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The Hardest Part of Your Job

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Consider: Tony Stark asks Pepper Potts to walk into a company that only 38% belongs to him and break into hidden files. She threatens to quit, but not about breaking into the files. In the end, she does it.

Consider: when Pepper Potts finds out that Obadiah Stane is a traitor and that she has, additionally, just gotten herself mixed up with a secret government organization with a secret government bunker, she doesn't decide to stay at the comfortable, safe bunker while they apprehend Obadiah Stane. They have GPS. They're a secret government agency. They know how to get to the Stark corporate campus. Pepper goes with them.

Consider Pepper's loyalty in a slightly different context.


Two weeks into Pepper's new job, four of this year's crop of Vice Presidents arrives for a scheduled lunch. Facetime. Networking. A delay occurs in getting them into the office, and they get antsy. One of them makes a comment about how nice Pepper's legs look now that she's out of Account and Data Processing; she's seen him in the hallways before, looking at her, and since this is, in fact, only her second week on the job, Pepper reddens up and checks the phone again to see if Obadiah is off the line yet.

It just so happens that not only is he off the line, but the door is open, too. Five people jump when Obadiah speaks.

"Son," Obadiah says. "You talk to my personal assistant like you'd talk to me."

He comes around to stand by Pepper's desk and, hands on hips, look the offending VP in the eye. Obadiah might be twenty years older, but he has a good four, five inches taller and has at least thirty pounds on the guy. He's wearing a blue striped shirt with French cuffs, and this is his office suite. Obadiah's voice is as mild as if he's ordering at a restaurant.

"You want to compliment my legs?"




So yes, Pepper fixes a mistake that Tony makes, but the polite eight word e-mail that appears in her inbox three days later is from The reception desk for the C-level suites gives her an escort to get her past the security checkpoints; the escort doesn't think much of Charter Club suit separates, apparently, and Pepper is sufficiently sure that she's going to be fired at the end of the meeting that before she left, she cleaned out her cubicle with the aim of easy and quick packing afterwards because even in the defense industry, Stark Industries is famously unfriendly towards terminated employees. She's been working there for eight months, but she knows how the food chain works. Pepper has seen grown men crying on their way out of the parking lot with twenty-five years of loyal service in a cardboard box in their arms.

Instead, Obadiah triples her salary, gives her full health benefits and a clothing allowance, and tells her that on Monday, her new identity card should be waiting for her. IT should have a laptop and everything she needs then, too. She just needs to tell them whatever she wants; her and him will talk more about her specific duties on Monday.

"Any questions?" he says. It's late in the afternoon, and he has his back to the window, so Pepper can't really read his expression. She hasn't even really seen his face yet. All she knows is that he has big shoulders and is probably in his fifties. Also, bald. Being outlined against a window makes that abundantly clear.

Pepper takes a deep breath.

"Is there anything I can do for you this afternoon?"

Obadiah grins and hands her, honest to God, a paper Rolodex.


"The hardest part of your job, Pepper," Obadiah says, grinning. "Is going to be this. Right here."

It's Monday, lunchtime. Pepper had been planning to eat at her desk and work on digitizing Obadiah's Rolodex -- the morning had been busy, and why the CFO of a company that made tactical satellites would have a paper Rolodex was beyond her, let alone a CFO who liked gadgets as much as Obadiah did, but no, lunch with Tony and Obadiah. Obadiah asked whether she was doing anything for lunch, suggested that she come along with him, and now, Pepper sits on the Eames chair. Tony and Obadiah are on the matching Eames sofa. The two offices are almost exactly the same size, Obadiah has his arm around Tony and gives Tony a little shake at at here, and Tony laughs and sucks, quickly and neatly, the ketchup off the back of his knuckle. He's having French fries and a small steak. Obadiah has a club sandwich with sour pickles and chips.

"You're eating my chips, Tony."

"I ran out of French fries."

