Christmas fluff! This story was an epiphany moment when putting a bauble on my Christmas tree :)
Tony Stark consulted the tangle of lights in front of him and tried to remember what his mother would have done in this situation.
She would have sat down, put some soft jazz music on, and calmly begun to untangle them.
But that was Maria Stark, not Tony Stark.
Tony almost gave up, but then pictured Pepper's shocked expression at his newly decorated workshop and, grinning, he sat down and began to untangle them.
'JARVIS? Put some Roger Cicero on please.'
Okay, maybe not soft jazz, but jazz none the least.
Once the lights were untangled, a task which took two hours and not only Roger Cicero but also Duke Ellington, Tony stretched them out and winded them around the 5ft 7in Christmas tree that he had arranged neatly in a corner of his workshop.
Lights… tinsel… baubles… no, Stark Star, then baubles.
Tony pulled the Stark Star out of the box of decorations he'd dug out from his (rather large) attic.
Howard Stark had made 3 year old Tony the Stark Star for the top of the tree. It was by far the most high tech Christmas tree star ever, made from glass and filled with small coloured lights that either flashed different colours or stayed the same colour depending on which setting it was on.
Tony turned the Stark Star over in his hands, stroking the casing. He remembered when his father had first presented it to him. Howard had turned off the lights and Maria had lifted the young boy up so he could put it on the top of the already lit up Christmas tree.
It was the Stark tradition, Christmas decorations up on the first weekend of December; Maria would always drag her husband and child protégé son up from the workshop in the basement to honour this tradition, no exceptions, no matter what car it was they were fixing this time.
Tony smiled and set the star aside back in its padded plastic casing before attacking the lights again.
The last time he'd decorated the tree was over 20 years ago, he was 18 and it was the last Christmas he'd shared with his parents before the car accident. After that, Christmas wasn't the same, because it was a tradition he'd shared with his family. But now… what had changed his mind? Was it the whole Iron Man thing? Or was it Pepper?
It was Pepper.
Tony finished with the lights and instructed JARVIS to change Jazz artists, draping tinsel around the tree. The Stark Star always went on before the baubles because the 3 year old Tony had always enjoyed watching the lights from the star shining on the baubles while he put them on.
Tony gently lifted up the star from its padded casing and placed it on top of the tree, standing back and admiring it. But he couldn't help feeling a little sad, nostalgic for his parents and previous Christmases.
'JARVIS, turn the coffee machine on will you?'
Once Tony heard the whirr of the machine he flicked the setting on the Stark Star so it flashed different colours while he went to collect his coffee.
'Mr Stark, Miss Potts is on the phone,' JARVIS pronounced.
'Great, put her on,' Tony said taking a sip of coffee.
'What? No, I just burnt my tongue.'
'Oh…kay, well, I'm just calling because I have some papers you need to sign.'
'Oh, great, okay, well bring 'em over,' Tony said, sticking his tongue under the cold tap and wincing at the cold water.
'Tony, no. You have to come over here.'
'I've just burnt my tongue.'
'What does that have to do with anything?'
'I'm injured Pepper! I can't go all the way over to the building! Plus I have a surprise for you here.'
'Should I be worried?'
Tony grinned and observed the tree with its flashing star.
'Actually I think you'll be presently surprised.'
'Okay, well… I'll be over later then…'
'Great! See you later Pep!'
Tony hung up and went back to the bauble box, then he spotted his mother's favourite decoration.
A plan began to form in Tony Stark's mind.
Pepper heard the music before she stepped into the workshop, and already she was shocked beyond belief.
Feeling apprehensive, Pepper stepped into the workshop. The lights were down, and her eyes were automatically drawn to the Christmas tree in the corner.
'What do you think?' Tony's voice came from his Hot Rod, where he stood up and went to stand next to her.
Pepper gazed at the tree with its brightly coloured lights and flickering glass star.
'It's… beautiful. And so unlike you!'
Tony grinned. 'Surprised?'
Pepper laughed, 'Very. It's lovely though, I especially like the star.'
'Thought you would.'
Pepper swept her eyes around the workshop. It hadn't changed apart from the tree; the rest of it still looked like Pepper's idea of the inside of Tony Stark's mind, organised clutter.
Tony eyed the large folder under Pepper's arm.
'Okay, fine, let's get this over with.'
Tony dragged Pepper to the sofa and flicked through the papers.
Pepper looked even more shocked than ever.
'You want to do some work?'
Tony grinned. 'I want to get everything finished by Christmas so I don't have to work Christmas day.'
Tony honestly thought Pepper's jaw would fall off.
'You never work Christmas day anyway!'
'Well… if I was going to, I wouldn't have to worry!'
Pepper raised an eyebrow at him and passed him a pen, then watched as Tony managed to sign all the forms in under 10 minutes.
