"Explanations"

In which Tony tries to explain that it wasn't quite how it looked. This is the sequel to my fic "The Worst Thing?" You should probably read that one first for this to make sense!

I decided to do this as a separate story, rather than the second chapter of the first, because it's written slightly differently, and - to me at least - it didn't seem to flow as well as a two-parter. Also, I thought "The Worst Thing?" worked well as a oneshot, and I didn't want to spoil that.

Please do review (even if it's to tell me you didn't like it - as long as you tell me why!) I'm pretty new to the whole IM thing, so I'd kind of like to know if I'm doing okay? If you spot any glaring errors, please let me know. Let me know about the less-glaring errors too, if you like! Constructive criticism always welcomed :)

Oh shit. Oh SHIT. She hates me. She really hates me. Shit!

"Pepper! PEPPER! It's not what it looks like!"

It was too late; she had gone. Having practically run from the room, Tony could hear her heels clacking down the hallway faster than he'd ever heard them go before. Not that he was surprised: after what she'd just witnessed, he'd be damned lucky if she didn't sue him. She was definitely going to quit this time. Shit. If only he'd locked the door...

Much as he hated the idea of facing her in the mood she was bound to be in, and not that he relished the idea of telling her what the truth actually was - because frankly, it wasn't much better - Tony knew that realistically, there was no other option. He would beg if he had to; it wasn't as if he had any dignity left anyway. Following a quick stop by the bathroom to make himself presentable, he went to Pepper's office and knocked tentatively on the door.

No answer. Either she was ignoring him, or-

"Ms. Potts has left for the day, sir. Anything I can do to help?" came a voice from behind him. The young, very attractive brunette smiled and batted her eyelashes. Tony guessed she must be a secretary of some sort.

"Oh. Oh, no, thanks... uhm..?"

"Kelly," she finished for him.

"Kelly. Yeah, thanks, Kelly, but it was Ms. Potts I really needed to see."

"Well... if you change your mind," she replied. He was sure her tone sounded suggestive...

On any other day, Tony would have responded with his best line, and very probably taken her home with him that night - leaving his long-suffering P.A. to 'take out the trash' and find her replacement in the morning - but right now he was too preoccupied with the rather daunting task of placating one Ms. Pepper Potts.

Two weeks of silence later, and all was still not well at Stark Industries. On the plus side, Pepper hadn't quit, but she was studiously ignoring him. After a week, and in a vain attempt to bribe her into forgiving him, Tony had sneaked into her office one evening and hacked into her computer. Well, if you could call guessing her password "hacking".

She really ought to choose something less obvious than 'Louboutin'.

But that was beside the point: he could have done it if he'd had to. A quick search through her browser history proved fruitful, and ten minutes and one phonecall later, a pair of very expensive, very sexy Louboutin heels were winging their way to Stark Industries HQ. It'd be worth buying these even if I hadn't done anything wrong, just to see her in them, thought Tony, before mentally slapping himself, because that was just the sort of sentiment that'd gotten him into this situation in the first place. When the Louboutins didn't work, he ordered a pair of Jimmy Choos to go with them. However, if Tony had hoped that a couple of pairs of shoes - even ones that cost the equivalent of Pepper's entire monthly salary - each - would endear him to her, he was sadly mistaken. A fortnight later, two pairs of extremely expensive and lavishly giftwrapped shoes had been returned to his desk, unopened.

But for essential, business-related exchanges, Pepper was completely ignoring him. And she avoided even those if she could, choosing to send one of the secretaries on paperwork-running errands instead. Tony had never realised how much Pepper actually brightened up his day before, even if most of it was spent nagging him to do things he'd rather avoid. He kind of missed her. It was something of a revelation to him.

Knowing she wouldn't talk face-to-face (Okay, she might - actually, no, she wouldn't talk, though she might be prepared to yell at me - but I'm too damn scared of her to risk it...), Tony decided to try emailing her.

From: Stark, Anthony

To: Potts, Virginia

Subject: Do you still hate me? :(

Hi Pep,

Were those not the right shoes? I'm sorry. Really sorry. It wasn't what it looked like, I promise. Please let me explain. I'll take you out to lunch?

Tony x

He only had to wait three minutes for her reply, but those just might have been the longest three minutes of his life.. Tony screwed up his face and closed his eyes as he clicked on the message. Maybe if I keep my eyes shut, it won't be as bad. Nope, no good. Time to man-up, Anthony...

