Sorry this is coming up so late – I WAS ON A CRUISE! My first actually which was exciting. Granted I was there for work (I work as a photographer for events – family business) but still! SO MUCH FOOD! Lolz.

Chapter 13

Robert woke up that morning to zippers and things shuffling and moving about. And whoever was making the noise didn't seem to care at all that it was six thirty in the morning.

He groaned, cursing under his breath and sat up slightly, only to find Pepper hunched up over a duffel bag and stuffing clothes into it frantically and ferociously, a look of total dedication and complete loathing plastered onto her face.

"Virginia?" Robert grumbled groggily. Of course it was her – who else would it be? But why was she packing? "What are you doing?"

Pepper said nothing, continuing to pack. As soon as the bag was full, she zipped it up and took a plastic bag with her to the bathroom – more clattering and shuffling.

Robert got up, wearing only a shirt and his boxers, and followed her. "What are you doing?" he repeated, his eyes looking on questioningly.

Still, Pepper kept silent, throwing her things into the bag.

"Hey, stop – Virginia, stop…look at me…"

"You know," Pepper started once she'd taken everything from the bathroom. She tied up the bag and went back into the bedroom to throw her bathroom belongings into the duffel. "I've been thinking. I've had a lot of time to think, actually." She laughed a little, though her laugh didn't reach her eyes. "I've actually had all night to think."

"You're not making any sense-"

"Everything makes sense!" she screamed suddenly standing up to face him, wide-eyed and livid. "It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?"

"Virginia, calm down-" he tried to take her hand but she yanked it back before he could even touch her, furious.

"It's your fault!" she screamed again, pointing her finger at him. "It's your fault this is the first time in weeks we've actually talked to each other – you know it's your fault so don't even try and pretend-!"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Robert yelled back.

"Don't even try to pretend that you're confused-"

"Virginia!"

"I never told you that Tony calls me 'Pepper'," she finally revealed.

Robert, for the first time, was silent.

"I never told you that," Pepper continued. "Everyone at work calls me 'Pepper', but I never said anything about it to you. So the only way for you to have found out my 'pet name' as you so accurately put it is for you to have talked to him personally." Pepper clenched her teeth. "What…did you say to him?"

"I didn't say-"

She cut of him off. "It doesn't matter what you said anyway. Because it worked – he backed off. Disappeared. Just like that. You would have thought I was working in a convent – how suddenly polite he was." She backed away from him and picked up her duffel bag, dropping it on the bed. "When he got back from Afghanistan, everyone told me that I shouldn't expect all of him to come back. That there was no way for him to be at one hundred percent after going through what he did. But instead, he came back better than he was before. A better person." She held her breath for a moment, then quietly asked him, "Now…do you know what it's like for someone you've known for ten years to suddenly disappear? Just when you thought the worst was over? Completely out of the blue. Gone."

"Virginia-"

"He was a shell of the person I once knew. You did that. And I thought it was something I missed or hadn't seen. It felt like I had failed him. I just didn't know it was all your doing. You were jealous, so you were willing to kill him. And I can't be with someone who's that selfish."

"I didn't do it because I was selfish," Robert said, trying to get in a word edgewise. "I did it because-"

"You knew I wouldn't want it, Robert! Stop lying to me! You knew Tony was important in my life, but that didn't stop you did it?"

"I'm sorry, Virginia."

"You're always sorry," Pepper said, picking up her bag.

"I'm sorry for lying to you."

Pepper stopped. "That's not why I'm angry, Robert." Then, in a harsher tone, she added. "That's not why I'm leaving. I'm leaving because you purposely drove the two of us apart. You let it happen and you chose not to tell me. You were perfectly fine with killing him, thinking it meant you could get a tighter grip on me."

"Virginia – you know that's not true," Robert quickly added, trying to get in a word edgewise. For the first time, Pepper actually saw remorse in his eyes. "You know I love you-"

"You wouldn't have done that if you loved me," she corrected. "You don't love me."

"I do, Virginia – you know I do. Just let me-"

She ignored him, carrying her things toward the door. "If you find anything I left behind, mail it." At the threshold, she turned around, taking in one last look at what she was leaving behind and suddenly realized she didn't give a damn.

