This is a sequel to Kereia's fic, "Struggling With Eloquence," and was co-written by her and myself, after I poked her and demanded a sequel. The original fic can also be found on my account.

---

All These Words

By Kereia and Zionangel

---

"I'm looking forward to this evening Ms. Potts." The hospital's Event Manager rose from his chair and held out his hand. "It's an honor for us to name the new hospital wing in recognition of Mr. Stark's contribution."

"Please, the honor is entirely ours. The work you and the staff at Bethesda's do deserves all the support we can give you. Mr. Stark is delighted that he could help." Pepper shook the proffered hand. "We'll see you at the gala."

They parted, and Pepper gathered her notebook and various business folders that she needed for the following meetings and hurried out of her office. This had been her fourth meeting about the hospital gala in the past two weeks, and even though she knew that everything had been arranged and coordinated to everyone's satisfaction, she couldn't help but run down the lists of preparations again.

Though it was just past noon, the day had already been long and busy since, aside from the gala and the day to day business, Stark Industries was gearing up for a presentation to the shareholders early next week. Pepper had left for work in the early hours of the morning and, with breakfast almost eight hours behind her, she was more than ready to enjoy her lunch with Tony.

As if the thought had conjured the cafeteria's server out of thin air, Pepper saw him leave Tony's office as soon as she rounded the corner. She pressed a hand to her stomach and quickened her steps.

When the prospect of the gala had first shown itself on the horizon, Pepper had geared up for a fight. She knew how much Tony hated these formal events when he had to be polite and professional and actually had to mingle and pretend that he enjoyed himself. It had come as a surprise when he hadn't put up any resistance. Though she was keenly aware that part of the reason for this was that, despite her best efforts to keep him focused on the business at hand, he'd been somewhat preoccupied having her body pressed between his own and the metal frame of the garage's security glass.

Apparently, she and Tony had quiet a different definition of "business at hand."

Not that she was complaining. The memory alone was enough to make Pepper smile and flush. Warmth flooded her body and, suddenly, she couldn't wait to see Tony. It amazed her sometimes that he still had that effect on her, but no matter how frustrated she became with him from time to time, she couldn't imagine life without him anymore. Tony had the uncanny ability to make her want to smack him upside the head and make her laugh in the same breath.

As Pepper strode purposefully into Tony's office, she shook her head and laughed quietly as she contemplated her relationship with him.

"Pepper." Tony greeted her from the small, round table that was tugged into one of the corners next to the door. He sprung to his feet, and she stepped up to him and snaked her arms around his neck, her body aligning perfectly with his. With a sigh, she kissed him, and the tension drained out of her shoulders.

Tony's arms immediately came up around her, and it was a struggle not to let the kiss turn from "I'm glad to see you," to "lock the door and shut the blinds." His lips lingered on hers, and when they parted Tony gave her a long, searching look.

It took Pepper a moment to realize that he was nervous, and she blinked, puzzled by the worry and uncertainty in his eyes. Curious, she disentangled herself. "What's wrong?"

He continued to look at her quietly, his eyes searching hers, though she couldn't fathom for what. Then, he abruptly turned away and pulled up a chair for her. "It's nothing." He gave her a quick, almost too casual smile. "I'm fine. Let's have something to eat. Your schedule is running me ragged today."

Pepper sat and eyed him suspiciously. It was true that she had packed the day with meetings and appointments for both of them, and she had fully expected him to become restless and fidgety. Maybe she had misread his mood, and the nervousness she had perceived was no more than an expression of his anxiety to get through the day.

Deciding to let it go, and reminding herself that the benefit of the tight schedule was a free weekend, she deposited her notebook and the folders next to her. "I'm sure you'll survive it," she commented dryly, but there was a gentle smile on her face.

With a skeptical look, Tony sat down across from her and dug into his food. There was still something off about him, and it took Pepper a moment to realize that it was the silence that made her uneasy. Tony loved to talk, and when the two of them were together they spent so much time bantering that it almost counted as foreplay. Today though, he ate silently, shoving food into his mouth with a preoccupied air and fast enough to make her wonder if he even tasted it. When she looked up at him, his eyes were resting on her notebook and the folders beneath. As soon as he noticed that she was watching him, his eyes snapped back to his plate.

"Tony, are you okay?"

