“This is never going to end, is it?”
His mouth twitches (strings tugging, debris jiggling under an impending but inevitable end) and his eyes fall (because, somehow, despite all his hard-shelled bravado he can’t quite bear to see the change from bright to watery blue eyes) and he mutters a tactless and very-much-him jab. “Depends on the day of the week, really, sweetheart.”
He's still not quite looking (so he isn’t supposed to see) the unshed glimmering crystals hanging and dangling on her eyes. But he sees. And he regrets a lot. Very. But more so her tears. Tears mean pain, problems—things not-quite-good and not-quite-bad—and it hurts (sometimes heavily others down to the very core) to peer into hers. So maybe she was the one to call, (the brave) one to end this but he is the shredder that continues to gnash her (like the technicolor sloshing back to the dull black and white—where white was blind and blind-like ignorance and black was the bloody smearing up walls of indefinite lives and countless futures) and if there is something other than her tears that tears him down it is being the peddle in her bright, so very bright and full of expectancies, future.
(He'd forgotten what was to have his very own beating heart. One that hurts like hell)
So, at the end, he shrugs his facade (like ladder toppling over, startling them both him and her into a defeating echo of maybe lost chances (or a taken off simply too many)
“It won't” he confesses truthfully. (But is it a confession when she knew it (as usual) even before he sat down and prodded himself for matters of solutions and escape routes that never fit no matter how he twisted them?) He begins rambling: “Actually, it only seems to be expanding over and over more. You know like an endless opera. Those weary ones. With everything under the package: meaningful losses, dead ends and funny persons singing their lonely, flowery-prose nonsense bothersome songs.”
Across him, Pepper snorts (or maybe chokes quietly at his sad try of pitiful humor) but the aftermath makes it all worth it (worth getting hurt for) to be presence of her precious smile (white-pearl teeth, minuscule quirking and painful sincerity all but twirl onto an almost-smile.) “You and your ungiven hate for opera.” Pepper wipes her eyes, half-gasping, half-laughing. And his lips twitch despite himself.
(He believes tears are welling in his eyes without his consent. Well, damn them). He laughs and smirks waterily, “Oh common, you cannot possibly still remember that one time when I didn’t show up—
Pepper shakes her head, cheeks shining in the crystalline of the overshadowed light. “2002. May second. Stood me up for a Ferrari convention—“
(He supposes this is how a goodbye truly feels)
“They were having the classic Scotch, free of charge, you can’t pass up chances like those, Pep.” He swallows, smiling ruefully. “They may not last. Not for forever.” He whispers. (And before she can fall again before he hurls her down with him he rushes in and asks with an all-consuming bravery and despair - he plunges with dangling hope.) You sure of this? Of letting go? I understand, of course, I do - if you do, but well—” He slumps his shoulders, downcasted-eyes, hands rubbing one another as he concentrates solely on them. “I understand. It won’t alter your choice. That’s yours. If you want it, then you’ll have it.”
“I do think…it’d be for the best..the best for...both of us.” Pepper rubs her shoulder, also averting deliberately his gaze. “Don’t you think?”
(He very much wants to swat his hand and scream a ‘hell no!’ but decides against it in the end. She wants to end them as goddamn dignified adults and, well, he can damn well do it for her - always for her.) “Yes.” he rasps. He nods twice. Quickly. “It's fine for you. Then, fine for me.”
“The rest of the gang were going to have a high-speed mortal combat back in the gym of the headquarters." His smile was tight and frozen in his face. "I think I'll just go and see if they still have a place." He gestures vaguely with his hand. Not-quite-looking at her.
Pepper stops in front of him. From the corner of his eye, he can see her extending her hand - maybe to hold the jitters on them - but she quickly withdraws, thinking better not to. And he can't begin to thank her. Right in this instant, he doesn't how he would have managed to let go afterward.
“Not like this, Tony.” she whispers pleadingly. (Her eyes two hazy skies.) “Please.”
But he's hurting (and so is she) and he is weak with (already without) her. So, he shrugs indifferently (masking, shading, overlapping the piercing hellbound sorrow) and slips his shades over his eyes, black and solid. “Yes, like this,” he replies flatly. Not looking. Not seeing her leave because -
What do they say of cowards? That they survive. (And, well, he's the ultimate survivor, isn't he?)
“Perfect like this, in fact.” He opens the door (really closes one of a lifetime chances) and with a dry tone, constricted throat and shimmering (hidden) eyes he calls tonelessly over his shoulder. “See you later.”
He pretends (if only to stand upright on his way to the car) that she did not answer him back with a quiet, “No. I don’t think you will.”
Invincible masks, hard-shelled hearts, and enveloping armors are his specialty – his life.
Despite having five steps ahead on life's road why did it feel like he was the one that always remained behind?