He'd turned his arc reactor into a Christmas decoration.
Pepper had to stop to take it in, and it wasn't for another minute that she realised the glow from the chest piece was no longer blue. The light of the chest piece itself was now green, and he had attached little red LEDs around the edge of it too. With it he was wearing a Santa hat, jeans, his feet bare and once her brain re-engaged, the only thing she could think to say was;
"You'll never find a shirt to hide that."
He laughed, and flopped down on the sofa. He'd always loved Christmas, even though his parents death made it hard, it was the one time of year he made the effort to look past that and what loosing them had done to him. He had parties for his staff, for charities, for kids.
And it was the one time of year that Pepper was his friend as well as his employee. Not that she wasn't his friend the rest of the year, but at Christmas she allowed things to be even more personal than normal. With the dynamic changing between them, he wasn't sure what would happen this year.
By the way she was looking at him, she was finally going to have him committed.
"Too much?" he asked with a grin.
"How did you make it green?" she asked.
"Piece of transparent yellow plastic," he explained. "Yellow and blue make green Pep."
"Do you like it?"
"Very Christmassy Mr Stark."
"You're looking at me like I'm crazy Potts."
"Don't I always look at you like that?" she asked.
"Eighty percent of the time."
"Only eighty percent . You're slipping Mr. Stark."
"How can being more sane be considered slipping?"
"I don't think you're more sane," she said, raising an eyebrow. "Just hiding it better."
He laughed again.
"Gonna help me decorate this year?"
"Of course. I always help decorate."
"And I always check."
She shook her head, amused. They'd had the same routine for the past five years. They decorated his house together, dressed his tree, had dinner that night, sometimes with Rhodey, sometimes with Obadiah. Last year he hadn't turned up though, had barely socialised with Tony at all for one reason or another.
More and more Tony spotted little things that should've given him clues to Stane's betrayal.
Her voice and face told him she was suddenly concerned, and he was always touched at how easily she could read him.
"Sorry, drifted off them," he said, forcing a smile out. Though it wasn't that hard around Pepper. "Got the decorations ready?"
"Of course," she said, indignant at the very idea she wouldn't be ready. "Are you really going to leave your arc reactor like that?" she asked.
"You don't like it?" he asked.
"Isn't the suit Christmassy enough? It's red and gold."
"This is just for you," he said, back peddling when they both blushed, "and the bots of course."
"Of course," she said. "And I do like it," she added.
He beamed and she smiled back, hint of blush still on her cheeks.
By time the house was decorated, she was wearing the Santa hat, had tinsel around her neck and hair. The bots had baubles hanging from various places, and Tony was laughing so much at the sight he was spilling his wine.
Pepper was laughing so much she had accepted when he'd offered her some wine. A first for decorating night, and he didn't know what it meant.
Except she looked cute in a Santa hat and had to wonder what she would look like in nothing but the Santa hat.
"Tony?" she asked.
His name was spoken with slight annoyance, and she was blushing hard, and damn she'd figured him out again.
"More wine?" he asked, seeing her glass empty.
She looked at him, then the empty glass and thought about it for a moment. He let her, waiting until she made a decision. It was Saturday, they didn't have to work tomorrow. Didn't have to, but probably would, he knew, but it didn't mean they couldn't have more wine. Didn't mean he wouldn't have more wine, but Pepper, was a very different person.
She didn't really like to drink on a school night.
"No thank you. I should get going."
He didn't want her to go, but he decided not to talk her into staying if she didn't want to. Though, she might want to, he just couldn't tell. He found Potts harder to read.
"This was fun," he told her. "As usual."
She kissed him on the cheek, before she left and he was suddenly really looking forward to Christmas Day.
They never had a lot of presents to open on Christmas Day.
Tony received hundreds, more so since he became Iron Man, from people around the world. Those presents rarely got past Stark Industries PR, and were usually passed on to charity. The presents the two of them opened together were ones from Rhodes, a few from Peppers friends and her cousin in Omaha, and a few of Tony's preferred acquaintances from MIT.
They got up early.
Pepper drove to his house at her usual time, partly because it was the one day of the year Tony demanded it, partly because she was stuck in a routine. Even on days off she was up and around early. Tony liked to be up early on Christmas day because he was like an excited six year old. He had to be up, eating candy canes and chocolate and opening his presents.
"Come on Potts, forget your coffee once!"
He was sitting on the floor next to the tree, arc reactor still green and red. He was wearing grey sweat pants, and a red dressing gown covered in Christmas trees that she'd never seen before.
"Nice gown," she said, trying not to laugh.
