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. 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.
Cincoflex not only encouraged this, but came up with most of the...ideas...herself. Thank you, dearest!
Caution: for this one I am resurrecting my personal rating of US: Unabashedly Sentimental. Previously unknown levels of fluff. You Have Been Warned.
She found the first one on her desk when she arrived Saturday morning.
Pepper had found many interesting things on or near her desk in the course of working for Tony Stark; ever since he'd set her up an office in his house he'd been in the habit of leaving things there on occasion, ranging from lingerie catalogs through half-finished projects to the occasional box of Girl Scout cookies out of season. Sometimes it was a tease, sometimes a silent request for an opinion; as for the cookies, Pepper didn't know where he got them and she didn't want to ask, but they were always delicious.
But never, in the starting-to-be-impressive number of years she'd been Tony's PA--nor the months they had been lovers as well--had she found an egg.
It was sitting in the exact center of her desk, quite noticeable against the glossy dark wood. Pepper set down her laptop case and picked it up a little gingerly, and realized that it was decorated. Dyed, in fact, in three rings of pastel colors.
She looked down at it, bemused. Easter was the next day, but she had never known Tony to pay any more attention to that holiday than he did any day for which a party was not usually thrown.
"Jarvis?" she asked the air. "Where is Tony?"
"He is asleep in his workshop," the AI replied serenely. "Do you wish me to wake him?"
"No. Thank you." Pepper had plenty of work to do, and a sleeping Tony would not generate more.
Though the house was awfully quiet without him moving around. Pepper smiled to herself. Better to get the work out of the way before he woke, because odds were that he would find something better for both of them to do.
She rolled the egg gently in her palm. It was heavy, a pleasing solidity, and she wondered if it were fresh or boiled. I...don't think I'll try to find out.
Pepper set it aside, amused. I wonder what got into him last night.
She settled into her chair and powered up her laptop, ready to tackle the mound of work waiting for her. She'd taken Friday off to attend the wedding of a friend, and while she'd enjoyed her day, Pepper knew with grim certainty that the amount of stuff that backed up over even just twenty-four hours was daunting. Silently she blessed Tony for managing to avoid having any crises.
He's been better about that lately, she thought as her e-mail program booted. The last few months had seen Tony assume a new, more thoughtful mindset, and while he was still inclined to tease her, he was a little less frivolous. Pepper thought it was more to do with Iron Man than the fact that she was, as he so proudly put it, his girlfriend, but either way she was grateful.
Before her in-box finished filling, though, Pepper heard a sound at the door and looked up. She expected a sleepy Tony, but the figure filling the space was actually Butterfingers, holding something in his gripper. Pepper smiled, curious. "Hey, what's up?"
Given permission, the 'bot rolled forward, extending his arm. Clasped in his gripper was the handle of a basket--an ordinary, cheap, pink-and-green Easter basket, the likes of which could be purchased at any grocery store. Pepper blinked.
Butterfingers lowered his arm slightly, a clear presentation, and she took the basket from him. "Um...thanks."
The 'bot chirped and rotated, reversing out the door as Pepper looked into the garish thing. There was a slip of paper on the bottom, and she pulled it out.
It bore a quick drawing of an egg with an arrow pointing to the bottom, and two words. Humor me.
Frowning, Pepper picked up the egg on her desk and looked at its fatter end. Faint pencil on the shell had her peering closer to read the tiny numbers: 1/15.
She almost didn't. But the note was so bluntly honest--and, to be truthful, she was curious.
"All right," Pepper muttered. "Why not." If it took too long, she could always quit.
She placed the first egg in the basket. Where do I start? There was an awful lot of house to search, after all.
But she found another egg almost immediately, half-hidden behind the table console in the living room, and when she picked it up Pepper giggled at the Eat Me printed in bold letters on the shell.
The bright blue egg also had faint pencil on the bottom, this time reading 3/15. Pepper regarded it with amusement. "Two down, thirteen to go."
Number two was behind a piano leg, with a crude but recognizable illustration of two rabbits mating. Pepper rolled her eyes and dropped the egg into the basket.
She found two in the kitchen--one actually in the egg holder in the refrigerator door--and while the cartoon face and little goatee made her snicker, the red and yellow one stating I AM Iron Egg had her laughing so hard she had to sit down.
One with a rabbit face on one side and a cotton ball glued on the back; one covered in little high-heel stickers, and where had he found those; one made her laugh again at I'm the result of two chicks gettin' it on. One devil and one angel, which after a brief struggle Pepper finally figured out was good egg/bad egg; the one with a smiley face on one side and the unhappy frown on the other puzzled her for some minutes, and finally she held it up to the nearest camera. "Jarvis? Do you know what this one is supposed to be?"
"I believe that is intended to represent 'eggony' and 'eggstasy'," Jarvis replied, and Pepper covered her eyes with one hand and groaned.
Egg after egg, none of them too hard to find; Pepper located one decorated to look like a Peep in the bathroom, and two together on the stairs, painted with a skimpy bikini top. I guess I'm lucky he didn't paint a set to look like testicles.
