"The first time, ever I saw your face."

Ever I Saw

The first time Virginia Potts sees Tony Stark, she's sixteen, and he's on the television, being interviewed by someone famous. Probably Oprah, but she can't remember, she changes the channel so fast.

"There's nothing on," she whines.

The first time she learns something about him, she's 19, and he's on the cover of Newsweek. . . or was it Fortune 500? Doesn't matter. . . He's famous. And rich. And just inherited a company of some sort.

So what?

The first time she hears his voice, she's working on her thesis for a post graduate degree in business management, and he's on the TV again, only this time he's being ambushed by paparazzi. She's pretty sure all he says is "no comment".

It's only background noise.

The first time she sees his bare backside, she's grocery shopping, and the tabloid headlines are shouting at everyone who walks past to come a pay attention to this guy's rear end.

She picks up an issue of Cooking Light.

The first time she pays attention to his name is when she sends out what must be her 50th resume, hoping against hope that this time will be the time she gets hired. Stark Industries. It's a forbidding name, really.

It completely escapes her that Stark is actually a person's name. . .

The first time she sets foot on his property, she meets with his head of HR for a rather depressing interview. She had hoped for more than a minor secretarial position, but if it pays the bills, she'll take it.

His name is on her first paycheck.

The first time she worries about him, she's been working at SI two months, and she hears that he was most likely responsible for wreaking havoc at the Stark Industries funded benefit held the night before.

She wonders what the heck he thinks he was doing. . .

The first time she gets angry at him, SI's third quarter financial reports are sitting on her desk, and she finds a wildly incompetent error in the payroll section. The section Mr. Stark usually audits himself.

She's so mad she uses the stairs to get to his office.

The first time Virginia Potts meets Tony Stark, she talks him down completely. She doesn't know or care that he can't get a word in edgewise, he's going to fix the error in the financial report, and he's going to do it now.

She can never recall if there was anyone else in the room or not.

The first time she gets called "Pepper", it is not for her freckles, nor for her red hair, nor for her fondness for pepperoncinis, but for her temper. But the way he says it, she's not sure if he's flirting, chagrined, or genuinely taken aback. "Ease up there, Pepper, I'll make it all right."

She has no idea that the nickname is actually going to stick.

The first time she actually talks to him, she immediately gets hired as his personal assistant. Once she gets over the bewilderment, and the pay raise, and the paperwork, she wonders just what on earth made him hire her. What with his lifestyle, she's going to make his life hell.

He actually attends two of the three meetings he's supposed to that week.

The first time she touches him, she's been his PA for five weeks, and he's drunk out of his mind. Or stoned. Or maybe both. For exactly the twenty-second time, she has escorted a nameless (and mostly nude) female from the premises. He's passed out over the back of the couch. She slides him into a more comfortable position, puts a blanket over him, and starts making coffee.

She had stopped shaking her head at it all after female number fourteen.

The first time she threatens to leave, it's his birthday, and he wants her to celebrate with him. . . privately. And very inappropriately. Refusing is easy, but making him believe the refusal is not. Threatening to quit is a more powerful tool than she'd ever realized.

His hurt expression is surprisingly sincere.

The first time he asks her to marry him, she is barefooted, wearing cutoff jeans and a tank top, just strolling along the beach near his property. He's sitting behind a dune, in his workshop clothes, staring at the sea. When he sees her, he kneels and outright begs her to marry him. She's pretty sure he's serious until he accepts her refusal like it meant nothing.

He never does anything that confuses her more.

The first time she cries for him, it's their third holiday season together, and he tells her about his parents. He isn't kind, or sentimental, or even sober, but everything he says rings true. Unshed tears literally pound in his words. She keeps it together until she leaves for the weekend.

Her cousins never know why she is red-eyed that Thanksgiving morning.

The first time she realizes she's attracted to him, he's welding a missile casing in his workshop. He's filthy from head to foot, and he's playing some of the loudest and most ugly music she's ever heard, but she can't stop her mind from making excuses for him. How can someone like this be so. . . perfect?

