Pepper Potts awoke to another freezing New York morning. She missed southern California on days like this. Her Park Avenue apartment was heated, of course, but she couldn't spend the entire day in her apartment. She'd have to bundle up like an Eskimo and brave the elements. The snow had been pretty the first time she saw it falling, but now it was all dirty and nowhere near as appealing. And the wind. What in the world was up with that freaking windchill factor? She'd never paid attention to such things before moving here. At least the snow didn't get into parking garages, but that freezing-to-the-bone wind managed to permeate anything that wasn't strictly indoors and heated.
She understood why the arc reactor was more important here than it could ever be in Los Angeles. These people would literally die without power in the winter. Californians needed power for their air conditioning and to run business, but those weren't life and death. Okay, sometimes people died in heat waves, but she had known people who didn't have air conditioning at all. One could live without it. She didn't see how it was humanly possible to live without heat in New York.
Unfortunately, it was the thing she hated most about New York that kept her from petitioning the Board (and Tony, who still held the majority of stock in SI) to just build the first clean energy building in Los Angeles, so she didn't have to be here. Besides, she was the one who insisted on overseeing the entire project. She could have hired someone else to do this. She could have arranged it so she just dropped in every few weeks to get a progress report and do a few inspections. But every time she thought about it, she knew she couldn't let go. This was important. Like the kind of important that outweighed her comfort and personal time.
And there were sacrifices. Missing California with its mild winters was hard, but it was nothing compared to being separated from Tony.
She'd had a crush on Tony Stark ever since she started working at Stark Industries as an accountant. But then, who didn't? After one week as his personal assistant, she found it easier to keep her infatuation in check. She didn't want to be just another one of his one-night-stands. Her crush was never completely eradicated, just pressed into the back burner category of silly schoolgirl fantasy along with having a fairy godmother and winning the lottery. She channeled her devotion into managing his appointments and trying to put out all the public relations fires he started. And she was good at it.
But everything had changed after Afghanistan. She didn't believe it at first, but Tony was different now. And now that he was no longer interested in one-night-stands, she could hardly believe that the one woman he would give that all up for was her. Not some knock-out model or Hollywood star. Her—Virginia Potts, the plain and ordinary.
It had been a rocky start, complicated by suddenly becoming CEO and Tony hiding the fact that the palladium in his chest was both keeping him alive and killing him, not to mention the enormous pressure involved in him being Iron Man. He should have listened to Rhodes and Coulson. He should have lied to the press and never admitted it. But then he wouldn't be Tony Stark.
So here they were, a high-profile billionaire superhero and the CEO of a major technology company, trying to have a relationship while living on opposite coasts. Pepper couldn't wait to see him again tonight. However, there was an entire day's work to be done before she could board the company jet and go home.
She rolled out of bed and dragged herself into the bathroom. Her stomach growled a protest, but she wasn't especially hungry. It was the eighth day in a row she wasn't feeling well. She'd almost convinced herself it was just the cold getting to her. She didn't have any flu symptoms, just that rumbly stomach. But now that her period was four days late, another possibility niggled at her mind. Last night, she had picked up a home pregnancy test to rule out the possibility. The chances were extremely remote, but she wanted proof so she could stop worrying. The test said to wait for first morning urine, so she had it ready on the sink counter. A dip in the stream and then she set it aside to develop while she showered. Once she had that nice big minus sign to quash her worry, she could explore other causes. Maybe she wasn't getting enough sunshine in this blizzard world. That could make a person sick, right?
The hot water felt good and she lingered just a little. She might not have time to take another shower before seeing Tony, so she wanted to be as thorough as possible. She grabbed a towel and stepped out onto a cheesy pink rug she'd owned since college. It made this cold, lonely place feel just a little more like home.
She started to dry off when her eye caught the pregnancy test. Her jaw dropped. Positive. Omigosh, what am I going to do? She stood there, dripping, staring at the piece of plastic with that big, glaring plus sign.
Tony had moved so slowly with her that she'd wondered at times if he was waiting to meet her parents or marry her or something. The night it finally happened, she'd been totally unprepared. She apologized for not being on the pill. Most of her adult life, she hadn't needed to bother because anyone she dated just couldn't measure up to her fantasy, no matter how far-fetched she knew it was. She wouldn't sleep with some other guy while thinking about Tony Stark.
Tony just laughed and gobbled up her admission to feed that monster ego of his. Of course she couldn't think about anyone else while he was around. But he couldn't quite hide from her how much it touched him, how regretful it made him for being so indiscriminate in his past. “I got this,” he promised. “Don't worry.”
She of all people knew how many women he had been with. In the old days, she had been the one to buy his protection for him, just like she handled so many other aspects of his personal life. He must have been incredibly careful or there would have been paternity suits by now. Pepper would bet everything she had that women had tried to trap Tony that way and never succeeded despite his often-inebriated state.
When he said he had it covered, she believed him. Well, coverage must have leaked. Panic entered her mind. Would Tony think she was trying to trap him? Would he want a baby? Was she ready to be a mother?
Suddenly, she felt a lot sicker and found her head over the toilet. Dammit, I wanted tonight to be so special. She briefly entertained the notion of putting off telling him. She should go see a doctor and get a professional diagnosis first, shouldn't she? But no sooner had the idea occurred to her but she knew she couldn't do it. It would be wrong after having berated him for not telling her he was dying of palladium poisoning, plus, she didn't think she could sit there and chat about building contractors and budget concerns with something like this hanging over her head. In fact, the more she thought about it, the harder she was fighting not to Skype him right now.
However, it was 3AM in Malibu—not the best time to spring news like this, even if Tony happened to be awake. No, she would wait until she saw him in person. Tonight.
Pepper finished drying off and dressed, barely able to stop thinking about pregnancy long enough to get her buttons in the right buttonholes. Coffee, her normal morning energizer, didn't sound good today. Would she have to watch her caffeine intake now? Sometime in the distant past, she remembered reading that saltine crackers were good for morning sickness. She scoured her pantry, looking for some, but the closest thing she could find was those hideous cheese crackers with peanut butter sandwiched inside and packed in a serving-sized rectangular cube. They looked like they had been sat on. Why did I even save these?
Nothing looked good, so she grabbed a vitamin water, layered on a sweater, parka, scarf and gloves, then headed out the door. She speed-dialed her chauffeur from the hall. His apartment was in the same building, but a few floors down. “Sorry I'm late, Happy. I'm on my way down.”
“No problem, Boss. I'm already in the garage. I'll get the heat started.”
Pepper smiled. He knew her well. “Great. See you there.” She hit the disconnect on the phone with one hand and the call button for the elevator with a finger spared from the hand that held the water bottle.
A vaguely familiar voice behind her said, “No you won't.”
But before she could turn to identify the speaker or argue with his statement, a folded white cloth appeared from over her shoulder and covered her nose and mouth. She'd seen enough movies to know it was chloroform, but she couldn't control the instinct to gasp and once she did, the sweet smell filled her nostrils and everything went black.