The whole thing was fascinating, she thought as she searched. The image of Tony spending so much time and concentration on decorating eggs was a little startling.
Maybe he did it when he was a kid. Though she could much more easily imagining him using them as missiles, or possibly as practical jokes.
Number fifteen proved elusive, and Pepper spent a good five minutes searching before she finally looked in Tony's bedroom. The egg wasn't on the bed, which was the first place she looked; it sat on the carpet near the window, glittering in a shaft of sunlight.
Pepper bent down to pick it up. It was heavier than the others, and she realized at once that it was metal, not a real egg; golden filigree so dense that she couldn't see through it, a gorgeous pattern of leaves and vines and--she peered more closely--tiny rabbity silhouettes.
Awed, Pepper set down her basket and stepped into the sunlight, the better to inspect the egg. It was heavier on the bottom, but when she turned it over, expecting a maker's mark, there was only a date, 4-11-09.
That's today's date.
She turned the egg back upright, rubbing her thumb over the intricate curlicues. He actually made this himself?
The thought put a lump in her throat. Tony made this. For me.
As Pepper swallowed, she felt the egg quiver slightly in her grip, and she blinked in surprise as the top half opened, parting into four pieces and folding outward like the petals of a tulip. Something within caught the sun and flashed fire back.
It was a tiny golden rose, petals and leaves surrounding a brilliant diamond nestled in the heart of the blossom. It was exquisite, and Pepper marveled at the delicacy, touched beyond words that her lover had created such a thing for her.
It was Tony's voice that broke the spell, grumbling in the hallway. "...you to wake me when she got here."
Pepper looked up to see him appear in the doorway, tousled and squinty and--she had to admit--adorable. He hadn't bothered with a shirt, and the arc reactor's glow was only slightly muted by the sun. "Oh, hi." Tony gave her a slightly embarrassed smile and rubbed the back of his neck. "Damn, you're beautiful."
Pepper smiled back, overwhelmed. "Tony...thank you. This is--this is amazing, I've never seen anything like it."
His smile grew warier. "But?"
Pepper blinked, not understanding. "But what?"
Tony's brows drew together, and then his face lightened. "Ah. Here." He strode over to her and wrapped his fingers around the wrist of the hand that was holding the egg. With his other hand he tapped the egg sharply near the base. "It stuck."
The egg vibrated again, and the little rose...rose, moving upward until it had cleared the tips of the eggshell. Pepper felt her mouth fall open at the sight, because it wasn't just a lovely miniature--it was a ring, balanced somehow on a stem climbing from the depths of the egg.
"So, yeah." Tony cleared his throat. "Marry me?"
Pepper's head snapped up to look at him, and she was caught by his gaze, all the intensity that Tony could muster with a terrifying vulnerability beneath, an asking that made her heart ache as though in the grip of a vise. Thoughts tumbled through her head almost too fast to catch, all the cautions and complications and uncertainties--the impossibilities--
She took a deep breath, stilled the clamor, and let one word out.
It was like watching the sun rise, Pepper thought as joy bloomed on Tony's face, and then he was kissing her hard, pulling her so close that the egg was trapped between them. She kissed him back, stunned and dizzy and surprised by that same joy, and when she tasted salt on his lips she knew it didn't matter whose tears they were.
When they parted, it was only to a breath's breadth, Tony's hand moving almost feverishly over her cheek and throat and his other arm keeping her tight against him. "Thank God," he muttered.
Before Pepper could answer, Jarvis spoke over their heads. "Remarkable--you have beaten the odds, sir."
"What odds?" Pepper asked, lifting her head.
"I calculated the odds of you agreeing to marry Mr. Stark as approximately 174 to 1," the AI replied calmly, and Tony groaned.
"Shut up, Jarvis." His grip tightened, and he looked slightly panicked. "Pepper, it's not what it sounds like."
She couldn't hold in the laughter, and after a second's indignation Tony started to smile reluctantly. Pepper slid her arms around him and hugged him, hard.
"I'll marry you, Tony, despite the odds. Even if you are a little cracked."
He shouted with laughter and squeezed her, and Pepper smiled against his skin, knowing that life was about to become several orders of magnitude more complicated and just not caring. Tony didn't take her lightly, and she knew he meant this.
I think...it'll be worth it.
Then his arms loosened, and Tony reached for the egg she still held. "Here, put it on, it should fit--"
Belying his own words, he slid the ring onto her finger; it fit perfectly, which Pepper had expected. Jarvis probably has my sizes in everything.
Tony stared down at her hand in his, the rose nestled against the base of her finger and the diamond a spark of light. He let out a long sigh, and it took Pepper a moment to realize that it was relief.
She cupped his cheek in her palm and made him look at her. "What would you have done if I'd said no?" she asked, a touch uncertain.
Tony shrugged, the vulnerability back though his mouth quirked up at the corner. "Kept asking."
Yes. That was the Tony she knew.
Pepper leaned in and kissed him again, and as he drew her in knew also that--whatever might happen--she already had his promise.