Men only want one thing.
"Pep, let's…let's go back. I'll call John." He sighed and stood up, keeping the towel around him as he walked out and shut the door.
What was wrong with him? He seemed more disappointed than anything…what was it? That he didn't get to see me naked? God, why did that have to be the only thing he was interested in? He probably offered to marry me knowing that I would sleep with him afterwards, if given the right amount of alcohol and buttering up. God, how could I have been so stupid!
The only reason he wanted to stay married was to get to possibly have sex with me!
If I was mad before, now I was absolutely furious. At least he had left. I started packing everything in the bathroom, throwing bottles and bottles down into the leather bathroom bag. Cologne, after shave, lotion, shampoo, face wash…
Packing all of our things together in one bag was even more angering. We weren't together. Sure, on paper we were married, but that didn't mean that in sound mind I said "I do" in front of a William Shatner impersonator!
"No, call him up! We're friends, he'll understand!"
"Mr. Stark, it's 3 in the morning. He lives-"
"He won't care! I told him this would happen someday! Not that he believed me, ha!"
Oh shit, I've started to remember things. He wanted the real William Shatner to do our wedding? God, what have I gotten myself into?
After zipping up the leather bag quite vehemently, I broke out of the bathroom with my towel tight around my body only to find him gone from the room. His bag was sitting on the bed closed and his suits were on hangers in the garment bag next to it. He seriously wanted to go home. It wasn't just something to placate me. Or at least he was making it look like he had been serious.
He even set out my bag on the bed. And the clothes from last night had already been put in the laundry bag that was left in the closet.
But where was he? Hiding out somewhere in hopes of seeing me nude? What did it matter anyway, we had already had sex.
I found a simple purple tank and some nice jeans to pull on and threw off the towel into the bathroom. From everything I could tell, he wasn't hiding in the closet like a peeping tom. He was gone off somewhere to sulk and didn't seem to be coming back for now.
My still dripping hair hadn't bothered me until I tried to pull on my top and had nothing but a wet back. Great. Just great, add it on to my wonderful day. Well, I didn't have to dry my hair. Being in the desert did have some perks – especially since I didn't plan on being seen after this.
I still couldn't believe I was wearing his brass rat ring. Why hadn't I taken it off yet? The tape had to be loose from the water, and it felt nasty on top of my skin. I yanked on it and wiggled it off of my finger before ripping the tape off afterwards. It left a soft, wet raw spot on my ring finger. It was as if the ring didn't want to go away even after I took it off.
"Tony?" I called out once I had my bag put up and a pair of flats to wear on the plane. Hopefully he was off the phone with the pilot John by now…
My hand felt odd as I moved around the room to make sure we weren't going to leave anything. My hand felt like it was missing something. Hell, I only took the thing off minutes ago. Did my hand look as odd as it felt? I looked down at it as my right hand picked up the bag I had on the bed to move it out into the living room. Was everything that different just because I had gotten rid of an accessory? My stomach was in my legs. But had it always been there today? I couldn't remember.
I had to rub on the soft skin for a minute with my thumb. Maybe I should put the ring back on until the skin came back…or would that just not let it heal?
"Is it so bad to be with me?"
How long had he been standing there?
I moved my head upwards to see him standing there in the doorway with a t-shirt, jeans, and sunglasses on. His hair was a half-wet mess but he didn't seem to care. His face had little to no expression, like he was taking in all data. He didn't seem angry, happy, sad, or anything. Just…standing there. Like a mannequin.
"John will be ready in an hour. We can grab lunch and get out to the air strip. I'll call the car."
Something was definitely wrong. He would never call the car himself, or hell, called the pilot. Was this really taking a toll on him? He seemed completely indifferent about everything. And why was he wearing sunglasses in the hotel room when none of the curtains were open?
The car didn't take long, and by the time we picked up some sandwiches and got out to the private airstrip, the jet was almost ready to jump the state line. A man who worked at the airstrip was quick to unload our baggage and load it into the cargo area. Tony got out of the car, paid the driver, and walked up into the cabin without a single word to me.
He hadn't spoken to me since he told me he was going to call the car.
The short jet ride wasn't much better either.
