Of all the things Pepper Potts had prepared for, this certainly wasn't one of them.
"Well," Obadiah said, pushing back from the table with a sigh, "that's that."
"I'll get the papers filed right away," the lawyer said, his eyes darting to Pepper. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thank you," she said softly. Obadiah nodded to the man, who gathered his papers and left, before turning his attention to her.
"It had to be done," he said simply.
"Our investors need a sense of continuity. I'll take over as acting CEO until the board can start the head hunting. Until then I'd like it if you could stay on. You were the closest to Tony…you'd know what he was working on."
"Of course I'll stay until then," Pepper swallowed around the lump in her throat.
"We'll have to clean out his office. I'll call someone-"
"I'll do it."
"The houses too," Stane continued. "We'll have to look at his Will to see what he wanted done with his assets."
"I'll handle that." Pepper Potts knew exactly where Anthony Edward Stark's assets would be going. A large portion would be given to the Maria Stark Foundation. Some to the California Fighter Fighter's Association. Stocks would be sold off and the proceeds split between the numerous philanthropies Tony supported. Scholarships to MIT would be given in his name.
Happy would get the Audi. Rhodey would have his pick of the personal possessions.
Pepper thought of the large sum of money that was going to be put into her bank account. She'd never have to work again if she didn't want to. Tony had tried to put her down as inheriting one of his houses, but she'd said it was too much. Instead, they'd be sold with the profits gifted to the State of California to improve the education system.
Proof, she bit her lip as Obadiah squeezed her shoulder and left the conference room, that Tony Stark had a heart. With a heavy sigh, she pressed her portfolio to her chest and walked down the hall to Tony's office.
Of course, the news coverage didn't look at him like that. They focused on his extravagant lifestyle, hedonistic tendencies, and propensity to overdo everything.
They'd found the woman he'd been engaged to for all of a week. She'd monopolized on her second shot at fifteen minutes of fame and plugged the book she'd magically written in the three months since Tony had gone missing.
They brought analysts on to debate what his legacy would be. Was Tony Stark a war profiteer? Or a humanitarian for his work with intelli-crops? They all agreed on one legacy: playboy.
They didn't talk about how he had four PhDs. They didn't say his legacy would be donating millions of dollars to humanitarian relief. They didn't talk about how he would call his other wealthy friends and convince them to donate money to causes he cared about. No one mention how he was a supporter of the arts in public schools.
No. The public would remember Tony Stark for his faults.
Because now Tony was a memory. At one o'clock, he had officially been declared dead.
Pepper had thought there would be more to it, some ceremony or words spoken. But Tony was gone with a simple stroke of a pen.
Stark Industries was planning a memorial, and Pepper knew she'd be expected to attend. Her stomach churned at the thought of the spectacle. Women who had thought they were something special to him would weep about their dead lover. His friends would shake their heads and recount stories that were simply Tony.
They would have their own private memorial, she decided while packing some of his papers into a box. Those few people that really knew him: Happy, James, Obadiah, and herself. At the mansion, where they could have JARVIS join. The AI had been searching everything he could for some shred of news about Tony. Every time Pepper went there, she'd ask about the probability of finding him. It got lower with every day.
Suddenly exhausted, Pepper collapsed in Tony's chair. She plucked her phone from her jacket pocket and hit the first speed dial. It rang once before going to voice mail.
"You've reached Tony Stark. If I don't know or like you, call my assistant, Pepper Potts."
Pepper bit her lip and fought back tears. "Tony," she said quietly. "Where do you want your papers to go?" Pep glanced at her watch. "You're supposed to be at a board meeting in fifteen minutes. And JARVIS said that the Cobra needs an oil change. Should I have Happy do it?"
Hot tears spilled down her cheeks.
"You never gave me an answer about the MIT commencement speech and that's coming up soon." She forced down the sob that threatened to come out. "And I need to know what you want me to get for poker night. If you want the craft beer again, we'll have to put in our order soon because you're almost out of it. I've replenished your scotch but, really, you don't need to have it in your office. Don't forget that I'm taking a week's vacation soon. Shelly's out on maternity leave, so I'll interview one of the other secretaries to see if they can fill in. And no, you can't push back my vacation, I've done that three times already."
There's a tentative knock on the door, and Pepper looks up to see the custodian peeking in. "Ma'am? Mr. Stane asked me to bring in some boxes for you." Pepper nodded and pointed towards the far end of the office while wiping at her face. Just as quickly as the man appeared, he disappeared, giving her a sad look as he closed the door.
"Sorry about that. I know you don't like interruptions. I think that's all I needed to remind you of. I'll see you soon." Her voice cracked on the last two words.
Five minutes was all she allowed herself. Five minutes to sit and cry for her boss who had become much more over the years she'd worked for him. While to others he may have been a self-centered asshole, and there was no denying that he was, Tony Stark had a secret soft side.
Pepper would come into work and find flowers sitting on her desk with a card reading 'Happy Birthday'. It didn't matter that her birthday wasn't for another four months.
Every trip Tony took meant a new trinket for her. It was usually just something small he probably picked up in an airport, but Pepper was proud of her growing collection of magnets and sweatshirts.
When her father had died, Tony had personally called his pilot and had the jet prepared for her. He'd gotten her a tumbler of scotch and sat beside her while she sobbed, awkwardly patting her shoulder. And when the jet was ready, Tony Stark had driven her to the airport and carried her bag onto the plane. A large bouquet of flowers had appeared at the funeral with the Stark Industries logo, but only his name signed with a sincere message of condolence for her mother.
While he irritated her to no end, Pepper couldn't bring herself to ever regret taking her position.
Even if it meant preparing for her boss' funeral.
When the few boxes were packed, Pepper called Happy up to help her carry them to the car. They silently loaded them into the trunk before she slid into the back seat. Neither tried to catch the other's eye. They knew that this was the end.
Their small, dysfunctional family was finished.
When Rhodey called the next week, Pepper thought she was dreaming. It wasn't possible.
And as she stood on the tarmac and watched the plane land, Pepper pinched herself. Tony Stark was not going to be walking off that plane. They'd lost him in Afghanistan.
But there he was, arm in a sling and with half healed wounds on his face, but whole. And safe.
Pepper had to stop herself from running to him and throwing her arms around him. Still, she fought back tears as he waved away the stretcher, hands clenched tightly around the portfolio she held.
"Your eyes are red," Tony said as he stood in front of her. "A few tears for your long lost boss?"
"Tears of joy," she replied, "I hate job hunting."
"Yeah, well, vacation's over."
Author's Note: So I hope you enjoyed this little fic. The idea came up when I was at work and wouldn't leave me alone. I don't really have a lot of experience writing Pepper, so I hope this is in character. She seems like the kind of woman who would try to have some semblance of normalcy as her world falls apart.
Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think!