A/N: My apologies everyone for taking so long to do the next update but I've just finished a 2 week straight stint at work and yesterday the muse and I collapsed in a heap with exhaustion. We're still not 100% today, but we did manage to get this chapter done. I don't know how good it is but it's done at least.
Another apology because I said the next chapter would get us to the action, but this Pepperony scene got too big, so we're going to have one more chapter before the action (hopefully posting tomorrow) and then we'll be bringing this big boy home. ;)
Thank you again for reading and all of your amazing comments. I haven't been able to reply to many due to time constraints and general brain fatigue, but I treasure every one of them. You're all brilliant, as are all the people who fave this story. Thank you so much.
Okay, on to the next chapter and (hopefully) see you soon...
Chapter Fifty- Six
Tony walked into his and Pepper's apartment and looked around. Jarvis had told him that was where Pepper was, so he continued on walking. There was a knot in his stomach which Tony knew wouldn't go away until he'd made everything right between them. He wasn't exactly sure how he was going to do that, but it was the only thing that mattered right then. Tony walked into the bedroom and came to an abrupt halt, the colour draining from his face. "What are you doing?" he rasped.
Pepper didn't turn round, just continued packing her suitcase, slim shoulders tense. "I can't talk to you right now, Tony. I'm still really mad at you."
Tony covered the distance between them and slammed the suitcase shut, making Pepper take a surprised step back. "You can't leave me!" he blurted out in a panic.
Pepper's lips thinned in annoyance. "I'm not leaving you," she told him flatly.
Tony looked down at the closed suitcase, trying to process. "Am I leaving then?" he asked uncertainly. Damn, turns out Happy might be right about the dog house thing.
"I've got a trip to Beijing tomorrow," Pepper said shortly. "There are some more details to tie up with this business deal."
"But you're coming back, right?" asked Tony hesitantly.
"Of course I'm coming back," said Pepper tersely, pushing Tony out of the way to open the suitcase again and continue filling it with clothes.
The knot in Tony's stomach relaxed, just a little. He watched Pepper's stony profile as she continued to pack. "You're still mad, aren't you?"
Pepper's head snapped round to glare at him. She opened her mouth but then closed it again, jaw tense as she returned to her packing.
"You're doing it wrong," Tony advised her.
"I'll pack how I want," she snapped.
"I mean the being mad thing," he qualified. "You're doing it wrong. Why aren't you shouting at me?"
"Because I'm too mad to fight with you," replied Pepper tightly, still not looking at him as she packed.
Tony was confused. "I don't think you understand how fighting works, Pep. Being mad is kind of the point." He hated this deathly quiet between them, it wasn't how they did things and it made him nervous.
"Tony, I'm so mad right now if I start screaming I may never stop and say some things which aren't going to be helpful." Pepper finally looked at him, blue fire sparking in her eyes. "And you've already covered that ground when you called me a whore in front of all of our friends, oh wait, a whore who does it for free, that was your take on things, wasn't it?"
"I was confused and upset," Tony said hastily. "I didn't know what I was saying."
"Why were you upset?" she snapped at him. "I was the one you were insulting."
"I was dealing with a lot of stuff all at once," Tony tried to explain. "Thinking you were pregnant had me all tied up in knots."
Pepper turned to glare at him. "Then you should have come to talk to me about it," she said angrily. "That's how a relationship works."
"I thought I did talk to you about it," Tony protested. "But it turns out we were talking about different things." He gave her a pointed look. "You know, you usually can decipher what I'm talking about Pepper, so when you think about it, you've really dropped the ball on this one."
Her expression hardened. "Get out," she ground out.
"I wasn't judging you," said Tony hastily, sensing he'd made a mistake.
"Well, aren't I the lucky one," said a sarcastic Pepper. "Get out!"
Pepper shoved on his chest, backing him up and before Tony knew what was happening, he was suddenly outside the bedroom and having the door slammed in his face. He winced at the force with which Pepper closed the door. Somehow, he'd managed to make this worse. "Pepper, please, can't we just talk?" he pleaded with her. There was no answer from the other side of the door. "Alright, I'll talk then, you listen."
"Because that has worked out so well for you so far, right?"
Tony ignored the sarcasm and took a deep breath, trying to gather his thoughts. He leaned his forehead on the bedroom door and spoke from his heart and just prayed he wasn't going to say something stupid in the process. "When I thought you were pregnant I panicked," Tony confessed. "I was so scared what that meant for us. There were so many things that could go wrong with you or the baby and I had no control over that. And then there was the whole thing of the baby actually being born. What the hell do I know about being a father? I was terrified that I was going to screw our kid up and you'd both hate me forever and I wouldn't be able to live with that. I know I'm making this baby thing all about me, but that was how I was feeling but I didn't want you to know I was being an ass, so I tried to be supportive but then things got a little out of control." Tony closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Pepper. You know I wouldn't hurt you for anything but I kind of lost my mind. I always lose my mind when it comes to you."
