He had never had an awkward night. Even when the sex was bad, once it was over, and the other person was out the door, the whole incident was forgotten. Namely because he had Pepper to firmly, but polietly kick them out. That way Tony Stark could spend the remainder of his night alone and sleep in peace.
The current problem was that Pepper was not there to kick the other person out. Tonight, Pepper was the other person. The sex had been fueled by drunken lust, nothing more, they assumed. Tony had managed to get his assistant just a bit more tipsy than usual, and flirted with her the entire night at the party, and then on the way home. By the time they'd reached his costal-abode, he'd kissed her, several times, and Pepper had kissed him back.
The sex hadn't been fantastic, drunk sex never was, but it was the minutes after that really felt awful. They were coming down from high clouds, finding their footing, and the afterglow was anything but a glow. Darkness, shame...
"I'm really sorry," Pepper finally said, tucking some damp strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. "I have to go."
Okay, she was willing to kick herself out. The new problem, Tony realized, is that he did not want her to go. Not feeling responsible. He took her hand. "Don't be sorry," he said. "It was my fault."
"Please let go of my hand," Pepper said, no malice to her voice. It was one of the traits that made her so special. There was not a mean bone in her body.
Tony let her go, letting his fingers brush against her as she removed herself from the bed, quickly picking up her gown, underwear, and heels. Tony felt terribly bad. He wasn't sure how to make the situation right.
"You don't wanna wear an evening gown home," he finally said. "Let me get you some sweats." He removed himself from the bed as well, finding his boxers on the floor and pulling them on. He went to his dresser and fished out a Tshirt and cotton pants. Wordlessly, his eyebrows raised, he held them out to her.
Pepper took them, careful not to let their hands touch. She took them into the bathroom that connected to the bedroom, and Tony waited, staring at the door. He heard the sink run for a bit, a cabinet open, and finally Pepper emerged. He felt even more guilty, feeling shivers run down his spine seeing her snuggled in his sleepwear.
"I guess I'll see you tomorrow..." She rearranged the formal attire in her arms. "Mr. Stark."
"No, Pepper-" he shook his head, sighing. "Look, I wanted it. Okay, I have for a really long time now."
"You're just saying that." She was smiling, but her smile was sad. She bit her bottom lip, looking away. When she looked back, she said, "You're a good man."
That was that. All they could do was pretend nothing ever happened at that point. To the naked eye, it worked. Everybody around them saw the pair as employer and employee, and nothing more. Only Tony and Pepper felt the awkward pain, but never spoke of it. It killed Tony. It also scared him. It killed him to see that Pepper no longer touched him, and he definitely noticed. No hugs, no pats on the shoulder, no taps to the arm...she even went out of her way to not let their bodies come in contact with each other. She would press herself against the wall if Tony had to walk past. Twice he'd blocked her path while she was walking, and she'd flat-out asked him to move.
It scared him to think about what those hurt feelings meant. He had never really experienced it, because it was not the same as lust, but he had an inkling that he was falling in love. It had happened long before the drunken love-fest, but after that night, he had been certain his feelings for Pepper were real, and not just mindless flirting.
He wanted to talk about that night, to somebody, to anybody even, but especially Pepper. He wondered if she remembered every detail like he did. Normally when he fucked some random model or party-goer, he just went in, pulled out, and went to sleep alone. He hadn't done that with Pepper. He had moved slowly, though sloppily, and talked to her, and he never talked to people during sex.
"Just tell me if I need to stop," he panted, kissing and sucking her neck. "I'll stop, I promise."
"No," Pepper replied, closing her eyes. "No, it's alright. Don't stop." Her fingers trailed along his spine. "Please don't stop."
For a brief period of time, Pepper frequently disappeared, often making doctors appointments. Tony agreed to let her take off every day she requested, wanting so badly to please her. He was also happy she was speaking to him. Since the night of their intimacy, their conversations had nearly ceased outside of business discussion.
It was one evening when Pepper came through the front door. Tony, down in his workshop, knew it was her because of Javis' announcement, but he was surprised. She'd taken off the entire day, and now she was here at night? For a fleeting moment, he thought she might want to talk to him, maybe discuss their turmoilous relationship. He waited, tool in his hand, staring at the holographic security screen. His eyes followed her, and he finally turned around to the door, watching her come in.
"Hi," he said, going back to clinking and clanking. "How'd the appointment go?"
Pepper sighed a little, looking around. "It's actually why I came here so late," she said, her fingers smoothing out her blouse. "I need to speak with you about requesting a few months off in the future."
" 'Months'?" Tony looked up. "Did you say months?" He set the tool down. "Are you sick? Is something wrong?" He approached her, and she didn't move away.
She shook her head as Tony continued to rattle off questions. "No, no, no, no-" she held up a hand to silence him. "I'm pregnant."
"Pregnant?" Tony's voice lowered. "Like...with child?"
Pepper nodded. She saw the worry cross his face, and she touched his arm gently. "No, it's not like that," she said quietly. "Don't worry." She looked away briefly. "It's not yours."
Tony looked away. "Oh."
Pepper ran her hand up and down her lower torso. "I'll only need a month or so," she said quietly. "Maybe less, and it's not for a while."
Tony didn't seem to be listening. He continued to stare into space. "So..." he cleared his throat. "You...tell Dad yet?"
Pepper only smiled, and sighed once more. "I'm going home now," she told him. "I'll be back in the morning, okay?"
