Title: Badass

Author: ZionAngel

Rating: PG-13

Length: 1855 words

Summary: How the hell did he never notice this side of Pepper Potts before?

WARNING: Based on speculation about Iron Man 2. Spoilerphobes, stay out!

AN: Writerly woes suck. Apparently writing fic that's been sitting in your head for months is a good way to make yourself feel a little better.

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Tony folds a piece of magazine paper twice and then three times, then carefully wedging it between the stack of books and the rim of the particle accelerator. He really should have planned this better. Particle accelerators have to be perfectly level to function properly, and that's kind of hard to do when you haphazardly build it yourself and try to prop it up with chairs, books, and spare parts. Nonetheless, he keeps at it, adding a piece of cardboard here, a folded paper there, until Jarvis' scans tell him it's sufficiently level to run another round of tests.

Confident that it won't fall over - for now at least - he returns to his desk and starts inputting data into the computer. He hammers out equations for several minutes, immersing himself in the work. He hears Jarvis say something in the background, though he doesn't quite catch it. But the AI doesn't repeat himself, so it must not be that important.

A minute or two later, he hears muffled footsteps through the glass wall, and a code being punched into the keypad just before the door opens. Perfect timing - he needs another round of espresso to jump start his brain after seven straight hours of work, and now he doesn't have to worry about getting it himself.

"Natasha, could you get -" But then he hears the first sharp iclack/i against the black shine of the garage floor. He knows that sound before the second repetition reaches his ears. He looks up, knows the black patent pumps, the slender, smooth legs that stomp towards him furiously, the sway of familiar hips beneath a grey dress, and by the third footfall, when his eyes reach her face, royally ipissed/i as he's never seen before, he knows the shit is about to hit the fan.

"You better have a damn good explanation, Stark."

He gapes at her in shock, having never heard such a vile edge to her voice before. "I - what?"

The next thing he knows she's looming tall above him, menacing with fierce, angered blue eyes, and fingers clenching white over her own hips as she glares down at him. "Do you think your responsibilities went flying out the window with your little stunt at the Senate hearing? Did you think you gave yourself free reign to spend all day locked up down here doing whatever you damn well please?"

His mind reels, trying to play catch-up. "Pep, wha-"

"You may not be the CEO anymore," she barks, bowling right over him, "but you still have a ijob/i to do and obligations to fulfill and imeetings/i to attend, whether it damn well pleases you or not!"

A vague memory floats through his head, of Natasha coming down to the shop, muttering something or other between taking his empty coffee mug and replacing it with a small cup of espresso. That was about ten minutes before he ordered Jarvis to send all non-emergency calls straight to voicemail. "Oh... I, uh -"

"We had an agreement, Tony: I take over for you and you ifulfill the minimal obligations you're left with/i and stick to simple little commitments ilike showing up/i at the office at 2:30!"

"Miss Potts, I tried to remind Mr. Stark of the meeting, but he -"

"Shut up, Jarvis!" she barks, shooting a quick glare to the ceiling. "You have anything to say for yourself, Stark?"

"I'm sorry, Pep, I -" He swallows hard, desperate to avert his eyes from the searing burn of hers, but it's like she's sucked him into some sort of trance and he can't look away. "Well, look, I was working, see? And I was fixing the glitches with the particle -"

"And exactly what progress have you made? What miraculous breakthrough have you made in the last four hours that might ipossibly/i excuse your absence from the Stark Expo investors' meeting?" She folds her arms, and he's quite sure she's debating whether the spike of her stiletto should go into his kneecap, or a little farther north. "Are you the ileast/i bit further along than you were at 1:30 this afternoon, when you were supposed to leave for the meeting?"

He opens his mouth, but after three awkward, humiliating seconds, it wibbles closed. Because... yeah, she's right, actually. He hasn't made any ireal/i progress in the last several hours, and he knew when he got up this morning that it was going to be a long day of hard work for very minimal visible results. He wants to tell her that that's just where he is at this point in the project, those tiny, difficult yet crucial adjustments to the device - but within a fraction of a second his genius mind actually does him some good, and tells him to just keep his damn mouth closed.

Pepper, however, seems just as dissatisfied with silence as she might with a pathetic answer. She leans down, propping her hands on either armrest, leaning in dangerously close and pinning him in with her presence and her sharp eyes. Much like she did at the senate hearing a couple weeks ago.... Although he's pretty sure her Don't-Fuck-With-Me face wasn't nearly as terrifying then as it is not six inches in front of him right now.

