Pepper knew Natalie was not from legal, knew she'd never modelled, knew she'd not gone to Harvard. The references all checked out, even the one from another CEO of a fortune-500 company Pepper knew well. Knew so well in fact she could tell he was lying over the phone, something she would address later, for now she had to figure out who Natalie Rushman really was, because she sure as hell wasn't here to be anyone's PA.
It's a shame really, she thought, Natalie was gorgeous and had all the qualifications needed. It wasn't that she was too perfect, it wasn't the way she flipped Happy over and hit him to the mat but something else Pepper couldn't quite identify. She just knew.
Corporate Espionage was not uncommon, but this was the most blatant case of it she'd seen for a while, and the sloppiest. Targeting Tony Stark as a model, Pepper shook her head, it was pathetic. It was the fact that it was so bad that made her wonder. Made her wonder if it was something as simple corporate espionage. Everyone was after the Iron Man suit, not just civilian bodies but governmental ones as well.
It all clicked into place.
But who? Not the CIA, they didn't take part in missions in the US. Was it the Army themselves, or the Air Force? A combined forced? Of course the easiest way to get to the bottom of it all was to confront Rushman herself, but that wasn't really safe to do she supposed.
Except she was so angry, at the nerve of it, she could barely sit on the information when she next saw the woman. She wasn't jealous, as Tony tried to jokingly insist, she wasn't green, she was furious. The woman had managed to infiltrate Tony's life with hardly any effort at all, and now, now Pepper was on the fringes, watching it all go to hell. She wasn't jealous she was panicking.
She was sensible though, and Tony was never too far away even if she was CEO now and he was simply...simply Iron Man; if that could be simple. Then a man was cutting cars in half with electric whips and Natalie Rushman was not her immediate problem.
She had no proof. Nothing concrete, and while she was trying to deal with all the other problems Tony and Vanko and being CEO had created for her and Stark Industries she had some people look into it, while trying to keep an eye on Natalie herself.
She was very good. Pepper had to admit. She had a similar resume to Pepper herself, with the good schooling and and the impressive modelling photos that weren't photo-shopped (she'd had them checked), her body was perfect, and her work was competent and maybe she wasn't as bad as she thought. She'd gotten this far after all, was currently sitting with her in Tony's house as they tried to work on the damage control together and Tony hid in his workshop. She looked the part too. Beautiful in fact, it was obvious what Tony saw in her. Pepper saw it too, in the long legs and the perfect hips. In those lips.
She answered the question posed to her be the CNN presenter and spoke over Natalie, telling Rhodey to go down the stairs. Partly to annoy the other woman, to remind her that Pepper was in charge, and partly because she hoped the other man could talk some sense into him because she sure as hell wasn't managing to do it. Which really infuriated her.
She cracked at the party.
Seeing Natalie wearing the arm of the Iron Man suit, earlier on. Then bringing in Tony's present a little later and finding him absolutely blind drunk and the woman no where to be found; it was too much to take. Jarvis had been put on high alert for intruders, in the workshop and his systems, and both remained secure to an extent. Didn't really help if Tony was wearing the suit and using it to open champagne bottles and play DJ.
She snapped when the fight broke out and she saw Natalie running towards her looking convincingly panicked and warning a leopard print dress of all things.
"Don't you Miss Potts me, I'm on to you," she said, waving her finger at her, "ever since you came here-"
Her sentence was cut short when Tony and Rhodey came flying through the ceiling in front of them. She panicked, not sure where to move, or if she even should, but then Happy was pulling her out of the house, and they were running past the crowd and up the driveway, Pepper making her way over the long grass; a short-cut to her car.
"We need to get the rest of the guests off the property," Pepper said. "It's not safe."
"I'll go with Happy," Natalie said, "you should stay here."
She went to leave and Pepper grabbed her elegant wrist, keeping her in place. "Happy can handle it," she said, scowling at the other woman. She looked over to Happy, who simply nodded and jogged back down the drive.
"Where are you from?"
"Legal?" she said, making Pepper huff.
"No really?" She still had a hold on the woman's wrist, and remembered how easily she'd thrown Happy made her let go and step back. "Who sent you? The Army? Or some other branch? Or some other Government?"
"It's not what you think," Natalie said, stepping closer to her.
"Really, you're not trying to steal Tony's Iron Man suit."