I read the entire time to keep from screaming at him. He was busy playing with something on his table in the back made of the same plastic board that hung around his workshop. He was doing something as quietly as possible. After a few minutes I realized he had headphones in to keep himself in his whole world.
I wanted to walk over and shake him and make him talk to me. Why wasn't he talking to me? Normally he couldn't keep his mouth shut, or keep his hands away from me, or try to put his hands on me only for me to bat him away for the moment of playful banter.
What was he doing back there anyway?
Where did I hide it? I knew it was supposed to be in the workshop somewhere. There was no way I had moved it. I kept it down there with the other one. I mean, there hadn't been any real reason for me to keep up with it, but now when I did want it I couldn't find it.
I had to plug in my headphones to talk to Jarvis. I typed, he talked back. He, with the robots, was looking for the thing for me. I had to have it by the time we got back. It would have to do for now. I'd get her a new one, one that was hers, but I had to keep her. I couldn't let her leave without it. And I only had so much time before we would land and Happy would pick us up for them to find it.
"Sir, could it be in your closet?"
Look in the cufflink box. It might be in the bottom.
"Yes sir. I'll scan it now."
That was somewhere I hadn't thought about looking. But it was possible. It could be in there. Please be in there.
"Sir, I'm detecting a ring box inside. I believe it is what you are looking for."
Thank you God, Jesus, whatever. There was no way I had lost it. Though I don't remember moving it from my work desk to my closet. I guess I did it so I wouldn't do something to it? Whatever. I found it. That's all I cared about.
Thinking about rings, I looked at my right hand for a moment – Pepper had never given back my brass rat. She still had it. Not wearing it, but still had it. I was surprised she hadn't thrown it back at me or given it to me when I found her in the bedroom staring at her hand. Maybe she didn't want to give it back just yet. Maybe she was fighting on the inside about this whole annulment thing.
She seemed pretty content reading over on the couch. Do I ask for it back? No, that's something for her to decide.
"Mr. Stark, we'll be landing shortly."
"Thanks John." I called out. Pepper jumped when I answered back and shut her book. I guess she thought I couldn't hear anything. Sure, I normally had hard rock blaring, but for this moment I wasn't listening to anything. I took out the ear plugs and turned the board off so I could get up and move over to her on the couch.
I knew better than to sit with her right now, so instead I sat in a chair across from her. But what do I say? Don't leave me. I know this was quick but we can make it work?
She stared at me for a moment in confusion, those blue eyes boring into me. It was odd how long we just stared at each other. I couldn't think of what to say to placate her. What would keep her from going back to her apartment and not seeing her until Monday when she came to work? Other than outright stealing her things and locking her in the house. I didn't need her pissed, I needed her level-headed and comfortable. How could I keep her that way…but the moment ended a way I hadn't expected. She started laughing hysterically.
"What? What's funny?" Did I do something? I stared at her quite confused and disturbed really. Why would a woman who seemed to hold me in such contempt minutes before break into hysterics in mere seconds?
"In ten years of picking up your messes, cleaning vomit off of your chin, and waking you up hungover and nude, I've never seen you more uncomfortable than you are now!"
She was right, I had no idea what I was doing. So, I just shut my mouth and turned away from her. She would have to wind down sometime.
A few minutes later we were down on the ground and Happy was there to unload our bags. She had calmed down by then, but once again we weren't particularly speaking. Happy didn't say much, but once Pepper had passed him to go to the car and he saw me, he stopped and mouthed something to me along the lines of 'what's with her?' and I held up my left hand. His eyes went wide and I made the movement over my neck of a cut throat, and he just shortly nodded. He went along to grab whatever else he needed to, and I moved to the Bentley to get in with her.
Once all packed and inside, Happy just blithely continued his job routine.
"Do you want to go to your apartment Pepper?"
"Oh, I left some things on my desk in the office. I have to go back to the house. Will you take me home after, Happy?"
Aha! My moment was found. She had to go back to the house, and I could corner her. How was I going to do that? How quickly could I run upstairs and find the box before she would be done in her office…
I stared out the window the entire time we were in the car, and she took the time to trudge through my daily emails. Never off the clock. At least she had waited until we got back. She must have known I would have broken it if she had done that in Vegas.
Happy must have felt the tension in the car, and tried to cut it with something, anything.
"Well, did you have fun?"
