Long Island, NY

March 2010

The door of the attic opened with a crack, startling Tony who was roaming through his old stuff. Pepper appeared in the frame, holding up a couple of boxes.

"Hi." She whispered and moved the hair out of her sweaty face. Tony sat up from his kneeling position and walked over to her with a slight limp, testament of his earlier battle with Vanko and his drones. His hand came up to stroke her cheek as he leaned in and pressed a kiss to her lower lip.

"Where have you been for the past three hours?" Tony inquired as he looked her over. "You're cold." His hand touched her forearm and realized she was freezing.

"I found these boxes in the basement." She said and looked down at the boxes in her arms. "Your name is written on them."

Tony looked down and inspected them with his eyes. "I was doing some research up here as well, as you can see." He said and pointed behind him where items were scattered across the room. His hand came to wipe the dust off the boxes and he opened one of them, his eyes sparkling at its contents.

Inside of the box were pictures of him playing tennis when he was around twelve and a couple of tennis balls. "I never knew my mum took pictures of me playing tennis." He said with a hint of sadness in his voice. "Let me help you, though. You look like you're about to faint."

Pepper smiled as Tony took the boxes out of her arms and set them down on the floor with a thud. "These things are heavy. I can imagine why you were about to faint." Tony said with a grin, then sat down on the floor, legs spread and pulled one of the boxes between his legs. He patted the place next to him and looked up at Pepper when she didn't sit down.

"Where are you going?" Tony asked when he saw Pepper leave the room. "I'm getting a blanket for us." She yelled from downstairs. Stark grinned as his hands ghosted over the box and his heart began to beat faster as an image of Pepper and him snuggled inside of a blanket invaded his mind.

He firmly shook the image out of his mind and returned to the box lying between his legs. He carefully pulled out a bunch of images and set them down beside the box when another thing caught his eyes. It was his old tennis racket. He pulled it out with slightly trembling hands and he looked it over for a few moments until Pepper came back with a blanket and some tea.

"What do you have there?" She asked as she sat down beside him and wrapped the blanket around her. "My old tennis racket." Tony whispered and looked at the racket with melancholy. Pepper observed the look on his face and moved closer to him. "Here, let me." She whispered as she raised the blanket for him to come closer to her.

It took him a few moments but he laid the racket back into the box and moved beneath the blanket. Pepper smiled at him and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "Are you okay?" Tony looked at her and took her smaller hand in his bigger one. "It's just… every time I'm here it's like everything comes back, you know."

Her fingers squeezed his tightly as an assurance and saw his eyes glaze over. "Tony?"

Tony's eyes snapped back to hers and the look she saw there was something akin to desperation, but she couldn't put her finger on it. "It's okay to feel this way, you know. You're not a robot, Tony." He nodded, though he didn't look at her. He kept his eyes glued to the box and he exhaled a long and tinged with an overwhelming sadness breath.

"You can tell me everything if you think it'll make you feel better." Pepper assured him as she touched his face to make him look at her. "It's really okay, Pepper. I don't want to bore you with a stupid story."

"Tony, you know I'll always be ready to listen whatever you want to tell me. That's why I'm here." Pepper said and looked at him gently. Tony smiled. "I thought you were here for entirely other reasons."

The redhead smacked his shoulder lightly, then giggled. "Only you would think that." Tony raised an eyebrow. "Really? You think so?" Pepper flashed him a toothy smile before Tony launched towards her.

Pepper caught herself before Tony could collide with her, but not entirely. Their lips came crashing together and for a few moments they stood there, lips pressed tightly against each other's, not even breathing. But after perhaps half a minute, Tony's hand grasped her wrist and pushed her gently against the wooden floor.

His other hand rested below her breast as his lips covered hers again. Pepper had expected rough, but as the seconds passed, the intensity of his kiss slowed down to a point where his lips were making love to hers. Her hand grasped his bicep through his sweater, making Tony sigh in pleasure.