His gaze met hers, and he looked decidedly sheepish. "Are you sure that these meetings are absolutely necessary? They are boring as hell, and I've got to tell you that if I have to listen to Thomas Brandon…"

"Briden, Tony. He's your head of Public Relations."

"Well, be that as it may, if he asks me one more time for signed photographs of Iron Man, I am going to use him for target practice."

Pepper laughed. "What does he want them for?"

The familiar, amused twinkle came back into his eyes. "Apparently, we're getting several hundred letters every month asking for them."

Pepper nodded sagely. "Last I heard, your adoring fans even created an international fan club."

Tony's wide-eyed look made her shake with laughter. She could see him struggle not to look too pleased and rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. After a moment, Tony cleared his throat. His eyes strayed once again to the folders on the table – a reminder of the appointments to come. "So, about that meeting…" he began.

"Don't even try it," Pepper said and turned her attention to her pasta. Seeing the dejected look on her face, she smiled softly. "We'll be done around 4 p.m., I promise."

* * * * *

By the time their last meeting was drawing to a close, Pepper could barely hide her relief. For the past forty-five minutes Tony had kept checking his watch continuously, and he'd been shifting in his chair so much that she'd become increasingly worried that he'd fling himself out the window if the meeting went on for much longer. Truth be told, Pepper was getting bored as well, which had little to do with the subject matter, and everything to do with the droning monotone of Howard Gemswick, SI's newest supplier, who'd been summarizing the already agreed upon business deal for the past ten minutes.

She knew Tony long enough to recognize the signs and anticipate the exact moment when he would snap. Just before that moment arrived, Pepper stepped up, using a convenient pause in Gemswick's speech as a pretext to say their goodbyes. Unflappable composure, charm, and years of experienced helped her smooth over the abruptness of their parting, and it only took her a moment to send Gemswick and his staff on their way and hustle Tony out of the conference room.

As she fell into step next to him, Tony theatrically pinched the bridge of his nose. "Please, tell me it's over. I can take any more of this."

Pepper gave him a pointed look. "It's over," she confirmed.

"Thank God." Tony dropped his hand and glanced at his watch again. He still appeared agitated, and Pepper couldn't blame him. She knew how much he deplored being stuck at the office all day, and how antsy he got when he didn't get to tinker in the workshop for more than two days, and it had been a busy week. On top of that, they had to go to the hospital's charity gala tonight. From the queasy look on his face, Pepper guessed that he was thinking about the tux and the handshakes and the small talk that he'd have to endure, and she decided that he could use a bit cheering up.

A small smirk graced her mouth, and to her chagrin Tony caught it. "What?"

"Nothing." Pepper hastily put on a casual expression, but she could see that Tony wasn't buying it. They reached his office and entered, and Pepper quickly told the assistant that they were not to be disturbed, and made sure the door was firmly closed behind her.

When she turned around, Tony was looking at her, his expression as close to a pout as she'd ever seen it. "Ms. Potts, I believe you are enjoying my misery." He wandered over to the couch and the scotch decanter next to it.

Pepper laughed softly and walked up to him. "I can't entirely deny deriving a certain amount of vindication from seeing you run the gauntlet of cooperate leadership, Mr. Stark," she teased.

At her words, he whirled around, a facetiously shocked expression on his face, but Pepper caught his gaze, her intent clear in her eyes. Tony closed his mouth, his imminent protests dying in his throat. With another step, she reached him and shoved him back onto the couch. He watched with a stunned expression as Pepper pulled up her tight pencil skirt and straddled his lap, and then her mouth slanted against his in a hot and passionate kiss.

Her belly tingling with butterflies, Pepper closed her eyes. Her tongue brushed wetly against his, and a strangled moan escaped Tony's throat. It took him only a second to shake off his astonished passivity, and then his arms came up around her, and he kissed her back with equal fervor. Pepper melted against him as she felt his strong hands run up her legs and back. The heat of his body suffused her skin with delicious warmth and longing, and she didn't pull back until oxygen became an issue.

With a contented sigh, Tony let his mouth wander heatedly along her cheek to her neck, where he nibbled on her tender skin, making her gasp. Feeling him shift against her, she became aware of his arousal, and she firmly planted a hand against his chest and scooted backwards. Tony groaned in protest.

"Not so fast, Mr. Stark." Pepper swallowed when his heated gaze met hers. There was enough predatory want beneath the simmering sensuality to make her breathless with excitement.

