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Early Retirement

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Pepper loved being a villain.

What she didn't like was being a former villain. She stared down at the paperwork scattered across her desk without really seeing it, her leg bouncing under the desk. She could actually feel her blood pumping, the itch of a trigger finger that hadn't been used in too long. For maybe the first time in human history, it was quiet in Stark Tower. Of course, it always was when Tony was gone, and he'd been off honeymooning with his shiny new trophy husband for two weeks. As a result, most of the office staff had come down suspiciously ill (with the exception of Marina in Accounting, who had been honest enough to just say she wanted a day off).

Normally, she liked quiet days at the office. Days when she wasn't chasing after Tony with things for him to sign, herding him off to meetings or trying to juggle fifty projects at once. They were days when she could browse the new specs for her shoulder canons in peace, or do a little light research on new targets. Even handling the special accounts that funded their exploits could be soothing, in its own way. Since Tony had met Steve—Steve, who just had his fifth background check come back clean as a whistle; who the Hell was homeschooled by the Amish?—quiet days had become a lot more common.

The main problem with Tony having been domesticated, in Pepper's opinion, was that it was boring.

No, that was a lie. The main problem was that his heartbreaking Claims-To-Be-a-Fireman new husband hadn't shown his true colors yet, but there was nothing she could do about that. Tony had made it clear that Steve could drop-kick adorable orphans and Tony wouldn't care. Pepper had never seen a man so completely dumbstruck by a set of pretty eyes.

But until Steve finally cracked, Tony had officially declared Iron Man retired after their wedding. They were still funding the League of Supervillains, and watching that money go out the door without any of it going to her missiles was Hell.

Red ink spread in a thick patch under Pepper's pen as she left it pressed against the paper. Two weeks in to Tony's wedded bliss and she was going stir crazy. If she didn't get to blow something up soon, she was going to kidnap the President just to do something. Or maybe she'd kidnap Tony, and then badger Steve into admitting his wicked plans. There was a clause in the pre-nuptial agreement that if Tony died in the first two years Steve's inheritance was cut to a pittance. She'd made sure that was included, no matter how hard Tony whined, and Steve wouldn't want to lose that much money just because Rampage went on a rampage. Tony would forgive her after the truth came out...

"Ms. Potts? Are you okay?"

Pepper jerked her head up, blinking as she was knocked out of her thoughts. One of the interns was standing in front of her desk, a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. What's his name? They came and went so fast. Darryl, Denis, Derek—Derek! "Derek! No, I'm fine, really— Oh, is that for me?" She put on a smile and accepted the proffered coffee, fingers automatically running under the base and handle for anything suspicious. She'd drop a test strip in to check for chemical agents when no one was looking at her. "Thank you. Just thinking about some things. Is something up?"

Derek fiddled with his pen. He was a tiny thing, fresh out of high school and interning for school experience. She remembered when Tony had been like that, back before Afghanistan, all wide-eyed and naïve. In some ways, he still was. "No, ma'am, you just looked like you needed a cup. Kind of... stressed."

"Well, you know how it is," Pepper demurred, without going on to say how what was. She pushed up from her chair, cradling the coffee to her stomach. "Thank you. Maybe I should... go for a walk. Relax a bit."

"We'll cover your phones!" Derek the Intern waved her off, disgustingly helpful and way too young. It actually gave her the creeps a little.

Pepper navigated her way through the office, smiling and making all the right noises as she let herself into the elevator, pressing the ground floor button. After the elevator started moving she punched in a nine-digit sequence using the floor buttons, and then leaned in for the retina scanner. When the ticker dinged third floor, a panel slipped open in back, and the steady slide downward hiccupped just enough for her to step off onto a platform. Then the panel slid closed, leaving Pepper alone in the soft florescent-lit staircase.

The stairs down to the special sub-subbasement took less time than the multiple security checks on the way. Tony preferred to keep everything in his home, but Pepper had convinced him that sometimes there just wasn't time. It made everything much easier on her, but the level of security it required was ridiculous. Necessary, but ridiculous. Still, she went through two more retina scanners, a thumb-print scanner, a DNA analysis and a verbal passcode with the minimum of fuss, emerging into the small bunker underneath Stark Tower.

In its nook, the Rampage armor shined dull gunmetal grey, banged and singed from her last encounter with the USAF. The metal was warm under her fingertips where she trailed them along the breastplate, vibrating faintly from the charging process.

In a few places it still had its cherry red paint, but mostly it looked like something out of a bad sci-fi movie. Fixing it up hadn't been one of Tony's priorities lately. For all that, it was still in good condition. The thrusters might have been a little off-point, and she was down by half of her usual ammo, but it would hold up to most threats.

