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i.

 

Tony assumes that their relationship will leak to the press with some sort of scandal. (Okay, so specifically he says that it will be after their first fight as a couple goes explosive and that the pictures of Pepper throwing things at Tony’s head outside of his mansion will be mocked on TMZ for a few weeks, but that’s the gist.)

Pepper assumes that their relationship will never actually be released to the press. Tony is a notorious flirt as it is, and since her promotion to CEO, everyone already thinks she slept with him to get the position. Of all the things the press could possibly speculate about them, the fact that they’re actually working on forming a committed relationship seems far too mild.

The actual first picture released of Tony and Pepper after that first kiss above the raging fires of what was left of Stark Expo is something far less dramatic.

 

After managing the fallout of Stark Expo—deciding what should be salvaged, paying the medical bills of anyone injured, and Pepper decidedly not quitting despite telling Tony that she would—Tony felt they had earned a vacation. Pepper was rare to agree to leave her work, and even rarer to admit when she agreed with Tony, but that was where they ended up.

Venice is out of the question. Well, it’s not for Tony, who’s content to make a joke about steering a gondola being on his bucket list (despite the fact that he’s been to Venice before and she’d watched him drunkenly and poorly attempt to do just that). It is too soon for Pepper, who didn’t know that Tony was dying when he’d made that offer on the plane. Her boss, her best friend, the person she—it’s just…too soon. The idea of going there makes her think about if she’d accepted back then and what might have happened.

Instead, she suggests Paris.

Pepper was unsure exactly what dating Tony would be like. So far, it’s been some semblance of normal with a few twists.

She’ll finish her day at Stark Industries and meet him at his house for dinner after. He’ll charm her new assistant into letting him disturb her in the office for a lunch break. When they part, he kisses her goodbye, slow and sweet, warm but not fervent with the passion and desire she knows they’ve been putting aside in favor of cleaning up the mess at Stark Industries. One night on his couch, she falls asleep to CNN before ten o’clock, content to drift off against his chest, listening to his heartbeat, and he doesn’t tease her for being the sap she certainly feels she is. He’d simply fallen asleep supporting her weight and complained about his back the next morning while she joked at him for being crotchety.

Paris was a refreshing reminder: dating Tony Stark wasn’t actually that different from the usual, because she was Pepper Potts.

Underneath their chemistry, their battling and biting wits, years of wondering what it might be like…he was still the same Tony, just as she was the same Pepper. Tony still hated pickles on his sandwiches, but not his burgers. Pepper was still partial to the occasional sugary disaster for dessert. Tony went on rambling, Pepper listened and parsed out what was important. Pepper complained about work, Tony tried to take her mind off of work for a while. She didn’t have to be having sex with him to get his attention—it was just a nice bonus to everything they’d already established in their professional relationship and eventual friendship.

That comfort she feels, though—it makes her guard lower in a way it otherwise might not. As Tony’s PA, it was her job as much as it was Happy’s to keep unexpected people away from Tony. She could spot a paparazzo or a fan even faster than Happy if she was really on her game. As CEO, she understands now what it’s like to be in the center of all of that attention—to worry that the crowd around her is harmless until they smell her blood in the water.

This is the picture: Pepper is relaxed. She’s halfway through a very good bottle of Parisian Pinot Noir, and Tony is animatedly telling her about his ideas for the suit he’s currently rebuilding while rubbing ankles with her under their table like a couple of teenagers. They’re happy. Comfortable.

There’s no flash, when the picture is taken, because someone just grabbed it on their phone. She doesn’t even know it happens in that moment. She and Tony finished their wine, took the tiramisu to go, and had a dip in the penthouse jacuzzi that seemed like a wonderful idea until the moment wet cake and mascarpone cheese fell in with them. She’d ended that night tapping a little rhythm on the arc reactor, lulling Tony to sleep with a bastardization of Chopsticks.

The story that runs with the picture isn’t actually that bad. In fact, they don’t even end up on every magazine or news site in the country. Only a couple of celebrity sighting Twitter accounts and a few gossip columns pick the photo up. People are generally curious, sure, but it isn’t the scandal Tony estimated nor the lack of news that Pepper would have preferred. (She already has a few emails when she wakes from some popular female-viewer-centric morning talk shows. While their hosts might be more likely to praise her recent work as CEO than some of their male-led counterparts, she doubts that it’s the main topic they want her to spill about.)

She and Tony’s reaction to the picture is similarly underwhelming.

Pepper wakes up to the usual flurry of emails and texts. The picture-related ones are buried in-between, but one of them is an inquiry about their relationship from her mother, for God’s sake. She groans, rolling over in her self-pity and bringing the entire comforter with her, throwing it over her face to hide from the world outside of their room and all of its opinions about her and Tony.

After a beat, Tony says “Knock, knock,” to her sheet tent, and after a few prods, slides in across from her. The comforter is thin enough that he’s hued in its red color, the light pouring in from the suite’s balcony mixing with the light from the arc reactor. He’s grown more stubble overnight, mixing in with the trimmed portion of his goatee. His hair is a complete mess, becoming long enough that he’ll soon start getting irritated when it doesn’t stay slicked back correctly by product. It’s soft without the gel, though, and she runs her fingers over his scalp, ending by cupping his face.

“I don’t really care that people know,” Pepper says. “I guess I do, but—“

“You wanted to keep me all to yourself, huh?” He says it with a playful leer, but her reproachful glare is half-hearted. He’s right. She did want to keep him—keep them all to herself for a little while longer.

