Title: Seeing Red
Theme: #41, Fire, for the Tony/Pepper 100 Theme Challenge
Length: 2,000 words. One-shot fic.
Summary: Pepper wears red, and Tony takes notice.
Self-discipline had never been one of his strong points. When he worked ceaselessly in his basement for days at a time, it wasn't out of self-discipline – there was simply nowhere else he'd rather be, and nothing else he'd rather be doing. His focus had been clear. Sharp. Absolute.
But today, he could think of several places he'd rather be, first and foremost of which was located just up a flight of stairs and to the left, in the office of one bewitchingly attired assistant. Breaking with a longstanding tradition of chromatic neutrality, she'd worn red. Not too much; Ms. Potts wouldn't think that appropriate for work. There was just a hint of it, in the form of a silk scarf wrapped elegantly around her neck. It was tied so that the ends tapered off an inch or so above her décolletage, territory that was usually safely (if regrettably) buttoned up, away from appraising eyes. Not that he'd been looking.
Oh hell, he was Tony Stark. Of course he'd been looking.
He had stared unabashedly as she briskly delivered his morning coffee, the corners of the scarf fluttering lightly, shimmering red and gold and a thousand shades in between. The bright garment had drawn his eyes first, but from there they wandered along the graceful lines of her neck, then the delicate angles of her jaw, until they came to rest on her full, red lower lip. Mesmerized, he watched her mouth move while disjointed fantasies bombarded him. Holding that pouting bottom lip between his teeth, applying the slightest bit of pressure – feeling it brush against his earlobe as she whispered that he was all that she had and all that she wanted – seeing it form half of a perfect 'o' as she let out a delighted gasp –
"Mr. Stark? You seem a little dazed. Should I add another shot of espresso?"
Tony had blinked, then shaken his head. He had never felt more awake in his life. His body had been practically humming with energy, and his right foot had begun twitching in an attempt to alleviate the pressure.
He had been exceptionally glad he was sitting down.
Now, two hours later, he was sitting in the same position she had left him, with no progress in his latest project and no hope in sight. He simply could not focus. Or rather, he couldn't focus on anything that wasn't upstairs sorting through his e-mails right now, probably sipping a latte, licking her lips to savor every last bit of the steamy foam –
He slammed his fist on the console. This was not working.
The mild throbbing in his hand suddenly gave him an idea. He remembered a little meditation technique Yinsen had taught him to distract him from the pain and allow him to stay on task.
He picked up an idle piece of paper – was this the receipt for the Jackson Pollack? Oh well, Pepper wouldn't miss it – held the bottom two corners together between his fingers, set one of the top corners aflame with his lighter, and allowed Yinsen's words to wash over him.
Light a fire. Look into the flame. Focus on the flame. Let all thoughts outside the flame turn to ash and fall away. There is only the flame. There is only the flame.
"There is only the flame. There is only the flame. There is only the..."
As he observed the flame slowly consuming the piece of paper, the flickering reds and golds and thousands of shades in between devouring the downy white page, he saw the fluttering red scarf on Pepper's fair skin.
In his mind's eye, the scarf fell away and revealed the exquisitely designed masterpiece that was her neck. Her throat had always driven him absolutely wild. The little hollow at the base of it, where the column intersected with her collarbone, seemed the perfect enclave to nuzzle. He imagined that if he grazed the shallow indentation with his mouth, he would feel rather than hear her moan, and the vibrations would reverberate through his entire nervous system before hitting his groin with all the subtlety of a sonic boom. Of course, if his lips were occupied with her neck, it would stand to reason that one of his legs would be between hers, and that her thigh would be pressing against the inside of his, and the result would be the most delicious friction as she shifted to give Tony better access to her throat. And her shifting would paralyze him because it just felt too fantastic, but her little groan of disappointment would bring him back to life with even greater fervor, and as they stripped each other down and felt the scintillating sensation of skin on skin, their friction would generate so much heat that his body wouldn't know how to cope, and he would be shaking, burning up in the bonfire of red scarves and red lips and red hair that was Pepper Potts.
He was dimly aware that this was not what he was meant to be focusing on, but it felt too good to try to remember what he should be thinking about, and much too good to stop. The flame at the top of the paper, as if detecting his inattention, leapt from the page onto his fingertips. He jumped off the stool in surprise.
"Fuck!" He released the receipt, or what was left of it, and put the burned digits in his mouth. The paper floated harmlessly to the ground, where its smoking remnants were mercilessly attacked by an overzealous fire extinguisher. Tony took his fingers out of his mouth and shook his hand at the wrist, glaring at the automaton.
"Oh, now you want help? Where were you when there was a fire?"
"Upstairs sorting through your e-mail, Mr. Stark."
