These are ten little ficlets I wrote in response to a meme that went around LiveJournal. The gist of it was to put your music player on random and write a ficlet for the fandom/pairing/character of your choice, and only take the length of each song to write it. So that's what I did, with my choice of the pairing of Tony/Pepper. When the song ended I merely finished the sentence I was on, and if I came to an ending before the end of the song, I used that time left to fix up other things earlier in the bit. These haven't been edited since except to place them in a sort of chronological order (from pre-movie to mid-movie to post-movie), so take them as raw little pieces of musically-inspired fiction, with genres ranging from angst to introspection to unabashedly romantic. I'll lead off each bit with the song that inspired it.

Jessica Andrews, "I Will Be There For You"

No one said it'd be easy. Well, that had been true from the start. Being Mr. Stark's personal assistant was markedly more difficult than fulfilling that role for most anyone else, and that's why the position was so perpetually empty. That is, until Virginia Potts walked onto the job in her strappy heels and immaculate pantsuit, following some sort of interesting situation involving Stark Industries security and a baseless threat of pepper spray. The office came up with an informal betting pool for each hopeful for the position, each business major with big dreams who had the least accurate image possible of what it'd mean to work for Tony Stark--and they'd all been women. The most generous bets gave "Pepper," as she came to be known, a week. When that was done, there was a reorganization of the pool for the first time ever, an admission that this one must be made of sterner stuff than the others, and someone gave her a month, tops. Too bad no one won that bet; the stakes had gotten rather interesting.

Somewhat notable beginnings, but really, rather inauspicious, given all that happened since. She was a permanent fixture now, and even those at the office who predated her employment (and there were a few of those) admitted that they couldn't really imagine Stark Industries, and especially Tony Stark, without her there in the picture too, badgering him into meetings he'd rather skip. It just seemed to go without saying that she was there, a constant shadow keeping his life in order.

Rascal Flatts, "What Hurts the Most"

She was still showing up to work, though she was running out of work to do. There really wasn't much that she could do, not when the person she assisted was...was currently unavailable, she preferred to think of it that way. Appointments could only be cancelled once, and couldn't be rescheduled if there was no way of knowing when he'd be back. When, she insisted, not if. When. She wouldn't let anyone insinuate that he wouldn't be back, not in her earshot. Somehow, he would be back. He was Tony Stark, they'd find him, he'd be back and everything would be back to normal, and he might even drop a slight compliment of appreciation for all the work she'd gotten done while he was gone, probably disguised as a disparaging comment or some sort of halfhearted innuendo. And she'd make some barb in response or maybe just sigh at him, and everything would go back to normal.

She was even going through the statements and summaries and reports that had long been on the back burner and were just so tedious that she usually gave them to someone else to handle while she worked on the more pressing matters, and there was never any shortage of those, or at least what Tony thought was more important. No shortage until now, that is. Burying herself in meetings minutes and pages and pages of financial summaries was far preferrable to facing her coworkers and the sympathetic glances that made her eyes suddenly sting. She did realize that this level of dedication went above and beyond her duty, but Pepper Potts would rather be too busy to think. She had to keep herself together, especially where anyone could see. Night was when she no longer had anything to occupy herself, and night was when the thoughts and fears and regrets would come crashing down on her. But there'd be little sign of it in the morning. Just a little bit more frayed around the edges.

Berlin, "Take My Breath Away"

She didn't even know if he had heard the end of her drink request--vodka martini, extra dry, extra olives--he'd vanished back downstairs so fast. She sounded like an idiot, she knew it. She was stammering, uncertain, completely flustered, with her heart still racing.

What the hell had just come over her? Granted, here she was in this dress, a dress she never would have worn to any function if she was officially accompanying Mr. Stark as he represented Stark Industries. But he'd been buried in the shop for so long and hadn't made any indication that he was even aware of this one. And he usually avoided charity events as a general rule, said there was little use to him showing up, they'd appreciate the check more. So she'd thought it was safe.

Instead, she got this. A nervous dance, awkward almost-admissions, an attempt to get fresh air marred by even more awkward conversation, and then... Whatever the hell that had been. She refused to think about it, and instead just focused on getting her breathing under control before Tony returned with her drink.

Angels & Airwaves, "The Gift"

"You know, you don't have to make up for all those missed birthdays." Pepper was smiling as she said it; she couldn't hide the smile at his continued insistance, so she didn't even try anymore.