She doesn’t want the questions, the speculation. She knows it comes with the territory, but she also just wants this. She wants to go on vacation without bringing Happy along. She wants to kiss him without being seen as using a man to climb the corporate ladder. Most of all she wants his arm curling around her in the streets, his kisses lavishing her collarbone in the shade of a Paris alleyway. She worries that this changes things, when they’ve barely had time to start defining this relationship for themselves.

His hand splays over her own against his face, his thumb brushing back and forth. “We’ll handle it,” he says, breaking the joke to give her comfort. “Seriously, this is—I won’t let other people be the reason we can’t have this. That’s stupid.”

She agrees. “I don’t care who knows or shows off pictures or tweets or whatever, Tony. I mean, we could do with some rules about PDA, maybe, and I’ll have to draft up a statement when we get home—“

“Ugh,” Tony groans. “Boring. So boring. We’re naked in a perfectly good bed and you’re talking strategy. Total mood killer.”

Pepper rolls her eyes. “You knew what you were in for when you kissed me.”

I kissed you? That’s the official story here? I seem to remember asking to go back for seconds, but you’re the one who started it.”

“Oh, please! You were ready to kiss me way before that.“

“So, when Oprah calls, is that what I’m telling her? I just want to get it straight here.“

“Oprah will be calling me and I’ll tell her the truth, which is that you couldn’t wait to kiss me first—“

“Speaking of not waiting—“ Tony laughs when she squeaks in surprise, muffling himself in her kiss.

 

 

ii.

 

 

Their first kiss on camera is one hundred percent Pepper’s fault. She’s woman enough to admit that.

It normally wouldn’t have even happened. Despite Tony’s protests about his worst acts already being public knowledge, she does have some ground rules about what kinds of PDA are acceptable to be caught on camera. She’s not looking to be photographed with Tony’s hand up her skirt because they arrived early to a red carpet event. (His hand up her skirt in the privacy of the car on the way home—well, that’s a different matter.)

Cheek kisses are mild and sweet. His hand at her back is a welcome support, even if sometimes he goes a little lower than particularly appropriate when her dress has an open back. She’ll even say that the pictures of them arm in arm are adorable—the way they work a room between his charisma and her business sense is masterful, and seeing evidence of that after the fact makes her smile fondly.

That’s how the day of the First Kiss Picture starts: Pepper and Tony arrive at the press conference ahead of the reporters. They’re about fifteen minutes past when they actually should have arrived, but considering that Tony’s low on sleep from going into the workshop last night and Pepper found it hard to leave his bed this morning, she considers it the most on time the two of them were capable of today.

They file into their assigned green room with Pepper’s assistant, Emily, all sucking down their iced coffees and working from their phones while the makeup artist blots Tony and Pepper with concealer and douses them in hairspray. While Pepper is getting an eyeliner touch-up, Tony actually does drift off in his chair, and Pepper gives him a few minutes to nap while she studies their notes.

Announcing their plan to build the self-sustaining Stark Tower facility in New York is a big deal. The power source is their proprietary arc reactor technology, after all. It’s good for the image of Stark Industries in light of Stark Expo’s disaster, and it’s good for giving Tony something to tinker with after SHIELD rejected him for the Avengers project. (Though Phil Coulson had Natalie—no, Natasha—leave contracting paperwork on Pepper’s desk along with the other woman’s resignation, so that door’s not entirely closed if Tony’s willing to put aside his ego for it.)

As always, at events that take production, a lot of their responsibilities involve sitting and waiting. Security goes through every production crew member and reporter's credentials, Stark Industries members trickle in as well to watch, and only when all of those individual pieces are in line can they actually get on with the press conference. It takes a lot of organization that Pepper only delegates now, which leaves her own duties to waking Tony from his nap and walking his dazed and slowly caffeinating form toward the stage.

Tony is set to begin the presentation. They both stand at the barricades next to the stage, Happy at their side. Tony shotguns what’s left of his iced coffee, then steals a few sips of her own for good measure. He’s on his way to awareness when Emily speaks into her headset before announcing that they’re ready to begin. Cameras in the audience turn on their red lights. Reporters awaiting their time to ask questions adjust themselves to be camera-ready.

Tony turns to her, dropping Pepper’s now empty coffee cup into Emily’s hand a little carelessly. “Wish me luck out there.” He frowns, patting himself down and then taking the notecards she has with an “Of course.” He kisses her check before turning on his heel. “Love you.”

Tony stops walking. Pepper’s mouth drops. That’s the first time he’s ever said that. They’ve only been dating for a few months, but she’s known him for so long, well—she knew, deep down. Or, she assumed, because if she hadn’t thought he was serious about her, she probably never would have agreed to do more than kiss him in the first place. It’s just…the way it came from him so quick, so easy. He’s tired and about to speak in front of a sizable amount of people, and he took the time to tell her he loved her.

She can see the now tense set of his shoulders. Like he’s been caught, like he’s done something wrong when she’s so filled with—he’s so

Tony tries to keep walking, but Pepper shoots out and grabs his arm. He turns to her slowly, face locked in a bit of a grimace before he can try and turn it back into something more smooth and unaffected. He opens his mouth. Since that’s historically a very poor idea, Pepper instead lets go of his arm, grasps him by his open suit jacket, and kisses him.

