"You coming to dinner?"
"No, I um..." Pepper glanced up at Tony, quickly looking back down at the paperwork in front of her. "No, I've got to finish this."
"You might finish next year at the pace you're going."
"What?" She looked up again as Tony rested a hip on the edge of her desk.
"You've been staring at that page for like the last five minutes."
"It's a complicated contact." It was a lie, she was looking at the list of speakers for an upcoming conference sponsored by Stark Industries, something she'd already approved and just needed to put her signature on.
He arched an eyebrow and waited. While Pepper could lie through her teeth in the corporate world, she sucked at it outside of it. Her cheeks flushed and after a moment, she looked away, breaking eye contact.
"Do you want to tell me what's really keeping you in your office past five? Not that it's not a very nice office, with a fantastic view – and fascinating reading material – " Tony reached out and gently closed the folder the documents were in. "But you're usually upstairs bullying me to come out of my workshop and eat by now."
The flush deepened, moving down her throat and disappearing into the neckline of her blouse. She hated the way her fair skin gave her away. "What time is it?" She glanced at the display on her desktop and was startled to see it was nearly seven. "Oh, wow, I guess I really lost track of time. Let's go get dinner."
He caught her hand as she stood up and started past him. "Not until you tell me what's bothering you. You've been too quiet the last few days. Staring off into space, and you didn't complain when I watched three episodes of the Walking Dead last night."
Pulling her close, he brushed a loose strand of hair out of her face. "Something's wrong."
Sighing, she leaned against him. "I think I liked you better when you were totally oblivious and self-absorbed."
"You say that until I am."
"True." She smiled and gave him an affectionate kiss.
Pepper started toward the door again, pulling Tony along by their joined hands. Instead of following, he stopped and tugged her to face him once more.
"Pep, whatever I've done, I'm sorry.”
"Let's just go upstairs."
"Just let me fix it, or take it back, or – "
"You can't!" She felt the wall she'd so carefully constructed crumbling. "Why do you have to be so damned understanding now? Why now?" Her voice cracked and she jerked her hand out his.
Tony's head snapped back and he looked as if she'd slapped him. They stared at each other for a long moment before he reached for her hand again.
Swallowing his hurt and anger, he led her to the sofa and sat down, tugging Pepper down to sit next to him. She was blinking rapidly, her eyes wet and threatening to overflow, and he gave her a moment to compose herself.
"I'm sorry." She said softly after a few moments. "You didn't deserve that."
"It's okay. There's been plenty of times I have and you didn't say anything." He lifted her hand to his lips. "Please, just tell me what's wrong."
"I don't want children, I've told you that."
He blinked, feeling like he’d missed part of the conversation somewhere. "Right. Me, too." They'd had a discussion about children before they'd married, and both had agreed that they weren't the parenting type. "Have you changed your mind? Because, Pepper, you know I can't say no to you on, well, anything."
"I haven't changed my mind."
"Oh, thank God." He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Because I really don't want to – "
"T-t-to not not have a baby! Yes!" He nearly bit his tongue off trying to reverse course.
Pepper shook her head, tears finally spilling down her cheeks. "You don't have to lie, I don't want it, either."
"Don't cry, please, Pepper, you know I really don't know what to do when you cry." He wiped at her cheeks, but she had a seemingly endless supply of tears. “It’s not like when something springs a leak.”
She leaned against him, her head on his shoulder, trying to get herself back under control. Tony wrapped his arms around her, rubbing a hand up and down her back, and pressing soft kisses into her hair.
While she sniffled and rubbed her face against his chest, he tried to think about what the hell they were going to do next. He could say it was her body and therefore her decision, but that felt like the coward's way out and he was many things, but not a coward. Mostly. He was her husband and she deserved his support, not having him tuck tail and run. Your tail is what got you both into this.
The part of his brain that loved solving problems was already making a list and looking for solutions. Pepper could easily have an abortion and no one would ever know. She was probably still able to take the RU-486 pill. Another part of his brain, the part that loved creating new things, slammed the brakes on. He and Pep had created another person. A person! Granted, just a clump of cells at this point – a zygote? Damn, why didn't I study biology? Still, it was a person! A mix of their DNA, and god did they have great DNA, that would result in another human being. Which was actually kind of awesome. The problem solver headed down another path.
"Pepper, when we said we didn't want a baby. Why exactly did we say we didn't? Want one, I mean."
She sat up, sniffling and wiping the last of the tears away. "We're busy. We're both busy with our careers and we don't want to give them up."
"We are, and yeah." Swiveling around, he grabbed the box of tissues off the side table and handed them to her.
"I don't want to stop running SI, I love what I do."
"Why would you have to stop? There's no law against being a mom and running a company. Is there? Because we'll get it repealed."
"Tony, this isn't exactly like running a coffee shop, we're one of the largest companies in the world." She blew her nose, wincing at the honking sound. "God, I hate crying, I'm going to be stopped up for hours now. How can I go to meetings if I have to take care of a baby?"