Tony was trying hard to look casual about it. "Of course I do. It was a terrible oversight, though really, I can't be expected to keep up with these things, and that's why I have you. But it's a bit silly to tell you to remind me to get you a gift on your birthday, isn't it? That is a bit silly, right?"

"If you say so, Mr. Stark. But that is why I took care of it myself, remember?" she reminded him gently, trying to turn her attention back to the sushi rolls in front of her. Just another casual business lunch with her boss, really, that's all this was. One where the topic of conversation was birthday presents instead of business meetings.

"Right. The dress." He leaned back in his chair, and she saw that thoughtful gleam in his eye as he considered her across the table. "It was a very nice dress, have I mentioned that?"

"Yes, you have, Mr. Stark. A number of times." It really wasn't so much about the business anymore. Much more about the pleasure of each other's company.

Def Leppard, "Hysteria"

This wasn't the way it was supposed to go, was it? It wasn't like any of the stories at all. But then again, very little that involved Tony Stark ever followed convention. She couldn't even get him to stick to the cards for a single press conference. But this wasn't the result of some sudden desire to be contrary and unpredictable, as happened so often. This was just the way it had gone, and she doubted either of them had noticed at the time it started, much less shaped the course.

All she knew was that there was a certain familiarity that was gone from their interactions. No, not gone; it was still there, but changed, shifted into something wholly different and yet still providing that same comforting routine. Just that now she was hyperaware of him, and not in the sense she had been before, attending to what he needed before he even knew he needed it. This attention to his hair wasn't with an eye to whether he needed it combed before stepping in front of the cameras, it was to how charming it looked when it was slightly disheveled like that. No, this was a hyperawareness of his presence in so many little ways that were driving her to distraction, even and especially of his proximity to her, and just what that was doing to her heartrate.

She might as well admit it; she was falling for him. No, had fallen, and that happened a long time ago, she just hadn't noticed, what with all the appointments and phone calls. And try as she might, there wasn't much use to denying it or trying to shove it to the back of her mind much longer. Something with this much momentum behind it couldn't be stopped just like that, and definitely couldn't be denied to her anymore.

But there was the question. Had he noticed? Was he just as fixated on her as she was on him?

U2, "Mysterious Ways"

She probably knew him better than anyone else, but that really wasn't saying much. Tony was difficult to figure out even when he wasn't trying to be difficult. He just moved on a different wavelength than most people. His mind was always working, always taking apart a situation and putting it back together at lightning speed, and very few people could keep up with him for long. And even after all these years of working for him, Pepper was still regularly mystified by Mr. Stark.

In constrast, she was painfully obvious, or at least, she felt so. She couldn't lie believably, so that considerably limited her options at keeping things hidden, and it was easy to take silence as assent when a pointed question was asked and couldn't be deflected. So really, she was very confused indeed when Tony admitted to her, out of the blue, that he found her difficult to figure out.

"Not always. You're not always a mystery. But really, Ms. Potts, there's a lot about you that I'm dying to find out. For myself, and no one else's benefit."

Journey, "Stone in Love"

"You act like you've never seen me in jeans before."

"I haven't. At least, I don't think I have. I mean, it's not part of your usual wardrobe at the office. But I'm thinking it should be. Do we do Casual Fridays? We should, in fact, make a note of that, we're going to have Casual Fridays and you're going to wear those jeans."

Pepper couldn't help but smile at Tony's near-childlike enthusiasm for this idea. She had to admit, she did look good in the jeans, and yes, it wasn't something she usually wore when she was at work (because that was at work, of course), but she'd almost accuse Tony of exaggerating just for the sake of her reaction. It was the kind of thing he'd do, often did, but in this case, it seemed to at least be based in genuine appreciation. "Don't you think that would be a bit distracting?"

"Hmm. Good point. But I like that kind of distracting." Yes, he was openly admiring her now, and it gave her a slight flutter to realize it.

Still, she tried to retain some vague hint of professionalism, even if this wasn't work by any means, and their relationship had recently been completely redefined from its former boss/assistant dynamic. If she let him keep going with that train of thought, she knew where it'd end, and they had a picnic on the rooftop to enjoy first.

