Author's Note: sometimes you meet someone who's right for you in every way. Sometimes you exchange e-mails with that person, sometimes you IM that person…and sometimes you end up writing a story with that person and blaming its existence on them.
You can probably tell that I'm not talking about Tony and Pepper...and that I'm being just a little dramatic. No…this is a force far more powerful than T/P…or at least it's a force powered by T/P. 4persephone and I have joined forces (in order to take over the world) to bring you a new fic. No matter what she might say at a later date, she started it. Just remember that. ;)
A general rule of thumb while reading this is that 4persephone is writing the bits from Tony's point of view and I'm writing from Pepper's, though we exchange story bits so often this really is a collaborative effort. (I will take some blame for all this, but I didn't start it. I wonder how many times I can get away with saying that. ;P )
Disclaimer: if I owned Iron Man or anyone associated with it, I'd probably still write fanfic, but then it wouldn't be fanfic. It'd be canon. Lucky for the Iron Man 'verse I'm on the outside looking in. Credit Stan Lee, Universal, Marvel, and whoever else for intellectual property. Credit Jon Favreau, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, et al for bringing them to life.
There are things about her now that escaped his attention before. They're mostly details he never bothered to notice because he gets too focused. He knows it can be a weakness; a kind of myopic Achilles heel that springs up out of his natural arrogance and what he knows is his tendency to rush into things. He remembers as a boy, working on a particularly complicated algorithm with his father. It took him only half an hour to solve, but two hours to prove, much to his nine year old frustration. Howard Stark, with all the wisdom of his age had only smiled and gently whapped him upside the head when he'd tried to storm out of the room. Then he'd tossed his son a piece of chalk and gestured to their basement's ancient chalkboard. "Sometimes you have to step back and see how it all works together, Anthony. Start with the biggest possible picture, and work down until the details start to make sense."
The same principle is applying to his life these days as well, though the blackboard's getting bigger.
She's much more complicated than he ever imagined, and he's beginning to realize that this pleases him. It's a bit like discovering an unopened box in a dusty corner of your attic, and taking the time to sift through its contents. Of course he's never in all his life been able to see Pepper as anything but immaculate, so the dustiness doesn't apply so much as the idea she's in some ways hiding all her good bits...
He's never realized until lately just how much of herself she conceals. He's always assumed her frank nature and temper meant you got what you saw, but he's becoming aware that she has much deeper layers. With every day he's becoming less and less fooled by the mask and more aware of the woman that lies somewhere beneath it.
She's kind of like string theory, endlessly intricate, yet somehow more than can be contained completely in mathematical language. Some days he can predict her all the way down to the thing she'll order for lunch, and other days he can't contain her at all.
She tends to be prim, but she is not particularly proper. A person who couldn't survive in his kind chaos would never have been able to rein him in, in the almost effortless way that she does on a daily basis. Her perfectly tailored suits and high heeled shoes are a kind of uniform she puts on every morning before she climbs down into the trenches beside him. She's a redhead with a redheaded temper, though she keeps her anger on a leash so short, he sometimes surprised that it hasn't chewed off her ankles like some kind of mutt.
Of course when her anger does erupt it's far less like a Chihuahua than it is a Great Dane, but he likes it when she shows her claws.
Virginia Potts is methodical, patient and organized. She has an almost photographic memory, and an amazing ability to absorb and put together a minutia of details. What he does with numbers she does with faces, places and dates - he's never seen her forget a name. He's seen her meet a man at a party and talk with his for exactly seven minutes, then use that same contact a full ten months later to locate a shipment of supplies everyone else says can't be found.
She plays the world of business like Stradivarius played his violin, and the result of her kind of music is pretty much the same. She is irreplaceable and he stopped denying it years ago.
He hired Pepper because he liked the way her makeup couldn't hide all of her freckles. He kept her on because he realized almost as an aftershock that she might just be the best thing he's ever stumbled over professionally. He loves making her pick out all of the personalized gifts he mails out at Christmas because until recently her exquisite taste and tendency to be unconventional always increased the number of times he got laid exponentially.