They were silent for a few long moments, just staring at each other. "So what now?" Robert eventually asked her quietly. "Is that it? Are you going to Tony, now?"

"No," she answered honestly. "I'm not. I'm going to take the rest of the day off, go to work at nine in the morning tomorrow…and be the happiest I've been in months."

"Do you love him?"

Pepper was outside by now, holding her bag with her free hand at the door.

"Do you love him?" Robert repeated. He had to know.

Pepper decided to be honest – brutally so. "Right now, Robert, I love him much more than I love you," she answered smoothly. Then she slammed the door shut, leaving a chapter of her life behind.


Next morning

"This Expo idea of yours just sounds like your ego on crack," Rhodes said spitefully.

"Don't be mad, Platypus," Tony taunted as he made an adjustment to the portable suit. "Just because you're not getting your suit, doesn't mean you can't be happy for me…"

"That's exactly what it means!"

Tony laughed as he worked. Rhodes was on his way back to base so they were talking on the phone. Well, Rhodey was whining and Tony was egging him on which accounted for about sixty percent of all their conversations.

"Besides…the expo isn't my ego on crack as you so nicely put it. It's about-"

"Don't give me the 'legacy' crap."

"But-"

"Legacy is a euphemism for egotistical."

Tony thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose there's always a bit of ego whenever legacy is concerned."

"No…" Rhodey said slowly. "Legacy is ego on steroids."

"Are you high right now?"

Rhodey ignored the interjection. "I mean, how narcissistic can you be to be so concerned with what people think about you after you died?"

"That's not narcissistic, Rhodes," Tony said simply.

"Yeah, it is."

"I think you're pouting."

"No, I'm not."

"Relax, Platypus. You're getting a suit."

Rhodey was silent for a moment. "Really?"

"Nope," Tony said quickly. Then he immediately started laughing.

"That wasn't funny, Tony. Not even a little bit."

"Sure it was. You were just on the receiving end so you couldn't appreciate it."

"I'll get you for it too, if you're not careful. Listen, I'm at the hangar so I'll see you probably when I get back."

"Bring me something shiny," Tony said before hanging up on him. Then, he switched his attention to his AI. "JARVIS, how long until I can use my hands?"

Another three weeks, Sir….for the twenty-fourth time. You do realize the length of your recovery remains constant despite how many times you ask for a prognosis?

Tony rolled his eyes, mumbling to himself. "In that case, since I can't write anything down you better be taking notes."

When do I not, Sir?

He laughed to himself, then suddenly wondered why he was in such a good mood.

Well, for starters – he hadn't had a nightmare. Granted, it had only been one night since Pepper had played doctor but one night was the longest he'd gone nightmare-free or any other attack free for the last few months. So it was definitely enough to keep a jump in his step, despite his numb hands.

The Expo had also been approved – that had been yesterday. And now official planning was underway and Stark Industries would be going public with the endeavor in just one week.

The third reason walked through the door at about five past nine.

"So…you lied to me too?" she greeted.

He turned around, not bothering to answer her question. "Pepper! How are you? I'm fine. My hand is sore. Did you hear? I was working and I got it all cut up. Some crazy red head stitched it all up for me though-"

"I heard you had a talk with my boyfriend a couple weeks ago." Pepper quickly interrupted.

Tony raised an eyebrow, feigning surprise. "You have a boyfriend? Why didn't you tell me?"

Pepper raised her eyebrow.

"I might have met him," Tony amended. "Briefly."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Pepper, I also got a call from my great aunt twice removed, but did I tell you about that?"

"You have a great aunt?"

"No." Tony shook his head and waved his wounded hand nonchalantly. "That's not the point."

"What did he say?"

"Well…a variety of words were exchanged…"

"Tony."

"We talked about the weather, the economy-"

"Tony..."

"And I think he mentioned an argument he had with you some time ago but my memory might be failing me at this point…I feel awfully light headed at the moment…"

She sighed – she hadn't expected any less, and by now she'd pin-pointed which argument it was that had changed everything – both at home and at work.

