Most of the characters in this story belong to Marvel Comics and/or whoever else has current legal ownership of Iron Man and not to me, even in my wildest dreams. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit

Stress Relief

It had been one of those days again. Actually it had been one of those weeks….those months. She wasn't sure anymore. All she knew was that she was tense…too tense. Too much had been happening in her world that was beyond her control. And she desperately needed control back in her life.

She was finishing up her conference call on the progress of repairs to the Stark Expo in New York. Her engineers were still unable to get some of the plumbing permits signed by NY City engineers. "Don't make me get directly involved in toilet flushing." She had told SI engineering, unable to believe that the City of New York would block their proposal of gray water from rainwater catchment on the roof tops being used for toilet supply. She rubbed at her temples gently in frustration at this latest permit delay. It was almost as if the City of New York had already forgotten who had pulled their collective asses out of the fire less than a month ago. She breathed in several deep breaths trying to calm herself once more. She had to remind herself again how much worse the damage could have been, and that the buildings had held up as well as they had, based upon the SI structural engineering analysis post Hammeroid attack. She looked at her watch: 2:30 PM PST, Friday. She brought an end to the conference call reminding everyone that this was indeed a standing conference call until further notice, and that by next week she expected all of the permits to be approved. As she disconnected the bridge, she put her head down on her desk banging it softly against the wood top several times in lieu of getting up and banging her head against the nearest wall, which was truly what she felt like doing at the moment.

Suddenly, she got an idea. A really wonderful idea: the best kind of stress relief. A kind of relief that was alcohol free, fat free, guilt free, and involved lots of fresh air and sunshine. She called Bambi into her office as she got up and opened one of the storage closets in her office grabbing a duffle bag out of the closet. She wasn't usually this spontaneous, but she was desperate.

"I'm taking a break Bambi. I don't have any other meetings scheduled for the rest of the day." She said glancing over to Bambi who smiled knowingly at her. "I need some stress relief."

"Yes, Ms. Potts." She replied noting the bag. "Your usual spot?"

Pepper smiled back at her. "Oh yeah." She replied taking off her jacket as she headed to the executive wash room to change clothes.

"I'll get Mr. Hogan and two of his security guys and have them meet you in the parking garage." Bambi started. "You know that you can't go alone anymore."

Pepper stuck her head out of the washroom: Tony's Rule. She sighed deeply. "I know. Thanks." She replied as she closed the door behind her.

It took her less than less than two minutes to change clothes. She moved around her to desk to power down and put her laptop into her briefcase. She heard a soft knock at the door.

"Ready to go, Pepper?" Happy asked as he moved to pick up her briefcase and duffle bag.

"Definitely." She replied smiling at him.

She gave the address to Happy and he put it into the onboard GPS. The trip to Sherman Oaks went quickly because of the time of day and the subsequent light traffic. Pepper was glad. She wanted to get started as quickly as she could. She turned off and left her Blackberry behind in the Bentley as she nearly leaped out of the car, and quickly made her way to the office.

Pepper's cell phone had gone directly to voice mail. Since Stane's threat to kill Pepper, Tony had been paranoid about Pepper's safety. Tony immediately thought the worst had happened. "Hi Bambi" He said immediately calling her private office number, trying to stay calm "is Pepper in a meeting?"

"No, Mr. Stark." Bambi replied formally "She left for the day for some much needed stress relief. Mr. Hogan and two SI security men are with her." Bambi didn't want to say too much about her boss's whereabouts even if it was her boss's boyfriend, but she didn't want to worry him unnecessarily either.

"OK, Bambi. Thanks." Tony replied hanging up. He was puzzled. "Jarvis, tap into the Bentley's GPS and find out where Pepper is headed."

"Right away, sir." Jarvis replied. "Her destination was Castle Park in Sherman Oaks, sir. They arrived 2 minutes 45 seconds ago."

Tony was already moving into the shower shedding clothes on the way. "Miniature golf, arcades, kid's party place, right?" He remembered what happened between them last night, and he started to worry that maybe he had said too much to her.

"That is correct sir." The AI answered.

"Bambi said Pepper was in need of stress relief." Tony explained as he was shampooing his hair. "I am worried because I'm not sure what that means. Has she ever mentioned that term to you before?"

