Home is where the heart is
“You got a family?
"Yes, and I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?”
“So you’re a man who has everything…and nothing.”
Once, Tony had been alone. He’d had no one to call family, nothing to call home. He’d had Rhodey, but he was always away on missions, busy with the military while Tony wasted his life going from event to event, drowning in booze, drugs and sexual partners. He’d had Pepper, but she was just his assistant, the brilliant woman whom he’d been in love with for a few years but he knew would never look at him twice with the kind of life he was living and the kind of man he had become.
He’d been ashamed when he admitted to Yinsen that he had no one waiting for him home, worrying about him, Tony, and not Tony Stark.
He hadn’t had a home in forever, not really. The Malibu house wasn’t a home by a long shot, neither were the legs of some slutty boy or the breasts of some pretty girl.
Now though? A cozy, decently big farm on the outskirts of rural USA was waiting for him to fill with furniture and animals, a recovering best friend was wandering the halls of the Compound, probably bored out of his mind being all alone in there and pissed at Tony for riding alone again, and a gorgeous, brilliant fiancee was most likely plotting his murder for leaving her behind with no way to communicate with him, again.
Tony had a lot waiting for him home, ten years later. And no way to get back.
Oxygen was slowly running out, he could feel it with every shallow breath he took. He tried not to move too much, to not exhaust himself, because he would breathe harder, consume more oxygen, and he needed to hold onto it as long as he could. When food first ran out, Tony’d expected to lose hope pretty quickly and give up but as his and Nebula’s doom kept approaching with fast, sure steps, his resolve only grew stronger, and his determination to get back home strengthened the fight coursing through his veins.
But no matter how much he wanted to fight, there really was nothing he could do to get himself and Neb out of the dire situation they were in. Tony had tried everything, from building something out of scraps found on the Benatar to even trying to create oxygen artificially. Everything failed.
The thought of Pepper comforted him though. Her red hair cascading in front of her face, framing his cheeks as she climbed on top of him and kissed him still tingled his skin. If he closed his eyes and concentrated enough he could still smell her perfume, her shampoo, feel the touch of her lips on his cheek, his nose, his eyes, his mouth. Her smile would be blinding, sweet and happy and proud, proud to be his fiancee, to stand by his side, to call him hers. And Tony? Tony would be struggling to keep all those feelings contained, to not burst into songs and yell at the world that Tony Stark was happy.
Because he was. Or had been. Until Strange came crashing down into his life, bringing death and destruction along with him. And then he lost Peter. Right there, in his arms. Tony probably still had the kid’s ashes on his hands, in his hair, in and on his clothes. Grief had nearly knocked Tony down the first few days on the Benatar with Nebula. Thank god he had her, honestly.
She’d knocked some sense into him and kept him upright until this day. Now he had her to thank for the hope that fluttered strong in his heart and pushed him to draw another shallow breath.
The message for Pepper wasn’t to say goodbye, at least not fully. When he got the helmet working, he knew he could use it to send a message to help Pepper track him down on Earth. But given the situation at hand, he feared she would be too late. So he crafted that message. To say goodbye. To say thank you. To say I love you. To say the words he never quite knew how to express and didn’t want to leave unsaid.
And now, on what was probably his death bed, his every thought was Pepper still. The only woman Tony had ever loved and would ever love. The reason he was still alive and the person he was fighting for.
His eyes had drifted close without him even realizing. The air was thinner, his lungs heavier and emptier by the second. Nebula’s hand in his had gone lax who knows how long ago, and when Tony tried to squeeze it in goodbye he found himself unable to do so. He was preparing to draw his last breath, Pepper’s face smiling down at him, when something touched his face, attached itself to his face more accurately.
The next time he breathed he was assaulted by oxygen, so much of it he choked. Tony recovered and drew another breath. Then another. And another and yet another. He opened his watery, drowsy eyes, and his heart stopped for a second before starting again faster than before. Pepper’s face, framed by the iron man helmet, was smiling down at him. Her freckles were like constellations and her eyes were galaxies.
“Ms. Potts,” Tony breathed, relieved, crying in happiness.
“Your rescue is here, Mr. Stark.”
Tony put his arms around Pepper’s metallic waist, pulled her down and kissed her. His oxygen mask clashed with her mouth, Pepper laughed (bells ringing in the summer), and he pulled it down before trying a second time. This time his lips found hers, found the plump, warm home they’d been seeking, and Tony could have happily died right then and there.
Pepper pulled away quickly though, too soon for Tony’s liking, then put the mask back in place.
“Don’t want you dying now, Tony. I didn’t make the trip all the way here to have you die because of me,” she laughed. Tony nodded, put out, but complied nevertheless.
Tony glanced at Nebula, who was still out cold, and worry took over his heart.
“Don’t worry, she’s okay. Friday says she needs more time to come to since she was deprived of oxygen for far longer than you.”
Tony sighed in relief. “How are we getting home though?”
“Oh, I brought a friend,” Pepper grinned and stepped aside. Carol Danvers was standing behind her, shit eating grin in place and Tony experienced whiplash.
“Sup, Tones. Long time, no see.”
“But…how? When? What?”
“I’ll tell you later, after your fragile lungs are back on Earth,” Carol smiled. “Now, Pepper you take this sack of potatoes and I’ll take the gorgeous cyborg. Anything happens, I’ll be there in a second.”
She winked at Pepper then grabbed Nebula, put her in her arms and took off in a burst of flames.
“Well, that one’s new,” Tony remarked uselessly.
“Yeah,” Pepper smiled at him the way you smile at a child, patiently with love, then pulled him into her arms bridal style. A helmet engulfed his face, probably space-proof, then they were off, cruising through the vastness of space back home. As Tony clutched at Pepper’s armor and marveled at the deadly beauty of space, he couldn’t help but think back to Peter. He was going home. And he would devise a plan to take down the Mad Titan and get his boy back, even if it killed him.
Tony knew it wouldn’t though. Pepper would never let him die.