Sorry this took so long!

-x-

hold on, feeling like I'm heading for a

break down

and I don't know why

-x-

unwell. matchbox twenty

Pepper Potts stared unwaveringly at the small box on her bathroom counter. The box glared back. The words "Plan B" stayed stationary, even as her vision blurred from such intense staring. The box remained unopened.

Pepper's usually impassively arched brows—the kind that were sharp and angled perfectly to her face, arced enough to create an acceptably flat look that could stop Tony Stark in his trouble-making tracks—were currently knitted in pain as she leaned against the sink of her bathroom, looking at her dull reflection.

Her hair, which like her brows was always in an impartial clasp of curls or some other form of cold, distant relations that pinned them to the top of her head in a way that made her boss wonder just how wild and untamed she'd look with the fiery red of her hair falling on her face in restless tumbles, was instead falling out of its bun on the side of her head, limp and useless.

Pepper could hardly recognize the thin form in front of her, a lifeless still art of white washed paint in a white washed shirt, the only spray of color the brown freckles that dotted her nose.

She should have known herself better.

Virginia Potts was the girl in high school who had lived more then the small town that she had been born into. Wild hair, and the restless eyes of a kid of the back seat of a van the child of the sixties. She grew up in the same dull green tie-dye shirt from one of those side street marts and frayed shorts, summer sun beating her weather-weary shoulders into the freckles they were now, the Arizona heat an unhappy companion.

For gods sakes, she could change herself all she liked, twisted her malleable hair into the perfect ringlets that she recognized as herself, not the unruly tousle of tangled orange that danced around her face in the wind. She could change her clothes from hand me downs from the second hand store, bright colors, thin wrists colored with thread bracelets, jean skirts jean shorts the product of summer into the crisp business suits and white button downs.

She stared at herself, for the first time in so many years, looking more like the young girl with windy hair and cloudy eyes, a sea spray of freckles and lanky limbs, and not the shapely contours accented by black pencil skirts, hands poised with pens and shirt ironed.

Pepper could remember herself in high school—except for the fact that she certainly didn't want to.

There weren't many things she wanted to digress of her days as a teenager. Dazzling moments burning ephemeral like Indian summer in the back of her mind. There was nothing becoming of pimply brutes directing syrupy gazes to the hems of girl's skirts, crooning laughter and painted toe nails.

She could, however, remember her first purchase of any large sum of money.

The Honda Prelude she once owned was probably sitting in a dump somewhere, but she remembered it well.

The seats were worn leather that was always cool, even as the car baked in the Arizona sun. The air conditioner coolant was always leaking, always needing to be replaced, and for a while, the radio used to work fine as day until she accidentally snapped her antennae, and then it only got the news and a radio that only played the Chordettes.

On the back, a decorative amount of labels and stickers of the age had made their way onto the space around the license plate. Most of them something along the lines of, "Pro-Life" and clearly remembered herself as a conservative republican.

How could she convince herself that she could kill a child?

She couldn't even bring herself to open the god damn box.

It had been two days already. She knew enough from re-reading the back of the box to understand that after three days the effects would become ineffective.

"I'm so stupid."

She could have kicked herself if it wouldn't hurt so bad.

Her reflection pouted back at her, hands balled at her sides.

Actually, she could kick Tony Stark.

-x-

-x-

"She quit?"

At that very same fateful morning, one Tony Stark was blinking in a sheer vertigo which sent his already failing heart into a more fatal state , this one nearing cardiac arrest.

The new secretary narrowed his eyes. "No, sir. She's on leave."

"What?" Tony spat, looking away with a narrowed gaze. Eventually his attention was brought center to the quite buxom lady in front of him. "Did she give any reason?"

"No Mister Stark." Came the immediate reply.

After a couple moments, the blonde shifted around the papers clasped under her arms to find a small file, pulling out a couple papers with manicured hands.

"These are the official documents, if it helps. Technically her leave won't start until the next two months, but until then I'll be interning." Her perky nose shriveled as she took a look around. There was wonder in her eyes, a zealous kind that made him worried, but also bemusement as well as irritation. It may have something to do with his partially fried hair, the three quarters of his body doused in smelly car fluids, and the tattered pajama bottoms which, prior to this morning, were not-so-tattered. "To, I suppose, learn the ropes."

"Ah," He tucked the folder under his arm, smearing it in inky exhaust. "Well, then you'll have a lot to learn. First lesson," He pulled open the door as he turned around, a swagger in his walk and irritation set on his face. "Don't bother me, because I don't really care about you."

And he shut the door, the lock drilling into place as her face morphed into outright appalled embarrassment.

He quickly strode in and opened the documents.

-x-

-x-

Pepper supposed maybe she was getting ahead of herself. She counted the days of her cycle accordingly—or tried, really. She never really put much effort into remembering which days she had her period, and which days she was miraculously spotting free—and thought that, well, it was possible she wasn't pregnant.

Right?