"Christmas present to myself," he huffed, ignoring her, and giving her a half twirl, twisting his torso from where he sat on the floor. She smiled, and handed him a coffee, the mug decorated in holly leaves. He gave it a sniff and nodded, satisfied there was enough brandy in it. He craned his neck to take a look at her own drink.
"It's too early," she told him.
"It's never too early."
"So you tell me every year. And most weekends. And lunch times."
He ignored her, grinning instead and patting the floor beside him. She dropped down beside him, jeans tightening over her legs and backside as she crossed her legs. She glared at Tony as she leaned back to look at her ass, and the strip of skin that had appeared between her jeans waistline and black t-shirt.
"Right, presents, then breakfast."
"Breakfast?" she said. "You just ate more chocolate than Hersheys make in a year!"
"That was first breakfast. I'm talking about second breakfast."
"Second breakfast? You're not a hobbit."
"I am at Christmas."
"Too tall," she told him. "Got the feet though."
"Well you know what they say about men with big feet," he said with a smirk.
She rolled her eyes, with barely a blush.
"I was thinking more about the hair, than the size," she told him, leaning forward to grab a present from under the tree.
"Hey! My feet are not hairy!" Tony cried, straightening his legs out and sticking her feet on his face. She grabbed them, digging her fingers into the soles and making him squeal with laughter. She laughed too, as he snapped his legs back, crossing them again and growling.
"Here," she said, handing him a present.
"Richard," he muttered reading the tag, pouting a little.
"Cigars," she guessed, with a grin.
They continued like that for a little while, guessing each others gifts while they drank their coffee, creating a small pile of paper and tape for the bots to clear up later. Bots, who were still decorated with baubles. Jarvis had started playing Christmas songs as per Tony's usual Christmas morning instructions.
"Gloves," Tony said, throwing Pepper her last present. She opened it up, revealing some black leather gloves from her cousin and he grinned.
"Ten for ten Mr. Stark. You're getting better," she said, "unless you had Jarvis scan them again, like last year."
"I promised I wouldn't do it again."
"Jarvis?" she called out.
"Mr Stark did not have me scan any of the gifts Ms. Potts."
"You don't trust me?"
"Not when it comes to Christmas presents, no."
He laughed at that, but she heard the relief through it. She reached into the branches of the tree and plucked out one last present hidden there. She handed it to him and he frowned at her.
"From me," she explained.
She had broken a tradition, and one of her own rules by getting him a present. She had never gotten Tony a present until recently. But things were different now. Their world was different, and their relationship. He'd given her the odd present over the years, he was generous with his money, but never on Christmas. That was the rule. That was too personal, made this too personal.
Except she was breaking that rule with a small gold wrapped box.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Open it," she said, feeling the blush rise up on her cheeks. "It's nothing really."
He took his time with the paper, pulling it open slowly, and she watched his face as he revealed the simple black jewellery box inside. He looked up at her again before he opened it, and she looked away, embarrassed.
Inside there was a pocket watch, one he recognised well.
"I, um, I know you loved it, and I found it in storage. When I had that Jackson Pollock put down there."
"This was my grandfather's."
She smiled at him, she'd seen the pictures of his grandparents, seen the watch in the old man's hand, heard the story about how it was all the man had a one point in his life. A gift from his wife he refused to part with even in the face of poverty.
"It's working?!" he said, eyes wide this time as he looked at her.
"I had it mended and cleaned," she said. "It's keeping perfect time," she added, peering over the lid of the box. "Like right now it's telling us it's too early for brandy."
He didn't rise to the bait, he was staring at the watch, the second hand ticking away. She didn't know what to say, so kept silent as he took the time piece from the box and turned it over in his hand.
"Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in," Tony muttered, reading the inscription on the back. "His favourite quote."
"Very wise. Very you," she said.
He looked over at her and she searched his face for his next words. He was easy to read, to her at least, but right now he was just thoughtful, and...poised.
"Tony?" she asked.
She was starting to wonder if she had crossed a line when he leaned over and kissed her.
She kissed back without hesitation, and he pulled her closer to him, trying to take her into his arms, and onto his lap. But she pulled away, grinning.
"You continue to surprise me Ms. Potts."
He went to kiss her again, but she put a hand up.
"Breakfast," she told him. "Enough traditions have been broken today."
"Some traditions were meant to be broken."
His pout made her laugh and she kissed him on the lips, a brief peck on his puckered mouth.
"But I may be willing to negotiate your Christmas nap."
He smiled then, and followed her in getting up.
"What you doing for New Years?"