1963-07-19 - The Soldier and the Secretary
Summary: The Winter Soldier saves Pepper from some alleyway thugs. What happens after MAY be termed the 'Reverse Honeypot', but she takes him back home and takes care of the poor man.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
bucky pepper 


Maybe it's the times. It could be a bad twist of fate, or just rotten luck. It might even be because of a certain Soviet assassin nearby.

Whatever the reason, Pepper Potts finds herself in a bit of a sticky situation in Queens today, having dodged down a shortcut behind a building to avoid a massive, cumbersome construction project that blocked the sidewalk and entire street. The detour detoured /again/, quite unexpectedly, shunting her down an alley between two buildings. Normally, walking in broad daylight, she'd be quite safe, which is why she might have taken the shortcut without questioning it.

So the four armed men who are currently following her at an uncomfortably short distance should be setting off all kinds of alarm bells. A lifetime city girl like Pepper would know the difference between 'casual passers-by' and being stalked, and she is most assuredly being stalked by these four fellows.

Up ahead of her, the construction blocks another path, but light can be seen around the next corner and if her mental map is serving her, it should spit her out right on 5th street in the middle of a bustling intersection.

*

Pepper's always been smart. Staying in the right areas, keeping her keys in her hand, pepper spray in her purse, a long coat over anything that is too short. All the things that good girls are taught in big cities. But today, that's not really helping her, it seems. Her high heels echo fast and hard on the cement beneath her but not at a running clip. A little closer to speed walking without breaking into a sprint — because prey runs. She doesn't want to be prey. So, she's just trying to make it to the end of the the alley and that corner. If she can just get there she'd be fine.

Even as she double time walks, though, her red hair swaying behind her from the high, clipped barrett behind that stylish bump above her forehead. She's ever so slowly reaching into her purse to pull out that pepper spray. If she was going to be trapped, she'd go down fighting. The last few feet, finally, she does break into a dash.

*

Pepper rounds the alley and runs into the last stage of the trap— a dead end, and a fellow with no neck standing there grinning at Pepper with an ugly expression. "'ey sweetheart, where you goin'?" he asks her, in a gravelley Bronx accent.

"Fine lookin' girl with a touch of the Irish!" a lanky young man with red hair and a terribly pale complexion croons. "By my mother's sainted ass, I haven't see a lass so pretty since I left Dublin," he says, as the fellows crowd around Pepper, giving her ugly, speculative looks.

None of them seem to notice the dark, stocky shadow that emerges from their path, and picks up a sturdy piece of abandoned rebar as he quietly closes the gap. Another attacker, joining the fun? Or Pepper's knight in… something armor?

*

The moment she sees the dead end, and the other mook, she knows she's done. Even pepper spray probably won't be enough to save dear old Pepper. But, she was as fiery as her hair and not going to just take it laying down. "Forget about it, you brute!" She growls at him, grabbing the pepper spray in her hand and immediately depressing the top so a whole ton of it spills into the man's face. It might not be enough, but she's got to try.

She then spins around, arm raised, firing it at the next closest man. She catches sight of that dark shadow with rebar, but it only heightens her panic. She had no clue how to accept that she might be in real trouble here. Fear was enough to keep her moving.

*

The first fellow gets a faceful of the pepper spray and falls back, screaming. "Damnit! What the fuck!" he cries, scrubbing at his eyes. He staggers, crashing into a dumpster. The second fellow lunging for Pepper gets a facefull and yowls like a hamstrung cat, and hits the ground with a crack of his knees.

The other three are stymied for just a moment, but that's long enough for the fellow in the rear to dash up the last few feet. He isn't playing for points, because his first attack is to slam the rebar into the back of a fellow's kneecap. The man drops like a sack of potatos, and the fellow storms forward and bulls into another attacker, punching him in the jaw as the fellow rounds too slow to manage an effective counter.

*

Well, that worked better than she thought it would. Pepper will have to thank her mother next time she calls. Still half terrified, she's trying to find a good outlet past the fighting, but the violence is, at this point, pretty much entirely spanning the narrow alleyway that is her escape route. She's breathing hard out of fear more than anything, but she tucks herself back against the wall and keeps that pepper spray lofted, just in case one of them would come closer to her.

Of course, there was one other stalker. Three behind, one in front. Two are quite occupied by Bucky, but the last one is now angry and determined. He reaches out for Pepper with meaty, violent hands and she gives a little yelp, trying to jump away and spray him again. The can goes, but he turns one meaty fist right onto it and wrenches it out of her grasp, most of his palm taking the chemicals instead of his face. She jerks hard, trying to get away. Entirely failing.

*

As tangled up as she is in the struggle, Pepper probably doesn't have a lot of appreciation for the nuances of the stranger's fighting style. Which is terrifyingly impressive. He's not just a scrappy, strong brawler— he's clearly got some martial training that goes far beyond anything she's seen before. Blocks, counterblows, even a spectacular flip that he performs with a twist of a man's shoulder and wrist that takes the mugger off his feet and inverts him four feet off the ground and into a wall.

