I thought I'd get this up before going to the baseball game...but no such. :(

I'm mostly following the movie canon, setting this between Iron Man 2 and leads up to The Avengers, but I'm factoring in the comics as well. I think that makes more sense, personally. That and I find Pepperony more awkward as these movies progress. XD

I really wanted to do a backstory to my OC, Riley, from Full Circle. So...I tweaked the old Stereo Love story and came up with this.

The beginning pace is a little slow, I have to admit, but it always takes me a bit of time to get things going. I hope you all like it!

Also, Full Circle's new chapter is about half done as I post this. ^_^

Edit: All errors (hopefully) corrected.

If there was one thing that Virginia 'Pepper' Potts did not like dealing with, it was most definitely a 'stubborn to the point of being borderline obnoxious' Tony Stark. Had it not been her boss and friend, though, she wouldn't have.

"You're sure there's nothing I can do to keep you here, Pep?" He did nothing to hide the annoyed tone to his voice.

Pepper glanced lovingly down at the diamond on her ring finger. She had to step back a little, she needed this.

Tony didn't miss that look to her ring, either. And even though he couldn't say anything bad about Happy Hogan, he could still be jealous. It was supposed to be him and Pepper. They had been through so much as a team, and he had really cared about her. Yes, he could be condescending and yes, some of his jokes were a little rude. Well, more like very rude. But, she'd always had an equally witty jab of her own to fire right back at him.

He loved the banter between them. It was what made their relationship special to him. It was what made it worth more than sex to him, whether he fully realized it or not. No other female had tried to keep up with him; they just ended up looking at him with starry eyes. After a few smooth words, he'd have them, and just discard them the next morning.

Those same reasons that had made him love their relationship were what had ended up driving Pepper away from it. Pepper Potts was a strong woman, but she could only take so much. Part of her had hoped he would change once they had begun their relationship, and he'd fit the role of a typical boyfriend.

Needless to say, it never happened.

"I'm positive, Tony." She pleaded for her voice not to waver like it wanted to do. If Tony sensed weakness, he'd move in on it and she'd most likely cave about leaving. "I need time to plan for everything; I need time to just be away from all of..." She paused and made an encompassing motion with her hand "...this."

Tony knew the double meaning behind that sentence.

He stood. "But Pep, who's gonna keep me out of trouble?" He tried to make light of it and put on his best pout, crossing his arms. He'd be damned if he let her see that he was actually upset.

He didn't want her to leave. To Tony, if she left, then she really was getting married, and there really was no chance for them. They would really be over.

"It's only temporary, Tony. And I'll still be taking care of business and monitoring everything from home." She glanced at her clipboard, thoughtfully. "Besides, you'll have another assistant to boss you around. I already have a replacement picked out."

Tony rolled his eyes, obviously not thrilled with the idea. "You know they won't last. You're one of a kind."

Pepper mentally sighed. She already knew what Tony had up his sleeve. She hoped the girl she was looking at, one Elizabeth Riley Andres, had a little substance to her and would be able to handle Tony's narcissistic and downright pain-in-the-ass tendencies. Apparently, Dr. Reichmann had taken a shine to her, and Pepper knew first hand how awful he could be to deal with as well. He could give Tony a run for his money in the 'borderline obnoxious' department.

"We'll just have to see, Tony. Now, if you're done, I have things to take care of before my flight."

With that, she turned on her heel and left before Tony could come up with a rebuttal.

The door clicked shut, and Tony was left to sort out his emotions on his own.

...And if there was one thing Tony Stark was not good at, it was dealing with his emotions.

Riley Andres had spent the last few months working her way up the ladder in her department. Dr. Reichmann had luckily ended up taking a liking to her as well, due to the dedication she showed for all of the projects he had assigned her to.