Obadiah has his tie tucked into his shirt to keep it out of his food; Tony isn't wearing one.

Pepper balances the salad on her knees and watches them, carefully.


The hardest part of the job, Pepper finds, is the travel. Not so much the hours, not so much the pressure or the pace or the learning curve or dealing how Tony can't keep a schedule even if it's taped to his chest and his personal assistant is no help with this whatsoever, but Obadiah lives as much in New York as in Los Angeles, so there's a three hour time difference to adjust to. That's once, maybe twice a week. Monday and Tuesday in New York, Wednesday and Thursday in Los Angeles. Sometimes, back to New York on Friday. It's hard to keep a regular schedule and catch enough sleep; Pepper finds herself awake at two-thirty in the morning in New York and sleepy at seven o' clock at night in LA. There's a private jet, which makes things slightly easier; Pepper goes a little weak in the knees the first time the Bentley pulls up and she sees it sitting on the tarmac with the Stark Industries arrow and logo in blue letters on the tail, and weak again when she gets inside and realizes that, yes, all the standard rows of seats have been ripped out and a bowl of pretzels on the low table and fruit juice in the mini-fridge.

In the back, there are a pair of bunks, large enough for Obadiah to stretch out if he wants, but if he naps, it's usually on the long seating area that runs along one side.

"Take care of this," Obadiah says during takeoff while Pepper has a death grip on the arm of the chair she's claimed. Pepper makes herself reach over and take the folder.

She gets over her fear of flying, and it turns out working five days a week aren't enough. She starts going into the office on Sunday afternoons to get a jump start on the week because he started her on his personal e-mail and now has her handling his corporate correspondence, too, working with his two corporate secretaries. Then, she starts going in on Saturday mornings.

When she starts flying overseas with him, Obadiah has his driver pick her up at her house in the morning, so that she can give him the day's schedule while he rides in to work.


"Where did Obadiah find you? Is there -- a store? A vending machine? Are there vending machines like that?"

It's a transatlantic flight to Dusseldorf. Pepper puts the itinerary together for when they land into Tony's hand; the sky is dark outside the windows, and Obadiah is in the back, talking on the phone. The galley is getting dinner together. "I used to work in Account and Data Processing."


"With the rest of your department. You can see us outside your office window in LA," Pepper says, smiling. "Building O, for Oppenheimer. It's on the left if you're looking out from your desk. Fourteenth floor."


Pepper wondered, in the beginning, why Obadiah isn't married. The travel schedule would make it difficult, yes, but he's warm and generous. He dresses well, and the money and the prestige certainly don't hurt. And then, Pepper thinks she understands one morning when she comes into Obadiah's kitchen, as she usually does, but finds him eating at the breakfast bar with a guy. Twenty years younger, tan, blond but with eyes so dark they look black. He's wearing a green t-shirt and khaki shorts.

When Pepper comes in, he leans over, pecks Obadiah on the cheek, and then shows himself out -- sauntering, really, out of the kitchen to the foyer, and Obadiah watches him go with a measured, intent expression on his face that he usually saves for the draft 10-K's. It's almost appreciative.

And then, as calmly as if the waffles had just popped out of the toaster:

"What are we doing today, Pepper?"

Sometimes, it's a girl. Not often, but sometimes.


Night duties start two months after that: the quarterly sheets are due, and Obadiah and the Audit Committee are working until they're done, so Pepper stays late to keep everyone well-supplied with fast food of their choice and Snapple. Stark Industries is buying a medium-sized maker of aerospace engines for their product development line, and negotiations run into the late hours of the morning. Pepper is there to make photocopies and file papers and furnish coffee when even the lawyers and accountants doing on-the-spot, as-it-comes-out-of-the-printer due diligence analysis have curled up to sleep under the table in an empty conference room. Obadiah calls her, apologetically, to his house at 7PM because his date for the evening has somehow brought a small dog with her, but you just don't take a dog to Ortolan. He needs Pepper to watch the monster for a few hours, and when she answers the door on his return at 1:30 AM with a gracious smile for the woman who can't go to bed at night without her Tinkerbell, even though said Tinkerbell has left Pepper with two bandaged fingers, Obadiah takes her out to lunch the next day, just the two of them and panoramic views of the coast.