She’s kissed Tony many times by now—their first that night on the rooftop was passion and hesitance and comfort in the fact that they were both alive. She’s kissed him down the length of his throat, been kissed from mouth to thighs, they’ve used tongue and sucked bruises into each other’s skin. His smell, his touch, the over-bitten texture of his lips—she’d know him blind.

She tries to pour more into this. I love you too. I’m so proud of you. I want you to feel comfortable telling me that. Tell me every single day for the rest of our lives. Of course I love you, what do I need to make you believe it? You’re an idiot. I, Pepper Potts, love Tony Stark, and it’s the weirdest, dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I would do it all over again to keep him by my side.

It’s seeing stars, it’s feeling dizzy with the lack of air in her chest, it’s being swept off of her feet and being the one doing the sweeping. She loves him, and he loves her, and it’s so simple, how is it everything?

When they part, Tony is certainly more awake. They’re both breathing hard. Pepper’s lips are tingling—God, she’s going to go on camera after this. Will her lips be swollen? It can’t have been that long a kiss, that hard. Maybe no one will notice.

Except—those stars she was seeing…oh, God, those were every single camera in the room watching her make out with Tony. He seems to notice it as she does, but his reaction is far more of a shit-eating grin absolutely gleaming with traces of her red lipstick.

She reaches out an arm toward Emily. It takes the girl a moment—she and Happy are both looking innocently away from Tony and Pepper, as if they’re the only two in the room that didn’t watch the spectacle Pepper just made. With a snap, though, Emily hands Pepper her purse. Pepper finds the package of wet wipes near the bottom and uses them to wipe the makeup off of Tony’s face, her grip on his arm like a vice. They’ve had enough of a day without him giving the entire presentation with her smeared lipstick on, despite the fact that he clearly wants to do it just to see what would happen.

The press is still recovering, shuffling around back to their original positions toward the podium on stage instead of next to it where they’re standing. Pepper adjusts Tony’s dress shirt, smoothing the wrinkles and making sure the jacket she was using during the kiss as leverage is nothing less than pristine. Those pictures and video are surely everywhere, by now, but if at least one news channel comments on the presentation instead, Pepper will be happy.

She didn’t muss with his hair much, but she pretends to smooth it down anyway. “I love you too, you know.”

Tony nods. “Now very informed, Miss Potts. Though I loved the demonstration.”

“Shut up,” she replies with a smile so big it hurts her cheeks a bit, turning him around and shoving him to the podium.

“Who could form words after that, huh?” Tony jokes, winking at his captive audience to a chorus of laughter and a few tawdry hoots of approval. Pepper’s entire body is on fire in a mix of embarrassment and arousal. She wants to crawl into her office and hide under her desk like a child.

“Seriously, though, folks. Big round of applause for Miss Potts—she organized all of this for a very important announcement, and I don’t want to delay it any longer.”

With that, Tony is back on track, and he only looks over to her again for a moment before really getting into his speech about the tower.

The audience is certainly paying attention, but Pepper misses at least half of his presentation when she checks her phone and immediately finds the image of their kiss in her news recommendations.

(When she finds out that Tony had it framed later that week…well, she can’t blame him. It’s a good picture.)

 

 

iii.

 

 

The picture that Rhodey takes never gets published. Thank God.

There are certain things the world just doesn’t need to know about her relationship with Tony. It’s not really a disgraceful picture or anything, it’s just…in the public eye, where almost everything she and Tony do gets reported on in some way, shape, or form, it’s nice to know there are things that stay between them and the people they love.

Besides, of all the things Rhodey could have walked in on them doing in her office during work hours, this is decidedly not that bad.

Tony has a decent acquaintance with Pepper’s assistant, now, considering that Emily is sometimes pulling double duty for both her appointments and Tony’s.

Tony never really replaced Pepper’s role in his life. In some ways, that means he takes care of things on his own or with simple prodding from JARVIS, which is a pleasing sign of maturity. However, other times that means things slip through the cracks that really shouldn’t. So he’s been encouraged to forward things to Emily to delegate, and the girl is payed just as handsomely as Pepper once was for her trouble. (If Pepper’s bragging, the younger woman is treated much better than Pepper ever was in her early days with Tony, too.)

Because of this, though, Tony waltzes into Pepper’s office without trouble. Her next meeting isn’t for another two hours, and most of what she’s doing involves reading and signing approval forms, answering phone calls, and going over the contract for the construction company that will be hired in New York to complete Stark Tower. A lot of it feels like busywork, but Pepper recognizes the importance of it, and is happy to work on her daily pile at a steady clip.

She holds up a single finger before Tony can utter a word, finishing the sentence she was on and making a quick notation so that she later remembers her train of thought. Her work feels a lot like her college days, to be honest, but she liked college quite a bit, so she won’t complain.

Pepper looks up at Tony, and is…less than thrilled with what she finds. “Hey, honey,” Tony says, but even the way he says it troubles her. He looks exhausted. She hasn’t been to the mansion in a few days because of travel and an overbooked schedule once she returned. They’d talked on the phone a couple of times, and their text threads tapered on and off depending on what they were doing, but at the very least she hadn’t seen any news reports claiming Iron Man was on a dangerous mission, nor had JARVIS called to report anything unusual.