Mêlée, "Built to Last"

Well, it certainly wasn't ever dull. Not that it ever had been, her life with Tony, but back then it had been Mr. Stark, and all business. Somewhere along the way that had changed, and she was rather mystified at just where that had happened. Of course, she could always point to that dance, and what had almost-happened right after, as the point where things really started to change, but honestly, something had been happening before that. That night just put it all into a much different perspective, a forced perspective. And this was apparently the logical conclusion, for some version of logic. Apparently it made more sense when you weren't in the middle of it, or so she'd heard.

He liked to explain things with technical jargon. Most of the time it went completely over her head. It was rather amusing when he attempted to apply it to their relationship, and he'd often get frustrated when a metaphor fell short. She'd remind him that it wasn't the sort of thing that was easy to put into words. After all, hadn't poets and songwriters been trying for centuries to do just that? But she had to admit, there was a certain charm to his comparisons. It was a very Tony thing to do.

Colbie Caillat, "Realize"

"Why not?"

"Why not? That's all you can say? Isn't this kind of a big deal?"

He shrugged--he shrugged! She couldn't help but stare at him, cross her arms and give him one of those looks, and in return he looked unrepentant. No, actually, she realized in a moment of sudden insight, that was just an facade. There was a flicker, a micro-expression, a moment where his face gave away something other than completely casual Tony. His words didn't reflect that. "Sure, big deal, I guess it is, but really, I think at this point it's pretty obvious."

She weakened a bit, just a bit, not because of his words but because of what she'd seen for that moment. "To us, maybe," she admitted. "It's different when everyone else knows."

"I think everyone else is kinda clueing in already," he said with one of those half-smirks that drove her crazy--in two completely different ways. "Why not make it official?"

"Tell the world that infamous playboy Tony Stark is officially off the market?" she asked, letting a teasing tone enter her voice, and rewarded for it by a slight ease of tension in his body language, another tiny flicker, this one of relief.

"Well, yeah, that. Add the part where I'm dating you, though, I think that's the important part."

"Is this going to be another fiasco of a press conference?" she asked archly.

"No, but I like that idea."

Explosions in the Sky, "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept"

It wasn't like she'd be able to get any sleep when he was out on a mission. Sure, she could try, and eventually she might doze off on the couch for a moment or two, but it wasn't something she could maintain for long, not in such a heightened state of worry. She told herself it was because had to be ready when he returned. Nevermind that Jarvis would give her an alert when he was on his way back, and again when he was almost home. She still couldn't get her mind to calm down long enough to sleep.

And when he did get back, what then? He might be fine. Maybe the simple recon went just as planned and he didn't even have a scratch on the paint job. But more likely would be the scorch marks and scrapes that indicated combat, and foretold that beneath the armor, he was going to be bruised at the very least. She was glad that she'd had basic first aid training, a class that she'd taken just because it might come in handy, and she was going to a more advanced course, the kinds of things they taught wannabe-EMTs. Because Tony wasn't going to want to involve a doctor. For one thing, there was the arc reactor to consider. For another, he was just that stubborn. Though if it was needed, there were medical facilities that SHIELD could provide. Tony just didn't want to take them up on that, but she told herself that it might not be Tony's call if he needed it that badly. She hoped and prayed, each time he went out, that it wouldn't come to that, and he wouldn't return home unconscious with the armor on auto-pilot, guided in by Jarvis. She didn't know how she'd handle that. She had a relatively cool head under pressure, but it was easier to keep a cool head when broken bones and blood weren't so immediately involved. Or so she presumed. It hadn't come to that yet, but she knew it would someday.

She wouldn't be able to sleep until he was back. Until the armor had been stripped, easily or slowly, depending on its damage and the damage to the body beneath. Until wounds had been attended as they needed and as she could, and she hoped it was just bruises and scrapes she'd have to handle because it really was all she could handle with a calm composure. Until he looked at her with that gaze that told her he'd seen things that he'd never describe to her. Likewise, she'd never tell him the details of what went through her mind when he was gone, all the terrible worries and fears. She didn't want to put words to them, because that would be admitting to them, and then he might admit to just how likely they would be. It was a superstition, a skirting of the issue, and she was very familiar with that old dance. They'd return to the bedroom, conversation minimal, reduced only to obvious observations and that usual affirmation, spoken quietly as if raised volume would be too much to bear right now. And then, fueled by physical and emotional exhaustion, they would sleep.