"Yah, sure." Tony nodded, finally looking at her. He managed a half-smile. "Take care of that."
He couldn't sleep that night. He tossed and turned, angry and sad. What kind of bitter irony was it that you finally realize you're in love, you finally decide you're okay with it, and then...he kept thinking of what she told him. It's not yours, it's not yours, it's not yours...so that's why she'd been so plagued with guilt. She'd been in another relationship all along. She was a private person, after all, and Tony could kick himself for thinking he knew everything about her.
It's not yours, it's not yours, it's not yours...
The arrangements were made. Pepper would take two months off, but she promised to help him from home as much as she could. They went back to acting normal again, and Tony only felt a little bitter. Luckily, his Ironman image kept him busy, though he still thought of Pepper frequently.
They returned late from a press conference, and as they climbed into the back of the car, Tony asked, "You hungry?"
"Yes," Pepper laughed. "When you're pregnant, you're never not hungry."
"What would you like?" Tony asked. "Anything you want, Miss Potts. Burger...Chinese...tacos...?"
"Chinese sounds great," Pepper said. "But it's late, Mr. Stark-"
Tony held up a hand. "If that bun in your oven could talk, it would say 'Mom, Chinese food now, modesty later'."
Pepper chuckled again, and leaned back into the seat, rubbing her belly that had only recently started to expand. Tony watched, trying to fight the urge to smile. He'd never thought much about children, or pregnancy, but it actually was a pretty interesting thing. Pepper noticed, and looked up at him. "It's kicking."
"No way." He grinned. "That early?"
"Yah." His assitant nodded, her smile expanding. "It feels just like little flutters."
Tony raised his eyebrows, shaking his head. "Wow. Kid really wants his Chinese."
"Do you want to feel?" Her voice was small, but her eyes were wide, smiling. Tony nodded, and leaned across the short distance between them, pressing the palm of his hand to her shirt, as gently as he could.
"No," Pepper said softly, taking his hand in hers and manuevering it under her blouse. "You can't feel it through the fabric-like this."
Tony waited, his hand heating on her cool, smooth stomach, and soon enough, something beyond a tap moved against his hand. He smiled, and waited some more. It happened three more times. "That's amazing," he whispered, removing his hand.
"Isn't it?" Pepper rubbed her belly.
As time went on, Pepper got bigger, her mid-section anyway, but it was...strangely attractive. She didn't look fat. She just looked like she had shop-lifted a beach ball. Tony cracked jokes about it every once in a while, and while she laughed sometimes, sometimes she would hurriedly leave the room and he would find her crying somewhere. Mood swings. Another thing he was getting used to. He'd never seen Pepper angry, and it surprised him the first time she yelled at him. He'd asked her, absent-mindedly when she entered the workshop, for a coffee refill, and she'd threw her clipboard across the room and screamed, "GET IT YOURSELF!"
The morning sickness was another issue. He had no idea who'd named it morning sickness, because Pepper got it at all hours of the day and night. She'd even thrown up on him, and had burst into tears right after. Tony had reassured it was okay, but shortly went to change and threw up himself. Pepper or not, it was not a pleasant experience for him either. He hadn't thrown up out disgust, but because his nerves were shot.
He felt like he was taking care of Pepper more than she was taking care of him, and it often made him an emotional wreck because she was always crying or vomitting or shaking. Once he got used to it, he actually enjoyed it. He loved making her tea. He loved helping her sit on the sofa, collapsing beside her. He loved feeling the fluttering kicks of the baby inside her. He loved it all, and wondered if that was the reason she stayed his assistant. It was a rewarding job.
She came to his home in the middle of the night, her face tear-stained. She was shaking and whimpering. He immediately led her inside, fully awake now.
"Are you okay?" He placed his hands on her shoulders. "Pepper-Pepper, talk to me, Honey, are you okay?"
"Somebody broke into my condo," she said, swallowing hard. "Tony-" she started to cry. "They had me at gunpoint. I was scared. They had me against the wall at gunpoint-" she fell victim to her sobs, and leaned into his chest, her shoulders shaking.
Tony pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her. He tried to keep his reassurances soft and soothing, but inside, he was seething with rage. What kind of sick fuck held a pregant woman at gun-point and robbed her blind? He stroked her hair, and without even thinking about it, kissed the top of her head. "It's okay. It really is."
"Can I stay here?" She asked, her voice meek. "Please?"
"Yes, of course." He pushed her away, staring into her eyes. They were red and glossy with tears. "You never have to ask that, okay?"
"Okay," Pepper sniffled. "Thank you."
He didn't have a guestroom because he normally didn't believe in guests, so he offered his bed to her. He could suffer the couch one night. Pepper watched as he changed the sheets.
"I can take the couch," she said.
With a serious face, he jokingly said, "You won't fit on the couch."
Pepper chuckled. "Thank you, Tony."
After he changed the sheets, he started to leave the room. Pepper turned to him. "Tony?"
"Hm?" He turned around. "What's wrong?"
"Let's just share the bed, okay?" She looked away, stroking her hair. "I don't want to be alone tonight."
"You sure?" Tony stared at the bed.
They climbed into bed and Tony scooted towards the edge. He was surprised when Pepper snuggled against him. She sighed slightly. "I can't wait until I can sleep on my stomach again."
Tony chuckled, reaching over to turn off the lamp. "Poor Pepper."
To Be Continued...