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A/N: I wrote this fic because I''m sick of the "Steve needs to apologize to Tony because he was mean to him" crap. They're adults, they got over it by the end of the movie, as mature adults tend to move forward with their lives after someone is rude to them. Neither Tony nor Steve was more right than the other in that scenario.
On a normal basis, Steve doesn't consider himself to be an impatient person. Good things come to people who wait, as he learned with his multiple attempts to sign up with the military, which eventually resulted in him becoming the recipient of the Super-Soldier Serum.
Besides, if things are running slow, it doesn't help to lash out and blame other people. Steve believes in the Golden Rule, and he finds that treating people with disrespect doesn't win any friends or improve the situation.
So when Ms. Potts's young secretary glances over at him for the seventh time in the space of the twenty minutes he's been sitting on the sofa in the waiting area outside Pepper's office, having been requested to meet with her, he offers the young woman another congenial smile.
His fingers twitch restlessly, and he wishes he had thought to bring his sketchpad with him. Briefly, he wonders why Ms. Potts, Pepper, has summoned him to her office, high up on a tower, away from the Avengers' Mansion (they've set up their headquarters there, away from any property Tony owns, because Fury says he doesn't want Tony to become "too comfortable under his own roof."). Probably not a press conference, because S.H.I.E.L.D. usually arranges those. Just as well: Steve doesn't particularly enjoy a dozen cameras continuously flashing at him while reporters clamor from all sides, shouting questions that are rendered incomprehensible by the din of their own voices.
Speaking of which, there's a ruckus taking place behind Pepper's office door: two people are arguing loudly.
"I have an appointment with Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts, and I would greatly appreciate it -"
"Please, spare me." Presumably, that's Pepper. Steve has only been introduced to her, and they have interacted very little; he doesn't really recognize her voice. "What you want, Ms. Everhart, is another chance to defame Tony, and maybe to get into his pants. You'll get neither, but I have no doubt you'll be more disappointed about the loss of the latter. Another article about how the heroes of New York are actually government-approved thugs, and people will be tossing your precious Vanity Fair magazine where you belong- in the trash. Now leave, or I'll have security escort you from the premises."
The polished wood door of Pepper's office swings open, and a tall, pretty blonde woman strides out. She's very glamorous despite the muted colors of attire: her luscious hair is styled loose, falling softly around her slim shoulders, and her lovely face, with bright, beautiful eyes, is complemented by a careful framework of lavishly-applied cosmetics. Her outfit, which looks expensive to Steve, still retains an aura of elegance though she is clearly dressed for business, and she has good posture, carrying herself with pride and confidence.
Steve absorbs the various aspects of her appearance because he's provided with ample opportunity to do so- he collides with her, nearly knocking them both off-balance. She's walking away from Pepper's office, rummaging around in her designer briefcase, as Steve is advancing forward. She progresses much faster than he expects (he's never understood how ladies are capable of moving so swiftly in those high heels), and they wind up crashing into each other.
She loses her grip on her briefcase, and it falls, various items spilling out from inside and scattering on the floor. With a gasp, she stoops to gather her effects. "I'm sorry," she says, and the words are rushed but sincere. "I should've watched where I was going." She hasn't looked at him; she's occupied with tossing her belongings back into her case.
Immediately, Steve kneels to help her. "It's all right," he replies amiably. "It was my fault, too." He hands her an elaborate pen that's dropped on the floor.
She glances at him for the first time. Rather than starting at the sight of a prominent superhero, she half-arches an eyebrow at him, but she accepts the pen, and they stand together. Steve notices her eyes are slanted upward at the outer corners, ending in distinct points, and he's fondly reminded of a cat.
"Thank you, Captain," she says evenly.
"Not a problem." He gives her a smile, to which she responds with a nod, and then she proceeds to the exit. Steve watches her go.
Glancing in the voice's direction, Steve's gaze lands upon Pepper, who's poised outside her office door. He realizes she's watched the entire exchange.
Pepper motions towards her office, and Steve enters, fleetingly glancing about. Minimal decorations and furniture, few distractions beyond a wide window- it's the workplace of an efficient C.E.O.
Pepper situates herself behind her desk. There is no seat of any kind for him, so Steve continues to stand.