Later that week, he's in Bergdorf Goodman in New York later that week to pick up a few small items, he sees her looking yearningly at Burberry -- it's getting towards fall, after all, and she spends half her life in New York. Obadiah sits down on the ottoman next to her and tells the man waiting on him to bring Pepper some pieces she might like.


The tan helped keep Pepper from noticing the marks on the inside of the knee and forearm of the blond boy with dark eyes, and she had no reason to wonder why, on that morning, of all mornings, when Obadiah usually kept so tightly on schedule, why he'd linger on the line with Beijing until at least one of the new vice presidents was ready to snap at anything that moved.


Pepper moves to Pacific Palisades, and one night, at 10:30, she gets a phone call from Obadiah. Would she drive someone home for him? At that point, the Bentley picks Pepper up in the morning, takes her up to Obadiah, and returns her back home after dropping him off at the place in Brentwood, but Obadiah has told her to take a company car home for those emergencies.

This is an emergency, and Pepper understands, rather vividly, why Obadiah can't call his driver: not only is it a guy, but his chest and hands are a bloody mess.

"He smashed a mirror," Obadiah explains, taking Pepper aside and touching her elbow. "I tried to stop him -- "

"Oh God," Pepper breathes. "Does he need to go to the -- "

"I've gotten what I can out of him, and he refuses to go." Obadiah grimaces. "It's all over my bathroom floor. I can clean that up, but will you take him home? I think he lives in the Valley."

Something must show in her expression, because Obadiah gives her an apologetic smile and buys her a new pair of Louboutins a week later, but the only time the guy says anything is as Pepper backs her Audi out of the service entrance. The front of the house is lit with floodlights; in the back, the only light that show are the ones in Obadiah's bathroom where he is, apparently, sweeping glass out of the bathtub. Pepper didn't ask what they were doing in the bathtub.

"Your boss," the guy says, enunciating every word carefully, "is a fucking creep."

Pepper ignores him during the two hour drive to Hemet.


Tony seems to regard getting Pepper to go out with him as something of a personal challenge. He's better about remembering at some times than others that she works for his business partner and friend, and Obadiah offered to say something to him but Pepper told him, "No, I can handle Tony."

"Can you?" Obadiah said, lifting his eyebrows at her.

One time, Tony buys her a pair of Gucci five inch stacked heels in python and leaves them on her desk outside Obadiah's office. Pepper is pleasantly surprised that they are, in fact, the the right size, but she unwraps them and puts them in Tony's liquor cabinet, where a Senator sees them and, as Obadiah tells her the story while laughing so hard he can hardly get the words out, hurriedly changed the conversation.


Flying gets easier for Pepper, but the sleep deprivation from skipping around time zones doesn't. She tries meditation and melatonin. She tries working out; for a brief while, she gives up caffiene and alcohol, but that doesn't work, and she still needs to be up at least hour and a half before Obadiah to get his day arranged and revised and made as smooth his possible, to have his the clothing options laid out and the names of everybody he's meeting phonetically spelled and attached to short biographies on flashcards, if necessary, so that he can browse them over breakfast. She doesn't sleep until at least an hour after he does because she needs to make sure everything that all the e-mails that need to be replied to have been replied to, that he's returned all the calls that need to be returned, that nothing is going to develop overnight. Sometimes, Obadiah takes pity on her, and when they're in the car after a flight, he lets her sleep and tells the driver to take her back to her place first. If she's awake, Pepper protests, but more than once, she wakes up while leaning on Obadiah's shoulder while he gets the keys out of her bag.

