Title: Spicy

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Well, if you haven't seen the movie...

Pairing: Tony/Pepper-ish UST

Summary: Just another day at Stark Industries.

A/N: I am having way too much fun with these characters. I'm playing with the notion of starting a chaptered story but haven't worked out all the kinks yet. If you'd like to think of these stories as prequels...

Thank you so very much to everyone who has reviewed my other stories! I've been walking on air for the past week.

Pepper was trying valiantly to not jiggle her leg. She'd crossed and uncrossed her legs so many times now that she was certain Heather from IT thought she had to pee. As it was, Pepper was stuck in one of a very long line of upper level staff meetings. Ever since the press conference fiasco a month ago, Stark Industries was reorganising its departments.

Tony had been quite serious about not wanting to manufacture weapons anymore, but one can't just shut down decades of work. Not even Anthony Edward Stark. Therefore, while the departments were deciding which bits of sell off and which could be adapted for other projects, the employees had been given options. Either they stay on in another department or they leave with a very generous severance package and glowing recommendations.

The reaction was mixed, which was pretty much what Pepper had expected. A number of the lower level technicians happily stayed to become reabsorbed into the new sections while others were content to leave. Then you had the ones who left angrily and lambasted Stark Industries to anyone who would listen. That left the ones that Pepper couldn't help but be wary of:

The ones who stayed but with a massive chip on their shoulders. They seemed content on paper, but talk to them face to face and you'd realize there was a massive amount of animosity lurking beneath the surface.

In fact, one of the programmers that fit that particular type, Marcus Hake, was currently giving an update on his department changes. He was not pleased that he was no longer working on things that exploded and rumour had it he was taking it out on his team. As it was, his report at this meeting was given with an ill-concealed sneer on an otherwise pleasantly ordinary face.

"It has been an uphill battle to sift through the software we've already spent years developing to try to determine if it is suitable to achieve the new brief we've been given," Hake was saying. "I can't really see us reaching the deadline set without serious overtime accrual. If we had been given more notice, perhaps we could be more efficient, but as it is..."

He shrugged his shoulders. Pepper frowned a little at his attitude.

"We'll keep pushing on, as it were," Marcus continued. "After all, who are we to quibble with the almighty Iron Man."

This last bit was said with a glance in Pepper's direction. Pepper returned the look impassively.

"You don't know it," she thought. "But I'm frying your insides right now and you will have indigestion later. Jerk."

"Thank you, Marcus," Adam Roberts, the Executive Secretary, said hastily as Hake took his seat. "We appreciate the tight time schedule you have all been given and we just ask that you continue on in the, ah, most efficient way you can. Anyone else? Have we heard from everyone?"

Various rustlings were heard around the room. Pepper uncrossed and crossed her legs again. No one spoke up.

"Well, that takes care of that!" Adam said decisively. "Pepper will report your statuses to Mr Stark and we'll meet back here same time next week. Any questions or problems, don't hesitate to contact either me or her. Meeting adjourned."

Everyone stood up quickly and while some stayed to chat, Pepper smiled graciously at everyone and headed out the door. She headed down the hall and saw that the elevator was still open, she rushed to get inside.

"Wait, going up!" she called.

It was the first day back in the office for Tony and to be honest, she was a little anxious to see how his meetings with the Energy department had gone. She reached the elevator and managed to squeeze in between the closing doors. Pepper smiled a little at the other two passengers from Human Resources who watched her amusedly. The doors were almost shut when a hand snuck in and stopped them. Pepper's smile drooped as Marcus Hake got in.

"Pepper," he said coming to stand next to her.

"Mr Hake," she said flatly.

The elevator went up. It stopped on the 6th floor and the two from Human Resources got off.

"Great," Pepper thought.

She heard Hake shuffle a bit and take a deep breath. She steeled herself for it.

"Look," he said turning to her. "Pepper, I really don't know what that boss of yours is thinking, but giving up the Weapons Department is crazy."

"Correct me if I'm wrong Mr Hake," Pepper said casually watching the floor numbers go by. "But, he is also your boss and you were given the chance to express your opinion to the Board after the decision had been made and then given the option to move on if you so wished. And I would be very careful about throwing around words like 'crazy'."

He snorted. "What else do you call someone parading around in a metal suit?"

Pepper's jaw clinched, but before she could say anything Hake had moved on.

"Thing is Pepper," he said. "I like Stark Industries. It has been very good to me and has allowed me a kind of freedom to improvise that other companies tend to squelch. That being said, I don't appreciate having spent the last 7 years developing software that will never see the light of day! And I'm not alone."

Pepper finally looked over at him as this statement.

"Just saying," Hake said shrugging as the elevator arrived on his floor and he exited with a, "Have a nice day Miss Potts."

Pepper stared blankly at the elevator doors as they closed once again. She began to wonder how concerned she really needed to be. Of course, there was going to an adjustment period. They'd prepared for it. But this...

"Was it a threat?" she wondered as the elevator finally stopped on her floor. "I'll mention something to Adam and get his opinion on the guy."

She headed towards her desk still lost in thought.

"If it was a threat though, what about?" she mused. "What could he actually do? Twerp. Probably going through withdrawal from not seeing things go boom. Men, I swear."

Pepper scooped up the memos that had accumulated on her desk in the past two hours and walked into Tony's office.

"Silly, egotistical jerk," she muttered still thinking about Hake.

"Miss Potts," a smooth voice admonished. Pepper whirled around. "Now, I'm sure you're not referring to me. Because that wouldn't be very nice."

Tony watched her from his reclined position on the couch. He had a magazine face down on his chest and a very familiar smirk on his face.

"I wasn't actually referring to you," Pepper said wryly. "For once."

