So this is a random one-shot I wrote shortly after IM1 and I know it doesn't really lend itself to either of the movies directly (well, it's kinda post-IM1) but I liked the idea so I ran with it. I'm not sure where the SI headquarters are supposed to be because I don't read the comics so don't flame if I got them wrong. I hope you all enjoy this for what it is.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of it.
After his announcement that Stark Industries would no longer make weapons, things had begun to fall apart. Then the whole thing with Stane and the Iron Man declaration had only made things worse. His headquarters in Malibu seemed to be doing ok, though most days it was a constant battle with the board to prove his competency. Still, the headquarters in California seemed to be holding steady. At the other SI offices in New York and London, things were a bit more shaky. The lack of his presence only made things worse, but what was he supposed to do, not even Iron Man could be in three places at once.
He sat at his desk one afternoon, reading through yet another email from corporate about "lasting repercussions" and "questionable leadership." He sighed and his face fell into his hands.
"Something wrong?" Pepper asked as she walked into his office.
"I dunno. I'm think I'm going to have to go to New York for a while, and then maybe the London office too," he said quietly, turning off the computer.
She looked at him inquisitively, not entirely surprised given the circumstances, but also uncertain of his sudden motivation to be so responsible and attempt to actually fix what was going on.
"I've let this go on for too long. You can send memo after memo but I think I physically need to be there and let them know this will all blow over and we'll be a better company for it."
"I think that's a good idea, Mr. Stark," she said calmly, nodding her head as she moved to sit in one of the chairs that faced his desk.
"I figure 6 months in each place should be good enough to prove that I'm still here, I'm not going anywhere, and everything is going to be fine."
She pulled out her Blackberry. "When did you want to leave?"
"As soon as possible. I've already told the guys here and they seemed receptive so I figure the sooner the better," he said, straightening up his desk.
"Ok, I'll tell them to get the jet ready and call the staff at the penthouse. We can probably leave by tomorrow morning at the earliest," she said, typing away busily.
"Actually, I was hoping to leave later today," he said absently.
"Ok, well, if you wanted to leave tonight, I need to go home and pack," and she stood up and started to walk out.
"Uh, Miss Potts?"
She stopped and turned around. "Yes?"
He cringed. "I need you to stay here."
"While you're gone for a year?" she asked calmly, not sure if she had understood him properly.
"Um, yeah," he said, rubbing his forehead. "It's not that I don't need you, because you know I do, but I think I need you to be here more."
"Oh. Do I have a choice in that?" she asked boldly.
"Um, I hate to play the boss card but will you kill me if I say no? I know it's not ideal, but you'll be fine here. I need you to stay and hold down the fort, like as my proxy, you know?" he said with a strained smile.
"Yes, I understand, Mr. Stark," she said will far too much professionalism in order to cover up her sadness. "Well, have a good trip, I'm sure I'll talk to you soon to coordinate meetings and such," and she walked out of his office without another word.
The next night around 7, he called her. "Hey, Potts! What's shakin?"
"Not much. Just got back from a budget meeting and now I'm finishing up a press release on your trip."
He scoffed. "Fun stuff."
"How was your first day sans PA?" she asked with a sad smile.
"Terrible," he said with a sigh. "Everything was just…off."
Suddenly she was concerned. "What happened? Did you miss your meetings?"
"No, I went. It's just strange, you not being here, you know?"
She cleared her throat. "Yeah, but it's good you're there, and everything is going well here so you don't need to worry about that," she said, sounding overly chipper.
"I suppose. Anyways, just wanted to check in. I'll call you tomorrow and we can discuss how the board meetings went."
"Sounds good. Good night, Mr. Stark."
"Good night, Miss Potts."
After that, she talked to him just about every day. It was actually the highlight of her day most days, waiting for his call. She wasn't ready to admit to herself why, but it was the same reason that nothing had been the same since he left, how work was just work.
After a few weeks, their brief work conversations became increasingly personal. They'd talk about their days, or just about nothing for over an hour. She didn't want to admit it, but she really missed him, and not just professionally.
