Track 50 - Renegade by Paramore
Disclaimer - I own nothing you recognize
Major thanks to Tiziano, who is the best Beta a girl could wish for and who kicks me in the rump when I'm being lazy.
Notes: This is my favorite chapter to date. I don't know why exactly, maybe it's because I have a secret love for Pepper Potts in her 4 inch spike heels and pristine business suits, always wearing a skirt because she doesn't have to be butch to take on the men in her life. This one is dedicated to the most BAMF CEO in the Marvel Universe.
You don’t have to have a gun to be a fighter. You don’t have to ever throw a single punch, though it helped if you knew how to take one. There were fighters the world over who had never been in a physical altercation. They stood silent and unmoving, refusing to be swayed from their beliefs. They said truths and refused the lies others spread. They stood at the front of a boardroom, chin lifted, eyes half lidded, and ignored every pot-shot thrown their way.
Pepper Potts was brilliant. She had been managing Stark Industries for years, but no one had recognized the accomplishment since Tony was the figurehead and his signature and print were on every order which had been passed. Pepper had been his PA for ten years and then one day he’d signed his entire company over to her. She had been shocked, but she’d taken over after she realized just how serious Tony was being. It was unconventional, unexpected, and very few people believed Pepper hadn’t slept her way to the top. Especially now that the duo were engaged.
Pepper Potts had ignored all of Tony’s overtures for the first three weeks they had worked together. He had taken being ignored about as well as he usually does, getting more and more outrageous to try and get a reaction from the woman. Pepper understood who Tony was though, he liked shiny new toys and as soon as they novelty wore off (which was extremely quick with the billionaire) he dropped them. His assistants never lasted more than a week after he’d slept with them. Maybe because they expected more or maybe because their novelty had outweighed their usefulness. She’d watched with the rest of her co-workers down in accounting until the day she’d pointed out a mistake he’d made and he had swept her upstairs to the penthouse to keep him in line.
The fourth week of working directly with Tony Stark had brought irritation to Pepper. She’d responded to his overtures with sarcasm and obvious indifference. He had been intrigued for a different reason then, no woman had ever treated him like that before. It took a few more months before he seemed to honestly believed she wouldn’t be sleeping with him. Not that it stopped him from attempting to chat her up, but after he accepted they wouldn’t be sleeping together Pepper became Tony’s first female friend.
Being his friend as well as his assistant was hard for Pepper. She often used the ‘tough love’ method on him, simply because nothing else would work with the stubborn genius. Sometimes she was positive he was completely mad, other times she thought he was possibly the only sane person in the room. He was mercurial and bold and leaped to do whatever popped into his head at any given moment. He was a grown man with a child’s soul and a lonely, broken heart. Pepper accepted him and for that he cherished her.
Pepper had spent the last ten years fighting for Tony, to protect him even when he didn’t think he needed it. She protected him from the press, from the girls who thought he could love them, from his detractors and his fans. She protected him from those who wanted to use him. She even protected him from himself on occasion. Sometimes protecting him meant standing back and forcing Tony to deal with the problems himself. Sometimes it meant letting him think he was dealing with it while she went through the background doing the actual cleanup and smiling prettily as she forced people’s hands. She didn’t have to break bones or hearts to get what she wanted, she just had to break the red-tape and sometimes their wills. Pepper was a force to be reckoned with.
People looked at her, at her slim build, pale skin, red hair, serene face, and they got a bit confused. She was pretty, very pretty truth be told, but Tony Stark was Tony freaking Stark and he’d been with the worlds most beautiful women. Often over the years his one night stands would make cutting remarks which sometimes cut into her, but they never left any lasting damage. Pepper loved Tony, but she knew better than to be In Love with Tony. She was smart enough to shove a wall in front of her, she would not become a woman who followed a man around in slavish devotion with no regards to her own wishes. Pepper had goals, had things she wanted to do. Being Tony’s assistant let her do those things.
She ran a multi-billion dollar international company. She went jet-setting around the world on a weekly basis. She was a millionaire in her own right. She had the use of the company’s Learjet as well as Tony’s personal vehicles. She was in a position to change the world, so she did. She influenced Tony (openly, so he wouldn’t feel manipulated) to do good with his company and his money. She pushed at him to be the person she knew he fundamentally was. Even if she might occasionally lose her temper and accuse him of being a bad person.