"No, I'm trying to help him."
"Help him?" Pepper raised an eyebrow. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever-"
"I was sent by SHEILD," Natalie cut in. "My name is really Natasha Romanov, I'm a SHEILD agent sent here to assess Tony and make sure he doesn't..." she drifted off, looking away from Pepper.
"Doesn't what?" she snapped.
"Doesn't go off the rails."
There was an explosion and Natasha moved fast, covering Pepper and crouching them down to the floor.
"Good job," Pepper said when Natasha let them back up.
"Look, I can't explain everything Miss Potts, but trust me, I have Tony's best interests at heart. And yours," she added, with a weak smile.
Pepper shook her head. "No, you have SHEILD's best interests at heart," she said, "And when I get the hell out of here, I'm calling Coulson and having you removed."
She went to walk away and Natasha grabbed her hand, pulling her back a little too hard, Pepper colliding with her. Pepper frowned and stepped away, wrenching her hand free of Natasha's grip.
"You don't need to do that," she said, and Pepper caught the other woman looking down her dress quickly, then back up again, "I'll be calling the director of SHEILD myself."
"How do you know that?"
"Tony tells me everything. Whether I like it or not."
Natasha smiled, and for a moment Pepper smiled back.
"I'm going to call Fury now, to try and sort all this out. I'm really sorry Miss Potts I didn't know he would..." She waved her hand at the smoke coming from the house.
Happy came running up to them, pausing when he saw them smiling at each other.
"Everyone's gone and - " he hesitated.
"And Colonel Rhodes took one of Mr. Stark's suits."
"Dammit," Natasha muttered.
"Call Fury," Pepper told her. "Then I want to see you, in my office," she told Natasha.
"I'll be there," she promised. "And I'm sorry," she added.
Pepper nodded, thinking maybe she meant it; she certainly seemed sincere.
That night she dreamt about burning the leopard print dress, with Natasha watching her in the nude.
She wasn't sure it was the best idea, but after to talking to Phil, she kept Natasha as her assistant for a few days while Tony was sequestered in his half demolished home. She didn't know what he was up to in there, and didn't want to know, she was so angry with him, so far removed from the situation that when he turned up to talk to her she didn't want to talk to him. She just left with Happy and waited for Natasha in the town car. She was taking them both to New York, they were no good to Tony right now, and he sure as hell didn't deserve them either.
"While we're in the air, you should take the time to relax Miss Potts. Tony is in capable hands, he can't make anything worse."
Pepper smiled at her, leaning back in the leather. She tried to take a deep breath but couldn't. She still hadn't been able to convince the lawyers to go after the army after Rhodey took the suit, and she couldn't quite get the press to calm down after the huge fight and explosion. Or the stock prices.
"I don't think so Agen- Miss Rushman," she said, "still a lot to do."
Natasha nodded, and they rode in silence to the air field.
Every so often the exhaustion caught up with her. Not very often but sometimes her body really couldn't take the stress of everything that was going on and she needed to rest. Natasha was right of course, she needed to take some time. If not to relax then at least rest. In her chair on the private jet she started to doze off, still holding onto her phone, a tablet on her lap with the stock prices running on it. She closed her eyes to the sunset for a moment and felt a blanket being spread over her, and a hand at her shoulder.
"Thank you Agent Romanov," she said quietly, putting her tablet and phone to the table next to her.
"Natasha," she said, "you can call me Natasha. In private at least."
Pepper nodded, sleepy now, and the agent moved to sit in the chair opposite, crossing her long legs. She spotted the gun strapped to her leg and raised an eyebrow.
"Do you always wear a gun?"
"Yes," she said, pulling the pencil skirt up a little, to show Pepper the strap, at least, that's what she thought Natasha was doing. It just seemed like she was showing her more pale thigh. Not that Pepper minded either way. "And a knife."
"Where's the knife?"
"I'm not sure I should tell you all my secrets Miss Potts."
She smiled at that, and didn't push any further.
"Pepper," she said. "Call me Pepper."
"In private?" Natasha asked, and she nodded, smiling and closing her eyes.
Pepper was getting used to things going spectacularly wrong.
Natasha threw herself over her, again, as Iron Man and Rhodey shot through the glass roof of the building. It rained shards down on the crowd and they sat up right and looked at each other. Without a word they got up and weaved through the panicking crowd. Pepper was surprised she was keeping up with the SHEILD agent, until Natasha paused, grabbed her hand pulling her through the last few people and behind the stage.
