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18 April 2009 @ 02:52 pm
Iron Man: "Walking in these Shoes" by Red Fiona  
Title: Walking in These Shoes
Author: Red Fiona
Fandom: Iron Man movieverse
Pairing/characters: Pepper Potts/Tony Stark, plus Happy Hogan and a special guest villain from the comics.
Rating: PG, less sex and swearing than in the film.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters, Marvel do. Marvel and Paramount own the version of the characters I’m using. No money is being made from this fic.
Prompt: 843 - Iron Man (movie), Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, Pepper is a tall girl, regardless, she always liked high heels even when she was a little boy.
Summary: Pepper Potts is the woman she'd always wanted to be. It's probably not all Tony's fault that her well-ordered life has just been blown to pieces. But it's definitely mostly his fault.
Author's Notes: Any comments and criticism gratefully accepted. I'm also very grateful to all the people on my f-list who gave advice and helped me out with some of the details.



~~~~

“I take it that shoes will not work as an apology.”

“Not even a closet full of Manolos.” He’d mostly meant the offer as a joke, because even he could see that this was entirely his fault. She’d liked that apartment. Sure, she barely spent any time in it (his fault too) but it was hers, and she’d enjoyed the privacy and space. It was somewhere where she didn’t have to clean up after Tony’s messes and now it was lying in rubble. All because Tony couldn’t keep his mouth shut and stick to the official story.

She was trying to think what she had in there that was irreplaceable. Her cards, ID, mobile and PDA were all with her. She’d miss her clothes, but they were replaceable, and covered by her insurance. It was the same with everything else. It wasn’t like she had a pet, and all her plants died some time ago, even the cacti.

Her medicine cabinet, now that was going to be a bit more of a problem. She could take some personal time, she knew Tony wouldn’t mind, but he wouldn’t let her go without bodyguards and she could do without Happy or anyone else finding out.

“You could sleep here.” She’d been at work when it happened. Thankfully, so had everyone else in her apartment complex, and somehow, Marjorie, the little old lady in flat 2b, had been out shopping. If Pepper had been home like she was supposed to be, taking Tuesday in lieu of whatever other day she hadn’t had off recently out of the many she hadn’t taken, then she would have been dead, but no one else would have been. It was a disturbing thought.

“It’s alright. I can get a hotel room.”

“There’s no need.”

“I just don’t like the idea of sleeping at work.”

“Like you don’t do that already. I know about your little pull out bed in your office.” She thought she’d sworn everyone to secrecy about that, including Jarvis. “It’s not like I don’t have the room. There are seven spare bedrooms in this place.” Pepper supposed that he wasn’t counting the eighth one, which was normally Rhodey’s when he stayed over, or the ninth, which had been Obidiah’s, but that no-one except the maids went into anymore.

Tony was close up in front of her, gripping her shoulder. It wasn’t the grip that was making her feel uncomfortable, but the look in his eyes. Tony was both one of the easiest people in the world to read, and the hardest. Because she’d seen that look before, normally when he wanted her to do something that he knew she’d disagree with, but it was tempered by more than his usual affection. It was that night on the roof again, only with less of a chance of a martini. She was finding it harder than ever to pull back, but one of them had to be sensible. And that one was never going to be Tony. Because Tony had to know, right?

She helped collate the background checks on the people closest to Tony, and she knew the level of detail they went into. Even the people with less of a chance of personal contact were monitored, as much as Stark Industries could get away with, and it would take very little time for her to find out what everyone in the New York office had for breakfast, where they lived and the name of their high school sweethearts. While all her papers matched up with her new name, she doubted it would be that difficult to find out that that wasn’t her birth name. Pam, who she replaced, left because she was retiring, not because of any incompetence, so she would have made sure that she knew every detail of Pepper’s life, especially given how protective she was of Tony. But would she have told him? Tony tended to affect a disinterest in any employee that wasn’t involved with RND, and they mostly played along with him, but who knew what he looked at by choice.

The biggest thing that might suggest he didn’t know is that he’d never given her hell for her chosen name. Pepper Potts might not be the most sensible name ever, but it wasn’t like Scott Potts was any better. Her brothers had snagged all the cool names before she was born.

Pepper was a call back to a stage name. When she’d been younger, she’d wanted to be an actress, thinking that she could work out the whole being stuck in Scott’s body when she didn’t feel male in the slightest thing better if she was away from home and in company that might be more willing to tolerate people who weren’t normal. So she’d done some work for community theatre, meeting some very interesting people, enjoying herself and accidentally terrifying her mother with slightly falling grades that she’d caught up the next term anyway. The main play she’d been involved in was written by a guy called Lennie, with bright red hair and so very camp, and it called for a transvestite secondary male character. Pepper volunteered.

