Chapter 4

Tony paced restlessly outside the guest room, waiting for Pepper who had excused herself from their intense kiss, saying that she has to go to the bathroom. For a moment Tony considered not to let her go but he thought better of it and told her that he's going to wait outside her room.

Now, after almost twenty minutes Tony began to worry. He didn't hear any sound and he suspected that Pepper was still in the bathroom, so he knocked at the door of her room. No response though, so he slowly opened the door and peeked in to see if she was there. No sight of Pepper unfortunately.

Suddenly a little sob was heard from the cracked door of the bathroom. Tony swallowed hard and moved towards the door hesitantly. What if he did something wrong? His inner voice kept asking as he reached for the door knob. He opened the door slightly and risked a look. His breath caught in his throat when he saw Pepper's reflection in the mirror. She was crying, no, she was sobbing and she was shaking.

He backed up a bit then, feeling ashamed. He shouldn't have come here in the first place and he should've given her privacy. It was one o'clock for Christ's sake and he was supposed to be waiting outside, most definitely not where he was right then. It wasn't fair – all things considered, he thought dryly. He was a superhero after all, and he was supposed to protect her because he feared the worst. He feared that one day he will not be able to save her and what he said was true – she was indeed all he had. Besides what's more precious than her simple presence in his life – constant presence, he thought better. Even though, he's not going to give up at the idea of her being his girlfriend. He had big plans and this wasn't a good start.

Tony sighed deeply and decided to let Pepper confront her own problems. After what happened today… and yesterday she had the right to be upset. Not like it's any of his business, anyway.

Pepper could swear she heard the door of her room being closed, even so gently. She wiped angrily at her tears. She knew it wasn't fair. She just knew it. He's been waiting all these months, hope rising in his chest every time she dared to stare dead in his eyes. She knows that the night at the firefighter's benefit was the night she had lost it, the most precious thing she had left while he was kidnapped – her control. People kept telling her how a great asset she is to Tony and his company. They asked her how in hell she was immune to her boss's charm. Well, truth was that at the very beginning she had made a promise to herself – no matter what she will not be that woman Tony brought home every single night. She knew his reputation from her early days at the college. The girls there talked about him like he was their idol or a god. She was young but he was young as well.

But after he came back a new person Pepper told herself that it would work. After the press conference she wasn't all that sure anymore. Starting a relationship with Tony would've implied starting a relationship with Iron Man, which, she thought – was completely unacceptable.

Tony… he could sometimes be so cruel – he'd done it before, no doubt. She'd seen him sweet -talk countless women into his bed then dump them the next day. It's been long time since that things used to happen. When Tony wants something, he gets. That's the main rule she had to get used to when she was hired. He used to ask more – to tease her and flirt and god knows what else only to get her in bed, or on any other flat surface.

She knows now that he's not after that anymore. Sometimes she'll look into his big brown eyes and she what she would find there would frighten her. She's afraid that he wants her the same way she does. It would've been different before Afghanistan but now… it's really creepy, at least she thinks so.

She takes one more look at the mirror and shudders herself. This image of her standing there with her face red and her freckles stark in the artificial light is somehow changing her perspective about her. She's weak. She's not used to be that perfect, prim assistant, immune to his boyish smile or every tender look he gives her anymore.

This has to be her decision, no matter what. They're in danger, Pepper knows that and she's aware of the many problems they might face – but at least they're facing them together. Iron Man included.

Fifteen minutes after Pepper had finally exited the bathroom after taking a very hot bubble bath. She looked briefly out the window and frowned. The leaves of some nearby palm tree were being smacked into the windows with quite some force. She moved closer and studied the weather more carefully. There were dark clouds over the Pacific and they were coming towards Malibu. She sighed as she pulled on some short pants and a baggy t-shirt, thinking that maybe it was the time for some rain – it hadn't rain since the day Tony had been captured. Maybe it was a bad sign.

Humming, Pepper walked towards the bathroom once again when she heard Jarvis.

"Miss Potts?"

She yawned in her fist as she grabbed a pair of flip-flops.

"Yes Jarvis?"

"Mr. Stark has requested your presence immediately in the workshop."

She quickly made her way through the dark room and through the hallway. She started to run even before she reached the living room. Panting, Pepper typed her code and opened the door with a great deal of willpower.

"Tony?" She asks and glances over to spot Tony looking worriedly over at one of the monitors.

"Over here!" He shouts and doesn't take his eyes off the monitor the entire time.

She strides the distance between them by two walking fast, but not exactly running.

"Come look at this…" He murmurs in a tight voice.

Pepper moves carefully and she smiles as Tony wraps his arm around her waist and squeezes her tight to his body. She lets her head fall onto his shoulder and she gasps as she witnesses at the images on the monitor.

"The police was right, after all." He says after a couple of minutes. "They really are after us."

Pepper squeezes her eyes shut as hot tears make their way down her cheeks. Tony looks at her, worry on the every feature on his face and presses a kiss to the crown of her head.

"Hey, listen. It's not your fault. They want the suit, you know." He murmurs casually and she almost wants to smack him in that genius head of his.

She wants to say something – to reply in the same manner, but all she can do is choke with her own tears.

Tony then turns away from her and walks towards his desk where he keeps the schemes of the Iron Man suit. He opens a drawer and sits on the desk with a tiny object in his hands. It looks like a remote control from where she stays.

"Jarvis please secure the perimeter and if someone's in here call the police. If not, activate the Security Protocol and wait for me to deactivate it."

"I've understood, sir."

"Good," Tony whispers and his eyes move to hers.

"I'm sorry if it's my fault." He mutters as guiltiness is sprawled over his beautiful face.

"What are you talking about?" Pepper asks as she takes small steps towards him.

"I'm sorry if I made you cry." He mutters again, quietly this time.

She was absolutely sure that he had heard her when she was in the bathroom but now she knew she should've locked the door to her room. She didn't want him to suffer even more, especially after she had slapped him the other day.

"Tony…" She trails off, not knowing what to do or say anymore.

He looks at her then, his eyes darker than usual, filled with something like desperation. It breaks her heart to see that emotion in his eyes but it's somehow comforting - knowing that you're not the only one suffering.

He keeps looking until his gaze falls down at his feet.

"I'm sorry…" He mutters once again and closes his eyes. "You should probably go to bed. It's late –"He looks at the watch. "Early." He revises and stands up. "It's past one, Pepper."

"I – know." She responds, her voice more powerful than she intended. "Can you – um, maybe stay with me tonight?"

He raises his eyes back to hers the moment the words are out of her mouth and nods his head in a weak sign of yes.

"I'm afraid to let you alone, all by yourself again." Tony says as he wraps his arm around her shoulders and pulls her closer.

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