He spun around to find Ms. Potts standing behind him, first aid kit in hand. How had she known?
She seemed to anticipate the question. "JARVIS informed me that you might require some assistance," she explained, watching with a deliberately blank expression as he continued flailing his wrist in the air. "Practicing your jazz hands, sir?"
He immediately stopped waving his hand and thrust it in her direction. "Just fix me up, will you?"
His ears pricked up at a whirring noise, and he turned just in time to be too late. The safety robot released the contents of its fire extinguisher onto the injured arm and thoroughly coated the limb in white. It beeped proudly at a job well done.
"Not you. Her." Tony ground out between clenched teeth.
Whining dejectedly, the android rolled away to sulk. Ms. Potts hid a smile as she settled gracefully into the chair and placed the first aid kit on the console.
"I think you hurt its feelings."
Tony shrugged, affecting a look of carelessness. "I couldn't let it usurp my favorite nurse, now could I?" He grinned wolfishly. "Will you be performing a full examination? Because I think the burn may have spread all over."
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Stark." She paused briefly. "You might consider taking your sweatshirt off, just so I can have it cleaned."
"Why Ms. Potts, are you asking me to strip? I never thought you'd abuse your power as doting nursemaid." He quirked his lips. "I like it."
He pulled the sweatshirt over his head and handed it to her, revealing a black wife-beater and his glowing arc reactor. She folded it and placed it on the console next to the first aid kit, then turned back to clean his burns with rubbing alcohol. He didn't think that all this fuss was entirely necessary, but when she leaned in to examine his fingers and her knee brushed against his, he wasn't complaining.
Suddenly, she sat up and sniffed the air.
"Do I detect a faint odor of... burned receipt?"
How did she always know?
He shrugged again, and for the moment she didn't press for an answer. Instead, she applied ointment to his fingers, one by one. Tony felt a little jolt as each hypersensitive pad made contact with her hand, her fingers massaging the ointment into the burns. It stung him and soothed him at the same time. He felt a pleasant shiver and hid it with a cough.
As she concentrated on his hand, he took the opportunity to study her. The red scarf, as before, drew his eyes first. Upon closer inspection, he could see why the flame had reminded him so much of the seemingly innocuous accessory. The scarf wasn't just the simple red and gold he'd thought. The pattern was exquisite; vibrant orange and gold vines snaked through the deep crimson background, giving it the depth and complexity of a flickering flame.
His study of her appearance ended all too quickly, before he'd even had time to fully take in the way she was biting her bottom lip. He had wanted to memorize it so that, in the privacy of his room, he could replay it in glorious high-definition detail as he... was apt to do, but she was finished. When she moved to let go of his hand, he caught hers. She raised her head and looked up at him, surprised.
"Haven't you forgotten something?" His voice sounded deeper than usual.
She began massaging his hand again, but didn't break eye contact. What could she have forgotten?
"Aren't you going to kiss and make them better?"
She halted her ministrations, and for a moment she looked at his hand as if she were considering it. Tony watched her intensely, waiting impassively. But the moment passed and she shook her head, managing to convey all the dismissal of rolling her eyes without the flippancy of actually doing so. Instead, she packed away the kit and tucked the sweatshirt under her arm. As she stood up to leave, she paused.
"You never did say why you burned the Jackson Pollack receipt. Would you like for me to return the painting?" She allowed herself a small smile. "Or was that just a little bout of pyromania?"
He deadpanned. "Ms. Potts, pyromania is a serious disorder affecting literally dozens of teenage boys across the country. Don't be so glib."
She straightened up and wiped the smile off her face, affecting a look of diligence. "Of course, Mr. Stark. Forgive me, I'd thought I was working for a thirty-five year old CEO with more self-restraint than an adolescent. My mistake."
"What on earth gave you the idea I had any kind of self-restraint?"
"Certainly not the open bottle of scotch hiding behind the cabinet." She knew about that, too?
"It is not hiding. It's a bottle of scotch, it has no will of its own. It's hidden."
"I see the SAT prep course is finally paying off. Shall I call the other boys over for a study session, or do you think they'll just peer pressure you into lighting your books on fire?
"Ouch, Ms. Potts. That burned."
"Then you shouldn't play with fire. Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"
He nodded his head once, and she turned on her heel – her bright red high heel – to leave. His eyes followed her legs as she brusquely walked to the staircase, her tall red pumps clicking invitingly against the cool gray floor.
Red heels, too?
Had she no mercy?
Red scarf. Red lips. Red hair. Red shoes. Pepper Potts was going to be the end of him, and God help him, he couldn't think of a better way to go.
He swallowed hard and held his breath until she was out of earshot. Once he was sure she was gone, he let it out, muttering to himself.
"I shouldn't play with fire? Then what the hell am I going to do with you?"
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