Author's Notes: Before anyone can yell at me, I will be faithful to this new fandom and will try hard not to deviate anymore than I already have.
This is probably a lie, but at least that much is honest, isn't it?
Happy, Happy Birthday To You
For the first time in ten years, he remembers her birthday.
The little gift is sitting on her desk when she comes into the office, all wrapped up in one of those heinous tie-dye bows he's so obsessed with. There's a Hallmark card set on top with a cartoon of Iron Man on the front that says "For a girl that's tougher than steel..." and an arrow directing her to pull the flap for the rest of the sentence.
Pepper drops her chin into her hands and stars at the box. She's wary of it, for some reason—or maybe just bewildered that he's finally gotten the date stuck in his head.
Her fingers are halfway through tearing apart the paper when she remembers, and it hits her with a heavy thud that literally knocks the wind out of her.
It had been her birthday, and she'd had plans, so she'd hustled him out of the house and onto his plane. He'd gone to Afghanistan. And he'd never come home.
One year to the day.
Pepper covered her mouth with one hand and pressed the other against her stomach, feeling nauseous. She hadn't said anything to him about it. She'd breezed through their morning like absolutely nothing was wrong, and—
Pepper got up from her desk and hurried downstairs to the workshop. He was bent over his workspace, tinkering with one new toy or another, and she hesitated for a second before coming in. He didn't look up as he said, "Happy birthday."
"Mr. Stark," she breathed apologetically, "I am so—"
He cut her off with an imperial wave of his hand. "Don't finish that. Today is a good day, Pepper Potts. Today is a celebration of the best assistant a man could possibly ask for."
"Mr. Stark," she tried again.
"Pepper," he interrupted firmly, and finally looked at her. "Today is just a day." She frowned, unsure of what he meant, and idly toyed with the box in her hand. She heard him sigh. "You, of all people, know that I am not a sentimental man," he told her quietly. "And I knew everyone would want to make this an anniversary of something, so it is. Happy birthday."
Pepper hesitated, and then walked towards him. He looked startled, having probably (once again) underestimated his assistant. She stopped by his chair and slowly finished unwrapping the gift-box.
She peered inside. "Very nice," she commented with a half smile.
"I have excellent taste," he agreed.
"Thank you, Tony."
"You're welcome, Miss Potts." His hand covered hers. For a second she thought he was going to say something more, but then he simply smiled and kissed her cheek. "Happy birthday."