March 1997

One date soon turned into two. Two soon turned in to at least twice a week. Twice a week evolved into going out every other night and by the time March rolled around, Tony and Ginnie were practically guaranteed to be spotted every day at 12:30 having lunch together and spending at least dinner together nearly every night…even if it meant Ginnie picking up take out and eating in Tony's office while he pulled obscenely long hours.

Most people took little notice of the boss' son and the redhead from accounting spending every free moment they could together. No one said anything when Tony paid for Ginnie's lunch every day and nobody bothered them when they took over the small table in the back of the cafeteria for that brief hour.

Only one person really made a point of going out of his way to see what was going on – Obadiah Stane.

He had noticed the slight shift in Virginia's demeanor when she started seeing Tony on a regular basis. Even though her work was still spotless, always on time or early and without error, he noticed that she was a bit distracted and a bit of the rock solid shell had been chipped away by the boy genius who worked in the basement. Obadiah also found it a bit strange that nothing of this relationship had been brought up by either Howard or Maria in their various gatherings over work or a meal. He would have thought a seemingly long-term relationship for their son would have been a topic of conversation.

"So, what do you know of Tony's girlfriend?" Obadiah asked Howard casually over their lunch at 21.

"I know that she exists and I know her name," Howard replied in between bites. "I don't make it a point to butt into my son's private life."

"You're not even the slightest bit concerned that you have not met this girl yet. They have been together for almost two months now and you don't find it odd that Tony hasn't introduced you to her yet," Obadiah countered, trying to mix casualness with concern.

"When Tony is ready, he will bring her over to introduce us," Howard replied casually and without worry about that situation. "Why are you so concerned about this? He's my son and I think I would know when I can trust my son's instincts. Hell, I let him play with high explosives on a regular basis."

"You have to look at the potential long term, Howard," Obadiah countered. "Something you are not always prone to doing. You still have that ready – fire - aim attitude. If he marries this girl, you may have to think about your legacy."

Howard sighed as he finished off his scotch. "The girl works in your division and from what I understand; she is one of the best that has ever been there. She is probably one of the best things I could hope for in a potential daughter-in-law. If it will get you off my back, I will bring up the subject with Tony."

"I am only looking out for your best interests, my friend," Obadiah said as he raised his glass to Howard before finishing off his drink.

"I thought that was my wife's job."

In the basement of Stark Industries, the bass was blasting full force while Tony had spent the better part of the day at his computer coding the first phase of a project he was working on. He never even noticed that the phone had rung.

"STARK!" one of the techs screamed out as loud as he could over the music. When it didn't get the desired reaction, a nerf ball was shot at Tony's head to get his attention.

"What the hell was that for?" Tony snapped as he threw the ball back at the offender.

"Your father called down here. He wants you upstairs now."

"Damn it," Tony muttered under his breath as he saved his work. "Did he say what he wanted?"

"Nope but it sounded like someone's in trouble."

Tony sighed as he stretched his back out before getting up from his desk. "Thanks for the warning," he spat sarcastically before walking towards the elevator.

The eleven floor ride up to his father's office was almost agonizing when Tony had no idea why he was being summoned. If he had at least some inkling, he could prepare himself for whatever fire he was going to face. As the elevator came to a stop on the top floor, Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath before the doors opened.

At the ding of the opening doors, Tony opened his eyes and stepped out, walking directly over to his father's secretary, Mary.

"My father asked me to come up. Will you please let him know I'm here?" Tony said somberly, bracing himself for whatever fire he was about to face.

"Of course, Tony," Mary said sweetly to him as she noticed his lack of usual good mood. "Is something wrong?"

"I would hope you could tell me that," Tony replied as Mary buzzed his father.

"For what it's worth…good luck," Mary responded warmly. "He's expecting you."

"Thanks Mary," Tony said with a small smile to the older woman as he walked into his father's office. "You wanted to see me?"

Howard looked up from the folders on his desk when he heard Tony's voice. "Yes, I did. Have a seat, Anthony."

Tony cringed as he sat down. It wasn't often he was called Anthony and when he was it usually meant something bad for him. "What did I do?"

"You did nothing per se," Howard started, trying to quell the boy's fears. "I want to talk to you about your girlfriend."

"What about her?" Tony spat back defensively.

"I have heard that you two have been getting rather close and I am wondering why you have not yet introduced her to your mother and me," Howard stated calmly.

"What are your sources, Dad? Have you been spying on me?" Tony countered back again, hating that what few private moments he got with Ginnie was now gossip fodder.

