He has these little fantasies, sometimes, where he’s sitting on his couch next to The Groom, who’s talking to his best man and being the annoying little ass he is, and suddenly he decides he just can’t take it any more and he gets up, heading for the guest bedroom where The Bride and all her friends and makeup artists and hair specialists and her mother are.
This is fact. All of those things did happen, twenty some odd years ago. But then the dream deviates. He doesn’t find her in the guest bedroom, and her mother glares daggers at him, like it’s Tony’s fault she isn’t sitting in that chair in front of that vanity getting her hair done and smiling like everything is well and good in the world. He doesn’t give her that lazy half-grin (because she isn’t there) and doesn’t tell her she looks lovely and he doesn’t quell the tremor in his chest and the ache somewhere near the arc reactor.
In this dream, he shrugs his shoulders at Mrs. Potts and swings out of the room in a heartbeat.
(Truth: He smiles at her lazily and ignores the fact that he is the only man beside Phillipe-the-hair-guy in the room. She looks radiant in her gown, the white lace against her skin makes something lodge uncomfortably in his throat. Her sister breezes past him with a tiara which she hands to Phillipe, and as Phillipe sets it atop her head Tony remembers The Groom’s hatred of veils, and marks that down as another thing that makes him a fucking idiot. Someone comes into to herd the women out of the room to take their seats or their places in the garden where the wedding is taking place, and it is suddenly just Tony in the room with Pepper.)
Instead he makes his way down the hallway and down the stairs to where his lab lays nestled into the side of the mountain, and there she is, resplendent as ever in her sparkling white dress, her hair blazing and her eyes just a little bit red, like maybe she thought she might cry but refused to let herself. This vision of her is exactly as he remembers it from that day, but in this vision he acts upon those eyes.
“Don’t do it.”
“What?” she responds, but he sees her lip quirk.
“I don’t like it when you make plans without me. C’mon Pep. How do you think I’m gonna deal with a whole other person in this relationship?”
She swallows, and in this fantasy of his he sighs and lets the teasing fall by the wayside.
“Don’t get married, Pepper.”
She takes three giant steps forward and he can’t tell for sure whether she means to slap him or kiss him.
She doesn’t do either. Instead she holds his steady gaze for a moment, and then drops it to the diamond sparkling on her hand. It’s big and gaudy, gold and diamonds that aren’t subtle in the least, and Tony has always, always hated that ring. Pepper deserves class – platinum, maybe, with a string of smaller diamonds around the band, and some sort of stupidly sentimental inscription around the inside that in his minds eyes looks exceedingly like the one on his very first arc reactor.
“Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”
“That’ll be all, Ms. Potts.”
(Truth: He takes her hand as she stands and clenches his jaw at those red eyes, and he doesn’t say a damn word. He wants to kiss her. Her lips are glossy and a little bit too red, and he has the urge to press his lips to hers and completely ruin all the hard work the Sephora girl had done. He wants to come away with his mouth tinted an orange-ish red, and see her flustered and blinking up at him blearily. What he does is: press a kiss onto her forehead and smile at her, and say “Ready?”. Pepper takes a deep breath and for the span of a moment Tony thinks she’s going to say “No.” She says “Yes.”)
She nods, and then she whisks past him in a flurry of white satin. He wants to follow, but even in this dream he’s terrified of the results.
He hears muffled voices, and then a louder curse. More muffled voices, and then loud ones that sound vaguely like Mrs. Potts and company.
Then after a while it is quiet, so he ventures upstairs to find his PA sitting on his couch in almost exactly the same spot that he’d started this whole mess. The living room is empty, and it sounds like they’re alone. He sits heavily next to her, where The Groom had been sitting earlier, and they are silent for a very, very long time.
“Your request has been taken care of, Mr. Stark.”
He nods bites his lip. “Very good, Ms. Potts.”
(Truth: He walks her down the stairs and through his very empty house out onto the lawn, where four hundred white folding chairs covered with lavender satin have been filled with guests of The Bride and The Groom and Pepper takes one look at the man at the end of the aisle and her hand tightens for a moment on his arm. He doesn’t move, and out of the corner of his eye he glances at her. Her chin is out, her posture perfect, a soft smile on her face. The smile breaks his heart.
He walks her down the aisle and hands her into the waiting arms of The Groom.)
They continue to sit in silence for a long, long time, and then they watch silently through the window as the setting sun streams across the horizon, sparkling in her hair and making the beads embroidered in her dress glint. Her hand slips easily into his, and her head rests on his shoulder.
And that is when it ends. They never kiss, in these fantasies. Sometimes she doesn’t even hold his hand. Sometimes she gets married.
But he always has that moment, where she’s all alone with him in his workshop and he tells her what in real life he never could.
(Truth: Pepper resigns two years after she gets married because The Husband doesn’t like her hours even though he’s never home anyway. Tony drinks a lot more than he should. Pepper pops out a kid who grows up to hate her father and who Tony stops drinking for. The Husband cheats enough that Pepper finally goes through with filing the divorce papers. When Tony retires the suit Pepper returns to her job as a PA. Tony names Maria Potts the CEO of Stark Industries when he is fifty-nine. Pepper Potts dies in a car crash two years later. Tony doesn’t drink himself to death – but only just barely.)