Normally, she’s pretty used to an overtired Tony. After a couple of days without sleep, he’s usually full of restless energy. Rather than slow down, he seems to speed up to compensate, especially when he’s in the middle of a project that he’s really excited about. Even when he’s not sleep deprived, well, he’s usually pretty bad at handling boredom or stillness. He twitches in meetings, clicks his pen a few hundred times, and generally makes it clear that if he’s not physically doing something productive or involved enough in the conversation, he doesn’t really want to be listening to it in the first place.

At the moment, Tony has his arms crossed over his chest, but his smile at her is genuine. Almost relieved, maybe. His hair is a bird’s nest of curls, product washed out and barely combed. His clothes look to be whatever he first grabbed out of his closet: a wrinkled sweater and dark jeans with a pair of boots that aren’t even tied at the shoestrings.

Pepper stands up, walking over to where he stands a few feet away from her desk. He’s watching the kinetic sculpture rather than looking directly at her. Maybe she really should get rid of that thing. It’s too…mesmerizing.

“Tony? Are you okay?” She places a hand to his forehead. She not actually sure if there’s any credence to the technique’s effectiveness for checking fever, but most parents in the world seem to use it, so she might as well. “Are you sick?”

“No, I—“ Tony shrugs, shuffling a little, seemingly uncomfortable when her hand moves from his forehead to his cheek, her fingers lightly brushing against his beard. “Y’know what, you’re busy, I should go.”

“Tony—“

“No, seriously, it’s fine, I just wanted to see you, and now I have, so.”

“Tony, just—“ Pepper beats Tony to the door even in her heels, poking her head out long enough to ask Emily to hold anyone who tries to come through barring an emergency before shutting the door and leaning against it.

“Real mature, Potts.”

She cocks her head to the side in a challenging gesture. Like he’s acting any better.

They’re in a stalemate for long enough that he does finally start getting twitchy, breaking their eye contact with an irritated groan. “It’s stupid, Pepper, seriously.”

She holds back a retort about how he’s done quite a few stupid things in front of her throughout the years, though he smiles a little as if he’s just read her mind. The reaction seems to soften him. He doesn’t flinch away from her touch when she takes his hands in her own. “Come on, spill.”

“I didn’t, ah, sleep so well, while you were gone. Like, much at all. I’m sure JARVIS could give you the full run-down, but all I can remember off the top of my head is a nap on the workshop couch at some point.”

Pepper hums sympathetically. “Did you try your sleeping pills?” He had trouble sleeping soundly right after Afghanistan, even if at first he’d been too proud to admit it. Even before they were dating, though, she knew his habits. Yes, the man that came home was different than the one who left, but she still took note of his patterns and looked to find solutions for his problems.

The sleeping pills he was eventually prescribed weren’t always the perfect solution—he liked to be on standby for his heroic duties, and sometimes sleeping too hard made nightmares harder to wake from, too. Still, when it had been too long, and his body was suffering from the side-effects, it was better than no sleep at all.

Tony nods. “I realized how long I’d been at it when JARVIS reminded me you’d be at the house tonight. I took the sleeping pill, took a shower, got into bed and just…I couldn’t actually sleep. I kept thinking—I don’t know. I can’t turn off like I want to. I drove here half-asleep, which, maybe not the smartest thing to do, in hindsight…”

“Definitely not, but I’m glad you came.” Pepper tucks herself into his shoulder, her standing height with heels changing the way she often curls into his chest at night.

“Yeah,” he replies, quiet. The talking seems to have zapped what was left of his energy. She uses her nails to scratch against his back in soothing, repetitive strokes. He leans into her hold appreciatively. “Love you.”

“You too,” she replies, ignoring his growl when she pulls away. “Sleep here,” she suggests. “It’s your old couch, you know. I never changed the furniture much. Very comfy leather.”

He nods, lacing their fingers together. “Would you mind—can you stay, for a while?”

“Of course.” She shoos him over to the couch while she selects a few different items from her desk: her bluetooth headset, her tablet, and a few physical documents that she knows will keep her occupied. She slept on the plane pretty well last night, so she’s not tired enough to join him. Plus, she’s still on work hours.

Pepper kicks her heels off and invites Tony to do the same with his boots, chuckling at his face when he realizes he’s wearing mismatched socks underneath: one striped, the other solid black. In his state, she’s surprised he even got that far.

Tony is surprisingly hesitant at first, but Pepper runs a hand through his freshly clean hair, inviting his head down into her lap. With only a little rearranging, she has all of her work within arms reach and Tony’s head balanced comfortably on her thigh. He’s heavy, and her leg will probably fall asleep at some point, but she can see the moment his face falls into a slack position.  Worth it.

 

A few hours later when Pepper has turned her meeting into a teleconference, Rhodey shows up. She doesn’t know he’s actually walked into the room considering her divided attention between the conversation, the notes on her tablet, and running an errant hand through Tony’s hair whenever he seems to become restless in sleep.

Also considering that she specifically told Emily not to let anyone in. Damn Tony and Rhodey and their natural charm. Emily is otherwise an incredibly good assistant with an iron will about following Pepper’s orders.

Rhodey doesn’t say a word for a couple of reasons, she supposes. One: she’s clearly on the phone, and busy working. Two: the obviously sleeping form of Tony on her lap. Three: despite his complaining about their bickering that turns into flirting that can definitely turn into making out, he really is happy that they’re together. (“Finally together,” Rhodey always adds as an addendum. “Just had to remove some heads from asses,” he always comments, mostly to Tony, who acts appalled.)

