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Title: Her Boy Friday (Part 3 of ?)
Fandom: Iron Man (Movieverse)
Rating: PG-13 I guess, for nudity
Summary: Iron Maiden Universe (Genderswapped!Tony and Pepper in the Iron Man movieverse) Re-write of film canon in alternating points-of-view and side-stories. On the roster today, Pepper after Toni's homecoming. (For context, see parts One and Two)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Pepper is wringing his hands at the back of the room as he watches Toni sink to the floor in front of a sea of reporters. She looks wide-eyed and a bit panicked somehow as she munches on her cheeseburger (extra pickles, extra cheese, no tomato) and stares out at the crowd.

Pepper feels sick to his stomach.

Toni who seemed collected at the airport, in the car, at the drive-thru window, now looks like she’s reeling from the magnitude of being home. And the spotlight has always brought out the inner beast of her compulsiveness.



At the crossroads of jet lag, trauma and the reality of rescue is a bad bad place for Toni Stark to be while in front of this many cameras

Already Pepper is ramping up to put a post-statement spin on everything of epic proportions and crossing his fingers that Obadiah and Rhodey are prepared to ad-lib some fucking amazing closing statements that will make up for whatever rash thing his long-lost boss is about to say.

Toni has seated herself in front of the podium instead of standing at it. She kicks off her shoes, cheeseburger in one hand and squeezing her newly freed toes in the other. Obadiah tries to roll with it and comes around to sit beside her. He touches her shoulder and Toni gives him a weak, all-too-brief smile.

“You know haven’t worn heels in three months and my feet kill in these now.” She says, mostly to him instead of to the gathered crowd. “I’ve only worn them for like forty minutes. Screw heels you know? I’m 5’3’. It’s just genetics. I should learn to live with it. Dad never complained about being on the short side. Shit, you know I never said goodbye to him?”

She pauses, seeming suddenly aware of the reporters, and turns to them next. “You know why don’t you all just sit down too okay? Then you can see me and I can see you and yeah...“

“What’s up with the love in?” Rhodey mutters in Pepper’s ear. Agent Coulson, a few feet away, is shooting him a similar look of confusion.

“Don’t ask me. I don’t know what she’s up to.”

He wants to run up and drag her away from the podium, carry her into the hospital slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes if necessary. God he really had to bring up the possibility of that man-handling waiver again...

But Pepper sinks to the floor, where his stomach has been for the last ten minutes, and listens.

_ _ _ _ _


Toni doesn’t talk as they drive back to the house, she just steals away one of Pepper’s notepads and starts determinedly composing a list of some kind.

Pepper knows that she spoke with Obadiah, who was furious, and somehow came out unscathed. He knows that Rhodey just about punched her and possibly only held back because she is already in shitty shape physically. But the only one Toni has apologized to is Pepper, for the uproar she’s left him to deal with. Well, at least as much as Toni Stark ever apologizes.

(“Yeah, I deserve that dirty look. Let’s just go home, okay?”)

The acknowledgment almost makes Pepper feel worse, because Toni is usually confident to the point of being inconsiderate.


When they get into the house Toni greets Jarvis with warm relief in her voice and Pepper could swear the AI seems genuinely glad to see her too.

“Been bored with just you and Pepper here?”

“Never Miss Stark. Mr. Potts is absolutely engaging; however I have missed your enthusiasm.”


After she’s done checking and re-checking the security network with all the paranoia Pepper was warned to expect from a recently released captive Toni sinks onto the couch in the living room, seeming a little numb again, and takes her time finishing up her list.

Pepper sits down beside her, giving her a few feet of space, and pops open his laptop to work on the sea of e-mail no doubt flooding in about the press conference.

It works about as well as he can expect, keeping his mind off how out of it she seems and his hands busy so that he doesn’t hug her like he’s wanted to since he laid eyes on her again. Something about her presence still seems surreal and he wants to throw his arms around her just to make sure that she’s solid and breathing. To make sure this isn’t another drawn out, torturous dream.

Toni finally hands her list over after about a half an hour.

“Can you get me those things by tomorrow?”

It’s surprisingly succinct; an itemized rundown of things that Pepper was used to picking up of his own volition once a month in the spirit of preparedness. Some more scotch, some more whiskey, cayenne pepper, hot chocolate mix, Tabasco sauce, and Hostess Cupcakes (this last item circled, with two exclamation points and an underline or five). He mentally tacks on five quarts of Quaker State’s best and a box of tampons out of habit.

“No problem, I’ll bring them with me in the morning.”

Toni nods, a bit too heavily, like she’s having trouble keeping her head up but doesn’t realize it, which brings the urge to hold onto her roaring back and Pepper straightens his pant-legs just for something to do with his hands.

“Maybe you should try to get some sleep?”

She nods again, eyes slowly closing and opening, rubbing at the arm still hanging loosely in its sling.

“Yeah, Jet lag/Demerol cocktail is a bitch.” She mutters.

“Let me help you with the stairs at least? You’re still limping.”

And Pepper finally feels like she’s real when she leans into his side all the way to the bedroom door.

_ _ _ _ _


“Why do you not have a bra on?” he asks, voice tight and eyes on the ceiling.

“The underwire gets magnetized and screws up the calibration. Besides, you’ve seen me more naked than this at some point I’m sure.”

Then Toni grabs his hand and plants it firmly onto her chest, the arc reactor glowing innocently out from between his fingers. Pepper tries to ignore the texture of her skin and keep his eyes pointed upward. There is no way she can be asking him to do this for any other reason than to see him squirm.