It had been two weeks since their first kiss, yet anytime they kissed it felt like the first time. Each time they kissed it felt like electricity was running through his veins. Pepper could say it was the same thing for her, as well, but the touch of his lips against hers held more meanings than just that.

"Tony…" Pepper sighed against his lips. He pulled back and looked at her, his cheeks flushed. "I – uh… I'm sorry. I got a little bit excited." He explained and helped her up, but Pepper smiled. "It's okay. I could see that."

Tony chuckled and passed a hand through his hair, ruffling it up further. "Maybe you could tell me that story, you know…" Pepper suggested and made Tony lay down on the floor. She laid her head on his shoulder and wrapped an arm around his waist.

Tony hesitated for a few seconds. "It ends with me never practicing tennis ever again." He said with a sigh. Pepper looked up at him and smoothed down his goatee. "You could begin with the beginning." She whispered and touched his lower lip with her fingertips.

"Well, it all began in my first year at MIT. I was the first boy who entered MIT at such a young age. I was twelve, by the way." Tony started to explain. "In my first semester there I met Rhodey. He was fourteen and incredibly tall for his age. I've never managed to be that tall like he was then, but anyway… My roommate was transferred in another campus and then was when I met Rhodey. He became my new roommate."

Pepper nodded and continued to listen. "Among other classes, Rhodey was into tennis. At first I wasn't tempted, but when I came home for Christmas, everyone was on the ninth cloud that cousin Jamie had won a national competition in England." He paused for a few seconds, trying to remember. "Rhodey had come to visit me the day after and he and mum got to talk while I was getting ready to go with him and his father to pick a Christmas tree, and he told mum about his tennis classes. She was thrilled."

Pepper sat up for a moment and took the glass with tea before taking a sip. "Do you want some?" She asked and handed him the glass when he nodded. "Mmm… mint. My favorite."

"So… after Rhodey left, mum said that I had to go with him and take tennis lessons. I said sport wasn't my thing. Dad agreed, but mum kept telling me to go until I couldn't take anymore of her begging and went with Rhodey for a free lesson. The rest is history."

Pepper wiped her lips and looked at Tony, waiting for more. "I've been playing tennis for about half a year with Rhodey's coach, but dad came along and said he had found a better coach – a young lady who looked no older than twenty." He sighed. "I wanted to remain with Rhodey and his coach, but dad insisted. The woman's name was Claudia and she was nineteen. My birthday had barely passed and as a gift I received this racket." He said and pointed to the box.

Tony swallowed then continued more serious than he had before. "I should have noticed that my dad used to spend more than fifteen minutes in her office every time he came to take me home. Well, at first he had sent his bodyguards with a car to bring me home, but then… something happened and things weren't the same again." Tony looked at Pepper with serious eyes. "This thing continued for about another year and a half before mum found out. I was fourteen by then, and like any other fourteen year old boy at MIT, I was studying all the time. I barely found time for tennis anymore."

"When Claudia had to go to a proper college, dad supported her by giving her money so that she could go to a famous college in the USA. That's when my mother found out." Tony sighed. "They broke up for five months because of her, Pepper and I… I didn't know a thing about it until I came home on summer break and noticed that something was indeed, wrong."

Pepper gasped in shock and looked at him with wide eyes. She couldn't believe it. Tony had never mentioned that thing to anyone as far as she knew. "Tony…"

"That's when mum said I should stop the whole tennis thing." Tony finished with a weak voice. "And I did. They made up because of me and because of the press and my dad's job. It was never the same, though."

Pepper couldn't trust her voice, so she nodded silently and stroked his hair. "But now – this… Have you ever played tennis before, Pepper?" Tony asked, trying to brighten the mood. "No, Tony. I haven't." She responded quickly.

Tony smiled gently. "When we get back to Malibu I'll have something set up at my mansion… if you want."

"Hmm… I'd like that." Pepper said and closed her eyes, content to be held in his arms.

TBC