I had this idea a few days back, and I wrote it in two hours tonight. So for the third night in a row, I'm off to get my 5 lousy hours of sleep, and hope that I can stay awake in class tomorrow.

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Jackson Pollock

By ZionAngel

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"What're you trying to hustle me out of here?"

"Your flight was scheduled to leave an hour and a half ago." She has that low-level annoyance in her voice, the kind she only emerges when he doesn't do something he's supposed to. He knows it well.

"That's funny," he replies, beginning his teasing banter, the kind he only uses with her when she is being too serious. "I thought with it being my plane and all, that it would just wait for me to get there."

As usual, she continues as if he has said nothing at all, and to his mind, that's half the fun. "Tony, I need to speak to you about a couple of things before I get you out of here." He knows she's feeling detached and professional from the use of his first name. She doesn't call him that in the moments when they are friends instead of employer and employee - then he's Mr. Stark. She's odd that way, like she's trying to maintain some constant balance, not too professional, not too personal.

"I mean," he begins, wiping his hands on a rag and turning to her, "doesn't it sort of defeat the whole purpose of having your own plane if it departs before you arrive?"

She begins her first word before he finishes his last. They mastered that art long ago, and both can speak simultaneously, yet still catalogue and comprehend everything the other is saying in real time. It's their rhythm, and he likes to think she enjoys it the way he does. "Larry called, he has another buyer for the Jackson Pollock in the wings. Do you want it, yes or no?"

He hides a smirk from her. He had almost forgotten about that thing. He had seen the photo Larry had sent over only once, and that was all it took to convince him that this Pollock guy was a certifiable quack. It looked like a three-year-old had been let loose in an art studio all day. He has never picked up a brush in his life, and he could still probably create an exact replica of that painting in ten minutes flat. He hates the ugly thing, and he would very much like to know who decided that it even qualified as 'art' in the first place. But it doesn't matter. The painting isn't for him.

"Is it a good representation of his spring period?" He asks, feigning the interest and careful deliberation of a knowledgeable buyer. He is really only looking for a confirmation of her opinion, even though she made it quite clear several weeks ago, when she presented him with the offer to add to his 'collection.' He hadn't even recognized the name when she told him, and she had quickly explained to him, in somewhat offended shock, that Jackson Pollock was only the single greatest expressionist painter in American history (and as far as she was concerned, she had added quickly, one of the most incredible creative minds the world has ever been graced with). So, he had absent-mindedly inquired about the piece for sale, glancing up from his computer in time to see the quiet look of awe in her eyes. It's amazing, she had said. It's beautiful.

"Um… no," she begins hesitantly, as if he won't understand (which, apparently, he doesn't). "The Springs is actually the neighborhood in East Hampton where he lived and worked -"

"So?" He truly couldn't care less about the painting, except to know if she still loves it as much as did before.

"- not spring like the season." She contemplates his question for a second, and he can see that she is barely able tone down her enthusiasm. "I think it's a fair example. But I think it's incredibly overpriced."

With that, he makes his decision. "I need it." She smiles at him as he stands, and he isn't sure if she's happy at his choice, or if she just thinks that he really is that predictable. "Buy it, store it." And maybe he is that predictable, but in his experience, 'incredibly overpriced' always makes for the best birthday presents.

She forces him to go through some other business, and he replies and banters absently as he imagines the look that will be on her face when she sees it. He has it all planned out - he'll make her go home early the night before her birthday, and have it hung in her office once she's gone. He is considering finding a giant ribbon to tie around one corner, but he still isn't sure if that would be too over-the-top. And then in the morning, he'll be sure to wake up long before she gets there, and come up with some reason why she has to go to her office the moment she arrives, and why he has to follow her. She'll open the door, and walk in, and freeze in her tracks when she sees it. He can picture every detail of her face - her mouth and eyes wide as she stares, and she'll stutter like an idiot, unable to get three coherent words out, and then, finally, she'll smile. He still won't understand what she sees in it, but he won't care because she'll look at him with that smile and those elated eyes, and it will be worth it just for that.

He has always loved to see her smile, genuinely and happily, and he still can't fathom why. He just likes the way it makes him feel deep down, to see her face light up, especially when he has something to do with it. It makes him happy to see her happy.

She's holding a document and pen out to him now, and he catches the words "before you get on the plane." She's always got some strategy to get him moving.

"What're you trying to get rid of me for? What, do you have plans?"

She looks him in the eye and pauses for a half second. "As a matter of fact, I do."

"I don't like it when you have plans," he says, in his best five-year-old style, the one he uses when he is trying to get things his way.

She gives him an exasperated look, and he could swear there is a bit of hurt in those eyes. "I'm allowed to have plans on my birthday."

He stares at her with slightly wide eyes, feeling time and everything else come to a screeching halt. "It's your birthday?"

"Yes."

Shit. "I knew that." How the hell did that happen?! "Already?" he asks, panicking, as if she'll tell him that it's just a joke, that it really isn't for another three weeks, like he thought, and that his plans haven't been ruined.

"Yeah, isn't that strange?" She's trying to act casual, like she expected this and doesn't care and just wants to get on with business, but now he can see the hurt clearly, and his heart sinks. "It's the same day as last year…."

"Well," he says, trying to sound detached as well. "Get yourself something nice for me." He knows he isn't what might be called 'responsible,' and is more often referred to as 'forgetful' and 'insensitive,' but he thought the least he could do was keep one little date straight in his head, for something that is important to one of the few people he actually cares about. Apparently not -

"I already did."

He jumps straight past the part where she saw his stupidity coming from a mile away, and right to the part where he has already given her a present (he paid for it, after all, and that makes it his gift), the part that gives him back a little spark of hope. "And?" he grins, hoping he'll still get to see it….

"Oh," she replies, her tone and the look in her eyes picking up, "it was very nice." He can almost see it, creeping out from her eyes, and slightly onto her face. He doesn't breathe as he watches her intently, waiting and hoping. "Very tasteful." There it is - that smile, that mischievous, happy smile that says that, for him, she might be willing to forgive the unforgivable. "Thank you, Mr. Stark." And the formal words prove that she anything but his assistant right now, that she is his friend, and he has made her happy.

He grins back a little, feeling a soothing warmth wash over him. "You're welcome, Miss Potts." He is glad that he got to see that smile after all, even if it didn't go exactly as planned.

He figures he has put her through enough for one day, and signs the document, hands her his tiny espresso cup, and walks straight past the disassembled hotrod and up the stairs to get ready to leave.

Looks like the over-rated Pollock will just have to wait.