"He was pissed off…so I gave him a few minor suggestions," Tony tried to say offhandedly.

Now, this she certainly hadn't expected, and she jogged her memory back to that day. Robert had picked her up because she'd left her car at Tony's and was stuck at Stark Industries. And he'd brought her…a frappucino. With soy milk.

"Minor suggestions?" Pepper repeated, as if she hadn't heard him correctly.

"Well they work pretty well when you're pissed off with me."

"Tony, I'm always pissed off with you."

"I mean in seriously extreme circumstances. Like that one time I tried to surprise you and part of your old house was demolished in the process. An honest accident, might I add…again."

"How did you even know I like soy milk?" she quickly interrupted again, not entirely eager to hear that particular story.

"Because I tried your drink once – and I can honestly say soy milk is absolutely disgusting."

"And the frappuccino? Tony, you don't even know what's in your own frappuccino – how on Earth would you know what to get me?" She raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"That's entirely false. I know which one I like."

"Ok – which one?"

Tony thought about it for a moment. "I like the one with the little bits in it," he said flicking his fingers as if the gesture accurately explained what those "bits" were.

Pepper thought about it, keeping in mind that the frappuccino she got Tony was always plain mocha. "The ice?" she checked. "The crushed ice?"

"That's ice? It's so crunchy. I swear it's the best part of the drink."

"Ok, never mind," Pepper said, holding up her hand and now ready to abandon the topic. There was no point trying to get into Tony's mind and understand his spying techniques. His mind operated on an entirely different level…and entirely different frequency.

"This isn't about the drink-" Pepper started carefully.

"Hardly," Tony agreed. "But that doesn't matter. This seems like a conversation you should be having with your boyfriend…" he wagged his finger at her disapprovingly, smiling cockily.

"Ex," she corrected quickly. "My recent ex, Tony."

His face fell immediately and the shine in his eye disappeared just as quickly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

"I'm going to assume…it was the conversation I had with him that spurred this sudden breakup. Or, more accurately, that you find out about it."

"Not exactly," Pepper said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.

"So lying doesn't tick you off? Ms. Potts, you are far too easy to please."

"Oh, please."

"Unless there was someone else…?" Tony prompted coyly, pretending to be preoccupied with something on one of the screens.

She tried not to look at him, instead pulling out a file related to the Expo for him to glance through. "Excuse me?"

"Do spill, Potts. My ears are tingling for gossip."

"Well, in that case…there was someone else."

"Really?" his eyes twinkled again. No need to feel sorry about the break up if she didn't…especially if there was someone else now involved.

"At least," Pepper started. "There was someone who was consistently getting in the way of my relationship with Robert." She gave him a very pointed look.

His face fell again as he began to realize the playful banter had taken a more serious turn. "Sorry, I didn't mean to-"

Pepper rolled her eyes. "Mr. Stark there's no need for you to apologize. Your ego is set off so easily. Who said I was even talking about you?"

Tony's grin reappeared. "Potts, if we are to be this brutally honest to each other, then I might as well point out that, after all, I am the most constant and consistent man in your life."

Pepper nearly scoffed. "Consistent? You? Hardly."

"I think we'd make an excellent couple."

"Says who?"

"Says me – the day after I saved your life on the Stark Industries roof when Obie turned into a walking missile."

"I completely disagree-"

"I'm aware of your opinions on the subject matter," Tony spat back. "Your side of the argument had something to do with me not bringing you a martini. You have no problem with lying but if a man forgets a drink, the entire relationship's out the window…"

Pepper scoffed again, muttering to herself. "We would not make an excellent couple."

"Of course we would! We've lasted, what ten years? And somehow pulled through a three month, unexpected long distance relationship plus a little insanity session..."

She didn't like hearing that. "Tony, stop."

"Well, it's the truth," he mumbled.

"I don't want to talk about it," Pepper said finally. "Ever. I don't ever want to talk about those three months in Afghanistan or anything else that happened up until two nights ago. It's all in the past – it's over and done. And I want it there. As soon as your hands heal, every single memory of what's happened is gone. I won't remember any of it. So don't even think about bringing it back because I'll just act as if I don't know what you're talking about. We're moving on. That's the plan."