"Tony, calm down," Howard replied to try to diffuse his son's now rising temper. "I have not been spying. I am just curious as to why you have been keeping this girl a secret for two months."

Tony sighed. There was no way around this. Saying the truth, no matter how painful, was always faster than giving a lie. "Honestly, because I'm afraid you'll scare her off."

Howard was a little taken back by the blunt honesty of Tony's answer. "Why on Earth would you think that?"

"Because at times, you can be very intimidating," Tony answered as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the chair he was sitting in. If his father wanted a battle of wills, he was more than willing to play. "I know Mom wouldn't scare her off…smother her with affection maybe, but you can either consciously or unconsciously be a very scary person. I care very deeply about this girl and I don't want you scaring her off."

Howard had never heard Tony speak that way about anyone else before. This girl really did mean something to him. "How about this, why don't you bring your girlfriend out to the house for the weekend so your mother and I have the opportunity to get to know her better so we can see why she is so special to you?"

There was no way that Tony could easily get out of this. His hands were tied and now he had to spring this on Ginnie, an idea which gave him a sick feeling in his stomach. "What time Friday?" he conceded albeit reluctantly.

"I would say about an hour or so before dinner so she will have some time to settle in first," Howard told his son.

"We'll be there," Tony automatically responded, knowing he lost this battle. "Is there anything else?"

"No Tony, that's all," Howard said as he dismissed Tony. "Kindly close the door on your way out."

"He wants us to do WHAT?!" Ginnie cried out none too quietly as Tony cringed from the glares boring into the back of his head from her office mates.

"It wasn't my idea. If I had thought of it, we would have been on neutral territory. Now, he has the upper hand and home field advantage," Tony groaned.

"I don't even have the first clue on what to bring. How could he just spring this on you?" Ginnie exclaimed.

"I think someone snitched on us to him and he doesn't like to lose so he tries to strong arm me," Tony said somewhat miserably. "Don't worry about packing. I'll help and take you shopping if necessary."

Ginnie got the same feeling Tony had. There was no way out of this. "When?"

"I'll pick you up here at three on Friday," Tony told her.

"I can't leave at three. I have work to do and they won't look too kindly if I just skip out early on a Friday."

Tony smiled as he leaned in to give her a kiss. "You are going to the boss' house at his request and his son is picking you up. I think I'm your 'get out of jail free' card. Trust me, no one will yell at you and if they do…then they deal with me."

Friday came around far too quickly for Tony and Ginnie. Meeting the parents was nerve wracking enough and even more so when they are Howard and Maria Stark.

As they drove down the Long Island Expressway, Ginnie could see the tension in Tony by watching the way he was driving. Normally, he would not bat an eye at doing eighty with one hand on the wheel, music blasting, and ducking in and out of traffic effortlessly, which scared the living hell out of Ginnie. Today, he was actually driving closer to the speed limit, the music was at a more human level, occasionally two hands were on the wheel and the biggest thing…he wasn't talking.

"You're nervous, aren't you?" Ginnie asked him as calmly as she could as she reached over to put a hand on his leg.

Tony nodded. "I know how my father can be and I am deeply scared that this will go badly. At least my mom will back you up as long as she doesn't smother you."

"If I can handle you, I am sure I can handle him," Ginnie said with as much confidence as she could muster. The confidence went away as quick as it came when she looked up at the exit numbers and realized where they were going. "You live in the Hamptons?!" she cried out.

"East Hampton to be exact," Tony replied. "Where did you think I lived?" he added as matter of factly as if she had just asked him to pass the salt.

"I knew it was Suffolk County based on your phone number but I was hoping for a lower exit number. I didn't realize we were going right into the lion's den of the rich and famous," Ginnie exclaimed.

Tony sighed and then laughed. "Then you should be glad that they didn't invite you to the mansion in Beverly Hills for the weekend. You might have had a heart attack with the private jet."

"Right now, I'll stick to the mass of huge butterflies that just migrated to my stomach but I'll reserve the right to have said heart attack later," Ginnie responded as she playfully smacked him.

It wasn't long before the heart attack option was about to come into the play. Tony turned off the highway and the first thing that Ginnie saw was the private road and the large iron gate and stone wall surrounding the property at the end. Tony drove up and typed in his code to open the gate as Ginnie was awestruck. As he continued to drive up the tree lined road, she could see the ocean up to the northwest. It wasn't long before the road opened up to a go-around in front of what could only be referred to as a compound. There were two smaller houses off either side of the main house, which was probably five times bigger than the other two. The rich stone and woodwork on the exterior of the house was exquisite, blending the rich browns and gray.

