15232/Damage Control

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Damage Control
Date of Scene: 19 June 2023
Location: Pepper's Office, Stark-Fujikawa Tower
Synopsis: Clark Kent interviews Pepper Potts about Tony's missing suit. Among other things.
Cast of Characters: Pepper Potts, Superman

Pepper Potts has posed:
It has been just about a month since the embarrassing 'incident.' One of Stark's Iron Man suits had been stolen out from under his nose and used in a robbery. It was all over social media as soon as it happened, which (though it wasn't made public) is exactly how Tony himself found out it was gone in the first place. Because, let's face it, if he had known it was stolen, he would have done something to stop it, wouldn't he have?

In fact, he did do something to stop it. Eventually. Using that Stark magic (along with the help of Spider-Man, Power Girl, and Cannonball), he tracked it down, powered it down with a remote code, and then Power Girl ripped its face off, revealing that... no one was inside.

But that was a month ago. What has been done since to prevent it from happening again? Well, that's what the public wants to know.

The offices of Stark Industries is bustling, as it always is. The interview Clark Kent had arranged with Tony Stark over a week ago had been put off and put off again, but the day was finally here. And... Tony was not. When Clark arrived in the building, he was given a visitor badge and shown up by security. Not to Tony's office, but to his Executive Assistant (who also had her own office).

When the security guard knocks, Pepper's voice can be heard from behind the door calling, "Come in." And when it finally opens, she's standing and smoothing the skirt of the suit that looks like it's worth about as much as most people's cars. Her smile is warm and welcoming as she steps out from behind her desk, taking a few steps around it to greet 'her' visitor properly.
Superman has posed:
The incident is something that makes the rounds in various circles. Tech companies for the obvious reasons. Information still slips through the cracks despite somewhat of a closed lid. It does give competition a chance to laugh at Stark, because he's the modern day Mozart. The only difference is the art. Mozart had music. Stark has tech.

Others love it from the angle of embarassing a superhero. It's like finding out someone can actually box with a God (metaphorically speaking in this case). That they are fallible. They are not all seeing, all knowing and all powerful.

Then there's the chance to -become- a God. Their power can change anyone's life. The Iron Man suit becoming part of someone's personal arsenal is the work of dreams.

Clark is on assignment again. It's a lot like the last oone on the surface. Except this time he's heading to Stark Industries instead of Felicia Hardy's security company. So, similar setup. Same cheap economic flight, unless Stark springs for something that Perry White would -never- turn down. Another decent hotel room. The only real differences are this. Clark was put off by Felicia once. Yet, everything done by her was very personal. Apologies, reschedule, everything. It's a fond memory Clark holds because not every person would do that. Heck, it makes Clark a little more open to using the actual product. Granted, he probably wouldn't since there's a friendship with another tech tycoon. But, Clark would help make a sale for Hardy if anyone is debating on the product.

Clark thinks everything with this meeting is going to be different, like the Hardy one. Tony seems very hands on. So, he expects nothing different.

Clark is there in a dark blue suit with a red tie. Small black diagnal lines streak across the tie. The dark hair slicked back and he wears thick rimmed glasses. Compared t Tony Stark's, well, everything, Clark Kent is dressed like a poor-man's Justin Hammer trying to look like a poor-man's Tony Stark.

Just the suit is nice, but it's off rack and nothing custom. Nothing really fancy. Much like comparing something from Men's Warehouse to any shop on Rodeo Drive.

Clark will go through all the hoops and motions. He'll just keep the glasses close. Take mental notes with those dull blue eyes.

With visitor pass in hand, the man walks there trying to keep his back straight. Kent does have a small slouching problem here, or there. Too much time spent hunched over a computer writing a story, most would presume.

By the time Clark is shown toward the offics, he expects Tony. Then his face doesn't change, but there is a small shock when it's Pepper Potts calling for him. He does kind of expect Tony to handle this one personally and not be like many of his peers to send out an underling.

At least Tony has the forefront to send out the best of the best. Rumors of Miss Pott's prowess make the Metropolis rounds. There's a rumor Lex Luthor has attempted to make a few counter offers for Miss Potts.

