Another how-Pepper-found-out-Tony-was-alive fic, but this one's from Rhodey's point of view mostly, with a little Pepper thrown in around the middle.
Disclaimer – I only own Sandra the secretary :)
Sensitivity was not one of James Rhodes' special skills. He'd known Tony too long for that.
Rhodey was nothing if not practical. He'd been around Tony too long to be anything but.
Years of friendship meant that thinking on your feet, relying on reactions and rolling with the punches were common occurrences. With Tony Stark, you either kept up or got left behind. And, no matter what he might say when he was pissed off, he was proud of the fact that he could keep up.
He'd fallen behind when they went to Afghanistan. Not a lot, but enough. He knew Tony never showed up to accept awards. The last award Tony picked up himself was during their MIT days when his dad had been in the audience. Why the hell did he think it'd be any different if he was the one presenting it? Hell, Tony probably didn't even know he was presenting it...even Pepper knew he zoned out when she started talking about things he had no intention of attending.
He'd fallen behind. Not a lot, but enough. And now he was paying for it.
But he was practical. Falling behind, just that little bit, meant he didn't die out there in that desert. It meant he could search for Tony. It meant he could bring his best friend home. So maybe it was okay to fall behind once in a while. Not even Pepper could keep up with Tony 24/7.
So, when he finally found Tony his first reaction had been to call Pepper. No matter what either of his friends said, they were practically a couple. Of the old and married variety. Okay, Tony slept around, but Pepper wasn't exactly innocent either. They were both as stubborn and in denial as the other. If they were moving any slower, they'd be going backwards. It was infuriating.
But that didn't change the fact that Rhodey's first port of call upon finding Tony was to contact Pepper. Not Obie, not his superiors, not the medical facility in Germany that they were now speeding towards...they could wait. Pepper couldn't.
However, Rhodey had a little bit of a problem. To make the phone calls he'd need to leave Tony to go up to the cockpit. And there was no way in hell that was happening. If he tried to make the phone call from where he was, he'd probably give Pepper a coronary. Between the noise of the engines and the chaos that was the medical team, this place sounded a lot worse than it actually was. So he was practical.
The pilot could make the call to the brass. The brass could inform Stane. He, on the other hand, would show Pepper that Tony was alive. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Rhodey stepped through the throng of medical personnel – earning himself a few glares and a tired smile from Tony – and threw his arm around Tony's shoulders. "Come on, smile. It might limit the damage your better half inflicts on me for taking so long to get you home."
Pepper sighed as she dropped another load of files onto Sandra's desk. Sandra had been Howard Stark's secretary, racking up almost forty years of service with the company. Now, she was head of Administration, coordinating everyone and making sure that people actually talked to each other. Without her, Pepper was pretty sure that life would be a hell of a lot harder. She had her hands full with trying organise Tony's life without trying to second-guess where any one of Stane's four assistants were at any given time so she could pick up paperwork.
Those jobs, while seemingly meaningless, were vital. And Sandra made it all happen. She made sure that the people in R&D didn't ignore the people from Accounts because the latest budget meant they had to lay off one of their projects until next month. She spent three days chasing down paperwork so that Pepper and the other executive assistants could focus on keeping the schedules running smoothly. And then there were the little things she did that we're in her job description. She organised the birthday cupcakes, the gender-specific teddy bears when someone had a kid (complete with SI t-shirts) and headed the committee for the company Christmas Party. She also doubled as surrogate-grandmother/therapist/guidance councillor/good cop whenever the situation arose. Everyone loved her.
The woman had been a godsend when she'd started working for Tony, helping the younger woman find her feet and imparting a few words of wisdom for getting through to the Stark men. Howard Stark had never had a PA. But he did have one amazingly efficient secretary. Sandra was adamant that once Pepper found her feet, everything else would fall into place. And she was right.
Although her door was always open if things became too much. She always had time for an emergency tea break.
Which Pepper was dropping in for more and more frequently. Tony was gone. Missing. The odds of a positive outcome were dropping every day. It didn't matter that she was determined he was coming home alive or she'd kill him herself. Sandra never pried. She merely made a cup of tea, handed Pepper the biscuit tin and began to talk about whatever came to mind. Sometimes Pepper would talk about how worried she was. It was a rarity though, and Sandra never brought it back up again after the situation had passed. She knew Pepper didn't like the moments of weakness, so she ignored them and knew that just sitting there and listening was all she could ever do.
"More paperwork to go to Mr. Stane." Pepper sighed as the folders landed on the desk with a resounding thunk. "I don't know why they even bother sending this stuff to me anymore. By the time Tony gets back it'll all be irrelevant."