He gave her a smirk beneath hooded eyes. "You're the one who pinned me down and kissed the shit out of me, Ms. Potts, so I think I deserve some compensation for this unprovoked assault." He tried to kiss her again, but Pepper laughed and pressed her fingertips to his lips.

"I'm sorry to disappoint, but we really don't have the time. I believe we have plans for tonight."

For a second his eyes widened with a surprised, tender look, and his body grew very still. Then, the moment was gone so fast that she almost thought she'd imagined it, and the smirk was back, more devilish than ever. "Pepper, I know for a fact that you're intimately familiar with the concept of a quickie."

He captured her upper lip with his mouth and, for a moment, Pepper was seriously tempted to give in. It took all her self-control to stand up and escape seduction. "You can ravish me all you want later," she said, proud that her voice was completely steady, though her legs were not.

From the look on Tony's face, she knew that he was perfectly aware what affect he had on her, and she tried to look stern, but knew she failed when he stood and pulled her flush against his body. "I like that alternative," he said quietly, his voice husky. To Pepper's surprise he pressed a short, almost chaste kiss to her lips before he released her and stepped back. "So, I'll see you tonight?" Under the scrutiny of her searching gaze, his restlessness appeared to return.

She put a reassuring hand on his arm. "Of course, you will. I'm not about to leave you there alone." She smiled at him. "I'll meet you there at seven."

Tony nodded and cupped her cheek in his hand. "I'll be waiting."

Though Pepper couldn't explain why, she perceived his intensity as mildly disconcerting, and wondered if the long days at the office were really the only thing responsible for his edginess. Trying to lighten to mood, she gave him a teasing look. "You better be. Now go home and get ready and don't you dare be late."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

Pepper picked up her purse from the table and left, taking a deep satisfaction in the fact that Tony, thanks to his raging hormones, needed to wait a minute.

* * * * *

Tony stared at the sunset. It was spectacular with its canvas of colors; bright oranges melting into crimson as all around it the sky darkened from azure to opal sprinkled with the citron sparks of starlight. As the sun vanished beneath the surface of the ocean, he buried his hands in his pockets. The knot in his stomach wound tighter, and he felt sick. The clock in the dining room softly chimed out eight o'clock.

Pepper was over an hour late.

His eyes burned with the fading glow of the sun, and he abruptly turned around and walked back inside. He heard the low whisper of voices from the balcony and tried to ignore them as he wandered aimlessly through the room.

He'd planned everything so perfectly. The night was supposed to start off with him and Pepper watching the sunset, sipping wine and enjoying the music. However, the sun was gone now, and she wasn't here even though she'd promised to be, and all he could think about was that Pepper was never late. His chest constricted with the pain of knowing that it must have been by choice, because the only time she'd ever been late was when she'd gotten into a car accident on the way to work.

Tony froze when the memory invaded his brain, and fear crashed into him.

"Jarvis?"

The calm voice of the mansion's AI drifted back to him. "Yes, Sir?"

"Check all local 911 and hospital records. Has Pepper been in an accident? Is she…" he stoped himself from saying it out loud; the thought of her injured or worse was too frightening to contemplate. The seconds ticked by as Jarvis sifted through the relevant information, and Tony clenched his teeth and waited.

"The most up-to-date records do not indicate any accident involving Miss Potts, Sir. To the best of my knowledge, she is safe."

Tony's relief, though acute, only lasted a moment. He was glad that nothing had happened to her; he couldn't imagine what he would do, or how he could live without her by his side. In fact, all his preparations for this evening had been designed around letting her know that he never wanted to be without her. But within seconds his anxiety returned, and he reluctantly faced the only alternative that could explain her absence: Pepper had chosen not to come to him. Tony was unprepared for the pain that this consideration brought with it. Though the letter he had left for Pepper this morning had not been an explicit proposal, her response in his office had been so encouraging that he'd never thought she would change her mind.

He'd wanted her to have a letter - a real love letter, this time, instead of the fragments of prose that had brought her into his arms before. Being as astute and observant as she was, Pepper must have known that he'd meant to propose tonight. Between the letter and the dinner, he'd made it so obvious that there could have been no room for doubt, and the fact that she wasn't here could only mean that she didn't want him to propose. It was enough to fracture his heart.