The reporter smiles, "Miss Potts," he gives a warm smile. "I was expecting Mister Stark. Not that seeing the beautiful and famous Miss Potts isn't a treat. Is everything alright with your Boss?" Clark says with genuine compliemnts and concerns.

Clark will extend the hand. "So, this is Stark Industries? It's impressive. More vibrant than what I'm used to," probably a small dig at another Corp a little closer to Metropolis.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Her heels click rhythmically as Pepper crosses those last few steps to Clark, and the smile she wears is the things of media dreams -- not the real smile reserved for those closest to her, but the picture-perfect, measured glint of teeth that was so ideal for television and social media streams.

She meets Clark's hand with her own, and her grip is pleasantly professional -- a strong woman, secure in her position, who existed in the heart (one would argue near the top) of a male-dominated industry without losing herself to the competition of it all.

The compliments bring a touch of color to her cheeks and a demure shift of her eyes for a moment, but then she's re-focused.

"You're too kind. I should be saying the same. It's not every day that I get to meet a journalist with such name recognition." It's warm, but it's still that professional showmanship of a woman that was used to handling Stark's PR nightmares. "Tony sends his regrets that he can't be here. This meeting is important to him, but he's been very hands-on with his latest projects." Staying up to all hours tracking down whoever stole his suit with that typical Stark single-minded focus. "He didn't want to keep you waiting any longer, so he asked me to fill in." No. He didn't. But it sure as hell sounded like he did.

Her hand finally releases Clark's and she sweeps it over to the sofa rather than the desk, already moving towards it herself. "Thank you. We like to keep things bright and minimalist.. a nod towards an idealized, streamlined future. Please, make yourself comfortable. I hope your flight was pleasant? Can I offer you anything? Coffee? Tea? Water? We have snacks available, depending on how well you were treated on the plane."

Pepper was the one that had put in for the upgrade. It had been booked as economy, but when Clark got to the ticket counter, he'd have been told by a pleasant enough attendant that he'd been moved to First Class with no other explanation.

And the guard is still lingering in the doorway, apparently waiting until Pepper dismisses him, but that won't happen until after Clark's given his answer about refreshments. Pepper smooths her skirt as she claims a seat on the couch for herself, sliding one leg across the other and folding her hands into her lap.
Superman has posed:
Clark's grip is firm and warm. He'll often joke, "Warm hands, cold heart," and get laughed at because no one believes it. The color creeping up her cheeks makes Clark smile.

"I'm not kind. I'm truthful. It's just my truth happens to be complimentary," he says softly.

"You invited Lois Lane?" Clark asks with amusement in his voice. "I'm not used to my reputation. Yes, I know it's there, but I still see myself as a kid from Kansas. I just happen to have a knack for reporting," he admits and looks back to Pepper for a moment.

Clark deals with a few different type of people. It's not his first CEO and with Tony's rep, Clark questions it. However, he keeps that thought to himself.

Sitting on one of the sofas, he nods to the simple setup. "I like it," he says getting visibly comfortable.

Clark smiles big about his flight accomodations, "It was wonderful! I haven't been in first class often. It was a treat. Please, tell my travel guardian my regards," Clark isn't sure if Tony or Pepper did that. Tony could do it as a simple flex. Pepper could do that to keep people happy. Either way Clark did enjoy the flight.

"Water is fine. If you could recommend a good place for lunch, or dinner, when we're done would be equally helpful," he says honestly. It's just him prepping for after the interview, before catching a red eye.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Pepper's lips purse to try and hide her smile after his comment about being truthful, though that seems an impossible task. For better or worse, though her shields were obviously up, there's a weakness for flattery there that she hasn't completely guarded.

Or maybe it's all just an act, but it doesn't seem like it. In any case, if it was an act, her heart wouldn't be beating a little faster than it was a moment ago.

And then there's that comment about just being from Kansas.