Tony pulled up to the smaller house to the left which Ginnie soon realized that it was the garage and parked the car. As Tony was unloading the trunk, Ginnie peeked around the back of the house and saw a beautiful pool and spa as well as a sleek outdoor living room, outdoor dining area with fireplace and built in kitchen surrounded by lush landscaping. Even the garage was impressive. Not only did it hold the collection of automobiles that Howard and Tony had amassed but it had a full fledged two level work area which she was certain that both father and son had clocked in several thousand hours there as well as a big screen TV and a fully stocked bar from what she could see.

Tony was watching Ginnie admire everything as he was unloading the car and he smiled slightly. "I'll give you the grand tour later," he told her as he called her over and picked up her bags. "Ready to go in?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," Ginnie said as she took a deep breath and grabbed a hold of Tony's arm to follow him in.

Inside was even more impressive than the outside. The rich mahogany toned wood made the inside feel warm but regal. Family photos as well as photographic art adorned the walls which made it actually feel like a home which a family lived in rather than the museum that Ginnie was expecting. There was a large staircase off to her right which led to the second floor with another going into the basement and in front of her was a large reception area, from which she could see glimpses of living rooms, a dining room, and the terrace which led to the backyard.

Tony set the bags down on the floor and almost on cue, his butler showed up out of one of the side rooms. He was an older gentleman but still strong and fit who seemed to love his job.

"Good afternoon, Master Anthony," he greeted warmly.

"How are you doing, Edwin?" Tony replied with a smile. "Allow me to introduce my girlfriend, Virginia Potts," he added as he presented Ginnie.

"I am doing quite well and even more so to meet your charming lady, sir," Edwin replied as he shook Ginnie's hand.

"Pleased to meet you as well, Edwin," Ginnie added.

"Are my parents home yet?" Tony asked as he was taking his coat off and hanging it up in the closet before taking Ginnie's.

"They are both still in the city. You made very good time but then I know how you drive," Edwin replied. "Your mother asked me to tell you to get your girlfriend settled and show her around while you wait. I'll take your things up to the rose room, Miss Potts."

"Thank you, Edwin," Ginnie called back as he gathered the bags and made a discreet exit. "How many servants do you have?"

"We only have two staff here," Tony replied as he took her hand. "Edwin, our butler and Teresa, our housekeeper, which I'll introduce you to if I can find her," he said as he sniffed quickly. "This way," Tony said as he led Ginnie towards the direction of the kitchen. "Something smells good in here," Tony exclaimed as he walked in to the kitchen.

Teresa jumped at the sound of Tony's voice. "You're early. I had expected you later," she exclaimed as she playfully slapped him. "You should know better than to startle me, young man."

"But it's so much fun," Tony laughed. "Teresa, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Virginia Potts."

Teresa wiped her hands off on a kitchen towel before shaking Ginnie's hand. "It's nice to finally meet you, dear. I'm sorry I'm such a mess. Can I get you anything since Tony here hasn't offered yet?" she said as she shot a glare to Tony who was standing by the fridge, grabbing a soda.

Tony practically choked on his tongue when Teresa said that. "I haven't had a chance to yet. Man, a guy can't breathe in this house."

"I'll just take a bottle of water," Ginnie said politely to get Tony off the hook.

"Anyway, I was told I have to give the dime tour before Mom and Dad get home so we're going to leave now so I don't get picked on anymore," Tony exclaimed with a smile as he handed Ginnie the bottle of water and took her hand to get her out of the kitchen.

"They're both very nice," Ginnie said to Tony as she was trying to hide the giggles.

"They really are and they love busting my balls whenever they get the chance," Tony added. "So, time for the dime tour. On the main floor here we have the kitchen which you've seen, dining room, living room, family room, library and the terrace leading out to the back as well as two of the bathrooms," he explained as he walked quickly through the rooms before taking her down to the basement. "Down here, we have the private gym, the third bathroom, game room and the back entrance to the garage where Dad and I go to play to stay out of Mom's hair. Now all the way up." They climbed both staircases up to the second floor. "Up here we have the remaining four bathrooms, Dad's office, master bedroom," Tony said as he pointed out each room. "This one is yours…the so aptly named rose room due to the décor," he explained as he pointed out the lighter colored room with a rose colored quilt on the bed and roses on most of the accessories. "This room does have its advantages though. It has a walk in closet and semi-private bathroom"

"Why is it semi-private?" Ginnie asked curiously.

