Disclaimer: I own nothing involving the Iron Man franchise or its characters.

-:- Chapter 9: Back Home -:-

"Oh Veronica dear, how are you," Ronnie's aunt Helen asked.

"I'm fine Aunt Helen," she smiled

"Are you here alone," Helena asked. "Poor dear, you couldn't find a date?"

"Uh no, here I'd like you meet Dr. Bruce Banner," said Ronnie, wrapping her arm around Bruce's.

"How about we get a drink," Bruce offered, pulling Ronnie away.

"Yes, please," Ronnie, agreed. "Thank you," she whispered when they were out of earshot. So far, the wedding was a nightmare and it had not even started yet. Ronnie felt the pressure of putting on this charade pressing down on shoulders and did not know how long she could keep it up. Her mother was celebrating, bragging about a daughter finally getting married and her father could not praise his new son-in-law enough. She just wished her family could see who Jerrod really was.

The ceremony went off without a hitch to her parent's pleasure. Her sister walked down the aisle with their father, smiling and wearing her custom-made Vera Wang dress. Veronica felt the pang in her heart as she saw how proud her parents looked and happy her sister seemed. Halfway through the vows, her phone went off and Ronnie was not surprised to see it was Tony again.

"Where are you," Tony demanded as soon as she answered.

"At my sister's wedding. What they hell do you want," Ronnie scowled. Talking to Tony was not something she was ready to have. No matter how may scenarios she imaged, no matter how many things she planned to say.

"Come back to Manhattan now," he ordered.

"What," exclaimed Veronica? "After everything you've put me through…" A loud crashed echoed through the phone line and then she heard Tony let out a shaken moan. "Tony! Tony, are you alright," Ronnie's voice was frantic. She could hear something happening but had no clue what was going on. There was another crash – glass shattered, people were screaming and then a weak grunt from Tony. "Tony, what's going on," she tried again. "Get up, Stark!" The line went dead – the most awful click left echoing in Ronnie's ears.

Her heart was giving out, her knees buckling, barely holding. "Bruce," she screamed, racing to the others. She spotted Bruce talking to her parents and sister, as guests were leaving. "We have to get back to New York." Her parents through a huge fit but Ronnie was able to persuade them it was an emergency. Finding a flight leaving on time was the worst part. As they were heading towards the airport in their cab Bruce was on his phone trying to arrange their plane tickets. Sitting in that plane was probably the worst experience of her life. Waiting for the plane to finally land and see Tony. When the plane landed Bruce grabbed them a cab to get Stark Tower.

What Ronnie found there only increased her panic. The security system was shut down, Jarvis was shut down too and the place was a disaster. Everything was smashed to bits. It looked liked the building had just gone through an earthquake. Veronica rushed to the main lab room that Tony had claimed for himself awhile back while Bruce helped evacuate some of the employees still left.

"Tony," she called out. The lab was just as big a mess as the rest of the house. She was worried.

The door to the adjacent bathroom opened and Tony limped out, attempting to bandage his right arm. "Tony," Ronnie sighed with relief. "You're okay?"

"You're here," Tony stared at her in shock.

"What's happened? What's going on," Veronica asked.

"We had some issues," Tony explained hesitantly.

"Where's pepper? Tony, what…." Ronnie stopped mid-sentence when she noticed one of the earlier suits missing from its case.

"I know this looks bad," Tony started to say," …but that's because it is."

"Please, tell me that third suit is out being dry-cleaned," Ronnie said dryly.

"Yeah, can't do that. Pepper took it," admitted Tony.

"Pepper took the suit," exclaimed Veronica. "How in the world did she take the suit!?"

"She had all the access codes. She's always had them. I gave them to you too when you took her place," Tony admitted. "I thought I could trust her."

"What could she possible want with the thing," Ronnie asked in disbelief. "She would never have the guts to wear it, she won't able to sell it without someone catching her, and there is no way anyone else could duplicate the technology to make their own. Even having that one suit is useless for a prototype."

"I don't think she was taking it for herself," said Tony.

"You mean she's working for someone else," asked Ronnie. "Like Hammer?"