"She has on occasion used that term, sir, but not recently. I'm not sure if her therapy methods have changed over time." Jarvis replied.

Tony blinked rapidly, trying to clear his eyes of the shampoo suds. "What therapy methods?"

PING…PING…PING….PING….

Happy looked around. They were the only ones currently at the complex. Pepper had bought him and the SI guys hot dogs, popcorn, and lemonades when they arrived. Bribery of the good kind. Happy and the two SI security men were currently sitting at a picnic table watching Pepper with curiosity, as well as admiration. She hadn't missed a softball yet, and she had been at it steadily for 20 minutes. The balls were traveling at 60 MPH towards Pepper, and occasionally one of the balls would dip or move erratically as it neared Pepper, causing Happy to wince. Pepper was; however, unfazed and continued to swing the bat with unerring precision.

Pepper intently stared at the pitching arm as it rotated towards her. PING: that one was for the NY City engineering group. Twenty seconds passed by as the arm rotated towards her again. PING: that one was for Director Fury. With every ball she hit, she felt her stress grow less and less, and her attitude getting better and better. She found herself smiling as she hit another softball way up into the outfield netting. Definitely a home run, she thought to herself. Yep, things are starting to look up.

Thirty minutes had passed and she still kept at it.

"Ms. Potts sure must be pissed about something." Thomas said quietly to Happy and James as they sat together on the picnic table.

"She's had a lot dumped in her lap in the past month." Happy explained taking a sip of his lemonade. He looked around as some teenage boys set down equipment bags four tables down from them. Thomas and James immediately got up and moved to watch the boys. The boys immediately noticed the two really big men dressed in black suits, and quickly picked up their bags and moved to the very end table.

Happy suddenly heard a familiar engine idle and turned to see Tony stepping out of the R8 Audi. He went into the office, then to the concession stand, walking out to join them at the table carrying four lemonades and a bottled water in a cardboard container.

"Thanks." Happy said taking one of the lemonades.

Tony motioned Thomas and James over to them as he sat down next to Happy. Thomas and James each took a lemonade and thanked Tony before moving away again, back into surveillance positions.

"I followed the Bentley's GPS." Tony said in a low voice as Pepper hit another long ball this one to right field.

"I didn't know where we were going, I just drove." Happy softly replied in his own defense, taking another sip of lemonade.

"She didn't tell me either." Tony admitted quietly taking a long drink of lemonade. "How long has she been at this?"

"Thirty-five minutes." Happy replied glancing at his watch.

Tony continued to watch her. She had on long tight fitting sports shorts, blue running shoes, and a UCLA t-shirt that was now soaked in sweat. His libido processed the wet t-shirt status at an alarming rate. Since becoming romantically involved with her a month ago, his body now responded to Pepper unconsciously, and without hesitation. Tony closed his eyes trying to put a check on the growing bulge in his jeans, and he shifted uncomfortably on the bench seat. After another minute of watching Pepper, he couldn't sit still any longer and stood up from the table as he picked up the water bottle. He reached over and pushed the 'stop' button on the controller outside the cage. "Break time, Babe. You need to hydrate."

Pepper slowly lowered her bat without turning to him, causing Tony to back up away from the gate. He didn't know exactly why she needed to blow off some steam in secret, but he wasn't at all sure that he wasn't the cause. Jarvis had told him that she played college softball at UCLA for two seasons, and that was enough for him to figure that Pepper with a bat in her hand was a force to be reckoned with. She turned and walked to the gate. Tony opened the gate for her smiling at her, hoping she wouldn't beat him over the head with the bat. She smiled back at him, stuffing the bat under one arm and taking off her gloves. She pulled off her helmet as she moved to stand by the table across from Happy. Tony gently took her helmet, bat, and gloves from her and laid them on the table. He tenderly pushed her down to sit, moving to stand directly behind her.

"I was getting a little thirsty." She admitted taking a long drink from the water bottle and then turning to look up at him with a small smile. "Thanks."

Tony returned her smile and then nodded to Happy in a knowing way. Happy immediately rose up from the table and moved towards Thomas and James, giving Tony and Pepper some privacy.

Tony put his hands on her shoulders and starting gently massaging the muscles there, working his way up to her neck. He had to restrain himself from kissing her long neck, focusing instead on the beads of sweat rolling off of her neck down into her t-shirt. He suddenly found himself wishing he was one of those beads of sweat. He cleared his throat and attempted to clear his mind of the thought.

