Tony Stark's house had the feeling of being dropped from a helicopter onto a cliff and somehow having managed to cling to it instead of falling into the sea. Pepper Potts was more than little intimidated as she drove up the long driveway. She'd worked at huge houses for important people before, but this was perhaps the hugest house and most important person. Provided she got the job, of course.
Her heels clicked on the pavement as she headed up the walkway to the front door. The cool British voice at the gates had told her it would be unlocked for her, and it indeed it was. She entered into a large, open entrance way. The whole place seemed to be windows, looking out at the water beyond. Everything looked expensive. It was also very clean. Too clean. Cleaning-lady clean. People who clean their own houses are rarely so meticulous.
"Mr. Stark will be with you in a moment," the same British voice from the gate told her. It had no apparent origin, like it was coming from everywhere at once.
"Thank you," she said, to be polite, even though she wasn't sure where to aim her words.
"You are quite welcome, sir," the voice said.
She had no time to be confused before a man appeared, through a nearby door. He was tallish, just about as tall as her in her heels (which was saying something), and wore a t-shirt and sweatpants. He was also barefoot. His hair was ruffled and his eyes were red - from too much drinking or not enough sleep or both. He was also undoubtedly Tony Stark. Not as suave-looking as in the photos she'd seen of him, but just as handsome. He moved his eyes over her in a completely obvious manner.
"Thank you, Jarvis," he said.
"My pleasure," the voice replied.
"Jarvis," Pepper said, looking around again for the voice's origin. "He's - "
"Just A Really Very Intelligent System," Stark said. He waved a hand vaguely. "AI. Runs through the house. One my brilliant inventions."
"He called me 'sir'," Pepper said, with a small smile.
"Well, I said brilliant, not perfect. We're still working out the gender identification kinks," Stark said. He spoke fast and it took some effort to follow him. "The pizza boy was very upset the other day. He's at that awkward age. I can assure you that you neither look nor sound like a man in any way, shape or form. Apologize to our guest, Jarvis."
"My apologies, sir," Jarvis said.
"A few kinks," Stark repeated. His eyes went unfocused for a second and she wondered if he was mentally planning how to fix the problem with the AI. Or maybe he was just hung-over. He shook his head and looked at her again. "You must be Pepper Potts. You are very tall. I like your shoes. You could probably kill someone with those heels. Come in."
He turned and walked away. She followed after him, her shoes echoing loudly in the cavernous space.
"Virginia," she said, hurrying to catch up. "Virginia Potts."
He stopped, suddenly and she nearly ran into him. "Are you sure? 'Cause I thought Obi said 'Pepper'. I like Pepper. Pepper is cute, it's fun. It sounds like a 1930's detective's girlfriend. Pepper is the reason you got this interview."
"Pepper is a nickname," she explained. "You can call me Pepper, if you want, sir."
"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "That would be completely unprofessional. I'll call you Miss Potts."
"Right," she said.
He turned his back on her and walked again. She cautiously moved after him. They made it a few more steps before a voice called out from upstairs. Stark froze in his tracks and turned around, wide-eyed. Pepper got a glimpse of a pair of very long, bare legs coming down the stairs before Stark tugged on her arm and pulled her into a nearby closet.
"Mr. St-!" she started to exclaim, but was silenced by his hand clamping over her mouth.
"Shh," he said.
A screen lit up in front of them. It looked like it was attached to the back of the closet door. The interface was sleek, but complicated looking. He tapped several buttons and then the screen filled with the image of a young blonde, dressed in a men's shirt and only that, walking around the main floor.
"What are we doing in here?" Pepper whispered, once his hand had left her mouth.
"We are hiding Miss Potts," Stark replied. "Wasn't that obvious? Why else would I drag you into a closet? Well, actually, I could think of another reason, but I've only just met you. Not that that would have stopped me, really, but you seem like the kind of girl who would need to be bought dinner before anyone got her in a closet. I mean, you're probably blushing like crazy right now."
Pepper was, in fact, blushing like crazy. She was thankful that he couldn't see it in the darkness of the closet, though she wouldn't be surprised if he could physically feel the heat radiating from her cheeks, he was that close to her. He smelled like stale cologne and sweat and...paprika?
"What I mean is, why are we hiding?" she asked, after she'd recovered herself. "Who is she?"
"She is..." Stark said. "Um...okay, I know she has a name...Tiffany? Bethany? Brittany? Something with an 'ee' at the end." He paused for a moment. "Destiny, that's it."
"And she's...." Pepper pressed.
"A dancer," he said.
"And she is in your house because..."
"She has very nice legs."
Pepper rolled her eyes heavenward. "Mr. Stark, why are we hiding from her?" she asked, speaking the words slowly for clarity.
"Because if she can't find me, she'll go away," he said, echoing her patronizing tone. "And then we won't have to do the whole 'I had fun, let's do it again, I'll call you' thing."
"So, you're just going to hide in this closet until she goes away, so you don't have to tell her you don't want to see her again," Pepper said.
"Yes!" he said, with a clap to her shoulder. "You're very quick, Miss Potts."
"Thank you," she said, dryly.
The blonde was walking around the main level of the house, calling out for Stark once in awhile and looking hung-over and confused. Pepper and Stark watched until Pepper realized that it was absolutely ridiculous.
"This is absolutely ridiculous," she said. "Excuse me."