"The Gaia Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism. The Gutenberg Prize for Innovations in Digital Reporting. The Muckraker Medal for Outstanding Investigative Journalism." She begins ticking off his recognitions, her eyes glinting with open amusement. From memory. "Shall I go on?"

"It was our pleasure," she says about the flight. It was the closest thing to an admission that Clark was going to get. Whatever else Pepper might be, she was loyal to Tony. Some would say to a fault.

"Could you have them send in a pitcher of water and two glasses, please?" Pepper's eyes have turned towards the building guard, still standing at the door.

"Yes, Miss Potts," the guard answers, closing the door behind him as he goes.

And then there's the matter of dinner. "Le Chateau d'Ambrosia," she says without completely murdering the name, though she obviously isn't fluent. She's just said it a lot, and the answer was quick to her tongue. "It's quiet, small, and the chef is amazing. It isn't even that far. I'll call and have a reservation made for you for tonight, if you tell me how many you'd like. Otherwise there's..." She rolls her eyes a bit, smiling. "A waiting list."
Superman has posed:
"And Second Place in the Reno, Kanasa County Fair pie eating contest. I would have had first if it was apple," Clark says as if this award equally rivals his accompliments. It also showed that he still thinks of himself as that Kansas natve.

Clark is impressed with a presence Pepper commands. Taking a gamble on this, "You remind me of one of my closest friends. You would probably like her," Clark looks to the guard walking off. "Diana would probably like you, too," Clark says firmly. Obviously, his own loyalty leaves out a -lot- about Diana.

Clark tries to speak. It's like the word is on the tongue, getting ready to break free and then repeatedly kept getting stuck. "Ummmm. Miss Potts. I umm. I probably don't make enough to enjoy that casually," Clark says thinking that might cost half of a paycheck. "It sounds good, but," he gestures to the suit knowing it's off rack, far from designer and probably not near the caliber of outfits that constantly stroll through her.

"It's flattering you think my Silver Pie Trophy affords me an increased payrate," he says and inclines his head.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Pepper laughs, charmed by the Midwestern notion of a 'pie eating contest' and, no doubt, his particular affinity for apple, but then there's the mention of Diana and her gaze turns inquisitive. "Well, you'll have to bring her by some time so I can meet her," she offers. With most people, it would probably sound like one of those pleasantries -- Oh, we should get together some time! or Call me, we'll do lunch! or Yes, the sex was great for me too! From Pepper, it actually sounds like a genuine suggestion.

The mention of the cost, however, has Pepper nodding.

"I'm sorry," she says, reaching up to touch her chest. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, and I'd be happy to to expense it for you, but that would probably just make it worse, given the circumstances." There was, eventually, an interview to get to, after all. "So, stay with me on this one.. I eat /far/ too many meals at my desk, so there are some restaurants I'm not familiar with the atmosphere of. But. Midtown Mel's has the best apple pie I've ever eaten. I'm not sure it would rival any of the pies at the Reno, Kansas County Fair, but it's delicious, and they put too much chicken on their grilled chicken salads, which I never hate. Maybe give them a try."

There's a hopeful little lift of her eyebrows, then, and a warm smile.

"And if you ever do need reservations for Le Chateau d'Ambrosia in the future, you can always let me know."
Superman has posed:
"Alright. I'll have her people find your people," and it may come off like a statement, "Call Me Sometime!" before giving a fake number. Yes, Clark says it and he is genuine about it. So, it may seem odd that a Midwestern Reporter went entirely West Coast for a second there.

"Well, if you want to throw some weight around, I will not mind. This just means I would need to send a pie or a homecooked meal," it's the share and share alike mentality of the farmers when they're in the trenches.

"I will give this Midtown a try," and he gives back an equally warm smile.

"And only if you leave me your number. I don't think the security guard would let me in without an appointment," Clark says honestly about that big security guard from before.

Pulling out a small pad of paper and a pen. With a gentle press, it goes "Click!"