"OK. So who were you pretending those poor, defenseless, little softballs were anyways? And I am sincerely hoping that my name isn't at the top of your list now, 'cause I'm sorry that I left you last night without offering you the chance to talk. I'm trying here Pep, but I seem to always put my foot in my mouth when I talk to you about us." Tony rattled off quickly as he continued massaging her neck, moving lower onto her back.

Pepper moaned as he tried to work out the knots in her back. She was definitely getting a little dehydrated and she could feel her how tight her muscles had become. She laid her head down on the table trying to relax her muscles as his massage deepened.

She realized that he was waiting for her to speak, but the warm comfort of his hands left her momentarily speechless. His hands were always her undoing. For 11 years she had admired his hands and had always looked forward to the occasional touches between them. He had always been a tactile person. Since they had started dating, she now experienced his touch every time they were together. It was almost like a magnetic pull between two opposite poles: an intense unrelenting attraction resulting in contact anytime they were together. She was always amazed how tender and gentle his touches were even though his hands were so rough and calloused.

"Tony … god that feels so good." She finally managed to moan, letting out a long breath. They needed to sit down and have a talk about what happened last night, but at the moment she was just enjoying his touch too much to start that conversation.

Tony stiffened at her moan. It was full of arousal. He took that as a sign that maybe she wasn't too angry with him for walking out on her last night. Tony had always admitted to having many weaknesses in his life. Afghanistan had put an end to most of those. However, the weaknesses he was left with were serious ones. And he knew for a fact that the woman currently moaning at his touch was the most serious one he had ever had in his life.

She raised herself back into a sitting position and took one of his hands in hers squeezing it gently. "I'm sorry I didn't call you to let you know what I was doing, but I'm actually a little embarrassed about being here really. I should be able to handle stress better than having to resort to taking a bat and smacking balls in effigy of the people that I would sincerely like to whack upside the head."

Tony laughed as he sat down next to her on the bench seat feeling relieved at her admission, wrapping his arms around her in a hug. "Only you could say that without using any curse words." He said smiling. "Just give me the names of the people you want whacked and I will put on the suit and beat their sorry asses for you."

"I will not give you their names." She replied putting her arms around his neck and leaning her head on his chest. "I know you well enough to know that you would go after them."

He placed a quick kiss in her hair. "Then how about showing me how to swing that thing?" He asked nodding towards the bat on the table. "Maybe I could use some stress relief, too."

She looked up at him and smiled, her dimples showing. "Go grab a helmet and I will!" She replied and he let go of her as they both stood up. "I'll show you how to pick out the correct bat first."

She patiently talked him through the bat selection process as they stood in front of the boxes containing perhaps 50 bats. She nodded at his final selection and he smiled broadly at her.

She picked up her gloves and helmet putting them on as they walked back into the batting cage. She positioned him in the batter's box.

"Tony" she said moving in back of him and putting her hands on his hips. "Let's start with your stance."

He leaned into her, relishing her touch. "I like this already." He growled as she laughed quietly.

"The secret to batting power and ball positioning techniques starts with your stance." She said moving her head so as to speak directly into the ear hole in his helmet. "In particular your hips."

"Did I mention that I'm starting to like this like…a lot?" He teased slowly swaying his hips making it hard for her to hold on to him. She poked him quickly in the ribs and he jerked away from her hand.

"Don't make me go get my bat, Mr. Stark." She teased taking his hips once more, moving him back into position with her hands. She suddenly leaned into him and kissed him quickly on the back of the neck. His body immediately went still.

"Do I get more of those if I behave?" he asked quietly.

"Of course you do." She replied rubbing his hips gently "I always reward my favorite students."

He sighed. "You do realize that you are driving me crazy, woman?" he admitted.

"Yep." was her quick answer. She let go of his hips and reached around him to position his hands on the bat, standing on her toes in order to look over his shoulder, her chin tenderly resting on his trapezius muscle. "Grasp the bat like this." She said gently rearranging his fingers on the bat. "You should get some batting gloves, but with your hands being as tough as they are, you probably won't need them….. at least for today." The feel of his warm skin under her fingers was intoxicating. She had it bad for this man. She reminded herself that they were in public, and tamped down the growing feeling of arousal. Nothing turned her on faster than a warm, sweaty Tony in her hands.

