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Breath of Fire and Fresh Air

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"My father warned me about women with red hair.

Well, to be fair, my father warned me about a lot of women.

Okay, so he warned me about all women.

The usual rhetoric: overemotional, clingy, expectant. Pretty but don’t piss ‘em off…fat chance you’ll ever find one you really enjoy both fooling around around with and keeping around. Work and pleasure shouldn’t always be separate, but your women - keep your women separate.

And red hair? It means a spark. All that about not pissing women off, you can’t avoid with a ginger. You won’t live a damn thing down, keeping one of them around.

I knew that. I’d memorized everything I could from my father’s weird wisdom.

But after Dawn ditched, and I needed a new secretary, and then Pepper strode in…she knocked everyone out of the park.

Well, me. She knocked me out of the park. Which is, I guess, the important part.

Not that I really, truly liked her at first. She was…in charge of things. A little too in charge, if you’d asked me. As you already know, obviously, she grew on me.

But she had a handle on things, which was a lot more than I had most of the time, and that was…that was good. She was good.

I didn’t, um, I didn’t really know that I felt…the way I feel about her…for a while. I mean, I had glimpses of it now and then, but I didn’t really feel all that much affection for people in general, so I didn’t really think it meant anything special. At least, until I got back from the Middle East.

When I got back on this soil I, uh, saw that she was crying, and I teased her about being happy that I was back. Her long-lost boss, you know. And you know what she said? She told me she hated job hunting. Just like that. Didn’t even think about snapping the sass right back at me. And…something just happened, I don’t really know. That’s just…one of many moments that I think I realized it.

Well, two things.

One, that I was really starting to…love her. I don’t think I knew, like, that I wanted to marry her or anything like that. People always say, you know, oh, “they knew right from this one moment that they were going to be happily in love for the rest of their lives!”, but come on, that’s bullshit. It’s nowhere near that simple.

Not…that your mother ever helped much with the simple part. She didn’t stop pushing me. I pushed back, for a while, but that…that was good.

It might not have been in the job description when she showed up here, but she made me a better man. A better everything, really. She really…looked through me. Saw me for who I actually was and believed in that man, even when I didn’t know he existed. She’s…the best hope I ever had. For anything.

When you read those articles that say that Stark Industries is an empire, remember that your mom built that. I didn’t build this. I’ve designed and built a lot of…machines, and weapons, and a few appliances, and a bunch of other shit, but your mom built an entire world, okay? And I want you to know that. Always, to know that. Because it’s important.

And if someday, some wide-eyed, red-haired, stubborn-ass girl walks into your life and tells you who’s boss and gives you a smile that starts to light up your life…you should keep her around.

And,yeah, the second thing I realized back then, maybe, she’ll be just like my father said, like your grandfather said: that her red hair represents the fire inside. That just maybe it means she’s ready to fight, not just for you, but against you, when you’ve got your priorities totally freaking wrong. That if you don’t pull your weight and let her simmer too long, things might start burning up, going up in flames. Even if that’s true, if she’s half the empress your mom is, keep her around.

Now…hey, JARVIS? Did I have anything else I wanted to talk about?”

“Not in the semi-official transcript you scanned earlier, sir.”

“Okay, then. I guess that’s that.”

Tony pauses.

“I hope I get to tell you all this in person, too, you know, when you finish this whole Peace Corps thing. You do still have that Stanford offer…”

“Tony!” comes a reprimand from the hall, and he turns to realize that Pepper’s now in the doorway, a couple of manila folders cradled in front of her chest as her arms tuck around herself and she scowls at him gently.

“I’m just saying, it’s a good offer.”

“An offer he chose not to take. Leave him be, honey.”

Tony nods his assent and turns back to the camera.

“Leaving you be, kiddo. Hope this…I don’t know, helps you or something. I just…felt like it was something I should do. I know it’s like, an hour long, and you probably won’t watch the whole thing, but if you do, you’re a good kid, keep your head on straight, and stay safe, and remember that I love you.

Okay, JARVIS, that’s a wrap.”