"I think they're worried that if they stopped sending it to you they'd lose their heads." Sandra laughed, reaching for the pile and beginning to sift through it. "And like you'd really leave Obadiah Stane to bring Tony back up to speed. You know exactly how that would turn out – Stane would talk, Tony would ignore him and you'd end up doing the brief anyway."
"Some things will never change." Pepper smiled, grateful that at least here she wasn't constantly faced with pitying looks. Whatever Sandra's personal thoughts on the matter, she had never once told Pepper to consider the possibility that Tony wouldn't come home. Maybe it was because she'd known Tony most of his life...she didn't want to lose him either. "I'd stick around, but I have to represent Tony at a meeting with R&D...I think they hate me now. I may not have a degree in engineering, but I can tell what kind of thing Tony would never sign off on. I've spent long enough dodging airborne pieces of Stark Tech to know what Tony's stuff looks like."
Pepper laughed and shared an eye roll with Sandra as she headed back towards the elevators. She paused in the doorway when her Blackberry pinged, moving to answer it automatically. Her breath hitched when she saw a new message from Rhodey, the familiar apprehension flooding her body. Sandra's head snapped up at the sound, and seeing the moment of fear that flashed across Pepper's face she silently moved towards the kettle.
Pepper hesitated slightly before she opened the message. Taking a deep breath and telling herself that it was probably just another update, she opened the message.
Sandra jumped when she heard Pepper's strangled sob.
Spinning around in panic, the older woman saw Pepper leaning against the doorway with one hand covering her mouth as she tried to hold back the sobs. Her first thought was that the news they'd been dreading had finally come, but then she noticed the light that had suddenly reappeared in Pepper's eyes. That dull, lost look had finally disappeared. The sobs were mixed with laughter, and just behind Pepper's hand Sandra could see the edge of a massive grin.
Before Sandra could move towards the redhead, Pepper had the phone to her ear and was muttering under her breath. Sandra couldn't make much of it out, but from what she did pick up she guessed that Colonel Rhodes would be in some serious hot water when he returned.
Rhodey glanced down in shock when he felt his phone vibrate less than a minute after he'd sent the picture to Pepper. Suddenly, he realised what order his message would have been received. Picture, then text. It didn't matter that he'd told her it was almost impossible to hear on the chopper or that he'd call her when they touched down in Berlin. All she would have seen was the picture of Tony.
The picture was a little dark and a little shaky. Exactly what you'd expect from trying to hold a camera steady on a helicopter. Then there was Tony – looking a little worse for wear, a tired smile that only the mention of Pepper could bring out...that random blue glow coming from under his shirt...
She was going to murder him.
Answering on the third ring, Rhodey shot an apprehensive glance at Tony, "Rhodes." He doubted Pepper could hear him over the roar of the engines.
"I am going hurt you, Rhodes. I really hope you have your affairs in order." In any other situation, Rhodey would have laughed at Pepper's threat. As it was he tried not to wince. Tony, who had been staring straight ahead since Rhodey had snapped the picture, somehow managed to register the movement. He looked at his friend in confusion for a moment before he noticed the phone he held to his ear. It was like flicking a switch, watching Tony suddenly come back to life as he realised how close he was to hearing Pepper's voice. Realising he was about two seconds away from Tony wrestling the phone from his grasp, he passed the phone over before Pepper could finish her threats. "I don't care if he's surrounded by doctors, if you don't let me talk to –"
"Hey, Pep." The expression Tony wore on his face at that moment made Rhodey wish he had a camera. It was so genuine, so happy...it made him want to hug his friend and say all those sappy things he'd thought over the last three months. But guys just didn't do that unless there was a lot of alcohol involved.
"I missed you too."
Pepper was the only one who could bring out that blissfully happy look in Tony. Rhodey was sure he could see tears forming in Tony's eyes, not that they'd ever fall while people could see them. At that moment, he decided that, no matter what, his friends would end up together. He would make sure of it, even if he had to drug them and drag them up the aisle himself. They were great together.
It was only practical.
Tony let out a weak laugh, waving one of the concerned medics away as he did so. He looked up and locked eyes with Rhodey as he spoke, "What time will we land in Berlin? Pepper wants to meet us there."
Yes, getting those two together was the only practical thing they could do. Especially when the couple themselves were so impractical it sometimes hurt to watch.
I think this is as far as this will go. It was fun being inside Rhodey's head, but I think if I took this forward to the meeting in Berlin it'd end up being a complete cliché.