She hadn’t imagined that this would hurt so much.
Oh, she’d known that there would be pain ... and disappointment.
But not like this. Not this tearing, heart stopping sensation, as if time had suddenly come to a screeching halt without giving her body notice and propelling her forward into that silent, desert space of broken hearts and shattered dreams.
It’s Stark Industries’ annual Christmas party.
Business as usual.
Six months since Afghanistan, six months since the end of sleepless nights and constant worry. Six months since she started to believe that there was a chance for them.
It hurts. That knowledge... that he almost made her believe, that he seemed so changed and solemn and grown up, and was waiting for her to gather her courage and step across that invisible line that they’d never crossed before.
She blames herself for hovering on that precipice without daring to take the plunge. Though, standing here, at the bottom of the staircase, she is also glad - shattered, yet dizzy with relief, because if she’d taken that one simple step into his arms and into his bed, she knows that she would be struck dead on the spot right now.
As it is, she feels torn into opposite directions–her calm, rational mind, praising her caution, while her traitorous heart rages at her cowardice. While the tempest spends its fury within, her outward composure never wavers, even as she can’t tear her eyes away from Tony who reaches the top of the stairs and opens the door to his bedroom, a willowy bottle-blond in his arms.
For one second Pepper’s eyes meet his, and she cannot decipher the look on his face, but she hopes that it is guilt, because if he can’t even give her that, then she doesn’t want to contemplate just how much of a fool she almost allowed herself to be.
She hastily looks away and does her best to smile at the guests by the new piano, though she can feel the brittleness of her expression. Hastily, she picks up another glass of champagne, knowing that her face is redder than her hair–she can feel the heat, the humiliation in her cheeks, and there’s a part of her that hates herself for it–for showing even that much weakness.
It took Tony three months to escape Afghanistan, and half a year later the parts he left behind have finally caught up with him.