She could be far more than his PA if she wanted to, though he tries not to think about it much. Instead he contents himself with making her his de facto right arm and paying her obscenely large bonuses when she's not around to try and stop him. He's the one who bought her the car, her house, and though she threw a royal fit when she found out, a good ten percent of stock in the company she helps to run. She's more wealthy now that half the board members, not that anyone would know it. She dresses in conservative midline clothes that only he knows enough to realize are usually hand tailored. She loves good food, amazing wine and shoes that cost more than Happy's entire monthly salary.
Pepper at her most basic is refreshingly easy to understand. She loves order and she loves doing good for people: her favorite part of her job is the all functions she gets to organize for charity. Her eye for art is exquisite though she tends to have less tolerance for the Avant Garde than him. She's too much a classicalist to have much patience for what she deems to be superficiality.
'Of course that's less than half of the list.' She has a mind like a steel bear trap when it comes to remembering his promises and she rarely has to raise her voice to get her point across. When she does lose her temper it's always spectacular, and it's almost always directed at him.
She has more passion in her than she fully knows what to do with, and sometimes the sight of her trying to keep herself from ripping him to shreds in the most erotic thing he's ever seen. Pepper Potts is a lot of things, and very few of them don't appeal to his baser sense of carnality.
He wonders sometimes how it took him so long to realize it, why it threw him for such a loop that first night he saw her at the party. He also wonders if she might have been deliberately trying to throw him off her scent with her conservative suits and neatly pulled back hair hairstyles. She's certainly never worn a dress like that or let her hair free when she knows he's going to be attending the same party.
She's scared of him, he knows, or scared of whatever it is that burns between them. He's not sure why, but he's beginning to have his suspicions, and he's growing tired of waiting. Pepper Potts is a current battle zone between fear and want, and after years of denial, he's beginning to think that want may have pulled into the lead.
He's never seen a woman more ready for sex; hell she's three thrusts away from orgasm. She'd deny it of course, but he can read the signs and read the truth of it in the look she can't quite keep out of her eyes and the lingering tension in her body. She may be the biggest sensualist he's ever encountered, and pretending otherwise doesn't change the facts, it will only serve to make the explosion more memorable.
She thinks she's fooling him, and she may even think she's fooling herself, but one of these days she's going to break and he intends to be there when it happens, because unlike her, he doesn't overthink the obvious.
He knows she loves him and he's pretty damn sure it's mutual. She may be able to watch him sleep with other women, but he has no intention of allowing her the same kind of courtesy.
She's got a nipple piercing, and he knows it because he's seen it. Well not seen it exactly, but seen the shadow of it under the line of her workout shirt on the days she uses the weight room that is down in his basement. Today it's hot enough she's taken off her black cotton suit coat, and he can see the slight outline of the metal loop through a thin cotton shirt that is sticking to her skin when she comes in from her second batch of morning meetings.
It's been god awful hot the last week at a minimum, and she's starting to wilt. Her condo is in the middle of a renovation that has the AC turned temporarily off, and yet she refuses to get a hotel room.
He wants to take her and submerge her in a giant tub of ice just to see the melt off cool her face and run in ribbons down her skin.
She has freckles everywhere, including on the back of her neck. That patch of skin has a tendency to goose bump and become shudder sensitive whenever she pulls her hair up. It is up today and he has to clench his fists and shove his hands into his pockets to resist the temptation to take the mug of lemonade he's made and press it against that long expanse of skin.
If he touches her now something unrecoverable is going to happen, so instead he settles for watching her from a distance as she settles in at her desk.
He doesn't miss her restlessness or the way she squirms in her seat when she settles. The unconscious quiver makes him instantly, irretrievably breathless. Her cell phone rings and she picks it up with a slightly strained hello, before sighing heavily and leaning back in her seat.
"No...you didn't call too early. The meetings ended half an hour ago, and I should make it out of here on time. No, I'm not sick...just hot, tired and cranky. Sometimes really wish I could just reform all my ethical standards about murder." She shakes her head at something the other person says, "No, I definitely don't want to cancel tonight. Same time as always, Taylor - I'll met you down at the club. Be prepared for serious trolling..." There's a moment of silence then before she exhales, reaching back to unleash her hair. Red spills like a river across the curve of her shoulders. "All I can say is wear comfortable shoes, and bring extra money for a taxi. I may not end up going back to my house tonight."