I shouldn't. There was no one around for backup if she got into trouble, and even if there'd been no sightings of Captain America or Ms. Marvel recently, that didn't mean they were actually out of town. And if they were, there was still SHIELD to worry about.

But the itch in her trigger finger had gotten stronger. She couldn't manage to stay still, adrenalin starting to pump from seeing the armor. Just a quick flight, maybe blow up an abandoned building or three.

What could go wrong?

Pepper dodged back and forth between buildings, rolling just out of the way of energy blasts from Ms. Marvel behind her. Talons grazed her back as Redwing dive-bombed her, but long experience with Falcon's feathery friend kept her from ducking away. Which turned out to be a good thing, because Ms. Marvel's next attack landed right where she would have been if she'd forgotten.

The most annoying part was that she hadn't even gotten a chance finish blowing stuff up. She'd been taking her extra energy out on one of Tony's old warehouses that was due for demolition anyway, when the two Avengers had appeared out of nowhere and had fired on her. There was no sign of the rest of the team, which was really her only saving grace. Rhodey was off bodyguarding Tony—Thank God for that—and Captain America was still off being patriotic somewhere other than New York. As long as the Scarlet Witch or Dr. Strange didn't swoop down out of the clouds to turn her into a newt—

A splatter of something large, green and slimy smacked across her faceplate, killing all external data. Immediately Pepper cut power to the thrusters, dropping straight down fifty meters before re-engaging them just enough to turn her tumble into a hover. Whatever trap they'd tried to blindfold her into tripping exploded, shockwaves rippling overhead and setting the sensors to screeching. As she fell she wiped at her faceplate, scrubbing free enough of the goo that her visuals kicked on again.

Once she could see, she wished she hadn't bothered. Avengers had her surrounded, with Ms. Marvel burning brightly above and others circled around her. Slowly Pepper turned in a circle, relying on the left jetboot a lot more than she liked. There was some of the same green slime on it—localized EMP, maybe? Whatever it was, it had killed most of the output, and along with it her chances to run.

"Turn yourself in, Rampage!" Hawkeye called, holding an arrow steady on her from the seat of a hoverbike, and wasn't that interesting. She'd speculated that Captain America was out of town, but if Hawkeye was in command then it was almost certain. If Tony hadn't been wallowing in curtains and china hutches, they might have been able to get some decent mileage out of that. "We don't want to make this hard!"

"Do you say that to all the girls?" Pepper asked, wobbling a little on her one good jet. "I bet you get all the dates." As she talked, she took a moment to examine her enemies, and her odds. They weren't good. With the goo making the suit unreliable, she was in a tight spot, and the Avengers had her out-number five to one. Maybe six, if Wasp was hiding out somewhere.

Option 1: Blow up everything. That was usually Pepper's preferred method, but there were too many civilians nearby. Pepper might have been a villain with a missile habit, but she didn't do collateral damage.
Option 2: Surrender. Hahahaha. No.
Option 3: Hide-and-Seek. If she couldn't run fast enough to escape, maybe she could outsmart them. New York had plenty of nooks and crannies.

Directly under her there was a flash of red and white, a hint of metallic feathers. Behind the safety of her helmet, Pepper grinned. Or there's always option 4.

"If you're really nice, I might send you flowers in your cell," Hawkeye grinned. "Surrender? Or do we have to break out the EMP?"

"Let me think about it. What do I get if—" Carefully she modulated the strength of her good boot, making the other one sputter with power surges to make it look like a malfunction. It was hell on the thrusters, but Tony was going to have to repair it anyway. Her arms flailed a bit as she tried to keep her balance, wobbling wildly. "What was in that—"

She cut power.

The collected heroes scrambled to catch her, but there was one already in the way. Falcon wrapped one arm around her waist, using the other wing to hold them up. As soon as he did, Pepper kicked the power back on and twisted to lock her hands around behind his back. One of the smaller guns swiveled around to aim at him as she turned the fall into an arc, missing the ground by twenty feet and cutting through a warren of abandoned warehouses. Falcon pounded at the armor, trying to win free, but even battered as it was he wasn't a match for her hand to hand. She could hear the Avengers yelling back and forth, and ignored them as thoroughly as she ever had Tony's whining. Falcon's deadweight slowed her down, but as long as she had a hostage none of them would take a potshot.

They were close enough to the docks that she could smell saltwater through the air filters, and the complex of buildings was a rat's nest of tiny lanes and abandoned everything. Pepper took advantage of it, diving left through an alley, under the half-demolished remains of the warehouse she'd been tearing down, and then cutting around out the back. Open water glittered just feet away.

