Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Loki, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Lady Sif and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor
(Brief/smaller appearances: Odin, Maria Hill, Darcy Lewis, The Other, Benjamin “Benny” Pollack, Erik Selvig, Jasper Sitwell, Claire Wise.)
Pairings: Happy/Pepper, Jane/Thor. Mentions of: Benny/Claire, Pepper/Tony
Summary: Iron Man never fell back through the portal. The Avengers must deal with the loss of their comrade and move on – until Earth once again comes under an attack from the Chitauri and their new-found weapons that decimate everything in their path with unmatched power and intellect. As cities and nations collapse around their decreasing resistance, the heroes of Earth must find a way to defeat their enemy before there is nothing left to avenge.
Work in progress.
Written for: Apocalypse Big Bang, Round One (apocalypsebang at LiveJournal)
Art: Imaan (insteadofdeath at dA/DW/LJ)
Warnings: Graphic description of torture, major character death, apocalypse & invasion themes (including but not limited to: mass destruction, terrorism, holocaust, death, violence and gore), brain-washing & mind-control, language (including some remarks that could be seen as racist). Serious spoilers for the ending of The Avengers (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic universe).
The small TV screen on the wall of the private jet reported the day’s events, sound muted; professionals would be hashing out the events that shook the entire nation into awareness that there were aliens – and heroes. There was a concert slated for later that evening, with high-profile performers dedicating their time and attention to those who had lost so much, yet Pepper had not stayed for it this year. She had already seen it all, heard it all, and gave the same speech each year.
After all, how many ways was there to say that Tony Stark had died a hero, saving Manhattan and perhaps the entire world? That he would be missed and that the world wouldn’t be the same without him in it?
The clink of ice in a glass snapped her out of her thoughts as Happy sat down, reaching out to offer her a glass. One of Tony’s, filled with one of Tony’s favorite drinks that was just as ridiculously potent as it was expensive. When it came to alcohol he’d had good taste.
She accepted the glass, sipped, didn’t even grimace. Across from him Happy was having a drink of his own, nursing it in silence. He looked good in a suit, she noted not for the first time, and he looked less pained each year. Perhaps he thought the same of her, yet they both knew it was just appearances – that the pain and loss hadn’t gone anywhere and every year reporters from around the world wanted her to smile, to shed a tear, and describe what a wonderful person Tony had been.
“He was a selfish bastard,” Rhodey growled from across the aisle. He had had a few too many by now, yet he kept it together through the ceremonies.
Pepper glanced at him, wondering if her agreeing half-nod was all of the truth, or just scraping at the surface.
Yes, Tony had been selfish. He threw away his life without thinking how they would have to pick up the pieces after, how the company would teeter on the edge of oblivion when his brilliance was gone. Sure, they had survived and Stark Industries was still going strong, but that meant that Pepper could no longer blame that on her dead lover.
No, she had to move to more personal ground; that Tony had no regard for those he left behind – those he didn’t even get to say goodbye to; those who had no choice in the matter.
She still recalled the moment she had glanced at her phone, afterwards, realizing he had called perhaps just moments before he was gone. What would they have said to each other? Would he have let it slip that he might not be coming back home to her? Most likely not; he would have still made Pepper read it from the screen, to hear it from strangers.
Pepper knew Rhodey took it just as heavily. The man had refused to put on the War Machine armor for months after Tony disappeared – then he went another year barely taking it off, trying to patch the hole Iron Man had left in his wake.
Yes, Tony had been selfish while doing the most selfless act of his life.
“Natasha called,” Happy said quietly, looking out the window.
Pepper tensed then forced herself to relax.
“She said… to tell you that she’s sorry,” the man went on; the man who had been there for her through it all, spending nights when she could not be alone, holding her or just standing in the corner depending on her moods. He had listened and he had talked. He had missed Tony, given a speech at the funeral where they had no body to bury…
Pepper forced her jaw to unclench and threw back the rest of the drink. She was aware that both men were looking at her, to see whether her reaction had changed from last year.
Every year Natasha called. Each year Pepper refused to take it or call back.