'Like hell.' Rings the statement like a bell in his head. He goes down the basement to close up the shop without ever telling her he was watching. Tonight, Anthony Stark is going to resume an old habit known as clubbing.
He's been abstinent six months, and he's not as good at it as she is. If she's getting laid, he's sure as hell coming along for the ride.
He figures out where she's going by tapping the TomTom in her car. Not that it is really necessary, Pepper is distracted for the rest of the work day and prone to the unthinking babbling he associates with her being under pressure. It's subtle, of course - she flips a digit on one note she's taking then notices and quickly corrects herself. She keeps letting her eyes drift out to the cliff-side view, and her fingers tap edgily on the surface of her desk.
The third time he catches her eyes straying to the clock he takes a small kind of pity.
"I believe, I'm going to spend the next three hours surfing, Pepper. Why don't you take the rest of the day off and go yell at the idiots who I assume still haven't fixed your air conditioning..."
He uses the number of seconds she takes to agree as a judge of how bad off she is. The fact she nods before he's even finished speaking is all that he really needs to know.
He stands there as she gathers things in her purse and sets the last pile of files back in her drawer, wondering if she realizes just how poorly she's managed to hide her shaking.
Curiosity overwhelms him just as she's about to leave, and he can't resist reaching out to catch her by her arm. The eyes she lifts to meet his are wide and a little dilated. "Are you all right, Pepper?" He tries to keep his tone innocent, but there's a subtle purr in his base register that makes her shudder as she looks at her skin firmly encased by his.
His eyes are intense. "I know the board is full of idiots, but today you just seem really uneasy. Is there anything I can do to help?"
She flushes from her chest to her hairline and carefully extracts her hand. "I'm fine, Mr. Stark just a little...off...I guess. It's mostly the weather."
"Overheated, Potts?" He can't entirely keep the innuendo from his voice, but then again, she's learned to expect nothing less from him, and she's heard much worse. Her blush is high but her chin goes up just a little and she manages to give him a look that would make any school teacher proud.
"If that will be all, Mr. Stark, I've got to go." She extracts her hand from his with an insistent tug and all but flees from the room. He waits until her car has pulled out of the garage to go and shower.
He's not sure exactly what type of club she's heading for, but he's reasonably certain it doesn't matter. He settles for a black pair of smooth leather pants that can be fancy or rogue depending what he puts on top of them, and a dark clean cut shirt. He has a pair of boots in the back of his closest he seldom wears. They're a little informal for most establishments that he frequents, but tonight he plays an inexplicable hunch.
When Jarvis pulls up the location of her car two hours later he's totally surprised, and yet not surprised at all. Serendipity is a club he very seldom frequents, though not because of the food. It's just too out far his normal traveling circles, and he doesn't like to bring his better cars out here. The security in the neighborhood isn't bad per say, but the population also isn't as used to the sight of a Mercedes Benz here as they are in other places.
Serendipity is actually an old renovated brick warehouse on the corner of the cross street in the downtown. It's kind of rugged on the outside, jus like the stylized base beat that the bands play within. He never would have imagined Pepper Potts frequenting a Alternative/Goth club, but maybe like him, she's just really fond of their chicken wings.
He's glad he dressed down and glad for the pants and the boots. The security guard at the door gives him a single raised eyebrow when he asks for his ID, but otherwise says absolutely nothing. The band's music hits him like a wave as he steps through the door, and he can feel his pulse thrumming. Serendipity is full tonight, packed to the gills. There are so many people he had to push through the crowd just to get to the bar top, where he appropriates himself a stool and orders himself a appetizer platter.
He sees the bottles stacked up on the shelf behind the server and decides to forgo whiskey in favor of a mug of what's on tap. The stuff here isn't refined enough for his tastes, and he can smell already how much he's going to want the barbeque wings.
The food comes back impressively fast and he tips the girl generously. He watches her eyes go wide as he hands her enough rent money to see her through for what he imagines for her is at least two months. "Thank you, Sir...can I get you anything else?" He wonders why it feels so strange to see someone genuinely grateful for a simple act of kindness as he lifts the tray and goes upstairs to find a place where he can watch her come in.
