Disclaimer: if I owned Iron Man or anyone associated with it, I'd probably still write fanfic, but then it wouldn't be fanfic. It'd be canon. Lucky for the Iron Man 'verse I'm on the outside looking in. Credit Stan Lee, Universal, Marvel, and whoever else for intellectual property. Credit Jon Favreau, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, et al for bringing them to life.

A/N: Okay, I already know that some of you have read this. This is a story co-written between myself and 4persephone that she originally posted through her profile. However, during one of the times that this site was doing maintenance and upgrades, that file got corrupted – missing sections of text, strange formatting, etc. She deleted that story along with a few others until she had time to review and edit them. Needless to say, my 4persephone doesn't have a whole lot of free time. However, I have all our original files, and so am posting them under my profile.

For those of you who've never read these fics, please enjoy.

He doesn't know it before it happens, hell probably never even consciously processes the fact of it after it does, but the truth is he'll always be indebted – unrepayably indebted – to the secretaries of floor six, section B. That isn't something that they'll ever know though, because to this day none of them even know that he was there. They didn't know that the meeting below had run over by two hours. Didn't realize that Tony Stark was ready to scream with boredom at the endless, droning constant bullshit.

He wasn't there to hear their gossip. He was there looking for one damn cup of billionaire level standard coffee. That he stumbled into their office was a complete accident of chance. Well, okay, maybe not chance. This was the office his PA had once worked in, and he remembered her mentioning once that there was a woman she'd worked with who took her Columbian roast seriously enough that she bought it from a wholesale co-op, did her own grinding and kept her beans in the freezer.

It was the promise of that that got him into this office. The promise of five minutes without harping or whining or mindless banality.

If he also stalked headfirst into the overheard conversation that was going to change his life, well, he hadn't realized it at the time. He had plausible deniability.

"I'm telling you, Beth, they're sleeping together. I don't care if I didn't work here back when she worked in the office, that's not the point. She stops by here almost time they come to this building for board meetings, and I'm the one who brought them lunch. It was totally all over their body language…"

"What is it you think you saw?" another voice asks patiently. He can't see either of the speakers, just the thin strip of light that's pouring out of one of the back office doors.

"He picked up her cup and held the straw to her lips, Beth. No way in hell she's just his secretary."

The other woman – who sounds older – seems almost put upon. "You're reading too many Harlequin novels and watching too much daytime TV, Jordon. She was probably just thirsty and her hands were full or something…did you consider that?"

Tony was too busy looking for coffee to do more than pity the poor bastard they were discussing. In today's workplace people read into every situation until all they saw was sex. It was a shame, really. He'd done pretty much the same thing for Pepper earlier. Her voice had been all raspy and her hands had been full…

"There's no way Pepper Potts is just Tony Stark's secretary."

Tony actually felt his neck twinge as his head turned towards the door. 'What?'

Inside the lighted room the voices continued. One was full of chirpish and utterly annoying vigor, the other was more patient.

"I repeat again...you're reading too much into things. Pepper and Mr. Stark are not having sex."

He made a mental note to find out who that voice belonged to and give her a very large raise.

"What? Do you have their places bugged?"

"No...but I've been here fifteen years, and I'm friendly with a ton of people including all but one of her ex-boyfriends. From what I understand she's not once, in ten whole years, ever put out."

"You're kidding." The voice is skeptical. "She's almost thirty, Beth... What are you implying here?"

"I'm dead serious, Jordon. As far as anyone at the office is concerned, Pepper Potts is a virgin."

Tony Stark left the sixth floor break room with his head spinning. The first thing he did was go to find Pepper. She was talking with a colleague, but she must have noticed him come in because her eyes met his for a split second and she sent him a small smile before returning to her conversation.

'Naaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Can't be…' he told himself as he entered the conference room, sneaking a peek at her as he walked by. "Nah."

