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Decorum

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Agent Phil Coulson was a man who knew when he was being ignored. He followed Tony Stark's line of sight and saw Virginia Potts in a backless dress and really couldn't blame him. If he wasn't a consummate professional and a perfect gentleman he'd be starting agape too. As it were he could appreciate the woman's beauty with a few glances, once he'd gotten a meeting out of Tony Stark. Fury was on his back and the man was not one you wanted to be on the wrong side of.

When Stark walked away and took Pepper onto the dance floor, he turned to watch for a moment, and thought over his current situation. He could consider his job done for the night, having tried to get a meeting out of Stark, and have a drink before heading home. Or he could cut-in, pretend it was for work, dancing and trying to get an appointment through Potts herself again.

He thought about it for a whole minute before doing neither and going home to bed.

zzzzz

Pepper Potts was a very attractive woman, and it really pushed at his decorum not to act on it when she thanked him for everything he'd done. It was made worse by the easy hold Stark obviously had over her without either of them really realising it, and the man's complete lack of professional work ethics in regard to the woman.

She was out of his league too, Phil wasn't delusional, but it didn't mean he couldn't think about it. Just not dwell on it.

He wasn't even out of the building when the call came, demanding to know why Stark hadn't stuck to the cards, why he was letting the man run riot at the press conference. He was back in the elevator before Fury hung up on him, ranting about Tony Stark and Iron Man and he quickly found Pepper at the back of the throng of reporters.

"What is he doing?" he said,coming to stand beside her. She turned to him and shrugged.

"I have no idea," she groaned.

"Maybe we should wrap this up," he told her, feeling his cell phone vibrating in his pocket once more.

She nodded in agreement, within moments Stark was being ushered off the stage.

"I'd better get back to Headquarters," he said, as they moved away from the small crowd following him, his cell phone to his ear and Fury yelling down it.

"I'm sorry Agent Coulson," she said.

"Not your fault Miss Potts," he said with a smile, "I'll be in touch."

"I hope so," she said, with a smile of her own before they parted.

zzzzz

Fury had decided to talk to Stark himself. Or rather, give the man hell for letting the world know that he was in the armour. And despite being a perfect gentlemen, and a consummate professional, he'd really been hoping he'd be the one to go give hell. For various reasons all revolving around Pepper Potts. He wanted to see her again, and liked the idea of showing Stark up in front of her.

Though he suspected she'd seen him do a lot of idiotic things and get bawled out for it by various officials. She still stuck by him and he didn't think Pepper was the type of person to stick around purely for a paycheck, however handsome it was. He suspected it was more about how handsome Stark was.

When Fury was done with Stark, Coulson was back to SI headquarters, suit perfect, shoes shined, no different to any other working day, except this working day had a gorgeous redhead in it. A passing interest was becoming a crush, a pointless one at that, and these were the reasons he kept his professionalism. His decorum.

Qualities, he was sure, Pepper would admire.

"Agent Coulson."

Her cheeks were flushed, her hair tied back perfectly, and when she shook his hand she smiled brightly.

"Miss Potts."

"Mr Stark is in a meeting that's over-running right now," she said. "Can I get you a coffee?"

"Please," he smiled back at her, and sat on the sofa she gestured to.

"I won't be a moment."

She disappeared out of the large waiting room outside Stark's office, and he sat down, but didn't relax. He never did when he was working, and couldn't in her presence.

Fool.

She came back with a tray, two mugs on it, cream and sugar, and set it down on the table in front of him. He stood when she sat down next to him, smiling at him the entire time.

"Cream and sugar?" she asked.

"No, thank you."

She nodded and handed him the black coffee, doctoring her own to her liking, and he made a note of it.

"How are things at SHIELD?" she asked, almost casually, as if he wasn't there to talk about that very issue. About the chaos Stark had just made, for himself and the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.

"Not good," he said, smiling, because he couldn't not smile at Pepper Potts. "A lot of people are unhappy Miss Potts."

"Please, call me Pepper."

"Phil," he told her, offering her his own name in return with a little burst of joy in his stomach, but able to keep his face mostly straight. Mostly.

"Phil?" she smiled. "You look like a Phil."

"I do?" he frowned. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Good," she said, with a blush.

He beamed at her and was tempted to reach out and touch her somewhere. Her shoulder, arm, knees, but he kept his hands to himself, wrapped around his too-hot coffee mug.

"I was wondering, if you wanted-"

Her words were cut off by Tony Stark striding across the waiting area towards them. Coulson was on his feet immediately, mug on the tray, hand stuck out as the other man reached them.

"Agent Coulson," Stark said, shaking his hand hard.

He glanced at Pepper, who smiled shyly at him, as they marched into Starks office.

zzzzz

He nearly dropped the phone when Pepper Potts called him. She didn't have to call him, he had an assistant too, but it was her voice, shy and sweet.

