I'm overwhelmed by the response to the first chapter! Thank you so much! That really means a lot to me. Here's the next chapter, I tried to get it done as fast as I could. I hope you all enjoy!
He was filling out paperwork. All the necessary paperwork to get her out of the hospital, he wanted her to come home. He was sat in her room, in a chair beside her bed, his forehead creased and his lips pursed in concentration. The lines added years to his face, but she thought that he looked considerably older than the last time she had seen him. Pepper put it down to stress. Tony was looking better than he had the previous day, she could tell that he'd showered and had a decent night's sleep for once. They thought of making him sleep in her room, which she hated the idea of, but he ended up staying in a vacant room. It was his own decision, and she was thankful that he thought of it. She didn't want to share a bedroom with him.
Magenta had been in the room with them for a while, mostly to keep an eye on how she reacted to him and prompt him a little with the paperwork, but when it seemed that she wasn't really reacting to him being in the room and that he'd gotten the hang of things, she left. They were now alone in the room together, which was beginning to make her feel uncomfortable. She wasn't sure if the silene between them was a good or bad thing anymore; it was making things feel a lot more tense, but she wasn't sure if she wanted him to say anything to her. Pepper was sat in the corner, holding the bird box and keeping the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She hadn't opened the box since Tony entered the room, she didn't trust him with such a tiny, fragile creature. She knew the havoc he could wreak with only his hands, she knew what he was capable of, having seen it all first hand. Her eyes never left Tony, watching him with apprehension, as though she thought he would pounce on her at any second.
"I left Rhodey in charge of the company."
She jumped a little at the sudden break in the silence, holding the box a little tighter.
"He wasn't too pleased, but... he'll be glad to know you're safe, and gladder that he doesn't have to babysit for Stark Industries anymore." Tony chuckled a little, never looking up from the papers.
The strawberry blonde just stared at him blankly, without a flicker of emotion across her pale, gaunt face. Her eyes fell to the box every now and again, before settling back on him again. He kept talking, but she stopped listening to anything he was saying, covering her head with the blanket and trying to make herself seem as small as possible. Ever since she was a child, Pepper's way of coping with feeling threatened or afraid was to make herself feel as small as she possibly could, but in this case, it just wasn't working for her. She heard Tony sigh, clearly having noticed that she'd retreated into a protective ball, and the room fell silent again.
No, she didn't want to go home today.
Pepper glared moodily at the scars that were riddled up and down her forearms, as she sat and tried to figure out what the time was. They had woken her up at 8am as they did every morning, and she had used the bathroom about ten minutes later, accompanied by one of the orderlies. Part of her was irked that they still didn't trust her in there alone, even after they'd taken off the lock on the door, but another part of her had just stopped caring. They brought her breakfast at what they always said was half past, but she didn't eat any of it, simply giving some to her bird and disgarding the rest. Tony had come in about an hour later, and now here they were. He'd been in her room for about twenty minutes, at a rough guess, and she knew that she had a therapy session at about 10am, so he wouldn't be around her for much longer.
Surely enough, the heard the small scrape of his chair as he stood up, presumably having finished filling in all of the forms. Pepper expected him to just leave without another word, so she was caught off guard when he spoke.
"Your eyes are still the most beautiful shade of blue."
She looked up in surprise, lowering the blanket. Tony's eyes met hers, and they just stared at each other for a few seconds, before the strawberry blonde looked away again, feeling herself burning for all the wrong reasons under his constant gaze. She quickly turned her attention to the window with a wary glare, just hoping that he stopped soon, as she was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. She heard the wind outside, whistling through the trees and rustling the leaves and branches, and tried her best to focus on the swirling velvet grey scarves of fog outside. The sun could be seen, an incandescent pale circle that could have easily been mistaken for the moon, dulled by the misty tendrils.
She heard him sigh, heard his footsteps as he left the room, heard the click of the door when he closed it behind him.
Relief washed over her.
