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Someone to Love

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Tony doesn’t give much thought to Steve when they go their separate ways. They’d had a job to do, and they’d done it and done it well, but Steve is a ball of anger and issues and sadness that he really wants no part of right now. He doesn’t dislike the guy, and they’ve worked out most of the tension between them, but he has enough of his own baggage to recognize a lost cause when he sees it, and Steve? Needs a lot of work. He wishes him good luck though as they shake hands, and then that’s that.

Thor, though, Thor he’ll miss, because he is one fine figure of a man and can swing his hammer like it’s no one’s business. Still, if it means Loki gets dragged to another realm that’s far, far away, then Tony can wave goodbye to Thor’s long, flowing blond hair without too much regret.

He’s a little dubious about Loki’s restraints though, especially the gag. Does Loki need to talk in order to do magic? Because Tony doesn’t really remember him ever talking when he cast a spell. And who handcuffs someone with his hands in front of them anyway, especially using cuffs that were provided by SHIELD—since SHIELD has so much experience with magic? It’s like they’re asking Loki to break loose, but what does Tony know? He made sure Loki was taken off-planet, and as far as he’s concerned, Loki is Thor’s problem now.

As for the rest of the team—Clint, who he hasn't really gotten a chance to know, and Natasha, well, he doubts this is their last encounter—he waves at them both and thinks nothing else of it.

“Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he tells Fury on his way out. While he doubts Fury will listen, it’s always nice to get the last word in.

He’s quite happy to take Bruce with him, however, because Bruce is brilliant and they should totally hang out. He installs him in Stark Tower—“We’re going to get that wall fixed. And that piece was just decorative. No, it’s not a support beam; I have no idea what you’re talking about”—and deposits a hefty signing bonus into Bruce’s bank account, because Bruce has been on the run for quite some time and while the outfit he’s currently wearing isn’t bad, the clothes he’d had on before were pretty horrible.

“This is JARVIS, by the way,” he says, patting the table console in order to give Bruce an indication of what he’s talking about, even though it’s just the tiniest fraction of what JARVIS really is. “JARVIS, say hello to the nice man.”

“Good afternoon, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS says in his dulcet tones, and Tony has to smile at the way Bruce’s eyebrows go up.

He leaves him to get acquainted with JARVIS—“Hands to yourself, and I don’t want to hear about any bad touches when I get back”—and makes it upstairs just minutes before Pepper arrives. She yells at him for endangering himself—although to be fair, it’s not like he’d wanted to fly into an inter-dimensional portal carrying a nuclear warhead—and there are tears and clinging and kisses, and they don’t even make it to the bedroom but he’s not really complaining.

Later, when it’s quiet and dark and she can’t see his face, he tells her about Phil. He’d spare her if he could, but she deserves to know, deserves to hear it from him. He holds her as she cries and he tries to block out the image of cards stained with blood.

She never mentions the fact that he’d tried to call her at the very end, and he’s grateful since it means he doesn’t have to admit that JARVIS had been the one to suggest it. It’s one of many reasons he prefers not to think about the whole episode actually, not the least of which is that he’d almost died—again—and a man doesn’t need so many reminders of his mortality. On the bright side though, at least this time, he doesn’t have to carry a memento of the event for the rest of his life. So there’s that.

But if he were to think about it—which he doesn’t—but if he were, he’d say that it hadn’t been his idea to call because he’d never been in the position of having someone to call before; someone to love and someone who loved him back, not because genetics said they had to or because of his money or because of whatever other trumped up reason, but for just him. Furthermore, there’d been an alien invasion going on, and he’d been holding a nuclear missile in his hands. He could be excused for not thinking about it at the time. It doesn’t change how he feels about Pepper.

Anyway, that’s just if he’d spent any time dwelling on it. He doesn’t though, so whatever random thoughts he might have don’t matter.

What is important is that he's alive; they're all alive (Tony thinks of blood-spattered cards and hopes that someone knows the name of the cellist in Portland, because everyone deserves a chance to mourn) and they're not under Loki's control or enslaved by weird aliens with crazy teeth. And he's here, with Pepper.

“I love you,” he whispers into her hair as she sleeps, and he closes his eyes at last and tries not to dream.