He couldn't think of anything else to say, just strained his ears to try and hear something on the other side of the door. Tony didn't even know if Pepper was listening, and if she was, did she even care after what he'd done? He groaned internally as the silence between them lengthened and leant a little harder on the door, fighting back despair. What if he'd broken something between them irreversibly? What if this was it. Tony's desperate questions to himself were abruptly interrupted as he felt himself suddenly falling. Pepper had unexpectedly opened the door and Tony wasn't ready for it. As most of his weight was on the door, when it was opened, he couldn't stop himself from falling flat on his face at Pepper's feet.
"Tony!" she gasped in surprise.
"I'm okay," came Tony's muffled reply as he lay face down in the carpet. "Don't worry."
Tony rolled over and cautiously looked up at Pepper, trying to read her expression.
"Get up, Tony."
Tony frowned, unable to put together what Pepper was feeling by looking at her. "If you're planning on hitting me, I think I'd rather stay here if it's all the same to you. Less distance to fall."
Pepper gave him an exasperated look. "I'm not going to hit you." She knelt down beside him. "Even though you deserve it."
"If it makes you feel better, Lewis took care of that for you," said Tony, grimacing a little as his bruised cheek continued to ache.
"It does make me feel better," Pepper acknowledged.
"You hate me," said Tony in defeat.
"I don't hate you, Tony," said Pepper quietly. "I could never hate you. I dislike strongly some of the choices you make, but that's different." She looked at him soberly. "Did you mean what you said?"
"No," said Tony hastily, propping himself up on his elbows and looking at her earnestly. "I in no way think you're a whore, paid or otherwise."
"Not that, idiot," she said in annoyance. "I mean about what you just said then, about how you felt when you thought I was pregnant?"
"I know it doesn't make me seem very noble," said Tony unhappily, "but yes, that's how I felt."
"Alright, that's fine, I understand you feeling all of those things, but how do you get from being worried about being a father to thinking I'm having an affair?" she asked helplessly. "How can you not know me better than that?"
Tony's tone was urgent. "I do know you better than that, Pepper."
"Then how could you think that?" Pepper argued.
Tony closed his eyes and groaned. "Because it's you." He tried to explain. "It's like when I would drink. There was always this point in the night, day, whatever, where I knew the next drink would be one drink too many and then I'd have this little voice screaming in my head to go for it anyway and I would and then everything would go to hell and I'd wake up naked in someone's Jacuzzi in Palm Beach with no idea how I got there or what I did. That little voice in my head is like my self-destruct button and it overrides all my other senses. It was like that with you. I knew I was making a mistake in even entertaining the thought that you'd be unfaithful to me, but that self-destruct button was pushed and I couldn't let it go, it just overtook me and then suddenly I'm punching a gay guy in my living room and hurting you." Tony gave Pepper an emotional look. "And I can't bear the thought I hurt you, Pepper."
"Oh, Tony," she sighed, shaking her head at him.
"I don't want to disappoint you, Pepper," he said quietly. "I mean, I know I disappoint you all the time with standing you up, not doing things you want me to do when you ask, taking too many risks, driving my car too fast, not caring about the business, doing paint ball practice with the newest Jackson Pollock painting you bought for the collection-"
"Wait, what?" asked a startled Pepper.
"Nothing, that didn't happen, not even a little bit," said Tony hastily and quickly tried to move on. "My point is, Pep, I know I let you down and you can't always rely on me but I wanted you to know that when it comes to the big stuff, I'm in, one hundred percent, no questions asked."
Pepper arched an eyebrow. "Was this your version of being all in?"
Tony pulled a face. "Needs work?"
"Needs a lot of work," she confirmed but then smiled.
Tony felt like the sun had come out from behind a dark cloud and felt some of the tension ease from his body. "I love you, Virginia Potts," he said unevenly. "I love you to the point of madness and beyond."
"I know," she said wryly, "I was there." Pepper leaned down so her face was close to his. "And I love you to the point of madness and beyond too."
Tony's heart burst with joy. "Really? Still?"
Pepper gave a little laugh. "I'm still here, aren't I?"
Tony's head was starting to spin being this close to her. "You are." He gazed at her adoringly. "And looking utterly gorgeous while doing it." He moved in a little closer. "If I go to kiss you, are you going to hit me?"
A small smile played around Pepper's infinitely kissable lips. "Would that stop you?"
"Not even a little bit," said Tony huskily as he levered himself up to close the small distance between them. His senses exploded with the first taste of Pepper on his lips. It felt like eons since they'd last kissed, even though it was only that morning, and Tony relished each nanosecond of it after being fearful he'd never be allowed to kiss this woman again. He put his hand to the back of Pepper's head, burying his fingers in the pale auburn softness and deepened the kiss. Pepper offered no resistance, eagerly moving into his kisses as Tony gave a little groan and lay back down on the floor, pulling Pepper's body down onto him. A hand went to the bottom of her tight skirt, sliding up under it so he could cup one very toned buttock in his hand.