She fumbled around for the door handle and exited amid Stark's warnings, shutting the door behind her. The light from the many windows was a shock after the pitch black of the closet and she had to squint to see. She went in the direction the blonde had gone.
"Excuse me, Miss...er...Destiny?" she said, when she'd found her quarry.
The blonde whirled around. "Who are you?" she demanded. She didn't seem at all embarrassed to be caught half-naked. In fact, she seemed more suspicious of Pepper and gave her a once over, as though she were eyeing up the competition.
"I'm Mr. Stark's assistant," Pepper said, lying easily. It was almost true. Would be true, hopefully, if they ever got to the interview.
"Oh," the blonde said. She relaxed. "Where is he?"
"He had to leave early for a meeting," Pepper said. "He asked me to apologize and to see that you got home safely."
"Can't I just, like, wait for him?" the blonde asked, folding her arms over her ample chest.
"He's going to be quite some time," Pepper said. "Can I call you a cab?"
The blonde pouted. She seemed to think that would suddenly make Stark appear and when Pepper didn't do anything, she stomped her foot. "Oh, fine!" she said. "Like I care."
Pepper kept her professional smile on her face and pulled out her cell phone. The blonde continued to pout while Pepper called her a cab.
"I'll help you gather up your things," she said, when she was done.
This made the blonde angrier, and she stamped all the way upstairs, with Pepper following serenely behind her. She'd dealt with girls like this before - spoiled rich girls and those who tended to always get what they wanted due to some asset like beauty or money. Or both.
They entered Stark's bedroom, which was approximately the size of Pepper's entire apartment, and looked like a hurricane had gone through it. Clothes and sheets were strewn everywhere. She wasn't sure whether she should act like she'd been in there before (she was supposed to be his assistant, after all) or like she'd never been in there before (should an assistant be going into her boss's bedroom?).
She settled on hovering near the doorway until Destiny had collected her clothes and then waited outside while she changed into them. It seemed to take awhile and, after a series of muffled curses came from beyond the door, Pepper knocked on it to see if everything was all right.
"Can you, like, help me?" Destiny asked.
Pepper found her halfway into a dress that was way too small for the girl's ample curves. In fact, as she tugged at the zipper she wondered how she'd managed to get it on in the first place. Both women were huffing by the time Pepper finally managed to pull the zipper in the all the way up.
"A Mr. 'Taxi Cab Driver' is at the gate," Jarvis's voice announced. It was sort of like the voice of God. Only more British than Pepper imagined the voice of God sounding.
"Thanks," she said, attempting to sound like she talked to him all day long. "We'll be down soon, Jarvis."
"Very good, sir," he said.
As she herded Destiny downstairs, keeping an eye out in case the girl fainted from lack of oxygen, Pepper wondered what exactly about her voice had Jarvis confused. She sang alto in the choir, but still. She didn't think it was that low.
The taxi was waiting at the top of the drive and Pepper paid the driver while Destiny manoeuvred herself into the backseat with obvious practice at not flashing anyone in her short dress.
"Take her wherever she wants to go," Pepper told the driver. "And keep the change."
Destiny was pouting in the backseat when Pepper waved goodbye to her. She watched the car until it was out the gates then returned to the house.
"Mr. Stark?" she called. "She's gone. You can, uh, come out of the closet now." She was willing to bet she was the first person to ever say that to him.
Stark emerged, holding the briefcase she'd left in there and looked awed. "That was...that was perfect," he said. She took the briefcase from him and tried not to blush. "Seriously. You're hired. You think I'm not serious, but I am. You now have the job."
"I...seriously?" she said.
He nodded. "Someone efficient like you, that's what I need," he said. "Not some stuffy old guy with a clipboard. You're perfect."
"Thank you, sir," Pepper said, flushing despite her best efforts.
Stark turned from her and began to walk and talk again. She scurried after him. "So, you can start right now. Salary...well, obviously I'm going to pay you an obscene amount of money to put up with my shenanigans. Obi will figure that out. Obi... he's going to give me hell for not interviewing you properly." He stopped and whirled on her. She was better prepared this time and avoided a collision more gracefully. "Interview questions, uh, where was your last employment?"
"With the senator," Pepper said. "I-"
"Why did you leave?" he interrupted.
"He died," Pepper said.
"That's a good reason," Stark said. "Do you have a résumé?" Pepper opened up the briefcase and retrieved it. "Do you have a pen?" Pepper got one for him. "Great." He flipped the résumé over and held it up to the wall, scribbling what looked to be a complicated math formula on it.
Pepper looked around while she was waiting for him to finish. "Is that smoke?" she asked, pointing to where tendrils were snaking out from under a door.
"Possibly," Stark said, absently. "I was making an omelet when you came in."
"Did you turn the burner off?" she asked, alarmed.
"No," he said. He seemed completely unconcerned and continued to scribble numbers onto the paper. "Don't worry, Jarvis will fix it." He stopped scribbling and started walk away from her again. She got the impression he had forgotten she was there.
"Mr. Stark?" she called.
He waved a hand at her. "You're hired. Jarvis will give you the codes. Don't let him boss you around," he said, pausing at a door and punching something on a key pad.
"Thank you, sir!" she yelled.
He didn't answer, just disappeared through the door. Pepper let out a breath.
"This is going to be interesting," she muttered.
Then she headed the kitchen, to put out what she suspected would be the first of many fires.