It was the height of impropriety for a man to wonder about the sexual state of one of his employees, but then Tony Stark had never been terribly proper. Two days after overhearing that conversation he was starting to lose his mind because all he could think was 'was she' or 'wasn't she?' He'd never paid such close attention to Pepper before, never listened so closely to her words. As a result he was sure he was picking up on innuendos and double entendres that weren't there…but what if they were? It was a puzzle that he couldn't solve without getting himself slapped with a sexual harassment charge, which meant it was theoretically unsolvable.

Which meant that he couldn't put it aside, naturally. Even while she was briefing him about the contract he was signing he couldn't help but wonder…

"Stop it." Her voice cut into his deranged thoughts.

"Stop what?"

"I'm going to strangle you if you don't stop looking at me like I've got a second head."

"It's nothing..."

"Then it should be easy to stop. Sign here." She's leaning against the edge of his desk and slightly bent over so she can point to where his signature needs to go. "And here." She bends over a little further and it's all he can do to keep his hands to himself. Really, is it his fault that he wants to see how she'd react to his hand on her –

"Mr. Stark?"

"It's nothing," he says again.

"Oh god, the last time you said those words so emphatically I was doing clean up with the press for two days."

He makes himself meet her eyes and wonders why he's the one blushing. There is something very wrong with situation....

"I...um, I'll be in the work room. Have a good rest of the...er...of the day."

"Tony Stark. Are you running away from me?"

She better believe he was, and he had no shame about it. He'd gotten used to errant erections ever since he got back from Afghanistan, but this fantasy life of his was a whole new level of self flagellation since that day in the office.

He thought about it…about her all the time. It was making him loony.

"Alright. I'll bite. What the hell is wrong with you?" She's sitting on the desk now, knees crossed, hands gripping the end of the desk. Her skirt has risen up to reveal her knees. Honestly, he is frozen at the sight of her knees. What is happening to his brain?

He attempts to lie, knows he sounds like a fuckwit. "I told you...I'm just a little distracted. New obsession I suppose you could say. I got a new idea for a…project…and it's not leaving my brain much room for sleep."

"Have you tried letting go and sleeping on it instead of obsessing? Personally it's always worked for me," she says with protracted patience. She's staring at him, chewing at her bottom lip, and the careless, unmeaning sexual power of that is making him want to climb out of his skin.

"Tried it already. Brain just won't shut down. As I said, I'll be in the shop." Trying not, he hoped, to pass out from being horny

She looks at him oddly, like maybe – maybe – she suspects the direction of his thoughts. "In that case, I'll call it a night, Mr. Stark. Unless you need me for anything?"

'You have no idea.' "You've been here since six this morning. Go home and try to get a life." He was going to go attempt to whack off and regain at least a couple higher mental functions

"You've told me on repeated occasions that you don't like it when I have a life." She sounds incredibly pissed off. "In fact, when I went on that date last week you called me in the middle of it. Twice. And that was before I turned my phone off."

'Yes, well, I hadn't had two gossiping secretaries put the most ridiculous speculation ever created dead center in my brain.' "Maybe I'm growing as a person, Pepper. Try not to fall over as a result of the idea."

"The next time you grow, try not to grow into a jackass." Then she leaves the room in a huff.

He wishes he could say the next day is better, but it isn't specifically. For that matter the whole damn week is a trip into hormone hell that is without any satisfying layovers. He stays in the workroom as much as he can, and nods his head a lot to speed his way through their one-on-one meetings. He knows Pepper is confused – hell, he knows Pepper is angry. It doesn't change the fact that he can't even look at her without wanting to touch, and he has no desire to get slapped.

He's known her for years, but he's never been this acutely aware. Hell, now just the back of her neck is enough to send him reeling.

Her whole person is so unattainable, so god-damn untouched. And he's back again to that damn conversation that he swore he would scrub out of his brain…

He shouldn't wonder, shouldn't care. Her history is none of his concern.

'Say that a thousand more times to your dick, Stark, 'cause it obviously bears repeating.'

