A/N: Hi everybody! Look at me, posting to . What is this crazy business?
Basically I've been posting most of my fic to LiveJournal for the past year (ish) and now I'm trying to catch up. So this is me, catching up.
Tony Stark calling, her cellphone screen cheerily informs her. She lifts the phone to her ear.
"None of my socks match."
"Mr. Stark I'm afraid that's not --" She holds the phone to her ear with one hand and rifles through her purse for her boarding pass with the other. Damn it.
"Not a single one of them Ms. Potts. They are, in fact, practically in direct competition. Stripes and spots! Plaid and patched! I think the reds and the pinks are about to start fighting. The other socks are all taking little sock bets."
What Pepper doesn't say is, "Tony you have no spotted socks, no plaid socks, I happen to know for a fact that if your socks ever needed patches you'd throw them away, and you would have to be both very drunk and very well-bribed to be caught dead in pink anything."
What she does say, smirking, is, "And who are you backing Mr. Stark?"
"I don't think you are fully appreciating the gravity of this situation Ms. Potts," Tony says. "With you gone, who will match up my socks? They're all so desperately alone. Wandering through this cold, cruel world, sans a similarly striped mate --"
"Folding your socks, in matching pairs or otherwise, isn't actually in my job description Mr. Stark," Pepper says, a real smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
"But I'm sure you could," he says. "If you were here. You're always so terrifyingly capable."
"Will that be all Mr. Stark?" She says.
"I suppose that will have to be all Ms. Potts," he says despairingly. She can hear the smile in his voice.
And so begins Pepper Potts' bereavement leave.
Her second cousin removed once, or twice, or maybe three times, had died. Her mom had called to tell her the news.
"Hello?" Pepper had said.
"I have to cook for seventy people this weekend," her mom had announced.
"Um," Pepper said, bemused. "Alright. Well --"
"And you're going to help," her mom continued. "Your second cousin, the one -- oh, you know, with the blond hair and the ridiculous accent -- he died. And I'm cooking for every single relative between us and a second cousin twice removed. You're helping."
So Pepper had gone downstairs and announced that she would be leaving for a long weekend.
"You're not actually supposed to have your phone on during the flight Mr. Stark," she says when she answers the phone.
There is silence for a half a second or so, and she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was planning to open with, "I haven't been able to contact you for eight hours Ms. Potts. You are utterly remiss in your duties."
"I'm a superhero," he says dismissively, bouncing back without a second thought. "That shouldn't apply to me. I should be able to reach you any time, day or night, car or plane or boat or...uh. Subterranean tunneling vehicle."
"The next time I go from Hawaii to Vermont via subterranean tunneling vehicle Mr. Stark, I'll be sure to leave my phone on."
"Damn straight you will," he says, "because if you're actually inside the subterranean tunneling vehicle -- how about STV Ms. Potts, let's abbreviate shall we? -- I'll have to rescue you from some creep called the Moleman. Seriously? What kind of a name is that for a villain? I mean that's not scary. That's like -- I think there was a guy on the old Saturday morning cartoons named Moleman. I sure as hell wasn't scared of him when I was eight -- Wile E. Coyote, he was terrifying -- but the Moleman? I bet he tripped a lot and inadvertently saved the day. Sounds like the type."
"Remind you of anyone?" She says, trying to process the fact that there's actually a Moleman. It's getting harder and harder to navigate a crowded airport and this conversation simultaneously.
"Oh haha," Tony says. "This is why I hired you you know. Your sterling wit."
"Yes, and I remain in your employ because you always take life or death matters so refreshingly lightly Mr. Stark."
"The Moleman is not a life or death matter Ms. Potts. He's -- come on, this guy's laughable. The Moleman. The Moleman! There's no way you can say that name that doesn't sound stupid."
"Tony," she says, hailing a taxi, "are you going through those files Nick Fury left you?"
He'd been refusing to do it for weeks and weeks, insisting that he had more important things to do.
"I'm bored," he says, reverting so quickly from Tony Stark, mocker of Molemen to whiny four year old that it makes her head spin.
"That's all it takes to make you do your work? Get you bored?"
He barrels on, paying her no mind. "There's nothing on TV but Friends reruns."
"That's never bothered you before," she says.
"But these are rerun reruns! Double reruns Ms. Potts. Reruns rerun. The rerunning of the reruns."
"Tony," she says, "you're acting like a child."
"Exactly. And who's here to, you know, put bandaids on my scraped knees and make my lunch? JARVIS won't cut the crusts off my sandwiches."
"I have to go to a funeral Mr. Stark," she says, and she knows he can hear her smiling. "Eat the crusts. They're good for you."
"Is that true?" He asks, but she's already hung up. Honestly, she has no idea.
"Thank God you're here Ginny," a frazzled aunt says at the door. Pepper is reminded instantly of why she doesn't come home much. She's 'Ginny' here. A little girl with flyaway red hair and big eyes who asked constant questions. That little girl couldn't figure out if a hotel room rented for a one night stand was tax deductible, or dodge six different questions at once (People, The USA Today, The New York Times, and three other reporters she was sure were there for the express purpose of making her life difficult), or bandage the wound from a bullet that had somehow miraculously gotten through supposedly bulletproof armor. Pepper doesn't want to be that little girl any more.
