Disclaimer: I don't own Iron Man...shoot.
AN: So I wrote this on some old paper while I was at June Lake. Camping apparently is a good way to get the creative juices moving. It isn't my best but I thought it was sweet. Enjoy. Please comment, it makes me write more.
Preposition: to position in advance or beforehand
It happened quite unexpectedly. There really is none of the anticipated preamble. There is no life or death circumstances or some blow-out argument to warn either of them of the impending occurrence. Even he really didn't expect that he would actually say it. But there it was.
"I love you, you know."
It was a quiet evening; Tony was tired of his workshop and had come upstairs to sit with Pepper on the couch while she went through some e-mails and returned some phone calls. When he entered the living room Tony and Pepper both said nothing, having fallen into the easy silence that only years of companionship could breed. He had just sat on the couch, angled diagonally at Pepper who was sitting on her knees, her feet uncharacteristically bare, and bent over the glass coffee table. He grabbed the newspaper that was still lying on the arm of the couch even though Pepper had read it hours ago.
It had been a quiet day and both thought that the simple, silent evening was appropriate. It was a peaceful stasis, an acceptable medium. Neither saw it coming.
Tony often thought about how much he cared for his beautiful assistant; and on occasion was even able to say that he loved her. But he never, ever, ever said it aloud. It wasn't that he was scared of the possible rejection or the fact that saying such a thing would undoubtedly change the comfortable relationship that they had. He wasn't scared at all. It was just easier not to say it. And with all the difficulties in his life, simplicity was a rare blessing that he relished.
But today, the quiet content he was feeling lulled him into the sweet fantasies he often had concerning the woman sitting on his living room floor. Not those types of fantasies-although he would be liar if he said he never had any fantasies like that-but the simple ones. Where he and Pepper were married or at least in a committed relationship and they would enjoy breakfast together every morning, weekends would be effortless days of going grocery shopping or trips to the beach, and Friday nights they would join each other on the couch and watch some crappy movie, her falling asleep half-way through on his arm.
This evening was so similar to all of those fantasies that he unthinkingly said those dreaded words.
"I love you, you know."
The second he uttered them, his head shot up and his gaze locked onto Pepper's auburn covered head. There was no outward sign that she had heard him at all. The only noticeable thing she had done in response to him was that she had significantly stopped typing. Her head was still bent over the laptop and even her eyes were focused on the words. But she had completely stopped typing.
After a moment the rhythmic clicking of the keyboard started again and she replied, "Yeah, I know."
And that was it. Nothing else, completely anti-climactic. He watched her and waited. Waited for more, waited for her to really respond. Waited for her to get angry or ask for an explanation or even for her to jump him. (What he really was waiting for was her to say "I love you too".) But nothing happened.
Feeling sick, he stood up abruptly and practically ran down the stairs to his basement. When he got there he just stood in the middle of the room and hung his head. He didn't cry or even get angry. He just stood there and looked at all of the random pieces of metal toys that surrounded him. And that was it.
The second the sound of the glass doors to Tony's sanctuary closed Pepper closed her eyes and let out a breathy sigh. She wondered where the hell that had come from. She rubbed her temples and let the disappointment wash over her. She had never been so crushed in her life. It felt like she was at the bottom of the ocean and million tons of water was pressing down on her, pushing her into oblivion.
Of course he loves her.
She had loved him for a long, long time. Why else would she had stayed with the Merchant of Death for seven years? But over the past six months (since his disappearance), she had fallen in love with him. Now what was she supposed to do? Had they really fallen into so much of a stasis that all he can have is love for her? She knew that they had loved each other, for a long time. But that type of love wasn't enough. It was enough to keep her with him, but it wasn't enough to make her his. It was enough for her to take care of him, but it wasn't enough for her become part of him. It was enough for her to miss him when he leaves, but it wasn't enough for her to miss a part of herself whenever he is gone.
That was the kind of love she felt for Tony, but apparently it was one sided. And it hurt.
Feeling suddenly exhausted, she began to pack away her laptop and other things, fully intending to go home and have a hot bath. She had all of her things ready and was just about to walk out the door when a sound behind her alerted her to his presence.
She sniffed the air, expecting to get a whiff of scotch, but was surprised to find that there was no smell of alcohol. She turned and saw a very quiet Tony Stark leaning against the wall, watching her with sad eyes.
"I try you know."
Pepper shook her head, clearing the cobwebs, not understanding what Tony meant. "What?"
He stood up straight now and she realized that all the lights in the house were off, she watches the moonlight play around his head. He takes a couple of steps forward but stops a foot out of reaching distance. She notices that his hands are clenching. She feels herself start to shake slightly in anticipation. Of what, she does not know.
"I try," her attention returns to Tony, "to be good enough for you." It is sad and quiet and breaks her heart.
She stumbles towards his. "Tony, I-"
His eyes suddenly harden, and he steps backward violently. "But," he says with the anger she had expected earlier, "apparently that won't ever happen. I try to give you what you have always wanted. I have tried to become a better person. But now, I don't know why I even try." He throws up his hands in angry dismissal.
Pepper watches his with wide eyes and she feels her own hurt and anger bubble to the surface. "You don't know what I want, Mr. Stark." The title sounds just as bad as a curse. Her eyes narrow and she can feel her temper coming out. "Do you know what prepositions are?"
For second the anger in Tony's gaze disappears and is replaced by confusion. "Ummm, no."
Pepper crosses her arms across her chest. "Prepositions are the parts of speech used before nouns and pronouns to connect them to the preceding material. Examples are about, during, beyond, and in. They are often overlooked parts of the English language but they are incredibly important. They can be the deciding factor on many occasions; such as, if an executive assistant will walk out the door of her boss's mansion."
He said nothing. She said nothing. They just stared at each other, though their stares didn't hold any adversity or challenge. It just seemed to them the most logical place to lock their eyes on.
Finally Tony spoke, not dropping his gaze. With a firm voice her said, "I don't just love you but I am in love with you. Is that what you wanted to hear?" Again his question holds no anger, it is a real question and he expects a real answer.
Pepper is quiet for a moment. Then she stepped into his arms and wrapped herself quietly around his broad chest.
It wasn't really the answer he was looking for. And she knew that the quiet moment wouldn't be able to last. But there it was.