From: Potts, Virginia

To: Stark, Anthony

Subject: RE: Do you still hate me? :(

Tony,

1) Yes.

2) I didn't even open the shoes, as you are well aware. And if you think you can buy my forgiveness, you are very much mistaken.

3) Your promises mean nothing to me.

4) Using smilies in the subject line of what is essentially a begging email is very juvenile and only serves to make you look desperate.

5) Putting kisses on business emails is very unprofessional.

Please leave me alone. I am very busy trying to run your company, as you are apparently incapable of doing it yourself.

Pepper.

Incapable? We'll see about that!

Enough was enough. Tony decided to bite the bullet, and one quick phonecall to Pepper's assistant later, all of her meetings for the afternoon were cancelled. Not that she knew that, of course. Downing a scotch or two for Dutch courage, Tony headed for Pepper's office. Cautiously, he knocked on the door.

"Come in," came the brisk and businesslike voice from inside. He opened the door just far enough to stick his head in.

"Oh. It's you," said Pepper, obviously unimpressed.

"Can I come in?" Tony asked warily.

"If I say 'no', will you go away?" she replied with a sigh.

"Nope."

"What do you want, Tony? I have a lot to do this afternoon."

Tony pushed the door further open and entered the room, closing the door behind him.

"Uhm, actually, you don't anymore."

"What?"

"I, uhh... cancelled your meetings."

"You did what?"

"I came to talk to you!" he said, approaching her desk, but being careful to stay out of hitting range. "Explain what actually happened, and... y'know, apologise... and stuff."

"You cancelled my meetings?"

Oh boy, she sounds mad.

"Well technically, they were my meetings, actually. You just go to them 'cause you know I won't. And now you can't say you're too busy to listen." He thought for a second, then added as an afterthought:

"And anyway, I'm your boss so you have to listen to me." Ha! She can't argue with that one.

"Oh, now you're pulling rank? Nice to know you can when it suits you." She huffed, "Huh. Well I can't see how any explanation you can come up with can make this situation any less reprehensible," she retorted.

"Come on, Pep-" He was momentarily distracted by the thunderous expression on her face. If looks could kill, Pepper could have singlehandedly put the weapons division out of business years ago. Never mind the Jericho, I'll market Pepper as my next WMD...

"Pepper... " he tried again, "I know what it must have looked like, but really, that's not what it was." Though granted, it was almost as bad.

"Whatever, Tony!"

"No! Really!"

"Really?" she repeated, sarcastically. "So tell me, what was it then?"

"Uhm... it's kind of embarrassing, actually." Tony squirmed and looked away. It was, it really was. Particularly because he was stone cold sober at the time, so he couldn't even use alcohol as an excuse.

"How can it be any more embarrassing than what I thought you were doing? What I still think you were doing," she corrected, "'Cause if that's not what it was, then you do a damn good impression!"

"Nonono, I was doing what you thought I was doing - and by the way I really wish I... hadn't... done that, or at least that you... hadn't... walked in - but I wasn't looking at your file. Well, I was, but not for that reason. I just... forgot... to close the window before I... y'know?"

"No, I don't know. And I'm not sure I want to," Pepper replied, shaking her head. Whether it was in disagreement or in disgust, Tony wasn't sure. Both, probably.

"Okay, I'm just gonna come right out and say this, and you'll probably think even less of me than you already do but what the hell, I'm just gonna say it anyway 'cause things can't really get any worse than they are now and I don't like it when you don't speak to me and I'm really sorry if I've upset you and-"

"Tony, get to the point," Pepper cut in, raising her eyebrows expectantly.

"Oh. Yeah. Uhm, as I was saying-"

"Tony!"

"ItwasMissNovember!"

"What?"Pepper looked thoroughly confused.

"Miss November." Otherwise known as eleven of twelve. Or was she number ten? March had to pull out 'cause of that scheduling conflict... so yeah, actually November's ten. The Christmas twins will make it up to twelve. Mission (almost) accomplished. Anyway...

Tony shoved his hands into his pockets and hung his head. Suddenly his shoes seemed very interesting indeed.

Oh damn, this is gonna sound really bad.

"Tony? Hello?" Pepper waved her hand in front of his face, as if to wake him from his trance.