This is presumably why he kept quiet and used his time to take a picture of them in that position: Pepper’s hand in Tony’s hair, his face turned in towards her stomach, her eyes distractedly perusing the paperwork in front of her while listening to the voice of her CFO, both of them relaxed and shoeless.

When he finally registers in the corner of her vision, Pepper has to stop herself from jumping. He waves and mouthes an I’m sorry, sitting in one of the armchairs close to them while she finishes with her call.

“You’re not in uniform, so it must not be something business related,” Pepper finally comments, removing her bluetooth and adjusting as much as she can in her current position.

“Nah,” Rhodey admits. “I wanted to check on Tony. He sounded a little…off the rails last we talked. When I called the house, JARVIS told me he headed here, so I just wanted to make sure he was okay.”

“He’s okay, I think. Just tired.”

“What, and he admitted that to you?” Rhodey jokes, only moderately meaning it.

“He’s also not deaf,” Tony grumbles, turning himself over and leaning up to look at Rhodey. “It’s nap time, Platypus, so shut your trap or grab a blanket. This pillow is taken, obviously.” Tony settles himself back against Pepper’s leg and closes his eyes.

“I have better shit to do than stay here and watch you two cuddle,” Rhodey shakes his head. “Disgusting, both of you.”

“Is that why you were taking pictures, then?”

“How did you—“ Rhodey shakes his head. Pepper doesn’t know how Tony knew either. Maybe he was actually awake and heard something she didn’t while she was focused on her phone call. “This is just blackmail, obviously. Next time someone says Iron Man is better than War Machine, that’s going on Facebook. Iron Man Is Just A Cuddle Machine sounds like a perfect caption.”

 

(In reality, the picture never sees the light of day to the public, though it does get some in-house traction a few years later when Avengers trickle in and out of the re-built Stark Tower and Rhodey is aiming to knock Tony down a peg.

It’s not that embarrassing to Tony. It never really was, though Tony will never admit as much to Rhodey himself.)

 

 

iv.

 

 

Being interviewed for a magazine is certainly a change of pace. She’s given plenty of press conferences, been interviewed over the phone by the news as both Tony’s assistant and as CEO. It’s…different with a camera in her own face, someone recording every single word she says in a place she spends a significant amount of time, that she sometimes calls home at the end of her work days.

Some part of her is very relieved she’s not doing this alone.

“So, I have a ton of color options. Seriously, just go stand in my closet and pick something you think will work with Pep. Though don’t look too hard in the back, or this shoot might get a little unsafe for work, y’know?”

And then the other part of her is terrified, because it’s Tony.

The director of photography is laughing it up at Tony’s joke, thankfully. Actually, the small crew that’s taking over Tony’s household is overall quite nice. The young PA is keeping everyone’s needs met, the makeup artist is accommodating of the look that Pepper’s trying to present, and the dress that Pepper was instructed to pick out for herself is actually one of her favorites—a dark burgundy number that makes her look sharp and powerful while doing wonderful things for her legs that she knows the camera will heighten. (And that Tony has complimented many, many times since the moment she put it on this morning, though he only showed his appreciation before the crew arrived.)

“Emily, you mind?” Tony inquires, pointing upstairs. Emily defers to Pepper to actually obey the request, but she nods at Tony after and leads the director upstairs to find something for Tony to wear during the photoshoot.

She’s familiar enough with Vanity Fair as a publication (unrelated to Christine Everhart) to understand the angle the crew is going for: a look inside the power couple that is Pepper Potts and Tony Stark. Or, that’s how the writer had phrased it. It was about her as a CEO as much as it was about her, just like it was about both Iron Man and Tony. She’d been unsure at first, but she liked the other profiles this particular team did: a written article and a photography spread. The writing showed the subject in a fair light—not pulling any punches about the hard truths, but understanding Vanity Fair wasn’t about hard-hitting journalism either.

Despite it being almost six months since Stark Expo, well…more good press certainly couldn’t hurt. A more in-depth interview will allow for well-explained answers, and Pepper will get the final say as to what is published, which allows a modicum of control.

The suit Tony ends up wearing is a nice compliment to her, which gives her even higher hopes. The director has a good eye. The suit is pretty simple for Tony—solid black with a white undershirt, the compliment for her dress in the red of his striped tie and pocket square. With the sunglasses he’s sporting—an on-camera look she knows he prefers because it presents an effortless and relaxed air that makes interviewers themselves feel relaxed in his presence—the gold of the frames makes it a very Iron Man appropriate look.

(Without any promises of photographing the superhero suit considering that the attempts of people out there trying to replicate the suit got them into so much trouble recently, she supposes this is as close to that theme as the crew could get.)

Completely out of habit, Pepper stands from her spot on the couch to adjust Tony’s tie. He couldn’t make it down the stairs without making it lean askew. “Thank you, Miss Potts,” Tony comments, his hand fitting naturally at her back, guiding them to sit back down on the couch where the interview will be taking place.

“You’re very welcome, Mister Stark,” Pepper replies, her smile breezy and familiar across her face as she moves to kiss his cheek. Thankfully no lipstick stains, but she makes a note to be more careful about it as they move on.

“Alright!” The interviewer, Joanne, claps, signaling everyone to gather around and quiet down. “Are we ready to start?”

