After finally finishing all her digging, which was significantly easier with Tony's willing help, even in the other boxes Tony had hidden around, Pepper started working on the project she had planned all along for this – a video scrap book for Tony.
She spent most of her free time compiling and sorting through videos, pictures and arranging them accordingly with a little help from Jarvis and Rhodey when necessary. Pepper was making pretty good progress on getting it finished until the car accident on the same stretch of highway that killed his parents sidelined Tony with a few broken ribs. He was in a manner of speaking grounded and then bored so caring for him and dealing with the inevitable police investigation that followed sucked up a great deal of working time but she did manage to finish it. Once it was done, she just needed the right time to give it to him.
Two days after the accident, Pepper arrived at the mansion and was surprised to see Tony already up and sitting on the couch in his pajamas with a bowl of cereal. He was never up this early unless forced or he had nightmares that wouldn't let him sleep.
"Good morning, Mr. Stark." She said pleasantly
"Good morning." Tony said with a smile as he flipped through channels. "And what is with the Mr. Stark? Yesterday it was Tony. You know what I like."
"Sorry, Tony. Force of habit." Pepper replied. "What are you doing up so early?"
He didn't look at her when she asked this question but at the TV. "I had a lot going through my head and I couldn't sleep. The pain in my ribs didn't help much either." He said quietly, not really wanting to go into his nightmares with her. "But since I have been up, I thought of a few things that you could do for me." Tony stated as he handed her a list with a bunch of scribbles on it that were supposed to pass as words.
Pepper took the list as she tried to decipher Tony's handwriting. "Pick up dry cleaning, drop off bank deposit, post office for stamps, and get new plant to put in living room?" she asked as she tried to read off the list.
"Yeah, I am in the mood for some greenage in here." Tony replied matter of factly.
"Is there anything else, sir?" Pepper asked cautiously, not knowing what to expect.
"No, Ms. Potts. And now 'sir'? Make up your mind." Tony countered before finishing his breakfast.
Pepper just smiled and grabbed her keys and left on Tony's strange to-do list, seriously wondering sometimes how his mind worked.
She methodically worked through the list that Tony had left for her and with each task; Pepper wondered what he was doing that required her to be out of the house. Most likely something she would not approve of. It was in between the stamps and choosing a plant that Pepper decided Tony should get the movie when he has done something really special – like finally made up to her and got her the drink he had promised her on the night of the Fireman's ball.
It was early evening when Pepper finally returned from Tony's little scavenger hunt. She had to admit the plant was the most difficult part, finally settling on a hibiscus. She walked into the house to find it strangely silent…no music, no TV, no Tony. What was even more offsetting to her were the darkened windows with a sign on them – 'No Peeking Potts – Tony.'
"Jarvis? Where is Mr. Stark?" Pepper called out as she put down the packages.
"Mr. Stark is in his workroom, Ms. Potts."
"Could you please explain what all of this is about?"
"I am not allowed to, Ms. Potts. Mr. Stark swore me to secrecy under penalty of unplugging and becoming a science experiment for as he put it 'zit faced high school freshmen that don't know a keyboard from car keys.'"
Pepper was getting more confused by the second. "How long has he been working on this?"
"Since you left this morning. He has been very busy." Jarvis replied before pausing. "Mr. Stark requests that you relax and get comfortable. He says he will be up momentarily."
Pepper set her purse down and sat down, trying to relax but that wasn't the easiest thing at the moment when she knew Tony was up to something.
She was right. Tony was up to something. From his garage, he was watching her confusion on his security feed. Once her back was turned, he sent the command for the windows to open silently. On the balcony was a small table set for two with candlelight. He smiled and told Jarvis to turn on the music as he walked up smoothly from his garage in his tuxedo.
"May I have this dance?" he asked suavely as he held out his hand to Pepper.
Pepper turned at the sound of his voice and was shocked but took his hand to help her stand and then placed her other on his shoulder as he led. Jarvis turned the volume of Glory of Love to the right level as they danced. As Tony held her close, Pepper heard him softly singing the lyrics to her as they danced and the song he chose fit them very well. She was getting one surprise after another here.
As the song faded, they slowed but Tony did not let go.
"How are you doing this? You could barely move yesterday." Pepper asked as Tony led her out to the balcony and pulled her chair out for her.
"A lot of really strong pain killers and determination." He said with a laugh as he opened the bottle of wine and poured it for her. "Sorry, I didn't have the liquor in the house to make a proper martini. I should have added it to the shopping list." He added as he sat down.
Pepper smiled when she saw the wine and heard the comment about the martini. He got her the drink she asked for.
A waiter came out shortly after with dinner from Pepper's favorite Italian restaurant, not that she knew that at first. "You cooked?" she asked nervously.
"No. I know how to order take out. I just went up a few notches from where I called." Tony said, trying to calm her as they started eating.
As they shared what was one of the best meals Pepper had ever had, she was really getting puzzled about all of this. Why now? Where was all of this coming from?
When they were finished, Pepper got up and started to leave since it was getting late. Taking all of this in at once was almost too much for her. She had only seen the afterwards of Tony Stark romance and never experienced it first hand. It was unnerving.
"No need to rush off so quickly." Tony said as he stopped her. "I have more planned. Dinner and a movie…your choice."