He pulled the small, blue box out of his pocket. His fingers brushed over the velvet casing, and he opened the lid. The ring caught the flickering candlelight, the simple diamond sparkling with a hidden fire. Just looking at it made him miserable.

It hadn't been easy figure out Pepper's size without letting her know what he was up to. She hardly wore any jewelry, and they'd had some very fierce negotiations about when and why he was allowed to buy her expensive gifts, so in the end, he'd had to wait until she'd been fast asleep in his arms. They'd been at another charity ball that night, and Pepper had driven him crazy with an alluring green dress that would have been almost too proper if it hadn't been for the long slit in the skirt that reached up to a little above mid thigh, allowing tantalizing glimpses of creamy skin with every step she took. She'd worn delicate jewelry to complement it- gold and red gold strands interweaving in an elegant, simple design. He'd gently pulled the ring off her finger, careful not to wake her, and traced the inside on a sheet of paper before returning it to her hand.

Finding the right design had been almost more difficult, but he'd finally found something that matched Pepper's beauty, and hopefully her taste as well; a simple polished platinum band adorned with a two carat diamond in classic Tiffany Setting. The thought that she might never wear it caused an empty, hollow feeling inside his chest. With a snap, he closed the lid and shoved the box back into his pocket.

His fingertips brushed against the cell phone, and he grasped it and checked that he hadn't missed any calls. As he stared at the glowing display, he despairingly tried to work up the courage to call her, but he couldn't. The only thing that could have made him feel even worse than Pepper not being here was hearing the rejection out of her own mouth and, though a part of him wanted desperately to convince her to come, he knew that the effort would be not only futile, but humiliating.

Restless, he put the phone back and went outside. Night had settled over the coast, and the only light remaining shone from the hundred candles he'd placed along the banister, the table, and the floor next to the multitude of flower vases. He bought roses, of course, but the assortment included all of Pepper's favorites: Casablanca Lilies, Pink Gingers, Star Gazer Lilies, Gladioluses, Stephanotises, Gloriosa Lilies, and Watsonias.

Four candle holders were arranged around the string quartet behind them, and though Tony did his best to ignore the pitying looks they cast his way, he felt embarrassed and turned his back to them. He didn't even want to think about the three chefs he'd hired to cook all of Pepper's favorite foods and desserts, and who were surely throwing a minor fit in the kitchen by now. The fact that he'd cleaned out the refrigerator so they'd be able to stow the leftovers was little consolation at this point, and it struck him that all the effort he'd put into making this evening special for Pepper was oddly reminiscent of all those letters he'd tried to write to her, except that this time there wasn't going to be a happy ending.

Thinking that it would probably be best to dismiss the musicians, he braced himself and turned around, and then his phone rang, making him flinch at the sound. Pepper's name and picture were on the caller ID and, suddenly, he found it hard to breathe. It took him almost a minute before he pressed the button to accept the call, and all the while he tried not to feel even a glimmer of hope.

"Pepper?"

Though he could hear her voice, it took a moment before he understood her words. Her tone was unmistakable, though; he'd heard it often enough, that fake-happy cadence that let him know that she was not alone and trying to disguise how furious she was. "Tony, where the hell are you?"

When the words finally registered, he blinked in utter confusion. "I… I'm at home. W…"

Pepper interrupted him, her voice rising slightly. "For God's sake, Tony, the gala started over an hour ago and they're about to serve dinner and you're not here and I've been trying to cover for you all evening. You said you'd be here!"

The realization crashed into him with stunning force as he remembered Pepper's body pressed against him in the garage, remembered how'd been trying to distract her while she'd babbled on about the hospital wing he'd donated and the upcoming gala in his honor that he'd have to attend. Tony closed his eyes and whished he could shoot himself. In his mind he reviewed the conversations they'd had in his office today, and groaned when he realized that they'd been talking about two different things, and that Pepper must have never found his letter. He'd never felt more like a colossal idiot.

"I… Pepper, I'm sorry, I…"

She interrupted him again. "Don't be sorry, be here. I can't keep stalling for you, Tony, and you're presenting a check to the hospital's head honcho soon and you cannot miss that."

There were a thousand things he wanted to say, but Pepper's tone made it clear that she didn't have the time, and perhaps not even the inclanation, to listen, right now. "I'm sorry, Pepper. I'm coming. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

The last word he heard before she hung up on him was "Hurry."