"Which key is it?"

"The one with the holes," Pepper says because when she's that far gone with exhaustion, she isn't capable of coherent expression.

On those nights, Obadiah helps her to the couch in the living room, and Pepper has a vague recollection of collapsing and undoing her heels and of Obadiah getting the comforter off the bed and setting the second alarm clock that she sets in the kitchen. One night, when she pulled an all-nighter right next to him the night before in New York because the Allentech merger looked like it was on again, then ran a full press briefing while he took a much-needed three hour nap on the couch with his jacket pulled over his head, Pepper wakes to find a pot of coffee brewing. Obadiah had set the timer before he let himself out.


"Obadiah, I have to apologize for las -- "

He waves her off. "I can't count the number of times I've done it for Tony. And you're a lot lighter than he is. And you don't try to grope me because you think I'm Miss April."

Obadiah gives her a little smile. "You make my life easier, Pepper. Tony usually makes it harder. Now, where's the Northrop Grumman letter that I need to sign?"

Pepper is so grateful she could sink through her heels, straight into the floor.


One night, the guy that she has to drive home has a bruise down the side of his face that's at three inches by two inches, a split lip, and there's a cut along his cheek, too. Pepper has the radio on, and at first, it's just like a normal late-night chauffeuring run, except after she gets on the freeway, he starts to cry. Pepper, struck with guilt, pulls the car off the next exit, and she spends two hours and half hours with the guy sobbing in her arms, telling her about every shitty choice he's ever made and asking what he's done to deserve this. Pepper doesn't understand what this is; it's hard to make out individual words with the way he sobs.

Still, though. By the time he gets him home to Palos Verdes, the sky is pink at the edges, and even though it means she doesn't get to sleep before starting the work day, Pepper parks her car near the beach and stares at the ocean, thinking about her this, until it's time to drive to Brentwood.


Stark Industries decides to start beefing up its investment and work in Europe through a combination of complicated merger and partnership deals, and Pepper's accounting background makes her especially indispensable on this, so Pepper adds another four time zones of sleep deprivation as she follows Obadiah from London to Paris to New York to Madrid to Brussels to Berlin to Dubai to Vienna back to Madrid. Hotel concierges are Pepper's dearest, best friends.


Pepper spends so little time in her condo that she hires a cleaning service to start taking care of her apartment.


Pepper gets rid of the cleaning service because she's not home enough to make her apartment messy.


London to Paris to Madrid to Brussels to Berlin to Los Angeles to New York to Zagreb to Johannesberg to Lahore, which is a memorable experience for multiple reasons, to Dubai for forty-eight glorious hours of vacation where Pepper curls up in the bed of her ocean-view suite in and sleeps for eighteen beautiful hours without interruption, gets up, order room service and eats what comes under the silver cover, then crawls back into bed for another twelve. She resurfaces to shower, eat, do a little shopping, get a massage, then spends the last eight hours wallowing in bed, napping and watching on the flatscreen that's about the size of her bed, a lifetime away in Los Angeles. Obadiah doesn't so much as send her a text message asking her to bring him a mint, and at the end of the forty-eight hours, over the next three weeks, they hit Tel Aviv, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. The cities where Stark Industries has a branch office or an established presence are a cakewalk.

Back to Brussels, and instead of flying between Los Angeles and New York, Obadiah flies between Brussels and New York for about two months. It's a six hour time difference, but it feels three times as brutal, and when she finally comes back to her place in LA, the condominium feels like a stranger's. The tiles feel strange under her bare feet, and she's basically forgotten where the lightswitch is. Pepper has to feel along the wall in the dark until her fingers bump into it.


"Christ, it feels good to be home," Obadiah says to her the first morning they're back in Los Angeles. They're sitting in his office; Pepper is staring in horror at the pile of mail that managed to accumulate in the twelve hours she was asleep.