Tony frowned as he walked, deep in thought as he pondered the possibility that his comment had been a little too much for her. From her body language, it was clear as day that she didn't trust him - though that hardly came as a surprise to him. She didn't need to tell him with words, he just knew. It hurt like hell, knowing that the woman he loved the most no longer trusted him, and he wasn't even sure if there was anything he could do about it anymore. His thoughts were interrupted momentarily by a loud yell coming from another room, and it made him freeze in his tracks as everything began to sink in a little more. Pepper, his Pepper, was being kept in a place full of people who were decidedly insane, and that was how they most likely viewed her: insane. It right at all, she was anything but the words that labelled her in this God-awful place. She wasn't like them.
He was still taken aback and frankly scared by the change in Pepper's appearance. The body that had once lusted over was practically skeletal, her glowing skill was pale and dull, and she'd lost that twinkle in her eye that he had lived to see every day. Tony would have given anything to see the smallest smile, or hear even the smallest whispered word. He knew that the only chance he'd have for a long time was if he managed to blag his way into the room where they kept an eye on her with the security camera, or just have JARVIS hack into the mainframe and stream it directly to him. Although the software he used was pretty much undetectable, he wanted to stay in the good books of the doctors, and made the decision that it would be a brighter idea to get into the room.
His feet led him back to the room where Anna had first given him the paperwork, and he knocked on the door. A soft, 'Come in.' reached his ears, and he pushed the door open. She looked up, greeting him with a smile. The room was small and box-like, there was barely enough room for the desk, which was home to a potted plant, a photo frame turned towards her, and various papers. Tony sat down in the seat opposite her, and offered her the forms.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Stark." She placed them in front of her on the desk. "I'll review these right away, and we should have her ready to go home by the end of the day."
"That's great." he replied with a sincere smile, sighing a little. "Listen, I was wondering... would I be allowed to watch the security camera in Pepper's room? It's okay if I can't, but..."
"I'm sorry, but we don't really allow that." Anna answered with a sympathetic smile. "It's a frequent question, but unfortunately I have to say no." She then looked down at the papers briefly, before returning her attention to the man sitting before her. "It'll take me a while to go through all these, so you can go back to Pepper's room, if you like. Or you can just stay in your own room for a while. She has a therapy session in about half an hour, so you won't be able to stay in there for very long.
"No, no, that's okay." Tony rose to his feet, stretching a little. "I think I'll just go back to my room for a while. Thank you, though."
Anna smiled again, before making a start on looking through the papers. "Don't mention it."
He left the room quickly, closing the door behind him and trying his best not to slam it in his haste. As he walked briskly down the corridor, he pulled his phone from his pocket, speaking softly in case someone walked past and mistook him for one of the patients talking to themselves. It'd been a while since he asked JARVIS to do anything, in fact... he probably hadn't asked the AI to do anything in about four months, now that he thought about it. Tony sighed. As he spoke, his eyes darted around for any signs of life, and he kept the phone close to his mouth.
"JARVIS, you there?"
"Ready and waiting to serve, sir."
Tony rounded the corner, now somewhere he actually recognised. He found his room in seconds, slipping inside and sitting down on the bed. His eyes scanned the roadmap of cracks and indents in the walls (the latter probably had something to do with its previous occupants, and the very thought made him shudder), and he looked up at the stain that was likely from damp on the ceiling, slightly yellowed. This room was in a pretty bad condition, worse than Pepper's, probably why they didn't have any patients in here. Instead, they'd give it to him. One of the only sane people in the entire building.
His six months on the road had been like nothing he had ever experienced before. There had been so many times throughout the somewhat harrowing journey that he had considered just packing it in and calling it a day, but the thought of his love and the blue eyes that haunted him spurred him on to keep going. Until Tony had reached Nebraska, every day had been the same. Waking up at around 6am, driving to the nearest rest stop to get a coffee, searching hospitals and wherever else he could think of, and then falling asleep in the back of the van at around midnight. He'd never turned the radio on, he probably hadn't heard any music since the day he left Malibu. Instead, he'd been left to study maps to find nearby hospitals, and struggle to maintain his will to go on as every hospital he went to told him that, no, they didn't have anybody matching the description he was giving. Tony's blue-eyed strawberry-blonde-haired freckled better half had been nowhere to be found, and it'd really frustrated him. He would often have a session where he just had to pull over and vent his frustrations. Sometimes he'd cry, sometimes he'd yell until he could barely form words anymore, and other times he would just sit there with a blank expression and let his thoughts overcome him.
