Title: Dirty Little Secret: Prologue
Author: 4persephone
Rating: NC-7 eventually, right now probably Pg-13
Pairing: Tony/Pepper
Disclaimer: ironman is the property of Marvel entertainment, no compyright infringement is intended and I am earning no money from this effort.

Summary: "Because some things, Tony, have nothing to do with you."

A/N: Because other than Internal Combustion (which is taking forever) all my other work is tag team, and a girl needs to be occasionally not co-dependant. :-) Also read as, what I do when my writing part gets an actual life.

The first time that she did it, she was fairly certain that she was crazy.

The first time that she did it was in late October, the weather was mild and she was absolutely exhausted. Tony had flown three missions within two weeks and two of them had left him bloody. She had become his front line triage whenever he came home, which basically meant that she was stuck patching him up unless he passed out.

Whenever he did lose consciousness, she did what she really wanted to do. Namely, she called up Tony's personal physician and let him come and do a complete check over and set of precautionary blood draws.

This, of course, made Tony furious - which led to screaming matches where he promised to fire her or she promised to quit, depending on who was closer to their emotional breaking point at the time.

Neither ever happened, but it did lead to lengthy silences. Worse than that she started developing insomnia and bludgeoning stress migraines that left her nearly incapacitated.

That was why she'd finally cashed in her 'inappropriate' birthday present...

"They're...entertainers, Pepper." Her friend Marcia had explained with clear embaressment. "Sort of like the male equivalent of Geisha." She'd passed her over a plain white envelope. "Of course they... if you do decide you want their… non-massage based services… you just tell them that when they come and pay for it in cash since they want to keep it completely off of the books."

Her friend had blushed then. "Don;t worry though- that's only a small part of how they stay in business. Their standard rub downs are awesome, Pepper...they do facials and pedicures, and let's face it, sometimes it's just nice to see an attractive male form and not have to give a damn if your breathe smells clean or your legs are properly shaved." The woman had gestured to the envelope Pepper was staring at blankly, "Just promise to try the massage at least one time, because you barely get out at all anymore, and let's be honest, how often does anyone look after you, instead of vice versa…?"

Pepper had smiled and tucked the card away, even as she'd sworn to herself that she was never ever going to use it.

Marcia was a little odd sometimes, but Pepper had never doubted that her heart was in the right place.

She hadn't counted on the October that followed, though, and she most certainly hadn't counted on Brian. She hadn't counted on waking up one Friday morning with a lingering headache and a back so tangled up in knots that it had taken all of her strength just to get up and out of her bed. She'd broken down because it had hurt to even think about moving any farther than absolutely necessary.

She'd called up Tony and called herself in sick for the rest of the weekend. Then she'd picked up the gift certificate still stuck with a magnet to the front of her refrigerator and decided that perhaps pathetic was only in the eye of the beholder. It was only a backrub after all...

She'd gotten a massage. But she'd gotten something more than that as well. She'd gotten a friend. She'd gotten Brian. She'd gotten a thirty something man at her doorway with a gentle smile and a teasing but dry sense of humor.

He'd taken off his shoes without having to be asked to and then he'd paused and admired her collection of antique books for a full five minutes - long enough for her to get over the awkwardness and start seeing him as more than a person who might occasionally earn part of his living in bed.

He'd showed her his massage therapist's license and asked exactly where she hurt, checking over her spine with a touch that felt remarkably careful.

Then he'd proceeded to do a full neck to toe massage down her back. Halfway through the process he'd whimsically informed her she had too many knots for a woman of her beauty and age, and he'd asked who exactly he needed to kill in retribution.

She'd laughed in spite of herself at the question, and allowed him to help her up off the floor.

"We're having a special," He'd informed her before he left her apartment that first night. "Two massages for the price of one until the end of the year. Think about it okay? Because your knots would be better off if they didn't have grandchildren.'"