Taking a deep breath, he surveyed the balcony for the last time. He thought about how perfect this evening could have been if he'd just… He stopped himself. Recriminations wouldn't be helpful, and it didn't matter anyway. The evening was completely ruined, and he'd used up all his energy and courage trying to get it right and not have a panic attack every time he even thought about going down on one knee and asking Pepper to marry him. There was no way to salvage this evening, and the knowledge calmed him enough to focus. He needed to dismiss the staff he'd hired and get to the gala, and then he needed to find away to stop Pepper from being mad at him. He also needed to take a little time to get over the humiliation and worry that he currently felt, but that could wait. All he wanted was to get through this night.

* * * * *

1Though it was very early in the morning, Pepper had already dispatched the first round of emails and wielded over a dozen phone calls by the time she reached the mansion. Tony's unexplained behavior the night before had prevented her from getting more than a few hours of sleep, and the fact that he'd barely said two words to her when he'd arrived at the hospital gala worried her more than she wanted to admit.

It just didn't make any sense that he'd completely forgotten about their plans after he'd seemed almost eager to attend when she had left him at the office not three hours earlier.

After depositing her folders in her office, she nervously smoothed non-existent wrinkles out of her skirt and headed for the circular stairs that lead down to the garage. Even the triple glazed security glass could not contain the drumming bass that echoed through the work shop. For a moment, Pepper hovered on the stairs, her gaze assessing Tony. He stood with his back to her, bent half over the desk and his latest gadgets. He seemed absorbed in his work, but Pepper could see the tension in his body, the quick frustrated movements of his hands, and she took a deep breath before she descended the rest of the stairs and punched in her access code. Another tap on the digital panel turned off the music, and she could see Tony's body freeze for a split second, before he continued to work as if nothing had happened.

Steeling herself, she walked through the door, a cautious, yet resolute "Good morning" on her lips. His reply was mumbled, and his refusal to face her tugged at once at her heart as well as her patience.

"Tony, what's wrong?" she asked directly and crossed her arms almost involuntarily. Her ire rose with every second the silence stretched between. It was rare for Tony to sulk, but when he did, indulgence was the worst way to deal with it. "Did something happen after I left you yesterday?" She approached, her high heels clicking harshly with every step. "Are you mad about something? You know you can talk to me." Finally he stopped working, but his reply was dismissive and Pepper snapped. "Tony, something is wrong, and I can't do anything about it if you won't…"

"Did you look in your business folders yesterday?" The question was uttered quietly, and the topic threw her completely off guard. Of all possible explanations for his sullen mood, a business reason had never crossed her mind.

"I…" she broke off, while her mind ran through the folders she had deposited on her desk upstairs. She'd studied all of them, of course, knew them by heart really, and she wondered what information she'd missed that might have jeopardized a deal. "No," she finally admitted. "I didn't have the time. Why?"

Tony still would not turn around to face her. "Do you have them now?"

"They're in my office…"

"Go look in the Gemswick file."

Her mind running in overdrive, she recollected the file, yesterday's meeting, and the deal in which said meeting had culminated, but she was still at a loss as to what piece of information she could have possibly missed. "Why? What's…"

Suddenly, Tony seemed exasperated, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Pepper, please, just… just go upstairs and look, and…" A deep, weary sigh escaped him. "I'll be waiting here if you still want to see me afterwards."

She wanted to press him for an explanation right there and then, but something in his voice stopped her. With a last, worried glance at his back, Pepper turned and walked back to her office. Though she told herself to remain calm, her mind refused to slow down, and by the time she reached her office, she'd already conceived half a dozen plans on how to deal with this crisis.

Still, she was unnerved to discover that her hands were shaking slightly as she reached for the folder and flipped it open. A letter slipped out and fell to the floor. For a moment, Pepper froze in surprise, but then she crouched down and picked it up.

Immediately recognizing Tony's personal stationary, she turned it in her hand, wondering what this could possibly mean. More puzzled than upset now, Pepper opened the letter which he had addressed to her.

My Dear Pepper,

I know my previous attempts at love letters were pretty much disasters (although they did bring me you, so I guess I can't write them off completely). I know that writing these things isn't one of my strong points, but I love you, Pepper, and you deserve a true love letter. So I had to give it one last try.