She still remembered when the Avengers came, along with Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D., telling her in detail what the news left out. They told her how Tony had died, and why. Regardless of the lives he saved, perhaps the entire planet, it felt like a cold comfort and Pepper wished to yell at them, to scream, to ask why a demigod or a super-soldier was not there to save Tony’s life when he most needed them.
Steve Rogers had stepped forward, his expression pained although they had only met for the first time. She had been able to tell he had made the call, being the leader; the man Tony’s father had spoken of with such high regard, and with whose name Tony had had such a conflicted past. A man who allowed him to die in space, alone…
Pepper had struck him across the face, hard as she could. He had taken it, with a flinch and acceptance. Perhaps he had wanted more, to compensate for the loss they both felt – yet he had no right to mourn a man he hadn’t even known.
She had hated all of them for feeling her pain, for sharing it. Yet none she felt more resentment towards than Natasha Romanoff; she had taken the brunt of Pepper’s anger, being the only person who had known Tony prior to the attack. She had lived with them, been there through the whole Hammer incident, and she was actually the one to close the portal.
The spy had never denied it, not once. She had taken it all in stoic silence, a shadow of pain and regret in her eyes but nothing more. Yet every year she called and apologized, and each time Pepper remembered the inadequacy of the Avengers yet again.
“Pepper,” Rhodey spoke up. “You should… talk to her. You liked her, right? You were friends.”
They had been, even after she was uncovered as a S.H.I.E.L.D. shadow and Tony refused to be in the same room with her. She and Pepper had remained in touch periodically, especially when Tony was being difficult.
Pepper could have promised to try next year, or to think about it. She didn’t. There had been enough empty promises in her life.
Rhodey sighed a moment later, absorbed in his drinking once more. He would be sober some time tomorrow, ready to put the armor back on, but for now he wanted to drown himself in the fact that none of them had been there when they were needed by someone they loved.
Happy shifted and Pepper felt his hand on hers, gentle and warm. She wasn’t certain if she could take it, today of all days, but when she looked at him he smiled that sad little smile and she felt herself smiling back, even through the tears that pushed to surface again.
A flight attendant walked in a moment later, announcing that they would begin landing soon. Pepper simply nodded, glancing at her phone before putting it into her bag. People knew better than to call her today unless it was an emergency.
The plane landed without a hassle and Happy made sure the car was in place, waiting for them. It was starting to rain and he held an umbrella above her head to cover her from the errant drops. Rhodey followed them to the car and slumped into a corner of the seat while the driver pulled out onto the highway. Happy sat beside her, silent yet solid and comforting, right there should she need him.
When they got to the house the clouds had pulled back and moved on. The ground was still dark as they walked to the main door. Happy opened it, the hall before them silent and cold. Each year it threw her and sometimes she would stand there a moment before willing herself to go in.
It was quiet and dim until Happy switched on the lights. Pepper stood in the middle of the hall, wondering if perhaps this time… but no, there was no sound – hadn’t been a sound for years now; after Tony died, J.A.R.V.I.S. had gradually shut down, and in her grief Pepper let it happen. The AI had been Tony’s creation, so it was only fitting that J.A.R.V.I.S. died with him. Perhaps that was what the AI wanted, or had been programmed to do. They had never talked about it – or rather, Tony had never talked about it.
The workshop downstairs was sealed off. No one had gone in or out since the night they arrived, after the attack, and Pepper could not bring herself to go down there again. To her the workshop was just as much Tony’s grave as the empty hole in the ground with the headstone on top – perhaps even more so.
“Are you hungry?” Happy asked.
“No,” Pepper replied, finally taking off her jacket. Rhodey moved in past them and threw himself down on one of the couches, lying there a moment, looking like he may have passed out, then after a while he shifted, sitting forward, head in his hands. Pepper knew he was crying.
She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Let’s make some coffee,” she decided. “I think we’ve all drank enough.”
Happy just nodded and led the way to the kitchen; Rhodey would straighten himself out soon, the momentary collapse brief yet happening the same way every year: he would drink and sink low, then pick himself up, bottle everything inside and be War Machine for another 364 days before they had to endure this again.
to be continued…