"Can we agree that Tony Stark is one of the greatest industrialist of all time? And can we agree that Stark Industry's portfolio has a vast history; with inventions including, but not limited to, security, home appliances, defense, furniture, communications, energy and transportation?" Clark tries to mention a few of Stark Industry's fields that often get overlooked. People tend to forget about toasters and couches when your company is associated with Iron Man.
Pepper Potts has posed:
And bombs. Iron Man, and let's not forget bombs. But, we'll get back to that in a moment.

A pie or a homecooked meal. Pepper laughs again, though it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "I'm sure Tony would be appreciative of either. He spends so much time working that it would be a delight for him to be handed a tasty meal." That didn't come from Pepper. Oddly enough, though, it almost seemed like Pepper considered the whole conversation 'on the record,' even though the pen hadn't yet been clicked. Everyone knew that was the universal symbol for 'go time.'

Leave me your number. She laughs politely. It was closest thing to a pickup line she'd heard in... well... too long to go into. "I'll make sure you have my direct line."


She listens intently to the list. Bombs. Don't say bombs. Thank God he didn't say bombs.

"Absolutely we can. Tony Stark has revolutionized not only how our government deals with threats, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial, but he's shaped how we all interact with technology and information in our daily lives. Tony has pioneered advancements in artificial intelligence that are generations ahead of where we expected to be -- advancements that improve the safety of self-driving cars as much as they read us our morning news summary or help us study for our next degree."
Superman has posed:
Clark continues writing, "It's safe for presume that Tony Stark has taken this collective knowledge, technology, information not only from the aforementioned points, but the day to day innovations you brought up, for personal use? Like his properties, building, anything like that, when it's not violating any of contracts, of course," Clark continues downard his way of thinking. Just creating a baseline. The pen keeps going along the paper with his questions and comments. Clark continues downard his way of thinking. Just creating a baseline. The pen keeps going.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Distant alarm bells start to go off, heard only inside Pepper's own mind.

"Tony draws inspiration from a variety of sources -- input from design team members, feedback from customers, and yes, experiences with other technology that he seeks to improve upon," she answers, though her eyes are wary.
Superman has posed:
"Then with all of this in his favor, how does he lose Iron Man?" Clark lays the question. It's not so much the question, that's probably the question of the day. Question of the hour, with this situation. Clark just wanted someone on the record talking about the building, the security, past contracts and innovation going into the building. To draw upon the fact that this situation -should- have been incredibly hard.

"You said it yourself, he's a man of innovation. One I respect, but this is something no one takes lightly. Even himself. A lot of people could be losing sleep that there's an Iron Man out there and it may not be friendly," Clark says and he's not going for shock. There's genuine concern on his face.

His tone isn't like Gilbert Godfrey, someone going for sensationalism. However, people would become pretty frightened knowing that some nefarious Iron Man is out there. One without the problems that plague Tony's copycats.
Pepper Potts has posed:
"There's only one Iron Man out there, and he's currently... AVINA, where's Tony?"

A moment later, a feminine voice overhead responds, "Tony Stark is currently in the primary research laboratory." Lab-o-ra-tory. So, not JARVIS, then.

It's not said in a hostile way, but one could be forgiven for reading just a little bit of defensiveness in Pepper's tone. She started, at least, with 'the official statement.' There was not currently a loose suit. There was no danger. She'd been fielding these calls for the last month, and so she had the answer down pat, as tiresome as it was to repeat it.

But Clark had a job to do. Just like the others.

"We've investigated the vulnerability and the source of the attack, and we've contracted with security experts from outside the company. Rest assured that we don't take it lightly, either. The protocols that were in place at the time have all been changed so that the incident can't be repeated. Obviously, I'm not at liberty to go into the specifics of either the old or the new protocols."

Rest assured. It was weak, at best, and even Pepper knew it. It glinted in her eyes. The fatigue of it all. The worry of it all. They didn't know what happened, and how can you promise it won't happen again if you didn't know how it happened in the first place? After all of her years covering for Tony, Pepper was an expert at spin -- but it was hard to spin something like this in a way that didn't make their security system seem... lacking.
Superman has posed:
Clark is writing down the responses. He does have a job to do. There's a sadness in his eyes, she can see it. In the dull blues. An unspoken apology whispered to those tired emerald ones looking at him.