Expression frosty, Pepper fixes her gaze on him. "I heard about what you said to Tony. I'm not pleased."
Frowning, Steve tries to recall a time when he said anything to Tony that could possibly relate to Pepper. "Ms. Potts, could you clarify -"
"You insulted him," Pepper hissed angrily. "You told him he would be nothing without the Iron Man armor. What kind of person are you, talking to him like that?"
Taken aback slightly by the woman's ire, Steve doesn't reply for several seconds. A beat passes, and then he states, "Ma'am, if I remember the sequence of events correctly, we both insulted each other. We were arguing. I regret that our conversation devolved into something as juvenile as what basically amounts to a name-calling contest, but we were equal participants. Neither of us were victims, and Tony got the last word." Steve grimaces, remembering how irritating it is to riposte against someone like Tony, who could never let anything slide. "He usually does, whenever some argues with him."
Pepper stares at him, mouth twisting in disgust. "Do you even know what Tony's been through? He's been captured and tortured by terrorists, waterboarded, betrayed and almost murdered by someone who we all thought was his friend. Do you feel good knowing that you verbally attacked someone whose life has been ruled by all of that trauma?"
Guilt gnaws at Steve; he doesn't know anything about that, and now he feels like a cad for assuming that Tony had never suffered at all in his life. However, he's not going allow himself to be accused and slandered of misconduct: traumatic experiences or not, past events are not an all-encompassing excuse for Tony's rude behavior.
"Ms. Potts, I truly am sorry to hear that Tony had to go through that. I wouldn't wish those sort of struggles on anyone. But I wasn't attacking him for my own entertainment. I was retaliating for some of his comments, which I found to be upsetting. We're adults, Ms. Potts, and people are going to disagree. Tony and I argued and said hurtful things to one another, but we've shook hands and moved on past that. I don't really appreciate you calling me in here to chew me out like I'm some errant schoolchild. Tony can look out for himself, both verbally and on the battlefield. I'm not going to be taken to task for defending myself from Tony's remarks and giving him a taste of his medicine, especially since I didn't know any of those events you mentioned had transpired."
Pepper's loyalty to Tony is admirable, but Steve is gradually growing exasperated with this situation. Pepper's interference is totally unnecessary, and makes this seem all the more like a grade school argument. Do they really have to dwell on a single verbal spat? Shouldn't all of them possess the maturity to just forget about it and go on with their lives as he had? No one would ever catch him stewing and dwelling over Tony's jibes, even if they did render him momentarily angry.
"What's more," Steve continues, drawing in a deep breath, "is that Tony isn't the only person to have some undergone horrible stuff. I think everyone in the Avengers Initiative program has had more than a few trials in their lives. Personally, I've endured the deaths of both my parents, lost one of the few people who ever believed in me, spent two years serving in the army during the war, liberated concentration camps and seen the evidence of the horrific practices that took place there, lost my best friend on mission even though I think I might have been able to save him, fought a madman who planned to bomb out my country, lost the one woman who loved for who I truly am, and I've woken up seventy years into the future with the entire world I once knew gone and something completely unfamiliar in its place. Everyone I ever knew is mostly likely now dead."
The words hang in the air, and Steve is surprised by the catharsis washing over him. It feels good to let go a little bit, to tell someone how much waking up from the ice has bothered him, even if this isn't exactly an ideal therapy scenario.
"So, Ms. Potts," Steve addresses her evenly. "Since Tony and I both were insulting to each other, and we've both experienced trauma, by your logic, should I still feel guilty about what I said to Tony? Instead me of apologizing to him, now do we both owe each other apologies?"
Not swayed by his rationalizing, Pepper shakes her head with disdain. "And to think I heard that you were against bullies."
His fists clench at her insinuation, and Steve forces himself to relax. "I'm not a bully, Ms. Potts, and Tony is not a victim of cruelty, at least not from me. We both have problems, but our quarrel is over. And when it took place, I wasn't menacing a helpless innocent. Tony was rubbing my face in the dirt, reminding me that I'm the product of an experiment that caused me to outlive everyone I cared about. I don't like to have people use that against me. I did insult him, true, but not for fun, which seems to be his modus operandi, but out of outrage." Blood is pounding in Steve's veins, and he exhales to calm himself. "And if we're going to discuss bullying, Ms. Potts, I'm curious about the way you reacted to the lady in your office before me." It's none of his business, he knows, but she's the one who's insistent on drawing him into an argument, and Steve has never liked hypocrites.