The man struggling with Pepper doesn't realize his cohorts are down, leaving him exposed, until that piece of rebar whips through the air and takes him in the side of the head. He drops like a poleaxed cow, unconscious before he hits the ground, with blood flowing from his nose and eyes. Maybe worse than unconscious.

The shadowy figure turns to Pepper, stepping into the light a few paces. He proves to be stocky, somewhat short fellow— maybe about as tall as Pepper when she's barefoot— with scraggly brown hair, darkly sunken eyes, and wearing very worn and shabby clothing.

"Are you hurt?" he asks, in a rasping, low voice.

*

A slight yelp crosses Pepper's lips as she fails at getting away. She tries a small kick at the man where it hurts, but he's all meat and she's really just a feather in comparison. She is trying to do all she can to slip away when she catches the sight of the man flipping over in finishing his last move on one of the others. What. In. Hell. Her eyes go a bit wide, almost giving away the fact that the man is about to attack her attacker, but then it's too late. It's all over in rebar and blood, Pepper's wrist abruptly freed.

She's still cowering a bit against the wall, breathing hard, ribs quickly expanding and contracting between her tight little black and green mod dress. She cradles her wrist gently against herself, most certainly going to be sore and bruised, but she doesn't seem to be in enough pain that it's broken. Pepper stares at him with wide blue eyes, still half terrified, not certain whose side this mysterious, stocky man is on. As he asks that rasping question, she shakes her head slowly.

"N-no…no. I don't think…So…" Pepper admits, still barely moving. Her heart beats like a terrified rabbit against her sternum. She's still alone in an alley with a very dangerous man.

*

Seeing how paralyzed with fear Pepper is, the fellow slinks back a half pace, turning his body away. Making himself less menacing. He seems hesitant, somehow, as if unsure of what to do next.

"They… were following you. I heard them. They wanted your purse. I thought I should … do something."

He clears his throat, barely seeming winded by the violent encounter compared to Pepper's relative near-panic. "Sorry. I … didn't mean to… …I should go." He shuffles back a half pace, as if preparing to withdraw and leave Pepper alone in the alley with a bunch of unconscious thugs and potentially at least one corpse.

*

The moment he turns away like that, pulls himself into being less menacing, and then makes the commentary about her purse, Pepper relaxes a bit more. She steps forward, just a half step, then scoops down to grab the mace which the bully had twisted out of her hand. Fingertips still slightly shaking, wrist sore, she drops it back into her purse. Still, that's a show of trust about the man who helped save her. She doesn't think she'll need to use it on him.

"It's… it's okay. No, you…you helped. A lot. I don't think I could have…have fought them all off. That'd have been… Bad." Pepper admits, still half breathless, but she's gathering herself together by the second. She's not an overreactor, at least not when it comes to life or death situations. She's all business now — cleaning up the mess, moving on. She straigtens a bit more, shoulders squaring off, putting herself slowly back together.

*

Her reassurances check the fellow's retreat, and he stops before withdrawing completely. The stranger watches her put away her mace and step towards him, glancing once at her flush cheeks. His brows hike as she pulls herself together so adroitly, and he reaches down with his left hand to haul one of the bodies out of the way so she can step back down the alley without having to step over the would-be attacker.

"Bad guys," he grunts. "This place went downhill. I don't think anyone would mug a lady in broad daylight. Let alone a classy dame like you." Classy dame? Who talks like that? The man beckons Pepper to follow him and starts back down the alley— on closer inspection, she'd see he's wearing a dark green Army coat, the sort of thing issued in Korea, and his boots are military issued as well. Might be a veteran, particularly with those fighting moves. "C'mon. Let's get somewhere safe. Talk later."

*

"O-okay." Pepper responds quietly, no protest and all trust now. Especially as she sees his military issued boots. That explained the flip — and so much more. Hell, even the way he spoke actually made her smile a bit. It was nice to find someone old fashioned. "…But thank you. Really." Pepper's midtown neutral accented voice offers quietly. She doesn't protest about him moving the thug, but delicately steps over the pooling blood beneath before moving down the alleyway behind him. Her high heels click quieter than before, no longer moving in any sort of panic.

Pepper keeps close, still not really trusting these alleys. At this distance, he'd probably pick up a trace of her perfume, heightened by the sweat of panic. Chanel No. 5, of course. Light and utterly feminine. She hasn't yet cried, screamed, or done anything hysterical, as many women would. She just steps smoothly along side of him, as if they were leaving work for lunch, her walk business like and cool. The only hint something might be off is the fact she still holds her wrist mostly against her center mass, half protecting it. It hurts. But she's practical and she knows how to move. She lets him lead her wherever.

*

They don't stop until they've moved through two blocks of back alleys. The man moves like a stalking cat, quick and purposeful, two long strides ahead of Pepper and his head swivelling back and forth with an alert gaze. One fellow gives Pepper a speculative look, standing in the shadow of an alley kitchen entrance, but a subvocal growl from the stranger sends the man hastily inside.