Two days later, they cut short their stay in Los Angeles because Stark Industries has just been sued in the Southern District of Illinois, which the lawyers explain means Chicago, and the class certification hearing, which the lawyers explain means a really big deal, has just been moved up.


One night, Pepper is working late at the office because one of Obadiah's corporate secretaries has gone on maternity leave and she's picking up the slack since the temp is only half, no, quarter-competent, and Obadiah calls. He has somebody she needs to take care of for him; it takes precedent over anything and everything she's doing. Pepper is already so exhausted that she's swaying on her feet when she picks her way up to the front of the house; Obadiah is waiting there with the door open. There's a glass of Scotch in his hand; Obadiah is wearing a light pink shirt and khakis.

"You look like hell," he says, and he hands her the glass of Scotch. Pepper takes a sip, politely. She hasn't eaten dinner yet, and she knows she can't exactly throw it back like either Tony or Obadiah.

"I don't know what the fuck to do with him," he says, and he gestures, so she follows him up towards the master bedroom. Her head swims a little from the Scotch; her stomach hurts, and every bone in her body screams at every muscle in her body to stop moving, and to make it all the way up the stairs, she throws back a good half of the Scotch. She's so tired. How the hell is she going to drive anybody anywhere? The stairs swim. The hall swims. Obadiah stops a few feet short, but gestures that Pepper should continue, so she does. When she does, she sees a guy sitting on the edge of the four poster bed. He's sobbing and has his knees drawn up to his chest. One of Obadiah's two-hundred-and-fifty dollar pillowcases is pressed to his nose. He has a bloody nose.

He looks up. "Pep -- Pepper?"

It's the guy she drove down to Palos Verdes and held while he sobbed on her, and then, she'd gone and sat on the beach and thought about quitting because she didn't know how long she could do this for anyone, even Obadiah.

"What are you doing here?"

"I -- "

"I thought you promised me that you weren't going to do this kind of thing anymore."

He starts to wail, which makes the blood gush out from his nose, and Pepper doesn't know how the brass paperweight makes it into her hand, but she remembers folding her fingers around it. She remembers the sheer, visceral pleasure of making contact with the side of his head.


Pepper doesn't remember very much of what follows.


Pepper remembers: gripping the guy by the shoulder when he tried to get away from her and hitting him so hard that the hands he'd raised in front of him to try to keep her away dropped back into his lap. Pepper remembers: climbing on the bed at some point. It wasn't as hard as she thought it would be; the heels might have been a help, and she remembers how much she enjoyed raising her arm over and over again.


There's a vague recollection of something catching her wrist. Pepper remembers, vaguely, as if she were experiencing it in somebody else's skin, being picked up and being dragged off the bed, kicking and fighting. The world goes dark rapidly after that, and the next thing she knows, there's water pouring down from her above. She's in a shower, and the water going down the drain is pink. Her right shoulder aches, and so do her fingers. Pepper closes her eyes, falls asleep with water running down her face.


Consider: Tony never made a point of earning Pepper's loyalty. Obadiah pushed Pepper hard, but made sure to reward her, to make her trust him.


Underneath the blood, Pepper thinks, the guy might have tried begging. She hit him in the mouth alot.


At some point, Pepper knows, she must have come out of the shower. She has a memory of trying to stand up, falling down, and then being picked up like a child with hands underneath her knees and under her arms -- Obadiah, presumably. Her eyes won't work properly, so everything is a haze of light, but she knows she's being carried somewhere. And then, she's being set down again. Another bed. Another four-poster. Obadiah starts to get up, but she asks him not to and puts her arm around his waist.

"It's all right," he says, stroking her hair. "I'll take care of it. Sleep."

He stays with her until she's almost entirely asleep, and then, Pepper rememebrs having the covers being gently pulled over her. Somebody turned out the lights, and she relaxed into sleep.


Consider: as far as Obadiah is concerned, for the past three years, he's been earning Pepper's loyalty.


