Disclaimer: They aren't mine and I'm just playing; take no offense and hire no lawyers.
A/N My first Iron Man fanfic!
Three days after his 21st birthday, Tony Stark takes over the job of CEO of Stark Industries from Obadiah Stane.
It takes him seven minutes to break the coffee machine in the employee lounge and half an hour to build a more efficient one. He misses his first meeting with the executive board because he's busy in his office, sleeves rolled to the elbows, tinkering with said coffee machine, and shows up late to his first press conference covered in black oil and spewed coffee grounds.
When he checks his e-mail later that night, he finds a simple message from Obadiah hidden among the pleas for funding and favors. 'I think maybe you need a personal assistant,' it says.
"I want to decide what she looks like," Tony demands the next morning, throwing the door to Stane's office open as dramatically as he can.
Stane doesn't bat an eyelash as he turns the page of his newspaper. "What who looks like?"
"They call them personal assistants these days, Stark. And if word got out that we were hiring according to your kinks…"
"It's not a kink, it's an aesthetic decision. Anyway, I'm thinking tall. Long legs, pale, nice… what's the word. The, um, the chest word."
"No, it's French."
"Boobies?" Stane suggests dryly.
"No I mean actually… décolletage. I want her to have a nice décolletage. Can we arrange that?"
"I'll see what I can do," he promises, folding his newspaper and getting up from his desk. "We'll start interviewing next week. I have to fly out to the New York office—try not to blow anything up."
"I'll do my best," Tony mumbles, waving vaguely. He pauses as a thought occurs to him. "Oh, and red hair!"
"You're the boss," Stane replies as the door closes behind him.
The first candidate is waiting for him when Tony swaggers into his office Monday morning. This doesn't surprise him, as he's twenty minutes late.
She's rearranging his desk, which he finds slightly more surprising.
"Virginia Potts, I assume?" he asks.
"You shouldn't assume, it makes an a—AHH!" She finally looks up at him and jumps, scattering papers everywhere. "Mr. Stark! I—I'm so sorry, it's just that… your papers were…"
"Ah, don't worry about it. In two years it'll all be on the computer anyway. In ten I'll be paper-free. Do you know how to tie a tie?"
"Of course, " she says, walking over to him, and her mouth twitches against her will as she takes the proffered fabric. "You don't?"
"One of the many reasons I need a personal assistant, apparently," he grins, tilting his chin up to give her better access.
She slides the silky material around his neck and does her best to ignore a) how attractive he is, b) how good he smells, and c) how close he's standing to her. When she'd gotten the call from her headhunter about the open position in Stark Industries, she hadn't hesitated—knowing the stories of the child prodigy who'd just taken over the company.
He's not exactly the awkward Poindexter she'd imagined.
"Are you feeling okay, Miss Potts?"
"You seem a bit flushed."
"Getting over a cold," she says quickly, finishing off the knot of his tie. "There you are."
He crosses the room in three loping strides and throws himself into his chair, letting it roll and spin with his momentum. "Take a seat," he says, gesturing to the other chair as he throws his feet up on the desk. She smooths her skirt before joining him.
"So; Virginia Potts." He glances around his freshly-organized desk. "Where did you put the…?"
"My file? Under your feet, sir."
He lifts his heels long enough to retrieve the manila folder they'd been covering, then drops them again. "Okay then," he says, perusing her resume, "graduated from UC Santa Barbara last May—congratulations—with a double major in Communications and Economics… nice… not a lot of experience," he notes, meeting her gaze.
"I have, um, r-references."
"I don't want to know what other people have to say about you," he says dismissively, leaning in closer, "I want to know what you have to say about you. Why do you want to work for me?"
"Well… I'd be good at it," she says simply. "I'm organized, and responsible, and hard-working, and—"
"Can you make quiche?"
"Quiche. Fluffy, cheesy baked dish?"
"I… could learn to make quiche."
He splits into a wide grin. "That's the kind of work ethic I'm talking about! Perfect. Can I tell you a secret?"
"I don't really want a secretar—"
"Personal assistant," she chimes in firmly.
"—personal assistant, fine. Someone always on my back, telling me about all the calls I've missed and meetings I'm late for and blah blah blah. Don't want it, can't deal with it, not the best at being told what to do so the more we avoid that, the better. What I want is for you to be invisible. Can you be invisible, Virginia?"
He blinks. "Sorry?"
"It's… it's Pepper. My name. Nickname." She stutters, realizing she's interrupted him. "Or you can call me whatever—"
"Pepper it is. So, what do you say?"
"I can absolutely be invisible, Mr. Stark. You won't even know I'm there. I—"
She pauses, interrupted by the dulcet tones of Thomas Dolby's She Blinded Me With Science. Tony frowns and digs in his pockets. "Hold, on, sorry—You've got Stark," he says, answering his phone. "Lance! How's it going? Could you just—Pepper?"
"Yes, Mr. Stark?"
"Could you get me a cup of coffee? Out the door, down the hall, third room on the left. Excellent coffeemaker. Works like a dream. Thanks."
When she reenters his office five minutes later, he's still talking animatedly on his cell.
