Author's Note: This is just one of the many pictures that have been stuck in my head because I'm one of those who found Tony's speech at his hearing in Iron Man 2 suspiciously familiar and wondered if changing Jack Taggert's last name to "Taggart" in Iron Man 3 was a coincidence or someone's way of confirming said suspicions. Well, I've never read a single Iron Man comic, but it certainly wouldn't be the first Objectivist comic book out there...
"Tony to bridge – come in, please."
Pepper closed the window of the reports she'd been reading and brought up the call on her screen. "Oh, you're still alive down there?" she asked sarcastically, not bothering to keep the anger out of her voice.
"Just what I was about to ask," Tony said, and he looked perfectly sincere as he asked, "Where have you been?"
That was really too much for Pepper. "Me?! You're the one who hasn't surfaced once yet today!"
"I know," he agreed. "And you're a few hours overdue for coming down to check on what in the world it is I'm doing."
Pepper rolled her eyes. "You want to lock yourself in there with your toys – today, of all days – I see no reason to disturb you."
"Did it ever occur to you," Tony asked, "that I came down here – today, of all days – because I was counting on you disturbing me, and that by not disturbing me, you're ruining the surprise?"
"The..." was all Pepper managed to utter before Tony shrugged and said nonchalantly, "But, if you're not interested, I'm sorry I disturbed you..."
Pepper narrowed her eyes in suspicion as she asked, "Is there a giant bunny down there?"
"No," Tony answered firmly.
"There better not be," Pepper warned him before she signed off, placed the pad on the coffee table, and headed for the stairs to the lab, completely clueless as to what she might find there. Tony was not the romantic-surprise type.
Nothing in the lab looked out of the ordinary when she reached the bottom landing. Reassured by the lack of any visible gigantic stuffed animals, she walked over to Tony, sitting alone at his consol, apparently empty-handed. The suits were all locked up, the robots weren't turned on, most of the monitors were blank. It really looked like he hadn't been working on anything down here, just waiting for her to come obliviously down the stairs to find... what?
"I'm not used to this," Tony said as he stood up. "Is this the part where I say 'Happy anniversary,' or do I wait until you open this?" And he produced a small, rectangular jewelry box from behind his back.
"Okay, I'm surprised," Pepper confessed, once she'd recovered from the shock. "You remembered."
"Technically, I did," came JARVIS' voice from the aether.
"You think I was gonna let myself forget our first anniversary?" Tony asked.
"You pay me to be prepared for anything," Pepper reminded her lover who still technically doubled as her employer.
"Well, there's no way you could be prepared for this," said Tony, holding the box out to her.
"I was expecting something a little more original," said Pepper, reaching for the box. Instead of handing it to her, Tony held onto it.
"Trust me, it doesn't get any more original than this," he said with a confident smile.
Pepper dropped her outstretched hand and crossed her arms. "A little overconfident today, aren't we?"
"You mean there are days when I'm not?!" Tony gasped in fear.
Pepper shook her head and asked, not harshly, "You really think I want jewelry from you?"
"You tell me when you open it," he answered, holding the box out to her again.
Pepper pushed it away. "You know what I would really appreciate more than anything else?"
Hearing the tone of doom in her voice, Tony asked, "What have I done now?"
"It's not what you've done, it's what you haven't done. Ever since we got back from Florida, the press have been after us like bloodhounds, and..."
"I've done everything I can to make them leave us alone."
"That's not gonna work, and you know it. There's only so much I can tell them about our future plans for the company. You've got to start doing your share."
Tony shrugged and shook his head. "I've got nothing to tell them."
"Tell them that yourself, then. Hiding from them just makes them think you're keeping secrets they keep digging harder to find."
"What do you want me to tell them?" asked Tony.
"What are you working on now?" Pepper asked back.
"None of their business," Tony answered.
"So, all that stuff about the potential uses for your gold-titanium Stark Metal with your new Palladium II, you were just teasing them?"
"No, I've been conducting tests, analyzing both of them, and I've made some very interesting conclusions that I will share with anyone you desire when I'm ready," was Tony's explanation.
"Then why have the rest of us all been stuck stalling them about it for months?" Pepper wondered. "Scientists from every country in the world are coming forward with ideas for using your two Metals together, and you brush them all off. Everyone wants to know what these two Metals can do, and we have nothing to tell them."
"I didn't want to share it yet."
"Because I had special plans for the first thing to be made from my two Metals. Now that that's done, I can get started with other projects."
"The first thing?" Pepper repeated, confused.
"Exactly," Tony said, smiling, as he held up the jewelry box again.
It took a minute for Pepper to connect the gesture with the words. She pointed at the box and asked, "You mean..."
"Yes," Tony answered, holding it back out to her. "Pepper Potts, this is the first thing ever made from both Stark Metal and Palladium II – two of my greatest inventions, and you're the only one who has the right to have it."
Pepper slowly took the box and gingerly opened it. Inside was a bracelet – a flexible chain of hollow triangles, the colors of each alternating between gold and silver. They didn't shimmer or gleam like diamonds or any of the other gems Tony was fond of giving her, but they seemed to radiate with a power no ornament could ever have. She took it out and ran each link between her fingers, thinking that this was the same metal that made up the Iron Man suit, this other was the core of the arc reactor. The first thing ever made from both of these two supermetals...
She snapped the empty box closed, causing the room to echo with the abrupt sound. She looked up and judged from Tony's smirk that he had been waiting to see how long it would take her to recognize the gift. For a split second, she thought she was being silly. A split second later, she concluded that must be where'd he'd gotten the idea. She was amazed that the same press that had once joked about how "the first two letters of Howard Stark's last name were obviously misspelled" who never tired of speculating about their relationship hadn't predicted this would be the first thing he would make from Stark Metal and Palladium II. She was amazed she hadn't predicted it – not that she loved that 1,000-plus page book as much as Tony did, but she'd read it enough... certain parts more than others, but who didn't? She wondered if she found it romantic or not. She decided she did. Him making and doing this said a lot to her. It was not only a compliment if he was stating whom she reminded him of, but the greatest statement he could give of how much she meant to him. But to be sure, maybe she should let him explain.
"Like I said, I was expecting something a little more original," she said as she examined the bracelet in her right palm.
Tony shook his head and held up his hands in submission to the verdict. "I couldn't resist," was the only defense he gave.
"I don't blame you," Pepper admitted.
"I was thinking of offering it to the woman standing nearest to me at a press conference and seeing if you'd offer to trade her for it, but I figured that would be faking reality since I was fortunate enough to find the woman worthy of it before I made it," he elaborated.
"No one to fight for it, now where's the fun in that?" Pepper mused aloud.
"Okay, so the circumstances are less exciting," Tony conceded. He reached up and placed his right hand in her own so that their fingers were grasped around the bracelet together. "But it's the best I can do because I already know that you are the only person who deserves these, and I wanted you to have them before I start sharing them with the rest of the world. I know it's silly, it's lame, but nothing I got you would be good enough for you anyway, so..."
Pepper interrupted him. "It's not lame. It's the most valuable gift I've ever gotten, and I'm honored to know I earned it." She pulled her hand away and held it out. Tony took the bracelet from her open palm.
"Well, then it's fitting," Tony observed as he clasped the chain of gold and silver triangles around her wrist. "Because you're the most valuable thing I have, and it's an honor for me to see you wear this."
"No one in her right mind would pass it up," Pepper said as she leaned forward and kissed him.
When they paused, Tony said, "No one who understood, anyway," before they resumed.