"Agent Coulson?" she asked.

"Miss Potts, how can I help?" He wanted to ask, 'What's Stark done now?' but bit his tongue.

"I never, um-"

"Is everything alright?" he asked.

"Yes, fine, I wanted to ask you out to dinner earlier, but never got the chance."

"Are you asking me now?" he teased.

"I guess so."

"Dinner tonight?" he asked, rationalising it quickly in his mind. Fury was in charge of Stark now, he was no longer on Stark's case, Fury was dealing with the Avenger Initiative and Coulson was just doing some paperwork, and would soon have other assignments. Hopefully.

"Great."

Stark was his boss' problem, his boss' responsibility. All Phil had to worry about was finding something to wear to dinner, and somewhere to go.

Much harder than it sounded when he had Stark's billions to compete with.

Chapter Text

He was cooking for her.

She really liked the idea, no one had cooked for her since her mother died. She dressed as if she were going out to a top restaurant though, black dress and killer shoes, low cut bust line but lower heels than usual, because Phil Coulson was a little shorter than her, and while he didn't seem intimidated by her height in any way, she didn't want it to become a problem between them either.

She waited for him to answer, smiling when he opened the door in a lilac shirt and holding a wooden spoon.

"Hi."

"Hi."

"What are you making?" she asked, nodding towards the spoon in his hand.

"Oh, risotto, is that okay?" he asked, holding the door open to let her into his apartment.

"Sounds great."

"Come on in," he said. "It's almost ready."

He led her into his kitchen, the smells hitting her and making her hungry.

"Nice place," she said, trying to dampen down the nerves. She hadn't been on a date in so long, hadn't had the time, or the inclination, or the unspoken permission from Tony. That last reason really annoyed her, and that's why she hadn't told him about her date with Coulson.

"Thanks."

"SHIELD pay well?"

"High enough up is does," he said, "they make you work for it though."

"I can imagine."

"The problem with some high salary jobs is finding the time to spend the money. I'm sure Stark keeps you too busy to use yours too."

"I spend it on shoes," she said with a grin. "Stupidly expensive shoes."

He looked away from the meal he was preparing them and down to her feet, a little smile curving his lips.

"I had noticed."

She blushed and moved across the kitchen to stand next to him, looking at their dinner.

"It's 99% ready."

"99%?" she queried, with a quirk of her eyebrow.

"Try it."

He held out the spoon with a little of the rice on it, blowing gently on it before offering it to Pepper. She leaned forward, taking the food.

"It's done Phil," she told him with a grin.

"100%?"

"100%," she said, trying not to laugh, his face was so serious, as if the extra percent was the most important thing in the world.

"I may carry a gun but really I'm a number cruncher at heart Miss Potts."

"I'm starting to see that."

"Let's eat," he said with a smile.

zzzzz

He was neither action man nor number cruncher Pepper realised as they talked over dinner, but cooked really well. He was a little anal maybe, but then so was she, and it suited her just fine. He talked about his job, within the bounds of classified information, and she did the same, within the bounds of discretion for Tony. She liked his own discretion, and decorum, though she could tell he was holding back. She was curious about him, about what was behind his professional façade but suspected it would take a little time to find out.

She wouldn't tonight though.

He drove her home after dinner, having drunk a single glass of wine. She wanted to ask if that was his habit or if it was just so he could drive her home. She kept the thought to herself however, unsure which answer she would prefer. They talked some more in the car, about music, as he told her to choose something to listen to on the way and she fiddled with the settings on the radio. She liked his quiet manner, his gentlemanly conduct, the way he laughed when she told as joke; like he never laughed normally and was going to make the most of it.

He walked her to the door and she knew he would never ask to come in, and, while she wanted to ask, she knew she shouldn't. All she did was kiss him on the cheek and say goodnight before slipping inside.

She left him a message the next day to thank him again for dinner, and that she hoped they could go out again, because she really did. She wanted him to ask her out, to see if he wanted to go out with her. It was a test, but she had to test it, him, this. It had been too long since she'd dated, way too long, and had a little bit of hope for Phil Coulson.

Chapter Text

He called the next afternoon. He wanted to call the moment he got up in the morning, when he got to the office, when he got the message she sent him. He was keen, overly so for reasons he as unsure about, but he had years of practise when it came to dampening down desire, emotions, anything that was outside of his remit as the professional and the gentlemen. So he managed to wait until after lunch before calling Pepper to arrange another date.

"Phil, hi."

She sounded as keen as he felt but he didn't comment on it.

"Ms Potts," he said, warm but formal. It helped to keep him focused.

"Having a good day?" she asked.

"Not bad."

