Set before the movies, before the armor, before any of that… Set, instead, about five years after a young Anthony Stark is forced to take over his father's company. I have read bits about the origin of Pepper's nickname, so that is not mine. The rest is just a little story bug that was stuck in my head. I enjoy hearing them talk to each other.
JUST A JOB
"Look, just get him someone he won't sleep with, because she'll be gone in a week when he dumps her. She doesn't have to be that smart, she has to be…" Obadiah Stane rolled his eyes, sweeping his arms upward. "She has to be tolerant. You know how the kid is."
"I understand, Mr. Stane." Elise Truman, the veteran human resources head for Stark Industries, very quietly took a deep breath. True, if there were a revolving door on their young president's secretarial door, it would be a lot easier – but she just couldn't hold it against him. She had been a lifelong friend with the boy's mother, and still had a certain aunt-like fondness for him. It was easier, though, to let Obadiah Stane think she was completely on his side. She'd seen what happened to people who disagreed with the way he ran the company. They didn't work here anymore. "I have his latest selection coming in for an interview in half an hour."
"Fine." The CEO growled like a bear as he strode toward the door. "Just get it done. And make sure she can keep him out of my hair."
The door slammed after him, and Elise allowed herself a dignified little smirk. What hair, bucko? Her thought was interrupted by a genteel knock on the door. Well, I know that's not Stane again. He just barges. She stood and walked to the door, opening it briskly.
The girl that stood on the other side didn't quite look old enough to be out of college. She was dressed in a stylish but demure suit, the narrow skirt complimenting her figure without advertising. Her hair, long and strawberry blonde, was pulled back from the sides into a clip. Freckles dusted her nose. Elise liked her immediately.
"Hello, Mrs. Truman? I'm Virginia Potts. I'm your two o'clock?"
The older woman smiled. "Of course. Come in, Miss Potts. I understand that Mr. Stark is looking to take you on as his personal assistant."
"So I've heard… but he didn't speak directly to me. He just sort of… gestured after I found that mistake."
Elise sighed. "Yes, that sounds like him." She opened a file folder and paged through it. "This is really just a formality. While Mr. Stark is the President of the company, Mr. Stane is our CEO and has some say in these matters… but if Tony – Mr. Stark, that is, really wants you, then he'll have you."
The younger woman startled a bit at her phrasing, but said nothing.
The HR director looked again at the attractive young woman, and did a quick calculation. Closing the file folder, she folded her hands on top of it.
"Miss Potts, may I be frank?"
Miss Potts blinked, a little nervous, but clearly handling herself well. "Of course."
"Virginia… your qualifications are stellar. I can't imagine anyone having any trouble with you working under Mr. Stark."
"Well… thank you." Work under Mr. Stark? Oh, boy… is this place swimming in innuendo, or am I getting into something crazy? "I assume that's good?"
"Of course – and the frank part is this: I have had to hire fourteen 'personal assistants' in the five years that young Mr. Stark has been President of the company."
Virginia's jaw dropped involuntarily. "Fourteen? Is the job that taxing?"
"Well, yes, dear," the woman sighed, "But not half so taxing as Mr. Stark is. He is also quite handsome, and charming, and very much a ladies man." She dusted her hands together, and sat back to look at Virginia once more. "Please understand. I have nothing but respect for the boy – the man, I mean. But he does tend to get involved, and then realize that he can't be involved with someone he has to work with every day. Do you understand?"
The younger woman sat a bit straighter in her chair, and an indignant blush touched her cheek, making her freckles stand out more. "I have no intention of getting involved with my boss."
Elise smiled. "No, Virginia. I'm sure you don't."
"I have plans, Mrs. Truman. I want to be a success. And I certainly don't intend to sleep my way to the top."
There was a long silence while Elise studied her. "Yes. I believe you. And quite frankly, Miss Potts, I like you. I think you may do him good."
"Yes. I don't know the last time someone said 'no' to him."
The younger woman's eyebrows lifted, and she opened her mouth, closing it again when she realized she had nothing to say to that. Eventually, her brain caught up. "So… when do I start?"
Mrs. Truman chuckled, opening the file again. "According to Mr. Stark, you started at nine this morning."
"This morning? But – well – where do I go? I haven't seen him today."
"Yes. That happens. I believe he's out at the house site. He believes in working from home, but of course, that means he had to build one." She flipped through a few pages, mumbling under her breath. "Heaven forbid he should be getting anything done here." She found an envelope among the paperwork and nodded. "You'll have a driver, of course, a car… oh. And this."