 

THE FUTURE OF STARK INDUSTRIES

by Joanne Stell, October 21, 2010, 8:00 AM

 

THE SCHEDULING of this interview was unlike anything our team here at Vanity Fair had ever encountered before. While we’ve interviewed many popular recording artists and celebrities, (including a few viral pets), there were no harder schedules to navigate than those of Pepper Potts and Tony Stark. As the newly promoted CEO of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts’ duties have drastically changed since working as Tony’s personal assistant. “It was a daunting transition,” Potts remarks, leaning back into Stark’s arm against the modern white couch, where the couple are seated in Tony Stark’s iconic Malibu mansion. “But it wasn’t outside of my PA duties, in some ways.”

“I wasn’t the best CEO,” Stark faux-whispers, earning a smile and a fond head shake from Potts. “She was doing half of the work of running the company with none of the recognition. That’s why I promoted her.”

There’s been much speculation as to how exactly Pepper Potts ascended the corporate ladder—her promotion from the accounting department of Stark Industries to being the personal assistant to Tony Stark was enough of a jump. The accusation that Potts didn’t earn her position as CEO is still swirling rampantly in the press.

“To a point, there was no controlling the assumptions people were going to make. Tony trusted me to take the company in the new direction that he started, and as long as I succeed at that, the rumors are of no concern to me.” This isn’t particularly surprising—Potts has repeatedly refused to comment on said rumors throughout her moderately short time as CEO. Despite many doubting her qualifications for the position, Virginia “Pepper” Potts graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Stanford University with Magna Cum Laude status.

 

[PICTURED: Pepper Potts sitting in a plush, dark green chair behind a classic mahogany desk, chin resting on the tops of her hands. Sitting on the edge of the desk’s front is Tony Stark, his sunglasses dangling idly from his hand. According to Stark, the pictured desk is a family heirloom that once belonged in Howard Stark’s office.]

 

“And despite all of that, she’s still dumb enough to date someone like me,” Stark self-deprecatingly jokes at our reading off of his romantic partner’s accomplishments, earning a good ribbing from Potts with her elbow.

When asked about deciding to enter into a relationship with her former boss, Potts replied, “It was never about him being my boss or not, for me. If things had worked out differently, I might have dated him as his PA too. It’s always been about Tony as a person. He’s a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me, he was the most important person in my life. Choosing to go into a romantic relationship with him or not didn’t change that fact.” Stark squeezes Potts’ hand, and they exchange soft smiles for a beat before Potts continues. “It was all about the timing.”

 

[PICTURED: Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are seated together on the modern white couch in the middle of the Malibu mansion’s living area. They are posed as if returned from a day at work. Stark has removed his earlier shown suit jacket and has loosened the knot of his tie. Potts has removed her heels and let her hair fall to her shoulders. “You’re not far off,” Potts commented, while being directed. “But there’s usually more wine involved.”]

 

Tony Stark has certainly changed a lot since his fated brush with captivity in Afghanistan. Though Stark doesn’t talk much about the details of what happened in his dealings with the criminal organization now known as the Ten Rings, Stark Industries dropping out of the weapons market and the creation of his superhero persona, Iron Man, were the result. Now, almost two years later, Tony Stark recently faced the CEO of Hammer Industries, Justin Hammer, in a battle at the slowly-recovering site of Stark Expo in New York.

“I could say a lot of unkind things about Hammer,” Tony states, bringing up a hologram. “I have a list.” He wipes the list away before anyone on our team gets a good look at it, but the implication is clear. “But the most important thing we learned from New York is that the existence of Iron Man isn’t just on my shoulders. It’s on Stark Industries, it’s on the people I’m protecting by wearing it.” Stark looks to Potts, and she nods.

Despite owning up to this responsibility, Stark refused to share his proprietary arc reactor technology with the government earlier this year, in the most watched C-SPAN-related video on Youtube to date. “Those guys don’t understand what some other organizations do—I’m saving people as Iron Man. But I’m also saving people as Tony Stark. We’re using that technology for multiple non-violent projects. I’m not giving it to the government so they can use it to fight wars when we could prevent those conflicts by creating better food resources or by redefining clean energy initiatives.”

 

[PICTURED: The released preliminary blueprint plans for Stark Tower in New York.]

 

Just three months ago, Stark Industries announced (with a quite romantic flair), that instead of trying to rebuild Stark Expo, the company will be focusing their efforts into building a self-sustaining building in the middle of New York City. Potts’ reaction to the photo of her kissing Stark is only to be slightly embarrassed. “I won’t reveal the full story behind that kiss. It was supposed to be a private moment, but I happened to forget about the hundreds of cameras around us. We’ve installed curtains in the press room at Stark Industries since that incident, I’ll tell you that much.”

“Though, if you look toward the mantel over there…” Stark points, and everyone on the crew notes that in-between a mix of pictures of Tony Stark with a number of celebrities and close friends such as Stark’s best friend, Colonel James Rhodes, is the picture in question from the Stark Tower Press Conference of Stark and Potts locking lips.

With Stark Industries’ stock prices increasing steadily with Potts at the helm and Stark’s duties as Iron Man clearly beloved by many across the country, we asked the couple what their plans are going forward on the hopeful road to success. “It’s honestly been really nice to just get to be together in this new stage of our relationship,” Potts answers. “As for Stark Industries, construction on Stark Tower will be starting next spring, so we’re hopeful that within the next couple of years, when it’s furnished and complete, we’ll have even more opportunities to take the arc reactor technology to the next level.”