"Ooh, ouch!" Tony said eyes sparkling. "Is this your usual 'tude after one of those staff meetings? 'Cause if it is, I'm in favour of more. I like a spicy Pepper."

"''tude'?" she asked ignoring the pun.

"Just trying out some new lingo to shake things up," he said lazily. "I think it makes me appear young."

"Do you?" she said turning her attention back to the memos in her hand. "Good luck with that."

"Again! Ouch! Pepper Potts, what has gotten into you?" he said sitting up fully.

"Nothing," she reassured him with a little smile. "Just a long meeting. People are still a little thrown by the Iron Man thing and the change in priorities. They tend to vent their – suggestions."

"At you?" Tony asked.

She looked at him. "Was that concern I hear Mr Stark?" she asked with a small smile.

Tony turned back to his magazine. "Of course not. You're a big girl and I have every faith in your ability to shoot these naysayers down and make them cry like little girls. Anything I should be aware of?"

Pepper thought about Marcus Hake and almost told Tony about the comment, but instead said, "Not especially. How was your meeting?"

"Ohh, super," he said turning a page. "I must say it was very strange to have grown men panting at the chance to stare at my chest. Quite the ego boost really."

Pepper stifled a snort.

"Did you show it off to them?" she asked turning to his desk to sift through the mail.

"Nope," he said smugly. "I told them that I wasn't that sort of man and they had to buy me dinner first."

Tony smirked.

"I did unbutton my top button and loosen my tie though," he said. "I thought they were going to lunge across the table."

"Tease," Pepper said.

"Yeah," he said with a grin. He settled back on the couch with his magazine.

"Can I ask what has you so captivated over there?" she asked reading through the memo on the new policy regarding flex time.

"Oh, I picked it up off your desk," he said casually. Pepper turned around with wide eyes. "It was in a stack of things about me. Miss Potts if I didn't know any better I might think you were obsessed with me."

She finally caught sight of the title of the magazine and rolled her eyes. "PR sends me all of the articles that mention you in case I feel like sharing them with you. I get them constantly."

"And why have you never shared them with me before?" he scolded her.

"Like your ego needs to be fed," she retorted.

"What?" he said innocently. "There is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of self. And this is actually very educational. I'm learning all sorts of things about myself. For example, did you know that I have x-ray vision?"

Pepper shook her head and turned back to her memos determined to ignore him.

"But here's my personal favourite, it says that 'Anthony Stark's dulcet tones have swayed many a woman into his arms and why not ladies, in addition to his shiny metal suit he has the power to make even a grocery list sound sexy'," he read aloud. He lowered the magazine again and fixed his gaze on the slender back of his assistant and allowed his eyes to move over her form before snapping back up to the safety zone that was her upper back.

"Tell me Miss Potts," he said slowly. "Are my tones really that dulcet?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say Mr Stark," she said distractedly.

Tony frowned a little, sunk down into the couch a bit more and looked up at the ceiling.

"A sexy sounding grocery list," he murmured. "Is that actually possible? Mi-ilk. Brr-ead. Orange juice. Maybe if you draw out the –cce."

Pepper's phone rang. She set the papers down and picked up the phone.

"Pepper Potts," she answered.

"Egg-gs. No. Linnn-guii-nee. Hmm, that's not bad," continued on behind her.

"Oh, yes, hello! Thank you for calling me back," Pepper said. "I was looking over the warranty that came with the car and I was under the impression when it was purchased that the warranty was for five years. The one I received only says one year."

"Foie graaaas, pretty good, but not really practical. Do supermarkets even sell foie gras?" He was on a roll now.

"I understand that," Pepper said tersely. "But it really is imperative that the warranty is extended. The personal life of the owner shouldn't be a factor –"

"Saran wrap. Nah. Broc-coli. Pomm-egranates. Raspber-ries. Need an accent for that one."

"I don't agree. You were perfectly aware of the identity of the owner when the car was purchased and the contracts were signed, you cannot just alter the contracts –"


Pepper held a hand up to her forehead.

"Either you change the contract back to what it originally stated or we'll just have our team of attorneys stop in for a visit," she said. She paused listening to the answer. "Why thank you, yes, we would like the five year warranty. Thank you ever so much."

She hung up and turned around to look at the 13 year old lounging on the couch masquerading as a 30-something year old.

"I'm sorry Miss Potts, did I distract you?" he said grinning.

Pepper was torn between the urge to smack him and burst out laughing. The latter urge won. She smiled and shook her head helplessly.

"Are we done now?" Tony asked plaintively.

"Well, actually..." Pepper said looking at a stack of papers.

"Great!" he said jumping up and throwing the magazine of the couch. He sauntered over to her and leaned in. "We're having lunch with Rhodes."

Pepper frowned and looked at her watch.

"Tony, it's 2 o'clock!"

"I know, we're late," he said taking her arm and leading her out the door. "Very unprofessional of you to keep us waiting like that. Hopefully he hasn't resorted to chewing the tablecloth. Chop, chop Miss Potts. "

She allowed him to drag her down the hallway to the elevator.

"Tell me he hasn't been sitting around for two hours," she stated.

"Absolutely not," Tony said pressing the down button. "Probably more like one. One and a half."

Pepper crossed her arms and debated on the merits of reprimanding him. She could feel him grinning beside her. Her irritation at the overly long meeting and discontented staff began to melt away as she absorbed his apparently good mood.

"Oregano," she said.

"Pardon?" Tony said looking at her.

"I've always found the spice section of the grocery store rather interesting," she informed him.

The elevator arrived and she got on as soon as the doors opened. Tony followed her with narrowed eyes.

"The spice section," he said thoughtfully. Pepper hit the button for the garage and nodded.

"Well, Miss Potts, tell me," Tony began in low voice. "How do you feel about cardamom?"

The elevator doors closed.