Even before they told Rhodey or Fury, they had to tell Pepper's parents.
"Do you want me to leave the room?" Tony asked in a rare fit of discretion. It was the day after his return to California and Pepper was seated in the living room making the call.
"Of course not," she said. "Anything I have to say to them can be said in front of you."
It wasn't what Pepper might say that made him apprehensive.
The phone on the other end was picked up and over the speaker Tony heard Victoria Potts say, "Hello?"
"Hi Mom, it's me!"
"Oh, hello, Gin, how are you, sweetie? What time is it out there?"
(She always asked about the time difference, Pepper had told him.)
"It's six o'clock, Mom. In the evening."
"Your dad's out at some Rotary function. He'll be sorry he missed your call. Meanwhile, it's just us girls. What have you been up to?"
"Oh, this and that. We're looking for a new CEO to take over from me, by next summer, I hope."
"What are you going to do? Look for another position? I bet you could retire on what you made last year alone."
"Actually, Mom, I'm thinking of taking on something else. Something I've wanted to do for a while now."
"Taking on? A project? A cause?" asked Victoria dubiously.
"You could say that." Pepper smirked at Tony, who smirked back.
"Well, spit it out, Gin."
"I'm going to marry Tony Stark."
Victoria's silence was somehow incredulous.
"Mom? Are you there?"
"Oh, I'm here. I'm glad your dad isn't. Virginia, why would you do such a thing?"
"I love him. I have, for a long time."
"But Tony Stark - Hasn't the last six months taught you anything?"
(Tony scribbled, What have you told her?!!! on a piece of note paper and shoved it over the table so Pepper could see it. Predictably enough, she just rolled her eyes.)
"Mom, I don't know what you think he's done, but - "
"Let's see, apart from trashing his house in a drunken rage, almost getting killed at that race, mouthing off to a Senate committee..."
"Mom. I love him. And what you see on the TV isn't really him. Well, parts of it. The good parts." Pepper decided to shut up before she dug herself a bigger hole. Tony was giving the ceiling a martyred look.
Another silence. Unexpectedly, Victoria asked, "Does he love you?"
"Yes, he does," said Pepper firmly.
Still more silence. Tony could practically hear his future mother-in-law mulling. When she spoke again, it wasn't directed at Pepper.
"Mr. Stark, are you listening?"
He grinned at Pepper and scooted closer to the phone pickup. "Yes, Mrs. Potts, I'm right here."
"What do you have to say for yourself?"
Holy crap, it was like facing the nuns in sixth grade all over again.
"Everybody makes mistakes, ma'am," he told her. "Mine just tend to be expensive and public."
"Your lifestyle is expensive and public, Mr. Stark. I'm concerned about what that means for my daughter. You understand that, I hope."
"Yes, I do," said Tony. "And all I can tell you is that she's put up with a lot from me so far, and there's probably - definitely more to come, but my plan is to do right by her, as much as I possibly can."
"I'm here, mom."
"You're a grown-up. You can do what you want, and you've shown good judgement in your life. I'm going to trust you on this, but do one thing for me, okay?"
"Make sure he signs a pre-nup."
"I'm going to go have a glass of wine and figure out how to tell your father about this."
"I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, Gin. Good-bye, Tony."
The line went dead and Tony burst out laughing. Pepper sat there with an expression that was half resigned and half amused. Finally he sat up and wiped the tears from his eyes and said, "That went well, I think."
"I told you once that I never mess with my mom. Now you know why."
"Absolutely," he agreed. "She's like you times ten."
When the Potts parents came to visit a month later, Tony was his usual charming self (times ten, as Pepper described him) with a dash of rare humility. Only once in that week did he have to leave on short notice, to investigate some suspicious comings and goings along the Baja coast. Arthur Potts was understandably impressed when he watched Tony getting bolted into the suit.
"One thing I know," he told Pepper later. "If what you want is a knight in shining armor, you got him."