Pepper wakes. It's late enough for the ceiling of the room to be light, and in a state of panic, she swings her feet out of the bed -- only this bed is a good bit taller than her regular bed. The room is unfamiliar, too, and when Pepper looks down, she's wearing different clothes than she normally wears to bed. Her right shoulder aches. It takes a moment to orient herself, and when she does, she thinks, for a long, terrifying moment, she's going to be sick all over Obadiah's furniture.


The carpeting on the stairs is soft underneath her feet. Pepper has never walked around Obadiah's house without her heels on, but the carpet feels just as soft and plush underfoot as she imagined. She keeps one hand on the wall and one on the banister; she makes it down the stairs, gets to the tile flooring, and takes a left. The kitchen is down there, she knows, and she follows the sound of the TV. He has -- yes, it's his normal TV program, except this isn't a normal morning. She's barefoot, wearing one of his Harvard Business School shirts and what she assumes are a spare pair of his boxers. They have the same pattern as one of his favorite Hermes ties. It would be nice to pretend that they just had sex.

"You're up," Obadiah says.

Pepper nods and, out of habit, goes and sits on one of the stools at the breakfast island. It's easier because she's not wearing four inch heels, but it's harder because her legs are wobbly underneath her.

The kitchen smells like eggs and coffee. On the counter, near the stove, Obadiah has cut open a couple oranges, and the old-fashioned glass juicer he likes to use is on the counter, too.

"What did you do with --"

It's bright and sunny in the kitchen, and Obadiah plates a pair of fried eggs. On the television, Pepper hears the anchor say something about a continued search for a missing UCLA student, feared dead, and her stomach heaves, then heaves again when Obadiah brings the fried eggs over to her.

"Eat," Obadiah says. "We've got a long day ahead of us."

She usually doesn't eat a lot for breakfast. Usually a Clif bar or, if she's feeling really hungry, granola with yogurt, but when Obadiah puts the fork in her hand, she curls her fingers around it and eats. Obadiah makes sure she's putting food in her mouth, then goes back to the counter to start juicing oranges.

Pepper tries very hard not to look at her hands while she eats. They're bruised as hell, and there's dried blood underneath her fingernails. She can't raise her right arm above her shoulder.


"I'm sorry about the bruises," Obadiah says, looking down at the inside of her wrist. "I didn't know how else to hold you back."

They're in the back of the Bentley with the privacy screen rolled up, and Pepper bites her lip until it hurts. She has the day's agenda in a folder spread out on her lap. She printed it out last night before leaving the office, and she'd left a copy in her car when she arrived, so she has it now, along with the emergency suit she kept at Obadiah's.

"What did you do with -- I went back and looked. The sheets are gone, and you got rid of the rug. What did you do with him?"

Obadiah studies her face, then says, "Don't worry, Pepper. I took care of it."


Pepper remembers: lying on her side in bed with her arm around Obadiah's waist. She was too frightened, too shocked to cry, and Obadiah ran his palm over her hair and shoulder and bare arm. Her hair was still wet from being in the shower.

"I'll take care of it, Pepper. Relax. It's all right. Don't worry."

Pepper remembers hiccuping and trying to burrow against his side, and he tucked his hand on her back, between her shoulderblades.

"You're the most capable person I've ever met, Pepper. I'd trust you with my life. I'll take care of it."


It. Pepper remembers that very clearly. Obadiah had said it. Not him.


Tony Stark goes missing, and Pepper remembers that Tony's nickname for Obadiah came from when he was a baby, two or three years old, and couldn't quite say the whole, long, complicated name with four syllables, so he settled for Obie and has basically stuck with it ever since. In 2005, for example, during the shareholder's address, he slipped up and called Obadiah that through the whole speech, 88% of which he did entirely as improvisation.