"You are still a paid employee of this company, Stark, and as such you have responsibilities to fulfill, and so help me, you better start fulfilling them. You think I rode your ass about doing your job when I was your assistant? Take a wild fucking guess what I'll do as your iboss/i."

Huh. Shit. She iis/i his boss now. He never thought of that part.

"I'm not tolerating any more excuses from you, Tony. If you're not on a mission, you better damn well show up when and where you're supposed to. If not, go ahead and let that big egg head of yours venture a guess as to what I'll do. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

He doesn't dare take a breath, lest she deem it wasteful. He fights through terror to nod, one little time. And all the while, he keeps staring at her helplessly, utterly and truly shocked at what she's doing.

"Good."

She pushes up from the chair, sending it a few inches back on its wheels, and turns on that lethal stiletto heel, painted Devil-Red on the bottom, and storms out of the workshop. He can do little more than stand there, staring incredulously at the spot where she stood not seconds before, struggling to figure out what the fuck just happened.

Slowly, he regains the slightest bit of control over his muscles, and turns to stare at the stairwell beyond the glass wall, even though he knows she's long gone. One gear, then another, slowly starts to turn in his head, working out the new rules of this alternate dimension into which he has apparently been thrust.

In the past, all those years as his assistant, she essentially ibecame/i him when he was not around. She took on all of his authority to do just about anything short of signing contracts for especially important decisions. She had the power to tell just about anyone, from the Janitors to the VP of the company, what to do, she could give reports and presentations that were supposed to be in his hands, she could go anywhere, do anything, gather anything that she needed, speak on his behalf - almost anything. And she was certainly always competent and strong in that arena, if not much more - but there was always something not quite right about it. There was always a certain... timidity to her actions, something held back, like she was always huddling beneath the shadow cast by the fact that she wasn't iactually/i the boss. Like she was always painfully aware that she was not ireally/i in charge, and always toed the fence lest she cross some arbitrary line into the land of impropriety. And Pepper was nothing if not devoted to propriety.

He always thought she feared the power she held in his absence, or rather, feared what repercussions might fall on her if she were to abuse it. But now, here in this basement where he very nearly got his brains seared to a crisp with her glare, all of that has been turned upside down, sideways and inside-out. Now, all of a sudden, she seems to have really come into her own, embraced her power and the strength she has in wielding it, and she's somehow... blossomed. Looking back over the last few weeks, he sees the pattern, the changes in her as she finally takes charge. The burden of always being subordinate, even when she as high above everyone around her, has vanished. He once thought she was iafraid/i of her strength, too timid to take charge, but now he sees that she was consciously, deliberately reining it in, holding it back intentionally so she would not do something deemed inappropriate.

He's never seen this side of her before. She's turned into some sort of... into this... the only word he can think of for it is ibadass/i. And that little side of her that he loved before is now a thousand times more obvious, staring him in the face and putting him in his place, standing close enough to see each shade of blue in her eyes and smell the crisp scent of citrus in her hair.

How the ifuck/i did he not notice this before?

Damn. He's been looking at Natasha these last weeks, attracted to her strength and domineering quality, something he always liked. But now, after this little episode of The Twilight Zone a moment ago, Natasha can't hold a candle to Pepper. Especially considering that his affection for the latter is far older and runs far deeper than they do for that of the newcomer.

Not to mention, Pepper is igood/i at being in charge. If she could whip him into shape before, he has no doubt she'll be cracking the whip on him with nothing short of carnal ferocity from now on. And to be honest, he certainly wouldn't mind it.

Maybe if he were to skip another fairly important meeting, she might come back, give him a piece of her mind. Punish him. Severely. And since she's not shackled to propriety anymore, maybe she'd shackle him up while she punished him. In leather. Black leather. With a tight corset, with her breasts trussed all the way up to -

"Sir?"

"What?!" he jumps, nearly knocking himself out of his chair. "I wasn't - um - I mean I was just - what?"

"Miss Potts yelled at me, Sir." The AI sounds positively forlorn. "Miss Potts has never yelled at me before..."

Tony rolls his eyes, shaking his head in a vain attempt to clear the images. Even though he knows they're pretty much seared into his mind's eye for the next century or so.

As far as he's concerned, Pepper can come over and yell at whoever she damn well pleases any time she wants.