He wasn’t mad that she didn’t join him for the journey he was on, couldn’t fault her for not wanting to try.
Tony knew that at some point something was going to break, that was just the way of it when he never put her before his suit, before his team, before being a superhero. So in the end, looking back even on a day he should be looking forward, it made sense that their relationship ended with him moving out.
They had been a beautiful couple, full of fire and dreams. They had had so much life and so many goals, a plethora of possibilities, and yet they fizzled out like a candle cut short. Sudden and abrupt. He had left, but he never moved on and really that was the crux of the matter. That's what led to him sitting here, in this car, clutching a ring so long past the point of its use, heading to the biggest event of his life, and he wasn’t even doing it with her. He was doing it for her, but not with her, and that was an important distinction that made the pressure in his chest heavier.
Tony jerked out of his thoughts when the car pulled to a stop. Calmly, he got out, even managing to crack a smile when Peter nearly bowled him over in the boys eager haste to exit the car and situate himself next to Tony. Tony wrapped an arm around Peter’s shoulders, ignoring the fact that he had to lean up to even do so and couldn’t help but wonder how much longer he could do this without struggling. Tony grinned up at Peter, fake and brittle yet still so real and heartfelt, and reminded himself that this was a big reason why he had stayed a hero.
Tony took a deep breath and gently reminded himself that being a hero had long since outgrown being a need to prove himself. That he had stayed because he’d found this lost waif of a teenager on the brink of destruction. That he’d found his calling in helping mentor the next generation of superheroes and he was doing important work with the team and within his company. Tony shifted and reached out for Harley too, grinning when the teen ducked his reaching hand and ambled ahead of them into the venue. Tony reminded himself that the hero game was important to him because the team was important to him--the new and old one.
Tony reminded himself that if he’d left, he would never have met Peter, and this tragic wonderboy would have been out there alone. Peter would have faced what he had alone. All that shit with the Vulture, everything that happened in Paris. Peter would have been alone for all of that and Tony can’t regret staying in the hero gig for even one more day when it meant he had been there for this kid. He couldn’t regret it, he couldn’t regret the decisions, the choices, or anything that led to him losing her when ultimately it meant he gained this disaster of a teenager. He couldn’t regret it when it meant he gained Harley as a brilliant intern as well, maybe not quite for superheroing but that was probably best for Tony’s aging heart. Peter alone was enough to give him a heart attack, Tony could only imagine the trouble Harley would get into if he was allowed out of the labs.
Periodically Tony wished he could regret it, wished he’d had the heart to turn his back on chasing that superhero title when it meant he could have given Pepper his last name. Then the disaster duo would come up with a new idea that just had to be tested and of course he needed to be there and he couldn’t help but appreciate the path life had led him down.
“You ready?” Peter inquired softly, causing Tony to jolt since he hadn’t realized they’d paused at the steps of the venue. Tony’s answering grin was off center, but genuine all the same, “Yeah lets go.”
Tony could practically feel that ring burning a hole in his pocket, screaming reminders of what could have been. He could feel it, like a weight attached to his soul, but in the end he couldn’t regret his path. He didn’t know if another path existed that would have let him have her and the boys, but if life had taught him anything, it was that you could only go forward, not back.
Peter kept his arm slung around Tony’s waist as they moved up the steps, keeping the man hostage in what was supposed to just be a friendly hold. “Let me know the second it becomes too much?” Peter inquired in a low whisper, aware that they were now in the vicinity of others and someone might overhear. Tony shifted his arm so that he could lift his hand and ruffle the boys hair, knowing that keeping it neat was a lost cause anyways. “Hey, it’s a wedding. Stop worrying that pretty head of yours and have fun.” Tony replied, avoiding the topic altogether as he jostled Peter despite the boys protested ‘Yeah but--’
“No, kid, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. I always am! Have fun” Tony interrupted, holding Peter close for a moment before gently shoving him away. Peter grumbled under his breath ‘that’s what I’m afraid of’ before shaking his head. Peter watched Tony for a moment before shrugging and heading into the reception hall at an amble pace.
Tony stared at Peter’s retreating back, his own face soft with emotion before his gaze danced across the crowd until he could find Harley.
No, he didn’t regret the path he took, he just wished she could have walked it with him.