"Hammer's still in prison but I was thinking of a new competitor," Tony admitted.

"Who," Ronnie asked.

"Not sure of that yet," he told her.

"So why am I here," she asked. "Where do I fit in all this?"

"Things are different now; I have to protect the one thing that I can't live without. That's you," he told her.

"Tony, after everything you…" she started.

"Look, I know I have a lot to make up for…I knew Pepper had changed but I wanted you out of the way and safe," he told her.

Ronnie let out a heavy sigh. This was just like Tony to pull her back in after pushing her away. If she stayed, she would just be putting herself in the way of heartache. If she left, would she be able to forgive herself and forget Tony. What guarantee did she have that Tony would not push her away again. Nevertheless, Ronnie knew what she was going to chose. She got her key back, along with the codes to the tower and headed back to her room to unpack what clothing she brought back with her. Tony was busy getting Jarvis and the Tower back up. They both figured taking things slow and giving each other some space was called for.

By the time she was finished putting away her things Tony came up to grab her for dinner. Needleless to say she had never had such an awkward meal. They hardly spoke, Tony got his is fifth whiskey and Ronnie her third glass of wine. Skipping dessert was the obvious choice but Tony would not let her escape. She picked at her food while Tony downed the rest of his drink. Calling it a night, Ronnie offered to take care of the dishes before she went to bed. Once she was alone in her room a sign of relief escaped her lips. The awkwardness and tension that still hung between her and Tony would take awhile to end.

Hours later, the sound of glass shattering woke Veronica from her sleep. Grabbing her robe on the way out, she headed out of her room and down the stairs. Halting in the living room, she stood next to the large, black piano, listening for anther sound. A second crash rang through the nearly empty house and Ronnie followed her way down to Tony's workshop. Thankfully, the old access codes worked and she got in. Making her way down the staircase, the first thing that came in sight was the second level glass doors shattered to pieces. Tony was standing in the middle of the room with half the Iron Man suit placed on his arms and legs.

"So same old, same old," she asked, announcing her presence. Tony did not respond; did not even look at her. He was so lost in his own world, he did not notice her until Ronnie placed her hand on his arm. "Tony, what are you doing down her? It's late," said Ronnie. "You should be asleep."

"I can't sleep. That's the problem Ronnie," admitted Tony.

"Why? What's going on," Veronica asked gently. She did not want to push Tony when it did not look like he was up for a conversation.

"I can't sleep knowing someone stole my suit; that it's out there for them to use for whatever they want," Tony told her. He moved back and started taking off the equipment he was testing for a new suit model.

"No matter what you think…it's not your fault Tony," said Veronica.

"Yes it is," he exclaimed. Anger radiated within his voice as he said, "If something happens…if someone gets hurt or worse killed because I let my technology fall into the wrong hands then it will be my fault; nobody else's!"

"No, it won't be," Ronnie fought back, her own anger growing. It was evident in her voice. "If something bad happens then it will be because of the actions of bad people, not you Tony. You do not think for them or control their actions. They will be the ones to blame. They'll be responsible."

"It's still…" he tried to say before Ronnie interrupted again.

"No," she shouted. "I am not letting you guilt yourself into this Tony. You're not the bad guy here."

"I still need to be one to get the suit back. I'm the only one who can fight back," said Tony. He moved over the workbench and began tinkering.

"Then you should not be up all night in the lab. You need your sleep and your rest," she told him.

"Trust me, if I could I would but I can't Ronnie. I come down here and do what I do best. I tinker," he told her.

"Just try Tony," Ronnie said gently.

"Can I ask you something," Tony asked, wiping the oil from his hands.

"I guess," she agreed reluctantly. "What is it?"

"Is there…is there still a chance for us," asked Tony.

"I don't know," she admitted.

"Look you don't have to answer now. I have a lot to make up for but promise me you'll think about it," he pleaded.

"Alright, I will," she told him before heading back to her room.

The next morning Veronica accompanied Tony to the office. Ever since the attack on his home aired, the reporters had been relentless and Stark Industries was in turmoil. They were going through the files when Ronnie found something terrible.