Tony Stark comes back from Afghanistan, and Pepper is there to meet him as he comes off the plane with his friend. His arm is in a sling, and he got up from a wheelchair inside the plane. He points out that her eyes are red. She explains that it's because she kind of liked having a CEO of Stark Industries who showed up to things on time. He laughs, a little sheepishly, and Pepper feels her heart turn over.


Tony Stark is at the firefighter's benefit, and Pepper ends up dancing with him. They go out onto the balcony, and almost -- almost, after all these years, kiss. She starts to kiss him, except he's reluctant. He understands how much she values her image, the way she projects competence and professionalism, and while it isn't quite as bad as if he were her boss and they were dancing, then very publically kissing on the balcony, while he's very new at this whole considering other people thing, it's still enough to make him reluctant. Except Tony realizes that Pepper would probably make him a better person and definitely more punctual person, and he realizes, too, that he's about three-quarters of the way in love with her, and it would be so, so easy to fall one-hundred-and-fifty percent in love with her, so he leans forward to kiss her back.

She pulls back and asks him to get her a vodka martini. Very dirty. At least three olives.


Pepper Potts didn't kill anyone that night in Obadiah's house. Head wounds bleed a lot. Thinking about it makes Obadiah laugh to himself. A little thing like that? Beating a man to death with nothing more than a $25 compass in her hand? He drove the poor son of a bitch to an all-night doctor who didn't ask questions and put $1000 into the hands of the doctor. $5000 into the hands of the guy ensured that he'd spend the next week or two so high that he wouldn't remember his own name or mother.


Tony Stark is at the firefighter's benefit, and Pepper is waiting at the bottom of the steps with Obadiah's scarf in her hands. Tony stands at the top of the steps; he feels like the arc reactor has come out of his chest, and he watches Obadiah duck his head down just enough so that Pepper can loop the scarf around Obadiah's neck. Pepper looks back once, directly at him, with her eyes wide and her mouth open just a little. Her lips move, as if she's trying to tell him something.

And then she ducks into the back of the Bentley after Obadiah.


Pepper Potts didn't kill anyone that night in Obadiah's house. Head wounds bleed a lot.


Pepper Potts was sorting Obadiah's personal e-mail at his desk sixteen hours after Tony disappeared. Obadiah sat on the couch, working through quarterly reports, and she called him over to look at something. Pepper double-clicked, opening the file, and Obadiah scanned his fingerprint to provide the biometric key to decrypt the video file.

A moment or two into it, Pepper typed t-r-a-n-s-l-a-t-e.

Obadiah put his hand on the back of the chair, and they watched the video. Pepper had to turn her face into away after a moment, and Obadiah gently put his hand in between her face and the monitor, so that she wouldn't have to see it if she didn't want to.


Pepper Potts didn't kill anyone that night in Obadiah's house, but she drives with Obadiah down to the sea and follows him into the house. While Obadiah takes the arc reactor out of Tony's chest, Pepper stares into the fireplace and tries not to think about anything or feel anything: she has the carrying case in her hands, and it's hard not to hear Obadiah's voice, but she keeps her eyes fixed on the fireplace until it's over.

There is no spare arc reactor waiting for Tony in the basement; there is no phone call to Jim Rhodes or ghost drive or rescue by SHIELD. Pepper is still mostly a decent woman, so she makes herself look at Tony's face as Obadiah is putting the arc reactor into the carrying case, and she won't let herself look away until Obadiah shuts the case with a click and puts it back into her hands. Under Obadiah's hands, the dummy arc reactor, the one that looks right, but has none of the right components and does absolutely nothing, goes into Tony's chest with an easy slide and twist.

Tony was about three-quarters of the way in love with Pepper. Out on the balcony, at the firefighter's benefit, he realized it would have been so easy to fall one-hundred-and-fifty percent in love with her. He would have been a better person, or at least a more punctual one.

Instead, the last sound Tony ever hears is the clicking of Pepper's heels as she follows Obadiah out into the California night.