Pepper Potts looked over the various stacks of papers on her desk, trying to remember where she had put the ones she was looking for. Of course, nothing was where it was supposed to be anymore because Tony had been poking around for something, which, of course, meant that everything was a mess. What he could have possibly been looking for was beyond her.
"Jarvis, what was Tony doing at my desk?"
"I believe he was looking for the latest shipping orders that he was supposed to sign, Miss Potts," answered Jarvis in his posh, British accent.
"Oh, you mean the ones I put on the piano for him?"
"I believe those are the correct ones, yes."
"Thank you, Jarvis."
"You're welcome, Miss Potts."
Pepper smiled and finished organizing the mess that Tony had made of her desk. It was probably a very good thing that she kept electronic and hard copies of everything that came through her hands for a good seven years before throwing it away, because no one was better than Tony at losing paperwork. Of course, that was her job: to keep Tony from losing paperwork. And to get him to meetings on time. And to make sure he knew what those meetings were about. And to make sure he ate…She was getting a headache just thinking about it, and yet, smiling at the same time.
Don't give in to despair, Pepper. It had recently become her mantra. The press was having a field day claiming the Tony was suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder, which only meant that they were all the more eager to try to set up interviews. And despite the fact that no matter how many statements they released telling the world that Tony was just as normal as he ever could be, no one would leave well enough alone. It made her despair over her job some days, hence the mantra. Of course, half the time she used it jokingly with Tony, who really did keep her from giving in to despair most days. Especially on days like today, when the press were everywhere, and she needed to get too much done to have time to deal with them. He managed to make her smile, and that was enough.
"Tony, I have some shipping orders I need you to sign before I head out," Pepper called, still halfway lost in thought as she walked her way across the house, heel clicking on the hard floor, to where the papers were resting, untouched, on the new baby grand. She proceeded down to Tony's workshop, to find him sitting at his workstation, tinkering with one of his many inventions. Tony glanced up at her, looking her over from the top of her red head down to the tips of her pointy-toed shoes. She was wearing one of her favorite burgundy suits with grey pinstripes. Tony was looking far less professional in dirty, grease stained jeans and a dark long sleeved shirt, also dirty and stained. Seeing that he was up to his elbows in grease, Pepper grabbed a baby wipe out of a container she had placed at his workstation earlier in the week. He quickly wiped his hands and started looking over the papers she handed him.
"Are those the shipping orders?" He asked.
"Yes, these would be the shipping orders," she responded calmly, and with a small smile.
"I'm never going to get through all of those. It's going to take ages."
"If you didn't put it off and put it off until is built up like this, it wouldn't be a problem. Now stop whining and sign the papers."
"I looked for them on your desk—"he began.
"Trust me, I noticed. They were on the piano—"
"Yeah…Oddly enough, right where I told you they would be," she said, smiling.
"You've checked on all the locations?"
"Of course. I've also checked the buyers and their known associates. They're all legitimate. All these are for the United States military. You've stopped any selling private companies or individuals, anyway, so there's less to actually check."
Tony smiled knowingly at her and began signing off on the papers. Pepper was surprised to find that he wasn't complaining from the very get go. He actually managed to hold off until he got halfway through the stack before doing any serious complaining.
"I'm going to get carpal tunnel from this, you know," he told her.
"You're not going to get carpal tunnel."
"Then I won't be able to work on my machines. The whole company will go under, and life as we know it will cease to ex—"
"Tony, that's enough."
"And we'll be out on the streets and I'll have no other option than to put a pistol in my mo—"
"Which would be quite devastating, indeed. The lesson that we learn from this is that we must not give in to despair, Tony," she said in mock seriousness. "If you spent half as much time actually signing these things as you do complaining about them, you'd be finished in no time."
That silenced him until he finally got to the one at the bottom of the pile. A confused look passed over his face as he scanned the paper, and then looked to his assistant to explain it. Pepper took the form, quickly scanned it, and realized what it was she was looking over.