A mischievous smile crossed Tony's face. "Because on the other side of the door across the way," he explained as he pointed to the door past the shower, "is my room." Tony took Ginnie's hand and led her through the bathroom that they shared to his room. He opened the door and let her go in first to explore since he had already been to her apartment several times.

The walls were warm shades of red and the furniture was all made of richly colored cherry and you could hear the ocean in the background. The bed was only a full sized one with the red and blue plaid bedspread that seemed oddly cozy. The walls were decorated with some of Tony's achievements – his degrees from MIT, various clippings of articles written about him – and a few pictures of his family and friends.

One picture in particular caught Ginnie's attention. It was one of Tony with an Air Force officer. "Who's that?"

"That's my best friend…hell, my only friend, James Rhodes," Tony explained. "We met up at MIT. He's stationed on the west coast at the moment so we only get to hang out when Dad brings me on the field trips to the LA office."

"If he's your only friend, what am I?" Ginnie asked with a smile.

"Far more than friend," Tony responded as he pulled her close. "You are the missing half of my heart."

Tony was about to lean in for a kiss when he heard the door close downstairs and he cursed under his breath. His parents had arrived and there was no backing out now. He was now desperately wishing for an escape hatch out the window. "Impeccable timing as usual," he ground out.

Ginnie was picking up on the nerves again. "Why are you the nervous one? I'm the one that should be nervous."

Tony shook his head as he held her hand to walk back down stairs. "You…they will love. I will get anything else later."

Howard and Maria Stark were taking off their coats and giving the evening's details to Edwin as Tony and Ginnie came down the stairs together. Before his parents had the chance to give him a lecture, Tony preempted them with the fact that he was giving Ginnie a tour of the house and nothing more.

"Well, I guess we should get the formalities out of the way," Tony exclaimed as he hit the first floor, trying to get this over quickly. "Ginnie, may I present my parents Howard and Maria Stark. Mom, Dad…this is my girlfriend, Virginia Potts."

Ginnie held out her hand to shake with both of his parents. "It's a pleasure to meet you both, Mr. and Mrs. Stark."

"Likewise," Maria responded as she warmly greeted the girl in front of her. "I only wish my son hadn't kept you a secret for so long. Come along, dear. Let's go into the living room and get comfortable so we can get to know each other better before dinner."

Tony took Ginnie's hand and led her into the living room before his parents and took a seat on one of the couches next to Ginnie, never letting go of her hand. He figured he had a choice to walk into the fire or be burned by it later by being afraid of it.

"So, first off, how did you meet our son?" Maria asked as she and Howard sat down on the couch opposite from Tony and Ginnie.

"I found an accounting error from his department when were doing the year end books and I had to talk to him about it," Ginnie responded. "Then he followed me up to lunch and wouldn't back down until I agreed to go out with him at least once."

"Tony made a mistake with math?" Howard inquired as he turned towards his son who never made a math error.

"She found a handwriting error because the geniuses under my supervision can't read my writing. The math was right once that was fixed," Tony said in his own defense.

Maria noted that her son still had his lady's hand and she gave him a small smile as she tried to get to know the girl better. "Where are you from, Virginia? Tell us about your family."

"Please, call me Ginnie," she started. "I'm from New Haven, Connecticut and unfortunately there's not much to tell about my family."

"What do you mean there's not much to tell about your family? Start with the basics." Howard interjected.

Ginnie sighed. This was a bit of a hard subject but Tony's hand in hers gave her enough brass to talk about it. "My dad was a police office for the town of New Haven and my mother was a teacher."

Maria could sense she was holding back something and Howard sometimes was as blunt as a spoon. "Do you get to see them often?" she asked, trying to see if she could keep the girl talking.

Ginnie swallowed hard. She hated having to explain this. "My mom passed away about six years ago. It was very hard on my dad after she got sick and when I went away to school he just wasn't the same by himself until he joined her."

"I am so sorry to hear that, my dear. It must have been hard to be on your own so soon," Maria said soothingly.

"It was hard but I was able to get through it by throwing myself into my studies at UCONN," Ginnie remarked.

"What did you major in?" Howard interjected.

"I double majored in international business and accounting," Ginnie responded quickly as she snapped out of the slight melancholy that talking about her parents had put her in. "I graduated with honors in both of them."

Howard was impressed but he didn't outwardly show it, keeping up the poker face while he was sizing up the first girl his son ever brought home, even if it was by force. "So what did you do before my business partner was smart enough to hire you?"