Tony nodded once, his lips pressed tightly together. "Whatever you say, Ms. Potts."

"Good," Pepper said, changing tones erratically. "And I still refuse to date you. You're too high maintenance."

"Am not."

She laughed. "Oh, yes you are."

"Well, you're no better," Tony retaliated. "It's not my fault bringing back a drink would prove so complicated. In my defense, I did order the drinks. I just didn't pick them up. There was a…disturbance."

"I need your autograph, Mr. Stark."

"You're changing the subject," Tony said, awkwardly holding a pen. "You're just like JARVIS."

Pepper smirked back evilly. "Then you should date JARVIS."

"Maybe I will…JARVIS, what are your opinions on dark blue and backless dresses? And be honest."

I choose to kindly reserve my comments, Sir.

"So I think we all agree?" Tony said matter of factly to Pepper, ignoring JARVIS's remark. "Concerning our relationship status?"

"If that status is 'nonexistent', then yes, we are precisely on the same page."

"I'm sure you'll come around eventually."

"As they all do, I presume?" Pepper asked, unimpressed.

"Absolutely not. Only the priceless ones take their time."

"I wasn't aware you were capable of waiting."

"Only when the woman is special and intriguing enough to hold my attention for so long," he glanced up at her suggestively, but with an honest look on his eyes.

Pepper felt her cheeks glow and desperately hoped she wasn't blushing. "Feel free to dream – your flattery is falling on dead soil. Unlike you, Mr. Stark, my ego is not nearly as overgrown as yours." And with an almost evil look in her eyes and a smirk dancing upon her lips, she took the signed papers and asked him, "Are we done here?"

Tony pretended to think about it. "Not quite – I think we should go out for lunch."

"No."

"And by 'out' I mean order pizza."

"No," Pepper repeated curtly.

"And while we're at it we could always discuss the Expo."

"Oh, so now you're ready to include me in the planning process."

"Well, considering you play doctor so well I thought I'd try and see how well you could play assistant – you know, the position I actually hired you for."

"Hmm," Pepper hummed. "And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you realized you just can't plan it by yourself? You know, I was beginning to wonder how long it would take you to crack under the pressure."

Tony grimaced and rolled his eyes, muttering something under his breath.

Pepper smiled. "If it's any consolation I am thoroughly impressed that you lasted this long."

"So is it a date?"

"I'm not interested in the term you decide to give our meeting."

"It's an unprofessional meeting. By default, it's a date."

"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"

"Yes, that will be all, Ms. Potts."

Tony grinned, looking all too pleased with himself as he watched Pepper leave the room. The sound of her stilettos hitting the floor echoed behind her. Just as the door closed, he noticed a quiet smile was still etched clearly into her features. The same smile presented itself on his own face and as it did, he thought to himself that he did, in fact, have a future to look forward to.

THE END

Hopefully not too abrupt an ending. But I'm sure most of you saw it coming anyway.

So that's that. And now I've to a bit of important news for you…

I will be taking a lengthy hiatus from fanfiction – writing that is, not reading. This is because I plan on working on a personal project and in order for it to be successful, I'm going to be spending a LOT of time on it. And, unfortunately, fanfiction is probably one of my greatest (though beautiful) distractions.

For those of you who have been reading my earlier Iron Man fics, this also means the sequel to "The Road to Happiness" won't be coming out any time soon (unfortunately). However, I do have the entire story planned out so it will come up in time. Maybe in 6 months, maybe 1 year, I have no idea. But IT WILL BE WRITTEN. I know I've dashed a lot of people's hopes and I do sincerely apologize – but this project is something I really want to pursue so I'll be dedicating a majority of my time to that.

So, farewell then – to everyone who has read any or all of my fics and especially to all of those who have reviewed. I really do appreciate it and I'll be sure to leave my mark on YOUR review pages when you write.

Thanks for reading! LOVE YOU ALL AND THANKS AGAIN! Please do leave one last review for me.

xoxo

writingmonkey10