I don 't own them, it or, well, much of anything.

I am so happy to have the best support group any fanfic writer could ever ask for - miss steph and the ever-amazing women of Writers Anonymous.

I'm assuming that it took Tony about two months to build Iron Man after he returned from Afghanistan – which puts The Benefit about five months after Pepper's birthday. If I'm wrong, let me know.

~*~Natal Day by outtabreath~*~

Part One of Two: Office

There was a jar of green olives with a red and gold bow perched atop the lid sitting on her desk when Virginia Potts, Chief Executive Officer of Stark Industries, arrived at work on her birthday.

She was around her desk and setting down her purse and a pile of contracts before she noticed it – all clear and silver and green and red and gold with Greek lettering.

There was no card signed with a scrawling name; no note written in barely legible, spiky script; no smarmy autographed headshot signed "Keep Flying! Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man."

There didn't need to be.

"Idiot," she muttered, because only Tony would wait seven months to apologize; only Tony would choose to finally remember her birthday for the first time in fifteen years this way.

"Idiot," she said louder, because he wasn't the only one, obviously, because she was still standing and staring at the thing like it was the new Manolo Blahnik black patent leather Mary Janes (only $645 at Neiman Marcus) he should've bought her.

His behavior was to be expected – he was, after all, Tony Stark; hers was not – she was, after all, Pepper Potts.

"Idiot," she said fondly - and she meant it of both of them because they were, truly – and the last of her ire bled out as she stared at the bow that appeared to be made out of thin metal sheets, crafted and painted by hand.

She slid into her desk chair still staring at the gift; it sparkled back at her it all of its olivey glory. She poked it and it tipped slightly and then she was smiling because, damn it all, it was working.

And, right on cue, her Blackberry began bleating at her - "Iron Man", of course – and anticipation percolated in her chest like fireworks fueled by an arc reactor.

She finally looked away from the olives and answered. "Tony, I told you stop fiddling around with my phone. I don't like Black Sabbath."

"Don't be ridiculous, who doesn't like Black Sabbath, Potts?" he parried back. "Where are you and what are you wearing? And please describe your outfit slowly and with lots of adjectives."

"I'm at work, Stark," she said briskly, stacking papers, logging into her SI account, and ignoring the second half of his question, even with the olives inches away from her busy fingers; instead, she asked, "And what are you doing up at 8 AM on a Wednesday?"

"I get up early every morning, Pepper."

"Being still up doesn't count, Tony."

"I got eight hours of sleep last night."

She snorted, her eyes drawn irresistibly back to the jar.

"Fine, seven – but I'm a changed man, why won't you admit that?" he asked then continued without waiting for her answer. "Now that we've established that I'm awake at eight in the morning, might I remind you that it's your birthday."

"I know that," she said, trying to focus on her inbox but failing miserably, the Greek olives calling to her like some ancient Siren.

"Why are you at work?" he asked, as if he really didn't know, even though she knew better.

"Because I am the Chief Executive Officer of a multinational corporation, remember?"

"Yeah, the CEO of my corporation and I say you shouldn't have to work on your birthday."

She finally picked up the jar; it was heavy and cool in her hand – she weighed it in her hands like possibilities – things she'd imagined but never dreamed.

"Potts?" he wheedled. "Are you even listening to me?"

"I always listen to you, Tony," she said, peering closely at the olives – they were huge and green and her mouth began to water.

"If only that were true. Where are you now?"

"Still at my desk." She traced the intricate Greek lettering with her fingertips and wondered what it said - it was as incomprehensible to her as the man she was speaking to used to be.

"What? Why? I just told you that you didn't need to work on your birthday."

She set the present back on her desk and glanced at her inbox and thought about her calendar and found herself barely caring; and yet, still, she said, "I have lots to do today, Tony."

"You have lots to do every day, Pepper. Bag, leave, play hooky. Come to the beach with me."

"You can't go to the beach," she said even as she pushed down the image of him in swim trunks that slid dangerously down his hips as he jogged towards her across shifting sand.

"I'll wear a shirt. And so should you – that skin of yours burns likes crazy."

"Yet another in a long list of reasons why we can't go to the beach today."

"Fine, come to the house and we'll swim in the pool. That'd be better anyway," he said, starting to speed through his words like he always did when he was warming to an idea. "I could go shirtless and you could wear a tiny little bikini that you'd never wear in public. I could rub SPF 85 all over you…."

"You don't have SPF 85," she said, refusing to think about him putting his hands all over her body.

"I stocked up yesterday."

And, just like that, Pepper Potts knew that she wasn't going to be spending the day in meetings and reviewing spreadsheets.

For once.

She picked at the label with the Greek words on it with a fingernail and tried to remember when she'd last gotten a pedicure because, irrationally, she wanted her toes to look decent by the pool; "You did no such thing," she said as she realized her toes were going to be the last thing he looked at – even though she was in no way and most definitely not going to wear a bikini of any size.

She would, however, not protest a whit if he chose to wear swim trunks that rode dangerously low.