I can't tell you how truly happy you have made me, and how much better my life is because you are in it. Sometimes I still have a hard time believing that you love me as well. After all that I put you through, you somehow still see something in me that is worth loving, even when no one else does. I can't thank you enough for that, but I try my best every single day to be worthy of that love, and I will keep trying as long as you are in my life.

You have been my strongest ally (sometimes my only one) in the past few years as Iron Man. I am so grateful for the countless times that you've saved my life and kept me from going completely insane. Even in Afghanistan, the hope of seeing you again was about the only thing that kept me going. Most of all, I am grateful for your love, and for the fact that you have stayed by my side through it all.

I know how much it scares you, how much you hate it every time I go on a mission, and yet you've always understood why I need to do it, and have been there for me when I needed you most. There aren't many people in the world that would do what you do, and I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you.

The whole point of this is, of course, that I love you, and I love everything about you. I love your eyes and your smile… and every other part of your body. I love your courage, your strength and your wisdom. But the thing I love most about you, by far, is your heart. I have never met a single human being with a heart that is more beautiful and pure than yours.

Being with you has been the happiest time of my life, and I hope you feel the same. I hope that this love and happiness will be with us for years to come. To share just a bit of this happiness with you, and to show you how much I love you, I've planned a special dinner for tonight, just the two of us. Meet me on the balcony at 7:00. I promise you a wonderful evening you won't forget.

With all my love,

Tony

PS: Wear something sexy.

* * * * *

As Tony listened to Pepper's receding footsteps, he wanted to bang his head against the tabletop. Calling himself every type of idiot in the book, he pushed himself to his feet, and headed for the small bathroom that adjoined the garage. He'd been so determined to make it up to her; all morning he'd thought about what he would say when he saw her, how he could apologize for ruining last night and how to thank her for once again saving the evening by making excuses for him. He couldn't believe that after all the time he'd spent rehearsing this morning, he'd completely frozen when she'd walked into the garage.

Berating himself, he hastily washed his hands before he pulled the jewelry box out of his pocket. His lips pursed thoughtfully, and he wondered if she would forgive his blunder after she read the letter. At this point, he wouldn't blame her for walking out on him.

His stomach tightened with every minute, and he hid the box away again, unwilling to tempt fate. The seconds felt like hours, and he started to pace, restlessly. Then, he heard her on the staircase and his mouth went dry. He rarely got nervous, but for a moment the urge to flee, rather than face her rejection, became almost too strong to resist.

While he watched Pepper punch in her security code, he tried to gage her state of mind, but her expression appeared serene and composed, and when she walked in and stopped right behind the door, he felt far too close to having a heart attack.

"Why didn't you just call me last night?" she asked quietly, her face scarily neutral.

He found it difficult to reply. Just looking her in the eyes became a challenge, but he forced himself to do it nonetheless. "I… thought you didn't come because you… I thought you didn't want…" He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence and give voice to the doubt that plagued him.

Her voice remained level and soft. "You could have told me when I called, or when you came to the gala."

"You… you were…" He gestured helplessly. It had become impossible to hold her gaze, and Tony clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, convinced that her lack of response gave credence to his fears. Shaking his head, he tried to take deep, steadying breaths, and wondered how everything could have gone so wrong.

Her high heels clicked on the floor, and a second alter, he could feel her hand rest against his chest. "Tony, look at me."

Forcing himself to remember the man he was – the man she loved – he opened his eyes and beheld the most beautiful, loving smile on Pepper's face. For a moment, he stood frozen, but then she leaned into him, and he could feel her soft lips brush against his, and releasing the breath he never knew he'd held, he wrapped her into his arms and kissed her enthusiastically.

He could feel her smile under his mouth, and when she pinched him playfully, he drew her into a last lingering kiss before letting her breathe again.

"You silly man… you have no idea how much I love you." she said.

An entire army wouldn't have been able to keep the goofy smirk off his face. "I think I've got a pretty good idea." He sighed. "I'm sorry I screwed up, Pepper."

For a moment, Pepper tried to affect a stern look, but a smile tugged on her lips. "I think I can forgive you." She gave him a quick kiss. "Just check the schedule with Jarvis before your next big, romantic gesture."

He studied her for a long moment, letting his eyes wander over the delicate lines of her face, and knowing that he would never be able to tell her just how much he loved her. Knowing that he would also never get another opportunity as good as this one, he took her hands, smiled and went down on one knee.

