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New York gave Tony a headache.

At least twice a day he thought about moving back to Malibu and saying fuck this, fuck the Avengers, and especially fuck you Fury, but the idea of this government-groomed band of misfits lurking around his tower doing gosh knows what with him gone for longer than a weekend made him somewhat uneasy - not because he didn’t trust them as far as he could see them, at least that wasn’t the whole truth. It’s just that he wasn’t ready to be alone yet. The Malibu mansion was glorious but without Pepper’s heels clicking on the floor, it felt empty and prison-like. Plus the temptation to don a suit and swan dive straight into the ocean was a little too tempting when the horizon was stretched out like that right in front of you.

Pepper wasn’t returning his calls. Tony understood why the first time her phone went to voicemail.

In his defense, he did try to call her when he was shouldering that rocket, but she didn’t answer then, either. He knew it like he knew how to walk that he had lost her then, he just desperately hoped it wasn’t true.

To add insult to injury, he got the same corporate resignation email she sent to every somebody in the company. Nothing personal. No “I’m sorry, Tony”-s, “I can’t do this anymore, you tried to kill yourself!” He thought he deserved at least that, but no, what he got instead was one ginger lemon kombucha left in his bare penthouse fridge and a handful of bobby pins on the bedside table where she used to set her glasses. She even took the Acura.

That’s not to say Tony wasn’t coping. He was coping just fine, thanks for asking Bruce, I don’t care that she has a new fitness trainer fiancee and is currently soaking up every ray of sun that shines on the fucking Bahamas, do I look like I care? I’m happy she’s happy, no I don’t want to go to a support group, Rhodey has been slipping pamphlets under my door about those goddamn things since I got back from Afghanistan and your girlfriend leaving you isn’t cause to get crazy, I’m fine!

It’s not about her and you know it.

It was the blackness of space; the smothering endless weight of nothing as far as the eye could see, formidable and frightening and too fucking quiet. It made the absence of Pepper’s ridiculous shoes on tile feel small and massive at the same time.

He couldn’t stand the silence. Not while everything was so fresh.

So yeah. Tony wasn’t going to Malibu for a minute, even though he could use the retreat. He didn’t have any pressing business in New York to deal with now that he’s attended every SHIELD conference under the sun regarding how to deal with the aftermath of the Chitauri attack, which were all stupid by the way, because they all knew who was going to be paying for it before the speaker even tapped the microphone. Steve would give him a hyper-masculine pat on the arm and a small nod when they celebrated the generosity of Stark Industries, and Tony would just grimace into his drink and slump in his chair until Steve moved his huge hand, and when Bruce shot him a sympathetic smile, Tony shrugged it off.

He was in what felt like the millionth one of the month right now, watching water droplets slither down the side of his glass and pool on the coaster that cast a shadow on his feet bouncing under the glass table. He didn’t have a clue what they were discussing this time. Maybe how much of the budget should be reserved for Steve’s protein powder.

Just send me an invoice and let me get the fuck out of here.

As if on queue, a polite round of applause burst from around the room and Tony tipped his head back to rest his neck on the back of the seat. Finally, the end. When chairs began to move away from the round table, Tony stayed put for a moment, trying to gather up the energy to make himself move, which garnered quick concerned glances from the agents adjacent to him as they packed up their files and clicked shut their briefcases.

“You good, Tony?” said Bruce, straightening his collar surreptitiously as if he was nervous on Tony’s behalf.

“It’s like being under a fucking microscope,” Tony sighed, rubbing a tired hand over his face before leaning into the table to quickly drink the remainder of his sweating water.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, since the shitfight everyone’s been staring at me like I’ve got toilet paper sticking out of my waistband and they’re too shy to say anything about it.”

“They’re just concerned…”

“Why, because I haven’t been making jokes after every boring fiscal statement recap? It gets old, Brucie.” He tried on a smile and it felt tight. “We all know who is getting billed at the end of the day anyway.”

He stood, smoothing out a wrinkle on his Iron Maiden t-shirt under his suit jacket then made a broad gesture to himself. “I’m still me. Those chickens in ties have nothing to worry about.”

Bruce quirked his lips. “I do.”

Tony felt the corners of his mouth starting to fall and desperately tried to hold them up. “I’m fine.”

“Are you still having nightmares?”

“We’re not doing this here,” Tony said shortly, turning on his heel and walking out of the room. Bruce followed behind him like a lapdog.

“I just really wish you’d call the card I left you. There’s no harm in –”

Tony stopped walking, raising a hand to cut him off. “Bruce, I love ya, but I’m gonna need to you shut the hell up before these inbred cretins start getting ideas about my health. I said I’m fine.”

When he got no reply, he lowered his hand and continued down the corridor.

Fucking Bruce.

Tony clenched his fist and walked past the elevator to the stairs. He wasn’t used to anybody but Pepper outwardly giving a shit about his well-being in that frustrating but endearing way that only she could, and now that she was gone, he felt like he had no one. He knew it wasn’t true, obviously, but the concern hit differently when it was coming from someone he loved with his whole heart.

His feet hit each step heavily as he made his way flight by flight to the parking garage. He was sure he could talk to her about the nightmares he had about dying in space. If only she’d answer her fucking phone.

“Jarvis, start the car,” he mumbled as he shouldered the heavy door open, and from a short distance, he heard the purr of his Mercedes coming to life. He ambled into the driver’s seat and let the door fall shut quietly, not closing all the way as he sat stock still

Is something wrong, sir?” Jarvis’ voice was smooth as ever.

Tony shrugged even though no one could see. “Same old, Jarv.” He paused. “I don’t have PTSD, do I?”

I believe I’m not qualified to comment, sir.

Humming thoughtfully, he straightened up and closed the driver’s side door firmly. Looking over his shoulder and backing fluidly out of the parking space, he announced “We’re going for a drive.”

Enjoy yourself, sir.

 Tony nodded to himself and drove out of the garage into the cool evening.