They stop in a cross section of alleys that forms a rough walking intersection, too narrow for vehicles anymore, and the man turns to face Pepper. He stays just outside of her arms' reach, digging in his pocket, and comes up with a battered silver flask. He uncaps it and takes a quick sip, then passes the flask to Pepper.

"Take a drink. It'll calm you down." It smells strongly of harsh, off the shelf whiskey.

*

She doesn't exactly waver as that man in the alleyway looks at her, but there is a sharpness of Pepper's gaze and a slight catching of her breath which says yes, she saw him and no she wasn't going to let him catch her off guard. Even startled, the redhead is surprisingly adroit about things. Smarter than your average mod girl, it would seem, despite hair bumps and straight cut dress. Occasionally, looks and brains came in the same package.

When the man finally stops, she frowns but slows behind him, coming up just to his side. Her blue eyes flicker around the area, taking it all in and trying to figure out where, in a maze of buildings, she's ended up. But she doesn't quite run from him yet. Then he's sipping out of that flask and she arches a single brow, a cross of almost amusement on her flushed, younger features.

"…I really… shouldn't… But… Alright." Pepper half smirks, booze having been quite a part of her life as of late. She reaches over and accepts the cap, nose slightly wrinkling before she knocks back a good, full shot of the stuff. She doesn't even cough. She does, however, blink against the sudden watering of her eyes.

*

The stranger's eyes go up when she knocks back the rotgut without any complaint, and he waves her off when she tries to return the flask. "Hang onto it for a minute," he says. His tones are clipped, guttural— it would sound like English isn't his first language, but the slang comes to him too easily.

From Pepper's estimation, he's got to be a homeless Korean veteran. Maybe thirty? Stocky, with shoulders so wide they're almost deformed looking, dark sunken eyes, and hair in bad need of a brush and cleaning.

"Dame like you should be more careful about dark alleys," the man grunts, finally. "Your husband probably wouldn't be happy if you got mugged. That's a nice dress you've got on."

*

Now, as she gets a chance to look at him a lot closer, Pepper's heart aches. He's far more of a mess than she was back in that alleyway, his hair a desperate muss, the clothing probably not having been washed in weeks. And he's giving up his flask to her? It spoke a lot for him. She takes another, smaller sip of it before shaking her head and screwing the cap back on so she can hand it back to him, "No, no…I can get more if I need. I'm fine."

Pepper's voice is firm, reassuring, trying to keep herself as professional and together as possible — never let them see you cry. There is just the smallest trace of shakiness behind her tone that says it's probably going to sneak up on her later, when she's safe and alone, where she can cry or scream without being judged. She's got it under control now, though. Mostly.

She's also wearing no wedding ring. The comment about a husband makes her smirk, "…I…I'm not married. My boss would be pissed, but… I could buy anothe dress. It'd be fine. Still… really, thank you, for back there. Is…is there anything I can do for you? Do you need some…some money? Somewhere to go clean up?"

*

"No. Didn't do it for money." The fellow glances at Pepper sidelong, clearly a bit uncomfortable around someone of obvious wealth and social refinement. At her oblique statement about his apprance, he looks down, and presses his palms against the flanks of his ratty surplus jacket, eyes falling away from the leggy redhead. Realization of his shabby state seems to wash over him.

"Um… I don't… know anywhere," the fellow says in that raspy, low voice. "The YMCA is full. No beds. It's all right, there's a park near here. I'll go for a swim," he promises Pepper.

*

Long before commentary about privillege and guilt comes in, well, it's something people most certainly feel. Like in this moment, Pepper's easily replacable purse and money already saved, he giving up what little booze he has — there

*

Long before commentary about privillege and guilt comes in, well, it's something people most certainly feel. Like in this moment, Pepper's easily replacable purse and money already saved, he giving up what little booze he has — there's almost no question for her. She shakes her head gently, "I… I have a place. Long as you promise to keep your hands to yourself, you can come."

Pepper gives him a slightly more warm smile, trying to be encouraging and not show any fear, "You already saved my life, probably. I'd have fought them. Been stupid about it, probably. It wouldn't have gone well. I'd say you're trustable enough for that alone. I… I can order us some food. If you haven't eaten today." The redhead is trying to talk around his homelessness without saying it outright.

*

"S-sure. Some food is good." The stranger nods at Pepper. "Yeah. I— don't worry. I'm not that kinda guy." He holds his hands up in surrender, trying to show his peaceful intent, though he still weirdly doesn't quite make eye contact with the leggy redhead. As if embarassed, perhaps? He's wearing a leather glove on his left hand, the right well callused and short fingered. Working man's hands.

"You fought back. Can't always win, but at least you tried." He shifts in his boots, then moves to follow Pepper when she urges him along. Despite his appearance of being shabby, once they're in a cab, he doesn't precisely -reek- of being homeless, thankfully— he's at least got a sense of personal hygiene, though he smells of a working man, not a cologned upper-class businessman like Pepper is accustomed to.