She had been fighting every day for over ten years, working to implement her dreams and her wishes and her hopes. She had tug-o-war matches with Tony, pulling him back when he was overextended and pushing him forward when he didn’t believe in himself. Tony and the company were her entire world. She had no close friends outside of SI for a long time, she had discovered the hard reality of being in the public’s eye only a few years after getting her job as Starks PA. She was a private person, she kept her thoughts and emotions to herself and she didn’t enjoy seeing herself plastered across magazines. She dropped the so-called friends who were using her to get to Tony and Obadiah, keeping her hurt close to her chest so the people in her life wouldn’t feel the need to step in.
The mess with Obadiah had been frightening, mostly because it was so unexpected. She had been close to her parents before the accident which took their life while she was in college. She’d never had reason not to trust the adults in her life as she grew up and she had never had reason not to trust the man himself. He was fond of Tony, had been polite to her in the beginning and warmed up quite a bit more after the first year with Tony. She had trusted him as much as she trusted Tony. That he had destroyed that trust hurt her, that he had destroyed Tony’s trust enraged her. It was around that time she’d realized the wall between her heart and Tony was crumbling.
They had taken comfort in one another, they and Happy and Rhodey, after the mess with Stane. Pepper and Happy standing back and watching Tony as he dealt with his grief in a more self-destructive manner than they preferred. It wasn’t the first time Pepper had stood beside him as he did everything short of outright suicide. He lost himself in short term pleasures, taking the instant gratification which came from the alcohol, women, and the outrageous parties. He hated himself the next day on all new levels, but it didn’t stop him from repeating the process. Pepper would pick him up, dust him off, and shove him into his workshop before dealing with the rest of his mess. She was good at that.
No one else could do what she had done over those years. No one else had cared enough to truly know the troubled genius, no one else had been willing to look past the surface and dig into those bitter remarks which were always couched with a smile. He had been desperately unhappy and Pepper had seen it. She had accepted that a great deal of his actions were caused because he was unhappy and had never been told ‘no’. So he did anything he wanted, and it was all to be happy. That happiness was a weak band-aid and he knew it, even if he didn’t like to admit it. Just as he knew the real reason he was always unhappy was because no one had ever been on his side, simply to be on his side. Simply because they liked Tony the person, not Tony the billionaire. Happy was a friend, but he was an employee first and had never really tried to be more than that. Pepper though, Pepper had shown him what a true friend really was. She was there for Tony, because she liked him, even when she wanted to hate him.
Happy had told her she was crazy more than once when she’d given up trying not to be in love with Tony. Rhodey had smiled sadly and told her that she was a good woman, but she couldn’t possibly do better or worse than Tony Stark. He had been Tony’s best friend since college, after all. After she’d admitted to herself that she’d probably been in love with him for a long time, she recognized the dull ache in her chest as she politely dismissed his evening conquests. Loneliness, jealousy, sadness, things she would never admit to Tony. He cared for her more than he would ever care for those other girls, but she wasn’t sure if he would ever let himself really love anyone.
Then came the unthinkable. He had started pushing her away, ripping part of her to tiny shreds in his haste to change everything about their dynamic. He hadn’t been sleeping with random women for months now, he’d signed over his company, he was treating her with more courtesy than he usually did. She allowed a brief hope to enter her heart ... and then he’d gone and started doing stupid things again. Worse things than usual. Fighting with Rhodey, destroying his home. Their
home since he’d decided she was to have a suite in all of his houses. He was driving her away. There was no explanation at all for his actions, his sudden manic zest for all things after she was hurt and angry at him ... and he’d been dying. He’d been acting out and at first trying to drive away the few people he loved before choosing to live.
If he’d had it his way she never would have known. Oh sure, he claimed he was going to tell her, but she knew better. Tony had never planned to tell her, didn’t want to burden those he loved with yet another Stark Incident. It made her heart ache for him every time she thought about it.
That was their turning point though. That was when it all started to become good for them. He had a new lease on life and he wanted his life to matter. During his kidnapping Tony had learned there was more than weaponry, more than war. Money had little meaning if people couldn’t use it. He had pushed himself to change the world, and he had. The second time though, the second time he’d realized he had people he cared about and people who cared about him. Tony had realized he
deserved something better, or maybe he didn’t, but he was certainly going to try for it anyhow! He was still a narcissistic, temperamental, maddeningly brilliant person who took poor care of himself, but he had admitted to feelings. Actual feelings.