They tried to find out what was going on but Hammer ignored them and Pepper jumped when Natasha grabbed Hammer's arm and slammed his face into the table, annoyed at the little squeal that had come out of her. She was stronger than this, she really was, but she was still going to be surprised sometimes. Especially when it came to Natasha Ramanov.
"Iv- Iva – Ivan Vanko," Hammer managed to get out. Natasha let him up and he almost fell over.
"I have to get to Hammer Industries," she said, "will you be okay?"
She reached out and touched a hand to Pepper's for a moment.
"I'll be fine," she said, "I'm going to call the police."
Natasha smiled and ran off. Pepper pulled out her cell phone and called 911.
"Tell me everything you know," she said to the guy at the computer.
When the park was almost empty Pepper wandered outside, saying goodbye to late police man. Tony wasn't dying any more; another secret Natasha had kept from her, and Hammer was in custody. She felt a little calmer, for a moment at least. She didn't know if Tony and Rhodey were completely safe yet, if Vanko had been stopped, but for now, it was peaceful in the park. She took a few steps down from the main auditorium and took a closer look at one of the drones on the floor, an army one she thought. It was ugly, top-heavy too, she was surprised they were able to stand up, let alone fly.
She heard a screech, and looked up to see the town car heading towards her. She hopped back up the steps and waited until it stopped beside her. Natasha threw the door open and yanked her inside, making her squeal a little.
"Go!" she yelled, and Happy put his foot down, lurching them both forward in the car.
"What the hell is going on?" Pepper cried.
"I hacked into Hammer's systems, Vanko's programmed all the drones to explode," Natasha said, still holding on to Pepper's hand. "Faster Happy."
The driver didn't reply, simply trying to get the car to moved faster, managing to get another couple of mph out of it.
They all felt the force of the explosions behind them as they raced out of the park, and Natasha wrapped herself around Pepper and pushed her down the back seat of the car as the force lifted the back wheels of the car into the air, and the flames licked over the roof.
"Holy shit," Happy yelled from the front. "You okay?"
"We're fine, keep driving," Natasha said.
Pepper wasn't so sure she was okay, she was underneath Natasha Romanov, who was wearing a skin tight cat suit and was incredibly warm. She couldn't quite convince herself to push the woman up, but she moved anyway, and pulled Pepper upright, smiling weakly.
"Are you okay?"
"You just saved my life," Pepper said, "Thank you."
"My job," Natasha said, "my real job at least."
Pepper leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, an impulse she couldn't quite explain and was pretty sure Natasha was going to kiss her back, she had leaned for a little, looking at Pepper's lips. Then she snapped her head away suddenly, pressing her fingers to her ear.
"Stark?" she said.
"Is he okay?" Pepper whispered.
"She's fine Tony, we're in the car driving into New York," she smiled at Pepper, who relaxed into the leather of the back seat. "We'll see you soon." She lowered her hand. "He's fine. Vanko blew himself up as well."
"Oh. So it's over."
"It's never over," Natasha said and Pepper frowned.
"I suppose not," she replied, feeling her cell phone vibrating in her pocket. "The company is not going do well after this."
"It will settle again Pepper," she said.
They pulled up outside the Stark New York offices finally, and Happy held the door opened for them both and waited for them to head into the building.
"Happy, can you go and see if Mr. Stark has arrived yet?" Pepper asked, "I'll be along in a moment."
"Sure thing," he said, heading into the building, leaving Pepper and Natasha outside.
"What is your assignment now? Do you still have to shadow Tony?" Pepper asked.
"I'm afraid not," she said, "I have to write a report on him, then Fury will give my next assignment."
"I'll miss you," Pepper blurted out. "I mean, you were a good -"
Natasha cut her off with a kiss to the lips, winding a hand into her light red hair. When she pulled away, Pepper smiled at her.
"I'm still mad at you, by the way, for lying to me," she said.
"I lie to a lot of people," Natasha told her, "don't take it personally."
Pepper chuckled and kissed her back, pulling her body flush against her own.
"Tell me you'll see me soon," she whispered.
"I will," the agent said, and Pepper let her go.
"Are you lying now?"
"No," she promised.
Pepper knew she would.