He works until he crashes and then he sleeps just long enough to dream and wake up with his hands reaching out and his skin screaming in hunger. And then one day Pepper has enough. He's nodding and nodding and not listening to a word she says, and it's been that way for two weeks. And she narrows her eyes.

She reaches over and turns off the computer. "Hope you saved that," she says flatly.

He blinks at her through eyes that are half-hazed and dizzy. He looks at her like he's had no real sleep for a week. "Huh?" Her furious glare back is a pretty good hint to both him and his half hard erection that it's the wrong thing to say.

"If you don't start explaining yourself in the next thirty seconds, then I'm going upstairs. Want to know what I'll be doing upstairs?"

He blinks again. Shrugs again. Would try and apologize but he has no clue what to say.

"I'll be upstairs tendering my resignation. What the hell is going on?" she demands.

He goes for half of the truth, at least. "I'm sleeping like shit lately. I can fall asleep but I just can't stay under." He prays to God she'll continue her habit of ignoring his erections, because right now his is too obvious for even a nun to have missed. He throbs. He aches. He needs to get laid so bad his hair actually hurts

"Then see a doctor and get some sleeping pills," she says without a bit of sympathy. "Get drunk. Get laid. Hell, I will hit you over the head with a hammer myself if it will help."

"I've tried alcohol and the doctor says I've already run through too many sets of sleeping pills. Nothing's working...nothing seems to shut me down." Hell, even whacking off wasn't working anymore. He needed the grounding of another body...the sight, the smell, the feel of flesh were literally the only way he knew to murder the hamster running wild through his brain. There was a reason he'd brought women home in the days before Afghanistan. And yes, he'd thought that part of him had gone away right along with his jackass personality.

No such luck though – some roots didn't ever really die, just found new paths in what they decided was the only safe ground.

"I'll be glad to go get that hammer." Her smile is full of teeth, and she's leaning over him a little because he's slouched in his chair. It's not a stable position at all, even if she is pissed off. Not at all stable... His hands shoot out without his direct command and tumble her into his lap.

She's so shocked she doesn't do anything. He cusses and pushes her just as quickly off his lap till she lands with her butt on the ground. "There...are you happy?" he growls after a moment. He hates the ways her eyes go wide, though also a little bit scared. He can see the way her thoughts are picking up steam. "I was trying to avoid the massive humiliation and sexual harassment suit...but I'm a little bit frustrated, if that is okay!"

He gets to his feet with the intent of fleeing to the basement, but her hands shoot out to grab his arm and force him to stay.

"Tony...if you need…there are plenty of….well why aren't you doing it...?" She sounds about as confused as she can be in this situation, and he wants to almost cry at the shame.

"With who?" he roars when the dam breaks. "In case you haven't noticed, the last person I let touch me who wasn't you ripped out my damn chest plate!"

Well...there wasn't a whole lot to say to that. Or even suggest. "Tony...I doubt there's many women around who would want to take out your chest piece. Trust me when I tell you that the pus in there more than moderately reeks."

He groans and shakes her hands off. "Forgive me if it's a little hard to maintain a hard on when you're wondering who's going to kill you. It's kind of an issue of trust. Besides..." He gestures downward, "how many one nights stands do you know who would see this and not blab it all over town or straight out run away?"

"Anyone who doesn't know it's keeping you alive. Probably." Pepper has to admit he kind of has a point. And she wonders if she's upset at any of the varied implications.

Well, of course she's upset that his faith in those around him has been crushed so ruthlessly, but she doesn't think she's sorry that this days of one night stands are over.

"How many people do you think I show this thing too, Pepper? It's kind of a major giveaway. 'Please don't tell any bad guys about the neon blue target that keeps my heart operational' is such a great post coital endearment." He shakes his head. "There's no one else, Potts. And my libido is a little pissed over the fact at the moment, because you're all that it's got."

