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[ the day pepper potts got fired ]
by kHo

He starts off small, which isn´t really what she´d expect. She´s seen Tony go after women. Usually the ones that don´t want him, as opposed to those that he really wants. In the time that she´s known Tony-- and really, her gauging of time could be off because one Tony Stark year and is roughly about the same as five regular years-- he´s never really, truly wanted any one thing for any extended amount of time.

The point is, Pepper´s seen Tony go after women before. Pepper´s seen it because usually it´s her ordering the ten dozen roses to be sent to said woman´s office, or ordering the limo to pick them up so they don´t have to ride in a taxi. Pepper who scouts out the woman´s daily rituals so Tony knows when and where to be to ‘casually´ run into her. Pepper who studies pictures so that when she goes out to pick out the dress that Tony will present her with for their date that hasn´t occurred yet, it´ll fit.

So it starts off small, and Pepper doesn´t quite catch it. She knows something´s wrong, or if not wrong then different, off, but not what or really how and definitely not why. She´s finding herself with more free time, and less stress. She´s noticing that either Tony himself or someone else on his staff has been picking up his dry-cleaning and picking out new suits.

And the big blinking neon red sign flashing over her head is when she realizes that it´s been two months, two whole months, since she´s had to escort one of Tony´s myriad ‘lady friends´ from his house in the morning.

When he brings her coffee at seven a.m. on a Thursday, she snaps. “Are you replacing me?’

Tony stops dead in his tracks, the coffee still extended towards her, steam drifting up out of the drinking hole. “And good morning to you too, Miss Potts.’

She reaches out and takes the coffee from him, hands shaking slightly. “Mr. Stark.’

“Miss Potts?’

She glares at him. “If I need to be putting my resume together I´d like to know now. And also, I demand to know why.’

He grins down at her. “I like it when you get assertive, Pepper. You should do it more often. In fact, order me to do something else, right now.’

She lets out an annoyed huff of air. “Tony.’

“You should know by now that you´re irreplacable,’ Tony says, waving his hand as he heads out of her office. “You look lovely as ever, by the way,’ he says from somewhere down the hall.

She can´t truly concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day and well into the evening, alternately scared and furious. When she goes down to his lab that evening to harangue him into eating something-- as it´s likely he hasn´t eaten anything all day and if she doesn´t make him then who will?-- she rattles off twelve emails that need his direct attention and in between the eleventh and the twelfth she says: “You should get back to him no later than Monday, and if I´ve been unsatisfactory as an assistant as of late, I apologize and pledge to do better. The next email is from--’

“What,’ comes a startled bleat from under one of his contraptions, and then the clattering of tools as he rolls himself out to look up at her like she´s suddenly grown two green heads. “No, I´m sorry, I need you to repeat that.’

“I said you should get back to him no later than--’

“No, after that,’ he says, waving his hand and then looking around himself, swiping up the least dirty towel nearest to him and begins wiping the grease off of his hands. “The part about you being unsatisfactory.’

She bites her lip, looking down at him and meeting his eyes. “Mr. Stark--’

“No, this is obviously one of our more serious discussions, I want you to call me Tony when we do that.’

She rolls her eyes. “Tony.’

He stands, and he´s been working in here all day and he probably reeks of it, but he looks amazing, grease on his nose and his hair sticking up all over the place, his wifebeater wrinkled and dirty, and it´s times like this that are simultaneously her most and least favorite part of the job. “What the hell are you talking about, Pepper?’

“You´ve been dialing back my duties for at least three months,’ she says, looking down at the notes she´d made for herself throughout the day about this very thing. “I haven´t picked up your dry-cleaning in over a month--’

“You´ve always complained that it was inconvenient for you because it´s on the West side and you come from the East side.’

“You´ve been bringing me coffee--’

“Because you get cranky when you haven´t had your sufficient fill.’

“You´ve been sending me home early, telling me to come in late, encouraging me to take a vacation--’

“Because you haven´t been getting much sleep and you´ve always complained about me working you too hard, and you haven´t taken a vacation in five years.’

She taps her pencil against her pad. “You--’

He laughs, reaching out to take the pad away from her, tossing it behind him. “Talk to me Pepper. Not to your Pad of Anal Retentiveness.’

Her lips pierce and her eyes flash at him. “Is that why? Am I too anal?’

He leans back against the machine behind him. He told her once what it was, but all she got out of it was that it had something to do with propulsion and torque, and then a whole bunch of other words that also flew over her head. “Pepper.’

“You´ve been walking around on eggshells for the past few months,’ she says, finally yelling, hands going out agitatedly. “You never yell at me anymore, you keep smiling at me and complimenting me, you told me my hair had extra shine last Monday, and you… you… it´s not normal, Tony, you´re acting weird!’

He laughs, a small laugh that turns into an honest to God guffaw, and it either makes her want to cry or laugh along with him. Instead she glares at him. “Oh, Pepper.’

“What?! If you´re going to fire me, fire me.’

He shakes his head. “I´m not firing you.’

She crosses her arms. “Tony. I found myself with free time today. Nothing to do. Do you know how often I have nothing to do?’