"Uh, yeah. See, I was on the phone with Miss November just before you came in. I didn't have time to... clean up... before you..."

"You were-"

"Phonesexyeah." Tony finished quickly, cringing with embarrassment. He could feel his face getting very warm, and could only imagine what shade of red his skin had gone.

"Riiiiiight," said Pepper slowly. "So you weren't... you know... over my profile?"

"No. No! That's what I've been trying to tell you! That was just coincidence. Very unfortunate coincidence, admittedly. But I have more respect for you than that, Pepper. I wouldn't do something like that." Actually, respect notwithstanding, I totally would. But out of necessity I keep those thoughts for when I'm home alone. Otherwise I'd never get any work done, and then you'd bust my balls even more.

"I see," Pepper said slowly. "So why were you looking at my profile?" She looked and sounded very suspicious.

Tony sighed and dug his hands further into his pockets. "I was trying to find out when your birthday was. So I wouldn't miss it." He hung his head again.

"It's in eight months' time. Or four months ago, depending on which year you're talking about," Pepper replied.

"Uhh, this year. I missed it. Again. Sorry," Tony replied, sheepishly. "I got you a present though," he added, more brightly.

"I thought I said you couldn't buy me off?" Pepper remonstrated.

"Ah, but this isn't a 'Forgive-Me' gift, it's a 'Sorry-I-Forgot-Your-Birthday-Again' gift. And if it makes you feel better, I already bought them before all this happened. For some reason I thought your birthday was next month." Actually, I didn't, I knew I'd already missed it, I just didn't realise it was four months ago. But I did buy this before you stopped talking to me, so it still counts.

Pepper chewed her bottom lip, as if she was considering something. He thought she was probably trying to decide whether or not she was going to forgive him. Either that or she was trying to decide whether to let him live. Before she could say anything, Tony whipped a small, black box out of his pocket and placed it down on the desk in front of her. After a moment or two of indecision, Pepper gave in to curiosity and opened the box. Inside were a pair of the most beautiful diamond solitaire earrings. 2 carat diamonds set in 18 carat white gold, to be precise. Tony hoped she didn't find out how much he'd spent on them. Not that money meant anything to him, but he knew that Pepper didn't like overly-extravagant gifts. Truth be told though, he'd had to buy her these when he'd seen them, birthday or no birthday - they were just perfect for her.

Pepper was rendered speechless. "I... I don't know what to say," she stuttered, her hand half-covering her mouth in shock.

"You don't have to say anything. Though it might be nice if you could give me some indication as to whether or not you like them," he replied, grinning nervously.

"I... They're perfect, Tony. Thank you." Her voice was barely a whisper as she smiled up at him, overwhelmed by his grand gesture.

"Good. And if I forget again next year - which I will try very hard not to - you have my permission to buy yourself something very expensive from me." His dark eyes lit up as he smiled properly for the first time in weeks. "Put 'em on then," he added, impatiently.

Pepper did, and pulled her compact mirror from her desk drawer to admire the effect. Perfect, they most certainly were.

"Am I forgiven, then?" Tony finally dared to ask.

"Forgiven for what? Having phone sex in your office without locking the door, or forgetting my birthday?"

"I'm kinda hoping both?" he answered hopefully. "And does that mean I can have phone sex in my office if I do lock the door?" he grinned impishly.

"Don't push it, Stark. Hmm...I guess these make up for you forgetting my birthday. Again." she replied, tucking a stray curl behind her ear so she could get a better look in the mirror. "But as for the other 'incident', you are most definitely not forgiven. In fact, I plan to make your life hell, Mr Stark. You have a lot of making up to do. And you can start by attending, and being on time for, every single meeting I table you for. Including the ones from this afternoon that'll have to be rescheduled. Oh, and I want Starbucks. Now."

"I thought you couldn't be bought, Ms. Potts?" he shot back, cheekily.

"It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind."

Pepper got her coffee. Tony went to all of his meetings. Later that day, he sent her shoes again. This time, they didn't come back.

So there we have it. Do we believe Tony's version of events? I think I do, though I'm afraid it's put some unsavoury ideas into his head regarding Pepper...

Oh, and in case anyone's interested, the earrings that Tony bought for Pepper would have cost the equivalent of £6000 (GBP), which my currency converter tells me is $9385 (USD). Yikes! Amazing what you can find with Google.