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Posted May 19, 2013

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Fan Fiction: Dragon Pepper and the Iron Assistant

Title: Dragon Pepper and the Iron Assistant

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Rating: PG-13.

Spoilers: Post-series for Buffy, no comics; post-Iron Man 3 for the Marvel Movie Universe

Summary: An un-pleased Pepper had been the kind of fun that wasn't even before she had Fists of Fiery Doom. 2000 words.

Notes: More of the Buffy as Tony's PA 'verse: Pepper sparring with Buffy and Natasha, as promised, and a little more noodling on Buffy's reasons for sticking around as more than just an employee, as requested.

"Buffy, Buffy, are you okay?" a distressed voice asked, somewhere out of Buffy's frame of view.

Spinny. Spinny was a good word for how she was feeling. Was spinny okay? Somehow, she didn't think so.

The Slayer blinked, mesmerized by the slow sweep and retreat of dark shutters over the gently whirling acoustic tiles far overhead, then winced as the world slowed back into focus, pinned in place by a throbbing knot of pain somewhere in the vicinity of her ear. "Mmnnngh," she replied.

"Buffy?" Pepper repeated, leaning over her with worried eyes under a fringe of sweaty red-blonde hair. "I'm so sorry; I don't know what happened. I didn't mean to hit you that hard!"

"M'okay... just... gimme a minute," Buffy managed actual words this time, holding up a wavery hand.

A low chuckle reminded her that there were more people in the room, including one to whom the verb 'spinny' might better apply. Metaphorically, anyway. Or something? Maybe it would be better to refer that question to the original redhead in her life. Buffy's brain was still experiencing fist lag.

If that was even a thing. It should be, if it wasn't; it sure felt like she'd crossed several time zones without warning.

"Don't be sorry; be proud," the Black Widow advised Stark Industries' CEO. "We've all wanted to hit her that hard a time or two. But this is why we wanted to train with you; to hone your new strength and speed under your conscious control, rather than relying on your reflexes."

"But I hurt her," Pepper objected, still sounding worried.

Somewhere in the back of her foggy mind, Buffy wondered if Tara would have grown up as fierce as Pepper, if she'd been allowed the chance. Somehow, she thought so. The world really needed more women with their native serene strength to balance out the sharper instruments like her and Natasha.

"Yes; and you'll probably do it again. But that's another reason why we asked you to train with us," Natasha replied. "Because she'll get back up again as soon as she's done feeling sorry for herself--"

"--heyyyy," Buffy objected to that assessment, slowly pushing herself back up to a seated position. A cold pack appeared within her field of vision, clasped in calloused fingers; she took it gratefully, pressing its numbing bliss to the bruised and slightly singed hinge of her jaw.

"--and we're both much more skilled in the application of unusual strength in a tidy package than anyone else you're likely to meet," Natasha concluded.

Contrary to the cool amusement in her voice, the ex-assassin did look a little worried, but her tension seemed to be fading along with Buffy's fuzziness. Sometimes, Natasha was more like Tony-- in that emotionally constipated, oh my God are my feelings showing kind of way-- than either of them would ever admit; probably why they still prickled at each other so often. Buffy knew from big heart, closed face, though, and found it kind of cute, if a little annoying sometimes.

But it was a good thing Pepper hadn't caught on; first she'd be un-reassured, which would make her twitchier about trying again, and then she'd be un-pleased that they were 'handling' her. And an un-pleased Pepper had been the kind of fun that wasn't even before she had Fists of Fiery Doom.

"Well, almost," the owner of the extraneous hand chipped in. "But considering that the other convenient options involve asking Cap to hit a noncombatant 'dame' or trying to get Banner angry...."

Buffy snorted, then winced and shifted the position of the cold pack against her face. Good thing she'd listened when her boyfriend said someone had better be on hand with medical supplies. She'd mocked him about not trusting their skills, at first-- but then again, she'd thought he'd made the suggestion for Pepper's sake. More fool her. He might be the only original model human left on the team, but in his areas of experience, his skills, knowledge, and tactical analysis still put hers in the shade.

"Mmm, I think I'll pass on that," Pepper replied, dryly. "But still. Are you really sure I need to do this?"

That depended on exactly what Extremis was, Buffy mused as her brain cells finished settling after their hard reboot.

Upgraded self repair; she'd seen the evidence of that in the smoothness of Tony's chest where the reactor housing had been, and in Pepper's complete lack of scars from the Roxxon platform adventure. Extra strength and durability; Tony'd told her Pepper had fallen more than a hundred feet into an oil fire and got back up from it, which explained how hard she could punch now. But there was more to landing a move that powerful against a skilled opponent than raw capability. Between that, and what Buffy had heard of her showdown with Killian... Pepper had also displayed instinctive aggression and heightened reflexes similar to a newly awakened Slayer's.

And that, Buffy was eminently qualified to deal with. She foresaw a lot of broken doorknobs in Pepper's near future, and a lot of board meetings done virtually until she got a handle on it.

SHIELD had hushed up the exact details of the Extremis project as much as possible, but Pepper's kidnapping had been widely enough known that they hadn't been able to hide the fact that something had happened to her. And if she started showing strange new abilities in the public eye after she'd been cleared by Tony's doctors... the official story would unravel like a scarf in Miss Kitty Fantastico's claws.

