A few years ago, in the middle of Tony's hedonistic heyday, after what he described as a very good weekend in Vegas, and after Pepper bailed him out, she asked him why he did the things he did. Why he lived the life he did. Why he pulled the stunts, like ending up naked in public, getting arrested, lost more money than she made in a year in a moment gambling. Why he got so drunk he forgot the best weekends, why he only ever had one night stands. Why he sought out the paparazzi, why he allowed himself and his private life to end up in the tabloids.
He answered from the bench in the cell, as the police officer opened it up, head hanging over the edge, eyes on the hemline of her skirt.
"Stop 'um getting bored with me Potts."
At the time, she'd rolled her eyes, barely taking the answer in because she didn't think he really meant that, not with the size of his ego. She'd pressed a few buttons on her PDA instead of saying anything more, and gestured him to follow her out of the open cell. He'd grinned, gathered up the jacket he'd been using as a pillow and they'd walked out of the back of the police station. Tony smiled at the smarter paparazzi, giving them a little wave.
The conversation was quickly forgotten.
Tony spent a lot of time around his father without the man even noticing him. He spent long hours working in tandem with him in his garage and in the workshop, in his office too. While Howard Stark was working on the future of the company, and a legacy for his son, Tony would be close by, learning, taking things in, or working himself, on circuit boards or his toys. When he was very young, his mother would often find him asleep on the floor, his father mostly oblivious to his presence. There were pictures of him curled up in a ball, drooling on his one of his fathers jackets, that he'd taken to rest on. There was an old film of him snoring under the man's desk that he remembered made his mother laugh so much when he was old enough to find it embarrassing.
Tony discovered that there were two ways that would guarantee him his father's attention.
One was to be brilliant.
This came easy to him, from the moment he could grab, he was grabbing for things to study and take apart. He was a brilliant child, the term thrown around him so often when he was little, had a more brilliant mind than most adults. Built an engine and a circuit board before most kids left elementary school. Whenever he did something brilliant he was back in his father's orbit, was the only thing in Howard Stark's orbit. When he was amazing, he gained brief, blazing moments of attention that he adored and was often desperate for.
The second way to get his father's attention was to be destructive.
This came easy to Tony too. When he was a baby, it was throwing food across the room with just the right aim, at just the right target. His father's newspaper, his mother's dress. When he was a toddler he put oatmeal in the gas tank of one the cars, and forced a pop-tart into the lock draw of his father's desk. When he was a little bigger he started taking things apart. Started taking everything apart. He built his first engine, his first circuit board, because he'd taken apart numerous appliances and household items before that. The television, the radio, anything he could reach and a few he couldn't without a chair. When he got a little older, a little taller, he started to take apart engines. Once he removed one entirely without his father noticing until the man went to drive the car.
Tony was grounded as often as he was praised, and eventually sent to boarding school so Howard Stark could work in peace.
A few years after Tony and Pepper's first kiss, and during what they both agreed was a very good weekend in Vegas, she asked him why he did the things he did. Why he bought her presents on a whim, shoes, jewellery, cars. Why he pulled the stunts he did, hijacked her meetings just to see her, picked her up and took her to dinner in another country, picked her up in his Iron Man suit just to take her breath away.
He answered from the bed in the hotel suite, head hanging over the edge, his eyes on the hemline of his shirt she was wearing.
"Stop you from getting bored with me Pep."
She smiled at him, trying not to laugh.
"Tony I could never get bored with you," she said, sitting down on the bed next to him. She leaned over and kissed him.
He asked like it was an impossible idea, for people not to be bored by him in one way or another and it broke her heart a little.
"I love you Tony," she whispered. "And that's enough to keep me interested in you forever."
He smiled, the happiest she'd seen him for a long time, an extra spark in his eyes. He pulled her down on top of him and kissed her.
"But," she breathed. "If you want to keep surprising me with shoes, I won't complain."
"Love you too Potts."