The minute she sees him, she hates him.
He’s sitting in his chair, tie undone, feet propped up on a desk worth more than her apartment; there’s a glass of scotch at his elbow.
“So, Ms. Virginia Potts. Welcome, welcome, welcome!”
She forces a smile on and clears her throat— “Ms. Potts is fine, Mr. Stark. It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Oh, yes, yes, blah blah blah. Greeting time over! I have a date with a very lovely lady from somewhere or the other, oh, look at that, I’m an hour late, you’ll get everything done for me?” He stands up, casually drapes his jacket over his shoulder (silk, bespoke, Savile Row) and finishes his drink.”Of course you will, I hired you to do that.”
He leaves without saying goodbye.
She sets herself down at his desk, bare and empty— there are no pictures, no handicrafts, nothing but a packed inbox full of unsigned paperwork and a sleek computer.
“So. Virginia. What’s with that?”
She takes the folder back from him and tucks it into her bag. Paperwork, check. Now all there’s left is to coordinate the next board meeting and meet with Stane about the—
“Hello? Anyone there?”
She blinks. There’s a large, calloused hand in her face; at this distance she can see every line, every scar, the little ridges and valleys…
“Yes, Mr. Stark?” She lowers her chin and looks at him demurely, making sure not to make eye contact.
“Your name? Virginia. Are you ignoring me?”
“Of course not, Mr. Stark,” she says, remembering to unclench her teeth just in time. “I’m named after my maternal grandmother.”
“But Virginia? Is that what everyone called you in the schoolyard?”
“No,” she says and walks away.
“I don’t want to go,” he says sullenly, sticking his head back in the hood of the car. “It’s all going to be old people saying how much I look like my Dad blah blah blah the apple fell far from the tree. There’s no where near enough booze there to keep me drunk enough from punching everyone out.”
“…Mr. Stark,” she says slowly. “The investors are expecting you at the annual meeting. If you don’t attend, then—”
“Then the stock price plummets, investors start losing confidence in me, the board will meet to vote me out, but there won’t be enough votes, I’ll invent something new and dangerous, stock prices go up, the investors get even richer and everyone’s happy, the end.” There’s a banging noise and he curses, sticking his greasy finger in his mouth. “Motherfuck,” he swears, words muffled.
“Look, Ginny— I know, okay? I know about the fucking investors and keeping them happy and all the fucking old people ass I have to kiss. Which is why I’m going to stay here. Forever. And never leave. I have internet! Takeout! What more do I need?”
For a long moment, she doesn’t know what to say. “Mr. Stark—”
“Jesus fuck, quit calling me Mr. Stark! I feel all dirty when you say that, yuck. Tony. To-ny.” He pulls his finger out of his mouth, inspects it for a moment and sticks it back in.
“Tony,” she amends. “My name is Virginia Potts. You may call me Ms. Potts. Your dinner jacket has been set out for you and I’ve already called Mr. Hogan about transportation arrangements. The dinner is in an hour.”
She walks out, heels clicking on the cement floor.
“Pottssss….zat you?” She directs Mr. Hogan over to the couch and he obliges, lugging Mr. Stark over his shoulder in a fireman carry.
“Thank you, Mr. Hogan, you may leave now.” The chauffeur nods and tips his hat, leaving quietly through a side entrance.
“Ah— excuse me, JARVIS?” It feel strange, to address the mansion like this, where even the doors and walls have eyes and ears. “I’ve taken care of everything else and I’ve set up a bucket, a glass of water and some aspirin right beside him. Can you keep an eye on him, just to make sure he doesn’t choke on his own vomit or something? And call me if anything happens.”
“It would be my pleasure,” JARVIS says, somewhere from the depths of the mansion. “He speaks very well of you, Ms. Potts.”
“Oh.” She considers this as she picks up her heels and her pocketbook. “Does he?”
“Oh, yes. Your competence and reliability make you an important asset to Stark Industries.”
“…I’m flattered.” She slips on her shoes and starts walking over to the door when she hears a faint, Potts.
“Mr. Stark, I think it’s best if you—” She turns around he’s half lying on the floor, feet still draped on the couch.
“Potts,” he says, his words slurring. “Izzat you?”
“Mr. Stark, I don’t—”
“Tony. Call me Tonnyyy.” He looks up at her, eyes bloodshot and half lidded, hair rumpled from too many wandering fingers…He’s so very small and pathetic, a billionaire a hundred times over, yet here he is reduced to this, a mere man, a sad man, at man at her feet.
She slips off her shoes again, tucks them into her bag and pads across the marble floor. She sits down and crosses her legs.
“Potts,” he says again and his fingers stretch out towards her.
“Call me Pepper,” she says gently and closes the gap.