"Hello Aunt Laura," she says, smiling. "Where's mom?"
Mom is inside doing three different things at once. At least.
"Hi mom," Pepper says, retying the apron strings that are hanging loosely at her mother's waist.
"Pepper," her mom says, relieved. "Oh good. Cook me a ham."
Pepper does. She ends up cooking a ham, making stuffing (people always want stuffing, her mother says), and getting the rolls in the oven. She's at loose ends. She's very nearly bored. This isn't anywhere near enough to keep her busy, she realizes. She tries not to let that bother her. Just because she's used to a to-do list a mile long and Tony creating new tasks at a rate of at least four an hour doesn't mean -- well she isn't sure what it means. Or doesn't.
Her phone vibrates as she is helping Tom (she has no idea who Tom is, when it comes right down to it, but they must be related somehow) set up folding chairs for the service. It's going to be outdoors.
"I'll just be one minute," she says smoothly and ducks away to lean against the trunk of a tree.
"Did you know that a group of rattlesnakes is called a rumba?" Tony asks. Pepper blinks.
"I -- no I didn't Mr. Stark," she says.
"It's true. A group of giraffes is called a tower, a group of hippos is called a bloat, a group of jellyfish is called a smack --"
"You made that one up Mr. Stark," she says, her smile widening.
"Do you dare besmirch my honor Potts? I'll duel you."
"A group of crows is called a murder," she says hopefully, idly picking at the bark under her fingers.
"Everyone knows that one," he says. "You let me down Ms. Potts."
"I'm terribly sorry Mr. Stark," she says. She's very nearly surprised at how regretful she
sounds when she continues. "I should go. I'm helping --"
"You know this is really getting quite unsettling. You're supposed to help me," Tony says. Pepper glances unhappily over at the folding chairs.
"A group of owls is called a parliament," she says, and hangs up triumphantly before he can say anything.
"You know," the voicemail on her phone tells her the next morning, "I am beginning to suspect, Ms. Potts, that you are using this funeral as a vacation. What kind of a way is that to show proper respect for the dead? I am appalled."
She calls him back, fingers moving automatically over buttons, and hears a strange rushing noise when he answers.
"Hi Tony," she says. "Is this a bad time?"
She doesn't really know why she's calling exactly, except that it's only polite to return messages and, well, a funeral isn't the best place for good conversation. It's sad, that her second cousin twice removed died. But she met him once, when she was six. He pulled her hair and called her 'Gin-ee-uh" because he couldn't say her name. She sighs.
"Not at all. Perfect time -- perfect timing." The rushing noise gets louder for an instant, then drops down again to tolerable levels.
"Where are you?" She says.
"I'm, uh, I'm driving. Taking the new Mustang out for a spin."
"You're not supposed to talk on the phone while driving Mr. Stark," she says, suspicion creeping over her. "It's not safe."
"Safe schmafe. I'm a fabulous driver. Really fantastic. Best driver this side of --"
"Tony," she says, and she knows she sounds a little angry, "you shouldn't take calls from inside the suit."
She hangs up on him.
He calls her back that night, when she's curled up in the armchair talking to her mother. Everyone else is gone and she's taking this last day to catch up on anything and everything that's happened since Christmas.
"Hold on one sec mom," she says, "phone call."
She could ignore it. But what if he needs help, a little voice won't stop asking, and so she picks up the phone.
"I'm sorry," he says. He sounds distractingly sincere, and she doesn't interrupt. "I didn't mean to -- you know, I know the suit thing still kind of freaks you out. Or, more accurately, the whole 'flying around the world fighting crime in the suit' thing still kind of freaks you out. So. Uh. I won't do it again?"
She smiles, a little. She can't quite help it.
"I'll see you tomorrow Mr. Stark," she says. "Take care of yourself."
"How?" He says, whiny again. "Without your constant and stunningly good-looking presence --"
"If you don't stop that Mr. Stark," she says, "I'm going to give the phone to my mother."
"It's about time I met your mother Ms. Potts --" He says. She hangs up again. If it's possible to hang up on someone affectionately, she has the sneaking suspicion that she has just done it.
And that Tony knows it.
"You don't have to be at his beck and call always you know," her mother says reproachfully.
"It's not -- it's not like that mom," Pepper says. It is, in a way. But not the way everyone thinks. She smiles.
It'll be nice, she thinks, to get back to work.
o1. Yes, it really is a tower of giraffes, a bloat of hippos, a smack of jellyfish, a murder of crows, and a parliament of owls. I did not make those up. I did, however, have to learn it from mentalfloss, which is an incredible magazine.
o2. I have no idea where I got the idea that Pepper was from Vermont. I don't know where her dad was in this (dead? Bermuda? sleeping? I don't know). Just, uh...not around, apparently.
o3. Let me know what you thought? Pretty please, etc., etc.