But the thought of killing something—anything, that would eventually have more mental capacity then a mosquito on her leg—made her sick, and she mused that the Plan B would continue to sit on her bathroom sink, unused.

What a waste of fifty dollars.

Either way, she hadn't taken a pregnancy test, either, so everything was up in the air, and here she was, juggling it all, indecisive to the very last.

And anyway, the aching she felt was probably the last remains of the hangover ebbing away, and she probably looked like shit because, well, she was seriously moping around her house.

Maybe hiring a replacement was a bit overboard.

Apparently Tony thought so too.

"Hello?" She answered weakly, after grabbing for her phone.

"So this blonde chick kind of freaks me out."

Pepper sighed. "Clarice Walker?"

"Yes. She's terrible. Horrendous. If you don't come back I'll fire her. And make her cry."

"Are you threatening me?"

"No." A pause. "Yes."

"Tony, "She tried to reason. "I'm coming back."

"Really?" He sounded slightly appalled, and entirely skeptical. "Funny, she said something about taking leave after two months."

"Well, yes, I mean, she's got to be trained, you know. Handling you is like handling a behemoth—

"Thank you, I take that as a compliment."

"And, to be honest, I've really been thinking about taking a vacation. I've been really stressed lately, my doctor says my blood pressure is—

"Bullshit. You're next doctor's appointment is next month. You haven't been to him since last year, which, if I recall, was the exact day of the ATC meeting, so, in reality maybe two years?"

"Tony." She began flatly. "Stop interrupting."

"Sorry." He didn't sound it.

"Is it so bad that I want a vacation?" At this point, she was on her feet, looking entirely miffed. At first, she had been sort of guilty for lying to him, but at this point he just frustrated her to the point she was more angry then anything. "Think about it Tony. I've never had a vacation. I think its high time I took one, you know, all my friends are out spending their twenties like they're supposed to, and I'm really starting to think that maybe I'm not where I want to be for a twenty-five year old woman—

"Is this about that family thing?" Tony butted in, again, exasperatedly. "I didn't think you'd get so worked up about it—

"Tony." She was seething now. "Shut. Up."

He did, miraculously.

"I want vacation. You can't stop me, so stop arguing. I'm not going to be gone for forever," (liar, again, that cynical voice inputted. You were thinking of switching to another department and you know it.) "I'll be back in, like, a month. Or something like that."

"You're sure?"

Ah, the guilt eating away at her stomach. What a lovely feeling.

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Okay then."

And he hung up.

Maybe she should start making an actual plan.

-x-

-x-

The next week found Pepper at exactly in the same position as the last. With no answers, and no plan. Well, Plan B was out of the question. It still stood there, a waste of her money, unmoved and gathering dust on the side of her sink, next to the toothpaste. Luckily, Clarice was improving to the point that Tony didn't just flat out ignore her anymore, instead, he shucked his laundry and paperwork at her, a sure sign that the two would eventually get along.

Rhodey disagreed.

The two were at the corner café, the one that sold excellent bread and the best hot chocolate this side of LA.

"I heard you're hiring a replacement." He began tactfully, stirring his coffee.

Pepper nodded, more confused then ever. Here she sat, hair piled into a haphazard pony tail, in a comfy shirt and jeans, tattered kicks, and the only remnants of her life as Tony Stark's posh assistant were the classy sunglasses on top of her head.

"Not really. I just need someone…capable of handling Tony for a month." There was a whimsical, capricious smile quirking at her lips. The sun caught the rims of her glasses, and the stray hair falling into her eyes. "You know how he is."

"Unable to care for himself for longer then a week?" Rhodey raised his brows.

"Precisely."

"Tony likes to make things into a bigger deal then they are then, I suppose." He took a sip, before blanching. Too strong.

Pepper wondered if she should take the bait. The both of them knew that, if anything, Tony was a minimalist and liked to pretend things weren't as bad as they seem. In the end, she decided to. "Well, he might be closer then he thinks." She conceded slowly, unable to keep eye contact and instead watched the street traffic.

Rhodey looked up at her, as if that was the answer he was expecting all along.

"I'm thinking of getting a transfer."

"What happened with you two?" Came his immediate rebuke. "I mean, Tony's a handful, but you're always on top of it, Pepper. I might be prying, but, what could Tony possible have done that he hasn't already topped with something worse?"

The redhead only shrugged, rubbing tiredly at the freckles beneath her eyes.

"I suppose it's your decision." He decided upon finally with a sigh. "But I just don't want you two to end without it being for a real purpose. Call me selfish, but I don't want to deal with Tony without you Pepper. He's so reckless now, imagine him without you to knock sense into him."

Pepper smiled thinly. "Don't talk like that, Rhodey. He's got a brain, even if he doesn't really like to use it for anything but crazy super science stuff."

"I guess." The colonel grinned. "I'm just gonna miss you, Pep."

"Don't!" She grinned back. "I'm not getting wiped off of the planet or anything, I'll still be around. And anyway, nothing's set in stone yet, okay?"

She wanted to convince herself with those words, too.