Tony smiled. He liked the meaning behind her words. She sounded as though she would include him in her future stress relief sessions and that pleased him. Her hands on him could drive him to madness faster than anything else could. Combine the feel of her hands with the feel of her sweaty body pressed up to his back, her chin on his shoulder, her sweet breath in his ear and he was suddenly glad that weren't any other people next to them in the other cages. He closed his eyes and willed a stop to his growing arousal. She was his addiction, no doubt about it: the more she touched him, the more he wanted her to touch him. It was as if every touch from her would travel from his skin straight to his core, like switch being thrown, completing a circuit. The arc may be keeping the shrapnel out of his heart, but she was the one who kept it beating. "Yes ma'am." He replied.

She chuckled as she moved around in front of him taking his elbows in her hands and tilting the bat over to suspend it over his right shoulder. She knew that she needed to put a little distance between their bodies if she were to continue teaching him how to bat. "Gripping the bat correctly is always Step 1. The proper grip will tend to steer the motions of your arms as you swing. Let's practice the arm motions first, and then we can add your hips into it."

He relaxed as she took him through the entire swing sequence. "Don't ever rest the bat on your shoulder. It's that fraction of a second wasted lifting the bat from your shoulder that means the difference in a hit and a miss."

Tony cooperated with her, and within a minute he was swinging the bat to her satisfaction. "Now comes the important part." She said as she walked behind him again. "The power in your swing starts in your legs and hips. 'Hips Before Hands' is the rule here."

"I usually use my hands before I use my hips, Ms. Potts." He teased smiling to himself.

She poked him in the ribs again and he flinched as she laughed. "Not in batting, Mr. Stark. Now get your bat back into position."

He obeyed and positioned his bat above his shoulder with his hands and arms in the correct position.

"Widen your stance a little." She instructed. Her hands suddenly become disengaged from her brain as she moved her hands between his thighs just above his knees, pushing his legs wider apart. She was a little surprised herself at her bold move. Blame it on Tony's pheromones, she thought to herself.

Tony groaned involuntarily at her touch. She immediately moved her hand back up to his shoulders. "Don't be so tense, Mr. Stark." She teased.

He squeezed his eyes closed and concentrated all of his effort on getting his legs in the correct position. He knew the growing bulge in his jeans was fast becoming a potential target for the ball machine and if he didn't watch out, a sore spot for him later. Next time he would wear a cup.

"OK, get your hands set and get the bat back over your shoulder." She instructed trying again to regain control again over her body and continue teaching. "Now turn your head towards the pitching machine. Good. Pretend you see the ball coming at you." She continued, her hands moving to swivel his hips ahead of his swing. "Hips, then hands, Tony."

He did exactly as she wanted and was surprised how natural it felt to combine the movements.

"How did that feel?" she asked leaning close to his ear again.

"Actually, pretty smooth." He replied looking over his shoulder at her. "It felt very natural." His words had double meaning and he stared into her eyes deeply wanting her to see how much her closeness had affected him.

"That's the way I teach batting." She explained locking eyes with him seeing the hidden meaning in his words. Her eyes widened at the emotion she saw in his eyes. She cleared her throat in a conscious effort to keep her emotions in check. "I modify the batting sequence based upon the person's natural body movements in order to make the whole process more natural. My goal is to make batting a ball instinctive. Instinctive movements will allow you to bat any ball at any speed, because instinctive movements are faster than learned ones."

Tony suddenly turned his body to face hers and looked at her, adoration showing in his eyes. "How many people have you taught how to bat?"

"I don't know exactly. Several hundred probably." She replied smiling at him "I taught boys and girls of all ages at sports camps during high school and college."

His eyebrows shot up and he looked at her questioningly.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Mr. Stark." She said poking him in the chest. "For your information, the kiss, whispers in your ear, and my hands on the insides of your thighs were for you, and you only. Those are not part of my usual teaching methods."

"Good to know Ms. Potts." He laughed "I'd hate to be jealous of some 8th grader."

"You are incorrigible, you know that." She said narrowing her eyes at him.

"Yes I know...but..." He hesitated completing the sentence. She had only told him that she loved him a few times since they began their 'relationship' and only as a response to him saying it to her. He wanted her to say it without prompting.