Tony continued to glance around the reception hall before making his way towards his seat, vaguely recalling that Pepper had shown him the seating set up the night before. On the way he made small talk with anyone who approached him, giving out brittle smiles and quick hugs before moving on. He really wasn’t in the right mental place to be around so many people, especially people who expected him to be his normal aloof self. However he kept up a brave front and pushed onward, hoping that if he just kept to himself everyone would leave him alone.
Of course, the only problem with this is that with no one to talk to, he couldn’t help but reflect, and the more he reflected the more lost he became in his own tangled web of emotions. Away from Peter and Harley’s well meaning teasing, Tony was weak to his emotions, his thoughts. With nothing to outwardly distract him, keep him in the present and out of his spiraling emotional state he was powerless to do anything but flit between being focused on his surroundings and letting his thoughts wander even farther down the twisted path they had been going down all day.
He numbly found his seat and unsteadily sat down, he probably should have stayed with the boys.
Tony glanced up and let his gaze wander until he found Peter and Harley in the crowd. He kept his gaze focused on them, trying to imagine the conversations they were having just by the gestures alone, and he tried, he really did, to stay present. He really couldn’t afford just going off into his head, this was an important day and having a breakdown because it wasn’t the way he had always envisioned it wasn’t going to help anyone.
It's just. It's just.
He can’t help but wonder. He can’t help but question.
He can’t help but inquire how it came to this when...
When he wakes up every day with her name on his lips.
When he drifts off, and it's her face he sees.
When his dreams are always her.
He can’t quantify how many mornings he's woken up and wondered how different his life could be if he had called it quits. How often he ached to pick up his phone and ask her to come back, to change her mind. How he walks that fine line of wondering if he gave up everything would she have stayed, and knowing he couldn’t. He has asked himself so often, in so many different ways, played this what if game until the depths of exhaustion and back. He had plotted the data for every possible outcome that if he had just figured out the answer to this question sooner, would she have come back, or would she have always been destined to find another him?
He can’t quantify how many times he has run these problems through his head, exhausted these possibilities only to come to the realization that unless he had given up everything, she was always going to move on and that’s the hardest pill for him to swallow.
Tony inhaled shakily, breathing around the knot forming in his throat, eyes skating across blurry images of people and chairs. Being here was painful, being apart of this was awful, distressing. He was starting to realize he wasn’t going to be able to focus, to stay present, and everything in him screamed to not make this about him. This was her big day, she asked him to come, said she needed him to be there. He had, was, is, a big part of her life, of who she is, and this was an important moment in the book of her memories. This needed to be about her, but oh god this was so painful. Everything in him ached, the weight in his chest felt like Thor’s hammer had been sat upon him. It felt as if he had swallowed glass and it got caught half way down, every part of him screaming to run away. He thought he could do this but suddenly he was viscerally aware of the fact that he probably couldn’t.
He choked on a stuttered breath, his vision skating over the altar, almost afraid to focus on it, only to dart to his side when Peter jostled into place next to him. For a moment, he felt as if he could breath, the pressure in his lungs dissipating as his world reorientated around Peter’s solid presence next to him only for it to fall away again when his thoughts skittered across the flower arrangements lacing the chairs and how this wasn’t a flower he ever expected Pepper to choose.
Tony felt as if he was losing time, only snapshots of the present making it into his focus and he desperately hoped he seemed more put together and aloof than he felt. Considering Peter wasn’t asking him if he was okay a million times a minute he figured he had to be doing a half-ass decent job.
Vaguely he realized the wedding had started and with every ounce of his being he strained to pay attention. He needed to pay attention.
His thoughts skittered though. It was as if his mind was determined to show and remind him of every single thing he had let go of, as if it was important for him to remember and know and debate these things while watching the love of his life get married to someone else.
He couldn’t help but let the thoughts from earlier resurface as his gaze flitted over the people in front of him, shifting his view over the people at the altar--waiting. He couldn’t help but reevaluate one last time, exactly where everything went wrong. His mind replaying their life, their relationship, every moment, every choice, everything that led him to this moment where he sat in a chair at what should have been his wedding.
His mind circled these thoughts ruthlessly, wondering why it had always come down to him having to choose between being a Hero and being a Husband. Wondering if there really ever was a choice. Wondering if he had just taken a moment to lay it all out, reevaluated every step that had led them to that point, if maybe he could have found an answer sooner. Instead he had slipped into the passage of time, lost to it as it slipped through his fingers like sand in an hourglass. Moments, minutes, seconds, gone.