He grimaces then and hates himself for his potty mouth. Watches the way she draws back just a little. He doesn't think she's aware of the action, but the intent is pretty clear. She doesn't deserve any of this, but he just can't shut up. "Both of us know you'd rather have a root canal than address the whole unresolved sexual tension thing, Pepper, so I've been trying to be a gentleman. Now that that's all said I'm going to go back to the basement to try and just get by. I suggest for both our sakes that you fuck off now that you 'get it' and just let me be."

She leaves. She leaves quietly, and with several looks back at him over her shoulder.

As far as days go, this one has sucked. Sucked on levels that don't bear repeating, and do make him want to scream. He retreats to the basement when she's gone and spends several long minutes trying to decide whether or not it will help to pound his head in the glass doors… His erection continues to wax and wane, but he's determined to ignore it. Masturbation doesn't help – just leaves him more edgy, though he does contemplate an ice pack.

He wonders how many hours it is going to take her to quit and tells Jarvis to pull up her file and prepare a twelve year length severance packet

He actually attempts to go to bed that night, in the vain hope it'll help. Well, not so much help him but that it'll make it bearable for Pepper the next day if she decides to come in.

He stays in bed for all of fifteen minutes, and only that long because he can't help but wish desperately that she was here with him...which of course leads to a great fantasy of her there with him.

Finally he resorts to a pill, the last he's got in his cupboard. There will be no more for another two weeks.

He needs to sleep though…needs to get enough rest to cope if his world ends tomorrow.

Pepper is late the next day. Very late. It's three in the afternoon before she arrives. The only reason he knows she's there is that Jarvis tells him. She doesn't actually try to get a hold of him until nearly two hours later when she calls him upstairs on the intercom.

"Mr. Stark. I have some papers that need signing. I also made some soup…come get lunch out of your way." He doesn't ask how she knows he hasn't had anything since breakfast. He just climbs up the stairs and steels himself for whatever might be waiting.

She's in the kitchen. There's a placemat on the bar with a full table setting for one. To the right there's a small stack of papers.

"I marked where I need you to sign," she tells him as she finishes cleaning up. "I'll take care of the rest tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" he asks as he takes the long way around her, unwilling to come close enough to repeat yesterday's fiasco.

"I'm trying to firm up some plans for tonight. Nothing fancy. Maybe a couple friends." She doesn't meet his eyes. "Goodnight, Tony."

Then she's gone without his getting even a full glimpse of her face.

He eats without paying attention to what he's putting in his mouth, and he signs everything without looking at it because she told him to and he doesn't want to see if he's signing her walking papers. He's confused when he sees the envelope at the bottom of the pile. It's got his name on it in her handwriting.

He debates whether or not he's going to open it for about five seconds, and then he tears it open and pulls out the single piece of paper that was inside.

There was this neighborhood kid. I was eight. He was ten years older than me.

I understand having trust issues.

You're all I have too, Tony.

I'm spending the night in, but I lied about inviting friends over.

Your call.

And that's it. As far as invitations went it was the least skilled one he'd ever received. It was an invitation, but it was also a warning. A warning of damage, a warning of impending commitment. A warning of responsibility. She would definitely hold him responsible for some share of this. None of his other women ever had.

He debates whether or not he's going for less time than he debated whether or not to open the envelope. Then he crumples the paper in his hand and goes to get his car keys.

"Jarvis, lock up the house. I'm going to be gone the rest of the night."

It's an hour and a half drive over, though it should have been half that. He knows the stop on the way is a little risky, but he's also playing on instinct and a sense of old school chivalry. Flowers might be construed as cheesy but they are also genuine and careful, in an odd sort of way. The wine was more basic...some things required a little distance. He figures he'll bring it and let her decide when and where and if she even wants to open it.

He's aware, that on one level or another he's going to be causing her pain tonight.

When she opens her door she's wearing sweats, a t-shirt, and slippers. There's no makeup on her face and her hair is pulled back in a messy bun. For a moment she seems surprised, and then a little shy, and then she steps out of the way without a word so that he can come in. She's trying her best to be brave, but she looks terrified. The expression creates a large mass of protectiveness deep in his chest.

