Disclaimer: Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Marvel Comics, Fairview Entertainment, Dark Blades Films, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Absolute Christmas fluff, quick, absurd, and not really in character. But it was fun! Many thanks to Cincoflex for the summary.
"Do you have something you can wear to the ballet?"
Pepper looked up from her laptop to see Tony standing in the door of her office, looking vaguely impatient. She raised her brows. "Yes, I think so."
"Good. I've got a bunch of things scheduled in the next couple of weeks and I need you to come with me." He waved a hand at her computer. "Jarvis'll upload them for you."
"All right," Pepper said cautiously. "I'll need to make sure they don't conflict, but--"
"Sure." Tony frowned distractedly. "Do you have plans for Christmas? You didn't say."
"Not really." Not at all was the actual truth, but Pepper hated to say so; it made her sound a little pathetic, especially to a boss who was used to going anywhere in the world he wanted to for the holiday, to choosing from an array of stupendous parties.
Not that he'd gone to many lately, but--
"Okay, good. I mean--" Tony shrugged, looking a touch embarrassed, and Pepper smiled at him patiently.
"Thank you for the tree, Tony." She touched the little bonsai pot that she'd found on her desk when she'd arrived at the mansion this morning. "It must have taken you forever."
He shrugged again, this time looking cautiously pleased. "The wiring was a little tricky, but the programming was a snap. Gotta get back downstairs--"
And he was gone. Pepper smiled wider, looking down at the beautifully sculpted tree in the ceramic pot. On one of its branches was a miniscule bird that sparkled with what Pepper devoutly hoped were fake gems; if she moved her hand near the tree, the bird would open its tiny beak and chirp sweetly at her, its seed eyes blinking. The entire robot was no larger than her thumb, and no matter what Tony said she knew its creation had to have been less than easy.
Smiling, she flicked her finger to make it sing, and went back to work.
Pepper rubbed her forehead tiredly. It had been a long day and it wasn't over yet, and despite the comfort of the limousine she felt achy and irritable.
"Here." Tony rummaged in his coat pocket, then held something out to her.
It was two small foil-wrapped shapes. Pepper took them cautiously. "What is this?"
He pulled another two from his other pocket, opening one quickly and tossing it into his mouth. "Chocolate," he said indistinctly. "Gift from that Belgian industrialist."
The confections were in the shape of birds, chubby and round. The foil wrapping made them look like pigeons. Pepper unwrapped one and bit into it, and moaned in delight.
"That sounded really obscene, Potts," Tony said, the words a little clearer since he'd swallowed. He smirked at her, and Pepper ignored him, savoring the taste of the chocolate.
She was going to crash soon, but in the meantime she was going to enjoy every crumb.
"I ordered dinner," Tony said, coming into the living room with his arms full. Pepper blinked, realizing that the sun had set and the room was now lit by the overheads. Her stomach growled at the savory odor coming from the containers he carried.
"It smells great, what is it?"
Tony set down the boxes and opened one. "Looks like chicken."
She had to laugh as she closed her laptop. "You don't know?"
His grin was quick. "I just asked La Miche for tonight's special." He passed her one of the boxes, and Pepper saw that it held three small roasted hens on a bed of rice.
"Tony, we're not going to be able to eat all this."
He reached for the bottle of wine. "So save the rest for lunch tomorrow. Pass me the glasses, would you?"
They didn't finish the chicken, but there wasn't much left afterwards. I'll make soup tomorrow, Pepper thought contentedly, sipping her wine.
The mellow guitar coming from her phone startled Pepper, and she picked it up, blinking at the device. It took just a few seconds to recognize the tune, but she ignored the knowledge for the moment, answering the call and dealing with the caller. When she closed the phone she scrolled through the ringtones, then made another call.
"Stark," came the slightly breathless reply. "Potts, why are you calling me? You're upstairs, aren't you?"
Pepper ignored the question. "Tony, why did you reprogram my phone?"
"I didn't reprogram it, I just added a few ringtones. You said you liked Charlie Byrd."
"Well--" She had, yes, but she hadn't expected her generally oblivious boss to pick up on the fact, let alone go to the trouble of downloading four ringtones into her phone. "Well...thank you."
He chuckled. "You're welcome, Potts. Now quit bugging me."
The connection severed with a click, leaving Pepper staring at her phone in baffled pleasure.