"Much, Happy." She stated curtly without even looking up from her phone. I turned my head to look over to her, then to the man looking in the rearview mirror only to shrug at him and shake my head. He took that as nothing is going to help, so he kept quiet the rest of the way.
Thankfully, he drove quickly to the front door of the house and took his time getting the baggage arranged. Having gotten in on the correct side, I was the first one out, and sprinted my way inside and upstairs through my bedroom door to my closet. I left Pepper behind in the dust, hoping that she would be slow for the moment.
I yanked open the box for cufflinks, and at the bottom was the black ring box I had been looking for. I checked inside and I was completely right.
With the same fervor as I had gotten up here, I was gone in a flash down the stairs and to the other side of the house. She had to be in her office by now.
She was, the afternoon sunlight hitting the right place on the water to reflect softly into the room. She was sorting things on her desk and hadn't noticed me while I stood in the door.
"Yes, Tony?" She didn't look up at me. She was busy reading some memo that she pulled out of the printer before stapling it to something else.
"Pepper, don't go." I finally squeaked out.
"Who said I was going anywhere? I'm just going to go home. I'll be back Monday, Mr. Stark."
Back to work formalities. And we had gotten so far! I cringed, but I was sure she didn't see. I couldn't keep my hands from fiddling with the box behind my back.
"No, don't leave. Don't leave me here alone." I choked out. It was a fight to make myself say that to her.
That finally caught her attention from her sorting and she looked at me with that face. The face she got when she was curious, but also possibly angry as hell with me.
"You still haven't given me my ring back." I mumbled out. That probably didn't sound right. I knew it couldn't sound right. I meant it in a way that wasn't 'I want my ring back' and more 'you're still thinking about saying yes'. But she wouldn't take it the way I wanted, and I knew it.
"You can have your brass rat back. It's not like it fit me anyway." She grumbled as she fished in her back pocket before holding her left hand out to me.
This was when I could strike.
I walked forward and took the ring from her balled hand, but didn't let go of her fingers. I purposely gave her my left hand for a reason, and held hers within my own.
"This doesn't have to be as bad as you think it will." I said quietly to her across her desk. She was still so far away from me, and still so tense. This was supposed to be a happy time, not one to fight and bicker.
"Tony, there's no way this can turn out well."
"You've joked you were married to your job anyway."
"…You're not helping yourself any."
Okay, okay. Don't make wisecracks.
I tucked the box in my back pocket for a moment so I could use my right hand to uncurl hers in mine. I wanted to really hold her hand, not hold her fist. She didn't fight and let me lock my fingers between hers.
I walked to the side and pulled her around from her desk, then out from the office into the living room. I didn't want to do this somewhere where she would really feel like she was marrying the job. That's not what this was about. This was about us. Tony and Pepper, not Mr. Stark and Miss Potts.
She followed reluctantly, but followed nonetheless. Once I was where I wanted to be, and comfortable, I stopped and pulled her to within a foot of me.
"I'm sorry it happened the way it did, but I'm not sorry it happened. Let me…let me make it up to you. Something, anything."
She didn't seem to be buying it for the moment. She was still stuck somewhere between annoyed and saddened. I knew what I had to do.
I got down on one knee and pulled the box out from my back pocket, opening it for her to see.
That was when I broke through, and she gasped.
"Tony, why do you-"
"My mother. They were my mothers, engagement and wedding. I'm wearing my fathers, remember?" I raised up my left hand by itself to remind her, then took the two small gold rings from the box so I could tuck the box back into my pocket. I still was offering her the vintage diamond and gold pieces I knew from so long ago.
"I…I can't, Tony, it's…"
"It's what?" I asked softly. Would she really reject me on one knee when I was trying to give her more than just some ring I paid thousands of dollars for down the street?
She was the one that stood me up. She pulled my left hand up until I was standing in front of her. She took the rings from my hand and…stuck them on her own finger.
"I already said yes, remember?"
My heart melted, my mind fried. I couldn't move – I didn't know what to say. She kissed me. Bombs went off in my head and my knees were weak. She said yes. Again.
She wasn't leaving me. I didn't have to refuse to sign the divorce papers. I didn't have to cry at her door when she refused to see me.
And I didn't have to hire a new assistant.