"So, how's New York? Been through the 4 million women there yet?" she asked with a laugh.
He smiled. "Psh, hardly. Been too busy with work. God, I don't think I've ever uttered that sentence before. Anyways, how does that one song go? 'New York, I love you but you're bringing me down'? It's so true. Plus it's winter here. There's like snow and ice and everything! What's with that?" He sighed audibly, leaning back in his chair. "I miss Malibu."
'Just Malibu?' she thought. "Well, nothing is the same without you here either," she said softly. She was quiet for a moment, then cleared her throat and smiled. "For instance, I actually get to go home at 5 most days."
"So you're slacking off, Potts? The minute I turn my back…" he said with a smile that she could hear in his voice.
"Totally. The workers will play while the boss is away."
"Since you so lack anything meaningful to do, how about coming out to New York for a visit? Brave the winter for your favorite boss?" He thought about what he'd just asked and wondered if his words had implied something other than he'd meant them to. Although, maybe he did mean it that way, he wasn't sure.
She laughed nervously, wondering if there was more behind his question. "Well, I actually am a fan of snow. Not that we really ever see any in Malibu. It just makes everything, I dunno, peaceful I guess."
"Then you should definitely come because I've got more snow here than I know what to do with."
"I can't. I actually have more work to do here thanI know what to do with. The board gets what you're doing, but the press doesn't and it's causing me serious headaches."
"You sure?" he asked hopefully.
"Yeah, sorry. I'll call you tomorrow. Goodnight."
"'Night, Potts," he replied, letting out a depressed sigh as he hung up the phone.
About a week later, the topic came up again. He didn't even wait for her greeting when he called. "Ready for snow, Potts?"
This time she really wanted to go. She missed him, and while she still wasn't quite sure what that meant yet, she knew she needed to at least see him. "Possibly. All these meetings this week are killing me. I don't know how you did it."
"Funny thing about that, I uh, just didn't go to most of them," he said laughing.
"And thus the situation we are now in," she replied dryly.
"Ooh, burn. I guess I deserved that one. So you wanna head out East and get away from the bureaucracy for a few days?"
"I don't know that I can," she said with a sigh.
"You'd really make me spend Christmas by myself?" he asked with a hint of sadness.
"You said a few days. Christmas is more than a week away!"
"Then stay longer," he said hopefully. "So…snow?"
"Ok," she agreed quickly, sounding more eager than she had intended to.
"Ok? Ok." he repeated. "Good night, Miss Potts."
She sighed. "Good night, Tony," she said and hung up.
"Wait, since when am I 'Tony'?" but she was already gone.
The following evening, she arrived at one of the private terminals at JFK. As she walked outside to grab a taxi, she saw him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, unable to suppress the smile that spread across her face.
"Haven't you heard? There's like, 10 million people in this town. Blending in is so much easier than in Malibu."
"Is that a hint that you're considering relocating?"
"Hell no." He reached down and picked up some snow with a gloved hand. "I mean, have you seen this shit?" He started to ball the snow in his hand and gave her an evil grin.
Her eyes widened. "You wouldn't dare," she warned.
"Wouldn't I? I think I would," and he lunged at her, catching her with an arm around her waist and smashing the snowball on her head.
"Muah ha ha," he laughed maniacally as the snow fell through her hair.
"I can't believe you!" she said laughing as she hit his arm, though more playfully than anything else.
His laugh fell away and his smile faded, with an expression that she couldn't read spreading across his face. "I can."
There was something incredibly perfect about the situation they were now in, he thought to himself. Both of them together, all bundled up, playing in the snow, laughing. He decided to take a chance and pulled her closer with the arm that was already around her waist, looking down at her to gauge her reaction. She didn't move, just stared right back. He smiled and leaned in to kiss her. Frankly, he was immensely surprised that she hadn't hit him, or worse yet, run. Instead, she let him kiss her. She didn't quite kiss him back, but she wasn't throttling him for it either. For those few seconds, he was in heaven. Finally he lifted his head, effectively breaking the kiss, and looked at her. Her cheeks were already red from the cold, but he could tell she was blushing as well. She didn't say anything, but her gaze fell to the ground and he dropped his arm and stepped back.
