Hey guys, this is the first chapter of my new story! It's about Tony and Pepper. In this universe, there are no superheroes, but Tony is the head of Stark Industries and just like we know him. The title of the story is based on the song 'Shallow' by Lady Gaga, I thought it would fit the plot quite well. The idea came to me some time ago and I just had to write this. Of course I'm continuing my other stories as well. Please let me know what you think of the first chapter!

I don't own the characters or places!


Pepper

The beeping of my alarm clock broke the silence in the bedroom. I didn't have to look at it to know that it was six in the morning. Time to get up and start the day. With a sigh, I deactivated the alarm and sat up in bed. I didn't sleep well – I rarely did these days. For nearly two hours, I've been waiting for the alarm clock to end the suffering that always came over me at night. The endless hours in which I couldn't sleep and just waited to start another day.

It would have been easier to have nightmares, but instead, I couldn't sleep at all.

In the bathroom, I avoided looking into the mirror. I knew what I would see and the image wasn't very nice. Normally, people said that I was a beautiful woman. Tall, with long, red hair and blue eyes. Not to mention the freckles on my cheeks which I've always hated. Most people didn't even see them until they had a closer look at me. In the 34 years of my life, I got used to them by now and didn't have to urge to cover them with makeup anymore.

Now, the image was a little different. Dark rings under the eyes, too thin, an empty look in the eyes. That's how my best friend Daisy used to describe me at the moment. I ignored all her comments about my well-being and just carried on with my days as always, just that it wasn't so easy.

Nothing was easy in my life right now.

After a quick shower, I brushed my teeth and looked at my hair. I tried to disregard the rest of my face in the mirror, but it wasn't that easy. I couldn't ignore that Daisy was right, as much as I wanted it. I looked terrible. Normally, that would bother me. But these days, it just didn't.

I decided to tie my hair together and then I left the bathroom to search for clothes. The dark suit which was lying on top in my wardrobe seemed to be perfect for this day, I'd just remembered that there was an important meeting in the company. It was about one of our new customers, the company I was working for produced computers and other technical equipment. And I, Virginia Potts, was the assistant of our boss, Maria Hill.

Maria Hill was a middle-aged woman who liked to be in control of things. I couldn't deny that she was brilliant and her sense for profitable deals was well-known. She was most probably the richest woman in the city. That didn't mean much since Griffin was just a small town in Georgia, but others said that she was also one of the richest women in the whole state. Hill had considered moving the company to Atlanta a few months ago, but for reasons no one understood she'd decided against it. It wouldn't have been bad for the company to have a better location in one of the bigger cities. I'd always suspected that we would get even more customers then.

Just that most employees would have been against moving. They had their lives here in Griffin and moving to Atlanta was out of question. Until a few weeks ago, I'd agreed with my colleagues. After all, Griffin was my home town. Maybe just a very small and not very exciting town, but it was home. My parents were living in a big house a few miles outside the city and it took only half an hour with the car to visit them. And then there had been Ben, my fiancé, now ex-fiancé. All reasons for me to tell Maria Hill that I would vote against a new location for the company.

Could I say anything else about Maria Hill? Yes, I could. She wasn't just brilliant, but also self-obsessed, moody and she thought that she was better than everyone else. And she let her employees feel it. Most of them didn't get to see her very often, but I was her personal assistant. That meant seeing her every day, for hours. And having to fulfill all her requests, no matter how strange they were. Working with her was exhausting.

And then there was the breakup with my boyfriend a few weeks ago. His name was Ben and we'd been together for seven years. He even asked me to marry him half a year ago. And suddenly, the relationship was over and I was all alone. My parents didn't even pity me, they'd never liked Ben very much. They'd accepted him, but nothing else. The only support I got was from my best friend Daisy, who was working in the same company as me. I was glad to have her because there was no one else. Not anymore.

I really hated my life right now.


"So how was work today?" Daisy asked and looked at me with raised eyebrows. "Did she harass you again?"

I groaned. "Let's not talk about it." I muttered and kept poking in my pasta with the fork. It was in the late afternoon and we'd met for dinner in our favourite restaurant. We did that every Monday since it was the worst day of the week and we wanted to enjoy the evening.

"So she did." Daisy stated and grinned. However, it faded quickly and was replaced by a worried expression. "Oh come on, don't let it get to you like that. The Virginia I know would never let herself be bothered by the comments of our boss. You are so good in dealing with her, every time she's mean, you just make a sharp comment and then everything's fine again."