At the time she thought it had maybe been a mistake, because she already knew that clothes weren’t the reason that she didn’t fit into her body. It wasn’t that she didn’t like women’s clothes, they were definitely better tailored, as a whole, and she liked being able to dress smartly in darted blouses and suits, but she had always dressed smartly anyway. It was one of the many, many things her brothers ragged her about.

The play had been a glorious excuse to go shoe shopping. And, okay, maybe she did always have a thing for nice shoes, because they gave her even more height and did something to her posture. She didn’t know what they did exactly, but it made her feel great, more secure, even as she tottered slightly. The shopping trips had made her mother laugh, even as she scowled at everyone else who made various comments. No, she said, her son was going to be an actor, he isn’t like *that*. Pepper still felt guilty about what she’d put her parents through. They’d always been supportive, of everything except her trying to become the person she was supposed to be.

She’d found out a lot that year, mostly that no, theatre types weren't any more welcoming than anyone else, but some things stuck, including the name. And if Tony wasn’t clear about where he wanted his money to go to when he said he wanted to invest in theatre, she normally saw to it that Lennie, or the theatre he was working for, got some funding.

“See, this is a nice room.” Tony had walked her to the third bedroom; it had a sea view too, because it was the one more or less below Tony’s room. The sound proofing had been her suggestion. “I don't think anyone has been in here for months, but we can air the bed if you’d like.”

She had to see this. Tony Stark knowing how to air a bed would be something beyond surprising. His first attempt was less than successful, in fact, she was reasonably sure that he’d got the long edge of the quilt going down the short side of the bed. The second try looked to be going the same way, when she intervened.

“I would have gotten it right eventually.”

“Yes. But I wanted to go to sleep tonight.” He laughed and they got on with it. By the time Pepper had finished, the bed still didn’t have hospital corners, but it was neat and tidy.

“I’ll go see if I’ve got something hidden in a wardrobe from ... last time Aunt Ellen stayed.”

“Would this be the brunette Aunt Ellen or the blonde one?”

“The brunette one. The other Aunt Ellen didn’t stay long enough to leave things.” It was a terrible truth that she could probably narrow it down to which of Tony’s girlfriends left the nightgown, just from that description. She had more than half a mind to tell Tony she was going to be borrowing the car and booking a hotel room, because she didn’t want his cast-off’s cast off clothes, and she didn’t want his misplaced sympathy and really, what she wanted was a long, relaxing bath in her own bathroom which she couldn’t have, or at least not until she got a new place, which was going to take forever and a day. Finding the last one certainly had done. She wanted red wine and warmth, and space to be. Only she knew that Tony was trying to help, in that terrifying ‘why can’t I fix this’ way he got about things, so the other half of her mind was telling her to stay, because if she vanished Tony would worry and probably come up with some sort of microchip to keep track of her, or something else that would mean she’d never have another moment’s privacy.

Tony came back carrying what was a respectable pair of ivory coloured pyjamas. Maybe this particular Aunt Ellen had been a real Aunt.

“They were the best that I could find.” He handed them over, taking a few seconds too long to take his hands off them.

“I’ll be saying good night then.”

She smiled. “Good night Tony.” She successfully shooed him out of the room, and sat on the bed, trying to relax. Even after stretching and taking her hair out of the chignon it was in, she felt no better. It was pointless; she was still shook up over her flat and worried about everything. She was going to take a bath in the en-suite and hope that it helped.

The next morning, she woke up before her phone alarm went off. It was annoying; she’d been looking forward to a long night’s sleep and the rest that came with it. She put on yesterday’s clothes, which annoyed her even more. She’d not had any spare clothes with her, because she’d planned on going home last night, before everything.

She went down to the kitchen for breakfast, only to find Tony already there, munching on a bowl of some cereal that she could have sworn had been banned for containing too much sugar. He hadn’t slept, she could see the little twitch he got in his left eye when he didn’t, and he’d probably already had three cups of coffee. He was planning on a long day.

“Morning.”

“Good morning, Mr. Stark.”

“Was everything okay?”

“Yes, thank you. I’m taking a day off; I have to get some things together.” And book a hotel room, but she wasn’t going to tell him that.

“That’s fine. Take as long as you need.”

“You still have to write that magazine article even if I’m not here.”

“I know.”

“I’ll give Happy a list of things you have scheduled if you’re not in the office, and I’ll send Sandra a list of what you’ve got to do if you do go in.”

“I’m not going into the office.”

“Good, you can work on the article then.”

“Yes, Miss Potts,” Tony sing-songed like a pre-schooler. Pepper, irritated, got up to leave. “I’ll see you tonight?” She started to make indecisive noises, because saying no to Tony directly was pointless, but she didn’t want to say yes and lie. Tony walked over to her, took her by the shoulders and kissed her. Her last thought before that had been a silent plea to Tony, ‘please don’t do this to us.’