As he dug for the jewelry box in his pocket, he watched he eyes widen and suddenly, he didn't feel nervous anymore. Instead, a warm, steady calmness descended on him, and he gently kissed her hand. "Pepper, I love you more than anything or anyone else in this world. I don't know what I did to deserve you or how you've managed to put up with me all these years. But there is nothing that would make me happier than waking up next to you every morning for the rest of my life. So…" He flipped open the box and held it aloft before he continued, but Pepper's eyes never strayed from his face. "...if you're willing to put up with me for the next sixty or seventy years, I will do everything I possibly can to deserve your love, and I will give you every last bit of mine in return."

The luminous smile that graced her face was mirrored by his own. "Pepper, will you marry me?" he finally asked, and before the question had completely left his lips, Pepper flung herself at him.

"Of course I will, you idiot."

He caught her in his arms, and held her tightly to him for a moment, relishing the feel and warmth of her. He could hear her laughing quietly into his shoulder, but when she raised her head there were also tears in her eyes. Gently, he wiped them away with the pad of his thumb. In thanks, she lightly punched his shoulder.

"Hey," he exclaimed, affecting a hurt expression. "What was that for?"

Pepper smiled. "For being the most wonderful, infuriating, passionate, and impetuous man I know. I love you." She kissed him lightly on the nose, and he wrinkled it at her, feeling momentarily silly.

"I believe only about half of that was a compliment, Ms. Potts."

"I know, I'm feeling a little sentimental at the moment." At his scandalized look she broke into pearls of laughter.

Trying not to show how pleased he was to hear the sound after last night's fiasco, he reached for the jewelry box, which had fallen to the floor at her sudden, though thoroughly welcome, assault. Tony carefully lifted Pepper into the chair behind her and grasped her hand. "Now, let's do this properly." Kneeling next to her, he gave her an open smile and pushed the ring onto her finger, and then looked up intending to kiss his future wife.

To his consternation, Pepper was giggling.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Pepper waved her hand at him. "Wrong hand, Tony."

He stared dumbfounded at the ring on her hand before he broke into quiet laughter. Shaking his head, he quickly switched the ring to her other hand. With a soft smile, he cupped her face and leaned in, brushing her cheeks dry of her lingering tears before he kissed her. Before he could even think to pull away, her fingers threaded through his hair, sending little shivers down his spine as she slowly deepened the kiss. He groaned as she began running her tongue along his, feeling the wave of love and happiness and, now, arousal nearly overwhelm him. She moved slowly to the edge of the chair, pressing against him.

Their kisses gradually intensified as they melded further and further into one another. His hands found their way to her back. From there they caressed down to her hips, thighs, and calves, until they reached her ankles. They gently teased the skin there until he could pull out of the kiss, and the smile he gave her was enthralled and sensual, and just a little mischievous as he pushed her chair back a ways, lifting one of her feet into his lap. He ran light fingers from her knees down to her feet, enjoying the little gasp the sensation elicited. He slowly removed her shoe--plain black stilettos which somehow still drove him crazy--and kissed her ankle. As he lowered her leg again, he kissed that knee, and then the other before repeating the same process on the other leg.

When he tried to slip his hands beneath her skirt, she caught them, shaking her head. "Couch," she whispered, and he stood and lifted her to his hips in one motion. Her lips found his neck as soon as his arms were steady around her, kissing him in a way that made maneuvering to the couch difficult. But despite stumbling and knocking into furniture a few times, he made it, and carefully set her back on her feet.

With a sultry look in her eye, she lifted the old, grease-stained T-shirt over his head and dropped it carelessly to the floor. She pressed a few kisses to his chest, just on the edge of the reactor, her lips touching both skin and metal. Her fingertips circled the edge, tickling his skin. Drawing in a shaky breath, he pushed her suit jacket off her shoulders, then reached for the buttons on her blouse. But she quickly grasped his wrists, stopping him again with a shake of her head. The soft, red waves of her hair bounced around her shoulders and her eyes sparkled with love and lust as she whispered, "Hold still."