It was true, I had been able to deal with Maria Hill before, even if I'd often feared for my job after telling her my opinion about her behaviour at first. Strangely, she never seemed to be bothered by my comments. She'd just accepted them and we got along well. In fact, I was her only assistant that lasted longer than a few months. I've been working for her for over five years by now. Some people said that it was because I did my job well, but others suspected that she also liked me. I hoped they were wrong, though. I already got enough nasty comments for getting along well with Maria Hill, I didn't even want to imagine how it would be when the rumour that she liked me spread in the company.

However, all those things weren't true in the past weeks, or even before that. When she told me that I was stupid, I couldn't just ignore it anymore. And I made mistakes, which never happened to me before. I didn't even know what to say when she was being stupid again.

All those things were caused by my personal problems. The problems I wanted to hide from everyone else so badly. It didn't work, though. The entire city seemed to know about my breakup with Ben by now. Maybe because it was a small town. Or maybe because Ben was walking around with his new girlfriend. The one he'd betrayed me with.

"Hey, V, are you alright?" Daisy's voice ripped me out of my thoughts. "Don't look at me with that dark look on your face. Otherwise, it will never vanish again."

I know that this was an attempt to cheer me up, but I just couldn't smile. Or even laugh. "I'm fine, Daisy." I said and couldn't deny that I sounded tired. "It's just been a long day. The meeting didn't go as planned."

"It didn't?" Luckily, she accepted my attempt to change the subject. Everyone in the company knew about the new deal we wanted to make with another big company in Atlanta. It also reached our mechanics like Daisy, who didn't have to deal with company politics and stuff like that.

"No, it was horrible, to be honest. They think we're too expensive. Kept telling us that our technology isn't worth the price. Apparently, they were offered another deal by a company from Columbus." I summarized the meeting in short words.

"I bet Hill is furious now?" Daisy asked and to my surprise, she didn't look very happy. Maybe because she'd helped to invent the new computers we wanted to sell.

"You have no idea." I muttered, remembering how she'd shouted at me in her office, right after the meeting. Luckily, no one could hear us from there.

"So she freaked out." Daisy was far too good at reading me.

"She did. Said I'm stupid and that this was all my fault. Next time, I should make sure to keep the deal, otherwise she'll fire me. Apparently, there was a mistake in her papers. Even if I'm sure that they were fine when I last checked them Friday afternoon." The frustration was getting stronger again and right now, I just wanted to go to sleep and forget my whole life.

"Virginia..." Daisy began hesitantly and sighed. "I'm sure that the papers were alright and Hill just searched for someone to blame. Since you helped her to set up the whole deal, it doesn't surprise me that she chose you."

The way she'd said my name made me suspicious. Did she also think that I was responsible for this disaster? I narrowed my eyes. "You agree with her." I muttered darkly. "You also think that I made a mistake and didn't realize it! Just because I'm having a bad time right now, that doesn't mean that I can't do my work anymore!"

"I didn't want to say this, please calm down again!" Daisy was looking around carefully now, to make sure that no one had noticed my outburst. However, except for an elderly couple, the restaurant was empty. After all, it was Monday evening in a small town. "It's just... Yes, you're having a hard time. And now this happened today. I was just thinking that maybe you need a vacation."

"A vacation?" I repeated.

"To calm down." Daisy continued. "It's been nearly three months now since Ben left you."

"He betrayed me." I muttered. "Right after he proposed to me."

"Yes and he's an ass, I won't deny it. I even tried to hit him once when I met him in the supermarket."

"You did what?" I stared at her and she smiled slightly.

"He can't just hurt my best friend like this."

"Did it work?" The question left my mouth before I could stop myself.

"Of course not, you know how fast he can react." It was true, Ben was practising martial arts for years now. He already did that when I first met him nearly eight years ago. Daisy sounded disappointed and I felt that too. He would really deserve this.

"What a shame." I shook my head.

"Next time I'll make sure to come from behind." She assured me. "Then he won't get a chance to react."

"Just make sure that you won't get problems because of this." I threw in quickly.

Daisy laughed. "I won't! The owner of the shop also thinks that he's an idiot."

"Mr. Meyers?"

She nodded with a grin. "He really likes you. And he says it's a pity that you don't go shopping there anymore. He said he always enjoyed your short conversations." I was avoiding the supermarket since Ben was going there regularly. With his new girlfriend. Sometimes, I really regretted this. The owner, Mr. Meyers, was very nice. Next to his work there, he was an artist. I'd even bought one of his drawings a few years ago. It showed a landscape just outside our town, close to where my parents were living. A lake I'd visited very often in my childhood.