Virginia took the envelope and opened it, sliding the object inside out into her hand. The flat, rectangular device had two or three buttons, and a screen. She stared at it for a moment. "I'm sorry… what is this?"
"It's a cell phone."
"But… there's no keypad."
Elise reached over and touched one of the buttons, and the screen sprang to life. "Interactive touch screen. Evidently they'll be all the rage once he gets around to selling the licensing for the design. And if you talk to it for a few minutes, it will learn to recognize your voice… for now, it's a direct line between you and Mr. Stark."
She looked into Virginia's startled eyes, and made a face. "It's experimental. I believe this is the Mark IV communications device… and since it's been around for more than a week, I'm expecting the Mark V any day now." Miss Potts blinked. "You get used to it, trust me."
Virginia touched the screen, and a picture of herself from her company ID appeared. The name under it said, 'Pepper'. "Pepper?" She looked up at the older woman, her eyebrows coming together.
"Yes. He has referred to you by that name since he broached the subject of hiring you. He is dreadful with names, so the people he needs most often have nicknames… he said something about pepper spray when I asked?"
Virginia blushed just a bit. "Well, when I had to show him the mistake, the guards wouldn't let me in… I didn't really have any, but –"
Elise stood and let out a delighted laugh, extending her hand. "Well, then, 'Pepper'. Welcome to the inner circle." God help you.
"Thank you." Pepper looked at her, a million questions in her head. Glancing at the phone in her hand, she said, "Does this come with a manual?"
Elise sighed. "No, and I'm afraid neither does Mr. Stark. Good luck."
The newly anointed 'Pepper' sat in the back of a black sedan, chauffeured by a quiet, efficient driver. She felt like an absolute idiot as he drove into the company airfield, and stopped in front of a helicopter. "Ah, where exactly are we going?"
"The build site, miss. Mickey is your pilot. You should be there in no time."
"I thought you were going to drive me?"
"Mr. Stark called and asked that you be airlifted. Evidently he needs your opinion on something." The driver gave her a tight smile. "He's not the most patient man."
"I see." My opinion? Already? She looked the helicopter over, and with a shrug, got in. "Where are we headed?"
The pilot grinned over at her. "Malibu."
The flight was, as promised, quick. She couldn't figure out why they had ducked out over the Pacific until she caught the view of the house from the sea. "Oh, good Lord…"
"It's something, eh?" The pilot slowed so she could appreciate it. "Not finished inside yet, of course, but most of the outside framework is."
Pepper stared, wide-eyed. "And those windows! But… it looks like it could fall in. I mean…"
"Have to ask the boss about that." He grinned again and landed them deftly on a field close to the house. Without stopping the rotors, he reached across and unhooked her door. "This is your stop."
She shook her head in resignation. "Thanks," then dashed out away from the chopper. As soon as she was out of range, it lifted again, like a great black and red dragonfly. Pepper frowned as it flew away. He has a custom paint job on his helicopter. Of course he does.
Turning, she almost collided with a man wearing jeans and a dirty t-shirt. If it weren't for the dark eyes and the goatee on that grimy face, she might not have recognized her boss.
"Good. You're here."
"Yes. Hello, Mr. Stark."
"I beg your pardon?" He began walking quickly back to the house, and she trotted to keep up, trying not to stumble on the rough ground, and glad she wore her most sensible heels.
"Tony. Look, Pepper, if you're going to be my –"
"If I'm going to be your personal assistant, I would prefer keeping it more formal, Mr. Stark." He stopped, turned, and his dark eyes seemed to look directly through her.
She stood up a bit taller, and nodded as if agreeing with herself. "Yes. I should prefer that." She looked into his eyes again, and swallowed. "Sir."
He held his stare for a moment longer, then his shoulders dropped like a disappointed teenager. "Oh, no. No, no, no. I can take Mr. Stark from you, but not 'sir'. 'Sir' is a bit much for me to accept - Miss Potts."
Pepper blinked, nodded, and found herself staring at his back as he headed for the house again. So far so good, she thought. But good heavens. Those eyes. I can see why so many women… cutting off her thought before it went any further, she nearly ran into him as he stopped abruptly.
"Okay. This is what I want your opinion on." He pointed to the wall around the front door, which was a darker shade on the right than on the left. "Which is better?"
For a long moment she stared at him. Then she glanced at the wall, then stared at him again, her anger rising. "You're kidding."