He knows she's been here awhile or he wouldn't have been able to locate her. Still once he gets up in the loft area above the dance floor he has no trouble spotting her. She's down by the band at a table in the corner, and what she's wearing tonight is something he's sure he's never seen her in before.
Pepper doesn't like to wear colors. Or rather she doesn't wear them to work. Her entire work wardrobe is grey, black or dark blue, which tends to tone down the rest of her coloring. True, the contrast the darker shades play out in opposition to her skin has always been different, but this is another type of eye opening entirely.
She's wearing a dress that flows in sheets from her bust line to an uneven hem, and though it's black as well, there are deep splashes of color. Her breasts are barely encased in an almost emerald green fabric that hides the nipple ring even less than her white shirt did. Her hair is a riot of curls that she otherwise must spend hours squashing down into some semblance of order.
She stands up from the table after drinking the last of whatever is in her glass, and his nostrils flare as the back reveals more skin than even California could consider decent or legal.
She looks phenomenal. She looks like a billion bucks. She looks like she's a queen among her minions, and he is getting hard just watching her walk to the bar. He hasn't known until this moment that she had a dress like that, he hadn't known virtually anything apparently. He'd seen other women in this kind of outfit. He'd always tried to avoid them. For one thing that much skin should have made her look like a hooker instead of so damn inapproachable.
Or maybe not inapproachable, he realized in alarm as he watched the several dozen men at the counter turn to watch her cross the dance floor. He needed to get down there, and he needed to get down there now before she accepted a drink or a dance. Otherwise some guy was going to get punched and he was going to get locked in jail for the rest of the evening.
He takes the stairs two at a time, all but bowling through a pack of people at the bottom. This causes enough commotion that she turns from the bartender to see what's causing the noise, just in time to see him push through the crowd. Her eyes widen and her jaw drops as she sees him standing reach the bottom step with his hands on his hips and the first two buttons of his shirt unfastened.
He freezes in place when she sees him, and rakes his eyes down the length of her body, then clenches his jaw and tries to decide what in hell he's supposed to say, since he didn't think it out before he came down the stairs.
He comes up with nothing but the words 'I want you' and even he's not that suicidal, so he stands there, and simply keeps on looking.
He stares and he stares, than he finds himself smirking. She stares right back until her nipples tighten under the fabric of her dress, and her posture shifts backward just a little. They remained locked there in shock and astonishment for several seconds before she gives in and says his name. The sound of it comes out on an astonished whimper.
Then she frowns, and he knows without a doubt that she's either going to break within the next hour, or she is going to intentionally kill him.
"Anthony Stark." Somebody says from behind him. He frowns and turns around to see a man approaching him from behind...well more of a boy actually, not that he cares. The kid might well have a chest to envy and enough jewelry in his face to make him look thirty, but there was a time Tony had grown the sharp goatee on the younger man's face for the very same reason.
The kid was probably a manager, or some kind of DJ. Judging by the look of shocked rapture on his face, he was also absolutely ecstatic to see him. 'Fuck it.' Some dark voice spoke in his head. "Sorry no. Though I've been told that I look a great deal like him." Across the room he saw Pepper blink and his lips curl in a smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get over there and shake off the leeches from my girlfriend."
Then he blows right by the idiot and comes to stand in front of her with nerves that are burning and singing.
She sees him coming and all she can do is go into lockdown mode before he can reach her. In her head, Pepper puts on her armor - below the knee skirt, button up white shirt, suit jacket. In her head, Pepper has her hair twisted behind her so that it can't distract her or anyone around her. In her head, Pepper tries desperately not to notice how good Tony Stark looks as he comes to stand in front of her. She does not notice the tendons in his neck or the sheen of sweat in the hollow between them. She does not notice the predatory ease of his walk. She absolutely, for the love of god, does not notice the way his eyes slide down her body, hit the floor, then bounce up along the same path.
"Mr. Stark." She ignores the way his eyes flare at her deliberate use of his title. Fine! So she's not in a business suit and he's dressed in a pair of leather pants that make her want to grab his ass and pull his body into hers, but that's not the point. The point is not that she'd been panting over him all day. The point is that she'd been panting over him all day while knowing she'd never, ever, ever do anything about it.