Pepper had heard first, second and various other multiples of hands, that Tony was a good kisser. People weren’t wrong.

“I ... have to go now.” It wasn’t the most dignified of exits, and she’s sure that her voice jumped around while she was saying it. She heard Tony yelling something about seeing her tonight as she walked quickly to her car.

She’d stopped shaking before she reached the car, but still took a few moments to collect herself further before she rang to ask for an emergency appointment.

She’d covered most of the clothes shops she’d intended to visit before she rang Happy. “Hi, Happy. I know you’ve got two of your guys following me. Any chance you could call them off?”

“You spotted them.”

“Yeah. But don’t get too angry at them, I expected Tony get you to send someone. I expect most of the people they follow aren’t expecting it.”

“So you know why I can’t stop them. Tony would kill me if he found out I had.”

“Please.”

“Not a chance.”

“I’m clothes shopping. I will be looking for underwear. They will be shadowing me in a lingerie section. There’s got to be a basic right that co-workers shouldn’t know what you’re wearing underneath your clothes.”

“...”

“If you don’t call them off, I will walk up to them and ask their opinion on what I should choose. I will make sure you get nothing but joke underwear from the secret Santa until you retire.” There were a thousand little ways she would make him suffer if he didn’t call them off. It wasn’t even so much them following her while she went underwear shopping, but if she got rid of them now, she’d not have to lose them on the way to the doctors. “I’m only asking for two hours, max.” She could hear him weighing up the options.

“Alright. But,” hopefully the condition wouldn’t be too bad, “you’re going to take a personal alarm with you.”

“I’ve got one.”

“This one is a Stark Enterprises special, something I knocked up myself. I’m sending James over with one. He’s the taller one of the two.”

“Red hair, going slightly bald, wearing sunglasses.”

“That’s him. Please tell me you’re joking about them wearing sunglasses indoors.”

“Sadly not.”

“I sense remedial training in their future.” James came over and handed her something. She smiled and thanked him. It looked like a normal personal alarm, but she had no doubt that it had been modified enough to cause some severe damage to anyone who attacked her. “You got it?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, you see anyone else following you; you go to a public area and phone me. James and Paul will get there as soon as possible. You even think there’s half a chance anyone is following you, you do the same thing. Women’s intuition, strange feelings, clairvoyant nuns falling across your path, I don’t care what, you get even the faintest inkling, you call me. Right?”

“Will do.”

“At the end of the two hours, you call in. If you don’t, before Tony kills me, I will activate the tracking chip that’s in that alarm. Setting the alarm off does the same thing. So keep hold of it.”

“Will do.”

“Keep safe, Pepper, and I’ll hear from you in two hours.” She spent the next ten minutes trailing through Victoria’s Secrets just to make sure that they really weren’t following her anymore. They either weren’t, or they’d improved by leaps and bounds within the last ten minutes.

She made it to her appointment with a few minutes to spare and tried to collect her thoughts. The doctor had already put a cup of tea in front of her by the time she’d sat down.

“I assume you’re worried about something. You’ve called for emergency appointments twice in the last seven years. My old professor said that tea was always a good starting point for these occasions. So how can I help?”

He was definitely her favourite of the doctors she’d seen while transitioning. It was odd, because he was the one that had treated her the least like she was special or unusual, like all the cosmetic work he did on her was just everyday for him, and it probably was. Really, by the time he got to her she was already female in everything except outward signs, and all he had to do was chop and change things here and there. He was definitely better than the damn therapist she’d been forced to see, who was all cloying kindness and sweetness and light, and really, really vile. Her lavender perfume hadn’t helped either. Pepper hadn’t liked her original doctor either, looking back on it, it was probably because he’d caught her at a bad time, when she’d realised exactly what was wrong with her and then realised how difficult it was going to be to fix, and he was the first person she was having to try to convince.

“It’s two things.”

“Okay.”

“I need a refill on all the medication I’m taking.” He quirked up an eyebrow. Doctors never like it when you want refills before they expected you to need them. “My house got blown up.” The expression on his face got even more alarmed. “I’ve not gone mad. I’ve got the police report with me and everything.” She handed it to him.

His face got more worried the further he read. “Is everything else okay?”

“Yeah, I was at work when it happened and no one got injured. For all I know, my medicine cabinet is fine too; the police just won’t let me go there to check.”

He gave her the police report back, and buzzed through to the receptionist, and told her to make up a prescription. Pepper would pick it up from the pharmacist later. Thankfully, Stark Industries covered this on their insurance, or at least Pepper’s did. She strongly suspects that Tony just told HR to give her carte blanche with it. She certainly didn’t have any problems when she switched to this doctor as her main doctor despite his ridiculous prices.

“And the other thing?”