He cleared his throat and signaled to the driver to come grab her bags. "Uh, maybe we should go."
"Yeah," she said quietly, moving towards the car.
He opened the door for her and she slid all the way in to the other side of the car. He got in and closed the door behind him, sitting down and leaving a space between them.
After about twenty minutes of sitting in traffic, she couldn't take the silence anymore.
"That was…unexpected," she said softly, but more to herself than him and he could tell.
He responded anyways. "You wanna talk about it?" he asked seriously as he looked over at her.
She nodded, but kept her gaze straight ahead.
"Soooo, what do you want to talk about?" he asked innocently with a grin.
"This isn't funny, Tony."
His smile shifted to one full of sincerity. "It kind of is. But let's start there. Why am I 'Tony' now?"
"I don't really know. Should I stop calling you that?" she asked hesitantly.
"No," he said plainly as he stared at her still unmoving form, her face still clearly dazed. "Potts, are you ok?"
"You kissed me," she replied, as if she was trying to convince herself that it had actually just happened.
"Yeah…" he said hesitantly. "Was that wrong?"
"I haven't decided. I'm still thinking," she said, still staring at the back of the seat in front of her.
"Do these thoughts include why you've started calling me Tony?" he asked with a hopeful smile.
Finally she turned to look at him. "Maybe?"
"Oooook," he said slowly. "So…I guess I'll just do this and see if it helps you think," and he shifted over and kissed her again, even lighter than the first time as his lips just barely brushed against hers. He pulled back and was pleasantly surprised to see a small smile creep onto her face.
"You kissed me again," she said softly, her eyes still closed.
"Yep. And I'm pretty sure you didn't mind," he said with a smirk, noticing that the car had finally pulled up in front of the penthouse. "Come on," and he took her hand and led her out of the car.
She opened her mouth to say something but no words came so she just gaped at him and followed him to the front door of the building.
"Tony, I…" but she still couldn't find the words.
"I know, I know. I promise we'll talk. Inside. It's cold and it's getting dark out," he said as he let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist to lead her inside.
They took the elevator up to the penthouse, the driver following with the bags.
"Potts, I'm proud of you. It's already been like what, an hour since I kissed you at the airport and you haven't had a meltdown!" he laughed suddenly.
"Tony…" she chided.
"I'm kidding, love," he said as he leaned over to place a gently kiss to her temple. She stared wide-eyed for a brief moment because she couldn't believe what she'd just heard, though apparently from the look on his face, he hadn't realized it either.
Finally the rational side of her kicked in as the elevator opened into the spacious penthouse. "We need to figure this out, Tony. And over the phone isn't going to cut it."
He looked at her, his face suddenly serious. "So what are you saying?"
This was all too much to process; she needed time to think. "I need to know what you want, Tony." 'And what I want,' she thought. "We'll talk tomorrow," and she picked up her bag and left for the guest bedroom, leaving him to stand there with his own thoughts as he watched her go.
She woke up to someone brushing the hair off her face. She opened her eyes and saw him standing next to her bed.
She blinked at him sleepily. "Tony? What time is it?"
"You asked me what I wanted," he replied, ignoring her question entirely. "I want you."
She instinctively pulled the covers up further, suddenly feeling very exposed.
He smiled warmly at her and shook his head. "That's not what I meant, Pepper. Though, that will be fantastic…eventually."
"Ok," she said calmly as she sat up in bed, gesturing for him to sit on the edge of the mattress and he did. "But you have to stay here," she stated hesitantly.
"Unfortunately, yes. And going to London is necessary as well."
"Ok," she repeated, mostly because she couldn't decide what else to say. It wasn't something she could refute, just a reality she had to face. "So what does that mean for…" For what exactly? She wasn't sure yet.
"Us? I don't know exactly. I'll tell you my thoughts and then you go, ok?"