"But… I love you anyways. Even if you are incorrigible." She replied quietly picking up on his uncompleted sentence. She pulled gently on the chin strap of his helmet, looking away from him almost shyly, as a small smile slowly crept onto her face.

He gently tucked one hand under her chin and guided her head up back towards his face locking eyes with her, his eyes shining with love for her, as he smiled a bright open smile that was reserved for only her. He quickly leaned over to kiss her but was immediately stopped as the bills of their batting helmets clanged together. They both laughed.

"Feeling up to batting a real ball now?" she asked still giggling.

"I'd rather be feeling you up. But OK, I'll take a swing at batting." he replied waggling his eyebrows under the bill of his helmet, as he turned away from her and stepped back into the batter's box.

"Tony, step out of the box and just watch the first few balls go by." She said opening the gate and then shutting it behind her. "Stand back far enough so you can swing at them without contact. That way you can get a feel for the timing of your swing."

"Yes, Coach." He replied backing up about four feet from the batter's box.

"Here goes." She said hitting the 'Start' button on the control box.

Tony turned to watch the arm rotate towards him and swung at the ball as it passed by him and hit the padding behind home plate.

Pepper was actually impressed at Tony's swing. "Are you sure you haven't been taught how to bat before?"

"You're the first, Pepper." Tony replied as he swung at another ball. He smiled to himself, knowing that was also true in ways other than batting.

Rhody had always said that Tony possessed the instincts of a fighter pilot, and he was proving it to her as he continued to swing the bat in flawless form and timing. Pepper hit the stop button. "Practice is over. Now step into the box and let me know when you're ready for me to turn the machine on."

Tony stepped into the batter's box, positioned his feet and swung the bat a few times. "Let her rip." He told her turning his head to watch the pitching machine intently.

She hit the 'start' button and watched the pitching arm rotate towards Tony.

PING

Tony had managed to hit a grounder to first base.

"You were a hair late on the swing, Tony." She commented.

He nodded his head and focused on the pitching arm again.

PING

His second hit was a fly ball to the left field netting.

"Nice hit, Tony!" Pepper called to him as he nodded in agreement.

Pepper continued to watch him intently. At first she was mentally critiquing his batting form, but after 5 successful hits, she started focusing on just his form, in particular his gluts. She found herself fantasying about his well-built backside and how her hands would hold onto those muscles as he lay thrusting on top of her. She was having more and more fantasies about him during the day at work, which was distracting, but more importantly annoying because it meant that her self control was waning. And self-control was very important to her. Most of her fantasies about Tony were sexual, but some of them actually involved marriage, and raising a family. They had yet to consummate their relationship. She was still not convinced that their relationship would last if it was based solely on sex, and she still wasn't sure about Tony's real intentions for her. She had always been the one to put the brakes on during their ever increasing grope-fests. So she was surprised when Tony was the first to pull back as they became lost in a heavy make-out session on the couch at her condo late last night, both of them feeling their control rapidly slipping away. He was actually nervous when he tried to explain why he had stopped, vulnerability and fear showing in his eyes. She chose to remain silent while he gathered his thoughts. After a few seconds of false starts, he finally got out what was on his mind: "Pepper, you know that I have a hard time when it comes to talking about you and me. My brain just seems to always disconnect from my mouth when I talk about 'us'. What I'm trying to say is that as much as I would love to make love to you, I can't. I mean I won't. What…what I really mean is that I would take you to bed in a heartbeat, but don't expect me to ever let you go after we make love. This thing, I mean this relationship we have, is the most important thing in my life. It has been for a long, long time. I just don't want to screw up what we have together, you know, our friendship. I am willing to wait for however long it takes for you to be sure about me and my intentions about 'us'. But just know this Pepper Potts: when we do the deed, you just need make sure that you are ready to wake up next to me for the rest of our lives, because that's how much you mean to me." She was too shocked to reply immediately to his admission, and after a minute of silence, he mistakenly took her lack of a response as a sign of rejection, quickly getting up off the couch and walking out her front door, closing it softly behind him without a word. She was too shocked to do anything but continue sitting there in silence, trying to process what he had just told her. He had just admitted to her that he wanted to be in a committed relationship with her. But he had left it up to her to decide how to carry on from here. She had thought about what he had said to her all day today. Unfortunately his heart felt speech had been adding to her overall stress level for the day, too. As she was looking at a report this afternoon, it suddenly dawned on her that it had been her, and not Tony that feared the commitment to each other. That realization was hard to take. As she watched him hit ball after ball, she also realized that him showing up at the batting cages was further proof that Tony was indeed serious about their relationship. He wanted to be with her, even though he thought that she was mad at him. He usually ran away from any personal, emotional conflicts. But here he was, putting himself out there for her. They were definitely going to talk this through today. She suddenly heard shouting and turned to look towards the office as a large group of high school students moved towards them. Happy, Thomas, and James were running interference for them, blocking their path.