The worst part of all of this? Of all of these painful memories based around all the decisions he had made, the worst part was even now, standing here trying to bore a hole into the wall with his vision alone, he wasn’t sorry. He didn’t regret becoming a hero, or deciding to stay a hero, because ultimately it formed him into the man he is today and there were people who depended on him. People who needed the Tony he became, and not the Tony he was. If he hadn’t followed the path his feet found so clumsily he may not have ever became that man, so he couldn’t feel remorseful about it. Couldn’t regret, or hate, or despise any of his choices, her choices, their choices.
He couldn’t regret it, and that was the worst part, because that meant in the end his inability to let go and move on was his alone and that was almost too much to breath around. It meant that in the end, she always would have walked away and found someone else.
Tony blinked, managing to focus on the present long enough that he realized the music had changed, and just as he went to look he was startled by a small child--the flower girl--prancing past him, tossing small petals along the path. It was time for the bride to walk the aisle and every fiber in his being screamed to simultaneously look and run away.
Tony’s head turned just a smidge before he jerked his head forward once more, unable to turn as everyone else had. He wanted to look so badly it hurt, but he knew seeing how absolutely stunning she had to be would break him. He cursed himself for caring so much, even with so much time between them. He inhaled slowly, shakily, trying to work up the courage to look but knowing he couldn’t, he couldn’t see her in that dress just yet and know she wasn’t walking to him. Tony glanced at Peter, whom was staring behind them with such enraptured awe that Tony felt validated in his avoidance.
He looked towards the front again just as she walked past his row, and Tony barely contained his start of surprise. He closed his eyes for just a moment while he took a deep breath and quietly exhaled. All these fucking thoughts, tumbling so vividly and painfuly through him. Everything in this moment was too much and too little and he needed to find a middle ground but wasn’t even sure how.
Tony’s eyes snapped open when he felt fingers nudge against his arm, glancing to his right he saw Harley giving him an inquisitive look around a still oblivious, and enraptured Peter. Tony shook his head and turned to face the front, he could do this. He was fine.
Everything was fucking fine.
Then he saw her.
Beautiful god damn Pepper.
Pepper had just reached the altar, and really all Tony could see was her back but that was more than enough to make his body cold and hot at once. Pepper’s hair was absolutely stunning, in its intricate updo that allowed beautiful soft strawberry blonde curls to trail down her back. The dress she wore was traditional in color, although softer somehow, with an intricate flower lace design over a solid white underlayer. The bodice was tight until just below her ribcage before it seemed to just flow out and down to the floor, loose but not overly poofy.
Tony tried to regain his breath while thinking hysterically, as he drank in the vision of her beauty the way a dying man might, was, who was going to be there for him now?
Who was going to tell him when he was being dumb or stupid?
Who was going to hit him while calling him out for being a motherfucking jerkface?
Who was going to remember his social security number and laugh at him for only remembering the number 5?
Who was going to tell him when it was Rhodey’s or Peter’s or Harley’s birthday, or badger him over what his idea of an appropriate gift is?
Who was going to play with the bots with him, and have debates with JARVIS over the intricacies of humanity?
Who was going to give him crap for always being on his phone, or for fucking off when he should be focused in a meeting?
Who was going to yell at him for skipping talks with the board, and chase after him for signatures, ‘you need to sign this--Tony, Tony don’t make me chase you just sign the damn papers’?
Who was going to remind him to eat, and sleep, and to get the fuck out of his lab ‘Its 3am Tony what are you still doing in here? Have you eaten anything today? Tony you need to get some sleep’?
Who was going to celebrate his small successes with the teens, or sip mimosas with him at 11 o’clock at night?
Who was going to argue with him over building designs and what percentage of it belonged to who?
Tony had been aware coming here would be a mistake. He had known it was going to be painful and hard. He had known since the moment he got the invitation that coming was going to be a testament to his ability to fake he was okay and had moved on. He had known, logically, realistically, that he would have to put on a fake smile and suffer through a few painful hours. He had been aware, yet nothing compared to the actual reality of standing there, staring at the love of his life in the most beautiful dress getting married to someone that wasn’t him.