"I have to stay here, at least through Christmas. I've almost got things straightened out and things seem to be going well so 6 months may not be necessary. The London office will be a bit more challenging and will take more time. But…I can't spend the next 6 months to a year without seeing you. I can't do it. You're too much a part of my daily routine…and I'm really getting to like kissing you," he smirked as he leaned over and snuck a quick peck to her lips.
It was return confession time and she sighed, leaning back against the headboard, staring at the ceiling. "I don't like being in Malibu by myself. I know that sounds incredibly codependent and it's not that I can't handle the work, I just…don't like you not being around."
He smiled at her honesty. "Ok, so here's what I'm thinking. I need you to trust me when I say that you need to stay in Malibu."
She sat up straight and looked at him disappointed. "None of that, Potts. Let me finish. Now, as I was saying, you need to stay there and I think you know it. You have the intelligence and the leadership to keep things afloat while I try to do the same at the other offices. But, six months is a really long time. Hell, three months was a really long time. So I think we can compromise a bit. I think Malibu can spare you for the next two weeks so my thought is you stay here through Christmas, then help me get set up in London until New Years. After that," he shrugged, "we're just going to have to play it by ear I guess."
"But, Tony, long distance…" She still refused to say the word relationship until she was positive that that was what was happening. "It doesn't normally work."
He shifted to hold her hand. "Normally being the operative word there. Normal couples don't quite have the resources we do, love," he said smiling.
"Is that what we are now?" she asked seriously.
"Is that ok?" he looked at her slightly confused.
"I think so," she murmured quietly, beaming. It was her turn to be brave. She leaned forward and pulled his head to hers to kiss him deeply. It was short, but passionate and he broke it with a smile he couldn't hold back.
He took a deep breath and reached for her hand again. "See, that's a kiss! The last two times you just left me hanging, Potts."
"Yeah well, excuse me if I had no idea what was going on. Though to be fair, I wanted to reciprocate with the one in the car, I was just a little dazed."
"I totally swept you off your feet at the airport, didn't I?" he asked with a smirk.
"Wouldn't you like to think so," she said, smiling warmly.
"So, we've talked…we good? Time to get back to the kissing?" he asked, waggling an eyebrow.
She smiled for a moment, and then reconsidered. "Actually, no. What's with the pet name?"
He stared at her blankly, his head cocked to one side like he had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
"I just want to know if there's a reason. I mean it's taken me like 9 years to really start calling you Tony on a regular basis because that had…implications."
He stared at her for a moment, racking his brain trying to remember what he had called her. Love. "Ohhhh. That pet name. Yeah I guess that's been pretty much automatic since some part of me realized it was ok, but it has the same implications, Pepper," he said softly, smiling warmly at her. He didn't actually say it, the three-word connotation of what he'd been calling her, but he didn't have to. She could see it in his eyes and she smiled back at him just as brightly.
"So, breakfast?" he asked standing up and extending a hand to her.
"Mhmm," she said as she took his hand.
He wrapped her in his arms for a moment and she just stared into his eyes smiling. He loved her. He really loved her. That was going to take some getting used to.
"What?" he asked after a few moments.
"Nothing," she said warmly.
He looked at her for a moment and considered pressing her for an answer, settling instead on giving her a light kiss on the lips, then wrapping an arm around her waist and leading her to the kitchen. "Come on, Potts, I'm hungry. Then after breakfast, I wanna go to Central Park and have a snowball fight…then make out," he said with a smirk.
After breakfast, they did go have a snowball fight and make out in Central Park. Amazingly enough, Tony had been right- all bundled up in a city of over 8 million people- no one recognized them. They spent the rest of the day around town, shopping and visiting various museums. After dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking Broadway, Tony suggested they head back to the penthouse.
As they made their way back out onto the street, Tony turned to her grinning. "You wanna take the Subway?"
She laughed. "Why?"
"I dunno, cuz we can? Besides, I seriously never have. It'll be fun, like we're just normal people!"
She rolled her eyes and took his hand. "Only the great Tony Stark would be excited about taking the Subway. I don't think you'll like it…" she said with a wary smile.