It had taken four more sessions before he'd ended up in her bed. Three of which had consisted of him being a perfect gentleman and one during where he'd asked her who it was she was in love with almost off the top of his head. She'd turned her head and gaped at him, but he'd only shrugged his shoulders and dug harder into her lower back.

"There's a look some people get to them. Especially people in caretaking careers. The best word I know to describe it is long suffering futility. Sorry. I don't mean to pry, and I don't really expect an answer to be honest - It's just a little hard to miss that expression after you've seen it enough times on your own face in your bathroom mirror."

There'd been no judgement in the statement, just amused resignation.

Asking him to stay had been easier than she'd expected it would be, she'd simply turned over and run a cautious hand down his chest as she cocked her head. In a quiet voice she had asked him about his non-backrub rates. His smile had been easy and the price he'd replied with had been far less than she'd expected.

What had followed hadn't been perfect, and it hadn't been mind blowing, but it had also cost her no dignity and she'd finally remembered what it meant to feel more than just tired and overstressed within the confines of her own body.

When Tony had flirted with her at work the following Monday, she'd found herself actually smiling back at him genuinely, which had earned her a truly delighted smirk in response.

And she'd realized that maybe Marcia had been right after all. Everyone needs to be pampered now and then.

She and Brian met once twice a month after that. She never lost sight of the fact she was paying him, and he never changed his mannerisms, whether he was in her bed or outside of it. She'd tipped him generously when he made her laugh and he'd treated her like an old friend.

Most of their meetings started with them drinking tea and discussing politics. They always ended, if she wasn't too tired, with her seeing him to the front door of her townhouse.

Brian was a fairly talented writer who was considering going back to college. He had incredibly strong thumbs and he could make her come so hard it felt like her brain had melted, and yet he demanded nothing of her but her pleasure and an equal share of dignity.

The fact that he could also occasionally make her eyes roll back into her head was secondary to what he didn't do. He never called her Pepper and he didn't get shot at on a regular basis.

Instead he'd called her Ginny, because he claimed Virginia made him think of his mother's easter ham, and he admitted that some days his life felt a little bit boring.

Pepper had found that fact made her a little envious.

So seeing Brian became another aspect of her life: another part of just being Pepper. She was the woman who worked eighteen hours a day - who patched up her boss and tried to make him go to meetings, and who succeeded at both tasks about half of the time when she was really lucky. She got a massage to help her back once every two weeks and something more than that on the rare nights that the pressure in her chest surpassed the pain in her body.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't sweet. It was a comfort for her body though, and she'd given up on any lasting comfort for her mind.

It was harmless. It allowed her to cope.

She'd never dreamed that it would ever be more than her slightly unbelievable secret, though. Perhaps because it was just so far outside what she'd believed herself capable of doing that it had felt like a long running dream. Perhaps it felt surreal because while it had been a lot of things in her mind, 'dirty' had never been on the list.

Brian was just too real and human for it to feel sordid. She'd paid very well to assure that they both maintained their sense of dignity and that she'd maintained the proper perspective.

Or so she thought, until the phone calls started. A voice concealed by a digital changer had stated that he or she knew what 'they' were doing and that he or she would inflict all kinds of harm on both of them if she didn't cut off all contact with 'that ungrateful little cheat'.

She'd called Brian to try and inform him of the situation. His number had been disconnected, though, and when she got home from work a day later her front window had been smashed in.

There'd been a note taped to one of the bricks, reading simply 'you were warned.'

The next morning all four of her tires had also been slashed. She knew at that exact moment that her carefully walled off space of refuge was crumbling.

She supposes that was the beginning of the end.

Still, duty had called, despite a growing sense of worry, so she'd called in late to work, intending to get her window patched and tires changed and then carry on as normally as possible. She figured she could always figure out what to do after she got home from the mansion that night.

She'd left for work immediately after the repairman had boarded things up. An hour later Anthony Stark received a call at the mansion that someone had taken a shot at Pepper Potts while she waited to have her care service in a Michelin Tire parking lot.

Pepper Potts ' dirty little secret' had become potentially deadly.