Pepper didn't know how to react to this but what came out didn't sound right. "All of this is really unnecessary. Why are you doing this, Tony?" she asked.
"Because you said I had to make it up to you for leaving you on the roof. I was hoping that this made up for it and went beyond." Tony replied as his smile faded away.
"But why now? What else caused this?"
"Ever stop to think that I may have wanted to. I care about you very much and I wanted to show it. I have wanted to for a while." Tony said sincerely.
"No, I hadn't." Pepper said quietly, blurting it out without letting her brain process everything.
When those words came out of Pepper's mouth, Tony nearly felt his heart stop in his chest. He had thought that his opening up to her about himself would have broken through the walls a bit. He had tried so hard to make this perfect and it blew up in his face. The one woman he could say he truly ever loved didn't feel the same. He couldn't even respond to what she said with how hurt he was. Tony just stepped back away from her and went inside the darkened house and down to the garage where he locked the door behind him.
Pepper felt the tears sting her eyes as she watched Tony walk away from her as everything came crashing down on her. He did love her and he was trying to show it and she had denied her feelings about him for so long that she couldn't take it all in. He trusted her to take his offered heart and she refused it. She slowly walked back into the house and fell on to the couch as a few tears slipped from her eyes.
"I really messed this up, didn't I, Jarvis?"
"If I may say so, yes you did." Jarvis replied. "Mr. Stark had really put his heart into it."
"How upset is he?"
"Upset angry or upset sad?" Pepper asked as she began to feel even worse for hurting Tony's feelings.
"Upset sad." Jarvis answered. "I believe a profound apology may be in order."
"I believe you may be right, Jarvis. He's in the garage, correct?" Pepper asked as she wiped her face.
"Correct, Ms. Potts."
That was all Pepper needed to know to go and try to fix things. She needed to give him the video tonight.
Pepper went down the stairs and noticed Tony's back was to the door, taking note of how quickly he shed his jacket, tie and shirt and threw a t-shirt. She typed in her code but the door didn't open. She tried again and was still unsuccessful. It was on the third try that Tony saw her there from his hot rod and allowed the door to open but he still didn't look at her.
Pepper walked in and she could feel the pain coming off of Tony in waves and the occasional sniff she heard caused her to start crying again. "I am so sorry." She started. "No one has ever done anything like that for me before, especially not one of the world's most eligible bachelors and I didn't know how to react."
"Happiness could have been a good route to go." Tony replied dryly as he sniffed again.
"I was happy but I was shocked and it came out badly." Pepper tried to explain.
Tony turned on his stool and didn't even try to hide the fact that he was crying. "Do you get enjoyment out of hurting me because you're getting really good at it?" Tony snapped first but then his tone changed. "When I told you that you are all I have in this world, I meant it. I care very much for you. In fact, I love you. Just the thought of seeing you again is what got me out of those caves. Just seeing you when I got off that plane made me feel a thousand times better. I even shared some of my most personal memories with you to show you how much I cared about you. You told me to make it up to you and that was what I tried to do. If you have no feelings for me at all, please tell me and I'll stop trying."
Pepper felt her heart break in two at Tony's words. "When I was told that you were taken, it felt like part of me had died inside. Getting through every day without you was nearly impossible. It was then I realized what I had been denying for so long that I did love you. Seeing you come back alive was one of the happiest moments of my life and every day since then the place in my heart for you has grown bigger. I have loved you longer than you knew and I just didn't have the courage to say it."
Tony then got up from the stool he had been sitting on and gently wiped away the tears on her cheek with his thumb before leaning in and kissing her lips softly. As he broke away, he looked right into her eyes as he held her. "So what does this mean to my question?"
"That I will be your girlfriend if you would still have me." Pepper replied. No sooner the words had left her lips, she found herself in a warm and comfortable embrace. "Now, I believe you said that was dinner and a movie…my choice."
Tony nodded against her before pulling back. "I had the impression you didn't want to." He said cautiously. "I hope you don't have some horrible chick flick in mind."
"No. It is not some horrible chick flick but it is a surprise." Pepper said as she took his hand and led him up to the living room.
"I thought I was the one giving surprises tonight." Tony commented as he sat down on the couch and patted the cushion next to him.
"I have actually been working on this for sometime. I just needed the right moment to give it to you." Pepper said as she sat next to him and leaned into his shoulder. "Jarvis, could you please start the movie?"
"With pleasure, Ms. Potts."
The screen lit up first with the wedding of Tony's parents and then moved to bringing home Tony as a baby and his childhood. All the pictures and home movies she could find. They moved through his childhood and all his achievements through the eyes of his parents' camera.
Tony was actually choked up at this. He hadn't seen most of these in years and seeing these felt like his parents were still around. "How did you do this?" he asked her with a small smile.
"I had help from Rhodey and Jarvis. They dug up all the videos and pictures and I put them together. This was the reason why I had started looking in the box anyway. Once I found the box and all the treasures in it, I decided to make this gift for you. I didn't close the file though." Pepper said with a knowing smile.
"I left it open so you can add future events to it."
Author's Note: This one has been very fun to write and again my thanks goes out to Tamasit1 for all her help. Some of you may be wondering why this chapter seems very similar to chapter 4 of How Many More Chances and my answer is because it is nearly the same. Box of Memories was inspired by this one chapter so it seemed a fitting end.