After 30 pitches Pepper stopped the machine. "You are doing quite well. How do you feel?" She could see that his black Pink Floyd t-shirt was almost totally wet with sweat. Her eyes trailed down his body unable to stop herself as he turned to move towards the gate. His jeans had ridden down on his hips exposing a line of skin between his shirt and jeans. Her eyes were immediately drawn to this line of flesh as well as the trail of dark hair that disappeared into his jeans.

He caught her eyes and smiled at her, pulling the bat up over one shoulder flexing his bicep and watching her intently as her eyes focused immediately on his flexed arm. She looked up suddenly, catching his eye and she immediately blushed, knowing she had been caught ogling him. He opened the gate and moved to stand in front of her. "Do I get a kiss for doing good, Coach?"

She smiled at him. "Of course." She said kissing him tenderly on the cheek, then putting her arms around him, hugging him. "You are a surprisingly good student." She teased, not able to help herself.

"No offense" he said in pulling away from her, setting his bat down on the table and removing her helmet, as well as his own "but I was expecting more than just a kiss on the cheek. After all, I was hitting home runs out there. You saw that, right?"

"Yes, you do deserve more than just a kiss on the cheek for your newly founded batting prowess" she began as she nodded her head towards the office. "but we have collected quite an audience in the past 5 minutes. We might want to take this somewhere more private."

Tony turned to look towards the office. There was a group of about 30 high school students standing outside of the office, obviously a baseball and softball team there for afternoon batting practice. Some of them had their cell phones up to their faces taking pictures of the two of them.

"Hey" Tony said grabbing Pepper suddenly by the waist and pulling her into him. "let's really give them something to see."

"Tony" was all she managed to get out before his lips crashed down on hers. She then relaxed into his arms and found her own hands locked behind his neck as they deepened the kiss.

Suddenly a round of cheers, whistles, and thunderous clapping sounded. Obviously their audience approved of their kiss.

They quickly broke the kiss, laughing at each other as they turned to the group of teens and waved. Happy, Thomas and James were still standing between them and the teens.

Tony knew that Pepper was becoming more at ease meeting the public. After the Expo, she had garnered the admiration of many and had even started receiving fan mail, much to her surprise. Tony, of course, always enjoyed meeting his 'fans'. "Let's go say 'hi' to them Pepper." He whispered to her as they continued to wave at the teens. "Maybe you can help them with their batting. After all, look what you did for Iron Man."

She looked at him and he locked eyes with her, his bourbon eyes pleading with her to agree.

"OK, Tony." She replied as his face lit up in a big smile.

They spent the next hour signing autographs, posing for pictures with the teens, talking, laughing, and buying over $300 worth of Gatorades, Icees, and pizza for the group. Tony had forgotten just how much teen age boys could eat. Pepper helped many of them with their batting. The teens really listened to her and you could see the improvement each time that swung the bat after her detailed instructions. The athletes appreciated her help. Almost as much as the pizza and Icees, Tony thought cheerfully to himself. As Tony watched her work with the teens using her patience and humor as tools for teaching, he couldn't help but imagine what she would be like with her own kids. He suddenly fantasized about Pepper pregnant with their children, and her becoming the perfect mom and himself being the not-so-perfect but trying really hard dad. He didn't want to waste any more time in his life. He wasn't getting any younger, especially with himself moonlighting as Iron Man.

As the two of them sat side by side on a picnic table holding hands like an old married couple, Pepper realized, as she looked at their joined hands, that all of the stress of her day was gone. She was happy. Content to just be holding hands with him. She watched Tony as he joked with some of the teens and she squeezed his hand tenderly. He looked at her and smiled, squeezing her hand in return.