"You flew me out here because you need a woman's opinion on colors? Mr. Stark, if this is what the job –"
His response was equally defensive. "Miss Potts, this is a specially formulated textural concrete polymer mix, which I worked on for an awfully long time. It should keep the house in one piece and on the cliff in case of an earthquake. If you think that's too girlie for you to have an opinion on, then –"
"No, no, it's not that. It's just that I thought you – I mean, I thought you were –"
"Well, let's not assume, shall we?"
Pepper straightened up. "I apologize, Mr. Stark." He nodded, and they both seemed a bit sheepish in the wake of their bluster. This is a hell of a way to start a job! She looked at the wall again. "So. What exactly is the difference between the two sides?"
He stared at the wall for a long time. "I, ah…." He looked down, biting his lower lip before he looked back to her. "Well, the difference… is…actually… the color."
She rolled her eyes.
"But I really can't decide." He came so close to whining that he managed to look sincerely embarrassed, which somehow made him appear more charming. "Listen. I need someone in this position whose opinions I can trust. What do you think?"
Pepper stared at the wall, but her mind was spinning. You could quit, you know. You could leave right now, no one would blame you. This isn't what you signed up for. It's as if he needs someone to take care of him, and you're no babysitter. She spun to face him, ready to -
His dark eyes were wide, and she was surprised to see through his defiantly macho shields, almost painfully hopeful.
Good Lord, she thought. He really doesn't have anyone to ask these things! He doesn't have… anyone.
Just like me.
Hiding her reaction, she looked around at the rocky cliffs, blinked a few times, and then pointed at the right side of the door. "That one. Matches the natural stone better."
Tony looked around, then clapped his hands together and pointed at her. "You're right! You're absolutely right. Remember to tell the walls foreman."
"The walls foreman?"
"Exactly. Come on in, let me introduce you to the house."
"You want me to tell the walls foreman? I don't even know –"
He opened the door ceremoniously and motioned for her to come in. "Jarvis?"
Pepper looked around. "You have a butler in here already?"
"No, Jarvis is the house intelligence system." He watched for her reaction, which she held in check surprisingly well.
"Of course it is."
Almost disappointed, he said, "Jarvis, this is Miss Potts. She's my personal assistant now. She'll have full access."
"Full. Set her up with her own codes. Send them to her house email."
"I don't have house email –"
"You do now. Here. This house." He snatched a card up from a half finished counter and handed it to her. "Make it happen, Jarvis. And send her my address as well."
"As you wish. Welcome, Miss Potts."
Pepper looked a little overwhelmed as she turned the card over. It had PepperP written on it, over his personal domain site. She nodded gamely. "Ah, hello, Jarvis. A pleasure to meet you." She turned and looked at Tony. "So how come he can call you 'sir'?"
Tony looked at her for a long moment. "Because he makes it sound impressive." He kept a straight face, but she couldn't for long. When she finally dropped her head and smiled, it was like the sun came out.
"So, Miss Potts… what do you think?"
"About the house? It's amazing, so far."
"And the job?" He tossed it off casually, but she could already see through him.
"The job. Well… the job is going to be interesting," She gave him a sincere little smile. "I'm willing to give it a try." He nodded. "But, first, I would like to ask you something."
He gave her his full attention, which was a bit unnerving. "Yes?"
"Mrs. Truman said that you've… gone through a lot of personal assistants since you've become president of the company."
Tony looked past her, then down. "Yes?"
"Mr. Stark." His eyes lifted to meet hers. "I expect a professional relationship. That is all."
His head bobbed toward one shoulder. "And... that's probably a good idea. I need someone I can depend on to be there for me."
"And not just be there in the morning?" Oh, Lord. I said that. She waited for him to respond, but he just stared at her.
"Yes." For a long moment they stared into each other's eyes. "Anything else, Miss Potts?"
She blinked, and pushed her hair back over her ear. "No, I think that about covers it… for now."
"Good. That's good. Good. You hungry? We've got a lot of house to cover."
"Well, I could –"
"Great. Order a pizza, okay? No anchovies." He darted toward the stairs, and turned to motion to her when he was a few steps down. "Come on. I'll show you the workshop!" For a instant, he sounded like he was fifteen years old, enthusiasm bubbling over.
Pepper stood for a moment after he was out of sight, and looked around the house. So this is what life is going to be like? Well, just for a while. This is great for just out of college, but you have plans, remember? Yeah, plans… Somehow, being Anthony Stark's personal assistant was never on that list… I could certainly learn a lot… But he's out of his mind! He's crazy!
She giggled at herself as she moved to follow him downstairs.
Well, that figures, doesn't it? He's… Stark. Raving mad.
And perhaps she was a bit crazy, too – because even though it was just a job - she found she was already beginning to enjoy it.
…please feed the author…