Her long nights of staying late and going the extra mile had paid off. She was almost constantly exhausted, running on fumes at best most of the time, but she had a solidified herself a position as Dr. Reichmann's right hand so to speak. She was, in short, a glorified personal assistant that accompanied the Ph.D to any and all meetings and kept his affairs straight. It wasn't all bad, though, even with her weariness of people. Riley tended to just keep quiet and do what she was asked to do, whether it be a frivolous task or an important one. In return for her efforts, she had gotten semi-free reign to do her own research in the lab and a nice chunk of change as a raise for all the extra hours she put in.

Riley was an intensely quiet and private person, so spending her life in a lab was not a miserable experience. She didn't mind Dr. Reichmann's temper tantrums, however massive they might be. Nearly none of them were directed at her anymore, and it wasn't like people screaming at her, about herself was anything shocking or new.

All in all, screaming aside, it made her extremely happy that she could also start building a little nest egg and start putting a significant dent in her undergraduate loans. Even with scholarships, Duke had been an incredibly expensive four years for her. It had been worth it, as her undergraduate grades and preparation got her a killer GRE score and, subsequently, an almost full ride for her Master's Degree at UNC Chapel Hill, but it still had burned a hole in her already shallow pockets.

Presently in this department, Riley might not have been the smartest out of all the interns, at least on paper, but she had a knack for hands on work in her superior's lab. She learned quickly and was fast on her feet when trying to find solutions to problems. She was quite good with figuring out how to make things work, and see the processes by which they worked in general. It had been a calming thing for her during her childhood. Not that she liked to recall anything from her childhood...

Pushing the none-too-fond memories away, she went back to her current research. She had been working on a microscopic system that could amplify different physiological processes in the body. The system would be composed of incredibly small and powerful magnets. She had been trying (and failing) to figure out how to keep the power of the magnets without sacrificing size when the clicking of heels behind her drew her out of her reverie.

"Elizabeth Andres?"

Riley inwardly cringed at the use of her first name and turned around. There stood quite possibly the most elegant looking woman she'd ever seen behind her. She practically radiated confidence and grace. Riley easily felt quite plain and dowdy by comparison.

"Can I help you, ma'am?" Riley gave her a nervous smile. She wasn't good with confrontations, and this felt like exactly that.

"I'm Pepper Potts, Mr. Stark's personal assistant. And yes, you can, actually."

Riley's nerves instantly became a little more shaky. She had never actually seen Mr. Stark's assistant, but she had heard the stories surrounding this woman and her cut throat approach to business. She finally forced herself to speak. "Oh! Ms. Potts, I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you! I don't really..."

Pepper cut off Riley's rambling apology. "Don't worry about it. And just Pepper is fine, if you don't mind. I'm actually here to make you an offer."

Pepper eyed the girl up and down. Her ID photo did her no justice, and it had been a good photo. That would definitely help occupy Tony, and hopefully keep him from being intolerable, if nothing else.

Pepper was feeling more confident in her choice of a temporary assistant for Tony by the moment, and less like she was just using the girl as a placeholder. Her confidence may have still partially been for the wrong reasons, but it couldn't be shaken.

Riley finally spoke. "If it's all the same to you, could you call me Riley? And what kind of offer are we talking about, exactly?"

"Well, I'm looking for a temporary replacement, as I need to step away from the company for awhile. I have something more...pressing to attend to than all of this." She wiggled her fingers that were currently grasping the clipboard, for effect.

Riley was about to politely say no. She was perfectly happy squirreled away in the lab or following Dr. Reichmann around to small meetings. However, when she saw the subtle hinting to the ring, she clued in quickly. If the sparkle in her eyes and general glow about Ms. Potts didn't give it away, then the sparkler on her finger certainly did. "Oh...oh! I see. Congratulations! I'm sure you and Mr. Stark will be so happy together." That was the last thing Riley had heard about Pepper Potts and Tony Stark and their supposedly steamy relationship. Other than that, she didn't really watch television, nor did she read gossip magazines. She saw no point in prying into someone's personal life like that, just like she'd never want someone to pry into hers.

Everyone had skeletons, after all.

