One Night that Meant the World

It was late at night and an increasingly familiar routine was taking place. Tony Stark had finally returned from his latest jaunt as Iron Man and Pepper Potts was faithfully administering any first aid that was necessary.

"Pepper, do you remember the first time you saw me?" Tony asked as he placed the ice on his shoulder and reclined back against the fluffy pillows of his couch.

"That isn't hard Tony," Pepper sighed as she wrinkled her nose a bit when she got closer to him. Neoprene does not breathe well at all. "It was the day you interviewed me."

Tony shook his head. "No, you're wrong."

"I am wrong about a moment in time?" Pepper countered. "And this is coming from the man who forgets when my birthday is every year."

"This moment I remember very well. I always have since it happened." Tony said with a smile.

"Alright, I'll play." Pepper conceded as she took a seat. She was curious as to what Tony was talking about. "When is the first time we saw each other?"

"Five years before you became my assistant," Tony stated, receiving a confused look from Pepper. "Do I need to clarify things?"

"Yes, I think you do." Pepper said slowly. Her brain was trying to pull up this random memory and she was drawing a blank.

"Very well. I like telling this story anyway," Tony said as he opened a bottle of water and took a long drink. "It was Christmas Eve, the first one after my parents died. I was eighteen years old and all alone."

"That's sad, Tony."

"Don't interrupt or I will force you to remember this in other ways," Tony replied. "Where was I? Ah…loneliness. I had sent my butler, Edwin, home to be with his family for the holidays. He tried to fight me on it for the better part of two hours before he conceded defeat. So on Christmas Eve, I went out to go get myself some dinner since I was sick of only cereal. I parked my car at one end of Rodeo Drive and walked it. As I was walking with my head not exactly looking up, a mother and daughter passed me with an absolute arm load of shopping bags. I looked up as they approached and I smiled at the girl as she walked by me."

A flicker of remembrance shone in Pepper's eyes as Tony spoke. She was now questioning her own memory.

"When I smiled at the girl, she smiled back at me. I remembered that smile because it made the somewhat permanent ache in my chest go away for a little while. It was that smile that kept me from downing the entire contents of my parents' liquor cabinet in one night," Tony said sincerely as he was pouring his heart on the table here trying to make Pepper remember. "It was the smile of a girl who only saw me for one moment, who I didn't even get her name, which kicked my ass into gear that Christmas morning. If I hadn't had that one brief moment of happiness the night before, I probably would have stayed on that window seat crying until Edwin came back at New Years."

Pepper's heart was breaking as Tony spoke. She was having small flashes of what Tony spoke of but that could have just been his vivid telling of the story.

"Rhodey was shocked that I never got your name or your number and I was just chalking things up to the one that got away. That was until I saw you again, this time in the cafeteria at Stark Industries on the day of your interview. I wanted to give a huge bonus to whoever in HR hired you in the first place. I tried to go up to speak with you but I lost you in the crowd.

"Then I had a third chance and I was not striking out again. You walked right into my office and called me a challenge. No one had ever said that to me before who wasn't mad at me. I would have been a complete fool if I did not hire you right then and there. I was not going to strike out and let my angel who has saved my sorry ass over and over walk away again."

Suddenly something had clicked in Pepper's mind as she heard the warmth in Tony's voice.

"My parents and I had gone to California over the holidays to spend it with my Aunt and her family. My mother thought it would be fun to go do a little shopping on Rodeo Drive on Christmas Eve to see if there were any last minute sales and just to say she went shopping on Rodeo Drive," Pepper started to recall. "The streets were pretty much empty except for some last minute shoppers. Then I remember a boy in a leather jacket with his hands in his pockets that looked so sad walking by us and he did smile at me. I smiled back at him because I thought he was pretty cute for the few seconds I saw him. You were that boy?"

Tony nodded. "I may forget some things Pepper but never that moment."

Pepper mentally slapped herself. "Why didn't I recognize you then when I interviewed with you?"

"Maybe because you didn't see that moment as significant," Tony sighed. "I did and every girl that I have been with since then has always run a distant second to that smile."

Pepper's eyes shone with unshed tears at those words. Tony Stark did really have a heart and apparently she has held it since he was eighteen years old. "I wish I had stopped to talk to you now. Who knows where it may have led?"

"You could have made me a better man sooner," Tony said with a laugh as he reached behind one of the pillows. "And this might have been yours sooner," he added as he pulled out a small velvet box.

Pepper opened the box and forgot to breathe when she saw the diamond inside. Was he asking what she thought he was asking?

Tony forced himself off the couch and got down on his knees in front of Pepper. "Will the girl who warmed my heart one lonely Christmas night be the woman who warms it for the rest of our lives as my wife?"

Pepper nodded frantically as she couldn't quite trust her voice.

Tony slipped the ring on her finger and wiped away a tear that escaped with his thumb before pulling her into his embrace.

"You won't ever be that lonely again." Pepper whispered in his ear as she held him. "I won't allow it."