"Those are the papers you that requested I have drawn up. It's power of attorney. It basically gives me the power to make medical decisions for you in the instance that you are unable to make them for yourself. I'm essentially your next of kin," she explained.
"Not this form. According to this form, I'm your next of kin."
"Oh. Well, I figured that as long as you were having these papers drawn up, I might as well, too. I have no one else, so you have power of attorney. I don't think that I'll ever have need of it, considering that you're going to get yourself blown up far before I do, but it never hurts to have it on file."
"Right." Tony quickly signed off on the form and then the one beneath it, which was the form she thought he'd been signing in the first place. He smiled and handed the papers back to her, and she tucked them under her arm before disappearing upstairs to her office, where she made copies and filed everything away. She checked her e-mail one last time before heading back downstairs. Tony noticed her presence immediately, and looked up at her and smiled.
"Back so soon? Couldn't stay away?"
"Hardly. I just wanted to let you know that I'm leaving for the night. I'll be back tomorrow morning by seven. Please don't forget that you have an eight-thirty meeting with the board tomorrow morning, so try not to stay up too late. And make sure you've read those briefs. I haven't wasted—"
"I will, Pepper. I promise. Have I ever let you down?" After a brief moment of considering all the times he had, he reconsidered. "On second thought, don't answer that."
She smiled at him. It was too warm a smile, and they both knew it. It was a smile that revealed more about their relationship than anything else in the world. It was a smile that told him that though they weren't lovers, they were more than friends. Tony took comfort in the smile, and the pins and needles that came with it. They were walking on pins and needles; they just hid it in the form of a dance. But Tony was okay with their dance, because it meant that perhaps she wasn't too far out of his reach.
"Just have them read. Otherwise, you'll bored out of your mind, I'm sure, and completely clueless. And I'll have wasted my time, which I cannot abide. I'll see you in the morning," she said as way of goodbye. She took one final glance back at Tony before opening the door and heading up the stairs. Tony glanced down at his project before dropping it and taking off after her.
"You could stay here for the night. It would keep you from having to get up so early," Tony suggested, his voice, oddly enough, innocent.
"As fine a plan as that may be, I left some of the paper work for tomorrow back at my apartment. Besides, I don't have any clean clothes here at the moment."
"You know we could always get them dry cleaned and pressed in time," he responded with a smirk that made her stomach quiver.
"Absolutely not," she responded playfully, but still killing the suggestion. But Tony was nothing if not persistent.
"Pepper, it wouldn't be like that—"
"I know," she said, not unkindly, and with a gentle smile. "Anything else you need before I go, Mr. Stark?"
He sighed, accepting defeat. "No, that will be all, Miss Potts."
She made it out the front door and down a few steps before realizing that she'd forgotten one thing. She quickly headed back inside for, hopefully, the last time.
"Tony!" She called upon her reentry.
"Yeah?" She followed the sound of his voice into the living room with a quick stop in the kitchen first, where she grabbed a plate of spaghetti out of the oven, where it had been keeping warm.
"Your dinner. Spaghetti. Please, for the love of all things holy, eat it," she said with a tired smile as she sat the plate atop the baby grand. Tony, who was perched on the piano bench, looking over some schematics, took the spaghetti and tore into it as if he hadn't eaten in days. Pepper knew for a fact that it had only been a matter of hours. She knew this because she fed him a sandwich earlier, promptly at five o'clock.
"This is good," Tony commented through a mouthful of spaghetti.
"Yes, it is."
"You could stay and have a plate with me," he said, trying to smoothly slip the dinner invite into conversation. Pepper rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Goodnight, Tony. I'm really leaving now."
With that, she walked out of the mansion for the last time that evening, got into her car, and pulled up the driveway. Tony, who had followed her, plate of spaghetti and all, to the foyer of the house, stood at a window and watched after her until her taillights were no longer visible at the end of the driveway. He stayed there for a few more minutes, lest she change her mind, before returning to the piano bench, where he read the briefs that she had oh-so-cautiously put together, before falling asleep with his head resting on the piano.