As they exited some fifteen minutes later, Tony was scowling.
"Ugh, that was disgusting. Let's never do that again."
"I told you that you wouldn't like it!" she said with a giggle.
"Yeah well, try everything once is what I always say. It is efficient though I suppose. Look, here we are," he said as they stood in front of his building. "Driving would have taken like 800 times longer."
"True. Oh, look!" she said wistfully as she looked up. "It's starting to snow again!"
"You really do love snow, don't you, Pepper?"
"Yep," she said happily as she stood there smiling. "There's something so pure about it. Winter is so dark and dreary, but when it snows, there's a certain glow to everything."
"Huh. So, Miss Potts…you wanna come back to my place for a glass of wine and maybe…other things?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows and grinning at her.
"Why, Mr. Stark. I do believe you're propositioning me," she said with a smirk.
"I believe I am. Is that a yes?"
She leaned over and took his face in her hands, staring at him for a moment before kissing him deeply.
He groaned and took her into his arms, pulling her closer. Finally he pulled back when breathing became necessary. "Yeah, that's a yes," he said breathlessly.
"That. Was. Amazing," he said between gasps of breath as he rolled onto his back next to her.
"I don't know why we didn't do this sooner," she said breathlessly.
He lifted his head up to look at her wide-eyed. "Wait, seriously? You think so, Miss Always-Perfectly-Professional Pepper Potts? Hah!"
She laughed. "You have no idea how long I've stared at your ass while you were too busy staring at bimbos to notice. Just shut up and kiss me, asshole."
He did, but only for a second. "You know, I give you meaningful pet names and in return, I get 'asshole.' That hardly seems fair."
"And yet, it suits you so well," she said grinning as she rolled to drape herself over his side.
"Yeah, yeah. I don't see you complaining," he grinned devilishly as he rolled them over and kissed her again.
Christmas came and went, and before they knew it, it was after New Years and she had to go. They hadn't talked much about how things would work out since that first night; it was just a reality they quietly understood and it would eventually work itself out…or so she hoped.
"So…I'll see you in a few weeks?" he asked earnestly as he carried her things out to the car.
"I dunno. I mean it's a ridiculously long plane ride to London and I have so much work to do back in Malibu…"
His face went blank at the seriousness of her tone. "You're kidding me right? Please tell me you're kidding me."
She smiled and wrapped her arms around him. "Yes, Tony. Barring any emergency, I will be back two weeks from Friday."
"Ugh, that's such a long time! Emergency on my end or yours?"
She smirked. "Well, on my end it would be work related. On yours, I'm assuming…hormone related?"
"That's harsh, Potts. It's not my fault the sex is fabulous," he said with a smirk. "Actually, maybe it-"
She cut him off with a kiss. "I'll be back, Tony."
"Ok. I'll miss you."
"I know. Me too."
"See you in a few weeks, love," he said sweetly as he kissed her goodbye.
"Can't you come visit more?" he whined while laying in bed one night.
"Tony, it's far and I can't really afford to visit more than every few weeks."
"So take the jet, no charge," he said with a smirk.
She sighed. "That's not what I mean and you know it. I have to work and so do you."
"But London sucks. And I know you're sick of me complaining about it but it's always dreary and raining and…and you're not here."
She smiled at his admission. "I know, Tony. But I just left, I'll see you in a couple weeks."
She knew this was hard on him. When he had said that she was all he had, it really was true. She had friends and some distant family but he only really had her and Rhodey, and lately not always him.
"What can I do, Tony?"
"Besides come there," she responded quickly. "Because you know I can't."
"Phone sex?" he asked with a laugh that ruined his attempt at seduction.
"Ugh, anything else?" she asked with a groan.
"Pretty please, Pepper?"
"Tony, I can't."
"It's 4 in the afternoon."
"So what? You're at the mansion."
"How do you know that?"
"Ok, fine. But I still can't. I'll see you in a few weeks, Mr. Horny."
"Very funny, Pepper. Miss you."
"Miss you too, Tony. Bye," and they hung up with matching sighs.