Pepper had taken it in a stride, chastising him for scaring her and keeping things to himself and trying to break her heart and he should have let her have the company earlier because how would it look to the press? But Tony never cared about what the press thought about him. He’d grown up in their unforgiving lenses and he had grown a thick skin in regards to their prying. As for Pepper, well, she was a fighter. She grew a thicker skin and Tony coached her, throwing all he was into making her happy. Because she had discovered Tony loved with every fiber of his being, throwing his entire soul into it like he did everything else.
Pepper didn’t use violence as a weapon, she had other methods which worked far better, which was why she was currently striding into a board meeting at Stark Industries with a calm smile on her face, sliding her expensive coat down her arms and draping it over an assistant’s arms as she walked to the end the table. The seats were all filled, there was nothing where she stood. This had been a meeting to vote her out of the position she currently held. How they had thought they could hide it from her was beyond her understanding. Jarvis had noted the meeting in her calendar three weeks ago, adding comments that she kept herself abreast of during the interim. Showing up late had been a calculated move on her part as well. They hadn’t expected her and had relaxed, thinking they could get away with their coup.
“Gentlemen, sorry I’m late.” She smiled warmly as she stood at the end of the table, her simple gray dress and neat chignon letting her look as elegant as always. She was very careful not to show negative emotions, especially in a boardroom. Board members could smell blood like a shark.
“Ms. Potts,” the group head, Alistair Goodman, nodded despite is clearly unhappy expression.
“We’ll make this short. You need a five eighths vote of no confidence to pull me from my position.” Pepper started, her tone frank. She set her tablet down on the table. “Jarvis, the screen.”
“At once.” The AI immediately took over the projector and new graphs began filling the screen.
“In the last three years I have nearly doubled Stark Industries commercial value. We are now the leading name in clean energy the world over. We are a company which promotes peace and prospers from it. We are the number one pick for employment by college graduates, because of the clean energy bill we are making more money thanks to the tax breaks and that money is being funneled back into employee appreciation which makes our workers some of the best treated in this country. Everyone wants to be a part of Stark Industries.” Pepper smiled pleasantly as she looked around.
“And yet -” Alistair began before being cut off by Pepper.
“No. Everyone wants to be part of Stark Industries.” The redhead’s voice was still pleasant, but now there was an undercurrent of steel. New graphs appeared on the projection wall alongside paperwork showing companies which had recently, and quietly, been folded into Stark Industries. Companies that the very wealthy Pepper Potts, had major stock in. That changed shareholder percentages, and suddenly Tony Stark and Pepper Potts had a combined three quarters vote. There would be no vote. The men had thought to be underhanded and sneaky, they had thought her weak despite obvious evidence to the contrary, and that had been a mistake on their parts.
“Pepper?” Tony’s voice was suddenly coming through the speakers and Pepper looked behind her at the screen. She smiled at Tony’s mildly curious face. She’d filled him in as soon as she’d found out about the meeting and then told him her plan of attack after an hour or so of rage filtered from her mouth. He’d been suitably impressed and kissed her on the cheek, telling her to have fun with her world domination.
“Perfect timing.” Pepper told him with a smile. “Gentlemen, I’m afraid I have pressing matters to attend to and will need to rush this. I’m voting nay on the no confidence,” Her smile had faded into a thin line of pleasure.
“I vote with Pep,” Tony informed them before looking over his shoulder. “Gotta go!” The sound of glass breaking came out a moment before his face disappeared.
“It was lovely to see you all, copies of all pertinent documents have been forwarded to your email. Have a nice day.” Pepper picked up her tablet and thanked the assistant for helping her back into her coat before she was striding out of the room. She took the elevator and then strode out to the town car, Happy having waited for her out front.
“How’d it go?” Happy was privy to all the insider information on Tony and Pepper, he cared for them like his own family and they treated him as such.
“No bloodshed needed,” Pepper smiled warmly before locking her eyes on the screen that hung from the roof. “Jarvis, call Tony.” There was a moment of silence and then Tony’s smiling face appeared on the screen.
“Dummy destroyed a couple beakers,” Tony informed her instantly. The redhead shook her head, a fond smile appearing on her face.
“Let’s go out. I want sushi.” Pepper told him leaning back into the seat as she watched him with that fond look that made him feel like he could do anything.
“That little place in Nagasaki?” Tony asked instantly, his face hopeful. Pepper laughed.
“Next weekend we can go to Nagasaki. I was thinking Masa for tonight.” She told him.
“It’s a date,” Tony agreed.