"What promise can you give the public? I know you cannot go into details. But the lack of answer doesn't instill confidence. What can Tony say that will assure the public this will never happen again?" Clark has to go after this weak point. It's part of his job. He doesn't want to because Pepper is a genuinely nice person.

Well, he doesn't know if she's nice. He's taking the nice words, even th fake ones, at face value. Or at last most of it, at face value. So, Clark is feeling bad about putting Pepper in this posiition. He feels like there has been worse positions. It still doesn't make him feel good to ask those questions.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Pepper takes a breath. It wasn't like she was unprepared for this. She knew what the interview was about, after all, but it really didn't make it any more pleasant.

For either one of them, apparently.

"Tony Stark, and all of us at Stark Industries, have always believed in pushing the envelope of technology while ensuring the highest levels of safety and security, and this situation only strengthens that commitment. The resulting overhaul has been extensive -- we understand the public's need for reassurance, and we've always been dedicated to the greater good. That commitment remains unwavering. Tony Stark himself is leading this initiative, and though we're constantly facing new threats, we can promise the relentless pursuit of safety and continued leadership in learning and improving technology."

And there it is. The official statement, spoken slowly enough that Clark (or, at least, a normal human) can get it all down without her having to start over again, but deliberately enough that it sounds sincere and truthful.
Superman has posed:
Clark handles the official statement just fine. Taking in the details with occasional nods. Wordlessly, he'll show the Pen in on hand and the pad of apper in the other hand. Quietly, he'll set both onto a able in front of himself slowly, deliberately.

Once everything is down, he'll ask another question. "What about the drone technology int he suit?" Clark asks very flatly, plainly with the weight of truth behind it. He'll be quick to add, "I have sources. Word is traveling," Clark says showing his ace in the hole. It helps that yoru cousin actually -helped- Tony Stark in this situation.

Dull blue eyes will look out the window, as if giving Pepper a moment to compose herself after that question. Before she could answer, he'll continue, "There's an industrialist in my city," pretty obvious to figure out who. "There's a lot of rumors after him and technology. I worry about someone like that with that technology. Whatever took control of the Iron Man. I can see it doing more than that. I really do hope that Tony figures it out," and then he will look back at Pepper. That sad look in his eyes back, "Not just for his sake."

Pepper can figure out Clark's other angle. Or maybe, it's the main angle. To show Tony Stark brewing problems this technology presents. if Tony figures out a solution, it will do more than help Stark Industries. It could put out a whole string of fires before they start.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Pale green eyes follow pad and pen down to the table. It was always a bit like a police officer making a show of taking off their badge, when it happened. You never knew what was going to happen, next. Friend or foe? Whatever it was, it was off the record. Maybe. Unless the cop lost. Then the story was whatever they wanted it to be.

Maybe it's meant to relax her, but Pepper doesn't /look/ relaxed. And she looks even less relaxed with her mouth pressed into a weird, semi-guilty line that tries and fails to look confused.

Damage control, Pepper. Damage control.

But then there's more.

An industrialist. One that she's no doubt gotten job offers from and refused to even entertain.

By the time Clark looks back at her, that utter and sincere sadness in his gaze, her own eyes are haunted.

"The suit is--" Pepper's voice cracks and she clears her throat, her fingers reaching up to touch lightly at her throat. "Excuse me." She swallows, mouth dry. "The suit is back, and I can promise you, we are doing /everything/ in our power to track down who's responsible. Tony has taken steps to make sure it never happens again. He's..." Worry. Fatigue. She hadn't been sleeping very much. "I'm so sorry." She clears her throat again forces a smile, a fake laugh, and stands, turning towards the door. "Where is that water?"

She opens her office door, and a busty redhead in a suit two sizes too small is standing there with two bottles of water balanced on a tray. Like a waitress. Just standing there.

"I'm sorry," Pepper says, incredulous. "I didn't hear you knock."

"I didn't," the girl says. "I wasn't sure if you wanted me to."

Pepper opens her mouth. Closes it. Pauses.