*

There was a strange touch of comfort to NOT being right next to the high cologne, self important men she comes and goes with every day. Silently settling into the cab next to him was a dramatically different experience than her usual afternoon, and she didn't mind. "Stark Tower, please." SHe instructs the cab driver, a smile crossing her lips as she settles her shoulders back into the seat and turns blue eyes to watch him again.

"I'm not good at taking things laying down. I guess I'll get in trouble for it some day. Right now, it works out pretty well." She admits with a half smile, crossing her legs as they now zip down through the Manhattan streets to the financial district. "You…you were in …Korea?" She asks, noddint to his boots. She's smart enough to recognize them as military, it seems.

*

"Yes." Technically true, though mercifully Pepper doesn't ask what /side/ he was on in Korea. The Winter Soldier has a poker face that would make The Vision jealous— in his wildest planning for this meeting, it never factored into his predictions that she'd take him straight to Stark Tower. So he manages to look mostly sullen and a little uncomfortable as the cab rolls up to the famous landmark, his shaggy brown hair partially concealing his featurs from view.

When they pull in, he digs in his pocket for a peaked military ballcap that looks like it was run over by a car at least once, and tugs it over his brow, low and military-style almost covering his eyes— and conveniently keeping security from getting a good look at him.

He flashes Pepper a look that precisely resembles the expression of a man well out of his social element, but follows her along dutifully into Stark Tower, hands in his jacket pockets and hunched into his shoulders, looking very uncomfortable with the wealth and style surrounding him as they cross the lobby.

*

The ride isn't that far, she was headed home from work after all, and soon enough they are let out into Stark Tower itself. As she walks him past security, she flashes a smile to the woman at the desk with familiar motions. "Evening, Miss Potts!" The secretary chirps, clearly familiar with the red head. She walks past the first bank of elevators which contain all the corporate levels and towards the second bank of lifts which are the few personal condos that live in the building.

After she hits the button, she gives him a more reassuring, warm smile, clearly more relaxed now that she's at home and in her element than she was nearly mugged in an alley outside. "…It's alright. We…we all thank you for your service, really. We appreciate it. No one's looking. Just relax. I'll order some food, you can clean up… It's the least I can do." And then the lift comes open and she's hitting the button for the 50th floor.

*

Winter follows along willingly, head down. It looks nervous and subservient— in fact, he has a magnificent sidelong view of Stark Towers, and without security giving him a glowering over-examination. Potts has unlimited security access, and that goes for her guests, too, it seems. So he counts steps, glances around at security stations, looks for surveillance cameras, and generally memorizes the layout of the lobby by the time they're in the elevator.

He's quiet the entire way up. Not much of a talker, it seems, and he steps out onto the private apartment landing unable to hide a shocked expression. "You… you live here?" He stares at the skyline, the sofas and personal touches that make it an apartment. "I thought… I thought you were a secretary, or something. Did you inherit stock in the company, or …?" He gives Pepper a curious look, removing his cap as he walks into the room.

*

There is something in the back of Pepper's head telling her something is wrong. Perhaps it's the way his head turns, or the narrowing of his eyes. She's generally quite good at reading people and her instincts are beginning to scream. At the same moment, however, she's also telling herself it's just being on edge from the fear of earlier. She's just being paranoid. So, though she gives him a long glance as they get into the elevator, she doesn't stop them from going. She simply smiles.

She doesn't live in a penthouse — that's just Tony — but a condo on one of the top floors. So, it's down the hall from the elevator a little and then she's opening the door to plush carpet and floor to ceiling windows. Everything soft, everything clean. Everything so very much Pepper and even smelling like her. She shuts the door behind them, "I…I guess I technically am. I'm the executive assistant to Tony Stark. Considering that Mr. Stark often needs me at…Odd hours of the night, he felt it best that I moved in so I could run down to the offices any time he needed. So…you're mostly right." Pepper states with a warm smile, "What would you like for dinner?"

*

"Oh. Wow, okay," Winter grunts. "I didn't realize that kinda job paid… so well." He shakes his head, still a bit thunderstruck at the incredible view, and then looks back at Pepper.

A beat passes, and he realizes he's staring at her. Full on, he's not a bad-looking fellow, with sharp cheekbones and the features of someone who's missed a few too many meals— or does a lot of very high calorie exercise. No body fat on his face, but he's got too much muscle in his cheeks to be emaciated.

"I don't know. Never had food delivered. Someone told me that you can get pizza delivered in the city now, is that a thing?" He looks around the room, curious, marking everything, then finally relaxes a little.

"I guess I could stand a shower," he admits, finally.

*

"It is a thing. You want pizza? I know some great places. Though, really, the best pizza comes out of Brooklyn. I can probably get someone to run us some." Pepper states with a wider smile, relaxed a bit more now that he's talking easier and has accepted the offer of food. She's also a hint flushed again, almost blushing at the full sight of his face. It's probably not good to recognize how handsome he is, but that's where her mind is.