The plate slid into her vision across her desk, and Pepper glanced up to see Tony shaking his head at her. "It's almost three and Jarvis says you didn't eat lunch."
"Too busy." She looked at the food--a sandwich, potato chips, and five carefully arranged pineapple rings. "And since when do you pay attention to meals at all, let alone what I'm eating?"
He grinned. "I'm trying a New Year's resolution."
The food looked great, and Pepper forked up a pineapple ring. "Tony, it's December."
"I'm precocious." He snatched one of chips and wandered away munching.
She had to admit, he made a tasty sandwich, Pepper thought as she ate.
"What do you think?"
Pepper stared at the huge yard of bustling poultry. The smell was...impressive. "You want my opinion?"
"That's why I'm asking." Tony had his hands in his pockets, and the smile on his face told her he was up to something, though Pepper couldn't fathom how an egg farm could fit into any plot of his. "It's free-range and organic, and big enough to supply all of the Stark Industries cafeterias in this area."
Pepper bit her lip, thinking. When Tony had decided to diversify out of weapons, he'd done so with a vengeance and not always a lot of discrimination, but this purchase did make quite a bit of sense. The chickens looked healthy and feisty, scratching and clucking and generally energetic, and the yard was nice; the grass was scanty, but there was plenty of water and shade, and the birds were free to come and go out of the long nesting house.
"It looks good," she said at last. "If all the yards are like this..."
"Come and look." Tony took her arm and tugged, his enthusiasm spilling over. "They don't just do chickens, you know. Have you ever had a goose egg, Potts? My dad used to buy them for Sunday breakfasts..."
In the end, he bought the yard and they left with a whole basket of heavy goose eggs. On the way home he made Happy stop at Burger King and insisted on buying her a chicken sandwich and some onion rings, and Pepper ate obediently, wondering how the eggs would work in a cake.
"Tony, I can't take this much time--"
Pepper's protest was cut off by the shake of his head. "Nothing doing, Potts. Jarvis fit it right into your schedule." He herded her towards the door; outside, Happy and the limo were waiting.
"But the whole day? I could just go for a couple of hours..."
"Nope." Tony's hands landed on her shoulders, and suddenly Pepper was looking into eyes that held none of the mischief she expected. "Pepper, you've been working like a dog for weeks, and tomorrow's going to be just as busy. Take the time, relax, do all those mysterious girly things. Buy a new dress for tomorrow if you want."
Her protest withered at the pleading behind his stern expression. For whatever unknown reason, Tony really wanted her to do this. "...All right."
HIs sudden smile was like a reward, but the quick kiss he pressed to her cheek really startled her. "Great!" His hands spun her around and gave her a gentle shove towards the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, and get some shoes too, the ballet deserves them."
Then she was out, with Happy waiting patiently, and Pepper found herself settling into the limo without a clear idea of what had just happened. The touch of Tony's lips on her cheek still tingled, and Pepper closed her eyes and scolded her hormones back into submission.
She had to admit that Tony wasn't stingy when it came to such things. He'd booked her a full package at the Four Seasons spa, and Pepper finally decided to relax and enjoy herself, even if she kept wondering how many messages were backing up on her BlackBerry. Manicure, pedicure, massage, and even a milk bath; there were more than a half-dozen attendants, gracious young women, and it was nice to be pampered and cared for.
They even brought her lunch in the bath, a huge salad garnished with five rings of sweet yellow pepper, and she had to grin. Knowing Tony, he'd ordered it on purpose.
It occurred to Pepper as they settled in for the performance of Swan Lake that she'd never asked why Tony had wanted to go. She loved ballet, but it wasn't one of his passions, and she didn't see anyone near their box who was someone he'd want to schmooze with.
But in her new mint-green dress and matching shoes, in the velvet seat with the best view, Pepper wasn't inclined to question. Tony did inexplicable things at times, and she was determined to enjoy this one while she could; if he lost interest, he was perfectly capable of leaving at the intermission.
He didn't, though. He even stayed quiet, rather than favoring her with the various whispered comments, ranging from silly to lewd, that he indulged in when bored. And when the last scene came to an end and the tears were running down her face, Tony leaned over and startled her again by gently blotting them away with the handkerchief from his breast pocket.
She blinked at him, and he gave her a crooked smile and handed her the square of silk. "Is it a happy ending when everybody dies in the end?" he asked, just loudly enough to be heard over the applause.
Pepper wiped her eyes and returned the smile. "They're together forever, that's what counts."
