Disclaimer: Must I really go over it again. I own nothing but my pretty new computer named JARVIS.
Characters: Pepper Potts/Tony Stark (this final chapter)

For Kkann, my better half in so many ways and ultimate partner in crime. Happy Holidays!


There are few sights Tony Stark enjoys more than his girlfriend approaching him with a smile and a glass of alcohol.

"Having fun?" Pepper asks, handing him a glass of champagne. He stands up and takes it from her, standing close enough to feel their shoulders brush together.

He glances around at their many friends. Coulson amicably striking up a conversation with his hero, Steve. Clint and Natasha quietly chatting by the bar, leaning towards one another-probably unconsciously, because it figures that the two master assassins would be the so-cute-you-want-to-gag pair. Then again, Bruce and Betty, laughing and pretending to dance, give them a run for their money. Jane and Darcy are talking to Thor, who appears to be illustrating some Asgardian animal with antlers by using his meatloaves of hands to gesture them above his head. Even Fury looks like he's having a good time, though Fury has the emotional range of a lamppost so it's kind of hard to tell.

As for him? "I guess I'm okay." He turns his head to watch her smile in encouragement. "Host is a bit boring, but he is outrageously handsome, so I have to give some points for that."

"So I hear," Pepper answers. "Well, you know what would make us feel better?"

"What?"

Pepper grins. "If you gave me my present."

He chuckles. "Well, I suppose you've been pretty good this year." He fishes the small parcel out of his pocket and hands it to her. "To Pepper, from Tony."

"With love," she finishes, kissing him quickly on the cheek. His emotional state is already improving significantly.

"Something like that," he answers, watching as her very petite hands search for her gift among the wrapping. When she finally pulls it out and examines it for a few seconds, she shoots him exactly the look he'd expected: not impressed. "What? Don't you like it?"

"It's a pepper shaker."

He pulls something out of his other pocket. "And I have the salt, see? We're a matching set. I thought it was cute."

"I think it's cheap."

"You're accusing me of being cheap? There was a time when I thought you were smart, you know."

"You'll be paying for that one later."

"Are you going to be not-so-subtle again?"

"You bet."

"You know, you're complaining about this, but I notice I didn't get a gift from you yet."

Pepper gives him a different look. "Your keyword there is 'yet'. You'll have to wait till later, I'm afraid. I've stashed it somewhere else for now."

"Well, I don't know, but I'm still not feeling much better after that," he tells her.

"Then go socialise!" Pepper exclaims. "I'm sure Happy would like to talk to you some more. Or Steve. Or Clint and Natasha. Or any of the other people here. They're all your friends, Tony, and it's Christmas. You should be happy to be spending time with them where you're not all carrying weapons."

He purses his lips. "Not feeling super social right now, to be honest. I'd rather a quiet Christmas for a couple minutes. You and I could just . . ." he hints, jerking his head in the direction of the hallway.

Pepper lifts an eyebrow in a way that makes him feel like his plan has already been foiled. "What? Are you saying we should just up and leave right in the middle of your Christmas party that you wanted to host and invite all these people to."

He offers a shrug in reply. "I think I'd call it implying, really. I never outright said that."

"What about dinner?" she asks in that calm, challenging tone she uses often, as if daring him each time to come up with a good comeback. "Are you forgetting about that?"

"I'm not forgetting anything. Okay, well, I'm probably forgetting a lot, but food isn't one of them. But there are other things that might take precedence, you know." He puts down his glass and reaches for her, slowly pulling her closer with hands on her waist even as their conversation continues.

"Really. Things like what?"

"Again, there's a lot of really obvious subtext I think you're missing here."

"I thought I was stupid."

"That was, of course, a joke. Ms. Potts, you are one of the most capable and clever people I know, and that's saying something, considering the people I know." He's nearly got his arms completely around her at this point, and the fact that she isn't moving back out of reach yet is a good sign.

"Are you just buttering me up to make up for the pepper shaker?"

"Is it working? Because your answer might change mine."

She shakes her head in disbelief. "You are so full of it."

"If by 'it' you mean good looks or impressively innovative ideas, then yes."

Pepper's head drops forward slightly as she laughs, forehead almost bumping his chin with the minimal distance between them. Has he mentioned that's another sight (and sound) he loves? She lifts her eyes back up to his and sighs. "So, you really want to just put everything off for a couple minutes, grab an old holiday movie and go get lost in Stark Tower?"

"Or Europe. We could always go get lost in Europe."

"I'm not sure that would be practical. Or safe," she reasons, still teasing. He, despite the bad timing, is completely serious.

"I'd protect you," is all he says, and it's only half-teasing at this point.

They immediately sober up again. She smiles at him, and he returns it, knowing he's won this battle. "All right. You go pick out a DVD and I'll meet you in the media room for a little down time."

Tony races over to the movie cabinet and grabs the first green-and-red case he sees, quickly dashing back and grabbing Pepper's hand, lacing their fingers together and pulling her along.

Apparently she has one last thing to say. "But if Thor comes demanding turkey, I'm not going to be accountable."

"Shh, just blame it on Coulson and run."

FIN