He takes off his coat, set down the flowers, walks over and stands about a foot directly in front of her. "I didn't...I wasn't sure if I should expect you," she admits after a moment, "I mean the letter…the only other man who ever got one made the decision not to stay."

She's looking more over his shoulder than she is at him. He steps into her space and brings his hands up to cup both her cheeks. "The other guy was a dick," he says with total sincerity. "Can't say I regret his loss."

"You did understand what I was talking about, didn't you?" She frowns at him as if she thinks he might be agreeing to sleep with her under false pretenses. As if she's less than acceptable for what she never probably had any say in.

He nods a little. "We both made it through, Pepper. All that's left are the scars."

Then he leans in and kisses her softly, just the barest brush of his tongue across the surface of her lips. It's not so much a initiation as it is a invitation. A reminder that in one way or another, both of them know this dance. "Tell me if I go too fast," he orders her after a moment, and then he's tugged her, with a careful kind of persuasion, flush against his chest.

She doesn't say anything as she matches him kiss for kiss, touch for touch, sigh for sigh. She's the one who takes his hands and pulls him in the direction of her bedroom without ever breaking the soft kisses that were no less intense for their lack of depth. There was something about the way she tasted that soothed him.

He takes in the room they enter and smiles at the openness. There are three skylights including one centered directly over the bed. "I take it I'm not the only stargazer..." He smiles as he leads her toward the mattress.

She nods a little. "I like the way they light the room in the day hours and make everything in darkness seem deeper and bigger."

"Remind me some time to take you flying," he whispers, and he rubs atop her shoulders. Then he drops his hand to her t-shirt and raises his brow in question. "What do you say – one for one, Pepper? It hardly seems fair that one of us should get more skin than the other first..."

She chuckles at that and reaches for the top of the button down he's wearing, sliding her finger into the gap below it so she can stoke across his chest. "If you're really all that worried about equal opportunity, than I suggest you start by losing the wifebeaters. Because they put me way ahead...though you do look very nice in them."

"Ms Potts. You astound me. I never knew I had to worry about peeping Toms in my basement."

She rolls her eyes. "You can stop acting like you're not a natural exhibitionist."

"Still, I thought I was safe from my own assistant. In my own home."

"Shows how little you've been thinking lately." And she presses her lips to his once more, this time nibbling on his bottom lip before taking the initiative and sliding her tongue into his mouth. The soft little moan she lets out is one of the more erotic sounds he's ever heard and suddenly he can't wait to hear it again.

The minutes that followed were less stressful than he might have worried. Clothes fell off in negotiated patterns, to land softly on the floor. There was only once, when his hands dipped under the waist of her sweats to cup her butt, that she flinched just the tiniest bit, and he slipped from beneath the fabric.

"Do we need to stop?" he whispers as her hands tighten around his back, and she chews on her lip. After another moment he slides his hands…carefully this time, right back down. She moans a little as his fingers stroke flesh, and smiles. "Or do you not want to wait?"

She shakes her head and pushes her hips further up toward him. "We've waited more than long enough. I'm surprised you can even walk with this two week erection..."

He laughs a little. "Please don't even say it... I'm halfway afraid the poor bugger's just going to give up halfway through or just outright refuse to work."

"That's flattering," she teases as she pulls him over to the bed. She stops him momentarily so she can work on the fly of his jeans and he takes the opportunity to slip her sweats off completely.

"It's not you, Potts. It's me. Though it's cheesy to say."

He holds her by the waist and runs his fingers over the last piece of clothing she has on. Her underwear isn't silk, or satin, or lace. No...it's yellow cotton with watermelon pink piping around the waist. Probably something she'd put on for comfort, just like the sweats. She's looking at him impatiently, and he thinks that he might prefer her in yellow cotton over black lace or red silk.

She is unafraid, and it's what he admires most.