"Jessup, I don't care. I need that paperwork yesterday. I don't care if that's not how Obadiah did things, this is how I'm doing things, and I'm telling you, my guys in R&D needed that stamped and set and ready to go last week." He pauses to listen, flashing Pepper a brilliant smile. "I'm not having them do it illegally, and we need that stuff out of the labs. Don't tell me about cost cutting, I know all about—because it's poisonous, that's why!"
Pepper slides the Styrofoam cup within reach, but well out of gesticulation radius, making a mental note to get Tony a mug of his own to use. (Which is ridiculous; she doesn't have the job yet.) He doesn't make any move towards the coffee; he's too busy searching his now-clean desk.
"Pepper, where did you put… big folder, bunch of pink photocopy pages sticking out of the top?"
"Under your paperweight, Mr. Stark," she says, biting down hard on her amusement.
He blinks and shifts his hand about two inches to the left. "Lance? You sure this is all we need? I don't want my staff handing dangerous materials without permission—thanks, Pepper."
(Don't do it. You don't work here. Don't do it.) "Erm… Mr. Stark?" (Damn it.)
"That's not the correct form," she points out, then hastily adds, "sir."
"What? Hold on a minute, Lance," he says, putting the phone down. "What?"
Pepper shifts her weight uneasily in her high heels. "If you want to do what I think you want to do, that isn't the right form. That's a 492-B; I think you need a 492-A."
Never breaking eye contact with her, he moves his phone back up to his ear. "Lance? I'll call you back.—Pepper, what did you say?"
His face goes blank. "You know what a 492-A form is?"
She hesitates, but only for a moment. "It's… it's the insurance form that custodial staff have to file when they're handling hazardous chemicals. Like lye. A 492-B is for disposal, not transfer."
"Copier paper requisitions for international offices. In Asia."
"Maternity leave request."
"How are you at cost projections?" he asks, his voice cracking with either hope or annoyance; Pepper can't tell which.
"Are we talking globally, categorically, or in terms of specific projects?"
"…Miss Potts. Can I tell you another secret?"
"The job is yours. Obadiah's gonna make me interview other people; there'll be a whole deliberation period, he'll suggest I see you again before I make my decision… you'll get a letter in the mail. Very fancy. You start Monday. Don't tell anyone."
On Thursday, she gets a memo on embossed company letterhead, telling her she's hired and giving a brief overview of her responsibilities.
On Friday, she gets a call from Obadiah Stane, telling her about her real responsibilities (as putting "glorified babysitter" in the want ads wouldn't have been very professional) and reviewing California legislation about sexual harassment in the workplace.
She spends the weekend obsessing over appropriate work attire. She hadn't been nervous about the whole I'm working for Tony Stark thing until Stane's pep talk, but all of a sudden straddling the 'business casual' line between dictatorial school matron and slutty librarian seems both much more important and much more difficult. (And she should really stop using 'Tony Stark' and 'straddling' in the same sentence before she gives herself a heart attack.)
On Monday, Happy Hogan swings by her apartment at the crack of dawn in a car worth more than her entire college education to pick her up for her first day of work.
Tony Stark's house (no, mansion. No, palace) is the most breathtaking home she's ever been in. She knows enough about architecture to know that it's stunning, and doesn't think she could ever tire of the view out of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Her heels click satisfyingly against the steel of the stairs to the basement, and she decides she likes that too.
"Good morning, Mr. Stark," she greets. He's doubled over what might be a robot, back to her, welding something into place.
He jumps, scorching his worktable with his torch. "You call that invisible? Jesus! I'll have to install a door or something."
"Sorry! I just—I can go—"
"Nah, it's okay. Now we're even. How, uh," he glances at the still-smoldering torch in his hand and turns it off in alarm, swiping his goggles off his eyes so that they made his hair stand straight up, "how do you like my workshop?"
She glances around at the sprawling, junk-filled basement. "It's very…"
"State-of-the-art? Genius? Impressive? Ruggedly attractive?"
"…eclectic. Are we still talking about your workshop?"
He grins. "I knew I was right to hire you. Anyway, I'm a bit busy here; Happy can give you the tour of the house and grounds."
"Do you need anything before I go, Mr. Stark?" she asks. Reminding herself that she's here to be his PA, not his friend. (She has a feeling she'll have to remind herself of this often.)
"Do you have to call me that? Can't I just be Tony?"
"Mr. Stane suggested that we stay on a last name basis in order to, um… promote a healthy work environment."
He frowns, and she suppresses the urge to giggle how ridiculous he looks—grease covered, sweaty, his welding goggles pushing his bangs up. "Can I still call you Pepper?"
She clears her throat. "Mr. Stane suggested that—"
"Mr. Stane doesn't have to know."
She shoves her hands in her pockets and pinches her thighs through the fabric to keep herself level-headed. "I don't…"
"Okay, okay, I'll play by the rules. For now. Have you eaten? Breakfast, I mean, not… ever. Because clearly—"
"There's an omelet waiting for you in the kitchen."
She flushes. "You didn't have to…"
"Who said I had anything to do with it?" he shrugs boyishly, and if she pinches any harder it'll leave a mark.
"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?" she asks, hiding a smile.
He grins. "That'll be all, Miss Potts."