It was after 6:00PM when the high schoolers gathered up their bat bags and gathered around Tony and Pepper to say their goodbyes, each of them thanking Tony and Pepper for their hospitality and help

The captain of the softball team, Kristen who was by far the most friendly, loud, and outspoken one of the bunch, walked up to Pepper holding her hand out to her. "Ms. Potts, thanks for your help with my swing. It never dawned on me that my bat wrap was too thick for my grip. Good catch!" She said sincerely, a huge smile on her face.

"I'm glad I could help Kristen." Pepper replied shaking the young lady's hand and returning the smile.

"I do have one question for both of you." Kristen continued her green eyes suddenly filled with mischief. The teens around them grew quiet knowing that Kristen had something up her sleeve as usual.

"I might just have an answer for you, no guarantees though." Pepper teased as Tony came up besides her wrapping one arm around her shoulders hugging her gently.

"It's obvious that you two have quite a thing for one another." Kristen started pointing her finger at each of them in turn. "And you're old enough to be legal. Why aren't you married?"

Pepper was speechless as Tony let go of her shoulder and moved to stand in front of her, staring at her intently.

"That is a good question, Kristen." Tony replied taking Pepper's hands in his and locking eyes with her. "It's because I haven't been able to work up the nerve to ask Ms. Potts to marry me yet. And I'm not even sure if she would say 'yes'."

"I've seen you bat a softball Mr. Stark." Kristen stated "You got nerve. And some skills too. So why don't you do what my dad does when my mom is being stubborn? Just take Ms. Potts out for a nice dinner, get her the biggest, best dessert on the menu, and then tell her 'I think we should get married.' Everyone is more agreeable on a full stomach, Mr. Stark."

"Thanks for the advice, Kristen." Tony replied looking over to Kristen. "I'll check and see if Ms. Pott's schedule is open for dinner tonight."

"Glad to help." Kristen replied picking up her bat bag. "Gotta run. No rest for the wicked you know! Thanks again for everything. The pizza was hot and the Icees were cold. Consider this a standing invitation to come to one of our home games. I'll even treat you both to our famous Knight Dogs."

"Our pleasure. We'll see if we can take you up on your offer of a Knight Dog, Kristen." Pepper said smiling as she moved to hug Kristen.

After the teens left, Tony and Pepper gathered up their belongings from their table. Happy moved to take Pepper's bag but Tony waved him off, taking the duffle bag and slinging it over his shoulder.

"Hap" Tony said taking Pepper's hand in his. "why don't you head back to SI and drop Thomas and James off. I'll take Pepper home. Thanks for your help today. See you Monday."

"I'll get Ms. Potts briefcase and cell phone out of the Bentley and put them in the Audi for you. Have a good weekend Ms. Potts, Mr. Stark." Happy said to them both and he turned away from them towards the exit, Thomas and James following him out the door.

As they walked slowly to the Audi, hand in hand, Pepper made up her mind: she was no longer afraid of committing to a relationship with Tony. Pepper suddenly bumped hips with Tony causing his gait to hitch. She laughed and he looked at her with wide eyes as he regained his balance and tugged her gently forward as he opened the passenger's side door for her. He playfully reached over her and fastened her seatbelt, dragging his fingertips lightly across her thighs in the process. He closed her door and jogged over to the driver's side.

"I'm taking you to dinner." He announced to her after getting into the Audi and turning to her. "And we're going like we are: casual."

She narrowed her eyes at him in a silent question. Visions of her and Tony in sweat soaked clothes being mobbed by the paparazzi filled her head. They had been keeping a relatively low profile the past few weeks, and this outing could potentially be a PR disaster.

He smiled warily at her and leaned slowly over to her. Her eyes started to soften as he approached her. He noticed the change and his smile widened just before his lips met hers in a slow, passionate kiss.

"And I'm taking you someplace that serves the biggest and best desserts." He whispered to her as they broke the kiss, gently touching his forehead to hers.

"Anywhere but Burger King, Mr. Stark." She teased raking the fingernails of her right hand along the evening stubble on his cheek, ending up in his goatee. She felt him shiver under her touch and smiled at him.

"Anything you say, Coach!" He replied, returning the smile as he quickly buckled his seatbelt and started up the Audi, rapidly pulling away from the batting cages.