Nobody was ready for Virginia 'Pepper' Potts, superhero, just yet: not Pepper herself, nor her protective fiancé, and especially not Stark Industries' board, who much preferred their eccentric vigilante owner on the sidelines where he could drum up publicity and invent lucrative new tech without-- usually-- threatening the stability of the company. They'd pressure her to retire, too, if the facts became known. And if the news spread that she'd been injected with a nanotech equivalent of the Super Soldier Serum? She'd been enough of a kidnap target already between her job and her connection to Tony; they could go right ahead and add 'experimental subject' to that list.

"Sure enough," Buffy replied. "Sticking your head in the sand? Never a good idea. Trust me." She looked up at Clint and held her free hand out.

He hefted her easily to her feet, grinning cheekily. "Plus, that flamethrower breath thing? Now that would be awesome, if you can figure out how to get it to work."

Pepper made a complicated face at that, about half amused and half disgruntled. It seemed to say: Men, and Buffy wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment.

What Pepper actually said aloud, though, was: "Well, I certainly won't be testing that in here. Even if Tony swears I can't accidentally explode anymore." She glanced demonstratively around the room at the mats, the boxing ring in the corner, the punching bags dangling from an overhead beam, and all the other well-worn exercise equipment the Avengers had spent the last few months breaking in.

"Get him to take you to a private beach," Buffy suggested, removing the cold pack from her cheek and gently prodding at the injury. It still hurt, enough that she didn't want to be batter-up again just yet, but not too bad, considering. "Nothing to wreck there, plus: glass sculptures if you do get a little overexcited."

Pepper laughed, some of the tension in her shoulders releasing as she realized Buffy really was okay. "That would appeal to him, I think. Impromptu art, a la Pepper Flambé: I can just hear him now."

"Sounds plan-like," she replied, then nodded to Natasha. "Your turn, then; I'd suggest you and Clint both, but I think until she has a better measure of her abilities he should keep playing spotter."

The twinkle in Hawkeye's gaze said he wanted very badly to say, I told you so; but Natasha preempted him with a smirk. "Playing to his strengths, then? Good choice."

"I'll remember you said that the next time we spar," Clint scoffed at her.

"You do that," Natasha said, smiling blandly. Then she coaxed Pepper back into a fighting stance, and started demonstrating the next defensive move.

Much later, after they'd all changed out of their sweats and sports bras and redonned their professional armor, Pepper cornered Buffy in her office, reaching out to tip her chin up to the light with a gentle, long-fingered hand.

"It's turning a nice shade of olive now," Pepper observed, her mouth an apologetic moue of discomfort.

"Well, at least I'm color coordinated," Buffy smiled, gesturing to her leaf-green suit.

Pepper lowered her hand at that, scanning Buffy's face again with searching eyes. "You know, there's something I've been meaning to say for awhile," she said, words heavy with sincerity.

For a second or so, Buffy almost panicked; there was still a part of her, honed by her parents' rejection when she was fifteen and sharpened by virtually every authority figure in her life between then and her defeat of the First, that wanted to ask: what did I do now? But she knew better than to think Pepper would choose a moment like this to critique her professional performance. Besides which, a few spindled paperwork assignments aside-- most of which Dawn had corrected for her as her assistant-- Buffy could think of no official reason Ms. Potts might be upset with her.

She told herself not to be silly, and smiled at her boss's-boss slash friend. "I'm all ears. Well, not literally, because ew; but you know what I mean."

"Thank you," Pepper replied, quietly. "You may have come to SI originally to strengthen the ties between your organization and SHIELD, but it's worked out so much better than I'd hoped. Not only are you good at the job, but Tony likes you, which I'm sure you've realized by now is quite rare; I can't even tell you how many assistants he went through before he picked me out of the accountants' pool for correcting one of his errors. And what's more, you like him back; which is even rarer, in my experience. And that's not even taking into account...."

"What's not to like?" Buffy cut her off before things could get too awkward. "Seriously. I know a little about making your own armor to deal with the crap in your life; I never thought his reputation was all there was to him. But I never expected him to like me, either, or respect my non-Slayage skills, which is just as novel from my perspective." Sure, he snarked, but that was all smokescreen; as a fellow devotee of the quip, she could hardly fault him for that. And of course there'd been the occasional high-handed rushing off alone to deal with things... but she could hardly point fingers there either, as he'd recently reminded her.

"And even after I spilled the Slayer beans, he never got judgey with me. Or my friends," she continued. Tony's unruffled acceptance of the other Scoobies-- flirtation, irreverence, babble and all-- would have won the Slayer over, if she hadn't been already. And that went for the rest of the Avengers and their assorted friends, as well.

"Besides," Buffy concluded, lightly. "He comes with a whole lot of other super neat people attached, and I'd put up with him for the rest of you, even if he really was the jerk he pretends to be."

Pepper responded with one of her patented warm hugs-- literally, now; her resting body temp had settled a degree or two above normal. Buffy endured it with appreciation-- she'd meant every word she'd said-- and then pulled back with a sparkle in her eye.

"So. About that next training session, then...."

"Slave driver," Pepper accused her, wryly. "I take it all back."

"Takes one to know one," Buffy laughed, then walked out of the office with her, arm in arm.


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