She obviously doesn't want to be found, Rhodey had said just before Tony had left the mansion.
No. Pepper needs to be found, and I'm going to be the one to do it, had been his reply.
"Listen up, JARV. I need you to livestream the security camera footage of Room 212 directly to this phone. If there's anything you can't bypass, let me know. It shouldn't be too hard to get into, and you should be able to do it without getting noticed. Got that?"
"I'm working on it as we speak, sir."
She was still in the corner, and her blanket was wrapped around her like a shawl. Her room was cold today, but even if the temperature had been normal she would have been shivering. The strawberry blonde's eyes were wide with the kind of fear reserved only for the worst of sights, so much more than the decidedly bare room that faced her. She stared at the walls as though they were dripping blood, and she was breathing as though she'd just run a mile without stopping. As the concept of going home played on her mind more and more, Pepper was beginning to panic. She couldn't go home. Not yet. Maybe not ever. She still wasn't sure.
Her pale, shaking hand slid away the wooden lid, and her slender fingers grazed lightly over soft feathers. The creature looked up at her with dark, beady eyes. The only pair of eyes that she still trusted. The pale green walls that held her began to spin, and she was struggling to ignore the involuntary shivers running down her spine like sparks of electricity.
"I don't want to go home." she whispered. Her small, as of late underused voice cut through the silence. The strawberry blonde sighed shakily. "I really don't."
Something inside her snapped, and she was gone. She set the box down in the corner, and staggered to her feet.
"Don't you hear me?" she said quietly, looking up sharply. "I don't want to leave!" Suddenly, she was screaming her words, and all control was lost. Pepper was frantic, screaming and shouting like an abandoned child. Her fists pounded against the bed, and her head cracked into the wall as hard as her lack of strength allowed. Tears streamed down her face, and she cried even harder when her tears mixed with her blood, pouring out from a deep gash on her forehead. Her fists were in agonising pain, but she didn't stop. She couldn't stop.
Tony heard her screams before JARVIS even got into the cameras, and he ran for it. Those screams were Pepper's, undeniably so. He shoved past people who must have been orderlies, his brain failing to register any of them, knowing that they would only try to impede him getting to her. His shoulder roughly collided with her door, and he burst in. Oh, God, this wasn't good. She was covered in blood, continuing to scream and shout as though she hadn't even realised he was there. Maybe she really didn't know. The man winced in pain, practically feeling every hard blow she delivered to the wall.
"Pepper!" he yelled. "Stop it, you're hurting yourself!"
She stopped screaming in an instant, slowly turning around to look at him. Her body was tense, and still in an offensive stance. A icy chill washed over him when he saw her face. The smile of a maniac, what could only be described as a terrifyingly distorted grin.
"I'm not going home with you, Tony." Even her tone was like something from a horror movie, or a worst nightmare. But this was far from fiction, an awful dream coming to life before his fearful eyes. The grin never left her face.
He barely had time to duck as the chair he'd sat on earlier came hurtling towards him, hitting the wall with a loud bang. Tony staggered back in horror, frozen in his tracks as at least three burly orderlies ran in and grabbed hold of her. She shrieked, thrashing against them as Anna ran in only seconds later.
"Jane, I need you to calm down." The pink-haired woman's tone was remarkably calm, given the situation at hand. Pepper looked like she was about to say something, before her face softened, and she went limp. They let her fall to the floor as he watched on, slightly disbelieving of what he'd just seen. He went to approach her, but Anna held up a hand to stop him.
"Don't." she said simply. She then walked across the room, and picked up the box, sliding the lid over the startled bird. "Take her bird. She won't like it, but..." Her fingers ran through her hair, and she looked pretty dumb-founded herself. "I've never seen her behave like that. That's the most vocal she's ever been, and the first time she's ever spoken with another person in the same room."
"I..." Tony began, exhaled heavily. "I take it that she doesn't want to go home."
Anna shook her head slowly. "It would appear so."
A bit of a dramatic end! Please, let me know what you think. Reviews mean a lot to me! Until next time...