It was a little white lie, his day had been pretty atrocious thanks to Stark's little stunt at his press conference but he kept that from her. No point in annoying her.

"Mine's been awful," she said. "The press conference really screwed everything up."

He kept hold of his amusement. Barely.

"So, would you like to have dinner again?" he asked.

"Sure, I'm free on Wednesday or Thursday."

"Stark got you busy the rest of the week?"

"The company in general. There's a lot to do when your billionaire boss is also a superhero," she said. "Though don't tell him I called him a super hero."

"Very unlikely Ms. Potts."

"And stop calling me Ms. Potts."

"Sorry, it's the work suit."

She laughed at that and he smiled, his insides squirming a little.

"Wednesday?" he asked. He couldn't wait 'til Thursday.

"That would be great. Want me to choose a venue this time? Though I can't really cook."

He chuckled.

"We'll go anywhere you like," he said.

"Okay."

They picked a time and Pepper said she she'd think about a place and, before they hung up, she spoke again.

"I'm glad you called."

His day just got brighter and brighter.

zzzzz

She was on the phone when he picked her up, chattering quickly and cupping the mouthpiece to whisper an apology as she let him into her apartment. He followed her inside, looking around briefly but his focus on a barefoot Pepper Potts in a little black dress. He stood in one spot as she wandered about the room, talking to who she could only assume was Stark, seemingly without purpose until a black pair of heels were pulled from behind a chair. She grinned at him and dropped own into an armchair

He watched her struggle to put the shoes on before dropping to his knees before her to slip them onto her feet. She squeaked when his hand slid around her ankle, almost dropping her blackberry. She quickly apologised and explained to squeak to her boss, but let him continue to fasten up her shoes.

"I'm about to have dinner," she said, getting his attention. "No I don't need any company thank you Mr. Stark."

He grinned, fastening the other shoe and running his hands around her ankle and calf in a caress as she tried to end the conversation with her boss. She gasped at the feel of his palms on her leg but managed to hang up without further incident on the phone.

They were quiet for a moment, and she smiled.

"Are you going to stand up now?" she asked.

He felt the heat on his cheeks as he blushed, but she didn't comment, only took his hand as he rose.

"Ready to go?" he asked, letting go of her hand.

zzzzz

It was their second date and something had changed dramatically with the act of putting on her shoes and the simple caress around her ankle. It had created a tension he didn't think they were ready for yet. He wanted to apologise but he wasn't sure what for, so he stayed quiet through dinner as they ate.

"Phil?" she asked, reaching across to tap his hand. He'd drifted off while eating.

"Hmmm?"

"Everything okay?"

"Fine," he said, with a smile, "I'm sorry about before."

"Before?" she asked, the confusion scrunching her face up and making her look adorable.

"When I put your shoes on."

"Why are you apologising for that?"

"I felt your legs up."

She chuckled, sitting back and stretching her legs out to tangle with his.

"I kinda liked it," she said, with a grin her cheeks blushed red. "Don't you like my legs?"

"Of course," he said, with a smile.

"Then you don't need to apologise," she said. "Idiot."

"I don't think it's very nice to insult your date Ms. Potts."

She smiled again, rubbing her bare calf against his with a cheeky grin that he adored. He adored her, and wanted to tell her so but held back. Second date, it felt to soon to be so open with her, but he wanted to.

zzzzz

He drove her home, he wasn't really a drinker and told Pepper as much when she questioned his single glass of wine. Red tonight, to go with his meal. They chatted in the car again, Pepper more animated than before and he assumed first date nerves had dampened her down a little before. It had certainly done the same to him, and they laughed together this time, and louder too as he drove the black SUV.

They pulled up at her apartment and he ran out to open the door for her again as on their last date. Perfect gentleman, his mother would be proud and he knew Pepper would continue to appreciate it. She beamed at him, and they walked up to her door and he went to say goodnight when her phone rang.

"Mr. Stark?" she said, polite as ever, mouthing another apology to him. So close, Phil thought to himself. Close to what he wasn't sure, but he was annoyed all the same as Pepper unlocked her door and chatted to Tony.

"I'm at home."

He tuned into the conversation again when her tone went a little defensive.

"I just got back, I went out to get some dinner," she continued, "listen, Tony, can I call you back when I've gotten back inside my apartment?"

Phil smiled, her voice was strong, and she was trying hard not to let her annoyance be heard.

"Thank you." She hung up and slipped her phone back into her pocket again. "Sorry Phil."

"It's okay Pepper," he said.

"I had a great time."

"Me too, I'll call you again."

"Okay."

He leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek, but she smiled at him, cupping his cheek to move his face so she could kiss him on the lips. They were connected for mere seconds, before she pulled away, smiling still.

"Goodnight Phil."

"Night Pepper."