"Well, I sent Happy to the drugstore for it – it's not like I could go to CVS, Potts. I'd start a riot. It'd be like an Axe commercial – and I have a dozen bottles sitting beside the pool just waiting for you."

"You've never seen an Axe commercial, Tony," she said, because when it came to Tony, it was always best to deal with one impossible thing at a time.

"They play them all the time on The Speed Channel. Besides, I own Unilever."

"You don't own Unilever," she sighed and started to mentally write her apologies for cancelling meetings at the last minute.

"Maybe I should. Could you imagine how many bottles of Axe I'd sell? I can see the ad campaign now – you ripping the suit and my clothes off in slow motion."

"Ripping your head off would be more likely," she corrected, starting to type a memo to her assistant: Due to unforeseen circumstances related to the superhero who used to be our boss and still bears the name of our company…

"But the clothes thing will be much more fun. Where are you now?"

"Sitting at my desk and working;" she kept typing: I regretfully will be unable to keep the meetings scheduled for today…

"God, you just can't take direction, can you? Leave! Flee! Come over here! I won't even make you call me Iron Man."

"I never call you Iron Man," she pointed out as she kept typing – so please reschedule them. Further, I will be unable to answer email or phone calls for the….

"But you could if you wanted to. Listen to me: Step away from the computer and get over here. I'll make you all the dirty martinis you want."

She continued typing - remainder of the day – and waited.

"Potts? Are you still there?"

"I was waiting for you to say 'emphasis on the dirty;'" her fingers flew: Please triage and address anything urgent. I will be available at 8 A.M. tomorrow.

"Am I allowed to say that?" He sounded exceedingly delighted.

"No," she said, pressing send and turning her monitor off. "Why olives, Tony?"

There was a moment of rushing silence before he answered, "What were you hoping for? A pair of Iron Man underwear worn by the Iron Man himself?"

"No. Shoes, Tony. Always get me shoes."

"Shoes would've been good, too," he said musingly. "Something architecturally impossible that make your legs look like…" he drifted off for a moment.

"Vivier, Prada, Blahnik," she prompted.

"The gift that keeps on giving."

"Exactly," she said, "and with so many options you choose to give me Greek olives."

"Expensive Greek olives that are practically impossible to find in the States," he said quickly. "I had to go to Greece to get 'em for you."

"When did you go to Greece?" she demanded, her heart stuttering; she stopped in the process of rising and sank back into her chair.

"Irrelevant," he said, taking a deep breath to continue.

"No, not irrelevant," she said in the breach. "I need to know where you are and what you're up to at all times."

"Pepper," he said in a silky voice.

"You are the public face and name of this company," she continued firmly, her fingernails beating a tattoo against the desk and panic beating in her veins – she hated that she didn't know his every move anymore .

"Oh, that," he sighed.

"Yes, that," she said.

"Okay, I didn't actually fly the suit to Greece to buy you olives for your birthday because that would've been stupid. I sent Rhodey in the jet."

"No, you didn't," she said, hoping she was right. The thought of the PR fallout alone made her woozy.

"God! Fine! Why do you need to know everything? I ordered away for them. On the Internet. At the library. The public library. Nothing owned by Stark Industries or Anthony Stark was utilized in procuring those olives for you."

"Thank you," she said – even though she knew he was lying and, therefore, was still mentally wording memos to the Board on how Stark resources would never never again be used for personal business.

"Good. Are you in the car on your way over here yet?"

"No," she said, even as she stood and grabbed up her purse and the olives. She left the contracts.

"I'll put the suit on and fly over there to get you, I swear, Potts. Jarvis! Ready the 'bots!"

He must've been holding the phone away from his body, because she could hear Jarvis' response. "Immediately, Sir, with all haste."

"Leave Jarvis alone, Tony," she said, ever mindful of how it was to be ordered around by Tony Stark.

"Only if you stop working and take your birthday off before that lovely skin of yours breaks out from the stress."

"My skin never breaks out," she said, closing her door behind her and walking through empty and quiet corridors. "And if you wanted me to take today off – if you were so sure that I would take today off - why did you send my present to the office?"

"Belay that order, Jarvis – I think she's coming to her senses," he shouted - she couldn't hear Jarvis' response, but she hoped that he defended her in some small measure – then Tony was back and focusing on her while sounding horribly wounded. "I didn't send it. I delivered it myself. I walked into your office and put it on your desk with my own two hands."

"How did you find my office?"

"It's next to mine."

"How did you find yours?"

"I have been there before, Miss Potts."


"Six times," he said, sounding far more affronted than he had any right to.

"So, back to my earlier question."

"Because I knew you'd go to work because you're, well, you."

"I just want to go on the record that you're sending me some seriously mixed signals, Tony," she said, meaning it in two distinct ways.

There was a long pause, then his voice, "I would've thought the signals were pretty clear, Pepper."

She smiled and knew without a doubt she was making the right decision. "I'm not wearing a bathing suit and I won't drink martinis until at least noon, Tony. Make sure to have breakfast ready for me – real pancakes and real bacon. And coffee. With lots of cream and sugar," she said briskly – like she used to when she was his assistant and he had things to do - then she turned her phone off and headed for her car.