The second night without Carter and Laynie was the hardest on everybody. It was only forty eight hours later that it really struck them that the girls wouldn't be coming back. But it was only the third day that it hit Tony.
At two in the morning, he carefully slid out of bed and shuffled into the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of water and sat at the island. The water sat in front of him idly, and he stared at his hands.
Tony hadn't meant to grow attached. Of all the things he set out to do that day that the girls came into his life, becoming attached to a couple of teenagers was not one. But here he is, so heartbroken by their absence that he can't even sleep.
He heard Pepper sit down beside him, but didn't acknowledge her.
"I hate to assume, so let's call this an educated guess. Carter and Laynie?"
Tony glanced up at her, then shook his head. He took a deep breath and sighed before answering. "No, mind's racing about the new Ironman updates. You know I can't sleep with ideas."
Pepper pursed her lips and looked away. "We should have told Fury no," she mumbled.
Tony looked up at his girlfriend and frowned. Pepper always took Fury's side. "Fury wouldn't have cared if we had said no. He would've sent them away whether we agreed or not."
Pepper turned back to him with tears welling up in her eyes. "I just hate it for them. I could tell Laynie didn't want to be with her father, and Carter is all alone!"
Before she could say anything else, Tony pulled her into his arms. She just cried for a moment, and Tony barely held it in.
"I just love them so much," she said with a sigh.
"We all do, Pep. But this is probably better for them. Think of all the times you've been hurt because of me. You know what the hospital bills look like for the people around here. Now imagine if we made those girls a permanent fixture here; they'd never be safe."
"I don't care. I don't care. I just want them here. They were so happy, and they were just torn away without a choice. We'll never see them again."
Tony held her tight, planting a kiss on the top of her head. He was all out of things to say. The "they wouldn't be safe" excuse is pure bogus, and everyone in that tower was aware of it.
Tony couldn't even come to terms with it himself, so there was no way he could comfort Pepper. All he could do was try to forget. The only option they had... was simply to let the girls fade into a memory.