“I need some advice.”

“I’m not a therapist or a counsellor or a psychiatrist. I can’t offer advice.” All of that was true, but she valued his input. Their doctor/patient relationship had started badly, with them having an argument over the size of her breast implants. She’d had very definite ideas about what she wanted and he’d had very definite ideas about what she should have and was helping to define patronising while they were having the argument.

When she’d finally had them done, she’d hated that he was right. They agreed to go forward with his idea but if Pepper had hated them, that they’d inflate the implants further. Apparently 32 Bs looked bigger when they were in you than when you were thinking about them. But, and this was the point when she decided that she liked this man and wanted to keep him as her doctor forever, if possible, when she’d got the courage together, and tamped down her urge to scream at him, in order to tell him he was right, he just said thanks and that it was his job to know things like that. It was almost literally what he did every day.

She still compared herself to Tony’s many girls. Who wouldn’t? There were some she didn’t worry about competing with, not that she was competing with any of them, because there couldn’t ever be anything between her and Tony and she had to tell him that tonight and make sure he understood why too, but really, however screwed up the situation was with Tony, she was never going to be an Olympic gymnast or a prima ballerina. It was some of the others, the ones she could have been in a different world, like the Maxim models and the society celebutantes, she can’t help but look at them and judge. She sees them in their dresses, and for all that they probably may look better than her, and undoubtedly spent more money on their implants than she did, few of them look quite right. She’d spotted some interesting wrinkles and faded scars, plus more than a few people, she’s thinking about Miss October 2006 especially, who looked ridiculously top-heavy.

“I just need someone who already knows to listen to me.”

“Oh.”

“There’s a man. And we’re close. But nothing’s happened. And nothing is going to happen.” She knew that Tony was a rational person and she thought that she could convince him why it would be a terrible idea. “I don’t think he knows about ... my history, I certainly haven’t told him, but he’s got other resources.” That ought to cover JARVIS and the entirety of Stark Industries. “Only, I’m not sure, if anything does happen, if I should tell him.”

That was the thing that was really eating her up inside. She’d always thought she was an honest person - private, yes, but basically honest, so while she didn’t go around telling everyone why it was so important to her to be Pepper finally, she thought that if anyone got close enough, she’d tell them.

It wasn’t as though she’d been living like a hermit either, she’d dated in the last six years, but she’d never got to a stage with any of her boyfriends where she felt comfortable telling them. In between the ones that dated her to get closer to Tony, and the ones that ditched her for spending too much time with Tony, she hadn’t actually regretted that. A dress rehersal might have helped though.

“All I see are minus points to telling him, but I think it’s the right thing to do.” Her family knew, and well, they could have reacted more badly. They were still speaking to her, on the condition that any Christmas and birthday cards were signed Scott and that she’d be mysteriously absent at any family occasion. That last part was easy enough to do, because as Tony had no family ties, he seemed to assume no-one else had. It gave them something to tell people, Scott Potts was held up at work, don’t you know, he’s something very important at Stark Industries. They never said that he was a secretary, because obviously that’s women’s work, and Scott Potts isn’t a woman. She knows she should have told them to go to hell, but, despite everything, she’s still fond of them, her youngest nephew especially. He was John’s son, and being seven or eight, he was starting to have an input in what got sent as present from him. So about two Christmases ago, along with the gift card for Borders, which had to be John’s wife’s choice, she always tried for a gender neutral present, she got a plastic toy soldier with the card. Ethan had written a little note with it saying that his uncle must want something more interesting than a boring gift card, so he was sending him a soldier. Pepper had stored it somewhere safe in her flat. Hopefully the tin she kept it in would have been enough to protect it from the blast.

She made sure Ethan got whatever toy he wanted for birthday and Christmas, and she’d set some money by for his college fund already. She was going to be the best damn aunt ever. She sometimes sent a second present along, as an apology for not being there for his birthday or Christmas, and that’s when she let herself go a little wild in the toy shops and buy what she thought a kid might like. Ethan still got things that made loud banging noises most of the time, and John, or his wife, always wrote back to say thank you, and how much he was enjoying it. It was strange that this was how they got, if not talking, communicating again. John had taken it almost as badly as their Dad had done, but the choice of presents seemed to reassure him that Pepper wasn’t recruiting for some ‘deviant’s army’. Okay, so Ethan and Jenny were the only reasons she was talking to her jerk-ass older brother.