That night, she dreams about his hands.

The first time he kisses her, mistletoe is involved. So is an ambulance. She apologizes so many times for splitting his lip that he laughs - making it worse, of course.

He pays well over six figures to keep the incident from the newspapers.

The first time she is jealous of him, she can't believe herself. It was just one more nameless girl, one more awkward morning after one more hedonistic night. But she wants to rip the woman's dress to shreds and kick her over the fence, leaving her to find her own way back to whatever slum she came from.

It takes all her willpower to call the drycleaners instead.

The first time she hates him, he calls her in the middle of her first vacation in eight years. Fair is fair. It was an emergency. But hearing his voice right at that particular moment, saying "Potts, I need you", that desperately. . .

She can't read a romance novel for six months.

The first time she knows she loves him is almost her last. Stane broke the news to her about the ambush and kidnapping. She is so stunned, she says nothing. Her day goes on, completely normally. She remembers exactly nothing about it.

She never was convinced it was only Tony's heart that was ripped apart that day.

The first time she gets close to jumping at him, he's walking off the plane, safe and sound, if a good bit battered. It's all she can do to stand still and look at him. While going to get the burger he demands, he tells her about the miniature arc reactor for the first time.

She finds she wishes the second thing he wanted was her.

The first time she almost tells him how she feels, she's on a balcony with him. They've danced together, and now she wants more, a lot more. But she can't do it. Neither can he. It's too soon.

She's irrationally glad he forgets about her drink.

The first time she kisses him, he knows nothing about it. After Afghanistan, he can't sleep very well, and who can blame him? She makes him take a pill, and tucks him in. An hour later, she checks on him before she leaves, and she can't believe how beautiful he is when he is at peace. . .

His lips are softer than she thought they'd be.

The first time she trusts him, she realizes at last that none of his foibles ever came close to defining him. He's loyal, brave, good hearted, and committed to his country, if nothing else. He's everything Obadiah isn't. He's the only man she knows she can trust.

"You're all I have too, you know," - and she means it.

The first time he dies for her, he's hanging from the shattered remains of the roof above the reactor, screaming at her to do what she has to do. There have been a lot of moments over the past weeks when she thought he'd changed. This moment is the proof.

For once, his life isn't the one he's thinking of.

The first time he really kisses her, it's only after the Expo quite literally explodes in everyone's face. So much happened that day, she can hardly remember anything else that went on. She's glad Jim is there to see.

That way she has a reliable witness.

The first time he takes her on a date, he puts her in a plane and tries to make her scrambled eggs for three hours. She doesn't think she's ever seen a better description of the term "idiot savant".

It's so endearing it hurts.

The first time she's sure she wants him, he offers to let her help design his new skyscraper in New York. He trusts her tastes by now, and she doesn't think she's enjoyed a project more for at least ten years. Sitting across from him, working with translucent holograms all day, makes it terribly easy for her to stare at him for hours.

He notices, but doesn't say anything.

The first time she accepts jewelry from him, it's an engagement ring. About four carats bigger than she wanted, but it's a ring. It gets in her way though, so she wears it on a long gold-titanium alloy chain around her neck. He calls it her "lump of coal".

He goes digging for it whenever she lets him.

The first time she says she loves him, he actually tears up a little. She has to whisper it, and he has to hide his emotions, since Phil Coulson is there, waiting to take him away from her again, but suddenly all of that means less than nothing. She knows they both can wait, now.

When he comes back, they take the time to mourn for Coulson.

The first time they make love, she is surprised at how easy it is to forget his past. He doesn't have to tell her this is different, because it's clear that it is. She knows none of the girls before her ever saw him like this. She knows they never got what he freely gives her.

It might be damaged, but his heart is still the best thing about him.

The first time Pepper Stark meets Anthony Stark, she's really, really tired. She doesn't really know where she is, or what's going on, all that matters is that there's a new face for Jarvis to memorize, and a new clause to put in Tony's will.

Scratch that. All that matters is he has his father's eyes.