He blinks. “Never?’

“Never, Tony!’

He rolls his eyes. “Women are a complete mystery to me. You complain that you never have any free time, and when I give it to you, you complain even more?’

She letts out another huff of air. “Tony.’

“For god´s sake, Pepper,’ he says, rolling his eyes again and setting his tools down, stepping forward into her personal space like he´s been prone to doing lately and intently meeting her eyes. “I´m trying to woo you here, could you just let me?’

She blinks. “Woo me.’

“Yes. What one does, traditionally, when they are trying to get a woman they have a certain affection for to go on a date with them,’ he says, quirking a smile.

She blinks again, about three times. “You´re wooing me?’

“Yes,’ he says, not allowing her to widen the space between them, stepping forward when she steps back, until she´s pressed up against one of his work benches. “I thought it was quite obvious.’

“No,’ she says, shaking her head, pointing at him. “No, it´s hasn´t been, because I´ve been helping you woo women for the better part of the past few years, and this is not how you woo women. You send them lavish gifts and buy them dresses and once you bought someone a car.’

He nods slowly. “Yes, but I´m not wooing women right now, Pepper. I´m wooing you. This is a Pepper-specific wooing.’

She frowns. “Excuse me?’

He waves a hand expansively. “Those were just women,’ he says. “This is you.’

She can´t, try as she might, rip her eyes off of his. He´s standing so close his body is nearly touching hers, so close she feels it like his body is touching hers. “I don´t understand.’

“The difference, Pepper, is that I didn´t know those women. I went big and loud because I didn´t know them. I also didn´t necessarily care if I wooed them properly because, mostly, I was only wooing them for the challenge.’

She nods. “I know.’

He lowers his head, looks up at her from under his lashes. It´s his ‘listen to me, I´m being serious here´ expression, and she´s only seen it a handful of times and knows that he only pulls it out on the big occasions. It makes her pulse ratchet up even faster. “Do you understand what I´m saying?’

“Not really, no,’ she says, breathless, because she´s starting to think she does understand, and it both terrifies and thrills her to no end.

“I´m saying,’ he says, putting his hand on her hip and stepping infinitesimally closer, his legs brushing hers, “that I don´t want to just woo you for the sake of wooing you. I want to do it properly because this time it matters.’

She nods jerkily. “This time it matters.’

“Yes,’ he says, voice dipping slightly, sending a thrill of pleasure all the way down her spine.

She takes in a shaky breath. “I don´t understand.’

He grins. “I think you do, but I´ll let that slide,’ he says, reaching up with hand to tuck a piece of her hair behind her ear. She can feel the ghost of his fingers on her face long after his hand drops to land back on her hip. “I´m saying, I´m not just trying to get you naked. Which, don´t get me wrong, I do want to get you naked, I´m the President of Let´s Get Pepper Naked--’

“Tony,’ she says, voice trembling, heart beating a mile a minute.

“But that´s not what I want, at least not all of what I want. I want a date. I want dinner. I want a movie. I want an art show. I want to dance with you and to be able to put my hand on your back without you telling me how inappropriate it is. I want to kiss you on the roof under the stars.’

She smiles softly. “Tony.’

He bulldozers past her, just like he always does. “I want you, in my bed, not only when I go to sleep but when I wake up.’

“I´m your assistant.’

He raises an eyebrow. “Yes. And?’

“And it´s unprofessional.’

He snorts. “In the time you´ve known me, when have I ever been professional.’

She puts her hands on his chest to keep him away and instead gets distracted by the way his muscles feel under her hands. “Tony, I think it´s a bad idea if we get involved. I´m your assistant and--’

“You´re fired,’ he says, grinning.

She frowns. “What?’

“You´re fired,’ he says again. “I want your desk cleaned out by six tonight because I‘m picking you up at eight for dinner and I want you to have time to change.’

She shakes her head. “Tony, you need me more as your assistant than you do as your… whatever it is you´re trying to say that I would be here.’

He reaches up and frames her face with his hands, leaning forward until his mouth is only inches away. “I need you, period, whether it´s as assistant or as my whatever it is I´m trying to say that you´ll be here,’ he says. “And if you´re honestly not interested, then fine, I´ll stop. I´ll unfire you, and I´ll stop buying you coffee and telling you to go on vacation and doling out your duties to other, less efficient staff members. I´ll stop wooing you. But if you are interested-- which by the way, I know you are, so don´t try to lie about it-- and you insist that you can´t be my assistant and my whatever else, then you´re fired, and I´m taking you to that fondu place you keep saying you want to go to but never have to time for.’

It´s hard to concentrate when every single inch of her skin feels like its on fire, but she tries anyway. “You´ve never actually had a girlfriend Tony, an actual steady girlfriend, not since I´ve been working for you. You can´t even say girlfriend without cringing.’

He shrugs. “First time for everything, Pepper, that´s what they say.’