“The other thing is that, the man in question, he’s very experienced,” Tony had probably seen more women intimately than Doctor Cohen had had on his exam tables. “Not to be rude about your work, but I think he might be able to tell.” That would be the worst way for Tony to find out, especially given what had just happened with Obadiah. “He’s had some bad experiences with people lying to him before.” She just couldn’t lie to Tony. But, at the same time, “I just can’t see it going well if I do tell him.” Tony wasn’t a bad person, but people were always unpredictable. Even if she had been born with a female body, she couldn’t see her and Tony dating ending with anything other than her unemployment, given her actual status, she could see it ending a lot worse.

She looked at the doctor, hoping that maybe he would have a suggestion.

“You know I can’t tell you what to do.”

“What, no hints?” He shook his head at her. “I didn’t think there would be.”

“What do you think, Pepper?”

“I think no matter how hard I try not to tell him, I’ll end up saying something or giving myself away in some other way, and I’d rather tell him before he guesses.” She picked up her hand bag.

“That was one of the easier half hours of work I’ve ever done.”

“Sorry to take up your time.” But she smiled as she said; she knew he meant no harm. “I’ll see you again in," she checked her PDA, "a week and one month.”

“See you then.”

She still had another hour before she had to call Happy back, so she went to the Hilton and booked a room. It was an extravagance, but the security was reasonably good and the room she’d booked was right next to a fire exit.

She called Happy like she’d promised to and drove back to the house. She busied herself sorting out the details of Tony’s schedule for the next day, seeing what of the ‘to do’ pile he hadn’t done and weighing their relative urgencies, and generally doing her thing. Tony finally came up from the garage, surprising her with a martini. He’d fixed up a whiskey for himself too. He kissed her neck as he gave her the glass.

“Tony.” There was a warning in her tone. He moved away and sat down opposite her, as unaggressively as possible.

“I have a terrible feeling I’m about to be turned down.”

“It’s not you; it’s ... okay, not going to say that. The thing is, I’m not the kind of girl who dates her boss, because I want people to know that I got my job because I was the best candidate, and I kept it because I am good at it.”

“People know that.”

“They do now. But if I started dating you, they’d start to think I got my job lying on my back.”

“I know that’s not true, you know that’s not true, Happy, Rhodey and anyone we actually speak to on a regular basis know that that’s not true. Who gives a damn about anyone else?”

“That’s easy enough for you to say, you’re Tony Stark, you’ve done all kinds of things that mean people don’t care what else you do. It’s different for women. No one thinks you’ve got the things you have by anything less than hard work.”

He made a noise like a cat sneezing. “Come on Pepper, everyone knows that the only reason I’m CEO of Stark Industries is because I’m Howard Stark’s son. If it hadn’t have been for my Dad, I never would have got into MIT so early. I would just have been another guy who was very good with robots. And I have plenty of those working for me. If anyone doesn’t realise that most of my work is only possible because of who my Dad was, well then they’re even more stupid than I think they are.”

“That’s totally different, Tony, you’ve done things with your advantages. I’m just a girl Friday. A superior one, but that’s based on ideas like professionalism. And you can’t be professional and sleep with your boss.”

“So you’re saying the only way you’ll date me is if I sack you.”

“No.” She actually liked her job and the people she worked with.

This discussion was not going how she expected. About the expected level of badly, but shooting off into strange directions.

“Give a guy a hint, Pepper.” That was when Tony’s phone went off; he looked to see who the caller was before answering it. It must have been someone important because he didn't even apologise before answering. His face fell as he heard what was said.

“Pepper, I’m going to need to you take a memo. JARVIS, increase security at all Stark Industry buildings.” Tony rang someone else.

“Rhodey. Get them to check your house for bombs. Happy’s house just blew up. Exactly like Pepper’s.” Tony rang off.

“Is Happy all right?”

“Lacerated right arm, but apart from that and the obvious, he’s fine.”
“Same people?”

“Probably.” He saw that Pepper had picked up her PDA and stylus. “Start memo: To all employees of Stark Industries. Due to recent events, security is to be stepped up; all visitors will have to show ID before entering buildings, and will be screened for weaponry, all packages will be put through metal detectors,” the list went on. It would take time and money, but Tony wouldn’t stint on either of those if people were in trouble.

Happy temporarily moved into the house as well, and Pepper gave up trying to move out. She cancelled her reservation at the hotel in the gaps between fielding calls for Tony, about Tony or to Tony.

If the problems had finished then and there, it would have been okay. Shadowy assassins are not that unusual if you’re a major arms manufacturer or if you’ve slept with quite as many wives and girlfriends, your own and other people's, as Tony had. But there were also more than the usual boardroom manoeuvres, people selling up and rumour having it that the various buyers were actually a front for one person. The rumours were probably right. Certainly, Zhang Industries were upping their stake in the company through some unknown method. Zhang Tong was having a meeting with them today, and she hadn’t seen Tony drink anything that wasn’t whiskey or caffeinated for five days, and goodness knew he’d been sleeping fitfully, Pepper could hear him clanking about the garage at all hours.