"I enjoyed them too." I agreed and suddenly, the sadness that always accompanied me was back. Sadness over the life I've lost so abruptly. Was something wrong with you when you didn't notice that your fiancé was betraying you? That he did it for months until he finally found the courage to confess what he'd done? He broke up with me three months after he proposed and then, he'd already betrayed me for two months... Why did he propose then?

"Stop thinking about this right now!" Daisy demanded and I looked up at her in surprise. "You're thinking of him again." Her voice became softer. "You have to let him go, V. He's not worth your thoughts anymore. He's a stupid ass and he broke your heart. You have to move on."

"How can I move on in a small town where everyone knows what happened?" I asked helplessly. "Everyone still keeps looking at me with pity in their eyes. And my parents don't want to talk to me anymore, they just said I got what I deserved! My dad has been against my relationship with Ben right from the beginning and now he's satisfied that he was right. My mum told me so when she called." I added when I saw the curiosity in Daisy's eyes. My mother called me regularly, but my father didn't. As the years with Ben passed by, he withdrew from me more and more. First, it hurt, but after some time, I got used to this. Now that I was all alone again, it was different, though. At least my mother called every few weeks.

"Then don't try to move on here." Daisy said suddenly and smiled. "I've always thought that you don't fit into this small town. You're so smart, you're wasting your life here, Virginia. This is your chance to leave and start a whole new life. Without the talks of people who think they know you, but don't understand anything. Without your parents, the annoying job and Ben."

I stared at her. "You really mean that, don't you?" My voice was barely a whisper.

Daisy was still grinning. "Why not? Go to a big city, start your career there, find someone new to love. You can do anything if you want it."

"It's not that easy to find a new job in my age."

"You're not old, V. Just think about it. A change would do you good." Suddenly, she pulled something out of her bag. It was a job advertisement. "I found this in the internet last evening and I think it would be perfect for you." She handed me the paper, but I didn't look at it. I kept staring at her.

"You're actually serious." I whispered and shook my head. "I can't just leave everything behind! I've got a life here."

"Name three things that are good in your life here in Griffin." She said in a challenging tone.

I already opened my mouth to tell her when I realized that I didn't know what to say. Was there anything good in my life? I didn't have a real family, they didn't even want me to visit them. My job was horrible. I've been betrayed and I was all alone. "You're my best friend." I said weakly and Daisy grinned.

"I thought so." She replied and I could hear the satisfaction in her voice.


Later at night, I was lying in my bed and stared at the ceiling. The conversation with Daisy wouldn't leave my mind. Was I still happy here? Did I enjoy my life at the moment? I wasn't so sure about this. The past months have been a mess. I just wanted to start to plan the wedding when Ben announced that we needed to talk.

And then he confessed his relationship with another woman. I didn't even know her name, I didn't let him say it, not wanting to know anything about her. Apparently, he'd met her in the city. They talked and then he just realized that he liked her. They met again and then... I didn't want to imagine him having sex with another woman not long after he proposed to me. He always used to tell me that I was the only one for him and that he loved me more than anything.

I'd been such a fool. He'd been lying to me all along, probably even for years.

Maybe a change really would help me to get over all this. Start again in another city, leave everything behind. A clean slate. But that would also mean that I had to leave Daisy behind, my best friend. We've known each other since our first year at school. She was always there for me when something happened. Of course she was also married by now and had a life on her own. I would really miss her. On the other hand, it was her idea for me to get a new job...

My eyes fell on the job advertisement on the nightstand. I'd just put it there without really thinking about it. Now I took the paper and switched on the lamp.

Personal assistant wanted. The headline said and I read the description of the job a few times. It would fit my qualifications, that was true. And it sounded interesting.

Stark Industries in Los Angeles, California. I'd never heard of that company before. In the internet, I found out that they were new in the business of clean energy. They'd entered the field just a few years ago. And now the head of the company needed a new personal assistant.

Los Angeles. A big city at the other end of the country. I've never been in the west before. The only big cities I've seen so far were Atlanta and New York. I've always wanted to see LA, but I never got the chance. Until now.

I stood up and walked to my kitchen table. The laptop was there and I opened it quickly. A fresh start, maybe it would really be good for me.

I opened an empty document and began to write.