Iron Man Genderbend (Iron Maiden)
Summary: It's Independence Day before Pepper sees his employer in a new light. (pre-Iron Maiden)
Word Count: 590
Rating: Gen, bittersweet
AN: If I remember correctly, this was written on July 4th, but I wanted to post something more hopeful, so this got saved back instead.
“Hey, Pepper,” Tony says, and she’s hovering on the edge of drunk but surprisingly has yet to go search out a warm body for the night. “You think your beard will be salt and pepper?”
She sniggers to herself, but there’s something quiet and lost about her at the moment, and after only a few months in her employ it’s vastly disconcerting, because he’s never seen her with all of her masks removed.
“Excuse me?” He raises an eyebrow, plays along. It’s what he’s paid to do—up to a point, anyway. Also, he’s used to Tony starting conversations midsentence and expecting everyone else to be on the exact same page. He’d thought it’d been a trick to test his patience like a number of her other habits, but instead found that she does the same with everyone, from reporters to senators. She usually doesn’t realize she’s left anyone she’s addressing far behind conversationally.
“When you’re older and I’m dead,” she states bluntly, and he blanches, barely preventing the glass in his hands—picked up more for a need to fit in than a desire for alcohol—from falling and breaking all over the expensive carpet, drink and all.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” She hates the ma’am. Well, sort of. From anyone else, it earns a glare, but from him she’ll joke about ancient movies and gentlemen but she won’t throw a fit, which is usually synonymous with permission. (He’ll do things without permission anyway. Like force her to attend meetings with a hangover. He will spare some of his ancient Aunt’s remedy then, which while it makes her face twist into the most amusing expressions also makes her not feel like she wants to strangle somebody, which is generally bad for business.)
“Oh, now, probably. My liver, maybe not, but I’ve got years yet for that.” She takes another sip from the flute, staring pensive and subdued over the town. “I just…you know how I am. What I do. I can’t hope to keep it up forever. Someday,” she states solemnly, nodding in the direction of a few fireworks that appear to be dazzling appreciative guests, “I’ll be one of those. Brilliantly engineered, exploding to the awe and wonder of the nation watching, and my legacy will only last long enough for the afterimage to fade on the inside of the watchers’ eyelids.” She takes another sip, hands shocking, and it’s at this point that he realizes, My God, Tony Stark actually is human. He has sudden, breathtaking compassion for his boss that he didn’t have just a day before.
“You say that,” he responds dryly, trying to ignore the pain the thought of her lying dead anywhere is suddenly causing, “…but if you in your lab is any indication, you’re like the phoenix. How you keep surviving all those explosions you cause is nothing short of a miracle.”
There’s a breathless few moments before she’s beaming and has attached herself to him, like a limpet.
He begins to walk as she sways by his side. “Come on, Tony, let’s get you to bed.”
“Is that an innuendo?” she asks, the yawn spoiling the leer.
He shakes his head, doesn’t bother replying, summons her personal doctor to make sure she doesn’t have alcohol poisoning, and grabs one of his novels for fun as he settles beside her bed. “Too bad,” is the last thing he hears, soft and lonely, and he pretends for the longest time that he never heard her say that. It’s just easier that way.