She shakes it off a heartbeat later and slips out of her shoes, walking farther into the apartment and down to the little guest bathroom. "I'll set out a few towels for you. I'd…let you borrow some clothes, but I doubt Tony's things would fit you. SOme of the sweat clothes probably would, they have give." He was more muscular than the boss. "I'll get some of those things soon as I put in the order for the food, alright? You need anything else?"

*

"Pizza is fine." Winter removes his boots, stooping, and then straightens up. He moves to the bathroom, pausing when he's near Pepper, one hand on the door. "No. Thanks. I'll be all right. Maybe some water," he adds, as an afterthought. His eyes, a deep brown, flicker to Pepper's, and something like a smile flickers on his face. It's gone in a breath, leaving a lingering doubt if it happened at all, and he goes into the restroom.

The water squeaks on and Winter sheds his clothing, folding it up neatly. He takes the concealed snub-nosed revolver from his waistband and tucks it carefully into a neatly concealed seam in his jacket, and with a glance at the door, finishes stripping and climbs into the shower.

Admittedly, for a moment, the stoic Russian is attacked by the incredible indulgency of the shower. He closes his eyes under the three (three! Decadent! Wasteful!) showerheads and lets the hot water blast off a few days of sweat and restlessness.

*

The smile she swears she sees, even for just a moment, earns a warmer one of her own. Perhaps they could truly do each other a good turn. She gives him a brief nod, then, "Alright, off you go, then." And once he's shut the shower door, Pepper does what Pepper does best — arrange things.

First is a phone call to the best pizza place in Brooklyn, somewhere he and Steve probably went as children, not that he'd remember. Then a call to the tailor for a few things to be sent up in a broad shouldered size, and a fresh duffle bag. Then she's digging out some of the sweat clothing that is around the house. She knocks on the shower door and calls through it. "I have some fresh clothes for you, just sitting outside the door, when you're done!" She really is efficient.

After all that is done, Pepper does take the chance to at least peel off her stockings and take off her jewelry. She is still in her mini-dress, but she looks far more relaxed than before.

*

There's no response to Pepper, but a minute later the water squeaks off and the door opens a crack. Winter's arm and part of his head emerges from the bathroom along with a blast of steam. He picks up the duffel off the ground and disappears into the bathroom, then emerges less than a minute later.

He's wearing a long-sleeved cotton undershirt and the loose exercise pants. He's not a tall fellow, but he's positively barrel-chested and his shoulders stretch the cotton out rather badly. For a homeless man, he's got more muscle tone than a powerlifter. The sweats are a bit too long, so he's got them cinched down as much as possible, the drawstrings dangling.

"Thanks. For the clothes," he says, tugging a glove onto his left hand. Between the cotton and the glove, the skin looks almost grey. "Is there food?" He finds Pepper sitting on the sofa, and comes up a little short at her comparative, casual undress. Realizing he's staring a little with those oddly, weirdly intense brown eyes, he drops his gaze and shuffles the bundle of his clothing under his left arm.

*

The blue eyed woman does her very best not to stare. This wasn't about that at all and he was even a worse idea than Tony. Still, it was hard not to look with that barrel chest and cotton undershirt. She seems a bit surprised about the tone he carries alone, but the war did a lot of things to a lot of people. Pepper gives him a slghtly softer smile, still a hint flushed. "Food should be here any minute. Do you want a drink? I really only keep scotch and gin here, but we might be able to dig up beer from somewhere."

Pepper smoothly unfolds herself from the couch with a flash of bare, long legs and a twist of her hourglass hips as she bustles in the direction of the mini wet bar that she keeps in the far corner. It seems well used and there is still a bucket full of ice on it from somewhere. Maybe its changed out by servants many times a day — this is Stark Tower.

*

Winter tries not to stare at Pepper, but— well, damnit. She's a lot of legs and he's got a thing for redheads. And there's something fresh and soft about her. Innocent, compared to the other ginger in his life. He dares himself not to watch her mixing the drinks, because he's fairly certain she won't try drugging him.

Paranoia wins out, but at least he's focused on the drinks instead of leering at… other things, as she turns her back to him. "Scotch?" he says. It's not a drink for elegant ladies. "I… whatever you will have." He catches a glance of himself in the floor to ceiling window as the lights outside dim with sunset, and realizes how scraggly he looks still. "I'll… be right back."

He ducks into the bathroom and mostly shuts the door, then moves to the sink. He puts a dab of toothpaste on his finger and quickly cleans his teeth with his handkerchief, then grabs a comb and with a lot of suppressed grunts, gets the worst of the tangles out of his hair. It looks only marginally better. Finally he scrubs his fingertips to make sure they're clean and then clips them quickly with a penknife from his pocket.

Winter stares in the mirror at the face that's a bit of a stranger to him, the stark cheeks and the heavy, thousand-yard stare. His jaw flexions as he tries to marshal himself.