After many more visits and almost four months of Tony being in London, she didn't know if she could take it anymore. She couldn't decide which was worse- staying in Malibu and not seeing him, or going to visit and having to see the look on his face when she left and feel the ache in her heart she felt every time she stepped onto the plane back to Malibu.
He ran his hands up and down her back as they stood outside by the car. "You sure you don't want me to go to the airport with you?"
She shook her head. "It's easier this way. Because…" she started to explain, then stopped. "Just because."
"No, tell me. Why?"
She lowered her head and leaned into his chest. "Because it gets harder and harder to leave and if you came to the airport I'd never get on the plane," she said quickly, her voice muffled into his chest.
"Ah," he said with a sigh as he leaned his head down to kiss the top of hers and pulled her closer. "That I can understand."
"I gotta go," she said softly.
"I know, Pep. Don't worry, it's just for a little while longer, I promise. I'll be back before you know it."
She smiled slightly. "Hopefully. I love you, Tony."
His returning smile was radiant. She hadn't actually said the words before, and neither had he. Sure they were implied, but never spoken. "I love you too, Pepper. See you soon."
He called her two days later. "Hey, it's me."
"Hey," she said warmly.
"How was your flight?"
"Long." She lowered her voice, looking around her office to make sure no one was around. "Lonely."
Then she heard a knock on her door and a random secretary came in with some paperwork for her. She looked up immediately and regained her professionalism as best as possible. "Yes, Mr. Johnson. I will schedule the meeting for early next week and I will make sure we have the new plans to show you. Ok excellent, good bye." As she hung up the phone, the secretary from the hall handed her a memo and the left silently.
As soon as she had closed the door behind her, Pepper reached for her Blackberry and hit speed dial 1.
"Hello? Pepper? What was that Mr. Johnson bit about? Is that my new pet name? It's weird but I think I like it better than 'asshole'," he said with a grin she could hear in his voice.
"Sorry. That one secretary just walked in and…it's just that no one here knows."
"Oh shit, yeah, I forgot about that. Sorry. Anyways, I have some good news and I have some bad news. Which do you want first?"
"I guess good news," she sighed.
"Good news is I'm done in London. Bad news is…" He paused as if he was about to tell her he had to go spend another 4 months somewhere else. Her heart dropped as she waited for the news. "…I've been home for over an hour and I haven't seen you yet," he said quickly, grinning like a madman.
She nearly fell out of her chair. "Asshole!"
"Ah, there it is," he muttered smiling.
She dropped the phone on her desk and practically ran out of her office. "Emergency! I'll be back later, maybe tomorrow," she yelled to the secretary as she headed for the elevator.
"Pepper? Pepper, are you still there?" but she was already in the elevator, her phone abandoned on her desk.
Somehow, she reached his mansion in less than 20 minutes. She haphazardly parked the car in the driveway and quickly made her way to the front door where he was standing in the doorway smiling at her.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me!" she said, hitting his shoulder when she reached him.
"Well, I was going to wait and surprise you when you got home but you sounded so sad on the phone and frankly I couldn't wait any longer," he said as he pulled her into his arms tightly. She leaned into his warm embrace happily, resting her head on his shoulder.
After a few moments he broke the silence. "Pepper?"
"I'm just curious…why is half my closet is now filled with your clothes?"
"Oh shit," she said under her breath. "Um, that was my surprise, for you, when you came back. I, uh, kinda moved in."
At first he just stared at her and his unreadable gaze made her exceptionally uncomfortable. She had wrestled with the idea for over a week, finally deciding that it would be a good surprise. They had been dating for almost six months and she figured that they were at a place where it would be ok.
But he stayed both motionless and speechless and she started to freak out, realizing she had made a terrible mistake. She let her arms drop and backed away from him. "I'm so sorry, Tony. I was out of line. I'll just go and-" but she was cut off by his strong arms lifting her off the ground. He set her down and kissed her deeply, both hands tangled in her hair.
"Pepper Potts," he whispered. "Welcome home."
Hope you liked this one. Please read and review!