"You're the new intern?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Of course she was. Pepper reaches out and takes the two bottles of water. "Thank you. That will be all."

And after all of that, she returns to sit back on the couch and hands Clark one of the bottles of water. "I promise, she isn't in charge of security."
Superman has posed:
Seeing Pepper kind of break down a lttle bit, Clark feels bad. He's trying to make sure she knows that just make Pepper aware that there are other implications with the same tech.

"I figured she wasn't," Clark says and takes a water. Dull blue eyes look back to Pepper. "I'm just worried about what -others- could do with that same technology that's given you days of sleepless nights," hea dmits honestly and looks back to Pepper.

"If you ever need to get away from it all. I can show you places in Reno where you can just get away," he knows Pepper would stay. He still wants the woman to know that there is a means to get away without that phone going off unless she wants it to.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Pepper cracks the bottle of water open and lifts it to her lips for a drink before replacing the cap and setting it on the table.

And for just a moment, she refuses to meet those eyes. To see the sadness and the genuine concern in them again. When she looks back up, there's more steely resolve than before -- that moment taken to collect herself giving her the chance to put all of her defenses back in place.

"I know," she admits quietly. "So is Tony."

It was always Tony. Never Pepper. It was almost like she really was Tony Stark, and she just kept talking about herself in the third person.

The offer, however, draws a little, warm laugh. "What must that life be like?" But it's just playful joking, that twinkle in her eyes. Right? "I'm fine, but thank you. I appreciate the offer." After all, at this point making the time to do anything other than sleeping in her apartment would basically be a vacation in and of itself.

"Do you have any other questions for me?"
Superman has posed:
Clark notices how she talks about Tony a lot. The fact that Tony sees it, is a comfort. Tony is smart. Clark doesn't question this. What he wondered if the personal attack would blind Tony to long term implications.

"Won't know unless you try it. And you should try it. Trust me," and Clark will pull out his wallet. A simple and beat up leather thing, snagging his business card. He'll write on the backside before returning it right side up.

He'll snag the reporters notebook, "Anything you like to add?" Clark asks. It's a reporter's question. Gives the speaker something to emphasize that may have been overlooked.
Pepper Potts has posed:
That 'trust me' almost seems to nudge her over some cliff. There's a moment of lingering fascination -- daydreams of what a vacation might actually be like that fill her eyes with something like longing. But that moment is short lived, replaced with images of Tony Stark running rampant through the streets of New York in a limo filled with bimbos while stocks plummeted and fires (actual fires) burned out of control. Or.. worse: Tony himself would need her, and she wouldn't be there.

So, instead of answering, Pepper merely smiles. A small, private smile.

"Mr. Stark will be hosting a charity event to raise money for additional scholarships for cybersecurity students and funding for new tech startups focusing on security and cryptography. As part of being a global leader, he wants to ensure that we have sufficient new minds to keep all of us safe from ever-increasing cyber threats." A pause, then, and a little smile. "It hasn't been formally announced yet, but it's coming. I'll make sure you get an invitation."
Superman has posed:
Clark doesn't know he has the gears in Pepper's head turning. He just sees someone that -desperately- needs a few days, maybe even months, away from her job. Just a chance to unwind, realign and enjoy herself without the limos, Iron Armors. Everything.

"Hoping to see me or hoping for a good story on it?" Clark asks with a small smile. He thinks maybe Pepper is someone to trust. It's a warm thought. Sometimes it's hard to meet people in a genuine situation. One without costumes. It's nice. It's rare.
Pepper Potts has posed:
Pepper Potts was pushing 40 years old with a very short stick, and she'd spent a good portion of that time as the Executive Assistant and right hand to one of the wealthiest and most brilliant technological minds on the planet. She traded the prime of her life and has very nearly traded her chance of ever having children of her own to be the sole, constant presence in that man's life, to earn enough of his trust and respect that she is essentially (essentially) second in command of all of Stark Industries.

A man that many said took advantage of her.

And yet, here she was. Day after day. The /famous/ Pepper Potts. A vacation barely scratched the surface of what she needed.