"Focus," he mutters, in a bare whisper. "Mission first."

He emerges from the bathroom a few seconds later.

*

"Scotch it is then." Pepper is happy to get them both scotch and water — a single cube of ice for light chilling. The scotch is good enough it needs nothing beyond that splash of water to help open up the bouquet. This was undoubtedly a woman of excellently fine tastes. She blinks in worry, though, as he mentions being right back. "Of…Of course. Do what you need."

*

That is the moment Pepper realizes she doesn't even know his name. "…what in hell are you doing, Pepper…" She mutters to herself, trying to shake her head free and suddenly rather realizing that she may have made a BIG mistake letting a total stranger up to her apartment. But, it's too late now. And the comm unit rings, indication of pizza arriving. She bustles over to the door, telling them to let the person in. There she waits for their dinner, cash in hand from her purse. The exchange is made smoothly and by the time he comes back out there will be utterly delicious smelling pizza waiting and a smiling red head.

"I hope you like pepperoni. The scotch is there. And…I… I realize I don't even know your name. I'm Pepper. Well… Virginia Potts, but everyone just calls me Pepper." She offers her hand before either of them get too greasy with the food.

*

"Pepperoni's fine." He's not a big talker, is he? Still, when she offers that handshake, he dithers a little. As if unsure if it's appropriate to shake her hand. Despite his bulk, he seems almost cowed by the woman's clearly superior social status. But his handshake, while callused and rather granite-like, is very controlled. He clasps her fingertips with awkward, nearly forgotten civility. "John. John Frost." He holds onto Pepper's fingers perhaps a /bit/ longer than propriety would permit, looking into her sharp blue eyes with his dark brown gaze.

"Um. Pepper. Don't know anyone named Pepper," he comments. There's something surely /off/ about the fellow, it's obvious. But… the World War was still fresh in people's minds. Korea, too. No one talks about the men sleeping on street corners or camping in Central Park under old bivy tents. But despite that sense of alert wariness, the very real knowledge that he's a clearly dangerous man— he doesn't seem to bear Pepper any ill will.

"Um. Where do we sit?" he asks, still having not quite let go of Pepper.

*

"The couches are fine. Might as well be comfortable, right, John?" Pepper states with the same warm, almost bubbly smile of before. Her warmth was infectious, the sort of smile that says everything will be alright and she's got utterly everything under control. She gives his hand a gentle squeeze, since he's holding on that long, and wraps her other hand around it, giving him something to hold for a few more heartbeats. "…John… take a breath. You're safe here. You're…not alone."

Pepper isn't entirely sure why she said those words — something in his eyes, something too lost and distant — but it seemed important to say them. Important that she meets his eyes and gets that attention. Lets him know that she utterly means it. So, she did just that. The soft pad of her thumb brushes across the side of his hand for another heartbeat or two, but then she lets go and leads over to the couch. She stops by the radio on the way, putting on the evening jazz hour on low volume, before plopping down with heavy napkins and a box of pizza. See, she didn't have to eat all fancy!

*

Something flickers in 'John's' eyes at that. His fingers tighten a little. The brown eyes go out of focus, then on her face, then out of focus again.

It passes quickly enough, but for a moment, he was miles away.

"Y-yeah. Okay. I'm…" And she's stepping away, leaving his fingers curling around empty air.

He moves to the couch and sits next to her, then reaches for the pizza. He eats it like a pro, two hands, the floppy pie dangling, and digs in.

Well, if he was winning points for manners, his eating habits leavee a bit to be desired. He practically inhales the pizza, though at least he's not eating with his mouth open. Two slices are gone in less than a minute, and he's reaching for a third when he realizes Pepper's probably a bit shocked by his behaviour.

He eyes the piece he's touching, then slooowly withdraws his hand and carefully wipes his fingers, then mouth, with a napkin, missing some of the sauce on his cheek.

"Uh. Sorry. I'm… hungry. Haven't had pizza in… a long time."

*

While she's left his fingers in empty air, Pepper's processing that flicker of something she saw behind his eyes. Maybe she shouldn't have pulled away so quick. Maybe he DID need this more than she realized. But it's too late now. She settles down on the couch, giving him plenty of room and first pick of the pizza, but she doesn't stay too far away. She shows no signs of being scared of wary of him. If anything, she was worried enough to hover a bit closer than is polite.

His ravaging of the pizza actually just makes her grin, a deep chuckle across her lips, "No! No…it's quite alright. I'm glad you're enjoying it, honestly. Eat, please. I'll barely finish a slice." Which is true. She has one of those figures that is just curvy enough it could go plump if she didn't actually work actively on it all the time. So, a single slice it is. She eats like a bird in compare, little, delicate bites, patting free her lips after each one. All her lipstick is gone by the end, leaving that perfectly plump pink mouth which is almost as fetching as the make up. Somehow more innocent.