"Have I ever told you how much I love it when you use pet names?"
He's so...and his eyes…and his voice… And Pepper can swear that her back teeth hurt from the swell of lust that rises inside of her with ferocious strength. She rides it down like the experienced veteran she is, but she's well aware that every time she has to, the journey gets a little longer and a little rougher. This particular effort after a long day of waiting him out and then mentally preparing herself for this evening leaves her trembling. Her shoulders are tight, and her thighs are clenched, and in the constantly changing light she swears he can see all of it.
And that he likes what he sees.
This time he doesn't ask if she wants to dance. He doesn't give her the opportunity to refuse what she doesn't have a choice about in the first place. He most definitely doesn't do anything so proper as to take one of her hands in his. No, both of his hands go immediately for her waist, pulling her up against him. Not too close. No, she knows he's not that stupid. But his hands are strong and he moves her hips with the music even though she's staring him down through narrowed eyes, shooting him a look that should have had him reclaiming his hands and his wits from wherever he'd checked them.
"What are you doing?" she hisses. She can't speak any louder than that; doesn't want him to hear the lust choking her.
"Pretending I'm not Tony Stark," he answers immediately, innocently, as if his hands aren't kneading the small of her back. As if the inside of his thigh isn't brushing against the outside of hers as he moves them further into the crowd of dancers in front of the stage. The presence of so many bodies forces them closer together without his maneuvering. "That is what you wanted, isn't it?"
"What?" She jerks her head back, can't control the shock moving over her features. How did he know?
He raises one eyebrow in mock admonishment. "Come now, Potts. We both know you wouldn't be caught dead with me." His smile – dangerous, edged – said, 'We both know you're dying to be caught by me.'
The band changes songs. A deep bass thrum fills the room, fills the hollow places of her chest so that soon even her heartbeat is overwhelmed by it. Dark…moody…matching the thrum of blood through her veins until she's aware of little more than the beat and Tony's mouth right by her ear. He inhales and his chest brushes against hers. "Allow me to make an executive decision…"
'If it involves you, me, and a flat surface, the answer is yes.'
She damns him as she closes her eyes tightly and prepares to ride the swell down again, to force it back down if necessary. It isn't Tony's fault he has the worst timing in the world, she tries to remind herself. He always has, always will. And just because he's dancing with her now doesn't mean she can't still slip away and find some other man to take her raging need for Tony Stark out on.
"…but I've just amended the dress code for casual Fridays."
'I agree on the condition that you wear those pants and nothing else.'
She turns her face towards him, just the slightest bit. "I think that's possibly the worst idea you've ever had."
His chuckle rumbles low in his throat. It's the sound of satisfied male. "No, it's not." He's close enough that she can smell his breath: Peppermint and barbecue sauce. Not a trace of alcohol. "Want to know what the worst idea I've ever had was?"
Pepper nods mutely, her mind still considering all the implications of her boss dancing with her while not the least bit intoxicated. Of there being nothing to blame for the heat dancing between them but raw attraction and her oversexed body.
"My worst idea," he murmurs so that only she can hear him, and that just barely, "was deciding I shouldn't lock us both in your office this afternoon so I could find out what you taste like."
'Ughn…' Pepper's mouth drops open in helpless response when he presses his mouth to the skin below her ear and her eyelids drop like she wants his pants to.
"My worst idea," he whispers against her skin, "was not telling you how much I fucking missed you the moment I stepped off that plane." He's talking faster now, the way he always does when he's so wrapped up in a project that little else in the world exists but him and the focus of his attention. Every word makes his lips brush against her, and each brush makes her spine quiver like a tree in the wind. "My worst idea was sending you to Stark Industries to find information on Obadiah instead of pulling you over the desk and into my lap so I could find out how very hot you are here." His lips close over her earlobe as his thigh presses between hers.
Helpless to stop herself, Pepper slides her leg behind his and pushes against him. "Damn it," she hisses before she presses her mouth against his shoulder so that her shuddering moan doesn't reach any farther than the two of them.