Pepper was on her lunch break at the Whitney when she saw a maniac destroying Big Red, which was temporarily on display in the sculpture garden. She knew she should have gone inside and called security, but the man didn't seem violent, just unnaturally focused. He was humming to himself as he disassembled it and examined each of the pieces.
He must have slipped away from one of the 'special' adult groups currently touring the museum. He was short and wearing a grease-stained knit shirt and jeans that had once been black. Really, not a threatening figure by any means.
She strode up to him. "What do you think you're doing?" He turned in a swift, graceful motion and looked up at her with big, wide open, brown eyes that made him look a lot younger than he probably was. He had an absurdly neat Van Dyke that contrasted with his rumpled hair and added to the visual confusion. Perhaps he was thirty, but he had the look of someone who was never going to really grow up. She thought puppy and was inclined to feel sorry for him. But still. "That's a Calder mobile. Do you have any idea what it cost?"
"Um. Look, I can put it back together. Or, or buy it, if I've, you know, invalidated the warranty."
"Buy it, right." Pepper folded her arms across her chest. "This is a Calder mobile. One of the museum's signature pieces. It is not for sale."
"Um, right. I'll just..." The man started reassembling it. Pepper was about to protest, but actually, it looked like the pieces were going back where they should be, and she really didn't have the heart to have the man arrested when he obviously had no idea he had done anything wrong. "I just," he said while slipping the middle size pieces into the mobile, "wanted to see how the balance was... you know, I didn't know modern art had anything this cool... and when Obi said we should have some, I didn't know what kind would be best. And I thought, museum! Museums would have the good stuff and then I saw this, and you know. I could make one of these! I'm good at welding."
Pepper blinked and wondered how the man breathed. "Even if you could make a copy, it would be unauthorized. You couldn't show it to anyone."
"Oh, yeah. Forgot about that." He put the last piece in place and gave it a gentle nudge. Big Red rotated in its usual complex dance. He turned to grin at her. "See, good as new? Right? Please don't report me. I'm already in trouble over an incident with... well, you had to be there." He widened his eyes even further and shut up, looking at her hopefully. Any moment, Pepper was going to give in to impulse and try to smooth out his fur... his hair.
Pepper sighed. "I won't report you, but you really should rejoin your group before you're missed."
"Group? No, see. I came by myself." He was still looking at her intently, as focused as he'd been on the mobile. "I'd been working, and I just remembered about the art...I'm Tony, by the way." He stopped talking as suddenly as if a switch had been flipped, and kept looking into her eyes, expectantly, very nearly quivering.
Really, this man should not be wandering around on his own. "Ms. Potts, I'm a volunteer docent here."
"You don't get paid? Are you rich, you don't need a job?"
From anyone else, that would be prying, but from Tony it felt more as if he simply had no barrier between his brain and his mouth. "No, I'm not rich and I would like a paying job. It turns out that a major in Business Administration combined with a minor in Art History qualifies me to flip burgers. I do this to remind myself that there are finer things in life than cheeseburgers."
"I like cheeseburgers." Tony smiled at her. "Hey, that reminds me. I didn't eat yet today. Today's Monday, Monday's a good day for eating."
"No, it's Tuesday." Pepper looked at him more closely. Maybe Tony was hypoglycemic or something else in addition to his obvious neurological ...uniqueness. "I was just about to get lunch. Why don't you join me?"
Tony shifted from foot to foot. "I don't have any money on me."
"That's no problem. I get a discount at the museum cafe. They have cheeseburgers, pie and ice cream."
"Add in coffee, and you have my four major food groups." He grinned at her. "I'll let you buy me lunch today, but only if you let me buy you lunch tomorrow."
"It's a date." Pepper was certain that the moment she was out of Tony's sight he would have forgot she existed, distracted by whatever shiny object caught his eye.
"Wear something nice!" Tony offered her his arm. Pepper smiled and accepted it.
Pepper really didn't expect Tony to return, but she'd been reminded that she did, in fact, own some nice clothes which were gathering dust in her closet. It would be good for her morale. So the next morning she wore a black and gray silk dress with scarlet accents and her best candy apple red heels. She liked the way she felt, walking tall and proud. She seemed to get more respect from the museum visitors, too.
Tony's voice was unmistakable. She turned, smiling, and stopped. Tony was... wearing a tuxedo. A midnight blue, obviously tailor-made, sleek, softly shining, and stylish tux. He bounced a little, drawing her attention to his equally obviously custom-made shoes. She had an eye for shoes, and noticed the two-inch lifts incorporated in their design. "Tony?"
"We have a lunch date. Don't we?" Tony looked slightly unsure of himself. "I mean, if you want to say no, I'll understand. I know that you were thinking I was a bit... well, in my defense, Tuesdays have never been my best days. But really, I'm actually a grown-up. My name is Tony Stark and I'd like to take you to lunch." He paused and then went on. "And offer you a job. A real job. I need to start an art collection to scatter around the corporate headquarters, and I need you to tell me what's good."
"Tony Stark. As in Stark Industries? You make weapons." Pepper wasn't really protesting, just trying to bring herself up to speed. With Tony, you obviously needed a running start.
"Yeah, well. America needs weapons. Being the world's peacekeeper and all. You can't do that without something to back it up." Tony was still watching her intently.
"I suppose not. And you want to hire me just to buy art for you?"
Tony shifted from foot to foot again. "Well, that probably wouldn't keep you busy all the time. I was thinking maybe you could help me keep track of things. I had a secretary. I had several secretaries. But they just didn't seem to work out. I think maybe you'd work out." And then Tony looked down at her feet. "Nice shoes."
Pepper laughed. "I'm Virginia Potts, Mr. Stark, but my boss can call me Pepper."
"Pepper!" Tony grinned and offered her his arm. "Let's do lunch!"