*

He tries to restrain himself as she encourages him, but the fact is the fellow eats like a soldier who hasn't seen a hot meal in days. So to him goes the lion's share of the meal.

John leans back after the last bite is gone, making a go of cleaning his face with a napkin, and runs his right hand over his stomach. "That was good."

He looks over at Pepper when she dabs at her lips, his eyes intensely focused on her fine, high features. He watches her cleaning up, until her eyes move to his face, and he shifts his gaze a bit uncomfortably. Everything about him suggests someone who's unsure of how to act around Pepper and her magnaminity, or the display of astounding wealth around her. Nevermind who's on the lease— it's her room with the million dollar view.

"Do you like working for Stark?" It's not remotely what he was about to say, his shoulders twisting towards her— wanting to open up to her more, and clearly feeling out of his depth.

*

A single slice of pizza finished, and Pepper is geniunely half stuffed. She sinks back in the couch, sprawling almost, all soft limbs and casual hair now. She still manages to be elegant, somehow. It's like it's ingrained in her very blood, her body wouldn't know how to move in a way that is awkward. She sinks her head to the side in his direction, elbow bent up so she can rest her cheek on her folded hand and watch him comfortably.

"I'm glad you enjoyed the food. I should cook more often. Seems I'm quite good at it." Pepper teases lightly, a wider smile coming across that bare mouth again. Then his question about Stark comes and she sighs gently, "I…I do. I'm good at it and he needs me. I… fit in around here, as crazy as it all is. No day is the same. I had to go out to California for two weeks to talk to scientists last month, it was… madness. And lots of fun. It… keeps me on my toes." She watches him a heartbeat or two longer before daring to ask:

"…What's your story, John? You look so… Tired. I wish I could do more."

*

"On my own." Winter isn't a brilliant liar. So instead of weaving from whole cloth, he borrows from the truth. "Mostly. I have a friend from before… but I don't see her much. She's an actress. Uptown." He gestures vaguely.

Pepper closes the gap between them with an artless ease, and the fellow ducks his eyes away, not quite making eye contact with her. No good— he's staring at her decolletage. He realizes he can't stare anywhere safe, and looks over her shoulder. "Um. Just… figuring some things out," he says, cautiously.

"This is more than enough. Just somewhere safe. A hot meal. The… company." He looks back at Pepper, looking her in the eye. "You're very pretty." A beat. Well, he doesn't equivocate about that rather pointed assertion, looking at Pepper with the patience of a man willing to wait an hour for her to take her turn to speak.

*

The concern on her features just seems to deepen as he mentions being on his own. The sketchy details, not much of anything to tell her things that matter. But maybe the loneliness was more important than the history anyway. The fact he neeed someone HERE and NOW, not in the past. Pepper reaches one hand over, wrapping around his bigger palm again, protective and firm. She's not letting go this time, not like before.

"Well…you don't need to be on your own now. You really helped me out there… I.. well, it's not about owing you, but I trust you. If you need someone, I'm generally here when I can be. I'll make sure you have the phone number. You don't have to be alone." Pepper's small fingertips give a tighter squeeze than before.

Then he's calling her pretty and she just blushes all the way to her temples. Somehow, she's not a woman who just assumes she is pretty. It catches her off guard every time. She clears her throat, eyes bowing behind those heavy lashes. "…You…you're very nice. I'm just…me. Gotta look good for the boss, yanno?"

*

"Never met your boss," Frost grunts. "Heard a lot about him. Big money. I don't— I don't think I could focus if you were my secretary." He watches the blush attacking her fair skin, eyes flicking and dilating a bit. Some food in the stomach, memory of the adrenline of the fight fresh in their minds, and suddenly Pepper's holding his callused palm, and focusing those sultry eyes on him.

"You're too…" He trails off. The words seem a bit hollow to his ears, and he takes a moment to start again. "It's … you are pretty for yourself, not for… him, or me, or… someone." His jaw tics as the words fail to express themselves in the manner he's seeking. "Uh, anyway, I… thank you. This is much nicer than the park. You're too.. too kind." He turns his head back towards hers, but the demure flick of her lashes deflects his gaze, their heads quite close now as she grips his hand so tightly. His fingers tighter around hers, thumb brushing across the back of her raised knuckles with a tentative touch.

*

The comment about focus makes Pepper laugh again, and blush even more. She shakes her head quietly, "He's a genius, when he's got his mind on something, well… That's the only thing in the world that matters. But he's a good man, deep down." Even if Tony doesn't always realize it. She relaxes into the soft brush of his thumb against her knuckles. All of it was calming, really. A more relaxed night than she's had in a while.

"You're welcome. You…you could take the guest bedroom tonight, if you want. It's small but, yes, it's probably better than the park. Though you'll have to ignore the noise if Tony comes in demanding something at 2 am. He does that a lot. Or… I'd be happy to give you the money for a hotel room for a few nights. Just… just something to help you get on your feet. I know you could do it without me but… you don't have to." Another squeeze of her hand. A quiet promise. He's not alone.