"This is going to probably hurt a little," he acknowledges softly. It bothers him but it's a truth that they both can't escape.

Her smile is wobbly but real. "The important stuff always does." Her hands slip under his and push her underwear off her hips. "I trust you," she whispers as takes a step back and slowly climbs onto the bed.

"I've always known you were crazy." He carefully drapes himself beside her. They're laying with her on her back, and his hand on her hip. "I love you," he whispers, as he simultaneously bends his head to suck a nipple and trace the crease of her hip. She is warm and wet and so sensitive, she can barely take the touch. He reaches out and takes her right hand into his.

"I know," she gasps as she holds his head to her breast. Her other hand grips his shoulder as she squirms under him. "You...pushed me out of your lap." Her fingers tighten so that her short fingernails dig into his skin. "You never resist what you want. Had to be a reason."

"As I said, I'm trying to occasionally not be a bastard. I'm going to need a lot of extra positive reinforcement until I get the habit figured out."

He finds her clit and circles lightly till her reply is forgotten in the force with which she throws her head back. "Tony...." It's almost a wail.

He whisper in her ear. "Let it come, Pepper. I've got you, I promise."

He increases the pressure in gradual increments until her eyes pop open, and then her hips are jerking under his grip. "That's it. Fall for me." And she does. Her mouth is wide open as she gasps and sighs, and freezes before she turns towards him and takes shelter in his body as she plummets. She shivers for a few seconds before falling still. When he pulls back to look at her, her eyes are closed and her lips are still slightly parted...and she smiling.

Then her eyes slowly open and rise to meet his, and he can see there exactly how she feels. It's sweeter than all the rest of his life put together – love mixed with acceptance and an endless span of white skin

"I thought this was for you," she whispers almost chastisingly. "Not that I mind leading the charge from the front."

He laughs and rolls himself on top of her, bracing on his upper arms as she spreads wide her legs. "Pepper, believe me, that was for me. I haven't had such fun in ages..." And he sinks himself into her core before she can draw a breath again. Her eyes snap shut and her legs wrap around his hips to hold him in place. There's strength in them that he hadn't expected, and it nearly drives him wild, but he bites the inside of his cheek and waits for some indication that she's ready for him to move.

"I…ohhhh…" Pepper relaxes by degrees. By the time she opens her eyes again her heels have hit the mattress. "If I'd known about this I would have given up on my fingers awhile ago," she tells him, and the smile that suddenly makes her lips curl is evil.

"Do not give me those kind of images, Potts," he groans. "I'm trying to maintain at least a shred of control here."

"Well, stop it." She arches her hips into him and doesn't bother hiding her moan.

With that the stress and the need of the last two weeks break free, and he finally starts thrusting. It takes a depressingly short time, and he's jelly atop the mattress. He barely manages not to crush the woman beneath him, but he's reluctant to move. There's just something about the rightness of the moment – their scents entwined and their sweat slowly turning to cold as it cooled on their skin.

"I am such a damn loser," he moans into her neck after a moment. "Six months and I'm stuck with the body of a sixteen year old again..."

"If I remember anything about sixteen year old boys, you'll be ready to go in no time," she gently teases. He can feel her smile against his shoulder.

"Probably." He twitches inside of her. "But we should pace ourselves. You're going to be sore enough in the morning as it is."

"Maybe my boss should give me the day off then."

"That can be arranged." He says as he kisses her shoulder. "I suspect I'm going to spend the majority of the next two days in bed."

"Two days? I hope you're accounting for sleep in there."

He nods into her chest as his jaw cracks into a tremendous yawn. "That was for sleep actually, though I suppose I might be willing to barter time for other activities..."

"You sweet talking playboy you." Pepper grins and wiggles out from under him.

He yawns again and murmurs in protest. "Hey...no stealing away my teddy bear. 'Cause honestly, that's just rude."

"Teddy doesn't like to be slept on."

Her only answer is his drooping eyelids and a possessive hand that's cradling her hip.