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Dying Declarations

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"Tony! Oh my God, Tony, have you lost your mind?!"

"Pep. Shut up and listen, I don't have long." He's calm, determined--Tony at his best and his worst, and she knows that he's set his course and nothing will sway him, not even her. So she forces down the panic and the grief, bites back the need to babble at him, and draws on a lifetime of standing calm and resolute in the face of everything he's ever thrown her way and then some.

"I'm here."

"Okay, good. Pep, in case I don't come back, everything's yours. The company, the Tower, all of it, not just twelve percent, everything I have. Take care of the bots for me, let JARVIS take care of you. Destroy the suits, and don't let SHIELD get their grabby hands on my stuff. Offer Bruce Banner a job and make him accept it. Let the Avengers use...not the Tower, that's yours now, maybe the Mansion, nobody uses that anyway."

She wants to scream, wants to weep, wants to beg him to let someone, anyone else do this as she watches the grainy footage of a flashy metal suit soar for a hole in the sky with a nuke on its back. He's not coming back, that's what he's telling her. He's not coming back.

She knew this day would come from the moment she stepped off the stairs in Malibu and saw JARVIS struggling to peel him out of bullet-riddled red and gold armor. It's why she didn't rise to his bait, why she ignored his attempts to act on the attraction between them. It wasn't that she doesn't love him--she does, he's the center she revolves around and has been for years, and she knows that if she let him, he'd make her the center of his as much as any one person can be. But he's all she has, and losing him will destroy her; she didn't have the courage to take that step from best friend to something more.

She wishes now, watching him hurtle towards his death, that she had because there's no way she could hurt more than she already does.

"I'll take care of them," she promises instead, because that's really all that's left to do. "Of everything, Tony."

Her fingers clench around the phone, her other hand digging into the armrest as she watches him pull up, turning into his final charge through that portal. This is it, these are the last few seconds she'll have and it's not enough...and something in her snaps.

No. He's Tony Fucking Stark, the man who singlehandledly revolutionized clean energy and robotics using a bunch of spare parts in a goddamn cave in Afghanistan while being tortured by terrorists. He's the man who bent but didn't break when his father figure tried to kill him, when his best friend turned on him and she was all he had left. Hell, he didn't even break when he was fucking dying and even she distanced herself. Besides, he still owes her for that.

No. She's not going through this again. She refuses to go through this again.

"No," she says, and her voice is low and sharp. She can almost feel him freeze on the other end, because that tone Means Business, and it's the one that he always listens to, even if he still doesn't do what she's asked half the time. "You will kill your enemies and you will come back to me, because that is what you do." Her voice shakes a little as she lays it on the line for him. "I'm always worrying, I'm wildly conflicted and I am crazy about you, so get your ass back here and I'll give you more than a smooch." She gives it a second, then lets her voice snap, crisp and professional. "Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"

She hears the hope in his voice and more importantly, the determination that kept him alive through Afghanistan, Obie, and palladium poisoning. "That will be all, Miss Potts."

Then he's gone in a fizzle of static, and for the first time in years, Pepper Potts prays.