'Right,' Tony said, straightening up and rubbing his hands together. 'You free for the rest of the evening? Yes? Good. Right…'
'Tony, I'm not free, I still have far too much work to do.'
Tony tutted at her. 'Pepper, since I am your boss, you're free now. What do you want to do?'
'Strictly speaking, I could always fire you.'
'Social security number?'
Pepper turned her face back to the tree. She had to know. 'Why did you decorate the tree?'
Tony stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered over to it. 'I found this in my desk draw,' he said, pulling out a framed picture from the drawer.
Pepper lifted it up. It was a picture of a man, woman and a young boy. Pepper recognised the man and woman from old newspaper articles, Howard and Maria Stark.
And the young boy…
He was about 3 or 4; he had a mop of dark hair and chocolate eyes that were lit up with the lights of the Christmas tree next to him. The three people were gathered around the tree and Maria was holding the young boy tightly, Howard's arm around her waist.
Anthony Edward Stark.
Pepper smiled in spite of herself. 'Wow, you actually look quite innocent in this picture.'
Tony laughed, 'I was 3, Pepper!'
Pepper looked at the tree in the picture. The flashing star was still proudly displayed in both the picture and the tree in front of her.
'Where did that star come from?' Pepper asked.
Tony gently lifted it down and turned it over in his hands. 'My dad made it for me; I got fed up with plastic stars.'
Pepper took it and brought it closer to her face so she could see it better.
Tony gazed at it, 'yeah, it is.'
Pepper handed it back to him and he put it back in pride of place on the top of the tree.
'You still haven't answered my question though.'
Tony's eyes crossed as he tried to remember. 'Why did I put the tree up?'
Tony took the picture out of her hands. 'I found this and got nostalgic. My parents always used to put the tree up on the first weekend of December; I suddenly had a vision of my mom dragging me up from the workshop to help.' He laughed, 'she used to have to drag my dad up too actually.'
Then he realised Pepper was smiling at him. Tony blinked innocently at her.
'Pepper, I've been called many things, nostalgic is not one of them. Sound familiar?'
Tony winced, 'I've never been called that, but it's what I'd call myself occasionally.'
'And the Jazz?'
'Mom's favourite, also a Stark tradition.'
Pepper sighed. 'Okay, fine, you win, I'm now free this evening.'
Tony clapped his hands together. 'Great! Right, the rest of the house needs doing.'
Pepper gapped at him. 'You mean, for the first time since I've known you, you actually WANT to put decorations up?!'
Tony grinned and started dragging her towards the stairwell. 'Yep, weird, aren't I? Come on then Miss Potts, tinsel isn't going to decorate itself, although…' he stopped suddenly, making Pepper crash into him. 'I bet I could make tinsel that did that…'
Pepper rolled her eyes. 'I don't doubt it, now come on; you have a very big house you know.'
Tony laughed. 'Really? I hadn't noticed.'
Pepper threw tinsel at him and climbed the steps into the living room.
Tony doubled checked that the mistletoe was still where he'd hidden it before following her up.
6 hours and a tinsel-throwing contest later the house was decorated and Tony and Pepper had collapsed in a heap on the sofa in the workshop, watching an old TV Christmas special.
'So,' Pepper said, eyeing the clock, which now read quarter past 1 am, 'how are you planning on getting all the decorations back down again?'
Tony turned his puppy-dog eyes on her and Pepper laughed and batted him with her phone.
'JARVIS turn the lights off please,' Tony said, standing up and taking Pepper with him. The lights dimmed and the Christmas tree in the corner shone out over the workshop.
Tony took Pepper's hand and led her over to the tree.
While his back was still away from her he took a deep breath before turning to face her.
'My favourite decoration was the Stark Star, my dad's was the baubles… can you guess what my mom's was?'
Pepper looked at the tree. 'I don't know, tinsel? Maybe?'
Tony took her other hand and looked up. 'I'll give you a clue.'
Pepper followed his gaze and spotted the mistletoe hanging from the rafters above her head.
Before she had a chance to say anything, Tony Stark was kissing her.
At that moment, only 1 part of Pepper's brain was still functioning. The part that was completely, utterly and unconditionally in love with Tony Stark.
All too fast he was pulling away, resting his forehead on Pepper's.
'Pepper, I…' but Pepper wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him again, tracing his bottom lip with her tongue and running her fingers through his hair.
Tony pulled her tightly to him, kissing her back for all his was worth, running his hands up and down her arms as she grabbed the front of his t-shirt and ran her hands along the muscles on his upper back.
When Pepper finally pulled away due to lack of oxygen, Tony pulled her into a hug and didn't let go, running his fingers through her hair and silently blessing his mother's favourite decoration.