Title: Anything But Mine
Fandom: Iron Man
Prompt/Claim: #2: Mine; 20_fics, Table 4, Iron Man: Tony/Pepper
Summary: I half expected her to say, “You don’t own me, Tony.” Because she knew that. But somehow I had never seen how she could ever be anything but mine.
Length: 1,000 words
Genre(s): angst, romance
A/N: Ummm, so, it’s been more than a year since I’ve written fanfic, evidently. Wow. I was...busy? I know that does seem rather excuse-like, but I did move three times and graduate college somewhere in there. Not to mention that I’ve been working on mostly original work (three novels down, four in the works?) that I’m hopefully publishing soon. But I do hope that I’ll get to dart back over this way every now and then to the fandom world. Anyway, about the story: I like to think this is an episode pre-Iron Man 2 when Tony is still grappling with the poisoning and realizing what he has. That makes it less depressing because we all know it works out for the better. :)
That sinking feeling that hits you when someone else takes something from you and you realize how bad you wanted it — I hate it. You never know what you've got until it's gone, they say. And sometimes you never know what you could've had until the possibility is taken from you.
The feeling is rotten. It starts as a sharp burst of pain, and then it dulls to an ache that refuses to leave you. Because sometimes you can't get over missing something. Even when you try. Because you'll always know there's something not there, ripped away from you. Out of you.
Love is kind of awful like that. Painful. Tricky. Devious, even.
Sometimes it's sneaking, and you only realize its presence after it's been stolen away.
And once it's gone, there's a person-shaped hole in your heart and a possibility-shaped one in your life.
Mine was shaped like a 5-foot-10 redhead in heels.
I don't even remember how Pepper told me that she'd started dating someone else. Or even if she did. I remember one day noting that she was unfocused — something very much not Pepper. It snowballed from there.
Maybe she told me things. Maybe it was all Rhodey and "research" (stalking is too strong a word) with Jarvis.
A high-powered L.A. lawyer. Very successful. Worth buckets (though obviously not as much as me). Respectable. Even though he represented celebrities. Handled their damage control.
Maybe he and Pepper bonded over that.
I don't know how they met, and I didn't care to ask. I don't think I cared much at all.
Even before my curiosity about him was satisfied, I hated this guy. At first I didn't understand why. The first time I met him — briefly as he picked up Pepper — I thought maybe it was his fancy, well-pressed, classic, unimaginative suit. Something about me hates a daily fare of unimaginative suits. Lawyers.
But the image that wouldn't leave me wasn't his badly chosen suit. It was him putting his arm around her and walking out the door. And I understood.
He took her away from me.
He carved that 5-foot-10 hole in my life.
She was mine. For so many years, she was mine. And he took her from me.
But she wasn't mine. She never really was. That's the problem. I only thought she was.
I didn't realize until the possibility was gone that I thought she was mine. And I didn't realize until then that she wasn't because in so many ways, it sure seemed like she was.
Loyalty was always one of Pepper's strong suits. And God only knows why, but she felt loyal to me. At the expense of herself. She was in a relationship when she first started working for me. It ended because she became so dedicated to the job that she never had time for him, whomever he was. After that, there were no major relationships that I knew of.
Maybe that made me think she was mine.
Somehow she understands — always has — who belongs to whom, who belongs to what.
God knows I didn't act like I was hers. I didn't act like I belonged to anyone. Or anything. Not even to the responsibility of Stark Industries. Until the reality of death stared me in the face. Until the responsibility of Iron Man made me belong to something, even if it was a cause.
But Pepper always, in a way, belonged to the company. And she saw that I did too. Cared for me, took care of me, because she saw that even when I didn't. That I was the future of Stark even when I ran from it.
The position was mine. The company was mine. The woman who helped make sure I didn't screw it all up…she wasn't. Though in technical terms she was my assistant, she belonged to Stark as a company, not to a particular Stark.
Maybe that's where the holdup was. Because she belonged to Stark Industries and Stark Industries belonged to me. Maybe I thought that that meant she belonged to me.
Maybe it's because so much of her time belonged to me. I monopolized it.
Until he came along. Oh, she still got everything done — she is Pepper; accomplishing everything is in her DNA — but less of her time belonged to me. She left earlier. She found ways to resolve things from a distance when I called her at the drop of a hat.
All of the dedication was still there. She just wasn't always there.
I became irritable about her absences, further cementing my suspicions about why I disliked him. I complained, I whined, about how she didn't care for me anymore. The words took on a bitter edge fueled by anger.
She would give me one of her stern looks.
I half expected her to say, "You don't own me, Tony." Because she knew that.
Somehow I had never seen how she could ever be anything but mine.
But she didn't say it. Didn't say anything to back up that stern look. But I knew she had to be thinking it. She always knew who belonged to whom. And she knew that she could belong to whomever she chose, and she'd chosen him.
While I was left with stern reality.
And then one day, she came again at the drop of a hat. She stayed late. He wasn't there in his bland, never-changing suit to pick her up and cart her away from me at the day's end.
I ventured to ask if he would be picking her up.
They broke up. She said it so casually, as if it were the same as saying it's Tuesday.
They had a fight.
He was a scumbag celebrity lawyer. It was bound to happen.
She said all of these things.
I knew better.
She always knew who belonged to whom.
And I could never see how she could be anything but mine.