"Ah." Tony's smile faded and he sat back, clapping politely.
They went out to a very late dinner afterwards at a restaurant equal to their formal clothing. The air conditioning made Pepper shiver, so Tony stripped off his tuxedo jacket and made her put it on over her shoulders. It was warm and smelled of him, and she cuddled into it almost involuntarily.
The food was good, and Pepper enjoyed it. Tony looked more relaxed without his coat, joking to make her smile, and Pepper realized she was enjoying the meal as much as the ballet. It was when they were waiting for dessert that she remembered to ask. "Tony? Why did you want to go see Swan Lake?"
He blinked innocently at her. "What do you mean?"
She cocked her head. "That wasn't a business event, you didn't even talk to anybody. And I know you don't really like the ballet."
Tony shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I...I just thought you might like to go."
That left her wordless. He'd set it all up just for her?
Before she could come up with a response, the waiter returned with two plates. Pepper looked down at the specialty dessert, a scoop of ice cream surrounded by an array of delicate golden pastry rings and drizzled with chocolate sauce. And at that moment, it all came together.
Her head snapped back up to meet Tony's eyes, but before either of them could speak a new voice cut in. "Stark! How're you doing, you robber baron?"
Tony turned to greet the newcomer, an old friend and rival, and the moment was lost. Pepper smiled at Paul Sizemore, allowed him to kiss her cheek gallantly, and ate her dessert as the two men chatted. In the end, Sizemore invited Tony to the bar to discuss a potential merger, and before Tony had to decide Pepper interrupted. "Hogan can take me home and come back for you, Mr. Stark, it's not a problem."
The frustration in Tony's eyes was quickly masked, and he agreed. Pepper slipped out of his jacket and gave it back, and went home, leaving the two men to talk business.
Pepper undressed in the quiet haven of her bedroom and got ready for bed, all the while contemplating a stealth date and the convoluted mind of a genius.
And whether having her most secret dream come true was possible, sensible, or just terrifying.
Pepper woke feeling much better than she'd expected to after such a late--and confusing--night. And as she got ready for work--Tony Stark's new schedule even spilled over into the holiday--she realized that she'd made up her mind.
Tony's morning was taken up with videoconferences with Stark Industries subsidiaries located in nations where Christmas wasn't a holiday, and Pepper barely had a chance to speak to him, though she sensed his gaze following her whenever she passed through. It occurred to her halfway through the morning that he might have taken her leaving the night before as a rejection, but Pepper didn't worry too much about it.
For once, she had a plan.
The afternoon's schedule included a charity fair that Stark Industries was hosting. The drive there was taken up with Tony's extended phone conversation with one of the board members, but when they reached the fair site he ended the call and they went in to wander and be seen. Tony shook hands and even signed a few autographs, and Pepper bought a few ornaments at the various booths, tucking the little packages into her purse and being grateful that the warm Malibu weather let the event be held outdoors.
Finally Tony gripped her elbow and steered her towards the fife and drum corps performing at the far end of the fair. "If they can't be heard, they can't talk to me," he muttered, and Pepper held back a snicker and let herself be maneuvered to the edge of the small crowd.
The music was satisfyingly loud, and Pepper stood with Tony and enjoyed the rather militant treatment of various carols. He was fidgeting, though, and Pepper finally took pity on him. Looking around, she noted the small stand of trees a few yards away, and nudged him in that direction.
He had his mouth open before they were even completely out of sight of the crowd, his expression uneasy. "Look, Pepper, I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but--"
Pepper didn't let him finish his sentence; instead she cupped his face in both hands and kissed him, very thoroughly.
Tony froze for a second, but only that; then his arms were around her and he was devouring her mouth with all the passion he brought to the things he loved. And as Pepper looped her arms around his neck, she knew that she'd made the right choice.
It was really Christmas morning when Tony stirred from their cuddle and sat up to rummage in his bedside table. He came out with a small box, which he handed to Pepper with a tinge of shyness. "I know tradition says five, but..."
Pepper stared at the wide band set flush with tiny diamonds, taken aback. "Tony, are you sure...?"
He kissed her, hard and swift. "I need you to trust that you're the only one for me, Pepper. And this is one promise I intend to keep."
Slowly, Pepper smiled at him. "I love you too," she said, and as Tony's eyes flared and he kissed her again, she held him tightly.
Best Christmas present I've ever gotten.
And she didn't mean the ring.