"But I could fire you if that would take the edge off."
He'd fired Pepper once, years ago, on a whim more than anything else, like much of his life back then. She hadn't quite insinuated herself into every aspect of his life then, and he wasn't completely dependent on her. Yet.
She had always been pushy though, right from when he'd hired her, and at the beginning that's why he'd hired her but it had rubbed him up the wrong way after a while. He didn't like his women pushy unless he could sleep with them. He liked his women complaint and naked mostly. And he couldn't sleep with Pepper. He had wanted to, but he couldn't.
She hadn't taken it lightly. He'd thought she was going to slap him, a lot of women did and he had even flinched in anticipation, had turned his cheek ever so slightly to take it but she'd placed her hands on her hips, clutching hard and had said, "You can't be serious?"
"Very serious Ms. Potts, you're gone."
"You, you can't do this to me."
"I. Can do whatever. I like. And that. Is to fire you."
He'd sounded even more like an asshole than usual, and while he didn't spend a lot of time regretting his old ways, his old days, he did regret this. It was one of his most stupid mistakes, and he was a genius after all.
"For what reason?"
She had started going red, getting angry, and while he'd seen it before, had it directed at him before, back then even, he had wondered if the stinging words she usually put her anger into would change into something a little more base. He had wondered if she was going to finally break her composure, something he had seen since.
"You keep forgetting exactly who the boss is," he'd said, making it up as he went along, "I'm reminding you, by firing you."
"You are serious."
"Plus," he'd said, and this was the part he'd hated the most, "you're letting yourself go, and giving me too much work."
She'd been gobsmacked at first, quite rightly so, mouth hanging open while she processed his words, looking down at her body, which he had always considered perfect.
She had been given such a raise after this, and a car, and flowers, shoes, a bigger office, hell, a one point he was sure he'd offered her an entire building at Stark Industries to herself if she wanted it, when he'd finally realised that actually, she was the best P.A he'd had since, since he turned twenty-one and took over the reigns.
"You can't fire me, Mr. Stark, based on my legs," she'd said quietly, "or the fact that I am trying to run your entire company, but still need your authorisation to do so."
She was right, but back then, he was still a playboy billionaire, whose money had gotten him everything he wanted, and had gotten rid of everything he wanted.
Except Pepper Potts. Money couldn't buy her, or remove her.
In the end that's what had convinced him he was an idiot, at least when it came to Pepper. In the two weeks she had been gone, his office had become a forest of paperwork, and his liver and dick had almost packed in.
In getting her back, he'd offered her the world and she'd taken none of it, it had taken him a week to figure out exactly what would get her back to work, back to him. An apology. Him actually saying sorry to her.
He never apologised. He had people to do it for him. Hell, he had Pepper do it for him. Cards, and flowers, and money, those were his apologies. Cars. Cars always went down well.
Pepper didn't want a car, and she didn't want him on his knees, she just wanted him to say sorry.
And to mean it.
And he did, he really did, and standing in the doorway to her apartment, saying sorry, waiting for her to reply, to accept, forgive, whatever, had been like having his arc reactor ripped from his body. Or at least that's how he remembered it, it was different now. Every mistake he'd made with Pepper over the years felt a million times worse now he had a conscience.
Again, he'd worried that she might slap him, but had held his head still, ready to take whatever she had to offer, wondering if he'd been wrong about this, about apologising, that maybe it was about money and he'd just not offered her enough.
Her acceptance had come though, a smile, and to say she'd see him on Monday.
The raise, flowers, shoes, the car had come afterwards, a continued apology, in thanks, a perk, a necessity, however she wanted to see it. She accepted it all then, worn the shoes, driven the car, moved apartment, arranged the flowers in her new office. And again it had left him wondering about Pepper, and what she really wanted, if she wanted humiliation and money.
He'd worried about that for a long time, too long a time, and he was ashamed now, that he'd thought that about her, about Pepper Potts, when he knew now that all she had ever really wanted from him was honesty. He offered it to so few.
Now he knew, that if he screwed up again, even honesty probably wouldn't cut it. He'd probably have to offer her his first born.
Which was one of his better ideas.