*

"No, that's… that's fine, I'll stay."

Frost glances at the bedroom. "I didn't… if you're sure Stark won't mind," he says, in that low, gravelly tone. "I don't want him coming in here and getting mad with you having… you know. A man over," he says, clearly misreading her relationship with the billionaire playboy. Still, he stops. "This is very nice of you. It means a lot to me. I've… been alone for a while now. No one's held my hand in a long time."

"I'll, uh, I'll go to bed now then," he says, shifting a bit. He doesn't quite rise up, or release her fingers yet. It seems he's dithering a little, as if waiting for her to object.

*

"If he gets mad he can go shove it. This is my apartment and my choices. It's not like we're necking or anything!" Even if Pepper's blush suggests that she may have considered it, she's still keeping control as a lady. She is also keeping her hand in his. The noble, determined pride in her face and voice probably tells him that she is NOT a woman who took no easily — or ever. Stubborn as her hair was red, that's Pepper. So she has no worries about him staying here.

"…Bed? That's fine… are you tired? It probably would do you well to get a full night's sleep, truly. Here…" Pepper stands up, though still holding his hand, and tugs him gently back down the hallway towards that bedroom. She'll show him to the little side room, with only a single twin bed in it, but the sheets were clean, the comforter smelled of detergent, and the window looked over the lights of the city. It was small, but lovely. Much like Pepper.

*

The dusky-eyed man doesn't flush, but he does clear his throat when Pepper mentions necking. He nods when she mentions the bed and follows along obligingly, stepping carefully to follow her. They get to the room and he peers in the door, leaning past Pepper. "Is very cozy." An accurate, if terse, observation. "I'm not tired yet. Just—" He leans back, and realizes he and Pepper are crowded together by the doorframe. "Just… wanted to know where it was."

His eyes darken more, opening up, and his callused, warrior's fingers tense on hers a little. "And… where are you sleeping?" he asks, his voice a bit hoarse.

*

The woman lets him lean past her, their shoulders almost brushing just for how very broad he is in compare to her. She still smells like Chanel, but there is a brush of baby powder also, with all of her things other than that dress off. Just hints of someone purely, thoughtlessly feminine. Like it was a very part of her skin.

"Sleeping? Oh…My room." She motions to the door at the end of the hall. "So, if you need anything, just knock right there. I'm a pretty light sleeper. As I said, Tony does get me up…fairly often. Genius doesn't follow a clock, I suppose." Pepper leads him down the last few feet and pushes her door open, showing a bigger, queen bed with elaborate white iron headboard. There is a matching vanity which rests against the window looking over the city. A closet pregnant with dresses and make up practically everywhere. The room smelled like her skin.

*

"It's very nice." Bucky speaks from quite close to Pepper's right shoulder, and when she turns, they're chest to chest. He's not a tall fellow, so they're eye to eye, and his fingers tighten on hers. His expression is indecipherable— as comported as he was during that violent altercation, he seems a bit alarmed now, and somewhat unsure of himself all at once. His fingers stroke Pepper's knuckles, the ruddy hue near his neck a counterpoint to the high flush in Pepper's delicate cheekbones.

He fidgets a little, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Not pulling away, not sure if he should push forward. A guarded man by nature, it's clear Pepper's quite thoroughly put him off his balance with her effortless, feminine allure and simple kindness.

*

All the more dangerous, she doesn't even try to seduce him. Tempted, yes. Flushed. But instead of leaning in and up to kiss his lips, she leans up and presses the lightest of kisses against his forehead. Another brush like the touch of her hand — something to affirm he is not alone. He is in a safe place. He seems to need that more than anything. A heartbeat later she settles back on her heels, looking across to his dark, handsome eyes with a gently worried smile.

"If you're not tired, we could put the television on… I think the Bell Telephone Hour is about to start. It's always a good show. Come on… we can just relax and not worry about the day. Sometimes good to shut off your mind, right?" Pepper states with a wider smile, not having a clue what she's saying, but it's how she relaxes. She tugs him back forward, into the front room, where they can sprawl together on the couch.

*

"That would— that would be good." He seems startled at her gentle kiss, and nods his head at her invitation, though she's propelling him along artfully before he can even really respond effectively.

He drops into the sofa on Pepper's left side, squirming as if unsure of how to be comfortable, and stares at the TV, the shaggy haircut partially hiding his face.

"What show is this?" he asks, sitting upright as much as the sofa permits.

*

The woman steps around the couch, sinking into the sofa herself. She doesn't exactly lean against him, but she draws her feet up so her bare toes are tucked under the outside of his leg and kept warm by the heat of his thigh. That was nice, at least. SHe smiles to him, "Oh, the Bell Telephone hour! It's some of the best music on television. Lots of Broadway, some classical. I know it's not as exciting as American bandstand, but it's more relaxing! I think you'll like it." Pepper gives him one last smile and then settles into relax with him for the night. Even if she has to lead by example.

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