Disclaimer: The characters and situations in this story belong to Marvel Comics, Fairview Entertainment, Dark Blades Films, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This one could be considered a prequel to Mnemosyne's Lock, but it doesn't have to be. Written for Cincoflex, who graciously let me post it!

Note: There is now an NC-17-rated sequel at my site, LightInTheMirror dot com.


It was the laughter that woke him.

Tony opened his eyes to the familiar sight of his own living room, brimming with late afternoon sunlight. He blinked sleepily, then stretched every muscle in one long, slow extension, listening to the pop and crackle of tendons and vertebrae. He felt relaxed, heavy with hard sleep.

He yawned, scrubbing at his hair with both hands, and wondered where Pepper had gone; his last memory was of settling his head into her lap as she made phone calls on the couch, clearing out her voice mail on a slow Friday afternoon.

Then he heard her laugh again, and smiled. What's she doing downstairs?

"Time, Jarvis?" Tony asked, standing and stretching again.

"It is 6:04 PM," the AI replied, and Tony sighed and yanked his sleeveless shirt back down over his stomach. Which repaid him by growling.

Right. Time to convince the efficient Ms. Potts to put down the BlackBerry in favor of dinner. Grinning, Tony headed for the stairs, making plans to talk her into a night out on the town. Sure, it meant dodging paparazzi, but showing off his gorgeous, delectable girlfriend was always a blast.

Not to mention, there was something extremely satisfying in taking her out and plying her with amazing food...in making her feel special. Tony didn't ever want her to forget that he valued her for herself as well as her skills.

He started down the stairs to his workshop, rounding the curve and considering which restaurant should have the honor of dumping someone's reservation in favor of a table for two, last name Stark, when he rocked to a sudden halt. And just stared.

Pepper was laughing, sure enough. Her heels lay forgotten next to one of his workbenches, and as Tony watched she ran in stockinged feet across the open expanse of concrete next to his cars--with Butterfingers in hot pursuit. The robot was zipping along as fast as its treads would permit, and seemed as close to a grin as something without a face could manage.

Fascinated, Tony folded his arms and leaned against the wall of the stairwell. Butterfingers managed to trap Pepper between two of the cars, and she yipped and dodged, but not fast enough--Butterfingers' extended arm tapped her lightly on the shoulder as she tried to twist past. The robot drew back with a definite air of smugness.

Pepper laughed again, bending over to rest her hands on her thighs and pant. "All right, you got me! Give me a minute."

Butterfingers rolled backwards, lowering its arm in a bow, and Pepper straightened. "Ten, nine, eight--"

As she counted, the robot scooted away, and Pepper sped up. "Seven-six-five-fourthreetwoone!" And she dashed after Butterfingers.

It was just about an equal contest, Tony observed with delight--Butterfingers was a fraction faster, but Pepper could corner better. Within ninety seconds she reached out and managed to slap the robot's casing, and it whined to a halt.

As the game resumed, Tony made his way down the rest of the stairs, grateful that she'd left the door open. Pepper was in delicious disarray, her hair coming out of its ponytail and her face flushed with running and laughter. As she backed away from Butterfingers' advance, Tony stepped up behind her, timing it so that she edged right back into his arms.

She jumped and squeaked, and he wrapped her up securely, smirking at the slowing Butterfingers. "Gotcha."

"Tony!" Pepper craned her head around, and he took advantage, rubbing his nose along her cheek.

"Game over," he said, and glanced back at Butterfingers, who looked crestfallen. "Shoo. Get out of here, and I'll write you a better chase subroutine tomorrow."

The robot backed slowly away, and Pepper squirmed. "Tony, I--"

He tightened his hold. "Ah-ah, Ms. Potts, to the victor go the spoils." Her cheeks were red now, with what he guessed was embarrassment. He lowered his tone to the register that usually produced goosebumps on her velvety skin. "Just how long have you been distracting my robots with wild games of Tag?"

"I--um--" Tony began nibbling on her throat, right under her ear, and felt her shiver. "I needed the pen he was holding--"

And once told to hang onto something, Butterfingers complied. Tony made a mental note to run back the house video and see just how she'd solved that problem. "I'm disappointed, Potts. You didn't invite me."

Her body was relaxing, and her chuckle vibrated against his lips. "Clearly an oversight, Mr. Stark. I won't make that mistake again."

"See that you don't." Tony nipped lightly at the join of her neck and shoulder, and then released her, opening his arms. "In the meantime..."

She turned, looking back at him inquiringly. Tony smiled, slow and wicked. "Ten...nine..."

Pepper's eyes widened in mock fear, and she bolted. Laughing, he chased after her.