“If I say yes,’ she says, voice sounding stronger and more sure than she actually feels, “and I´m not saying yes, you understand, but if I say yes, then it´s not going to be one of those things where you wake up in the morning and realize you´ve made a huge mistake. You can´t date other women, Tony, you can´t meet a reporter and give her a little of that Tony Stark pizzaz and take her back here and have sex with her and expect me to clean it up in the morning, if I say yes.’’

His grin widens. “Tony Stark pizzaz?’

She glares at him. “Tony.’

“Look,’ he says, his grin fading. “I can´t make promises here. I can´t say where we´ll be six months down the road, I can´t even say where we´ll be six days down the road, but I still want to do this. It´s worth it to me to try.’

She looks in his eyes and sees that the wall that Tony´s always got up isn´t up right now. Thinks about all the times that wall hasn´t been up for her. All the times, especially in the last few months, that he´s flirted with her and complimented her and brought her little meaningless gifts, even if it´s just a candy bar he knows she loves or a single red rose he picked for her out of his garden. She thinks about all of this and realizes that of all the women she´s seen Tony fixate on, no one´s ever held his attention quite this long.

“Okay,’ she says, feeling like she´s stepping off the end of a cliff. Then again, Tony´s Iron Man now, so maybe if she is going to be stepping off of a cliff, it´s a good thing she´s doing it with a man that can fly.

He freezes for a moment and blinks. “Okay?’

She smiles, laughing softly. “I´m saying okay.’

He licks his lips. “Okay as in you´ll think about it, or okay as in--’

“Okay as in should I make the reservations for eight tonight or would you like it a little sooner?’

His smile blooms across his face, the same kind of smile he gets when he´s figured out how to get his Iron Man suit to do yet another cool, heretofore impossible trick. “Make it for whenever you want it for, I could honestly not care less what time we eat.’

She nods. “Okay. And no limos, Tony, I don´t want to make a production of it, I just want to go eat.’

He nods, eyes drifting down towards her lips, and it sends a warm flush throughout her. “No limos. Got it. Any more rules?’

“Just one,’ she says, taking a deep breath and waiting until he looks back up and meets her gaze. “The first sign you get of being bored, and I mean it Tony, the first sign you get, you tell me. I can forgive you if we don´t work out, but I can´t forgive you if you have sex with someone else if I think we´re still doing fine.’

“I should be insulted that you think so little of me,’ he says, and it´s clear in his voice that he is a little insulted, but he´s smiling so she thinks he´ll get past it. “Except I´ve kind of given you myriad reasons to think so little of me, so it´s not like I can fault you.’

“It´s not in general, Tony,’ she says lightly, smiling. “It´s just with women.’

He nods. “I guess I´ll just have to work on improving my standing as far as that´s concerned.’

“Okay,’ she says.

He grins at her. “Okay.’

She smirks a little and lifts an eyebrow. “So were you going to kiss me now, or can I go make the reservation? You might be Tony Stark but we still have to give at least a little notice.’

“I was thinking of maybe kissing you now,’ he says, eyes back on her lips, and the fear that´s been battering around in her chest finally starts to give way to anticipation and excitement. “I have a question though.’

“What,’ she asks, finding her own gaze irresistibly drawn to his mouth.

“Do I still have to fire you? Because I really don´t want to. Seriously, I´d have to hire like ten people to cover maybe half the things you do.’

She laughs. “Not yet. Besides, I hate job hunting anyway, so I wasn´t really looking forward to that part.’

“Good,’ he says, and then his lips are on hers and she feels like she´s on fire, like she´s going to spontaneously combust, because she´s fantasized about kissing Tony Stark since about a week into working for him but the actuality is so much more than anything she´d ever imagined.

When he pulls back he rests his forehead against hers and breathes for a moment, and it feels good know that maybe she´s left him as breathless as he´s left her.

“I should go make the reservations,’ she says, finally collecting herself and stepping out of the circle of his arms.

“Okay,’ he says, leaning against the workbench again, grinning at her, eyes positively sparkling. “I should finish up here so I can go shower.’

“You better,’ she says, laughing as she turns to go back upstairs. “Because I´m certainly not being caught dead with you all covered in grease in the nicest restaurant in town.’

“Pepper,’ he calls just as she gets to the door. She turns her head to look at him. “Just so you know, if we don´t work, it won´t be because I got bored,’ he says, looking at her with an expression so serious she feels bowled over by it. “The last thing you could ever do is bore me.’

She smiles. “You too,’ she says, backing her way through the door.

“Hey, Miss Potts,’ he says, picking up a wrench and turning back to his project. He looks over his shoulder and grins again. “I have a date tonight, did I tell you?’

“What a funny coincidence, Mr. Stark,’ she says over her shoulder as she starts up the stairs. “So do I.’

NOTE: I am a whore. I completely stole a line from Aaron Sorkin in Sports Night. I did this because, if you're at all familiar with Sorkin's work, then you know that Robert Downey Jr's natural speaking pattern is very, VERY, incredibly Sorkin.

I forget what episode, but it was the Lamp Buying Frenzy argument between Casey and Dana, and I stole the President of Let's Get _____ Naked line from that episode. I barely refrained from saying "I want BADLY to see you naked!"

All feedback much appreciated!
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