A/N: Because I love love love this movie.
She's on her laptop, fingers fluttering away on the keyboard, when she hears him come up the stairs from his garage. He doesn't say anything, so she continues working, satisfied with the methodical click clack sound of confirmed press conferences and informational meetings.
She doesn't hear him go back down to his workspace, so she assumes there must be something he needs. At last, she presses the little button and sends one more e-mail, before tilting her head up and to the side, glancing at him quizzically. He's wearing a white t and jeans, both liberally stained with what she hopes is motor oil, and his hair is distinctly mussed. He has her full attention now.
He still doesn't say anything, and the silence unnerves her. He's been watching her for the past few moments now, in the way that one might observe a particularly important scientific experiment. Closely, intensely, and entirely off-putting.
"Do you need something, Mr. Stark?" She asks at last. She will not fidget. She is Pepper Potts, personal assistant extraordinaire, the model of professionalism. She will not fidget. Her fingers don't listen, however, and twist nervously under his stare.
He still doesn't respond, his eyes trained on hers. She turns away first, feeling a blush spread from her chest to her hairline, and hopes fervently that he can't see it in the dim lighting. Damn her complexion.
"Mr. Stark, do you need something?" She asks again, and is agitated to find that her voice has risen at least half an octave.
She really shouldn't let him get to her like this. He's done nothing wrong—just standing there, quietly. He's perfectly allowed to, especially since it's his home, his living room, in which they're conversing (or not conversing. That's beside the point.). She's being illogical.
…but ever since that dance at the benefit and that conversation about girlfriends before the press conference, things have been…weird between them. She isn't sure if it's a good thing.
Sometimes, she'll look up from work and catch him staring at her, in that same way. His eyes are unreadable, unfathomable, and concentrated completely on her, like the earth will stop spinning if he looks away, like she's the only thing of note in the room, in the house, in the world. She always blushes and looks away, pretends like she can't feel his dark gaze on her when she subtly exits the room (she always exits. It's the easiest way to deal with this…thing.).
Other times, he'll ask her to pass him something and when she does so, their fingertips will brush or her arm will graze his side as she moves or she'll accidentally bump into his hip as she turns around, and it's like the whole room's on fire then, like her fingers have been singed and burned and it's ridiculous, it's absolutely ridiculous. He's her boss and she's his assistant, and that's that. There is no room for argument.
But right now, though, his eyes are still boring into her side profile, and she can feel it, and she's going to go crazy if he doesn't talk soon.
"Mr. Stark—" she begins, and even she can hear the desperation in her voice.
"Tony," he cuts off. "Pepper, it's Tony. And yes, I do need something."
She literally sags with relief.
"How can I help you, then, Mr. St—Tony?"
He drums his fingers absently on the arc reactor on his chest. He still hasn't looked away from her yet.
"Pack up your laptop," he says at last.
She looks at him in confusion, but does so, shuts the device and slides it carefully into its case.
"Good, good," he murmurs, and then he's covered the room in three strides and is by her side, picks up her computer in one hand and then encircles her wrist with the other, and begins pulling on her gently.
"Tony?" She asks, stumbling along in her four inch stilettos. Women wearing shoes like hers should not be tugged anywhere. "Tony, what is going on?"
He hushes her vaguely and begins humming something under his breath. They troop on down the stairs and down the hallway until they're in his garage. His fingers burn on her wrist, and as she enters, she can smell motor oil and grease and sweat and man. She avoids this place because it sends her senses into overload.
He drags her carefully to a lab table in the middle of the room, steps back for a moment as if envisioning something, and then clears a space out, places her laptop gently onto this area, and then brings his hands to her shoulders and pushes down. The pressure signifies that she should sit in the chair in front of her, so she does, utterly bewildered.
"Thank you?" She says in a small voice, more out of custom than out of comprehension.
"Now you can continue as usual," he says, and flashes her a smile, his attention completely on her again, one of those brilliant grins that he actually means, with white teeth and bright eyes. It makes her heart pound and her knees go weak, and she's so glad that she's sitting down already.
He turns back around to his gadgets and begins fiddling with one of them, expensive, delicate looking metal instrument twiddling and twirling into other expensive, delicate looking metal instrument. She watches him work, utterly fascinated, for a moment. He's always had a sort of gentleness, a refinement in his movements, and it shows so clearly here, at his private laboratory. He is a genius through and through, and despite his eccentricities, she is so privileged to be a part of his world.
Then she shakes her head slightly to clear it, and demands: "Tony, why am I down here?"
A pause. He finishes up his adjustment, and then looks up at her.
"So I can focus," he replies easily. "See, I kept on wanting to look at you, and I can't when you're all the way upstairs and I want to get something done, and if you're perfectly positioned right here, I can glance up anytime and stare all I want, then, newly refreshed, turn back and complete my projects. It won't harm you any, you can still do your work, and now I can do mine, too."
It's easy for him to say. She finds it hard to breathe, let alone do work, after he confessed something like that.
"Tony…" she begins weakly, about to protest.
"Pepper," he says, looking up and staring her in the eye again. "You don't understand. I can't focus otherwise. I seriously got more done in the past five minutes than in the last hour."
Her argument trails off midsentence and she stares at him, openmouthed, gaping most unattractively. He pretends not to notice and goes back to his machinery.
A silence. She struggles to think of something to say but predictably, he comes up with something first.
"Besides," he mutters from his crouched position by his prototypes. "It's not like I'm trying to disturb you. I even turned the music off, for your sake."
She pauses and reflects, and notices that indeed, the room is quiet, save for the soft whirrings of the metal gadgets around her.
"You turned off the music for me?"
He never turns off his music.
"Well, I thought of it as a trade off," he replies, shrugging. "No music, but yes Pepper. Fair enough."
He looks up at her and shoots her a grin again, the heartbreaker kind, and she sucks in a breath and quickly opens up her laptop and begins working, looking for anything to distract herself.
When she's composed again, she sneaks a glance at him. He's back to work, a slight tilt to the corner of his lips, and she can't help but smile, too, as she watches him.