So maybe it's not that much of a surprise that, when that question catches her completely off guard, that blush returns to her cheeks and her eyes once more demur.

Behind all of the corporate armor, she was still a woman. Prone to the same longings as so many others. And as much as she knew what the 'right' answer was -- something something your credentials in covering tech industry something something... that's not what comes out.

"Can't it be both?"

It's a moment of genuine sincerity when her eyes do lift again, smile soft. It's measured in its vulnerability. She wasn't desperate. She sure as hell wasn't throwing herself at him. But there's a glimpse of something there that's more than just the stand-in CEO of Stark Industries.
Superman has posed:
Clark sees that genuine reaction from Pepper. The way she asks, how it shows in the face. All of it. Looking directly into those eyes, Clark speaks honestly. She showed part of herself, it's only fair he does the same. "I haven't known you long, but I've heard sotries. The stories don't do you justice. And whatever you truly want in life. You deserve," and he means that. Clark knows that Pepper is close to Tony Stark. Has been for years. He just knows for her to be int hat job for that lenght of time, something was sacrificed. Even if it was just friends.

The next few words he gets choosy about. Trying to figure out the right way to say them. "I have three questions for you. You don't need to answer them now. And I'm genuine in the answers. No matter how mundane you think they are," Clark prefaces. Giving Pepper time to just mentally prepare and make note. The gaze doesn't waiver, "Who is Pepper Potts? What does she like? And what does she want in life?" He lights seilnce stand between them before Clark gives her a small wave.

Clark asks these questions because he's asked himself the same ones. Pepper isn't a hero, but it feels like she is one. Clark asks those questiosn to remind himself of a few things. Who he is. What he wants in life. What he likes. Sometimes it's hard to be himself, discover interest and likes between being Clark and Superman. But these answers keep him honest to himself.

And so there is Pepper alone with those questions. Eventually when she looks on the back of his business card it reads, "When you need to escape to Reno," and need is underlined. Then his personal number is there.
Pepper Potts has posed:
/Whatever you truly want in life, you deserve./

When those words were spoken, they echoed in Pepper's ears like the shockwave from a bomb going off. She was pretty sure they were ringing, but everything sort of... lost focus, for a moment. She was tired. That was all. Her emotions were playing tricks on her, and something about Clark was unbalancing her. Maybe it was just because she hadn't had a man look at her like that, stare into her eyes like that, and seem to /see/ her like that in... a very long time.

She would not cry in front of Clark Kent. She'd shown enough weakness as it was. She had no way to know that he could hear the way her heart hammered at her chest, that artery in her neck that suddenly throbbing, the subtle breath she took to steady herself.

/Who is Pepper Potts? What does she like? And what does she want in life?/

Pepper didn't want to show weakness, but if she spoke, she wouldn't be able to help it. So instead, she just stared at him, her jaw set in a way that almost made her look... angry. And she was. How dare he? How dare a man she didn't even know presume to walk into her office and reach inside her to touch a place that even she didn't want to admit existed?

And so, she says nothing. She watches him leave, like he knew she would. And it takes a full two minutes of sitting there for her to reach out and take that card, tapping its thin edge on the table a few time as she spins it in her fingers, still fuming. She didn't even remember he'd written anything at all until she happened to catch a glimpse of the writing.

/When you need to escape to Reno.../

That's when the tears come. Sitting there on the couch, her elbows on her knees, her face in her hands. In the privacy of her office, she allowed herself to break.

She'd given everything to the man she loved, and he didn't even know... or care, really. He did care, in his own way. There were times when she was pretty sure he'd fall apart or get himself killed if she wasn't there. But she had to watch him, over and over, with woman after woman, making sure they left the penthouse every morning, trying to keep the company together.

Here was a man that looked at her like she wanted Tony to look at her, and all it did was rip at her heart and remind her of how much she already had and would continue to give up for a man that would never see her that way.

She allowed herself fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes to fall to pieces, eaten up by frustration, anger, guilt, and desire.

And then she went back to her desk, freshened up her makeup, and pulled up her schedule.