The meeting didn’t start well, Pepper accompanying Tony down to meet their guest. Zhang, dressed immaculately in what looked to be this season’s best Armani, was exquisitely polite and presented Pepper with a delightful flowering plant that she couldn’t identify and Tony with an excellent, and well aged, whiskey. Pepper didn’t think their gift was anything like as good, but then again, it was so difficult to find out any information about Zhang.

She took notes in the meeting, which was all vicious politeness and chess metaphors, and made herself a note to dig out Tony’s painkillers, he was going to need them. When Zhang left, she asked him about the plant, and managed to get some suggestions for its care, while she escorted him and Tony to Zhang’s car.

“You were flirting with him.”

“I was asking how to look after a plant.”

“Flirting.”

“Tony.”

“If you work for him, will you go out with me?”

Pepper blushed. “No. It’s unprofessional.”

“Is there anything that isn’t?”

“Yes, you writing that magazine article.”

It hadn’t been as awkward as expected, turning Tony down. He was being a good sport about it, occasional pleas for her to reconsider being the worst of his behaviour. She could deal with that, given the chaos into which they had stumbled.

Any forgiveness went out of the window when Tony came back smashed half to pieces from one of his outings as Iron Man. He’d gone out alone after promising to take some back-up with him. Pepper was furious with him.

“This is exactly it. It’s a lack of responsibility on your part. What if the suit hadn’t protected you?” It had done an amazing job, but despite it, it looked like Tony’s torso would be hideously bruised for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t like having other people with me. They might get injured.”

“And you won’t?” They both determinedly didn’t storm off in opposite directions. She still thought that if she hadn’t been fumingly mad at Tony, she might have noticed the people sneaking up on her. But given that they got past Jarvis somehow, she thought that even paying more attention wouldn’t have helped. All she knew was that she woke up somewhere that wasn’t the house, appeared to be a dungeon and she was handcuffed.

“Hello?” No reply. “Excuse me. Is there anybody there?” Still nothing. She kicked the door to try and attract attention. If she didn’t get anything from this, she was going to see if she could get out of the handcuffs. It would take a lot of work; her hands were cuffed behind her.

Three guards came to take her before she could get out of the cuffs. She was led into a different room. Compared to the room she had been in, the addition of windows meant that it was burningly bright and sunny. Through the window she could see they were in a desert.

“Mr. Zhang?” She was surprised to see the still immaculately dressed businessman standing in front of the window.

“Yes. I apologise for bringing you here. However, your presence was required to convince Mr. Stark to accept the rules of this encounter.”

“Ton ... Mr. Stark, where is he?” Zhang indicated a tiny figure outside the window. “Let me talk to him.”

“All in good time. First, Mr. Stark has to agree to certain ... conditions.” The small figure raised their right hand straight in the air. “He has agreed. Come, I have promised him that I have not harmed you and he demands evidence.”

The beginnings of plan started to form in her head. “May I fix my hair first?”

“Of course, Miss Potts. Your reputation for perfectionism precedes you.” He got one of the guards to undo her handcuffs.

“May I have my handbag?”

“Certainly.” One of the guards tried to give her the handbag, but her numb hands fumbled and dropped it.

“I’m so sorry.” She quickly put everything back into the bag, except her comb and handed the bag back. She fixed her hair and returned the comb. She then followed them out of the building.

Tony spoke first. “Miss Potts.”

“Mr. Stark.” Tony was fine, by the looks of him. Angry, worried, but physically okay.

“All right, Zhang, I agree. You can have your fight, just let Miss Potts go.”

“No.”

“She’s a woman.”

“How absurd.” Pepper flinched. Hopefully Zhang hadn’t been that thorough in his researches, but he might have been, somehow he figured out how to get past Jarvis. “Miss Potts is a most honoured adversary. Her gender is entirely unimportant. I imagine that if I let her go, the forces of law and order will be here very quickly. No. She stays.”

“I’ll give you anything, if you let her go. You want Stark Industries, fine, have it. All I want is for Miss Potts to be safe and unharmed.”

“As you can see, she already is, and will remain so, as long as you abide by the rules.”

“I’m here without the suit. What more do you want? And anyway, how am I to know you won’t cheat. You can see I have no suit, I don’t know how you got into the house, my guess would be something with magnets, but whatever it was how do I know you aren’t using it?”

“My word of honour. Which I have kept so far.” Pepper saw something strange. Zhang wore too many rings, but the stones seemed to be dimming as Pepper watched.

“Okay.” Tony straightened himself up. “Just don’t make her watch.”

“Very well.” Zhang directed his guards to take her away. Pepper started to complain but thought better of it.

“See you later, Tony.”

“See you later, Pepper.”

Waiting for the guards to get complacent felt like the longest wait ever to Pepper. She knew that it had only been five, maybe ten minutes, and that she should wait longer, but she could only imagine what Zhang was doing to Tony, who was, despite everything still just a tech geek and Zhang looked like he ate tech geeks for lunch.

