"You're going to work for him!?"
Donna sighed and held her phone away from her ear. She and her mother had some variation of this conversation – if you could even call it that – at least twice a week, and she'd quickly learned to tune out the parental tirade. It never did any good arguing with her and if she wanted to waste her mobile phone minutes telling her daughter how wrong she was about everything, that was her own lookout.
"-any concern for your own safety, you know he only needs extra staff 'cause he went and blew up his own factory-"
It was time to put an end to this. "Mum! It's only a temp job. I'll probably never even meet him."
She heard scuffling on the other end of the line. "Here, let me talk to her. Donna?"
She felt her mood brighten considerably. "Hi, Gramps."
"Hello, love. Listen, I know you don't want to listen to your mother, but I think she's right this time. You know that man's reputation-"
"Gramps, everyone who can read knows Tony Stark's reputation. If I was worried about that, I never would have applied in the first place."
"Well… just be careful."
"I will. Love you."
She was correct in assuming she wouldn't get to meet her new boss, at least at first. She knew perfectly well that there was a ladder to success at every company and she was barely off the bottom rung.
A month into her temp assignment, she'd slapped one of the resident eggheads for getting fresh with her over the water cooler. She knew there'd been office gossip about the incident, but she had no idea how many people had taken notice of her.
She looked up from her workstation to find Mr. Stark's personal assistant looking at her expectantly. She recognized her from the company orientation, but they'd never actually met.
"Mr. Stark would like to see you in his office."
As she followed the woman through the maze of cubicles and corridors, she vaguely wondered if she was about to be fired.
As it turned out, she needn't have worried.
"So… I'd be your assistant's assistant?"
He shook his head. "You'd both answer to me, but Miss Potts would have seniority over you."
"So I'd still have to do what she tells me."
"Kind of, yeah." He smiled at her, not entirely sincerely. "That's the offer. Take it or leave it."
She was still looking at him with wide-eyed confusion. "Why me?"
He shrugged. "I like you. I think you've got potential."
"Well…" She found herself weighing her options and realized she was being given a chance to work personally with one of the most wealthy, influential, brilliant (and alright, most attractive) men in the world. What was she even thinking about?
"Alright, I'll do it. But don't you try any of that touchy-feely stuff with me! I'll have you know your lawyer took me out for drinks last week."
He bit his lip, trying not to smirk.
"And don't give me that look!"
He turned away for a moment, and when he looked back his expression was suitably businesslike. "I wouldn't dream of it, Miss Noble. Might I ask you one slightly personal question though?"
Her eyes narrowed. "What?"
"What brought you to California?"
"Oh, that." She relaxed a bit. "I didn't have a lot going on back home, and I thought I could do with a change of scene. So I saved up my pay, filled out all the paperwork and here I am."
"Must have been hard to get settled."
"Yeah well, I've always landed on my feet so far." She chanced a quick grin. "America's the land of opportunity, right?"
He grinned back at her, and this time she could tell it was genuine. "I've always thought so."
She didn't tell her family about her promotion until two weeks later. Her mother took it about as well as she'd expected. In the end, she'd muttered something about confidentiality agreements and hung up.
She hadn't told anyone how isolated she sometimes felt in that enormous cliff-side mansion, or that she occasionally talked to Jarvis just for the sake of hearing a familiar accent. No one else needed to know.
She would get through this.
The first time she watched Tony get suited up, she wasn't sure what to think. She was partly amazed by the cutting-edge technology, partly in awe of his bravery, and partly appalled that he put himself at risk on such a regular basis.
She was also trying not to stare too blatantly. The skintight undersuit he wore didn't leave much to the imagination.
Fully encased in armor, Tony waved cheekily at her before taking off. Pepper just rolled her eyes and gave Donna a sympathetic look.
"You get used to it after a while."
"What, the suit or the ego?"
She'd gotten into a bit of an argument with Tony the next morning when he'd found her trying to organize his basement workshop.
"If you clean things up down here, I won't be able to find anything."
"Oh, that's ridiculous," she snapped, brandishing a socket wrench at him. "They say a man's workspace is a reflection of his mind, and yours is a disaster area!"
He blinked. "Who says that?"
"I read it somewhere."
"I can still fire you, you know."
"I believe that would be unwise," Jarvis's calm computerized voice interjected. "In terms of everyday business affairs, your efficiency levels have improved by 32% since you hired Miss Noble."
Donna grinned at the ceiling. She knew befriending the AI would come in handy eventually. "Thank you!"
"You're all conspiring against me."
She patted his shoulder. "You'll get over it."
Colonel Rhodes had intimidated her at first, but she'd quickly warmed to the man as they'd traded stories over a fast food lunch break. She'd talked Pepper into coming along as well, much to Tony's chagrin.
"Honestly, how do you ever get that man to do as he's told?"
The smirk on Pepper's face was strangely reminiscent of her boss's as she sipped demurely at her Diet Coke. "It helps if you let him think it was his idea."
Rhodes nodded, reaching for a french fry. "And sometimes you just have to pick him up when he falls on his ass."
"Literally or figuratively?"
They answered in unison. "Both."
Donna wasn't jealous.
She kept telling herself she had nothing to be jealous of as they ate a hurried meal of Chinese take-out. Tony kept trying to steal food off Pepper's plate and she kept swatting him away with her chopsticks.
She really wasn't jealous later, as Pepper patched up his latest injuries and she berated him for being a reckless idiot.
He had a charity benefit concert to go to the following night. She watched as he adjusted his bowtie and wondered if it was worth pointing out that he still had engine grease under his nails.
"Sure you don't want to come?"
She shook her head. "Nah, not my thing. Anyway, someone's got to clean up after you."
He gave her a brief and surprisingly understanding smile. "Well, don't work too hard."
Okay, maybe she was a little bit jealous.
"What'd you do, take an executive course on how to run in heels!?"
"Just keep moving!"
Three months later, Los Angeles was under attack from some sort of giant metal space bugs and Tony Stark's assistants were right in the thick of things. Halfway through the battle, Iron Man came face to face with a tall gangly man in a pinstriped suit – they both stared at each other in surprise for a minute before diving back into the fray.
By the time the dust finally settled, Tony was trying to figure out how to patent the Sonic Screwdriver, Pepper was calling in favors to half the clean-up crews in the city and Donna had a new best friend.
Tony wasn't entirely surprised to find her resignation letter on his desk the next morning.