"Pep, stop being a wuss and take it out for me. Please. Your fingers are longer than mine and it's screwed in too tightly for me to get a good grip."

Pepper slowly brings his gaze down from the ceiling. He’s flushing beet red and thinking about how this was SO not in his job description as he clamps his fingers around the edge of the reactor and twists. When it doesn't budge he twists again, hard enough that he's afraid of torquing all of Toni's ribs out of place - then the seal gives suddenly and the reactor pops out without a fuss.

"Okay, good...” Toni lets out a long relieved breath and takes the old reactor in her hand, yanking its cables free with a jerk and the foreboding crackling sound of a power connection separating.

“Thank you for getting over your nipple-phobia for me. Now do you see the copper wire at the bottom of the chamber there?"

Pepper’s eyes pop wide. "I can’t put my ha-"

"Did we not JUST go through this? I can't reach it myself, short little fingers, see?" She shoves her hand up to his face then drops it to her side again. "I just need you to pull it out and don't let it touch the side of the chamber, it's easy. It’s like that game Operation."

"I sucked at that game."

"Not the time to tell me these things Pepper, just do it."

Pepper finds the edge of the reactor with his fingers, reflecting briefly on how many procedures of safe medicine (when you were Toni Stark's assistant, with as much time as she spent working on machines by hand, you knew your first and sometimes even second aid) were being violated by this whole scenario.

He gropes into the cavity, shivering all over at the squelching sound it makes. “Oh god there’s pus...”

“It’s not pus,” Toni insists. “It’s an inorganic plasmic discharge. It’s from the device not from my body.”

“It reeks.”

“Yeaaah, it does...”

Her voice is steady but she’s concentrating on the ceiling, eyes fluttering like she’s fighting a bout of nausea. The sight of her expression and the rank smell of the plasma makes Pepper's stomach turn too and he snaps his head up and looks very hard at the other side of the room. Toni doesn’t miss the shift in focus.

“Okay, no. You seriously need to watch what you're doing for this part..." She reprimands, shifting a bit as Pepper’s fingers slide deeper into the socket.

"I don't want to look at your breasts!" Pepper snaps back at her, acting as interested in the tile on the far wall as he possibly can while up to his wrist in Toni Stark’s cleavage.

Toni pauses.

"...... ow. Okay, I know they're not much for cup size but -"

"THAT ISN'T WHAT I MEANT! Your breasts are lovely I just don't... It’s unprofessional!"

"Pepper, you’re effectively fisting my chest right now I think we can abandon professional for a little whi-OW!"

She jerks on the table and Pepper freezes, whipping his head around to examine her face which has gone abruptly from ‘alright’ to ‘pale’.

“Okay, that’s why I want you to look at what you’re doing and not up at - ”

“I’m sorry, are you okay?”

“- the ceiling. I’m fine just pull the wire up, and don’t pull out the...”

Pepper’s fingers slide out of the casing with one long strand of wire wound around them. When the wire doesn’t come free right away he tugs it sharply, then drops it and the heavy coil on it's end on the floor when the heart monitors start blaring.

“.... uh... don’t pull.... that coil of wire you just pulled out. Shit.”

“I-I can put it back!”

“No, no...” Toni says, holding up a hand to stop him. She’s slurring her words a little and looking vaguely like she might fall off the table. “I’m just gonna have a little heart attack and you’re going to hand me the new reactor and we’ll put it in so I don’t die, okay?”

“Oh god... I-It’ll be okay...”

“Less reassuring, more fixing.”

Pepper takes the replacement reactor in shaking hands, fumbles to hold the cords firmly in fingers slicked with discharge, and takes two tries to get the lead into the base plate socket.
Toni makes a sharp startled noise as the power makes its first loop through the circuit, then she looks over at Pepper’s pale face with total calm restored.

“Are you alright?” he whispers anyway.

“Yeah, I'm fine. I feel great.” She smiles and then laughs out loud at his expression. “Are YOU okay?”

Pepper is torn between wanting to punch her or pick her up and hug her. He settles for relieved weak laughter.

“Don’t EVER ask me to do something like this again.”

“Pepper, I don’t have anyone else but you.”

Toni’s voice is soft and matter of fact as she brings the towel on her lap up to her chest and tugs the sensors off. After a beat she smiles, quirking her mouth to the side and making a ‘tsk’ noise by way of apology. Then she just slides off the end of the table and fishes her shirt and bra off the floor.

Pepper swallows the sudden lump in his throat with remarkable calm.

_ _ _ _


He sits in the living room late that night, tie and shoes off, Toni’s antique heart in his hand. It’s warm, still setting off a blue-green glow, and he’s been wondering how much he could get for it on E-Bay for about the last hour. Not that the thought is part of any genuine intent. Right now he’s not even sure he can bring himself to stop holding it.

The panic he felt when she almost flat-lined on the table in front of him comes bubbling up again and he squeezes his fingers around the metal casing to ease his nerves. Leave it to her to go missing for three months and then make him almost lose her again. Not that she thinks in those terms. Pepper’s gains and losses aren’t on Toni’s mind at the best of times.

When he asked what she wanted to do with it she just shrugged at him.

“Have it destroyed. You know me. I’m not nostalgic like that.”

Pepper turns the reactor between his fingers one more time and sighs a little before placing it in his briefcase. She’s not nostalgic like that, but he is.
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December 2011

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