~~~~

Tony thought that last punch must have burst his ear drum, because that was one heck of a noise. It wouldn’t surprise him; Zhang had a punch like an ox.

“Mr. Zhang.” The voice came from somewhere behind Zhang. And it had to be Pepper. “I’d be grateful if you moved away.” She waved a gun at him. “Tony, you okay?”

“Never better.”

“This is against your word.”

“I had nothing to do with it. This is all Pepper.”

“In that case, it would appear I under-estimated you Miss. Potts. You realise that a single gun isn’t going to stop me.”

“No. But the people coming for us will.”

“In that case, I shall bid you good day. Until we meet again Mr. Stark,” he bowed in Tony’s direction, “Miss Potts,” and then Pepper’s. Then he vanished.

“Did you see that?”

“I think I did. But I’ve been hit on the head a couple of times,” his eyes could still focus though.

“And I’ve recently been drugged. So yeah, it’s possible that we didn’t just see someone vanish into thin air.” She sighed. “You know, six months ago, this would have been really strange.”

“Six months ago, you wouldn’t have been threatening people with guns.”

“About that, remind me that I need to get shooting lessons when we get back.” She gave Tony the gun. Even having it near her gave her the heebie-jeebies.

“What is ETA on the cavalry?”

“No idea. I couldn’t get a phone signal so I trigged my alarm. If Happy’s right, that means they should be able to get a GPS lock on us.”

“Remind me to give him a raise.” Pepper sat down next to Tony and took her PDA and stylus out. “Also did you just bullshit a guy who is legendary for his ability to see through it?”

“Looks like.”

“Pepper. I think I love you.” It wasn’t the kind of thing Pepper needed to hear when she was trying to take notes. “I mean it.”

“Sure you do.” She thought he did, right there and then. But she was also reasonably sure he loved, if only for a few hours, all the women he slept with.

“Pepper. I ... Damn it.” Tony kicked at the ground. “Is this about the whole thing? You do know that even if you say no to me till I’m as old as Methuselah, that you’ll always have a job, because you’re awesome at your job, and that’s the second time you’ve saved my life this year.”

“That’s the thing. I work for you. I can’t date someone I work for.”

“Do you really think you’re just another employee of mine? You’re not. You’re really not. You’re a friend. There’s you and Rhodey, and while he’s undoubtedly a handsome man, I don’t think he’d look as good as you do in heels.” This time Tony didn’t try to kiss her, he just put his right arm round her and leaned on her, as though he’d said his piece and if she wanted to say anything important, now would be a good time.

She knew that this was a good opportunity to tell him. They were certainly alone. But she knew her statistics, and if Tony was going to freak out, she’d rather him freak back home, where she knew where she was and spoke the language. Along with the toy soldier, one of the few links she kept with home and the past was a photo of her when she was about thirteen and still stuck as Scott. Her Mom had taken it that summer, while they were all messing around at the beach. She was wearing the most hideous shiny gold swimming trunks, and between wanting to die of embarrassment because of them, and the growing feeling there was something terribly wrong about the changes that puberty was bringing, she’d hated it. But she looked happy enough, standing arms aloft at the end of a diving board. She’d kept it as a reminder of one of two things, depending on how she was feeling at the time - that things could always be worse, she could be back there and then but at her age now, or that even at the worst of times, there were moments of happiness. Sometimes she’d look at the picture and try to tell that kid that it would turn out mostly alright, but the way she felt about the situation she was stuck in now, and the dread at the pit of her stomach about Tony rejecting her, she thought that, if she was looking at it now, she might have to emphasise the mostly.

“Where are we anyway?” Pepper would have liked to know where they were, if only to calculate exactly how long they were likely to have to wait. The knots she tied the guards up with should be able to hold for at least a few hours. Her time in the Scouts had been miserable but useful.

Rhodey reached them within a couple of hours, short enough that they hadn’t got bored of playing chess on Pepper’s PDA, and, if it hadn’t been for the start of the night’s coldness beginning to set in, they probably would have been happy to stay.

Once they reached the US, they were checked out by enough medics to make Pepper sick of the sight of white coats and blue pens, then they had to ring Agent Coulson to come up with a reason why Stark Industries security officers went into what might as well have been infra-red alert mode, that didn’t reveal what they’d found out about a man who ran one of the largest companies in the world. Then they got de-briefed, re-briefed and un-briefed by SHIELD, and then the same by Happy, and, unfortunately, none of those meetings were brief.

By the time they were finished with all of that, it was past two in the morning and all Pepper really wanted to do was go to bed. But if Tony was being honest with her, then he deserved the same. Also, she didn’t know when she’d next find a chance, with Happy being away, checking that Zhang hadn’t left any more surprises in any other Stark Industries buildings, and with them both being happy, healthy and not being chased, kidnapped or attacked by anyone.

She found him in the living room, looking at nothing in particular with a glass of whiskey in his hand. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“That conversation never goes well.” He was smirking.