It was beginning to feel more like a job interview to Ginnie rather than a meeting of her boyfriend's family. "I worked as a bank teller while I was in school and Mr. Stane hired me shortly after I graduated."

Maria shot her husband a look to stop interrogating the girl like he was. "What do you like to do for fun, Ginnie?" she asked warmly, trying to get Howard off her back.

"Well, I like to read, travel and shopping when I can afford them and have the time, and I like to go mountain climbing and hiking," she answered.

Maria looked at the elegant girl in front of her and never would have pegged her as an outdoor girl. "Where is your favorite place to climb?"

"My favorite so far was in the Rocky Mountains with my dad before he passed."

Howard was getting impatient with the idle chit chat. "What are your intentions when it comes to our son?" came flying out of Howard's mouth without any warning as he cut right to the chase.

Tony nearly choked on the soda he was drinking before he spit it down his face when he heard that question. "Dad!" he cried out as he shot his father an icy glare as he tried to wipe off what he had spit out.

"It's a perfectly clear question, Anthony," Howard replied with a clear warning by using Tony's full name. "Everything has to do with business and this family's business is business. I would like to know where she stands."

"I really can't believe you at the moment," Tony said as he stood up to go get a towel to wipe off his shirt. "Excuse me for a moment," he added harshly as he was heading into the kitchen.

"Tony, while you're up. Get me a drink. Three fingers on the rocks," Howard called out to his son before turning his gaze back to Ginnie.

Ginnie wanted to follow after Tony when he got up but she knew it would not be the best idea to get in the middle. She decided the best idea was to answer the question. "I care very deeply about your son. We have discussed some aspects of what we want for the future but for the moment, he and I complete each other. I didn't know it at first but I do now but Tony was what was missing in my life."

Howard and Maria were both very impressed by Ginnie's answer. This was the first girl that they knew of that Tony really fell head over heels for and the last thing they wanted was to see him get hurt.

"Please forgive my husband for being so rudely direct," Maria interjected. "We just don't want to see Tony hurt at all. You're the first girl he has ever brought home to us so we know how special you are to him."

"I have no problem with directness," Ginnie stated. "I completely understand your concern and respect that. I have no intention of ever hurting Tony. As he says, I'm the other half of his heart so how could I ever break his?"

Tony had been just out of sight but within earshot of Ginnie's answer. She didn't hesitate one second before answering his parents and she clearly told them how she felt about him, hopefully quelling their concerns about her so they could stop the interrogation. He walked back into the living room and handed his father the scotch he wanted and sat back down next to Ginnie, significantly calmer than when he left. "Teresa said she's setting dinner out now," he mentioned, hoping it would move things in another direction.

"Let's go sit down to dinner then," Maria stated warmly before walking with Howard into the dining room, leaving Tony and Ginnie in the living room.

"I am so sorry about that. I had no idea he was going to do that to you," Tony whispered to Ginnie. He truly did feel horrible about the way his father treated her.

"It's fine, Tony. I understand where they're coming from and I had no problem answering the question. I just hope my answer was acceptable enough."

Dinner went by far more peacefully than the interrogation that preceded it. After dinner, Howard announced to everyone that he was heading down to the garage as he normally did. Maria settled into the family room with a book to try to give Tony and Ginnie some time to themselves.

As the house seemed to be quieting down for the night, Ginnie announced that she was going to bed so Tony could have time to play in the garage with his father. Normally, Tony would have gone down there for hours on the weekend but something didn't seem right and he followed Ginnie upstairs, which did not go unnoticed by his mother.

Tony climbed the stairs quickly after her and found Ginnie sitting alone on her bed.

"What's wrong?" he asked gently as he sat beside her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

"It's nothing," Ginnie said, trying to reassure him. "Just a little family overload. I haven't had to deal with this in a while."

"I actually do understand that," Tony admitted. "There are times I'm still getting used to them."

Ginnie looked at him confused. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I spent most of my childhood away at school in one form or another and when I was home my father always thought that I was in his way except when working on a car together. When I was younger, I don't remember him ever saying that he loved me. He was always cold and distant. It's only now that he is getting used to having me around and I think he's trying to make up for lost time," Tony explained. "I know my mother has even more regrets about it but there's not much you can do about what has already been done. It's only now that they are really getting involved."

Ginnie leaned into Tony's warm embrace and rested her head on his shoulder. "It will get easier, won't it?"

"I can only hope so."