“I’m gonna convince Miss Potts to move in with me,” Stark answers, deadpan. Potts shakes her head, but when Stark throws the crew a wink, we spot a smile grace her features, and we’re pretty sure Stark will indeed follow through with taking the next step in their relationship.

 

[PICTURED: Tony Stark freshly dressed for the interview. Pepper Potts has her hands on his tie from adjusting it, and is kissing Stark’s smiling cheek. This was a candid moment captured before the interview, released with Pepper Potts and Tony Stark’s permission. We’re told it has been framed and added to the Malibu mansion’s mantle.]

 

 

 

v.

 

Pepper looks like shit, and she knows it’s going to be on the news—it’s already on the news, broadcasting to every local news station available.

But that’s not important right now. She’s keeping a mental list—she’s trying to keep a mental list, but in the chaos it’s certainly more of a struggle than normal.

“Pep, are you—“ Tony cautions, his suit helmet distorting his voice. Tony is supporting her—physically holding her up, because she’s pretty sure her ankle is sprained, and her heels are very expensive garbage in their current state.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Come on.” At her command, he launches into the air, carefully but firmly smushing her body against his for the short trip to a different part of the carnage. It’s actually not as bad as it could have been. Bombs planted in Stark Industries? Pretty bad. Happy catching the bastard who planted them before he could activate any more? Very, very fortunate. She owes that man a beer and the most expensive slab of Kobe beef Japan can ship to California.

The two bombs that went off did some pretty significant damage to the building’s integrity, though. Everyone is getting accounted for, and Tony’s done at least five sweeps to check for stragglers. No fatalities, but the ambulances are getting pretty full-up with injured at this rate.

When they land again, she holds on for a few seconds longer than needed, trying to steady herself. Tony’s faceplate retracts. “You need to see a doctor, honey.”

“And I will,” she replies for the fifth time. She’s very appreciative of his concern—she knows what it’s like to be in his position—but this is her job. She is checking on every single one of her people, and she will be of the last to receive treatment. She can rely on Tony for a hospital ride if she needs one. No one else can.

Emily is sitting on the grass near the parking lot, breathing into an oxygen mask. At seeing Pepper, she quickly rises, as if she’s awaiting instruction, loyal as ever. Pepper shakes her head, wrapping her arms around the younger woman. “No, no, don’t move. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Emily coughs out a “Thank you, Miss Potts,” before resting on the ground again, staining her pencil skirt more than it already is. Pepper is going to dry clean it—better yet, replace it.

Pepper hobbles back to lean into Tony, gesturing towards a group of employees she recognizes from accounting. They’re all crowding around Gene, who’s been a loyal employee since Pepper’s first day. The older man has asthma, she remembers. “Tony, paramedic,” she directs. That’s all she’s been able to do, really: get the worst off the most help as fast as possible—flying equipment to them via Tony, calling over new ambulance arrivals to the scene, whatever it takes.

Tony follows without argument, grabbing the nearest paramedic and helping lift the oxygen tank over to them.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Pepper says, a knowing look in her eye. Stark Industries pays pretty well in comparison to their competitors, but hospital bills and insurance are a whole different animal. “I’ll make sure they call Ally,” she affirms, speaking of his wife. She’d met the woman a few times many years ago, and reconnected with her at the last few SI Christmas parties.

It feels like they go on forever like that—she and Tony offering help to the people Pepper sees in their building day after day. It pulls on her heart like nothing else, but the only way to get over it is to keep going, keep doing more. She understands Tony, in moments like this, that responsibility for others that makes him believe he’s doing his best to be a hero.

“M’kay, we’re done,” Tony announces, even though the fire crews are still putting out a few blazes, and the bomb squad is still collecting evidence, and then there’s SHIELD, taking the guy who did it into custody. Apparently not your average bomber. Double kudos to Happy on stopping him in time.

“Tony—“

“Pepper, your ankle is turning into a grapefruit in front of my eyes.” Pepper looks down to her ankle and sees some interesting colors already forming. Hm. “There will be plenty of triaging to do from the hospital.”

“I—yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I should go.”

“Ambulance or me?” Tony asks, gesturing to the last of the ambulances heading out of the parking lot. A particular paramedic is looking at them with a sort of feral undercurrent of pleading to let them just treat Pepper, already.

“You, please. I don’t want—it’s not about me. We’ll cause less attention if we land on the roof.”

“Sure thing, Miss Potts.” To the chagrin of the last of the paramedics, Tony adjusts his grip, wrapping Pepper up against him. He kisses her—for good luck, for comfort, because they’re both alive—and the familiar rush of her stomach plummeting follows as they rise into the air. Since she’s uncovered, he doesn’t go too high or fast, but she’s possibly concussed enough that it dizzies her anyway.

 

(Later, watching the news coverage of herself, Pepper looks crazy. Half-rabid. Her make-up is smudged from the sweat and heat. Her once tidy hair is unkempt from their trips through the air. Her white dress is covered in soot and smoke.

Instead of focusing on any of these things, however, the footage and images of she and Tony triaging are captioned with this: Stark Industries Explosion Contained, CEO Stays Behind For Clean-Up. The lower thirds review her exploits in succinct sentences. A few employees thank her in interviews. The clip of she and Tony landing and helping people out is looped as reporters discuss the day’s events.