"You're vibrating," she whispered into their kiss.
"And then some," agreed Tony eagerly, the blood pounding in his ears on its way to a destination much lower on his body.
Pepper laughed against his lips. "I mean your phone, it's vibrating, you're getting a call."
"You're more important," said Tony dismissively, even though he could now feel the thing vibrating away in his jean pocket.
"It could be important," Pepper argued.
"I'm getting makeup sex," Tony argued back, squeezing her wonderful bottom. "What could be better than that?"
Pepper pulled back and sent him an amused look. "Who said you were getting sex?"
"My overdeveloped sense of optimism?" returned Tony hopefully.
Pepper laughed and wiggled a little on top of him. "Is that what I can feel?" she sassed him. "I didn't realise that was your optimism pressing against me."
Tony groaned at her teasing as much as at enjoying her wiggling. "Don't play with me, woman," he growled.
Pepper's lips hovered over his, tantalisingly close, torturing Tony with their nearness. "I thought that was exactly what you wanted me to do with you, Tony," she purred before abruptly sitting up and grabbing his cell phone out of his pants in one swift motion.
"Hey!" Tony protested at the theft and the loss of contact, mainly the loss of contact but Pepper was already answering the phone.
"Tony Stark's answering service," she said primly into the phone.
Tony sat up and pressed kisses along her elegant neck, not caring in the least who was on the other end of the phone. He nuzzled her neck, one hand going to the buttons of Pepper's blouse but stopped when he felt Pepper tense. Tony pulled back and looked at her with a frown.
"It's Director Fury," said Pepper seriously. "He needs to speak to you."
Tony took the phone and listened to the typically short directions on the other end of the phone. "I'm on my way," he promised him. Tony hung up and gave Pepper an apologetic look. "Pepper-"
"I know," she interrupted, "you need to go to work, I understand."
"I don't deserve you."
Pepper rolled her eyes. "Goes without saying."
Tony smiled knowingly. "But you like me saying it anyway."
Pepper's eyes were laughing. "That also goes without saying." She grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled Tony into a passionate kiss which left them both breathless. "You come home to me in one piece," she ordered him. "Jackass."
Tony grinned. "Your wish is my command, my lady."
"And apologise to Lewis before today is over," she instructed him as Tony stood up and helped her to her feet.
"Already done," said Tony proudly. "See, I told you I was sorry."
"You apologised to Lewis before you apologised to me?"
"I was taking a run up at you, start with the easy stuff first and then work my way up to the hard stuff."
"Were you trying to apologise to me or do long jump?" asked an exasperated Pepper.
"I've never understood long jump," offered up Tony. "I can understand high jump, up is important, but long, I don't know, it doesn't seem that magnificent to me. Big deal, you can jump a long way."
"The Hulk gets around by jumping long distances," Pepper noted. "Perhaps you could mention to him that you find his mode of transport less than impressive."
"It's different when a giant green monster does something," Tony noted. "Everything they do is impressive. The Hulk, making a bed, impressive. The Hulk, scratching his gigantic, green ass, impressive."
Pepper just smiled. "Don't you have somewhere you should be right now?"
"Kiss for good luck?" asked Tony brightly.
"You'll get your kiss when you come home to me," said Pepper and put her hand on his chest, the worry showing through her teasing. "Call it an incentive."
Tony grinned. "Then call me incensed."
"That's not the right way to use that word."
"I know, I was hoping you wouldn't notice."
"It was a slim hope at best."
Pepper gave him in intense look. "Be careful," she pleaded with him. "Whatever this is, just please, God, be careful, Tony."
"I will," he promised her and started to back out of the room. "You just keep those lips warm for me. I'm going to be back before you have time to miss me." With that Tony was out of the bedroom and breaking into a trot, the mental image of Pepper smiling at him securely locked away in his head for safe keeping. It felt so good to finally have the air cleared between them. It felt like days since Tony had been able to think straight and now with everything sorted between him and Pepper, he could at last get his head back in the game. And it looked like that game was heating up. "Jarvis," he barked as he ran towards the elevator, "get the Mach VIII suit ready for me."
"Very good, sir."
A thought occurred as he stepped into the elevator. "And find me someone who can take paint off a Jackson Pollock painting."
There was a brief pause. "Isn't paint on the Pollock the point, sir?"
"Don't get smart with me, just find me a guy and don't use that many p's in a sentence ever again, it's creepy," said Tony impatiently.
"Pardon my playfulness, sir."
Tony shook his head. What was up with a computer that had to have the last word all the time? Tony gave up. "Are the other Avengers assembling?"
"I believe even as we speak, sir," responded the ever unflappable Jarvis. "Shall I also ready the jet?"
"Yes, fuel her up."
"What co-ordinates am I programming in, sir?"
"Los Alamos, New Mexico," said Tony grimly as he remembered Fury's message.
"And what is in Los Alamos, sir?"
"Trouble," replied Tony as the doors slid open at his lab's level, "big trouble."