An incredibly awkward silence filled the room. That was enough to tip Riley off that she'd said something wrong. She was about to apologize when Pepper cleared her throat and cut to the chase.

"No, actually. That ended a long time ago. And that's what I'm getting at. I need you to be Mr. Stark's personal assistant in my place while I'm gone."

Riley's face was red from embarrassment. God, could she be any more awkward? And this situation was not helping her feelings any. She wasn't anything like Pepper, which made her fairly certain Tony Stark would eat her alive, fairly quickly.

"I...guess...I guess I can. But I'm sure there's more qualified people than me here. Much more qualified. I mean, I'm not trying to fish for compliments or anything, but...what makes me so special?"

Peppers' eyes cut a look toward Dr. Reichmann, who was currently yelling at interns, one of them almost in tears. "I think you already know. I don't see how you deal with someone like that." True, Tony was a handful, but he had never been quite like that.

"Oh." So that was why. "At this point, I don't think anyone could really insult me. I'm used to it." She offered Pepper a small smile.

Pepper looked at the younger woman for a moment. That was odd. She had a feeling Riley wasn't just talking about Dr. Reichmann. The girl acted strangely, and a lot differently than Pepper had expected her to. She was distant, and almost gave off an absent vibe to Pepper.

There was definitely a lot she was hiding beneath the surface, but finding out really wasn't the redhead's primary concern.

Tony was undeniably bitter and unwelcoming to the entire situation. He was none too thrilled with the blonde standing in front of him currently, looking at everything nervously.

She looked like all the rest - a typical long blonde haired, blue eyed, 'cheerleader' type. She had a slightly tall, slender frame, and he couldn't tell much else about her under her blouse and the looser, flared dress pants she wore. This girl wasn't Pepper, so ultimately she was going to be forgettable, pretty or not. Just another notch in the bedpost, most likely...

"Good morning, Mr. Stark." She offered the greeting kindly, despite her nerves being ready to go to pieces.

It didn't help that she found the man before her incredibly attractive, up close. There was no denying it. His aura all exuded complete confidence and absolute control. On top of that, his genius mind and razor sharp wit was going to be quite a handful for her to deal with.

That was a lot for Riley to admit.

She had only had one crush in high school, and that had ended terribly for her. Since then, she had never even glanced at another person for fear of things going terribly wrong for her. However, it was hard not to notice Mr. Stark in his streamlined (and most likely phenomenally expensive) suit. The sleek, white office made him stand out, in a good way.

Tony had caught the hint of an accent in her voice. It was almost gone, yes, but his keen ears could detect it clearly. Was that a tinge of a southern accent? It was interesting, and it actually surprised him a little. He might just have to do a little digging if the girl lasted more than a week with him; most girls he'd seen (and been with) that looked like Ms. Andres were from the west coast, not the south.

He nodded curtly at the new girl in front of him. "Ms. Andres. Good to see you're here on time. You've got some big shoes to fill."

"I-I realize that sir, and I'm going to do my best to. I'm here to do anything that you need of me."

"Really now?" He made it apparent to her that his eyes were roaming over her figure, unabashedly. "Please, tell me, what does anything entail?" He shot the girl his trademark wolfish grin.

Riley's blushed beet red and took interest in her shoes. "I-I-I...uhm. That's not what..."

That was all it was going to take to get to her? Really? Pepper would have already fired an equally sharp retort at him.

If this girl was that shy, though, she was going to be fun to mess with.

But first, he really needed a drink.

And little did he know, Riley needed one even more.

It was nearing the end of Riley's first week, and things had not gone well for her. She was more exhausted than she had ever been with Dr. Reichmann. Tony's demands had been completely over the top, keeping her on her toes at all hours of the day and night, and she had all intensive beliefs that it had been because of the situation she had been placed in.

His behavior wasn't out of place, though.

She hated to admit it, but she had spent a lot of her free time in the past week looking up articles pertaining to Tony Stark so that she didn't have another mishap like the one with Pepper...Tony more than likely wouldn't be nearly as forgiving as the redhead there.