Pepper leans into Tony where he’s squeezed himself onto her hospital bed.)

 

 

+ i.

 

 

Stark Industries didn’t create an official Facebook page until January 7th, 2009. (There’s some kind of feud between Tony and Mark Zuckerberg. Pepper doesn’t really want to know.)

Needless to say, they’re a bit behind the rest of the world, where in every other way they’re trying to be ahead. (Because, come on, even Pepper herself had a MySpace before she was CEO.)

Pepper knew of their page of course: they posted videos from the news and made announcements concerning product development. They even used the page as a resource after the disaster at Stark Expo, sharing their charitable efforts and giving those impacted by the events links to get financial and medical assistance.

The thing she doesn’t really deal with is the communicative aspect. That’s very much up to Tony, according to Jason in PR.

“Mister Stark often shares photographs and messages for us to post to the page,” Jason says, when she checks the page for a link to an article CNN wrote about Stark Industries and instead finds a selfie that Tony apparently took just this morning in his workshop, his shirt covered in grease stains and his hand flashing a peace sign, the background showing off one of his hotrods. The caption states: Prepping this baby to travel to this year’s Los Angeles Car Show. Make sure to come out and show it some love. - TS

“Mister Stark is a large part of the Stark Industries brand, so we feel it’s very important to show him in a personable light,” is Jason’s answer. “But we rarely ever have to ask.”

Once Pepper notices the one picture, she goes further back on the page. Over the past few months alone, there are multiple posts:

The view of the ocean from Tony’s house, the sunset reflecting in the water. Spent a gorgeous afternoon off with Pepper. Love you, Malibu. - TS

Tony standing in front of the now rebuilt Stark racing car with the Monaco racing crew around him. This thing was a beast before that psycho ruined it. Back to its former glory. - TS

Tony and a group of small kids, all posing in their adorned Iron Man gear. The photo is from a few months prior, when she and Tony visited the local children’s ward. If you want to donate to a good cause, follow in my example and give to your local Children’s Miracle Network hospital. The kids have have excellent taste. - TS

All the way back to their post-Stark Expo getaway in Paris is a picture of the Eiffel Tower from their penthouse suite. Visiting the city of lights again…or is it love? - TS

It’s almost as if they’re excerpts from his own personal page, all mixed in with the usual business announcements. They seem to garner the most comments and likes as well. Tony has even responded to a few comments, though some replies are more tactful than others depending on the question.

After that, she notices his new fascination with taking pictures. As they do their usual rounds of business and press, Tony will take pictures of scenery, or a professional photographer will take the picture of Tony with a group, and she’ll catch him texting the caption to someone on the PR team.

When she asks him about his newest post—a picture of the coffee table in his living room from the night before covered in a mix of Thai food containers and blurry Stark Industries paperwork captioned A regular night at the Stark household—Tony shrugs it off. “I don’t know, Pep. Why did you keep rotating your top 8 on Myspace every week? Why do we enjoy emoticons so much? It’s just a thing to do and it’s fun.”

She growls something about him stalking her old Myspace page concerning that particular dig, but otherwise lets it go. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone, and it certainly doesn’t bother her. It’s just…interesting, that’s all. She used Myspace more as a way to keep up with her old friends from college and chat with them. She’d never concerned herself much with taking pictures of herself or posting about her own life. (She was mostly too busy with her work to bother. She was either at her apartment or out accompanying Tony. There wasn’t much else in her life to talk about.)

When she makes her first personal post to the Stark Industries Facebook page, it’s a pretty simple one.

She’s been gone for an entire week. The London office has been berating her to come by for months, and when she finally acquiesced, they had a miles-long list of things they needed her opinion on from the day’s beginning to the day’s end. She barely had time to break for lunch, let alone reply to most of Tony’s calls or texts.

In short, she’s missed him.

She comes home to dinner on the table. Not just dinner, but candle-lit, cooked-by-Tony-and-not-at-all-burnt dinner. She’s pretty close to tears, actually. Despite the fact that it’s just a steak and some slightly overcooked asparagus, she can see the evidence of his work—a hologram with a cooking video and instructions still near the counter, a colossal mess of dishes left in Tony’s wake. He tried so hard just to surprise her after a routine business trip. She just loves him so much. She feels like she’s finally home, even though she stopped by her apartment before she came over to change into something more comfortable.

Tony notices that she’s touched pretty quickly considering that she hugs him close as soon as he gets out of his chair. She doesn’t let go for a pretty long beat. “You okay, Pep?”

“Yeah, I just—“ She kisses Tony, chaste on the lips before bringing his forehead to her own. His fingers idly trace up and down her back, a light massage to her tensed spine. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Tony seems like he’s going to question her mood, but he seems to let it go in favor of joking. “Of course I do, I made you dinner.”

“I see that.”

“And—“ Tony holds up a finger, then runs off for a moment, clearly going down to the wine cellar.

While he’s out of the room, that’s when she takes the picture. It’s just the table, set for two, covered with a bouquet of calla lilies and framed by the candles. Pepper saves the picture for while she’s working the next day, and emails the caption to the PR team, smiling when it’s posted an hour later.

Thank you to everyone at Stark Industries London for making me feel so welcome, but it feels good to be home. - Pepper Potts

 

(“Does this mean you’re finally agreeing to move in with me?” Tony asks, when he spots the picture a few days later.

 

Pepper doesn’t say no.)