Repercussions of the Truth
Author's Note: Please read "The Difference Between Stepping and Falling in Love" first; plotline will be clearer.
One week after his epic battle with Obadiah Stane Tony Stark seemed to forget his words to Pepper. He had anything but forgotten. The four small words he'd whispered to his assistant flowed constantly through his mind. The loudest music, the deepest bass, the highest pitch couldn't block it out and silence screamed at him. To keep his mind busy he tinkered with the cars and the suit – anything to forget – which he couldn't.
Jarvis constantly reminded Tony to get up, stretch, and eat; he only saw Pepper when he wandered upstairs and hadn't spoken to her since the press conference. He avoided eye contact because he didn't want to see the rejection he knew was there – surely she hadn't meant her response to his half-witted rambling. He didn't speak to her because he was scared that if he said anything he'd hurt her.
She caught his arm as he began to descend the stairs into the workshop, pulling him back. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing's wrong with me," he argued, but didn't move to dislodge her grip. He still refused to look at her.
"Bullshit," she snapped. "You haven't said a word to me since that stupid press conference, Ironman. What's wrong with you?"
His muscle tensed and Pepper could tell Tony didn't want to say anything further.
"Anthony Edward Stark," she said dangerously, asserting her control over his life. "What is wrong with you?"
"For as long as I can remember two people kept me sane. Obadiah and my mother. When she died it was just Stane. I felt I had that balance back when you started working for me. Seven years without a problem – and I just lost my father all over again with Stane's betrayal. Obi was like a dad after my parents passed. All I have is you, but I don't know how to balance it out again. Sure, Rhodes is a great friend, but I just don't know what to do about that messed up equilibrium."
"What about...what you said last week?"
Tony's face became taut.
"Did you mean it?" she asked, her voice wavering.
His nod was barely perceptible. "Without a doubt."
She pulled her hand away from his arm. "Then why are you giving me the cold shoulder?"
Tony was shocked. "How could you have possibly been serious after I said that?" he asked incredulously, looking into her eyes for the first time in five days. They flamed with anger.
"I thought you knew me better than that," she answered, shaking her head wildly. "I have been called many things, Mr. Stark. Comical is not one of them." A tear escaped onto her cheek. "When I found you on the floor, I felt the exact same way I did when Rhodes told me of your kidnapping. I thought, 'oh God – I won't know what to do without him. He's all I have; the only person I've ever really loved. God, don't let him leave me again.' It was like my heart had turned to ice. I knew I couldn't let you go without telling you the truth." She wiped the tear and its company away, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried to gain control over her wracking emotions. "You can't say something like that and expect me to disregard it. You're all I have," she reminded him. "I didn't say it to get you to shut up," she whispered. She didn't say that she'd loved him since she can remember.
Before Tony met Pepper he hadn't believed in love at first sight. But he was young and stupid, and not to mention the relationship he craved with Pepper was completely unprofessional. Not one kiss between them and he loved her out of his mind. All this time coming up with words to say and now he was speechless.
She held his gaze for a moment longer and swirled around, stalking back towards her office.