That being said, she could easily see why Tony wasn't particularly happy with her. He and Pepper had kept a long intimate relationship and an even longer professional one. Riley herself felt like an intruder, so she could only imagine how Tony negatively felt about her and the entire situation.

She tried to reason that his behavior was normal, and that she had it coming. For the most part, she'd knowingly walked into this situation, so she could deal with it. She had been treated a lot worse for a lot less of a good reason, and this shouldn't phase her. Also, it wasn't like she hadn't been humiliated by a guy before. At least some of the smug, snarky comments he made about her were in private. They still stung, but again, the feeling wasn't unfamiliar.

None of his remarks were worth crying over, either. She'd learned growing up that crying over things only made things even worse. She hadn't cried over anything in years, silently taking every punch thrown at her.

Riley sighed. It was just more things to add to the list to deal with during her weekly therapy sessions. Her anxiety and depression had escalated tenfold since she'd begun working for Stark Industries and moved to California, but now she believed she needed her psychiatrist to up her dosages on her medicines. She'd had a panic attack in the shower this very morning and her hyperventilating had almost made her pass out. For God's sake, she knew she was pathetic, but this was getting ridiculous. She was not going to chance this happening in front of Mr. Stark.

She shook the thoughts, and concentrated on the task at hand. Presently, she was bringing her boss his personal favorite, a burger from his favorite fast food joint. She had seen him scarf it down more than once this week, so maybe this would count as a peace offering of sorts.

Riley was hoping since she had complied with everything he'd asked her to do, and once he saw that she was not trying to replace Pepper, that he'd ease up on her, even if just a little. The blonde had tried on more than one occasion, to no avail, to explain that Pepper had asked her to fill in, and that she hadn't expressly competed for this position. She had tried to tell him that she was more than happy in the lab, hiding away from the world.

...She just wished he'd listen, just once.

The entire situation was wishful thinking, but still. She approached his office, and after a hesitance, timidly knocked on the door.

"Mr. Stark?"

"Come in." He didn't sound particularly happy or in a good mood, but at least he hadn't almost barked at her, like earlier.

She made her way in and shut the door with barely a click. She was already on her last stable nerve, and it took her a second to make herself speak.

"I brought food for you. You seemed pretty angry earlier, so I thought I'd try and cheer you up a little." She gave him a small smile, and Tony looked at her strangely. He was angry earlier? He hadn't even been paying attention to what he'd said to her.

He took the bag out of her had, glancing inside. She had gotten it right, from the looks of it.

The sight and smell of a burger and greasy fries caused him to grin, genuinely grin at her. This had not been expected.

"Hey! This is all right." He could see her visibly relax, the tension leaving her shoulders and back.

...Did he really have that kind of effect on her?

If he was was intentionally going to make a woman tense up like that, it was going to be in his bedroom, not like this. Tony was never one to push aside his less-than-honorable thoughts, after all.

"Oh good, I'm glad, sir." She glanced away from him at the pause. He was too hard to look at for too long without blushing. "I'll...I'll just excuse myself, if you don't mind."

He simply nodded, and she turned on her heel to leave, as quietly as she came.

"You know, you're not as dumb as you look." Tony mumbled without thinking, perhaps a little too loudly, toward her retreating back.

He could have sworn he saw her back stiffen a little, but he didn't think he said it that loudly.

Normally that comment wouldn't have bothered her in the slightest, but coming from Anthony Edward Stark, her time and hard-earned money spent on her education felt just a little like it had been completely wasted.

And that actually hurt.

She quickly made her way out of the office and went to sit in Mr. Stark's personal break lounge.

Maybe closing her eyes for a few minutes would make her feel a little less...sensitive. She hadn't slept but three or four hours last night.

This was going to be a long couple of months.

Hope you all like it, and hope to hear from you!

I promise these will get shorter if I continue!

'Till next time (hopefully),