“Tony.” Something about her tone sobered him up quickly, and his features switched to a more attentive look. Here went nothing. “I need to tell you something very important about me.”
~~~~
 
 
 
Mynxgarden_hoe21 on April 18th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is fantastic! I especially love the ending.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 19th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it so much.
Amysuch_heights on April 18th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
\o/ I love how many trans and genderqueer stories are coming out of this fest already. This is just wonderful - really well done and with great characterisation, I loved reading it.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 19th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
It's one of the things I like best about this fic fest, the prompts and the rules give you such a lot to work with.

I'm very pleased that you liked the fic and the characterisation, I was worried that Pepper wasn't Pepper-y enough :)
(Deleted comment)
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 19th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I'm glad you liked it so much. Pepper has ways and means, that work very well against Happy :)
(Deleted comment)
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 19th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much.

I'm not sure if there will be more, but if there is, I think there will be whiskey and a lot more Rhodey.
Cimorene: tony stark built it in a cave!minkhollow on April 18th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, damn, I wanted to see Tony's reaction! (Partly because, knowing Tony, it won't be quite as 'WTF MATE' as Pepper's bracing herself for. XD)
This is a lovely re-interpretation of Pepper, and a nice look at some of the post-canon problems they might be facing. There are some lovely lines in here, too - I think my favorite might be 'they both determinedly didn't storm off in different directions.'
Well done!
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 20th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
Tony's reaction is partly not shown because I don't know the character anywhere near well enough (the film and the Iron Man cartoon combined still leave a lack of knowledge).

I'm really happy that you liked Pepper and thought it fitted in with the film.

Thank you for your feedback.
paleogymnastpaleogymnast on April 18th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
More please??? I really, really want to know what happens next!! :D Loved this!! Thank you so much for writing and posting this!! :)
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 20th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your feedback. And you're welcome. All I know about what comes next is that there's a lot of whiskey involved and more Rhodey.
bewize: Iron Man: Pepper Potts No Distressficwize on April 19th, 2009 02:32 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this. The plot was great, but seeing Pepper deal with her choice as well as the other life problems she has was fantastic.

I really also love that you were brave enough to end it there. Fantastic job.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 22nd, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. I'm so happy you liked the plot. I really liked Pepper in the film (mostly because your rather awesome icon describes her perfectly) mostly because she was so professional, and I couldn't see her putting her own worries/needs first unless there was a reason.

Partly brave, partly me realising that Tony got all of the first film and will probably get most of the second film to himself, so he doesn't need more story space :)

Thanks again.
lilacsigil: 12 Apostleslilacsigil on April 19th, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
Wow! I was totally absorbed in this Pepper, and really startled when the fic finished. I would love to read more about her, and yet I also loved that you made the focus of the fic to be Pepper's decision, not Tony's reaction. A great authorial choice, and a great view of life at Stark Industries.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 23rd, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for your feedback. I think Tony gets quite enough attention already :)
Rusalka: Iron Man: pepper by ancarettmarinarusalka on April 19th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful! Your Pepper voice is perfect. I loved her interactions with Tony, and with Happy, and the backstory on her family. And you got the Mandarin in there! It's awesome.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. I was worried that Pepper wouldn't sound Peppery enough. I couldn't resist sticking the Mandarin in there, he was my favourite Iron Man villain when I was little.

Thanks again.
Tuesdayeverysecondtues on April 22nd, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
This is excellent. I really loved the details of her family, even if they broke my heart.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. I'm glad you thought that the background worked for Pepper.
cobweb_diamondcobweb_diamond on April 22nd, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
Excellent! I have a real soft spot for the Pepper Potts character, whom I love despite finding Gwyneth Paltrow rather annoying. This is a really interesting take on her character... but now I am aching to see what Tony's reaction was.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
I think it's because Pepper suits her image and way of standing more than a lot of other roles do, it's a bit hard to believe her as a ditz or a wild-child but as Pepper, it just clicked.

Thanks very much for your feedback.
you can be anything you sex dream about.: Tony Stark has a heart.cho_malfoy on April 22nd, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Oh man, that ending killed me! Pepper was worrying the entire time, and just when she gets up the courage, it cuts off? Dang!

Yeah, I really enjoyed this. I loved that it was an adventurous and standard Iron Man story, but with the trans plotline woven throughout. And I loved how kick-butt Pepper was. Great job.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
>>Oh man, that ending killed me! Pepper was worrying the entire time, and just when she gets up the courage, it cuts off? Dang!<<

I am evil, hear me giggle.

Thank you for the feedback, and that you liked the fic's format.
N i k k i: I Love Yourockinhamburger on April 22nd, 2009 03:07 am (UTC)
This is... really, really good. Perfect story with a perfect ending (leaving people wanting more is always key!) You had a wonderful grasp of this, and I'm just incredibly impressed!
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you so very much for your feedback. I'm happy that you liked it so much.
ubixtiz on April 24th, 2009 06:07 am (UTC)
Danger and adventure and explosions! Nice kidnapping.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your feedback.
Julie, betrayer of the literary tradition: ironman-pepper-filthyrottensplash_the_cat on April 24th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
This was fantastic.
Red Fionaredfiona99 on April 24th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'm glad you liked it.