In this moment, with his emotions beating a wild taboo in his heart, scattering what little brain power he had left, he couldn’t help clutching his phone in his pocket. He had the strongest urge to call her, to tell her exactly what was going on and what he was feeling. He wanted, no needed to tell her, as he had many times before, that he was so close to flinging himself off the edge just to feel her soft words wrap him in a comforting cocoon as she talked him back away from it. Just as she had done thousands of times before.
He watched, through blurry eyes and with barely the right amount of focus as she said her vows to another man and he couldn’t help but think, surely this pain couldn’t get any worse. Surely this couldn’t possibly get any more painful.
Because while he watched Pepper say her vows to someone else all he could think was ‘how was he ever supposed to move on from a women as amazing as her?’
He knew it was ultimately his fault he had never moved on, yet he couldn’t help but think that moving on had always been seen as an impossible thus useless task because she had always been the best for him. Would always be the best for him.
In that moment, as he watched Pepper and her Husband speak their vows, he just desperately wanted to shout ‘I love you’. He wanted to scream it from the rooftops, shout it through the pews. He wanted to tell her one last time, that he loved her and would always love her and even though they had ended years ago, decades could pass and his emotions would stay the same. That he hoped she’d understand why he hated her new husband in this moment, for being able to say something so freely to her that he himself couldn’t.
Tony watched the rest of the wedding through the lens of someone else, his own mind having checked out the second he watched Pepper’s new husband slide that beautiful ring across her delicate finger.
Tony watched, waited, and pondered if this was the final chapter closing, if there wasn’t really a choice anymore. That no matter what had happened, no matter what decisions had been made, even if he could have done something differently he no longer had the option of picking up the phone and asking her to come back.
Tony sent a quick smile at a couple as he shuffled past them, down the hall, towards the door.
Tony nodded towards another set of people as he propelled himself out the door, down the steps.
Tony stopped abruptly, teetering for a moment on the sidewalk before he plastered the best smile he could and turned to meet the love of his life one last time.
“Pepper” Tony said warmly, smiling up at her, because god those heels just gave her even more height leaving her nothing short of stunning. “Tony!” Pepper said breathlessly, cheeks rosy from wine and dancing, “Are you leaving?” She asked, reaching out to rest her hands on his shoulders. He reached up timidly to grasp her elbows, recognizing she needed a stable presence and he couldn’t help but wonder how much she’d actually drank.
“Ah, yeah, you know. Things to do, places to be.” Tony quipped lightly, offering her a lopsided grin, “It was a beautiful wedding, Pep.”
Pepper grinned broadly, eyes shining with her happiness “Thank you so much for coming, I’m glad you and the boys could make it. Are they leaving with you?” She asked softly, voice warm and loving.
Tony blinked, suddenly aware that he technically was the boys ride, but he actually had no idea where they were and no energy to find them. After a moment debate he shook his head. “No, I think they’re going to stay a little longer to enjoy the festivities, don’t worry they’re resourceful and can find their way home.”
Pepper’s smile softened and Tony’s heart almost couldn't take it, he needed to go, to be anywhere but there. He did what he was supposed to, he came, he stayed, now he needed to escape.
“I’ll see you around?” She asked quietly and something about her smile told Tony that even she didn’t believe whatever his answer was going to be, that this was just a formality, something people said to each other when the paths of their lives diverged. He knew logically there would still be moments at the company, still moments where their mutual friendbase would collectively pull them together, but that it wouldn’t be the same as before.
Still he followed the rules of the lie.
“Of course.” He smiled, squeezing his palms around her elbows before releasing her gently, making sure she was steady as she let go of him.
She inhaled slowly, giving him a small short nod before she straightened up and looked at him with a soft smile. Tony couldn’t help but wonder if this moment was going to be the one where he tripped over the wire and fell head first into despair.
“Well then,” Pepper paused for a moment, “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?” she asked, voice soft.
Tony shakily took a breath, steeling himself as he smiled up at her, wondering if his smile looked as brittle as it felt. “That will be all, Ms. Potts.” He said quietly, giving her a small nod before he turned on his heel and walked away.
Walked away from these moments that were already becoming memories.
Walked away from the lightning pain that was settling deep in his chest.
Walked away, and wondered.
If he had given it all up, if he had called it quits or found another way, would she still be his, or was this the path they were always destined to follow?