"The great thing about being the boss, they can come to you. There's video conferencing – we already do that anyway, right? And we can have a nanny to help out. We can hire a whole staff just for the kid. Think about it, Potts, that's serious new job creation right there."
"We don't need to create jobs, we have on-site daycare."
"So there you go! No need for CEO Mom to give up her career!" He grinned and leaned in for a kiss.
Pepper put her hand up to block him. "There's more to it than that, Tony. What about when you get an urge to fly to Paris, or Tokyo, or wherever?"
"Pack the kid up and bring them along.” He shrugged. “Or, I dunno, leave them with the nanny?”
"Really? Like you were left with Jarvis? Or sent off to some school or camp?"
He sank back against the cushions, remembering that lonely, empty feeling. "No."
"So then we give up what we want? We just live our lives for this little piece of me that broke off and decided to become another person?"
Was that all that it came down to? Not being inconvenienced? Tony watched Pepper wipe at her eyes again. What she was saying felt off, it didn’t sound like her at all. That sounded more like why she might think he didn't want children, but for him it ran much, much deeper than that.
"Pepper, let's – let's get to the real reason. Come on, let's drag it kicking and screaming into the open." He waited until she was looking him straight in the eye. "We had crappy childhoods."
"You did, mine was okay." Her cheeks grew hot and she knew she’d given her away again.
"Liar. You missed your mother not being alive to be at our wedding about as much as I missed my father not being there." A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as a ran a fingertip over her cheek. “I know that most brides would have been sad about that.”
“You know?” She gave him a skeptical look.
“Do you know how many guests told me ‘poor Pepper, she must be so sad her mother’s not alive to see her get married’?”
“I guess that counts.” So many people had said the same thing to her – that her mother might as well have been there.
“It does. You, know, I did miss my mom. She was a good mother. Though I think she should have stood up to my dad more about sending me away and leaving me behind when he took her away somewhere – instead of making excuses for him. He was so much more important than I was.”
"Oh, God, Tony, I don't want to hear myself saying 'go away, I don't have time for you.’"
"Me, either. 'Can't you see I'm busy?' – I don't want to say that to a kid."
"’Leave me alone, I worked all day and I'm tired.’"
"’Go bother your mother, I've got important things to do.’"
"At least you had both parents. ‘If I knew where your father was I'd ship you to him.’ You never heard that one."
"’I had a lot more time alone with your mother before we had you.’" Tony countered.
"’So you got all A's, that's what you're supposed to do. You want a medal now?’"
Tony laughed in surprise. "That's just about what I heard. Except it was ‘so you created a robot, now what the hell do we do with it?’"
"’You're just lucky I didn't know where to get an abortion.’"
He stared at her, watching her face crumple as new tears began spilling down her cheeks. "Jesus, Pepper..."
"’You ruined my life!’"
Pulling her into his arms, Tony held her tight against him and rubbed his hands along Pepper’s back as she cried. "You would never say that. I would never say that. We wouldn’t be like that. Maybe we weren’t expecting this baby, but I know we would never, ever say that. It's all going to be okay, baby, I promise."
Her sobs wound down after a few minutes, and she snuffled against his shirt front. She was getting snot all over him and she fumbled for the box of tissues. Sitting up, she wiped at her nose and his shirt. "Is this one of the Italian silk shirts I got you for your birthday?"
"I was trying to be thoughtful." He handed her a fresh tissue. "Forget the shirt, you've got snot on your face."
"I don't want to be like my mother, Tony."
"Or my father."
"Or your father. But what if I am?" She scrubbed at her cheek harder than was necessary to get off the sticky mess.
Tony reached out and stopped her from rubbing her face raw. "You won't be."
"How do you know?"
“Seriously? I know because of how well you’ve taken care of me all these years, obviously, you have the patience of a saint.” He tucked her hair behind her ears, and used a clean tissue to gently wipe the smudged mascara from her face. "But mostly because you’re not going to be doing this alone. I'll be right here with you making sure you're a good mom. And you’re going to make sure I’m a good father. "
"You'll be a good father, Tony. You’re always so good with kids when they come up to you for autographs. You never talk down to them, or act like they’re keeping you from something more important."
"I'm going to try."
She smiled at him, feeling a weight lift from her. "No worries then, because you never fail at anything you try. Well, not the things you really want, anyway."
"I thought I'd never get you, but I did keep trying." He pulled her in for a soft, gentle kiss. Which turned into two and then five before they stopped to catch their breath.
"I guess we just decided to have a baby, didn't we?" Pepper ran her thumb along his bottom lip.
"I guess we did." He broke into a huge smile. “Which means we need to do it right, starting with a celebration! Let’s go out to dinner.” Getting up, he pulled her to her feet. “Just the three of us.”
Her bottom lip wobbled and tears welled up again. “Jeez, Potts! I’m going to have to get some duct tape if you keep doing that.”