He obeyed, keeping his hands at his sides even though he was desperate to strip away her clothes and caress her skin. He was grateful as she unbuckled his belt and pulled it free, as it relieved just a bit of the quickly growing pressure. Then, letting her fingertips trace down his torso, she sat down on the couch, and undid his jeans. Her fingers slipped below the waistband of his boxers, sensually caressing his skin as she pushed his clothes lower and lower until he could kick away the sneakers and fabric all at once, leaving him naked before her. The smirk she threw up at him was mischievous, promising, and loving, and when she touched him, he instantly understood why.

She didn't even touch his erection first, just caressed every other inch of skin from his waist to his thighs. She continued with this wonderful torture until she had him groaning and fighting to keep still, and only then did she give him some respite, stroking his shaft rhythmically, and taking the head into her mouth and sucking lightly. He gladly let her continue for a few moments, until his desire to touch her overwhelmed the pleasure he felt. He coaxed her away from him, a dazed smile on his face as he placed the blanket on the floor to cushion his knees as he kneeled.

He unbuttoned her shirt, unhooked her bra, slid away her panties and skirt, all so sensually that she was squirming beneath his touch by the time she was completely bare. He took a moment to drink in the sight of her, somehow more beautiful than ever, for no other reason than the fact that he could now call her his fiancée.

He smiled and kissed her mouth, then let his lips trail all the way down her body, and when he reached the edge of her hip, he pulled her to the edge of the couch and let his lips complete the journey to her core. He circled her slowly with his tongue, perfectly attuned to her wants after their shared intimacies, and she barely had the presence of mind to shove a pillow behind her back and brace her feet against the coffee table behind him. As he slowly increased the intensity and speed of his ministrations, he let the sound of her erratic breathing guide him and tell him when to slide his fingers inside her. When she came, her whole body tensed against him as she cried out in ecstasy; the sound rang through his head, filling him with an intense, soul-deep pleasure unlike any he had ever felt before.

She was still struggling to catch her breath when he rose up on his knees, lifted one of her legs over his shoulder and entered her with a deep groan. She gasped, eyes tightly shut, her pleasure evident on every line of her face. Slowly, he began to move, loving the quiet gasps he elicited with every thrust. He quickly fell into a steady rhythm--one they'd learned very early in their relationship, one he knew drove her crazy and wild. With a deep sigh, Pepper slid her hand down between their bodies to touch herself, adding to the sensations he made her feel. Fascinated, Tony watched, his desire pulling on every muscles low in his body--the sight stimulating his own need. Overcome, he surged into her hard, his thrusts becoming faster and deeper.

As the pressure began to build, their bodies tensed, and he leaned over to touch her as well. He ran his hands along her arms and stomach, massaging each breast before he moved on to her long, slender legs, all the while marveling, yet again, at the softness of her skin.

Though he wanted to draw this moment out--their first time making love as an engaged couple–the need of his body began to overwhelm his self-control and his rhythm became erratic in a relentless attempt to heighten the pleasure for both of them. Her fingers circled faster in response, her breathless moans becoming more frequent. He felt the change in his body, the sensation that told him there was absolutely no stopping now. Moving nearly as fast as he could, he cupped a hand behind her neck, his fingers tangling in her hair.

"Look at me, Pepper," he just managed to whisper. She did, and though she struggled to keep her eyes open and focused on his, she managed, and it was only seconds before she was crying out as an orgasm tore through her. The sensation of her tightening around him did him in and pulled him over the edge. Their eyes stayed locked the entire time.

Falling against her, he barely managed to brace his weight on his arms. Their breath came in harsh, staccato pants as they calmed down, and it took all the strength he had left to release her leg and shift them both onto the couch, so that Pepper could rest against him. As he began to breathe again, his senses were filled with Pepper's scent and taste, and the sound of her racing heart against his chest.

He heard her sigh in contentment and felt her rest her hand above the arc reactor in his chest. The diamond caught the overhead lights, sparkling like an earthbound star. Pulling her tighter, Tony felt brushed his lips against her forehead. "I think you may have made me the happiest man in the world, Mrs. Stark."

Pepper shifted slightly and looked up at him with a tender smile. "The feeling's mutual." She pressed a soft kiss to his chest. "But I'm not changing my name, Tony."

Pouting, he considered her determined features for a moment, before an idea lit up his face. "Can I call you Mrs. Stark, if I'll let you call me Mr. Potts?"

Pepper burst into charming giggles and rolled her eyes at him. "All right, you've got yourself a deal, Mr. Potts."