Twisting through the air like an acrobat, Pepper cut under the nearest dock, trapping the Falcon between her a chunk of mud. One gauntleted palm covered his mouth, keeping him from yelling for help. In the distance the Avengers were still calling to each other, but the cries had turned confused and worried. Lost them.

Falcon was still fighting her, trying to find some sort of purchase against the slick panels of the armor. Metal rang as he tried to use one of his wings to slice her open at the shoulder joint. Pepper managed to block him with an elbow, but she lost a few inches of altitude in the process. If he kept fighting, they'd both end up in the drink and her armor would probably short out for real. Normally it was watertight and fully submersible; in the condition it was in she didn't want to make any assumptions.

"If you keep quiet, I'll let you go once they move on," she hissed as low as her speakers would let her. Her heart was pumping in her ears, blood practically effervescing. Everything glowed with the glorious light of adrenalin. "It'll be worth it."

His struggles slowed, but he was still glaring at her over her hand. During his fight he'd locked his legs around her waist, and if there hadn't been two hundred pounds of metal between them, she might have found herself getting a very good ride. The way his shirt—and she used the term very loosely—was cut, it hid about a four inch wide strip of each pectoral and that was about it. She couldn't help but admire the way his pants rode low, giving her a lovely view of sculpted hip muscles and the top of a dark trail of hair. Even better, they were tight enough to outline all the ones that weren't openly on display. Whoever designed Falcon's gear got a Rampage's canon-blast of approval.

Wiggling, Pepper settled in between his legs, keeping the Falcon pinned nice and tight in place. I love being a villain.

Against her palm he tried to say something, but it came out muffled. His eyes were so furious, not making any effort to hide that he intended to escape. Pepper stared at them, a hundred little thoughts clicking into place. Before she knew what she was doing, she'd moved her palm up to cover his eyes and the faceplate was hissing as it released. Thick ocean air flooded her nose, tasting of salt and dead fish.

Falcon bucked against her. It was enough to make Pepper's breath catch. "What are you—"

"Shhh." Leaning in, Pepper pressed their lips together. He tried to yank away, head knocking back into the mud. She kept the kiss going, little drags of skin on skin, a soft nibble, ignoring the way his fingers tried to get a grip on the back of her helmet. It was slow going, long seconds when he was as responsive as a burnt out computer. Then his hold changed, thighs tightened around her to help hold him up, lips softening enough to let her slip in a bit of tongue.

The kiss ended eventually, leaving Pepper's lips stinging and her lungs short of breath. A delicious tingle that might have been almost as good as a high-speed chase through the Grand Canyon danced through her. Exquisitely sensitive pressure sensors in the armor made it clear she wasn't the only one affected. She couldn't hear the Avengers anymore, just the soft wash of waves just underfoot.

"What's your game?" Falcon asked, licking his lips. It was a little gratifying that he sounded as breathless as she felt. "Trying to seduce us to the dark side? Not gonna work."

"Mmmhmm." Rolling her hips against him, Pepper stole another kiss. This time he didn't even try to fight it, arching into her with a groan that settled low in her stomach.

Nuzzling smaller kisses across the line of his jaw, Pepper played with the idea of taking things a step further. If she'd had a blindfold, or handcuffs, maybe... But she didn't, and there was just no way to keep her identity safe and fuck Falcon into the ground. Given a choice between her second career and hot sex, there really wasn't much to pick from.

Reluctantly, she pulled away and closed the faceplate and removed her palm from his eyes. "Maybe, maybe not, but you should see the plan before you call it either way." Lifting two fingers, she pressed them to the faceplate where her lips would be. "I'll see you around sometime, stud muffin."

Then she let go.

Falcon slid all of three feet before splashing down in shallow water. He bounced back to the surface almost immediately, sputtering and spitting out bay water. Laughing, Pepper fired up her one working jetboot and sped out of there before he had a chance to call up reinforcements. The wide-open blue sky called.

A month and a half later, Pepper and Tony danced and curved around each other, leading the Avengers on a merry chase. It was Tony's first mission since coming out of retirement, and he'd been rusty enough that the Avengers had caught them red-handed in Bain Capital's datacenter. They hadn't been able to deploy the nanovirus that would have reduced the whole network to so much trash, but that didn't matter because they'd found enough evidence of corporate theft and under the table deals that Bain was guaranteed to stop being a thorn in Pepper's side (and by extension, Tony's) in less than a month.

"Rampage!" Tony called through their private comm link. "Let's take this down to the ground!"

"You've got it, Boss!" Together, they changed direction to a ninety degree angle straight down, flying so close that Pepper's shoulders scraped Tony's. They parted ways just above their landing point, Tony splitting off to shoot a repulsor blast at Captain Marvel while Pepper tucked into a roll and came out of it just in time to punch Captain America off the roof.

Pepper loved being a villain.