At the mention of the other woman, Pepper rolls her eyes. "That's Christine Everhart. She's thinks of herself as a reporter, but she's nothing than a bimbo and one of Tony's previous one-night stands."
Blinking at the word "bimbo", Steve ventures, "I've been told it's inappropriate to use a woman's . . ." heats flows to his face, "sex life against her. And yet, you insulted her based on her sexual choices. Her sexuality."
Pepper seems bored by the concerns he's raised. "She slept with Tony within minutes of meeting him. Many women do that. Christine isn't that special."
Steve hesitates. "Maybe so, but isn't it wrong to hold her sexual encounters against her? I mean . . . if that had been a male reporter, would you still have disparaged him because of his . . . promiscuity?" Steve isn't certain is Christine is promiscuous, but Pepper definitely appears to think so.
"Tony doesn't sleep with men!" Pepper snaps sharply.
"Of course not." Steve's face reddens, and he realizes that he looked like an idiot in an attempt to draw a comparison. "I wouldn't mind if he did, though. I just . . ." He searches for a method that would help Pepper to understand the point he's trying to make. His minds lands on one, and, unable to find an alternative, he swallows, then speaks. "Some people say that the reason Tony gave you the position as C.E.O. of Stark Industries is because the two of you are in a relationship."
"That's a lie," Pepper says fiercely. "I earned this position through competence and hard work, and that's why Tony appointed me. Anyone who says otherwise is just a rumormonger."
Steve nods. "You don't like that your relationship with Tony is used to demean you. But then you turn around and use Christine's past relationship with Tony to degrade her. That's not exactly fair, is it?"
Pepper narrows her eyes at him.
"You targeted the sexuality of another woman in order to insult her, knowing that society's double standard against women's sex lives would back you up," Steve pointed out. "You know that a woman is shamed for sexual promiscuity, while a man is congratulated for the same thing. You weaponized a double standard, knowing that it's unfair. And that, Ms. Potts, is one of the things I consider to be bullying."
Pepper considered him with hostile eyes. "You'd defend a woman who wrote an article referring to the Avengers Initiative members as 'potentially authoritarian vigilantes'?"
"No matter what she may have wrote, Christine Everhart has the right to her opinion, and she also has the right to publish her opinion. I fought in a war to ensure that the personal freedoms of America's citizens would never be taken away," Steve informs her. "I don't want to be seen as a 'thug' or a 'vigilante,' Ms. Potts, and I want the people of the United States to be able to place their faith in me."
Steve pauses and inhales, gathering his thoughts. "But I've seen totalitarian regimes where no one was permitted to speak out against government figures, where they would be thrown into prison or worse for their personal politics, and I don't want that. I don't want to be worshipped; I don't want people to be afraid that the Avengers will come after them for criticizing us. If the Avengers make mistakes, if we grow too comfortable with our own power and begin abusing it, I want someone to be there to call us out on it. And if Christine Everhart is that person, then good for her: she's doing her job, and she's looking out for the country as well."
He waits for Pepper to respond; she doesn't. Instead, she studies him carefully. Steve can't tell what she's thinking.
"Good day, Ms. Potts," he tells her.
Steve is finished with his piece, he's said what needed to be said, and so he strides from the room.
A/N: I'm also sick of all the hostility and slutshaming* directed at Christine Everhart. It's not cool. Demonizing an existing character with the intent of proving how much more awesome your favorite character is than her only proves pettiness and lack of creativity. It's also damaging to women everywhere when someone mocks a woman's sexuality. Still today women are killed because they are openly sexual or even accused of being sexually active, and it's not right to make light of that.
*Slut-shaming is the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for being sexually active, having multiple sex partners, or acting or dressing in a way that is deemed excessively sexual, often by calling them a "slut" or other derogatory terms, or drawing attention to the woman's sexual acts and exposing them for the sake of mockery.
This portrayal of Pepper may be a little off, as I have no prior experience writing her, and I don't understand her character. If she's so talented, why does she hang around a self-asorbed egomaniac like Tony Stark?
Anyhow, have a great day. Peace and joy.